Lassiter’s connections were as good as gold. He got her a meeting with Captain Joseph Spitz, who heard her story and immediately introduced her to Agent Inez Swanson, the FBI liaison assigned to the prescription drug trafficking case.
According to Agent Swanson, for the past ten years, psychiatric prescription drugs had gone missing from Tijuana hospitals and shown up in police raids across the U.S. They were mostly pain-killers, though a few drugs high pseudoephedrine and some medical steroids were in the mix. These drugs were usually sold for recreation, though occasionally they surfaced in underground clinics. The FBI believed that a local doctor, or perhaps a group of doctors, was smuggling them north and selling them. It was extremely profitable, extremely illegal, and, for anyone taking the drugs, extremely dangerous.
The case had been sitting on the back burner for almost a decade until recently, when Mary Bunker, a co-ed at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and the granddaughter of Senator Ted Bunker, had died of an overdose of unprescribed Valium, which was traced back to City Hospital of Tijuana. Suddenly, time, money and resources were being given to this investigation with Agent Swanson overseeing the entire operation.
“A friend at the Tijuana courthouse actually contacted us already,” Agent Swanson said as she and Juliet sat down in a conference room in the basement of the Chula Vista police department. One wall was completely covered with pictures of crime scenes and evidence and a map of North America filled with pins, presumably marking the communities where the dugs were discovered. The large table in the middle of the room was piled with copies of police reports from all around the U.S..
“Naturally, we cannot get involved in another sovereign nation’s judicial process, but I assure you we will follow it with interest.”
“With all due respect, Agent Swanson, in the past 48 hours my friend has been drugged, thrown into jail, and assaulted,” Juliet said. “I can’t just sit back and follow the judicial process with interest.”
Agent Swanson offered Juliet a wry smile. ”Do you want us to demand the Mexican government release him?”
“I know you can’t do that,” Juliet said. ”But if you have any information that could help my friend, I would like you to bring it forward.”
The agent took a deep breath and looked down at the file closest to her. “Unfortunately, the information we have does not help your friend.”
“What are you talking about?” Juliet asked.
“Shawn Spencer,” Agent Swanson said, opening her file. ”He’s Doctor Madeline Spencer’s son, isn’t he?”
“Yes,” Juliet said. “She has something to do with this?”
“Because you are a police officer, I’m willing to share this information with you,” Agent Swanson said, pushing the file towards Juliet.
“You’re investigating Dr. Spencer?” Juliet said, flipping through the file.
“I received a tip as soon as I got here,” Agent Swanson explained. “The evidence is inconclusive, largely circumstantial. However, I didn’t get where I am by dismissing evidence. She remains a suspect until we know who the culprit is. But I must say, now that her son is involved, she becomes a much more interesting suspect.”
Juliet stared at the file, shocked. “Shawn cannot be involved in this.”
“Are you speaking as a detective or as a friend?” Agent Swanson asked.
“A friend,” Juliet admitted. “But I know Shawn and . . .”
“I know you want to prove your friend innocent, Detective O’Hara,” Agent Swanson said. “And, I’m sure you would like to exonerate his mother as well. But our resources are limited, and I cannot pursue this investigation.”
“I’m not asking you to investigate this,” Juliet said. ”I just need access to some information. And, naturally, anything I find I’ll give to you.”
“Even if you find something that incriminates your friend?”
“If he’s trafficking drugs, he’s not the person I think he is,” Juliet said.
“What if he’s innocent, but his mother is involved?”
“Then she put him in danger,” Juliet said coolly. ”Protecting her would mean putting Shawn in further danger. I wouldn’t protect her.”
“Then Detective O’Hara,” Agent Swanson said with a smile. “I think we can work together.”
* * *
Henry Spencer sat in an uncomfortable plastic chair and watched his only son breathe. He’d done it before, of course. When Shawn had been a baby, Henry would spend hours just watching him. He’d been so innocent back then, so helpless. The grown man lying in the hospital bed was anything but innocent but for some reason Henry couldn’t understand, his feeling of paternal love were a thousand times stronger then they had been for the little baby in the white bassinette. Perhaps it had something to do with the thick plastic tubes taped over his mouth helping him breathe, or the strings of IVs poked into the back of his right hand, or the heavy handcuffs on his left hand, locking him to the bed.
Of course, Henry was annoyed that Shawn had gone to Mexico without even bothering to tell him. He was mad as hell that his boy had been stupid enough to get mixed up with some sort of illegal drug market—even if the drugs were prescription. He was furious that Shawn had not seen fit to call him and ask for help. But mostly he wished, with all his heart, that he could have taken his son’s place. He would have given anything, absolutely anything, to see Shawn healthy and smirking.
