Chapter 1: One
“So tell me, who do I need to know about here?” The Governor is sat in her new office, with her new Deputy opposite her, making notes in an expensive looking notebook with a fountain pen. From what Vera can see of her handwriting, the delicate looking swirls make her slightly jealous when she compares it with her own chicken-scratch writing style.
“Well, the top dog currently is Franky Doyle. Everyone thought that Bea Smith would step up after she stabbed Jacs in the neck with a pen, but she’s been between the wet cells and the medical bay for the past three months following a breakdown. And then there’s…” Vera trailed off, wondering if it was even worth telling the Governor about the last inmate in her mind.
“There’s...?” Joan asked, looking at her, pen paused in its writing.
“Well, there’s Elizabeth Edwards.” Vera finished, leaning back in her seat. “You might have seen her about the place when we walked around earlier. She’s usually got a book with her. And she’s British. Very distinctive accent. Everyone tends to refer to her as Bess.”
“The redhead?” The Governor was curious. She had spotted the redhead when Vera had been showing her the general layout of the prison. She was young, and had her hair piled up on her head in a messy bun. She’d passed by them with a textbook in her hand, and was explaining to an older woman next to her the basics of taking some language modules and what kind of assignments would be involved. Why was this prisoner someone that Vera would consider to be of interest?
Nodding, Vera can see the Governor’s curiosity. “Well, she arrived about three months before Erica Davidson left. She’s in for fraud of some kind or other, so she’s not considered a violent offender.”
“So, what makes her of interest?”
“Well, she’s civil. To everyone, as far as we’re aware. She doesn’t cause a problem if she can help it, and as long as she has a book to read, she’s content as you can be whilst in prison. She deliberately distances herself from prison politics.” Vera remembers when Doyle had tried to press the young woman into something with her drugs trafficking, Edwards had refused to say what. She also remembers the huge bruise that took up half of Doyle’s face and the broken nose that came from the young woman’s brutal hit with a hardback copy of The DaVinci Code. Since then, both women remained polite and fairly friendly, as they lived in the same unit, but Doyle never tried to force her into anything again. Jacs had seen the result of Franky’s pushing and had wisely decided to leave the woman alone.
“So, I should watch out for her because she’s nice?” There’s disbelief in the Governor’s tone.
“She has a way about her. While Franky may be the Top Dog, there’s a healthy respect for Bess, mostly because she isn’t biased. The women have a tendency to go to her for advice with something, or if something is particularly wrong and they want it sorted quietly. Doyle’s way of dealing with issues doesn’t work for everyone.”
“So it sounds like she’s doing the job of a peer worker.” Governor Ferguson is interested in this. If this is an individual that the women have a healthy mix of respect and fear of, then she is likely someone who has a modicum of control over the women. “Why not offer it to her?”
“Erica did. She turned her down point blank, and then got very offended when the woman kept pushing for it. Said that she had no interest in inserting herself into the women’s lives here more than she had to, or something like that. Erica then gave the position to Anderson, who lives in the same unit as her. Bess allows the women to come to her on the basis that they don’t involve her in anything more than necessary.”
Now that is interesting. “Well, I suppose we simply keep an eye for any trouble then.”
“If you hear about anything concerning Edwards, it means that something big is brewing. There is one clique of women who she doesn’t get on with. Gambaro and her little crew.”
The Governor looked at her, expecting her to continue. “When she first got here, Gambaro and her crew tried ganging her.”
Vera saw the confused look on the older woman’s face and then watched as comprehension dawned. The older woman might have been tough, and hard as steel nails but the very thought of such behaviour happening in her prison made her stomach turn. Each prison had it’s own name for the practice, and it was not tolerated in her prisons. Blackmoore and Bahnhurst had their ‘ganging’ problem stamped out quickly, along with the inmates responsible for it, quite literally.
“Why have they not been dealt with if we know its happening?” There’s fury in her tone, and Vera rushes to try and calm the situation.
“We try, but none of the women were ever willing to talk.” Vera thought a moment, remembering back to the incident and the mess on the three women responsible afterwards.
“You said that they tried. What happened?”
“It was three on one. Edwards walked away with some cuts and bruises, Gambaro and two of her girls didn’t.” Vera remembered it. She’d been on shift when Edwards had walked up to her, holding her arm around her left side and politely asked to see the nurse to check if she’d broken any ribs. She’d claimed that she’d fallen as she was about to get into the shower. The deputy remembered the messy auburn hair, most of it still in its usual style at the top of her head, and the black eye that was slowly darkening as well as the split lip. Vera had escorted her to the medical bay and had left her in the capable hands of the nurse when the alarm had gone off, and the radio had started screaming with Will’s voice shouting about a medical emergency in the shower block.
Lucy Gambaro had been missing teeth, had multiple cuts on her face as well has bruising around her chin, left eye and forehead. She’d been cradling her left arm, and later they’d found out that she’d dislocated her left shoulder as well as suffering from a fractured wrist. Her ankle had been broken, and she still walked with a limp. Plus, bruising and cuts over the rest of her body. Her two ‘boys’ had suffered too. One had a fractured skull from having her head slammed into the shower walls, whilst the other had broken fingers and a broken nose. The two had bruising and cuts all over their bodies as well. They’d all requested to go into protection. Gambaro had been refused but her two boys had been allowed. Since then, all Gambaro had managed to find the balls to do was glare at Edwards from the corners where she lurked with a significantly smaller clique.
Joan listened with interest, to the details that Vera provided about the incident. “I’m assuming then that she warns any new prisoners about this, Gambaro?”
Vera nods, not needing to verbally explain further. “Whether they listen is another story entirely.”
“Right, well we’ll keep an eye then. Coffee?”
Vera nods and accepts the mug when its ready. The two continue to discuss prison politics until they are called away to a skirmish happening on the yard.
Governor Ferguson gets to see Edwards in action as they reach the yard. It’s a fight between Doyle and a few others in the corner of the yard, likely over something miniscule. Joan recognises the posturing coming from the young woman with the rattail in her hair, the hyped up swagger and brash behaviour.
Edwards is sat at one of the metal tables, with Anderson sat opposite her, holding a gardening trowel with mud on her hands, looking at the fight and Sue Jenkins is sat next to her. Whilst everyone else is watching the fight, Edwards doesn’t seem to care. She keeps her eyes on her book, a thick looking hardback, occasionally turning pages.
One of the women in the skirmish lands a solid hit on Doyle’s back and the Governor watches as the large woman next to the redhead jumps to her feet, likely to intervene.
Edward’s pale hand shoots out and clamps on Jenkins’s shoulder and the surprise of her movement causes Jenkins to fall back into her seat, looking at the redhead who’s not even bothered to raise her head from her book.
“Sit down, Booms. Franky’s a big girl, it’s time she learnt how to finish a fight if she wants to start one.” The British accent flows smoothly, and Joan watches as the bigger woman starts to protest but stays seated.
“But Bess, she’s gonna get hurt!”
“Then that’s what she gets for starting a fight, Booms. You’re not her bodyguard, darling. Sometimes she needs to realise that you aren’t simply there to fight her battles for her.” Edwards turns her head to look at Jenkins, and reaches out the hand that just yanked her back into her seat, to pat the larger woman’s hand gently in reassurance. The Governor notices that Jenkins doesn’t try to get up again as two officers break up the fight and Doyle tries to act tough, acting like she hasn’t been winded by the whole scuffle. She watches as Doyle slowly walks back to the table where Edwards was sat, and she can see her gesturing at Jenkins with her arms spread in a ‘where were you?!’ motion.
Edwards had managed to stop the entire thing from getting worse with a few words spoken in a reassuring tone and a hand pat.
Joan realises why the women would go to her for any help.
She didn’t gesture wildly, shout or swear. She offered logic and some reassurance. No doubt she had some skill in manipulation, seeing how well she’d managed to get Jenkins to listen to her. She wondered if Doyle would try and push Edwards into an argument.
“What the hell, Booms?” Doyle can be heard saying, gesturing wildly. Edwards’ attention is back on her book, calmly turning a page on her book with a pale index finger.
“You started it, Franky. I’m your friend, not your bodyguard.” Jenkins defends herself, albeit in a nervous tone, but she does it all the same. Edwards face doesn’t change as she turns a page, except for the raise of one well shaped eyebrow.
The Governor shares a look with Vera as they stood behind the fence.
“See what I mean?” Vera asks. Joan simply nods.
It would be the best course of action to keep on Edwards’ good side. She may be more in-control of the women than Doyle was.
Governor Ferguson asks to meet with Edwards on her second day. She’d met Doyle previously and hadn’t been impressed. Perhaps Edwards would pass muster.
The young woman is escorted by Mr Jackson, who she makes a point of thanking as he gestures for her to enter and closes the door after she is inside. The Governor notices the friendly nod in response to the redhead’s thanks.
Edwards stands in front of her desk, hands held together in front of her. Her posture is like that of a ballet dancer, back straight, shoulders back and her chin up. She doesn’t immediately take a seat, Joan realising that she is waiting to be offered one, rather than assuming.
This one has manners. Makes a change.
“Please have a seat.” Joan gestures to the chairs in front of her desk, and in one smooth motion the redhead sits, her back still straight and she’s looking at her. It’s a complete contrast to Doyle who had immediately slumped into the chair, put her ankle on the top of her bent leg and had looked around her surroundings as if bored.
“Congratulations on your new job here, ma’am. You have quite the task in front of you.” Her tone is polite and there’s respect underlining it too. Nobody else except Vera and Mr Jackson had bothered to congratulate her. “Can I ask why you wanted to see me?” Joan notices that she asks, rather than demands. Another stark contrast to Doyle. Edwards’ face is neutral, she isn’t smiling, but she isn’t frowning or glaring either.
“I have it on good authority that you have some control over the women here, Edwards.” Joan is blunt, curious as to how she will react to such a statement.
“I wouldn’t call it control, ma’am.”
“What would you call it?”
“I’m not too sure, but it isn’t control. Human decency, perhaps.” Her accent causes the words to flow, and Joan finds herself curious.
“Miss Bennett tells me that the women come to you for help with problems they might have.” Joan links her fingers together and leans forward on her desk. “Why is that?”
Elizabeth isn’t stupid. She knows that Franky had marched back to the unit following her meeting with the governor yesterday and had raged about how the woman was a player. She hadn’t liked Elizabeth’s counter argument, which was how could Franky have expected anything else. Franky, by now knowing better than to engage Elizabeth in a heated debate of any kind, had pulled Kim from the unit, ranting to her as they left, leaving Elizabeth to read her book in peace.
“Perhaps they enjoy my unbiased opinion based on facts, ma’am.” Elizabeth Edwards is the only woman in the entire prison who has called the Governor ‘ma’am.’ So far, anyway. It’s used in a respectful way, Joan notices.
“Be that as it may, I would appreciate any warning towards anything that might cause a large issue within the prison.”
“Governor, may I be blunt?” Edwards meets her eyes. The Governor nods her head, deciding to allow it this time, curiosity winning.
“I have four months left of my sentence. I don’t fight with anyone, I don’t argue with anyone. I deliberately stay out of prison politics. I simply want to keep my head down, read my books and do my time.” Elizabeth knows that the Governor wants a person on the inside, as it would notify her of any building tension or issues between the women. Elizabeth wanted no part in her games if she could help it. Erica Davidson had been the same, with her bleeding heart and trying to better things with a gentle touch. The woman in front of her was the exact opposite. Governor Ferguson was steel and had a plan to eradicate drugs from Wentworth. Whilst Elizabeth respected that stance, she would watch her own back first. That included not being stabbed in her sleep for snitching.
“I will not offer you a guarantee of informing you on the comings and goings of these women. Because I have made a point of not knowing this information during my time here. It would be suspicious of me to start enquiring now.” Her tone is firm.
Vivid green eyes meet dark brown.
“Very well, I can respect that.” Joan has to admit, the woman has class. As well as a backbone made of iron to state so clearly what her stance was. “Governor Davidson placed you in the library for your work detail, yes?” she asked, flipping through the small file in front of her. The woman had little in her file, proving her point about keeping out of the way of any drama, and had the bare minimum of information compared to an average inmate, who would usually have notices of any warnings or time spent in solitary. Elizabeth Edwards had only one warning and that was for suspected fighting, and the note even noted that it was likely in self-defence.
“That is correct, ma’am.”
“I’d like you to stay in that post. We’ve been given a small grant for more books to be purchased, I’d like to place you in charge of that.” The Governor knows that Edwards will see this for what it truly is. A truce of sorts. In the elaborate chess game that is Wentworth, Edwards is the Queen whilst Joan is the King. Together, they can help each other. Separately, one can wreak havoc over the other if they so desire.
“I’d enjoy that, Governor. It will be nice to have some new reading material.” Elizabeth can read between the lines. The grant for new books could be taken away as quickly as it was offered. So she decides to offer her own caveat.
“If there is anything that might occur that will cause harm to any of the women, I’ll make sure that you find out in some way about it, but I will not endanger myself. That is all I’m able to promise you.”
The Governor nods in agreement. “That’s all I ask, Edwards.”
“It will be good to have some new material.” Elizabeth mentions, repeating her previous statement, acting relaxed about the whole affair.
“Yes, you’ve likely read your way through the current books we have, haven’t you?”
“Impressive.” Joan nods.
The two finish their conversation a few minutes later, both parties fairly satisfied with the outcome.
Joan makes a point of noting in her book that Elizabeth Edwards is of interest to her in regards to the women of Wentworth. She plans to observe the woman more before planning anything concerning her.
Elizabeth walks back into the unit after her meeting with the Governor, and Franky immediately pounces on her, wanting to find out what Ferguson wanted.
“There’s a grant for new books, she wanted me to make a list of ones people would want in the library.” She shrugs off the arm that the other woman has slung around her shoulders. “I’ll make sure to put that textbook for the HSC on the list for you, Booms.” She calls to the woman who’s making tea for everyone.
“Really? Thanks Bess!”
“Seriously? Is that it?” Franky asked, looking like she didn’t quite believe her. “That’s all she wanted?”
“Franky, no offence but unless you have a request for some law textbooks, stop bugging me. I’ve got a few chapters left of War and Peace and I want to finish them tonight.” The mention of books makes Franky back off, hands up in surrender. Although Elizabeth was younger than Franky, being twenty four, the dark-haired woman knew when to pick her moments with the redhead. The feeling of the hardback that Bess had smacked into her face with no hesitation still lingered, long after the bruises had faded and the broken nose had healed.
Everyone in the prison knew that Elizabeth was the perfect mix of petty and spiteful, if provoked. Occasionally, new inmates needed reminding by other women that she wasn’t one to pick a fight with in an attempt to prove their mettle. Plus, the young woman helped the inmates trying to get their high school certificates, so that when they finished their sentences, it would help them find a job. She also helped with resumes, reading, writing and mathematics. So, most women in the prison had enough common sense not to cause any problems with her. Then, there were some who were simply dumb.
Everyone would tell you that Bess Edwards was nice, that what you saw was what you got, and she was always willing to help you if you were polite, and respectful. If you weren’t, you found yourself sliding out of the library doors on your backside after she’d thrown you out. Literally.
So people kept a cautious distance.
Elizabeth settled on the sofa next to Liz who was crocheting another granny square to add to her blanket in a vibrant yellow and orange mix. She found her bookmark towards the back of her book and opened to the page she last reached and began to read. The appearance of a skinny blonde-haired girl next to her made her sigh.
“ Skye, what do you want?” She didn’t bother to raise her head to look at her.
“I wanna get my HSC, Bessie, you know that!” The little crackhead was practically vibrating, kneeling next to her, and Elizabeth placed her bookmark on her page and slammed the thick tome shut. The sound caused everyone in the unit to go quiet and turn to look at the two. Quick as a whip, Bess reaches her hand out to grab at the bottom half of Skye’s face, peering into her eyes to see her pupils, an unimpressed look on her face.
“Has Big Tanya given you more of her crap?” Her grip tightens. Skye frantically starts shaking her head, as much as she’s able with Bess’s hand gripping her face, but the redhead knows different. The blonde’s pupils are huge, and her eyes are darting all over the place with nervous energy, as is she.
“Nah, not to me! C’mon you’re helping Boomer!”
Elizabeth tightens her grip further, making the girl wince and she yanks her face close to hers, fury in her eyes as she spits out her words to the girl. “First off, you lie to my face. Second, I’m helping Booms because she wants to do it properly. So piss off, you little smackhead before I break you in half!” She snarls at the girl, and flings her away, the force making her fall backward with a thud. Skye looks around for some support, but the women know Bess. They know her stance on drugs, and they know that she has no patience for those who find a way to use them whilst they’re inside. The scrawny blonde will find no backup in Unit H2, not even from Franky, who knows better than to bring prison politics and drama to the unit where she lives. Most of the time.
Skye skitters backwards, away from Elizabeth’s glare that has enough heat to in it to melt glass. She hightails it out of the unit, not looking back.
Without a word, Elizabeth opens her book again, and the hubbub in the background picks up.
Vera keeps an eye on the breakfast crowd from the little pod to the side of the small canteen. There’s been no trouble so far, but you never know.
Elizabeth enters through the doors, a new book under her arm and she catches Vera’s eye. She inclines her head respectfully in greeting with a small smile, which Vera returns. Elizabeth then makes her way to the line for food, asking Magda, the older woman who is stood behind the bainmarie serving the breakfast, when she’s going to drop by the library for another Russian lesson with her. Magda smiles, answers her in Russian, as she makes sure to pile baked beans onto the toast the way that she knows Elizabeth likes it.
“Я буду там сегодня днем. (I’ll be there this afternoon.)” She says, handing the tray over to the redhead, who surprises her when she answers in Russian too.
“Ладно, увидимся позже. (I’ll see you later!)” Bess winks at her surprised face, causing Magda to laugh as she begins piling food onto the next tray for the person behind the redhead. The older woman was German and had moved to Australia in the 70’s, but had a life sentence after killing her husband, so had decided to learn languages to pass the time. When Elizabeth had said that she wanted to learn Russian, Magda had offered to help with the pronunciation.
She finds her seat next to Doreen, who is drinking a cup of coffee like her life depends on it, and nibbling on toast. Elizabeth settles in her chair, and opens her new book, another hardback, The Shining to the first page.
“How can you read that?” Doreen asks, shivering. “I managed one chapter and I had to put it down. Could never watch the film either.”
“Hm.” Bess swallows what’s in her mouth before eating. “We live alongside scarier things than what’s in any book, Dor.”
Doreen shakes her head, and pokes her arm. “It is far too early to be that deep.”
Breakfast continues in a fairly calm manner, women coming and going.
Elizabeth finished her meal and rises when Doreen does, and the pair walk out after putting their dishes where they should go. They part ways outside the library door, Doreen continuing down the corridor towards Laundry, giving Elizabeth a quick wave as she turns the corner.
Elizabeth enters the library, currently in darkness and reaches behind the door to switch on the lights. As usual the shelves are a mess, and she meanders towards the desk to see if any books have been left on it for her to return to the system. She groans as she sees the full cart next to the desk. She starts to sort them into piles based on subject, knowing that she won’t be able to log into any computer system or the scanning system until an officer arrives to do it for her.
Mr Jackson walks in the door as she sorts the bottom shelf of the cart.
“Morning, Mr Jackson.” She calls, looking up from her small pile on the desk to nod at him.
“Morning, Bess. I heard from the Governor that you’re getting some new books in here.” He smiles at her, knowing that new books will make her good mood stay for the day.
“It’s about time.” Bess answers him honestly. “Governor Davidson didn’t particularly care that this place was kept updated with half-decent books. I don’t think she quite realised the role this place plays here. No offence.” She offers a half-hearted apology towards the slight at his former superior.
As she’s come to expect from Mr Jackson, he shrugs. “You’re only telling the truth. She cared more about how she came across for PR, and how her stats would look than what the women here actually needed.”
“Well, hopefully Governor Ferguson will be different. I know that she plans to get rid of the drugs here, which can only be a good thing.” Elizabeth appeared pensive for a moment. “I’d heard that she had the nickname The Fixer? Managed to get rid of drugs completely in the last two prisons she was in. If anyone is going to be able to do it, it will be her.”
Mr Jackson looks shocked at the amount of information she has at her disposal concerning the governor. “How do you know all this, Bess?”
She smirked at him. “I live with Doreen and Liz, Mr Jackson. Those two are better than the news.”
He laughed, knowing that the two women were always in the loop with gossip. “How do you think she’ll do it?”
“If it were me, cold turkey.”
Mr Jackson is shocked at how definitely she gives her answer. “Surely weaning them off will be better?”
“More studies have shown that cold turkey is the most effective drug rehabilitation tactic, when you compare the cost, effectiveness and least amount of medical intervention required. Weaning off only really works well for alcoholics. Why wean a person off one thing, only to swap the addiction to something else? It doesn’t make sense. Plus it means all the smackheads in here are bedridden for at least a month. Gives me some peace and quiet. Also, thinking like the little bureaucratic assistant that I used to be, cold turkey is cheaper.” She places a hardback book about flowers down with too much force as she ends her little tirade. She despises drugs. There had been a time where a young girl around 19 had been put into her unit. Within two weeks, the girl had been carried out on a stretcher after having been caught with gear on her, not to mention using it herself. She’d picked a fight with the other women, thinking they were aliens there to kidnap her. The women had managed to hold her down to get her strapped onto the stretcher, but the fact that Bess had slammed her fingers into her cell door before the officers arrived had remained unsaid.
