Late afternoon had turned the sun from a blinding bright star to a heavy orange ember as the world rotated towards dusk. Leaving behind the shining pillars of downtown San Diego, the two travelers had been enjoying one of the more stunning benefits of oceanside travel. Only a handful of times had the endless water disappeared from sight behind the occasional rocky cliffs or trees. For the most part, they had been treated to an ongoing vista of azure waves.
One hand clamped on the battered hat covering what remained of his dwindling hairline, Rick Simon kept his attention fixed on the scenery. Fully abusing his “driver picks the tunes” rule, his younger brother, AJ, had cranked up his elevator musak and was happily humming along to the oboes and cannon fire. Even with the top down, there wasn't enough atmosphere beyond the car to drown out the noise.
Pleasant humming continued, annoyingly on pitch. Rick leaned across the center console to flick his brother in the cheek. Batting the hand away, AJ frowned and glanced back – the full weight of his stare blocked by his sunglasses.
Rick tipped his head with a look before leaning forward, himself, to flip off Beethoven. Literally and metaphorically. At least they wouldn't need to keep screaming.
“I need to pee.”
The rumpled look on AJ's face rumpled further at the comment.
“We're only forty-five miles from Santa Barbara; you can't hold it until we reach the hotel?”
Technically? “Well it will take at least another hour between finding a parking space, checking in, and flirting with the pretty lady receptionist.”
AJ frowned. “Who says the receptionist will be pretty? Or even a lady?”
“Just pull over, AJ.”
Unwilling to simply ease to the shoulder, AJ drove another two miles before selecting one of three gas stations dotting the next town. Admitting he could use another latte himself, he followed Rick into the station and hung left towards the cappuccino machine while Rick made for the restrooms at the back.
Minutes later, they both exited with coffee and a small bag of pretzels – though AJ had protested any messy snack foods littering the pristine interior of his Corvette. That little rule had lasted only about a mile into the trip anyhow as Rick had brought along a backpack stuffed to the zippers with treats.
“I don't see why you had to buy those, you've got nearly forty dollars worth of junk food already.” Grousing as he slid back behind the wheel, AJ sipped his coffee only to hiss at the burn.
Rick plopped in on his side and yanked the belt across his shoulders before popping the bag and grabbing a messy handful.
“Those are for the marathon. So I don't starve waiting for you to make it to the next checkpoint.”
AJ shot him an unamused glare. “I told you, they'll have all sorts of artery clogging food there. There'll be hotdog and churro vendors on practically every corner.”
Rick nodded. “Yup. I intend to hit them too.”
Knowing where to pick his battles, AJ didn't bother to reply. Instead, dialing up the music once more, he found contentment with the stunning tones flourishing from the speakers.
Rick, lips open to remark with something snide, pushed his brows together instead as he considered the tune. “Huh... that's weird...”
He didn't want to know his brother's perspective on the composer; he really didn't, but AJ rubbed one hand over his scalp before letting out a long sigh.
Rick shrugged, tossing back a handful of pretzels and responding through a dry spray of snack fragments.
“Doesn't that sorta sound like Jaws? You know, the main theme? Dun, dun, dun, dun...”
“Allegro con fuoco is a definitive work and one of Antonín Dvorák's most popular symphonies. Just because John Williams pirated the first few chords doesn't alter the fact that the original composer was an artist who deserved better than a loose association with a cheesy horror flick.”
“Huh.” Rick scratched his nose. “Old Steve sure knew how to pick his monster music, didn't he.”
AJ pressed his lips together and let his breath hum out his nose.
Shawn Spencer spun slowly in his father's chair – maintaining just enough speed to make a full revolution before kicking himself into another circuit. Typically he enjoyed his time at the station, provided he wasn't behind bars or being subjected to an interrogation. Okay, scratch that. He did enjoy an interrogation provided his hot pants girlfriend with a personal pair of handcuffs was the one dressing him down. He leered. He didn't even have to try to make that sound dirty.
Right. Back on the subject at hand. Naughty cop Jules would, sadly, have to wait until they could have some private time.
If they could have some private time. Of course, the way things were going lately...
And that brought him back full circle to his original beef.
