He still dreamt of her occasionally.
Perhaps more than just occasionally if he were to be completely honest with himself. There was a time where self-reflection would have been considered taboo. But with time, loss, and maturity, a little introspection every now and then was hardly anything to fear.
Sometimes when he dreamed of her he could smell cinnamon and hear voices in the background amidst the sounds of carnival rides and laughing children. In those dreams, her voice was younger and light.
But tonight, her whisper was fresher. Recent. Deeper, older, with the same calming undertone he’d heard her use to urge tight-lipped officers to trust a stranger and open up.
He allowed the hushed voice to float over his ears and pull him into a deeper slumber -- the whisper started to fade into the background fog of a dreamless sleep.
Then suddenly he felt the lightest brush of fingertips against his face, bristling ever so slightly against the stubble of barely visible beard. He startled sharply with a jerk against the cushions of the couch.
His eyes opened even before he heard his name, clearly now. Confused, he could only open and close his mouth wordlessly as he pulled himself into a sitting position. He scrubbed at his face as he searched desperately for a suitable response, but found none.
“Well are you going to say something or just sit there?” She laughed.
“What happened, Henry? You two were working so well together.”
He felt the frustration build again. His face flushed with the sudden rise of his blood pressure. He couldn’t help it; he paced as he relayed the story, leaving no detail unexplored. He told it all. The news coverage. The public humiliation. His one and only firing from a job. The fight afterward.
“I just can’t believe even after all that happened, all that he did, that he bothered to run right to you crying over how I hurt his feelings.”
“You don’t have to protect him,” he groused. It had always felt like that – Shawn and Maddie vs. the Big Bad Henry.
“Henry, I’m not really here-”
“No, no,” he shook his head. “Shawn has done a lot of things, Maddie, but if he put you up to this-”
“Henry,” she said sharply with a tone that she had never used towards him before. It caught his attention. She smiled. “There are some things that you need to see. That’s why I’m here.”
He could only stare. She wasn’t making any sense.
“What’s that over by the fireplace, Henry?” The sudden change of subject didn’t ease his confusion at all.
“It’s just some old fishing gear, a box of lures, old crap like that.”
Henry flopped back into the recliner. He leaned his elbow on the arm rest and kneaded his forehead, trying to make sense of how any of this connected to his son. Then again, Shawn didn’t make normal connections on most days. Maybe that was the point?
“No, Henry, in the basket.”
“What the hell?” He stumbled towards the other side of the room, cursing himself for not noticing the unfamiliar basket before. Uncertain, he paused to take a closer look before touching it. He crouched next to it, scanning over its features, careful not to make any contact with it.
Maddie crouched next to him and tapped it with a brightly polished fingernail. “It’s not a bomb.”
“I can’t be so sure. It wasn’t here before. Someone’s been here. I’m calling Vick.” He reached towards his back pocket and pulled out his cell phone.
“Henry, just look inside,” Maddie pointed with a finger before crossing her arms. “Trust me…”
Against his better judgment he repocketed his phone before carefully peeling back the gingham cloth draped over the top which hid the contents of the wicker basket from view.
“Yarn? Socks? Maddie, what is this?”
“It’s knitting, Henry.” She wore an amused expression.
“I don’t understand…”
“You took up knitting,” Maddie explained slowly as if speaking to a small child.
“The hell I did! I’ve never knitted a damn thing a day in my life.”
“I happen to know for a fact that is not true, Henry. You told me yourself that your grandmother taught all of her grandchildren. But more importantly, when Shawn did not come back to Santa Barbara you got bored with fishing and took up knitting.”
“You wondered what your life would have been like if Shawn hadn’t returned to Santa Barbara.”
“I…Maddie…,” Henry stuttered.
“I told you that there were some things you needed to see, Henry. That’s why I’m here, to show you what life would have been like if Shawn hadn’t come back to Santa Barbara.”
Once again struck speechless, he finally registered the time on the clock placed strategically on the mantle. He supposed he should have realized much sooner that there was no way Maddie would show up in his house at three a.m. under normal circumstances.
He was dreaming.
