The Horseman, Death, decided that if there was any time to start his game, if there was any place, it might as well have been now, here, in this park, at this time. He was an impulsive soul. Death fell swiftly, as the saying went.
Santa Barbara was almost too small of a city to be worth his game. The Horseman tsked quietly to himself, peering through the leaves of the tree at his first victim. The Other protested slightly, but Death was in complete control. Nothing could stop his game now.
She was a pretty little thing, with light blonde hair that shone in the moonlight and a baseball cap on her head. By her outfit, a t-shirt and sweat pants complete with a jacket and tennis shoes, he could tell she was a runner, and that was perfectly fine by him. Nobody could outrun Death.
He was in the Santa Barbara Central Park, which was about as small as a school's playground and backyard. The Horseman snorted, taking in the irony of the statement. Once the tabloids got word of his game, they'd call him a coward, say he'd be too afraid to start it in a bigger town, where the better detectives and the better law enforcement was. But he wasn't being cowardly. Nothing scared Death.
No, instead, he was being smart. Tonight was decidedly his last night in this tiny little town and there was no time like the present to get going and leave.
But first he had to make this first, crucial part in the game, to get it started. Once it started, it never stopped, even if he wasn't there to see it.
The runner had stopped at the water fountain in the park, just as he knew she would. She bent over the metal sink, and that was when he made his move.
"Excuse me, miss?" he called out, stepping out of the bushes.
She whirled and backed up a few steps. Smart girl, he mused. She'd definitely had the instincts. Not that that was going to save her now.
"Yes?" she asked cautiously, suspiciously.
He gave her a friendly smile, a mellow smile to show her he meant her no harm. "Sorry, um, did you drop this?"
Her hand automatically went to her pocket, and he knew what would be missing-her phone, her lifeline, her contact to the world. In his experience, there was almost nothing in personal devices that humans treasured more than their phones.
She stepped forward, peering at the device in his hand-yes, it definitely was her phone. The look of relief on her face faded when she looked up to face him, and found herself staring at the overly large gun. The Horseman twisted it deftly in his hand, and then let it rest on her pretty little forehead.
"Sorry, Anna," he said, cooing a bit. "Silly little Anna. Don't you know you can't run from Death? Don't you know you can't hide from Death?"
Anna began to cry. The phone was still in the Horseman's hand, and he smiled a placating smile. "Don't worry, Anna, baby," he said softly in a sing song. "Don't worry, baby, it'll be all over soon."
With that he smashed the gun into her face, watching, almost in slow motion, as it went slack, her eyes going wide and then slipping closed in the same second. He saw her falling, how she crashed her head on the edge of the water fountain.
The Horseman relished in the power. He was Death. Nothing could stop Death. Death was inevitable.
And today, it seemed as though Death had become of Anna Coones.
"I am never," Gus declared, "ever, ever doing that again, Shawn."
Shawn pouted a little bit. "Really? Never? ‘Cause, you know, I have another trip scheduled on my calendar, and-"
"Nope," Gus cut him off. "Forget it, Shawn. Disneyland is for little kids and people with a sweet tooth, and I'm not wasting another two days of my life tramping around California Adventures looking for buried treasure you know wasn't there with you again!"
"What are you guys arguing about?" Juliet questioned as they walked into the department.
"Gus won't go to Disneyland with me!" Shawn whined. "Even though he knows he had fun on Splash Mountain and playing those Toy Story video games."
"The video games were fun," Gus admitted. "But falling from fifty feet, having your foot smashing into my back; no, Shawn, I don't particularly want to do that again.
Shawn opened his mouth to shoot off a quick reply, and then noticed the solemn atmosphere of the station. He frowned, eyeing Juliet, who was stacking files and typing on her computer so hard he was afraid she'd break it.
"Easy, Jules," he joked. "What'd that keyboard ever do to you?"
Juliet looked startled for a second, staring at the keyboard like she had no idea what she'd been doing. Then she turned and looked at Shawn with a quiet, tired look.
