Joy Has Its Own Justice
A Psych Secret Santa Story for boomboomboommuffins
Chapter One: I Know The Score
In spite of having seen it with his own eyes through the science of two-way glass, Lassiter never wanted to believe his partner would truly end up bewitched by Shawn Spencer's charisma—at least, not enough to let him kiss her.
As he'd walked off, still using his coffee mug to occasionally scratch at his sideburns, Lassiter nearly succeeded in convincing himself what he'd seen was only a delusion brought on by the latest—and hopefully last—torturous ordeal of the Yin and Yang serial killer madness. But he was unable to forget that his partner had faced her own death more than once last year—and that this could be the underpinnings of her new twisted motivations to find a suitable mate before she faced it again.
Suitable, Lassiter scoffed. Her choices in romantic partners, in his opinion, were often short-sighted, based in some reality that Lassiter figured hadn't existed. Cameron Luntz; Scott Seaver; that officer on desk duty with the ears the size of car doors; now, Shawn Spencer. Carlton shook his head slowly.
This was . . . unforgivable.
"I thought she knew better," Lassiter muttered under his breath. Up until that moment he'd seen what he'd never be able to unsee, he'd considered his partner relatively intelligent, not quite as much as himself, but still, a decent match to his own wits.
Shortly after they wrapped up another murder case—with Shawn and Gus's help—Juliet approached him at his desk with a rather delicate subject. Rather than acknowledging her presence, Carlton kept at his paperwork, determined to be finished with it before he went to lunch. She seemed to be waiting, as if needing time to gather her thoughts, and didn't say a word until he'd gotten up for a file from a cabinet behind his desk.
"So, Carlton, is it too early to ask if I have your blessing?" Juliet asked, jumping back two feet when Lassiter spun on his heel. He looked murderous, his face turning purple.
Because he looked incapable of speech—Juliet guessed his tongue might be swollen in his mouth as if he'd accidentally ingested mint—she answered her own question with a sigh. "I wish I could say I was being facetious, but I wanted to know if you'd gotten over your pigheaded block about who I choose to date."
"I have no problems with who you date!" Lassiter sputtered. "I barely said boo about your disgusting stint with Luntz—and I actually had a sliver of hope when it came to that weirdo Seaver! But this! O'Hara, it's Shawn Spencer, for crying out loud!"
People were starting to stare, many stopping to stare. Juliet was the one to dismiss them, shaking her head firmly. They looked reluctant to leave. "Disgusting?" Juliet repeated in a low voice, barely blinking.
Lassiter scowled. "He was old enough to be your grandfather. Hell, he was old enough to be my grandfather!"
"So what?" Juliet cried, and huffed.
"You don't see how that's icky? O'Hara, you're a smart woman, but the men you choose—"
"So what is it about Shawn?" Juliet cut in angrily. "Is he disgusting? Too old for me? Is he a so-called weirdo—your words? Too devoted? For the record, Scott was not weird when we were college sweethearts," Juliet added.
Lassiter crossed his arms. "Fair enough. But if you want answers to your questions then you'll have to hook me up to a lie detector."
Juliet studied him with coals of sad disbelief. "So, that's all there is to it, then? Do you still want a new partner?"
"Why in the hell did it have to be him?" Lassiter demanded, though his voice had dropped to a whisper. He sank into a chair, deflated. It had been a lie—a deflection—to hide his tangled emotions, taking it to the Chief with a new partner request. Because the truth was, it had hurt him, finding out that way, entering blindly into their private moment when all he'd gone downstairs to do was have a few moments of silence to himself.
It was a secret he didn't want to keep.
In fact, he'd given her a week to come clean—mainly because he was still too shellshocked to put words to the picture of the two of them in his head—before he got the department's lie detector machine out and up and running. He was going to have to do this the hard way, but this time he relished little; the task was an empty threat.
Until he decided making Spencer take it for a spin would be a much better way to get revenge. On both of them.
"I'm glad Spencer directed Lutz to go take a bath in the sewer," Carlton said under his breath, a small grin twisting his mouth.
Juliet raised an eyebrow. "What was that?"
"Nothing," Lassiter lied. But this train of thought was novel—Spencer had found Scott Seaver, presumed dead and in witness protection, all because Juliet had asked. And then he'd nearly had a meltdown when version two of the Yin Yang serial killer had asked him to choose between his then girlfriend and O'Hara.
"Carlton, if you don't like any of my dating choices, then who the hell would you approve of?" Juliet asked snidely.
