One could note that this was all Gus' fault, the whole damned thing. More specifically, it was Gus' absence that really set everything into motion. Whenever he was gone, there was no one around to keep Shawn distracted when he got bored. And Shawn Spencer was a master at being bored. He made it into an art form, something to be admired and contemplated for years to come.
Burton Guster had to go to a pharmaceutical sales conference in Atlanta and he would be gone for a good two weeks. This would've been fine if the SBPD had a case for him, but they did not. Crime, while never truly resting, had it's slow moments like everything else in life and this was one of those occasions. Shawn didn't blame the police for this lapse in caseloads, but that didn't mean he was going to sit idly by and let them have all the glory of protecting Santa Barbara to themselves. Oh no, he was definitely going to do something about this and he did not have Gus around to keep him from doing something stupid, something like sneaking into the cold case office in the basement of the station.
He had gone in under the guise of saying hi to people and taking care of some paper work Gus made him do for their business. Once he made it past the front desk, he snuck his way past the bullpen, where he could see Lassie's lanky figure hunched over his desk and staring intently at his computer monitor. Juliet was notably absent and he made a mental note be extra careful, seeing as she could pop up anywhere at anytime and was never to be underestimated. He carefully picked his way through the organized yet chaotic bustle of police business and managed to slip into the side corridor that would lead him to the back stairs. From there, he would just have to get past the officer that monitored all activity dealing with the evidence lockers, the records room, and the cold case office.
Making it to the staircase, he crept his way down quietly as he kept his eyes peeled for any signs of other people. Reaching the bottom, he pushed the door open and cringed at the squeal of protest it made at being opened. Pausing for a minute, he waited to see if anyone had heard that noise. When it seemed that no one was going to investigate it, he slipped into the corridor and let the door fall shut gently behind him. Sneaking along silently was a skill he had picked up over the years and not just because his father made him learn it. Years of going into places he did not belong had prepared him well for the task at hand and he made good use of this developed skill. It just would not do at all to be caught and handed over to Lassie to be dealt with, a worst case scenario if there ever was one. No, he couldn't afford to be caught in this; it was far too dangerous for his mood. Plus, it would spell an end for any excitement he was starting to feel for going where he didn't belong. The threat of being caught was cool, the actual event of being caught, not so much.
The hallway opened up into a small alcove-like room up ahead, another corridor branching off to the left from here and the one he was in continuing on the other side. The room, which had no doors, held little more than a copy machine, a couple vending machines, a trash bin, and a clock on the wall that was off by a good seven minutes. No one was making use of this space at the moment and for that he was grateful. Still, he wasn't out of the woods yet and he needed to remain cautious if he was to pull this off. Shawn needed to get past the desk jockey that was way too armed for such a job and get out afterwards without being caught. Fortunately, he had an extremely awesome plan for that.
Throughout all the years he'd spent in this building, both as a child and an adult, he'd learned the layout of everything very well, including all the secrets that others didn't know about. One of these myriad secrets was that the cold case office shared a vent with the lonely little utility closet that was in no way located near the evidence control desk. Of course, the vent wasn't just shared by the two rooms, but he only needed it for that. So, with nary a thought on the path going left, he continued on straight past the little room and down to the end of the hallway past the restrooms.
Picking the lock of the utility closet was child's play and he was inside in mere seconds. He breathed a sigh of relief once he was safely inside, feeling good to have gotten this far in his mission. Sliding past all the cleaning supplies and equipment, he reached up and used a screwdriver from the maintenance man's tool box to unscrew and pry open the vent cover on the far wall. Setting it aside, he climbed up inside the vent shaft with the speed and grace of someone who had done this very thing more times than could be counted (well, counted by other people, he knew full well that this was the twenty-seventh time he had done this in this building alone). Once in, he reached back down and set the vent cover back up to make it look normal in case the janitor came in.
