Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Newport, RI, June 12, 2010

"You know, damned few of the world's problems can be solved by punching something." Gray Putnam smiled over the top of the steering wheel and out the rental car windshield, as if what he'd just said ought to get a rise out of his traveling companion.

Well, then, Daniel Brady wouldn't disappoint him. "There goes my job."

"Oh, come on. When was the last time you punched anything in the line of duty?"

"I shoot things. Does that count?"

"Okay, the last time you shot anything."

Sometimes the problem couldn't be solved by not shooting, either. Sometimes you showed what you thought was mercy, with your mouth Superglued shut. But when you finally told the truth, hell, you might as well have opened up with a shotgun.

And sometimes you knew you ought to shoot, but you checked your sight picture and your old answers were wrong, your old reflexes were useless, and you had fuck all for new ones. Two lives about to go pop, and nobody in position to stop them but you.

In the first case, the damage was fresh. In the second it was over a year old. Funny how little difference it made to the kicked-in-the-chest feeling he got when he thought of his mom and dad, or about Hafidha in Chaz's arms in her last minutes of freedom.

Adulthood: the age when you realized your memories were never going to be all good.

Brady was aware suddenly of the silence in the car. Right, Gray'd had the last line. Brady's cue. He flicked a look to his left.

Gray was watching the road, not smiling anymore. Pretending to concentrate.

"I'm thinking," Brady lied.

Gray snorted. "You do that, Leo."

Brady cocked an eyebrow. "That'd better be a reference to my job. Otherwise you just called me by your other guy's name."

When Gray was surprised into laughing, it came out like fast water over rocks, rising and falling and catching the light. "What, I only get one? Nope. That was short for 'Leonidas.' Just keep holding that pass, buddy."

"Huh. At least I'm not doing it in a damn retread Italian gladiator movie, dressed in a bottle of canola oil and a loincloth."

"We can work on that last bit."

Brady hadn't told Gray what had happened in North Dakota, of course. He'd told him there was a clusterfuck involved, that it had been ugly, but it had been sorted out. But Gray had a little experience his own self with Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny. Brady knew Gray had insisted on hauling him off to play with boats that Memorial Day weekend because Gray could smell the screwed-upness all over him.

Brady wasn't sure how he felt about being readable. At least this time he'd been able to just tell Gray, yeah, I made the goddamn phone call. And Gray was hauling him off to play with boats.

The Rhode Island shoreline opened up ahead and to the right as the car bounced onto the choppy asphalt of an unmarked road. A little barn-red house with paint faded on the seaward side dug its toes into rocky ground on their left. The ocean glittered off the shoulder to Brady's right, rocking gently as if tipped in a dish. "So is this good sailing weather?"

Gray's precisely carved lips stretched, parted, showed his perfect white teeth. "Not bad. I like a little more swell, but this is good for a lubber."

"That's a sailor-type insult, isn't it?"

"Certainly not. It's a technical term for a guy who's only been out on a sailboat twice before."

"If you weren't having so much fun saying it, I might even believe you."

Gray turned onto an equally unmarked track surfaced in pea gravel. If you killed somebody out here and hid the body, how long would it take to figure it out? Brady couldn't decide which was weirder: that he thought about shit like that, or that he felt nothing more than intellectual curiosity when he did.

"It's a fun word. Lubber, lubber, lubber."

"See, I was just thinking about what a great place this would be to dump a body."

"LEO lubber. I find reminders of your copness disturbingly hot. Why is that, do you think?"

It had crossed Brady's mind more than once that, for Gray, this was slumming. Even dressed up with a college degree and a suit and tie, police work would always smell blue-collar to some especially well-bred noses. Ugly job, dirty job, brought you into contact with nasty people.

Not our kind, dear. Gray's family probably had nightmares about him marrying a woman who wore an ankle bracelet.

But Brady wasn't going to judge Gray by his hypothetical family. After all, if the tables were turned, what would that say about Brady? "Tell me it's not the cuffs. Too damn clichéd."

"If I ever meet a motorcycle cop, I'm ditching you."

Brady turned his face hard left and gave him both eyebrows.

Gray chewed the corner of his lower lip and gazed thoughtfully at the road. "Black leather riding boots. Mmm."

"Damn. I didn't know the cowboy boots were just you settling."

The gravel drive rose and turned, and the Putnam family summer cottage lifted into view as if it had been assembled under the stage and hoisted on hydraulics for the audience to gasp over.

Brady reminded himself that ranch houses in Texas grew like this: a shotgun cabin or a dogtrot would spread a room at a time with each season's stock sale. Once the Putnam "cottage" must have been a tight-clenched whitewashed clapboard Cape Cod. Over the course of a century it had sprouted a second floor, wings, verandas, sleeping porches, and a handful of big bay windows. The green sweep of its front lawn made a gentle incline to the gritty, pebbly New England beach with its silvered dock and red-and-white boathouse.

