Tis the Season by Henabrey
Summary: a little holiday cheer...Lilly & Scotty investigate the death of a John Doe. A Christmas story. And most definitely Lilly/Scotty. Oh yeah.
Rating: T for some language
Disclaimer: I do not own the characters of Cold Case, dammit. I do own Detective Benson though, so mitts off.
Setting/Spoilers: Hmm, I'm not sure. It's probably set immediately after the events of "The Red and the Blue", but there aren't any spoilers for that episode.
Author's Note: okay, I know it's not Christmas time. I was trying to get it finished in time for Christmas 2006 but a) I'm a slow writer; b) I started a new job which took up valuable writing time (jobs tend to do that. They're very inconvenient); and finally c) the story itself turned into a freaking novel. So, enjoy. Better late than never, right? Anyway, I'm Australian. We do things all backwards down here. :)
Chapter One: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
Six days before Christmas, and panic has set in among the unprepared who've waited too long to find the perfect gift. Incessant Christmas Carols played endlessly in every store were getting on everyone's nerves. A local paper gleefully reported that a gift wrapper at a suburban mall got punched out for not using enough ribbon on the present he'd been wrapping.
Christmas spirit was well and truly thin on the ground.
On a typical street corner of Center City stood a man in a Santa suit, like a refugee from a Christmas card. He had the right look for it; pudgy round the middle, white on top, twinkly blue eyes peeking above a full white beard. Some people had to stop and look twice when they saw him, and a couple of tourists from New Zealand stopped to take his picture.
Most people ignored him. Christmas spirit was spread thin, after all, and since he was standing and not going anywhere despite the freezing temperatures he was obviously either raising money for charity or he was homeless. Both were things to be avoided at all costs.
That did not stop the man looking at every person who walked past and wishing them a Merry Christmas. He did it jovially, beaming, and you'd expect there was a 'ho,ho,ho' in there somewhere just waiting to get out. And while most people ignored him, or looked up from the pavement with a frightened half-smile wondering how fast they could get away, once they were past him they were filled with an inexplicable light, a feeling of hope, love and compassion. Suddenly the city wasn't such a cold and uninviting place after all, and the people walking around them weren't strangers but neighbours, part of one big Philadelphia community. They went home to their families with smiles on their faces.
For those few who stopped to talk to him, the man in the Santa suit had more to say. Words of comfort, of love towards others, of the joy of giving, of the beautiful, endless mystery that is existence. For those few, life would never be the same.
Six days before Christmas, and a light snow was falling in the night, soft fat flakes covering the city like a cold wet blanket. The sound of traffic was muffled. Few people walked right past the alleyway where the man in the Santa suit was lying, and those that did didn't turn to look. They were bundled into their coats and scarves and were thinking about getting home as fast as possible so they could get warm. None of them stopped to wonder where the man in the Santa suit was, why he wasn't wishing them a Merry Christmas like he did when they had walked past earlier that day.
The man in the Santa suit was being quietly covered in snow. He wouldn't be completely covered by morning; there would be enough of the suit poking through the light snowdrift for people to notice and wonder why he hadn't found somewhere undercover to spend the night, why he'd let himself get snowed on, to wonder if they should go and look in case he'd frozen to death.
When they got closer, there wouldn't be enough snow to hide the blood that spilled from the wounds in his chest to stain the new fallen flakes like a crimson accusation.
Six days before Christmas, and the muszack carols being played on every elevator in Philly were starting to get on Lilly Rush's nerves. Not that she minded 'Jingle Bells', but how many times could you hear it in one week without wanting to strangle someone? Six times was the charm for her; now she had to carefully keep her hands in her pockets whenever the cheerful little opening bars assaulted her ears. The elevators in PPD Headquarters were a welcome relief: the powers that be seemed to have decided that jaunty piped music was in poor taste in a building that dealt with the worst of human depravities. The only aural company she had therefore as she rose towards the Homicide department was Detective Benson's iPod, turned up to cranial-bleed levels so that Lilly thought she could recognise the Spice Girls despite the fact the earphones were clamped into Benson's ears. She wondered idly if you could get a disability pension if you developed iPod ear. And should she tell Vera that Dave Benson still listened to the Spice Girls?
