Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Hafidha Gates is dreaming.
She stands with her feet planted solidly on the earth. She stands and watches the semi come down upon her--the irresistible force bearing down on the concrete barrier.
She reaches out--not with her hands. With her will. Into the network of linked silicon brains that control the steering, the brakes, the engine--
White smoke boils from the wheel wells with the stench of burning rubber. A horrible sound cuts the air. The trailer bends impossibly, coming around, swinging into the passenger side of the truck.
Jack knife. The perfect word. Metal crunches. The driver--already dead.
The cab of the tractor-trailer drifts to a halt three inches from her face.
"Gotcha," she purrs.
She bends forward and kisses the W in KENWORTH.
Hafidha Gates awakens, curled around a pillow, her body clenched like a fist. She chokes, rolls, just makes it over the edge of the bed before a bitter stream of bile forces its way between her teeth. She lies there for a minute, belly down on the institutional bed, gagging.
Nobody will clean that up for her.
You killed her, she thinks. This is your fault.
If you had been there, you could have saved her.
Don't you dare feel bad.
Frost doesn't mourn, not like the others. It isn't in her. And she has no plans to attend the funeral.
Hot water and harsh soap run over her hands. She scrubs, turns them, scrubs again, lathering to the elbows. You are, she thinks, a sociopath.
It's an interesting thought--it's always interesting to think about ourselves--but it's not a new one. She inspects it, turning like a cloudy jewel in the light of her attention, and sets it aside.
She rinses, and reaches for the gloves. Surgical gloves come sealed in sterile packets. The ones Frost uses come jumbled, hundreds in a box like a Kleenex dispenser.
No one to glove and gown her, here. Her patients don't care about a sterile field maintained, and honestly, there's not any reason to wash her hands before she starts the postmortem. This particular decedent will be buried in a closed casket. There's not enough mortician's putty and loving gloved hands in the world to turn this battered meat into a doll you could kiss goodnight before you slide it into the ground.
That's all funerals are. Kissing a doll goodnight. Turning on the light and fetching a glass of water before you leave the room. Propping the door open three inches behind you.
Nobody cleaned her up before they put her on life support--or after for that matter. Frost wishes she could smooth the decedent's blood-spiked hair back from her brow before she starts the Y incision, anyway. As if to let her know that Frost will take good care of her; it's going to be all right.
It's not any different when it's someone you knew.
That's interesting, also.
The Johns Hopkins autopsy suite does not have a glass-walled, elevated room in which observers can isolate themselves from the smells and realities of a dissection. It's just as well, because Stephen Reyes might succumb to the temptation, and he needs to be here: he needs to bear witness. He walks between the six cold marble tables, toward the one at the end where Madeline Frost works, alone.
Frost has already started prepping the body. Because Worth's organs were donated, there's no need to make a new incision. She'll just have to snip open and expand the cavity to look at what remains. She'll saw open the skull. That's where all the damage was. Right now, she's washing the body. Water falls to the white-skinned corpse and, stained red-brown, flows down the table to the slotted floor.
Frost looks up. "Stephen," she says, because he's not here in a professional capacity. It had taken him a few months to figure out when she used a surname and title, and when she used a first name--but she had her rules, and she abided by them.
"Dr. Frost," he answers. "Will I be in your way?"
"Not if you stand over there." She walks around the table, still washing. A precise and factual answer, crisply enunciated and utterly toneless. He feels an unexpected rush of affectionate warmth for Madeline Frost.
There are no cloths, no bandages across Worth's face now. It looks like something you'd expect to find in a meat locker. Her abdomen is sunken, empty.
I am Eleanor, Stephen Reyes tells himself as he stands between those tables, performing the only final service he can, and I can look at anything.
It occurs to him that quoting James Goldman should be Brady's line, but surely Brady won't mind, this time, if Reyes is the last one out of the room. And it's true. He can look at anything. He can. He will. You must do the thing you think you cannot do. And that's an Eleanor, too. Eleanor Roosevelt, and that one should belong to Todd.
