A/N: This is a Bad Girls and The Bill crossover piece, complete and with femmeslash elements. It's set mid-series two of Bad Girls, the timeline for The Bill is fairly open. But there could be spoilers for both shows in here. Feedback would be much appreciated, if I get a good response I might write a sequel.
'Sam, Jo! A word in my office.'
Samantha Nixon looked up, slightly irritated at the distraction, to see DCI Meadows disappearing through the CID doors as quickly as he had arrived. Glancing at Jo Masters across the desk she raised an eyebrow. 'Sounds ominous.'
The DC brushed her hair away from her eyes with a frown. 'Yeah. Come on.'
Following the brunette through the doors Sam mentally examined her cases from the last few weeks, especially the ones that involved Jo Masters. There had been one incident with a burglar; he'd claimed a little bit of police brutality despite the fact Sam's hand had just slipped slightly, but it had quickly gone away when Sergeant Ackland had explained the consequences of lying about police attacks, particularly when you were up on an aggravated burglary charge. He'd changed his mind but, as with all those cases, it could come back to haunt them at any time.
After knocking on the door and being admitted the two women took seats, Sam sensing the tension that suddenly descended on them. Taking the bull by the horns as was her speciality, she asked, 'What's all this about, Guv?'
He sat back in his chair, lacing his hands together. 'What do you two know about HMP Larkhall?'
'Larkhall?' Jo repeated dubiously. 'Which wing are we talking about here, Guv?'
Jack shrugged. 'Take a guess.'
'G-Wing.' Sam connected the dots. 'It's the bogey-wing, isn't it? The suicide of…'
'Rachel Hicks,' supplied Jo.
'Yeah, Rachel Hicks, that started it off. Then there was the letter to the papers about drugs and, unless I'm mistaken, one of the officers was caught up in that, she's doing time in another nick.'
'Lorna Rose,' Jack nodded. 'It's not her we're interested in though. There was another officer accused of beating up an inmate a few months ago. This man,' he said, handing them both a mug-shot of an aging man complete with scowl on his face. 'James Fenner. The Wing Governor, Karen Betts, got in touch with me after the prisoner involved withdrew her statement. Now, she isn't convinced he was entirely innocent nor does she think that was the limit of his misdemeanours. She wants us to investigate.'
'Larkhall's a bit out of our jurisdiction, though, Guv,' Jo pointed out.
Sam nodded her agreement. 'We've got enough with the villains on our patch without dealing with others as well.'
'Well, Karen's an old friend,' admitted Jack. 'The Prison Governor plays golf with this Fenner; he's not about to put him under investigation.'
Frowning, Sam questioned, 'How do you expect us to investigate it then, Guv? With no support…'
The DCI leaned forward, resting his arms on the desk. 'I want you to investigate it from the inside.'
'Undercover, you mean?'
'In a nutshell, yes.'
Exchanging a look with Jo, Sam said, 'Larkhall's a high-security prison. Apart from the danger element, how would we gain entry? Civilian workers? Even that would require the Governing Governor to be onside.'
'Not exactly. Karen suggested one of you go in as a rookie officer and one of you on the other side of the bars. That way you get both sides of the equation and you've got each other to fall back on.'
Sam absorbed this. Larkhall's G-Wing was becoming as notorious as some of the criminals who occupied cells there. She could reel off a list of names of the dangerous inmates it housed- Nicola Wade, cop killer; Michelle Dockley, murderer; Yvonne Atkins; wife of Charlie Atkins which was enough said. Going into there would be akin to a suicide mission. Then again, a small voice whispered as the back of her head, it wouldn't do her reputation any harm, would it? Add an undercover job in a top-security prison to the serial killer enquiry and she might make it back to DI quicker than she had ever anticipated. 'Why us, Guv?'
'Because I trust you both,' he said plainly. 'You're experienced officers who work well together. I've got faith in the pair of you.'
He was right on one count. They did work reasonably well together, despite a few teething problems that had stemmed from Sam's desire to prove she was better than a person she saw as a jumped-up DC. Of course, Jo wasn't at all like that, it had just taken her a while to realise it. Turning to her now, she asked, 'Well? What do you think?'
She shrugged. 'Could be interesting.'
'That's one way of putting it.' Looking back to Jack, she nodded. 'Alright. How do we go about this?'
Already late for the lifers' meeting, Nikki was frustrated by the summons from Fenner but, remembering what Helen had said about keeping her nose clean, she turned and attempted to wipe the annoyance from her face. 'What?'
'Where are you off to?'
'Oh, yeah,' he said distastefully, leaning against the wall. 'Well, when you get back, try being sociable. You've got a new cellmate.'
Nikki stared at him. 'You what? Where's Barbara?'
'Moving into the four-bed apparently. Governor's decision.'
Surely Betts wouldn't be so hard-faced? Putting Barbara in with Denny and Shaz was like signing her death warrant. She'd go mad within a week. 'You can't be serious.'
Fenner shrugged. 'Think Hunt's better off away from you anyway, don't you, Wade? Stop you making any… advances.'
His laughter followed her down the corridor but she refused to look back; both her eyes and her cheeks were burning with that statement and she wasn't about to show him that.
It turned out Helen was late for the meeting so Nikki had plenty of time to sit and contemplate what the hell was going on until she arrived. Opposite her, Shell sat whispering to another prisoner, one she recognised as a mate of Denny's. That was something worrying in itself, because, although Denny was slowly mellowing under the influence of Yvonne Atkins and her little girlfriend, Shaz, she was still susceptible to Shell's plottings. Maybe, Nikki thought, she was underestimating Barbara's ability to cope; after all, she'd managed her diligently enough when she'd arrived in Larkhall a few months ago. Perhaps it was a touch of selfishness. Several years of being practically a loner in prison had been shattered, first by her relationship with Helen then by developing a close friendship with Barbara- now she didn't get to see Helen as much as she'd like since they were being careful in preparation for the appeal and if Barbara was moving… It was going to be strange.
Helen finally arrived with profuse apologies and the meeting got started. Nikki was quiet throughout, broaching no views and generally looking so bitter that no one dared venture a question to her. When the other lifers started to disperse she found, however, a hand on her arm to hold her back. 'Nikki, is everything okay?'
Relaxing slightly, she waited until everyone had left before turning to Helen, seeing the concern in her eyes. 'It's nothing.'
Her girlfriend raised an eyebrow. 'It doesn't look like nothing. Come on, Nikki.'
In truth, she felt she was laying herself right open but it was Helen, the person she wanted to be open with. 'They're moving Barbara to the four-bed.'
'Oh, right. Seems an odd decision.' Helen smiled. 'You're going to miss her aren't you?'
'I'm worried about her, that's all.'
Helen just nodded.
'Oh, alright, I'm going to miss her. Happy?'
'Ecstatic. Look, this was going to happen sooner or later. With your appeal,' she added, emphasising the last few words so Nikki looked up sharply.
'Have you heard something?'
Helen grinned. 'Claire says it's looking positive, she's got a lead on another possible victim of Gossard's, if she finds it…'
Slightly sobered, Nikki glanced away. 'It's still a bunch of 'ifs', isn't it?'
'It's a step closer than we were yesterday,' answered Helen, taking her hand. 'Try to be positive, okay?'
A noise from the doorway forced them apart, Nikki looked over to find Di Barker with an unknown blonde officer. 'I'm just showing PO York around,' explained Di. 'This is Helen Stewart, she deals with the lifers in Larkhall.'
Ever-courteous, Helen stepped forward to shake the hand of the new arrival. 'Are you stationed on G-Wing?'
The blonde nodded. 'Yep. Samantha York. I've heard a lot about your lifers' unit, Miss Stewart, it's a good initiative.'
'I like to think so,' answered Helen. Inclining her head slightly, she continued, 'This is one of the unit, Nikki Wade.'
There was a glint of recognition at the name, something Nikki was infinitely used to. However, York didn't make a reference to the crime she obviously knew about. 'Nice to meet you, Nikki.'
Di stepped forward. 'We better get you back to the Wing.'
Nikki nodded, glancing back to Helen. 'Thanks for the help, Miss Stewart.'
'Not a problem, Nikki.'
Jo straightened her hair nervously as she looked in the mirror. She hadn't unpacked as a mark of respect to her new cellmate who was a territorial lifer according to the officer who had brought her onto the Wing- Fenner himself, as a matter of luck- but she was starting to regret it as the ride in the wagon had made her into a mess. Introducing herself to Nicola Wade was going to be a little tricky, it was like being thrown in at the deep end without a lifejacket. From reading her history in Jack's office a few days earlier Jo had learned Wade was a fiercely intelligent woman, probably the main person she had to fool on the Wing but someone who could also turn into her greatest ally due to an ongoing feud with Jim Fenner. The next few hours or so were going to make or break Jack's plan, she knew that much.
Taking a look around the cell she felt a shiver run about her. Larkhall was one of the oldest prisons in England, a Victorian masterpiece. Somehow, you didn't have to search too much for the spectres of the past to appear before you. For a moment Jo regretted being so quick to agree to this, knowing that part of her instant decision had been based on Samantha's acceptance of the offer. She hadn't been able to refuse when Sam had looked at her and offered up that challenge. While Jo wasn't one for rivalries she had made an exception in this case- she found that she and DS Nixon worked better together when there was an element of distrust between them. She, for her part, never truly believed Samantha was completely honest. There was something she was holding back but the discovery of what that was had so far eluded her.
The cell door groaned open and she turned immediately to face it. A woman she recognised as Nicola Wade entered followed by two officers, Samantha being one of them. Despite the nerves itching away in her stomach Jo took a moment to examine her in uniform then promptly looked at Nicola. 'Hiya.'
The tall dark-haired woman appeared unimpressed. She ignored her greeting and went straight to her bunk, pulling a book out of her locker and settling down to read.
It seemed the three of them had just stood there and watched Nicola's movements for no apparent reason. Jo was relieved when Sam cleared her throat to draw everyone's attention back to where it should be.
'Oh, sorry,' the other officer said absently then directed her gaze at Jo herself. 'Are you settling in, okay?'
'I think so, yeah.'
'Right, well, if you need anything, let one of us know. I'm Miss Barker, this is Miss York. We'll leave you two to get acquainted.'
Barker left first, giving Jo an opportunity to smile at Sam before she closed the door. The return was slight but it was there at any rate. Then she looked over to Nicola. 'Listen, I hear I might've put someone out of place when I got here. You had another cellmate, is that right?'
After a moment of resolutely ignoring her, Wade put down her book and sighed. 'It's not your fault, it's just the way this bloody place works. I'm Nikki.'
'Jo,' she answered. 'So what's the routine like in here?'
'Pretty standard stuff,' she shrugged. 'Banged up all hours, they let us out for feeding and washing so as long as the screws aren't pulling a sickie. This your first time?'
She nodded. 'I've had a suspended before, no prison time.'
'What are you in for?' asked Nikki then added, 'You don't have to tell me.'
'No, it's fine. Two years for assault. You?' she questioned though, of course, she already knew.
'Murder,' she replied shortly. 'I'm a lifer.'
'Oh, right.' She looked to the book on the bed. 'What you reading?'
Entering the office with Di Barker on her heels Sam gratefully took a seat. Aside from them the room was empty so she took the opportunity to finally quiz the woman she had been following around most of the morning. 'G-Wing's a tough job so I hear.'
'Well, if you can't stand up to the heat…' Di lifted the kettle. 'Cuppa?'
Sam nodded. 'Don't get me wrong, I like a challenge but you have to admit, this place has got a reputation.'
'Why did you apply here then?' asked Di conversationally.
'It's close to home.' She recalled her own fictional history. 'I've been working at bars in the town centre, commuting was a nightmare.'
'What drew you to the Prison Service?'
'Well, the money was an incentive. But I can see myself doing the job, you know?'
Di smiled slightly. 'It can be rewarding. If you're interested in making a difference, though, you'd do worse than talking to Helen Stewart. The lifers' unit is the best thing to hit Larkhall in a while. Sugar?'
'No thanks. I heard she used to be Wing-Governor,' Sam probed. 'Do you know what happened?'
'I wasn't here when everything kicked off. I do know she resigned after another officer was suspended for assaulting a prisoner.'
So PO Barker was a gossip; that could come in handy. 'Really?'
Di passed her a mug then sat down. 'I probably shouldn't be telling you this but… Well, it was Principal Officer Fenner. The inmate later withdrew her statement but, between you and me, I think Stewart thought he'd done it, and her replacement too.'
'That's Miss Betts?'
'Mmm, Karen. She's decent as well.'
'Suppose I've got to learn who to trust,' Sam commented as the door opened and a young male officer entered. 'Hello.'
'Well, this is one you can,' said Di. 'Dominic McAllister, this is Samantha York. She's just joined the service.'
He held out his hand. 'Nice to meet you. Listen, Di, Karen wants to see the new inmate for her induction.'
'I could take her if you wanted,' Sam offered, quickly scorching her mouth with her tea. 'Let me see if I've remembered my way around.'
'If you don't mind, that'd be great,' Di answered. 'I've got some reports to finish up.'
Leaving the office, Sam let herself onto the Wing, looking around at some of the faces she'd been introduced to over the course of the day. Over by the pool table there was Denny Blood and Shaz Wylie, she had them pegged as a couple and it seemed Di Barker had a fairly good relationship with Blood. Not having been in the environment before Sam couldn't say with certainty that friendships between officers and inmates couldn't work. There had been Helen Stewart and Nikki Wade too. She had definitely got a vibe from them when she and Di had interrupted them after the lifers' group; they were close, physically close. No, she shook the thought from her head, that was a ludicrous idea- Helen Stewart was an ex-Governor on the Wing. Besides, that wasn't what she was there to investigate. However, if Stewart disliked James Fenner, as Di had suggested, then she was a way in.
Walking into the open cell she found Jo chatting to Nikki Wade. It was amazing really, how easily Jo settled into new environments. Sam had been secretly relieved when Jack had suggested she take the role of the officer, knowing that the inmate task was bound to be the most difficult and while she could handle it- of course she could- she would prefer not to have to. 'Wakefield,' she said in her strongest voice. 'Governor wants to see you.'
Jo broke off and stood. 'What for?'
'Your induction. Come on.' Sam felt Wade's eyes on her before they left the cell but dismissed it immediately- she had already reminded herself that wasn't the reason she was there.
When the pair were in a deserted corridor near the Governor's office, Jo turned to her. 'Everything alright?'
'I think so,' answered Sam. 'What about you?'
'Takes a bit of getting used to, having gates locked behind you.'
'It's alright, I probably won't remember to lock all these,' she quipped then sobered a little. 'How are you getting on with Wade?'
'Well, she's territorial that's for sure. I can handle it though. Made any friends?'
'Di Barker seems a good source, bit of a gossip. She's already told me about the assault allegation and I've only been here five minutes.'
'Did she think he'd done it?' queried Jo.
