TITLE: Walk Like a Man
AUTHOR: Windsinger (aka Sue Esty)
E-MAIL ADDRESS: Windsinger@aol.com
DISTRIBUTION: IMTP for the first two weeks, then Ephemeral,
And Gossamer. All others, please contact the
SPOILER WARNING: Fire, Fearful Symmetry, The End, CC season 7,
previous VS8 and VS9 universe.
CLASSIFICATION: X-File, A, MSR
SUMMARY: A side trip to report on a fire in the FBI field office
brings Scully face to face with an old ‘boyfriend’ and Mulder
makes a couple of new friends of his own. Mulder and Scully are
soon hip deep in arson, riverboat gambling, prostitution, dog
hair, revenge, and death.
September 12, 1am
George Tienne, stared briefly into the small room. There was not
much to it but a bed. A single, red bulb burned. The old Korean
woman had been there and for the amount they paid her had done as
adequate a job of cleaning up after the night’s excesses as one
could expect. In any case they were as clean as they needed to
be. This wasn’t the Hyatt after all, the man thought with a
sardonic smile. He headed for the narrow stairs.
Leaving the stairwell, he first locked the flimsy door behind him
and then turned to face the vast, shadowy cavern that was the
warehouse floor. As usual, he felt a twinge of primitive
apprehension. All that dark. Not ‘as usual’, he heard a growl.
Confused, Tienne stared in the direction of the sound and spied
three points of light, all roughly knee high, glowing from one of
the deeper shadows. Pulling a small flashlight from the pocket of
his silk suit, he pointed its wavering, feeble beam towards the
three sparks. He need not have bothered. The spots moved forward
until the figure was full in the dim light of the cavernous
With a sigh, Tienne flicked off the beam and slipped the light
back into his pocket even as his heart rate slowly dropped back
to normal. “What a bad boy you are,” he said with nearly his
normal voice. “And what’s that you got there? A cigarette? A lit
cigarette? Who would ‘ave believed it.” For there was a lit
cigarette butt contrasting with the dark head and white teeth.
There were also no more growls, just an almost comical grin, until the
head lowered over a pool of what looked like water on the floor.
The slightest puff and the tip of the butt reddened and a flicker
fell to the floor. By the whoosh of flame the fluid had been
anything but water.
With an oath that was more alarm than fear, Tienne spun on the
toes of his expensive Italian shoes to run, to find a fire
extinguisher, to call the fire department. No, not the fire
department. But before he could decide what to do something heavy
and black streaked forward to latch onto the sleeve of his suit
“What do you think yer doin’! You crazy?”
Even as he cried out the flames found fresh tinder in the piles
of dust-dry packing material stacked everywhere about the
warehouse. The flames were man-size now and racing hungrily across
In the man’s terror, he stripped off his coat, but the demon’s
teeth only took a new hold, this time into the flesh of the man’s
arm. There it hung, a dead weight that would not be dispelled.
Human screams were drowned in the fire’s roar as the flames
joyously swirled higher and higher around them both.
September 13, 3pm
She should have parked farther away, Dana Scully thought as she
completed the distance between the Mississippi Visitor’s Center
and where she had parked their rental car. Easing back behind the
wheel, she was pleased to see that her companion in the
passenger’s seat slept on. She didn’t see how. Even with the seat
pushed back as far as it would go, he looked uncomfortable with
his arms and legs all in a jumble. She took a moment to examine
his face. At least in sleep the lines of strain were less. He
didn’t seem to be dreaming either, another reason to give thanks.
As quietly as possible, she turned the key in the ignition. The
motor chugged to life, not as smoothly as she would have wished.
In response Mulder turned, stretched, or tried to, and reversed
the drooping slouch so he was sitting more or less upright.
Groggily, he blinked the sleep from his eyes.
“Sorry to wake you, but since you’re up anyway do you need to
make a pit stop?”
With an effort he squinted against the glare, towards the cluster
of rest stop buildings that looked exactly like so many others
all over the country. He probably didn’t even remember what state
they were in. Not enough sleep, not nearly enough.
“Where are we? We must be close if you’re doing the bladder
She jabbed him lightly in the shoulder.
“Ow!” He clutched at the affected area as if he were actually
injured. The broad smile took ten years off that face.
“So I don’t like to appear on the scene and immediately start
looking for a bathroom. Do you need to go or not?”
He waved her on. “I’m fine. I’m not the one who had two cups of
coffee at lunch.”
“You’re not the one who has to be able to function once we get
The grin faded. She shouldn’t have said that.
“Trying to tell me that the Energizer bunny is not what he used
to be? That I know.”
Sulking, he slid back down onto his backbone, knees almost to his
chin. Scully found her exit and headed towards town. She would
have liked to cheer him up but had learned long ago that she
might as well save her breath. Her talking about his moodiness
only made him moodier. He’d come out of it. His mind was too
active, too starved for input, to run in circles for long. If you
want a sensitive man in your life, it was the price you paid. For
this particular sensitive man, she’d sell her soul.
“Where’s Skinner again?” he asked.
She had told him before, but he must not have been paying
attention or he would have remembered. “Paris. Some Marine unit
“Paris? His unit served in Vietnam.”
“You’d hold a reunion in a malaria-invested swamp?”
“Why not? Can’t beat it for atmosphere. I just hope he gets back
soon. Having Kersh hand out the homework assignments makes me
“Skinner will be back Monday. I know that you don’t see eye to
eye with Kersh –”
“Aim lower. The man hates my guts. He looks at me like I was
something the dog just rolled in.”
Scully resisted giving her partner a sisterly pat on the head. In
his present mood he wouldn’t find the gesture either comforting
or humorous. She settled for, “He just doesn’t know the real
“Skinner would probably have assigned us here anyway. We were in
A “hrump” from the passenger seat indicated that Mulder clearly
believed it unlikely.
He had a point. Skinner always had had an amazing ability to read
between the lines of their well-laundered case reports. He was
also a pro at reading body language or, in this case, of reading
voices over the phone.
Returning to his subject, Mulder grumbled, “Kersh must have gone
into my records.” Hazel eyes stared morosely out the window.
“I’ll bet that he made notes on everything I hated and when
something came up that fit the bill — bingo!” His palms came
together in a loud smack that made her jump.
“You don’t have to go near the fire. It’s really my case. You’re
“I know, just along for the ride. Useless…again.”
Ouch, Scully thought. Lookin’ bad.
“Mulder, I know that it’s primarily my assignment, but I’m still
grateful to have you along. And you know that I’ll be as quick as
I can. It shouldn’t take long. They called me in because I know
what should be stocked in district level laboratories. I set up
two during my internship. And look on the bright side…if the
fire was anything like what was described in the report they sent
us, then there won’t be much to salvage. It’ll be a total loss.
One night, maybe two and we’ll be home.”
The buildings of Vicksburg’s small downtown area appeared on
their right. Where the land dipped they’d find the river, the
mighty Mississippi that they’d already crossed earlier in the day
on their trip from Arkansas. Where the smoke curled high and
black and oily, they would find the fire. Almost at the same time
that the smoke came into view, Scully could smell it. Troubled,
she shot a look in Mulder’s direction. He hadn’t moved. He still
stared unblinking out the window though his jaw had tightened. He
had to have smelled it, too, and she thought that she saw him
swallow, not once but multiple times.
After that, she was forced to pay attention to the road. Somehow
even this place with its mild winters had managed to accumulate
its share of car-mangling potholes and they were not entering the
best part of town. Maybe not the worst either, but certainly the
oldest. Within blocks of leaving the interstate she was
navigating down a narrow street. On her left, tall warehouses
which must have stored cotton for decades even before the Civil
War, blocked her view of Old Muddy. On her right were mills just
as old. Huge, dirty, many-paneled windows looked out on the
street. The warehouses and mills were mostly empty now, decaying
and stocked with pallets of goods no one needed anymore. Oh, a
lucky few of the ancient behemoths were close enough to the good
part of town to make it worth someone’s time to renovate them
into trendy outlets, boutiques, sports clubs or apartments, but
she saw none of those here. One, however, had been leased and
cheaply renovated by a certain budget-poor and space-hungry
Scully took a shallow turn where both road and river curved as
one, and all at once there it was. Squatting on an entire block,
black with soot and charred timber, it smoked under a low sky of
the same color. She was almost relieved to see that it was nearly
as dead as a building can get. Maybe what she had told Mulder
about seeing home soon would actually turn out to be true. She
would know soon, for at the far end of the dead mass she could
make out the distinct flashing lights in blue and red, white and
yellow. There must be two dozen emergency vehicles, though even
their brilliant colors found it hard going to cut through the
She drove slowly past the south end of the building. They built
well a hundred or so years ago. Even as damaged as it was,
even with its roof and most of its upper floors burned through,
much of the outer brick walls still stood. Ash-covered pools were
everywhere, however, evidence that the fire department had been
here and moved on, following or trying to get ahead of, the
inferno’s hungry advance. They hadn’t kept very far ahead, but
then buildings of seasoned wood and decades of accumulated dust
burn fast and hot. At the north end of the block, the fire
department was still cleaning up the last bits of orange flame.
From what Scully could see as she pulled up behind the yellow
police tape, there was a good deal less damage here than at the
“Local relations must not be too bad,” Mulder’s voice announced,
the sudden break in his silence startling his partner. “The
Bureau’s offices may not be a total loss.” His head was inclined
towards a sign on an intact section of the old brick wall above
where two fire fighters conferred. A blue and white four-by-three
foot rectangle was miraculously untouched except for the streams
of dirty water running down its face — Federal Bureau of
Investigation, Central Mississippi Field Office.
“Sorry. Guess we won’t be going home as soon as we had hoped.”
“When have we ever gotten so lucky?”
Not that often.
For the next few minutes they watched the elaborate choreography
of fire fighters, trucks, ladders, and hoses dramatically framed
within the high arcs of water. All the while, the lights of the
emergency vehicles cut like colorful light sabers through the
And always there was the smell. It wasn’t the worst Scully had
ever run into, not by a long shot. Then again maybe that sense
had dulled in her over the years. It wouldn’t surprise her
considering the hours she spent among much more noxious odors. Or
did the smell bother her so little because she saw it as another
player in the drama that she found so immensely satisfying? The
thrill racing through her body at this moment reminded her of why
she had gotten into this. Law enforcement, fire and rescue,
emergency medicine. Helping when help was needed. This excitement
was why she had considered a nice, safe family practice for only
about a minute and a half during all her years of medical school.
She found that she longed to plunge in among all those lights and
hoses. She wouldn’t even mind the soot or getting her hair wet
from the spray.
But there was Mulder. She looked over her shoulder. He hadn’t
moved a step from his place beside the passenger door, which kept
the car’s body between him and the ruin of the building. Just
then the wind shifted and a cloud of oily smoke rolled down the
street towards them, temporarily obscuring the scene to an opaque
gray. Scully felt as if she were watching the last gasps of a
fallen monster whose bones, already blackened in death, stretched
from one end of the block to the other.
Shifting her attention, she noted with satisfaction that her
partner was equally fascinated, but then he also found flesh-
eating mutants that would just as readily eat him fascinating.
She was struck again at how tired he looked. Even the complex
emotions he must be feeling couldn’t mask his obvious fatigue.
“There’s nothing much to be done here now,” she said. “It will be
at least tomorrow before we can get near this end. Why don’t you
go find us someplace to stay. Call me with the specifics.”
His gaze shifted warily, as if she had asked him to make a coffee
“Mulder, admit it, you’re beat. Get some sleep. Find something a
little upscale this time. Something with ESPN and room service.
Just make sure that it’s upwind from here.”
When his expression failed to change, she dropped her voice and
looked up at him through her eyelashes. “While you’re at it, get
one of those rooms with a king-size bed.” They would get two
rooms so that everything would look kosher for the bean counters,
and because they each liked to have their own space, but no one
said anything about where they actually slept. “It’s been a long
time,” she added just in case in his suspicion and weariness he
missed her point. It HAD been a long time since they had done
more than just sleep together.
His response this time was a slight widening of his eyes, a
straightening of his spine. There was still no alteration in his
features, but his whole form seemed to have taken on a little
glow. It was enough. It would do very well. Before the sudden
intimacy became too uncomfortable she turned away, her body
humming in pleasurable anticipation.
Before either had time to say more Scully’s attention was caught
by a tall, solid male figure, striding energetically in their
For a long moment she just stared. “Shit,” she breathed. Hastily,
she turned back in Mulder’s direction as if her only intention
was to reach for something in the back seat of the car.
“You thought Kersh was after you?” she stage-whispered just
barely loud enough to be carried over the sound of idling engines
and swimming pools of water being forced under pressure through
hoses. “You were wrong. He’s after me, or both of us.”
She lingered only long enough to catch the change in Mulder’s
expression. Eyebrows raised, face subtly changing with curiosity,
he looked beyond her at their visitor. Reluctantly, she turned
back, busying herself unnecessarily with adjusting the strap on
her shoulder case.
The newcomer’s voice boomed. “Agent Scully! Scully! They could
have knocked me over with a feather when I heard they were
sendin’ you!” Ignoring her stiffly outstretched hand, the man
grasped her in a rough, enveloping bear hug that lasted several
tenths of a second too long for old friends. A single tenth of a
second, however, was enough time for Scully to feel her partner
bristling at her side, though how he had moved from the opposite
side of the car as quickly as he did she had no idea.
