Note: This is a sequel to my stories The Dah-Ling Store-It-Yourself and From Beyond he Morgue. I've been working on this for ages and ages, and I finally decided to start posting here to get myself geared up to finish it. It's already the longest in the series so far, somewhere around 50 K, so I'll be posting here in parts as I work on the ending (there's still a bit to go!).
"It isn't forever," Shawn said, as he packed his Knight Rider suitcase full of the essentials—namely, three G.I. Joes, a Mad Libs, and four packs of Red Vines. As an afterthought, he threw in a couple of shirts and underwear.
Gus was sulking and didn't respond, instead he stared into Shawn's suitcase with narrowed eyes. "That's my Mad Libs, Shawn!"
"It says 'Shawn's,' in permanent marker," Shawn said, pointing to where he had written his name across the front. "I think that means it's mine."
"Fine, it's yours," Gus said. "Have fun playing by yourself."
"I won't be by myself," Shawn said. "I plan to hold auditions on the plane for a new best friend, seeing as how you're doing such a lousy job. Anyway, Grandpa George and Grandma Sue will probably have lot of things planned. I'll probably hardly think of you at all."
"I just—" Gus faltered, crossing his arms. "Who am I supposed to do stuff with while you're gone?"
"I don't know, there's lots of people!" Shawn said. "What about Michael?"
"Crazy Michael?" Gus asked incredulously. "I think he's plotting to kill me."
"Don't be so self-centered," Shawn said. "You don't know it's you he's plotting to kill. It could be anyone."
"I don't want you to go," Gus said.
"It's three days," Shawn said. "And you could be coming with me if you hadn't vetoed Operation Hide Gus In My Suitcase."
"I wouldn't even fit in that thing," Gus said.
"Obviously I would have used a bigger one, if I had been given the opportunity to plan," Shawn said. "It's too late now."
"Well, I hope you at least bring back something good this time," Gus said. "I don't know why you only asked for a signed photograph of Dwight Schultz last time you were there."
"That was an investment," Shawn said. "It's going to be worth tons someday. And my grandfather is friends with the entire A-Team."
"He is not," Gus said.
"Okay, but he knows someone who knows someone who is," Shawn said. "And I can't miss out on opportunities like that."
"All I ever get from my grandmother is pinched cheeks," Gus sulked. "I need to live vicariously."
Shawn had learned at around age four that he could get pretty much anything that he wanted from his Grandma Sue and Grandpa George with some subtle conditioning. Last year when he'd visited he had worn knee pads and bike gloves—a helmet would have been pushing his luck, he wasn't six anymore. His grandmother had finally knelt in front of him and asked him why, and he had earnestly told her he was preparing for when he saved up enough to buy a bike.
Sue and George had found this adorable and promptly went out and bought him a top of the line ten-speed. Shawn would feel guilty except that presents were what grandparents were for, and he had to compensate for Henry somehow.
Shawn's eyes lit on the boat shoes his Grandmother had bought him the year before, as well as the Captain's hat that lay unworn beside it. Shawn grinned widely. "I've got it!" he said. "I'm getting us a boat."
"They're not going to get you a boat, Shawn," Gus protested. "I was thinking more like a model of the Millennium Falcon."
"Don't be ridiculous, you were right, I need to shoot higher," Shawn said. "Once I have my boat, you can call me El Capitan. I'll call you Gilligan."
"Even if your grandparents did get you a boat, how would you get it here from New York?" Gus demanded.
"I should think that would be obvious, Gus," Shawn said. "I'd sail back."
"You don't know how to sail," Gus said.
"That's because I don't have a boat!" Shawn said. "I haven't had any reason to learn. But I'm sure it can't be very hard."
"I'm never going to see you again, am I?" Gus asked.
Shawn bit his lip in though. "Maybe I should ask for a yacht, instead," he said. "One that comes with a crew."
"Now you're talking," Gus said. "It's going to have a pool on deck, right?"
"I can hardly be expected to swim in the ocean," Shawn agreed. "There's sharks in there."
"Shawn!" Henry shouts, barging into the room. "Are you packed yet? You were supposed to be done yesterday." Henry stopped and peered into the suitcase, cataloguing the Red Vines, boat shoes, and other miscellanea. "Shawn, you're going to New York, not Candy Land."
"If I was going to Candy Land, why would I be bringing my own candy?" Shawn demanded. "That doesn't even make any sense."
Henry stormed to Shawn's closet, pulling out some suitable clothes to fold quickly and shove into the suitcase. "Say goodbye to Gus," he said. "We're already running late."
"Bye, Gus," Shawn said.
"Bye," Gus said sadly. "Don't ride the subway. And don't talk to strangers. And try not to get mugged."
"New York isn't exactly like the movies, Gus," Henry assured him.
"I read the New York Times," Gus said. "I know what goes on over there."
Henry raised his hands in surrender, before moving to zip up Shawn's suitcase. "My mistake," he said. "Please carry on. It'll save me having to do it later."
Gus sighed. "Just be careful," he said.
"Don't be such a worrying worriton," Shawn said. "I've been to New York lots of times."
