Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Somewhere in Virginia, May 2010

"I have to get something out of the car," Chaz had said, and disappeared streetwards while Daphne went through to the garage and backed her square-assed, new-to-her all-wheel-drive Suzuki out to the curb. Chaz opened the hatch first, slid in a small cooler balanced on top of a large cardboard box, and gave it the sort of gingerly slam a guy who was accustomed to an aged Volkswagen used around small cars. Then he was sliding in beside her and buckling himself down.

"What's that?" Daphne asked.

"Lunch," he said, and they were rolling.

She was glad he hadn't asked to drive. She needed the distraction, the Virginia hills picking up toward the horizon, still the varied greens of spring--though that would be over soon. She needed something to do to keep from worrying her hangnails until they bled.

"You're nervous," he said, after half an hour of her flipping the radio on and off and failing to support any of his more subtle attempts at conversation.

"I'm terrified," she said.

With her peripheral vision, she saw him nodding. He'd pushed the passenger chair all the way back to make room, but his knees still stuck up like those of a daddy longlegs.

"You're triggery for her, and she's triggery for you," he said. "It's okay. It's because her emotional connection to you is so strong that she responds to your presence so violently. She loves you very much."

It was plainspoken Chaz, clinical and unflinching, a little detached. That was how he got through it: professionalism.

She wondered how she got through it.

"She loves you too," she said, pulling out to pass a semi. It glided along at sixty; she rolled past at sixty-seven. Chaz gazed out the passenger window, drawing vectors and trajectories in his head.

"The best way to handle it--for me, at least--is to remember that what's saying those awful things isn't Hafidha, any more than it would be if she had a brain tumor or senile dementia or anything else organically wrong with her. That stuff is malfunctioning hardware, or--or a hijack, a virus. The Hafidha personality is in there and intact and my friend."

Her hands might be busy with the wheel, but his could tap on the doorframe, his knees, the windowledge.

"You really think of it like a brain tumor?"

"Or like OCD," he said. "That's not Hafidha."

"The reasons it gives, the things it says. They sometimes sound like Hafidha reasons and things."

"The conscious human mind," Chaz said, sliding as comfortably into lecture mode as if she'd put a coin in his slot, "is the world's most efficient rationalizing machine. Most of the time, we act on impulse or instinct or program and come up with the reasons later. The brain does something and the left-hemisphere neocortex makes up a reason it happens. Dr. Gazzaniga of UC did an experiment with a patient whose brain hemispheres had been surgically disconnected. He'd show a word to the left eye--the right hemisphere, only--and when the body responded, the left hemisphere would make up a story why it was doing that thing."

"Behaviorist," she accused.

He grimaced as if it were a dirty word. "Cognitive tactics exploit the fact that the conscious mind can interrupt those behaviors as well as rationalize them. Our brains are really complicated, and we like to pretend that most of what they do doesn't exist. The left neocortex is an egoist."

He sighed.

She sighed too, and the silence got too heavy. "Pass me the almonds in the glove box, would you?"

He did, opening the bag and swiping a handful on the way across. The first one crunched when he bit down. Daphne liked the way they squeaked a little between her teeth, like really hard cheese curds. Super-fresh.

She washed the mouthful down with bottled water.

"I don't want to think of her as brain-damaged," Daphne admitted. "I know she is, functionally. That the anomaly is suppressing her ability to censor her actions and words. Her impulse control--"

"Tony Cicoria," Chaz said.

Daphne said, "Excuse me?"

Chaz ate another almond. "Tony Cicoria is an orthopedic surgeon who was struck by lightning in Sleepy Hollow in 1994. The joke about being able to play the piano afterward?"

She smiled. It was a running gag between them, and had been since--

Since Chaz got hurt. Since she'd come out of the bathroom once and heard somebody playing Tricia's spinet piano. Somebody who played better than Tricia. One bar, two. Hesitantly. The same two bars, and then another two.

And then two more. Erratic and staggering, tentative. Like a kitten picking its way out of a bomb crater.

And then, as Daphne had ducked back down the hall to lean against the inside of the bathroom door and bite her lip until her eyes stopped stinging, the same six bars of music--The Maple Leaf Rag, she thought--and then the soft click of the keyboard cover closing.

When Daphne made it out of the bathroom, Tricia was mixing blender drinks and Chaz was rubbing dust off the leaves of a sadly neglected sword plant in the front windows.

He'd played a different eight bars a few weeks later.

She wondered if he would ever get to where he'd play it with her in the room.

"He couldn't play the piano after he was electrocuted?" Lightning strikes were funny stuff. Daphne knew dozens of stories of personality changes, mood swings, undiagnosable illnesses--

"He couldn't play it before," Chaz said. "Afterwards, he couldn't stop. He had a song in his head. The Lightning Sonata. He had to learn piano so he could get it out. And he became obsessed with music. It became his life. He couldn't make himself stop playing. He couldn't want to stop playing. Eventually, he wound up a divorced concert pianist and composer."

"His wife left him?"

"I'm not sure about the details." Chaz sat silent a moment, breathing in and breathing out. "The lighting, or possibly interrupted bloodflow from his heart having stopped, destroyed some inhibitory function of his brain. All he wanted to do afterward was make music. The muse is in him." He shrugged. "He seems very happy in interviews. Very fulfilled."

"So artists have brain damage?"

"Artists possibly lack some kind of inhibition. Gammas definitely do."

Daphne thought about it for a while, driving. Her hand crept toward the radio again, aimlessly. She made it stop and ate another almond. Chaz ate five or ten.

"Okay," she said, after ten minutes. Or fifteen. "So what's in the box?"

"Gwyneth Paltrow's head?"

"I know that smell," Daphne said. She would have hit him, but she was driving.

"A hotplate," Chaz said. "Some schmaltz from the chicken I made last night, with rosemary and garlic in it. Potatoes. To make fried potatoes. Stuff for grilled cheese. A chocolate orange pound cake for the birthday girl."

She glanced over. He was looking. Their eyes met, and he smiled.

She looked back at the road. "I'd love you even if you didn't feed me, bro."

He stretched back into the seat, satisfied. "That's just your neocortex rationalizing your baser instincts."

"There's nothing base about your cooking." She grinned. It hurt a little, but she did it.