“You must be Agent Mulder,” said the deep voice with its affected
Southern drawl. “Heard about you.” He gave no hint of what he had
heard, however, though the tales had most likely been neither
good nor true. Neither did he extend his hand or look at Mulder
very closely. His hands were still occupied in gripping Scully’s
upper arms, an affectation he must have picked up from the
movies. “Let me look at you,” which he did with an intensity that
made Scully wish that she was wearing about three more layers of
“Special Agent Fox Mulder,” she introduced, awkwardly, inclining
her head in her partner’s direction, “this boa constrictor is
Horace Samson. He was the mentor assigned to me during my field
“That’s Special Agent in Charge Horace Samson to you, Scully, and
what’s this talk about ‘mentors’? We were partners.” Eyes never
leaving her face, he added, “She ever tell you stories about us,
“Mulder,” the current partners said together, to which Scully
added, “And that’s ‘Agent Scully’, Agent Samson.”
“Sure, sure, though don’t be none too surprised if I forget.
We’re a lot less formal down here in the swampy South. She ever
tell you, Mulder, that she had a kind of a thing for me back
then? Older agent, hero worship, all that stuff. All under the
blanket though, fraternization bein’ frowned on, but where
there’s smoke, there’s fire, they say. Ha! Ha! Get it? Smoke?
All this time he still had her at arm’s length as if she were a
picture he was thinking of buying. “My, but you’re looking good,
Scully. Classy, real classy. Maybe you can show the female agents
in my neck of the woods how to dress while you’re here.”
Scully extricated herself with difficulty on the pretense of
digging into her shoulder bag for the file folder that held what
little information they’d been given on this inter-bureau
“Speaking of ‘here’, tell us about ‘here’. We weren’t sent many
Horace Samson shrugged with obvious false modestly. “I’ve been
squattin’ here for two years, ever since my promotion –”
“I mean about the building and the fire.”
“Oh, that. Bureau got a ten-year lease on this monstrosity about
five years ago. It was temporary, they said, while they argued
over funding for a permanent structure. Argue is all they’ve
done. Conditions of the lease required that we take the whole
thing. Now you could house a battalion in there, but,
unfortunately we couldn’t move into most of it because the budget
won’t support the renovations and OSHA would have a field day if
we tried to use it without, so we only use about a third. Fire
started up before midnight, up the street in the end unit that a
J.A. Lazarus Corp sublets from us. That’s just used for storage
as far as I know. As for me, I won’t miss this particular black
hole, I’ll tell you that. It’s been a maintenance nightmare.”
“And where were you last night in the hours before midnight,
Agent Samson?” Mulder asked in his driest tones.
Samson’s face darkened for a moment to a swarthy purple and then
just as quickly it pinked as he started to laugh. “Good one! Yes,
that was a good one!”
Mulder took a step away to avoid a manly slap on the back which,
from the thickness of Samson’s arm, looked capable of bruising
“Thought for a second you were serious, but then you don’t know
about the other fires.”
“Other fires?” Scully inquired with interest. “There have been
“Two others, also old mills, all within six blocks. Someone is
starting their own urban renewal project, but that’s a whole area
of investigation that you don’t need to worry your over-paid
heads about. Our arson guys are already working with the local
arson guys. Three is no accident.”
“What shape are the labs in?” Scully asked, praying that the
rooms had been reduced to ash. It would be good to be able to
drag their tired bones home.
“Amazingly good. Water and smoke damage mostly, and heat, of
course. They’re housed in an annex, a series of those modular
units in an inner courtyard. The old building’s electrical and
plumbing just couldn’t be brought up to code. We should be able
to save a fair amount of the supplies and equipment, but not
without a lot of work.” A big grin aimed in Scully’s direction
broadened even further the wide, beefy face. “Which is where you
Scully hoped that the SAC didn’t notice her shoulders sag in
disappointment. She hadn’t even needed to look to know that
Mulder’s had as well. “Can we get in there yet?”
“To a limited extent. I have staff moving things out now. We’ve
taken over an empty grocery store some blocks from here where
we’ll actually be separating the wheat from the chaff. That’s
primarily where you’ll be working, but not until tomorrow. If you
want to see anything today, you’ll want to change.” He eyed her
in a way that indicated that he was not simply estimating her
size. “I think we do have coveralls, boots and a hard hat that
will fit you. They’ll be a little big, but I’m sure that a woman
of your experience can manage.” The sliver of a grin that
followed the oh-so-innocent comment was enough to heat a certain
red-head’s temper to a near boil. Before she could muster an
attack, however, Samson’s attention had turned to Mulder.
“Nothing left your size though, I’m sorry to say,” though from
the tone of his voice he wasn’t sorry at all.
Scully stepped in before the two actually began snarling at each
other. “That’s no problem. Mulder has a critical report to finish
from our last case, don’t you, Mulder? As we discussed, why don’t
you go find us a couple of rooms.”
Mulder’s eyes narrowed as his shoulders bunched again but after a
moment, she saw the wrinkles in the suit jacket smooth out. He
had given up quickly, too quickly. He must be even more tired
than she thought.
“Here, now,” announced Samson, “you needn’t bother about scouring
the city for accommodations.” With that his big right hand went
to his coat pocket from where he pulled two keys. With a sudden
snap he tossed these to Mulder who, rising to the challenge,
deftly caught them despite the intentionally bad throw. These
were not the modern programmable pass cards most hotels now use,
but real keys, the kind with large and, in this case, well-worn
plastic tags. “I took the liberty of getting you some rooms. A
real bargain and right across the street from the command center
and our temporary office digs. Sorry, no Ritz this time; got to
save our mutual boss a few bucks. Course, it’s going to smell
gawd-awful being so close to the scene, but after a few minutes
bathed in the stuff, who’s to notice?” Having clearly noted
Mulder’s well-tailored suit — one of her partner’s few vanities
— the SAC asked, “You don’t mind roughing it, I hope? Good for
public relations considering that the businesses around here are
going to suffer.” Almost happily, Samson glanced over his
shoulder at the devastation. “Well, come on Dear — excuse me,
‘Agent’ Scully — let me show you what’s left.”
Scully made a mental note of the section of the building his hand
pointed towards. “Why don’t you go on, Agent Samson. I’ll follow
in just a moment.”
With a wink in Mulder’s direction that could have implied
anything, Samson headed back to what remained of his field
office. Good thing, too, Scully thought, as her partner’s right
hand had unconsciously clenched into a fist at his side.
“Never thought that jocks were your type,” he quipped with a
brittle smile. “He’s got former fullback written over every
“Horace may have said there was smoke but that was just the dust
from my back-pedaling,” she replied, stiffly. “At its height our
‘relationship’ was about as warm as day old coffee. Coming out of
medical school, my first assignment was forensics, as you might
imagine, but I wanted field agent status. You know that rookies
are always teamed with a mentor.”
“And Samson was someone’s idea of bad joke.”
“The ol’ boy neckwork strikes again. Stick it to the little
woman,” she replied glumly, squaring her shoulders as if
preparing for battle. First, however, she took a step closer and
allowed her hand to come up stealthily between them so that she
could just touch his sleeve. “You going to be all right?” She
meant the fire, of course, not Samson. She had no serious
problems with the big lug as she knew Mulder didn’t. Even now
Mulder’s eyes had left the broad back of the ASAC. His attention
had returned to the blackened brick and timbers of what remained
of the warehouse.
“Problems? Me? Seriously, I can manage. I just don’t have to like
it in the same way that I don’t have to like disemboweled bodies,
formaldehyde, old urine, or Brussel sprouts. How about you and
that man’s sticky hands? I thought you were going to slug the
“And I thought _you_ were. No, don’t worry about me. I can deal
with Samson. We do have a ‘history’ of sorts though not the fairy
tale he remembers. I’ve let him have his fun. If he didn’t get
the hint, however, he’ll end up with my fist in his teeth next
time he tries to feel me up.”
“That’s my girl. Subtlety incarnate.”
She laughed on cue though something in her tingled with an
unexpected brightness. ‘My girl.’ It was the sort of thing that
should have rankled but didn’t. Had he been trying to get a rise
out of her or had he meant the remark as an endearment?
But he didn’t seem to have meant either. Distractedly, he was
studying the building. More significantly, he was idling flipping
the keys Samson had given him so, somewhere in that brilliant
mind, thoughts were grounded in the here and now, even if
“I guess that you’d better give me one of those keys,” she said.
“No,” he replied, drawing out the word thoughtfully, “I don’t
think so. I have a bad feeling that the dives I normally pick are
going to look like the Taj Mahal compared to Jim Bo Bob’s
selection. And then there’s the room numbers.” He held them up
for her to see.
“In addition to broadcasting to the world where we’re staying,
they’re a floor apart and likely to be on opposite ends of the
“The creep,” Scully snarled.
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said pocketing both keys.
She wanted to give him a kiss. Much as it was against their code
of no overt intimacy when anyone could see, she wanted this more
than anything. Nothing passionate, just a peck on the cheek but
he was gone, physically as well as mentally. Pausing first to
slide the driver’s seat back as far as it would go, he had folded
his lean form into the car. Within seconds he had backed up and,
with a wave and the travesty of a smile plastered on his face,
was heading down the empty road parallel to the long block of
what was left of the warehouse. She watched until he reached the
end of the block and turned right, lost from view. Without
enthusiasm, she set off in search of Samson.
Once around the corner and out of sight from Scully and everyone
involved in cleaning up the last of the fire, Mulder stopped the
car and turned off the engine. For a moment he sat as if making a
decision. Finally, he unwound slowly from behind the wheel.
Blackened beams towered above him. In many places, crumbling
walls of brick remained upright but precariously so.
Occasionally, there was a glitter from broken glass or pool of
Samson had confirmed their suspicions. This was the first area
where the fire had been controlled, also where it had started.
Occupied with saving what they could of the offices of the
building’s most illustrious tenant, the fire department had moved
on from here rather quickly. Mulder looked for remaining hot
spots and found only a few places where smoke rose lazily into
the leaden sky. His body tensed when, to his right, a beam
shifted, charred wallboard slipped and a stream of water flowed
down to spit and sizzle momentarily on a warm area below. Nothing
more than that. Slowly, tense muscles relaxed.
He knew why he was here. True, the Lively case so many years
before had broken his near phobia about fire — it no longer
paralyzed him — but, as he told Scully, that didn’t mean that
he enjoyed being around it. Just to be sure that the demon stayed
in its cage, therefore, he took readings from time to time when
he found a place like this. He was glad to be able to report that
his reaction was no worse than it had been over the last few
years. No better either, but no worse. He could manage. True, he
was a little light-headed from the smell — even the long months
trying to recover what he could from the charred remnants of his
beloved X-files hadn’t cured him of that.
As if the strain on one sense heightened others, he thought he
could hear the gentle plop of a single drop of sooty water. His
lips actually curled in a grim smile. He was thankful for the
hyper-awareness that came with the adrenaline rush. Their lives
had depended on such awareness before and would again. It was
reassuring to know that he would still have that, whether fire
was in the vicinity or not.
Their lives… Scully’s life was what he meant. Scully of course,
had always been important, but these last months her place in his
life and his future, as heart of his heart and bone of his bone,
had taken on a new and deeper significance. That made their
mutual survival even more critical if that was possible. And so,
this need to be sure. Even his agreeing without protest to get
some sleep had been for her, for her safety. Theirs was a
dangerous life and he felt more acutely than ever with every
twinge in the morning, with every second off his running time,
his own mortality, and hers. So again, the need to be prepared…
‘After all, just look at me!’ he thought. Over 40. Middle-aged.
Still in pretty good shape, but it took longer all the time to
stay that way, took longer to recover from even the little
injuries, not to mention the big ones. Was his own biological
clock telling him that it was time to settle? And what did that
mean to a person with his kind of history?
Undiscovered country, that was for sure, and something he was
going to have to work on, which meant taking the time. Meanwhile,
there was still the job, and his safety and Scully’s, fire or no
With irritation he rubbed the back of his neck to dispel a little
numbness there. And where had these serious thoughts come from?
Maybe he really did need to get some sleep.
Not eager to crawl back into the car immediately, he stood a
while longer, leaning against the bumper, thinking of nothing in
particular, when a change in the wind brought a cloud of ash down
on his head. Coughing, he reached through the open window for the
remains of a soda and accidentally leaned on the car horn.
Leaping back from the sharp blaring, he stared guiltily around.
He need not have worried. There wasn’t anyone close enough to
hear. The nearest team of firefighters was far, far down the
block. They could possibly hear a bomb go off, but nothing less
He was taking a drag on the soda straw when he heard the first
cry. Instantly, he stopping drinking, stopped breathing. Couldn’t
be. But within five seconds the sound came again, very like a
child’s cry — and it seemed to be coming from deep within the
burned out hulk of the building, maybe forty feet to his left. It
was so weak that if he had been any farther away it would never
have registered. The cry couldn’t be what it sounded like, of
course. No child could have lived through such an inferno but
Mulder, more than anyone, knew that stranger things had happened.
