DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Special Thanks to mrswoman for the speedy beta.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
"What exactly did you mean when you told DS Smyth that we'd see him and Steven later?"
Ash folded her arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes. She'd never agreed to accompany Scribbs anywhere much less to meet the obnoxious DS and his more than likely equally obnoxious friend at some prearranged destination.
Scribbs shrugged. "He said his cousin, Steven, was visiting and wanted to know if we'd mind going out for drinks."
"And you said yes? Are you mad? You said yourself that you had to fend him off when you went out with him last month. Why would you agree to go out with him again? And, more importantly, why did you agree to drag me along with you?"
"Oh, I'm not going out with Smyth; he's set me up with his cousin." Scribbs explained rather matter-of-factly.
Ash gestured to herself. "And what am I? The sacrificial lamb, given up to the likes of Smyth, so that you can have a go at yet another unsuitable bloke?"
"C'mon, Ash. It's just for drinks. Steven could be the one."
"You also thought that Harry, Bob, and Charlie had the potential of being the one, and that's just in the past two months. There've been dozens in the past year." Ash wasn't one bit happy with her partner's propensity to go out with every Tom, Dick, and Harry. She furrowed her brow when she realized that Scribbs had also dated a Tom during her dating catastrophes. All that was needed was a Dick. Ash couldn't contain the chuckle that escaped.
"What? What's so funny?" Despite her confusion, Scribbs smiled. Ash rarely, if ever, chuckled.
Quickly schooling her expression, Ash returned to the semblance of her usual professionalism. "Nothing, Scribbs. Now, ring up Smyth and tell him that he'll need to find his own floozy."
"You're not a floozy, Ash."
"What? Of course, I'm not a floozy. I'm a respectable, well-dressed woman with high morals."
"High morals? What about . . ."
"Just ring up Smyth and cancel!" Ash interrupted her partner before Scribbs could continue. She'd been completely pissed at the Halloween party two years ago when she'd practically snogged the face off the 'Phantom of the Opera.' Ash had no idea the masked phantom was a female, nor did she know that the costumed woman was none other than Sarah from Traffic. It hadn't boded well for the DI that Sarah's girlfriend was standing right behind her at the time either; it'd taken weeks for the area around Ash's eye to return to its normal colouring.
Scribbs wrinkled up her nose and shrugged. "Can't."
"And just why can't you? It's not that difficult. Pick up the phone and ring him this instant!"
"He's already gone to the airport. I'm sure he's told Steven by now. C'mon, Ash; it's just this one time."
Ash glared at her partner, noting Scribbs' tilted head and puppy dog expression. When Scribbs looked at her with those soulful, pleading eyes, there was nothing Ash wouldn't do.
"Fine; one drink, Scribbs. One drink and I'm out of there."
Scribbs smiled and nodded.
Ash slowed the car in front of the darkened pub. Scribbs had been very accommodating of Ash's desire to leave after just the one drink and had even suggested that Ash come in her own car so that she'd be able to make a clean getaway. Ash scanned the area, spotting a space just down the street. Steering the car towards the opening, Ash pulled next to the kerb and turned off the ignition. Taking a deep breath, she exited the vehicle.
As she neared the establishment, Ash noted a rather large banner strung across the doorway, proclaiming 'Costume Night.' She immediately glanced down at her dark trousers and dark blazer, deciding right then and there to kill Scribbs the moment she saw her.
A pair of pirates pushed past her and stepped through the door, squashing Ash's thoughts of a quick death for her partner. Squaring her shoulders and holding her head up high, Ash followed the swashbucklers into the pub with a renewed plan. As soon as she'd had her drink, Ash would return home to devise a scheme that'd make Scribbs' life as miserable as possible for at least the next few months.
The tall DI stepped into the dimly lit pub and squinted, looking for her partner. When she failed to spot the blonde, Ash turned her sights on spotting Smythe and his cousin instead, hoping that she'd be able to share a drink and slip away. She'd only promised a drink with the man; she'd never agreed to sit back and watch Steven fawn all over her partner. It was one thing listening to Scribbs outline the details of her dates, but it was an entirely different matter witnessing some man pawing what was rightfully hers.
A boisterous laugh sounded at the end of the bar, causing Ash to flinch; there was no doubt in her mind who the laugh belonged to. Angling towards the barstools at the far end, Ash immediately spotted Smythe, leaning in and making an obvious move on the person to his right. The fact that he was dressed in a devil's costume seemed fitting.
Ten feet from her destination, Ash pulled up short, blinking rapidly to dispel the image before her as the person Smythe was hitting on came into full view. No matter how many times Ash focused and refocused, the picture stayed the same. Smythe was running his hand up and down the firm leg of someone dressed in an angel costume, someone decidedly male. Bells and whistles immediately went off in Ash's head, and she took just a moment to glance around the room.
Everywhere she looked, Ash found couple after couple dressed in various costumes, but one aspect was glaringly similar with each pairing. They were all same sex couples, male with male and female with female. She couldn't believe she'd been so focused on getting in and out of the pub as quickly as she possibly could that she hadn't noticed the clientele. A hand to her arm caused her to jump and turn towards the culprit, her jaw becoming slack at the costume she came face to face with.
A white mask covered the majority of the person's face, but the familiar build and height of the individual, coupled with the slicked back blonde hair, left no doubt in Ash's mind that the phantom before her was none other than her partner. Scribbs never uttered a word, she simply offered her hand.
Ash looked down at the smooth, silky skin and then back up into inviting eyes. Without hesitation, she placed her hand in her partner's and allowed herself to be led to the dance floor. Scribbs turned and stepped closer to the other woman. Ash immediately complied, pulling the shorter Scribbs into her body as the pair began to slowly sway with the music.
"I thought you said Smythe was handsy." Ash slid her hands down to rest snugly on her partner's hips.
Scribbs leaned impossibly close. "He was; just not with me. I caught him snogging Steven behind the station one day and promised to keep his secret."
"So, Steven's ..." Ash began, only to have her thought completed by her partner.
"Definitely not his cousin."
"And, tonight?" Ash hated to chance ruining the perfect moment, but she had to know Scribbs' intentions.
"Smythe's suggestion. He said I'd never know unless I tried. I just had to try." Scribbs held her breath, waiting for Ash to say something, anything. She was reassured when Ash didn't let go.
"So, this was a setup?"
Scribbs grimaced; she knew how much Ash hated to be deceived. "Um, yes, I guess so. I just didn't know what else to do."
"You could've just asked."
"Yeah, but the mask made it easier." Scribbs smiled behind the mask in question. She remembered vividly what Ash had done the last time she'd laid eyes on the white mask.
"I do love 'The Phantom of the Opera,' you know."
Scribbs settled her head comfortably on Ash's shoulder. "Yes, I know."
Ash slowly began to relax in the embrace, but she stiffened when she glanced around the dance floor, suddenly feeling out of place. "I'm the only one here not in costume."
"You're wrong, Ash. You've got the perfect costume."
"Has sniffing that plastic affected your thinking? I'm in my regular clothes, Scribbs."
"No." Scribbs slid her hand under her partner's blazer. "You've come as a respectable, well-dressed woman with high morals."
Ash laughed and squeezed the blonde. "I can assure you, Scribbs, there's nothing respectable, well-dressed, or moral about me when I come."
At the bar, Smythe looked over at the dance floor and smiled. Scribbs was pulling Ash towards the exit; in fact, the couple was practically running for the door. Pleased, he turned back to his date. Operation Phantom had worked to perfection.
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