Skinny, blond and irritating, Benson kept giving her sideways glances. She was used to them, especially from him, but today she suspected it was less to do with her and more to do with the fact he'd tied a tiny sprig of mistletoe to his belt. He'd be giving sideways glances to every single woman he saw between now and Christmas Eve, unless one of the brass told him to stop being such an idiot. Or one of the other detectives rearranged his face for him. If she heard 'Jingle Bells' too many more times she might just be the woman for the job. She stared straight ahead and pretended not to notice the looks he was giving her. It was too early in the morning for violence.
The elevator doors opened onto their floor. She went one way and a disappointed Benson went another.
Ah, the homicide department, her home away from home. If it weren't for her cats clamouring for attention, Lilly wasn't sure she'd ever leave the bullpen. When it came time for retirement they'd have to use the jaws of life to prise her fingers off her desk. It was normally a grim disorganised organisation of the worst humanity had to offer, home to the thin suit-clad line of the overworked and underpaid who kept the mean streets swept clean of monsters, a room piled high with papers and smelling faintly of late nights and stale pastry. Someone, Benson perhaps, had tried to bring a little festive cheer into the place. There were some half-hearted strands of tinsel hanging off the walls and filing cabinets, a shabby wreath on the door of Interview Room A and mistletoe hanging above the break room entrance. A foot high plastic Christmas tree, overladen with ornaments and a gaudy pink star, perched precariously on a stack of files on a shelf. It wasn't quite Santa's Workshop but Lilly supposed it was better than nothing.
Lilly parked her gun in her usual locker and headed for the break room, needing her second shot of caffeine for the day. They should just find a way to hook the Homicide Unit up to iv catheters and then they could mainline the stuff all day rather than dart in and out of the break room every hour like flies to honey. Vera joked that the unit was single-handedly putting the local coffee-cart guy's kids through college. Lilly thought Vera may not be far off the truth.
Lilly found Vera, Miller and Jefferies in the break room, lined up against the bench looking out into the bullpen, drinking out of brightly coloured mugs and struggling to keep straight faces.
"Morning," she said, grabbing her own cup and filling it with the brown sludge someone tried to pass off as coffee. "What's so funny?"
Vera nodded in the direction of the bullpen. "Scotty's talkin' to someone. Might be a case."
"And?" She peered through the glass petition separating the break room from the rest of the homicide department. Scotty was at his desk, handsome as usual, leaning back in his chair with his hand on his chin, rubbing his skin. Lilly couldn't see the face of the woman he was talking to, only her shoulder length dark hair and expensive tailored suit.
"And you'll find out, is all."
No time like the present. She shot them all a suspicious look and strode into the bullpen, ignoring the trio of grins on their faces as she walked past. Scotty gave her a thank God you're here look as she approached. "Detective Rush," he said, not completely able to hide the relief in his voice, "this is Helen Wilson."
"Hi," Lilly said, putting her mug down on Scotty's desk and offering a hand. It was gingerly taken by the other woman, in her early forties and obviously on first name terms with at least one cosmetic surgeon, overly made-up and expensively dressed in designer suit and chunky gold jewellery. The hand that shook Lilly's fingertips was well endowed with rings that no doubt cost more than Lilly's yearly salary. The coiffured look was somewhat spoilt by the tears and mascara coursing down her pale face.
"Hello," Helen said with a sniffle. She pressed a white handkerchief to her green eyes with absolutely no effect.
"Mrs Wilson was just tellin' me she might have a case for us," Scotty said. His hand had gone back to his mouth, and Lilly had the feeling he was trying to hide a smile. It made her a little confused - Scotty wasn't the sort to enjoy someone else's pain. Her confusion turned to disbelieving outrage when Scotty spotted the mug she'd brought over and took a large mouthful like a man dying of thirst. Her coffee, her mug. What, she brought him a cup and none for herself? Did she look like a maid? There was a certain Latino cop who was going to be getting her coffee for the next week. The good stuff too, from an actual coffee shop, not the crap they had here.
