DISCLAIMER: Murder in Suburbia and its characters are the property of ITV. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Still with me? Well done. I've been dying to do an undercover story and I wish they'd done more of it in the actual show. So here we go. Betaed by blob.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SERIES: Part five of the 'Turning Points' Series.
By Claire G
Warm orange light bathed the magnificent Georgian building and moonlight glinted off the adjacent lake. Night was fast closing in; a chill wind blew the flowers by the entrance to the Grange Hotel. Inside, every room told a different story of life, love and betrayal.
"I'm not speaking to you about it and that's the last of it," Dawn shouted, storming out of the front doors, stilettos slipping into the gravel. Suddenly she stopped. She watched the trees fall out of sight and the ground came fast against her head. Unable to take deep breaths, her lungs took short, shallow gulps of air. The blood gently pooled under and around her. With dulled senses she caught sight of her attacker watching over her, then disappearing. Dawn felt pressure under her arms and the sensation of being lifted. The hotel drifted out of view and beneath her the ground changed from gravel to muddy earth, and above, the skies from cloud to stars. She heard someone speaking.
"This will be the last of it."
Dawn watched the moon wobble and blur. Struggling to keep her eyes open, she soon became enveloped by the dark and murky waters.
A radio played noisily in the corner of Emma's bedroom. Dust sheets lined the floor and there was an empty space where you would expect a bed to be. Kate stood halfway up the stepladder and squinted as she concentrated on the detail of her work. She wore jeans and a pale grey v-neck top which, unlike Emma's clothes, showed barely any evidence of paint marks. Atop her head she wore a dark red kerchief that was tied in a small knot at the nape of her neck, beneath her ponytail. Her glossy, dark brown fringe was not concealed beneath the cloth. Emma, who was wearing a tight England football t-shirt and jeans, worked beneath her. She made large sweeping movements with her roller, slickly spreading the colour on the walls, bouncing to the music. Kate leaned forward and momentarily lost her balance; she steadied herself by placing a hand on the wall.
"Oh piss," she said as she pulled back and looked at her hand, which was now covered in pale lilac paint. She descended, indending to go and wash her hands, but Emma stood in her way.
"You can't always be so immaculate."
"I can try, can't I?" asked Kate.
"Nope, I won't allow it." Emma shook her head.
"Well, there's not much you can do about that." Kate made an attempt to move around Emma.
"Oh no?" Leaping forward, Emma grabbed Kate's painty hand and forced it back onto her chest. Kate now had a perfect handprint over her right breast.
"I'm going to have to get you for that."
"Can't make me look any worse than I already do," said Emma, holding out her arms to show the state of her clothes.
"Oh, a challenge?"
"Bring it on, Ash." Emma proceeded to shake her bum in time with the heavy beat music, making Kate laugh. Through the music Kate heard a voice calling out. She went over to the window and leant out. DCI Sullivan was looking up at her.
"Ah, Ash. Can you let me in? I wanted to have a word with the both of you," he said.
Kate reached into her jeans pocket and dropped a key out to Sullivan, who deftly caught it in one hand. She watched him enter the house. Emma looked over to Kate at the window and was unable to resist the sight. She placed her hand in the paint tray and then against the left buttock of Kate's jeans. Kate's eyes widened. Behind her, Emma laughed uncontrollably.
"Right. You're for it." Kate pushed her sleeves up to the elbows and started chasing Emma around the room. They fought each other for the roller; Kate ended up with a blob of paint on her nose and Emma with a streak of paint in her hair and a lilac forearm.
Emma wielded the roller at Kate. "You are such a gonner, Ash. I'm so going to get you now," she announced.
Kate gulped and began quickly backing her way out of the doorway, only to bounce off something, which turned out to be Sullivan. He too now had a hand print, on his thigh, received from Kate's bottom. She turned to him, wrinkled her painty nose and looked apologetic. "Sorry. I think the paint fumes got to us a bit." She turned to Emma and gave her a look that, had they been at school, would have said 'Look at the trouble you've got me into'. Emma turned away from them both and giggled silently.
"I can see you're back to your usual self, Scribbs. I was hoping you would come back to work."
"Yes, boss. I'd be happy to come back."
"Glad to hear it." He held the front door key out to Kate. "See you bright and early then. We've got an undercover assignment for you both."
"Chambermaid?" Emma remarked, sitting up in her seat and grinning. "Do I get a cute outfit?"
"Does she actually have to clean?" Kate leant forward and waved her hand about.
"Actually, yeah, do I have to clean?" asked Emma, starting to look worried.
"I don't know, and yes," replied Sullivan.
"Is that wise, boss? I mean, Scribbs isn't exactly... "
"That's right. I'm not exactly... well -- I'm not Ash."
"Domestic goddess or not, that is the role that has been assigned you."
"Hmph. So what's Ash?" asked Emma, pouting.
"Ash will be a hotel guest."
"Oooh, I like the sound of that," said Kate as she sat back in her chair, folding her arms over her chest, looking smug.
"I will also play my part," said Sullivan.
"So you are?" questioned Kate as she picked up the hotel brochure.
He turned to Kate. "Your husband." Seeing the look on her face, he added, "But just for the purpose of phone calls and perhaps a fleeting visit. I won't be staying at the hotel."
