Between stopping too often for food and pit stops, checking on Gus’s place first, and calling around to find out who they could pay the least to pack everything up and move it to a storage unit—not to mention finding the cheapest climate-controlled storage possible—it was late in the afternoon by the time Shawn and Gus arrived at the Santa Barbara Police Department.
“Shawn, it’s almost five. What if Lassie’s not there?” Gus asked as they pulled in.
“Gus, that is the most hilarious thing I’ve heard all day. Carlton Lassiter leaving work early on a Friday? It’s absurd!”
“He does have a family now, Shawn.” Gus paused. “Wait, more hilarious than the cookie joke?” he asked in protest.
Shawn opened his mouth, then thought a second. “Ok, you’re right. The cookie joke was funnier.” He held up his thumb and forefinger a hair’s breadth from each other. “But only this much. Still, I do have to give you that one.”
“You know that’s right.”
They piled out of the car, and Shawn looked toward the chief’s parking spot.
It was empty. “I don’t believe it…”
Gus saw the empty space and crowed in victory. “I told you!”
“Nooope.” Shawn pointed. “There.” At the end of the row sat Lassiter’s blue Crown Vic, now with a brand spanking new license plate number.
Gus looked skeptical. “How do you know that’s his?”
“Gus, this is me we’re talking about,” he said, holding splayed fingers to his chest. “I’m insulted. That is most undoubtedly Lassie’s car. He’s probably still playing it safe over the whole Salamatchia thing. Which is why we’re here, if you’ll remember. Though the easiest way to answer the question would be to go inside.”
That was when the front door of the station burst open. Shawn and Gus looked up the steps to see Lassiter come outside. He stopped to scan the parking lot, and the word hopeful was the only way to describe his expression.
“Lassie!” Shawn called.
At his name Lassiter’s gaze settled on Shawn and Gus and the green car they’d come in. He deflated a little and tried to cover by scowling at them. “McNab said he thought he saw O’Hara’s car pull in.”
“Very true, but no Jules. She had to work. Sorry, Lassie.” He’d been tempted to make more of a crack out of it, but after Lassiter’s clear disappointment he didn’t have the heart to.
“What are you doing here, Spencer?”
Shawn led the way as they bounded up the steps. “We’re packing up Gus’s place tomorrow! Just thought we’d come by, you know, for old times’ sake. Spread the love. Maybe solicit more hands. And arms. And legs. And backs.” They didn’t need them, of course, but it had to sound convincing.
Lassiter rolled his eyes and spun to stalk back into the station.
“Told you he’d be here,” Shawn whispered not-so quietly to Gus. They followed him to his office, where Lassiter picked up a briefcase from beside his desk and began neatly inserting stacks of paperwork.
“I am here, but not for much longer,” he said, proving he’d heard.
“You’re leaving on time? Who are you and what have you done with Carlton Lassiter?” Shawn gasped.
It had been nearly three years since Lassiter met Marlowe and it was still a little creepy sometimes to see a sincere smile on the man—so often, anyway. They had been exceedingly rare before that and ever since they’d been abundant. It was still weird.
“I attempt to leave at a reasonable time as often as I can, Spencer,” Lassiter smiled. “If you and O’Hara ever have children, perhaps you’ll understand.” He paused, the smile faded, and he shuddered. “On second thought, dear lord, please don’t do that. Adopt if you must.”
“You’re hilarious, Lassie.” Gus was actually laughing, and Shawn glared him down.
“You’re not helping with the Salamatchia case,” Lassiter said then, zipping his briefcase.
“What?” Shawn said.
Gus echoed him. “What?”
“Whaaaat? No! We wouldn’t dream of butting in.”
“Liars,” Lassiter snorted.
“We are only here in Santa Barbara to pack and move boxes, cross our hearts and hope to die,” Shawn said, crossing his heart. “Well. Move a few boxes. The rest are going into storage. Gus is still rather jobless.”
“What? It’s true!”
