“Gumph!” Shawn winced as the back of his head smacked against the cinderblock behind him – propelled there by the hand clamped around his jaw. Fingers bit deeply into his cheeks and forced his lips to pucker in a way that must have looked ridiculous. Like a flirty sturgeon or some sort of besotted carp.
“I think a couple of days cooling your heels in solitary will adjust that attitude right fine.”
Shawn rolled his eyes; he couldn't help it, his voice forcing out in a thick slur. “Who are you s'posed to be, Warden Drumgoole?”
Though the question was mushed by compressed lips, it was articulated enough that Sheriff Dale Shackelford smiled – even chuckling a little. “Well, then, I guess that makes you Frank Leone, doesn't it.”
Okay, so Shawn hadn't expected the guy to have actually gotten the “Lock Up” reference – but did he really have to embrace his role so enthusiastically? Especially if it meant Shawn had to play the part of Leone? Sure, the hair was fabulous and the hero won in the end but, before reuniting with a beautiful blonde, he got the crap beaten out of him and a shiv wedged an inch deep in his back. And the thing was, Shawn was no Stallone; no matter how much time he spent on the elliptical. Or didn't spend. Hell, his clothes spent more time on it than he did. Granted, Jules had threatened a prenup unless he started jogging with her every morning...
Shawn winced as the summons threatened to dislodge an eardrum. He'd made the “Deputy Dog” crack on day one and had lost breakfast privileges for the next six days as a result. Thankfully, the grip around his jaw reminded him to keep his mouth shut this time.
Deputy Dodge made his appearance – six foot nine, what the old ladies would call strapping – he beat out Buzz McNab in the height as well as the intimidation department. Okay, an angry whippet beat out Nabby in the intimidation department.
“Dodge, take Mr. Spencer over to the cutting room, if you'd be so kind.”
“Woah!” Shawn backpedaled the moment Shackelford released him – palms up and out as far as they could spread with the chain between them. “Uh, guys, here's the thing... I realize the last few days have lent a certain rugged grit to the angle of my jaw, but underneath is a sensitive, gentle creature who is emotionally, psychologically, and literally attached to his skin...”
Huge man paws wrapped around his biceps and clamped so tight Shawn was certain the fingertips met on the other side. Dodge bent himself in half to hang his chin over Shawn's shoulder.
“Don't worry, psychic - we can shave it real close. You'll hardly even notice.”
If magic really were at his fingertips, he'd arrange for some actual cops to show up about then and employ some intimidation that would leave his keepers trembling in their steel toed moccasins. Hell, if magic were at his fingertips, he'd rewind the whole previous week and make some significant life changes. For starters, he'd go with the banana waffles instead of the chocolate crepes for breakfast. But the second thing?
He'd have listened to Gus...
One Week Earlier
Sneakers smacked against wet sidewalk; the orange glow of sunset reflecting in the puddles of rainwater. Sloppy strides through the wet earned Shawn a snippy glare as Gus dodged the resulting splash.
“Dude; you mind? I’d rather not have to hit the dry cleaners before work tomorrow.”
Flapping lips pushed out a rubbery retort. “As if you don’t have six pairs of those same pants. And before you deny it, yes, I’ve seen your closet.”
“Which explains why you’re wearing my shirt.” Gus wove around another puddle; sighing as Shawn blundered right on through - drenching his jeans to mid-calf. “Okay, what is wrong with you? You’re acting like your dad just invited you out to dinner to meet his new girlfriend.”
Shawn recoiled, lip pulling up from his teeth. “Okay, first of all? Dad is notably unattached since he and mom hookhuumm...” Here he stumbled, both words and feet, as his whole face twisted. Full body shudder and a few wide blinks before brushing a hand over his lips.
“You need a moment?”
Shawn scrubbed at his arms. “What I need... is some Clorox for my brain.”
Gus scrunched his nose but left the comment to die while continuing on down the sidewalk – Shawn eventually catching up to him. “So, second of all?”
His mopey pal, distracted by the food trucks lined up beneath a cluster of palms, gave Gus a baffled up and down. “Second of what?”
“Shawn, you were making two points – the second one implying your actual point and not the side trip about your parents and their disturbing fornication.”
