A Psych Story
"What kinds of signals come from me?
Falsely accused, positively."
—Shock of Pleasure, from "False Positive"
Prologue: Nothing To Lose, Nothing But You
He had more than a comprehensive grip on English, but he was self-taught, learning it out of necessity rather than a want to speak the language. Too many deals, even in the earliest days, when he was no more than thirteen years old, on the outskirts of a shaky world he wanted so desperately to be a part of, required the fluent, steady tongue that he did not follow; losing out on easy cash had made him more determined than angry, even when foreigners judged him on his own soil. Though he knew his accent could be traced by those much too keen for their own good, and that some of his pronunciations went ultimately imperfect, he could form thoughts in his head in English, slide them like silk through his teeth, and be instantly understood.
A small victory, perhaps. Even smaller, then, was keeping hold of this tongue while he rotted in prison. Now Russian he knew enough of to get by, even when guards would rather spit on him than speak; he learned to decipher what he heard under their breaths, and relished every piece of slang he picked up. Words, he knew, on the outside, always had their uses. On the inside, grunts, gestures and silence were often favored, anything preferable to the screams of tortured men, or the constant pleas of innocence, or the restless whispered chatter of escape. Some languages were universal.
Emil Frey took in the neat rows of headstones that stretched across the grounds of this rather large public cemetery he had found himself drawn to—a foolish errand. He had to come; he didn't dare go home to Berlin, but it might just be suicide anyway to linger in Moscow so soon after his escape. Still, after ten tiresome years in the treacherous prison—half of that spent in solitary confinement, Emil desired company—and even dead company was better than none.
And there was the off-chance that some fallen comrades had found their ways into mass, unmarked graves just on the edge of this property. Surely, some priest of less strict faith could have absolved them enough to lay them to rest in consecrated ground.
In light of ten years, Emil suspected it was less safe for him to appear in sparsely populated areas; no matter how much time passed, those who had been harmed, or those who were survivors of those who had not survived would remember him, if not immediately then too soon. He may be thinner now, with more graying facial hair, with nails ungodly long that trapped dirt, but not blood, beneath them, but they could tell who they were looking at because of his eyes. He had little reason to stay, and it ate at him that he could not flee the country when he wanted because he must wait on others to bring him to proper documents with which to get him on a plane, get him to the states.
Emil sighed. He had ulterior motives for coming here; he had wanted to plant his feet on these grounds and let his heart wander to find out if Anja might be dead, buried here. Emil did not want to believe it, but Anja had sent no word, not even a scrawl of code, to him in the time he was imprisoned. It could still not be safe, or she might have been captured herself, or, he hoped most of all, she had slipped her own skin for another, gliding seamlessly into the onslaught of coming years, without him, in someone else's life. At least then, he told himself, she would still be alive.
A month—just thirty short days earlier—Emil had heard a rumor, in broken English. A long shot, even foolhardy to pursue, but he felt he had nothing to lose. A decade had been stolen already, but any time gone by not knowing Anja's fate was stolen time, in prison or living free.
Dead company—and the muted faces still in his head from so many years past; these were the extent of his contact with humans for the past five years. Perhaps, it was not five years; longer or shorter, he had no way of knowing. It was out of chance, or a sentence served, that he had been moved from solitary to a slightly bigger cage on a cell block just three months ago. Human voices, most in grunts, he could hear, but still none he could see. Guards, they did not register to him as human contact, all cut from the same stone cold marble. He still took meals in his cell, and showered in the lone stall he'd been fortunate enough to visit twice a week prior. It was is if it was not a punishment to him, keeping him away but out of protection for the other inmates, as if he—a distant relative of a once fugitive war criminal—was so much more despicable than child killers or rapists. An old cellmate, a meth fiend, overdosed, slit the throats of his brother's children, then raided his brother's house for the pithy savings kept between mattresses. But he, Emil, was much worse. Emil felt his face crinkle, recalling a trace of irony, what he had known well upon being thrown in to that time behind bars. What he had been charged with was nowhere near the most despicable crimes he had committed with his own bare hands, but his charges were enough of a sin.