“Hey,” Gus said softly as he entered the room, carrying two cups of steaming coffee. “How’s it going?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Henry said with a sigh. “The thing over there beeps every few minutes. I have no idea what that means. I tried to ask the nurse but she just told me not to worry about it.”
“No signs of life, then?” Gus asked as he handed Henry one of the cups
“I can’t believe you boys went down to Mexico again, after what happened the last two times.”
“Yeah,” Gus said. “It was pretty dumb. But at least we had a hotel this time.”
“Fat lot of good that did you,” Henry said. “Shawn didn’t even last the night.”
“But not because he was drunk,” Gus pointed out. “And not because he got on the wrong side of some chiquita’s boyfriend.”
“Well, we don’t know that, do we?” Henry said. “All we know for sure is what’s in the police report and, if Detective O’Hara is right, we can’t even count on that.”
“I’m just saying, it’s not like it was when we were eighteen or twenty-two.”
“You have me there, Gus,” Henry admitted. “It’s nothing like those times. It’s much, much worse. I didn’t get a desperate call because you ran out of gas in Tecate, and I didn’t hear about it from a fishing buddy who works with your father. This time I got a call from the Tijuana Police. Things certainly have changed.”
“The doctor said Shawn should make a full recovery,” Gus said, obviously trying to change the subject to something brighter.
“After getting arrested for a drug charge in Mexico, on of his cell mates decided to use him as a punching bag.” Henry said. “But, because some doctor in a third-world country says, if we’re lucky, my son might just turn out good as new after several months of recovery, then I shouldn’t worry. I shouldn’t care.”
“I’m just saying, it could have been worse,” Gus said.
“Now that’s a comforting thought,” Henry spat back.
Wisely, Gus did not offer any more optimistic comments. Instead they sat in silence and watched Shawn breath.
* * *
While interesting, the police files didn’t, and couldn’t, tell Juliet what had really happened to Shawn. She needed to talk to him—but he was still in an induced coma. So she settled for one degree of separation. A formal request, phone call and charming smile later, she had a meeting with Gliberto Salazar.
“Hello, Gilberto,” she said sweetly as the 6 foot 4, 250 pound man checked her out. They were in a visiting room again, just like the room they’d seen Shawn in earlier. Salazar was handcuffed and he knew that guards were watching from the mirrored windows on the sides. Juliet was not worried he’d try anything. He was dumb, but not as dumb as that. “My name is Detective O’Hara. I’m a friend of Shawn Spencer’s.”
“Is Shawn OK?” Salazar asked, with what sounded like genuine concern.
Juliet blinked. ”No, he’s in the hospital, thanks to you.”
“I know he’s in the hospital,” Salazar said. ”But will he get better? I didn’t touch his face, just like he asked.”
“Yeah,” Salazar said. ”He’s a psychic, you know. He knew I had to beat him. I hope he doesn’t hold it against me.”
“What do you mean you had to beat him?”
“Well, I got paid to. Paid a grand, American.”
“Someone paid you a thousand dollars to beat up Shawn Spencer?”
“Yeah,” Salazar said. “It had to be bad but I wasn’t supposed to kill him.”
“Those sound like very specific instructions,” Juliet said. ”Whoever paid you must have had a plan.”
“I don’t know anything about that; I just know the job.”
“Do you at least know who gave you the job?”
“My trainer came in and told me about it. Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, he said. I didn’t want to hurt Shawn—Shawn’s a great guy. And I know I’ll be in prison for while, but I made more in this one job then I could make in three months.”
“So, someone contacted your trainer and made the deal.”
“Yeah,” Salazar said. “He said the guy caught him in the halls and made the offer. It was way too good to pass up—especially since we didn’t know when I’d be out and able to fight again.”
“So, your trainer was approached here, in the jail?”
“That’s what he said.”
“But he didn’t tell you who actually hired him?”
“No,” Salazar said. ”And I asked, too. You know I didn’t want to hurt Shawn but the money . . .”
“Yeah, I get that,” Juliet said sharply. ”You know, you could have turned them down. You could have stood up for your friend and not beaten him unconscious.”
“But I didn’t touch his face, just like he asked,” Salazar said. ”Who else would have done that?”
“So, your defense for beating your friend is that someone else would have beaten him worse.”
“It’s a fact,” Salazar insisted. ”If it weren’t me, it of been someone else.”
Juliet hated to admit it but he had a point. Whoever wanted Shawn hurt would not have given up just because one jail bird didn’t accept their offer. Even if she and Gus had been able to bail Shawn out before the assault, Juliet knew that they couldn’t have protected him the way, apparently, he needed. There were any number of hoodlums on the streets of Tijuana who would have done much worse to Shawn for far less then $1,000.