Again the cry, the whimper, weaker this time, like a child and
yet not like a child. A child with smoke-damaged lungs and
scorched throat might sound that way and there was a particularly
impressive pile of unburned debris in the very direction from
where the fading whimper seemed to originate.
Mulder raised his voice to call out to anyone from the emergency
team who might be able to hear but as they could never have heard
the car’s horn, they wouldn’t be able to hear him either. He
thought of the time lost if he were to run or drive from help.
Calling Scully would take as long, as his cell phone was locked
in the trunk deep in his bags. His instincts told him to just go.
But then there was the building — dirty, still hot, unstable,
unsafe. Scully would kill him.
So when had that ever stopped him?
He dove in. Actually, dove was not the right word. He had to
watch every step, had to be careful that each irregular surface
would hold his weight before going on. Still, he hurried as fast
as he could. Remembering that the cry began as a response to the
car’s horn, he called as he picked his way through the rubble,
“Is anyone here?” After waiting a moment, and despite the fear
that the charred remains of plaster and wood beams and floor
boards would come raining down, he shouted again, more loudly
The choking half-whine, half-cry came again and more clearly than
before. There was no doubt in his mind now that there was someone
here. The sound was only fifteen feet away, but each foot gained
took at least twenty seconds and that didn’t count the detours.
By repeatedly calling and receiving answers of a sort, Mulder
located the place, if not the victim. Under a metal staircase
that had survived, twisted from the heat though nearly intact, he
made out what appeared to be the remains of a cluster of desks
and file cabinets. One of the desks was of the huge World War II
executive kind made of solid hardwood that would burn slow. It
was badly scorched but in amazingly good shape thanks to the
metal staircase above that had protected it from the worst of the
falling debris. The crying originated from somewhere near there.
He crawled over one burned timber after another, heat still
rising from some, only to step into one filthy puddle after
another. Wiping his sweating face with a grimy hand, Mulder began
to seriously question his trying to do this alone. What if he
twisted an ankle here? And it was so hot, both from the humid
heat coming up from below and from either side of him, as well as
from the sun, which was blazing down from somewhere above the low
ceiling of smoke. His throat, raw both from coughing and from the
ash and dust, was making it increasingly painful to breathe.
Still he had no choice but to push on for the responses to his
anxious calls were becoming weaker.
The short distance seemed to take an interminable time to cross,
but at last he could begin hurling debris from in front of the
big desk even while he coughed and called out. Some bits were
heavier than others. A chunk of what may once have been part of a
floor strut was hot and burned his hand. Everything he touched
was filthy. Sweat dripped filth into his eyes. At least he was
receiving constant encouragement for his labors from the victim
in the form of an irregular and odd-sounding cough. So weak was
it that he could only picture a child or a thin and terribly old
person. Employing every bit of muscle he’d maintained from the
years of pounding the streets and working out in gym and pool,
Mulder levered away a final huge piece of sheet rock thus
clearing the way to the dark cavity under the desk.
The sound of the strangled coughing was instantly clearer. It
came from the kneehole, of course. As good a place to seek
shelter as any if a couple hundred pounds of wall hadn’t come
slamming down. Cautiously, Mulder bent over and reached his hand
into the blackness. “It’s all right,” he coughed in a voice so
rough that he barely recognized it as his own. “Don’t be afraid,
help’s here.” There came a rustling and to Mulder’s utter
surprise something soft and dry and unseen crossed his palm. For
a moment he stood transfixed, puzzled, and then a broad grin
transformed his streaked and blackened face. “You,” he wheezed,
“have just ruined my suit.”
September 13, 11pm
Dirty, sweaty and exhausted, Scully trudged up the steps to the
motel’s second floor. The work had been unpleasant to say the
least. Most of the salvage was dripping and filthy. Cardboard
crumbled under her hands. The other workers interrupted her
constantly asking what this or that object was and if it was
valuable enough to be worth saving. Worse had been the task of
keeping Samson at arms’ length. She’d almost decked him twice.
Good thing Mulder hadn’t been around or there would be one good
‘ol boy who would be looking for an oral surgeon.
Scully looked down at the key in her hand. Mulder never had
phoned but he had registered a room in her name, which was next
to his and connecting, though this place had never heard of a
king-size bed. He’d been correct about the original room
assignments. Samson had originally placed her next to him and
signed Mulder up for one on the far side of forever. Mulder had
taken care of the problem, however, and so could be forgiven for
neglecting to call.
It was not surprising then that Scully was now looking forward to
receiving a little TLC. For starters, a bubble bath and then a
foot massage — at the latter of which she had found her partner
to have extraordinarily skill. The former? Having Mulder in her
bath was fun but not what one would call relaxing, and most of
the water somehow ended up outside of the tub. Mulder also had
had hours to sleep so he had better be willingly to go out for
some decent food. This fifties fleatrap did not have a restaurant
and the only carryout the front desk recommended catered
exclusively to the pizza crowd. And, Scully mused as she fumbled
with her key, if he was actually able to find something green and
crisp and low fat, then she would be very, VERY grateful.
As the door opened, her nostrils were assailed by a renewed scent
of the fire. At the same instant her eyes registered the
wrongness of the room. Automatically, she took a deep breath,
holding it even as she reached for and brought up her weapon.
“FBI!” she announced..
No answer. For the first time she was able to consciously absorb
what she was seeing. What possible trouble could have found them
so quickly? An old enemy always came first to mind. In this case
what came second was a flashback to nightmare charcoal drawings
of gargoyle demons. She could still see them, pinned to the
walls, littering the coffee table, burning in the fireplace.
No, not again.
With relief, closer inspection revealed that this was not the
problem here though there certainly was some kind of a problem.
The room, which must have been dingy enough to start with, looked
like an entire kindergarten of hyperactive, fingerpainting
children had gone at its walls and furnishings but the only color
they had been given was black. Tiny blurred black footprints
textured the utilitarian rust-colored carpet. Equally marred were
the much-rumpled bedspread and walls. The depressing little
room’s one lamp had been knocked over, it’s shade marred with a
large smeary handprint. It appeared as if all of the towels from
the bathroom had been run through a coal bin and then strewn
about the room. Scully called again, louder. Still no answer. A
touch test revealed that it was not paint but something very much
like coal dust. Clearly soot from the fire.
Almost afraid to look but with her weapon still at the ready,
Scully peered into the bathroom. Involuntarily, her eyes widened.
This was worse. In addition to black ‘fingerprints’ on floor and
walls and even some spots on the ceiling, there was an inky ring
around the wet but empty tub. There was also a different smell to
add to the fire smell, something herbal and hauntingly familiar.
That was when she spied the empty bottle that had once been full
of her favorite and very expensive shampoo.
Running a finger through tub ring showed that there were chunks
of black hair mixed in with the black and oily muck. The hairs
weren’t terribly long, but too long and too dark to have come
from her partner.
Dazed, Scully walked back into the main room. There was more hair
mixed with the dark stain on the bedspread, which was also very
damp. And there on the nightstand — Sacrilege ! — was her
hairbrush, clogged with the same black hair.
The connecting door to the next room was ajar. On her way she
passed the room’s one chair. A bundle of rags were tossed over
the back and they were clearly the source of the fire stench. No,
wait, those weren’t rags — well, at least they hadn’t been that
morning. It was Mulder’s suit and the lumps of ruin on the floor
were what remained of his best work shoes. Sweet Mary, what had
the man been doing?
She had reached the gap in the open door. Without opening it
further she could see into the bathroom of the next room. It was
nearly as bad as her own, bathrub ring from hell and all. It was
with a mixture of relief and irritation that she identified the
soft sound that drifted on the smoked-tinged air. Snoring. And
she knew whose.
Lowering, but not replacing her weapon Scully entered. Somehow
she was not surprised to find that whoever or whatever had
trashed her room had done an equal job on Mulder’s. The state of
the decoration, however, was less of a concern to her than
finding its occupant, and find him she did.
There was Mulder, every glorious inch of him, spread-eagled
across the sagging mattress wearing nothing but his black silk
boxers — her favorites — and a good deal of the ever-present
black soot. He was totally out as only Mulder can be when he
finally gets to sleep after days of near abstinence. The shocking
part was that he wasn’t alone. Along his side lay a large, black
lump. Scully didn’t even have time to tense before it moved. An
elegant head raised itself from Mulder’s not-so-clean shoulder
and looked calmly in her direction. A dog, a large slender dog,
half Mulder’s length. Mostly black, with brown accents and white
stockings that started below the knees, the animal was beautiful
but of no breed that Scully could immediately name.
Curious, Scully bent over the suspiciously shiny head and took a
deep sniff. She wasn’t surprised to detect the scent of her
frightfully expensive shampoo. With growing understanding, she
noted that the pads of the animal’s feet as well as its drooping
ears were wrapped in inexpertly applied white gauze which
suspiciously matched the bandage on Mulder’s right palm. On the
nightstand, in addition to the remains of first aid salve, rolled
gauze bandage and tape, was a vet’s bill. Scully whistled at the
charge. Maybe she should have gone into veterinarian medicine
after all. Mulder’s fluffy friend meanwhile had rolled lazily
over to a half-sitting position and had begun flopping a feathery
tail up and down on the mattress with remarkable energy. Scully
noted that ‘he’ made no attempt to surrender his position.
“Very well, you can have him for tonight, but, I have to warn
you, Mulder doesn’t swing that way.” With a smile Scully left the
room quietly closing the connecting door behind her. Her
expression turned to renewed exasperation as she beheld the
condition of her room. Wearily, she found an almost clean place
on her bed to sit and phoned housekeeping.
End of Act I
September 14, 8am
It was with hesitation that Scully cautiously opened the
connecting door the next morning. She hadn’t knocked just in case
either Mulder or his new friend was still sleeping. Both were
awake, but so intent were they with each other that neither
noticed the movement of the door. Mulder was polishing his second
best, and much-scuffed, work shoes. When you chased after X-
Files the way they did, you never went anywhere without backup —
a rule even Mulder didn’t universally ignore.
“Now you listen up,” her partner was saying. Clearly, he had
picked up the slang from their time in the South. The enraptured
canine sat before him, ears perked, and enchanted by his every
word. “If you want to hang out with us there are just a few
things you have to get straight. One, not a sound until Scully’s
had her coffee; two, no chewing on her shoes; and, three, no
making messes on the floor.” The animal whined in reply. “Yes, I
know that you were good and patient and waited for me this
morning. I’m just warning you to keep up the good work. Four, if
pizza is what we’ve got, pizza is what you’ll eat, and, five, if
I have company, you sleep on the floor.”
A very dainty ‘yip!’ for such a good-sized animal came in answer.
“Yes, and you have my permission to gnaw on any bad guy you can
find and, I promise, finding them will be like shooting pigs in a
“I think that’s ‘fish in a barrel’,” Scully corrected. “Pep talks
to the troops?” Her partner spun around with a broad grin.
“I take it that you two have met?”
“Last night, not that you noticed.”
“Then you haven’t met formally. Satan, say hello to Scully.”
With a step as light and springy as a dancer’s, the dog trotted
over to where she stood, sat down, and held out one white
foreleg. The gauze on its paw was no longer as pristine as it had
been the night before.
Scully liked dogs and bent down and shook the proffered appendage
with the solemnity with which it was offered. “Nice to meet
“I had to call him something.”
“Only you, Mulder. Sleep well by the way?”
“Like a rock. Want breakfast?” And there was indeed breakfast —
bagels and fruit, juice, and coffee. If this was Mulder on a good
night’s sleep, she’d have it more often. “Satan and I went
shopping,” he announced, clearly pleased with himself.
“And how did you meet your new buddy?” Scully inquired, reaching
for a cup of coffee.
He proceeded to give her the whole story and it all made sense in
a Mulder sort of way. Her eyes drifted around the wreckage of the
room. He winced.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t want to take a bath. Once he got his
wind back, some food and water, and a little painkiller for the
burns, he was pretty frisky and just thought it was a great game
to keep slipping away from me.” Playfully, he batted at the
animal who, as playfully, crouched and snarled back. “Quick
aren’t you, boy?”
Scully sighed. “Well, that explains the mess and my missing
shampoo. But my hairbrush, Mulder…”
She had never seen those bedroom eyes look more penitent. “I
wanted him to look nice for you. I was going to go out last night
and get you a new one, I really was, but after the last few days,
and carrying him out of that building, and then the trip to the
vet and the bath, I guess I just…”
“You passed out on the bed.”
He reached into a plastic grocery bag on the floor and handed her
what he found. “But I did get you one when I was at the store
It had a red plastic handle and plastic bristles and probably
cost five ninety-nine, but she reminded herself as she counted to
ten that it was the thought that counted. What caught her
attention was what else he had bought on his trip to the store —
two kinds of dog biscuits and at least half a dozen brands of dog
food. Mulder had the softest heart in the universe and as easily
wounded. An uneasy feeling began to mix unpleasantly with the
coffee in her empty stomach.
“Mulder, how long do you think you’re going to be able to keep…
Satan. A well-trained dog like this must have an owner, a family
that loves him. People who are worried sick about him right now.”
A shadow crossed Mulder’s face. Not a big one, just a little one.
“Of course I know that, but they did let him out to practically
burn to death in the fire.”
“Dogs get out. That can happen to anyone.”
