Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C. November 2008

Chaz could get absorbed in the stats, but never really lost. Statistics were relationships between numbers, each one connected by a thread to the next. Multiple homicides committed by women over forty with no previous record of violence; he followed the turns, winding the thread into a ball, trusting he'd arrive at the center of the maze where the commonalities became a pattern and the map of the labyrinth lay clear in his head.

But he could be lost enough to forget the desk in front of him, the chair he sat on, the fragile meat he lived in and whatever it was heir to. It took the ring of his cell phone to yank him from the maze.

The generic ring.

He recognized the calling number. For an instant he considered not answering. But if he let it ring, Todd would tilt his head over the barrier between their desks and lift his eyebrows. Daphne would spin her chair and say, "Hey, Platypus! Your AOP is lonesome." Brady and Falkner would raise their eyes from the file they hovered over by Falkner's door, looking for the source of the sound, and when they found it, they'd put another check next to "weird behavior" in the Chaz Log.

Or he could silence the ring. They'd all still wonder why he hadn't answered.

"Chaz Villette," he said into the phone, trying for a reasonable volume that didn't carry. (He should have answered with "Hello." That would be more like a casual call. Who answered their personal phone with their full name?)

"Dr. Villette? This is Adriana from Dr. Petovski's office. We have the results from your blood test."

She didn't pause on purpose. But brains work faster than muscles. In the space of her inhale, Chaz saw the two possibilities branching like corridors in a maze, both marked with thread. In one, Adriana would ask him to come in to the office. Ahead lay the impossible conversations with Hafs and Daphne and Falkner, the phone call to Marti in Las Vegas, a lifetime of accommodation to the fragility of his meatpuppet and no guarantees.

Along the other corridor--

"They're negative," Adriana finished. She sounded professional and brisk, as she should. But Chaz heard the unspoken congratulations, the vicarious relief. Sometimes she had to lead someone down the other passage, but this wasn't that call, and she was glad of it.

"We'll need to test again in six months. But a change in results after this point is very unlikely. You should continue to take reasonable precautions, of course--"

"Yes," he said, because he thought he ought to say something, and reasonable precautions, Jesus, who didn't?

No, don't go there.

"Do you want to schedule with the lab now?"

That was a pause; he was supposed to answer. But he felt woozy, hot all over, his throat tight and aching.

"Or you could do it later? Closer to the, to the six months..."

"Later." It came out in a croak. "Thank you."

Adriana said something after that, a polite phrase to end the call, but Chaz wasn't paying attention. The sensation in his ears was a little like buzzing, a little like ringing, and not quite either.

He disconnected. He stared at the shiny screen, the mosaic of bright-colored apps; then, prompted by something he almost recognized, he shut the phone off.

Pressure in his chest pushed against his lungs, his ribs, his esophagus and windpipe. The air around him pressed his skin against muscle and bone, as if he were a diver swimming too deep. He held onto the edge of his desk, stood, wobbled away from his chair.

The bullpen was suddenly too big, too open; he stood exposed in all that space. Walk. Don't hurry. The door to the hall rose up in front of him, but he got his stiff hand to curve around the latch, leaned back, and his weight was enough to open it. He stumbled through into the corridor.

Whatever was in his chest was forcing itself up his throat. The men's room lay on his left--the bathrooms the team considered theirs. He lunged to the right. The thing that made him turn off the phone urged him not to be where anyone might look for him.

One flight down an echoing concrete stairwell and out into another hall, to a door marked with a pictographic man. Chaz half-fell through it into the empty tiled bathroom, staggered past the sinks and into a stall.

He sank to his knees in front of the toilet. But what came out his mouth was a spasm of air, as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Then another, and another, like coughing, so close together he couldn't draw a whole breath. He tried to hold them back, but tensing his throat only gave them sound. Harsh, rasping, each one like a response to a blow from inside him.

Crying. He was crying.

He slumped down on the tile floor, his back against the stall divider, and pressed his face into his upraised knees. Now that he knew what was happening, he could stop fighting it. Each sobbing breath still tore at him, but when he let them out they hurt him less.

People didn't store up tears. These weren't the ones he hadn't let himself cry when he stood at the bottom of the stairs of his building, holding as light a bag of groceries as was worth carrying home, looking up at the zigzag of flights and landings with weary dread. The tears he'd forced back when he'd had to turn away, shaking, from his own kitchen knife weren't these. And they weren't the ones he fought down the mornings when he lay in bed wondering why he should get up, or when he couldn't face going to bed knowing the next morning he'd have another day to get through.

These were tears of relief and gratitude. That was why they hurt so much, and why they were so hard to let out.

"I win," he whispered against his knees. "You son of a bitch. I beat you."

He waited for an answer from inside him, but heard nothing.