“GUS! What’s that?!”
It was probably the most amazing three dimensional, hand operate-able representation of a dragon Shawn had ever seen. And it belonged to the boy standing opposite him, Burton Guster.
He looked down sadly at the version he’d been able to create between episodes of the Dinosaurs the night before. His own dragon puppet had been fashioned out of a recycled brown bag and not the high quality fabric Gus’ was made of.
“I thought you were gonna be the princess!”
Gus’ voice echoed his own in such a way that it almost scared him.
“Ew, no way I’m gonna be a girl.”
No way Shawn was going to be one either, girls were icky. But if there was one thing he knew, it was that all good stories had a girl in them. Besides, if they didn’t have a girl they didn’t have a need to rescue anyone and then there wouldn’t be a point to the adventure.
“But Gus, we can’t do a show with two dragons! We have to have a damsel in distress! All good stories have damsel’s in distress.”
He thought that perhaps Gus would see his point, maybe give in and just be the girl.
“No they don’t.”
But it seemed Gus wasn’t about to listen to reason.
“Yes they do!”
“Well why don’t you be the girl then.” Shawn’s face contorted in disgust at the suggestion. “No one will be able to tell it’s you. They don’t even see your face!”
Shawn stepped back; he hadn’t been expecting Gus to turn that around on him. His brain swam as he tried to come up with a legitimate excuse for not being the girl, besides the fact that Ethan Marx would make fun of him for it.
“Cause Gus, my hands are way too manly for a princess puppet, it has to be you.”
He could tell Gus did not want to buy it. Did not want to surrender the masterpiece he held in his hands just for the sake of Shawn. Best friend or not.
“No way Shawn, I spent way too many hours working on this puppet to play a girl.”
“I don’t care, Gus!”
He realized he was whining. If Gus called him on it he was certainly going to get stuck playing the girl character.
His eyes snapped from the death-stare-down they had been locked in with Gus to look innocently up at their teacher, “Yes Mrs. Beltran?”
Gus was back to mirroring his every action and word again, a tactic the boys had devised to keep teachers off their tail when they were doing something they shouldn’t be.
“Are you boys ready to do your presentation?”
Gus’ mouth opened in an effort to explain the situation, but Shawn stepped on his toe and scrambled to create a cover story.
“Gus was just showing me the totally cool puppet he made for me to use in the show, cause mine was eaten by the dog.”
Mrs. Beltran glanced sidelong at Gus who stood rubbing his foot. With his grip on the dragon puppet loosened, Shawn took the opportunity to pull the creation from his friend’s hand.
“Alright, well you guys have five minutes, then I want to see your show.”
“Yes Mrs. Beltran.”
They stood perfectly still as the teacher disappeared back into the classroom, both boys silently counting to ten as the door snapped shut before they returned to their fight.
“GIVE IT BACK SHAWN!” Gus lurched forward, his arms outstretched towards the dragon creation.
“NO WAY!” Shawn barely managed to pull it out of his friend’s reach as Gus went crashing to the floor from his lunge.
Before Gus could grab the magnificently crafted sock critter back, Shawn licked his hand and stuffed it inside the puppet.
Gus’ whine was a strange cross between a hurt puppy and a disgusted girl as he watched what Shawn did. His friend’s lower lip quivered, the brown eyes before him searching the room frantically for a back up puppet.
“What am I s’posed to use Shawn?”
Reaching into the ‘Toys for Tots’ box sitting a few feet away Shawn extracted a Raggedy Anne doll and held it out to Gus.
“You can use this!”
“Shawn! It’s not even a puppet.” He caught the floppy doll as Shawn threw it at him, holding it up with two fingers like a stinky diaper.
“No, I guess it not, but Gus we don’t have much of a choice! Besides, now we can do the damsel in distress.”
“Shawn, Burton? You guys are up.” They looked up at their teacher as she pulled the door open for them and gestured them inside. With a nod Shawn started to follow, Gus begrudgingly beside him.
Shawn knew it would be alright, doll or not. Gus would be just fine. Patting his friend on the back he lead the way, his dragon puppet flying into the room ahead of him.