There was no other explanation that would account for her unscheduled presence…or the knitting. He curled his kip in disgust.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of, Henry. In fact, it just seems like something you would do.”
“Many famous men have taken up needle crafts, Rosey Grier, for example. You know, at many points in history it was considered a man’s patriotic duty to knit.”
“I do know that. But there’s still no way in hell that I’d spend all my time fixing up…,” he threw his arms around in frustration, searching for a word, “…baby booties!”
“Not normally, no. But Henry, after you filled your freezer with fish you made it your mission to fill the freezers of your poker buddies next and then your neighbors and then former coworkers and so on and so forth. When you had succeeded in alienating everyone you had ever known by dumping fish on their doorsteps, you finally realized that you needed something to do with your hands that would give you something practical and tangible for your efforts. I think it’s wonderful!”
“You do?” He asked skeptically. He wasn’t so sure that he wasn’t being strung along. But she did seem genuinely sincere…
“I do,” she nodded with a proud smile. The smile fell quickly, “But Henry, this isn’t just about you, you know. When Shawn didn’t come back home, there were other consequences.”
He set his jaw grimly and crossed his arms. “I figured as much. There are always consequences.”
Maddie tipped her head in acknowledgment. “Why don’t we step into the kitchen?”
Henry followed her as she guided him through the doorway and gestured towards the table.
There sitting on the butcher block surface was his leather-bound scrapbook. He walked over and ran his hands over the worn cover. This was a familiar thing. He knew each and every crinkle of its surface. It had been repurposed many times over the years, but had served most of its lifetime journaling Henry’s career as a police officer.
That had changed a few years ago when he began collecting newspaper clippings of his son with greater frequency, sometimes adding to its pages two to three times per week.
“You’re proud of him,” Maddie pulled a chair next to him and sat comfortably close.
“Absolutely not,” he exclaimed. An upturned lip belied his tone, though he didn’t try to stop it.
With great care, he opened the cover of the scrapbook, ever mindful of aging binding and fully appreciative of the spine that creaked upon bending.
The articles were sequenced just as they should be, in chronological order according to the date that each case was closed. He truly didn’t even need to scan through the pages since he knew each one by heart. Hell, even if he hadn’t read the clippings he knew the details since (more often than not) he was involved, directly or indirectly, with the inner workings of each case.
Still, he took in each headline. It was a good eye exercise if nothing else.
Then suddenly it all changed. He blinked rapidly. Unbelieving, he quickly flipped backwards several pages, momentarily forgetting his normal care of each delicate page.
With each article and each photograph, as soon as his eyes could take in the images, they were replaced just as quickly. Headlines that he once knew by heart were being re-written before his eyes.
SBPD Head Detective Arrested for Prisoner’s Murder
Explosion Gigantesca de Romance Actor Murdered by Co-star. Ratings Plummet. Series Canceled
Santa Barbara Unsolved Murder Rate at All Time High
“Shawn wasn’t here to solve those cases, Henry. Don’t you see? Gus still works his pharmaceutical sales job and Psych was never started.”
Henry rubbed a hand over his head while continuing to flip page after page. The visual reminder of what he already knew cemented in his gut. Murders deemed to be suicide; wrongful convictions; crime rings that were never prosecuted past a surface level.
“Henry, you had a part in this too. Don’t forget that. You make a good team. All of you.”
“I didn’t do much.”
“You did enough. You’ve done much more than maybe even you realize. Henry, Shawn needs your support even if he’ll never admit it. He’s just as stubborn as you.”
“Maddie, he got along just fine without me for fifteen years.”
“Skip to the last page. Maybe you’ll reconsider.”
Her expression, suddenly grim, stole his breath. He returned his gaze back to the scrapbook and took a deep breath of preparation. The remaining pages were blank, front and back. As he turned each one, his breath quickened until he finally reached the last page.
And he lost his breath altogether.
There in bold black and white, perfectly centered in mocking fashion, the ancient Chinese symbol of yin/yang.
“Why is this here?” He demanded. His eyes scanned the room quickly, trying to determine if this was a trick. Or worse – a trap.
“Just because Shawn wasn’t here, doesn’t mean that the threat of Yang went away.”
