1. Well of Course There's a Flashback! by SydneyWoo
2. I Don't Need You - I Just Need This...Pencil by SydneyWoo
3. This Spy Camera, This Lamp and This Pencil...That's All I Need by SydneyWoo
4. I Just Need My Ketchup...I Don't Need My Ketchup by SydneyWoo
5. It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This - And Not in a Good Way! by SydneyWoo
6. And So it Begins... by SydneyWoo
7. And to Think this Evening Started Out so Well... by SydneyWoo
8. The Next Time, We're Going Out to Eat by SydneyWoo
9. Escalators can go down, but this one just keeps going up...and up...and up...and by SydneyWoo
10. Of Ordinary Heroes and Extraordinary Circumstances... by SydneyWoo
11. Don't pretend you can't hear me. I'm standing right here, screaming at you! by SydneyWoo
12. Broken Homes - Broken Lives - Broken Ruby Slippers by SydneyWoo
13. Sure I've Got Myself for Company...But I Hate Her... by SydneyWoo
14. The Key to Waiting is to Pace Yourself: Pace, Pace, Pace... by SydneyWoo
15. Gus! Be a Table! Be a One Legged Table! by SydneyWoo
16. Walking the Path to Recovery Three Steps Backward at a Time by SydneyWoo
17. Make That Two and a Half Steps Backwards by SydneyWoo
18. Mr. Sandman, What is Your Return or Exchange Policy? by SydneyWoo
19. Knock Me Out and Wake Me Up Later - Much, Much, Later... by SydneyWoo
20. Ahh Yes, the Ole' Dream Sequence Bit... by SydneyWoo
21. A Touching Story of a Boy and His Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla by SydneyWoo
22. Fears For Tears. Or Is it the Other Way Around? by SydneyWoo
23. In the Map of the Universe, You Are the Red Arrow in the Center That Says 'You Are Here' by SydneyWoo
24. We Can Has Go Bye-Bye Now? by SydneyWoo
Santa Barbara 1986
Henry sighed heavily. Shawn was nothing if not persistent, when it came to something he really wanted. He once again lamented his inability to instill that kind of work ethic within his son in every endeavor.
"Shawn…" He was tired of trying to reason with him as the child’s whines grew more and more…whiney. Frankly, he was just plain tired. He had planned on coming home and relaxing after one of the more trying days he had in a long time. Arguing with a frustrated nine year old was not in the cards.
"Gus said I could go. He said there would be pony rides and everything."
"No Shawn! That’s final." His normal restraint was shot after two months of overtime. He hadn’t meant for anger that wasn’t really directed towards the boy to come through. Tired or not, the lower lip quiver did him in.
"Come here, kid." Knees protested as he lowered himself on the front porch steps. "Gus may have said you could go, but it wasn’t his decision. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but sometimes the best way to be a friend is to step back for a while. You and Gus spend a lot of time together. It would really be nice to let Gus spend some time alone with his family. Understand?" Henry wrapped up his father-son speech with a tender ruffle to the longish hair under his hands. Just about time for another trip to the barber shop.
"Someday you will." Henry mused regretfully. Maddie had informed him of her observations, following a rare grown-ups-only lunch with Winnie Guster, as she packed her suitcase in preparation for her next out of town assignment; meaning it was now his problem breaking the bad news to the kid. They both knew Shawn could be a trying child. He himself had been driven to the brink on more than one occasion. Without the bond of blood, Henry didn’t know how he could restrain himself. Neither one could blame the Gusters. Still, it would be wise to limit the time Shawn spent with the other family for a while, giving them room to recover from his son’s overwhelming energy.
Hopefully, Shawn wouldn’t find out about this for a long time. Preparing his son for the horrors of the real world was one thing. Taking away his refuge was something Henry just couldn’t bring himself to do. His son needed Gus; likewise, Gus seemed to need Shawn just as much.
He watched as his son dramatically ascended the staircase. Each footfall, heavier than the next, coincided with histrionic sighs bouncing off the woodwork. He felt a similar sensation in his gut as he mentally prepared for his next conversation. Even now, he was formulating a plan of attack as well as a list of concessions. He supposed he could promise to spend more time personally supervising the boys. That had to be one of her biggest gripes, the fear that Shawn’s antics would hurt her baby boy. He had been meaning to do that same thing anyway. Working overtime on top of the afternoon shift had cost him too much time away from his family; he could hardly remember the last time he had seen Shawn when he wasn’t peeking in on him while he slept.
With his prepared statement ready, he began dialing the Guster’s phone number which had long ago been committed to memory. As the rotary face clicked backwards between each dial, he used the few seconds to take deep breaths in preparation.
"Hello, Winnie? Yeah, this is Henry Spencer. Have you got a minute?"
(23.427 years later)
"Come on, Gus! It’ll be fun. Funner than our joint family vacation to Disneyland." As the wadded ball left Shawn’s fingertips, time seemed to slow down. Shawn could hear the faded echo of the cheering crowd, chanting his name and praising his great hair and heroism. The paper projectile reached the apex of its upward motion – giving the illusion of actually stopping in mid-motion – before beginning its descent. It completed its brief, yet glorious, career in a perfect arc before landing squarely in the middle of his friend’s shiny sample case.
"No Shawn – I’m not going to do it." Pity that Gus wasn’t paying attention as this was the mother of all paper-balls. In the history of all paper-ball tournaments, Shawn could remember five truly perfect paper-balls. The average person was lucky if they experienced even one perfect paper-ball in a lifetime. He shuddered, as he often did when pondering the normalcy of others and their sad little lives. The motion helped focus his attention back on the present discussion at hand.
"You don’t have to dooo anything but ask, Gus. Don’t be a weenie."
"It’s not being a weenie, Shawn. It’s picking the hill I want to die on. Let me tell you something, that is NOT the hill I want to die on." Gus wrinkled his nose as he delicately picked up the edge paper wad between his thumb and index fingers, removing the item from his case. His friend’s confusion, as if it just registered that he didn’t remember packing this particular item, didn’t go unnoticed as Shawn smothered his amusement.
"Who said anything about hills…or dying. This was your idea, remember Mr. Morbid?"
"No Shawn, it wasn’t. My ideas involve places of cultural interest." Gus chimed in as he gathered, or attempted to gather, several rogue piles of drug formularies and new product brochures in a semblance of order.
"I beg to differ." Shawn immediately scoffed. "Your ideas may have culture, but I can guarantee you they aren’t remotely interesting."
"Whatever, Shawn." Gus shuffled the stack of brochures, vainly attempting to stack them in a tidy bundle. "I don’t know why this is even important to you." He gave up trying to neatly shuffling the stack, resorting to banging the heap on the desktop.
"Are you kidding? We’ve got to get the family back together, man. You know, play it up. Hug. Cuddle. Maybe play a game of catch with our dad’s. It will be like The Brady Bunch meets Field of Dreams. I’ll even let you play Shoeless Joe."
Shawn assumed Gus had tuned him out completely as he wrestled his mound of paperwork into submission. You knew Gus was serious when his tongue peeked out of the side of his mouth. Gus always thought it made him look Jordan-esque. Nothing could be further from the truth, he remembered telling him one afternoon. It makes you look like Beethoven…and not the piano guy, either. His friend’s expression then pretty much mirrored the look he was getting now as Gus’ head snapped up in indignation.
"No way am I going to play Ray Liotta, Shawn. How many times do I have to say it?"
"Well you can’t be James Earl Jones! He was old and he wore suspenders." Shawn stated as he painstakingly tore another page out of the magazine. The trick to the perfect paper-wad ball was symmetry; it’s all in the tear. "Besides, suspenders are a gateway fashion offense. Suspenders lead to bow ties. Bow ties lead to sweater vests. I have too much invested in you to let you backslide." The last of the page came away cleanly, excepting for the nicked corner. An amateur wouldn’t be able to handle such a happenstance. But, an artist such as himself could still create a masterpiece where mere mortals were doomed to failure.
"Okay, okay. You can be James Earl Jones. You happy now?" The negativity in the room could very well doom this paperball to obscurity. That would be a tragedy.
"No! And I mean forget it because I am not asking my parents to go to your Dad’s house for the Fourth of July. That’s just messing with tradition."
"Yeah, the tradition of ‘lame’"
"Tradition is tradition Shawn. It’s not going to happen."
"Fine then. I just don’t want to be there when you break the news to your dad." Shawn said smoothly as he methodically rolled the last magazine page into a tight bundle.
"Oh, the news that he can’t show off his new boat. And he was so happy too…" Shawn let the thought trail off as he leaned back in his chair, letting another ball fly from his fingertips as punctuation.
"You already planned this with my Dad?"
"Keep your voice down, man. You’ll scare away the gulls on the other side of the bay. Besides Gus, it was mostly his idea. He just needs your Mom’s sign off. I told him you would be totally happy to help."
"Nope. Not gonna do it. I have three presentations to make today. You planned this, you make it happen." Gus shrugged on his suit jacket. He took an extra moment to admire his own reflection, curling his lip in apparent approval as he straightened his tie and adjusted his lapels with a flourish.
"Gus! We’re supposed to go to the station now. We were actually invited this time!"
"Bye Shawn…" Gus halted his exit briefly as he looked down at the floor, processing the twenty-odd discarded paper wads littering the floor. He resolutely refused to make eye contact with his friend as he resumed his impressive egress.
"Fine, but I’m going to be Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner!" Shawn yelled out, struggling futilely to tone down the pitch of his voice.
As Gus failed to rematerialize, Shawn looked down longingly at his last ball – lips forming into a pout. His good mood was gone and with it the heart for a last round of trashcan basketball. He tossed the lonely scrap onto the top of his desk, releasing a frustrated huff of breath.
If this was the way Gus wanted to play this, then fine. He could certainly handle this meeting on his own. As he looked down at his watch, he calculated the time he would need to prepare for his meeting with the Chief. He had been working on a new vision routine for weeks that he had been looking forward to debuting this week. He supposed he could improvise and channel Gus as well. It would certainly add to the complexity, but if he pulled it off – it just may be the best vision ever.
Seizing the return of his confidence and his good mood, he grabbed the magazine and carefully pulled out another three sheets. He would have to hurry up and use up this issue before Gus got back from his almighty sales route. If he discovered the partial remains of his latest (and unread) issue of Safecracker’s Weekly scattered throughout the office, psychic or not, Shawn could easily deduce this would not go well.
That’ll teach him.
~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Determined to make the best of the circumstances handed to him, Shawn was perfectly happy to skip though the SBPD doors all on his lonesome. Gus would see it his way in the end. He always did. If not now then certainly once he opened the next credit card statement, he would see the error of his ways and just go along with the program the first time it was presented.
Going through the rituals of signing in with the receptionist, telling a few fortunes in the guise of perusing over files and flirting with the occasional passerby, Shawn finally stopped dead in his tracks in front of the whiteboard. Taking in the board as a whole, a few items couldn’t help but jump to the forefront.
This is an awesome case. His eyes scanned the images to memory. Robbery, murder, and a suspected connection to a local heiress – what’s not to love?
He had to get himself involved. The lack of one Burton Guster, who would normally try and talk him out of anything this interesting, could be a hidden blessing after all.
Quickly, he considered his options. He already pretended to channel a spirit from the fichus last week. Although the fichus species is renowned for being notorious gossips, he didn’t think that would fly two weeks in a row. Narrowing his options down to two or three possible visions, postponing his new material debut until next week, he entered Chief Vicks office with a flourish.
"Mr. Spencer!" The tone was one of rebuking a bad puppy for soiling the new rug.
Vick appeared more annoyed than she usually pretended to be. The extra large coffee mug and matching under eye bags confirmed that the more conservative vision option number three would be appropriate.
"I feel like dancing!" Bringing up his arms to hold an imaginary partner, he proceeded to waltz through the office. "One-two-three. One-two-three. I’m getting classical music…why am I getting classical music?"
"Mr. Spencer. Sit down; you’re making me dizzy. Let me assure you that you can’t afford to make me frustrated."
Quickly taking the cue, Shawn rushed to the chair and quickly sat down. He appeared to be the picture of boyish innocence as he folded his hands neatly into his lap.
Leaning forward, he poured every ounce of concern into his expression. "I feel your tension, Chief." Closing his eyes, he then raised his left lid ever so slightly as he put his fingers to his temples. "You are a dingy…"
"I’m a what?!" It didn’t take a psychic to sense that he’d pushed too hard on that analogy. He would have to recover this one fast.
"Shhhhh…let me finish – the spirits do not like to be interrupted. Yes…yes…I see you are a dingy on the ocean. There are…yachts all around you…they’re making waves because they’re rich and powerful."
He opened his eyes as his head snapped up, looking her in the eye.
"Chief, I can help you. You need me. We can sink those yachts."
"No Mr. Spencer. Detectives Lassiter and O’Hara are fully capable of handling the Stratford investigation. I have something else in mind for your special talents."
She shuffled through the papers on her normally organized desk. Shawn noted the stack of case files threatening to spill onto the floor. She was working through a backlog of emails, evidenced by the reflection off of the picture frame. The pressure coming down from above must be big to scatter all of Chief Vick’s ducks from their normally neat and orderly rows.
Further commentary was cut off as she found the file, triumphantly slapping it on the desk before taking a victory swig of coffee. That done, she sighed in appreciation and handed the file to him. He had the distinct impression that her expression was one that dared him not to take it. He wasn’t sure what was in her coffee, but his very trustworthy survival instincts demanded that he take this case and not put up too much protest.
"Copper thieves, Mr. Spencer. The SBPD is understaffed at the moment. And, as you have so well noted, I am under a great deal of pressure with the Stratford case."
Raising a hand to cut him off the very instant he opened his mouth, she continued.
"I do not require your assistance with the other case. What I do need is extra manpower to assist with other cases we are dealing with. That is where you come in. We are dealing with a rash of home and business break-ins. The thieves are targeting copper wherever they can find it, including wiring and fittings. They appear to be loosely organized. They leave behind no evidence to speak of. Your job, Mr. Spencer, is to get a psychic reading on who is behind the activities and where their next target may be. We, meaning not you, will handle the rest. Are we understood?" Evidently, she thought there was nothing more to say as she turned back to her computer. Dumbstruck, Shawn could only stare for the moment, not sure how this had turned so badly on him.
"But Chief…" Unable to keep the whine from his voice, he figured he may still be able to pull this around if he poured on an extra helping of charm. Taking a deep breath, he cocked an eyebrow and sculpted an award winning smile…
"Let me make myself perfectly clear…are we understood?" It was creepy how she could sometimes channel his dad in the ability to deflate his plans without even looking at him. He wondered if that came with being a cop…or being a parent? Perhaps a little of both?
And with that, his smile evaporated. Whatever was in that coffee, Shawn vowed to make sure Vick never partook of it again.
As he shuffled his way across the parking lot, he perused through the file. This case was decidedly uncool. He, mostly meaning Gus, would still give this one some attention…after he learned a little bit more about Mr. Stratford.
Copper theft could wait. So someone lost a faucet handle, big deal. Fame and notoriety won over missing plumbing any day of the week. Imagining the press attention, he felt his good mood creeping back. Shawn double checked that the case file was secured in the Norton’s saddlebags and slid on his helmet. Kick starting the bike with a flourish – so what if it had an automatic start…everyone knows that kick starts are cooler – Shawn smoothly maneuvered out of the parking lot.
Again, special thanks go out to my story helpers Dragonnan and GBfreak... you both astound me!
Snapshots littered the desk. Layers of grainy photographs wallpapered the surface. The blessings of modern technology provided in cell phone cameras ensured that life’s most precious moments (or SBPD whiteboards) could be preserved for future generations. Sure he had a photographic memory in his own right. But digital zoom and Photoshop enhancement meant that he could keep his eyes diverted to more…pleasant...sights while simultaneously snapping away.
At this moment, though, Shawn was napping away. Layers of grainy photographs doubled as a rather poor pillow as he slowly discovered. He didn’t mean to fall asleep. Intentions, his dad would say, are useless – show me results, kid. Shawn groaned as Henry-in-his-head wouldn’t shut up. Another groan for good measure as Shawn cursed the newfound crick in his neck. Slowly, he raised his head. One of the snapshots remained attached to his face. Who knew laser jet ink and drool combined to form super-paste? He winced as he pulled away the paper and with it more than one precious hair follicle.
With a start, he looked at his watch before breathing a sigh of relief. He had plenty of time to do some more legwork on the case - aka the Stratford case, not the lame one – before wrapping things up. Well, he had plenty of time without any more impromptu naps. He could avoid that fairly easily. As long as he stayed moving, he would be fine.
Kicking back in his chair, he rolled about four feet away from the desk. More than one desk chair face off against Gus had taught him that keeping one’s legs parallel to the floor gave the best aerodynamics. Shawn bounced out of the chair and gave it a shove, sending it back to its proper place. He then turned his attention back to the window pane. He popped the cap off a dry erase marker and began to draw a crude schematic of the whiteboard. Sure it was double working since he already had reprinted photos of the real whiteboard as well as all of the info committed to memory. The task helped him focus, and he needed to focus. Instinct screamed that there was a connection here. He knew it; he just couldn’t see it.
Everything he needed to make the connections was right here…somewhere. Whatever he couldn’t snag from the whiteboard, he managed to find through his own research. The reproductions weren’t bad, but they were doable. He was pretty proud of himself, actually. What he wanted was the little spy camera made especially for snatching quick photos of secret documents. It always fascinated him. How he longed for a little camera where you push the ends together and the picture snaps. Maybe Gus would buy him one for Christmas? Maybe Gus would have to buy him one without realizing it.
Shiny-thing indulgence over, Shawn again focused on the information mocking him. All the paperwork was legit. The yacht was insured for full replacement value. The police report filed on the robbery prompted an APB by the Coast Guard. They still haven’t found the boat, but did locate the body of an unfortunate marina worker who Lassiter insisted ‘surprised’ the thieves. One week later, Mr. and Mrs. Stratford magically cut through the last ribbon of red tape and took the keys of their new yacht.
All the pieces were in order. Everything was done by the books. Thank you, and good night. Other than the fact that it smells funny that the rich and powerful Mr. Stratford (funny, cause he was the one who married money) must have his own personal insurance adjustor – does that make him a suspect? Shawn looked over his shoulder for an answer, forgetting that Gus ditched him to work his other job. Big whoop. And no, to answer his own question, working every loophole in his favor may make Stratford a jerk, but not necessarily a crook. At least, not without proof.
Which is here…somewhere.
This would be so much easier if he could see the scene of the crime. Impossible as the yacht was still missing and the body of the marina worker was dumped into the ocean. Still, Shawn wanted to case the marina looking for clues. He was starting to regret that the Gusters were bringing their boat to his dad’s place. It was almost fate the way this case came about. If he had more time to work the system, he could have finagled a change in location where he could scope out the marina in the guise of a legitimate dinner party. But, if this went well he was sure he could achieve the same result by inviting himself back over later in the week.
He finally resolved that the answer was eluding him on purpose. Like any self respecting fake-psychic, Shawn decided to consult with the ‘spirits’ further. Unless, of course, his dad was out – then he would just stick with a beer.
Hey, speaking of his dad…
Glancing at his watch, he made some new calculations. He had five minutes to spare before he would have to leave. Then he would run to the store, fight with the bazillion other people also picking up some last minute items, and buy some necessities to take to his dad’s house. Under no circumstances could he be late for dinner preparations. Henry was a tough negotiator. As a concession for the dinner party with the Gusters, his dad’s list included tree pruning, gutter cleaning and an afternoon sanding an old desk. Shawn feared any additional conditions that would be demanded if he were late. The current list was dangerous enough as it was – he couldn’t afford to push his luck if he wanted help with any cases for the rest of the year.
Then again as snippy as Gus had been today, his dad might be the lesser and safer of two evils. No worries. Eventually, Gus would come back to his side – especially when he told him about his own personal new case. Not the Stratford case, that puppy was his. No, he was sure Gus would be thrilled to hear how Chief Vick trusted him so much that he deserved a case of his very own.
Gus’ parents will be so proud of their son. He was a good influence after all!
Shawn, rarely, was one to grant his Dad any compliments. Henry Spencer did have a few redeeming qualities, however. First of all, if you could win the man’s loyalty – you had it for life. If anyone needed evidence, Shawn would simply state ‘plaid’. Plaid had become Henry’s friend years ago and the man staunchly defended its use. Secondly, his Dad didn’t believe in letting people go hungry. He wasn’t the type to make everyone salivate longingly in front of a table spread with food, just because one dish didn’t have the decency to be done. If the chicken couldn’t keep up with the rest of the dinner, then the chicken (like every other loser who fell behind) deserved to be left for last.
So here they all sat, sans the main course that refused to barbecue any faster, fully prepared to partake of the side dishes.
"Thank you Henry for allowing us to take part in this…unusual…meal." Mrs. Guster, her ever gracious self, elegantly bowed her head. Henry, not one to bow down before any backhanded compliment simply returned the favor – and the narrowed gaze.
"Well, thank you Winnie. If you remember, I did promise dinner at 4 o’clock sharp. I believe it’s rude to keep guests waiting."
"Oh but of course, you’re right." With many years of mediating parental squabbles, Shawn felt the need to commence eating with all due speed. Polite company guaranteed that one should not trade barbs with one’s mouth full. It was most definitely time to encourage all parties to start shoveling their faces.
"Hey Gus, pass the ketchup woul…wh…what?" His friend’s eyebrows had taken on life of their own as they raised and waggled independently. His slightly confused amusement faded as Gus’ head began to mimic his eyebrows.
"Are you having a seizure…?" His lips pursed slightly as he looked all around him to find a cause for Gus’ weirdness.
Winnie again spoke with the same leveled tone. "I’m so sorry my casserole doesn’t meet your standards, Shawn." His head slowly turned to meet the cold and legendary Winifred Guster Glare of Death. "But please…do feel free to smother three hours of handcrafted preparation in sauce. I would hate for you to feel pressured to taste it first."
Shawn felt vaguely like Bambi, sucked into the tractor beam of on oncoming semi.
Unable to move…
Unable to blink…
Unable to think…
Unable to do anything - except stare down his eighteen-wheeled fate, wide-eyed and dumbstruck.
"Umm…" Nervously licking his lips, he looked around for a distraction to grasp with white knuckled fingers of desperation. The rest of the world blurred out of focus except for his amigo, his brother-in-arms. Gus rolled his eyes into his previously seizing eyebrows and threw his head back as he began his Lamaze exercises.
"Go on, Shawn – here’s your ketchup."
Oh God – it’s a trap! I can’t take the ketchup without insulting her, but if I take it I’ll just make her mad.
"I don’t want it."
I’m gonna die.
"No?" Mrs. Guster leveled her eyes at him again, staring into his retinas. He swore she was doing something otherworldly because he could feel his eyeballs burning.
"No, I’m fine," he insisted.
"Boy - now that’s some fiiine casserole. You don’t want to mess it up." Mr. Guster was a traditional sort. You don’t refuse your elders in a request, even if the misguided request was a trap. Shawn felt another twist of his gut as Mr. Guster’s head cocked to the left as he placed his elbows on the table and clasped his really, really big hands. Hands so big they could wrap completely around his…
"Mmmm…" Self preservation was now his master as he proceeded to pile his plate full of Mrs. G’s special, artisanal casserole.
"Yummy!" He managed to choke around the dryness. His cheeks were stuffed with undetermined ingredients. Bread crumbs clung to his lips and flaked onto his shirt, down into his neckline. Swallowing, or rather attempting to swallow required all of his attention. Barely gulping down a tasteless lump in his throat, he pasted a big smile on his face and stuck another heaping forkful into his mouth.
Out of the corner of his misery, he spied his father’s open amusement at his predicament. His dad could pull off an entire conversation simply by tilting back in his chair and crossing his arms. This look was one of sadistic curiosity.
Five bites were the magic number to turn off the Winifred Guster Glare of Death. When she finally released him from her eye hold, he allowed himself to release the stored tension in his lungs. The last mouthful was more stubborn than the first four. His throat tightened uncomfortably as its moisture supply had dried up in the effort to move the last vestiges of portland cement from his system.
"Hey Dad, can you pass me a beer?" His voice came across a bit raspy from the abuse it had suffered.
Gus’ eyebrows again began dancing as Shawn opened his mouth in confusion.
"I’m so sorry that my casserole is too dry for your exacting tastes, Shawn."
*** **** ***
Yeah...I feel kinda awkward too:)
Fully aware that awkwardness did exist in the universe, but not terribly familiar with the sensation when experienced firsthand, Shawn couldn’t help but squirm in his chair. The motion didn’t actually resolve anything; his ears still burned in discomfort and four pairs of eyes still drifted aimlessly among tight quarters.
"Is this what you had in mind for the evening?" The hissed whisper nearly startled him. Shawn was also perturbed to note that his friends tone wasn’t one sincerely asking for information. This was the tone of I already know the answer but I want an excuse to use big words and/or useless knowledge specifically designed to impress, annoy or otherwise humiliate you.
"Decidedly not. But thank you, Mr. Morose."
"When is it going to get funner again? I forgot." Point punctuated with the raise of an eyebrow, did little to improve Shawn’s mood.
"We need a diversion."
"We need to end this evening while we’re ahead."
"Gus, don’t be a pessimistic porpoise. We can salvage this."
"We can’t salvage this Shawn. You’ve gone too far this time." Gus’ whisper escalated another two notches.
"What do you mean I’ve gone too far? I seem to recall that you’ve found your way to Henry’s bad side for the first time in…ever." Shawn’s eyes challenged Gus to deny it. Gus’ eyes had no part of the conversation, but his mouth was surely up to the challenge.
"Don’t. Just…don’t. You started it Shawn. You were the one who told my mom that she reminds of you Mrs. Huxtable."
"Gus, she reminds everyone of Mrs. Huxtable. Jeez, we’ve talked about this."
"No, Shawn. You’re the only one who sees it. You’re the only one who’s ever seen it. Twenty years and you still won’t let it go. Give it up, man."
Shawn’s eyes narrowed at the snippiness in his friend’s voice. Gus didn’t see the connection because he didn’t want to see it. Gus would get his the next time he faced Henry alone. Compare my mom to Cybill Shepherd, will you?
Gus wasn’t finished with the argument, of that Shawn was certain. However, he still made a point to change the subject as he usually does. "Besides, our dad’s have finally called a truce. We need to leave now before they start in again."
"You may be right about that, but I have a better idea. We’ll go back to the house and get the fishing gear. Your dad had his moment in the sun by impressing us all with his boating skills since his boat is bigger, badder and actually works – even if he does refuse to leave the dock. If we give Henry a chance to dazzle us with his fish whispering, then both dad’s get a chance to shine and we won’t have to hear about it for the next three months. What say you?"
"You’re forgetting something in your brilliant plan Shawn."
"Really? I believe I’ve covered everything."
"Yes, Shawn. My mom."
"No Gus, you’re supposed to say ‘your mom’. We’ve covered this in Remedial Insults 101."
"I’m not trying to insult you, goofus. You’ve forgotten my mom in your master plan. She’s going to be pissed. Correction - she is pissed. She’s gonna kill you."
"I admit it. She could be a problem." The solemn nod gave way as Shawn slapped his friend on the back in a gesture that was surely meant to be encouraging. "I have the utmost confidence in your ability to pull her around. Why don’t you take her to lunch?"
"Why don’t you update your will?"
"That’s the spirit. Now, let’s go get that fishing gear!" Hard experience had taught Shawn never to give Gus an option. His friend appreciated having the plan laid out for him. He really appreciated it if said plan was instituted immediately. The less time Gus was given to talk himself out of having fun, the better. Shawn was happy to indulge his friend in his quirks. Bouncing out of the chair, mindful of the squeak of new vinyl in his wake and the exacerbated rocking motion of the craft, he grabbed his friend by the elbow and dragged him away from the sputtered protests of the indignant group they were leaving behind.
"We’ll be back in a bit, folks. Amuse yourselves as we prepare for the highlight of the evening!" Calling out his assurances over his shoulder, he was quite proud of himself as he envisioned the success of his new plan.
The sharp staccato of homemade specials echoed across the water’s surface. With it, the odor of burnt gunpowder carried in the salt air. The ‘pre-fireworks’ fireworks were just beginning. This was amateur hour, where drunken locals deceived themselves into believing their fireworks tent sale specials could begin to compete with the big dogs. There was still plenty of time before the real show began. He and Gus would be back long before then to put the family chemistry back in order.
This evening would mark a new era of the Spencer-Guster family relationship. He could feel it, and it felt great.
Oh Shawn - I wouldn't do that if I were you...
Hi Ho, Hi Ho - it's off to work I go...
Winnie wearily made her way up the porch. It had been a long day; longer than most. The only thing standing between her and her comfortable and feminine home was one last sweep through this house, making sure she had all her things. She feared if she left a single dish here, it would never be seen again. She snuffed at the thought that she could always hire her son and that bohemian-ragamuffin-psychic to find her Grandmother’s casserole dish. Well, hiring was an overstatement. She would insist that the job be done pro-bono to make up for all the anguish that boy had caused her through the years, which wouldn’t even touch the countless broken windows, appliances and –Good Lord Almighty- never ending doctor bills.
Wiping her feet on the worn sisal rug, she reached for the screen door as she pulled her shawl tighter around her neck. The night was unseasonably cool. Still, it had been a pleasant break from the recent oppressive heat. It would likely be another scorcher tomorrow, so she would try and absorb as much of the coolness that she could stand – which apparently wasn’t much. Her wandering mind was just another casualty from the length of the day. Spending a day with this family always taxed her energy; yet another reason why these occurrences were so rare and only due to her persistent Burton.
She made her way through the darkened kitchen. It was unfamiliar to her and she didn’t feel like searching for a light switch. There was enough light filtering through the window to allow her to make her way. Quickly, she began the process of collecting her items. Thankfully, her host was considerate; all of her serving dishes were carefully washed and dried. It would almost be a shame to rewash them when she got back home. She had learned long ago that men never washed dishes to her standards. Maybe she would just do them tomorrow after getting a full night’s sleep.
Now all I need is my purse and we can leave this…cave.
So focused on her task, she was startled when she walked in the living room to discover the younger Spencer sprawled out on the couch. She stopped suddenly and waited for a few moments. When it became obvious that the young man was dead to the world, she released the breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding. Willing her heart rate back to normal, she continued through the room with a growing sense of disgust.
"Lazy, good for nothing, troublemaker…" Without an audience to quell polite inhibition the insults rolled off her tongue in a muttered litany, each one growing stronger than the next.
The boys had left just before the show about a half an hour before with some flimsy excuse. Thankfully when the fireworks began, they had all been spared from more uncomfortable small talk - as if she hadn’t had enough of that tonight. Nevertheless, she would still have words with Burton later.
She snatched her abandoned purse from the coffee table and strongly resisted the urge to check its contents…just in case. Priding herself in her restraint, she turned around to retrace her steps back to the kitchen. For the second time in as many minutes she once again found herself glued to the floor, not paused from a mild startle as before, but frozen in unadulterated terror.
The purse slipped from her numb fingers, hitting the hardwood floor with a hollow thud. Her lipstick case tumbled out and rolled under the end table, ignored.
Her voice was frozen. She had tried desperately to scream. Her mouth was open. There was air being directed over vibrating vocal chords, but no volume was produced – serving to only fuel her panic. She had to be able to scream; she simply had to. Her thoughts stilled as she frantically searched for a word, any word that would bring help. One word was all she needed. Any word would do. Just one would unlock her tongue from the roof of her mouth and act as the catalyst to restore her to movement. A picture flashed in her mind’s eye…a man…with a name. Rational thought was starting to return to her control. She had to get control, her son depended on it!
Even as she progressed towards hyperventilation and found her vision tunneling her eyes never left the sight in front of her. The tears now flowed freely, even though her feet betrayed her, as she stared at the sight of her son. Her precious Burton lay slouched in the recliner, hidden in the dark corner. Blood trailed from his hairline, down the side of his face, streaking his neck until being absorbed into the collar of his navy blue polo.
She couldn’t tell if he was breathing; she wasn’t sure she had the courage to check. As long as she wasn’t sure, there was a possibility he was still alive.
The men must have heard the panic in her voice as they came storming through the door.
"What is it?!"
Vocalization, again, left her. All she could do was point to the chair containing the unconscious, oh Lord – please let him only be unconscious, body of her son.
"Oh my…" two long steps and her husband was by his side.
Out of the corner of her eye, she barely registered Henry looking the other direction before he moved out of her field of vision. She didn’t have room to worry about what had caught his attention. Nothing else mattered than the scene before her.
"Is he…alive?" The last word was cut off in a choked whisper, unable to complete the thought she gave in to her tears.
"He’s breathing, that’s all I know." Bill’s concerned voice vibrated through her. He was breathing. He is breathing. He is alive.