“Bess.” Mr Jackson admonished, slightly shocked by the young woman’s stance. He had a social work background, he felt empathy a bit too much for the underdog. Bess had a good rapport with all the officers except Fletcher, so tough conversations between the pair weren’t new, but sometimes she’d say something that would make her seem much older than her actual age.
“What? Oh don’t look at me like that, you know I’m right.” Bess continues to sort the books. “Besides, have you ever actually witnessed somebody weaning off smack? It’s a horrible process.”
Will had to give her that.
“Can you log into the systems for me please? I want to get these sorted before the girls start coming in for their HSC tutoring.”
The Governor watched the CCTV, watching as Bess manoeuvred around the large man both verbally and physically to get on with her routine, smoothly moving the conversation away from its previous topic. The redhead gave an interesting point, one Joan believed. It would do more harm than good for the women to wean off the drugs. She intended to make them go cold turkey, regardless of any complaints. It had worked in the previous two prisons after all, as Elizabeth Edwards had deftly pointed out.
When Will Jackson walked back into the library to take over from Vera in the afternoon, Bess was in the process of setting up a list for people to add books that they’d like to see in the library. She’d already added some of her own, mostly textbooks for the HSC from this decade, language learning textbooks and a few common university course ones such as law, accounting and psychology. A few people had already asked for some different genres, Jenkins had asked for Harry Potter, which made Bess laugh and promise to put it on the list.
He walked over to her and sat in the usual seat to watch over the room. To be fair, Bess kept an iron grip over what was considered by the entire prison as her library, and trouble had occurred that she couldn’t handle only twice during her incarceration. The first one had led to Bess completely refusing entry to Sue Jenkins for nearly two months after she’d had a fit of anger and shoved over a tall metal shelf, nearly crushing Bess in the process who’d been on the other side stacking the shelves. Will remembered it, he’d been the one watching the room and had needed to lift the bookshelf to help her slip out from underneath it as it had been too heavy to move herself. Bess had grabbed hold of Jenkins by her nose and had physically dragged her to the doorway, throwing open the door and pulling her through, and giving her a hard kick on the backside as she passed. The young woman hadn’t been injured, but she made the point that anyone taller or bigger than her would have been. She’d not spoken to Jenkins for nearly the entire two months as well. All the officers had mentioned how the usually boisterous and loud inmate had become quiet and nervous, and constantly trying to apologise to the redhead whenever she would pass by. Jenkins had earned forgiveness when Bess had made her sit for three days and write lines. Will remembered being quite shocked about it, but it had done the trick, Jenkins hadn’t had a violent outburst in the library since.
The second incident had been slightly more serious. Linda had overseen the room for that morning, and Skye Pierson had burst through the doors and grabbed the nearest woman to hold hostage with a shiv until she could get something to take the edge off her withdrawal. The blonde officer had immediately radioed for backup, but Bess had found a quicker course of action. She’d hefted a dictionary over her shoulder, aimed for Pierson’s head and launched the hardback at her face. The redhead had then thrown herself at the howling blonde that had dropped the weapon and was clutching at her nose, body slammed her through the library doors, into the wall opposite and then sat on her until the backup of officers arrived. It had been quite the situation for the other officers to arrive to, and even Fletch had grinned at the image. Once Pierson had been transported to medical to have her face seen to, Bess had merely walked back into the library, picked up the dictionary from the floor, dusted it off and replaced it on the shelf. Skye Pierson has never walked through the library doors since.
Although the woman was young, everyone appeared to have a high level of respect for her, to the point where if she said you weren’t coming into the library anymore, people listened.
Either way, all the officers except Fletch enjoyed the times when they were assigned to watch the library. It was a calm place, with unwritten rules and these rules were respected and understood by everyone. Fletch didn’t like the way that Bess had control over the library, despite the fact that without her there, it would likely be a free for all. Will dreaded the day Bess would be released.
Will remained in the library for the rest of the day, until dinnertime, when Bess turned off the lights, and waited for him to lock the door, and then wandered off towards the canteen with a wave.
The next day was tougher.
As Bess had predicted, Ferguson cut off the inmates cold turkey and ordered a rep to dig out any drugs remaining.
Those already going without a fix for the past day began to experience withdrawal in full, with their unit-mates sequestering them in their cells with the doors mostly shut, leaving a small crack open to check on them every now and then. Thankfully, none of these were in Bess’s unit.
Later, the redhead stood, leaning against the frame of the bars at the entryway to the unit, flicking through the end chapters of The Shining as the officers and the drug search dogs did their tasks. To calm the dog unit, she’d placed the book on the floor when they’d arrived, giving the dog a chance to snuffle at the pages before it took off towards the cells. She’d then picked her book up and resumed reading.
She greeted the Governor without even needing to look up. “Good afternoon, Governor.” She then raised her head, and closed her book, keeping her index finger in between the pages to mark her place.
“Good afternoon. Be honest with me Edwards, am I going to find anything in here?”
Bess had seen the mess Skye had made on the wall outside and had known that a search was imminent. It didn’t particularly bother her, she had nothing to hide and usually her belongings were only slightly messy following any search, even if Mr Fletcher was the one doing the searching. Franky on the other hand seemed jumpy.
“Not my problem,” she thought. “Plausible deniability.”
“All I can guarantee you, ma’am, is that you won’t find anything in my cell.” Elizabeth shrugged. “Beyond that, I’m not sure. They’re each responsible for themselves.”
The Governor noticed the look of distaste on the redhead’s face at the way Fletcher was going about the search. Flinging belongings out of the cells, and rifling through them, shoving things out of the way. Joan found she quite agreed with the inmate. Something about Fletcher rubbed her the wrong way, it could very well be his personality or his way of speaking. But either way, it appeared that the redhead did not like him in the least. It was interesting when considering that the young woman made a point of being civil to everyone except the likes of Gambarro and some of the more intense drug addicts.
“We found the spray can that was used outside, but I don’t think the woman who was hiding it was responsible for the artwork.” The word artwork is said with sarcasm. “Any ideas on who?”
“Hm, not my area I’m afraid. If you want to talk about which books I’d like to order for the library, I’m more than happy to pass on the list, but I haven’t managed to get all of the women aware of it yet.” Bess spoke loudly as she saw Franky staring at her from the side of her eye. Apparently placated, the black-haired drug pusher went back to watching the officers doing the search.
The redhead considered that the subtle warning for the Governor. If Skye’s name happened to be added to the bottom of the list and highlighted, well then that’s not her problem. Bess didn’t particularly like the little blonde, due to her insistence on using drugs, her encouragement of others to use and then just the general behaviour. If Skye was in the slot for a while it would give her some bloody peace. The scrawny blonde wanted to be allowed back in the library to avoid potentially being caught giving gear to another addict. Like Bess would let something like that happen in her library.
“CLEAR.” One of the suited officers stood at the back of the room called, ceasing all activity in the unit. Bess watched as Franky let out a sigh of relief, then tried to cover it up. The officers moved out of the unit and on to the next, whilst the women in H2 separated their belongings to find what belonged to them. Bess stood in the doorway to her cell, noting that other than her mattress having been shoved onto the floor and her shelves emptied, there wasn’t much to clean up.
She finished her book as the others were still trying to sort out their own belongings, and Bess wandered out and helped Doreen and Liz clear up their own spaces after she’d put the hardback on her desk to return to the library tomorrow.
It was purely selfish because nobody made a cup of tea like Liz did.
“She’s stopped the support groups.”
Bess nodded, sorting through the now growing list of books that the women had requested for the library, ensuring that no title was listed twice. “Mhm, that seems a sensible thing to do.”
“What? How can you say that?” He’s sat in the chair, today. Bess wonders how he can see the world in such black and white terms. It’s very naïve of him, she thinks.
“Mr Jackson, imagine you suddenly can never have coffee ever again. And your every waking thought is about how you need to have some more coffee. And then you go to these meetings, where all everyone talks about it how crappy not being able to drink coffee is. And about how amazing coffee is. Over and over. Do you see my point?” She doesn’t bother looking up until she’s finished speaking and noticing how the man is staring at her in shock at her explanation. “Its probably better in the long run for the women to not go to the groups. They aren’t being reminded of what they can’t have. I understand that you’re frustrated by it but trust the process. And if the Governor is wrong, then you can open the debate to bring them back. The Governor has previous results to back up the success of stopping the groups. It must obviously work. Be patient.”
She stood to begin emptying the cart next to the desk, separating them into piles based on subjects again. “Prison reminds me of a fishbowl, sometimes. But there is a much bigger picture. Sometimes you need to step back to see it.”
Her words haunt him throughout the day.
When Bea Smith is released back into one of the empty cells in H2, Bess brings some of her favourite books from the library for her. She can’t bring back her daughter, or tell her its going to get better, but she can bring some sort of fictional escape that isn’t reliant on drugs for her.
The woman has a twelve year sentence. Bess only has four months left. It doesn’t matter what she says, that difference is going to remain starkly obvious.
So she gives her a hug, tells her that it’s good to see her, tucks her into her bed that Doreen and Liz have made up and leaves the small pile of James Patterson books on the tiny desk.
These actions do not go unnoticed by The Governor who has the CCTV to the cells open to keep an eye on the newly released Bea Smith. She sees that where others have stumbled to try and reassure, Bess has recognised that there isn’t any point and simply offered what she can and then walked away. Joan notices how, unlike the others, Bess has done it without any overemotional attachment. She’s done it because nobody else will have realised that its all Bea needs.
By the end of the day, a five double-sided page with a list of suggested titles of books makes its way onto the Governor’s desk. There are some names of the women who have recommended the books, however on the last page, at the bottom is the name ‘Skye Pierson – How to Draw with Spray Paint’ and it’s highlighted in fluorescent yellow.
Skye is carted off to the slot the next morning from the canteen during breakfast, hollering and struggling the entire way. Bess sighs contently into her coffee and turns the page of her novel as the noise grows more distant until nobody can hear it at all.
When Jess Warner is assigned to H2, Bess doesn’t quite know what to make of her.
There’s something not quite right about her, but nobody else can see it, due to being preoccupied with either making sure Bea’s alright or the new gardening project that the Governor has approved.
The girl is barely 18, and gives off a completely innocent persona until she thinks nobody is watching. Bess catches her one day, making eyes at every male guard that passes her way. She files that little tidbit away in the back of her mind, something telling her that its going to be important later.
But Bess sees it.
She notices the big doe eyes making an appearance near any male member of staff, she notices the subtle manipulation the girl uses. If Bess wasn’t so concerned, she might have been impressed.
As it was, the redhead attempted to stay as far away from her as possible, including in the unit.
Until one evening, following the end of dinner, she arrives to her cell door, chatting with Bea about the latest book she borrowed and making suggestions on her next book to read, and they find Warner rifling though the personal belongings in Bess’s cell. Doreen surprises everyone, by starting to shout at the mousy young girl, bringing the other occupants of the unit to the centre of the skirmish. Its Franky that grabs the girl by the ear and physically drags her out, shouting about prison rules and unwritten laws of the unit.
Bess and Doreen share a look, and together, they rip apart the redhead’s cell, and find the plastic shiv the brunette has hidden under the lip of one of the shelves. Bess grips it in a pale hand, fury pumping through her veins and stalks out to where Franky and Boomer are still spouting off at Jess.
They don’t see what’s in Bess’s hand. But Jess does, and it makes her eyes widen and the colour to drop out of her face.
Rushing forward and gripping the young woman’s neck in a tight grip, Bess leans in.
“First rule of prison. Your actions will always have a consequence. Always. Am I understood?” Frantically, Jess nods, her head moving as if it was on a spring, big teary eyes looking into furious green irises.
Bess flings the girl away with such force that she falls to the floor and stares up at her.
“Lock her in her room.” Its an order. It isn’t often that Bess will order anyone to do anything. But when she does, Franky knows to obey, regardless of her top dog status.
“No problem.” Boomer, finally putting the dots together, is angry. Between her and Franky the woman is dragged, by her hair and her wrists to her cell, thrown in and the door slammed. The table is then shoved against the metal door, and the rest of the occupants, after helping Bess tidy up, sit around it for hours, playing cards, drinking tea and chatting. Warner tries to get out, but after two hours of shouting, punching and pushing at the door, she realises the futility of her actions and stops.
After lunch the next day, the redhead is called to the Governor’s office.
“You need to watch Warner.” Bess warns, and explains the situation from last night. The governor raises her eyebrow.
“Nothing beyond trying to hide a weapon in your cell, though?” Joan knows when information is being withheld.
“I’d be keeping an eye on her with any of the male officers, ma’am.”
Joan stares at her. She hated when women arrived and it came to light that they were likely to try and manipulate an officer through sexual favours. There had been a young man, back in Bahnhurst. Fresh out of university and had started as an officer. Had a bright future in corrections. Within a year, Joan had needed to inform the authorities and have him escorted from the prison into police custody for statutory rape. As he’d been leaving the building, he’d shouted and screamed of his love for the inmate in question and Joan had watched as all the woman did was sigh and tell her friend how she’d need to work on another one to sneak stuff in for her. The young man was ruined, and currently sat in a prison cell of his own and would be added to the sexual offender’s list for the rest of his life, and for what? An inmate who wanted a phone? For not knowing any better than to get involved with an inmate?
The irony that Jianna had been an inmate did not escape her. But then, they’d never slept together whilst she was incarcerated.
By looking at her, plus the fact that Bess had brought it up, she can tell that the redhead was not impressed by the new inmate.
“If I catch her at it, I’ll step in. But I would suggest a word of warning to all the officers. She might play for both teams.” Bess makes a good point. It looked like Joan would need to bring this up in the brief tomorrow morning with the officers. She’d talk to Vera about it later and give her some sort of advanced warning.
Elizabeth Edwards appeared to be worth her weight in gold.
There was now only three months until Bess was released.
The gardening project that Doreen had been placed in charge of was flourishing, but the redhead noticed how she blushed and gushed about one of the men from Walford Prison who’d been drafted in to help by the Governor.
All Bess could do was offer a gentle warning that they were both in prison, and if any unexpected ‘surprises’ turned up, it wouldn’t take long for the administration to put the pieces together. The redhead had simply reminded Doreen that she stood to lose everything if she got caught. Doreen had nodded, hugged her in thanks for looking out for her and had then walked off to carry on with the garden, humming the ‘If this is Love’ song from the Cinderella film. All Bess could do was shake her head and hoped the situation didn’t explode in her face.
Jess Warner, on the other hand was getting on Bess’s last nerve.
Not only was she making eyes at every male in the building, it appeared that when Mr Fletcher thought nobody was around, he was making eyes at her in return.
For fucks sake. Did nobody but her have any common sense in this prison?
With the officers now aware of the potential shitstorm in teal that was Warner, the female officers were the ones predominantly interacting with her. Bess wasn’t too sure if it was the fact that the male officers were afraid of being accused of something, or just wanted to remove themselves out of any uncomfortable situation, but it made the fact that Fletcher interacted with her a lot more obvious, to everyone.
They’d been sat on the unit sofas, all crowded in to watch the film that was scheduled to be on the tv, when Mr Fletcher had shut the gate and locked it. Bess noticed immediately the soft smile the unkempt man shot at Jess, and she definitely noticed the dreamy sigh that the girl gave as he walked away.
The women of the unit all turned to stare at the redhead, who’d shot to her feet and latched her grip onto the girl’s ear as she’d turned to face the tv. Immediately everyone rushed to their feet, all wondering what was about to happen.
Bess dragged the girl closer to her, yanking her to the space in front of the sofas.
With everyone now stood in a loose semi-circle around Warner, Bess let go of her ear. The brunette immediately began to pout and rub the abused earlobe.
Bess stepped forward, pointing a pale finger in Jess’s face. “This little act you’ve got going on with that officer? It ends now.” She wags the finger, almost poking Warner’s nose.
“What-what do you mean? I’m not doing anything!” The girl stutters, eyes flying between the faces of the women in the unit. Maxine, Boomer, Liz and Doreen say nothing. Bea is shaking her head at her.
“Oh bullshit!” Franky joins in, having seen enough and understanding prison protocol well enough to know that if the two idiots were involved, and it was discovered, the entire unit could be implicated. “You get caught at this, which you will, and you risk dragging all of us with you. Bess gets out in three months. Liz has a parole hearing soon. Doreen is loving the garden.” The black haired woman steps forward, a threatening air in her stance as she stands shoulder to shoulder with Bess. “A skinny little shit like you ain’t threatening that for them, you got that?!”
Franky, for once, is calm. She’s not shouting, she’s simply telling Warner the lay of the land. And somehow, this makes Franky more terrifying than ever.
Usually, everyone knew where they stood with the two women.
Franky was known to be the brash enforcer, loudmouthed and cocky. The black haired woman was best compared to a pitbull that had been poked one too many times. She could be temperate when she wanted to be, and downright sweet at times, but would turn and snap at a person with little warning if provoked in the slightest. Bess, however with her red hair and her books, was the subtle and manipulative spider of Wentworth. She pulled strings nobody really knew existed, plotted ideas that came to fruition with no fanfare needed and every lead that might implicate her would come to a dead end. If you wanted a problem sorted loudly, publicly and so that the victim knew exactly who was responsible, the women went to Franky. When the women simply wanted the problem sorted, they’d appeal to Bess. For Franky to be calm, and Bess to act so physically aggressive was a change in pace that the other women in the unit had never seen before.
“You can’t tell me what to do!” Warner tries to be brave, and the miniscule amount of courage she finds, quickly flees when Bess grabs onto her nose and squeezes painfully. The girl is embarrassed, and intimidated and usually, that is a dangerous combination for impulsive people. However, the amount of people currently surrounding her make any move she makes a bad one.
“Little girl. You are being told by people much scarier and much more inventive than you are to back off a stupid plan. Most people would thank us for helping them realise the futility of a idiotic idea.” Bess’s accent surrounds the women, her words spoken with quiet authority. “I see you make eyes at that man again, I’m going to start using negative reinforcement until you learn not to. And so will everyone else in this unit.” The threat is clear.
Jess winces as the grip on her nose gets tighter, her eyes watering. She’s been incarcerated within H2 long enough by now to understand. If any of the women saw her so much as batting her eyelashes at the man, they would tell either Franky or Bess. And then it would be a world of pain for Jess until she understood her lesson.
“Understand?” Franky asks, a bite to her tone.
The girl nods, knowing that she is outnumbered. Bess glares into her eyes for a moment, vivid green imbued with fury meeting blue, until she’s happy that their warning has been understood. Bess knows that Jess may well try and find revenge for this little stunt, but she’s been watching her back ever since the girl arrived. To continue to do so wouldn’t be a hardship.
The redhead lets go of her nose, and the brunette immediately clutches at it, trying to rub the pain away. Franky scoffs and sits back down on the sofa, and one by one, each of the women do. Bess is the last to sit, staring at Jess. She then sits, gracefully, pulls her legs up and tucks them underneath her, so there is still space for the girl to sit if she wanted to. Bess doesn’t think she will.
She stands for a moment, gaze flickering from one woman to the other and realising that she has no allies here. She’s shaking, and Bess can see that her face is contorting into what can only be described as a snarl. Bess moves forward as if she’s going to rise again, hoping the movement is enough for the girl to realise that the redhead would wipe the floor with her if she decided to give in to the urge to swing for one of them.
In the animal kingdom that is H2, the likes of Bess and Franky are the lions that rule over the land. The likes of Jess to them, is a gazelle. Easily taken down, and crushed if needed.
With an angry huff, she stumbles to her cell and yanks open the door, closing it with a slam.
Both Bess and Franky will check to make sure she’s asleep before they go to their own respective beds. If the girl is still awake, neither woman will sleep, not willing to allow themselves to be caught off guard in a vulnerable position. They share a look, each understanding clearly.
They needn’t have worried.
When the film is over, and each woman has slinked off to bed, waving goodnight, only Franky and Bess remain.
“She will be an issue.” Bess states, holding a mug of tea in her hand.
“I can get her out of the unit, if she gets bad, but I’m out in three months. I don’t want to leave you guys dealing with her alone.”
Franky nods, resting her chin in her hand and leaning on the arm of the sofa. “Did you see the way she reacted before stomping off to bed? She was shaking.”
“Little girl plays with fire and doesn’t like it when it spits back at her.” Bess has a way with words, Franky has to admit.
“No. That was temper. She wasn’t shaking in fear or anything. She wouldn’t have made the face she did if she was scared. She started to lose her temper before you moved again.”
Bess contemplates the woman’s point. “Then we keep an eye on her. If she’s been hiding a temper, that means she’s got to let it out at some point. Have you noticed anything impulsive about her?”
Franky snorts. “The girl is trying to fuck Fletcher. Would you count that as impulsive?”
“No. She’s been planning that since she got here. And judging the way he was looking at her earlier, he’s falling for it, hook, line and sinker.” The redhead sighs and sips her drink. “Remember that night we caught her in my room?”
Franky nods. “That was thought out. Planned. It’s just her timing that was off.”
“And it means she can get hold of stuff to either make shivs or buy them.”
The two women share a look. It doesn’t need to be said that the pair will watch each other’s back. Although not exactly friends, the two understood the part they each play. If the balance is disturbed, it throws the entire prison in disarray. It would be bad enough when Bess was released, the system didn’t need rocking any further.
They check through Warner’s window whether she’s asleep, walking on silent feet to pull back the small rectangle of fabric to look. Warner is on her back, mouth open and slightly snoring.
Satisfied, the two walk to their respective cells, closing the doors and placing things in front of the door to impede any person that might try to sneak up on them.
Neither woman sleep well that night.
