Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Baltimore, MD, January 2009

Chaz Villette has long been of the opinion that all climbing gyms are secretly interdimensional portals to the same place. To get there, you follow Google directions through old warehouses and factory complexes to locate a familiar, comforting alternate plane where towering walls and dangling ropes are overlaid with the smells of magnesium chalk and sweaty feet. Where inked, pierced folk in ratty clothing and beat-up climbing shoes dangle like bats from steeply overhung bouldering problems. Even in a strange city, if you are a climber and it has a gym, you can always be home in half an hour.

Goth clubs are pretty much the same thing: wormholes to Dimension Goff. The walls will be black or violet. The paint on the front door will be chipped and the interior will be dark and filthy, with inadequate uncomfortable metal lawn chair seating and a red velvet circular couch. There will be an (ironic) disco ball. There will be EBM, Industrial, Goth dance music loud enough to rattle the self-consciousness and sorrow from your bones. And there will be men and women peacocking on the dance floor in gaudy, elaborate clothes. Permissible color schemes: black and crimson, black and emerald, black and amethyst, black and silver, black and anything eye-hurtingly actinic. Or just plain black, which is usually Chaz's choice.

Nobody in a Goth club is looking at you. They're too busy watching themselves in an imaginary mirror.

Goths dance. Turned inward, submerged in the thump and shudder of one hundred twenty beats per minute, feet and elbows flying, they swing their corseted bodies and stomp their booted feet. They shout with delight when they like the music, and they shake their hair extensions like Medusa arising from the bath.

D.C. is unique in that its best dance club isn't Goth. But that's okay, because Baltimore has a Goth party Friday at Club Orpheus. And it's not too far to drive for five hours of dancing.

Because all Goth clubs are secretly the same, they acknowledge their kinship through a family assortment of names. Haven, the Church, Flux, Sanctuary. This particular iteration is an Ascension, and Chaz likes it fine. He knows how to dress to blend in, and for freedom of movement--black t-shirt with a Skinny Puppy logo (self-mockery is oh so very Goff), baggy black cargo pants, braces, a trio of graduated chrome chains swinging at his hip. Doc Martens help support his pistol in an ankle holster, velcroed tight in place. Eyeliner. Spiked leather covers the scars on his wrists. Soft suede on the inside doesn't trigger his panic disorder, and nobody's going to grab his arm.

Except for the gun, these choices place him firmly in the middle of the sartorial road. They'll make him functionally invisible, which is exactly what he wants.

He pays the cover, accepts the hand-stamp, steps into a wall of sound. The thumping is more something you feel in your chest than hear with your ears. He threads through the crowd to the dance floor and joins women busty or slender in jaybird-bright brocade and black velvet, black tulle; one girl in a thoroughly unfortunate red satin micro-skirt and fishnets; a woman wrapped in a cancan skirt like a giant crimson flower; a pale dark-haired girl all in rivers of white lace; two women necking while wearing kinbaku--rope harnesses--stretched over the legal minimum; a boy in a mesh shirt and dog collar with pendant leash (kind of tragic, with no one holding the other end); men in flowing skirts and maxi-kilts, one wearing a leather waist-cincher; a big guy in a double-breasted gangster suit and a porkpie hat.

Three gorgeously turned-out women by the speaker stacks are dancing a mocking Macarena to "Nemesis," bosoms heaving as they stroke gloved hands down corsets, wriggling like fishes. If you're going to Macarena in a Goth club, you have to commit. Chaz swallows, suddenly dry-mouthed, their laughter rising over Barry Andrews's chanting monotone: everybody happy as the dead come home.

Everywhere velvet, leather, lace, tulle, fishnet, mesh, pinstripes, fedoras, tophats, tailcoats, bridal gowns, women and men writhing on their little patches of floor, no eye contact required. Three shaved-head punks drinking by the bar roar along with the lyrics. A guy slumming in an Adidas shirt, soul patch, and blue jeans--if she still came out dancing, Hafidha would say oh, Honey, one eyebrow rising, and thinking of her and Goth clubs reminds him of Erik with a terrible pang--is trying to catch the eye of the woman in white lace, but she turns like a top in the other direction.

