“Juliet!” Gus’s voice came through the phone as soon as she had answered it.
“Hey, Gus,” Juliet greeted, pulling her keys from the ignition and heading for the doors of the station. “I just got back to the office from lunch. What’s up?”
He didn’t waste any time with pleasantries. “Have you talked to Shawn lately?”
“No,” she frowned in concern. “Gus, what’s going on?”
“I can’t get ahold of him,” Gus said. His tone of voice gave away just how worried he was, even though he was trying to mask it. “I haven’t talked to him since yesterday, and he wasn’t at Psych this morning when I got there.”
“Okay…” Juliet paused halfway up the steps. “Um, maybe he slept in? He has been known to do that before,” she added with a chuckle.
“Well, I thought so, but then I went to his apartment to check, and he wasn’t there either. His bike was gone, and everything was locked up.” Gus sighed heavily.
Juliet put her free hand to her forehead and closed her eyes in thought. “I don’t know, Gus… he hasn’t called or texted me. Do you think he went chase a lead and just didn’t tell you?”
“Could be,” Gus said slowly. “But we don’t have any ongoing cases right now. We finished up that one with you guys yesterday, and there haven’t been any new clients lately. Oh, and I checked his dad’s house too, but Henry said he hasn’t seen Shawn since the other day, so…” he trailed off.
Squaring her shoulders, Juliet pushed down the little tendril of worry that was starting to snake its way up around her heart. “I can’t officially do anything for forty-eight hours, Gus, but I’ll tell you what, I’ll try to get in touch with him, and if I can’t, I’ll track his phone and see what I can find. Maybe he just got sidetracked on some wild goose chase; you know how he gets.”
“Thanks, Juliet,” Gus said, the relief evident in his voice. “You’re probably right.”
Juliet smiled. “I’ll talk to you soon, Gus.” She ended the call and turned to mount the remaining steps, pulling up her text messages as she did so.
Shawn, call me. Gus is worried.
She pressed the screen to send the text, then tucked her phone in her pocket and headed to her desk. The case from the day before might have been finished, but there was plenty of paperwork to do to close it officially. The conversation with Gus shifted to the back of her mind as she pulled out her chair and wiggled her mouse to wake her computer back up.
A few moments later, she reached for a stack of files on her desk, then frowned and flipped through them all. “Hey, Carlton,” she said, looking sideways at where her partner was reading off of a legal pad, “where’s the Rogers casefile?” She looked back over the contents of her desk. “I don’t see it here…”
“Oh, uh, here,” Carlton replied, looking up and reaching his long arm out to hand her the file in question. “Sorry, I, uh, think Spencer left it here last night.”
“Of course he did,” Juliet said with a grin. “He never can put anything back where it goes.” She frowned as she realized her phone hadn’t buzzed at all in the past ten minutes. Shawn normally replied to her messages almost right away. “Hey, speaking of Shawn, you haven’t talked to him at all today, have you?”
“Spencer?” Carlton snorted. “No, why would I? I usually can’t get him to leave me alone; no way am I calling him on purpose unless I have to.”
She sighed and pulled up her texts just in case she’d somehow missed it. No alerts signaled any unread messages, and she frowned at her phone.
“Something wrong, O’Hara?” Carlton had noticed her expression and was watching her curiously.
“I… uh, I don’t know. It’s probably nothing,” she waved off his question. “What do you say we get these reports finished so we can actually go home on time tonight?”
“Okay then.” Not sounding completely convinced, Carlton nodded slowly and turned back to his notes.
Over the next few hours, Juliet sent five more text messages, called twice, and checked her phone at least twenty times, but there was no response from Shawn. Things were moving past simply wondering what Shawn was chasing to real worry. If he was at his apartment, there was a chance he was either sleeping off an all-nighter or watching some sort of marathon. However, with no current cases, she had no idea what he could be doing that he wouldn’t respond to even one of her texts.
Just as she was about to give in and trace his phone, Buzz McNab’s hesitant voice broke into her thoughts. “Hey, uh, guys?”
Something was wrong. Juliet wasn’t sure if it was in his posture, his stride, or both, but she had an immediate feeling that something was very, very wrong. He fiddled with a piece of paper in his hand, obviously uncomfortable with but motivated by whatever news he had -- and Juliet had a sinking feeling that it was not good news. “What is it, Buzz?” she asked, standing.
Her partner looked up as well. He didn’t say anything right away, but when Juliet glanced over at him, she could see his gaze studying the officer as if he could deduce what was on Buzz’s mind. “Well, spit it out, McNab,” Carlton growled.
