Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I do not own any of the characters of Psych and am not affiliated with the show or USA Network. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. I do not own nor am I associated with the Wendy's Frosty, Schlitterbahn water parks, Jaws, the Peanuts character Snoopy, the Playboy Mansion, or the canned meat product SPAM.
*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place after my previous Psych Fan Fiction stories "Choose It Or Lose It", "It Can Happen", and "This Stalker Thing Kind Of Sucks", but BEFORE "Stir Crazy". Events affecting the Lassiter/Shawn and Lassiter/Juliet dynamics that take place these previous stories are mentioned in this one. You might want to read them first. Doing so is not a requirement to understand what is going on in this one, but it will help alleviate any confusion that might occur when the references pop up.*
For those of you who don't know your firearms, you might want to follow these links before reading, as I get rather technical with naming the guns used in this story:
The M-4 carbine assault rifle (standard issue "patrol rifle" used by many police departments): http://www.colt.com/mil/M4.asp
The Remington 1100 tactical shotgun (8 round capacity): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remington_1100
The FN P90 tactical assault rifle: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FN_P90
"Why are we here again, Shawn?" Gus inquired as he used the remote to lock the doors of his tiny blue company car.
"My psychic libido tells me that we're desperately needed here today, Gus," Shawn explained as he mined the last dregs of his Wendy's chocolate frosty out of the bottom of the cup with his spoon.
"Wow, that's interesting, seeing as how the police haven't called us in on a case for more than a month," Gus retorted. "I've actually had time to take care of all my routes for the last two weeks. That's despite the distraction of you accompanying me last week by hiding in the cargo area behind the back seat of my car. And don't you ever jump out and yell, 'I see dead people!' while I'm driving on the highway again, Shawn!" Gus added with a malicious glare. "I almost got rear-ended when I slammed on the brakes!"
"Oh, come on, Gus," Shawn answered defensively. "Like it's a bad thing to get 'rear-ended'? Sounds like a hot date that ended well. Besides, it was worth it just to see the look on your face. I do believe that's the closest you've come to actually peeing your pants out of fear. Within the last two years, anyway—"
"That time in the paddle boat didn't count, and you know it, Shawn! You started screaming you saw a shark to tried and scare me! And I told you, I sat in a puddle!"
"Yeah, there was a puddle on the seat, all right," Shawn smirked. "And how the hell could you get that scared by me claiming I'd just seen Jaws? We were on a rented paddle boat inside a pool at Schlitterbahn."
"Schlitterbahn...now that's a fun word. Sounds like a Viking war cry. Schlitterbaaaaaahn!"
"Shawn!" Gus hastily interrupted in a bid to divert their conversation back to the previous topic. "How about you quit avoiding the subject and tell me why we're really here?"
Knowing his flimsy ruse of mere intuition wouldn't last long under Gus's merciless scrutiny, Shawn abandoned it and decided to come clean. "Because we haven't had a case in over a month," he whined. "Come on, Gus. We need to re-establish our departmental street cred. Let them know we're still needed. It's time to remind everyone of my psychic bad-assery." He chucked his now-empty cup into a trash can as they walked through the front doors of the station. "Besides, the cable bill is overdue again. We need a case to pay for it, and pronto."
"Shawn! You didn't pay the cable bill again?" Gus fumed. "But you told me last week you already paid it!"
"I may have been exaggerating, Gus," Shawn deflected. "And if we want to keep the office phone working, we'd better get paid within the next three days. Ooh! And the lights, too."
Gus grabbed Shawn's arm and spun him around just as they rounded the corner at the base of the stairs leading into the bullpen. "You haven't paid those bills either? What the hell did you do with all our money?"
Shawn put on his best 'wounded puppy' look in hopes of cooling his best friend's rising temper. "Welllll...you know that awesome 'Magnum P.I.' pinball machine I told you I found in that consignment store? The one we used for our office tournament last night?"
"Unbelievable!" Gus fumed as he planted his hands on his hips.
"I know," Shawn agreed. "I couldn't believe it when I saw it in the store, either! And it was in great shape, too!"
"Don't be the guy who decided 'New Coke' was a good idea, Gus. Besides, you've got the high score, buddy!"
"If I'd known how much that thing cost us, I would have made you return it for a full refund before we played pinball wars!"
"Look, don't worry about it," Shawn assured him. "I'll just use my Billy Zanian charm to get us a case. No big deal. I'll have a check in your hot little hands before you know it."
"You'd better," Gus warned his best friend with a menacing glare. "I'm not going to dip into my 401K again because you couldn't resist an elaborate toy!"
Seeing he'd failed to placate his friend's seething anger, Shawn tried another route. "How about I snag us a case, then buy you a Japa Dog?"
Gus looked at Shawn, his angry expression morphing into cautious optimism. "What about dinner?" he ventured.
"Dude. Jerk chicken."
"I could go for some jerk chicken," he reluctantly agreed. "But you're buying me dessert, too."
Shawn turned and bounded up the stairs into the bullpen, thankful the promise of delicious flavor never failed to lighten even the sourest moods of his best friend. As he crested the stairs, he began scanning the station, and made a beeline for a certain Head Detective's desk. Lassiter's workspace was a regular gold mine of cases waiting to be solved by an enterprising opportunist such as himself. Judging by the large stack of files Shawn saw perched next to the computer monitor, he'd just hit the mother lode. When they were about thirty feet away, he slowed, and signaled for Gus to hide with him behind a nearby column. The pair silently crept within hearing distance so they could eavesdrop on the conversation between Lassiter and his junior partner.
"But Carlton, I'd really like to take this case," Juliet pleaded as she waved a case file in front of her partner's skeptical face. Shawn caught a glimpse of the open file clutched in her left hand as she let it drop down by her side, immediately noting several pictures of a very cute, plump little pit bull puppy with large black spots covering portions of its white fur. Shawn deduced the pictures were taken by the animal's owner, because the dog shown in the photos was clutched in the arms of a smiling, six year old girl.
"I don't know, O'Hara," Lassiter doubted. "Dognapping seems like a pretty boring case to me. You sure you don't want to take lead on..." he paused, carefully scanning the stack of case files on his desk, before finally selecting one and pulling it out. "How about this one? These guys have been stealing copper from businesses all over town. They even stole the pipes out of the walls inside a church. At least copper theft is a felony case, could get interesting." His eyes suddenly lit up as he abruptly sat up in his chair. "Ooh, maybe the Godless scumbags will run from us! I haven't deployed my TASER on a fleeing felon in months!"
Juliet rolled her eyes and continued her attempts to change the stubborn Head Detective's mind. "I know it's not the most exciting case, but I really want this one. There's just something abhorrent about a criminal that will steal a little girl's puppy. What kind of inhuman low-life does that?" she asked indignantly.
Lassiter's expression darkened as he sat back in his chair again. "Be careful, O'Hara. Don't make it personal. That's when good officers make bad mistakes," he warned.
"You said it's my choice, right?" she countered. "That I could take lead on any one of our current cases I wanted?"
"Yes, I did," he confirmed warily.
"Well, I want this one. I want to catch the bastard that stole that little girl's puppy right out of her back yard." Juliet slapped the open file down on the desk in front of Lassiter and stood with her nose in the air and jaw clenched in defiance. "There are no small cases, only small detectives. Remember?"
Lassiter picked up the file as he nodded at her in approval, obviously impressed by her determination. "Okay, O'Hara. It's your case, you call the shots. Where do you want to start?"
"Yes!" Juliet became slightly overzealous in her happiness over her victory. Without thinking, she raced around Lassiter's desk and leaned towards him, intending to give him a grateful hug.
Lassiter thrust out his hand in the universal 'stop' sign to block her path. "Hey! No hugging! Rule number three hundred, O'Hara. Lead Detectives don't hug!"
"Right. Sorry," she apologized as she backed away somewhat sheepishly. She cleared her throat, collected her thoughts, and picked up the case file again. Her brow furrowed as she tried to identify the best place to start. "There's a note in here from the station secretary. It says the mother called this morning to tell us someone saw her dog in the back yard behind a house, and she wants to speak to us right away. I'll give her a call." Juliet buried her nose in the file as she scurried back to her own desk.
Lassiter stood and picked up his coffee mug. "Good! You do that. I'm going to get some coffee." Somewhat pleased not be the one making phone calls chasing leads on what he considered a boring case, he turned and eagerly headed in the direction of the coffee pot with mug in hand. His exuberance over dodging tedious legwork faded quickly when he saw Shawn and Gus heading his way.
"Oh, no..." he groaned as his shoulders tensed noticeably.
"Lassie!" Shawn greeted him exuberantly with arms held wide as he walked briskly towards the surly Head Detective. "How's my favorite dog today?" Shawn's brow furrowed in mock concern. "Why, Lassie...you look a little lost...wait, lost dog..." Shawn began yelping, then produced a high-pitched whine while giving Lassiter his best 'sad' look. "No, not a lost dog...a puppy! Lassie, why am I getting lost puppy? You have way too much gray hair to be considered a pup anymore, so that's not it."
Lassiter looked down at Shawn with a mocking sneer. "Very funny, Spencer. Get the hell out of my way," he ordered tersely, obviously irritated by the mere presence of the younger man. He used his shoulder to push his way between Shawn and Gus, then resumed his trek to the break area.