Bess is in a foul mood the next morning.
Magda silently hands her the tray of toast, knowing the redhead well enough that a foul mood needed toast. Grabbing a cup of coffee to go with it, she sits at the table, and nibbles on the toast.
“Edwards.” Mr Jackson calls. “Governor wants to see you about the book list for the library. Come on.”
Abandoning her breakfast and dumping the nearly full tray before following along with the man, Will takes a good look at her.
She looks like she hasn’t slept. Huge dark circles frame under her eyes, her eyes are tired and she’s paler than usual. Bess was whiter than a ghost usually, but her skin looked sallow today, and practically translucent. She doesn’t look well. He knows better than to try and find out why, but recognises that the woman will be more prickly than usual.
Within minutes, the officer is knocking on the governor’s door and allowing her entry. As usual, Bess waits to be offered a seat before taking one.
“Did you actually get some sleep after that debacle with Warner last night?” Joan asks, blunt and to the point as always. Bess doesn’t bother to question how the Governor knows about it, likely she’s checked the CCTV to find out if something had occurred in the night.
“It was simply a polite discussion that what she was doing with Mr Fletcher was catastrophic at worst and idiotic at best. Nothing more to be said.” Bess closes her eyes for a moment. She’s tired.
“A polite discussion wouldn’t keep both you and Doyle awake all night.” Joan leans forward, catching the redhead’s eye. “Tell me.” Its an order, and for once the younger woman is too tired to refuse.
“We think she’s stockpiling weapons, but not in the unit. That, and she’s definitely got a temper.”
Joan blinks. Well, she certainly hadn’t expected that.
“Her records are sealed, that much we know. And she’s been very shifty about her charges. The women are beginning to suspect that a child is involved on her charge. If one of them decides to do something about it, I won’t step in.” Bess is too tired to phrase what she is saying with any subtlety so she’s blunt and the Governor appreciates it. Joan already knew that Bess would not step in to help Warner in any way, the young eighteen year old had burned that bridge quite thoroughly when she’d hidden a weapon in Bess’s cell. Not to mention, another unspoken rule of prisons was that any person with a charge against a child were the lowest of the low. If Warner was attacked, no inmate would jump in to help her if they knew her crime.
Governor Ferguson would need to dig out her file and check what her charges were. If the girl needed to move to protection, she would need to know.
“Watch your back with Warner, Bess.”
The redhead blinks at her, her exhaustion showing through. “I appreciate the warning, ma’am. But I was already watching my back where she’s concerned.”
Joan nods, feeling a little grateful that the young woman, despite her age, had sense and didn’t jump to decisions with an impulsivity that was usually found in those of her age group.
Bess doesn’t stay too long in the woman’s office, but the Governor hands her the list of books she’d requested, and told her to add more that she thinks the women could use. It’s a clever tactic, Bess thinks, giving her reasons to go to the office and to be called there, but it isn’t one that will last too long. Eventually, the books will need to be ordered.
Spending the rest of the morning in the library, restacking the shelves as she mentally lists what books they already have, its her stomach rumbling that reminds her of the time, and the fact that she’d not eaten most of her breakfast.
The redhead walks through the corridors, exhaustion marking her face as she turns towards the canteen to grab some lunch.
Doreen and Maxine are there already, and she slumps between them, resting her head on the table and sighing.
“Rough night?” Maxine asks, sympathy lacing her tone as she rubs her hand up and down Bess’s back, whilst Doreen goes to get her a coffee, hoping it will help give the redhead some energy.
She doesn’t say much, not really needing to. Eventually though, she has to go back to the library.
Its Miss Miles in there today, and the woman is quiet, as she usually is. The two share a few minutes of general chit chat whilst Bess digs around for the textbooks that Boomer and a few of the women use to study from. The redhead notices that a large chunk of a corner of one of the metal shelves is missing and the edge is jagged. She frowns and calls Miss Miles over to look at it. The blonde calls over her radio, asking for both the Governor and Miss Bennett to come to the library to take a look at it. With Warner apparently hoarding weapons, Bess hopes that her gut feeling is wrong.
Whilst the blonde waits for her superior to arrive, Booms walks through the door with three others, and Franky trailing behind them.
“Hey Bess.” She sounds as tired as the redhead feels. “Have you got my law textbook by any chance? It’s not in the unit.”
Without looking, Bess reaches down to the shelf under the desk and whips out the textbook, handing it over with a tired smile. “The casebook for criminal cases got returned this morning, I’ll grab it for you.”
She wanders down to the shelf pushed against the wall at the back of the room, knowing that’d seen the book there this morning.
Then she feels tremendous and excruciating pain in the left side of her neck.
Both Governor and Deputy are near the library when they hear the screaming, shouting and they can hear Linda barking orders. Then the panic alarm begins blaring. The two share a harried look and take off running to get to the library. They burst through the double doors, pausing to take in the scene in front of them. The screaming is coming from the woman Doyle currently has her hands on, fingers tangled into her hair as the dark haired woman drags her back, away from the officer currently on her knees. For a moment, both the Governor and her deputy think Linda is the injured party.
“What is it?!” Vera shouts, trying to find the cause for the panic alarm. Jenkins is stood, hand still hovering over the button and her face is ashen. She points a shaking finger towards the back of the room, where Linda is hunched over a figure on the floor, and she’s shouting. Doyle is roaring in anger, her hands still gripping the other woman’s hair. Both women hope that Bess hasn’t been hurt, knowing that most of the women in Wentworth would go after whoever was responsible.
Almost instinctively, Joan and Vera separate. The deputy goes over to where Franky is livid and trying to scalp the girl. Vera notices that its Warner, if the high pitched shrieking is anything to go by and her hands are bloody. Vera eyes the sharp and jagged piece of metal flung into the corner that’s speckled with blood. The deputy bets that if she were to look where the shelf was missing a piece, the two would fit together like puzzle pieces. Bess had been right, after all.
Joan gently manoeuvres a panicked Linda out of the way, sucking in a breath as she sees the damage done to Bess’s neck by the metal. She’s bleeding profusely, half slumped against the shelf, blood having reached the books from the apparent slashing. The wound is jagged, and has scratched and tore at the skin as well as sliced it. The young woman is gasping for breath, and is panicking, eyes wide and staring. Horrified, Joan drops to her knees and quickly wraps her arms around the redhead, who suddenly looks very small and young. She pulls her tight against her body, in an attempt to stop her struggling and possibly making the cut worse. The Governor is quick to clamp a hand firmly over the gaping wound, applying firm pressure and holding both edges of the wound closed, stopping the blood from escaping. Bess’s breathing comes easier then, but only by a little. She looks down, expecting the young woman to be unconscious. The amount of blood staining the floor, the shelves and Bess herself is a worrying amount. Governor Ferguson doesn’t realise until much later, that much of the blood had managed to stain her uniform, rendering the clothing unusable.
Bess, by some miracle is still awake, albeit in pain and disorientation from the blood loss from the wound in her neck. She flails her right hand, catching Joan’s spare hand in hers. The blood on it stains the Governor’s fingers.
Bess squeezes with all her might, and frightened, teary eyes meet the Governors.
“There, Bess. You’ll be alright, we’ve got you.” She tries to be reassuring, and stops the redhead from moving. She gently rubs her thumb over the woman’s hand that is still grasping at hers. “Miss Miles, push the emergency button on your radio, I want people here NOW.”
Linda does as she’s told, slamming the button down, causing a piercing alarm to blare out, and she simply shouts their location before turning it off. In under a minute, thundering footsteps can be heard, along with the rattling of a stretcher, so someone has obviously had the sense to grab the nurse on their way here.
Joan spares a look at Vera, who has dragged Warner to the floor, and has handcuffed her. A flash of amusement shoots through her as the deputy orders Doyle to sit on her until further notice, something the furious black-haired woman does without hesitation and she isn’t gentle. She slams down on the brunette’s back, causing her to wheeze and stop her struggling. Doyle continues to swear at her under her breath, muttering all sorts of threats. Linda has managed to silence the panic alarm, to the relief of everyone’s hearing.
Will Jackson arrives on the scene along with Mr Fletcher, the nurse trailing behind them, carrying an emergency bag and pulling the stretcher behind her.
Will’s eyes immediately zoom in on Bess, who’s clinging to the Governor as a young child would hold their mother after a nightmare. He notices how the older woman’s hand is clamped on her neck, and blood seems to be everywhere.
He calls the nurse, who is already speed-walking over to the bleeding woman and ignoring Fletcher’s appeals for her to come and check on Warner, who appears unharmed except for Franky sitting on her back.
“Jenny, go help Bess.” Will tells her, and the look on his face lets her know how serious the situation is. The woman quickly assesses the situation and rushes over, falling to her knees and opening the bag to grab swathes of gauze and medical tape.
“Will, Warner might be hurt.” Fletcher tries to say, and he obviously hasn’t seen the state Bess is in.
“Mate, right now, Warner could be shitting herself and talking gibberish, and I wouldn’t give a shit.” Will has noticed the way his friend treats the young woman, and he doesn’t like it. His suspicions were confirmed when the speech that both Governor and Deputy gave one morning concerning relationships with inmates and the man had shifted his feet, looking quite guilty. “Have you even seen Bess?!”
Fletcher shrugs, assuming that it was simply a fight between the two women. Bess dislikes the man, and he hates her in return, but he should know that a physical fight was out of character for Bess. Will wonders, not for the first time, how Fletcher could do this job whilst being so short-sighted in his worldview.
“Fletch, Warner’s managed to slice open her neck. She could’ve killed her. If they can’t control the bleeding, she might bleed out. If that happens, then Warner cops a murder charge.”
The man blinks at him, not believing him. Vera walks over, deciding enough was enough. Fletcher’s ideal picture of Warner being the doe-eyed innocent girl would stop, right now.
“Fletch I need you to go grab an evidence bag. I want the metal she used for evidence.”
“What metal?” Vera holds up the jagged edge of the shelf in a gloved hand, making the man stutter. “No, no. No. Bess must have done that to herself. She’s got to. Why would Jess do it?”
Both officers notice the use of Warner’s first name. They share a loaded look, not happy that Fletch was apparently in deeper with the inmate than they first assumed.
“Bess gets out in less than three months. Why the fuck would she slice her own neck open, man?!” Will hates that the man is continually trying to find excuses for the actions of the young woman currently handcuffed and face down on the floor.
“Besides Fletch, there’s surveillance everywhere in this room. We’ll be able to watch exactly what Warner did.” Vera says, glaring at him. The woman had grown in confidence in both herself and her abilities since the arrival of Governor Ferguson, and she was becoming hardened in the process. She had little time for people who couldn’t use their brains, and certainly those that didn’t take the job properly. Fletch was guilty of both. “Get a grip. Go get me an evidence bag. Now.” She spits, watching as the man looks once more at the woman handcuffed on the floor and left the room.
Linda Miles, despite her shaking legs and bloodied hands, has managed to escort the remaining prisoners to the door and once they have left, she’s locked the door to stop anybody else entering. All the officers know that by dinnertime the entire prison will be aware that Jess Warner had taken a metal shiv to Bess’s neck and there will be either outcry or repercussions. Neither Joan nor Vera find themselves caring overly much. Village justice appeared to be a thing in Wentworth, after all. If any of the women wanted to get to Warner, they would find a way.
Bess whimpers as Jenny, the friendly nurse who’d checked her ribs when she’d gotten into it with Gambaro, carefully moves the Governor’s hand away from her neck. She whines, a broken, scared sound that doesn’t suit the usually confident redhead as blood immediately begins to pour from the wound. She startles and pulls away from the nurse and presses herself back against the Governor, who does her best to reassure and keep her still. Jenny immediately packs the wound with gauze and bandages, and then places the Governor’s hand back on top of it, telling her to keep a firm grip. Nothing she has in her supplies bag will hold the bandages in place as well as the woman’s hand, so she improvises.
She waves a gloved hand at Will to get his attention and calls for the stretcher.
“Governor, you’ll need to keep a grip on her neck whilst we transport her down to medical, are you alright with that?” Jenny asks.
“If it doesn’t put her at risk, I’m fine with it.” The older woman says. In her career in corrections, she’s seen her fair share of wounds. On faces, arms, stabbings, nothing has phased her. But somehow, she’s never seen someone with the neck wound that Bess currently has.
Both Vera and Will come over with the stretcher, knowing that they’ll all need to help to move Bess onto it.
Whilst the officers attention is focused on Bess, Franky takes the opportunity to wrench Warner’s head back by the hair and slam her face into the floor as hard as she can. The sickening crunch that her nose makes causes a small grin to appear on Franky’s face. She’ll likely catch some shit for it when they review the surveillance footage, but she’ll happily take the punishment. It was the least she could do for what the girl did to Bess. Unfortunately, the action made the girl howl, but the only person who turned to look was Fletcher, and Franky didn’t particularly care what he would do, seeing as the man was quickly falling out of favour with all his colleagues.
Between them, the officers and the nurse find a way to safely lift Bess to put her on the stretcher. Will takes charge of her legs, whilst Vera will support her back and the Governor will ensure that her head and neck remain still.
When they lift her in one smooth movement, Bess lets out a hoarse howl of pain making the three officers hurry to settle her on the stretcher. They quickly realise that the Governor will not be able to keep a tight grip on the wound if she’s having to run to keep up with the stretcher. Vera decides to take charge.
“Governor, sit by her head and hold her neck.” She says, an order in her tone. Joan looks at her about to protest. But Vera simply shakes her head. “Joan.”
Governor Ferguson acquiesces and gently sits on the stretcher in the space next to Bess’s head, keeping a tight grip on the mess of gauze and bandages which are already turning red.
The group sprint down corridors, coming across a few inmates who look in horror as they recognise the person on the gurney. They don’t even pick fun at the fact that the usually strict Governor is sat on the stretcher herself, the women are too busy noticing that the older woman is holding Bess’s neck together and making sure that she stays conscious as much as possible. The respect for the woman grows as the story spreads throughout the units that evening, saying how the Governor had saved Bess’s life.
They burst into the medical bay, and Jenny calls to the guard outside the door, barking at him to call an ambulance and to tell them that Bess will need a blood transfusion and possibly surgery if Warner has managed to slice any tendons or muscle. The guard looks over once at the bloody mess on the gurney and quickly runs to the nearest office to phone for the emergency services.
They do what they can for Bess, who by now has fallen into unconsciousness after one final, scared whimper escapes her lips. Jenny is satisfied that she will be alright so long as she gets the stitches and blood transfusion. By the time the ambulance arrives, both Vera and Joan are covered in Bess’s blood. Both women knowing extensive first aid, they’d helped Jenny who was the only medical professional in the building. Both women had shed their jackets, and the crisp white shirts highlighted the extent of blood loss Bess had suffered. Will offered to go with Bess, to which Joan had nodded.
When the paramedics have wheeled the injured woman out, with Will following as per protocol, all three women then let out a heavy breath and leant against the now empty bed in the room. Each one felt exhausted, now the adrenaline from the situation had drained.
Vera and Joan looked over to the window, which they’d forgotten to pull the curtain over in their haste to stabilize Bess. Outside, in the corridor looking in, stood all the women that shared a unit with Bess, and the ones that Bess had helped through her library over the time she’d been here. Their facial expressions ranged from upset to furious.
“This is going to cause a shitstorm.” Vera mumbles, rubbing her now clean hands over her face. Joan nods, rubbing her forehead.
“I’m assuming that Warner has been sent to the slot?” She asks. Jenny gets up to answer the phone and gives them their answer.
“No, she’s being escorted by Linda. Looks like somehow she’s busted her face.”
The Governor and the deputy share a look.
“Doyle?” Vera asks her. Joan shrugs.
“She must have hit her face when she was struggling to get out of the handcuffs.” Joan answered, raising one eyebrow at her deputy who returned her look.
“Well isn’t it a shame how clumsy a person can be.” Vera says.
The noise from the women outside tells them that Warner is nearby with Linda. The shouts and jeering range from threats of repercussions to shrieks questioning why she did such a thing. Joan and Vera rise off the bed and walk over to open the door, and the sudden appearance is enough to shock the women, who see that both deputy and the Governor are covered in still drying blood and they look exhausted. Silence from the women follows.
“Clear a path. Now.” Joan’s voice brooks no arguments, and the women as one, all step back allowing Warner to be pulled through to the medical room. This time Jenny does shut the curtain before helping the young woman, and both Joan and Vera look at each other and realise they need to change.
“Governor, I have spare clothes in the back office.” Jenny nods her head to the door that remains closed whenever a prisoner is in the medical bay however the two women open it to find the nurse’s office, and quickly find the spare clothing. Unfortunately, leggings and hoodies are all that are there, making both women look at each other and sigh.
“Oh well, at least it will be comfortable.” Vera tries to lighten the situation, shrugging her shoulders. After such a stressful afternoon, Joan cracks and lets out a bark of laughter, almost hysterically. She bends over, resting her hands on her knees and laughs until she cries. Then she slumps back in the nearest chair, hand over her eyes. Vera sympathises, her own hysteria broke through on the way down to the medical bay, showing through her fingers tapping on the guerney with random rhythms.
“What a fucking day.” She sighs. Vera settles in the chair next to her, having already slung her tie in the bin. She is surprised that the governor swore, but then after what they’ve witnessed this afternoon, she isn’t going to hold it against her.
“She did warn us that Warner wasn’t right.” Vera said, leaning her head back against the wall.
“I hardly think she expected the girl to try and take her head off with a piece of metal!” Joan unties her tie, ripping the fabric away from her neck and bundling it up. She launches it into the nearest rubbish bin.
When Joan had started her tenure as Governor, almost two months ago by now, she couldn’t really understand the way that Bess had managed to get under most of the prisoners skin to the point where they’d be willing to riot in order to get the person that hurt her. However, having seen her behaviour, her careful handling of some of the women and her determination for her tutees to succeed, the Governor understood.
If Warner stayed in general, she wouldn’t live to see the end of the week if any of the women got a hold of her. Both the governor and her deputy open the buttons on the cuffs of their sleeves and roll them up, exposing the skin of their wrists and arms. Joan grimaces when she sees that the blood has sunk through the material to stain her skin.
She looks at Vera, who meets her gaze.
“Grab a hoodie and some leggings, we’ll use the shower in my office.”
The pair quickly grab some clothes and make their way through the main corridors and up the stairs, which are now all deserted, and oddly quiet. When they make it to the office, Joan allows Vera to use the shower first, explaining her need for very strong coffee first otherwise she might end up falling asleep in the shower. She makes two cups, and brings both out into the main part of her office, knowing Vera will likely need it.
Whilst waiting for Vera to finish in the bathroom, she pulls open the locker in the corner, thanking her past self for the foresight to pack some black flats in there, so she wouldn’t be going home in a prison hoodie, leggings and her work shoes. It was bad enough that the uniform that she’d worn today would need to be destroyed, at least she would be leaving comfortable.
She was slamming the locker closed when the bathroom door opened, and Vera stepped out, looking more like herself, even dressed in the zip-up hoodie and the black leggings. She’d pulled her damp hair up into a messy bun at the top of her head, and she’d walked out holding her work shoes in one hand.
“I have flats in my locker downstairs, but my uniform is done for.” She said, shrugging.
Before stepping into the bathroom, Joan pointed out the still steaming mug of coffee on the desk and she grasped it gratefully as the older woman shut and locked the bathroom door.
The pair wait, sitting around the office and filling in the insane amount of paperwork required after an incident of this nature. Between them, they manage to reach the last page as the phone rings, a shrill sound that cuts across the low murmuring between them. Joan reaches over to press the button to answer the phone and put it on speaker.
“Governor?” Will’s voice comes through the phone.
“I’m here with Miss Bennett, Mr Jackson. Any news?” Joan asks, unable to discern anything from the man’s tone.
“They’ve managed to stop the bleeding, and give her a blood transfusion. Warner managed to hit some nerves in her neck, so she’ll likely be in pain whilst they heal. It’s going to leave a nasty scar.”
Joan and Vera share a look and exhale a relieved breath. Neither woman would verbalise it, but they are both glad that Bess won’t become another death in custody statistic.
“She’ll live, Governor. She’ll be alright.” Mr Jackson appears to be reassuring himself as well as them.
The two women in the office won’t lie to themselves. They breathe easy knowing that the redhead will be alright. Elizabeth Edwards had a way of making people like her, and most of the officers were included in that. The fact that Bess helped the prison run smoothly through her quiet actions also helped.
“What’s the course of action?” Joan asked.
“They want to keep her in overnight, and then they think that she’ll be able to return to Wentworth in the morning if all goes smoothly tonight. I’ll stay.”
The two women nodded, they’d expected as much. “Alright, if you’re sure Mr Jackson. But if you need someone to take your place, let us know. We’ll tell her unit that she’s going to be alright.”
They get some more information from the man, such as how many stitches Bess had needed, and how close Warner came to slicing an important vein.
After hanging up, the pair do exactly that, even in leggings and hoodies.
The unit is quiet when the get there, the occupants all sat around the table, drinking mugs of tea that have long since gone cold. They sit there, only a quiet murmur every now and again.
Bea has abandoned her sketchbook over an hour ago, and Liz has thrown her latest crotchet project onto the middle of the table. Franky and Boomer sit there with open textbooks, but not reading, too busy staring into space. Doreen and Maxine are just leaning against each other, looking at the ceiling.
The appearance of both the Governor and her deputy make them jump, especially considering their more casual clothing. Both women take a seat in the spare two chairs that are unoccupied. Usually, neither woman would do such a thing, particularly if they were in uniform. Tonight however, the women in their care required a softer approach.
