Read Psych:Mind-Altering Murder Online

Authors: William Rabkin

Psych:Mind-Altering Murder (8 page)

"That was my question," Shawn said. "You're the one who's supposed to give the answer."

"I'm not interviewing for a detective job," Gus said. "I'd never leave Psych for another agency."

Before Shawn could rap the brass nameplate to provide a physical action that would lend a visual underline to his next statement, the heavy door swung open behind Gus and a scrawny punk in dirty khakis and a wrinkled polo grabbed him from behind in a bear hug.

"You are the man, Burton Guster," the punk said, his ponytail bobbing enthusiastically. "I want you to start work tomorrow."

Even though Shawn had figured out exactly what was going on, to hear it confirmed like this stabbed him like an ice pick in the heart. "So you'd never leave Psych for another detective agency," Shawn said, then turned to glare at the punk. And he
saw
. Saw the designer thread count of his khakis through the layer of grime. Saw the full carat twinkling in the stud in his ear. Saw the admissions wristband from Sid's Joint, one of San Francisco's trendiest and most expensive clubs, holding back his ponytail. Saw the folded copy of
Pharm Report
sticking out of his back pocket.

And he knew the truth. "This guy isn't a detective," Shawn said. "He's a high-ranking official in a pharmaceuticals company."

"Hey, that's really impressive," ponytail said, beaming. "How did you know that?"

"I speak to the spirits." Shawn was about to turn back to Gus, but ponytail grabbed his arm.

"That's really cool," he said. "I want to know more about it."

"Some other time," Shawn said.

"Anytime," ponytail said. "Stop by my office whenever you feel like it. I'm Diarmuid Robert Benson, president, CEO and owner of Benson Pharmaceuticals. But to my friends I'm D-Bob, and since you seem to be a friend of my new friend Gus, that makes you my friend, too."

Shawn pulled away from D-Bob's clutch. "Your friend Gus?" Shawn said. "You always make friends this fast, Diarmuid?"

"Only when I can offer them a quarter mil a year, plus housing allowance, hiring bonus, and three weeks' paid vacation," Benson said cheerfully.

Shawn stared at Benson, then turned to Gus. "What's going on here?"

"I told you," Gus said. "Rutland Armitage isn't a detective agency. It's a headhunting firm."

"And Gus is the head they've hunted for me," Benson said. "Burton Guster is Benson Pharmaceuticals' new junior vice president of marketing."

Chapter Eleven

C
arlton Lassiter strode quickly down the marble corridor, forcing Juliet O'Hara to scramble just to keep up with him. It was certainly a change from the way he'd been acting the past couple of weeks. In the month since they'd been called to the scene of Mandy Jansen's death, he'd been dragging his heels every time she wanted to investigate further. Now that they were at Mandy's former workplace, it seemed he couldn't wait to get to their appointment.

"Our meeting isn't for another fifteen minutes, Carlton," she said, as he sprinted for the elevator and pounded his index finger against the already lit button.

"We get in early, we get out early," Lassiter said.

"If Mandy's old boss can see us early," O'Hara said. "And even if that's the case, we're here to get certain information. That's going to take as long as it's going to take."

"You've got sixteen minutes," Lassiter said as the elevator doors slid open. He stepped into the car and jabbed the DOOR CLOSE button, forcing his partner to leap in before the panels slid shut in front of her.

"What's the hurry?" she said.

"It's a little thing called money," Lassiter said. "Maybe it doesn't mean anything to you, but it certainly does to the department. And I don't feel free just to fritter it away."

"They're paying us the same whether we talk to this guy for five minutes or five hours."

"It's not our salary I'm worried about," Lassiter said. "It's the parking in this building. Fifteen dollars for twenty minutes? If we're going to arrest anyone in this pit of depravity, it should be the guy who runs the garages."

"You could have badged the attendant," O'Hara said.

"As I've mentioned about eight thousand times, we have no jurisdiction in San Francisco," Lassiter said. "Which means we have no right to expect to be treated as if we did. Which would make free parking an illegal emolument."

"Maybe we could get a validation."

