By six o’clock Brannigan and McNab were the last guests left at Gus’s apartment. Shawn, Gus and Buzz were ready to call it quits for the evening, but Brannigan was the sort to never say die.
“What are you talking about? Come on, boys! Everything’s packed and stacked! Why wait until tomorrow to get it moved?” There were groans from around the living room. “What?”
Shawn should have known something was wrong when she answered her phone. He should have been watching, seen the look on her face change, but he didn’t. He was too busy being flopped over the couch with an arm thrown over his eyes.
He knew it was work-related because she sounded serious all of a sudden. Her responses were quick, she ended with “We’ll be right there,” and Shawn should have looked up then, but he didn’t. Not until Brannigan shouted at her partner.
“Buzz! Get up! The chief’s been in an accident and the officer on the scene wants us down there; it looks like foul play.”
Shawn was on his feet so quickly he was dizzy, and McNab was already tripping over his own feet to get to the door.
“The chief? Lassie?” Shawn questioned.
“Yes!” Brannigan shot back.
“What?” Gus gaped.
“But...they just left here like an hour ago!” Shawn protested.
Gus had started shaking his head. “Oh my gosh.”
Shawn launched over the coffee table to keep up with Brannigan as she shot out of the apartment and into the corridor. Gus was still frozen in place inside. “We’re following you,” Shawn heard himself say.
“If you can keep up,” Brannigan answered.
“Gus!” Shawn called. “Get your keys and lock up! We’ve got to go, man! She’s not gonna wait for us!”
Brannigan was halfway to the stairs when Gus stumbled out the door and managed to get it locked behind him. “Shawn, all three of them were in that car.”
“I know that!” Shawn took two running steps and stopped again. Gus ran into his back.
“What?” Gus asked.
“They were switching the car again. They’d switched the car. Someone could have tampered with the new one.”
“What does that mean?” Gus asked anxiously.
“It means this could be very bad.”
The world was not as it should be. Carlton knew that, but he didn’t know why.
He meant to say that out loud. He hadn’t, had he? Everything was a haze. A blur. He knew he was flat on his back but he didn’t understand that, either.
There was a hand on his arm. His right arm. He knew that now. It squeezed briefly, then moved, but he scarcely had time to register his own hand being squeezed before pain shot up his arm.
“OW! Wrist! Wha…?”
“Brannigan?” Everything was clearer now. Carlton blinked up into orange evening sunlight and his head detective’s face. McNab hovered over her shoulder. “What happened?”
“You were in an accident, sir. They’re taking you to the hospital. They’re just waiting for another ambulance.”
“Accid—Marlowe. Lily. Where’s Lily? Where’s my wife?” He tried to move, but he was strapped down. It was a gurney he was lying on. Everything hurt when he moved, but he didn’t particularly care.
“Sir, calm down—”
“Where are they!”
“Already on their way.”
“To the hospital?”
Brannigan nodded quickly. “Yes, sir. They’re being taken care of, and Buzz and I have this scene covered. We’ll find out what happened.”
His energy gone, Carlton dropped back again. “I know what happened…”
“What can you tell me, sir?”
“Check...under the car...explosives, I think.”
“Explosives?” McNab echoed.
Why was everything going dark again? “Salamatchia...had to...be…”
The second voice came from farther away, with the sound of car doors slamming. Carlton forced his eyes open again, found the little green car parked by the road and the two blurred figures running for him. They were nearly stopped at the tape, but McNab waved them through, stopped them to say something Carlton couldn’t hear. He heard a siren though, and wondered if it were his ride.
He thought he only blinked, but Spencer and Guster were standing over him now.
“We’ll find him, Lassie, ok? And, you know, you’re gonna be fine. Everybody’s gonna be fine.” Spencer. So strange to see him so serious. Trying to be serious. Scared to death of being serious.
“Chief?” Brannigan asked around them. “Is there anyone else you want us to call?”
Carlton didn’t know what he’d find when he woke. He didn’t know much anymore, with everything fading to black again. There was a moment of panic, and he didn’t think about his mother and Althea, and he didn’t think about his sister Lauren. Not for long. If he couldn’t have Marlowe at his side for right now there was only one other person he wanted.
Though it was also strangely comforting that Spencer was there, watching him, waiting for the answer if he could give one. “Lassie?”
Somehow Carlton was sure Spencer would have known the answer whether he’d been able to say it or not.
Jules. Lassie wanted Jules, and Shawn couldn't blame him. He wanted Jules.
“Chief?” Brannigan was saying again.
But Lassiter wasn’t moving anymore, his eyes had closed, and the paramedic who’d been hovering on the other side of the gurney moved in to check on him. Shawn didn’t budge until the guy nodded that it was ok, Lassie was ok, just kind of unconscious now.
“He wants us to call Detective O’Hara?” McNab asked.
“Yeah,” Shawn nodded. “Don’t worry about it, Buzz; I’ll do it.”
Brannigan was already off toward the upside-down wreckage of the rental car. One look told Shawn which rental company it came from—thanks to the broken license plate frame—and that the passenger side had taken the most damage. He also knew Lassie had been right about the explosives. After that, he didn’t really want to look anymore.
“Come on, Gus.” He was already on his way back to Jules’s car.
“Come on where? Aren’t you calling Juliet?”
“Yes! In the car.”
“Shawn! Where are you going?” It should have been Gus, he thought—it would have been a natural progression—but it wasn’t. He spun from pulling the green door open and it was Brannigan, shouting at him from from atop the wrecked car, where she’d climbed up on the exposed underbelly to look for the evidence Lassiter had sent her after. Someone from forensics was on the ground waiting for her to clear off so samples could be taken.
