April 10, 2014
It was one of the last nights they would spend in the condo. The place was only boxes and furniture now. Henry was nearly finished moving out of the house and they’d close in a few days. The condo was under contract. Spencer and Guster had been gone for nearly a week, and the station seemed quieter without them but Brannigan kept it lively. The SBPD was running just as smoothly as it ever had.
Life was particularly good, then there was this. Tonight. Their first anniversary.
It seemed fitting to spend it here—their first home as a married couple—now that they’d be leaving it behind soon. Carlton had asked two weeks ago if Marlowe wanted to go out for this, and she said no. He’d been secretly hoping she would.
He’d never considered himself particularly sentimental, but then he’d done things in the past like asking Spencer and Guster for help, of all people, when Old Senora was in trouble. He’d gone weak in the knees when Marlowe appeared in a red dress on their wedding day, recalling the night they met. They still pressed their palms together, fingers outstretched against each other, when a moment needed to be important. When they needed to remember where they began or why they needed to be thankful they were here, together, at last.
Carlton was beginning to think maybe he’d fooled himself all this time—that he was nothing but a sentimental old fool in tough skin. In the past that would have terrified him, but he didn’t mind the idea anymore.
The ups and downs the last year—the problems with Trout, being demoted for a while, having a child much sooner than they’d planned, fighting at times while Marlowe was pregnant—were nothing now. With Marlowe it didn’t matter if he wasn’t as tough as he’d always thought he was.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said, when the door closed behind Henry, who’d come to take Lily for them, and they were alone.
“Oh?” They barely made it two feet from the door before Marlowe molded into his arms. “What, Baby?”
“Henry agreed to take Lily all night. We don’t have to pick her up until noon tomorrow. It’s just you and me, Kittenhead.”
Candles were lit and they danced in the middle of the living room floor, so wrapped in each other that for a while they forgot they hadn’t turned on any music yet. When Carlton detoured to put something on and came back to her Marlowe pulled him in and kissed him.
“You remembered,” she said.
“You sang me this song, the first night we spent together.”
“At O’Hara’s,” he chuckled. “So quiet...I was afraid I’d wake her.”
“And Shawn. He lived there then, didn’t he?”
“Spencer is like a bear. I wasn’t worried about him.” Carlton paused. “I also tend to block out the fact that I slept in the same house as Spencer for several nights.”
Marlowe shrugged and looped her arms around his waist and squeezed. “Well. Quiet or not, I fell in love with your voice that night.”
“Oh, is that why you married me?” He kissed her, fingers in her hair, and she laughed.
“It was romantic!”
“Sorry, Baby, it actually wasn’t exactly my idea...”
“Then where’d it come from?”
“Television show. Not the usual sort. When I do waste time with television I’m perfectly happy with true crime, it’s less mind-numbing, but one of the guys on the force told me his wife was watching a show with a character that looked quite a bit like me. Said it was scary. I had to admit I was curious, and there it was. Kept up for a while. Of course the show was playing that particular incident for laughs, but I was being sincere.”
Marlowe nodded sagely. “Ahh. Was it the guy you who looked like you who did it?”
“No. Someone else.”
“Then you still get a few points.”
“Thank you, Smoochie-Pie,” Carlton grinned brightly. He kissed her again, deep and long and part of him still not quite believing how perfect she was. He took in her scent, kissed her neck, and he never wanted to let go.
“Are you gonna sing to me now?” Marlowe asked. “Sing to me now, Baby.”
He couldn’t say no, but the words in the song had gone for the moment. Carlton held his wife, swaying with her, and hummed by her ear through the hiatus until the words returned.
“‘Let me give my life to you. Come, let me love you...’”
Smudges. Smudges and dust told Shawn that Salamatchia had been at the car rental place. There was oil and such things everywhere in the garage where they kept up maintenance on the cars, but the computers told him there had been ‘maintenance’ done earlier in the day on the car Lassiter picked up, and which bay it had been in.
