Freak

Cover

TITLE: Freak

INFO: Written for I Made This Productions VS8

Author: Ursula Luxem

E-Mail: mmckenzie@dll-lever.com

Rating: PG

Category: X, A

Spoilers: None

Archive: Only with permission from author.

Gossamer/Xemplary OK.

Disclaimer: All characters from the X-Files are the

property of Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox

Television Network. All other characters belong to the

author.

Summary: Is it possible one man can be cursed? Or do

we make our own fate by expecting — and eventually

receiving — the worst from ourselves?

Thanks to Connie for beta reading and editing.

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“By the pricking of my thumbs,

Something wicked this way comes.”

— Shakespeare, ‘Macbeth’

Prologue

Washington, D.C.

Nov. 20, 1:10 a.m.

She was captivating: pale under the moonlight, possessing

an audacious nature, blessed with the vivacious curves of a

mature woman, yet sleek as any athlete.

Her name was Zelda.

Nothing was too good for Zelda. Her man took her

everywhere, be it exotic, or mundane. He made sure she

never went without. Tonight, it was a club, trendy and

tucked away on a quiet D.C. back street.

She may have been parked outside, but Zelda still embodied

the peak of perfection — from her precisely timed engine

to her gleaming chrome hubcaps. Now, as always, the white

1959 Thunderbird hardtop stood silent witness to her

owner’s misfortunes.

Quentin Skase leaned on his treasure for support and

comfort. Zelda was solid. Zelda was steadfast. Zelda would

never leave him. Quentin’s brown eyes, graced with

impossible to resist long lashes, flicked from the car to

the woman as he pleaded with his girlfriend. “Don’t go. We

can talk about this, Lucy…”

“Nothing more to say, Que. It’s over.” Lucy was an

striking Chinese woman. Her jet hair swayed like silk as

she tipped her head to study the man with whom she’d spent

the past 12 months. He was tall, always stood straight, and

was always impeccably groomed. In fact, she considered the

fastidiousness of the man a curse. At first it had been

endearing. Now, it just rankled. “It’s over, Quentin,” she

repeated.

“Don’t talk like that.” Quentin’s voice began to crack

under the strain. “We can work things out.”

Lucy shook her head. “I can’t take it anymore. It’s too

much. You expect everything to be perfect. The housework

needs doing a special way … my clothes are never quite

right… nothing is arranged properly in the bathroom

cabinets…” she waved a hand at the Thunderbird. “That

damn car always needs washing… tuning… polishing…

burping.”

He made a move to take her hand, but she backed away.

“Please… don’t do this, Lucy.”

She gave a sigh, and her bloodshot eyes told the real

story. “It’s over, Que. I’m not perfect, and I’m not going

to be. To tell you the truth, I don’t even want to be.”

His pleading brown eyes met hers, and for the briefest of

moments he thought perhaps she would give in. He gave a

tentative smile. “You’re perfect to me, Lucy…”

“That’s just the problem, Que. I’m not. Nothing and no one

ever is.”

“We have to make sure everything is perfect… as perfect

as it can be,” he amended, “Once we’re married–”

Lucy’s eyes widened. “Married? Us? Ha! Why don’t you marry

the damn car!” She kicked one freshly blacked T-Bird cross-

ply radial, then turned and stalked off, crossing to the

opposite side of the street in her haste.

Skase bent to inspect any damage she may have caused, and

scowled at the scuff mark left by her foot. He straightened

and watched her departure; heard the clack of her heels

echoing in the lonely street. His expression grew darker by

the second. “You can’t just walk away from me, Lucy,” he

called, “No one walks away from me!”

Lucy turned. The streetlights caressed the red silk of her

dress. She stared back at him. The faint sound of music

from the club opposite drifted into the street, reduced to

little more than a primitive rhythm.

The T-Bird’s front grill mocked them both. Chrome teeth

flashed with the misplaced superiority of a mistress. Skase

placed a steadying hand on the front fender.

Lucy whirled, and walked away from Quentin Skase for the

last time.

“Lucy!”

High in the sky, a new star appeared. She wouldn’t walk

away from him again.

Washington D.C.

Nov. 20, 1:15 a.m.

The road ahead unraveled like dropped ribbon, damp and

glittering under car headlights. Scully slowly awoke to the

soft drone of the radio, and the faint rumble of tires as

the car carried them back towards D.C.

The Beltway was unusually clear, even for so late at

night. Mulder’s lead foot made the best of it. He glanced

in his partner’s direction. “Welcome back, Sleeping Beauty.”

“I was just resting my eyes.” Scully peered ahead,

surprised to find them so close to home.

“Well, I’m sure they’re well rested.” Mulder’s lips curved

into a grin.

With a slight smile of attrition, Scully stretched her

limbs as far as the cramped front seat of the Ford would

allow, then glanced at her watch. 1:15 a.m. “It’s late.

Skinner wants his report first thing tomorrow.”

“Skinner wants everything immediately. I don’t see what’s

so important about another damn seminar. Interview

techniques, indeed… I’m too old a dog for learning new

tricks.”

Scully glanced over at him. “You look beat, Mulder. My

place is closer. Stay there tonight, you’ll be able to

squeeze in a few extra hours sleep.”

Mulder raised an eyebrow. “Best offer I’ve had in a long

time, Scully.”

“Oh?” Scully gave a slight grin, “Now I know you don’t get

out enough–” From the corner of her eye, she caught a

flash of blue light from high in the sky. It turned to red,

then white, expanding by the second. She blinked and looked

again. It was still there, and growing.

“What the…?” Mulder leaned forward, peering upward

through the windshield. By the time he spoke again, the

object was a brilliant fireball, streaking across the sky.

“What the hell is that?” He slowed the car, more interested

in the mysterious object than driving technique. “Plane?”

“Meteor?” Even as Scully suggested it, she was ruling it

out. Burning shrapnel peeled from the object, creating a

fireworks display to rival the 4th of July. “No… Maybe

you’re right, a crashing plane?”

Whatever it was, it was about to hit land — and hit it a

little too close for comfort.

“Oh… Sh–” Mulder slammed on the brakes, catapulting

them both forward only to be slammed back by their

seatbelts.

The fireball disappeared from view behind buildings a few

blocks away, a sonic boom in its wake. Seconds later the

sky lit up again, as the mysterious object came to its

final resting place.

Ash and dirt rained down.

“Mulder… What the hell *was* that?” Scully flipped her

hair off her forehead and took a steadying breath. Her

heart raced.

Mulder grabbed his cell phone and thumbed it on. Silence.

No carrier. He swore under his breath and discarded the

phone, then slammed the car into gear and stomped on the

gas. The car jerked forward with a squeal of tires. “I

don’t know. But I’ll bet you that was no plane, Scully…”

Scully felt a headache begin to throb to the beat of her

pulse.

Washington, D.C.

Nov. 20 1:20 a.m.

Imposing granite statues of birds and winged beasts stood

vigil, perched on the rooftops lining the street. They

peered down on an area resembling a war zone. The faint

sound of sirens called into the night, the caterwauling

grew to a crescendo as a troop of fire trucks and

ambulances arrived at the scene. A crowd gathered, huddled

together and quiet. A few dazed individuals wandered

aimlessly.

Firemen called to each other over the clamor as they

worked to extinguish a few small fires that sprang up on

nearby rooftops. Another team worked on the main fire in

the street. Acrid smoke thickened the air. It burned the

throats of onlookers brave enough or stupid enough to get

too close.

