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Summary: A series of hate crimes in Santa Barbara leads Shawn to investigate a group of doubtful ideological background. They are dangerous, and they show no hesitation. And as the investigation progresses, it forces Shawn and Gus to confront something that in over twenty years of friendship has never been an issue between them.
Rated for some fairly descriptive acts of physical violence in later chapters.
Author's Note: There's going to be a lot of ugly things happening in this story. A lot of people are going to say ugly things, too. And by ugly I mean the really bad kind of ugly.
All groups and organizations in this story are my invention and don't exist (if groups of the same name exist, it's coincidence and I missed them in my research). I did however research racist groups and organizations. The results were kind of scary, I have to admit.
It's not the intention of this story to offend anybody. Especially the language used in the story isn't always nice or politically correct (not to mention not the kind of language I'd use in a conversation. Or ever), but I think it's necessary to keep the story as real as possible. It doesn't reflect my personal opinion, I just thought it important to point that out.
In the beginning it will mostly be crime-scene descriptions, but there will be some pretty ugly stuff coming in the later chapters. Especially chapter 9 is the reason why I upped the rating for this story.
This is another plot bunny that has been nagging at me for a while now. Actually, since the "He loves me, he loves me not, he loves me…oooops, he's dead"-Episode (and seriously, who makes up those titles? Do they get paid by the letter?). I just loved the scene where Shawn leaves Gus standing in that tanning salon under the pretence that he's here about an appointment.
I actually like it that the fact that Gus is black is never really made a topic on the show. But that one scene just gave me this plot bunny about Shawn actually not always being consciously aware of Gus' skin colour. Which is an endearing trait in their friendship, but might get them into trouble if they get involved with the wrong crowd. This is my take on what happens once they get a case where it suddenly gets really important what skin colour Gus has. So this is where the story comes from.
Proceed at your own rist, you have been warned: this is not a kiddie story. Some really bad stuff is going to go down. It's already finished and will be posted in parts, one update per week I think.
Prologue – End of Innocence
Santa Barbara, 1986
Henry Spencer was on his way home from work when he passed the playground. He drove past the playground every day on his way to and from work, and most days he didn't even pay a lot of attention to it.
Of course he knew that Shawn and Gus often spent their afternoon on that particular playground, but he figured that at eight years, they were old enough to do so without supervision. Especially since he knew that with all the nonsense they came up during their play, parental intervention and supervision was the last thing Shawn and Gus wanted. And if they managed to play whatever games they were playing without breaking bones or hazarding their own or somebody else's lives, Henry was perfectly all right with it.
He didn't know what caused him to take a closer look that day. He didn't really believe in the concept of parental intuition, but for some reason today of all days he didn't just drive past the playground. He slowed the car down a little so that he could catch a glimpse of the playground through the gaps between the bushes and trees surrounding it.
A second later his foot was on the brake and he stopped the car.
He hadn't been able to see much since it was late spring and the bushes around the playground were in full bloom, but the little he had seen had been enough for him to decide to take a closer look.
Henry got out of the car and approached the entrance to the playground. The closer he got, the surer he became that he hadn't been mistaken.
At the far end of the playground, behind the monkey bars, was a group of youths who were far too old to be on the playground in the first place. Three kids of about thirteen years wearing jeans and t-shirts were crowded around two much smaller boys.
Shawn and Gus.
One of the thugs was holding Shawn back by his arms, easily grabbing both Shawn's wrist in one of his hands and holding him back by the hair with the other. Shawn was bleeding from the nose, but the guy only seemed intend on holding him back, at least for the moment.
One of the other teens was holding Gus by the arms, and just as Henry entered the playground, the third boy punched Gus in the stomach.
Henry heard Gus give a muffled yelp of pain, he heard Shawn yell something and at the same moment he started running.
"Hey you! Stop that right now!"
The three teens spun around when they heard the yell. Seeing a police officer in uniform come running towards them tore them out of their momentary stupor rather quickly, and they took off immediately. The one holding Shawn back gave him a rough shove towards the ground, then the three of them ran off towards the other end of the playground where they climbed over the low fence and vanished down the street.
For a moment, Henry contemplated going after them.
But only for a moment. They were three, and they wouldn't stay together while running away from him. And by the time he had reached the road, they would probably have long been gone from sight. Besides, he needed to make sure that Shawn and Gus were all right first.
Henry's first instinct was to run over towards Shawn first. The father in him wanted to run to Shawn first. But Shawn seemed to recover quickly from being roughly pushed to the ground and was already scrambling back to his feet. Gus was the one who had been sucker-punched by a guy nearly twice his size, and he was the one who was still kneeling on the ground struggling for breath.
