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The Name Says It All

Chapter Text

An idea was scratching at the base of her skull.

Why not?

Night had fallen suddenly, as it always did here. The air was sultry and Joan could smell the tang of her own sweat. Geckos darted between the cracks in the walls, chirruping, hunting. Down in the deserted exercise yard, the weeds, cut back only a week before, were thrusting their way up through the gaps in the concrete again. In Queensland, everything longed to become a jungle.

Outside the window to the governor’s office, a spider the size of Joan’s hand hung outstretched in its quivering web.

Why not?

This wasn’t temptation. Joan didn’t need … anything. She hadn’t needed anything since Blackmoor.

This was just an idea.

It had been another frustrating day. Incident reports, leave requests, complaints about the powdered mashed potatoes. And wondering how to deal with Willis, of course.

Every day she wondered how to deal with Willis.

Grace Willis was a Stone Park legend: a hundred and fifty kilograms of blank-eyed menace in a grey tracksuit. Middle aged and pasty-skinned, with lank brown hair dangling to where her waist should have been, she reminded Joan of a great, pale toad. Every day, Grace sat enthroned in her corner of the exercise yard, her large, shapeless body preternaturally still, while a parade of skinny younger women jittered back and forth, running her errands and begging for what only she could get them. Grace barely spoke and rarely moved. Only her pale, bulging eyes were alight, sliding from one corner of the yard to another, surveying her domain.

The first time Joan had looked into those eyes, she’d seen an emptiness there that was all too familiar. Grace was another one who would never be distracted by emotion. But Grace had no interest in the greater good.

Heroin was Grace’s game, and the stories were legendary. According to the rumours, she’d had the stuff smuggled into Stone Park in babies’ nappies and old women’s false teeth, hollowed out specially. She’d had it stashed in cleaners’ buckets, down guards’ underpants, and in a dying prisoner’s colostomy bag. She’d bribed staff and threatened visitors. No prisoner dared to lag or stand against her, lest Grace send her army of track-marked zombies to tear them apart.

Grace never touched the stuff herself, and had never been caught with it. Still, everyone in Stone Park knew that if the price was right there was nothing Grace Willis wouldn’t do for a fix.

Joan did not like drugs, and she did not like people who were more famous and feared than she. Steps would have to be taken.

But Willis was careful, too careful to be caught by the outdated systems in place here. And Joan was shackled by this governor’s job – this job she’d thought she wanted.

She threw down her pen and clenched her fists and eyes shut. She was sick of these people with their predictable games, their puerile language, and their tiny, little, boring minds. It wasn’t just their uniforms that made them all look the same.

The idea scratched louder.

Joan opened her eyes, straightened her pen, and lifted her radio. She ordered the officer on night duty to fetch Zila Schumann from her unit and bring her to the games room.

***

Joan’s flat, rubber-soled shoes let her move down the darkened corridors in silence. She’d left it a good twenty minutes before heading for the games room herself. Enough time to make a prisoner nervous.

Outside the door, she paused. She expected to hear silence or anxious complaints.

Instead there came the sharp crack of a pool cue against a coloured ball.

Joan jerked her head to dismiss the guard, then stepped slowly through the door.

Zila was craned forward over the pool table, setting up what proved to be a perfect shot. At this angle, her shapely hips and generous buttocks were hard to miss. She must have heard the door open, but did not look around right away.

‘Governor.’ Zila straightened up with a graceful movement. ‘Got time for a game?’

‘No.’ Joan watched her with mingled irritation and interest. Most prisoners dropped the bravado when their cellmates weren’t there, but it seemed to be Zila’s natural state.

‘Pity.’ Zila strolled around the table, contemplating her next shot. ‘I get bored playing with myself.’

Joan didn’t reply. She stood stock-still, her hands clasped, the gaze of her black eyes stony. After a moment, Zila shrugged and looked back at the pool table. Then Joan moved.

She crossed the room in a second, her pulse racing, the reflexes that had lain dormant since Blackmoor surging back. Before Zila could react, Joan had seized her by the elbow and pinned her back against the table, her wrists held behind her, the butt of the pool cue wedged beneath her chin.

Zila didn’t struggle. Her breath came out with something like laughter and her dark eyes glittered. Joan saw no fear there, a fact she found both aggravating and unbearably attractive. She could feel the young woman’s ribcage fluttering and the warmth of her flesh seeping through their clothing. Zila’s shampoo smelled of strawberries, a cheap teenage flavour.

‘You’re having trouble settling in.’ Joan kept her voice quiet, conversational. This was too much contact, and she wasn’t wearing gloves, but for once she didn’t mind. Loosening her grip, she tapped the cue lightly against a yellowing bruise on Zila’s cheekbone.

Zila managed to shrug.

‘Unenlightened comrades, that’s all.’ She paused. ‘Like you.’

Joan’s lips twitched in surprise. Such audacity, and in this position. It was … striking.

‘I’ve never been called that before.’

