“We're this close to the money and you're screwing it up! We don't need this distraction. Not now. I say we just shoot him in the head and dump the body and get on with this.”
Probably since my first Psych fic, I'd wanted to write, or read, a story dealing with blindness. Actually, I'd probably wanted it even longer than that. The very first time I saw blindness used as a trope was on the original MacGyver series. I was young, and the story was thrilling and fun (in the way whump is ALWAYS fun) and, while we always know the character will recover their sight by the end, it was SO exciting to see how they dealt with it until then. At that time, just seeing MacGyver stumble around his house and, later, dodging bad guys was “good enough”. Since then, I've seen this replayed in other series time and again – from Early Edition to The A Team to Walker, Texas Ranger to Doctor Who to Monk. In almost every case, the character is blinded in an accident (most often a bright flash or nearby explosion. In the case of Doctor Who, there were at least 2 different circumstances with 2 different regenerations. Maybe 3 times?) and then the character works through a very brief moment of disorientation and even more brief distress at the loss (Early Edition actually did a fairly decent job delving more into the psychological impact of loss). After the period of distress, the character seems to bounce back and is inevitably confronted by an event where they have to fight for their life – often recovering mid-fight.
So, when I started this story, I wanted Shawn's emotions to be at the forefront of every chapter. I always love exploring the psychology of what drives a character – and this particular injury allowed for some fascinating study.
On a side note, this episode struck my imagination like none other – which, of course, was what led to this story in the first place.
Shawn tensed, feeling the blood that wasn't escaping from his shoulder begin to pool in his feet. He licked his lips and clenched his fingers.
“Uhh... g-guys, if I could interject, briefly here, and this is me, speaking from my own experience here... that feels a little rash.... You're both under a great deal of stress and I don't think now is the time to make important life decisions and I'll tell you what works for me and maybe...” he winced as the ongoing thread of pain in his shoulder spiked at the shrug he couldn't help.
He was losing his audience, he could feel that. Scratching through the muddle in his skull for anything that would keep him alive, he blurted what was on his mind – a warm bath. Soaking in one would be bliss regardless of how much crap he gave his dad about it. He'd even welcome the mango scented suds if he could just sink into that comfort. He shivered as he babbled about taking turns – realizing how it sounded though it was obviously too late to take it back.
“You got a smart mouth!” And obviously Bad Guy number two didn't like the way it sounded either because suddenly his gun was out and aiming towards vulnerable flesh and there wasn't a single decent corner to back into to escape the hard metal shoving into his throat and threatening to clip a vital hunk of his jugular.
Due to safety rules on set, actors can't point a gun directly at another actor's face. The specific Firearms Safety Manual states: “NEVER, under any circumstance aim or shoot toward the head and face of another person. The weapon should ALWAYS be "cheated" or deflected away from the actor.” Of course, that meant Shawn had the gun aimed towards his neck instead. I loved pondering Shawn's morbid/humorous thoughts about that.
“Hey look, I got it under control...” Garth, Mr. Baddie Uno with the porn star moniker, actually seemed to be helping out. Until he continued speaking. “You want me to shoot him right now myself, I will!”
Shawn glared – unable to stifle himself when so much of his energy was focused on pain management. “Not to be a stickler but you did... you did shoot me once already...”
Baddie Two raised his gun a second time, an intimidation tactic that Shawn found highly effective as it dried up his responses the moment the weapon settled into the hollow beneath his jaw. “Shut up.” Turning to his partner, the greasy haired man jerked his head. “I don't need you screwing up again – there's too much at stake. You just stay here. I'll take care of this myself.”
“Wait! Woah, woah, wo-UKK!” Shawn's head snapped back as the handle of the gun whipped against his jaw. The dark he'd so recently escaped crowded in again and spiraled across his eyes. He wasn't completely out because he could still feel things happening. There was the sound of ripping accompanied with the sensation of tipping forward.
Something that has always felt challenging to me is to write a “surprised moment” - such as one character hitting another character mid-sentence. It will never come off shocking or dramatic in the way it would on TV or in film. As writers, we have to contend with the fact that no amount of tricky writing will make a sudden pistol whipping, actually, read as sudden. The more exposition added around the moment of hitting only drags it out more – making the moment drawn out unbelievably long. In this moment, I gave the actual strike a single sentence – the rest of the paragraph focused on Shawn's muddled POV. Even at that, I still feel like this could be improved upon.
