Return to fanfiction
Well, there goes my resolution to only dabble in Psych fic. I wrote the 11,000+ word draft for this story in twenty-four hours, which is something of a record for me, especially since I've been blocked of late. Oh, Shawn, why must you be so inspiring?
Plotted in collusion with Gnine, because two angst-loving fangirls are always worse than one, and we have a bad tendency to ask 'What if...' a lot when we fan together. I'm not actually going to confess that the best ideas here were hers, but...they probably were.
WARNING: Character death. Considering how I hate deathfic as a rule, it's odd how many I find myself writing.
"The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living."
A slow day in Santa Barbara meant the tedium of paperwork for the city's men and women in blue, and any distraction was appreciated. Gossip always flew fastest at the station on slow days, from the break room to the bullpen in zero point five seconds. "Hey, Detective, did you hear?" the uniformed sergeant asked the head detective in passing. "About the Vincetti family arrests last month, the Tampa PD confirmed in court today that the tips came from the Whisper."
"Or a copycat," the nearest junior detective called over from his desk.
"They can't all be copycats."
"They can't all be one guy," the rookie riposted. "Who is he, Batman?"
"It's not one guy, it's a special unit of the FBI."
"Then how come the Bureau's always denied any involvement?"
"Hey, they've come up with the best weapon against organized crime in this century, you think they're going to go public with how it works?" The sergeant turned back to the senior officer for support. "Isn't that right?"
The head detective didn't look up from the day's red tape. "Couldn't say."
"Come on, you know more about the Whisper than anyone else here." It was common knowledge around the station that the SBPD's premier detective had made something of a hobby of following the Whisper's supposed trail across the nation, keeping a collection of relevant newspaper articles and court reports and going so far as to take personal vacations cross-country to attend trials. The chief made no comment on these excursions, considering they had no impact on the arrest record of their department's star. "It's the FBI, isn't it? They've got a team set up for infiltration and observation—CIA-trained, I heard."
"It's a bunch of copycat vigilantes," sniped the rookie detective. "And they'll all stop being heroes when one of them screws up and gets themselves or somebody else killed—"
The debate was abruptly ended, if not settled, when the chief's door opened. "O'Hara, my office, now."
"If you'll excuse me, boys," the head detective said, getting up and walking past them to the office.
The sergeant and her junior colleague watched her go. "Is she awfully quiet today, or is it just me?" inquired the junior detective. "She didn't say more than 'good morning' this morning—you think I pissed her off somehow? I didn't know I could. Usually she's smiling even when she's riding my ass."
"You haven't been here for that long, have you," the sergeant answered. "It's not you; it's the day. Just let it go, she'll be better tomorrow."
In the office, the chief studied his top detective. "Progress on the Hancock burglary?"
"We're still tracking down Oligarch. We find him and get him to talk, it's in the bag."
"And the Rodriguez assault?"
"Waiting for forensics to get back to us about the blood on the scene, whether if it is from more than one person or not."
"Fine. What are you doing for lunch today?"
She sighed but didn't look away. "You know where I'm going, Carlton."
Behind his desk, Lassiter shrugged uncomfortably. "Yeah. Do you want a lift? I'm off the next hour myself."
It wasn't the day for it, but Juliet smiled anyway. "I'd be glad to have the company. And so would they."
Carlton, behind the wheel, was quiet on the drive over. Juliet wasn't surprised. It had been a while since they had ridden together as partners, but Lassiter's promotion hadn't changed much about him. Since she had made head detective herself last year, their working relationship had settled back into near its original pattern, senior officer to junior colleague; but she had a certain degree of autonomy, leeway to speak her mind as not everyone dared to with their gruff chief.
Of course that was because they didn't know he was a marshmallow inside. Albeit a slightly blackened, squished and sticky marshmallow, but she'd known him for almost a dozen years; it took more than a glare from those ice-blue Irish eyes to make her back down.
There wasn't much to talk about now, though. Any variation of "Ten years, huh," would only be cliché, in a way that felt almost disrespectful. She looked out the window instead, watching the streets roll past, and though the car was different, it felt familiar, like being on the beat with her first partner as a rookie detective, all those years ago.
She was surprised when Lassiter cleared his throat, breaking the silence, and remarked, hesitant as he always was when making a stab at small talk, "So, did you hear about Tampa?"
"I heard. So it was the Whisper who brought down the Vincettis, apparently." She had been pretty sure of it, even not following the case closely, just by the number of arrests made and the charges behind those arrests. Such personal details could have only come from someone on the inside, deep inside.
"One for the scrapbook, eh?"
"Probably." It wasn't really a book, of course, but an online database, and she'd pretty much stopped updating it after her promotion, not having the time. But a few junior officers had eagerly stepped in, and likely had all pertinent articles copied and tagged already.
"So..." Carlton cleared his throat again. "Did you...did anyone ever add in the Shattuck and O'Malley convictions to that list?"
It wasn't like Lassiter to start talking about the Whisper without provocation. Then again, it wasn't like him to start talking without provocation, period. "Jacob Shattuck and Ryan O'Malley? Why? It isn't a record of all organized crime," Juliet said. "Just the cases that might involve the Whisper. They were convicted a couple years before he started his campaign, and besides, we all know how they were caught."
She'd been there. Their arrests were one of the accomplishments that had put Lassiter on the fast track to the chief's office. Though it wasn't like Carlton to be fishing for praise, and when he said, "Yeah, well," now he sounded more uncomfortable than pleased.
"You have every reason to be proud of those arrests," Juliet said.
"Not like I didn't have help," Lassiter remarked. "I seem to recall a spunky junior detective with me almost every step of the way."
"Spunky?" Juliet repeated. She shook her head. "I might've been your partner, but it was your show. The case you put together was air-tight—you nailed those bastards to the wall, Carlton."
"Yeah, well," Carlton said again. "They deserved it."
"Yes," Juliet said. "They did."
They didn't say anything else for the rest of the drive.
It was noon when they arrived, the sun at its zenith, hot in the cloudless blue summer sky. They parked and got out, and Carlton stretched and looked around at the quiet rolling slopes, the well-tended green grass and the white and gray headstones, and said, "Ten years, huh."
There wasn't much shade in the cemetery, and Juliet found herself speeding up her steps a little to reach those few places where taller monuments cast narrow shadows of relief from the heat. It only took a couple minutes to get there. No monuments in this row, just simple marble headstones, plain and nondenominational. Henry Spencer's grave was only distinguishable by his name carved in standard block letters, and underneath, 'Police Officer, Father, Friend,' depressingly unremarkable.
Or usually it was, but today Juliet spotted an addition from the end of the row, or thought she did, and all but ran the rest of the way to be sure.
It was on Henry's stone after all, balanced at the apex of the headstone's curved top, no ribbon or flowers, just an ordinary pineapple.
She stared at it for several seconds, as Lassiter caught up behind her, puffing for breath. "Is that—" he panted.
"Have you ever—"
"Not in the last ten years."
It couldn't have been here for long; animals would have gotten to it, wouldn't they? Not more than a day. When she touched the leaves, they felt crisp, not baked in the sun's heat. Maybe even still cool, or maybe she was imagining it.
She should take the time to pay her respects; it was why she had come. But—"I'm going to—"
"Go. Hurry," Carlton told her, and tossed her his keys. "I'll wait here."
