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The Walrus and the Guy Who Carpents

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-- 1987 --

Shawn bounced on the balls of his feet. The ham fisted ten year old directly behind him bumped against Shawn for what had to be the eighty bazillionth time. Shawn stuck out his arms chicken-dance style creating an elbow buffer zone between him and the kids at his side. He wasn’t going to back down. Not when he was this close.

Shawn could see them through the locked automatic doors. A perfect pyramid of bright red boxes. The Robotron Mega Bot 3000—the most advanced action figure ever created. It had a real launching missile hand, it spoke five different phrases and its eyes shot laser beams. Real laser beams. In the commercial they’d cut right through a wall. It was the it toy of the summer and Shawn was going to get it first.

The clerk was by the doors now. Shawn watched as he pulled a keychain from his apron. Everything moved in slow motion. The hand choosing the right key. The key sliding into its slot. The hand turning the key… and then… open doors!

Shawn ran as fast as he could. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a tall kid go down. It was his own fault for not noticing his shoelaces had been untied. In front of him a red headed boy Shawn knew from school got tangled up in a short bucktoothed kid. Shawn dodged around the pileup, barely managing to stay on his feet. He was close. He reached out of one of the boxes but it was snatched away. Another one. Shawn lunged, his fingertips brushed against the box but a curly headed girl already had it in her arms. Not fair. Mega Bot was supposed to be for boys.

Shawn started to panic. He wasn’t going to get one! They were almost gone! But then, there at the very bottom of the pile… Shawn dove head first, arms stretching out ahead of him. Contact.

“I got it!” Shawn called to Henry, “I got it!”

“Good,” Henry answered. “Let’s buy it and get out of here before I have to put down a riot. I’ve never seen this kind of craziness in my life.”

Shawn was ecstatic. He’d gotten one. He’d beaten all the other kids who’d gotten up to wait outside the Toy Mart at 4am and he’d gotten one. The feeling lasted all the way though the checkout line and almost all the way out of the store until Shawn saw…it.

It was in the clearance bin just by the entrance, staring out at Shawn through a flimsy cellophane window in its garish pink box. Stockbroker Ken. Shawn took in a deep breath.

“Dad!” he exclaimed.

Henry groaned, “What Shawn?”

Shawn pointed at the Ken doll, “Look.”

Henry looked, but strangely enough didn’t seem to be impressed. Shawn didn’t get it, how could Henry be so calm when they were looking at the greatest thing ever made? Stockbroker Ken was perfect. He had a square jaw, coiffed black hair and an impeccable black suit complete with little paisley tie. His bright blue eyes probably didn’t shoot laser beams, but Shawn didn’t care. They were… well, Shawn wasn’t sure what they were, but he needed to own them.

“Dad! We have to get that!”

Henry rolled his eyes, “Shawn, I just spent twenty dollars on one piece of plastic junk, I’m not doing it again.”

“Please, Dad!”

“No, Shawn, we came here for your robo thingy and we’ve got it, let’s go.”

“But I don’t want the Robotron, I want Stockbroker Ken!” Shawn protested, “Please, please, can I have the Ken if we put the Robotron back?”

“Put it back? Shawn, I don’t believe you. You’ve been talking about nothing but this, this ‘Robotron’ for three weeks. Now you’ve had it for three minutes and you want to put it back?”

“Yes!”

“No, Shawn,” Henry said firmly. “We got here early for a reason. There’s a line all the way to the back of the store now and I’m not waiting in it so you can exchange your overpriced action figure for some bargain bin girl’s toy.”

“But…!”

“Look Shawn. You were waiting right behind that door for an hour with the Ken doll right in front of you. All you had to do was look around and see it, but you were too focused on the fancy robot in the shiny red box. Maybe this is a good lesson for you. I don’t think you ever really wanted that toy—you just wanted the ‘win’. All the other kids were dying to have a robo-ton so you decided you had to have one too, and you had to have it first. Well, now you’ve got it, and now what? You have to think about these things Shawn. Going after something just because you’ll beat someone else to it is no way to live. You could have walked out of here today with what you really wanted, but you blew it. Now let’s go.”

When they got home Shawn had thrown the shopping bag with the robot into the back of his closet. He never even took it out of the box.

