Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., April 20, 2013

And that, for now, was that.

It wasn't over; the FBI would be involved in the work of building the prosecution's case, providing and consulting on evidence and offering context for the arguments. But the immediate, terrible consciousness of fragile human bodies at risk could be set aside for a while.

"Aside" was never very far. And "a while" was sometimes a matter of hours or minutes.

Esther Falkner stood in a streak of sunlight in what was a mere widening of a corridor, a nameless, functionless connecting link between areas with names and functions. It was out of the path of anyone who might have come looking for her in particular.

She closed her eyes and saw the light through her eyelids, through skin and blood. She imagined it traveling to the center of her body as if it could be carried on hemoglobin cells. I grieve, she thought. I rejoice. I grieve. Tonight she would go home to her husband and daughters. She could take a little time now to ache for those who would never go home again.

She heard heavy steps approaching on her right and opened her eyes.

"Esther," Victor Celentano said with a nod. He meant to walk past; she saw him change his mind and stop uncertainly beside her, just outside her band of sun. His suit was wrinkled, his collar limp, and his tie loosened, and she noted they were the same ones she'd seen him in on Thursday afternoon.

The local field office hadn't had to officially call in the BAU, but there'd been ways to help. Plenty of people in the building hadn't seen much of their own beds since the fifteenth.

"Victor. Just letting the spring unwind."

He took that to mean what she'd intended: he was welcome to stay. He shifted more of his weight into his heels, sighed, and scrubbed his face with his fingertips. "Time was we'd be doing that with a cigarette and a glass of scotch."

"At this time of the morning."

"We were a hardy bunch."

She raised one corner of her mouth. "Since those were the days before you were at Quantico, and when no way in hell would they have let a broad do my job, what 'we' do you mean?"

Celentano snorted. "Yeah, well. And that last was the Bureau's loss. Any asshole who hasn't figured that out shouldn't get a government check."

The silence was companionable, but Falkner broke it anyway. "Will they push for the death penalty, do you think?"

"Somebody will. They may even get it."

"God, I hope not."

"Not our problem."

"Of course it's our problem. We'll help them make their case, won't we?"

Celentano thrust his head a little forward on his neck. She knew his body language; he was prepared to engage. "I grew up in the North End. You know that, right?"

"And I'm a Jew. But this isn't like deciding whether to root for the Patriots or the Redskins, and you know that."

"Emotionless isn't in our job description. Poker face, sure. But you can't separate what people feel and what they do. Terrorism is about doing maximum emotional damage. If this idiot gets more fire rained down on his head because he freaked out everyone who saw the news footage, that's pretty much what he asked for."

Falkner rolled the words around in her head. She knew the shape of the argument already. She also knew where the raveled end of it lay. "No, you can't separate what people feel and what they do. What he asked for was his big brother's approval. That's in the news footage, too, for anyone who knows where to look."

Celentano narrowed his eyes, as if squinting into the near future for her next attack. "It's called the Justice Department." But he said it as if he knew he was parrying with the foible.

"It's also called the Department of Homeland Security. I'm not sure there's any such thing as justice or security without knowledge. In this case, knowledge leads to compassion."

"I never thought you were the sentimental type."

"It's not sentiment at my pay grade. It's basic human physiology. We treat nineteen-year-olds as adults in the justice system. But the brain doesn't develop a reliable capacity to judge consequences until closer to twenty-five. If you suck at weighing consequences, what do you use to decide whether to rob a gas station, or plant bombs on a crowded street?"

Celentano gave a little snort, which under the circumstances could pass for a raised hand. "Oh, sure. Use behavioral science against me."

Falkner let both corners of her mouth twitch upward. "We are on the clock."

"And since when do you say things like 'suck at'?"

"Pernicious influence of two teenage daughters. Do you have kids, Vic?"

"Son in grad school, daughter in management in the private sector."

"You might not have seen the dynamic up close and personal, then." Intermittently over the past few days she'd felt the same spasm of sick, helpless fear she felt now. She set it aside, as she had every time before; but this time she gave voice to the thought that caused it. "If Bekk embraced some kind of fanaticism, some violent ideology... Deb might follow her into it. They're about the same distance apart in age."

Celentano did even more damage to the state of his suit by shoving his hands in his trouser pockets and crumpling the jacket between his ribs and his tight-pinched elbows. His closed lips worked, and Falkner suspected he was sucking on his dental work. "So you're saying they already put down the guy responsible."

"More that the guy in custody isn't exactly responsible." She drew a long breath of conditioned air, the smell of floor polish, the sunlight's heat. "Let's do what we do best. Let's get inside this kid's head."

He gave her a go-ahead nod, the same gesture he might make if they were briefing a police detective who'd brought them a case.

So she did what she would do in those circumstances. She curled her toes in her shoes to grip the floor, and pulled her spine a little straighter, feeling the strength of her body in a firm line from legs to hips to shoulders to level jaw. Daphne Worth had once referred to it as "raising aspect." She'd looked it up later and laughed.

"A teenage boy in college," she said. "He wants to fit in, he wants to be popular. He's a little fuzzy about who he wants to be when he grows up. He idolizes his older brother, who's seen more of the world, and who has a cause, an identity, a set of goals.

"When the older brother recruits him to work for that cause, he feels accepted. Grown up. Worthy. His brother is taking him seriously. He's not thinking about killing. He's thinking about his brother's approval.

"The explosions are frightening, but exhilarating, too. He's accomplished something big. He's proved he deserved his brother's confidence. This cause that he's never really been a part of has been the means of proving his manhood to his brother and the world.

"But the shootout with the police is not about the cause. Everything he knows about guns comes from TV and movies. His brother is shot. He's shot. Glass from the windows of the SUV is flying everywhere. He can't hear anything except the gunfire. His brother falls.

"His brother, who was the reason and the reward, falls. And he's just a teenage boy who doesn't know what to do anymore.

"He feels the thump as the tires of the SUV run over his brother's body. He's too deafened by gunfire to hear it dragging from the undercarriage. When it finally pulls free, he sees it in the rear-view mirror.

"From that moment, he ceased to be a threat. When he was taken, he wasn't even carrying a weapon. The weapons were his brother's, just like the cause and the plan. Without his brother, he reverted to the college kid his friends described, who would never do a thing like that."

She let out the rest of her breath slowly. It was like an exorcism. She could stop imagining her daughters in those roles because she'd invoked and released the real actors.

"The way you describe it," Celentano said, his voice rusty, "we could never do anything worse to that kid than he's already done to himself."

But that's not what the trial and the sentence are for, are they? she wanted to say. She'd harrowed Celentano's sensibilities enough for one day, however. "Go home, Vic. We get to start all over again tomorrow morning."

Celentano nodded and continued down the hall to wherever he was going. She pulled out her phone to call Ben. By the time she reached home, there'd be lunch.