He looked down at his new friend who stared up adoringly into the
agent’s solemn face.
“I wanted a dog for the longest time when I was a kid — Sam, too
— but Dad always said ‘no’. And I mean a real dog not like – ah,
you know – Queequeg. As he began spending more and more time away
from home, however, Mom began to see a point to it and for one of
the few times in my life stood up with us against him. He finally
agreed that when I was thirteen –” Mulder’s voice caught.
Scully knew what had happened when he was twelve.
“Of course, it never came to be. For a long time I was barely
capable of even taking care of myself. Then after Dad and Mom
split, I could have done anything and she wouldn’t have noticed,
but by then it was unthinkable. Sam had wanted one as much as I.
But if we had had one, I would have wanted one just like Satan.”
He looked her way with a sort of wavering smile. “I just wanted
to pretend, I guess. Just for a few hours. Guess you never quite
take the boy out of the man.”
No, you never do, Scully agreed to herself, and if the boy’s life
is full of pain, the man carries that burden with him as well.
With an inaudible sigh, she began struggling with the nearly
indestructible bubble packaging on the new hairbrush. It would do
for the time being.
“Satan’s nice, Mulder, he really is and I’m glad you saved him.
Thanks also for breakfast, but I’ve got to get to work. You can
make yourself useful, by the way. Lots of manual labor to go
around. They probably won’t even mind if Satan hangs around;
they’re a nice group of people. Samson’s the exception.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.” With a grin, he gave her a snappy salute as
she rose from her perch on a clean edge of his bed to head back
to her own room. “And, Scully –” She paused without looking
back. “– I did call. The animal shelter opens at ten. I’ll call
back then and see if anyone’s reported him missing.”
Curtly, she nodded before hastily escaping back into her room. A
little cold water, a little more make up than usual on the eyes,
and maybe he’d never know how close she had come to tearing up
Dogs and kids… and Mulder, the biggest kid of them all. No,
that was unfair. He was a man — the best she knew.
September 14, 9am
As Samson had said, the fleatrap motel — which had more fleas
than Satan, Scully was willing to bet — was indeed convenient.
It was only a block from the former supermarket, now temporary
district office. For nearly two hours they worked with the rest
of the displaced employees among the acrid smell of smoke and wet
cardboard, unpacking who-knew-what-unimaginable stuff that only
Scully could identify. Samson had still not deigned to make an
appearance when, just after ten, Mulder excused himself without
enthusiasm to call the animal shelter. He thus missed the SAC’s
breezy and sparkling clean appearance. Scully had just given her
report — that there was very little salvageable and that she saw
no reason why they couldn’t leave the next morning — when Mulder
and his sidekick returned. His face was a mixture of emotions.
The way he looked at Satan, however, and the way he looked at
Samson made it pretty clear to Scully that there had been no
report of a lost dog answering Satan’s description — and that he
was not overjoyed to encounter Horace Samson again.
If the ASAC noticed the hard set to Mulder’s jaw, he gave no
sign. He did, however, greet Satan with lavish affection. The dog
wriggled in delight and seemed to enjoy the game of leaping feet
into the air after an imaginary treat. Mulder just frowned, a
little hurt crease deepening between his eyes.
“Satan just likes everyone,” Scully told him in a low voice.
“And here, I thought he had some taste,” Mulder murmured.
“So where’d you meet up with this fellow?” Samson asked after a
few more games.
“Found him trapped in the area of your warehouse where you said
the fire started. It looked like he’d been there from the
“Honest? Then you’ve done the community an invaluable service,
Agent Mulder. Stud’s the goodwill ambassador to this entire
“Stud?” Mulder croaked.
“He answers to just about everything but that’s what I call him.
You’re a randy man, aren’t you, Stud. Half the bitches in this
quarter of the city have carried his DNA at one time or
another… and who’s to blame them, fine fellow like this.”
“But who owns him?” Scully asked.
“There’s no report at the animal shelter,” Mulder confirmed.
“Oh, someone does. He’s always clean. Like Tramp, there are
plenty who will feed a friendly stray, but not many who will wash
Scully’s eyebrows lifted in Mulder’s direction. His response was
to show no reaction.
“I’ll ask around,” Samson said. “Someone will know. Now more
important is a little complication that came up this morning. You
didn’t see anything or ‘smell’ anything unusual when you were
moving around in that part of the building yesterday, did you,
Scully felt a definite ‘uh oh’ radiate silently from Mulder’s
“I thought I had a survivor. A child. My mind was on other
“Absolutely. I just hope that you’re moving around won’t confuse
the arson and homicide teams too much.”
“Arson team found a body this morning in that general area. Of
course, old building like that, it could have been a vagrant. His
steno burner may even have started the fire. He could have been
smoking in ‘bed’.”
“Then why investigate it as if it were a homicide?”
“Three burned buildings, three bodies. Forgot to mention the
other two victims yesterday, didn’t I. Two might be a coincidence
but not three, and since my people are all busy chasing their
tails trying to reconstruct their current casework, I’ve asked
your boss and mine to lend me you two. More in your old line as I
understand it, am I right, Agent Mulder? We do have a lease on
the building so one could legitimately say that this last one
occurred on federal land.”
Dreams of home fading into the uncertain future, Mulder checked
out Samson’s version of their new orders and found that the SAC
was correct. He had contacted Kersh who had even paged Skinner at
his conference in Paris for his approval. They were stuck here
and Samson seemed suspiciously cozy in his communications with
Kersh. What if the man currently sitting in Skinner’s chair was
trying to catch them together? It would be something to embarrass
Skinner about not to mention what the Bureau would say about
partners ‘doing it’. He may even have hoped to catch them during
their previous case, but Mulder’s personnel file must not mention
that sleep was a rare commodity when he profiled. Hell, Kersh
might even have convinced Samson to find an excuse to run the
equivalent of a bed check. A fire alarm in the middle of the
night and a convenient camera would do it if their rooms were
separated as originally intended.
The mournful glance that passed between the partners moments
after Samson’s announcement showed that the same thoughts had run
through both their heads and that they had come to the same
conclusion. Their nights were going to be very lonely.
After that Scully went off to wrap up her part of the salvage
operation and Mulder to get a start on their new case. They met
for lunch at a little barbecue place around the corner from the
As they settled at a small table on the edge of the restaurant’s
tiny outdoor patio, Scully looked around at the sparse crowd.
“Now I know why we were treated like royalty.”
The corners of Mulder’s mouth twitched. “I don’t think that the
red carpet treatment was for us — though my understanding is
that this place’s yearly expenses are practically paid for by the
FBI lunch bunch who are now laying down their VISA cards who-
know’s-where. No, we have our present company to thank for our
Satan gave them a doggy grin and a tail wag from just outside the
low row of planters that separated the patio from the public
sidewalk. “The word of his rescue has spread like wildfire. He
really is a kind of folk hero around here… though along the
lines of the Scarlet Pimpernel or Robin Hood.”
“Not Johnny Appleseed?”
“And don’t sell yourself short,” Scully said, her eyes smiling at
her partner from over the top of her menu. “You’re the hero of
Self-consciously, Mulder rubbed the back of his neck. “I guess
so. In every other jurisdiction in this country I would have, at
the very least, received a severe reprimand for disturbing a
crime scene — no matter that I didn’t exactly know that it was a
crime scene at the time.”
Scully grinned at her friend fondly. It was unusual for him to be
actually thanked for something. “Accept the flowers when they
fall, it happens seldom enough. And I am proud of you. I would
also have killed you if you had gotten yourself hurt, but I know
what the others don’t — what it took for you to wade into that
mess. I’ll just have to find a way to reward you.”
Startled by the heat in his partner’s blue eyes, Mulder pretended
to bury his face in his menu. “Scully, it’s too dangerous,” he
Under the cover of the open menus her hand crept over the table
to briefly clasp his. “Then get what sleep you can now because
once the heat’s off – watch out,” she cooed.
Hands were back on their own sides of the table by the time their
wait staff appeared. Scully ordered a barbecue beef sandwich.
Mulder found her order interesting. Scully ordered red meat like
other people ate ice cream; it was comfort food. If she was in
need of comfort, he knew where she should be getting it.
“Sorry,” he said, gesturing towards her plate when their food
Again, she had followed his train of thought. “It’s not what you
think. Not entirely, anyway. I really was thinking that that if
there are any leftovers your friend would prefer this to
That got a laugh from both of them. One they needed badly.
Over lunch they talked about the South and the news and the
doings of Scully’s family until after they had eaten. More and
more, they tried not to talk about work all the time. It had felt
odd at first, not any longer. Over coffee they got down to
“I’m going to look at the bodies this afternoon,” Scully
“Enjoy. I have half a dozen interviews with the cream of the Old
South. The first victim was a sleazy bail bondsman; the second
was a sleazy riverboat gambler — yes, they still have both
riverboats and gamblers; and the third was a sleazy real estate
developer. Seeing a pattern here? Someone’s not just practicing
urban renewal but trying to short cut the judicial system. Even
more, I don’t think anyone’s going to mind if we don’t solve this
one except perhaps the insurance companies. The only connection
between these guys — besides the sleaze factor — is that all
spent a lot of time on the local floating casinos. There are four
tied up right now, less than half a mile from here. Do you think
that a few games of Twenty-One would be considered a business
“Depends on how badly you play,” she smiled.
He grinned back. “And here I thought you were going to tell me
that I’d need to declare my winnings.”
“That’ll be the day. You don’t even play the lottery.”
While Mulder paid the check — in anticipation of his winnings —
Scully reached into her pocket and pulled out a slip of paper.
Almost apologetically, she passed it across the table.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“They’ve hired some of the neighborhood crowd — retirees and
college students — to help with the clean up. They heard about
Stud’s — er, Satan’s — rescue and that we were looking for the
owner.” She gestured to the paper. “Three different people have
told me that that’s the block generally considered to be his home
turf. Maybe before you get tied down to a green felt table you
might take a swing by there.”
Crestfallen in a way that only Scully could read, Mulder put the
paper in the top pocket of his second best suit. He had barely
looked at it. “If Satan has a loving family nearby, then why
hasn’t he left me? It’s not like I have him on a leash.” Sensing
he was being talked about, the dog quivered all over with
excitement. Perhaps he thought that Mulder was going to slip him
some more barbecue. He’d already eaten a third of Mulder’s lunch
and half of Scully’s.
“Maybe he’s just being polite. You did save his life. Much longer
in that hot, closed place without water and he would have died.
Have you told him that he can go home?” she asked gently.
The lightness of the morning gone, Mulder stretched his body
upright. “I’ll go. Meanwhile, we both have a lot of work to do.”
September 14, 5pm
Three of Mulder’s interviews with victim family members were no
shows. The other two had little to offer, none of it
complimentary. As a result, Mulder found himself in the late
afternoon with three hours to kill before the serious casino
crowd appeared. With reluctance he pulled the slip of paper from
his breast pocket. ‘River and Appletree’ was all it said. After
asking for general directions he found that it was roughly a mile
from his present location. It was a pleasant day; he would walk.
If he got lost, he could always ask directions again.
It turned out that he didn’t need to. As soon as it was clear
where they were headed, Satan took the lead, galloping over at
least ten times the distance Mulder covered as he chased sticks
and stalked pigeons and said hello to human and canine
acquaintances that they passed. The closer they got to River and
Appletree that was just about everyone, both two-footed and four-
footed. In the first half mile Mulder heard the gregarious animal
called at least a dozen names: Duke, Prince, Blackie, the Man,
Bingo, Happy and just Dog to name a few. As they grew closer,
however, one name began to be heard more and more. Thor. “Is that
your name?” Mulder asked his companion. “Thor?” If an animal
could turn himself inside out, Thor would have.
River and Appletree did not define a very prosperous neighborhood
but it was a friendly enough place as long as the visiting ‘suit’
had Thor as an ambassador. Or was that a bodyguard? As they
passed a crumbling row house bedecked with window boxes of dying
flowers, two large Dobermans came tearing towards the sidewalk
from their hiding place under a sagging willow. They got out just
two barks apiece, and Mulder had begun to reach for the pepper
spray he always carried, when Thor showed the wrathful god-like
side of his nature. The transformation was astonishingly quick
but effective. Within seconds the attacks had dissolved and the
Dobermans had turned tail. Thor’s teeth and growl retreated, his
doggy grin returned, and all was right with the world.
Mulder studied his companion with admiration. “You can accompany
me into D.C. any time.”
They had gone only a few more steps when Thor gave an excited
bark and bounded forward, as if his legs were all springs. A door
had opened on one of the poorer apartment buildings and a thin
old woman emerged with a broom. Skin as wrinkled and brown as old
leather, hair as white as spun sugar, she had begun to sweep the
porch. She barely had to look up at the barking before Thor was
there, his entire body gyrating with happiness. Anyone could see,
however, how careful he was not to leap up on the old woman and
to keep his head high and thus be on a level where she could more
conveniently reach to pat him.
Mulder hesitated a dozen yards from the building. The happy
reunion twisted within him leaving a trail of could-have-been’s.
He should just slip away. It would be easy enough to do though he
would detour a block east to evade the Dobermans. Thor had other
ideas, however. Like a black streak he was off the porch, had
seized Mulder’s coat sleeve, and was tugging him forward. The old
woman waited for them both, the wide smile that had broken her
face into a thousand wrinkles fading slightly.
