Letters

 Cover

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 8

AUTHORS: Suzanne Bickerstaffe and Melody

(ecksphile@earthlink.net, harmne@kans.com)

RATING: PG-13 for language

CLASSIFICATION: X, A, M/S UST, Sk/M/Sc friendship

SPOILERS: Can’t remember any….

DISCLAIMERS AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Many

thanks to the IMTP Board for their original idea and the work

they’ve put in. It’s been an honor to be a part of this dynamic,

creative group. Thanks also go to Ten for her insightful, incisive

and quick beta. All the characters you’ve heard of belong to Fox

Television and Chris Carter. The ones you haven’t heard of

belong to Mel and myself. I hope it will not be seen as

completely self-aggrandizing that we took this opportunity to

have a guest appearance by a character we created some time ago

who seemed to strike a chord with readers. To finish the

disclaimer: we are not making any money from this, but do it for

the love of writing, and for the love and respect we have for the

characters. Chris and Fox, you should try it sometime – it’s very

liberating!

SUMMARY: A killer is stalking FBI agents, striking down those

whom he feels are unworthy, and sending letters explaining his

mission to A.D. Walter Skinner. When the next ingenious

murder takes place right in the J. Edgar Hoover Building,

Skinner feels Mulder may be the next target, and sends him and

his partner to a safe house to profile the killer. But the violence

escalates, affecting all of them, and only Mulder, Scully and an

old acquaintance can bring the killings to an end.

Friday, September 1, 2000

5:30 PM

Philadelphia FBI Office

“Got any special plans?”

Agent Eric Michaels turned to his colleague with a self-satisfied

smile. “Yup. Going up to the cabin this weekend.” His little

hideaway, deep in the Poconos and off the tourist track, had

never been far from his thoughts all day.

“You’re one lucky bastard, I hope you know that,” Keith

Markham said grudgingly. “You’ve got the number-one solve

rate in the state, and the buzz has it that you’ve got a lock on that

ASAC position coming up when Marchewski retires. You look

like a goddamn GQ poster boy, and you have that incredible

cabin. What the hell did you do, sell your soul to the devil, or

what?”

Michaels chuckled. “Not me, buddy. I came by it all naturally.”

“Yeah, right. So who’s goin’ with you – the lucky lady of the

week, or some of your friends from the broadcast media?”

Michaels opened the back hatch of his SUV. “Nope, just me this

time, and some serious fishing to be done.” He gestured to the

equipment stowed in the back of the vehicle – fishing gear, a

duffle bag, an ice chest and a box of gourmet grocery items.

“If you had to rough it, you’d probably pass out,” Markham

commented dryly.

At Keith’s remark, Michaels laughed aloud. “Now why the hell

would I want to rough it when I have all this and the cabin too?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I want to hit the road. Traffic on the

Northeast Extension is going to be a bitch, and I want to get up

there before it gets dark.”

“You’re sure you don’t want me to call a few reporters to

accompany you?” Markham asked with exaggerated concern.

“You know how they love to tell the world about Mr.

Hollywood’s exploits.”

Michaels got into the Pathfinder, closed the door and rolled

down the window. “Nah, this weekend would bore them to

tears.” He grinned. “Then I’d have to start building up my heroic

persona all over again.”

“Screw your heroic persona.”

Michaels laughed again. “You have a good weekend too, Keith.”

Markham watched as the forest green Pathfinder skillfully

entered the flow of traffic. “Lucky bastard,” he murmured.

Wednesday, September 6

10AM

Philadelphia FBI Office

Neal Weathers looked around at the assembled agents and

frowned. Agent Michaels’ empty chair stood out conspicuously.

After three years with the office without a sick day, Michaels

hadn’t reported in yesterday, and was out again today. Hadn’t

shown up and even more worrying, hadn’t called in. That

certainly wasn’t like Michaels, who obeyed every rule to the

letter. Secretly, Weathers harbored the suspicion that Eric’s

obedience and attendance record were aimed more at impressing

the brass than because of any particular loyalty to the office or to

the policies of the Bureau. The kid was good, very good. But a

bit too heavy-handed and way more nakedly ambitious than the

SAC liked to see in the agents under his command. But that was

beside the point right now….

“Okay, let’s quiet down and get down to business here.”

Weather’s soft rumbling bass brought an end to the buzz of

conversation around the table. “Agent Eric Michaels has not been

seen or heard from since Agent Markham spoke to him Friday

evening. Now I know some of you have had your problems with

Michaels, but he’s one of ours, and this behavior is

uncharacteristic of him. I can only assume that he may have met

with an accident.”

Weathers paused, searching the faces of the assembled agents. “I

have refrained from calling in the local cops. One word of who

we’re looking for, and dollars to donuts, it’ll get leaked to the

press and we’ll be tripping all over video crews. None of us

needs that. The only way to keep it quiet is to handle it ourselves.

Fortunately, the workload at the moment is pretty light, so I can

spare a few of you to check this out. Agents Markham and

Willis, Sing and Velasquez. I want you to take a ride up to the

mountains.” He paused, then continued uncomfortably, “Agent

Sing, by any chance do you know the whereabouts of the cabin?”

The pretty Asian flushed. Against her better judgement, she had

spent one weekend at the cabin with Michaels. It had been a

mistake – a big one – but she had assumed that at least it had been

discreet. So, Mr. Hollywood had a mouth as big as his ego.

Great. “It was some time ago, but I think I can remember the

way, sir,” she responded guardedly.

“Good. The rest of you, cover their calls for the day.” The agents

began to get up and move off to their desks. The four he had

named stood waiting expectantly. “Give me a call when you’ve

had a chance to look around up there. You leave immediately.”

– – – – –

Claire Sing peered ahead and pointed. “I think the turn is just up

there on the left.”

“How the hell can you tell?” growled her partner, Jeff Velasquez.

“Christ, we’re in the middle of friggin’ nowhere!” They had been

following a rough trail no wider than their cars through thick

forest and underbrush for several miles now. Jeff was from

Brooklyn, born and raised with the smell of asphalt and car

exhaust, and the wilderness frankly gave him the willies.

“Just turn, Nature Boy,” she smiled. They had been partnered

now for eighteen months. Although the pairing had seemed

strange at first — the young and diminutive Sing and the tall,

rangy, middle-aged Velasquez — there was now a bond of trust

and affection between the two.

“Christ on a cru-utch!” he exclaimed as they jounced on the

rutted path even narrower than the last one they had been on.

“They’d better not try to dock us for car damage when we bring

these babies back.” As if to underscore his words, branches

scraped along the sides of the vehicle. Claire looked back, to see

how Markham and Willis were faring, then turned ahead to peer

through the woods. The glint of the sun off a nearby lake

reassured her. “It’s close, I think… Yes! Over there!”

The two cars pulled up beside Michaels’ Pathfinder, and the

agents slowly got out, stretching their muscles. Willis knocked

on the cabin door. When there was no answer after several

seconds, he tried the knob, which turned easily. With an

enigmatic look at his companions, he entered the cabin.

The interior could only be described as rustic luxury. The log

walls and stone hearth could have belonged to an earlier time, but

the kitchen boasted all the modern conveniences including a

small dishwasher. Velasquez gaped at the bathroom, with its

gleaming tile, Jacuzzi and next to the toilet, a bidet. “What the

hell do you suppose that’s for,” he wondered aloud.

The agents went through the cabin meticulously. Everything was

neat, clean, orderly. “What do you think this is — Mr Hollywood

offering his services to headquarters?” Markham indicated a

letter lying on the kitchen counter. It was addressed to Assistant

Director Walter Skinner. “That kind of grandstanding would be

in character for the S.O.B.”

Claire went through the cabinets, then the fridge. Finally, a

quizzical look on her face, she checked the trash. “Hey, guys.

Am I crazy, or does this look too neat? Almost like Eric wasn’t

here all that long. Look – everything’s still pretty well stocked,

and there’s hardly any trash.” She opened the dishwasher. “Two

plates – probably dinner Friday night and breakfast on Saturday

morning.”

“And the Pathfinder is still here,” Markham added grimly. “His

fishing gear is missing. You think he took a boat out to fish,

maybe capsized or something?”

Wordlessly, the agents left the cabin and made their way through

the forest to the lake. There was no clear path, and they had to

make their way around gullies and fallen trees. Velasquez

swatted irritably at the mosquitoes teasing his ears. “Why the

hell would the sonofabitch have a fishing cabin and not put it

right on the lake?” he grumbled.

Claire laughed shortly. “He wanted to. He was pissed as hell.

But he insisted on proper plumbing and the septic system had to

be set back away from the lake so it wouldn’t pollute, so the cabin

had to be set back as well. You know Eric. He always thought his

shit didn’t stink. He probably thought it didn’t pollute either. I

think it’s the only thing in his whole life that didn’t end up exactly

the way he wanted it. There….”

They had made their way to the sandy narrow beach of the lake.

Now they looked to where Claire pointed, about 50 yards up the

beach to a dock. A small but expensive boat bobbed peacefully

beside it.

“I suppose he still might have drowned,” remarked Willis

doubtfully, “but the boat being there would argue against it.”

Claire shook her head. “He swam like a seal. Look, let’s spread

out and head back towards the cabin. Maybe he fell and hit his

head. Then I want to take another look at that letter to the A.D.

Maybe it’s a ransom note.”

The agents spaced themselves about twenty yards apart to cover

the ground that Michaels had likely traversed to get from the

cabin to the lake. They kept their eyes on the leafy floor of the

forest, searching for anything that might explain what had

happened to Michaels.

“I think….” Velasquez’s voice was muffled. “Oh sweet Jesus!”

Sing and Willis ran in the direction of Jeff’s voice and skidded to

a stop. Velasquez just pointed. Half-hidden beneath a pile of

leaves and under a cloud of buzzing flies lay Eric Michaels’

body. It was clear he had been dead for some time.

“But what could have killed him?” Claire rasped in a strangled

whisper.

“Oh, shit! Guys, come here!” Keith Markham’s voice shook.

Some fifty feet away, the three agents joined a white and swaying

Markham, and stared at where his eyes were fixed. There, in the

gleaming, vicious jaws of a huge beartrap lay the lower right leg

of Eric Michaels.

Thursday, September 7, 2000

1 PM

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Assistant Director Walter Skinner scowled once more at the

letter in his hand. His deep brown eyes scanned the lines again,

then he placed it on a short stack of manila folders and pressed

the intercom key. “Kim, please have Agents Mulder and Scully

come up to my office immediately.”

Skinner’s frown threatened to take up permanent residence. They

had been late off the mark with this one – he knew it, the Director

knew it, their mysterious correspondent certainly knew it. His

letters showed a near incredulousness at the FBI’s tardiness in

recognizing what now seemed all too clear. Only one person had

seen early-on the potential in the deaths, and his opinion had

seemed so ludicrous, based on such flimsy evidence and bizarre

leaps of logic that…. Skinner dropped that line of thought. All of

the “what ifs” in the world wouldn’t change the situation he faced

at this point. So now they had a serial killer on their hands – a

killer who had the FBI square in his crosshairs.

There was a knock, and Skinner glanced up to see Fox Mulder

and Dana Scully entering his office. They seated themselves in

front of his desk. Uncomfortably, Mulder began, “If this is about

the expense report for our last case, sir-”

“No, Agent Mulder, this is something else.” At his subordinate’s

instant look of relief, he added darkly, “We will address that

work of fiction later, however.”

Scully bit her lip to keep a straight face. She had tried to tell

Mulder, but– then Skinner’s serious tone captured her complete

attention.

“Do you remember the deaths of Harold Frayne, Guy Piscobo

and Alan Mellor?”

Mulder shifted in his seat. Hell yes, he remembered them.