"You've been there twice," Henry interrupted.
"Twice," Shawn agreed. "Which I think makes me an authority on it."
"It doesn't," Henry said.
"Don't you have things to be doing?" Shawn demanded.
"Yeah, driving you and your mother to the airport," Henry said, grabbing the suitcase with one hand and Shawn with the other. "Don't worry, Gus. He's going to be fine."
"If you need to talk to me, just build a coconut phone, Gilligan!" Shawn called, as his father started pulling him from the room.
"That was the professor, Shawn!" Gus shouted. "And I don't have the tools for that!"
"Oh for—you can call each other on real phones," Henry snapped.
"Oh, right," Shawn said, looking disappointed. "I guess we could do that."
"Next time, just go ahead and hide Gus in your suitcase so we don't have to go through this," Henry said.
"You knew about that?" Shawn asked.
"Kid, I know everything you're going to do," Henry said.
Shawn poked him in the chest. "Did you know I was going to do that?"
"We're leaving, now," Henry snapped, dragging him to the staircase.
"Beetlejuice," Shawn said. "Did you know I was going to say that?"
Gus followed them down the stairs. "On second thought, I'm glad I'm not going to be on the flight."
Henry glanced over at him as pushed Shawn out the door. "You and me both," he said. "You shouldn't be worrying so much about New York. I don't think Shawn's going to survive the drive to the airport."
"Supercalifragilisticexpialid ocious!" Shawn called back. "I bet you didn't know I was going to say that!"
Lassiter was cuddled up with his gun tucked up under his chin, the barrel pointed towards the wall. Shawn had first found this disturbing, but somewhere along the line it had become kind of cute. Lassiter assured him he kept the safety on and that Shawn was in what he called his 'safety zone.' Those honored enough to be included in this zone would not, it seemed, be shot on sight. Shawn was still campaigning to have squirrels conscripted.
Shawn slipped from the bed, throwing on jeans and a t-shirt before heading to his kitchen. He sliced up a fresh pineapple and set about making a pineapple breakfast smoothie (patent pending) and some coffee for Lassiter when he woke up. Shawn's own sleeping habits, which were haphazard at best, fodder for a clinical study at worst, had been improving slowly as his relationship with Lassiter progressed.
Lassiter was like his own personal teddy bear, if teddy bears came equipped with a Glock 17. The Lassiter teddy bear was doing a good job keeping nightmares mostly at bay, and even when he didn't, it was okay. The first time he had a full-blown nightmare while Lassiter was over Shawn realized he had been waiting for the sky to fall. It was always the death knell to a relationship that had progressed as far as someone staying the night—no one wanted to deal with someone that couldn't get through more than three hours sleep without having a panic attack, no matter how much he made them laugh when he was awake.
Except Lassiter hadn't freaked out or quietly slipped away or recommended he seek professional help (for this, anyway) or done any of the things that others had done in the past. He'd just pulled Shawn back against his chest with a kiss to the back of his head, and told him to go back to sleep; in the morning he said nothing about it.
As Shawn moved to turn the blender on, he almost didn't hear the slight rustling of his mail slot opening. He jogged to the front door and pulled it open, before the mail could be dropped through.
"Donald!" he said brightly. "It's been ages."
"Oh, hi, Shawn," Donald said, eyeing the front hall with suspicion and stepping further back. "Is your boyfriend here?"
Believing his behavior to be normal, Shawn had not thought to warn Lassiter that he had told his post man where to find his hide-a-key and then given him a standing invitation to enter at will. One morning while Donald was making himself and Shawn a cup of hot cocoa in his kitchen, Lassiter had cornered him with his gun, thrown him into the wall, and proceeded to search him thoroughly. Shawn had arrived just in time to keep him from putting the cuffs on.
Donald never made Shawn hot cocoa anymore, but Shawn figured that was the sort of sacrifice one had to make to maintain a grown up relationship.
"He's asleep," Shawn assured him. "I just wanted to apologize, again."
Donald shrugged, relaxing slightly, and handed over the mail. "I'm used to getting attacked by guard dogs," he said. "So this was just a new variation on an old theme."
Shawn frowned down at a postcard he had received. "Well, I've told him not do to it again," he assured him. "You've been added to the safety zone."
"Good to know," Donald said. "All the same I think I'll be staying this side of the mail slot."
"Understood," Shawn said, turning and closing the door with one foot as Donald headed off for his next stop. Shawn flipped through his mail, tossing bills and advertisements on the floor behind him as he went, until all that was left was a postcard. He laid it on the counter, before leaning down to get a closer look.
Grey L. Denfre is doing quite unwell, and I regret to report that we were unable to successfully attend our planned meeting of old friends. Old enemies are watching, so watch your back.
P.S. The view from Everest is so-so.
Shawn had received three postcards from Rily Criner in the last year, each more cryptic than the last. Cyril Riner was far too clever to leave anything that could be traced back to him, though he hadn't shied away from the fact that when he had disappeared he had gone to Nepal. But then there had been little point to since Shawn had already guessed it.