“You have something to do with bringing this bad boy home?” she
Mulder forced a smiled. “He got himself in a tight place. He let
me know that he needed some assistance.”
“Bet he did.” The old lady looked down at the dog sitting at
Mulder’s side, sitting, but not calmly. Excitement was popping
out all over the muscular body. “Well, what’s keeping you. The
boy’s been frettin’ himself sick. Git on up there, y’hear!” Like
a child with a dollar burning a hole in his pocket and a candy
store at his feet, Thor looked up imploring into Mulder’s face.
Only after receiving a gentle nod did the dog take off again,
this time to leap from trash can to dumpster to the landing of a
fire escape that he climbed running. Finally, five stories up, he
disappeared inside an open window. The old woman and Mulder had
watched the whole performance, Mulder with amazement and the
woman with satisfaction.
She turned back to ‘the suit’ with a grin. “No one better ever
move that trashcan,” she said. “And you should have seen the day
that someone left the top off the dumpster. ‘That’ never happened
twice. You would have thought that World War II had started all
over again. That old boy was right annoyed.” Her expression
sobered as she viewed her companion with curious interest. “Now
I’ve never seen him do that before, ask anyone’s permission for
anything except for the boy, of course. That’s high praise coming
from Thor. You must be somethin’ special.”
Unbelievably, Mulder felt himself reddening, the hurt no longer
as tender. “The feeling is mutual. I’m very happy to have met
Thor. I was glad to be able to bring him home though it was more
like him bringing me. The ‘boy’ you’ve mentioned, is he your
“Spark? No, Spark doesn’t have a mother that I know of, nor
father. Just those of us in the neighborhood who’ve bonded
together to take care of him.” Her eyes glittered good-naturedly
seeing how this tall, well-dressed, and good-looking white man
kept looking up at the window of the crumbling apartment
building. “Why don’t you go up and see them. Thor would want you
to and Spark will want to say thank-you.”
Mulder hesitated. Being thanked always made him feel
uncomfortable. The Lone Ranger had the right idea…just
disappear into the West before things got mushy.
“You might as well go up, the boy won’t be coming down. He’s
sick.” Her old eyes still shone but with something other than
humor. “I guess he won’t be coming down ever again except for
that one last time.”
There was no choice now but Mulder knew that the experience was
not going to be an easy one. He made it to the landing. “How old
is he this Spark?”
“Who knows? Sometimes I think eight, sometimes eighty. Somewhere
in between.” She resumed her interrupted sweeping. “Top floor,
Mulder didn’t take the steps with any speed. The foyer with its
yellowed tile and the worn stairway with its thread-bare carpet
reminded him of the old junior high school on Martha’s Vineyard.
All around him the air was alive with noises from behind doors —
TVs, radios, a baby crying, an out of tune guitar, rap music. The
smells of exotic cooking — cumin and curry — went a long way
towards covering the more pungent scents of dry rot and old
urine. He found the door to 508. There wasn’t a traditional knob
on the door, but instead a long four-inch handle. No sound came
from within so he knocked softly. Immediately, there came the
gentle tap, tap, tap of claws on linoleum and scratching on wood
about three feet from the ground. Finally, the handle swung down
and the door opened.
Of course it was Thor. A wet nose and warm breath tickled the
palm of Mulder’s right hand and then the dog was gone. A nimble
leap took the animal back onto the bed where, clearly, he had
left to answer the door.
“You’re Thor’s new friend,” came a whisper-thin voice from the
bed. The mattress had been raised and placed so that its occupant
could easily see through one of the small room’s two windows to
the street below. The window was open and there was no screen.
Clearly, this was Thor’s private entrance. The room had been
painted a brilliant yellow so that it would glow golden in the
sunlight, but other than that it was a barren, depressing place.
There was a small battered TV, though it didn’t look like it was
used much, but no VCR, CD player, CDs, computer, pictures or
books. There were medical supplies, however — IV pole, wheel
chair, and a cart with towels, large diapers, spit up bowl, bed
pan and liters of fluids. A life stripped to its biologic basics.
Unable to avoid the meeting any longer, Mulder looked down at the
figure in the bed. ‘Eight or eighty’ the old woman had said. She
had been right. The body was certainly no larger than a child of
eight, but that was because of its stick-like thinness. It was
long enough to be older. The head looked larger especially as its
scalp was covered with a shapeless woven cap of many colors. And
the face… the face still showed where the boy had once been
beautiful. All the best of every imaginable ethnic group. It was
his eyes, his eyes, the same hue as his golden skin, which were
“You can come closer. What I have isn’t catching, not just from
“I don’t want to tire you. Should I ask someone’s permission?
Where are your –” No parents, the old woman had said. “– your
“You mean all my grandfathers and grandmothers? They won’t mind.
I do what I want –” he paused to catch his breath, “– pretty
much of the time.” At Thor’s shifting to snuggle closer, the boy
looked down at his four-footed friend. “T-Thank you for Thor. I
was so a-afraid.” The words may have come from a tight throat but
the sentiment was from the heart. The boy’s hand came to rest on
Thor’s sleek head that lay pillowed on his chest. Mulder didn’t
know why he should be surprised but he was as he realized that
when he woke that morning Thor had been lying with his head in
the very same place only on his own chest. Now, however, the dog
looked with total adoration at this boy. The emotion was clearly
When the boy’s attention returned to Mulder he seemed stronger
than before. “How did you happen to be at the fire? You don’t
look like a fireman or a policeman, not dressed like that.”
Mulder shrugged inside his suit. “Police is close enough. I work
for the FBI. They had offices in that building. My partner and I
are here to help with the clean up.”
Half way through Mulder’s explanation, Thor yipped nearly
soundlessly and the boy turned his head for a moment so that they
could share another one of those silent communications. “Then
you’re just passing through, you and your partner?”
“That’s right, we’re here for just a few days.”
“Must be nice to have a partner, kind of like an automatic best
friend, like Thor and me.”
Mulder almost laughed at the thought of what Scully would think
to hear their relationship compared to this interspecies meeting
of minds. On the other hand, the boy wasn’t far wrong. There were
times when life would be so much simpler and happier if all that
was required of him was to lie with his head in her lap. “I guess
that’s true, in a way. When you get along, it is like having a
best friend, the best of best friends.”
“So you and your partner get along? Is he a nice guy?”
“SHE is a very nice guy and very good at her job.” He would not
say that he would trust her with his life, not here with this
young life hanging by a thread.
Though his body barely moved even to breathe, Spark’s eyes
momentarily widened at the revelation of Scully’s sex, then the
boy seemed to turn inward, so quiet and for such a long time,
that Mulder thought he had fallen asleep. The gold of the setting
sun was flooding through the far window now. The picture of a
slip of a boy with his faithful dog stretched out at his side
would be a vision Mulder would not quickly forget. As quietly as
he could, the agent moved with soft steps towards the door.
“So you’ll be in town a few days yet?” came a whisper from across
the room. Mulder turned back. The boy’s voice had seemed as
insubstantial as a shadow as if he were half-sleep. His hand
still rested on the dog’s head.
“That’s right, a couple of days, maybe three.”
Spark coughed but without any real force. “Could Thor come visit?
He won’t be in the way. I don’t like to keep him cooped up here
with me. Besides he sees things and does things and then comes
back and tells me.”
A bitter-sweetness flooded the space between Mulder’s ribs. It
was a sad but lovely game that the dying boy shared with his best
friend. “Sure, he can come visit. I’d like that. Do you want me
to come get him?”
“You don’t need to do that. Thor will do the finding. He’s good
at locating people he’s been close to.” The boy looked down his
nose at the animal now. “Is that all you’re gonna do? Lie there?”
The dog’s head came up like a shot, all attention. “Well, go and
say ‘goodbye’ to the man.” With one bound the animal was off the
bed and half way across the room, leaping forward to plant his
forefeet just below Mulder’s shoulders. A large wet tongue licked
his face. At that instant Mulder felt a little dizzy. Everything
seemed to gray out for a moment as it sometimes does when you
stand up too suddenly. Must be related to the emotion that
tightened his chest. The moment passed as swiftly as it had come.
Gently, he took the dog’s forelegs and lowered the animal to the
ground. “You take care of yourself,” he said to the Thor and his
boy simultaneously. After that he couldn’t take himself into the
cooling evening air and away from death’s door fast enough.
End of Act II
September 15, 11am
Scully washed her hands for a long time at the old lab sink. She
had been more tired and she had attended to more odious bodies,
but she had seldom had to work under worse conditions. The FBI
had been given space in the basement of the oldest wing of the
local hospital to use as a temporary morgue, rooms that hadn’t
been occupied in decades. They’d displaced a lot of roach
families and every stirring of air from the laboring fan had made
her imagine worse things scurrying along the floor. Dropping her
‘greens’ inside a thirty-gallon plastic trash can labeled for
laundry, she fled the place, hoping that by moving quickly the
fleas couldn’t attach to her ankles. Her body wanted coffee
though she wasn’t looking forward to the swill from the hot pot
someone had set up on a rickety table by the stairs. A smile
brightened her face as she saw that a pleasingly familiar figure
was lounging against the exit’s double doors. She noted that her
partner had not come in, though there had been nothing to prevent
him from doing so. Mulder didn’t care for dead bodies at the best
of times, and the charred, blackened victims of fire were his
Her smile of greeting widened to a grin when he extended a
familiar cup in her direction. “A tall, mocha latte?” she
guessed, inhaling the fumes with pleasure. “Ambrosia, I could
“Promises, promises,” Mulder drawled. “I thought we should touch
base. Is this a good time?”
“As good as any. Let’s go outside. Even if it weren’t a beautiful
day, let’s get out of here. I keep having images of rats feasting
on my toes.” As they emerged from the dim lighting into the full
brightness of day, Scully noted that her partner looked a little
gray. He appeared to need the sun even more than she.
They didn’t speak right away but sat on a bench and lifted their
faces to the warm rays. After the clammy dampness of the
basement, Scully appreciated the quiet moment. The hot, silky
liquid melted her insides as thoroughly as the sun warmed her
“You certainly came back very late last night,” she said. “I
heard you come in — when was it? — after three?” She eyed him
speculatively. “Still have your shirt?”
He returned a wan smile. “I only dropped about a hundred. I
stopped when it began to look obvious that I didn’t know what the
hell I was doing. After that I just tried to appear bored and
carried my chips and my ginger ale from table to table. That’s
when the really interesting stuff began. It turns out that
gambling is not the only game on the Lucky Lee and the Southern
By the mournful tone in her partner’s voice, Scully steadied
herself for bad news. “What happened?”
“Nothing much except that I was asked twice if I wanted a little
action and they didn’t mean the card playing kind.”
“I see. Male or female?”
Sighing, Mulder crossed his long legs. “Both actually.”
Something in his face warned Scully that this was no time for
“A rather odious personage offered to pay me. He thought I worked
It was a struggle not to choke. “How much are you worth?”
“Don’t be crude.” Mulder was not laughing; he should have been,
considering the normal bent to his humor. She just waited. He
would tell her in his own time.
“I went up on deck to get some air — I needed it — and this boy
of maybe twelve bumped into me.” Mulder took a breath to steady
his voice. “He then proceeded to rub himself against my —
Anyway, he had these little white cards — an address — if I was
interested.” Mulder hunched down as if he felt a sudden chill. “I
took a card, but I didn’t go, not last night, not without the
vice squad at my back.”
“I’m sorry,” Scully breathed. They sat in silence for the moment,
trying to capture in their souls the gentle sounds of water from
a fountain and the song of birds. Scully noticed that in addition
to the loss of her friend’s peace of mind, something else was
wrong. In what she thought was a change of subject she asked, “I
don’t see your shadow. I assume that Satan found his way home?”
“Who? Oh, Thor. Yes. Dog and his boy are very happy. He’s where
he should be.” And Mulder obviously meant that, but then why did
he still look so glum. Worse than glum, he was shaking and a
trembling hand came up to shield his eyes from her. Anxious,
Scully slid over until they faintly touched. The hell with it if
someone saw them!
“What’s wrong, Mulder?”
“Thor’s owner — just a boy — he’s dying. Spark is what he calls
himself. AIDS. Won’t be too long.”
The cooling coffee nearly spilled from Scully’s hand. “I’m so
sorry. Are you sure that’s what it is?”
Anger flooded up through his lean frame, but not at her. “By now
I should damn well know Kaposa’s sarcoma lesions when I see them!
Worse, I suspect that six months ago, maybe a year, Spark was
like one of the boys on the ship. He’s a beautiful child even now
and has no parents, but someone must pay the rent on the little
room he lives in and for the medical supplies I saw.”
What could she say. Scully reached between them for his hand and
squeezed it. It was chill and damp. “Are you sick?”
She squeezed it again and felt a desperate returning pressure.
More silence then for a little while to let the horror dim a
little. “So where does this all lead us?” she asked. “Were the
warehouses trysting places? Were these men involved? Is someone
taking out the devils?”
“Yes, and yes, and yes in my highly educated opinion.” He pulled
a little white card out of his pocket. “This is a warehouse, too.
