It was going to be the perfect night.
Lassiter just knew it.
It wasn’t because the love of his life was currently walking beside him up to the front entrance of the restaurant, although that was a large part of it.
Most of it.
Almost all of it, actually.
It wasn’t even because this restaurant had the best steak in all of Santa Barbara, although that was also a part of it—albeit a significantly smaller part than the former reason.
No, the thing that really capped off just how perfect of a night lay before him was the fact that a certain consulting “psychic” “detective”—and yes, Lassiter decided, both of those words deserved their own sets of quotation marks—would not enter the picture at all. Lassiter had heard the manchild and Guster, Spencer’s partner-in-crime, discussing a marathon of some old show—was it Macgyver?—that was apparently on tonight. With any luck, that meant the two would be hunkered down with snacks and their television. And since there were no open cases at the moment, Lassiter could only hope that the scumbags of Santa Barbara kept to themselves all night and didn’t kill anyone, leaving Lassiter to enjoy his completely “psychic”-free evening alone with Marlowe.
“Do you have a reservation, sir?” the hostess asked, politely smiling as she awaited an answer.
“Two for Carlton Lassiter.”
The young girl nodded as she located the information on her tablet. “Yes, here we are. Right this way, sir.” She grabbed two menus from her stand and beckoned the Lassiters to follow her to the left.
Lassiter let Marlowe go first, then followed her as they strolled between tables full of other couples.
He smiled to himself. Yes, tonight was going to be perfect.
Just completely, absolutely, and one hundred percent…
So why did the sight of a very, very familiar blonde head now have his stomach dropping like a rock?
Because if she was here, then...
“Here you are, sir,” the hostess said, stopping by a table that was mere feet from the booth where whoever owned that blonde head of hair was sitting. “Your server will be right over to take your drink orders.”
Lassiter had already put his hand on the back of his chair—the one facing the entrance, of course—but he momentarily paused as he studied the other booth.
“What is it, honey?” Marlowe asked, catching sight of the look on Lassiter’s face.
Before Lassiter could respond, the blonde head swiveled, having caught the end of Marlowe’s question. Sure enough, she was exactly the person he had thought she was.
And if O’Hara was here—in a booth, with another place set across from her—that meant…
...Spencer wasn’t far away.
“Sweet Lady Justice.”
“Shawn!” Marlowe did not seem as upset to see the other man as Lassiter was. Then again, she had taken an unexplainable liking to the guy.
“What are you doing here?” Lassiter grumbled, fixing a glare at Spencer even as he tried to dial it back a little for the sake of his partner. He would not put it past Spencer to have figured out where the Lassiters were having dinner and come specifically for that reason. Except… “This isn’t exactly the kind of establishment I’d imagine you frequenting,” he added.
Spencer laughed, apparently unfazed by the detective’s tone of voice. “While it is true that I’m not as knowledgeable about cuts of steak as, say, my dad, the fair Juliet has a soft spot for the steak here, and so we do come sometimes.”
“Usually when I drag him, but yes,” O’Hara added with a chuckle. “I can even convince him to put on dress pants sometimes too.”
And now Marlowe laughed along with the other woman.
Lassiter was not impressed.
Just as he was about to suggest they ask the hostess to find them another table—preferably one far, far away from their current location—O’Hara stood and grabbed her purse. “Excuse me; I’m going to run to the ladies’ room.”
“Oh, I’ll come with you!” Marlowe offered, picking up her own bag from where she had just placed it on the chair.
Spencer made a face as both women made their way down the aisle toward the restrooms at the back of the dining room. “Why do girls always have to go to the bathroom in packs?” he asked, his nose wrinkling.
Shrugging, Lassiter abandoned his attempt to flag down the hostess and dropped into his seat with a sigh. “That I do not know, Spencer. One of the many mysteries of women.”
“Oh.” Spencer stepped over a few feet to pull out the chair that Marlowe had just cleared of her purse a few moments before. He slid into it and lounged back, grinning at Lassiter across the table. “So, you come here often, Lassie?”
Lassiter held back the less-than-civil reprimand that he was about to give the younger man for occupying Marlowe’s seat as the waitress came up next to him.
