DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Named for the Cardigans’ song, My Favorite Game: “I’m losing my favorite game.”
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.

By zennie


Part Four

Ash practically sprinted up the stairs and burst into Sullivan's office without so much as a by-your-leave. "What's the development?"

Sullivan turned from his position, staring out the window like he did when he was thinking over something and faced the detective inspector seriously. "I don't know, actually." He nodded his head toward the other person in the room, and Ash glanced over to the corner in surprise; in her haste, she hadn't noticed anyone else. "He wouldn't tell me until you returned."

"Saves time, you see," said the older, heavyset man in a positively antiquated herringbone suit. He extended his hand. "Inspector Frank Gilford, SOCA."

Ash's smile faltered and the hand she had extended hesitated in its journey as she resolved the abbreviation in her head: SOCA, Serious Organised Crime Agency. They knew, she realized, and now she had no way to get Scribbs out of this situation.

Gilford apparently missed her moment of hesitation; he grabbed her hand and pumped it up and down in what Ash considered an unsightly display of enthusiasm. He had a kind smile and watery eyes, like a country priest or doddering schoolteacher, Ash noted, and she almost couldn't believe that Scribbs' downfall would be orchestrated by such a man.

Seeing that Ash seemed to be frozen, Sullivan stepped forward to complete the introductions. "Detective Inspector Kate Ashurst, DS Scribbins' partner."

"Ah, yes, the infamous Ash," Gilford said, still smiling even when Ash pulled her hand away. He nodded, almost to himself, as he shuffled around to a chair, motioning them toward chairs, "Right, then. I guess I should…"

"Scribbs doesn't know what she's doing. Or they have something on her. I'm sure we can get her to testify against…" Ash spoke quickly, breathlessly, to forestall the inevitable.

"DI Ashurst, I assure you, you've no need…" "Where is Scribbs?" The two men spoke simultaneously, and then the room lapsed into an odd silence as nobody seemed to know which part of the conversation to address.

"Let me explain," Gilford said, finally. "Your DS Scribbins is not in any trouble, at least not from us, anyway." He sounded as if he were discussing the cricket scores over tea, and Ash reined in the impulse to shake him. "She's been working with us, you see, part of a local taskforce." Sullivan looked apocalyptic while Ash simply breathed a sigh of relief.

"You had one of my officers…?" Sullivan began, angrily, but Gilford held up a hand. "Let me finish, please."

"There's been a small pocket of Eastern Europeans who have been trying to organise in the area for a while, and we had them on radar but hadn't moved on them yet. But we had rumblings that they were about to undertake a drastic increase in their operations, a drug or gun shipment we had heard, so we decided to take them and the shipment down together."

"So where does Scribbs fit into all this?" Ash interrupted, and Gilford showed the first bit of irritation at yet another interruption. However, Ash was leaning over the desk, her fingernails dug into the surface, her green eyes positively feral in their intensity, and he decided it prudent to cut to the chase.

"We thought they might try to turn a cop or two, so we deliberately made a few of the officers here in Middleford look vulnerable, for want of a better word." He waved a hand, "The usual, debts or gambling problems. We hoped they might approach one of our operatives."

"And they took the bait? The bait being Scribbs?"

"Yes, and yes."

Ash collapsed back into her chair, feeling suddenly dead tired. "So Scribbs is in the clear."

"Well," he grimaced, "not exactly."

Ash snapped upright again. "What do you mean?"

"Your DS Scribbins is missing." For once, he was straightforward. "She slipped out of our surveillance net and failed to make a check-in yesterday evening." His worry was evident in his face. "That's why I came; I had hoped…"

"She called me!" Ash leapt up and began pacing around the room, her heels beginning a familiar tempo in the small space. "Just now, well, I mean, when I was at her flat. It was odd, I think maybe she was trying…"

"Ash!" Sullivan interrupted her flow of words, but made no move to get in her path. "Slow down, tell us from the beginning."

"Yes, right, she called, said she was at home with a stomach ache, no, a stomach bug." Ash continued her pacing, but her words seemed a bit more coherent. "Said it was the fish. Then she mentioned an old case, the Finch case, from last year. Also a case of food poisoning." She trailed off, thinking. "I mentioned the retirement home, but she got the name wrong, Wilford, no, Wilshire Gardens, but the name is…" Her head snapped up and she stared at Sullivan. "Map!"

"I'm sorry?"

"A map, I need a map." Sullivan dug in his desk as she incoherently explained to Gilford, "The name of the retirement home is Birch Grove, not Wilshire Gardens." He looked as if he had no idea what she was talking about; in fact, he looked like he was staring at a madwoman. "There's a Wilshire street in Middleford."