Although Shawn frequently enjoyed the dream he had about a talking orange peel and it’s trip to the pineapple market on the wings of a rainbow striped jet plane, he didn’t seem to recall the strange buzzing noise he was presently hearing.
The buzzing noise kept repeating itself until Shawn awoke just enough to realize the noise hadn’t been a part of his dream at all, but instead a notice about an incoming call on his cell phone.
He knew he’d left the phone somewhere within arms reach. It was only a matter of finding it in his half conscious state. Finally his hand closed around the cold object, muffling the buzzing.
Groggily he flicked open the offending device and brought it up to meet his ear.
He rubbed his eyelids as he waited for a response on the other end, confused when he heard a quiet fit of giggling and then nothing.
“Hello?” he repeated, hoping the louder tone would convince whoever was on the other end that it’s impolite not to speak when you’ve just woken someone up.
“Mr. Candy Bar Man?”
The voice on the other end was meek and soft, almost like a child’s. But he didn’t know any children; at least none that would have his phone number.
“Is this the Candy Man?”
What was this girl talking about…the Candy Man drove a truck and played the song “Pop Goes the Weasel”. He strained his ears to check, but no, there was no “Pop Goes the Weasel” playing on either end of the phone.
He leaned forward to grab the remote to snap off Big. That explained the orange peel dream; he always had that dream when he fell asleep watching it. With a decisive click, the television screen darkened, the faint buzz from the active screen slowly dissipating into the air.
Still waking from sleep, he allowed the remote to tumble from his hand to its home on the sofa cushions beside him. The strange crinkling noise it made when it landed stopped him from replying to the child on the other end of the phone.
“Aw you tha Candy Baw Man?”
Sometime during the last few minutes the phone had changed hands, as he now found himself speaking with a young boy. Regardless, the children seemed to have the same goal.
Stuffing his hand down along the side of his pants Shawn extracted the source of the crinkling sound, a half eaten candy bar. He slowly turned it over in his hands as the children repeated their question on the phone.
“Yes, that’s me.”
“We want some fwee candy.”
“And a lollipop!” he heard exclaimed from one of the kids in the background.
He rubbed sleep from his eyes as the voices on the other end fought over the phone, one of them issuing a warning about an adult or something as the first child repeated the request.
“We want free candy!”
“So let me get this straight…” Gus muttered as he pulled the car out into the mid day traffic. “You pulled me away from my work so we could drive half way across town, in the middle of the day to a day care center and give a couple of five year olds some chocolate bars?”
“First of all Gus, you weren’t working…you were updating your resume. Which might I add is ridiculous because you were editing out all the fun comments and artwork I put on there to liven the thing up.”
“Oh, is that what you call it?”
“What else would I call it?”
Leaning back against the side of the car, Shawn put his hand over his heart in an effort to feign injury.
“Gus, I’m hurt. I spent like…five whole minutes on those pictures.”
He had to smile when Gus didn’t respond. Instead he watched as his friend turned the car around the corner, allowing the silence to remain momentarily.
“Second of all,” he continued when Gus failed to respond to his mock injury, “they weren’t all five year olds, at least one of them was three.”
Gus turned to face him, his eyebrows raising in clear expression of the “seriously?” that he was refusing to say. Shawn started tapping out a beat on the window sill, nodding in response to his friend’s unspoken question.
“You know this place has been investigated by the IRS twice now for fraud?”
Shawn snorted and pulled out his cell phone.
“Of course I know that, do you really think we’d take all this time out of our day just to deliver chocolate?”
“I wouldn’t put it past you.”
Shawn smiled. “You’re right. I thought you needed to get out Gus, away from the tedious work of adults. Come out and play in the fun of children!”
“Shawn, I work with you, that’s like having a child as a full time business partner.”
Gus snapped the radio back to his station, the soft music the only noise between them for several minutes.
“How did those kids get our number?”
Shawn tapped a few more keys on his cell phone before tucking it away.
“Easy, they probably bought a bar of Psycholate.”
