Friday nights were designated as their weekly beer at the Vicks. The three just sat on the porch in the dim evening light and talked about everything. Occasionally they were joined by others, but at its core, the night was mostly for Karen, Juliet, and Carlton to keep each other in the loop during Trout's tenure as Interim Chief. Juliet found them a pleasant reprieve from her new life as Interim Head Detective, but she made a mistake in mentioning her most recent case.
It was something of a sore area in the present company. Carlton was normally kept miles away from her work, and Karen was forbidden from all police activity for the next few months. She figured it'd be okay this time, however - Carlton was the responding officer on the scene, and the news of the attack had been on the air all afternoon. A man had been attacked in his home, but his name was being kept under wraps.
"It was a tripwire," Juliet told them. "Someone went through all that trouble just to kill that little man."
"Well, who is it?" Karen asked, nonchalantly sipping at her beer. "He has to be someone of importance to be broadcast all over Channel 23 all day."
Juliet shared a look with Carlton out of the corner of her eye. It wasn't exactly confidential information, but there was a reason they were keeping this on a need-to-know basis. After all, if the victim hadn't been standing too far to the right, he would've gotten a knife right in his heart. It was bad enough that the news was playing it up so much. If the attacker heard he was still alive, they could come back to finish the job. Juliet trusted Karen, but if his name got out there...
Carlton shifted in his seat, his eyes locked on the bent bottle caps on the table. He kept silent; his solitary nature made it convenient for him not to answer those uncomfortable questions. Glaring at him, Juliet managed to say, "Maybe it's best if we didn't tell you, Karen. No one outside the department really knows."
"I'm not really outside the department, though, am I?" she shot back, fixing them with one of her intimidating Chief Vick looks, normally reserved for uncooperative witnesses. Juliet lowered her head on instinct.
"I guess not, but..." She looked to Carlton, helpless. He shrugged, avoiding her eyes. To persuade him, Juliet kicked his shin underneath the table, and that seemed to work.
"Trout!" he yelped, throwing a scowl in Juliet's direction. "If we got you involved, he'd rain down hell on all of us. And we've been getting enough hell from him as it is."
"Who said he ever has to find out? It's not like you're going to tell him we had this conversation."
"That's...true." Juliet glanced at Carlton, who again offered his helpful shrug. "It is just his name, anyway..." She still hesitated before finally relenting. "His name's Archie McDonald. Y'know, that lawyer who works out of that firm in Goleta?"
"McDonald?" Karen sounded incredulous. She leaned back in the wicker chair, setting her beer down. "Can't say I'm surprised, but..."
"You know him?" Carlton asked, looking startled.
"Richard works with him every now and then. He's kind of an ass, but he's a smart guy. A lot of enemies, though."
"Well, he's certainly not making that any easier for us, anyway," Juliet grumbled. "He's refused police presence in his hospital room, and certainly won't let us question him. If he does have all these enemies, he's really not doing himself any favors by ignoring us."
That was met with silence. The air was thick with the question the two officers hoped would go unasked. Carlton swirled his beer around, not meeting anyone's eyes. Karen played aimlessly with a bottle cap. Juliet fiddled with the label on her bottle.
"His relationship with Richard isn't bad, you know," Karen said slowly, measuring her words carefully. The broken silence didn't make the situation any less uncomfortable. "I could talk to him."
At that very moment, Carlton took a long drink to avoid talking, leaving Juliet to weigh the possibilities on her own. "Well, shouldn't we-?"
Karen regarded her for a moment. "You should be the one in there," she corrected suddenly, shaking her head as if she just realized this. "Of course, of course. Don't mind me." And she then very expertly steered the conversation to something else. This wasn't lost on Carlton and Juliet, who exchanged pointed glances every now and then until it was Iris' bedtime and they had to go. The next day, at McDonald's hospital room, was sure to be an interesting experience. Juliet went to sleep that night wondering how Trout would mount her head on his office wall if he ever caught wind of these stunts.
