DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Written for LJ community dogged_by_muses's Weekly Challenge #1 :: Caveat Empter - a list of 10 words/phrases that must to be used in a story. I've bolded and underlined the words in the text. A very special thanks to the amazing FlyingPeanuts for taking time out of her busy day for a last second beta. Any and all errors - including improper Britishisms - are mine.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Getting into the Role
A line of wintery blue-gray clouds hung low over the city of Middleford, their edges so close together it appeared as if the sky had been taken hostage by one gigantic, dark mass. Not even a single ray of sun was able to pierce through the thick cloud cover, leaving the city chilled to the bone and some residents in a less than chipper mood.
"Not funny, Scribbs," muttered Ash as she stepped through the side door of a dilapidated building that currently served as home to an off-off-off Broadway production of Chicago. She stuffed her hands into her coat pockets and shivered from a blast of cold air that had slammed into her the moment she'd stepped onto the pavement. "Even if Henrietta were a man," she paused dramatically and glared over her shoulder at a snickering Scribbs. "Which she's not." Another pause, this one long enough to allow Ash to scrunch her neck deeper into the collar of her coat and step toward the curb where they'd parked. "She's not my type."
Scribbs scratched the end of her nose with a woolen mitten to hide her growing grin, having successfully managing to wrestle the mittens on her hands while hurriedly chasing after a rapidly retreating Ash. The blonde DS had chuckled heartily every step of the way.
"Oh c'mon, Ash, where's your sense of adventure? So what if Henrietta's not your type. The fact that she's not a man should be enough to peak your interest." She skirted around the front of their car and stopped next to the driver's side door. "Haven't you ever wondered what it would be like to share a passionate snog with another woman?"
Narrowing her eyes, Ash gripped the handle of the door and fixed a hard gaze across the top of the car. "Don't be daft, Scribbs. Of course, I haven't," she lied, flinging the door open just wide enough for her to dive inside. She quickly slammed the door behind her and ran her hands briskly up and down her coat sleeves in an attempt to calm a sudden shiver that coursed through her body. If she could only slam the door on the images that she'd called up on a fairly regular basis, ones that involved her and Scribbs and something much more stimulating than just snogging.
A soft chuckle remained just outside the car as Scribbs slid behind the steering wheel, her pearly white teeth lightly clamped down over her lip to stifle the boisterous laugh that had bubbled up and was dangerously close to erupting.
"Never, Ash?" There was a decided twinkle in Scribbs' eye. "Not even when you attended Posh Girls' High?"
Ash yanked the seatbelt over her shoulder and securely fastened the clip into its end. "No." Pulling on the loose strap, she tightened the belt snugly across her middle. "Now, enough of your silly fantasies, Scribbs. We need to concentrate on the case. Someone in that theatre troupe killed Elizabeth Smythe, and my money is on Henrietta Carpenter."
"Kind of ironic that Elizabeth was playing the part of Velma and Henrietta, Roxie, dontcha think?" asked Scribbs, honoring Ash's request to focus on the murder. She was certain there would be plenty of opportunities in the next few days to revisit Ash's views on same sex snogging, especially with Henrietta as their prime suspect. It had been painfully obvious that the actress was completely smitten with Ash or, at the very minimum, had the hots for her partner.
Frowning, Ash angled in her seat, facing Scribbs as best she could. "Ironic how?" She was always amazed by the way Scribbs' mind worked and found that often her partner had hit on just the piece of information, usually something minuscule, that was instrumental in finding the guilty party.
"You'd think it would be Velma who offed Roxie. She's much more experienced in the art of murder," explained Scribbs, talking about the fictional characters as if they were real.
"You've seen the play with the two in the lead?" asked Ash, willing to give Scribbs the benefit of the doubt. Surely her partner had seen Elizabeth and Henrietta pitted against each other onstage and had sensed something amiss between the two actresses other than the scripted roles they'd played out.
"No, I've not seen the actual play; I caught it at the cinema. Renee Zellweger was robbed, too; Moulin Rouge was too odd for me."
Ash couldn't imagine anything that would be too odd for Scribbs. Any woman who poured Sugar Puffs into a blender, sloshed in a generous amount of milk, pureed the mixture, and then named the drink was terribly odd in Ash's book. She found Scribbs' oddities most endearing.
"Focus, Scribbs. Velma Kelly isn't the victim, nor is Renee Zellweger; Elizabeth Smythe is. And she wasn't killed onstage; she was strangled in her dressing room. You can't judge the characters of a play, no matter how convincing the actresses may be."