"Oh, fuck me," Gray exclaimed, and not in a good way.

"What is it?"

Gray jerked his head, pointing out the windshield with his chin at a twenty-year old silver-blue Mercedes diesel sedan parked beside the house. "My grandmother's." He sounded ridiculously young, teenager-surly.

"We going to have to arm-wrestle her for the boat?"

Gray let the car roll forward on idle and glared at Brady. Then his sense of humor came back on duty. "God, no. I'd hate to send you back to your boss with something dislocated." He squared his shoulders against the seat back. "It's just...awkward. Wonder how long she plans to stay?"

Awkward, because if Gray had mentioned Brady to anyone in his family, it would have been as "a friend of mine." A come-up-to-go-sailing, stay-in-the-guest-bedroom friend.

Be a grownup about it, Brady ordered himself. You can survive a weekend in the guest bedroom closet. Where he'd pretend he wasn't remembering the taste of sweat and salt water on skin, the scrape of an unshaven cheek against his belly, or a glimpse of lower back, columns of smooth muscle bracketing the deep furrow of the spine, above the waist of a too-large pair of cargo pants. Where he'd try not to find sunburn on Gray's dignified well-bred nose simultaneously absurd and arousing.

Gray cleaned up just fine, of course, but he touseled even better.

Steady there, Danny boy. Save it for when you can do something about it.

The porch wrapped the house on two sides; the front door opened onto the side that didn't face the shore. Guests welcome; squalls, not so much. The white-haired woman reading in the bent-willow rocker by the door was a welcoming touch, too. Brady would have been entertained by the unfolding scene if he were in the audience. As an actor, he thought he'd better take his cues from the rest of the players. "Anything I should know, particularly, before I meet her?"

Gray pulled up next to the Mercedes and popped the trunk. "My father's mother. Head of the family." He shot Brady a glance and a grin and said, "We're all terrified of her, but you figured that out."

"Ahyuh." It was as close as Brady could get to the Down East noise of assent that came out Gray's mouth at unguarded moments. It must have been close enough to do what Brady intended, because a little growly laugh escaped the back of Gray's throat.

"Oh, you mock me now. Come on, let's get the buckboard unloaded."

Gray, like Brady, was a one-carryon traveler, but they'd bought groceries on the way from the airport. Ordinarily Brady would have slung both their bags over his shoulder and wrangled the three paper sacks before Gray could get to them. Gray would then have tried to get a couple away from him, by fair means or foul, until they reached the kitchen and he was forced to admit defeat.

Decorum went with the guest bedroom, though. Only bellhops and lovers carry another man's luggage. Brady unfolded out the passenger door and sauntered around to the back bumper, where he let Gray shoulder his own bag and claim the heaviest sack.

Gray's grandmother lifted her chin and smiled as they reached the steps, and raised her eyebrows and smiled a little more as Brady climbed the last few to the porch. He knew how he looked: rising, rising, and holy goddamn, still rising. People didn't always realize how tall he was until he was standing over them.

Gray bent to kiss her tilted cheek. "Hello, Nanna. I didn't know you'd be out this weekend. Will we be in your way?"

"Not if the wild party doesn't keep you up past your bedtime."

Age had whittled away what soft lines her face might once have had. But it was a face that had probably always been defined by its bones, the sharp keel of the straight nose, the prominent cheekbones, the high wide brow and pointed chin. Brady figured her for a woman who'd grown up hearing she could never be too rich or too thin, and taken it to heart.

Her skin was crosshatched with wrinkles, pouched at her jawline, furrowed like crepe paper on her throat. Her hair glowed perfect white, a short waved bob that must have required a damned expensive haircut to look that uncontrived. Tiny pearl earrings, a button-front cardigan that pretty well screamed Lilly Pulitzer, and denim slacks likely from the same source or close to it.

How would she take it if Brady told her she had sisters among the oil-, cattle-, and semiconductor-rich in Dallas?

"This is my friend Daniel Brady, Nanna."

Before Gray could start the second half of the formal introductions, his grandmother extended her hand, long and thin and wormed with veins. "Mr. Brady. I'm Margaret Putnam."

Brady clasped her dry hand lightly and noted that she hadn't said "Call me Margaret." "Pleased to meet you, Ms. Putnam."

"How do you know my grandson?"

Gray wasn't quite State Department enough to keep the clog out of his throat when he said, "Brady's the guy who rescued me when the car died in the rainstorm. You remember?"

"Oh, of course! Accept my belated thanks, Mr. Brady. I believe Gray said you're with the FBI."

Suddenly Brady was absolute dead sure that Margaret Putnam had known exactly who Brady was and what he did and that he was on his way to the house long before the rental car came into sight. He gave her the professional smile he used on hostile county cops and politically-connected suspects. "Yes, ma'am. The Behavioral Analysis Unit."

Gray's face was frozen in the good-natured expression appropriate to a state dinner in the embassy of a country about to break off diplomatic relations. Brady tried to send him reassuring messages without raising his eyebrows. He didn't think it worked.

