Juliet told herself she was being silly, but didn't stop driving, past the grocery store and the Burger King, past her favorite Chinese restaurant, to the artfully beat-up shack at the edge of town. Jeff's Emporium had a deliberately dilapidated look, boarded-up windows and peeling paint standing in contrast to the neon 'Open' sign, and the cheerful noise of chatter and music inside.
Jeff's Jamaican jerk chicken had been the best in town for longer than she had lived in Santa Barbara. Juliet took a deep, appreciative breath of the delicious scents at the door and walked in. Waving off the waiter, she made her way to the table of one in the back.
Shawn rocked his chair forward from where he had been leaning back against the wall, the wooden legs thudding on the floorboards, and grinned at her. "Hey, you found me. I can see why they made you head detective."
Juliet mock-glared, then smiled as she sat down across from him. "Or maybe I'm psychic."
"Ooh, really? That's so cool! Can you read my mind?"
She closed her eyes, put out her hand over the sauce-stained plate on the table and intoned, "I can sense...you've already eaten. And had two..." She cracked one eye to double-check--"--two bottles of Red Stripe."
"One, I just opened this one," and he waved the full bottle at her. "But hey, awesome gift. Sorry for eating without you, though, I thought you got off-shift an hour ago?"
"Had to stay late, briefing a few federal agents." A waiter came by and she ordered a ribs sandwich with fries and a beer for herself.
"Feds, you said?" Shawn asked after the waiter left. "So what's the case? Or is it top-secret, for-your-eyes-only stuff?"
"Depends," Juliet said, watching him. "Are you working for the mafia these days?"
She'd timed it so that he was taking a swig just as she said it, but he didn't do anything as satisfying as a spit-take, just swallowed and put the bottle down, setting it on the table with a clink, and grinned. "Hey, you think I could make it as a mob boss? The main question is, of course, could I pull off the fedora?"
Then his eyes darkened, becoming serious as they met hers. "The mafia, Jules? For real? Be careful."
"I will be," she promised, meaning it. She wasn't sure if what she saw in his expression was actually fear, but it was more somber than anything else she'd seen there.
With good reason. Few people knew as well as Shawn Spencer what the price could be for crossing organized crime.
"Speaking of which," Shawn said, as if it were a perfectly ordinary conversational segue, "I drove past the old office this afternoon."
"A health spa? They rebuilt Santa Barbara's most famous psychic detective office as a two-story health spa?"
"Actually it was a sports equipment store when it first went up."
"Fishing and tackle, mostly. Then it was a video store, then a disco dance club..." At Shawn's face she gave up. "Okay, maybe not the dance club."
"But a health spa?"
"If it makes you feel better, we've been trying to bust them for prostitution for a year now."
"Okay, at least it's a sleazy spa," Shawn said, somewhat mollified.
"Carrying on the fraudulent tradition."
"Someone has to!" Shawn smirked at her. "That's one of Lassie's lines, isn't it."
Juliet nodded, then said, "But, Shawn, Carlton would like to see you again, I know he would. Just to...well. See that you're okay."
"Aw, was the big bad detective-man worried about me?"
"We all were, Shawn."
"That's sweet." He plucked the beer bottle from the table, swung it by the neck between two fingers. "You didn't have to be, you know."
"You disappeared," Juliet said. "You dropped off the face of the planet--we looked, we used police connections, all our resources, to look for you, for almost a year, and we got nothing. We had no idea where you were or what you were doing or if you were even still alive--for ten years, we haven't known!"
Shawn looked at her, his eyebrows up, looking genuinely surprised. "But I told you then, I was fine."
"Where were you?"
He shrugged, put the bottle back down and kept looking her in the eyes. "Around, like I said. Out of the country for a couple years, that's why you couldn't find me. Visited some people I knew...elsewhere. I just couldn't be here, you know, Jules? It was too much, then, all of it."
"But you've come back now."
"It's been ten years; I figured if I wasn't over it by now, I never would be."
"So you..." The waiter came back then with her plate and beer, and Juliet realized how hungry she was when the barbecue sauce-soaked sandwich was in front of her.
Shawn blinked at her famished stare. "Go ahead, eat. Before you start gnawing on my arm or something," he said, gesturing, and then when both her hands were full with the sandwich took the opportunity to steal a couple fries. He dipped them in the sauce congealing on his own plate and stuffed them in his mouth.
