Lassiter looked at his watch. Spencer was due to show any minute to stage his wrap-up of the Maxwell case. He'd always assumed that knowing what Spencer was going to reveal ahead of time would make these little shows of his less stressful, but he'd been wrong. Instead, he was hyper-vigilant, trying to anticipate anything that might go wrong. It didn't help that he'd spent large portions of the night staring at the ceiling instead of sleeping.
Fifteen hours had passed since he'd committed an act that the State of California used to prosecute prior to 1976. True, oral copulation wasn't a crime anymore, but that didn't make him feel any less culpable. He wasn't the sort of man who did things like that. He was tough on crime and fiscally conservative. He'd voted for Reagan—or he would have if that damn twenty-second amendment hadn't limited presidents to two terms. Blowing men in their offices wasn't part of the picture.
The worst of it was that he couldn't even decide how to feel about what he'd done. By the time he'd gotten home that evening he'd been in the throws of a full-scale regret-a-thon. He had gone over what he'd done with Shawn in his mind and felt horrified by his actions and by the sharp detail of his recall. He'd retched and used his electric toothbrush until the bristles were bent and his mouth and nose were permeated with the taste and smell of cinnamon toothpaste. He'd calmed down, taken a hot shower to relax, and then ended the evening by jerking off to the hated memory. He was feeling conflicted, to put it mildly.
It had taken some doing but the station was busy. Mrs. Harris was in Chief Vick's office, arranging to release the body of her husband. McNab and O'Hara were completing reports on the search of the dump site and the door-to-door canvassing. Agents Hawley and Martinez from the FBI's San Diego office were in the break room, drinking coffee. Coordinating their presence without telling them more than he wanted them to know had been exhausting. Now, assuming UPS kept their delivery time, he'd be laying a murder charge today. The thought ought to make him happy but he felt strangely blank, as if all his feelings had been put on pause.
Shawn and Gus strolled into the station drinking specialty coffees. Shawn was all smiles, as if he hadn't a care in the world. He'd probably slept like a log. And possibly in the shirt he was wearing. Doesn't the man own an iron?
At least Guster has the decency to look anxious, Lassiter thought. Then he realized that Shawn had probably already told Guster about their little encounter. That look of anxiety might have nothing to do with the Maxwell case.
They stopped to talk with O'Hara. Shawn sat on her desk, leaning over her and smiling. Lassiter killed time shuffling through the Maxwell file. There was no reason at all for that sour feeling that was growing in his stomach while he watched Spencer flirting with O'Hara. It wasn't that he wanted Shawn to give him that kind of attention. They didn't have any kind of claim on one another. Last night had clearly just been a one-time anomaly for both of them. It was pretty obvious that Spencer had moved on. It was just as well. The fact that he would flirt with the woman he knew his partner liked just showed his flawed character.
When he looked up again Shawn was watching him from O'Hara's desk. He smiled with that easy grin of his and Lassiter found his focus wandering from the Maxwell case. The Shawn dipped his head and Lassiter returned the nod. It was show time.
Shawn clapped his hands loudly. "I've received an important vision," he announced, "You might say it was Moving at the Speed of Business."
"Actually," Gus said, "UPS changed their motto years ago to Synchronizing the World of Commerce."
Shawn frowned at Gus. "Well that's a silly motto. All I can see now are swimmers with Tammy-Faye makeup delivering packages." He slapped a hand to his head and raised his voice, "I have a vision of Esther Williams in a brown uniform." But apart from O'Hara and McNab most people were lost in their own conversations.
Lassiter raised his voice, "Can the chatter, people! Spencer's got something to say." The conversations died quickly and every eye turned to Shawn. Chief Vick and Mrs. Maxwell came out of the office and FBI Agents Hawley and Martinez emerged from the break room. Lassiter made his way behind the four of them, blocking the rear exit.
"Thank-you detective," Shawn said. "I've come bearing important messages from the spirit world." Shawn put his fingers to his head, Carnac-style. "They assure me that no one bearing the name Maxwell Harris is among them."