The young woman smiled from Lassiter to Spencer and then back again. “Well hello, gentlemen,” she greeted. “My name’s Kim, and I’ll be your server. Are we celebrating anything special tonight?”
“No,” Lassiter snapped, the word coming out a bit harsher than he’d intended, although he made no effort to take it back. “This is just a… coworker who happened to be at the other table. He came over to say hi—”
For his part, the uninvited guest had the nerve to grin widely at the waitress. “That’s true,” he confirmed, tilting his head in Lassiter’s direction. “Although if he’s buying—”
“Shut up, Spencer,” Lassiter growled, aiming a kick at whichever one of the other man’s legs were closest underneath the long, white tablecloth.
“Ow!” Spencer yelped indignantly.
“But he’s going now,” he finished his previous thought, leveling a look across the table.
The waitress took a hesitant step back. “You know… I could just come back?” she offered.
“That would be better, thank you,” Lassiter told her. “Our dates should be back any moment.”
“Great,” the woman replied. To her credit, she was still smiling politely. “I will give you a few minutes then!” And then she turned and trotted back toward the kitchen as quickly as she could.
“Dude!” Spencer hissed across the table as soon as the waitress had turned her back. “Lassie!” He tapped the tabletop several times in quick succession.
Sighing heavily, Lassiter raised an eyebrow. “I’m going to regret asking you this, but what?”
Spencer gave him a look that Lassiter was not quite sure how to take. It was something of a mix of concern and suspicion, which were not two emotions the detective was used to seeing from the psychic. “I’m sensing that woman is in serious trouble, Lassie,” Spencer said in a low voice.
That caught Lassiter’s attention. For as much as he did not believe the psychic charade, he had long-since learned that Spencer’s gut instincts were often right. And Spencer did look quite serious at the moment, which was enough for Lassiter to at least wonder if the other man was on to something. “What kind of trouble?” he asked, leaning in toward the center of the table.
“The kind where she has a punchy boyfriend,” Spencer said, the dead-certain ring to his voice much different than his usual annoyingly-jovial nature. “And I’m… yep, I’m pretty sure they just broke up,” he added, putting a hand to his head. “Which is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, but he seems to be the jealous type who won’t let her go easily. We should do something.”
Crossing his arms, Lassiter leaned back in his seat now. “And just how do you happen to know all of that?” he asked. If what Spencer was saying was true—and, surprisingly, Lassiter had to admit that he was inclined to believe it—then what did Spencer expect him to do about it? “Spencer, I can’t do anything about potential crimes that you somehow psychically sense might happen.”
Spencer made a face at that, but Lassiter’s attention was drawn to a figure walking through the door just then.
The man seemed ordinary enough, clad in jeans and a brown leather jacket over a plaid shirt, but there was an oddity to his gait that caught the detective’s attention. Plus his hand was in his jacket pocket, and there was a bulge that looked a little too big to be his hand...
Ignoring the hostess, the man scanned the interior of the restaurant, and Lassiter’s gut clenched when the man’s eyes fell on the young waitress—Kim, she had said her name was—and his gaze hardened.
Why did Spencer always have to be so uncannily right about these things?
“What is it, Lassie?” Spencer had noticed the look on Lassiter’s face, and with as adept as the younger man was at reading people, he seemed to know something was wrong.
“Don’t look now, Spencer, but—Spencer, I said don’t look!”
“Well, gee, Lassie, calm down a second.” Spencer rolled his eyes. “I am a master of stealth. The master, if you want to get technical.”
Now it was Lassiter’s turn to roll his eyes. “You couldn't be further from mastering stealth if you tried.”
“I’ve heard it both ways,” Spencer said with a dismissive wave of his hand.
“That doesn’t even apply here!” Lassiter hissed. Trust Spencer to start spouting off his trademark random nonsense when there was a gunman in the restaurant.
Well, this was shaping up to be the most inconvenient coincidence ever.
It had only been a few beats from when whoever this man was had walked into the restaurant and now, and Lassiter narrowed his eyes as the guy started toward Kim. If Lassiter was going to act, he needed to do it now, before anyone got hurt.
And, hopefully, before Marlowe and O’Hara returned.