The other cemetery was several miles away, smaller and more secluded. Juliet took Route 101 faster than a police officer should, parked in a hurry and jogged through the grove of small trees and gravestones. There had only been a few cars in the lot, and she didn't see anyone now, until she reached the top of the small artificial hill.
He was standing in the right spot, the fourth row, eight over. She couldn't say that she recognized him from the back, so didn't say anything at first, just quietly made her way over, slow and cautious, like she was laying an ambush.
But he turned before she reached the third row, and something in the motion was familiar, and he was the right height, and she had called out, "Shawn! Shawn Spencer!" before she could think.
He didn't bolt. He turned the rest of the way, held up the pineapple in his hand and grinned at her. "Hey, Jules, long time no see!"
Juliet stopped five feet in front of this specter and gaped at him. It wasn't that she'd never imagined this encounter before, at this very place, even; but in her mind there had been cold, pelting rain, or at least clouds. Not a bright, sunny day like this; and in her mind his grin hadn't been so wide and ready and ordinary.
"Do I get a hug?" Shawn asked.
She found her voice enough to say, "Depends."
"Ten years, without a word—I'm deciding whether I should slap you first."
"Kinky, Jules. How about both?" and he opened his arms, all cheek and confidence.
She hugged him tightly; he hugged her back, a casual, comfortable squeeze. When they drew apart he kept one hand on her shoulder for a moment, the pineapple cradled under his other arm, and looked her up and down. "You look awesome. Great. Head detective now, right?"
"Yeah." She had to wipe her eyes, and not just from the sun's glare. Shawn's own eyes were bright and clear, the same color she remembered, that indeterminate shade between blue and green and brown.
He looked good, young for forty, tanned and still slender. He hadn't ever mastered the use of a razor, and his hair was still dark and not thinning yet, if a little shorter and less mussed. Jeans and a polo shirt, loudly lime green; that hadn't changed, either.
"And Lassie made chief, I heard."
"Three years ago, after Karen was transferred."
"Good for him."
"He's a good man for the job," Juliet said. "You've been keeping up on us?"
Shawn shrugged. "Now and then."
"You could have said something...!"
"I was thinking about stopping by the station this afternoon, actually, since I was in the neighborhood. Just wanted to drop by Gus's first, say hi," and he indicated the grave with a nod of his head. "Didn't expect to see you here."
"I come every year," Juliet said. Something clenched tight in her chest at how very casual that nod was. How very relaxed and easy, when she had trouble even reading the headstone without getting a lump in her throat. Burton Guster, 'Gus'. "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
"He probably appreciates it," Shawn said. "He always thought you were cute. Maybe in a little sister way, but you've grown up since."
"Have you...asked him?" Juliet asked, not wanting to, having to anyway. She couldn't help it, not when he was being so calm about this.
He just winked at her. "Oh, come on, Jules, you know that psychic thing was a load of crock."
"I was never sure what to believe."
"But I told you so myself."
"I..." Ten years. She came here every year, on the anniversary, but she didn't really think about it, hadn't tried to remember, or wanted to, in all the last decade. "I wasn't listening to everything you said then. Or wasn't believing it, anyway."
Shawn cocked his head. "That's fair, I guess. I was sort of a mess then, huh?"
"I—we didn't think—when you disappeared like that, I was afraid..." Ten years and it still hurt to think about. "I thought I might never see you again." She'd thought that no one might see him again, and that she'd failed him so badly had been almost more than she could take.
"Now that would be a tragedy. Sorry if I broke your heart."
He said it so flippantly that she smiled in spite of herself. "You didn't break my heart—I just couldn't take losing another friend. Not then."
"Oh, you can be honest with me. I know I spoiled you for all other men, and for that, I sincerely apologize."
"Okay, now I really might slap you, Spencer."
"Is that a promise? I hope? You head detective types still carry handcuffs, right?"
She was standing in the sun, in a cemetery by a friend's grave, with a man she hadn't laid eyes on in ten years, and she was laughing out loud. There could be no doubt; Shawn Spencer was back.
It wasn't just that she had missed him, with all his immature irreverence. Standing with him in the cemetery's empty privacy, she felt something lift off her, a decade-long burden of guilt dispersed.
Ten years ago, she hadn't known what to do, standing here in this same spot, watching Shawn as he watched his best friend be buried. Gus's family had never liked Shawn much, but they'd let him stand with them. Not that he'd appeared to notice, saying nothing, eyes on the closed casket and a terrible emptiness in his face that was worse than any grief or anger or anything that he should've been feeling.
He'd had that same empty face at his father's funeral the day before Gus's. When she talked to him he didn't look at her, but through her, and Juliet knew that nothing she could say mattered to him. She'd tried anyway, done whatever she could. She'd tried contacting his mother, but couldn't get hold of her, and if the woman heard through other channels she still didn't come to her ex-husband's funeral, even for her son's sake.
Juliet had arranged an informal wake following the funerals: Henry's fishing buddies and old comrades from the job; various and sundry pals of Shawn and Gus—someone who knew one knew the other, generally. A good part of the station dropped by sometime during the evening, not only for Henry but for his son. The psychic had earned a few enemies among the SBPD, but more friends.
So it wasn't just herself and Lassiter and Karen Vick, but half a dozen other cops as well, who heard Shawn say, half-drunk and exhausted by grief and flat when he should have sounded angry, "No, I won't be finding a new office for Psych. That's over, I'm sick of that bullshit. You didn't ever really believe me, did you? God, I hope not, all you detectives and you couldn't even catch on to one guy yanking your chain."
"All right, that's enough, Spencer," Carlton had said, taking his arm and sitting him down, not roughly; and Juliet had quietly prodded everyone to go home.
When they were alone, the two of them and the chief with Shawn, he'd looked at them and said, "I'm sorry." That was all, but it was with the most emotion she'd heard out of him in three days, and Juliet had meant it when she answered, "It's all right, Shawn."
She and Lassiter had driven him back to his apartment, and before letting him out Carlton had asked, gruffly, "Are you going to be okay?"
"Yeah," Shawn had said, "I'll be fine," and he went up to his place alone.
When Juliet had gone over the next morning to check on him, Shawn's motorcycle was gone, and he'd left his apartment keys in the lock. Little had been missing, as far as they could determine; a couple shirts she clearly remembered hadn't been in his drawer, but not much else had been gone. Just Shawn himself.
She'd never seen him again, until now.
Now, watching Shawn Spencer balance a pineapple on top of the cross adorning Gus's gravestone, Juliet felt as if time had stopped, those ten years ago, and only now was starting again. Like the wake, and all those months searching the country and finding nothing, and the years after that, had never happened. When he grinned at her, a few lines showed around his eyes that hadn't been there before, but otherwise so little was changed that she had to touch her own hair just to make sure it was still short.
Shawn noticed, of course; he always did. "It looks great," he said, "that cut. Brings out your eyes. You seeing anyone these days?"
Rather than get into the complicated answers to that, Juliet found herself blurting out, "We caught the men responsible. Shattuck and O'Malley—we caught them and put them away. Life sentences."
Shawn's mobile features registered surprise; then he was smiling again. "Yeah, I heard. Thank you."
"It wasn't me, it was Carlton, mostly—he wrapped it up three days after you...left. It was one hell of a bust. The papers talked about him for a week."
"Lassie must've loved it." There was fondness in his tone.
