Carlton has thirty-seven ties in his closet, but none of them are black. He regards a dark blue one speculatively for a moment, then pulls back to adjust his suit jacket – black, the only one he has in that color, and recently dry-cleaned, thank god – and gives himself a quick once-over in the mirror. Why he’s so worried about how he looks, Carlton has no idea.
It’s not like he hasn’t suspected that this could happen. Well, not this, not exactly, circumstances being what they are, but given the nature of Shawn Spencer’s work and the content of his personality (reckless, overconfident, perpetually annoying)…well, he knows there are only so many times you can beat the odds before they catch up to you.
Not that anyone would believe him, but this isn’t something he’s ever actually wanted to happen.
Carlton glares at the inside of his closet. How is it that every single tie he owns is either brightly colored or luridly patterned? Some even manage to be both. Every single one of them is completely inappropriate, and unfortunately, Carlton can’t exactly show up to this thing without a tie. One that really should be black.
It’s his favorite color and everything, which just makes this glaring omission in his wardrobe all the more unbelievable. He probably has just enough time to stop at the Men’s Warehouse on State Street on the way over to the service – Carlton looks at his watch: it’s 1:36 – but he’ll have to leave now.
He drags himself out of the bedroom, each step stiff and forced, his legs apparently staging a silent protest against his leaving. He already doesn’t trust himself to get through this day without incident, and now to make matters worse, apparently he can’t even walk like a normal human being. At least he has his gun, resting comfortably underneath his jacket, and it’s the only thing that makes him feel any modicum of security at all. He can only hope its soothing powers are enough to keep him sane throughout today’s utterly insane proceedings, which he is, for some reason, practically required to endure.
Carlton can’t help slamming his fist into the wall once, just to get out a little aggression. He’s fairly certain there’s no one around to hear it.
The keys aren’t on the hook, so he spends a minute looking around before spotting them on the floor, hanging off the edge of the welcome mat. Carlton knows he didn’t leave them there, but he’s got bigger things to worry about. He just can’t be bothered to think about this right now, so he just reaches down to scoop them up and slams out the door.
The crux of his problem, really, is that he has no idea how to take everything he’s feeling right now – and everything he should be feeling, but can’t, because he knows – and channel it into any kind of acceptable behavior. How are you supposed to act when you once used some hypothetical, therapeutic vision of this day as a way to relieve stress; when you’re supposed to be a professional but everyone knows your relationship was tense and largely unpleasant; when you – no, he can’t even go there. Oh, hell. When you’re the one who found the body?
Carlton slides behind the wheel of his personal car, slipping his sunglasses on when he starts it up. If he thought he could get away with it, he’d keep them on for the rest of the day. After all, he has a reputation to uphold, doesn’t want everyone to take one look at his eyes and be able to know how much he isn’t handling this, and he isn’t sure he can keep it from showing.
His mind wanders as he drives, and before he knows it he’s downtown, driving past the restaurants and shopping plazas. He parks in the garage off Chapala, which is sort of a hike to Men’s Warehouse if you’re running late, and makes a last-minute decision to duck into Express – mostly because it’s closer, even if it is more expensive. Too expensive for this.
Some floor rep is on top of him practically as soon as he’s through the door, a perky blonde who tells him she can help him with anything he needs today. She flashes a bleached-white smile at him, and Carlton isn’t making much of an effort to keep the sneer off of his face as he stalks past her, but she keeps right on talking anyway. “Are you looking for anything in particular today, sir?”
Carlton pauses mid-stalk. Best just to get this over with and get out of here as soon as possible. Even if it means…interacting with people.
He turns slowly in her direction, putting together what he hopes is a composed look on his face. “Yes,” he says, voice steady, and he mentally congratulates himself. “I need a tie. A black tie.”
The store is full of an annoying sort of hip, under-forty, styled-hair, looking-for-anything-but-a-black-tie clientele, and Carlton just wants to get out of here.
“Ooh, wonderful,” the girl says, probably because she’s supposed to be excited by whatever he wants to buy from her, even if it’s socks or something creepy, like ladies’ underwear. She actually has the gall to clamp a hand onto his elbow, zig-zagging them through the racks and displays as she leads him to the right part of the store. Like she knows he’s never been here before. “Do you have some kind of fancy event coming up? Like one of those ‘black-tie only’ things? I’ve never been lucky enough to be invited to one of those. I mean, if you are, I’m sure I could get you fitted for a new jacket while you’re here, too.”
