A/N: Hello, gentle readers! Welcome to my new fic.
Funny story: when I first thought up this plot, my brain was like, "hey! what a great original idea you have there!" Then I ran it past some friends, and they said, "Oh, so it's like Austenland?" Sigh. Yes, the setting is a lot like Austenland. I choose to feel pleased that I ended up on the same wavelength as Shannon Hale by mistake, rather than feel lamely unoriginal.
*Disclaimer: Forever doesn't belong to me. But ABC's not using it anymore, so why should they care if I borrow it?
SENSE AND IMMORTALITY
The dress at her feet would never be clean again.
There was also a dead human being wearing it, but Jo Martinez felt with jaded certainty that someone would be more upset about the dress. Manhattan's latest murder victim had suffered a stab wound to her chest, and even though the dress had been spared from also being pierced thanks to its low neckline, a broad stroke of darkening red stained the pale pink bodice. The blood continued downward in gory streaks and splotches, past the high waistline and over the yards of flowing fabric that extended nearly to the victim's feet. Drag marks leading to the body through damp grass and mud suggested that the back of the dress wouldn't look much better. Jo didn't think that mourning the state of the woman's clothes should be anyone's top priority, but it had been a nice dress.
More to the point, it was a very unusual dress under the circumstances. Not that all murder victims shopped off the same rack, but this looked like an actual, historically accurate costume. It fit the victim so well it had to be either altered or handmade for her, and both the material and workmanship looked expensive; no thrift store bridesmaid's dress or Halloween costume here.
"Is there a film crew in town? Was our vic a movie extra?" Hanson cocked his head and frowned a little, like he was trying to recall the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly.
"We haven't I.D.'ed her yet," Jo said, "but the Office of Film says that no period dramas are currently in production." She looked again at the woman's body sprawled at her feet. Her hair had been swept back and twisted into a soft bun, save for a series of curls framing her face, although the process of being murdered and dumped in a park had somewhat ruined the coiffure. The dress was pale pink muslin with a delicate floral print, and white satin ribbon trimmed the empire waistline and cap sleeves.
Jo pulled out her phone and hit the first entry in her 'Favorites' menu. Hanson glanced over. "You're calling him, right?"
She nodded. "Oh yeah." Officially, Dr. Washington was the M.E. on call tonight, but there was a woman dressed in authentic Regency garb lying dead in a New York City park.
Of course she was calling Henry.
"Henry, I know you have a man-out-of-time image to uphold, but I'm starving!" They were standing in the kitchen, and Abe's father was dangling a flat, rectangular object between his thumb and forefinger with distaste. Abe was holding a large empty bowl and tapping his foot with impatience.
"Are you sure you want to eat this?" Henry asked, in a tone that begged for a negative response. "It doesn't even look like food."
"Yes, I am, and yes, it does!" Abe insisted. "No more excuses, Henry. You agreed to watch Gamera with me, and for B-grade monster movies microwave popcorn will do!"
Henry grimaced and opened the microwave with a suspicious poke at the door release. He hesitated in front of the open appliance, unsure how to proceed.
Abe sighed loudly. He set the bowl down and commandeered the pouch before his old man burned the popcorn, started a fire, or both. "Do you have to be so eighteenth century all the time?" he grumbled good-naturedly. He removed the plastic wrap, threw the folded packet into the microwave, and punched the 'popcorn' preset button to start the microwave's efficient, if soulless, cooking process.
"I'll have you know," Henry countered, "that I consider the nineteenth century to contain my truly formative years."
Abe shook his head. "Either way, you're useless with microwave popcorn, and probably hopeless at monster movie appreciation."
Just then the landline rang, and Henry turned eagerly to answer it. They both knew who the caller was likely to be. Temporarily accepting defeat, Abe called after him, "Murder will only postpone the inevitable for so long! One of these days we WILL watch a giant turtle save Japan!"
Thankful that at least one product of the twentieth century had just saved him from another, Henry picked up the receiver and said cheerily, "Good evening, Detective. Please tell me you have a good, old-fashioned murder for me."
Henry arrived at the scene quickly, intrigued by Jo's teaser for what he would find there: You were literally born for this case.
He pulled on his blue latex gloves as he crossed the grass and approached a circle of police that included Jo, Hanson, and several CSU staff. The two detectives turned at his approach, and Hanson greeted him by saying, "Look at this, Doc; it's right up your alley."
When he was close enough to see the body, Henry instantly understood why the team had been so eager to call him in. His gaze shot to Jo, eyebrows raised, and her smile was half smirk when she said, "We knew you'd have all sorts of insight for us, being the 'student' of English history that you are."