"That depends," Lassiter admitted. "It would be whoever managed to survive the intensive screening process I'd set up—a project tentatively titled 'O'Hara's Survivors'—with a minimum of six hours for interrogation—"
"Interrogation?" Juliet interrupted. But she found herself curious to hear more.
"The basics, O'Hara. Interview, interrogation," Lassiter said, waving it off. "He'd have to be of appropriate age, in good physical condition and health, no insanity in the family, no baldness—"
Juliet let out an odd chuckle.
"He'd have to have a likable personality, friendly with a good sense of humor, would have to like to laugh, because that crap is apparently more important to you than, say, shiny white teeth. I'd have to do an extensive background check for criminal and financial records, check his credit score, unseal any sealed juvenile records, and then get a medical report from his current doctor about his fertility—"
Juliet felt a blush creep across her face. "Please don't say anything more about fertility," she told him in a low voice.
"All right, I'll leave that and bedroom prowess up to your imagination," Lassiter said, oblivious to the fact that Juliet's face was now bright red. "Then there'd be the basic things, like common interests and hobbies and like or dislike of pets, blood type, how close he is with his family and friends, and how many children he'd like to have, and when,"—Juliet groaned, putting her hand over her eyes—"if he has any commitment fears, if he's single or was previously married—with or without resulting children—if he's a cheater—that's an immediate disqualification," Lassiter assured her. "I'd weed that type out within the first hour, along with any deadbeats or degenerates, including those with substance or physical abuse problems, chemical dependencies or histories of stalking, because they'd of course be subjected to a lie detector test. And then at the end of the process there would be a select few good men who would most likely to be a good to perfect match for you. And I might get to bust some of the lowlifes of the bunch, which would make my day."
Juliet's mood had brightened when Lassiter mentioned the lie detector test. "Carlton, that's all very sweet, and while I . . . um . . . appreciate that list and time you'd put into screening . . . um, the 'survivors', that's not how attraction works. And . . . well . . . Shawn already has many of those good qualities. And you must know that baldness is in the mother's genes. Plus, Shawn passed the lie detector test you administered."
"He cheated," Lassiter grumbled. "I don't know how he did it, but he fooled that machine."
Juliet's face fell. "He . . . he did not! He said he loves me!" Both her hands went to her mouth. She hadn't intended to say that aloud, hadn't been expecting her partner's extreme measures when it came to her finding just who it was—Mr. Right—that he thought she should be romantically involved with. She suddenly felt that her blouse, though open at her neck, was choking her, and hurried off without another word.
Lassiter shrugged, and it took several minutes for him to understand why O'Hara had become suddenly upset. By the time it was clear, it was much too late to get up and locate her and possibly explain himself. He sighed, and got back to work.
* * *
"I see dead people!" Shawn blurted out as he entered the Chief's office, Gus just a few steps behind. He paused, bringing both hands to his temples and closing his eyes. "No, wait! Dead person, singular! A dead man who's not even in dead in this township. I see muuurder!"
"Murrrrder!" Gus echoed, rolling his r's for dramatic effect.
Vick ignored their lateness, waving Shawn and Gus into the room with a sigh. "That's very impressive, Mr. Spencer," she said. Lassiter rolled his eyes. "You must have a nose for murder."
"No, that's Gus. He can smell fresh blood a mile away."
"And team spirit," Gus added. He held up his fist to bump it with Shawn's.
"I think she meant you have a big nose that you're always sticking into other people's business," Lassiter retorted.
"Detective!" Vick warned with a reproachful glance.
Lassiter shrugged and crossed his arms."What are they doing here?" he demanded snidely as if he hadn't already spoken out of turn.
"Lassie, I sensed you'd need my help on this one," Shawn informed him, smiling smugly at Lassiter who was sitting in the chair in front of Vick's desk. "In fact, my vision of your distress ruined a perfectly good A-Team marathon for me and Gus."
Lassiter glared at him and turned around to the front. "That's about as likely as hell freezing over," he muttered under his breath.
Without waiting for any apologies from her Head Detective she knew would never come, Karen launched into briefing the three of them about the case. "What it looks like is a body dump in Ventura—the victim's name is Michael Ealy, his driver's license puts his residence in Santa Barbara—"
Shawn raised a hand to his head. "—And he was an employee at the local Red Lobster," he finished.
Vick pursed her lips; she did not like being interrupted. "Yes, you're correct, Mr. Spencer."
Lassiter scowled. "How did you know that? Do you frequent that establishment?"