Ostensibly, Frayne had driven into a bridge abutment at 87 miles

an hour. He had just gone through a nasty divorce and had been

taking it badly. On top of that, he learned that he was under a

covert investigation by the government for his misuse of Bureau

resources and his position as head of the Salt Lake City office to

harass his ex-wife’s new lover. His death, reasonably enough,

had been thought a suicide.

Guy Piscobo of the Dallas-Fort Worth office had suffered a fatal

heart attack. Again, nothing unusual was thought of the death.

Piscobo had been close to retirement and had had hypertension

for years. A career field agent’s lifestyle, after all, was not a

blueprint for good health.

Alan Mellor was another story. A loud-mouthed, brutal bully

from the Denver office, Mellor had been despised by nearly

everyone who knew him, colleagues and miscreants alike. His

death in a skiing accident had left few saddened. “Yes, I

remember them,” replied Mulder.

“Well, we’ve opened an investigation into those deaths.”

Mulde grimaced in frustration. “Sir, I hate to say I told you so,

but I suggested there might be something to them four months

ago. All the deaths occurred within a two month timespan, and all

the men involved had been highly publicized at some point in

their careers. I can understand why no one looked too closely at

Mellor’s death” — Mulder had had his own problems with the

ASAC — “but the other two were taken at face value without

hesitation.”

“Thank you so much for bringing that up, Agent Mulder,”

Skinner shot back with asperity. Then he sat back in his chair,

removed his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. His

fierce expression softening, he sighed. “No. I apologize, Mulder.

You’re right. You did mention it at the time. It just seemed so…

so…”

“Paranoid?” suggested Mulder with a grin.

Putting on his glasses again, Skinner allowed himself a small

smile. “Your word, not mine. I was about to say ‘unlikely’. What

it comes down to, agents, is that we have had eight such deaths

within the past six months of agents either in positions of

command, or in the headlines at some point in their careers, or

both. Until the sixth death, you’re right — the Bureau accepted

them at face value. Shit happens — coincidences, whatever. With

the last two, there was increased suspicion, but still, really

nothing to go on. Each of these agents died in a different manner,

and there was ample evidence to explain them.”

He frowned. “Or at least it was thought so at the time. Then, a

few weeks ago, these started arriving.” He opened one of the

manila folders and handed Scully some papers, protected in

plastic covers. Wordlessly, she passed a few of them over to

Mulder as she began to read the letter at the top of her pile.

Wake up, people! What the hell is it going to take for you to

figure this out? Yeah, I could have done an Oklahoma City, but in

my opinion, those bombers were animals. There’s no need to kill

innocents to make a point, when there are so many of the guilty

around.

The FBI has always been a nest of vipers, led by men who have

their own agendas and the Consititution be damned. From the

time of J. Edgar Hoover, who arrogantly used his power to

pursue his own ends, right up to the present, the FBI is nothing

but a national Secret Police, doing the dirty work of those in

power and perpetrating crimes against the people of the United

States.

It is my mission to clean up the Bureau, by any means necessary.

There, is that clear enough? You need to know that the recent

unlamented deaths of Frayne, Piscobo, that SOB Mellor,

Dietrich, Garboski, Sullivan, Calvin and Bresnahan were caused

by yours truly, and that they were not the acts of a madman. A

mad man, yes, but not a madman. They were executions, pure

and simple, carried out in the name of the people of the United

States for crimes committed against them by the FBI. And there

will be more.

Here is my sole demand – the FBI must get its house in order.

Excesses by its agents must be swiftly and meaningfully dealt

with. There must be no more Wacos, no more enemies lists, no

more secret wiretapping of brave men and women who dare to

speak out against the status quo. No more power playing, no

more assassinations. When I see that decisive measures are

being taken to reform the Bureau, the killings will stop. Until and

unless the FBI starts cleaning its own house, then the people of

the United States will have in me an avenger for the acts

committed against them.

The ball’s in your court, Skinner.>

Scully leafed through the plastic-sheathed letters in her lap, then

glanced up, surprised. “These letters have all been addressed to

you, sir! But why?”

“I’ve been asking myself that one, Agent Scully,” Skinner replied,

frustrated.

“It’s because he sees you as being different, sir,” Mulder

observed. “Or at least he did. This letter, written two weeks ago,

says ‘I know you’re a vet, and that gives you the benefit of the

doubt, at least for the time being. But something has to be done –

NOW – to show you take me seriously, and that you agree that

the Bureau needs to be fumigated of the stink of corruption and

politics’.”

“So these have all been murders?” asked Scully. “Has that been

substantiated?”

“We’re checking now. It takes a bit of time to get to the families

involved, get the exhumation orders for those who were buried.

Those that were cremated….” He shrugged. “But the crime

scenes are long since cold, because nobody thought of them as

crime scenes at the time. For example, Harold Frayne’s car may

well have been tampered with, as our letter writer claims.” Scully

shuffled through the letters until she found the one her boss

alluded to. “But the fact remains that what was left of his car was

recycled months ago. The ski slope where Alan Mellor was

killed is sprouting dandelions. It’s a little late to look for tell-tale

tracks in the snow,” Skinner concluded dryly.

Dana Scully rolled her eyes. “This is going to be nearly

impossible. Are there any viable investigative paths?”

The A.D. sighed. “They’re exhuming Guy Piscobo’s body. You

tell me — after embalming and four months in the grave, will

there be any signs of air embolus? That’s what our letter writer

claims he used to kill him.”

She looked doubtful, then shook her head.

“That’s what I thought. The only thing we know is what this guy

tells us. Fact of the matter is, he does mention certain things

about the deaths in his letters that weren’t publicized and were not

likely to be known to the general public — what the inside of

Piscobo’s apartment looked like, for example. Details about

Frayne’s car, the serial number of Dietrich’s service weapon.”

Mulder leafed through the letters. “Glen Dietrich was thought to

have died accidentally from a self-inflicted gunshot wound while

cleaning his weapon.” He glanced up at Skinner. “How the hell

did that never get investigated? One thing FBI agents can usually

be trusted with is their own weapon.”

“Present company excepted,” his partner said, sotto voce.

Turning with a smile, Mulder shrugged. “I may lose a service

weapon here and there, but so far, I haven’t managed to shoot

myself while cleaning it,” he rejoined goodnaturedly.

Uncomfortably, Skinner shifted in his seat. “Dietrich had a little

problem with alcohol. Reportedly, his post mortem blood alcohol

level set records for the Miami area. Even at the time, they

wondered how he still could have been conscious, much less

cleaning his gun, with that much booze inside of him. His SAC

decided not to press the point for the sake of the agent’s family.

Since we started checking, however, some interesting facts have

come to light. It seems that when his will was probated, it was

discovered that Dietrich had no fewer than six Cayman Islands

bank accounts. Not so coincidentally, money seized when a drug

kingpin was busted by the Miami office is missing. Dietrich was

dirty.”

“No wonder our guy’s getting impatient,” muttered Mulder.

Louder, he asked, “All right. What’s the timeframe on these

killings?”

Skinner handed him a piece of paper with a list of names and

dates, commenting, “Clearly, he’s excalating.”

Mulder scanned the list, then passed it to his partner. “Looks like

he’s overdue,” she observed.

Mulder’s grave eyes never left Skinner’s face. “I’ll bet not. And

I’ll bet that’s why we’re here.”

Skinner sighed and tossed him a manila folder. “Special Agent

Eric Michaels. The Golden Boy of the Philadelphia office.

Spotless record, amazing solve rate, on the fast-track for

promotion.”

Mulder’s eyebrows launched skyward in surprise. “Mr.

Hollywood? I’ve read about this guy.” Turning to his partner, he

explained, “This guy’s almost a legend. He’s a favorite subject in

the area newspapers. They’re always recounting his exploits,

getting quotes from him on almost any topic. Very high-profile

kind of guy.”

“He went up to his cabin in the Poconos for the holiday weekend

last Friday. When he hadn’t reported back by yesterday, his SAC

got nervous and sent a team up to check on him.”

Mulder glanced at some photographs, grimaced and handed them

over to his partner.

Skinner continued. “He was caught in a bear trap. Took his leg

off below the knee. Apparently he bled to death trying to drag

himself back to his cabin. The team later found the woods littered

with these traps. One of them would have gotten him eventually.”

“It’s a miracle no one else got hurt,” commented Scully with a

shiver.

Skinner nodded. “This letter came today from our ‘friend’. Takes

full credit for Michaels’ death, and said the guy was no good,

though he didn’t elaborate. What he did say is that he’s tired of

waiting for the Bureau to take action. So he’s coming here to

D.C. to quote force the issue unquote.”

“Forensics?” inquired Mulder.

“The paper is cheap, available anywhere. The pens are your

standard Bic, ten for a buck. The writing, as you can see, is

stencilled using stencils available in every grocery, stationery and

discount store, not to mention every elementary school, in the

country. The stamps and the envelope are self stick, so–”

“So no possible DNA samples from saliva,” Scully finished for

him.

Grimly, he nodded.

“What do you want us to do, sir?” she asked quietly.

“Mulder still has a week of desk duty while he recuperates — yet

again, I might add — from injuries suffered in the line of duty.

We could use some help profiling this son of a bitch.”

Mulder nodded.

“What about me?” Scully inquired.

“Go over any autopsy findings, new information as it comes in.

And…” the A.D.’s face wore an expression of deep concern,

“watch your back and your partner’s back. Both of you, and

especially Mulder, have had your names in the paper more than

once. Then there was that “Cops” TV show you got yourself

involved in.”

“Not to mention that swell movie,” Mulder added with a touch of

bitterness.

“Agreed,” replied the AD uncomfortably. He felt more than a

little responsible for that fiasco. “Due to both the nature of the X-

Files, and Mulder’s… inimitable… style of investigation, you two

have garnered more than your share of press. That seems to be

the sort of agent our guy likes to pick out. I’m more than a little

worried that you two look like great targets to this guy.”

“Sir, I really don’t think– ”

“Humor me, Agent Mulder, all right? Scully stays with you, and

you stick with her. Obviously, security is going to be stepped up

around here but I don’t want either of you taking any chances.

You get any bright ideas, you come to me with them, you do not

go haring off on your own, got it? You are not, Agent Mulder, I

repeat not to ditch, dump, desert or otherwise leave Agent Scully

to pursue some theory on your own, or I will personally kick

your ass across the Mall. Am I clear?”

Out of the corner of his eye, Mulder saw Scully arch a brow in

his direction. “Crystal, sir.”

“Very well, you’re dismissed. I’ll have what information there is

sent down to your office. I’ll expect a preliminary report in the

morning.”

– – –

“Gee, I didn’t know he cared,” Mulder joked as he entered the

basement office.

Scully studied his face. “Yes, you did,” she responded quietly.

She sat on a chair at the side of Mulder’s desk. “Am I wrong, or

did I get the distinct impression that you do not think it’s

possible that we’re targets?”

Mulder seated himself and opened a drawer to extract a bag of

sunflower seeds. Playfully, he offered them to her, expecting and

getting the usual refusal. “No, you’re not wrong and no, I don’t

think we’re targets.”

“You must be feeling better. Ribs stopped hurting, have they?

Well, if you think you’re invulnerable, I suggest you look

through your medical file. Or count your scars.”

“Scully, the guy doesn’t want me, and I don’t think he wants you

either.”

“May I ask how you came to this conclusion?”

“Why, scientifically of course, Agent Scully.” He smiled across

at her, then shook his head. “When I first heard about the deaths

of Frayne and Piscobo, I put in a request to pursue them, which

in the Bureau’s infinite wisdom was declined. But you know me,

when did I ever let a thing like that stop me. So I read up on the

deaths of every agent or retired agent who died in the past six

months. As expected, most are explainable and are nothing more

than they appear. On the ones that looked suspicious, I did some

digging. And one thing I’ve learned about our killer – he does his

homework, Scully. This is not a dumb guy and he’s not a lunatic.