"So what's the case?" asked Emma.
"In the last seven months there have been three individual murders, all of which were of wealthy business men. All were committed in the same fashion, same markers. Barnes and Curtis have been looking into the case and believe the perpetrator to be a hired killer."
"Any leads?" asked Kate.
"We have one spouse in questioning who said that she received a letter regarding the unfaithfulness of her husband, inviting her to buy their services."
"How very civilised. Murder via mail merge."
"She says she has destroyed the letter and we only have one large withdrawal from her bank account to back up her story. However, there is one thing that ties them all together."
"They all stayed at this hotel?" suggested Emma, grabbing the brochure out of Kate's hands.
"Exactly. We need someone on the inside who hasn't visited or stayed at The Grange Hotel before. I trust that you both haven't."
"It is priced just a little beyond our reach, boss," said Kate.
"Yeah, like triple the salary beyond," added Emma.
"The hotel chain directors are fully aware of the situation and have given us free rein on the facilities. They're letting us do this so we can eliminate them from their enquiries. None of the staff will be made aware of the investigation, so you have complete anonymity. Speaking of which, here are your names and briefs. I'll let you get acquainted with your new personalities." He passed a folder to each of them and walked off.
Emma's had a label on it which read Emily Saunders. She looked across to Kate and saw that her pseudonym would be Kirsty Arundel. "I see they've used our initials."
"Probably so you don't forget your fake name," said Kate, cocking her head to one side momentarily.
"I've never forgotten mine," Emma said, crinkling her brow.
"No, but you have forgotten mine in the past."
"Just once, and I covered for it, didn't I?"
"Much to my and that nun's embarrassment."
"Can't help what sprang to mind."
Sullivan strolled back in. "Oh and ladies, I forgot, Scribbs, you start work at eight tomorrow morning. Ash, you check in after two. Scribbs?"
"Yes, boss?" she looked up.
"Please try to memorise your cover names. We don't want another Helena Handbasket incident."
She squinted one eye and drew up her cheek. "No, boss."
The Grange Hotel
Sullivan pulled the car up to the entrance, gravel crunching beneath the wheels. He got out, removed the suitcase from the boot and walked over to one of the door staff who was standing at the entrance to the hotel. Returning to the car, he opened the door for Kate; she gracefully swung her legs out and stood up.
"Thank you," she said.
"I'll speak to you later." He offered her his cheek. Kate quickly kissed it and walked off.
She strode towards the hotel entrance with as much aplomb as she could muster. Her mobile rang and she stopped to answer it. "Hello?"
"A little less military, perhaps?" commented Sullivan, who had been watching her from the car.
"Right. Yes, boss. Er... husband." Kate bit her lip, trying to summon Sullivan's fake name.
"Just relax and you'll be fine." He hung up and drove off, leaving her on her own.
"So what happened to the girl I replaced?" asked Emma as she loaded trays with packets of sugar and pots of milk.
"Oh, she just walked out last week. Didn't even work her notice," responded Zoe, one of the other housekeeping staff, who had been put in charge of showing Emma the ropes.
"Dunno. I think she was after bigger and better things. That, and she and our manager we're always at it, hammer and tongs, in his office."
"Doing what, sex?"
"No! Arguing!" giggled Zoe, cutting her way through the plastic wrapping of a mammoth bundle of toilet rolls.
"Were they in a relationship?"
"Her and him? No, Dawn wouldn't be up for that. She was a classy lass. Nicholas Howgego, that's our manager, is a bit of a weed."
"How many people work here, then?"
"At any one time, I'd say thirty, forty, probably more."
Emma carried a bale of towels over to the trolley, wondering just how she was going to delve into possible connections to the murders with so many people to become familiar with.
Emma sat on the edge of the bed.
"I wondered when I'd be seeing you," said Kate as she carefully pulled clothes from her suitcase and proceeded to hang them in the wardrobe. "How are you getting on?"
"I'm alright. Sort of reminds me of the first day at school." Emma scrunched up her nose.
Kate turned around and looked at Scribbs in her practical royal blue housekeeping dress, and noticed other changes in appearance. "Since when do you have highlights in your hair?"
"I just decided Emily was the kind of girl who had highlights," replied Emma as she grabbed a lock of her hair and examined it, pouting.
"Personally, I prefer Emma's hair."
"Well, what does Kirsty think?"
"She thinks, 'What's this strange woman doing in my room?'"
"So... Sullivan and you are husband and wife..." Emma said, swinging her legs back and forth.
"Do you think he's arranged this so he can get close to you?"
"I highly doubt it, Scribbs. If he is interested in me, then he's got a bloody funny way of showing it. Why?"
"No reason." Emma shook her head.
"Jealous?" asked Kate.
"Trust me, Ash, I have no interest in Sullivan. Way over that one. Way, way over. Way --"
"Yes, thank you, I get the point."
"What about you?" asked Emma.
"What about me?"
"Are you over Sullivan?"
"You're being weird again, Scribbs."
There came a knock at the door. Kate looked around and noticed that Emma was no longer sitting on the bed; she was under it. Emma pressed a finger to her lips. "I'm s'posed to be working," she whispered.
Kate rolled her eyes and walked around the bed to answer the door.