Shawn averted his eyes when he realized the Gus was not aware of the new company that they shared ownership in.
“Yes Gus, Psycholate.”
Shawn could practically see the wheels in Gus’ head turning as his friend and Psycholate co-owner processed the new information.
“Oh no. No, no, no!”
They seemed to take the corner a little sharper than was usual for “I’ve never gotten a ticket in my life Guster”, but Shawn chalked it up to the new information that was hitting his friend like a ton of bricks.
“Don’t tell me you did what I think you did.”
He could sense the dread in Gus’ voice, but what was he supposed to do? Lie?
“I totally invested the money from our last case in Psych chocolate bars…Psycholate!”
“Shawn, I told you not to tell me that!”
Gus closed his eyes as he pulled the car to a stop at the light.
“It’s a great business Gus! Besides, I’ve also included a free psychic reading with each candy bar. Chocolate and a Psychic, you can’t go wrong with that!”
“Yes you can Shawn, and I’ll tell you why. Free.”
Shawn’s forehead scrunched. Although Gus had always been great at monetary decisions, he personally didn’t see the problem with the coupon idea. Gus seemed to realize Shawn wasn’t getting it and opted to explain.
“Free means no money, Shawn! free means not making payments on the rent! Free means we go bankrupt and my credit score goes down the drain!”
Shawn laughed, waving his friend’s worries off. “Dude, people love free.”
“People. Maybe Shawn, but we are running a business. Businesses don’t do free.”
“Well duh. They had to pay for the candy bar Gus.”
Shawn snapped open the glove box, riffling through it before pulling out a half melted chocolate bar. “Here, try one. It’s chocolate-pineapple flavored.”
Gus scowled but took the bar anyways, across the front of the wrapper was the sparkling word ‘Free!’ and the number for the Psych office.
Tearing it open with his teeth Gus took a rather sizeable bite off the corner. Shawn watched the careful consideration that crossed Gus’ face as he chewed.
“Where did you come up with this?” Gus managed around his mouthful of chocolate bar. “It’s actually really good.”
Shawn reached out to grab the unfinished half of the bar, but Gus jerked it away, his eyes narrowing with the “don’t you dare” glare.
“And to think, you almost doubted me.” Shawn settled back into his seat, resigning himself to not getting a piece, for now.
The car pulled up in front of a small building that practically screamed children were present. Not just because of the actual screaming children, but also the amount of tricycles, bikes, balls, and about a million different sporting toys. The place resembled an exploded Toy’s R Us. It was only lacking fire, smoke and some flashing lights from an emergency vehicle.
“Are we really bringing candy into a Day Care Center Shawn?” Gus squinted out the window at ABC Day Care. “Aren’t there like…laws against that?”
“Naw. Besides, the kids asked for it.” Shawn twisted in the seat, grabbing the bag of chocolate bars he had deposited there earlier.
Shawn climbed out of the car and Gus followed suit. The names were right on the tip of his tongue, one normal everyday one and another more obscure but he thought made a pretty cool name.
“The ones on the phone…um Amanda and Weese.”
“Weese? Who names their kid Weese?”
“I think his name is actually Reese, you know how kids talk.”
“Reese? Like the candy?”
“Whats wrong with that? You love those candies.”
Gus pushed past him and stepped up to the entrance of the small day care. He stood contemplating the signs hanging outside the door before breaking the barrier that had been masking the chaos inside.
Just as he reached for the door, it was pushed open from the inside, a shifty and rather sizeable man with a bad comb over squeezing his way out. Before he closed the door completely he peered in through the door frame.
When the comb over guy turned around, three different men jumped in surprise.
The large man from the day care was wearing a rather bulky jacket, his one arm clutched firmly across his chest.
“Uh, Welcome to ABC Day Care.” The guy smiled as he opened the door behind him and gestured the two inside. “Where you can…count on us.”
The guy forced a smile at them, but couldn’t seem to meet their eyes no matter how hard Shawn tried to get him to. The man squirmed under Shawn’s gaze and quickly pulled open the door for them before disappearing in the other direction.
