Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Howard University Hospital, Washington, D.C., January 2009

The next time Stephen Reyes opened his eyes, he expected to find himself alone, and he was. Alone in a hospital room with an enormous bouquet of yellow daffodils stuffed into a green glass vase, their cheeks pressed together so tightly the petals of their collars bent. He closed his eyes, unwilling to shake his head, but when he opened them again the flowers were still there.

"I wanted sunflowers," Delphine said from the door. "All kind of scraggly and textured, like oils, but you try to find sunflowers in January. You know, if I'd stuck with that sous-chef you stole me from, I could have saved a bundle in florist bills."

He was supposed to reply with something suave and witty, urbane. What would Indiana Jones say at a time like this? But Reyes's mouth hurt and his ribs hurt and everything else was a muddle of stiff and unhappy that he thought was probably pain, down there under whatever was dripping into his IV, and his concentration really wasn't so good at all.

"Daffodils are fine." Was that really his voice, smeared and whispery? He made a face. That hurt too. "They're beautiful."

She swayed into the room, all five-foot-eleven of her stacked up even taller on the two-inch heel of her plaid patent boots, her fat snaky gray-streaked dreads twisted back off her face with a gold headband. She filled up the doorway, broad-shouldered and full-hipped, in total possession of the room and herself. She bent over the bed and kissed him on the forehead, the side away from the bandages. "You look like shit. And I'm glad you're here for me to say that to. Just be thankful I didn't bring you a couple dozen beady-eyed stuffed animals to stare at you all night."

"Better than the nurses," he joked, which was unfair but funny. "Delphine, I'm sorry--"

She shrugged, so he dropped it. With one hand, she dragged over a big upholstered chair and settled down on the edge of it, her bright wool skirt falling into folds around her. Her earrings flashed when she lifted her head like a queen. He'd never seen her without lip gloss and eyeliner, and apparently nearly getting himself killed wasn't about to change the way she presented herself.

She leaned close enough that he could pick up the scent of her skin and cosmetics. "No apologies. You got hurt, it wasn't your fault. Hazard of my job, don't eat the vermilion paint. Hazard of yours, random sociopaths. Agent Todd made your excuses. You know he's kind of hot?"

"Ow," Reyes said. "You could have just asked me to introduce you." As reassurance, it worked: he couldn't be that bad off if she was yanking his chain.

She laughed like a female version of Santa Claus: big and round and belly-shaking. Another day, less disorientation, less pain, and the laugh would have sent a warm shiver up his neck. Now, he didn't have the energy to miss it. He'd met her in front of her easel, bent over an image of the Georgetown waterfront, boardwalk and condominiums and sunrise and a few streaky charcoal-black suggestions of early-morning pedestrians. One of those pedestrians was Reyes.

She'd been painting it when he walked up and introduced himself, curious about this voluptuous Amazon with a painter's smock tugged on over a sweeping skirt and blouse and a streak of cadmium yellow in her hair. Everything about Delphine was on an epic scale--the curves, the dreadlocks that fell halfway down her back, that laugh. He'd said something funny; she'd laughed. He'd asked for her phone number five minutes later.

"More fun to arrange to have you kidnapped." She slipped her fingers into his hand. She kept her fingernails long, but unpainted, and the beige curves scratched his palm. Her gold bangle bracelets rang softly when she turned her wrist. "I suppose I could have just carried you home in my pocket."

He'd swat her with the back of his hand, but it seemed like a lot of effort. "You can carry me out of the hospital if you like."

She shook her head. "Doctor says four more days. Agent Todd said two. He also said I should let you rest, so once you've admired your daffodils, I'm out of here. You just let me know when I'm driving you home."

He started to protest. He could summon a car. He wouldn't be any trouble to her--

Her eyebrows went up, revealing a threatening quantity of the buttery whites of her eyes, and Stephen Reyes shut his mouth. When he opened it again, he asked, "How was your show?"

She smiled, teeth showing behind the edge of her upper lip. "Still hanging," she said. "But there are bids on all three of the big pieces, and it looks like at least half of the others will go. Maybe two-thirds."

The smile quirked up at the corners, a sure sign she was withholding something. A stab of disappointment. "You sold the Potomac painting."

"Couldn't," she said. "Doesn't belong to me. The guy I gave it to is going to need a new sofa, though."

"Pardon?" If he were himself, Reyes thought he'd be keeping up--he usually did, though nonlinearity was another epic trait when it came to Delphine--but she'd lost him on a hard turn somewhere back around couldn't.

"Bozo." She squeezed his hand, which didn't hurt. "It doesn't match your living room."