"Good afternoon, Mrs Arundel. I'm so sorry I couldn't be here to greet you when you arrived. I'm the manager of The Grange and I want you to know that you" -- he pointed at her -- "as our guest" -- he made a welcoming gesture -- "are our priority. Anything you might need, just let us know, and we'll find it for you." He spoke in a grating nasal tone.
"I will be sure to bear that in mind."
"As a token of our esteem, we would like to give you this complimentary gift basket."
"Oh, that's very kind. Thank you." Kate took the basket, which was laden with exotic fruits, chocolates and champagne, and placed it on an ornately decorated chest of drawers.
"I shall leave you in peace, in order that you might enjoy everything that our hotel has to offer."
Kate tried not to let the feelings of cringeworthiness show in her smile as she closed the door. "He was just a walking advert, wasn't he, Scribbs?" Kate walked around the bed and crouched to talk, but Emma was gone. "Scribbs? Where'd you go?" She looked up to see Emma busy rooting through the basket. Kate coughed.
Emma turned. "We're partners, we're supposed to share."
Emma surveyed the room in which she would be sleeping. 'This can't be right.' She checked the report again for the room number. She rolled her eyes. The room seemed to house all sorts of items in a state of disrepair. Spare trolleys, an old double mattress leant up against the wall, numerous stacked paintings and lamps. 'It's like an upper-class jumble sale,' she thought.
"You alright there?" came a voice from behind her. Emma jumped. "Sorry, didn't mean to scare you. You new?"
"Yeah. Got a bit lost. I'm Emily."
"I can see that from your badge. Nice to meet you. I'm Gavin." He gave a large smile and offered his hand.
Emma shook it and pointed at the lapel of his uniform suit jacket. "I can see that from yours, too."
"Oh yeah," he said, looking down, chuckling.
"Gavin! There you are." Another chambermaid came running round the corner. "I've been looking for you everywhere."
"Janie, this is Emily."
"Oh. Hi," she said, not paying any attention to Emma whatsoever. "We have to go, Gav, Nicholas is looking for you. I said you'd gone to the toilet but he's being really uptight about having someone on the front desk every second."
Gavin turned to Emma. "Our manager is a bit uptight about everything."
Janie pulled on his arm. "C'mon, Gavin."
"Hey, Emily. We're going out for drinks tonight if you fancy it. Meet in the kitchens at seven, yeah?" he said as Janie dragged him off by the sleeve.
"Yeah, sure," Emma called out.
Kate's face contorted in pain.
"Madam, I will need you to relax if you wish for the full benefit." The masseuse's fingers dug deeply into Kate's taut shoulders and back. "My dear lady, you are quite the most tense person I have ever massaged."
Kate began to wish she had never taken the hotel up on its offer of the complimentary treatment as she winced into the padded pink leather table. "So." She mouthed an 'ow'. "What's it like to work here?"
"It's very nice, madam."
"Yes, but really..." Kate closed one eye as Olga drove her elbow into her shoulder blade. "Honestly, is it really a good place to work?"
"You're not one of those secret hotel inspectors are you?" whispered Olga.
"No." She replied in a strained voice between jolts of pain.
"The pay is okay and the staff are happy enough."
"I hear the hotel has a reputation for guests having affairs here."
"Well, madam, I'm sure that could be said for half the hotels in the world."
With an opportunity to check out the kitchen staff, Emma got changed in her room and went down a little early.
"Heya," she said to one of the resident chefs, raising one hand with the other wedged firmly in her back pocket.
The man barely acknowledged her as he was carefully carving fruit into delicate shapes. "Hey."
"This isn't quite the hive of activity I would have expected it to be," she commented.
"Give it half an hour," he said, sitting up and wiping his hand on his apron. He stood up, pulled off his chef's cap to reveal his bleach blonde hair and shook her hand. "Scott."
"Oh yeah. Replacing Dawn, eh? Do you turn the same tricks that she did?"
"Nothing. Popular with the men, that's all. What're you doing down here anyway?"
"Going out for drinks with some of the day staff." Emma walked around the kitchens as Scott went back to the fridges and started arranging things. She looked up at a magnetic board of knives, scissors and cleavers on the walls. "Are you missing a knife?"
He looked out from behind the fridge door and squinted. "Nope, it's the one I'm using. Bit inquisitive, aren't you?"
Emma stepped back and ran her hand along the work surface.
"Watch out squids," Scott called out.
"What for?" replied Emma.
"I just said. There, on the counter."
Emma turned to see a heaped pile of squid ready to be prepared. She grimaced. "Oh," she said, shaking her head. "Sorry, I misheard and thought you were calling my... er... erf... nevermind."
Gavin strolled in wearing jeans, a jumper and a scarf. "Evenin'." He grabbed Emma by the elbow and gently kissed her cheek. As he stepped away, he looked down and cautiously picked up her right hand. "Oh god, have you cut yourself?"
"Oh, this?" Emma said, looking at the wound on the back of her hand. "No, that's weeks old. Healing now. I... I cut my hand opening a window." There did not seem much point in changing the actual event. There also did not seem much point adding, 'When escaping from Middleford Police Station'.
"Nasty. Well, as long as you're alright." He looked at her kindly.
Janie and Zoe strolled in, dressed up, arm in arm and chatting away. Bradley, another front desk man, followed closely behind.