If I lived close by, I’d get in a supply of hot dogs and
marshmallows.” Like an animal he shook as if to dispel an image
from his mind. “What have the crispy critters revealed?”
“What you would expect. Only a couple of odd things.”
She hesitated. “I’d like to wait till I look at the most recent
victim. If I find the same anomalies, then I’ll let you know.”
Mulder nodded. He didn’t push her. He was the same way. He didn’t
want to reveal his theories until he was sure either — certain
in his own mind anyway. Evidence was a secondary issue.
With a sign he stood, stretching. “Got to get back on the trail.
All this makes it hard to want to go after the ones with the
“Prove what the dead were doing,” she told him. “No one’s going
to push you much beyond that. The fires have to stop, though,
before some innocent person is hurt.”
“Some innocent person already has been, just not by fire.”
“Want me to stop by and see this Spark,” she asked. For the first
time in their conversation he dropped the shield completely; his
eyes were bleak as winter as he looked down at her. “I was hoping
you’d ask, but there’s no rush. He’s well taken care of.”
“Before we leave I will.”
A nod and he wandered away, shoulders stooped. She watched him go
and then returned to her own unpleasant task.
It was late afternoon before an even more subdued Agent Scully
entered the supermarket, now temporary FBI field office. Mulder
was not answering his cellphone. As usual when this happened she
had to work to unclench her jaw before the tension brought on a
headache. In deference to their changed realtionship, Mulder had
begun to at least carry the thing and keep it charged. Afraid of
running down the battery, however, he would often turn it off
when he was within reach of a phone and then forget to turn it
back on when he wasn’t.
Even though she always worried when unable to reach her wayward
partner, Scully’s anxiety was tempered this time because of the
autopsy findings she would have to report when she did catch up
with him. That part of their reunion, she would be happy to
Nonsense, she told herself. A simple test could as quickly prove
innocence as guilt.
A gray-haired retiree wearing old jeans and a ragged T-shirt
covered with the ever-present sooty smudges directed Scully to
the back of the store. The combined homicide and arson teams had
taken over what had once been the dairy manager’s office. The
tiny cube was the one place that had not already been claimed.
Scully’s nose twitched as she entered. The room had that old ice
cream carton smell. Not an unpleasant smell, but distracting.
At the moment, only one frightfully young agent occupied the
room. “Special Agent…Mulder? He had a visitor. Black hair, long
legs, a real looker.” The smooth face that still wore traces of
acne scars grinned.
“Thor,” Scully surmised.
“If you say so. They went out over three hours ago and I haven’t
seen either since.”
“I’ll find them.” She gazed down at the impressive pile of data.
“How’s the investigation going?”
The amusement left the young face and was replaced with an
expression of awed respect. “Agent Mulder told us what to look
for and, it’s hard to believe, but it’s all here exactly where he
said it would be.” The young man pointed proudly to the stacks
while clearly indicating that he was reluctant to defile his
hands by actually touching them. “These guys were dirty, and I
mean dirty. If they weren’t already dead, I’d take them out
“I hope you don’t mean that,” she replied sagely. “If you just
fire your weapon, the paperwork is unbelievable.”
At that she left, more than a little pleased to see that her
partner was for once getting the respect he deserved. It was nice
to visit a place that didn’t listen to the stories.
Unfortunately, the visit hadn’t helped her find Mulder, though if
he and Thor were still together it would simplify her task
greatly when she did find him. Standing outside the empty-
windowed market, she looked up and down the street wondering
where to start. A drop of sweat trickled down her temple. The day
was no longer pleasant. Humidity had rolled in from the South and
now lay over the city like a heavy, wet blanket. Fretfully, her
damp hand took another wrap on the handle of the plastic bag she
carried. In it was a large block of paraffin that she’d purchased
at a craft store immediately after viewing the last victim.
In the end she found her partner easily enough. When the street
was quiet she heard in the distance a familiar sound. It didn’t
take much investigative insight to head in that direction. As she
drew closer, the repeated thuds of the bouncing ball were joined
by the distinctive grunts that always seemed to accompany the
exercise of male egos. After a couple of false starts — once
into an alley with no egress and once thwarted by a fenced
parking lot — she found what she was looking for. Behind a WWII
vintage apartment building that was sandwiched between two old
mills, a rainbow group of teenage boys were playing a vigorous
game of basketball — a group of boys and one tall man. He still
wore his suit but had shed coat and tie. Scully stood to watch.
She had often seen Mulder play. He was good, quick and yet
Unfortunately, he wasn’t bare-chested as he often played, so she
was denied the sight of the strong swimmer’s muscles moving
across his chest and back. His pale blue shirt was unbuttoned
halfway down, however, giving him a romantic, roguish appearance
that would have to do.
With men of his own age and height, Mulder played all out with an
aggression she had seen burst out as anger time and time again.
With boys and teens, he dialed back the intensity, always
sensitive to their level, but never backed off enough so that it
was easy for them. If you played with Mulder, he made you work
for every point but you felt good about it at the end. All in
all, it was a relief to see him relieving the tension; he had
been way too tight when she’d seen him that morning.
As she watched, however, a crease appeared between her eyes, her
brows slowly came together, and then she frowned. There was
something odd about the play. Mulder was not laying back. When he
wasn’t making baskets or high-fiving his listless team members
for doing so, he was using his greater height, reach, and
experience to steal the ball from the other team. The boys were
sweaty, hot, discouraged and even angry. This was true even of
the ones who seemed to be on Mulder’s team, mostly because he
never seemed to pass the ball. She even saw him make deliberate
fouls more than once but none of the boys said anything, their
faces only darkened the more, not that the triumphantly capering
adult in the midst seemed to notice.
And on the sidelines, watching Mulder’s every move with doggie
glee, was Thor. But the dog was no longer Scully’s primary
All at once while putting the ball back in play from the
sidelines, a tall boy made a bad pass. Mulder went after it, his
smile a wolfish grin. One of the smaller boys unfortunately got
in the way of the charging man’s left elbow. The boy went down.
Mulder got to the ball, made the basket and congratulated himself
but made not a move to offer a hand to the boy on the ground.
Scully stepped forward but stopped as the youth got stiffly to
his feet. Her frown had deepened from disapproval to alarm.
Someone had to stop this.
As it turned out, she didn’t have to. The grumbling boys seemed
to have already broken up the game on their own.
So furious was she that she didn’t trust herself to go to him but
instead waited for him to notice her. He took his time. A couple
more lay-ups, a little fancy dribbling. Finally, he deigned to
head in her direction, a lazy smile on his sweat-drenched face.
“Right now I don’t have time to talk about that ‘exhibition’,”
she said coldly. “I need your help with another matter.”
He barely looked at her. More than half of his attention was
directed at trying to spin the ball on the tip of a finger. “What
kind of help?” he asked in a flat voice.
Scully took a deep breath. “Remember at lunch that I said that I
found some anomalies with the bodies of the first two victims. I
found the same marks on the third, even more pronounced.”
Half bent in his dribbling, he actually had to look up at her
through his damp lashes. “Like what kind of marks?”
“I think they’re bite marks, from a large animal.” She waited for
that to sink in. Not only did he not react, but his dribbling
became more rapid. “Will you stop that!”
He did and stood, his hair wet, his clothes disheveled and sweat-
stained, and the basketball under his arm. “So?”
“Do I have to say it? Thor was found in the same general area as
the third victim.” She opened the plastic bag she carried and
pulled out the block of paraffin. It was six inches square and an
inch thick. “We need to measure his bite and get an impression.
It will be crude, we won’t be able to make a positive ID but we
can rule out any obvious inconsistencies. I assume that’s
something that you want to do. You two get along so well that I’m
sure that if you worked with him –”
But Mulder only shrugged, one eyebrow lifting to his left. “Too
Scully whirled. Thor had vanished or at least she thought he had.
Then she caught a glimpse of something low and black loping down
“Shit! Well, aren’t you going to run after him?”
Her partner’s only response was to stretch and reach towards his
back. “Can’t. I think I pulled a muscle.”
Scully stood stupefied for a long moment and then growled low in
her throat, “We’ll talk about this later,” and took off at a run
after the animal. At least she was wearing her most comfortable
At the entrance to the alley she did pause to look back.
Unperturbed, Mulder was practicing hook shots again. Swearing,
she ran on.
Thor led her a merry chase — no, anything but a merry chase — a
sweaty, infuriating one. She now understood how the animal had
remained free without leash or presence of an owner for so long,
which certainly must be as illegal here as anywhere. Thor was
friendly as a teddy bear, unless he didn’t want to be caught and
then he couldn’t be. He must have God’s own wisdom to tell friend
from foe with such accuracy. Unerringly, Thor knew every passage
and hole in the city where he could venture but his human
trackers could not. He knew every fence that was just a little
too high, every narrow pathway choked with garbage that less
fastidious city creatures had pulled from trashcans, every blind
alley that was not quite blind — at least not for a creature
with his size and flexibility. His least endearing trait was his
habit of turning around and laughing at his tracker with his
doggie grin while his tail wagged merrily.
So Thor was the one having the merry chase. Only the hope that he
would give up at any moment and lie down, paws in the air in
order to have his stomach rubbed, kept Scully in the race long
after she should have given up.
Footsore and filthy, Scully wearily trudged back to the
neighborhood court where she’d last seen her partner. He was
gone. Two of the boys had returned, however. One was making long
and ineffective attempts at the basket, the other was the smaller
boy who had been roughly pushed to the ground during the game. He
was still holding his arm.
Scully approached, cautiously. “You may have seem me watching the
game. My friend was the man you were playing with. I’m also a
medical doctor. You seem to have hurt your arm. Can I take a
look? It may save you a long wait at the emergency room.”
The boy shrugged very much as Mulder had. He was about fourteen
but small for his age. The other boy joined them as Scully began
prodding the arm, checking for range of motion. “Tell me when it
hurts and where.”
He didn’t speak but he did wince, which is all you could expect
from a boy his age. “I think it’s only a strain. Put some ice on
it now, some heat tonight and take some Ibuprofen. Do you know
what that is?”
“Our Mom will know,” the second boy said. “She’s a nurse’s aide.”
“Then tell her what I said and do see a doctor if it’s not better
by morning. I am really sorry that this happened. I’ve never
known my friend to play so rough.”
Both boys shrugged. “No big deal. We should ‘a known.”
“He was with Thor,” the older boy replied as if that explained
everything. He then spoke curtly to his brother. “Come on, Luke,
we gotta get home or Mom’ll throw it out.” The interview was
Thus they moved off leaving Scully with a head full of questions.
Hoping to find Mulder there, and in need of a shower, Scully
returned to the motel. An extra tip which would have to be worked
into their expense account ensured that their rooms had returned
to what must have been their original shabby cleanliness, but
Mulder wasn’t in his. He had been, however. Suit jacket, shirt,
trousers and shoes made a trail from the door. The shower in his
room had been used and his luggage rifled. Tennis shoes, jeans,
and his favorite cutoff sweatshirt were gone. She knew the
sweatshirt well for its threadbare softness made it also one of
her favorites. By the time she’d showered and dressed, Mulder had
still not returned and still did not answer his cell phone, so
Scully decided to go shopping. Having had to use the inadequate
bottle of cheap shampoo the motel supplied and the five dollar
hair brush reminded her that she had items to replace.
It was dark and beginning to rain when Scully returned and her
heart lifted, first in relief and then in renewed irritation when
she saw that the lights in Mulder’s room were on.
She found him sitting with Thor in the middle of his bed eating
an ice cream cone. They both were eating ice cream cones, her
partner holding one out to Thor who licked daintily. An empty
pint carton and a box of cones had joined Mulder’s running shoes
and the other obstacles on the floor.
Scully leaned against the doorframe between their rooms, crossed
her arms and gave him her very best ‘look’. The partner she had
worked with for nearly nine years should have known instantly
that he was in trouble. This one reached the cone out to her with
a friendly, “Want a lick?”
“No, I don’t. Mulder, what’s going on?”
She cringed as he gave that shug again. “I don’t know what you
“Yes, you do. Your behavior this afternoon.” With alarm she noted
the color of the ice cream. “Is that strawberry?”
He grinned, charmingly. “Yes. Change your mind?”
“Aren’t you allergic to strawberries.”
“No, I’m not; it’s my favorite.”
“No, Rocky Road is your favorite, you say that it’s just like
your life. We have to talk, but not now; I’m not in the mood. Is
he –” meaning Thor “– spending the night? Are the two of you at
least going to stay in?”
Her partner looked down at his canine companion. “Are you
spending the night?” Thor gave a soft yip in reply. “He’s
staying. So am I. It’s raining and they have cable.”
Scully swore, slammed the connecting door, and took another
The dip in the bed came around midnight. she didn’t even need to
look at the cheap bedside clock. She could estimate the time
because she could hear Letterman’s voice dimly from the TV in the
next room. The connecting door was open letting in just enough
light to see the shape of the figure that had come to sit beside
her on her bed. He was looking at her badge of all things,
tilting it this way and that way to catch the light as if he was
trying to actually read it.
“Mulder, what’s wrong?”
He reacted to her voice first, snapping closed the wallet and
guiltily dropping it back onto the nightstand as if it burned
him. At last he reacted to the question. When the answer came
his voice was strained. “I guess I don’t feel very well.”