“Gaah!” Hands clapped over his ears, Shawn abandoned the sidewalk for the sand – floundering a little on the soft grains. Stopping at the edge, Gus winced down at his footwear, before an irritated howl rolled up from the beach.
Grumbling, Gus gave up and followed – doing his best to keep to the premade holes where Shawn had already stepped. He muttered to himself, and hissed a mild cuss, when his foot collided with a half buried stone that managed to blunt itself against his large toe, in spite of his footwear. Finally reaching the firmer sand, he crossed his arms and eyed his friend. Shawn, nursing his sourpatch mood, stared out at the darkening sky with his lower lip poking out in a belligerent pout. Shawn liked to play that he was mysterious and secretive about his personal issues. However, for a guy with an eidetic memory, he always seemed to forget that Gus had known him for roughly 30 years. One thing Shawn would never, ever be, was reticent. Five seconds and he wouldn't be able to take it any more.
“Okay, so, here's the thing...” Shawn fidgeted – teeth sliding across his lower lip before he crossed his arms. “So, you know, Jules and I are gonna be hitchin' it up big and nice and with cherubs and stuff, yeah?”
Eyelids dropping a degree, Gus sent back a look lacking any trace of shock. “You do remember I was there, right?”
One hand waved off the interruption. “So, I've been thinking... for a while, actually, that I'm going to need to change a few things.” Leaving shallow tracks in the wet sand, Shawn began to meander in the direction of the giant red bridge spanning the bay about half a mile off.
In the pause, Gus fought back a number of replies – too easy, after all. Managing a more mature prompt, he said only, “Such as...?”
Kicking a wayward clump of seaweed back towards the surf, Shawn hooked his thumbs in his belt loops and stopped, turning his back to the water. “I'm buying a car.”
Well. Okay, so that was actually... “Wait a minute,” Gus crumpled his eyebrows, “You can barely afford the insurance on your bike. Now you want to add a car?”
Ignoring that, Shawn tugged out his phone. “Check it out... The guy I'm buying it from sent some new photos this morning.” he scrolled past at least a dozen head shots – several of them with trees in the background.
“You were trying to get selfies with squirrels again, weren't you.”
“I just need to get the timing right.”
Gus snorted. “C'mon son, you know they're too fast!”
Gus was the one to begin them walking again. No matter how moody he got, Shawn was almost always up for some churros or caramel corn; funnel cakes if he was especially downtrodden.
Finally, locating the images, Shawn passed the phone to Gus, who tapped them larger.
Growing up, he may be, but Shawn still wasn't one to lumber through these decisions in the traditional, proven way. For example, rather than go to a 'trusted' used car lot and finding something cheap yet reliable, he'd foregone even craigslist to find a ride that perfectly combined visual appeal with zero safety rating. Halloween orange, at least there was no visible rust. A couple small dents on the driver's side door – probably from hitting against loose carts in a grocery parking lot. On the surface, it was an easy 8; maybe even a 9. But, while Gus would never suggest he knew much about cars – anything, really, he did know Shawn. He also knew the Dukes of Hazzard; unfortunately. Even without the redneck stars and stripes paint job, he'd know that 69' Dodge Charger anywhere.
An airport hanger of responses hung in the tight spaces alongside the wisdom teeth he'd never needed to have pulled. Everything from “you're and idiot” to “you must be out of your damn mind” attempted to spill free in knee-jerk response. What he settled on was a concerned brow lift. “You sure about this?”
Shawn took his phone back and tucked it into his jeans. “Well, it's either this or you can co-sign for a used model at the dealership.”
Okay, so Shawn had a point. “Alright; so how much is this gonna put you back?”
Hands rubbed dry elbows and Shawn rocked his jaw – clearing his throat. “Uh... about six Gs...”
Gus tipped his head side to side. “Wow... that's actually not too...”
“...and my bike.”
Water in his ears – had to be, cause no way Shawn had just uttered those completely out of character words. “You're really selling your bike? Your ticket to freedom? Your baby?”
A trope of gulls angled past overhead – drawn by the cluster of vendors set up just opposite the sand and drawing the evening crowd. Shawn munched his lip a little longer, and then nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.”