"Right," said Janie. "Let's go."
"Have fun, kids," Scott called out mockingly.
From the window of her room, Kate watched Emma leave via the back door and cross the rear car park with a selection of staff from the hotel. They laughed and chatted, seeming very at home with each other. Kate decided to go down to the bar for a drink. Perching atop a tall bar stool she ordered a gin and tonic from the bartender, whose name, she noticed, was Alejandro. She played with a pianist request card she had found on the bar, twirling it between her fingers.
Noticing that she seemed sad and lonely, the barman attempted to talk to Kate. "So, Miss... ?"
"Mrs. Arundel. Kirsty." At first she felt like ending the conversation there, but then reconsidered, remembering that this was an investigation. With her police officer's head back on, she spoke. "My husband suggested that I take a break. He reserved a room for me here."
"You needed a holiday?"
"I expect it's a ploy to have me out of the house so he can have one of his mistresses to stay."
"Forgive me for saying, but he did not book one of the more luxurious rooms for you."
Alejandro tutted. "Ah, he should not treat you this way. If a man is going to cheat on a woman, he should at least book her the most luxurious room, no?" He tipped his head down to look her in the eyes and Kate smiled in response. "It's okay. Life takes you on interesting drives, no? Ups and downs. You'll be okay. Have another drink. This one on the house."
Kate sat alone and toyed with the food on her plate whilst watching the other guests eating. She paid particular attention to the men eating alone, trying to see if they made advances on the waitresses. Any one of them could be a target. An old, balding, porcine man wearing an expensive three-piece suit was being served by a blonde waitress. Kate's thoughts were drawn to Emma. She could not help but wonder what she was getting up to with her newfound friends.
A waiter approached to clear her plates. "Can I interest you in anything from the sweet trolley, madam?"
"Do you happen to have anything with an inordinate amount of chocolate and alcohol in it?"
The Revolve Bar
"Yeah, that one, the plonker that felt my arse up." Janie gestured wildly as she spoke, almost shouting to make herself heard over the din. "Thing is, next day I go into his rooms to sort out his towels and I find him in the bath in the altogether. He's only slipped and can't get out. He didn't half look sorry for himself. It was awful. We had to get a couple of porters to lift him out." Everyone listened patiently as she finished. "So..." she looked around the circle of people. "Emily, got any good stories?"
"Naa, not really, quite uneventful," replied Emma, shrugging.
"Come on," said Gavin, who blinked puppy eyes at her.
Emma reminded herself of the case. "I did discover a dead bloke once, but he was old, and personally I wouldn't mind popping my clogs in a four-star hotel." She was hoping they might mention customer deaths, but thin smiles were the only responses, so she tried a different tack. "I tell you, though, this place is good for extras. The man in Suite Four gave me a ten pound tip, just for talking to him about his problems for ten minutes. He really needs a therapist but I wasn't complaining."
"Did he say anything good?" asked Janie as she linked her arm through Gavin's and leant lazily against him.
"Good?" asked Emma.
"Y'know, juicy," said Janie.
"Gossipmongerer," interjected Zoe, who was nuzzling into Bradley's side.
"So what if I am?" Janie pouted. "I just think people are interesting. Take that dark-haired woman that turned up yesterday -- the one who's in one of the crap rooms at the back, overlooking the kitchens. Did you see her husband? Cor, what a hottie. But does she look happy? Does she buggery. It's like someone's taken the life out of her."
"You should go ask her if she wants any therapy, eh Em?" Zoe nudged her in the side and Emma downed a shot.
The night was wearing on and, uncharacteristically, Emma was beginning to worry about staying out too late in case she slept in late for work. Bradley sat in a corner of the small crowded bar; he was kissing Zoe drunkenly. Zoe had her back against Gavin, who was trying to drink his pint without spilling it.
"Gavin is such a catch, isn't he?" asked Janie.
"He's yours, then?" guessed Emma.
"Soon will be," replied Janie, looking over the edge of her drink at Gavin, predatorily.
"Ah. He seems nice."
Janie turned to Emma and narrowed her eyes. "Touch him and I'll kill you."
The Grange Hotel
Emma slunk up the staff flight of stairs and went quickly and quietly through to Kate's room. She pushed her universal key card into the slot and entered, closing the door carefully behind her so as not to attract any attention from other guests. She could hear the rush of water and realised Kate was in the shower. As she listened more closely she could hear her dulcet-toned singing voice. Emma leant back, bent her knee and placed a foot flat on the wall to steady her stance. She closed her eyes and listened to the song. She stood like that, by the entrance to the bathroom, with crossed arms, for what seemed like an age before the water and the singing stopped. Kate exited the bathroom clad in a thick white towelling dressing gown and jumped at the sight of Emma, her hand flying to her chest with surprise.
"Sorry, didn't mean to sneak up on you."
"Have you been here long?" asked Kate.
"Just got here."
"Well now you're here, shall we have some coffee?"
"Yes please." Emma followed her through to the seated area and plumped down onto the lush two-seater sofa, put her feet up and began plucking at the tassels of one of the cushions.
Kate made two cups of coffee and passed one to Emma before sitting down in an armchair opposite her. "How did you get on?" she asked.