This was the most cryptic message yet, though Shawn caught a few of the references right away. Grey L. Denfre obviously referred to Cyril's mysterious partner in crime, Fred Greenly (a.k.a Glen Reed-Fry and Ed of Ferry Glen). Cyril had borrowed that particular trick for his own moniker Rily Criner, though his was obvious enough that Shawn had to hide his postcards away from prying Lassiter eyes.
The numbers inscribed along the bottom and the reference to a planned meeting that had never been planned were less obvious, as was the fact that this postcard, unlike the previous two, was not a view of Everest at all. It was New York City.
"Who was at the door?" Lassiter asked as he walked into the kitchen, rubbing at his eyes.
Shawn had always pegged Lassiter as an early riser, but the man had to sleep with two alarms to ensure he pushed himself out of bed on time. Apparently he was punctual with technological help, not by nature. Shawn turned so his back was to the door, folded the postcard and stuck it down the back of his waistband. "Just Donald," he said, smiling up at him.
Lassiter's eyes narrowed. "I hope he didn't invite himself in this time," he said.
"I told you before, Lassie, he had my permission to be here," Shawn assured him.
"I'm getting rid of your hide-a-key," Lassiter said. "God only knows how many more strangers you've told about it, and even if you haven't, it couldn't be more obvious. You have a giant plastic pineapple sitting on the porch, for crying out loud."
"I think it looks very lifelike," Shawn said.
"It's got to go," Lassiter said. "You've made a lot of enemies, Shawn. You don't have to make it easy for them."
"I don't make enemies, I make friends," Shawn assured him.
"Uh huh," Lassiter said. "And occasionally some of your friends want to kill you."
"Nobody's perfect," Shawn said.
"I'm getting rid of it," Lassiter said again. "Or—"
"Or what?" Shawn said.
"Nothing," Lassiter snapped, reaching for the coffee pot and pouring it into a mug that stated proudly 'the psychic is in.' "Never mind."
"I know when you've got something on your mind," Shawn protested. "I'm psychic, remember?"
"No you're not," Lassiter said. "And it's nothing. Only, I was thinking you must spend a lot on this place, right? And it's not very big or in the best location, and I worry. That's all."
"It's a wonderful location," Shawn said. "Have you seen my view?"
"Yeah, but do you know the kind of scumbags that hang around the beach?" Lassiter asked.
"Yes, actually," Shawn said. "Scumbag Sal, for instance. Lovely man; not at all like his name would imply."
"I'm serious here," Lassiter said.
"So am I," Shawn said. "People really call him Scumbag Sal, but he's been trying to be less of a scumbag, and I think he's been doing really well. He knows about the hide-a-key, too, by the way."
"I'm trying to ask you to move in with me, Spencer," Lassiter snapped.
Shawn let out a deep breath. "Yeah, I know," he said. "And I really wish you wouldn't."
"Right," Lassiter said, pushing away from the counter and heading back toward the bedroom. "I've got to get to work."
"Lassie," Shawn called, following him. "It's not that I don't want to. It's not, it's just—"
"It's okay, I get it," Lassiter said. "It's too soon."
"Yeah, I think it is," Shawn said. "But not for me, for you. I don't think you're ready to handle living with me."
"I know what you're like," Lassiter said. "I knew what I was getting into when we started this."
"Yeah, but I don't think you're thinking it through," he said. "I'm the kind of guy that leaves a key in the pineapple on the porch, knows everyone that lives in a thirty mile radius and leaves his clothes on the bathroom floor. And you're the kind of guy that has a state of the art security system, booby traps set up in the entryway, does background checks on the neighbors and has some kind of weird obsession with cleaning that's just—"
"I can handle you," Lassiter insisted.
"I don't want to be handled," Shawn said quietly.
"Shawn," Lassiter started, breaking off as his cell-phone started buzzing along the nightstand. He grabbed it and turned away. "Lassiter," he snapped. "Yeah. Okay. Got it."
"Is it a case?" Shawn asked, his tone falsely bright.
Lassiter reached for yesterday's clothes, getting dressed without looking up. "No," he said. "Chief Vick just needs me to come in early to go over some paperwork."
"You're going dressed like that?" Shawn asked. Lassiter was hardly ever wrinkled. "You haven't showered."
"I don't have time," he said, pocketing his phone before running a hand through his hair. "We'll talk more later, okay?"
"Yeah," Shawn agreed. "You want to meet for lunch?"
"Not today, I'll probably have lunch at the station," Lassiter said. "I'll call you later."
Shawn dropped down on his bed as Lassiter rushed from the bedroom. He glanced at the stuffed panda sitting in the chair across the room. "Well, Eugene, that could have gone better," he said.
Eugene stared back with his small plastic eyes. Shawn chose to take his silence as agreement.
Lassiter ignored the catcalls and wolf whistles as he walked towards his desk. It was the usual response to someone entering the office in yesterday's clothes, exempting officers assigned to stakeouts. It had never happened to Lassiter before, but he was strangely unbothered.
He had other things on his mind.
"Rough night?" Juliet asked sympathetically, holding out a coffee.
