"That's right, Guster," Shawn seethed, peering out through a gap in the fence across the street from his best friend's house. "Hide your guilt, traitor."
"Shawn," whispered a voice at his ear. Shawn jumped and whirled around, heaving a sigh of irritation. "What are you doing out here?" his father continued.
"Nothing huh." His dad crouched behind him, tilting his head in that no-nonsense way that meant Shawn was about to get another wisdom-filled life-lesson. "You two fighting?"
"He stole my -" Shawn stopped himself short. "Something. From me."
His dad raised his brows knowingly. "That doesn't sound like something Gus would do."
Shawn glued his eyes to the Guster house and shrugged.
"Does it?" his dad insisted.
"It had to be him."
"But in your gut, you know it wasn't."
Shawn sighed again in resignation. "I don't know why Gus would steal something from me. He's my best friend. I can't believe it. But there's no one else-"
"Look, kid," Henry interrupted. "Gus is your partner. And when the integrity of your partner is in question, you always-" He poked Shawn in the chest. "Always go with your gut, until evidence comes up. Now, do you really think Gus took your plane?"
Shawn looked chagrined. "No," he moped. "I guess not. Hey, wait- How did you-"
Henry stood and slid his sunglasses back on. "It's my plane now, buster. I told you not to fly it in the house, and now you you're gonna sand and restain every nick in the woodwork. Should take most of the summer. Better get over there and mend some fences if you want him to help you." His dad tilted his head at the Guster's house, then walked away, shaking his head.
"Gus, I'm telling you, there's no way all those teeth are real."
"Shawn, unless you're the man's dentist, you have no way of knowing that. Hello Juliet."
Juliet narrowed her eyes at the pair and got up from her desk. "Hi guys. What are you doing here?"
"Jules, settle a bet-"
"We do not have a bet-"
"Gary Busey's teeth. Real, or crazy enthusiastic dentist?"
Juliet pursed her lips, suppressing a laugh. She looked at Gus.
"We're on a case," Gus said. "And we do not have a bet. And they're real. That man has more dental integrity in his left pinky than you have in your entire body Shawn."
"Dude, don't be ridiculous. How can you have dental integrity in your pinky."
"Guys!" Juliet broke in, glancing toward Lassiter's desk. "Seriously. Do you need something?"
Shawn followed her glance and his face broke into a grin. "Why yes, we do." He took only two steps toward the Head Detective before Juliet's hand was around his arm, stopping him and whirling him around. "Have you been working out?" he said indignantly. "Seriously." He rubbed his arm.
Juliet ignored him and glanced at Lassiter again. "Just stop. Whatever you're doing. Whatever you think you're going to say to him, just ... stop."
Shawn made a face, surprised. "Did something happen to his car?"
"I wish," Juliet murmured. "He's just been..." She head tilted them over to her own desk behind the pillar and out of Lassiter's view.
"Yeah, I know," Shawn said darkly. "Did you know he wrote me a ticket for having my bike three inches into the firelane out front?"
"You were parked on the sidewalk, Shawn," Gus corrected.
"He's been under a lot of pressure," Juliet tried to argue. She took in the look on Shawn's face and relented. "Okay. He's just being Carlton. But he's being, you know. More Carlton than usual. Just ... lay low for a while, okay? Whatever's eating him, he's taking it out on everyone."
"Even you, Jules? That is strange," Shawn jibed.
"Yes, it is," she insisted, losing patience. "And you know it. I know you like to spar, but Lassiter isn't playing with a fencing foil these days."
"It's a practice sword, Shawn." Gus rolled his eyes.
"I'm just worried he might..."
"What. Take a swing? Aw, Jules. I didn't know you cared so much. Why don't we talk about this over dinner?"
Juliet blew out a breath. "I'm not worried about you, Shawn. He'd ruin his career."
Shawn sighed and rolled his eyes. "Lassie wouldn't-"
The three of them froze at the sound of the Head Detective's voice. Shawn spun to face him. "Mind if we brought you guys dinner, I was going to say. Chinese? Indian? Pizza? Gus?"
Gus nodded eagerly. "We were just on our way out to-"
"But you just got here," Lassiter said doubtfully, poking at their story.