The final police barricades were put into place as Mulder

and Scully dashed through the chaos, trying to pinpoint the

source of the explosion.

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They showed their badges at the barricade, using

hands to shield their faces from the heat of the fire, but the

grizzled cop standing guard shook his salt-and-pepper crew cut,

and called out over the crackling of the flames.

“Sorry, sir, ma’am. This area is quarantined. No one

gets past this point ’til the HAZMAT team has been in

first. Possible radiation danger. The military should be

here any minute to begin the clean-up.”

“Radiation?” Mulder glanced at Scully, then back to the

cop. “What happened here, Officer….?”

“Ginelli. Marco Ginelli. A satellite came down…” He

shrugged, “Sorry, that’s all I’ve been told. Please, move

back, agents.”

“Any casualties?” Scully asked.

“A few minor injuries, one fatality. According to

witnesses, a woman was hit by the debris.” Ginelli nodded

at the flaming wreckage, “They have yet to recover a body.”

He consulted a worn notebook, “Lucy Wong. Age twenty-eight.

I spoke to her boyfriend,” Ginelli’s eyes flicked to

indicate a man leaning against a vintage model Thunderbird.

“Said his name is Quentin Skase. He’s a little odd if you

ask me…” The cop automatically lowered his voice,

although the man was too far back to hear anything.

“Odd?” Scully coughed as a brief wind change blew smoke in

her face. She fished in a pocket and pulled out a

handkerchief, and held it over her nose and mouth. “Odd

how?”

The veteran cop gave a shrug. “Just odd. Been on the job

as long as I have you get a feel for it somehow. Talk to

him and see for yourself.”

“Thank you,” Scully acknowledged Ginelli with a nod and

moved away.

Mulder waited until they were out of earshot, glad to move

into an area with relatively fresh air. “Do you believe

that, Scully? A satellite would have to be the size of a

truck to do this kind of damage… Every item orbiting the

earth larger than a baseball is meticulously tracked… by

the U.S., and Russia… and probably China. Add to that the

fact that the chances of a satellite hitting a populated

area are infinitesimal. Orbits can take decades at least,

maybe hundreds of years to decay enough to pull and object

back to Earth.”

“True… Satellites don’t just drop out of the sky like

acorns.” Scully stuffed the handkerchief back in her pocket.

Mulder raised an eyebrow. “You’re agreeing with me?”

“Not exactly… just because something seems improbable,

that doesn’t make it impossible.” She looked out over the

street. “Most of the fires seem to be out.”

Mulder checked his phone again, then shrugged, “No

signal…” He clipped the cell back onto his belt and gave

a grin. “So let’s find out why the sky is falling, Chicken

Little.”

Scully saw no reason to smile. On a nearby stretcher, a

woman howled in panic. Despite the medic’s reassurances,

she seemed terrified.

Scully tapped the paramedic on the shoulder. “Excuse me,

I’m a doctor. Can I help?”

The paramedic nodded. “Yes, ma’am! I can’t find anything

but contusions and abrasions, but she won’t calm down.”

Scully leaned over the woman, checked her briefly, patted

her hand. “No one is going to hurt you. It’s over now.

You’re going to be fine, please calm down. What’s your

name?”

“Joanna. Joanna Riggs.” In the dim light, Scully could see

she was young, twenty-five at the most. Her green eyes

still shone with terror. “I saw it… must have been a

spaceship…it was huge…”

That got Mulder’s attention. He edged closer. “Where were

you? What did you see? Did anyone else see it?”

The woman on the stretcher cried out then stuffed a

scraped hand into her mouth, “Don’t let him come near me! I

don’t know how… he called it down…” Her hand flopped

from her mouth to fall to her side, limp. “I saw him

waiting…”

“Who?” Scully prompted, “Who do you mean?”

Joanna paused, then lifted a finger off the stretcher and

pointed at the lone man standing by the white Thunderbird.

She curled the finger quickly back into her fist and

hissed, “Skase. Keep him away from me!”

Mulder glanced over in Quentin Skase’s direction, dug a

business card out of his pocket and forced it into the

woman’s grasp. “Don’t worry. We’ll keep him away. What

exactly did you see?”

“Mulder… this isn’t the time or the place.” Scully

glanced up at him, brow wrinkled.

He paused, then looked down at the woman. “You’ve got my

number. If you’re in trouble, call me. Is it okay if I come

and see you tomorrow so we can talk some more?”

Joanna clutched his card tightly in one fist, and nodded.

Scully motioned for the paramedic to take her to the

ambulance.

“Told you that wasn’t a satellite, Scully.”

“And I was tempted to agree on face value…” Scully

watched as the ambulance started up and picked its way

carefully down the street, flashing lights painting red and

blue swathes on the drab scenery. “I’ll need a little more

convincing than the word of a woman who was clearly

hysterical before jumping to the conclusion that was a UFO

full of little gray men, Mulder.”

As she spoke, at least a dozen olive drab Humvees filled

with soldiers descended upon the area. They slammed to a

halt and two squads of the camouflaged men scattered into a

loose perimeter, weapons slung over a shoulder, muzzle

down. They immediately began herding the crowd back, and a

third squad made short work of putting up tarps and tents

to hide the debris from view.

“Oh yeah?” Mulder tipped his head and studied the action.

“Then what’s under the Big Top?”

“Has it not occurred to you, that it might be a top-secret

military satellite?”

Mulder gave her a sardonic grin, “That’s my Scully. Always

looking for the obvious.” He turned his back on the action

and gazed thoughtfully at the white Thunderbird. “Let’s see

what our Mr. Skase has to say about all this.”

Quentin Skase leaned against his car, head now in his

hands. Scully displayed her badge to him, her voice gentle,

“Mr. Skase, I’m Special Agent Dana Scully, and this is my

partner, Agent Mulder. We’re sorry for your loss, sir. Can

you tell us what happened?”

Skase was blond; hair short and neatly combed, doe eyes

red-rimmed and tearful. Scully thought him the neatest

accident victim she’d ever seen. Not a hair out of place,

or a streak of dirt on his crisp white shirt. Even the

crease in his trousers looked fresh. She caught herself

exchanging a glance with Mulder. He nodded in agreement

with her unvoiced observations.

Skase wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and

straightened slowly, paused before he spoke. “One minute

she was there… the next… something came out of the

sky…”

“Did you see what it was?” Mulder asked.

Skase sniffled. “It was metal… like a plane… but not a

plane. I don’t know.”

“A satellite?” Scully suggested.

“I don’t know… might have been…” Skase reached over,

absently picked a stray thread from her shoulder. Scully

edged back to put more space between her and the man.

Mulder gestured toward the Thunderbird, “’59 hardtop.” He

ran a finger over the smooth paintwork. “Yours?”

Skase nodded, and tugged a handkerchief out of his pocket.

At first, Mulder expected he was going to dry his eyes.

Instead he concentrated on the car and buffed over the

faint smear left by Mulder’s touch. “This is Zelda. Re-

built her myself, almost from scratch.” A spark seemed to

ignite in Skase, as if the evening’s events were forgotten.

He gave another rub of the paint with the handkerchief and

smiled down at the car.

“She’s a beauty, all right.” Mulder studied the other man,

then glanced at his fingertip, holding it up to show Scully.

She noted the lack of dust or dirt and gave a minute nod,

picking up Mulder’s drift. Skase had some obsessive-

compulsive tendencies, at least where the car was concerned.

