Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Somewhere in Virginia, March 2009

Spring, Solomon Todd thought, should always be like this. Gleaming bikes lined blacktop under cherry trees, shade and petals dappling silk-smooth custom paint. Men in ripped jeans mingled with women in babydoll tank-tops. A candy-apple red trike purred slowly through the curve, piloted by a guy with iron-gray hair. Yesterday's five o'clock shadow glinted on his pitted cheeks like a scattering of mica.

Todd turned to watch it go, the sun warm on his shoulders, a beer in a lemonade cup chilling his right hand. He was about to turn back and continue his mall crawl down the row of custom bikes when a comfortably-plump sixtyish white woman with graying brunette hair stepped out of the crowd. She wore a tight pink t-shirt blazoned with a dove. More shirts draped her left arm; she held another out with her right hand. Todd smiled at her: he must have been wearing his approachable journalist face.

"Hi," she said, her voice dreamily, distantly familiar. "I'm fundraising for My Sister's Place. It's a domestic violence shelter. Here's my ID" --she lifted her chest to display a laminated tag, locks of hair slipping against her neck-- "And for twenty dollars, we have t-shirts, too. You look like a guy who's confident enough in his own masculinity to wear pink."

Todd squinted at her tag, trying not to look like he was staring at her chest. Mehitabel Percy. That seemed vaguely familiar, too. He made eye contact and dug for his wallet with the un-beer-bearing hand. "Domestic violence shelter? Man, the scene has changed."

"For the better," she said, with a grin, and then blinked and stepped back. "Omygawd, you're Solomon Todd."

He tilted his head, with a shiver of self-conscious embarrassment. He must have seen her at a signing, back when he still did such things. "I don't autograph body parts."

"Excuse me?"

Her expression of befuddlement was not feigned. Todd felt a rush of relief--and secondary affection. "Oh, thank God, you're not a fan. No, nevermind. What can I do for you? I'm afraid I don't really have good recall of most of 1975..."

Mehitabel Percy laughed out loud, head thrown back to show her throat, and dropped the T-shirt in her right hand back in the pile draped over her left arm. "You used to live with my friend Chrissy Parker."

With the free hand, Mehitabel pushed her hair off her face. Despite the gentle weathered softening of lines and pounds and years, Todd saw a girl of twenty-five in her, and remembered. "Oh, my god. Yes. You're Belle." She'd been a Hells Angels girl, the old lady of two or three different guys over the course of the time he'd spent in California. He remembered her, abruptly, skinny and half-naked, straddling the pillion seat of Flea's chopper with a Coors dangling from gnawed fingers, her torn denim skirt riding most of the way up her thighs. These days she was probably somebody's grandmother.

"Mehitabel, now. My mom was a don marquis fan. Eventually I grew resigned, then affectionate. You know how it is."

Solomon Todd did indeed. Sometime around age thirty, he'd conceived of a ferocious affection for his previously-despised first name. He grinned. "Well, you absolutely just sold me a shirt. Can I also buy you a beer?"

"No beer at this gig." Her sigh contained themes and elaborations. "The scene is also family-friendly. Or at least this part of it is."

Todd sloshed his paper cup, revealing the absent rattle of ice. "Shh. Don't tell. There's five more in a thermal pouch in my saddlebag."

Eyes widening, she grinned. "Gee, Mr. Todd. Where is your bike? And does it have any etchings? On our way there, I think I'll stop and get a lemonade. Just the thing in this unseasonable heat... you know, Chrissy still talks about you sometimes."

Todd winced. "Ow. After thirty years? I guess I probably shouldn't put off sending that apology card much longer."

"Rave reviews, actually."

He didn't know quite what to say to that, so he shrugged and pointed with his chin, back the way he had come. Mehitabel's sandals purred on the road much the same way the trike's wheels had. When he glanced at her sideways, she was already looking. She winked.

"Weren't you a blonde?" he asked, for lack of anything better to say.

"Didn't you have more hair?" she answered, which made him spray laughter. Oh, history. And then she frowned, and said, "So, Solomon Todd, what are you doing tonight?"

"Buying an old friend dinner?" he asked.

She grinned and did a subtle spot check of his left hand, but then looked back up, realizing--or reminded--that any evidence of marriage wouldn't be on his ring finger. "Bringing me home to the Missus? That might not go over well."

Ahh, the leading question. "Never married," he said. "Well, there was this one time in Haiti--"

She laughed again, sharp and vivid. "I did," she said. "Three times. The only one I wanted to keep up and died on me three years ago, the son of a bitch."

"I'm so sorry for your loss."

She dismissed it with a wave of her hand, but he saw the pinch between the eyebrows. Three years was not such a long time. "I'm recovering." She bumped him with a shoulder, shock of warm soft flesh through cloth. "That's a warning."

Full of benevolence and fellow-feeling, Todd looked at her and smiled. God, he loved this game.