Nobody has to notice anybody here if they don't want to. Nobody's paying any attention to Chaz: cadaverously thin six-foot-four men aren't even all that unusual here. He stands out more for his skin and features: Goths are white, mostly. But it's not enough to get him noticed, and he's glad.

Chaz lets the music fill him up, move his feet, swing his hips, lift his arms. He leaps, punches, stomps and whirls. Goth tae-bo, Hafs would mock, but thinking of her makes him miss her too much, fills him with guilt that he's here and she can't stand to do this anymore. Maybe it'll change. Maybe she'll heal. He believes in her, and she's strong. He punches the air again, spins, crosses feet, dances briefly with a skinny sweaty girl with blue hair and beautiful collarbones before she vanishes into the crowd, dances with a gorgeous drag queen in a little black dress and Marlene Dietrich hair, dances with a girl who crosses her arms behind her back and shows her throat in an offer he's just not prepared to accept.

The exercise is good for his shoulders: get the muscles warm, swing them around, explore the range of motion. But it's better for his soul.

Shriekback gives way to :Wumpscut: begets Siouxsie falls before Combichrist, and he's still dancing. Joy Division, the Talking Heads, Rasputina, Reaper, Nine Inch Nails, Das Ich. Bauhaus. Tool. Leonard Cohen. Coil. Angelspit. Massive Attack. Gary Numan. KMFDM. Thirty years of loud. It's good, and the clean sweat rolls down his body. Ninety minutes, two hours later--he's lost track--he pauses, chest heaving, on the edge of a Delerium track, and decides now is the time for a beer. Apparently he's not alone, as the crowd on the dance floor is thinning.

Slow songs--works every time. Send 'em to the bar.

He wades through the jostle and elbows, orders a Bass Ale and a shot of Jagermeister, and leans against a pillar, weight in his heels, arching his toes against the uppers of his boots for relief from a cramp. His wind's coming back: he's soaked in sweat, hair stuck in wet spirals to his scalp, but he's not breathing hard so much as moving air efficiently. He thinks of Falkner saying your definition of normal might change. He thinks of hours at the gym, of running through parks first with Erik (there's that pang again, sharp as a dental pick popping his sternum) and now on his own.

He downs the shot--syrupy-sweet anise--and chases it with bitter beer, feeling his throat working, the blur of alcohol on an empty stomach. Feeling alive.

A couple of people linger on the floor, one a woman in leather corsetry and a netting skirt who is sheened with effort, her long chain earring clinging to the moist skin of her neck and cheek whenever she turns her head. She spins, sweat rolling down her throat as she lets her head fall back, hands clenching on tulle. Chaz turns away before he can imagine what they would feel like if they were knotting in his hair.

Crimson wings.

It's just a flash of color that jerks his head around as the girl in the (unfortunate) red satin micromini drops her drink with a crash you can't hear over the music and starts to sway. Chaz sets his empty beer on the bar and moves forward, ready to catch her elbow, but somebody else is already there, a nondescript brown-haired white guy of average height, unremarkably dressed in a black t-shirt, Docs, and jeans. She sags against him, head lolling, and alarm runs up Chaz's spine. Alcohol can hit fast, especially skinny girls, but not like that.

The guy guides her towards the club entrance, one arm around her shoulders, more dragging than walking her. Chaz allows the mirror to unfold. He permits himself to follow. Now people magically move aside, clearing a path without knowing they do so. He closes the gap fast, and as he comes up behind the guy he lets the mirror reflect.

The words that want to come spilling from his mouth are bad. He bites his lip against them, chokes them down, swallows hard though they stretch his throat and hurt. Bitch whore tease slut show you show you show you all you fucking cunt. He drops that fast, makes it blank and featureless, having learned all he needs to know.

He could intervene now, stop this, cause a scene, get the girl home. And the rapist--if that's all he is--would walk away to try again tomorrow.

Chaz's hands itch as if circulation returned after a cord cut the palms. For a moment, he considers whether this is one of the dreams, more elaborate and real than most. Or if his dreams have only been offering him a solution to such intractable problems. If they're dreams at all.

You could make sure he never hurts anyone again. You should make sure he never hurts anyone again.