“Lucky she wasn’t parked up the road a little further,”

Mulder commented.

A ragged moan of pain caused both agents to turn. A dark

haired young woman staggered out of the crowd, clothes torn

and face blackened. With a pained howl, she clutched the

hood of the car for support. Blood smeared the shiny white

paint.

Skase cringed, face pinched and eyes dilating.

Mulder moved to put an arm around the woman’s shoulders in

support, then stopped when he saw her torn bicep. She

sobbed in relief and groped at Mulder’s hand. “Uh,

Scully…?”

“Please…” the woman begged, “It hurts… make it stop…”

“You’re injured…” Scully ran a hand down her arm, and

stopped when she noticed a piece of shrapnel glittering in

her arm. “You’ll be okay, let’s get you to a hospital…

come with me.”

Scully guided the woman to an ambulance. She waited as the

paramedics treated her, and got her onto a stretcher,

smiling once in a while to lend what moral support she

could.

“We’re ready to go now, ma’am.”

Scully nodded, and bent over the girl, gave her another

reassuring smile. “They’re going to take you to the

hospital. Don’t worry, you’ll be fine.”

The young woman gave Scully a wan smile in return.

As Scully returned to where Mulder stood, a panicked yell

went up from the crowd, followed by a crumbling roar.

Mulder dove, and brought Scully to the ground with a crash.

Seconds later there was a tremendous cracking sound as a

large decorative statue dislodged from the top of the

adjacent building. It swooped into the air as gracefully as

any bird of flesh and blood, and landed directly on the

departing ambulance. With the sound of tortured metal and

breaking glass, the vehicle ground to a halt.

An eerie silence descended for a few seconds, while people

realized what they had witnessed. Soon the noise returned,

as the crowd let out a mutual wail of panic. Military

personnel rushed to the crushed vehicle. They looked inside

the shattered remains, then backed away, shaking their

heads.

Mulder stood and brushed the debris from his clothes. He

glanced behind him. Skase leaned against the T-Bird,

watching with a blank expression. The car was dust-free. So

was Skase.

Mulder continued to watch the man and his car, intrigued,

as he put a hand down to help Scully to her feet.

Scully brushed as much debris as she could off her filthy

clothes. “Thanks, Mulder… you do realize that your heroic

gesture was wasted… that statue would have pulverized the

both of us.” Her voice trailed off as she followed Mulder’s

gaze. Skase looked back at her. And smiled. Scully averted

her eyes and brushed at her jacket. “Look what it did to

the ambulance…”

“Gee, Scully… You’re right. Next time I’m out, remind me

to take my umbrella.”

All Saints Private Hospital

Georgetown,

Nov. 21, 9:25 a.m.

Mulder pulled into the car park of the stately private

hospital, killed the engine and glanced over at Scully. “Go

on, say it…”

“Why are we here?”

“You heard what Joanna said, Scully… she may be able to

help us. I must have made a dozen phone calls this morning,

and the only information I can get about the debris from

last night is that it’s classified and the military took

all of it.”

“Which is the exact answer you’d get if it was a satellite.”

“So humor me.” Mulder climbed from the car, waited on her,

then locked the doors before heading for the entrance.

Scully trailed. “OK. Just remember you owe me. After this

turns out to be a wild goose chase, you can buy me a cup of

coffee. And lunch.”

As they headed for the elevator, Mulder spotted a familiar

car. “Well, well, what have we here?” He nodded towards the

white T-Bird parked in an adjacent row.

“That looks like Skase’s car.” Scully gave Mulder a

curious glance as she pressed the up button. “Perhaps I’ll

use my impressive powers of deduction and guess he’s

visiting a sick friend?”

The elevator arrived with a quiet ding, and they stepped

on. The Thunderbird was they last thing they saw as the

doors slid shut.

Arriving on the mezzanine, they stepped off and glanced

around. Despite the elegant surroundings, the smell of

disinfectant was pervasive. There was an expensive foyer,

with large sweeping staircases on either side of the

elaborate mahogany reception desk. Classical music purred

in the background.

“Remind me to update my medical insurance,” Mulder

commented as they made their way towards reception.

Scully showed her badge. “Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI.

This is Agent Mulder. We’d like to see Joanna Riggs. She

would have been admitted last night.”

Mulder glanced around and saw Skase waiting by the other

bank of elevators. He was busy scribbling something on a

piece of paper and didn’t look up.

The perfectly coiffed receptionist tapped her computer

terminal with a lavender nail, “Room 318. Third floor. You

can take the stairs.”

As they approached the stairs, a blood-curdling scream

stopped them in their tracks. Moments later there was a

sickening thud, as a patient landed heavily on the Italian

marble floor.

Mulder looked up to see where she had come from. An

orderly was yelling over the edge, standing by an

overturned lunch cart. From the man’s almost incoherent

babbling, Mulder deduced he’d accidentally knocked the

unfortunate patient over the safety rail. It must have been

60 feet to the ground. He grimaced and looked back to the

patient now lying on the floor. She looked like nothing

more than a loose pile of rags. Mulder hit the stairs three

at a time to catch up with the orderly and get his story.

Scully went in the other direction, rushing to the woman’s

side and checking her pulse. It was faint, but there. She

called out. “Head injuries. Get a crash cart and a

backboard in here! Stat!” She noticed the woman clutched a

business card in one hand.

Scully tugged the card loose and sucked in a breath as she

recognized it. Mulder’s. She looked at the woman again.

Joanna Riggs.

Joanna grabbed at her in a vise-like grip, nails biting

into Scully’s wrist. “Skase…” she breathed, “He’s taken

a… liking to you… don’t let him… in.”

Scully frowned, but didn’t get a chance to ask for more

information. She was ushered away by a phalanx of medics,

yelling instructions.

Mulder headed back down the stairs and caught up with her.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“Ghost?” Scully shrugged it off, “No, that’s Joanna Riggs.

She intimated that Skase might have been responsible. Do

you think he’s somehow covering his tracks? After what she

said to us last night?”

Mulder frowned. “He was standing over at the elevator at

the time. I saw him, so I can’t see how he could have done

it. Besides, I spoke to the orderly, it was an accident. A

cart got away from him, collided with her, and pushed her

over the edge. The poor guy is beside himself.”

“Excuse me. I’m looking for Agent Scully.” The wide eyed

candy striper spoke timidly, eyes darting from Mulder to

the injured woman on the floor.

“That’s me.” Scully answered, “What is it?”

She offered Scully a small envelope, “A man asked me to

give this to you.”

Scully took the envelope, gave Mulder a curious glance as

she watched the volunteer walk away. She tugged a small

piece of notepaper from the envelope and read it aloud.

“‘Agent Scully, I’m very sorry we didn’t get the chance to

meet today. We’ll talk soon.’ It’s signed, Quentin.”

Mulder took the slip of paper from her, “Cheeky. He’s

hopeful.”

Scully didn’t reply. She watched the team of doctors

working on Joanna stop, shake their heads, and stand.

Scully wasn’t going to get the chance to clarify what the

woman had said to her.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Basement

Nov. 21, 2:10 p.m.

“Considering the circumstances surrounding last night,

I’ve managed a day’s grace on getting Skinner’s reports in.”

“Hmmm… that’s good, Scully…” Mulder didn’t lift his

eyes from the folder he was reading.

“So I thought we could try and get it out of the way this

afternoon.”

“Fine…”

Scully rolled her eyes. “Then we gave his secretary the

day off and spent the whole morning going at it like

rabbits.”