"It helped get him his promotion. One of the things." They were quiet for a moment, walking between the graves; then Juliet asked, carefully, unable to help herself any longer, "So what have you been doing?"
"Oh, you know." Shawn shrugged. "Odds and ends, here and there. I work where I can, when I have to. Still can't hold onto a 'career'," and he made air-quotes around the word, nose scrunched with a distaste that clearly said, 'and why would I want to?'
"You had Psych for a year and a half," Juliet pointed out, then thought she shouldn't have.
But Shawn didn't look hurt by the reminder. He laughed. "Yeah, and that was awesome—I can't believe I seriously strung you guys along for that long."
"You were...convincing." Only that wasn't exactly it, and never had been. "We wanted to believe you, I guess."
"That's the trick, isn't it, making them want to trust you," Shawn said, quietly, and laughed again like a private joke had crossed his mind. "You want to get out of here, grab something to eat? Is Jeff's Jamaican Jerk Emporium still open?"
"Yeah, but..." Juliet checked her watch. "My lunch break's almost up, I have to get back to the station. Why don't you come along—"
"No, thanks but no thanks. Your chief would probably throw me in jail."
"Carlton wouldn't," she objected. "There's a statute of limitations on fraud."
"Yeah, but he could've dug up something else—I'd rather not take my chances."
"But you were thinking of going over anyway—"
"I wasn't planning on walking in the front door, though."
"He'd want to see you again," Juliet said quietly. "So would Lieutenant McNab, and other people, too..."
"Maybe later," Shawn said. "In disguise! What do you think, hat pulled low, Groucho Marx glasses? Or should I just do this?" and he flipped his hands upside-down to make goggles around his eyes and stuck out his tongue.
"Maybe not," Juliet said.
"How could anyone recognize me like this?" he mumbled around his stuck-out tongue, and waggled his fingers.
"How could anyone not recognize you like that?" Juliet returned. They were at the parking lot, and she got out the keys. "I'll see you later, Shawn," and then she stopped, looked at him. "I mean—I will, I hope?"
Shawn dropped his hands and put his tongue back in his mouth, gave her a smile that was sincere instead of goofy. "Yeah, you will," he said. "Though—could you not spread it around that superstar Spencer is back in town? I like my privacy, and I left my favorite mirror sunglasses back at Travolta's pad."
"Whatever you say, Shawn."
"No, seriously, I was hanging there, and Johnny was like, 'Shawn, my man, all those girls throwing themselves at your feet, doesn't it get embarrassing?' and I was like—"
"I won't tell anyone," Juliet said.
"Thanks," Shawn said. "Oh, and Jules? I'm sorry."
It was softly spoken, honest and understanding, and she turned around and hugged him again, to give him her forgiveness, and to prove to herself that he was real and not a ghost or a hallucination. He smelled of aftershave and pineapple, or maybe it was pineapple-scented aftershave; and his embrace, like before, was tight and friendly, not copping a feel, but close.
"Then I'll see you later," she said, and he nodded and waved and said, "See you," casually, but it was a promise she would hold him to.
Juliet intended to detour past the Santa Barbara Cemetery to pick up her chief, but when she called into the station, Dispatch ordered her to return directly. Lassiter was waiting for her in his office.
"Something came up, I got a cruiser to bring me back," he explained as she handed back his keys. "How'd it go? Did you see anyone there?"
Juliet hesitated a second, then shook her head. "Just another pineapple," she said.
Carlton sighed. "Wonder how much we missed him by. If it was him." Though he looked at her for a beat after he said it, and she wondered how much better she had gotten at lying since she had been his partner. By the chief's expression, he was wondering the same thing, but he didn't comment, instead said, "Your other cases right now, can you delegate them? This is big and I want you on it."
Juliet took one of the chairs before the desk. "I can give the robbery and the assault to Taggert. What's the case?"
"The Bureau just contacted me," Lassiter said. "They've got reason to believe that Gerald Kladinski is heading to Santa Barbara, if he's not here already."
"Gerry the Dark?" Juliet sat up in her chair. "The professional assassin?"
"Word is, he's been put on commission by three different syndicates, for the same target."
"He's got more than twenty kills ascribed to him," Juliet said. "Mostly mob hits, but he does freelance, too. He supposedly was trained by the KGB—he's one of the 'ghost killers', there's never been a positive ID made on his face. His last job was in Detroit, eight months ago, though of course there was no proof..."
Lassiter gave her a long look. "Okay, O'Hara, this is your job, I know, but it's creepy how you know more about pro assassins than you do about pro baseball."
"But you're always telling me I know too much about baseball."
"Which is my point. But it's why I need you on this case. The Bureau's sending their people up from LA; I want you to work with them."
"Why do they think Gerry's coming here, anyway?" Juliet asked. "Santa Barbara's not exactly a hotbed for organized crime."
Which owed in no small part to the efforts of Lassiter himself, but he looked disinclined to boast about it. "Kladinski's chasing rumors. According to our information, he's been hired to take down the Whisper."
Juliet started. "The Whisper?"
"Only makes sense, doesn't it? The Whisper brings down organized crime, one family at a time, informs the police, leads them to busts and provides the proof to make the charges stick—no wonder they've decided to do something about it. The record is what, a dozen gangs and syndicates in the last eight years?"
"Fourteen, actually, if you count the time he turned the Regino family against the Obrekov Russian mafia as two."
"Anyway, there's a story going around that the Whisper is in Santa Barbara. Which is the other reason you're on this case, O'Hara, being our resident expert. You wouldn't have any idea where to find him, or them, now, would you?"
Juliet swallowed. "No, sir. I haven't...I wouldn't know where he'd be, if he is here. You know I haven't been following the Whisper as much the last couple years."
"I know, but..." Lassiter studied her, brow drawn low over his blue eyes. Then he said, "You still say 'he'."
"I thought it was pretty much accepted these days that the Whisper's a group, that one person couldn't pull off what they've done. Maybe not an FBI team after all, since the Bureau doesn't seem to know anything about it—they've told me to put anyone suspected to be part of the Whisper in protective custody—but a gang with a grudge against organized crime, working together. But you say 'he,' like it's one man."
"I guess," Juliet shrugged, "when I started tracking the Whisper, I thought it was one man. I haven't really thought about it."
"Uh-huh," Lassiter said. "Well, if you get anything more about him or them, or whoever, let me know."
"Got it, sir."
He eyed her. "And what's with the 'sir', O'Hara? There's no one else here, you're making me paranoid."
"I hate to say it, but you're always paranoid, Carlton, sir," Juliet said, not missing a beat. "Is that all?"
"For now. I'll call you in when the agents get here; for now, put together a quick report of what you have on the Whisper. And Kladinski, too. Any questions?"
'No, sir. Unless you have any."
It was offering him a chance that she maybe shouldn't have, but though Lassiter gave her a long look that said he understood this, he didn't ask anything. Just told her to get to work, and if he was thinking about stopping by the cemeteries again later this evening when his shift was up, he didn't tell her.
Juliet told herself she was being silly, but didn't stop driving, past the grocery store and the Burger King, past her favorite Chinese restaurant, to the artfully beat-up shack at the edge of town. Jeff's Emporium had a deliberately dilapidated look, boarded-up windows and peeling paint standing in contrast to the neon 'Open' sign, and the cheerful noise of chatter and music inside.