“Right,” Buzz nodded, rubbing a hand across the back of his neck. “I, uh, we got a call at the front desk a few minutes ago. There was a body found washed up by Stearn’s Wharf.”
Relief washed over Juliet. “So a new case then? I’m surprised the chief didn’t tell us herself.” She reached for her desk drawer. “Do we have an identi…” The look on Buzz’s face brought all of her worry right back. “Buzz?”
“Um, there’s no positive ID yet, but the victim is a male… early thirties…”
“Buzz…” Juliet’s stomach dropped to her feet. The everyday sounds of the station seemed to fade away as she focused on the officer’s face.
“But there was a note… Left on a motorcycle that has apparently been parked there since late last night…”
Carlton’s words were short and terse. “What kind of motorcycle, McNab?”
“A Norton, sir,” Buzz replied quietly.
An involuntary gasp escaped Juliet’s lips. Before she could voice her question, though, Buzz answered it. “I ran the plates already. It’s Shawn’s,” he told them. His expression gave away just how he felt about the news he’d had to deliver.
“Let’s go.” Carlton was on his feet. He paused to put a hand on Juliet’s shoulder for a moment before striding purposefully for the door. He didn’t say anything else, but she could see the determined set of his shoulders that there was much more feeling behind those words than he actually let on.
“It’s his handwriting all right,” Lassiter declared grimly, glaring at the paper in his hands. “I’d recognize that chicken scratch anywhere.”
O’Hara had her jaw set and arms folded; she was strong, but he could tell this was taking a toll on her. “I… it is his. But it can’t be…”
His stomach tightened as he watched her. Lassiter hated having to put his partner through this, but there really was no other way. He also knew it was pointless to try to discourage her from being here; as much as he wanted to send her home, she would never agree. So he just folded the slightly wrinkled piece of notebook paper and held it out to her wordlessly. She accepted the sheet and stared at it distantly.
“Guys!” Guster jogged over to join them. “What’s going on? What happened to Shawn?” He was out of breath and wheezing as he pulled up. Putting his hands on his knees, he gulped in deep breaths of air, then straightened. “It’s bad, isn’t it?”
“Gus…” O’Hara held out the paper to him. “I… Shawn left this note.” She put a hand on his shoulder as he took it. Her voice sounded as if it would break as she offered quietly, “He says he’s sorry, that he had to do this…”
“Do what?” Guster’s voice trembled as he looked between them both.
“They found a body on the beach an hour ago,” Lassiter said flatly. “No positive ID can be made until we get him back to the lab, but he’s wearing the same clothes Spencer was the last time anyone saw him.”
Guster shook his head, even as his lower lip quivered. “You’re wrong. Shawn would never…” He trailed off and clenched his jaw, staring off into the distance as if willing himself to stay strong. Lassiter couldn’t help being impressed; Guster might brag about his supposed iron stomach, but the detective had seen him lose his composure on more than one occasion. This turn of events was hitting much closer to home for the man than any previous case, but he was holding it together remarkably well.
“I’m sorry, Gus,” O’Hara whispered. She and Guster looked at each other for a few beats before O’Hara grabbed the man in a hug. “I’m so sorry.”
Lassiter swallowed as he watched them. That feeling was back in his gut; it felt like guilt, and he didn’t like it. Turning on his heel, he stalked for the beach to supervise the activity there so that O’Hara wouldn’t have to. He’d have to talk to his partner and Guster eventually, but for now, he kept his thoughts to himself and left them to their tears. He wasn’t sure he could ever forgive himself for this, or if they would forgive him. He hoped they would, but he wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t.
He wrestled with the feeling for the rest of the afternoon as he supervised the team combing the beach and processing the body. It was a somber affair, as most of the officers knew Spencer in varying degrees of familiarity. Even if he annoyed them every time he showed up and started traipsing around a crime scene, the fact of the matter was that he was still one of their own. Even as just a consultant, he’d become a part of the station, and there were several detectives still on duty who had worked with Henry Spencer and knew his kid from the old days. Knowing that this was most likely the last time any of them would see him cast a gloom over their normal jobs.
When he finally made it back to the station, sand crunching inside of his dress shoes, the chief was waiting for him.
“Detective,” Vick began as he shut the door to her office. “Where are we on this case?”
“We just started investigating, Chief,” Lassiter told her. “Body was found a few hours ago by someone walking their dog on the beach. The responding officers found a Norton parked on the Wharf with a note taped to it; between the plates and the note, we’re going off of the assumption that the body is Spencer’s.” He sighed as he finished. “Strode should be able to give us a better idea.”