Mulder kept reading, “That’s good…” After a moment he

looked up, “What?!”

“So you *are* listening.” Scully smiled unpleasantly.

“Yes… Skinner wants his report tomorrow. I’ll be bright-

eyed and bushy-tailed. I promise.” Mulder sat up, “I’ve

been doing some checking on Quentin Skase.”

“Why?” Scully shuddered. “Just being creepy doesn’t

usually warrant an FBI investigation.”

“Because I’m not convinced what we saw last night was a

satellite, and after what happened this morning at the

hospital, I’m even more convinced he knows something he’s

not telling us.”

“I still think it was a satellite.” Scully drummed her

fingers against the top of her desk, “So what have you

found?”

Mulder blew out a breath. “Nothing. He’s twenty-nine, an

accountant for USTEL, a Northeast communications company.

Went to NYU, graduated middle of his class. Both parents

deceased, and he inherited the family home. No siblings. He

spent a few months in a private clinic not long after his

mother’s death. Not much info on that though.”

“Nothing sounds particularly unusual so far.”

“No…” Mulder closed the folder and rubbed a hand over

his face. “You’re probably right, Scully. I’m trying to see

things that aren’t there.”

The conversation was interrupted by the shrill of a cell

phone. They checked automatically. “Mine.” Scully answered

it. “Scully.”

Mulder tipped back in his chair and waited.

“Mr. Skase?” Scully glanced over at Mulder and repeated

for his benefit, “You’d like to meet later this evening to

talk about last night…?”

Keen to seize the opportunity, Mulder nodded to encourage

her agreement.

“OK. Where…?” Scully paused, nodding to herself, “Yes,

That’s not far from here. I’ll see you at seven. Bye.” She

tucked her phone away.

Mulder chuckled to himself and sat down at his desk.

“Something amusing?”

“Scully’s got a boyyyy-friend.”

Scully groaned and rolled her eyes, “That’s what I like

about you Mulder, I can always count on you to raise the

tone of any given moment.”

McNally’s Bar,

Downtown Washington D.C.

Nov. 21, 7:10 p.m.

The bar Skase suggested as a meeting place was close to

the office, so Mulder and Scully decided the walk would do

them good. The evening was crisp and clear; the temperature

low enough to see your breath in the air.

It was still too early for nightlife, but lowlifes were

out in force. The bar they turned into was dingy, even the

low lighting couldn’t hide the fact its last refit must

have been sometime during the mid-70s. The dark-pink velvet

upholstery was more threadbare than plush. The nearly

deserted lounge held a table of girls out for a drink

together after work, and a few men at the bar who looked

like they’d been glued to the same stools all day.

Scully’s nose twitched as the smell of stale beer and

urine drifted in from the men’s restrooms. The perfect

start to a perfect evening. She stamped on the spot a

moment and rubbed her frigid hands together, then loosened

her overcoat.

Skase was easy to spot. He didn’t quite seem to fit in

with the crowd — maybe it was the blazer with an array of

pens peeking out of the pocket, or his tie, still sporting

a perfect Windsor knot.

Mulder gave Scully a nudge and pointed. They headed to

where he was waiting at the bar.

Skase stood to greet them, took Scully’s hand and kissed it.

Scully’s eyebrows rose nearly as high as Mulder’s hackles.

She did her best to extricate her hand from Skase’s grasp

without appearing to be rude, then covertly wiped it on her

pants.

“I didn’t expect we’d have company.” Skase looked at

Mulder, then turned his attention to Scully. “I was hoping

we could discuss things over dinner… then perhaps go for

a drive…”

“Scully has plans for dinner already.” Mulder pulled up a

stool and waved at the bartender for service, then helped

himself to a handful of complimentary nuts. “You suggested

you had information? About the incident last night?”

Skase gave a small nod, “I work for USTEL. I knew you were

both curious about what happened, so I pulled in a few

favors and asked around. They did lose a satellite last

night.”

Mulder chewed on the mouthful of dusty nuts, swallowed

before continuing, “That’s not the only favor you pulled

in. How did you get Scully’s phone number?”

“It’s not a private number, Agent Mulder.” Skase looked a

little put off, “I looked it up in our database.” He smiled

pleasantly at Scully, “I thought I was doing you a favor.”

She responded with a half-hearted smile of her own, “Thank

you, Mr. Skase. You have been helpful.”

He widened his smile. “Then join me for dinner.”

“Ah… no, thank you.” Scully gave Mulder a quick glance,

but he was preoccupied ordering a drink.

“I could show you Zelda.”

“Zelda?” Scully stared daggers into Mulder’s back.

“My car… I built her myself.”

Scully folded her arms. “Thank you, but I’ve seen plenty

of T-Birds.”

“Not *this* one.” Skase looked disappointed. “At least

allow me to buy you a drink.”

Mulder turned back from the bar, and handed a beer to

Scully. He looked at Skase, “You didn’t say what you were

drinking.”

“I’m not.” Skase sounded somewhat disgruntled, but added,

“Thanks.”

“I must admit, Quentin, I’m a little confused as to why

you’d go to the trouble to confirm with us exactly what

happened last night.” Mulder paused, then downed his drink

in one swig. “Why is it so important we believe it was a

satellite?”

“I didn’t say it was important.” Skase frowned, “and I

really don’t care what you believe… I just wanted to be

helpful… for Dana.”

Scully had had enough. She slammed her beer onto the bar

and glared at Mulder. “Are you coming?” She headed for the

door.

Mulder stood, and added purely for Skase’s benefit,

“Coming, dear.”

As he followed Scully out the door, he tripped on a piece

of ragged carpet, only just saving himself from falling

over with a few ungainly contortions. He composed himself

and continued on his way, pride the only casualty.

Scully’s Apartment

Georgetown

Nov. 21, 7:15 p.m.

Scully’s feet ached as she climbed the stairs to her

apartment. She’d seen enough in the past few days to last

her a lifetime. All tragic incidents, sure, but she

couldn’t see exactly what it was that made Mulder so

interested in trying to find something that wasn’t there.

As much as she loved him, she wasn’t beyond finding him

extremely exasperating.

She paused at her front door, key in hand. On the floor in

front of the door sat an elaborate flower arrangement, a

symphony of bright color. Scully pulled the card from the

arrangement and read it. It was one simple sentence, with

no signature.

“I forgot to say thank-you.”

She smiled to herself, picked up the flowers, and let

herself into the apartment. Although it was very unlike

Mulder to show such sentiment, he could be thoughtful at

the most unexpected times. Smiling to herself, Scully

headed for the kitchen to put the flowers into some water.

That done, she settled into a seat and kicked off her

shoes, picked up the phone, and dialed.

“Mulder.”

“Thank you, Mulder.” Scully put up her feet, still

admiring the fresh vase of flowers now taking pride of

place on her coffee table. “You’re full of surprises.”

“Anytime…” Mulder paused. “Uh, Scully? What did I do?”

“The flowers. They’re beautiful.”

“Uh…” The silence lengthened. “What flowers?”

Scully felt her face flush, “You mean… you didn’t send

them?”

“Well… as much as I’d like to take the credit… No. I

didn’t send you flowers.”

“Oh.” Even though she couldn’t see him, she could almost

hear Mulder grinning like an idiot.

“What’s this? A secret admirer? Intriguing…”

“Not so secret. It must be Skase.” Scully heaved a sigh.