“Lassiter doesn’t need to know that!” Gus looked at Lassiter. “I have two interviews this coming week. Two good ones. Good positions. Possibly a third, if they call me back. ”
Lassiter sighed, hands on his hips. “Your story may be true, and it may not be, but either way it doesn’t change the fact that we have everything under control here.”
“You still haven’t caught him,” Shawn pointed out.
“At this point he’s probably not here anymore, Spencer.”
“See?” Gus said. “What’d I tell you?”
“That doesn’t make it the truth. Lassie, you can’t tell me it doesn’t bother you he’s still out there somewhere. You changed your plate and you’re not even parked in your own spot. Also, wearing that tie with that shirt pretty much proves you were stressed when you picked out your clothes this morning.”
“What’s wrong with my tie?”
Lassiter leveled a brand new glare at him. “I liked it better when you didn’t tell me how you knew things.”
“Also the hair.”
“This is the way my hair looks.”
Shawn moved in to get a closer look, circling him. “You’re out of brown.” He squinted closely at the back. “No wait! There’s some.”
Lassiter reached around, grabbed his shoulders, and dragged Shawn out in front of him again to deposit him back by Gus.
“They make hair dye, you know,” Gus offered helpfully. “These days you can easily find find chemically safe solutions for reasonable prices.” Shawn nodded in agreement.
“That would be dishonest,” Lassiter quipped. He straightened his tie and fixed the button on the front of his jacket. “Besides, I find nothing wrong with my hair. It’s distinguished.” He smiled a little. “And Marlowe likes it.”
Lassiter chuckled and picked up his briefcase. “We’re taking necessary precautions, but as much as I’d love to be out there hunting him down, as chief that’s not my job anymore. And if Brannigan hasn’t found him, he’s not here. If he’s not in the SDPD’s jurisdiction, there’s nothing more any of us can do, as much as I abhor that fact.” He nodded to Shawn with a smirk. “And my department doesn’t hire psychics.”
“I didn’t say you had to hire us.”
“You said you weren’t here about Salamatchia at all.”
Shawn squirmed. “Exactly. I didn’t say anything about hiring us.”
“Whatever you say, Spencer.”
“Though I wouldn’t complain if you wanted to let me take a look at the files, even just a peek. A glance. Just for fun. Or—”
He stopped when he realized Lassiter wasn’t paying attention anymore. His attention had been drawn by something outside the office. He brushed past them out into the bullpen. Shawn and Gus followed him out, and the way he was going Shawn expected to see either Brannigan bringing in a perp or Marlowe bringing in Lily.
It was neither. It was Henry Spencer...and Lily.
Lassiter met him halfway to the office, wrangled on the shoulder strap of his briefcase so he had two hands, and swept up his daughter.
“Look who I ran into in the parking lot,” Henry was saying. “I offered, but Marlowe wanted to put the carseat in the truck herself. Asked me to bring her in for a bit.”
“Dad?” Shawn asked, as he and Gus caught up.
Lassiter was distracted, cooing at Lily.
“Shawn! Back so soon?” Henry teased.
“We’re just here to get Gus’s place together. We were gonna, you know, come by...sometime. Or something. What are you doing here? With a baby?”
“Babysitting? For Lassie?”
“Since when do you babysit? Since when do you babysit for Lassie?”
Henry sidled closer to his son. “Since he doesn’t trust anyone else, Shawn,” he answered quietly.
“I heard that,” Lassiter said. He shrugged. “But it’s true. I refuse to leave any child of mine with anyone not fully trained and equipped to protect her should a worst-case scenario occur.”
“And Marlowe agrees with this?”
“And she doesn’t think you’re crazy?” Gus deadpanned.
“We both firmly believe a babysitting or daycare service comprised entirely of former law enforcement personnel would be a fantastic business venture. Something to think about after retirement, perhaps. There should really be more parents smart enough to seek out such people to care for their children.”
Shawn blinked in confusion. “Oh….kay.” He directed his attention back to his father. “So you’ve been doing this a lot?”
Henry shoved his hands in his pockets and stood his ground. “Yes. I have. And I enjoy it. Besides, it’s summer; no more classes until fall.”