Somehow this guy’s been able to learn things about his victims

that even the field offices where they worked didn’t know.

Dietrich is a good example. So our guy goes after agents who

are dirty, use questionable methods, have collected way more

than their share of publicity, or are stand-out bastards. We don’t

fit into any of those categories.” He popped another seed into his

mouth.

“Mulder, I simply don’t believe you!” his partner exclaimed.

“You’ve never used questionable methods? And of course the X-

Files are the furthest thing from controversial!”

“Not questionable methods like you’re thinking. What our killer

objects to is strong-arm tactics and abuse of power and position –

that sort of thing. I don’t think we could be accused of either of

those. Besides,” he pouted, “my methods are not questionable.

They make perfect sense in a tangential, free-floating kind of

way.”

“Tangential and free-floating,” repeated Scully with mock

gravity. “I’ll remember that. But you have to admit the X-Files are

controversial.”

“Agreed. But again, not in the way that torques this guy off. His

problem is Waco, Nixon’s enemies list. J. Edgar Hoover in a

dress, spying on other people’s peccadillos. Not liver-eating

mutants.”

“You seem very sure of yourself,” Scully said doubtfully. “But- ”

Her question was cut off as the lights flickered half a dozen

times before going out completely. After several more seconds,

the emergency lighting clicked on.

“What the hell…?” She beat her partner to the door. Together,

they peered out into the always-dim hallway, now made even

more dusky by the low-wattage emergency lights.

“I hope this is just a coincidence, and not a calling card from our

letter-writing friend,” Scully said uncomfortably.

“Seems quiet enough,” Mulder observed. “If we had to evacuate,

the alarms would be sounding.” Slowly, they returned to the

office.

Ten minutes later, the phone rang. “Mulder.”

Skinner’s tone was grim. “Agent Mulder, I need you and Agent

Scully to get up to the men’s room on the third floor near the

elevators. Tom Colton’s body has just been discovered. I think he

was murdered.”

– – –

When they got off the elevator, they were struck by the low hum

of hushed conversation from the throng of agents and secretaries

grouped around the rest rooms. “Guess it takes a while for news

to filter down to the basement,” sneered John Colavito. “Go

home, Spooky. There’s nothing here for you and the Mrs.” There

were snickers from some of the crowd.

“I asked them to be here, Colavito,” boomed a familiar deep

voice, “and I do not recall requesting the presence of any of the

rest of you.” Skinner emerged from the men’s room. “Now listen

up. All non- essential clerical personnel are to pick up their

belongings and exit the building via the Main Security entrance.

All agents are to report to their immediate supervisors to get their

assignments and the guidelines for combing this building. Now

move! Agents Mulder and Scully – in here.”

The pair sailed past the glares of their fellow agents and into the

men’s room.

“Cut down in the act, so to speak,” commented Mulder.

Colton’s body lay supine on the tiled floor, his face drawn up in

the rictus of a scream. The bizarre shadows thrown by the

emergency lighting made his expression all the more horrible.

The palm of his left hand and the inner aspect of his forearm

displayed dark maroon and blackened flesh, his watchband

actually melted into the surrounding skin. The zipper of Colton’s

slacks was down, and his penis exposed, bearing the same sort of

burns as on his arm and hand.

Skinner’s arms were on his hips. He was clearly – and

uncharacteristically – rattled. “Scully, you examine the body.

Mulder, check around for what might have done this, but for

Christ’s sake don’t touch anything.”

Mulder’s eyes rose from Colton’s body to meet Skinner’s, and he

nodded slowly. The two agents drew some latex gloves from

their pockets and went to work. While Scully did things he’d

rather not think about, he wandered over to the urinal, squatting

to peer into the bowl at the drain. Then he stood to examine the

flushing mechanism. He did the same with each of the urinals

that lined the wall. Then, eyes on the wall, he followed it around

to the stalls, peering into each one. Finally, he called out,

“Bingo!” and rejoined his companions where Colton lay.

“Scully, since I wasn’t a physical sciences major, maybe you can

help me out here. Is urine a good conductor of electricity?”

She stood and stripped off her latex gloves. “I see where you’re

going with this, Mulder, and I agree. Yes, urine, composed as it is

of water and various salts, is an excellent electrical conductor.”

“I’m glad you two are on the same wavelength here. Would you

care to enlighten me?” Skinner demanded impatiently.

Scully nodded. “Colton died of electrocution. I can’t really

explain the mechanism, but I suspect Mulder can.”

Skinner’s focus shifted to her partner. “Well?”

“There are two ‘styles’, if you will, of how men use a urinal,”

Mulder began.

Skinner’s frown deepened and his tone was threatening. “Is this

really germane, Agent Mulder?”

“Yes, sir, in this case it is crucial. See, Scully, there are two ways

guys approach this… er… function. Some stand upright about six

or so inches away from the urinal and… do what comes naturally.

Those are the Standers. Then there are the ‘Hunchers’. They

crowd the urinal, usually resting their hand or even their forearm

above it.” Mulder’s tone changed from instructive to musing. “I

have a theory that what separates the two styles is an

overweening sense of modesty. Or of course it could have a

correlation with penis size,” he reflected.

“Agent Mulder!”

“Yes, sir. Anyway, Colton was obviously a Huncher, and don’t

ask me how, but our guy knew it. If you look carefully, the

deodorizer and the flush mechanism of each of the urinals are

wired, and there are more wires in the drain of each. These

urinals are set into the wall, about eighteen inches from the floor.

This little trap may not have worked with the kind that have the

drains at floor level. The wires on the flushes eventually lead to a

switchbox left in one of the stalls, and the switchbox has wires

that lead to a opening in the wall. I suspect it had been covered

by a faceplate, which our guy removed to tap into the electrical

lines. Our guy was here, just waiting for the right person to show

up. I don’t know whether Colton was the lone intended target, or

he was on a list and just happened to be the first one to use the

facilities once our guy was ready.

“Anyway, as I said, Colton was a Huncher. He unzipped, then

probably leaned his hand and forearm against the flush or the

deodorizer. When he started to urinate, all our guy had to do was

flip the switch on the switchbox. The current would flow up the

stream of urine, enter Colton” — both men winced — “going

through his body and out his hand and arm, which completed the

circuit. Zap! Brilliant. Diabolical, but brilliant.”

“Agent Scully?”

“Huh?” It was clear she had been thinking about something else.

“Oh… that makes sense to me, sir. The only thing I would add is

that I believe the killer chose his power source carefully. With

the extent of the burns, I would guess that the power source was

a high amp line, maybe something for the alarm system.”

There was a knock on the door and a squad of EMTs entered.

“I’ve pronounced the victim,” Scully announced to them. “I

assume you want the body at Quantico, sir?”

At Skinner’s nod, Scully quickly instructed the EMTs. The AD

and Mulder helped them get Colton’s body on the gurney. In

moments, the blanket-shrouded corpse was wheeled from the

men’s room, and the three of them were alone. “Before the Print

guys come in, you might want to check out the stall yourself, sir,”

Mulder suggested. “There’s a letter in there – addressed to you.”

Skinner sighed. “I was afraid of that. Very well. I’ll see you both

in the morning.”

– – –

On the trip down to the basement, Scully’s glance slid over to her

partner several times, but when he turned to her, her eyes were

focused on the elevator door. She trailed behind him down the

hallway to the office, a quizzical expression on her face.

“Something wrong, Scully?”

She blushed. “Uh, no…. No, Mulder, nothing.” Her eyes,

however, were alight with curiosity.

“Uh-huh. Okay. Think I’ll just pop out to use the facilities,” he

said blandly. He was almost out the door when he spoke again.

“Hey, Scully?

“Yeah?”

“Stander.”

Act Two

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Friday, September 8

9 AM

Mulder and Scully stepped off the elevator to a strangely

subdued hive of activity. Exchanging a look, they started for

Skinner’s office. Several agents carrying small boxes hurried

down the hall ahead of them and turned into Skinner’s office.

When they reached the door, Kimberly, looking rattled, waved

them into Skinner’s inner office without even making an attempt

at her usual greeting or banter.

“This doesn’t look good,” Scully murmured to Mulder quietly as

they crossed to the door.

It was worse inside. Skinner stood by the conference table, which

was nearly covered with boxes. The agents who’d preceded them

into the office deposited the ones they carried and nearly

knocked Scully over in their haste to escape. Skinner caught

sight of the partners and scowled, waiting for the others to close

the door before he spoke. He looked tired and rumpled and

worried.

“What’s going on?” Mulder asked before Skinner could begin.

“In light of yesterday’s events it was deemed prudent to search

the entire Hoover building for any other booby-traps such as the

one that killed Agent Colton. The search took all night and is

being wrapped up now. No other traps were found. However,

something else has turned up that is equally disturbing….” He

turned slightly and tipped over one, then another of the boxes. A

cascade of electronic devices spilled onto the oak table —

microphones, tape recorders, and cameras from several eras,

ranging in size from that of a man’s fist down to the size of a

shirt button.

“Bugs?” Scully said with some surprise.

“Looks like we need a better exterminator,” Mulder quipped, and

Skinner threw him a killing look. Mulder failed to notice it,

however, as he was stepping forward to poke through the piles of

hardware. “Some of these look they’ve been around a while.

Where were they?”

“Scattered throughout the building, in nearly every office, a few

even in store rooms.” His face tightened. “There were three in

here — all new technology.”

Mulder nodded. “I can think of several likely eavesdroppers

interested in your conversations – one in particular.”

Skinner narrowed his eyes at Mulder. “Strangely enough, only

one device was found in the X-Files offices — also one of the

newer ones.”

Mulder nodded, unsurprised. “A camera, just above the door

facing. Yeah, we knew.”

“Why didn’t you remove it?”

“There was no audio circuit on it, and Scully ‘accidentally’

sprayed it with hairspray. Anything it picked up would be blurry

and pretty much useless, so why bother?”

The A.D.’s lips twitched in annoyance. “Well, you’re taking all

this one hell of a lot better than I am, Agent Mulder. Not only

has this building been infiltrated by agents of foreign

governments, but apparently every employee of the Bureau has

been eavesdropping on each other.”

“And their bosses, too, I would imagine,” Mulder replied

agreeably. “Very handy for knowing if that promotion is going

to come through, and who your competition is.”

Skinner frowned and gestured for them to sit down, pacing over

to his desk. “I don’t like any of this. Mulder, have you found

anything in common between the victims so far?”

“Only that at some point in their lives they had their fifteen

minutes of fame.”

Skinner paced back and forth behind his desk then sat down with

a sigh. “I was hoping there would be something else…. Well,

using our only clue so far to gauge possible next victims, that

puts you, Mulder, near the top.”

“But I really don’t think–” Mulder began in protest.

Skinner continued, cutting Mulder off. “I want the two of you

out of the DC area ASAP, at least until we can get a better handle

on this killer.”

“But, sir, I can help…” Mulder began to protest.

“You can help from wherever you are. Mulder,” he held up his

hand to silence his subordinate before he could interrupt again,

“your unique talents have put you in the spotlight numerous

times, and Scully with you. I consider you both more than just

two of my best agents, I consider you friends. I don’t want

anything happening to you.”

“But–”

“He’s right,” Scully interrupted, startling both Skinner and

Mulder. “You might be his next target, especially if he knows

you’re one of the few who can find him. You can’t catch him if

you’re dead.”

Mulder blinked at Scully’s bluntness, and Skinner looked

grateful. At least one of his agents would be cooperative. “I’ve

got a place for you. It’s not far away, but it’s pretty isolated and

most people don’t know it’s even there. It’s a cabin that belongs to

a friend of mine — I have a key and carte blanche to use it

whenever I want.” He sat down and drew a rough map on a sheet

of paper. “There’s a gas generator for electric lights and a

refrigerator, and a propane stove. No phone as far as I can

remember, but it should be well within range of your mobiles in

any case.” He paused to slide the map toward them across the

desk. “There may be some supplies there but it would probably

be better if you took your own.”

