Chapter 19: The Houseguest
“Shawn! What happened?!” said a panicked Juliet, hobbling into the waiting room as fast as her pregnant body would take her. “I got a call from the hospital! They said you were…” She was relieved to find her fiancé, aside from some bandaged burns on his hands and lower arms, alive and unharmed. She threw herself into his arms. “Thank God! You’re Ok.”
“I’m fine sweetheart, there’s nothing to worry about.” He tried to stroke her hair, but the bandages and pain in his hands made it difficult.
“What happened? Where were you?” spoke Juliet with a sense of both relief and anger.
“It was Avery. She was in trouble. I had to help her.”
“Avery? Who’s Avery?” questioned Juliet
“Remember the teenage girl I was telling you about…the one that Gus and I were helping.”
“Yeah…I thought you said there was nothing to that case.”
“Yeah, well I was dead wrong. Someone tried to kill her tonight. I just need to prove it.” He was ready to start investigating right there on the spot.
“Shawn, it’s been a long night. You should come home. Arson and forensics will investigate the scene tonight and then you can get back to the case in the morning.”
“No. I can’t do that. Avery doesn’t have anyone. I need to stay here until I’m sure she’s ok.”
Juliet nodded. It was this kind of compassion that had made her fall in love with him in the first place. “Ok. I’ll stay with you, then.”
“Nonsense,” said Shawn. “You and little Barracuda Spencer need to rest.”
Juliet didn’t even bother to argue the ridiculous name this time. “How about I just stay for a little while then?”
“That would be nice” said Shawn
Shawn and Juliet were curled up together on a waiting room chair fast asleep, when they were awoken by a nurse.
“She’s awake,” said the nurse to Shawn.
Shawn got up and Juliet followed holding his hand as he left the waiting room and turned the corner into Avery’s room. Avery was sitting up in her hospital bed, bandages covering burns on various spots on her body. She looked worn down and defeated. Juliet stood by next to the door while Shawn approached Avery’s bedside.
“They said I am going to be fine. They are going to discharge me in the morning.” Shawn knew that she was too proud to point it out, but she didn’t have anywhere to go.
“Who’s that?” asked Avery looking at Juliet.
“That is detective Juliet O’Hara, my fiancé.” Juliet stepped forward and shook Avery’s hand.
“Oh. You’re having a baby?” She couldn’t help but notice. Even though Juliet’s belly was so far not extremely large, it was still quite obvious on her tiny frame.
“Yeah, we are” said Shawn. He and Juliet shared a quick smile.
“Well, it’s going to be a lucky kid to have you for a dad.”
“Uh…thanks,” said Shawn. “You really think so? I’m not perfect you know.”
“Well, you listened to me when no one else would, you came to help me when I was in danger, and you’re still here with me. And I’m not even your kid. Notice that my own father isn’t even here, and I’d be willing to bet he hasn’t even started packing his things.”
These words hit Juliet a little close to home, and Shawn thought he saw tears forming in her eyes.
“Avery, can we excuse ourselves for a minute,” said Shawn. “I promise we’ll be right back.”
“Sure,” she said.
Shawn took Juliet into the hallway. “You know what we have to do,” he said.
“Shawn, what are you talking about?”
“She doesn’t have anyone. Her dad is on the other side of the world. Her house is half burnt to the ground. She doesn’t have any place to go.”
“So you want to take her home with us?” asked Juliet with a sigh. It was a lot of responsibility to take on right now, but Juliet suspected he was right. It was the right thing to do.
“We have to. At least for now, until her dad comes back or we can find a more permanent place for her to stay. She can’t be alone right now, and not just because the man who is trying to kill her is still out there. She’s just a kid.”
“You’re right, Shawn. The best place for her right now is with us.” They returned to Avery’s bedside to tell her their decision.
“Here we are,” said Juliet as she pulled her lime green Beetle into the driveway.
“Home sweet home,” said Shawn from the passenger seat. “At least for now.” He turned and smiled at Avery who had been riding quietly in the backseat the whole way home from the hospital.
Avery got out of the car and took in the façade of her new temporary home. It was much smaller than her dad’s place but warm and welcoming. She really felt like she was going to be safe there.
“Really, thanks so much for letting me stay with you,” she said as Shawn held open the front door for her and she entered his home. “This is really above and beyond anything I would have expected.”
“It’s really our pleasure,” said Juliet. “We just want to make sure you are safe and taken care of.”
“Come on, I’ll show you to your room.”
Avery followed Juliet up the stairs of their three-bedroom home and through the hallway, passing Shawn and Juliet’s room, followed by a room that was the beginnings of a nursery – a crib and changing table along one wall, the walls spackled but unpainted, awaiting news of the baby’s sex before completion – all the way to the end of the hall to a plain but comfortable-looking guest room.
