Read Psych:Mind-Altering Murder Online

Authors: William Rabkin

Psych:Mind-Altering Murder (9 page)

Shawn dug deeper in his inventory, searching through the things he'd been given that seemed to have no use at all. There was a spare tire from a boat hauler, the skeleton of a fish, an empty can of pork and beans, a broken floor lamp with no bulb. And then there was the poo.

That was the first thing Shawn had won in the game. Just after he'd logged in he was attacked by a pack of rabid dogs. They killed him. Three times in a row they killed him seconds after he materialized in the city. The fourth time he was ready for them. Just before his third death he had noticed a wrench lying in the gutter by a fire hydrant. The fourth time he stepped onto the mean streets he didn't waste any time reaching for the single revolver his avatar started with. He dived to the ground and rolled over to the hydrant. As soon as he touched it the dogs stopped in their tracks, then trotted docilely over to him. He waited until they were lined up right in front of him, then used the wrench to open the hydrant and sent the hellhounds tumbling away in a torrent of water.

His reward for that bit of ingenuity was a massive heap of dog poo in his inventory. He'd tried to get rid of it, but there didn't seem to be a way. He supposed it was a message from the game's creators: You may think you're clever for figuring this one out, but it's the most basic of all the puzzles so don't get cocky.

But over the course of his sessions, Shawn had learned a lot about the logic of this world. There was never anything in the inventory that couldn't be used in some way, but the mode of employ was rarely what a normal person would expect. It was like that with the gas can he'd acquired a few levels back: When he tried to fill the tank of his car with it, the auto exploded into flames. This gasoline was intended only for external combustion.

Shawn knew that in the real world there were very few uses for dog poo. Sure, you could scoop it into a bag, then put it on a grumpy neighbor's doorstep and set it on fire, so that he'd stomp on the bag and get it all over his shoe. But if you tried that with anyone in Darksyde City, he'd shoot you or stab you or blow you up, which took much of the fun out of the prank.

The logic of the game world worked differently from our own. There was a lot of metaphor involved, as Gus had said early on. And Shawn knew that in the real world people made bombs out of fertilizer--in the virtual one dog poo would probably perform the same function.

Shawn stole an SUV from a parking lot and filled the passenger's compartment with the poo. He drove it into the alley behind the jewelry store, noticing that the car's keyless remote had grown a new button, one illustrated with a cartoon explosion. Apparently Shawn was on the right track. He was about to push the detonator button when he saw the girl casually strolling out of a side exit. He didn't think to grab her then--it seemed more important to make sure she was free of the blast zone, since he'd finally figured out that the game tended to penalize the player for indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians. He watched her walk out of the alley, then put her out of his mind.

At least he did until the next time he was inside the game. The explosion had worked spectacularly--too spectacularly, as it turned out. Not only did the car bomb blast through the steel walls, it wiped out the entire city block, vaporizing Shawn's avatar into pixels that swirled for minutes before resolving into the "game over" screen.

Clearly, Shawn realized, he had used too big a vehicle, and once he had the game restarted, he grabbed a tenspeed that some bike messenger had left outside an office building and filled its courier pouch with the poo, then rode it back to the alley. Fortunately the SUV's keyless remote was still in his inventory. More promisingly, its detonator button had shrunk down to half its previous size. Shawn assumed that meant the explosion, too, had been right-sized.

He was about to use the remote to detonate the bicycle when a small door in one of the steel walls swung open and the same girl came out. She was carrying a small bag, as if she'd just made a purchase from a store that had closed hours ago.

That was when Shawn realized the girl was more than a misplaced bunch of pixels. She was a major clue. Shawn started to chase after her, but before he could close the distance between them he tripped over a crack in the asphalt and landed on his remote, triggering the explosion and killing himself. He quickly restarted the game, rehijacked the bicycle, and rode back to the alley. But no matter how long he waited, she never reappeared. Worse, the keyless remote had disappeared from his inventory, and he had no way to set off the explosion.