“You’re gonna keep teaching?”
“Yes I am.”
“Well good for you, Dad. Just don’t let ‘em eat you alive.” He pointed at Lily. “That one either. She is Lassie’s kid after all.”
Henry rolled his eyes. “I’ll keep that in mind, Shawn.”
“I resent that!” Lassiter protested.
Shawn pressed his hands to his chest, taken aback. “Lassie, I didn’t say I didn’t love her. Just that proper precautions must be taken.” He held out his arms. “Come to Uncle Shawn.” Lassiter just backed away.
That was when Marlowe made it inside, dressed for an evening. They all knew when she’d walked in, because Lassiter was grinning. Shawn’s eyebrows went up at the red dress, and they were all privy to the kiss she planted on her husband’s lips when she reached him.
“Sorry, Baby, I’m not changed,” Lassiter told her. He made angry eyebrows at Shawn and Gus. “I was distracted.” He handed Lily back to the elder Spencer. “Have everything you need, Henry?”
“Everything he needs is in his truck,” Marlowe confirmed. “Thank you, Henry.”
“Great!” Lassiter said. “Eleven at the latest, is that alright?”
“Take all the time you need, Carlton,” Henry shrugged. He smiled at Lily and mimicked a small wave when he knew she was watching. “Say goodbye to Mom and Dad.” It took a few seconds, but Lily giggled and waved too and Lassiter and Marlowe waved back.
Shawn shook his head. “I am losing my mind.”
Gus elbowed him. “I think it’s cute.”
“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Lassiter said, once Henry had left with Lily. “I need to change so I can take my wife out tonight. Gentlemen.” Instead of waiting Marlowe laughed and went off with him, hanging off his arm.
“Um…” Shawn said. “Public locker room!” he called after them. “Public for...you know, the force, anyway. Isn’t that against the rules! Lassie!”
“Good night, Spencer!” Lassiter called back.
They disappeared around the corner, and Gus was making a face. “You don’t think they’d…?”
“Gus, that is the last thing I want to know. I vote we’re not paying attention when they come back out to leave.”
“Aren’t we leaving?”
“Of course not. We have files to find. Or steal...borrow. Or something like that.”
Both of them squealed and jumped back at the voice from behind them.
“Brannigan!” Shawn gasped. “Ok. Hey. Hi. Yeah, um...do you think maybe you could not scare people like that?”
Santa Barbara's new head detective stood behind them, grinning like she did. “It’s good to see you!” she said, completely ignoring his question. “I saw you were here to visit and I just couldn’t help going through my drawer. You’re in luck! I had a few bracelets left from the last batch.”
“Aww, you shouldn’t have…” Gus elbowed him again, and Shawn took the string of beads Brannigan was trying to hand him.
“Thank you,” Gus was saying, smiling and taking the other. “You’re so thoughtful.”
“Just know you’re welcome here any time! The chief is just the chief, but you know that.”
Shawn laughed, what he hoped was ironically. “Oooh yeah, we do.”
“Is there anything I can help you two with?” Brannigan asked.
He opened his mouth to say no, but then he didn’t. “Actually…”
Brannigan’s over-eagerness to be helpful—and, apparently, her own concern for Lassiter—led to the evening and half the night sequestered in the conference room with the blinds drawn and the table covered in files and donuts and coffee cups.
“And you’re sure the chief said this was all right?” Brannigan asked more than once.
“Oh, yeah! Just don’t say anything to him about it, ok? That was his one request—don’t tell him what we’re doing. He doesn’t want to know. Enough stress as it is, and all that. Besides, this is all very unofficial.”
“I see.” Brannigan was skeptical, but apparently under the crazy she cared enough not to ask any more questions.
“Good old SBPD,” Shawn said at one point, ankles crossed on the table because Brannigan had finally gone and there was no one to slap his feet down. “See, Gus? I told you not to worry about the moving thing. We will so always own this place. Maybe Psych should be a multi-city operation.”