Maybe it's because he's not watching for his own sake, but for all of theirs. For hers. Because somebody should witness this, and somebody should remember it.
If Reyes were thinking in his own voice, he knows what words would come to mind. The ones Neil Gaiman put in the mouth of Death herself, when he made her a gentle and loving friend: When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job is finished. I'll put the chairs on tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.
This is his responsibility, and that makes it his obligation. He'll watch until it's done.
When he raises his head, Frost is looking at him. She has a pair of surgical scissors in one hand. She's wearing a face shield and a plastic smock. Her skin is so pale it seems translucent, and her eyes are very blue.
"Are you sure?" she asks him.
"No," he says. "But I'm staying."
She stares, head turned over her shoulder like an owl, and then she turns away as quickly as if flicking off water. "Madeline Frost," she says. "M.D. June twenty-second, two thousand and eleven. Postmortem dissection of decedent Daphne Worth--"
Just a hair before midnight, New York State declares same-sex marriage legal.
So, do the morons in the New York legislature think that, before they spoke up, it was wrong? Do they imagine life is some kind of two-pole switch, and they can declare which way it's toggled?
John Worth mops his eyes with the heels of both hands. The tears just keep welling, and spilling.
Six states. Forty-four to go.
Forty-four times he knows he's going to weep shamefully, helplessly, at a loss made new and unbearable once more.
He thumbs the volume up on the television remote to drown out the sound of his sobs in the empty house.
There is no right thing to say. Falkner hates like fuck that she's the one who always has to say it.
There's no good time, either. She waits, the sun hot on her shoulders through her dark suit jacket, until Tricia is relatively dry-eyed, until two friends have approached, condoled, moved on.
John Worth stands beside her. One shouldn't judge by appearances, but Falkner doubts he's a comfort, beyond the comfort of acknowledgment. Don't discount the comfort of that, here and now.
People pair up in such unlikely ways. Worth was slim but sturdy, meticulous, careful of people's reactions, cautious in speaking up. Tricia Andreoli is deep-bosomed and big-hipped, with a soft stomach the released pleats of her skirt can't hide. Impulsive, outspoken, a little combative, as an academic ought to be. And good for Daphne. They'd all been able to see it. Tricia made Daphne like herself.
Tricia smiles when Falkner walks up. It makes her feel guilty. She opens her mouth to say the inadequate things.
But Tricia beats her to it. "I'm glad you're all here. She loved you guys so much I would have been jealous if I didn't know how happy the job made her."
How dead the job made her. It's like a blow to the face. But Falkner swallows the bile back down and unclenches her teeth. "I'd tell you how wonderful she was, but you know that already."
Tricia's eyes swim; she squeezes them shut. A drop crawls down her cheek anyway. "As my freshmen insist on saying, 'True dat.' They learn it from television, you know."
"Is there anything we can do?"
"I think I'm taken care of. But thank you, Esther."
Taking care of things is about all Falkner has to offer anyone. "Well, remember, you're family. If you need a parking ticket fixed, we're pretty well-connected."
Tricia's eyes widen, and she smiles. "I thought you were the one with no sense of humor."
Tricia laughs aloud. It makes Falkner feel as if it had been-- a good thing, getting out of bed this morning.
She holds out a hand to John Worth, and he takes it. He lets her squeeze it. It drops to his side when she lets go. He's in his late sixties, but he looks older; the fit of his suit makes her think there used to be more of him, and the skin of his face sags as if it ought to have more flesh to cover. Under his jaw, the sun catches a patch of stubble he missed with the razor, and the white bristles sparkle.
"Your daughter was one of the best officers I've ever worked with," she says. There's no way she can explain to him how much that means. "And one of the best people."
His mouth squeezes tight; the skin rucks under his lower lip. "One says that to the parents." His voice is rough, but not loud. "To assure them they did a good job."
The suspect was hostile and uncooperative. It makes her feel better to have something she knows what to do with. "I wouldn't think you needed assurance, sir."
"I was proud of my daughter, Ms.-- Agent Falkner. I loved her."
