Justice, Interrupted Part 2

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TITLE: Justice, Interrupted

AUTHORS: Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

EMAIL: sunrise@lightfirst.com

bahnsen@optusnet.com.au

RATING: PG

CATAGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR

SPOILERS: Through VS9; Justice, Interrupted Part 1

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer

and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let us know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement

intended.

SUMMARY: How far will one man go to see justice served?

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHORS’ NOTES: Many thanks to Michelle, dtg, and Vickie

for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta and

medical expertise.

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Justice Interrupted — Part 2

By Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

~~~~~~~~~

TEASER

~~~~~~~~~

Hegel Place

3:17 a.m.

The idiot up in 42 was at it again.

Helen Rezek tugged the pillow off her head, flopped onto her back,

and glared at the ceiling. Heavy footfalls–what was he wearing,

ski boots?–interspersed with sporadic thumps and thuds. No

basketball yet, but it sounded like he was just warming up.

Why me? She asked herself. Fifty apartments in this building and I

get stuck living under Mr. Insomnia. Why doesn’t he just move in

with Red permanently and put us all out of our misery?

Okay, so he was good looking. She and Carmen had bumped into

him at the mailboxes a few times, and even bathed in sweat the

man was gorgeous. Carmen was particularly fond of the cropped

off blue tee shirt that displayed his abs to rock-hard perfection. She

had stared at 42–Mulder, his name was–with a come hither look

of such unbridled lust that Helen had wished she could sink

through the floor. Subtlety was not one of Carmen’s strong suits.

So, yeah, he was easy on the eyes. But he was still a pain in the

ass. And the insomnia was the least of it. Gunshots, break-ins, dead

bodies–to hear Mrs. Leibowitz talk, he’d been dead himself. More

than once! He wasn’t pretty enough to outweigh all that. Hell,

George Clooney wasn’t pretty enough to outweigh all that.

Another thud, this one so loud she nearly jumped out of her skin.

Muttering all the things under her breath that she’d never have

courage to say to his face, Helen slid out of bed, added a pair of

faded gray sweats to the ratty tee shirt she was wearing, and

stomped out to the elevator.

The sharp crack of her knuckles against the wood felt good–so

good she had to rein in the impulse to let loose and pound. At first

she received no answer, though the thumping and thudding

abruptly ceased. Helen gritted her teeth and knocked again, more

insistently. Too late, Buster. You’re gonna get an earful.

The door finally swung open several inches to reveal a darkened

interior, and Helen sucked in a deep breath, ready to release two

years worth of frustration…

Except even in the poor lighting she could sense the face was all

wrong–thinning blond hair, nose too small, and that lower lip…

Best not to go there. She took hold of herself with a firm reminder

that she was pissed.

“I want to speak to Mr. Mulder.”

“He’s not home.”

Helen stopped the closing door with her foot, a little surprised by

her own audacity, and matched the man’s glare. “Then where is he?

And who the hell are you?”

For just an instant she thought she saw the bland expression on the

man’s face flicker, as if something dark and dangerous kindled in

the depths of his eyes. She jerked her foot from the doorway and

took a quick step back, but his voice remained matter of fact.

“He’s out of town. I’m a friend. He…asked me to take care of his

fish.”

“Last time I checked, feeding fish didn’t require you to throw

things.” Shaking off her unease, Helen craned her neck to peer

over his shoulder. “It’s three in the morning, you know? Some of

us would like to sleep.”

The man drew farther back into the shadows and inched the door

closer to the jamb, effectively blocking her view of the apartment.

“Sorry. It won’t happen again.”

The apology was flat and insincere. Helen stared into the cold blue

eyes and decided it was enough.

“Make sure it doesn’t, or next time I’ll go straight to the landlord.

Your friend won’t be too happy if you get him kicked out of his

own apartment.” Her attempt to bluster came out more like a

whine.

He shut the door without reply, a fact for which she found herself

profoundly grateful. She walked back to the elevator, arms clasped

against her body in an effort to ward off a sudden chill that tingled

between her shoulder blades.

“Taking care of his fish,” she huffed under her breath, stabbing the

button and shuffling inside. “Why should I be surprised?”

What did surprise her was the feeling she couldn’t shake–the deep

relief of someone who has narrowly avoided a head-on collision or

just missed plunging over the side of a cliff. It was ridiculous,

really, to let one of Mr. Mulder’s oddball friends unnerve her so.

She let herself back into her apartment, engaging the deadbolt.

After a brief pause, she slid the chain lock into place.