 

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-- Present Day --

Shawn had read once that if two adults maintained eye contact for over ten seconds they were either going to kiss each other or kill each other.

He didn’t usually place much stock in facts printed on the front of novelty post cards, but for some reason that one had stuck with him. Maybe it was the way he read it; aloud, very much aloud, in the middle of a crowded book store, to Gus. Once he was sure they had an audience, Shawn had clamped his hands on Gus’s shoulders and stared soulfully into his eyes. He was just about to slide the tip of his tongue along his lips and lean in for the ultimate ‘freak out Gus with gayness’ moment when Gus snapped, “Shawn, you know when I kill you it won’t be in front of all these witnesses.”

“Dude,” Shawn had answered, “First of all, I was clearly going for option one, second of all, shouldn’t that be if? If I kill you?”

Gus had just turned and walked away, calling out as he left the shop, “I said what I said.”

Regardless of why he remembered it, Shawn was glad he did. It was the kind of fact that could be important to his survival someday. Like right now, for instance, because they were eight seconds in and Shawn was pretty sure Lassiter wasn’t going to kiss him. Like, 92, 93 percent sure.

“Spencer…”

96 percent sure. Shawn broke eye contact at the nine second mark.

Shawn didn’t really think that Lassie would try to kill him, but he had pinned Shawn hard enough against the wall that there was a good possibility for accidental bruising if Shawn antagonized him any more than he already had. Man hand bruises on his chest could totally ruin Shawn’s image if he had to, say… take off his shirt in the middle of a sorority beach party thrown in honor of special guest alumni Carol Alt. It could happen.

“What part of ‘leave this building now’ did you not understand?” asked Lassiter.

“Mostly the leave. Also the now. A little bit of the this…” Shawn was cut off by a low growl from the back of Lassiter’s throat.

It wasn’t so much scary as impressive. Lassiter was the only man Shawn knew who could pull off a growl without sounding like a nineteen year old World of Warcraft addict trying to be Christian Bale as the Batman. The difference, he supposed, was that Lassiter’s growl wasn’t forced. It came as naturally to him as it would to… to what? Not a tiger, because the only tiger growl Shawn knew sounded all ‘grrreat!’, and not a cougar because cougars were scary ladies who followed him down the produce isle and asked him how to tell if a pineapple was ripe while casually mentioning their ex (emphasis on the ex) husbands, and not a puma because that was Gus’s special big cat and Shawn would never take that away from him, but something like a puma. Something dark. Something Sleek.

“A jaguar?”

“What?”

“ A jag-yew-ahhr.” Shawn drew out the word in his best high class British accent. How did that commercial go? Isn’t it time you tried a jaguar?

“Leave.”

Lassiter pulled Shawn away from the wall he had shoved him unceremoniously into just a moment earlier and took position squarely behind him, his hands gripping Shawn’s upper arms as he guided him towards the elevator bank. Shawn glanced over his shoulder at Gus, who rolled his eyes and gave Shawn his ‘I told you we should have stayed in the office and finished building our Johnny Handsome themed plinko machine instead of getting involved in a case we weren’t assigned to’ face. It was amazing how specific Gus’s faces could be.

“But we just got here!” Shawn protested.

“Great,” answered Lassiter, “Then you remember where the door is.”

“Just, let me take a look in the apartment. Just a peek. A glance? A shy flirty gaze through my lowered, lustrous lashes?”

“Why don’t you look at it with your third eye Spencer?” Lassiter suggested, “From the elevator. Or the Lobby. Or from as far away from this apartment building as you can get in the next ten minutes.”

“Why ten minutes?” asked Shawn.

“Because in ten minutes the chief is going to be here with Councilman Drowvers and I will not have you flailing your arms around the room, or making eyes at O’Hara, or telling Guster not to be Davis McDonald from She’s Having a Baby, or in any other way making a fool of this department in front of an elected official.”

Lassiter jabbed the call button on the wall a little too hard. Shawn heard him draw in a sharp breath of pain. Poor Lassie finger.

“Wow, Lassie,” Shawn said, “I don’t even know where to start with that. First of all, Drowvers, really? What is he, Councilman in charge of the Santa Barbara Stuffy Old Menservants Union? Plus I think that’s the first time the phrase ‘making eyes’ has been used outside a retirement home in the past thirty years and I would never, never, compare Gus to a Baldwin brother. Maybe William. But only in Flatliners.”

