Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Ashton, Virginia, June 2007

Joseph Lawrence Hakes hasn't seen a live human face in three years. Daniel Brady wonders if that's better than the only possible alternative.

We should never have brought that one in, he thinks, not for the first time.

Brady watches on four high-res monitors at the guard station as Hakes finishes dinner. Hakes can't dawdle over his food, not when it's served in a potato-starch-based paper dish that begins to soften as soon as it's filled. His shovel-shaped spoon is waxed cardboard, like a Dixie cup. It's a place setting reserved for the most dangerous sons of bitches in Idlewood, the ones who know what they are and like it just fine, thank you.

Other residents eat off (break-resistant) china with normal forks and spoons. The doctors on staff say normal is calming, reassuring, safe. People who feel safe are more willing to consider the possibility that, just maybe, the thing that prompts them to hurt and kill and destroy might be wrong.

Besides, Brady reasons, anything else would remind the residents they're big damn scary monsters. That's not the kind of pep rally a place like Idlewood needs. Brady suspects the doctors share his reasoning and just won't admit it.

The food itself is pretty good. Most of the inmates haven't been sentenced in open court by a jury of their peers, so they can't justifiably be tortured at mealtimes. Besides, the nutritionist and the supervising cook are part of the research staff. How to feed a gamma, and why, and whether it makes a difference in what they are: that's their part of the experiment.

Hakes swallows the last of his chicken stroganoff over brown rice and pushes the dirty utensils through a hatch in the wall. Beside Brady, a woman in the discreet gray uniform of Idlewood's security staff taps a button that locks the hatch and turns the light on the console next to it from red to green.

This guard station is out of the direct line of sight (imagining lines of sight that pass through heavily-reinforced walls) of any of the cameras in Hakes's room. When Hakes stares unblinking at a camera lens, which he often does, he's not staring in the direction of the person at the console. The meal hatch doesn't lead straight to anywhere; the belt that rolls food from the kitchen to that opening angles in the middle. Standing in Hakes's room, there's no way to tell what vector has another human being at the end of it.

Overkill, probably. Nothing in Hakes's mythology or past murders suggests he can induce acute hemorrhaging in someone he can't see. But nobody wants to be the person at the guard station who learns the evaluation is wrong--who bleeds out through the ears, nose, mouth, anus, and eye sockets before he or she can get out of range.

And if Hakes can't do it now, who knows? He might learn. We're just making sure, Brady thinks, and feels his mouth twist as if he'd said it out loud.

Joe Lawrence Hakes is a monster. There's no "sure" where he and things like him are concerned.

"Interviewing Bloody Larry," says the guard beside him. It's the first time she's spoken since he introduced himself and told her what he was there for. "Guess you drew the short straw."

Her voice brings his attention back to now. The guard is tall and broad-shouldered, with cropped, curly black hair. Below her short-sleeved uniform shirt, her arms are ribbed with muscle. Her face shows sympathetic disgust, as if he'd told her about a container lost in the back of the refrigerator for six months.

As if his next half-hour can be thrown out, washed out, deodorized, and forgotten.

Brady looks at the monitors, where Hakes sits easy on the edge of his bed, his small, bony hands clasped on his lap, staring up and to the left at the camera in the corner.

"If I didn't do it, somebody else would have to," he tells the guard, and leans forward for the microphone switch.