It was from the office coffee pot, which meant it had the general consistency of tar, but it was the thought that counted. Lassiter could feel himself softening already. "Thanks," he said, as he took it. "And the night was fine. It's the morning that's killing me."
"Trouble with Shawn?" Juliet asked.
"Is there ever one of those without the other?" Lassiter asked.
"Valid point," Juliet said wryly. "But I'm here, you know, if you need to talk."
Lassiter looked up at her. He had never had the best relationships with his partners in the past, but O'Hara was a special case. If he was ever going to open up, it would probably be to her. Just not today. "The Chief needs to see me," he said, setting the coffee aside. "Some other time, huh?"
"Yeah," Juliet said brightly. "Sure. Any time."
Her cheer was obviously false, and Lassiter felt like he'd kicked a puppy. Shawn gave him that same expression too, had done so just this morning, when he was trying to distract Lassiter from how anxious he really was—Shawn was always doing that, trying to put on a good show. He wished they'd both just say what they really meant. He wasn't good at reading signals, at least not in any context outside of interrogation.
Chief Vick looked up as Lassiter entered the office. "Shut the door, Carlton," she said tiredly. If she noticed that Lassiter was wearing the same clothes he was wearing the day before, she made no move to comment on it.
"What's going on?" Lassiter demanded. "You didn't say much on the phone."
"You were with Spencer, I'm guessing?" Vick said. "And I think this is something we want to keep him out of."
Lassiter sat down across from her. "That's never very easy to do," he said. "I try it pretty much every case."
"Try harder this time," Vick snapped, tossing a file across the desk.
Lassiter flipped it open and raised an eyebrow. "Cyril Riner?" he said. "I thought he was off the grid?"
"Well he's back in the game," Vick said. "The FBI called us yesterday to get some background on him. Apparently they've had a robbery."
"The FBI?" Lassiter repeated incredulously. "That's hardly Cryil Riner's usual fare. He steals diamonds."
"Yes he does," Vick agreed. "And two days ago someone stole a blue diamond from an FBI evidence locker. The very same diamond that Shawn Spencer recovered during the Dah-Ling case."
Lassiter pressed his eyes shut for a moment, getting a bad feeling. "What were the FBI doing with it?" he asked.
"Organized Crime have reopened their case against Max Diaz," Vick said. "Apparently being in prison hasn't slowed him down much, and chances are good he's going to be out on his next appeal. His business is running as usual, and they want to know how. They've requested everything we have on the case. Since the diamonds were originally stolen from Diaz, they also requested everything we had on the subsequent case with Riner."
"Why wasn't I told?" Lassiter demanded.
"Because it wasn't any of your concern," Vick said coolly. "But now with Diaz on the verge of being released and Riner back on the grid, it is. No one knows Riner better than you. They want your help."
Lassiter shook his head. "There's one person that knows him better than me," he said reluctantly.
"I don't want Spencer anywhere near this case," Vick said. "Last time he got near Cyril Riner we almost lost him. Henry Spencer still has a lot of friends in high places and he made it very clear to me when Shawn Spencer was taken hostage by Riner that I'd better not let something like that happen again."
"As much as I hate to admit it, Shawn was right about Riner," Lassiter said. "He's not a murderer."
"Then explain this," Vick said, and slid a photo across the desk. "The victim was shot through the back of the head. Forensic pathology shows he was placed on his knees first. It was an execution."
"You think Riner did this?" Lassiter asked.
"The FBI certainly does," Vick said. "They think Riner and Greenly used him in the heist and then got rid of him so they wouldn't have to share their cut. Their evidence is pretty convincing. There's no ID on the victim yet, but they have surveillance of the three together."
"They'd been watching Riner?" Lassiter said. "Why didn't they pick him up?"
"For what?" Vick asked. "He was cleared of the murder of Avery Daily, and we have no evidence that he or Greenly had anything to do with the diamond bracelet that went missing from our evidence locker last year. We can't even prove conclusively that Fred Greenly is Glen Reed-Fry. If they picked him up, a good lawyer would have had him out again in ten minutes flat. They wanted to catch him red-handed."
"It doesn't sound like it went to plan," he said.
"No, and that's where you come in," Vick said. "Riner and Greenly have got to be running scared. They can't do a thing with those diamonds, no fence would touch them. The FBI want to fly you to New York so you can find him."
"I'm not sure that's a good idea," Lassiter said reluctantly. "If you don't want Shawn involved, it's probably best I'm not either. If I disappear to New York, he's going to figure it out. You know he will."
"Say you're going to a police conference," Vick said dismissively.
"It's a little more complicated than that," Lassiter said.
Vick crossed her arms and stared across at him. "If you're referring to your relationship with Mr. Spencer, it doesn't change anything," she said. "You're still going to be on the first plane to New York, because that's where you're needed. I know you, Lassiter, and you won't forgive yourself if Riner hurts someone else and you don't even try to stop him. You'd be doing it as much for Spencer as anyone. I wouldn't put it past Riner to drag him into this mess himself. He's done it before."