Despite the silence from above, it was more than two hours before

she found her way back to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT I

~~~~~~~~~~~

Location Unknown

4:17 a.m.

His head felt like a bowling ball–too large and heavy for his neck.

Mulder struggled to crack sticky eyelids, two thoughts cutting

through the muzziness in his brain.

What hit me–a sledgehammer?

and

My mouth tastes like a tofutti rice dreamsicle.

His attempt to rub the sleep from bleary eyes was cut short by a

sharp tug and the bite of metal. Surprise drove away the last of the

cobwebs. He snapped his head right, then left, teeth gritted and

cuffs rattling until the ice of logic cooled his rage from a boil to a

simmer. Tamping down the initial panic, he drew in a deep lungful

of air and slowly panned the room with forced objectivity.

The faint glow from a single lamp provided the only illumination.

Across the room a Jacuzzi burbled, a bottle of wine perched in a

silver ice bucket on the edge. The waterbed beneath him was king-

sized, the sheets lavender silk. Mirrors on the ceiling, the walls, the

headboard–all reflected the stunned disbelief on his haggard face.

He jerked the handcuffs against the steel rings conveniently built

into the headboard and groaned, head falling back on the pillow

with a thud.

“Oh God. Please tell me this is just a kinky dream.”

The trail of blood down the side of his neck, drying to rusty brown

on his collar, was hardly reassuring.

By a combination of wriggling and scooting, Mulder managed to

sit up. A quick inventory revealed that he’d been divested of cell

phone and gun, and that the handcuffs binding him to the bed were

his own. McNally had even removed his belt and shoes.

“Hey! Can anybody hear me? I’m a federal agent and I need help!

Somebody? Help!”

He called out until his voice disintegrated to a rasp and the drums

in his head turned from easy listening to heavy metal. No

windows, and the louder he yelled, the more the walls seemed to

swallow his cries.

“Soundproofed.” He bared his teeth at his own reflection. “Loosens

up those pesky inhibitions.”

Ten minutes of trying to separate the restraining rings from the

headboard achieved nothing but abraded wrists. Though his

headache had subsided, the still-healing muscles in his chest

throbbed, and a simple case of dry mouth had turned to real thirst.

Searching for a more comfortable position, Mulder froze when the

door abruptly swung open and Kyle McNally slipped inside.

His eyes fastened onto Mulder, sharply assessing, as he shut the

door and engaged both the deadbolt and chain lock. One hand on

the weapon at his side, he approached the bed, his wariness easing

to a smile once he confirmed Mulder was still securely bound.

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“Glad to see you’re awake. We can get down to business.”

“I’ll admit I’ve had this fantasy plenty of times, McNally, but you

were never the one that walked through that door. Sorry to

disappoint.”

The smile slid off Kyle’s lips and his eyes went flat and cold.

“You’re a real funny guy, Agent Mulder. The only problem is, I

don’t feel much like laughing right now. I spent the last hour

searching that dump you call an apartment for something that

belongs to me, and I’m a little short on patience.”

Mulder shrugged. “My partner always says I’m the only one who

could understand my own filing system. Maybe if you told me

what you were looking for…”

“You know what I’m looking for. I don’t know how you got your

hands on it, but I sure as hell don’t intend to let you show it to the

police.”

“I would’ve pegged you as a smart guy, McNally. ASAC in the

Violent Crimes section, a profiler. It was risky to cheat on your

wife, but just plain stupid to take pictures.”

McNally drew his gun and placed the barrel against Mulder’s head.

“Where is it? Tell me now or I pull the trigger.”

“Pull the trigger and you’ll never know–until the cops show up on

your doorstep to arrest you for her murder.” Mulder kept his voice

soft and steady, though he could feel his pulse hammering against

the cool steel at his temple.

Kyle didn’t remove the gun, but his demeanor did an about face.

“Look, I don’t want to hurt you. Fair exchange: You give me all

your copies of the email and I’ll let you go.”

“Such a deal.”

“Looks to me like it’s the best you’ve got.”

The headache was back. He suddenly felt dizzy, disoriented. “How

do I know you’ll keep your word?”

“You’ll just have to trust me.”

Someone was tugging him, pulling him aside. Mulder tucked his

chin to his chest, eyes slipping shut.

“Well?” Kyle prodded him with the gun.

“Trust you, huh? No problem. We all know you can be trusted,

don’t we, paisan’?”

Kyle gasped and stumbled backward a step, the gun dangling from

his hand. The eyes staring back at him were now black as coal.

“Th…that’s impossible, you’re…”

“You’re going to pay for what you did, buddy. To me, to Monica.

I’m gonna make sure of it.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re no better than the monsters we hunted; just another cold-

blooded killer. Remember how you usta talk about Patterson? You

said he was the lowest form of life–a nutcase who turned on his

own. Well, look in the mirror, Goombah. You got ol’ Billy boy

beat.”

“I said SHUT UP!” Kyle backhanded him, the muzzle of the gun

catching Mulder across the cheekbone and rocking his head back

against the headboard with a sharp crack.

Mulder’s eyes slammed shut, an involuntary cry of pain wrenched

from his lips. One hand reflexively rose to soothe his rapidly

bruising cheek but the cuffs prevented it. Hazel eyes cracked open

to glare at Kyle.

“So much for trust.”

McNally had the gun pointed at his head again, but he couldn’t

mask the tremor in his hand. “I don’t know what kind of headgame

you’re trying to play, but it won’t work. You’ll tell me where that

file is or you’ll die chained to that bed.”

He holstered the weapon and walked to the door. “It’s your choice.

Think it over.”

Mulder didn’t want to ask; couldn’t stop himself. “I think better

when I’ve had a glass of water.”

Kyle smiled, but his eyes were steel. “A little thirst won’t kill you,

Agent Mulder. Yet.”

Georgetown

5:42 a.m.

“This is Fox Mulder; I’m not home. Leave a message and I’ll get

back to you.”

The telephone receiver smacked into the cradle with a loud crack.

“Damn it, Mulder! Why won’t you pick up?”

Hands tucked under her arms and top teeth tugging on her bottom

lip, Scully paced the length of her apartment. Two calls last night,

another five this morning, and all had been met with the voice

recording from his answering machine.

Fear gnawed at her stomach like a persistent rodent, last night’s

anger at being ditched long forgotten. She should have known

better. Should have predicted how he would react to her concerns.

She hadn’t planned on telling him about the counselor until they

were home where she could explain it to him calmly, in the right

context.

She huffed loudly. The best laid plans and all that…

Scully paced towards the phone again, her hand automatically

reaching for the receiver before she pulled it away and tucked it

back under her arm.

Well into the early hours of the morning, she had tossed and

turned, wrestling in her mind with everything Mulder had said to

her. And no matter how hard logic argued in favor of PTSD, or

worse yet, brain damage, when she’d taken time to objectively sift

through all the facts, Mulder’s reasoning made a weird kind of

sense.

Perhaps it had been easier for her to believe he’d suffered some

kind of mental breakdown due to his near death experience. It sure

as hell beat the alternative: A disgruntled ghost determined to use

her partner as a means to right a perceived wrong? At least

medical science offered her a concrete path to a cure. But now…

She wasn’t so sure.

Everything Mulder had said to her last night… In the cold hard

light of day it didn’t seem quite so improbable. What if he was

right? While her mind had been busily rejecting each outlandish

claim he threw at her, in her heart she had known that what he was

suggesting was more than mere coincidence. How could he know

so much about Sal DeAngelo? And his wife?

Easy answers eluded her. And the truth was frightening. But the

image of Mulder’s stricken face when she’d suggested he had lost

his grip on reality frightened her more. And that, at least, was

something she could fix.

Finding herself back by the phone, Scully snatched up the receiver

and punched the redial button, her fingers nervously tapping

against her leg as the connection was made. On the sixth ring the

answering machine picked up. This time she waited for the beep

and left a message.

“Mulder, it’s me. I’m coming over.”

Weapon holstered and ID tucked into her pants pocket, Scully

snagged her jacket from the coat tree, her cell phone and keys from

the sideboard and headed out the door.

Alexandria

6:32 a.m.

Morning rush hour and badly placed road construction combined

to stretch Scully’s already taut nerves to almost breaking point. By

the time she’d reached Mulder’s apartment, she’d given the car horn

a heavy workout and left a trail of bird-wielding motorists in her

wake.

Relieved to find a parking space in front of Mulder’s building,

Scully made a quick inventory of the other vehicles lining the

street. There was no sign of his car.

She ran lightly up the steps leading to the entrance and pulled hard

on the glass door. A young woman, dressed in sweat pants, long

sleeved tee shirt and running shoes stumbled out, her fingers still

wrapped around the handle.

Scully muttered a hasty, “Sorry,” and slid past the woman.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Excuse me?” Scully half turned, her attention still focused on

getting to the elevator.

“If you’re here to feed his fish,” the woman flicked her eyes

skyward, “you’re too late.”

“I’m sorry, you are…?”

“The poor sap that ended up in the apartment beneath your

boyfriend.”

Scully shook her head, mouth opening and closing, but unable to

come up with an appropriate response.

The young woman cast Scully a disparaging glare, “Look, I’ve got

to go or I’ll be late for work.” With a quick swivel she turned, her

short, brown ponytail swinging in time to her footfalls as she

jogged down the steps.

Curiosity held Scully momentarily in place before urgency

overrode her confusion and she continued towards the elevator.

Three sharp raps on his door, followed by a succession of heavy

pounding, failed to produce any sign of life from within Mulder’s

apartment.

Her fingers jittery and clumsy, it took Scully three attempts before

she found the right key and inserted it into the lock.

“Mulder? Are you there?” Scully pushed with her hip. The door

swung open and she stepped inside.

What greeted her sent the hairs on the back of her neck standing on

end and her hand reaching for her weapon. Disengaging the

safety, Scully wrapped her fingers firmly around the grip, only

marginally comforted by the weight of it nestled against her palm.

Mulder’s coat rack lay across the floor, an upturned chair behind

the door.

Moving cautiously, she made her way into the living room,

weapon held securely in both hands, barrel aimed towards the

ceiling.

Silence, heavy and ominous filled the apartment. Her own

breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness.

“Mulder?”

Nothing.

She stepped around a large painting lying on the floor, the frame

splintered and the glass cracked. The fish tank, undamaged and

long devoid of any marine life, gurgled quietly on its shelf–a

deceptive illusion of normality.

The living room looked as if a hurricane had swept though it.

But she’d seen similar destruction before. Years ago, when Mulder

had been searching for a well-hidden bug. At the time Scully had

been surprised by his ability to turn his own apartment into an

admirable impression of a garbage dump. While somewhat taken

aback, she’d kept her surprise in check, reassured by the fact that

he appeared rational and all in one piece.

She wondered if what she was witnessing now was the result of his

frustration. Because he thought she was more willing to believe he

was crazy than accept his theory. …You’d rather believe I’ve lost

my marbles than open yourself to the possibilities.

Is that how he’d interpreted her concern?

Oh, Mulder. How could I have gotten it so wrong?

A quick search of his bedroom and bathroom came up empty.

Scully holstered her weapon and surveyed the devastation around

her with a critical eye.

His coffee table, upside down, was pushed up against the couch.

Most of what usually sat on his desk was now strewn beneath.

Drawers were open and teetering on the edge of their cavities, the

contents spilling onto the floor.

Nearly all of Mulder’s books and CDs had been dumped from their

shelves, piled in an untidy heap beside the couch. Ornaments and