"I think he’s coming round!"
The invisible bonds that held her fast snapped. She found herself hurtling towards the chair. The motion made her dizzy, almost as if she were catapulted from her former location. Dropping down to her knees, she took his face in her hands, giving him the gentlest of shakes – willing him to wake faster.
"Burton, can you hear me?"
She tried to listen closely, but there was too much noise. It angered her. Her son was hurt while that…that…vagabond just lounged around, napping the night away. She whipped her head around and prepared herself to speak her mind and found herself, again, speechless and confused.
The sight before her just didn’t track. Henry Spencer knelt by the couch; one hand on his son’s forehead, the other on his chest shaking gently.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Henry’s heart rate tripled from the second Winnie’s scream echoed across the front lawn. Years of conditioning had him reaching for the phantom holster at his side, even as he raced towards the house. He paused next to the door, back to the house, the briefest of hesitations to assess the situation before moving in. Bill Guster had already stormed in after his wife in typical civilian manner. Shaking his head in frustration at the rash maneuver, Henry could only follow his path with the hope of taking in as much as he could before the proverbial bull could trample the china shop of evidence.
Upon his entrance into the doorway of the darkened living room, he saw nothing out of the ordinary. Shawn stretched out on his couch wasn’t, in and of itself, unusual. Entering the room further, he was able to turn around and take in the sight that had sent Winnie into hysterics. Gus, his son’s adopted brother lay in Henry’s own recliner bleeding rather heavily from a head wound. Confusion - shock - anger - warring emotions vied for dominance, all trying to push through the same doorway and accomplishing nothing but jarred shoulders. He had known Gus for a very long time – long enough to become rather attached to the young man. Realization settled into his gut, overwhelming him with dizzying nausea. He quickly left the young man in the care of his parents and made it to the couch in two long strides.
A quick hand to the forehead confirmed the absence of fever. Henry then placed a hand on his chest, giving a gentle shake.
"Shawn, come on. Wake up kiddo."
His training never prepared him for this. No amount of academy provided training could prepare a parent for walking into their home to the scene revealed to him now. His son was most definitely not sleeping. No way could even a world champion sleeper like Shawn, maintain a deep REM cycle with this commotion. Unlike Gus, he had no obvious wounds to explain his lack of awareness. The dim light didn’t afford Henry the luxury of checking his pupils. He didn’t dare leave his son’s side until he had a semblance of a clue just to track down one of the multitudes of penlights he had stashed around his house, just in case. Depending on doing things the old fashioned way, he took Shawn’s head gently in his hands as he felt all around his son’s skull. Finding no obvious bumps or scrapes that would give rise to an explanation, Henry sat back on his heels once again as he gave himself another moment to think.
"Alright Pal, fun’s over. Time to wake up." He didn’t even care if Shawn picked up on the concern in his voice and decided to wake up right now and poke fun at his old man. Rather, he would certainly welcome it as the one thing – the only thing - that would erase the growing dread that threatened to give rise to complete panic.
Frustrated, and well past worried, Henry ran a hand over his close cropped scalp as struggled to find the missing piece to the puzzle. He performed another visual scan of his son’s body.
No head wound.
No visual marks anywhere…
"That’s your problem, Shawn. You have to broaden your vision. You have to look at the outskirts of the case."
"What does that even mean? Look at the ‘outskirts’ of the case…"
"Sometimes, you have to turn something upside down to view it right side up. And there’s your prize."
Henry chided himself even as he hastily reaching forward. He gingerly reached for Shawn’s left shoulder, just barely edged over the couch cushion. Bending sideways, he didn’t even have to lift the shoulder far before the darkened stain seeping through the couch cushions made itself clear, even in the dim glow of the outside street light.
"Oh God, kid…"
Despite his gentle handling efforts, Shawn moaned – weaving tendrils of cold dread around Henry’s ribs. He showed no other signs of returning to awareness.
"What did you do to yourself, Pal?" Henry eased himself off the edge of the couch, not wanting to jostle his son and further aggravate his injury. Making his way in the darkened room with efficient ease, he flipped the light switch and swore in frustrated concern. Toggling up and down, as if to will the faceplate to dare defy him, he gave it a final whack before striding to the end table. The conspiracy of darkness included table lamps as well as set-in fixtures. First glance would reveal him to be disgusted with the prospect of another home improvement project to tackle. In actuality, his grim visage set as he processed the insidiousness of the possibilties. Ripping the rickety drawer from the end table, he rifled through the spent AA batteries and undeveloped film rolls to retrieve a spare flashlight.
The old landline phone was within handy reach. He picked up the handset of the phone and punched in two numbers before his brain caught on that there was no dial tone. Concern for his son ate at him. Yet, years of experience screamed that this wasn’t over. Until Henry had a handle on what was going on, neither Shawn nor the rest of his guests were safe. As much as he wanted to be at his son’s side, ultimately he had to prioritize. A quick sweep around the room with the narrow beam of the flashlight reflected the ghastly pallor of Shawn’s complexion. It also revealed a preview of destruction that had found its way through his kitchen.
Unwilling to venture too far from the living room, Henry took a few more steps towards the kitchen entry. Even from this distance he could see the gaping holes in the cabinetry and drywall where, just two hours ago, there had been plumbing. The doors under the sink had been cut off their hinges, as had the underneath fixtures that used to connect to the bottom of the stainless steel basin. The luminescent beam lowered further, misty dust highlighted as it danced through the air, before illuminating the source of the sickness now punching a hole in his gut. A cordless reciprocating saw. By itself, one of the more useful tools for a myriad of projects, the likes of which Shawn squirreled out of week after week. Henry himself had three. This, he mused, was not his saw.
They’re still here!
Executing an academy perfect about face, he set his sights on the hallway. He progressed no further than three long strides when the shortened barrel of a shotgun peered around the corner, instantly followed by its bearer. As his flashlight glinted off the weapon, he attempted to step back before his movement was halted as the shotgun was leveled at his head.
"Well, isn’t this just our lucky day?" The punk couldn’t have been older than twenty one. His age was tricky to determine as his stringy hair was pushed over his features by the ratty knit cap. The fact this kid was high on something took no time at all to discern. His erratic behavior screamed druggie. Henry refused to acknowledge any weakness they could feed from. However, he would have to be very careful not to push this kid too far.
"You hurt my son. I guarantee your luck ends today." His eyes squinted as he appraised the young vandal further. Rotten teeth, facial sores having nothing to do with typical pubescent complexion, obvious aggression, all these observations could be chalked up to meth user.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to deal with the growing meth problem very often during his years on the force. They had the occasional incident towards his later years, just before his retirement. The same could not be said for officers currently employed by the SBPD as well as the rest of the country. Friday night poker nights were a great way to let off some steam, reconnect with colleagues, and keep abreast of current happenings. He had been hearing that there was an explosion, literally and figuratively, in meth usage in the past three years. Until today, the inability to purchase his favorite decongestant over the counter was the biggest inconvenience he had experienced due to the explosion of the drug’s popularity. When he had more time to decompress, he would berate himself for ever wasting frustration on something so…trivial.
The punk ignored him as he fumbled through his baggy pants pockets, remarkably keeping the gun steady. He pulled out a cell phone and hit a speed dial key, his gaze never leaving Henry for a moment as he waited for the other end to pick up.
"Walker, there are more people in the house. You said it would be empty, man…yeah…we already took care of them…no…these are more people…yeah, that’s what I’m sayin’…but what do you want us to do?...ok, I’m out."
He snapped the phone shut and deftly returned it to the pocket of his dirty cargo pants. Motioning with the gun barrel, he herded Henry back into the living room.
Henry remained silent; not wanting to distract himself from taking in as much info as he could and tip his hand too early, until he could fully assess the situation. He allowed himself to be moved across the room. There were three intruders. Two were visibly armed. However, he wouldn’t make any foolish assumptions that the third was not. Number three, being quite large in stature, currently played the part of pack mule, loaded down with various tools and surrounded by bags. Henry’s eyes narrowed in anger as he observed Number three stuffing a large wheeled suitcase with wiring. That, he thought wryly, would be why the phones and power are out.
A glance and a half-nod confirmed that the Gusters were okay; rattled, but okay. He would have preferred to have qualified backup with him rather than be solely responsible for the lives of three civilians. Not that he would admit or normally consider it, but he would even prefer Shawn as adequate backup over Bill and Winnie. Even though he didn’t have the desire, his son couldn’t deny – at least to his old man - that he knew proper procedure as well as any seasoned officer when dealing with a hostage situation.
He forced his attention back to the intruders. They were gathered in a huddle, yet one of the three kept a dedicated eye on him. He strained to pick up the highlights of their conversation.
"…don’t want to stay here!"
"We’re taking the other two…outside of…be back."
A few mumbled, unintelligible words later and the huddle broke apart; its members separated and advanced on their chosen hostages. This was not good, not good at all. They couldn’t afford to be separated. Henry also couldn’t afford to push the issue. He would be no good to Shawn dead. He just had to hope that his son could hold out long enough for him to find a way out of this mess. He would find a way out of this. He had to.
"Where are you taking my husband?"
"Lady, I ain’t telling you again. Back off!"
"Winnie, I’ll be alright." Bill tried his best to placate his wife, who appeared to Henry, to be completely unplacatory. He couldn’t fault Winnie for reacting poorly. She was still shaken pretty badly from the shock of finding her son the way she had. Now, she was being forcibly separated from her husband. Of course, he and Bill weren’t happy about it either.
Clearing his throat, he interjected before the situation could get further out of hand. "Winnie – I need to know that you are going to look after Shawn and Gus. They need you right now."
Picking up on his momentum, Bill chimed in. "That’s right. We’ll be fine knowing you have the boys taken care of." Oh yeah, she was obviously unhappy at having the mom-card played against her. That was fine by him; Henry was quite familiar at deflecting the anger of others. He’d survived worse from those much closer to him than Winnie Guster.
The couple stole an embrace before Bill was roughly pulled from his wife. Henry automatically stepped forward, but was stopped immediately by his personal bodyguard.
And with that, the two men were directed out of the room, both sparing one last glance over their shoulders. Henry drank in the sight of his vandalized home, refusing to believe it was his last – but, just in case…
His last, longest stare was reserved for his son. Still stretched out on the couch, Shawn was showing the earliest signs of restlessness. The gun at Henry’s back prevented him from running back. He longed to make a move to overpower his attacker. Three against one was just too much of a gamble. It was sheer recklessness and probable suicide. As a father, he was sickened with himself. As a cop, he knew that this protocol, however unfair, was the best chance his son had.
Hang on kiddo. Whatever it takes, I’ll be back. You just have to hang on.
Many thanks again to Dragonnan and GBFreak for the beta and encouragement!
A specimen of staggering banality, Henry found himself somewhat offended by the cliché, non-descript white panel van. Parked behind his garage, it was undetectable from the beachfront where they had spent the bulk of the evening. He must have balked a second too long as he was shoved from behind, forcing his legs to catch himself before falling. He swallowed hard, forcing the retort back down.
One of the armed men walked ahead of the rest, reaching the van first and sliding open the side door before stepping to the side.
"Get in." The more experienced of the group, according to Henry’s observation, reinforced the grunted command with saccadic gestures of his shotgun.
Climbing in was easier said than done as the cargo area of the van severely lacked in available floor space. Heaps of scrap metal, fixtures, wiring, and gutters were piled haphazardly. Heaving some of the larger pieces over took some effort but yielded a serviceable seating area. He and Bill carefully climbed in. The younger of the two men had already circled around the van and took his place as driver. The older slid the door closed; the grating noise heavy while symbolically shutting off a level of hope within.
"Where are you taking us?" Henry decided to take a chance at getting some information. If he was going to die, he was determined to find out why.
"Quiet." The words were spoken without emotion, prompting him to push just a bit harder.
"Okay, then why are you taking us?"
"You’ll find out soon enough, now quiet." He left it at that, for now. They had just passed the last line of streetlights as they ventured farther from the residential area. Without the cast of filtered light, it was nearly impossible for Henry to gauge the facial expressions of the two men up front which would directly conflict with his ‘playing it safe’ game plan.
Despite what his son would tell anyone who would listen, and everyone who wouldn’t, he could do patience. After all, he had allowed Shawn to survive thus far. When Shawn was safely tucked away in a hospital bed, he would be sure to remind him of just that.
The van swerved sharply to the left, throwing the two rear passengers roughly into the scrap piles. The pained grunts formed a striking contrast to the sadistic mirth barely absorbed by the engine noise.
"Good one, Dawes." The passenger’s commendation for the driver, apparently named Dawes – Henry noted, with a slap to the arm. ‘Dawes’ pulled off his dirty baseball cap and returned the compliment with a fraternal thwack of his own. The action served only to further steel his resolve as he watched the perversion of brotherhood before him. It should be Shawn and Gus exchanging friendly - and not so friendly – whaps, smacks and pinches. Taming back down the anger, Henry calmed himself again. Emotion would only cloud his judgment and prevent him from observing the entirety of his surroundings.
Henry found if he quieted his breathing and didn’t jostle the salvage he could piece together the muted conversation taking place up front. Motioning to Bill to do the same, he was content to bide his time until the right opportunity presented itself. Until then, he would collect as much Intel as possible on their captors and their motivations. He had a gut feeling that these punks simply chose targets based on location and that they had no idea the identity of their victims. Their ignorance was, and would remain, his most valuable advantage.
Taking another careful look around, Henry noted that all of the scrap contained within the cargo area was comprised of copper. He had heard through various channels (and possibly a police scanner) that, due to the high scrap value of the metal, copper theft was the newest and latest crime wave to sweep the country. Ironically, and with absolutely no humor, he also realized that it was no longer the victimless nuisance crime that it had been touted. His son was likely at death’s door even now. He had no idea the fate of Gus or Winnie. Henry could see the oppressiveness of that burden reflected on Bill’s countenance as well.
Least importantly, but indicative of the mentality they were up against, Henry’s house had been trashed. Plumbing could be replaced - newer and better. Wiring could be updated. Energy efficient fixtures could be installed anew. Though it would take weeks and thousands of dollars, the house could be restored – with no small amount of insurance bureaucracy.
If anything happened to Shawn, though, nothing else mattered.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
The sudden flood of gripping terror of an hour ago had receded with the tide of numbing shock. Grateful for the reprieve that lack of sensation provided, Winnie Guster once again removed the warming cloth from her son’s forehead. Pushing up her sleeves, she dropped the used cloth back into the bucket of iced water at her feet. Pulling out a cooled cloth, she carefully wrung it out before folding it in thirds and placing it back on the abused temple of her son. Seizing a few more moments, she placed her hand on top of his head in a soothing gesture. The grateful moan was enough thanks for her. No, that wasn’t quite accurate. Knowing her son was alive and awake was all the reinforcement she needed. These hooligans had no idea what they messed with when they decided to do battle with Winifred Guster.
Sensing that she had overran her stay at her favored station, she regretfully pushed herself off of the bench and picked up the small first-aid kit and water bucket. Slowly, she turned her back on Gus and made her way over to the couch, stealing one last look over her shoulder. With a minimum of sloshing she set the items down and repeated the process with the young man on the couch. Unlike her son, Shawn had yet to really regain consciousness. It appeared to her that he was attempting to surface but was just underneath the ability to do so. As she laid the fresh cloth on his forehead, she was startled by his sudden response.
"Mmmmmggggg" The whining cry was cut off as he started to move his head back and forth.
"Shhh!" She whispered sharply as she bent next to his ear. She knew nothing of what had happened to her husband or Henry. They were quickly separated, early after they had found the boys injured in the living room. Winnie only knew that their captors could come back any moment. Her intuition screamed at her that keeping the boys quiet was her only option to keep them safe. For now, they would just ride low and hopefully the young man serving as their jailer would continue to ignore them. She dared not try and find a phone or call for help. Every time she had entertained the thought, the kid would magically appear nearby. For now, her ministrations were allowed and she yearned to maintain status quo by not drawing any attention their way.
Far be it for the young man before her to actually start listening now. She tried not to be irritated with him since she knew he couldn’t help himself. He was seriously hurt and obviously in a great deal of pain. Her first knee-jerk reaction with the younger Spencer was always irritation first, then investigation for inevitable damages, followed up by vindication as her prodding always yielded evidence that her initial irritation was perfectly justified. Twenty five years of experience with the young man was not easily set aside. Considering the unknown status of her husband and her concern for her son, she had to again remind herself that she couldn’t afford to dwell on old irritations. She simply had to care for her son and his friend until her husband and Henry came back.
They were coming back. And when they did, she would allow herself to panic and wail and fall apart.
Shakily wiping her hand on her slacks, she demanded that they too quieted. Three deep calming breaths and again she felt herself centering.
Offering up another prayer for the safety of her family, she again pushed herself up and readied herself for another change in her duty station. Stooping to pick up the traveling items, she noticed Shawn’s growing unrest. Gently, she smoothed the stray lock of hair back on his forehead and whispered quiet assurances she didn’t quite believe; satisfied when he quieted down she continued her interrupted task and wearily made her way back to check on Burton.
Her fatigue must have given herself away in the less than graceful way she eased herself back onto the bench beside her son.
"Mom? You doing okay?" His voice didn’t have the same depth that she always associated with Burton. Never a strong or athletic voice, it did always have a tenor that was uniquely his – strong in its own way.
"Don’t you worry about me any, Burton." She took the cloth from his hands, before plopping it back in the bucket – uncaring of the splash on the floor. Once again, she draped him with a fresh, cool cloth.
"Now, how is your stomach?"
"The same. Nothing you can do about it."
"I know. I’m sorry." It was hard for her to admit. She was a fixer. There was never a scrape she couldn’t kiss or a hurt she couldn’t feed away when he was a boy. There were many hurts and scrapes all through his growing years; the result of his chosen alliance with the Spencer boy.
"Not your fault." Her Burton – always wanting to take care of her. He was a good boy, just like his father in that regard. If he ever got himself married, he would make a wonderful, caring husband. Another sigh of regret couldn’t be stopped.
"How’s Shawn?" She debated how much to keep from him. After all, she was a keeper too. It was her nature to protect and nurture with a fierceness that would rival any mama bear, post-hibernation. This, however, was an altogether different situation. She knew she couldn’t do this alone. She wasn’t equipped for this, and though it pained her, she would have to lean on someone else for some support. She didn’t know if Burton was any more equipped than she, but what choice did she really have? She desperately tried to fight back the nagging feeling that they may only have each other to lean on in the future. Once again, her fear for her husband threatened to overtake her.
Biting back those negative thoughts and focusing again on the issue at hand, she forced herself to meet his half lidded gaze.
"He hasn’t really woken up yet." She immediately placed her hand on his chest and forced him to recline back in position. She wouldn’t have him getting up and hurting himself again.
"I have to check on Shawn."
"You will stay just where you are, young man."
She gave him a few more minutes to collect himself as he considered whether or not he wanted to relieve himself of his dinner now or continue his attempt to get out of the chair and lose it a few steps away. Apparently he made his decision as he leaned back with a shaky moan.
"What did they do to him?" Gus asked as he peeked out from the cloth he pressed tightly to his head.
"He was shot in the back. I don’t know how badly, but he doesn’t look good."
"No! Let me go!" She shouldn’t have been surprised by his sudden attempt to launch himself out of the chair. She was surprised, however, by the speed with which he did so. The outburst was short lived and for a moment she thought he might pass out.
"Burton - settle down this instant! If you want to help Shawn, you will stay put." She eyed him with a hard stare, just long enough to distract him for his dizziness to settle him back down the rest of the way. She noted that he never took his eyes off of his friend even as he painfully tried to regain control of himself. She appreciated his loyalty. She always did, really, even if she didn’t understand it.
"Where’s Dad?" She really didn’t want to go into this. They couldn’t afford the risk of his outbursts and he couldn’t afford aggravating his head and upsetting his stomach. But, he was a bright boy. It’s not like she could keep his father’s obvious absence a secret.
"Two men took him and Henry a little while ago."
"What? No!" The weak struggle was quickly aborted with another well placed hand. Winnie again, pushed back her concern at the slight pressure it took to keep him down.
"Son, you have to stay quiet." She continued in a whisper. "There’s still a man in this house. We can’t make any waves. We just have to hold on until your father gets back."
She allowed him to settle again. The stress lines never left his face and his worry was palpable. She was sure she could hear his pulse through the floorboards. She was also well aware that she would have her hands full keeping him in his seat once he started feeling the slightest bit better. She would have to spend more time with her other charge in order to satisfy her son’s overwhelming concern.
"Burton – you listen to me. Your father will be fine. He’s a strong man and he keeps his head. He and Henry can take care of themselves. They would want us to be strong and keep our heads too. We have to for Shawn’s sake. Do you understand?"
She briefly thought that he didn’t understand; that the effects of the concussion were pulling him under again. After he exhaled a shaky breath and took in a few more, he looked her square in the eye and nodded. There was her Burton. She needed that focus and determination.
Maybe…just maybe, they would make it after all.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
They weren’t taken as far away as Henry would have guessed. He knew from the first glance that the area was familiar. Though he couldn’t place a name with their general location, he recognized it as one of several family run vegetable farms just outside the city limits. The roundabout route was meant to throw them off. He could tell from Bill’s expression that the plan didn’t work for him either. Idiots.
His knees revolted in obvious displeasure as he eased himself from the cramped quarters. Proper posture would have to come in increments as he was unable to stand fully upright just yet. As he placed his palms on his lower back and stretched in earnest, Henry took the opportunity to look around. The field had taken on an eerie translucence, ripe with dew and reflecting the silver of a waxing moon.
They were not alone. Five hundred yards away, another small crew of men worked to repair a length of irrigation pipeline. Henry found himself more confused until the supposed repair crew successfully removed, what he had originally assumed to be, a broken length of pipe and pitched it onto a flatbed trailer. He was no metallurgist. Even still, he was pretty handy in his own right. Dollars to donuts, he just knew that the tubing joining the growing heap on the flatbed had to be copper.
They need an extra set of hands.
It was all starting to come together now. The disjointed conversation he’d picked up back at the house plus the phone calls back and forth between the thugs and their mysterious ringleader. Henry had to give them at least a little credit. They were more organized than he originally thought. Not that it mattered much. He would still see to it that they received their fill of metal. Though, he was thinking more along the lines of the iron bars or lead bullets variety.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
"Boy, Dawes really did a number on him, huh!"
Winnie didn’t realize she was staring off into space until she startled at the statement. She looked up just in time to see the kid leaning over the back of the couch, staring at the helpless victim below. Clenching her jaw, she resolutely looked away not wanting to give him the benefit of her attention.
Not to say she didn’t keep watch out of the corner of her eye…
She could feel his stare, though she couldn’t see it. It sent a shiver down her spine before clenching painfully in her lower back, causing her to gasp. She cursed herself for the slip as it drew the young man’s attention her way.
He slowly edged near, eyes flicking back and forth between her and her son. Her pulse quickened and she felt Burton stirring next to her. She placed a calming hand on his knee, silently pleading him to stay asleep.
"Trek had lots of fun with you. I haven’t had any fun yet. But since they left me behind, maybe it’s my turn now." He oozed his way closer to them, hoisting his gun on his shoulder, advancing until he arrived toe to toe with her son. She kept her eyes averted, trying to appear as non-threatening as possible. Until, the punk kicked at Burton and the words were out before she could pull them back.
"Don’t you dare touch him!" She ground out in hateful tones. So much for staying under the radar. Fully invested in keeping the kid’s attention off of her son, she fixed him in a full on glare.
When he lowered his gun, she knew she pushed him too far. Winnie could no longer swallow the dryness in her throat as she fully realized her mistake. With her gone, who would watch after him until her husband got back?
The kid’s eyes narrowed and then without warning he began laughing. "Nah, that’s alright. We got all night and the fun’s just starting. Don’t worry, Ma’am – you’ll get to play later when the kids are gone." He taunted over his shoulder as he sauntered back to the couch. With his eyes locked on her, he made a complete circle around the prone man.
She knew – she knew – that he was well aware of what he was doing, playing on conflicting emotions of guilt and relief. She may have succeeded to where it may not be her son experiencing the torment, but she just shifted the burden on the shoulders of a dying man. How could she live with herself after this, if she lived after this at all? If Burton were awake right now, he would be horrified. He would gladly have accepted the treatment in his friend’s stead. Knowing this, why couldn’t she bring herself to speak up even now? She tried – oh, how she tried. Again and again her mouth would open, but no words would form. Instead, she sank further into despair over her inability to take action.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Had the scenario been less dire, Henry could have taken a measure of pride in his work. He and Bill Guster had shown their taskmasters just how much men of their years could accomplish by performing as much work in a half hour as the previous crew had completed over the course of an evening. He supposed it wouldn’t hurt to give them some pointers. Just because they were lawless didn’t mean they couldn’t learn a few trade skills. They simply didn’t have a clue that he would see to it they had a bright future ahead…stamping license plates.
Assuming, of course, that they lived that long.
Grunty and Pointy (as he had nicknamed them) once again grunted and pointed, indicating they were supposed to head back towards the van. As they made their way back across the field, conflicting emotions warred within; relief that the hard, physical task was done - uncertainty of what they would find when they returned…if they returned. As far as Henry knew, they had served their purpose and no longer had any reason for being left alive. That understanding just didn’t sit well with him.
He needed a plan and he needed one fast.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
The decline in Shawn’s condition was frightening. Though she couldn’t see the rise of his chest signaling breath, she could hear the wheezing that accompanied each.
"Hey buddy – how you doin’?"
The inquiry was not spoken in concern, as evidenced by the manic, almost giddy, laugh that followed. Any other doubt was put to rest as the kid proceeded to poke Shawn mercilessly. He laughed louder as his continual torment finally registered a response from the unconscious man.
At Shawn’s groan of pain, Winnie felt a white-hot swell of anger surge within her. If an opportunity ever existed for a volunteer army to rise up and put Shawn Spencer in his place, she would proudly admit hers would be the first foot to cross the proverbial line in the sand. That was her right, not this pathetic excuse for a punk human being. Shawn may not have had a proper upbringing, in her opinion, but her son thought the world of him. She had history with him. To see him being mistreated this way caused a bubble of maternal instinct to form and grow and spill over into something reminiscent of pure, bruin rage.
‘It’s now or never’
Winnie quietly made her way over to the mantelpiece, eyeing the fireplace for anything of use. Cautiously, she reached up and gently grasped the brass candlestick, relieved at the heft of the piece. Slowly, she advanced on the captor as he continued to delight himself by poking endlessly at his helpless victim. Privately, she was grateful for the resulting groans; they steeled her resolve to take action and end this, once and for all.
In one fluid movement, one that would make her daddy proud, she brought the garage sale special down on the unprotected head – dropping him instantly.
She should have foreseen the consequences as he fell heavily onto the very man she had sought to protect. The cry was harsh and sharp, the mist glistening in his eyes matching her own. Ironically, the previous torment served to draw him to the surface just so he could be fully aware of the pain induced as a result of her intervention. There wasn’t time for guilt, though.
It’s for his own good.
Life is hard, painful, and unfair.
When this is over, I’ll bake him cookies.
That resolute promise did the trick, bringing her back to action. Motherhood required her to make tough decisions, sometimes being forced into the role of the bad guy for the greater good. This was such a time.
With a grunt of effort, she managed to pull the now unconscious man off of the couch. Her efforts had been gentle, desperately trying to minimize further injury to the struggling figure trapped underneath. Once the thug had cleared the edge of the cushion, an unrestrained shove plummeted him – none too gently – to the floor. The dull slap of boneless meat on hardwood satisfied her baser instincts. Tomorrow, these feelings would likely disturb and frighten her. Tomorrow was tomorrow; right here and now, Winnie reveled in relief. It was time to get her boys some help.
She quickly stepped over the body on the floor, if she happened to accidently grind her heel onto exposed fingers…well, accidents happen. Offering another prayer of thanks, she kneeled next to her son’s chair. He was already starting to wake up, but a little gentle expedition was necessary.
"Burton!" No response prompted her to take his face in her hands, turning him to meet her gaze. Finally, he seemed to register her presence. "Burton, I need your help. We have to go. Come on now."
With slow progress she assisted him to his feet as she offered words of encouragement. Unsteady as those feet may be, with every step he grew slightly stronger. Besides, there was just no way she could do this on her own. She had to have help. Her ultimate goal was to leave this house and make their way to a hospital. With two wounded charges in her care, her expectations would have to be downgraded and tackled piecemeal. Baby step number one; get to the couch. After that happened, she would figure out what baby step number two would be.
Winnie helped Gus ease himself against the arm of the couch, allowing him to rest and regroup. She gently lowered herself onto the edge of the cushions. Slowly, she smoothed back sweaty tendrils from the heated forehead.
"Wake up, Shawn. It’s all over." The words were spoken gently, but with a firm undertone offering no other option. Shawn’s eyes fluttered before finally remaining open.
"It’s r-really over?" Cold shivers gripped him as he blinked heavily, trying to make sense of his surroundings.
"That’s right, honey. Can you get up?" It may have been a question, but she gave him no time to respond. Instead, she lifted herself up and pivoted on her heel before bending to swing Shawn’s legs over the edge, resting gently on the floor. His piercing cries of pain tore through her, making her repeated apologies feel trivial. She wasn’t a lazy or uninitiated woman in any way. But her normal activities didn’t lend themselves towards lifting bodies heavier than herself with ease. It took a lot of effort as she took on the role of primary lifter. As gently as possible, she eased her arm under his back and supported him as Burton helped pull. Slowly, they got him relatively upright. She only allowed the boys a minute to recover. It wasn’t enough; Lord knows they needed more, but that was all she could give them. They had to make it out of the house if they had any chance at all.
Even slower, the trio made their way through the darkened house and out onto the driveway. Every bit of ground gained hard won in the battle of shuffling one foot in front of the other. She knew Shawn was trying. For every footfall he proved on his own, they dragged him three as his legs would entangle themselves. Every time he would catch his foot, usually on his other leg, he couldn’t hold back a cry as he jarred himself sharply.
A thousand apologies divided between herself and her son at the agony they caused and they finally made it to the drive. She steered them straight for the Cutlass. Awkwardly and with no shortage of pained grunts all the way around, she and Burton managed to get Shawn lain down in the backseat.
The bluish, fluorescent lighting cast hard shadows through the car. Winnie strained her eyes as she fumbled with her keys, finally finding the familiar key. Wasting no more time, she rammed the metal in the ignition and gave it a harsh turn.
Again and again, she cranked the ignition in desperation.
"Dad did fill up the tank, right?" Burton muttered from his position, resting his forehead against the cool window glass.
She nodded roughly. "You know he did. Your father never runs the car past three quarters of a tank. Where does Henry keep his keys?"
Her son looked at her in confusion before finally catching up with the conversation. "Umm, I don’t know. Why?"
"We’ll take his truck."
"Desk…drawer." The weakened voice from behind could barely be heard over her pulse thumping in her ears.
"Shawn!" At least her son was showing that much awareness.
"Which drawer, Shawn?" Her tone was clipped and fast, urging him to a fast answer.
"Desk…by back door…mmmmmm…right side."
A bloodied hand thrust through the suddenly opened driver’s side door, jangling a keyring just under her nose.
She thought the maniacal laughter would haunt her dreams for years to come.
Now, let's everyone take a deep, calming, breath. You're gonna need it...
I'm celebrating the return of power and heat after 4 days in wicked cold temps with an update! I've been dying to post this update for some time.
Please note: while I do not consider this M worthy, this chapter is certainly more violent. You are warned.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
The meandering washboard road gave way to improved pavement with a slight lurch. The relief he felt, as his aching joints rejoiced in the smoother going, was quickly squelched by the crushing, oppressive realization that it signified. They were nearing the city limits much too fast for his liking. Like a barn-sour horse that runs for his stall, Henry normally headed for home at a fast clip whenever his nose was pointed in the correct direction. Not so this time. No mistake; he and Bill were heading back to their families. However, they would do so alone. No uninvited guests would be welcomed at this party.
As the rough riding cargo van swerved to connect with another pothole, an unexpected opportunity presented itself. A coil of wire jostled with the latest impact, freeing it from its metallic prison. Its momentum slowed as it connected with the top of Henry’s head before dropping in his lap. He was sure his head had to be as dented as the now oblong pile of wire. His first instincts when being assaulted with falling junk were to rail long and loud at the irresponsibility of his son, cursing his work ethic and proclaiming to Shawn – and the rest of the neighborhood – that he should never again come running to me for help on one of your hare-brained cases!
Henry had enough sense to know when a potential weapon falls in your lap to thank his lucky stars…and the ones still dancing around his head. In fact, the fates had deemed him worthy of favor tonight. Looking around, almost as if for the first time this evening, it occurred to Henry that he and Bill were in fact surrounded by a cache of armament! How many times had he told Shawn that perception is reality and if you want to change your reality, you had to change your perception?
