Squishy Stuff in the Middle
He pulled up his sleeve for another time check. Only twenty minutes – God it felt like two hours. Surveillance was on the lower rung of police procedure, only a step above courtroom testifying, this one even worse because the perp, oily haired lowlife pond scum, was viewed by the justice system as an innocent man.
There was no way this waste was innocent! Lassiter had sat across from him in interrogation for eight hours. Though he'd never admitted to anything, the smile had never left his face. The smile had widened when O'Hara had entered the room, giving Lassiter his one excuse to “accidentally” upend the chair Rollins had been tipping back in – dropping the leer from face just as quickly. Too bad the bastard hadn't cracked his skull on the concrete.
He looked at his watch again. Rollins had been in the pawn shop for nearly forty five minutes. This was after a stop at a greasy spoon and the nearest porn peddler to the gut rot shop.
Finally the door pushed open again, Rollins toting a small box in his hands. Lassiter sat up straight. Son of a bitch! His hand wrapped the door handle and he'd managed to get one foot to the pavement before common sense returned. The state of California had deemed the man innocent. Aside from some sealed juvvie records, there was nothing in his history to prevent him from walking where he wanted or buying what he wanted. Even if what he bought was a weapon.
He knew where Rollins was staying – some cockroach infested motel on State street. Much as he wanted to follow him, he had some information gathering to do first.
A fake nose, even something a touch more casual than his suit, wouldn't have been amiss. Pawn shop owners weren't known for their inherent love of cops in Lassiter's experience. Right up there with weapons peddlers and smut sellers. Not that Lassiter had any problem flashing his badge to the fringe element just to remind them of where they stood in society. His partner had been reminding him about winning flies with honey but she wasn't there and honey was in short supply.
Two cowbells hanging over the door didn't allow for stealthy entry, not that he'd been trying for it. The musty blend of cracked, dusty leather and gun oil was a haphazard aroma overlaying the subtler scents of rat poison and mothballs. It reminded him of his aunt Ruth's apartment sans the sharper tang of cat piss.
About as cluttered too as far as that went.
The beefy guy looming over the plexiglas counter across from the door didn't look like he was a man who stood behind that opening question. The only help he appeared to want to offer would be the kind involving a trip to the ER.
Lassiter had his shield up and out while his eyes tracked the two other patrons wandering the aisles. “Head detective Carlton Lassiter, SBPD. The man that was just in here. What did he buy?”
Abby was eating dinner with them again. She hadn't stopped by in several days, nor had Shawn begged her to, uncomfortable enough without both her and his father sharing space. Unlike Gus, she never unequivocally took his side against his dad. Okay, so Gus didn't always either but at least he had the decency to be apologetic about it.
Right now she was in the kitchen with his father, pots clanking and things spitting in oil while the smells from their attempts filled the house. Beside him, sharing the couch, the TV, and the rest of his Spree was Gus. Shawn had only had to tolerate one hand slap, followed by rapid apology, when he'd gone for his own handful of the fruit treat. That, too, he had begun to hate. He was blind, not made of saltwater taffy! Gus should be able to smack him whenever he wanted and not think he was about to snap a rib!
And he really didn't want to delve into the wrongness of that whole thought.
His fingers dug into the wealth of five o'clock shadow gone to seed, aka “hobo beard” as dubbed by Mr. Freeze with the sweet fade skullcap. Abandoning even the casual shaving in favor of a far looser grooming style had been an easy choice – not even his trust in Abby extended to the perfected length requirements of his stubble – his only regret was the persistent itch of wiry hair on his chin. Still, it was a look he'd been certain was on the forefront of style. And he needed some balance to his butchered scalp anyhow.
Of course, Gus had had his own way of showing support for the sudden hair loss. “Dude, you look like John Malkovich.”
Shawn had been thinking something more Billy Zanian but without a reflection to scrutinize he'd been forced to take his buddy's word for it.
“Sweetheart, you want something to drink?” Abby's stockinged feet patted into the room, followed by the flowery smell of her perfume. Shawn rubbed his nose to fight off a sneeze.
“Sure, that'd be- be-CHOO! Ugh...” Snuffling at the slight burn, he was about to use his sleeve when a tissue intercepted the play. “Thanks.”