photos, some intact, others smashed to bits, lay in a scattered mess

around the room.

One photo in particular caught her eye. The familiar face of a

dark-haired girl sitting on a tire-swing smiled up at Scully through

a spider web of cracks. The early stirrings of alarm were beginning

to escalate into full-blown panic as Scully scooped up the picture.

Even at his worst, she knew Mulder could never bring himself to

ruin this treasured memory of his sister.

She stood quietly in the middle of the living room, letting her mind

process the situation. What had happened here?

She turned in a slow circle, seeking anything that might offer a

clue.

The soft hum of his computer caught her attention. The hard drive

was running, the monitor blank, yet an orange light just above the

power button indicated it was switched on.

Maybe he’d left her a message.

She moved to his desk and jiggled the mouse. The screen burst to

life and Scully’s heart leapt to her throat.

“ACCESS DENIED,” blinked back at her.

Why would Mulder be denied access to his own computer?

Slowly, the pieces began to fall into place, and the picture they

formed made Scully’s blood run cold. Biting down on her bottom

lip and willing her hands to comply, she typed in the correct

password and gained immediate access. No message from Mulder

and no clue as to who or why someone might have been trying to

hack into his computer.

She drew small comfort from the fact that Mulder had probably not

been home when the intruder broke in. If he had, she felt sure he

would have been forced to type in the correct password.

But that still didn’t explain where he was and why someone would

want to search his apartment.

His words from the previous night came back at her. … Feeling

that I’m not myself. …An injustice to correct…I’ve gone over the

case file…If Sal knew they convicted the wrong man…

The wrong man.

If Mulder was correct, then that left the real murderer still at large.

And if he was on to Mulder…

Then she needed help.

Scully pulled her cell phone from her pocket and punched in

Skinner’s number. Long seconds stretched an eternity before her

boss finally picked up.

“Skinner.”

“Sir, it’s Scully. I’m at Mulder’s apartment.” She took a steadying

breath, surprised at the tremor in her voice.

“Agent Scully? Is there a problem?”

“I think so, sir. Mulder’s apartment has been ransacked. There’s

no sign of him or his car.”

She could almost hear Skinner’s jaw grinding as he processed what

she’d told him.

“What are you saying? Do you think he did it?”

“The thought crossed my mind, until I discovered that someone

attempted to log onto Mulder’s computer–and failed. I know he

was upset after I suggested he speak to a counselor, but… there’s

something more going on here, sir. I’m worried about him.”

“Okay, Scully, I’m in the car now. I’ll call ahead to the Bureau to

arrange for a forensics team, and ask the local PD to put out an

APB on his car. I should be there in…about thirty minutes.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Scully pocketed her cell phone, wondering if she should have told

Skinner about Mulder’s theory. But she was still having her own

difficulties coming to terms with it. She’d wait, and tell him in

person.

Desperate to find Mulder, but mindful of the fact that she now

stood in the midst of a crime scene, Scully decided on a

compromise. A quick trip to the car provided her with a pair of

latex gloves, which she donned before carefully sifting through

some of the papers spread across the floor.

Twenty minutes of fruitless searching failed to supply her with any

new information on Mulder’s whereabouts.

Scully sat on the couch, head cradled in her hands and mind

grappling with everything that had happened in the last 24 hours.

She didn’t hear her boss enter the apartment.

“Agent Scully.”

“Sir.” Scully stood, stripping the latex glove from her right hand.

She watched Skinner’s gaze roam across the room, taking in the

destruction, before homing in on her face.

“Forensics should be right behind me. Have you found anything to

indicate where Mulder may have gone?”

“No. Unfortunately, it’s going to take some time to sift through this

mess. Whoever tossed the apartment was thorough.”

Skinner nodded and his eyes cut over to the window. A small

muscle above his cheekbone jittered and he grated his next words

through clenched teeth.

“What the hell is going on, Scully? Last night Mulder broke into a

dead agent’s home and scared the hell out of his wife. Now this.

Did he confide in you when you spoke to him at the police station?

Do you have any idea what he’s gotten himself into?” He tipped his

head toward Mulder’s overturned coffee table. “This would seem to

negate the post-traumatic stress theory.”

Voices drifted down the hallway, followed momentarily by several

agents bearing forensic gear. “Don’t have to ask if we’re in the right

place, ” a dark-haired agent smirked as he set down a box. “How

many times have we been here now?”

Skinner’s eyes narrowed and his voice turned dangerously soft.

“One of our own is missing, Agent. I suggest you cut the bullshit

and concentrate on gathering evidence.”

The reprimand had the desired affect. Scully watched with a

combination of amusement and satisfaction as all three moved

swiftly into professional mode, donning gloves, snapping open

cases and labeling plastic bags. Skinner’s hand on her elbow drew

her toward Mulder’s bedroom, out of earshot.

“Level with me, Scully.”

“I’m not sure where to start.” She laid one finger beneath her nose

and took a deep breath. “Mulder’s been…preoccupied by a serial

murder case involving the death of a woman named Monica

Mitchell. It’s a closed case–solved by the VCS about six months

ago. He believes they convicted the wrong man.”

Skinner folded his arms. “A VCS case? Is that why…?”

“Sal DeAngelo was the profiler on record.”

“Didn’t he know DeAngelo is dead?”

“Oh, he knew.” Scully poked her tongue into her cheek as she

chose her next words. “Sir, Sal DeAngelo died the same night

Mulder was shot. In fact according to Mulder, the incidents

occurred simultaneously.”

Skinner huffed. He strode several steps down the hall, spun on his

heel and returned to Scully. “I’m not sure I’m reading you, Scully.

What does Agent DeAngelo’s untimely death and a closed murder

case have to do with the fact that Mulder is missing?”

“Mulder is convinced that Sal DeAngelo was murdered because

he’d discovered the identity of the man who really killed Monica

Mitchell. He believes his spirit and Agent DeAngelo’s

became…linked during his near death experience, and that

he’s…channeling Agent DeAngelo.”

“Channeling?”

“For lack of a better term.” Scully shook her head. “Look, I know

how it sounds. But even I have to admit that Mulder has been

experiencing something not explainable by conventional methods.

Sir, from what I can tell, he’s been dreaming the last moments of

Agent DeAngelo’s life. In detail.”

“Scully, last night you were willing to put this down to stress. Are

you saying you believe him?”

Scully met his gaze squarely. “I’m saying Mulder deserves the

benefit of our doubt. Putting aside the more…paranormal aspects of

his theory, we both know there’s no better profiler. If he says the

courts convicted the wrong man…”

Skinner ran one hand along his jaw. “Then the real killer is still out

there somewhere.”

Scully’s throat tightened. “Or maybe closer to home.” She forced

the unwanted emotion back into its box, well aware of Skinner’s

scrutiny. “I need to speak to Vickie DeAngelo. Mulder may have

stumbled upon evidence when he was there last night. Something

that could give us a clue as to where he is now.”

Skinner looked at the bustle of activity in Mulder’s living room,

then jerked his head toward the door. “Go. I’ll oversee Forensics

and stay in touch with the police. Report back to me when you

have something.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll…”

“Excuse me.”

Scully and Skinner looked up to see the dark-haired agent hovering

near the entryway.

“There’s a woman here who says she might know something about

Agent Mulder’s disappearance.”

Frowning, Scully strode toward the front door. Standing just inside

was a young woman dressed in a smartly tailored navy suit, her

chin-length dark hair cut in a smooth bob. It took a moment for

Scully to recognize her potential witness.

“You live on the third floor. I bumped into you earlier this

morning.”

The woman nodded, hands fidgeting. “That’s right. My name is

Helen–Helen Rezek. My apartment is right under this one.”

“You have information regarding Agent Mulder?”

“I think so.”

Scully stepped closer, every muscle in her body on alert. “Did you

see something that might help us determine his whereabouts?”

“Yes. Um, that is, no. Not exactly.” Helen’s eyes darted between

Scully and Skinner. “I mean, I saw something, but I’m not sure it’s

relevant.”

“Why don’t you let us be the judge of that?”

“Sure. It’s just–I wouldn’t have thought twice about what happened

if I hadn’t seen all the cars out front this morning and heard the

commotion. I mean, he’s not exactly a model neighbor. He’s got a

lot of weird friends always coming and going–” She darted a

glance at Scully and flushed. “–and I hear him knocking around at

all hours of the night. Not the kind of guy you want living over

your head. Except he’s been really quiet lately, and I thought

maybe he was turning over a new leaf. Which is why I got so

pissed last night.”

Scully clung to her patience. “Last night?”

“This morning, really. Two a.m. and I hear all this godawful

thumping and banging coming from your friend’s apartment. It got

loud enough to wake the dead. So I got dressed and came up to tell

him off.” Helen frowned. “Except he wasn’t here.”

“He wasn’t?”

“Not according to his friend. He said Agent Mulder was out of

town, and that he was taking care of his fish.” She looked at the

wreckage with a mixture of fascination and disgust. “Guess that’s

not all he was doing.”

Scully and Skinner exchanged a long look. “I’ll take care of it.”

Skinner gestured toward the hallway. “Go ahead.”

“Thank you.” She impulsively laid one hand on his arm, then

jerked it back, heat rising to her cheeks.

As she squeezed past Helen Rezek and started down the hallway

she heard Skinner speak in what Mulder called his “take no

prisoners” voice.

“You’ve been extremely helpful, Ms. Rezek, but I’m afraid I have

to ask you to bear with us for a bit longer. I’m going to get a sketch

artist over here and…”

The Atlantis

Bungalow 26C

8:23 a.m.

He didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until he woke up, arms pricking

with invisible pins and needles and tongue glued to the roof of his

mouth. Staring blearily at the less than flattering reflection above

his head, he tried vainly to moisten dry lips.

“Suppose room service…’s out of the question.”

It came out little more than a froggy croak, and he grimaced at the

effect on his throat. He levered himself up to peer at the red LED

display of the alarm clock on the nightstand.

8:23. AM or PM? In the windowless, soundproofed motel room

time had a disconcerting ebb and flow. He didn’t think he’d lost an

entire day–had he?

Judging by McNally’s demeanor, he doubted he’d been left alone

and unmolested for more than a few hours. In fact, he was certain

that McNally would only put up with him playing the strong silent

type for so long before deciding a quick bullet to the head was the

easiest solution.

He was isolated, helpless, in the hands of a man who had already

killed his best friend with less provocation. Scully liked to tease

him about having more lives than a cat, but he was hard pressed to

see a way out this time.

Scully. A crystal clear image imprinted itself in his mind–the

carefully neutral expression she’d maintained as he’d driven away

from the police station. He’d hurt her.

If those are my last words, I can do better.

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, praying to a God he’d tried not

to believe in and never allowed himself to trust.

Please, let me do better.

Anger bubbled up, and he jerked hard on the cuffs, heedless of

already abraded wrists. Something, a slight give in the left, caught

his attention. With some pretzel-like twisting he was able to

examine the metal ring more closely. One of the four screws

bolting the faster to the headboard had begun to loosen–no doubt

weakened by countless acrobatic feats Mulder refused to

contemplate.

One screw out of four. It was an outside chance, and even if he

managed to loosen them all, it still left his right arm locked to the

bed. Still, an outside chance was better than no chance, and any

action was preferable to lying there passively, like a lamb awaiting

slaughter.

Mulder gritted his teeth, grasped the chain, and began methodically

wiggling the cuff against the ring. And tried hard not to watch the

ticking clock.