Vick nodded slowly as she considered his report. “Okay, thank you, Detective. Let’s get confirmation from Woody and then examine every inch of evidence we can. I’m sending a team out to process his apartment, too, with the orders to treat this as a murder investigation.” She glanced at her phone, sitting on the desktop, and sighed. “I haven’t been able to get in touch with Henry Spencer… I’m going to keep trying.” Then she looked back to Lassiter and nodded. “You’re dismissed. Keep me apprised of any updates.”
“Yes, ma’am!” Lassiter replied, standing.
He turned halfway to the door. “Yes, Chief?”
“Keep an eye on O’Hara, will you?”
“Of course.” He nodded to Vick before heading through the office door and back toward the bullpen. He was only halfway there when his phone buzzed. Glancing down at the screen, he saw it was a text from his partner.
Woody says he has something. Meet you there.
Lassiter quickened his pace. This was not a meeting he wanted to have. He dreaded what the coroner was about to tell them; the man was much less than tactful at the best of times, but it had to be done, and Lassiter was determined O’Hara would not have to talk to Strode by herself. He caught up with his partner halfway down the stairs, and they entered the morgue together.
“Strode, what do you have for us?” Lassiter asked, pushing through the doors with O’Hara right behind him. “Please tell me you have a positive identification on that body from the beach.”
The coroner looked somberly at the detectives. “Well, you know, these things can take time…”
Clearing his throat, Lassiter looked at him sternly. “Strode!”
“Okay, but yes, I managed to get that ID you wanted.” The other man nodded, although he still appeared slightly unsure of himself. He could barely look at O’Hara as he continued in a low voice, “It is as you said. It’s Shawn.”
O’Hara made a small choking sound. “Are you sure?” she asked tremulously.
“Yes.” Strode crossed the small space between him and the junior detective and put a hand on her arm. “I am so sorry, Juliet. Truly I am. He’s… Shawn… that is… um, a good man,” he finished his halting sentence.
“Thank you, Woody,” O’Hara said softly. “But,” she started before her voice grew hard with resolve, “it’s not over yet. He couldn’t have done this to himself. He wouldn’t. I’m going to find out who did this, and they’re going to pay.” She gave the coroner one last grateful look, then paused to smile sadly at her partner before heading back through the doors.
As soon as the door closed behind O’Hara, Lassiter turned back to Strode. “You were worried about lying to her, but you actually surprised me.”
“Ah, yes, well, that would be because I didn’t lie to her. Not exactly.” Strode grinned in his creepy way that Lassiter assumed was meant to be reassuring. “These things can take time, and what I said is 'just as you said.' I have no idea if that man lying under my sheet is who you say he is. I mean, based off of everything you told me, it’s probably that one guy, but I couldn’t tell you with any degree of certainty. Not yet, anyway. Like I said, these things take time.”
Lassiter frowned, both at the coroner and his deluded thought process, and at the bad taste that lying to his partner was leaving in his mouth. “Well hurry it up if you can. I need to know for sure who that is.”
“Lassiter!” O’Hara’s voice broke into his thoughts and pulled his attention back to the task at hand. She was watching him curiously as he’d paused while thinking of what to put in his report. “Are you listening?” Even with the pain creasing her forehead, she was worried about him. “Are you okay?”
Again, Lassiter felt that twinge of guilt on his conscience. He had wanted to tell her from the beginning, but Spencer had pressed him not to. The other man just wanted to protect O’Hara, but Lassiter was starting to doubt the wisdom of agreeing to this plan. Of course, he wasn’t about to tell her when there were other people milling about and he couldn’t control the information… but surely Spencer couldn’t expect him to hide this from his partner for such an undetermined amount of time. “O’Hara…” he began.
“You didn’t hear what I said a moment ago, did you?” She raised an eyebrow at him. Her eyes were rimmed with red, and Lassiter had taken note of the empty tissue box in her garbage can along with the half-used one now sitting on her desk. However, to her credit, there was only a slight tremor in her voice. She might be feeling Spencer’s loss, but she was a good cop and she was strong.
He knew she’d make it through this.
Thinking all of that in a split second, Lassiter offered a half-smile in response to his partner’s question. “Sorry, I got distracted,” he apologized sheepishly.
“Understandable.” The look O’Hara gave him only served to increase the knot in his stomach. She gestured toward her computer. “Okay, so, we got the camera footage from nearby the Wharf, right?”
“Yes… we’re both combing through it.” Lassiter wasn’t exactly sure where she was going with this, but he hoped it wasn’t in the direction he suspected she might be. He had wanted to be the one to find the footage for which they were working. He needed to be the one to see it first.