Margaret Putnam patted Gray's forearm where it curled around the grocery bag. "Gray, dear, why don't you take those things into the kitchen and put them away while I get acquainted with Mr. Brady?"

A muscle jumped in Gray's jaw. He snugged the bag into a firmer grip and reached for the ones Brady carried. Brady ceded them with a nod and held the wood-framed screen door. Gray rolled his eyes once before he disappeared into the cool gloom of the old house.

"Have a seat, Mr. Brady." Margaret patted a bench next to her rocker. It was maybe six inches lower. Good interrogation technique, he observed. He sat and folded his arms across his hiked-up knees, leaning into the little-boy pose instead of minimizing it.

"That means you're a profiler, then," Margaret continued. Her teeth were ivory with age, and one front upper had a corner chipped off. "A sort of mind-reader."

She didn't mean telepathy. Brady used the forced equality of their height to lock eyes with her. "Yes, ma'am. Not unlike the fellow in the sideshow who can tell you what photos are in your wallet. Though our ends are a bit different. We use patterns of behavior to track down predators and keep innocent people from becoming prey."

Her smile stiffened slightly. "There's so much satisfaction in doing work that makes the world better." In the pause between that sentence and the next, Brady wondered if Margaret Putnam had done a day's work in her life. "I know that satisfaction is important to my grandson."

"I expect it is."

"When one can combine personal advancement with a dedication to the global welfare-- Well, I don't think anyone could ask for a higher calling. Do you?"

Brady kept his face blandly receptive. "I don't know, ma'am. Do you count the church?"

There--the lines around her eyes and mouth deepened. She was used to giving one good push and watching her opponent fall over. It had been a while since anyone pushed back.

"The family is enormously proud of Gray. We have great hopes for his future."

"I think any family that wasn't flat crazy would be proud of him. Grown men tend to have their own hopes, though. In my experience, those are the ones that count." Brady straightened, pushing back from his knees, letting his shoulders widen. Letting his body say, I've been patient. But your time's almost up.

"Is that in your professional experience?" Margaret asked, each word crisp, as if she wanted to be understood over a scratchy radio signal.

I don't wear a goddamn ankle bracelet, Brady wanted to say. But the absurdity and sadness of the scene struck him hard and sudden, and he swallowed that and a few dozen other replies.

Margaret Putnam knew her grandson was gay. Probably the whole family did. But if they didn't say it, it was Shroedinger's Cat, alive and dead and neither, and nobody had to change course to account for it. Because that information would have to change everything, wouldn't it? Impossible to think it might only mean changing "Gray's girlfriend" to "Gray's boyfriend," "Gray's wife" to "Gray's husband," and going the hell on with everyone's lives.

No, one other thing would change. The lot of 'em could quit working so damned hard to pretend that nothing needed changing.

It had been like running uphill, his Sunday call to his mother in which he would talk about everything except the one thing he couldn't mention. Every Sunday the thing got bigger, until it crowded out the stuff she liked him to tell her, until it was a fight to speak at all. And week after week, year after year, she guessed more and said less. Each time she'd ask if he'd met someone, he could hear her struggle to say it. How could he love her, and have let her grind down like that?

Now here was Gray's grandmother, protective and fierce, being whittled away by a fight she couldn't win. You didn't beat the truth, not in the long run. Brady's mom could tell her that.

Gray could tell her, when he learned it. But Brady couldn't.

He stood up, trying to move gently and not loom. Margaret's chin lifted, her sharp nose proud and threatening as a pocket knife. Before she could launch another attack he'd have to parry, he laid two fingers on her sweatered shoulder, light as a breath, and let them drop.

"You want the best for him," he said. "I get that. Don't worry." He took the step and half to the screen door and added, a little louder, "I'd better help your grandson put the groceries away, or he's gonna think I came up here to slack all weekend."

In the kitchen, Gray was stuffing the burger buns into the breadbox. Brady couldn't tell if he was hurrying or dawdling. "No lasting damage," Brady assured him with a grin.

"To you or to her?" Gray asked, but his expression was apologetic.

The screen door banged, and Margaret Putnam strolled into the kitchen. "Gray, dear, I should head back home if I'm going to miss the traffic. Visit an old lady now and then, all right?" She stretched upward, and Gray leaned down to receive a kiss on the cheek and give her one in return. Then she turned to Brady and held out her hand again. "Mr. Brady, I'm pleased to have met you. Don't let Gray drown you out there."

"No, ma'am." He took her hand in a moderate clasp. "According to him, I can do that all by myself."

She gave a crack of laughter as sharp and dry as a breaking branch, and nodded. Then she crossed the worn dark wood floor, through the door into the seaside light, and down the porch steps.

Gray turned slowly to Brady. "God fucking damn," he said conversationally.

"Ahyuh," Brady replied. This time he almost got it right.