After a month of silence from potential clients, Shawn was surprised to see anyone coming through the doors of the Psych offices. After a month of getting stonewalled by the police department, Shawn was a little more than surprised to see Karen Vick herself stride on through. And if that was difficult for him to get his head around, he could barely comprehend that she was standing there in civvies, clad in jeans and wedges and a colorful blouse and a jacket in place of a blazer.
"Chief!" Shawn bolted to a standing position. That title seemed stale in the air, so he tried again, slowly drawing out the syllables in "Karen". She narrowed her eyes, but he kept trying. "Chief Karen. Chief Karen Vick. Hi. How can I help you?"
She entered the main room, rubbing her hands together as if nervous. "I...know business has been stale around here. I'm actually surprised you were in today."
"Oh, this is the first day I've been in all week. Electricity bill, you know. Gus said I need to stop mooching off the office Wi-Fi so he doesn't have to pay for it while I'm not making money. And I've been out on the beaches every evening during the sunset, saving people with my boogie board while the wind runs through my hair."
It appeared like Karen was doing her best not to roll her eyes, but when she spoke her tone was almost sheepish. "Would you like to look into a lead with me? I could really use some help on this."
"What case?" Shawn pursed his lips, immediately suspicious. He was never one for following rules, but Chief getting involved in Trout's business could end very badly. Karen picked up one of the stress toys sitting on Gus' desk.
"Just a little...stabbing," she admitted, squeezing the toy absently. "Nothing that hasn't been on the news, so it's totally in a citizen's domain to learn more of this."
"That's Jules' case. The McDonald thing." She'd told him small tidbits about the case in private, but nothing too major. "You really want to look into that?"
Karen tapped her foot, as if impatient. "Lassiter and O'Hara are in his hospital room now due to my persuasion, Mr. Spen-" She gritted her teeth, as if in pain. "Shawn. He's an acquaintance, and we only have a small window to check out McDonald's office. I can pay your fee out of my own pocket - do you want to help me or not?"
"That's surprisingly devious, Chief. I knew you had something hidden beneath all those pantsuits. Going behind the detectives' back?"
"Only sort of."
And that was how Shawn found himself at McDonald's office with the suspended Chief of Police, rocking on his heels as she talked to his assistant.
"Hi, Karen Vick," she introduced, leaning on the counter over the man's desk. He seemed to scowl at that, but didn't say anything. "Archie asked me to pick up something from his office?"
"Mr. McDonald isn't in today," he said bluntly, frowning. "I can leave him a note that you stopped by."
"Look, buddy." Karen suddenly appeared dead serious, withdrawing her arm from the desk. "I'm Richard's wife - y'know, one of his most important colleagues? They sent me to pick up this package. I spoke to him in the hospital. I know you have to stop anyone from going in there, but he sent me specifically."
The assistant, instead of being scared, grew angrier. Through gritted teeth, he muttered, "Go on ahead," and handed her a key to the office.
Once they were safely behind the closed door of McDonald's office, Shawn let loose a low whistle. "Wow. Normally I try to befriend the underdog, but..."
"I work a little differently," Karen said, not even glancing his way as she stepped to the impressive desk in the middle of the room. As she began to look through the drawers, she asked, "What did you read off the assistant?"
Shawn told her. His name was Rob, based on the half-hidden name plate on his desk. He was left-handed, but both hands were equally skilled at something, based on the way his right hand was squeezing a hand exerciser. There was a spot on his desk in the shape of a small box that wasn't covered in dust or eraser shavings, and besides a picture of a forest trail on his desk, there were no personal effects among the stacks of paper on his desk. He told her this, however, as describing his aura as that of a man who was a skilled outdoorsman, wasting all of his life away in this dusty lawyer's office.
"And there's something missing from his desk," he finished off, poking around on McDonald's bulletin board. There was a post-it note that said "CHECK" on it in big, black letters, but Shawn thought nothing of it. There was a lot of weird reminders on this bulletin board. "The spirits are ambiguous on this one due to the flavor of his aura. Keep an eye on him."
"Right," Karen muttered distractedly. She looked at the chess board in the corner of the room, the only neat corner, but said nothing. Shawn noted there was probably a game in progress, due to the position of the pieces. She held up a phone - not hers, but a beat up old Blackberry.