He would have to play this carefully. Thankfully, the driver’s intentions helped play along with his plan. With every sharp movement of the van, Henry used the guise of holding on for balance to shift and nudge the payload around to his liking.
As their captor’s attention was diverted forward, Henry tried to make eye contact with Bill. An eyebrow waggle and three sharp head nods later and he still made no progress. Losing time and patience, he used another well timed pothole and kicked out with one leg.
That got a reaction. Finally!
Henry also noted that Gus’ expression of wounded, disbelief didn’t come from his mother.
Now that he had the man’s attention came the more difficult task of discrete communication. This could get tricky. He couldn’t risk pantomiming as lifting his hands too high would be too visible in the van’s rear view mirror. Instead, he made a show of looking pointedly to the roll of wire at his feet, nudging it briefly for effect. Once again getting Guster’s full attention – no easy task – he slowly and painstakingly walked through the plan, step by step.
Regretfully, he could admit to himself now that he should have invited Gus’ family over more often throughout the years. Then, perhaps, the two men could have already developed a system of silent communication.
What the hell was he thinking? Of course this wasn’t going to work. He spent seventeen years under the same roof as his kid. In the last three years, they had also spent a remarkable amount of time together. He knew Shawn better than the kid even knew himself.
Even then, for every time they’d managed to get it right, there were countless more times where the lines of communication shorted out in a dazzling display of confusion.
"You want me to poke out your eyes…on the roof?"
Yeah - there was just no way on earth this was going to end well.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
He laughed as he pulled back only to grab her roughly by the arm.
"They won’t do you any good. That truck is just as dead as this one." The horrible laughter continued as he forced her out of the car before pushing her against the hood. Fingers pressed deeply into her bicep. She was sure she would carry the marks for weeks to come.
Winnie wanted to hurt him…badly. Should have hit him harder, she thought as he raised his shotgun level to her son.
"Get out of the car. Now!"
Her first instinct to go to his side in assistance was immediately quashed as the barrel swung to aim at her before aiming once again at her son.
"Get him out." He pointed in Shawn’s direction with the end of the gun, yet never taking aim off of Gus.
"He’s had enough!" Winnie couldn’t hold back any more. "They’ve both had enough."
"They’ll both get even more if you keep this up. You have no idea."
Her protests were swallowed in a burning lump, thick and heavy dread settling in her chest. She watched as Shawn weakly, so very weakly, tried to pick himself up time after time without success. Her Burton then assisted his friend, taking him by the wrists, struggling to help him slide himself through the door. She hurt along with them, listening to their pained grunts and awkward, stiff movements. Their breathing came in gasps and both were covered in sweat by the time Shawn was inched from the back of the car. She worried for them with the cool night air. Ironically, if they survived this night, she didn’t want either of them catching their death of cold. She wasn’t sure her son’s constitution could handle it.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
So far…so good.
Guster reluctantly leaned over to casually finger the length of pipe that he had rolled to him. Henry had to give the man credit. Despite the deeply set nausea that accompanied the man’s expression, he could also sense the agreement and determination that resided there as well. They had no choice. Their plan may ultimately backfire, killing all of them. Henry didn’t truly know for certain that Bill had grasped all the pieces of the plan. But, he knew full well that the other man did understand that the two men in the front of the van would never be allowed to harm their families again.
Visibility in the back of the van was poor, to say the least. Neither of them dared to move too far ahead to take in their surroundings for fear of tipping their hand too early. However, the revolving flashes of red and blue could be seen reflected off of the van’s roof. Leaning his head back, Henry could just peer behind and to the left of the driver at the scene up ahead.
The twisted wreckage of a late model tin can pitted unjustly against a big rig, obviously the winner in this battle. The roof of the little car had been cut off and peeled back, its former occupants had been plucked out like helpless sardines. Even now, the ambulance was pulling away as the sirens were engaged. The blockade opened up long enough for the emergency vehicle to pass, closing quickly behind to prevent diverted road traffic from coming though the barricades.
Up front, the driver smacked the steering wheel in anger. His curses echoed those of his partner who also seemed to only just now register that traffic wasn’t just redirected up ahead, it was completely stopped.
He ignored the cursing of the men and signaled to Bill. This was it. As the van began its deceleration into the bottleneck ahead, Henry swiftly bent down. In one fluid movement, he grabbed a six foot length of guttering and deftly aimed it through the steering wheel, lodging it into the floorboard of the driver’s area. The pipe prevented any degree of steering control as well as access to the brake and gas pedals.
He and Bill had the advantage of advance preparation, yet even that wasn’t nearly enough. Their captors were taken by complete surprise, having no presence of mind to brace for impact. The sounds of crushing metal and shattering glass were drowned out by the cacophony of metallic debris ringing all around them.
The crushing of the deadly payload was unimaginable! Never considered a small man, Henry felt rather insignificant as he was tossed about. The heaps of junk provided no comfortable landing as the van finally came to rest. He was slightly dazed and definitely winded. However, he didn’t have the luxury of even a second to recover. As he rolled to his side, he bit back the grunts as a thousand pointy ends jabbed into him. He also made a mental note to make a call ensuring he had received a tetanus booster within the last ten years. Retirement, after all, was supposed to mean he no longer had to worry about such things.
Guster already had his guy well under control; the thick pipe applied expertly to passenger’s windpipe. Bill nodded to him that his end was being handled just fine. Confident that this really was the case, Henry already had the heavy gauge wire pulled out of the heap and wrapped around the neck of the driver. He pulled back in steady pressure. Not enough to cut through skin, but definitely enough to reduce his air supply.
His sole focus was on the bulging neck of the man who’d shot his son,
…who’d ransacked his house,
…who’d terrorized his guests,
…who’d kidnapped him and enforced separation from, oh how he hoped he was wrong, his dying son.
Dark emotions of rage and revenge enveloped him, clawing away respect for the law. He desired only justice. No! It was too late for mere justice. He wanted to inflict suffering as it had been forced upon Shawn. Gone were the teachings and wisdom that he embraced as a police officer of twenty years. The lawman was gone. He didn’t exist anymore. He ceased to exist the moment he ran into his home and discovered that everything…everything…had changed.
He didn’t care that the gasping, choked breaths were drawing weaker and fewer. Still, he refused to let go until he was absolutely sure that this scum was subdued…completely and permanently. The world around him buzzed and throbbed against the fuzzy edges of his vision. And yet, he could see the throbbing veins of his own fingers as the wire cut into the creases, the texture of his skin highlighted by ingrained grime; he could hear the slight wheeze pinched off in a whiney breath with perfect clarity.
The unmistakable sound of a cocking hammer snapped him back into reality. If he was wrong about the signature sound as it echoed slightly within the hollow cargo area, sitting on the wrong side of the single-barrel handgun would have set the story back into the present. Slowly and deliberately Henry released the wire, restoring breath back to the thug who slumped further into his seat. With the same deliberation he brought his hands up, palms facing outward before placing them behind his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Guster doing the same.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
With a heavy spirit, Winnie helped the boys back towards the house. She didn’t want to go back inside. It was unlikely he would shoot them out here in the open. Henry’s street wasn’t busy, but it was busy enough. But back inside…she couldn’t bring herself to go back in. The old adage lambs to the slaughter took on a new significance for her; she regretted ever using it in jest.
The young man, now leaning heavily on her, groaned loudly…again. Curious at the odd tone, she happened to look over her shoulder to see their captor poking him in the back with his gun. His already established erratic behavior was becoming progressively more arrogant and cruel.
He’s planning to end this.
This is it.
He feels free to toy with us because he’s going to finish it now.
As they crossed the threshold into the house, she desperately sought anything that could be used as a distraction. There was nothing!
Backtracking through the darkened house escalated her panic. She never thought her life would end like this. She never wanted this for her son or her husband. They were supposed to grow old together. Burton would succeed them and live a long, full life of his own. She was supposed to have grandchildren to spoil. All of her dreams would be shattered, for what?
There was no time to prepare as Shawn was shoved forcibly from her grasp. He fell heavily into the end of the couch with a piercing scream before falling limp into unconsciousness.
Her mind was no longer capable of action; seized, frozen and falling victim to shock. She barely registered the angry yell that followed; never fully realizing it belonged to her son. Sound and sensation were distorted and colors blurred. She could only half focus on the flurry of activity as she gradually became aware of movement and the struggle before her. Winnie found herself horrified as she watched her son being beaten, yet disconnected from the current reality as she was unable to do anything about it. Incapable of reaction, she could only stare as the kid gave him one last vicious kick to the ribs. He stood over his unconscious victim, panting, before turning his attention directly towards her as he began to advance.
"Well, now it’s just us. Isn’t it?"
The incessant buzzing in her ears grew worse as he zoned on her, leering and wild-eyed. Whatever previously tenuous grasp he had on reality had snapped. She felt cold tendrils of horror wrap themselves around her spine and through her nerves. She backed away until she abruptly came to a stop in front of the fireplace. Never in her life had she ever felt so alone, so ineptly in over her head. In an instant, he had transformed from intoxicated, bullying thug to deranged, predatory beast. She could, albeit unwillingly, deal with bullying thugs. She had watched her daddy throw many of them on their ear. He had taught her to never lower herself to any man, to stand proud. He never taught her how to handle drug altered evil. How could he have known?
Bill – where are you? I need you baby, please!
Oh Lord, please give me strength.
Roughly, she was pulled towards him, his breath hot upon her neck. She prayed fervently. Never had she prayed so hard.
Please watch over Burton.
His meaty fist yanked a handful of hair, pulling a surprised whimper from her.
Please watch over Shawn.
As her hair was once again tugged hard, pulling her head from side to side, fear transformed to anger. She wasn’t ready yet. She didn’t fear death when it was her time, but suddenly she felt this wasn’t it.
"Winnie Baby, you listen up. When the Good Lord is ready for you – then it’s your time. Don’t be afraid, Honey. But, when that dark angel shows up at your door, ask for ID and check the paperwork cause let me tell you, mix-ups happen. You be good and sure that it’s your name on the contract. If it is, go in peace and know your Daddy is there waiting for you. But if you give up too soon and that angel was meant for someone else, then when we meet up again your Daddy’s gonna give you a whoopin’. You hear me?"
"Stop it." She hissed. Strong emotions bubbled up within her, surprising her with their intensity. She was tired of being victimized. She was her daddy’s girl. Her daddy may never have started a fight, but he certainly finished his share of them. She was Winnie Lewis long before she had ever heard of Bill Guster.
Struggling to bring her wrists from the locked grip that bound them, she broke one free. Thankful for investing in herself with regular manicures, the acrylic nails she justified as money-well-spent aimed themselves at the eyes of her attacker. She may only have one hand free, but she was going to use whatever she had available.
The resulting scream was immensely satisfying as he released his hold of her other wrist and hair
Using her new found freedom, she kneed him in the groin with all her might, preemptively cutting off his resulting curse of "You bi…".
He didn’t deserve any more of her attention as she ran over to her son, kneeling by his side. He was unconscious again. She prayed that he suffered no more head trauma. It didn’t appear so as she thoroughly checked him over. The evening from Hell had started to eat away at her hold on reality. Winnie knew she’d brought Shawn and Burton in the house. She’d barely registered the sight of her son tackling their would-be captor. She couldn’t remember where she’d left her son’s friend. Was it in this room?
Her search was quickly aborted as she was tackled from behind. All air was pushed from her lungs as she was roughly shoved into the stone fireplace. She could feel the side of her face scraping against rough, cool stone.
"You wanna fight some more? I can make this as rough as you want it." The evil breath oozed down her neckline. The accompanying stench turned her stomach. He smelled of old sweat and chemicals. His decayed teeth were putrid evidence of the poison that had eaten away at his body and soul; that even now wanted to destroy her too.
"Leave her alone." The breathy whisper echoed loud in her ears. Even in his weak state, the command carried strong and reverberated through the room.
Not that it made much of a difference as the body against her pushed her harder into the wall. She couldn’t hold in the gasp as rough stone scraped further.
"Look who’s back. You wanna watch, little boy? Be my guest. I’ll finish with you as soon as I’m done with her."
Her misery dragged on as she was again treated to a rough shove. Each push constricted her lungs, forcing out air, preventing deep breaths from being taken and replacing what was lost. The effects were dizzying. But, she wasn’t so dizzy that her ears didn’t miss the resounding click.
"I said Leave Her Alone." The effort to appear strong was costing him precious energy. That much was apparent as Winnie could clearly see the tremors in Shawn’s arm as he worked hard to support the heavy handgun.
"You won’t shoot. You’re not willing to hit her." He didn’t seem to be the least bit intimidated. Rather, he appeared to revel in the drama playing before him.
"I won’t hit her. Step away now and I promise I won’t aim to kill you."
The manic glee of the man behind her only escalated. The giddy humor pitched higher, eerily reminiscent of hyenas at a kill. Her own imagined analogy combined with the horrific sound sparked a shudder from the nape of her neck down the length of her spine, painfully clenching her lower back.
Winnie could only watch in enforced helplessness as Shawn tightened his grip on the weapon, gingerly bringing his other arm up for support and leveling his sight. In the twenty five years since he had first shown up at her door, she had never seen him sincerely focused on anything. Never again could she say that as his stance straightened and, for a brief instant, it appeared to all the world as if nothing had ever harmed him. A bright flash, a scream of angry pain and the thug was left bent at the waist, clutching his outer thigh.
"Is that the best you can do? Huh?!" The heavy panting betrayed the confidence he’d exuded, until now. Pain and blood seemed to do the trick in spurring lucidity within his drugged mind, grounding him in reality for the time being.
He reached over with one hand and pulled her down to the ground in front of him. She fell heavily on her knees, jarring her teeth, then inhaled sharply as calloused hands were placed under her jaw and behind her head.
Dear Lord no!
"No. This is the best I can do!"
Another shot rang out. Winnie had the sudden presence of mind to look away as the shot blasted him away from her. The thud as his body hit the ground with a wet slap sickened her. Whatever she didn’t visually observe as she turned away at the last moment, the rest of her senses filled in the blanks. A final gurgled breath released with a moist hiss. Sharp and pungent copper hung in the air, clinging to her nostrils. She could feel it coating her hair and the back of her neck in a sticky film. The taste of it combined with spent adrenaline on the back of her tongue threatened to upturn her stomach.
The full horror of the experience was realized as she looked up into Shawn Spencer’s face and saw her own shock and horror mirrored there. Relieved to be alive, yet burdened with a guilt he didn’t deserve, she watched a multitude of emotions flutter in the instant before his eyes rolled back. The wall behind him caught the brunt of his fall, allowing his limp body to slide down, sparing him from further injury. The band of wet crimson left in his wake testified even in his absence that he couldn’t afford any more setbacks.
With their captor permanently controlled and both her boys out of commission, Winnie could no longer hold back her sobs of anguish, pain and relief. Still wracked with emotion, she forced herself to the body splayed out in front of the hearth. Keeping her eyes focused on his shoes and away from the horrible tableau she felt through his pockets, finally pulling out a cell phone. Willing her hands to stop shaking long enough to dial the three vital numbers, she prayed for the line to connect.
"Hello? My name is Winnie Guster. I’m at the home of Henry Spencer. I need the police and ambulances immediately. My boys are hurt." She gave the operator the barest of information needed for emergency personnel to find their location before disconnecting the line. There was nothing more she could do than tend to them until help could arrive.
Actually, there was one more thing she could do. Kneeling down in the middle of the living room amidst the horror and blood and violent aftermath, she prayed.
All the Woo's there in Woo-ville, the tall and the small are awaiting your kind feedback. None more so than Sydney-Loo-Woo. Look at her clutching her teddy as her lower lip quivers in expectation...how can you resist that?
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
For what seemed like the fifth time in this never ending night of hell, Henry was pulled forcibly from the van. This last time was different, blessedly so. Not that the faces before him were familiar. He couldn’t say that at all, being out of the game for a good ten years tended to do that. The uniforms though, were all he needed to see. Faces change. People move on in their careers. These uniforms stood alone. He didn’t need to know the names of the officers or the number of years in service. All he needed to know was reflected in the shiny badges.
Henry Spencer trusted these men and women. Even as he was pulled roughly from the van and pushed face first into the side panel, he trusted them.
"Officer, I need you to listen to me!"
Even as his legs were kicked farther apart and his hands cuffed behind his back, he never lost faith.
"I need to speak to the Officer in Charge right now!"
His trust was cemented in the knowledge that if he were in their place, he would do the exact same thing. Procedures were put in place to protect the officers and those that they were entrusted to protect and serve.
He allowed himself and the others to be fully secured before proceeding to introduce himself. It was hard, perhaps harder than anything he had ever done, forcing himself to be patient and calm and even…polite. These were the men and women who could help his son. But first, he had to be heard. Though he wanted nothing more than to commandeer a squad car and charge to the scene himself, that was no longer an option.
He closed his eyes and willed his heartbeat to slow. If he wanted to regain control of the situation, to be viewed as a person to whom the uniforms should take seriously, he had to get control of himself first. He couldn’t stop the tremors running along his frame. He couldn’t stop the adrenaline from coursing through his system. All he had to do was hide it long enough to get two units en route. Simple enough.
"Officer!" He yelled out to the uniform that appeared to be the officer in charge. He waited until the other man acknowledged him and then took a breath in preparation.
"My name is Henry Spencer, SPBD retired. My guest and I were kidnapped. These men took us against our will. Our sons were attacked. I need an ambulance dispatched ASAP to my home. I need a unit to escort us there. There is one more of these guys holding our sons and Bill’s wife hostage. He is armed and dangerous and I suggest you roll in silent. It is also imperative that I speak with Chief Vick as we roll."
"Spencer?" A tall uniform approached him, almost timidly, from the sidelines as the OIC disappeared to check out his story. The awkward position of his stance really started to pull on his neck as he craned to look over his shoulder. The endless night of cramped quarters and hard labor coupled with the overwhelming stress was not doing him any favors.
"Yes, that’s right." A calming breath forced him to not lose patience too quickly. He expected that he would have to explain himself over and over. No ID and no current contacts with any of the officers present meant that the patrolmen would not and should not take his story at face value. Getting upset would only delay the process – a delay that his son could not afford.
"Shawn’s dad?" The officer’s head tipped to the side as if appraising him further.
"Yes, I’m Shawn’s father. Do you know my son?"
"Oh yessir!" Henry couldn’t ever remember a time when they recruited so young…or naïve. The comparison to a puppy couldn’t be denied. "Shawn saved my life, sir. You must be very proud to have a psychic in the family."
He hated these moments…more than anything. Shawn couldn’t just live in his fantasy world without dragging him into it. He couldn’t truly speak his mind on this issue. He couldn’t admit that he didn’t have a psychic in the family; he didn’t want a psychic in the family. What he wanted was a cop in the family. But there was no sense in dwelling on the shouldacouldawoulda’s.
"Shawn has done very well for himself." It was the best he could do under the circumstances, not having time or energy to come up with a better quip. "Pardon me, Officer…?"
"McNabb…" The eager young man offered with a raised hand and index finger. "…Sir!" God love fresh-from-the-academy recruits.
"Officer McNabb, thank you. This is very important. I respect that these fine officers have to verify my identity and prove that I am who I say I am. But, I need you to know that Shawn is hurt very, very badly. We can take however long we need here, but I need two units sent to my home address with two ambulances right now."
To his credit, the officer absorbed the information readily, transforming from whelp to young dog in a blink. He just may have the makings of a good officer with the right mentor. He disappeared from view, leaving Henry to hope that his message would get to the officer in charge and get some action going. He had a feeling that the young man would not drop the ball.
As if reading his thoughts, two officers appeared behind them. A jingle of keys and a tug on his wrist signaled that Officer McNabb had come through for them.
"Mr. Spencer, Mr. Guster." The older uniform addressed them briskly as the handcuffs were removed. "Follow me, please."
"So you believe us?" Guster had been fairly quiet thus far. The younger man answered only with a slight nod. Henry appreciated the efficiency as they were directed into the back of a waiting black and white.
"We have briefed Chief Vick on the situation. She asked that you coordinate with Detective Lassiter and give him as much info as you can." With that, a radio was thrust into his hands. He palmed the device and brought it to his mouth, relaying his story for what seemed like the fifth time to the detective on the other end.
As he toggled off the communication line, Henry sat back in the uncomfortable backseat of the cruiser. Now they could only wait. Lassiter’s ETA was two minutes. They would wait for one more backup unit and at least one ambulance to arrive before proceeding. Henry’s report had given him a fair idea of what they were going up against. With their own ETA of nine minutes, it was his hope that it would all be over by the time they arrived.
With any luck, he could hop into the back of the waiting ambulance and accompany Shawn to the hospital leaving someone else – anyone else – to clean up the mess.
Buzz to the rescue!!!
Huh? Whaddya mean, "Where's Shawn?". He's right th...ohhh...I see what you're saying now!!!
*** **** ***
It had been many years since Henry had found himself in a black and white with lights and sirens running. That, in and of itself, wasn’t an unnatural experience. For two decades he’d patrolled the streets of Santa Barbara. He knew the town in and out, front and back. The city just had a feel to it. The seasons would change and with it the atmosphere, yet that changing atmosphere remained uniquely and undoubtedly Santa Barbara. Even when he was part of a unit responding to a situation, the city never really changed. Whether addressing a domestic disturbance downtown, a liquor store knock-off, or even something as cliché and innocuous as helping a little blue-haired elderly woman across the street, it was still familiar territory even when illuminated with the rotating blue and red lights.
He should have found it a completely natural and welcome experience after so long out of the field. But none of this was natural. He didn’t recognize his own neighborhood of over thirty years. This time, the transformation was complete and absolute. He felt disembodied in his own turf. The lines of cruisers patrolling the area, interviewing witnesses, and following up on additional complaints of robbery all added up to a massive invasion of first responders. Their combined luminescence bounced off of siding and reflected from a thousand leaves.
None of it felt familiar anymore. This wasn’t Santa Barbara. This wasn’t his neighborhood. And that…that place with the only two ambulances along the whole tree-lined street…that wasn’t his home.
If he hadn’t seen Detective Lassiter standing on his front porch coordinating efforts and movement of resources, he may have been able to fool himself into believing his own lie. And yet he did; and he was; and there was just no fooling himself from here on out. Now it was time to suck it up and either prepare for the worst - but since that felt like snubbing the inherent stubbornness of the kid – at least he could prepare himself for the really, really bad.
The cruiser had only just began to earnestly slow its descent in preparation for a full stop when he and Bill had thrown the doors open. By the time it had been fully stopped and placed in park, they were halfway up the walk. As he stalked up the steps, their sound cold and hollow, he was nearly stopped by Lassiter’s upheld hand. It was easily brushed off as he side-stepped the detective. The sudden grip to his left bicep was not as easily shrugged off.
"…nry just stop!" Not until the other officer joined Lassiter in restraint did the words even register in his ears. "You with me now?"
He must have nodded or acknowledged the question somehow because Lassiter saw fit to continue speaking. Even though the other nameless officer had let go of his arm, Carlton kept a tight grip.
"Detective!" The shout from across the lawn diverted the gaze boring into his. For a microsecond, the grip on his arm relaxed. That was all the time that he needed to break free and proceed through his own front door – as if he needed permission to go into his own house. He ignored the shouts at his back as he continued. He knew the drill, stay out of the way of forensics; don’t touch anything; let them do their jobs. He also knew that no one was ever going to forcibly separate him from his family ever again.
His sudden bravado deflated with every step further into the living room. His feet crunched against debris strewn about the floor. The power was still out, unsurprisingly. One of the secondary responders had set up work lights throughout the house. The odd lighting was punctuated with flashes in the distance as the photographer made his way through the ruins, snapping away for posterity. As he neared closer towards his destination, the dialogue wafting to his ear drums carried a weight of dread that settled deep within his sternum.
"Keep pushing those fluids…deep in shock, bp’s dropping fast!"
"…abilized enough – we’ve got to get him in yesterday."
Even now, standing in the doorway watching the medics work feverishly, it nearly wasn’t real. Shawn was too still, too pale, too…blue to be alive. His heart sank as he tried to deny the possibility that he was looking at his son’s corpse. The paramedics continued to spout off numbers proving that, at least for now, the body contained life. Numbers were facts, they came from somewhere. They were evidence of documented life activity. After all, they don’t use Ambo-bags on stiffs. But Henry had seen more than his fair share of dead bodies to know what dead and nearly dead looked like. Shawn was never supposed included in either group. Not in Henry’s lifetime.
He stole a quick second to take in the scene around him. He didn’t want to take his eyes off Shawn for a second. Yet, he couldn’t bear to look at him a moment longer.
Bill and Winnie had reunited themselves while he had zoned. He supposed he should be more concerned that there was a chunk of time he simply couldn’t account for. The other team of medics was nearly ready to lift Gus onto a gurney while his parents stood by, wrapped in an embrace. He looked pale and sported even more bruises than before. What on earth had happened while he and Bill had been gone?
His eyes tracked to the fireplace and the pair of legs sticking out from underneath a tarp. Signs of a struggle littered the room. Who killed the intruder and when? Did the responding units raid the house? What was Shawn doing on the other end of the room? Too many questions to which he wasn’t one hundred percent sure he wanted to know the answer.
"I’m not getting chest sounds on the right side…Sir?...Sir?!"
Henry’s head snapped up as he realized the paramedic was addressing him.
"Yes?" His reply was weak and startling. He didn’t even recognize his own voice.
"How long has his breathing been affected?"
"I …I don’t know. I wasn’t here." He looked all around as if there were a cue card that would assist him. "Who was here first on the scene?" He called out in a stronger voice, daring anyone to ignore his call.
Even as the other medics were wheeling Gus out the door, he could see Winnie reluctantly leaving her son’s side and walking in his direction. He knew he was slipping; he’d been three steps behind since arriving on the scene. Unless she had managed to wallow in it in the last three minutes, Winnie Guster had been semi-coated with blood since before he arrived. There was no doubt that whatever happened in his home this night was serious. Winnie may not have been physically harmed, but her haunted expression screamed casualty just the same.
"I was here with Shawn. What did you need to know?" Winnie’s voice lacked its usual vibrance. She sounded as if she had been crying…a lot. What happened here?
"Ma’am, how long has his breathing been compromised?"
"He’s been wheezing on and off through the night. My Burton has asthma. I thought it sounded quite a bit like asthma." She forced the explanation through tears. Her update brought Henry no comfort. Shawn had been having trouble breathing all night?
She neared closer and cocked her head, listening closely. "But…" She coughed through the choking of her tears and stammered, "but he didn’t sound like that before. I would remember if he had."
"What’s wrong?" Henry knew there was something he wasn’t being told as he observed…again…the medics looking at each other.
"He’s not getting enough oxygen. Lack of chest sounds on his right side suggest a collapsed lung. We can help that, but we need to know how long he’s been in this condition."
"Winnie, what happened?"
"I wondered if he hurt himself more when he fell after he shot the man." At that utterance, she again lost her composure. Henry followed her stare to the bloody streak on the wall before numbly tracking its path back to his son.
Wait…Shawn shot him?
And then Henry thought backwards, starting when he first entered the doorway. He remembered seeing a tagged evidence bag containing…his gun. Apparently, it had been kicked further from its original location in the melee. Far enough, apparently, that he hadn’t connected it to Shawn earlier. How on earth had the kid managed to get to it?
He was starting to form a picture of what had taken place in his absence and he didn’t like it. Littered batteries and film rolls kicked to the side along the baseboards…someone had emptied his desk drawer. Droplets of blood forming a sick trail of breadcrumbs…Shawn’s blood. The dread settled deep in his gut, slowly growing towards nausea. He should have been here.
"How long ago did that happen, Ma’am?"
She swallowed heavily, dabbing her tears with her shirt sleeves. "It was right before I called you for help…" With that she could say no more as Bill guided her sobbing form to the waiting ambulance.
He supposed he was relieved for them. Gus would get the medical attention he needed and that would be one less worry for him to dwell on. His son, well he was still too critical to move. His thoughts were dark and difficult and, perhaps, even childish. He didn’t apologize for them as they had kept his attention averted from the activities he just couldn’t bring himself to watch; the same treatments from which he couldn’t bear to look away.
Though he was watching, he didn’t truly see the needle as it had entered Shawn’s chest cavity. Instead, he stood mesmerized as blood…too much blood…leaked out of the tubing, freeing up precious lung capacity. It didn’t compare to the amount of blood leaking from underneath the tarp in the corner of his living room nor the arterial spray that had airbrushed the surrounding area in grotesque fashion. But how much of Shawn’s blood had been soaked up by the couch cushions in the previous hour? How much more could the kid stand to lose?
It was a horrible sight to watch a needle that large slid between the ribs, fully expecting it to cause irreparable damage rather than actually restore breathing. It wasn’t a new sight; he’d seen the procedure before…on someone else’s kid, in someone else’s home. Yeah, he had even seen a crude version done in the field with a pocket knife. But when suddenly you’re met with the sight of your only son bleeding out before your very eyes with blue lips and clammy skin and all the other classic signs that something horrible and dreadful is about to happen, at some point it just becomes too much!
It could have very easily been the proverbial and much touted straw on the camel’s back. It very nearly was, until he caught on to the relief in the medic’s expressions. They appeared satisfied with the way Shawn was responding to their care. Whatever they did was helping - he could hang on to that. Whatever it took for them to get moving and get the kid to the ER, he was on board.
He watched as they quickly rearranged the drainage tubes and IV lines to prepare Shawn for transfer. Smooth and efficient movements, graceful choreography - with few words between them, they maneuvered him onto the gurney and wasted no time in barreling towards the waiting ambulance.
He followed, matching their pace, refusing to be left behind. The periphery was a blur; the medical examiner taking her initial view of the body at the scene, the uniforms milling about, Lassiter still standing on the porch coordinating efforts. He left it all behind without a single glance backwards. Everything that mattered was before him now; he just had to keep up and not let it out of his sight.
Doctor’s offices and hospitals were all the same, a universal constant. Raising children required frequent visits throughout the years. School vaccinations and check-ups, the occasional asthma attack that ended up in emergency, ear aches – she was no stranger to the protocol. Waiting was just part of the package. Even when Burton had managed to get himself hurt, she could honestly say she never worried, though she may have thought she was worried at the time. But fast-forwarding to the present, in this waiting room…she knew that she had never really known true worry.
They were separated an hour ago. A part of her wanted to die as her son’s gurney faded into the distance and around a corner. Yet, her job was done. She kept it together long enough to bring him right here, to this very moment in time.
She knew she was being silly, expecting to be at his side throughout his stay. After all, that was the whole point of waiting rooms; to wait while your loved one gets the treatment they need. But she needed to be with him, to see him with her own eyes.
Amazingly, she discovered that when she truly allowed herself to be honest, she felt the same need to be with Shawn. She needed the boys together. It’s what they would want. It’s what she wanted too. And really, she felt bad for Henry. He was in the surgical-area waiting room all alone. No one should be alone after the horror they had all experienced on this night.
She was alone for a relatively short time while her husband and Henry were having their injuries tended too. She thought she was going to go crazy. The boys were separated from each other. She was separated from them. Bill and Henry were somewhat together, but still not with her. It was silly, she knew. This was a hospital. It was a safe place. They were being taken care of right now.
But she didn’t really know because the boys were behind closed doors and she couldn’t see with her own eyes, and feel with her own hands, and hear with her own ears. Until she could, she had a mother’s right to worry herself silly about her boys. All of them.
When she was reunited with Bill a little while later, she was understandably a little less anxious. But now, the damage was done. She had enough time with no one but Winnie Guster to realize there were many things about Winnie Guster that surprised her. Yes, she could be braver than she had ever thought possible. Conversely, on the other side of the pretty shiny coin, she had harbored an ugliness of character for far too long.
Bill used to tell the kids, "God don’t like ugly." She was ugly. She knew that now. As much as she longed to be back with her husband, to be reunited with her son – she didn’t want to be near them, for them to see the ugliness. They had probably already seen it and were just too polite, too kind, too afraid, to confront her on it.
Despite the freshly borrowed clothes and shower that the staff had so kindly allowed her to use, she was covered with filth. Oh, the blood was long gone – washed down the drain. Right now, she didn’t have room to feel for the man that had sprayed his blood all over her. No…this was a gritty covering of detritus from her own eroded character.
She felt wretched.
"When did I fail?" The question was spoken softly, to herself really. Deep within, she knew the answer to the question; being ready to accept it would take some more soul searching.
"What are you talking about?" Bless Bill and his confusion. She teared up once more as she again dwelled on how close she had come to losing him – both of them. Pushing down those thoughts once more, she again offered a quick prayer of thanks.