Loving Anja and letting her love him back, still loving him after finding out who he was—and learning her own down and dirty dealings—these might be the worst of his sins. They were not killers, not professionals, in the least, but neither feared to get their hands dirty.
The dirt, in all its muckiest forms, made it harder to remember what color their skin had been before it was dirty, before their fingernails were stained with blood. "I don't think I was ever clean," Anja had whispered to him once, so many years ago, after a departure was guaranteed.
Emil had stroked her head, one arm around her, her lips next to his ear. "No one is," he agreed.
X X X
I had another dream about you, Anja. Emil walked, taking the path through the cemetery. He stayed to one side, as if someone were about to pass, but truthfully, he liked to edge along the grass. It was unchanged, after ten years, cut neatly, cared for, as the rest of the grounds were. This was also true of smaller boneyards; even the ones maintained by family alone were kept well enough. Only a handful of dreams in the whole of ten years featured her; this latest was just a few days ago, before he was on the outside. She was, at first, no more recognizable than a tangle of hair, long like he remembered, pressing to him as if it were of its own mind. He couldn't touch her, though he tried; reaching out, his knuckles merely bent against clear glass, a thin layer of it between them. Her small oval face was in all that hair; she moved it aside when she could, and kept fighting to keep it at bay. She could see him when she did this, and he could see the swan shape of her thin figure slinking out between her hair.
"Have you eaten?" he asked her. He had the impression his voice did not reach her.
She might have shaped his name, but it did not reach him. She could only smile, and when her errant hand slid through her hair and struck the glass, he awoke.
But it was the because of this psychic that he had dreamed about her; years and years he had suppressed as much of her as he could, because he had no way of knowing.
Emil's eyes swept the rows and rows of headstones. He had passed new graves; dirt still wet, but he had not looked too closely at the names. He was feeling nothing here, not even the anxiety of having to remain in Moscow.
Hellseher—all these years and this notion had never occurred to him.
He had almost rather believe she was dead or she was still alive but lost to him. But now, it could be different. He could learn the truth of the circumstances.
In just a few short days, he would be in the air on the way to California.
X X X X X
After a few weeks in town, Emil had taken to following them, a tail so subtle neither one had seen—for what had they to suspect?—and he sat, still as stone behind the wheel, in plain view of the dance studio on the other side of the street. He waited, as he had been good enough with before his confinement, ignoring the bright sunlight, the heat, the car's engine off. He didn't sweat. He held a local newspaper open, reading the human interest piece slowly, ingesting every word.
It was praise for Santa Barbara's own renowned psychic investigator, a Santa Barbara Police Department consultant, for yet another smartly wrapped up puzzlement of a case. Emil decided that, just from looking at the newspaper's black and white quality, it was difficult to guess the man in the picture had the look of a psychic; in fact, he seemed a serious man, tucked away in a suit and tie, not a hair out of place.
Was it a professional look? Professional to offset offbeat, even eccentric, methods of this man? Certainly, claiming a divine connection to powers higher than Emil's own imagining must be a difficult choice—especially if one chose to go to the public with this knowledge. But this man, this Shawn Spencer, displayed his gift proudly, expecting censure and dismissing naysayers with his repeated mental prowess. He used his gift to help others, which must have been great enough a reward for him to continue his public service—and great enough for the local inspectors to consider him time and time again. He must, Emil thought, be a commodity very unique—and worthy.
Even so, he had crossed seas to find out for himself, to be assured that the stories that had reached him weren't the subject of idle fiction. And he intended to find this man, this hellseher, worthy.
Emil looked up from the newspaper, considering his journey, considering the ease with which he passed through airport checkpoints, how he was not even noticed by American security officers—whom, he had been told by his contacts just outside of Moscow, had cracked down on liberties in order to detect the faintest hues of terrorism or uprising—in spite of his European attire, of his faint accent, of the slow ways he counted out his American dollars. Through it all, he had felt little, and had kept to himself when he could, and had been polite when needing to interact.
He had not been questioned to his business in the states, nor required to answer how long he was planning to stay. Nature had blessed him with neither beauty nor ugliness, only the appearance of common man, neither working class nor idle rich—but he could pass. A fair trade for what he was to make of his existence.