A thousand different things seemed to attack their ears at once as the shrill voices of the children carried from the back room of the building. Gus shook his head and made his way inside, “Let’s get this over with. The sooner we drop these off, the sooner we can leave.”
“Something was up with that du-Dude! They have Hungry Hungry Hippos!”
Gus flailed to grab Shawn’s sleeve as the man bounced away from the door and straight for the game. But where Gus had failed, another did not.
“Excuse me, but who are you?”
The woman, who was dressed with a casual formality, pushed a surprised Shawn back towards Gus and the door before placing her hands on her hips and narrowing her gaze at them.
Shawn grinned and placed a hand on his chest. “I’m Shawnoccio and this is my partner… Little Lost Stockington the Twelfth.” Gus nodded a greeting as Shawn stepped forward, closing the space between himself and the woman. “We’ve come to put on the big show as requested.”
The woman wavered, her face scrunched up as she tried to fully comprehend what he was saying to her.
“We’re the puppeteers…here for the semi bi-monthly annual Children’s puppet show.” Shawn motioned inside to the small staging area where a young child sat playing with action figures behind a flimsy curtain.
The woman looked perplexed, and for a moment Shawn thought she was going to kick them each in the seat of their pants and slam the door on them. But then, as if a switch in her mind was flipped, she smiled at them. “Oh, right. I wasn’t expecting you for another hour or two.”
“Our plane got in early. Shouldn’t be a big deal, we talked with the owner.”
Her smile dropped slightly, “I’m Melinda Robin. The owner.”
Shawn faltered, glancing sidelong at Gus for help. The lack or response forced him to scramble for another tactic.
“Stockington! I thought you said you spoke with the owner!” He turned back to the woman, forcing himself to look apologetic as he clasped one of her hands in his. “I’m sorry Matilda-“
“Melinda,” the woman corrected as she looked over the two, scrutinizing them.
“Melinda. I think my partner here must have misunderstood who he was talking to when he phoned. It’s just a little miscommunication on our end. He must have spoken with your assistant or someone…under you?”
“Was it Debbie?”
Shawn turned to Gus, fully prepared to kick the man in the shin to get him to agree. Gus must have seen the look in his eyes, because he quickly got on board with Shawn’s story.
“Yes, I believe that was her name.”
Melinda sighed before turning to allow them further into the building.
“That girl would lose her head if it wasn’t attached to her shoulders…Come back into the office please.”
She led them into a small office just inside the front door. Stopping to pull open the baby gate barricading the door labeled very clearly with a sign reading “NO KIDS”. Melinda pulled both the gate and the door shut behind them with a glare into the room of children.
Shawn nodded to the younger woman sitting at the desk, the name plaque on her desk clearly identifying her as Debbie.
“Debbie, these are the puppeteers, see if you can get their name tags made up on the first try now shall we?”
Melinda disappeared behind into the office beyond, abandoning them to attend to other business. Shawn managed to catch a glimpse of a stack of envelopes covering the desk in the room beyond before the door swung shut in his face.
“Damn, that’s a nice desk.” Gus stepped forward, squatting to look at Debbie’s desk at eyelevel. “Is this hand carved Brazilian Rosewood?”
Debbie shifted her gaze up from the drawer to nod at them. “Yeah, it’s imported.”
Gus whistled as he ran a hand down the desk. “Man, I wish we could afford these desks in the office.”
“If you want I can tape Brazilian Roses to the side of your desk Gus?”
“Why would I want that?” Gus paused mid desk stroke and raised an eyebrow at Shawn.
“So you could be the envy of everyone!” Shawn threw his hands in the air to punctuate his statement. He grinned and poked around at a couple of the trinkets. Gus merely scowled at him before turning and sitting in a chair opposite Debbie’s desk.
“I’m sorry, you guys were here for…an application?”
The question piqued his interest, and he immediately forgot about his steaming best friend. Shawn found himself practically pouncing to the desk before joining Gus in one of the chairs.
“You do applications here?”
“Yeah. For safety precautions you know…allergies, injuries and the like.” Debbie listed them off like a list she had been forced to memorize and recite them a thousand times a day. Somehow Shawn thought that might actually be the case.