Henry ran over towards his son's friend and knelt down next to him, putting a hand on Gus' back. Gus' immediate reaction was to flinch away from the touch. The reaction was so instinctive and unusual that it shocked Henry quite a bit.
"Gus, it's all right. It's me."
After a moment, Gus brought his head up a little and looked at Henry from eyes that were narrowed to slits from the pain. Tears were running down Gus' face, and since Henry knew how much eight year old boys hated crying, the punch must have hurt pretty badly.
He rubbed his hand up and down Gus' back in a soothing motion.
"It's all right Gus, they're gone. How badly does it hurt?"
"It's okay," Gus muttered bravely and slowly started to straighten up. Henry helped him get back on his feet, slowly because it was obvious that Gus was still short of breath and hurting quite a bit. Finally, Gus was standing again, still slightly doubled over, and Henry quickly picked him up and carried him over towards one of the nearby picnic tables. He sat Gus down on the tabletop and put a hand against the back of the boy's neck. Gus was still shaking slightly, though he was trying hard to hide it.
"Can you breathe?"
Gus nodded and wiped a hand across his face.
"Do you think you have to throw up?"
His question was answered with a shake of Gus' head this time, and Henry squeezed Gus' neck once.
"I'll be back in a moment."
Henry turned around and looked for Shawn.
His son had gotten back to his feet by now, both his knees below the hem of his shorts scratched from being pushed to the ground so roughly. His nose had stopped bleeding, and there were tear tracks on his pale and slightly dirt-smudged face. Henry went over towards Shawn and crouched down in front of him.
"Are you all right?"
Shawn nodded and tried to wipe at his face, wincing as the back of his hand wiped against his nose.
"Dad, we didn't do anything."
"I thought as much. Come on, let's get you over to Gus and then the two of you can tell me what happened."
But Shawn didn't make any move to start walking, so Henry picked him up as well and carried him over towards the picnic table. Sitting Shawn down beside Gus, Henry pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it to Shawn.
"Here, hold that against your nose. And tilt your head forward."
Shawn did as he was told and Henry turned back towards Gus. With some relief he noticed that his son's friend was breathing more easily and didn't seem in just as much pain anymore.
"How often did the guy punch you?"
"Twice." Gus said. "In the stomach. Then you came."
Henry pulled Gus' shirt out of his pants and gently pulled it up. There was no visible injury, but Henry was sure that Gus would start developing a big bruise soon.
"Does it still hurt?"
Gus nodded, albeit slowly. "A little."
"Okay. You tell me immediately if you feel sick, all right?"
Gus nodded and Henry sat down on the bench in front of the picnic table so that he was facing the two boys. He looked at Shawn.
"Did they hit you, too?"
Shawn shook his head. "Not really. Got and elbow in the nose when that one guy tried to grab me."
His voice sounded nasal, as if he had a bad cold, and his nose was already swelling a little. Henry decided that maybe a visit to the doctor's office was in order for both of the boys, just to make sure. In Shawn's case because of the nose, and in Gus' case because Winnie would have his head if he didn't take the kid to the doctor after he was punched by some older kids.
"What happened here?"
"We didn't do anything," Shawn sniffed and raised his head slightly to look at his father. "We were here playing Cowboys and Indians when those guys suddenly came to the playground. They were fooling around, you know, pushing each other around, smoking cigarettes and yelling stuff. We tried to ignore them, but they came over towards us and started saying pretty nasty things."
Henry frowned. "What nasty things?"
Instead of answering, Shawn exchanged a look with Gus. Or tried to, because Gus was not really meeting his eyes.
"Shawn, what nasty things?"
Shawn shrugged awkwardly. "They said that I shouldn't be playing with somebody like Gus. And that if we played Cowboys and Indians, I had to be the cowboy because only white people could be cowboys. And then they called Gus names."
A sinking feeling settled in Henry's stomach. When Shawn had befriended Gus, he had known that this day might come. He and Margaret had talked about what they could do if at one point Shawn was confronted with somebody attacking Gus because of his skin colour. But it was one thing to talk these things through in theory. It was something completely else to witness a bunch of teenage thugs try to roughen Shawn and Gus up because of it. Damn it, they were just kids! Shawn and Gus didn't care about these things, so why did somebody else force them to?
"What names Shawn?"
Shawn shrugged and worried his lower lip with his teeth. When he didn't answer, Henry cupped his son's chin with his hand and waited until Shawn met his eyes.
"What names did they call Gus?"
Shawn swallowed. "They called him a nigger. A stupid and dirty nigger."
At Shawn's side, Gus flinched as his friend said the word, even though Shawn hadn't said it much louder than in a whisper. Henry put his hand on Gus' leg and gave it a small squeeze.