Once more, she gained a semblance of control.
"When did I lose myself and turn away from everything I had tried to instill in our son?"
"Now Honey, I know you’re upset – but you’re just not making any sense!"
"Bill you’re a sweet man, but don’t placate me on this."
"Okay, I’m listening" To prove to her that he intended to do just that, he leaned back as far as the uncomfortable hard-backed chair would allow. She appreciated the invitation and continued on.
"At some point, I failed him even though I swore that I wouldn’t. I was going to be a good example; make a difference. I gave up and I turned my back on him." A long pause as she again retreated into the past, thinking of all the missed opportunities she allowed to slip through her fingers.
"I started out doing my best and I thought I was always doing the best I could. I wasn’t trying at all and I don’t know when it happened."
"I think I know." He whispered.
She withdrew from herself at his painful whisper; noticing that during the course of the night her husband had been doing some thinking of his own as well.
"It was about the same time that I joined the rest of the neighborhood in calling Fred ‘Old Man Fuller’. That’s when I failed, too."
Merely nodding, Winnie continued to worry the crumbling tissue in her hands. Cottony wisps hit her lap and rolled to the floor. She couldn’t deny her husband’s lapse any more than he could for her.
"They’re good boys, Bill."
"Yes they are." He said as he took both of her hands in his, crumbling tissue and all.
"Despite the example we’ve lived for them, they’re good boys."
"They’re going to be ok, aren’t they?" She asked, no longer trying to keep the tears away. She allowed herself to be pulled into his arms as she gave into her emotions.
"Yes they will. Then, we’ll have another chance to show them how we can get ourselves back."
Someday I'm going to figure out this formatting thing. You know...after I get finished nearly killing Shawn. Then again, a lot can happen in a single chapter. He may already be gone by now. Maybe...well...I should go and check on him now....
Ok, so I messed up slightly last time. It was Stray insisted that she have at least one chapter where Shawn wasn't on the brink of death. Sorry about that mix-up Stray...
Ten steps. Pause at the coffee maker. Stare blankly at the carelessly sprinkled condiments and half dozen torn paper packets before executing an academy perfected about-face. Ten steps back to the magazine rack, overrun with home decorating and children’s periodicals. He refused to look at the tattered issue of Highlights for children, not wanting to remember how it always reminded him of Shawn’s Goofus to Gus’ Gallant.
It had been three hours since he had been released from ER treatment with instructions to rest. Right! He scoffed to himself. He punctuated his frustration by kicking at the dated linoleum tiles. The sole of his boot left a black scuff that left him oddly satisfied as he considered the extra work it would force upon the cleaning crew. Three hours with no word - no updates, good or bad. How could he be expected to rest when no one would tell him anything?
"Henry, you know how it works. As soon as there is news, it will be delivered. As long as they’re in there, Shawn is still alive. You need to remember that."
Well, he did know how the system worked. It was hardly his first visit to the ER waiting room. The circumstances surrounding the visit, however, were radically different than anything he had ever experienced on this side of the uniform.
Though he had grunted off Vick’s words of encouragement, he could acknowledge that a spark of hope resonated with them. Of course Shawn was seriously hurt; the damage was extensive. Putting anything back together properly took time, focus and patience. He had always chided his son for not nurturing those very qualities. He had paid his dues these past thirty years. Giving himself a few minutes of impatient self-gratification was his prerogative. Indulgence over, he realized standing in worry was wasting useless energy that could be better spent elsewhere.
Ten steps to the coffee maker…about face…ten steps back to the magazine rack.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Gus’ father joined him an hour later - two hours after he left, due to Henry’s insistence. They both had their injuries, minor in comparison, tended to. It took some heavy talking to get Bill to leave the waiting area, check in on his family and take a short rest for himself. The man had returned from his brief respite appearing much better for it. Aside from exchanging quick assurances that Gus was checked in for overnight observation but otherwise fine, the two had nothing else to talk about.
He appreciated the other man’s presence. More so, he was grateful that Bill understood the importance of privacy…and silence. He didn’t want to talk, yell, cry or share his feelings. Moaning about it didn’t make it any better. Boohooing wouldn’t undo what was done to his son. He left all the touchy-feely psycharomatherapy stuff to Maddie. Sometimes, a man just had to pace in silence.
"The family of Shawn Spencer?" Both heads snapped to attention at the voice. Henry stalked across the small room as Bill rose stiffly from the molded plastic chair.
"I’m Shawn’s father. How…" Voice gravelly from stress and disuse, Henry cleared his throat before continuing. "How is my son?"
"Let’s have a seat, shall we?" The doctor gestured towards the bank of chairs, attempting to herd the men over.
"I’m fine. How is Shawn?"
"You may be fine, Mr. Spencer, but I’m exhausted. How about if I sit and you stand?" The man proceeded to pull a chair from the long row, angling it towards the rest before easing himself into it. With Guster even now settling himself in, Henry was left with no choice but to also follow likewise.
"Alright, I’m sitting. How bad is it?" He asked in clipped tones, hoping the doctor would take the hint and bypass any attempts at small talk.
"I’ll be honest. It’s bad. The biggest challenge facing your son is blood loss. We’ve given him four units and plasma while we continue to monitor organ function. There’s also extensive trauma to muscle and tissues in his back. Thankfully, it wasn’t as bad as shotgun blasts can get given the gauge and proximity of the weapon. That definitely worked to Shawn’s favor. He’s going to need a lot of time to recuperate as well as months of physical therapy."
"What’s your prognosis?" Henry delivered the question clinically, as if it were as routine as ordering a pizza. He could almost fool himself into believing that they were talking about someone else, anyone else. The regular massaging of the back of the neck belied his outwardly calm demeanor.
"Guarded…at best. I wish I had better news for you, but the next twenty four hours are critical. We’re going to constantly monitor vitals so that we can intervene immediately. Otherwise, we have him on preventative antibiotics and fluids. We also have Shawn on respiratory support since there was lung involvement which complicates matters. We’ll discuss his future care and status further, but I have a feeling that you would like to see him now."
A moment later, the words registered and Henry nodded in appreciation.
"Thank you, Doctor."
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Not ten minutes ago Henry would have given his right arm to be standing at this exact location. Not even one minute ago, he had charged right up to the threshold and braced his palm against the polished brass faceplate. The moment his calloused fingertips had brushed the cool metal, something within him froze. It was as if by maintaining the status quo, he could keep the hair-breadth of a chance that Shawn was clinging to intact.
The smallest things, as the doctor had managed to get through his shell shocked thoughts, tended to make the biggest difference. By pushing the door open, would that be the proverbial straw leading to Shawn’s demise? Could his son handle the stress of his presence? They could barely be in the same room in the best of circumstances. What if his son survived the stress of this evening only to become undone at the sound of his own father’s voice? He knew his thoughts were illogical and baseless. Still…
He finally decided that Shawn, being Shawn, was too stubborn to die now. If he had made it this far, Henry was convinced that he had decided to dig in his heels and hang on tight. Maybe, just maybe, his old man’s presence would cement that resolve to live just so he could put off cleaning out the attic one more time.
The touch of amusement that he allowed to escape was smothered in a wet blanket of dread. The doctor had tried to prepare him for the sight. Henry himself had years of experience in that regard as well. You can do your best to prepare families for the worst; painstakingly explaining to them what is going to happen; what they’re going to see; how they’re going to feel. You can go through all the talking points and the whole time feel as if your audience received your message, evidenced by heads nodding in agreement and verbal assurances. Until you’re faced head on with full, uncensored, ugly, reality; shock seeps in and takes control of your mind and body.
The figure on the bed in no way resembled his son. He stumbled back out of the door, into the hallway. A quick check on the room placard confirmed that the room’s occupant was, in fact, one S. Spencer. Easing back into the room, Henry cautiously approached the bed.
Shawn was propped on his left side. Large foam wedges supported his body, keeping him from rolling onto his butchered back. Swathed in bulky bandages, what little skin remained exposed was shockingly grey and dull. A multitude of monitors, leads and wires called to him, mocking his utter failure in protecting his family and home.
Never taking his eyes off of his son, he reached for the tattered chair that had seen better days and pulled it parallel to the bed. Feeling all of his 59 years, he eased himself into the chair next to the bedside. The faux leather squeaked as he slumped further down, the cracked seam cutting sharply into the back of his thigh. Whatever; it would help keep him alert as he resolved never to take his eyes off the bed’s occupant ever again.
*** **** ***
He should have checked on the kid sooner. He and Gus had been gone long enough that he should have suspected something. Even if he didn’t suspect danger towards the boys, he should have suspected that the boys themselves were up to something.
He should have noticed the van.
He should have noticed odd activity within the neighborhood.
He shouldn’t have let himself get distracted.
Isn’t that what he had always preached to Shawn?
"Don’t get so caught up in the moment that you lose sight of your surroundings. A good cop pays attention to everything and notices when things are out of place. If you’re going to be a detective you have to pay attention, kid."
Some detective he turned about to be. He assumed it was fitting after all.
The carpenter’s house needs siding.
The plumber’s faucet leaks.
The HVAC guy doesn’t have central air.
The mechanic drives a junk heap constantly in need of repairs.
The detective - the highly decorated officer with an impeccable track record of getting his guy – gets his own kid killed in a home invasion that he should have seen coming.
"Stop it, Henry."
"Stop what – sitting at my son’s bedside?" His gaze never wavered as his normally strong voice fell flat and hollow, absorbed by the heavy curtain surrounding the cubicle. He hadn’t noticed the extra presence in the room. He didn’t care that he didn’t notice. Paying attention to his surroundings right now meant distracting his attention from his son.
"Stop blaming yourself." Chief Karen Vick stepped further into the room. The light from the bed’s overhead lamp transformed her from silhouette into illuminated form. "Don’t even tell me that you’re not sitting there convinced that you should have seen this coming."
"Point-of-fact, I should have seen it coming. Now if you don’t mind, I’d like to stay focused here." It was meant to be a dismissal. And yet, she only invited herself closer to the bed.
"How is he doing?" It wasn’t the chief asking; rather, an old friend - genuinely concerned for the well-being of another.
"He’s still here - that’s something. The kids stubborn…like his mother." The tone was gruff, though his features had softened considerably.
"Mmm hmm, his mother." Her amusement was short-lived as her stance straightened, signaling the shift from friend to representative authority. "You got them, Henry. That’s what you need to remember. We have enough on them to make it stick. The guys who did this are going to pay – and pay dearly, thanks to you and Shawn."
"They won’t pay nearly enough for what they did."
"I agree. But you know how it’s played – better than most. They’re all going away for a long time. The DA is pushing for consecutive sentences on six charges, including attempted murder. It’s a solid case. Don’t…," a beat followed the clipped word, drawing Henry’s focus back to her. "…let me catch you thinking of anything stupid."
He held her gaze with a hardened eye. Never faint of heart, Karen stared right back with her arms crossed in front of her. Her index finger tapped out a steady rhythm as the overhead fluorescent lights reflected brightly off the ruby red polish. She appeared as if she had all the time in the world to stare down stubborn men.
"Fine. I won’t do anything stupid." He may have conceded the point, but his eyes held the stare a moment longer until she looked away, once again taking in his son’s form.
Karen always had a gift for convincing others that her ideas were theirs all along and then congratulating them on their good judgment. It was a quality that set her apart from her peers early on in career. It was also one of the reasons he had agreed to sponsor her career development.
"I’m going to leave you two alone now. I’m personally overseeing the paperwork in this case. Shawn is one of ours and I refuse to let them get off on a technicality." The words were spoken with firm authority, in direct contrast to her soft expression as she placed a gentle hand on Shawn’s shoulder.
"I know." Then the same supportive hand graced Henry’s shoulder as she passed by him on the way to the door.
"Take care, Henry. I’ll be in touch."
He was left again with only his turbulent thoughts and hum of machinery for company. He shuffled his weight in the chair, slinking down to a semi-comfortable slouch and settled in for the long night.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
He didn’t recall drifting off. Despite his vow to remain vigilant and ever-watchful, sleep claimed him; the crick in his neck would serve as his reminder. Years of retirement may have dulled his sentry skills somewhat, but parenthood was forever. The little nudge in the back of his brain warmed to awareness. The same familiar niggle usually warned of impending damage, unsurprisingly, involving his son. With a grunt, he pulled himself forward and had only a moment to scan over Shawn before one of the monitors squealed in alarm.
Stiffness forgotten, Henry vaulted from the seat and slapped the call button.
"What’s happening?" The nurse entered the room briskly and immediately began assessing her patient while obtaining a report from Henry.
He'd just finished updating her with what little information he had when the second monitor began to wail.
"Code Blue!" The nurse shouted out the door, before turning to address him. "Sir, I need you to step outside."
The words were barely out of her mouth when hospital personnel briskly filtered into the room. He didn’t know why they were suddenly disconnecting equipment and a part of him panicked that Shawn needed that! The foam support pillows were quickly removed and they gently rolled him onto his back.
"What’s happening to my son?!" He tried to peer around the growing number of medical staff hovering over Shawn. With a hand on his chest, the nurse had ‘escorted’ him backwards just outside the hallway when the crash cart was pushed into the room.
He was, rightfully, not their priority as there was a mumbled "…oing the best we can to s…" just as the door was closed before him. The dreadful sounds of controlled energy were cut off behind heavy oak. The space at the bottom allowed some sounds to filter through, although reducing recognizable speech to muffled tones.
The saving grace of ignorance came a moment too late. Behind the heated pulse of his heartbeat hammering in his ears, Henry could only focus on the last words he had clearly heard in the background - just as the barrier closed between him and his son, cutting him off from his fate.
"We’re losing him!"
"We are going straight home and you are going to rest."
That tone would have worked on him before. If not the tone, then the staunchly crossed arms and cocked brow was surely enough to cow him into submission. That strategy may even work again in the future, but not now. He was on a mission.
"I'm going to see Shawn - with or without you, and that's final." And he proceeded to do just that. He grabbed his shoulder bag with the few belongings that had been brought to him under the guise of keeping him entertained. He quickly turned away to hide the wince as he brought a supportive arm around his ribcage. They caught up to him four doorways and a lunch cart later, wheelchair in tow.
"We’ll stay for five minutes, but that's it. Don't you forget that they need their rest too."
He could honestly say that he hadn't considered that. It did give him pause for a moment. He knew from his dad's updates that Shawn hadn't awakened yet and wasn't expected to for some time. At the same time, he could be slightly offended at the implication. He wasn’t a complete idiot. It wasn't like he expected to hold wheelchair races around the IC wing…yet. He just had to see; just to be there. Long enough to know that his friend was alive. He could do five minutes.
He was a bit ashamed that he hadn’t considered Mr. Spencer and his feelings. He was a private man. Gus knew that Henry would never turn away his presence. He had given up that battle long ago. You couldn't have one of them without the other. But Gus hadn't considered that Mr. Spencer may not appreciate having a troop of Gusters invading his space.
"That's all I need." And so he willingly eased himself into the wheelchair - his only concession for this outing - and allowed himself to be pushed down the hall.
As he was pushed into the elevator, his stomach rolled with nervous anticipation. He knew Shawn's outlook wasn't great. The surgeons had their hands full with the injury. He remembered studying ballistics reports early after opening Psych. He took research and authenticity very seriously, unlike his friend. If they wanted to be respected by the police department, they had to be able to pull their weight. So while his research was mostly limited to bland statistics of gauge, trajectory and range, the next page containing surprise photos of shotgun blast injuries shocked him and he promptly threw up in the nearest trashcan.
He couldn’t help but superimpose those images with Shawn. It wasn't just a single bullet wound they had to repair; it was many, clustered tightly in the same area. It certainly explained the blood...so much blood.
"Burton…son, I'm not sure you're up to this."
"Dad, I'm fine."
He had to get it together. It was time to ignore his shaking hands. If he pretended really hard, he could forget that his stomach was tied in so many knots it could lose against itself in a game of twister. His vision wasn’t starting to tunnel and he wasn’t the slightest bit lightheaded. And in no way were his stress symptoms getting worse the closer they got towards the ICU floor.
"What room is he in?" He heard his mom ask his dad in hushed tones. He thought he could hear the slightest tremor in her voice, but that was probably just his own overwhelming shaking affecting his eardrums.
"309…It’s just around the corner."
They turned the corner and as his chair banked hard to the left, he was left with an image that would forever haunt him.
Mr. Spencer shakily lowered himself into a semi-sitting/kneeling position in the hallway, one hand firmly against the wall for support. Gus could only stare as he turned to support his back against the wall and buried his face into his hands.
The expression he glimpsed on the other man's face was one he never would have associated with Henry Spencer. He could only stare at the sight, unable to comprehend what he was witnessing. At first, he thought his eyes deceived him. That couldn’t be Mr. Spencer. For one, he never – ever – looked weak…or afraid. But that wou…
"No…no..nononono…" He could only repeat the words to himself. He didn’t realize he was halfway out of the wheelchair until his mother stood round in his eyesight pushing him back down. Her mouth was moving, but he didn’t hear words.
He could only see his dad kneeling next to Henry, a hand on his shoulder. It looked bad. It had to be bad. The hallway grayed around the edges and he was confused. He could admit it, he was scared.
His best friend was dead. He just knew it. There was no other explanation for the ghastly look on Henry’s face. There was no other reason for the other man to have looked as if he had aged twenty years. To have a man he normally associated with words like ‘strength’ now forever tied with ‘weak’.
The world tilted to the side and he could feel himself fading. Something soft enveloped him. As his mom pulled him close, through his choking tears and grief, her smell gave him a measure of comfort – a sense to latch on to. She was always both strong and soft. He could feel her hand running over his forehead and could feel her breath on his scalp.
As she rocked him gently, he finally made out the words she had been repeating – desperately trying to garner his attention.
"He’s not dead yet, baby. Just hold on, don’t give up on him."
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Through his panic, his mother’s words had taken root. He managed to calm himself just enough. Not enough to stop the shaking, he didn’t even try to attempt such folly. But he was quieter now. He had to be. He had to strain his ears for the first update, to be ready as soon as someone stepped out of Shawn’s door.
He didn’t know if it was a good thing that it was taking so long. It could mean Shawn had already passed and they wanted to make his body presentable. Shawn would want that. He’d hate anyone looking at him if his hair wasn’t gelled just right.
The hiccupped breaths began again, beyond his control. He could feel it building up again. The tension made him lightheaded. He could feel it squeezing his chest, making his heart feel sluggish. He wanted to throw up. But that would mean looking for a garbage can and he couldn’t take his eyes off Shawn’s door. Besides, the hulking nurse supervisor was looking his way again. He’d already caught on to the body language between the staff. If he couldn’t control himself, he would be removed so as not to disturb the other patients.
Over his dead body he’d be removed.
No dead bodies…don’t think of dead bodies…he’s not dead!
Shawn was bigger than death, louder than death, and most definitely more obnoxious than death. And suddenly, the image of himself, Shawn and Death playing twister, ala Bill and Ted, caused a bubble of hysterical laughter that wanted to overtake him.
Until the hulk stood up and glared from across the hall; then the hysteria melted into slightly more appropriate silent tears that tracked down his face and neck, soaking under his collar to dampen the undershirt.
His head throbbed and he wanted nothing more than to run away, screaming like a girl. But running away was only fun if his best friend was running alongside him.
Except, his friend never really ran alongside him. If they did run side-by-side, it wasn’t for long as he usually edged Shawn out. He, of course, being the more fleet of foot.
Sometimes, Shawn ran away first - leaving him to face the mummy, or the crazy man with the gun.
Sometimes, he was the one breaking track records only vaguely aware of the thud of his friend’s feet miles and miles behind him and a high pitched voice echoing in the hills, "Gus, come back! Guuusssssss wait up."
None of that mattered. It didn’t matter who ran first. On the inside, whenever Gus took off, in his mind, Shawn was right there with him. It was Shawn’s responsibility to pay attention and keep up. No doubt, Shawn thought likewise. Such was the beauty of their friendship.
He just didn’t see this one coming. Neither of them had the chance to run away. This though…this was a situation where unspoken agreements were firmly cemented.
Gus didn’t run away from his friend during their ordeal. And Shawn returned the favor, plus some; he ran towards the fray. More accurately, he crawled to it. He wasn’t aware of the event, even though he was technically present. He could picture it in his mind’s eye just the same. His throat began to close up once more, prompting him to swallow hard...and swallow again.
Because he did, Gus and his mother were still alive. He was eternally thankful for that fact. He was sickened to hear what had happened while he was knocked out. She came so close; too close. His friend…his brother willingly paid the price, but the cost was too great. Even if Shawn made it out of this alive, and he would…he would, the cost to his soul could shatter him.
Mr. Spencer’s sudden movement startled him. The man who normally had such an air of grace now required his dad’s assistance as he pulled himself stiffly from the floor. A scant second later and the very door he had placed so much hope on opened. The shadow from one of the attending medical personnel fell across the opening as they stood with their back to the group, apparently still talking to those inside.
Until now, he could almost choose for this to be a dream. He still had a measure of hope that hadn’t completely burned out. In a few moments, he may not even have that. It could all be over, not ever having a chance to say goodbye.
Remarkably, Gus found that he wasn’t ready to know yet. He just wasn’t ready.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Even now that the crisis’ was over and in the not-distant-enough past, Gus found he could easily tear up again. It wouldn’t take much, in all honesty. All he had to do was dwell for the smallest second on Mr. Spencer’s face; of how close he had come to…
He brushed the moisture away. He didn’t to go there. Not again. Shawn was going to be fine. He survived that night and the next. His doctor said his chances increased exponentially with each passing day. Not that there weren’t a half dozen other crisis over the next few days. None, however, brought Shawn as near to completely snapping the severely frayed lifeline to which he clung.
His friend was getting better and his vitals were improving. Most importantly, Mr. Spencer looked more like himself by the day.
So why did everyone still walk around each other as if someone had died? His own mood was somber, he could admit it. Yet, he was also hopeful. He was hurting, but he would heal. Shawn would be hurting for some time, once he woke up, but he too would heal.
His mom…he wasn’t too sure that a part of her didn’t die that night.
He remembered her being there when he awoke in the hospital. Everything seemed fine, but that could have been the drugs he was on. She was kind and strong and supportive – so happy to see him awake. She was Mom. After they had finished giving Lassiter and Juliet their statements, she appeared haunted. Since the incident outside Shawn’s hospital room, she was an empty shell. She didn’t talk to him or dad. If they did get a response, it consisted of one word…if they were lucky.
She stared in the corner a lot. She cried even more. She hardly cried before, except for a handful of old sappy movies – even then, she was selective with her tears.
Come to think of it…he usually cried more than she did.
Seeing Shawn’s dad wilt in the hallway and the slow dissolution of his own mother, it was as if two of his strongest pillars were chiseled away into a shadow of their former beings. No longer mighty fortresses, but broken and crooked fence posts, unable to support neither themselves nor a single strand of dental floss. If either of them crumbled completely, how could he stand when the only other person in the world who could remotely understand was out of commission?
It was as if his legs had been kicked out from underneath him. He always thought he held his own pretty good. He had an education, two great jobs, a company car, his own apartment, a stable financial portfolio safe from Shawn. How many times had he sat at his desk, polishing his most recent productivity award, and thought to himself ‘I did this’ as he marveled at his accomplishments?
But now he fully recognized just how much a part the others had in his success; their success. His family; mom, dad, Shawn, even Henry - he needed them.
Take away any one of them and he would fold. Take away all of them and he would shatter into a million jagged pieces.
But he couldn’t shatter, as much as he wanted to, he couldn’t. Someone had to pick up the pieces in this fiasco. As much as he himself needed to heal, life didn’t slow down because of a few cracked ribs or mild concussions.
He had one more day of rest and recuperation before having to think about work. A few days to pull out the superglue and do his best to mend the cracks in his family. At the very least, they could crumble together.
I wanted to give a formal and public thank you to Dragonnan here as I didn't want to spoil anything within the chapter. Ok, so it wasn't a big spoiler, granted - but you get the idea.
Thank you Drag, for helping so much with the research for this story and helping me to avoid a potential surprise such as Gus had to endure. I am forever grateful as I learned a long time ago that clicking on the wrong link will take you to really icky places. I learned that one the hard way while writing a research paper on lobotomies. That experience scarred me forever and still haunts me in my dreams. In fact, I'm getting a twitch in my eye right now...
So thank you my friend for going above and beyond the call of duty! You ROCK!!!
Indefinable sounds buzzed around his head, terrifying him without a context or a memory to identify them. He had no sensations, tactile or otherwise, to cling to.
Ever so slowly, he became cognizant that drawing breath was harder than it should be. Every breath in had to be pulled from the deepest recesses of his core. Every breath out met with resistance, pushing against his face.
Deep, throbbing pain ached within. And yet, he was still not truly aware of the pain. Every thought he managed to grasp was snatched from his grip a fleeting moment later. Discovery was short lived and quickly forgotten, only to be recycled after mere moments.
As he struggled to let go of the spent air, once more pushing past the unseen forces which bound the exchange, distant memory started to form – fading out before calling to clarity once again.
He was so terribly hot.
He remembered now that his face was pressed against the couch. He could smell dank cushions as they released scents of new detergents and old grime. The small regained memory gave him a measure of comfort, as he could now place the reason why the struggle to breathe was so hard. Now all he had to do was move his head so that his face was no longer stuffed into the rough textured cushion. He thought he actually managed to move his head slightly, seemingly enough to provide relief, yet the task of respiration remained just as difficult as before.
This wasn’t right. Didn’t he lift his head from the couch? He thought so, but he could still smell the pungent cushions just as sharply, nor had his suffocation abated in the least. His heart thudded wildly in his chest, rattling his ribs and blocking out all other sounds. His body flushed with adrenaline, calling all his systems to high alert. He knew there was a reason he had to get up, yet it eluded him – just out of reach.
Faceless images began to emerge and he suddenly remembered waking up smothering in couch cushions. He remembered a hulking figure pushing Mrs. G against his dad’s fireplace, threatening her with unspeakable acts. He remembered dragging himself to find his dad’s hidden gun…and then nothing. He must have passed out before he succeeded. Maybe he wasn’t too late.
He struggled to pull himself from whatever snagged him in place. As he ripped through entanglement, he felt pinpricks and stinging tears that didn’t seem natural. He had enough awareness of himself to know he should have been in more pain. He knew he hurt before…a lot. But he also had been raised around cops long enough to hear story after story of cops getting shot on duty and the blessed two-edged sword known as shock.
He knew shock could kill a person, yet it could also protect the dying from ending their last hours in abject agony by deadening awareness and pain. Shawn remembered when he used to listen to the stories of his father’s friends in awe; how these heroes could get gunned down and still carry on until the bad guy was safely under wraps. Over the years, the awe transformed to bored disbelief, thinking it was just the classic fish-that-got-away tale embellished over the years.
If this was shock and he was dying, he didn’t have much time. He had to make sure that Mrs. G was safe. He knew he wasn’t thinking clearly. He could barely even see. He eased himself down from the couch and quietly sank to the floor. Carefully, he tried to feel his way through the living room. On shivering arms, he supported himself, not quite sure if the tremors were from fear, disorientation or blood loss. There was no denying he was scared, more scared then he had ever been. He couldn’t find his way around – nothing was as he remembered it.
He never forgot anything, and he couldn’t remember the layout of his own childhood home.
His right hand smacked painfully against a solid surface. Placing his palm flat, he felt up and around the object. He made it out to be a table. Wiping away the sweat dripping into his eyes, stinging them further, he weakly pulled himself higher.
He hoped beyond desperation that this was the table he was looking for, the one his dad hid one of three handguns placed strategically throughout the house. He fumbled for the knob, sliding out the drawer and carefully feeling along the back for the hiding place.
Sweat dripped into his eyes, blinding him as he wrapped his fingers around what he could only assume to be cool metal. He had just pulled out the treasured object when he felt a large hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump sharply.
"Shawn, son. What are you doing?" His dad’s voice echoed loudly in the room.
His dad’s voice never echoed before. It had boomed and bellowed, certainly – but never had it echoed.
"I have to save Mrs. G. He’s going to hurt her." He was ashamed by his trembling voice. It just sounded so…weak. Once again, he was overwhelmed with self doubt in his ability to pull this off.
"She’s safe, Shawn. So are you."
The gentleness in his dad’s voice worried him. Come to think of it, the hand had never left his shoulder. That was pretty creepy too.
"No…he’s gonna hurt her Dad." He closed the drawer firmly. If his dad ever found out that he didn’t put his house back in order, he would never stop yelling. Then again, his dad was right here. But, that wasn’t right because his dad was taken earlier, which was why he had to get his dad’s gun now.
Shivering now from extreme cold, Shawn weakly rubbed his eyes in frustration. His head hurt now. He was scared and frustrated and now his back throbbed again. He wondered if that meant that he wasn’t in shock now and he wasn’t going to die. Too many uncompleted thoughts circulated through his head like a million voices trying to distract him from his goal. It was just so hard to think clearly – and that made him mad.
"Do whatever you want but someone has to help her!" He shakily made it to his feet, swaying heavily in the process. If his dad wasn’t going to help, he was just going to have to push past the old man.
Good Ole Henry was surprisingly…solid.
"Get out of my way," he croaked. The harder he pushed, the weaker he felt. He couldn’t afford to waste his energy like this. He had to get help. Why couldn’t his dad understand that? For that matter, why wasn’t he helping him?
"Son, you already saved her. It’s over." Both his arms were enveloped in a tight grip. He felt each finger indent his flesh and his ears buzzed against the pressure.
He already saved her? Surely, that wasn’t right. He hadn’t even gotten to the gun yet. Did he? He remembered, then, the object clutched in his hand. He looked down to see that he had white-knuckled fingers wrapped around a remote control.
He clearly remembered holding a gun before…or was that after? No – it was before…
…and then suddenly all of the conflicting voices stopped, the sudden cessation causing an echo effect in his mind. The quiet that followed was even more alarming in its wake. The only sounds he could hear were his own harsh breaths and those of his father, steady and measured.
Oh God…I-I killed him…
*** **** ***
Henry gingerly wrapped the steaming cup with his hands; careful not to grip too tight, yet still providing enough support to keep the waxed paper container from slipping through his fingers. If he paid three dollars for a lousy cup of burnt coffee, he was at least going to get all three dollar’s worth. That also meant he had to walk carefully down the hallway so as not to spill a drop.
Gently, he massaged he fingers around the beverage, soaking in its warmth. The high temperature wasn’t appreciated because his hands were cold. Not true, as his hands never really got cold. Years of hard work, however, had paid their toll and mildly arthritic joints especially appreciated the loosening power of a warm mug of anything.
As he reached his destination, he carefully shifted the balance so that the cup was held firmly in one hand as the door knob was turned with the other. Easing himself into the room, he kept his attention focused on orchestrating a smooth entrance as he gracefully turned around to gently assist the door in closing quietly. He didn’t necessarily expect Shawn to be awake, although the doctor had shown some optimism in his vitals. "With any luck," he was told. "Shawn’s brain is starting to think about surfacing." He then prognosticated that Shawn might even gain consciousness by the week’s end.
So Shawn’s many visitors had talked to him constantly – hoping to spur the process faster. Henry didn’t talk as much as the others, but he was convinced the kid knew his intentions regardless. Subconsciously, he was careful to avoid loud noises, such as slamming doors that might startle Shawn and affect his recovery.
He stepped further into the room and then froze in his tracks. The carefully protected paper cup fell from his grip, splashing across in the room in three dollars worth of glory.
Shawn’s bed was empty.
In the eternity before he resumed breathing again, he caught a flash of a trembling arm struggling to pull up a weakened form. Spurred to action, he quickened his pace around the other side of the bed to where his son was splayed out on the floor. The hospital provided scrub pants slung lower, the pant legs wrapped severely around Shawn’s calves. His bandaging appeared relatively intact, its bulk protecting his traumatized back with layers upon layers of padding. It too was starting to twist as Shawn rummaged through the tableside desk drawer. He had just reached for his son when Shawn pulled his hand from the drawer, revealing a tightly gripped remote control.
He carefully placed his hand on the kid’s shoulder, not wanting to startle him and was himself startled at the heat.
"Shawn, son. What are you doing?" The kid looked awful. Sweat poured into glazed eyes. Even though Shawn had startled badly, he was now looking directly at him. Yet, Henry was quite sure that he wasn’t actually seeing him.
A few seconds passed as Shawn seemed to process the question. He averted his eyes back to his previous focus before mumbling in a shaky voice, "I have to save Mrs. G. He’s going to hurt her."
Henry felt completely out of his element. He had hoped that the events earlier in the week wouldn’t be too hard on the kid. He had seen professionals with years of conditioning crumble under a gruesome, yet justified, shooting. It seemed, however, that he was leading himself to the inevitable moment of truth though Shawn was far from ready to face it.
