Title: Seeing is Believing
Author: L.A. Ward
Keywords: Case file, MSR
Notes: Written for IMTP VS9
Archive: Two weeks exclusively on IMTP site.
X X X
Miz Myree’s Bar-B-Q
The vinyl had a thin brown film on it that
Jimmy Reardon couldn’t identify, but it made his
shoes stick to the floor. He shuffled his feet a
little, then stepped to the left, hoping to find a
clean spot that didn’t stick. As he impatiently
waited for his number to be called, Jimmy glanced
over his shoulder to look out the window then back
to woman standing behind the register. Would the
cow just hurry up? This was taking forever and he
didn’t have time to waste.
She handed some redneck his change and closed the
Finally! Jimmy thought as he moved one step closer
to the counter.
His partner, Mark Hoyte, jabbed him in the shoulder.
“Gotta go,” he said.
Jimmy looked at Hoyte in disbelief. “Go? We still
haven’t gotten our food.”
Hoyte grabbed Jimmy’s elbow with one hand and pointed
to the large plate glass window with the other. In
the blinding sunlight beyond the glass, Jimmy saw a
white car with yellow and green writing that said
“Shelby County Sheriff.”
Swallowing a golf ball sized lump in his throat,
Jimmy agreed. “Gotta go.” Then–wouldn’t you know
it–the cow called his order.
Hoyte shook his head. “No way.”
“It’s Miz Myree’s pie,” Jimmy protested as he ran
to the counter, grabbing the plain white bag holding
slices of chocolate pie in small Styrofoam boxes.
Hoyte made a disgusted sound as he lunged for the
back door. As he flung it open the hinges gave a
pained creak, and Hoyte and Jimmy found themselves
face to face with a deputy aiming a pistol at them.
From out of nowhere, Hote produced a gun of his own
and shot the deputy in the face. Miz Myree’s patrons
started screaming, and Jimmy stood transfixed.
Nausea rolled through Jimmy. Sick and shaken he
stepped over the body lying at his feet as Hoyte
dragged him out the door.
“Get a move on if you don’t wanna end up just like
him,” Hoyte growled. Without looking back, Hoyte ran
to the stolen red pickup, leaving Jimmy to realize if
he didn’t follow he’d take the fall for the sheriff’s
Still clutching the paper bag filled with pie,
Jimmy jumped over the bloody goo on the sidewalk.
Brains, he thought. It’s the poor bastard’s brains.
It was a disturbing thought.
The red pickup roared to life. Dammit, if he wasn’t
careful Hoyte would leave him here. Jimmy dove into
the flat bed of the truck just as Hoyte slammed the
car into gear and hit the accelerator to speed out of
the parking lot.
Sirens wailed behind them as Hoyte turned the corner
to Cahaba River Road. With a sudden burst of speed,
the old truck careened down the pothole-ridden
street, causing Jimmy to lose his grip on the bag. He
made a grab for the Styrofoam boxes, but they slid
into the back of the cab with a splat. Chocolate and
thick, white whipping cream made a Rorschach pattern
against the dirty red paint before rolling into a
heartbreaking puddle on the floor.
“Asshole,” Jimmy shouted at Hoyte through the open
cab window. “You’re gonna get us killed *and* you
ruined my pie!”
“Get over it,” Hoyte snapped.
“Yeah well–” Jimmy’s eyes widened when he saw the
crowded intersection looming ahead. “What the
hell are you doin’?”
“What’s it look like? It’s a car chase.”
“Chase,” Jimmy screeched. “As in movin’, as in
actual, forward motion. That’s Highway 280. Ain’t
nothin’ moving up there.” Jimmy saw the cops gaining
on them. “You know, instead of wrecking this piece of
crap on 280, you could just park here.” He peeked
through the cab window and windshield. “‘Cause from
where I’m sittin’, 280 at lunch and a parkin’ lot are
pretty much the same thing.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Sure you do. ‘Cause there’s nothin’ more helpful
when running away from the police than gettin’ stuck
in a traffic jam with a bunch of Inverness yuppies
goin’ to lunch.” Suddenly Jimmy was slung across
the bed of the truck as Hoyte made a sharp right
“Hey!” Cool stickiness seeped through Jimmy’s pants.
It was his pie.
Well this sucks, Jimmy thought.
The sirens grew louder as Jimmy clung to the side of
“Looks like the Jefferson County Sheriff made friends
with the city police.” Then Jimmy caught sight of the
traffic light turning red. “Uh, Hoyte. . .”
Hoyte didn’t slow down.
Hoyte hit the accelerator.
Cars screeched to a halt, skidding and spinning as
the red pickup crossed six lanes of traffic.
Somewhere behind them Jimmy heard a crash and noticed
a Lexus careening into a Mercedes. He snickered. A
pair of rich assholes were going to be majorly
Tires squealed as Hoyte steered the truck through the
intersection, then plummeted down the hill on the
opposite side of the highway. The Cahaba River moved
sluggishly beside the small, vestigial remnant of the
old U.S. 280 which had been replaced by the newer
six-lane version above. Jimmy noticed one sheriff’s
car had made it through the traffic snarl and was
closing in behind them.
Okay, not feeling good about this, Jimmy admitted to
himself. As escapes went, this one wasn’t.
“What in the hell are you doing *now*?!” Jimmy
demanded as Hoyte swerved off the road and onto a
dirt road that ran by the river. “Where does this
go? Hoyte?” Jimmy started pounding on the glass
of the cab. “Hoyte!”
The truck came to an abrupt halt, throwing Jummy
across the bed of the truck. Hoyte jumped out
“What the–” The first thought to cross Jimmy’s mind
was to tackle Hoyte, drag him to the ground, and beat
the crap out of him, but then he saw the white,
yellow, and tan sheriff’s car bouncing along the red
“I’m so screwed.” Jimmy jumped out the back of
the truck, threw open the door, and climbed into the
driver’s seat before realizing the full extent of
what Hoyte had done. “You stole the goddamned keys!”
Stumbling out of the truck, Jimmy made an
instantaneous decision and followed Hoyte as he
scrambled down the river embankment. Sliding on the
dirt and gravel, Jimmy found himself on his hands and
knees on a narrow shoal at the edge of the river that
more closely resembled a large creek. Hoyte was less
than ten yards ahead of him. Which was a good thing
for Hoyte, because if he wasn’t, Jimmy would be
“Don’t move!” a commanding voice insisted.
Jimmy looked back at a Sheriff’s deputy aiming his
gun at him.
Just like I thought, I’m screwed, Jimmy realized.
Now all he wanted was Hoyte to be screwed as well.
Jimmy looked ahead to where Hoyte was running
down the river bank and. . .
“What the hell?” The deputy looked as stunned as
Jimmy felt. Their gazes met. “Did you just see
that?” The deputy asked.
Oh yeah. Jimmy had seen it. He didn’t believe it,
but he had seen it.
The deputy blinked. “That guy just disappeared.”
Assistant Director Skinner’s Office
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Special Agent Dana Scully almost felt the moment
A.D. Skinner’s gaze left her to settle on something
directly behind her. She glanced over her shoulder
to find a dour face she hadn’t encountered in several
weeks, and could have gone several more weeks without
seeing. Just behind her stood Assistant Director
Kersh made made a dismissive gesture with his hand.
“Don’t let me interrupt. Please, continue.”
Scully looked to Skinner, who nodded. She resisted
the urge to lick her lip or swallow. She refused
to display discomfort. Resting her back against her
seat, Scully said calmly, “I was finished.”
She was aware of Mulder’s disbelieving glance in
her direction. “You weren’t finished,” he said
Scully arched a brow. She wasn’t? Scully didn’t say
anything. She had no desire to contradict Mulder in
front of others, but she meant what she had said.
Over the years Scully had learned she preferred the
X-Files to present a unified front to their
superiors. So often it felt like it was the two of
them against the world, but even a unified front
needed to take into account hers and Mulder’s vastly
different personalities. She shot Mulder a glance
that said she was most definitely finished.
Skinner nodded and closed the file, but Scully
could see the muscles continuing to clench in
Skinner calmly interrupted the silence. “That’s
Scully saw tension in the set of Mulder’s shoulders
as he rose to stand. Out of the corner of her eye,
she saw Kersh take the seat Mulder had vacated as
she and her partner left the room.
Once in the hall, Mulder’s frustration burst to the
surface. “You weren’t finished.”
Scully dusted a non-existent speck of lint from the
sleeve of her black jacket. “In what way, was I not
“Ankhesenamen’s mummy moved.”
“I never saw it move.”
Mulder folded his arms. “Then explain the reason the
infant mummy was found in its arms.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know who would place the
mummy fetus there, but I seriously doubt it was the
adult female mummy. Most probably it was one of the
“The mummy moved.”
“The mummy could not move, Mulder. That’s
“An extreme possibility.”
Mulder circled her slowly. “I concede to the
“The impossibility,” she countered.
“–the *unlikelihood* of the mummy moving, but
there’s still the questions surrounding two dead
“They practically ripped the mummy to pieces trying
to steal the lapis lazuli and gold on the shroud,”
Scully protested. “They suffered massive exposure
to Aspergillus. They died of massive bacterial
infections caused by the Actinomycetes.”
“And the dead archeologist?”