“Are you sure this is necessary?” Mulder asked.

“I hope not, but I don’t want to take chances. I’ll be sending any

other agents with public events in their past history to safe

houses. I don’t want any more dead agents.”

“But this isn’t an FBI safe house,” Scully observed slowly, her

eyes serious on Skinner’s face.

Skinner returned her look and shook his head slightly, looking

across the room toward the conference table. “With all the

apparent leaks brought to light in the past 24 hours, not to

mention the enemies you two have made both in and out of the

Bureau over the years, I don’t think it would be wise to take any

chances. I take my responsibilities toward my agents seriously,

Agent Scully.” He paused and leveled a stern yet concerned look

at them. “I’m even more careful with my friends.”

Mulder studied him in silence for a moment then gave in and

nodded, reaching for the map.

“I’ll keep in touch via e-mail,” Skinner said as he stood. “It’s

harder to pinpoint than phone calls. Try to check it a couple of

times a day. Now get going.”

Mulder and Scully left in silence and rode down to the basement

without speaking. They gathered what they needed from the

office — personal items, their phones, and Scully’s notebook

computer — with the automatic ease of people used to traveling

on a moment’s notice.

On the way to the parking garage Scully finally spoke. “I know

you don’t like this, Mulder, but I think Skinner really is worried

you’ll be next.”

“I know, Scully, I know. It just feels like I’m being sent away for

misbehaving.”

“Now if that were true Skinner would be sending you a way a lot

more often!” Scully teased. Mulder grinned reluctantly. “Shall

we meet at your apartment? I can be ready to leave in two hours.”

“Okay, Scully.” Mulder made a show of checking his watch,

giving her a challenging look. “Two hours.” Scully grinned and

headed for her car and home.

***********

In one hour and forty-five minutes Scully was turning onto

Hegal Place. She’d changed into comfortable clothes and packed

enough things to last a week, cleaned out her refrigerator, called

her neighbor across the hall to collect her mail, and let her mother

know she’d be out of town for a few days. She’d even raided her

pantry for dry and canned goods. Her notebook computer and

phone had fresh batteries and they and their chargers were

packed into the carrying case on the seat beside her.

It was a surprise, then, to find Mulder was actually waiting for

her. Leaning on a new-looking SUV, no less.

“Well, Mulder… Whose vehicle is that?” As she approached

Mulder straightened to take the box of supplies from her hands.

“Technically,” he drawled, “it belongs to one Geraldo Manusetti,

a drug dealer wanted for collusion and conspiracy.”

“So how did you get it?”

“Old Geraldo skipped the country. My friend Drew’s in charge

of Impound Lot #17. He loaned it to me, said it won’t be missed

for at least six months.” Mulder shoved the box into the back

next to his duffel bag and another cardboard carton full of things,

then turned to give her a sly look. “I told him I’d get it back to

him by then.”

“I’d hope so,” she said drolly, then bit back a snort as Mulder

reached for her carryall and she saw the rolled-up sleeping bag

behind him. “It certainly looks like you’re going prepared for

anything.”

“I didn’t have much in the way of food, so we probably ought to

stop before we leave town,” Mulder was saying.

For a moment Scully was surprised he hadn’t picked up on her

innuendo, then she realized he was concentrating, already

working on the case in his head. She wouldn’t distract him, then.

“Want me to drive?”

For an answer he handed her the keys. Scully went back to her

car for the computer, then locked up and climbed into the driver’s

seat of the SUV. She had to hop to reach the seat, but Mulder

made no comment. She passed him the computer case. He

opened it, pulled out the copies of the killer’s letters, and turned

on the computer before she had even pulled away from the curb.

The map was on the dashboard so there was no reason for

conversation. Scully found a big supermarket and pulled into the

lot. Mulder barely noticed as she located the adapter and plugged

the computer into the SUV’s power outlet to save the battery. She

doubted he even noticed she headed into the store alone. But he

was waiting for her, pacing in front of the SUV when she came

back heavily laden with three full bags.

He met her before she’d gone halfway and took two of the bags.

“We’ve got to go back,” he said bluntly, and strode back to the

vehicle at a pace she had to jog to match.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, slightly out of breath as she dumped

her bag beside the others. “Why? Has something else

happened?”

Mulder didn’t answer. He slammed the back and headed for the

driver’s seat, but his partner stepped in front of him, hands

planted on hips with a determination that finally got his attention.

“I repeat: What has changed that we suddenly need to go back?”

Scowling in annoyance but knowing she wouldn’t be budged

until she got an answer, Mulder replied, “I’m not the next target.

Skinner is. We’ve got to warn him.”

“Mulder, we’re under orders to make ourselves scarce. Skinner

will have you for lunch if we go back.”

He ran his fingers through his hair in aggravation. “Look, Scully,

those last few letters were bothering me, but I only just put it

together. Let me show you….” He stepped around her and

retrieved the letters from the front seat, spreading them on the

hood of the vehicle. “See? In one of the early letters he tells

Skinner ‘the ball’s in your court.’ Then this one — ‘I know you’re

a vet, and that gives you the benefit of the doubt, at least for the

time being.’ In this one he says he’s coming to DC to force the

issue, but the clincher’s in the one left with Colton’s body —

‘obviously you’re not taking me seriously. I guess I’ll have to

prove to you I mean business.’ Scully, he thinks Skinner’s

ignoring him. The killer’s going to try to get to him. We’ve got to

warn him!”

Scully raised her eyes from the letters to meet those of her

partner, more shaken than she’d care to admit. “Okay,” she

agreed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe Skinner is the next target.

But he’s as stubborn as you are, and if we disobey his order to

get out of town he might be angry enough to disregard your

warning.”

Mulder shook the letters at her. “I’ll show him these, read him the

passages. He’ll have to listen.”

Scully shook her head with growing certainty. “Just going back

will take time,” she glanced at her watch, “and we’d have to track

him down… we’d run the risk of missing Skinner entirely. Why

don’t you call him? That way you can warn him without our

disobeying orders, and it will save time, too.”

For a split second Mulder stared at her, then he dove into the

SUV to find his phone. He punched in a series of numbers

quickly, then listened, shook his head, and disconnected. “His

private line is busy,” he said as he started dialing another number,

leaving Scully to wonder how he’d gotten Skinner’s private

number in the first place. He nodded with grim satisfaction when

the second number rang.

“Kim, I need to speak to Assistant Director Skinner. This is

Agent Mulder…. Look, Kim, this is important! Please put me

through…. Okay, but you *have* to get this message to him

before he leaves the building! Skinner is the next target for this

guy. You have to find him — break into his damn meeting, if you

have to — and warn him. He’s the one that should be headed to a

safe house, not us….” Mulder was holding the phone with one

hand and tugging at his hair in frustration with the other. “Okay,

okay. We will. But make sure he takes precautions….” Mulder

smiled slightly. “Me, too, Kim. Thanks.”

Scully waited patiently as Mulder disconnected. “I take it

Skinner is not in his office?”

Mulder shook his head. “He’s been called up to the Director’s

office — and you know *that* can’t be good. Kim promised

she’d see to it that he gets my message ASAP. She’s sending

Rodriguez up to wait for him to come out of the meeting, and

she’ll stay at his office until he comes back in. So he should be

okay.”

As Scully watched he made a visible effort to relax, letting

himself lean against the side of the SUV. But the effort was

spoiled by the white knuckled-grip he still had on his phone.

“Well, I guess we’d better go where we’re supposed to be. Do

you want me to drive?”

“No, but you can be the navigator. Let’s get going.”

Scully was glad she’d gotten a good look at Skinner’s map before

Mulder took it back, because she was pretty sure he’d be useless.

She was right. As before, Mulder was preoccupied, but now he

fidgeted, too. He put the letters away, got them back out, put them

away again. Turned the computer off, then back on again. Tuned

the radio to a wailing country station, then to a pop station, then

to a hard-rock frequency that threatened to give Scully a

migraine. Fortunately he became engrossed with the computer

again, and didn’t notice when Scully changed stations to

something a little less brain-jarring. She knew he’d be a basket

case until he knew Skinner had been warned. She could handle

Mulder’s quirks until then.

They traveled up Highway 4 East to Upper Marlboro, turning

south on 301, then left onto 382 toward Croom. She’d never

realized there was so much open land so close to the DC area.

She found the signs for the wildlife preserve Skinner had

indicated on his map but nearly missed the small road that was

their turn. It was little more than a dirt track heading toward the

river, bordered on either side by trees and tangled undergrowth.

Just as she was wondering if she’d made a wrong turn, the rutted

track entered a clearing and there was the cabin.

It was an A-frame, probably around 40 years old, but it looked to

be in fairly good repair. Mismatched shingles on the sharply

slanted roof showed where patches had been made. The windows

were dusty, but none of them was broken. And beyond the house

the Patuxent River was visible.

“Mulder? I think we’re there.” She spoke just loud enough to

rouse her partner from his preoccupation. He looked at her

questioningly before it sank in that the vehicle had stopped

moving.

“This is a cabin?” Mulder almost laughed. “Cabins don’t have

pointy roofs, Scully.”

She chuckled. “Well, it just wouldn’t have sounded right if

Skinner had said he was sending us to an A-frame.”

Mulder chuckled and said something under his breath, but he

closed the computer and got out of the SUV, moving around to

the back to start unloading their things. Scully followed to help

but he headed her off. “You’ve got the key, why don’t you go

ahead and get the door opened?” He looked up at the sky, which

was starting to cloud up. “We’ve only got a couple of hours of

daylight left, less if that turns into a storm, and we have to get the

generator going pretty quickly. I hope to God it’s easy to start.”

The lock turned easily and the door didn’t squeak, both of which

Scully took as a good sign. The door opened into a combination

living room and kitchen, and plenty of light from the windows

revealed it to be tidy if somewhat dusty. It obviously hadn’t been

used in a while. She did a quick exploration, finding the

bathroom and a small bedroom at the back with a loft above

them. The stairs leading up to it were little more than a ladder.

Returning to the front door she caught Mulder wincing as he

lifted the heavy grocery bags onto the counter by the sink.

“Don’t overdo it, Mulder. You’re just going to make yourself sore

again.” Her voice froze his hand in the act of rubbing his ribs,

and he gave her a rueful look.

“Yes, Mom,” he said, but there was no sting in his words, and he

headed back out for another load. Scully followed him and

carried in their bags while Mulder grabbed the boxes. When

everything was inside, he stood in the middle of the room with

his hands on his hips, looking around. “Not bad. Any idea where

the generator is?”

They followed a path behind the cabin that led to a small shed. A

yellowed sheet of paper tacked to the wall held the instructions.

A half an hour, a few curses and a skinned knuckle on Mulder’s

part, and they were set.

The clouds continued to roll in, darkening the skies, but inside it

was cozy. Mulder climbed the ladder-stairs to the loft and found

a queen- size mattress on the floor beneath a huge window and

volunteered to sleep there. Scully got the bedroom and its old-

fashioned double bed. There were no chests of drawers or

closets, but old end tables served as nightstands and suitcase

racks in both sleeping areas. The bathroom was a pink and

turquoise nightmare but everything worked, and the water ran

clear after the first few muddy minutes.

They removed the plastic sheeting covering the beds and sofa.

Then Scully pulled paper towels and spray cleaner out of the box

she’d packed and began to clean the kitchen and bathroom. In

spite of his preoccupation, Mulder grinned. Even in the

wilderness, Scully would always be Scully. He put their few

perishable items into the slowly cooling refrigerator and carried

her bag into the bedroom. Then he forgot himself and heaved his

duffel up to the loft, swearing as his ribs pulled painfully.