Gus snorted. “Lassiter’s still never going to hire you.”
“He’s hired us before!”
“For personal stuff, Shawn. And even then only reluctantly. He’ll never compromise his professional reputation by hiring you as chief.”
“Well that’s insulting to Chief Vick.”
“You know what I mean. That’s how it is in his head.”
The plan was to catch some sleep at Gus’s place and hit the pavement in the morning once they’d gotten the movers started at ten.
Then someone knocked on the door at seven thirty.
“Gus!” Shawn, on the couch, seemed to be the only one to hear the knocking. And the doorbell. “Gus!” he called. Nothing. In fact, he was pretty sure he heard snoring. “Really?” Shawn dragged himself off the couch and to the door, and when he looked through the peephole he groaned. “Really?”
He opened the door to the Lassiter family, Marlowe carrying Lily and Lassiter carrying a bag of packing tape and a box of donuts. More donuts? Not that there was anything wrong with donuts twice in a row.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Shawn said. “Lassie?”
“Didn’t you say you’d welcome more bodies in the packing effort?”
“Not at seven thirty in the morning! On a Saturday!”
Lassiter pushed inside, ushered his wife and child in, and made for the kitchen to put the donuts down. Shawn closed the door and followed, bewildered and still half asleep.
“Getting an early start is always better, Spencer. And actually, I sent out a mass email to the department from my phone before dinner last night. Already have several responses, and it seems there’ll be people in and out all day to help. Should have this place ready to go in no time.”
“Wha…?” Shawn scrubbed a hand through his hair and yawned again. “Are you serious?” It had to be some kind of joke. It was just them. Lassie was pulling his leg. Had to be, because Lassie he could get rid of somehow. A whole apartment full of people would be much more of a problem.
Lassiter shrugged. “Of course I’m serious.”
Shawn stared a moment, and realized he wasn’t kidding. “Oh. Ok. Uh...make yourselves at home. I’ll...wake up Gus.” With that he made a break for the hallway.
“Gus!” he hissed, from the bedroom doorway. Another snore. Shawn rolled his eyes, closed the door behind him, and hurried to the bedside to shake his best friend. “Gus! Buddy! Get up, it’s an emergency!”
“Ahh!” Gus shot straight up. “What? What? Where’s the fire!”
“Whoa! Dude. Chill. Not that kind of emergency.”
“Then what, Shawn! Can’t a man get his beauty rest?”
Shawn smirked. “Um. No. Not when you put it like that.” Gus made a smacking sound and made to dive back under the covers. Shawn held them back. “No you don’t! We’ve got company.”
“Company?” Gus glanced at the clock. “It’s seven thirty-five! On a Saturday!”
“Exactly what I said, but does Lassie ever listen? Of course he doesn’t.”
“He called our bluff! He claims he’s got people coming out of the woodwork to help. Please tell me you have the number of the packing people.”
“Call and cancel!”
Shawn hurried back out into the main room, where Lassiter had already found the stack of new boxes in the corner and had taped a few together. Shawn bounded up to him. “Hey, Lassie, so...I mean, are you sure? You really don’t have to—”
Lassiter clapped an arm around his shoulders to silence him. “Nice try, Spencer.”
“Whatever do you mean?”
“You know what I’m talking about. And there will be people here all day making sure you don’t go anywhere else or do anything else. Either of you.”
“You’re still worried,” Shawn shot back, and it wasn’t a question.
“I can also still shoot you.”
Carlton managed to avoid any further confrontation with Spencer the first half of the day, but during a break for lunch even Brannigan and McNab were too distracted by pizza to ward him off. Carlton was cornered and all but pushed into the hallway.
“I’m fine, Spencer.”
“You have my dad babysitting on the regular. Come on, son.”
“Is it really most likely Salamatchia’s nowhere near here?”
“Yes, actually. If he wanted to stay free the smartest thing for him to do would be to get as far away as possible.”
Shawn shook his head. “No, I mean this guy. Is it most likely for this guy.”