He hoped that he could just push Shawn to the present and bypass what had led him to the moment where he needed the gun.
"She’s safe, Shawn. So are you."
Again, seconds – far too many seconds – passed as Shawn caught up to the conversation.
"No…he’s gonna hurt her Dad." He seemed to zone on the opened drawer before blinking heavily, reaching up and closing it. He then shivered harder. Where moments ago, sweat had flowed freely, the moisture had dried up leaving his face appear ashen. Henry could only stare sadly at the confusion on his son’s face as he scrubbed at his eyes. For a moment, he thought the kid might pass out. Suddenly, Shawn looked up and Henry saw a fire pass through his eyes. It looked for all the world that the kid was mad at him.
"Do whatever you want but someone has to help her!" His eyes blazed with fury, but his weakly exclaimed threat fell flat. Shawn struggled to his feet. He wasn’t sure where the kid found the strength. But he feared if he tried to stop him in the awkward positioning of the room, he might hurt his son further. Instead he blocked the narrow aisle between the bed and the wall. His son would have to go through him to get wherever he was heading – not likely to happen.
Shawn tried to go through him alright, yelling at him to get out of the way when he wouldn’t budge. He gripped his arms when his son began to struggle against him, fearful that he would injure himself further.
"Son, you already saved her." He had raised his voice - hoping that something got through the stubborn head before adding softly, "It’s over."
Dazed eyes stared at him, unblinking, for long moments before dumbly focusing on the vice-gripped remote. Henry wasn’t sure what Shawn was seeing. He really didn’t think Shawn realized what he was looking at, but he could tell the instant that his son recognized the object in his hand. Minutes passed as the second hand clicked the movement of time.
Shawn’s ashen face slowly tracked up to meet his gaze. And Henry knew that Shawn was back in the present - he remembered everything.
He would have given anything to spare his son from the agony he had endured at the hands of those criminals. He would have offered his soul as payment if he could take away from the raw pain pooled in hazel eyes. Tears slowly tracked down stubbled cheeks. Henry’s heart twisted in misery as Shawn’s lip quivered.
Henry released Shawn’s arms. He started to pull him into an embrace and quickly caught himself as he remembered the injury. Instead he encased the back of his neck, kneading the tightly bundled mass lightly as if it would erase all the grief.
In slow motion, Shawn collapsed in on himself. Henry quickly caught him under the arms and eased him down to the floor, supporting his weight on the way down . His entire frame wracked with grief. Henry could only rock him slowly, cursing the call button just out of arm’s reach. Over the quaking sobs, he could only find a handful of inadequate words to repeat in slow tones.
"It’s not your fault. It’s all over."
Henry eased himself from the stiff backed chair. Ironic, really, as now his own back was stiff with knots. He gave aching knees a moment to adjust to the return to duty. They protested hotly, as did his feet. Placing his hands on his lower lumbar and leaning back, he was rewarded with a succession of cracks that alleviated some built up pressure. He was getting too old for all of this. Even normal mornings, the like he was unlikely to ever see again, required a good hour of easy movement in order to grease rusty joints after a nighttime of rest. Even after a week, his body hadn’t adjusted to the new arrangements. His home was still a crime scene which would take months to put back together. Renovations couldn’t even begin until the special clean-up company had removed ‘the contaminants’ left over from the man who dared get between his son and Winnie Guster; the man who didn’t deserve to be thought of as human. The same man whose new designation was so much more fitting as a biohazard.
He stiffly shuffled his way to the bathroom, intent on using the facilities and giving his face a good revitalizing splash. Sleep was unacceptable as long as he was on watch duty, another three hours until Gus returned. He had left Shawn unattended for ten minutes and would forever regret that decision. Whatever forward progress had been made was lost, replaced with fever induced delirium.
No matter what happened from this point forward, he would not allow Shawn to go unguarded for a single moment.
How he hated this, being helpless, watching his son relive the nightmarish experience over and over. Nothing he said or did could bring about any change. All that could be done, had been done. He would sit by the kid’s side as long as he could. For a few hours every day, he would go to the motel for a break before coming back. Gus, a daily fixture, kept both himself and Shawn company for as long as he could between his limited rounds and after the workday.
"Easy, kid." He stroked the forehead again before laying a cool rag in place. Shawn’s eyes darted beneath closed lids.
"It’s all over, Shawn. You’re safe." He said the words over and over. It was his mantra, spoken reassurances to himself as much as his son. He would never, ever, tell Shawn – but he, too, relived that night in his dreams. He was sure the haunted expression that Gus now carried proved that the Guster household shared the same dreams as well.
He would see to it that Shawn attended any counseling sessions that Karen could arrange. He’d been through the courses and the training. He’d even married a professional in the field! He knew how to live through it. Granted, even the worst cases on the force could not compare when the frontlines were brought, literally, into your own living room. Still, he had the benefit of many years of preparation to help him cope. Whatever he couldn’t accomplish on his own would easily be taken care of with a few Friday night poker games. Of course, his house was off limits from the rotation for a while…
Low groans punctuated the relative quiet of the room. The BP monitor quickened its pace as Shawn cycled again towards the worst part of the nightmare. Definitely – most definitely – the kid, and Gus if he had anything say, was going to talk to someone. After all, he had no training - no preparation for the inevitable day when the pull of the trigger resulted in a dead body at the other end of the room. Henry had wanted to mentor his son for this pivotal day. Maddie had put both feet down on that one…hard. He remembered that argument as one of their most heated. He swallowed down the bitterness that the one best equipped to help the kid, the one who had quashed the very mention of the subject through the years, couldn’t be reached.
At the discernable change of tone, Henry sat up quickly – instantly regretting the sharp twinge in his back. Shifting to take off some pressure, he also moved forward even closer to the bedside.
Shawn’s eyes were moving rapidly under the closed lids. He placed the back of his fingers against the warm cheek. "It’s about time you started listening, kid. You’re fever’s finally starting to come down." When Shawn finally did listen to his old man, Henry could hardly boast about it unless his adversary was actually conscious. That was the problem with his son – he just couldn’t play by the rules.
He quickly replaced the cloth with a fresh, cool one and was nearly startled by the fluttering of eyelids. Rapid flutters turned to long, languid, blinks as hazel eyes worked to clear themselves. Drugged lids closed once again. Henry thought the kid was sleeping again, when they finally opened again.
"Hey there." He didn’t trust his voice, at first. But, thankfully, it didn’t fail him. He wasn’t even sure if Shawn would pick up on his hesitancy. He wasn’t sure if Shawn would even realize he was in the same room.
Even still, Shawn managed focus on Henry. His throat worked several times before croaking out "…wh..?"
Not sure if the question was supposed to be where am I – what happened – or what shirt are you wearing – Henry didn’t care.
Instead, he placed a calloused palm on the side of Shawn’s face currently facing the ceiling. The brief moment of lucidity vanished as eyes again threatened to blink closed. There were a thousand things he wanted to tell his son and a thousand more that would likely go unsaid. Under no circumstances would he let Shawn return to the land of nod without something to carry with him – until he could have another day to put off all of the other emotions that would go unshared. This time when he dreamt, the kid would have some backup to call upon when he once again faced down his nightmares.
"You did good kid," he said. Cupping the back of Shawn’s neck, he rubbed his thumb along the stubbled jawline. He nearly chuckled sadly at the glint of surprise reflected in hazel eyes just before they finally closed, accompanied by a soft sigh.
"You did real good." The tightness in his throat finally abated as the lines of tension in his son’s face finally smoothed out. The tightness in his gut would linger a little longer. When he saw that Shawn got a few hours of deep healing sleep then, and only then, would Henry allow himself to relax.
Thanks to Dragonnan - thank you for allowing me to shamelessly snurch from you and for the gift of putting a finger on exactly what an update needs!
Big thanks also go out to GBfreak and Raych - I was fully prepared to let this shrivel up and die had it not been for your support and encouragement. If anyone is still out there, pass your thanks along to these two lovely ladies:)
Gus slowly shuffled into the room. His own list of injuries were healing quite nicely, but still caused him some discomfort. At least his boss took pity, ok not really. His boss was still on vacation, so he didn’t technically go over his head by dealing directly with Human Relations. Thank goodness the new HR rep was still new enough to be as-yet unspoiled by office politics…and Shawn’s antics. He didn’t need Mrs. Pickles or his best friend to shorten an otherwise eight hour workday. His shiny purple welts, butterfly-bandaged temple, and strapped ribs were all he needed to get himself on light duty. His blasted work ethic (and the fact that he really needed the money) wouldn’t allow him to take unpaid leave.
Yup, he had himself a shiny card that allowed him the freedom to clock out whenever he needed to ‘rest’. He didn’t think this was what they had in mind. Still, he could justify it. He could rest better here sitting at his friend’s side than at home not knowing what was happening.
He went home the first night at everyone’s insistence. He knew it was a mistake - he was just too tired and drained to fight it. Though he knew, really knew, that he could have talked his way into an extra cot in Shawn’s room. He had the charm. Heh, he sniffed. He oozed charm. He had the looks. After all, who scored bigger with the models? If he wasn’t so easily manipulated by his parents a week ago, what with his best friend’s near death experience, he could have pulled it off and then some. Instead, he tossed and turned all night. No simple task as he could hardly move. He couldn’t recall Shawn’s carefree expression from earlier that fateful day. No, all he could remember was how his friend looked the last time he saw him. He could clearly remember regaining consciousness in Mr. Spencer’s living room floor, seeing the bold trail of blood on the wall, and following its path down to his best friend’s body as paramedics worked on him.
How he wished he could remember his friend the other way. Until the day his brain sought fit to give him another picture – any other picture, this was the next best option. He wasn’t the one with the mental filing system. He wasn’t the one who could whip out the virtual wallet, have the accordion fold pics fall out and go through them year by year.
…and this is the one of Gus and me at Disneyland when we were eight.
…aaand this is the one of Gus and me in Missy Oxford’s treehouse. Missy’s the one on the ground because we wouldn’t let her in.
…and this is me and Gus at Mexi…oh wait…you don’t want to see that one!
Gus was mostly limited to the here and now. He didn’t have a bad memory; he just had a normal one that happened to be failing him at the moment. He just wanted something positive to take home with him every day. It hadn’t really happened yet. No, he shouldn’t say that. Shawn started to get better before he got worse again. Right now he wasn’t better or worse, he just…was. Except that right now his friend was starting to cycle into another nightmare. Should he try and wake him? Should he not? He really didn’t know what to do. Shawn needed sleep to get better but could this really be considered sleep? All Gus knew was that his own nightmares certainly weren’t helping him get any better and he wasn’t the one whose back had been turned into ground hamburger.
Maybe he would sit back and wait just a little while longer…
*** *** ***
Jolting pain roused him none-too-gently from blessed unconsciousness. He couldn’t yet see, as that would require opened eyes. Impossible, as his lids were clamped tightly shut and would remain so for the unforeseeable future. He could certainly feel, though. The material, of which his face was planted firmly in, was rough as sandpaper against his skin. Oh yeah, and he could smell. His moist breath condensed into fabric older than himself, releasing foul odors long buried over years of wear – smelling salts of the barcalounger variety.
Finally gaining enough awareness to move away from the discomfort, he was immediately rewarded with a lungful of fresh air. The pure, unfiltered through layers of stale foam, air absorbed readily and recharged his oxygen starved brain.
Now he was fully aware of how much he really hurt. And now, he could also hear sounds other than his heartbeat pulsing in his ears. Rhythmic thwaps offset from his own pulse increased his confusion, until his vision finally focused more than three inches from his face.
Gus was on the floor. Shawn couldn’t tell if he was awake…or even alive. Even now that his sight connected the image of his friend with the regular sounds, his brain couldn’t process the scene of his best friend being beaten mercilessly. He whispered Gus’ name in a bleating voice. He had to get to Gus. He had to get help. He had to…do something.
What he was going to do – well, he didn’t know. Shawn was pretty sure he was toast anyway. He was mostly aware of how much he had bled out. His heart felt sluggish, even to him. He had managed to slide his broken body from the arm of the couch without making too much noise. Even now, his arms trembled in exertion as he pulled himself along the floor.
He was surprised he had made it to the hall table. He expected to pass out the moment his body slid from the couch. The fact that he made it this far…well, he honestly didn’t know what to make of it. Deciding that trying to analyze it any further was a distraction Gus and Mrs. G couldn’t afford. He could no longer hear the blows on his friend’s body. He wasn’t sure if that was a testament to the overwhelming buzzing in his head or if the beating had truly stopped.
With a shaky hand, we wiped sweat from his eyes. It dripped steadily in rivulets, running down his face, his back – adding the sting of acid on top of the ache of torn flesh.
He could no longer hold back the tears as they tracked down his face, splashing to the floor between his forearms before being absorbed by his shirt as his body dragged behind him. He finally reached the table and couldn’t hold back the sob as he pulled himself up to level height.
I can’t do this…I just…can’t…
With his arms folded on top of the table and his forehead pressed into them, he took a moment to collect himself – muffling his keening whine in the crook of his arm. Shawn’s brain checked neatly out, sparing him from sensation and awareness. It was odd, really, being aware of his actions – yet not feeling, as if he wasn’t the one directing his own body. It was as if he were a passenger on the train; a part of the organism, but not the conductor.
He was barely cognizant of opening the drawer and fishing through his dad’s odds and ends to find the prize. Faintly tingling fingers curled around the cool handle, withdrawing the metal piece and smoothly closing the drawer.
He wasn’t even fully aware of how he made it back into the doorway of the living room. He had just pulled himself upright when their captor tackled Mrs. G from behind, pushing her into the fireplace. The action angered him, snapping him to reality and clearing the incessant buzzing from his head.
The vile whispers directed towards his best friend’s mom sickened him. Even more, they scared him. They were horrible, twisted words. He and Gus’ mom hadn’t had the best relationship throughout the years, unbeknownst to him until fairly recently for the most part. But to see her debased in this way, knowing what the man had planned for her – he couldn’t bear to witness it, not if there was anything he could do about it.
“Leave her alone…”
He naively hoped beyond hope that just having the gun would scare the man away. The bad guy would let Mrs. G go, beg for his life and run for the nearest window – never to be seen again…and they all lived happily ever after. Why couldn’t it be that easy?
Instead, it seemed to spur the kid further; emboldening him. He would have to escalate his own actions as well. He really didn’t want to do this. He couldn’t do this! Sure, his dad had taught him how to shoot. He knew he could shoot; better than most cops, even. His dad just never taught him how to shoot at non-paper targets; living, breathing things - that would no longer be either if he did what was required.
He snatched the first thing he could from the revolving carousel of pop-culture minutiae floating around in the littered recesses of his brain.
“He pulls out a knife; you pull out a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital; you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way, and that’s how you get Capone. Now, do you want to do that? Are you ready to do that?”
Did he want to do that? No! Was he ready to do that? Hell no! Besides, Santa Barbara wasn’t Chicago; not even close. Even if he wasn’t ready, maybe he could pretend that he was. He had faked his way into a great career and he convinced Gus to join him in the madness. He even did the impossible by drawing Henry Mad Dog Spencer into the circle of fun. He did things his own way, the Shawn Spencer way. It was the only way he knew how to function. There still might be time to work this around.
“I said Leave-Her-Alone.”
His worst imaginings were becoming reality, moment by moment. Every step brought him closer to the place he never wanted to go. This was too real, too soon, too fast, too hard. He, himself, was certainly not in the same league as Elliot Ness. And while the punk facing him down was in no way Al Capone, it didn’t make him any less dangerous. He would not underestimate this kid. When the kid began to laugh, shrill and piercing, Shawn knew then that there was no reasoning with the man. There would be no convincing, no intimidating. He was too far gone into his own chemical reality to take his own mortality seriously. It was a vicious game, all of it. Worst of all, Shawn could tell that he reveled in it.
He had painted himself into the corner on this one, and it was time to fix it…somehow.
He took in a deep breath and brought the gun level, just below his eyeline. As he slowly exhaled, he evaluated his target. The kid kept his human shield in front of him, hiding his vitals from view. He left his thigh in the open – his mistake, not Shawn’s. With that, Shawn focused on the unprotected area. If this went well, the shock of the discharge would cause the gunman to forget about Mrs. G and focus on himself. He could then disarm the bad guy, kick the gun away and maybe knock him out with the element of surprise. They would all go to the hospital, get some happy drugs and he would wake up to find this was all just a bad dream. With grand expectations, he squeezed the trigger just as he had been taught.
The bullet grazed his outer thigh, just as Shawn had planned. For only a split second, attention was drawn away from his hostage while he clutched the deep rivet. Shawn was left without any concourse to consider his next move as all his grand plans flushed down the proverbial toilet.
Why?! Why couldn’t this guy play by the rules?
There was no backing down now. He had just lit the match to see where he was in the darkness, only to discover the dynamite room. Way to make him mad, Shawn. The gunman pulled Mrs. G in front of him. Shawn winced as she hit her knees hard. He hated that she was in this position – that she would see this. He hated to see this! There was just no more time to doubt himself as the now enraged kid made another move behind Mrs. G, threatening to snap her neck. The action was just what he needed as there was no way, no way, he would allow her to be hurt any more. Equally in his favor, his target just opened up a clear shot to the shoulder joint. He blinked back sweat dripping into his eyes as he felt the tremors begin again. His brief moment of control was slipping faster than he could snatch it back.
He pulled the trigger, not looking away as his he stared in horror. With sinking clarity, oppressive dread settled in his chest with the realization that with the renewed shaking his otherwise stellar aim wasn’t true. The fine mist of crimson droplets hung, suspended in the air. He could feel them clinging to him, bathing him in sickness.
What did he do? He just pulled the trigger and ended a life. Though others would doubt it possible, he watched in slow motion as the bullet left the gun’s chamber, just behind the muzzle flash, followed by a smoke trail before swinging wide off target. He followed its path to the end point as it clipped the throat of the other man. He lost track of it at that moment as it was overtaken by red fog, rolling into the living room like a morning storm off the ocean. The gun in his hand now heavy, he lowered his trembling arm.
Oh God – I just killed someone.
He looked up to see his dad standing by the fireplace, staring at the body, and he was shamed. There had to have been another way. One that didn’t involve gore splattered throughout the living room. But his dad wasn’t looking on with shock or horror or disappointment. It was a look of…sadness?
“You did good kid. You did real good.” He folded his arms and when he turned back to face him, Shawn could almost swear there was the slightest upturn of his eyes – slightly hidden underneath the tattered baseball cap. It still wasn’t real though, not until the half-nod a bare second later.
He was still horrified with himself. And while he didn’t really know what was going on in his dad’s head, but did he ever, he didn’t think he was in for an immediate lecture. He was too tired for a lecture. He just wanted to rest, though rest seemed impossible. As if sensing his sudden lethargy, Shawn watched as his dad moved closer to the punk before straightening his stance into a defensive posture. But, oddly, he never said anything else. Regardless, Shawn was washed with a flood of emotion – warm, wordless intuitions – that he knew deep down, his dad was close by standing guard. If any more trouble came into this house, it had to get through Henry first.
And Shawn felt at peace, if only for a little while. Because his dad was here, and his dad said it was ok. And if he decided to take a nap for a little while, it would be alright because Henry would watch over Gus and Mrs. G and they’ll all be okay.
~~~ ~~~~ ~~~
Gus stiffly eased himself back into his chair, wincing at the motion. His heart still hammered in his chest, adrenaline still coursing. Feeling a little foolish for getting himself so worked up, he blew out a big breath of air – cheeks puffing as he did so. His friend would call it reverse Lamaze. Whatever, he was just glad that Shawn wasn’t privy to his private torture session within. He had just about decided to shake Shawn awake after a five minute internal debate. Hit the call button or wake him up? Hit the call button or wake him up? Hit the call…forget it, I’m waking psych-boy up!
It took another few minutes just to pull himself forward in his chair and maneuver himself at his friend’s bedside. Then, he had to take another minute to recover himself before he could think about pouncing all over Shawn. Just as he was ready; just as he was prepared to manhandle his friend into consciousness, he was scared away. Shawn started mumbling ‘No…nononono’. Gus found himself startled enough to doubt his whole plan. After all, you shouldn’t’ wake sleepwalkers – was this close enough to count?
By the time he once again was ready to institute Operation Wake-the-Bum, the lines on his friends face had smoothed out and he appeared for all the world to be resting comfortably.
So now here Gus sat, slightly more calm than before. Relieved, and yet slightly perturbed, that once again, Shawn had managed to interrupt his plans.
He couldn’t, and wouldn’t, stop the smile from growing slowly. Instead, he let it build until it threatened to split his face in two. He heard the creak of the door, but didn’t let it interrupt his private epiphany. If anything, he beamed even harder as Henry came into the room.
“Hey Gus, what are you up to?” Mr. Spencer’s tired expression made his personal joy all that much sweeter.
“He’s back, Mr. Spencer!” And he was. They both were. If Shawn could single handedly halt Operation Wake-the-Bum - without even being awake – then his friend was back!
Best of all, with that single unaware interception, Gus found that he had a flood of images to replace the ones from before. Though still burned in his memory, the static snapshot of a blood streaked wall was rapidly being overlaid by everything wonderful that had signified their lives in the time known as before.
Memories of himself and Shawn as young scouts clad with knee-high socks and neckerchiefs as they ventured into the woods, seeking adventure and the next service badge or wayward solid-fueled rocket. He mused that the last week had showed him just how precious even the non-warm and fuzzy memories were. He couldn’t deny they held an equal share in molding him. Whether losing games of Battleship to traitorous cheaters or Denny the Dinosaur (who taught him early in his formative years that spending a month of your life attaining perfection on a project will not guarantee you popularity, but you will gain personal satisfaction!) friendship with Shawn wasn’t always sunshine and puppies.
His mom never kept her opinion to herself where Shawn was concerned. Each time he came home with skinned knees and hurt feelings, she was quick to blow gently on his external boo-boos and hug away the internal wounds. She wouldn’t outright refuse him for going back for more self-inflicted punishment. Instead, she worked harder to support him so that when he was faced with those inevitable scrapes and tussles he could handle himself.
Perspective was a beautiful thing, he finally mused, because life with Shawn was never easy. But then, life was too short for anything else. If he learned nothing else from his friend, he learned that. With a newfound sense of relief, he stiffly eased back into his chair to wait. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be long before Shawn woke up for real. Until he could hold up his end of a conversation, Gus was satisfied to entertain himself by replaying a lifetime of moments. He could now embrace the good and bad as priceless treasures. They would do until Shawn was back on his feet and they could set about making more where that came from.
Mind-numbing, soul crushing, gnaw off your own little toe just for the sake of experiencing a new experience…boredom.
He was so bored he didn’t even care that he got one of the nurses fired. After all, they were kind enough to play out the drama just outside his room. Loudly. It was nice of them to do so, considering he had nothing else to do.
Plus it took the strain off his neck if he didn’t have to maintain an awkward angle trying to strain his ears.
One week had passed since that fateful day and he learned (the hard way – always the hard way) to stop trying to force his eardrums to adopt superhuman capacity, desperate to hear something new. The hallway firing was obviously a one-time fluke in the entertainment department. Any other noises loud enough for him to discern meant that someone else’s life was shattered. He had enough problems to avoid dwelling on without borrowing someone else’s.
Besides, it wasn’t his fault they were so predictable.
7:00 a.m. morning greetings by Pam
7:15 a.m. bandage changes with Marge
7:48 a.m. breakfast with the orderly of the day. Today, being Monday, made the lucky winner Jeff; also known as Jeff of the bad hygiene and stringy hair. Oh how I hope he tells me all about the antique postcard swap meet he was so excited about.
8:05 a.m. meant the first round of painkillers. If Jeff was still prattling on about postcards, he would have to feign further discomfort. With luck, that would put him under for a few hours and he could sleep through the sponge bath.
Not that he didn’t appreciate a good sponge bath, nooooo. But that had coincided nicely with the boredom that led to schedule memorization that got the hot nurse fired.
He sighed with deep regret. He did learn his lesson, though. When said hot nurse doesn’t show up for the 8:37 sponge bath, just keep your mouth shut. Then supervisors won’t be forced to investigate and find out that hot nurse didn’t show up for her shift and didn’t call in and they won’t be forced to fire her upon arrival three hours later.
Even worse, the previously hot nurse wouldn’t be replaced with an eastern bloc battleaxe intent on giving sponge baths everywhere a bad name.
He couldn’t even watch TV for more than a half an hour without going crazy. He was stuck laying on his side for the unforeseeable future. Trying to watch at such an awkward angle pulled on his eyes, which pulled on his neck, which pulled on his back, which quickly reminded him that watching TV was a bad idea.
Who needs TV when you can listen to the floor buffer in the hallway?
He glanced at the clock on the side table. Lunch should arrive soon. Surprisingly, he thought he might even be a little bit hungry. Not hungry enough to eat, but definitely hungry enough to refuse a meal and have it mean something.
Anyone could push aside a meal when they were too ill or hurt to have an appetite. It had been too easy for him to push off the growing nausea and shaking limbs as standard fare for recovering from major traumatic injury. So far, no one had called him on it.
The soft rap on the door pulled him from his thoughts. Not a nurse – nurses didn’t knock. Not his dad – his dad didn’t knock either. Gus knocked; but Gus knocked as he opened the door and let himself in. Shawn was out of guesses as to the identity of his mysterious visitor. It wasn’t like he could look over his shoulder. Not that he didn’t try, but the wedges supporting him, plus the agonizing pain, kept him very much immobile- thank you very much.
“Come in!” He didn’t mean for it to sound snappish but what was he supposed to do, answer the door himself? Hardly. Anyone here to visit him should already know that.
He didn’t expect Detectives Lassiter and O’Hara to shuffle in the room; yet here they were.
“Spencer,” Lassiter glared at his partner as they both attempted to speak at the same time. “I expected Henry to be here,” he looked around the room. Shawn wondered if Lassy actually expected to find a balding old guy hiding behind the curtains.
Shawn rolled his eyes at the thought…and the suggestion behind it. Seriously, it wasn’t like he hadn’t spent alone time before. He had ten years out on his own and he handled himself just fine.
“No, uh, he had to meet the insurance people at his house for something red tape-ish,” he was sure his dad didn’t appreciate him spreading around his business. It wasn’t like he had anything better to do. Might as well spread some gossip.
“How are you feeling?” Juliet asked.
“Better, Jules. Better. So, what brings you to this side of town? Checking out the rumor of tongue depressor theft on the fourth floor?”
“Ahh, you must be here for the bed-pan incident. I swear it wasn’t me. But I’m telling you, the guy in three twenty-five is suspicious. You should totally question him.”
“Look…Spencer,” Lassiter fished through his pockets for a pen. Shawn recognized the gesture as a delay tactic. The shiny pen in Lassy’s lapel pocket mocked him in plain sight.
Fine. If Lassyface wanted to try avoiding the inevitable, he supposed he could share some tips. After all, he was the master. “Oh wait- don’t tell me – I’m sensing that you got an anonymous tip about embezzlement from the administrative staff.”
“Actually, we did.” Lassiter slowly nodded before fixing a stare on the bed’s occupant, “but that’s not why we’re here either. The Chief needs your statement.”
He knew it was coming. His dad had started to prepare him earlier in the week, dropping hints that he needed to start thinking about what he was going to tell the police.
“Look, Shawn. If this is a bad time, we can come back later,” Juliet’s hands fidgeted when she was uncomfortable, as if they weren’t sure if they wanted to stuff themselves in her pockets or play with her hair. Were it not for the dread growing in his gut, he might have found it adorable.
“O’Hara,” Lassiter warned.
“Carlton,” Juliet returned the warning with one of her own.
His ultra-tuned radar sensed an impending fight. While it would provide him with some much needed stimulation, he couldn’t end years of programming growing up in the Spencer household to override the need to preemptively diffuse fights – especially when he was a captive audience. Been there, done that, had the arrest record to prove it. “Yeah, about that, I don’t really know what to tell you. I don’t remember much of what happened.”
“What do you remember?” Lassiter demanded.
Normally, he found Lassiter’s interrogation persona funny. Sometimes, he would go to the SBPD under the guise of finding a case when, in actuality, he just wanted to watch the vaudevillian show of Lassy in his Dirty Harry-esque character. Such entertainment could not be bought. Now, though. Now it wasn’t funny.
“I…uh….,” he stammered.
“Carlton, please,” Juliet interrupted. Lassiter merely raised his hands up in response, backing off to the side just out of Shawn’s eye-line. “Shawn, let’s go back to beginning. Do you remember getting shot?”
“No.” He could do this. All he had to do was tell the truth.
“Ok. Now, do you remember Gus getting hurt.”
“No.” Again, true. Neither he nor Gus had been able to recall who had been hurt first, or even when. That portion of the evening was simply….gone.
“Ok. Your dad mentioned that you and Gus left the dinner party to go back to the house. Do you remember going into the house earlier?”
“No!” He shouted, exasperated. The motion hurt and he ground his teeth in pain and frustration. He had tried to remember. He really had. He tried to remember the first time the question had been asked and he tried each and every time the question was repeated. Though she had at first appeared shocked and slightly hurt, she quickly recovered, nodding in understanding. He didn’t mean to lash out at her. “I’m sorry, Jules. I just…it’s all a blur.”
He breathed a sigh of relief as Lassiter’s phone rang, providing him with a much needed reprieve. He watched as Lassiter nodded to his partner and excused himself into the hall. It certainly didn’t make the moment less uncomfortable, but it did mean less of an audience.
“Alright, Shawn. I don’t mean to push. It’s only fair that I let you know a few things first, okay?”
He nodded. He’d be happy to let her talk a little longer. He was all about the stalling.
“Now, we have enough based on everyone else’s statements to convict everyone involved five times over. If, and this is a big if, the dead perp’s family wants to contest the findings in any way, the chief wants all paperwork done in advance.”
His face fell. He simply hadn’t considered that the kid had family, given the state he was in. Why wouldn’t they want to blame him? Until now, he was the only one who thought of himself that way. The others would, if they knew.
“Shawn?” he looked up at Juliet’s questioning. He had already forgotten she was here as he was tracking the inevitable path to conviction in his mind. Too stunned at the moment to say anything, he nodded instead. “What’s the first thing you can remember? We’ll take this in pieces, ok?”
He nodded again, not trusting his voice. He paused, taking a moment to swallow down the dread in his throat. “I remember…Mrs. G was scared…and…trying to get us to the car.”
“This was the escape attempt?”
“We didn’t get far. Mrs. G got us into the car but it wouldn’t start. I think I tried to tell her where to find my dad’s truck keys,” he rubbed his forehead with the heel of his hand. “It took too long to get me to the car, I guess.”
Juliet interrupted his memories of that moment, reliving the fear, the crushed hope that they were that close…, “Shawn, all of the cars were disabled. They were salvaged for their catalytic converters. They contain copper…”
He looked up sharply at the revelation. The compassion in her eyes as she revealed the truth - that there was never any hope of escape…ever.
“Oh…,” his pursed lips maintained their rounded shape as he digested the news.
“Shawn, I’m sorr-“, he cut her off from apologizing for an event that was never her responsibility.
“Sooo…anyway, we were herded back into the house. And then…I don’t know what happened.” He’d heard through the grapevine some of what happened during that time. The more he learned, the more he was desperate to remember what had happened during his absence.
“That’s ok, Shawn,” she assured. “Remember, we just need your account of what you do remember.”
“Then…,” he took a deep breath and remembered that his first vivid memory wasn’t what he saw, but rather other senses that had awakened first.
He could smell the couch. He could feel it on his face. The world upside down as he tried to orient himself.
“I…woke up in the living room. I heard…noises. I looked around trying to sort out where I was when I saw him. He was beating Gus.”
Rhythmic sounds of fists and feet pounding against flesh.
“I made my way to my dad’s side table where he keeps a spare gun…”
Old wood desperately in need of polish. The rickety drawer stuck before finally opening in jerked, creaky, succession
“I managed to get back to the living room with the gun…Gus was on the floor, knocked out…”
He hoped his best friend was only knocked out. What had happened while he fumbled for the gun? Was he too slow?
“The kid…the guy, he had Mrs. G against dad’s fireplace. He…,” he paused to collect himself.
He wanted to puke at the disgusting whispers, violent and vile…
“…he wouldn’t stop. I told him to stop…,” he could feel the pitch of his voice rising despite himself.
“Leave her alone.”
“He didn’t stop…he just…he…he got more aggressive…,” he coughed for a moment. The talking hadn’t done his throat any favors. Swallowing two, three times, he pressed on, determined to get to the end.
“I said leave her alone.”
“I told him again to leave her alone and I made it clear that I would use the gun if he forced me to. He laughed,” he shivered at the memory of the laugh. He could hear it even now.