“Paleopathologist.” Scully had actually felt some
solidarity with the paleopathologist, not only
because her field of work was so similar to Scully’s
own, but because. . .
Scully sighed. “Dr. Briers had a compromised immune
system. She had breast cancer and had undergone
chemotherapy. Being exposed to the mummy, she very
probably came in contact with spores from the
Aspergillus. Hypersensitive reactions to those spores
can cause symptoms identical to bacterial pneumonia,
viral pneumonia, sarcoidosis, and heart failure. She
did not die of a curse.”
Scully impatiently straightened her jacket. “I
explained everything in the case report.
“But that wasn’t everything,” Mulder insisted.
Mulder crossed his arms and said dryly, “And
if you look over your shoulder to the right, you
should have a very nice view of the pyramids.”
Denial. In his strange way, Mulder was accusing
her of living in denial, of denying what was true
because she couldn’t allow herself to believe it.
“What more do you want?” Scully asked.
“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but–
Scully interrupted his dry drawl with a lifted hand.
“Are you asking whether I believe there was more
going on in this case than archeological larceny and
an outbreak of a rare form of bacterial pneumonia?
Then, yes. I believe that.”
Even as Mulder opened his mouth to speak, Scully
pressed onward. “*But* the FBI doesn’t care what I
believe. They care what I can prove.” She stressed,
“What *we* can prove.”
Mulder shook his head. “The truth cannot always
be proven.” He looked down at her. “Scully, after
all you have seen, after everything you have
experienced, I don’t understand how you can continue
to compartmentalize things the way you do.”
Scully sighed. How often and in how many ways could
she say that she was a scientist? She was also an
officer of the law. She had to concern herself with
the cold, hard facts, not supposition.
Mulder nodded, though she hadn’t said a word. They
had been together for so long that Scully didn’t
need to say anything. Mulder knew the next step
of the argument as well as she did.
“It’s the scientific method.” His voice held what
Scully suspiciously thought was a note of contempt.
“Mulder, as far as the FBI is concerned, belief
doesn’t mean a thing. They want proof.”
“We may not always find proof confirming what we
believe, but belief still means something.” His
words were sharp, quick, and painful as he boarded
Scully asked, “Where are you going?”
The doors closed behind him, leaving Scully to stare
at her own blurred reflection in the stainless
steel panels of the elevator doors. She stood there
for a moment feeling breathless and unsettled. She
didn’t like the sensation at all.
Scully became aware of Skinner standing in his office
doorway. An expression of compassion shadowed
his features, even though his voice only contained
clipped professionalism as he requested, “Agent,
would you step into my office?”
She saw A.D. Kersh standing just behind Skinner’s
X X X
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Her heels clicked against the highly polished but
still drab gray tile floor, and the sound echoed
down the empty corridor. With her hand on the
doorknob, Scully paused and took a deep breath.
She knew Mulder was in there. She felt it. . .and
she hated the fact that she hesitated even for a
moment before opening the door. Just as she had
hated the look of frustration on Mulder’s face
just an hour before.
Scully had seen that expression on Mulder’s face
before. Usually it was directed at their superiors,
but sometimes it was directed at her. She could
deal with it. She had in the past, and she would in
the future. In many ways it was her role to play ying
to Mulder’s yang. There were times, however, when
Scully tired of the role. There were times Scully
truly *wanted* to believe, if for no other reason
than because Mulder did.
Still, she was what she was, and somewhere in
Scully’s heart she admitted she would always be a
hard core skeptic.
Light spilled into the office’s dark interior as
Scully opened the door. For a moment she thought she
had been wrong and that Mulder wasn’t there. Then she
heard his deep, well-modulated voice. “Close the
door.” And the familiar ritual began.
Scully approached Mulder’s desk, and he handed her a
pair of plane tickets before he turned to fiddle with
his slide projector.
She noticed the tickets were for an afternoon flight
to Birmingham, Alabama. Scully eyed Mulder. Skinner
had called her into his office to assign a case in
Birmingham. “You know about this?”
Flipping a switch, Mulder illuminated a slide.
“Is this an X-File?” she asked.
“I intend for it to be.”
No doubt that explained the angry look on Assistant
Director Kersh’s face when she had entered Skinner’s
office. Scully had thought the case had come to the
X-Files through Kersh. Now she suspected Kersh’s
presence in Skinner’s office had been because Mulder
had requested the case and Kersh had tried to prevent
the reassignment. That didn’t explain, however, why
two escaped prisoners in Alabama constituted a X-
File. She waited for Mulder to explain.
Mulder flashed the first image on the sceen. It was
a mug shot of a young man, probably in his mid-
twenties with narrow features and a thatch of unruly
sandy brown hair. “His name is Mark Hoyte. He was a
student at Auburn University and a PETA activist who
took his activism a few steps too far when he set lab
Scully took a seat in a chair facing Mulder’s desk.
Mulder continued, “It sounds like a college prank,
until you come to the part where you discover the
animals were being used for drug testing and had been
infected with meningitis. Two students died within
Mulder went to the next slide. “In another protest,
Hoyte injected a medical researcher at the CDC with
AIDS-infected blood. He was convicted of attempted
murder, and had been serving his sentence at the
penitentiary in Atmore, Alabama.” He paused before
announcing. “Hoyte escaped two weeks ago.”
The next slide showed a man approximately the
same age as Hoyte, only this one looked scruffier.
He had heavy eyebrows, pale skin, and a mop of
stringy black hair. “James Reardon. He escaped with
Hoyte. Earlier today he was apprehended by a county
deputy in Birmingham, Alabama.”
“That still doesn’t explain what makes this an
Mulder gave a brief smile, and Scully waited for
the twist in the case which had sparked his
He explained with obvious relish, “According to the
deputy who made the capture, Mark Hoyte disappeared
into thin air. Reardon agreed.”
Scully frowned. “There could be many explanations
“There could be.”
But Scully knew Mulder. He wasn’t finished yet.
“What is the rest of the story?” she asked.
He smiled. Scully knew he liked it when she
anticipated his moves, and his pleased expression
eased any of the lingering tention between them from
The two of them might be polar opposites in many
respects. They might not agree on everything, but
for the most part Scully was sure that fact didn’t
bother either of them. Total agreement was not
necessary. It also had the potential to be boring.
The occasional friction of their differing points of
view was necessary. . . and oddly pleasurable. While
they might not always understand each other, they
knew each other all too well.
Scully returned Mulder’s smile. Everything was okay.
Mulder went to the next slide. This one was older, a
vintage black and white photo of three Ku Klux
Klansmen. At the bottom of the slide Scully read the
date — November 3, 1969.
Mulder pointed to the man on the far left. “That’s
Orrin Lancaster. A few days after this photo was
taken, he and his two buddies there blew up an
African-American church in downtown Birmingham. They
killed two little girls and their Sunday school
“I know that case.” She looked at her partner.
“Lancaster was executed a few years ago, wasn’t he?”
“So what connection does he have with Hoyte?”
“Lancaster bombed the church in 1969. He wasn’t
apprehended by the police until 1983.”
As far as Scully could tell, that information in no
way implied any connection between the two men.
“And?” she prompted, anticipating that Mulder was
leading somewhere with this information.
“And Lancaster was apprehended in the same location
where Hoyte disappeared.”
Scully arched a brow. “That’s quite a coincidence.”
Mulder pulled his feet off his desk and sat forward.
“Want more of a coincidence?”
He went to the next slide, and Scully almost gasped.
The square-jawed face that stared back at her had
been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List for the last
“That’s David Dean Foster,” she said softly.
Without missing a beat, Mulder began rattling off
facts. “Foster was charged with bombing a stem cell
research lab at UAB medical center, a bar in New
Orleans whose patrons were mostly homosexual, and
the 1998 Good Will Games.”
“He’s a fanatical right wing fundamentalist.”
Mulder nodded. “And a dangerous one.”
Scully rose to her feet and approached the screen.
She stared at the man’s face–a man who had
killed two lab workers and permanently disfigured
a third. A man who had executed a room full of
men for no reason other than their sexual
preferences. A man who had made a name for himself
by targeting the Good Will games. Scully faced
Mulder. “What is Foster’s connection to Hoyte?”
“After the UAB bombing in 1999 there was a massive
Scully closed her eyes and finished Mulder’s
statement. “In the same area being searched for
Hoyte.” She opened her eyes. “Any reports of Foster
disappearing into thin air?”
“Only in the euphemistic sense. There hasn’t been
a trace of him in years, but there’s never been
evidence that he left the area.”
Scully crossed her arms. “So are we looking for
the Blair Witch?” When Mulder cocked his head
to the side and gave her a quizzical look, Scully
said somewhat defensively, “I’m capable of making
pop culture references. People inexplicably
disappearing in the forest–the Blair Witch parallel
“And outdated.” A smile played around the corners
of Mulder’s mouth.
“Are you mocking me?” she asked.
“I think you started this by mocking me.”
“Maybe. A little. But the reference is still
Mulder turned off the slide projector. “Perhaps,
but not even I think we’re going to find the Blair
Witch.” As they left the office, he added, “Besides,
the sequel bombed at the box office.”