Jeff's Jamaican jerk chicken had been the best in town for longer than she had lived in Santa Barbara. Juliet took a deep, appreciative breath of the delicious scents at the door and walked in. Waving off the waiter, she made her way to the table of one in the back.
Shawn rocked his chair forward from where he had been leaning back against the wall, the wooden legs thudding on the floorboards, and grinned at her. "Hey, you found me. I can see why they made you head detective."
Juliet mock-glared, then smiled as she sat down across from him. "Or maybe I'm psychic."
"Ooh, really? That's so cool! Can you read my mind?"
She closed her eyes, put out her hand over the sauce-stained plate on the table and intoned, "I can sense...you've already eaten. And had two..." She cracked one eye to double-check—"--two bottles of Red Stripe."
"One, I just opened this one," and he waved the full bottle at her. "But hey, awesome gift. Sorry for eating without you, though, I thought you got off-shift an hour ago?"
"Had to stay late, briefing a few federal agents." A waiter came by and she ordered a ribs sandwich with fries and a beer for herself.
"Feds, you said?" Shawn asked after the waiter left. "So what's the case? Or is it top-secret, for-your-eyes-only stuff?"
"Depends," Juliet said, watching him. "Are you working for the mafia these days?"
She'd timed it so that he was taking a swig just as she said it, but he didn't do anything as satisfying as a spit-take, just swallowed and put the bottle down, setting it on the table with a clink, and grinned. "Hey, you think I could make it as a mob boss? The main question is, of course, could I pull off the fedora?"
Then his eyes darkened, becoming serious as they met hers. "The mafia, Jules? For real? Be careful."
"I will be," she promised, meaning it. She wasn't sure if what she saw in his expression was actually fear, but it was more somber than anything else she'd seen there.
With good reason. Few people knew as well as Shawn Spencer what the price could be for crossing organized crime.
"Speaking of which," Shawn said, as if it were a perfectly ordinary conversational segue, "I drove past the old office this afternoon."
"A health spa? They rebuilt Santa Barbara's most famous psychic detective office as a two-story health spa?"
"Actually it was a sports equipment store when it first went up."
"Fishing and tackle, mostly. Then it was a video store, then a disco dance club..." At Shawn's face she gave up. "Okay, maybe not the dance club."
"But a health spa?"
"If it makes you feel better, we've been trying to bust them for prostitution for a year now."
"Okay, at least it's a sleazy spa," Shawn said, somewhat mollified.
"Carrying on the fraudulent tradition."
"Someone has to!" Shawn smirked at her. "That's one of Lassie's lines, isn't it."
Juliet nodded, then said, "But, Shawn, Carlton would like to see you again, I know he would. Just to...well. See that you're okay."
"Aw, was the big bad detective-man worried about me?"
"We all were, Shawn."
"That's sweet." He plucked the beer bottle from the table, swung it by the neck between two fingers. "You didn't have to be, you know."
"You disappeared," Juliet said. "You dropped off the face of the planet—we looked, we used police connections, all our resources, to look for you, for almost a year, and we got nothing. We had no idea where you were or what you were doing or if you were even still alive—for ten years, we haven't known!"
Shawn looked at her, his eyebrows up, looking genuinely surprised. "But I told you then, I was fine."
"Where were you?"
He shrugged, put the bottle back down and kept looking her in the eyes. "Around, like I said. Out of the country for a couple years, that's why you couldn't find me. Visited some people I knew...elsewhere. I just couldn't be here, you know, Jules? It was too much, then, all of it."
"But you've come back now."
"It's been ten years; I figured if I wasn't over it by now, I never would be."
"So you..." The waiter came back then with her plate and beer, and Juliet realized how hungry she was when the barbecue sauce-soaked sandwich was in front of her.
Shawn blinked at her famished stare. "Go ahead, eat. Before you start gnawing on my arm or something," he said, gesturing, and then when both her hands were full with the sandwich took the opportunity to steal a couple fries. He dipped them in the sauce congealing on his own plate and stuffed them in his mouth.
She scarfed the first few bites, washed them down with a gulp of cold beer and smacked Shawn's hand when he tried to help himself to seconds from her plate. He watched her eat with interest, observing, "Don't they feed you police officers?"
"Sorry." Juliet swallowed, wiped her fingers on the paper napkin. "It was a busy day, and I missed lunch. And the agents gave me funny looks when I tried to sneak P&J into the briefing."
"So, what was it? A case lead to the mob, and you called in the feds?"
"No case—no crime. Not yet, anyway." Juliet eyed him over her sandwich. "That not-psychic sixth sense of your has gotten rusty. You never used to ask unless you already knew."
"Been a while since I've chatted up a cop," Shawn said. "Especially one this cute."
Juliet paused. "Refresh my memory. Did these lines ever work on me in the past?"
He considered. "Not really, no."
"Thank God. Didn't think I'd been that naive."
"So there hasn't been any crime yet?"
"Hopefully there won't be any. Have you ever heard of a man named Gerry Kladinski?"
She kept her eyes on his face, the new lines around his eyes and the crooked smirk of his mouth. Over a decade as a detective had given her plenty of experience reading tells, but if Shawn had any reaction to that name, it didn't show in his expression. He just looked thoughtful. "Kladinski? No..." He touched the tip of his tongue to his teeth contemplatively. "Wait, was he that cinematography guy? Saving Private Ryan? No? Huh. Screenwriter, maybe? One of those guys in the credits. Well, if I've heard of him, I don't remember where."
"You wouldn't want to remember," Juliet said. "He's a mob hitman, one of their best."
"And this dude's in Santa Barbara? Whoa."
"Yes. Whoa. That's about what the chief said. And we're going to stop him, before he gets another notch in his machine-gun case."
"Now that sounds like Lassie."
"That's mine, actually."
"You and Lassiter always did make a good team. I wouldn't take evens on this guy's odds, with you two after him. Chief and head detective—you go!" Shawn snaked his arm across the table and swiped another fry.
Juliet let him have his spoils, finishing her last bites of ribs with pleasure. Shawn answered her satisfied smile with his own grin. "This place still makes the best. It's not even this good in Jamaica, I'm telling you. Worth coming back just for it."
"Why did you come back?" Juliet asked. "Was it for work, or...?"
Shawn shook his head. "Nah, I'm between jobs. Just dropping by."
She could have asked where he had last worked. Whether he had been in Florida lately.
She didn't. Ten years, and she wasn't sure she wanted to know anymore. Instead she finished her fries and beer, asked for the check while he drank the last of his own. They argued briefly and amiably over who should pick up the tab, ended up asking for change to split it, and walked out to the lot together. It was cool, after sundown, a pleasant breeze blowing in from the sea.
"It's not too late," Juliet said. "I have to be up early, but if you want, we could go somewhere else for a bit. Or you could come back to my place. To talk. I'd like to know what you've actually been up to, where you've been."
For all his cocky confidence, Shawn looked startled at that invitation, the same momentary blank-faced surprise as when she'd told him how they had worried about him. As if he weren't sure how to handle it. Then he shook his head. "Better not," he said. "I'd keep you up all night, you'd go into work hungover, Lassie would have my head without even knowing it was mine."
"You're sure?" She was more disappointed than she thought she'd be.
"Yeah. Sorry, Jules," and then he leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek in the dark. It surprised her, not how quick it was, but how chaste, unabashed and fraternal instead of flirtatious; so unlike the Shawn Spencer she vividly remembered, though his grin, shadowy in the neon lights, was the same. "See you later?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Tomorrow?" and was surprised again when he nodded without hesitation, said, "Sure."
