Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Washington, D.C., May 21, 2014
Stephen Reyes lowered the phone from his ear and tapped the red "disconnect" icon on the screen. That, so clearly, was how the action played in his head. So he was surprised to find he'd missed the icon and hit the margin of the screen instead.
His hand was shaking.
Autumn's school was on speed dial, or he couldn't have put the call through. "This is Stephen Reyes," he said to the front-office secretary. "I'm calling about my daughter." His own voice was a stranger's in his ears--too high, quavering, an old man's voice.
"I'll check, Mr. Reyes," said the secretary--what was his name? Tom. It was Tom. "Do you need to speak to her?"
"Yes. Yes, please."
Reyes listened to hold music and tried to breathe slowly. He should have counted verses of the tune, because that would reassure him he hadn't waited as long as it felt. Every beat was a step in the march to something horrible--
"Hello, Papi." She had a child's voice, made with a child's throat and tongue and lips. But the intonations and cadences were adult. He would know those four syllables anywhere.
"Hello, mi ardilla. Have you had a good day at school?"
He could hear her shrug. "Today in art class we learned about the color wheel. Science is still best, though. The tadpoles have legs now."
"Good for them. Mija, I'm going to pick you up after school today."
"I can take the bus. The driver knows me." An offense against her dignity, to take away this big-girl privilege.
"I know. And I know nothing frightens you, but I'm not as brave. Something happened today that scared me, and I'd feel better if I brought you home myself."
Over the phone, a considering silence. "Ooo-kay," she sighed at last.
"Wait for me in the office if I'm not there right away."
"Are you all right, Papi?"
He didn't lie to her. So he made sure it was true before he said, "Yes, I am."
When he disconnected, the phone was skittery in his sweating hands.
Rupert Beale. And, an inward scream, You were my friend!
No, he'd never been that. He'd been a tapeworm. He'd fed on the team's work, then on their lives. How long ago had the parasite attached himself? How much had he damaged or turned to his benefit?
Or arranged from the beginning to suit himself.
His team--now Falkner's team. Had Beale taken a furtive hand in their recruitment, tipped probability to select his opponents?
Not Chaz, because Reyes had found (and immediately failed) him before Beale could have first manifested the anomaly. Todd, likewise, had been on a collision course with the WTF long before Beale had heard of anomalous crimes. Falkner, Lau, Worth all filtered in from Down the Hall, from the Behavioral Analysis Unit, and the fixed determination required to get them there would have made Beale's intervention unlikely. Brady'd had his contact with Andre, but by Reyes's rough estimate, that would also have been too long ago for Beale to have manipulated the situation.
Beale had got to her eventually, and through her, the team. Losing Hafidha had destabilized them. But could Beale have wanted her with them all along, a switch he could flip?
J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., December 2003
"Doctor Stephen Reyes?" said a female voice from the receiver of the phone on his desk. It wasn't so much a question as a verification of a result.
"My name is Doctor Madeleine Frost. I am an oncologist at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore."
She spoke with precision, as if to a child or a non-native speaker. Reyes prevented his virtual hackles from rising with a practiced effort. "What can I do for you?"
"I've read your white paper for law enforcement, first responders, and medical professionals."
The adrenaline rush made him glad he was sitting down. An oncologist. Not a bizarre crime, then--might she have seen some clinical sign of the anomaly, some causal link? But doctors weren't immune from believing their next-door neighbors were aliens. "I see," he replied cautiously.
"I doubt that." As if it were a statement of fact, and to be insulted by it would be unreasonable. "I am consulting on the case of a thirty-year-old woman of African-American descent with stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma." After a stately pause, Doctor Frost added, "Or perhaps I should say she had."
"She died, then."
"No, Doctor Reyes. She's cured."
"'Remission' is usually more accurate. In this case, I don't believe it is. The patient's tumors did not merely shrink but disappear. I examined the tissue from the second biopsy myself. It contained no viable Reed-Sternberg cells, and no inflammatory cells. I then viewed the results of her initial biopsy, and finally examined that biopsy sample myself. I was able to verify that the first tissue sample clearly displayed mixed-cellularity Hodgkin's lymphoma. The two biopsies might as well have been taken from two different patients."
Reyes waded as quickly as he could through Doctor Frost's medical terminology. "You're saying...her treatment was effective."
"She was one month into an ABVD chemotherapy regimen which was to have been eight months in length. I believe the cancer may have been destroyed by her own immune system."
Reyes was fairly sure that didn't happen. Not normally.
"Doctor Reyes, I understand from your white paper that your task force seeks out unusual individuals who have committed criminal acts. If so, this is outside your area of interest. But if I have read your paper correctly, you would be very interested indeed in locating such an individual under any circumstance."
"You're correct," he said at last. "Yes. Yes, I would."
"I'll start the process for clearing the release of her contact information to you."
Baltimore, MD, December 2003
The woman who walked in the door of the coffee shop was dressed for a colder winter than Maryland could offer. Her shoulders hunched high under a red wool bomber jacket with the collar turned up, and knitted legwarmers covered her legs above her knee-high lace-up boots. She'd tugged a bulky black watch cap down over her ears and almost to her eyebrows.
Reyes rose from his seat to catch her eye. "Ms. Gates?" he said as she approached.
"Yep. Doctor Reyes, I presume?"
He pulled out her chair. "The very same."
She grinned. "You learn that at Quantico?"
"At my mama's knee."
"Now there's a woman who thinks of the future. So. I've been up close and personal with a lot of people named Doctor in the last few months, but none of them from the FBI. Have I turned into a security risk?"
