Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

At the beginning of the world, before the animals learned to eat each other, Coyote and Rabbit were friends.

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington, D.C., September 2005

As usual, Hafidha Gates hadn't left enough room for the cream.

She kept her eyes on the tilting surface of the coffee in her mug as she left the kitchenette, counting on her high-heeled yellow Fluevog oxfords to find their way home to her lovely personal office with its extra-lovely personal door. With all her attention on not spilling hot coffee on the carpet or her, she'd missed the vibe in the bullpen.

"Focused" didn't cover it. More like laser-assisted sights. Her homies could stare at something without seeming to look at all, and what they were seeming not to look at was a guy in a suit.

What is this? Bring Your Freaky Younger Sibling to Work Day?

Ah. No, she knew what this was.

Reyes had trotted him out for Falkner already. Now Es stood to one side of him, Reyes to the other, like an honor guard, as they introduced him to Danny Brady. Or maybe a guard, period, to keep the kid from bolting. He'd compressed his neck and pulled his shoulders up to protect it, which gave him a gloomy hunched posture like an overworked librarian in hell. He kept his gaze low, and when he met anyone's eyes, it was only for a moment. Nothing that could be read as aggressive.

You're pretending to be negligible, aren't you, baby?

He wore a navy blue suit that she prayed to the GQ gods he'd bought used. Maybe he'd flipped a coin--fitting through the shoulders or long enough in the sleeves. The shoulders had lost; the jacket drooped mournfully at the armholes and damned near flapped like a flag against his ribs. His white dress shirt collar yawned around his long, skinny neck. The blue-and-gray striped tie, besides being the most conservative thing to appear in the halls since Melvin Purvis, turned his brown skin dull ochre. His haircut was still-bleeding new and so short his ears were embarrassed.

Negligible sliced no mustard nor any other condiment with the WTF team. Sure, Todd could do his "I'm just a harmless little guy" shapeshifter trick in the field, but in the office he gloried in loony singularity. And his co-workers delighted in his weirdness. It was one more thing that set the team off from Down the Hall.

New Fish seemed to be trying to out-G-man the entire building. Which was sad, since almost everyone in it would peck him to death like a wrong-colored chicken.

Oh, yes. It sucked to be the new kid.

Even more, it sucked to be the one everyone was watching out the corners of their eyes. Too young, too smart, too freaky; too green. At least when Hafidha Gates had blazed into the ACTF like a fucking fallen angel, she'd been carrying a badge and gun for a few years. This one, under ordinary circumstances, would have been carrying a Palm Pilot loaded with a graphing calculator program.

Except according to rumor and Stephen Reyes, he didn't need one.

She stood still long enough to witness the most non-committal handshake in history. Even profilers appreciated a little faked enthusiasm; it said you were trying. But New Fish shook Brady's hand as if he knew he had to and was going to get through it if it killed him. And if Hafidha could tell that, Brady sure as hell could, and wouldn't like it.

And Nikki Lau, over at her desk, would have seen that performance even though she was pretending to be obsessed with her paperwork, and been annoyed on Danny's behalf. Nikki would be kind and warm and friendly, though, when she was introduced to the new kid. Her manners were too damned good to do it any other way.

Hafidha didn't nurture. It wasn't her style. Everyone was the new kid at some point; if they couldn't get past it, they didn't have the chops to survive the job, and it wouldn't help them or anyone to try to hand-hold them through it. So she paused for a sip of coffee to wash away the ache in her throat. Then she continued on to her own desk.

No need to insert herself in whatever script El Generalissimo was working. Someone would bring the kid to her.

Reyes himself did it fifteen minutes later. She'd left her door ajar, but he rapped on the frame anyway. "Agent Gates?"

"Big Boss Man," she called out, as she blanked her screens and pivoted her chair away from her keyboard.

Reyes walked in, self-possessed and self-contained as always. The New Kid sidled through the door after, ducking as if the doorframe might reach down and swat him. That was his body language. His face was a whole different animal.

In fact, "animal" was the right word. His posture said, "I'm tame, honest. See? Taaaaaame." But his face, his eyes, said nothing was going to take the feral out of this guy. Tame was just a survival strategy.

Kind of like sensible shoes and a dark gray skirt suit for a black female Secret Service agent.

Reyes smiled his bland professional smile, one he used when something was going on behind it. "Agent Gates, this is Special Agent Charles Villette. He'll be doing remote data analysis full time for this team. Agent Villette, Agent Hafidha Gates."

Hafidha extended her right hand with a flourish, knowing Reyes hadn't seen the downward pinch at the corner of Villette's mouth at the words "remote data analysis." And what's up with that, Baby Booty? "Delighted to have you on board, Agent," she declaimed, and watched Reyes acknowledge her roleplay with a sardonic eyebrow.

Villette shook her hand. Very polite. Very impersonal.

Reyes turned to Villette. "Unfortunately, I need to be in a meeting with our Unit Chief five minutes ago. Agent Gates will continue your orientation. I think she can answer any question you're likely to ask." He distributed a nod equally between Villette and her and vanished out the door as if on a tide of Vaseline.

Ah. So that's what El Jefe's playing at.

Did he expect her to lead the new kid out of the corral the minute his back was turned? This was Stephen Reyes, after all. Answer: yeah, probably.

Hafidha decided to do it anyway.