Carlton looks down at his own jacket with a frown before he remembers himself, scowls, and snaps, “It’s not for that sort of thing, no.” He shakes his arm with perhaps a bit more force than necessary, and her fingers slip away from his sleeve.
Her smile flickers for a moment, but she reins it in and presses on in a cheery tone anyway. “Can I ask what the occasion is?”
Carlton’s eyes narrow. “No.” Frankly, he thinks the occasion is a farce.
The sales girl’s smile thins but doesn’t fade. With a job like this, she probably has a lot of practice smiling in the face of tested patience, Carlton figures. It’s a good thing he became a cop and never had to work in customer service; he’d probably have shot someone by now. “We have standard silk ties that come in solid black,” she tells him, hands skimming over a rainbow of ties fanned out on one of the display tables. “There’s also a skinny version, or black-on-black stripes, if that’s more your style. We might have some pindots in the back, too, if you want me to check, but it looks like this is all we have on the floor.”
She hands him one of the ties to inspect, the one with the stripes. It’s smooth to the touch and feels expensive, far too good for what he’s buying it for.
“This one is…fine,” Carlton says, unable to muster up much enthusiasm, though he does like stripes. “I’ll take it.”
The girl – Allie, he sees, when he finally bothers to look at her name tag – rings him up at the register herself, pleasant enough about it that it’s starting to grate on his nerves. She pauses before handing back his credit card – $42.99 after tax; he feels he’ll be owed at least that much later and plans on saving the receipt – and gives him a measuring look. “No bag, right? If you want, I can cut the tag off for you.”
Carlton sighs and rubs at the back of his head. “How do you know I’m not buying it for some other time?”
“Nobody buttons up to their neck if they’re not planning on wearing a tie,” she says, her smile a little apologetic for some reason. Maybe she feels guilty that store policy obligates her to demonstrate vulture-like salesmanship? If not, she should. She passes him the tie and his receipt as he hands back the signed version and a pen.
Except he’s pretty sure she’s just trying to be nice. What is wrong with him? Pull it together, Carlton, he mentally berates himself, or Henry, Guster, and O’Hara are going to eat you alive.
“Look,” Carlton says, winding the tie around his neck and properly aligning the ends, “I’m sorry I was so short with you before.” He carefully looks down his nose as he loops one end around the other to make a knot. “It’s a funeral.”
He can practically feel the – probably false – sympathetic vibes she’s sending his way, and it’s enough to make his stomach start doing those damn nauseous flips again. Why is he admitting this to, of all people, the sales clerk of an (obnoxious) clothing store? Her hand flies up to cover her mouth as her eyes widen. “Oh! I’m so sorry. Were you close?”
Carlton snorts and shakes his head. “It’s…complicated.”
For a lot of reasons, really. For example, he’s not sure if ‘were’ or ‘close’ was the most wrong word in that sentence.
“Oh, well. I’m sorry, anyway.” She looks like she might be moving in to pat the back of his hand, so he slides it off the counter as casually as he can manage.
“Yeah. Me too.” He forces a thin-lipped smile. He probably doesn’t mean it in the way she must think he does, and the smile feels a lot more like a grimace than what he was going for anyway. Hopefully discomfort will be an appropriate emotion for the day, because Carlton is no actor and he definitely can’t pretend to feel much of anything else.
God, this is awkward. He finishes knotting his tie and gives a sort of half-nod that he hopes reads as a good-bye, then turns away a little too quickly to make his escape.
If she tells him to have a nice day as he leaves, he doesn’t hear it. He’s halfway back to the car by the time he realizes he left his receipt on the counter. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway; even if there was any money in that idiot’s bank account, which is doubtful at best, it’d have to be inaccessible by now, wouldn’t it?
Carlton doesn’t understand what he did to deserve this. He snorts. Spencer would probably have a whole list of things for him if he were here.
Of course, the entire point of today is that Spencer is not here.