She wants to say, "You loved your picture of her. We loved her." But of course, she doesn't. There's only one day of atonement a year, after all, and she doesn't want to end up with a list she can't get through in twenty-four hours.
Too late; the casket shining in the sun behind her is already a day's worth.
Oh, God damn that word. God keep the soul of the woman she'll think of whenever she hears it.
"Hey, Villette," Lau says, at Chaz's elbow. He's watching Brady pull a blossom from the coffin, and wondering; Brady doesn't strike him as the type for sentimentally pressing flowers.
At least they gave her lilies, and not roses. Sex and death. Chaz still stands well-upwind, wondering if the choice of flowers was influenced by Reyes.
"Hey," he says, and turns to look at Lau. Her face looks strange without makeup, naked and younger. She's not wearing sunglasses--the modern answer to the veil--and her lashes are spiked and dark, but otherwise he can't tell that she's been crying. He'd bet he doesn't look that together.
She touches his hand, and he reads that, and puts it on her shoulder, watching her straighten as if the weight of his touch were the opposite. "Drive me home?" she asks.
He nods. She came with Falkner, but Falkner is with The Family, which means with Tricia, and Chaz suspects that Lau would rather take the bus than intrude on anything that might bring Daphne's partner any fragment of relief.
They walk away in silence through the buzzing heat of the day, behind the screen of trees, to where the line of automobiles awaits them. As he prods the Blue Beetle through the District traffic, he steals glances at her, because he can't read her silence. She looks forward, at the scarred and dented dash, at the star crack in the windshield, at the skyline. If her eyes focus on any of those things, it doesn't happen when he's looking.
But in her driveway, as he's taking the key out of the ignition, she reaches across her body to put her hand in the crook of his elbow. And when he turns, surprised, she searches his face, searches so hard it almost scares him. Then that hand comes up and knots in his hair and pulls him down into a fevered, open-mouthed kiss, salty and slick, her eyes wide as she stares into his.
"Just so you know what you're getting into when I ask you if you want to come inside," she says, a little breathless. Her hand slides down to the nape of his neck, fingers flexing. Urging.
Oh, so many reasons not to do this. Friendship, professional relationship, hard-won respect. The inadvisability of haircuts and other major life decisions while in the throes of grieving.
She needs him, and she's asking. And she's whipcord and softness under her black tailored suit, smelling of clean sweat and talcum powder. And he knows if he goes with her, there will be whole minutes when he doesn't remember how badly he hurts.
His friend would have rolled her eyes, or laughed, or asked him if he'd lost his mind, or teased him, or said, "Dude, you so owe me."
Now his friend won't say any of those things, ever. He's left here alone, and this is not his fantasy. But then, he's pretty sure it isn't Lau's, either.
Bitten lip, flush across her cheeks and down to the collarbones--hard to spot, if you don't have the knack of it, but she's fair-skinned enough that he can see. "Do you want to come inside?"
"Yes," he says, and opens the door.
Lock, door, door again, security system. He's just following her lead. She backs him into the corner by the coat closet, light coming through the columns of narrow windows on either side of the door, and kisses him again. And he kisses her back, while her fingers slip inside the knot of his tie and he intervenes long enough to get the tie tack out.
"Funeral sex," he says, just to get things clear, clear as that sunlight drenching the air around them, and she nods uh huh and catches his lip between her teeth and it's all over but the screaming. They're both half-naked by the time they make it to the top of the stairs, his suitcoat discarded on the landing, her white blouse draped like a ghost over the banister, her small breasts shy behind lace. He knows where the bedroom is; this is Lau's house, he's been here a thousand times. Familiar and yet unfamiliar, because when he's been here before his arms have never been full of warm urgent girl before.
There's more sunlight on her bed. It's not made--the linens a jumble of mismatched stripes and polka dots in brilliant colors, scattered with throw pillows in the shape of the sun, moon, and stars. He flips the comforter flat before she pulls him down across it. There's central air, but the sunlight is warm.
"Let me get my wallet." Hey, a guy can learn.
