(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.