Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes


Baltimore, MD, June 2008

In times of black despair, banality can prove a useful refuge. And, Reyes was forced to admit, there was very little in the world more banal than a slim brightly-colored paperback about the adventures of a murder-solving cat and his hapless human partner. He read it casually, skimming as he flicked pages, his back to the window so the sunlight warmed his scalp and the nape of his neck.

The book wasn't worthy of a lot of attention, and he wasn't paying it a lot of attention. He suspected he might have read this one before, and wondered if he would remember before the end. They tended to blur together. Maybe he'd remember when he got to the murder.

If he ever got to the murder. He was on page 150, and nobody was dead yet, though there had been a great deal of shopping in bookstores and a certain amount of architecture and quirky local history of made-up places.

But he wouldn't have wanted anything more gripping. This was just enough to keep his eyes moving while leaving everything else free to process and observe. He did some of his best thinking in a state of mild preoccupation--driving, folding laundry, on his morning run when he was trying to tune out the complaints of his ankles and knees. It was like the prayers that focused a knight upon his vigil; something to occupy the conscious mind while the subconscious did the deep work at hand.

There was a Dennis Lehane in his bag, which he could have read if he needed something that required thought, but most of his brain wanted the space to pay attention to other things.

Things like the steady hum of the machines surrounding the patient, connected by needles and tape and tubes and clips and wires and elastic straps and sticky patches. Things like the slow rise and fall of Chaz Villette's chest under the white bedspread, the visible motion of eyes tracking rapidly under closed lids. Reyes could see the heart monitor from where he sat, hear the rattle of Chaz's breath. They'd taken him off the cannula and the rails on the bed were down, over hospital staff's protests.

The nurse had wanted to raise them, for Chaz's own protection. She'd argued for a posey, too, after the episode where Chaz had yanked out his IV and made it halfway to the door before collapsing. Reyes was pretty sure Chaz would never remember having done that.

Reyes had pulled the nurse out into the hall and explained why tying this particular patient to the bed was a bad idea, no matter how disoriented he seemed. Eventually, he'd just called up the attending physician and made sure it was on the chart. Rails down. No posey. If the patient wants to walk somewhere and he's physically capable of it, let him. Help him. IV needles in the elbow, if at all possible, not in the hands.

"Leave him an escape route," he'd said to the doctor, hoping she'd understand. Not that Chaz was weak, or crazy, or combative. But that after all he'd been through, he'd feel better--and rest better, and heal better--for every little bit of security and self-determination that they could give him.

She'd made faces Reyes recognized. Faces of professional doubt and disagreement, and I'll take it under advisement, but you're crazy as well as ignorant and wrong.

So Reyes had swallowed and said, "We'll get somebody to sit with him."

"That's irregular. And you can't be here 24/7--"

"Why not?" Challenging, running down the team roster in his head. Seven people. Enough to take it in shifts. There might be some others Reyes could shanghai into it, other favors he could call in. Pauley. A couple more down the hall. Madeline Frost worked on the campus. So did Amrita Srinivasan, who was an old friend.

The physician's headshake became a frown. "You mean that."

"Just until he's competent again."

A long stare, until she relented, hands fisted in the pockets of her labcoat. "All right," she'd said. "Don't make me regret this."

There was nothing Reyes could do about the cast on Chaz's right wrist. He just had to hope that being able to move the hand freely would be enough. On top of everything else, there was the food. Apples in the fruit cup, no. Oatmeal cookies, no. It might be nothing. He might be fine with it. And Reyes knew that nobody could expect to get through life in 21st century America without running across an apple unexpectedly. But you could never tell where triggers might be.

It would be better for Chaz if he could decide for himself when he was going to confront them, and find out just how bad it was going to be. Better for him to have that self-determination, too. It would have to come slowly; Reyes was certain that William Villette had worked hard to strip all choice and autonomy from his captive, and they would be terrifying at first to reclaim.

But Chaz was strong. He would find ways around those fences, circumvent those boundaries. If he couldn't go over, he would go under. Or through. Reyes smiled, half to himself, skimming three pages about a selection of used books and shipping crates. He hoped he was wrong, that there was something different about the betas. That they were not gammas in waiting, but that however they came by their abilities, they were... carriers, immune.

The hypothesis was a seductive enough comfort that he knew he should reject it until the evidence supported it more thoroughly.

That didn't take away the question of how, after days in which William Villette had been so very careful to keep control, Chaz had lured Villette close enough to turn the tables.

No. Now was not the time to think about that. Except Reyes should face it; he had to face it, so that nobody else would need to. It was his job, anticipating the worst, and he did it so the team could be happy they had Chaz back, that he was improving, that he was going to live. There are no fates worse than death. And while there had been earlier victims, too many damned earlier victims, when they got to Villette in the end nobody had died.

Nobody who mattered, Reyes thought, and wondered if it was decency or cowardice that he felt ashamed of the savagery with which he thought it. Hating people--even gammas, even serial killers--didn't help get the job done.

Sure. It didn't change a thing. Somewhere down in the pit of his belly, Reyes would have liked to bring William Villette back from the dead, so he could kill him himself, a few more times.

Chaz's breathing quickened. His heart rate increased. Was he only waking?

No. It was a dream. Reyes could see him straining against the REM atonia, the tiny twitches in muscles that wanted to move but could not. Reyes could get up from the chair, cross the room, take Chaz's hand and awaken him from the nightmare--and it was obviously a nightmare now, as Chaz moaned low and rough. Reyes's palms itched with the desire to do so.

Chaz should also be allowed to decide when and where he was touched. Reyes stayed where he sat. He folded the book in his hand open, disrespectful of the spine. "Villette," he said, because he was certain that William might have called Chaz many things, but that would not be one of them. "Villette. You're dreaming."

No response. Shallow breaths now, quick and fast. "Villette. It's Reyes. You're only dreaming."

Maybe the nightmare had run its course, and maybe Reyes' voice had interrupted it. Either way, it was over, and Chaz breathed more easily, sliding deeper into drugged slumber. It would do for now.

Reyes turned the last page of the book and frowned. He wasn't, he realized, quite certain who had been murdered or who had done the murdering, or what their motive was, or how the mystery had been solved. Or if he had read this one before.

It didn't matter. He'd probably read the same one again some day, in some airport somewhere, and he still wouldn't be able to remember how it had ended then.

Todd appeared in the door with a cup of coffee and a notebook computer, by which Reyes knew that he was working on his on-again, off-again novel this month. Reyes nodded to him silently--they didn't really need to talk that often, after all these years--then collected his bag. He left the broken-spined book on Chaz's nightstand, in case Chaz wanted a stupid distraction later.

And so Chaz would see that he had been there without having to ask, when Chaz woke up and wanted to know.