Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Arlington, VA, January 2014

Chaz Villette shook the rain--snow--whatever the hell the concrete-colored sky was flinging down on the greater metro area--off his jacket and his climbing bag and left them to drip the rest of it on the tile floor of the condo's front entry. He could hear music from the living room, a song he didn't recognize and which didn't sound like anything Hafs would play.

She was home, though; her big sapphire-blue coat that swung like a swashbuckler's cape was on its hook. Maybe she had company. But company would have a coat, too, and would leave it here, and there was no sign of strange outerwear.

Other people just walk in their front doors, he reflected. Maybe even yell, "I'm home!" Neither he nor Hafidha were other people. Nor was anyone they worked with. So he knew where his weapons were (gun in holster, mirror folded in his head) when he rounded the corner into the living room.

Hafidha sat cross-legged on the floor in front of the flat-screen TV, a gallon plastic container of homemade chocolate-cherry-granola cookies corralled by her thighs and calves. On screen, three girls in leotards and toe shoes pliéd and sniped at each other in...British accents?

On the surface, at least, nothing to be worried about. Chaz let his shoulders drop a little. "What happened to the guy in the moldy two-hundred-year-old overcoat?" he asked.

"I'm time-shifting Sleepy Hollow," Hafidha replied around a mouthful of chewy cookie. "This is homework."

"Homework. Gamma ballerinas?" He plopped down beside her and stole a cookie.

"Not work homework. Not office work, I mean. This is one of Susanna Greenwood's favorite shows."

Susanna Greenwood was one of Idlewood's youngest inmates. Hafidha was mentoring her through the process of getting and using the implant. The bugzapper.

"Ah. It didn't seem like a you thing."

"I'll have you know I took ballet for seven freaking years, baby bro. I can balance on the ball of one foot with the best of 'em."

The TV showed two young guys doing a step-pivot, step-pivot, leap sequence that made his whole lower body ache in sympathy. "Is it...Australian?"

"Yep. And unlike the Disney Channel equivalent, it's full of teenagers who are butt-stupid in actual teenager ways, rather than made-up let-us-teach-you-this-lesson ways. Ooh, hang on. This is one of Kat's hip-hop routines." Hafidha waved the volume up, and they watched the dancers turn themselves into fierce, angular, graceful geometry.

"And you know the character's names," Chaz said when the dance ended.

"Teenagers think you're stupid if you don't know as much as they do."


Hafs slugged him in the arm, then passed him the tub of cookies.

The end credits began to roll. "The way the show came up... Susanna said she had a quiet freakout when one of the characters got injured. She said it scared the crap out of her--that in a matter of seconds, someone could go from having a plan and a life and a shiny future to zip, game over, out of quarters.

"And I could see it was horror-movie stuff to her. That was when I realized the thing she was terrified of had already happened to me. Twice."

She bit into another cookie while Netflix settled on its home page for the show. Dance Academy. "So you told her it wasn't that bad?"

"Hell, no. I told her she was right. I told her what doesn't kill us mostly leaves us seriously fucked up, or words to that effect. When a life-wrecking event happens, it wrecks your life. And you have to try to get a new one, which is a lot harder than replacing a wrecked pretty much anything else."

Chaz contemplated the piles of wreckage on his own backtrail. But he'd been able to stick with his old life after all. The Relative had broken him, but he'd put himself back together and returned to his work and his friends and his future. "Boy, you sure do know how to give a pep talk."

"I do, though. It made her feel better."


Hafidha tossed her head--the braids that would have been flipped off her cheek were gone, but the gesture remained. "If I were standing at the top of a cliff with one of your pretty rectangular parachutes and said I was scared to jump, what would you tell me?"

"I'd say if you weren't you'd be an idiot. Oh."

"When you're scared, and reasonably scared, and somebody tells you, 'It's no big deal," you know they're a liar. And being lied to is never comforting." She tucked her feet under her and stood up. "Jammers do not live by cookies alone."

"Who are you, and what have you done with my Wabbit?"

She frowned down at him. "Pffft. We need a pile of grilled cheese sandwiches. And maybe some beer. After that, wanna watch the next episode with me? It's only half an hour."

Teenagers being stupid. And, based on that step-pivot-leap bit, trying to defy gravity on a daily basis.

As an athlete, he could respect that. "I'll slice the bread."