His vision teased at returning as odd blinks of light fluttered against his lids. Opening his eyes made the ache in his brain spectacularly worse, but this wasn't the time to indulge the injury. He was lying on his side – only a few inches from the concrete. What he was lying on was shortly answered when he heard and felt the wheels beneath him squeal and start to rattle over the garage floor. He was being pushed on a flat dolly towards the far end of the building. He tried to kick himself off but found that his ankles were now taped as well as his wrists. His shoulder was a mass of ache – throbbing hot with every bump over the rough surface.
It drove me crazy that, when Shawn tipped himself over in the actual episode, he didn't express more pain. DUDE, YOU LANDED ON YOUR BULLET HOLE SHOULDER!!! Yet another motivation for writing this in that I wanted to truly delve into every nuance of his suffering, haha!
“Look, I told you, I can take care of it!” The dolly stopped with another jolt. Garth was still arguing. Was he wanting to make it right this time? But then why had he bothered with the whole kidnap thing in the first place when a second gunshot would have ended his problem? Because he wasn't a killer...
“And I told you to finish up with the truck! We can't keep wasting time on this! Now get out of my way or join the kid. Your choice.”
I feel Garth would want to help Shawn. Unfortunately he's just a bit too much under his partner's thumb.
A few seconds later, the dolly started rolling again, the pain going from discomfort to agonizing as they moved through the door and onto the gravel. Shawn tried to roll but the single movement took his breath in a grunt. There was nothing but a lot filled with junked cars on this side of the building. No passing vehicles filled with witnesses to put a stop to the crime in progress. Gus had to have gotten his message by now. They had to be looking for him! They had to find him... they had to. The dolly reached the edge of the gravel – the only thing beyond it a twelve foot slope of dirt, rocks, and sparse grass leading into the woods.
“Now you keep quiet about this, you got me?” A crappy joke made worse as silver tape slapped over Shawn's mouth and pressed tight. Shouting through his nose only carried so far, but shout he did... until the dolly was tipped sideways. Thrown off the surface, Shawn's cry lasted as long as the weightlessness – clipping off into airless silence the moment he slammed against the ground. So much hurt radiated through him that he couldn't even whimper as he bounced and rolled nearly to the bottom of the hill – a busted off stump the only thing stopping him. The tape on his mouth had partly lifted away after his face had dragged over a flat span of rock. Of course, several layers of skin had been taken with it and the taste of blood was an unwelcome replacement for gluey stick.
This tumble down the hill was directly inspired by a similar tumble written by Little Fairy in her story, “The Longest Day”.
Footsteps above knocked more rocks and dirt free – scattering the debris down the hill. Shawn looked up, dragging a sharp breath. Without expression – without words – the greasy haired man lifted the gun.
There was a moment where he remembered fireworks on the Forth of July.
His head rocked back. He tasted gunpowder.
And then nothing.
I try to avoid writing the expected. I tried to picture my own experiences standing close to someone while they shoot. Other than the ear-shattering loudness of the shot – what I always notice is the taste of gunpowder that fills the air. Now, I actually like that taste/odor. And one of the reasons is because it specifically triggers on the memory of fireworks and the enjoyment of setting off Black Cats and little ufo spinners. Of course, it just makes it all the more disturbing with the juxtaposition of Shawn getting shot in the head.
Henry thrust his hand against Lassiter's chest, both of them stopping as the sound carried through the air.
“That was close. Maybe two miles...” Henry turned his head a few different ways – trying to pinpoint the direction of the report as it faded off to silence. The mountains had made the echo bounce around, but still...
“That way.” Lassiter pointed slightly northwest where they'd been hearing intermediate traffic sounds for the past few minutes. Henry actually agreed with Carlton and the two of them stepped up the pace – Lassiter still trailing a few feet behind as they hurried over terrain better suited for hiking boots than the once polished leather shoes on the detective's feet. Henry could care less about his companion's limp, however. Shawn was hurt. How badly, neither one of them knew. Everything else took third place to that.
I remember a few people being upset that Lassiter was portrayed as less than physically fit during the race through the forest. I wanted to be sure to point out his utterly inappropriate footwear as a way to explain the reality of why he'd be struggling. Well, that and Henry is a frantic grizzly in search of hims poor wounded cub and there's no keeping up with that.
Ten minutes later the two of them broke through the remaining brush. Several logging trucks rocked past them on the highway that led deeper into the mountains. The heat from the sun baked the tar and sent back waves that made watery illusions in the distance. Henry wiped his lips and squinted against the brightness. Shading his eyes, he was just able to spot a small building about half a mile down the road.