X X X
Pale pink petals fell from cherry trees flanking the
entrances to glass and steel corporate buildings
situated behind manicured lawns or partially hidden
by towering long leaf pines. A constant stream of
traffic bisected a wide valley bounded by blue-green
hills which looked picturesque from a distance, but
up close were marred by a mismatched patchwork of gas
stations, convenience stores, and fast food
“Well isn’t that generica,” Mulder muttered as he
turned off of Highway 280, which could easily double
as a six lane parking lot, onto a smaller road which
ran parallel to the highway.
The suburbs looked roughly the same just about
anywhere in the U.S. these days. It didn’t seem to
matter whether they were located in the North, West,
or deep South.
Scully looked with surprise at the impressive line of
emergency vehicles–fire trucks, police cars, a
Shelby County Sheriff’s SUV which, oddly enough,
looked like a Mercedes M class. Indeed, on closer
inspection it proved to *be* a Mercedes.
Mulder addressed her unspoken question. “There’s a
plant that makes them just west of the city, near
She raised an eyebrow. “A donation to the police
“And a nice one.
Other emergency vehicles were parked along the edge
of the street, blocking the old bridge that was
nearly hidden by the modern overpass which carried
Hwy 280 traffic overhead.
“This can’t be right.” Scully checked the directions
Skinner had given. Glancing behind her, Scully noted
a ten story office building sporting the logo of a
telephone company, while in front of her on the other
side of the small river was a busy, up-scale shopping
center. “The escaped prisoner is supposed to be
hiding in the woods.”
Mulder pointed to the oaks, pines, and flowering
dogwoods bowing over the lazy, glorified stream a
green sign marked as being the Cahaba River. “I
“Trees, yes,” Scully conceded. “But do they qualify
The river flowed over a rock spillway before dropping
seven or eight feet downward in a constant, but not
powerful, rush. Less than a quarter of a mile
downstream the river twisted around a bend blanketed
by a thicket of evergreens and deciduous trees with
fresh lime green-colored foliage. It was a far cry
from being a national forest where one might
reasonably believe a fugitive could elude capture for
an extended period of time. This was little more than
a patch of green bounded by civilization on all
An FBI agent Scully vaguely thought she recognized
carried a McDonalds bag across the street to sit on a
rock facing the river.
“I’ll check to see how things are going,” Mulder said
as he stepped out of the car.
Through the windshield, she saw the lean, dark-haired
agent rise as Mulder approached. After a few
moments she saw the agent gesture emphatically
while Mulder adopted a deceptively casual pose.
Scully opened the car door and moved to join them.
“Go back to Washington, Agent Mulder,” the agent
Scully couldn’t hear Mulder’s response, though she
could guess what it might be.
“Look,” the agent facing her partner said. “I’m in
charge of this field operation. I don’t need your
help, and what’s more, I don’t want it.”
Again, she couldn’t hear Mulder’s reply.
The shorter agent’s face changed to a ruddy hue.
“I don’t know if you remember me, Agent Mulder, but
I remember you. Dallas, 1998. You were assigned
to search one building and you searched another
Karas. The name came to Scully out of the blue–
Special Agent Nick Karas. He had been Darius
Michaud’s second in command when she and Mulder had
been assigned to the domestic terrorism task force
in 1998 when the X-Files had been shut down.
Karas circled Mulder. “You and Agent Scully were on
the team for what? One week? Two? You ignored
procedure, ignored protocol, and on some whim–”
“Found the bomb and evacuated the building,” Mulder
Scully stopped walking and closed her eyes. Though a
slight smile touched her lips, she couldn’t help
shaking her head and thinking Mulder never knew
when to keep his mouth closed.
Agent Karas didn’t look impressed. “You then left
town while rubble still littered the streets. It’s
all well and good to play Lone Ranger saying ‘here I
come to save the day–‘”
“That’s Mighty Mouse, actually.”
Even from a distance Scully could see a muscle jump
in Agent Karas’ jaw. “You weren’t there for the
ground work, Agent Mulder. You shirked what
responsibilities you were given. You played hero, but
didn’t stick around for the clean up, for the real
work. The job wasn’t half done, and you were in
Antarctica.” Karas glanced in Scully’s direction.
“I don’t need you or your partner here. I have
everything under control. Go back to Washington.”
A deputy came rushing out of the woods, “Agent Karas,
we’ve found something!”
Nick Caras turned and walked quickly down the path to
the woods. Mulder looked in Scully’s direction. She
nodded, and without a word passing between them, she
followed Mulder into the woods.
Long-fallen leaves and pine needles crunched under
their feet as they followed the sounds of officers in
the distance. The trail passed beneath dappled
patches of sunlight before they reached the rocky
shoulder of the river.
A couple of officers were wading waist-deep in the
water as they crossed the shallow stretch of the
river. On the other side of the Cahaba, a man lay
only half submerged in the water.
“Is that him?” Karas asked, still standing on the
The agent crossing the stream stooped to peer into
the corpse’s face, then lifted his hand to give a
thumbs up. “It’s him.”
Karas nodded, then looked at Mulder. “Looks like
you made the trip for nothing. Job’s over.”
“Looks like,” Mulder said softly, but Scully noticed
he was looking in the direction from which they had
come. She didn’t say anything as Mulder walked to
the edge of the waterway. He paused, and Scully
followed the direction of his gaze.
“We didn’t travel far, did we?” he noted.
As they had walked down the path they had rounded the
bend in the river, but they were still less than a
quarter of a mile from the bridge where they had
Mulder shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded
toward the agents crossing the stream. “Hard to
believe they needed this many people to find a body
lying this close to a U.S. highway in a densely
Scully gave a slight shrug. “Perhaps an unwarranted
expenditure of resources, but it accomplished its
purpose. They found Hoyte. The search is over.”
The non-committal reply told Scully all she needed
to know. Mulder wasn’t done. When she saw a new car
join the emergency vehicles on the bridge, Scully
straightened her windbreaker and began walking toward
the road. She knew the routine. She would have to
play FBI liaison to the county coroner. She would
also autopsy Mark Hoyte’s corpse.
X X X
Jefferson County Jailhouse
Mulder swept the pile of empty sunflower seed shells
off the table and into his hand, but his gaze never
left the convict dressed in a bright orange jumpsuit.
Jimmy Reardon raked his hand through his unwashed
dark hair. He looked quite bored with being
“Why were you in the area?” Mulder asked again.
Jimmy rolled his eyes. “I told you. Lunch.”
“Lunch? You’re on the run, an escapee from federal
prison, and you stop for lunch?”
“A fella has got to eat, right? ‘Sides, it was Miz
Myree’s pie. I’ve been down in Atmore for two years.
You think I’m going to pass up a chance for a slice
of Miz Myree’s pie?”
“You risk being recaptured for a slice of pie?”
“You haven’t had Miz Myree’s pie.”
“Right.” Mulder looked at his notes, and the county
case report. He had been surprised by the fact that
Jimmy Reardon was in the Jefferson County jail when
he had actually been captured by a Shelby County
police officer. As Special Agent Karas had grudgingly
explained, the area where Reardon had been captured
and Hoyte’s body found was a tapestry of
jurisdictions. Some blocks belonged to the city of
Birmingham, others to the city of Hoover, while other
areas remained unincorporated Shelby county or
Jefferson county. More often than not, law
enforcement officers arrived, did their jobs, and
left questions of jurisdiction to the bureaucrats in
the courthouses. In Reardon’s case, since he was an
escapee from federal prison, the law officers had
decided to remove him to downtown Birmingham for the
sake of convenience.
Mulder cleared his throat before starting to speak.
“According to the report it was your friend–”
“Hold it right there. Hoyte was no friend of mine. He
was the environmentalist liberal greenie whacko in
the next cell. We had common goals, is all.”
“And that goal would be what? To escape?”
Jimmy nodded. “In a nutshell.”
Mulder closed the file and rested his clasped hands
on the table. “The report said you claimed your
*fellow escapee* shot–”
“Shot the sheriff?” Jimmy asked with bright eyes.
“It was a deputy.”
“I did not shoot the deputy.” Jimmy smirked, and from
the cadence of voice, it was clear Reardon knew the
song he mocked. “Look, Hoyte was seriously screwy. He
was one of those head cases who paid for that
billboard in Pensacola asking ‘Would you give your
right arm for a shark?’ It’s sick shoving crap like
that in the face of parents who just lost their kid
to a damn *fish.* If you ask me, the kid’s uncle was
right to shoot the thing. But Hoyte? He was upset for
the fish. He didn’t give a damn about the kid.”
Jimmy shrugged. “Guess you can’t expect much else
from a guy who killed two college kids to set bunnies
and lab rats free. Like I said, Hoyte had some
seriously screwed up priorities.”
“So says the federal prisoner,” Mulder drawled.
“Right. So says me. I’m a lot of things, most of them
not nice. But I’m no killer. I was put away for mail
fraud. Don’t need blood on my hands.” Reardon’s gaze
met Mulder’s squarely. He sounded sincere when he
said, “I really didn’t shoot that deputy.”
Mulder believed him. . . plus there was nothing in
Jimmy Reardon’s file to indicate violent tendencies.
“Okay,” Mulder agreed. “Let’s forget the deputy.”
“Wish I could. You ever see brains go splat?” Jimmy
shuddered. “I could live without ever seeing brains
going splat again.”
