DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: A very special thanks to darandkerry for the beta and to mrswoman for the Brit check and additional suggestions.
CHALLENGE: Written for the Second Annual Ash/Scribbs ficathon.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
The scene resembled a before-and-after photo series in one of those magazines that attempted to convince its mostly female readers that a drastic change of their looks for the better was possible.
The left side of the bed was a mess. Limbs were tangled in the beige cotton of the blanket, twisting and tugging it into such peculiar shapes that it was difficult to believe it had once been rectangular. On the edges of the mattress, the sheet had ridden up here and there, proof of excessive tossing and turning during the night, while in other places, its fabric had gathered in folds that at this stage would have defied all attempts to be smoothed out with a single stroke of a hand. The body was sprawled bonelessly in, on, or around the bed and the blanket, scantily clad in worn shorts and a flimsy t-shirt of faded colours, and on the bunched up pillow, a blonde head rested, hair sticking out in every imaginable direction as a soft snore came from where nose and mouth had sunk into the depths of the pillow.
On the right side of the bed, things were quite the opposite. The sheet covered the single large mattress in its entirety, but as if hampered by an invisible barrier in its middle, the wrinkles stopped right there, not daring to cross over to where the material lay flawless and unruffled. Here, the second blanket was displayed in its full rectangular beauty. It properly covered a slender body rolled onto its side, legs close together and only slightly bent at the knees, left arm placed on top of the blanket, right arm tucked under the neatly aligned pillow beneath a head of inexplicably impeccable dark hair. The pastel-coloured silk pyjamas primly concealing most of the bare skin had undoubtedly been chosen to match the beige sheets.
The snoring continued, completely unperturbed.
"Scribbs, wake up." This time, the words were accompanied by a not-so-gentle nudge to the shoulder.
An incoherent grunt and an indistinct murmur replaced the snore. Both were followed by silence, soon disturbed once again by light snoring.
"Detective Sergeant Scribbins, into my office, now."
Scribbs' head snapped up, her still unfocused gaze roaming the bedroom wildly. "It wasn't my fault, honest!"
Startled, she found Ash's green eyes trained on her intently, only inches from her face, and when she realised where she was, she dropped her head back onto the pillow heavily and groaned. "Bloody hell. It's Saturday, and it's " she raised her head just enough to glance at the digits of the alarm clock on Ash's bedside cabinet and let it fall back again immediately, punctuated by another groan " 7 a.m."
"There's something important we need to discuss." An underlying urgency was evident in Ash's voice.
Scribbs squeezed her eyes shut and pulled the blanket over her head. Her reply was muffled by the thick down material obscuring her from Ash's view. "Nothing that doesn't involve fire, a flood, or Doctor Who being axed is important enough to be discussed at this time of the day on a weekend. Go away."
"They know we're shagging."
The blanket was lowered from Scribbs' scrunched up face and an eye cracked open. "Who?"
Satisfied that she had Scribbs' attention, Ash launched into drama mode. "The entire station! Jenkins, Stevens, Campbell, everyone knows, even," she finished gloomily, "Sullivan."
"Don't be daft, Ash. How could they possibly know? We haven't told anyone, and we haven't exactly been doing it on our desks." Scribbs paused and pondered the idea for a moment. "Though I might put that on my list. Office sex. Yes, it definitely goes on the list. We just have to "
"They may not know for sure," Ash interrupted, "but they're certainly whispering about it a lot. Just yesterday, I overheard Jenkins say to the secretary how suspicious he finds it that we finish each others' sentences, and she added in a secretive tone that she'd observed that we always arrive and leave together."
"But we don't finish each others' sentences. We just "
" think alike, I know. However, I'm not terribly fond of the idea of being under such intense scrutiny. They're just waiting for one of us to slip."
Drumming her fingers on the blanket nervously, Ash waited for a reply, a solution of some sort, and when none came forth, she prompted Scribbs impatiently. "Well?"
"What are we going to do about it?"
"Prove them right and shag?"
"This matter requires serious consideration, Scribbs."
Scribbs sighed and rolled over, draping an arm and a leg across Ash's body and murmuring against her neck, "They're just rumours, no one's got any proof. Let them talk. And let me sleep." Within seconds, her breathing evened out, and she began to snore softly again.
Ash stared at the ceiling wide-eyed.