“What is it about the word ‘no’ he doesn’t understand?”

“Is he turning into a problem? I don’t like it… he must

have got your address from the phone company records.”

“Nothing I can’t handle. ‘Night, Mulder. I’ll see you

tomorrow.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. Goodbye, Mulder.” Scully hung up the phone, and

stared at the flowers a little longer.

Then she got up, picked up the vase, and walked back to

the kitchen.

The flowers went straight into the trash.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Basement,

Nov. 22, 12:50 p.m.

Mulder studied the information laid out on his desk. There

was something going on –while he couldn’t really tie

anything into UFO and cover-up conspiracies, something

niggled, and forced him to keep looking.

His cell phone rang. He pushed his chair out from the desk

and answered. “Mulder.”

It was Frohike. “Hey, Mulder. Haven’t heard from you for a

while. I was starting to feel neglected.”

“Yeah… well…” Mulder leaned back in his chair and put

his feet on the desk, “I’ve been busy.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine.”

“Ahem. And the lovely and talented Agent Scully?”

“She’s fine, too.” Mulder’s foot jiggled impatiently, “Did

you get the message I left this morning?”

“Yep. I checked into it for you, but to be honest there

wasn’t much to check. We already knew we’d lost a

satellite. There was no cell phone communication in that

area for quite a few hours until they managed to reroute

all the traffic.”

Mulder raised his eyebrows. “That *really* was a

satellite? How could that have happened?”

“Long odds, I admit. As far as we can tell, a meteorite

hit a communications satellite. A small one, but enough to

wipe out its telemetry and knock it straight out of orbit.

The re-entry angle was so steep that there just wasn’t

enough time to recover it.”

“Are you *sure* about this?” Mulder tapped his pencil

against his desk, fidgeting as he waited for an answer.

“Yep. It was USTEL-4 to be exact. We were using it at the

time. It went down at 12:57 p.m., and was not heard of again

until it ended up decorating the pavement in downtown D.C.”

“Okay, Frohike…” Mulder frowned to himself, deep in

thought, “Thanks for the info.”

“Anytime. Say, how about we get together and–”

Mulder hung up the phone, still thinking. He looked over

the information spread out on his desk one more time. It

was about time he paid Mr. Skase a visit.

Chevy Chase, MD

Nov. 22, 10:45 a.m.

Primrose Lane was a fine example of affluent suburbia.

Neat homes and tidy yards lined the street, dusted with

newly-fallen snow. He was sure he’d seen it before on a

Christmas card.

Mulder brought his car to a stop, and peered out the

window at the pre-war cottage marked number 25. Missing

from the driveway was the Thunderbird he expected to be

there. He guessed he wouldn’t find Skase at home.

He climbed from the car, walked past the picture-book

white picket fence, then followed a path lined by perfectly

symmetric hedges to reach the front steps.

He rang the doorbell and waited. No answer. A fat tabby

cat perched on a window ledge nearby, blinking at him

through sleepy eyes.

Mulder got up close to the window and looked inside. The

interior was immaculate. It looked like a cover for Better

Homes and Gardens. No man should live that neatly. It was

unnatural.

“You won’t find Quentin in today,” A quavering voice

drifted over from next door.

Mulder trotted back down the steps and looked over the

fence. An elderly woman stood nearby, tending to her bare

rose bushes. “Do you know where he is?” Mulder asked.

The woman gave a nod, and moved to the fence, “Terrible

business about Lucy… she was such a sweet girl…” She

tugged off one gardening glove, then offered her hand over

the fence, “Hilda Desmond.”

“Fox Mulder.” He shook her hand carefully, and agreed for

the sake of conversation, “Yes, terrible…”

Hilda looked him over again before dropping his hand. “Are

you from the funeral home?”

“Uh… no.” Mulder glanced down at his dark suit, not sure

if he should continue.

“Government, then?”

“FBI.” Mulder showed his badge.

Hilda clutched at her collar in surprise. “My goodness.”

“Nothing to be alarmed about, ma’am, I just wanted to ask

Mr. Skase a few questions about the accident… all very

routine.”

“Quentin is spending the day with Lucy’s family.” She

shook her head, although the tight curls set into her gray

locks managed to remain rock solid. “That poor boy never

seems to get a break. Lost his mother in a freak

accident… must have been five years ago now. I remember

because he’d just bought that car of his. Total wreck it

was at the time too, though you’d never know it now. He’s

always washing and polishing the thing…”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened to his mother?”

“Daphne? It came out of the blue, that’s for sure. She was

hit by a fly ball at one of Quentin’s baseball games. Don’t

think he’s played since.”

Mulder tried not to raise an eyebrow at her story. “Tragic.”

“Then he took up with a nice girl a year or so later…”

Hilda frowned as she remembered, “she was killed in a car

accident I believe. Now this…”

Mulder frowned to himself, “Do you remember the name of

the girl?”

“Yes, Gabby… Gabby Albright.”

“Well, thank you. I’ll catch up with Quentin later.” He

took a step, but then paused, and looked back at Hilda,

“Just one other thing, Mrs. Desmond. Have you ever heard of

a woman called Joanna Riggs?”

“Yes… I’m surprised I haven’t seen her around here

since… She’s Lucy’s best friend.”

“Thanks.” Mulder waved, and headed down the driveway to

his car, then gave his watch a quick check.

He was late. Scully was going to chew his ear when he

finally arrived back at the office, but the flaying would

have to wait. He still had one more stop to make.

Lazarus Deli

Washington D.C.

Nov. 22, 12:45 p.m.

The smell of fresh bagels overpowered Scully’s senses. She

admired the array of food displayed through the deli’s

glass counter, her stomach growling in anticipation.

“You should try the foccacia,” a male voice came from

behind her, “I hear it comes highly recommended.”

Feeling his breath on the back of her neck, Scully turned.

Annoyed, to find herself face to face with Quentin Skase,

she kept her response cool. “Thank you. I think I can

choose my own lunch.”

“You look like a ham on rye girl.” Skase leaned against

the counter.

“What are you doing here?” Scully folded her arms.

“Getting lunch. I work nearby.”

Scully had seen the reports Mulder had collected. Skase

was lying. “Look… Mr. Skase… Quentin.”

“Call me Que, all my friends do.”

“That’s the point, Mr. Skase. We aren’t friends. I’m sure

you’re a very nice man… Flattering as all your attention

may be–”

“Did you get the flowers I sent? Beautiful, weren’t they?

Just like you.”

“Please. Let’s not–”

“A beautiful woman such as yourself needs a man to–”

“I do not *need* a man.” Scully gritted her teeth.

Skase looked surprised, then laughed. “You have a

boyfriend? Surely not that slob the Bureau has you tramping

around with all day?”

“That’s none of your business,” Scully flushed, both with

anger and frustration, “and beside the point.” She turned,

faced him squarely. “I’m only going to say this once. Your

advances are not wanted, nor are they appreciated. Please,

just stay out of my life. No calls, no notes, no flowers.”

“But, Dana…”

Her appetite suddenly lost, Scully didn’t wait to order

lunch. Instead she turned and walked out into the street.

Skase let her go without another word, but his expression

told of his displeasure.

No one walks away from Quentin Skase.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Basement

Nov. 22, 1:30 p.m.

Mulder swung into the office, whistling.

“Where have you been?” Scully pounced, “I’ve spent the

whole morning making excuses for you. Don’t you know what a

phone is?”