Dad was being cagey. Like, Nick Cagey complete with diminished mane and sneaky covertness. Sure, he pretended he wasn't being covert but his dad sucked almost as bad as Lassie when he tried to fake acting casual. He was way too sour in the shorts to pull off that level of none chalice.
Like now, the old man was going for coffee. Like anybody with half a badge couldn't see right through that act. Shawn pulled together a mild sneer as his dad returned to his desk.
“Really? You put sugar in that too?”
His dad didn't look at him as he set his coffee on the desk. “Stop glaring at me. And get the hell out of my chair!”
Shawn didn't budge. “I am on to you.” He enunciated with immaculate exaggeration.
“The only thing you're on is my chair. And too many Pop Rocks; I thought Gus had cut you back to one pack a day.”
“I'm allowed two packs on the weekend.”
“It's Wednesday, kiddo. Maybe it's time you invested in a calendar.”
“Well maybe it's time you invested in hair plugs!” Shawn paused as his father crossed his arms. The pointing hand dropping back to his lap. “Too Terence Stamp? Sorry, I was caught up in the moment.”
“What do you want, Shawn?” Giving up on patience, Henry opted for shoving his son until he toppled out of the chair. Ignoring the yelp when Shawn flopped to the tile, he scooted closer to the desk so he could pull up the report he'd been working on. Fingers just coming to rest on his keyboard, he scowled at the active game of Pitfall taking up his screen. He tapped a key but rather than taking him back to the SBPD mainframe, it caused the character to jump into the green shapes he assumed were meant to be alligators. Behind him, Shawn gasped.
“You just killed my last guy!”
“Be grateful that's all I've killed.” Slapping a few more keys he finally found the right combination to get back to his report.
Still sitting on the floor, Shawn drew his knees up and propped his chin on both fists. Not even managing to type a single word, Henry sighed and swiveled towards his moping son.
Now that he had the desired attention, Shawn pushed his lower lip out the tiniest bit. “Jules is busy and she said I can't help with the stakeout cause it's “super stupid important, Shawn” and Gus won't let me borrow the blueberry so I can follow her cause deep down inside I know she wants me to help cause, please, like I don't always make a stakeout better – I mean, who else is going to remember to bring an extra container of cheese dip for the nachos because one cup is just never enough and believe you me you do not want to to short cheese a guy packing tear gas...”
Henry held up a hand to cut off the ramble that could easily go on another five minutes. With his other hand he rubbed at his aching eyes. Of course Shawn would find out about the sting. However, Chief Vick had been adamant about keeping him out of it. Henry had actually lobbied for including his son on the details – the memory of the last big operation that had temporarily cost him his job was not an easily healing wound. Rather than even attempt reconstructing the word barrage of bitching, Henry latched on to the least pointless detail.
“Where is Gus anyhow? I thought you two left an hour ago for dinner.”
Shawn shrugged. “I don't know for certain... I mean, by now he could be anywhere. He's always expressed an interest in touring with Alicia Keys...”
“We went to Taco Louie's and he insisted on the deep fried beef and bean mini burrito...”
Henry raised his hand again. Enough said.
“Well whatever you were thinking, I'm still not talking the Chief out of her decision. You're bored? How about you work on the burglary case I gave you.”
“Daaaad... the Redbox robberies?” Groaning, Shawn flopped on his back and sprawled dramatically. Officers passing back and forth shot glances at the display and Henry rubbed his face in embarrassment.
“Dammit, Shawn, get off the floor! You look like an idiot!”
Shawn sat up but didn't stand. Nor was he ready to let go of his latest complaint.
“Come on! Dad, Redbox? That is so... not sexy!”
Henry was ready to resume ignoring his son. Before he could swivel his chair, though, someone standing over his shoulder spoke up.
“I wish we all had the pleasure of only pursuing crimes that we think are fun, Mr. Spencer. But police work doesn't allow us the luxury to cherry pick cases based on whether or not they're sexy.”
Henry looked up into the stern face of Chief Vick. One of the few people Shawn willingly treated with respect, his son gripped the edge of the desk to awkwardly stumble upright.
“Chief! Just hashing things out with pops here... Chewing the sticky, gooey, coagulated pig fat...”
