Henry Spencer hardly felt his teeth biting into his knuckle. Any harder, and he would likely draw blood. Didn’t matter. He had much more important things to worry about, and they didn’t include some psycho-babble about how his body was mirroring internal stresses…or something like that. Stress. The one thing he’d worked harder than anything to avoid. Fishing often helped. So did grilling, going to the spa, and any number of projects he happened to take up at the moment. Back during his working years, he would reduce stress by focusing on being a good cop and paying attention to details in every aspect of his job. It worked for him. It worked well; well enough that even his wayward son picked up on his methods. For all his fighting and arguing, he could tell that Shawn took to his father’s teachings better than he would admit. Life choices, that was a whole ‘nother issue entirely – but teachings on details and stress avoidance – those stuck. They stuck hard.
And so, he’d accepted the philosophy of not stressing out over something unless given clear reason to do so. The thought of his son being who knows where, completely outside of any possible help from family or friends might have caused him stress were it not for the periodic post cards letting him know that all was well and things were going great. Sure, they had parted ways in a less than pleasant manner, but somewhere deep inside, the bonds had remained. He’d enjoyed getting those postcards more than he would admit it to even himself. They remained saved in his desk to this day. They would arrive quietly, hidden amongst bills and other mail that hardly grabbed his attention. But when that colorful piece of paper peeked out from the midst of white envelopes, his heart would skip a beat. The back side of the cards would detail as much as possible on such a small space the adventures that Shawn was having at that particular location. Annoyed as he might be at his own son, the parental part of him had felt at peace over the updates, and had used them to reassure himself that there was nothing to stress about.
Nothing to stress about. Right. His gaze refocused from its absent stare towards the postcard still in his other hand. Nothing to stress about. It was all going well. The postcards said so, right? They were very detailed about all the great things he was doing, and great experiences happening all around him. It was the very definition of ‘nothing to stress about’ if there ever was one. He had it right in front of him.
Nothing to stress about.
His hand crumpled the postcard
Nothing to stress about.
Nails digging into his palm.
Nothing to stress about.
Nothing to stress about.
Before he knew it, he was on his feet and the wadded up postcard was flying across the room, a primal scream escaping his mouth without his realizing it. The flood of everything that had been building up within him finally coming out in one instant. With it should have come all his frustration, all his pain, all his feelings of failure. Instead, it all came rushing right back in. He begged and pleaded for it all to go away – to make it so it never happened – but that was not to be. His son had been through an experience more vicious and traumatic than anyone should ever have to endure. He had cried out for help in as many ways as he could think of, and his own father had shrugged him off. Henry thought of all those postcards again, remembering the words ‘nothing to stress about’ going through his head as he’d set them aside and resumed his daily tasks.
They say hindsight is 20/20, but that didn’t help make him feel better. Henry could see so clearly now how the postcards were begging and pleading with him to help. To offer some sort of response or presence. He should have known that Shawn would never have been so detailed in his writing. Especially after the way the two parted ways, the most Henry should have expected would have been postcards that were completely blank except for the address and stamp. That’s how he had written home during his childhood summers at camp, in fact. How he could have missed it all was beyond him. Even worse, his feeling that had the postcards stopped, he likely wouldn’t have thought much of it. Perhaps he might have wondered once or twice, but probably not more than that. He hadn’t even told Shawn when he’d moved back to Santa Barbara. His rationalization had been that Shawn would surely figure it out, which he did.
‘Luck doesn’t count, kid.’ He’d spent years telling Shawn, trying to get the kid to realize that doing something the right way was the only way that mattered. A good outcome regardless of the methods was not an outcome that could be counted on. No wonder Shawn had spent so many years since his return trying to prove Henry wrong. Shenanigans and luck really could get a case solved, regardless of the methods that should be used. He had been throwing it back in his father’s face the entire time. Hell, if his own father could fail so horribly at seeing what should have been well established clues, then to hell with established methods. Shawn had figured out a way out of his torment on his own, without the help of the one who had promised that good police work would always win out in the end. So much for all those damn lessons on doing something right the first time, and no wonder the kid got so mad over that damned dog house.
“Dammit, Henry, get your act together.” He scolded himself, heading quickly back to the kitchen table, where a case file lay open with its many pages spread out across the entire surface. There was work to be done, and he’d be damned if he let himself sit and wallow, allowing yet another chance to catch this bastard slip through his fingers. Scanning through the mass of paperwork, trying to figure out where to get started, he quickly diverted his gaze from any and all photographs of the victim. Granted, the photos were already either turned face down or covered up with more papers, but he still didn’t even want to look in their general direction. He had seen them already, studied them, been forced to take a close and extended look at them, and that was all the horror necessary to practically bring him to his knees. Forced to take a close look was an understatement. It was more like having the photos shoved in his face by his distraught son, begging him to understand why he was reacting this way, begging him to see the abuse he had missed so many years ago. The entirety of the SBPD station had faded away in that one moment of realization – when he not only understood why his son was having an emotional meltdown in front of everyone, but understood also how incredibly…embarrassingly close he came to missing it all over again. It didn’t matter in that moment that there was a station full of officers staring at them, never mind that they were all emotionally affected already.