The following Wednesday, the two of them strode into the station together like they did every day. Assuming that Saturday's brief conversation had already slipped Scribbs' mind, Ash hadn't brought up the matter again and had instead spent the past two days secretly keeping the people around them under close surveillance, up to the point that Sullivan, passing her in the corridor, had enquired why she might be standing there with her ear pressed to the door of the gents'.
She'd been well on the way to persuading herself that their colleagues weren't, in fact, on to them, but that morning had her halting abruptly and looking around suspiciously, finally coming to the conclusion that they were doomed.
Ash studied the multitude of faces in the room, all turned towards them without a single exception. There were contented smirks those were the ones who, Ash assumed, would later claim they'd known all along and expressions of smug malice those who looked forward to the shit hitting the fan in the inevitable conversation with Sullivan and sappy smiles those who were happy for them, Ash supposed and finally, raised eyebrows, which obviously belonged to those few who hadn't had a clue.
"They're just happy to see us."
"They know!" Ash hissed. She cleared her throat and asked loudly, "Is something the matter?"
A number of hands were raised and the same number of fingers pointed in the direction of Sullivan's office, where an enlarged photograph was taped prominently to the outside of the door. Neither Ash nor Scribbs could see what it depicted from where they stood, and crossing the room on their way to the picture, Ash could feel all eyes following them.
When she looked at the yellowed colour photo, she wasn't certain whether bursting into a fit of laughter would be appropriate, so she settled for a cough that covered up whatever else threatened to escape her throat. It showed a tiny Scribbs, easily identifiable by the mop of unruly blonde hair, sitting on a tiled floor amidst cracked plastic containers with sugar and flour spilling out onto the floor, an array of pots, and various canned goods. The better part of her face was smeared with something brown, and the items scattered around her had obviously been obstructions in her quest for the chocolate. Ash was amazed by the completely guilt-free, satisfied smile directed at the camera.
She turned to Scribbs to find her looking mildly amused. "What is this?"
"Looks like my brother's revenge for me telling his girlfriend about the Catwoman costume he wore for a party when he was five," Scribbs said matter-of-factly.
Before Ash had the chance to comment, she was interrupted by a third voice.
"Excuse me, Ladies; I would like to step into my office now, if you don't mind."
When the two detectives turned, they found themselves facing Sullivan, who was in turn waiting for them to move aside so he could enter his office. An unfazed Scribbs and an embarrassed Ash, unsuccessfully attempting to shield the photograph from Sullivan's view with her body, stepped aside. Their boss opened the door and glanced at the picture before disappearing into the room. "Those bibs looked cute on you, Scribbs."
Scribbs beamed. "Thanks, Sir."
The door shut, and after ripping the proof of infantile misconduct from its surface, Ash shooed Scribbs back across the bullpen towards their desks.
"Doesn't it bother you in the least that the entire station, including Sullivan, has seen this picture of you?" Ash was horrified at the thought of the same thing happening to her. Of course, no such pictures of her existed as she had distanced herself from the childish habit of breaking rules at an early age.
Shrugging, Scribbs leaned down to pick up a loose sheet of paper that had sailed down to the floor from her desk when Ash had swooshed past it. "Nah. It's just a baby picture, and it's not like I'm naked or anything."
Ash took another look at mini-Scribbs and her glee about having conquered the chocolate. "It is a rather adorable sight, I must admit, though you seemed quite prone to "
" make a huge mess? Yeah," Scribbs chuckled, "up until I was four, I thought my name was 'Jesus, no!'"
Ash didn't have a hard time imagining why that might have been the case.
The second photo appeared the following day, and if Ash had allowed herself to believe on the day before that the first picture had been nothing more than a prank by Scribbs' humiliated brother, she now got the uneasy feeling that someone had a plan. What kind of plan it was and which result it aimed for, she wasn't able to tell, but she was determined to find out, and threatening her colleagues into denouncing the culprit was a definite option in her endeavour.
This time, there were mutilple copies of the photo, one plastered across each window of the station, catching the eye of everyone who wished to look out into the sunny spring day. Once again, the person in the picture was Scribbs, a teenaged version of her obviously having a ball at some party, judging from the bottle of vodka and the cigarette she held on to while dancing rather dirtily with some bloke.