~~~~~~~~~

ACT II

~~~~~~~~~

The DeAngelo Residence

8:23 a.m.

Scully pressed the doorbell and stepped back, adjusting her suit

jacket with a sharp tug. Around her the neighborhood hummed

with early morning activity: chattering children wound their way

along the sidewalks toward school, a frazzled man juggled a cup of

coffee and briefcase as he attempted to open his car door, a

garbage truck rattled and clanked its way from curb to curb.

By contrast, the home before her was still, silent. Drapes remained

drawn against the bright sunlight and a paper sat untouched on the

front porch. Scully had just raised her hand, intending to ring the

bell a second time, when she heard soft footsteps and the door

cracked open to reveal a pair of wounded brown eyes.

“Agent Scully?”

Scully held up her ID and allowed Vickie DeAngelo to scrutinize it

and her face. After a moment the door swung wide and Vickie

motioned her inside.

“Come in. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s been a long morning, I’m afraid.”

She followed Vickie down the hallway to the kitchen and took a

seat at the small wooden table. Vickie, clad in faded jeans and a

pale blue sweater, poured coffee into two mugs and set one on the

table. Scully couldn’t help noticing how the clothing hung on the

woman’s slight frame.

“Cream? Sugar?”

Scully shook her head, sipping the steaming liquid. “Black is good.

Nothing to dilute the caffeine.”

Vickie smiled as she added a healthy dollop of cream to her own

cup. “I’m afraid I find coffee completely unpalatable without this.

Sal always said…” She broke off with a look of such intense

sadness that Scully had to look away. Vickie cleared her throat and

continued. “He used to say I didn’t like coffee–I liked cream with

coffee flavoring.”

“I’m sorry. You must miss him very much.”

Vickie sat down, swiveling the cup between her palms but not

drinking. “A piece of me is gone forever. It’s not easy learning to

function with a chunk of your soul missing.” The small line

between her brows deepened. “Which is why your partner upset

me so badly yesterday.”

“I’m sorry. Please believe me when I say that Agent Mulder never

intended to hurt you.”

“I just hope you find him so he gets the help he needs. I was a

cop’s wife, Agent Scully; I know the toll that kind of stress can

take.”

Scully opened her mouth to protest; thought better of it. “Mrs.

DeAngelo…

“Vickie.”

“Vickie. As I said on the phone, I need to know more about what

Agent Mulder may have been doing while he was here yesterday.

I’d like you to tell me, in detail, exactly what happened.”

Vickie brought the mug to her lips and blew gently on the hot

liquid, only to set the cup back down, untouched. “When I came

home from the store yesterday, there was a strange car in the

driveway. I looked around outside the house, but didn’t see anyone,

so I just went ahead and pulled into the garage. Some of the teens

around here aren’t too discriminating about whose driveway they

use to park their cars. I didn’t think too much about it.

“I came into the house and started putting away the groceries I’d

bought. And then I heard a noise.”

“A noise?”

Vickie nodded. “From upstairs. A…a kind of a crash, like

something had fallen over.”

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t want to panic, I mean, it could’ve been anything. The cat

is always jumping up on the furniture, knocking things over.”

Vickie licked her lips. “I walked into the living room and called up

the stairs.” She chuffed, blushing. “Something stupid, like ‘who’s

there?’ As if a burglar’s going to answer.”

“What happened then?”

“Someone–your partner–answered. Scared the hell outta me. But

that wasn’t the worst part. It was the WAY he answered me that

had me ready to scream.” She shoved aside the cup and laced

trembling fingers together.

“What did he say?”

“He said…” She drew in a long breath, visibly shaken. “He said,

‘It’s just me, sweetheart.'”

It felt like a punch to the gut, but Scully kept her face carefully

neutral. “Go on.”

“It knocked me for a loop. I…I was scared, confused, I didn’t know

what was going on. And he just kept talking to me like I was the

crazy one and he was trying to calm me down, sounding just

like…” A violent shake of her head and she popped up from her

chair. The coffee from her mug found its way into the sink,

followed by hot water and soap.

Scully stood and moved to her side. “Sounded like who, Vickie?”

“You’ll think I’m as nutty as your partner.”

“Try me.”

She stopped fiddling with the dishes and pressed the back of one

sudsy hand to her lips. “I was married to the man for nearly fifteen

years. I know the sound of his voice as intimately as I know my

own name, and…” Dark, haunted eyes searched Scully’s face.

“Agent Scully, I would’ve sworn it was Sal talking to me. The

tone, the accent–he even called me ‘cara mia’ the way Sal did.

How…how could that be?” She laughed, a bitter, jagged sound.

“Maybe I am as nutty as your partner.”

“Vickie… I can’t explain what happened last night. I’m not sure

anyone could. What I can tell you is that Agent Mulder has been

experiencing a…connection to your husband. A connection that has

to do with a case Sal profiled.”

Curiosity drove some of the anguish from Vickie’s eyes. “A case?

Is that why he was in Sal’s office?”

Scully concealed her surprise. “Most likely. Is that where he was

when you found him?”

Vickie nodded. “Sal did all his Bureau work up there. It was his

territory, and after getting a peek at some of the casefiles he

worked on I was only too happy to stay out.” She frowned. “What

case was Agent Mulder interested in?”

“The murder of a woman named Monica Mitchell.”

Vickie grimaced. “Oh my God. Not that one. First Sal couldn’t let

go of it and now your partner?”

“What do you mean ‘Sal couldn’t let go of it’?”

“Just what I said. The case was closed. The killer was caught, tried,

and sentenced. But for some reason, Sal couldn’t seem to move on.

He kept saying something wasn’t right, that the pieces just didn’t

fit. It had started to become an obsession. Even Kyle was worried

about him.”

“Kyle?”

“Kyle McNally. He was Sal’s closest friend, worked with him at

Quantico.”

Scully nodded–the name was vaguely familiar. “Vickie, would

you mind showing me Sal’s office?”

Vickie dried her hands on a dishtowel, teeth gnawing her lip. “I

guess not. You must realize there aren’t any files up there anymore.

Kyle came and took them all back to Quantico after…”

“I know. I’d just like to take a quick look around. Maybe it will

give me an idea as to what Agent Mulder was doing here.”

A moment’s hesitation before Vickie nodded. “Sure. I suppose

there’s no harm in that. Follow me.”

Scully stood in the center of the study, trying to see through

Mulder’s eyes. She ran a finger along the psychology and

criminology texts, studied the diplomas. Something perched on the

edge of the desk caught her eye and she crossed the room to pick it

up.

“What’s this?”

A mangled photo of four men, frame bent and glass missing.

Vickie reluctantly left her spot in the doorway and took the picture

from her hands. “That’s Sal, Kyle, and two of their friends from

work.” Her index finger caressed the face of a dark-haired man

with olive skin and a beaming grin. “I found it after the police

hauled off your partner yesterday. He must have knocked it onto

the floor when he was using the computer–there was broken glass

everywhere.”

“Agent Mulder was on this computer?”

The sharp edge to Scully’s voice pulled Vickie’s attention from the

photo. “Not only was he on the computer, he logged into Sal’s

email. I can’t imagine how he figured out the password.”

“Would you show me?”

Vickie pressed her lips into a thin line. “Look, I appreciate you

wanting to find your partner, but that’s Sal’s private email and your

partner already…”

“Please.”

A deep sigh but Vickie sat down, grumbling as she booted up the

computer. “I don’t know what you think you’re going to find. Kyle

volunteered to check things over last night, and he said it all

looked fine.” She stood and motioned for Scully to take the chair.

Scully clicked her way through the various folders that contained

bits of profiles, reference data, and personal notes. She opened

Sal’s email and scanned through the entries without noting

anything unusual. She was about to shut the window when

something caught her eye.

“Vickie, would you have deleted any of these emails?”

“Deleted? Are you kidding? I can still barely bring myself to dust

in here. Like I said, Kyle came and took all the file folders away,

but otherwise this office is just like Sal left it.” She leaned over

Scully’s shoulder to stare at the screen. “Why?”

Scully pointed to the received dates. “There’s a significant gap

here. It’s as if a week or two of emails is missing or was deleted.”

“Maybe Sal did it.”

“Maybe.”

Scully stared at the screen, the creeping feeling at the back of her

neck screaming that those missing emails were more than just a

coincidence. That they just might hold the key to Monica

Mitchell’s killer, and Mulder’s location.

There was one sure way to find out. But the woman hovering at her

back wasn’t going to like it.

“Vickie, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take this computer with

me…”

The DeAngelo Residence

9:14 a.m.

Scully loaded Sal’s hard drive onto the back seat of the car.

Turning briefly toward the house before shutting the car door, she

caught a glimpse of Vickie watching her through the window, face

tense and arms folded tightly across her chest. Scully’s initial

suggestion that she take the computer had been met with an

emphatic “NO!” and it had taken some persuasive arguing before

Vickie had reluctantly agreed to part with it.

Scully settled herself into the driver’s seat and started the ignition,

hoping she could make good on her promise to have the computer

back in Vickie’s possession by the next evening. Now all she

needed to do was retrieve the missing emails. And she knew just

the guys for the job.

Turning out of the quiet suburban street, Scully joined the stream

of traffic heading back to DC. When she reached a straight stretch

of road she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and hit 4 on the

speed dial. Balancing the phone between ear and shoulder she

waited for someone to pick up.

“Lone Gunmen.”

“Frohike, it’s Scully.”

“Ah, the delectable Agent Scully. What can I do for you this fine

day?”

“Unfortunately it’s not so fine. I need your help.”

Scully could almost see the smile slip from his face and the quick

squaring of his shoulders.

“Mulder?”

“You could say that.” Scully heaved a sigh, and ran her tongue

over dry lips, “It’s a long story, Frohike, but he’s missing. And I

may have a piece of evidence in my possession that will shed some

light on his whereabouts. A hard drive, actually.”

“What can we do?”

She smiled to herself. No questions, no second-guessing. Straight

down to business, just as she’d hoped.

“I need you to meet me at the Hoover. I think there’s a block of

emails that have been deleted. A few days, maybe a week’s worth.

I need you to recover them. Mulder’s safety may depend on it.”

“Hey, you know us, Scully. Our kung fu is the best.”

“I’m counting on it.”

She hit end and had the phone halfway to her pocket when it trilled

in her hand.

“Scully.”

“It’s Skinner. Where are you?”

“I’m heading back to the Bureau with Sal DeAngelo’s computer.

Apparently…

“Scully. We’ve had a report on Mulder’s car.”

She swallowed around the lump in her throat and forced her voice

to remain steady.

“Sir, is he…?”

“I don’t know. The details are sketchy. A patrolman spotted the car

on a routine check and called it in.”

“Where?”

“Rock Creek Park. I’m headed there now. Do you know it?”

“Yes. Thank you, sir. I’m on my way.”

Scully dropped her cell on the seat beside her and pushed the gas a

little harder. What the hell had Mulder been doing at Rock Creek

Park?

Rock Creek Park

9:56 a.m.

Scully eased her foot off the gas. Tiny stones crunched under the

tires and pinged against the undercarriage as she made her way

along the narrow gravel road. It wasn’t hard to find the right place.

Red and blue lights from a police vehicle telegraphed the location

as effectively as a neon sign.

When she rounded the bend, Mulder’s blue Taurus came into view.