His phone starts to ring, and Carlton takes one look at the number and slams a fist into the steering wheel, swearing loudly. He catches some movement out of the corner of his eye; the driver of the car stopped beside him at the light has turned toward him and is gaping unabashedly, like he thinks Carlton is out of his mind or something. Well, at least he’s not the one going slack-jawed over a stranger’s temper-tantrum.
He’s late. He’s certain that that’s what the phone call must be about, so he lets it go to voicemail; they’ll leave a message if it’s really that important. And anyway, he’s almost there. It’s a five minute drive from the store, tops.
They don’t leave a message, but he does notice he has a text waiting for him when he parks and snatches up his phone on the way out of the car. Carlton’s finger itches to press “ignore,” but on the off chance that it’s in any way urgent, he opens it.
where r u? henry is trng 2 gv an ‘i tld u so’ spch 2 the urn. nds 2 b stpd
It takes three reads to decipher, and all Carlton can do as he comes up the walk to the building is pound out the reply, Leave. Now.
The response comes almost immediately: dnt wry, no1 wl c me ;)
And then, just as he’s about to slam his phone shut: excpt u
Carlton very nearly throws his phone into – something: a bush, a tree, maybe the wall – before he catches himself. Instead, he snaps it shut and pockets it, forcing himself to take a few deep, calming, moderately helpful breaths before he goes inside.
Sure enough, the first thing he hears is Spencer’s father. Apparently the man actually does own a suit and a pair of closed-toed shoes – who knew? He doesn’t catch everything that’s being said, but as he gets closer, he can make out something about how half the reason he always thought the badge was so damn important was that it also came with a gun.
He’d like to stay out of it, but this is just too ridiculous to listen to for the next half-hour, hour, however long it is Henry intends to keep on going. Well, that, and he doesn’t want his phone to suddenly start being inundated with ridiculous texts and weepy emoticons.
“Henry,” he says, walking up to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the man, “you do realize that you might as well be having this conversation with one of the vents for all the good it’s going to do, right?”
Henry’s not really a beat-around-the-bush kind of guy, so tactless or not, Carlton’s fairly certain it’s a safe enough comment to make.
“I don’t care,” Henry says, and he’s glaring at the urn like it’s about to be grounded for a year. Possibly two. Possibly forever. “He needs to hear this.”
They both know it’s going to do about as much good as it ever did, which is to say no good at all. Maybe Henry just likes having the opportunity to finally get out a lecture without having the flow broken up by some smart-ass remark or another every thirty seconds.
“You know what, wherever he is right now,” Carlton says, making an effort to keep any tightness out of his voice, “I’m sure he can hear you just fine.” He does a quick sweep of the room with his eyes, then adds, “Possibly better if you talk in a more… upward direction.”
“Funny,” Henry says, raising an eyebrow, “I would’ve thought you’d be more likely to suggest I direct my talking down than up.”
“On any other day, I would,” Carlton mutters, crossing his arms. He clears his throat. “Anyway, I want you to know that you, uh, have my sympathies. He was…” Carlton coughs. “Well, no one deserves a premature….funeral.” It’s not exactly a lie.
Henry gives him a curt, if rather distracted, nod. “And I appreciate that, Lassiter, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a few more things I’d like to say to my son.” He starts to turn away.
Carlton pauses, unsure how to approach this. He considers just walking away, but there’s something just downright creepy about hearing a man talk to the pile of ashes that he presumes are his dead son. “Listen, Henry. Are you sure that this is really – ”
The look Henry turns on him is more than uncomfortable. Carlton finds he can’t quite meet his eyes. “You can’t possibly understand how much I cared about my son,” Henry says, and it’s unsettling both because of its intensity and because Carlton doesn’t exactly know what he means by it, but it feels a little bit like an attack.
“I – ”
“You didn’t exactly make it a secret that you didn’t like Shawn,” Henry says, accusing, like they hadn’t once commiserated about Shawn’s ridiculous behavior on their fishing trips. “So just let me do what I need to do, and stay out of it.”
There are dark circles under Henry’s eyes, he can see now, and his stubble is more pronounced than usual. It looks like he’s been neglecting his exfoliating or his bubble baths or whatever frilly hygiene regimen the younger Spencer had felt it necessary to disturb the station – or maybe just Carlton, who knew? – with a vivid account of.