“Step away now and I promise I won’t aim to kill you.”
“He didn’t back down. He became more erratic and I thought he was going to hurt Gus’ mom. I opted for a shot to his thigh. It was a clear shot…”
“Is that the best you can do? Huh?”
“It became clear he was intent on killing her. I ended the situation.”
“No. This is the best I can do!”
“You ended the situation? Can you clarify?” Juliet had done a laudable job keeping up as she scribbled notes. But there was something about the way the question was delivered. So clinical…he knew she didn’t mean to come across that way. After all, this was Jules. Still, he found it irksome.
“This is the best I can do!”
“I made sure he wouldn’t kill her. How is that not clear?”
“Is that the best you can do?”
She set down her notebook for a moment. For just a moment, she set aside the detached detective persona he’d observed when she gathered routine information and adopted one he’d noticed more than once when interviewing victims and their families. “Shawn, you have to understand there are going to be questions…we have to get all the facts straight to have this ruled as a black and white justifiable homicide. How did you know he intended to kill her?”
“Is that the best you can do?”
“He was going to snap her neck, Jules!” he straightened himself, no easy feat as he lay on his side. The move may have made a point, but his back flared with renewed pain; the last dose of meds now completely worn off. “What more do you want? Is that justifiable enough?!”
“We’re not the enemy here, Spencer. Get over yourself for a minute and answer the questions. The sooner you give us the statement, the sooner we can leave you alone.” Shawn startled as he realized he had worked himself up to the point that he never realized the moment when Lassiter had re-entered the room. He was used to noticing these little details. He was used to controlling the conversation and the players in the game rather than being the one controlled.
He breathed in deeply, forcing his heart out of his throat and back into his chest cavity where it belonged. Whatever. He just wanted this done. Anything to get them out and a nurse with a happy needle back in.
“I thought the thigh shot would deter him…maybe knock him back where Mrs. G could get herself free. But, he never let go of her. He kept her between us as a shield,” Shawn rubbed his nose in agitation. “When he finally pulled her down to the ground, he opened up a shot to the shoulder. I hoped it would disable him…it didn’t work…I was shaking too hard…,” he let the thought hang between them. Did they really need him to elaborate on that? He was done with the whole matter. If they needed the whole picture painted in detail and dripping in gore, then it was up to them to use their imaginations.
“Is that the best you can do?”
“And you were already wounded at this point?” Bless Jules. Maybe she had picked up on his attempts to hide his inner desire to weep like a little kid who had just seen the skinned and bloody knees. Whatever she had picked up on, she had switched her questioning style. The pacing now much faster and could be answered in two words or less.
“Is that the best you can do?”
“Yes.” He sincerely hoped he didn’t just groan that answer, but he had a feeling it managed to slip through anyway.
“Is that the best you can do?”
“And you managed to get yourself from the living room to the table in the next room and back, in a wounded state, where you happened upon the perpetrator assaulting Winnie Guster?”
“Is that the best you can do?”
“Shawn, we were on the scene not long after Mrs. Guster put in the nine one-one call.” Juliet stated quietly, gauging his reaction. “You were in bad shape. Even now…you don’t look so good.”
He self-consciously fiddled with the blanket, not willing to meet her gaze.
“O’Hara,” Lassiter looked up from his phone as its screen illuminated his features. “We need to go. You need to wrap it up and finish telling Spencer he’s an idiot and lucky to be alive,” Lassiter stated in his ever encouraging tones.
“Carlton!” she snapped. Juliet pointedly escorted her partner from the room with her eyes. He rolled his in return, but capitulated and excused himself with a grunt. Shawn didn’t have the energy for anything other than a reciprocal grunt of his own. Juliet shifted in her chair, bringing his attention back to her.
“He’s right about one thing, Shawn. You’re very lucky to be alive to even give a statement.”
“Is that the best you can do?”
“Hmm…,” he didn’t even bother pulling himself out of grunt-mode.
“We’ll be back to finish up after you’ve had a chance to rest. Think about it, Shawn. You did a brave thing. As a matter of fact, the Chief is pushing to close the case out so she can process your payment. She felt it’s the least we could do since your actions were directly responsible for closing down a copper-theft ring and the meth lab it supported. You did good work, Shawn.”
“No. This is the best I can do!”
“I could’ve done better,” he whispered to himself in a striking counterpoint to the echo of his own remembered words; words that only he could hear.
She hung by his bedside for a moment longer. He closed his eyes in dismissal, not wanting to see the emotions play across her features. If it was pity, he didn’t deserve it. If it was disappointment, he couldn’t handle it. He felt it best to not know either way and leave it at that.
The door softly closed behind them, leaving the room quiet once again. Except for the soft thrum and clicks of monitoring equipment, there were no other noises to occupy his thoughts. No distractions to be had – no one but himself for company. His harsh breaths glanced off the pillow, puffing a few loose strands of hair from his forehead. The condensation collected against the material, leaving it soggy and uncomfortable. He shifted his head back out of the puddle, releasing a throb that emanated from the base of his neck. Great, just great.
Jules had said it herself. They were looking at justifiable homicide. Such an oxymoron never existed. How could homicide be justifiable? Homicide was homicide. Not even the thought that it made him a homicide-erer gave him any humor.
The rumble in his gut reminded him of his thoughts before his visitors arrived. The low growl vibrated strong enough to be felt through his frame. Solid food, to this point, had been a pipe dream. Clear jello, watery broth, thin soups, anything that could be sipped through a straw while lying on his side; all attempted to tease his appetite. Hospital staff and well-wishers assured him it was expected that the heavier meds would wreak havoc with his stomach and that his appetite would return once he was weaned off the higher doses.
They didn’t have a clue…
No one had a freaking clue…
Jules had made him out to be some kind of hero. Any other day and he might have instigated the rumors himself before calling a press conference. It was just the kind of story he would tell, too. He snuffed; not only was he a genuine hero, he was going to get paid for it. He didn’t even do anything besides nearly get himself, his friends and family killed. They did all the work.
He absolutely meant what he told Juliet earlier. He could have done better. He wasn’t even surprised that Henry wasn’t the one picking him apart on this one. Even Henry, knower of all things, didn’t know everything.
Ironic that now his thoughts mirrored his life and he brought himself ‘round in full circle. The case of the copper-theft ring was nearly officially closed. Meaning, of course, he was now officially free to pursue other cases that may, or may not, involve stolen yachts.
Hero his patented left-finger-to-temple-rub.
He deserved to feel hungry for a while.
Just like he deserved to wallow in boredom for a little while longer.
Boredom would have to wait until later, he sensed. The door quietly opened and quiet feet patted into the room, signaling the approach of the nurse. She quietly asked a few questions, taking in his grunted responses, efficiently took his vitals, and ever so lovingly slipped the beautiful liquid into his IV.
Though completely washed out and lacking in any energy, he wanted to kiss her. He’d consider it after a nap.
I should be running out the door right now to get to work. However, since nearly losing this chapter I feel compelled to post this before anything else happens!
Many thanks go out, here. Dragonnan, for being awesome and a super-duper, on-the-spot guru!!! Stray, just cause she's that cool. Patster, likewise. And to JR88 and Tazmy, welcome aboard! I'm thrilled to have your amazingness along for the ride!
Thank you all so much!!
Ok, now I go to work....
Snapshot images across time flipped past in a virtual vacation picture slideshow. The pictures were displayed across his closed eyes, rather than a white bed sheet hung from the living room wall. The only thing missing was the booming voice of the seventies-announcer guy proclaiming in forced happy tones, “Shawn Spencer – This is Your Life!”
He knew deep, deep – way down deep, that he was dreaming and yet he couldn’t wake himself up. For the most part, the images were benign – nostalgic, even. But, the happy scenes flipped by so fast he could barely process what he had just seen before he was flooded with more swirling, nauseating colors.
The more insidious images, though, lingered for long moments. It was as if the little elf running the slide machine in his brain saw the nightmarish pictures a hare second before they were displayed. Then the little devil slammed on the pause button. He couldn’t blink in his mind’s eye. Unable to turn away, he could only stare for long periods at the very worst his subconscious had to offer.
He always considered himself a carefree guy; happy-go-lucky, even. Given the depths of the ick he was staring down, he would have to do some soul searching.
If he could ever freaking WAKE UP!
The resume button toggled on and once again the show continued.
He couldn’t identify the exact places and times the pictures were taken. He was vaguely aware that this latest set stemmed from his childhood. Not surprisingly, Gus was present in nearly all of them. He thought it interesting that an outside bystander might look with bittersweet fondness at the images of lost youth and more innocent times, wanting to attach deeper meaning. He would find amusement at their deep interpretations, because he knew the truth behind the magic. He and Gus knew that two seconds after the picture of two young boys seemingly at play, one of those boys was nearly ready to wrestle the other to the ground for scoring higher on a project. Car-surfing dinosaurs trumped scale models of boring heads every last time. Ah yes, good times.
More icky pictures; a particularly gruesome crime scene, long passed, where he had found himself unusually sick and shaken, quickly covering his discomfort by channeling the spirit of a nearby throw pillow that was willing to testify as to what it had seen. He couldn’t brush it off now as he had then when he had the ability to scan the room for a distraction. No, he was forced to watch the open-eyed stare of grisly death as this image remained up for viewing much longer than the others.
The image released and he took a quick breath, relieved to be released from its hold. In the microsecond before the next image would come up, he tensed himself in preparation.
He booted the evil mental fairy and grabbed the remote, surprising himself in the process.
He looked up from the remote in his hand and found himself in his office. Now instead of the images playing out behind his eyes, they really were displayed on a bed sheet hung from a wall. Tacky, yet effective. At least now he had a couch, might as well get comfortable. He settled into the cushions, savoring their plushiness.
Clicking back a few frames, he saw himself sleeping on his desk. Dude, that’s just…weird. Pictures scattered across the surface and one teetered on the edge, preparing to fall. He scrolled back further to find better images of snapshots not covered in his own drool and smeared beyond recognition.
The entire Stratford robbery/murder case file handily playing in his very own head. How convenient. Now that he had control, he might as well get some work done until he could finally wake up.
He flipped through the series one after another taking in the whole picture for long seconds before going on to the next. The old fashioned slide show came to life as sound accompanied the pictures. He didn’t have the opportunity to talk to the Stratford’s himself before…he didn’t want to dwell on before and risk losing his precious, newfound control. For now, he would just refer to that time as before. Anyway, before he hadn’t yet had time to squirm his way in to the Stratford’s path. But, he had transcripts at his disposal. Without knowing what the ostentatious couple actually sounded like, his brain gave him an amusing simulation in the form of Thurston and Lovey Howell.
“We were very fortunate to find a replacement yacht so quickly for the one that was stolen.”
“My Mamie was devastated to find it had been stolen. She would never stay at a dinner party if someone was wearing ‘her’ dress. She was mortified that the new yacht was so similar to the original.”
“But of course Devon, darling! The sales person misrepresented our yacht. It was supposed to be one of a kind! It’s dreadful that there is another one almost like it. I simply can’t be seen on it.”
The little niggle that had been with him since the beginning was now growing into a full-blown mosh party. He didn’t think the salesman lied. That boat was one of a kind. But why should that bother him?
He studied the pictures more closely, comparing them back and forth. He called up the image of the original title and remembered that something was odd about it.
Back and forth…
Forth and back…
Wait…there! There it is!!
Picture documentation of the yacht’s engine block was included with the insurance forms. The boat’s vehicle identification number was permanently stamped into a brass faceplate; a shiny and newish faceplate with only a few minor scratches.
But why is that odd? What’s wrong – what am I not seeing?
With eyes narrowed to the point of discomfort, he stared in vain at the picture in an effort to will himself to discovery. In the background he could make out the sound of a doorbell, though he ignored it. What was happening with this slide was more important than anything else at the moment. This was important and it had his focus.
Previously short tones had now turned into a full-on loop of dings and dongs. Finally deciding that answering the door would ultimately rid himself of the distraction sooner, he reluctantly pulled himself from heavenly plushy cushions and went to answer the door – only slightly concerned when wrapping his palm around the cool brass door knob and remembered that the Psych office didn’t have a doorbell.
"Dad - what are you doing here?" Shawn had to quickly step back to avoid being mown down by freight train Henry as he hauled in the wheeled toolbox of doom.
"You’re going to help me put this house back together, Shawn. I solved the case that you pawned off on Gus which resulted in the destruction of my home. So now, you’re going to help me for the rest of your dreaming life."
"But, this is my office!” The whining pitch was totally called for as his old man pulled out power tool after power tool in a perverse, balding, corruption of Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. “Your house was the one trashed."
"Look Princess - if you don't want me here just dream me away. Otherwise, either grab a splicer and get started while I go get more spools of wire or make yourself useful and work on the outlets. Your choice."
"But..." Shawn blinked heavily in confusion before glancing over his shoulder at the image still displayed for his viewing pleasure. At least he hadn’t lost progress. Maybe, just maybe, if he made a half-hearted show at using a belt sander, though the very idea of sanding belts was just ridiculous, then maybe he could bounce a few ideas off his dad while he was so handily available. He barely had time to consider the idea further before the buzzer rang again. Letting his eyes roll to the ceiling in frustration, he huffed his way to the door, throwing it open.
"Jules, wow...” he couldn’t form words as he quickly stepped to the side with a flourish. “What are you doi…uhh...you look great." Did he sound like a babbling idiot? Sure. Hey, who wouldn’t when a very attractive junior detective shows up at your door wearing…that.
"Oh, please Shawn. I'm just wearing my pajamas." She waved him off as if to say ‘Oh this old thing’. But the cute little nightie was hardly old…or there, for that matter. Fine by him.
"Yeah you are!" And how very nice of you to do so Juliet. He could think it even if he couldn’t say it…not that he could really say much…just…wow.
"I brought a friend, hope you don't mind." Well now, that’s a lovely surprise!
"Jules! A pajama party, of course. The more the merrier!" This was a dream come true. Finally, Him and Julie…throw in a couple of co-eds. He may never wake up again.
“You remember Cameron Luntz, right?” The beastly man-boob man with the poofy hair and aviator glasses stalked into the room with his hands on his hips in a disturbing simulation of the old, old Superman TV show. All he needed was a cape…and a brassiere.
He did remember. How could he forget? What he didn't know was why was Cameron here… in his dreams… with Juliet? He didn't have a chance to psychoanalyze that juicy bit before the doorbell rang again.
“Jules, make yourself at home. Have some snacks. Luntz…I’m sure there’s a bra back there somewhere. Have at it.” He ignored the sputtered protests as his attention was diverted by the buzzer…again. He swore if his mother was at the door, he was having himself committed at the first waking opportunity.
"Spencer." Shawn breathed a sigh of relief. Not his mother, thank God. Carlton Lassiter stood just outside the doorway, looking as distinctively uncomfortable as ever. His gaze constantly shifted outside, as if searching for anyone who might catch him in front of these hallowed grounds. The relief of a non-Freudian moment, gone, Shawn’s relief again turned into confusion.
"Lassy. Of course! Why? Why wouldn't you be here?" Exasperation leaked through his voice. He couldn’t help it and didn’t want to stop it. The man outside didn’t appear the least bit offended. Remarkably, he almost seemed to commiserate. Gah! The last thing he wanted to do was dream-bond with Lassiter.
That sounded dirty, even to him.
"Beats me," Lassiter shrugged the answer.
“Yes, well. At least you’re not wearing a negligee.”
“What?” The high pitched squeak matched perfectly with the scrunched eyebrows that shot into the hairline. It was a move that could only be performed by Lassiter.
“That makes two of us.” Shawn was desperate to find anything to distract him from the nightmarish impromptu gathering. Even more, he was desperate to watch anything other than Jules making out with an old man on his couch. As soon as he woke up, he vowed to burn the couch. Twice.
Mingling was firmly out of the list of options. So far down the list, in fact, that he decided to grab a few tools and get to work. And so, he dutifully set himself to the nearest task. With a screwdriver in hand, he set to work.
He actually managed to make fairly good progress, considering.
"Alright Shawn, what do you think you’re doing?" The shadow lurking over his shoulder could belong to none other than his father. He was well familiar with that shadow, recognizing it from seventeen years of being forced into spending weekends doing meaningless chores throughout the house, all under the guise of teaching him to complete a job. That shadow spent more time hovering and criticizing his technique than actually teaching him anything. Well, he showed him.
"Dad, I'm just minding my own business!"
"You're so busy minding your own business you aren't paying attention to what you’re doing!"
"Look, I'm putting in the new faceplates like you asked. If you don't like it, install them yourself in your own house where they and you belong." He was getting tired. With tired, came shortness. Usually, he could let the criticism slide off his back as Henry worked through his list of grievances. This, however, wasn’t one of those nights.
"Think Shawn. The screws don’t match."
"So what?" He threw his arms up in the air in a show of exasperation. Really, he hated it when his dad repeated the same phrase over and over. It made it so much harder to tune the man out.
“Shawn, why don't the screws match?" Juliet cocked her head to the side as she asked the question. He noted with a sigh that a cute little tendril of hair fell out of her clip. But that didn’t mean he didn’t notice what she was doing – the ultimate betrayal.
"You’re taking his side? Really, Jules?"
"You should listen to Henry. If he says the screws don't match, they don't match." Strike that. This was the ultimate betrayal!
"What do you know? Interloper." He stood toe to toe with the man not cool enough for a cape but who thought wearing circa 1977 aviator glasses would make up for it. He poked the other man in the chest - the disgustingly squishy chest - for added effect. Immediately, he felt the need to wash his hands. Instead, he backed off as Juliet moved to stand between them.
"Is that how I taught you to treat guests, Shawn? It's just like all the other lessons I taught you and you ignored. A good craftsman pays attention to the details."
"Oh, I am paying attention...very close attention." And he was. In fact, his attention never wavered once Juliet entered directly into his eye line.
"Stop looking at my girlfriend." Shawn rolled his eyes in disgust even as Luntz spilled the words – the horrible, twisted, unconscionable words.
Shawn’s face scrunched as the words (which he likened to a bad taste in his mouth) lingered. Now, had the man said ‘Stop looking at my daughter’ that might be a whole different scenario. Shawn opened his mouth, fully prepared to say just that when his father spoke up…again...refusing to drop the issue.
"Look at the outlet, Shawn, and close your eyes."
"No. If I'm dreaming, my eyes are already closed,” he raised an eyebrow, daring the old man to refute logic.
"Knock it off, smart mouth. What are my rules on outlets?"
"They’re the best place to shop for anniversary gifts?”
"If you're going to take the time to put in a new faceplate then you have to put in the matching screws"
"Henry’s right," Lassiter chimed in. The new thread of conversation now more interesting than raiding the popcorn bowl. "Using the same old screws is pointless." He casually tossed a handful of popped kernels into the air, catching most of them in his mouth before crunching loudly. Shawn noticed the floor littered with the crushed kernels that weren’t caught the first time. Disgusting. And if Gus barged into his dream, he was in trouble.
"You would use old screws on a new faceplate? Eww…That’s a deal breaker. I could never go out with you." His own previous look of disgust was mirrored by Juliet as she looked at him. This really was a nightmare.
"Look at the faceplate, Shawn. Close your eyes."
"Look at the plate, kid."
"Spencer, don't be an idiot. Look at the plate." More popcorn crumbs flung from Lassiter’s lips as he spoke. Great, now he had to dream vacuum the couch before Gus came in.
"You can't make me."
"Shawn, just look at the plate." Juliet spoke up again. This time her tone of horror was replaced with one of rare impatience. She is so cute when she’s all whiny and aggravated.
"You, however, can make me. But not here. And not with him."
Shawn finally concluded that until he made an effort, his ‘guests’ would not leave him alone. Maybe, just maybe, the sooner he got this out of the way, the sooner he could chase Luntz from his dreams. For no other reason, it was worth a shot.
And he thought on the case, slowly rubbing his temples as he tracked back in time and zoomed in on the pictures long committed to memory. His brow furrowed in concentration and, gradually, the background noises of uninvited guests faded away…
The screws are old. The deepest scratches appeared as if a screwdriver skipped off the screw head and marred the surface. He made that mistake himself many times when Ol’ Henry decided to go on a rampage, replacing all of the house’s outlets and light switch faceplates.
He could conveniently forget that the man now took bubble baths and…tanned. Henry was a man’s man. But then, manly man’s man was also a fanatic about craftsmanship. “Shawn, if you’re going to take the time to change the faceplate, a good craftsman finishes the job with matching screws.”
The screws that fastened the plate to the engine block were older; tarnished, but not any more so than the surrounding metal of the rest of the boat’s interior. For all intents and purposes, it appeared as if they had aged together – just like the Stratfords who had matching wrinkles.
The brass plate was brand, spanking new – except for the unfortunate tampering scar.
This yacht wasn’t nearly identical; it was identical.
It was the same freaking boat!
Shawn had to admit, it was a good plan. Pay someone to take the boat for the weekend. Conveniently lose it. Report it stolen. Collect the insurance payout, then buy the boat back from yourself. All you’re out is the ten dollars for a faceplate and some minor cosmetic updates and furnishings; a pittance considering the Stratford’s vast reserves.
The whole case would likely have flown completely under the radar. Mr. Stratford would conveniently push the Mayor for a few months just for show. He’d then call a press conference, thanking the SBPD for their fine work and dropping the case. After all, he had a shiny new boat – no need to keep looking for the old one. Everyone would go about their business and the whole thing would have been brushed under the rug with all the other cold case files.
Except for the murdered man, it was a pretty good gig.
Maybe after he woke up, he could pay Gus to take his bike for the weekend?
Shawn snapped back to attention, somewhat surprised that when he came back to awareness his guests had not left, nor had the appeared the slightest bit concerned that he had zoned out. Shouldn’t they at least have wondered a bit? He sighed in a loud drawn out whine as he shuffled his feet towards the door. Grasping the cool handle, he gave the knob a turn and pulled open the door.
"Ok, it’s over folks. I've solved the case. You can go home now," he motioned towards the open door since his guests appeared to be having a hard time taking a hint.
He towards his dad, who rolled his eyes but went right back to work on his tools. "Seriously, it’s ok to go. The moment’s gone, unless Lassy wants to lead us in a slow clap. Lassy?" Shawn even raised his hands to demonstrate, though Lassiter didn’t play along. Typical. Instead, he just thrust his fist into the popcorn bowl with an intensity matched only by the scowl of his expression.
"Fine. If you're not leaving then I'm gonna watch what I want!” Shawn strode towards the couch before remembering that it was due to be burned very soon. He quickly changed gears and pulled out his chair. He smoothly kicked his feet up on his desk, reclined into a comfortable slouch and popped off his shoes with his toes. One shoe perched precariously on the desktop, the other fell to the floor. He’d pick it up later…or not. This was his dream, after all. Maybe he’d dream up a French maid later…
"Let's watch a slideshow! Everyone? Jules, there may be a bathtub pic or five. Prepare to shield your innocent eyes." Propping his head with one arm, he lazily held the remote with his other hand as he began a play-by-play narrative of a day in the life of Shawn Spencer. It was going to be epic!
"This is me and Gus at Disneyland..."
“This is me and Gus in Missy Oxford’s tree house…”
“More me and Gus…”
“Me and my mom…”
“Gus and me…”
“My dad with hair…”
“…awww…cute duck!...how’d that get there?”
"I made a mistake," he was going to do it this time. He was going to say his peace and get the load of legend off of his chest.
"Yes you did, son. Everyone does at some point." It was kind of freaky, how accommodating the old man had been.
Still, Shawn thought, might as well get this over with. Get it done – get it out. Do it while Henry was being all nice. Maybe the niceness would last even afterwards…if he were lucky.
"I didn’t plan to. I mean…I did…I just…," why couldn’t he just say it, already?
"I know, kid."
"It doesn’t fix anything, though, does it?" he sighed. Once again back to this point where all was said and done and yet, he still hadn’t accomplished the conversation he’d been mulling over for days now.
"No, Shawn. It doesn't. That kid is dead and he made mistakes of his own too. That isn’t your fault."
Mention of the dead kid froze something deep within him. Not exactly what he had been referring to, yet still such a raw pain that Shawn couldn’t help but react. "My aim was off...I swear...I..."
He heard his dad trying to interrupt in the background. However, despite his attempts to steer clear of this part of the conversation – again – he found himself locked back in the cycle. "I aimed for his shoulder, dad...”
“I swear I did."
"SHAWN! You did the right thing."
"But that’s not even th-"
"No buts. Shut up and listen. These are the facts; you aimed for the shoulder and the shot went off target.” It was said so matter-of-factly, he almost believed it came from his father’s lips. It almost made it better. Except (and to his own surprise) hearing what sounded like a reversal on a position that Henry had always held so loudly actually left Shawn feeling somewhat shaken.
If that had changed, what else had changed? Determined to find out, to put his own mind at rest if nothing else, Shawn spoke up. “You always said if you point a gun ‘you had better hit wherever you aim’."
“I know what I said Shawn and I know why I said it. I’ve had to clean up after too many yahoos who shoot at street signs and hit kids on the playground or even dumber idiots who shoot at nothing straight up in the air trying to watch the bullet fall back to the ground.”
Shawn said nothing. Rather, he picked listlessly at the bed sheet with the edge of the plastic hospital bracelet. The ugly ringlet fascinated him, oddly enough. He sighed again, unable to stop the repeated gesture as evidenced by the roughened fabric underneath. Whatever. They were going to charge him for the bed linens anyway – might as well break them in.
"But you haven't looked at all the facts, Shawn. You're not seeing everything. Like usual, you're picking out the facts that you want and you're leaving out the others." Henry looked around him before ruffling through the bedside table. He slapped a notepad next to Shawn's head, followed by a pencil.
"What? Are we playing Pictionary?"
"Write your name."
"Come on. You can't be serious!"
"Write!" His dad’s hardened eyes offered no other option. Arms crossed tightly in front of his body meant that Henry was in this for the long haul and had all the time in the world. He hated himself for giving in fairly quickly. Had he been more able or had more energy he might have fought the old man on this one – for no other reason than to prove that he was fully able to see the charade through.
Instead, he clumsily fingered the pencil in his grip. The cheap half-pencil would be hard to manage on a good day, its only purpose to messily make a show of keeping score on the miniature golf course. In real society, they were a joke. Right now, with his shaking limbs and tingling fingers, he wasn’t sure if he was the joke. His reactions slowed and cumbersome he managed to grip the instrument only long enough to set it to paper before his limited control fittered out once graphite touched parchment. After the third attempt, with nothing more to show than chicken scratches, he gave up and allowed the hobbit pencil to roll from his fingertips and hit the floor with a soft click.
"I can't do it," he whispered.
"I can't do it! Alright? I can't."
"That's right, Shawn. If you can't hold a pencil, it's no wonder you couldn't hold onto the gun for an accurate follow-up shot. Those are facts Shawn. It’s a wonder you managed the first one as well as you did. Sometimes, when you're in the field you don't have the option of making the ideal shot. You take what you get and just hope it turns out ok."
He felt the pad slipped gently from underneath his forearm. Exhausted from the seemingly simple task, he offered no resistance.
"You did the best you could. The results may not have been perfect and it could have turned out better. But this time, the end result is what matters. That bastard didn't get away. Look at me, Shawn,” Henry said. He moved closer until he stood next to the bed, placing one hand on Shawn’s arm. Shawn knew from the tone that he wouldn’t continue until he had his son’s gaze. “It could have turned out a whole lot worse. You stopped it before it did.” Henry squeezed Shawn’s arm gently before giving him a pat.
“You need to get some rest, pal. The therapist will be here in an hour,” brokering no rebuttal Henry sat back in his chair.
Shawn swallowed down the growing lump. Maybe now he could do it? “But, dad…what if there wa-“
As if to further solidify that this discussion was over, Henry snatched up the newspaper and flipped it open with a snap. Shawn was sure it was merely a prop; a tool in his dad’s arsenal. The paper had been in the room for three days now. It was sure to have been read, and read, and read by now. Fine by him. He was done. His dad didn’t get it. Ok, that wasn’t fair. His dad got it, but he didn’t get IT. And, yes, there was a distinction. The funny thing was, no one was getting it. He really expected to have been beaten over the head with the whole matter by now. So either everyone felt sorry for him and they were waiting for him to exit the hospital before coming clean, or they just didn’t get it. He was figuring on the latter.
But that didn’t explain his dad who would never let a silly thing like a hospital stay get in the way of a perfectly good lecture. There had to be something else in play he hadn’t considered. Unlikely, since he had nothing but time on his hands to consider everything.
He at least thought Lassy and Jules would pick up on it. Lassy in particular, since he had actively pursued any course of action that would lead to Shawn’s downfall since day one. Shawn clucked his tongue quietly before stifling a manic giggle. Maybe he could call in an anonymous tip on himself?
He huffed out a breath as his lungs constricted in tension. His eyes felt pinched again. Every time he opened his mouth, either the wrong words came out, or none…
His dad always said that the greatest tool an interrogator had at his or her disposal was the human need to confess. He had willingly and skillfully used that advantage as well. It was so different now, though. Feeling it. Being consumed by it. Wanting others to know, yet not wanting anyone to know so that he may be judged by them.
He coughed as the pressure continued to build. The rattle of the paper distracted him momentarily, causing him to hold his breath.
His dad was right about one thing, he was getting tired. It certainly explained his thought process. He’d feel better after a quick nap. Then maybe he could talk to someone…maybe…
He’d think about it at least. He wiped at his eyes with the heel of his palm, firmly convinced that the moisture was due to the jaw-popping yawn.
He’d definitely think about it…
Lunch had always been a quiet affair, even for the Guster household. Well, quiet for the Guster household when not blessed with the presence of a certain Spencer.
Their homes were polar opposites, reflecting the contrasting environments that produced them. And yet, Burton Guster knew on his first day of kindergarten that he had met a kindred spirit in Shawn Spencer. He could tell Shawn knew it too and they latched onto each other immediately. Though each developed separate personas as they were continually influenced throughout maturity, deep down they were still the same kindred spirits.
Gus was used to a calm atmosphere when he entered his parent’s house. Sometimes, when a certain business partner was especially trying, he sought out the refuge of the old family home for that very reason.
The old home was quiet. To pardon the old cliché, it was too quiet. There was no television or radio set on its typical low volume. Missing was the rustling of paper that might have signified Dad reading the newspaper or Mom rifling through a magazine. There were no sounds of quiet busyness that personified the place.
“Hey! Anyone here?” When no one answered, he invited himself in further.
His steps echoed lightly, almost in time with clicking of the cuckoo clock. His heartbeat pulsed simultaneously. Though he didn’t remember the earlier part of that night - and likely wouldn’t if he hadn’t already - he couldn’t ignore the sense of déjà vu. He swallowed hard and fought to keep himself moving forward.
Not wanting to go back to the entryway to pull an umbrella out of the stand by the door, he looked around for the closest thing he could find. It was clumsy, but the oversized coffee table book would have to do. Raising it in a defensive posture, wincing as it pulled at still-healing ribs, he slowly eased himself further into the house. He cursed his stiffness. He was recovering remarkably well; yet still, several bruised and cracked ribs and the occasional dizzy spell put a limit on his normally cat-like reflexes.
A deafening creak, loud enough to be heard miles and miles away, reverberated through his ears. He could feel the give of the floorboard from underneath his sneakers all the way up to his stomach. Gus stopped his forward motion immediately, adopting the likeness of a statue. He was a human mannequin once before, he could do it again. Of course that job was short lived. It was the summer before the start of his and Shawn’s senior year. Shawn, as per usual, talked him into this great gig at the mall. They would be paid good money to just stand there. Just stand there he did, for an entire three hour shift. At the end of their time-slot, he clearly remembered slowly and stiffly easing himself off of the pedestal and turning to greet his friend. His non-existent friend. His former best friend who had replaced himself with a real mannequin…probably five minutes into the shift.
He remembered how his ears had pounded with anger back then. Now they pounded with terror. He swallowed his heart back down his throat again as he strained to listen for any other unusual sounds. It was difficult as he couldn’t hear over his own panic. Gus shifted the weight of the book into one hand as he hastily wiped his palm on his pant leg before switching hands and wiping the other sweaty palm.
The process was repeated in each of the downstairs rooms. Stop just outside the entryway and take seven deep breaths. Wipe his palms. Swallow. Say a prayer of forgiveness just in case he forgot to ask forgiveness for the pack of gum he swiped from the convenience store when he was ten years old. Swallow again. Double check the grip on the book. Creep stealthily into the doorway and make a visual sweep of the room. Swallow harder. Talk himself out of calling the police…just in case.
Just one last room remained to be checked on the lower floor. At least he could trade in the commemorative coffee table book in for a weapon more substantial; like a knife, or an egg separator.