"Nightstand," she says, and what with one thing and another that's the last thing that gets put into words for a while, other than "Here, like this," and "Oh, Jesus," and "Wait, wait, I need a minute--"
When they're naked (she's more perfect than he imagined, her flanks all curves and golden shadows, the long muscles of her thighs smoothed under healthy girl softness so she feels like resilient satin he never wants to take his hands off) he rolls onto his back and draws her over him, both because he wants to see her and because there are things about his body he doesn't want her to notice right now. The scars are reminders of too much hurt, and neither one of them needs any more pain today.
He's about to kiss her again when she stops him, one hand on either shoulder, and sets herself back a little, frowning in preparation to whatever she's going to say.
He almost calls her Lau before he remembers why that would be stupid right this second. "Nikki?"
"I probably shouldn't tell you," she says. "But I've only done this with one guy since my divorce. So if I suck, I apologize."
He supposes if he were a normal guy, if this were a normal assignation, he'd have to ask. But he knows her, and he's got the job he does because he's pretty good at figuring stuff out from context, and anyway at this point--skin to skin, her warm, soft belly molding to his groin--he can't honestly stop himself from reflecting little splinters of the emotions shivering through her: affection, grief, pleasure, chagrin, embarrassment, fear, and the craving so hot and empty it makes him gasp in need.
He's a little shocked to realize that right this second, Nikki Lau is the loneliest person he has ever met. Bulletproof, he thinks, and wonders if he's the only feral critter in the B.A.U. who knows better than to cry out loud. Whatever she gave to her ex, whatever it cost her to offer it, Chaz knows now that he snapped it off and took it with him when he left, and all these years later it's only just starting to grow back.
He pushes the blunt-cut hair off her cheek, and it swings right back against the elegant bone. "One," he says, "you have never turned in less than a 4.0 effort in your life, lady. And two, as a member of the male sex, I feel the need to respectfully mention that that's the wrong word for failure to perform under these circumstances."
Her frown turns into something else, screws up into a complicated grimace. For a moment he thinks she's about to cry. Lines draw themselves around her eyes, down to the corners of her mouth.
He cups the nape of her neck in his hand and--cursing himself a little--says, "They'll take my union card for saying so, Nik, but if you want somebody to hold you, you don't have to fuck me to get it."
If she was about to cry she's laughing now. "I think I do," she says. "Because you're not going to get close enough for me to let you, otherwise. Crap. I'm such a guy sometimes." She shakes her head. "Besides, I want to. Do you know when the last time I wanted to was?"
He knows a rhetorical question when he hears one. "If you're a guy, I'm very confused." He touches her breast, nipple in the soft center of his palm, and watches her face change, feels her lean into it. "All right," he says. "Shutting up now."
That's how he winds up more or less in charge of the operation. There's a moment when she's lying across him, her back nestled to his chest, his mouth full of her hair and the taste of the skin of her neck, his fingers wet and sticky while she clenches in long, rowing strokes around him, and the sun's too bright across his face, so he closes his eyes and misses seeing her come. He feels it, though, the rippling cascade so strong it's just this side of painful, thump of her skull against his collarbone, lancing sharpness of her nails in the back of his hand, and has no idea how he keeps her from pulling him after.
He does, though, and then she's languid and purring, relaxed bonelessly against him, warmer than the sunlight, giving him all the time he feels like taking to get there for himself. Whole long minutes when he can breathe, when his heart isn't breaking, until he loses all his breath in a rush and can't get it back, can't want it back, can't care if he ever breathes again.
Her head on his shoulder is dead weight, comfortable, heavy. "Well," she says, without lifting it to look at him. "It could have been Brady who made the pass."
"Are you kidding? Danny Brady makes a pass at me, I'm walking on air for a month. Only the best for him." He pauses, attempt to muster a suitably foreboding expression belied by the fact that he can't quite iron out the quirk at the corner of his mouth. "It could have been Sol. At which point I would know that my weirdness quotient had officially jumped the shark."
