Carlton Lassiter was not happy.
He had made time in his trip through San Francisco to stop and see his former partner, and now he was being guilted into helping find Spencer of all people. Well, O’Hara had technically said he didn't have to stay, but he could see in her eyes that she really did want him to. And then his wife of all people had encouraged him to help... although Lassiter did have to admit – never aloud – that Marlowe was right. He wouldn't be able to focus on their little family road trip if he knew Spencer was still missing. It would eat at him the whole way.
Leave it to Spencer to ruin Lassiter's family vacation by not being there.
But now Lassiter was standing behind O'Hara at her desk, watching over her shoulder as a live video feed from some decrepit, currently unknown location filled the screen. He was trying his best to reassure her that this wasn't going to end badly... but who was he kidding? They were both cops. They knew the odds for something like this. Lassiter just hoped those odds were in their favor today.
Officers were hard at work tracking the video signal itself; the attempt to trace the email address that the perp had used to send the link had ended at a coffee shop. Thankfully, there was security footage that the shop's owner had willingly surrendered to the police department, and now it was just a matter of finding the man in said footage. Until one of those things came back with an answer, all they could do was wait.
The video was slightly grainy, but it was clear enough for them to make out Spencer sitting quietly in the chair in the middle of the room while the hooded criminal had given his demands. So still, in fact, that Lassiter was slightly worried about what the kidnapper might have done to him. His fears were allayed once the criminal had disappeared. Spencer jumped up from his seat and glanced around for a moment, then his eyes lit upon the camera and he grinned widely. He grabbed the chair and moved it across the room, disappearing from view as he got underneath the device. A moment later, he popped up in uncomfortably close proximity to the camera lens, blinking into it with one of his patented Spencer smirks.
"Hey guys," he greeted. His finger obscured the picture for a moment as he reached out a hand to tap on the lens of the camera. When he came back into view, he was peering into the shot as if he could see his audience. "How's it goin'?"
Resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Lassiter sighed. "Well, it looks like he's his usual self."
O'Hara nodded. "Yes, at least he's okay for now. But we need to find him before that man comes back."
"Already on it," Lassiter reported, looking over at an officer who gave him a nod. “We'll find him, O’Hara. Don't worry.”
She took a deep breath. “Okay. Okay,” she repeated with a slow nod of her own.
They both turned their attention back to the screen in time to see Spencer wrinkling his nose at the camera. “I know you guys want me to give you a hint as to where I am,” he said. “But unfortunately, I'm not having any psychic twinges about that.” He frowned, then his face lit up with a smirk. “Heeyyyy, wouldn't you know it, that just so happens to be the title of one of the Psychfic Awards this year!”
“Oh no,” Lassiter groaned. “This idiot can't be seriously doing this right now.”
O'Hara turned in her chair to give him a look as Spencer continued.
“Really, though, how perfect was that word choice?” He looked extremely proud of himself. “Psychic Twinges: Itsy Bitsy Spider by Redwolffclaw was one of the third place winners for the Best Standalone or Short category, along with versus Cats - Chapter 5 by harakiri, Psych Secret Santa 2015 by ExquisiteRose and Perspective by Pineapplehead. And then second place is
Writingg Bee: Lassiter Comes in Late by PeterPanic while first is a tie between No Such Thing As Ghosts by harakiri and Flesh and Blood by nataeiy1.”
He took a deep breath. “Whoo. That was a lot. There were a lot of winners in the Best Episode Tag or Missing Scene category, too. At least in second place, anyway. Nobody won third,” he frowned, “but that's okay. Anyway! In second place, we have two stories by me_ – and by ‘me’ I, of course, mean the author. Not as in ‘me, myself, and I,’ because that would just be weird. Those two stories are Hate the Sound that Goodbyes Make and Worried Sick. Also, Clear Shot by CosmicAddress and ‘Warmth’ from A Hundred Tales of Torture, Terror, and Possibly Twinkies by dragonnan. First place goes to Moments After The Clocktower by Violin-Psych-O.”
“How does he know all of this?” Lassiter grumbled. “Does he really memorize all of those ridiculous titles every year?”