Lassiter glared across at her. He hadn't had much respect for Vick when she first started this job, but he learned very quickly just how effective she was. She always knew exactly what to say to get people to do what she wanted, and she never pulled her punches. He respected her methods now, but he still didn't like it when they were directed at him.
"I'll go pack," Lassiter said.
Gus had put up with a lot since Shawn had started dating Lassiter, not the least of which was having to entertain the thought of Shawn and Lassiter together. Lassiter had also single-handedly ruined game night. He was competitive and had a mean streak, and killed Gus three times the previous night in Soul Caliber, laughing manically the whole time. Shawn, deluded as he was these days, had believed this behavior to be cute.
Gus was glad at least when he got to watch Shawn utterly destroy Lassiter in the next round, but it was a small consolation. Lassiter ruined everything.
At least their working relationship hadn't changed. After their disastrous attempt at working together on the murder of Harvey Graves, Shawn and Lassiter had decided to revert back to the status quo when it came to solving cases. Lassiter would play by the book, and Shawn and Gus would swoop in to show him up. It was Gus's favorite part of a case.
He did have to admit it was nice having some time to himself again, with Lassiter keeping Shawn occupied most of his nights off. So Gus dealt with it. He carried on. But this time, Shawn had gone too far.
"Shawn!" Gus shouted, banging on the door. There was no response, just as there had been no response to the last three phone calls. Gus angrily unscrewed the pineapple and then let himself in with the hide-a-key, covering his eyes as he made his way through the entry way. "If you're not decent, I'm going to scream!"
"Please don't," he heard Shawn reply distractedly. "The last time you screamed I think you burst one of my eardrums."
Gus carefully uncovered his eyes, relieved to see Shawn was fully dressed and alone, staring at his refrigerator with strange intensity. "Why aren't you answering your phone?" Gus demanded.
"Oh, that was you?" Shawn said, glancing over at him. "Sorry. I thought it was Lassiter. Remind me to adjust his ringtone."
"You're not picking up for Lassiter?" Gus asked, trying not to sound pleased.
"I think we're in a serious fight again," Shawn said. "It's hard to tell sometimes, because we fight pretty much all the time. I don't always know if they're serious or not."
"Oh," Gus said, frowning. "Where is he now?"
"He went to work," Shawn said.
"In the middle of a fight?" Gus demanded. "You'd never let me go to work angry."
"Well, no, but I can't keep Lassie from work," Shawn said. "He saves lives, Gus!"
"So do I!" Gus said. "My work is very important. Do you know how many hospitals I supply?"
"I'm sure it's a very large number, but I wouldn't go bragging about it," Shawn said. "You're like a glorified pusher."
"Aht!" Gus squeaked, eyes going squinty.
"I don't mean that like a bad thing," Shawn said at once. "Some of my best friends are pushers."
"You don't know any pushers, Shawn," Gus snapped. "And I am a very respectable businessman. My work is extremely important. I'd appreciate it if you would show me a bit more respect, and stop wasting my precious time."
Shawn frowned. "Hey, I'm sorry, buddy," he said. "What was it that you needed?"
Gus was still bristling, fixing his coat, and turned his head away from Shawn. "Weir goi-en a tch he explodes gigtesca de romance athon oday," he muttered.
Shawn watched him carefully. "Sorry, I didn't quite catch that, did you just say, 'we were going to watch the Explosion Giagantesca de Romance marathon today?'"
"You know I did, Shawn," Gus snapped. "We planned this months ago. I made empanadas."
"I apologize, Gus, you're right, that's obviously of the utmost importance," Shawn said. "And here I was, wasting time with a case."
"We haven't got a case," Gus said.
"We do, actually," Shawn said. "It's just that I don't know what it is yet."
"You have a case, but you don't know what it is?" Gus said. "That doesn't make any sense."
"I know, right? I'm glad we're on the same page with this," Shawn said.
"We're not even in the same book," Gus said. "Who hired us?"
"Rily Criner, kind of," Shawn said. "But we're not getting paid or anything."
"Of course not," Gus said, stepping closer despite himself, his eyes drifting towards the fridge.
Shawn had arranged three postcards on the fridge, after clearing it of all pictures of Shawn, Gus, Lassiter and/or Val Kilmer. He'd connected sections of each postcard with red permanent marker, written along the surface of his fridge.
"You know that's not a whiteboard, right?" Gus asked. "That's not going to wash off. You can forget your deposit."
"Way to focus in on the heart of the matter," Shawn said. "Don't you see what this is?"
"It's a bunch of cryptic postcards, probably from one of your old girlfriends," Gus said. "Your old girlfriends always spelled their name weird. Rily without an e, what is that? At least Lassiter spells his name like a normal person, though I have to tell you I think it's weird you won't call him by his first name."
"First names are so impersonal," Shawn said. "I don't call you by your first name either."
"You call your dad Henry half the time," Gus said.
"That only supports my argument," Shawn said. "But you're missing the point. Rily isn't an old girlfriend, or even a girl. It's Cyril Riner."