"But I am getting black and white!" Shawn yelled at Lassiter's back, causing him to halt in his tracks. Shawn lifted his fingers to his head in his trademark 'psychic vision' pose. "I'm sensing a black and white puppy!" Shawn lowered his hand as Lassiter slowly turned around to glare at him. "Okay, who lost their cute little puppy? Lassie, was it you? Oh, dude, is that why you're such a grumpy sourpuss today? You lost your little canine buddy, Lassafrass?"
"Why don't you ask your 'spirits', Spencer?" Lassiter snorted. He was obviously not happy to be sidetracked form his mission to obtain his afternoon dose of caffeine. He also seemed to resent the implication that he would ever own such a cuddly animal. "And since you're a psychic," he challenged sardonically, even making air quotes with his fingers to emphasize his disbelief in the word, "why don't you tell me what I'm thinking right now?"
Shawn's face crumpled into an expression of disgust. "Because pineapples crammed into any body cavity are both physically uncomfortable, and an inappropriate topic for the workplace. Lassie! Dude! That's just gross, man!"
Lassiter's jaw dropped in surprise. "Wait, what?! How did you know—"
"Shawn!" Juliet greeted him, providing a welcome distraction as she rounded her desk with file in hand. "Hey, Gus! Shawn, I heard you talking about the puppy we're looking for. Do you have any new information for me? Any psychic leads?" she asked hopefully. Lassiter just rolled his eyes at his partner's apparent gullibility, but kept his mouth shut.
"Yes, I do," he said. He gently took her hands in his and gazed deep into her eyes. "Poor Snoopy misses his little girl terribly. Snoopy, come home!" he said wistfully.
"Oh, that's so sad," Juliet replied pitifully. "And amazing! How did you know the puppy's name, Shawn?" she asked, completely enthralled.
"Detective O'Hara," Lassiter interrupted purposefully, causing Juliet to snap back to her senses and yank her hands away. "If you're done playing patty cake with our consultant, then I suggest we get started on your case. Rule number eighty-three, O'Hara. No distractions!" he chastised.
Shawn raised his eyebrows and smiled as he silently mouthed the words, "your case?" at Juliet. He quietly gave her an encouraging 'thumbs up' sign in approval as he stepped aside.
Recognizing Lassiter's trademark 'I'm getting impatient and pissed off' tone, Juliet decided it was best to follow his suggestion and pursue the somewhat flimsy lead she'd just scored. "Right. Sorry, partner." She turned to address him while reading something off a piece of paper containing notes she'd scribbled by hand. "Mrs. Sumner said a friend of hers saw a man named Patrick Webster at a house on Hall street yesterday afternoon. Webster was in possession of a puppy that her friend recognized as Snoopy. He witnessed Webster give the dog to someone residing in the house in exchange for two crack rocks."
Lassiter's eyebrows twitched upward at the mention of drugs. "Does this witness know who supplied Webster with the contraband?" he asked. The unexpected turn had finally captured his interest.
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Sumner's friend doesn't want to get involved with a police investigation, so she won't give us the name of her witness." Juliet closed the file with a frustrated sigh. "The only thing we have to go on is her word. It's pure hearsay, but at least it's a lead."
"What do we know about the house?" Lassiter asked. "Do we know who lives there?"
"Lassie. Dude, let's quit wasting time and just go over there right now," Shawn added in an attempt to support Juliet. "Standing around the station asking where's Waldo isn't gonna help us find Snoopy. What will it hurt to just knock on the door and ask a few questions? Let's go! Time's wasting, Lassman!" He was eager to get over to that house to see if he could pick up any clues that might indicate the location of the missing dog. It was rare for Juliet to have a shot at being Lead Investigator, and Shawn wanted to see her impress Lassiter by solving the case quickly. He also knew that the longer the dog was missing, the harder it would be to find it.
Lassiter rounded on Shawn with an angry glare. "Details, Spencer! Details! It's the little things that make the case! We also need information so we can follow proper procedures. I don't want to go knocking on the door of some random house without knowing what's waiting for us inside." He crossed his arms with an indignant huff. "Lack of preparation. That's the kind of crap that gets officers killed, Spencer."
"Carlton," Juliet calmly interrupted his tirade. "The resident listed in local records is a seventy-three year old woman named Jenny Hood. Her son is Cody Hood, and he lives there with her. Cody is a known crack addict and petty thief with no history of violent behavior or weapons charges." Juliet arched her eyebrow at her partner. "Cody probably traded some of his personal stash of crack cocaine for the dog. We should go over there right now, and try to interview Cody before he sells the dog to someone else. Shawn's right, the longer we stand around the station, the less chance we have of finding Snoopy. This is the only lead we have, Carlton."
Lassiter began grinding his teeth together as he deliberated Juliet's decision. Shawn knew his nearly obsessive need for detail was making him consider pulling rank on his junior partner. Finally, after several long moments, he settled his intense gaze on Juliet. "You're primary on this case. It's your call, O'Hara."
Juliet beamed, but managed to suppress her smile seconds later, replacing it with a professional demeanor. "Let's roll. We're wasting daylight, here!"
"What was that address again, O'Hara?" Lassiter asked as he drove his maroon Crown Victoria police cruiser towards their destination.
Juliet flipped open her notepad to refresh her memory. "It's 607 Hall Street."
Lassiter's brow furrowed in confusion. "Is that east or west Hall Street? It could be either one."
"Hmmm..." Juliet consulted her notes again. "I guess I didn't write it down. Mrs. Sumner just told me the address was 607 Hall Street. Apparently I forgot to check if it was east or west when looking it up in our records." She shrank back in her seat a little when Lassiter turned and fixed her with a disapproving glare over the top of his sunglasses. "Sorry," she apologized sheepishly.
"Details, O'Hara..." he growled under his breath.
"Oh, come on, Lassie," Shawn chimed in from the back seat. "It's not that big a deal. We'll check this place out, and if it's not the right house, we'll just swing by the other one. And we'll still be done in time to go get some pie. Who wants pie?" Shawn raised his hand with enthusiasm in a shameless attempt to recruit the other occupants of the car.
"I could go for come pie," Gus agreed.
"Why the hell are you two here again?" Lassiter sniped from the driver's seat.
"Because your Lead Investigator requested our presence," Shawn smugly reminded him as he smiled at Juliet. He noticed Juliet working to suppress a smile, so he continued pushing the issue just a bit in order to take her mind off her latest mistake. He also decided to be a little chivalrous and try to redirect some of Lassiter's annoyance at Juliet toward himself. "Hey, if Jules is the lead on this case, doesn't that make her your boss?"
"Jules, order Lassie around. Come on, just a little bit. You know you want to."
"I don't think so, Shawn," she wisely deferred to her partner's seniority.
"Junior Detective O'Hara is not my so-called 'boss', Spencer" Lassiter warned menacingly.
"Shawn..." Gus cautioned as he watched Lassiter's jaw muscles tighten.
"Well I think Lead Detective O'Hara should drive when we're finished with this interview," Shawn retorted, deliberately pressing the issue into dangerous territory. "Because she looks even sexier behind the wheel than you do. Jules, make your pasty Irish partner ride side-saddle for a change. Oh, I call shotgun! I called it already, Carly-Q. You snooze, you lose. So you'll be in back seat with Gus—"
Shawn was cut off abruptly when Lassiter slammed on the breaks without warning, causing the car to screech to a halt in the middle of the street. He jerked the gear shift into park, ripped off his seat belt, and whipped around in his seat, turning his full wrath towards Shawn. "I swear to God, if you do not shut the hell up, I will turn this car around, and—"
"Give me a spanking?" Shawn asked in mock hopefulness. "Because I didn't think you were that kinky." Noting the nice shade of red coloring the Head Detective's cheeks, Shawn declared his mission accomplished.
Lassiter was so furious, he actually bared his teeth when he snarled his response. "Why, you little—"
"Carlton..." Juliet interrupted as she placed a calming hand on his arm, which was creeping perilously close to Shawn's chest. He looked like he was about to haul the consultant out of the back seat by the front of his shirt and commence some sort of impromptu disciplinary action. "We have a job to do, remember? Let me handle Shawn."
Her partner paused for a moment, his hand in mid-air in front of Shawn's grinning face, seemingly considering his options. Apparently he decided to listen to her, and snorted in disgust as he turned back around in his seat. "And I haven't even had my second cup of coffee," he grumbled under his breath as he wrestled his seat belt back into place.
Shawn opened his mouth to voice yet another taunt, but a sharp look and raised palm from Juliet made him snap his mouth closed. "Shawn, shut it. Not another word," she ordered sternly. She glanced over at Carlton and noted the satisfied smirk curling up one corner of his mouth.
A car horn blared behind them, and everyone looked through the back window to see a small, gray-haired woman behind the wheel of a tan 1971 Buick Skylark pressing down on the center of her steering wheel. She slowly maneuvered her gas-guzzling vehicle around the left side of their stopped car as she continued blasting her horn at them. Infuriated yet again, Lassiter rolled down his window and barked out, "Eat it, blue hair!" as she cruised by at a snail's pace. The diminutive elderly woman rolled down her driver's side window, snaked her arm out, and casually brandished her wrinkled middle finger at Santa Barbara's Head Detective as she drove passed his car. "Oh, that's it!" Lassiter grabbed the red globe light, stuck it on the roof, and reached for the switch to activate the car's siren.
