Read Psych:Mind-Altering Murder Online

Authors: William Rabkin

Psych:Mind-Altering Murder (5 page)

Gus finally agreed to help on the case, but Shawn could tell his heart wasn't in it. And once they were actually inside Darksyde City, the game's fictional locale, Gus managed to be no fun at all. The first two days, he hardly killed anyone, even when a good bit of mayhem might have moved him up a level. It was like he couldn't wait to get out of the virtual world.

Even when he was back on real ground, Gus seemed distracted, moody, and distant. Shawn tried to ask him if something was wrong, but Gus insisted everything was fine. Then he went back to being a grump.

This was not the Gus Shawn had known for so many years. Yes, he'd always had a tendency toward the judgmental and there was frequently an undercurrent of unnecessary seriousness running through him, but Shawn had never seen him in such a mood for longer than a day or so. Something was wrong.

Then it got worse. For the first time in as long as Shawn had known him, Gus started to become unreliable. He'd come into the office an hour late, claiming that his alarm hadn't gone off or that he'd been stuck in traffic. And once he got there he'd disappear for hours at a time. When he came back he'd give only the vaguest of excuses, claiming that there was some kind of problem at the pharmaceuticals company where he still maintained a second job as a sales rep.

This behavior presented Shawn with two immediate problems. The first was obvious--a small firm like Psych couldn't afford to have two partners who were both unreliable, and this had been Shawn's role since the firm's founding. It was a position he prized, and he didn't plan to give it up just because Gus was in a bad mood.

But the second problem was much more serious. Shawn recognized all the excuses Gus was giving him because Shawn had used them himself, over and over again. So he knew these were not only lies, but lazy lies. They were the lies of someone who doesn't care if anyone believes them. They were the lies of a man who'd moved on.

Shawn had spent a lot of time trying to figure out why Gus might not want to be part of Psych anymore, but he couldn't come up with a single reason. They did what they wanted when they wanted, took only the cases that sounded like fun, and managed to avoid almost all sense of adult responsibility. Who could ever find fault with that? Who could ever want anything else?

In general, Shawn didn't like taking on two cases at once. Not since the time he'd gotten mixed up and had accused a suspect in one case of committing the murder in the second. But this was different. One of these cases, as they said on the movie posters, was personal.

So while Shawn continued to search for Macklin Tanner, he was simultaneously going undercover to spy on Gus. Fortunately his cover was strikingly similar to his own persona--in fact, he was going undercover as himself--so he could move back and forth between his two roles without needing to adjust fake mustaches or even change clothes. But while the outside world might see him as a psychic detective hunting for a missing tech genius, secretly he was engaged in spying on his partner.

Gus hadn't made it easy on him. There were no surreptitious phone calls, no mysterious meetings, not even any unexpected e-mails in any of Gus' accounts. If he was hiding something, Gus was playing it cool. Which was, to Shawn, the most suspicious sign yet, since Gus and "cool" were almost never mentioned in the same sentence.

Shawn was beginning to think he might have to consult the army field interrogations manual to find the truth when Gus finally slipped up. They were hanging out at the office when Shawn mentioned he was in the mood for pizza from LaVal's by the Pier, the one place in town that didn't deliver. This wasn't the first time Shawn had mentioned this craving, and usually it led to forty-five minutes of Gus refusing Shawn's offer to wait at the office if Gus wanted to run down and pick up the pie, and then to the inevitable call to Domino's. But this time Gus didn't argue at all. He asked what toppings Shawn wanted.

This was the moment. The only reason for Gus to give in so easily was that he was about to make his move. All Shawn had to do was follow him and see where the trail led.

That would have been a lot easier, of course, if Shawn had had any mode of transportation faster than his own feet. Unfortunately Gus had picked him up from his home that morning so they could share the forty-five-minute ride to VirtuActive's headquarters in Thousand Oaks. If they'd had the foresight to set up a suitcase full of chemicals in the office, Shawn could have hoped for a lightning bolt to spill them all over him, granting him superspeed. But without the proper equipment--or even a cloud in the cool evening sky--chasing Gus' car on foot didn't seem like a profitable enterprise.