Wisely, his partner kept quiet.

Mulder settled on the big old sofa with her computer, using the

wireless modem to access his e-mail account. A soft grunt told

her the Gunmen had sent him something interesting, but after a

few minutes he disconnected and turned the computer back off.

Evidently there was no news from Skinner.

As Scully put her cleaning supplies away, Mulder wandered into

the kitchen area and started poking through their groceries. “Are

you cooking or am I? Want to flip for it?”

“I’ll cook if you clean up after,” Scully bargained. “Or, I’ll clean

up too and you can go on to bed — don’t forget you’re still

recovering.”

“I’m doing okay,” Mulder said defensively, almost by reflex.

Then he considered and said, “But it might be a good idea if we

slept in shifts so we can keep checking the e-mail. I’ll feel a lot

better once we hear from Skinner.”

“Will you take the first turn to sleep? Will you be able to sleep if

we don’t hear from Skinner first?”

“I’ll sleep,” Mulder said, giving Scully a sheepish grin. “You’re

right — I am tired. But wake me up if you hear from Skinner,

okay?” She agreed with a nod.

They cooked a quick meal together, then Mulder obediently went

up to the loft. Scully cleaned up the small dinner mess then

checked both their e-mail accounts. Nothing from Skinner. She

set the computer to auto-dial and check the e-mail accounts every

half- hour, then settled on the sofa with a paperback and a cup of

decaf. Near midnight, a message from Skinner finally came

through.

Mulder woke easily and looked refreshed. He followed his

partner back down the steep stairs and they read the message

together. Skinner gave them an update and acknowledged their

message that they were where they were supposed to be. Then he

let them know, in a way that had Mulder chuckling, that he was

quite safe, too, thanks to Mulder’s warning. It seemed that Kim

had broken into the Director’s meeting after all, with the result

that the Director himself had assigned three agents to protect

Skinner 24 hours a day.

“You’re in trouble now, Mulder,” Scully teased.

“Yeah, but at least *I* feel better.”

Scully went to bed. Mulder took over her spot on the sofa and

spread out his copies of the letters, the new information Skinner

had sent, a bag of potato chips and a bag of sunflower seeds, and

a cup of the decaf his partner had made. Occasionally he’d type

notes into the computer, and it continued to auto-dial and check

the e-mail accounts.

Hours passed, and the storm that had threatened since their

arrival finally broke, lashing the cabin with rain. Thunder

rumbled, rattling the windows in their frames. After about 20

minutes Scully came out of the bedroom in her pajamas, blinking

sleepily at Mulder.

“The rain hitting the outside wall and the window in there sounds

like firecrackers,” she explained when Mulder looked at her

curiously. “There’s no way I can sleep in there until this passes.”

Mulder started to get up. “Want me to move so you can lie down

on the sofa?” he offered. Scully shook her head and waved him

back down.

“I’ll just read a while.” She got her book and made herself

comfortable on the other end of the sofa, and Mulder went back

to what he was doing. Before long she nodded off and slowly

slid sideways until she came to rest on her partner’s shoulder.

Mulder grinned down at the top of her tousled head. She fussed

at him not to get too tired, then she pushed herself. Gently he

shifted his arm and guided her down until her head was pillowed

on his lap, then he reached over to shift her legs into a more

comfortable position. She didn’t wake and barely stirred, just

sank back into sleep with a sigh.

For a while Mulder continued to work, re-reading the letters and

being careful not to rustle them. Then he laid them aside to think,

letting his head fall back onto the cushions and propping his feet

on the coffee table.

*************

Scully woke slowly, vaguely aware that the thunder had stopped.

Rain still fell, more gently now. Wondering what time it was, she

tried to lift her arm to check her watch and couldn’t. She opened

her eyes in confusion and found herself wrapped snugly in

Mulder’s arms, one of his hands wrapped loosely around her

wrist.

She’d been reading, she remembered… she must have fallen

asleep. Mulder was sitting on the edge of the sofa seat and

leaning back, his legs crossed and his feet propped on the coffee

table. She was draped across his chest, her legs occupying the

rest of the sofa cushions. He couldn’t possibly be comfortable –

she was probably lying on his healing ribs – but instead of

waking her he held her gently, his arms crossed over her to hold

her securely.

She should get up. She told herself that, but didn’t move. Not just

yet, she decided. Just for a few minutes she’d allow herself the

luxury of lying in Mulder’s arms, then she’d disentangle herself

and get up. She should check the e-mail again, and they both

needed some solid sleep in proper beds.

Slowly she relaxed again, turning her head slightly, savoring the

scent of Mulder, the soothing sound of his heart beating, the

regular rise and fall of his breathing. A small, secret smile

touched her lips.

“Playing possum?” Mulder’s voice rumbled without warning,

giving her a start. His arms tightened slightly as she tried to sit

up, though, keeping her where she was.

“Christ, Mulder, you scared me half to death! Let me up.”

Reluctantly, he complied. Scully sat up and scooted a few inches

away, giving him room to straighten — feeling guilty when he

tried unsuccessfully not to wince in the process.

“Why didn’t you wake me up?” Scully asked. “Or go on to

bed?”

“Well, I was going to. I left you here and went back up to the

loft, but the window evidently leaked when it was raining so hard

— the mattress is pretty wet. So I came back down here and made

you share the sofa with me.”

Scully opened her mouth to ask him why he didn’t sleep in the

other bed when they were interrupted by a tweeting sound.

“That’s my phone!” Mulder said, lunging off the sofa to find it.

He’d dropped it into the case with Scully’s phone and computer,

so it wasn’t far away. He had it in his hand by the third ring.

“Mulder,” he answered, then a grin flashed. “Hey, Byers, what…

WHAT? When?” Mulder’s face had gone from happy to

shocked to angry in a flash. There was a long pause during

which Scully found it difficult to keep quiet. Why was Byers

calling Mulder at 6:30 in the morning — and what had upset

Mulder?

“Thanks,” Mulder said, then took a deep breath in an attempt to

calm down. “See what else you can find out, okay? I’ll get back

to you.”

“Shit!” he swore, stabbing the disconnect button and immediately

dialing another number. “If he…. Damned stubborn hard-ass

Marine…”

“What’s happened?” Scully nearly shouted, drawing his

attention.

“The boys got wind of an explosion in Crystal City and thought

we ought to know — looks like a car bomb. One person dead on-

scene and one critical in transport to the hospital. No word out

on who, yet…” he gave her a level look that had her heart sinking,

“…but it was the garage of the Viva Tower.”

Where Skinner lived.

End of Act Two

Act Three

The Cabin

Saturday, September 9

6:45 AM

Mulder’s attention snapped back to his phone as the line was

picked up. His face grew even grimmer as he listened a few

moments, then hung up. “Skinner’s voice-mail answered his

office number — but the message was Kim’s voice,” he explained

tersely as he started dialing again. “She sounded strange.”

Scully’s heart fell. That wasn’t a good sign. Mentally she crossed

her fingers and started praying, her eyes never leaving Mulder as

he listened intently to the ringing on the other end of the line.

“Kim answered,” he mouthed to Scully, and she knew he’d called

Skinner’s private line again. As he spoke his hand reached for

Scully’s and held on tightly. “Kim, is he okay?” he asked into the

phone. Trust Mulder to skip all the preliminaries.

The next few moments were tense as he listened to Kim and

Scully watched his face and prayed. Finally he smiled grimly and

shifted the mouthpiece of the phone. “He’s alive, Scully. He’s

badly hurt, but he’s alive.”

Taking a steadying breath, Mulder went back to the phone. “Can

you fill us in on what happened, Kim?” He was silent for some

minutes. His eyes grew darker and his expression grimmer as he

listened.

“Fuck!” Mulder stabbed the Off button.

The calm of Scully’s voice belied her inner turmoil. “How did it

happen?”

He drew his hands down over his face, then focused on her with

stormy eyes. “Skinner’s bodyguards were imbeciles, that’s how.

He had one with him in his apartment, one wandering around the

building, and one stationed in the lobby by the elevator.

Everything seemed fine. Apparently no one thought to keep a

close eye on his car.” Mulder took a deep, unsteady breath.

“When he got into his car this morning and turned the ignition

key… boom.”

Mulder collapsed bonelessly onto the sofa. “The surviving

bodyguards say that he and Davis, the third bodyguard, got into

the car. But Skinner hadn’t closed the door yet. I don’t know,

maybe he heard something, smelled something strange, saw

something. Anyhow, something seems to have tipped him off

just as he was starting the engine. They said he yelled something,

probably to the bodyguard beside him, and dove out of it a split

second before it blew.” He shook his head. “Kim says he’s been

in surgery for about a half hour. They think he’ll be in there quite

a while.”

“Oh God, Mulder.” She flopped down on the couch beside him,

seeking the warmth and solace of his nearness. To comfort her,

and perhaps himself as well, he snaked an arm around her

shoulders and pulled her close. She circled him with her arms,

mindful of his sore ribs. “Did Kim say anything about his

injuries?” she asked, her voice muffled in his shirt.

“Some flash burns, possible burns of the respiratory tract,

something about internal bleeding – his spleen I think she

said….”

They sat like that for some time, holding each other, his chin

nested in her hair, his nose breathing in her unique fragrance.

Suddenly, she felt him tense. “Shit, Scully — what if the killer

knows he’s alive? What if he tries again? We’ve got to get down

to the hospital!” He surged off the couch.

Her hand shot out with surprising strength — strength that

surprised the both of them, as Mulder was jerked back onto the

sofa.

“Ow! Why’d you do that?” he asked ruefully, wrapping his arms

around his midsection.

“Sorry, I forgot your ribs,” she apologized, stroking his chest.

“We will go down to the hospital, Mulder, I promise. But we’re

not a lot closer to knowing who this guy is, and I think our time

should be invested in finding that out. I think Skinner would

want it that way. What hospital is he in?”

“Northeast Georgetown Memorial is the area trauma center, so

they took him there — Med-Evac’ed him out from the roof of his

building.”

“Good, I’ve spent enough time there to have made some valuable

connections.” She gave him a meaningful look, and he shrugged.

After all, he had been responsible for much of her time spent

there, waiting for him to regain consciousness from one or

another of the various mishaps that studded his FBI career.

“Hand me the phone?”

Scully dialed the number from memory and finally tracked down

the man she wanted. “Dr. Bernstein? This is Dana Scully…. Yes,

I thought you would have heard by now. Can you tell me his

condition?…. I see. And how long do you think he’ll be in the

OR?… I see…. Oh, they are? Good…. Yes, I’ll be in later today.

Yes… Yes, I’ll be sure to stop by and say hello. Good talking with

you too, Sam. Bye.”

“‘Sam’?” If she trusted her senses, her partner’s voice and

expression were tinged with… jealousy?

“Don’t get your boxers in a knot, Mulder. He’s the Chief of

Surgery, and a handy guy to know. He said Skinner’s going to

be in the OR for a few more hours yet, then Recovery for another

two. We have some time… let’s use it wisely.”

“But, Scully — he’s totally vulnerable. The guy–”

“The killer would be totally crazy to try anything there. Sam

Bernstein said the hospital is crawling with agents. Even the

surgical team had to show IDs to get into the OR.” She clasped

his hands in her own. “Look, I would like nothing more than to

go charging down there. He’s my boss, my friend, too. But we

can’t do anything down there, at least not until Skinner’s out of

Recovery. Maybe if we put that time to good use here, we can

nail this guy. That will be a far greater service to Skinner than

pacing around down at Georgetown Memorial.”

She could discern the war going on in his mind from the parade

of emotions on his expressive face. First, the stubborn set of his

jaw, which yielded to clear-eyed, rational thought, and finally, the

softening of his features. “You’re right. Last night I was

beginning to get somewhere with the profile. Why don’t you get

on the phone to the Gunmen, see if they’ve heard anything new,

and tell them to keep their eyes and ears open. Then touch base

with Kim. I’ll go back to work on the profile.”