Her emphasis on 'student' sounded like teasing sarcasm to anyone but Henry, but he heard the shared secret hiding beneath. After all, Jo was the only person present who knew that his nineteenth-century studies had been entirely first-hand.
"Quite right, detectives," he answered gamely, and knelt to examine the victim. "Cause of death is clear enough. Naturally, I'll have to confirm at the lab—"
"Naturally," Hanson muttered under his breath.
"—but I see no evidence yet to counter-indicate that the victim died as a result of the obvious stab wound to her heart. As for her appearance…" He worked a fold of fabric between his fingers, flipped a hem over to check the stitching, and leaned in to smell her hair. Jo suppressed a grin at his methods, and Hanson merely sighed and waited until he continued. "The dress is in the Regency style, based on fashions de rigueur in England between 1811 and 1820."
"Yeah, we got that part," Hanson said. "It's a Jane Austen dress."
Henry looked impressed. "Very good, Detective."
Hanson shrugged. "Karen has a thing for wet Colin Firth."
Henry frowned in mild confusion but continued. "The dress itself is not contemporary with the period, but the muslin used to make it is."
"Somebody made a new dress out of 200-year-old fabric?" Jo asked. "Where did they get it?"
"Oh, the market for historic fabrics is quite active, not to mention lucrative," Henry assured her, "although materials are increasingly difficult to come by. What I wouldn't give to find some decent woven silk for a waistcoat…" Jo tried to be irritated that her partner could kneel over a dead body and be so distracted by waistcoat nostalgia. She failed.
"Why the head sniff?" Hanson's practical question broke into both of their impractical trains of thought.
"Hair sniff," Henry clarified. "I detected a trace of pomade made with lard—a substance used at that time for setting curls." He stood up and turned to face Jo. "The ensemble is not 100% accurate to the period—she wisely chose to forego the lead-tinted face powder— but otherwise this is an admirable recreation of nineteenth-century afternoon attire."
"So, not a time traveller," Jo summarized, "but devoted to the look."
Henry gave a nod. "In a word, yes." His eyes circled out from the body to the surrounding ground and zeroed in on something. "In fact, the devotion may not be limited to her." He pointed to a cluster of footprints. "Where do those lead?"
Hanson answered. "There are at least half a dozen different prints nearby. CSU is following up on each set right now."
"What's so special about those?" Jo asked.
"Judging by the height of the heel and the shape of the sole," Henry answered, "those were made by Hessians— a style popular during the same period as the victim's clothes. Unlikely to be a coincidence."
As if on cue, a pair of uniformed arms started waving from thirty yards away, half-hidden beyond a line of trees and brush. A voice called out, "Over here!"
Jo, Henry and Hanson hurried over to find an officer standing over a second body, this time a man's, lying face-down in the brush. Like the woman, he was dressed in Regency style, although he wore men's fashion.
Hanson frowned. "So what's the story? Our vic injures her attacker and they both die?" Even he sounded skeptical of that scenario.
Even with the body lying face-down, the deadly slash from one side of its neck to the other was clearly visible, but Henry was not looking at the victim's neck. He was squatting at the other end of the body, squinting through the shadows of the crime scene flood lights at the bottoms of the victim's shoes."This is not the murderer."
"Why not? He has old-fashioned shoes," Hanson countered, pointing at the man's velvet footwear, complete with heels.
Henry was about to explain when Jo spoke instead. "Those are dress shoes. Hessians are more like riding boots with tassels."
Henry looked up at her like she had just fed him the world's most suggestive tassel-based pick-up line. "Why, Detective, I didn't know you were such an expert in classic footwear."
"I've gotten familiar with a lot of outdated fashion over the last year." She cocked an eyebrow back at him, pointedly giving his waistcoat and watch fob a teasing once-over.
"Sorry to break up the fetish fest, but...double murder?" Hanson broke in.
Jo narrowed her eyes at her fellow detective, who was too perceptive by half lately when it came to her personal life, and Henry cleared his throat before standing. "Yes, well, in any case, Jo is correct. Which means—"
"There was a third person involved," Jo finished, "and our killer is still at large."
Henry snapped off his gloves. "I would like to point out that their devotion to accuracy breaks down at one vital point."
"Yeah, what's that?" Hanson asked.
"Miss Austen never wrote a murder mystery."
Hanson gestured vaguely with his pencil to include the whole crime scene. "Somebody forgot to tell the killer that."