"Cyril Riner, the master criminal jewel thief that kidnapped you last year and threw you out of a car and almost got you killed?" Gus demanded.
"No, of course not, Gus, I mean the other Cyril Riner that lives beneath the bridge and spends his days making balloon animals for orphans," Shawn said.
"Oh no, this is not happening, you can forget it right now," Gus said firmly. "We are not taking another case from Cyril Riner. You don't think clearly about this guy. You're like some sort of groupie."
"Why do you say that like there's something wrong with being a groupie?" Shawn said. "You're the one who followed Prince through his entire Newpower Soul Tour."
"I was an intern, it was extra credit for a business class," Gus protested.
"I've taken that into consideration, but have decided it's not a mitigating defense," Shawn said. "Maybe if you told people you were doing it for community service."
"It doesn't matter, we're done with Cyril Riner, the case is closed, finished, done with, over," Gus said. "He's long gone, and while I find the fact that he's been sending you postcards highly disturbing, I'm choosing to ignore it; because if I think about it too much I think I might freak out a little."
"I proved him innocent! Cyril is harmless," Shawn said. "Well, okay, probably not harmless, he is an extremely competent criminal who has both stolen near millions and escaped from a high-security prison. But that aside, he's really a great guy! We had tons of fun on our road trip."
"It wasn't a road trip, you were his hostage," Gus said.
"You say potato, I say French fry," Shawn said.
"Whatever, Shawn, he's not even asking for help," Gus snapped, looking over the postcards. The first one was simple, it just said:
Wish you were here. Enjoy the Red Bull.
"On top of everything, he's an enabler," Gus snapped. "I've been trying really hard to keep you Red Bull free, and here he's taunting you."
"I'm still waiting for my clean for a year token," Shawn interjected petulantly.
Gus ignored him, keeping his attention on the fridge. Inexplicably, Shawn had connected the 'Red Bull' sentence to his name in the next postcard:
It's a good thing you didn't keep that rock. It's got a bounty on it for more than it's worth. Send H and K to Lassiter for me.
"I find that disturbing on a number of levels," Gus said stiffly, following the line Shawn had drawn from Lassiter's name to the line 'old friends' in the next postcard. "I'm going to erase that from my brain now. Going. Going. Gone."
"You have to read between the lines," Shawn said, pointing to the last line on the second post card. "Can't you see that's where things started to go wrong? It's a warning, and the fact that he used Lassiter's name? He's telling me I might have to go to the police."
"I don't think that's what he's saying, Shawn," Gus said. "H and K means Hugs and Kisses."
"Then how do you explain this newest one?" Shawn demanded. "'Old enemies are watching, so watch your back.'"
"Okay, so it's a warning," Gus said. "What it isn't is someone hiring us for a case."
"What about the numbers? 89327? Do you know what they might be?" Shawn asked.
"It could be a short code," Gus said, drawn in despite himself.
"Yes, I'm fairly certain it is a code, and also short," Shawn said. "But I was looking for something a little more helpful."
"I mean a cell phone short code, Shawn, as they're known in the telecommunication industry. It's typically used in conjunction with the Short Message Service."
"And that would be what, for those of us not in the telecommunication industry?" Shawn asked.
"Texting, Shawn," Gus said. "Have you tried sending a text to the number?"
"Hold on," Shawn said, pulling out his phone and quickly texting 'hello' to the number. He got a response almost immediately. "Huh."
"What? What is it?" Gus demanded. "Is it a clue?"
"No, but apparently I was the hundredth one to text that number, and I just won a contest for an all-expense paid dinner for two at Miro for tonight at seven. I just have to text back my name." Shawn said, sending the text. "Miro. It sounds like the name of a Disney movie. How good can it be?"
"You have to make reservations like a year in advance," Gus said, grabbing the phone from Shawn in disbelief. "How does this stuff keep happening to you? Do you know how long I've wanted to go there?"
"Well, I'd take you, but that would probably be hard to explain to Lassiter," Shawn said. "He's already mad at me, just because I don't think we should move in together."
"Woah, hold on, who said anything about you and Lassiter moving in together?" Gus asked. "You can't move in with him. If you move in with him, he'll be there all the time. It'll be Lassiter 24/7. I can't handle that, Shawn. He's driving me crazy."
"Lassiter is tons of fun to be around," Shawn protested.
"You only think that because you have some kind of personality disorder," Gus said kindly. "Normal people can only handle so much of that man before they want to kill him, or themselves, or both."
"He isn't asking to move in with you, Gus!" Shawn said. "This is about me and Lassiter."
"Right," Gus said. "It's about you and Lassiter. And me."
"No, Gus, it's kind of just about me and Lassiter," Shawn said.
"I've put a lot of time of effort into you, Shawn," Gus snapped. "I think I deserve some say in what you do with your life."
"I can't do this with you right now," Shawn said. "Give me your keys."
"Why?" Gus asked suspiciously.
"Because, I'm going to take you somewhere nice," Shawn said. "You're obviously feeling neglected."
"We're missing our Explosion Giagantesca de Romance marathon! What I want to do is sit down and relax and watch it," Gus said.
