Pepper

Cover

TITLE: Pepper

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

AUTHOR: David Hearne

RATING: PG

CLASSIFICATION: X, H

SPOILERS: NONE

DISCLAIMERS: “The X-Files” belong to Chris Carter.

“Werewolves of London” was done by Warren Zevon. “Bad Moon

Rising” was written by John Fogerty and performed by

Creedence Clearwater Revival. “Cowpoke” was originally done

by Stan Jones and “Three Days” was written by Willie

Nelson. (The versions I’m thinking of here are the ones

sung by Don Walser. If you ever listen to Walser, then you

will know why they call country music white people’s soul.)

“Right” or Wrong” was originally done by Bob Wills (“The

best damn fiddle player in the world” — Merle Haggard) and

the Texas Playboys.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully are sent to investigate a

werewolf in a small Alabama town. Along the way they

encounter a deadly werewolf hunter and the best chili in

the South.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

TEASER

“Goddammit, that’s hot!”

Kevin Cross, having lunch in the Chili Heaven diner,

cursed as he reached for a glass of water.

He wasn’t as loud as he could have been. Mr. Cross’s

throat had suddenly gone tight and hoarse. He felt like the

skin was being torn off the roof of his mouth. Still, it

was loud enough to capture the attention of the other

customers in Chili Heaven. Some took note of Kevin’s LL

Bean sweater and expensive jogging shoes. They grinned,

knowing a Yankee tourist just had a run-in with Vic

Franklin’s own brand of chili.

Mr. Cross did not feel so amused, though. After draining

his glass of water in one gulp, he yelled, “Where the hell

is that waitress?” His head swiveled around until he found

Geena Sawyer. She had just taken an order and was taking it

back to the kitchen. Mr. Cross’s angry look froze her in

her tracks.

“Come here,” he growled, motioning her to come over. She

did, feeling tense. “Now, Kevin, don’t make too much of a

fuss,” his wife Patricia said.

“Hush,” Mr. Cross told her, then looked at Geena and

pointed at a bowl on his table. Inside the bowl was a

steaming mix of sauce, beans, peppers and onions as red as

the customer’s face. “What is this?” he demanded.

“It’s…it’s what you ordered,” Geena stuttered.

“‘It’s wut you or-DERED,'” Mr. Cross shot back, mimicking

Geena’s accent. “And just what did I order?”

“You ordered hot chili,” Geena said, confused as to where

this was going.

“That’s right. Hot chili. But not something that was going

to fry my taste buds!”

“Oh. Well…maybe you ought to let it cool down…”

“Let it cool down…” Mr. Cross gave his wife a mean

smile, making her compliant in his amazement at this

ignorance. Mrs. Cross gave a tight smile in return, though

she was getting nervous by the looks of the other

customers.

“That’s a brilliant idea. Let it cool down. I never would

have thought of that. Of course, here’s another brilliant

idea. You could warn your customer about how damn hot your

chili really is! Or maybe this diner could serve some that

wouldn’t strip the paint off a battleship!”

“Is there a problem here?”

Mr. Cross turned and looked up. Way up. Vic Franklin was

standing by his table — a big man dressed in a cook’s

apron. He regarded the northern tourist calmly, but it was

like the calmness of a grey sky. You didn’t want to risk

the thunderclap of one of those weighty hands.

At first, Mr. Cross was struck dumb. Then he thought,

Hell! I’ve stood up to senators and captains of industry!

No way am I going to get intimidated by some redneck cook!

“Are you the owner of this place?” he snapped.

“Yes, I am, sir,” the big man said. “Vic Franklin is the

name.” Then he gave Cross the kind of smile that would have

taken the meanness out of most men. Not in this case,

though.

“Well, I want to know where you get off trying to feed

poison to your customers!”

“It’s the food everybody eats here,” Vic said in a calm

voice, indicating the customers in the diner. Mrs. Cross

saw men nod their John Deere caps at Vic and the women

shook their curly hair at her husband’s rudeness. She never

tried to correct her husband, but she often wondered if her

sweetie-pie should take it down a notch. Just a little bit.

“I don’t care what people eat around here! Where I come

from, restaurants don’t try to burn off the tongues of

their customers.”

“Well, sir…what’s important is that you feel at home

here. That’s why Chili Heaven is offering any choice of the

menu to you, free of charge.”

“You better,” the northerner said sullenly. “So, give me

the damn menu again. And this time, I want to know…”

“Of course, sir. Or course.”

Vic turned to the regular customers who were regarding Mr.

Cross with disdain. He gave them all a smile. Nothing to

worry about, folks. It’s all over now. They returned to

their own meals and conversations, confident that Vic had

taken care of this annoying Yankee.

After Mr. Cross ordered a bowl of soup (“At room

temperature, you understand me?”) and was assured that it

would be at his table immediately, Vic guided Geena with a

soft touch towards the counter. “I’m sorry, Mr. Franklin,”

she said, getting close to tears. “I didn’t mean to…”

“Shh. It’s okay. Don’t worry. Next time, however, make

sure the customer knows how we cook things around here.”

Geena nodded, rubbing at a moist eye.

“That’s probably the first time you ever met a Yankee,

right?”

“Uh…well…”

“We get more of them coming through Pepper than where you

used to live. Most of them are nice people. Really. It’s

just that…every once in awhile…well, after you live in

Pepper for a couple more months, you’ll get used to the

occasional sumbitch who wanders through.”

“I hope so. Thanks.”

“Why don’t you go sit in the back for a minute, okay?”

“Okay,” she sniffed.

“It’ll be all right,” Vic assured her as she left for the

employee bathroom.

For one person in the diner, however, it was not all

right. He had been watching the whole scene through the

window between the kitchen and the dining area. He saw the

tears in the eyes of the pretty waitress and decided to do

something about it, by God.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Sitting in the bathroom of his hotel room, Mr. Cross

concluded this was the worst vacation he ever had. Goddamn

Alabama, he thought. Goddamn the whole South. We oughtta

just saw it off and let it float to…

“Grrrrr.”

The sound made Cross’s sphincter close up like a zipper.

He could feel his back turn as cold as the toilet lid

against his back. His eyes darted left and right, trying to

find the source of that growl.

Then he heard another sound. Above him.

He looked up and saw one of the ceiling tiles being pried

off its frame. The dark interior of the vent was exposed.

As he sat there and shivered, someone poked their head out

of the new hole.

Someone with golden eyes.

Fangs, white and sharp.

Dark, taut skin. And more hair than you would expect to

see on a human face.

“Grrrr,” it said.

Mr. Cross screamed in terror then tried to escape for the

door. The pants around his ankles tripped him up and he

landed head-first on the bathtub rim.

Watching TV, Mrs. Cross heard the growl, scream and thunk.

She ran to the front desk. She convinced the desk clerk to

take off his stereo headphones and go with her to the room.

He unlocked the bathroom and found Mr. Cross unconscious,

bleeding from his forehead, and his naked buttocks exposed

to the world.

No one heard the person who crawled through the vents to

the outside, chuckling.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

But the hairy harasser had no idea what chain of events

his prank would cause.

Cross was a lobbyist for business interests in

Connecticut. Upon returning home, he told a Connecticut

senator of his experience in Pepper, Alabama. This same

senator related the story to a friend in the FBI, adding

“Mr. Cross is a dear friend of mine and any assistance you

can give in this matter would be appreciated.” The

senator’s friend in the FBI wondered what the hell could he

do for Mr. Cross anyway.

Then he remembered the X-Files.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT ONE

“I have to tell you this from the get-go — one word of

this leaks out to the press and they’ll find your bodies

floating in the Potomac. Understand?”

Agent Fox Mulder wasn’t sure if Cross was speaking in

metaphors. He decided to just nod his head and say, “I

understand, Mr. Cross.”

Mr. Cross glared at Dana Scully. “What about her? Can she

keep her mouth shut?”

Agent Scully was about to demonstrate her strong

inclination not to keep her mouth shut when Mulder said,

“My partner knows how to keep a confidence.” He dare not

turn to face her at that moment.

“Good.” Cross let out a thick sigh. “This whole damn thing

is a pain in the ass. I didn’t know where else to turn

except…” He looked around at the basement office of the X-

Files as if it was a dead skunk. “…here.”

Mulder ignored the slight. “I understand you had an

unusual experience down in Alabama.”

“You can bet your big nose on it,” Cross replied, then

described what he saw in the hotel bathroom.

“Uh, Mr. Cross,” Scully said. “Are you sure this wasn’t

some kind of animal? A bear or a…”

“Of course, I’m not sure. You think I would be here if I

WAS sure? You think I want to be here?”

“Well…”

“If this story got out…if people heard me talking

about…I don’t know…”

“A creature of unknown origin?” Mulder suggested.

“Whatever. That’s not the sort of reputation I want.”

“Then…why are you here?” Scully asked.

“Because no one tries to scare Kevin Cross,” the lobbyist

said in a low voice. “No one.”

Doesn’t sound like somebody *tried*, Scully thought.

Somebody had a roaring success.

“Those cracker cops down in Pepper aren’t worth a

thimbleful of urine. I want you two to go down there and

find me whoever or whatever it was. I don’t care if it was

some punk kid in a Halloween mask. I want him found and I

want him dealt with.”

“We’ll find the culprit, Mr. Cross,” Mulder said. “We can

assure you of that.”

“I don’t want assurances. I want some damn results.” With

that, the Connecticut Yankee left the office.