Carlton had tried to explain that this whole thing was a bad idea, but no one ever listens to him, do they?
He throws his hands up in the air and turns his eyes toward the ceiling. “I don’t know why I bother,” he says. At least no one can say he didn’t try.
He’s trying to find a nondescript chair to slump into while he waits for the service to start, preferably one somewhere near a corner, when O’Hara notices him. “Carlton, you came!” she shouts, though her attempt at a cheerful tone falls a little flat.
Whose idea was it to turn death into a social event? He turns toward the sound of her voice and sees that Guster is also there, hovering at her elbow. “Of course I came,” he says, a little offended that she might have thought he wouldn’t. He’s not completely devoid of empathy. “Why wouldn’t I come?”
She frowns, the corners of her mouth wobbling a little. “Well, I mean, you and Shawn never really…uh, that is to say…”
“Right, right, we never got along,” he finishes, forcing himself to use the past tense, crossing his arms over his chest. He notices that her makeup is smudged, just a little, and shifts uncomfortably. Carlton sighs. “How are you holding up?”
“Oh, you know,” she says, making a vague gesture that he thinks is supposed to indicate ‘fine’. She should really know better than to think that will fool him; he is a detective, after all. “And you’re – ?”
She doesn’t ask him the same question, how he’s holding up, because she doesn’t expect him to be having any trouble holding it together at all. Which, while sort of flattering, just goes to show just how much she doesn’t know. “I’m not happy to be here either, O’Hara,” he says, and Guster actually snorts. “What, really?” he says, turning to look at Spencer’s friend. “You people seriously think I don’t care?”
Half the problems he had with Spencer had had something to do with the idiot attempting to recklessly endanger himself, which could have easily landed him in a situation much like this one, which had been something he, Carlton, had only been trying to prevent. It’s not so different from what Henry does, not that Carlton really wants to compare himself to Spencer’s father, but at least he doesn’t see anyone wondering why he bothered to show up.
“Oh, no, Carlton, it’s not that,” O’Hara says, shooting Guster a narrow look. “I just thought this might be a bit…awkward for you, is all. I’m glad you came. And,” she lowers her voice, “I’m sure he would be glad, too.”
Behind her, Guster grumbles something that could just as easily be construed as a threat as it could be agreement. He looks rough, but Carlton supposes that’s better than the alternative of twitchy and nervous.
“We were just looking at some pictures,” O’Hara tells him. Carlton gets the feeling that she’s appointed herself to look after Guster, pick up any conversational slack, that sort of thing. It could be a noble move, but he’s pretty sure it’s just her way of coping. “Do you want to join us?”
Carlton hesitates. “Do you want me to?” Sometimes when they’re at work he feels like they’re friends, sort of, if he were the type of person to have friends, but on the outside – well, he’s not really quite sure where their relationship stands.
Juliet gives him a watery grin. “Sure. Of course. I mean, if it’s all right with you, Gus.”
Guster shrugs and pushes out a noncommittal noise, turning the other way.
O’Hara catches his eye, darting a worried look back at Guster. “He’s – ” She purses her lips, apparently either unsure how or unwilling to describe Guster’s emotional state with him still within earshot.
“I know, O’Hara.” After a hesitant moment, he makes the decision to pat her on the shoulder; it’s a little awkward, but the tension in them seems to ease a little. He’s really going to have to make this up to her when all of this is over. “Look, why don’t you show me those pictures?”
When Carlton finally sits down for the service, he’s not, as he expected to be, next to some random high school acquaintance of Spencer’s in the back row. Which is fine, because he doesn’t really feel like answering somebody’s curious, “So, how did you know Shawn?” And he definitely has no interest in asking the question himself.
O’Hara had reluctantly abandoned Guster to let him sit in the front with his family, and Carlton ends up between her and McNab, in the same row as Vick and a desk sergeant he recognizes mainly by her earrings. He supposes it makes sense that there would be a row reserved for the group of people he might grudgingly, and not without some serious reservations, describe as Spencer’s “colleagues,” but he’s still a little surprised to find himself sitting in it.