Her knee was pressing up between Zila’s thighs, holding her in place. As she paused, Joan felt the younger woman wriggling, tilting her hips forward and easing her thighs further apart to accommodate her.

This response caused Joan a throb of sensation that was far too visceral for her liking. She frowned and tightened her grip.

‘You could use a friend, Schumann.’

‘What do you think I’d use her for, Governor?’

Joan felt one hand slide free from her grasp. A moment later, there was a tugging at her waist: Zila had hooked her fingers through Joan’s belt.

‘You’re used to getting away with things, aren’t you, Schumann? The police had you under investigation for half a dozen other offences at least.’

Zila sniffed in contempt.

‘They couldn’t make them stick.’

Joan leaned in closer, feeling the grip on her belt tighten and the softness of Zila’s breasts flattening against her stomach.

‘You want something, Governor?’ Zila whispered.

Joan nodded.

‘I want you to tell me how you did it.’

***

It wasn’t difficult to find a reason to have Zila isolated overnight, every couple of weeks. Between her refusal to handle carcinogenic cleaning products in the laundry room, and her meat-is-murder lectures in the kitchen, no one seemed surprised when the governor gave the order to slot her.

Certainly not Zila herself.

And if the governor should take the time after a night shift to make the long walk down the deserted corridors and echoing stairwells, past locked offices and darkened cells – the bare fluorescent bulbs flickering above her, her keychain swaying at her hip – to stop by the young woman’s room and remonstrate with her about her behaviour, to urge her to mend her ways – who could object?

Anyhow, Joan made sure no one knew.

It was from Zila that Joan learned the importance of keeping multiple prepaid phones, and changing the numbers often. It was Zila who explained to her how security systems could be hacked, how time codes could be altered and footage spliced, which cameras gave the clearest picture and which were rubbish – and how sometimes, really, your best bet was just to turn the bloody thing to the wall.

Zila knew people, too. The sort of people who could get you break and enter tools, or spirit away money and files without leaving a trace. She wasn’t naming names, but she seemed happy enough to talk about it, her heart-shaped face alight with excitement, her delicate hands clasped between her knees. You would have thought she was being interviewed in some television studio, instead of stuck in a hot cell with mould on the ceiling and old blood-smears on the wall.

When she got tired of sitting up, Zila would sprawl on her back on the thin mattress, her arms folded elegantly beneath her head, one ankle crossed over her propped-up knee, her sneakered foot swaying as she held forth. No bribes or threats were needed; Zila liked to talk.

Plenty of laggers did, of course; Joan knew that. It made them feel important. In prison, people took whatever semblance of power they could get. But Zila didn’t see this as lagging. She refused to recognise prisoners and screws as different species at all, a fact which earned her the loathing of both groups. She believed in the ‘organic and egalitarian flow of data and wisdom’ – and talking like that didn’t make her popular in prison either.

Zila’s politics were like her tattoos, Joan decided: deviant and outlawed, but too clever and whimsical for this place, and too expensive. When Joan put Zila in solitary, it was partly out of concern for her safety.

But that wasn’t the only reason.

For the first half of each midnight visit, Zila was the teacher. They both knew that, although Joan took care to keep her expression disapproving and her manner one of interrogation. Didn’t you know the penalty? How did you imagine you would get away with that? And always: Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?

That was Zila’s cue. No matter how cheerful she had been until then, at that question her face would crumple with pain. She would protest that she hadn’t had an easy life. With a family who didn’t understand her, teachers who didn’t care, friends who led her astray, lovers who introduced her to drugs – no one to keep her in line or punish her when she did wrong…

No wonder she’d gone off the rails, Zila concluded, wiping away an invisible tear. No wonder she needed a little something, sometimes, to take the edge off her loneliness. She didn’t want to mess up her life again, but there was so much gear in this place; the temptation was always there.

‘Are you drug affected now?’ Joan would bark, her expression hardening. Never mind that Zila’s pupils were normal and she had been speaking as thoughtfully as any university professor a moment before.

In response, Zila would bite her lip, her eyes sliding away in schoolgirlish guilt.

‘No, miss. Not – not yet.’

The first time Joan visited her, Zila had made a point of glancing around the cell at that point. In this bare concrete box there was no place contraband could be hidden. Unless…

Joan stepped further into the darkened room.

‘Stand up.’

After an insolent pause, Zila did so. Her movements had just the right measure of reluctance. Her breath caught as the governor drew out the new pair of gloves she’d ordered specially.

In the near-darkness, Joan permitted herself to close her eyes a moment, to relish the firm grip of the latex across her skin, the way it strained when she flexed her fingers, the harsh snap against her wrist, which caused Zila to gasp out loud.

As if she’d been trained, the young woman reached up to finger the zip on her tracksuit top where it strained between her breasts. Then she eased it down, its slow rasp the only sound in the room.

Joan cleared her throat, softly.

‘Face the wall.’

They never deviated from this scrip. There were no embraces, no inappropriate language, nothing to suggest this was anything other than a very protracted and rigorous body search. That was how it had to be.