“We better get him back here,” Scully said.

“And why is that?” Mulder asked.

“Because there is a small part of his butt you didn’t kiss.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair and regarded his partner

with a tight smile. “Aren’t you the one who is always

telling me to be a little more conciliatory?”

“Yeah, but don’t get down on bended knee.”

Standing up, Mulder said, “Trust me, Scully, I was very

tempted to give Mr. Cross a one-fingered salute. But I want

this case.”

“Why?”

“Because if he is willing to come to us, then he

definitely saw something unusual.” Mulder went over to the

coat rack and got his coat. “Let’s go home and pack. Then

we’re off to Pepper, Alabama.”

“And just what exactly do you think we are going to find

there?”

Mulder gave Scully an innocent expression as he put on his

coat. “What makes you think I have any set theories at this

time?”

He walked out the door. From the hallway, Scully heard him

sing, “He’s the hairy-headed gent who ran amuck in Kent…”

“Oh, Lord,” she said, shaking her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Around the time Mulder and Scully were starting on their

trip to Pepper, Mr. Cross received a visitor in his home.

One night, he had enough of his wife kicking him in her

sleep. He left the bedroom for the kitchen, grumbling about

Mrs. Cross and her unclipped toenails.

To reach the kitchen and a late-night snack, he had to go

through the den. As he reached for the light switch…

“Evenin’, Mr. Cross.”

The voice was low-key yet didn’t promise much care for the

owner of the house. Mr. Cross’s body became so rigid that

you could have broken your foot kicking him. He stared into

the dark room. Seeing nothing, his hand touched the light

switch.

“Keep the light off, Mr. Cross. Feels real nice here in

the dark.”

Mr. Cross forced his hand away from the switch. He cleared

his throat and tried to incite the voice whose volume had

cowed many a reporter and White House intern. “Who are

you?” he demanded, not sounding quite as outraged as he

wanted.

“Somebody offerin’ to do a job for you. I heard about what

happened to you in Pepper.”

“Who told you about that?” Now, Mr. Cross sounded suitably

mad. “Was it that pretty boy FBI agent?”

“I don’t know nothin’ about the FBI. It was just a story I

picked up. You’ll be surprised by what you can hear as long

as you keep your ears open.”

Cross’s eyes were getting used to the darkness. He managed

to pinpoint his visitor sitting in a chair. The man was

wearing — of all things — a cowboy hat.

“Well, so you heard,” Kevin said. “What of it?”

“What you saw in Pepper…it didn’t look human, didn’t it?”

Figuring that it would not be a good idea to lie here,

Cross responded, “No. It didn’t.”

“So, if it ain’t human, then killin’ it wouldn’t be a

crime now, would it?”

“Is that what you’re proposing?”

“That’s what I can promise.”

Cross snorted. “What are you supposed to be? Some kind of

cowboy assassin?”

The visitor reached down and struck a match on the leg of

Mr. Cross’s $600 chair. The flame rose to his face and the

cigar in his lips.

“Reckon I am,” the visitor told Cross and looked at him

with a craggy, weathered face. It was brown as leather

except for four pale, long marks across his left cheek.

Stubble coated his face, defying any razor to cut them off.

And the eyes…

If anything could make hell freeze over, it would be a

wind as cold as those eyes.

That’s when Kevin Cross decided to speak only when spoken

to.

Smoke seemed to caress the visitor’s lips before it

dissolved into the air. The visitor whipped the match and

its flame vanished.

“OK. For $5,000, I’ll go down to Alabama and take care of

things. What do you say?”

“Well…I…I’m not sure. I mean, this…this thing didn’t

attack me. It just…”

“It just left you on the floor of a bathroom with your ass

bared for the whole world to see.”

*Hey,* Cross thought. *It did. It humiliated me. By what

right could it do that? And like this guy says, if it’s not

human…*

“All right. You got yourself a deal. But you only get paid

once the job is done.”

“That’s the way I do things. I also get paid in cash.

Think you can manage that?”

“No problem.”

“Then it’s settled.” The visitor stood up. My god, he’s

tall! Cross thought.

“I’ll be lettin’ myself out,” the visitor drawled and

turned to a door.

“Wait a minute,” Cross said. “I will need to see some

proof that you’ve done…”

The lobbyist didn’t need to see the eyes. He could feel

them pointing at him.

“You’ll get the proof,” the visitor said. “When I come

back with the bastard’s head.”

Those were his last words as he left with only the smell

of tobacco to indicate he was ever in the room. Outside, a

motorcycle’s engine rumbled. Patricia Cross was awoken by

the sound. She went to the window and saw a blur of black

metal pass her house. Her stomach turned cold for some

reason as the cycle’s rider drove off.

Off to Alabama.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jill Henriksen, chief of police of Pepper, was trying to

get a local resident out of a tree when she met FBI Agents

Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. The man up in the tree was

Lonnie Dodds. Every once and a while, Jack would anger his

wife over something which prompted Mrs. Dodds to chase

after Lonnie with the closest available blunt instrument.

This, in turn, prompted Lonnie to climb up a tree in his

front yard. The tree was good protection against his wife

because she was scared of heights.

Chief Henriksen got the call from a Dodds’ neighbor about

this latest installment in the Dodds’ continuing squabble.

As usual, Henriksen sighed. The hard part was not calming

down Mrs. Dodds. The hard part was talking Mr. Dodds out of

the tree.

“I ain’t coming down. No, sirree!”

“Lonnie, we go through this every month. And, like I keep

telling you, Beatrice is not going to kill you.”

“You didn’t see the look in her eye, Chief! She’s out for

blood this time!”

Henriksen sighed. “Well, why is she so mad at you?”

“Beats me! I just said something about her legs!”

“What…did you say about her legs?”

“Said that they looked like big lumps of cookie dough!

Now, are you going to handcuff her or what?”

Henriksen closed her eyes, fighting the temptation to

throw rocks at Lonnie. Then she heard a car come to a halt

in the street. She opened her eyes and saw a rental car

park behind her squad vehicle. The surface of the rental

car was covered with the dust of the back roads leading to

Pepper.

Two people got out of the car. One of them was a tall man

whose dark suit was showing a tinge of perspiration. She

noted he was a good-looking guy with full lips and a

muscular body. With him was a woman, also in a dark suit,

who seemed unaffected by the heat. She had an attractive

face and red hair that was darker than Henriksen’s own

auburn locks. They both looked very serious.

Henriksen suspected that they were involved in law

enforcement themselves. They just had the look. She also

had a bad feeling about what they wanted.

“Sheriff Henriksen?” the man asked.

“That’s me.”

The man pulled out a wallet and exposed the identification

card inside. “Fox Mulder, FBI. This is my partner, Dana

Scully. There is a matter we would wish to discuss with

you.”

“All right. Let’s get out of this heat first.”

“Uh…you seem to have a situation here,” Scully said,

indicating the tree.

“Ah, don’t worry about him. He can nest for a bit. Come on.”

The three of them got back into the rental car — Mulder

and Henriksen in the front and Scully in the back. Mulder

breathed a sigh of relief to feel the car’s A/C.

“I know,” Henriksen said. “Good chili weather, though.”

Huh? Mulder thought. Why would you eat chili in…

“What’s this about?” Henriksen asked.

“We’re investigating an incident that occurred at the

local hotel,” Mulder told her. “One involving Mr. Kevin

Cross.”

“Hmm. Yeah, I think I remember that one. Mr. Cross claimed

he got attacked by something.”

“Claimed? You don’t believe him?”

“Well, he wasn’t attacked. The only damage that got done

to him was what he did himself.”

“But you do think something was in the bathroom, right?”

Henriksen paused, then said, “Yeah. Something.”

“Something,” Scully echoed.

Henriksen turned around and looked straight into Scully’s

searching gaze. “He wasn’t exactly clear on all the

details.”

“What do you think it was?” Mulder asked.

The chief of police turned back to Mulder and shrugged.

“Sounded like an animal. Some possum that got caught in the

vents.”

“From Mr. Cross’s descriptions, it sounded more…human.”

Henriksen looked at Mulder’s intense eyes and said,

“Pardon me for asking, but why is the FBI so interested in

this?”

She heard Scully squirm slightly on her seat. With a firm,

deadpan expression, Mulder said, “We are investigating any

possible paranormal connections to this event.”

“You wanna boil it down for me, Agent Mulder?”

“It’s likely that Mr. Cross saw a werewolf.”

Henriksen slowly ran her tongue over her teeth, then she

said, “It’s also likely that Mr. Cross is just making up

stories because he’s embarrassed over tripping and knocking

himself out.”

“Well, Mr. Cross isn’t using the term ‘werewolf.’ That’s

just my personal conclusion. However, he insists that he

was threatened by some unknown being.”

“Say he was. What does he want done about it?”

Before Mulder could answer, Henriksen said, “‘Scuse me a

moment” and rushed out of the car. She had seen Mrs. Dodds

heading for the tree with a pile of rocks in her arms.

“That’s a good question,” Scully asked. “What would you do

with a werewolf?”

“Well, what would you do? Suppose there was a human being

capable of transmorgifying…”

“Transmorgifying?”

“Changed. Shifted. Went all bow-wow. Whatever. Wouldn’t

such a person be fascinating from a scientific viewpoint?”

“I still have yet to reach the point of accepting such a

person’s existence.”