“Thomas Drowvers has sat on the city council for over twenty years,” Lassiter informed Shawn. “He’s one of the most respected…”

The elevator door pinged open, “Chief!” Shawn exclaimed.

“Chief.” Lassiter echoed, his hands dropping from Shawn’s arms, “We, uh, didn’t expect you here so soon. Spencer was just leaving.”

“Councilman Drowvers,” said Shawn, taking the hand of the somber, jowly man in the dark suit next to Chief Vick, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” The man answered, confirming Shawn’s guess about his identity. “Carrie was a bright girl. Capable, organized, one of the best interns my office has ever had.”

“Yes, I know,” Shawn answered, “And I want you to know that Carrie is telling me she’s at peace.”

The Councilman’s eyes widened, “What?”

“Oh,” Shawn answered. “I’m sorry. Sometimes the messages from the spirit world are so strong that I can’t stop myself from communicating them. You see, Councilman Drowvers, my name is Shawn Spencer, and I’m a psychic.” Shawn raised a hand to his temple.

“I don’t believe in psychics.” Drowvers told him.

Do not say ‘I don’t believe in Councilmen.’ Do not say ‘I don’t believe in Councilmen.’

“Yes, I’m sensing that,” Shawn answered. “But I believe that Carrie did. Am I right Councilman?”

“A lot of new age nonsense,” said Drowvers, “But yes, Carrie was always going on about that hocus-pocus.”

Shawn looked to Gus and mouthed ‘hocus-pocus.’ Apparently it was outdated slang day for everyone.

“I once walked in on her burning leaves in my office,” Drowvers continued. “Something about clearing the space of negative forces. The smell got into everything. I had to keep my windows open for a week to air it out.”

“Mr. Spencer,” Chief Vick interjected, “Has often worked with our department on a series of high profile cases.”

Drowvers snorted. Like a walrus, thought Shawn, like an unpleasant, drooling, smelly walrus.

“However,” Vick continued, “He won’t be needed on this case. Our detectives have already determined that this was a suicide, and, barring any surprises in the autopsy, there won’t be a need for any further investigation.”

Shawn’s focus suddenly shifted to the mirrored wall in the back of the elevator. He could see Lassie’s reflection behind his own. See the small, self satisfied smirk starting at the corner of his mouth. That would not do.

“Of course Chief, like Detective Lassiter said, Gus and I were just leaving.” Shawn stepped aside to allow Vick and the councilman to step out of the elevator. Vick flashed him a quick, tight lipped smile. The councilman didn’t look at him at all.

Shawn stepped into the elevator, Gus closely behind him. Shawn punched a button at random and waved to Lassiter, who watched him through narrowed eyes, until the doors slid shut and hid him from view.

Shawn counted to ten.

He punched the button for the third floor.

“Shawn, we were just on the third floor,” Gus said.

“Were we?” Shawn asked, “You’re sure the third floor isn’t the lobby?”

“How would the lobby be on the third floor?” Gus asked.

“They’re called thirobbies Gus, and they’re very popular in Europe.”

“You told Chief Vick we weren’t going to that apartment.”

“No,” Shawn corrected, “I told her we were leaving. And we did. Now we’re going back.”

“What’s the point? You heard her say it was a suicide.”

“Gus, did you forget? What does little boy cat say?”

“Nothing. He’s a cat.”

“Wrong,” Shawn answered as the doors slid open again. “He says meow. Also purr. But most importantly, little boy cat says it’s never, ever, a suicide. And even if it was, don’t you think it’s just a little weird that that the dead girls boss insisted on coming down here to identify the body before they moved it to the morgue?”

“He asked to come down here? How do you know that?” asked Gus as he followed Shawn down the hall.

“I heard it from the spirit world. Or maybe over the second extension of Lassie’s phone.”

“Lassiter’s phone had a second extension? Where?”

“Our office.” Shawn cut Gus off before he could protest, “I know, weird right? I told the SBPD tech guys I thought there was some kind of mistake in their installation schedule but you know how they can be, once they get an order there’s no stopping them.”

