Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Adams Morgan Neighborhood, Washington, D.C., November 2009
This is how it works. You drive yourself home alone, with the bag of dirty clothes on the passenger seat. You park alone in the driveway before the narrow, charming brownstone row house with the tall window and the stained-glass panels on either side of the door. You check the shadows before you get out, alone, and go up the walk in the light autumn rain, alone, and unlock the door--alone, and aware of your situation, of the potential threats, of the night.
You are not a victim. You know how to fight. You carry a gun. You keep one hand free as you step inside and shut the door and key the security code.
You lean back against the dark, solid door--so heavy, so unlike anything Californian--and breathe in the November air. My house. Mine.
All yours, and yours alone. Bought with your money, furnished to your taste. Your den.
You kick your shoes off in the entry and pad through the kitchen to the washer, the usual ritual. When the machine hums on, you stand there, leaning your forehead against the door of the dryer stacked on top of it, letting it shake itself to life in your hands.
You wish you had a dog. Something, anything that would be glad to see you. There were dogs when you were a kid, a series of rescued mutts with the sorts of names that boys give dogs: Rex and Boots and Fluffy. The unspoken understanding was always that they were your brothers' dogs, but Boots and Fluffy both climbed into your bed illegally after lights-out, more often than not.
You swear you can still smell Clay Maxwell's unwashed skin on your hands, though you've scrubbed them over and over again. Just your ordinary everyday kind of monster.
A monster who's off the street for now, and in part due to your work.
You walk back through the kitchen naked, not so much stopping as swerving to grab a grocery-store apple and a piece of cheese from the fridge. You eat them as you climb the stairs to the bathroom, waving hello to the Scottie dogs that decorate your magazine rack.
The smoked Gouda goes down in four bites; you're still crunching chips off the apple and chewing them noisily when you step under the showerhead. You wash everything twice, making a ritual of it, scouring the soles of your feet with the tickling loofa and your cheeks with the apricot-pit facial scrub. There's an unguent or emollient for every inch of your skin. Girl stuff, stuff you usually don't fuss with, but it's an excuse to stay in the warmth for a few minutes longer. Steam, heat, and falling water on a heavy massage setting start to take some of the stiffness out of your neck and shoulders. A couple of Aleve and a Flexeril from the medicine cabinet will handle the rest, and ensure a dreamless sleep.
You're still tucking the tail of your fluffy polka-dot Company Store towel between your breasts to turn it into a tube dress when the house phone rings.
You charge out of the bathroom, tearing away that comforting veil of heat and steam far too soon and too violently. But you reach the hall extension in time--hall because you have to take your cell phone to bed with you, but the house phone can live in another room--and cup it to your ear, shaking wet hair off your face. The team would have called your cell, and nobody else would be calling at midnight with anything like pleasant news.
"Lau residence," you say, in that cool professional voice that always, somehow, hides the turmoil and the fear.
It's Bob, your oldest brother, and for a moment you think it's okay, it's only 9 P.M. on the left coast, maybe he forgot--but you can hear how his fear and tension manifest as cool military professionalism, and your profiler brain won't let you believe your own lie. "Hey," you say. "What's wrong? Are Gretchen and the kids--"
"Fine," he says. He hesitates to gulp air, but that's the only clue that any normal person's voice would be breaking.
You come by it honestly.
You reach out and lean your right hand on the wall. Your towel's coming undone, and you prop the phone on your shoulder to fix it.
"Tim?" you ask. He's touring with some dive-bar band, bicycling around the Southwest as a publicity stunt. Anything could have happened--
"It's Dad," Bob says finally, softly. "Nikki, he's had a heart attack."
"But--" Excuses pile up behind your tongue and die in the crush. But he's only fifty-five. But he runs every day. But Mom watches his diet like a hawk. "Which hospital?" You're already making plans, cardiologist on speed dial, heaven and earth to be moved--
"He's... He's dead, Nikki. I am so sorry. There was nothing they could do for him. It was massive. It happened... we just got back from the hospital. Mom tried to call you earlier, but couldn't remember your cell number and didn't want to leave a message on the machine."
There's a silence.
Somebody says, "Oh." It's you. It must be. There's no one else in the house to speak. "Is Mom--"
He laughs, because it isn't funny. "She's Mom. She's already ordering everybody around and refusing to be fussed over. She's coming apart at the seams."
"Don't leave her alone, okay? I'm on my way." What's in the closet; what's ready to be thrown into a bag; what can you buy at the airport if you need it that badly? Your knees wobble, but the wall is solid, and there's no time, now, to be fragile. Bullets and bracelets, Wonder Woman. Just keep moving.
Bob swallows audibly, but recovers his Air Force crispness with an effort. "Can you get away? You're sure? Your job--"
"Be there by sunup," you say. "Gotta ring my boss. I'll call from the airport when I know my flight, okay?"
As he's signing off, you're thinking about what you're going to say to Falkner. And hoping like hell you can get a redeye flight with an empty row, so there will be nobody to bother you if you lose it and start to cry.
Sure. And shatterproof, too. So why, as you hang up the phone, do you feel your glossy facade trickling through your hands like grains of sand?