“Because science hasn’t accepted it or because Mr. Cross

is such a moron?”

“Ah…a bit of both, actually.”

“Mr. Cross’s personality defects aside, I get the feeling

that we have an important mystery to solve here. Two, in

fact.”

“What’s the second?”

“Who in the name of God would eat chili in this weather?”

Chief Henriksen returned to the car, having calmed Mrs.

Dodds. “As far as I’m concerned,” she said. “this

investigation is done with. However…if you folks want to

sniff around, be my guest. Call me up if you need any help.”

“We appreciate it, Chief,” Mulder replied. “Actually,

there is one thing you can help us with. Did Mr. Cross have

contact with anybody here in Pepper?”

For a moment, Henriksen was quiet. Then she said, “There

was a little fracas at a diner here. Mr. Cross got worked

up over the quality of his service.”

“What diner is that?”

After Henriksen gave the agents directions to Chili

Heaven, she watched the rental car drive off, feeling a

little guilty. She didn’t like being the one to point them

towards Vic Franklin. On the other hand, Mulder and Scully

would have found out about that little incident. Nor did

she like having to lie.

‘Course, she wasn’t exactly telling the whole truth, either.

“HELLLLP!”

Henriksen spun towards the tree. Mrs. Dodds was leaning a

ladder against it. She had also brought a shovel with her.

Apparently, she was getting over her fear of heights.

Henriksen sighed, hoping there weren’t any more problems

in her future.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Fear was left in his wake like tailpipe exhaust. Families

stopped their sing-a-longs of “There was an old lady…”

when he roared by with his portable radio blaring.

“I see the bad moon arising…I see trouble on the way.”

Trucks slowed down for him. Highway patrolmen looked the

other way when he broke the speed limit.

“I see earthquakes and lightning…I see bad times today.”

A gang of Hell’s Angels on their bikes tried to intimidate

him, but one look from his cold eyes made them take the

first exit off the highway.

“Don’t go around tonight…Well, it’s bound to take your

life.”

He continued his way south.

“There’s a bad moon on the rise…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I’m sad, but I’m happy…I’m rich but I’m broke…I’m a

carefree, free-riding, drifting cowpoke…”

The singer let off a wolf-like yodel as if he was a

thousand miles into the desert instead of in a recording

studio. This yodel greeted Mulder and Scully through stereo

speakers as they entered Chili Heaven. Underneath their

feet was a symmetrical design of blue and yellow squares.

Open windows and electric fans served as air-conditioning

which didn’t exactly fight the heat well, but none of the

customers seemed to mind. They just kept shoveling in the

chili — chili in bowls, chili sandwiches, chili on toast,

chili tortillas, chili pizzas. On the walls were photos of

singers (Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Sister Rose Maddox,

Merle Haggard, Don Walser), cowboys (Roy Rogers, John

Wayne, Lash LaRue) and great empty spaces (Monument Valley,

the Grand Canyon). Also on display in glass cases were

peppers the size of kittens and bottles full of red, thick

sauce.

A scent flew up Mulder’s nostrils. He smelled tomatoes and

onions, garlic and beef, chicken and beans with habanero

peppers bringing up the rear like the tanks of an army

convoy. It created a warm, sensual feeling in his nose as

if a sauna was bubbling inside.

“Mmmmm,” he said.

Before Scully could ask him to explain that comment, a

pretty young woman with dark curly hair walked up to them.

She was dressed in a pink blouse and skirt with the name

“GEENA” sewn into it. A paper and pad were tucked away in

her apron. “Hi, there,” she said with a smile. “Take a

seat, folks.”

The smile went away as Mulder took out his federal ID,

saying, “Actually, we’re here for other reasons than

eating.” Of course, eating would be a pretty good reason,

he thought as the scent of chili danced over his sinuses.

After introducing himself and Scully, Mulder said, “We’re

looking into an incident that took place in the Pepper

Hotel. A man named Kevin Cross got a bad fright from

something he saw.”

“Oh…yeah,” Geena said, twisting her hands together

behind her back.

“We understand that there was a little incident involving

him here as well.”

“That was nothing,” Geena said quickly. “Nothing at all.”

“What was it exactly?” Scully asked.

Geena’s attempt at an answer was interrupted by the

appearance of a tall man in his early twenties. He had a

handsome and appealing face, but his long body moved in an

awkward fashion. He came across as someone caught between

the clumsiness of adolescence and the strength of adulthood.

He marched up to them, with his long hair in a bound

ponytail and wearing an apron splattered with chili sauce.

Mulder felt an odd urge to lick the apron. “Is there a

problem…” he started to say, then tripped over a

customer’s foot protruding into the aisle. He stumbled for

a few feet, flailing his arms. Just as he reached Geena’s

side, he straightened himself up. “Is there a problem

here?” he asked, as if nothing had happened.

“It’s all right, Dale,” Geena assured him.

“Are you sure?” Dale asked in a low voice, looking at

Mulder and Scully with suspicion. In fact, quite a few of

the customers in Chili Heaven were watching the Yankees in

their territory.

“They’re FBI agents,” Geena told him, knotting her hands

tighter together.

“Oh.” For a few moments, Dale shuffled on his feet. Then

he looked at Geena’s nervous face and straightened himself

out again. “Well, what do you want with Geena?” he asked

defiantly.

“We were asking her about Kevin Cross,” Scully replied.

Dale’s head sunk towards his shoulders as if he was

tucking it in like a turtle. “You…you want to ask her

about that?”

“We can talk to you about it instead,” Mulder said in an

easy-going voice. “Would you like that?”

“Uh…”

“Dale! Geena!”

All heads turned to the big man standing at the kitchen

door.

“You two get back to work,” the big man said. “I’ll answer

the questions of these folks.”

Geena nodded, then ran off to a table while taking out her

pad and paper. Dale looked at her protectively and the FBI

agents scornfully before going to the kitchen.

The big man walked towards Mulder and Scully, growing

larger in their sight with each step. Don’t eat us, Mulder

found himself thinking.

Then he stopped before them, smiled in a very sincere way

and said, “I’m Vic Franklin. I’m the owner of this place.

Care to sit down?” He indicated an empty table. Scully

thanked him and they all sat at the table.

“So…what can I do for you?”

After Mulder explained who they were and why they were in

Pepper, Vic said, “Oh. That. Well, there was a little

incident. Mr. Cross got a tad burned on his chili and he

lost his temper. Nothing to worry about.”

“How specifically did he lose his temper?” Scully asked.

Vic glanced at the young woman taking orders. “He yelled

at Geena over there.”

“I imagine Dale didn’t like that very much,” Mulder

observed.

Vic looked straight at Mulder. “I didn’t care for it much

either. What are you implying, Agent Mulder?”

Scully decided to step in. “Mr. Franklin, it is obvious

that Dale feels affectionate toward Geena.”

“Work with a pretty woman every day and you’re bound to

feel ‘affectionate.'” Vic lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t you

think so, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder pretended to be interested in the formica table.

Scully cleared her throat and said, “The question is —

would he feel protective enough to play a trick on Mr.

Cross?”

Vic rested his enormous arms on the table. “Dale doesn’t

just work for me. He’s my son. My adopted son. I can tell

you right now — that boy has a good heart and he wouldn’t

hurt a single living thing in this world.”

“That’s not exactly an answer to my question,” Scully said

in her best diplomatic voice.

While he tried to think up a better one, Vic noticed

Mulder’s nose was tilted up and his nostrils were flaring.

“Smell something you like?” he asked.

“Um…well, yes, to tell the truth.”

Vic showed that disarming smile of his, then stood up.

“Let me go get you a bowl,” he said. “On the house.” The

cook left before Mulder could decline the offer (which he

didn’t want to do anyway.)

“Thanks a lot, Mulder,” Scully muttered.

“Oh, come on, I’m not going to be bought off with a bowl

of chili.”

“So, you think that something is being covered up here,

too?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Mulder, Dale Franklin has ‘Most Likely Suspect’ written

all over his forehead.”

“Most likely to be suspected of what?”

Scully opened her mouth, then closed it. She tried opening

it again, but failed. During that silence, Vic returned

with a bowl of chili. Even from a distance, you could tell

that it was hot. Steam billowed from it like white smoke

from a forest fire. “Here you go, Agent Mulder,” he said,

placing it before the agent.

Scully and Mulder looked down at the bowl. It looked back

up at them with a brown-and-red face. Scully found herself

inching back. Mulder continued to stare, expecting the

chili to start bubbling like some prehistoric tar pit.

“You’re gonna just look at it or are you gonna have a

bite?” Vic asked.

Mulder picked up a spoon. He looked around him, noticing

that most of the customers were watching him now. He took a

breath, filled his spoon with meat and beans and peppers,

lifted the spoon to his mouth and granted it entry. The

spoon was stuck in, then slipped out clean.

Mulder was rock still for a moment.

Then his eyes widened. He parted his lips, trying to get

cooling air into his mouth. His jaw and teeth moved like

naked feet over bare glass. Scully saw sweat forming under

his hairline. She almost got out her cellular phone to call

911 when Mulder swallowed the chili, formed a fist around

the spoon, slammed the fist on the table and shouted,

“Damn, that’s good!”

Vic nodded in satisfaction. The other customers chuckled

and returned to their own volcanic meals. Scully rolled her

eyes.

“Looks like you’re a man who appreciates hot food,”

Franklin observed.

