Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Ashton, VA, September 2009

All the way out to Idlewood, Todd was trying to think of an in.

Because--he and Reyes had agreed--there was absolutely no reason for Clemson McCain to say yes. McCain had been a prisoner of the federal government for forty-five years, a prisoner in a Plexiglas box for fourteen of them, and while he was a model prisoner, save for that one lapse in 1995, neither of them deluded themselves that that meant a damn thing, save that Clemson McCain was too smart to waste his energy fighting a battle he could never win.

But this battle he could win. All he had to do was say no.

The appeal to altruism, or to McCain's hypothetical "better nature," Todd discarded before he'd even agreed to be the one to ask. McCain was a predator; unlike some of the other gammas at Idlewood, he had not the slightest interest in helping to protect his prey. Bribery seemed like it might provide better leverage, but there were two problems with that. One was that McCain already had just about all the privileges he was ever going to get; if he asked for things he was allowed to have, he got them. Things he wasn't allowed to have were forbidden for extremely good and cogent reasons, and Todd wasn't about to go compromising security. Getting McCain to say yes wasn't worth another dead orderly or five.

Or a dead Solomon Todd, and let's not fool ourselves about which one McCain would prefer, Sol old boy.

The other reason Todd decided against bribery was that McCain would be likely to take it as an insult, and most of the good relationship Todd had with McCain--insofar as either the word "good" or the word "relationship" had any relevance whatsofuckingever--was based on a weird sort of mutual respect. He didn't want to jeopardize that now, not when McCain was running out of time.

McCain's body was shutting down. No cancer, no disease, just the accumulated stress of running a gamma metabolism for fifty years. He might live to see 2010, but nobody was being very promising about it. So essentially, Todd had one chance, whether he took it today, or tomorrow, or on December 31st--if McCain was still alive by then. Because once McCain said no, that, too, would have to be respected.

He still hadn't come up with anything solid by the time he reached the ponderous Kirkbride glory of Idlewood. "Winging it is a valid lifestyle choice," he muttered to his reflection in the window as he locked the car.

He didn't let the matter cross his mind again until the orderly on duty said, "He's having a good day today, Mr. Todd."

"Thanks," Todd said and decided, as he walked into McCain's Plexiglas world, to just say it straight out, to do McCain the courtesy of being honest about it.

"We'd like a sample of your DNA."

Clemson McCain considered. He was getting skinnier and yellower and starting to curl in on himself like a dying plant, but he wasn't letting death hurry him anymore than he'd ever let anything else make him move one fraction of a second faster than he meant to.

"You think it's genetic," he said.

"It's a possibility," Todd said.

"Why should I?" said Clemson McCain, and he sounded genuinely curious.

Todd opened his mouth with no idea of what was going to come out and said, "Posterity."

McCain's habitual pause was a little longer that time. "Posterity?"

"You're the first," Todd said. "Someday, people will write books about you. And the more information you give us now, the better those books are going to be."

McCain eyed him. He read omnivorously, though always returning to the Bible (like a dog to its vomit, Todd thought and squashed it down hard), and Todd knew he'd read a lot of history. He knew what Todd meant, even if he wasn't quite buying it. "And why should I care? I'll be dead, Solomon."

"You won't care then," Todd agreed, "unless the afterlife is a lot different than I've always thought. But that doesn't mean you can't care now."

Bingo, he thought, although he was careful not to let his satisfaction show. Because McCain did care. He was as vain as any monster, and Todd had often thought that one reason he was so accepting of his terribly restricted life was that he was a control freak. He'd admitted it himself once, although not in so many words. I am a tidy-minded man, Solomon. It pains me to see waste and chaos. In his Plexiglas box, McCain really could control just about everything. There was neither waste nor chaos. But he couldn't control what would happen after he died, anymore than he could control the runaway metabolism that was killing him.

Todd thought about how much he must hate the irony--it was, essentially, waste and chaos that was killing him--and said, "The doctors might be able to keep what's happening to you from happening to the others."

It was a gamble, and for a moment he thought he'd blown it. McCain muttered, "The others," with profound scorn, but he didn't hang up the phone, and he didn't change the subject. Instead, after a pause, he said, "I've been reading about the Human Genome Project."

"Yes?" Todd said.

"Will they--someday--be able to pinpoint it, do you think? The thing that...the thing that I have called a gift from God?"

The temptation to lie was nearly overwhelming, but Todd wrestled that angel and got it in a headlock. "I don't know, Clemson. I don't know that it is genetic. But I know that they won't be able to if they don't have the data to work from."

McCain nodded. He said nothing for a long time, but he did not hang up the phone, so Todd didn't either. He could wait. He had time. He had more time than Clemson McCain did, that was for sure.

And finally, McCain heaved a sigh--Todd could see his ribcage move with it, and that more than anything showed him how frail McCain was getting. "All right. They take enough samples from me, I won't notice one more. And Solomon?"


McCain looked at him squarely, sharp gray eyes glinting in the fluorescent light. "Thank you for asking."