"Is that his?" Shawn asked.
"Yeah, he actually did send me to look for something." She pocketed it. "No law breaking here. Anyway, McDonald doesn't have any other employees and he's been doing solo work for a while now, so we should look into personal contacts."
"Anything else you can feel, Spencer?"
Shawn approached his desk, but out the window he saw Juliet's cruiser pull up to the building. "I can feel that your detective is coming into the building. This would be an excellent time to scram, Chief."
They took the back way out, and Shawn just hoped Juliet wouldn't recognize Karen's car in the lot.
Carlton was on a run in the park that morning before work. Normally he would have just run in his neighborhood, but that morning he ran longer in the park. He always thought better while he was moving, running on the trails without much direction.
As he came out of the trees near the park's main clearing, in the dim light of the morning, he spotted someone on the ground, face down. Curiosity took over him, and, his breath coming in gasps from his run, he approached slowly.
"Sir?" Carlton asked, the word breaking the cool silence of the morning. When he didn't receive a response, he touched the man's shoulder, looking closer. There was a dark spot in his back, and with a start Carlton noticed the man was bleeding. Frantically, he turned the man's face toward him, and he was startled to see it was the snooty victim from the previous day, Archie McDonald.
"Oh, damn," he muttered, feeling for a pulse. It was faint, but still there. He frantically pulled his phone and his badge from a pocket in his shorts and placed the call.
The ambulance came quickly, but by the time Juliet arrived, he was already within the back of the vehicle, preparing to be whisked away to St. Thomas of the Apostles.
"I checked with the hospital, he discharged himself last night," Juliet told him, breathless. She looked at the spot where he'd been laying; Carlton's blood-stained hoodie, used to staunch the wound, was the only remnant of the whole ordeal.
"I just...found him here," he told her, crossing his arms and tucking his hands into his armpits. Now that his adrenaline was fading, it was chilly that morning. Forensic workers were already setting up a perimeter. "Barely alive, bleeding to death."
"He'll be fine, Carlton," Juliet said shakily, though it clearly sounded like she didn't believe that herself. They stood there in silence as the sun rose, watching the forensics team work.
The silence of the day was broken as a car pulled up to the park, and Karen Vick was coming towards them, looking concerned. Next to him, Juliet let out a shallow sigh.
"You know, she was at his office yesterday," she murmured. "I know Archie asked her to get his phone, but I'm positive she did some snooping too."
He didn't reply, but they stood stoic as she approached, peering past them and the crime tape that barred her way. She looked to them, eyes wide and face pale. "What-?"
"He's headed to the hospital," Carlton clarified. "We can handle the investigation now, Karen."
The use of her name instead of her title was noted, and she seemed a little taken aback. Before Karen could reply, they were all distracted by the arrival of Spencer and Guster.
"Juliet!" Spencer called, smiling brightly. Guster looked much less optimistic. "You left so early this morning, I had to check where you went."
"You know what I have to tell you, Shawn," she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. Carlton fixed them with a scowl.
"It's a crime scene, you can't go past this point," he said firmly, hoping he didn't look too ridiculous in his running clothes. Shawn snorted.
"It's protocol, Spencer, we can't let any of you past."
"Uhh..." Guster was about to point behind them, but he stopped abruptly and shoved his hands in his pocket. Nonetheless, they all picked up on it, and glanced to the background where Karen was investigating the scene.
"I think there's something under the sweatshirt," she informed them, and a forensics worker nearby heard. Gently, his gloved hand pushed the hoodie aside and felt around for something in the grass. He extracted a bloody index card; on it, in big black letters, was the word "CHECKMATE". The blood warped the ink, but it was still legible.
Juliet glanced at Carlton, and he met her eyes evenly, but he didn't miss the look that Karen and Spencer shared. "What the hell do you two know?" he demanded.
They both hesitated before Karen spoke. "The chess board in his office. The only other person he'd play with was his assistant, Rob."
