Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

FBI Headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., January 8, 2002

Supervisory Special Agent Esther Falkner had been told more than once by people she trusted in the Bureau that her next assignment would be something prominent. Perhaps even chief of the Behavioral Analysis Unit, they'd hinted. She'd done good work there.

This cramped wing down the hall from the BAU, this echoing room smelling of paint and carpet adhesive, these empty clustered desks stark under fluorescent light--this was the opposite of prominent.

Falkner passed between the desks toward the far wall with its three doors. One stood ajar. As she got closer, she could hear the swift click of keys.

Inside, a man sat at a requisitioned desk on a requisitioned chair, typing on a black Thinkpad. He would have fit Mr. Hoover's expectations--short-haired, clean-shaven, leanly muscular--except for the darkness of his skin. His ink-blue suit, white shirt, and dark tie might have been requisitioned, too.

The tie was silk, the shirt was Egyptian cotton, and the perfect-fitting jacket might have cashmere in it. Perhaps Mr. Hoover wouldn't approve, after all.

The man looked up. Cold eyes. No; his face was still as frozen water, neutral as the wall behind him, but his eyes were intent, unblinking. Not cold at all.

She wondered when he'd learned to hide himself behind his own face. She'd learned how at West Point.

"Agent Falkner," he said. "I'm Stephen Reyes."


He shook his head. "On paper, I lead this unit. But if you take the assignment, I'll be listening to you at least as often as you do to me. I know you've heard it before, but at this end of the hall, it's true: we need results more than hierarchy." Reyes gave a smile that told her nothing. "But if we screw up, I get the blame."

That might or might not be true. "When I was assigned here, no one mentioned what you were set up to do."

His eyebrows rose a fraction of an inch, and his voice was dry when he said, "It was suggested we take need-to-know seriously."

"Does this shadow unit have a name?"

He smiled suddenly. If what it revealed was honest, she thought she might be able to like Stephen Reyes. "The Anomalous Crimes Task Force."

"That doesn't tell me much."

"It will." When she hesitated, he added, "You can turn this down. It won't hurt your career. You might even get brownie points for being smart enough to turn it down."

She thought of her husband and her daughters. "This isn't Mr. Hoover's Bureau anymore."

Reyes shrugged. "The FBI's official position then was that the Mafia didn't exist. We just have different secrets now."

Falkner glanced around the bare office. Promotion or punishment? "I don't mean to be uncooperative--"

"But you can't commit without knowing more."

She was good at her job, damn it. She deserved at least to know if that would be wasted here. "I think that's fair."

Reyes said, "What do you know about Brian Mikkelson?"

"The Tempe Skinner? Twelve known victims, all gay males. Possibly twenty more. The Bureau lost two agents taking him."

Reyes spun his laptop on his desk so she could see its black screen. "Mikkelson made videos."

"I never heard--"

"Need-to-know covers a surprising amount of terrain. This is a copy of one tape." Reyes tapped the touchpad.

An elapsed-time window showed at the bottom of the screen. When the video stopped, it read fifty-two seconds.

"Faked?" She couldn't wrench her gaze away from the final frozen image.

"Probably not. According to the imaging experts here, at Langley, and at Industrial Light and Magic."

Fifty-two seconds. That was what it took to learn that the unimaginable was possible. To see that the boundaries of reality were further away than she'd thought.

Reyes blacked the screen. "Well?"

Falkner met Reyes's eyes over the laptop. "That's an anomalous crime?"

"One of them. This unit exists to find and stop people like Mikkelson."

"So there are more people who can do that."

"Or worse."

The boundaries of reality had moved. Her job could expand to fit them. "Where do we start?"

Reyes pointed with his chin, out the door toward the empty front room. "Let's fill those desks."