Jo looked from one victim to the other, then back at Henry and Hanson. "What say we find him and fill him in?"
"Our victims were Jenny and Steven Brewer," Jo said without preamble, reading from a file as she entered the morgue with Hanson. Henry and Lucas looked up from their autopsy of Steven. "Their prints were in the system," she explained. "Jenny was a social worker at Rikers Island, and her husband was a nurse there."
Lucas looked back at the body with a new level of respect. "Thankless government drones nine-to-five, then hard-core cosplayers in the off-hours? I feel that."
"An enormous prison complex is certainly a far cry from the costumed finery we found them in," Henry observed.
"Yeah, well, maybe that was the point," Jo mused. "An escape from reality. What more can you tell us?"
Henry nodded to his assistant. "Lucas?"
"The victims both died sometime between 3 and 6 p.m. today," Lucas explained. "The killer cut Steven's throat with the same knife used to stab his wife." He indicated the upwardly curved red line marring the pale skin of the victim's neck. "The angle of the cut indicates that the killer attacked from a slightly higher vantage point."
"So he was taller?" Jo asked.
Henry shook his head. "Not necessarily. The killer attacked from behind with one decisive motion. If the victim were sitting and caught by surprise, he would have had little chance of defending himself in time."
Hanson added,"The Brewers both left work after lunch today. Their next-door neighbor says they were psyched about some four-day couples' retreat this weekend."
"Does she know where it was?" Jo asked.
Hanson shook his head. "No, but we're running their financials now."
The elevator doors opened, and Lt. Reece stepped out. Jo and Hanson turned to her in surprise; they could count on one hand the number of times she had visited the morgue. Henry straightened over the body and inclined his head slightly. "Lieutenant. To what do we owe the pleasure of your visit?"
Reece gave him a look that gently but firmly asserted her right to visit whenever she felt the need, and she held up a printout. "Financials came back on the Brewers. The retreat they were scheduled to attend is called The Austen Experience. The website describes it as 'an immersive literary experience for couples who wish to take their admiration of Jane Austen's work and world to the next level.'"
Hanson took the printout she offered and read on. "It says here that guests are expected to 'maintain a commitment to the period' for the duration of their stay. What is that supposed to mean?"
"It means no tweeting, no microwaves, and as little intrusion from the twenty-first century as possible," Reece offered.
Henry perked up. "Sounds intriguing."
Jo ignored him. "Where is this bastion of literary preservation located?"
Hanson checked. "It's called Hopkins House. It's a Georgian-style mansion about an hour and a half north of the city."
"Dressed like that, they were either killed at the retreat, or on the way there," Jo theorized.
"And if the set of mysterious boot prints is any indication, their killer was likely a fellow guest," Henry added.
"I've made some discreet inquiries to the event manager," Reece said. "The Brewers never arrived this afternoon, but all the other guests have, and they're all still there."
Hanson's eyebrows shot up. "So someone killed them, dumped their bodies, then went back to playing dress-up and sipping cocktails? That's either an incredibly cool customer—"
"—or else he, or she, has more planned," Henry finished.
"This sounds like a How to Host a Murder party!" Lucas said enthusiastically. "Except with real murder. Talk about hard core."
Jo turned to her commanding officer and said, "I appreciate the update, Lieu, but you didn't need to hurry down here to tell us all this." She was starting to get a bad feeling about this rare downstairs visit.
A smile twitched briefly in the corner of Reece's mouth before she responded. "The event manager has agreed to admit a couple to take the Brewers' place—two of our people. We can investigate from the inside without alerting the killer of our presence, and gather the evidence we need before they have a chance to destroy it."
"It's a sound idea, Lieutenant," Henry said in approval. "A weekend house party such as this would be carefully planned for the expected number of couples, and making up the numbers will keep things flowing smoothly. By the way, Detective," he added, turning to Hanson, "the cocktails you mentioned were a twentieth-century invention. These guests are more likely drinking sherry or port, or a punch like ratafia this evening."
Hanson rolled his eyes at the historical correction, but Reece beamed. "I knew I could count on your exhaustive knowledge of this topic, Henry." She turned to include Jo as well. "That's why you two will be going undercover together at The Austen Experience."
While Jo and Henry stood momentarily speechless, Lucas grinned and patted his boss and his boss's partner on the shoulders. "Undercover couple? That's, like, my favorite trope ever! You two are literally living the dream." They both gave him a quelling look, and he awkwardly removed his hands from their shoulders. "Well, my dream anyway." He started backing away holding his clipboard as a shield. "I'll give you two a minute. You'll come around."