Seeing his car surrounded by law enforcement officers and

forensic specialists sent her stomach plummeting and created an

ache so deep in her chest it momentarily robbed her of breath.

Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off a long rectangular area

surrounding the vehicle–a sight she was all too familiar with in

relation to Mulder.

Scully pulled the car into a vacant space. She sat, engine still

running, hands locked firmly around the steering wheel and eyes

glued to the action ahead of her. She wasn’t sure she could face

this again. Not after everything else they’d just been through. It

was too soon.

A sudden onslaught of emotion constricted her throat, her breath

hitching around a small sob. She pressed the palms of both hands

to her eyes, physically holding the sting of unwelcome tears at bay

while at the same time wishing she had the luxury of simply

surrendering to them.

Mulder had to be running out of chances. He couldn’t continue to

tempt fate and expect to walk away. Somewhere along the line his

luck was bound to run out.

Willing uncooperative limbs to move, Scully pushed her door open

and climbed out of the car. She took a deep breath, straightened her

jacket, and walked toward the crowd of investigators.

“Agent Scully.”

A firm hand on her arm halted her progress.

“Sir…” She swallowed, and then forced her mouth to ask the

question she wasn’t sure she wanted him to answer. “Is…Agent

Mulder…?”

“No, Scully. There’s no sign of him.”

Relief weakened her knees and she felt herself sway. Skinner

steadied her. “Easy does it, Scully.”

“Sir…I…”

“Come and sit down.” His large hand grasping her elbow and

guiding her away from the car was so Mulder-like she wanted to

cry. Instead, she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the

other and convincing herself there was still hope of getting Mulder

back. Alive.

Skinner led her to a park bench. She eyed him from beneath a

loose strand of hair before stubbornly pushing it behind her ear.

“I’m fine, sir.”

“Sit down, Agent Scully.” Lips pursed into a tight line of defiance,

already self-conscious over her display of emotion, Scully perched

on the edge, refusing to give the impression she intended to stay.

Skinner dropped down beside her, leaning forward and propping

an elbow on each knee. He clasped his hands and fixed his eyes on

the patch of dirt between his feet.

“Sir, what have they found?”

“The crime scene boys have done a preliminary search of the

vehicle. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. However…” Skinner

cast a quick look in Scully’s direction and sat up straight. “We have

found bloodstains on the ground about 30 feet from the car.”

Scully kept her face impassive, although she was sure the

pounding in her chest could be heard in the next county.

“We’re sending a sample to the lab for analysis.” Skinner paused

and met Scully’s gaze, his voice losing some of its official edge.

“We’ll find him, Scully.”

Scully laid the back of her hand over her mouth, stilling the quiver

in her bottom lip. Not now. Not here.

“They also found faint tire tracks near the blood. They’re not in

great shape but we’re making a cast. It’s the best we’ve got at the

moment.”

“Actually, no, it’s not, sir. I’ve got Sal DeAngelo’s hard drive in

my car.”

Skinner looked startled. “How did you…? No, don’t tell me.”

“When Mulder paid his little visit to the DeAngelo residence

yesterday, Vickie found him at her husband’s computer. I checked

it over. I’m not certain, but some of Agent DeAngelo’s emails may

have been deleted. I have a strong feeling they are connected to

Mulder’s disappearance.”

Skinner nodded, stroking the line of his jaw with his finger. “We

can get it to the lab and have…”

“Sir…I’d rather keep this part off the record. If what I suspect is

true, Mulder may be the person responsible for deleting those files.

He would never destroy evidence without a good reason, but then,

he hasn’t exactly been himself lately. I just think it would be better

to keep our cards close to our chest for now.”

Skinner tipped his head to the side, eyes narrowing, “What do you

have in mind, Scully?”

“The Lone Gunmen. I’ve arranged for them to meet me at the

Hoover.”

Skinner raised an eyebrow. “You’re having them go to the

Hoover? ”

“I know, sir, but I didn’t feel comfortable keeping such a key piece

of evidence outside normal channels. I know their methods can be

a bit…unorthodox, but if anyone can recover those missing emails,

they can. And we’re running out of time. They can work in the X-

Files office; that way the hard drive is still in our custody.”

A brief hesitation, but Skinner nodded. “You’re right to see that the

computer doesn’t leave our sight. It could affect the credibility of

any evidence we might recover, when it comes time to prosecute

our killer. ” He grimaced. “Just keep an eye on them.”

“I will.” A sudden thought occurred to Scully. “When they

searched Mulder’s car, did they find the Mitchell case file?”

“No. As far as I know they’ve found nothing except for a few

personal items. Why?”

Scully chewed the inside of her cheek before continuing. “Mulder

told me he’d been reading the Mitchell file. He even offered to

show it to me last night, which means he had it in his possession. I

haven’t seen it at my place, so it should have been in his apartment

or with him when he came here.” She surprised Skinner by

swearing softly. “Without that file we’re working blind.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “I think it’s about time we spoke to

someone who was on the case with DeAngelo.”

“Sir, if you’ve no objections, I’d like to contact Kyle McNally. He

was the agent in charge and a close friend of Sal DeAngelo. I want

to speak to the man convicted of Monica’s murder, and Agent

McNally will be able to provide me with his name and where he’s

been incarcerated.”

“Go ahead, Scully. Forensics is almost finished with the car and

then…”

“There’s one problem. The boys should be on their way to the

Bureau. The hard drive is still our best lead. They need to begin

working on it as soon as possible.”

Skinner worked his jaw, gaze traveling between Scully and the

activity surrounding Mulder’s car. He sighed. “Give the computer

to me. I’ll babysit the three stooges.” A slight twist to his mouth

took the sting out of his words. “And you can go speak to

McNally.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Violent Crimes Unit

11:01 a.m.

“Hey, McNally! You coming to the game tonight?” Corey

Peterson leaned back in his chair. Index finger hooked into the

knot of his tie, he yanked it down to reveal the top button of his

shirt. With practiced dexterity he popped the button with thumb

and forefinger and let out a quick sigh of relief.

“Hey! Earth to McNally.”

Kyle McNally stared intently at his computer monitor, eyes fixed

on the image of flying windows leaping toward him. But his

thoughts had turned inward. His mind’s eye viewed an

unwelcome slideshow of a once beautiful woman covered in blood.

Of a man, caught in the glare of headlights, face twisted in

confusion, then frozen in horror.

“Hey!” A firm slap on his shoulder sent Kyle to his feet, hands

clutching the shirt of the man standing before him. It took a

moment for the bewildered face only inches from his own to

register as that of Agent Peterson.

He released him immediately.

Shock sent Corey Peterson reeling backward. Mischief replaced

by confusion, he dusted off his shirt and massaged the area where

fisted knuckles had dug into soft flesh.

McNally ran a trembling hand through his hair. “Jeezus, Peterson,

what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?”

Peterson eyed him suspiciously, “You okay, Kyle?”

McNally scrubbed at his face. When he answered an underlying

irritation coated his words. “Yeah, I’m okay. What is it with

everyone around here and their sudden interest in my health?”

“You gotta admit, McNally, you haven’t exactly been yourself

lately. Is there something you want to get off your chest?”

A sudden stab of panic turned his blood to ice. He stared at

Peterson, eyes narrowed, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Peterson dropped his voice an octave. “Hey, it was tough on you

when Sal died. Hell, it was tough on all of us. I know it bugs the

hell out of you that we haven’t been able to catch the creep who did

it. And…” Peterson paused, choosing his words carefully. “I saw

the memo this morning.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Peterson? What memo?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“About the new profiler.”

“New…?”

“McNally! Pick up the phone!”

Both men turned to see an older, disgruntled agent seated across

the room, one hand cupping the mouthpiece of his handset, the

other signaling for McNally to take the call.

Giving Peterson an irritated glare, Kyle turned back to his desk and

scooped up the receiver.

“This is Kyle McNally.”

“Agent McNally, I’m Special Agent Dana Scully. I work in the

Hoover. We haven’t actually met, but I think you may be able to

help me with a case my partner was looking into.”

An unpleasant tingle ran up McNally’s spine. He turned to Corey,

still lingering at his side, and pressed one hand over the phone.

“Private call. Give me some space, will you?”

Peterson held his gaze for a second before returning to his own

desk, brows pulled into a tight frown, muttering to himself about

‘only trying to help.’

Kyle pitched his voice smooth and friendly. “Agent Scully, what

can I do for you?”

“My partner, Agent Mulder, is missing, and I think his

disappearance may be connected to a case you worked with Sal

DeAngelo. It involved the murder of a woman, Monica Mitchell.”

Kyle fought to keep his tone neutral, “Yes, I know the one you’re

referring to. We caught the killer. He’s already stood trial and been

found guilty.”

“Where is he currently being held?”

He ground his teeth together–there was no way to withhold such

information without further raising her suspicions. “Maryland

Correctional Adjustment Center. But I don’t see how that…”

“We have reason to believe you may have convicted the wrong

man. Agent Mulder…”

“Agent Scully, I know all about Agent Mulder. I got a frantic call

from my best friend’s widow after she found him, uninvited, in her

home. I suggest…”

“With all due respect, Agent McNally, from what Vickie

DeAngelo has told me, her husband held the same concerns as

Agent Mulder. She told me that he couldn’t put the case to rest,

said there were certain things that just didn’t add up. He

believed…”

“Sal was under a lot of stress. He thought he saw something that

wasn’t there. Trust me, we got the right guy. We had hard physical

evidence–his prints were on the murder weapon and Monica’s

blood was all over his clothes. This is a cold-blooded killer, Agent

Scully, responsible not only for Monica Mitchell’s death, but four

other young women, as well. A jury found him guilty, and now

he’s going to die for his crimes.”

“You didn’t share Agent DeAngelo’s doubts?”

“Look, Agent Scully, Sal was my friend. He was an excellent

profiler, but he had an obsessive streak a mile wide. This wasn’t

the first time he couldn’t let a case go.” Kyle dabbed at a drop of

sweat sliding down the side of his jaw. “I’m sorry your partner is

missing. I’m not sure what he’s told you, but after the way he was

acting yesterday…”

“Thank you for your candor, Agent McNally, but I need to check

some things out for myself. Please give me the name of the man

who was convicted.”

Hand slick with perspiration, Kyle locked his fingers in a firm grip

around the telephone receiver. His jaw ached with the effort of

maintaining control. Reluctantly, he supplied Scully with Gary

Jansen’s name.

The erratic clatter of fingers tapping on keyboards and the friendly

buzz of bullpen banter came to a brief lull as Kyle slammed the

receiver back in its cradle. He gave the trashcan a satisfying kick

and ran a trembling hand through sweat-dampened hair.

“Damn it!”

McNally swiped at his coat, draped over the back of his chair,

cursing loudly when it snagged around the backrest. With an extra

tug he pulled the coat free and snatched his briefcase from beside

the desk.

“Hey, McNally! Where you going?” Peterson rose halfway to his

feet.

“I’m taking some personal time.” Without looking back, Kyle

strode purposefully toward the exit.