“Anyway I might be able to get one?”
Debbie nodded and stood to get one from the file cabinet behind her.
“You have a child?”
“Yeah, my little Millicent. Love her. Adorable child. Has her mother’s eyes.” He accepted the application with a smile and started to glance over it.
“How old is she?”
Shawn was saved from continuing his masquerade by the return of Melinda. She paused in the doorway, noticing the application in Shawn’s hand.
“I thought you’d come to give a performance?”
“Oh we did. I was just interested in maybe registering my little Millie here, her mother has to go back to work…”
Melinda pulled her office door shut and moved to open the door back to the main room. “We can talk about that if you’d like. However, I’m very interested in seeing your show.”
“Of course! First things first.”
Grabbing Gus’ elbow Shawn pulled both of them upright and followed after Melinda.
“Shawn, we aren’t seriously going to do this are we?”
“Sure, it’ll be fun. I’ll even let you be the dragon.”
If there was one thing Carlton Lassiter hated it was watching people mope, it was when people were moping around his desk. The officer presently invading his desk space wasn’t just any officer, but the resident giant, Buzz McNab.
He froze in his tracks, watching as the younger officer dared to violate the personal bubble surrounding his desk. Most officers knew that there were five feet in all directions from his desk that was off limits. But somehow Officer McNab seemed to think that since he brought coffee to the detective every now and then he was entitled to special privileges. Which he did not have, even if he did get the cream to sugar ratio right every time.
Lassiter noticed the officer did not have coffee with him now.
With a snort Carlton made to retreat from the bullpen, unfortunately, he wasn’t quite fast enough.
He could have kept walking, pretended he didn’t hear anything and been saved from the brooding officer. But four departmental complaints about his lack of interest in young minds was starting to get annoying. Those things required far too much paperwork.
The taller officer seemed to recoil at the poorly masked venom in Lassiter’s voice. He didn’t care; he wasn’t in the mood to play nice.
“My brother’s kid is staying with me this week, and I was just wondering if it might be okay if I brought him by work? He always gets to hear about the place but I think he might like to hear from a cop other than his uncle…”
Carlton could feel the pounding in his head increase.
“Why are you asking me this?”
“I thought maybe you’d be willing to talk to him, give him an idea what your job entails…He’s not sure what he wants to do in life, just trying to help him narrow it down.”
He knew this was a bad idea, but he found himself nodding anyways. It could not be said of Carlton Lassiter that he didn’t like helping to mold young minds.
He thought the relieved smile he received might break McNab’s face.
“Thank you very much, Sir. I’ve got to go pick him up now.”
The giant officer was still grinning, as Lassiter watched him practically bounce out of the building.
Thankful to finally have some peace and quiet, Carlton had just settled in at his desk when his far too happy partner located him and made her way over.
He opened the file on his desk anyways, hoping maybe she would catch the hint and make herself disappear. “What is it O’Hara?”
He looked up to see his partner standing very close to the edge of his five-foot safety bubble. She sipped her coffee. “The Chief would like to see us in her office.”
He was never going to get any paperwork done; that much was evident. Sighing he stuffed the papers he had planned to work on inside a folder before tossing them into his top drawer.
The two detectives made their way to the chief’s office, they stood watching for a minute as she finished up a phone call. Once she was done, she beckoned them inside.
“What is it chief?” Lassiter asked, pulling the glass doors closed behind him.
“I just got off the phone with the mayor…”
Lassiter wasn’t sure if he should feel uneasy or excited. Sometimes phone calls with the mayor meant possible opportunities, but more often then not, they meant problems.
“What is it?” It disgusted him the rapt attention his partner displayed as she leaned forward over her knees, hanging on the chief’s every word.
“You both did excellent work on that last kidnapping case, the mayor was glad to have wrapped it up so quickly…”
“But?” He could tell there was something coming, there was always something coming.
“No but. He has simply asked that we spend time raising public awareness of the dangers in society.”