"Can you be more specific, Mr. Spencer? Are you saying that Maxwell Harris is alive?" Chief Vick's voice had a sharp edge to it. She looked from Shaun to Mrs. Harris and back again.
"Like a Memorex tape, my friends." Shawn smiled widely, and Lassiter thought he winked at him as he pulled a square paper envelope from his pocket and removed a CD. Off to the left Lassiter heard a rookie cop asking what a Memorex tape was.
"Are you saying Maxwell faked his death?" O'Hara asked.
Shawn shook his head. "I'm saying he's never been alive." He passed the CD to O'Hara who loaded it into her computer and turned up the volume. The voice of Winston Winters began reading from the popular self-help book, You Can't Always Get What You Want. It took a few moments, but then everybody began to react.
"It's Maxwell Harris," O'Hara said. There was a general murmur among the cops and Agents Hawley and Martinez made brief eye contact and then moved closer to Mrs. Harris.
"So Maxwell Harris was making a living as a voice actor?" Buzz asked.
Lassiter felt like smashing his head against the wall. McNab was a nice guy but at this rate he would never make detective.
"No!" Shawn shook his head. "Well, truthfully, that never occurred to me. But no. I'm pretty sure there never was a Maxwell Harris. The voice you heard was just an actor."
"Like the voice of U.N. Owen in Ten Little Indians," O'Hara said.
"Exactly." Shawn smiled at her and Lassiter's stomach tied another knot in itself.
"Then who was kidnapped?" Buzz asked.
You have to hand it to McNab, Lassiter thought. No matter how difficult he finds it, he keeps trying.
"What we've got here," Shawn said, "is like a lost episode of Remington Steele. Before Pierce Brosnan showed up. Or, if you prefer, The Associate, starring Whoopi Goldberg. Although I'm guessing Remmington Steele is a better known reference. Quick show of hands, who's even seen The Associate?" He waited a few moments while people stood, looking confused, before adding, "I thought so."
"It's also the plot of Lars Von Trier's Danish film, Boss of it All," O'Hara said.
Gus smiled at her approvingly, said "Nice one," and they bumped fists.
Lassiter rolled his eyes. Bumping fists? Guster must be out of his mind. That would never get him anywhere except that vast chasm of "like you as a friend" with sides so steep it was impossible to claw your way out. Romance was like police work. It required risk and aggression.
"Lars Von Trier?" Shawn said, furrowing his brow at O'Hara. "Jules, come on!"
"What?" She shrugged defensively. "I have a cable package."
"Personally," Gus said, "I think everyone here would be more familiar with John Nash's imaginary boss from the movie A Beautiful Mind. It won four Oscars and two BAFTAs."
"This is ridiculous!" Mrs. Harris said, turning to Chief Vick. "This is slander. I'll be talking to my lawyer about this."
"Oh, I have a feeling you'll be talking to your lawyer very soon," Chief Vick said.
"I saw it as clearly as if it were a restored print of The Secret of My Success," Shawn explained. "Mrs. Harris was the brains behind the crooked land deals, but she knew it was just a matter of time before the FBI got involved. So she invented a spouse to take all the heat. This imaginary husband was a recluse who didn't get his picture taken. He transferred his assets into his wife's name. He did all his work by computer and messenger, and when the FBI started closing in he conveniently went missing."
"Exactly whose body do we have in the morgue?" Chief Vick asked slowly.
"I'll let Detective Lassiter answer that," Shawn said.
Lassiter cleared his throat and half a dozen faces turned his way. "His name is Trevor Gorman, and he's a salesman from the County of San Luis Obispo. He was reported missing two days ago. His credit cards were last used at a bar here in Santa Barbara."
"That's amazing," O'Hara said. "How did you figure out it wasn't really Mr. Harris?"
"The spirits assured me that Harris was a front," Shawn said. "I figured that if a body turned up it would be some poor homeless dude Mrs. Harris had dressed up in an Armani suit. So when Gorman's body showed up it threw me a little." He looked Mrs. Harris in the eye. "But knowing you were guilty helped a lot."
"The tattoo clinched it," Lassiter said.
"Exactly!" Shawn turned and gestured dramatically at Mrs. Harris. "What woman would describe her husband and leave out the fact that he had a pair of dice tattooed on his ass?"