Sam frowned. 'She wasn't here when it happened. Helen Stewart was a supporter though, could've had something to do with her resignation.'
'Have you met Stewart?'
'Briefly, yeah. I actually thought…' Sam trailed off. 'It doesn't matter.'
'No, go on,' Jo pressed, frowning. 'She's not bent an' all is?'
'Nothing like that. It was just… Well, when I was introduced to Wade, Stewart was with her. And they seemed close, that's all.'
'Maybe they're friends.'
'I don't know. It felt more than that.'
Jo looked thoughtful for a few minutes. 'Ex-Governor sleeping with an inmate, that's not gonna look too good is it? Do you want me to ask Nikki about it?'
'Not outright,' Sam answered. 'You need to keep her onside. Just try and find out if she's single.'
Jo smiled a little. 'You suggesting I try it on with her, Sarge?'
'Oh, consider it an order.'
As a pair of officers came round the corner the duo quickly began walking again, Sam careful to avoid closeness with Jo, for the sake of the investigation, obviously. Reaching Miss Betts' office, she knocked and they were admitted.
This was her own first glimpse of Karen Betts. Sat at her desk with a hand pressed against her furrowed brow she looked every inch the stressed Wing Governor Jack had made her out to be. She felt an affinity for the woman, having dealt with Phil Hunter's various misdeeds when she was Acting DI. It wasn't the same as having a fully corrupt officer around but it had given her a taster. 'Joanne Wakefield to see you, Ma'am.'
Karen looked up questioningly. 'Samantha York?'
'Yes.' Sam allowed Jo in, shut the door and quickly shook hands with the blonde behind the desk. Jo did the same. 'It's good to meet you.'
'Mmm, if only under better circumstances,' answered Karen wryly. 'How's Jack?'
'Same as ever.'
'No nearer to retirement then?'
'Despite the best efforts of our DI. I think they'll have to carry him out in a box.'
'That's Jack for you.' Karen smiled at a memory then returned to business. 'He told me you were two of his very best officers- very discreet and competent. I trust his judgment. I'm not sure what he's told you.'
'Very little,' Jo supplied. 'Just the common knowledge I think.'
'I don't know much more than that to be honest. The person who could probably tell you more would be Helen Stewart. However, I think the fewer people who know about this the better.'
'She isn't safe then?' Sam asked, thinking back to the moment between the Lifer's Officer and Nikki Wade.
'Oh, I don't think Helen's corrupt if that's what you mean. I'm just concerned that her personal feelings towards Fenner might impede your investigation.'
'This inmate who withdrew the assault allegation,' said Jo after a moment. 'What's she like?'
Karen let out a heavy breath. 'Michelle Dockley. I wouldn't usually trust her sort an inch but I attended after the attack and she was fairly convincing. Fenner's story about her battering herself… Well, it doesn't hold up. She's not that type.'
'Why do you think she withdrew the allegation?' questioned Sam. 'Surely with your evidence it was enough to have him arrested.'
'I think he got to her. Probably through another officer.'
'Any idea who?'
'Mmm.' Karen reached into her desk and pulled out a newspaper clipping of a ballroom-dancing middle-aged couple. 'Sylvia Hollamby. She's everything you don't want in an officer. Be careful what you say around her, the first whiff of anything and she'll be onto Fenner like a shot.'
Sam examined the photo with a smile. 'Thanks for the tip. What else do you think Fenner's involved in?'
'Well, like I said, I'm no expert on him but I'd definitely say he's got something going on. He's too cocky for someone just back from suspension.'
'Maybe he thinks he's untouchable,' Jo commented.
'It's your job to prove he isn't,' Karen replied with a steely determination. 'Anything either of you need, let me know. The sooner he's out of the prison service for good, the better.'
Two nights in a prison hardly did anything for a person's confidence in humanity. Each night a fresh bounty of nightcalls drifted through the window; obscenities, death wishes, everything you could think of that made a criminal what they were was present. The first night Jo had been more than intimidated but had managed to hide it from Nikki's view. She wanted to keep up a strong persona in front of her cellmate. During the second dusk she had listened more carefully to what was actually been said and, reading between the lines, there were obviously a lot of long-running jokes amongst the inmates. She was shocked to hear Rachel Hicks' name mentioned once in relation to a suicidal prisoner but the next morning she realised she may be able to use it to her advantage.
While brushing her teeth she looked to Nikki who was pulling on her trainers on the bottom bunk. 'Who was Rachel Hicks?'
The lifer looked up immediately, a bad memory on her face. 'Why do you want to know that?'
'I heard her name last night. I just wanted to know who she was that's all. You don't have to tell me,' she added as an afterthought.
Nikki sighed and finished lacing up her shoe. 'Rachel was a young prisoner, killed herself last year after being bullied by another inmate.'
'She killed herself because she was being bullied?' Jo pushed. 'That's a bit heavy.'
'Somehow I don't think it was the bullying that did it,' said Nikki with a touch of bitterness. 'You worked out which screws to trust yet, Jo?'
'I've got a fair idea. Why, what are you saying?'
'What do you think I'm saying?'
Realising she had reached a political stalemate with Nikki at this particular juncture Jo went back to brushing her teeth and thought about her other options. The previous day she had met a couple of other inmates, including Dockley herself. She was everything the press had painted her as when she was first convicted but with a bit of a prison edge on her. She obviously liked to think she ruled the roost but Jo had to guess that accolade went to Yvonne Atkins, the gangster's moll herself. Both women, however, had short private conversations with Fenner at some point, leaving Jo wondering what the heck was going on. The Shell Dockley interlude had been interesting since she had sidled up to him and he had quickly distanced himself, perhaps adding value to Karen's theory he had worked his way around her. With Atkins it was the opposite. He made all the running and she disappeared sharpish. Was it possibly the same as it had been with Dockley? No, unlikely. Yvonne Atkins could be picky about her men whereas Dockely couldn't. But that left something else up in the air; a situation which Jo wasn't too keen on.
So, aside from Dockley and Atkins she'd encountered Denny Blood and Shaz Wylie, both a little immature for her purposes; Barbara Hunt, who had admitted she was still adjusting to life in prison therefore she wouldn't have known Rachel, and the two Julies. She almost smiled. Of course, the Julies were the best possible source for information. They seemed to know everything.
A few more days and she might actually get used to this, Sam thought as she looked around the wing. She had expected the job to be much more depressing than it was but there were prisoners who obviously survived on their humour- the Julies and Shaz Wylie for instance. Then again, she had yet to face her first major incident. Hearing a tuneful whistle behind her she accepted that it might not be a riot that would turn out to be her first test. She turned with a smile. 'Hello, Mr Fenner.'
'I've told you, love. It's Jim.' His eyes ran down her body. 'Still settling in alright?'
She prevented herself visibly recoiling. 'Yeah, I'm finding it very rewarding.'
'Well, it soon stops being that so enjoy it while you can. Listen, we need that drink we've been promising ourselves. Won't be much of a welcome drink if you're halfway to retirement when we have it.'
Oh, yes, that. He'd playfully suggested it at the end of her first day and she'd dodged with the excuse of being tired. With her fictional life as empty as it was she hadn't been able to come up with a better excuse. She really didn't want to be in the same room as him despite the investigation calling for it. He gave off this vibe, one even she feared to an extent. Then, of course, she had berated herself for feeling that way- this was another job, that was all. Yes, it was an unusual one but if Jo could handle it so could she. 'It's just fitting it in that's the problem isn't it? I might have a window free at the end of the week, if that's alright with you?'
When he smiled it never reached his eyes. She had noticed that. 'Yeah, great. I'll speak to you then.'
Watching him disappear in the direction of the breakfast queue where Yvonne Atkins was holding court Sam's whole body tightened. There was no way she was going to get out of that, if she did he would smell a rat. But he just repulsed her! She'd rather kiss Jo Masters than… She checked herself at the thought. Kiss Jo Masters! What a ludicrous idea.
And yet… Her eyes automatically searched her out in the queue. Even dishevelled as she looked after a few days in a top security prison Jo retained her beauty, maybe it was enhanced by the bleak environment. No, it wasn't enhanced, Sam recognised, it had always been there, she had just never had reason to look at it before. Nor did she have reason now. It really was a ludicrous suggestion and one she was more than willing to ignore. Her job was clear and it certainly didn't involve anything like that to do with Jo Masters.
'Mind if I butt in?' Jo poked her head round the door of the second floor cell and threw in her best smile. 'Only I wanted to ask you something.'
The smallest one- Julie Saunders- smiled widely. 'Come on in, love.' When she was settled on the end of the bed she continued, 'What is it you wanna know?'
Jo hesitated- she wasn't sure how to phrase this without sounding completely crazy. 'I heard someone's name last night, after lights-out, you know? And it's stuck in my head. Rachel Hicks. It keeps repeating.'
Julie J exhaled deeply. 'Well, it would. Ain't you heard of her?'
'No, should I have?'
'Killed herself last year, didn't she, Ju?' said Julie S. 'Lovely girl, Rachel. Just never got the right friends that's all.'
'What do you mean by that?'
'We don't know nothing for sure but there was rumours about…' Julie J trailed off. 'Nothing was proved.'
Jo smiled wryly. 'Doesn't mean it wasn't true, does it?'
That seemed to put them both at ease. Julie Saunders said, 'Rachel was being bullied. You've met Shell Dockely?' Jo nodded. 'Well, it was her mainly but Rachel was an easy target for anyone. Especially a bent screw.'
'Bent screw,' echoed Julie J. 'Only we didn't know till it was too late.'
'Sorry, didn't know what?'
'She was sleeping with a screw and he let 'em bully her to death. Bastard.'
Jo absorbed this. Presumably she was on their wavelength with this but she had to check. 'Which screw?'
'Fenner,' they replied in unison. 'Bloody Fenner.'
Spot on then. Triumphant, she made her excuses and left the cell, pausing on the landings to observe the floor beneath her. A couple of screws stood over by the pool table, Sam was one of them. The uniform certainly did wonders for her figure, Jo thought then grinned at her own open homosexuality. Unfortunately, it was a privilege of the job, getting to work with Samantha Nixon on a regular basis. If she'd been put on this op with Phil Hunter it wouldn't have been an issue.
But still, she was there to do a job. She could worry about her non-existent love life when all this was over. For now she had to collect some more dirt and she reckoned the way to do it was through Nikki Wade.
Helen sighed with relief as she felt the air on her face. It had been a long day, one where she was ensconced in a private room talking to numerous lifers from various wings about their sentences and none of them were Nikki. It really irritated her- those days when she was in Larkhall but didn't get a chance to speak to that particular charge. Of course, she told herself- hopefully- that Nikki would be out soon and they wouldn't have to worry about being caught by Di Barker anymore. They would just be able to live their lives together without the bars impeding.
The pile of files she was carrying dislodged sending a scattering all over the yard. Cursing to herself she knelt to pick them up.
'Here, let me help,' a voice said from behind her.
She looked up quickly, it was the new officer, Samantha York. 'Oh, thanks. I'm a real klutz sometimes.'
The blonde smiled. 'Oh, join the club. When I worked in bars I couldn't keep ahold of the money, turned into a bit of a problem. At least here the keys are attached to me.'
Helen smiled at this fresh face, someone who hadn't been jaded by life in Larkhall yet. 'I'm sure you'll be fine.'
'Yeah, probably.' Samantha paused. 'Miss Stewart, could I ask you a question?'
This sounded ominous yet she was intrigued. 'Of course.'
'Well, I'm new to this and I wondered… If an officer, a more senior officer, suggests it would be detrimental to your career if you didn't go out with him what do you do?'
As if she couldn't guess. 'Is it Jim Fenner by any chance?'
She nodded. 'How did you know?'
'Let's just say I've had dealings with him.' Helen glanced at her watch. 'Listen, have you got time for a drink?'
Jo eyed Nikki carefully, waiting until the right moment arose. When the lifer got up to have a drink of water she decided it was time. Clearing her throat, she asked, 'So what do you have against Jim Fenner?'
Nikki looked over sharply. 'Who said I have anything against him?'
'Well, I thought after what he did to Rachel…'
'Who the hell have you been speaking to?' Nikki demanded, shocking Jo slightly with her sudden angry tone. She was determined to keep up her own aggressive persona though.
'You wouldn't talk to me, would you?'
'Don't drag it up, it's not worth it.'
'What, not worth getting a bent screw? Thought you were better than that, Nikki.'
After a moment the prisoner slammed her water bottle down on the table, sending droplets everywhere. 'You don't know me, alright? You haven't got the first idea about me.'
She shrugged. 'Maybe not. But I don't like people who abuse their positions, especially not when vulnerable young girls are involved.'
'Why do you care so much? It happened ages ago.'
'Yeah, but Fenner's still here! And still wriggling out of everything!'
She recognised what she'd said as Nikki looked her over sharply. 'Who the hell are you? And don't give me this shit about an assault charge. Who are you really?'
Jo eyed the alarm on the wall. 'I don't know what you mean.'
'Don't piss me about,' said Nikki, threateningly advancing. 'Let me guess, police?'
She nodded. 'Yeah.'
The lifer turned away for a moment then returned her glare to its former position. 'So what am I supposed to have done this time?'
'Nope, Nikki, this isn't about you. As far as I'm concerned you deserve your appeal, okay? Karen Betts wanted Fenner investigating but it wasn't going to happen unless we…'
'We?' Nikki interrupted.
Oh, no. To say she was supposed to be an expert at this kind of work she was messing up big time. Maybe it was the stress of being in a cell with a cop killer trying to explain why she was undercover. 'Samantha York. Or Samantha Nixon as she's known in Sun Hill.'
'Sun Hill? You're way out aren't you?'
'It was a favour for Karen,' she answered nervously. 'So, what are you going to do?'
'I should smash your face in.'
Jo swallowed. 'You're not going to do that.'
Suddenly she recalled her conversation with Sam a few days earlier. She just hoped her colleague had been right. 'Because if you do I'll report your relationship with Helen Stewart. She'll lose her job.' Gaining in confidence, she added, 'That's why you're going to help me, Nikki.'
The lifer appeared beaten. 'I knew coppers were bastards but you take the biscuit.'
'I'm not doing this to hurt anyone. I know you want Fenner off the wing as much as we do. You're not a bad person, you don't want him to carry on hurting people.'
'You know, you're sounding convincing?' The voice was painfully sarcastic. 'I mean, you might talk me into it. That's if I actually had a choice.'
'Look, Nikki, I'll level with you. I wanted this assignment like a hole in the head, alright? The sooner it's sorted out, with as few casualties as possible the happier I'll be. I don't want to rat you and Helen out, and I won't if you just cooperate.'
The eyes narrowed but eventually she looked up. 'What do you wanna know?'
'So how are you finding life in Larkhall?'
Sam shrugged casually. 'It's a difficult job, especially when you start out. Sometimes you don't know where the lines are.'