As if on cue, Spencer pulled a sheet of crumpled notebook paper from his pocket and flapped it in the direction of the camera. “In case you're wondering, I do indeed remember all of the things I read, but I made myself clip notes just in case.” He paused and tilted his head. “Or is it cliff notes? Gus would know.” Then he shrugged. “Oh well. I've heard it both ways.”
“I swear it's like he can hear me,” Lassiter growled. He glanced over to see O'Hara still watching Spencer intently. “Come on, O'Hara, let's get someone else to keep an eye on this.”
She shook her head. “What would we do anyway, Carlton? We're waiting on everything right now.” She bit her lip. “I'd rather keep an eye on Shawn.”
Lassiter sighed. He wasn't about to leave her like this, though, so he pinched the bridge of his nose and resigned himself to more of Spencer's monologue.
“Continuing on,” Spencer was saying when Lassiter refocused on the video. “Let's see… Most Psych-Like Title! This one’s fun. It’s all about coming up with clever titles, and since we all know I’d sweep this category if I ever wrote anything, I decided I’d be nice and leave it alone.”
“Right,” Lassiter coughed.
But Spencer was still going. “Of all the stories chosen this year, only a few gained the honor of the Most Psych-Like Title, and those would be Making the Cut With a Squeeze of Lemon by dragonnan in third place, Testing, Testing, One, Two, Ouch! by PapayaK, and the apparent favorite of them all, the first place winner, Silence of the Pineapples by insert56!” He grinned. “Similarly, the third Most Psych-Like Story was A Little Birdie Told Me by Olivia94, the second most was Dopplegangland by Redwolffclaw, and the first most was The Greatest Story Never Told by DinerGuy.
“And then… Oh! I love this one too! Best Alternate Universe. This is a good one! It's where we get put in different situations than usual by the imaginative writers. I think one time I got to be a vampire,” he said, leaning in toward the camera conspiratorially. He nodded, then straightened and grinned again. “Nobody won third for this year, but second place goes to Clear Shot by Cosmic Address and first to Believe In Me by Redwolffclaw. Ooh!” he interrupted himself again. “Speaking of! Vampires!”
Trying to track with this man's mind was worse than watching a ping pong match, Lassiter decided.
“There's also a Best Horror or Supernatural category! And the third place winner of that one is Redwolffclaw with Red Right Hand! Then second place is PapayaK with Psychics, Agents, and Terrorists, Oh My! and Pineapplehead with Dusk. And first is GirlFromBlackMountain with Hotel California.” Spencer frowned at that. “Somehow I don’t think I’d want to stay at that hotel, judging from the category name. Anyway! Let’s see, what’s next? Oh, this is another good one! I love this one, too.”
“Unlike the sane among us,” Lassiter muttered under his breath.
“Crossovers are fun because the writers let us interact with other characters, not just the ones we know and love in our own world. Like we did with the Heroes characters in, what else, Unsung Heroes by redwolffclaw, which placed third. Then there was AmazingLadar’s second place story, Spencer's Deal, which crossed over with Supernatural. And finally, first place goes to the Leverage crossover titled Relative Values by PirateJenna. Speaking of relatives, is my dad there?” Spencer inquired, peering at the camera as if he could see the people watching him. “Of course he’s not,” he corrected himself. “I mean, he’s not in San Francisco. Who am I kidding? That’s a bummer, because the How Many Hats Award is totally his favorite. It is all about him, after all. Well, him and me.” Spencer chuckled. “And this year, what a turnout we had! People must really like them some Spencer men.”
Lassiter snorted, only to receive another look from O’Hara. He made a face but kept quiet as Spencer continued onscreen.
“Third place is awarded to GirlFromBlackMountain for Freedom, as well as me_ for Worried Sick. Then second place is given to GirlFromBlackMountain for Hotel California, and first place is split between AwesomenessISmyGame for And If I Only Could Make A Deal With God and Redwolffclaw for Believe In Me. And then, since I’m on the topic of people who love me so much, I would be remiss not to mention Gus! Who, by the way, I hope is there.”
“I’m here!” Guster’s sudden exclamation from beside them caused both Lassiter and O’Hara to jump in surprise.
Rolling his eyes, Lassiter turned his gaze to the new arrival. “For the love of sweet justice, Guster, what have I told you about sneaking up on people?” he snapped.
