DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Thanks so very much, atfm.
The Fifth Day of Christmas
"It's just a party, Ash."
"It's not just a party, Scribbs; it's the station's party. One has to be very careful."
Scribbs placed the miniature Santa and elves along the top of her monitor. "Careful? What do you mean careful? It's a Christmas party."
"Exactly." Ash opened a file, confident that the conversation had ended. She'd barely read the first line when Scribbs chimed in with another question.
"What exactly do you mean by exactly?" Scribbs abandoned Rudolph and eight tiny reindeer, leaving them lying on their sides, to turn her attention fully on Ash.
"There'll be drinking." Ash stated the obvious.
Scribbs tilted her head and scrunched up her face. "Of course, there'll be drinking, Ash. It's a party."
"And that's why you have to be careful, Scribbs. Rule number one in attending a party with colleagues is not to over-imbibe or else the next morning you'll be carrying your shoes in one hand as you tiptoe through some ghastly decorated flat, wondering how you could've possibly missed the posters of scantily dressed women which decorated every single wall. Then, to make matters worse, you have to come to work day in and day out, fearing that you'll run into your one night stand and have to explain why you haven't returned any of his calls."
Scribbs leaned back in her chair and smiled a knowing smile. Ever the detective, Ash recognized the look and quickly added, "Hypothetically speaking, Scribbs."
"Hypothetically, but of course." Scribbs nodded dramatically, but her sincerity was less than believable with the grin she wore.
"Enough of the party talk, Scribbs, we need to go question Parker Anderson again. I believe he was a little closer to Nancy Flynn than he let on."
"He did seem quite nervous, didn't he? Maybe if we interview him in his workplace, he'll be more relaxed." Scribbs stood and moved into step with Ash, who'd already started for the door.
Taking notice of the different male co-workers they passed along the way, Scribbs said, "You can fill me in on your other rules on the way."
Merging into traffic, Scribbs glanced over at Ash; her partner had barely said two words since they'd left the station. It was quite apparent that she wasn't in the mood for conversation, but Scribbs' curiosity finally won out.
"So, what's your second party rule?"
Ash turned her gaze from the window. "There's no need for this discussion, Scribbs; you follow your own rules, especially when it comes to making poor decisions."
"Hey! That was uncalled for; I don't make poor decisions." Scribbs eased into the other lane, adding softly, "Most of the time anyway."
"All it takes is one mistake; you've got to learn from them. That's why I have my rules."
Scribbs smiled. "So, it's not so you can irritate others with them?"
"Not funny, Scribbs." Ash turned her focus back to the side window. "You may actually want to follow my second rule as it applies to the Christmas season in general, not just the party."
"What? Never sit on Santa's lap?"
Ash's head swiveled around. "Actually, I was going to say no gift exchanges, but the Santa's lap rule is good." The corners of her mouth lifted in a smile. "Good one, Scribbs, very good one."
Scribbs was rarely on the receiving end of a compliment from her partner, especially one accompanied by a genuine smile. Her cheeks darkened with a reddish tint, and she uncharacteristically changed the subject.
"Why do you think Parker Anderson was so nervous, Ash?"
"Because he's hiding something, Scribbs; I believe he's lying about seeing Nancy the day she was murdered."
Scribbs nodded and pulled into the business' car park.
An hour later, the two detectives strolled into the station side by side, parting only when they reached their desks. Ash frowned and gestured towards the top of Scribbs' desk.
Scribbs looked over to find a beautifully decorated package. "A pressie!"
"Who's it from?" Ash moved to stand next to her excited partner.
Flipping the tag over, Scribbs read, "Merry Christmas, Emma. Give me a call, Harris."
"Harris? Harris Thompson from traffic?" Ash scrunched up her nose in disgust; the man was far from attractive. "Isn't he married?"
"Separated." Scribbs answered absent-mindedly; she was already unloosening the bow.
"Stop!" Ash snatched the package from a surprised Scribbs.
"Send it back," Ash ordered, smoothing out the wrinkled bow.
"Why? My name's on the attached card."
"Exactly, Scribbs, and that's not all that's attached. If you accept this gift, he'll expect something in return."
"Like a tie?" Scribbs truly wanted to keep her pressie.
"More like you dressed up in nothing but this bow." Ash inadvertently crushed the bow with her hand, or at least, that's the excuse she gave to Scribbs.
Scribbs shuffled back to her desk, pressie-less; she grabbed up her reindeer and began to place them along the desk's edge.
Ash watched the mopey blonde. "You did the right thing, Scribbs."
"I don't like your pressie rule, Ash."
"No, I expect you wouldn't, but it's a good rule, Scribbs."
Scribbs nodded; her focus was back on her reindeer. "So, what's rule number three?"
Ash smiled. "Be sure to converse only in large groups or else you'll get caught one on one with someone like Johnson."
Scribbs made a face. "I can definitely live with that rule." Just the thought of carrying on a lengthy conversation with the man who had the worst case of halitosis in history caused Rudolph to slip from Scribbs' grasp. He fell to the floor with a splat.
Scribbs stared down at the tiny reindeer. "Hey, Ash? What if it was an accident? What if Nancy Flynn got her heel caught at the top of the stairs and fell?"
"Judging from the scuff mark and the way her body landed, it appeared that she was facing away from the stairs. She had to have been pushed." Ash moved closer to Scribbs and focused on Rudolph.
"But, what if she was turned facing someone else and stepped back for some reason, not realizing how close she was to the edge?"
"Then why didn't the person come forward and report the incident, Scribbs, instead of leaving her broken body at the base of the stairwell?"
Scribbs slowly lifted her head and turned towards Ash. "What if the person was an extremely nervous individual and was scared that he'd be blamed?"