"To see if you guys wanted anything," Shawn improvised.
"And you couldn't use the phone?"
"We also wanted your expert advice on a case," Gus said.
Lassiter narrowed his eyes at the both of them, obviously sensing something amiss. "My expert advice?"
Shawn grimaced slightly. Expert advice? Nice way to butter the guy up, but the only thing Shawn knew for sure Lassie was an actual expert on was the Civil War, and even he couldn't cook up a weirdo case involving the Civil War. Not one Lassie hadn't hired him onto, anyway. So... maybe a grain of the truth. "Okay. You got us."
"Shawn-" hissed Gus, elbowing him in the ribs.
"Expert's a little strong. We're buttering you up, of course, so that when we ask for your help on this case of ours, you'll give it to us."
Lassiter's face melted out of charmed doubt into abject irritation. "Solve your cases on your own damned time," he growled, then stalked off toward his apparent initial destination, the Little Boys' Room.
"Well that went well," Shawn said.
"He didn't hit you," Gus agreed.
Juliet rolled her eyes. "You guys have to get out of here."
"Okay, but first I need you to answer a question for me. Seriously, Gary Busey. Am I the only one who sees it?"
"Gus is right: Gary's teeth aren't the real issue here. Like I said, we have a case. But..." He looked toward the Men's room.
"You mean you really did come here for his expert advice? Why didn't you just ask him when he was standing here?"
"You were the one who said not to say whatever I was planning to say," Shawn pointed out.
Juliet rolled her eyes. "Well is there anything I can help you with?"
"Unfortunately, these questions can only be answered by a tallish rogue of a man with eyes of steel and hair of scrubbrush. Sorry, Jules."
Juliet rolled her eyes and sat down at her desk. "Well then, I've got work to do."
"Oh come on, Jules. It's Friday night. Put away the mayhem and murder! Embrace the maybe and ... mur... maids- Go out! Is what I'm saying."
"I'm not going out with you," she huffed.
"Oh, I'm staying here. At least until Lassie's out of the sh-Little... Boy's Room ow Gus." Shawn patted his side where Gus had elbowed him again and smiled winningly.
"All right, that's it," Juliet said with a note of impatient finality. She tossed her pen to her desk top and stood, grabbing her bag from her desk drawer. "We're leaving."
"So soon?" Vick said.
All three of them whirled to face the Chief. "Uh," Shawn stalled. "No. Jules has a lot of work to do, as you can see."
Vick smiled thinly. "Mr. Spencer, is there something we can do for you?"
"Just came to see-"
"Are you still here?"
"That guy," Shawn finished, spinning on his heel toward Lassiter, who was bearing down on them with a scowl.
"Damnit Spencer I am about one millimeter away from personally showing you the door-!"
"Detective!" Vick warned.
Lassiter froze, mid-jab, marshaling his composure. When he seemed seconds from just letting it go and passing them by, Shawn made a face and said, "Dude, we've worked together four years and you're still trying to get rid of me? Is it that crime is getting solved? Do you not like putting murderers behind bars?"
"Shawn-!" Juliet's eyes went wide. Gus elbowed him hard in the ribs. Lassiter looked stricken for half a moment before rage twisted his face.
"Okay," Shawn agreed, shaking his head in frustration. "That was the wrong thing to say. I-" He paused, narrowing his eyes as he studied Lassiter's face. But before he could come to any conclusions, Vick cut through the powder keg.
"Mr. Spencer, Mr. Guster, you haven't been hired by the department. Please leave. Detective, with me."
Lassiter gave Shawn one last evil look before turning stiffly to follow. Juliet poked Shawn in the chest before he could turn to go.
"I warned you," she hissed. "You can't just leave him alone, can you."
"Jules, wait," Shawn murmured, glancing at the Detective's retreating back. "Something's off with him."
"No kidding," she snapped. "Wasn't I just telling you that? Go Shawn. Just leave."
Shawn frowned, looking from Juliet to Lassiter and then to Gus. He shrugged. "Fine. Let's go, Gus."
"Let's go? Shawn-"
Shawn didn't answer. He strode toward the steps and skipped down them, Gus quick on his heels. "Shawn," he said once they were out of earshot. "We need to talk to him."