Lassiter breathed a sigh of relief, it all sounded like work he could pass off to his overzealous partner. “That sounds like a great idea chief, hang a few flyers, send out some emails. Nothing to it.”
He moved to stand up, but the sharp tone of Karen’s voice stopped him in his tracks.
“Actually Carlton, we’re going to be a little more proactive than that. And since the two of you have just wrapped up a kidnapping case, who better than to put on the job?”
God he hated his luck.
“That was the most embarrassing moment of my life.”
“Really? I thought you made a fantastic Ken doll.”
Gus swiveled around to face Shawn.
“Why on earth would you tell that lady we would come back?”
Shawn shook his head and plucked the keys from Gus’ hands.
“Dude, those kids loved us, why wouldn’t we come back?” Gus blocked his way to the car and Shawn sighed. “Seriously? I have to explain it to you? Alright, first things first, creepy comb over guy, what was up with that dude?”
Gus rolled his eyes “Maybe he’s just having a bad day Shawn?”
“No, definitely not.” He scratched his chin, mulling over the idea for a minute. “No, something is up with that dude. Besides, you remember that desk in the office? Those things are expensive, no way a day care can afford those, not even if you lived in Beverly Hills.”
“Shouldn’t the IRS be investigating all this stuff?”
Shawn shook his head, “No, they aren’t going to if they don’t know what they are looking for.”
“And you do?”
“I will! That’s why we are coming back. Plus, you make such a good puppet master.”
They paused as a pair of mothers passed by them to pick up their kids from inside, already the place was starting to lose its patrons.
“Maybe you didn’t notice Shawnoccio, but this place didn’t even own a single puppet.”
“Oh, don’t worry about that. We can go make some tonight, and then our show tomorrow will be awesome.”
“Tomorrow!? Why does it have to be tomorrow?”
“Because Gus, we have tickets for Rolling Stones imitators the day after that.”
Snorting, Gus climbed into the passenger’s side of the car.
“Can’t even afford tickets to the real deal...pathetic.”
Shawn moved to pull the door to the car open when a young boy running between the cars slammed into his side, causing both of them to slide to a heap on the ground.
Shawn could only assume the heap of seven-year-old on top of him was the owner of the second name, but he was too preoccupied trying to regain the wind the kid had knocked out of him to introduce himself.
He nodded gratification to the person who heaved the kid off him, slightly dazed as the person helped him up afterwards.
He looked up for the first time into the face of Buzz McNab.
“Buzz! Since when did you have a kid?”
Buzz smiled sheepishly before putting an arm on the boy’s shoulders.
“Actually Isaac is my nephew. He is staying with us while my brother and his wife move out of their house.”
“Oh yeah? I didn’t know you had a brother.” Shawn adjusted his shirt so that it was hanging straight again.
“Yeah, he sorta called out of the blue and I wasn’t able to arrange to stay home, so we had to bring him here.”
Shawn looked back over to the other side of the car as Gus climbed out, irritated about their lack of movement. Buzz grinned and waved at the other man.
“Oh hey Gus.”
“So this is your nephew huh?” The kid standing in front of Buzz smiled at Shawn and nodded in response to the psychic’s question.
“Sorry, yeah. This is Isaac. Isaac, meet Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster.” Buzz did the typical meet and greet, and Shawn couldn’t help but take the young boy’s hand and shake it thoroughly.
“Do they work with you at the station Uncle Buzz?” The boy leaned backwards to looking straight up at his uncle as he inquired to Shawn’s career.
“Kind of, he’s a psychic we hire to help us out on cases.” The kid’s mouth formed into and “o” shape. Isaac suddenly appeared very uncomfortable. He looked up the Shawn, apology written on his face.
“I’m sorry for knocking you down, Mr. Spencer.”
Shawn laughed, waving Isaac off. “No worries dude. And seriously, call me Shawn.”
The kid nodded.
“Do you and Mr. Guster do puppet shows often…Shawn?”
“Oh yeah, all the time. Our other car, it’s in the shop, has “Puppet-Masters painted on the side.”
Gus rolled his eyes and moved to climb back into the car.