"Carlton! What are you doing?" Juliet asked.
Lassiter turned and looked at his partner like she'd lost her mind. "What? I'm going to arrest her."
"Why?! She's got to be in her eighties! And you're blocking the street!"
"That's disorderly conduct," he flatly insisted as he slammed the gear shift into drive.
"Carlton! We are working on a case! My case! There's a very sad little girl counting on us to come through for her, and get her puppy back. Remember?" Juliet reminded him angrily. Lassiter silently watched his perpetrator making her getaway as she drove down the street at a snail's pace, his jaw flexing as he mulled over the dilemma, torn between making an arrest and completing their current task. "No distractions, remember?" Juliet added to assist his decision.
Lassiter ground his teeth in frustration, but kept his mouth shut. He seriously hoped their suspect was home with the stolen dog, because he desperately needed to make an arrest in the very near future. Who knew fingerprinting a perpetrator could be so relaxing? "Fine," he ground out as he resumed driving towards their destination. The steering wheel creaked beneath his hands as he clamped down in a white knuckle grip, releasing some of his pent-up anger on the inanimate object.
Thankful Shawn actually obeyed her orders to "shut it" for once, Juliet was relieved when the rest of their drive was conducted in blissful silence. The only sounds breaking the thick tension inside the car came from Gus's grumbling stomach. He politely excused himself by informing the group he was already thinking about where he wanted to eat for dinner, and "Tacos can have that effect on a man." After what seemed like an eternity, but was in reality all of five minutes, Lassiter finally arrived at their destination of 607 west Hall Street. Juliet had decided to try this address first because the other house was all the way across town on the east side. Lassiter pulled up to the curb in front of the dilapidated house and parked next to a dented metal mailbox atop a crooked pole. He got out and began surveying the area, carefully examining the front of the residence, which sat back from the street over forty feet away from the curb behind the open expanse of a large front yard.
"No car in the driveway, so it's possible nobody's home," Lassiter noted.
Juliet cast a pleading look over her shoulder at Shawn. "Shawn, please let me do the talking. I'll ask for your help when I need it," she reminded him as she unbuckled her seat belt and opened her door.
"You've got it, Jules," Shawn agreed surprisingly easily as everyone else exited the car. He really wanted her to impress Lassiter on this one, so he would start giving her more experience as a lead investigator in future cases. His sincere desire to see her succeed overrode his impulsive need to be the center of attention, so he deferred to her authority for the moment.
The previously middle-class house was currently in serious need of repair. Faded, cracked, peeling white paint and wood rot on exposed areas of the wood paneling were evidence this home hadn't been kept up for years. Creeping cracks in the brick exterior walls of the single story, 'L' shaped structure indicated some serious foundation work was needed as well. The spacious front yard consisted mainly of dirt, a small, rotting tree stump next to the sidewalk, and a few patches of dry, dead grass due to years of neglect. The only redeeming landscape feature was the presence of two massive old oak trees, each one occupying a large chunk of space on either side of the front yard, both about fifteen feet in from the edge of the curb. The left side of the house, the shorter side of the 'L' closest to the street, contained several smaller windows of the size and shape usually found in bedrooms. The longer center portion of the home, probably the living area, had several more slightly larger windows, one of which was about three feet to the left of the old, heavy wooden front door. The wide door to the integrated two-car garage on the far right side was closed, and the windows were dark.
"Okay, O'Hara. It's all yours," Lassiter walked around to the passenger side of his car, crossed his arms, and leaned back against the front fender as he watched her expectantly from behind his dark Ray-ban Aviators.
Juliet looked at her partner, noting the way he was carefully studying her, then turned her attention back to the house. "Right..." She was obviously a bit nervous after having suddenly been thrust into the center of everyone's attention. They were all waiting on her to tell them what to do. She chewed on her lower lip as she contemplated the specific actions she wanted to take, and in what order.
Not wanting to see Juliet falter in front of her overly critical partner, Shawn decided to help her out by giving her a push in the right direction. "Jules! I'm getting a vibe, here," Shawn said as he raised his fingers to his temple. "The spirits are calling to me, telling me there may be a clue in our presence, but not in plain sight. It's hidden nearby."
"Where, Shawn?" Juliet asked hopefully.
Shawn looked around, and spotted a tall wooden fence behind the garage that sectioned off the back yard. "There," he pointed at the fence. "I need to go look over there. Stay here, Jules. I'll be back. Come on, Gus." Lassiter rolled his eyes and shook his head in disbelief as Shawn and Gus trotted off across the front yard, circled around to the right of the second oak tree's wide base, and headed towards the back of the property.
"Letting civilians do your investigative work for you, O'Hara?" Lassiter questioned disapprovingly.
"Yes, I am. Because they're civilians, Carlton," Juliet informed him. "All we can do right now as officers is knock on the front door for a community contact unless we have probable cause to warrant a more thorough search. But a couple of civilians can do things like, oh I don't know, look over the wooded fence in the back yard to see if the dog is there without violating their expectation of privacy." Juliet flashed him a knowing smile.
Lassiter nodded in approval. "Creative use of available resources. I like it, O'Hara. Good job."
As soon as Shawn rounded the corner of the garage, he knew something was wrong. This house was in terrible condition, yet the fence sectioning off the back yard was brand new. It was also higher than the average fence at eight feet tall. "Gus...why would someone let their house go to hell like this, but spring for a brand new backyard fence?" Shawn asked as he looked up at the wall of new wooden planks before him. "It just doesn't make any sense, there are a ton of other things needing to be fixed that are a lot more important than this. And why did they make this thing so damn tall? It's like the Great Wall of China. Gus, I think it can be seen from space."
"Maybe they really like their privacy?" Gus theorized as they crept along the base of the fence.
"Or maybe, there's something back here they don't want people to see," Shawn ventured. "Give me a boost. I need to see what's in the backyard."
"Why do I have to get my hands dirty? Why don't you give me a boost instead?"
"Gus, don't be my dad's peptic ulcer. I'm the 'psychic' here, and I have to give any clues I see to Juliet. Now come on, lift me up."
Gus held up his fist challenging Shawn to a game of 'Rock, Paper, Scissors.' "Best two out of three. And you don't even know what a peptic ulcer is, Shawn."
Shawn rolled his eyes. "Fine."
Two minutes and one whisper argument later, Gus struggled to maintain his hold on Shawn's sneaker clad foot as he hoisted him up to look over the edge of the fence. The backyard was just as barren as the front, with only a smattering of dead grass dotting the dirt-covered ground. Shawn quickly scanned the backyard for any signs that would indicate the recent presence of a dog, but found none. No doghouse, dog chain, dog poop, nothing. He did find something interesting, though. Several large bags of high-quality potting soil and fertilizer were stacked neatly on the back porch next to a large pile of terra cotta planting pots. The pots were multiple sizes, ranging from small to moderately large. A huge, fifty gallon trash can sat next to the back door, stuffed to the brim with the plastic wrappings from discarded soil and fertilizer bags. "Okay, you can let me down, now."
Gus lowered Shawn and brushed his hands off on his jeans. "Did you see the dog, Shawn? Is Snoopy here? Are we getting paid today?" He asked hopefully.
Shawn shook his head. "I didn't see any signs of a dog, Gus. Let's go back to Lassie and Jules." Gus jogged ahead while Shawn lagged behind, scanning the ground for any clues he may have missed. As he slowly made his way back to the front of the house, the wind shifted, and Shawn caught a faint whiff of a vaguely familiar odor coming from the direction of the house. He couldn't quite place it at the moment, but knew he'd smelled it before. He finally passed the leading edge of the fence where it connected to the back of the garage. As he rounded the corner, he glanced back at the garage, and his sharp eye caught something he hadn't noticed before. The uneven foundation prevented the garage door from closing flush against the pavement of the driveway, and Shawn saw a two inch gap between the bottom of the door and the cement underneath. Black plastic garbage bags had been taped together and stuffed into the gap along the bottom of the door to seal it off. He looked up, and noticed the windows weren't dark because the lights inside were turned off—they were actually painted over with thick black paint from the inside to block out light.
Shawn's mind was still putting all these clues together as he walked back to join his friends standing around Lassiter's car. He was deep in thought, trying to figure out why his brain was giving him the niggling sensation that something was terribly wrong. Why would someone with a completely dead yard have so much potting soil and fertilizer? Why was the garage sealed up with plastic so no light could get in? And what was the deal with that damn fence, anyway? It just wasn't normal...
"Well?" Gus asked as he lightly smacked Shawn's arm.
"Are you going to answer Juliet's question?"
Shawn looked up to find all three of his companions staring at him. Apparently he was so deep in thought, he'd totally missed Juliet's question. "I'm sorry, Jules, I was communing with the spirits, and they don't like to be interrupted. What did you say?"
"Did you see anything? Is the stolen dog here?" Juliet repeated her question.
"No, I didn't get anything about Snoopy, Jules. I don't know if the dog is here or not. But I'm getting something else, definitely something else. Something big. The spirits are sending me clues so fast, just—give me a minute to figure it out, I'll have it in a sec..."
Juliet looked at her watch impatiently. "Shawn, it's getting late. You stay here and figure things out while Lassiter and I go make contact with the resident." Juliet started walking up the cracked, curved sidewalk towards the front door, with Lassiter dutifully allowing her to lead the way.