"I know, Gus, and we will. But first. Deep fried nachos from La Seniora - No." He cut Gus off before he could object. "You're right. First, smoothies. Then nachos. Then." He paused for dramatic effect. "We pay a visit to the ex Mrs. Lassiter."
Gus rolled his eyes. "You mean our client Shawn? It's not dramatic to talk to our client."
"Maybe not the way you do it."
Juliet watched Shawn and Gus go for a moment, torn between going after them to make things right and going after her partner. She chose her partner, and a moment later, was standing at his elbow overhearing the Chief finish her speech with:
"And get some rest. We're counting on you, Detective." Vick nodded at him, and then at Juliet, before striding off toward her office.
"What was that about?" Juliet asked.
Lassiter frowned in mild confusion at the chief's retreating back, then in earnest at his junior. "Why are you still here?"
She flinched, and he noticed. He rephrased with a roll of his eyes. "I mean, it's 7. You were off an hour and a half ago."
"Catching up on paperwork," she replied, trying not to take his tone personally. "What are you still doing here?"
"Same," he said vaguely. "O'Hara. Go home. You're young, attractive in a modest contemporary way, and any paperwork you have left can wait til Monday."
She recognized that he was trying to be kind, no matter how it sounded. "I could say the same thing to you," she threw back. There was a pause. Lassiter raised a brow and Juliet replayed their conversation. "I meant - the paperwork." Lassiter frowned. "I mean, you're not old." His frown dipped to a scowl. "And you're - I mean someone might find-" With every word, she dug herself deeper into the bottomless pit of his intense irritation. "You know, you're right!" she finally said brightly. "I'll just be going. Bye!" She turned on her heel and strode away.
"We're just here to go over the facts one more time." Gus put on his best smile as he sipped coffee at the ex Mrs. Lassiter's kitchen table the next morning.
Victoria nodded, then glanced uncomfortably at Shawn, who was perusing her knickknacks.
"Don't worry about him," Gus said. "He's just seeing if he can read any... residual energy."
She nodded again. "Well. As I said, it started about two and a half weeks ago. I heard something in front of the house, and when I went out to check, there was a single rose on the doorstep. I looked around, but there was no one. There was no note, but I thought... The anniversary of our first date-" She shook her head.
"Does that sound like something Detective Lassiter would do?" Gus asked diplomatically. It was difficult to imagine Lassiter with a squishy soft side.
"Yes," she confirmed, looking upset. "He's a traditional romantic. Saves him from having to actually say anything to anyone."
"Did you talk to him after that?"
"I sent him a letter, just to see how he was. He sent me one back, just to see how I was. I sent him a reply, but he didn't write back again."
"Can I see the letter?" Shawn asked from across the room.
"It's kind of personal..." Victoria hemmed.
"It could be important," Gus assured. "Please know that we maintain complete confidentiality." He threw a look at Shawn. She looked doubtful, but got up to retrieve it. "In the meantime, why don't you tell us about the other incidents."
Victoria riffled through a stack of envelopes on the kitchen counter, all neatly stacked according to some private filing system. "Two days later, I saw a- I thought I saw a shadow outside the bathroom window. Three days after that, I saw that all of the flowers in the flowerbox on my bedroom window had had their heads clipped off. Here." She pulled out the letter and handed it to Shawn, who read while she continued. "Then, last week, I saw his car driving slowly through the neighborhood after dark. I think the head of our neighborhood watch called in a report to the police. I'm worried."
Gus patted her hand comfortingly. "If Detective Lassiter is your stalker-"
"He's not," Shawn interrupted.
"We don't know anything yet," Gus insisted firmly. "But if he is, I'm certain you don't have anything to worry about. I'm proud to call the man my friend-"
"That's why I called you," she agreed. "I'm not worried he'd do something - I just don't want him to-"
She started over. "If something happened. And for some reason he's... out of sorts, stalking - it could ruin his career. Find out why he's doing this, and stop him before it gets out of control. I know you care about him."
Shawn raised a brow at Gus from over Victoria's shoulder.
"Of course," Gus assured smoothly.