He didn't give her a number, or ask for hers. She got in her car alone, started the engine but waited in the lot, watching him walk to his own, a small Honda hybrid she'd noticed in the cemetery parking. It was black, not blue, and she didn't know why that would disturb her as much as anything else today, but it did.
She thought about following him, as she pulled out after the Honda.
She didn't. She went home instead, and spent the night lying on her bed on top of the sheets, staring up at the shadows across the blank white ceiling.
LA FBI headquarters had sent up three agents, two men and a woman, all experienced professionals. The woman and one of the men had started out as police detectives themselves, in New York and Chicago respectively, and were experts in organized crime. The third agent was a profiler who specialized in assassins; Gerald Kladinski had been one of his special projects for some years.
They were all at the station already when Juliet arrived at eight AM sharp, hopped up on three shots of Starbucks espresso to counter last night's insomnia. She joined them and Lassiter in the conference room, said her good mornings and took her seat at the table, trying desperately to recall which one was Simmons and which one was Simpson. The profiler, Ivan, short and hyper with curly hair pulled back in a tail, she remembered.
"If Kladinski's here," he was saying as Juliet sat down, "then it's mainly a question of finding his target before he does. We might be able to arrange a trap."
"But if Kladinski knows we're here, he might just pull out. It's how he's lost us before. Biding his time. He's good enough that he can afford to be patient."
"The guy's eluded us this far by being that careful," answered the profiler, "but he's got an near perfect success ratio with his hits, and he's not going to blow that. His reputation depends on it. This target's as elusive as he is himself; Kladinski won't give up now that he's onto the Whisper."
"How does he even know the Whisper is here in Santa Barbara?" Juliet asked. "I didn't think the mob had a copy of his day planner, any more than the Bureau does."
Lassiter gave her an admonishing look for that jab, but the female agent—Simmons or Simpson—chuckled. "No, but the lead Kladinski's following is pretty solid. About the most we've ever been able to confirm on the Whisper ourselves, actually."
The third agent—Simpson or Simmons—said, "You're familiar with the Whisper's methods, yes, Detective O'Hara? Chief Lassiter here tells us you're a fan, so to speak."
"Well, I followed some of his earlier cases..."
"No need to be coy." Ivan smiled at her, not quite so flirtatiously as to be inappropriate. "You're not the only one in law enforcement to be keeping up with him. There's a Whisper club in the Bureau—though no one admits to knowing the secret handshake."
"So you know," Simpson-or-Simmons went on, "that usually he—
"Or she," interjected Simmons-or-Simpson, "or they; whoever's acting as the Whisper in a particular case."
"They, then. The Whisper are not exactly vigilantes; they've never made a citizen's arrest. They're very advanced informers; they work by making sure the police catch syndicates, from the top down, leaders and all, red-handed. Possibly by framing them, though that hasn't been proven. The extent of evidence the Whisper has provided is nothing short of staggering; it's some of the best information gathering and deduction work—"
"Obviously Simpson knows the handshake," Ivan remarked in an undertone.
The man-now-confirmed-as-Simpson gave his colleague a look, and continued, "In most cases, the Whisper makes a couple contacts within the local police, a while before making their final move. They start small, feeding the cops accurate tips to gain trust, things that have nothing to do with the syndicate in question at first, but eventually leading up to the major bust months later. They usually communicate by email or texting, occasionally by phone.
"In Tampa, the Whisper's contact was a young policeman—not a detective, a beat cop, though he's bound to get a promotion out of this. In the recent pretrial hearings, when testifying about the Whisper's assistance, this officer happened to mention a personal exchange with the man—or woman—the individual acting as the Whisper at the time. In that exchange, the Whisper made a reference to going to Santa Barbara in the near future. Given the connections the Vincetti's lawyers have, that information is sure to have gotten to Kladinski's employers by now."
"The big question now is why he's coming to Santa Barbara," Ivan the profiler said. "There's no syndicate here big enough to be one of his usual targets. Actually, you have one of the lowest rates of organized crime in the country—you've put away a few guys, but your last major incident was a good ten years ago. A drug ring case that lead to a bombing at a private investigator's office, wasn't it?"
"Police consultants'. And I wouldn't say a good ten years," Lassiter said. "We lost two good men in that incident."
"But there's barely been anything here since, and what there has been, you and your people have had a handle on it. So why is the Whisper here now? Does he know something we don't, or does he have another reason? Is he maybe about to start on another vendetta? Or is it personal?"
"You sound as interested in tracing the Whisper as Kladinski," Juliet observed.
"We are," said Simmons. "Truth be told, we'd probably be here even if Kladinski wasn't. The Whisper's high on the Organized Crime division's most wanted. Just for questioning, though; no warrant, because no one's decided whether they should be locked up, or given medals."
"Or hired as instructors," Simpson said. "We could learn a lot from their methods, if we could figure out how they worked. Even the mob bosses the Whisper's brought down don't have a clue who betrayed them. There's always a few small-fry assistants who get away with every bust, but the leaders always swear that no one person had access to all the information the Whisper provides—that includes financial records, bank account numbers, internal bookkeeping that they somehow copy before it gets shredded. They're always accurate."
"He can't be that good," Lassiter pointed out. "He slipped up and lead you and Kladinski here, didn't he."
"Actually, that's in keeping with their method," Simmons said. "Or lack of one, maybe I should say...for all they've done, sometimes they screw up. Make mistakes, false leads. They've put a few police officers and agents into some embarrassing jams—some of the syndicate bosses, too, for that matter. Nothing illegal, just dumb. It's more evidence that it's probably a group of people. Some of them are better at it than others."
"One person, or a gang of a hundred—either way, Kladinski's after them," Simpson said. "And we're going to stop him before he succeeds."
Juliet caught up with Ivan the profiler after the briefing, offered him coffee from the break room and sat with him. From the appreciative looks he gave both her and the coffee, he didn't mind. "Back in there," she said, "you were talking about the Whisper's reasons for being here. That he might be starting on a new mission."
"It's a theory. Not a likely one, he seems pretty committed to what he does, but you never know. You call him 'he'," he remarked. "The Whisper, I mean."
"So do you."
"Point. I'm not on board with the Bureau's main line on this one."
"So you think it could be one man?"
"Pretty sure of it. His methods are too consistent, too difficult to duplicate. Besides, if it were some fantastically talented group, then why does he always go after only one syndicate at a time? And there's time between some of the busts, too. He's either trying to take them off-guard, or going on vacation from his chosen cause."
"You called it a vendetta," Juliet said.
Ivan nodded. "If it's one guy—or woman, I'm not ruling that out—but for one person to be doing what he's doing—to go under deep cover like this, running a one-man sting, a successful and therefore convincing one, over and over, and never get any reward for it, not even any credit...I can tell you two things about him for sure.
"One," and he held up an index finger, "he's got personal reasons. A vendetta, like I said: he hates these guys. I don't know what they did, but some crime boss somewhere screwed up and made a worse enemy than they could've imagined. He hates these guys so much that he's willing to give up himself—his very identity; his life, or worse, if they can catch him—just to bring them down."
Juliet nodded. "Makes sense. And two?"
