Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Bethesda, MD, February 2008

As they stood in the narrow living room of Todd's townhouse, motion in the fifty gallon tank against the back wall drew Brady's attention. He picked his way around a battered leather armchair strategically positioned under a reading lamp and crouched down to get a better look.

A shoal of neon tetras slalomed through the water weeds, blue-silver with a shock of scarlet like a cut lip. As they turned, they winked in and out of sight, revolving signs on some underwater Vegas strip. Hypnotic; he could feel his blood pressure drop.

"How do you keep them alive?"

"Long-term feeders," Todd called from the kitchen. "They make them to last seven or fourteen days. If I were ever gone longer, Hafs has a key." Re-entering through the arch, he tossed Chaz an orange and an apple. "Start on those."

As Chaz crunched through the skin of the apple, Brady saw a lumpy torpedo-shaped mud-brown animal sidle along the glass at the bottom of the tank, scraping through green algae with a mouth that worked like something out of Ellen Ripley's nightmares. Its flanks were marked with polka dots inside outline squares. It looked like a miniature whale shark.

"That's one ugly critter," Brady said, and touched the glass next to the the four-inch horror. He didn't tap. It was just trying to eat its lunch. "Catfish?"

Todd ducked beside him, warmth of his shoulder brushing Brady's. Every day on the job with these people was a little piece of finding home.

Todd said, "That's Pleco."

Brady tilted a skeptical look at him, giving him the rope. "You named your fish?"

Ironically, one of his best roles was straight man to Todd.

"No, it's not a name. Do I look like someone who would name fish? Plecostomus is just too long to say. So it's an abbreviation."

"Uh huh," Chaz mumbled, through apple.

Todd winked. "Okay, a nickname... okay, a name. Look, consistency is not my virtue, all right? Isn't he cute? In a manly way, of course."

"Manly." Brady straightened up. If he'd ever known anybody less concerned about manly than Sol Todd, he couldn't think of an example now. As if considering his answer deeply, he said, "It's okay. Fish are butch. I mean, as long as they're not angelfish or something."

Chaz swallowed the bite of apple with an audible gulp, and interjected, "Actually, y'know, angelfish are ambush predators. So they're not as girly as they look."

Todd shook his head. "Grasshopper, you've got to stop taking the job home with you."