"Yes," said Helen from behind her handkerchief. "It's my husband, you see."
Lilly pulled a chair over and sat in it, giving Scotty a hard stare. "What about him?"
"I think he's a murderer!" There was a fresh bout of tears and a fresh attempt to mop them up.
"I see," Lilly said. "And...who is it you think he has killed?" Over the woman's head she could see Vera, Jefferies and Miller lined up against the break room wall, staring at her with grins on their faces. Scotty shifted in his chair and cleared his throat.
Helen lowered her handkerchief to look Lilly in the eye. "He killed Santa!" she wailed.
I'm being set up, Lilly thought stupidly, almost expecting a camera crew to burst out of Stillman's office. Someone got me a practical joke for Christmas. Really, they shouldn't have. But Helen's obvious distress was either genuine or an Oscar worthy performance. "I'm sorry - what?"
"He killed Santa!"
Please tell me Santa was a Lhasa Apso. "Santa..."
"Santa Claus! The Santa Claus!" Helen looked from Lilly to Scotty and back again. "Oh, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking I've started my lunch time martinis a little early."
That was exactly what Lilly was starting to think, but she had the sense not to say it. She cleared her throat and shook her head. "No, Mrs Wilson. I believe you think your husband killed someone. Can you tell me when you think the murder took place?"
"Two years ago," Helen said with a sniff, looking slightly mollified. "Christmas two years ago."
Lilly made a 'go on' gesture. She pointedly reached out and took a sip of what was left of her coffee. Scotty had the good sense to look guilty.
"My husband is John Wilson," Helen said, looking like she expected that to mean something to them. When she saw their blank faces, she sighed. "Of Wilson & Reeve? The law firm?"
Scotty nodded. "Civil litigation, right? I find a hair in my pizza I call them so I can collect a million in damages?" In his eyes, only one step up from defence attorneys.
Helen shot him a dirty look and settled her gaze on Lilly. "John left Brown, Brown, McDougal and Young to start the firm with his friend - our friend - Bill. It's only been operating for six years, but it has earned quite a reputation among the legal profession. It's won some big cases."
Lilly nodded and smiled. Her smile faded when Scotty took another sip from her mug. Her eyes narrowed in suspicion - there was a definite hint of mischief on his face.
"There was a man my husband used to talk to. He was...well, I suppose he was homeless," Helen said with a clear note of distaste, as though she were talking about something the maid had found under the sofa. "He...lived...on a street corner near Wilson & Reeve's offices, and my husband would often stop by during lunch to talk. The man always wore a Santa suit."
"And this is the man you think your husband killed?"
Helen nodded. "He isn't normally the type of person who goes around talking to the homeless, you understand," she hurried to say. Lilly restrained the urge to roll her eyes. God forbid someone treat the homeless like they were actual people. Wouldn't be socially acceptable. "But this man...I saw them together twice, and John said they talked regularly."
"What did they talk about?"
"I wasn't interested in the details, believe me. I didn't ask. Then just before Christmas he was murdered. John told me he'd been stabbed. He was...convincingly upset about it."
"And you think your husband was the one who stabbed him."
"Not at first," Helen said, and her eyes welled up. She touched her handkerchief to the corners of her lids. "But I was going through his desk at home yesterday, looking for a phone number I knew he had, and I found this." She reached into the designer label handbag sitting on her lap and drew out a red and white piece of fuzzy folded cloth. She handed it to Lilly. "I knew straight away what it meant."
Lilly unfolded it and smoothed it out on the desk. It was a Santa hat. Covering a good half of it was a dried black-brown stain that Lilly had seen all too often - it could only be years-old blood. She and Scotty exchanged a glance.
"Have you asked him about it?"
Helen shot Scotty a withering look. "And get stabbed to death myself? I'm not completely stupid, Detective Valens."