"No, I'm psychic, Lassie. Remember?" His smugness had returned, full force.
"You are not!"
"Gentlemen!" Vick's voice rose. "Please restrain your voices until I finish telling you what I know!"
Gus was the only one looking slightly impressed by the time she was done. She was one of two women in this police department who was able to wrest control from Shawn and Lassiter. Juliet was the other.
"Now Ealy was not the only Red Lobster employee killed recently. About two months prior, Detectives Lassiter and O'Hara were assigned a case involving the suspicious death of Bill Kingston there, but unfortunately the leads went cold." In the background, Shawn tsked, causing Lassiter to clench his fists. "At that time, the death was ruled an accident, but in light of this new discovery, that case may be reopened. Woody is prepared to perform a new set of tests—once we have confirmation from the VPD."
"Is that like VD?" Shawn asked suddenly. "Did he have VD?" In spite of himself, Lassiter smirked for a second.
"Maybe it stands for Vampire Police Diaries," Gus chimed in.
"You mean Vampire Diaries. VD."
"No, VPD," Gus clarified. "And you meant ven—"
Vick frowned, cutting Gus off, "No, it's the abbreviation for the Ventura Police Department. They've graciously opted for a joint investigation, given we might have a serial killer on our hands."
"Chief, I will not having these two idiots bumbling about when I'm trying to get the country bumpkin local police to cooperate!" Lassiter exploded.
"Ventura is hardly—" Vick began.
"That would be one idiot," Gus corrected, much to the surprise of the entire room.
"What?" Shawn asked, dumbfounded. "Gus, it's a paying case. I mean, it will be, once my dad gets here and says it is." He leaned in for a whisper aside. "Without you, I'm not going to have any buffer for Lassie!"
"Funny, I was just thinking the same about you," Lassiter said loudly, glaring at the two of them—mostly at Shawn. Gus shrugged.
"Sorry, dude, Chief," Gus hastily added, moving his eyes from Shawn to Vick, "I have a prior engagement. My parents are in town and have already made plans—"
"Your parents are in town? That's the worst excuse I've ever heard," Shawn griped. "Especially when it's not your parents you're going to see specifically but the blind date they've set up for you!"
Gus flicked his nose and licked his lips, telling Shawn through gritted teeth, "Shawn, stop underestimating your abilities. You know perfectly well you can handle one case without me." He smiled as brightly as he could for Vick. "You understand me, right? Once in a lifetime opportunity."
Karen pursued her lips. It would be unusual, she considered, to have Mr. Guster lie to her, given that he was more often than not pressing the pair take all the cases they were offered, large and small. And, she had a secret weakness for those "once in a lifetime opportunities", as one of those many years ago had brought her to meet her husband. "All right," she said, noticing Shawn's chagrin. "Mr. Spencer, the case is still on the table if you want to take it solo—meaning that this time, you'd be partnered up with Detective Lassiter."
"Like hell!" Lassiter balked while Shawn balked his own "No way!"
"It's temporary," Vick assured them, rolling her eyes at their reactions. "Less than a day, if all goes well."
But then Shawn sat back, taking in Lassiter's discomfort, and grinned. "I'll take it, because Lassie can't do this without me." Then he noticed something lacking. "When is Jules joining us?"
"She's not," Lassiter growled. "She's on another assignment. Didn't she tell you?" he sneered.
She had, and it had entirely slipped his mind, Shawn recalled, remembering now the faint smell of her perfume lingering on his neck as she'd hugged him goodbye, after telling him she would likely be out of touch for the next day or so.
She'd hadn't mentioned it specifically, but Shawn had guessed that she and Lassie had had a little spat. After the threats the Head Detective had made to be excommunicated from her, Shawn got the idea that he should try to make nice, for Jules' sake. Because Lassiter wasn't going to find a better partner, or Juliet a better teacher (though Shawn would never admit this to either of them).
* * *
Shawn's ears were still ringing with nearly forty-five minutes of straight news radio when they arrived at the Ventura police station. In the stop and go traffic on the 101 of the early afternoon, he'd attempted to amuse both himself and Lassiter by singing some of the songs he'd made up for QuarterBlack, doing all of their parts to give the full effect. After threats of jail time for disturbing the peace failed to frighten Shawn, Lassiter blared the AM radio and kept his eyes focused solely on the road in front of them—in spite of the extra fifteen minutes they spent deadlocked in traffic.
They were supposed to meet with the Ventura detectives who had requested the assistance, due to the possibly connected murders, as that they had made the discovery.