She smiled, and after a final squeeze of his hands, picked up the

phone again. Mulder was lost in thought over his notes before

she had the number dialed.

“Frohike?”

She could almost see the familiar leer. “Lovely to hear your voice

as always, Agent Scully.”

“Save the schmooze, Frohike. Have you guys heard anything

else?”

“The kung fu that we do so well has come through again. We’ve

hacked into Georgetown Memorial’s computer system. Looks

like Skinner’s lost a lot of blood – the Blood Bank’s already sent

up four units for him and the OR just requisitioned a type and

cross for four more. And don’t worry, no funny business.

They’re all his type — we checked. We know what he’s getting

for IV’s and medications by tapping into the Pharmacy, and can

even get vital sign readouts straight from the OR.”

“How’s he doing?”

The Gunman’s tone became serious. “Holding his own.”

“I appreciate this, guys, your looking after Skinner like this.”

“He’s a brother in arms,” Frohike said simply. “There aren’t

many like him around.”

Fighting back tears, she softly replied, “No. No, there aren’t.”

She swallowed hard. “Frohike, do you think you guys can multi-

task? One of you keep an eye on what’s going on at the hospital,

and the other two help me and Mulder to track down the son of a

bitch that did this?”

“Multi-tasking is our middle name, lovely lady. And Byers and

Langley are already on it. Hold on, I’ll hand you over to them….”

In all, she was on the phone almost two hours with the Gunmen,

keeping tabs on Skinner as well as checking out a variety of

leads, all of which came to a dead end. Then she called Kim.

Suddenly —

“Mulder. Check your email. Thanks, Kim. We’ll keep in touch.”

He connected to his cell phone and opened his email program.

Scully hovered over his shoulder. “What am I looking for?”

“Kim just emailed you. About an hour ago, they found a letter in

Skinner’s garage. It must have been blown out of the immediate

area of Skinner’s car by the explosion. It’s addressed to the

Director. He told her to scan it and send it to you.”

“Shit! What was I thinking of, of course there would have been a

letter! I don’t know why the hell I didn’t think of it earlier.”

“Because maybe you were upset about him? she suggested

mildly.

“That’s no excuse, Scully. I don’t see — wait, it just appeared.

Hold on….” He opened the email and read:

[I’m sorry – truly very sorry – about Skinner. He seemed like a

stand-up guy. But you see, that’s what always happens. The good

guys are so outnumbered. Eventually they’re beaten down, and

end up thinking like everyone else. I’ve seen it myself. It starts in

training, then gets worse, until all the Bureau’s got left are the

jerks like Colton, the glory-seekers like Michaels, the guys on

the take, or the sadists like Mellor.

I gave him ample warning to take me seriously. And I WILL be

taken seriously. Skinner won’t have died in vain if you act now.

No one else needs to die. But there will be more deaths unless

my demands are met.

And what are they? Very simply, they are these: You will go on

CNN by five o’clock today and announce a major shakeup in the

Federal Bureau of Investigation.

You will announce that the Bureau will be cleaned from top to

bottom, and that no one will be spared scrutiny, no matter what

his position.

You will admit the Bureau’s culpability in past transgressions,

and you will specify Waco, the Bureau’s involvement in the John

and Robert Kennedy assassinations and the Martin Luther King

assassination, and the misuse of Bureau personnel and resources

by past Directors and Presidents.

And finally, you will revamp your training program, so that your

potentially best agents aren’t cut for trivialities, and so that the

types who brought the Bureau to this sad state are culled out.

Mr. Director, I’m serious about this — deadly serious. If the

announcement is not made by 5 PM on CNN, another poor

excuse for an agent will die.

Really, you ought to be thanking me.]

“Well, we have our deadline,” Scully observed. “We have a

couple more hours. Let’s get to work.”

They worked intensely, breaking the silence rarely, and only to

exchange a thought or two. Finally, Scully checked her watch.

They needed to leave soon for the hospital, but she hated the

thought of arriving there no closer to finding the killer. “How are

you coming on the profile?”

Mulder sighed. “The psychological profile is done, that’s the

good news. The bad news is that it fits about 200,000 people,

including a good many incumbant politicians and most

evangelical TV preachers. But….” He scanned the email again.

“This last letter gives me a few ideas. He mentions training twice,

and says he’s seen what happens in training for himself. Here –”

he highlighted a paragraph of the letter — “his demand regarding

the training program. Doesn’t that seem strange to you, Scully,

that he’s putting such an emphasis on the Academy?”

She considered the question for several moments. “I don’t know.

If I really wanted to clean up an organization as our guy claims

he wants to, from the ground up, certainly its training program

would be a part of the cleanup. No, I guess it sounds reasonable

enough. I mean, under the circumstances.”

Her partner sighed again. “Maybe you’re right. I just can’t help

thinking that our guy isn’t as altruistic as he makes out. There’s

something personal here, Scully. Yeah, our guy talks a good

game about wanting to clean up what he sees as a hopelessly

corrupt organization, how we should be ‘thanking’ him. But that

sounds like an excuse. Maybe our guy isn’t even conscious of it

himself, but I think he real beef is something personal.

Anyway….

“What I’m trying to figure at the moment is the practicalities of

this guy’s mission. One — how did he know all the particulars of

his victims, how could he be aware of transgressions their own

supervisors in some cases were unaware of? And two — how did

he manage to cover such a large geographical area?”

“Well, he could be in an occupation that requires a lot of travel,”

Scully suggested. “Maybe sales. Or maybe he’s in the travel

industry itself. A travel agent, or flight crew for an airline.”

Mulder sat back, his fingers steepled in front of him. “Maybe.

That might explain being all over the country. But what would

combine the two — travel throughout the country, as well as the

ability to get close enough to find out all these dirty little secrets?

He’d almost have to be able to get right inside these field offices

where his victims worked, and spend considerable time there.”

There was silence for some minutes, then Scully’s brow

furrowed. “Maybe… what about contractors, Mulder? The

government contracts with all sorts of private companies for

everything from flooring to office furniture and supplies. They

make site visits to the field offices.”

Her partner sat up straight. “That’s good, Scully. That’s good, I

like that. But this killer is very intelligent and has a fair degree of

technical acumen. He’s not your average paper goods or office

furniture salesman.”

Mulder’s computer beeped, announcing incoming email. They

looked at each other and smiles broke out on their faces.

“Computers!” they exclaimed in unison.

Scully’s smile faded. “But I don’t have the faintest idea of who

supplies our computers. Do you?”

Her partner’s voice throbbed with an undercurrent of excitement.

“No. But I know someone who probably will. And if she doesn’t,

she’ll know how to get the information. Scully, why don’t you

pack for us? I have a couple of calls to make, and then we can

leave for the hospital to check on Skinner. Then we’ll follow-up

on what my calls have produced.”

“Okay. But you’d better use your own cellphone. I put mine in

the charger — the battery was ready to die.”

As Scully climbed up to the loft be begin packing up their

belongings, Mulder dialed. “Chandra?”

“Agent Mulder! Is that really you? I haven’t heard from you in

ages. About you, yes, but not from you. How are you and Agent

Scully?”

“Fine. Sorry we missed your graduation last year.”

“That’s all right. I figured you might be out of town on a case.

But your gift! It was more than generous, Agent Mulder.”

“Just Mulder. And you’re welcome. How’s Sven? Sold any

pictures lately, or is he still a struggling artist?”

“As a matter of fact, things are going great!” Chandra replied, her

voice warm with pride. “He has two galleries in New York, one in

London and one right here in DC taking everything he can paint.

We’ve started looking for a house. And,” she continued playfully,

“since you didn’t make it to my graduation, maybe you’ll be able

to come to our wedding.”

“That’s wonderful. Congratulations, from the both of us. When

is it?”

“Thanksgiving. A kind of weird time for a wedding, I know, but

we really didn’t want to wait until Spring.”

“Well, we’ll certainly try our best. But you know our

business….”

She sighed. “Yeah, I know.”

“In fact, that’s what I called you about. I need a favor. You can

say no — you might get into trouble if anyone finds out.”

“They won’t, trust me. What can I do for you?”

“You’ve been working for the Bureau’s IT services for what?

About a year now? Would you happen to know who the

computer contractor is for the Bureau?”

She laughed. “Good one, Mulder. Which one? We have

hardware contractors, software contractors, contractors for the

mainframe, contractors for the covert and black ops stuff….”

“Well, it wouldn’t be black ops. Hell, I had no idea there’d be so

many. Well, can you get me a list? Anyone who would have the

opportunity to spend significant amounts of time in the field

offices. And this would be recent – within the past year or so.”

“Yes, I could do that,” she said slowly. “It’s still going to be a

sizeable list, but it shouldn’t take long to generate. Maybe I can

cross-reference it with contractors’ expense reports, to cut down

on the number of possibles.”

“You can do that? Perfect. I knew you were the one to come to.

Short-list anyone who’s spent time in the Philadelphia, Miami,

Denver, Dallas and Salt Lake City offices.”

“Got it. No problem.”

“Great. Now, I need something else. Can you get me a roster of

all incoming FBI Academy classes for the past… say, ten years?”

“Mulder!” Chandra protested.

“I know. I know it’s a lot to ask. But it’s important.”

“You’re working on the FBI Killer case, aren’t you?”

“How–”

“Give me some credit! You know how well I work the

grapevine.”

He smiled, remembering how Chandra Jones’ working of the

grapevine and keen intelligence had once helped save his life.

“Let’s just say I’m glad you’re on our side,” he rejoined.

“Well, if it will help you catch the bastard that tried to kill

Assistant Director Skinner, then it will be a pleasure. My own

work can wait for a while.”

“Thanks, Chandra. You’re a lifesaver – maybe literally.”

“Okay, what’s your cell phone number? And Agent Scully’s.”

Quickly, he gave her the two numbers, thanked her again, and

rang off. A quick call to the Gunmen added no valuable news,

but Mulder arranged for Byers to meet him at the hospital.

“Ready?”

He glanced up. Everything was packed, the cabin was clean and

orderly, and Scully stood gazing at him, her head cocked slightly

to the side. His heart thudded and he felt his blood race. He

should be used to it by now, but sometimes, when coming out of

a funk or a period of deep concentration, he was surprised all

over again the effect that his partner’s presence had on him.

Inwardly, he groaned. And here they were, he thought, alone in a

remote cabin and once again he had failed to use the God-given

opportunity to…..

Damn it.

Not a party to his thoughts, she enquired, “The hunt’s afoot, I

take it?”

“Just playing some hunches.” He stood, and regarded her

intently. “Have I mentioned today how much I rely on you? How

much I appreciate your being with me?” he asked softly. “How I

would be lost without you?”

At first startled, her expression yielded to shy pleasure. “Not

today.”

“Consider it mentioned,” he whispered, emotion making his voice

rough. So briefly she might have imagined it, his hands cupped

her face and caressed her cheeks. Then they were gone, and he

was packing away the computer.

A few moments later, they were out the door.

End of Act Three

Act Four

They spoke little on the way back to DC, each lost in thought

about the case, about their feelings for Skinner, and especially

about what might have taken place in that pleasantly remote and

cozy cabin under different circumstances. Occasionally Scully

would find herself staring at Mulder’s long, capable fingers on

the steering wheel. With some surprise and a little jolt of her

heart, she realized that his driving — smooth, coolly competent,

somewhat aggressive — aroused her. Her mind wandered in

dangerous directions.

She started a bit when Mulder cleared his throat uncomfortably

as they merged onto the Beltway. Hesitantly, he said, “I never

really asked you how you felt about Colton’s murder. I mean, I

know he was a classmate at the Academy, and a friend. I’m sorry,

Scully. I know I should have said it before.” His eyes slid over to

catch hers before returning to the surrounding traffic.