“Come on!” Behind him, Lassiter groaned, but followed regardless as they half jogged towards the only structure in sight.
The station appeared to have had its last paint job sometime around the same year Henry had proposed to his ex wife. The closest thing to new about the lot was the tow truck parked out front. Nostalgic had given way to seedy and neglected long ago and the two men slowed their steps accordingly.
The five degree drop in temperature under the gas station canopy was acknowledged by a sigh from Lassiter. His tie had been removed as had his jacket. However, as they approached the front door, he slipped his arms back through the sleeves and buttoned the heavier garment. Office ready professionalism had taken a slight hit with the dripping sweat and mussed hair, but Henry suspected the real intent was to hide the shoulder holster as opposed to following dress code.
Knuckles rapped on the door – rattling the dusty glass. Pushing his face close to the window, Henry was able to scan the interior. It only took seconds to focus on the vehicle parked inside the garage. Lassiter, who'd been looking over his shoulder, immediately pushed him to the side and pulled both his weapon and his cell phone. Using his thumb to dial, he called in to his partner for backup.
“Take the Mariposa exit off the one sixty-six...” Seconds after speaking, Lassiter's jaw tightened. Whatever his partner had said in response had been significant. “Dammit. Okay, just make sure you get here ASAP!” Another pause, the two men constantly checking their backs before the detective finished speaking. “It can't wait; we need to go in. Just get here!” And then the phone was snapped shut and returned to his belt.
“She said this is close to the location where the second robbery was supposed to take place.”
“How did she..?”
Lassiter shook his head. “She said she'd explain when she got here.”
You know, as many times as I've watched this episode, I never actually made sense of how Juliet figured that out. I realize I'm entirely focused on Shawn every time but you'd think I'd have picked up on the thread of her investigating by now...
Henry glanced around the area until he spotted a discarded wrench rusting next to the building's base. He didn't have a gun but like hell he was going in bare handed. He'd taught his son to make use of whatever was handy if a proper weapon was unavailable. He wasn't too proud that he couldn't do the same.
In hindsight I think Henry would have demanded Lassiter's ankle weapon but I also liked him using the wrench, haha!
“I'll head around back.” He whispered. Lassiter grimaced but nodded. They both knew there wasn't any other choice.
Keeping low and hefting the short length of metal, Henry eased along the side of the station. Old oil cans and other similar clutter had drifted against the outside wall. Avoiding the detritus, he crept up to the corner and peeked around the back. It was a graveyard of forgotten cars and car parts that were as neglected as the garage. Still, they created a decent barrier from anyone trying to spot a rear approach. Sliding up to the back door, Henry had just placed his hand on the knob when he looked down.
Inside, he heard the front door kick open and Lassiter's voice shouting. “SBPD!”
Henry pulled open the back door a beat later, though he was certain that whoever owned the place was gone now. The moment Lassiter confirmed that for himself, Henry pivoted to head back outside. He ignored the startled shout behind him as the detective demanded he wait there until backup arrived to help them search the area. At this point, protocol be damned.
The drag marks were easy to see. From the back door, they led in a straight path about thirty yards to where the lot ended and the woods retook ownership of the landscape. The cold weight that had rested in Henry's gut since about four-thirty that morning was growing fast. He could feel it pushing into his lungs and up his throat.
The edge of the lot was just a few feet away. He only required one foot to see over the lip at what rested near the bottom of the hill. “God no...”
Angling to the side just enough to keep loosened stones from impacting the still form, Henry slid and stumbled down the embankment – palms and knees scraping on the harsh ground. Above him, Lassiter had stopped to call in once more before he too followed over the edge.
“Shawn... no kid... come on... come on, open your eyes son...” The blood around his head had turned a dark maroon where it had soaked into the dirt. There was a small hole just above Shawn's right ear. Blood seeped from the wound and continued to saturate the ground around him. Henry worked the tape free from his son's face as Lassiter skidded the last couple of feet down.
“Jesus Christ...” Muttered blasphemy and Lassiter knelt on the other side to place his fingertips against Shawn's throat while Henry pulled off his outer shirt to dam the flow from the gunshot. With his free hand, he dug out his pocket knife and silently held it out to the detective. No need for deeper communication, Lassiter took it and flipped open the blade before cutting through the tape wrapped around Shawn's wrists and ankles.