“Sorry… I’ve been at the library. You gave Skinner the

report on our thrilling, seminar-filled weekend?”

“Yes, Mulder, I covered your sorry butt… again.”

He gave her a contrite smile. “Thanks, Scully. I owe you

one…” Mulder tugged off his jacket, “I was making a few

inquiries.”

“Why?” Scully folded her arms across her chest. “Don’t

tell me you *still* think that was a UFO… every official

report I’ve seen, including the newspapers, are all saying

it was a satellite re-entering.”

“Actually, no. I’ve confirmed it was a satellite after all.”

“Oh? And exactly *how* did you confirm that?”

“Frohike told me.”

“So that somehow makes it ‘official?'” Scully dropped into

her seat and muttered, “Honestly, sometimes I wonder why I

even bother coming in in the morning.”

“Take a look at this, Scully.” Mulder passed her the

folder he was holding. “How many coincidences does it take

before you can no longer call them coincidences?”

Unimpressed, Scully opened the folder and picked up the

first news clipping from the top of the pile. “Skase’s

mother was killed in a freak accident at a ballpark…

So…?”

Mulder pointed to the next clipping in the pile. “And his

last girlfriend was hit by a car.”

Scully shrugged. “Stranger things have happened.”

“Keep reading, Scully… she was getting a bikini wax at

the time.” Mulder kept digging through the pile, “and look

at this, a former manager from USTEL was killed when a

plate glass window fell onto him from the 30th floor of a

skyscraper.”

“So you’re suggesting…” Scully skimmed through the news

clippings, “that somehow Skase managed to orchestrate these

accidents?”

“Not exactly,” Mulder leaned against her desk, “I didn’t

find much more on that hospital stay of his, except that he

was suffering paranoia. The hospital records are sealed,

but I did come across a record of interview following his

mother’s death. According to the interviewing officer,

Skase was convinced he’d done it. In fact, he was pretty

much convinced that every time someone stubbed a toe it was

his fault.”

“I’m not sure I’m following you…”

“Think about it Scully… look at that list of accidents

in front of you. Every person on that list could

conceivably been seen as a source of frustration, or

repressed anger for Skase. His mother, girlfriends, boss —

even that poor woman who had the audacity to bleed all over

his precious car.”

“You want me to believe these accidents are a by-product

of Skase’s frustrations?” Scully’s brow furrowed, “His

wrath unleashed in some kind of bizarre physical

manifestation?”

Mulder nodded, “You got it, Scully.”

She shook her head, “I’ll buy that he might somehow bring

these tragedies on himself, by expecting the worst… but

I’d really like to know how to arrange for a satellite to

drop on someone’s head, Mulder, even using mind control.”

She looked up at him, pinched the bridge of her nose in a

vain attempt to quell the headache looming behind her eyes,

“If I knew, I might even try it myself sometime.”

Mulder smiled sheepishly. “I’m really wishing I’d sent you

those flowers now.”

Scully closed the folder and looked squarely at him. “Is

that what this is about, Mulder?”

“Is what what this is about?”

“You know… Skase. Leaving me notes… sending me

flowers.” She decided not to mention their encounter at

lunchtime. Her voice softened, “You don’t have to get…

well… jealous…”

Mulder’s jaw dropped. He shut his mouth and shook his head

emphatically. “No, that’s not it. Take a look at the file

again, Scully. You’ll agree there’s a little more to it

than just me being an ass.”

“You’re not an ass, Mulder. Usually.”

“I am.” He gave her a soulful look. “But read the file

anyway.”

Scully’s apartment

Georgetown

Nov. 24, 7:45 p.m.

There was a time when the last person Scully wanted to

spend her Friday nights with was Mulder. Not anymore. Now

she found herself looking forward to it. She couldn’t even

pinpoint the exact time when she’d changed her mind —

someway, somehow, he’d managed to get under her skin. He

made a few beers and a B-Grade movie seem like a fun night

out.

But Friday seemed to take forever to roll around. Every

day Scully returned home that week, there were messages

from Skase waiting on her answering machine. She deleted

them all without even bothering to listen first, but they

kept coming. She’d taken to keeping her cell phone switched

off to avoid being bothered during the day. The stress was

beginning to take its toll.

Changed into jeans and a casual sweater, she checked

herself in the mirror before heading into the living room,

ready to go. The doorbell made her jump. Quietly she

checked the peephole. Skase.

Bile rose into her throat. Instinctively, she reached for

her gun. A little attention from the opposite sex now and

then could be flattering. Too much attention from a man

with a psychiatric history of paranoia and a string of dead

girlfriends was a different matter all together. Unwilling

to answer the door, she remained silent, hoping he’d assume

she wasn’t home.

He knocked again. “Agent Scully? Dana?”

Scully held her breath and waited. Her ploy worked, and

she soon heard his footsteps retreating. Relieved, she gave

him another few minutes head start before grabbing her coat

and keys and heading for the door.

Outside, she crossed the street and climbed into her car.

As she guided her car into the traffic, Skase was forgotten

as she looked forward to a relaxing evening. Maybe she’d

pick up some Chinese food on the way.

She didn’t notice the white T-Bird pull out after her.

Mulder’s Apartment

Alexandria, Virginia

Nov. 24, 8:30 p.m.

Mulder sat up on the couch at the sound of a key in his

door. “Hey, Scully … I smell something good…”

A few moments later Scully joined him in the living room,

dumping a few cartons of Chinese take-out onto the coffee

table from a greasy brown bag. Sweet and sour pork, and

General Tso’s chicken. Fried rice and a couple egg rolls.

Two fortune cookies. “I know I’d suggested I might cook for

a change…” Scully didn’t turn to look at him, just busied

herself opening the soggy containers, “but it’s been a long

week…”

Mulder nodded, “All that paperwork on seminars *can* be

trying…”

Scully let out a quiet sigh and her shoulders sagged.

“Has Skase been bothering you?”

“Not really… well…” She relented, “maybe a little…”

Mulder reached over and rubbed her shoulder, waiting for

her to continue.

Scully gave up fiddling with the food containers in favor

of leaning back into his arms. She closed her eyes and

stayed quiet a moment, taking comfort in his proximity,

feeling the day’s tension begin to wane. “He’s been calling

me constantly, coming round to my apartment, arranging to

‘bump’ in to me on the street.”

“I didn’t realize it had got that bad. Why didn’t you say

anything til now?” Mulder rested his chin on the top of her

head, “Tell his boss. The only way he could have got your

phone number would have been by using his connections at

work. He’s got to be breaking federal privacy laws for a

start.”

“No… I don’t want this to escalate any more than it

already has. He’ll give up when he realizes how futile it

all is.”

“Are you sure? I could talk to him if you like.”

“You?” Scully turned her head a moment to look at him,

then settled back again, “What would you tell him?”

Mulder grinned mischievously and muttered in her ear,

“I’ll tell him all about your boyfriend… the big, bad,

handsome, and well-armed FBI agent.”

“You forgot modest.” She laughed softly. “I suppose it

doesn’t matter how much of that is actually true.”

“Nope… as long as it gets him out of your hair.”

Scully closed her eyes. “I don’t want to think about it

now. Turn on the movie.”

Mulder hit the remote, then helped himself to a fortune

cookie. He snapped it open, then read the little slither of

wisdom contained within.

“So what does it say?” Scully sat up, spiked a piece of

chicken with a plastic fork, and popped it into her mouth.

“Good things come to those who wait…” Mulder grinned and

settled back on the couch.