"Right," Scotty said. "Well, we'll look into it, Mrs Wilson. Will you be at home if we need to talk to you?"
"With my husband there? And you asking questions about the hat that used to be in his desk drawer that only he and I have access to?" The tears were gone now, and she made Scotty feel like a first grader. "I'll be in New York. Doing a little Christmas shopping, if anyone asks. I always stay at the Carlyle. You can talk to me there." She stood, suddenly, and smoothed an invisible crease out of her skirt. "Thankyou, detectives."
Lilly and Scotty got out of their own chairs. "Mrs Wilson, can I ask? Why you're doing this?"
Helen eyed Lilly with a curious expression on her face. "What do you mean?"
How do I put this without sounding like a bitch? "Well...you seem like someone to whom image is important."
"And a husband in jail for murder ain't exactly fittin' the upper class look," Scotty put in helpfully. Lilly shot him a glare.
"The man murdered Santa Claus, Detectives," Helen said with a haughty expression, as if that was all the explanation needed. "You can't expect me to go on living with a murderer, despite the effect on my reputation."
"About that, Mrs Wilson," Scotty said. "The Santa Claus thing."
"What about it?" she asked, haughty expression still in place, then answered her own question. "Of course. You don't believe me."
"I'm just goin' to put it out there...is it possible this was just some guy in a Santa suit and not the real Santa Claus? You know, someone raisin' money for charity or somethin'?"
If looks could kill..."Don't you think I've thought of that? Don't you think I want to believe that?"
She seemed to be debating how much to tell them. The lines around her mouth softened. "I thought the same thing as you at first. That he was just a homeless person. But since it happened ...nothing's gone right. John's been distant, preoccupied. He's not interested in his work any more. He's barely won a case since it happened. He keeps talking about doing something more worthwhile." She laughed bitterly. "I think he'd volunteer in a soup kitchen all day if he could. My sister got in a car accident. Our dog died. Everything's got problems...our neighbours, our friends, the house, our cars...it's almost as if there's someone somewhere pulling strings to make us miserable."
"Payback's a bitch, you mean," Scotty said.
"I wouldn't have put it that way, Detective, but, essentially - yes. That makes me think the man my husband killed..."
"Santa Claus," she agreed with a sigh. "I know it's stupid. I stopped believing in Santa Claus when I was eight. But remember when you were children, Detectives, how magical Christmas was? How you'd wake up at five o'clock in the morning because you were just too excited to stay asleep? The world seemed so alive with possibilities. Now...it's as though any magic there was in the world has gone. And I think it's my husband who's caused it." With that, she shook their fingertips again, folded up her blotched handkerchief and walked out of Homicide. There was a sudden flurry of activity from the other detectives in the bullpen, which made Lilly suspect that the trio in the break room weren't the only ones listening in on Helen's story. She exchanged another look with Scotty, and then gave his arm a light slap. "Do I look like a waitress, Scotty?"
"Sorry, I was desperate. Although, now you mention it, I have always wondered what you'd look like in one of those little - "
"Just forget it."
"Okay, okay. I'll buy you one to replace it."
She gave her head an amused shake, a smile playing around her lips. His puppy dog eyes worked wonders on her, and she couldn't stay annoyed. "What do you think?"
"About the case or the coffee?"
"All you should be thinking about the coffee is how fast you can get me a replacement. I meant the case."
"I think I wished I'd called in sick today," Scotty said, then shook his head. "Naw...Santa Claus or not, we still got a dead guy and a lead on who got him that way."
"Pay a visit to Evidence?"
They were packaging the hat up for forensics to take a look at when they were joined by Vera, Jefferies and Miller, who had ventured out of the break room now Helen had left and they didn't have to keep the smiles off their faces. "What's up?"
"Woman's husband killed Santa Claus," Scotty explained. "Got the bloody Santa hat to prove it."
"Santa Claus is dead, huh?" Vera asked. "No wonder I didn't get the Ferrari I asked for last year."
End of part one...please leave a review!