“What are they doing?” Juliet gasped.
Friday morning. She and Carlton had ridden to the station together because she planned to go with him after work anyway, to pick up Lily. As they pulled up to the station they found the front steps surrounded by reporters.
It wasn’t even this bad Monday and Tuesday.
“What the...?” Carlton cursed.
McNab and several other officers emerged from the building to usher them inside. Lassiter remained tight-lipped until the doors closed behind them.
“What’s going on out there!” he demanded.
“The story—the whole Salamatchia thing,” McNab said. “I-It went national last night. We don’t know why it happened now, except maybe renewed interest because of the service last night. Someone got a few seconds of footage...a few pictures. We’re not sure how.”
“We had a whole detail around the place! That service was literally nothing but law enforcement!”
No one answered that. Things happen. The media finds a way. They all knew that.
Carlton cursed again and let out a breath. “We’ll have to make another statement today,” he said, resigned.
“That would probably be a good idea,” Juliet agreed. He just nodded, and turned to stalk away to his office. She followed.
“I should do it myself this time,” he said, when the doors were closed behind them.
“You don’t have to do that. Not yet,” she told him. “You know they’ll only ask you—”
He cut her off. “I know. But if I do it now it might keep them away tomorrow.”
“It also might not…”
And maybe it was just her, but Juliet’s stomach was twisting thinking about any of it. Carlton was her friend, and all she wanted to do was protect him whether he liked it or not. Everything that had happened in the last week was bringing out every protective tendency she’d ever had, and sometimes it was a strange feeling.
Carlton perched on the edge of his desk and sighed. “I know that too. But I don’t have much of a choice. If I avoid the press any longer I look...weak. I haven’t been chief here long enough that I can risk that.”
Juliet made a face. “That’s what you’re worried about?”
He spread his hands. “I have to be! Believe me, I wish I didn’t.”
“You’ve been watching too much West Wing on Netflix…”
“I would never! You know I can’t stand that show,” Carlton protests. “I could never stand that show. The administration it depicts is far too liberal.”
“We have a liberal administration in real life.”
“And that’s bad enough.”
Juliet rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. She thought, and there was only one real way to make this any better.
“Let me call Karen,” she said after a moment.
Carlton blinked at her. “Hmm?”
“I didn’t want to tell her on the phone, but if you can go out there and tell them you have a head detective locked in maybe it’ll take some of the focus away from you. I just need to talk to Karen; I don’t want her finding out on the news.”
He was already shaking his head. “You don’t have to do that, O’Hara. I’ll be fine.”
“And you’ll be more fine the fewer questions you have to answer about yourself or your family. Just give me half an hour.”
When he laid out his plan, Henry looked at him much the same way Gus had last night, and then Juliet after that. Shawn was beginning to wonder himself if he had the right idea.
“What did Juliet say?” his dad asked.
He shrugged, standing in Henry’s tiny new kitchen. “She’s, you know...I mean, it’s not perfect but it’s...better. She kind of tried to talk me out of it, but I could tell she didn’t want to. It’s as close as I can get to making her a completely honest woman without ruining everything; of course she’s on board.”
“Nothing.” But he was smiling a little.
Shawn smirked. “You’re on her side, aren’t you?”
“Probably more Gus’s side. I think you’re crazy, but I also think it can work. It won’t be easy, though. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yeah. No kidding,” Shawn grimaced.
Henry shifted on his feet. “So...when?”
“Not sure. Just gonna wait for the right time, I guess.”
“Uh huh.” There really wasn’t anything else to say. Henry changed the subject. “Where’s Gus?” he asked.
“What? Shawn said. “Oh. Yeah, he’s supervising the moving people getting all his boxes and stuff into storage.”
“I’m confused,” Henry admitted. “I thought you just finished telling me all of you are moving back to Santa Barbara.”
“He’s being all adult. Says he’s gonna find a smaller place for a couple years. Cheaper, you know. Build his savings back up after all the recent unemployment. He’s gonna stay with his parents until he finds one. That, and a job.”
Henry laughed once. “I’m sure they’re thrilled about that.”
“They are, actually. It’s super weird.”
“They always were.”
Shawn, Gus, and Henry would be waiting at the house when Carlton and Juliet got there with Lily that afternoon. That was the plan. None of them really felt like a party, but they all wanted to be there. Lauren was at the hospital when they arrived, and she rode home with them.
At the house, though, an extra car waited on the street. A nice one. Likely not media then, but Juliet didn’t recognize it.
“Who is that?” she asked aloud. She said it before she realized it wasn’t likely Carlton had any idea either.