Shawn started shimmying his way down the tight little passage, recalling from his perfect memory exactly where he needed to go. It took upwards of five minutes to slither his way along to the vent cover he needed to exit through. The trickiest part of this whole venture was to open this vent cover from the wrong side, but he had another awesome plan for that. Long ago, he had managed to replace the original vent cover with one he had fashioned together himself. His looked exactly like all the others down here, except for one small difference; the screws on his had been soldered into place and the threaded ends sawed clean off. The effect was such that it appeared to look normal, but could be pulled or pushed out without needing a screwdriver. It had taken a lot of planning and hard work to get it all done, but he'd managed the task admirably and was able to reap the benefits today. All the vent covers down here had been replaced by him with other fakes, except for the utility closet one as he didn't need it to be opened like that. It was his entrance and he was more than capable of using a screwdriver from the outside. Plus, he didn't want to go through the extra effort of making yet another fake vent cover when he didn't need to. With nimble fingers, he popped it open and set it aside on top of the closest shelf he could reach.
The Santa Barbara Police Department wasn't big enough to have a detective assigned full time to the cold case office, there not being enough money in the budget for that sort of expenditure. Therefore, the office was little more than a storage unit for old cases that had gone cold with someone only going in to clean it out, put a new file in, or in extreme cases pull one out when new information had sprung up. It was highly doubtful that any of these scenarios was currently being played out and he slid his way inside the darkened room stealthily and silently, landing deftly on the carpeted floor below.
Reaching in his pocket, he extracted a small L.E.D. flashlight that he'd liberated from Gus' desk and turned it on. Now, he could get to the cool stuff, such as looking through things in boxes that people hadn't looked through in years. It was one of his favorite activities to look through old boxes like that and see what sort of cool stuff he could find. This was no different and he wasted no time in getting to task. He searched through file after file and box after box, finding nothing of real interest. Some of the casefiles looked like they could be fun to go through for a little while, but he was certain that they wouldn't really last long as entertainment. It wasn't until something caught his attention from the corner of his eye that Shawn's waning excitement came back in full force.
There, poking out the top of a half-collapsed cardboard box, was a dusty old film reel canister. Abandoning the file he was looking through, he slinked his way over to the box that had been stuffed away in the corner. It was gunmetal grey and the evidence sticker on it was almost completely torn off, leaving nothing behind to identify it by. Well, he did spot the first four digits of the evidence control number that had survived the sticker's removal; J675, they read. Grabbing it, he pried the case open and saw that the film reel it contained was still there and closed it back up. That was it; he absolutely had to know what was on this thing if he was to ever get a wink of sleep again in his life.
Shawn took the film reel and made his way through the room back to the vent, climbing back inside as quietly as possible. Carefully replacing the vent cover, he started inching his way along through the shaft towards the utility closet. He made it to the small room and covered up the vent hole, putting the screws back in before he put the screwdriver back where it belonged. With one last look around to be sure he didn't miss anything that would tell others he'd been in here, he cracked the door open and took a peek out into the hallway and saw that it was empty. Before he left the closet, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a brown paper grocery bag that had been folded up neatly with a Gus level of precision and slipped the canister inside. Using the little paper handles that rarely ever survived use with a full load, he carried it with him as he walked down the corridor back to the staircase.
Once back on the first floor, he started walking a little more confidently and easily. Now, he was less concerned with making noise, as he was with looking suspicious. As far as anyone else was concerned, he had legitimate business to be here and wasn't going to let a single person believe otherwise. Of course, that sort of thinking meant nothing if it was Lassiter who caught him, or the Chief for that matter, but it was a risk he was just going to have to take. Fortunately, he was able to make his way through the entire building with only having to say hi to Buzz really quickly as he was exiting the front door. Stuffing the bag into one of his storage compartments on his bike, he started it up and drove off into the streets of Santa Barbara.
Finding a film projector to play it with turned out to be a far more difficult task than actually getting the treasured item itself. The wiry little dude he talked to at Best Buy just laughed in his face and the fine folks at Radioshack did little more than stare at him like he was mentally challenged in some way. After searching his third thrift store in as many hours, someone finally took pity on him and pointed Shawn in the direction of a reliable film equipment and supplies shop somewhere downtown, even going so far as to provide him with some rudimentary directions. It took another half hour or so before he finally found the little store, which was sandwiched uncomfortably between a large sports bar and a dismally failing travel agency.