~~~~~~~~~~

ACT III

~~~~~~~~~~

Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center

1:19 p.m.

Scully handed over her weapon, squaring her shoulders as she

waited for the bars to slide open. Clad in a bright orange coverall,

Gary Jansen sullenly watched her step into the cell.

“Just my luck. First beautiful woman I see in longer than I can

remember, and she’s a Fed.”

Scully folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “Special Agent

Dana Scully. How did you know I was FBI?”

Jansen snorted. “I’ve talked to enough of you to last a lifetime.

Eventually you all start looking alike.” He shifted on his bunk so

his back was propped against the wall. “What do you want?”

Scully took a half step closer. “I’d like to ask you a few questions

about Monica Mitchell.”

Dark eyes narrowed. “Look, you’ve got me right where you wanted

me. Why the hell can’t you leave me alone? No one believes a

word I say anyway.”

“What if I were to tell you I have reason to believe you did not kill

Monica?”

Something–hope?–flickered in Jansen’s eyes before they went flat

and hostile. “Yeah? Well it’s too bad you weren’t around when it

counted, lady. In case you haven’t noticed, the jury already made

their decision.”

Scully bit the inside of her cheek, struggling to remain calm,

professional. “Mr. Jansen, someone very, very close to me may be

in the hands of the real killer. Now I realize you don’t know me,

and have little cause to trust me. On the other hand, you have

nothing to lose by talking to me. And possibly everything to gain.”

She submitted to his scrutiny for several long minutes before he

nodded. “All right. Go ahead.”

Relief left her feeling weak-kneed, but she forged ahead. “What

really happened the night Monica Mitchell died?”

Jansen dry washed his face with both hands, then let his head drop

back against the wall with a thump. “Somewhere around eight

o’clock that night I drove to Monica’s house. She hadn’t been

returning my calls, so I’d decided to just show up on her doorstep.”

“My understanding is that you’d broken up nearly a year previous.

Why were you trying to see her? Were you hoping to rekindle the

relationship?”

Gary snorted. “Hardly. She owed me money, nearly five hundred

bucks. She kept promising she’d pay me back and I’d let it slide for

months. Then the brakes on my car went out and I needed the

cash.”

“So you drove over without calling first. What happened when you

got there?”

“I rang the bell, pounded on the door–no answer. I started to get

pissed off because I was pretty certain she was there. Her car was

in the driveway and when I walked around the house I could see

lights and hear music playing.” He paused and grimaced. “Okay,

here comes the stupid part.

“I still had a key to her place. Don’t ask me why–I’d been in

another relationship for months and I certainly had no intention of

ever using it. I was just so damn tired of Monica giving me the

runaround and there it was, hanging on my keychain.”

“So you let yourself into the house,” Scully murmured.

Jansen began rhythmically tapping his head against the cinderblock

wall. “Ever notice how you can justify practically anything when

you feel like you’re getting screwed? I told myself it wasn’t

breaking and entering because, after all, she’d given me the key.

And besides, I was entitled to that money. If I gave Monica a little

scare in the process, it was no more than she deserved.” His lips

twisted into a bitter smile. “If she could see me now. Too bad she’ll

never know she got the last laugh.”

He sucked in a long shaky breath. “She was face down on the

floor, halfway between the living room and the kitchen. “I… at first

it was like my brain couldn’t understand what my eyes were

seeing. I thought she must’ve hurt herself or something–how’s that

for dense? I ran over and scooped her up in my arms, tried to get

her to wake up, t…to breathe. There was so much blood.”

Scully observed Jansen carefully during his speech. She was

interested to note that despite his earlier bravado he appeared

deeply affected by the memories. Increased respiration, the slight

stutter, the nervous movements of head and hands. If Jansen was

faking, he was one hell of an actor.

“You said you tried to get her to breathe. Was she still alive?”

“No.” Jansen spit out the word, sharp and cold. “When I turned her

over, her eyes were wide open. And the knife…there was a knife

sticking out of her belly. That was when I realized just what I’d

stumbled onto. And how it was going to look when the cops

showed up.”

“So you panicked and ran.”

“Damn straight, I did! I never belonged in that apartment in the

first place, and now I had her blood all over me.”

“And your prints on the knife.”

“I tried to wipe them off. Guess I was too rattled to do a good

enough job.” His lip curled. “Shoulda just left it in her. That’s what

I get for being sentimental.” But the pain in his eyes belied the

brutality of his words.

“I’d say that’s what you get for fleeing a crime scene. You might

not be here right now if you’d faced up to what happened.”

“Yeah, right. You’ve gotta admit, Agent Scully, I was the perfect

patsy. It’s a story as old as time–the ex-lover becomes insanely

jealous over the guy who replaced him. Hell, Monica and I were

never shy about fighting in public, before or after we split. There

was no shortage of witnesses to that at the trial.” He sat forward,

cradling his head in his hands. “Bad enough when I thought I was

taking the rap for Monica’s murder. But when they dragged out

those other dead women…”

Scully didn’t respond for a moment, replaying Jansen’s words.

“Gary, are you saying Monica was involved with someone?”

A nasty laugh. “Agent Scully, Monica was always involved with

someone. She wasn’t the type to let the sheets get cold, if you know

what I mean.”

“Do you know if the police checked him out?”

Jansen’s head popped up. “As a suspect? No, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because they already had their man.” The sneer faded and he

sighed. “Anyway, Monica was seeing the guy on the down low. He

was married.”

A spark of hope flared, warming the cold inside her. Somehow

Scully knew instinctively that this was it. This is what she’d come

for.

“She told you about him?”

“She liked to rub my nose in it now and then. See, Monica was an

ambitious little lady and I never really measured up to her

standards. I was good enough for a screw and a few laughs, but she

dropped me like a hot potato when Mr. Wonderful came along.”

Tamping down her excitement was excruciating, but Scully kept

her features bland. “What did she tell you about him?”

“Nothing specific. That he had a hotshot job and was climbing his

way up the ladder. That he’d tell his wife he was going out of town

on business and then sneak off to some sleazy motel with Monica.”

He rolled his eyes. “And that he was gonna get a divorce so he

could marry her.”

“You didn’t believe that last part?”

Jansen shrugged. “I guess it’s possible. I learned a long time ago

not to underestimate Monica. She might’ve looked like Barbie on

the outside, but on the inside…”

“What?”

His lips curved. “On the inside, she was Xena. Nothing stood

between her and what she wanted. Not for long.”

Except this time, Scully thought. This time, she met her match.

“Thank you for talking to me, Mr. Jansen,” she said aloud. “You’ve

been very helpful.”

“Is that it?” He sprang to his feet, though he was careful not to

approach her. “That’s all? What about me? If you believe I didn’t

kill Monica, what are you going to do to get me out of here?”

Scully signaled the guard to open the cell. “I’m going to find the

man who did.”

For the first time, Jansen’s composure broke. “Please, hurry.

There’s not much time.”

I know, she wanted to scream. Instead she walked briskly past the

whistles and catcalls and tried not to wonder if she was already too

late.

The Atlantis

Bungalow 26C

3:06 p.m.

“Damn it!”

Mulder collapsed against the mattress, sweat trickling down his

temples to darken the satin sheets. His head ached, his shoulder

burned, and the inside of his mouth had turned to sandpaper.

Nearly seven hours of focused effort had earned him a bruised

wrist, bloody fingertips, and the three screws squirreled carefully

under the pillow. All for naught, unfortunately, due to the one

stubborn holdout that refused to budge. The steel ring holding the

left handcuff jiggled and spun but refused to pull free.

Mulder’s eyes fluttered closed and he drifted, exhaustion

temporarily overcoming fear. Not awake, not fully asleep, images

flickered through his mind, jumbled and hazy.

Soft, strong hands moving over the tight muscles in his shoulders

and chest, first soothing, then arousing. Reaching up to tangle his

fingers in hair like red silk, pulling her down, lips brushing, then

clashing. Breathless laughter: Mulder, this is supposed to be

therapy. Silencing her with another kiss: It’s working, I feel better

already…

…I feel better already, Scully. Why should I have to sit around for

another three weeks before…? Blue eyes radiate anger and tears

while her hand traces still tender flesh. Damn it, Mulder, for once

in your life can’t you exercise a little self-preservation? This time

you weren’t poised on the edge of the abyss–you were in freefall.

Her voice breaks and suddenly only anger remains, like a knife to

his heart. Don’t you get it? For three minutes I lost you…

…I’ve lost you. Blue eyes shimmer, darken. Short copper tresses

lengthen to a cascade of long black curls. She drops to her knees,

heedless of the cold, muddy ground and traces a name etched into

stone. I told you to call the damn tow truck. If you’d listened to me

the first time, this never would’ve happened. If I’d gotten there five

minutes sooner… Sobs wrack her slender shoulders and she

presses her cheek to the icy granite. Oh, God, Sal, I’m sorry. Five

minutes and I’ve lost you forever…

He groans, struggling to reach past an impenetrable barrier.

Vickie. Cara mia…

“…Vickie. So sorry.”

“Stop it!”

Pain exploded along Mulder’s jaw, wrenching him to full

consciousness. He blinked, struggling to think past the buzzing in

his ears and the taste of copper on his tongue. Kyle stood over him,

fist upraised, his face nearly purple with anger.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?” His rapidly swelling lip

contributed an unintended but effective lisp.

“I want you to tell me where the disk is–now–or I’m going to

show you just how tired I am of your little Twilight Zone act.”

“I’ve heard dehydration causes memory loss.”

They glared at each other in Mexican standoff fashion for several

long minutes before Kyle stalked into the bathroom, cursing under

his breath. Mulder heard the crackle of cellophane wrapping and

then the blessed patter of water on plastic. He propped himself up

on his elbows, remembering the loosened cuff when it rattled.

Darting a quick look at the bathroom, he carefully shifted his body

to conceal the loosened bracket.

Kyle returned, water in hand, but simply stood beside the bed.

Mulder struggled unsuccessfully to conceal how desperately he

wanted the contents of the cup. He instinctively ran his tongue over

cracked lips, though his mouth was too dry to provide any real

relief.

“Maybe you should decide how badly you want this.” Kyle waved

the water in front of his face.

“I could say the same about the disk.”

Kyle gritted his teeth, grabbed Mulder by the hair, and thrust the

cup to his lips. Mulder gulped down two delicious mouthfuls

before the water was swiftly withdrawn. He pressed his lips tightly

together to hold back a whimper of frustration.

“That’s enough for now.”

Mulder pulled his lips into his mouth, sucking every drop of

moisture from them. “You’re a real prince.”

“Give me the location of the disk and you can have all the water

you can drink.”

“Last I heard, dead men don’t need much.”

He saw the fist coming this time, but couldn’t move fast enough to

dodge it. Mulder’s head rocked back and warmth gushed from his

nose.

“I’m tired of the smart mouth, too. You’d better come clean or…”

Kyle’s voice faded as the white noise in his head grew louder and

his vision swam in and out of focus. This time he clearly felt

himself shoved gently aside as another presence took over.

“Managgia! You really think he’s gonna give up the only thing

keeping him alive? If so, you’re stupid as well as crazy, paisan’.”

Kyle stumbled back a step, eyes huge. “I told you to stop that.”

“You’re the one who needs to stop. How far you gonna take this?

You cut up your girl, pinned it on an innocent man, ran down your

best friend like a dog in the street. Now you’re ready to kill this

poor schmuck? When’s it gonna end, Goombah?”

Kyle dropped the cup; clapped his hands over his ears. “Shut up,

SHUT UP!” He lowered his hands and stabbed one finger at

Mulder’s chest. “You’re dead, paisan’. I watched them bury you. So

you can stop spouting this bullshit, because I’m not buying it.”

The eyes regarding him darkened to black. “You watched ’em put

me in the ground, all right. And you were right there to comfort

Vickie when she was ready to follow me. How’d it feel, huh?

Holding my wife in your arms, knowing you’re responsible?” His

voice rose in an eerie imitation of Kyle’s. “We’re here for you,

Vickie. Anything you need, day or night, you just call.”

Kyle’s face went chalk white and he swayed on his feet. “That’s

imposs… How could you…?”

His lips stretched into a bloody grin. “Because I was there, you

bastard. I was there.”

Kyle turned and fled.

The X-Files Office

3:14 p.m.

Their bickering was driving her nuts.

“Are you about finished with that?”

“Keep your pants on, Hickey. I’m going as fast as I can.”

“Which is exactly why you should’ve let me do it.”

“Like you’d be any faster.”

“My mother would be faster.”

“Oh yeah? Well, your mother is…”

“Gentlemen, this isn’t helping Mulder. Frohike, move over a

minute.”

“Ow! Watch it, that’s my foot!”

Scully shoved back her chair, stood, and strode out of the office,

the staccato tap of her heels barely registering above the raised

voices. She stabbed the elevator button with her thumb, folded her

arms, and tucked chin to chest as she listened to the car rumble

down the shaft.

She’d been going over her notes, trying to fit the pieces she’d

gleaned from Vickie and Gary into some sort of cogent whole. One

that would somehow point her in the direction of the killer–and

Mulder. Her head throbbed from too much caffeine and too little

sleep, and her body felt like a tightly coiled spring. One more

minute cooped up with the poster triplets for annoying computer

geeks and she wouldn’t be responsible for her own actions.

The elevator doors slid open and she nearly collided with Skinner,

who was studying a piece of paper in his hand. Scully took three

quick steps backward, allowing the AD to exit the car.

“Excuse me, sir, I was just…” She shook off her surprise. “Is there

something new on the case?”

“Ted just dropped off the composite put together by Mulder’s

neighbor. I thought you’d like to see it before we start distributing

copies.”

clip_image006

Scully accepted the proffered sketch, a frown creasing her pale

brow as she scrutinized the bland features. “Nothing particularly

striking. Didn’t the guy have any distinguishing features–a mole,

freckles, something?”

Skinner cupped the back of his neck, massaging the flesh with a

grimace. “Ted said it took her a long time. She claims it was pretty

dark in the apartment and he only opened the door a crack, so she

couldn’t see much.”

She started to hand the sketch back to Skinner; hesitated, her frown

deepening. “Still… There’s something about him, about the eyes,

that seems almost…familiar.”

Skinner ducked his head to better see her face. “Funny you should

mention the eyes. According to Ted, that was the one feature she

was completely sure of. She said they ‘gave her the creeps.'”

Scully studied the face a moment longer, then returned the paper to

Skinner with a shake of her head. “It’s not going to be much help,

I’m afraid. That could be anyone of a hundred guys–a thousand.

We need something concrete, damn it, we’re chasing shadows.”

Skinner’s eyebrow lifted at the slip. “How did things go with

Jansen? Did you learn anything new?”

“Only that Monica Mitchell was an ambitious woman who knew

exactly what she wanted. And that she was involved with a married

man.”

“You think he could be the killer?”

Scully pursed her lips. “I think maybe Monica wouldn’t take ‘no’

for an answer.”

“Then we need to concentrate our efforts on finding out just who

this mystery man is.” Skinner thrust his chin toward the office

door. “Have they had any success?”

“Getting on my nerves, yes; with the computer, nothing yet.”

The acid tone brought Skinner’s eyes back to her face. “Scully,

we’re doing everything possible to find Mulder. It’s been less than

twenty-four hours, you can’t expect…”

“With all due respect, sir, if the man in Mulder’s apartment found

what he was looking for, Mulder may already be dead. If by some

chance, however, he left empty handed, Mulder’s only hope may

be for us to find it first. Whatever ‘it’ is.” She glared up at him,

anger her only shield against the deeper emotion she refused to

reveal. “I can expect, sir, and I do.”

Before Skinner could respond, Byers barreled out of the office. He

pulled up short when he saw Scully and Skinner.

“We’ve found something. I think this is it.”

Scully darted a quick glance at the AD before following Byers into

the office. Langly and Frohike, clustered in front of the computer,

parted like the Red Sea when they saw Skinner on Scully’s heels.

“It’s an email with an attached photo, nearly a year old,” Frohike

explained as Scully skimmed the writing on the screen. “Looks like

it came into the guy’s work computer and he forwarded it to this

one.”

…wonder how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel…

Scully’s sharp intake of air drew four pair of eyes. She gripped the

edge of the table, knees turned to jelly. “Oh my god.”

Alarmed by the uncharacteristic behavior, Skinner grasped her

elbow. “What is it, Agent?”

“Scroll down to the photo.” She forced the words past numb lips,

the sound of her own heartbeat deafening.

There was a brief power struggle as both Frohike and Langly went

for the mouse. With a low growl of impatience, Skinner batted

away their hands and took control of the device himself. He gave a

cursory glance at the photo before returning his gaze to the more

troubling sight of Scully’s chalk white face.

“Scully, what is it?”

“Let me see that sketch again.”

Skinner handed her the drawing, grinding his teeth as he waited her

out. She studied the drawing, then the photo, finally holding the

piece of paper beside the monitor. The resemblance between the

two was obvious.

“I’d say we found our killer.” Skinner frowned, reaching out to take

the sketch from her trembling fingers. “Let’s get a copy of that

photo, start running it…”

“I know who it is, sir. And I’m guessing you do, too.”

Her soft words had the impact of a scream. Skinner broke off,

expression blank with surprise. “What?”

“I saw that face just this morning in a photo on Sal DeAngelo’s

desk. And I spoke to the man not more than four hours ago when I

called for information on Gary Jansen. Sir, that’s Kyle McNally.”

Skinner’s incomprehension faded to disbelief. “McNally? Isn’t he a

profiler in the BSU?”

Scully nodded, some of the color returning to her cheeks as anger

replaced shock. “Profiler, ASAC, Sal DeAngelo’s best friend.” A

pause. “Monica Mitchell’s killer.”

“And Mulder’s kidnapper.” Skinner strode over to Mulder’s desk

and picked up the phone.

Scully turned back to the screen. “Jansen said they’d sneak off to a

motel. That must be where this photo was taken.”

“Either that or the dude has the kind of bedroom most guys just

dream about–” Langly grunted as Byers elbowed him in the ribs.

“Is there anything else we can do to help, Agent Scully?”

“I’ll need a copy of this file on a disk. Maybe with a little

enhancement we’ll be able to pick up a detail that can tell us where

this place is.”

“Your wish is our command.” The response was delivered without

the usual leer, communicating Frohike’s worry more clearly than

words.

Scully forced a smile, ashamed by her earlier impatience. “Thanks.

You three have been an enormous help.”

“You know we’d do anything for you and Mulder.” Byers glanced

a bit nervously at Skinner, who was barking into the phone. “If you

don’t mind, we’re going to keep looking. Just in case there’s

something more.”

“Of course. Take all the time you need.”

Skinner hung up the phone. The clenched jaw and stiff shoulders

told Scully all she needed to know.

“He’s not there now, is he?”

“He left around noon–hasn’t been back. No one seems to know

where he is or how to get in touch with him. I can try calling his

wife, but…”

“I doubt he’s got Mulder stashed in the basement.” Scully stared at

the disk Frohike placed into her hand. “I don’t know how Sal

DeAngelo came into possession of this email, but it may be the

only thing that’s kept Mulder alive. And our only hope for finding

him that way.”

Skinner gestured toward the door. “Then I suggest, Agent, that you

get started.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT IV

