Seeing is Believing


Title: Seeing is Believing

Author: L.A. Ward

Rating: PG

Keywords: Case file, MSR

Spoilers: None

Notes: Written for IMTP VS9

Archive: Two weeks exclusively on IMTP site.



Miz Myree’s Bar-B-Q

Birmingham, Alabama

11:12am CST

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

cash register.

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

the truck.

“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.

“Hey, Hoyte!”

Hoyte hit the accelerator.

“Oh sh–”

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

and ran.

“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

clay road.

“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!”

he screamed.

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

throttling him.

“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

Washington, DC

12:46pm EST

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

Mulder’s jaw.

Skinner calmly interrupted the silence. “That’s

all, Agents.”

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

museum workers.”

“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

museum workers.”

“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.

“It’s enough.”

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

the elevator.

Scully asked, “Where are you going?”

“To lunch.”

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



Basement Office

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Washington, DC

1:36pm EST

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

animals free.”

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

the week.”

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

for that.”

“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

before lunch.

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

three years.

“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

manhunt centered–”

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

is obvious.”

“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.”


Highway 280

Birmingham, Alabama

4:53pm CST

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

see trees.”

“Trees, yes,” Scully conceded. “But do they qualify

as woods?”

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

snapped sharply.

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

stated flatly.

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

river bank.

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

populated suburb.”

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.


Jefferson County Jailhouse

Birmingham, Al

6:40pm CST

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

a kid?”

“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

Birmingham, AL

10:50pm CST

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

baseball game.

“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

sound disappointed.”

“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

some’ order.

“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

against Mulder’s.

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.”


Brook Highland Hotel

Birmingham, AL

11:18am CST

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

Hoyte died.”

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

hour hero.”

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

looking for.”

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

shallow river?

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

historical interest.”

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

century earlier.

“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

political spectrum.”

“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?”

“That, too.”

“Too?” Scully arched a brow.

“To use violence to defend a cause means *having*

a cause, Scully. They believed.”

“Believed what?”

“Different things. The point being, they believed

in *something.*”

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


“See what?”

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?”



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

was gone.

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.


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

charcoal gray.

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.


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.

Mulder waited.


He stepped away from the wall.

Still nothing.

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

behind him.

“Don’t move, Mister!”

Mulder turned to face David Dean Foster.



Woods near the Cahaba River

Birmingham, AL

3:12pm CST

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.


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’s hand.

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

opponent’s hand.

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

thirty pounds.

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

and jumped.


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.

“Hold on.”

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

so fast?”

“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.


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

for air.

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.”

“Do it!”

“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.


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.”

“Hell no!”

“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

yelping continued.

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

already looked?”

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



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

way out.

“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,

fanatical bastard.


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

talking about.

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

became caught–”

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.”


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

river’s edge.


Miz Myree’s Bar-B-Q

Birmingham, AL

12:13am CST

“So, you’re letting Agent Karas write the report.”

Scully removed the cellophane wrapper from her

plastic fork.

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

Karas’ predicament.”

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

fanatical killers?”

“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

is you.”

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

of killers.”

“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

Mulder’s pie.

“Hey!” he protested. “You could have ordered your


“That’s okay. I’ll just have some of yours.”



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

live *for.*

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.



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