The women stare, waiting on baited breath to hear if Bess was alright.
“Bess is going to be fine.” The Governor says, a reassuring smile on her face as Miss Bennett nods her head.
The relief is instantaneous.
“Thank fuck for that!”
“Jesus Christ I thought we were gonna lose her!”
More expressions of relief came from the women, all of them looking relieved.
“She’s had to have a lot of stitches, as well as a blood transfusion. Warner came very close to slicing her carotid artery. Now if she had managed that, Bess wouldn’t have made it to the medical bay alive. She’ll be in a lot of pain because her nerves were caught by the metal, and her skin will be tender whilst it heals. Warner’s made a hell of a mess on her neck, so she’ll likely have to get used to looking at the scar.”
The inmates all shared looks with each other at the mention of Jess Warner.
“What’s gonna happen to her, Governor?” Franky asks, crossing her arms and leaning back, her cockiness returning now that they knew Bess would live. The women all wait for their answer.
“Per prison policy, we have to offer her the Protection Unit.” The women all look outraged, but the Governor raises her hand, silently asking for quiet, to allow her to finish. “That doesn’t mean that she’s getting away with it. She’ll get a charge for this, let us deal with that. If she refuses protection, then there’s nothing the administration can do but allow her to return to General.” She recognises the gleam in every eye sat at the table. What’s more, she understands perfectly. “If she accepts, then she goes to Protection until her case is reviewed based on how safe she would be in General.”
“How likely is she to accept going into protection?” Bea asks, fiddling with a pencil.
“I think you can answer that better than us, you’ve been living with her after all.” Miss Bennett answers, leaning forward and resting her hands on the table. “They review protection cases every six months or so. Protection is for the length of their sentence for some women, but for others its used to house them until the tension and aggravation around an incident dies down. Seeing as Bess is supposed to be released in three months, I’m sure we don’t need to explain to you what’s likely going to happen.”
The Governor and her deputy share a look as the women around the table do the same. Jess was likely to be put back into general after Bess was released, if she chose to accept the offer of protection. The women of Wentworth had nothing but time, they could wait.
“Governor.” Doreen speaks up for the first time since the two women have joined them at the table. “You saved her life today.” The curly haired woman’s voice cracks, and she gets teary eyed, remembering how the officers had rushed past her, and remembering exactly how the usually stern governor had her hand clamped on Bess’s neck and was reassuring her that she’d be fine and that they’d look after her. She remembered seeing Bess’s pale hand clutching at the older woman’s for comfort. Bess was always the person that people came to for comfort, Doreen had never seen the woman accept any gesture of comfort from anyone.
“That’s not something that will be forgotten around here anytime soon.” Maxine states, looking at the black-haired woman. “If trouble kicks off around here, we’ll remind the others that Bess is still alive and able to help them because of you. And you, Miss Bennett.”
Both Joan and Vera are shocked. Here are inmates, women in their care, who are openly telling them that they will watch out for them in future. Neither woman had ever had such a thing occur in their careers. Such was the reach of Bess Edwards.
Liz clears her throat, deciding that she might as well bring up another issue whilst they have the undivided attention of the Governor and her deputy.
“What’s going to be done about Mr Fletcher, if you don’t mind me asking?” The table goes quiet as Liz speaks. They all agree that something needs to be done about the man.
Miss Bennett and the Governor share a look.
“Governor, the man comes in smelling of booze more days than I can count. Believe me, I’d recognise the smell anywhere. If Jess has managed to sleep with him, then that means that any of the other women could turn his head too.” She sits back in her seat, crossing her arms over her chest. “That makes him a danger to all of us.”
“We’ll be looking into it.” At the burst of noise from the women around the table, the Governor once again holds up her hand for silence. “This does not mean that I am saying that we’ll be closing ranks around him, because we won’t. But we need to investigate it properly in order for it to be effective. Which means we’ll be needing co-operation from you all. Particularly in this unit because you’ve been living alongside Warner.”
Doreen nods, her mouth pressed into a grim line. “Alright, that seems fair.”
Sighing, the Governor and her deputy share a look and both rise to their feet, the rest of the women following suit.
“We’ll keep you updated on Bess, but if all goes well tonight, she should be back tomorrow.” Miss Bennett says, looking at them.
“Doreen, could I have a word quickly, please?” The Governor requests, and the woman in question, although surprised, nods and follows her out of the unit to the corridor. Vera stays behind, understanding why the Governor wanted to speak to Doreen alone, as she’d already given her prior warning and she occupied the other women by answering any questions about Bess.
“Whatever little romance you have going on with one of men from Walford, stop it now.” The Governor speaks in a low voice, not needing to draw more attention to the issue at hand.
Doreen pales, and her hands grasp together with nervous tension.
“You heard me, Doreen.” She looks at the woman, who’s eyes are quickly filling with tears. “I’ve let you get away with a little, thinking you were sensible enough to stop it before it became anything more. Now I’m telling you, it’s time to stop it entirely.”
“Nothing’s going on, honest.” Doreen is stuttering and glancing in every direction except at the governor.
“Don’t insult my intelligence and I will give you the same courtesy. I’m giving you the chance to stop it quietly without losing your access to the garden. I can stop this myself in a whole different way but the garden is actually doing some good for the women here. You carry on with your little love affair and I will make sure that the women in the project know exactly why the garden gets demolished and removed. More than that, I’ll make you watch it be torn down.” The Governor states clearly, with no emotion. She’s offering Doreen what she wouldn’t usually, a chance to right the situation herself before it gets out of hand. Likely the woman doesn’t see it that way.
Doreen doesn’t. She tries to protest, offering compromises and the Governor allows her to blather on for a while until she’s had enough.
“Doreen.” Doreen stops her next sentence mid-breath, staring at the woman who’s crossed her arms, and is looking at her sternly. The casual hoodie and black leggings may have disrupted the usually pristine image of a tough and formidable Governor but Doreen is reminded exactly who she’s speaking to now. “This isn’t a soap opera. You’re in a prison, under my authority. You haven’t got a choice in this. Walford has been notified that after tomorrow’s visit, they won’t be needed anymore. End it.”
The curly haired inmate nods, dismayed and disappointed. Later, when she’s laying in her bed and the unit is silent, she’ll be able to see it from the Governor’s perspective, but right now Doreen feels like the whole world is against her.
Bess had warned her.
When Doreen walks back into the unit, followed closely by the Governor, it isn’t long before the two officers leave, leaving Doreen behind to be consoled by Liz and Maxine.
When she explains what has happened, it is Bea who surprises them all.
“She is right though.” The women wait, wanting to know what the woman has to say. “I know we’re supposed to hate her on principle of her being the Governor but she’s right. She’s doing her job and unfortunately for you Dor, getting a cheeky hook-up every now and then isn’t allowed.”
“You’re beginning to sound like Bess.” Franky says, staying out of the entire situation. She’d begun to try and finagle a way onto the garden project but it looks like the plan of sneaking in gear through the Walford men had gone up in smoke before it had even gotten started.
“Good, then I’m making sense and seeing the bigger picture.” Bea sits opposite Doreen. “You get to say goodbye and possibly get his address to write to him at Walford. She’s given you that much. If she wanted to be a real cunt, she’d have cut off the garden project and bulldozed it to the ground without any warning to anyone.”
There’s silence between the women now. What Bea says makes too much sense, and she’s correct in her assumption that they hate the governor due to her job title. That doesn’t mean that the women have to like her logic.
They all retreat to their cells that night, feeling slightly less worried about Bess, but sleep doesn’t come easily to any of them.
Bess returns the next afternoon.
As per prison protocol, they’d sent the prison van to Royal Melbourne Hospital to collect both her and Will and when they arrived at the prisoner entrance to Wentworth, both the Governor and her Deputy were stood to welcome her back.
Will jumps out of the passenger seat at the front and rushes around, opening the doors and revealing Bess, with a thick white bandage around her neck. She’s paler than normal and she looks exhausted but all three officers will admit to being glad that she’s alright. Her hair is down, tied back in a long, loose braid that hangs over her shoulder, a shock of ginger when it presses against the stark white bandage.
Will offers her a hand to step down from the van, which she takes. Joan and Vera share a look, knowing that Bess must be feeling weak on her feet if she’s accepting help without hesitation.
She steps down, and shivers in the slight breeze.
Vera steps forward, and guides her inside, Joan following behind. “Come on, Bess. Let’s get you through the usual routine so you can get to bed.”
The usual routine is the strip search and re-entry paperwork, which is done quickly with practiced ease. Between them, Joan and Vera speed up what they can so that the young woman isn’t left shivering as they complete paperwork. Will manages to find a large, zip-up hoodie that she can wear on top of her current uniform, which helps a little.
“How are you, Bess?” Joan asks and the redhead turns to her and grimaces.
“I’ve been better, ma’am.” Her voice is a hoarse whisper, and the flash of pain across her face indicates to Joan that speaking hurts.
“We’ll get you sorted.”
Bess nods, furrowing her eyebrows as the action pulls at her stitches.
“Governor?” Joan turns to her, expectantly waiting for her to continue. “Thank you. The doctors said that you saved my life. I won’t ever be able to repay you for that.” Her voice develops more into a harsh, gruff growl by the end of her sentence and she swallows painfully.
Joan nods at her, with a small smile and pats her shoulder. In the meantime, Vera had closed the folder with the paperwork with a flourish and stood.
“Come on, Bess. We’ll get you settled.”
As a pair, the two escort Bess through the corridor, reaching the entry to H2 and stopping, letting Bess go in by herself. The other women convene on her, checking to make sure that she’s truly alright, and that they would look after her from here. Franky looked over to Joan, and nodded, without smiling.
Joan nodded back.
They watch from the sidelines as Doreen and Bea guide Bess to her cell, with the intention of tucking her in.
Bess doesn’t need any help in getting to bed, but she doesn’t push the two women away either. She collapses on the mattress, still huddled in the overly large hoodie that Will Jackson had managed to find, and she shifts her pillows so that there’s no pressure on her neck. Bea lifts the duvet over her and Doreen tucks her feet under so that she wont get cold.
The redhead only lets out a painful sigh, and closes her eyes not seeing the other two women slip from her little room, and push the door closed, leaving a sliver of light peeking through so they can check on her every few hours.
Both Bea and Doreen join the rest of the unit, and they all look at Bess’s closed door and share a look.
The Governor and her deputy are gone.
The first few days after Bess returns, there’s a tense atmosphere throughout Wentworth.
Jess Warner hasn’t been seen, but she hasn’t been moved to Protection as far as the inmates can tell, meanwhile Mr Fletcher hasn’t been seen since Bess was rushed away in an ambulance.
Bess doesn’t move from her room for two days. She doesn’t eat, and stays under the blankets of her bed, the small pile of books on her table staying untouched.
Doreen worries enough that she gets permission to bring food from the cafeteria to her cell, in an attempt to get the redhead to eat. Bess grimaces at the curly haired woman’s insistence, but jerkily sits up and allows her friend to pass her the bowl of soup that Magda has procured, knowing that anything else would cause pain as Bess’s throat healed. She eats half, shakes her head at the buttered bread and then passes the bowl back to Doreen, shuffling back under the covers and wincing as the movement tugged at her stitches. Bess says nothing throughout the entire exchange.
On the third day, Bea decides that enough is enough. She tries her best to get Bess to just take a small walk around the unit and to have some tea, but the redhead stubbornly refuses, burrowing deeper into her bed and shaking her head slowly. Bea exits, and pushes the door closed, sighing with annoyance as she walks over to stand next to Maxine.
“Still no luck?” The woman asks, lifting her eyes from the magazine in her hands.
Bea shakes her head. “It’s not healthy. If she just stays in bed then it’s going to affect how well it heals. She’s getting no sunshine, no decent food. She’s barely drinking enough water. I don’t know what to do, Maxie.”
They share a look, Bea dropping into the seat next to her and rubbing her hands down her face.
“Yes you do.”
All eyes turn to Franky, who is stood at the entry to the unit. She shoves her hands into her pockets and walks towards the others, all huddled together on the sofas.
“The governor needs to know. If Bess collapses because she’s not eaten, then she’s going to find out anyway. Go and tell her, Bea. She might actually listen to her.” Franky hates needing to go and get the governor and her deputy, but the woman might be the only authority that Bess would probably listen to. The Top Dog never through that she’d say such a thing, but she missed the redhead’s witticisms.
Doreen offers to go with Bea, moral support she says.
Then Bea gets that determined look on her face, and she stalks out of the unit, Doreen following behind, on a mission to get Bess out of her bed.
Will offers to escort them up to the Governor’s office, radioing ahead before he moves, asking if the woman was free to speak to them.
When she’d answered, stating that he could bring the two women up, as the Deputy was also with her, Will was quick to usher the two inmates up the stairs.
Joan and Vera had shared a look when Doreen and Bea were shown in, but the worried looks on their faces had been noticed immediately.
“We need you to come and convince Bess to get out of bed.”
Both Joan and Vera’s eyebrows rose, not expecting that.
“Has she not managed to get out of bed? At all?” Vera questions, leaning forward in her seat.
Doreen shakes her head. “We managed to get her to eat some soup, the day before yesterday but she wont eat anything else. She’s barely drinking anything as well.”
“I tried earlier to get her to get up and just have a little walk around the unit to stretch her legs but she just wouldn’t.” Bea threw her hands in the air in frustration.
“Could you please try? Being cooped up in her bed isn’t going to help the cut heal either. She’s not changed the bandage since she came back.” Doreen pointed out, wringing her hands.
Joan and Vera shared a look, and then the Governor rose to her feet, walked around her desk and stood next to the two women in teal, her deputy following suit.
“Let’s see if we can get Bess on her feet, hm?”
When Bess opened her eyes at the sound of heels clicking into her cell, she certainly hadn’t expected the Governor to be pulling the small plastic chair from the desk to sit by her head. Miss Bennett stood by her desk, one hand leaning on the cold surface.
Joan watched as the bleary eyed redhead’s gaze drifted back to her.
“Your friends are worried about you, Bess.” She tilted her head, meeting the young woman’s stare, talking softly. “You’ve not eaten.”
Bess closed her eyes again, frowning. She felt lethargic and had managed to get warm again for the first time in three days. She had no intention of moving and feeling the cold nip at her skin. That’s all she could feel before, feeling cold. Blood loss has that effect, the doctor had said, not unkindly as she’d checked her vitals.
“Bess.” There’s authority in Joan’s voice now. She didn’t like the look of the pallor that the young woman’s skin had taken, nor the deep, dark purple circles under her eyes. Using her hand, she gently pushed back the duvet to look at the dressings on her neck, finding them discoloured, and some blood seeping through. She remembered Doreen’s words about her not getting her bandages changed, and she looks over to Vera and mouths ‘medical’ at her. Understanding immediately, Vera steps out of the cell and out of the unit, using her radio to ask Will to prep the medical bay for Bess, so that Jenny would be aware that she would be coming.
That task done, she walks back into the unit to find most of the women of the unit looking in to the cell, watching as the formidable Governor Ferguson of Wentworth spoke softly to the redhead, in an attempt to get her to listen to reason. Neither officer wanted to try and force Bess onto a stretcher but they would if they needed to. However, if Bess was willing to walk down to the medical bay with their help, it would be half the battle. Maxine spots the deputy, and clasping her hand around Doreen’s arm, she tugs her back. Doreen then does the same to Liz and Franky, who pulls Jenkins away from the doorway.
Vera returns to her previous position near the table. Joan has her hand on the duvet, holding it away from Bess’s face and stopping the redhead from burrowing back into it. She’s speaking softly still, but with authority.
“Bess, there’s two options here. We can either take you down to medical on your own two feet between Miss Bennett and I, or we’ll simply get a stretcher and cause a big fuss. Either way, you’re going to medical to get your dressings changed.” Her tone is firm, and she watches as one eyebrow raises in a familiar expression on the redhead, and exhausted green eyes look at her, weighing her options.
Bess’s distaste for any kind of fussing was well known, and both women knew that she would take the first option presented to her.
“Come on, Bess. Lounging in bed all day isn’t like you. Let’s go.” Vera encourages from her spot by Bess’s feet, still under the covers.
Bess sighs, a soft rattling sound coming from her throat and she nods once.
“Alright.” Vera smiles.
Together, both Governor and Deputy unwrap the redhead from her cocoon of blankets and pillows, and help her sit up, noticing how the action makes her grit her teeth. Her usually pristine hair is messed, still in the same braid from three days ago and her lips are chapped. They’re gentle, careful not to jostle her, knowing that she probably is feeling the effects of an infection starting to set in at her injury. Vera’s eyes widen when she sees the colour of the bandages around her neck, thinking that Joan was right to get the medical unit prepared.
Doreen appears in the doorway, holding a pair of slippers that resemble flat, slip on shoes.
“She’ll hate the colour, but they’re the easiest thing to get on and off.” She explains, handing them to Vera and retreating out of the cell. Bess looks at them for a moment, rolling her eyes when she sees the hot pink slippers decorated with glittery stars, but nods slowly.
She slips her socked feet into them, and slowly eases onto her feet, using Joan’s arm for leverage.
The fact that she hadn’t eaten anything substantial in nearly four days makes itself painfully obvious when her head spins and she has to shut her eyes for a moment.
“Ok. Ready.” She croaks at the two officers, opening her eyes, her voice scratchy after three days of not speaking.
Situated between the Governor and her deputy, she’s slowly escorted through the building, both officers ready to catch her should she fall or collapse. Jenny is waiting for them at the door to the medical bay, a warm smile on her face as she guides the young woman to the bed, helping her sit, leaving her legs hanging over the edge.
Both officers stay with her, Joan noting how Bess’s eyes seemed to fly from the doorway to the shadowed corners, and back to the door, a nervous twist to her mouth. It is behaviour that is out of character for the usually calm and collected twenty four year old. She winces as Jenny unwinds the bandage and peels back the taped gauze, trying to avoid tugging at the stitches that she can see are sore.
Finally, she manages to get the entire thing away from Bess’s neck. She frowns and dumps the entire small pile of bandages into the hazard bin, glad to see the back of them. Taking her time, she gently cleans the inflamed, red area, the line of stitches standing out even more than they would if the area wasn’t infected. The injury has left a mess on the skin, and although the doctors at the hospital had done an admirable job of stitching up the injury, both officers admit to themselves that Bess would need to get used to how it looks.
Jenny speaks quietly as she works, trying not to press too much on the skin, and Bess flinches every time she does.
“This is going to need antibiotics, Bess. And you’re really dehydrated.”
Bess sighs heavily. All she wanted was to go back to bed. She was so tired.
Jenny finishes her ministrations on the wound, and steps away, asking to speak to Joan outside.
“I need her in the medical unit.” Jenny’s voice is urgent.
“I assumed as much when I saw the colour of the bandages earlier.”
“She’s close to having sepsis, how she hasn’t crawled here for some pain relief before now, I have no clue.” Jenny knows that this isn’t usual behaviour for the redhead. “What has she been doing?!”
“Sleeping and refusing food and drinking a bare minimum according to the women in her unit.” Joan crosses her arms. “We had to convince her to come down here, she would have happily stayed in her bed covered in blankets.”
“She’s hot to the touch, how the hell has she been staying under blankets?!”
“She was shivering earlier.”
Jenny gets a contemplative look on her face. “I’ll get the doctor to sign off on intravenous antibiotics but she’ll need rehydrating, and potentially some potassium. But she isn’t going back to her unit tonight.”
Joan nods. “Will you be alright with telling her that? Or would you rather I do it?”
Jenny grins at her, used to the woman’s sarcasm by now. “By all means, I’m letting you have the fun job.”
The two go back into the room, Vera speaking softly with Bess who is more vocal than earlier, her voice now a whisper instead of a painful croak.
“Bess, you’ll need to stay in the medical unit for a bit, you need antibiotics and liquids.”
Joan watches as the redhead rolls her eyes, and nods once. She’d go to the medical unit without a fight, but she wasn’t happy about it, Joan and Vera understood that perfectly clearly.
Jenny peels off her gloves. “Bess I wont bother covering that up yet, the air will do it some good.”
The nurse helps the woman off the bed, grasping her hands, and as she holds open the door that leads to the medical unit, Bess catches sight of her neck in a mirror hanging over the medical sink and freezes.
Shakily, she makes her way closer, Vera following behind slightly in case she fainted.
Hesitantly, Bess lifts her hand, but doesn’t touch the stitches but her eyes fill with tears, nonetheless.
“She left a mess.” She whispers, her voice catching slightly. “Typical Warner.”
Vera doesn’t quite know how to comfort her. Joan watches as a single tear drops down her cheek in her reflection as her hand hovers in the air and steps forward to stand next to her deputy.
“It will heal, as everything does. It will look better once the stitches come out, and will probably look less terrifying once you get rid of the infection, Bess.” She reassures her as best she can, and she knows that she’s shown the young woman a softness that is usually reserved for children that cross her path, and more often now, Vera.
Bess heaves a sigh, and looks away, wiping away the tear and rubbing her eyes.
The governor and her deputy leave the redhead in the very capable hands of Nurse Jenny, and return to the unit to let the women there know that they likely wouldn’t see Bess for a few days.
Jess Warner remained in the slot.
Until the Governor darkened the doorway along with Deputy Bennett, offering Warner the option for Protection as policy dictated. Joan warned her that it would only be offered once in this situation and if she didn’t take the offer, she wouldn’t be asked again.
Neither woman in uniform could understand why. Until Warner asks, in a quiet, girlish voice where Mr Fletcher was, eyes wide and her mouth in a pout.