Entering the shop, the doorbell chiming dully overhead, his eyes took in everything there was to see in this place. Dust coated everything thickly and he wondered briefly if this place was even open for business anymore, but dismissed the ridiculousness of the thought out of hand. Of course it was still open; the sign out front said so and the door was unlocked, besides, there was still plenty of expensive-looking film equipment here and no one was just going to leave that behind. He made it about halfway through the front space, before an extremely geriatric man with a hunched-over back meandered his way up from the back room. The man looked over at him with a dull curiosity in his eyes and Shawn was left to wonder how long it had been since his last customer had come in.
"Can I help you, young man?" asked the old-timer, his voice dry and raspy from too little use.
"Uh, yeah," he replied, reaching into his paper bag to pull out the film reel canister. "I need something that'll play this." Shawn pried open the lid so that the man didn't see the torn off sticker and start asking questions about where it came from. Sure, there was nothing on it that would scream out ‘police property' to anyone, but it didn't hurt to be cautious.
Putting on a pair of bifocals as he shuffled feebly over to the counter, the old man peered at it with a keen eye and said, "ah, 16mm. film stock. Old, but still used fairly often for something considered so obsolete."
"So you have something to play it with?" he asked, feeling hopeful that he might be successful here.
"Well, yeah. Are you looking to buy or rent?"
"I didn't realize that I was gonna have the option, so I'll say rent. I shouldn't need the player that long."
"Very well, let me show you how to operate it and we'll write up the rental slip." The old man turned around and shuffled off into the back room again, muttering something to himself that Shawn couldn't quite catch.
Twenty minutes later, he had a film projector in a large case with a white projector screen folded up inside and no way to get it anywhere on his bike. Fortunately, the Psych office wasn't too far off from here and it was a nice afternoon, so he walked. It took another hour to get there, put the film and the projector inside, lock it back up, get his bike, and return to the office. Once that hassle was dealt with, he set up the projector as he was shown how to by the old dude, hung up the screen, dimmed the lights, and popped some popcorn; it was movie time.
Cracking open a beer and settling down on his recliner with his bowl of popcorn nestled in his arms, he proceeded to watch whatever the hell it was he'd liberated from the SBPD basement. His curiosity and excitement was almost overwhelming and he couldn't wait to see what was on this reel.
The film was silent, but he didn't quite mind, his eyes fixed on what was playing out on the screen. It was a little overexposed, the color looking drained from just about everything. The scene was of an expansive and well-maintained yard, a majestic valley stretched out beautifully behind it with mountains just barely visible in the distance and blue skies draped over it all. Between the yard and the valley was an odd dike-like mound of dirt that traced the outer edge of the property, what was obviously a trail running along the top of it. There were some trees on the other side of this rise, but they were set further down as if they were downhill from it with only their top branches visible from this angle. About midway along, a small wooden shack built at the base of the risen trail in the yard blocked off the view of a small portion of it.
People were milling about in the yard and judging by their clothing and their hairstyles, he would say that this was filmed at some point in the seventies. It appeared to be a birthday party for an obviously spoiled little girl who had to be nine if the number of candles on her cake were to be believed. Family members were setting things up with the kiddies all corralled together at the main table, pointed birthday hats sitting adorably on their heads. All in all, it looked like a very normal family get together and he was starting to feel disappointed at the let down of it all.
In the background, a young girl who looked to be a teenager walked lazily along the trail, first coming into the picture from the right hand side of the screen. She was pretty, her blonde hair like country straw and Shawn suddenly thought of a teenaged Jules, a smile flitting cross his face. At some point, the party-goers noticed her and waved at her, some even trying to gesture for her to join them. The girl apparently decided that she didn't want to intrude, for she waved them off politely with a smile that he knew was beautiful without even being able to make out many details about her features. This young lady continued her lazy journey along the trail, reaching the ugly little shack. Disappearing behind it, Shawn naturally expected to see her pop up on the other side. The only problem was that she didn't reappear; the background remained suspiciously absent of her presence.
Shawn leaned forward in his seat, his face contorted in confusion and shock. That beautiful young girl never reached the other side of that shack. It seemed that the party-goers were just as confused as Shawn and a man with the biggest pornstache he'd ever seen raced off across the lawn and up the small rise to look. He turned back to the camera and the other people and shrugged his shoulders. That was when the film ended and it went to white. He was left sitting there wondering what it was that he'd just seen, the hairs on the back of his neck rising up and he knew something was seriously wrong with what had just happened on this film.