She shook her head. “No need, Mulder. Tom was a friend, yes,

but that was a long time ago. His naked ambition, his attitude,

how he treated you on the Tooms case – that changed everything.

From then on, I saw him as he actually was, and not how he

wanted me to see him. He had me fooled from the first week at

the Academy.”

“I don’t think you’ve ever talked much about the Academy. It

must have been hard for you,” Mulder said quietly. “Not

academically, of course – I’m sure you could run rings around the

others. But the competition, the macho attitudes. Just the fact that

you came from an entirely different environment. Not to mention

not exactly having your family’s enthusiastic support.” He

reached over to squeeze her hand.

She squeezed back and resisted when he reluctantly tried to

withdraw it. Happily relenting, he let his hand stay in the warmth

of hers.

“Yes, it was hard. An order of magnitude harder than med

school. I thought I was prepared for the macho stuff – there was

plenty of it, as a female majoring in Physics, then as a female in

med school. But I think what really caught me unawares was the

competition. Here we all were — idealistic, patriotic, wanting to

serve our country — or so I naively thought. I just couldn’t get

over the sleazy little tricks that were going on. I mean, the

curriculum was tough enough, both physically and mentally. But

some of them….

“To illustrate a point, I had a run-in with one of them. He fed me

a line about one of the instructors — how he knew someone who

had been through the Academy and this person had told him all

about the sorts of questions this instructor always asked on tests.

Our first big test, right before the first cut, was coming up, and

this guy — Gary, I think his name was — had me convinced that

one of the required readings for which we were responsible

wasn’t going to be on the test at all. Tom overheard, took me

aside and said that Gary was full of shit. Tom was right — if I

had listened to Gary and not studied that text, I might well have

been cut from the class. Gary and a couple of others kept it up

though, as if it was their personal mission to make sure that the

women and the so-called weaker candidates would be cut. They

felt anyone who wasn’t a male from a law enforcement

background had no business in the Bureau. As a woman and a

doctor, I was doubly damned.”

“I ran into a few like that myself,” her partner responded

reflectively.

Scully thought about her partner as he must have been then –

acutely sensitive, brilliant, with a photographic memory and an

uncanny knack for putting all the pieces together, a psychologist

by training, and emotionally troubled. Not so different from now,

though his skin had probably thickened over the years from the

relentless ridicule he had suffered. “Tom wasn’t blameless

himself in the dirty tricks department. He rode some of them

pretty hard, and usually hung out with Gary and his crowd. To

this day, I have no idea why he came to my rescue. Knowing

what I know now, he probably had an ulterior motive of some

sort.”

“Where did he sit? He probably wanted to copy off your test

paper,” Mulder suggested, only half in jest. Or get you into bed,

he thought, but kept that to himself.

“Wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, I’m sorry Tom’s dead, but he

was just another agent, and not a particularly nice person. I’m

much more concerned about Skinner.”

Mulder grunted in reply. Both hands were on the steering wheel

now, changing position restlessly. By his look of intense

preoccupation, she could tell that his fiercesome intelligence was

once again working on the case, leaving just enough

concentration for the road. Scully sighed, missing the closeness

of his touch, of the revealing conversation she had shared with

him. The hum of the engine and the wheels on the road were the

only sounds for the rest of the trip.

When they arrived at Georgetown Memorial, they saw that Sam

Bernstein hadn’t been exaggerating. There seemed to be more

agents milling around the corridors than medical staff. Byers met

them and they learned that Skinner had gotten out of the OR a

little earlier than expected, and had just been transferred from

Recovery to the Surgical ICU. Dr. Bernstein himself met the trio

as they arrived at the waiting room outside the double doors of

the ICU.

“Hi, Sam. How’s he doing?” asked Scully, concerned.

“Surprisingly well, all things considered. They had to do a

splenectomy. His left arm and collarbone were fractured,

probably when he was thrown by the blast. They’ve been set, and

are the least of his worries, for now. He was suffering from

hypovolemic shock and as you know, there’s still a lot of thiings

that could go wrong — renal failure, cardiac complications,

embolus and so on.” She nodded. “He also has flash burns of

the head and backs of his hands, arms and shoulders. Not bad –

first and second degree, but certainly painful. We’re keeping an

eye on his respiratory status, in case he suffered burns of the

trachea or bronchus. Fortunately, he seems to have been facing

away when the explosion occurred, and so far there’s been no

signs of trouble on that front. Undoubtedly saved his life. Other

than that, we removed some imbedded debris from his back and

shoulders, and that’s about it.”

“That’s good news, Sam. Oh, this is my partner, Fox Mulder.”

The men shook hands. Mulder had been relieved to find that

Bernstein was a short, chubby, balding man of about sixty, with

laugh lines around his kindly brown eyes. He should have

trusted his partner’s estimation, he now realized. The doctor

radiated both competence and good will. “Pleased to meet you,

Doctor.”

“And I’m pleased to meet you. Your medical record is most

impressive. I do believe I’m the only physician on staff, other

than the OB/GYN department, who hasn’t had you as a patient,”

Bernstein said, eyes twinkling. “Now, I’m about to go down and

cover the ER for a few hours for a colleague, so try to stay out of

trouble for at least that long.”

“I’ll do my best,” Mulder replied, sending his partner a killing

look as she tried to keep a straight face.

“Is he conscious, Sam?”

“In and out. In Recovery, he did say he wanted to speak to either

one of you. Let me see if he’s settled in and awake. He’s on some

pretty hefty analgesics….” The Chief of Surgery punched a code

into an electronic keypad and the doors swung open, then closed

behind him.

“Which of us–” Mulder’s question was cut short by the beeping

of Scully’s cell phone.

“Scully…. Just a minute…. It’s Chandra Jones, Mulder. She says

your cell phone isn’t working and she has the information you

wanted.” Her expression was frankly curious as she passed him

the phone.

Mulder gestured toward the doors of the ICU where Sam

Bernstein was beckoning. “Just a second, Chandra. Scully, why

don’t you go in to see Skinner. This will take a little while, but it’s

important. Oh, and can you leave the laptop with me?”

“I won’t be long,” she said, passing him the computer. “They

probably won’t let me stay more than a few minutes.”

He nodded, already back in his phone conversation.

She went through the doors, the familiar smells and noises of the

busy ICU assaulting her. Sam pointed to a cubicle and withdrew.

For a fleeting moment, she felt relief wash over her, that it wasn’t

Mulder once again occupying the bed. Then she felt ashamed of

that thought as she regarded her boss.

Skinner lay on his right side, his left arm immobilized in a cast

and held out from his body by a brace that kept his clavicle in

alignment. His head and hands were bandaged, the adjacent skin

the angry red of first degree burns. Automatically, she scanned

the electronic EKG and blood pressure readouts, and noted the

bags of IV fluids, medications and blood hanging around the

bed. Her eyes dipped to the urimeter attached to the side of the

bed, bringing the welcome news that for now, the AD’s kidneys

were coping. A sheet covered him to the waist, exposing his torso

and the large surgical dressing on the upper left portion of his

abdomen.

Careful not to interfere with the profusion of electronic leads and

plastic tubing and bandages, she grasped his fingers. “Sir, it’s

Scully.”

His eyes fluttered open and he groaned.

“Sir, you wanted to speak to me? It’s Scully, sir.”

His eyelids flickered again, but this time he was able to raise

them. “Can’t see….”

She looked around. “Your glasses aren’t here. They may have

been broken. Sir, do you remember what happened?”

“Bastard…blew me up.”

“Yes, that’s right. But we’re going to find him.”

“Davis…?”

The bodyguard…. Gently, she replied, “I’m sorry, Sir. He didn’t

make it.”

“Grmmm….” His face contorted and he breathed hard through

the cannula supplying him with oxygen.

Unobtrusively, Scully pressed the call bell attached to the

siderails. “Sir, how did you know? The agents who witnessed the

explosion said that it seemed like you dove out of the car just a

second before the blast. How did you know? Was it instinct, a

sixth sense?”

Skinner’s lips twitched and his head moved slightly. “You’ve

been with… Mulder… too long…. Saw the envelope….”

“The envelope? The one with the letter from the killer?”

His head moved slightly in the affirmative. “Taped to the wall…

near my car. Tried to warn Davis….”

“Well, we’ve got the letter, sir, and Mulder said it’s given him

some valuable leads,” she said with an assurance she didn’t

wholly feel. “Just rest and get better. We’ll get him, don’t worry.

I’ll just go and let you sleep now.”

As she moved away, his fingers caught her sleeve. “Stay… a few

minutes,” he asked her in a hoarse whisper.

Scully suddenly realized that since the death of his wife, the AD

had no family members close by. As buttoned-up and tight-

lipped as Skinner was even with them, he was probably

emotionally closer to her and Mulder than anyone. Even so, his

request for her to stay was uncharacteristic, and spoke volumes

about his physical and mental state. She settled into the orange

molded plastic chair next to his bed, and once more held his

fingers through the siderails. “I’ll stay until you’re asleep.

Okay?”

He nodded slightly and appeared to relax.

Moments later, a nurse came in, nodded to Scully and began

jotting down the electronic readouts and adjusting the IV drip

rates. “I’m increasing his morphine,” she explained quietly to

Scully. “His pulse and BP are a little on the high side and I think

he’s in quite a lot of pain.”

The agent nodded approvingly. “Good. I was going to ask you

for some pain med for him. He probably won’t ask for it, so it’s a

good idea to take the matter out of his hands.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” the nurse said on the way out. “What

family he has is all on the West Coast, and when I called to let

them know, I didn’t get the impression they were going to come

rushing right out here, if you know what I mean,” she finished

dryly. Her tone and facial expression left no doubt about how

she felt about that.

Bleakly, Scully nodded. “I’ll leave my card with you on the way

out. If he needs anything, if there’s any change in his condition,

call me.”

The nurse smiled and left. Leaning close to Skinner’s ear, Scully

whispered. “We’ll get him, sir. We’ll get the son of a bitch.”

*****************

“That’s great, Chandra. That’s just what I was looking for. Email

me the short list of contractors and the roster of Academy

entrants from 1990 to 1993. We’ll start there. If my hunch

doesn’t pay off, I may be in touch again…. Yes, that’s the address.

And thanks.” Mulder touched the Off button. Turning to Byers,

he asked, “I don’t suppose you’d know where I’d have access to a

printer and a phone line?”

The Gunman, impeccably turned-out as usual, smiled

deprecatingly. “Oh, ye of little faith. You know me better than

that, Mulder. I’ve scoped the place out thoroughly. The

Administrator gave the Bureau an office to use while they’re

here.”

“Then lead on, MacDuff.”

The two men threaded their way through corridors jammed with

patients, relatives and friends, and FBI and police personnel.

Eventually, Byers stopped and peeked into a room. “The coast is

clear.”

They slipped into the office, closing the door behind them.

Quickly, Mulder set up the computer and waited impatiently for

it to boot up, while Byers completed the connection to the printer.

“Okay, here we go.” He opened Chandra’s first email, the

contractor’s list, and hit the Print command. Then he opened her

next send, a much larger file. When the printer stopped, he

clicked on the Print icon again, scanning the names as the file

printed out across the small room.

“There’s Scully’s class.” He leapt over the the printer, pacing

restlessly until it stopped. Then he tore off the lists and moved

back to the desk, spreading them out. Byers joined him.

“What I’m looking for,” he explained, “is a name that’s common

to both lists. Read out the contractor’s names while I check the

roster.”

Slowly, Byers read out the names, until finally Mulder exclaimed

softly, “Bingo!”

“Edward Furlow, Paradigm Electronics Corporation?” the

Gunman repeated. “Is that the guy?”

