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The Dating Game

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CHAPTER 2

THREE WEEKS EARLIER

***

HQ Criminal Investigation Office

Friday

Ginger Ashley pushed the door open and heard the phone being replaced on the cradle with force. The bullpen was almost deserted as it always was on a Friday before a long weekend and even from across the room she could see him standing behind his desk through the frosted glass.

She looked up from the file she was reading only to see Detective Dave Murphy crumple up a page and toss it to the waste bin in the corner. But it hit the rim and fell to the floor. He groaned and dropped his head over the back of his shoulders, and dropped heavily onto his chair where his arms dangled over the side of the chair.

“God dammit!” he yelled out to the ceiling, to the gods, to anyone who was listening though never fully expecting a response when she spoke he was startled and sat up immediately.

“What’s goin' on?” she asked as she leaned against the front of his desk.

“What?” He jumped out of his chair and picked up the crumpled piece of paper but instead of tossing it into the bin he shoved it into his pocket.

“What’s that?” she asked and pointed at his pocket.

“Huh?”

“What did you just put in your pocket?”

“Nothing.” He moved back to his seat and sat down then slid into the desk as snugly as he could.

They had been working together as partners for a number of years when she relocated from the other side of the country. It took him a while to warm up to her but by now they had an almost secret language and spoke in code in front of others.

She was a little green behind the gills when she was assigned to work with him but she was the best detective he had ever worked with. The only chink in her armour that he had found was her reaction to her name. Ginger. In and of itself, the name was fine, but paired with her bright red hair, it had brought with it way more attention that she cared for.

So from day one, she asked him to call her Ashley. Which shortly thereafter became Ash. And in return she called him Murphy

“Hey, so Sarge sent us on a file to look at, did you see the email?” he said in an obvious attempt to change the subject.

Ash stood across the desk at him and eyed him suspiciously. Whatever it was he was trying to hide would come out sooner or later and the longer he kept it in the more shifty his eyes would get. Seeing him squirm like that was one of life’s pleasures so she let him stew.

“Yeah I saw it. Have you booked flights?”

They worked on specialist cases, usually missing persons around the UK and Ireland. He had trained as a profiler and she was a medical student before switching her career path to join forensics. They were stationed out of the main headquarters in Dublin, and travelled for most of their caseload and saw so little of their own apartments that he often joked they should timeshare somewhere to save money.

“No, I was waiting to hear what you thought.”

Now she was really suspicious. She put her hands on her hips and slowly walked around to his side of the table then leaned against it.

“What’s happening here?” she said and gestured her finger in a circular motion at him. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing.”

“I’ve never known you to have a file on your desk for more than three hours without booking a flight.”

“That is a gross exaggeration, Ash, and you know it.” He moved away from his desk and over to the slide projector that was balanced precariously on a stack of boxes. “You should be ashamed of yourself. A woman of science like you,” he muttered as he focused on the setting the projector up to point at the only blank wall in the office, purposefully kept that way.

The rest of the walls were cluttered with newspaper clippings, photos, printouts, schematics and maps that they used regularly, or were once deemed important enough to display, but were now forgotten.

“Murphy!” she chided with a laugh. “I read the case file, I think we should fly out to Inverness and check it out.”

“Yeah, Maybe Monday,” he said without looking up.

“Monday?” She strolled over and put her hands on the top of the projector to stop him fiddling with the slices. “Big plans for the weekend?″ she said with a smirk.

He didn’t look up but his cheeks coloured and she couldn’t help the look of shock she felt on her face. When he wasn't working on a case, Murphy could always be found at home working on a cold case they hadn't yet been assigned. The mere thought that he had actual plans, outside of his apartment, with another human that wasn't her, was frankly shocking.

Not because he was ugly. Far from it. He was tall, slim, fit, and nimble, a great combination. He had green eyes that sparkled when he laughed, though that was a rare treat to see. His unkempt brown hair was longer now than he usually kept it but still enticing. Any time he was injured, and it was a lot, she got to run her hands through it as she probed his head for injuries and that gesture always made her spine tingle.

“Murphy!” she teased and prodded his arm with two fingers.

“What?” he looked over and frowned at her. “Is it such a surprise that I have plans for the weekend?”

“Well...yes.” She spoke so matter of factly that his frown deepened and he looked away. “I mean I guess it depends on the plans. Is it with Mike?” she asked naming one of his informants that she knew he played basketball with on occasion.

“No.”

“Jack or Liam?” she named more basketball players but never knew him to meet them off the court.

“No.”

“Do your plans include something you read on a headline at the supermarket checkout line?”

“What? No!” He scoffed and cast her a sideways glance.

“Are you going to see your mom?”

“No.”

He was estranged from his mother but kept trying to rekindle a broken relationship from a difficult childhood. It broke her heart to see him try time and time again, only to be shut down by her cold responses.

“Will you be in the HQ building?” she said with a crooked smile, starting to get into the guessing game only she was playing.

“No.”

“Will you be doing something with someone usually found in the HQ building?”

Murphy paused, looked up and to the left as he pondered her question. “Maybe.”