The club is hot and humid inside, but the air on Pratt Street chills the sweat on his neck in seconds. Ten steps ahead, the guy still guides his half-insensible victim along the street, through crowds of late-arriving clubbers and the occasional reeling drunk. Just another Friday night in Baltimore. Chaz trails like a vengeful ghost, sidestepping revelers, so warm from exertion that the winter feels comfortable rather than sharp.

No one else is going to help her. No one else can stop him. Nobody but you, baby boy. Angel of mercy.

Yeah, Chaz thinks, hunger a cramp in his gut. Yeah. Me and Dexter Morgan. Except Dexter should be a bedwetter, but they would never put that on T.V. So maybe me and the Goddamn Batman. Who else is going to come through for that girl? Chaz can't let himself be seen. He can't reveal himself now. He couldn't handle the explanations.

The crowds thin. His quarry's footsteps echo, and the girl's drag. The suspect thinks he's the predator, and maybe he is, but he's got no idea there's a bigger predator following. Jackals should fear tigers, Chaz thinks. And what should tigers fear? Something's gotta eat T. rexes. Even if it's only bigger T. rexes.

The quarry guides his stumbling prey into the same garage Chaz parked in, and Chaz thinks, Ideal. Chaz follows cautiously, the mirror burning all around him, sugar-shakes starting in his fingers as the meter runs. Hang in there just a little longer, cowboy. Be strong. He unclips the chain from his belt loop, feels it run cold and smooth as water between his hands. This is good. This is right. This is what should happen.

He was brought here tonight for a reason. He's here to save a life. The bad guy just has to commit.

Still supporting the girl with his left hand, the guy reaches into his pocket and chirps a four-door sedan on the second level. He opens the rear door and pushes the girl inside. She folds up, slumps over, and for a moment Chaz considers climbing in too, letting the suspect drive away with more than he bargained for.

The suspect keys open the trunk. He rummages, comes up with a blue canvas bag and a roll of duct tape.

Rape kit.

Be the hand of God. Make sure this particular jackal never hunts again. The chain glides across his palm. He looks down, remembers the cut of cord across the dream of Joshua Lynch's throat, the creeping warmth of piss trickling down his thigh. Remembers a leather belt twisting tight and tighter. Take care of it, he thinks. Keep your secrets. Protect her and you both. You can't get caught here.

And then he thinks Hey. Why not?

He's not the Goddamn Batman. Within reasonable tolerances, he's a cop. A cop with every right to be here. One who hasn't done anything wrong.

There's nothing illicit about an FBI agent going clubbing.

Gamma, he says to the voice in his head, imagining it sulking into silence. He slips the chain into his pocket and the iPhone out.

The trunk lid slams. The suspect walks back to the open door, the harsh rip of unpeeling duct tape filling the echoing garage. Chaz crouches, and with an answering rip of velcro, lets his semiautomatic slide into his left hand. With the right one, he dials.

A brisk, pleasant female voice says, "911. What's the nature of your emergency?"

He identifies himself and his agency. "I'm on the second level of the parking garage at 815 East Pratt, and I'm witnessing an abduction in progress. The car is a white Saturn, Maryland license plate--" He speaks in a harsh whisper for fifteen more seconds, while the abductor tapes unresisting wrists, hiding his actions with his body and the car door. He straightens up and swings the girl's legs inside.

No sign of the police yet. The door thuds closed. Chaz is running out of time.

"I'm going to make the arrest," he tells the operator. "Please alert the responding officers that I'm in club clothes. I'm a Latino male" --incomplete, but adequate for purposes of gross identification-- "late twenties, six-four, slender build, and I'm armed. I'd rather not get shot by a cop."

"Sir," the operator says, "officers are enroute. Can you stay on the line?" But he's already setting the phone--still connected--down on the concrete, folding the mirror, stepping out into the suspect's line of sight. Eyes watering with hunger, he raises his Sig.

"Freeze," Chaz says. "I'm a federal agent. Hands in the air. You're under arrest."

The suspect turns, eyes wide, hands rising, predator unable to believe he can also be prey. It occurs to Chaz that if he'd done things the other way, he could have made it back in time to dance for another couple of hours. Opportunity cost, he thinks, maintaining his sight picture with care.

Through the open gridwork of the parking structure, the sirens rise from the street.