“It comes out of living in England for three years. The

only thing warm over there is the beer.” Mulder shoveled up

another spoonful of steaming chili and aimed it towards his

partner. “Scully, you have to try this…”

“Mulder, keep that away from me.”

He turned to Vic and shrugged. “My partner is on a health

food kick. Frankly, I would just as soon sprinkle salt on

some cardboard and devour that as compared to the stuff she

chews on.”

Before Scully could raise an objection, Vic said, “Well,

you won’t find none of that here in Pepper. I ain’t the

only person who can cook up a mean bowl of chili. In fact,

we’re having our annual Chili Festival within a week.”

“A chili festival? Here?” Mulder looked like a kid at

Disneyworld.

“Mm-hmm. ‘Course, I imagine you folks will be finished

with your work by then.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. Sometimes, these

investigations can drag themselves out.” Mulder turned to

Scully with a grin. “Isn’t that right?”

Scully felt a sudden need to shove Mulder’s face into the

bowl of chili.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“You like Icees?”

“Wh-what?”

“I said, do you like Icees, kid?”

The seventeen-year-old cashier clerk trembled.

“Um…yeah…yeah, I guess” was his answer. Terror had

overcome him just like everybody else the moment this man

had walked into the convenience store. The customers froze

to the ground, beer, jerky and cans of soda in their hands.

They prayed that this tall man in a long, dusty coat

wouldn’t turn his attention to them.

“I like ’em a lot,” the man said, his voice making the

nearest approximation of kindness that it could. “I like

the taste of ’em, all cold and sweet. Hell, I even like

lookin’ at ’em. Somethin’ about seeing that colored mush

pressin’ against the plastic top…it jus’ makes my day.”

The man walked towards the counter. The only sounds that

could be heard in the store were the thumping of the man’s

leather boots and the change jangling in the clerk’s pants.

With the little bit of clarity he had left, the clerk

noticed that the man’s belt had a huge silver buckle with

the words “BORN TO HUNT” inscribed on it. He also took note

of the set of long teeth attached to the belt. Their number

was many. They sort of looked like animal teeth, but no

animal the clerk could recognize.

The man stopped before the counter. He stared at the clerk.

He raised a hand.

A handful of quarters fell onto the counter. They sounded

like a ghost dragging his chains.

The man nodded and then left the store, sipping his Icee.

Everyone finally let out their breath when they heard his

motorcycle roar off.

The man threw away an empty red-and-blue cup as he crossed

the border of West Virginia, still southbound.

Still bound for Pepper, Alabama.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT TWO

Vic Franklin was preparing his special pot of chili for

the festival when Chief Henriksen came to visit his house.

She just walked right in, having been there several times

before. She found Vic in the kitchen.

“Evening, Jill,” he said.

“Evening, Vic,” he said. “Is Dale about?”

“Nope. He went out to the movies with Geena.”

“Ah. Finally got up the courage to ask her out, I see.

‘Bout time. He’s been mooning over her ever since she moved

to Pepper.”

Vic added a chopped-up bell pepper to a simmering pot.

“So, what do you want to talk to him about?” he asked.

Jill gave him a look askance.

“Right. Dumb question.”

Jill sat down in a chair, straddling it backwards. “It

doesn’t sit right with me to be hiding things from the FBI.”

“I didn’t think it would. But we agreed a long time ago

that to keep quiet about Dale was for the best.”

“And if the FBI finds out the truth?”

“Don’t worry about that. Agent Mulder has gotten more

interested in the Chili Festival than in our little

mystery. The man has spent two days here and I’ve been

assured that he knows no more than when he first came.”

“It ain’t Mulder I’m worried about. It’s Scully. She’s

been asking questions and running a lot of fancy tests. She

might not be so inclined to believe in…certain things,

but she knows something’s up.”

“Hmmm,” Vic commented as he cut an onion into paper-thin

slices.

“It would really help if Dale keeps a low profile.”

“He knows that. He knows because you and I made sure he

knows.”

“Yeah, but a full moon is coming up tomorrow night, Vic.

Other nights, he can decide to change or not. Under a full

moon, it just happens. And he gets all…antsy.”

“I’ll make sure he stays under lock and key.”

Jill watched Vic’s expert hands slid the onion slices into

the chili. “Okay,” she said. “I know you’re a man of your

word, Vic.” She stood up. “I’ll leave you to your cooking.”

“Leaving right now?” Vic’s voice and face had a little bit

of urgency in them. He held up a spoon covered in red

sauce. “It’s almost done. Would you like a taste?”

A smile curled up the mouth of Chief Jill Henriksen.

“Yeah. I would like a taste.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Movies arrived at the Pepper Cinema five or six months

after their initial release. Or, in the case of “Tank,”

fifteen years.

On the movie screen, James Cromwell headed for the door of

the police station, grumbling and bitching about the horn

blowing outside. His anger turned to shock when he opened

the door and found the turret gun of a Sherman tank looking

him in the eye. Sitting on top of the tank, James Garner

smiled down at Cromwell and said, “I do believe I have you

covered.”

The audience laughed, including Geena. She noticed that

Dale wasn’t laughing, though. He just sat in his chair,

looking moody. She leaned over next to him and whispered,

“You okay?”

“I’m okay,” he whispered back. “The movie’s crap, that’s

all.”

“Why, what’s wrong with it?”

“Come on, Geena. It’s another of those Hollywood movies

which act as if the South is full of nothing but evil

rednecks.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that. I think Garner’s character

is a Southerner.”

“Think so?”

“Who else would threaten a police deputy with a tank?”

Dale gave Geena a pained smile. She picked another kernel

of chili-powdered popcorn out of their box and chewed on it

while looking at him. He kept his attention on the screen,

avoiding her eyes.

“Uh, Dale?”

“Yeah?”

“I know I’ve only lived here in Pepper for a few months

and…every town has its secrets that the folks there don’t

necessarily want to share with new-comers but…”

“What is it?”

“It was you, wasn’t it? You snuck into that hotel room and

gave Cross a scare.”

Dale made no response for a few seconds. Then he nodded,

still looking at the screen.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

He cleared his throat and said, “I wanted to.”

“It may get you into a lot of trouble.”

Dale turned to Geena. As he did, his elbow hit the box of

popcorn on her knee. Red popcorn scattered all over the

theater floor. “Sorry, sorry,” Dale moaned to her and the

theatergoers turning to look.

“It’s okay,” Geena assured him as she brushed chili powder

off her leg. “No problem.”

“No, it’s…” Dale clenched his fists and looked down at

the floor. “I always mess everything up! I always…”

Geena placed a hand on Dale’s shoulder. “Dale, it’s all

right. Everything’s all right.”

Dale looked at her hand. He almost reached up to touch it,

but stopped himself.

Geena smiled and squeezed him once on the shoulder before

letting go. “Don’t worry about anything, okay? Just relax

and watch the movie.”

He nodded and turned his head back to the screen.

After a few moments, Geena cleared her throat and said,

“Uh, Dale?”

“Yeah?”

“What exactly did you do to Mr. Cross?”

“Uh…not much. Just…put on a Halloween mask and went

‘boo.'”

“Ah.” She didn’t follow up after that.

On the screen, James Garner drove his tank through the jail.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Scully was sitting in a hotel room at the Pepper Hotel and

looking over her case notes while gunfire came from the

hotel room connecting to hers.

“Bang! Bang! Boom!”

That was Mulder watching a western on the television next

door. He was shouting back at the screen, getting into the

on-screen action.

“Bang! Bang!”

Scully sighed. Mulder had been this endearing ever since

they arrived in Pepper. Over the past few days, he had been

sampling spicy meat and hobnobbing with the locals. Getting

into conversations with the customers at the general store

or old people sitting on their front porches, he would talk

about fishing, how to grow a good pepper and the various

town legends. In a way, it was charming. She had never seen

Mulder so relaxed, so casual in his manners.

On the other hand, he and Scully *did* have a case to

solve. “I’m working on it, Scully,” he insisted. “I’m

getting to know the local legends, seeing if there are any

substantiated sightings of a werewolf.”

“So have you found any?”

“Not yet. Hey, have you tried Mrs. Tower’s chili yet? She

does this great thing with cheese…”

Well, *someone* had to do some actual work. Scully was

expecting to get a report tomorrow about some hair samples.

She had collected them from the hotel room Cross stayed in

and sent them off to an FBI lab. Maybe they would get some

information that would haul Mulder off his butt.

“Bang! Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!”

Scully closed her eyes and shook her head.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

In the night, he rode alone on the highways. In the night,

the roar of his motorcycle scattered birds from the trees.

In the night, his cycle’s glaring head lamp swam through

the darkness like a white shark just under the water’s

surface. In the night, the cool wind rushed against his hot

brow. In the night, the long teeth clicked on his belt. In

the night, he crossed the Alabama border.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“‘Course, I remember when there weren’t no road between

Main Street and Edison Lake.”

“That so?”

“Yes, sir. Used to be a long, long walk. Now with the

road, it don’t take no time at all. Tellin’ ya, there ain’t

nothing better than a good swim in Edison Lake on a hot day

like this.”

“‘Specially when you’ve had yourself a couple of bowls of

chili.”

“Oh, yeah, boy. Or something worse. I remember when I was

enough of a durn fool to eat a whole habanero pepper at

once.”

“Not a pleasant experience, huh?”

“Wellll…I got to know every inch of my stomach, let me

tell ya.”