“I’d bet my life on it. Now we just have to find the S.O.B…. Wait

a minute….” He scanned the Academy roster again and picked up

the phone. “This is a long shot,” he explained to his companion,

“but if it comes through– Hi, Kim, it’s Mulder. I need some

information and I need it” — he looked at his watch — “pretty

damn quick. Gary Billings. He’s an agent somewhere. Can you

find out where he’s assigned? Yeah, I can hold….” Surprised, he

turned to Byers. “I didn’t think I’d be able to get it this quickly.

Maybe we’re in luck– Yes, Kim? He was…. Is he on this list of

agents that Skinner sent to safe houses?… No, I guess he

wouldn’t have thought so. You have an address?… Great, I got it.

Kim, I need you to do something. Send back-up to that address.

But quietly, understand? Discreetly. This may be nothing, but if

it turns out we’ve hit paydirt, I don’t want to spook our guy. I

want this to end now…. Right. Thanks.”

He put down the receiver and stood, bending over the desk to

scrawl something on a scrap of paper. He handed it to his

companion. “Byers, I need your help. It’s four-thirty. If Furlow

doesn’t get what he wants in the next thirty minutes — and he

won’t, the Director made that clear — he’s going to kill again. I

think I have an idea who he’s going for. Gary Billings, just

transferred back to DC to join the Organized Crime Unit. Kim

says he’s off today, and I’m hoping he’s at home. I’m going there

now. Find Scully, tell her what’s going on and drive her to that

address. Then keep your head down.”

“Scully’s going to kick your ass for ditching her,” the Gunman

called after Mulder’s retreating form. To himself, he added,

“Right after she kicks mine for helping you do it….”

***************

It took Mulder twenty minutes to reach the address. Traffic had

been heavy, grinding his nerves to a fine edge by the time he

arrived. The street, carved into a pleasant avenue of trees and

townhouses by urban gentrification, was quiet.

He had tried to reach Billings by cell phone on the way over, but

either he wasn’t home, or wasn’t answering his phone. Viewing

the Accord with out of state plates parked in the driveway, it must

have been the latter. Mulder warred with himself – keep Billing’s

condo under surveillance, or go inside, to warn and protect him?

If he stayed in the car, he could miss Furlow, or he might already

be inside. On the other hand, if he approached the dwelling, he

might scare the killer off, or provoke him into killing his victim.

He knew the proper, by-the-book decision to make – wait for

back-up. But was that the right decision?

He took a last look in the rearview mirror. If back-up was in the

neighborhood, it was not the usual guns blazing, cavalry charge

variety. True, he had asked them to be discreet, but this was

ridiculous.

He made up his mind. Mulder exited the car, trying to look as

nonchallant as he could. Quietly, he scaled the half-dozen brick

steps to the door. Inside he could hear the faint murmur of men’s

voices – two men. Cautiously he tried the knob, which turned

easily in his hand. He crept into the hallway. Ahead of him was a

flight of stairs, and two rooms, one on each side of the hallway.

The voices came from the right. Silently, he pressed himself

against the right- hand wall.

The TV was on, tuned to CNN.

“They’re not going to do it! The bastards are not going to do it.

Jesus Christ, what’s it going to take? Okay Billings, stand up.”

“Look Ed, you don’t want to do this. I mean, why me?” the

terrified Billings babbled.

“Why you? Okay, we have a couple of minutes before five, and

I’m a man of my word. More than can be said for you, you son

of a bitch.”

“Me?” The terrified agent’s voice cracked. “What did I do?”

“Think back to the Academy, Billings. Think what you put me

through. I would have made one hell of an agent — better than

you, better than Colton. I would have been promoted, I could

have done something about the Bureau from the inside. But I

was just a geek — I believe those were your exact words — and

you two never let up until I was cut from the program. You killed

my dream, and now I’m going to kill you.”

Mulder had heard enough. Weapon drawn, he pivoted into the

doorway. “Put your gun down, Mr. Furlow.”

*************

Scully left her card at the nurses station as promised, then hit the

metal wall plate that opened the ICU doors. Not seeing Mulder

in the hallway, she went into the vistors’ waiting room, a sinking

feeling in her gut. She emerged with her lips pressed in a tight

line.

“Agent Scully!” Byers trotted up the hall to her.

“Where is he?” she demanded. “And so help me God, if he’s

ditched me-”

Placatingly,. Byers held up his hands. “We were running out of

time. Mulder figured out who the killer is, and possibly the next

victim,” he explained quickly. “But I know where he went, and he

told me to take you there.”

The stoniness did not leave her face. “Then let’s go.”

The Gunman brought her up to speed as he drove. “So you see,

it’s not really a ditch….”

“He might have come and gotten me,” she muttered. She didn’t

know whether to be more angry or worried. She tried to place

Furlow, whom Byers said had been a member of her class, but

could not come up with a clear picture. Billings she remembered

all too well.

“We were clear on the other side of the hospital, near the

entrance. It would have taken too much time. He did call for

back-up,” Byers offered hopefully. “Does that take us off your

shit list?”

“It depends on whether you get me there before he gets hurt

again,” she snapped.

Grimly, Byers grasped the wheel and pressed on the accelerator.

“Hold on.”

***********

Furlow nodded approvingly, but kept his gun trained on Billings.

“It’s about time someone figured it out. Actually, I thought it

might be you.”

“You know me?” Mulder asked, incredulous.

“I saw you once, in passing. Somewhere in Minnesota or

Wisconsin I think. And of course I’ve monitored you, like I have

the rest. I must say, the X-Files are a waste of your talents.” As

an aside, he added, “Your expense reports are appalling, by the

way.”

Refusing to be distracted, Mulder said quietly, “Put the gun

down, Ed. No one has to die here.”

“He does,” Furlow said, pointing the gun at Billings.

Outside in the street, Mulder could just barely hear the sound of

footsteps on pavement. “Ed, they know about you. They know

you’re the one. I called for back-up. They’ll be here anytime.”

Ed laughed. “I know you, Mulder. So well, I almost sent the

letters to you, except I figured no one would believe you. You’re

a lone wolf. You don’t call for back-up. It’s not your style.”

“Call it an aberration. This time I did.”

“Sorry, Mulder, no can do. First, I don’t believe you. And second,

Billings has a debt to pay. Whether I kill you, or you kill me

really doesn’t matter. But Billings will die, either way.”

************

At Scully’s order, Byers screetched to a halt about a block from

the address Mulder had scribbled. “Stay here, I’ll walk the rest of

the way.” The door slammed on Byers’ “Good luck!”.

Walking briskly, she scanned the street. Several cars with

government plates were parked haphazardly at the curb. When

she had nearly reached her destination, she spotted some men in

suits crouching behind a car on the opposite side of the street.

Ducking, she joined them.

“Agent Scully, I might have known you’d show up,” John

Colavito sneered. “Your partner’s in there, fucking things up as

usual.”

Across the road, a terrifying tableau was being played out on the

other side of the picture window. Through the sheer draperies,

Scully could clearly see the figures of three men, standing about

three feet apart. Her view was not good enough, however, to

distinguish between them.

“We have sharpshooters in the upstairs windows of the condos

behind us. If your partner weren’t there, the perp would be dead

by now.”

“I don’t suppose it crossed your mind that if he weren’t there,

Billings might be dead by now,” she spat. The hands on her

watch displayed fourteen minutes past five.

“Well, it doesn’t matter. If they’re not out in sixty seconds, the

sharpshooters have orders to take the perp out.”

“Orders? Whose orders?” Scully whispered furiously. “You

can’t do that — you could kill Mulder and Billings! Shit, the

shooters can’t see any better through those curtains that I can!”

“Tell it to the Director. He’s the one that gave the order. I’m just

his eyes and ears.” He glanced at his watch. “Get ready.”

*********

“Look Ed, I don’t want to kill you,” Mulder said beseechingly.

“I’ve read your letters, and you made a lot of good points. If I kill

you, as far as the newspapers are concerned, you’ll just be

another dead serial killer. And nothing will change at the Bureau.

But if you live,” Mulder took a step closer, “you’ll have your day

in court. Your testimony, getting national media attention. That

would shake up the Bureau, wouldn’t it? Come on, Ed, it’s the

best deal you’re going to get.”

Furlow bit his lip, considering, and lowered his gun. At the same

moment, a voice in the street cried, “Now!”.

Muklder hurled himself away from Furlow as a spray of bullets

shattered the window. Within seconds, agents burst through the

front and back doors.

Scully fought her way through the mob to where Mulder lay

moaning. The room looked like a slaughterhouse, with the spatter

of blood covering walls, furniture and the three men on the floor.

“Mulder! Jesus, Mulder, are you hit?” She tore at his clothes.

He grimaced in pain. “I–I don’t think so. I fell against the coffee

table. My chest….”

“Looks like you’ve been grazed, right where you broke your ribs.

And there’s a new bruise starting; you might have re-broken

them.”

Someone called anxiously, “Agent Scully! You’re a doctor,

right?”

“Hold on, I’ll be right back,” she said to her partner, giving his

hand a squeeze. Mulder nodded and let his eyes close.

Sha glanced at Furlow. Caught by the hail of bullets mainly in

the chest and neck, he was clearly beyond need of help. She knelt

at the side of the third man, Billings. He hadn’t changed much in

the years since she’d seen him – except for the bleeding and the

cyanotic tinge to his lips. She asessed him quickly. “Get me

some duct tape, paper towels and Saran wrap.” The agent

hovering over her looked confused. “Look in the kitchen.

Move!” she commanded. “This man has a sucking chest wound

and needs to get to a hospital immediately!”

“Paramedics are only a minute away, ” a voice said.

In seconds, someone handed her the supplies and she went to

work. The occlusive bandage was in place when the paramedics

came through the door. She left them to deal with Billings and

rejoined her partner.

“Can you sit?” Carefuly she helped him to the couch. Around

them, agents were talking into cell phones, the paramedics were

calling in vital signs and requesting orders, sirens were blaring

out in the street. But on the couch, the world shrank to exclude

all that.

“You left me,” she accused softly, her eyes reflecting hurt and

concern.

“It wasn’t really a ditch, you know,” he said, meeting her eyes.

“Byers knew where I was, and I told him to get you and bring

you here. Honestly Scully, if the time wasn’t so short, and

Billings’ life wasn’t in jeopardy…. ”

“I’ll let you off the hook this time. Mulder, you know you’re

going to have to go to the hospital.”

He grimaced. “I know. But I don’t need an ambulance. Byers can

take us.” He gestured toward the doorway wherer the Gunman

stood, unaccountably having gotten through the police lines

outside.

Then he turned to her, nearly in tears. “Why’d they do that,

Scully? It was so unnecessary. I had talked him into

surrendering. Another twenty seconds, and we would have been

out of there. Nobody would have gotten hurt.” His eyes trailed

down to Furlow’s body.

“Supposedly, it was the Director’s order.”

Mulder almost laughed, but the ache in his chest made him think

better of it. A paramedic approached them, but his partner waved

him aside. A gurney carrying Billings wheeled past them and out

the door.

Scully beckoned to Byers, who helped her assist her white and

shaky partner to stand. “Take some deep breaths,” she urged.

“You must be kidding,” her partner replied, holding his chest.

“No, I’m okay, I can walk.”

As they slowly made their way to the car, Mulder said, “The

Director himself. Incredible. That’s just the kind of excess, just

the kind of poor judgement Ed Furlow wanted to stop. Ironic,

isn’t it?”

Scully lowered him into the back seat, then went around the car

to slide in beside him as Byers started the engine. Gently, she

helped him to recline, using her lap as his pillow. Automatically,

her fingers stroked through his hair comfortingly. “Yes, it is

ironic, Mulder. You want to know something else ironic?”

“Umm.. that feels good. Sure, what?”

“Looks like Sam Bernstein’s going to get his chance ot treat you

after all. Back to Georgetown Memorial, Byers.”

End of “Letters”

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