The case in front of him involved the brutal beating and murder of an officer’s 18 year old son. That alone was enough cause for the Department to pull out every resource available to them. The kid in the pictures was Steven Whitman, son of Lieutenant Whitman, a long time veteran of the Department. Lieutenant Whitman admitted to having had a difficult relationship with Steven in recent months, leading to the young man moving out of the family’s home under less than pleasant circumstances. The Lieutenant had also admitted to not having any contact with his son for the past month and not thinking anything of it. It would have given the killer plenty of time to commit the crime without the victim being considered to be missing. Shawn had been called in right away, naturally. It hit close to home, and shockingly to everyone, it hit even closer to home for Shawn, who was soon in a full blown panic attack over the photos. That was right around the time that Henry had been called in to deal with him, leading to the scene that was now running through his head nonstop. There was so much about the Whitman case that was practically a mirror image of the circumstances that Henry had known so long ago. Perhaps one could say it is normal for parents to not get along with their adolescent children. Perhaps this kind of family difficulty is closer to being the rule, as opposed to the exception. What was not the rule, however, was for the adolescent child to meet such a horrible and tragic ending. Even less common, of course, was for this to happen to more than one member of the same Police Department. These connections had not been even considered until Shawn’s meltdown, when the connection became painfully obvious.
“It’s him…it’s him again…it’s impossible…” Shawn’s nearly unintelligible utterances had come through panicked sobs and hitched breaths. Only because he felt the need to repeat them over and over did Henry manage to begin understanding the exact words. This was all happening while he alternated between obsessively looking through all the pictures, pacing up and down the bullpen, and shrinking into a hidden corner behind a tall filing cabinet. He happened to be looking through the pictures of the body at the moment of Henry’s arrival, his face streaked with tears and eyes engaged in a strange mixture of deep focus and intense fear. Henry could tell he was studying everything possible about the kid’s wounds, muttering to himself, and completely oblivious to his own father’s presence.
“It’s him, see? It’s him again.” Shawn bypassed greetings and shoved the photos directly in his father’s face, not unlike he would shove things in Henry’s face as a 5-year-old desperate for his father to notice and acknowledge his latest work of art. It was the exact same acknowledgement that Shawn was begging for this time, only on a much darker level. “It’s him again. And that, on his back. See? It hurt…so bad.”
Asking what hurt so bad only served to wind Shawn up all the more. The photos were now directly on is face while Shawn went into an even deeper hysteria, making Henry wonder how much more was possible. “The lashings! The whip. And the knives….”
“Knives and whips? Shawn, how do you…”
“And the burns! The kicks! The agonizing pain with barely a break to catch my breath! The feeling that there was NO ONE who knew or cared what was happening!”
There had been a look in his eye at that moment. Maniacal and hysterical no doubt, but also hopeful, expecting that his father would put two and two together right then…and of course it still hadn’t happened. Photos were tossed to the ground as he shut down all over again and went to take his spot beside the filing cabinet. The rest of those present looked at Henry expectantly. Expecting what, he had no idea. Hell, he had no idea what Shawn was even talking about. Why did he sound like he had taken on the kid’s injuries and experiences? How had he figured out so quickly that there was torture involved, and the specific weapons used? Vick’s immediate theory was that Shawn was somehow psychically over-connected to the victim. Henry would have scoffed at it had he not wondered for half a second if perhaps his son really was psychic after all.
Hindsight being what it was, Henry could see now that he entertained the psychic angle only because his mind had already started to form the much more disturbing connection. It was still a hazy sort of connection, but it was starting to itch at the back of his mind that was not about to go away any time soon. If he could pinpoint a moment when he started losing awareness of everyone else around him, he would guess it was right about then, when he refused to answer the Chief. His only priority in that moment was to go to his son, hoping against hope that this was somehow another one of Shawn’s crazy antics. Never before did he hope to deal with a crazy antic. Or hijink. Or shenanigan. Or whatever the hell he was calling them now.
“I tried…so…hard…” He sobbed once Henry was at his side. So much for the shenanigan theory. “I told him…I said I had to write to you…or you…would…miss me…” It seemed like every word was painfully more difficult to say than the last, but he was talking like this was something he had been holding inside for far too long. “I tried, dad. I was sending clues…and…you never came…” He broke down all over again, continuing what he had to say, regardless that no one could understand him any longer. Henry’s parental instincts grabbed onto him like a vice, driving him to find out what was hurting his son and figure out how to fix it now. On top of that was the stinging knowledge of a possibility that he’d somehow missed his son’s calls for help.
But…why was Shawn talking about himself? What did his own experiences have to do with all this? Figuring that part out would definitely not happen right then, not when his son was in such an emotionally distraught condition. He’d continued muttering and saying things about clues and post cards and no one coming. All this, Henry could handle. But when Shawn had started talking about the wounds and the weapons all over again, he’d had enough. Without another thought, he had reached down and grabbed Shawn’s shirt tail, lifting the shirt up to shoulder level. The collective gasp that followed was enough to even quiet Shawn down for a few seconds.