"And if there actually is a killer and it turns out to be someone at the company?" Lassiter said. "Tell me then how we're not hideously compromised."

O'Hara flirted briefly with the idea of telling him a lot more than that, but she decided to let it pass. She knew Lassiter had only agreed to this trip because she had begged him. He still believed that Mandy's death was a suicide and saw no reason to investigate further. If he'd stated his opinion firmly to Chief Vick that would have been the end of the case. But instead he gave the chief a passionate argument for keeping it open just a little longer, and even for taking a day trip up north to check out Mandy's former employer.

That didn't mean he was happy about doing it or that he believed they would find anything up here. But partners stick up for each other, he said. If Juliet hadn't been willing to back down--and he could tell she wasn't--then his only choice was to let her lead or put in for a new partner.

They'd spent the first part of the drive up the 101 going over the details of the case. Since there were essentially no details, that took them about as far as Solvang; then they'd ridden the remaining ninety percent of the way in silence. That was fine with her. She knew if they'd talked Lassiter would have spent most of the time trying to convince her that Mandy's death had been self-inflicted and that they should close the case. That was a conversation she wasn't eager to have again because she still didn't have a substantive response for him. She couldn't say why she refused to believe that Mandy had killed herself. She just did.

She knew it wasn't just because, as Lassiter had hinted several times, she was identifying with the victim. It was true that the sight of a twenty-eight-year-old woman hanging by the neck in her cheerleader's outfit had an immediate emotional resonance with anyone who'd ever called the Rebel Yell or the Tiger Roar or the Duck Quack. You couldn't help but think of that time you were at your lowest ebb, fired from a job or dumped in a relationship or just lost in your life, and you put on the colors "just to see if they still fit."

But she knew there was more to it than that. She wasn't projecting her own psyche onto a suicide victim. She was too good a cop for that. Something about the crime scene was making her crazy. So far she'd just seen little things that didn't make sense for an imminent suicide: a prescription for her mother she'd arranged to pick up the day after her death, a book on caring for ill relatives she'd requested from the library's interbranch loan.

There had to be something bigger. She just couldn't identify it. Whatever it was, it had registered somewhere in the back of her mind and she hadn't been able to bring it forward yet. Usually if she took a quick walk or a long shower she could turn off enough of her conscious brain to allow the subconscious to seep through. But she'd walked and showered and showered and walked and still she was no closer to the solution. She'd hoped the hours in the car, staring out at the scenery, might coax the clue out of hiding, but by the time they cruised past old Candlestick Park and into the city there was still nothing.

That was why this interview with Mandy's supervisor was so important. If she couldn't find a lead here she'd have to admit there really was no case. She was not going to cut it short, no matter if the parking threatened to cost more than the unmarked Crown Vic was worth.

The digital readout on the elevator's control panel flipped to 34 and the car decelerated suddenly. The doors slid open and they stepped out into open space. At least that was what it looked like. The vast lobby was nearly empty, a black slate floor running uninterrupted the entire length and width of the building, so that whichever direction you looked you saw nothing but floor-to-ceiling windows.

Or almost nothing, anyway. A football field's length away from the elevators the slate rose to form some kind of large shelf, and behind that a wide spiral staircase led up to what Juliet assumed was the thirty-fifth floor. As they walked toward the eruption they saw a pair of tanned legs coming down the stairs, and by the time they were halfway there the legs had been joined by a torso and finally a head. The body parts belonged to an athletic young blond woman in a dress so short a professional tennis player might think twice about wearing it at Wimbledon. She seated herself behind the shelf and gave them a gleaming smile as they approached.

"May I help you?" she said.

"We have an appointment with Sam Masterson," O'Hara said.

The blond woman's smile faltered. "May I ask what this is about?"

"You can, but it won't do you any good," Lassiter said. "Take it from someone who's been asking for weeks."

"I'm Detective Juliet O'Hara with the Santa Barbara Police Department," she said. "This is my partner, Detective Lassiter. We scheduled this appointment with Mr. Masterson to talk about one of his former employees, Mandy Jansen."