“Shawn, wire tapping a police phone line is a federal crime.”

Shawn shrugged, “Gus, what’s important right now isn’t how I knew Drowvers wanted to come down here, it’s that I knew it. I mean, come on, whose first reaction to finding out his assistant has been killed is ‘Don’t touch anything until I see the body’?”

“It is a little weird.” Gus acquiesced.

“See buddy, we should be in there! Assessing the juju and asousing the hoodoo!”

“Asousing isn’t a word.”

“Sure it is. It’s like, sousing, but with an ‘a’.”

“Shawn, ‘sousing’ means to pickle something in brine.”

“Pickled hoodoo Gus. It’s a thing.”

“That is not a thing. And speaking of hoodoo, how did you know that this dead girl…”

“Carrie.” Shawn interjected.

“Carrie, was into… alternate lifestyles?” Gus finished.

“Do you mean the new age stuff or the raging lesbianism?”

“The new age stuff. Wait, she was a raging lesbian?”

“No.” Shawn answered, then paused to consider, “Possibly. I have no idea. But she did have a row of salt sprinkled outside her apartment door, Wicca 101.”

“How would you know?” asked Gus.

Shawn snorted, “Like I’ve never seen The Craft.”

They reached the apartment. A uniform was watching the door, of course, but Shawn and Gus never had any trouble getting past them anymore. Shawn’s eyes scanned the room as he made his way towards the bedroom in the back. Empty grocery bags by the door. A single empty glass drying next to the sink. A jacket tossed carelessly over the back of a couch. Photos of a twenty something girl he assumed was Carrie (cute, short red hair, freckles) and her parents (more freckles) standing outside a modest home somewhere in the Midwest, photos of her friends. No boyfriends. A bookshelf full of political history books. A pamphlet for Yale Law School. A notepad laid open on the table next to a stack of brochures about a new beachfront development.

Shawn slipped into the bedroom unnoticed; no small feat considering it was about the size of a closet. Carrie’s body was laid out on her bed, fully clothed, a bottle of empty pills in her hand. The end table next to the bed was bare except for a small lamp and a PDA. The Councilman stood over the body, frowning. Chief Vick was at the foot of the bed, looking anxious, while Juliet stood against the wall taking notes. Lassie was about two inches away from the doorway, his back to Shawn.

“Was there a note?” asked Drowvers.

“Not that we’ve found,” answered Juliet, “But we’re sending an officer to check her computer at your office, she may have sent it in an email. Or maybe there wasn’t one at all.”

Of course there wasn’t a note. It had taken Shawn approximately two seconds in the bedroom to determine that this was a murder. Shawn gave himself a mental pat on the back. He was awesome. He raised his hands to his head. He took a deep breath.

“I’m getting something!” Shawn exclaimed.

Lassie jumped. His hand was halfway to his gun before he registered the sudden noise behind him as non-threat. At least, not a threat that required a lethal force reaction. Yet.

“Uhh, Godfather Three! The Matrix Reloaded! The Search for Spock… Terrible sequels! Return to Oz! Fairuza Balk! No, wait… Tick-Tock! Tick-tock… you don’t stop! ” Shawn continued, stumbling slightly before gripping Lassiter’s arm for support.

Lassiter pivoted to face Shawn, leaning in close and hissing in his ear, “If the next sentence out of your mouth is in any way related to sexing something up so help me god I will shoot you in the Adam’s apple.”

Shawn ignored him, for now. Although the Adam’s apple thing was weird. He pushed past Lassie into the center of the room.

“Ticking! Tocking! Can you hear it? Tick tock tick tock!”

“A clock?” asked Juliet.

“Yes, but smaller! It’s so small… like a mouse or a coin or what’s left of Lassie’s dignity. It’s a tiny, tiny clock!”

“A watch!” she chirped, pleased as always to solve Shawn’s clues.

“Watch! Yes!” Shawn confirmed, “Councilman, did Carrie wear a watch?”

The councilman blanched for a moment. It was almost imperceptible; Shawn doubted anyone else would have noticed. Maybe it was in reaction to Shawn’s display of psychic prowess. Maybe it was something more.

“Y…yes,” stammered Drowvers, “She did.”