Mulder and the three old men laughed. Their laughter was

cut short when Mulder heard his name called out in a sharp

voice. He turned to see Scully looking at him with her

fists on her hips. She had tracked him down here to the

general store where he had been chatting with the elderly

locals (over a few styrofoam cups of chili, of course.)

“Uh, excuse me a moment,” Mulder said, then walked up to

Scully standing in the warm morning sun.

“I thought I might find you here,” Scully said in a low

voice.

“Sorry. I guess I should have…”

“You left without leaving a message. I woke up to find you

gone.”

“Sorry, again. I got up early to have breakfast.”

Scully looked down at the cup in Mulder’s hand. “Is that

your breakfast?”

“No, I had eggs at the hotel.”

Scully looked up at him.

“Well, eggs with chili.”

“Mulder, are you going to need a stomach pump before this

case is over?”

“It’ll be worth it,” Mulder said with a grin and dipped

into the cup with a plastic spoon.

“Well, while you were talking with the boys, I got a call

from the lab.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really.”

Mulder shoved the spoon in his mouth and chewed while

looking at Scully.

“Are you interested?” Scully asked, feeling a heat that

had nothing to do with the sun.

“Yeah, sure,” Mulder mumbled through masticated beans.

“At first, the lab thought the hairs belonged to a human.

Then they identified them as dog hairs. Now they’re not

sure.”

Mulder swallowed and said, “Hmm.” He spooned another bite

of chili into his mouth. After getting no more of a

response than that, Scully clenched her fists tighter and

said, “Don’t you have anything to say about that?”

“The lab report is inconclusive, Scully. It’s hard to add

anything to that.”

Scully took the cup from Mulder’s hand and sniffed it.

“What?” Mulder said.

“I don’t know what’s responsible for this little

personality change, Mulder. Maybe it’s the heat or all the

chili, but the Mulder I’m familiar with would jump in and

say we have evidence of a werewolf.”

“Well,” Mulder replied, twirling the spoon in his hand,

“the Scully I know would reprimand the Mulder you know for

making such assumptions on the basis of an inconclusive lab

report.”

“That may be. But both the Mulder I know and the Scully

you know have to make a report on their progress to

Assistant Director Skinner. And the Skinner we both know

does not like the idea of his agents lounging about general

stores and soaking in the local color while burning up

their stomachs with chili peppers.”

Mulder stopped twirling the spoon. “Okay. Then what would

the Mulder you know be doing at this point?”

“Well…considering that there is going to be a full moon

tonight, he would propose that we stake out the home of Vic

and Dale Franklin.”

“Hmmm. I’m not sure. The Mulder I know would be wary of

proposing such a thing to the Scully he knows because it

would imply he thinks Dale Franklin is a werewolf. And the

Scully I know is dismissive of such ideas.”

“Possibly. But the Scully he knows is not completely

closed-off to extreme possibilities as he should notice

after all these years. Furthermore, she does suspect Dale

Franklin is involved in this matter and would like to find

out why.”

“Hmmm. Maybe we don’t know these people that well after

all.”

Scully handed back the cup. “Just eat your damn chili,

Mulder.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

When he saw the sign that read “PEPPER, ALABAMA — CHILI

CENTER OF THE WORLD,” he pulled over to the side. The

silence after he shut off his engine was as eerie as its

roar. He looked at the sign, then up at the sky. The

position of the sun revealed the time to be just after

noon. He lowered his head and just sat still on the cycle

while a single bead of sweat rolled off his nose.

Then he pulled his motorcycle off the road and into the

shade of a tree. He sat down at the base of the tree,

pulled out a harmonica, closed his eyes and began to blow.

He played a tune he once heard from a blind man in New

Orleans, wailing away in an alley as dark as his own sight.

He waited for the full moon to rise.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT THREE

“Do you think you’re gonna need the handcuffs, Dale?”

Dale Franklin sat on his bed, knees pressed against his

chest as he rocked slowly back and forth.

“Well?”

“I…I don’t think so.”

Vic Franklin regarded his adopted son for a moment, then

said, “Okay, Dale. If that’s what you think. The door will

be kept locked, though.”

Dale nodded.

“You gonna need anything before I do that? More food?”

“Nah, I’m okay.”

“Well, then…guess all I gotta say is…”

“Dad, are you disappointed in me?”

Dale only called Vic “Dad” in tense moments so the older

man had to take this very seriously. “Son…I wish you

hadn’t pulled that prank of yours. Not to say that fella

wasn’t askin’ for it, but it has made things a little

difficult for us.”

“I’m sorry.”

Vic smiled. He walked over to his son and rubbed him on a

head with hair getting longer by the second. “You’re a good

young man, Dale. I haven’t seen you do anything to change

that.”

Dale’s left foot bounced on the mattress as Vic rubbed his

head. “Thanks,” Dale said.

“Well…good night, son.”

With that, Vic left the room and locked the door. Dale

looked around his room. There were no windows but he could

just feel the sun lowering to the horizon.

He turned to the pillow and reached underneath it. He

pulled out a key.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Scully had put a ban on chili while she and Mulder were on

stakeout. However, the sound of his chewing might have been

a welcome reprieve from the silence of the first hour of

their watch on the Franklin house.

Finally, Mulder said, “Are you disappointed in me?”

Scully considered that question, then said, “I’m…a

little surprised. I didn’t expect you to go all Mayberry on

me.”

Mulder smiled a little. “Sorry.”

“Well…it hasn’t been all bad. In a way, it’s nice to see

you relaxed.”

“I have been, haven’t I?” Mulder looked around at the

street and the widely-spaced houses dwelling on it. “I

don’t know why. I just got into the rhythm of this town.

Maybe I need a place like this in my life. If I were to

retire…yeah, this is where I would live.”

“To top it all off, it might have a werewolf living in it.”

“Oh, so you *do* believe…”

“I’m just getting inside your motivation, Mulder.”

“Hmm. Well, I don’t believe there is a werewolf living

here.”

“And why is that?”

“Because if there was one, a lot of people in Pepper would

have noticed. Not much escapes the residents here. I’ve

talked with a lot of them and none of them has ever seen

something resembling a werewolf. There have been reports of

a five-legged pig and rumors that Mrs. Charleston does some

disreputable things with voodoo charms, but no werewolf

sightings. Now, unless there is some massive conspiracy of

silence, I would have to say that there is no such creature

inhabiting this…”

“Mulder, look.”

He did. And he saw a man crawling down the drainpipe from

the second story of the Franklin house. Even from a

distance and in the darkness, they could make out long hair

covering his body, the protruding shoulders and the tail

wagging and sticking through a hole in his pants.

Mulder said, “Is that…Dale?”

Four feet above the ground, the man slipped and fell into

the bushes.

“I think it is,” Scully said.

The man emerged from the bushes, looked left and right

down the street and then took off in the opposite direction

from Mulder and Scully.

“Mulder, we should…” Scully started to say just as

Mulder turned the ignition key, yanked the gear out of park

and stomped on the gas pedal — practically at the same

time.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

After covering up his motorcycle and unpacking the right

equipment, Silver entered the town of Pepper on foot. For

such a big man, he moved with amazing speed and little

noise. He was like the shadow of a hawk.

The sparse landscape of Pepper might as well have been a

jungle. He found every form of cover to use — trees and

alleys and parked trucks. He saw everything without being

seen.

He waited for a sign; a hint; a track left by his quarry.

He didn’t expect it to see it running down the streets,

tripping over garbage cans and crashing into mailboxes. Nor

did he expect to see a car chasing after it. The quarry

moved with great speed, but its clumsiness was giving the

car an edge. Soon, the car’s driver would catch up with him.

Well, Silver thought, I just will have to deal with all of

them.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As they always did on warm nights, Mr. and Mrs. McDonald

sat on the front porch of their house.

“Hot night,” Mr. McDonald said.

“Yep,” Mrs. McDonald replied.

“Good night for chili.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Say, look at that. There goes Dale Franklin. Must have

gotten out of the house.”

“They never can keep him inside when there’s a full moon

out.”

“Yep, that sure is a fact.”

“Who’s driving that car chasin’ after him?”

“Uh…yes, I do believe that’s Agent Mulder. And Agent

Scully is with him.”

“Oh, they’re such a nice-looking couple.”

“Yeah, well, reckon that the cat is out of the bag now.

Looks like they’re gainin’ on Dale there. That boy can sure

run fast, though…”

“What was that?”

“Huh?’

“I thought I saw somebody else pass by.”

“Hell, I didn’t see nothin’. Think your eyes are just

playin’ tricks on you, honey lamb.”

“Could be. Could be.”

There was a brief pause.

“Sure is hot tonight.”

“Yep.”

clip_image002

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

The hairy creature put up quite a chase despite his

frequent stumbling. However, his legs couldn’t keep him

ahead of a car forever. That’s why he left the street for

the Chili Heaven diner. The creature took such an abrupt

turn that Mulder drove the car right past the diner and had

to make a screeching U-turn. By the time he reached the

diner’s parking lot, the creature had unlocked the front

door, ducked inside and locked up the diner.

Mulder burst from the car and ran up to the front door

with Scully trying to keep up. Lowered shades kept them

from seeing inside the diner.

“I know you’re in there, Dale!” he shouted as he banged on

the door. “Come on out!”

“Mulder…”

“Open this damn door!”

“Mulder, would you settle down?”

“Not until this door is opened!”

“Now, wait a moment! We don’t know what we’re dealing with.”