"Gus, do you want to sit on the couch watching terrible actors pretend to live their lives, or do you want to get out there and live your life?" Shawn demanded.
Gus stood a little straighter. "I want to live my life," he decided.
"That's the spirit!" Shawn said, grabbing the keys. "You're not going to regret this."
"I'm regretting it, Shawn," Gus said stiffly.
"Are you trying to tell me there's no one in Explosion Giagantesca de Romance in prison right now?" Shawn asked. "We're living the dream, buddy, come on, get out of the car."
"Francesco is in prison, but it's just a misunderstanding, and he's going to make bail," Gus said. "That doesn't explain what we're doing here."
"We're going to see an old enemy," Shawn said. "Cyril didn't give me much to work with, but I've got to start somewhere. Since James is dead, that leaves Ava."
"Ava Dah-Ling?" Gus asked, quiet and level. "I know you don't mean the woman that tried to kill you."
"Gus, you really need to get over this," Shawn said. "A lot of people have tried to kill me; we're bound to run into some of them again. I saw Byrd Tatums at the supermarket just last week. He was buying three bags of peanuts, which I thought was weird."
"This girl is crazy, Shawn," Gus protested.
"She might know something," Shawn said. "I'm not looking forward to this any more than you. Honestly, I find Ava more than a little scary, and I don't like the way she mocks my gift."
"You aren't really psychic," Gus said. "You don't have a gift."
"Yes, but she can't possibly know that for sure," Shawn said. "People always mock what they don't understand. Now get out of the car."
Gus reluctantly got out of the car, attempting to make it appear like his idea. "Fine," he said. "We're here, so I'll come, but only because you're obviously depressed about how your relationship with Lassiter is falling apart."
"It isn't falling apart," Shawn said. "And definitely don't say that in front of Ava! That sly minx would just love to get her hands on my man."
"You sound like someone on The Hills," Gus said.
"I don't know what that means, but I choose to take it as a compliment," Shawn said.
"It wasn't one," Gus said, reluctantly following Shawn to the gate.
Shawn took the lead, and smiled up at the guard. The woman appeared to be at least six foot four, but was probably only five foot eleven. Her hair was tied back in a bun, and her uniform straining against her bulk. "This way," she said, opening the gate to let them in. "Straight down to the visitors building. Don't get too close to the fence."
Shawn and Gus nodded and warily started down along the fence. The inmates were in the yard, and a few were leaning up against the fence to whistle and call to them. "Dude, did you see that guard?" Shawn asked. "I think it was Chyna."
"It wasn't Chyna," Gus said, reaching out to discreetly hold the back of Shawn's shirt, attempting to hide himself from view.
"Come on, baby, don't be shy," one of the prisoners called to him.
"Hey, isn't that your ex-girlfriend from the eighth grade?" Shawn asked.
"Isabel is a doctor now, Shawn, that isn't her," Gus snapped.
"No, not Isabel, Callie! That was totally Callie," Shawn said.
"Callie and I never dated, and I'm fairly certain that wasn't her. But I suppose I could be mistaken, considering the amount of tattoos," he said hesitantly.
They came to the door and met another guard. This one was less Chyna, and more Juliet in a guard's uniform. "Welcome to the Santa Barbara County Jail," she said brightly. "Visitor booths are straight to the back. Who you coming to see today, boys?"
"Ava Dah-Ling," Shawn said.
"Oh," Guard-Juliet said, looking disappointed in them. "Miss Dah-Ling. Well. Okay then. She should be there. We heard she was getting visitors. Do you know you're the first ones?"
"No, but it doesn't surprise me," Shawn said. "Actually, I'm psychic, so not much surprises me. But this surprises me even less, because I can't imagine anyone wanting to visit with her."
Guard-Juliet looked relieved. "Oh, well, no, me either," she said. "So what are you doing here?"
"I'm the one that put her away," Shawn said. "Single-handedly."
"It wasn't single-handed," Gus said.
"Okay, I admit it," Shawn said, with a sweet smile for the guard. "I used both of my hands."
Guard-Juliet laughed, and held the door for them. "Have fun now," she said.
"What the hell was that?" Gus demanded after they entered the visitor's building.
"What was what?" Shawn asked.
"You were totally flirting with that guard," Gus said.
"That wasn't flirting, that was me being charming," Shawn said. "I can't help that I'm charming. It just comes naturally."
"I don't know how Lassiter puts up with you," Gus said.
"Excuse me?" Shawn said. "Have you been taken over by pod-Gus? Two minutes ago you said he made you want to kill yourself!"
"That was half an hour ago," Gus said.
"I stand corrected," Shawn said.
Gus ignored him. "But now I realize what he must deal with. And you won't even consider moving in with him."
"I was considering it!" Shawn protested. "You told me I shouldn't!"
"If you were sure, it wouldn't matter what I say," Gus said.
"I just can't win with you," Shawn said. "I'm not going to have a fight with Lassiter, and then have the same fight with you. Can we just focus? We're in the middle of a case."
"There is no case," Gus said.