"I can't believe you all followed me here," Juliet grumbled as they walked up the steps to Rob's house. "Trout gave me such a earful when he saw Chief's statement in the stabbing file. He's going to suspect something."
"The man suspects everything," Gus snorted, and Shawn bobbed his head in agreement.
"Besides, Jules, you need backup," Shawn added, as Juliet knocked on the door. "Lassie's still tied up at the station in all the fishing lines attached to Trout right now."
The two snorted and bumped their fists together. Behind them, Karen rolled her eyes. "Will you two get on task?"
Before anyone could reply, the door opened. Rob the assistant stood before them, disheveled from sleep, furrowing his brow at all the familiar faces before him.
"What do you want?" he asked drowsily, still managing to grate on Juliet's nerves. "It's 7 in the morning."
Juliet held up her badge, forcing up a smile. "Hi, Detective O'Hara from the other day. You remember me? We just have a few questions we'd like to ask you."
Upon entering the house, Juliet felt the entire group take a breath. She was inclined to agree - lining the walls of the foyer were stuffed heads of various small woodland creatures, all horrifyingly lifelike. They were relieved to find the sitting room was much less decorated; besides a few paintings of nature scenes, it was a plain room.
"Shawn, when you said outdoorsman..." Juliet heard Gus mutter as they all filed in. Shawn hushed him until they sat down.
Juliet asked her standard questions about his relationship with Archie. Rob seemed compliant enough, but it was clear he was exhausted, and he kept flexing his fingers when they mentioned the victim's name. The questions were going in circles until Shawn began to cough violently.
"My apologies, sir," Gus quickly spat out, as Shawn grabbed his throat dramatically. "My colleague here suffers from hydroplosion, which causes his teeth to melt and drip down his throat. It's very painful."
Shawn started wheezing and clawing at the air. Gus smiled apologetically. "If you could get him some water..."
Rob scowled, but stood anyway. "I'll be right back."
As soon as he turned his back, Shawn straightened up. As Rob pushed the swinging doors leading to the kitchen, they all peered in - there was an ornate display box of knives sitting on the counter, meant to hold three, but one was missing.
They all exchanged glances. "That's gotta be the knife." He laughed nervously. "Uhh...Jules, you're packing, right?" Shawn leaned over Gus and Karen to look at her.
"I left it in the car," she whispered back, regretting the decision. Rob entered the room again, and they all sat up straight, smiling nervously. He side-eyed them, setting the glass of water in front of Shawn.
"Pardon me, Rob," Karen murmured, standing up. "Where's your bathroom?"
"Down the hall, the only door on the right," he informed her, still eyeing Shawn and Gus' fake smiles. She excused herself politely.
"So the chess board," Juliet began again. "It looked like there was still a game in progress when I was there yesterday. Was he playing with anyone?"
Rob shrugged. "He was a weird guy. He'd have clients or whoever play when he had them visit."
"Did he ever play with you?"
There was a long pause before Rob answered again. "On occasion."
"Mr. McDonald was found nearly dead in the park with a note that said 'checkmate' on it. Can you explain that?"
Rob stood suddenly, his beady eyes hard a dark. "You've not a warrant, Detective. I know my rights and a lot of lawyers. I might have to ask you to leave."
"So you don't know anyone who'd want him dead?" she asked, as she stood slowly.
"He had a lot of enemies. I can't answer for them. Now, I'll show you the way out."
The way Rob was acting was a sign of guilt, but he was right; she didn't have an arrest warrant, and just this questioning seemed to be pushing her bounds. They were in the foyer filled with the animal heads when Shawn stopped abruptly, suddenly grabbing his arm.
"But you were one of those enemies, weren't you?" he asked, leaning towards the arm he was grabbing. Juliet noted he was grabbing the spot where Archie had been hit with the knife a few days prior. She stepped to the side to give him room for his vision. Rob stayed where he was, pinned to the spot with fear, and behind him Karen emerged from the bathroom, deadly silent.