"I care about him too," she said, but the sentiment was bittersweet. "I always will." She turned so she could include Shawn. "Help me help him."
Shawn nodded with overdone sympathy. "We'll always come through for Lassie-" His eyes widened at her confused look and he hastily appended, "-ter. Detective. Lassiter."
Gus rolled his eyes. "Thank you for your time."
Out on the sidewalk, Gus blew out a breath. "I knew he had a screw loose," he muttered, keying open the Echo. "I didn't figure him for a stalker."
"Come on, Gus. If anything, stalking's his most likely coping mechanism. Think about it - it takes obsessive attention to detail and he gets to practice being a super spy trying not to get caught."
"I thought you said he didn't do it," Gus said, sliding into the passenger seat.
Shawn put his sunglasses on and started the car. "He didn't. I'm just saying, if he was gonna snap and start breaking laws, stalking would probably be his bag."
"And just how do you know that, Shawn?"
"It's all in the eyes. He's got that cold, stalker look-"
"I meant, how do you know he didn't do it."
"Dude, don't be the bottom of a pineapple upside down cake-"
"Wouldn't that be the top?"
Shawn paused, pursing his lips in thought. "I don't know. But I do know this - Lassie isn't stalking his ex-wife."
Gus frowned as Shawn pulled into traffic. He looked around to get his bearings. "Where are you going?"
"We're paying a little visit to the head of the neighborhood watch."
"I'm sorry, who are you?"
Shawn grinned. "Shawn Spencer, head psychic of the SBPD. And this is my partner, Espadrille Fiasco. We're looking into a report you made about a stalker in the area?"
"Oh, yeah. Come on in." Ed Banner, head of the local neighborhood watch, led them through his home and into his kitchen. "You boys want coffee?"
"No, thank you," said Gus, just as Shawn was saying "Oh God yes." Gus looked at him from the corner of his eye, warning him with an eyebrow. "No, we're fine," he insisted.
Ed Banner quirked a brow. "So, you're really a psychic?"
"Oh yeah," Shawn said. "It's a curse, really."
"Okay, it's not a curse. But it does strike at the oddest times. For example, I'm sensing that you're-" He glanced around the room hastily. "A dad. But the kids don't live here."
"They stay with their mother. How did you know that?"
Shawn tapped his temple. "Now, about this report-"
"You're working with the police on this? Why would they need a psychic? It's just some creep. I gave them the description of the car and the guy."
Shawn forced a smile. "Not - okay, we're not working for the police right now. Mrs. Lassiter-"
Cold. She changed her name back? "Sorry. Victoria, 347 Argyle Lane? She hired us. I guess she doesn't have much faith in the police."
Ed Banner gave him a look, then sighed. "I made the report on April 11th. It was a blue car, looked like you know, what cops drive."
Shawn scoffed. "What cops drive? What, are you saying a cop is stalking someone in this neighborhood? Pff."
Ed Banner made a face. "What? No. I'm just telling you, that's the kind of car it was. Newer model."
"What about the driver?" Gus prompted, giving Shawn the hairy eyeball.
"Okay, he was kinda tall from what I could tell. Dark suit, dark hair. I mean it was night, hard to see. But it was definitely suspicious."
Shawn frowned. "Suspicious in what way-"
"Shawn." Gus crossed the room to take his arm.
Ed Banner frowned doubtfully. "In the ... way where he's driving real slow through the neighborhood?"
Gus nodded and forced a grin. "Of course. Thank you for your time. Let's go, Shawn."
Out on the sidewalk, Shawn jerked out of Gus' grasp. "Dude, what was that about?"
"What are you talking about, Shawn? That guy just basically described Lassiter in his car stalking Mrs. Lassiter. The case isn't who is stalking her, Shawn. It's why is Lassiter stalking her and how can we make him stop before he ruins his life."
"It wasn't him," Shawn insisted. "I know this, I know this in the very barrel of my bones."
Gus paused at the driver side door of the Echo. "Do you mean 'marrow of your bones'?"
"Marrow? That doesn't make sense."
"That's what it's called. Look, Shawn. This is your problem. You always want to believe the best about people, I know. But you and I both know Lassiter isn't always playing with a full deck."