He heard the faint hard edge behind the flip words. "I don't know. Have you?"
It surprised her enough to make her think. She shrugged out of her jacket and pulled off her hat; a furious mass of black hair sprang up in its wake. It looked dry and harsh-textured. From the chemo, he guessed. With her outerwear off, he could see the line of her clavicle through her sweater, the sharp jut of her wrist bones, the tendons of her neck unpadded by fat.
"You know I was with the Secret Service?" she said. When he nodded, she went on. "One of the things my job was based on was the idea that the easier it is for someone to do something, the harder it is for them to keep from doing it."
Reyes turned it over in his head. "Do you believe that?"
"No. I don't think I do. People resist doing bad shit every day, when it would be just as easy--easier, even--to go ahead and do it. I think what we were really supposed to be doing was watching out for the people who would do bad shit no matter how hard it was." She ducked her head suddenly, which put her face out of view.
"You liked your job," Reyes said after a moment.
"You could say that."
The waiter stopped beside their table, and Gates lifted her chin again with a dazzling smile for him. "Hey, it's my new favorite person! I'd like a large cafe miel, a hot chocolate, and the lemon poppyseed cake."
"Don't hold back on my account," Reyes said mildly.
For an instant, Gates's eyes cut toward him, fully open. But she merely turned the smile on him. Reyes ordered Darjeeling.
"If I haven't made the Most Wanted list, what am I here for?" she asked when the waiter left.
"Originally, I wanted you to tell me about...well, about your experience of the last few months. But I think I'd like to tell you, instead. And if I get anything wrong, you can say so."
Her lower jaw slid forward, and Reyes saw her thoughts in her eyes: Con artist. Charlatan. Nutjob. "And if you get it right, you'll tell me all about how to nourish my inner thetan?"
"If I get it right, I'll give you what little information I have about your condition, and you can do anything you please with it."
"My condition is, I had cancer."
"And now you don't. And if that were all, it would be hard enough to explain. But that's not all, is it?" He saw from the angle of her body, the shuttering of her face, that she was about to stand up and walk out. So he hurried. "You've lost a lot of weight in a very short time. It's one of the symptoms of Hodgkin's, so you didn't wonder about it at first. But you're always hungry. Unless you take in what you would once have considered an unreasonable number of calories, you get weak and light-headed. And you can do things you couldn't do before. You have the grip strength to open any jar easily. You have the endurance to walk, climb, or run further than you ever could. Your reaction times are quicker."
He had to pause for breath, and thinking. At that inopportune moment the waiter arrived with their order. I'm going to lose her. She's scared--confused--and I've made it worse. She'll walk away.
Food landed in front of her--sweetened coffee, sweet cocoa, cake--and she stared at it, hands in her lap, as if she were reading a page of text.
"Anything else?" the waiter asked.
Gates lifted her eyes from her order to Reyes's face. And grinned, a little crookedly. "Not yet," she said to the waiter without looking away from Reyes.
He had underestimated Hafidha Gates.
So as soon as the waiter was out of hearing range, Reyes said, "There may be another manifestation of what's happened to you. Some small ability, some unusual skill you didn't have six months ago, or one you had before that you're now much better at with no apparent cause."
Gates wasn't grinning anymore. She swallowed half her hot chocolate, though it must have burned her mouth. "You could say that."
"I don't need to know about it if you don't--"
"Oh, no. We're reality-checking here, and I want to get maximum bang for my buck. I can...get the most out of a computer. I can sort the Internet like a centrifuge. It's...hard to describe. It's as if I know where all the electrons are buried."
"And that's new?"
She nodded. "It's not just food. I crave information. It's as if, because I got blindsided by life, I want to prevent it sneaking up on me ever again."
Reyes's breath hitched. He hid it by fiddling with his tea. "We call that your mythology."
Gates stopped in the middle of cutting a chunk out of her slice of cake. "'We.'"
"I lead the Anomalous Crimes Task Force, working out of the Behavioral Analysis Unit. We investigate criminal activity involving individuals affected by what we're calling the anomaly, for want of a better term. It produces the kind of metabolic changes you've experienced. And...a variety of other effects as well."
"You think that's what I've got."
She popped her fork into her mouth and chewed cake. She seemed undisturbed, but Reyes didn't believe it. She swallowed and said, "So, not just superhackers?"
He thought of Lawrence Hakes, and felt a psychosomatic twinge in his knee. "If the anomaly were sentient, which I don't believe, I'd say it has a great imagination."
Gates finished her cocoa and swallowed another lump of cake. "You're here to tell me I'm now a supervillain, and you've got your eye on me."
With great power comes great responsibility, Reyes thought. Did Gates read comics? In the Secret Service, she'd been ready to take a bullet for a stranger. She'd understand Peter Parker's mythology.
"No, Ms. Gates. I'm here to offer you a job."
He was astonished by his own words. No, you're not. That's exactly why you came. You just hadn't seen it yet.
Gates set her fork down, folded her hands on the table edge, and studied him. "From now on, you get to call me Hafidha."
In spite of the wording, it was an order.
Washington, D.C., May 21, 2014
There was no place for Beale in that history. Frost, secure in her basement and her work, was practically untouchable. And the person who'd affected Hafidha's trajectory, for good or ill, was Stephen Reyes.
He could breathe again. He could pick up his daughter from school. And he could do whatever it took to help bring down Rupert Beale.
Not a friend. But maybe The Kingpin.