Emma looked up and could not help but notice the smooth, pale skin of one of Kate's thighs, which had been exposed as she sat down. Kate noticed the direction of Emma's look and so crossed her legs and covered her knees with the flanks of her robe. Emma awoke from her gaze.
"It was flavoured vodka night and I think I had too many cinnamon ones. The honey and pepper one was just blegh."
"What about the case? Did you find anything out?"
"Oh yeah. Well, there are just too many members of staff. I can't mix with all of them."
"Let's hope the breadcrumbs we're scattering produce something."
"I did find out a bit more about Dawn."
"Chambermaid I replaced. Apparently she was a bit of a... what's the female equivalent of ladies' man?" asked Emma thoughtfully.
"And she had a lot of fallings out with management. She walked out last week, apparently. Then there's Janie -- she could well turn out to be the psycho bitch from hell. Normally I'd steer well clear of her but she might be connected to the investigation." Kate leant over to pour the coffee and her robe fell open a little, exposing the top of a large bruise on her chest. "You've hurt yourself." Emma sat up, suddenly concerned.
Kate quickly leant back and pinched together the two sides of the robe. "I had a fall."
"You never said."
"It was ages ago and looks much worse than it actually is." She winced in pain as she sat back in her chair.
"You are hurt."
Kate pointed at her shoulder. "This is from the thoroughly hideous massage I had."
"I'm cleaning sinks and you're having massages. Doesn't seem very fair."
"Trust me, it wasn't a pleasurable experience. I don't think Olga was quite qualified."
"Yeah, some of the staff have fake names to make the hotel experience a bit more authentic, or something. There's also Phil, one of the barmen. I think he goes by Alexandro or something."
"I feel quite cheated."
"What about you then? What've you found out?"
"That staying in a hotel alone is possibly the most non-relaxing thing I have ever done."
Emma was about to respond when she was caught by a yawn.
"You should get to bed. Where are you sleeping?" asked Kate.
"The powers that be have given me one of the disused rooms near the offices. There's a load of junk in there. Luckily... that includes a bed. I have to get up at seven, though."
"Just two hours before you usually like to see daylight, then. Would you like me to give you a wake up call?"
Emma pressed her lips together and gave a small, frowning nod.
Hotel office wing
"You watch yourself on the cord, petal," said one of the cleaners, whose name was Mavis as she rammed the vacuum cleaner about, circling Emma.
"Do you not hoover in Mr Howgego's office tonight?"
"The manager? We don't do in there while Wednesday. He's very particular about that. Bit of a weirdo if you ask me."
"Oh yeah, what gives that impression?"
Mavis nudged Emma and spoke quietly into her ear: "He keeps a load of lady brochures in his drawer."
"Lady brochures? Like what?" Emma was momentarily lost for ideas. "Mail-order brides?"
"No, you know, like them pornetto magazines. Gerrit?"
"Oh. I get you." Emma chucked as she walked around the corner to Nicholas' office to take a quick look.
Nicholas Howgego's office
Emma had never seen such a well organised office; not even Kate could have matched Nicholas' meticulous nature. She wandered through to the back cautiously and tried the door to the storage room. It was locked. She walked back to his desk and looked through the pots of paper clips, pens, scissors and staples, all categorised too neatly to contain a key. She tried the drawer but found nothing apart from the magazines mentioned by the cleaner. What was in the storage room that had to be kept so well locked up?
Emma walked over to the staff filing cabinet and pulled out the staff record for Dawn Brackstone. Her letter of resignation was there, however it stated that she had agreed to work her notice.
Emma decided to give up the office as a lost cause and go to bed.
Kate's hotel room
Kate drew the curtains, got into bed, lay down and covered her eyes with interlaced fingers. Her phone flashed and then was silent. She read the text: 'good night kirsty i think this room is haunted.' She keyed in a reply: 'Good night, Emily. There is no such thing as ghosts.' She put the phone down, then reconsidered and picked it up again, typing another message that read: 'Be careful.'
Emma's hotel room
Emma decided to wedge a chair under the door handle. She did not really think that the room was haunted but she did feel unsettled. The feeling was not helped by the fact that she was watched over by an overly ornate portrait of an elderly, bearded man with basket of a grouse by his side and a shotgun on his shoulder. More than anything, she craved reassurance. 'Why is is that I keep having to spend the night in windowless rooms?' she thought to herself. Emma turned over onto her side, cupping her phone in her hand. She typed in 'u2.x' and pressed send, turned off the lamp and went to sleep.
"You've got to be kidding me. No way." Emma crossed her arms, standing her ground.
"You can't just leave mine out," Kate said, her arms flapping to her sides.
"No one'll know," Emma said conspiratorially.
"It's your job."
"It's not my job. Investigating crime is my job."
"You have two roles this week."
"I'm tired." Emma's shoulders sunk.
Kate checked her watch. "It's barely eleven."
Emma made puppy eyes at Kate.
Kate sighed and held out her hand. "Give me the cloth."
"Why did you join the police, Ash?" asked Emma from the comfort of the freshly-made bed. She was drinking tea and ploughing her way through a pack of custard creams.
"It must have been all the excitement and crazy things we police get to do," Kate called back from the bathroom. She was on her hands and knees, scrubbing the sink pedestal.
"I don't know. The whole 'protect the community' bit springs to mind."
