Shadow Unit

Case Files

Teasers & Deleted Scenes

Baltimore, MD, June 2008

He was trying to learn how to wake himself up out of the nightmares.

This time it worked; he told his dream-self, "At the end of this dark hall, there's a door. You're going to open it, there'll be a lot of light, and we'll wake up."

He opened his eyes in the diffused white light from the hospital room ceiling, the warmer light that came in the long, narrow window. But the feeling from the dream, that there was someone nearby, waiting and out of sight, didn't go away. His heart rate refused to drop. He raised his head.

Madeline Frost sat in the chair beside the bed.

His mouth and throat were dry as sand. "Hello, Madeline," came out as a croak.

She poured him a cup of water from the pitcher and said, "Hello, Charles."

He sipped the water, letting it sit for a moment on the parched surface of his tongue. "Did you just happen to be in the neighborhood?"

She tilted her head a little. "I work here."

"Right. Of course. Sorry. Not awake yet."

She nodded, and he had the uncomfortable impression that she was making a mental note: Charles Villette, when first awake, asks stupid questions.

"I've completed the autopsy on William Villette," she said, her voice precise, unmoved: another body sliced open, just like any other body. "I thought you might be interested in the results."

He barely managed to fight back his first reaction--swallow down that gag reflex, cowboy--and said, hoarsely, "Could you make me a copy? I mean, yes, thank you, but not right now." Jesus, please, not right now. Not when I still feel his palms against my lips.

She catalogued that reaction, too, her eyes as flat and intent as a cobra's. Then she said, "The folder is on the table." As if this scene wasn't surreal enough already, Chaz realized that the little table beside his bed was strewn with brightly colored paper animals: a crane, a frog, a giraffe, two elephants, a platypus. All standing on a plain manila folder.

"I don't need it back," said Madeline Frost.

There was a long, sterile silence. He remembered thinking Frost would have questions, would want to know about his mother, about the Relative, would want to look at his DNA and find where all the faults were, the trisomies and broken chromosomes and all the rest of the mess. And since he sure as hell couldn't get away from her, he tried to brace himself, reminded himself that there was no malice in it. Frost didn't care enough about live humans (live bait) to be malicious.

But instead, out of that long silence, she said abruptly, "My father killed my mother."

"Oh," said Chaz, trying desperately to wake up, wake up and process what the hell was going on. Because that wasn't a question. "Um."

She met his eyes. "It was...very unpleasant," she said and then bent her head, staring at the piece of paper she was folding in her lap.

"Oh," Chaz said again and swallowed hard against something--a giggle? a scream?--as he realized she was trying, in her own way, to sympathize with him. After a moment, because he could see how much it had cost her to say that, he said, "Thank you, Madeline."

She made an odd gesture, something between a nod, a shrug, and the twitch of a horse trying to get rid of a fly, and there was another silence while they both watched her fingers working. She had small hands, starfish plump, but deft and precise.

Chaz took another sip of water, thought, You know you're going to have to say it eventually, and forced the words out: "My father raped my mother. She never..."

Anyone else would have filled that silence with an exclamation, of shock, of sympathy. Madeline simply looked at him with her hard, depthless eyes, and waited until he got the rest of the sentence out: "She never told me."

She nodded. "My mother taught me to fold paper cranes," she said and stood up. She set the origami she'd just finished on the table next to the others, gave him an odd, brisk nod: You're one of us now. Welcome to the club. I think you'll do. She turned and walked out, an erect little woman, plump and graying. You'd think she was a librarian if you didn't know better.

After a moment, Chaz remembered to blink. He looked at the table. A crane, a frog, a giraffe, two elephants, a platypus. And an armadillo.