Shawn leaned over to his friend and whispered, "Gus, did you smell anything funny when we were back there? Anything that didn't belong in a house?
"Not really, no," Gus replied. "Other than what I think was an abundance of fertilizer with a high nitrogen content. That's just weird."
Shawn's faced scrunched in curiosity. "Why is that odd? What's the big deal with all the damn fertilizer?" he queried as he surveyed the decimated front yard again.
"Because it's usually used on lawns, Shawn. Either that, or foliage plants."
"Foliage plants. They don't bear fruit or flowers, they're nothing but leaves."
Shawn's chest tightened in horror as the clues suddenly snapped into place. The privacy fence hiding activity...the potting soil and fertilizer obviously weren't being used for lawn care, but they were being used to grow something else...the garage wasn't sealed to keep light out, it was keeping light in...and that smell, he recognized it now! His father made him smell it when he was 'training' him to be a cop so he'd recognize it again someday...it was marijuana. They were growing marijuana plants in that garage. And judging by the sheer amount of gardening supplies he'd seen, Lassiter and Juliet were about to walk up and knock on the front door of a house that was probably being used in a major growing operation.
"Jules! WAIT!" Shawn broke into a sprint in a desperate bid to cut them off. He caught up to them on the sidewalk about thirty feet in front of the door and slid to a halt, standing directly in front of them to block their way. "You can't go up there, we have the wrong house," he panted, slightly out of breath from his adrenaline-fueled dash. "As a matter of fact, we have to leave. We need to leave right now!"
Lassiter stopped in his tracks and turned to face the pseudo-psychic. "I thought she told you to shut it?" he pointedly reminded Shawn.
"Shawn, please don't do this to me. Not now," Juliet pleaded, obviously assuming Shawn was up to his old attention-seeking tricks again.
"No! Lassie, Jules, I'm not kidding!" Shawn stayed in front of them and held his ground, casting a quick, anxious glance back over his shoulder at the front door. This was too important for him to back down, he had to make them listen. "We have to leave right now. I'm vibing like crazy that this place isn't safe. We're in danger, here!"
Juliet heaved a frustrated sigh. "Shawn, this isn't the crime of the century. We're just looking for a puppy. Now if you'll excuse—"
"FORGET THE DAMN DOG!" Shawn yelled at her, causing Juliet to take a startled step back. "We have to leave now!" He hated to see the combination of shock and surprise on her face, quickly followed by pained disappointment, but he had to make her listen. His hands were actually shaking with nervous energy.
As soon as he heard Shawn yelling at Juliet, Lassiter stepped forward in a well-meaning attempt to defend his partner. He reached out, grabbed Shawn by his shoulders, and turned to his right, physically pushing Spencer off the sidewalk to remove him from their path. "Out of the way, psychic," he directed, practically spitting the last word into Shawn's face with an angry sneer. "We have a job do to. If you're scared of the big bad puppy-napper, then you can wait in the car." He turned to his left where Juliet now stood, and motioned for her to lead the way.
Shawn watched in horror as his two friends resumed walking up the sidewalk toward unknown danger. He ran forward again and skidded to a halt just in front of Lassiter's right side, then thrust his arms out in front of him in one last desperate attempt to make them heed his warning. "Detective Lassiter! STOP!"
Lassiter and Juliet both stopped short, momentarily shocked by Shawn's use of the Head Detective's full title and proper name. Lassiter recovered from his stupor first, and rounded on Shawn with an angry, yet somewhat curious glare. "Spencer, what in the hell has gotten into you? I swear, I will—" His rant ended abruptly as his eyes lifted over Shawn's shoulder, staring past the consultant.
"Shawn, go wait in the car," Juliet ordered tersely. She resumed her trek towards the front door until Lassiter's left hand grabbed the sleeve of her jacket. "Carlton?" she queried, cueing in on her partner's sudden wariness.
Shawn's heart leapt in his chest when he realized Lassiter's suspicious gaze was locked on the garage. Yes! He'd successfully activated Lassiter's "Spidey-sense", as he called it, and now the seasoned Detective's paranoid cop instincts were kicking in full-force. He glanced at Gus, who had moved up to stand next to the small, rotting tree stump jutting out of the ground to the group's right, and exchanged a subtle, behind-the-back fist bump with his best friend to celebrate his small yet crucial victory.
Lassiter's expression curled into an intense scowl. "Spencer might be right," he replied ominously. "O'Hara, look at the garage. The windows are painted over."
Juliet heeded her partner's warning and began to closely examine the garage as well. She briefly looked over the top of her sunglasses as she squinted across the distance. "Is that a garbage bag stuffed under the door?"
Lassiter's right hand slowly crept across his chest towards his gun while Juliet reached for the radio on the back of her belt. "I don't like this..." he growled.
Their attention captured by the extremely suspicious garage to their right, the two detectives failed to see the bedroom window opening on the side of the house behind them. But Shawn's sharp eye caught the flash of light off the glass as a hand parted the curtains and quietly slid it open. Shawn watched in horror as the fingers disappeared back behind the curtains, and were replaced by the barrel of a pump action shotgun aimed squarely at the detective's backs.
"This is Detective O'Hara, requesting backup at—"
Shawn threw all his weight forward, and hit Lassiter with a powerful shove that knocked him off his feet, sending his lanky form crashing directly into Juliet as the first shot rang out. Lassiter managed to twist his falling body just enough to avoid landing directly on top of his much smaller partner. As soon as they hit the ground, the two detectives were scrambling to their feet, driving hard for the cover of the massive oak tree to their left. A second shot split the air, kicking up a puff of dirt at Juliet's feet as she ran behind the enormous tree trunk. Lassiter came barreling in behind her in a massive cloud of dust, sliding feet-first through the dirt like a pro baseball player. He sprang to his feet in a flash, drawing his weapon as he rose while Juliet stayed on the ground, kneeling at the base of the tree with her gun drawn. A dirt-covered Lassiter quickly took up a position standing over her with arms extended and weapon on target, using his greater height to their advantage as he aimed over her head. Moving in unison, they leaned out a few inches to the right from around their cover and opened fire on the gunman at the same time.
Glass shattered as the detectives hit their mark, sending the barrel of the shotgun retreating back through the parted curtains to disappear from their view. Lassiter kept his weapon trained on the window while Juliet took the few precious seconds to try and radio for help.
"Unit eleven-eleven to dispatch! Shots fired! Shots fired at 607—"
An explosion of tree bark right next to Lassiter's head sent both officers ducking behind the tree yet again. He quickly wiped fragments of pulverized wood from his eyes, and brought his weapon to bear on the house as more gunfire erupted with a deafening roar. This time, the shots were coming from somewhere closer to them on the left. Another slug zipped past, striking something behind them with a loud metallic *ping!*
"Contact left! Contact left!!" Lassiter shouted above the echoing gunshots when he spotted the second shotgun now aimed at them through the closest bedroom window. He shifted to lean around the left side of the tree, and opened fire on the second gunman while Juliet engaged the first shooter, who had resumed shooting at them after reloading.
Lassiter's and Juliet's radios crackled to life as the gunfight raged on. "Dispatch to all units. Shots fired in the area of Live Oak and west Hall Street. Active shooter at Live Oak and west Hall Street. Responding units move to TAC one and keep main channel clear for radio traffic..."
Lassiter and Juliet carefully aimed before firing, making every shot count. Even though each magazine for their Glocks held fifteen rounds, the two were badly outgunned on firepower and range, and knew they couldn't afford to waste any ammunition. Bullets and buckshot whizzed and popped around them as the two gunmen blasted away indiscriminately at anything that moved. The detectives stood their ground even as lead chipped away small chunks of the tree between them.
"Help is on the way, just stay still! Don't worry, you'll be okay!" Gus yelled.
For a brief second, Juliet was confused when she heard Gus, wondering why he was calling out to her and Lassiter when they obviously didn't need the distraction. She risked a quick glance at the source when she heard Gus's encouraging shouts drifting across the wide expanse of the front lawn. She was relieved to see he'd found safe haven behind the other massive oak tree on the opposite corner of the yard. But then she saw his panicked, tear-streaked face, and followed his desperate gaze to the true object of his concern.
Shawn was lying on his side in a fetal position with his back to her behind the small, rotting tree stump next to the sidewalk. He was curling his limbs as close to his body as he could to try to make himself as small a target as possible. The rapidly disintegrating stump wasn't nearly large enough to protect his entire body, but it was the only cover available in the middle of the barren lawn. He'd managed to push the two detectives to safety, but at a huge cost to himself—he was trapped out in the middle of the open yard with hardly anything between him and a hail of bullets. A shot impacted the meager stump in front of his head, sending a shower of rotten wood crumbs cascading over his trembling form. Another shot, and Shawn yelped as several pellets of buckshot grazed the outside of his right thigh, leaving thin streaks of crimson welling up through his jeans in their wake. Obviously it was only a matter of time before one of the two gunmen scored a fatal hit. He shifted position, rolled over on his right side after he was struck, and desperate, fearful, hazel eyes locked with hers for a brief moment. Juliet felt her heart flip in her chest when he silently mouthed the words 'help me' across the distance. Shawn's terrified face disappeared beneath his hands as he raised his arms in a pathetic attempt to shield his head.