“To the rental place!” Shawn yelled back. “They just picked this thing up; someone’s got to get there now. I-I sense there will be clues. Possibly time-sensitive clues.”
Brannigan’s mouth opened and Shawn expected her to protest. He expected her to say something about waiting for her, or something about a warrant or something.
“We’ll finish here, requisition any traffic camera footage from between here and there, and meet you at the station!” she called instead.
“Um...ok!” Shawn turned back to the car and Gus. “What just happened?”
“I think we’re working together.”
“Weird. She usually just bowls right over us.”
“I know, right? But she did help us out with the files last night.”
“She’s learning. How to pretend to be a normal human at times, I mean.” Shawn shrugged, and hiked a foot to climb into the tiny green car. When they were both in he glanced from Gus to the steering wheel in his hands and back again. “I also just realized this is also weird. Usually you drive.”
“Do you want to get out and switch?”
“No I do not want to get out and switch! We need to go.”
Then something else in the wreck across the street caught his eye.
“Hold on,” he said, and got out anyway.
Gus leaned over to shout through the window. “Do you want to switch?”
“I don’t care, Gus! Don’t be the unpopular high school chick who asks the hip kids the same question five times. ”
Henry Spencer was the only friend of the Lassiters who was not currently involved in the case or still five hours away. When Shawn called, he was out the door of his new apartment within a minute and a half.
“Which hospital, Shawn?”
“What? Oh...I actually forgot to ask. Call Brannigan. Or Buzz.”
By the time he had an answer and made it to the hospital, it was dark. The traffic hadn’t helped, either. The emergency ward was busy—a typical weekend in Santa Barbara, as far as he knew—and Henry began to wonder what the point was. He wasn’t family and he didn’t know how he’d find any of them.
Then a familiar growl rose above the hum of the waiting room crowd, and he discovered he wouldn’t have to look as far as he’d thought. A dirty, haggard-looking Carlton Lassiter was at the front desk yelling at the poor young woman behind it.
His right wrist was in a cast, that arm in a sling, and it looked like the edge of the desk might be the only thing holding him up.
“Sir, someone will be out to talk to you as soon as possible—”
“I want to see my wife and my daughter!”
“Sir, your wife is in surgery and—”
“Surgery? For what!”
“Like I said, someone will be out to talk to you as soon as—”
Henry cut the girl off to thank her, grabbed Lassiter’s arm, and dragged him away from the desk before he could get himself restrained or arrested.
“Carlton, what are you doing out here? Shawn told me you were unconscious the last time he saw you; you probably have a concussion.”
“I wasn’t out for long. It’s just a mild concussion and a broken wrist. I’ll be fine. Let go of me, Henry,” Lassiter protested, wrenching away. He overbalanced and Henry had to catch him and guide him to a chair. He resisted sitting. “No, I have to—”
“Sit down, or I’ll make you. It wouldn’t be hard.”
“I am not just going to sit here! My wife and child are back there, and-and—” He swayed again. Henry caught his arms and lowered him into the chair before sitting beside him.
“What are you doing here, Henry?”
“Shawn called me.”
Lassiter tried to get up again, but it didn’t work so well. “I gathered that,” he sighed. He grimaced and shifted in the chair, maybe trying to find a comfortable position. It didn’t seem there was one. “Here to keep an eye on me, are you?”
“Apparently you need it. You should be in a hospital bed.”
“If I’m in a bed myself I can’t be with Marlowe and Lily. Of course, I also can’t do that if no one will tell me where they are!” The last bit was shouted purposely, directed at the desk. The young woman there expertly ignored him.
“Look, Carlton, there’s nothing you can do right now but wait.” He dropped a plastic bag in Lassiter’s lap. “Here. Once someone’s come to talk to you, you can find a place to clean up and change.”
Lassiter stared at the bag blankly. “What—?”
“Clothes, Carlton. For all of you. I was hoping you’d need them sooner rather than later, but if Marlowe’s in surgery she’s going to be here a few days.”
“Right…” He glanced down at his filthy navy pants and collared shirt, then opened the bag and glanced through the contents. After a moment he made a face. “Wait, how did you—?”
“I told you about the key hidden outside; you haven’t moved it yet.”
“Oh…I um...thanks?” Lassiter let out a breath and pulled out his phone. The screen was cracked, but it still seemed to be working. He scowled at it when it had no messages or missed calls for him. “O’Hara’s not answering her phone...I wouldn’t know what kind of message to leave.”
“Shawn left a message,” Henry told him. “But he said she was in the middle of a case when he left San Francisco; she might not be able to get back to anyone right now.”
Lassiter snorted and let his head drop into his uninjured hand. “Figures.”
He was quiet after that, and Henry wasn’t sure what do other than sit until he said something else.
“What, Carlton?” he asked gently.
“I...I should have done something else. I don’t know. I should have switched companies again. I should have checked the cars myself. I should have done something, I—”
“Stop it,” Henry cut in sharply. He grabbed Lassiter’s arm, made him look up before he went on. “Stop it right now. I’m not having any of this guilt crap. That is not what you need to be doing right now, and it sure as hell isn’t your fault anyway.”
“Why am I the one standing, Henry?”
“Well you’re not, really.”
“You know what I mean!”
Henry shook his head. “No reason. No reason at all. Chance. Which means it’s no one’s fault except the bastard that probably caused this in the first place. So stop it. Focus on being here. When they do let you back there Marlowe and Lily are going to need you. You hear me?”
Lassiter looked at him for a long time before he nodded.