Mistakenly believing it was a reference to Jim Fenner's advances, Helen answered, 'Well, I think when you get close enough you know.'
'What about distancing yourselves from the prisoners, does that work?'
'Not in my opinion. There are other schools of thought, the 'lock them up and leave them' philosophy, courtesy of…'
'Sylvia Hollamby,' guessed Sam with a grin.
'You are getting to grips with Larkhall.' Helen seemed pleased. 'Some people just join the prison service for the pension, they actually enjoy what they do.' After a moment she added, 'That didn't sound right. I enjoy what I do but they enjoy the control it gives them. They don't want to fight the bureaucratic rubbish of the good old days, as long as they get the wage slip at the end of the month they're happy.'
The passion in the ex-Governor's voice was evident for all to see. For half a moment Sam found herself actually wanting to do the job, to make a difference, but then she remembered that she'd probably had to clean up after half of the women on the other side of those bars. Briefly, she wondered which copper had gained the job of telling DS Gossard's wife that Nicola Wade had stuck a bottle in his neck. 'Call me slightly cynical, but don't you think that some people are beyond saving?'
'Oh, I'm sure there are a few. But my charges are fairly rescue-worthy, I think.'
'Even Nikki Wade, cop-killer?' She said it with a smile but she was carefully examining Helen's face. Sure enough, the eyes glinted with something that wasn't mere recognition of a person.
Finally, the Scot smiled tightly. 'Nikki's appealing. I believe her sentence was a miscarriage of justice, I'm sure her defence team will prove that in court.'
Sam lifted her glass to her lips and took a long deep sip. 'I'm sure.'
'Sleep well?' Jo enquired when she skidded past Nikki in the small confines of their cell early the next morning. The lifer didn't volunteer an answer so she added, 'I appreciate everything you told me last night.'
Nikki snorted. 'You better keep your end of the bargain, that's all.'
'I'm not out to hurt anyone. Except Jim Fenner and I don't think that's gonna hurt you all that much.'
A few moments of silence passed. 'It isn't a fling, you know. Helen and me. She's not doing this for some kick, just remember that, alright?'
Jo nodded at the unexpected show of emotion from her cellmate. 'Yeah, I will. Just keep your ear to the ground for me, yeah?'
Jim Fenner was to Larkhall what the Black Plague had been to England many centuries before, Sam observed with a grim feeling as the Principal Officer made his usual trek down the lunch queue, stopping to talk to a select few women. None of the ones he singled out looked particularly happy to be given the special treatment, though Yvonne Atkins' sharp eyes did follow him when he had proceeded down the line to have a crack at Nikki. The lifer was stood with Barbara Hunt and visibly tensed when Fenner started what Sam could only presume was needless goading. Even from this distance she could see Barbara's lips thinning and an arm being stretched ready to, not restrain Nikki if necessary, but just to warn her what a lunge would put in jeopardy. Glancing at Jo further along the queue Sam recognised the same agitated feeling on her colleague's face.
Clearing her throat as loudly as possible, she shouted over, 'Mr Fenner, Miss Betts would like to see you in her office.'
He was clearly irritated, both at the nature of the message and the time at which it was delivered but he smiled and nodded his head. 'Thanks. I'll be right there.'
When he sauntered off the wing Sam rushed to the PO's office to call Karen Betts and let her have time to come up with a cover story.
It was raining so no work. Nikki hated it when that happened. She'd gladly be out in the gardens in the heaviest thunderstorm potting some begonias. It was one pleasure she'd allowed herself on the outside- walking in the rain till her feet grew numb but these bastards here didn't want anymore deaths on their watch, especially not from pneumonia. Then again, at least that was a natural cause and couldn't create a scandal like Rachel's suicide had.
The thought of Rachel brought her head back to what she was doing on the threes. Stubbing out her cigarette onto the floor she made to move towards Yvonne's cell but hesitated when she heard an all too recognisable voice inside.
'So Charlie makes the drop and I pick it up, same routine and we're all happy.'
'Not the same price though, Mr Fenner,' Yvonne answered. 'Charlie won't be happy.'
'Well, you won't be if these visits stop, will you, love?' Fenner reasoned. 'All I'm trying to do is make your marriage that bit more secure.'
Realising she had gleaned enough from this conversation Nikki quickly stole back down to her own cell before she was spotted.
So it seemed she had misjudged Yvonne when she'd decided the gangster's moll would have nothing to do with Fenner. Nikki had stupidly accepted that she was too smart to get involved with a slimy snake like him but, obviously, she had banked on playing him at his own game. As much as she knew Yvonne could handle herself she still grimly thought that she had bitten off more than she could chew. This was Fenner and Jo was right- he got away with everything. She'd been going to Yvonne to see if she had any dirt on the screw, now Nikki found she had gleaned enough dirt herself. Time to keep her end of the bargain and inform Jo. Her teeth gritted at the thought but it was for Helen and their future. It was all for Helen, that's how she could justify grassing in a mate.
The inmates were mostly in their cells or in the showers Sam noted with a touch of surprise. It was the first time the wing had been this quiet during association and it puzzled her but she supposed these things rose and fell depending on the overall mood of the women. And who knew what triviality could affect entire moods in prison?
So Sam swung her keys round and proceeded back to the office where she could see Fenner alone. For a moment she thought twice then she spotted Helen Stewart out of the corner of her eye talking to another officer on the periphery of the wing; she hadn't noticed her.
Walking purposefully into the office Sam smiled at Jim. 'It's been a rough day.'
He put down the paper he had been perusing. 'That's the way this job is, love. Any particular cons giving you trouble?'
'You'd like me to say Nikki Wade I suppose?' she asked, her tone losing all semblance of niceness.
His smile faded. 'I don't know what you mean.'
She stepped forward an inch. 'I'll tell you what I mean, Jim. I'm sick of your advances and you constantly trying to get me on your side. I know your type, I've seen it before, and I'm not about to let you mess up people's lives.'
Perhaps she had gone too far, she thought, as he also lost his gentle features and stood, advancing her backwards into the desk. 'Listen, you've been talking to Betts, right? Or Helen bloody Stewart. Well, take my advice, leave them well alone, if you wanna be in the job you stay on the right side of me, you hear?'
As Sam had anticipated Helen Stewart made a timely appearance, her gaze shooting back and forth between the pair as Fenner moved away quickly. 'What's going on here?'
'I was just explaining to Samantha where the chocie biscuits go,' Jim replied coolly, sitting down again. 'You know what Sylv's like if she can't find 'em.'
That lame excuse raised an eyebrow from Helen Stewart. Sam took the opportunity to just move out of the way and allow the fireworks to continue. Sure enough, the Liason Officer finally replied, 'Mmm, Sylv and her chocolate fingers, it's a travesty. Long as you're keeping your hands to yourself, Jim, that's all I care about.'
'Always have, Ma'am,' he said with a smirk then amended. 'Oh, sorry, that's right, you're not my Wing Governor anymore are you? That means you've got no right to accuse me of anything.'
'No,' the Scot conceded. 'I'll just leave that to Karen, shall I?'
'Sorry, Helen, you don't know how close me and Karen really are.'
Sam looked up in interest at this as Helen lost her train of thought. Bizarrely, the two women exchanged a look of pure horror, despite Helen obviously knowing nothing of Sam's true self and so not knowing why she'd be interested. Fenner took the opportunity to excuse himself leaving them both quiet.
Sensing she was completely out of her depth in relation to Helen's Stewart's thoughts and feelings Sam also made a quick exit, thankful for Jo's beckoning look when she approached the wing. Trailing the brunette into her empty cell Sam closed the door and sat down on the bed. Jo followed suit. 'Everything alright? I saw a bit of that.'
Sam shook her head. 'What do you think the chances are of Betts being a deranged ex? We see it enough.'
Jo frowned. 'No, I mean, Karen's straight down the line. Jack wouldn't have put us in if he'd thought she had her own agenda.'
'Well, maybe Jack's blinded by their friendship. Fenner's alluding to a physical relationship with Karen. I don't know what to think.'
'I really don't think we're here on some kind of revenge mission. Besides, what happened to Rachel Hicks was before Karen's time and I've done a bit of digging on Yvonne Atkins.' Jo pulled a folded piece of paper from her pocket and pressed it into Sam's palm, leaving their hands together for a fraction longer than needed. 'I've written it down, if you can get it to Jack for me.'
'What is it?' Sam questioned, willing away the tingling in her hand.
'Fenner's got something going with Atkins, from what I can gather it involves Charlie Atkins giving him money. If Jack sticks surveillance on him we might get something.'
'Right, I'll get onto it. Everything alright?'
'Yeah, fine,' answered Jo, quite unconvincingly. 'What are you gonna do about Betts?'
'Have a word, I suppose. I want all the facts before I risk my neck.'
When she stood to leave Jo put a hand on her arm. 'I thought I'd got the short straw but you're working right beside Fenner. Sure you're alright?'
She smiled at the concern. 'Worry about yourself, Jo. I'll be fine.'
Having done her 'duty' and spilled the beans she had at her disposal Nikki had taken refuge in the surprisingly quiet library, not wanting to get caught up any further in whatever plottings were taking place on the wing. She was irritated then when she heard the door open and close behind her but that promptly disappeared after a familiar cough. 'Helen! What are you doing here?' Noting her girlfriend's paleness she beckoned her into a seat. 'What's wrong?'
'What else?' Helen answered.
With all that was going on it could only be… 'Fenner. Look, don't let him get to you, he's not your problem anymore.'
'You know, that's what he said. I'm trying to leave it but… He just gets to me. I can't stand what he might be doing. He's harassing one of the new officers, you know.'
'Not Samantha York by any chance?' Nikki queried tightly, reminded of DS Gossard and his lies to get him where he wanted to be.
Helen looked at her. 'How did you know that?'
How could she do this without giving Jo's game away? Not that she herself was particularly bothered about keeping the true identities secret but she had a feeling it would easier for her- and Helen- if she did. 'She's the only new officer on the wing, I took a guess. But don't bother about her, I'm sure she can look after herself.'
'That's the mentality that killing the Prison Service!' Helen said, frustratedly looking away. Nikki knew why- she had ridiculed that many of Helen's ideas and beliefs in the not-so-distant past that her girlfriend probably thought she found them all idealistic. While it might have been true to an extent Nikki was hardly going to tell her that.
'Helen,' she said softly, squeezing her hand. 'I just don't think she's worth it, that's all. You hardly know her, you don't have a clue what her motives are. I mean, she might actually fancy him.'
The Scot shook her head. 'I've spoken with her. She's not that stupid.'
Nikki smiled briefly. 'I'm not saying I don't trust your judgement. All I'm saying is that you shouldn't make her another cause. There's more people out there, people who deserve it.'
Helen didn't smile. 'You expect me to just leave him to it? Let him carry on doing what he does?'
'Let others handle it!'
'Like the two coppers the MET have got undercover!' she replied heatedly. On Helen's baffled look she added, a little more softly, 'Samantha York's one of them. Betts put them in, Fenner and Stubberfield know nothing.'
'Samantha York's a police officer?'
Nikki nodded. 'Yeah. Jo as well. They're after Fenner apparently, they want my help.'
Helen was silent for a long minute then stood, Nikki recognising the anger in her poise. 'I don't appreciate being left out of the loop.'
'Hey, where are you going?' questioned Nikki, getting to her feet and pulling Helen as close as she dare. 'Just calm down.'
'You're telling me to calm down?'
Well, even Nikki had to admit it was a first. 'Look, please, stay out of it. I've given them what they want, maybe they'll actually get him.'
'No, it doesn't excuse Samantha's blatant lying. She had no intention of doing anything for the service…'
'Okay, that as may be but you can't go steaming in there.'
'Give me a good reason why I shouldn't complain about this,' Helen said.
Nikki sighed. 'Helen, the only reason I'm working with Jo is because she's got something on me. She knows about us.'
Watching Helen's fury fade from her eyes, Nikki kept herself from further elaboration, knowing it wouldn't help her case. Finally, her girlfriend muttered, 'Well, that explains something.'
'I had a drink with Samantha last night, she mentioned you. I thought it was odd at the time but apparently she was playing me.'
'It's what they do best,' said Nikki bitterly.
'Nikki,' said Helen softly. 'Don't.'
Conceding her bias with a shrug she lifted a hand to clear the silky hair from the piercing eyes. 'Alright, I'm sorry.'
It was Helen who initiated the kiss, surprising her girlfriend. 'I can't promise not to have a word. At the very least, I want to know what they've got on him.'
'Okay, just not at the extent of your own career.'
'I didn't think you cared about my career,' said Helen, quite seriously.
'I care about you,' replied Nikki determinedly. 'I'm expecting you to be able to support me when I get out.'
Helen smiled. 'I'll bear that in mind. Well, I've gotta go attack a Wing Governor, I'll see you tomorrow.'
Nikki shook her head. 'I always thought I was the hot-headed one.'
Knocking once on the Wing Governor's door (and having checked Betts was in there alone) Sam barged in without waiting for an answer. Karen, behind her desk, looked up at the interruption, 'Sorry, I wasn't aware I'd invited you in.'
Sam got straight to the point. 'Are you sleeping with Jim Fenner?'
The spark her entrance had incurred disappeared. Moving out from behind her desk, Karen quickly closed the door. 'Why are you asking that?'
'Well, something cropped up and I started to wonder if you maybe had a grudge against him. I'd just like to be in full possession of the facts.'
Karen's lip thinned as she presumably considered her options. Eventually, she said, 'I have got a history with Fenner. We met at a conference, one thing led to another… Believe me, it's not something I'm proud of.'
'I should think not. Were you planning on telling us this at all?'
'I know how it looks! But surely you've seen enough of him to realise this isn't some crazy revenge.'
Sam had to concede that but it didn't excuse it. 'I'd have thought you'd want this investigation to work, especially considering the effort we're going to here.'
'I'm aware of that, thank you,' said Karen curtly, indicating for them both to sit down. 'Have you got anything yet?'
She nodded. 'Yeah, we've got a possible lead. I'm going to pass it onto Jack tonight. To be honest, I doubt it'll be enough to nail him but it's a crack in the armour.'
'Right. Can I ask what it is or is it best I don't?'
'I don't think it's wise.'
'Fine,' Karen answered, more than a pinch of distaste evident in her voice. 'Now, if there's nothing else…'
The Wing Governor didn't get a chance to finish her sentence as the door burst open again and an irate Helen Stewart entered. 'I want to talk to you.' She spotted Sam. 'And you.'
'Does anybody in this bloody place knock?' Karen asked angrily as Sam examined the look on Helen's face and considered the argument ahead. Obviously, she knew the truth about her identity; it was the only real explanation.
'I suppose you like keeping me out don't you, Karen? I thought you were different.'
'Do I know what you're talking about or am I to take a wild guess?'
Helen crossed her arms. 'How about we start with the part where you and Jim Fenner are having a sexual relationship?'