"Would you ever change jobs?"
"No, I love what I do. What we do."
Emma backed her way down the corridor, dragging the trolley along with her. There was a whumping sound as she bumped into an unsuspecting woman, who dropped a crate of wilting flowers.
"Oh god, I'm sorry. Are you alright?" asked Emma as she helped to pick up the fallen flowers and pruning instruments.
"I'm fine, it happens. I'm a butterfingers anyway. I'm Martha, by the way."
By this point Emma was well used to shaking people by the hand and using her false name.
"We'd best not leave any mess or Mr Howgego will be on our backs. Apparently he's a bit uptight."
Martha laughed nervously. "Yes, I suppose he can be."
Staff locker room
"You didn't?!" exclaimed Janie, taking her cigarettes out of her storage locker.
"What? What did I do wrong?" asked Emma.
"She's Nicholas' sister. If she tells him what you said, he'll have you."
"Just my luck."
The Grange gardens
"You texted, m'lady," said Emma.
"You took your time," replied Kate.
"You were the one who said I was working two jobs here. I had to wait for my break." They strolled along the high-walled lush green garden. "We're still in plain sight; we'll have to go through here." Emma pushed open a wooden gate which was signed 'staff only', and led Kate through to the vegetable patches. "What did you want me for, anyway?"
"I just don't think we're getting anywhere. We've only got three nights here and that's it."
"So what? You can't solve everything. This hotel might not even be related to those cheating businessmen's deaths."
They walked alongside a high, deep hedgerow. All of a sudden, Emma pushed Kate back against it and dragged her into an archway. She was breathing heavily. She saw that Kate was about to shout at her and so she covered Kate's mouth with her hand. "Shh. Look."
Almost out of view, Scott could be seen walking over to the Victorian glasshouse. From out of the entrance, Martha came running. She jumped into his arms and they kissed. Martha looked sorrowful and Scott appeared to be comforting her. They away walked, hand in hand, until they were out of view.
"Phew," said Emma. "That was close."
They suddenly noted the closeness of their bodies, as they had been forced to huddle together to remain out of sight. They moved apart but were thrown back together.
"I can't go," said Emma, softly.
"What's wrong?" asked Kate, sweetly.
Emma looked up into Kate's eyes and pointed at the space between them. "My badge is caught on your cardi."
The Grange lake
Kate wrapped her cardigan further around her middle. A small hole had formed on the place over her heart. She shivered a little as a cool breeze blew over the lake. She took a deep breath of fresh air, turned to clear leaves from a bench, and sat down by the waterside. From the secluded spot closely surrounded by trees and shrubs, she watched ducks as they dabbled and pecked at floating leaves. She considered her job, her life, and other places she could be. A rush of wind brought water cascading up the bank and Kate caught sight of an object. She stood up and approached the spot. Holding onto a branch which extended over the water, she used a long stick to clear away debris, revealing the heel of an upturned black stiletto shoe.
The Grange outside
Emma walked around the building, counting windows. "It must be this one." She piled up a couple of wooden boxes and precariously stood on top of the stack, peeping into the room. She cupped her face to the window and squinted to look into the darkness. She could make out racks which held rows of DVD boxes, monitor screens and recording equipment. Surely one hotel would not need such a wealth of security equipment, especially here -- when they already have a security room based near the front gates? On the left was the door to Nicholas' office and on the right was another door. Emma heard the sound of someone running on gravel.
"What's going on?" came a shout and Emma froze, slowly turning in the direction of the voice.
The Grange outside
Emma breathed a sigh of relief as she realised that she had not been spotted. She saw the slight figure of Zoe looking out towards the drive of the hotel. Zoe had been calling out to Bradley, who was fast approaching. Emma jumped down and cleared away the boxes, placing them back in the large wheelie bin. As she did so she spotted a glinting circular object and reached in for it. It was a CD. She popped it in her dress pocket and casually walked around to the front to talk to Zoe. Police cars and a black ambulance were parked by the entrance. A young constable, whom Emma recognised, was busy attaching police tape to trees. Emma, Zoe and Bradley stood watching Nicholas animatedly telling one of the officers to move the cars because of the inconvenience to guests.
"What's happening?" asked Emma.
"One of the guests found a dead body in the lake," replied Zoe.
"No way, who was it?"
Panic flashed across Emma's eyes. "Mrs Arundel?"
"Oh, you mean Mrs Arundel found the body." Emma's racing heartbeat returned to a normal rate.
"We don't know whose body it is... no one would tell me anything," added Bradley.
"Don't you lot have work to do?" Nicholas announced as he walked towards them and away from the police.
"I came as soon as I could get away," said Emma. "I heard what happened."
"It's very strange discovering a body like that."
"But you see dead bodies all the time."
"Only when we're called onto a scene." Kate chewed the inside of her cheek.
They did not know it, but they both began thinking about the morning when Emma awoke next to the murdered body of her lover.
"So," began Emma after a few moments of silence. "Was it a woman or a man?"
"Woman. Well dressed, skirt suit. Expensive shoes."
"Nasty looking stab wound to the back."
"Whereabouts on her back?"
Kate hesitated for a moment before holding Emma by the shoulder to turn her. She pressed a finger against the relevant area of her lower back. "Here-ish."