But he was squinting out the windshield, face unreadable, and he answered her. “Irving,” he said.
“Irving?” Lauren echoed from the back. She didn’t sound happy.
It took Juliet a moment, but she placed the name. “Parker?” she questioned.
His first father-in-law. Victoria's father. They all met him six years ago, on the case at the Monarch lodge, but she supposed Lauren had met him before that. It would explain the expensive car, considering the business he owned.
Carlton nodded. He didn’t seem as upset as his sister sounded.
“You want me to get rid of him?” Lauren asked. Juliet silently gave her points for that.
“It’s all right, Lulu,” he sighed. “We’ve...been on speaking terms. The case at the lodge mended a fence or two, at least between myself and Irving. I don’t pretend to understand it.”
“As long as you’re completely sure about that,” Juliet said warily.
He shrugged and pushed his door open.
“I’ll get Lily,” Lauren said.
Carlton nodded and climbed out of the car.
Irving Parker was already halfway out of his own car ahead of them on the street. He was thinner than he’d been several years ago, and he seemed shorter—a progression that had already begun when they met him then.
Carlton was closing the short distance between the cars, but he froze when the passenger-side door opened. The tinted windows had kept them from seeing there was anyone else in the car, but Juliet didn’t have to be a detective to know who the woman was getting out.
Behind Juliet, Lauren cursed. She’d gotten Lily from her carseat and was watching anxiously. “He can’t be serious,” she said. Undoubtedly she was speaking of Irving.
“Wait,” Juliet whispered over her shoulder. “That’s—?”
“Victoria. Yeah,” Lauren confirmed.
Irving, for his part, at least seemed to realize he’d made a mistake. Everyone frozen now, and he made a face. Apologetic. It didn’t matter.
The front door of the house opening broke the silence. Shawn, coming out to the porch.
“No,” Carlton said. It was all he said—all he said loud enough for Parker and his daughter to hear, anyway. He spun quickly and came to scoop Lily from Lauren’s arms.
“Now you can get rid of them,” he said brusquely, to her and to Juliet. He took the diaper bag from his sister too, swung it over his shoulder, and retreated hastily up the walk. In the brief glimpse Juliet got of it, the look on his face made her want to punch whatever had caused it.
Luckily enough, that whatever was a woman she’d long since kind of wanted to hurt anyway, and she even had the audacity to call after Lassiter. “Carlton!”
“Lassie?” Shawn was saying, as Carlton passed him. Carlton didn’t turn around, didn’t answer anyone, and the front door slammed after him.
Lauren literally pushed her sleeves up. “Oh, it’s on now.”
This was not a side they’d seen of Carlton’s little sister the first time she was here.
“Whoa,” Juliet said, catching her. “We don’t need anybody arrested,” she whispered. “Listen, could you just make sure Carlton’s all right? Let me handle this.” Just as much as she felt the same, she trusted herself, at least, not to completely lose it.
“What are you gonna do; punch an old guy?”
“I might punch her,” Lauren growled.
“Yeah, and I’d love to too, but that’s really not appropriate,” Juliet insisted. “Good grief, I can finally tell who you’re related to, and if you want to take that as a compliment...fine, it kind of is right now. Go inside.” Lauren huffed, but she finally listened.
Irving hadn’t budged from beside his car, but Victoria was halfway up the walk. Shawn was already coming down from the porch to ward her off, and Lauren swung widely around her on the way to the house and glared daggers.
Juliet hurried after Victoria, meeting her and Shawn in the middle of the yard.
“I don’t think so!” Juliet called. “What part of no did you not understand?”
She swung in front of the other woman, cutting her off, and she and Shawn formed a human barricade.
“Yeah, I only caught about half of all that and I still really don’t think he wants to see you,” Shawn pointed out. “And we don’t even need him for this to be a really bad place for you to be right now. You’ve kind of got a house full of people who hate you here.”
“You’ve never met me.”
“And we never wanted to,” Juliet shot back.
Shawn held up a fist between them. “Nice, sweetheart.”
In any other situation among adults, she would have waited until later to take him up on the bump and the compliment, but she had to admit this was not about maturity.
This was about family.
So she took the fist bump, without even needing to look.
“Get out of my way,” Victoria glared.
“Yeah, not happening,” Shawn said.
“I just wanted to—”
“If you actually cared about Carlton and not just making yourself feel better, you wouldn’t be here,” Juliet cut in vehemently. “Or you would have at least left when he made it clear he didn’t want you here. Leave.”