Sam felt Karen's glaring eyes on her and defended herself. 'She was there, he was bragging.' Looking to Helen she added, 'It was a long time ago. It doesn't affect the…' At that she hesitated.
The Scottish officer wasn't slow on the uptake. 'The case? Well, as long as the case is safe. Were you planning on filling me in at any time?'
Karen intervened. 'It was my decision who to inform, Helen. I thought your personal feelings might get in the way, from this performance I think I was right.'
The situation was fast becoming too heated for Samantha's liking. Fenner could walk past at any moment, hear what was going on and the whole operation would go out of the window. Standing up, she shut the door. 'Alright, let's all calm down.' Both women looked irritated at taking orders from a mere copper but they grudgingly quietened. 'I know this isn't ideal but I'm just trying to do a job here. The sooner it's done the happier I'll be so I suggest we all just get on with it.'
'How did you find out?' Karen asked Helen, something Sam was keen to know herself.
The Liason officer shrugged. 'Jo slipped up, is she one of your better officers?'
'Jo Masters is a credit to the service, she wouldn't have been put on this if she wasn't.'
Helen snorted slightly but didn't say anything. Karen, however, did. 'Can we get back to our duties now please? We don't want to arouse suspicion.'
Knowing how true that was Sam instantly moved to exit the office. 'I'll speak to you when I know something.' Heading gratefully down the corridor she had rounded the second corner when Helen clattered up behind her. Tired, she turned, but barely. 'What?'
The Scot wore a mask of fury, if possible greater than the one she had greeted Karen with. 'Keeping an investigation under wraps is one thing, I can understand that. But I warn you, Detective, if I get the slightest whiff of anymore blackmail I guarantee that you'll regret it.'
'Anymore blackmail?' repeated Sam dubiously. 'I don't know what you mean.'
'Oh, I think you do. Now my relationship with Nikki Wade may not be strictly above board but I assure you it is a much smaller offence than Fenner's catalogue. If you even think about jeopardising Nikki's appeal for this I'll make certain you pay for it.'
Her mind racing Sam physically backed off a little. 'I honestly have no idea what you're talking about. I haven't had any contact with Nikki.'
'No, but your friend has. And you wouldn't want her placed in a compromising position would you?'
'Of course I wouldn't.'
'Good. And, for the record, I don't appreciate being used as a pawn in anyone's games. I'll help if I can, I want to get Fenner out of this place more than you know. But I will not be used. Understand?'
Nikki gazed up out of her small cell window and watched the rain dropping steadily against the pane. Her enclosed-tiger feeling was returning; it had been circling ever since Helen had left her in the library and it was showing no sign of wanting to disappear. It left her drained of all energy and more nervous than she could ever remember being in prison. Usually the routine of the place subdued her but meeting and falling in love with Helen had prompted her to experience things she hadn't allowed herself to in earlier years. It was a mixture of pure concern, anger, resentment and love. Even defining it like that left her feeling like an emotional cripple. She supposed it was something she'd have to get used to- Helen wasn't going away and presumably neither were these emotions but while she was in Larkhall it was frustrating to say the least.
Where had Helen gone when she had left her? Nikki took a guess at Betts' office, perhaps via a stern word with Samantha, ready to unleash her anger at being kept in the dark. While Nikki could easily understand the irritation she was worried how Samantha and Jo would react to Helen knowing the truth. Of course, she was concerned her appeal would be affected by getting caught up in this mess but there was more than that to occupy her mind. Helen needed her career. Nikki wasn't certain why; she hadn't been able to get close enough to find out yet but she was in no doubt she would in time. The question was, though she knew deep down it was probably irrational, whether Helen would cope if she lost her career due to Nikki herself and had to make do with just a relationship and some menial nine till five. It would be tough mentally on the former Wing Governor and Nikki wasn't overly certain she'd know how to deal with anything like that. It wasn't something she'd had to try with Trisha- she'd been on remand when her ex had been overcoming her attempted rape. It had been down to friends to do the consoling and supporting which Nikki had felt bad about but not to the extent she probably should have.
It was times like this, though, that she hated the confines of prison. The bars were never her favourite thing, obviously, but when she wanted to be with Helen, checking she was alright, calming her down if necessary: it was the relationship she yearned for and she detested not being able to do anything. She couldn't save Helen if Jo decided to blow the whistle.
No, that was wrong. There was something she could do. Why not give them what they wanted? She could do better than overhearing a conversation between Fenner and Yvonne; she could do what she did best- go straight to the source and tell her a few home truths.
Helen was amazed with herself. No other time in her life had she put her career on her line as she already had with Nikki but she'd gone one step further. Of course she'd gratefully sacrifice her job for the woman she loved if necessary, she was only worried this turn of events might mean Nikki could lose her appeal. Helen couldn't bear that to happen which is why she'd gone against what she'd said to her girlfriend and confronted Samantha about it. All she was concerned about was Nikki being released. The rest they could cope with, when they were together on the outside.
Yet she was surprised at how low she had threatened to stoop without recognising it at the time. Would she really place Jo in danger in order to retaliate for action against Nikki? Well, no, it went against all her principles but the fact she'd even suggested it to Samantha meant a change in her personality, or at least her priorities. In her early days in the Prison Service she'd believed honesty was vital for anything to work. Perhaps she had become possessed by what she was trying to destroy. Or maybe this situation had just merited it. Either way, she had gone against her values, if only in speech. There was no real return from that change, nor was she particularly sure she wanted to return to where she was before she met Nikki. Now she felt secure in her relationship, despite the constraints surrounding them. She wasn't subconsciously looking around for something better and when she was alone she didn't brood on Nikki- she worked on getting the appeal through. It would be worth it, she knew it would be. Which was why she hadn't been able to risk it all being lost.
Jo had been wondering where Nikki had got to so when the cell door swung open and slammed back with ferocity she was sure it was her cellmate. Turning to greet her, she said, 'Where have you…' then trailed off at the sight of the angry blonde officer. 'Sam, what's wrong?'
'What the hell have you been doing?' the Sergeant hissed. 'Blackmail? And how does Helen Stewart know who I am?'
Closing her eyes briefly, Jo tried to formulate an answer which would satisfy this woman who was still, in all logic, her superior. 'Look, Nikki picked up on something I said, she must've passed it onto Helen. I'm sorry you got caught like that.'
That hadn't pacified Sam an inch. 'And the blackmail?'
'She was threatening to smash my face in, what was I supposed to do? Let it happen and come round in the hospital wing a week later to find out she wrecked the investigation? I took action, that's all.'
'We don't indulge in blackmail, Jo! If this comes out there won't be an investigation, we'll be totally undermined.'
'Well, it won't will it? Nikki's scared stiff Helen'll lose her job, she'll behave now.'
'You're trusting a prisoner?' questioned Sam scornfully.
'I've got faith in someone who follows their heart. As long as there's a risk she isn't going to drop anyone in it. She'll be a vital asset.'
'You really think she trusts you?'
'No, she fears what I could do,' Jo replied. 'There's a difference.'
Sam didn't seem able to argue on that point. She leaned heavily against the door. 'Why didn't you tell me this earlier, presumably you knew?'
Jo approached her tentatively. 'Yeah. Nikki got the information on Charlie Atkins for me.'
That raised another eyebrow. 'Oh, Jo! How's that going to stand up in court?'
She was tired of this. 'I hope it won't have to. Sam, I've said I'm sorry. What more do you want?'
Probably noting the fatigue in the voice the blonde Sergeant relented. 'Alright, I know you're trying to make this work as much as I am. We've just got different ways of doing things.'
'That's why we usually work well together,' Jo answered, smiling apprehensively. 'Are you alright? Did Helen Stewart give you a pasting?'
'Something like that. I think between the three of us we could've done with a referee.'
Sam shrugged. 'I was having a word with Karen when Helen found us. Let's just say it was the pleasantest conversation I've ever had.'
'What, including the ones with the DI?'
'Yeah, including those,' she smiled.
Jo watched the face flicker then fade. 'What is it?'
'I just… It's nothing.'
'Sam, come on. Put it this way, I'm stuck in here all night with Nikki Wade, you could at least give me something to think about.'
Pondering that for a moment Sam finally showed signs of movement, closing the distance between their bodies. As Jo's throat constricted her counterpart lost her bottle, promptly turned and fled the scene. Left alone looking onto the rowdy wing Jo considered whether there was room to misinterpret the situation. Well, there was always room but had she this time? No, she didn't think so.
Having been admitted to Yvonne's third floor boudoir Nikki was perched on the end of the bed wondering how best to broach her subject. Knowing the bluntness of the woman sat beside her she supposed she should just be herself. She wasn't one for rank and authority anyway. 'You're doing deals with Fenner now, Yvonne?'
Her elder looked up though her face remained impassive. 'What?'
'You needn't keep it a secret anymore, I know all about it. Fixing up conjugal visits is he? Playing Santa?'
'I've got no idea what you're talking about, Nikki.'
'Oh, for God's sake, Yvonne!' she burst out angrily. 'You've got to know what he's capable of.'
'I can look after myself perfectly well. Been doing it since I was a kid.'
The kid reference brought up a fresh point. 'Yeah, and he knows that. But Fenner has never targeted anyone who can stand up to him. You heard of Rachel Hicks?'
Yvonne shrugged. 'Course I have. And it was down to Shell bloody Dockley last I heard from you. Have you got a fresh villain for everyday of the week or is this special?'
'Rachel was sleeping with Fenner,' Nikki said. 'And you know that because it's common knowledge.'
She nodded. 'Alright. But what evidence have you got, Nikki?'
'He double-crossed Shell, why won't he do the same to you?'
'Look, if I did have something going on you think I'd be stupid enough to give someone else the upper hand?'
'Get real, Yvonne! Where you are gives him the upper hand. You're desperate, everyone in here is, he knows that and he picks 'em off one by one.' A thought suddenly struck her. 'You know he tried to set Denny up for the whole Rachel case don't you?'
Something flickered across the face of Mrs Atkins. It seemed Nikki's hunch about her developing a soft spot for the young prisoner had been spot on. The mask returned. 'It was a long time ago.'
'Yeah,' she agreed. 'About time for him to screw her over again, wouldn't you say? Or maybe it's my turn, or Barbara's, or Crystal's. Could even be yours couldn't it?'
Leaving that as her final word Nikki left the cell, hopefully triumphant that her words had made a difference. At least she felt like she was doing something to save Helen's skin, being proactive in her future. That was a thought that had never occurred to her until she'd met Helen and now it dominated her. Why should she be left behind?
Shivering slightly in the cool evening Sam stepped out of the prison gates and ground to a halt. She wasn't sure what she wanted to do. After calling Jack, they'd arranged to meet in a local car park at ten o'clock to discuss things but she still had a good two hours to kill. Of course, she could go back to her bedsit- her cover for this investigation- but the thought didn't exactly thrill her; it was too quiet, there was too much room for contemplation. Moving aside into the shadows as the door behind her opened again she managed to stay out of sight of Helen Stewart stamping towards her car. She wasn't so fortunate a few seconds later, however, when Jim Fenner emerged. Perhaps his eyes were so accustomed to the shadows he worked from that they didn't affect him one bit.
'Waiting for someone?' he sneered, all his earlier pretence of friendliness going out of the window. 'Your friend Stewart?'
'It's none of your business what I'm doing,' she answered dismissively, making to move towards the bus stop.
His hand on her arm soon prevented that. 'I can make it my business, love. You picked the wrong bloke to mess around.'
'You think you scare me, Jim?'
'I'm just telling it like it is. Be warned.'
He might have been moving anyway but the screech of car brakes right beside them forced him to back away a few inches. The window of the red Peugeot rolled down and Helen Stewart said, 'I was giving you a lift home wasn't I?'
Grateful, she nodded and quickly got in the passenger side, moving the files from the seat onto her lap. Fenner watched them out of sight- she kept her eyes trained in the wing mirror- but when his figure had faded she was forced to turn to Helen in the driver's seat. 'Thanks.'
Helen kept her eyes firmly trained on the road. 'I know what he's capable of, leaving you wasn't an option.'
'Right.' After a moment, she sighed. 'Look, Helen, what happened was a misunderstanding. We haven't got any intention of reporting your relationship with Nikki, it was a case of crossed-wires.'
'You mean threats?' Helen replied steadily. 'I stand by what I said earlier- you jeopardise Nikki and I'll jeopardise your case and the safety of your officer.'
Sam examined the steely face with interest. 'I've heard a lot about you. Bright-spark, fast-tracker, do-gooder; are you telling me you'd sacrifice everything you stand for as a revenge?'
'Don't act like you understand me.'
'Oh, don't worry. I'm not under the illusion I understand anybody these days,' she answered, quite bitterly. In response to Helen's questioning glance, she continued, 'The lines get blurred don't they? Someone can appear one thing and be completely opposite.' In her head she admitted she was referring to Jo as well here. 'Thoughts and feelings change in the blink of an eye.'
'That's very philosophical for a copper,' said Helen with a very small smile which was probably in spite of herself. 'It's usually black and white. That's what makes the MET so much like the Prison Service.'
'Quoting the handbook there are we? The one you didn't read.'
'Hmm. I'm fairly certain chapter eleven covered closeness to inmates but I must have missed that. In fact, a lot of it was crap anyway.'
'I noticed that when I was trying to become a passable officer.'
'I think you accomplished that, don't you?' Helen said, glancing at her again. 'Where do you want dropping off?'
She didn't answer straight away, she was thinking of Larkhall and a particular prisoner locked up there at that very moment. When she eventually did look back at Helen Stewart it was with a touch of cluelessness. 'Sorry?'
'You look miles away.'
'Oh, not that far really.' Sam drummed her fingers on the files on her knee. 'Helen, you have every right to say no, but could we go for a drink? I'd like to ask you something.'
Checking sideways, most likely for any malicious intent, Helen eventually shrugged. 'If you want. I know a quiet place not far away.'
'Thanks, I… Well, I really appreciate it.'
Lucky for Nikki Jo was on her side facing the cell wall when she returned soon after her conversation with Yvonne. She didn't want questions about what she was doing or queries about why she was doing it. All she wanted was to get the next few months out of the way, get out of Larkhall and begin her life with Helen. In the meantime, she wanted as quiet a life as possible.
Still… She had to keep herself informed didn't she? 'You okay?'
The voice floated back, soft and flat. 'Yeah, fine.'
'Has someone had a go?' she questioned. It was a perfectly viable scenario even if you weren't a copper masquerading as a con- that was one sad thing she had learned from her time in prison.
Jo turned around over slowly. 'No, it's nothing like that.'
'Well, what then?'
'Forget it, Nikki,' she answered then added, 'I'm trying to.'
Helen was being careful with Samantha. She was both intrigued by what the police officer had to ask her and wary of what her true motives might be. It was very possible that she was being lured into a false sense of security- considering the lengths she, or at least Jo, had gone to in order to keep them onside- but she wanted to believe it was something else, perhaps something true.