This part – the one where he just sits down, shuts up, and listens – he feels a lot more confident about his ability to get through. No one’s looking at him now. Not that they were before, really, but he had still felt that itchy sense of paranoia that someone – there were an awful lot of detectives here, after all – would take one look at him and know.
It does get uncomfortable when people start making speeches, but then, he had expected that. It’s times like these when the fact that he has the California Vehicle Code memorized comes in handy. For example, when Henry’s voice cracks as he discusses the years he spent estranged from his son, Carlton thinks about Chapter 2, Article 4: Highway Spill Containment and Abatement of Hazardous Substances. When Madeleine Spencer brings up the Yang case, he’s so focused on Section 15620 that he barely hears her. And for all that he’s aware, Guster’s speech may as well have been, “The court shall notify the Department of Motor Vehicles of each conviction of Section 23103 that is required under this section to be a prior offense for purposes of Section 23540, 23546, 23550, 23560, 23566, or 23622."
The service ends with a slideshow and music so cheesy he almost doesn’t stop his completely inappropriate eye roll. Shawn Spencer might have made a cute kid, but he’s definitely seen enough pictures of that for one day. Plus, if this is the end of the service, then it’s only a matter of time until it’s back to awkward mingling, this time around a table set up with stale cookies and bad coffee. He’s got to get out of here, at least for a minute. Shifting in his seat, Carlton mutters out some excuse to O’Hara and, he’s not ashamed to admit, flees to the bathroom.
By some miracle, the bathroom is single-occupancy: quiet, empty, and scented faintly of lavender. Carlton quickly locks the door behind him and leans back against it, rubbing his hands over his face. He feels a little bit more collected afterward, but definitely still on-edge. Crossing the room, he leans against the sink and frowns into the mirror when he sees the dark circles that have formed underneath his eyes.
That’s when he hears the noise.
It’s coming from behind him, a sort of scraping sound followed by a dull thud. His hand is already on his holster by the time he whips his head around to get a good look at the culprit, standing behind him with his hands in his pockets and looking as casual as it’s possible to for someone who may have just fallen out of the ceiling.
“You brought your gun? Dude, come on. Was that really necessary?”
“Oh, it’s necessary,” Carlton says. His fingers slide reluctantly away from his weapon, though, and he puts on a scowl instead. Because being accosted in the bathroom of a funeral home is just what he needs right now, clearly.
He steps back and casts a dark look around the room, noting that one of the ceiling tiles has been pushed to the side when he glances up. Huh, well. Looks like he was right about that vent theory after all.
As for the idiot who leapt down from the vent, he doesn’t say anything, just grins at Carlton like this is all part of some great joke. Personally, Carlton doesn’t see what’s so funny about it. Then he notices something else, and narrows his eyes. “Is that my shirt?
Shawn Spencer looks down at the blue plaid button-up like he’s just now noticing it. “In the sense that it’s spent about a year living in your closet? Mmmmm…maybe. In the more real sense of ownership defined in terms of good ol’ cash-for-goods-style capitalism, the likes of which were championed by Reagan? No, this is not actually your shirt.”
Far be it from Shawn Spencer to start saying things that actually make sense one of these days. “I have no idea what you just said, so I’m just going to ignore all of it,” Carlton informs him. “How did you get here? Which part of ‘do not go through my things’ did you fail to understand? I suggest you start explaining yourself before I change my mind and decide to shoot you after all.”
“Okay, first of all, you’re completely missing the point! This is my shirt. My shirt, which I might add that you stole, shot a man in, and very rudely never returned. Now, if you want to talk about the things of yours I am wearing, specifically under my jeans, I’m afraid that I may have had to borrow a pair of your – ”
Carlton hastily jumps in there. “Shut up, Spencer; I don’t want to know.”
“ – socks,” Spencer says. “I borrowed your socks.”
But Carlton is not about to fall for the shock and awe distraction routine today, and when he glares at Shawn, his eyes are not saying I will shoot you if you touched my garters. “Spencer,” he begins dangerously, “there was just one thing – one teensy, tiny, impossible-to-screw-up little thing – that I very specifically told you not to do. And yet, here you are.”
“Here I am,” Spencer says, nodding agreeably.
“Goddammit, Spencer,” Carlton says. “Who the hell attends their own funeral anyway?”