He finally reached the kitchen and slowly lowered the book. He gently set it down on the countertop as not to startle the room’s sole occupant. Not that she noticed he had arrived.
Though by now the adrenaline was flowing into his bloodstream, preparing him for a fight or flight response, it would take some time to convince his body that neither reaction was appropriate. He clenched his hands into fists, willing them to stop shaking. He was fine. She was fine.
Not fine, exactly.
Who was he kidding? She hadn’t been fine since that night. None of them had.
Gus slid closer, slowly moving closer into her line of sight. He eased himself into a kneeling position in front of her, purposefully putting his body directly in front of the obviously fascinating chipped floor tile.
Her eyes glistened, but refused to let go of the tears. At least this was something. It was more of a reaction than she had let herself show in at least a week. It was starting to scare him, and he felt powerless to do anything about it.
He carefully put his hand on her knee, wanting to give her support.
“Have you had lunch, Burton?”
The question took him back, but he tried not to show it.
“No, I’m not hungry.”
“Let me fix you a sandwich.”
“Mom, you don’t have to do that. I’m not hungry.”
“Don’t be silly, Burton. It’s no trouble. I was just going to fix something for myself.”
He let the sentiment go and decided just to sit back and watch for a little while longer. His dad was convinced that mom just needed room and time. He really wasn’t so sure about that. But he let it go…again.
The little doubts were no longer little doubts.
His mom had all the ingredients gathered on the counter. She appeared fully intent on putting together a sandwich as promised. With her gaze focused somewhere beyond the counter, she dutifully prepared the jelly, mustard and…cheese sandwich.
“Alright, that’s enough.” He exclaimed and strode over to the counter. He chucked the abomination disguised as a sandwich in the garbage and quickly put the condiments back in the refrigerator.
“Come on, let’s go.” He gently steered her towards the door and to his car. She never protested, never questioned - which just confirmed that even though he didn’t know exactly what he was going to do, the current course of doing nothing wasn’t getting anyone, anywhere.
If there was one thing he did know was that Mama Winnie wasn’t the only one living solely to exist.
She stopped suddenly, just before the door. Gus had to quickly compensate to keep from running her over. He nearly relented at her pleading look. His mom never pleaded…ever. She made others, namely him, beg and cry for mercy over the years. To see her so helpless, so…afraid; it nearly broke him.
Nearly, but he was committed to see this through.
With one hand on the door handle, he took her by the hand with the other and led her through the doorway.
Henry looked up in surprise and a part of Gus told him it wasn’t too late to go back home and forget this. He could have if he didn’t see a spark of something in the other man’s expression that just might be interpreted as relief, or possibly indigestion…maybe even annoyance. Fact was, Gus wasn’t entirely sure what Mr. Spencer was really thinking...ever.
“Mr. Spencer,” he acknowledged. His greeting was returned as Henry quickly vacated his seat.
Gus was glad to see his mom accept the chair that Henry had proffered. It confirmed to him that she needed this.
He tried not to stare as she gingerly sat down. He felt like an intruder, yet he couldn’t turn away. He needed to be here too. This involved all of them.
Henry, as if sensing her hesitation, spoke up. “He’s been out for a while. This has been a tough day for him. I know he’ll be grateful for some visitors.”
And there it was, the reaction Gus had so desperately hoped for…the ‘mom’ spark.
“Why, what happened?” Winnie sat up straighter in her chair, nearing closer to the bed. It was as if she peeled away the shell of a human being she had been wearing and for the first time in weeks allowed herself to feel something.
“They’ve upped the intensity of the physical therapy sessions. Usually, he’s drained for a few hours afterwards. He’s been sleeping on eight hours now.”
Gus watched as she smoothed back hair and whispered something softly.
They had talked quietly for an hour or so, every minute of dialogue helped to release the stored tension that had bound them. First, it was simple pleasantries; How’s the weather? Did you get your property tax bill yet? The conversation steered as far as possible from anything remotely close to Hey! How was that terroristic home invasion for you? Was that wild or what? The topics got deeper, yet neutral, but at the same time heartfelt. For the first time in recent memory, Gus realized it almost felt normal. Well, as normal as it could get when one sat in the hospital room of a convalescing best friend.
At the muttered groan, the conversation stopped and the casual grins evaporated, replaced with concerned expectation. Gus noted, with a raised eyebrow of surprise, that his mom was the first to the bedside.
“Mmmmgggghhh.” His friend’s eyes still rolled underneath closed eyelids. While Shawn appeared to be a little uncomfortable, Henry did say his last dose of meds was a while before, he noted happily that Shawn often appeared that way when first waking.
Likewise, for the expression of confusion that graced his features right now.
“Mrs. G?” Shawn croaked out before coughing. He was left somewhat breathless and he winced, which prompted Henry to almost hit the call button before Shawn stopped him.
“How are you feeling, Shawn?”
“Oh, I’m fine, just fine.”
Liars. The whole lot of you! Gus ground his teeth to keep quiet. He’d determined to hold off interfering as long as possible. But if this nonsense kept up, he’d be happy to step into it.
Quietly and unobtrusively, a nurse came in to check over the patient. Gus noted that he and the remaining occupants adopted a state of suspended animation. The pause button had been pressed, and he watched with unusual detachment as the atmosphere of the room resumed with the exit of the nurse
“Shawn, I’m going down to make a few phone calls. I’ll be back in just a bit. Gus. Winnie,” Henry nodded to each as he made his exit.
He couldn’t quite grasp the feel of his skin at this moment, but Gus knew there was something intangible here of which he was not a part. It was an odd feeling, to be sure. This wasn’t his gig. He knew how to handle himself just fine, but he knew when some things were beyond him. He never figured out how his mom knew exactly what schemes Shawn had gotten him into. Just as he never knew how his friend’s honed insight worked. It just did.
He was used to being on the receiving end of his mom’s slit-eyed gaze as he shifted nervously in the doorway. The eyes slowly tracked up and down, taking in information and then reading it back to him.
He was well used to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Shawn as the fingers to his temple signified that something previously unseen was going to be revealed. If the accused happened to be in the room, they also observed the shift. It was exciting, honestly - watching it happen – knowing he had a part, even if small. His best friend brought criminals to justice. Sure, he did it with his own sense of style and pizzazz and whatnot. But Gus wouldn’t deny that there was a rush at the end of a case when he looked at a criminal who thought he had everything covered unexpectedly having a complete laundry list of hidden deeds read back to them in exacting detail. He knew Shawn felt it too.
Right now, that rush was gone. In its place - sickness, dread and fear.
He wasn’t a part of this right now. He was fine with that. He didn’t want to be a part of this.
He wanted to go somewhere and throw up.
His mom shouldn’t look like that – like he did all those years past. Standing, waiting for judgment, nervously looking around as if she were a lost little girl who had just gotten caught making mud pies in her Easter dress.
Why did his friend suddenly remind him of thirty-two past cases in the final moments right before the handcuffs were slapped on?
He couldn’t bear to be around them anymore right now. He didn’t even feel bad for saying it or thinking it. His job was done. He wasn’t a long time parent with years of instinct or an insanely perceptive near-genius…but Gus knew that this was something long in coming.
Quietly, he backed away and slipped out of the room unnoticed. As tears leaked down his face, he briskly wiped them away with a sniff. He ignored looks of pity and confusion from nameless strangers on the elevator. He brushed past everyone with hardly a glance as he exited the hospital.
He walked slowly onto the crushed gravel walking path, finding it blissfully empty of humanity. The small white stones crunched under his feet, causing a light coating of dust to cover his carefully polished shoes. He would clean them later. Or not. He just needed to be alone right now. Wrapping an arm around his still tender midsection, he slowed his pace as he had found out that regular, gentle, movement was best. He’d walk about for an hour or so before heading back to check on them. Even in his misery, Gus felt oddly at peace. It was for the best.
This wasn’t his deal. It was theirs.
To Dragonnan - THANK YOU! You helped pull this chapter out of my head and helped sort through the many variations that it took before it became the chapter that I wanted it to be all along. *deep breath* Thank you! Also, I snurched the chapter title from you. I'll have it back by midnight.
Taz - I brought it. Now its your turn to deliver. It.Is.So.On! Also, I didn't update this fast because you told me to, so there! *sticks out tongue* Thank you anyway;)
“Burton tells me you’re doing better,” Winnie tried to look away from the hand picking at the bed linen with the edge of the hospital bracelet. On some level, she resisted the urge to smack the hand away. Nervous fidgets always annoyed her. Instead, she tugged at the wrinkles on her pants.
“Yeah, yeah I am…” the picking of sheets continued. A hole now started to form underneath the frayed tips of fibers. “He says you and Mr. G are doing well.”
“Oh yes,” Winnie quickly wiped her palms on her thighs trying to rid herself of the wetness that would not stop. The moisture still clung and the action just served to create more wrinkles that needed to be tugged away.
“That’s good…” pick-pick-pick…
“Look, Mrs. G-“
The rushed voices collided head on as both parties quickly looked away. The sudden bravery that had been forged was lost during the interruption. The only thing left to do would be to retreat and regroup. Begin the process of small talk again. This time slower and much more awkwardly.
Winnie cringed, knowing that the responsibility of conversation steering fell upon her as the elder and non-injured party. Not ever one for shirking her duties, this was one time that she would rather be somewhere else…anywhere else. Suddenly and painfully, she felt the absence of her son. At first relieved that he wasn’t present to see her at a loss, that relief was gone. In this instance, as in the mere handful of circumstances in her lifetime, Winnie recognized that she not only needed a crutch, she really, really wanted one.
“Shawn,” she breathed deeply. The gesture was meant to slow her down and give her time to think. It wasn’t helping. Never, ever, one to be at a loss for words, she felt as a fish out of water. Wriggling to get away, gasping for air -though surrounded by it, and firmly, completely, hooked.
Even though words were beyond her, feelings were not; nor were the memories. The darkness she had felt that night had never really left. She wallowed in it. She carried it with her wherever she went. All of the times (and there were many) that everyone just knew that the young man before her wouldn’t make it through the night, the darkness mocked her. It’s voice black and oily…
He’s gonna die and he’s never going to know.
If only you had the courage to make it right.
She was a coward, of the lowest merit. So many times had she talked herself out of accompanying her son to the hospital on his visits. Part of her scared that she would never have this conversation. A bigger part of her scared that she would.
She kept her eyes fixed on her wrinkled lap, afraid to meet those across from her. If she was going to do this…no, she was going to do this…
“Shawn,” another breath shuddered. As she heard the breath of her companion quicken, she knew that her stalling was only making it worse. She rubbed again against her lap and the moisture now soaked through the material. “I need you to forgive me.”
Winnie closed her eyes as she felt the prickle of tears. Her tight-fisted hold on control began to disintegrate in cascade fashion. Her throat jumped and words that were nearly past her teeth dissolved away in a rush of air. A bubble of grief formed in her ribs and spilled over in a surge of tears.
The floodgates of repressed emotions and horrible thoughts and nightmares released.
The surge washed away everything in its onslaught; fear, avoidance, self-consciousness, self-recrimination, pride. Unable to do anything else, she rested her head upon the mattress and sobbed.
The words were unexpected. Absolutely not what he had been expecting. Not that he really knew what to expect, thus explained by the knot in his gut. Not just a simple knot, though. This wasn’t an easily slid apart kink in your shoelace deal-io. This was the knotted shoelace that had been kicked around in water, dragged through the mud and soaked in saltwater for about two years. Knots like these required that you cut your losses and toss the shoes in the trash.
After the part where time seemed to slow and marinate in uncomfortable avoidance – he wasn’t about to forgive the two biggest avoiders, his dad and Gus - it all happened too fast. Left alone with Mrs. G, expecting…something, not getting something, but instead a picture much more confusing and scary.
Suddenly, and not for the hundredth time, he wanted to slink away. Coming face to face with the grief he had caused was not what he’d expected. He’d semi-prepared himself for anger and mistrust, definitely disappointment, but not contrition.
Certainly not a plea for his forgiveness…
In his dreams, he was the one begging her, pleading, only to be turned away. The dream had haunted him for days now. Curiously, Gus was never part of his dreams. He was there in reference and pictures, but he wasn’t there. Sometimes, he would see the silhouette of his friend in the background, but he was always herded away and Shawn was left pleading for his friend to return. It always ended the same, with the woman now crumpled at his bed standing with her arms crossed. It saddened him, but he understood. Final straw and all that. This time, her son came through alive. What about next time?
Shawn looked nervously around the room, limited neck motion required his eyes to dart furiously. No call button, but then again, he wasn’t the one having the breakdown so calling in a nurse might be overkill. He could call in Mr. G or Gus, but his cell phone wasn’t anywhere to be found. The hospital phone was placed strategically beyond his reach. Oh, and how convenient that everyone else had bailed on him.
He hesitantly reached out his arm, wincing at the pull of muscles worked during therapy and gently rested his hand on her shoulder, giving it a tiny shake.
“Mrs. G?” He spoke softly, though not really sure why. “Please…please don’t.”
She didn’t act as though she had heard him in the slightest. Shawn was now beyond helpless and stared at the landline phone, willing it to teleport itself closer. He growled under his breath when it didn’t.
He gave her shoulder a tap. In a slightly louder tone, he pleaded with her. “Please don’t cry…please Mrs. G!”
Instead, she continued to weep. At a loss, Shawn withdrew the hand from her shoulder bringing it up to press against his mouth with the back of his hand. He concentrated hard, searching his memories of watching his father console his mother, which really didn’t help much. His mother wasn’t much of a crier, she was more of a slammer that turned deadly quiet, and his dad was an awkward consoler. Regretfully, he blamed his dad for that. In hindsight, and in light of his current predicament, he regretted the action since, evidently, he came by it honestly.
Watching Mrs. Guster empty herself emotionally, hearing her words in his mind, seeing her so hurt, it cut him deep and he began to ache within. Physically, he had tensed to the point of permanent damage, he was sure. But inside, the self-doubts and whispers that he had battled chipped away at the last of his strength, leaving him fast in crumbling.
“Mrs. G…please stop…I’m so sorry…”
There was catharsis in having a good old fashioned hissy-fit. She knew this as a parent herself. First in line to kiss away tears caused by scrapes and hurt feelings, she also knew when to step back and let the young ones cry it out. It had been a long time since she had a really, really, really good cry. The kind that instead of encouraging torments, released them. The kind of cry that worked not to feed a hurt – she had plenty of those lately – but to heal it. No, what she needed was an outpouring that watered her soul.
The last of the sobs hiccupped away and Winnie sniffed away the tears with a hitched breath. Delicately, she pulled at the neckline of her blouse where it had become plastered against her skin. It had gotten so warm all of a sudden and she gently fanned her face, grateful for the wicking away of heat from her tear-tracked cheeks.
She blinked in confusion as she realized, suddenly, that she had forgotten where she was. Just as quickly, she felt bad for breaking down in front of the young man, causing him to go to sleep to avoid having to watch an old woman’s tears. But as she looked at him, really, looked at him, she nearly broke inside all over again.
Turned farther on his side, Shawn – her son’s best friend and her sometime’s nemesis – had his face pressed into his pillow to muffle the sounds as he lay crying.
Without hesitation, Winnie pulled herself from the chair. Already with one hand on his upper arm, she began soothing as she kicked the chair away, giving her more room.
Gently, so as not to disturb or cause pain, she eased her hip onto the edge of the bed. She had her time to cry it out and was appreciative of being allowed to do it. Every instinct she possessed told her that this wasn’t a time of needing to be alone. To walk away now, leaving him to deal with this himself would be cruel and intolerable.
She had no words at the moment as she was unsure just yet what he needed. She had time, though. She’d let him work through it just a little longer, but he wouldn’t be alone during that time. Until then, she would be right here. It was all she could do for now, but it was enough. As it was, she continued to rub his arm and stroke dampened hair.
With time, the unintelligible cries started to turn into more decipherable words. Through the foam of the pillow and the thick sorrow in his voice, she heard enough to start gather a picture.
She never stopped the touch, wanting to keep him grounded. Even if it didn’t necessarily help him, she thought, at least it made her feel better. In her soul, she felt more connected and bonded. Winnie loved being a mama, more than anything. Throughout the years, she had always looked at this young man as a disturbance to her clan. Perhaps the words bad influence had been used. Justifiably, for sure. She didn’t deny it, wouldn’t even try. What she did regret (even knowing that regrets were a senseless waste of energy) was that there were many lost years that she could have spent developing and nurturing and adopting more love in her family rather than hastily circling the wagons as a blockade of isolationist protection. What was done was done. No matter how she wished to have those wasted years back, they would never be. But for now, for now she felt a rise of emotion – yes, she would not hesitate to call it love – wash over her with every touch, every rub, every whispered assurance.
“Shhhhh, baby. It’s gonna be alright, you’ll see,” she soothed. It would get better. She would see to it.
Winnie stole a brief moment to look over her shoulder. It wouldn’t do to have any visitors just yet, she thought, knowing how sensitive men were about such things. The slow intake of breath caught her ears and she turned her attention back. To her shock, her charge’s attention was back on her with a fire in his eyes she had never in all of her years with him ever witnessed.
“Why doesn’t anyone get it? I thought you of all people would get it.” His voice was rough and gravelly and still thick with tears.
Winnie found herself taken aback at the raw anger. It didn’t suit him well. It didn’t suit him at all.
She blinked twice, long and hard, not sure why she should be shocked. Could she honestly say she didn’t deserve it? Had she not done the same for nearly the whole of his life? What right did she have to suddenly waltz in and claim the rite of adoption? She knew the answer, but that didn’t mean that the angered reaction didn’t hurt. She swallowed down the thickness in her throat, refusing to let her emotions overtake her again. Such was the problem with having a cry-fit, the process left her vulnerable to successive smaller fits for a few hours following. Then again, she couldn’t get the question out of her mind is this how I’ve made him feel…
“Shawn,” she began tentatively – so terribly unsure of herself now; unsure of him.
“Just go away…you’re better off on this - trust me,” he rolled over dismissively. The motion lost much of its impact as he was limited to moving only a few inches. Still, she knew the intent was there as he began picking at the hole in the sheet with renewed force and vigor.
“I know that things have been very hard for you,” she stopped briefly when he scoffed loudly. “But, you have a lot of people who care about you.”
“Whatever, Mrs. Guster. Now if you don’t mind, I would really rather be alone right now,” he shut his eyes. Winnie couldn’t help but think of when the boys were younger; by simply closing their eyes, they would naively expect to ‘wish away’ whatever bothered them. At least the picking stopped…
“Please, Shawn…I just wa-“
“Stop pretending to be my mother! I don’t buy it, alright! I don’t! So you can just pack up your bags and your high horse and take your ‘good influence’ right out the door with you,” his voice pitched higher, cracking with escalating emotion. His expression was pinched and she winced hard in commiseration of his obvious pain.
“Now that’s not-“
“Oh please, Mrs. G!” What? I’m suddenly ‘good enough’ for you now, is that it? Great! I’ve got a new mommy! Awesome – one parent who finally thinks I’m worth something and I only had to kill a guy to make it happen! Sweet!”
She could only stare in open-mouth horror as he delivered the cutting remarks with speed, accuracy, and a deceivingly pleasant sing-song voice – betrayed only by the reddened eye rims and glittering tears that now spilled over with a vengeance.
She pulled her arms in closer, defensively curling in on herself, as if that could ward off future barbs.
Still too shocked for tears just yet, Winnie merely opened and closed her mouth searching for words that refused to come; instinctively knowing that anything she said at this point would be the wrong thing at the wrong time. Even knowing this, she still yearned for the magic phrase to soothe it away and make it all better.
Shawn swallowed and sniffed hard, his features red and puffy and with a voice as thick and swollen and flat delivered a single, “now get out,” before stiffly and awkwardly covering his face in the crook of his elbow.
A few months ago and this level of attack would set her into full-fledged battle mode.
That was a few months ago. Now it hurt, and yet she didn’t know exactly why.
Dazed and no longer operating on conscious thought, Winnie absently fished for her purse last dropped at her feet. Numbly, she walked to the door and made her way into the hall.
The hallway of this wing of the hospital was blissfully empty. Winnie leaned her back against the wall for support as she fished through her purse with clumsy fingers that still did not want to listen to her commands. Thankfully, her travel package of tissues was near the top and she managed to pull a single cloth out. With it, she briefly fanned her face as sensation began to return. Her cheeks must be flaming red, she thought self-consciously. Feeling the prickle of embarrassed and hurtful tears start to form, she pinched swollen and overused tear ducts into compliance with the tissue wrapped around her index finger.
She was grateful for the brief reprieve, though she knew that she still looked a mess, as she watched her son round the corner and head her way.
Five deep breaths to even out her voice were all she had before Burton was at her side, taking in her appearance.
“Did you enjoy your walk, Burton?”
“That’s nice, dear,” she petted him on the arm as they began the long, slow walk back to the car. “I think I’ll let you take me for some pie, though.” She smiled as if everything was normal and fine.
He was a good boy, her son. He fussed over her something awful and she’d be lying if she said she didn’t enjoy the attention. Even now, he guided her by the arm down the hall. She also noticed that every other step was made with a backward glance over his shoulder. She knew he was torn between worry for her and worry for his friend. She would have to tell him something eventually, though she didn’t know what.
He was a good boy – a fine young man, she corrected, who hardly ever gave his parents a bit of trouble.
Cutting through the crowded front lobby, they exited the front doors. She replayed the whole exchange in her mind from start to finish, searching for the moment that could have been handled better. A niggling doubt started to form that maybe it was destined to go bad since before her visit.
There was a mystery here and Winnie began to feel that she wasn’t getting the whole picture. She may not be a psychic detective, but she had solved many cases of her own. Save for a few times in his life, her Burton didn’t lash out in anger covered hurt. Oh, she knew he still nursed a grudge for finally learning about his lost opportunity at Meitner Academy. It really was for the best and she and Bill stood behind that decision. Regardless, Burton nursed his hurts in his own way which would not help her handle this.
They stepped onto the parking garage elevator, Burton moving behind her to stand between her and the slightly seedy, overwhelmingly smelly, man – his haggard appearance and rotten teeth caused her palms to sweat and her breath to quicken. How long before they could move on from this experience? Would they ever?
Stepping off from the elevator, they both breathed an audible sigh of relief as the gap-toothed man stayed behind, apparently holding down the home front. As they proceeded to Burton’s car, she felt the ability of thought to return and continued to obsess a little while longer. Years of parenting burned within her, she knew she was close to a realization. No, she had never had to deal with this kind of trouble with Burton, but that wasn’t the only spoon in her kitchen.
Her daughter, though, was another story. Her teen years were the worst for slamming doors and broken picture frames. After the first few terrorizing occurrences with the moody teen, Winnie learned to recognize that the lashing out was an invitation to listen about the latest perceived rejection. She also learned that it was a desperate cry for reinforcement – that her daughter needed to hear that she was loved and valued and a beautiful person. Scratch that. Sometimes her daughter needed a firmer approach; a good whoopin’ to get her attention first and then to be sat down and told she was loved and valued.
It was whoopin’ time –
Burton had just opened the door for her and she had just started to get into the passenger side of the little car when the thought hit her suddenly.
“Burton, where did Henry go?”
“I think he was going to go check on his house and run to the grocery store before coming back here in a few hours. Why?” He walked back around the car to enter on the other side. Starting up the little engine, he looked back over his shoulder, ensuring there was no oncoming traffic before safely backing out of the parking space.
“No reason,” she murmured to herself. “No reason…,” she ignored his questioning looks as she was busy formulating another conversation.
Mmm Hmmn. It was whoopin’ time…
How many times can I thank Dragonnan for her patience and exceptional encouragment? Lots. That's how many. Just...lots.
And then lots more.
Henry Spencer was a man of routine. As such a man, he found no shame in it. Routine was a sign of stability, maturity, resolve, integrity, and commitment; all things he believed in; all things that his son had condemned since practically day one.
It had taken a few days, but he had found his routine. Granted, he preferred his old one hands down. That was back in the days that he had a comfortable home not overrun with gypsum and sawdust. He treasured the sound of the storm door as it creaked in the morning. The gentle swish and creak of his sandals on the wood deck (on the docket for refinishing over the summer) was truly music to his ears. Almost above all, that first fragrance of salt air just before stooping to retrieve the morning paper, punctuated to perfection by the smell of coffee, perfectly timed to be ready upon his reentry into the house.
The motel had none of these comforts. He had a bed and a television and a facsimile of a coffee pot for the limited time he spent in the room daily. The smells of home were severely lacking. His daily aromatherapy now consisted of dank cigarettes that clung to the stained heavy drapes and wafted sickeningly upwards as he trod on the dated shag carpeting.
While the insurance company was going far above and beyond in the repairs to his home, their choices in motels for the duration of the repairs made them no friends of Henry’s.
Even still, it was a routine. Wake up, make a pygmy pot of coffee in the miniature machine, grab the newspaper in front of the door (if it hadn’t been swiped by one of the other guests) and briefly check on the state of repairs to his home before heading to the hospital.
Once there, he would check on his son, read his paper, and wait.
It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. The whole purpose of having a routine wasn’t necessarily about enjoying it. He never could get that through the thick head currently sleeping on the pillow in front of him. The routine offered a stable base of operation from which your life was ordered in such a way that other things were made more enjoyable.
And if they weren’t made more enjoyable, at least they were more bearable. That was the truest beauty of all in having a routine. He didn’t have to think about what to wear or have for breakfast or when to get up and moving; those things were already taken care of and accommodated for, thus freeing up energy for the items of the day that required more time and planning.
Had their positions been switched, Shawn would still be at the deciding-for-breakfast point in the day. It would then be at least another four hours wasted that could have instead been spent trying to dredge up the words that needed to be said…even though he swore he’d had this conversation already. That was neither here, nor there. Not only was he a man of routine, he was also a man of his word and he’d made a promise to Winnie that he would see this through.
Besides, he wasn’t a fool. While he would never claim to be afraid of Winnie Guster, he could well recognize a formidable foe when encountered.
And now, thanks to his routine, he had a blissful two hours of total contemplation that had yielded him priceless bounties of squat.
“Dad, what are you doing here so early?”
He nearly startled inwardly at the voice. His eyes tracked from where they had been intensely studying his clasped hands up to where his son sat blearily rubbing his eyes.
“Hey pal. They’re finally letting you sit upright I see.”
“Yeah. Well…uprightish, anyway,” Shawn yawned as he let his good arm flop back down to the bed.
“I see you’ve had more visitors,” Henry nodded towards the credenza overflowing with flowers and gifts of pineapple.
Shawn snorted in amusement. “Yeah. You don’t have your knife handy do you? I mean what sort of friend provides the gift of watching fruit rot?”
Henry’s eyes crinkled slightly at the hopefulness in the query.
“Well kid, as it so happens I might have a solution for that.” He lightly slapped his palms on his knees as he pushed off from the chair and made his way to the impromptu produce section. He scanned the row of neatly placed fruits and made his selection, only to hastily put it down by the panicked, “no nononoooo, not that one…the next one over…NO the NEXT one!”
Trial and error and frustration and civil yelling (civil by their standards) ensued as he worked to make the right selection. He grunted as he picked up the prickly item and made his way back over, his sour mood lightening at the look of rapture on his son’s face.
Still unsure of conversation, Henry instead pulled the armrest table closer and set the precious pineapple down. Then, he proceeded towards the small bathroom to grab a few hand towels before pulling his pocketknife out, releasing the largest serrated blade. He shook his head in disbelief as he carefully washed and dried the blade, listening to the conversation in the main room as his son talked to his pineapple and explained the cruelties of the circle of life. He shook his head harder in disgust as the speech continued, “…so you see, Little Pineapple? You will become the grass….”
It almost seemed normal. More than anything, he wanted to just pretend that life was the way it had always been and that bad things never happened. But like the pineapple, his son had to know that life was cruel. Henry knew that thought wasn’t fair to his son – Shawn knew about the cruelties of life. He’d lived it, barely survived it more accurately, and he had the scars to prove it.
If Maddie were here she would drone on and on about feelings and such. She was good at her job and with time, she would have helped him as she had helped many others in similar circumstances. But she isn’t here, he thought with compounding helpless anger. She may well be shocked and horrified at his manner, but he’d be damned if he was just going to sit back and watch as Shawn built a layer of protection over a raw, infected cut, thus allowing it to fester and abscess on the inside while proclaiming to the world he was fine.
Shawn may have been right about him in many ways, he didn’t express feelings or thoughts or emotions in the way others expected, but that didn’t mean that he just covered a gaping hole with a band-aid and ignored it away either. Nor did it mean he ran to the surgeon for every little scrape. He was practical, after all, not stupid.
Sometimes, you had to cut open your own boo-boo to make it better. Real world examples really helped him provide a framework for action. Knowing that it was necessary; knowing that in the end when you’re done gritting your teeth and biting the bullet it does get better; knowing that no matter what, it’s going to hurt pales in comparison to the knowledge that he would rather cut into himself a thousand times over than rip open Shawn’s hastily patched wound again.
He scrubbed at his face as he raised his head to study his haggard appearance. Refusing to back away now, he stared long and hard at his reflection as he put on his game face and pushed off from the sink, making his way back to the waiting pineapple.
“Took you long enough. Mr. Prickly here was starting to get worried. He kinda reminds me of you, actually.”
Henry merely shook his head as he laid one of the hand towels on the table and set the unfortunate pineapple on top. He could feel his son’s appraising stare as he made the first cut, lopping off the top of the fruit. “Well, kid. If you want your pineapple to taste like fish guts, be my guest. Sometimes, it’s just better to start off clean.”
“Ahh, I see. How very deep of you. Pineapple as metaphor for life,” Shawn nodded sagely.
“Maybe. But sometimes, it’s just a pineapple,” he said as the bottom came off cleanly. Knife safety demanded his full attention on his work, though as each slice of outer peel came off, he stole a glance at the Pavlovian response in action and chuckled. Feeling that mercy would be the wisest course of action, he quickly cut off a chunk of the inner meat and handed it to Shawn who, in turn, gingerly took the slice from his grasp.
Henry watched as he took a bite and leaned back into the pillows with the slightest wince. The discomfort was quickly taken over with a sigh of contentment as he quickly polished off the small piece.
Not one to leave a task undone, Henry continued to peel off the harsh outer skin in two inch sections; the small pocketknife not equal to the finely honed chef’s knife at home. Still, not bad. It was serviceable and it got the job done. As he worked, he noticed a darkened patch in the inside, near the core. He felt the harsh reminder as a kick to the gut, even more poignant now than ever.
“So you picked this one out yourself, huh pal?”
“You know it. He’s been calling to me in my dreams.”
Henry rotated the carved fruit over. “Has he told you of his dark side in your dreams?”
“Don’t be silly, he do-,” the reply was interrupted as Shawn took in the sight of bruised flesh, “esn’t have dreams.” Utter betrayal flooded his expression as the smell of overripe pineapple permeated the air.
“You know, sometimes what covers the surface covers a whole lot more than what you’d expect.” For a segue, it was clumsy, but you roll with what you have.
“Ughhh…this is going to be a lesson for something else, isn’t it?” Shawn gingerly flopped his head back in a muted version of his previously dramatic self, injury dampening his more outward histrionics.
“Shawn,” he began as irritation grew that the kid was making an already difficult conversation even more so.
“Can’t we just eat pineapple and go back to our superficial lives where we don’t really talk about things?”
Henry merely cut off another hunk of fruit and handed it over. Shawn snatched it from his hands and promptly crammed it in his mouth, apparently choosing stuffing over savoring.
“How has that been working for you so far?” He watched as Shawn stopped mid-chew before slowly resuming with much less gusto and an almost dangerous glint in his eye.
“Oh you know how it goes, don’t you?”
It was too easy to fall into the old rhythm of thrust and parry. This wasn’t an argument that Henry had to win and he wasn’t about to let it be turned into one.
Ignoring the bait, he merely shrugged. “I talked to Winnie…”
The expression before him remained schooled into neutrality as Henry let the statement hang in the air. He knew how to use silence to his advantage, unlike others who never seemed to know when to shut up.
“That’s nice. And how is Mrs. Guster doing?” Shawn held out his hand for another chunk of pineapple. Henry complied by serving another piece.
“She’s fine. Worried about you, though.”
“Hmm,” Shawn smacked loudly.
“Dad, can we not do this?” Shawn whined.
“She told me about your conversation,” Henry blurted determined to force the matter into the light. Now that the cards were on the table, they couldn’t be ignored. He knew his point had been made when his son lightly banged his head against the pillow.
“I’ll apologize to her next time I see her, okay?” Shawn looked at him askance, almost perturbed at being found out, yet there was something else in his expression that just confirmed to Henry that the conversation was only just beginning.
“She wasn’t fishing for an apology from you, kid.”
