Shadow Unit
Belfast, TN, April, 2008

Do not, Nicolette Lau says firmly to herself, think about the smell.

Behind her, Brady whispers, "Jesus, what did he do to them?" and for a moment she envies him so much it feels like hatred. Because when you're a 6'2" ex-army jock who could bench press most of your colleagues, you can get away with stuff like that and no one will wonder about your ability to handle yourself. No one will wonder if maybe they should have left you outside the crime scene. No one will wonder if maybe they should have left you with the civilians and the noncombatants.

No one's going to call Danny Brady a sissy girl.

She gets her chin up, takes a breath--not through her nose, thank you--and says, "It looks like DIY mummification to me." She swings her flashlight to light the row of metal shelves along the basement's east wall. "I think he's using Mason jars as--" It almost gets away from her there; she has to bite down hard on a lunatic giggle, has to concentrate to keep her voice from skying up into dog-whistle range. "As canopic jars."

"All those dried flowers," Brady says. "All those dried fucking flowers. Here I was thinking he'd just read Great Expectations one too many times, and I should've been thinking "A Rose for Emily" instead. Jesus."

Lau remembers "A Rose for Emily" because who would've thought Faulkner had it in him, and Great Expectations has the creepy old lady with her dried out wedding cake, doesn't it? Or was that an old Wonder Woman story?

She shakes her head. "C'mon. He's not down here, and we'd better look around." She's suspicious about the basement's west wall; it's too close to the stairs, and it's unfinished cinderblock where the rest of the walls are seventies-nightmare fake wood paneling.

She starts toward the first table: it looks as DIY as the Mason/canopic jars with their neat masking tape labels, like the table in her folks' basement where Dad and Bobby and Pete had run their model train. No girls allowed, Bobby had said. And it hadn't helped that he'd added, looking at Tim, No babies either. There are girls allowed down here, though. She's betting this first mummy is Cynthia Dalton, 24, who's been missing for three months. There are cheap costume jewelry rings on every interlaced, individually wrapped finger, and Mardi Gras beads make a pectoral that glows and glitters in the beam of her flashlight.

It takes her a moment to realize Brady isn't following. She turns back, raising her eyebrows at him, and is startled to find that he's looking at her, not at the mummies or the Mason jars or even that west wall that's making her more and more unhappy.

"You don't have to prove anything to me, you know," he says.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Nikki." His tone says cut the bullshit as clearly as his exasperated face. "You can admit you're as creeped out as I am. I won't make you turn in your invisible plane."

"My what?"

He grins, as dazzling and brief as heat lightning. "Todd told me about the helicopter."

For a moment she wants to scream, but that never works. And on second thought, it is pretty funny. "Well, if I'm Wonder Woman, you must be Steve Trevor. Come on, Steve-O. Let's do our job."