Lips thinning down in disgust, Vick shook her head to cast out that visceral mental image. “Right... Well, while you're busy... chewing... I'd appreciate if you made an effort to be productive. As I recall, we're paying you for a job and so far I'm not seeing any progress.”
Shawn smiled. “Chief, there are so many ways one can define progress. Right now, as I speak... eloquently and with great versitude, the spirits are gathering whispers and murmurs...”
Vick smiled back, though it wasn't with amusement. “They had better do more than whisper. And I don't need you distracting your father while he's on the clock unless it directly relates to the case you were given.”
Shawn watched as Vick returned to her office, his head tipped to the side. “Did she just give me the “if you can lean, you can clean” lecture?”
Henry picked at the keyboard with one hand while straightening his desk with the other. Leaving Shawn without a caretaker inevitably resulted in chaos wherever the kid came to rest. He still had no idea what had happened to his good pen or why he now had a hula dancer next to his inbox.
“Sounds like she did, pal. If I were you? I'd grab a broom.”
“Rick, you wouldn't happen to have my running shorts in your bag, would you?”
A mouthful of toothpaste hit the basin of this sink. Wiping his mouth with one of the hand towels provided by the hotel, Rick turned off the tap and gave his mustache a considering look before deciding it could go another day before needing a trim. “Why, in the hell, would I have your running shorts in my bag?” He asked as he left the bathroom.
Throwing his balled up socks into the top drawer, AJ didn't glance at his brother as he brushed by; slapping off the fan and light left on in the bathroom. Returning to the dresser, he resumed transferring the rest of his clothes to the narrow row of drawers next to the TV.
Rick, meanwhile, snatched the remote and dropped onto his bed, enjoying the bounce of springs as he searched through the channels for a game. “I don't know why you bother unpacking; we're only gonna be here a couple days.”
AJ didn't bother with a response to that. How to argue civility to a guy wearing dirty cowboy boots in bed. Instead, he returned to his earlier point of contention.
“I know I put them in my bag last night before bed. I rolled them and placed them alongside my T shirt and running shoes...”
On the bed, Rick stuffed another pillow behind his head and sprawled a bit more – if possible.
AJ still had his hand in the bag. Rick had the game turned up loud, as per usual, and was celebrating along with the crowd as someone made a great play. But AJ wasn't listening. Instead, he was staring at the holstered .44 nestled among his undershorts and long sleeved shirts.
Another holler from the other side of the room, drowning out the controlled address.
“Rick.” Slightly louder – enough to reach through the lull in play and catch his brother's attention.
“Yeah, what is it? Oh! Dammit Shorty! Who the hell is calling this thing?”
AJ turned just a bit, holstered weapon in hand. “Rick, why is your gun in my bag?”
Hardly a glance before Rick's eyed pivoted back to the screen in time to yell, again, at the unfair call. Taking one more second to groan about refs on the take, he looked back towards his brother with a shrug.
“What? In case we needed it. Like you didn't bring yours.”
Shoving the gun back in the bag, AJ crossed his arms. “I most certainly did not! This is a vacation, not a job! Why? Did you think that...” His face flushed at the familiar shifty look on Rick's face. “No... Rick, NO! Dammit, I can't believe...”
Rick rolled his eyes. “Oh, calm down, AJ! Look, it's just a little favor for Carlos.”
“A favor for Carlos? Really? And, of course, that has never been a recipe for disaster.”
Unbothered by the sarcasm, Rick just settled himself more comfortably.
“Look, it's no big deal, alright? I can do this on my own. Carlos just wants me to go pick up something for him at Lou's Emporium...”
“And you need a gun to do it? And why couldn't he just have had FedEx deliver it?”
“Well, first of all...” Rick cleared his throat. “I mean, this is Carlos...”
AJ raised a hand in exasperation. “Exactly my point! This is Carlos! You'll be lucky if you don't end up in a holding cell getting acquainted with a three hundred pound axe murderer named Mavis the Mangler!”
Rick couldn't help smirking before he scrambled back towards the sinking ship, el Placate. “Now come on, Carlos is a good guy. And he insisted it was no big deal! Just that it's sorta fragile and...”
“And he trusts you to pick it up for him?”