“Cool enough, then I won’t apologize,” Shawn snipped before holding out his hand, anxious for the next piece.
Henry cut it off and started to hand it over, stopping just outside his son’s reach before pulling back slightly. He watched as the expression on Shawn’s face fell in disappointment before hardening into something indefinable. Something had changed here. At first, he had blown off Winnie’s comments as an overreaction on her part. After all, the history between them was no secret to anyone, except maybe to Shawn until fairly recently, certainly it was no surprise to himself that the relationship was strained.
Not until her ire had been concentrated directly on him did he realize that Winnie wasn’t upset with Shawn at all. Instead, all of her full-force anger was unfurled directly on his doorstep. Rather, and in an ironic twist of fate, she had become his own son’s champion and would take on the world to see that he got fixed good and proper.
“I’m going to keep my peace for a little while longer, but if you don’t go in there and fix things with that young man, I will.”
Henry was having a hard time understanding her at first because for every full thrown out threat towards him, there were five mutters ranging anywhere between ‘stubborn boys’ and ‘blind stubborn men’ and ‘look at me like that again and I’ll whoop your white behind’.
“Winnie, what did my son do? I’ll see to it that he apologizes,” he thought his offer of peace would tone down her anger. Instead, it escalated tenfold to the point that he began looking for an escape hatch.
“What did HE do? What did HE do?” she yelled with arms swinging before looking at the ceiling. “That fine young man took a human life and it’s killing him.”
“I know what he did and we talked about it already. Shawn knows it was the only way.”
“Does he now? When you were ‘talking’ did you give him a chance to tell you what he was really afraid of, or were you so busy ‘talking’ that you didn’t take the time?” Henry really didn’t feel the invisible quote marks, the head shakes, or the whispered ‘big man’ that followed each were completely necessary. Since she was a woman on a tear and since she was defending his son, he would let it slide for now.
“That boy is hurting something awful. I want nothing more than to take it away from him, but that’s not my job and he rightfully told me as much.”
“He just needs time and space,” he insisted.
“Oh no he doesn’t! He might need time and space later, but not now. He needs you right now. YOU need to get to the real issue. Let me tell you, big man, you haven’t talked about the real issue yet.”
“Mmm…I see. And what is the ‘real issue’?” he asked defensively with arms crossed.
“That’s your job to find out. You look in that boy’s eyes – really look – and you tell me that he isn’t starting to change into someone else. Do you really want to give him all the ‘time and space’ he needs to lose himself?” Winnie slung her bag over her shoulder, with more force than was likely necessary, he thought, as it flung around to strike her in the back – not that she noticed, or likely even cared. “When you’re done with that, you call me and I’ll be back for a visit.”
She had given him neither the time nor attention to respond, though responses were out of his reach at the time. However, she had given him a lot of food for thought. While a huge part of his ego had been forcefully attacked, a larger part of her words resonated. Had she been attacking his son, he would have responded in kind, but she hadn’t. There was a fire in her soul for Shawn that truly surprised Henry, taking him aback and throwing him off balance. How can you truly be offended at someone who takes such a passionate stance on behalf of your child, especially given the circumstances?
Especially when they’re right?
Henry couldn’t. He couldn’t even go back to pretending that another week or so and the matter would be forgotten; or if not forgotten, at least not as raw. But sitting in the room alone for a few hours while Shawn had slept, he’d noticed the difference even in his son’s slumber.
Henry always prided himself on being observant. He may not have the natural giftedness as Shawn, but what he had was hard earned and highly honed through years of dedicated practice.
And he didn’t see what was right in front of his face. Or maybe he didn’t want to see, not that it made it better. In fact, Henry thought it made his oversight worse. It meant he’d lost perspective and it took a near stranger to point out the obvious. Not living up to his own standards was simply unacceptable.
Shawn had been trying to tell him all along what had been troubling him. In the time that he had to contemplate since this morning, he could see it in the furtive glances. His aborted attempts to ask a question only to abruptly stop and sputter off random bits of nonsense, it all made sense now. Fidgeting, difficulty making eye contact, increased respiration when anyone looked at him too long; the guilt he wore in his eyes, the hardening of his features, Winnie was right – it changed his very countenance.
Even now, the treat of pineapple should be a completely carefree, almost sacred, event. Yet, it appeared as if his son was eating his last meal.
“Kid, I know I’ve told you this before but you aren’t the center of the universe,” maybe not the proper tact – but there was no backing down now.
“Ah yes, that title is reserved for the mighty Henry Spencer. Can I at least be just to the right of the center?”
“You have to accept that sometimes bad things just happen. They’re going to happen regardless of what choices you make or don’t make. They are going to happen regardless of what cases you take…or don’t take.” While his statement had been made on a guess supported by deductive reasoning and the fact that no matter how much the kid denied it, he knew the way his mind worked, any doubt as to whether or not he was on the right path was quickly put to rest. Henry watched as the dim light in his son’s expression flittered away.
Once again, the similarities between his kid and a suspect stood out with striking clarity. He’d seen the expression a hundred times if he’d seen it twenty. This was the part of the interrogation where he laid out the case for the perp after the perp had painstakingly laid out their story the way it really happened. This was also the part where he would slide the affidavit across the table with his index finger to be signed by the party on the other side. It used to be his favorite segment of the whole affair.
“And that, Shawn, is something that I know about. Knowing when to move on from a case gone bad is something every cop…or police consultant has to learn to accept,” Henry tipped his head as the memories of past cases flittered across his mind. The worst involved a brother and sister whose young faces would forever haunt him. They never went away and as Shawn would now learn, they became a part of you.
“But dad, I could have stopped it from ever happening! I should have stopped it…”
Henry shook his head in frustration. It seemed that there was no getting through that thick skull.
“Shawn! Gah,” he growled and looked up at the ceiling as he took another five calming breaths. “…pal, how long did you have the case before the dinner party?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
“Bull. How long?”
“The chief gave it to me the day before.”
“A whole day, huh.”
“Yeah dad, a whole day, I’ve solved plenty of cases with less time than that.”
“You’re not a psychic. I don’t know if you’ve been selling this crap so long you’re starting to believe it or what,” he took the stony face before him as an invitation to keep going, whether or not that was intended. “Shawn, you don’t bust a highly organized theft ring by looking at a few police files and putting together pieces of information that hasn’t yet been discovered.”
“No, kid. That’s exactly what happened. Get over yourself. You aren’t the center of the universe and while your track record is moderately impressive, you aren’t that good. You aren’t that good because you aren’t all knowing.”
“But dad…it…it’s just…,” Shawn snuffed as his eyes darted around the room, locking on anything but his father’s.
“I know, pal. The Gusters shouldn’t have had to go through that. It was just really dumb luck. Like hell would I ever let someone hurt you or them again…but think about this,” Henry paused as he allowed his son to gather up his composure one more time before looking him in the eye. “What if it wasn’t us? The whole block was a prime target based on the relative age and remoteness of the homes. What if it they started with the end of the block? What if it was Mr. McElridge instead? How well do you think a deaf, ninety-three year old, man with a walker would have held up in your place?”
“I get it dad. I do.”
Henry watched as Shawn settled farther down into the pillows and stared at the ceiling. He was finally processing the words and Henry was content to sit back and not interrupt. The silence stretched between them but, for once, it was neither forced nor awkward. It was nearly comfortable. He tipped his head in satisfaction as he noted the change in his son’s expression.
He wouldn’t delude himself into thinking that it would be all better. He had scars from this experience he would carry with him forever. All of them would. While Shawn would also have physical scars to carry with him for a lifetime, he would be forever changed as a reserved few knew. Coupled with the immensely coincidental timing of Shawn’s caseload and Henry knew it would still take some time to come to terms with it all. At least the emotional baggage had been lessened somewhat.
He tried to do the best he knew when preparing Shawn as a youngster to learn to separate reality from fantasy. Television portrayed such a skewed example that he found himself constantly having to force Shawn to unlearn what he had absorbed from everything from movies to comic books. If you do your job right, he told him one summer afternoon after ending a game of cops and robbers, you shoudn’t have to use your gun. Henry knew that some of those lessons that he had pushed so hard on the kid were heard, though at the time he had his doubts.
Leave it to Shawn to take all of the lessons to heart and try to apply them all at once, losing the bigger picture in the process. A part of him was satisfied. A deeper part of him was proud. And yet, another compartment of his soul was crushed that his son had joined the small brotherhood of those forced to take another life in the course of duty. It was a select few, despite what others may think. Even amongst his peers at the SBPD, there were likely few involved in a fatal shooting and as such would understand the baggage that goes with it.
Henry eased himself out of the chair, ignoring the creaking of joints, both physical and furniture. Shawn tracked his movement, curiosity on his face, but said nothing. He shuffled back over to the pineapple laden credenza and picked up another fruit, testing each for quality before making his way back over. Pulling the forgotten bedside table back over and chucking the formerly hacked, and rapidly oxidizing, fruit into the garbage. He plunked the replacement on the table and stopped himself just prior to disassembly with the slightest quirk of his lip. “What do you say we start over fresh?”
He watched with crinkling eyes as his son was taken aback at the forgotten fruit. With slightly pursed lips, he just nodded. Though not ready for speech, he was still ready for pineapple. The kid would definitely be alright.
Shamefully, he himself had fallen victim to getting so wrapped up with the obvious problem - despite his constant insistence that a good cop never falls for the clues that are presented. His son was a prideful sort. Henry supposed he came by it honestly. Shawn loved the drama and attention from being at the top; the times (though rare and few and far between) when he fell, he fell hard. Usually, the kid deserved it. Usually, Henry would be right there with the proffered and obligatory ‘I told you so’. Usually Henry would be right.
Then there were times, where the kid did throw himself into an activity with one hundred and twenty five percent of his soul.
Henry handed over another slice of pineapple. He watched as Shawn continued to eat in peaceful silence. These moments were rare and meant to be savored. He quietly took his knife and cut off a chunk for himself. He didn’t indulge very often. The acidity tended to wreak havoc with his system. As he popped the chunk in his mouth, he marveled at the sweetness. He quickly finished dismantling the fruit, sweeping the good pieces into the little plastic pitcher on the table. Kicking aside the arm table, he decided he’d clean up the mess later. For now, he settled back into the chair with the pitcher in his lap.
And he quickly found his routine of hand over a slice, pop a chunk in his mouth and savor the sweetness before repeating. No words were exchanged. Just the quiet sounds of general activity outside the room and occasional contented sighs.
I am tying the pretty red bow of completion on this thing! WooHoo!!
With this epilogue comes a mixed bag of emotions, that even now I have a hard time pinning down in words. I've grown from a semi 'ehhhh' view of Winnie Guster to absolutely loving that woman beyond what's rational! I vacillated between love for this fic as one would love a child to downright hating on it like a spurned ex-boss (sure, I could have said boyfriend or something traditional like that, but I'm going with what's on my mind right now:) Sometimes, I would have a whole range of these warring emotions all within a span of five minutes...or even five seconds (if I have to be honest).
With that being said, because there were a whole host of times that I loathed this so much for causing me endless hours of lost sleep and frustration, there is a honkin' big laundry list of thank-you notes at the the end of this epilogue. Seriously, friends, without the people listed I would have been very happy to end this in a character death (or five) just to get it out of my sight. Thankfully, there are people around me who care enough to save me from myself and support me in my weakness. I would greatly appreciate it if you would thank them as well.
People were sneaky creatures, he mused. Not that he was complaining…much. Okay, he kinda was; but he had good reason.
And in the end, he would make them pay.
Had they just told him all along that the ability to use his arms to feed himself for extended times, demonstrating that he could sit up and change positions periodically were the benchmarks of adequate recovery, he would have done them long ago.
To which his dad had replied, “that’s why we didn’t tell you, kid.”
He had his own reply to that one which would likely not get him any pineapple-related favors for the foreseeable future. Instead, he forced an enamel-grating grin and choked the heartburn inducing response down.
But that was alright for now, because he was just happy he was finally going home…really home…to his apartment. He would even try to conveniently forget that his apartment would be invaded by his dad and, several times a day, a merry band of home health aides. He really hoped they were hot.
Indeed, he would tackle one emotion at a time. Right now was reserved for pure, unadulterated, joy. Aggravation, frustration, rage and claustrophobia would be dealt with later.
He couldn’t stop the bounce on the edge of the bed until the movement sent fiery tendrils up his back. He hissed at the sensation and quickly eased himself on to his side.
Stupid – Stupid – Stupid
Light prickles of moisture leaked out of his tear-ducts, he wanted to be very clear that they were not tears. He would protest that there was a rogue allergen somewhere in this room as his nasal passages also assaulted him.
“Is everything alright, Mr. Spencer?” The voice called from beyond the doorway.
He was slipping, he cursed inwardly, as he never heard the door open.
“Fine! I’m fine…I’m good, actually. Thanks for asking,” his back faced the door but he waved his arm back and forth as evidence that he was, indeed, fine. “Just taking a nap…waitin’ for my dad,” he let the arm flop back down on the bed, unable to keep it up any longer.
“Okay then. You take care of yourself, Mr. Spencer. Bye-bye,” the door creaked close ever so slowly.
“Okay, bye-bye,” he called to it. “See you later. Sayonara. Adios,” each salutation drew quieter. “Auf weidersehen. Get freaking lost.” At the click, he could no longer hold back the hisses that built up while he was heroically waving his arm to and fro…or was it fro and to? Either way, he pounded the bed with his fist as he waited for the acid to finish eating all the way through to the other side of his body and into the linens below. The hospital would bill his dad royally for the damages, he was sure. By then, Shawn hoped, he would be dead, gone and blissfully unaware of the complaints.
His ‘allergies’ flared again and he felt a little head banging on the soft, cushy, bed was necessary.
Is dad taking out a loan? What can ‘possibly’ be taking this long? Don’t you just turn in your room key and pay the phone and honor bar charges?
This time, he did hear the door at the first click of the latch and then the progressive whine as it creaked open, followed by the hesitant shuffle of feet. Curiosity piqued, he quickly scrubbed at his face before beginning the process of easing himself upright.
Ratcheting himself up took quite a bit longer than lying down and had to be done in increments. The awkward angle, plus the horrible stiffness of his back and shoulder muscles, did not lend itself to craning his neck to check on his visitor.
It became a moot point anyway as a voice announced itself.
The quietness, the hesitancy, the familiarity of it sent his heart racing and caused his throat to tighten.
Immediately he flushed with a vague sense of uncertainty as she sidestepped into his view. She seemed likewise uncertain, which didn’t really bode well for him. There were simply too many contradictory signals flashed that they could mean many things. The refusal to make eye contact could be a sign of nervousness. The fidgety hands could also mean indecision on what she was going to say to him. She didn’t appear angry, which he supposed was a good thing. Then again, this new Mrs. Guster was a bit of an enigma. It would probably be prudent to leave the floor open now. However, he quickly scanned the room plotting the fastest escape route should it become necessary.
Maybe this is where it finally happened. Maybe she was simply readying herself to deliver her prepared I will no longer allow you to put my son’s life and moral compass in jeopardy speech.
“Hey…Mrs. G,” waaiiiiit for iiiit…
He could feel her appraising stare and he knew without a doubt she had taken in his flushed face and slightly moistened eye rims.
It was confirmed when she asked, “Are you okay?” while vaguely gesturing towards her own face.
“Allergies,” he brushed off while pointing around him to the room void of flowers, pollen, kittens and peanuts. He didn’t think it was out of bounds to have just one plausible allergen bouncing up and down the hallway.
Whether she bought the lie for what it was or accepted it at face value, he wasn’t sure. It just added to the pit of lead smelting in the boiling cauldron of his stomach.
“I see that you’re going home today,” the tone was pleasant and a little more comfortable. Of this, he was very grateful. He still didn’t know why she was here; but he figured if he was going to be waylaid, she would have done so by now. He hoped.
“Uh yeah. Finally,” he coughed. “I guess they’re sick of me by now,” the self-deprecating joke flew from his lips with nary a thought; gone before he could pull it back.
“Been a bit of a handful?” She chuckled very lightly.
“Oh, well. You know how it goes, I guess,” he could feel his cheeks flush with shame. He had just handed her the opening she needed. He supposed it was the sporting thing to do to sit back and take it after the way he had treated her.
He closed his eyes and clenched his fists to still his fingers, feeling a bit embarrassed at his own nervousness. It wasn’t like this was anything new to him. Then again…
When no reaction came¸ he hazarded one eye to slightly open – curiosity overriding good sense. He cocked an eyebrow in surprise and quickly glanced around his surroundings.
She was still there: she hadn’t left. It was weird, actually; watching her as she just sat there and stared at nothing. He thought that maybe this was his moment – he could slip past her and be out the door and in the cafeteria scarfing down pancakes before anyone was the wiser.
Then it happened. Winnie shook herself back to the present, back from wherever dream vacation destination she had been for the last few minutes.
“Oh, I do know how it is. If anyone feels that way, then they are just as much of a fool as I was.”
He pursed his lips in surprise. This was an unexpected development¸ indeed. He found the tension lessening somewhat and slowly lessened the grip of his fists; not quite ready to unclench them just yet, but just enough to acknowledge that they kinda hurt even though he was starting to lose sensation. Which, he supposed, would mean they would hurt more later.
Without meaning to, without planning to, he found himself spilling out words before he could catch himself. “I-I’m really sorry, Mrs. G,” shamed not only for his earlier actions, but also the complete lack of control he had over his voice. Really? He coughed, desperate to get a manly pitch back in his vocal cords. “I shouldn’t have yelled at you like that. It’s ju-…well, it wasn’t your fa-…I mean…,” he huffed in frustration as sentiments that he couldn’t latch onto refused to fall on his tongue. He cleared his throat, resisting the urge to smack his fist repeatedly into his forehead.
He could only stare at his loosely clenched fists and the semi crescents that had been indented into his palms. There were other things he should say as well, but he struggled to put words to them. She had that effect on him, he supposed. He could charm just about anyone else. But somehow…he wasn’t sure, but something about her just skewed him a little off. Maybe it was knowing that she had his number. He couldn’t fake it and they both knew it. And unlike his parents who put up with him because it was pretty much their job, she didn’t have to. It always left him feeling a little bit…less.
He hated feeling less.
He felt the bed shift next to him and he startled a bit at the realization that she was sitting next to him; sharing his space, his company.
“You had your reasons. I know that. But, thank you anyway. It takes a big man to do that,” she praised with a warm voice lacking in any insecurity or indecision. Shawn knew intuitively that when she said it, she genuinely meant it. There were no conditions; no follow up ‘but you could have done betters’. It just was. He wouldn’t lie. It felt good.
They sat there for a few more minutes simply appreciating the silence. It was less awkward then small talk. And for once, he decided, it was nice to just sit and not feel obligated to fill the air with empty words regardless of how much he loved to hear the sound of his own voice. He could just ‘be’. It was a nice feeling.
“You, uh, really laid into Henry?” he couldn’t keep the mirth from his voice, especially not when he could vividly picture the exchange in his head. Still, what would he have given to be there…
“Oh, I did!” She exclaimed without even a second of forethought.
He chuckled at that. The pride in her voice was infectious. Gus would never, unless dire circumstances required (and even then, Shawn wouldn’t believe it) go up against Henry. And if Gus did work up the nerve, he would spend the next week apologizing and/or puking at the memory of his near-death experience. But this was nice - really nice - discussing the finer points of Henry-tipping with an aficionado who could truly appreciate the experience.
“You have to tell me all about it, Mrs. G. What was it like? What did he do? How far did the vein on his forehead pop out? Come on! Share!”
He bounced lightly, very lightly, mindful of his earlier experience. But danged if he wasn’t going to savor this moment.
She simply laughed, long and hard. He laughed with her, enjoying a twinkle in her eye that he never really ever noticed before. She mischievously swatted at his arm and then suddenly got very quiet, still and (dare he say) shy.
“Your father is a good man, Shawn. I know things have always been rough between you. But, I don’t doubt for a minute that that man loves you very much. He’s a stubborn fool who probably will never say it. But honey, he shows it. That’s what you need to remember. Sometimes, the more stubborn we are, the more extreme life needs to get to knock us back in line.”
“Yeah, well…,” he said uncomfortably, disappointed that things had to turn serious on him again.
“For what it’s worth, baby, I would never want to go through that again. But, I’m sorry you had to in order to get me back on track. I needed it.”
She simply rubbed his hand and that was that, either no more needed to be said, or she knew that his skin crawled with the uncharted waters of soul sharing.
He also realized that there was a lot more to this woman than he expected. If she liked poking Henry to watch him react, what other hobbies did she have?
He had just determined that he was going to dedicate some time this year to unlocking the mysteries of Mrs. G when again the sound of the door announced another visitor.
“Hey pal, you ready to go?” His dad’s voice boomed compared to the previous relative quiet.
“Finally!” Shawn slowly eased himself from the side of the bed, waving off the attempts to help him stand. Seriously, short of picking him up he was pretty much on his own anyway.
“Now Shawn, I’ve already worked it out with your father. You both are coming over for lunch this weekend. Don’t be late, young man.”
“I won’t. Thanks Mrs. G,” a quick peck to her cheek followed. He smirked at the flush of her cheeks and her stammered exit.
Yeah. I still got it.
“Took you long enough, you know.”
“Yeah, well. I had to clean up your mess. You had the staff so confused they had everything all…mixed up.” Shawn chuckled as he watched his father wave his hands in the air to punctuate his statement. Even funnier considering that the old man was gathering all the bags at the same time causing them to flop around, smacking his forearms.
“Oh, alright then. You know it gave Mrs. G and I more time to talk.”
“Whatever, Shawn. I just want to get this picked up and get out of here. I, for one, am sick of this place,” Henry looked under the bed, scanning for lost objects before heading to the bathroom to ensure its emptiness of valuables as well.
“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re trying to change the subject,” he called to his dad; currently evoked on his own personal egg hunt.
“Change what subject?” Henry called distractedly from the little room, the small space echoing his voice.
“That she made you cry…she told me.” He schooled his face into an innocent expression and waiting for the old man’s head to pop out of the doorway.
And there it is…
“She did not make me cry,” and then the head disappeared briefly back into the bathroom before Henry came back out with more items to stuff into bags.
“That’s not what she told me.”
“Yeah, well, the Gusters are liars.” More bags flopped onto the bed and an orderly rolled a wheelchair into the room. “Get in, kid.”
Seeing as there was no use in arguing – after all, it never worked on TV – he complied in his now slow and painstaking manner. Henry loaded his arms and shoulders with the bags and took hold of the chair, maneuvering them through the doorway and out into the hall.
“That’s not very nice, dad. She told me other things too. Things you did after you bawled like a baby…”
“I didn’t cry, Shawn. Did you ever think that maybe I made her cry?”
“Tsk tsk…that would make you happy wouldn’t it? She’s going to tell me more at dinner later this week…”
“Shut up kid.”
“I’m going to tell her that you told me to shut up.”
“I’m not afraid of her, Shawn.”
“She’s gonna make you cry, you know…”
Shawn glanced at his watch for the fifth time. Twelve-seventeen pm. Not too bad considering lunch was slated for noon. The main course was being carried in by Mr. G at this very moment, just in time to head off Henry’s complaints about late lunches not served when promised.
The aroma of freshly grilled, still sizzling, burgers permeated the small space creating a lovely atmosphere; the perfect culmination of sight, scents, and sounds. Shawn anxiously stuffed the corner of the paper napkin down into the neckline of his shirt and nodded excitedly at Gus simultaneously doing the same. Three senses down; two remained – he’d fix that soon enough.
He had been anticipating this moment for days now. Just the release of seeing the wide world outdoors would have been enough, but to be able to get out and enjoy life beyond conventional walls – even for an hour – was worth it all. Pathetically, two hours pretty much topped out his limit at any one time anyway. But he wouldn’t knock it, he’d take whatever he got. He’d even worked on the timing of his meds for full anticipation of being the fullest amount of hungry with the least amount of pain where they would finally kick in and he’d get the best amount of sleep. It would be great.
“Winnie, baby – you have outdone yourself!” Mr. Guster praised his wife and she beamed at the compliment.
“It smells delicious, Winnie.” Henry rubbed his hands together. “I was ready to dive in seventeen minutes ago.”
Shawn watched mesmerized in admiration as Mrs. G, in her ever-so-smooth manner, elegantly gave his dad the evil eye, before regally cocking her head in response. “We must be patient, Henry. It’s a virtue.”
Shawn felt his heart leap in his chest as he caught the slightest wink in his direction. Oh yeah, he thought, this was going to be dope.
“That is what I’ve always tried to teach Shawn,” his dad added in his I-told-you-so voice.
“Then you shouldn’t have any problems leading by example, should you?”
Shawn watched in pure bliss as his dad’s neckline just started to redden. The ignorant or uninitiated would merely look for throbbing temples and glowing forehead – not to say that those were easy feats, not true. But the true spark, the highest level of mastery was to pull off the subtle glow; evidence that you got to the man, but he refuses to give in and admit it. Shawn sighed in appreciation. It was the holy grail of Henry-tipping and she had masterfully pulled it off. He was dealing with a professional and, as such, she deserved his fullest and utmost respect.
“Thank you for being such a wonderful example to Gus and myself, Mrs. G,” he placed a sincere hand over his heart for added emphasis. Her expression of brightened joy, as well as his dad’s whipped around head and pinched lips, was all the reward he needed.
No more was said outside of the passing of dishes round the table, until Winnie’s exasperated cry of frustration was heard in time with the slapping of the table top, causing the dishware to rattle slightly.
Her disappointment was evident as she exclaimed the reason for her dismay. “Oh no – I left the new steak sauce in the car.”
“We’ll go get it, mom,” Gus stated promptly even as he began to rise from his chair.
Before Shawn had even a chance to shuffle his chair backwards, Winnie had stood quickly, outstretched her arm, palm up towards Gus and sharply yelled “No!”
Gus was already halfway up from his seat and stopped dead in mid motion before settling back down. The barked command froze them both, stone cold. Shawn looked to his friend for some hint as to what to do next. Gus just shook his head as if this was unexpected even for him.
The second hand clicked the time as all took turns looking at their plates or out the tiny windows or anywhere else besides the furiously blushing woman dabbing at the corners of her eyes with the dishtowel. With her other hand, she covered her mouth in shocked surprise.
“It’s okay Mrs. G,” Shawn reassured and adopted a half-grin that he really didn’t feel. “These burgers look lovely and scrumptious. Just look at the juice…” grease, he corrected to himself, “-flowing off of this lovely work of art. Who needs steak sauce or ketchup? Gus?”
Gus immediately picked up the ball with a half grin of his own. Shawn ever so slightly jerked back, making note to practice with Gus on his half grin; more grin, less leer.
“You know that’s right!”
“I hear that,” Mr. Guster chimed in before turning to admonish his wife. “Now Winnie, just stay set down and enjoy yourself. There ain’t no need to fuss over anyone else.”
The next unexpected encouragement came from his very own father. “That’s right Winnie. We’re all family here.” Henry, even as he spoke the words, continued to arrange the napkin on his lap, apparently fully intent on enjoying his burger without further delay.
Shawn shared an open-mouthed stare with Gus who had so gallantly jumped from his seat to assist his mother as she sat.
“Why thank you Henry, Bill, boys - I appreciate that,” she said thickly through the tears that she would not allow to be released. Now undeterred, she resumed setting up her plate and nodding to the gathering that they should do likewise. “Oh, boys – that does remind me. Shawn, when you’re done with your dessert Bill needs your help in figuring out a problem with the checkbook.” Winnie finished smoothing the napkin in her lap as Shawn mentally rewound the words in his head to ensure that what he heard was in fact what he heard.
“Uh, Mrs. G?” he felt compelled to point out. “Gus normally helps with that…”
“Yes dear, and Burton is going to be helping me with the dishes.”
“I don’t know, Winnie,” Henry smacked through the crumbs of half-masticated beef. “Shawn’s not the best with money.”
“This hurts me to admit publicly, but my dad’s disgustingly spewed opinion is right. Besides, my back is stil-“
“Your back was hurt, son, ain’t nothin’ wrong with your head. ‘Sides, I’ve got a missing deposit that I know I put in and the bank can’t find it. That’s why I need a psychic.” The sharp knife punctuating every syllable dared anyone to argue.
“I-I don’t understand…Mrs. G?”
“Well, dear, before you were a guest. Now you’re family and family has chores. Now, please take your elbows off of the table, dear.”
“Thank you, Winnie,” Henry added, before taking a swig of his beer. Shawn would have appreciated it if he could choose to contribute to the conversation when he wasn’t being subjected to this. “I’ve been telling Shawn that for years.”
“You’re very welcome, Henry, which is why I need you to take a look at the medicine cabinet.” Winnie directed gracefully, as if all were going perfectly according to her plan. Shawn wouldn’t put it past her, actually. Regardless, his dad had no other reply except for a larger – much larger – gulp of beer, before placing it sharply back on the table.
The tiniest nod in his direction started to sooth Shawn’s sour mood just a bit. Maybe he had ‘chores’ now. But, Shawn was pretty sure going forward that Gus would man up and take on his share. It was the role of family, after all.
He couldn’t fault Mrs. G, he guessed. While he wasn’t excited to spend the remainder of their time here pouring over Mr. G’s checkbook to psychically read missing deposits, he was pretty sure there could be tougher jobs out there. It’s not what he would have chosen for himself, but the alternative was much harsher.
He slowed his rate of chewing to prolong the meal. He could stretch this out a bit more, start to get tired and then wait for rescue and be whisked back home with sympathy and a plate of cookies to boot. This could still work out to his favor.
He always wanted a brother, for as long as he could remember. When he found Gus, or (depending on how you looked at it) when Gus found him, it was as close as it would ever get. By that time, the growing separation between his parents pretty much sealed that there would be no more Spencer children in the cards. Ever. He was a rare breed, one of a kind, and would remain that way.
But Gus filled a Gus-shaped void in his life like no other. And now, as the quiet clinking of dinner dishes and casual conversation continued, he realized that there was an irregular family-shaped hole that was slowly being filled in as well. These people weren’t replacements in any way.
Shawn felt a cautious, sly, smile start to grow. Sure, he had chores and, as he cringed to admit, responsibilities as well. But even better, with the adoption into the Guster family and the Gusters into the Spencers came something really, way, cool…
Christmas stocking money.
Dragonnan, GBFreak1 – You both helped shape this story from the beginning and did so much to bolster my confidence throughout. You went beyond the call of duty with your amazing insight, suggestions and feedback – public and private. Even beyond the realms of fic, you have blessed me with your friendship and I’m thankful every day for it. Drag, thanks for being available for poking late at night when I need to just chat and babble about anything or nothing. There is no way on earth that this would be finished now if not for your patience and tremendous sensitivity. You have helped shape the characters, the tone and the feel of this story; sometimes with a word of praise, a question, or simply during a mutual love-rant about our beloved show and favorite eps *coughYangcough*.
Stray - Thank you for being my ramble buddy and listening to me rant on and on. You have been a champion for this fic (and for me) since day one and your cheerleading and rally sessions mean so much to me. You are an amazing young woman, my friend – you really are.
Patster – You continue to blow me away with all of your insights and depth and overwhelming ls,mslkdflskfjeijeireness! Whenever I see one of your reviews…aw heck, whenever I see YOU, I squeal – no kidding, I really do. You freaking ASTOUND me! Someday when I grow up, I wanna be like you. XD
Raych, Perilcraft – Thank you for boosting my energy levels during the halfway point of this endeavor when I was really questioning why I had even started. You spurred a boost of creativity that was sorely needed.
Tazmy, JRFan88 – you both kept me going at the end during that last turn towards home, when I desperately needed a rally. Thank you for cheering me on! Your thoughtfulness is amazing and I treasure you both.
To everyone who has left a kind word what you may have thought was the fic about Winnie with the weird name, thank you. Several unpleasant major life changes have occurred or intensified since I began writing this in July of last year. You have to know that every word has been treasured in immeasurable ways. When I was stuck in a miserable job situation, I would pull up my reviews during break time (or any time I could sneak away;) and pour over your lovely words. To me they weren’t just ‘reviews for Hubris’…they were so much more. They were needed words of appreciation that I wasn’t hearing anywhere else…and I needed them desperately.
Even now as I write this, I feel myself tearing up remembering how horrible and valueless I felt day after day after day. Every single word of praise that you left for me was treasured and held to my heart as something priceless and more valuable than any treasure on earth. It was the first thing I saw when waking in the morning and the last sight I took in before attempting sleep. On the days when I truly wondered how on earth I was going to make it, you my friends helped me believe that maybe - just maybe - if I could get through this day I could get through the next one too. How can I even thank you for that? It is such an enormous blessing that these paltry words of thanks seem like a pittance in comparison. Nevertheless, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least try to express the fullness of the experience you have given me.