Scribbs glanced in the side-mirror and slowly eased away from the curb. "I realize that, Ash, but I find it hard to believe two strong characters such as Velma and Roxie didn't somehow bleed over into the way the actresses viewed each other. I'd think the characters' amazing banter alone would be enough to confuse even the most professional of actresses, except for Renee, of course. Apparently, she didn't hold any ill will against Nicole or else she'd have blasted her off that cold mountain with that shotgun of hers."
Ash had no idea how they'd suddenly shifted to yet another movie or why Scribbs seemed to be so focused on an American actress who had absolutely nothing in common with either Elizabeth or Henrietta, other than the role of Roxie Hart, of course. Scribbs' theory, however, did seem somewhat plausible.
"So, you're saying that Elizabeth or Henrietta or possibly both stayed in character after their final scene at the matinee showing today?"
"Exactly," Scribbs said, beaming from ear to ear now that Ash seemed to be following her. "But I think they were themselves, too, especially since Henrietta made a play for you so soon after Elizabeth's murder."
"What?" Ash's head began to swim. "You just said they were still playing their roles."
Scribbs shook her head and tried to better explain what she'd meant. "No, I said the characters bled over into the actresses' real life. Roxie would've tried to deflect suspicion by flirting with the lead detective, too."
"Like a multiple-personality disorder?" asked Ash, already dreading the additional paperwork should a psychological disorder be brought into the murder investigation. She absolutely hated having to deal with all the extra mental evaluations and other tests that would need to be scheduled.
"Kind of, but I wonder if it was more to do with the added adrenaline of just stepping offstage in character. I think Elizabeth and Henrietta had a fight and Roxie didn't take kindly to whatever it was that Elizabeth said."
Ash closed her eyes and vigorously rubbed her temples. She needed copious amounts of caffeine in order to keep up with Scribbs' convoluted theory.
"Let's wait and discuss it with the boss."
Pleased that Ash hadn't labeled her ideas as preposterous or inane, Scribbs grinned and pressed down harder on the accelerator. The sooner they arrived at the station, the sooner they could solve the murder. And then she and Ash could resume their conversation about snogging.
Intermittent snickers and loud barks of laughter followed a soaked Ash as she hurried down the hallway to the loo. Her shoes emitted a squishing sound with each step she took and alternating droplets of water fell from her coat and trousers, leaving behind a wet trail on the white linoleum. She ducked into the loo's door and tossed a saturated newspaper into a nearby bin.
"All I've got is this newspaper, Ash, but it should keep you dry until you get inside," she mocked her partner's suggestion, no longer flattered that Scribbs had given her the only means at their disposal to combat the light drizzle that had begun to fall when they'd parked the car. She'd argued briefly but finally deferred to Scribbs' wishes, climbing from the car with the paper tented over her head and starting toward the steps of the station. Halfway there, the bottom fell out.
Bracing her hands on both sides of the sink, Ash finally glanced up at the reflection that stared back at her. She looked like a drowned rat a drowned rat with raccoon eyes. Mascara circled her eyes, and newspaper print had run down her face, lining her cheeks. No wonder her colleagues had laughed so hard. She'd have to figure a way to sneak past them and out the back door.
A loud bang caused her to jump and stare at the door that had swung open and hit the wall. Scribbs hurried inside and tossed an umbrella to the side the one she'd remembered was under the seat seconds after Ash had scurried out into the rain. She'd tried to catch up with her partner, but Ash's long strides made it virtually impossible, especially when the rain began to teem down.
"Here, I stopped by my desk and picked up a towel from my workout bag," Scribbs said, taking a few tentative steps toward her dripping partner. She stopped feet from Ash and extended the white, fluffy linen. "You need to get out of those wet clothes or you'll catch your death of cold." She winced internally at her words, sounding every bit like a doting mother instead of a concerned friend.
Ash slowly reached for the dry cloth, but her focus was sidetracked by the sight of her hands, coated in black, newspaper print having run all over them as well. Cutting her eyes toward the large, colorful umbrella that lay inches from the bin where she'd stuffed the now print-less paper, she snorted humorlessly. "Nice umbrella, Scribbs."
"Ash, I'm sorry. I didn't remember the umbrella, really," Scribbs apologized, daring to take a step closer. When Ash didn't flinch or step away, she unfolded the towel and eased beside the other woman, slipping the dry cloth around Ash's shoulder. A violent shudder shook the terrycloth beneath her palms.
"Don't take this the wrong way, Ash, but I need you to take off your clothes."