"Parker." The name was spoken simultaneously, followed by a bright smile from each woman.
Scribbs pulled to a stop in front of the building and turned to address Ash. "The party starts at eight; what time do you want me to come around to get you?"
"I don't think it's a good idea for either one of us to drive, just in case."
"What about your over-imbibe rule? You planning on breaking it?" Scribbs chuckled at the look on Ash's face.
"No, but even one drink is enough to impair judgment. Why don't we both take a taxi and meet at the party?"
"Be ready at 7:45. I'll get a cab and swing by to get you. We can share the fare that way." Scribbs knew Ash's penchant for saving money whenever she could.
Ash fidgeted in her seat. "Um, Scribbs, I may want to leave earlier than you."
"What, another rule? Arrive early, leave early?"
"Actually, yes; make sure you make your rounds early, so everyone sees you before they get pissed. No one will remember if you leave early, but they always seem to remember if they'd seen you at some time during the party."
"I can't believe you have a leave early rule. What's rule number five then?"
Ash opened the door and climbed from the car. "You'll have to wait until the party to find out." Closing the door, she smiled teasingly before turning and walking towards the building's entrance.
It wasn't until Scribbs drove away that she realized Ash hadn't agreed to share a cab.
"Wow, what a party! Look at all the decorations." Scribbs scanned the room in awe of the many colors.
"Santa's definitely missing some of his more colorful decorations." Ash clenched her jaw and tried to smile. When she'd first walked in, her first inclination had been to turn around and try to catch her cabbie before he drove away, but she knew Scribbs would come knocking on her door if she wasn't there when the other woman arrived.
"You don't like the decorations? Rule number five is no decorations? You're bordering on Scroogedom, Ash."
"Decorations are perfectly fine, Scribbs, as long as they're tastefully done and in moderation. Although, rule number five could be classified as a decoration rule."
"But, you just said . . ."
"Mistletoe," interrupted Ash abruptly. "If you don't heed any of the other rules, you simply must adhere to the mistletoe rule. Stay away from any and all mistletoe, don't loiter under doorways or stand next to taller men. They carry sprigs in their pockets, Scribbs."
Scribbs would've chuckled, but the serious expression on Ash's face kept her mirth under wraps. Instead, she asked, "So, what do we do now; mingle?" Scribbs looked longingly at the bar.
Ash spotted her one night stand from years before. "I'd prefer to stick together, if you don't mind, Scribbs."
"Well, I want a drink."
The 'one night stand' started their way.
"Good idea, Scribbs." Ash grabbed Scribbs by the arm and pulled her to the bar, forgetting that drinking was what had caused the problem a few years ago.
The rest of the evening consisted of the duo moving from group to group, avoiding all doorways and tall men, and only imbibing a couple of drinks. No one had offered them any pressies to decline, and Ash had made certain that everyone in the room had seen them; however, her main problem was staying one step ahead of her one night stand.
"I'm ready to go, Scribbs, would you like to share a taxi or will you be staying longer?"
Scribbs looked around at the group of co-workers. Some were dancing, some were singing, and they were all drinking. She found herself surprised that she'd actually enjoyed herself without overindulging in alcohol. Ash had been witty and charming all evening, keeping her entertained with stories and, of course, her rules. She didn't want to stay if Ash wasn't going to be there.
"I'm a bit shattered, Ash. I think I'll share a cab."
Ash smiled brightly and motioned Scribbs ahead. The pair had almost made a clean getaway when a voice shouted from behind.
"Kate! Kate, wait!"
Ash cringed and slowly turned around to find her one night stand walking towards them with an arrogant smile and two drinks in his hands. Glancing to her left, she spied the perfect solution to her problem, and grabbing Scribbs by the hand, she pulled her towards the tall doorway.
"Ash, what are you doing?" Scribbs allowed herself to be dragged along until Ash abruptly stopped under the archway. Scribbs looked up, and then she looked at Ash. "We're under a doorway, Ash."
"There's mistletoe above our heads."
"But, rule number five specifically states ...mmmpphh."
A pair of lips swooped down on the unsuspecting Scribbs, cutting off her words. Her protests, however, stopped of their own accord as a smooth silky tongue pushed its way into her mouth. Scribbs hung onto Ash tightly and went with the flow. If Ash was disregarding rule number five, then so was she.
Ash eased the kiss as quickly as she'd deepened it, pulling away with a light peck to Scribbs' cheek. She avoided eye contact with her partner as she peered to her left for the one night stand's reaction. The slimy man stood in the doorway, leering at the two women.
"Damn it, I thought he'd get the message."
Scribbs finally regained her senses and followed Ash's line of sight. The man raised a glass towards them.
"Ash, did you really think a sleaze like that would be turned off by the sight of two women kissing? I imagine you just made his year."
Ash licked her lips, the sweet taste of Scribbs now coating her tongue. She began to seriously consider rewording rule number five.
"C'mon, Ash; there's a back door through the lobby." Scribbs swept through the doorway, and this time, it was Ash who was tugged along. The two eased through the side door of the building, finding a taxi sitting just outside. Scribbs opened the door and pulled Ash inside.
"Where to?" The cabbie glanced over his shoulder.
"Ash?" Scribbs held her breath.
With a gentle smile, Ash replied with her flat's address as she slid her hand into Scribbs'.
Scribbs watched, fascinated, as she interlaced their fingers. She'd never really paid particular notice to Ash's hands before. The long slender hand encompassed hers completely as if offering a comfortable shelter. Scribbs had never felt so safe.
"I've got a bottle of wine chilling if you'd like to come up to the flat and stay for awhile."
Scribbs squeezed the strong hand and smiled. "I'd like that, Ash."
Ash returned the smile and turned her gaze to the passing lights outside. There would be no more rules tonight.
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