“Well excuse me if you weren’t paying attention,” Gus shot back. “Now where are we with finding Shawn?” He sounded like he was trying to mask his worry, even though he wasn’t quite succeeding at it. “Please tell me that lunatic isn’t going to have a chance to hurt him.”
“We’re working on it,” Lassiter told him. “Tracing the video and trying to track down any security footage of where this guy could have taken Spencer. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find something.”
“What about his phone?” Guster wanted to know.
Lassiter shook his head. “It’s a dead end. Must be turned off.”
“...and that’s when I realized he knew I’d eaten all of his cookies,” Spencer was finishing a story as Lassiter and Guster paused in their conversation. “At least, I think he did... Did I just rat myself out?"
One glance at Guster was all anyone needed to know the answer to Spencer's question. "I knew it, Shawn!" he yelled. "I knew there was no way a rogue squirrel got into the office! C'mon son," he sniffed.
"Anyway, so next we have the lovely American Duo Award that celebrates the long-lasting friendship that Gus and I share. Third place is a tie between Clear Shot by CosmicAddress and… First Time at the Mexican Border by girlinpink44.” Spencer paused then and blinked at the camera. “How do they know about that one?”
“Well I sure didn’t tell anybody,” Gus yelped indignantly. “Don’t look at me like that!”
O’Hara turned around to give Guster a raised eyebrow. “He can’t hear you, Gus.”
“Oh.” Guster shuffled his feet. “I, uh, knew that.”
Spencer was still going. “Meanwhile, second goes to Psychics, Agents, and Terrorists, Oh My! by PapayaK and first to Silence of the Pineapples by insert56. Mmm, pineapple… You know, I haven’t had any lunch. I’m starving!” Spencer declared. “This guy better come back and feed me soon or the whole not negotiating with terrorists thing won’t matter because I’ll have died of hunger. Huh, isn’t it ironic that just like the title of the next third place winner, that the next category on my list is Best Deathfic?”
“I hate this one,” Gus mumbled. He shot a sideways, self-conscious look at Lassiter. “I’m a sympathetic crier, you know.”
“Unfortunately.” For the umpteenth time that day, Lassiter found himself pinching the bridge of his nose.
“As I said, It's Ironic by seaweed won third place, then Unquiet by CosmicAddress won second, and Moving Through Molasses by PapayaK won first.”
A loud sniffle from Guster interrupted whatever comment Spencer made next.
“Well, I can’t help it!” Guster shot back, accepting the tissue O’Hara handed him. “I did warn you.”
There was a crackle in the audio feed as Spencer flipped his piece of paper over. “You know who else cares about me?” he asked. “Jules!” He batted his eyes. “Jules, I know you’re watching, but please don’t be worried. I got this.” He flexed his muscles. “Nobody would mess with this.”
“And yet, he’s locked in a room by a perp who is demanding a million dollars cash by six pm,” Lassiter commented, earning him another glare from O’Hara and an offended sniff from Guster.
“To celebrate the spirit of the romance that exists between the lovely, lovely Juliet and myself, we have the Best Romance category!” Spencer announced. “This year, we have three ties for third place: Private Party Crashers by Redwolffclaw, ‘Maggie's Birthday Present’ from Grandpapa Monkey, and More by SnydersofHanover, and Do It by TheRealJules.” Spencer frowned at his paper and then back up at the camera. “Jules, do you have something to tell me?”
“I don’t write any stories!” O’Hara protested, looking wide-eyed at Lassiter and Guster. “I don’t!”
“Nah, I bet someone’s impersonating you,” Spencer was quick to add. “In which case, we might want to find them and warn them that impersonating an officer is a felony. Meanwhile, we just have one story in second place, which is Of Black Eyes and Broken Arms by me_, and then two stories tied for first, which would be Freedom by GirlFromBlackMountain and A Lassierella Story by Moondragon23. Also,” he added, looking back up, “can someone explain why we keep getting so many ties? Can these voters not make up their minds or something? It’s a mystery that almost rivals those celebrated in the Best Mystery Award! This year, that honor went to multiple stories, with A Little Birdie Told Me by Olivia94 in third place, Sneezy With a Chance of Murder by PicnicFanficnicAardvark in second, and both Two Dead Guys, a Girl, and A Psychic by Moondragon23 and The Greatest Story Never Told by DinerGuy in first.