He feels her laugh start deep in her belly, and that it takes a while to bubble out of her. But then it stops, unfinished, as if she just thought of something. She sits up, straddling his hips, one hand still on his chest, the other crossed over her breasts, so all he can see is the sunlight on her flanks and shoulders. "Sol's still waiting for his princess."
Which makes him sad, because he knows that it is true.
"So," he says, words heavy on the humid air, blurred by the sunlight falling between them, "was that something you foresee needing to do again?" He winces as soon as it's out. Thank you, Captain Bad Segue.
She thinks about it. "No," she says, and does him the honor of not apologizing.
He puts his hand over hers. "Just don't expect me to say I'm sorry it happened." But then he lets his fingers slide across her hips and stroke the unbelievable softness of her thighs. He pulls gently, guiding. "Hey, you ready for a rematch? Come on up here."
She blinks over her shoulder. "Seriously?"
"If I only get one crack at this," he says, trying to feel the warmth of her honesty and trust--her friendship--instead of the sting of rejection, "I'm going to leave you with something to remember me by."
Several days later, a greeting card shows up interlaced with his usual afternoon pile of interdepartmental mail. It's not signed, and there's no writing in it. But it has a picture of a sorrowful beagle puppy on the front, and inside, the two words "I'm sorry" crossed out twice in thick black Sharpie.
Brady doesn't come into the burrow.
Brady brings you the flowers. They're inspected by the guard, who carries them around the barrier. Two lilies, white daisies, white iris: heady and half-sick in their sweetness, already browning at the edge.
By this, you know that outside your air-conditioned cairn, it's June.
"Where's Chaz?" you ask, and Brady shrugs through the Plexiglas and says, "He took Lau home."
"But you came."
He doesn't visit often, but this is special.
"I'm sorry," you say, and the horrible thing is, you aren't. Or, you are, but beside the sorrow, dwarfing it, is a horrible quivering jellyfish delight, so much soaking pleasure in his pain. The it loves watching Brady suffer. And it loves watching you suffer as well. That pain is all its food, its only joy.
You bury your face in the flowers, though your hands want to twist on the stems. You could lean them in the corner of the sink and keep the stems in water, keep them alive and bright a little while.
But you won't.
You already know that you'll sit helplessly on the bunk and watch your hands pull them apart, bruise the petals, crush them into browning twists, until your fingers are rank with the juices.
And you'll enjoy it, too.
Reyes leans against the edge of the counter in the kitchenette, both hands on the lip, his back to the coffeemaker. He only picks up his head as Sol walks in. "Sol," he says, because it's after hours and he thought everybody else had gone home after the funeral.
"Steve," Sol says. He pours a cup of thick, cold coffee and takes it over to the microwave. There's a pause, while it whirrs and the table turns. "You all right?"
"No," Reyes says, then thinks about it, and snorts, and shakes his head. "No," he confirms. "How about you?"
Sol's coffee beeps. "I keep thinking," Sol says, as he slides it out of the microwave and sets it on the counter, "that the story doesn't go this way. That the author goofed something up."
"What do you mean?"
Sol crouches in front of the fridge, poking in the back until he finds the 2 percent milk with TODD written across the top. He keeps talking as he pours, stirs, returns the carton to the chill chest. "I mean I'm obviously in this story to be the guy who gets killed saving one of the beautiful young warriors. My mentoring is done. If they ever needed me before, they don't need me now. So why am I still here, and Daphne's gone? Something the editor needs to address, you know what I mean?"
He shuts the fridge, picks up his coffee, and walks out. After he's safely out of hearing, Reyes, who has been staring after him, says, "Yeah. I know exactly what you mean."
There's a funeral, and a wake, and friends, and relatives, and what Daphne would have called "All the Andreolis! So many Andreolis!" None of it means anything. It's a ritual, Tricia thinks. Something to tell you that it's time to fold up the worst of the grief and start pulling yourself together.
She tells herself she'll do that. Maybe. Tomorrow.
Daphne's team mostly doesn't come to the wake, and Tricia is glad. They have a secret, her and Daphne's work family and Daphne's father. They are inside a circle that no one else can breach.
They were there.