That night he was able to report for the first time to Brenda Varda that he'd found a major clue in the game and would be following it up in the morning. Not that he had any idea how he'd be doing it.

By the time he reentered the game he had come up with one. She'd shown up every time he came up with a new way into the jewelry store. So he had to plan one.

Shawn had no idea if the jackhammer he stole from the Darksyde City work crew could actually penetrate the steel walls, and he didn't really care. As long as the game thought he was trying, he figured that would be enough. And as soon as he pressed the blade to steel, he was proved right. The girl stepped through the suddenly appearing door in the wall and headed down the street.

Shawn ran as fast as he could--which was a lot faster in the virtual world than in the real one--and caught up with her quickly. According to game logic he probably should have kidnapped her right there, hauled her back to an abandoned warehouse, and worked her over until she talked. But even though he had given himself almost entirely over to the virtual way of life when he played this game, there were still some things that he couldn't bring himself to do. Blowing up a building wasn't a problem for him. Even driving that bus off the bridge caused him no pain, any more than the moment in a disaster movie when a bunch of extras were knocked off.

But he found himself pulling back when confronted with the prospect of committing the kind of interrogation that any civilized nation would consider a war crime, especially on a pretty young woman. So he tried talking to her instead. She pulled out a gun and pumped eighteen bullets into him.

After he'd restarted the game and tried a new way into the building, this one involving a bulldozer, she appeared again. This time he grabbed her and hauled her through a manhole into the sewer. That was where she informed him that her name was Fawn Liebowitz and she had a bomb strapped to her back. Before he could check out the claim, the sewer exploded and Shawn was out of the game again.

It had taken several more tries before Shawn could get any more information out of the young woman, and each time he ended up feeling a little less compassion for her. But no matter what methods he tried, he couldn't get her to say anything except that her name was Fawn Liebowitz, that she was a student at Darksyde U, and that she was majoring in the most ridiculous, phony subject whoever invented her character could come up with, something they called library science. Whatever he did next ended up with her dying or him dying or both of them dying or, in one spectacular bit of game play, the entire human race dying, and none of it was advancing his cause any.

The next day, instead of going back into the game, he decided to spend his time on the outside, thinking about the clue. He looked at it from every angle and replayed every move. He Googled the name Fawn Liebowitz, even though he knew exactly where the programmer had taken it from, and even though the fact that she was known only for dying in a kiln explosion would do him no good at all.

And then he realized the one piece he hadn't played with yet. She was a student. That was the key. There had to be some secret code that only students knew, some special way to talk to them. That would make sense, since most of the game's audience would be college kids desperate for an excuse not to study.

The only trouble was Shawn had never been to college. He hadn't been a student since he'd graduated from high school, and while he had talked to a lot of college girls, the subject of their studies somehow never came up

But that wasn't a problem. Because Gus had actually been to college. And in his years there, he had spent some time in every major they had on offer. For all Shawn knew he might have even spent some time in this so-called library science, if such a thing really existed. If there was anything to know about college life, Gus would know it. Shawn grabbed for the phone and started to dial.

And then he remembered. Gus didn't work for Psych anymore.

And Gus would never work for Psych again.

Chapter Thirteen

hen he thought back on that day in San Francisco, Shawn was still surprised at the way it had turned out.

Not so much at Gus' choice. By the time you start tracking your partner through airports and subways to find out whom he's going to see, you can pretty much assume the best days of the relationship are over.

What surprised Shawn was his own choice. He had let Gus go.

Not that there was anything he could have done to make Gus stay. It wasn't like he'd signed a contract with Psych, or that Shawn had people who'd break the legs of anyone who crossed him

But Shawn understood Gus. Understood how he thought. Understood him so well that nine times out of ten he could predict what Gus would do or say in just about any situation. And because he knew what Gus was going to do before Gus did, he also had a pretty good idea of how to make what he did match up with what Shawn wanted him to do.

Not always, of course. Gus wasn't just Shawn's puppet. He had a will and a mind of his own, which is what had made him such a valuable partner as well as a friend. But if they were trying to decide what movie to see or where to eat or who should drive, Shawn was generally able to lead Gus to his preferred choice and do it in a way that Gus thought it had been his own idea.