By the time the movie was over, Scully was asleep.

Deciding not to disturb her, Mulder tugged the blanket over

them both. He took the opportunity to study her; when she

slept, she looked so childlike and peaceful. He pressed his

lips to the top of her head a moment, then snapped off the

lamp on the table beside him and settled down.

Outside in the street, Skase waited. He peered up at the

apartment building and waited. And waited. Several times he

got out of the Thunderbird and paced the sidewalk, only to

return to the car and wait some more. Toward dawn, he gave

up, pulled his car into the deserted street, and headed for

home.

A truck passed from the other direction, its enormous

wheels kicking up a flurry of sticky mud that splattered

against the side of the white car.

From barely a block behind, he heard the sickening crunch

of metal on metal and the sound of breaking glass, the

result of an accident at the previous intersection. Even

when his car rocked, caught in the blast wave from the

explosion behind him, he didn’t bother to look back.

The sound of car horns wafted in from the window, waking

Mulder with a rude start. Doing his best to avoid waking

Scully, he extricated himself from his position on the

couch and headed for the window.

His quiet street looked like a parking lot. He peered up

the road as best as he could, but was unable to see the

cause of the problem from his vantage point. Curious, he

sat down and started putting his runners on.

“A little early, even for you, isn’t it?” Scully rubbed

her eyes and squinted at the clock.

“There’s something going on down the street, an accident

or something. I’m just going to take a look. Get some more

sleep.”

Scully pushed off the blanket and slipped on her shoes, “I

better come too.”

He raised an eyebrow, “Don’t trust me to go to the end of

the street on my own?”

“Apart from that,” Scully grinned slightly, “If it is an

accident, they might need a doctor.”

“OK.” Mulder got to his feet and handed Scully her

overcoat. She tugged on the coat and followed him out into

the faint morning light.

They followed the string of halted traffic and irate

drivers to the source of the problem. Scully’s jaw dropped

as the sight in front of her sank in. One tanker of pure

polyunsaturated vegetable oil had collided with a smaller

truck with a consignment of what looked to be …frozen

French fries.

It even smelled good. In the absence of breakfast, and

much to her chagrin, her stomach growled. She continued to

watch as the clean-up crew swept away the fries, each one

golden brown and done to perfection. “Mulder, tell me I’m

seeing things…”

A strong wind sprang up, blowing more French fries from

the surrounding rooftops.

Scully raised both eyebrows and stated the obvious,

“Mulder… it’s *raining* French fries.”

“Shoestring, my favorite.” Mulder’s brow furrowed a moment

and he looked back at Scully. “He was here, Scully. Skase

was here. Spying on us. Son of a bitch…” He turned and

headed back towards the apartment.

Scully followed, running a few steps to catch up, “Where

are you going?”

“To see Skase. I can’t stop him from doing… whatever the

hell it is he’s doing… but I can certainly persuade him

to leave you out of it.”

“Mulder…” Scully opted not to follow. There’d be no

stopping him.

Chevy Chase

Maryland

Nov. 25, 9.35 a.m.

Mulder parked his car close enough to Skase’s house to

watch for a while from the driver’s seat without being

noticed.

Skase was washing his car. In fact, he’d been washing it

for almost 30 minutes already. Considering how cold it was

outside, Mulder thought that alone the work of a madman.

The water steamed as it flowed over the white Thunderbird,

heated from an unknown source. The cooled water at the

bottom of the drive formed ice particles.

Shivering, Mulder thumped the car heater in disgust. The

damn thing never worked. He breathed on his hands, trying

to remove the numbness beginning to creep over his fingers.

The evil streak in Mulder hoped for sleet, but when he

checked the sky, it was clear.

…And Skase kept on washing that car. Now and then the

fat tabby cat would wander over to him and nuzzle up

against his legs, and Skase would pause in his labors long

enough to tickle it around the ears. Once, Mrs. Desmond put

her head over the fence, and called Skase over to help her

move some new shrubs from her car to where she wanted them

planted. Skase seemed happy to help, the epitome of a

dutiful neighbor.

When it looked like Skase was about to start on his third

pass over the car, Mulder decided he’d seen enough. He

climbed from the car and headed for the house.

Mulder trotted up the drive and waited for acknowledgment.

Skase looked surprised at first, but that look was soon

overtaken by a saccharine smile. He continued to wash his

car, glancing over towards Mulder’s disreputable Ford

parked outside on the street.

“Don’t bother. She’s not here.”

“Oh. That’s disappointing.” Skase tossed the sponge back

into the bucket of soapy water. “It seems I misunderstood,

Agent Mulder. I didn’t realize I was muzzling into your

territory.”

Mulder shook his head, “That’s not your business. Who the

hell do you think you are? Hanging around my apartment

spying on us?”

“Just doing my homework. May the best man win.”

“This isn’t a competition.” Mulder took a few steps

towards the other man, “I’m telling you once only. Stay

away from Scully.”

“Or what?”

Mulder grabbed Skase by the shirt, shoved him against the

car with such force it left a dent.

Skase remain silent, stunned into submission.

“I know what you are,” Mulder hissed at him, “I know all

those accidents were somehow your doing. I’m not letting

you put Scully into the same danger.” He shook Skase out of

his stupor; there was a tearing sound, and a button flew

off Skase’s expensive shirt.

Skase stared at the damage a moment, and then gave Mulder

a look that could kill.

A loud cracking sound reached Mulder’s ears a split second

later — the sound of the gun on his belt discharging. He

dropped to the ground clutching at his wounded leg,

muttering obscenities. Skase reached over casually and

pulled the smoking gun from his holster.

Skase handled the gun awkwardly, waving the muzzle in the

direction of the back seat of the Thunderbird, but Mulder

was in no position to offer much in the way of opposition.

“Time you and I went for a little ride, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder wasn’t listening, the pain in his leg was blocking

out all other sensory information. He remembered seeing

blue sky, white clouds and green grass. Then nothing.

Washington, D.C.

Nov. 25, 11:55 a.m.

The mid-morning traffic was in full force. Scully waited

in her car at the traffic lights, drumming her fingers on

the steering wheel as she watched pedestrians hurry past

carrying brightly colored shopping bags.

Her phone shrilled. She cursed as she realized she’d

forgotten to turn it off, debated with herself over whether

she should answer it.

Then she remembered where Mulder had gone. She fumbled

with one hand to answer as the traffic started to move

forward. “Scully.”

“You’re a difficult woman to catch, Dana. I was beginning

to think you were ignoring me on purpose.”

There was something in Skase’s voice that put Scully on

edge. “I’m busy,” was the most non-committal response she

could muster.

“I know. Agent Mulder is coming between us. So I’m doing

something about it.”

Scully pulled her car over, ignoring the horns blaring

behind her, intent on hearing every word. “Quentin? Where’s

Agent Mulder?” Scully did her best to ignore the sound of

her thumping heart, determined to hear anything in the

background — anything, no matter how faint, that might give

her a clue as to Mulder’s whereabouts.

Skase wasn’t going to make her play guessing games.

“There’s a junkyard out I-95. Johnson’s Scrap. You know it?”

Scully frowned to herself as she thought, “Yes… I think

so. It’s near the carnival grounds?”

“Yes. Meet me there.”

“Quentin… I want to talk to Agent Mulder.”

“I’m sorry, Agent Mulder can’t come to the phone.”

“Why not?” She waited for an answer, but none came.

“Quentin?”