"Are you just disagreeing with everything I say now? Of course there's a case. You know there's a case. I explained this," Shawn said patiently. "Cyril is in some kind of trouble."
"So are you," Gus said, nodding towards the back of the room. "It looks like Ava Dah-Ling has been trying to kill you with her eyes since we walked in."
"Oh, right, I forgot about her," Shawn said. "Let's get this over with."
Shawn jogged across the room and sat down at the booth, picking up the phone as he flashed Ava a nervous grin. After a brief pause, Ava moved to lift hers.
She had since had her hair cut to include bangs, and she shook her head to keep them out of her eyes as she tapped her pink fingernails along the edge of the cubicle. Very few people could pull off prison orange, but Ava was obviously one of them. She looked as glamorous as ever, and had unbuttoned her jumpsuit just far down enough that Shawn could see the edges of a blue lace bra.
"What do you want, mystic?" Ava asked.
"We need to ask you some questions," Shawn said.
"We?" Ava said dryly.
Shawn frowned and looked behind him to see Gus had not moved from the doorway. Gus smiled stiffly and gave a thumbs up. Shawn rolled his eyes and turned back around. "Okay, I have some questions," he said.
"It always amuses me how many questions psychics ask," Ava said wryly. "Almost as though they don't have any answers of their own."
"I'm not omniscient, Ava," Shawn said. "Cyril's in trouble. I need your help. You practically ruined the guy's life, you owe him."
"I've received 25 years," Ava said. "I'd say we're even."
"Then give yourself some good karma by being the better person," Shawn said. "I just need to know anything you can tell me about Cyril's old crew."
"Oh, them?" Ava asked. "No one was very interested in what I had to say about them during the trial. He's a bit the darling now instead of me, wouldn't you say? Poor Cyril Riner, wrongly accused. Never mind that he's dirty himself."
"I'm interested, Ava," Shawn said. "Talk to me."
Ava sighed dramatically. "Riner, Greenly, Carter and James. I knew they were up to no good the moment I saw them, always sneaking in at all hours, loading their storage in pitch black. You can always tell the criminals."
"Oh, yes," Shawn said. "I spotted you right away too."
Ava's eyes flashed angrily, but she was enjoying her audience far too much to storm away. "I'm guessing you're here about Carter, since you know the other two and James is dead," she said. "He was their safe-man; very talented and very smart. I wanted to offer him the job before going to James. I would have preferred him as a partner, if only because he was very nice to look at. James was so cumbersome and stupid."
"Why didn't you choose him, then?" Shawn asked.
"Because he was too smart, he would never have deferred to me," Ava said. "He knew I was up to something the moment I started to work him, so I had to settle for stupid James."
"I don't suppose you have a first name?" he asked.
Ava shrugged non-committedly. "Maybe Carter is his first name, maybe it's his last, maybe he made it up out of thin air. That's what he called himself, that's all I know. But then, Mark Lyle called himself James. Criminals, huh? Can't trust one of them."
"Where is he now?" Shawn asked.
"He's vacationing in the Hamptons," Ava deadpanned. "I'm in prison, you moron, how the hell should I know? You're the psychic. You find him."
"Right," Shawn said. "Well, it's been a pleasure as always, Ava. I'm relieved to see that prison hasn't changed you."
"Wait," Ava cried, when Shawn stood to leave. She placed a hand on the glass and blinked up at him with her huge, mesmerizing eyes. "Would you please tell Lassiter I still think of him? I was so hoping he would be at my appeal next month."
"Oh, sure, I'll pass it on when I see him tonight," Shawn said. "It's our anniversary, you know. You've been here a year now, which means that Lassie and I have been dating a year. Time flies when you're having fun, I guess."
Ava's eyes widened, her mouth dropping in disbelief, and Shawn hung up the phone and went to join Gus at the door.
"Did you learn anything?" Gus asked.
"No thanks to you," Shawn said. "Great moral support there, buddy."
"I was supporting you," Gus said. "I was just doing it from the other side of the room."
"She's behind glass, you know, she can't hurt you," Shawn said.
"So was Hannibal Lector," Gus said. "And look at what he could do."
"Ava's pretty despicable, but I wouldn't exactly compare her to Hannibal Lector," Shawn said.
"Whatever you say, Clarice," Gus said. "This is as close as I get."
"You're being ridiculous," Shawn said.
"Say what you want, but she doesn't even know who I am," Gus said. "So don't come crying to me if she wants to make a Louis Vuitton bag out of you."
"I'll have you know, I'd make an awesome Louis Vuitton bag," Shawn said. "My skin's like silk."
"You don't even moisturize," Gus sneered. "I moisturize twice a day! I keep my head waxed to perfection! If anyone would make an awesome Louis Vuitton bag, it would be me!"
"You're right, I'm sorry, Gus," Shawn said. "You would make a beautiful bag of silky chocolaty goodness."
"You know that's right," Gus said.
Shawn pushed through the door, starting back towards to the car. "And when she comes for us, I'll be sure to tell her that."
"You got that—wait, what? Shawn!" Gus snapped, chasing after him.