To be honest, Mulder felt the same, but in his
line of work it was doubtful such a wish would be
granted. These days Mulder was just hoping for a
few months hiatus between hospitalizations. Was that
really so much to ask? Disturbing deaths Mulder
could handle, but he was tired of looking into
Scully’s worried blue eyes while laying flat on his
back in a hospital bed.
Taking charge of the conversation, Mulder brought up
the point he had been leading to since the beginning
of the questioning. “According to your file, you
claim Mark Hoyte disappeared in front of your eyes.”
“Yeah, I’m claiming. So?”
“So did he?”
“Disappear? Yeah, he did.”
Mulder took a deep breath. “Are you sure he didn’t
take an escape route you didn’t see? He could have
slipped away while you were distracted.”
“I know what I saw, and what I didn’t see,” Reardon
insisted. “Hoyte went poof. One second he was there,
the next he wasn’t. It was like Elizabeth Montgomery
on Bewitched or something. . . though I would’ve
preferred Jeannie in a bikini with the pony tail
thingie.” He smiled. “Hey, that rhymed, didn’t it?”
In the face of Mulder’s deliberately blank
expression, Reardon shifted his weight in his chair
and cleared his throat. “Still. . .um. . . Agent
Mulder, you get my point.”
“That you watched too much afternoon television as
“Come on, lighten up. I didn’t mention Gilligan’s
Island or Star Trek.”
Mulder shook his head in disbelief. “It’s amazing
you survived this long in prison.”
Jimmy grinned. “Hey, why do you think I was trying
to escape?” He leaned forward. “Look, I know it
sounds nuts. I know if I keep talking about it
someone is going to haul my ass down to Bryce in
Tuscaloosa to lock me up with the rest of the loons.
But I’m telling you, Hoyte disappeared into thin
air. For real.”
Brook Highland Hotel
Scully inserted the card key and waited for the
familiar clicking sound of the door unlocking.
Pressing her hand to her lower back, she opened the
hotel room door to find Mulder sitting on one of the
beds with his ankles crossed, watching a Braves
“Nice to see someone is comfortable,” she drawled
as she dropped the rental car keys on the table.
“Someone has clearly spent too many hours in the
morgue. Did the corpses get to you?” Mulder didn’t
bother to glance away from the TV screen as Scully
crossed the room.
“Another day, another autopsy” was her only reply as
she fell backwards onto the bed next to Mulder.
“Find any surprises?” He had finally pulled his gaze
away from the screen to look at her.
“No.” Scully closed her eyes. It had been a long
“Hoyte drowned then?”
Scully rolled over and propped her head on one
hand. “Massive head trauma. He probably fell
while running along the ridge near the river. A
misplaced step, and he took a header onto the rocks.”
Scully heard the crack of a bat making contact
with a ball and the roar of the crowd on the TV. It
captured Mulder’s attention as well, and he watched
the rest of the play before he asked, “Nothing
Scully lay back once more. “Don’t sound disappointed,
Mulder. I know you *are* disappointed, but don’t
“You know that, do you?”
“Yes. No unexplained chemicals in his system. No
genetic mutations. Nothing the tiniest bit out of the
ordinary. Everything you don’t want to hear.”
“I take it I’m predictable.”
Scully smiled softly while keeping her eyes closed.
“Don’t feel bad, Mulder. We both are.”
“Turn over,” he commanded.
Scully opened one eye suspiciously.
“Turn over,” he repeated.
Scully complied and felt Mulder’s warm hands knead
the tense muscles of her back.
“That’s a nice skill you have there,” she murmured.
“Thought you might like it.”
His fingers pressed firmly into the knotted muscles
of her shoulders, rubbing them, easing the ache.
It felt sinfully wonderful.
“Mmmm.” Scully sighed tiredly, then forced herself
to ask, “So what did you do while I was slaving away
in the morgue?”
“Met Jimmy Reardon.”
She arched a brow. “The escaped convict?”
“None other.” Mulder’s hands moved slowly down her
back then slipped under the hem of her shirt.
“Reardon is convinced Mark Hoyte disappeared.
“And you believe him.”
Scully felt Mulder move closer. She even felt his
breath against her cheek as he whispered in her ear,
“You know I’ll believe almost anything.”
Scully smiled. “I came to that conclusion when we
chased the Jersey Devil.”
She felt the heat of Mulder’s hands moving over her
bare skin, undoing her bra with practiced skill and
coming to rest between her shoulder blades. Somehow
he found the exact, right spot and began massaging
This was good. This was nice. This was far, far
better than nice. Mulder should give back rubs more
Scully’s stomach growled.
“No dinner at the morgue?” he asked.
Scully’s stomach growled again. “What do you think?”
“I think you never looked at the other bed.”
Scully reluctantly opened one eye then the other. In
the middle of the other bed lay a large flat box. She
knew that at that moment her smile expressed equal
parts hope and bliss. “Pizza?”
“Just for you.”
Scully rolled off the bed.
As she opened the box, Mulder told her, “Feta cheese,
pine nuts, Greek oregano, and sun dried tomatoes.”
Scully looked at her partner with surprise. That
didn’t sound like Mulder’s usual ‘everything and then
“Agent Karas chose it,” Mulder explained, as he
fluffed a pillow and stuffed it behind his head.
Scully silently raised both eyebrows.
Mulder shrugged, which, considering he was laying
sprawled across the bed, couldn’t have been easy to
do. “An olive branch,” he said, while reaching for
the box and stealing a slice of pizza. “Oh, and there
are olives on this thing, too.”
Scully was too stunned to taste her dinner. “The two
of you went out for pizza?”
“It’s worse than that,” Mulder drawled. “I bought.”
Scully almost dropped the box. Mulder had made a
conciliatory gesture toward an FBI agent that wasn’t
As if he could feel her gaze boring into him, Mulder
explained, “While I might disagree with the way Karas
characterized our actions in Dallas, the fact is,
he’s been assigned to this place for nearly three
years. What started as a manhunt has become a futile
exercise in frustration. Given everything that
happened in New York and Washington in the fall,
Karas has to feel like he’s running in circles while
he’s desperately needed elsewhere. An assignment like
this, for someone in the anti-terrorism division,
must feel like having both arms handcuffed behind
your back and being forced to sit in the corner of a
dark room, while your knowledge and experience are
needed for the rest of the building.
Mulder’s hazel-eyed gaze locked with Scully’s. “I
suppose after Dallas you and I weren’t the only ones
on A.D. Kersh’s shit list.”
Scully recognized the fierce intelligence and insight
mixed with a stunning capacity for compassion in the
depths of his gaze as he told her, “I remember what
it was like when they shut down the X-Files. I didn’t
like it. Karas must be feeling something like that
now. The least I could do was buy the guy beer and
Scully was used to Mulder. She saw him day in, day
out, and most nights as well. She fought with him,
opposed him, and frequently became frustrated by him.
But every now and then she was simply struck by how
genuinely good he could be. Mulder cared about
things passionately, but he also cared about people.
He could be somewhat obsessive, but it was tempered
by moments of surprising empathy. He was–as simple
and understated as it sounded–a good man.
Setting her pizza and the box aside, Scully reached
to touch Mulder’s cheek. He looked at her curiously
as she traced his cheekbones with her thumbs and
threaded her fingers through his short, crisp hair.
He looks tired, Scully thought.
Something in his eyes looked old and worn, as if
Mulder had seen too much somewhere along the line.
And Scully knew that he had. Mulder had seen too
much, endured too much. . .which made it all the more
amazing that somehow he still found a way to believe-
-in people, in things, in the future.
He closed his eyes.
Scully realized the last few months had been trying.
Then she stopped and corrected herself. The last few
*years* had been trying. His entire life had been
about searches and losses. Mulder had once told her
a story about entering his home with his eyes closed,
secretly hoping that one day he would open them and
find his family standing there, including the sister
he had lost.
Scully leaned forward and pressed her forehead
There had been too many injuries, too many brushes
with death, too many injustices, dead friends, dead
colleagues, and dead enemies. Too much. The list
always seemed to be growing, and already it felt
She laid her cheek against his hair.
Their lives were difficult, and their work was
dangerous. Mulder lifted his face to hers and
Scully pressed a soft kiss to his mouth. She
felt his arms come around her, pulling her to
stand between his legs as he sat on the bed. His
warmth surrounded her, enveloped her.
Scully sighed and confessed, “I think Mark Hoyte was
murdered.” She rushed on before she could lose her
nerve. “There’s no concrete reason I should be
suspicious it wasn’t an accident. His injuries were
consistent with the explanation I gave you. A fall
from the ridge is the most likely cause for the head
“But?” Mulder leaned back a little and they faced
each other as he tucked a stray strand of her hair
behind her ear. “The way your sentence is trailing
off tells me there’s a ‘but’ in there, Scully.”
“But I can’t shake the suspicion that, likely and
logical though my explanation may be, it’s not the
*right* explanation. For some reason–” She couldn’t
bring herself to say it.
“You think he was murdered.” Mulder’s hands moved
rhythmically, soothingly up and down her back. “Is
there anything you want to do about it?”
“I don’t want to go back to Washington.”
Mulder appeared to consider her words for a moment.