Lassiter did not want his wife caught up in the middle of this situation. As nice as it would be to have his partner with him right now, he’d much rather Marlowe stay far away from any potential gunplay, and if that meant Lassiter had to face down this threat alone, then so be it. Besides, it was just one nervous twenty-something anyway. Lassiter was the head detective of the SBPD for crying out loud. He’d be fine on his own.
The young man had now started walking across the restaurant, toward where the waitress was still talking to a table of nicely-dressed older women. She hadn’t turned around yet, so it was safe to assume she had not noticed anything awry.
“Sir?” The hostess had stepped out from behind her stand as she tried to catch the attention of the gunman. Obviously, she didn’t have the training nor the eye to see that something was very wrong. Based on her tone, she seemed just to be doing her job in keeping the patrons of the restaurant in order rather than trying to head off an angry ex.
Across the table from Lassiter, Spencer shifted in his seat. Lassiter could practically see the hair on the back of the psychic’s neck standing on end, as his own was doing, and the detective knew that the younger man was about to intervene in this unfolding situation.
Whether that would be a good thing was yet to be seen, but knowing Spencer, he would end up causing the entire situation to blow up to a ridiculous extreme, and that was something that Lassiter did not need either.
He might as well try to beat Spencer to the punch. It was probably the best chance Lassiter would have of heading off a disaster.
The thought of calling in backup flashed briefly through his mind, but he dismissed it as soon as it occurred to him. For one, O’Hara was just across the restaurant. For two, this was one stupid college kid with a handgun. Lassiter could handle the situation in his sleep.
Before Spencer could move from his chair, Lassiter was up and crossing the room, his long legs striding in a well-practiced fast walk. The punk didn’t even glance in the detective’s direction at first, and Lassiter thought he might be able to nab the kid and disarm him before even being noticed.
Of course, nothing was ever that easy.
When Lassiter was a few short steps away from reaching him, the kid happened to glance up, and his eyes landed on the detective. His brow furrowed slightly for just a moment as he looked Lassiter up and down, then the punk’s eyes widened, and his arm started a backward motion.
In the blink of an eye, the kid pulled his hand out of his pocket, bringing a black, semi-automatic pistol out with it. His hand wavered only slightly as he aimed for Kim’s back, still turned to him across the restaurant.
“Hey!” Lassiter yelled, seeing the look on the kid’s face. The punk’s finger was already resting on the trigger itself, and Lassiter knew it would only take a twitch for the gun to go off. There were too many civilians around. This would be very bad if he could not head it off immediately.
“Everybody down!” the kid yelled. “This is a robbery!”
Well, that was certainly not what Lassiter expected to hear.
There was a brief moment of silence. Then patrons started screaming around the restaurant. Lassiter could hear the sounds of chairs scooting back and falling over as their occupants dove for any sort of shelter that could be found. If he looked back, Lassiter knew he’d see most of the crowd cowering underneath their tables. Which really was not that great of a decision, because if bullets started flying, the tablecloths wouldn’t do much to shield anyone. It would be much smarter for everyone to run for the back door, but crowd-think could be a dangerous influence. They could at least flip their tables over and use the wooden tops as a shield behind which to hide, but he didn’t hear any sounds that would indicate that was happening.
He didn’t have time to worry about that at the moment. Right now, he was more focused on facing down this idiot and trying to get a handle on this situation before it got any worse.
Lassiter took a deep breath, even as he held his hands up in front of him. He kept them low, his right hand ready to grab his own weapon the moment he saw the chance. “Why don’t we all just calm down?” he asked slowly, studying the kid’s expression.
“No!” came the response as the gunman turned his gaze to Lassiter. “Get down, man! Right now!” He waved his gun around at the dining room. “Everyone take off your watches and jewelry! And throw out your wallets! I want it all!”
The initial chaos had died down by this point, and now it resumed anew as there was a frantic scramble to obey.
“Come on,” Lassiter said slowly. He was relying on all of his negotiation training to stay calm. Part of him wanted to grab his gun—a well-placed shot would definitely end this thing—but he knew that he couldn’t do that with all of the civilian targets behind him. He’d have to do this the hard way. “How are you going to manage this job all by yourself?” he asked. “You can’t keep your gun on everyone and collect their valuables at the same time.”
The punk’s lip curled. “Nobody asked you, old man!” he snarled. “And I said to get down right now! Do you want me to shoot you?”