Emil's first week kept him occupied as he prepared—locating a residence, buying the staples—amazed and disgusted at the opulence of American groceries, rows and rows of milk and bread kept neat as gravestones—and becoming as familiar with city maps and local businesses as a tourist could ever hope to become. He acquired a car, taking a second week to become accustomed to the steering wheel on the wrong side; he practiced driving up and down a street with bars on one side and a pawn shop, a liquor store and a hardware store with bars on their windows on the other. But nonetheless he kept faith that his soon-to-be-friend would remain under the glass dome of Santa Barbara—and he was not wrong.
This man that he meant to acquire had no reason to leave—no reason at all to be spooked.
Half a week ago, he watched as Mr. Spencer's partner, a black man the newspaper told him bore the curious name of Bruton Gaster, with a style less repressive than that of Mr. Spencer's, argue with another white man whose style was nothing short of sloppy. If not in the states, Emil would have thought the man, with his spiky hair and loosely buttoned shirt, to be nothing short of a delinquent or a beggar. Emil did not know the identity of this stranger, of whom he had only caught glimpses of before bearing witness to the argument—that was, without being able to hear what was said. He made guesses, based on the jerking, aggressive movements of both men, that they were not friends—that, in fact, the one man owed the other money.
And Emil watched Mr. Spencer sit behind the wheel of the blue car which Emil had been told his partner, Bruton Gaster, was allotted via his place of employment. He watched Mr. Spencer grow exasperated while waiting; perhaps accosting by this sloppy white man was a common occurrence. And he watched Mr. Gaster jump into the passenger seat, making final emphatic hand gestures at the man still on the sidewalk in front of the dance studio.
The man left behind looked, to Emil, confused or saddened, but he was of no concern, his figure fading in the rearview mirror as Emil followed the blue car at a slow pace. The blue car swept through the city, stopping at buildings, residences and even the police station.
Emil waited and watched, approaching no citizens, speaking to few people, having no need. His head cleared of the immediate past, as well as the days he spent getting to the states and of the long preparation to meet his target, he found himself rewarded: Mr. Spencer arrived at the dance studio alone.
X X X
"Where's Lassiter?" Shawn sneered after slamming the driver's side door of Gus's company car a little harder than necessary. He watched with pleasure as Gus winced, but did nothing to scold Shawn. "Thought he was your ride back."
"He didn't show," Gus grumbled, prying the keys from Shawn's fingers. He had waited outside for five minutes, then inside for an additional ten, since he had been early, but when his tap class was about to start, he gave up. Gus thought it was upsetting him more than it should, since it was just Lassiter.
Shawn continued his train of thought as the two piled into Gus's car. "It's Lassiter, what did you expect? And didn't you say he was more insulting about tapping than I was?"
Gus sighed, raising and then dropping his shoulders. "Yeah, that's true, but he actually liked it, unlike you. He was pretty terrible at it, but he gave it . . . some pretty good effort."
"Unlike when he's doing detective work. Come on, let's get something to eat. Jerked chicken, what?"
"You know that's right." Gus put on a smile but within, he was still nagged that Lassiter had been a no-show. The recital was coming up and God knew that scarecrow of a man needed all the practice he could get. Though he wouldn't say that he enjoyed the detective's company so much, it had been almost nice to have someone else whom he knew who appreciated tap dancing, even to the smallest degree.
"Come on, now that we're done with the partner bait and switch tango swing dance, you can't really tell me you miss Lassie?" Shawn teased, settling himself into the passenger seat. "Didn't he practically starve you to death?"
Gus pulled out of the lot, not even attempting to counter Shawn's mixed up dance metaphor. "At first, he was more funny than you—"
Shawn's audible gasp made Gus roll his eyes. "Right, now you're going to tell me that you don't miss having Juliet as your partner."
"I don't, actually," Shawn said, crossing his arms. "She didn't know how to finish my 'hamburger' sentence."
Gus sighed, making a turn towards the SBPD; he knew Shawn failed to pick up the check for their latest case, even though that's what Shawn had borrowed his car to do. It didn't seem right that he should defend Lassiter, even if crime waited for no man or no man's tap dancing class. "No, I don't miss him."
Shawn grinned. "Who would? Hey, where are you going? We're supposed to get lunch!"