“You would know then that Geppetto wasn’t actually related to Pinocchio…Right?”
Gus promptly jumped back out of the car before Isaac even finished his sentence. “I told you Shawn!”
“Dude, no way!”
“And Geppetto certainly looked an awful lot like a Ken doll.”
“Yeah…” Shawn rubbed the back of his neck. “Our Puppet-Master car broke down, caught fire actually, we lost all our puppets, we had to improvise today. But next time, promise it will be better.”
“Are you…working here now Shawn?”
Buzz seemed to finally realize that Shawn and Gus had no children, and Shawn could tell he was racking his brain to see if he could remember a case involving the day care.
“Yeah, just doing a little community service, entertaining the kids. Gus loves kids.”
Buzz nodded, “That’s good, always nice to help out.” He turned, Isaac ready to leave but stopped and turned back to face the two private detectives. “Hey Shawn?”
“Can I ask you a favor?” Buzz rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
“I, uh. I’m sure you’re busy. But I know you just got done solving a case for the department I was wondering if you might…”
Buzz glanced down at Isaac.
“I hate leaving Isaac here, he’s on the old side anyways, they prefer the kids to be six or younger…I was hoping maybe you might be able to watch him while I’m at work tomorrow?”
To Shawn’s surprise, Gus answered first. “We would love to.”
“Great.” Buzz smiled, his hand dropping from his neck.
Shawn pulled the car door open again. “We are actually going to be working here again in the morning, doing another puppet show. You want to drop him off here and we’ll just take him with us?”
“Sure, that would work great.”
Placing his hand on Isaac’s shoulder Buzz turned the lad away and led him to his squad car.
For the third time in under an hour, there was a knock on the door. Apparently “No Soliciting” actually meant “Yes, why don’t you come knock on my door, I have nothing better to do than get up and answer it every twelve and a half minutes.”
Tossing his paper down Henry climbed off the sofa yet again. If one more Girl Scout came to his door with a box of cookies, he would not be held responsible for any tears that may or may not fall from their eyes after he was done speaking with them.
He pulled the door open and was relieved when instead of another member of the Brat Scouts he instead found his son and best friend standing at the door. The random appearance of the boys on his doorstep didn’t surprise him. What did surprise him was the box Gus was carrying. They never brought things over.
“Shawn, how nice to see you.”
He knew that tone of voice. That was the “Hey Dad, we came here because I’m way too lazy to buy my own groceries and cook my own food, so we came to eat your food” tone. He knew he should start keeping more leftovers in the fridge.
“I’m not cooking dinner for you, I have to go out this evening.”
“Now why would you think I want dinner from you?”
Rolling his eyes he pulled the door open. Of course Shawn would deny the ulterior motive, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.
“Because you told me, yesterday, your microwave is broken. And goodness knows you can’t be bothered to figure out a stove that isn’t pink and uses something a little
more powerful than a sixty watt bulb.”
“But I might burn my finger.” Shawn held his finger up in front of his face, pouting to emphasize his point.
With a sigh Gus pushed past Shawn and into the house, moving back to the kitchen with their box of supplies.
“If you don’t mind Dad, Gus and I need to borrow some socks and things.”
“Shawn, you can’t have my socks.”
“But Dad, I can’t put faces on my socks…I’m wearing them.”
Shawn moved into the house and climbed the stairs to his bedroom two at a time leaving a confused father alone at the door. There was no reason for his son to need his socks, no reason at all.
With a glance up the stairs he decided to wait until Shawn came back down before banning him from the sock drawer. But a crash in the kitchen reminded him that Gus was alone with cutlery, and that was never a good thing.
Slamming the door shut he made his way to the kitchen as fast as he could, hoping to stop Gus before any real damage was done.
“Gus, you wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”
“We are making sock puppets.”
Gus said it so matter of factly while he dumped the box of random craft supplies right onto the middle of Henry’s table.
“Any reason in particular you have to do it here?”
“We needed some supplies.” Shawn came back into the room, his arms laden with socks, old rags and what Henry was pretty sure was his pillow case.
“What kid of supplies?”