“Okay.” He pulled her to him, falling back onto
the bed with Scully on top of him, his hands cupping
her head. “Besides,” he added. “I’ve heard that on
Red Mountain they have a deconstructed statue with
the world’s largest naked iron ass. I don’t
want to miss seeing that.”
X X X
Brook Highland Hotel
Scully exited the hotel to find Nick Karas talking
to another agent. Several of the agents temporarily
assigned to Birmingham for the manhunt had been
housed in the hotel. Thankfully, because they had
been late to arrive, neither she nor Mulder had been
required to share a room with any of the other
agents. Technically, she and her partner had separate
rooms. Mulder had even slept there. . .eventually.
Karas looked in her direction. Scully supposed Karas
was at the hotel to see off the agents who had
temporarily been assigned to the search. Now they
were leaving. Karas on the other hand would be left
behind, since he was still technically assigned to
the David Dean Foster case.
After a friendly pat on a departing agent’s back,
Karas approached Scully. His features looked less
severe this morning, less tense. He held out his
hand. “I’m sorry you made this trip for what amounted
to so little excitement,” he said in a pleasant
Scully arched a brow, surprised by the man’s apparent
sincerity. Karas grimaced. “I know I didn’t exactly
put out the welcome mat when you and Agent Mulder
Scully relented. “Given the events in Dallas, I can
understand.” She and Mulder had flaunted the rules
and regulations in that case, but they had also saved
Scully believed in rules. She was a rule follower if
ever there was one, but she didn’t believe in blindly
following rules simply because they were rules. A
had to think for herself. But she did understand why
Agent Karas would be less than thrilled about another
round of help from the X-Files.
Looking somewhat mollified, Karas said, “I know I
was being defensive. Like Agent Mulder said, the two
of you managed to evacuate a building in Dallas. I
have no business resenting the fact that the two of
you disappeared so soon afterward.”
“A mistake we won’t make this time,” Mulder said, as
he exited the hotel.
Karas glanced from Mulder, to Scully, then back to
Mulder. “I don’t understand.”
“We aren’t leaving,” Mulder explained.
Karas frowned. “There’s no case.”
Mulder tossed his rental car keys in the air and
caught them with his left hand. “Scully and I
still have a few questions.”
“Questions?” Karas’ dark brows drew down sharply.
“We had two escaped prisoners. One was recaptured,
the other is dead. Is there something I’m missing?
There are no questions that need answers.”
Mulder walked toward the parking lot. “There are
always questions, Agent.”
After a glance in Scully’s direction, Karas followed
Mulder. . .and Scully followed Karas.
“I was right before, wasn’t I?” The tone of Karas’
voice could only be called accusatory. “You weren’t
here because of Reardon and Hoyte. You came here
because of Foster.”
Scully spoke. “We have questions about the way Mark
Karas pinned her with an angry stare. “It was ruled
an accident. *You* ruled it an accident.”
Scully had nothing to refute that.
“She has questions,” Mulder said for her.
“What questions?” Again Karas looked at Scully.
She didn’t answer. She couldn’t. Usually she
had something practical, something logical to
There were times when she had the pitch and
demeanor of a drill sergeant, so it felt strange
and wrong to feel hesitant, uncertain, and almost
unwilling to speak. Usually, if she had questions,
they were based in something she could point to and
say, “This doesn’t add up.” The problem here was
Mark Hoyte’s death *did* add up. She had no real
reason to have questions, she simply did. And Scully
didn’t know how to defend that.
Mulder, on the other hand, was far too familiar
with defending the ill-defined and inexplicable.
“We wanted to check the woods where the body was
found,” Mulder explained. “Perhaps there is
something we overlooked.”
Part of Scully resented Mulder speaking for her;
another part of her was happy that he did.
Somehow she didn’t want to be the one accused of
following a whim, then she felt terrible for
feeling that way. Was she really so rooted in
skepticism and that she didn’t want to admit when
her suspicions led her away from the easily
quantified and provable?
Karas’ jaw tensed. He looked angry. “I can’t
stop you,” he growled. “Go ahead. Search. You
won’t find anything. You’re not going to
miraculously stumble over David Dean Foster. I’ve
been searching those woods for nearly three years.
If I can’t find him, he isn’t there.” Karas faced
Mulder squarely. “You aren’t going to play twelfth
Karas stomped away.
Scully drawled, “I see we still know how to win
friends and influence people.”
Mulder looked far too pleased with himself. “We do
know how to piss people off, don’t we?”
“It’s a talent.” Scully slid into the passenger seat
of the rental car.
Mulder took the driver’s seat. “Counting great
backrubs and understanding the minds of serial
killers, that makes three.”
“Wow, Mulder, four talents. I’m impressed.”
“Four? I only said three.”
“I added another talent.”
Mulder watched her with a flirtatious glint in his
eyes. “And the talent would be. . .?”
Scully refused to crack a smile. With a straight
face she said, “Driving.”
“Mmm-hmm.” Mulder still looked absurdly pleased with
himself, but–what the hell–Scully rather liked it.
Fifteen minutes later they once again parked above
the spillway. Mulder got out of the car, but Scully
didn’t move. He walked around the car and opened her
door. Scully could feel Mulder’s silent, questioning
gaze on her. She knew they were here because of her.
It felt strange.
She looked at her partner. “I’m not sure what we’re
Mulder didn’t say anything, but Scully knew what
his reply would be–the truth. They were looking
for the truth. They were always looking for the
truth. Scully knew that. What she couldn’t figure
out was what they were hoping to find.
What possible proof could their be that Mark Hoyte
had not simply fallen from a rock ledge into a
Mulder appeared purposeful but unconcerned. “Let’s
look around and see what we can find.”
And hope that Mulder’s incredible intuition kicked
in? Scully wondered if that was what she was really
hoping as she stepped out of the car. How
many cases had they solved based on nothing more
than one of Mulder’s incredible leaps of. . .not
logic. Logic so rarely applied to the intuitive
leaps Mulder made.
She examined Mulder’s profile and wondered if
perhaps some small part of the reason Mulder found
answers where no one else would or could was because
he left himself open to them? He was willing to
Which left Scully. . .where? Mulder was the
intuitive one. She was the one walking around
demanding cold, hard facts. Why were they here
at her request?
She didn’t know. Scully honestly didn’t know. She
didn’t know why she had disbelieved the conclusions
of her own autopsy when those conclusions had been so
simple, so clear, so logical. She didn’t know why
she was following Mulder into the woods once more.
She didn’t *know* why. . .she just knew that it felt
After walking for ten minutes or so, Scully realized
that it felt like her blue windbreaker was sticking
to her skin. For an early spring day it seemed
unusually warm. The air felt thick, heavy, and humid.
She glanced at the canopy of trees and could see the
sky was a pale gray. “Did you check the weather
report?” she asked.
“Rain is expected later today,” Mulder told her as
he made his way down the river embankment.
This time they had walked down the side of the river
where the body had been found. They picked their way
down a narrow trail that ran along the ridge until
they had made their way to the water’s edge.
Standing on the rocky shoal, Scully looked up at the
ridge they had just traversed. “The drop is far
enough to explain the injuries Hoyte sustained,”
Scully concluded as she found Mulder kneeling looking
at the spot where the body had been found. “Find
anything?” she asked.
Mulder stood. “I’m afraid not–just rocks,
water, and a few blood stains.”
Scully searched for any rocks which might be big
enough to use as a weapon to cause Hoyte’s head
injuries. Of course, such a rock wouldn’t mean
anything. For it to be a weapon, someone would have
to wield it. There had only been two prison escapees,
and Jimmy Reardon had been captured.
“Could there be any connection between Hoyte and
Foster?” she asked.
Mulder shook his head. “Nothing obvious. Hoyte is
a political radical and Foster is a religious
fundamentalist. There isn’t much social overlap
between those groups.”
“Not much,” she agreed. “But is there any?”
“I don’t think so.” Mulder faced Scully. “Last
night, between going for pizza and waiting for you
to return from the morgue, I did some research. It’s
possible Foster had some connection with Orrin
Lancaster, but there’s nothing to indicate any
association with Hoyte. Lancaster burned crosses,
wore sheets, and terrorized anything he perceived
as being different from himself. On the other hand,
Hoyte wrote pamphlets demanding restitution be paid,
both for slavery and the for the relocation of
Southeastern Native American tribes such as the
Choctaw, Cherokee, and Cree. For the way they were
driven west on the Trail of Tears.”
Mulder paused, then said, “I also found something
else that might be of interest–at least of
Scully stood at the river’s edge, examining the spot
where the Hoyte’s body had been found.
Mulder continued, “A Civil War battle was fought in
this general area.” Mulder approached the striated
rock wall. “A Union officer wrote an account of it,
and some historian has it posted on his Web site.”
“And?” Scully knew Mulder wouldn’t mention the
account if he didn’t think there was a connection.
“And the Union officer swore the Confederate
regiment–a rather large Confederate regiment–
literally appeared out of nowhere.”
Scully examined their location. The vegetation
around them was rather thick, dense, and dark.
While she knew they stood less than a mile from a
busy business district, it was impossible to guess
that from their immediate surroundings. The area
would have been remote and isolated more than a
“I would assume the Confederates were more familiar
with the area, and therefore in a better position
to know where and how to conceal themselves,” she
“Perhaps.” Mulder looked thoughtful.