Scribbs held her breath and waited for Ash to either abide by her request or kick her arse out of the room. She just hoped if it was the latter, it wouldn't be in the literal sense.
Tense seconds passed at a snail's pace until a soft sigh finally fell from Ash lips and her shoulders slumped in defeat. Scribbs was right, if she didn't die from hypothermia, the least she'd manage was pneumonia.
"Okay, but turn around," Ash ordered, her voice already sounding raw and scratchy.
With the edges of her mouth lifting in a slight grin, Scribbs released the towel and turned away from her partner. Her smile grew and grew when she glanced forward to see Ash's reflection in the mirror.
'Achoo!' Ash reached for a tissue and cursed under her breath. She'd not died and she'd not suffered from pneumonia, but she'd managed to catch a terrible cold.
"Scribbs, did the background check on Henrietta come in yet?"
"Thirty minutes ago."
"Not good, Ash, not good at all," reported Scribbs as she scooted her chair toward her partner. "Henrietta is a nut case." She quickly glanced around the room to make certain no one was listening in on their conversation. "Not because she made a play for you, Ash," she assured, adding, "she really is a loon."
"In what way?" Ash sneezed again and inched her chair closer to Scribbs.
"Apparently, she really gets into her roles," explained Scribbs, pointing toward the bottom area of the report she held. "She moved to Middleford three months ago and auditioned for several plays before landing Chicago."
Ash leaned closer to the report, her head and Scribbs' mere inches apart. "Where was she before?"
"Little Stempington. She was asked to leave the city when she went after her co-star at the time with a pair of scissors."
"During the play or offstage?"
"Soon after the play ended a Sunday matinee performance," Scribbs paused and looked up into green eyes that were much closer than she'd realized. "Um, " she glanced back at the report. "She attacked the intended target in the other woman's dressing room."
Ash scooted closer and stifled another sneeze. "What was the play?"
"Running with Scissors," Scribbs replied in a husky tone. Quickly clearing her throat, she continued, "Henrietta played a love interest of one of the lead characters, Deidre, but she wasn't nearly as tolerant of Deidre's affair with another woman once the curtain closed on the final scene. She cornered the other actress in her dressing room and threatened to kill her for sleeping with the woman."
"I take it someone came along just in time to stop Henrietta," surmised Ash, her voice deepening, but Scribbs chalked it up to her partner's cold.
"Actually, it turned out that the other actress," Scribbs scanned the document for the woman's name. "Lillian Gordon-Moore is well-trained in self-defense. She not only disarmed Henrietta, she dislocated her shoulder in the process."
Ash sat back in her chair and closed her eyes, lethargy beginning to settle in her limbs. "Too bad for Elizabeth that the Moore woman didn't do more damage to Henrietta. Although, chances are she'd have struck again as soon as she was healthy enough."
"Guess we better go arrest her then," said Scribbs, tossing the report on her desk. Turning back to Ash, she noted her partner's flushed skin and, unbidden, her hand reached over and fluffed Ash's bangs before coming to rest on a heated forehead. "Hey, why don't you go home and get some rest? I'll take Garcia with me to pick up Henrietta."
Eyes still shut, Ash leaned into the touch. She knew she should protest, but the coolness of Scribbs' hand felt so soothing against her fevered skin.
"Don't let Garcia drive; he's a horrible driver."
Scribbs grinned. "I won't."
"And don't let him brush against you. He's notorious for that."
"Got it, no brushing either," Scribbs promised as she began to draw light circles against Ash's forehead. She practically beamed when Ash sighed contently.
"And if " Ash began but stopped abruptly when a gentle hand cupped her cheek. She slowly opened her eyes.
"If Henrietta comes after me with scissors, I'll shove Garcia in front of me," Scribbs said with a chuckle. "Now c'mon, let me drive you home. I'll give Garcia a ring and tell him to meet me at the theater."
With a slight nod, Ash pushed to her feet and shuffled toward the door. Scribbs could handle Garcia and his inept advances and even Henrietta and all her craziness. It was Ash's feelings toward her partner that she wondered about. What would Scribbs say if she knew how Ash truly felt?
Outside, the sun was shining down brightly, adding a welcomed touch of warmth to the cool day. Ash started down the steps toward the car and felt a ghost of a touch on her back, so fleeting she'd thought she'd imagined it until a hand pressed more firmly before settling comfortably there. It was exactly the type of move she'd expect from Garcia. She looked up into twinkling brown eyes and received a teasing wink.
"So Ash, about Posh Girls' High "
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