"We have a serial killer in Santa Barbara, Shawn," she said quietly. "He murdered a nineteen year old girl last night, while you guys were away."
Shawn's smile slipped a bit. He'd had considerably bad experiences with serial killers.
"Anything I can do?" he asked.
"Stay out of our way," Lassiter cut in, dropping a heavy looking file on Juliet's desk on the way to his.
Shawn easily sidestepped as the detective pushed past him to get to his desk. "Oh, c'mon, Lassie," he complained. "I've caught all the serial killers, save one, from Santa Barbara."
"Exactly," Lassie stated, eyeing him with an arched brow. "Let us cops do what we do best for a change, huh?"
The psychic frowned at him, a moment of genuine puzzlement on his face before he broke into a grin. "Oh, Lassifrass, don't tell me you're jealous!"
"When hell freezes over," Lassiter seethed.
Shawn nodded solemnly. "So as soon as I put ice in your pants."
"Come anywhere near my pants and I will shoot you, Spencer, don't think I won't."
"Jeez, Lassie," he returned, smirking, "I'm not really into that hinky stuff, but if that's your thing, you know--"
"Shawn," Henry called from across the room, saving Shawn from getting his nose broken by the detective. He waved his son over, along with Gus.
"What's up, Dad?" Shawn prompted, jumping on top of the desk. "Need help painting your garage again?"
"The Chief wants all available consultants on this new case," he said, ignoring the earlier comment. "That means you and Gus need to go to the crime scene with Lassiter and Juliet."
"Just like that?" Shawn asked, shooting a look at Gus. "What, you got a date or something you want us out of the way of?"
Henry rubbed his forehead. "This is one of the most twisted cases I've seen, Shawn," he said, glaring at his son. "Please take it seriously. The Chief insists, and I agree, but you will have to do everything Lassiter says. I don't want to take any chances."
"Everything?" Shawn whined.
"He'll take us off the case," Gus added, scowling. "He said so just now."
"Karen'll overrule him," Henry offered. "I mean it, Shawn. I'm trusting you with this case, but at the first sign of trouble I'm pulling you out, and that's that."
Shawn waved him off. "Sure, Dad, we got this." He held his hands up together in a classic "gun" signal and looked around furtively. "The only consultants to ever catch a serial killer single-handedly!"
"Actually," Henry said slowly, "you won't be the only consultants on the case."
"I hate you."
Gus looked over at Shawn, who was slumped so low in the front seat that his head barely touched the window, arms crossed, and, Gus was almost positive, a full on pout on his lips. By definition, Shawn was sulking like a child doing a sit down fit.
"Me?" he demanded. "What did I do?"
"You did that thing where you think I'm being weird and screw up everything."
The other man rolled his eyes so hard they might've popped out of his head. "Shawn, it's not my fault the Chief requested we get help from the FBI, alright? It was your dad's idea, and to be honest, I'm not complaining."
"Gus, I have really bad experiences with FBI agents," Shawn said dryly. "In case you've forgotten."
"Trust me when I say I haven't."
"Turn right in one-point-four miles."
"Dude, turn that thing off," Shawn said, annoyed.
"Forget it, Shawn," Gus said shortly. "This Navi is helping us get to the crime scene, and every scene from there on out. If you don't like it, you can get your own car."
Shawn eyed the small screen on the dashboard. "Her voice is giving me the creeps," he whined.
"How can Sasha give you the creeps?" Gus retorted. "She's got a voice like an angel."
"Oh, come on, man!" Shawn sat up a little and stared at him. "You named it?"
Gus' eyes went wide for a second and then he got his flailing under control. "Uh--no. Don't be ridiculous, Shawn, her--its name came like that. In the manual."
"Oh, so I bet you and Salsa are going to go get married some where in the Caribbean," Shawn grumbled.
"It's Sasha," Gus corrected automatically, reaching up to stroke the Navi.
"That's just creepy, man," Shawn complained. "I'd say ‘get a room', but I don't even want to think about what you two would do."