“How many did Yang kill because Shawn wasn’t here to stop her?”
“I don’t understand.”
“Yang didn’t stay in Santa Barbara,” Maddie said.
She was speaking in riddles again. He hated that. She should just flat out tell him what she wanted to- Damn. His eyes widened as realization struck.
“She followed him.”
Maddie nodded with a grave expression.
“He must have been on her radar for years – God only knows how long,” Maddie choked slightly, the words becoming thick in her throat. “Just because Shawn didn’t solve crimes here doesn’t mean he sat on the skills that you taught him. He still called in tips wherever he traveled. He made a name for himself elsewhere. You know he can’t help himself,” she smiled slightly and collected herself before continuing. “Yang followed Shawn, Henry. And he had no-one. None of the other police departments were familiar with the case. They weren’t prepared, couldn‘t cope.”
“How many?” Henry whispered with a bowed head, reliving the horror of past encounters.
“Eleven victims in eight cities. There was never a pattern but there was always a game that resulted in the same prize. Each death took him farther from coming back home. He learned to move around more often. He refused to make contact with anyone in case it marked them as victims. He stopped sending postcards. He never called Gus, never came back to visit. He didn’t dare. Eventually, he dropped off the radar completely. After that, I don‘t know-” she broke off, unable to continue.
He lost track of the minutes that they sat in silence as he absorbed the gravity of this revelation. Eventually his breath evened out and the blood no longer hammered in his temples. At some point Maddie’s sniffles slowed then stopped altogether. Though his hands still cramped, they were no longer white knuckled. He began to regain some flexibility in his fingers after having clenched them into fists for so long.
“I know you’re disappointed, Henry.” She said with understanding. It angered him. It was illogical, but he didn’t care.
“He doesn’t think about the consequences that he leaves behind. They’re like breadcrumbs that he throws out for us pigeons,” he snapped, his foul mood starting to return.
“No, but then sometimes that’s how cases get solved,” Maddie countered.
“He’s reckless and irresponsible,” he stated less foully even though it was no less truthful.
“You still love him,” she raised an eyebrow and smiled a bittersweet smile. God, he loved that smile.
“He’s sloppy and refuses to follow procedure,” he challenged stubbornly. He crossed his arms and leaned back in the chair.
“You’re worried,” she stated, refusing to take the bait.
Henry finally deflated at that. He couldn’t deny it. Maddie placed her hand on his, squeezing lightly. He returned the grasp.
“He scares me, Mad,” Henry whispered in resignation.
“I know,” she said softly, “but he needs you as much as you need him.”
“To save my soul from the evils of knitting?”
“Knitting is just the start,” Maddie slapped him playfully on the arm. “Wait until you start latch-hooking rugs.”
He looked up in horror just in time to catch the twinkle in her eye. She was pulling his leg. Thank God. Regardless, he’d needed that moment of brevity. He’d needed it badly. Relaxing slightly, he gave in to the light chuckles that bubbled up in his chest. Together, they rose from the table and ventured back towards the living room. Older, more comfortable, memories of Christmases past permeated his thoughts. He embraced them, letting them overwrite the memories he had seen of what could have been.
He sat himself back on the couch, settling in to the cushions. Maddie remained in place next to the tree, barely visible against the backlighting of the tree. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t see her; she was still as much of a presence as before when her voice wafted over him.
“Mad, would you…” Henry let the question trail off. Though he didn’t speak the words out loud, she picked up the meaning just as he knew she would.
“Henry, you know I’m not really here. But maybe when you wake up, you can ask Shawn. I think you’ll find that you two have a lot to talk about.”
“Yeah,” he agreed, reclining further until he rested his head on the arm. He didn’t even try to hold back a yawn. He supposed he should find it surprising that he almost looked forward to their talk. Not that they would venture into the discussion of feelings. There was no way that Shawn would go for that, he thought to himself.
“Go back to sleep, Henry. Get some rest. Everything will work out the way that it should.”
Her voice faded into the distance as the pull of sleep drew him in deeper. Her words registered in his soul. He felt them warm his heart, wrapping him in comfort and peace.
And he believed her.