“Fine,” Juliet said, to end the conversation. ”But I am going to need to talk to your trainer.”
* * *
“How’s he doing?” Juliet asked softly as she crept into the hospital room. She hadn’t seen him yet, and she was a little afraid to. Shawn was always full of life, quick to smile and bursting with energy. She didn’t want to see him lying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a breathing machine, lifeless.
Gus and Henry were sitting in plastic chairs against the far wall. Henry was working on a book of crossword puzzles while Gus played a hand-held video game.
“Well enough, all things considered,” Gus said, quickly turning off his game. “The doctors are planning to take the tubes out of his throat soon, then they’ll let him wake up.”
“How soon is soon?”
“That’s a very good question,” Henry groused, he was still staring at his puzzle, apparently waiting for inspiration. “The way this hospital is organized, there’s no way of knowing.”
“How’s the investigation going?” Gus asked.
“Lassiter’s connections really helped,” Juliet told him, though she couldn’t take her eyes off Shawn. He was pale and still. His eyes were closed and his hair was a mess. He only vaguely resembled the Shawn she knew. Seeing him like this made her stomach turn in knots but she couldn’t look away. “Along with a wealth of background information on our smuggling ring, I was able to talk to the prisoner who did this.”
“And what did he say?” Henry asked darkly.
“He said it was a hit,” Juliet said, tearing her eyes away from Shawn and looking at his father. “He was paid a thousand dollars to make sure Shawn ended up in the hospital.”
“So he was thrown in jail just so he do this to Shawn?” Gus asked, his voice rising with his temper.
“I don’t think so,” Juliet said. “I think a cop or at least someone associated with the jail, approached his trainer and hired him on the spot.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Henry said. “That would be way too dangerous, suppose someone overheard their conversation.”
“It’s what Salazar said happened,” Juliet told him with a shrug.
“Maybe the cop, or whoever, didn’t like the way the trial went,” Gus said. “That Dr. Ruiz guy did try to get the judge to place a higher bail.”
“So then he uses a brawler, who’s already in jail, to make sure Shawn doesn’t get released and start solving the case,” Juliet said. “It seems plausible.”
“It seems incredibly far-fetched,” Henry said. “Not to mention risky. Wouldn’t it be far safer to just let Shawn go, lay low and wait for the charges to blow over.”
“I don’t think they can lay low anymore,” Juliet said. “The FBI I took up this investigation after Mary Bunker died. They’re probably closing in.”
“Mary Bunker,” Gus said. “Why does that name sound familiar.”
“Senator’s granddaughter,” Juliet supplied. “From Texas. She overdosed on Valium she didn’t have a prescription for and the drugs were traced back to a hospital in Tijuana.”
“Do you think they planted the drugs on Shawn to frame him?” Gus asked. “Make it look like he’s been part of the ring the whole time?”
“But it will be ridiculously easy to prove that he hasn’t,” Juliet pointed out.
“It sounds like you two need more information,” Henry observed, less than helpfully.
“That’s actually why I came back,” Juliet said. “I think we need to talk to Salazar’s trainer. He’s the one who made the deal to beat up Shawn. He may be able to tell us who paid him. If we know who, then we’ll be a lot closer to knowing why.”
“Makes sense,” Gus said.
“The thing is,” Juliet continued nervously. “The trainer lives at his gym, and . . . . I don’t think I’m the right person to go and talk to him.”
“What to do you mean?” Gus asked. “You’re a cop. Flash your badge and . . .”
“What you’re forgetting, Gus,” Henry interrupted. “Is that Detective O’Hara is a cop in Santa Barbara, not in Tijuana. She has no authority here.”
“But Lassiter’s connections—” Gus pointed out.
“May open a few doors with the Police,” Juliet explained. “But I doubt a shady trainer who arranges for his fighters to beat people in jail is going to be very impressed.”
“I still don’t see why we’d have any better luck then you,” Gus said.
“Because,” Henry provided. “We’re not pretty young women. If she walks into a place like that, the only statement she’ll get will be about her figure—to put it politely.”
“Exactly,” Juliet said, slightly uncomfortable that Shawn’s father had called her pretty and commented on her figure—even though he’d done her the favor of explaining her concerns. “But he might talk to one of you, mano-a-mano.”
“A gym?” Gus asked. “I guess I could . . .”
“We’re not talking about your local YMCA,” Henry corrected. “This place will be a step up from a fight club. I’ll go.”
“It could be dangerous,” Juliet said. “I think both of you should go.”
