Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Arlington, VA, Summer 2008

The landlord of the building didn't look typical--he was as skinny as Dyson, though older by twenty years, but his clothes were splattered with paint and plaster, and he didn't look askance at Dice's piercings. He'd introduced himself as Sam and led him up three flights of stairs to an open door.

"It was a weird bit left over. The other apartments are one or two bedrooms. Made it a studio. Don't mind the walls, I haven't painted in here yet."

"No, leave it, please," Dyson responded. "I like it. The last tenant did that?"

"Yeah. I get a lot of arty sorts in here, you know, and they change stuff."

"The walls're fine. It's good," Dyson said again.

The apartment was tiny. Smaller than even he expected, a tallish space smaller than a suburban garage. The mousy gray office carpet on the floor probably covered good hardwood--that he wasn't going to labor to expose, thanks--and the wall Sam had gestured at was a floating slab, installed to turn a tiny kitchenette into a galley kitchen. It ate a lot of the space for the sake of some cupboard and counter space, without a pass-through to make a breakfast bar.

But it was covered with the near-black of chalkboard paint from floor to ceiling, smooth, clean, and waiting to be expressed upon.

"I like it," Dyson said. "The deposit is same as a month's rent?"

The landlord laughed. "It's two hundred bucks. If you have it in cash--"

"I do," Dyson said.

"Well, I'll just write you a receipt. You wanna have a look in the junk room? Tenants, when they move out sometimes they have stuff they don't wanna take, and I lock it up in the junk room. Anything you can use in there, take it. Free."

"That would be good, thank you," Dyson said, and counted his money.


Ink & Steel had a nice sign, and when Dice walked in the first thing he smelled was cleaning products. That was promising. Another sign said, "Welcome to Ink & Steel, please use this gel," and a hand pump for sanitizer was right beneath it. Dyson rubbed it into his hands, getting between the fingers as he stepped to the right and into the reception area. An LCD screen ran a slideshow of freshly finished tattoos, each one dated and captioned with the name of the artist, and everything about the reception area was tidy and easy to clean.

Except there was no one there.

"Hello?" he called out.

"Hi one sec I'll be right there."

It was hollered through at least one wall, and presently a tiny blonde walked in from the back, stripping off disposable gloves. "Hi! I was just doing some sterilizing. I'm Mary Lynn. Have you been here before?"

She was really cute.

"No, it's my first time--here. I just moved here, I'm from Chicago, sorry. My name's Dice."

"Hi, Dice. I see you've got some work already. Were you looking for a current idea?"

"Thought I'd look for a shop." She was...really cute. And she had dimples when she smiled. And she had a labret.

"Oh! Well I can show you around. I'm the shop's lead piercer but I do tattoos, and I can tell you about all our practices. I don't have an appointment for a half hour and I can't show you my piercing room because it's already clean and I don't want to open the door until I'm letting my client in. But I can show you everything else, if that's okay?"

"Uh, yeah. That'd be good, I'd like that."

"Great! Now do you have an allergy or a sensitivity to latex? I'd like to give you some gloves to wear so you don't have to worry too much about touching things..."

" fine. Thanks." He sounded like an idiot. A total idiot. But Mary Lynn didn't seem to mind and she showed him around with a lot of pride, and was much less embarrassed than he was when she described how genital piercings would go (not that he'd asked, but) and she was really happy to book him an appointment for a tragus two hours later.

It was a good piercing--everything clean and safe, and Mary Lynn explaining the whole process as if he didn't have coming up on twenty pieces just in his face, and when the hollow needle pushed through he pressed his feet flat on the floor against the hot rush that bloomed across his head.

She asked him if he wanted to come with her to get coffee and cookies, because they'd gotten into one of those conversations that joyfully wandered all over the place, and by the time she had to go back they still weren't done so they arranged to meet the next day after Dice walked a few streets with resumes in his hand.

Washington, DC

The Crank was a nice place; Dice could tell from the moment he stepped inside. Just a little bit seedy, enough to feel comfortable, and there were easily three dozen beers on tap at the long bar, finished not in the dark mahogany/walnut/rosewood so common to bars but a light, golden hardwood. There was a pennyfarthing in the rafters, and there was a billiard table, one of those tiny coin-operated models, but the felt was clean and unworn. It smelled like fresh wood, and the long, narrow space in front of the bar held a table that could seat twenty--more, if they cuddled up on the benches.

"I'm looking for Stewart," Dyson said to a man in the double-breasted coat and long white apron of kitchen staff.

"Sorry, he's not here. You're here for the bartender job?"

"Yeah," Dyson agreed, gesturing with his resume. The guy had an accent--as opposed to Chicago, of course, everyone did, but it was different from the different he'd been growing used to hearing here: the man's words followed a different rhythm, spoken further back in the mouth and allowed to resonate in the soft parts.