Clearly, Ash thought, someone was trying to ruin Scribbs' good reputation and endanger her position with the police force. She looked at the photo intently, focusing on what she saw in silence for a long time. "That disgusts me," she finally muttered under her breath, only audible to her partner standing beside her, also studying the picture.
"Hey, I was only 17 and plastered, and he was "
"Not him," Ash cut her off, "I don't care about you making out with some bloke almost 20 years ago, though I could certainly live without the mental image of your hands on his arse. It's the cigarette. You smoked?"
"Oh, but that's not a cigarette," Scribbs explained brightly. "It's a joint."
Ash resisted the impossibly strong urge to clamp her hand over the blonde's mouth to stop her from revealing the less legal details of her youth amidst a crowd of police officers and merely glared. "I feel so much better now."
"Aww, come on, Ash, don't tell me you never smoked pot when you were younger."
"I certainly didn't, but speak yet a little louder why don't you, I don't think Sullivan has heard you yet." Grimacing, Ash turned away from the window and stepped further into the room. "Listen up, everyone."
The buzz of activity that had filled the bullpen died down, and all heads turned to an indignant Ash expectantly.
"I want the person responsible for this tasteless joke to step forward now and apologise. If you're too cowardly to do so at this point, you may come to DS Scribbins or me in private. Why reveal yourself instead of simply and quietly stopping this childish demeanour without anyone ever finding out it was you, you ask? Well, if you do so now, I'll only report you, but if I find the culprit later on and trust me, I will find him or her you'll wish you didn't have to work in the same place as me five days a week."
The crowd in the station looked back and forth between a scowling Ash and a clearly amused Scribbs, unsure of what reaction was expected of them. A few newbies dared to smile condescendingly at what they thought to be an empty threat, but the smiles were quickly wiped off their faces by the piercing stares of their more Ash-experienced colleagues. Some glanced around nervously, hoping the culprit would give up voluntarily so they didn't have to dodge Ash's wrath that would undoubtedly descend upon the station should more incriminating photos appear and should she not be able to find out who'd spread them around the place.
"Well?" When everyone remained silent, Ash nodded in an overly calm and polite manner. "As you wish. We should be on our way, Scribbs; we're interviewing a suspect at the Dinmore residence in half an hour. "
She crossed the room with Scribbs trailing behind her. Nearly at the door, they heard someone murmur, "She sure is awfully protective of her," followed by snickering here and there. Ash wheeled around but was caught by the sleeve and pulled out the door by Scribbs before she could stomp back and chop off every single head that happened to be in the general vicinity of where the remark had been made.
The next morning, Ash strode into the building briskly, almost certain that the threat from the day before meant that she'd find no more photos in the station, but still much earlier than usual to play it safe and have the chance to catch the culprit red-handed should he not be terrified enough of the consequences and attempt to spread more embarrassing photos.
She was followed by Scribbs, yawning and seemingly not more than semi-conscious at this time of the day. She'd swatted grumpily at Ash's hand that had shaken her awake insistently and slurrily suggested that Ash go in early while she would sleep some more. "If you find out who it was, you can take him down single-handedly, I have no doubt about it; you don't need me for that," she'd assured Ash with her face half-buried beneath the warm comfort of her blanket. "I'll come to his funeral."
Ash, unsurprisingly, had shown no mercy and yanked her partner out of bed nonetheless. Now, a sleepy Scribbs, fantasising about a humongous mug of coffee, nearly bumped into Ash when she stopped dead in her tracks, her eyes glued to a desk on the left side of the bullpen. Seconds later, she was moving again, though now her walk resembled a charging bull and had little to do with her usually contained manner of walking. At the desk, she stepped next to Jenkins, who was looking at a picture in his hands with an expression that was far too gleeful for Ash's liking, and snatched the photograph from between his fingers so quickly that he continued to stare at his empty hands for a few more moments before realising they were no longer holding anything.
Meanwhile, Ash studied the picture and its implications in the series of photos thus far as she fought the urge to whimper. Undignified and incoherent vocal utterances in the middle of her workplace were not an option. On the photo, obviously taken at the station's last Christmas party, was Scribbs, again with a bloke, only this time, it was plain for everyone to see that it was Barclay from Traffic, and this time, she was kissing the man in the picture with what could only be described as immense enthusiasm. Both of them wore silly, glittery hats, and both of them looked less than sober.