“Allergies bothering you again?” Abby squeezed beside him, forcing Gus to slide hop a few inches left given the way the couch bounced.
Shawn blew his nose, hoping he was subtle about the extra scrub he gave through his lip-a-pillar (thank you, Gus), before relinquishing the tissue to Abby. “Just dust – maybe the chicken dad is obviously trying to turn into a briquette.”
“Shawn, your dad isn't cooking chicken, that's pork... oh gosh!” Abby jumped up again, her feet now thudding as she hurried back to the kitchen. “Mr. Spencer!”
More sounds of pans and then the shiish of water hitting a too hot surface.
“I think they burned the chicken.” Shawn snagged another mouthful of candy. Beside him, Gus reclaimed his lost spot on the couch.
“What did I say? Too many cooks in the kitchen.”
“You did say that.” They both stopped talking at the sound of cheering coming from the television. Football, at least, could be almost as good even without the pictures. Seconds later, more hurried steps as Henry jogged into the room.
“Denver.” Shawn said as he tried to readjust the way his body had been slumping down on the couch. He grunted at the pull in his shoulder but was able to sit up a bit straighter without begging for help or being offered the same without asking.
Gus tsked – as if he had money on the game or something. Gus's mother, on the other hand... But no, Mrs. G had promised the gambling thing was over and done.
“Come on, Tebow...” Dad now adding to the noise – equal parts urging and disparaging, though more of the latter as another thunder of blended boos and catcalls from the crowd were enough of a hint to divine the results of that last play.
“Hey dad, didn't you bet old Pete McMillan Fifty bucks against a case of his private label that...”
“Dinner's ready!” Dad hadn't been in the kitchen for the past ten minutes but who was Shawn to question whether or not the statement was true? Not that he didn't hold his fist out for the pass and immediately get a quarterblack sneak in return. Obviously dad had seen their less than stealthy fist bump given the “humph” sent their way.
Allowed to stand by himself, Shawn didn't argue the tickle touch of fingertips along his sling hampered arm. As long as dad didn't get creative with the layout he could find his way to the kitchen, no sweat. However, he didn't mind the extra insurance against bashing his shoulder on a poorly placed door frame.
Abby took over caretaker duty once he was seated at the table. Setting the plate in front of him with a soft clunk of his dad's good stoneware against the tablecloth, she took his hand and rested it against the curved edge.
“Mixed veggies are at three o'clock, meat is at six, and parsnips are at twelve.”
He held off on the joke this time – can't I just eat it all now? – it really hadn't been that funny the first time anyhow and repetition had stolen what little humor it had had.
Instead, he felt around for his fork and carefully stabbed the first pre-sliced cube of pork chop.
In spite of the Backdraft moment earlier, it didn't taste burnt. Abby must have rescued most of the chops before they could reach the charcoal stage. It was actually really good. Maybe just a bit tough but dad was no Bobby Flay so it wasn't like he was expecting to be fed poached quail or something.
He stabbed another bite, forking some veggies to be polite, knowing Abs would lecture him if he tried to skip it. Around him, the other three were going back and forth on subjects – dad having growled through his opinions of the game right up until he'd started eating, his topic of choice then switching to Abby's skill in the kitchen. Shawn mostly tuned it out – more interested in pondering what sort of dessert they had in the oven. Either peach cobbler or chocolate cake and no, Shawn would never claim to be as fine tuned in the smelling arts as Gus.
“...know it's a little spicy but I hope you think...”
“...think these boys could -cough- use something with more -cough- culture than Taco Bell...”
Blah, blah, blah.
Shawn stabbed towards noon, embedding the tines into his next bite.
Gus coughed next, nudging Shawn as he must have reached for his glass. “Kuk... ugh... where did -cough- you say you bought...?”
Shawn bit down.
There was a second of confusion as taste buds primed for pan fried pork tried to fit a square peg in a round hole. The texture was right but the flavor was definitely off, but that's what had been on his plate... and then his throat closed as heat exploded across his sinuses. Violent hacking ejected the foreign food item – not just pork, definitely not just pork – and he batted out his hand in a wild grasp for anything cold and liquid. His fingertips grazed his glass hard enough to rock it towards tipping. However, there was no shatter – a mystery solved when he felt Abigail grab his hand and press the smooth glass into his palm.
