Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Providence, RI, September 2007

Brady had been wondering which of them would crack first, and had almost given up on Worth. But after forty minutes of sitting in the car in near-silence, she finally broke it for something other than a request for a bottle of water.

"New England in late September," she said, draping her wrists over the steering wheel like a trucker. "If you have to follow monsters around, at least some of them live in nice places."

Brady had been reaching between his knees for a water of his own. The seal broke with a ratcheting sensation as he twisted the tepid bottle between his hands. "Damn Yankees," he answered, hoping she could tell his tongue was pressed firmly into his cheek.

She gestured to the oaks and evergreens of the Providence graveyard, to the still-green leaves of a wood of maple trees that held a slope down to the water just visible through their branches. The sun had slid behind the hemlocks that concealed Brady's side of the vehicle. Stars were beginning to prickle out in the cadet-blue twilight. "It's pretty."

Brady drank and wiped beaded water off his lips with the back of his hand. "You really think he'll come out here just to visit a grave?"

"Chaz does. And anyway, it's not just any grave."

"Yeah, it's the grave of some obscure dead horror writer."

"He's a cult figure. If Chaz says the host will come, the host will come. Anyway, live horror writers mostly don't have graves."

Her delivery was totally deadpan, and she got him. He snorted, aspirated water, and began to cough. Without taking her eyes from the approach road, she handed him a paper napkin.

"Point, Worth," he said, when he'd mopped his chest.

She grinned shyly, a quick flicker, and then her attention went back to the gates. She was nerving herself for something; it showed in the ripple of her fingers and the rhythmic tensing of her jaw. He watched out of the corner of his eyes, and decided to let her decide. Finally, she said, "I killed the first gamma I ever met."

"Excuse me?" As personal confessions went, it wasn't at all what he'd been expecting.

"In L.A.," she said, "you told me to pull the trigger and keep pulling."

He settled back in the passenger seat. "This is about Melinda."

"No." Her hands flattened on the steering wheel. "Yes. But mostly no. But if I'd told you then I'd killed someone, it would have sounded--"


Her lip curled. "Weak."

Her profile against the driver's side window gave him nothing.

Brady had rules for himself, a handbook of right action for difficult moments. He didn't demand that anyone else know or follow them. Discovering that Daphne Worth's personal rules also included No excuse, SIR! startled him.

"So what happened?" It seemed safer than any of the other questions that occurred to him.

Her cheek hollowed, as if she was sucking on her molars. "When I was a paramedic. We were called to a convenience store robbery. The clerk was gut-shot, but he still pulled the shotgun from under the counter and got the robber in the face and chest. So we had a second ambulance right behind us.

"'We' was Vin Mulhall, Josh Kandinski, and me. We'd been at the station for years. They made fun of my miserable cooking, I made fun of their taste in clothes, we went out drinking. It was..." She shrugged. "We were on the same team."

He knew what that meant.

"The second ambulance took the clerk. They left the robber for us." As she spoke, Worth's palms slid down from the top of the steering wheel to three and nine o'clock, then back up. "We knew our guy wasn't going to make it. He was dead before we got him to the ambulance. But you don't call it at the scene if you don't have to."

Her shoulders curled forward off the seat back, as if she could wrap them around her. She took a deep breath, puffed it out her mouth, and straightened against the upholstery. "We rolled him into the truck and charged the defib." Her lips stretched in a flat, humorless smile. "You can see it coming, can't you? Hello, George Romero! The corpse sat up."

Brady nodded. After it happened, you put distance on it however you could.

"He was strapped to the gurney, but the webbing snapped like old rubber bands. He grabbed Vin by the neck and broke his spine. He reached..." She took another breath. "He just shoved his hand into Josh under his ribcage, like a spoon into ice cream, and..."

She fumbled her water bottle out of the cupholder and drank. Her eyes were on the cemetary approach all the while.

Her voice was steady after that. That was the worst. "He went for my throat. But his hand was slippery. So I slapped the juice on the defib unit up to eleven and put the paddles to his temples."

He waited, to make sure there wasn't more. Of course there was more: the bodies of her friends tumbled like rescue dummies in a disaster exercise, the blood of one of them on her collar, the cop, too late, saying, Ma'am. Ma'am! Let go! She didn't have to tell him that part. "You found out what it was?"

"Larry Peretti worked it. The gamma was dead, but somebody had to launder the story. He told me."

"Hell of a way to do the laundry."

It got a little laugh out of her. "Maybe he knew I'd be noisier about it if he didn't."

"Why tell me now?" Out of his mouth, it sounded wrong, as if he disapproved.

She turned a level look on him. Whatever he'd sounded like, she wasn't scared off. She pulled her hands into her lap. "If I'd known a little more than I knew, maybe Josh and Vin would be alive. Maybe they wouldn't. But the thing is, I knew what I knew, and I did what I did. And it was the best I knew to do at the time I did it."

"Oh," he said, and turned back to the windshield. No excuse, sir.

Maybe she didn't think he needed one either. "If Chaz says he'll show, he'll show, right?"

"Sure," she answered. And a moment later, added, "Doesn't mean he'll show tonight."

He finished the water in the bottle. "Pity it's too late in the year for fireflies. We could have a fucking moonlight picnic on the waterside."