Scribbs had caught up and was looking over Ash's shoulder. "Huh. I don't even remember that."
Jenkins sneered. "Hey Scribbins, if you fancy a bloke like Barclay, you must be pining away for me."
"I'm afraid I'd pass out before I'm drunk enough to even consider snogging you, Jenkins," Scribbs shot back.
Ash quirked an eyebrow and looked at him pointedly. "Ouch. But you're perfectly aware of this, aren't you? To me, that's quite a good motive to have your revenge on Scribbs with all these photos. And look, what a surprise, no one else but you is in yet."
Jenkins raised his hands in front of him. "Easy, just because they amuse me doesn't automatically mean I'm the one spreading them. How would I have access to these pictures anyway?"
"He's telling the truth," said Sullivan from the direction of his office. "He came in with me this morning, and I found this lying on my desk." He waved a second copy of the photo. "Really, Scribbs, you should know that fraternisation's not allowed, but since it was the Christmas party, I'll assume that you merely slipped and will not pursue the matter."
"Yes, Sir, I'm terribly sorry, it won't happen again, and thank you," Scribbs replied mechanically, and Ash thought that she looked oddly unperturbed.
Fifteen minutes later in the car, on their way to a second interview at the Dinmore residence, Ash fidgeted nervously in the passenger seat but forced herself to remain quiet, waiting for Scribbs to acknowledge in one way or another what was obviously happening. Every now and then, Ash glanced to her right and engaged in yet another fruitless attempt to stare Scribbs into making some sort of comment, but the blonde just continued to steer the car through morning traffic calmly. Finally, Ash exploded. "Say something!"
Scribbs half-smiled at the uncharacteristic outburst. "Something."
Ash seemed momentarily distracted. "That was lame, even for you."
"Thanks, Ash. You're always so positive and encouraging."
"Don't you see what's happening here?"
"Well, it appears there's a minor traffic jam ahead of us, but I'll just turn"
"The photos!" Ash interrupted impatiently. "Haven't you noticed the pattern?"
Again, Scribbs looked like she only partly succeeded in suppressing a smile. "Not really. I've always thought of my bouts of inappropriate behaviour as fairly erratic."
"Not that. They're becoming more and more recent. Soon, there'll be photos of us, which takes us back to 'They know we're shagging.'"
"Nah. If it was all leading up to that, there would've been pictures of you, too, but it's only me in them."
"Oh, brilliant, so instead of busting the two of us, the person doing this is merely ruining your reputation," Ash huffed.
Scribbs smirked briefly. "More like confirming it."
"You seem annoyingly amused by this."
"And it's awfully obvious that it doesn't bother you."
"This could be the end of your career."
"That's not going to happen."
"How can you be so sure of that?"
Scribbs pulled into the driveway of the Dinmore mansion. "I just am."
The moods they spent the weekend in were as different as their sleeping habits. While Scribbs appeared to be entirely carefree and even perkier than usual, Ash was ready to tear her hair out with the frustration of still not knowing who so merrily presented photo after photo to the public and being at a loss as to what to do about it. Of course, she kept both her repeated obsessive compulsive analysis of the matter and the lack of a result to herself, and thus Scribbs remained oblivious to the sixty-three panic attacks Ash suffered throughout Saturday and Sunday.
Having hardly slept all weekend but on a new level of mental alertness stemming from sleep deprivation, Ash marched into the station bright and early on Monday morning alone, dreading what she might find. The door to Sullivan's office was ajar, but she didn't bother dropping in to wish him a good morning, heading straight for her own desk instead.
On its surface, she found another photograph, lying face down and neatly aligned between a stack of files and an assortment of pens in different colours. Sighing, Ash picked it up and looked at it, only to slap it back down immediately and blush furiously. Her hand pressing the picture flatly against the surface of the desk, she glanced around nervously, and seeing that she was still the only one around, she slowly lifted it again to study it more closely, her ears growing warmer with each passing second.