"Two." Ivan held up a second finger. "He's insane. Dissociative identity, narcissistic delusions, martyr's complex, I couldn't say; but he's psychologically completely unbalanced. There's no way he could manage this if he weren't."
When her cell phone buzzed with an unlisted number, Juliet didn't think; she just got up from her desk and went to the west handicap bathroom. It was a single stall, rarely used, the best place in the station to be sure no one would overhear. "Hello?" she answered the phone.
"Hey, Jules," replied Shawn's voice on the other end of the line, cheerful as before, utterly natural. "How's it going? We still on for tonight?"
"I wouldn't miss it," Juliet said, smiling in spite of herself. "Meet at Jeff's again?"
"Already went there for lunch, actually," Shawn said. "How about I grab some take-out Chinese—the Iron Wang's still your favorite, right?—and you meet me over here tonight, whenever you get off."
"Sure. Over where?"
"My dad's place," Shawn said. "See you tonight. Oh, and come in the back way," and he hung up.
She didn't mention the call to anyone. Though when that evening as she was heading out, the agent Ivan asked her if she'd like to join him for a drink—"Beer, wine, cappuccino, Mountain Dew, whatever's your poison"--she told him apologetically, "Maybe tomorrow, I've got plans tonight."
His face fell. "Boyfriend?"
"Not really. An old friend's in town."
He nodded understandingly and didn't follow her out. But Lassiter met her at the station's main exit, walked with her to the parking lot. It could have been a coincidence of timing; but she knew it wasn't, even before he asked, "Have you mentioned this case to anyone? Kladinski's name, or anything else?"
"Carlton, you've known me for how long? You trained me, for Pete's sake. What do you think? I know my job."
"I think..." Lassiter hesitated, glanced around the lot like a spy afraid he was being tailed. "Depending on who that friend you're meeting tonight is, maybe you should drop a name or two. Just to see what happens."
Juliet didn't meet his eyes, busying herself getting out her car keys. "And if I already have?"
She could feel Lassiter's gaze on her. "You're a good cop, O'Hara, and you know your job. Whatever you think you need to do, it's probably the right thing. Just be careful, damn it."
She let out a long breath. "Thank you, sir."
It had been a while since Juliet had driven this route, and she'd only ever come a handful of times, but she still remembered the way.
Henry Spencer's house had been left to his only son. Somehow, thanks to a few well-exploited tax code loopholes and legal wrangling by one of the city's top law firms, it had stayed in his possession even after Shawn's disappearance. Most of the furnishings and decor had been put into storage or auctioned off to cover taxes, but the basic house and yardwork was kept up by police officers and various others as something of a memorial.
There were more than a few people in the city still privately hoping the old Spencer home might be occupied again, someday.
They would be surprised to see the light on in the living room now, behind the drawn blinds. The little black Honda was in the driveway. Juliet made note of the rental company sticker on the license plate as she drove past. She hadn't thought the car was really Shawn's style.
One pass to make sure no one was following her or patrolling the street, and then she parked a block away, jogged through the dark yards and empty back lots and climbed the fence to the Spencer house's backyard, glad she had changed to jeans.
Shawn opened the kitchen door before she could ring the bell, the smell of cheap lo mein wafting out from behind him into the night. "Hey!" he said, ushering her inside. "Thanks for coming in under the radar, I wanted to keep this party private."
"Hey," she said back. "No problem. Oh, I brought you a housewarming gift," and she handed him a bag of dried candied pineapple strips from one of her friend's favorite gourmet organic stores.
"Oh, you shouldn't have," he said, even as he ripped open the bag with his teeth and shoved a strip into his mouth, mumbling around it, "you really shouldn't've."
He'd gotten five dishes, all her favorites from a while ago; how he could remember her preferred menu after ten years was anyone's guess. There were no plates, so they picked bites straight out of the cartons with chopsticks; and no wine, just a few bottles of iced tea and hard lemonade. They ate sitting on either end of the couch, which was covered in a white sheet, like the rest of the remaining furniture.
"Feels strange to be back," Shawn said, dumping more red pepper flakes on his noodles. He seemed quieter than he had the day before, contemplative, almost distracted. It was probably just the house. "Being here, without Dad...I'm kind of glad everything's moved. Nothing's where it used to be...feels less like he'll come walking in and yell at me for putting my shoes up on the coffee table. If there was still a coffee table here."
"It's your house now," Juliet reminded him. "Most of the things in your apartment were put in storage, I could get them for you."
"I grew up here," Shawn said. "I couldn't wait to finally move out. Never thought about moving back in, never thought I'd have a chance, not with Dad ensconced here, and I never thought about if he...I never thought."
"You wouldn't. I mean, kids don't," Juliet said. "Not about losing their parents, it's just too difficult." And Shawn had never quite grown up, not really; and Henry Spencer had been such the ultimate parental figure...
"It's not just Dad." Shawn shook his head. "There's been...a few times, on the road, some of the places I've gone. I've bought postcards, I go to write them, I'll actually write his address before I remember there's no point."
He'd always sent Gus postcards. The Gusters had mentioned that at the wake, Gus's mother crying about the shoebox in the bottom drawer of his desk at his apartment, all those postcards, carefully filed by date.
"Maybe it's a good thing I can't go back to the old office," Shawn said. He picked up one of the lemonades from the cooler, put the chilled bottle to his temple as if he had a headache. "Might be better to have it blown up and paved over. Even by a health spa. Better than walking around there, alone."
"You don't want the reminders," Juliet said. "But, Shawn, sometimes it's better to remember. You have to think of the good things, the fun you had, so you don't lose those memories—keep them alive, in your heart. You can't just forget the people who were important to you; they're what make you who you are, and if you lose them, you'll lose yourself..."
Shawn was laughing at her, not meanly, but a little snidely. "Too touchy-feely?" Juliet asked. "I forget, you're not a cop but you are still a guy. But it's true."
"Not for me," Shawn said, stretching to put the lemonade down unopened. "I'm not going to forget. Anything. Best I can do is close it off—close off everything, long as I can manage it. Here, though," and he looked around. "Here, it's not that easy."
"It shouldn't be," Juliet said. "And you can't just lock it all down. It's good you came back—you should've come sooner."
She should have found him. She never should have stopped looking, not until she had found him and brought him back, dragged him home...
But maybe she couldn't have done it; maybe she couldn't have helped, not then. Not when he'd had no home to be brought to—his apartment, she'd never seen until after he was gone, and it had been uncluttered and ordinary, too generic to be Shawn Spencer's home. That had been the Psych office, had been his father's house.
She'd never known Shawn, not really. Not known the truth about him, not even been able to see how easily he'd been fooling them, making fools of them—though he'd never really thought of it like that, she knew. He'd never been insulting them, just having fun. And the help he'd given them, had given all the people who had come to him, that had been real, even if the psychic had not been.
Ten years ago, if Henry hadn't, only by chance, been the one to come to the Psych office, the one to open the front door, instead of his son...if Gus hadn't been there waiting for him, waiting to hear about the history of the drug ring they were trying to crack, waiting for the meeting Shawn had blown off to go—bowling, or the batting cage, or whatever it had been. Wherever he had been, when she'd called him from the scene.
—"What," he'd said; "no, there's gotta be a mistake. This is a joke, right. This isn't funny. No—"
Juliet had thought, many times before, how different it might have been. Not just that Shawn might have noticed the trigger on the door; or if he hadn't, if it had been the two partners of Psych caught in the explosion, as had been intended. She'd often considered that Shawn must have had that thought himself; had wondered if it was that realization that he had fled from, more than the ache of memories or the pressure of their sympathy.