Vera took pleasure in telling her that the man was suspended pending an investigation and wouldn’t be back until the investigation was done with. They didn’t anticipate her reaction.
The brunette throws herself against the walls, howling like the world was ending, hitting her body against the bed, the sink and the toilet. Her shrieking drowns out both Joan and Vera’s orders for her to calm down, and she continues to bang her fists against the walls, scratching down them and smacking the floor.
Her screams draw two other officers. Will is one of them and he stands next to the two women, mouth aghast at the display Warner gives.
Joan rolls her eyes and motions for him and Vera to step back. With one hand she swings the door to the cell shut, muffling the woman’s screaming as Will winces whilst rubbing one hand over his left ear.
Three pairs of eyes zero in on the small window, seeing that Warner has slammed her head into the glass, leaving a bruise on her forehead and a pained expression on her face. Her face is contorted into a wide mouthed snarl, as she bangs against the door again.
Shaking her head, she turns to the other two. “Leave her, she can calm down on her own.”
They walk away, closing the gate with a clang and they can still hear the high pitched screaming coming from the cell.
Both Joan and Vera leave at the same time, releasing a breath of relief as they step outside.
“Jesus, it doesn’t rain, it pours.” Vera says, rubbing her hand over her forehead, and glancing to the woman next to her. It had been a tough few days.
Joan eyes Vera, trying to hide her grin. She doesn’t succeed.
“Cocktails?” Vera asks in a quiet murmur, knowing that Joan can hear her.
“You read my mind.”
The two agree to meet later in the evening, at the cocktail bar that they’d visited once before and they both leave the car park with large grins on their faces.
Bea doesn’t sleep.
All she can see is Bess, slumped in her bed unwilling to move or eat.
The more that she thinks of it, the more her fury grows.
When she, along with Doreen and Maxine had gone to get their dinner, multiple women had come up to them asking after the health of the young redhead. Bea hates to admit that saying that she’d been admitted to the medical unit caused a ripple of anxiety through the women.
And the animosity against Warner kicked into high gear.
She knows that they’ll need to keep an eye on Bess as she gets better. As a unit, the women had agreed that when she came back, they wouldn’t let her wallow in her bed again, she would be out and about whether she wanted to be or not. Whilst they would allow some laziness, the fact was that Bea was terrified.
She can’t help but think of the state Bess had left her cell in. In the entire time she’d known the redhead, Bess’s hair had always been pristine. Perfectly styled, tidy and without a hair out of place.
Her loose and messy braid had shocked her more than the colour of her bandages. After the Governor and Miss Bennett had walked Bess out of the unit, Doreen had slid down the wall until she reached the floor and sobbed into her hands. Liz had put her head in her hands and breathed deeply as Maxine rubbed her hand up and down on her back.
Franky had sat next to Bea and stared at the blank screen of the tv. Neither woman liked the other very much, but when Bea grasped onto the current Top Dog’s hand for some comfort, Franky’s fingers had squeezed back gently.
Will made his rounds through the evening, locking up the units for the night and when he reached H2, he asked after Bess, knowing that the Governor and Vera had moved her to Medical.
Bea had shaken her head and looked down. “She didn’t move out of her bed for three days. Barely eating. Governor said that the cut got an infection so she’ll be hooked up to an IV for a few days to flush it out. They said that Bess wasn’t too happy about that.”
The two share a small grin over the redhead’s well known stubborn streak.
Franky sidled over, stopping when she reached Bea. “Know anything about where Warner is, Mr Jackson? Hey?”
Will shakes his head at her. It’s a game Doyle likes to play, to try and get information and most of the time, the person it works on the most is Linda. But the blonde officer right now was off on medical leave for stress for two weeks, so she’d obviously decided that Will would do.
“You know I ain’t gonna answer that, Franky.”
“Yeah, but a girl’s gotta try, hey?”
She spins on her heel, returning to her previous seat on the sofa, picking up a thick legal textbook before she drops onto the cushion.
There’s no jokes or laughter tonight as there usually is when he locks up the units. It’s a solemn silence that’s only occasionally broken by one of the women making an observation about the characters in the film and the others all turn and tell her to be quiet.
Will doesn’t like it.
“Hey, Bea?” she turns to him, curiosity on her face. “You did the right thing. Governor was the only one she would listen to.”
Bea offers him a small smile, but until she hears Bess say that she doesn’t blame her for it, the feeling of unease will sit in her stomach like a stone. The other redhead of Wentworth was fiercely independent, and managed all of her own problems on her own.
When the flu made the rounds of the prison, she holed herself up in her cell and self-medicated or slept until it passed. While Doreen had whined for water, and company, Bess had hissed at everyone to leave her alone until she said otherwise.
This was the first time that another person had stepped in to see to Bess’s wellbeing. Bea had no idea who she would take it once the infection had passed.
She supposed that she could only wait and see.
Chapter 2: Bess, The Spider
Bess returns from Medical, and life goes on as normal.
Well as normal as life can be in a women's prison.
The redhead tries to consider how life will be when she leaves, and tries to plan.
And well, Life doesn't really like to go to plan, does it?
The second part to The Librarian!
Thanks for being so patient, this really was a work of love and stubbornness. But she's ready now!
There's a trigger warning, it's a bit gruesome now this one. Not overly detailed, but don't say that I didn't warn you.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
As Bess heals, the library remains closed.
Both the governor and her deputy notice how a lot of the women become twitchy and tense as more time passes whilst Bess is holed up in the medical unit.
The amount of arguments between inmates increases, with some of them escalating into fist fights. One of the newer inmates had decided to push Doyle too far and was sporting a black eye and a split lip for her trouble.
Bess herself had been hooked up to intravenous drips in both hands, and in the crooks of both elbows in order to try and fight the infection that had settled in her neck. For most of the first day in the medical unit, she remained asleep, with Jenny checking on her breathing every so often. The second and third day was spent in and out of sleep, the fourth was spent with a high fever and seeing things climbing the walls due to the high temperature and by the sixth day she was able to spend most of the day awake and staring at the ceiling.
It takes eight days for the redness in her neck to fade slightly, and for the swelling to ease.
Jenny wouldn’t let her be released until she could wipe down the stitches herself without flinching. It takes two weeks for that to happen.
In those two weeks, the dynamics of the prison shift slightly, leaving Franky and Bea at each other’s throats and the women taking sides trying to stay out of harms way. The governor doesn’t help with this, poking Smith towards trying to take the Top Dog position, and aggravating Doyle with some actions behind the scenes.
It’s the most hectic two weeks that Joan has had at Wentworth so far.
Both the Governor and her deputy stop by to check on her progress, and spend a few minutes keeping her up to speed and giving her a chance to use her voice and bring it back to its usual timbre with its smooth accent.
Bess is grateful, as the other woman in the bed opposite doesn’t shut up about the importance of growing potatoes in October otherwise the space demons will destroy the earth.
Jess Warner is moved from the slot to the wet cells two days after Bess is admitted to the medical unit.
Screaming for Fletcher the entire way, Vera shares a concerned look with Joan as Warner is half lifted by Will to be moved into the cell. Immediately, the brunette begins to throw herself against the walls again.
Eventually, she stops. Vera truly only thinks that she’s stopped screeching due to the fact that she had literally screamed herself hoarse and it now hurt to speak.
Will really doesn’t like how the young woman is acting, all over his friend. It worries him that Fletch hasn’t been seen since disappearing after work when Bess had been transferred to the hospital and Vera had essentially torn him a new asshole.
He’d not heard a peep out of the man. Not a single text, or a phone call. A tiny voice in the back of his head says that Fletch has decided to jump before he was pushed. Because if they found solid evidence, the Governor and Vera would take great pleasure serving Fletch up to the police on a silver platter.
He honestly didn’t know what to make of the entire situation.
When Jenny announces that she will be returning to her unit, Bess decides to forgo a neck cover, deciding to have the stitches and injury on show.
“Are you sure? People will probably stare, you know?” Jenny had asked her as she completed her last checks. The next time Bess would be in front of her would be to have the stitches removed, in six weeks, if nothing else happened in the meantime.
“They’ll stare, but they’ll leave me alone. Besides, I have to get used to it.” Bess shrugs, finally able to do so without feeling pain lancing up her neck and into the back of her skull. Jenny gives the now healing injury one last look and then steps away, peeling off the gloves on her hands and disposing of them in the bin near Bess’s bed.
A random officer is assigned to escort her back to H2, and she walks, with her head held high, in front of him. She’s glad that he only follows behind. It means that she doesn’t have to listen to him make conversations as some officers do, and she’s glad that she doesn’t have to fend off questions about the incident again.
All that had been spoken about for the past two weeks was the incident, what did she know, what did she feel about Warner and how was she coping. Bess was sick of it and wanted nothing more than to move on. Miss Bennett had been kind enough to update her on the status of the internal investigation, which had been happening whilst she’d been confined to her hospital bed. She vaguely remembers two men in suits, with self-important expressions on their faces, stood at the bottom of her bed, asking questions and making notes of her responses. Well, what head nods and shakes she could give at the time.
She doesn’t remember the governor stood behind them, arms crossed and making sure that they don’t cause any aggravation with their questioning. She’d held off the internal investigators for as long as she could, but on the fourth day they’d insisted, regardless of what state the young woman was in. Which is why the Governor had watched over her during the ‘interview’, seeing as she was delirious with fever as they’d peppered her with questions. They didn’t stay longer than twenty minutes, and Bess doesn’t remember seeing them again.
Jenny had been right, the women she passed in the corridor did stare. But they also waved, and smiled and called at her, saying that they were glad that she was finally feeling better.
Bess didn’t quite know how to feel about that. She’d made a point since her arrival nearly 8 months ago to not get involved more than required. At the time, she’d assumed that meant long days of her own company and that of her books, and mostly keeping to herself.
Well, she’d done that, but people seemed to like her. She didn’t know if it was her accent or the fact that she just spoke common sense. She found some women coming to her for book recommendations at first and then some of the braver ones asked her if she could help with their coursework, or an assignment that they were struggling with. People did leave her alone, until Franky was walking around with a busted nose and a half bruised face after refusing to take no for an answer to bring drugs in. Then, different kinds of requests for help were asked for.
Bess obliged them, using her own connections that she’d built when she wasn’t incarcerated, and combined them with those she had built whilst inside Wentworth. She knew of her little nickname, The Spider, which was never said to her face. But the name was never said with malice either, only an odd tone of awe.
She’d not questioned it, knowing that the best way to get such a name to disappear was not to acknowledge it even existed.
And then Gambarro happened. She’d been lucky that the shower floor was soaking from the last lot of women who’d used them. She wouldn’t have come out of that fight as well as she had otherwise. Gambarro’s two cronies had fled to protection, thinking that she’d take further retribution at their attempt at ‘ganging.’ Even if she had done, she wouldn’t have wasted her time with them. She’d done a little digging afterwards, finding out how many women had been set upon, and the general idea was that the two little accomplices were only muscle. Gambarro used them to make sure that the intended victim couldn’t get away, that sort of thing, and they made sure that Gambarro didn’t get hurt trying to do her little dance. Therefore, the injuries they got were justified, but she was glad that she’d done more damage on their leader.
Lucy Gambarro walked with a limp now and would always turn and walk down an opposite corridor if Bess was walking down the other.
She’d need to make sure that didn’t change. If the pig thought that Bess wouldn’t be able to look after herself because of her injury, then the redhead would prove her wrong.
But she’d wait and see. She’d watch her own back like always.
After the incident in the showers, more of the women came to her, wanting resolution for different problems. When she’d pointed them in Franky’s direction , they’d quietly told her that they didn’t want everyone knowing, they just wanted things to be sorted and that they were left alone. Bess never lifted a finger to these perpetrators, but whatever issue the women would complain about, would end very quickly. All Bess asked in return was for everyone to leave her be and not continuously involve her in anything.
So far, every woman in Wentworth had followed that.
She’d avoided all of Erica Davidson’s attempts to get her to become a Peer Worker, always keeping a respectful tone, until the woman couldn’t take a hint and had been bluntly told that if the task of Peer Worker was forcibly given, Erica Davidson would rue the day she foisted the role on her. So she’d offered the library instead, which Will had muttered was the obvious choice.
She often walked around Wentworth with a book tucked under her arm after all.
As soon as she’d helped Kim get on her accounting course, she was suddenly buried with an influx of women asking for academic help and she assumed that helping would keep her from being bored. Well, Bess certainly wasn’t bored, and helping the women in any way offered them a favour they felt they owed her. She just didn’t collect on it immediately.
She was used to being sneaky, and hoarding favours owed. It was a habit she perfected back in her old life as an assistant to the Minister of Defence. What a pity that she didn’t see that she was becoming a scapegoat for skimming from the budget until she had handcuffs slapped around her wrists and a sentence for ten months for embezzlement. She’d been kept on remand in Wentworth for two months while the trial was planned. The odious man had claimed that she forged his signature and taken money herself. Unfortunately for her, she was only the little admin assistant and he was the minister with plenty of money and connections to keep the truth from ever coming out, no matter what she said.
Shortly after she’d been sentenced, it was front page news that he had been caught paying for prostitution services with department funds and he resigned surrounded by scandal. Currently under investigation too, last she heard. All it had taken from her was two phone calls to an investigative journalist and directions to the usual spots where he met with the sex workers. However, the action was a double sided blade. By getting caught, and his resulting fall from grace, he also lost all favours and connections that he was using to get by. Which also meant that she couldn’t find any decent evidence to prove that she’d been used as an easy way to get the blame away from him in the first place.
So Bess used the months in Wentworth as a way to plan her life when she got out. She knew the basics of stocks before she was arrested, but spent the first two months learning everything she could. She was lucky, her bank account was still accessible and she’d saved nearly every penny she’d earned from the time she was fourteen and scrubbing floors for cash under the table. She’d spent a decent amount getting residency in Australia, wanting a better life than the one the UK could offer her. But she’d continued to save once she got here, and then after four months in Wentworth, she’d invested half of her finances and began to see dividends from the stocks returning, a decent amount each quarter and each month, depending on the stock. She was sure that she was the only inmate with a financial adviser on her call list, along with her lawyer. The other half of her money was still sitting in her bank account, ready for when she was released. The amount was growing, thanks to the dividends, so she wouldn’t be left floundering when she got out, like most.
She would not be naive again. Not be used as she was and then thrown under the bus. Bess refused to let it happen to her ever again. Not by a man, not by a woman. She’d grown up in a rural area in Wales, and a fairly lonely child, finding solace in books and the small woods that were near her home. She spoke correctly and didn’t have the usual Welsh accent that people expected her to have. It made it easier for her to fit in when she eventually moved away to university and graduated. At twenty two, she emigrated, and planned never to come back to the country that could offer her very little in advancement. She adored her extended family, but they all had their own lives, and her parents had died when she was twenty, within months of each other. She had been happy in her life in Melbourne, glad to have found what she considered a respectable job, had a few fair-weather friends and a job with the opportunity for career progression. She thought that the minister had valued her for her hard work. Well, he valued her for her ability to take the blame for his misdeeds, certainly.
She’d smirked when she heard of his arrest and subsequent investigation almost two months after she’d been sentenced. He would know who had given the journalist the information, but wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. She’d defanged him, where it hurt him most. Money and his public image. How lucky for her that the journalist owed her for stopping him being arrested for trespassing as he’d tried to find out information on the spending for nuclear warheads. She’d then passed along scraps of information on the weapons spending and allowed him to do the puzzle solving.
Maybe The Spider is an accurate nickname, after all.
Finally, she stood at the entrance to H2, offering a nod in gratitude to the silent officer behind her, who returned it and walked off.
“BESS!” Doreen is the first to notice her, flying from her seat by the table to envelop her in a hug, squeezing her. The rest of the women soon surround her, all chattering and their voices overlapping as they each pass her from one woman to the next for hugs. Even Franky offers her a quick squeeze, and a relieved smile, eyes flickering down to the stitches and then back up to her face.
Boomer goes so far as to pick her up as she hugs her, jostling her and making her injury throb a little. Bess returns the hug, and then turns to the rest of them.
“What have I missed? Who’s been in charge of the library whilst I was away?” She looks from one face to the next, noting the shifty expressions and downcast eyes.
Bea decides to tell her honestly and bluntly. “Nobody’s been in the library since you got hurt. It’s been locked the entire time. There was some cleaners in there at one point, but other than that it’s not been open at all.”
They watch as Bess’s left eye twitches. “Well what about the women who needed to study for their coursework? Have they had any help?”
Shrugs are her answer. She sighs, placing her hands on her hips.
“Bess, darl?” Liz’s gentle tone makes her look up, watching as the blonde comes closer. “I think maybe the women thought that maybe you wouldn’t want to have anything to do with the library anymore.”
“Why?” Bess’s tone is furious. “Because one little girl decided to act like a nutcase and try and take my head off?! Not likely. Boomer is passing her HSC whether she likes it or not.”
She storms over to the kitchenette, the other women watching with small smiles at Bess’s behaviour. It was textbook for the young woman. She never let anything stop her, no matter what happened.
Franky nudged Boomer, who decided to play the fool to lighten the mood a little. “Aw, we don’t even get a break, Bess? Really?!”
Bess turns and brandishes a teaspoon in her direction. “You’ve had two weeks of a break. Time to get back to the books, Booms!”
Boomer’s loud groan makes them all laugh, Bess laughing for the first time in over two weeks. It feels nice.
In the back of her mind, she wonders what she’s going to do when she has to leave these women behind.
Joan and Vera watch as the women of H2 welcome back one of their own.
“Alright, that’s sweet of them.” Vera says, a grin pulling at her lips. She’s half bent over, hovering over Joan’s shoulder as they watch the CCTV and Joan can feel her breath on her ear.
“It makes a change from seeing Smith and Doyle butt heads.”
“That’s also true.”
Vera straightens and wanders to the other side of the desk, picking up her coffee and sitting back. Joan exits the CCTV program on the computer and sits back in her own chair and picks up the steaming mug of tea next to her.
“You know that Bess is going to come up here and ask why the library has been shut up, don’t you?” Vera points out, letting a small chuckle free when she sees Joan’s disbelieving look shot at her before a smirk takes over her face.
“Of course I do, what do you take me for?”
“Any news on Fletch?” Vera’s curious. The way Warner keeps wailing for the man, you’d think that the officer might have tried to see her, despite his suspension.
“As of yet, no. But then Internal Affairs are still in the middle of their investigation. So they might be able to make it stick, but they might not. This sort of thing usually requires an eyewitness.” Joan tilts her head, thinking back to the young officer at Bahnhurst. The reason that incident had been managed so well and so quickly was because there were three eyewitnesses who’d walked into the cleaning cupboard and found the two going at it. There was no denying it, and one of the three women had been an officer, so she had been obligated by law to report it. So far there was no kind of evidence that they’d been seen by anyone in Wentworth.
“Are they going to talk to Bess again? She might be able to help them with the timeline of events…”
“I hope they do after the idiocy they pulled. Insisting that they needed to talk to her when Jenny had told them that she was barely conscious, not even coherent and fighting an insanely high fever. Bess’s temperature was so high, she was seeing things climbing the walls that weren’t even there. She’d kept muttering about the spiders on the ceiling!” Joan ranted, Vera looking at her wide eyed. “And then they still left complaining that they’d hoped for more. Idiots!”
Vera held her mug in her hands. “I’d offer you alcohol but its two in the afternoon.”
“If you’d offered, I would have taken it. Speaking of annoyance, how’s your mother doing? Still shrieking up a storm?”
Vera laughs. Joan had remembered exactly what she thought of her mother. Usually people didn’t remember things that she’d said in conversation, like Fletch. Fletch was told multiple times what her favourite flowers were. Tulips. And he still bought lilies and daisies as apologies for the horrendous night they’d had. She’d binned them as soon as he was out of the room, unable to stand the smell. Linda had smiled, held her hand to help her keep her balance as she stomped them down in the bin and then offered her newspaper to cover them. Linda wanted Fletch, and Vera had made it perfectly clear that she could have him. In a way, the two had a better and far more friendly working relationship now that they didn’t give each other a hard time over a man.
“I wouldn’t mind if she was shouting for a reason. I offer her pain relief, she spits it out. I can only give her the stuff in her IV and her body burns through that within two hours and then she’s back to shouting. She gives the nurse just as hard a time too. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how much more I can take.” She circles the rim of her mug with the pad of her index finger. “Does that make me a bad daughter?”
Joan is shaking her head before she’s finished speaking. “Not at all. You’ve lasted a hell of a lot longer than I could. Have you considered a hospice?”
“I’ve had the websites for three different ones open on my laptop for the past week. Just haven’t been brave enough to call and ask. I’m getting four hours of sleep before she wakes me up. By the time I settle her back down, I only have another two before I have to get up for work. I don’t know how much longer I can carry on that way. Plus the woman has the ears of a bat. If I called them in the house, she’d hear and make my life ten times worse.”
She wears such a mask of despondence on her face that Joan is on her feet and moving around to sit in the chair next to her with her mug of tea before she can even comprehend what she’s done.
She reaches out and pulls Vera’s hand away where it was rubbing continuous circles around the rim of the mug.
“What are the names of the hospices you were looking at?” She has her phone in her other hand, ready to type into Google. Vera looks at her, confused and then suddenly understands.
“Clear Beaches, Snowfields and Tamwells.” Watching as Joan’s fingers quickly finds the first, and gently drops her hand on the armrest to reach over and grasp at the post-it notes and a pen. In quick succession, she has the numbers for all three hospices on the piece of paper, and hands it to Vera.
