"The fall of a leaf is a whisper to the living."
A slow day in Santa Barbara meant the tedium of paperwork for the city's men and women in blue, and any distraction was appreciated. Gossip always flew fastest at the station on slow days, from the break room to the bullpen in zero point five seconds. "Hey, Detective, did you hear?" the uniformed sergeant asked the head detective in passing. "About the Vincetti family arrests last month, the Tampa PD confirmed in court today that the tips came from the Whisper."
"Or a copycat," the nearest junior detective called over from his desk.
"They can't all be copycats."
"They can't all be one guy," the rookie riposted. "Who is he, Batman?"
"It's not one guy, it's a special unit of the FBI."
"Then how come the Bureau's always denied any involvement?"
"Hey, they've come up with the best weapon against organized crime in this century, you think they're going to go public with how it works?" The sergeant turned back to the senior officer for support. "Isn't that right?"
The head detective didn't look up from the day's red tape. "Couldn't say."
"Come on, you know more about the Whisper than anyone else here." It was common knowledge around the station that the SBPD's premier detective had made something of a hobby of following the Whisper's supposed trail across the nation, keeping a collection of relevant newspaper articles and court reports and going so far as to take personal vacations cross-country to attend trials. The chief made no comment on these excursions, considering they had no impact on the arrest record of their department's star. "It's the FBI, isn't it? They've got a team set up for infiltration and observation--CIA-trained, I heard."
"It's a bunch of copycat vigilantes," sniped the rookie detective. "And they'll all stop being heroes when one of them screws up and gets themselves or somebody else killed--"
The debate was abruptly ended, if not settled, when the chief's door opened. "O'Hara, my office, now."
"If you'll excuse me, boys," the head detective said, getting up and walking past them to the office.
The sergeant and her junior colleague watched her go. "Is she awfully quiet today, or is it just me?" inquired the junior detective. "She didn't say more than 'good morning' this morning--you think I pissed her off somehow? I didn't know I could. Usually she's smiling even when she's riding my ass."
"You haven't been here for that long, have you," the sergeant answered. "It's not you; it's the day. Just let it go, she'll be better tomorrow."
In the office, the chief studied his top detective. "Progress on the Hancock burglary?"
"We're still tracking down Oligarch. We find him and get him to talk, it's in the bag."
"And the Rodriguez assault?"
"Waiting for forensics to get back to us about the blood on the scene, whether if it is from more than one person or not."
"Fine. What are you doing for lunch today?"
She sighed but didn't look away. "You know where I'm going, Carlton."
Behind his desk, Lassiter shrugged uncomfortably. "Yeah. Do you want a lift? I'm off the next hour myself."
It wasn't the day for it, but Juliet smiled anyway. "I'd be glad to have the company. And so would they."
* * *
Carlton, behind the wheel, was quiet on the drive over. Juliet wasn't surprised. It had been a while since they had ridden together as partners, but Lassiter's promotion hadn't changed much about him. Since she had made head detective herself last year, their working relationship had settled back into near its original pattern, senior officer to junior colleague; but she had a certain degree of autonomy, leeway to speak her mind as not everyone dared to with their gruff chief.
Of course that was because they didn't know he was a marshmallow inside. Albeit a slightly blackened, squished and sticky marshmallow, but she'd known him for almost a dozen years; it took more than a glare from those ice-blue Irish eyes to make her back down.
There wasn't much to talk about now, though. Any variation of "Ten years, huh," would only be cliché, in a way that felt almost disrespectful. She looked out the window instead, watching the streets roll past, and though the car was different, it felt familiar, like being on the beat with her first partner as a rookie detective, all those years ago.
She was surprised when Lassiter cleared his throat, breaking the silence, and remarked, hesitant as he always was when making a stab at small talk, "So, did you hear about Tampa?"
"I heard. So it was the Whisper who brought down the Vincettis, apparently." She had been pretty sure of it, even not following the case closely, just by the number of arrests made and the charges behind those arrests. Such personal details could have only come from someone on the inside, deep inside.
"One for the scrapbook, eh?"
"Probably." It wasn't really a book, of course, but an online database, and she'd pretty much stopped updating it after her promotion, not having the time. But a few junior officers had eagerly stepped in, and likely had all pertinent articles copied and tagged already.
"So..." Carlton cleared his throat again. "Did you...did anyone ever add in the Shattuck and O'Malley convictions to that list?"
It wasn't like Lassiter to start talking about the Whisper without provocation. Then again, it wasn't like him to start talking without provocation, period. "Jacob Shattuck and Ryan O'Malley? Why? It isn't a record of all organized crime," Juliet said. "Just the cases that might involve the Whisper. They were convicted a couple years before he started his campaign, and besides, we all know how they were caught."
She'd been there. Their arrests were one of the accomplishments that had put Lassiter on the fast track to the chief's office. Though it wasn't like Carlton to be fishing for praise, and when he said, "Yeah, well," now he sounded more uncomfortable than pleased.
"You have every reason to be proud of those arrests," Juliet said.
"Not like I didn't have help," Lassiter remarked. "I seem to recall a spunky junior detective with me almost every step of the way."
"Spunky?" Juliet repeated. She shook her head. "I might've been your partner, but it was your show. The case you put together was air-tight--you nailed those bastards to the wall, Carlton."
"Yeah, well," Carlton said again. "They deserved it."
"Yes," Juliet said. "They did."
They didn't say anything else for the rest of the drive.
* * *
It was noon when they arrived, the sun at its zenith, hot in the cloudless blue summer sky. They parked and got out, and Carlton stretched and looked around at the quiet rolling slopes, the well-tended green grass and the white and gray headstones, and said, "Ten years, huh."
There wasn't much shade in the cemetery, and Juliet found herself speeding up her steps a little to reach those few places where taller monuments cast narrow shadows of relief from the heat. It only took a couple minutes to get there. No monuments in this row, just simple marble headstones, plain and nondenominational. Henry Spencer's grave was only distinguishable by his name carved in standard block letters, and underneath, 'Police Officer, Father, Friend,' depressingly unremarkable.
Or usually it was, but today Juliet spotted an addition from the end of the row, or thought she did, and all but ran the rest of the way to be sure.
It was on Henry's stone after all, balanced at the apex of the headstone's curved top, no ribbon or flowers, just an ordinary pineapple.
She stared at it for several seconds, as Lassiter caught up behind her, puffing for breath. "Is that--" he panted.
"Have you ever--"
"Not in the last ten years."
It couldn't have been here for long; animals would have gotten to it, wouldn't they? Not more than a day. When she touched the leaves, they felt crisp, not baked in the sun's heat. Maybe even still cool, or maybe she was imagining it.
She should take the time to pay her respects; it was why she had come. But--"I'm going to--"
"Go. Hurry," Carlton told her, and tossed her his keys. "I'll wait here."
The other cemetery was several miles away, smaller and more secluded. Juliet took Route 101 faster than a police officer should, parked in a hurry and jogged through the grove of small trees and gravestones. There had only been a few cars in the lot, and she didn't see anyone now, until she reached the top of the small artificial hill.
He was standing in the right spot, the fourth row, eight over. She couldn't say that she recognized him from the back, so didn't say anything at first, just quietly made her way over, slow and cautious, like she was laying an ambush.
But he turned before she reached the third row, and something in the motion was familiar, and he was the right height, and she had called out, "Shawn! Shawn Spencer!" before she could think.
He didn't bolt. He turned the rest of the way, held up the pineapple in his hand and grinned at her. "Hey, Jules, long time no see!"