O’Hara’s next words confirmed that he hadn’t been successful. “Well, look what I found!” She pointed at her screen.
Pushing his chair away from his desk, Lassiter came over to peer at her screen over her shoulder. The video feed was dark and grainy, but it was still easy enough to make out a shadowy figure of a man hurrying as quickly as he could under the load of… something. The angle was bad, and it was hard to see exactly what the man was carrying, but then he crossed under a streetlight. O’Hara gasped at the image of the body being lugged down the Wharf.
“Is that…” She didn’t have to finish her question.
Lassiter put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry, O’Hara.”
She just shook her head and watched as the two unknown figures moved off screen. Then she reached out and rewound the footage, leaning forward to study it more intently. “Do you know what this means?” she exclaimed. “There’s no way that Shawn… that he -- someone else did this to him!”
“Only we can’t get an ID off of this footage. It’s way too dark. We have to go check out his apartment!” she continued, her words tumbling over each other in her eagerness. “Come on!”
Lassiter followed right behind her, determined to stay close to his partner for this investigation. It was taking a toll on her, he knew, even if she was pushing everything to the back burner in an effort to manage the case. He already knew what they were going to find when they arrived at the apartment, and he could only hope that Spencer had had the good sense not to leave anything incriminating behind.
He also knew he still couldn’t tell her the truth. There would be too many officers at the apartment that one of them would catch on if O’Hara was suddenly acting a lot less distraught. Especially since there was a chance some of the team would have seen her at the Wharf earlier that day. Lassiter frowned; this mess was getting more and more tangled as the day went on. He honestly didn’t know where it would end at this point, but he was determined to see it through regardless.
The dry-cleaner's-turned-apartment where Shawn lived was buzzing with activity when they arrived. Several cruisers and a CSI van were parked outside, and Juliet parked just behind them in the driveway. She wasted no time in jumping out of the car and rushing inside, not even waiting to see if her partner was following her. Right now, the one thing foremost in her mind was to get in there and find out what had happened to Shawn.
She still couldn’t believe he was actually gone.
The detective hadn’t allowed herself to even think about it, knowing that once she did, she would most likely lose herself in the emotions and memories. Instead, she pushed it all down in favor of doing her job. There would be time enough to mourn later. Right now, she needed to find the persons responsible and bring them in. After that, she’d worry about the rest.
Even still, she had found the tears threatening to spill out more than once since they had found Shawn’s body at the Wharf. She’d made several escapes to the bathroom over the course of the afternoon, where she had given into a few silent moments of grief. She then straightened her shoulders, washed her face, and headed back out to work. Until Shawn had justice, she wouldn’t even think about anything else.
Her partner had seemed on edge ever since that morning, and Juliet wondered just how Carlton was taking Shawn’s loss. The two of them fought constantly, it seemed, but she could see beyond the surface enough to know that Carlton did appreciate Shawn more than he’d ever tell anyone, even himself. There was a part of him that missed the psychic’s shenanigans already, and Juliet knew that the station would be so much different now that Shawn would no longer be able to pop in and bother everyone with his antics.
This all passed through her mind in a brief moment as she strode up the sidewalk and into the old dry cleaner's. When she entered the building, she put all of her musings aside, knowing she needed to focus and be at the top of her game. Not just because she had a job to do, although that was certainly part of it, but because she owed it to Shawn to do this right.
She turned in a circle, taking in the room around her. There was a stack of dishes in the sink and the garbage was about half-full of takeout containers.
The rest of the room was a mess, however. There were definite signs of a struggle of some kind; the coffee table was overturned, with a pizza box lying empty on the floor. What had been its contents were mixed up with a dozen or so DVD cases scattered across the floor. A lamp was overturned, adding broken glass to the mess on the floor, and a pair of throw pillows and a gray blanket were in random corners of the room.
“What happened here?” Carlton’s question made her jump. She hadn’t noticed him come in and stand beside her until he’d spoken.
Juliet didn’t reply right away. It wasn’t so much that she was busy surveying the room, although she was, but she didn’t quite trust herself to open her mouth for fear that her carefully-suppressed tears would take advantage of the opportunity to come spilling out. She pointedly looked across the room, blinking against the sudden emotions that rushed through her as she realized how Shawn would never return to watch any more movies on that couch or eat any more pizzas at that table…
Wait, what was that under the sofa?
She blinked and started forward, squinting in concentration. When she got close enough to realize it was a phone, she almost left it where it was. However, on second glance she realized it wasn’t Shawn’s. There was no lime green case around it, and it was no smartphone either. No, this was one of those old-fashioned flip phones, and it looked like a cheap one too, from what she could tell.