Rick shot AJ a withering look but refused to rise to the dangled bait. Besides, AJ may have sorta had a point. A very tiny point, granted. His eyes rolled back to the television but by now it had gone to commercial. “Well it's not like you have to come with.”
AJ's snort of a response was somewhat over the top and probably did some damage to his well trimmed nasal passages but at least he'd stopped henpecking. Instead, he resumed cleaning out the bag after dropping the .44 on the end of the bed.
Without even needing to look at his younger brother, Rick could tell every time AJ came across another smuggled item by the clipped off huff of breath. Extra box of rounds. Buck knife. “A skin mag? Are you kidding me?”
“Woah, hey!” Rick scurried off the bed to snatch the issue before it hit the garbage can next to the mini fridge. “Be careful with that! That's Miss April on the cover!”
AJ quirked an eyebrow. “This is the September issue.”
“I know. Miss April is her name.”
The Rick induced headache throbbed behind his eyes as AJ rubbed his forehead. “Of course it is. Look, are you absolutely certain you didn't see my running shorts in the bag when you hijacked it? Black with a dark blue stripe on the seam?”
Rick started to shrug again when his eyes widened just slightly; indicating the rare glow of dawning realization. AJ tensed; knowing... just knowing he wasn't going to like what was coming next.
He blinked. “Marlowe? Marlowe what, Rick?”
Worse than the dawning realization was the sickly sort of smile Rick gave him next. “Well Marlowe, see... he kept sticking his head in the bag. I suppose he smelled the beef jerky I was packing and he sorta dove in and...”
AJ looked in the bag and spotted the package of Jack Link's Jalapeño Carne Seca half unearthed from beneath his jeans. Lifting the bag by one corner, AJ burned a look towards his suddenly evasive older brother. “And what, pray tell, does this have to do with my running shorts?”
“Rick, the marathon is this Saturday!”
As typical when feeling as though he or his destructive canine were under the heat lamp of interrogation, Rick created distance under the fabrication of fetching a glass of water.
“It's just a flimsy pair of fancy boxers. I'll pick up a new pair for you at Walmart.”
AJ tossed the package of jerky to the dresser where they landed with an appropriately meaty THUNK. “These were not just some run of the mill off brand cotton shorts, Rick.” Jaw tight, his words barely edged out through his teeth as he tightened the screws down on the frequent need to flay his brother with a tension relieving scream fest. “Those were fifty dollar Pearl Izumi Maver... what?” Rick had started grinning at him halfway through his outburst.
“Geez, AJ, you'd think those things came with Wifi.”
“Not funny.” Just once he wished his brother could give the same consideration for the personal belongings of others as he did his own possessions. Of course, given the condition of Rick's “Classic Power Wagon” aka “outdated rusty garbage skow”...
“You're paying for them.” He said stiffly as he reached for the last of his garments in the bag. Not much more than a grunt in return, Rick returned to the bed where he dropped down so hard he likely dislodged springs.
Frozen with his hand in the same place where he's been gripping a brand new pair of jockeys, AJ closed his eyes in a full body shudder of disgust before turning back towards his brother. Slowly lifting his hand, he revealed his fingers coated in a thick layer of dog slobber.
Rick let out a very loud cackle.
Shaking the ribbons of foam from his hand, AJ turned heel and made for the bathroom.
“You're buying me new underwear too!”
It was that cool, hazy sort of morning that Carlton Lassiter truly appreciated. Not for anything insipid like aesthetic beauty. Not for the temperature, which leaned a degree towards chilly for his tastes. Not, even, for any ridiculous childhood nostalgia of sipping a mug of cocoa with Hank before the rabble rolled in for the first show of the day. No, what truly made this a banner morning was that it was eight minutes past seven, and Spencer wouldn't even consider crawling from his nest before lunch. He had it on his partner's good authority, barring any repugnant details about their “conjugals”, as well as the Chief's assertions, that Spencer wouldn't be making an appearance if he wanted to maintain his position with the SBPD.
Something flickered across the parking lot and he tensed; checking his weapon automatically. Next to him, O'Hara and the rest of the team shifted enough to show they were also paying attention. Lassiter turned his face towards the radio clipped to his collar, keeping his voice soft.