When Shawn learned that Gus was not interviewing with another detective agency but was instead talking to a pharmaceuticals company about an executive position, his first instinct was to beat him around the head and neck. But once that first instinct faded he started working out his strategy for bringing Gus back into Psych.

Once D-Bob had skipped off down the street--at least Shawn remembered him as having skipped--Shawn began to put his plot into action. The first step was easy.

"I'm hungry," Shawn had said. "Is there any place to eat in this town?"

Using their unique detective prowess, they managed to track down a '50s-style diner with a sign proudly advertising HOT DOGS AS BIG AS YOUR HEAD AND BURGERS THAT MAKE THEM LOOK SMALL. Once they were seated in a red-vinyl booth and the waitress had done a quick check of their hat size to make sure their food would live up to its billing, Shawn launched into step two.

"So," he said, "pharmaceuticals."

It wasn't much of a second step, but it was more than he'd planned for the next one. Shawn hadn't actually come up with a step three. Or, rather, he'd planned several possibilities. It all depended on how Gus reacted. If Gus seemed angry about Shawn spying on him, Shawn would have to be hurt by his friend's lack of trust in him. If Gus claimed he was actually working undercover on a case and that the interview was part of his investigation, Shawn would keep pumping him for details until the lie fell apart under its own weight. If Gus claimed that he had no idea what he was doing in San Francisco and that all he remembered was going to sleep in his own bed last night and waking up on that street corner and being hugged by D-Bob, Shawn would insist that Gus check himself in for observation at the nearest mental hospital and refuse to leave him alone until he did.

But what Gus actually did was something that even Shawn had never thought to prepare for. As soon as the waitress had departed with their order, he leaned across the table and gave Shawn a warm smile.

"I can't tell you how happy I am you followed me today," Gus said. "Thank you."

Shawn studied Gus' words as closely as he studied the face across from him. Now matter which way he looked at them, they made no sense.

"You're thanking me for spying on you?" Shawn said finally.

"Yes," Gus said.

"For violating your privacy, breaking your confidence, and basically being a complete jerk?"

"Yes," Gus said.

Now Shawn understood. His face tightened. "Because that just makes it easier for you to tell me to go to hell," Shawn said. "It's one thing to screw over a friend and colleague. But to do it to a creep--no big deal, right?"

Gus looked more surprised than hurt. "Because I've been looking for a way to tell you about this for weeks," he said. "I never had the nerve. But you took the kind of bold action I was too chicken to try, and now everything is out in the open. Which just goes to show why you're the best friend anyone has ever had."

Shawn ran through his catalog of response scenarios, and none of them fit the situation. Even his ultimate fallback of sticking a fork into Gus' eye and running away didn't seem to be appropriate. Although he'd thought he'd gamed this out in every possible way, he had completely overlooked the idea that Gus might use simple honesty. Shawn was crossing unknown territory here and he had to work his way through it with extreme caution.

"I'm such a good friend you couldn't tell me you were interviewing for another job?" he said finally. It was more of a stall than a move, but he thought it might buy him a little time until he could see the board more clearly.

"Exactly," Gus said. "Do you have any idea how hard it was to get this terrific, exciting news and not be able to share it with my best friend? There were times I thought my head was going to explode from the pressure of keeping a secret from you."

That made Shawn think of his own attempt to blow up Gus' head with logic and he suddenly felt ashamed. But he hadn't gotten where he was in life by paying attention to useless emotions like shame or guilt.

"So you want me to feel sorry for you?" Shawn said.

"I want you to be happy for me," Gus said. "Until just a few minutes ago I didn't know what I was going to do if they offered me this job. When I was first contacted by Rutland Armitage, I didn't even think I'd answer the e-mail. I had two jobs already--why would I be interested in a third one? But to ignore it seemed rude, so I e-mailed him back and asked for more details. I figured I'd see what he had to say, then politely decline, having given the appearance of considering it seriously."

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