“And yes, Lassie,” he added with a smirk, “I know you hate that the readers somehow learned of this conversation, but they did, and we once again are giving out the You Astound Me Award. This time to Moondragon23 for A Lassierella Story, DinerGuy for The Greatest Story Never Told, and Redwolffclaw for Dopplegangland.”
“I am going to kill him.”
“Lassiter!” Gus sounded indignant. “How dare you talk like that about a kidnapped man?”
Lassiter took a step away from the suddenly very angry-looking Guster and pointedly stared at the computer.
“Behave, you two,” O’Hara said, smirking despite herself as she shook her head at them.
“Do you feel loved, Lassie?” Spencer asked the camera. “Because you should. And that, by the way, also happens to be one of the third place winners of the SBPD Award. Which makes me think, we really should have an SFPD Award now too, right? I mean, now that we live in San Francisco and all. We can’t leave out our new homeland. I should take that up with the awards committee for next year. Anyway!” He turned his attention back to his wrinkled paper. “Besides Do You Feel Loved? by PineappleHead, third place also went to Five Christmas Traditions – Four Juliet O'Hara Gained and One of Her Own by kikitheslayer, while second went to Testing, Testing, One, Two, Ouch! by PapayaK, and first went to both The Execution by Syncop8ted Rhythm and Dopplegangland by Redwolffclaw!” He threw his hands out to the sides to accentuate his exclamation, only for his eyes to suddenly grow wide as his arms pinwheeled.
Guster barely had time to exclaim, “Shawn!” before Spencer had toppled backwards off of his chair. There was a loud crash as the man hit the ground, and then the chair on which he had been standing skidded into view of the camera. All three observers leaned forward, then relaxed as the object of their concern stumbled to his feet next to the chair.
“Ouch,” he complained, pouting at the camera. “Gus,” he whined, “I has a boo-boo.”
“What do you want me to do about it?” Guster protested, shaking his head. “What does he want me to do about it?” he repeated the question to Lassiter and Juliet. “It’s not like I’m there or anything.”
On-screen, Spencer was inspecting his elbow. “Geez, these Awards are getting dangerous in more ways than just in the stories themselves,” he remarked. “But hey, I guess this is the perfect time to give out the Boo-Boo Award! Which is pretty self-explanatory… and creepy, by the way, just in case any of those writers are watching right now. Which would be creepy in itself…” he trailed off in thought, then shrugged. “And in that totally not innocent category, we have three third place stories: The Execution by Syncop8ed Rhythm, Of Black Eyes and Broken Arms by me_, and And If I Only Could Make a Deal with God by AwesomenessISmyGame. The remaining places only have one each, and that would be Testing, Testing, One, Two, Ouch! by PapayaK in second place and Believe In Me by Redwolffclaw in first! You know, I’m pretty sure I don’t want to even consider reading most of these…”
“Ma’am!” A uniformed officer called from across the room, and the trio in front of O’Hara’s computer looked away from Spencer’s rambling. “Ma’am, we’ve got a hit on that video feed! Looks like the signal is coming from… a residential address… three neighborhoods over?” Even she sounded surprised at the revelation.
“That close?” Lassiter snapped. “And it took you this long to find it?”
The officer looked as if she wanted to respond, but then simply nodded when O’Hara cleared her throat. “Just sent the address to your phone.”
“Thank you, Jennings. Carlton, be nice,” O’Hara told him. She gave the computer screen one last look.
Spencer was going on about another of the awards categories, and Lassiter paused long enough to hear him exclaiming, “…Most Wanted WIP. Nobody in third place, ylvisuck with Z is for Zombie in second, and PineappleHead with All Because Of You plus dragonnan with Breaking Shawn in first…”
“Carlton! Come on!” O’Hara’s voice came from across the room.
As Lassiter turned to follow, he could hear Spencer starting to ramble. “…Why would I be broken? Who would want me to…” but he just ignored it and jogged for the parking lot. The sooner they got there, the sooner they found Spencer, and the sooner the Lassiter family could resume their vacation.