“I do,” a voice said.

They turned and saw him standing at the far end of the

parking lot — tall and cold-eyed. They could also make out

the silver flash of guns in the shadow of his jacket.

“I’ll be takin’ it from here,” the tall man informed the

two agents. He walked across the parking lot, his stride

recalling the unstoppable motion of a tank. It wouldn’t

have been a good idea to get in his way.

That’s just what Mulder did, though.

“Uh…sir,” he said, moving to intercept the tall man. “I

don’t know who you are, but my partner and I would

appreciate it if you would allow us to…”

A moment after the man’s hand grabbed Mulder by the shirt,

the FBI agent felt his feet leave the ground. They stayed

off the ground during the time it took him to fly through

the air and collide with his rental car. Then he dropped

back to the ground and moaned.

Witnessing this flight made Scully freeze for a split-

second in shock. Then she yanked her gun from her holster

and said, “Fre–”

Before she could complete the word and raise her gun to

shoulder’s height, one of the man’s guns was pointing at

her. She looked down the barrel of a gleaming Colt .45 as

the man thumbed the hammer back as easily as breathing.

“I ain’t got no quarrel with you or your friend there,” he

said. “Just step aside and let me do my business. But if

either you or the fella try something…”

Scully realized that she had only a few seconds to make a

decision. On principle, she couldn’t step aside.

Principle would kill her, though.

Mulder could draw his own gun, but this man’s quickness

was inhuman. It was quite possible he could draw his second

gun and shoot Mulder while popping a bullet between her own

eyes.

So, this was the choice. Stepping aside would be wrong.

Not stepping aside could be…*would* be deadly.

We need a little help here, Scully thought.

That’s when she heard the siren.

The tall man heard it as well. His head turned just an

inch to the right; just enough to see a police car heading

their way, its red-and-blue lights swinging through the

darkness.

That’s when Scully jerked her gun all the way up. It’s

also when Mulder ignored his pain and drew out his own

piece.

Those cold eyes turned back to Scully. His eyes shifted to

Mulder. Still keeping his gun raised, he regarded the

weapons pointing at him not with fear but as if they were

annoying problems to solve. He wasn’t sure what to do and

he didn’t like it.

More problems developed when the police car halted outside

the diner. Police Chief Jill Henriksen and a young

patrolman jumped outside with their own guns out. “You

point your hands skywards, mister!” Henriksen ordered.

The tall man turned his head towards her. The red-and-blue

lights flashed over his still face and his gun was still

pointing at Scully.

“Do it now!” the chief of police ordered.

Three full seconds went by and the only thing that moved

were the lights swiveling on the patrol car.

Then, with the slowness of running tree sap, the tall man

raised his arms into the air.

“This just ain’t my night,” he said.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Nothing was said until Vic Franklin arrived. At least,

nothing was said out loud. Mulder’s eyes were alight with

an anger directed towards Henriksen. Even though the chief

of police took the anger in stride, Scully kept looking

between the two and wondering if it would be necessary to

be referee.

And in the back seat of the police car, the tall man sat

in silence with his wrists cuffed. He didn’t look angry or

upset. He had the attitude of a man waiting for a bus.

“Where is he?” Vic said as he got out of his pick-up truck.

Henriksen motioned with her head to the diner. Without

giving a look at anybody else, Vic strode up to diner’s

front door and pounded on it. “Dale, it’s me!” he called

out. “Now, am I going to have come in there or are you

going to be a man and come out by yourself?”

There was no sound from the diner.

“I’m still waiting for an answer, boy.”

The diner was silent for a moment longer.

Then the front door unlocked and the creature stepped

outside with shoulders hunched. Even though his hair was

all over his body, his teeth longer and his eyes yellow, he

was unmistakeably Dale Franklin. He made a whimpering sound

like a dog begging for scraps.

“Don’t you give me none of that,” Vic said. “You are in a

lot more trouble with me than you were a few hours ago.

Now, get into the truck and stay there.”

With his tail drooping, Dale sunk into the passenger seat

of his father’s truck.

Scully turned to Mulder and said, “Now, am I supposed to

say ‘told you so’ or are you?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

ACT FOUR

The next morning, Mulder entered Chili Heaven in a foul

mood. The sound of the banging front door and the jangling

bell caught the attention of every diner. The angry look on

the agent’s face kept their attention.

“All right,” he said. “No more crap. I’m going to ask a

question and I want an answer *now*.”

Vic Franklin emerged from the kitchen. “Agent Mulder, this

is not a good…”

“Shut up,” Mulder growled. Much to everybody’s surprise,

the large cook did just that.

“I’ve been talking with you people and eating with you and

I’ve been doing it in the belief you didn’t have any

secrets to hide,” Mulder continued. “Well, it turns out you

did have a little secret, after all.”

“Mulder…” Vic started to say.

“Shut UP!” Mulder glared at the diners. “The question is —

how many of you knew about it? How many of you knew that

Dale Franklin was a werewolf?”

For a long time, the only sound was the chili sizzling in

the kitchen.

Then, with a sheepish expression on his face, one of the

diners lifted a hand.

Another diner with an equally sheepish expression raised

her hand.

This was followed by another and another. Hands sprouted

up like leaves in a fast-motion nature film. It wasn’t long

before nearly every hand was raised.

The last diner with his hand down insisted, “Well, I

didn’t know.”

“Yeah, you do, Joe,” the diner sitting next to him said.

“I told you last week, remember?”

Joe thought about it, then said, “Oh, yeah.” He raised his

hand.

“Oh, that’s beautiful,” Mulder muttered as the hands went

back down. “That’s just dandy. The whole lot of you were in

it. All of you were keeping secrets from the Yankee.”

Vic said, “Mulder, this is not the best place to discuss

this.”

“Is that so? Well, let me tell you something — this is

the perfect place to discuss it. Because I would like to

know why is it a whole town is trying to hide the fact that

your son is a damn werewolf!”

“He’s a what?”

The voice came from the back of the diner. Mulder turned

to see Geena Sawyer who had just emerged from the bathroom.

“He’s a…what?” she repeated, disbelief contorting her

face.

Mulder looked at her. Then he turned to Vic. The cook

closed his eyes and sighed.

Mulder suddenly felt very stupid. “Oh, uh,” he said to

Geena as he cringed. “You…you didn’t know?”

Geena remained stuck in her spot for a long moment, her

mouth hanging open. Then she ran out of the diner.

“Thank *you*, Agent Mulder,” Vic said.

“Sorry. Sorry, everyone.”

The diners shook their heads and turned away from him.

Mulder felt lower than a slug’s underwear.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Silver kept looking to the left and to the right, shifting

his eyes slowly. He regarded the cement walls around him

like they were great mounds of excrement.

His eyes finally stopped in the direction of the woman in

front of him. “I don’t feel right inside here,” he said to

Agent Scully. “It ain’t natural.”

“And it’s natural to want to kill people?” Scully asked,

putting on her best interrogator’s face. It wasn’t easy.

Even though the man in the cell was sitting down, he still

looked taller than she was. The coldness in his eyes seemed

capable of freezing the iron bars between them. Even with

his guns stashed away, he appeared as dangerous as any

person she ever encountered.

“You saw that thing last night,” Silver replied in a quiet

voice. “It weren’t no human being.”

“Dale Franklin — despite his odd biology — is very much

a human being.”

“That boy is an animal. And a dangerous one.”

“I haven’t seen any proof that he is. You, on the other

hand, assaulted my partner and stuck a gun in my face.”

Silver shrugged. “Told you to get out of the way.”

Scully looked the tall man over. “You’ve killed before,

haven’t you?”

“Practice makes perfect, I guess.”

“I don’t think you are doing this out of moral

indignation, though. I think you’ve been paid.”

“Let’s just say…I got my reasons.”

“And we’ve got even better ones to keep you locked up,

so,” she reached over and tapped one of the bars. “you’d

better get used to this.”

With that, Scully left. Silver was quiet for a few

seconds, then murmured, “Nope. I don’t think I will.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“Three days filled with pain and sorrow…yesterday, today

and tomorrow…”

The music of the stereo greeted Geena at the door along

with Dale. “What are you doing here?” Dale asked in

surprise. “Shouldn’t you be at the diner?”

“Shouldn’t you?”

Dale looked down. “I’m…I’m being punished.”

“For what exactly?”

“It’s kind of between me and Vic.”

“Does it have something to do with being a werewolf?”

Dale slowly lifted his head. He looked into the eyes of

Geena. She seemed to be wavering between anger and wonder.

“We have a few things to talk about, don’t you think?” she

said.

Dale nodded.

“May I come in?”

Dale hesitated, then stepped aside. Geena entered the

house. The door was closed. The two of them walked to the

living room and sat down on a sofa, three feet between them.

“I can understand why you would be careful about who you

told,” Geena said. “But…why couldn’t I have known?”

Dale leaned back and closed his eyes. “And what would you

have thought about me if I had told you?”

“You want to know what I’m thinking right now?”

Dale cleared his throat and said, “Okay.”

“I’m…kind of confused, as you might imagine. And it’s

not just that…this wasn’t exactly what I expected. It’s

that when I think of werewolves, I think of flesh-eating

monsters.” She tilted her head. “Or is that just the movies

again?”

Dale smiled, but didn’t open his eyes. “I ain’t never ate

anybody. God, I ain’t never been in a fight, either.”

“I believe you.”