"But what you really want is to get the hell out of the office and into the field," she said, and watched Villette's eyes snap wider, wary. Something funky about those eyes.

"I'll do whatever I'm assigned to." He spoke in a level, colorless tenor, and his point of focus was somewhere just off her right ear.

"Oh, Sweetie. I know you're a better liar than that or you wouldn't have got this far."

That won her another moment of eye contact. Also a flash of hurt, as if she'd said something mean and he'd been expecting better.

His eyes didn't match. That's what it was.

Villette stiffened up around the shoulders and neck. "Agent Gates--"

Enough intro. Let's bring the noise. "Nuh-uh, Ginger Cookie, it's Hafidha. 'Agent Gates' is for strangers. You and I are practically family." She couldn't help adding, "Though you'd have to work pretty hard to be stranger than that."

Villette shifted his weight as if he'd like to slither back out the door and away from the crazy woman. "I don't know. I'm...maybe a little weird."

"Tsk. Around here we use the technical term. You're anomalous."

That shocked him out of hiding, finally. That, right there, was his real face: head tilted, brows up, eyelid shutters open, lips parted just a hair to catch those stray data points. She was even more pleased than she'd expected to be. So she added, "And so am I."

Blink, blink. Beat. "Oh," he said.

She hooked out her fiercely guarded spare chair with her toe. "Sit. Oh, and eat." She pushed the candy dish toward him. He gave her a sideways hunted look as he folded to perch on the seat. "Yes, I know all about the eating. Emergency rations are in the bottom file cabinet drawer. The one with the biohazard sticker. Restock if you use 'em."

He picked one of the Lindt wrapped chocolate balls out of the dish with his left thumb and index finger, daintily, hesitantly, like a dog sneaking snacks off the kitchen counter. She sighed and stared hard at him. He took a second one. She nodded.

While he unwrapped it and popped it in his mouth (and perfumed the room with dark chocolate), Hafidha said, "My mojo's all about this." She swept her arm to include the room's hardware, making her rings flash. "I speak their language. Or maybe they speak mine. Whatever it is, the semiconductor and I are soulmates." She leaned forward, elbows on knees, which swung her braids shushing across the shoulders of her silk jacket. "What's your superpower?"

He swallowed, his adam's apple poking hard under his skin. "Statistics. Pattern analysis." He rubbed the underside of his nose and made it look like a shrug. "Lamest superpower ever."

"Are you kidding? Pattern recognition is freakin' everything. Root of all profiling. Not to mention cryptanalysis and hand-to-hand combat."

"Do we do those much around here?"

He sounded hopeful. And he'd said "we," not "you." "Honey, if it's useful, we'll put Danny Brady in a dress."

He ducked his head to cover his smile.

"Also? You're allowed to be amused on company time."

He looked up, a shy little-kid grin coming and going on his lips. "I was kind of afraid that was off-limits for the duration."

Ah. "The Academy is not the Bureau. Thank god. In fact, without the funny, the job will probably kill you. Listen, I am not going to call you 'Villette.' So unless you want me to keep making up names for you, you should tell me what handle you use."

His amazingly silly face drooped. "You mean I can't be Ginger Cookie?"

"I'll keep it in the rotation."

"Um. It's Chaz."

"Ooh, stylin'." That earned her a flash of slightly crooked white teeth. "You know your eyes don't match, right?"

"Oh, man. It was still dark this morning when I put 'em in the sockets."

"Got another pair at home just like them."

He surprised her by snorting with laughter.

"Hey, look! Nobody came in and fired you."

Villette--Chaz--looked over each shoulder in turn. "I wasn't very loud."

He looked like crap in navy, but he wouldn't look like crap in everything. Burgundy, she thought. Juniper green, dark-chocolate brown, copper, olive, sand. Just let me at your closet, sweetie.

She didn't nurture. She'd totally be doing it for her own aesthetic well-being.

Hafidha rolled her chair closer to his, until he leaned back and folded his arms across his skinny torso. She eyeballed the dimensions of that personal boundary for future reference. "Sugarplum, I will tell you a truth you ought to know. Stephen Reyes won't fire you any more than he'll fire me. The last thing he wants is for us to disappear into the vast sea of humanity again. He needs us." She leaned back in her chair and gave him what she hoped was an encouraging grin. "Use that power only for good."

Chaz surprised her again: he didn't laugh. He ducked his chin and stared intently from under his eyebrows. She thought she could hear him doing a whole lot of higher-level math regarding his place in the Bureau and the WTF. Well, good. He should know how valuable he was. If he did, he could figure out the pros and cons of that value as well as she could.

Before the silence got awkward, she said, "All right. This is my desk. It is not your desk. I bet you have a desk. Have they given you a desk?"

He nodded gravely. "And a chair. I might even have a phone."

"Divine. Let's get you sat in it, and I'll show you around the e-office." She frowned at him. "Tell me they remembered the keyboard and monitor."

Chaz's mouth stretched and flattened in a Muppet-like expression of resignation. "I'm pretty sure I've got those."

"Let's go make 'em dance. Shoo! I'm right behind you."

She flapped her hands at him, and he bounced out of the chair and into the hall.

She really had conducted his orientation. And it was almost certainly exactly what Reyes had had in mind. Damn the man.

She grabbed the candy dish and followed Chaz.