"Carlton!" Juliet yelled above the deafening gunfire. "Shawn is—"
"I know," he replied flatly as he loaded a fresh magazine while keeping his gun aimed at the second window.
"He's trapped! We have to help him—"
"I know!" Lassiter shouted as the two gunmen opened fire again.
The second shooter ducked behind the curtain again to reload. Having seen the gunman repeat this very same action three times before, Lassiter knew exactly what the shooter was about to do. He aimed carefully at a spot several inches to the left of the split in the curtains, and waited. Just as the fabric was parted by the barrel of the shotgun yet again, he fired three quick shots. His patience was rewarded by a pained scream as the shotgun fell out of the window and hit the ground.
Lassiter retreated behind the tree and tapped Juliet's shoulder as she traded several rounds with the first shooter. "Okay, O'Hara, here's the plan." He briefly surveyed the scene before committing to a course of action. His car was parked behind them to their right, making it the closest source of hard cover. "You cover me while I grab Spencer and get him out of the line of fire. We'll be going for my car. I'll sound off when we're clear. Got it?"
Juliet nodded as she reloaded a fresh magazine. Lassiter, who always carried three more spare magazines than his partner, handed her an extra one before mentally preparing himself. He looked at Shawn one more time, trying to decide what portion of his clothing would be easiest to grab quickly yet still be strong enough not to tear in his hands. He briefly considered the waistband of his jeans, but finally decided the back of the consultant's shirt collar was the best option. Lassiter placed his hand on Juliet's shoulder again, a silent indication he was ready. "On you..."
As soon as Juliet saw the first gunman pull the shotgun back to reload, she leaned out slightly around the right side of the tree in order to lay down covering fire. She was so focused on the threat of the first gunman that she never saw the handgun now aiming at her through the window by the front door.
The bullet skimmed the side of the tree before ripping through Juliet's right side about six inches above her hip. Burning pain exploded beneath her ribs as hot metal tore through flesh. 'Jesus! I'm hit!' her mind screamed as warm blood seeped through her shirt. Her hands flew to her side in shock, pressing hard, terrified by the damage she'd find if she removed them to look at her wound. Panic surged in her brain when the reality of the situation hit home, causing her knees to falter and weaken with abject fear. The world descended into an eerie, soundless, slow motion; then she stumbled to the right, tripped, and started to fall over backwards. She twisted around in an attempt to regain her balance, but wound up hitting the ground hard several feet away from the tree. She scrambled to her knees, and to her horror she realized she was now on the ground, out in the open, with her back to the gunman in the window.
And she was looking at her gun lying on the ground in front of her.
'Gun! Get your gun!' Rational thought broke through the frenzied panic seizing her mind. 'You're going to die out here! Grab your gun and FIGHT damn it!' Bullets impacted the dirt around Juliet as she clawed forward and wrapped her fingers around the grip of her Glock. She was just starting to stand when a blur of motion caught her eye. She looked up just in time to see the familiar form of her partner crouching in front of her, his gun arm ramrod straight as he aimed over her left shoulder toward the house. She felt his other arm wrap around her back, tightening into an iron grip as he clamped down hard, mashing her face into the front of his dirty shirt with adrenaline-fueled strength. He stood up and her feet left the ground.
Lassiter unloaded an entire magazine into the window as he walked backwards while carrying Juliet towards his car. The shooter retreated inside, forced to take cover from the hail of bullets raining down on him as Lassiter blasted away with suppressing fire. They reached the safety of the sturdy Crown Vic just as the slide of Lassiter's empty Glock locked back, and he immediately dropped down to his knees, depositing both of them behind the car's engine. He released Juliet, then slapped another magazine into his gun before turning his attention to her.
"O'Hara!" His bark was infused with worry as she leaned back against the front tire. He looked down and saw her left hand clutching her blood-soaked side. Her trembling right hand clutched her gun so tight the knuckles were turning pale. Lassiter cautiously peered over the hood to check the gunman's position, and quickly ducked when several rounds of buckshot impacted the passenger side and hood of his car. He looked down again and was met by the frightened gaze of his partner.
"I don't want to look. I can't look," she begged breathlessly.
Lassiter nodded wordlessly and pulled her hand away, then carefully peeled up the hem of her shirt just high enough to inspect the damage. Lassiter forced himself to lift the fabric even though he was deathly afraid of what he might find underneath. He set his jaw, determined to handle whatever he found, no matter how bad the damage. He could do this...
He was relieved to see the wound wasn't nearly as bad as he'd expected. The bullet had apparently ricocheted off the tree trunk and skimmed along O'Hara's right side just underneath her lowest rib. Though it was deep, producing a good amount of blood, it was still superficial. Lassiter let out a sharp, relieved breath...and realized he hadn't breathed since the moment he set his partner down next to his car. "It's okay," he reassured her with a quick glance over the top of his sunglasses. "The bullet grazed you. It took a good chunk of meat with it, but it's just a flesh wound."
Juliet looked down, then leaned her head back against the car's fender, clearly relieved. She eased her shirt back down as Lassiter took aim over the hood at the house again...only to be forced back behind the car by another furious volley of buckshot and bullets hitting the car. Stray rounds punched all the way through the doors, peppering the detectives with bits of shrapnel as the slugs exited the driver's side of the car. Fortunately the car's solid engine and firewall shielded them from the line of fire. They were pinned down for the moment, but Lassiter refused to sit by and do nothing. Not while the lives of two civilians were at stake.
"Okay, I need you to—" He paused when he looked over at his partner, and saw Juliet's eyes were closed, her gun hand still shaking.
Damn it, they didn't have time for this...Shawn didn't have time for this! Lassiter could always buy her a Hallmark card and a few lunches to apologize later, but right now, he couldn't afford to be Mr. Nice Guy with his shaken partner. Not with so many lives on the line.
"O'HARA!" he snapped.
Surprised by the harshness behind his sharp tone, her eyes flew open to meet his intense gaze.
"It grazed you, you're fine," he reminded her tersely as he grasped her shoulder. "Now get your head in the game, damn it! Spencer will die if you don't help me. We still have a job to do, so pull your shit together, detective!" he snarled.
She stared blankly back at him, and for a brief moment, Lassiter thought he would have to channel his inner Outlaw Josey Wales and finish this gunfight all by himself. But then she blinked a few times, seeming to collect herself, and nodded. "Yeah, I'm...I'm good. I'm good!" She quickly checked her weapon to verify she had a full magazine. "Good to go, partner." Lassiter was relieved to see she was now fully alert, and focused on their task.
"I have to get eyes on Spencer, and we need more ammo," he nodded at the bullet-riddled driver's door while speaking. "Cover me, and watch your head," he cautioned. Not wanting to pop his head up again, Lassiter laid out flat on his stomach with his head on the ground, and looked underneath the car. Juliet leaned out around the front grill, and fired at the window by the front door, making sure the two gunmen were too distracted to shoot at her partner. Bullets drilled into the car next to her, but O'Hara held her ground and kept shooting. From his vantage point, Lassiter could just make out Spencer's trembling form. He was still curled up behind the tree stump, and it looked like a few stray pellets of buckshot had grazed the outside of his upper left arm as well as the previous shot to his thigh. Lassiter knew the consultant wouldn't last much longer. They had to rescue him now.
Lassiter rolled over onto his back, reached up, and opened the driver's side door while staying as flat to the ground as possible. His "overly lanky" form Spencer relentlessly teased him about was proving to be a valuable asset in this situation. When the consultant was safe in his custody again, he vowed to give Spencer an earful of crap about that as he opened the door and retrieved the five spare loaded Glock magazines he kept in the door pocket. He sat up and handed his partner three of the spare magazines while keeping the last two for himself. "We need more firepower," he coolly informed her of his plan. "Keep them off me long enough to get to the trunk." Lassiter reached into his pocket for the car's electronic key fob and pressed the button to unlatch the trunk.
Juliet dropped the now empty magazine from her weapon and slapped in a reload. "I'm on it," she confidently assured him as she took aim again.
As soon as O'Hara resumed shooting, Lassiter made a run for the back of the Crown Vic. Keeping as low as possible behind the car's body, he scrambled on his haunches until he made it to the trunk. He quickly reached his long arm into the compartment, fingers frantically searching, until they wrapped around the familiar wad of nylon straps he'd been seeking. He gathered the strips of fabric in his palm and pulled their long guns up and over the edge of the trunk by the attached tactical slings. He'd just managed to remove the semi-automatic tactical shotgun, belt of shotgun shells, and M-4 assault rifle when another shot ripped through the air from the direction of the house. Lassiter ducked as a spray of buckshot burst through the open trunk lid above his head, peppering the back of his neck with stinging bits of hot metal and flakes of maroon paint. As he crawled back to the front of the car with his newly attained prizes, he felt warm prickles of blood begin to seep to the surface beneath his perfectly starched shirt collar.
"Unit seven-zebra to dispatch, on scene!"
The roar of an engine followed by squealing tires heralded the arrival of the first backup unit. Juliet and Lassiter watched as Buzz McNab's patrol car slammed over the curb to their right and slid to a halt next to his car. Bullets shattered the passenger side windows even before the vehicle came to a stop. Buzz slammed the car in park and bailed out of the driver's seat, scampering to take up a position behind the engine block as he drew his sidearm and returned fire. A SWAT team member riding in the front passenger seat used Buzz's covering fire as his opportunity to dive out of the car, and run around the trunk to join the younger officer behind the patrol unit's engine block. The detectives recognized McNab's companion as Deputy Gaston, who was visiting their PD from the local Sheriff's Department. He was wearing a tactical vest and Kevlar helmet over a pair of blue jean shorts and Nike tennis shoes instead of his regular uniform, having obviously just thrown on his gear and jumped in the car with Buzz to race to the scene. Gaston raised his short-barrel FN P-90 tactical assault rifle to his shoulder and opened fire on the house.