She was familiar with this picture of Scribbs; in fact, she vividly remembered snapping it only weeks before. At the time, she hadn't expected to ever look at it standing beside her desk at Middleford CID, though now that was clearly the case as the culprit had somehow found a way to get his hands on the photo and use it for his vile purposes. The thought gave her pause. As far as she knew, the only copy of it was in her possession, and no one else had access to it. Except
When Scribbs plopped down in her chair unceremoniously an hour later and announced, as she did at the beginning of every new week, that she wasn't fond of Mondays, Ash sat quietly across from her, observing her curiously. After frantically dashing through every room of the building to make sure she collected the avalanche of photos that had rolled over the station, ripping one sheet of the glossy paper from the hands of a stunned Sullivan in the process, Ash had stored away the potential blackmail material safely in her desk and made herself comfortable in her chair, waiting for Scribbs to arrive. Now, she leaned back into the leather and folded her hands over her stomach.
"So," she said.
Scribbs gave her an innocent look. "So?"
"What were you trying to achieve with it?"
"Trying to achieve with it?"
"Repeating everything I say has never been a good strategy, Scribbs. It may give you a little more time, but you're not off the hook." Ash's facial expression was eerily teacher-like.
Chewing slightly on her lower lip, Scribbs held Ash's gaze silently for a minute, and then another and another.
Ash's carefully maintained air of calm slipped out of place. "Refusing to say anything is just as bad! I know it was you. That last picture gave you away."
Finally, Scribbs smiled impishly. "Got me."
"But why, Scribbs? What were you trying to do, get an award for easiest-to-get police officer?"
"Isn't it obvious? I steered everyone's attention away from us. I doubt they still care whether we're shagging."
"Great," Ash said sarcastically, "marvellous idea. Now they no longer think we're doing it; they only think you're a scrubber. Not one of your brighter plans."
Scribbs shrugged. "I don't care what they think about me if it means you can rest easy."
Had Ash been inclined that way, she would've melted at those words on the spot. As it was, she simply settled for, "You could've lost your job. Still could."
Knowing that disapproval of jeopardising her job was as close as Ash got to expressing her gratitude for the effort, Scribbs gladly settled for it and shook her head. "I told you before, that's not going to happen."
"I must say it's still beyond me how you can be so bloody sure of that, but let's focus on something else for a moment. You had help in executing this brilliant plan of yours."
"I see there's a reason you're Detective Inspector."
Ash furrowed her brow as she leaned forward. "You left the station with me at night and came in with or after me in the morning. There's no way you could have placed the photos here without me noticing. But who was it? Today, for example, no one was here before me except " the wrinkles in her forehead disappeared as realisation dawned on Ash when she finished her sentence " Sullivan."
Beaming, Scribbs nodded. "Yep."
"You're telling me he was in on it?"
"Are you completely mad?"
"Don't worry, Ash. He knows about us, and I knew that he knew. Saw us on Victoria Road together on a Saturday and figured something was up."
"Was that why you pushed me into the nearest shop rather violently?"
"I didn't want you to panic."
"It was a reptile shop."
"Okay, so the not panicking part didn't quite work out. Anyway, when you expressed your concern of our colleagues finding out about us last week, I went to Sullivan for advice. He suggested I distract them with something else, so I came up with the photo idea, and he agreed to place the pictures in strategic places."
"Why would he do that? As our boss, he should discourage such behaviour and assign each of us a different partner immediately. If someone finds out that he knows and isn't doing anything about it, his number is up." Ash frowned at such a blatant disregard of the rules, even if it was for her own benefit.
"That was the whole point of it. If we make sure no one ever finds out, he's not going to have to take action. It's in his interest that this remains a secret, too, and that's why he helped me. It was quite convenient." Scribbs appeared to be rather proud of herself.
Suspecting imaginary eavesdroppers in the still empty room, Ash leaned in yet a little further and whispered urgently, "How do we know for sure if worked, though? Who knows what the nosy little buggers are thinking?"
Scribbs smirked mischievously. "We could always distribute a picture of you. Perhaps," she pretended to ponder the question, "the one with the tie?"
"There's nothing wrong with a woman wearing a tie if it goes well with the rest of her outfit. Nothing incriminating about it."
"The one with only the tie."
Ash rose more abruptly than would have been inconspicuous had they not been alone. "Suddenly I'm convinced that no more distractions will be necessary. We should go; we've got a crime scene to survey."
Chuckling at the inelegant subject change and the mortified expression on Ash's face, Scribbs also stood and was promptly ushered towards the door by her partner.
When they passed the first group of officers coming in for work on their way out, all eyes were on them, and as soon as they were out the door, gossip and rumour took their course.
Return to Murder in Suburbia Fiction
Return to Main Page