Without turning, Emma responded, "So the attacker would have had to approach from behind?"
"Yes. Like this." Kate placed her left arm across Emma's chest and pulled her close, the thumb of her left hand brushing against Emma's collarbone. "She had a red mark here." Kate's fingertips drew a line down the right hand side of Emma's neck; she could feel her pulse. "As if they had pulled at her necklace while pushing the blade in." Kate pressed hard into Emma's back to simulate the action.
Emma gulped. "So it's looking like this hotel is definitely related to those other murders."
"I would say so." Kate let go and Emma turned to face her.
"Oh, I forgot to say. I found this -- might be nothing. It was on top of the rubbish bags like someone had just chucked it in there." She drew from her pocket the blank-faced CD holding it with her finger through the central hole. "It may just be music but can you give it to Sullivan to check? "
"The television can play all sorts of media; why don't we have a listen ourselves?"
"This place really is swish."
"Well this isn't the kind of place where people steal the batteries from remotes. They don't have to chain the TV to the wall either." Kate put in the CD and turned on the television.
"On the downside, you are more likely to be murdered if you stay here."
"Well there is always that." Kate pressed play.
After a short period of silence, a young woman's voice could be heard. It was crystal clear. She was shouting and arguing, but there was no one else on the CD at all. Just her.
Emma glanced around. To the left of Nicholas' office were the staff toilets, and there were no extra doors in there leading to the storeroom. Emma chewed on her bottom lip. The next room is mine but there's no door in there. Unless...' She ran around the corner to her own room. Upon entering, she began to clear away the spare side tables and trolleys until she came to the large double mattress, which she pushed to one side to reveal a door. "You have got to be kidding me," Emma said to herself half excited. She pushed down the handle and entered.
"You've recovered one dead body, so things must be going well," said Sullivan.
"Well, to be honest, it just sort of washed up when I was sitting by the lake," said Kate.
"So no leads?"
"Not as yet. Apart from the CD, which appears to be some sort of one-sided phone conversation. There's not really much we can do except observe."
"Well, you could always have an affair behind your husband's back."
"You don't actually have to have the affair, Ash. Just pretend you are, get close to someone, and make it look good. How do you think Scribbs is getting on?"
"The workload is a little harsh on her but she's taking it in her stride."
"And can I still count on you as a team?"
"What do you mean?" Kate asked.
"No one could expect your partnership to just repair itself overnight after what happened. Have you at least talked about it?"
"There's nothing to talk about."
"How does she feel about the blunt force trauma you received whilst trying to prove her innocence?"
Kate looked out of the window.
"You haven't even told her, have you?" he looked disappointed.
Emma pulled open the filing cabinets full of bills, statements and records, all of which referred to the term 'extra services'. She closed the drawer and ran her finger along the edge of the DVDs, reading the text on their spines. They were in date order and some had little coloured paper dots stuck to them. She took one at random and put it into the DVD player. It looked like surveillance footage but there was no one in shot. She fast-forwarded until someone came into view. The person on screen unpacked her bags and sat on the edge of the bed. 'I know that suite,' thought Emma. Nothing else remarkable happened in the recording. She tried another, which was much more recent. She watched as a portly man paced around the room, tapping his watch. He was soon joined by a svelte dark-haired woman who took no time at all in seducing him and leading him over to the bed. "Crikey," said Emma. "Is that what they mean by 'extra services'?" She flipped it off and put both DVDs back where she had found them. Turning to the bank of monitors, she switched them all on and watched one screen with particular interest.
Emma ran in without knocking. "He's got CCTV cameras hooked up."
"Well that's fairly standard these days, I --" Kate waved her hand to one side.
Emma grabbed hold of her wrist. "In the rooms."
"In the rooms?" Kate was wide-eyed. "You mean in the bedrooms?"
"I was just watching you, and --"
"In this room? I've been under surveillance?" Kate looked around for a camera. Emma pointed behind her to an area near the ceiling. "I thought that was security for the windows." Kate shivered with disgust.
"Nicholas might be onto us."
"Have you seen any indication of that?"
"Not yet. The DVD recordings stopped before we arrived so we might be okay."
"Well let's hope that's the case. So, what is he? A voyeur?"
"I'm starting to think that he's either a pimp or a blackmailer, actually. Or even both."
"Right, let's go get him."
Emma caught Kate by the arm. "We can't."
Emma stuck her arms out to her sides to remind Kate of what she was wearing. "Undercover. Chambermaids don't make arrests."
"Kirsty Arundel could be a policewoman for all they know," said Kate, pointing at herself.
"Naa, too risky. Besides, I don't think Nicholas killed anyone."
"But the motive is there. He has footage of these people."
"I dunno, it just doesn't click for me."
Kate's phone began to bleep, informing her that she had a text message. "Did you say it was a woman called Dawn who had all those arguments with Nicholas Howgego?"
"Yeah, that's right. Why?"
Kate showed her the display on the phone. "Because she's the one I found dead this morning."
"Well, that's that then. Policemen's hats back on."
"Does the text from Sullivan say what the murder weapon was?" asked Emma.
"We're looking at scissors. They think."
"Well Nicholas is a man who likes his stationery."
Nicholas Howgego's office
"It's not what you think," said Nicholas.