"Did you know any of them?"
Shawn shook his head, as did Gus beside him. But Henry wasn't so easily satisfied with that answer.
"Listen boys, I know that you don't want to get into trouble with these thugs again. And I know that you're scared they will know you told on them. But it's really important you tell me if you know them. Right now, they're probably just a couple of bullies who hang out with the wrong crowd and listen to the crap they're fed by their friends. That's bad enough. But they're crossing a line if they decide to beat up eight year old boys. That's no small matter. It's something that needs to be brought under control before something serious happens."
Shawn shook his head again. "I don't know who they are. They're too old to be in our school. I…there's a bunch of guys who sometimes hang out at the arcade."
"And they're part of them?"
Shawn nodded, as did Gus.
"But you don't know their names."
Two heads shook simultaneously.
Henry slowly nodded and got up from the bench. He knew how useless it would be to start looking for the thugs without a name and only a place where they occasionally hung out. But he'd definitely try. And he'd not let Shawn or Gus anywhere near that arcade again in the foreseeable future. Not until he had assured himself of what kind of kids were hanging around there.
"All right boys. Let's go home. Are you all right, Gus?"
Gus nodded as he climbed down from the picnic table. "Yes Mr. Spencer. I'm just a little queasy."
"Let me know if you feel sick, all right?"
Gus nodded and slowly started to walk towards the entrance of the playground. Henry put a hand on Shawn's shoulder.
"Come on buddy, let's go to the car."
But instead of hopping down from the bench, Shawn looked up at his father.
"Why did they say those things about Gus?"
Henry sighed and leaned against the picnic table beside his son. "That's hard to say, Shawn. Kids of that age, they mostly don't really know yet what it is they're talking about. They're just repeating stuff they heard somewhere else without understanding it."
"But they weren't just talking."
Henry nodded and put a hand on Shawn's shoulder. "No, they did more than that. And that's a reason to worry."
"But why would they care? I mean, they don't even know me or Gus, and even if they don't like black people, why should they care who I play with?"
"It's not that easy, Shawn. First of all, it's always easier to pick on a weaker opponent. I doubt they'd have badmouthed a kid their age, or an adult."
Shawn shrugged. "But still it shouldn't matter."
Henry nodded. "You're right. It shouldn't matter. But to people who don't like others because of their skin color, their religion or where they come from it does matter. And they want other people to see things the same way they do. They often make it sound so simple and logical that it's easy to get sucked into what they're trying to convince you of. We talked about that, remember?"
Shawn nodded. "Yeah, I do."
"Good." Henry squeezed his son's shoulder. "You just keep that in mind. I know what those guys did doesn't make a whole lot of sense to you. They only see what they believe to be right, and they can't understand that somebody else might see things differently. They don't have any respect for other people, their opinion or way of life. And that's one of the worst things that can happen, losing your respect for others. You always need to meet people with respect, and you can't judge them by their appearance, their skin color or their origin. When I get called in on a case, I can't make up my mind about who is guilty, who is lying and who not by their skin color. I need to find out about them and their motivations. It's the same in real life, Shawn. You always need to judge a person by their character. By their actions and not by their appearance. Do you understand that?"
Shawn nodded. "I do. But that doesn't help if those guys come back."
Henry sighed. "No, it won't. But I'll try to find them before that happens, I promise."
"If you do, are they going to go to prison?"
Henry detected a hopeful tone in his son's voice and affectionately ruffled his hair. "No, probably not. But it's not always the best to just put people into prison. Sometimes, it's much better to try and make them see that they're wrong."
"Can you do that?"
"Me?" Henry shook his head. "I don't think that I can. But there are people who might be able to help. How about for now we go home, get the two of you patched up and into clean clothes, and then I'll make dinner?"
Shawn nodded and hopped down from the picnic table. As they started walking towards Gus, who was nervously lingering near the entrance of the playground, Henry noticed that Shawn was sticking close to his side as they walked over towards Gus. With a sad smile, he put an arm around Shawn's shoulder and led him out of the playground and towards the car.
He really wished he could have spared his son the realization that not all people saw Gus simply for the kid that he was. If not forever, then at least for a little while longer.
But now this had happened, and he needed to find out how to deal with it. And trying to find those three thugs was the first thing on his list.
Once Shawn and Gus were securely seated in the car, Henry started the engine and drove home.
So much for the prologue. Chapter one is soon to follow. And I've got to warn you (again, lol) - this story is my longest story yet. Over 100.000 words. Not many more chapters than the previous stories, but longer chapters. Not that I think you'll complain.
Thanks for reading, I'd appreciate it if you left me a review to let me know what you think. Thanks a lot.