“But it was a *very* large regiment.”
She saw Mulder glance at her over his shoulder.
“There *is* a connection, you know,” he told her.
“Between all of them. Hoyte, Lancaster, Foster. . .”
“You just said there wasn’t.”
Shoving his hands into his pockets, Mulder
approached her. “Not a concrete connection, but
a ‘similarity of purpose,’ if you will.”
“A similarity of purpose? You just said that
Lancaster and Hoyte were on opposite ends of the
“And they are, or at least, they were.”
Scully frowned then proceeded to ‘think’ out
loud. “But Foster, Hoyte and Lancaster all shared
a tendency to use violence to defend a cause.” She
lifted her gaze to meet Mulder’s. “One could even
make the argument for the Confederate soldiers.
Is that the connection you’re hinting at–violence
in defense of a cause?”
“Too?” Scully arched a brow.
“To use violence to defend a cause means *having*
a cause, Scully. They believed.”
“Different things. The point being, they believed
She tried considering that for a moment, but
something inside her insisted that the idea was
absurd. “Are you seriously suggesting these woods are
a Mecca for people who believe in lost causes?”
“Not quite, but close.” Mulder looked distracted,
as if something had caught his eye. “Did you see
Mulder pointed to the top rocky ridge. “There. Did
you see that flash of light?”
Scully squinted and shaded her eyes with her hand.
“I don’t see anything.” Something didn’t feel right.
“Mulder?” She looked over her shoulder, but he
wasn’t there. “Mulder?”
There was no sign of him, not a trace.
The water’s surface was like black glass–still,
dark, and tranquil. The rock shoal stood barren, and
the ridge overhead uninhabited.
“Mulder, where are you?”
X X X
Scully had disappeared into thin air. . .not that the
air felt thin at the moment. Actually, the air felt
pregnant with energy. But the fact remained that
Scully was no where to be seen. She had literally
disappeared before his eyes.
Mulder looked around himself. Nothing else had
changed. It was a bit sunnier than it had been, but
other than that, everything was exactly where and how
it had been only a moment earlier. . .except Scully
Something came whizzing by his ear. He recognized
the sound. Someone had shot at him!
Mulder dove for the ground as another bullet buzzed
overhead, hitting the surface the river with a
small splash that radiated concentric circles of
disturbance across the water.
All too aware of the flat, barren rock around and
beneath him, Mulder lay exposed. He needed cover.
Luckily, a bullet wasn’t lodged in him.
Pressing his hands against the rock, Mulder shoved
himself to his feet and ran toward the rock wall
of the ridge. If he pressed himself against
it, he would at least provide a smaller target for
whoever was shooting at him.
Scully, where are you? Mulder wondered.
X X X
A low, deep roar of thunder reverberated through the
valley, amplified by the rocky surroundings of the
river and causing Scully to look skyward with
trepidation. The clouds were now a dark, ominous
Scully had hiked up and down a quarter mile stretch
of river shoreline twice looking for any sign of
where Mulder might have gone.
She hadn’t found a thing.
People couldn’t disappear without a trace, Scully
reassured herself. It was impossible. Clues might be
missed, or trails lost, but someone did not disappear
without leaving clues behind.
Except this wasn’t ‘someone.’ This was Mulder.
And this wasn’t Mulder walking into another room and
then her not being able to find him. This wasn’t
Mulder walking deep into the forest and her not
knowing where to find him. Mulder had been standing
beside her–right beside her–and he had disappeared
in mid conversation.
It couldn’t be. . .and yet it was.
Scully felt the thunder come again. It was closer
now, and seemed to vibrate inside her as well as
around her. As Scully felt the first drops of rain
pelt her, she decided to make her way up the ridge
to search for a better view of the area.
X X X
He had to move. Mulder knew it. Pressing himself
against a rock wall might provide some small
protection, but it wouldn’t last long. The shooter
would move soon, and where would Mulder be? If Mulder
was standing where he was now, he would be nothing
more than a human bull’s eye.
He heard something.
It was the sound of a twig snapping–which might mean
nothing. Listening intently, Mulder became acutely
aware of the sound and feel of his own breathing in
an oppressive silence devoid of the sounds he would
have expected so close to the city. Why couldn’t he
hear the sound of traffic on Highway 280? He wasn’t
far away, yet somehow the unnatural stillness that
pervaded the woods made Mulder feel as though he was
completely isolated from civilization.
He waited for the sound to come again. Seconds
passed before it did. Someone or something was off to
Mulder’s right. He turned to search for the sound’s
source, but little light penetrated the dense canopy
of trees causing deep, impenetrable shadows.
He stepped away from the wall.
He heard another loud snap, the sound of a branch
breaking beneath someone or something’s foot. Mulder
whipped his head around, trying to locate the source
of the sound or at least to find who stalked him. .
.but no one was there to be seen.
Mulder decided to run for it. It was the only
reasonable choice. He took a deep breath and started
running, only to be stopped by another sound directly
“Don’t move, Mister!”
Mulder turned to face David Dean Foster.
X X X
Woods near the Cahaba River
Rain beat steadily down on Scully as she trudged
through the woods, pushing aside the underbrush and
calling her partner’s name. She wasn’t sure exactly
how long she had been doing it, but she had passed
the point where she seriously believed Mulder would
The sky was oppressively dark now. Looking around
her, there was little way to tell whether it was day
or night. Cloud cover was dense, the rain steady and
hard, and wind rushed overhead, causing the tall,
slender pines to sway to an astounding degree. Scully
wouldn’t have been surprised to hear one of them snap
or see one fall, pulling up its roots.
She hit the speed dial on her cell phone and waited.
One ring. Two. Three, and a mechanical sounding voice
answered, saying the phone she was trying to reach
was out of the calling area.
“Damnit, Mulder,” Scully muttered to herself. “Where
are you?” There was no possible way he was out of
the area, but she had made the call more than a
dozen times. The message was always the same.
A flash of lightening made Scully shiver, and she
counted the seconds before hearing the crash of
thunder. The storm looked–and felt–fierce. It
was dangerous to stay out in it, but she had to
find Mulder. As a last resort she used her phone
to dial a different number.
X X X
Diffused sunlight beat down on Mulder, and it felt
good. The gun aimed at his skull, however, did not
inspire pleasant sensations.
“I told you not to move!” Foster yelled when Mulder
shifted his weight.
Mulder reassured the man, “I’m not moving.”
“How many of you are there?”
“Feds. You found me, but how many of you are there?”
Mulder debated what he should say. As far as he
knew, the only other person in these woods was
Scully. . .even if he couldn’t find her at the
moment. It would probably be wise to keep her
presence a secret, as Scully might be the only
advantage Mulder had. On the other hand, Mulder could
try bluffing and saying that there were dozens of
agents in the vicinity.
“How many!” Foster demanded again.
Mulder studied the fugitive. Foster looked like
hell–sunburned, unshaven, and unclean. In fact,
Foster looked exactly like what he was. . .a
homicidal hermit. Mulder kept his hands held high
above his head, not wanting to give Foster cause to
The way Mulder saw it, he had only one chance at
making it out of this alive. He dropped like
dead weight to the ground.
“Hey!” Foster looked confused by Mulder laying
on the ground, curled in the fetal position and
clutching his chest.
“Get up,” the fugitive commanded. “Get to your
feet.” Foster reached down and grabbed Mulder
by the shoulder.
It was what Mulder had been waiting for. Wrenching
clockwise, he hammered his foot into Foster’s knee
and dragged the fugitive to the ground. Grabbing the
man’s wrist, Mulder struggled to knock the gun from
Foster punched him.
Ignoring the pain, Mulder jabbed his elbow into
Foster’s neck, while managing to loosen Fosters’s
grip on his weapon. Unfortunately, Mulder was unable
to grab the gun for himself as it fell from his
Pushing off the ground, Mulder propelled himself to
his feet as Foster struggled to reach for the lost
gun. Mulder staggered, but managed to kick the gun
out of Foster’s reach. It tumbled off the edge of the
rock drop off.
An infuriated growl burst from the fugitive as Foster
struck at Mulder, kicking at the back of Mulder’s
legs in an obvious effort to knock Mulder to the
ground. Mulder jumped out of reach and searched his
surroundings for something to use as a weapon. If
they were fighting one on one, Foster had the
advantage. Foster outweighed Mulder by at least
What in the hell had Foster been eating while hiding
in the woods for three years?
The ridiculously superfluous thought streaked through
Mulder’s mind even as he lunged toward the rock ledge
X X X
Scully’s shoes squished uncomfortably as she pushed
wet hair out of her face only to have a fierce wind
whip it into her eyes again. As she rounded the bend
in the river, she saw the bridge just ahead and was
relieved to see an SUV parking there. Slipping
momentarily in the mud but quickly righting herself,
Scully made her way up the rise to the road just as
Nick Karas circled his truck.
“Thank you for coming,” she said, raising her voice
to compensate for the low roar of wind and thunder.
“How long has he been missing?” Karas sounded gruff
and businesslike as he opened the rear door of the
truck to allow a German Shepherd to jump to the
“Two hours or so.” The dog walked up to her and
sniffed her shoes. “I tried his cell phone but the
message kept coming back ‘out of area.'”