“But that watch wasn’t on the body when the police arrived?” Shawn asked. The girl’s bare wrist had been the first thing he had noticed. She had been wearing what looked to be a very high tech digital watch in every picture in the living room.

Juliet glanced down at her notes, “No, no one’s touched her.” she confirmed.

Chief Vic crossed her arms, “Do you think that means something Mr. Spencer?” Her voice was terse, but curious, as it always was when Shawn disobeyed a direct order while simultaneously delivering the goods.

“Maybe she lost it,” Lassiter suggested. “Or put it away somewhere.”

“Or maybe,” Shawn continued, “This wasn’t a suicide. Maybe this was murder.”

 

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The room went silent. Shawn wasn’t surprised by the glare Lassie was giving him, but he was a little shaken up by look he was getting from Chief Vick. Councilman Drowvers was turning red around the ears, a nice contrast to the pale-as-a-ghost look he had sported a moment earlier. Jules just looked embarrassed.

Shawn wondered if he had jumped on the murder bus a stop too early.

“Mr. Spencer,” the Chief was the first to speak, “I hardly think that one missing piece of jewelry constitutes murder.”

Shawn scrunched his face in mock concentration, “Oh, uh… there’s more!” He brought his hands to his throat, “Kack! Kack! Kack!”

“What is it Mr. Spencer?” asked Vick, “Are you okay? Are you trying to say something?”

“Kack kack!”

“He’s choking,” said Juliet.

“The victim didn’t choke to death O’Hara,” Lassiter muttered.

“Kack Kack!”

“He’s getting a hairball!” said Gus, working his way into the already overcrowded room.

“What, hairball? No, Gus, I’m thirsty. Come on guys, thirsty?”

“No one goes kack kack when they’re thirsty Shawn.”

Lassiter stepped forward, looking around the room, “There’s no water in here.”

“How could she take all those pills without a glass of water?” asked Juliet.

Lassiter frowned, “She couldn’t.”

“I’m seeing a glass, by the sink. It’s been washed recently.” Shawn told them.

Gus leaned over the bed, reading the label of the bottle in the corpse’s hand, “This is Talhipiphrol. It’s a powerful sleeping pill. There’s no way she could have taken more than a couple of these and still have been able to make it to the kitchen and wash out a glass. They would have knocked her out instantly.”

“Plus she’s wearing shoes,” added Juliet, “No woman I know would lie on her bed without taking her shoes off first. ”

Lassiter’s frown deepened. “Why didn’t you point that out before O’Hara?”

“Why didn’t you?” she retorted.

“Okay,” Chief Vick said. “This may be a crime scene.”

Shawn snuck Gus a little fist bump.

“Councilman, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask all civilians to leave the room.”

There was a little shuffle as Shawn, Gus and Lassiter rearranged themselves to allow Juliet to lead the Councilman out. It was tight quarters, and if Shawn found himself momentarily pressed against Carlton Lassiter’s back it could hardly be seen as anything but accidental. And if in that moment Shawn had let his eyes flutter closed as he breathed in Lassiter’s scent, well, that too was an accident. Shawn thought he caught whiffs of aftershave mixed with some kind of bar soap. The smell was too subtle to really make out. Shawn wished he was a super sniffer.

“You too, Mr. Spencer, Mr. Guster,” Vick added. Shawn’s eyes snapped back open.

“What?” Shawn protested, “But I just divined all that great stuff about the watch and the water!”

“And I appreciate that,” Vick told him, “But this has the potential to be a very delicate case and we need to proceed cautiously. Plus I’m about to bring in the crime scene unit and the last thing they need is the two of you underfoot. If you see anything else that can help us please, call the station, otherwise we’ll handle it from here.”

Shawn knew better then to go against Vick’s words twice in one day. Besides, he had already seen what he needed to.

“Fine,” said Shawn, “Lassie, if you need us we’ll be in the throbby.”

Lassiter opened his mouth momentarily before snapping it closed again. Apparently he’d decided it was better not to ask. Shawn grinned to himself as he followed Gus out of the room.

 

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They were halfway back to the Psych office and Shawn had barely said a word. Gus glanced over at the passenger seat to see Shawn typing intently on his phone.

“What are you doing?” asked Gus.

“I’m posting a twitter.”