On her return from the bar Samantha placed the pint glasses down on the table and took a seat. 'I know what you think about me so thanks for not shooting me down.'
'I've already told you, it's not your aim I've got a problem with, just your methods.'
'You really don't like Fenner do you?' Sam questioned.
'You've spent time with him, I don't think you can blame me.'
'No, but you seem to despise him. That's because you know him, I suppose.'
'Oh, I wish I knew him,' Helen answered with a shake of her head. 'Then perhaps I'd know exactly what he's done. At the moment I've only got guesses and they don't hold much weight with the people who count.'
'What precisely do you think he's done?'
Helen smiled slightly. 'And here was me thinking you had something else to talk about.'
Samantha shrugged. 'I do. I was just interested, that's all. Can't switch off the copper in me.'
'That's not necessarily a bad thing.'
'No, but it's got me into trouble a fair few times.' On the questioning look, the blonde added, 'My daughter believes, rightly so, that I become too involved with my cases. I only recently accepted she had a point.'
'You've got a daughter?'
'And a grandson actually,' Sam said, smiling. 'Abigail and Thomas.'
Helen bit back her response to this woman having a grandchild and said, 'Well, in answer to your question, I think Fenner's guilty of sexual relations with several inmates, not limited to Shell Dockley and Rachel Hicks. You know about..?'
'Yes, Karen filled me in.'
'Right. I also think he's covered up some situations, I'm not quite certain what. Probably something surrounding Rachel's suicide which, I'm ashamed to say, we never really got to the bottom of. Aside from that, I firmly believe he beat Shell Dockley and perhaps aided her drug use in the months prior to that. That's only what I gleaned from a few months on the sidelines and, of course, he was never going to be too chatty about it.'
'I suppose Nikki's been a help,' Sam commented.
Eyeing her for any malice she finally replied, 'She's got conflicting interests, it's difficult. But, yes, she gave me information on Rachel Hicks and I truly believe everything she says.'
'I wasn't suggesting she lied at all,' answered the copper sincerely. 'I wouldn't say I entirely trust her myself but you obviously know enough to.'
'Well, I'm assuming you know her story?'
'Yeah, pretty much. Stopped her ex-girlfriend being raped by a copper, pleaded guilty and got life for it.'
'That's the jist of it, yes,' Helen said, sipping her drink and looking pointedly at the officer in front of her. 'So, you had something to ask me.'
'Yes.' Samantha took a long drink then placed her glass back down on the table and leaned forward. 'Of course, I know Nikki's… Well, her previous relationships. But I presume you were… What I mean is… Sorry, this is coming out all wrong.'
'Mmm, it is,' observed Helen. 'You're trying to ask if Nikki was my first relationship with a woman?' Samantha nodded. 'Yes, she was, though I don't see how that can be of any value to you.'
'I'm not talking about the case, Helen. I'm talking about…'
As Sam's eyes fell downwards she recognised there could only be one person on Sam's mind. 'Jo,' she realised with a start.
She wasn't entirely sure how to respond to that. Using the cover of her drink she let the silence drag on for minutes whilst she absorbed the situation. Eventually, she asked, 'Is this some kind of ploy to get me talking?'
Samantha shook her head. 'I'm many things but I don't manipulate people like that.'
'Right. Well, it was worth a try I suppose. So, does she…' Helen smiled at her own inability to ask this question. 'What are her thoughts?' Now she felt like she was talking to a child.
The blonde shrugged. 'We haven't always got on. It probably doesn't matter anyway. I mean, I can't follow up this little… thing.'
'If it were that little I doubt you'd be talking to a perfect stranger about it.' She paused before continuing. 'I was hardly receptive to Nikki's feelings for me, it took a lot of soul-searching before I accepted them. My advice is, don't rush it. And don't mess up your case. I can see Jo getting damaged if you do that.'
'I thought you were going to make sure she was damaged,' answered Samantha pointedly.
Caught, Helen smiled. 'Let's just see how it goes, shall we?'
'Thanks.' Samantha raised and inclined her glass slightly. 'Cheers.'
'You talked to Yvonne Atkins?' Jo repeated dubiously, looking up from the washbasin and meeting Nikki's eyes in the mirror. 'Was that the right thing to do?'
The lifer glanced at her out of the corner of her eye. 'I thought so.'
'Okay. Well, what did she have to say for herself?'
'Nothing much. But I left her with things to think about.'
'Do I need to know what?'
'I wouldn't think so.' Closing that bit of the conversation Nikki took over Jo's place at the sink then asked, 'You've cheered up from last night then. What was it, PMT?'
'Very funny. No, it was nothing.'
'Didn't look like it. Man trouble?'
Jo shifted uncomfortably. 'Leave it, Nikki.'
Shrugging, her cellmate went about washing her own face while Jo took a seat on her bunk under the pretence of putting on her shoes.
Tuning back in to the sound of Karen's friendly drone Sam shook all other thoughts from her head. The Wing Governor was talking about new arrivals. 'We've got the pleasure of Renee Williams joining us on G-Wing this morning.'
From the corner chair Dominic McAllister snorted. 'Great. I had the pleasure of booking her in last night.'
'Yeah, don't turn your back.'
There was a general titter of laughter around the room but Sam wasn't smiling. The name had cropped up in her discussion with Jack Meadows the previous night when he'd explained about the surveillance already on Charlie Atkins. Apparently she was no stranger to a once rival. 'Am I right in thinking she's got a connection to Yvonne Atkins?'
Karen nodded, not outwardly questioning her knowledge. 'It was her husband that Yvonne took a contract out on.'
'Oh, marvellous!' Sylvia Hollamby said scathingly. 'That's right, send her here so we can referee. I'll get the bucket to mop up afterwards shall I?'
'Sylvia, enough,' Karen said. 'We might not like it but that's the way it is. Alright, everybody, get to work.'
Slowly the POs filtered out of the office, Sam being one of the first in order to avoid Jim Fenner's eyes. It was inevitable she'd have to talk to Jo at some point and since she now had a viable reason it might as well be the present.
Making to follow Nikki out of the cell Jo was surprised when, as her cellmate left, she was forced back in by the figure of Samantha Nixon. Backing away before their bodies could touch in any way, she took a seat on the bed. 'Morning.'
Sam was looking everywhere but at her. 'I talked to Jack last night. Apparently there's already some surveillance on Charlie Atkins, they're going have a look through the photos to try and spot Fenner. But, whatever's there, it's not enough to lock him up.'
'So what do we need? Yvonne to point the finger.'
'Yeah, among other things. Look, you've got Nikki onside, that's good. Just get what you can. Oh, there's something else.'
Jo looked up questioningly. 'Really?'
The blonde glanced quickly away again. 'There's a new inmate on the wing this morning, Renee Williams. She's Yvonne's nemesis- it was her husband that Yvonne hired a hitman to kill. I don't know if that affects what you're working on but…' Sam shook her head, as if angry with herself. 'Be careful.'
Though the sentiment was nice Jo smiled it away. 'I'll be alright. Besides, you've got my back.'
'Yeah,' answered her friend looking up. 'Do you need an escort to breakfast?'
'It's a dangerous world out there.' Jo stood, reached out a hand and touched her arm. 'Come on.'
It was out of habit more than anything that Nikki looked up as the gates swung open to herald the arrival of a new prisoner. Long ago she had realised she had little taste for the mundane things like this that made life bearable for other inmates but it was a routine she hadn't managed to break herself out of. She hated her own flicker of interest at the sound but what could she do?
The new arrival was a middle-aged woman, mean-mouthed, obviously cruel. Nikki had seen so many of them come and go in her time, this one was as unremarkable as the last. Plunging her fork back into the centre of her egg she was about to tune out completely when a crash from the next table attracted her attention. Yvonne had dropped her full cup of tea on the floor and was staring intently at the new arrival.
Suddenly intrigued, Nikki questioned, 'Alright, Yvonne?'
Her friend waited until the woman had been escorted through to the wing. 'Not really, Nikki, no.'
'You know her then?'
'Yeah, you could say that,' she answered and was about to continue when Bodybag stormed over.
'Oi, Atkins! Get this mess cleared up.'
Ever sharp, Yvonne glanced over to the dumpy screw. 'You wanna get me a cloth then?'
Huffing, Sylvia then directed her attention at the servers behind the counter. 'Saunders, get over here!'
Looking back to Nikki, Yvonne said, 'That's Renee Williams. Her husband's the one I took a contract out on.'
Nikki raised an eyebrow. 'Right.'
'Karen, can I have a word?'
The Wing Governor glanced over the files she had stacked in her arms and, to Helen's relief, nodded. 'Come to my office.'
When they were settled in the familiar room Helen bit her lip. 'I wanted to apologise for what happened the other day. I had no right to question your judgment. If I had been in your position I'm sure I would've done the same.'
Karen smiled slightly. 'You don't have to apologise to me, Helen. I realise where the anger came from. It's Fenner, it's something he inspires.'
'I won't argue with you there. I just wanted to ask, what prompted you to bring the police in? I mean, I had plenty of cause but no evidence. I can't see a force taking it up.'
'Well, Jim Fenner's not the only one with friends in high places. Mine just aren't corrupt.' When Helen raised a questioning eyebrow, she went on, 'My ex was friends with a DCI from Sun Hill, Jack Meadows. He's my son's godfather actually. When I suggested there might be a problem he offered to look into it, as a favour. I hope to God I'm right, he'll be in the shit if I'm not.'
'Oh, you're right, Karen. Trust me. Is there anything I can do to help?'
The blonde shrugged. 'I honestly have no idea. You're still close to some of the inmates here, aren't you? Some of them look up to you.'
'I'd like to think so. What are you suggesting?'
'Perhaps you could talk to a few of them- Crystal, the Julies, Nikki Wade even.'
Helen smiled uncomfortably. 'I'll do my best.'
After watching from her own table in the corner Jo stood up when Yvonne had moved away. Nikki was watching the retreating figure with a troubled look. Sitting down, Jo said, 'I take it you know who that is.'
The lifer nodded. 'I think Yvonne's rattled.'
'I'm not surprised. You don't wanna bump into someone you've crossed, especially not in a confined space like this.'
'I'm sure she can handle herself,' said Nikki looking back to her breakfast which Jo assumed was now cold. 'I doubt she'll be ratting on Fenner anytime soon though. She's got other things to worry about.'
'Yeah, it had crossed my mind. You don't reckon she can be persuaded?'
'Look, I had enough of a job on trying it when she wasn't shacked up with her worst enemy.'
'Alright, alright.' Jo frowned then looked up. 'So we tell her the truth.'
Nikki raised a cynical eyebrow. 'I thought you wanted a result.'
Jo glanced over to where Sam was chatting to Di Barker at the gates. 'I just want out of here.'
'Welcome to prison.' After a moment Nikki followed her gaze. 'What is it, she not coping? It's bound to be worse as a screw.'
'It's nothing like that.'
'Then what? Come on, Jo, you got me involved in this.'
Suddenly Sam glanced up, her eyes resting immediately on Jo herself. It was obvious she had long since clocked where she was sitting and had probably been looking up on a regular basis. The thought made Jo shiver. She didn't want Sam Nixon's eyes over her body, not when everything was so badly confused. Samantha was nervous, she understood that. And Jo was too. She felt caged. While she wasn't entirely sure what she'd be doing on the outside she knew it wouldn't involve being forced to watch a seemingly straight woman struggle with her emotions. It was something Jo hated; she liked simplicity. But here she was thinking she would gladly let everything get complicated if Sam would just talk to her. She wanted to hear the words. No, forget the words, she just wanted to know the truth in whatever way Sam wanted to express it.
Nikki cleared her throat loudly. 'I didn't know you were that way inclined.'
Caught, Jo looked up. 'She isn't.'
'Neither was Helen.' Picking up her plate, Nikki stood. 'If you really wanna talk to Yvonne, now's the time.'
'Mmm. Just, er, don't tell Sam. She won't want it going arse up.'
'Sam, hold the gate.'
Turning at Helen Stewart's voice, she complied, waiting until they were level before she locked it and answered, 'Morning, you're in early.'
'Well, I had a few visits to make.' Helen began walking down the corridor. 'How's the investigation going, if you don't mind my asking?'
'Of course not. Not too well, if I'm truthful. We've got photos of Fenner colluding with a known criminal but it's not enough. What we really need is a direct statement from someone who's he's harmed.'
'That's always the trouble. I take it Jo is having no success from her side of the bars?'
'I haven't really discussed it with her,' Sam said shortly then sighed. 'Sorry, I didn't mean to be sharp.'
'No, it's understandable,' replied Helen letting her open the next gate and lock it behind them before she continued. 'Anymore thoughts on that?'
'I'm taking your advice,' she replied evenly. 'The case is the important thing. I just wish we were getting somewhere.'
'I might have an idea actually.'
Sam looked over questioningly. 'Really?'
'Mmm, what are you doing at lunchtime?'
'Good. How about joining me in a home visit?'
'Are you sure she was going to the showers?'
'Look, Barbara saw her go,' Nikki answered with annoyance. 'And she saw Williams go after her.'
'Then maybe we should get a screw.' The thought sounded ridiculous even to Jo's ears.
'What, Samantha maybe? Put her in the centre of this? Why not Helen as well? Be realistic will you?'
Conceding, Jo continued along the corridor behind her cellmate. The showers seemed quiet from the outside and she made to go in but Nikki held up her hand to halt her. Sure enough, a voice floated through the door a few seconds later. 'Your Charlie's a real charmer ain't he? Great in certain departments if you know what I mean.'
Well, that could only mean one thing. Jo closed her eyes as she tried to imagine the scene in there. Williams sounded pretty close to the door, probably blocking it, though since Yvonne hadn't yet spoken she couldn't be certain. Her first instinct in such a situation would be to call for backup and try negotiating from where she was. But she wasn't usually in a volatile prison environment. She wasn't even totally sure what was going on. This could be a perfectly reasonable conversation. Then again, judging from the history and what Williams had just revealed it could probably be assumed otherwise. Which begged the question of why Yvonne was staying in there. Jo knew that if a girlfriend's affair had been revealed in that manner she would've been out of there like a shot. So perhaps there was something else involved. A weapon perhaps. What had Dominic McAllister said? 'Don't turn your back'. She wanted to remain in one piece at this moment in time. She had someone to consider now.
'Who do you think you're kidding, Williams?' Yvonne finally answered allowing Jo to place her at the far end of the room. 'My Charlie wouldn't touch you with a barge pole.'
There was a chuckle. 'Nah. It wasn't a barge pole he used. Kind of funny-looking isn't it? That little scar he's got just above it. A bit lower and he wouldn't have had one to shag me with.'
Nikki visibly clenched her teeth. Jo pressed her ear close to the door in order to get a better grasp of proceedings.