Once, the first time, Zila had squeezed Joan’s little finger and whispered ‘Twice means yes, all right? And once means no.’ Joan found this baffling, as if they’d wandered into different scenarios, but saw no reason to object. Over time, she came to relish the double-squeeze of Zila’s fingers – it was always 'yes' – but she never spoke about it.

Their midnight visits gave Joan a thrill like the head-rush of caffeine. For days afterwards she would move faster and think harder, her pulse buzzing, her doubts swept away. After so many long, dreary months, it was like being plugged back in at the mains. This wasn’t release; this was revival.

But Joan had learned to shut away experiences as neatly as she did prisoner files, or prisoners. Once she stepped out of Zila’s cell, she would not permit herself to think too much about what had taken place in there.

Not like with Jianna. Jianna whose smile had obsessed her, whose voice flitted after her, whose gentle fingers linking through hers had dragged Joan out of the clean steel box of her mind and into a body that sweated and ached and felt things with an intensity that terrified her.

No, she would never make that mistake again.

She would keep things within their proper boundaries this time. She would stay in control.

And if Joan went the extra mile in her efforts to keep Zila away from drugs, what about it? It was the right thing to do.

If Joan’s gloved fingers took their time ruffling through Zila’s hair or tracing the inside of her ears or lips – if Zila closed her mouth around those fingers and flicked them with her tongue – if Zila’s hands fumbled over her clothing until it was easiest for Joan to assist her, her own hands trailing over sensitised skin and erect nipples – what did that signify?

If Joan lingered while checking the creases beneath Zila’s breasts and the ticklish soles of her feet – if she ran her hands up the younger woman’s thighs with greater force than was strictly necessary – if her lubricated fingers took their time exploring the warm folds of Zila’s sex, combing through her pubic hair and brushing against her swollen clit – if Joan bent the younger woman forward and delved inside her with slow, rhythmic movements – if she took special care over Zila’s tighter point of entry – if Zila moaned and thrashed and clawed at the plastered walls, her fingers leaving moist trails and prints like starfish – if she bit down on Joan’s free hand to swallow her cries –

Well, there was nothing much there that couldn’t be explained away. Like the gloves that reeked enticingly of sweat and sex and strawberry shampoo, it could all be discarded afterwards. Surely.

Likewise, there was nothing wrong with Joan’s words of admonition, which she murmured in Zila’s ear in her low, crisp alto. Why are you wasting your life here? You’re clever. You’re beautiful. You’re special. Repeated again and again, as Zila panted and struggled to stay upright, wetness trickling down her thighs. You could do anything. You could be everything.

Afterwards, Joan held the younger woman up until her knees stopped shaking. Through the latex, she could sense the heat of Zila’s body, the throb of the young woman’s heartbeat, the slickness of her pleasure. Joan could touch everything without feeling anything, and that was what she wanted.

One time, she ran a caressing finger down the length of Zila’s spine, where the strange female figure danced, her wings outstretched.

‘What is this?’ Joan asked. A sheen of moisture had gathered between Zila’s shoulder blades, making the figure glisten.

Ate ’, Zila managed to reply. ‘Blind ruin.’

‘Explain.’

‘She’s a figure from Greek mythology.’ Zila’s voice trembled, but her lecturing tone was returning already. ‘She was the eldest daughter of Zeus, kicked out of heaven for rebelling against him. She represents crazy mistakes, right? Temptation.’ The young woman caught her breath. ‘People blamed Ate when they went too far, when they got arrogant and greedy, and wouldn’t admit they’d screwed up or ask forgiveness.’ Zila paused. ‘Homer said her feet walked not upon the earth, but on the heads of men.’

‘I see.’ Joan blinked. ‘And you decided to have it branded into your skin because…?’

‘Because I knew it would be great, of course.’ Zila’s breathing was slowing. Soon Joan would have to let her go, usher her into bed and cover her up, while instructing her to think seriously about her bad behaviour and do better next time. That, too, was part of their usual routine, and Joan enjoyed it. It reminded her that she was doing the right thing here.

But this time Joan lingered.

‘You didn’t worry that it might look … outlandish?’ Joan wasn’t accustomed to fussing about other people’s feelings, but even she knew that under the circumstances it might be ungallant to say ‘awful’.

Zila chuckled and rested her flushed cheek against the wall.

‘Any idiot can look pretty, Governor. What counts is making an impression.’ She chanced a look behind her. ‘No disrespect intended, but you should think about that.’

Joan’s eyebrows arched.

‘Meaning?’

‘Well, you’ve got so much to work with, but you play it down. And those shoes…’ Zila’s voice trailed off in deep regret.

‘What do you want me to wear?’ Joan’s own voice came out sounding defensive, which annoyed her. ‘We have to do a bit of running in this job, you know.’

Zila turned around and leaned back against the wall. A bead of sweat rolled down between her breasts and disappeared into the phoenix’s feathers.

‘Come on, Governor,’ she said with a grin, looking Joan up and down. ‘Add two more inches onto all of that, and who the hell’s going to chase you?’