There were old oil stains in the concrete, but it was the dusty footprints and the new oily smudges near the edge of the recess in the floor that stood out. The oil wasn’t the same oil as the other stains. It was a slightly different color and he’d seen it before. He’d seen that dust before, too, and those footprints were the same size Salamatchia wore. He knew that because he remembered Salamatchia’s footprints in the mud in the cemetery four and half years ago, and he knew the rest because he remembered the shoe repair place. He remembered the particular kind of dust that had been down in the hidden cellar.
“Shawn, according to records that place has been abandoned since Petrovich went down,” Brannigan told him over the phone. “We knew Salamatchia knew about it, and it’s the first place we looked. There was no one there.”
“There was no one there then,” Shawn stressed.
A pause. “You think he left town after the escape and then came back. To throw us off.”
“Yes! False sense of security and all that. I think it would be a serious mistake not to check again. I’m sensing it. I’m sensing he was here, at the rental place, and that he’s there now. Come on, Betsy.”
Which was how he and Gus ended up outside the tiny abandoned corner store in the bad part of town that had once been a shoe repair establishment, with Brannigan and McNab.
“You can’t tell me the thought didn’t cross your mind,” Shawn was saying.
“Of course it did!” Brannigan retorted. “He’s evaded me for three weeks. Of course I’ve thought he just wasn’t here. The idea he might then come back also occurred to me. So I’ve remained vigilant.”
“Of course you have. I know you have. Come on, you’re you. This isn’t your fault either, Betsy,” Shawn told her.
“Save it. We’re going in,” Brannigan said. She silenced him, and with a quick motion to Buzz they were moving.
The trap door inside was sitting open.
“That wasn’t like that last time we were here…” McNab began.
“Go, go, go!” Brannigan cut in.
But there was no one down there.
“He was here!” Shawn insisted.
Then they found the evidence—fresh trash in a can under Petrovich’s desk, and strewn across a table what was left of the materials Salamatchia had used to put together the small explosive devices he’d planted on the car. There was no attempt to hide that he’d been here, but he was gone now.
“Holy crap,” Gus said more than once. “It really is him.”
McNab didn’t look so good, either, and Shawn clapped a hand on the junior detective’s shoulder and tried not to look as frustrated as he was. “Hey Buzz, buddy, you ok?”
“I’m fine, Shawn, but thanks,” Gus answered.
McNab shrugged. “Yeah, I mean...last time Salamatchia didn’t seem to care too much when that explosion in my mailbox didn’t actually kill me, so I’m more worried about the chief.”
“That’s the spirit, I guess.”
Brannigan holstered her weapon and surveyed the evidence left behind. “We’ll get a forensics team in here. We should get back to the station; we have that security footage to review.”
“We should get the stuff from the cameras at the rental place, too,” Shawn said.
She nodded. “Done. Come on.”
“Ok, but Gus and I are gonna make a stop first.”
Shawn really hated hospitals. Maybe he’d been more indifferent about them before his dad was shot, but now he hated them. This wasn’t helping.
“How do you feel about home birth?” he’d asked Juliet, the week after he proposed.
“No. Oh no. I want an epidural. I had a cousin give birth at home in high school, and my mother was dumb enough to let me come.” She’d shuddered. “Never again.”
“Ah. Ok. You may have to have our kids without me.”
He was talking into her shoulder in bed, and she smirked a little and rolled over in his arms to look at him. “Isn’t it too early to be talking about this? I did say way before we’re sixty, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be a few years.”
“That’s what Lassie thought this time last year, and now they have a two month old. Three month old. However old she is. She’s too cute to be Lassie’s either way.”
“Do you really hate hospitals that much?”
“Now I kinda do, yeah.”
So Shawn didn’t want to be here. Not at all. But it was Lassie.
A text from Henry directed him to the right hospital, the right building, the right waiting room. He spotted Lassie right away, pacing in a corner, reaching out to the wall for support every now and then. He was a lot cleaner than the last time Shawn had seen him, hair still damp, in a fresh shirt and jeans, and Shawn supposed his dad was to thank for that.