“I don’t know that much about him. Just that he’s crazy. I never thought he’d even do what he did until he pulled a gun on me in that cemetery.”
“And then it was full on crazy sauce, yeah, I know…”
Carlton sighed. “Look, Spencer, based on common patterns, if nothing else...yes, it’s probable I’m not his focus anymore. He’s gone. In the wind.”
“So what are you worried about?”
“Those are not Marlowe’s keys she has; you’re still renting a car for her. It’s not even the same one you had in San Francisco.”
Carlton shifted uncomfortably. “We’ve been switching it out every few days…”
He huffed. “Because I’m not sure! Ok? There’s no way to know for sure. Yes, I’m still a little concerned. You happy now?”
“I’ll be happy if you let us help. You have to confine yourself to Santa Barbara and the SBPD’s jurisdiction, but Gus and I don’t.”
Carlton groaned quietly. “Fine. Fine. Whatever. Go to the station, rifle through as many files as you want, but I will be saying ‘I told you’ so if you don’t find anything, either.”
Shawn grinned and clapped him on the shoulder. “Step ahead of you, Lassie! We went through the files last night; I already have a few ideas.”
With that Spencer was gone, back out into the main room, and Carlton was sputtering and considering dragging Brannigan back here to yell at her because of course she’d been the one to help them. But that wouldn’t do any good.
“Carlton?” Marlowe swung into the hallway and smiled when she saw she’d found him. “What are you up to?”
“The usual. Arguing with Spencer.” She took his hand when he held it out, and he tugged her to him and kissed her. It didn’t take long holding onto her for the tension to drain from his body again.
“You all right, Baby?” she asked.
“I am now,” he smiled. Carlton pressed a kiss into her hair. “We needed last night. I’m glad we went.”
“Sure. Make it sound like I didn’t have to nag you for two weeks.” She pulled his face back down and his lips back to hers.
“Eww! Get a room!” It was Spencer’s voice, hooting into the hallway.
Carlton caught a glimpse of both Shawn and Guster disappearing around the corner. “We had the whole hallway! Mind your own business, Spencer!”
Marlowe laughed. “Ignore them.”
So they did.
The Lassiters left Guster’s place soon enough to switch out the car again before the rental company closed for the day. Carlton did it out of habit—another Saturday, another switch. To be honest, he felt a little better about the whole thing after talking to Spencer.
Which was weird, but he’d take what he could get.
“Maybe we should try a minivan next time. Or an SUV. Something bigger, at least. Just to see if we like it,” Marlowe was saying on the way home.
“Well because we’ll need one, someday. That’s the plan, isn’t it?”
Carlton shrugged. “Of course! But—wait.” He blinked at her. “Are you trying to tell me something?”
“No,” she laughed. “I wish I was, but not yet.”
“That’s telling me something, Kitten. You’re telling me you want to start trying again.”
Marlowe smiled suggestively and leaned in a little closer. “Maaaybe. We’re not gettin’ any younger, you know.”
Carlton swallowed. “Well,” he said. It came out a little higher-pitched than he intended, and he cleared his throat before going on. “You know, Henry said he didn’t have anything going on the rest of the weekend…”
“You should call him.”
“I will call hi— ”
It all happened in a moment. The car jolted like they'd gone over a bump, but the road had looked perfectly fine. What the...? Carlton tried to straighten the car, but when he pounded on the brake nothing happened.
They swerved farther out of control, and there were no brakes. They were going downhill and there was nowhere safe to go to bring the car to stop, but then it didn't matter. There was a second jolt, more forceful, and they were spinning. There was no time to correct before one end hit something—he didn't even know what—and the car flipped and kept rolling.
He knew. In the split second before everything fell apart, in that moment, Carlton knew what had happened. He knew the first jolt had been a small explosive blowing the brake line, he knew the second was another to ensure they crashed, and he knew it was all Salamatchia's doing. He knew he should have changed rental companies as often as he'd changed cars.
In that moment Marlowe latched onto his arm. In that moment Carlton looked at her and knew that, whatever happened, it was his fault.