“Damn.” The sun became a thin strip of gold just above the water while Gus thought that through. Then, in a sudden chuckle, he slapped his friend on the shoulder. “My boy is growin' up!” Shawn, though, hadn't lost his hangdog mope.
Gus scrambled to shift his buddy's mood towards an upward trend. “Dude, think of everything you can do with a car!” The expression of inward pondering lasted only a moment before a disturbing grin licked up the side of Shawn's face. “Okay, now you look like Tim Curry's 'It'.” Observation followed by a shudder. Coulrophobia was no joke... ironically enough.
Stopped again, just a few feet shy of the funnel cake truck, Gus dropped his hands in his pockets – elbows jamming out at his sides. “Are you really sure this is what you wanna do?”
Toes tips scuffed across faded wood before Shawn sucked his lower lip over his teeth. Hands deep in his jacket, he scanned his attention everywhere but at Gus. He abruptly freed one hand and rubbed it across his eyes. “I don't know... I mean, I've had that bike for years, you know?” His voice wobbled at the end and Gus felt his eyes starting to prickle in autonomic response.
At least, right up until Shawn rolled his own eyes and smacked his buddy in the chest. “Are you kidding me right now? Hell yeah I'm ready! I'm about to be Juliet's official bae! Her signed, sealed, and delivered supplement!”
Letting out an irritated huff, Gus crossed his arms. “I think you mean suppliant.”
“Her devoted paramour!” Shawn continued – rolling right over the small correction. He delved into his pocket while picking up the pace towards the wafting odor of deep fried delicacies. By the time he hit the counter, his wallet was in hand.
Okay, who the hell was this guy? “Since when do you buy?”
Cut off in his decision making – 32 separate toppings made for some serious consideration – Shawn lifted his eyebrows. “Oh... I'm sorry! Didn't mean to make you all abizzle, man...”
“Abizzle isn't a word, Shawn. Stop trying to sound like Snoop Dogg.”
Shawn used two fingers to slip out a folded piece of paper. Gus unfolded it while Shawn placed an order for two funnel cakes – one with cherry and one with mango chutney. “Fifty cents off your next purchase at Fernando's Funtime Funnels. Gee, thanks.”
Shawn grinned while accepting the freshly cooked delicacy. “You're welcome!”
Gus slapped down a ten and lifted his own cake while Fernando made change. Business finished, they proceeded on back towards their temporary office, little more than some walls and a door, eating while they walked. Shawn's fingertips were coated in powdered sugar and red syrup by the time they reached their front door so Gus dug free his set of keys to let them inside.
Heading to his desk, Shawn pitched his empty plate and licked his fingers. “You coming over tomorrow night? Dad's in town and he muttered something about fixing charbroiled mammal with baked potatoes.”
Forking another bite Gus tapped awake his laptop. “Dessert?”
Shawn licked his teeth while booting up his own monitor. “Uh... blueberry pie.”
The groaned reply was a shade obscene. “You know that's right. Hell yeah I'll be there! Wait – there isn't some catch like removing the barnacles from his boat or snaking the toilet? I told you before, Shawn, I don't do poo-poo!”
The snort back wasn't exactly placating. “I just need my Gus buffer. He's gotten weirdly affectionate ever since I proposed to Jules.”
That turned suspicion into a smirk; which wasn't missed as Shawn dropped his brows low.
“What? What's that look?”
Gus leaned back – hands folded. “He wants grandbabies.”
“Dude!” Shawn seemed to worm inside his shirt – mouth making a distressed bow. Oh, this was gonna be well worth the price of admission.
A shudder flooded down Shawn's frame from hairline to sneakers and he rubbed his arms in the aftermath. “I feel violated.”
“Consider that payback for that little act you pulled earlier. I've told you before, Shawn; don't play.”
“Please,” Shawn snatched Winky and began to squeeze while he hitched himself around in his chair until he could prop his feet up on his desk. “You had big fat crocodile tears – admit it.”
“Over your death machine? C'mon son.”
Silence followed for several minutes; Gus finishing his funnel cake while Shawn became distracted with something or other on his laptop. Clicking keys took over for a while until Gus stopped – looking across the room at his buddy.