“It’s not much,” said Juliet. “But it should do. Also, I picked up a few things for you…just some of the essentials,” she said, indicating a basket of toiletries and a stack of clothing that were sitting on the bed. “I know they are probably not your…style, but at least it’s something to wear until we can do some real shopping.” The thought of a girl’s shopping trip actually sounded like fun. It was something that Juliet didn’t get to do often. It made her wonder if she might be having girl’s days out with her own daughter someday. Or, maybe instead, Shawn would be taking their son to a Seabirds game. Either scenario made her excited for their future.
“It’s perfect,” said Avery, grateful for the hospitality.
“Um…so I’ll let you get settled. The bathroom is across the hall, and I’ll just be downstairs if you need anything. Lunch will be ready in about an hour.”
Shawn circled what was left of Avery’s father’s home, trying to find some clue…anything…that could lead him in the right direction towards finding out who it was that tried to kill Avery. He was regretting not coming back to the scene earlier, before forensics had had a chance to trample all over it. At the very least, he now he had a vague description of the killer. He saw the guy with his own eyes…at least some of him. He was a large man, muscular, short light-colored hair…but that was all that even Shawn’s extraordinary sense of sight was able to make out in the dark.
Another thing that was rubbing Shawn the wrong way was that last night’s fire had been reported as accidental, but Avery insisted the mysterious man had started the fire even though she couldn’t say how. Despite Avery’s reputation for bending the truth, Shawn believed her, and this combined with the fact that he had seen a potential suspect with his own eyes, made him believe that it hadto be arson.
Shawn approached the bush where he was sure he saw the potential “arsonurderer” hiding and carefully inspected the ground below it. From his years of Henry Spencer’s detective classes, he knew that footprints were often some of the most informative evidence, and he was an expert in all types of popular footwear. The dirt below the bush had been packed down in several places making it unmistakable that someone or something had been standing behind the bush recently, but no specific print marks could be made out. However, he was able to follow a trail of dirt leading from behind the bush to a spot on the southwest corner of the house, which was now completely charred and black, and back to the bush again.
“Gus!” Shawn yelled for his partner who was busy investigating what was left of the inside of the house. Gus emerged from the front door and turned the corner to where Shawn was staring into the ashes in the burnt corner of the house. Gus was pouring a bag of cheddar and sour cream potato chips down his throat. “Really?” said Shawn.
“What?” said Gus, “The kitchen was still intact and I was hungry.”
“No, Gus. You know the rules about the food of the dead. 50/50. You’ve clearly eaten 80 of that bag, leaving only 40 for me.”
“Shawn, first of all, there’s no one dead here. Secondly, 20% of the bag was already eaten when I found it, and third, 80 and 40 do not add up to 100.”
“Why would that matter?” said Shawn.
“You’re insufferable!” said Gus in desperation.
“You’re right, Gus, I’m not suffering of anything, except maybe a lack of 40% of a bag of potato chips. Give me that!” Shawn tore the bag from Gus’s hands and started munching on what was left of the chips. Through his stuffed mouth, he told Gus about the trail of dirt leading between the bush and corner of the house.
“Sumfing haffened here!”
Shawn swallowed. “I said something happened here. Do you see anything?”
Gus looked carefully around the area. “No…but I smellsomething. Gus whipped out his supersniffer, surveying the area with his nose in the air like a scent dog. He narrowed in on a pile of partially burned wood that looked like it had once been a window shutter. He kicked the shutter aside with his foot to reveal a small rectangular can.
“Butt-ane,” said Shawn reading the half singed label.
“Bu-tane” corrected Gus.
“I’ve heard it both ways,” said Shawn. “How did arson miss that?”
“I don’t know. Looks like some very poor detective work on their part,” said Gus.
Shawn whipped out his iPhone and started dialing.
“Who are you calling?” asked Gus.
Shawn didn’t answer, but only a few seconds later shouted “Heeeyyy Lassie!” into his phone. “Long time, no speak. You missed me didn’t you…Don’t lie, you did. Hey, uh, while I have you on the line, I was just wondering if you can tell me anything about the investigation into last night’s fire…”
He listened for an answer, and then responded, “…Oooh, I don’t know, like why it wasn’t ruled an arson…I see…really?...Well, thanks for the info Lassie-face. Gotta go. Bye.”
“What did he say?” implored Gus.
“Apparently, there’s been a disagreement down at the station between Detective Crofton and the arson investigators. The arson investigators claimed that their initial observations pointed to arson, but that Crofton didn’t allow them to properly complete the investigation. He claimed that he found it quite obvious that the fire had started by an accident with a cigarette in the living room. Lassiter said he saw this place himself and though there was a pack of cigarettes in the living room, Avery claimed during questioning last night that she wasn’t smoking. Crofton said he didn’t believe her, but I think Lassie does.”
“Uh…I know Avery is not always truthful…but the fire clearly started down here,” said Gus, “which is not even remotely close to the living room.”
“Exactly, Gus, there is something very trouty going on here.”
“I think you mean fishy,” said Gus.
“No…I mean Trout-y. And that girl better not have been smoking or she’s going to be grounded!”