“Art supplies.” Shawn said dumping his own materials alongside Gus’.
“Why don’t you just go to Michaels?”
“Dad, I don’t have any friends named Michael, and even if I did, I’m not going to be bothering them for their yarn and super glue.”
Henry rubbed his head in frustration, this was not going to end well.
“Hey dad, you wanna make us some tacos while you’re up?”
Grabbing his coat, Henry headed for the door, if he didn’t leave soon he was going to get sucked into whatever mess his son was involved in and he didn’t have time for that tonight.
“Get your own damn tacos Shawn.”
Pulling his car into the nearest parking space, Carlton put the car in park and turned to face his partner.
“You’re kidding me right?”
Juliet O’Hara faltered for a minute as she was undoing her seatbelt to look up at Lassiter. Why did he always seem to think she was joking around with him? She was nothing but serious when on the job, and they certainly didn’t spend any time together outside of work that would allow him to get to know her comedic side.
“Why would you think that?”
“You want me to go in there, and actually say the words “Stranger Danger”?”
She sighed. Of course that was it.
“Carlton, we have to make this presentation. Unless you enjoy dealing with upset mothers looking for their kidnapped children?”
“I’d prefer an upset mother to a screaming four-year-old.”
The Chief had given them these instructions specifically, they were meant to be here and they were meant to talk to those kids. She looked at him sternly, hopefully reminding him of their direct orders. It only took him a moment.
“Fine, I’ll do it. But if one of those snot filled noses so much as comes near my uniform; you’re doing my laundry for a week.”
“No snot on your uniform. Got it.”
Climbing out of the car Juliet couldn’t help but notice a rather distinctive looking blue echo parked a few spaces over. Carlton was not going to like that.
She maneuvered her way through the parking lot in an effort to reduce the chance that her partner would see the car. No sense in making his mood any fouler than it already was.
They approached the door to the building and Juliet saw her partner’s hand flexed close to his gun.
He glanced down at her confused, but he recognized her hard glare and followed it to his hand.
“You weren’t planning on shooting any toddlers were you?”
“Only if they threaten me.”
Her hand froze just before it hit the door.
“With what? Juice boxes and pacifiers?” She laughed.
“Juice boxes have been known to kill.”
His words caused the laughter to die instantly. “Oh please.”
“Case number eight five nine o’ four. Gloria Halloway, choked on a straw from a juice box.”
The hard stare he gave her then was practically begging her to ask if she’d ever heard him tell a joke. She knew he wasn’t lying.
Muttering in disbelief she shook her head.
“Just, stay away from juice boxes then.”
He pulled his gun out and checked it before replacing it inside his coat.
“And don’t shoot anyone.”
“I can’t promise anything.”
She knew that was the best she would get from him. She could practically feel the chaos coming through the door, and the gun strapped at her partner’s side was just one thing she’d have to accept as his way of feeling in control. Hopefully he would leave it there.
A small woman answered the door when she knocked. The woman had dark hair pulled back into a ponytail and her arms were laden with the wiggling form of a crying two-year-old.
“Can I help you?” She practically screamed over the cries of the little boy in her arms.
Juliet allowed her partner to give the whole speech and only showed her badge when it came to that point in his monologue. She was busy mentally prepping for dealing with her partner’s reaction to the children. It wasn’t just any of the children, but an overgrown one in particular she knew was somewhere inside.
She followed behind her partner into the building, careful to avoid stepping on any of the toys that littered the ground like a minefield. She flinched when Lassiter crunched an action figure under his boot, but he didn’t seem to care.
“Most of the children are already gathered in the other room. You may want to wait for the show to finish and then you can give your presentation.”
The woman pulled open a door with her free arm and gestured them in.
There were literally dozens of children from varying ages in the room. But the room was strangely quiet, except for the voices coming from the corner that held every pair of eyes in the room.
It took her a minute to recognize the owners of the pseudo character voices, but once she figured it out she knew Carlton was going to have a fit.
They might be able to keep the gun tucked away so long as Shawn didn’t bring any juice boxes over. But knowing him, that’d be the first thing he’d do.