“No,” Henry insisted. “After twenty years on the force, I think I can handle a few punks. On the other hand, I don’t want to risk the Gusters getting the same call I got. First thing in the morning, I’ll head out and see what I can find.”
“Thank you,” Juliet said smiling at him gratefully before she pulled a piece of paper out of her purse. “All the information I have is on here,” she explained as she handed over the paper. “The gym is called Gimnasio del Lobo, and the trainer’s name is Osias Hernandez.”
“Great,” Henry said. “It’ll be good to go out and do something more productive then getting coffee.”
“Good,” Juliet said. “Since that’s taken care of, I’m going to try and find something to eat. Have you guys had anything?”
“Nothing that didn’t come out of a vending machine,” Gus said. “I could murder a taco right now. Do you think they’d let us bring them up here?”
“I don’t see why not,” Henry said. “Get me something too, will you. Something with steak, if at all possible.”
“Of course, Mr. Spencer,” Juliet said. “There’s a restaurant across the street: I saw that they had take-out in the window.”
“I’d better help,” Gus offered. “All that food will be too much for one person to carry.”
“I could probably manage,” Juliet said.
“No, I insist. It’s the gentlemanly thing to do.”
“Well, Okay,” Juliet said, remembering that she’d forced him to be a gentleman the night before. “We’ll be right back.”
“So,” Gus asked as they walked through the hospital’s long artificially lit hallways towards the elevator. “How are you holding up?”
“All right, I guess,” Juliet said. “I have to give you guys credit. It’s a lot harder to do this without police support.”
“It’s not so bad,” Gus said. “Between you and Lassiter, we usually have all the support we need.”
“I guess,” Juliet said. “And, I suppose Shawn’s psychic intuition makes up for a lot of foot work. You guys can just sit in your office and things come to him.”
“That’s not really how it works,” Gus said. They’d reached the elevator, and he pushed the down button. “Occasionally, a particular disturbed sprit might hunt him out—but usually he has to go looking for the ones with information.”
Juliet laughed. “You make it sound like spirits are just the same as people. They have to be pumped for information.”
Gus looked up at the ceiling and seemed to consider her assertion, “I guess it would always depend on which sprit you’re asking. The spirits of dead people act exactly like people.”
The elevator arrived and they got in. Juliet pushed the button for the ground floor, and the doors slid closed. “What about inanimate objects?” she asked. “Like that stuffed bunny that helped us take down the Red Balloon Nanny Agency?”
“I think that’s more complicated,” Gus said. “But to be honest, Shawn’s the only one who could answer that question.”
Juliet took a deep breath, “Then I guess that question will have to wait.”
The elevator door opened and, to Juliet’s surprise, someone familiar was standing on the other side.
“Señor Guster, Señorita O’Hara,” Dr. Ruiz said, smiling at them. He was holding an obnoxious arrangement of Gerber daisies in neon colors. “What a pleasant coincidence. I just came to check on Shawn. So far from home, I knew he would not have many visitors.”
“That’s very thoughtful,” Juliet said, trying not to react to the hideous flowers.
“But his dad wanted to spend some time alone with him,” Gus said quickly, stepping out of the elevator and into Dr. Ruiz’s way, so the doors closed before he could get on. “They’re a close family. You understand.”
“Yes,” Dr. Ruiz said, with a sigh and a nod. “What an unfortunate series of events. If I had known this would happen, I would not have asked Officer Prize to arrest him. Such a stupid thing to die for.”
“Um, Shawn didn’t die,” Gus said. “And he’s not going to die, either.”
“But he could have,” Dr. Ruiz said. “That’s what I was thinking. If the guards had not come in time, who knows what would have happened.”
“It’s not your fault,” Juliet said quickly. “After all, you couldn’t possibly have known that Salazar would attack him.”
“That’s very kind of you to say,” Dr. Ruiz said. “But I cannot help but feel guilty. I would very much like to apologize to his family.”
“Oh, that’s a bad idea,” Gus said. “Shawn’s dad is in no mood for visitors.”
“Yeah,” Juliet chimed in. “He kicked us out. It’s just very upsetting for him.”
“I remember Dr. Spencer’s stories about her husband,” Dr. Ruiz said with an understanding nod. “That behavior doesn’t surprise me at all. But, surely Dr. Spencer is here somewhere. Perhaps I could apologize to her.”
“You mean Shawn’s mom?” Gus asked.
“Yes,” Ruiz affirmed. “Naturally, this is not the ideal situation to renew our acquaintance but . . . “
“She’s not coming,” Gus answered. “She has to present at a conference in Portland, then after that she’s booked to do empathy training for the Salt Lake City P.D. She said, after that’s done, she might fly down but Shawn will probably be out of the hospital by then.”