Dale opened his eyes and turned his head to Geena.

“You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met, Dale. I

couldn’t believe you would hurt anybody.”

“So why are you confused?”

“I’m confused because…I know I should feel scared. But I

don’t.” She lifted an eyebrow. “I do feel a little annoyed

that you didn’t tell me…”

“Sorry.”

“But mostly I just feel relieved.”

“Relieved?”

Geena moved across the sofa to Dale. Their legs touched.

She reached out and held his hand.

“Yeah,” she said. “‘Cause now I know all about you. And

there’s nothing I don’t like.”

She smiled. Looking very surprised, Dale smiled back.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Chief Henriksen and Scully came to Chili Heaven. They

convened in the kitchen with Mulder and Vic. Surrounded

with a heady smell that meshed with their clothing, they

discussed their little dilemma.

“We have a little dilemma here,” Scully observed.

“I can see that,” Vic said.

“Agent Mulder and I came here to investigate what happened

to Kevin Cross. We have found the cause. It’s

quite…unusual, but this is the truth we came to find. The

question now is — do we tell anybody about it?”

“That’s really your and Mulder’s call, ain’t it?”

Henriksen drawled.

“Maybe. But I would like to know why you have hidden

Dale’s secret for so long.”

Henriksen looked to Vic. He took a breath and said, “I

found Dale in the woods when he was two years old. It has

always been my fear that he would have to go back to those

woods. You saw that evil son-of-a-bitch with the .45 last

night. That’s the sort of thing Dale can expect if the

world knows who he is.”

“This town has accepted him,” Scully said. “Why couldn’t

the world?”

“Pepper is just a tiny piece of the world, Agent Scully. I

wouldn’t want to lay the burden of achieving that kind of

acceptance on anybody.”

Scully nodded, but she still looked doubtful.

“Are you worried about Dale being a threat?” Henriksen

said. “‘Cause I can assure you that he ain’t.”

“I’m inclined to agree. However, there seemed to be some

trouble with him last night.”

Vic sighed. “Most of the time, Dale can control the change

‘cept on nights with a full moon. When that happens…

well…you ever had a dog get out of the house and you had

to go chasing after it around the neighborhood?”

“Yes.”

“That’s what it’s like with Dale. He gets all wound-up and

he just has to roam around. It’s a natural instinct with

him. Not to say, he ain’t in trouble with me over last

night.”

“I see.”

“So…what do you think, Agent Scully?”

“I’m inclined…to let this matter slide.”

“What about Mr. Cross?”

“Him, I have my own problems with. I strongly suspect that

the bounty hunter in your jail was hired by someone. Mr.

Cross heads my list.”

“So you’re saying…”

Scully mimed locking her lips with a key.

“Okay. What about you, Agent Mulder? You’ve been pretty

quiet.”

“Hell, I’m afraid to open my big mouth again.”

“Oh, that wadn’t your fault. Geena moved here about five

months ago. We should have told her about Dale’s secret,

but he insisted that no one tell her. I think he was afraid

about what she might think. What I want to know now is what

you think.”

Mulder put his hands in his pockets and stared at a point

over Vic’s shoulder. “It’s rare…it’s very rare that I

ever find concrete evidence of paranormal phenomena like

Dale Franklin. In a way, I’ve been waiting my whole life to

meet him. Knowledge of his existence would go a long way to

validating my work in the eyes of others.”

Mulder focused his eyes on Vic. “But I couldn’t do that to

him. I couldn’t put him or your town under that kind of

scrutiny.”

“So, you’re saying…?”

Mulder made the same ‘locked-lip” motion as Scully.

“Okay, then,” Henriksen said. “So, it’s over right?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

In his cell, Silver waited for the night.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder was stretched across his bed in his hotel room when

someone knocked. “Come in,” he said in a flat voice.

Scully entered. She looked at Mulder’s solemn face, then

said, “I just talked with Skinner. He can’t find any

evidence on his end that Cross had any contact with Silver.”

“Hm. Well, we have Silver. It shouldn’t be too hard to

draw a line to Cross.”

“I hope so.” She paused, then said, “You okay, Mulder?”

“I’m…oh, I don’t know.”

“Are you disappointed that you found a werewolf and you

can’t tell anybody about it?”

“Actually…no. That’s not it.”

Scully sat down on the bed. “What, then?”

“For the past few days, I really felt close to the people

of this town. I felt like they had welcomed me.”

“Well, they did, Mulder.”

“Maybe. But then I find out they were hiding something

from me. Just like most of the people I’ve met in life.”

“It wasn’t just you. Geena didn’t know, either.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that. But I wish they had told me.”

“Mulder…for what it’s worth…I would say these people

did welcome you. It’s just that this was an uncertain

situation. They weren’t sure if you would keep their

confidence. A long time ago, they would have been right to

be suspicious.”

He looked at her. “What do you mean by that?”

“Meaning, the Mulder I first met years ago would not have

hesitated to expose Dale’s secret. But I think he’s learned

a few things since then.”

“Think so?”

Scully smiled and nodded. Mulder thought about what she

said, then told her, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“There’s something else bothering me, though.”

“What’s that?”

“The Chili Festival is tomorrow. But now we’re going to

have head back to D.C.”

“No, we’re not.”

“We’re not?”

“I told Skinner that we have a few things to wrap up here.

You’ll still be in Pepper by tomorrow.”

Mulder tilted his head to the side and said, “Why are you

so nice to me, Scully?”

“Someone has to be.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Night came.

Another full moon was on the rise.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

“I would like to make a phone call.”

Officer Harry Lane was not crazy about the idea of being

left alone at the jailhouse with…with…that *person* in

the cell. He was looking forward to being relieved by Chief

Henriksen in a few minutes when Silver spoke up.

“Uh…what?”

“I’m entitled to a phone call. I would like to make it now.”

Lane’s mouth twitched. He wasn’t keen about letting his

tall prisoner out of his cell. On the other hand, if

Henriksen came and found out that he hadn’t allowed him to

get his phone call, then she might chew him out for not

following procedure…

“All right. But you keep ten feet away from me at all time.”

“Ten feet?”

Lane swallowed and nodded. Silver seemed to contemplate

the whole notion of ten feet; measuring it; calculating it.

“Whatever you say, officer,” he said.

Lane undid the strap on his holster. It took him a few

moments to find the right key to the cell door. Keeping his

eyes on Silver, he unlocked the door and stepped back.

Silver stood up.

He walked to the cell door.

He stopped there and looked at Lane. The officer pointed

and said, “The phone is that way.”

“Thank you,” Silver responded, turned and starting

walking. Lane followed behind him, his hand touching his

gun.

With ten feet precisely between him and Silver.

Silver halted before a phone attached to the wall. His

massive hand picked up the receiver and pressed against one

brown ear. He dialed a number while Lane watched him.

Silver waited.

Eventually, he heard, “The time is seven-thirteen.”

He hung up the phone. Then he turned to Lane.

“Draw,” he said.

Lane blinked. “What?”

“Draw.”

Those cold eyes stared right in the officer’s. They were

daring him — testing him. Lane took note of the ten feet

of distance.

He pulled out his gun and pointed it at Silver, but slowly

as a man stirring taffy.

Silver frowned. “No, no. Draw like you mean it, son.”

Lane put his gun back into his holster. He now felt an

urge to measure up to this man. Despite the coldness in

Silver’s eyes, you knew that he represented some kind of

standard. Lane wanted to show just how quick his own hand

was.

He whipped out the gun, raising it up to a point level

with Silver’s chest.

Silver nodded. “Good. You’re fast, son.”

Lane found himself smiling as he inserted the gun back

into the holster.

He stopped smiling when Silver charged him.

The officer *was* fast on the draw. Unfortunately, as

Silver said after he cleared the ten feet in a blink of an

eye, grabbed Lane’s gun hand, yanked it in a direction away

from him and pushed Lane against the wall with a force that

turned the officer’s back into one mass of pain, “You ain’t

fast enough, though.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Chief Henriksen was no fool. When she entered the

jailhouse with coffee and a dish of chili, she knew

something was wrong. She didn’t have to call out Lane’s

name for a second time before she pulled out her gun and

swept her eyes around her, looking for an escaped prisoner.

It didn’t help her, though. She never saw Silver coming.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

As has already been noted, Vic Franklin was a big man. And

he wasn’t a man you should casually challenge to a fight.

Those who had done so ended up noticing just how blue the

sky was.

Silver did nothing casual, though. And all it had taken to

track the Franklins down was a quick run through the phone

book.

Vic was putting the finishing touches on his special chili

for the festival. This year, his secret weapon was a pepper

which hadn’t even gotten a name yet. It was a hybrid

imported to him from El Salvador and promised to be an

interesting ingredient, to say the least.

He managed to hear Silver’s approach and turn to see him

coming. He also managed to stay on his feet for twelve

seconds which was way longer than most people lasted

against the werewolf hunter.

After Vic dropped to the floor, Silver stepped over his

unmoving body and smelled the contents of a boiling pot. He

dipped a ladle into it and had a mouthful of the chili.

“Nice,” he commented. Then he set about writing a note.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder had stopped by the Franklin house to get first

crack at Vic’s festival chili. When he saw the open door

and the absence of a pickup truck in the driveway, his

instincts went to red alert. They were confirmed when he

entered the house and found the note.

As he read the note, he heard someone else entering the

house. It was Geena and Dale; that is to say, Dale with

hair and fangs. The two of them had been out for a walk.