"So she's somewhere on Wilshire street?" he asked, as Sullivan pushed all of the desk knick-knacks aside and smoothed the map down.

"Not necessarily; there's also a Birch street," Ash replied as she traced the two parallel streets with her fingers, and frowned.

"A fish vendors on either of these streets?" Sullivan asked, trying to put the clues together.

"No, an Italian restaurant."

"An Italian restaurant? But you said she said…"

"The case, it was food poisoning at an Italian restaurant."

Gilford seemed to be following the conversation as he leaned over Ash's shoulder to stab at a point between her two fingers. "There!"

"What? How do you know?"

"The blokes we're after have part ownership of an Italian restaurant there. That really was the only clue we needed," he said, smugly, even in the face of Ash's glare.

"So what do we do now?" asked Sullivan as he moved to insert himself between Gilford and Ash.

"I don't see that we have much of a choice. Either the operation is blown, in which case DS Scribbins is in danger, or they are receiving the shipment today, which may be the case. Otherwise, they wouldn't have had her call; they would have just killed her."

His remarkably callous words felt like a physical blow to Ash and her head swam at the voiced, suddenly very real possibility that Scribbs was in serious danger. Sullivan caught her as she paled and leaned heavily against the desk. Gilford was unaware of the effect of his words; he was already on the phone, requesting the armed response unit. When he hung up, he found himself facing two matching, grim yet determined expressions. "We're going with you," Sullivan insisted before Ash could even speak.

Gilford eyed them thoughtfully for a moment and then nodded. "Okay, but you follow my lead. Understood?"

Sullivan caught Ash's arm as she hurried after Gilford. "Ash, you knew?"

"Not, not about this. I suspected Scribbs," Ash squeezed her eyes closed for a moment, trying to erase the memory of her previous suspicions. "I, I…" she struggled with the words, her attention drawn to Gilford's disappearing back, and she looked at Sullivan beseechingly.

Sullivan nodded, understandably. "We'll talk later."

They hustled down the stairs and out the door and into a waiting car, cramming into the backseat as two military-style trucks headed out in front of them. Gilford hopped in the front seat and issued a few commands before turning in the seat to face Ash. "She hated not telling you, you know," he told her cheerfully. "I've never had such a difficult time with one of my operatives."

Ash was too worried to reply in kind, but she gave a small smile. "She can be a handful." Gilford's eyebrow raised at her understatement.

They drove for a while in silence, until Ash's mobile beeped. She pulled it out to silence the ring, until she saw the display. Fumbling to open the handset, she almost disconnected the call in her haste. "Scribbs?"

"Ash." Scribbs' voice was strange and deep, and she seemed to be breathing heavy as she barely managed to get the words out. "That you… with the cavalry?"

Ash felt her stomach plummet. "What's happened?" she questioned, her mind going through a million scenarios. Scribbs didn't answer immediately, and in the quiet, Ash heard a call on the police radio about a possible shooting. "Scribbs, are you hurt?"

"Got shot," came the pain-filled reply, and if Ash's stomach could have dropped further, it would have. She kept the handset pressed against her ear, so she could hear Scribbs' audible breaths, while covering the mouthpiece so she could direct Gilford to call for an ambulance to meet them. On the phone, Scribbs' breath hitched and then she exhaled sharply. "It hurts." That statement was followed by a wet coughing-gurgling sound.

"We're on our way. Hold on." The rising edge of panic threatened to overwhelm Ash as she heard the weak 'okay' in reply. The breathing in her ear got a bit more erratic and shallow. "Scribbs, where are you?"

"I'm… in the kitchen… of the restaurant." Scribbs voice was heavy with pain, but there was some of her usual warmth as well. "It's a good thing… this isn't your type of place… this place is filthy."

"Yes, well, I don't expect I'll be going there now."

"Kate Ashurst… rule number 478…" Leave it to Scribbs to tease her about her rules at such a time, Ash thought in dismay. "Never eat at anything less than a 5-star… restaurant… without a complete… and thorough… inspection of the kitchen."

"Sounds about right." Ash tried to joke past the tightness in her chest, but Scribbs' labored breathing made it difficult. They whizzed through an intersection, just blocks now from the restaurant.

A bit of laughter mixed with that wet coughing sound, and longer this time, and then only the sound of shaky, shallow breathing. "Scribbs, are you all right?" Ash wanted to curse herself for asking such a silly question when Scribbs was very much not all right. "Scribbs?" No answer. "Scribbs…" Ash tried to keep the panic from her voice. "Emma!"

A cough, and then Scribbs' voice, weak through the tinny speaker. "You never… call me Emma." There was a pause on the other end, and then, plaintively, "Ash, I'm cold."

