Shadow Unit
FBI Headquarters, J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., March, 2008

Daphne Worth pushed back her chair, stood up, and marched across the aisle and around Chaz Villette's desk--and Chaz Villette--until she could loom over Sol Todd, both hands on her hips, forehead furrowed with her glower. "All right, Duke," she growled. "I've heard six different versions of this from the team. I want the definitive story. How did you screw up your hand?"

Mildly, Todd looked up through the top half of his bifocals. "You don't trust your teammates?"

Chaz didn't look up from the LiveJournal entry he was furtively typing in Textpad. "You told me it was frostbite. At a commune in Vermont."

"New Hampshire," Nikki Lau corrected. She didn't have to lean around Brady for once. He was at the coffee station.

Chaz said, "I'm pretty sure it was Vermont."

"Right." Daphne crossed her arms. "That's a weird pattern for frostbite, Todd."

Duke sighed and pushed his chair away from the desk, leaning back in it with his arms crossed. "Well, it seemed more believable than the real story."

There was a rattle as Lau stood. "Wait a minute, stall him. I need to get coffee. Anybody want a slice of cake?"

Chaz raised his hand, minimizing windows with the other one. He punched the intercom button on his phone and when Hafidha answered, "Yeah, Platypus?" he said, "Code Yellow."

"On my way," Hafidha answered. "Tell Nikki to grab me some cake!"

She had taken up a station by the corner of Chaz's desk when Lau returned, Balancing her own cup of coffee and three plates, she also had Brady in tow. They passed out cake and settled themselves, and Duke said, "Okay, you kiddies all comfy? Anybody need another pillow? No? All right. What really happened is that my ex-wife bit them off. See, she'd just caught me in bed with twin Mexican aerialists."

Daphne stepped away from the desk, pausing behind Chaz's. Arms still folded, she said, "You ever notice how all these phrases crop up in Duke's stories that you really never expected to hear? Like 'twin Mexican aerialists'?"

Duke swiped at her ineffectually. "Fraternal twins. Anyway, it wasn't what she thought. But she wasn't exactly willing to listen, and I suppose I should count myself fortunate that it was the ring she was demanding, and not anything else.">

"She bit your fingers off to get your wedding ring," Lau said, pausing with a forkful of cake halfway to her mouth. Chaz hadn't even paused in hoovering--pun intended--his double-sized portion up to roll his eyes.

Duke shrugged. "She'd been demanding I return it, so she could stuff it up my nose. She really felt awful about it after she calmed down, and I can see why she might have been jealous. It did look bad. But by the time she gave me the ring back it was too late to get the fingers reattached. And anyway, it's kind of convenient. Now, if I need to claim to be married, people feel bad pointing out that I'm not wearing a ring."

Chaz set his fork down on the empty plate. "So I take it that was the end of the relationship?"

"Hell, no. It lasted another eight fantastic months. Until she left me for an encyclopedia salesman." Duke sighed dramatically.

"Dog sigh," Brady stage-whispered.

Duke threw a wad of paper at him. "Hey. Some women, you will put up with a lot for. What was her name? Lola? Lucinda? Something like that."

Hafidha tapped her plate with the tines of her fork. "Hello. Marriage licenses are public record, Agent Todd. You've never been married."

Duke grinned. "Common-law. Hey, is there still any of that cake?"