~~~~~~~~~~~

The Atlantis

4:19 p.m.

The exquisite torment of thirst, the sensation that his mouth had

somehow become one with the Gobi Desert, had been completely

eclipsed by this new misery. Mulder blinked back sweat that

persistently dripped into his right eye and tried to concentrate on

the gradually loosening handcuff rather than his screaming

bladder.

“Good thing…I never had that…cup of coffee.” He ground the

words through gritted teeth as he worked the bracket back and

forth. “Something to be said…for dehydration.”

His eyes sought out the clock and he tugged harder, grimacing at

the bright sparks of pain in his wrist. McNally had been gone over

an hour. The little voice in his head–the one he ignored all too

frequently–whispered that it was now or never. McNally was

nearly out of patience, and Mulder was nearly out of time.

“Some mess you got me into, paisan’. Set up the chess board–I got

a feeling we’ll be meeting face to face real soon.”

The intruder that had somehow taken up residence in his soul

remained silent, and yet… Mulder could feel him there, grief and

anger simmering on a low boil. He shivered, torn between dread

and empathy, and rattled both handcuffs.

“Should see me now, Scully. You thought…I was crazy…when I

dreamed about him.” He punctuated each pause with a vicious

yank on the chains. “Now I’m actually…talking to him.”

A grinding scrape of metal on metal and the final screw flew

through the air, landing on the carpet with a barely audible plop.

Mulder lifted his newly-freed arm and watched a trickle of blood

run from wrist to elbow, momentarily mesmerized.

Shaking off the shock-induced stupor, he sat up, only to groan in

frustration. Focused on removing the loose bracket, it had never

occurred to him that the phone was on the left side of the large bed.

Even with his wrist no longer tethered to the headboard, his

fingertips barely brushed the corner of the nightstand. Mulder

lunged against the right cuff, nearly pulling his shoulder from its

socket, to no avail. His lifeline to Scully perched cheerily on the

table, oblivious to his curses.

Mulder slumped back onto the mattress and glared at his reflection.

Hours of tedious, agonizing work and what did he have to show for

his pain? No means to call for help, no weapon… The only object

within reach was the empty cup, and the damn thing was made of

plastic.

“What’s up with that?” he growled at himself in the overhead

mirror. “Silk sheets on the bed and they can’t afford real glass…”

He watched a slow, cunning smile spread across the face of the

man in the mirror.

Mulder scooted onto his knees and turned toward the mirrored

headboard. Grasping firmly the bracket that now dangled from the

left handcuff, he brought it sharply against the glass with as much

force as he could muster. There was a crunch like breaking

eggshells, and several hairline cracks radiated out from the point of

impact. Clamping his lower lip between his teeth, Mulder raised

the bracket and smashed it against the mirror again. This time the

glass shattered, several shards popping out to land on the pillow.

Mulder picked up the largest, sharp as a knife and tapered to a

wicked point. No match for a gun, but maybe he could make sure

McNally had some ‘splainin’ to do back at the bullpen–and get in a

few licks for the man he’d failed. He tucked the other pieces of

glass beneath the pillow.

“Bring it on.”

Mulder flung himself onto his back, pressing the broken bracket

back into the headboard as best he could.

And waited.

Hoover Building

4:31 p.m.

“There. What is that?” One manicured fingernail pointed at a white

patch on the purple sheets.

“Looks like a towel. Hang on.”

Rob Eddings, the irreverent whiz kid of photographic evidence,

zoomed in on the object. Several clicks of the mouse, and Scully

and Skinner could clearly see a white towel draped across the end

of the bed.

Skinner leaned closer, adjusting his glasses. “See the gold near the

top? Looks like some kind of emblem.”

“Probably a logo for the hotel.” Eagerness seeped into Scully’s

voice. “Can you clean it up enough to read it?”

“Patience, grasshopper. I’m trying.”

Scully realized she was breathing down the Edding’s neck; stepped

back a pace, flushing when she felt Skinner’s gaze. “I know you

are, Rob.”

“There…we…go.” More clicks and the gold lettering on the towel

sharpened. Rob frowned. “That’s about as clear as she’s gonna get,

I’m afraid.”

“Looks like an A.” Scully traced the letter, careful not to touch the

screen. “Here’s the point. And this is the cross bar.”

“Except there’s something running diagonally through it. It almost

looks like a fork.” Skinner looked down at Eddings. “We’ll need a

printout of this.”

“Gotcha covered.” Eddings reached over, pulled the photo off the

printer and handed it to Scully. “Hope it helps you find Agent

Mulder.”

“So do I.” Scully smiled at the young agent. “Thanks, Rob. Hope

we didn’t cause you any trouble, jumping the line like this.”

Eddings chuckled. “No problem. I’ll just blame it on the AD.”

Skinner gave him a quelling look that appeared to go completely

unnoticed. Not for the first time Scully reflected that Eddings and

Mulder were two branches off the same tree.

“I’m going to start searching for hotels online,” she told Skinner as

they stepped into the elevator. “If we proceed from the assumption

that the name begins with the letter A, and factor in

the…peculiarities of room design and clientele, we should be able

to narrow the field to a manageable number.”

“The DC police have put out an APB on Kyle McNally and I’ve

got some of our own people looking for him, as well. If he

surfaces, we’ll be waiting.”

Scully stared at the floor indicator light as it tracked their descent.

“I’m afraid I tipped him off when I called about Jansen. He knows

I’ve connected Mulder’s disappearance to the Mitchell case.”

“You had no way of knowing one of our own would be the killer.”

Skinner shook his head. “His own wife hasn’t got a clue. She told

me he’s been sent out of town on a case. Asked if she could pass a

message to him when he calls home.”

The elevator lumbered to a halt and the doors opened. Skinner cast

a final intent look at Scully’s face before stepping out. “I’m going

to check in with the boys in blue. Keep me apprised of the

situation.”

“I will.”

The doors began to roll shut but Skinner stopped them with an

outflung arm. “Scully, if not for your sound investigative

technique, we wouldn’t have that photo. Whatever happens…you’ve

done everything you could for Mulder.”

She tipped her chin up and coolly met his concerned gaze. “I

respectfully disagree, sir. I haven’t found him–yet.”

She held on to the illusion of confidence until Skinner removed his

arm and allowed the doors to close. Sagging against the back wall,

Scully pressed trembling fingers to her lips.

“When I bail you out of this one I expect some serious groveling,

Mulder. Don’t you dare deprive me of the pleasure.”

She’d regained her composure by the time the elevator reached the

basement. The Gunmen were still huddled around DeAngelo’s

computer, though Frohike and Langly apparently had put aside

their squabbling. Scully sank into her chair with a sigh and booted

up her computer.

“Find anything new?”

Langly glanced up from the screen, poking at his glasses with one

long finger. “Only that the dude bookmarked some righteous porn

sites.”

“Terrific,” Scully muttered.

She’d pulled up Google and was beginning a search when Frohike

wandered over. He lifted the photo and squinted at it.

“Well, what do ya know? The guy was playing nookie with her at

The Atlantis, huh? At least he has good taste.”

She was concentrating so hard it took Scully a moment to process

his words. Her head snapped up. “You recognize that logo?”

Frohike snorted as if the very question insulted his intelligence.

“Of course I do. It’s The Atlantis. Classiest no-tell motel there is.

Way I hear it, they cater to all appetites. If you can’t find it there, it

doesn’t exist.”

“You’re certain?”

By this time Byers and Langly had picked up on the exchange and

come over to stare at the picture in their friend’s hand.

“He’s right. See? This object across the ‘A’ is a trident. That’s the

Atlantis’s trademark.” Byers flushed at Scully’s raised eyebrow.

“Um–so I’ve heard.”

“How far is it?”

A brief, silent consultation before Frohike spoke up. “It’s in

Hagerstown, about an hour from here. I can draw you a map.”

Scully stood and snatched up the phone. “Do it.”

The Atlantis

6:12 p.m.

He’d have sworn he was too wired to sleep, but his body had other

ideas. A puff of cool air carrying the faint scent of fall leaves and

fireplaces brought Mulder out of a light doze. He winced when his

fingers closed reflexively around the glass shard, nearly piercing

the skin. Leaning up on his elbows, he scooted back toward the

headboard, attempting to shield the broken bracket with his body

as much as possible.

McNally pocketed his keys but remained standing just inside the

door. In the muted light the glitter of his eyes gave Mulder the

distinct impression he was being examined like a particularly

interesting bug. A fifty-pound weight settled on his chest, and a

tingling sensation began at the back of his neck, shooting down his

spine. He pressed his thumb against the glass shard, the bright

spike of pain driving back panic until he could breathe again. He

batted his eyes.