“What did you find?” Carlton asked, watching as she grabbed a plastic baggie from one of the nearby crime scene technicians and picked up the device.
“This isn’t Shawn’s,” Juliet declared as she straightened and showed him the phone. “It has to belong to one of those guys on the security feed.”
Something crossed Carlton’s gaze at that, something unreadable. It was curiously different than simple anger or grief, and Juliet frowned. She’d have to ask him about his thoughts later. For now, she turned her attention to the device. It was on, a simple push of a button told her, and she pressed more buttons through the plastic bag as she studied the display. “There’s only… one number on this phone,” she commented.
Carlton looked over her shoulder as she explored the device’s menu further. “Several incoming and outgoing calls, but they’re all to or from one single number,” he agreed.
“Let’s track it!” Juliet said eagerly. “We might just have found our smoking gun.”
This was it. This was the smoking gun they needed. The one he’d been looking for all this time. Lassiter grinned in grim satisfaction and turned to his partner, waving the small stack of papers in his hand. “Remember the Sawyer case?” he asked. “Where we arrested the landscaper for murdering one of his rich customers?”
“Yes…” O’Hara replied slowly. “Shawn cracked that one for us after he found that the landscaper was angry that the victim had been short-changing him. They got into an altercation that ended in the man’s death.” When Lassiter nodded, she frowned. “Okay, but what does that have to do with Shawn’s murder?”
Lassiter smiled grimly. “I just got the report back on that prepaid phone. It might have been an anonymous number, but the genius who bought it used a credit card.”
At that, O’Hara’s eyes lit up with hope. “That means we can track down who bought it! Meaning we can track down who hired this guy!”
“Already have that,” Lassiter replied. “And that’s where Sawyer comes in. Apparently, the phone was purchased by none other than Antonio Sawyer. As in, the uncle to Karl Sawyer, our murderous landscaper.” He watched as the news registered with his partner.
“That can’t be a coincidence!” she exclaimed. “Shawn’s testimony is a huge part of that case. It’s going to trial in a week!”
“Uncle Antonio must have decided to take matters into his own hands,” Lassiter said with a nod. “No Spencer means an almost guaranteed release for his nephew. What do you say we go talk to him?”
O’Hara jumped up and grabbed her blazer that was hanging on the back of her chair. “Come on, partner. Let’s go get him.”
They were through the door and tearing out of the parking lot in less than two minutes, Lassiter at the wheel. Both detectives were silent, keeping their thoughts to themselves, and that was how Lassiter preferred it. Less talking, less chance to slip up and say something that would sink the whole plan. At this point, he decided, he would still refrain from telling O’Hara. He didn’t want to chance anything shaking her determination to catch up with their perp. If she knew, he had no idea how she would respond, and time was of the essence at the moment. He could catch her up later.
The address they had on file for Sawyer was a small white house in a beachside neighborhood. At past seven in the evening, most people were already home from their respective jobs, and Sawyer was no different. There was a shiny red sports car parked under the carport, and the lights were on inside. Lassiter had turned off his siren when they had gotten near the house, not wanting to alert Sawyer to their presence until it was too late to run.
Sure enough, when the man answered Lassiter’s knock on the front door, his eyes grew wide and he tried to slam it shut in their faces. The head detective stopped it with a quickly outstretched hand and pushed it open, at which point Sawyer turned and tried to rush for his back door.
O’Hara responded even more quickly than her partner. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot!” she exclaimed, pulling her sidearm and raising it in one motion. “Put your hands up and turn around.”
That was enough to convince Sawyer, and he froze with his hands in the air. But as he turned, a smirk played at the corners of his mouth. “You must be here about Shawn Spencer. You’re too late, you know,” he taunted.
O’Hara didn’t reply, but Lassiter glanced at her to see the muscles in her cheek twitch as she set her jaw and tightened her grip on her gun ever so slightly.
“It really doesn’t matter if you arrest me or not right now. That psychic is dead either way.”
“Right,” O’Hara bit out. “Because you had him killed yesterday.”
At that, Sawyer shook his head slightly. “Well,” he shrugged, “that one didn’t go quite as planned, but I already found out about the old man’s house. Someone else is already on the way.” He chuckled. “He’ll get what’s his soon enough.”
Lassiter’s eyes narrowed at the man’s words. “You’d better hope Spencer can hold his own again,” he growled. As soon as the words left his mouth, he wished he could rephrase them, but there was no taking them back. He glanced over at his partner, whose eyes were slowly widening as she processed what he’d said.
“Lassiter,” O’Hara’s eyes were flashing as she turned to him, “what is going on?”