It took five minutes on the dot for them to arrive at the address Officer Jennings had given O’Hara. Guster’s eyes were wide as he clenched the back of Lassiter’s seat. Lassiter wanted to chuckle at the other man’s consternation, but even his stomach was doing somersaults of its own. He didn’t dare say anything to O’Hara though; the look in her eyes made him glad her fury was not directed his way.
The house was a nondescript single story with white siding and red shutters with an old white pickup truck parked outside. Lassiter was about to comment on the lack of suspicious activity when he noticed the front door swing open. A man with dark hair, wearing work boots and white coveralls, was just exiting the house. He froze as he noticed O’Hara’s car pulling in.
Lassiter threw his door open before the vehicle had even come to a complete stop. “Police! Let me see your hands!” he bellowed.
The man wasted no time before bolting through the flower bed toward the rear of the house. Lassiter leaped out of the car and barrelled after the fugitive, not even waiting for O’Hara to shift the gear into park. He caught up to the man partway through the backyard, and his flying tackle took them both to the ground. By the time O’Hara and Guster ran up, Lassiter had already pulled out his cuffs.
“Where’s Spencer?” he growled at the man.
“The guy you kidnapped and demanded a million dollars for!” O’Hara joined in the questioning. “Five-nine with brown hair and wearing a green polo?” She was seething, and Lassiter could tell. “Now where is he?”
Moments later, Lassiter was following behind O’Hara as she nearly flew down the house’s basement stairs. Guster was just a few paces behind Lassiter, breathing heavily at this point with the amount of running they had just done in a very short time. But the man was determined to see this through until they found Spencer; Lassiter had hand it to him for that.
O’Hara had a key in her hand that she had gotten from their perp, and she had the door unlocked in no time. When she threw it open, Lassiter and Guster nearly ran into her back as she pulled up short.
“Shawn!” O’Hara and Guster yelled at the same time.
“Hey, guys!” Spencer greeted lazily from where he was leaning back in his chair. “Glad you could finally make it! When did you leave the station?”
“What are you playing at, Spencer?” Lassiter demanded.
“Are you okay? Did he hurt you?” O’Hara rushed over to check him up and down.
Spencer waved away her concern. “Oh I’m fine, Jules. Really!” He smiled happily. “I’m just glad you finally made it. I needed to finish telling you who won the Awards!”
“No, you really don’t.” Lassiter folded his arms. “Come on, Spencer, this was cheap, even for you.”
“Of course it was! Gus keeps telling me I need to quit spending so much money. What did you expect, me to be expensive?”
Lassiter sighed heavily. “Well, you’re taxing my patience, so maybe you still are.”
Frowning, Spencer considered his words. “I really don’t know what that means. Did you catch the bad guy?”
“Yes,” O’Hara replied. “He’s claiming innocence, but he did flee when we arrived and he did have the key to this basement. I think he’s got some explaining to do.”
Spencer nodded happily. “Good. There are some bad guys that you just can’t get away from… kind of like the ones that stuck with our readers this year! Namely Dr. Mallow from Testing, Testing, One, Two, Ouch! by PapayaK and Liz Holden from A Lassierella Story by moondragon23, who both tied for the Best Big Bad or Original Character.”
“Oh no,” Lassiter shook his head and turned on his heel. “I’m out of here.”
“But you’ll miss the rest!” Spencer yelled after him. “Like Redwolffclaw, the Best Beta! Or dragonnan, the Best Reviewer! Or what about Koohii Kappu, the best new writer? You can’t abandon them, Lassie!” he wailed.
“I’m not abandoning anybody!” Lassiter turned around abruptly to growl in reply. “Shut up and leave me alone about those awards.”
“But I’m not done!”
“Yes, you are.”
“Nope! Still gotta announce the Best Overall Writer – and wouldn’t you know it, for the first time ever, there is a tie in this category! And that’s between…” Spencer trailed off dramatically before throwing his arms up. “Redwolffclaw and GirlFromBlackMountain!”
Lassiter stared at the other man for a moment, boring him with a raised-eyebrow glare. “One more word and I shoot you,” was all he said before striding up the stairs.
He could hear murmuring from inside the room behind him, then Spencer’s voice drifted out a little louder than moments before.
"Gus, you're acting like I coordinated this just so Lassie would be forced to listen to the Awards again! This is me we're talking about, buddy! Have I ever done anything that stupid before? …Gus? Gus!”