There it was. Plain as day to anyone and everyone. Actually, there they were. The numerous scars scattered throughout his back, hidden from everyone until now. “Shawn…how…what happened?” He managed to stutter once he found his voice again. Even Vick took a step forward, as if she might be able to reach out and somehow make the scars disappear.
Henry snapped himself back into reality. Back in his dining room, no one else around, only the file contents in front of him. He couldn’t bear to relive Shawn’s desperate accusations all over again. There was no way he could handle hearing how he had failed his son so horribly, even if he was only hearing it in his memory. Shawn had gone through something very similar to what this kid before him went through, but what exactly…that was still a mystery. Whatever details there were to be learned would have to wait until Shawn was in a more stable state of mind. For now, all Henry (and everyone) could do was wait it out, wonder, and try to solve Steven’s case in the meantime. Not even Gus had any idea what could be going on, and O'Hara was currently indisposed, thanks in part to her partner, who had quickly led her away to another part of the station while Henry did his best to lead Shawn out to his truck. The exact connection between Steven’s case and Shawn’s meltdown would have to wait, at least for now.
“What do we have here…” Henry whispered, forcing himself to focus on the case as just that, a case that needed solving, apart from any personal connections there might be. The kid’s body had been found along the side of the road on the outskirts of town, spotted by someone who had pulled over to change a flat tire. So the killer wasn’t someone who wanted this body missing for an extended period of time. The killer was, in fact, counting on the body being found very soon after being left there. A more thorough job would have meant the body might not be discovered for who knows how long, if ever, given the circumstances of his family life. This kid wasn’t even close to being listed as missing for the time being. Henry shuddered to think of how long the crime might have gone undiscovered had the killer decided to work harder at hiding the body.
Keeping focus suddenly became harder and harder for Henry. Admittedly, Steven didn’t look much like Shawn at all, but for some reason, it was Shawn’s face that Henry’s mind kept registering every time he looked at the photos. Whatever the connection to this case, or lack thereof, the fact remained that Shawn had gone through something horrific. That much was clear. He had been caught in a torture and torment of his own, miraculously given the chance to reach out and ask for help…and had been ignored. What kind of additional torment had the kid gone through all these years since? Never mind that, how could he even pull himself together enough to function at all? And worst of all, Shawn had even sought him out again…
“Damn it, stay on task!” He scolded himself harshly. The sooner this whole thing was figured out, the sooner he could move on to figuring out exactly how Shawn’s situation fit into everything. Yeah, fat chance. Not without Shawn’s help and input, and there was slim to no chance of that happening for the time being. Not an excuse! He insisted, forcing himself to look through the paperwork again, regardless of how hopeless it seemed. There was really nothing to stand out, even if it was just another case. Some poor kid found on the side of the road, clear signs of foul play. Cause of death had been established, as well as time of death, and of course, identity. Besides that, not much of anything to go on. None of the kid’s friends seemed to have any idea who would want to hurt him, and there was nothing evident to make any of them suspects. The only peculiar thing was that Steven had not spoken or contacted any of them for the past month. His father had assumed Steven would have stayed with one of them, given he had no place of his own, so this realization came as somewhat of a shock. One friend did admit to agreeing to take Steven in a few weeks back, but never heard back on that. Steven’s phone also had nothing on it that would stand out, except that it had ceased to be used about a month before. So, whatever happened, one could assume, happened about a month ago.
So there was a chance he had been kidnapped and held for most of this time. Time of death had been determined as being about a day before his discovery, so he was still alive during that month long span. Off the grid, but alive. Had he been given a chance to write home or communicate otherwise? Didn’t appear so. His phone had not been used. His father had received no calls, mail, or visits of any sort. That alone seemed to be enough to erase possibilities of the two cases being connected, were it not for Shawn’s reaction.
The sound of soft footsteps coming down the stairs captured Henry’s attention, triggering a sense of panic as he rushed to try and gather up everything on the table. The last thing Shawn needed right now would be to have to see this all over again. Vick’s encouragement be damned, Henry couldn’t care less how much help Shawn could offer through some mysterious knowledge or experience. Shawn couldn’t even come close to handling it again, and Henry sure as hell wasn’t about to force him. Turns out that decision wouldn’t be so easily kept, after all.
“Don’t bother. I already saw them.” The soft, raspy voice called to him.
“Shawn, I thought you were sleeping.”
Shawn coughed and shook his head. “Yeah. Like that was gonna happen.” He shuffled into the kitchen, headed straight for the refrigerator, barely glancing at the table. “And yeah I know who did that.”
“Who, the killer?”
“Shawn, that doesn’t make any sense. If he’s dead, then how could he have…” Henry stopped mid-sentence as Shawn’s gaze was captured by one of the photos. The cup in his hand fell, shattering glass and juice all over the floor. “Shawn, kid, talk to me.” His son seemed transfixed to the photo, completely oblivious to his surroundings. It took Henry calling out to him a couple more times before Shawn snapped himself out of it, then without a word hurried back up the stairs, leaving Henry with only the sound of the bedroom door slamming behind him.