Title: The Trouble with Harriet
Disclaimer: All series characters and good stuff belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, etc. I am responsible for some original characters (although I stole names from Hitchcock) as well as the lame dialogue and most of the plot. The idea, of course, is stolen from the classic movie, The Trouble with Harry.
Summary: Buffy really needs a vacation, so when the chance arrives, she takes it, even though with a wandering corpse on the loose it’s almost, but not quite, a busman’s holiday. This is set in my cheerful, AU version of Season 6 where everyone sort of gets along and Spike and Buffy are a couple.
Thanks: to keswindhover and revdorothyl for the beta and to enigmaticblues for maintaining the comm.
Buffy hung up the phone and turned to Xander, He was still talking about his car. He seemed convinced that the wheels were loose and the steering wheel was out of alignment, or something like that. She picked up her coffee cup and walked past him into the living room.
“They’re on their way,” she announced.
Spike looked up from his post lounging on the sofa. “You talked them into it?”
Buffy ignored the surprise in his voice. “I did. Ms. Wiggs made Jim come by threatening to have him arrested for stealing the Ferrari, and Sally by threatening to have her arrested for trying to steal Harriet’s clothes. And Arnie is a realtor, so she got him to come because she needs the house assessed anyway or something like that. And the sheriff’s coming too.” That was because the sheriff wanted to talk to Buffy and Spike about the previous night’s accident, but she was trying not to think about that.
“I’ve got to break Sally first,” she said.
“Listen to you, talking like Cagney or Lacy.” Spike sat up, watching her pace. “More Cagney, I think.”
“I’m not kidding. I don’t think she knows what the truth is half the time. She’s one of those congenial liars.”
Now Spike was trying unsuccessfully to hold back a smile. “I’m sure she’s nice about it, love, but I think you mean ‘congenital’ liar.”
Buffy glared at him. “She is not nice, and this is not the time for a vocabulary lesson.” She tensed as she heard the crunch of gravel outside and went to see whose car was pulling up to the house.
Fortunately, the sheriff was one of the last to arrive, and by that time Arnie and Jim were engaged in a strange game of musical chairs, which seemed to involve each one trying to sit as far as possible from the other, while simultaneously nagging Ms. Wiggs. This was finally ended by Spike’s snarling, “Sit!” at which point both men collapsed in the nearest chairs and into silence.
This was apparently Sally’s cue to begin whining that it wasn’t fair and everyone always blamed her for everything. She was quieted by Ms. Wiggs, who asked sweetly, “And have you stopped to consider just why that is, dear?”
Buffy took advantage of the moment to catch Sally’s eye. “You worked here the day before Harriet died.”
Sheriff Calvin, a bored-looking elderly man, seemed to come to attention at that, but Buffy ignored him.
Sally thought about her response carefully, but seemed to decide it wouldn’t be dangerous to answer. “Yeah.”
“Did you do laundry?” Buffy stepped forward so that she was looking down at Sally. She was glad the maid had taken a seat on the couch, since she didn’t have a chance of looming over anyone who was standing up.
“Huh?” Sally shrank back.
Buffy repeated the question. “Did you do laundry? Specifically, did you wash towels?”
“Uh, yeah.” Sally brooded a moment and added, “It was laundry day, you know.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Did you empty the hamper in the bathroom?”
Sally shifted on her feet, looked to the left and right, and finally said, “Yeah.”
“Then Harriet fired you. That must have really pissed you off.”
Buffy pressed on without giving her a chance to respond. “So you came back the next day, killed her, and stuffed her in the freezer!”
“No!” Sally shrieked. “I didn’t!”
Buffy laughed in what she hoped was a disdainful manner. “Next you’ll tell me you’re the one who took her out of the freezer.”
“I was! I did! I knew they’d put her in there to blame me, okay?” Sally fell back on her mantra. “Everyone always blames me for everything.”
“Wait a minute.” The sheriff stepped forward, frowning. “The body was in the freezer?”
Buffy nodded. “It was stashed there until Sally came along and hauled it off to Sunnydale. You’ll probably find evidence in the bed of her pickup. She’s not very good at cleaning up.”
Sally stiffened with indignation. “Hey!”
The sheriff stared at Sally. “I’ve known her for years and can’t remember how many times I’ve arrested her for petty theft, but this is a new one for her. Why’d she do that?”
“Because she still had a key to the house so she decided to get back at Harriet by stealing some frozen foods and a few other things.” Buffy ignored Sally’s half-hearted denial and went on with the exposition. “She knew that there were some expensive steaks down there. But when she opened the freezer, she found Harriet lying on top of the turkey and pizzas. You’ll be able to find lots of evidence of that.”
“And because in Sally’s world, everything is always about her, she decided she was being framed.” The sheriff nodded. “That’s why you asked me to have the state forensic team follow us here, then?”
“Yes.” Buffy turned to Sally. “Why Sunnydale?”
Defeated, Sally replied sullenly, “With their murder rate, I didn’t think they’d notice another corpse.”
The sheriff closed his eyes, reminding Buffy forcefully of Giles when one of the Scoobies had said something he considered more than usually absurd. “But who took her from the funeral home? And who put her in the freezer in the first place?”