What happens now is for everyone else.
There's cake and coffee and tuna noodle casserole. Two kinds of fruit salad. More coffee. Some booze. Reyes does make an appearance, with his current flame, an archaeologist from Tennessee somewhere. Gray drops by: he says Brady went to see Hafidha. There's Pete Pauley and some of the other BAU types. Arthur Tan and his wife Padma Pavithra and their baby--who is hardly a baby now. Victor Celentano, brief and professional and repeating Falkner's offer that anything the Bureau can do, will be done.
Two or three of Daphne's distant relatives make appearances--a cousin, an aunt. Tricia's never met them before. The Worths aren't a close family.
The Director of the FBI was at the funeral. He doesn't come to the wake. Which is good: the house is too small for a security detail. Some of the Idlewood staff come, though, and some of Daphne's old EMT coworkers and college friends. That ex-cop who writes the true-crime stuff. That guy she was engaged to, who seems very cowed by the evidence of Daphne's life-after-Peter.
Daphne Worth was loved, and the evidence is all around Tricia now. It helps. A little.
Then they go home. Back to the cars and the hotels and the world, leaving Tricia alone in a rowhouse with a beautifully remodeled kitchen full of casseroles in tupperware and baskets of horrible apples. They save the worst fruit for the fruit baskets, she thinks. It looks so pretty, and tastes like Styrofoam.
Don't leave me alone. But they do--they leave you, and that's the way the world works.
She's sprung Tiger from his carrier--where he gladly spent the rush of the wake--and is scraping ambrosia fruit salad--seriously, who eats this stuff?--into the trash when the doorbell rings one final time. She glances at the clock. It's 11:30 p.m.
The peephole shows her Danny Brady, bulking to fill the stoop, hunched down a little so she can see his face. He grimaces apologetically. He must have seen her shadow.
Six more weeks of winter, she thinks, and opens the door.
"Hey," he says.
"Hey," she says, and stands aside so he can come in. "You okay?"
"That's my line." He holds up a shopping bag. "I just got back from Virginia. I brought some stuff--"
"I'm throwing out food," she says, locking the door behind him. She wasn't going to throw out the cake Chaz made--but she doesn't think she can bear to eat it either.
"It's Gruyére and crackers," he says. "Some grapes. It'll keep. Or, if you want me to stick around, we can eat it right now. I also have two bottles of Chardonnay."
She blinks. She wouldn't have taken him for a gruyére kind of guy. And really not a Chardonnay one. And then it sinks in, what he's offering.
She laughs. It still feels like theft. "I appreciate your attempt to comfort the widow," she says. "But I don't do boys."
And he grins at her--a little boy grin that makes his face look like it might crack--and answers, "That's cool. I don't do girls. But I do know what it's like to lie awake all night wondering what you could have done better, and what you should have done better, and frankly, I think it's better to get drunk."
Tricia knows he lost somebody. Daphne was never very clear about the details--she kept the confidences of friends--but Tricia can infer enough from silences to know that the big man her wife called the Cowboy had lost someone to the monsters. And that when it happened, he hadn't had anyone he could turn to--or even tell.
This is for him as much as you. She wonders what he'll tell her before morning. She wonders if it will help.
She takes the shopping bag from his hand. "Admit it. Gray picked the cheese."
"He wouldn't let me out of the house with a brick of Velveeta," Brady says easily. "Got a corkscrew?"
"Sure," she says. "And when the wine runs out, there's a bottle of vodka in the freezer."
"After a fashion, this is my fault." Hafidha swallows, her face ashy under the brown tone, faded now by too many sunless days. "If I had been there, I could have saved her."
Chaz looks down at his hands, rather than up at the Plexiglas and wire that separates them. He doesn't trust his face not to show his pain, and he doesn't want to give the Bug that much more reason to drive its talons into Hafidha. "Nobody could have saved her, Hafs. He ran a semi over her. And him. He killed the driver to make it happen."
Hafidha shakes her head, fingers tightening on the arms of her plastic chair. "Silly Platypus. Don't you know? Those things have computers in them."