“See anything you like?”

The wisecrack seemed to pull McNally from a daze. His lip curled.

“You know, I always heard you were a pain in the ass, Mulder.

The stories don’t do you justice.”

“You obviously haven’t been talking to the right people.”

Kyle didn’t reply, but he stepped close to the bed. His right hand

drifted to the small of his back and touched something tucked into

the waistband of his slacks.

Mulder futilely attempted to wet dry lips. “You know, it’d be in

your best interest to let me use the little agent’s room. Otherwise

I’m afraid at least one of us is going to regret it.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Damn. I hate it when I’m right.

Mulder kept his expression neutral. “If you really want that disk…”

“It’s too late for that now. Your partner’s poking her nose around,

asking all the right questions. It’s only a matter of time before she

figures things out.”

“Then turn yourself in. This doesn’t have to end badly.”

Kyle chuffed a bitter little laugh. “I killed my best friend, Agent

Mulder. It already has.”

“Is that regret I hear, McNally?”

For the first time something like remorse flickered in Kyle’s eyes.

“I didn’t want to kill him, he left me no choice. Sal was a good

friend, but he never would’ve kept his mouth shut.” The emotion

vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “This is all Monica’s fault.

That cheap little hustler got exactly what she deserved.”

“Of course, cheating on your wife is hardly the moral high

ground.”

That stare again. Flat. Assessing. “How do you do it?”

It wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. Mulder eyed Kyle warily.

“What?”

“Sound like…him. I can understand where you came up with the

idea. I’ve heard about the stuff you and your partner investigate–

aliens and Bigfoot and crazy shit like that. What I don’t understand

is how you knew those things about him. About…what happened.”

Mulder sensed it–the slow burn of anger and betrayal. He tried to

push back, determined to remain in control, but it was like trying to

stem a tidal wave with a bucket. “You mean how it felt to be

blinded by headlights and to hear the sound of your bones

breaking? Or what it was like watch your best friend drive away

while you choked to death on your own blood?”

Kyle recoiled, face a sickly gray. “That doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Your partner’s a pathologist. You could easily have picked up that

information from the police report, or the autopsy.”

And suddenly, Mulder found he owned the anger as completely as

the tortured soul of his unwelcome guest. As one they turned on

Kyle, zeroing in for the proverbial kill.

“How about this, paisan’? You took your foot off the gas for a split

second before you ran me down.” A nasty, jeering laugh. “You

were almost too chickenshit to go through with it.”

Face twisted by rage, McNally snatched a Bureau-issue Sig from

his waistband and leveled it at Mulder’s head. “I’m going to shut

you up, once and for all.”

“Do it like a man this time, you bastard. Tuck it right under my

chin and look me in the eye when you pull the trigger.”

“With pleasure.”

Kyle propped one knee on the mattress and bent over. With one

quick motion Mulder rolled toward him, swinging his left arm in a

wide arc. The heavy steel bracket dangling from the handcuff

caught Kyle across the cheekbone, splitting skin. He yelped,

swaying as blood sprayed from the wound. The gun slipped from

his fingers, falling to the mattress with a soft thump, and he

tumbled on top of Mulder.

McNally’s weight drove the air from Mulder’s lungs and pinned his

left arm to his chest. He dug his heels into the mattress and bucked

his hips, attempting to throw Kyle off so he could use the chunk of

glass. Kyle rammed an elbow into Mulder’s chest, fingers

scrabbling for the dropped Sig. The blow, though lacking in real

force, connected with still healing muscles and tissue. Mulder

screamed and nearly lost his grip on the glass, vision graying

around the edges and an insistent hammering in his head.

Their struggle had knocked the gun halfway across the slippery

sheets. Kyle, sensing his advantage, planted one hand over

Mulder’s heart. He raised up, forcing Mulder’s chest to support the

full weight of his upper body, while he reached for the weapon.

“Get ready, paisan’. I’m gonna send you back to hell where you

belong.” He leaned across the mattress, legs shifting slightly to

maintain his balance.

With a howl of rage and pain, Mulder brought up his knee squarely

between McNally’s now parted legs. Kyle shrieked, rolling onto his

side in a fetal curl. With superhuman effort, Mulder scrambled

onto his knees, respiration reduced to sobbing gasps for air. He

knocked the gun off the bed and pressed the razor sharp piece of

mirror into Kyle’s throat. Kyle groaned, then gasped as blood

oozed from the edges.

“Time for you to join me, you son of a bitch. Let’s see how you

like it on this side.”

The pounding in his head became a single, deafening bang. Scully

and Skinner blew through the door with a gust of cold air.

“Federal Agents. Freeze!” Guns leveled, they stared at the tableau

before them.

“It’s okay, Mulder. We’ve got things under control. Let him go and

step back.”

Despite his giddy sensation of relief, Mulder wondered at her

careful, soothing tone. He blinked at a stinging drop of sweat,

reflecting that he must look pretty bad for Scully to use her

“victim” voice.

“Put it down, Mulder.”

His fingers wouldn’t move–in fact, they pressed the shard more

firmly into flesh. Beneath him, Kyle whimpered again and more

blood trickled down to darken the sheets. Mulder gaped at his own

hand, willing the digits to obey. Stunned, then frightened when

they defied him.

“Don’t do this.” He said it aloud, not caring how it sounded. Scully

and Skinner already thought he was crazy. Might as well go for

broke. “It’s over.”

“Mulder…” She trailed off when Mulder lifted huge eyes to her

face, pleading. Skinner remained silent, watchful.

Mulder closed his eyes, mentally following the connection, his

voice soft and reassuring. “He’ll pay for what he did, and Gary

Jansen will walk out of prison a free man. Justice has been served,

Sal. You can let go.”

A bewildering jumble of emotion rose up within him–regret,

sorrow, release. It flooded his soul like an enormous wave,

breaking over him, washing through him.

And was gone.

Mulder dropped the makeshift knife and moved back against the

headboard. He pressed one hand to his chest, shivering as he

watched his boss efficiently take McNally into custody.

“You all right?” Skinner’s inquiry was as business-like as his

Miranda recitation.

“Yeah.” He looked up at Scully. “I’m okay.”

She unlocked the remaining cuff, fingers discretely massaging torn

flesh, eyes communicating everything Skinner’s presence

restrained. A feather-light touch to his bruised cheek and the lump

on the back of his head, then a raised brow. “You’ll still need to see

a doctor.” A pause. “But I think we can dispense with the

psychiatrist.”

So he wasn’t the only one with regrets. One corner of Mulder’s

mouth turned up. “Deal.”

The adrenaline rush ebbed and he was suddenly aware of a need

more pressing than any of his other aches and pains. “Uh, Scully. I

do have a bit of a problem. In fact, I’d call it an emergency.”

She snapped to attention. “What’s wrong, Mulder? Is it your chest?

Your head?”

“Uh-uh.” He lurched to his feet, barely resisting the urge to dance.

“My bladder. If I don’t make it to the bathroom in about ten

seconds I’m going to contaminate a crime scene.”

Scully folded her arms as he staggered past her. “Damn it, Mulder,

that’s not funny. You had me really worried.”

“Brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘pissing you off,’ huh,

Scully?” He flashed her an impudent grin as he shut the door.

She sighed and shook her head. Mulder’s irreverent sense of humor

had apparently survived intact–and so had he.

Thank God.

~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

~~~~~~~~~~

Hoover Building

Two days later

Skinner closed the file folder and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve

read your report, Agent Mulder. You must admit your account of

the events is more than a bit…unorthodox.”

Mulder shrugged. “I’ve given you the truth. How you choose to

interpret it is completely up to you.”

“Is it true that Agent McNally has admitted culpability for the

murder of Monica Mitchell?” Scully asked.

Skinner nodded. “And of Agent DeAngelo, as well. We have a

signed confession.” Skinner gave Mulder a shrewd look.

“According to the DC cops, he was eager to cooperate, even

waived his right to have an attorney present. They said he seemed

anxious, kept muttering some nonsense about burying the dead.”

Mulder’s face revealed nothing. “And Gary Jansen?”

“Should be released within the next 24 hours, if he hasn’t been

already. He owes you his life, Mulder.”

The hint of a grin tugged at the corners of Mulder’s mouth but his

expression was wistful. “Not me.”

Skinner glanced uneasily at Scully, then forged ahead. “At any

rate, McNally’s confession omits our need for the email that cost

Agent DeAngelo’s life–and nearly yours, as well.”

All traces of the smile vanished. “I believe that’s called irony, sir.”

Scully turned from Skinner to her partner. “That reminds me,

Mulder. Where did you put the floppy disk McNally was after? He

certainly tore up your apartment looking for it.”

He smirked. “I subscribe to the ‘hide in plain sight’ rule, Scully. I

labeled it and put it with all my other disks.”

Both eyebrows soared. “You labeled it? As what?”

The smirk became a grin. “Porn.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to Skinner. “Is that all, sir?”

“I’d say that’s more than enough, Agent Scully,” Skinner replied

dryly.

As they stood up he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a

piece of paper. “By the way, you might be interested to know that

the owner of The Atlantis was quite upset when he learned a

murderer had used his establishment to hold a federal agent

hostage. He doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by the negative

publicity.”

“Some reputation,” Scully muttered.

“Be that as it may, he insisted on giving me this certificate for two

complementary nights in one of the deluxe Jacuzzi suites.”

Mulder snickered. “Walter, you dog! Who’s the lucky lady?”

Skinner slowly stood and walked around his desk, face unreadable.

Scully glared at Mulder. “Sir, I’m sure Agent Mulder intended no

disrespect…” She trailed off when she realized Skinner’s expression

was smug, not angry.

“Actually I thought I’d pass it along to you two. I’m sure you’ll

figure out what to do with it. There’s a three day weekend coming

up soon, isn’t there?” He pressed the coupon into Mulder’s hand

with a cheery shark’s grin.

Mulder stared blankly at the coupon while Scully’s cheeks flushed

and she searched futilely for an appropriate response. As if

oblivious to their discomfiture, Skinner sauntered back to his desk,

sat down, and began reading from a file folder. He glanced up at

them over the top of his glasses.

“That’s all, Agents. Dismissed.”

It wasn’t until they were alone in the elevator that Scully found her

voice. “Well. I guess that’s his way of telling us he knows. How do

you suppose he found out?”

Mulder shrugged. “Does it matter? Cat was bound to squirm out of

the bag sooner or later.”

She scowled at him, hands propped on hips. “You’re awfully calm

about this! Aren’t you the least bit concerned that our boss now

knows we’ve both been playing doctor?”

Mulder shrugged, never taking his eyes from the certificate his

hands. “Nah. Skinner doesn’t care, Scully. As long as we aren’t

playing tonsil hockey or doing the naked pretzel in the office, he’ll

look the other way. Right now we’ve got something far more

important to worry about.”

“Really? And what would that be?”

He waved the certificate in front of her nose, a kid with a new toy.

“How soon can we use this?”

One thought on “Justice, Interrupted Part 2”

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