But he had to know where Gus was sneaking off to. He couldn't let this chance go to waste.

"Why don't we go together and eat there?" Shawn said.

If Shawn had been hoping for some kind of strong reaction from Gus, he was disappointed. "Fine" was the only answer he got.

During the ride down toward the pier, Gus didn't seem any more tense than he had over the previous few weeks, so Shawn began to doubt he was trying to make a secret rendezvous. What was he up to, then?

It wasn't until Gus pulled up outside the pizzeria that Shawn figured it out. More precisely, it wasn't until Gus made a big show of fumbling in his pockets for change, then announcing he needed to run across the street to the convenience store to break a dollar for the parking meter.

The excuse was so transparent, Shawn nearly pointed out that the meters had stopped being enforced an hour ago, and that Gus' pockets were so full of change he'd been jingling as they left the office. But he managed to stop himself a second before the words spilled out. He told Gus he'd get a table, then went into the restaurant and spied out through the front window as Gus walked toward the convenience store. But just as Gus approached the entrance, he made a sharp zig to the left and went to the pay phone that stood outside it. He picked up the receiver, dropped in a few coins, then dialed. After a few moments he hung up the phone and headed back toward the car. Shawn didn't stay at the window to see him feed the meter, but he did check on their way out and saw they still had twelve minutes left. If nothing else, he had to admire Gus for being thorough.

The next day, finding out whom Gus had called was easy work, as long as you consider impersonating a police officer work rather than, say, a felony. He called the pay phone company and, after spending twenty minutes being transferred from office to office, gave Detective Carlton Lassiter's name and badge number to a junior vice president for community relations.

Gus had spent 107 seconds on the phone with United Airlines. It should have been quick work to find out if he had booked a ticket and if so to where. But the operator he spoke to would not give out any information without something called a "record locator number," and once Shawn realized this was not a case of privacy protection but simple incompetence on the part of a bureaucracy he gave up trying. He'd have to figure out where Gus was going on his own.

That wasn't hard. If Gus planned to be away overnight he'd need to come up with some excuse, and he hadn't mentioned anything. So it was going to be a day trip. Realistically that ruled out any flight longer than a couple of hours. But which way would he fly? Not south--Gus could drive to LA or even San Diego almost as fast as he could fly, and Tijuana would require a passport, which Gus didn't have. West was out, too, unless Gus was planning to bring scuba tanks. Seattle seemed too far for a day trip, and while Portland was inside the zone, Shawn couldn't imagine why anyone would go there.

That left three good possibilities: Phoenix and Las Vegas to the east and San Francisco up north. Gus had distant relatives in Phoenix, so if he had been planning to go there he would certainly have told Shawn he was going to visit cousin Enid and the kids. Vegas was possible, but it just didn't feel right. That left San Francisco.

Of course even if Shawn was right about the destination, he still didn't know when Gus was going to fly. But since the trip meant Gus was going to be away for most of a day, Shawn just had to wait until he announced he needed to attend an all-day sales meeting at his other job.

As for the flight, that was the easy part. He knew how Gus' mind worked and he knew how Gus would think about how Shawn's mind worked. This was the one that Gus would assume Shawn would find least likely. Which meant it was the one he would pick.

Unless, of course, Gus had taken his logic a step further and realized that Shawn would have figured out what he was thinking, and so changed to a direct flight from Santa Barbara. But Shawn knew that Gus had a strong dislike of that kind of circular thinking. As a child he'd seen too many science fiction movies and TV shows where the hero was able to make an evil supercomputer explode simply by offering it an example of a logical feedback loop, and he was always careful to protect his own brain from that particular danger. So unless Gus had just given up on the whole project, he was going to be on this flight.