Lassiter didn’t even have a chance to consider being upset at the kid calling him old before there were footsteps and the sound of someone clearing their throat from behind Lassiter.
The very familiar sound of a very familiar someone clearing his throat.
“Spencer,” he grit out.
“Um, Lassie, I might have been wrong a few minutes ago,” Spencer stage-whispered to the detective.
Lassiter groaned. “You don’t say.” He still didn’t remove his gaze from the punk with the gun as he directed his comment to the man who was now right at his elbow.
“Stay where you are!” the kid yelled. His eyes were wide now as he turned the gun to aim just past Lassiter.
“Besides, dude,” Spencer continued, although Lassiter could tell by the sound of his voice that the other man had quit moving any closer, “he’s not even an old man compared to you. Okay, wait, how old are you? He maybe enough to be your father…”
The kid blinked. “What?”
“And since I’m old enough to be… your… older brother… I’m telling you that you need to calm down a second,” Spencer continued.
“Wait, but that would make me your kid, too, Lassie… Oh geez…”
Before Lassiter could respond to that, the kid waved his gun again. “I’m serious!”
“Oh. Right,” Spencer mumbled. Then, “She’s grabbing everybody’s stuff,” Spencer lowered his voice back to a whisper.
Tempted to look back for himself, Lassiter pushed that desire aside for the moment and took advantage of the punk’s distraction to move his hand a little closer to his own weapon before the punk’s gaze flickered back to Lassiter, and he stopped moving. “What? Who?”
“Kim.” Spencer was still whispering. “Apparently they’re in on it together. I think I misread her vibe and she was just nervous about the holdup.”
Lassiter was glad of one thing in that moment, and that was that he had not admitted out loud his thought about Spencer being uncannily right. He’d never live it down if he had.
Now the punk really looked antsy. He glanced from Lassiter to something farther back than where Spencer apparently was, then back to Lassiter. “How many times do I have to tell you both to get down? I really don’t wanna have to shoot you, man, but I will!”
“No, you won’t.”
“Spencer!” Lassiter snapped.
There was still the sound of movement behind Lassiter, punctuated by the whimpers of patrons surrendering their valuables under coercion, but nothing beyond that.
Lassiter suddenly wondered where Marlowe and O’Hara were. There was no way they hadn’t heard the chaos in the dining room; hopefully, O’Hara had called for backup and Marlowe was still waiting in the ladies’ room. Lassiter would just have to keep these guys busy while he waited for it to arrive.
Just then, there were more footsteps behind Lassiter, and then the waitress came around him. She strolled over to stand beside the punk and smiled smugly at Lassiter. There was a large paper bag with the restaurant’s logo on the side clenched in her hands. “I got it, Ryan,” Kim said. She looked Lassiter up and down. “These guys give you any more trouble?”
Ryan, as the punk’s name apparently was, made a face. “Not exactly, but they won’t follow instructions either.”
“I prefer to say I take creative license with any instructions given,” Spencer offered innocently, although Lassiter was sure that if he turned to take in the other man’s expression, Spencer would be smirking.
Now Ryan lifted his gun and pointed it right in Spencer’s face. The barrel was mere inches from his nose, and Lassiter stilled at the sight. He could have disarmed the man had the gun been pointed at him instead, but with it in Spencer’s face the way it was now, he couldn’t risk trying. Ryan seemed twitchy enough to pull the trigger at any movement from Lassiter.
“Now. Go. Sit. Down,” Ryan snapped at Lassiter, accentuating his words with the briefest of pauses between each.
Lassiter’s brief moment of hesitation was enough to prompt the punk to step forward and press the barrel against Spencer’s forehead.
“Or do I have to shoot your friend?”
Lassiter swallowed. Although he was often tempted to shoot Spencer himself many days, O’Hara would definitely be upset if Lassiter did anything to get the man injured or killed. He sighed and moved back a step. “Okay, okay,” he said calmly, keeping his hands up and in clear sight of Ryan.
The punk smirked. “Good, detective. Now get on the floor.” He still hadn’t removed the gun from Spencer’s head, giving Lassiter no choice but to comply.
Once Lassiter had put several paces between himself and the criminals, Ryan shoved Spencer with the end of the gun barrel, sending the psychic stumbling back a step. “Go join your friend,” he ordered.