Spencer waves a hand in the air and bounces on the balls of his feet like an overexcited game show contestant. “Oh, I know this one! Tom Sawyer? The Fonz? Those three hot sisters on Charmed?” Spencer scrunches up his nose, then shakes his head and waves a hand dismissively. “No, never mind, I take that last one back. They were witches, which is totally cheating. How about…Tom Sawyer’s buddies, Huck Finn and, uh…that other one? Help me out here, Lassie. It was something with a ‘J’. Jehhhhhhh-hosaphat?”
“Those are all fictional characters, Spencer.”
“Are they? I hadn’t noticed. Anyway, it’s not like I came in and offered to give my own eulogy or anything.” Which is a good thing, since Spencer had seen that very same joke played out on TV the previous night, and Carlton had been worried that it might haven given him ideas.
Carlton pinches the bridge of his nose. He can feel the beginnings of a headache forming behind his eyes. “Yes, but as I told you – not once, not twice, but seven times, Spencer – when you are presumed dead by your would-be murderer, you lay low.”
“Come on, Lassie, you know me better than that. I mean, how long have we known each other? It’s been, what, four years, five if you want to be a little generous – and I do. Fourteen, if you count from that incident in the police station with my father arresting me and you…having a mustache. This is me laying low.”
Carlton doesn’t care; he’s not about to give Spencer credit for resisting the urge to publicly eulogize himself.
“Oh, for the love of – I don’t have time for this,” Carlton snaps. “Just – go crawl back up into the ceiling or something.” Spencer doesn’t move. “No, fine, okay. Don’t listen. Here I am, actually trying to help you not get caught at one of your little schemes, so naturally your response is to ignore me at every turn.”
“But Lassie, I always ignore you. Half of the secret to my success is doing exactly the opposite of what you think I should.”
“What’s the other half? Pineapple smoothies? Shamelessly flirting with everything within a 50-foot radius? I certainly hope it’s not Guster, because if it is, we’re screwed.”
“Lassie, don’t be the talking half of Penn and Teller,” Spencer admonishes. “It’s going to work out just fine.”
Carlton breathes out a long breath and looks away. He hates being complicit in this…whatever this is. “Oh, what do you know?”
Carlton snorts. “Even assuming I bought that, which I don’t, that doesn’t explain how you got in here without being seen. For that matter, how are you planning on sneaking out?” Spencer opens his mouth and Carlton holds out a finger. “Say one word about psychic invisibility and I will shoot you,” he promises.
Spencer wisely shuts his mouth as he no doubt composes a new excuse designed to infuriate him. “Well, I was going to catch a ride with you – ”
“Like hell you are.”
“Laaaaassssssie. You know I know that you like to sing danger music when you drive, right? I won’t judge you. Also, I have this pretty killer harmony worked out that I think you might appreciate.” He pauses as if to consider this, but thankfully doesn’t start singing. “Anyway, the point is, if you can’t stop me from taking a back-seat joyride in a police-issue vehicle, slipping into Tatiana will be easier than you are after a few scotches.”
Carlton blinks. “Spencer – ”
“Huh. That really didn’t sound right, did it?”
It’s gotten to the point where Carlton mostly doesn’t bother trying to keep up with Spencer’s bullshit anymore, so he chooses to focus on the only part of that that doesn’t have anything to do with him and asks, “Who the hell is Tatiana?”
“Oh, she’s a sleek, sexy little vixen,” Spencer tells him, warming to the subject immediately. “Possibly a minx. A minx-like vixen. All shiny black metal on the outside and smooth black leather on the inside. Definitely a take-charge kind of girl.” Spencer switches into a high-pitched feminine voice that’s more outright ridiculous than sultry. “‘In 500 feet, turn left.’ ‘Your destination will be on the right.’”
A vein in Carlton’s neck twitches in protest. “You named my car…Tatiana?”
“Is it really a car? I’d say it’s more of a crossover. Anyway, yes; she’s just so very – ” Spencer waves a hand, “ – Tatiana, don’t you think?”
“No! Martha,” Carlton blurts, the name already out by the time his mouth bothers to consult his brain on the matter, and Spencer raises an eyebrow. Carlton resolutely ignores the flush he feels creeping up his neck and straightens, gathering up his dignity in the firm set of his shoulders. “Never mind, forget I said that. I’m through having my time wasted. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to head back out and…pretend that you are dead.”