Besides that, Lassiter didn’t look so awesome. He looked pale and dizzy and worried, besides the arm in a sling, the cast on his wrist, and the obligatory cuts and scrapes.
Henry caught him before he and Gus could make their way that direction. “Shawn.”
“Dad. Hey. Um...how is he? They. Everything.”
“Hard to say. Not...not great. Marlowe just came out of surgery. We’re waiting for them to get her settled and let him back there.”
“But that’s good, right?”
“We don’t know. They still can’t promise us anything. And he saw Lily for a few minutes, but something...happened. I don’t know. Some sort of complication and now she’s in surgery. They seem more positive about that—say she should come through it fine—but it’s just...nothing is great right now, Shawn.”
Henry looked tired himself, and even though he’d only seen them together once Shawn knew his dad was worried about Lily just as much as he was about Lassie and Marlowe. Maybe more. He looked a little sick.
“It’ll be fine, Dad. Everybody’s gonna be fine.” How many times had he said that in the last three hours?
“Yeah, I sure hope so.”
Shawn made a motion for Gus to stay with Henry, and made a beeline for Lassiter.
Lassiter perked up and slowed his already pokey pacing to a stop. “Spencer! Anything?”
“Sort of. We know what he did and how and where he was, just not, you know, where he is. But we’re working on it. We’re on our way back to the station to look at some security footage and stuff. We’re on top of it.”
“Where was he?”
“He came back and used Petrovich’s hideout under the shoe place after you’d already checked it. Probably just for the last couple of days; there wasn’t any more trash than that.”
“He didn’t get rid of the trash? He didn’t clean up again?” Lassiter asked in confusion.
Shawn made a face. “No. He’s gone and...he left everything.”
Now Lassie looked sick. “He’s taunting us. Me.”
“Come on, man, he probably just figured there was no point. He knows we know it’s him. He didn’t really seem like the taunting type.”
Lassiter shrugged and scrubbed a hand through his hair. His elbow in the sling swung to the wall for support.
“Dude, why are you up?”
Lassiter pinned him with a weak glare. “Not you too.”
“You look like hell. You look like hell, in a handbasket, and frozen over.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Spencer,” he snapped. But at the same time he shifted on his feet and swayed. Shawn caught his shoulder.
“Sit back down before you break something else, seriously.”
“I actually may have...fibbed, a bit, to your father. They actually didn’t say the concussion was mild…”
They found the nearest chairs and sat. Shawn pulled what he’d found in the wreck out of his jacket pocket and handed it over.
“Here. Rescued that.” It was the little yellow stuffed dog he’d given them after Lily was born, dirty and a little the worse for wear, but intact. “Might want to, you know, wash it and all before you give it back to her, but, yeah.”
Lassie took the toy, turned it over in his hands and wiped at the dirt. “Thanks, Spencer.” He smiled, but halfway through it sort of...broke. Wobbled. “Stupid thing is still her favorite toy.”
Ow. Shawn felt that. He winced and his arm came up behind Lassiter, almost of its own volition, and then it was there and it hovered there awkwardly for a few seconds before coming down over Lassie’s shoulders and patting once or twice.
“Hey...she’ll be ok.” He really wanted to stop just saying that stuff and know it for sure.
And why hadn’t Jules called back yet?
Lassie didn’t answer, because someone popped through the double doors and called his name. Shawn helped him back to his feet.
He didn’t seem to see the rest of them anymore.
Shawn wandered back to his dad and Gus once Lassiter had disappeared through the doors with the nurse who had come to fetch him. “You can stay, right?” he asked Henry.
“Yeah. I’m not going anywhere. Go find Salamatchia.”
Shawn shifted uncomfortably. “I uh...think it might turn out to be a longer haul than that, Dad...maybe. I don’t know. This whole thing sucks.”