“When are you heading out to pick up your car?”
Still tapping, Shawn lifted a shoulder. “Probably Friday. Jules has to work the weekend anyhow and I can be back by Sunday at the latest.”
“Exactly how far away is this guy?”
Another shrug before Shawn leaned back once again. “Just outside Ridgecrest I think?”
“You think?” Treat finished, Gus freed a package of wipes from his middle drawer to remove the stickiness from his fingers. “How about this; we'll rent a trailer for your bike and I'll go with you. Maybe your dad will let us borrow his truck.”
Shawn, though, rubbed his fingertips along the edge of his desk. “Buddy, there is nothing I want to do more than a sweet, sweet road trip with my most badass black half. But...” his arms clasped around his chest and he leaned forward over his desk, “Listen, the thing is, this will be my last chance with just me and my bike. I realize you probably can't understand about that deep, resounding, erogenous bond between a man and his bike,”
Gus' lip pulled back in stifled distaste...
“-but it is a pure and transient thing.”
“Okay, I know you don't know what transient means.”
Shawn snerked. “It's that thing – you know, like with bug wings...? Right?”
“Exactly. Like a long road through a... see thru... with sparkles and waterfalls... pretty sure there's a chick with an American Flag bikini in there somewhere...”
Gus shifted to lean over his folded hands. “I can see why you want to get rid of it before you and Juliet get married.”
Shawn rubbed his forearm – eyes going puppy dog earnest. “I should have run this by you earlier, man. It's just between trying to set up this deal and dad coming to town...”
“No, it's cool. Look, as one purveyor of fine motor vehicles to another, let me just say that I totally understand your need to get out on your own; just you and your machine.”
“Gus, you drove a Toyota Echo.”
“Yes I did.” And proud of it, too.
Nodding, once, Shawn spread his hands flat on his desk to push himself back into his chair. “Okay then...”
“Shawn?” Fingers steepled, Gus sat up a little straighter. “Just, promise you'll call once you get there, alright?”
Offering a long distance fist bump, Shawn grinned. “Don't be the only lemon in a bag of limes – I'll be fine!”
Shawn's hand made another pass over his scalp. The “cutting room” had been just as horrifying as it had sounded. Long and narrow – with three chairs bolted to the floor and hung with manacles. He'd been bum rushed inside and forced into the middle seat – legs and arms strapped down while some neck beard had come up behind him – blade in hand. He hadn't spoken. He hadn't smiled. And he'd only asked one question. “How much?”
Standing in front of Shawn's chair, Deputy Dodge had smiled so wide his eyes had become tiny crescents. “All of it.”
Twenty minutes later, Shawn had been thrown into his cell – arms and legs free, though a little chafed, he wasn't gonna lie.
But, worst of all, was the memory of what had been done to him.
The glint of the sharp blade as it had arced towards his face – his wide eyes reflecting back at him before squinting shut – cringing against the imminent pain... as it shaved the hair from his head.
Stroke after stroke – his hair was brutalized. Though sharp, the long razor still caught and pulled in places – a feeling of hair being ripped right from his skull.
And then it was over. Dodge had asked him what he'd thought as Shawn looked back at himself in the single, smudged, mirror.
Staring at the half inch remains, Shawn had said nothing – not resisting as he was dragged back out of the room.
The vanishing sun had turned the hothouse conditions into a freezer. Though long sleeved, his inmate jumpsuit was only thin cotton and not great for warmth. At least it wasn't orange – rather a muddy greenish grey. They hadn't given him back his shoes.
Dirt floor, cement walls, the only access point was a trap door in the ceiling. Every prison flick he'd ever seen made a rapid flight across his brain – none of them all that helpful. Most of them filled with cliche's and screen chewing villains. Ridiculous, unlikely... though they didn't feel all that unlikely, now.
A million thoughts and plots struggled for attention – shoving and surging inside his skull. There was one, though, that rose higher than the others. And as he leaned against the wall of his windowless cell, shivering as night closed him in the dark, that one thought pounded in his chest; equal parts hope and hopelessness...
It looked like he wouldn't be calling Gus after all.