He brushes past Spencer too closely on the way out, but he does manage not to look at him, not even when he puts a hand on the doorknob and Spencer’s voice drifts over from behind him, a gleeful, “Try not to have too much fun!” Carlton just turns the handle and gets the hell out of there, breathing a sigh of relief when the door clicks shut behind him.
Hopefully no one has noticed how long he was gone. Not that he plans on staying for much longer anyway; he’s already working on an excuse to get out of here at the earliest possible opportunity. This thing is hell on his nerves. Why aren’t funeral homes built with a gun range attached?
He sighs and forces himself to start moving. If Shawn Spencer ever has a second funeral - and he will - Carlton sure as hell doesn’t want to be around for it.
When he finally makes it home, feeling ready to pour himself a scotch, collapse onto the couch, and watch the COPS marathon he knows is on TruTV, Carlton walks in only to find that the sofa is already occupied.
Spencer looks up at the sound of the door opening, grinning when he sees him. “Lassie, you’re home!” He doesn’t even bother to try and hide the fact that he’s doodling all over Carlton’s Halibut Derby trophy with a permanent marker, just goes right back to coloring in a mustache on the fish that tops it. His feet are propped up on the coffee table and, to make matters worse, he hasn’t even taken off his shoes. Carlton has known five-year-olds with more common sense than this. The man needs constant supervision.
“Spencer,” he says flatly, sparing him a passing glance as he makes his way through to the kitchen. “Why am I not surprised?”
It’s a pretty sad reflection on the state of his life that Shawn Spencer can sit in his house, casually vandalizing his property, and Carlton will just accept it as par for the course. Carlton pulls a glass out of the dishwasher and pours himself a drink. Of course, putting his foot down has only ever seemed to encourage Spencer, so maybe it’s a tactic worth considering, actually.
He turns to face Spencer, leaning back to rest his elbows on the countertop. “I take it you at least changed your mind about breaking into my car, then?”
“Hardly,” Spencer says, grinning another one of those infuriating grins. “I just got bored waiting while you stopped off at the station. I mean, you got rid of my reading material. What was I supposed to do, read the California Vehicle Code instead?”
Well, at least that explained how Howard Zinn had ended up in his glove box.
“Get your feet off of my table,” Carlton says, moving into the living room. Spencer takes his sweet time, but the feet are gone by the time Carlton gets close enough to shove them off.
Carlton takes a seat himself, being careful to leave an empty cushion’s-worth of space between himself and Spencer. He sets his drink on a coaster, then turns to face Spencer. “All I want to do right now,” he informs the man, reaching for the remote – which Spencer also makes a grab for, but too slowly, “is sit on my own couch and relax. And do you know what I would like you to do during that time, Spencer?”
“You want me to leave?” Spencer asks, sitting up a little straighter and starting to push himself up off the couch. “Because I can – ”
“Oh, no, I want you to stay in my sight,” Carlton says, reaching out with one arm to shove Spencer back down onto the couch and flipping the TV on with the other. “I just don’t want you to say anything.”
If anything is going to relax him after today, it’s going to be Spencer’s silence and the sight of bad guys being served sweet, sweet justice. Carlton turns to channel 49 and then looks back at Spencer, who is trying and failing to look innocent. “What did you do?” he asks, and Spencer says nothing, because of course he is going to be difficult and use the last thing Carlton said against him. He drops the remote into Spencer’s lap. “Fix it.”
The TV screen only shows “Channel Blocked” for another moment, and then suddenly he’s looking at two Real Housewives of who-knows-where, evidently in the middle of a cat fight. Carlton snatches the remote back and Spencer makes pouty face at him. “Fine, I’ll fix it myself.”
Except five frustrating minutes later, the only thing he’s managed to do is also block access to channels 47 and 48.
“You know,” Spencer says, breaking what was probably a record-setting silence for him, “it’s a good thing they pay other people to go through camera footage and hard drives and stuff. I mean, come on, this is just sad. You’d never get a case solved even with my help.”
Carlton can’t help but snort at that. “You don’t help. You impede.” He gives up and opens the channel guide.