O'Hara blushed and murmured to Gus, "I'd have mentioned it."
"Damn straight," Gus responded.
"She made her description intentionally vague so it would be easier for her to find a body to match," Shawn collapsed into Lassiter's desk chair as if the effort of revealing the killer had sucked all the energy from his limbs.
"Based on Spencer's information," Lassiter explained, "we checked missing persons reports from Santa Barbara and neighbouring counties and Gorman's description was a match. Dental records confirmed it this morning."
"Nice work," Agent Hawley said, looking at Lassiter with new respect. "She thought we'd stop investigating if we thought Maxwell was dead. And then the estate would go to her."
"Okay, okay," Mrs. Harris raised her hands defensively. "I might have made a mistake identifying the body." She licked her lips and her eyes darted as she struggled to think her way out of the quandary. "I was distraught….but that doesn't prove I killed anyone."
Lassiter pulled his handcuffs and smiled. This was his favourite part of these wrap-ups.
"You're right," he said, coming up behind Mrs. Harris and grabbing her by the wrists. "Except the bartender had no problem identifying you and Gorman by your photographs." He locked the handcuffs on her and started her Miranda warning.
Agents Hawley and Martinez stepped forward. "I think we can take it from here, Detective," Hawley said.
Lassiter smiled and held up a hand. "We're booking her for murder first. You'll have to wait your turn."
After Harris had been booked and Agents Hawley and Martinez had left for San Diego, Lassiter returned to his desk. It was way past his lunchtime and he was looking forward to eating the club sandwich and fruit cup in his desk. It took only a moment before he noticed that Shawn was still sitting in his chair, feet up on his desk, flipping casually through a copy of The Courier
Spencer. Of course. It's not enough that he showboated his way through the arrest, now he's stayed to gloat about it.
He pushed Shawn's feet off the desk and gestured with his thumb. "Out of my chair, Spencer."
Shawn pouted, his lips giving rise to obscene thoughts, which Lassiter swiftly quashed.
"But Lassie," Shawn said. "I love your chair." He wriggled comfortably into the seat. "And this," He slapped The Courier onto the desk, "is some damn fine crime reporting. Just think, tomorrow we can read about how you solved the Maxwell case."
"I appreciate your help on the case, Spencer." Lassiter tore his eyes away from Shawn's face, but instead found his attention wandering to his beltline, which was just as thought provoking. "Especially under the circumstances."
"You must be remembering different circumstances than I am," Shawn said. He rose from the chair, but didn't move enough for Lassiter to sit. They stood, staring at each other. Lassiter felt as if the rest of the station had melted away and only this portion with him and Shawn remained.
Shawn leaned forward and for a moment Lassiter was sure he was going to kiss him, here in the bullpen. At the last minute Shawn moved to the side and landed a friendly punch to Lassiter's arm.
"Anyway, I got you something." He set a brown paper bag on Lassiter's desk. Then he was gone, leaving Lassiter standing there, rubbing his arm and trying not to feel disappointed.
Lassiter sat in his chair, still warm from Shawn's body, and opened the paper bag. It was a can of Dr. Pepper. He pulled it out, held it in his hand and started at it.
What, exactly does Spencer mean by this? he wondered. Is he taunting me? Or is it an invitation?
Stuck to the condensation on the can was a slip of paper. He peeled it away and carefully opened the wet note's blurry ink, "P.S. I won the bet about Maxwell's body. You owe me a hundred dollars."
Lassiter smiled. Spencer was right, and he'd pay him because an honorable man paid his debts. He pulled out his sandwich and fruitcup and popped the tab on the soda. He wasn't sure what Shawn meant by the present, but for the moment he knew what he meant by drinking it. Shawn might never be his, but the memory the soda brought back was his completely, and he wasn't about to let Shawn's intentions, public opinion, or his own guilt take it away from him. He pulled out his ipod, brought up The Smitherees album he'd bought on itunes recently and set one song on repeat. He inserted his earbuds, gripped the can, closed, his eyes, and took a sip of the rough sweet drink, giving himself over to memory.