She scarfed the first few bites, washed them down with a gulp of cold beer and smacked Shawn's hand when he tried to help himself to seconds from her plate. He watched her eat with interest, observing, "Don't they feed you police officers?"
"Sorry." Juliet swallowed, wiped her fingers on the paper napkin. "It was a busy day, and I missed lunch. And the agents gave me funny looks when I tried to sneak P&J into the briefing."
"So, what was it? A case lead to the mob, and you called in the feds?"
"No case--no crime. Not yet, anyway." Juliet eyed him over her sandwich. "That not-psychic sixth sense of your has gotten rusty. You never used to ask unless you already knew."
"Been a while since I've chatted up a cop," Shawn said. "Especially one this cute."
Juliet paused. "Refresh my memory. Did these lines ever work on me in the past?"
He considered. "Not really, no."
"Thank God. Didn't think I'd been that naive."
"So there hasn't been any crime yet?"
"Hopefully there won't be any. Have you ever heard of a man named Gerry Kladinski?"
She kept her eyes on his face, the new lines around his eyes and the crooked smirk of his mouth. Over a decade as a detective had given her plenty of experience reading tells, but if Shawn had any reaction to that name, it didn't show in his expression. He just looked thoughtful. "Kladinski? No..." He touched the tip of his tongue to his teeth contemplatively. "Wait, was he that cinematography guy? Saving Private Ryan? No? Huh. Screenwriter, maybe? One of those guys in the credits. Well, if I've heard of him, I don't remember where."
"You wouldn't want to remember," Juliet said. "He's a mob hitman, one of their best."
"And this dude's in Santa Barbara? Whoa."
"Yes. Whoa. That's about what the chief said. And we're going to stop him, before he gets another notch in his machine-gun case."
"Now that sounds like Lassie."
"That's mine, actually."
"You and Lassiter always did make a good team. I wouldn't take evens on this guy's odds, with you two after him. Chief and head detective--you go!" Shawn snaked his arm across the table and swiped another fry.
Juliet let him have his spoils, finishing her last bites of ribs with pleasure. Shawn answered her satisfied smile with his own grin. "This place still makes the best. It's not even this good in Jamaica, I'm telling you. Worth coming back just for it."
"Why did you come back?" Juliet asked. "Was it for work, or...?"
Shawn shook his head. "Nah, I'm between jobs. Just dropping by."
She could have asked where he had last worked. Whether he had been in Florida lately.
She didn't. Ten years, and she wasn't sure she wanted to know anymore. Instead she finished her fries and beer, asked for the check while he drank the last of his own. They argued briefly and amiably over who should pick up the tab, ended up asking for change to split it, and walked out to the lot together. It was cool, after sundown, a pleasant breeze blowing in from the sea.
"It's not too late," Juliet said. "I have to be up early, but if you want, we could go somewhere else for a bit. Or you could come back to my place. To talk. I'd like to know what you've actually been up to, where you've been."
For all his cocky confidence, Shawn looked startled at that invitation, the same momentary blank-faced surprise as when she'd told him how they had worried about him. As if he weren't sure how to handle it. Then he shook his head. "Better not," he said. "I'd keep you up all night, you'd go into work hungover, Lassie would have my head without even knowing it was mine."
"You're sure?" She was more disappointed than she thought she'd be.
"Yeah. Sorry, Jules," and then he leaned over and gave her a peck on the cheek in the dark. It surprised her, not how quick it was, but how chaste, unabashed and fraternal instead of flirtatious; so unlike the Shawn Spencer she vividly remembered, though his grin, shadowy in the neon lights, was the same. "See you later?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. "Tomorrow?" and was surprised again when he nodded without hesitation, said, "Sure."
He didn't give her a number, or ask for hers. She got in her car alone, started the engine but waited in the lot, watching him walk to his own, a small Honda hybrid she'd noticed in the cemetery parking. It was black, not blue, and she didn't know why that would disturb her as much as anything else today, but it did.
She thought about following him, as she pulled out after the Honda.
She didn't. She went home instead, and spent the night lying on her bed on top of the sheets, staring up at the shadows across the blank white ceiling.
to be continued...