With a sigh, Scully leaned over and switched on the light. She
only needed to blink a couple of times to get the full affect of
his swollen, blotchy face and arms. She lifted up the sweatshirt
and she was sure. “You have hives. A really good case. I warned
He looked almost — scared was the only word that could describe
it. It was hard to believe what with the things Mulder had seen,
but then he didn’t like the sight of runny eggs either.
“Was it the strawberry ice cream?”
“Like I said — told you so.”
“I’ll bet it does. Now stop that! Don’t scratch. Let’s see if I
have any Benadryl.”
With an inarticulate grumble rumbling deep in her throat, Scully
crawled out of bed and opened the smaller of the two bags she
carried. This one went with her everywhere, her traveling ER. She
found the antihistamine and gave him the full dose. He made a
face. “Oh, come on, don’t be a baby.”
After more rifling she found some topical poison ivy cream that
had calamine lotion as the primary ingredient. Then she begins to
dab the pink lotion on the hives with a cotton ball.
“I hate pink,” he sulked. “Does it have to be pink?”
“Live with it, Mulder. Now take your shirt off,” she ordered
He complied, but with hesitation, hiding his face. She’d seen
enough though. Was Mulder actually blushing? He had reddened. Had
to be the rash. Mulder was as vain as a peacock around her and
always had been.
She’d treat his back and then he could do the rest himself. As
she moved across the broad shoulders, however, working the creams
into each rosy splotch, she noticed that he had begun to shiver.
This didn’t make sense as the room wasn’t cold. Lower down she
revised her earlier assumption. No, not shivering, no gooseflesh
had appeared, but a tense trembling. Then she knew what it was
because her own body, attuned to his harmonics, had begun to
respond in kind.
Yes, that kind of trembling. The kind that led to other things.
Sweet, deep, glorious things.
‘No!’ she told himself, rising from the edge of the bed where she
sat. This was not the time. It wouldn’t be even if she weren’t
still furious at him for his odd behavior of the afternoon.
Whirling, she thrust the tube of cream at him.
“Here, you can do the rest yourself. The antihistamine will also
kick in in a few minutes and help you sleep.”
But he just sat there, gazing at her with eyes as huge and bright
and mysterious as the moons of Mars. He had looked at her in
lots of ways before, with love, with lust, with joy, with sorrow,
hurt, in pain, daring her, and even hating her but never this
way. She couldn’t put a word to it, but it was as if he were
looking upon something totally new and simply wondrous. Slowly,
he reached out a hand and, almost as if afraid, touched her left
nipple where it had begun to stand out from her thin camisole.
Scully felt herself sway with the sudden desire to touch him in
the same way, as if this were something new and precious
flowering up within her.
Not taking his eyes from hers, he stood. That broke the spell for
he didn’t move with his usual grace. His foot caught in a
trailing sheet. Afraid he would fall, she automatically reached
for him and felt the warm skin of his muscular arms. The heat in
her belly retreated somewhat, at least enough so that she could
Not tonight, Fox Mulder. Not tonight.
“Go to bed, Mulder,” she said, though her voice didn’t come out
with any of the cool detachment she had intended, for his hand
had come around to cup her breast. They were standing so close
now that she had to tilt her head far back to see his face,
hoping to read there what he was thinking. But he wasn’t thinking
at all, that was certain. What a turn on it was for her. Those
dreamy, half-closed eyes turned her knees to jelly. She had never
seen such total abandon on that beautiful face.
“Mulder…” came out a squawk this time.
All at once he swept down on her. She had never felt so aware of
the difference in their sizes as his mouth came down to cover
hers. It was hard, hot and demanding. His body smelled of sweat.
His arms clasped her to him with rib crunching force. Something
hard, like hot iron, rubbed up against her belly. But beyond all
of this was the growing fact that she could not breathe and not
just from the alarming embrace. It was the way his mouth had
enveloped hers as if he was determined to possess her completely.
She began to struggle. At first she moved only a little, just so
he would know that he was hurting her. She expected at any moment
that he would ease off, but he didn’t. If anything, his hold
tightened. He had wrapped himself around her so strongly that one
hand was free to roam, and it did. When that hand came around to
squeeze her buttocks, his eyes closed completely. One would think
from his soft, blissful moan that he was the one in pain.
If there had ever been any pleasure for Scully in this ardent
attention, the joy had disappeared totally. Her chest ached from
lack of air as well as from the vice-like grip of his arms. With
the situation rapidly turning critical, she struggled harder and
for the first time felt the beginnings of real panic. She could
not budge him. Like a wild thing she was forced to fight in the
only way she could. She bit down — hard — heard a baritone-
pitched yelp and tasted blood. Extreme, maybe, but at least sweet
air was flowing into her lungs again. She was still locked in a
crazed man’s arms, however.
This was no love-making that she had ever known. His hands hurt,
his body was hard and demanding like that of a mindless, wild
creature and with every feminist bone in her body she knew that
she didn’t have to take it. She may be small but in their current
configuration she also knew that she was not defenseless as well
he should know.
With one last “Mulder… Stop…!” such as she’d been gasping
since getting something like her breath back, she let the anger
flow. She didn’t understand why he was acting like this, she did
not want to hurt him again, but enough was enough!
Levering herself against his strong shoulders, she brought her
knee up with all her strength, automatically following his first
staggering gasp of pain with a rapid kick in the same general
area. It was the first lesson in self-defense for women; don’t
just startle and hurt, they’ll only come back angrier than ever.
It was easier that she thought it would be. He reeled back, bent
over, gasping, tears of agony already flowing from his eyes. The
bewildered, blotched and sweating face looked nothing like that
of the man she knew.
With surprisingly fierce strength she threw back the connecting
door and pushed him out into his own room, throwing the poison
ivy cream after him. “When I say ‘stop’ I mean ‘stop!'” she
gasped. “And you can take care of your own damn hives!” Shaking
with confusion, hurt and anger she slammed closed the door and
turned the dead bolt.
She sagged back against the door she had just closed. ‘What had
just happened?’ She couldn’t think, didn’t want to think, needed
a bath. She usually found herself in the tub after Mulder had one
of his attacks of sheer, irrational bull-headedness. Over the
years that amounted to a lot of bubble baths. Seldom had she
wanted one more than now, though she doubted that anything could
wash the imprint of those iron fingers from her body and the feel
of that hard, unloving mouth from hers. She could still taste his
With furious, fumbling fingers she began undressing only to see
that there was a rip in her delicate camisole and two of the tiny
buttons were gone. When had he done that? She couldn’t even
The remains of the silk had barely slipped from her shoulders
when a shiver ran up her spine. It felt as if she were being
watched. Having learned to trust such instincts, she turned
swiftly. From a dark corner, two inhuman eyes glowed. By habit
she was about to call to Mulder but then the memory of the last
incomprehensible minutes came back and she recalled her state of
undress. Instead, clutching the ripped garment across her front,
she edged to the nightstand for her weapon and challenged the
eyes in the corner.
It was Thor. She hadn’t even realized that he had followed Mulder
into her room and she had thrown her partner out too quickly for
the animal to leave with him.
Too distraught to be concerned about the bite impression she
needed to collect from her ‘suspect’, she threw open the room’s
front door. A blast of sultry night air flowed over her bruised
skin. “You, out!” she commanded. “Go home or you’ll get the
Tail between his legs, belly to the floor, looking utterly
miserable as if he already shared his substitute master’s pain,
Thor crept from the room. He was barely clear before the door
slammed behind him.
Trembling with delayed shock, Scully’s crept to the bathroom to
tend her aches and bruises. The salt of her tears turned sour the
delicate perfume of her bath.
September 16, 7am
It was full light before Scully woke. She had been so cold when
she had finally gone to bed that she had heaped on every blanket
she could find. Now she was wringing with sweat. Another shower
followed. She was grateful for the steam that fogged the mirror.
The bruises were less visible that way. Wrapped tightly in her
bathrobe, her body aching, she collapsed wearily down on the edge
of the mattress. The night before she hadn’t wanted to think, but
now she did. She must. What had happened made no sense. Mulder
was no monster. He was a gentle, considerate lover. Sure, they
wrestled sometimes, mock battles over pillows and bedclothes, but
he had always held his far greater strength in check, allowing at
least the illusion of a fair fight…
… in exactly the way she had expected him to hold back during
the pickup game behind the tenement. He hadn’t, however, and the
results had been disastrous. Then there was the ice cream, and
his reticence, his refusal, to help with Thor.
She wasn’t angry any more; she felt only a deep weariness.
“What’s happened this time, my love?” The trembling began again
when she considered what she had done. How badly had she injured
him? She should have thought of a less extreme way to break his
hold, but that wasn’t how she had been taught and the Mulder she
knew would have known that.
At least Mulder in his right mind would have.
Just then Scully heard the faintest of knocks on her connecting
door. She didn’t get up at first, allowing herself just to savor
the relief she felt. He was up and moving at least. Then muffled,
halting words came through the too thin sheet of plywood and
paint. “Scully…?” After a pause again she heard, “Scully…
please… just let me know that you’re all right.”
With cold fingers she undid the lock.
September 16, 8am
The dreams were not the worst he’d ever had, they were too
shadowy for that, but they went on and on. He felt young and
omnipotent, immortal the way only the young can feel. At the end
he remembered becoming aroused in that horrible, wonderful way
that, again, only teenage boys can feel. But this wet dream
hadn’t ended the way it should. It had ended with terrible
confusion and the most horrible pain.
He woke to the most horrible pain.
Tears of anguish running down his cheeks, he curled around his
center on the sagging bed, his mind nothing more than a fuzzy red
blur. His lip hurt as well. It had ballooned to twice its size or
at least felt that way, and this skin itched! Bloody hell, what
had be been doing? It came to him more slowly than it should
have; if he’d been in a fight and kicked in the balls, then what
had his unknown assailant done to Scully that he should find
That thought got him out of the bed when nothing else would have.
What he saw in the bathroom mirror confirmed what he suspected
about his lower lip. His skin was both painful and blotchy. He
recognized the hives but more by the pink calamine stuff on his
arms then by the rosy patches themselves. There was more pink
goop on his back. So how come there was none on his stomach that
itched worst of all? Again, he shut his eyes and tried to think.
Nothing came except for an itching in his mind that matched that
of his skin. Scratching idly at a blotch on his hand he recalled
a dim memory of the first time he remembered having them. Unable
to understand what was happening to him, he’d taken his fears to
his mother’s room, relieved that his father was out of town on
business again. Mom would make everything all right. Again he
heard her soothing voice, felt her small hands, oh, so tender as
she smoothed the medication on his back. A wave of arousal threw
him from the memory.
Now THAT hadn’t happened, not with his mother!
Mulder barely made it back to the bed before his knees gave way.
That was Scully’s touch he remembered. Her touch and his body.
His body reacting to that touch. Never, never had he felt that
way before. The wanting… the needing… the taking…
Suddenly sick to his stomach Mulder wrapped his arms across his
chest as he began to shake. No, he didn’t. He couldn’t have. Not
to Scully. Just a dream. Only there was the evidence of the cut
lip and the pain, the terrible pain down below. Oh, shit…Oh,
Somehow he hobbled to the door that connected their rooms.
It was locked.
In eight years he could count on one hand the number of times
Scully had locked her door like this. Tears sprang to his eyes.
No, no, no, don’t let this be real. Anything but that. Had he
hurt her? He took some solace in that fact that at least she’d
been able to lock the door, that was something, but she had felt
the need to lock the door and that was everything. He saw his
world, his life, his hope for a future, begin to crumble. He
wanted to disappear. How could he look at her again? He had to at
least know how she was, to see with his own eyes what he had
Then? Then he would see.
At first he only scratched at the door, wanting to get her
attention but only if she was awake. When no answer came,
however, he knew that he couldn’t wait. What if she needed
doctor? He knocked a little louder. He would break down the door
if he had to but not yet. He didn’t want to frighten her any more
than she was already. It was after the third time that he heard
the faint noises on the other side. In time the door opened,
though only a crack.
A face as pale as his own looked up at him, red hair sticking out
in all directions as if she’d gone to sleep when it was still
wet. Neither spoke. Wary eyes swept him from head to toe. His
muscles locked, he even held his breath, afraid that any move
would be misunderstood. Finally, she opened the door a little
farther and for the first time the light from his room fell fully
on her face. He staggered back at the sight of the bruises around
her mouth. His own tender tissues reacted with a deep twisting
pain of their own.
She stood and watched it all. His grimace and honest reaction of
shock and horror drew a tiny, grim smile from those swollen lips.
“I think you’d better come in,” she said swinging the door fully
open. “I think that you’re hurt worse than I am.”
He managed to make it across the floor somehow to sink gingerly
onto the edge of her unmade bed.
“What did I do?”
“Don’t you remember?”
He stared down at the fading hive blotches on his arms and then
back up at her face, misery written all over his. “Just shadows.
“Maybe they weren’t dreams. Did you dream about playing
basketball?” she asked.
His only response was to look more confused.
“Eating strawberry ice cream?”
“Scully,” he replied in a small voice into which fear was
creeping, “I’m allergic to strawberries.”
“I know. I tired to warn you. You and Thor shared a whole pint.”
His head came up with a sharp snap. “Thor?” A possibility, like a
shot of electricity surged through him.