Karas frowned and pointed to the ten story building
across the river. “Cell tower. If Agent Mulder is in
these woods, there’s no way he’s out of area.”
“He’s in the woods.” Scully looked over her shoulder
at the rising river. Water that the day before had
fallen over the spillway in a slow, weak rush, was
now tumbling powerfully over the rocks.
Karas patted the dog’s head. “Have anything of his?”
Scully frowned, then Karas’ question connected. He
needed something with Mulder’s scent for the dog.
She went to the car and pulled out Mulder’s
windbreaker. Handing the jacket to Karas she again
looked down at the spillway. “How is the water rising
“Major storm to the Northwest. Flash flooding.
Tornadoes. If I didn’t say it in Dallas, let me say
it now–you and your partner have godawful timing.”
Scully couldn’t deny it–not that she wanted to
discuss it at the moment. It was time for action.
“I’m glad you brought the dog.”
Brushing her hair behind her ear, Scully walked
steadily toward the woods without bothering to look
to see whether Karas would follow. He would.
X X X
Mulder began having sympathy for the idiots
in the Blair Witch Project. Tucked somewhere in his
memory was a line of dialogue about the impossibility
of becoming lost in America. If you walked long
enough in any direction, you were bound to run into
someone. Civilization bordered you on all sides. So
why had he been walking for what felt like hours
without finding a sign of life?
His cell phone wasn’t working either.
Mulder wondered whether he was walking in circles. It
seemed likely. By all appearances he was in the
roughly the same area as where he had jumped off the
Of course, things could be worse. He could be dead,
or shot, or injured. Mulder had been lucky that the
ledge from which he had jumped had only been four or
five feet high–high enough for him to duck out of
sight, but not so great a distance that Mulder had
hurt himself with the fall.
After pulling his gun from his holster, Mulder had
doubled back to the location of his confrontation
with Foster. Only Foster had no longer been anywhere
in sight. Hardly a surprise, but the situation was
dangerous nonetheless. Foster was still out there
somewhere. . .and so was Scully.
Mulder had then decided to follow the river upstream,
hoping to reach Highway 280 and call for
reinforcements. He should have made it to the bridge
long before now. He and Scully had not traveled far
before they had been separated, and, despite all the
walking Mulder had done since they had parted,
Mulder’s instincts told him he hadn’t crossed much
Mulder paused and looked up at the hazy blue-gray
sky. Shouldn’t it be dark by now? For some reason his
watch had stopped, but his internal clock insisted
that sunset should have come and gone.
Then he heard something. It was a faint sound. It
could be an animal, but if was an animal, it was in
distress. There was something choked and desperate
about the cry.
Mulder tried to tune out the constant low roar of
rushing water that now crashed through the deep
ravine as he tried to locate the animalistic cry for
help. The river had been steadily rising for…well,
for however long he had been walking. The water had
also turned the color of dirty, melted orange
sherbet. Mulder guessed it had something to do with
the river picking up silt from the red clay of the
surrounding terrain. It was something to be
expected if there was a flashflood, only it wasn’t
raining. The sky was. . .well, the sky was not
precisely clear, but there was no rain. Still, in
defiance of logic, the water level of the river
continued to steadily rise.
Mulder felt a cool breeze stir his hair even as
he held himself perfectly still, listening for the
sound which had caught his attention. Finally, it
came again, a sputtering sound, broken and
intermittent, as if a creature was dying and gasping
Mulder ran down the hill, sliding on loose dirt and
gravel until he reached water’s edge. Shading his
eyes with his hand, Mulder looked up river to see
David Dean Foster, shoulder deep in pale orange
sludge gushing over the spillway.
A twig snapped under Mulder’s weight when he rushed
forward. It grabbed Foster’s attention, and he turned
and aimed a pistol at Mulder. In synchronized motion,
Mulder raised his own weapon.
It was a stand off. Neither man fired.
“Lower your gun,” Mulder demanded.
Foster gave a bitter sounding laugh. “Right.”
“How ’bout I shoot you instead?” Foster threatened.
“You can’t. You need my help.” At Foster’s look of
disbelief, Mulder shouted. “You’re trapped, aren’t
you?” It wasn’t really a question.
Foster blinked. The water was higher still, and the
torrent falling over the spillway and slamming into
his shoulders grew steadily more violent. The fact
that Foster hadn’t moved indicated to Mulder that
Foster *couldn’t* move.
“What happened?” Mulder asked. “Did you try to
cross the river at the spillway–”
“I fell. My foot got trapped between some rocks.
That all right with you, asshole?”
Mulder inched forward cautiously. “Can you move
your foot at all?”
“If I could, do you think I’d be standing here
having my head beat in by the river?” Foster
never lowered his gun even though the water had
risen as high as his shoulders.
“I’ll pull you out.”
Foster brandished his gun recklessly. “Don’t need
and don’t want your help.” The water rose to his
If the level kept rising at its present rate,
Foster would drown in minutes.
“Let me help you.” Mulder slowly, painstakingly
worked his way toward the spillway.
Foster fired his gun.
X X X
The thick, orange mud sucked at Scully’s feet as
she made her way up the embankment. She and Nick
Karas had hiked back to where Mulder had disappeared.
The dog Agent Karas had brought yelped eagerly while
leading both herself and Agent Karas through the
woods. . .to exactly where they had begun. They
stood on the river bank just below the spillway,
only yards form the Old U.S. 280 bridge.
Scully shouted to be heard over the rising sound
of the storm as she shone her flashlight in Karas’
direction. “The dog must have lost the scent
“Are you surprised?” Karas’ voice sounded harsh,
even in the din of the storm. “We’re in the
middle of a flash flood. No scent can hold up to
a several thousand gallons of water, and the river
is overflowing its banks.”
Scully backed away from the river’s edge. “We
should double back once more.”
“We can’t stop now. We haven’t found Mulder.”
Between the darkness and the torrential rain, Scully
could barely make out the outline of her fellow
agent’s features. A flash of curtain lightning
highlighted thick, billowing black clouds, and was
immediately followed by a violent, deafening crash.
Somewhere beneath the cacophony the dog’s anxious
Karas lifted his head. “Agent Scully, this is
Scully glanced toward the 280 overpass, then back
to the impenetrable darkness of the woods as she
nervously fingered the small cross at her throat.
Karas caught her windbreaker’s sleeve. “I know you’re
worried about your partner, but it’s dangerous to
stay outside in this kind of storm.”
Still she tried to search the darkness. Karas
shook her gently. “Agent, do you hear me?”
Scully glared at Karas fiercely. “Yes, Agent Karas,
it *is* dangerous to be out here, but my partner is
missing. He may be injured, and as you have just
pointed out, the river has overflowed its banks and
is still rising. We have to find Mulder.”
Karas ran his hand through his dark, wet hair. “And
where do you suggest we search that we haven’t
Scully started down the embankment once more, but
Karas caught her, swinging her around to face him.
“The trail is dead, Agent Scully. Even the dog
can’t find anything.”
“If you want to give up, give up,” she snapped. “I’m
not leaving without my partner.
Scully wouldn’t budge. “I know you have little reason
to like Mulder. I know you think he’s arrogant and
that he’s stepping on your toes–”
“Do you really think I give a damn about that
now? He’s a fellow agent–”
“Yes, he is. So you *know* we can’t leave him.”
Once again she plunged into the blackness of the
X X X
Mulder had watched bark peel and splinter away from a
pine tree inches to the left of his shoulder after
Foster fired his gun. The bastard had almost killed
“I bashed that kid’s head in yesterday,” Foster
yelled. “Don’t think I won’t–” he choked on a wave
of water “–kill you.”
“I can’t believe–”
“Back off!” the fugitive ground out in a vicious
voice. “You aren’t taking me in. Not alive anyhow.”
“You can’t want to die,” Mulder protested.
“Sure I can. If I die, it’s in a righteous cause.”
Another wave of water hit him solidly. “God can take
me home as far as I’m concerned.”
“You aren’t being rational. Think!”
“I am thinking. This is my way out.”
Mulder stared at the man in disbelief. “This is no
“Don’t you get it? God’s calling me home. It’s my
reward for doing God’s work, for taking out the
queers and fags, for stopping that research using
unborn baby’s insides, for striking back at all that
global village crap. I–” He choked and bobbed under
a wave of orange-tinted water.
The man was dying, and for what? Some insane,
misguided, half-assed cause? Foster was killing
himself out of blind stubbornness and stupidity.
“I’m not going to prison!” Foster yelled. “I’m not
letting you win. Got that?”
Mulder shook his head. “It’s not about winning.”
“You ain’t got no faith, man. If you did, you’d
know it’s an honor to die for what you believe.”
As Foster’s head disappeared beneath a surge of
muddy water, Mulder dove into the river. He couldn’t
stand by and watch a man die–even a wild-eyed,
X X X
Karas called after her. “This is insane!”
Scully stopped. “No, it’s not.” Even though some
part of her agreed with Karas that it was.
“Mulder is here and we’ll find him. Tonight.”
“If we don’t drown first. What the hell were the
two of you doing out here anyway? The Hoyte case
was over. Done. Did the two of you honestly
believe you could show up and find Foster, when I
haven’t been able to in three years of searching?”