“What’s going on?” Geena asked as Dale sniffed the kitchen

and whimpered.

Mulder took a breath and said, “Silver has taken Vic. He’s

holding him hostage in exchange for Dale.”

Geena looked sick. Dale lifted his head and started to howl.

“Dale? Dale! Calm down!”

“Easy, Dale,” Geena told the werewolf as she rubbed his

back. “We’ll get your father back. You’ll see.”

Dale dropped down to all fours and whimpered as Geena

continued to stroke his fur. As she worked at keeping him

calm, Mulder went to another room and called up Scully. He

told her about what happened and strongly recommended

sending an ambulance to the jailhouse.

When the ambulance arrived, Henriksen and Lane were found

tied up. Silver’s guns were missing from the cabinet used

for evidence storage. Both the chief and her subordinate

had broken arms.

“They’re not in any shape to help us,” Scully told Mulder

after she called him back. “The ball is in our court.”

They were both silent for a minute as they thought.

“Scully?”

“Yes?”

“I’m afraid there’s only one way to handle this situation.”

“How’s that?”

“We’ve got to do it old school.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A cool wind blew through the trees, but it did nothing to

alleviate the heat. It was like a drop of water given to a

man crawling through the desert. Of course, the heat rarely

bothered someone like Silver.

It did tonight, though. He could feel sweat leaking out

from under his hair and running through his beard stubble

to drop onto the leaves at his feet. Still, he took it in

stride and maintained his concentration on the unconscious

man tied to the “WELCOME TO PEPPER” sign by the road.

He sat in the woods.

He waited.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder and Scully drove to the edge of the town — the

place where Silver’s note ordered them to bring Dale. The

werewolf wasn’t with them, though.

“If we take this guy on together, then we have a chance,”

Mulder said.

“You mean, a better chance than no chance.”

Mulder paused, then said, “Yeah.”

They continued on in silence, the headlights of the car

pressing against the dark road.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

A weird sound rumbled in Silver’s stomach. Damn, he

thought. What was in that chili? I only had a mouthful of

it, but it sure ain’t sittin’ well.

However, this remained a minor concern. His attention was

focused on the car which had just stopped on the long,

empty road going past the road sign. It stopped twenty feet

away from the sign. The headlights illuminated the bloody

face of Vic Franklin.

The two FBI agents stepped out. They had taken off their

jackets, exposing their holsters to sight. The expressions

on their faces were grim and curiously familiar to Silver.

The male agent looked around and called out, “Silver!”

“Where’s the werewolf?” Silver responded, his location

impossible to discern in the cover of shadows.

“He’s not here. It’s just you and us.”

“That ain’t what I wanted.”

The two agents exchanged a look — one last confirmation

of some agreement — and then the male agent said, “Here’s

what we want, Silver. We’re calling you out.”

Silver really wasn’t expecting that. He rubbed away a drop

of sweat that had gotten into his eye and said, “What’s

that again?”

“You heard him,” the female agent said in a quiet voice.

“Come on out.”

“I ain’t in the mood for tricks,” Silver growled.

“No tricks,” the male agent said. “Like I said…it’s just

you…and us.”

Silver did a quick scan of the area. His sharp eyes could

detect no one –no back-up, nobody waiting in the trees, no

snipers, no one except for the two agents.

Well, hell.

“Is this what you two really want?” he asked.

“Come on out, Silver,” the female agent said. “I don’t

know how many times we have to say it.”

The cold-eyed cowboy rubbed his chin. It’s been a long

time, he thought. Could be interesting.

He stood up and walked towards the road.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Mulder and Scully felt their legs turn weak as the

werewolf hunter stepped out of the forest. They both

resisted an urge to take another look at each other, but

they didn’t dare turn away from this man.

With a casual yet heavy stride, Silver walked to the

center of the road. As he did, Scully and Mulder spread out

to opposite sides. To win, Silver would have to fire at two

angles at the same time while not looking directly at

either one of them as the headlights of the car blazed in

his face.

It was very likely that he would succeed.

They stood on the road, forming a triangle with the yellow

line down the middle. All of them were sweating, but it

only seemed to bother the agents. The moisture ran down

Silver’s face like a stream over a rock.

No one and nothing moved. Not a single animal was nearby.

There wasn’t even a breeze blowing.

Is it now? Is it now? This was the question repeating in

the minds of the agents. Was it time to draw the guns? Who

was going to do it first? Was it going to be Silver or

Mulder or Scully? Another second went by to allow the next

one to arrive, full of a silence as awful as the dread of

mortality.

Then the silence was broken by a large growl. At first,

Mulder thought Dale had come despite the agent’s orders.

Silver’s hands moved.

Scully and Mulder went for their guns, their minds

narrowed by panic towards this one action, their whole will

involved in the twisting of shoulders and the clenching of

fingers, the only two thoughts in their heads being a loud

cry of “SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM!” and a whispered good-bye to

their partner.

Their guns went up. They aimed.

Silver fell down.

For a brief moment, they wondered if the other had

actually done it; that their partner had outdrawn the

fastest cowboy in the world. In the next moment, they

realized that neither of them had fired.

Yet Silver was in a lot of pain. He was moaning and

rolling on the black pavement. He clutched his stomach as

if it had just exploded.

Mulder and Scully looked at each other. Then they slowly

walked towards the groaning hunter, guns still pointing at

him. They stood over him and saw a face which had become a

nice shade of green. They looked at each other again.

Mulder said, “I ain’t complainin’.” As he relieved Silver

of his Colts and put the handcuffs on him, Scully untied

Vic. The cook was banged up, but was in no medical danger.

Upon awakening, Vic saw Silver and said, “What’s with him?”

“You bastard!” Silver hissed at him. “You poisoned me!”

“‘Scuse me?”

“That…goddamn chili…I only had one bite, but look what

it’s…”

Silver’s words were overcome by a moan as he curled his

legs up against his stomach.

Everybody was puzzled. How could one bite of chili wreck a

man? Then they found Silver’s motorcycle and his supplies

wrapped up in green duffel bag.

“Hell, no wonder he got so sick,” Vic declared. “Look at

what he’s got to eat here. Granola bars, bananas,

yogurt…the boy is a damn tofu-eater.”

Mulder shook his head and said, “I knew he was evil, but

this…”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

EPILOGUE

Silver was later sent to a high-security prison. Also sent

was Kevin Cross. A key to his conviction was the testimony

of Mrs. Cross who identified Silver as a visitor to her

house. She came to this decision to testify after her

husband told her, “Dammit, woman, we both could go down if

you don’t keep your mouth shut!”

She frowned and answered, “What do you mean ‘we,’ kemo

sabe?”

Cross admitted to hiring Silver, but he insisted that was

only because Dale Franklin wasn’t even human.

Agent Mulder made a public statement on this matter. “A

werewolf? Wow. Is that what he believes? Guess it takes all

kinds to make a world.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

There was a large gathering in the public square of the

small town. A large orange-and-red banner there welcomed

people to the “16TH ANNUAL PEPPER CHILI FESTIVAL.” Other

signs read, “Friends don’t let friends eat tofu” and “If

there’s no chili in heaven, I’m not going!” It was a hot

day but nobody seemed to mind. Both young and old laughed

and played baseball and raced their horses, remembering

festivals of days gone by.

Cooks arranged a hundred fiery pots on benches and stands

with a vast quantity of beer and lemonade on standby. The

smells pulled in the festival-goers like ropes and tongues

were being put to the test and stomachs filled to capacity.

The music blaring from the speakers was old-fashioned

Texas swing. (“Right or wrong…I’ll always need you…”)

Many couples in their best clothes or in frayed jeans were

dancing. One couple was a tall cook dancing with an out-of-

uniform cop with her arm in a sling. Nearby, a young man

and woman danced together, looking happy even though the

man kept stepping on her foot.

Standing at the edge of the dance floor was a red-haired

woman and a brown-haired man who was trying to get the

woman to eat something.

“Come on, Scully, try it,” he said as he stuck a spoon

toward her face.

“Mulder, I…”

“You’re at a chili festival and you’re not going to have a

little bit of the wares? Please. For me.”

Scully sighed and opened her mouth. Mulder dipped the

spoon in the bowl and pulled it out.

She held the spoon’s contents in her mouth for a moment.

Then her face tightened. She swallowed as if it was the

most difficult task in the world, then shoved a bottle of

soda into her mouth and drank down half of it.

“Good, huh?” Mulder said.

She gave him a look. He just smiled.

Then she smiled, too.

They both looked at the dance floor. “Right or wrong,” the

singer crooned. “I’m still in love with you…”

Mulder opened and closed his mouth several times before he

could say, “Um…”

“Yes?” Scully responded.

“Would you like to…would you…”

“Yes, Mulder?”

“I mean, if you don’t want to, it’s fine, but…but would

you like…”

At this point, Henriksen and Vic passed by. The chief of

police eyed them and said, “Oh, will you two go ahead and

dance already?”

Mulder and Scully looked into each other’s eyes. He put

his spoon and dish of chili down on the grass and held up

an arm. She set down her soda and took her partner’s

proffered arm. They walked onto the dance floor and found

their own spot. They danced more slowly than the others,

bodies close and swaying.

With a bigger smile than ever before, Mulder asked,

“Aren’t you glad when we have a happy ending?”

Scully replied, “I love it when we have an ending.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

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