Buffy ignored the first question, asking Sally, “What time did you open that freezer?”
Sally blinked. This was not a question she’d been expecting.
Buffy pressed hard, not giving Sally a chance to think up a lie. “When?”
“Uh, noon. Just about. Because I wanted to get back home by one to watch Passions.
Buffy couldn’t resist a glance at Spike as she turned her back on Sally. Look at the kind of people who watch Passions, Spike. But the answer was close enough to the truth for her purposes. It might even be true. It fit.
She paced the room, trying to act like that Poirot guy, but without the creepy mustache. “So Harriet was dead before noon. That was very bad news for someone.” She whirled. “Arnie Worp. If Harriet died before her divorce was final, you would lose most of her fortune.”
Arnie had been anticipating this, and shook his head firmly, clamping his lips shut.
Buffy said, “The towels are still in the hamper, you know. They stink pretty bad, but I’m sure the state forensic people will find some evidence on them. It’s pretty hard to drown someone, drag the body downstairs, and then mop up the bathroom without leaving something those CSI types will find.” She added smugly, “And because there’s only one dry cleaner in town, I was able to find out where you took your suit when it got wet in that rain that didn’t happen because it hardly ever rains in California and I checked and there was no rain anywhere around here that morning, and…” She bailed on the sentence as it became too complicated. “Anyway, the dry cleaner is holding your clothes for the forensic people.”
Arnie apparently had watched enough TV to believe this. His eyes widened, and he shouted, “She was dead when I got there!”
“Well.” Sheriff Calvin had taken out a notepad and was jotting things down. “There are some more charges, then. So Arnie took the body out of the bathtub and hauled it down to the freezer. Hell of a way to treat a nice girl like Harry, but none of it adds up to an admission of murder so far.” He looked at Buffy expectantly.
“No, it was Jim who killed her.” Buffy hoped her voice didn’t tremble and reveal any of her doubts. “He was the one who benefited from her dying early in the day.”
“She killed herself!” Jim jumped to her feet. “She was depressed about getting old. She wasn’t keeping herself up, and…”
His voice trailed off as Buffy shook her head firmly. “She stopped dying her hair and wearing clothes that pleased you, that’s all. But that was because she didn’t give a damn about you.”
Sally spoke up in an uncharacteristically small voice. “I heard her say she was fat and ancient.”
“And I read her emails,” snapped Buffy. “She wasn’t worried about being fat. Harriet was involved in an on-line game. She was playing one of the Fatae Ancianae, the most powerful characters in The Doom of the Fates. She’d signed up for some kind of nerd convention two weeks from now, and she and her on-line friends were going to meet there, dressed in costume, and formally end the game by cutting a thread on a shawl she’d knitted.”
Most of the crowd looked confused, but Sheriff Calvin said, “Ah, the Parcae. Harry always did like games. A great Scrabble player.”
Spike gave him an approving glance.
“She had a new boyfriend, too.” Buffy grinned at Jim. “She met him at a convention a couple of months ago, and she liked him a lot more than she did you. She was going to give him a scarf she knitted at this next convention. And more than the scarf. She had a really good time last time they were together. She didn’t compare you when she talked to him, but she did to Shelly, when she asked her friend to look after her garden while she was gone.”
“She…” Jim was obviously thinking furiously. He dropped back down in his chair. “Maybe that guy dumped her.”
“I don’t think so. He’s been sending frantic emails every few hours. So have some of her other friends.”
“Face it, mate,” said Spike. “She wasn’t planning on shuffling off this mortal coil. She was just planning on moving on.”
“To cosplay.” Xander couldn’t resist jumping in.
“Then, then…it was an accident!” Jim looked pleased at coming up with this solution. “She banged her head on the tub, and…”
“No.” Buffy shook her head firmly. “Spike, if you will.”
“I will.” Spike strode up to Jim, who immediately stopped looking pleased. “Yeah. Can still smell it on him. It’s Japanese Cherry Blossom, all right. Same as in the bathroom. On the shoes mostly.”
“Spike has a really good sense of smell,” said Buffy. “Last night, he noticed something under that layer of nasty aftershave you use. Did you spill the whole bottle when you were holding her head under water?”
Jim was shaking, but he managed to say, “Your punk boyfriend’s nose won’t be admissible in court!”
“No, but if he can still smell it, the forensic lab will find traces.”
“Indeed they will.” Sheriff Calvin was not looking bored at all now. “If I might have your shoes, Jimmy?”
Jim jumped up and raced for the door, only to find himself caught by Buffy, lifted bodily, and tossed back in a chair, where he remained too out of breath to fight when the sheriff handcuffed him.
“Wow,” said Ms. Wiggs, who had been content to enjoy the spectacle so far. “You really are a ninja superhero, aren’t you? But I still don’t understand why the body disappeared in Sunnydale. Who took it out of the funeral home?”
Everyone in the room turned to the door, where Harriet Worp stood, clad in black, with a very stern expression on her face.
Originally posted at http://seasonal-spuffy.livejournal.com/409775.html