Karas confronted her. “The joke is on you, Agent.”
The dog ran up to Karas, who absently patted the
animal’s head. “You and your partner can’t find
Foster because he’s not here to find. Haven’t you
figured it out yet? This is an exercise in futility,
courtesy of Assistant Director Kersh. It’s his way
of punishing me for that mess in Dallas.
Scully couldn’t believe it. “That’s absurd.” Not
to mention unjust and vindictive. From all
she knew, Karas was a good agent. It would be the
height of asinine behavior to assign Karas to a
do-nothing, go-nowhere case in some blindly petty
attempt to punish Karas for an event over which he
had no control. Then again, it was Kersh they were
With his shoulders slumped, Karas asked, “What did
the two of you hope to find?”
Scully almost gave him Mulder’s standard reply–the
truth. She looked at Karas. “We were looking for
answers. That’s all any of us can do.”
“Look around you, Agent Scully. Do you see answers?”
Scully fingered the cross that hung on a narrow
chain around her throat. “Not yet, but I haven’t
stopped looking. I won’t stop looking.” She lifted
her chin and gave a steely stare. “And I *will* find
what I’m looking for. I believe that.”
The rain stopped.
Just like that, the rain stopped. It was strange and
unnerving, and at first Scully thought lightning had
struck again because it was no longer pitch dark.
She turned off her flashlight and studied her
surroundings as she tried to shake her feelings of
disorientation and confusion–the same feelings she
had experienced when Mulder had disappeared.
Skidding down the hill, she was long past the point
of caring about the damage done to her clothes and
therefore unconcerned when she sank into soggy red
clay almost to her knees. Wading into the edge of the
river, she shouted, “Mulder!”
Battling the current, he turned his head toward her.
“Scully, stay there.”
Then she saw he was dragging a body with him as he
sidestroked to the shore. Trudging through the
mud, she followed him downstream, where Mulder was at
last able to reach the shore.
Falling to her knees beside the body, Scully prepared
to perform mouth to mouth resuscitation, but Mulder
gently placed his hand on her shoulder and shook his
head. “He’s gone. He was underwater a good ten
minutes before I could free him.” And she saw
from the look in his eyes that this bothered Mulder.
She looked down at the body. It was David Dean
Foster. Somehow Scully wasn’t surprised, but then why
would she be? Hadn’t Foster been what she and Mulder
had hoped to find?
She heard Mulder sigh.
Scully asked, “You said ‘free him.’ Was he trapped?”
“In more ways than one.”
Scully shot Mulder a quizzical look.
Mulder explained, “He attempted to walk across the
spillway. Things didn’t go as planned. His foot
Scully finished Mulder’s statement for him. “And he
drowned in the rising flood waters.”
“I tried to save him.”
That didn’t surprise Scully. She knew Mulder. He
was a good man, a moral man. She reached to cup his
cheek, and felt the scratch of his stubble against
her palm and saw the disappointment in his eyes.
His shadowed gaze locked with hers. “It wasn’t just
his foot that was caught, you know. He had this
whole skewed belief system. It was insane, and it
made no sense, but he was willing to die for it.
He believed in it that much.” Mulder looked at
Foster’s dirty, cold body. “It wasn’t worth killing
or dying for.”
X X X
What the hell? Nick Karas suddenly found himself
plunged into darkness. “Agent Scully?” he called.
“Agent, where are you?”
There was a flash of lightening, and Karas saw
a body floating half in, half out of the river.
“Agent Scully!” Sliding in the mud, Karas plunged
into the water. A sick sense of dread settled over
him as he waded toward the body. It was probably
Agent Mulder. Karas didn’t want to see the look
on Agent Scully’s face when he had to tell her.
Lightning and thunder struck almost simultaneously
as Karas neared the corpse. The sound was enough to
completely drown out Karas’ shocked gasp.
In the blue-white lightening of the storm, Nick Karas
stared into the face of his three-year-long snipe
“Son of a bitch,” he whispered.
It was David Dean Foster.
“You find something?” Agent Mulder asked
from where he and Agent Scully sat at the
Miz Myree’s Bar-B-Q
“So, you’re letting Agent Karas write the report.”
Scully removed the cellophane wrapper from her
Mulder shrugged. “It was his case.”
“You sound doubtful.”
Scully smiled. “I’m trying to decide whether this act
of generosity was motivated by your allergy for
writing reports or because you were sympathetic to
Mulder took his slice of pie from the waitress.
“Because I hate to do paperwork, of course.”
She didn’t believe him.
“You’re looking pensive,” Mulder said softly.
Scully raised an eyebrow. “Pensive?”
“Go with it. It’s an accurate description. What’s
going on in that complicated head of yours?”
Scully leaned forward. “We’re closing a case. We
have two dead bodies, and we know exactly how they
died. Not only that, the methods of their deaths
were completely ordinary.”
“And you have a problem with that?”
Scully shook her head. “We have all the answers we
need–concrete, believable answers.” She tilted her
head to the side. “But those answers really don’t
explain anything. They don’t explain how or why.”
Mulder shrugged. “Isn’t the old adage that science
explains how and faith explains why?”
“But in this case science doesn’t explain how, and
as far as faith is concerned. . .” She felt as though
she had reached an impasse. Faith was simply that–
faith. It was either there, or it wasn’t.
“There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
“Okay, Mulder, now you’re just shooting bull.”
Mulder crossed his arms and leaned against the table.
“They believed, Scully. Each of them in his own way
believed they would find what they were looking for.”
“Okay, so Hoyte believed. Lancaster and Foster
believed. Does it strike you as something of a waste
that this metaphysical Zion was reserved for
“Perhaps not. Unless you’re calling me a fanatical
killer.” Mulder paused and looked at Scully with a
curious expression. “Speaking of which, exactly how
did you find me?”
She didn’t answer.
She couldn’t hide anything from Mulder. She knew
it, and the truth was, she didn’t want to. Scully
fingered her cross and confessed, “Mulder, you may
believe almost anything, but I’m far more
particular.” She reached across the table and took
his hand. “One of the things I happen to believe in
He stared at her for a long moment, then smiled.
She sat back in her chair. “Still, where this case
is concerned, it looks as though we’re in the company
“Not necessarily.” Mulder picked up his own fork.
“When I was doing research, I found that the area by
the river was used as a stop on the underground
railroad during the time of slavery. As far as I can
tell, faith and belief are morally neutral. It’s
possible to believe fervently in many things, either
good or bad. You’d probably be well advised to be
careful what you choose to believe, never losing
sight of the facts or reality.”
Scully considered that conclusion and decided she
liked it. Reaching across the table, she dug into
“Hey!” he protested. “You could have ordered your
“That’s okay. I’ll just have some of yours.”
X X X
Mulder watched Scully as she stole forkfulls of his
pie. She looked happy, and he liked that look on her.
All in all, things had worked out well. He had even
managed to connect a few of the dots in the case.
The underground railroad had been targeted by “The
Brotherhood” in the 1850s. It was possible that
Lancaster had learned some of the area’s secrets from
the terrible secret society to which he had belonged,
and it was possible he had passed that knowledge onto
On the other hand, he’d found something hidden in
Mark Hoyte’s research for his pamphlets on the U.S.
owing moral restitution to mistreated minorities–an
historical account of early Spanish explorers of the
area claiming to have heard tails of a mysterious
place called “Tuscaluza.” It was supposed to be a
utopian place, but the explorers had decided it was
yet another of their ‘lost cities of gold.’ The
natives had proceeded to send the explorers on a
year-long wild goose chase for Tuscaluza, until De
Soto’s men had either deserted, died, or returned to
Spain. Like Nick Karas, they had never found that for
which they had searched.
Maybe they had never had enough faith that they would
find the answers?
Thankfully, he and Scully had solved the problem
for Nick Karas, and Mulder was more than happy to
allow Karas to take credit for finding David Dean
Foster. Karas had earned the right, and as a fringe
benefit it would infuriate Kersh. It would have
infuriated Kersh more for Mulder to claim the honor,
but Karas claiming it would be enough. Karas had
lost years of his life in the search for Foster.
Thinking about the dead fugitive made Mulder
grimace. Mulder had watched the man willfully die
for a passionate but deluded belief. Even as Foster
had gone under the last time, the man had clung to
the belief he was right, that he was being rewarded,
that his own death and the deaths he had caused were
justified. Foster had been wrong.
Scully stole another bite of Mulder’s pie, and after
licking the confection off her fork she gave Mulder
a soft smile. Suddenly Mulder realized he didn’t
want to die for some nebulous, ill-defined belief,
or for an X-file he could not really prove.
There were things in this world worth dying for.
A manila folder in a basement filing cabinet was not
one of them. Because–Mulder playfully swatted
Scully’s hand as she raked the whipping cream off
his slice of pie–he realized he had something to
The truth was, when he really looked at his life, he
realized he enjoyed it. He enjoyed searching for
answers to impossible questions, and he enjoyed
asking those questions with this woman at his side.
He had a life to be envied. He had a job that served
a purpose, a job that he enjoyed. And he had a woman
who happened to be the most important person in his
world, who also happened to believe in him. Yes, it
was a life worth living. . .he just wished it
involved fewer hospitalizations.
X X X