'You're lying out of your arse, Williams,' said Yvonne though Jo was sure she detected a slight shake in the voice.
'You've got your head stuck up yours, darling.'
'I don't have to listen to this.' There were scrambling noises, maybe Yvonne moving towards the door then a minor yelp from Atkins as something happened. Despite her involuntary fear Jo nodded at Nikki and then kicked the door open.
Yvonne was lying on her front covered in blood trying to restrain Renee Williams who was knelt over her, a blade in her hand.
'Shit,' yelped Nikki, rushing over and dragging Williams off by her hair.
'Get off me you bitch!'
'Friendly,' Jo commented, forgetting herself and aiming a kick at the prisoner's abdomen. When Williams keeled over, she dragged Yvonne up by her shoulders. 'You alright?'
'Yeah.' Atkins then aimed her own kick at her rival before the woman fled.
Nikki brushed herself down and picked up the blade. 'Lucky we were passing.'
'Passing, were you?' Yvonne replied sceptically as Jo took the blade from Nikki. 'Suppose I should thank you.'
'Yeah, it wouldn't go amiss,' Jo remarked, examining the cuts on the woman's neck and arms. 'You ought to get those looked at.'
'Nah,' Yvonne dismissed her. 'I've had worse.'
'Yeah, I bet you have.'
'Look, I didn't ask for your help, alright?'
'No,' Jo admitted. 'But we gave it didn't we? I'd say that means you owe you something.'
'I don't owe you anything, love,' answered Atkins distastefully pulling away and steadying herself against the wall.
Nikki sighed. 'Come on, Yvonne, don't piss us about.'
'I don't know what you want, Nikki.'
'You to drop Fenner in it. It's that simple.'
Yvonne cocked her head slightly. 'Why does it matter so much to you, eh? You weren't bothered before.'
Nikki glanced sideways at Jo. 'Fenner's under police investigation. I was going to say that Charlie could easily be dragged under but I reckon you could be as well.'
The sharp eyes narrowed. 'How do you know this? Your pal, Stewart?'
Jo stepped up. 'From me. I'm an undercover police officer, assigned to bring Fenner down. I don't want there to be casualties.'
She swallowed as Yvonne approached her, breathing more easily as Atkins brushed past her and left the room. Nikki shook her head. 'You were nearly a casualty. Watch your back will you?'
'I thought she'd…' Jo slammed her fist against the wall drawing blood from her knuckles. 'Damn it!'
'Oi! Calm down. Give Yvonne some time. I'm not promising anything but we did just save her neck.'
'What, you think that means something?'
'Just because she's a con doesn't mean she's a cold-hearted bitch, alright?' snapped Nikki. 'You'd be best off keeping quiet if all you're coming out with are those crap assumptions.'
As Nikki also left Jo contemplated slamming her hand against the wall again but restrained herself. It wasn't as though it was going to do any good and she'd already have to explain some bruised knuckles.
'Marilyn Fenner?' Helen questioned when a middle-aged blonde opened the door to her and Sam. The woman nodded, silently. 'We're colleagues of your husband from Larkhall, can we have a word?'
Any slight panic she might have expected from a woman in that situation didn't come. She shrugged and let them follow her into the living room, Sam closing the front door behind them.
There was a general odour about the place, Helen realised with a wrinkle of her nose. It was sweat, male sweat. The reason became apparent when Marilyn Fenner hastily stowed a duvet away under the sofa before indicating the guests should sit down. That was interesting. 'Mrs Fenner, I'm Helen Stewart. You might have heard about me.'
The thin mouth curled. 'Yeah, you could say that. What do you want?'
'Sorry,' Sam said quickly. 'I'm Samantha York, your husband tried it on with me yesterday.'
'You're only a bit of skirt, love, I wouldn't get too excited.'
'Huh,' said Sam, causing Helen to look at her wonderingly. 'No, it's nothing. I just could've sworn that you said in your official statement to the police when he was accused of assault that you trusted your husband completely and he had never so much as looked at another woman. In the last few months you've changed your mind?'
'I don't have to discuss this with you. I know what you're trying to do, pin something on Jim.'
'No,' Helen argued. 'We're trying to get something to stick. You must know what he's like, what he's done. It doesn't stop at affairs, Mrs Fenner, I'm certain he's abused women, perhaps sexually.'
'No! Jim's many things but he's not a…'
'Rapist?' Sam supplied. 'Violent bully?'
'Stop it, the pair of you!' Marilyn stood, going over to the window. 'You're talking about the father of my children.'
Helen lowered her eyes. 'I know. Did Jim ever mention a young inmate, Rachel Hicks?'
'He talked about a lot of people,' she answered, turning with her arms crossed over her chest.
'No, but Rachel killed herself. It was alleged afterwards by several inmates that she had a physical relationship with your husband and that he and Dockley caused her death.'
Mrs Fenner had balked at the familiar name. 'Dockley.'
Sam was observing the woman intently, Helen noticed. Perhaps best to leave the professional to it then. 'Mrs Fenner,' she said eventually. 'You ought to know I've acquired an eyewitness account from a gateman. He says that on the day your husband was suspended you turned up and threw his suitcase at him. It seems a huge coincidence if you weren't doing that because Shell Dockley had done as she claimed and phoned Jim's infidelity in to you.'
After a long moment the blonde sat heavily in an armchair, her head resting in her hands. 'What am I supposed to do? I've got the kids to consider. I don't want them knowing what their father did.'
'My daughter was kidnapped recently,' said Sam, much to Helen's surprise. 'I say 'recently', it was more like a year ago now. And it wasn't a true kidnapping, she'd been brainwashed by a man I trusted, an old friend. Anyway, he confused her into a sexual relationship and she had his baby. He's a few months old now. Abi, that's my daughter, she's got to decide what to tell him when he grows up. Does she say that his father raped her as part of a revenge game on her mother? Or does she lie? I don't know what she'll do but whatever it's better than explaining to him in eighteen years why his mother stayed with his father when he was obviously a criminal who used her for a sick game. Personally, I think the kids'd be better off without him at all. It can't be healthy for children to be exposed to that badness in a person, even if they can't see it.'
Marilyn shook her head. 'It's so easy for you to say. Have you tried raising kids alone?'
'Abi's father was a lot like your husband,' said Sam shortly. 'But worse.'
Helen, sensing a complete shift in mood, cleared her throat. 'If you change your mind, Mrs Fenner, please call me.' She scribbled down her number on a piece of scrap paper and handed it over. 'I urge you to think carefully.'
She didn't say anything. Leaving with civilities Helen and Sam made their way out to the car, Helen unsure of what to say or if anything was indeed appropriate. It wasn't until she had started the engine and was reversing out of the parking space that Sam finally spoke. 'Do you think she'll consider it?'
'I think you might have convinced her. Better than I could've anyway.' She glanced across to the passenger seat. 'Was that…'
'True?' interrupted Sam knowingly. 'Yeah.'
'And the part about Abi's father?'
There was a long pause, giving Helen enough chance to drive to the end of the suburban street and turn the corner. 'He was a child killer, you might have heard the name Stuart McCarthy. Well, I had a baby by him when he changed his identity. It's not something I'm proud of. I tried to hide it from Abi but she found out eventually, of course she did. So perhaps I did get through to Marilyn Fenner. Via experience.'
Raising an eyebrow but shutting her mouth Helen concentrated on the tarmac ahead. It seemed the safest option.
'Can I come in?'
'No,' Yvonne answered, not looking up from the bed where she was perusing a magazine. Well, perusing was the wrong word since Nikki knew for a fact none of it was going in- she'd been staring at the same spot for the last few minutes.
She went in anyway, and perched on the end of the bed. 'Are you alright?'
Yvonne looked up, her beady eyes taking in everything. 'What do you want, Nikki?'
'You know what I want.'
'No, I know what your mate the copper wants. I'm asking you.' Nikki didn't answer. 'She got something on you, is it blackmail? Can't see you helping out the cops otherwise.'
'Yeah,' she replied shortly. 'And I don't see myself doing this if she hadn't. But I'm involved now and so are you. All you have to do is give us something on Fenner, something concrete and it'll be over.'
'I don't help out the police.' Indifferent, she turned away. 'Shut the door on the way out.'
Nikki sighed with frustration. 'Right, fine. But you might want to think about Charlie and what this could do to him. You never know, he might deserve it.'
Sam was drained but nevertheless she was making her way to Jo's cell, keeping up with the job. At least she could still kid herself the investigation was the reason she was calling on Jo. Of course, it couldn't be anything to do with something else. But the last few hours- revealing her life to Marilyn Fenner, not to mention Helen Stewart- had knocked the breath out of her. Sometimes she wondered how she was still standing. This was one of those times.
Jo was alone in the cell, resting on her bed with her face against the wall. Sitting on the edge of the bed Sam put a hand on her shoulder tentatively. 'Jo?'
The brown head turned quickly. 'Sam, you scared the life out of me!'
'Well, you were miles away,' she answered, moving her hand away a few inches. Jo moved over so she was facing her colleague, exposing a series of growing bruises on her knuckles. 'What happened? Did someone touch you?'
'It was more like the wall. Don't worry about it.'
'I will, thanks very much,' Sam said, taking the hand up in her palm and gently caressing a finger over the sores. 'Does it hurt?'
'Strangely, not now.'
Sam's eyes shot up, meeting a tender face. 'Jo…'
'What? Come on, Sam, tell me.'
She cleared her throat. 'What happened with the wall?'
'We had a misunderstanding. Listen, there's something I need to tell you. About the case,' she hastily added. 'Nikki's not the only one who knows. Yvonne Atkins found out earlier.'
'What? How the hell did she just 'find out'?'
Jo shrugged. 'Because I told her.'
Pulling herself to her feet, Sam paced around the cell. 'Damn it! Well, that's it isn't it? We either get out of here or you end the top dog's barbecue.'
'No, I can sort it,' Jo answered, coming up behind her and taking her shoulders. Sam stiffened then relaxed. 'You do trust me don't you?'
She turned, almost reluctantly but not quite. Examining the worried face of the brunette directly in front of her she relented. Lifting up an arm from her side she ran a finger down her friend's neck, causing goosebumps to appear before her eyes. Swallowing, Sam raised her eyes to Jo's and then found herself pressed up against the masquerading inmate during a powerful kiss.
'I thought I'd find you in here.'
As always an uninhibited smile crept onto Nikki's face when she heard Helen's voice behind her in the empty library. Twisting her head she received a quick kiss from her girlfriend before she sat beside her. 'You know me so well.'
'Mmm, that is my intention,' answered Helen with her trademark mischievous grin. 'How are things?'
'Good. Well, they will be as soon as Fenner's sorted and Jo's out of my hair.'
'Why, what's happened?'
'Oh, just Jo telling Yvonne the truth, that's all. On her own head be it.'
'Come on, Nikki, you've got to see they're actually doing us a favour here.'
'Yeah, and they could still blow it all couldn't they?'
Helen shook her head. 'They won't. Besides, it could all be over soon. Sam and I paid Marilyn Fenner a house call earlier. I think we might have talked some sense into her.'
Nikki looked at her, suddenly interested. 'Yeah? I thought she was all 'stand by your man'?'
'Well, her man's sleeping on the sofa by the look of it. And Sam was really good, managed to talk some sense into her. If she retracts her statement and someone gets Shell to reinstate hers…'
The pause drew her eyes up. 'No way, Helen. I'm not talking to her. The last time I tried to have a civil conversation with her she threatened to rip my eyes out.'
'What's your definition of civil?' Helen questioned innocently.
'That's not the issue. She wouldn't listen to me.'
But Helen wasn't one for giving up. 'Do you know someone she will listen to?'
She sighed. 'We could try Denny but she looks down on her.' Nikki frowned with concentration then smiled slightly. 'She's pretty keen on Betts though. Ever since she did something for her, don't know what but it meant a lot to Shell.'
'Well, if you work on Denny I'll talk to Karen. Is that okay?'
'Is that the only reason you came to find me?' She couldn't stop the slight bitterness in her voice but Helen immediately twined their hands together and drew her close.
'I think you know it isn't. Listen, we're submitting your case to the court of appeal. Now it may be a long shot at the moment, but we're hoping they'll consider it because of the new evidence.'
'And if they don't?' asked Nikki quietly.
'Then we find another way. Another victim, whatever. I'm getting you out of this place, I promise you that.'
'You okay?' Jo questioned tentatively. The woman she was cradling hadn't said anything in a few minutes and the copper in Jo was starting to sniff a problem. 'I mean, am I… I don't know. Am I confusing you even more?'
Sam shook her head and lifted it up. 'No. I'm just thinking about the case that's all.'
'That's the way to romance a girl, Sam.'
She smiled. 'Sorry. But I was thinking that when it's over I can think about this. Us. I can't deal with it now.'
'And that would be the cue for me to move my arm,' Jo muttered, dislodging it from its curved position around Sam's neck.
'Hang on, did I say that?'
She frowned. 'Now I'm the one confused. What do you want from me?'
'I don't know.' Sam dragged herself to her feet. 'Which is the reason I should leave.' She reached the door and looked back. 'I'm not saying I regret kissing you, alright?'
Jo nodded. 'Okay. Are you gonna tell the DCI about Yvonne knowing?'
'No. I thought it best not to tell him about Nikki or Helen either, that way we can still keep it quiet about their relationship.'
'Yeah, good idea. What's your next move?'
'Well, I was going to walk into the lion's den.'
'What?' Shaking her head, she said, 'You're not going anywhere near him.'
'Don't go soft on me now,' Sam answered, straightened her ruffled uniform. 'I'll be fine.'
'Sam, forget it!' Jo insisted. 'We know what he's capable of.'
'This is my job. Yours too. Best get on with it.'
Before Jo could protest anymore she was gone. Flopping down onto her bunk she briefly contemplated battering the wall again but it wouldn't do any good.
The thought of Sam being alone with that slimeball was more than she could stand. In the last few days she'd learned a lot of surprising things about screws and it usually turned out they were worse than the women. On that note, what else could Jim Fenner be capable of if he was locking up murderers and torturers like Shell Dockley for a living?
Being locked up was something she couldn't stomach. How did the true criminals manage it, the ones locked up for twenty or thirty years without hope of early release? It wasn't something she'd considered when she was arresting people, sending them to places like this but looking around her she'd seen more people who'd been victims of circumstance than she could shake a stick at. She'd never contemplated she would ever feel anything apart from contempt for people like Nikki Wade but she was fast changing her mind. These women were more of a protection blanket than she thought the guys at the nick were. Sure, she had a laugh with Phil occasionally and uniform could be a hoot when they wanted to be but she didn't think they'd ever put their necks out for her. Not really. And hadn't Nikki put her neck on the line for Yvonne? Really, Nikki was doing that for her. They were past believing blackmail was the root of her offer to help. She wanted Fenner out and her life back to normal. And Jo had an inkling she might also have a sense of duty to protect her. No doubt that could come in handy.