Easily one of my favorite things, possibly even greater than having Henry taking care of his wounded son, is to have Lassiter as care giver – no matter how reluctantly. Possibly especially reluctantly.
“He's still alive.” Henry said it without looking at the other man. It was a demand; not confirmed by much more than desperation. If Shawn was breathing it was too shallow to see. He was still bleeding though. Bleeding meant he was alive. But... it also meant he was dying.
“They're on the way; they're bringing an ambulance.” Lassiter added his jacket to the soaked through shirt in Henry's grip. Henry nodded once, a sharp head jerk, before placing his hand over Shawn's chest. Seconds clicked by – too many – before he felt a tiny lift beneath his palm. Respiration was too slow; too shallow.
“We need to elevate his head.” Shawn was angled down the slope with his legs almost four feet higher than the upper half of his body. Moving him was dangerous, but so was leaving him in that position. With Carlton holding Shawn's legs, the two were able to gently maneuver him around – Henry using the opportunity to rest Shawn's head on his lap rather than on the sharp twigs and rocks strewn about.
It wasn't until his son was lying against him that Henry noticed the second gunshot wound – this one right through his left shoulder. “Lassiter.” Nodding down towards the other source of blood loss, Henry kept his hands in place while the detective frowned, rolled his eyes, and stripped one more garment from his body.
“Dammit, this rate I'll be lucky to keep my pants.”
Favorite line of this whole chapter – hand's down.
In spite of the words, Lassiter's tone wasn't irritated but tense. Still, Henry knew his son would have taken that comment and run with it. He held tight to the limp body and prayed silently for his kid to wake up and do just that. Or just to wake up. Just be okay.
Detective O'Hara and the officers with her beat the ambulance by two minutes. Gus, unsurprisingly, had ridden with the young woman. Both of them ran towards edge of the embankment once Lassiter's shout gave them a direction. Henry did his best to shield his son from the stones and clods of dirt knocked loose by the two as they practically screeched to a halt. One of the sharper rocks managed to gouge the back of Henry's hand. However, as it was the one protecting Shawn's face, he didn't mind the injury. Still, he yelled a “Watch it!” to the newly arrived rescue crew just the same.
Officers gave way to paramedics as the second wave made their way down to the huddled group of three. Lassiter backed away to make room, but Henry stayed in place, supporting his son until a back board could be eased beneath him. Once strapped down, four of the medics grabbed the handles and carried their burden back up to the top where the ambulance had been parked.
Henry followed, trying not to shove away help when Guster took his arm on the last five feet of slippery gravel. The ambulance doors closed just moments before he reached the top. A slap on the back doors and the vehicle pulled away.
“Come on, I'll drive you.” Gus had his keys out and gave a tug towards the front of the building – no doubt where he'd parked his car.
Detective O'Hara waved him off when the younger man turned her way with his eyebrows raised. “Go ahead – Buzz brought Carlton's car over. I'll catch a ride with him.”
Not concerned with the game of musical cars, Henry brushed past his self appointed chauffeur and headed through the garage – the quickest route to the little blue vehicle. Gus hit the button to unlock it just as he placed his hand on the door and he wasted no time sliding into the seat. He buckled up while Gus got behind the wheel.
“Come on, come on!” Not that Gus wasn't hurrying anyhow. No amount of speed would be enough at this point. The only thing that concerned Henry was assurance that Shawn would survive. And that was something he wouldn't get just sitting by the roadside. “Let's go, Gus!”
The key turned hard enough to draw a metallic shriek from the engine – the shaking fingers that had been gripping it moving to latch on to the steering wheel. Backing between two patrol cars, Gus got the little vehicle onto the road.
Then, facing the right way, he hit the gas and chased after his best friend.
Of all of the stories I've written – I believe this one is my favorite. I feel as though I managed to keep the story tight and on track while weaving in elements from the episode that inspired it as well as the episode that followed. It was also big-time wish fulfillment in that – though Shawn got shot, throttled, tied up, threatened, kidnapped, and was also chased through the woods while bleeding... it still wasn't enough. It's like when you eat a bunch of sugar and find that you just keep needing more and more sugar... ALL THE SUGAR!!!!!!!!!!!
Anyhow, the rest of the chapters, with commentary, will be posted soon! I decided to space this one out a bit more rather than post everything all at once.
Meanwhile, if you'd like additional chatting about this story, you can check out the Commentary thread on the forum at the following link:
WRITER'S COMMENTARY: Paint it Black