Shawn read aloud as he punched in his entry, “Lassie is secret R and B fan. Recognizes Color Me Badd when he hears it.”

“Nobody wants to read about that Shawn.”

Shawn snorted, “Tell that to the twenty three followers of at santabarbarasfinest. And by finest I mean fiiinest.”

“You have a problem.”

“Oh! I’m getting a response. Let’s see… at spencerisatool says, ‘stop tweeting about me’. Heh. Gus, do you think it’s telling that Lassie’s screen name has both ‘Spencer’ and ‘tool’ in it?”

“No, Shawn.” Gus answered.

“You don’t?” asked Shawn, disappointed.

“I mean no, we’re not having this conversation.”

“Gus…”

“We agreed. You get to bring up you creepy man crush on Lassiter or mention Lassiter and sex in the same sentence no more than once every-other Wednesday. Today is a Friday. Not even an every-other Friday. I had to listen to twenty minutes of ‘are Lassie’s eyes more azure or cerulean’ two nights ago and I’m not going through it again this week.”

“Please. It only took me thirteen minutes to settle on azure and you know it. Unless he’s angry. Then they’re more of a cobalt…”

“I will push you out of this car.”

“You know, I never put restrictions on how often you can talk about your crushes.”

“That’s because I don’t get crushes on gun wielding maniacs who are old enough to be my father.”

“What about Melvin Van Peebles?” asked Shawn.

“Exception to the rule.”

“Besides, Lassie is so not old enough to be my father. Not unless he was like, the most virile nine year old ever. Which… maybe. I mean, he seems like he’s got a lot of testosterone so…”

“I’m serious Shawn. I will push you out of this moving vehicle.”

“Hey, okay! I wasn’t even going to talk about Lassie. I was just reading the twitter feeder thingy.”

Gus rolled his eyes, “I don’t know why he responds to your posts, he must know it only encourages you.”

“It’s because he secretly luvs me Gus, and one day we will date and he will kiss me and take off my…”

“SHAWN!”

Shawn let out a long, plaintive sigh. Gus was, of course, unaffected. He’d been immune to Shawn’s sulking since the 7th grade.

“Fine,” said Shawn, “Let’s talk about Councilman Drowvers.”

“Why, do you have a crush on him too?”

“Eww, Gus, no,” Shawn scrunched up his nose. “But I do think he could be our killer.”

“What killer Shawn? We don’t even know for sure yet that it wasn’t a suicide.”

“Of course it wasn’t a suicide. Did you see her apartment? She had friends, family, she was passionate about politics and applying to Yale Law, she had her whole life in front of her. And you said it yourself, there’s no way she could have made it to the kitchen and back to her bed after taking those pills.”

Gus made a noncommittal noise.

“And she didn’t leave a note, even though she was obviously close to her parents. There was a notepad right on the table, you think she wouldn’t have taken even a few minutes to write how sorry she was?”

“Okay, but why do you think Drowvers is the guy?” asked Gus.

“Oh, I don’t know, maybe because he’s obviously the guy? I mean, did you see him? The man looks like the lovechild of Sidney Greenstreet and Droopy Dog.”

“Droopy Dog does not even swing that way, and you can’t say the man’s a murderer just because of the way he looks.”

“How about because of the way he insisted on going to the crime scene? Or the way he did his best Casper impression when I asked about the watch?”

Gus considered, “So you think, what? Maybe he killed her and took the watch? Why?”

“I don’t know Gus, maybe it had his DNA on it, or maybe he gave it to her and took it to hide an affair they were having, maybe he just has a penchant for lady jewelry.”

“That’s not much to go on.”

“That’s why we need to go and check out his office. We need to know more about Drowvers and the dead girl.”

“You know I’m not breaking into a government office.”

“Don’t be a chocolate flavored worrywart Gus, I have a plan to get us in.”

Gus pressed his lips together, but he made the left turn at the next light putting them in the direction of City Hall. Shawn felt a little fuzzy in his heart. Gus complained often enough, but he was always willing to follow Shawn down the cobbled road to Solving a Murderington Town. He was a good friend, even with the ridiculous Lassie related restrictions.

Hmm. Lassie related restrictions… Shawn broke into a wide grin as his mind wandered. Sometimes he really, really loved Henry for teaching him such excellent visualization skills.