“Here, use the phone on my desk. Find which one has space, and arrange it. You’re no good to anyone if you’re sleep deprived trying to help your mother. I need to go and check over a few things with Jenny anyway so just come and find me when you’re done.”
She stands, offers a reassuring smile at her deputy and grabs her radio, and keys from her desk and quietly leaves her office, closing the door and walking down the corridor.
Vera sits in her chair for a moment, blinking as she holds the bright yellow piece of paper in her hand. Joan had offered her the perfect moment to ring them and ask if they had any place for her mother. She wouldn’t be overheard and she could do it without distractions. Slowly, she rises from the chair and makes her way around the pristine white desk, and settles in the office chair. With a shaking hand she lifts the receiver to the phone, and after one, determined sigh, she dials the first number.
“Hi, yes, I was wondering if you had any space for my mother at your hospice…”
Jenny was expecting the governor when she entered through the door. Looking up from her charts, she offered a friendly smile and nodded towards the chair by the desk.
“You needed to see me, Jen?” She asks, sinking into the chair.
Jenny had worked as a nurse since before Joan started, and found an easy friendship in the older woman, quickly growing used to her rancour and sarcasm when she was stressed. Joan in return appreciated her constant optimism. Her chirpiness could be considered annoying before she’d had three cups of coffee but it wasn’t completely terrible. They had an easy working friendship, which had been new for Joan. Every nurse the Governor had come across previously in her last two prisons had been tight lipped, and full of their own self worth. One had required investigation when she started to defy doctor’s orders and essentially diagnose patients without a doctor’s input. She’d given one inmate medication that caused anaphylactic shock, something that had been highlighted clearly in her medical file, after the doctor had requested the alternative that was used in those with allergies to penicillin.
Jenny was a very nice change. She loved her job, and the women trusted her, which made it easier to help treat them.
“Just wanted to update you on who was discharged today. Bess walked out on her own two feet, as I’m sure you already know, but Warner keeps hurting herself in the wet cells. I’ve been called there twice today already and its not even 3 o’clock yet.”
She’d kept an eye on the brunette, unable to do anything but switch her between the wet cells and the medical bay, as she’d apparently swung from sane to crazy like a pendulum, screaming for Fletcher the entire time.
Vera thought she was faking it. So Joan had asked her to focus on determining whether she was, or whether she’d truly lost her mind in the aftermath of the attack on Bess.
“Can I ask, Jen, what your medical opinion is on her?” Joan is curious, Jenny was probably the only other person in the prison (except for Vera) who she would ask for an honest opinion and trust their answer. Having to help each other hold Bess together had helped in that respect.
“That girl is a good actress, but her injuries are real. She’s committed to the act she’s putting on, I’ll give her that, Joan.” Jenny puts down the pen and looks at her. “I’ve seen plenty of women in this place lose their minds and if I wasn’t a nurse, I probably would have believed her. But she’s completely lucid when she thinks that I’m not looking at her. And she keeps changing her mental symptoms. One second she’s hearing voices, the next she’s throwing herself against things. Or she’s saying that people are going to get her. She’s probably not wrong on that last one, considering what she did to Bess.”
“What do you think she’s trying for? Transfer to a psychiatric facility?”
Jenny shrugs. “I don’t know, I’ve seen crazier plans from some of these women. She wouldn’t convince a psychiatrist that she’s lost the plot though. They’d just send her back in handcuffs with a big red ‘SANE’ stamp on her file.”
Joan knows exactly what plots women had contrived over the years, thinking that a high security psychiatric unit would give a cushier sentence.
“Don’t get me wrong, psychiatric units can do some good, if you want the help to manage your mental illness. Lord knows I’ve been there once or twice and checked myself in.” Jenny says, sighing as she sat back in her chair. She sees the questioning look from Joan and answers her unasked question. “Back in my early twenties, my anxiety wasn’t medicated, and it got to the point where it felt like the walls were closing in and I was a walking panic attack. I checked myself in out of desperation thinking I might do something stupid to make the feeling stop. Best thing I ever did.”
Joan nods, understanding exactly. “I’ve never been, but it crosses my mind sometimes. I’m of the belief that a woman is allowed at least two breakdowns in her life.”
The pair erupt into laughter, half bent in their chairs.
The laughter tapers off as the phone rings, and they both stare at the screen of the phone, recognising the phone extension listed as the phone on the officer’s desk outside of the solitary and wet cells. Jenny answers without waiting, listens to whoever is on the other end of the phone. She hangs up after saying that she’d be there in a moment.
Joan looks at her. “Warner?” Jenny nods and together, they spring up from their chairs and stalk out of the medical office, Jenny grabbing the medical kit from the cart by the door.
Bess is with most of her unit mates in the cafeteria when the two officers on the door rush out after their radios buzz, leaving two in the officer’s pod, where they will stay to keep an eye on those having lunch.
Everyone in the room quiets, seeing the two practically take the door off its hinges in their haste to get out.
“I wonder what’s going on.” Maxine says, twirling her spoon in her hand and looking over to Bess who is sandwiched between Doreen and Bea. The two women had made sure that Bess’s plate was full, and with the help of Magda (who had piled plenty of vegetables on the tray), and had kept a watchful eye to make sure that she ate. Bess wasn’t complaining, she was glad to be able to swallow food again without pain, and had said as much, but for their piece of mind, she continued to eat small bites.
“Alright are we takin’ bets?” Franky asks, looking around the table to see if anyone would wager with her. “I bet it’s something to do with Warner.”
Every woman at the table looked at her sceptically. Bea, in particular is glaring at her, still holding a grudge after the dodgy shiv that Franky had passed to her.
“What? Look, there’s only one crazy bitch in the wet cells at the moment and it’s Jess. I’m telling ya, its to do with her.”
“Franky, drop it.” Bess’s voice is firm. Eyes swivel to look at her, with her stitches showing on her neck, and her eyebrow raised.
“I would have thought that you’d be pleased if it was her.”
“Jess will get what coming to her, but it wont be by me. I get out in two months, Franky. That will grate on her more than anything I could do to her.” Bess puts the fork down, leaning her chin onto her hand. The women look anywhere but at her. “Being petty is the best revenge of all.”
Bea and Doreen share a look and then meet the gaze of Franky. Bess might not do anything to Jess, but the other women certainly will, and the redhead knows it. She wont need to lift a finger to cause havoc for Jess, because she knows with certainty that the inmates will make her life a living hell for however long she’ll be in Wentworth, all in Bess’s name. But, she has a point. Jess will hate that Bess will be released, whilst she has to stay locked away, unable to do whatever she wants.
The quiet murmuring of the cafeteria picks up again, and Bess’s table quickly turn the conversation to different things, most of them to do with what film they would watch tonight.
Jenny and Joan can hear the now familiar shrieking of Warner as they turn the corner to the slot and the wet cells. Will is there, attempting to get her to calm down, with not much luck. She’s curled herself into the only empty corner of the cell, clutching at the walls and howling through her teeth at the man who was crouched in front of her, a few feet away.
The two women watch from the doorway, until finally, Warner’s gaze focuses on them.
“YOU!” She opens her mouth and screams. Shrieking loud enough to make Will wince, she launches herself out of the corner, pushing past Will in a move that was so unexpected of the petite brunette that he doesn’t react quickly enough to grab her. She holds her hands out in front of her, fingers in clawed hooks, as she rushes towards the taller of the two women in the door.
Joan pushes Jenny to the side, out of harms way as Warner throws her weight at her, making them both tumble to the ground, Joan taking the brunt of their combined weight hitting the floor with a soft grunt and a dull thudding in her upper back.
Will and Jenny are quick to rise to their feet to lend a hand, but there’s no need.
Joan has the inmate slammed on her front with her hands behind her back within seconds of her falling onto her back after Warner threw herself at her.
Will hands his pair of handcuffs over to the governor without a word, and Jenny fastens them as the governor keeps the brunette’s wrists still. Joan kneels on the floor, and then gets to her feet. Warner is still screeching like a banshee.
“You would think that she’d be hoarse, by now.” Will comments.
“Its her fault that my Mathew is gone!” She fights against the handcuffs, straining her wrists against the metal. “She sent him away!” Warner cranes her neck to look up at Joan, spitting fury when all she got in return was a completely unimpressed look on the woman’s face.
“Mr Fletcher was suspended pending an investigation. He brought it on himself, just like you will have to face the consequences of your own actions soon enough, Warner. Now pipe down and let the nurse sort your nose out.” Joan crosses her arms and looks over at Will. “You aren’t being transferred to any psychiatric facility. They’d put you back in a transport to return here as soon as you arrived. So enough.”
She speaks in the same tone as a mother who’s exasperated with a toddler’s tantrums. Will admires the fact that she’s kept her calm, considering that the inmate managed to lay a hand on her. He’s noted every single time the woman in handcuffs had stopped her act when she thought that he wasn’t looking at her. And how she’d start up again as soon as she heard a noise outside her cell.
She was fooling no-one.
Warner continues to squirm and fight against her restraints and Will and Joan hoist her to her feet, making her walk back to the cell and sit on the bed with her hands still behind her back. They keep a close watch for any sudden movements as Jenny checks her nose and wipes away the blood.
She steps back and strips off her gloves. “Nothing broken. She’s managed to burst a few blood vessels with the force of hitting her nose but nothing more.” She clears her things, making sure that she doesn’t leave anything behind that Warner could hide and use later.
Will makes sure that both women had stepped out of the cell before he unclicks the handcuffs from Warner’s wrists, and steps out himself. He shuts the door and for the first time in nearly two weeks, no noise comes from the inside.
All three walk away.
Bess is sat on the floor, with her back pressing against the bottom of the sofa as Bea gently plaits her hair. Her first day back out of the medical bay was exhausting, and the redhead found that she didn’t have the strength to struggle to fix her own hair.
Bea had happily stepped in and gently brushes the waist length hair, careful not to snag the brush on any tangles.
Bess had thick hair, with a healthy sheen to it, in a lovely auburn shade that Bea had seen women pay through the nose for when she worked at the salon. Carefully, she started at the crown of Bess’s head, and starts a French plait, braiding the hair and being mindful not to pull it too tightly. The rest of the women watch, not talking much. They’d used to watch Bess braid her own hair, back when she could do it. It had become a ritual most nights, and the only time she didn’t braid it out of her face was the nights that she washed the locks, leaving it loose to dry with the warm air in the unit. With practiced hands, Bea braids each lock of hair and remembers the last time she got the chance to braid this much hair.
She blinks away at wet eyes, but Bess can feel her hands shaking through her grip on her hair and she slowly reaches up a hand to grasp at one of Bea’s hands.
She ties it off with the hair tie, and then in muscle memory, she tugs twice just like she used to do with her daughter, a habit that had started when Debbie had started school and needed her hair braiding to keep it tidy.
Bea breathes in sharply, and it’s heard by everyone in the silence of the unit.
Bess moves from her spot on the floor, sluggishly, but she manages to rise and sit in the space next to Bea on the sofa.
And, in an action that she usually wouldn’t do, the redhead opens her arms for Bea, who falls into them, sobbing and sniffing.
“Listen.” Bess says, gently rocking from side to side with her arms wrapped around the older woman. “You remember the best times you had with your girl, alright? You remember the times when you two laughed so hard you nearly wet yourselves, and her first tooth. Her first steps. The first time she told you she didn’t like frills on her dresses.”
Each woman sat around them listens as well, seeing that Bess is gearing up into some tough love.
“I won’t sit here and tell you that it will stop hurting at some point, Bea. But I am going to tell you that thinking back on the great times you had with Debbie will help. And you’ll find yourself smiling a lot more than crying when you think about her. It might take some time, but eventually, it will only ache, and you’ll still have all your memories of her laughing and throwing her peas off her plate.”
“She really hated peas.”
“See? There you go.”
Bea falls asleep after fifteen minutes, and is still there when Mr Jackson comes round to lock up the unit for the night. He sees the two on the sofa, and comes closer to make sure that everything’s alright.
“Evening, Mr Jackson.” Bess offers a small wave as the man chuckles at the sight of Bea being dead weight on the redhead.
“Ah, she’ll get there. Can’t grieve without a few tears, hm?”
Will nods, remembering the reaction Bea had to the news that her daughter had died. It wouldn’t be a quick or a simple process, Will knew that personally.
“You want a hand?” He offers, seeing the line of stitches and not wanting to risk her hurting herself further.
Bess shakes her head. “No, she’ll shift in a minute. Thank you, though.”
Satisfied, Will says goodnight and wanders back to the entrance, sliding the gate smoothly shut and locking it.
Bess was right, Bea shifted about half an hour later, and Bess guided her to her own bed, the woman sleepily shuffling. After making sure that the woman was settled in her own bed, she retreats to her own cell, closing the door gently and collapsing onto her bed.
Bess gets called to the Governor’s office the next day. Linda, now back from her medical leave walks with her and they share easy conversation, a first between the two of them.
“I never got a chance to thank you, Miss Miles.” She says as Linda scans her card to open the door.
“You helped. As far as I’m concerned you helped save my life, so thank you.”
“Ah, Bessy, you’re gonna make me blush, ey?” All at once, Bess is reminded why she didn’t talk often to Linda. The woman had a habit of aggravating people and then forgetting, and wondering why people would be annoyed with her later in the day.
Bess doesn’t answer, as they arrive outside the Governor’s door, and Linda knocks. Letting Bess open the door herself after the Governor’s voice tells her to enter. Linda leaves with a nod, and Bess enters, closing the door behind her.
“How are you doing, Bess?” She asks, motioning to the chair as she always does and the redhead sits, and brushes the braid over her shoulder as the Governor walks around the table, and gently reaches forward to tilt Bess’s chin away, so that she can see the still healing stitches.
“That looks a lot better now.” She mentions, and lets go of Bess’s chin, and leans against the desk. “I’ll get straight to it, I’ve called you here about the library.”
Bess looks up, meeting the woman’s gaze. “I was wondering why it was shut.”
“You’re the librarian, after all. And the fact that we’ve had outside contractors getting anything stained out of there.”
“Was there really that much mess? I thought I’d managed to only bleed on the carpet.”
Joan blinks at the nonchalant tone of the redhead. “We had to remove two lower shelves worth of books, and the part of the carpet. The carpet has now been replaced but you’ll need to add to your book list.”
“I figured as much.” Bess sighs. “What’s the real reason you called me up here Governor? I know it’s not to tell me that you need to get books replaced.”
Joan sighs, cursing Bess’s hyperaware mind. She moves back to sit behind her desk, settling in the chair and rolling it forward. “You’ve got just over two months left here, Bess.”
“And,” Joan shoots her an exasperated look at her. “I’m curious as to your plan once you’re released.”
Bess stares at her with a raised eyebrow, not particularly sure what the woman was getting at. “In what way?”
“Do you have a job lined up, is what I mean.”
“None in particular. My finances will help keep my afloat until I decide what I’ll do. You know as well as I do that actually finding a job will be difficult with a prison sentence on my record. Why?”
“I’m offering you a job, Bess.” Joan reaches over into the nearest drawer, bringing out a thin folder with all the details on it. “It won’t start until you’re settled back into a place of residence, but I’m assuming that you already have that in hand.”
Bess’s mind goes to the apartment that she’d rented, and how she’d called the landlady to tell her that she would no longer be there after she’d arrived at Wentworth. Every penny that had once been spent on rent was still sat in her bank account, along with quarterly dividends. She’s already been in contact with some agencies for renting an apartment when she got out, and after asking for detail on her charge, most were happy to rent to her, providing she paid a deposit and two months rent. Which was fair enough, considering that she was convicted of embezzlement, no matter how falsely she was accused. As before, a few favours were used, so that the apartments that she looked at were of a higher calibre.
“What’s the job?” Bess is weary. She has a respect for the Governor, mostly concerning the tough stance on drugs, and the fact that she follows through with every promise she makes. But that doesn’t mean the Governor isn’t slippery. Bess is, too. A snake always recognises another snake, after all.
“Librarian and educator, just as you’ve been doing.”
Bess eyes her, as the Governor’s sleek, black eyebrow rises. Wordlessly, she pushes the folder towards the redhead with her index finger and she leans forward to grasp the file.
Bess flicks through it. There is only a few pieces of paper in the file, but they highlight the job description, the salary and potential pension details.
Immediately, the redhead is suspicious.
Joan sighs through her nose. She should have known that the redhead would question it.
“Because Bess, you help keep this place on even keel. Once you’re released, things are going to become hectic and upside down here for a few weeks or potentially months. And let’s be honest. Nobody can do what you do with the women here. I looked over your stats in the library. More women have passed their courses with your help than ever before.”
Bess eyes her, her index finger tapping on the arm of the chair that she’s sat in. It’s an interesting offer-it would provide some stability, bring in some extra money, and a pension. The salary could pay the rent on her flat and leave the income from the dividends to do whatever she wanted with it. And in all honesty, she could walk away from it, if she found that the differences between being an inmate and a member of staff became too much.
Not to mention, it would make the check-ups from resettlement officers go much smoother if she had employment lined up.
“I will consider it.” Is all that Bess is willing to say. She wasn’t lying, she would consider it. But she wouldn’t go into this without thinking through every situation that might appear from being the Wentworth Librarian in an official capacity.
The governor sighs. “Well, that’s all I can ask for.” She holds out the folder, but Bess holds up her hand and shakes her head.
“Keep that safe for me, ma’am. I’m not putting it in my cell to be found by any of the women.”
“If you insist.” She tugs open the top drawer of her desk, and drops it in. “Now, how is your neck, really?”
Bess and Joan spend the next ten minutes discussing how the treatment of Bess’s sepsis had worked and whether she would need to be seeing Jenny again. Bess asked about Jess Warner only once, and it wasn’t a topic that either woman stuck on for more than a minute.
It takes Bess a week to get the library back in action.
The books that had been stained by her blood are replaced, new carpet put in and she began the study schedule one day after re-opening the doors. To catch up from the weeks that she’d missed, Bess was tutoring from the moment she opened the library in the morning, to the time when she closed the library in the evening.
For the women who’s HSC exams were quickly approaching, she offered tutoring in the two hours between dinner and evening lock-up.
Bess hadn’t been joking when she’d told Boomer that she would pass the exam whether she wanted to or not. Each evening, a small group of five women could be found studying around the table in Bess’s unit.
If there were two women in the group from rival prison groups, they were told by the redhead that if she saw any kind of rivalry rearing its head, both would be sent away from the group and would not be invited back.
So, Bess’s unit became neutral ground, a fact that both the Governor and her deputy noticed.
“How the hell did she manage that?” Vera murmured as the two women watched the CCTV footage as the study group worked through the test questions. She’s dragged one of the chairs over to Joan’s side of the desk at the taller woman’s insistence, and they sit, side by side with their heads pressed together to watch the computer monitor.
“I don’t actually know.” Joan answered her, puzzled. “Beyond her incident Gambarro, she’s never actually fought anyone else? To prove her point, I mean.”
Vera’s shaking her head before she’s finished speaking. “I’ve heard the odd whisper that she’s grabbed one of the women, made a point about drugs with her hand around someone’s throat but she’s never done damage.”
Joan considers it as she watches the redhead point out something in the text of the HSC book and the woman she’s speaking to frantically writes down notes in response.
“There’s so much that happens in here that we never hear about.” Joan sighs. “The fact that she’s managed to create a prison version of a neutral Switzerland in her unit baffles me.”
“To be fair, I don’t think anyone but Bess could have done it.” Vera says, poking her in the arm. They watch the study group as the women finish up and wander out to be able to arrive back in their units before the evening lock-up.
They keep an eye on the redhead as she clears away the mugs that the group had used for tea and then they see the redhead stretch, flinch and raise her hand to her neck.
“Her neck is still bothering her?” Vera asked. Joan purses her lips.
“The nerves in her neck are healing, which apparently feels like burning according to Jenny.” Joan turns to look at Vera who is watching the redhead on the screen. “She’ll probably feel it more when she’s tired or she over-exerts herself. She told me earlier that she’s much better in herself, anyway.”
“Well I suppose that’s half the battle.” Vera, as always, tries to think on the more positive side. Joan, more often than not, was a ‘glass half empty’ type of woman, but wouldn’t dampen Vera’s optimism.
“All we can do is keep an eye, I suppose.” She leans back in her chair, brushing shoulders with her deputy and rubs her eyes, feeling tired. “How’s your mother settling into the home?”
“I wouldn’t know. Once she realised where I was taking her she wouldn’t speak to me, and wouldn’t even let me into the building with her.” Vera wouldn’t look at her.
“I told her that she didn’t have a choice, and that she was going whether she wanted to or not.” Sighing heavily, Vera slumps into the chair, glancing over to the woman she considered her very good friend. “She told me that I was taking her to a pretty prison, but it was a prison all the same.”
“Does that bother you?” Joan’s voice is tinged in concern.
“No.” Vera shakes her head. “What bothers me the most is that I told her that if it was up to me I’d have put her in a cell and been done with it.”
For a few seconds, Joan doesn’t know what to say. The response is unlike Vera, but then Rita Bennett had pushed and prodded her daughter to the breaking point. She’s more concerned that Vera will let her response to her mother go around and around in her head until she became a nervous wreck. The fact that she’s staring at the blank computer monitor without blinking tells Joan everything she needs to know.
Carefully she extends the arm next to Vera, wrapping it around her shoulders and squeezing gently.
It shocks her enough that Vera turns her face to look at her, leaning into the one armed hug with a relieved small smile.