Shawn shrugged as he slid into the passenger seat. "Maybe not, but I also know that my gut is telling me that he would never do something so stupid and risk his career, which you and I both know, is the one driving passion of his entire life!"
Gus wrinkled his nose. "Whatever, Shawn," he said after a moment. He put the car into gear.
"Dude where are we going?"
Gus stared straight ahead.
Gus didn't respond.
"Tacos. Microwave salisbury steak?"
Gus smiled slyly.
Shawn grinned and watched him from the corner of his eye. "Heavenly Fritos con Mesa Gorditos?"
"You know that's right."
Juliet sat at her desk on Monday morning, twisting a pen opened and closed over and over again as she stared at her partner's desk. Empty. For the fourth time, she picked up the phone and called his cell, hanging up mid-way through "Hello, this is Head Detective Carlton Lassiter of the Santa Barbara Police Department-" She didn't want to leave a voicemail, she wanted to know where her partner was. Juliet sprang from her chair when the chief walked by and swept into her wake.
Vick turned and frowned. "O'Hara? What are you doing here?"
"What?" Juliet blinked in confusion. "Where's Lassiter? We've got a deposition at 9 - it's 8:30. He's never late - he never comes in later than 7:30. I've tried his phone. It just goes to voicemail."
"Calm down, O'Hara," Vick soothed. "He's on vacation."
Juliet made a face. "Vacation? Was anyone going to tell me?"
"He was going to tell you. I take it he didn't?"
Vick sighed. "You're going to have to handle the deposition on your own."
"Of course, chief. I guess it just... slipped his mind."
Vick nodded. "He seemed a little distracted in his email. Frankly, I was only a couple days from ordering him to take time off when he asked for it three weeks ago." She eased her expression in deference to O'Hara's concern. "He needs this, O'Hara. He deserves it. Don't you think?"
Juliet blew out her irritation and nodded, in full partner-support mode. "Definitely."
"Now move along, Detective. You've got a deposition in..." She checked her watch. "Twenty five minutes. Come to my office when you get back, and we'll go over the rest of his appointments for the week."
"Copy that, chief." Juliet watched the chief walk off, allowing herself to feel a little annoyed at her partner. But he does deserve a break, she repeated to herself.
The deposition was uneventful. They'd gone over the material together earlier on Friday in anticipation, and she realized now that Carlton probably thought he was preparing her to go solo on it. On her way back from the courthouse, she took a detour to drive past his place, still a little wary - it wasn't like him to just blatantly forget his duties. But his car was gone, his house looked shut up. Juliet shook her head and went back to work.
"But Gus, that doesn't answer my question. Pimento loaf is what? Nobody knows. I'm telling you, it's a mystery."
Juliet frowned. "Hey guys."
Shawn and Gus whirled to face her. "Oh. Hey Jules."
"What are you doing here?" She pursed her lips against the grin starting at the corners of her mouth. Shawn's energy was infectious, almost completely blotting out any irritation at her partner.
"Looking for Lassie, as usual."
Juliet frowned. So much for blotting out irritation. "He's on vacation."
Shawn frowned and looked at Gus. "Vacation? Voluntarily? That can't be right."
"Do you know where he went?" Gus asked.
Juliet shrugged. "He didn't even tell me he was leaving. I was just on my way to the chief's office to get up to speed on his appointments for the week."
"Oh," Shawn said. "Okay. Don't let us keep you."
Juliet narrowed her eyes. He was a charmer, and she often went along with it, but she knew when he was up to something. "What's going on, Shawn?"
"Nothing." At her look, he relented with a fling of his hands. "Okay. Lassie said he was going to help us with this case after all, but he didn't have time Friday night, so he said to come in Monday morning and he'd leave the file on his desk. I thought he'd be here to talk about it, but I guess he just... trusts us."
Gus smiled along until the last bit, then he raised a brow at his partner and tried to force a reassuring grin that didn't quite work.
