Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington DC, February 2009

Late at night, when the kids have gone off to their husbands and their wives and their lovers and their empty beds, to their assignations and their concerts and their youthful heartbreaks, Stephen Reyes sits in his office and watches the tapes.

The tapes he watches today are from Daniel Brady's latest of many interviews with Joseph Lawrence Hakes. Bloody Larry, the Idlewood staff calls him. Daphne Worth, an exemplary judge of character if Reyes has ever met one, called him a fucking human Ebola virus.

Brady: So you have no recollection of any personally distressing incidents preliminary to the events of May, 1999?
Hakes: Are you looking for a mitigating circumstance, Agent Brady? Because there... aren't any.

Stephen Reyes chews his lower lip and stares at the monitor. Stephen Reyes doesn't feel bad about keeping this one in a cage.

Joseph Lawrence Hakes. His mother called him Joe, until he killed her. Possibly while he was killing her. Hakes would be the first to say so, if he thought it would bug the interviewer.

He even has a serial killer name, two trochees and a downbeat.

Brady: No, Joe. I'm looking for patterns. You know that. And you know what you get for cooperating.
Hakes: Sure. I get a fucking library card.

Books. He gets books, whatever he wants, within the limits of the system's ability to provide. Something to take the edge off his endless, empty, isolated days, because Hakes lives like an anchorite immured in stone. He never sees a face. He never hears a voice that's not mediated by electronics. He's never touched by human hands, because all Hakes needs in order to kill is line of sight, and Hakes likes to kill.

In him, as in Jason Saito, Clemson McCain, Frank Scott--William Villette--the anomaly found an enthusiastic partner.

The funny thing is he only likes to read nonfiction. Biographies, popular history, social science. He likes books about disease and its effect on civilization--Guns, Germs, and Steel. Yellow Fever, Black Goddess--but then he might be playing to type. Or it might be a hint about his mythology.

Brady: Do you remember the first time you got really sick, Joe?
Hakes: Sure. I remember the first time I was in the hospital. I was eight. I got a kidney infection and it nearly killed me. I had a fever of a hundred and four. When the old bitch finally took me to the hospital, I puked all over the E.R. nurse.

Joseph Lawrence Hakes was a sickly child. He's healthy as a horse, these days. His chronic illnesses--asthma, eczema, abcesses, a peanut allergy--all spontaneously resolved when he started murdering the people who annoyed him. Or, more precisely (Reyes wants to look away from the video, but he doesn't let himself) when Hakes killed the single parent who jabbed him with feces-smeared needles to cause his abscesses, who fed him purgatives to induce diarrhea and vomiting.

It's called Munchausen Syndrome, in which an individual seeks to feed a craving for attention and emotional support by faking illness. In Hakes's mother's case, it was expressed by proxy: she inflicted the illnesses on her child.

Brady: What happened after that?
Hakes: After I puked on the nurse? They put me on an IV. Antibiotics. They wouldn't let me have a drink of water for two days.

His throat works, remembering thirst. The IV can keep you hydrated, but Reyes knows it does nothing for the dry scratch in your throat, the maddening animal desire.

Hakes: Some volunteer kept coming in and reading me stupid stories.

Stephen Reyes doodles on his pad. He's writing the word Sociopath for the second time when a tap on the doorframe heralds the frowning face of Solomon Todd. Todd cranes his neck to see what's on the monitor, and frowns the more. "He's not going to say anything new, you know."

"He had a hell of a childhood."

Todd's mouth works. "I probably would have killed the old dragon too, in his shoes. That doesn't make any difference to his innocent victims, does it?"

Brady: What did your mother say after that? Did she come to visit you?
Hakes: She lived at the fucking hospital, man. What do you think? She slept on the couch in the room. And when the nurses weren't there, she told me I made her sick.

Hakes's slow digitized smile is a rictus that seems to involve too many teeth, as if Rob Liefeld were drawing the panel. I guess I showed her, the smile says. He doesn't even need to shape the words for Reyes to hear them.

Reyes clicks the pause control. "He'd laugh at you if he heard you call his mother a dragon. No use for story books. Doesn't see the point of them. So what's that other than good old-fashioned sociopathy?"

Todd rolls his eyes. "The question is the answer. See, the people who write picture books have it wrong, because they're mostly not psychologists or anthropologists."

It's a Toddlike segue, all right--the apparent non sequitur that Reyes knows will turn out to follow on perfectly. "Picture books?"

"A baby dragon is still a dragon, Steve." Todd peers at Reyes through his bifocals, looking for comprehension.

Reyes shakes his head.

"Dragons," Todd says. "Storytellers like to pretend that dragons would listen to our drivel, but you know what? The fact is, dragons don't have the hardware or the software to care. They don't have empathy, or mirror neurons, or any protocols for modeling or identifying character growth or emotions. Narrative just doesn't work on a monster, because the monster doesn't give a shit."

Reyes studies Todd's face for a moment, then transfers his inspection to the frozen image of Joseph Lawrence Hakes. "I'm a snake, bitch," he mutters. "What did you expect?"

"Precisely," Todd says, brightly, laying a finger aside his nose like Saint Nick about to vanish up a chimney. "Sometimes, kemo sabe, the dragon is just a dragon. Now go home. Bloody Larry will still be there in the morning, and if you leave now, you can make it in time for The Daily Show. I'm following my own advice. See you tomorrow."

Making good on his promise, he evaporates, leaving Reyes to frown alternately at his monitor and his wall clock.

"I don't believe in dragons," Reyes says. He palms his cold cup of tea and pushes play.