As he finished off the plate of fried food Shawn looked over at the gate and saw that the doors were open and passengers were coming out. The first few were middle-aged businessmen in suits and ties. They were followed by what looked like either a start-up's software-development team or a group of escapees from a juvenile mental institution. They were all talking to the air in front of them, but since Shawn couldn't confirm they had Bluetooth headsets attached to their ears he couldn't decide which they were. Most of the remaining passengers were clearly tourists, ambling out of the Jetway with looks on their faces that said,
This airport is already something to see and I'm going to take my time about it
. At the end of the line was one more middle-aged man in a suit and tie. He walked slowly and kept glancing back over his shoulder. Shawn assumed he'd spent the trip flirting with one of the flight attendants, and he was still hoping she might come running after him to thrust her phone number into his hand.

And then the Jetway doors were empty. One of the gate agents peered in to see if anyone else would be deplaning, but that seemed to be it. There was a rush of movement around the gate as passengers waiting to board the plane started to jockey for position.

Shawn was surprised to discover how relieved he felt. After all, the mere fact that Gus wasn't on this plane didn't mean there wasn't something seriously wrong. He could have used a different calculus to choose his flight. Or Shawn could have been completely wrong and Gus could be hailing a cab outside the Las Vegas airport right now. Or Gus could have gotten sick of trying to outgame Shawn's thought process and driven up north.

Whatever the explanation for Gus' failure to deplane from this flight, the underlying problem, whatever it might be, would still be there once Shawn got home. And worse, Shawn would have blown his best shot to figure out what it was.

Intellectually he knew that was all true. But he didn't care. Gus wasn't here, which meant that Gus was not betraying him. At least not in the manner that he'd suspected. There would probably be plenty of things to feel terrible about, but they would come later. For the moment he could relax.

Shawn scrawled his name across the bottom of the credit card slip the waitress must have placed on the table while he was staring across the terminal and stood up. He was going to make that flight home after all.

He was halfway out of the restaurant when he noticed one of the gate agents rushing down gate one's Jetway. He didn't want to wait to find out what was going on. His departure gate was at least half a mile away and it was going to start boarding soon. But something made him stay, frozen, staring at the doors.

For a long moment, the doorway was empty. And then Shawn saw a flash of chrome and he relaxed again. There was a wheelchair coming up the ramp, carrying a woman who looked like she was born when her father was still fighting in the trenches of the Western Front. That was why the gate agent had rushed in--after all the walking passengers had gotten off the plane, he'd brought down a wheelchair for her.

Fighting the urge to whistle a merry tune, Shawn headed down the terminal toward his own homeward gate. If it hadn't been for the bakery case at the Emporio Rulli Gran Caffe, he might have made it back to Santa Barbara in the same good mood.

But as he passed the case his feet came to an involuntary stop. It wasn't that he was hungry. The first lunch had left him full, and the second had had to squeeze into whatever room remained in the odd corners of his stomach. But when he approached the cafe, it was as if he'd been hit by a tractor beam.

As far as he could tell, the beam was emanating from a slice of cake the label called "Honore" and described as allbutter puff pastry with Italian pastry cream filling, layered with sponge cake brushed with rum, decorated with chocolate whipped cream and pastry cream and pastry cream-filled cream puffs.

Shawn would be ill if he ate another bite, and while something as spectacular as the Honore might have been worth a spot of nausea, he didn't want to spend his flight home in one of those tiny airplane lavatories.

Mustering all the strength in his body, Shawn stopped his foot midstride as it was about to take another step toward the bakery case. Then he commanded it to turn ninety degrees back toward the way he had come. Pressing his eyelids shut, he brought his other foot around and when he opened his eyes again the cafe was gone from his sight.

He found himself facing the ancient woman from the Burbank flight, whose wheelchair was just coming through the doors.

And now he wished he had stopped for a piece of cake. Now he wished he'd eaten the entire bakery. Because not only did he see the old woman, he saw the person who had volunteered to push her chair up the ramp.

It was Gus.

Chapter Seven

T
he high school had been a dead end. She'd known it would be, even as she made the appointment to talk to the principal. Mandy Jansen had graduated almost ten years earlier. Whatever had led to the moment of her hanging in her mother's basement almost certainly had nothing to do with her years on the cheer squad.

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