“I've got movement on the North-East corner. Nichols, you got a visual?” But before Nichols replied, the figure stepped around the stack of pallets half blocking it from sight.
Lassiter blinked; for barely a second taken aback by the narrow character sauntering towards the loading dock. It was just... weird. It was as though thinking about Old Senora just moments earlier had suddenly manifested in the cowboy standing just a few yards away.
Lassiter shook his head in a violent jerk. Good God, Spencer's idiotic prattle did not just invade his thoughts!
The man was still headed towards the loading bay and Lassiter stretched his legs in preparation. “Okay people, stay focused. We want to be sure this is our bad guy and not just some lost tourist.” Like last time, but no reason to bring up that humiliation again...
But this guy didn't look lost. Okay, granted, he was sporting a Hawaiian shirt under his jacket that was a hue searing enough to make even Henry Spencer's eyes bleed, but he was also...
“Everybody on your toes, this lowlife is armed. I repeat, the target is carrying a weapon. Looks like a .44 Magnum; left side shoulder holster. Be aware he may have other weapons. Do not engage until I give the signal; copy!”
The team copied back as Lassiter took a few steps closer.
The suspect had reached the open loading bay now. Raising one hand, he let loose an ear ringing whistle to catch the attention of someone inside. A few moments later, another man came to the back door. The two of them spoke for about thirty seconds before cowboy hat produced an envelope and passed it to the other man.
Lassiter hefted his weapon. “Alright, this is it. Alpha team will go in first on my mark, followed by beta team.”
Within a few minutes, the second man had returned, carrying a large crate. He set it down on the end of the loading bay. The moment it made contact with the concrete lip, Lassiter gave his signal.
In a flood of windbreakers and tactical vests, the officers stormed the site.
“SBPD! SBPD! GET DOWN ON THE GROUND! HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM!”
Cowboy looked shocked but quickly complied. Lassiter ignored whatever blather he was spouting about his innocence to immediately draw down on the second man trying to sneak his heavy form back into the shadows.
“Last warning you fat bastard! Down on the ground, NOW!”
Maybe the jellyroll had seen the desire Lassiter had to shoot out some kneecaps before his afternoon coffee break. In any event, he complied as speedily as his jiggles would allow. A few feet away, the cowboy was busy pleading his case. On his stomach and cuffed by this point, he'd been relieved of his weapon and whatever was littering his pockets.
“...ook guys, my name is Rick Simon; I'm a private detective from San Diego...”
Lassiter moved close enough to stand over the man who at least had the wisdom not to struggle. Not that the morning couldn't benefit from from the added spark that only a tasing could bring. “You have any identification, Mr. Simon?”
“It's in my wallet. Back, right pocket.” His wrists flexed within the circle of his cuffs, but otherwise he didn't move. “My license is in there too along with my permit for conceal and carry. Look, guys, we're on the same team here.”
Lassiter glanced towards an officer nearby. The young cop held up the collection of Rick Simon's personal possessions which included his battered cowboy hat and what looked like some sort of hand drawn flyer for a place called “Surplus Sammy's”. He nodded, waving the officer away before looking down at the so-called PI.
“I don't know who you think you're pretending to be right now, pal, but the only thing my officers found in your back pocket was lint. Now... you wanna try again?”
“What?” Simon rolled enough that Lassiter could see his mustache hike up in confusion. Seconds later he dropped he forehead against the concrete. “Dammit... I must have laid it on the dresser... Look, just call my brother, Andrew Simon...”
Stepping back as two officers helped Simon to his feet, Lassiter snorted. “Your brother can corroborate your story? And who is he really, your contact?”
Agitated, Simon glared back. “Bagged, tagged, and hung on a wall, is that how it is? Fine, how's this for a reference? Lieutenant Brown with the SDPD. You want his badge number?”
A lot of perps claimed they knew cops or actually were cops but something in Simon's demeanor made Lassiter hesitate... until O'Hara got his attention with a yell.
“Lassiter, we've got something!” She approached, holding up a large clear package with one gloved hand. At least a pound of pure white powder.
Turning back towards his suspect, who had gone from righteously indignant to sickly pale, Lassiter grinned.
“Mr. Simon, you have the right to remain silent...”