But if there had been any mercy...if the only victim had been Henry, Gus wouldn't have let Shawn run; he would've held him in place, given him reason to stay, to keep doing his job. Gus had always been Shawn's anchor, tied to him, slowing him down and making sure he didn't drift into too dangerous waters.
And if it had been Gus—Shawn would've run then, nothing could have held him. But Henry would have dragged him back, eventually, sure as the tether snaps in the ball; he'd known his son better than anyone, well enough to track him anywhere, if he'd had to. And he would have.
But then they were gone, Shawn cut loose, no anchor and no tether, no one but herself, and Lassiter, and all those other people who cared, but didn't know Shawn, not well enough. They hadn't been enough.
He'd lost the two people closest to him, lost himself; and then they'd lost him, she and Carlton and everyone else. And Juliet wanted to believe that they might have him back; wanted so badly to believe, but she knew better than to be sure. "Shawn," she began.
And stopped when he turned his head toward her with a, "Hmm?" looking comfortable and content and so damn far away. Ten years apart from that pain and grief, and who was she to bring it back?
"Do you have any pictures?" she asked instead. "Any of those postcards on you, to show off where you've been?"
"Not really, sorry. I've never been one for that new-fangled pho-tog-raphy," and he gave it a stilted, silly pronunciation. "But I—"
Shawn stopped, angled his head to the side like he was listening, his eyes going even more distant. "Hold that thought, Jules."
When she listened, she heard a car in the street, the engine stopping. Maybe a couple doors down—but when she cast her mind back, she remembered only an empty lot there. It wouldn't be Lassiter, but if one of the agents had followed her...
"Sorry about this," Shawn said. He stood, picking up her chopsticks as he did. "I forgot to mention, I sort of invited someone else over. If you could get up—"
She took his hand, let him pull her to her feet. "Shawn, what is—"
"Jules, do you trust me?"
"I haven't heard from you in ten years, and you lied to me from the first moment I met you," Juliet said, just to keep the facts straight.
"Yeah, I know. Do you trust me? Please say yes. Quickly."
"Then get in here, stay quiet, and listen," and before she could say another word, he had pushed her into the dark kitchen, into the pantry, and quietly closed the slatted door before her, just as there was a knock at the front door.
Police detectives are trained to be observant in all situations, especially emergencies. Juliet noticed a couple things about her imprisonment immediately. The first was that there was no latch on the pantry door, so she could get out whenever she wanted, which meant that Shawn was relying on either trust or common sense to make her stay put.
The second was that the pantry had a wide window, leading out to the yard, easily big enough to clamber through. Which meant that Shawn had made sure she had an escape route, and that...that did not bode well.
She put her ear to the pantry door and listened.
Shawn answered the front door on the second knock. "Howdy, neighbor! What can I do you for?" His voice was jovial and loud enough to carry to her clearly.
She missed the quieter response, but heard footsteps in the entryway, then shoes on the living room's hardwood floor. "Yeah, I'm having a party," Shawn said in answer to something she couldn't make out. "Just me and Mike, here," and she heard the hard lemonade bottles clink in the cooler. "You want one?"
"No, thanks." The voice was male; she didn't recognize it. "So you live here, Mr...?"
"Bowie," Shawn said. "Dave Bowie." Juliet banged her head silently against the pantry door. "...No, no relation. Yeah, I get that a lot, no sweat, man. Pleased to meetcha."
"You're new to the neighborhood?" It was a deep baritone, with a hint of an unidentifiable foreign accent.
"Been here a few weeks."
"And your furniture...?"
"Cuts down on dusting, y'know, man?" Shawn's surfer accent was spot-on perfect; it was impressive, how he could have the same voice and yet sound nothing like himself. "I like to live light. Like margarine."
"And you're here alone?" They took a few steps further into the living room, almost close enough to the kitchen doorway for her to be able to see them. "That's a lot of food for one man."
"A party, like I said. You want some? Help yourself, mi casa is su's—"
"If you're wearing a wire," the man said, "this will be disrupting the signal, and would've been from the moment I drove past."
"What's that, a radio? What're you talking about, wire?"
"And if you are here all alone without one—that was a mistake. There's no one close enough even to hear the shot. You made this too easy for me—really, I'm surprised with you, Mr. Bowie."
"Dude, the hell are you talking about?" Shawn squawked.
The man took another step forward, into the sliver of view Juliet had from the pantry. Iron-gray hair, black suit; his back was to her.
She already had her left hand in her pocket, opening her cell, summoning back-up via a silent text. Her right hand was on her pistol in its holster.
"Why this house?" the stranger mused. "Usually you set yourself up better than this. Abandoned homes are too obvious."
"Okay—okay, you got me. I'm squatting here, just for a while, until I find a place on the beach I can afford—"
"Please, Mr. Bowie. Or whatever your real name is. Don't insult me any longer."
"Man, I don't know who you are and I don't know how to tell you this, but you have the wrong guy—whoever you're looking for, that's not me—"
"On the contrary, I'm quite sure you are."
"But then why? Who'd I piss off—it wasn't that guy whose cat I ran over, was it? I paid for the vet bill, I swear, it's not my fault it had to get a fake leg—oh man. Is that a gun? That's a gun. Man, it's not me, I swear, it's not me—"
"It is you, Mr. Bowie. And that will be proven when the Whisper no longer acts, once you are dead. If it takes time to prove it sufficiently to my employers—I can wait."
"Dead?" Shawn screeched, hitting a pitch that would traumatize dogs. "Are you—you're really here to kill me?"
The click of a gun cocking sounded loudly through the empty house. "I am," said Gerry Kladinski, which was more than enough.
Juliet kicked down the pantry door with one swift blow, her gun drawn. "Drop it, Mr. Kladinski," she said, "and put your hands behind your head. Now."
She saw him start to spin, but she had the advantage of darkness and direction. The shot to the shoulder dropped him to the floor with a thud, his Makarov PM with its silencer clattering after him.
Shawn picked up the pistol, hastily backing away and holding it on the groaning killer uncertainly. "Du-dude, thanks," he stammered, still in the surfer's accent; but over Kladinski's bowed head he grinned at her, and there was no honest fear in his eyes.
Kladinski's little Radio Shack gadget had blocked Juliet's phone's signal; it took some fiddling and finally smashing the box with the butt of her pistol to properly call for back-up and an ambulance. By the time both arrived, she had tied up Kladinski's wound, and handcuffed him to the sofa for good measure.
And Shawn was gone, taking the cooler and candied pineapple with him, leaving nothing behind.
Lassiter was the first through the front door. By then, Juliet had her story mostly worked out. "I received a phone call from a man claiming to be the Whisper, telling me to come here at this time, and to come in through the back. When I did, Kladinski was just entering. He started threatening another man, and when he pulled the gun I intervened. The other man ran. I never saw his face, sir."
"Good work, O'Hara," her chief said, and if he smelled lo mein, he didn't comment. No one else would suspect the Whisper incompetent enough to show his face to a cop.
After they had taken Kladinski away in the ambulance, sedated and under guard, Juliet excused herself and jogged alone down the street, back to her car at the end of the block. Her heart was still pounding in her ears, along with the ringing of her own gunfire.