“Whatever it takes, Shawn. Get going. I’ve got this.”
“Call us if anything changes?” Gus asked.
Juliet didn’t check her personal phone until the case was closed. She wanted to, she was worried about what Shawn and Gus might be getting themselves into looking for Salamatchia, but there was just no time. She had no two seconds strung together for herself Friday or Saturday at all, until Saturday night came and the killer was in lockup downstairs.
She was exhausted. Karen told her to go home, but she decided she’d rather finish the paperwork and have it done with before she went home and crashed.
“Fine,” Karen said. “But if you’re going to do that, take Monday morning off.”
The chief disappeared into her office to gather her own things, and Juliet took a minute to check her phone.
There were more than half a dozen missed calls and a voicemail from Shawn, three missed calls from Gus, a missed call from Henry Spencer, and two missed calls from Carlton.
Juliet’s stomach lurched as she punched up the voicemail.
“Jules! Hey...um...so, not to overly alarm you or anything, but there’s been an accident...a car accident...and it’s definitely Salamatchia’s fault and um, Lassie and Marlowe, and Lily...they’re all in the hospital, and I don’t even know how bad it is really, because I didn’t ask because, big surprise, I didn’t want to know. But Lassie passed out when I saw him at the scene. After he asked for you. Marlowe and Lily had already been taken and...and I don’t know what that means. And—”
Shawn cut off in the message, gave one of those sharp little laughs that wasn’t really a laugh. It was the sound he made when he wasn’t dealing. Juliet wondered when it had become hard to breathe.
“And Gus and I are on our way to check out the rental place where they got the car. They’d just picked it up. Somehow Salamatchia got explosives under it. But, you know, Gus had to pee. He’s in the gas station, and wow, I’m really glad he’s not listening to me leave this message ‘cause you know I suck at this stuff.” Shawn cleared his throat. “Crap. Ok, look, I know you’re probably busy with that case, but as soon as you can you really need to come down here. Lassie needs you.” He paused. “I need you.”
There were noises on the other end of the line, shuffling and a car door opening and closing, Gus’s voice.
“I’ve got to go, Jules! I love you,” Shawn finished, higher pitched and so, so faking being fine. “We’ve got this, just get here when you can.”
The the message was over. Juliet didn’t know when she’d gotten to her feet, didn’t know when she started gripping the edge of her desk so tightly her knuckles were white, and she didn’t want to know what her face looked like. Karen had come out of her office and was staring at her.
They brought him to Marlowe, explained a few things—like the fact that she wasn’t out of the woods yet, but if she made it through the night that was a good sign.
That was supposed to make him feel better?
And it wasn’t as much relief as Carlton had hoped for to see her...small and pale in the bed, a tube down her throat and monitors beeping.
But he could see her. He could be here, and sit beside her, and hold her hand. So he did.
“Hey, Baby…” he said softly. “I’m here.”
April 10, 2014
Carlton sang to her again, later that night in bed.
“‘Let me drown in your laughter. Let me die in your arms...’”
“You would never be happy dying in my arms,” Marlowe giggled. “You’d rather die in your firestorm of bullets.”
“Hailstorm, Baby. Hailstorm.”
“Whatever.” She snuggled into his chest and reached up to twirl a bit of his hair around her fingers. “Is it selfish of me to want to go first?”
“Yes. But so do I, so I can’t blame you. And your arms would be a close second choice.” Marlowe pulled on the hair she was playing with. “Ow!”
“You’re hopeless. Come here,” she said, pushing up to claim his lips again. Carlton kissed her back, but made a sound of protest in his throat. “What?” she asked.
“I just want to say something, Muffin.”
Marlowe sighed and half sat up, giving him her full attention. “What?”
Carlton sat up against the headboard and took her hands. “I just...don’t want you to worry about it. That’s all.”
She smiled. “I don’t. Because I know you’ll protect me, and I will kick anyone’s ass who tries to hurt you. I assume that’s where you were going with that.”
“I love you.”