"He was an ass, we all know that," Shawn continued, and was heartened by Gus' agreeing nod. "Insufferable, really. And he's a finance lawyer; his clients mostly do work on the phone, do they not? So he had you to play chess with, and only you. You got fed up after years of his ego and all his taunting chess moves and used your hunting skills to set up a snare to kill him."
Rob had gone pale, but his face was set. His hands were fidgeting, curling up and unfurling repeatedly. Karen stood stock still where she was. Juliet noted Gus' hand on the doorknob. She so wished she'd brought her gun.
"But it didn't work!" Shawn released his own arm and held the hand like a claw, staring at the spot on his arm. "You wired it too far to the left; it didn't kill him! He got his phone back while he was in the hospital and told you he'd be coming in the next day, I'm sure - and you knew all his haunts. You knew he'd be in the park this morning and you-" He stopped abruptly to let out a melodramatic, high-pitched cry, clutching at his back and falling on his knees. "Stabbed him! Right there! And it nearly killed him. But not quite."
"And it should've," Rob said in a shaky, quiet voice. "Humans aren't like animals, I should've known. The second blow should've killed him, that horrible little-" His eyes suddenly widened. Juliet took a step back, guarding Gus. (Shawn was too far in front of her; she trusted his instincts would keep him alive.) "No one was supposed to..."
"Know?" Shawn suggested. "Find out? It's kinda our job."
That seemed to be the straw that broke the overworked assistant's back. In a flash, he reached into his back pocket and whipped out an ornate hunting knife - clearly the one that had been missing from the display box. He lunged, and Juliet felt a rush of adrenaline pipe through her veins as she braced to defend herself against the attacker - but the sting of the knife never came. It took Juliet a few seconds to process that Karen had tackled Rob from behind; she held onto him tightly, but her grip was a little too low. His elbow connected with her nose (everyone heard it crack, and Shawn and Gus both actually grimaced) but she held on long enough for Juliet to seize this opportunity and wrestle the knife from his hands.
"I think it's safe to say you're under arrest now," Juliet breathed, locking eyes with Karen. She leaned back on her knees and sighed, wiping the blood from her nose.
Karen watched as Carlton popped the cap off his beer bottle with his badge. He slid it to her over the table and started to work on the other two, uncomfortable in the dead silence.
"Shouldn't we be talking about something?" he asked them, raising an eyebrow. "After that week, I'd think we'd have something to say."
"What about you?" Karen challenged. Her nose was still sore, but one upside to being off-duty was avoiding the looks and questions from officers about the bandage across the bridge of her nose.
"Well, I wasn't there." He smirked and took the first sip of beer, raising his eyebrows at them as if challenging them. Juliet sighed, shaking her head.
"There's nothing to say, Carlton," she said wearily. "Rob confessed and he's going to court soon. Archie's going to recover, but he's still under close care as far as I know. I saw him when he was conscious and he's pressing charges of the highest degree. I don't know if his being an ass will come into play though."
"And Archie said he might just be a consultant, not a lawyer," Karen added, playing with the label of the beer instead of drinking it. "So he won't get killed and all that."
"That's probably a good idea," Carlton remarked, and Karen nodded her agreement. Both her detectives fell silent, glancing at each other.
"What? What is that?" she asked, annoyed. The two had a way of communicating without words, and at times it was absolutely insufferable. When Carlton started talking again, he was wearing his smug little smile.
"Well...did you have fun being a vigilante, Chief?"
She was slightly offended at the question, but Juliet was smiling in spite of herself and Carlton was looking at her expectantly. "Vigilante?"
"Yeah, vigilante," Carlton confirmed. "You weren't working for pay."
"Hell, they might as well have called you the Lone Chief," Juliet added helpfully. Karen fixed the two of them with a stern look; she was offended only long enough to realize they were both hiding their grins.
"It's a bit much." Karen looked down at her hands, but when she glanced up, Juliet was covering her mouth to hide her laugh and Carlton was shaking his head.
"I'd recommend laying off the excitement for a while," he advised, tilting his beer towards her. "Breaking your nose sucks, and you really don't want that to happen again."
"No, no," she sighed, "I'm done catching criminals during this suspension. For now."
Karen smiled. "For now."