“Don’t get lost in your head with your mother.” Joan says, with a reassuring smile. “Sometimes, the hardest choice is the one that we need to make to survive.”
Vera offers a wobbly smile back.
“How does it feel to know that you don’t have to go home and listen to screaming as soon as you walk through the front door?”
Sheepishly, Vera leans closer to the taller woman. “It feels really good. I’m going to actually get some sleep tonight.”
“See? There you are, positive thoughts all round.”
The two women decide to head home once the clock reaches 8pm, they’d stayed two hours over their shift to keep an eye on Bess’s study group, too curious to see how the redhead would work around the potential warring inmates.
They walk out of the building, a tired slump to their shoulders, and they share a wave as they drive in opposite directions towards their respective homes.
They text back and forth until 11:30, when Vera falls asleep with her phone in her hand whilst tucked up in bed.
Doreen is twitchy, Bess thinks.
The curly haired woman was usually chirpy, always trying to look on the brighter side of things, despite how naïve it made her look, but this? This wasn’t chirpy bouncing. This was twitchy.
Over two days, Bess keeps an eye on her, carefully peering above her book to watch her. Franky notices, but says nothing. She’s noticed that Doreen’s behaviour has been odd, but figures that Bess has a handle of things.
Might as well let her handle it whilst she’s still here, Franky thinks. Once she leaves it will be up to me again to sort things out.
Franky isn’t looking forward to the day that Bess is released.
In her head, Bess keeps a tally of how often Doreen seems to duck into her cell, close the door and then a few minutes later, the sound of flushing is heard. Undiagnosed kidney infection, maybe?
It’s not until Bea pipes up from her spot next to Bess that evening that it all begins to make sense.
“Still nothing, Dor?”
Doreen shakes her head, shrugging slightly. “Nah, I’m usually regular as clockwork, but maybe its stress?”
Bess’s hard stare snaps over to the curly haired woman, who doesn’t notice, but the other redhead certainly does.
Shit, Bess thinks. Shit, shit shit!
She closes her hardback copy of Vanity Fair with a loud snap, getting to her feet and storming to her cell, shutting the door with a noticeable bang. The jerky movements makes her neck ache, adding to her swift change in mood.
Bea and Doreen stare after her, and the redhead returns her attention back to the sketchbook in her lap, and Doreen stares at Bess’s closed door with an uncomfortable look on her face.
With nothing to prove her suspicions of Doreen, Bess bides her time. She knows the comings and goings of every woman in her unit, and she waits until she is the only one out in the common area, sitting on the sofa facing the unit entryway, two weeks later.
Doreen walks through the unit, unaware that Bess is waiting to pounce.
“Are you pregnant, Doreen?” Her tone is cold, and neutral as possible. Doreen isn’t expecting her to be sat waiting for her, and she doesn’t need to answer the question. The guilty look on her face tells Bess more than Doreen ever could.
“For fucks sake.”
“It’s not like I meant for it to happen, Bess!” Doreen gestures with her hands, needing to get rid of the nervous energy in her.
“Hm, how many sexual health classes did you skip, Dor?” The sarcastic comment makes Doreen wince. “Man and woman have an unprotected quickie in a prison shed, multiple times. Over multiple weeks. What the fuck did you expect to happen?”
There’s anger in Bess’s tone. She’s never spoken to Doreen with anything stronger than a cautious tone, similar to how an older sister would advise their sibling against doing something that had the potential to piss off a parent. She’d warned her, weeks ago about potential catastrophes that could come from her little rendezvous with her Watford hook up.
Bess isn’t angry. She’s furious.
“I know, I know!”
“Bit fucking late for ‘I know,’ isn’t it?” Bess crosses her arms. “How far along are you?”
“I don’t know, a few weeks maybe? I’m getting my sister to sneak in a test for me.” Doreen is hoping that little bean of information will calm Bess somewhat.
“And once you’ve used the test, how are you going to get rid of it without anyone official noticing? Pregnancy tests aren’t exactly common around here.”
She hadn’t thought of that. If the test was discovered, in a rep, or by just being found in a bin, the entire prison would be ripped apart by the Governor and her deputy. Not to mention that every woman would be under suspicion, so the entire prison would need to undergo a pregnancy test. And when it came out why the sudden searches would be needed, and because of who, the women in Wentworth wouldn’t look towards Doreen with a friendly eye.
Doreen swallowed thickly, the air suddenly feeling too thin inside the unit.
She shuffled to the sofa Bess was sat on, and slumps into the cushions. “What do I do, Bess?”
“What do you want to do?” Bess looks at her. “And think before you answer.”
Doreen swallows. “…I don’t know.” She whispers. “I don’t know what to do with this.”
“You know what I’m going to suggest, don’t you?” Bess’s tone is gentle now that Doreen has recognised the utter insanity of the situation. Doreen is nodding before Bess has finished speaking.
“Yeah. She’s gonna kill me.”
“Nah,” Bess shakes her head. “She’ll lecture you with a scary expression on her face, but that’s fine. You’ve been lectured before.” She watches Doreen for any reaction. “And she will appreciate the fact that you’ve gone to her before forcing her hand when she finds a positive pregnancy test. Or one of the other officers do.”
“Either way, it’s too late tonight to be able to do anything.” She grasps Doreen’s hand, and squeezes gently. “Bed, and sleep. We’ll deal with it tomorrow.”
Later, when Bess is staring at the ceiling in her cell, she realises that the muscles in her neck aches from clenching her jaw so tightly during her conversation with Doreen.
She falls into an uneasy sleep, thinking of the potential fallout that could happen because of Doreen’s new situation.
As it happens, the Governor receives a tip that she needs to speak to Doreen on an issue and that the conversation needed to happen sooner rather than later. She gathers her deputy, thinking that she’ll probably need the backup. When she’d asked if it was a sensitive topic, Joan had received a raised eyebrow, a slow nod and then watched as the auburn braid flicked around the corner and disappeared into the library. Bess had caught them in the corridor, after suggesting that waiting until later in the evening was likely to get better results. She’d slipped away as quietly as she’d cornered them.
Later, after finishing a mug of coffee each, the Governor and her deputy prepare to go down to H2.
“Sensitive issue?” Vera had murmured, tugging the creases out of her jacket.
“It would appear so.” Joan sighed. “Ambush on their home turf it is then.”
Vera held open her office door, following Joan out and closing it behind her, the rhythmic thudding of their heels muted on the carpet of the administration section of the prison.
Joan trusted that Bess would do her own part and make sure that Doreen would be in the unit at 7pm, when everyone else was finishing up in the cafeteria.
As it happened, they were sat on the sofa that Bess had been sat on the previous evening, crossed leg, sitting side by side.
They catch Doreen by surprise when she turns the corner to enter the unit. She stops short, mouth open and eyes blinking at the Governor’s duo, and then Bess comes behind her, shoving her gently further into the unit.
“Go on.” She murmured reassuringly. Doreen half shuffles forward, half walking and comes closer to the two women on the sofa.
Bess deliberately hangs back, curious to see if Doreen would find the courage to simply state the issue outright or if she would talk around the entire thing until either the Governor or the deputy would lose patience and drag it out of her.
Doreen stops short when she reaches the sofa opposite the two women, wringing her hands nervously.
“Doreen, what is the matter?” Miss Bennett uses the same tone that she’d used when Bess had first arrived. One of the only women to ever see the redhead show her nerves, she’d reassured Bess that the first night was always the scariest, and everything would look better after the first night was over and done with.
Bess hadn’t shared her optimism, but had appreciated the kindness behind the words all the same.
The governor and her deputy share a look, and a feeling of unease settles in Joan’s stomach.
Bess crosses her arms, and pointedly clears her throat, making Doreen look over her shoulder at the redhead, with a pleading look on her face.
“Oh for God’s sake!” Bess huffed, impatient and tiring quickly of Doreen’ dawdling. She stalked forward, stopping a little behind Doreen and gesturing towards her. “Doreen’s pregnant.”
Bess waits, one hand cocked on her hip as both the governor and her deputy fell into open mouthed silence, staring at Doreen. Then, in sync, their eyes travelled down from Doreen’s face to focus on her stomach.
Doreen swears that she can see the Governor’s left eye twitch.
The deputy is the first to rise to her feet, a serious expression on her face as she walks around the sofa to stand in front of Doreen.
“Doreen, I need you to be honest with me.” She stares into Doreen’s face for a second. “Was it an officer?”
Doreen immediately starts shaking her head, horrified. “No! No, really!”
“Doreen, seriously tell me, was an officer involved?” Miss Bennett is speaking in a harsh whisper, and when the inmate in question shakes her head again, she gazes at her carefully, assessing whether or not she believed the woman’s answer. Doreen is shaking now, and Miss Bennett notices. She steps back, grasps the woman’s forearm, and gently pulls her to the front of the sofa, nudging her to sit down. Doreen doesn’t.
The Governor is now stood behind the sofa opposite them, leaning her hands on the back of the sofa, and she’s staring balefully at the floor, trying to reign in the memories that have come flooding back.
She breathes heavily once, and then once more. Bess eyes her, half concerned, half wondering if she’s going to snap the sofa in half. The woman hadn’t lost her temper, as far as the prison population had seen, since she’d started as Wentworth’s governor. Bess wondered what it might be like if it happened. It would probably be glorious, and slightly terrifying.
Governor Ferguson was a hard book to read, she hid everything so well.
“It was that Watford prisoner, wasn’t it?” She doesn’t look up, and speaks through gritted teeth. Doreen stares at her, and when she lifts her head, she stares at the curly haired woman with a tense, raised eyebrow, daring her to lie to her.
Doreen looks anywhere but at the governor, focusing on a spot of dirt on the floor. Then she nods, once.
Miss Bennett, still not sure what else she can say, stands between Doreen and the Governor with her hands on her hips, eyebrows furrowed. She’s half torn between wanting to pace up and down the length of the unit in some sort of attempt to walk off the stress, and half wanting to make sure that Joan doesn’t suddenly keel over and have a heart attack from the stress of the current situation. She’s still gripping the back of the sofa, and Vera can see that her knuckles are white.
“Right.” Bess, Doreen and Joan all turn their heads to face her, and Vera blinks rapidly when she sees the three different expressions on each face. Joan’s raised eyebrow and piercing stare tells the deputy everything she needs to know about her current frame of mind. Doreen looks terrified and Bess is simply raising an auburn eyebrow, waiting.
“Doreen, sit.” She orders, and as the pregnant inmate shuffles backwards, slowly perching on the cushions of the sofa, Vera quickly walks to Joan, brushing a quick but gentle whisper of fingers over her right hand.
“Breathe, Joan.” She murmurs, and Joan lets go of the back of the sofa, breathing deeply once and then straightening up.
Doreen still looks petrified, sat on the sofa in a rigid position, hands grasping at the cushions. Bess eyes the Governor, who’s stood with her hands on her hips, and staring at the deputy who’s stood in front of her. They appear to be having a silent conversation, no words needed.
Finally, the taller woman nods and Miss Bennett relaxes slightly, and then turns to Doreen.
The governor strides around the sofa, sitting in the seat that she’d been sat in when Bess and Doreen had entered the unit. Miss Bennett follows.
“Have you managed, by some miracle, to take a test?” Is the first question out of the Governor’s mouth, assuming that the answer will ‘no.’
Doreen shakes her head.
“Late period?” Miss Bennett offers instead, and Doreen nods, a tiny gesture that barely moves her head.
Bess leans against the back of the sofa, stood behind Doreen and gauging what the potential outcomes to this situation could be. Her mind had spun through multiple potential situations, from the Governor losing her temper and flipping the sofa or the table, to Doreen being dragged, kicking and screaming to the medical bay. Hell, Bess had pondered whether this would be the instance where Miss Bennett lost her grip on her own temper, and reacted.
But beyond the heavy silence from the Governor and Miss Bennett, there was a distinct lack of verbal reaction.
“Alright.” The Governor sighs, and leans back into the sofa cushions. “You’ll be making a trip to the medical bay.”
Doreen tries to protest, stuttering and turning to Bess. The redhead raises an eyebrow, and the Governor watches with curiosity as any argument against going to the medical bay tapers off as Doreen realises that Bess is in complete agreement with the current plan.
“We need to confirm if you’re actually pregnant, Doreen. Because then a health plan can be drawn up.” The governor lays out her plan, mind whirring through what will need to be arranged, and put in place. She is contemplating what the rest of the prison’s reaction would be, it would go either way.
“Not to mention what will need to happen when the women find out that you’re pregnant.” Bess inserts into conversation, and Doreen notices that the Governor nods in agreement.
“Alright, let’s take this one step at a time. Doreen, let’s go.” Miss Bennett gets to her feet, smoothing out her skirt and waits for the woman in teal to get up. The Governor had risen shortly after the deputy, pulling at the bottom of her jacket to straighten out the creases.
When Doreen leaves the unit, with the two women on either side of her, Bess breathes a sigh of relief. One crisis avoided, but there were definitely be more to contend with. For one thing, when the women found out about Doreen’s pregnancy, there would be both good and bad reactions.
Bess guessed that most would be happy for her, if slightly confused as to how it came about, but there were the likes of Gambarro who might decide to take it into their own hands to cause issues.
And Bess said the word that had become her mantra since she’d been released from the medical bay.
I was right.
Two weeks had passed since Doreen had been outed about her pregnancy and as Bess had estimated, the reactions were mixed. Not to mention that her stiches had been removed, leaving her neck feeling tender and raw. The redness on her neck clashed with her pale skin, and somehow, she felt more stares towards her throat now than she had when she had the black, neat stitches when she had first returned from the hospital.
Thankfully, most women knew better than to mention it.
Jess Warner had been kept in protection as the internal affairs team had concluded their investigation. Her little act in the wet cells had tapered off, and now she seemed to just try and keep her head down, and out of trouble. She’d been questioned, as had numerous other people, and the two women of Wentworth’s upper management were hopeful that the expected outcome would be found in I.A report.
However, the report that had landed on Governor Ferguson’s desk caused the woman to hurl the pot of pencils on her desk across the office with an angry growl.
“Bastards.” She muttered, as Vera opens the door and pokes her head through. She eyes the scattered yellow pencils and the smashed ceramic pot, and then turns to the woman sat at the desk who has the most furious glare on her face.
“Who’s a bastard?”
Joan looks up at her deputy, who’s stepped into the room and shut the door behind her.
“I’ve had the report from I.A.” Vera recognises the look on Joan’s face. “They’re referring it higher because of inconsistencies.”
“Yes. They are.” Joan leans back in her chair and crosses her arms, an angry frown on her face.
“We had proof that she’d done it!” Vera flails her arms, growing angry. “Surveillance cameras, eye witnesses, the weapon used! What else do they FUCKING NEED?!”
An angry silence fills the room. By referring it to the higher ups, it would take a far longer and slower investigation. It would mean that Jess Warner’s entire record would come to light, her past behaviour within the prison and her relationship with Fletcher. It would give both women more stress-induced headaches.
“Oh, I haven’t even told you the best part.” Joan says, rubbing her forehead. “Fletcher is coming back with a written warning.”
Vera stares at her incredulously. Joan can see her hands shaking in her fury, and absentmindedly grasps the empty coffee mug on her desk.
“Here.” She tosses it gently towards her deputy who catches it with both hands, and then looks down it in confusion. “Go ahead. It will help a little, at least.”
Vera rears back, and launches the china mug at the wall. It makes a satisfying smash, and the pieces litter the floor as Vera breathes heavily.
“This is Channing.” Vera grits her teeth. “This is his interference.”
Joan nods. “I thought as much when I read that Fletcher would be on probation and receive a warning.” She frowns, turning to look out of the window. “The only question is why.”
The silence between them feels heavy, with both women deep in thought, the mess of smashed china, and the ceramic pencil pot left where they were.
“I don’t know what is going on, but be careful Vera.” The deputy turns to Joan, seeing the concerned look on her face. “I have no idea how high this goes.”
“I’ll be alright…”
“If he’s got Fletcher on side, there’s a chance that someone else could be too.”
Vera pales. She hadn’t thought of that. Linda had a nasty habit of dropping information to the inmates for money, if Channing wafted something better in front of her, she would throw every single person under the bus for it.
She slumps into the chair opposite Joan’s desk.
Jess Warner is pushed out into general population the next day.
Both Vera and Joan stand shoulder to shoulder, facing the window that overlooks the yard. Warner had refused protection, and had danced along the last nerve of the board members. They’d come to a decision yesterday, concluding that Warner was no longer a danger to herself, and had continuously refused protection.
So the Governor and her deputy watched as the brunette was led, by two officers on either side of her into the main yard. Almost immediately, the women nearest to her begin to jeer.
“Not so brave now, are ya love?!”
“Ah poor little baby! Ain’t so cocky now that she’s on her own is she?”
Joan and Vera can hear the calls and shouting from the office. The women aren’t stupid, they can look up and see the two women stood in the window keeping an eye on the yard. However, that doesn’t stop them verbally tormenting the brunette currently being herded into the yard.
“If they decide to go for her, the officers down there are outnumbered.” Joan murmurs, pursing her lips.
Vera shakes her head. “They wont.” She says confidently, causing the other woman to look at her curiously. “Bess will have told them to leave her alone. It might not stop sneak attacks, but none of the women down there will go against what she’s asked in broad daylight. They’ll feel guilty if they do.”
Sure enough, Vera was right. The jeering continues, but not one woman in teal makes a move towards the petite brunette who is looking around nervously when the two officers step away and move back towards the other side of the metal fence.
Warner tries to move towards the table where the least amount of people are sat, but one glare and a shake of one woman’s head is enough to dissuade her. Eventually, she leans against an empty part of the wall, away from the other women. One by one, each prisoner turns back to whatever they were doing previously and ignore Warner steadfastly.
“Guilty?” Joan asks, wordlessly asking Vera to elaborate.
Vera smiles. “You know as well as I do that Bess doesn’t demand. She’s probably asked, quite nicely and they will be made to feel guilty if they go against her request.”
“But what Bess doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.” Joan guesses.
Vera nods. “Give it a week, Warner will be in the medical bay for something or other.”
“I’ll take that bet. I’ll give it five days.”
“Loser buys cocktails?” Vera grins up at the taller woman.
“Oh, you’re on.”
In four days, Warner is rushed to the medical bay following an altercation in the showers. The women who were involved didn’t damage her too much, fracturing her cheekbone, and left bruises all over her, but other than that, Jessica Warner was able to walk out of the medical bay to her newly assigned unit. Jeering followed her down the hallways.
That evening, Vera passes the first cocktail of many over to Joan, who’s sat in the booth next to her, and toasts her with her glass and smug look on her face.
“Yeah, yeah.” Vera says, clinking her own glass against Joan’s. “Don’t rub it in.”
The woman lets out a loud laugh, trying to hide it behind her hand. “Oh come on, its an excuse to drink some cocktails after a hellish week. I’ll even buy the next round.” She cajoles her, winking from behind the rim of her glass.
“I’ll hold you to that.”
They clink their glasses again.
Bess finds herself sat on one of the sofa’s in the common area, in the early hours of the morning, staring at the entrance of the unit, blinking slowly.
The redhead found herself jerking awake out of a nightmare, and unable to fall asleep, she decided it would be better to be in the main area than cooped up in her own cell with the shadows creeping along the walls.
She wasn’t scared of Warner.
But that didn’t stop her subconscious being cautious (in the extreme) and taunting her with ‘what if’s’ as she slept. Bess was twitchy, eyeing up darkened corners every few minutes, and she sits with her back towards the wall where the sofa was pushed against the bricks after the last yoga session to help Doreen with her back pain.
Most of the women don’t notice Bess’s twitchier disposition.
Franky does, and so does the Governor and her deputy.
“Struggling to sleep, Bess?”
Her head snaps up to look at Franky, who is stood in rumpled pyjamas in the doorway of her cell, gazing at her in curiosity. Bess liked her sleep, she never appreciated being woken unexpectedly. So for the redhead to be sat up at 4am, was unusual.
Bess doesn’t answer Franky. Her slow blinks show the Top Dog that she’s exhausted, and Franky recognises the tiredness from waking up with nightmares.
“You having nightmares again?” Franky walks towards her, pausing by the arm of the sofa, and Bess sighs deeply. “Cup of tea?”
A single nod is all she gets. Franky, recognises that Bess wouldn’t show any weakness, even to her.
“Want to talk about it?”
Franky hm’s, and pours hot water into two mugs, spooning sugar and adding milk. She wanders over, dropping into the seat next to the redhead and handing her one mug.
“Don’t let it eat at you, Bess.” Franky warns. “You get out in what? Less than two months now? Don’t lose sight of that.”
Bess closes her eyes for a second, and then lifts the mug to her lips, sipping the hot liquid. The silence stretches between the two women, each drinking their tea and staring at the entrance of the unit.
The black haired woman looks over to the redhead, who’s braid is untidy, and thrown over her shoulder. Her scar is on display, the redness still there and unlikely to fade fully for some time.
“When I do go, don’t try and start your shit again.” Bess half whispers, and doesn’t bother turning to meet her eye. Franky knows exactly what she means. The drug-pushers trade had dropped whilst Bess was inside, most women knowing better than to be caught by the redhead who had a staunch, anti-drugs policy, regardless of her incarceration. Instead Franky had moved to contraband that Bess had turned a blind eye to, most of the time.
“Don’t know what ya talkin’ about, Edwards.” Franky plays dumb, drinking her tea and shrugging. Bess doesn’t call her on it, the exhaustion of a third night of broken sleep seeping into her bones. Franky would understand the warning, but until Bess left, the redhead had no idea what would happen.