“Ah ha!” she said and pointed a finger to the ceiling. “With Sarge?”

“God I hope not.”

“Danny? Is there a game on in town?”

“Ash, the rugby season hasn’t even started yet,” he said and rolled his eyes like she should have known this.

“Will you be attending a sporting event?”

“No.”

“Will there be dancing?”

Murphy coloured again and focused harder on the slides he was rearranging in no particular order.

“Oh I’m getting warmer,” she giggled and rubbed her hands together.

“You’re getting nothing. I thought you were a detective.” he reached over her and grabbed another reel of slides and was perturbed by the way she stood her ground. She didn’t move aside like she usually did when he got too close.

“Well I know you are going to an event, with someone from work, that will involve dancing.” She pursed her lips and tapped two fingers against them. “Detective Walker’s wedding is in three weeks…” she said pensively.

“You think he’s planning to invite me?”

“Definitely not.”

Murphy looked mock wounded and gestured pulling a knife out of his chest then he got back to his slides.

“Wait…” Murphy’s eyes flew over to her and his breath caught in his throat.

It was such a stupid game they were playing. If he was going to get her to go with him, he would have to tell her about it anyway, so why was he dragging this out in the most excruciating way? Because he loved to see that glint in her eyes when she was chewing on a puzzle. “Charlie Morris!” Her voice was diluted in triumph. She was so sure she had him and she looked like she was betting the house on being right.

Murphy didn’t move a muscle and waited for her to continue in case he gave something away.

“His ceremony is this weekend,” she said and she crossed her arms over her chest. “This presentation and award ceremony. Didn’t you get invited to that?”

Murphy looked away and shrugged non-committedly and she knew she had it right.

“Well?”

“Yeah, I got invited.”

She smiled and slapped her hands together in victory. Then it dawned on her what he said about going with someone in the building. She had spotted him speaking with Detective Nessa Hargreaves outside Sarge's office on Monday. And on Wednesday he took a phone call out of the room with a definite smile on his lips.

“So?” she prompted with a circular wave of her hand to urge him to tell her the details.

“What?” he said, purposefully ignoring her prodding for more information.

“Who are you going to dance with at Charlie's event?” she said, almost dying with curiosity, but equally fearful of finding out.

“You.” he said without looking up and he waited for her reaction, watching her solely with his peripheral vision.

“Who?”

“You.”

“What?”

“Ash,” he turned to her and plastered his most charming smile on his face. He slowly blinked and tilted his head. “You know Charlie, he’d love to see you there.”

“He would, huh,” she said with her usual sceptical tone she reserved for case file debates as she crossed her arms over her chest.

“Of course.”

“So what you’re really saying is you couldn’t get a date, and now you are asking me as a backup.”

“Not true.” He held a finger up to argue. “I got a date.”

“But?”

“She had to go out of town and cancel,” he said with a grimace. Ash rolled her eyes. “But then I got another date…”

“But?”

“She had to have a root canal and couldn’t make it.”

Ash frowned and narrowed her eyes. “Wait, two women you asked out agreed, then flaked?”

“Flaked? What? No!” he said with indignation, his hands on his hips, his frown deep.

“Who were these women?”

“Women, women I met.”

“Where?”

“What do you mean where?” this time he rolled his eyes. “I meet women.”

“Did you go out with them already?”

“Yes.”

“And then they flaked on your second date?”

“They didn’t flake. Root canal is a serious dental surgery, Ash.”

“Right.” She patted the top of his arm and started to walk back towards their desk.

“So, what do you say?” he called after her.

“Sorry Murphy, I’m washing my hair,” she said with a dismissive wave of her hand and a soft chuckle as if she didn’t believe he was really asking her.

“C’mon Ash, you can’t make me go stag!”

“You seem to have no issue finding women, Murphy, you meet women remember?”

“It’s tomorrow!” he implored and he followed her back to the desk and put his hand on her shoulder to turn her round.

“That’s better for you then. Less chance of them coming up with a flaky excuse.”

“Ash c’mon, please!”

She narrowed her eyes and looked at his pleading face, eyes wide, eyebrows raised, lips pursed.

“Fine, fine, god, stop making that face.” she turned away from him and picked up the file that was open on his desk totally missing the smug smile he plastered there instead.

“It’ll be great Ash, wait till you see the presentation Charlie has prepared.”

“What’s the topic?”

American Pseudoscience of the 1800’s - Dismissed too soon.” Ash looked at him with a very plain “are you kidding me face“ and it made him smile even more. “He’s done a tonne of research on it, you might learn something,” he said and tapped the side of his nose.

“What time and where will I meet you?” she asked with a sigh as she took her usual seat across the other side of the desk.

“I’ll pick you up at 6.30. The meal is at 7, presentation at 8, and dancing starts at 9.”

Ash slowly took in a deep breath and released it through parted lips. “Fine. Fine. So...Inverness?” she said and tapped her fingers off the file on his desk. “You have slides?”

“What?” he looked over his shoulder at the projector he had been messing with. “No, they are for something… different.” He sat into the desk and flipped through the pages to pass the crime scene photo to her. “What do you make of that?”

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