"Knock it off, Shawn."
"You have arrived at your destination."
"Thank you, Sasha," Gus said pleasantly. Shawn rolled his eyes.
The small park was one of the many scattered around Santa Barbara, nothing special about any of them. Now that the sun was out and shining above, it looked oddly joyful and out of place. Still, an early fall breeze hinted at a winter to come, bringing with it the sudden chill of the morning air.
Lassiter and Juliet were already at the scene, along with various CSIs, a dead body, and two obvious, stick-out-like-sore-thumbs Feds. Shawn ducked under the yellow tape, his mouth open and ready to annoy.
"Hey, Lassifrass!" he yelled, waving. "Erick Estrada called--he wants his aviators back."
The Head Detective scowled.
"Careful, Mr. Glass Half Empty," Shawn tsked, "keep frowning and your face will stick like that."
"He always like this?" one of the FBI suits asked wryly.
"You have no idea," Gus grumbled.
"Shawn Spencer, Psychic Extraordinaire," Shawn said, beaming as he took the Fed's hand and pumped it once. "This is my partner, Sir Kicks-a-Lot. Don't ask, he does this thing with his foot--"
Gus' toe slammed into his shin and Shawn grunted. "Yeah, that. Anyways, I see you're Feds--are you here to help with the case?"
The first Fed raised a brow at him, an easy sort of smile stretching across his face. He had broad shoulders and short, spiky dirty blonde hair, with bright blue sparkling eyes that looked Shawn and Gus up and down. "Yeah, I'm Special Agent Jacob Turnbow, and this is my trainee--"
"Partner," the female agent interrupted with a short glare. She had caramel skin, long, dark, curly hair pulled back into a low ponytail, and friendly, light brown eyes. "Maya Rodriguez, nice to meet you, Shawn. And, uh, you too, Sir Kicks-a-Lot."
"It's Gus," Gus corrected, rolling his eyes at his best friend.
"Now that introductions are over," Lassiter growled, redirecting their attention to the late Anna Coones. "Vic was nineteen, liked to go out for late jogs. TOD is about eleven thirty last night, nobody saw or heard a thing."
Anna Coones wasn't a pretty sight. Her blonde hair was now streaked with the color of scarlet, dark red blood matted to her baseball cap that was barely staying on her head. She'd been stabbed, by Shawn's count, at least twelve times, all in strategic places on her body, where she died the slowest death possible.
Her wrists had been tied to her feet, which were then tied to the bare branch of a maple tree by the road. Baby blue eyes, partially obscured by her blonde hair, stared past Gus' head into nothing, and a strip of duct tape had been wrapped several times around her head as a gag. Broken bits of cell phone lay smashed underneath her.
"She was upside down when some joggers found her," Lassiter said, his voice tight and sharp. "ME got the okay to take her down a while ago, but I wanted to see what she looked like."
Turnbow and Rodriguez immediately went to work, walking around the body and studying it intensively. Shawn raised a brow at them and then surveyed the scene himself, eyeing the gruesome, limp body hanging in the tree. There was almost no evidence on the body itself, but Anna Coones wasn't what caught his eye.
Etched into the tree trunk the image of a horse, almost imperceptible from the angle he was standing at, seeing as some of the blonde's long hair, which, he also noticed, had been pulled, almost gently, from its pony-tail, draped across the horse like a curtain.
On the horse was a rider, who looked more like a stick figure to him than an actual person. In the stick figure's hand was a long, striking scythe, like the kind a grim reaper would carry.
Shawn smirked. Showtime.
Without warning he reached out, clenching both fists together, and proceeded to mime stabbing himself in the stomach.
"Ow!" he yelped, and ‘stabbed' himself again.
By now everyone had noticed his antics, Juliet watching attentively, Lassiter rolling his eyes, and Gus explaining to the two befuddled FBI agents what was happening.
Shawn screwed his eyes shut and reached out blindly. "Gus!" he yelled. "I need you!"
His friend hurried to his side and hissed, "What the hell, Shawn?"