“Oh really? Is that what you’d call what I’m doing right now?” Spencer asks, his voice taking on a certain tone, and it’s pretty clear what he’s actually talking about. Admittedly he does sort of have a point.
“There are a lot of things I’d call what you’re doing right now,” Carlton says, gritting his teeth. He hasn’t forgotten that he agreed to the whole thing, though, or that whatever he could say about Spencer, he’s equally at fault here. Well, almost equally. Spencer is almost always responsible for the larger share of the blame in just about any situation.
He turns his attention back to the TV; America’s Most Wanted is on. It’ll have to do.
“Lassie, no!” Spencer sounds…alarmed? Before Carlton can even ponder that, Spencer has thrown himself across the sofa in a mad grab for the remote. “I refuse to sit through another true crime marathon! Can’t crime ever take a holiday?”
“I suppose you’d prefer some insipid garbage about orange-skinned alcoholics?” Carlton asks, easily holding the remote out of reach even as Spencer ends up sprawled across his lap in a flailing attempt to get to it.
“Are you talking about Jersey Shore or The Simpsons?” Spencer asks, flopping down in defeat. Carlton glares and pushes Spencer’s head off of his thigh. “Not that it matters,” he goes on. “I’d take either over this.”
“My house, my rules,” Carlton says. “Now get off.”
Spencer does so, though with no small amount of complaining and probably a lot more fidgeting than is strictly necessary. When he’s finally settled, closer to him than Carlton would like, he crosses his arms and slips into a truly pathetic sulk. “You’re watching Lifetime, you know.”
Carlton rolls his eyes. “This isn’t exactly The Golden Girls, Spencer. I don’t care.”
“The Golden Girls would be better,” Spencer mutters, fingers twitching as he continues to eye the remote. “Who can resist Rose?”
Carlton reaches for his scotch, takes a sip, and pointedly says nothing. Apparently Spencer can’t think of anything to add, either, because although he keeps throwing Carlton dirty looks, they lapse into a welcome silence.
Well, at least the silence is welcome until John Walsh starts to introduce the next dirtbag fugitive of the episode, and too late Carlton realizes just what Spencer was trying to do.
“We’ve seen a lot of scumbags in our day, but this next guy takes the cake,” Walsh is saying, and it is an absolutely true statement, but Carlton is finding it hard to hear what follows over the sudden roaring in his ears.
Spencer touches his arm. “Lassie…”
He jerks impulsively at the contact and Spencer’s hand falls away. The remote is still in his hand and he quickly switches off the television before they can get to the dramatization of their guy’s latest murder. He doesn’t need to see that to know that Russell Rogers is a slimebucket of the worst kind.
“Lassie,” Spencer tries again, quietly. He looks uncharacteristically serious. “Buddy. You’ve got to stop worrying so much.”
Carlton looks at Spencer, though he’s not sure what he’s trying to find; maybe a tell that Spencer isn’t as sure about everything as he likes to pretend he his. It’s not like he wants to keep thinking about this, imagining scenario after scenario of just how wrong this whole thing could go. The lengths they’ve already gone to are so extreme – he doesn’t like thinking about it, what could happen if they fail.
Carlton stands up, allows himself to loom over Spencer’s seated form. “This had better be worth it, Spencer,” he says, lowering his voice to convey just how serious he is. He hopes Spencer understands that this isn’t a game.
He looks down at Spencer long and hard, considering everything: the stubbly, grinning face; the artfully mussed hair; the unexplained pineapple in Carlton’s fridge. The whole damn psychic routine. These are not the hallmarks of a serious man. There is nothing even remotely trustworthy about him. But now Carlton has to trust him, doesn’t even get the option not to.
“It will be,” Spencer says.
His eyes don’t say that he’s lying, but for all Carlton knows, Spencer could be able to beat a polygraph.
Besides, much as he’d like to forget about it, there are about a million different ways for this operation to go bad. And even if it doesn’t, well, they’ve got a month at the outside to take Rogers out before the game’s automatically up. It should seem like plenty of time, but it’s nothing with Rogers, and anyway Carlton hates it when there’s a clock ticking on one of his investigations.
“It had better,” he repeats, and leaves.