Still, she couldn't imagine Nikki being able to do much if Fenner lashed out at Sam- or worse. Nope, she had to go above Nikki's head on this one. Sticking her head out of the cell door she called to Di Barker a few metres away, 'I need to see the Governor.'
'She's in a meeting at the moment. Won't be free till later this afternoon. What's it about? Maybe I can help.'
'It's something Miss Betts knows about.' She thought fast. 'I'm starting appeal proceedings. It's pretty important.'
Barker nodded. 'I promise I'll let her know the second she comes out.'
'Karen, your secretary said you were in a meeting.'
The blonde rolled her eyes as she moved past Helen to open her office door. 'Well, Simon's having the decorators in, postponed it.'
'What, again? He likes a new colour for every month doesn't he?'
The Wing Governor laughed silkily. 'Come on in. Did you want something?'
'Mmm.' Helen sat down and waited for Karen to do the same. 'Would you be able to have a word with Shell Dockley? Get her to retract her retraction, if you know what I mean.'
'Have you spoken to Samantha about this? Not that I'm questioning your judgement or anything but I don't know if it's the avenue they want to explore.'
'They're open to anything, trust me. Sam and I paid Marilyn Fenner a visit this morning, there's a very good chance she'll change her own statement about the Dockley. That and Michelle's own claim would probably be enough to sink him. But if you get one thing to stick the rest is bound to come out of the woodwork.'
Karen frowned. 'Marilyn was receptive? From what I know about her she's blind to him.'
'He's sleeping on the sofa,' Helen answered. 'Besides, Samantha was very persuasive. I can see why she's a good copper, she could talk the devil out of his cage.'
'Isn't that what she's trying to do?'
Helen chuckled. 'Probably, yes. So, do you think you could talk to Shell? Apparently she trusts you.'
'Well, I hope she does but this is Michelle Dockley we're talking about.'
'The prisoners I talked to think you've got a better chance than anyone.'
'Oh, and who were they?'
Smiling tightly, Helen answered, 'I won't bore you with the details. What's important is that we can get Fenner out of this place in a matter of days if we work fast enough. Will you give it a go?'
'Sure. I'll do it now.'
'Denny, I'm not saying grass Shell up. For Christ's sake, she wants that bastard out of Larkhall as much as the rest of us do.'
'Yeah, but…' The teenager frowned. 'It's still grassing, ain't it?'
'Shell won't get into trouble. All anybody wants is Fenner's head on a platter.'
Nikki inwardly lifted her hopes as her fellow inmate thought that over. Beside them in the four-bed dorm stood Shaz Wylie, her arms crossed petulantly. 'Do it, Den. You said he was a wanker, do it.'
Denny twisted her face then nodded. 'I'll tell you what I know. But it didn't come from me.'
A sharp cough from the door turned everybody's attention in that direction. Nikki closed her eyes briefly then tried a smile. 'Yvonne, alright?'
'Trying a different tack?' she enquired innocently.
'I'm not explaining again.'
Yvonne inclined her head towards the inquisitive eyes of Shaz and Denny. 'Nah, you wouldn't wanna do that would you?'
Jo crossed her mind. 'Did you have a point?'
Walking across the cell, Yvonne answered, 'I collected some photos. Well, Charlie did but I got Lauren to take copies. They show his dealings with Charlie. They're yours, I'll have them delivered where and when you want.'
Hardly daring to believe it, Nikki asked, 'Why the sudden change of heart?'
The former gangster's moll glanced over to Denny. 'I listened to what you said.'
Shell was being brought straight to the office. Karen's opinion was 'why hang around' and Helen was of the same mindset. She had the feeling, what with visits to Marilyn Fenner and Yvonne Atkins finding out, that it was only a matter of time before all was out in the open leaving the two undercover officers in a vulnerable situation. She knew she didn't want that; especially after getting to know Samantha a little better in the last few hours. With any luck everything would be resolved and Fenner would be out of the prison service (and hopefully into a prison of his very own) before they could wink.
A knock on the door indicated the arrival of the blonde lifer. Over behind the desk Karen nodded for Helen to leave. She did so, carefully avoiding eye contact with Shell as she passed. She couldn't resist, however, taking a place next to the door where she could hear the majority of the conversation. Funny, she had never thought of herself as nosy until she'd started this job.
'What's this about?' Shell, immediately on the defensive, as usual. Reminded Helen vaguely of someone else. 'I ain't done nothing.'
Karen appeared to be a master at dealing with her though, something Helen had to admit she'd never been able to do. 'Did I say anything? You haven't done anything, no one's said you have. Alright?'
There was a long pause then a softer voice. 'So what is it then? Social workers called or something?'
Helen had a feeling this was something she wasn't meant to hear. 'No,' Karen replied. 'In all honesty, I don't think they will unless there's a problem.'
'Well, that's what worried me innit? Foster families get up to all sorts, you ask Den.'
'That isn't why I asked you here, Shell. I want you to answer something for me, truthfully. And I trust you will okay?'
'Yeah. Go on.'
'Did Mr Fenner attack you?'
Then came an exasperated sigh. 'I told you, didn't I? I made it up!'
'What if someone was willing to corroborate your story?' pressed Karen. 'Someone else who knew the truth.'
'There's only him.' Another pause. 'And his wife. But she wouldn't… Nah.'
'If she did, would you reconsider?'
In her breast pocket Helen's mobile started vibrating. Cursing silently she moved down the corridor to answer it. 'Helen Stewart.'
'Miss Stewart, it's… Marilyn Fenner. I'm at Hedgefield Police Station. Who should I talk to?'
'Give me one second, Mrs Fenner,' answered Helen breathlessly, pushing through the office door to interrupt the two women within. 'Shell, we've got Mrs Fenner's statement, she's waiting to give it.'
Whilst the blonde lifer absorbed this, Karen questioned, 'What station is she at?'
'Send her to Sun Hill. Jack Meadows'll pay her taxi fare.'
Pressing the phone once again to her ear, she said, 'Yes, Mrs Fenner? You've done the right thing, I assure you. Sun Hill's dealing with the case, if you'd ask for Jack Meadows, the DCI.'
A mumbled uncertain reply and she hung up. Shell looked up with her own lack of certainty. 'What's going on?'
Probably recognising Helen's frown Karen answered, 'It looks like things are slipping into place, Shell. So, what do you say? Do you want to be part of it?'
After a few tense moments Shell nodded. 'Anything to get Fenner.'
Breathing easier, Helen said, 'We've got a few people to inform. Karen?'
'Yes, of course. We'll go to the wing, as soon as I've contacted Jack.'
Sam wasn't convinced of the need for an officer's club on the premises of a prison. These people were responsible for the well-being of hundreds of women and they were offered alcoholic drinks anytime they could escape their duties for a second. Didn't seem altogether sensible. Then again, the employment of people like Fenner and Hollamby didn't seem wise either. Perhaps the Prison Service was just extremely bad at making decisions.
Dominic had hesitantly advised her on where she could find Jim, if she really wanted to disturb him. Those had been the young officer's exact words. If she hadn't already a fair idea of what the man was capable of that would've worried her. Dom and Jim were complete opposites and she knew whose opinion to trust. Still, here she was looking for the bad guy, searching for trouble. She was too aware of why she was really here.
Get Fenner, get out of Larkhall. It was really that simple. She wasn't overly sure things would be clearer on the other side of the bars but she knew they couldn't possibly be blurrier. She wanted out, if fast-tracking with Fenner to get something was the way to do it then so be it.
She spotted the man in question, stubbing out a cigarette at the bar. Aside from the barman, a balding man in the throes of middle-age, they were the only two people in there, a thought that made her determined and worried all at once. Mindful of the way her last conversation with him had gone she walked up to the bar as casually as possible and removed her ID badge, slamming it onto the bar and nodding to the barman. 'Rum and coke please. And go easy on the coke.'
Fenner looked over, plainly false sympathy on his face. 'Aww. Bad day?'
'Doubt you'd care,' she answered, handing over her money and accepting her drink.
'Don't think I do, love,' he replied, downing his own drink. 'Same again, Pete.'
'Getting smashed?' Sam commented, barely sipping from her glass. 'Can't say I blame you, situation you're in.'
He glanced over again. 'What situation?'
'They're all gunning for you, Jim. And that Helen Stewart, she's really got it in for you.'
'Just another thick bitch. You all stick together, don't you?'
'Don't know what Rachel Hicks ever saw in you,' she said, offhandedly twirling her glass around a beer mat. 'Poor kid.' As his eyes travelled all over her face, she added, 'Saw your wife earlier, Jim. Nice woman; Marilyn. Can't think why she married you.'
Pete was at the other end of the bar, the senior officer leaned forward menacingly. 'What the hell are you playing at?'
'I think you and me need to talk. Privately. Meet me in the art room in ten minutes.' Finishing her drink quickly she proceeded out the room, making sure she left the ID badge face up on the bar. Behind her she felt Fenner staring at her. Good; job done.
'Got some news for you, if you want it,' Nikki said as she entered the cell to find Jo pacing around. Fairly difficult to do in a room that size. Any notion she'd had of skirting around the issue to make a point about the filth and their attitude to cons disappeared. 'What is it, what's going on?'
Jo twisted at the sound of her voice, allowing Nikki to recognise the worry on the face for what it really was. 'Sam's going after him on her own.'
'What? Why?' Nikki recalled the conversation they'd had at breakfast, it seemed so long ago now. 'Have you two had a fight or something?'
'The opposite. And she wants out of here.'
'So she's trying to, what, seduce him or something?'
A look of pure horror settled on the copper's face. 'She wouldn't.' She closed her eyes. 'It's just what she would do. Nikki, what do I do?'
If the situation hadn't been so dire she would've chuckled at the mere idea of a copper asking her advice. As it was she frowned. 'We need Helen in on this, she's the only one with a set of keys. Come on.' Taking the lead she left the cell, glancing up the wing and spotting three figures coming through the gate- Helen, Betts and Shell.
'Bloody Barker said Betts was in a meeting,' Jo hissed as she emerged from the cell as well. 'I'll kill her.'
'And I'm the one in prison,' muttered Nikki, making her way up to the trio. 'Miss Stewart, Miss Betts, I need to talk to you.'
Helen caught her eye and then focussed on Jo coming up behind her. 'We need to speak with you, Joanne.'
'Look, just get in the office, the lot of you,' Karen said, looking to Dockley as they moved. 'Thanks, Shell.'
'Thanks for what?' Nikki asked quietly as she proceeded towards the office with Jo on her heel.
Helen was obviously trying to contain her smile. 'Marilyn Fenner's making a statement and Shell's reinstating hers.'
'You're kidding? How did you work that one?'
'I didn't, Karen did. You were right about her having influence over Shell.'
'You're not the only one with good news,' answered Nikki, then she looked back at Jo. 'And there's news too.'
Keeping any questions to herself until they were safely in the office, Helen let Karen join them and close the door before she spoke. 'Okay, what's going on?'
'Samantha's gone to meet Fenner on her own,' Nikki announced, gaining a puzzled look from Karen in the process.
'Hang on,' the Wing Governor interrupted. 'Is there anyone around here who doesn't know we've got two undercover officers?'
'Fenner,' said Jo. 'At the moment anyway.'
'What's changed? I was with Samantha earlier, she didn't seem particularly… What is she?'
'Eager to leave,' answered Jo and Nikki saw the look of realisation on Helen's face.
'Well, we've got a statement from Shell Dockley, Marilyn Fenner's on her way to Sun Hill,' Karen said, business-like.
'And Yvonne Atkins is willing to supply photographs of Fenner colluding with her husband,' added Nikki, glancing at Jo to acknowledge she had been on the right track. He's been arranging conjugal visits in exchange for cash.'
Karen shook her head. 'It gets better, doesn't it? I'm assuming there's enough to charge him?' she asked, directing her attentions at Jo.
'Yeah, I'd say so. And even if we haven't, we'll get him in custody and worry about it then. But we have to find Sam quickly, I don't want her alone with him.'
'Fine, I'll…' Karen trailed off as she looked out of the glass panes. 'There's Dominic, maybe he's seen her.'
As Karen went to investigate Nikki moved slightly closer to Helen while Jo drifted into her own world. 'Well done.'
'Likewise.' Helen turned her face so they were centimetres apart. 'Joanne's worried, I presume?'
'I think anybody in her situation would be. I remember you up on that roof after Zandra…' She stopped, a little choked. 'Helen, I hope you know what you mean to me.'
'Believe me, Nikki, I do.' As her girlfriend smiled their secret smile, Karen came back in. The spell broken, Nikki backed off.
'Apparently Fenner's in the officer's club, Samantha asked after him about half an hour ago.'
Jo stood suddenly. 'Okay, let's go.'
Karen nodded curtly then headed out of the office, it didn't occur to Nikki to stay where she was. The four of them were walking out of the door into the yard before the Governor even noticed. 'What are you doing?'
'I've got a vested interest in this, so has half of Larkhall.'
'Nikki, you're a security risk, I'm sorry but…'
'This is wasting time!' Jo said heatedly.
'Look, she's not going anywhere, okay, Karen?' Helen soothed the troubled waters. 'You've got my word on that.'
Accepting that, however reluctantly, Karen carried on over the stone, the troop followed. Nikki could feel Jo's frustration when the bar was empty aside from the barman. Helen didn't give up the way Nikki probably would've though, she spotted something and marched straight up to the bar. Picking up a small object, she turned it over in her hands. Both Jo and Nikki moved forward for a closer look. 'It's Sam's ID card. She's drawn something on the back, I can't make it out.'
'Here.' Jo took it, examined it with her copper's eye. 'It's just a sketch. Wait, Sam's not an idiot, she wouldn't just go off with him. What about the art room?'
Nikki looked to Helen who shrugged. 'It's logical, I suppose.'
'Some of these women can actually draw,' said Sam, flipping through one of the pads she'd found on the shelf. 'It's funny, you don't think of prisoners as having talents, they're just objects, names in a book.'
'That kind of talk made me think I could trust you.' Fenner was standing by the window, his arms crossed. 'But you're nothing are you? Some jumped-up bitch.'
'Then why are you bothering with me, Jim? Oh, I forgot, you want to know what I've been discussing with your wife.'
'I'm not overly fussed, love. You've just got one hell of an imagination.'
'Do you want to know what I do? Wanna know a bit about me?' Her stomach was tightening but she tried to keep her face clear. Jo. Jo. She was doing this for Jo. 'I'll start at the beginning, shall I?'
'Think you've confused me with someone who gives a toss.' Nevertheless, he looked at her. 'Go on then, I'll humour you.'
'Okay. Thank you.' She pulled herself away from the safety of the desk to stand opposite him. 'Well, you need to know that Karen Betts reported you to the police and the MET responded by sending two undercover officers in to investigate.'
'You?' If she wasn't mistaken, his voice was crackling. 'But you know it's shit.'