Gulping down water in three swallows, he gasped and patted around the table for more as the heat only spread down his throat – carried by the water that hadn't quenched anything – but only started new fires across all his tissues. His nose began running next and sweat slid down his temples.
“I'm sorry, I'm sorry...” He couldn't stop coughing as Abby apologized. Somewhere distant, he could hear the other two diners also hacking out their organs. Seconds later, the soothing fingers were gone and he was left to whimper and sniffle and hope that the vicious torture would force him to pass out very soon.
“Here.” He'd been too busy hacking to hear Abby's return but his hand reached out for whatever she had. But instead of handing it to him, he felt her hand cup his jaw and the metal edge of a spoon push against his lips. Cold puffed over his mouth and he opened up for that tiny hint of rescue. Neapolitan ice cream melted on his tongue and he groaned at the coolness – spreading it around and swallowing before opening his mouth for the next bite, and the next. He didn't care that she was feeding him like a baby – all his attention was wrapped up in the frosty healing melting on his tongue. Glorious, glorious ice cream, he'd scream for it if she tried to take it away. He might even cry just a little.
The coughing of the other two had died down now as well and Shawn's single thought in that regard was that they'd better not have found comfort in his tri-colored stash. He planned to eat the entire box in spite of the searing pain dying to cool embers.
His hand rested over Abby's, keeping the last spoonful between his teeth as he sucked at the melting sweetness. The burn on his tongue had faded to a mild simmer now, and he rubbed his thumb over Abby's knuckles, hoping she understood that he didn't blame her.
Uncomfortable and overly obvious throat clearing from Gus helped jog his memory that he wasn't sitting alone with her in his bedroom. He planned to be a little bit later but leaving the table right that moment would probably be make the whole uncomfortable thing a lot worse. Besides, he was still hungry in spite of the half gallon of ice cream nestled in his belly.
“How about I fix you a peanut butter sandwich?”
Shawn grinned. “With marshmallow fluff?”
Behind him, Gus made a soft whimper. “You know that's right.”
A squeeze on his arm and Abby returned to the kitchen. Shawn could hear his father's heavier step as he followed her, the clink of bottles preceding his return with beer for the four of them. A few minutes later, Abby returned as well. Setting down his plate, she moved his hand to the soft bread before allowing him to eat on his own.
He may just edge himself into a pre-diabetic state after such a sugary dinner but he couldn't quite care about that as he crammed down the sandwich – fingers already tapping around for the second one he knew was there.
The four of them ate the rest of their meal without incident, Abby hesitating about bringing out dessert until Gus made a few more whimpers.
Shawn decided that chocolate chip cookies, no chilies this time – Abs had promised, tasted awesome no matter how much sweetness he'd ingested so far.
Only one thing could make this more fabulous.
Okay, a bendy straw would be nice too.
Greg had spoken to the cop five minutes after Rollins had left. One of the few on the outside that he could trust to watch his back. He'd have loved to hang around to see Mr. big bad Head Detective get the threatening news that he'd bought a semi automatic wrist watch. Which he had, Greg hadn't had to lie about that. Greg kept security cameras in his shop and there was too great a risk of the cops getting creative about seeing the footage. But Rollins didn't feel it worth the risk that Lassiter would let him out of his sight without searching the purchase on some fabricated excuse that he suspected a drug transaction. Greg had been out of that business for a while but once on his record, the cops had felt justified in leaning on him now and then if they thought he was backsliding.
Once back at his apartment, Rollins pitched the watch, prying open the bottom of the box it had been sold in.
Inside was a wad of hundreds, a small vial of white powder, and .25mm barely the size of his hand. The angel dust was flushed – Greg was an idiot but he meant well. The gun he tucked in his jeans. He'd checked the chamber and found it loaded.
He had prospects in New Mexico. California had lost its shine and he was ready for new scenery anyhow.
But there was one, niggling little thing he had to deal with before he packed his trunk and hit the highway. One little detail he needed to square away.
Lying back on his bed, Rollins stared at the ceiling.
After a few moments, he smiled.