She stopped when she saw the little black rental car parked behind her own. "You didn't get far," she said.
Shawn grinned at her, sitting behind the wheel with the window down and the driver's seat inclined back, his hands tucked behind his head. "Getting low on gas. You got enough to nail him, right?"
"Well, just in case. His hotel room. I'd send someone over there quick, he's probably got measures to clear it out."
He tossed her a sheet of hotel stationary folded into an airplane for better aerodynamics. There was a room number printed on it, and some long strings of digits. "His off-shore accounts," Shawn said. "You can't trace the payments' origins, but the timing of big deposits with his hits won't look great to a jury, I bet."
"Thanks," she said.
"I better call this in."
Shawn nodded, started the engine.
Juliet took a step towards the Honda. "It was a trap," she said.
"I had the number of one of his trusted contacts. Faked a call from it, informed him of a new squatter in town, along with a couple other details."
"Shawn, he was a hired gun. They could send someone else—if you work with us, police protection—"
"This wasn't the first time," Shawn said, just that easily. "And won't be the last. I can handle it. I told you before, I'll be fine."
Juliet swallowed. "So...see you later?"
He shrugged. "Maybe."
She ducked involuntarily at the roar of an approaching engine, still jazzed on adrenaline. Lassiter's car pulled around the corner and up beside her. "O'Hara, I thought you were parked out here," he said out the window, and then looked past her, staring.
Shawn raised his hand. "Hey, big chief."
Lassiter stopped the car, got out. His arms were folded and his expression was more thunderous than thunderstruck; hardly startled at all.
"He just gave us Kladinski's hotel room and account numbers," Juliet said.
Carlton gestured acknowledgment, still staring at Shawn. "Good work, Spencer," he said with a curt nod.
Shawn's grin broke even wider. "Catch you on the flipside, Lassie," he said. "Bye, Jules," and he pulled out in a u-turn, tires screeching.
Lassiter watched his taillights disappear around the corner, heading towards the highway. Juliet in turn watched her chief's face, pasty and washed-out in the dull glimmer from the streetlight across the street. "You're not surprised," she said.
"It was always Spencer," Carlton said.
"No—before he ever got that stupid name, or the superhero reputation. The morning after the wake...outside my place, I was getting in my car, and Spencer pulled up on his motorcycle and gave me an address, a couple accounts, the companies where they'd bought the explosives. Enough to put Shattuck and O'Malley away on the spot. All I had to do was follow the clues—hell, if he'd given them to you, we probably would've made those arrests in two days instead of three."
"I doubt it," Juliet told him.
"It wasn't the only time, either. A few other times...I don't know, four or five in the past ten years, I've gotten a call, or an email. Never traceable, always anonymous. Warnings about things going down in this city. I've always known who it was. And the rest of it...well. I guessed. I didn't know. But..."
"You were as sure as I was," Juliet said.
"Don't know if I'd ever trust him that much," Lassiter said, sourly, but his face in the shadows told a different truth.
Santa Barbara Airport was small, only a single terminal. Juliet waited by the security checkpoint, watching the early morning travelers pass.
He was wearing a suit, gray double-breasted with a matching silver tie, and his hair slicked back; she almost missed him, would have if there had been more of a crowd. Moreover, he was clean-shaven, which rendered him practically a stranger. He looked older for it, responsible: an important salesman on the way to an important sale.
But his grin when he saw her was the same grin, and he ducked out of the line to join her by the water fountain.
"I gotta give your detective skills more props," he said.
"It wasn't that hard," Juliet said. "Dave Bowie? Seriously, Shawn."
"No one believes anyone's dumb enough to pick an alias that obvious," Shawn replied. "Works every time."
She nodded, trying to remember if there had been any names that ridiculous working for those criminals the Whisper had taken down. "We got to the hotel in time last night," she told him. "Set up an ambush, snared two thugs hired to clean the place out. The charges against them might not stick, but if they inform on their bosses, that's worth more to us anyway. And we got Kladinski cold, doesn't matter what lawyers they bring to bear."
He nodded. "Awesome."
"Shawn..." She didn't want to slap him; she wanted to punch him. She wanted to knock him out, and drag him back to the police station, and lock him in a holding cell. Or handcuff him to her desk. Or just sit on him. If she'd been only a second slower, getting out of that pantry... "You weren't even wearing a bullet-proof vest."
"Wouldn't have helped," he assured her cheerfully. "Kladinski's trademark is three shots to the head, point-blank. Makes sure there's no question afterwards."
"Was," she corrected. "His trademark was. He's not going to be shooting anyone else ever again."
"Which is great. But I got a plane to catch, Jules, so..."
"What are you doing in Dallas?"
Shawn shrugged. "You'll see. You're keeping a database, right?"
"You want my autograph? I could use someone else's handwriting. How about Tom Cruise's? Or, I know, Lassie's!"
"When will you be coming back?"
His smile didn't fall, didn't fold; but it froze, and there was nothing in his eyes, absolutely nothing, void like the vacuum of outer space. She didn't see his lips move when he said, "I'm not, Jules."
"But...ten years, Shawn, you told me, if you weren't over it by now..."
"You can sell the house. Please, sell the house. Give it to charity, or whatever. I know I should deal with it, but I can't. Sorry."
"I can't. Thought maybe I could. I can't." Shawn closed his eyes. "Eighteen years ago, the year 2000. June fifteenth, I'm standing here. There—" and he pointed blindly to a triangular tile on the floor, six feet away. "Standing there, I've got a ticket to Atlanta, layover in Colorado. I won it in a lottery, fireman's ball down in Summerland. My duffel bag's checked, I've got a book for the flight, on page twenty-three of a Rex Stout I haven't read; I'm ready to go. I'm waiting in line at the security checkpoint, and Gus comes running up, in a pinstripe suit and this tripping purple tie—it's one o'clock on a Thursday afternoon, he's got work, what the hell is he doing here?
"I'd left my lucky Yankees cap in the backseat of his car. He found it, heading out on his new route, he found it and he drove out to the airport to drop it off, just caught me. And I said," he affected a terrible southern belle accent, "'Oh, thank you, Gus, whatever would I do without you?' And Gus said, 'No idea. You just better get my ball signed by Andrew Jones.' Which I did, but I never gave it to him, there was this girl, Cindy, curly auburn hair, major Braves fan. And she was double-jointed. I told Gus I lost it in a poker game, though he never believed me..."
Shawn opened his eyes. "That's how it is. Everywhere, anywhere around town. Always. I can wall it off sometimes, when I'm not here. I can be someone who doesn't remember—someone else. But being here...I don't forget. Not anything. I can't."
Juliet lowered her head, looking at that tile where no one stood today. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, not your fault." He hugged her, same as before, but quicker.
When he let her go, she wiped her eyes, said, "So—good luck."
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks," and he smiled. It showed in his eyes again, brighter than the emptiness. He turned away, towards the gates.
"Shawn," she said, and touched his shoulder, not clasping his arm, but the brush of her hand was enough to stop him. "What you've been doing. Your father, Gus—they'd be proud."
For a moment he stood there, one step from her, not looking back. Then he said, "I don't care." Taking his ticket from his pocket, he entered the checkpoint. The guard waved him through the security arch without incident; he collected his briefcase from the x-ray's conveyor belt and headed toward the first gate, and she lost him in the crowd.
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