"In that case, you'd better follow me," the blond woman said. "I'm Chanterelle, by the way."

"That's a pretty name," O'Hara said.

"It's a mushroom," Lassiter said.

"It's a pretty mushroom," Chanterelle said.

The woman named for a fungus got up from behind the desk and started up the spiral staircase. O'Hara looked up to see where they were going and found herself wondering why any woman who knew she'd be going up and down steep stairs all day would wear such a short dress, unless she was hoping to save money on visits to her gynecologist. Staring straight ahead she followed the sound of the receptionist's footsteps until both of her own feet were on level floor. Then she looked around.

They stood in a much smaller lobby, which was only the size of the entire Santa Barbara police station. Corridors led off in either direction and they were dotted with doors spaced far enough apart that Juliet was certain the offices behind them must be enormous.

Chanterelle waited until Lassiter had stepped up next to O'Hara--his sense of chivalry had kept him from mounting the first stair until the hem of the receptionist's dress had disappeared through the hole in the ceiling--and then pointed to a double door. "I'm going to put you in conference room B."

"Are you going to put this Masterson in there with us?" Lassiter said. "Because we'd prefer not to bankrupt our city government."

The receptionist smiled broadly, apparently choosing to ignore whatever she couldn't understand, and walked to the double doors. She gave a gentle knock on one of them and then threw it open.

As Chanterelle headed back down to her station, O'Hara led Lassiter to the door. Inside, the room seemed to stretch the length of the building and it contained a polished granite table that ran from one end to the other. Enough leather chairs were clustered around it to seat a joint session of Congress. All the way at the far end of the table Juliet could make out the form of a man.

"Mr. Masterson?" Juliet said, hoping she could make her voice carry over such a distance without shouting.

"Please come in," the man said. His voice was muffled by the distance, but Juliet thought there was something familiar about it.

O'Hara and Lassiter came into the conference room and started down the length of the table.

"Mr. Masterson, we talked briefly on the phone," O'Hara said as they began to get close enough to make out the figure sitting at the end of the table.

"I'm afraid Sam Masterson isn't with us anymore," the man said.

"I just talked to him a few days ago," O'Hara said. "He didn't mention he was leaving the company."

"I'm sure if he had left the company he would have contacted you first," the man said. "Sam was really good about things like that."

"Was?" O'Hara said.

"He took a personal day on Monday and zipped up to Tahoe with a girlfriend to get in a little skiing," the man said. "Hit a tree at sixty miles an hour. At least he didn't suffer."

"And you are?" O'Hara said.

She took another step forward and now she knew why he had looked so familiar. And from the shocked gasp in her ear, she could tell Lassiter had recognized him, too.

"Really glad to see you," Gus said. "Seems like it's been forever."

Chapter Twelve

T
he girl was holding something back. Shawn knew it. She tried to come across as an innocent college student--majoring in library sciences, no less--but he was convinced she was the key to finding Macklin Tanner.

He had first become suspicious when he'd spotted her ducking out of a jewelry store he'd been trying to break into. The safe inside contained a diamond the size of a large house cat, and if Shawn could steal it, he'd almost certainly be invited to join Morton's crew on a heist they were planning. But every time he'd tried sticking the place up, he'd been killed by a team of well-armed security guards. There was no way he was going to get that gem when anyone was looking.

Not that breaking in promised to be much easier. What looked like a normal storefront during the day became an impenetrable fortress at night, all four walls covered by thick steel slabs that slammed down once the doors were locked. And even if Shawn found a way into the building, he was pretty sure the diamond wouldn't just be lying around on a counter. He'd still have to break into the safe.

There was only one answer to both these problems--he'd have to use some kind of explosive. Since he hadn't come across any dynamite in the game, Shawn had to check his inventory to see what other incendiaries he might have earned along the way. At first nothing jumped out at him. He had an arsenal of machine guns, pistols, and shotguns; he had switchblades, machetes, and stilettos--both the knife and the shoes; he had stacks of cash, piles of gold, and heaps of jewels. He'd been doing well for himself lately, picking up trophies at every encounter. But he didn't have anything that looked like it might explode.

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