“Unfortunately, Agent Mulder had an accident.”

“What kind of accident!? …Hello?”

The line went silent.

Scully gritted her teeth, pushed away the fear pooling in

the pit of her stomach, and pulled back into the traffic,

forcing a minivan off onto the shoulder in her haste.

Johnson’s Scrap Metal

Bethesda

Nov. 25, 12:01 p.m.

The world spun, accompanied by eerie carnival music. It

took Mulder a few seconds to realize the sound was real.

His head ached and he fought the urge to vomit.

When he opened his eyes, he was face down in the dirt. His

wrists ached, but attempting to move them only caused more

pain. After a few seconds of useless struggling, he finally

realized they were bound behind him. The burning pain in

his leg had subsided somewhat, leaving a sticky, cold wet

sensation. He rolled over and attempted to get to his feet,

but his legs remained uncooperative.

The sun was high in the sky, and the glare blinded him. He

squinted into the bright light and looked around.

It looked like some kind of junkyard. Wrecked cars

teetered in precarious piles as far as the eye could see.

He noticed the Thunderbird parked ominously behind him.

Although its owner was nowhere to be seen, Mulder guessed

he wouldn’t be far away.

The sound of footsteps in the dirt made him spin around to

face the noise. The scenery whirled for a moment, until his

gaze rested on Skase.

“OK, Skase… Was nice of you to take me for a spin in the

T-Bird. I’m suitably impressed. You can untie me now.”

Skase laughed. He looked down at the gun in his hands, got

a proper grip on it before pointing it at Mulder. The music

from the nearby circus rose and fell with the wind.

Mulder suddenly felt uneasy, as if he’d been dropped into

some kind of macabre Roald Dahl hell. He’d had guns pointed

at him before, but that was generally by people who knew

what they were doing with them.

Skase pointed the weapon haphazardly as he spoke. “Maybe

you’re right. Maybe all those accidents were my fault…

but if I’m happy, there’ll be no more accidents. Dana can

make me happy. It’s her duty to make me happy.”

Closing his eyes, Mulder sank back against the car. His

mind raced, frantically trying to think of anything to keep

Skase occupied in the hope that Scully would turn up.

“No…” he grimaced through the pain, “No… If I’m right,

the best thing you can do for Agent Scully is to stay away

from her…”

Mulder watched Skase fight himself over the issue. He

glanced around hopefully. If Skase was frustrated, maybe

some of that bad karma would come back to haunt him.

But nothing happened. No 1-ton anvils fell from the sky,

no elephants marched in to trample him. The gun didn’t even

misfire again. Mulder groaned. Of all times to be wrong.

Another idea struck him as he studied the dent in the

fender his altercation with Skase left behind — it had

happened only seconds before his gun had discharged without

warning. Slowly he pulled his feet under himself, ready to

make a move.

Mulder jumped to his feet, and deliberately ran behind the

car for cover, pain screaming up his injured leg. Skase

fired after him, missing, only to pepper the smooth skin of

the white Thunderbird with bullet holes.

As Scully climbed from her car, she heard the shots. With

her heart in her mouth, she pulled her weapon, and ran in

the direction from which they had come as fast as she could.

She hit the open space running, first seeing the

Thunderbird, then Skase, still training the gun on Mulder.

“Freeze! FBI! Drop your weapon!”

Skase kept his position, still holding the gun on Mulder,

“Dana. Don’t be angry. I’m doing this for you.”

“The only thing you can do for me now is to put down the

gun.”

There was a tense moment as Skase considered. Much to

Scully’s relief, he lowered the weapon, and left it on the

ground at his feet.

At first she thought she imagined it; a low growl emitted

from behind a pile of scrap metal. A split second later,

she gasped as a large animal sprung from its hiding place.

Scully stared in horror. A tiger — a goddamned tiger

loose in the middle of Bethesda, Maryland. It swatted Skase

with one swipe of a mighty paw, and pounced on him in a

flurry of white teeth and razor claws.

She heard Mulder yell in shock, saw him skitter backwards

in an attempt to get as far away as he could. Scully aimed

her gun, but the precious seconds dragged out, and she was

unable to squeeze off a reliable shot. A wounded tiger was

not an option she was prepared to consider. She opted to

fire a few shots into the ground, hoping to scare it off.

The tiger leapt from its victim, and headed for cover

behind a teetering pile of junk. Scully fired after it,

unsure if she hit it. She paused for a split second to tend

to Skase, but the sight of his clawed heart lying on the

outside of his chest deterred her.

Scully didn’t have time to be stunned. Instead she made a

beeline for Mulder, and removed the wire binding his hands.

Mulder opened his eyes, “Scully… am I hallucinating, or

did Skase just get… mauled by a… tiger?”

“If you are, we’re having the same hallucination.” She

tore his trouser leg open to get a better look at his

wound, still looking over her shoulder, mindful that the

tiger might make another appearance. She pulled a pen knife

from her pocket and cut a piece of Mulder’s suit coat,

folded it into a square.

“Aw, Scully, this was my favorite suit…”

“They’re all your favorite suits, Mulder.” She placed the

folded cloth over the wound on his leg.

Three men burst into the area, armed with rifles. One

leaned over and studied Skase, another younger man stayed

at the back, ashen-faced at the sight of Skase’s body. “Did

you see which way the animal went?”

Scully nodded, and pointed over towards the row of cars,

“It could be anywhere.”

“Don’t worry… we’ll find it.”

Scully turned her attention back to Mulder’s wounded leg,

tearing his trousers open a little further so she could

have a closer look at the damage.

“Scully… Shouldn’t we get a room first?” Mulder managed

a weak grin.

Scully pressed the makeshift compress against the wound a

little harder.

“Ow!”

“Hold that tight…” Scully put his hand over the compress

she’d just placed, then reached for her phone and dialed.

“This is Agent Dana Scully. I have an agent down. Ambulance

required, Johnson’s Scrap on the I95. I repeat, agent

down.” Scully rattled off her badge number and waited for

the dispatcher to repeat back the directions.

She finished the call and tucked her phone away, then

settled on the ground, maneuvering Mulder’s head to rest on

her lap, “They’re on the way. Won’t be long.” She scanned

the surrounding area carefully, still clutching her gun,

panting heavily with relief. “Don’t worry. Your leg doesn’t

look too serious.”

Mulder closed his eyes a moment, comforted by the fingers

running through his hair. “I’m OK.” He paused, and gave a

weak laugh, “If this happens again I’ll make a perfect

sieve.”

“What happened, Mulder?”

“I think he knew, Scully… about the accidents. When I

confirmed it, it just pushed him over the edge.” Mulder

sighed. “Maybe Skase’s frustrations had a way of

manifesting themselves into the physical… influencing

odds… causing freakish accidents… or maybe…”

“Maybe what?”

The sound of sirens reached their ears. “Maybe he should

have called that car Christine.”

Epilogue

Johnson’s Scrap Metal

Bethesda

Nov. 27, 4 p.m.

In the back of the yard, a young man admired a white T-

Bird hardtop. To be sure, she looked a wreck now, with a

dented fender, and mysterious puncture holes marring one

side, but he could see the potential. A little work from

him and she would quickly be back to her former glory.

He studied her smooth curves, glossy paintwork and

gleaming chrome and congratulated himself on an astute

purchase. He didn’t know why, but he decided to call her

Zelda. She looked like a Zelda: pale, curvy and sleek.

Zelda.

Yep, she really was captivating.

End.

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