"Hang in there, Scribbs. We're almost there." It was quiet on the other end. "Scribbs, please…"

"Ash," Ash could barely hear Scribbs' voice now. "I'm sorry… should have told…"

"It's okay, really, it's okay." Their car swung around the final corner, the armed response team already mobilizing, and she heard Gilford order a team to the back entrance of the kitchen.

"Ash, I…" Ash strained to hear, but instead of Scribbs' voice, she heard a clatter, the mobile handset falling to the floor and skidding across. "Scribbs! Scribbs!" she yelled, but only the sound of splintering wood and the shouts of the response team greeted her. "…lost a lot of blood… where's the medics…

It took both Sullivan and Gilford to hold her back; Ash gave no heed to Gilford's explanation that the armed response team needed to clear the area and that the medics were already in with Scribbs. His cheery demeanor had completely disappeared as he tried to order Ash to stay put, but it was Sullivan's quiet "Ash, you'd just be in the way," that got through. So she stood there, right outside the barricade, Sullivan's hold on her arm tightening as they wheeled Scribbs past, her face pale beneath the mask.

She must have pulled free, then, because she was just a few meters from the ambulance as the doors closed and it sped away, weaving through the mid-day traffic with ease. After that, the world seemed to fracture into a series of snapshots—the parade of men in handcuffs, the police officers joking as they took off protective gear, the crowd of onlookers slowly dissipating—until Ash found herself in the kitchen, unsure of how she got there.

Scribbs had been right; the kitchen was filthy, even without the large puddle of blood and discarded medical packaging lying about. A glitter of sliver caught her eye, and Ash found Scribbs' mobile, the handset still open and smeared with blood. She closed it and slipped it into her pocket. That's where Sullivan found her, a few moments later, standing and staring at the blood pool and trying to figure out if she could recover Scribbs' multicolored scarf from the middle, where it was slowly absorbing the blood to turn a sickly pink color.

"Ash," he shook her gently to rouse her from her stupor, "come on. Let's go to hospital, see how Scribbs is doing."

Ash let Sullivan lead her to a car, guiding her as she stumbled on uncoordinated legs. Her mind whirled through thoughts that tormented her; she had betrayed Scribbs. She had believed, even searched for evidence, that Scribbs was on the take. She hadn't trust Scribbs, not enough. And Scribbs had betrayed her too; Scribbs, who broke every rule, didn't break the one rule that would have saved them so much anguish over the last few weeks. The if-onlys flew past like the streetlights outside the car window. If only I had trusted her, if only she had told me, if only we hadn't wasted that time, if only…

Scribbs was in recovery before Ash was allowed to see her; she approached the bed carefully, afraid of any sudden movement in the hush of the room. Reaching out, Ash touched Scribbs' hand and traced a line down, the warmth beneath her fingers reassuring her that Scribbs was really okay. She stood there for just a few minutes, listening to the muted beep of the heart monitor and feeling the blood flow through the veins on Scribbs' wrist, before she fled.

It was three days later before she braved another visit. Ash stood in the doorway, watching Scribbs sleep. Her room was a riot of flowers, on every surface, testament to all the visitors she had had. The colour was back in her cheeks and many of the machines had been removed. Scribbs was, as Sullivan had assured Ash in his many attempts to get her to visit, recovering. Scribbs' eyelids fluttered, blinked, and then opened to focus a hazel gaze on the dark apparition standing over her. "Ash?" Scribbs smiled, hugely, as Ash crossed to the chair beside the bed. "God, I thought you'd never come."

Ash smiled, apologetically. "I'm sorry, I…"

"It's all right, you're here now." Scribbs' delight was evident in her eyes and the way she chattered on about her recovery, barely stopping in her recitation. "And the doctors said I'm recovering just fine and I should be able to go home in a day or two, so long as I have some help, you know, for around the flat, and I was thinking…"

Ash squeezed the hand under hers tightly, causing a pause in Scribbs' talk. "I need to tell you something. It's important." Scribbs sobered quickly as Ash's mood seemed to translate to the carefree blonde, and she nodded. "I'm leaving," Ash told her.

"But you'll be back, right? Visiting hours are til…"

"No, Scribbs, I'm leaving. I've requested a transfer and it got approved this morning." She left out the part where Sullivan had spent what seemed like every waking hour trying to talk her out of it and entreating her to visit Scribbs.

"What, Ash, why?" Scribbs asked, suddenly pale again. "You can't…"

"I… I have to."

"Why? And what about me?"

"I, I can't talk about this right now." Ash shook her head helplessly. "I'll visit tomorrow. We'll talk then."


Ash was already at the door. "I have to go, I'm sorry." And then she was gone, leaving a stunned Scribbs in her wake.

I only know what I've been working for
another you so I could love you more
I really thought that I could take you there
but my experiment is not getting us anywhere

Part 5

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