“She will not come and see her own son in the hospital?” Dr. Ruiz asked, flabbergasted. “What kind of mother leaves her son to this?”
Juliet wasn’t sure if Gus was covering for Shawn’s mother, the way they’d both covered for Shawn’s dad or if he was telling the truth. Either way, Juliet had heard nothing about Shawn’s mother coming to see him at the hospital and she couldn’t help but find that odd, even a little upsetting. Still, Dr. Ruiz’s reaction seemed extremely overblown, almost as if his own mother had failed to come to his sick bed.
“Shawn’s mom’s always been hands-off,” Gus explained with a cool shrug.
“She’s just really busy,” Juliet chimed in. “She can’t very well break her contracts. I know she would come if she could.”
“Yes, of course,” Dr. Ruiz said with a sigh. “We all have our own responsibilities. Speaking of which, I have other people I must see. When Mr. Spencer wakes up, you’ll give him these flowers with my apologies?”
“Of course,” Juliet said, smiling graciously as she took arrangement. “Thank you so much for coming and for the flowers.”
“You’re welcome,” Ruiz said as he turned around and walked towards the hospital entrance. Gus and Juliet watched him go for a moment.
“Ok, is it just me, or did that guy act really wired,” Gus said, once the doctor was certainly out of earshot.
“I don’t know,” Juliet said. “I don’t want to trust him, but I can’t put my finger on why.”
“Maybe because he’s obsessed with Shawn’s mom?” Gus said.
“His reaction was a little over-the-top,” Juliet admitted. “But, I was surprised by her plans too. I mean, you’d think she’d want to be here. He is her only child.”
“That’s just because you don’t know Mrs. Spencer,” Gus said. “Freshman year of High School, Shawn and I were both in the fall play—MidSummer Night’s Dream. Shawn was Puck.”
“Wow,” Juliet said, genuinely impressed. “Who did you play?”
“Third Fairy,” Gus admitted. “But that’s not important. What is important is that Shawn begged his mother to come to one of the shows. When the curtain went up, he was always convinced she was in the audience, by the time the curtain came down, he was always disappointed. He didn’t participate in any extracurriculars after that.”
“Going to your son’s play is not the same as going to his hospital bed?”
“Isn’t it?” Gus asked. “Shawn wanted her to come, she didn’t come and Shawn changed.”
“Still,” Juliet said with a sigh. “His mother is not our problem, Dr. Ruiz is.”
“Dr. Ruiz who apparently came her just to ask about Shawn’s family.”
“That’s a good point,” Juliet admitted. “It begs the question, is this about Shawn or is it really about Dr. Spencer?”
“But . . . I don’t see how it would all fit together,” Gus said. “How could Mrs. Spencer possibly connect to prescription drug smuggling?”
Juliet didn’t answer. She didn’t want to state the FBI’s suspicions and sully the name of a woman that meant so much to Shawn and Henry, unless she absolutely had to.
“You know, we never did call her,” Gus pointed out. ”Maybe she has some kind of explanation.”
“No,” Juliet said quickly. “We can’t.”
“Why not?” Gus asked. ”It’d just be a few questions.”
Juliet hesitated. ”Gus, I’m going to tell you something that you absolutely cannot tell Shawn or Henry.”
Gus looked at her skeptically. “All right.”
“I cannot contact Dr. Spencer.”
“That’s fine, I’ll make the call,” Gus said. “I didn’t want to do it last night, but things are serious now. I don’t think we can let this line of investigation go.”
“No,” Juliet said. “For this investigation, we cannot contact Dr. Spencer, per the FBI.”
“The FBI?” Gus asked, arching his eyebrows in surprise. “Really.”
“That was one of the conditions Agent Swanson gave me when she agreed to share information. They don’t want to tip her off—change her behavior.”
“Change her behavior . . .” Gus said slowly. “You’re not saying the FBI thinks she would have anything to do with this.”
“The FBI isn’t sure,” Juliet said. “So, until you and I can figure out what really happened, we’re not supposed to alert any of the suspects that they are under investigation.”
“Is Shawn under investigation?” Gus asked.
“Now, he is,” Juliet said.
“I don’t think I can lie to Shawn,” Gus said. “He always knows when I’m lying.”
“Then avoid the topic,” Juliet said.
“I don’t like this at all,” Gus muttered.
“Me neither,” Juliet told him. “But don’t worry. I’m sure we’ll prove that neither of them were involved.”
Gus nodded, though he sill looked nervous. ”I hope so.”To be continued . . .