Juliet rolled her eyes. "I will help you this one time." She led them to Lassiter's desk and frowned at it. It was clear, maybe clearer than he usually left it for the day. But there was no obvious envelope with "Spencer" written on it. She pulled open his top drawer to give it a cursory look. There was a folder, unmarked. Not a case file, so she pulled it out to check. Inside were some photos, closeups, location establishing shots, like a PI. A house, a woman, a man on the sidewalk walking away from the house - Had Carlton hired someone to- She looked through the rest of the drawer for any notes, and as she brushed aside an envelope, her fingers rolled on -
Pill bottles? Two of them. She slammed the drawer shut and looked up, suddenly face to face with Shawn.
"None of our business, Shawn." She frowned when Shawn stuck his chin out, then flipped the file folder closed. But before she managed it, his hand had shot out to snag one of the photos. He poured over it. "What. Do you know who that is?"
Shawn frowned. "No. But I'm getting some strong vibes on this one. Thanks Jules-" He started to walk off.
"Uh uh, Shawn," she warned, holding her hand out. "Give it back. If it's gone, Carlton will know someone's been in this drawer and seen-"
Shawn put on his over-the-top sensitive face. "Jules. We all know Lassie. If anyone needs help lightening up, it's that guy. His secret is safe with me. Gus, on the other hand, is such a Chatty Kathy. His nickname in high school was the Gossip Queen." He frowned. "Or was it Dancing Queen."
"But you're young and sweet-"
"Shawn!" Gus turned to Juliet. "You don't have to worry about us-"
"Feelin' neat ooon the trampoliiiine!"
"Shawn, it's feel the beat on the tambourine."
"I've heard it both ways."
Gus turned back to Juliet. "We'll just be going now."
"Wait! Jules. Maybe you can help. We're on this stalking case - the neighborhood watch made a report. Can you get us access to that? I'm hoping I can get some spiritual guidance from it."
"Sorry. No can do, Shawn. I gotta go. I'll talk to you later." Juliet turned from them crisply and headed toward the chief's office. After a couple of knocks, the chief waved her in. "Chief-"
"Have a seat, O'Hara."
She did. "Chief, I'm sorry about earlier. I was irritated."
"No apology necessary, Detective."
"It's just not like Carlton to leave me out of the loop like this-"
"Me neither, chief."
Vick looked up. Juliet looked stunned and irritated. "Mr. Spencer. What are you doing here?"
"We-" He gestured to Gus. "-had an appointment with your Head Detective today, and he, like, totally bailed. You know where he went?"
"He's on vacation, Mr. Spencer."
"Yeah, I know. But where?"
Vick took a calming breath. "I don't know. But he told me he was turning his phone off and would be completely unreachable, and I'm going to do my best to ensure he stays that way. I think we can all agree that he needs this time off."
"Well when did this happen? Was it a spur of the moment thing or-"
"He emailed me three weeks ago, Mr. Spencer. I guess you didn't get the memo."
Juliet raised her brows at the chief's dangerous tone.
Shawn ignored it. "Lassie emailed you? I didn't think he knew how to use the intertubes."
"Shawn everyone uses email. This isn't 1994," Gus whispered.
"We always email things of this nature, Mr. Spencer. So that we have them in writing."
Shawn made a face. "Well, I'd love to stay and chat-"
"Mr. Spencer. Out."
"-But I'm needed elsewhere. Gus! To the smoothie-mobile!"
Shawn had his phone to his ear before they were even out of the building. "Something's fishy, Gus," he murmured.
"Shawn, the man took a vacation. Maybe he just realized he was about to ruin his life and decided to take a break, clear his head."
"No. The chief said he emailed her three weeks ago. The report from the neighborhood watch was only submitted a week and a half ago. Something's up-" He paused as the call connected. But it didn't ring. Just went straight to voicemail.
"This is Head Detective Carlton Lassiter, of the Santa..."
"...Detective Carlton Lassiter, of the Santa Barbara Police Department..."
The mid-day sun sparkled over the water. Frogs croaked. Fish swam lazily against the current, flitting from rock to rock, mouthing pebbles that might hide food. Tadpoles nervously wriggled from shade to shade, finding solace in the sturdy crevice that was the folded up and completely waterlogged, discarded cell phone of Carlton Lassiter, Head Detective of the Santa Barbara Police Department.