Lassiter slapped home the thirty round magazine, stuffed the second magazine he'd managed to grab into the waistband in the front of his pants, and chambered a round. Beside him, Juliet loaded a round into the chamber of her shotgun, then fed an extra shell into the tube magazine underneath the gun to make sure she was at the full eight shot capacity. They were just about to raise up and rejoin the fight when they heard the terrified voice straining above the cacophonous din.
"GUS! NO! Stay there! STAY behind the—AAH!"
The thundering gunfire crescendoed to a deafening roar as Lassiter sprawled underneath the car again to check on Spencer. The detective felt his heart skip a beat when he saw the young consultant's predicament.
Shawn's warning to his friend earned the attention of at least one of the gunmen, who was now targeting him specifically. Shawn, now lying on his left side, tried to curl his body in even tighter as blood welled up from a new buckshot graze on his right hip. Another round of buckshot exploded against the meager rotting stump in front of Shawn's head, causing a fairly large chunk of wood to break off and fall away. Not only was Shawn stuck out in the open in the middle of a hail of bullets impacting the dirt around him, but now his already inadequate cover was beginning to deteriorate. Buzz and Gaston cut loose with everything they had in an attempt to draw fire away from the helpless figure huddled behind the rapidly disintegrating tree stump. The gunmen briefly disappeared from the windows as they retreated to avoid the vicious onslaught.
Lassiter knew his backup officers couldn't maintain that rate of fire for very long; as fast as they were burning through ammunition, they'd run out in less than a minute. When they did, the two gunmen hell bent on protecting their drug operation would be back with a vengeance, and Shawn would be left almost completely defenseless in the middle of the yard. The Head Detective couldn't help but think just how small Spencer looked at that moment, curling himself into a ball with arms wrapped tightly around his head, a pathetic attempt to shield himself from danger like a frightened child...
Shawn was out of time. Period.
"Fuck it," Lassiter swore as he set his jaw in determination. He pushed himself up off the ground and knelt next to his partner.
"Here's the plan!" he shouted to O'Hara as he slipped his left arm through the rifle's sling. Juliet buckled the ammo belt around her waist, making sure it sat low enough to avoid rubbing the bullet wound along her side, and donned her sling as well. The gunfire continued at a furious pace, forcing him to yell above the deafening thrum. "You and I will make a run for that tree!" Lassiter pointed at the oak tree to their left they'd originally used for cover when the first shots were fired. "McNab and Gaston will lay down suppressing fire to cover us as we move! Then they hold fire, and you cover me while I go get Spencer and haul ass for that second tree! You clear?"
Juliet's respect for her partner increased tenfold in that moment. Despite all the times Shawn had deliberately irritated him simply for the sake of an afternoon's amusement, the man was surprisingly willing to forget past insults and risk his life for the eccentric consultant. According to the rigid moral code that ruled Lassiter's life, there was no other choice—he was going to either save Shawn or die trying, and that's all there was to it. "Yeah, I'm clear!" she nodded. She kicked off her shoes in order to run faster, and because there was no way in hell she could afford to trip over her heels again.
Lassiter pulled his radio off his belt and keyed up the mic. "Eleven-ten to seven-zebra! Provide covering fire while we advance to the tree on the left, then hold your fire on my command! Repeat, covering fire while we advance to the tree, then standby! You copy?"
"10-4!" Buzz's voice was nearly drowned out by echoing gunshots even though Lassiter turned the volume all the way up, but he heard the reply, and knew the officers to his right understood their orders. Buzz dropped the spent magazine from his smoking Glock, slapped in another full magazine, and keyed up his radio while Gaston reloaded. "Ready, sir!" he shouted.
Lassiter and Juliet ducked out from behind the Crown Vic and ran for the tree as fast as they could. Buzz and Gaston opened fire to try and keep the gunmen's heads down as the detectives crossed the open yard towards their goal. The methodical rhythm of gunshots coming from behind and to their right was evidence the two officers were executing their roles with deadly accuracy. They arrived at the tree in seemingly record time, thankful to once again be back behind the relative safety its bulk provided.
The gunfire stopped as Buzz and Gaston paused to reload their smoldering weapons, and for a few seconds, everything was eerily quiet. The unnatural silence was almost surreal, broken only by the sounds of Juliet and Lassiter's gradually slowing breaths. Lassiter slung his rifle across his back, wiped a trickling stream of sweat off his eyebrow before it could roll into his eye, and surveyed the ground in front of him again. Shawn was still curled up on his left side, exactly as he'd seen the kid from underneath the car. The area he would have to cross—first to Shawn, then to the tree—looked impossibly far, the safety of Guster's oak seemingly miles away as he measured the distance one last time. He forced creeping doubt back into the recesses of his mind as he steeled himself for what he knew he had to do. This was the best plan: running straight across the yard to the second tree. Targets moving across a field of fire made them much harder target to hit than those moving away from the shooter in a straight line, making the second tree their best chance for survival over going backward to the Crown Vic.
Field of fire. Otherwise known as the "Kill Zone." An awfully long way to run across open ground during a fire fight, especially without body armor.
Juliet clicked off the safety on her shotgun and shouldered her weapon. She was tracking some barely visible motion through the window by the front door with her front sight when she felt her partner's left hand on her right shoulder. Juliet waited for the telltale slap on the shoulder that signaled he was ready, but was surprised to feel a slight tremble in his usually steady hand. She risked a quick glance back over her shoulder at her partner.
Lassiter stared across the yard at Shawn as he crouched next to her, his gaze locked on the younger man with grim determination. His teeth were clenched so tight, the muscles alongside his jaw flexed from the strain.
Juliet turned her attention back to their mission and reacquired her target in the window. "Any advice for me before we do this?" she asked in an attempt to break the tension. A small part of her wished he wouldn't speak, because she knew there was a chance his reply could very well be the last words she'd ever hear from the man.
His hand tightened on her shoulder ever so slightly. "Don't miss."
He slapped her shoulder, and she pulled the trigger.
Lassiter surged forward as O'Hara's first shot sheared off a chunk of wood from the frame around the window by the front door. He locked his gaze on Shawn and forced himself to think about anything other than the fact he was running through the middle of a gunfight with no protection whatsoever. A fact that was reinforced when the ground beside him exploded as a round of buckshot barely missed amputating his left foot. He felt another cluster of lead pellets narrowly miss his right ear when they whizzed by his head. He pushed himself to run faster, blood pounding in his ears as he sprinted to Spencer, drowning out the report of his partner's shotgun when she shifted her attention to the second gunman in the bedroom window. The gunman that was probably aiming the barrel of his gun dead center in the middle of his back...
Lassiter glanced up past Shawn's shoulder and briefly caught sight of Guster hiding behind his tree. He couldn't hear what Gus was saying, but he appeared to be mouthing the words, "GO LASSIE!" while furiously pumping his fists in the air. Lassiter returned his focus to Shawn, who was now turning his head to look back over his shoulder after apparently seeing his best friend's efforts to cheer on the Head Detective. Thirty feet...twenty...he was closing the distance fast...
That's when Shawn looked up, saw Lassiter barreling toward him through the hail of bullets, and pure, raw terror was replaced by hope. He turned around, rolled onto his quaking knees, and desperately reached out to his savior like a drowning man grasping for a lifeline amidst a sea of chaos.
Lassiter grabbed Shawn's right wrist with both hands and kept running for the tree at a dead sprint. Shawn was violently jerked off his knees as his "savior" unceremoniously dragged him face down through the dirt. Shawn tried to scramble along the ground on hands and knees as best he could, but he just couldn't keep up—Lassiter was moving too damn fast for him to get his feet underneath him. Shawn jerked his hand away from another near miss as buckshot blasted the earth near his fingers. He fell again, his mouth filling with dirt as the surprisingly fleet Head Detective relentlessly hauled him over rough ground.
"Guster, STOP! Stay there!" Lassiter ordered when Gus started to run out to meet them half way. Gus obeyed, and retreated back behind the tree, forced into the role of mere bystander. He ducked as lead pellets sent an explosion of tree bark showering over the shoulders of his lavender shirt. The pulse pounding in Lassiter's ears coupled with Gus's constant mantra of "Go! Go!" drowned out all other sound. Lassiter ignored the burn of exhaustion in his thighs and used the adrenaline rush to his advantage, letting it fuel strength born of determination to survive. He pushed himself harder, forcing his legs to churn through dusty earth, using every ounce of strength he had to heave Spencer's weight along beside him. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of running through hell, they reached the massive oak tree. Ignoring the dirt now covering his best friend head to toe, Gus scooped an extremely dusty Shawn into his arms and pulled him to safety. Lassiter's legs finally gave out and he landed hard on his backside with a huff, then after a few seconds, slumped forward in an exhausted heap, breathing heavily with his head between his knees.