"Can you handle kegs?"

Dice grimaced. "Yeah, if I'm careful."

"Did you do ordering?" the man said, and Dice got it.

"Your accent. French?"

"Oui, Je suis Quebecois."

"Whoa, I didn't take French in school," Dice said, and the man smiled back. "Ordering was...I didn't do the order, I just wrote what we needed."

"So you might as well have. I'm Dennis."


"Dice. What do you want to order?"

"Just looking at the wall. That's a lot of gin up there for not-a-martini-bar. Somebody on the staff likes it?"

"Yeah, the boss."

"G & T?"

"That's the one."

"So obviously the boss's expertise on gin should be a thing, since he likes it."

"Yeah. That's a really good idea. How are you with beer?"

"Beer's the lifeblood of a bar. I don't know the local stuff yet but that won't take long."

"You good with the late nights?"

"Been doing six to two for years."

"You ride a bicycle?"


"Oh, well, it'll give people something to talk to you about. Can you come in on Monday? It'll be slow but Debbie doesn't have classes so she can show you everything."


Dice had thought it a weird question but he soon found out that the Crank was popular with bicycle couriers, messengers, and line-standers. The boss originally worked as a messenger while attending night school, and the unspoken preferred customers were bicyclists--the few messengers left, mechanics, and those who made cycling an expression of style. Their presence added atmosphere for the suits who liked to think their jobs hadn't stolen the person they were at twenty-one, who gathered to eat the Crank's simple, inventive pub fare at lunch and swirl the gin happy hour specials.

But by the time Dice came in most of them were on their way out, leaving the long common table as the domain of the regulars who pooled their money to buy pitchers of beer and rehash stories of bike polo or group rides.

He got to talk to them on slow nights. They noticed things, like a new piercing (there was a week-long discussion after his first snakebite, over the virtues of pairing it up or going for symmetry) the touch-up he'd gotten on his dragon, or progress with physio on his left hand. He knew who was into Zen Buddhism (Lesley and Richard), who was vegetarian (same, plus Andy and Simon), which degrees were on hold for a while (Psychology, Engineering, English Lit., Microbiology, another Psychology, Linguistics, and Political Science), and where the elaborately knitted beanies they wore in winter came from (Tyler, avid knitter and one of the Psychology-on-hold students, a line-stander who was rarely in late because of the insanely early hours).

It didn't take long for the regulars to start asking him what he was up to, to expect that he'd take a minute to sit down with them before he went on shift, or, after he switched to opening so Debbie could take a semester of courses and still keep her job, to sit down after work so they could get on him about when he was going to start biking to work.


It was about a year later, on a spring day of the blustery sort when Andy said, "You know, I have a Surly Cross-Check frame, never felt like I could get the geometry right. It's just a bit too small. But I bet it'd fit you."

Dice stopped for a moment, then realized...Andy was talking to him. "Oh, yeah? I'd worry about it getting stolen though, locked up to a sign or whatever."

"I have a wall rack," Tyler said. "I got a bunch of them put together. You can hang it up in your apartment."

"Wait, are we building Dice a bike?" Simon asked. "I've got those drop handlebars, he can use 'em, Lesley was going to rebuild some wheels--"

"Hang on," Tyler said, and fished a pen out of his bag. "Frame, check, you got a fork too?"


"Frame, fork, handlebars, wheels, I can get a bottom bracket pretty cheap, new chain, I've still got like, ten boxes of tubes from that vulture sale--"

"Find out if Richard still has those bits he said he was going to get rid of," Andy said, but he already had his phone out. Dice stared at them all.

"What are you doing?"

"Getting you a bike," Tyler said. "You need to buy a lock. And lights. Call it two hundred bucks for a really good lock and really good lights, and a decent saddle."

"I've got a saddle," Simon said, "but it's probably not something I'd give to a friend without warning that the fucking thing is hell in a bucket."

Dice just...he should say something. "This is crazy."

"It's extra parts we have sitting around," Tyler said. "You're on the hook for the lock and the lights."

Then Lesley walked in and asked, "What's this about wheels?" and slid onto the bench, pouring beer for herself out of the pitcher while they went down a list of parts and Dice got Dennis to come out and watch the bar while he pretended to have a second look at keg lines but really just needed to get a grip on himself.

They had it made in three days. It was a shade of brown that Andy had said was called Beef Gravy. It had pull brakes and only one gear and they'd set it so you could coast, but started extolling the benefits of going to fixed as soon as he'd gotten used to it. Dice took it for a wobbly circle to their cheers and applause and privately vowed to get a different saddle immediately.

When he hopped off, supremely conscious of the nose of the bike's saddle, he named it Stone Soup.

There is a playlist for these scenes and "Single Bullet Theory" at Grooveshark.