Spencer looked between Kim and Ryan, clearly not ready to obey what he’d been told. “Okay but hang on a second,” he said, holding a hand up to his head. “I’m sensing something…”
“What are you? Psychic?” Ryan snorted.
“Actually,” Spencer grinned widely, “yes.”
From where he stood behind Spencer, Lassiter could see Kim’s face harden at the acknowledgment.
“I knew it!” she yelled angrily. She rounded on Ryan with fire in her eyes. “I recognized them the minute they ended up at my table. I told you not to come in, but what did you do?”
Ryan kept his gun aimed toward the diners, but he glared back at Kim beside him. “You did no such thing! And how was I supposed to know? Read your mind?”
“I sent you a text!” Kim was practically screeching now. “What was I going to do? Run outside and tell you to your face? I was supposed to be working!”
Behind him, Lassiter could hear the sounds of shuffling as the patrons processed the scene in front of them. No one was quite sure how to react, and the detective was sure they were all uncertain about their safety now that the two robbers were in a pitched argument.
“Can I say something?” Spencer asked.
“No!” they both yelled in unison.
There was a momentary pause, then Spencer cleared his throat. “Okay, so I’m sensing some hostility here—”
“You don’t say!” Kim yanked a gun out of her apron and pointed it directly at him. “Okay, Mr. Psychic. Sense this!”
Lassiter’s brow furrowed as Spencer’s posture didn’t change in the slightest. If he didn’t know any better, he would have thought the man was psychic with the lack of surprise displayed at the woman’s actions.
“You know what I am sensing? I’m sensing you haven’t really used that before.” Lassiter could practically hear the stupid smile that was no doubt dancing on Spencer’s face.
“What…” Kim sputtered.
Before she could say anything further, the sound of sirens echoed around them, and blue and red lights flashed through the dining room windows.
Lassiter didn’t take his eyes off of the scene in front of him, and he frowned slightly as he noticed Spencer’s hand twitch. If he didn’t know any better, he’d say the man was… yep, Spencer was signaling him. But for what?
A split second later, Spencer yelled, “Now, Lassie!” and threw himself at Kim.
“For the love of—” Lassiter drew his sidearm and pointed it directly at Ryan. “Drop it!” he ordered.
The other man hesitated for just a moment, but then Spencer stepped back with Kim’s weapon now pointed at the woman. When Ryan saw that, he sighed heavily and nodded.
“Okay, okay, okay. Don’t shoot me!” he pleaded, slowly bending down to set his gun on the floor. “I’m putting it down!”
Kim looked much less compliant than her partner, her hands up as she glowered at Spencer. “This was supposed to be a quick job to set us up for life, and you ruined everything.”
Shrugging, Spencer flicked a lever on the pistol in his hand and shrugged. “Not my fault you can’t tell your safety’s on.”
Eyes growing wide, Kim started to say something in retort, but then the doors to the restaurant flew open, and several uniformed officers rushed inside. Lassiter nodded to them and holstered his weapon. As he started forward to give them a full report for the case notes, he happened to glance back at the doorway to the restrooms.
O’Hara and Marlowe were just coming through the doorway. Lassiter noted in satisfaction that his wife looked relatively calm, in contrast to the panicked-looking trio of women trailing behind her with eyes wide. And of course, his partner looked as composed as always.
Except she looked a bit…
...upset at something.
“Oh hey, Jules!” Spencer greeted cheerily from where he had just handed Kim’s gun over to one of the cops. “Did you see that?”
“Yes, actually!” O’Hara exclaimed, no less unhappily than her words a moment before. “Shawn, do you know how stupid that was?”
“Um…” He blinked. “I thought it was rather dashing and heroic.”
“Shawn, you could have gotten killed! Don’t ever do that again!” She looked as if she were about to slap him as she quickly closed the gap between them, then she suddenly threw her arms around him in a hug. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Spencer raised an eyebrow at Lassiter over the top of his girlfriend’s head. ‘Women,’ he mouthed.
Shaking his head, Lassiter ignored the other man and opened his arms to hug Marlowe as she came up beside him.
Now he could finally sit down and enjoy that steak.
He just needed to find a new server first.