"Now don't let them rub your nose in that," Shawn said loudly to Lassiter as they walked towards the doors. "That their PD might be more qualified," he clarified. Lassiter scowled at him, and Shawn shrugged. "You're the one who wrecked my eardrums," he scolded in an equally loud voice.
The interior of the station was much smaller than either were used to, and the air conditioning running much too slowly to keep up with the pulse of the heat outside. A uniformed officer behind a desk directed them to Detective O. Osbourne's office.
The detective they met with was grizzled up and down, from white hair to thick white whiskers. He had an obnoxious smoker's hack which made Shawn cringe, especially during introductions when he coughed what may have been mucous onto Shawn's hand. He addressed both Shawn and Lassiter as "sonny" as they went over the shared knowledge, leading Shawn to let him know that a numbering system would be better if they were both going to have the same name—or perhaps a tag of Junior and Senior would work. Eventually Shawn decided Lassie could be Sonny Bono and he could be Sonny the Cuckoo Bird, because he was often "cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs" anyway.
"Head Psychic?" Osbourne coughed, raising his bushy white eyebrows at Lassiter. "He's cuckoo?"
"It's better not to get into it," Lassiter said exasperatedly. "Let's get on with our cooperation. What is exactly about this murder that required the SBPD's assistance?"
Shawn formed his fingers into half circles which he at first used as binoculars or glasses. "I'm seeing something," he said ominously. He opened and closed his fingers as he held them in front of his eyes. "Pac-Man. No, wait! Pinking shears!"
"Spencer," Lassiter growled.
"Pinchers!" He opened and closed his fingers quicker. "I'm seeing . . . spiders!" Shawn now moved his fingers as if they were attached to a many-legged creepy crawly. "No . . . uh . . . not spiders! Spiders of the sea! Lobsters!" He made the screeching sound of a lobster dropped into boiling water tail first.
"Wouldn't that be crabs, sonny?" Osbourne threw in. "Spiders of the sea?"
Lassiter made a disgusted noise, then cleared his throat for emphasis. Shawn pantomimed the lobster drowning in the boiling water.
Osbourne took a few seconds to recover, looking from Lassiter's deepening scowl to Shawn's acting and back again. "Ealy's cause of death was drowning, but the salt content wasn't high enough to be from the ocean. Our M.E. found water in his lungs, but also concentrated bacteria consistent with . . . lobster excrement," Osbourne told them after a befuddled glance at Shawn, who was grinning. "It looks like Ealy's head was held down in a tank."
Lassiter shot a furtive glance at Shawn annoyed that his spectacle had not been an elaborate show of where the dead man had worked.
"We suspect the killer moved the body because he'd already killed one employee of the Santa Barbara Red Lobster. He got lucky once, since the death was ruled as an accidental drowning."
"It was," Lassiter admitted with a frown. "But there wasn't much to go on. Alcohol was found in the first victim's system but no other toxins of any kind; no defensive wounds. He had no family, and his job history was too sketchy to make a clearer picture of anything but an accident."
"But it never sat well with you, did it, Lassie?" Shawn pointed out.
Lassiter didn't answer Shawn, choosing instead to ask Detective Osbourne if they had uncovered a motive. "Nothing solid yet."
Osbourne gestured to a stack of case files; Lassiter and Osbourne sat down and got to work while Shawn hovered, checked his phone and occasionally looked out the window. Since they weren't paying him any mind, Shawn had the chance to scan the files for the "psychic" connections he could make aloud later.
"You have run the list of employees at Red Lobster in Santa Barbara and none of them were flagged?" Lassiter asked.
"Yes, sonny," Osbourne said tiredly, "as, I expect, have you. Did you find anything?"
Lassiter drew his lips into a thin line and ignored the question. "What about this one?" He pointed to a short list of five names on a single page.
"Preliminary suspect pool," Osbourne answered. Lassiter read over the names quickly, then asked why they were considered. Osbourne had vague answers for each. Shawn leaned in over his shoulder as he pointed to each name.
"Dude," Shawn began, tapping Osbourne on the shoulder to differentiate between the two detectives, "where's your partner? I thought we would meet him today too."
Osbourne made a snuffling noise. "Don't got one of those. Don't need one."
"Oh," Shawn said. He turned his head to look out the window again.
"This guy—Herman Delgado," Lassiter said, "he has priors, unlike the rest of your pool." He raised an eyebrow. "Have you questioned him yet?"