"I assume we don't have to introduce ourselves. That is, if you've been watching us on your little camera system," said Kate, feeling empowered in her role as a detective.
"You're both police, aren't you?"
"Got it in one," replied Emma.
"I did wonder for a while if you might both be engaging in an affair, but I soon realised the truth."
Emma and Kate glanced at each other furtively. "What can you tell us about this CD, Mr Howgego?" Emma asked, spinning the disc around her finger.
"I didn't kill Dawn," he protested. "We ran a business together, that is all."
"You prostituted her?"
"She prostituted herself. She let me film, and together we blackmailed the men she slept with. For that you can arrest me."
"I think I get this CD business now," said Emma. "Let me see if I get this right. You would both enter your office, seen by your colleagues. Then you would have an argument with a recording of Dawn's voice, whilst Dawn slipped out via the storage room door, through my room --"
"Your room?" he asked, confused.
Emma ignored him. "To shag your guests."
"Then you bill them for the pleasure. So to speak. It was an alibi for your business on the side, wasn't it, Mr Howgego?" asked Kate.
"People call me anal, but I think I just have a healthy paranoia."
"So why did you kill Dawn?"
"I didn't. I didn't kill anyone. That's what I wanted to tell you. You can finally help me in this matter. I too am being blackmailed -- by Scott. He found the room. He knows all about it and forced me to hand over my records so he could offer the wives a contract killing. I read about the first death a week later. You have to stop him."
"But what about Dawn?" asked Kate.
"He killed Dawn. I know he did. She was going to report him to the police," Nicholas responded.
"But that would put you well in it as well. You had just as much reason to kill her," said Emma.
"When she left, I was stuck on the phone with a customer who was making a complaint. You can check the phone records."
The Grange kitchens
"I'm sorry but guests aren't permitted in this area," said Scott without looking up.
"Not a guest anymore. Middleford CID. I would like to ask you a couple of questions about the death of Dawn Brackstone," said Kate, who was backed up by a couple of uniformed officers.
The back door came flying open. "I did it," cried Martha.
Scott caught her and dragged her back, "Martha," he said strongly, "I may as well go down for her death. You don't need to be blamed."
The Grange lobby
Gavin caught up with Emma by the exit. "Hey. I heard you're actually a copper and you've resolved some big murder thing."
"You're not hiding anything that would mean I have to arrest you, are you?" Emma asked jokily.
"Nope, I'm one of the good ones. You're not leaving already?"
"'Fraid so. Work to do."
He leaned in. "Look, I was wondering. I'm playing football at the weekend and I wondered if you wanted to come and watch. Maybe catch a drink afterwards or something?"
"Is this because of the police thing?" she asked.
"I was going to ask you before, just... didn't get the chance."
Emma thought for a moment. "You're a really nice guy and I really appreciate the gesture, but... I'm already with someone."
"Shame. Well... not for them." He smiled and bid her goodbye. "Have a good life, Emily."
The Grange - driveway
Emma joined Kate and they watched police cars cart away Nicholas, Martha and Scott. Nicholas looked positively relieved.
"Er, why is Martha being taken away?" asked Emma.
"Think about it. What is the one item that a florist is likely to have on her person?" replied Kate.
"And?" Kate asked encouragingly.
Emma thought back to when she bumped into Martha. "Scissors!"
"And she would want to kill Dawn because ?"
"She was going to report both her brother and her lover to the police," Emma said with the glow of realisation spreading across her face.
Emma had been extremely pragmatic when it came to the events that had taken place a few weeks previous. Since then she and Kate had cleaned the blood-splattered room, had the old bed taken away and the carpet replaced. During this time Emma slept on the sofa, though every so often she would turn up at Kate's flat and sleep on her sofa, unable to cope with being in her house alone. With the man who tried to frame her back behind bars and the locks changed, she felt much safer, for now anyway. They had begun work on the room in silence, but through the changes they too became refreshed and renewed, and their relationship developed into a comfortable one again. Now back from their undercover investigation, the room was complete and they stood either side of the new bed, each stuffing a pillow into a pillowcase. Once finished they climbed onto the bed and lay down, side by side.
"What a difference," remarked Kate.
"Thanks for all the help and support, Ash. I don't know what I would have done without you." Emma put her hand down to place it on top of Kate's, but Kate moved hers too quickly and Emma's rested on fresh linen instead.
"You would've been fine. I must say, this bed is lovely and comfortable," said Kate, changing the subject.
"We've got one thing left to do now. Christen it." Emma reached over Kate's body and down past her side.
Kate's eyes widened and she looked confused. "What are you doing?"
"Ta da." Emma revealed an imperial-sized bottle of champagne and two fluted glasses.
"What did you think I meant?" Emma chuckled. Inside she cursed the finished room; she had been able to see Kate often and without much excuse. 'I wish I could tell you how I feel, but you'd never understand,' thought Emma as she squeezed the cork until it popped.
Kate watched Emma fill her glass. 'It's time to leave. She's okay now and she'll be better off without me,' she decided.
Next episode: A serial killer is on the loose, everyone is on the case 24-7, and they're tired. Ash clearly has something else on her mind, while Scribbs is going out of hers. Could this mean the end of their partnership?
Return to Murder in Suburbia Fiction
Return to Main Page