'Oh, I've seen enough of you, Jim.'
'Can't convict on speculation. Besides, I'm clean.'
'You're up to your neck. But you're right, I can't prove it. No one'll grass you up, not even Dockley. As for your wife…'
'Yeah, Marilyn trusts me. And Dockley, poor cow reckons I'm in love with her. Told her, you see. Women love that crap.'
She shook her head. 'Not all of us.'
'Real women. What are you, some kind of dyke?'
To pretend she wasn't shaken by the word was a lie. She knew she had a visible reaction, she knew he spotted it. For a moment she forgot her objective and allowed herself to be pulled back into the world of 'what ifs' that had been surrounding her since the beginning of the assignment. 'You're unbelievable, you know that?'
'I'm right, aren't I?' He laughed. 'God, I thought Dockley was desperate. At least she can get some of the real thing.'
'You sure she wanted it?' Sam questioned, regaining some of her verve. 'I heard she wasn't the only one you gave special treatment. Rachel Hicks?'
Perhaps he lost his composure, ever so slightly anyway. 'I never touched her.'
'I didn't suggest you touched her. You jump to conclusions quite a bit don't you?'
'I assumed you…'
'As much as I'd love to know what happened to Rachel, I doubt you'd tell me. I could do you real damage.'
'Mmm.' Very deliberately, he lifted his eyes to her. 'That's saying people would believe you. Betts is on a mission, Stewart by her side I bet. It's a witch-hunt.'
'And you're an innocent victim, I suppose?'
'I haven't done anything wrong, if that's what you mean.'
Her profiling gene kicked in, she couldn't help it despite her noticing that the cavalry had yet to arrive. For the first time since she left the club she faced the prospect that perhaps Jo, Helen, Karen or whoever else she thought might find her badge could miss it meaning she was stuck here without backup. Still, she could handle Fenner. Or, if she couldn't, she could at least get his confession before he… 'Did you rape Rachel?'
'I didn't do anything she didn't want.'
'Yeah, I've heard that before. You reckon that because you've got a uniform you can do anything you want. Coppers are the same.'
'What, you?' He seemed surprised, it crossed her mind she could be winning his trust.
'I've had my fair share of cover-ups.'
Fenner raised an eyebrow and smiled. 'Really?'
'Jack's on his way,' Karen said, rushing out of the gatehouse. 'He said you should try and make contact, Jo. Something about your…'
'I've done a bit of negotiating work,' Jo answered, only thankful that Jack hadn't told them to wait for the backup. 'Come on.'
The trio followed her, Karen occasionally taking the lead to open a gate. The art room seemed a million miles away, she was walking in a nightmare. What Sam had taken it upon herself to do was ridiculous, it stank of Samantha Nixon's handiwork. If she hadn't been so damn worried she would've been angry. But, no, she was completely and utterly bowled over by this feeling of helplessness and the thought that she was actually going to do something was all that was keeping her feet in a straight line.
At one corner, while Helen and Karen conversed a little way ahead, Nikki grabbed her arm. 'Are you alright?'
She had to admit she was touched. 'I don't know. If he's laid a finger on her I'll…'
'Oi, you can't be thinking like that. It's not the right way to deal with it.'
In front of them Karen stooped to unlock a gate and Helen glanced backwards as Jo hissed, 'You wouldn't do exactly the same thing?'
'I did, remember?' Nikki answered sharply. 'And look where it got me.'
That was food for thought. Jo looked to Helen who quickly turned her attentions back to Karen. 'And look what you gained.'
Nikki smiled a little. 'Barbara used to talk about fate, soul mates. Never believed it until…'
She didn't need to finish that sentence. Jo nodded and began walking again. 'I don't know about all that. But I do need Sam out of there. I need to tell her how I…'
'Come on,' Nikki said determinedly.
None of them said a word until they got to the art room. Jo then found herself forcefully pushing past the other three to get her ear to the door first. She was relieved when she heard the dulcet tones of her colleague. She was laughing. 'He claimed brutality, of course…'
'Oh, of course,' Fenner chimed in. Even the sound of his voice made Jo's skin crawl. Plus there was an element to it, one she mistrusted implicitly. She hoped Sam had noticed it.
'But my bosses trust me.'
'What, enough to send you in this dump? That's more like a suicide mission for you, what's more they know it.' Jo inwardly frowned- what had Sam hoped to achieve by telling him? She was in an enclosed space with someone they knew to be violent and she'd admitted to being a copper and, presumably, her objective undercover? Could it be that Detective Sergeant Nixon didn't have a plan for once? 'I'm surprised the cons haven't had you. Any of 'em know?' He was truly interested, he didn't sound the least bit intimidated.
'Oh, Yvonne Atkins knows. She's been quite helpful actually.'
There was a lengthy pause during which Jo found questioning looks being shot at her by both Helen and Karen. Nikki appeared to realise it was best to leave her to it. 'I bet she has,' he said finally. 'The bloody godmother. Suppose she came up with some line about me fixing her husband some special time did she?'
'How'd you guess?'
'Well, she's been bleating it about the wing. I was bound to find out.'
'It's not true or anything then?'
Jo couldn't fathom why she felt that was the moment to speak up, but suddenly she felt the tide was turning. Whatever trap Fenner thought he was luring Sam into, he could forget it. 'Jim Fenner, this is DC Jo Masters, Sun Hill CID. Can I come in?'
Sam closed her eyes as Jo's voice rang through the air. Fenner's face shot towards the door then looked furiously at her. 'Oh, that's your game is it you bitch? Got them listening, your copper friends.'
'I didn't know they were there,' she tried, seeing the anger in his eyes as he strode across the room. 'I was trying to cut a deal.'
'You think I believed any of that shit?' Reaching, he grabbed her hair, pulling her to her feet. 'What do they know?'
She squirmed to get her head out of his grasp but to no avail. 'Look, I don't…'
'Jo!' she shouted through her clenched teeth. 'What…'
'Okay, Jim,' answered Jo, clearly through the wood. 'I'll level with you. Shell Dockley's reinstated her statement, your wife's making one at the moment. You'll be up on an assault charge before you know it. Yvonne Atkins is also cooperating with the investigation. You're in deep shit, you'd be better handing yourself in now.'
His face clouded, he looked lost for a minute. Sam took that opportunity to pull out of his grip though his was still between her and the door. 'Marilyn wouldn't say anything, she loves me.'
Sam herself was first to reply. 'Well, maybe a rapist isn't what she wants as a husband, not to mention a father to her children.'
'Oh, what do you know?' He rounded back on her. 'Don't suppose you've ever been in love, you dyke.'
'You can stop throwing that at me, Jim,' she answered, mindful that Jo was on the other side of the door. 'At least I've never harassed someone into suicide.'
'What Rachel did was her own bloody fault! She was too weak, would've done it somewhere else if not here.'
'Maybe somewhere else she wouldn't have been sleeping with a bastard like you.'
He lost his restraint once again, hurtling his fist at her and knocking her to the ground. As he leered over her she became all too conscious of the fact that he had locked the door behind them. It wasn't impossible for someone to get in, but it was a bit more difficult. Scrambling back to her feet she found herself flat against the wall. 'Back off, back off now.'
Jo very nearly slammed her fist against the wall, instead she thumped it into her leg. As the initial pain subsided, she moved away from the door to whisper to Nikki, 'We need to get in there.'
'What about Jack?' Karen said from nearby.
'I don't care, I'm not leaving him with Sam any longer. Nikki, can you help me?'
The lifer didn't hesitate. 'We'll break the door down if we have to.'
Aiming a kick at his stomach Sam was rewarded when it struck even lower and he slipped to the floor with pain. As she tried to hop over him, however, he reached out, grabbed her leg, and brought her down on top of him. Feeling his body so close repulsed her but his strong arms ensured he manoeuvred his way so he was the one in charge. Beneath his trousers she felt him pulse. 'Get off me.'
'You want it rough?' She struggled against him. 'Eh? Come on, Samantha, tell me.'
'Is this what you did to Rachel?' she managed to ask.
'Oh, Rachel wanted it, she came to me. Dockley too.'
He tried pressing his lips against hers but she squirmed. 'I supposed you think you're irresistible.'
'Yeah, well, it's not my fault. Fella wouldn't last long in here without someone offering it on a plate. Easy to understand.'
'Tell me you raped Rachel!' she yelled, hearing the door being bashed in. 'I want to hear it.'
'Stupid kid asked for it!'
Summoning her last bit of strength she wrestled him away as the door buckled. Behind him she saw a group enter, she recognised Jo's battling figure instantly. It was Jo and Nikki Wade who dragged Fenner kicking and screaming into the corner while Helen Stewart leaned down to help her up. 'Are you alright?'
'I'm fine. I just wanted to hear him admit it, whether it could stand up in court or not.'
Helen's face showed her appreciation and understanding. 'I've waited for him to admit to… something. I can't believe he got away with it, right under my nose.'
Laughing shakily, she said, 'He just tried to rape me with a copper outside the door and half the MET on the way. Don't try and work it out.'
Nodding, Helen moved away as Jo came over, fresh from securing Fenner to a chair with an artfully placed piece of string. Sam wasn't sure what she was expecting- anger, affection, disbelief- but Jo made all of that redundant by pulling her straight into her arms. 'You stupid cow. What were you playing at?'
'I knew you'd get here,' she said, her earlier faith being restored at the sight. It had started to wane a little earlier. 'Jo, I… I'm sorry, I just needed to get us out of here. Get a confession out of him, whatever I could do.'
Realising she was crying Jo didn't pull away but let the tears fall into her brown hair. 'I get that. But you could've told me what you were planning.'
'I didn't know… I admit, that was stupid.'
'And the rest of it was a good idea?' Jo asked, finally pulling away and wiping the tears from under Sam's eyes with her sleeve. 'Sam, I don't know if now's the time to say this but I…'
'I think I do too,' Sam interrupted quickly. 'But… I don't want to hear it yet.'
Thankfully, Jo nodded and turned back to Fenner who was being guarded (or should that be, goaded) by Nikki. 'Jack better hurry up, I think we could get done again for police brutality.'
'Nikki, come away,' Helen said, noticing Karen's disapproving stare. 'I'll take you back to the wing.'
Nikki took one last long look at Fenner then followed her out into the corridor. When they were safely away from the art room she stopped and turned. 'How long do you think he'll get?'
'Not long enough,' answered Helen. 'But it's a start. Perhaps things'll start coming out of the woodwork, other people might be willing to talk. He might get inside and never get out.'
'Here's hoping.' Nikki glanced around and stole a kiss. 'I'm so glad it wasn't you in there.'
'I saw Jo's anxiety,' she admitted. 'But, you! Stopping her going in all guns blazing, I'm very impressed.'
'I've come a long way, Helen. I'm not about to wreck things before the appeal. I want to get out. I'm going to get out.'
'That's the spirit,' she smiled, squeezing her hand then breaking away. 'The police'll probably want to interview you.'
'For a crime I didn't commit?' replied Nikki with a sarcastically raised eyebrow. 'That's a first.'
'Mmm, tell me about it.'
'Oi!' Nikki playfully slapped her as they began moving again.
'Where's Jo?' Jack asked as the uniformed officers took a more subdued Fenner out of the room.
Sam watched him until the last then turned her attentions back to the DCI. 'She's gone to clear her cell, I think. We've got enough on him, haven't we?'
'Even with a good lawyer he's looking at eight years,' said Jack with more than a little satisfaction. 'Well done, Sam.'
'It was more Jo than me, Guv,' she said. 'She did all the hard work.'
'You just mopped up, eh?' He smiled. 'You both did your share. Debrief back at the nick in an hour.'
She nodded. 'I'll tell Jo.'
As she left the room she saw Karen sidling up to her boss. Well, fair play to her, Jack wasn't too bad of a catch and, besides, romance did seem to grow out of friendships. And, yes, she was thinking of her and Jo. Actually, romance had blossomed from something of a mutual hatred there. Funny how things worked out.
So Fenner had got his. That was something, Nikki supposed. The wing wasn't buzzing with it yet but by lights-out it would be. The night-calls would be interesting at any rate and she didn't doubt Shell'd share her own part in it, gain back some respect. Yvonne would be above it all, at least until it went to trial and she had to give evidence. Nikki hoped against hope that her fellow prisoners wouldn't withdraw their statements- it was bad enough for Fenner to be allowed near women anyway but to expel him only for him to come back would be terrible.
'You look like you're thinking.'
She turned from the window. 'Yeah, well… A lot's happened. Never actually thought we'd get Fenner. Sorry,' she corrected. 'You'd get…'
'As much you and Helen as us, Nikki,' interrupted Jo. 'I wanted to thank you. I mean, after I lied to you, I'm surprised you passed the time of day.'
'Someone had to take a stand,' she shrugged, conscious of the slight blush adorning her cheeks. 'So you off?'
The copper nodded. 'I haven't really got much but anything there is you're welcome to it. Pass it onto the Julies or something.'
'Yeah, will do.' Nikki shifted her weight uncomfortably. 'Suppose I should wish you good luck.'
'Funny, I was about to do the same.' Resting against the bed Jo looked up at her. 'What nick did you say Gossard worked at?'
Slightly thrown by the question it took her a minute to recall the name. 'Highcroft.'
The brunette nodded. 'I know a woman who used to work there, Sally Ann Howe. Might give her a call, see what I can find out.'
'You don't have to do that.'
'Don't think I won't,' warned Jo with a smile as she held out her hand. 'Bye, Nikki.'
She shook the offered hand gruffly. 'Go on. Get out of here.'
As she came out of the cell with only her coat for company Jo spotted Sam waiting for her at the gate. Unable to keep the smile off her face she walked up. 'Hi.'
'Said your goodbyes?' asked Sam, unlocking the gate and letting them into the quieter corridor beyond.
'Yeah. It isn't that easy to just walk out of here is it?'
'I know what you mean. I think I might actually miss it.'
Jo laughed. 'Well, I wouldn't go that far. Still like having a bit of freedom. But somehow I don't think I'll be so quick to suggest custodials for petty theft and prostitution.'
Sam looked at her knowingly. 'The Julies.'
'Mmm. They shouldn't be here. Doubt Rachel Hicks should've been from what I've heard. You know, even Nikki…'
Surprisingly, Sam wrapped an arm around her waist. 'Nikki's appealing. And with Helen on her side I'll be shocked if she doesn't get out.'
Slightly unseated by the unexpected contact Jo didn't answer right away. 'You're probably right.'
'Well, Jack wants us back at the station in an hour for a debrief,' Sam said, seemingly returning to business. 'But then I think you deserve an evening out.'
She raised an eyebrow. 'Really?'
The blonde stopped, didn't even glance around and kissed her gently. 'Would you join me for a bite to eat? I have to say, I'll be devastated if you say no.'
How could a girl resist? Pressing Sam against the wall she stole another kiss. 'Then I'd better say yes.'