Nobody knew that she intended on coming back in an official, employed capacity after all.
Nobody would know, either.
The silence between them continues, and after ten minutes Franky looks over to the redhead.
Bess’s head is tilted back, resting against the back of the sofa, and her eyes are closed with her mouth slightly open. Her chest rises up and down, breathing deeply with sleep. The mug of tea is held slack in her hand, and Franky reaches out to take it before it falls and spills. She places it, with her own on the table and reaches for the bright lilac crochet blanket folded on the seat of one of the plastic chairs around the dining table. One of Liz’s creations, it would do to keep Bess warm as she slept.
Franky gently covered the redhead with the blanket, tucking her in and then retreating to her cell, quietly closing the door behind her and settling into her own bed.
In the morning, the Governor would rewatch this instance with the CCTV footage, calling Vera over and watching with curiosity as the Top Dog tucked in the young woman, who was for all intents and purposes her only real rival within Wentworth.
“They’ve always had a tentative peace, those two.” Vera pointed out, cradling her mug of steaming coffee and nudging Joan to drink her own that had been made by the deputy.
“Was there trouble with them to begin with?”
Vera considers it, thinking back. “Hm, yes and no. Bess kept to herself from day one after she arrived. I got her sorted, and she’d been polite, cordial, asked a few normal questions. It was calm the first few weeks, and then Doyle started pushing.”
“And we all know how much Doyle pushes.”
Vera shrugs. “She only ever did it once. She cornered Bess and Bess reacted. Slammed a hardback copy of the Da Vinci Code into Doyle’s face. Franky never pushed again.” She sips her mug, eyeing the taller woman over the rim thinking back to the consequences of the quick fight between the two women. “She had a mess on her face for weeks. The way the book caught Franky’s face made it bruise on the skin, but the corners caught her cheekbone and her nose. She fractured one and broke the other.”
Joan sits back in her chair, a pensive look on her face. “And they were fine, just like that?”
“Oh, there’s been plenty of snark and pettiness, but nothing physical since then.”
“Well, say what you will about Doyle, she’s a fast learner when she wants to be.”
Joan huffs a laugh, shaking her head. “There’s never a dull day, is there?”
Jess Warner tries her best to stay out of the way, ignored by everyone that might decide to swing for her. She succeeds for the most part, with most women steadfastly ignoring her and refusing to include her in anything. The women she shares a unit with refused to acknowledge her, wouldn’t so much as shake their head at her. Most of the time they would act as if she wasn’t even there.
Sometimes, Jess wonders if she prefers the arse-kicking or the silence. She doesn’t know which one is worse.
She still aches after the last beating in the showers. She’s amazed they didn’t break her in half. Bess had a long reach in Wentworth, even if she didn’t outright give commands. The women would take it upon themselves to protect her ‘honour’ if Bess even had such a thing.
But Jess didn’t even know what Bess had done to be worth such a reaction.
All she knew is that she hated her. Hated the sight of her. The woman breathed and Jess wanted to spit fury at her.
She goes to bed without speaking a word since lunchtime, and hunches over in the bed, closing her eyes and eventually sleeping.
As Doreen’s pregnancy becomes more pronounced, more women take notice of it. Most have a fairly positive reaction to it, with a few outliers whispering snide comments as she passed by them in the corridor. Even more women notice when Doreen needs to rush off to be sick almost every ten minutes.
One memorable occasion happened in the library, where Bess had been sat at a table with her head buried in a textbook trying to make a plan for a tutoring session, and Doreen had wheeled around with her hand clapped over her mouth and all the redhead had done without looking up from the book was point at the bin in the corner.
Three other women had rushed out to be sick themselves at the sound of Doreen’s retching.
With very little sympathy, Bess had sent Doreen out with the bin once she was done, a fact that the Governor and her deputy had smiled and shaken their heads about after watching it on camera.
Eventually, Bess only has two weeks left until she’s released and she’s called up to the Governor’s office and has a fairly good reason why.
An officer whose name she doesn’t remember escorts her up, and the Governor waves him away when she opens the door and beckons her inside.
Used to the routine by now, Bess settles in the chair opposite the desk, as the other woman perches in her own chair.
“I need an answer, Bess.” As always, the Governor is no nonsense, and dives straight into the heart of the matter. Bess hides her smile, Joan Ferguson had certainly made an impression over the last few months, not including holding Bess’s neck together after Jess’s stunt. In truth, Bess had made her decision one week after being offered it, but had kept the information to herself in case it had gotten out to the Wentworth Rumour Mill.
“You know as well I do that I’ll take it, ma’am.” Joan smirks at her, leaning back in her chair. She’d known Bess would take the job, but she also knew that the redhead preferred to keep all of her cards close to her chest, Joan was much the same.
Nothing more really needs to be said between the two women.
Further details can be worked out closer to the date of Bess’s release, but the Governor had already confirmed that the redhead would be given a few weeks to settle into her home, and life outside of Wentworth. Then, she would come back, with a swipe card and a prison staff ID instead of a teal green uniform.
It doesn’t take long for Bess to stand, nod at the woman behind the desk and then leave, walking down the corridor and slipping out of the door, hearing it lock with a small beep and a click behind her. Usually, an officer would escort a prisoner, but it had been unofficially decided that Bess was highly unlikely to do something foolish, especially so close to her release date. Every officer knew that Bess was probably the most level-headed inmate in the entire prison.
From the dark space by the stairs, Jess watches as the redhead descends down the last few steps, braid bouncing as she does. Jess’s face pulls into a fierce glare, as she grits her teeth. Bess offers a grin and a quick wave of her hand in response to one woman calling to her, and Jess’s jaw aches with how hard she grinds her teeth.
The sight of Bess’s braid made her want to cut it off.
Jess doesn’t see Bess’s face again, as the redhead walks down the corridor, and she shrugs her braid off her shoulder, letting it dangle down her back. Jess watches as the auburn end flicks by her waist, a sharp flash of copper catching in the fluorescent lights, taunting her.
A sharp hiss of anger escapes through her clenched teeth, and two women pass by her, throwing a sneer in her direction as they notice her but they don’t say anything. As usual.
Fucking Bess Edwards.
Doreen is clearly showing by now and Liz is in her element crocheting a blanket. Boomer sits on the sofa next to her, hands holding the yarn as she’d directed, unrolling some each time Liz’s hook paused in it’s actions. Franky sits with a legal textbook in her lap, Criminal Law if Bess’s memory was right. Maxine is sat on the floor and Bea is rolling foam rollers into her hair, sat next to Franky on the sofa as she carefully combs sections of Maxine’s hair.
Bess sits at the table, papers spread around her, mind maps and notes with final points of study for the women who would be taking the HSC in a week, Boomer included.
“Franky, have you heard about Jess?” Bea whispers, making the dark-haired woman pause in her reading. She moves head slightly towards her, and Bea’s eyes flick back to Bess, who has a pen placed behind her ear and is furiously scribbling notes. She hasn’t noticed their topic of conversation.
Bea sighs, finishing the last roller in Maxine’s hair. “Sophie, she’s in the same unit. Apparently, Jess is talking to the wall, muttering late at night.”
“I know who Sophie is. I’m guessing the nutcase muttering about our bookworm?”
Bea nods, and Maxine shifts to relieve Boomer of her job with Liz’s yarn, as the bigger woman nearly runs to her cell to use the toilet, as Liz had sat her down nearly two hours before to help with her project.
“I don’t like the sound of that, Red.”
“Neither do I.” Bea doesn’t often agree with Franky, but in this case she does. Bess’s release date was so close, and no woman in Wentworth wanted to do anything to jeopardize that. Well, except for a small fraction of them. It wasn’t unheard of for women to lose their release dates after a feud meant that an ‘enemy’ would plan something that would give the almost free woman extra time.
“We’ll keep an eye on her.” Franky decides, noting how the scratching of Bess’s pen has paused.
Neither woman says anything else.
The days seem to drag, but even Bess notices how Jess slinks in the dark corners of the prison. She tries to not let it bother her too much. After all, hiding in the shadows was not a crime, and if anyone had reason to keep to the shadows, it was Jess Warner.
Bess stands still in the corridor. She’d underestimated Jess once before, thinking her a little girl who was trying to take part in a game that she had no idea how play. And that way of thinking had given Bess an impressive scar on her neck. She wouldn’t be so naïve about the brunette again.
Just stay away from me, Jess. If you know what’s good for you, she thought to herself, sighing heavily and stalking down the corridor, heading towards the library.
Jess watches her go from her place leaning in the corner of the corridor. Bess’s hair is up in a braided bun today, on the crown of her head and showing the angry scar on her neck for all to see. She sends a scowl her way, crossing her arms and going in the opposite direction, making sure to stay out of the way of any of the other women.
It doesn’t go unnoticed by the women standing in the line for phones, that the brunette is muttering furiously under her breath, mentioning the redhead’s name multiple times.
“That girl gets crazier every day.” One mutters to her friend behind her, who leans forward to watch Warner’s retreating back.
“Mental.” The friend agrees, noticing the brunettes head shaking back and forth like she was holding a conversation with someone.
Franky gets told a little while later, as she looks for a new textbook in the library, of Jess’s increasing weirdness. She sighs heavily, slamming her law book down on the shelf and nods her thanks to the woman, who shrugs and leaves the library without another word.
Tension grows as the days pass, and when there’s only a week left until Bess is released, the women of Wentworth feel uneasy walking through the corridors, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“I hate this.” Vera mutters as she and Joan stride through the corridors following evening lockup, doing one final checks of the corridors before they finish for the night. “Something’s brewing.”
Joan purses her lips, nodding in agreement with the shorter woman. “Feels like something’s going to kick off.”
“Do you think it has anything to do with Bess’s release coming up?” Vera ponders, and Joan blinks before answering. It hadn’t crossed her mind, but it was possible that the women were getting anxious about the redhead leaving.
“That…might actually be the case.”
Both women remain deep in thought until they walk up to Joan’s office, and then the taller woman turns to her deputy.
“Did you hear the rumours about Warner?”
“That she’s actually going round the bend?” Vera frowns. “Yeah, I did. Her unit is complaining of her talking to herself in the middle of the night and it sounds like she’s having arguments with herself. Apparently, most of her talking is about Bess. I don’t like this, Joan.”
“Neither do I.” The taller woman collects her handbag and coat, and Vera turns off the lights and waits outside as Joan locks up. “We’ll need to keep an eye on that, if she goes for Bess again the women here will string her up in the basketball court.”
“I thought she was faking it?”
“While that might have been true when she was in the solitary cells, it doesn’t change the fact that she could genuinely be mentally ill now.” She shrugs. “Odder things have happened.”
“A breakdown?” Vera murmurs, mind racing through all the different times that Jess Warner had acted odd in the last few weeks.
Not another word is said between the women as they walk out of the building, separating by their cars and driving out of Wentworth’s car park.
The rest of the week passes fairly quietly, with Bess beginning to hand out most of her things that she wouldn’t need once she left. Franky had laid claim to every one of her bookmarks, and Doreen had asked for her chamomile teabags, which Bess had given with a wink. It was a remedy that they’d found to hep the woman’s morning sickness. A lot of her things would go in the bin, but no doubt, the rest of her unit-mates would take what they wanted on the last day of her sentence.
She’d noticed Jess, sometimes trailing a little behind her in the corridor and muttering under her breath but as the brunette had kept her distance, Bess had left her be. She was more than aware that the other woman was muttering and talking to herself, but right now, she was keeping away.
It was all fairly calm, although still tense until the day before Bess was due to be released. The women in the unit had turned the radio on high, and every woman was dancing to the music blasting out of the speakers. Women from all over Wentworth had stopped by the unit to offer a hug and best wishes and Bess had accepted every one.
The women were not only celebrating Bess’s release, they were also celebrating the announcement of the HSC results. Every single woman under Bess’s tutelage had passed with flying colours so many women had dropped in to give her thanks as well as offer their goodbyes.
And it had all been going well, until Jess Warner had snuck into the unit, practically invisible in the small crowd of women.
She made a beeline for the only pregnant woman in Wentworth, back hunched out and breathing harshly through clenched teeth.
Grabbing Doreen around her neck, she pointed a shiv at her extended stomach. All movement immediately stopped, every woman freezing as they all looked down at the sharpened toothbrush with a shiny razor blade pushed into the melted plastic, pressing against Doreen’s hoodie. The music continued to blare, until the woman closest to it yanked the plug out of the wall.
“Fucking bitches, all of you!”
Bess, with her hair down (a rare occurrence) with a braid carefully plaited along the crown of her head by Bea earlier in the day, is stood nearest to Franky, who’s frozen with her mouth open in horror as Doreen’s watery eyes flick from woman to woman, silently pleading for someone to do something.
“Franky, push the fucking button.” Bess mutters harshly, and jerkily the black haired woman shakes her head. She uses her eyes to show Franky the bright red panic button on the wall, nearest to Franky.
“Franky, for fucks sake!” Bess’s voice is a harsh whisper, with a hysterical twinge to it. An odd tone of voice for the redhead. She watches as Jess presses the shiv harder to Doreen’s stomach, eliciting a small whimper of fear from the curly haired woman.
“I press that button and she goes fucking bonkers.” Franky reasoned back at her. “Can’t do it. Won’t.”
“Do I have to do bloody everything?!” Using the mug in her hands, Bess hurls it towards the button on the wall in one fast movement, hoping that for once, her aim would be dead on.
Sirens start blaring, harsh ringing in the ears of the inmates present and almost every woman reaches up to cover their ears. Shrieking accompanies it, as Jess warner decides that the best place to be right now is anywhere but H2.
She yanks backwards, pulling Doreen with her, moving the shiv up to her neck and pressing hard. Doreen pleading with her, loudly as she does, trying to stay on her feet against the harsh grip of the brunette.
“Bess! Bess! BESS! BESS! Don’t let her take me, PLEASE!” The desperate screaming from Doreen echoes down the corridor as Jess pulls her further down the corridor. The pleading shrieks pull at Bess’s heart and ignites fury in her brain and she tears after the pair, skidding around the gate and nearly slipping on the cup of tea that Doreen had dropped when Jess had grabbed her. She sees Doreen’s fingers as she’s yanked around the corner. Franky is behind her, as is most of her unit, but the other women have stayed back, not knowing what to do in this situation.
She can hear the rapid jangling of keys, and heels thundering above the noise of the siren, and satisfied that some sort of backup will arrive soon enough, she bursts into a sprint, pushing past the officers who have burst from the door at the end of the corridor, and disappears around the corner with a wave of copper hair flowing behind her. Franky and Bea aren’t far behind, but the angry siren shrieking above them is making it hard to hear where Jess had dragged Doreen, and Bess sprints through the corridor, glancing down corridors and ignoring them when she sees dead ends.
They make it halfway around the furthest corner when thick fingers reach out and tangle in Bess’s red mane and yank backwards. Hard.
Not expecting the assault on her hair, Bess is taken by surprise, until she regains her footing and finds Gambarro standing behind her, a metal chair leg in her hand. One of her clique stand a little further behind, looking unsure of herself, wringing her hands. Bess recognises her. She’d helped her with the last assignments of her HSC, and had been grateful for the help the redhead had given her. Bess sends a filthy glare her way, and the blonde ducks her head and wilts even further, wringing her hands.
“Bessy, Bessy, Bessy.” Gambarro smiles a sadistic grin, showing wonky and yellowed teeth, tapping the chair leg in the palm of her other hand. “I owe you for the showers.”
Too stressed to bother playing fair, or holding back, Bess grabs the metal leg, and pulls, yanking the shorter and fatter woman closer and lands a solid headbutt to the woman’s nose, causing her to drop the leg and clutch her bleeding face.
Not missing a beat, she reels back, the chair leg now in her hand, and brings it down across Gambarro’s face, making the woman fall to the floor, writhing in pain. It wasn’t her usual hardback book, but it got the job done.
Furious that the pig on the floor had put more distance between her and Jess, the redhead wheels around to emerge back into the corridor, nearly knocking straight into a worried Governor and her deputy.
“Bess!” She shouts, grabbing at the redhead’s upper arms, and her eyes flick up to the slight bruise on her forehead from headbutting Gambarro.
“Jess has DOREEN!” Bess roars back at the woman, yanking herself out of the grip of the taller woman, and takes off down the corridor. The governor and her deputy share a glance and then sprint after her. Bess hadn’t led them astray before.
Franky, Bea and the other women from her unit where somewhere, Bess didn’t know and she was no closer to finding Doreen either. The two women in officer’s uniform help, and it’s Vera who notices it first, stopping short and throwing a hand out, grasping at the hood of Bess’s jacket and pulling backwards. They’d pounded through the entire main floor, swinging around corners, and coming to the corridor of the laundry room, stopping short.
The door at the top of the stairs used by the laundry room was open.
The light is dimmer here, but the sign is still clear.
Roof Access. Keep locked at all times. Staff Only.
Bess heaves a shuddering breath, and takes the stairs two at a time, the Governor and Miss Bennett following closely behind. The black haired woman follows Bess’s lead in vaulting up the stairs, but Vera uses the handrail to help her up more quickly.
The burst through the half open door, gasping when they emerge into the bright Melbourne sunshine.
The sirens are still going strong, and most of the women had poured out into the yard, not knowing what else to do. They stand on the edge of the basketball court, huddled together as they look up at the roof in horror.
Jess has Doreen stood by the edge of the rooftop, shiv still pointed at her neck. Doreen’s shoulders shake and even from down in the yard, Franky and Bea can see her chest shuddering as she cries.
They cant hear anything beyond the siren, the noise still loud even out in the yard, but they can see Jess craning her neck back to yell at someone, and then again a few seconds later.
Bea doesn’t realise who the brunette is screaming at until she catches a glint of copper in the sun, away from the edge of the roof.
“Bess! Bess is up there!”
Franky cranes her neck, squinting up and sure enough, Bess emerges from the side door on the roof, the braid wrapped around her hairline glimmering as the sun catches it. She comes out of the doorway, looking like an avenging queen (not a queen, she thinks. Bess was the true Top Dog of Wentworth, Franky could see that.) descending into battle, mouth wide open and howling at the brunette for her offence.
One by one the women and officers in the yard look up, seeing the commotion and watching with horrified faces as Bess races towards the brunette, the Governor and her deputy behind her.
Bess rushes Jess, as the other two women make a beeline for Doreen and two things happen at once. Jess turns to face Bess, pointing the shiv at the redhead and pulling it away from the pregnant woman and Doreen practically falls into Miss Bennett’s arms and the Governor pulls both women away from the edge of the roof and stumbling out of sight.
Bess grapples with Warner, and shoves her back, but the brunette keeps a tight grip on her shiv.
“ENOUGH!” Bess roars at her, but Jess is beyond all reason.
“It’s your fault! Your fault that everyone hates me!” The brunette screams in Bess’s face. “And when I cut that kid out of her, everyone will hate you for not stopping me! Brave, secret Top Dog Bess, who fixes everything!” Tears pour down Jess’s face and snot trails down to her lip from her nose, her mouth pulled into a miserable snarl, decreeing her misery towards the redhead for all the world to hear. “You won’t be able fix this.”
Jess moves forward, as if to try and move past her, perilously close to the edge. Bess wouldn’t let her step an inch towards Doreen know she knew what her intentions were.
All those rumours that Jess had lost her mind had come true.
Bess shoves her back, and the shiv catches her in the arm, drawing blood as she and Jess grapple, tottering closer and closer the lip of the roof.
Everyone down in the yard watches with horror, grasping at each other unable to do anything.
Towards the back of the crowd, stands Fletcher in his uniform. He stares, transfixed at the fight on the rooftop, hands and arms slack by his side as he watches the redhead block Jess’s every move towards Doreen who has been shoved back behind the Governor and Vera.
They’re dangerously close to the edge of the roof, and with one shove, it's over.
Bess feels her foot touch nothing but air and knows. She glares at Jess and grabs one wrist and jerks back as she falls, making Jess lose her footing and topple right after her.
Joan and Vera watched, horrified as the shove pushes Bess from the roof, Jess being tugged after her and the sound that cracks through the air when the redhead hits the ground will haunt them both.
Jess lands with a thump in the one of the garden planters, the crack of wood ignored as the women stare in horror at Bess.
On weak legs, the two officers half crawl over to the edge of the roof, leaving Doreen a trembling wreck cradling her belly.
“It was her last day!” Doreen shudders as she cries, eyes clenching shut as she tries to block out the look of quick understanding on Bess’s face when her foot didn’t touch the roof, but had touched air instead after Jess had shoved her.
They both shakily look over the lip of the guttering, hoping beyond hope that Bess was alright.
Bess’s hair is spread out behind her head on the grass, framing her face like a halo, the braid still near along her hairline and the sunshine in the late afternoon glints against the auburn locks. Her body is splayed out like the limbs of a ragdoll where she landed, a few feet from the crowd of women in teal who have lurched back in terror. Against the skin of her neck, the red scar of Jess’s first attack stands out like a brand on an animal.
“She’s breathing…” Vera whispers, with a tiny bit of hope in her voice and Joan looks again, opening her eyes after she’d clenched them shut in instinct. Vera hadn’t taken her eyes away from the redhead. Bess’s chest is heaving as the redhead breathes in and out heavily, trying to cope with the sudden onslaught of pain from being hurled from the roof.
Then, Bess’s chest stops moving.
Vivid green eyes stare up at the sky, unfocused and her mouth goes slack.
The yard erupts in distressed screaming.