"Spencer," he panted between breaths. "If you ever...do something that fucking stupid again...I swear to Judge Judy, I will shoot you myself!" He grabbed his radio, huffed, "We're clear!" into the speaker, and clipped it back onto his belt as he rolled up onto his knees to stand up.
"I got one! Shooter by the door is down!" O'Hara's reply cracked over the radio as Lassiter hoisted his lanky frame off of the dusty ground without bothering to dust off his pants.
"La—*cough* UGH!" Shawn gagged on the mouthful of dirt he'd obtained while his face was being dragged across the barren ground. He spit several times to clear it before speaking, his voice strained from the dryness in his throat. "Lassie, that makes...*cough*...the third time you've pulled me away from guns pointed at me," he sputtered, his eyes watering slightly as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "You trying to earn another merit badge, or something?" Gus handed Shawn his immaculately clean handkerchief so he could clean his mouth.
The Detective rose to his full height and peered around the tree at the bedroom window where the last shooter was still making his stand. He could just make out the remaining gunman moving into position to shoot at Buzz and Deputy Gaston again. Lassiter's new location across the yard gave him an excellent view of the suspect, something he'd lacked before.
Lassiter growled in annoyance as he unslung his rifle from his back. "Merit badge?" Lassiter fumed as he removed the first magazine from the weapon, took the second one out of his belt, inserted it, and slapped it home. Shawn saw a strip of red tape wrapped around the base of the new magazine Lassiter loaded. "I earned commendations saving your ass, Spencer! Merit badges are for the damn Boy Scouts!" He flipped off the safety, took aim, and placed his finger on the trigger. "And I'm no fucking Boy Scout."
Lassiter opened fire on the window, placing well-aimed, controlled shots through the gap in the curtains. The gunman quickly ducked down out of view, so Lassiter began putting rounds into the exterior wooden paneling directly underneath the window. The high velocity, steel core, armor-piercing rounds Lassiter just switched to easily punched through the wall with every shot. He knew he'd hit his mark at least once by the wide red smear left on the off-white curtains after the shooter retreated. He thought he heard a pained scream, but kept shooting, carefully aiming and squeezing the trigger with each shot. Fifteen rounds...twenty...until finally, he heard his partner's voice over his radio.
"Cease fire! Cease fire!"
Lassiter stopped firing, but kept his rifle on his shoulder in case he needed to resume shooting. The only sounds echoing across the yard at the moment were approaching sirens and slightly labored breathing as everyone tried to catch their breath. Lassiter braced his rifle against the trunk of the tree, allowing him to keep the barrel leveled at the house while he retrieved his radio with his left hand. "Approaching units, I need eyes on the back of this house!" Lassiter barked his orders in a firm, yet surprisingly calm voice. "Send two officers down Barton Street to approach from the rear and set up a perimeter. Two more units come to the front. All other responding officers, block the streets! No incoming civilian traffic!"
"Seven zebra, clear!"
"Eleven-eleven, clear," O'Hara responded.
"Units five-Adam and four-zebra, clear! We're on scene and holding perimeter in back!"
Two more patrol cars sped onto the scene, each one stopping in the street on opposite corners in front of the house. The officers got out of their vehicles and crouched behind the engine blocks with weapons aimed at the house.
Shawn and Gus huddled together at the base of the tree as Lassiter stood over them, his rifle still smoking. Still in a mild state of shock, Shawn picked a spent shell casing out of a fold in the fabric of his jeans to stare at it, studying it in a surreal state of curiosity. He tossed it aside when it became too hot for his fingers to hold any longer.
"Stay here," Lassiter commanded while looking down at the best friends as they clung to each other. They watched the Detective run across the lawn again, only this time, he was heading for Buzz's patrol car. He met up with the two officers, crouched alongside them behind the vehicle, and began talking to them. Shawn and Gus were out of hearing range so they had no idea what Lassiter was saying to them, but he guessed it involved approaching the house, since all three men kept glancing over at the structure.
"Dude. Do you think Lassie's about to go all Terminator on whoever's left in the house?" Shawn asked, sounding somewhat impressed.
"I think he already did that, Shawn," Gus chimed in while picking bits of pulverized tree bark out of his shirt.
They watched as Lassiter spoke into his radio again, then formed a three-man line with Buzz and Gaston. They walked in unison to the other tree, where Juliet joined them. The group of officers moved into a four-man "diamond" formation, with the heavily-armored Gaston in front, Buzz and Lassiter on either side, and Juliet in the back. They approached the house quickly, moving together with precision, and entered the front door to clear it.
Thirty minutes later found Shawn putting on a t-shirt scrounged from a gym bag in the trunk of Buzz's car. Fortunately Buzz was running late that morning, and didn't have time to stop by the station's exercise room for his morning workout that day, which meant the borrowed yet well-worn clothing was blissfully free of the big man's grunge. The shirt was way too big for him, made evident by the sagging collar and hem down to mid-thigh, but it would do until Shawn could raid Gus's closet. He shrugged the loose fabric over the fresh bandages applied by the EMTs, and stepped down from the back of the ambulance. He was immediately accosted by his best friend, who'd been hovering just outside the doors waiting for him to emerge.
"Shawn! Are you okay?" a very worried-looking Gus inquired.
"Yeah, buddy, I'm fine," Shawn assured him. "Just got grazed a few times. that's all. Just some bandages and I'm good to go." He glanced around, accidentally catching sight of the now crumbled pile of wood he'd hidden behind during the gun battle. There wasn't much left of it at this point, after having been mercilessly pounded by a firestorm of bullets for several minutes. It finally struck Shawn just how ridiculously small it was. He tore his gaze away, refusing to think about how perilously close he'd come to needing more than "just some bandages."
Gus accidentally interrupted Shawn's melancholia when he wrinkled his nose and stepped closer. "You smell like antiseptic," he ribbed his friend good-naturedly. "I guess that's a good thing. At least you're mostly clean, now." He took in the unfortunate state of Shawn's scraped and dirt-smeared pants. "Well, maybe not mostly," he lamented while brushing some offending remnants of dirt from Shawn's left thigh.
Shawn could tell by the deepening crease in Gus's brow that he was worried about him. His best friend's concern continued manifesting itself in the form of fretting over the hopelessly soiled garment, so Shawn decided for both their sakes to lighten the mood. "Okay, Gus. Pop quiz, hot shot!" Shawn challenged. "Exactly what did the paramedics use to clean me up? Fire up the super-smeller and tell me what antiseptic they used. Bonus points if you get the brand name right."
Gus raised his eyebrows, momentarily forgetting the pants to accept the challenge. "What do I win when I answer the question correctly?"
"If, Gus. If you answer correctly, I'll..." He paused, deep in thought. "I'll give you my A-Team lunch box with the Mr. T thermos."
"Shawn! That's my lunch box! I thought I lost it during recess in fifth grade! Did you take it?"
"Umm...no?" Shawn replied, feigning innocence. "How about you choose dinner and the movie tonight? My treat."
"Oh, you are on," Gus declared. "Like Charlie Sheen in the Playboy Mansion, it is on."
Shawn nodded, accepting the terms. "Do your worst."
"Betadine, alcohol swabs, and saline solution. The swabs and saline were probably just generic brands, but the paramedics did use Purell hand sanitizing gel to cleanse their hands after they were done. Oh, excuse me..." Gus tilted his head back briefly, sniffing the air. "With aloe vera." He swiped his thumb alongside his nose in victory.
"Wow," Shawn acted impressed. "You're like the chocolate Sherlock Holmes of medicinal ingredients. Well done, buddy."
"So...Red Robin tonight?" Gus asked, seeming a bit more like his usual self. Shawn could tell, though, by the barely noticeable quiver in his best friend's voice, he was still shaken by the day's events.
Shawn nodded, confirming their plans to include juicy burgers in the near future. "As sure as Prince wearing tight pants on stage, we're there, buddy."
Shawn glanced over Gus's shoulder at the dilapidated house before him, and suddenly, began taking in the entire scene. He hadn't intended to do so, especially not while trying to distract Gus, but he found he just couldn't look away. Due to being hustled into an ambulance almost as soon as the house was cleared, he hadn't been able to get a detailed look at the scene until now. The distinctive, acrid scent of burnt gunpowder still hung heavy in the air, an invisible reminder of the events that had taken place less than an hour ago. It brought back ugly memories with sickening clarity from a previous shooting incident when Lassiter took a bullet for him. Tiny glints of golden light sparkled in the dirt at the base of both oak trees as forensic technicians carefully marked the objects on the ground with little yellow evidence flags. Trying to wrench his nearly obsessive attention to detail away from the sight before him, he forced himself to turn away from the house. He accidentally let his gaze sweep over the street behind Buzz's patrol car only to have it captured again by the multitude of bullet holes connecting spider-webbed cracks in the windshield. Thousands of chunks of glass from the shattered side windows littered the pavement next to the driver's side of the car, sparkling in the sunlight amidst a large pile of spent shell casings and discarded magazines. He was mesmerized by the gleaming pile of brass—there had to be several hundred empty bullet casings lying in the street—a testament to how ferociously his friends had fought for their lives.
Gus's hand on his shoulder brought him back to reality.
"Shawn? You okay?"
He looked up into the concerned eyes of his best friend. "Yeah, I'm just...I'm fine, Gus."
