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The little children squawked and cried their way to the head of the line, chocolate and assorted sweets smeared across their lips and their grubby little fingers sticky with what remained of their Christmas meal. Forty-two little rodents, every one of whom was determined to sit on Santa's knee and whisper a litany of wants in his ear. Which meant there were forty-two pint sized annoyances that Detective Inspector Ashurst wanted to chop up into tiny little pieces and feed to her...
"Ash?" Scribbs nudged her partner. "Stop growling at the children."
Ash's gaze flickered to Scribbs and with it the image of dismemberment was superimposed over her sergeant. "They're not children," she hissed, "they're serial killers in training."
The next child in line ran up to the dais and jumped on Santa's knee. "I want an Xbox," the little girl shouted, her pronouncement met with a groan from her waiting parents, "and an Ipod mini."
Ash, sweltering beneath the cuddly disguise of Mr Claus, stuck out a hand and motioned for Scribbs to pass her one of the cheaply wrapped presents from Santa's Christmas Sack of Goodies. She had no idea what was beneath the shiny paper but she couldn't help wishing it was something obnoxious that would require the child's parents to invest in a year's worth of ear plugs and valium.
As the child ran off, no doubt to terrorise some other hapless seasonal employee, Ash made a mad dash for the elves' workshop and the relative peace that it offered. The rigors of undercover work had, before that day, been something that she had relished. A chance to fully immerse herself in an investigation and catch the bad guys before they committed the crime, for once, instead of just mopping up after their killing spree. Two days working undercover at Middleford Infants School had changed all that.
"Ash? The queue's backing up, will you be long?"
With some effort Ash managed to refrain from swearing at her colleague but it was a very close thing. While she was stuck wearing a Santa's costume and boiling in her own juices, Scribbs had been floating around, flirting and making mischief, in her Mrs Claus outfit which, for some God known reason, consisted of little more than a red leotard and white fluffy trim. It wasn't that Ash wanted to parade around in her underwear, chatting up all the men but she didn't see why she should be subjected to the heat stroke, kids and beard burn while Scribbs got off scot-free.
"Christmas is cancelled," she muttered, lifting up her beard to scratch at the skin beneath.
Stepping inside the small tent that had been designated as the elves' workshop, Scribbs made sure to zip the flap closed, before turning her attention to her boss. She had realised that Ash had certain issues with their assignment from the moment their costumes were delivered but it was unlike her friend to walk out on a job half finished.
"Sullivan said they're very close to pinpointing the suspect," Scribbs tried. "Just another couple of hours and we could be out of here for good."
Screams emanated from outside the tent as another of the little darlings decided to throw a tantrum.
"There are only two more classrooms to go and we can take a break," Scribbs tried again.
Ash began to unbutton her costume and remove her beard. "Christmas is cancelled," she repeated.
"Ash," Scribbs whined, her face descending into a pout as her partner continued to disrobe. "If we stop now the whole operation will be ruined."
Ash's conscience gave out a little cry but she promptly ignored it and continued to slip out of her Santa padding.
Scribbs was getting desperate. "The children will be devastated."
Her first smile of the day transformed Ash's face and she happily beamed at her friend as she stepped out of her suit and began searching for her street clothes.
Refusing to be distracted by the sight of Ash in her underwear, Scribbs started to pace the small area, her mind a whirl of ideas. She had already tried the job card and that hadn't worked, and appealing to Ash's sense of Christmas spirit was a waste of time, which left only one option.
"I was hoping, once the operation was over, that I'd have a chance to sit on Santa's knee and tell her exactly what I wanted for Christmas." Scribbs thought batting her eyelashes had been overkill but when Ash stopped dressing and turned in her direction she made sure to bat them a little more. "I've been such a good girl," she cooed.
Ash looked from Scribbs to the Santa costume and then back again, her mind a tumble of thoughts, most of them unsuitable for the audience awaiting her outside the tent. She had planned on, finally, making her move at the station's Christmas party but if Scribbs wanted to hurry things along a bit...
"I guess it would be wrong to disappoint the children," Ash decided.
"And our role is crucial to the success of the operation."
Ash stepped back into her costume. "And you have been a very good girl."
"Very good," Scribbs agreed, as she unzipped the tent and began the arduous task of sorting the little monsters into some kind of order. "But I plan on being plenty bad tonight," she murmured, her smile turning lecherous. "Very bad indeed."
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