"Just roll with it," he whispered back, and then crashed to his knees.
"The spirit of Anna Coones is here!" he moaned.
"Oh, for the love of all things holy," Lassiter muttered.
"She says it was a pony!" Shawn yelled, throwing his hands up. He paused, as if he were listening, and then corrected himself. "No, not a pony... a horse! Nooo, that's not right either..." Suddenly he clutched his head and wailed, "Ohhhh Underworld! River Styx! Blue fire hair! Hades! The world is ending! Book of Revealing!"
"Book of Revelations," Juliet corrected, at the same time Gus said, "Death?"
Shawn pointed at Gus and nodded furiously. "This killer; he calls himself Death, the Fourth Horseman."
It was silent for a second as he caught his breath. The two agents were looking both amused, amazed, and slightly freaked out.
"I apologize for the interruption," he said wryly as he walked up to them. "Sometimes my visions can hit me at anytime, in any place."
"He once had a vision in the middle of a movie theatre," Gus added. "That was a weird night."
Gus snorted. "Poor popcorn lady."
"So you really are psychic?" Maya jumped in, sounding curious.
Shawn placed a hand to his temple. "I am. It is both a gift and a curse I am forced to bear." He stared dramatically into the distance as he trailed off on the sentence, until Gus nudged him in the shoulder.
"Why are you talking like that, Shawn? We're not at a Renaissance fair."
His friend frowned at him. "Thanks a lot! Ruin my dramatic moment, why don't you!"
"Shawn, can we be serious, here?" Juliet said. "You're saying that the killer calls himself Death? Like the one in the Bible?"
"Book of Revelations," Gus explained unnecessarily. "In the Bible, there were four riders on horses who brought the apocalypse. Death was the last one, the fourth Horseman, who rode on the pale horse. No idea why he chose Death, though."
"I think I just found his calling card," Turnbow said grimly, pushing back a few strands of Coone's hair to get to the symbol in the tree. "Did the CSI's get this?"
"Probably," Lassiter replied. "Somebody take a picture, just in case."
Shawn already had the picture etched into his head, and for the first time in a long time his blood boiled in rage. She was a young, petite thing, and this killer thought he had the power to control life and death. The way he covered her eyes with her hair almost mocked the detectives with a gentleness you just didn't see in serial killers, let alone killers who held this much rage or sadistic pleasure, taking a woman's--a girl's life in such a way it was worse than criminal. It was animal.
Gus nudged him again in the shoulder, but this time his expression was one of concern. "You alright?" he murmured, quietly so no one could hear.
Shawn watched as Lassiter and Juliet moved to assist the agents in photographing the symbol in the tree.
"Yeah," he said finally, turning on his heel. "Let's get out of here. Jerk chicken?"
Gus smirked. "You know that's right."
He didn't want to be here. Death moved as swiftly as the wind, in and out within seconds. He shouldn't still be here.
Inwardly he glared. Having been repressed, he could only watch as the psychic turned on his heel with his friend. They were so close! Earlier he couldn't remember where he'd seen them before. Now, it seemed as if it were too good to be true.
This was the same man, Shawn Spencer, who put Mr. Yang away. It amazed him, the smugness that radiated off him. How could he be so completely arrogant? Mr. Yang was one of Death's idols, and she was now locked in a psychiatric hospital.
The look on the psychic's face, at least, was gratifying as he looked over young Anna Coones. The sheer hatred that seemed to flare in his very eyes... it pleased Death that he could cause such a strong emotion.
Turnbow and Rodriguez packed up their stuff, and Death glared. Why, if he weren't so tied up right now... with a snarl he pushed himself back to wait. As soon as night fell he'd be able to strike again. His game would continue.
Of course, now that the agents were here, now that the psychic was here... he may just have to stay in Santa Barbara. Even look up his newest idol, Mr. Yin. In fact.... Death began to smile as the plan formed into his head.
The game had been altered by this change in events. But maybe that wasn't such a bad thing.