Irving caught up to his daughter, already apologizing aloud. “I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have brought her with me. This was a bad idea.”
“You think?” Juliet answered. “What ever made you consider it might be a good idea?”
Victoria was gaping at all three of them. “I am literally right here.”
“Shut up,” all three of them said together.
“Dad! This is ridiculous! I—”
“Get back in the car, Tori! Stop embarrassing yourself!”
That Juliet had not expected. Her memory told her Irving Parker was loud and obnoxious and opinionated, but from everything she’d heard of Victoria, she was worse. For some reason she hadn’t expected Irving to overpower her like that.
And it was working. She wasn’t happy about it, but it was working. Victoria fumed silently for a moment, staring all of them down, but when none of them backed off she spun and stormed back to her father’s car.
“Thank you,” Juliet said, when the car slammed.
Parker sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said again. “She seemed so sincere when she asked to come; I didn’t expect her to make an idiot of herself thirty seconds after getting out of the car.” He huffed. “A lifetime of experience should have told me different.”
“Look…” Juliet trailed. “Carlton was fine until he realized she was here. It’s not you. If you want to come to the funeral tomorrow I don’t think he’d mind, just…” She nodded toward the car, and he seemed to see what she meant.
“I’ll make sure she doesn’t,” he agreed.
They were all quiet for a moment.
“Carlton says you’ve been...talking?” Juliet asked.
Irving shrugged. “He calls every couple of months, checks up on me. My health isn't what it was, you know. We’ve had lunch a time or two in the last few years.”
“How does that work?” Shawn asked in confusion.
“We don’t talk about my daughter.”
When they were gone Shawn and Juliet found Carlton in the kitchen with Henry, Gus, and Lauren. Henry was pacing around the table with Lily, who seemed to have just finished a crying a jag, Carlton was leaned heavily against the counter by the refrigerator with his sister at his side, and Gus stood awkwardly in the middle of it all.
“And they are gone, gonzo, outta here,” Shawn announced happily.
“Carlton?” Juliet asked.
He looked up. He still seemed a little dazed, but he nodded that he was fine.
It wasn’t the first time today he’d looked like that. He looked like that in his office after going out to give the press a statement. The plan had worked, for the most part—announcing his new head detective had taken much of the focus away from him and what had happened to his family, but there had still been questions.
He’d handled it well. She had to give him that. But she was also glad she’d been there for him when it was over.
Carlton cleared his throat and pushed off from the counter. “There’s still plenty of food here,” he said. “You should all stay and eat, if you want.”
It seemed that would be the end of it, until the doorbell rang.
“Really?” Shawn complained.
“I’ll get it,” Juliet said quickly, before Carlton could feel like he needed to.
She opened the door expecting a fight—whether either of the Parkers had made their way back already, or it was reporters or anything else—but it wasn’t needed.
Karen Vick’s eyebrows went up. “Expecting someone else?”
Juliet shook her head to clear it. “No, no, sorry...long story.” She stepped back to let her inside. Karen closed the door and Juliet hugged her, maybe a little harder than she needed to.
“You didn’t say if you were coming when we talked this morning,” Juliet said.
“I didn’t know whether I could get away. I spent all morning doing my best to wrap up everything I could—make sure the fort would be held. I couldn’t start driving until after lunch.”
“You have a place to stay?”
“I booked a hotel before I left. Internet’s useful, you know.”
Juliet laughed tiredly. She let go, finally, and Karen was studying her.
“You all right?” the chief asked.
Juliet shrugged. “I’m...it doesn’t matter.”
“Sure it does.” Karen paused. “When I let you go for the week I expected to get you back. All of this...it’s a lot to take in. For anyone.”
“Yeah,” Juliet sighed. “I know, I...I’m fine. And I’m sorry…”
“I told you not to apologize; I understand. To be honest...I admire your decision, Juliet. How could I be upset?”
And because neither of them really knew what to do here they hugged again, just for a second. When they let go this time, Carlton was there, coming around the corner; he must have realized the distinct lack of shouting meant maybe whoever was here was someone he should see. He stopped when he saw Karen, but it wasn’t a bad pause. Not this time.
“Chief,” he said.
She almost smiled. “Chief,” she said. She went to him and hugged him too. “I’m so sorry, Carlton…” she was saying. Carlton was thanking her, and Shawn came around the corner, and the others weren’t far behind.
“Hey, look,” Shawn said. “Gang’s all here.”
And Karen was right. The week had been hard—a lot for anyone to take. If any of them were alone it would be different.
But they weren’t alone.