Shawn watched as Lassiter confidently strode across the lawn and approached the rear doors of the ambulance parked several yards in front of them. He opened the right rear door half-way, poked his head inside, gave a tersely issued order to the lone EMT, and climbed up into the back of the ambulance as the paramedic squeezed passed him to make a hasty exit. As the young man fled the Head Detective's surly presence like a rat desperate to leave a sinking ship, the door swung open to reveal Juliet lying on a gurney. She was propped into a half-sitting position, and part of the bottom of her blood-soaked shirt had been cut away. Shawn could see a large bandage covering the right side of her abdomen just below her rib cage. Her lone bullet wound was worse than any Shawn had sustained, but fortunately, was still mild enough to only require a visit to the Emergency Room for treatment and release with orders to avoid strenuous activity for two weeks. Lassiter maneuvered his lanky form around the cramped space until he was facing Juliet, then sat down on the bench beside her.
At first, when Shawn observed the tension in his shoulders as he spoke to Juliet, he thought Lassiter was settling in for yet another stern lecture for his junior partner. He only had a view of Lassiter's back, but Shawn could tell by the way he was sitting that, whatever he was saying, he was delivering his message with intensity. Shawn's protective instincts bristled to the surface as anger over the callous treatment Juliet was receiving swelled within his chest. Shawn couldn't help but think Lassiter's bad timing was the worst in the entire history of bad timing. Well, Head Detective or not, Shawn wasn't about to let him kick Juliet while she was down. He was just about to enlist Gus's help in a tag-team effort to deliberately interrupt Lassiter's angry tirade when he saw something that stopped him in dead in his tracks.
It was the look on Juliet's face that made him pause. A strange combination of fear, relief, and hope accented by eyes shimmering with unshed tears. Her bottom lip began to waver as Lassiter jabbed his index finger towards her chest to emphasize some point he was undoubtedly making. The tears finally cascaded over her bottom lids as he spoke. Without missing a beat, her partner fished the Ray-Bans out of her jacket pocket, placed them over her tear-streaked face, and kept talking. Juliet watched him from behind the safety of her dark sunglasses, keeping her eyes trained on his face as tears occasionally rolled down the sides of her chin.
To his astonishment, Shawn realized Lassiter wasn't yelling at Juliet, or berating her as a failure like he probably would have in the not-too-distant past. He was, in his own, unique 'Carlton' way, giving her his version of a pep-talk.
"Well, look at that, Gus," Shawn announced with newfound appreciation of Juliet's eternally grumpy partner. "Our little Lassie-pants is growing up." He nodded at the ambulance to direct Gus's questioning gaze to the scene unfolding before them.
Gus' eyebrows crept upwards. "Wow. What do you think he's saying to her?" he asked in mild disbelief.
"I don't know, Gus. " Shawn shrugged, instantly regretting it when the motion pulled at his newly bandaged wounds. He winced slightly as he pondered the scenario. "I can't read his lips while I'm staring at the back of his sweet salt and pepper Irish hair. Not that I'd ever want to pay that much attention to that man's mouth, because, ewww! But, if I had to guess, he's probably saying..." Shawn paused, then adopted a slightly more somber tone. "He's probably saying, 'damn good job today, Juliet.'"
After a few more moments, Shawn saw Lassiter give Juliet an awkward pat on the shoulder. Apparently finished, he started to stand up, but after acknowledging the tears still dripping off her chin, he stopped, then abruptly sat down again. He looked back over his shoulder, obviously checking to make sure no one was watching. After sweeping the area with a stern glare for several seconds, Lassiter discretely slipped a handkerchief out of his jacket's inner breast pocket, quietly pressed it into Juliet's hand, and climbed out of the back of the ambulance.
Lassiter's formerly polished shoes hit the pavement just before he swung the door hard enough to slam it shut. He turned around and nearly ran right into Shawn and Gus, who had managed to creep up behind him unnoticed while he was preoccupied with his partner.
"Damn it...for the love of—what do you want, Spencer?" He demanded tersely.
Shawn held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. "I just wanted to see how Jules is doing," he replied in a conciliatory tone. "I mean, we just...is she okay?"
"I saw her get shot, Lassiter. How bad is it?" Gus asked anxiously.
The Detective's defensive anger gradually abated when he saw their genuine concern for her. He sighed heavily, seeming to deflate as he exhaled. "She's okay, it's just a deep flesh wound. She'll be on medical leave for two weeks to make sure it heals properly." Lassiter looked back over his shoulder at the house again, his gaze finally settling on the damaged oak tree where he and his partner had defiantly stood their ground. His eyes lingered on the jagged furrows and deep pits carved into the bark. He brought his hand to his forehead, scrubbed the palm over his face, suddenly looking tired and drained.
"Hell, we'll both be on administrative leave for a few weeks while Internal Affairs sorts out this clusterfuck," he lamented.
Shawn didn't think he'd ever seen then man so dejected. It was as if he'd been worn down to his breaking point, yet somehow, was still managing to avoid total collapse. The flecks of blood on the back of Lassiter's neck, as well as the bloody pockmarks left behind by a close call when buckshot met tree bark, reminded the consultant that the detective didn't escape unscathed. After what he and Juliet had been through; hell, what they'd done to save his life and keep Gus safe, he honestly didn't know how Lassiter was even still standing, much less looking fairly composed. Lassiter shifted, placed both palms on his hips, and that's when Shawn saw the barely detectable tremor in his hands.
"Lassie? Are you oka—"
"I'm fine, Spencer," he insisted forcefully. Lassiter turned and walked briskly towards his maroon Crown Vic police cruiser, which was still parked in front of McNab's patrol car. He stopped dead in his tracks, standing before his beloved, once-perfect sedan, surveying the massive damage it sustained. Shawn could swear he actually heard a slight, pained whimper escape the older man.
All of the windows had been shattered. The decimated windshield sagged in its frame, still somehow managing to cling in place despite having been thoroughly ventilated with buckshot. Thousands of tiny chunks of glass littered the pavement surrounding the car, mixed with several hundred spent brass shell casings, and empty Glock magazines dropped by the two detectives during the fight. Bullet holes riddled every body panel on the car, but were heaviest in number on the passenger side, which was facing the house. The driver's side hadn't fared much better, peppered with the larger, jagged exit holes from slugs punching all the way through the car. Small bits of dark colored plastic were scattered in the street. After a few seconds, Shawn recognized the fragments as pieces of the car's interior panels that had been blasted through the doors as the bullets passed through. Various essential fluids flowed into the gutter, streaming away from the perforated engine compartment in a swirling, oily rainbow of color. The one area of the car with the least amount of damage was the front left fender. There were, or course, several bullet holes up near the front bumper, but the gleaming, well-waxed paint beside the area containing the engine remained pristine—the exact spot where Lassiter and Juliet had crouched during the vicious combat. Shawn could still see their dusty shoe prints clustered together on the asphalt, even overlapping one another at times.
Shawn and Gus turned their attention towards the Head Detective as he stood in front of his totaled car, perched crookedly atop flattened tires. They suddenly felt self-conscious in his presence, because given the way his bottom lip was quivering, it was obvious they were painfully close to watching a grown man cry. Lassiter swallowed hard in an obvious attempt to stifle his emotions, an act met with only limited success as evidenced by a lone, choked-off sob.
Lassiter stepped forward to place his hand on what was left of the hood of his beloved SBPD issued Crown Vic. The first take-home car he'd ever been assigned. The one he'd kept even after he could have chosen a newer model when he was promoted to Head Detective. He reverently traced his fingers over a small spot of gleaming paint one last time.
"You've served me well, old friend," he pined while running his hand over the marred finish. "Thanks for saving our lives today." His voice cracked with the strain of emotion, resulting in more swallowing.
Shawn suddenly felt more than a little self-conscious being a witness to such an emotional display, even if it was over an inanimate object. "Aww...Gus, man, we should to get out of here. I know Lassie loves his car, but this is a little ridiculous. A bit creepy, even." Hearing no reply, he turned toward his friend. "Gus? Are you hear—oh, you have got to be kidding me."
Gus sniffled as he wiped away the tears now openly streaming down his face. "You know I'm a sympathetic crier, Shawn!" he defended.
"Gus, don't be that one can of Spam without a key. Pull yourself together, man." Shawn chastised.
A glint of sunlight off of metal caught Shawn's eye. He turned towards the welcome distraction, leaving Gus to collect himself, and located the source of the distraction: the destroyed sedan's enameled "Ford" emblem, lying in the street after having been blown off the front of the car. He bent down and scooped it up, noting a small remnant of the black plastic grill still stuck to the back. He broke off the last uneven pieces of plastic, and tapped Lassiter on the shoulder, breaking his reverie.
"Here, Lassie," he said as he placed the emblem in the older man's hand. "You've earned it, man."
Lassiter stared dumbly at the metal laying across his palm for several moments, seemingly struck by the gravity of the symbolism.
Shawn looked around, making sure no one else was within earshot. "Another souvenir for the collection in your desk, big dog."
Lassiter's grip tightened around the hood ornament. "What the...damn it, Spencer," he swore under his breath through clenched teeth.
Shawn patted Lassiter on the back and danced off towards Gus, just in case the surly officer didn't appreciate the gesture. Lassiter watched the two best friends as they walked towards the police tape barrier on the edge of the crime scene, fading into the afternoon sun, leaving the Head Detective vowing to requisition new "Spencer-proof" locks for his desk.