Sensing his mood shift and knowing all too well the way his mind
worked, she sat suddenly straighter in the chair facing him. “Oh,
no,” she whispered almost inaudibly, but the message had already
flashed between them. “Not here, not now.”
Mulder knew what the ‘Oh, no’ meant – Oh, no, not an X-File —
and yet it would explain everything that so badly needed an
“When was the last time you saw Thor?” he demanded to know..
“Don’t you mean when was the last time you did? Because you were
with him all afternoon and he was here just a few hours ago. I
threw him out right after our little altercation.”
So he had been there all along when all the strange and terrible
things that he couldn’t completely remember had been happening.
Mulder just sat there, hands between his knees staring off into
space, his brow creased in concentration. “After I left you in
the park, I was walking back to join the task force to see what
they’d found. All at once he came bounding up. He knocked me
down. I thought he was just happy to see me. We wrestled for a
bit and…” Mulder’s hand went to his cheek “…then he started
licking my face. He wouldn’t stop. I…” his voice faded. “It all
gets fuzzy after that.” His entire body seemed to crumple as he
buried his face in his hands. “Shit, oh, shit.” It had been in
him. What had been in him?
Gently but firmly, he felt her pull his hands away. “Mulder, I
know what you’re thinking. Don’t. There was nothing bestial about
what happened. Canine possession? Mulder, I know that you can do
better than that.”
His weak, sheepish grin told her that he thought that he could,
too. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to turn out to be anything as
simple as that. After all, I didn’t howl at the moon, did I?
Besides, dogs don’t play basketball. Now if I’d been playing
tennis or frisbee…”
Her brows drew together, all serious again. “Speaking of
basketball, I ran into two of the boys you played with later.
They didn’t seem surprised that you played so rough. In fact,
they blamed themselves for agreeing to play with you.” To the
question in his eyes, she answered, “Because you were with Thor.”
Wheels began to turned in Mulder’s head. Now that was
“There’s another thing that I mentioned last night but you
forgot,” she added almost reluctantly. “All three of the arson
victims show wounds on their extremities that look very much like
bite marks from a very large dog.”
The wheels stopped turning. They didn’t need to. “I think I’d
better see a boy about a dog and I think you’d better come with
“Couldn’t leave me behind if you tried.”
He started to rise then and then thought better of it. Oh so
carefully, he sat down again. “First things first, about last
night… and us. Just how awful was I?”
She came to sit close beside him, hesitating before she began to
roll up the sleeves of her robe. He read the seriousness in her
and stilled, barely breathing.
“I’m not showing you this to hurt you or blame you, but because
you’re bound to see it all eventually.”
He thought he was going to faint as he gazed open-mouthed on the
vivid red marks on her upper arms that were already darkening to
“You were a bit over-enthusiastic.”
“That’s not what I would call it.” He was sick to his stomach
again. “If you hadn’t –” he gestured down at his crouch “–
would I have –?”
Her distress must be mirroring his. “Oh, Mulder, no. At the time,
I thought, maybe. With no inhibitions you’re stronger than you
know, but having given it some thought I don’t think that it
would have come to that. You see I had a similar experience once
a long time ago. There was this teenage boy. I found out later
that the other girls called him Octopus Man. Given an inch of
encouragement, he’d be all over you.”
One corner of one lip made a feeble attempt to curl upwards. “The
bus is barreling downhill and no one is at the controls?”
Scully was well aware of the power of the emotion they were
discussing. “That would explain it. But that boy never got past a
certain point. Of course, at the age we were then, he was not so
much larger than I.” Her mouth suddenly took on a musing pout.
“You know, the male’s sexual awakening happens when he is not yet
fully grown, but females his own age are. I never thought of
that particular arrangement as a species survival trait.”
Mulder glowered, finding no humor in the situation. “So how was
it? Did I – did he – act as if he even knew what was going on?”
“Oh, you – he – knew, but the train wasn’t stopping, not for
anything. That is not you by the way.” She tired to smile but her
mouth didn’t curve entirely right. “You like to take your time.”
How hard she was trying to lighten this. Caught up in his guilt
and terrible visions of what could have been, the tentative touch
of her hand on his thigh came as a surprise, but it was a welcome
surprise, her hand so soft, the expression in her eyes so warm.
“How are… things… with you?”
‘Things’ began to stir.
Reluctantly, he slid his leg out from under her hand. “I don’t
think that you’d better do that for awhile.”
“Sorry. Have you tried ice?”
“Are you out of your mind, woman?”
“Want me to take a look? In my professional capacity, of course.”
“Not just now, thank you. Just pass me a handful of the strongest
pain killers you have.”
After that he went quiet except for the new storms rising within,
while she dried her hair. Her eyes seldom left his face.
“Mulder, get over it. It wasn’t you. We just have to find out
what it was and make certain that it never happens again.”
“Oh, it will never happen again, of that I’m certain.” The storm
broke, drenching him with cold anger. “Let’s go make that house
September 16 10am
After attending to their wounds, the agents dressed and
breakfasted on doctored bad coffee from the motel lobby. Neither
was hungry. The drive took no time at all and the only problems
Mulder had getting there were with one-way streets, which had
been no impediment to a man and dog traveling on foot. When two
Dobermans leaped out of hiding from behind a bush in a tiny yard
as the car approached, he knew they were close. There was the
building, a block ahead on the right. This time no old woman was
stationed on the steps with her broom to welcome them. Together
they climbed the narrow stairs through litter and trash and air
filled with the same multi-cultural scents of peanut oil and
curry that had pervaded the air before. Outside Spark’s room,
Mulder called the boy’s name, at the same time knocking once,
before letting himself in. He could imagine Thor vanishing
through his window to escape the incriminating evidence of
Scully’s block of paraffin, but the elegant black head only
raised itself listlessly from the boy’s bed where dog lay next to
the emaciated form of his god.
Even to Mulder’s eyes it was clear that the boy’s condition had
declined over the few days since they had first met. The child’s
skin had taken on a yellow, waxy cast and there was barely a
flicker in the eyes that opened at their abrupt entry. Mulder
felt his anger drain away.
Scully had gone to the boy’s bedside immediately. “I’m Agent
Scully, Agent Mulder’s partner, but I have a feeling that you
know that. I’m also a doctor. May I…?”
The thin shoulder’s moved ever so slightly in a shrug, the weary
acquiesce of someone who had seen more than their share of
doctors. “Won’t do any good,” came the low voice, “but knock
As Scully began her examination, Mulder moved to the bedside
drawing up the room’s only chair. The child was so ill, keeping
his interrogator’s mask intact was going to take some work.
“What you did, Spark, that wasn’t very nice. I thought we were
The boy’s hand crept out from underneath the worn sheet to caress
Thor’s sleek head.
“I wanted to know. I didn’t think you’d mind.”
“Wanted to know what?”
The voice was weak but not apologetic. “What it would be like to
be grown up the way you are. I’ve never met anyone like you
“That’s for sure,” Mulder heard Scully murmur under her breath.
He caught her eye and realized that she had expected something
like this. That she was ready to accept this after rejecting so
many of his other theories warmed his heart. But there was
another emotion in her face, one he saw only in the morgue when
he gazed down upon some young and beautiful child, its life cut
short. When she spoke, her voice as kind as he had ever heard it.
“Spark, you’re very sick.”
The child’s face with its faded but unearthly beauty looked up
into hers and said without hesitation, “AIDS.”
“Yes. There’s nothing I can do here,” she said. “You should be in
“But it won’t help.”
Scully’s eyes touched her partner’s again. “It would give you a
little more time.”
“But they won’t let me bring Thor.”
“True, they won’t.”
“Then, no thank you.”
She sighed. “You should at least have hospice care.”
“I do. Andy came early this morning. He just left. I wanted him
to stay, but he couldn’t.” For the first time the boy’s peaceful
demeanor wavered. “He said that he’d try to come back, but there
are so many…” His chocolate brown eyes turned to the window, to
the street and the activity below. It was Saturday. Children were
playing, children who didn’t have one hand on death’s door.
Mulder’s hands clasped and unclasped between his knees. “Spark,
you know that Scully and I work for the FBI. If you are not too
tired, I’d like to ask you some questions now. There are things
we need to know. I think you know what I’m talking about.”
“I’m not too tired. I’m glad you’re here.”
“Tell me about the fires. How they got started. Tell me about the
men who died, why they died and how.”
The boy’s big eyes stared into the man’s hazel ones. “You know
already or you wouldn’t be asking me.”
“You have to tell us in your own words so no innocent person is
The boy reached out his smaller hand of frail bone towards the
man’s large one. Mulder wanted to take it but glanced at Scully
for her agreement first and both of them knew that it wasn’t AIDS
he was worried about. At first there was hesitation in her face
but finally she nodded.
At the boy’s touch Mulder felt, not a jolt of electricity, but a
warmth that spread soothingly throughout his whole body. At the
same time the sick room faded until it seemed very far away. He
stood on a plain of shifting shadows, a vaguely familiar
landscape, but before he could peer any further into the gloom,
he became aware that his arm hurt, not the one hot from Spark’s
touch but the other one. The ground also seemed very near. He was
a child again, being dragged through dark, wet streets by a man.
Uncle, came to his mind. There was no stopping until they reached
a small door in the wall of a huge, black building. A series of
knocks and the door opened and he was thrust inside. It was even
darker inside than out and just as quiet. It smelled of the river
and old dust.
A tall figure took him by the shoulder and spun him around.
Before he could move they had unzipped his jacket and unbuttoned
his shirt and a small light played over his body. There was more
than one man – three at least by the reek of cigars – but he
couldn’t see their faces though they could see his. He shivered
in the cold, empty room and wrapped his thin arms around his bare
They didn’t talk to him. Their cold business-like voices mingled
with that of his uncle. Now they took away his clothes entirely
and made him turn around and around like a roast on a spit. More
hands, far too many hands. Terrified, he was dragged up narrow
stairs, an ungentle slap warning him that he’d better start
walking and stop crying. They entered a tiny room where a single
red bulb glowed. There were new smells of sweat and old cologne
and something sick. He cried his hated uncle’s name again and
again but the old man had taken his blood money and fled, leaving
only the hands of the strange men and the red-lit room.
They hurt him, they hurt him very badly. They hurt him in ways
that he didn’t want to think about. He limped home that day and
every day thereafter, but not until the bleeding colors of dawn
touched the skin. He walked fast with his small fist wrapped
around the blood money his family so desperately needed. Tip-
toeing past his uncle asleep before his new wide screen TV, he
meet his younger brothers and sisters just rising from their one
bed to get ready for school. But no more school for him. He was
too tired. Besides he no longer belonged. How could he sit in a
classroom at a desk with other children knowing the un-childlike
things he did? He was changed. As the sun left the sky, he rose
to walk the dark streets to one black and looming building or
another. Each had its hidden, red rooms; each the too-friendly
whispered voices; and the fat, hot bodies rubbing against his,
lips against his and on his and on him, forcing his mouth —
“Stop it! Stop it!” shouted a voice but far, far away.
Mulder exploded out of the horror like a drowning man rising from
the grip of an icy, black sea. His body was shaking
uncontrollably. His only anchor to the present was the warm,
living body that rocked him, that held him close. The scent in
his nostrils this time was the scent of heaven, the blessed,
familiar perfume she wore.
“I just wanted to show him,” said a small voice far away. The
nightmare was fading but not fast enough.
“He asked you about the fires. Don’t try to tell me that ‘that’
was about the fires.”
“It was why.”
Mulder could not stop the tremors, but for once he didn’t mind.
He’d shiver for a solid week if he thought they could actually
shake off the memory of those large, rough hands.
“How were you able to keep going back?” he was finally able to
stammer. He only asked ‘How’ because he knew ‘Why’. For those
four small brothers and sisters who kissed him each morning and
each evening, who seemed to know without word or understanding
the enormity of the burden that he bore for them.
“How?” The sweetest smile came to the boy’s lips. “Because
something happened a few weeks later. It started out bad, but
turned out to be the best day of my life. It was cold that night
and raining. I remember it dripping down my neck. I so didn’t
want to go to ‘work’. I was sick with it. Instead, I hid outside,
in an alley in the dark. I thought seriously about dying, because
my uncle would kill me if I didn’t show, but then I couldn’t go
home either. And then I heard the tiniest sound.” The boy’s hand
reached out to touch one of Thor’s drooping ears. In response the
flag of a tail beat faster. “He was just the lit’lest thing, only
a little larger than my hand and so weak. He’d been thrown out in
a bag into the trash but had crawled out. I thought then how
alike we were; trash, that is. I had a muffin and one of those
juice boxes. I gave him some of that and wrapped him warm in my
sweater and put him in a box and hid him in a dark place. I told
him not to move or make a sound till I got back. He’d been making
these little grunting puppy sounds before but after I told him to
be quiet, not a peep. And he was still there when I did get back.
Weak as he was, he even licked my finger. I was never so happy in
my life. I just loved him SO much, I just wanted him to live so
badly, that I guess I poured all my love into him, all my soul.
“It doesn’t make sense but when I climbed the stairs to the red
room after that, I barely felt it. It was like I was wood, like
it was happenin’ to someone else though I would never wish that
on anyone. And that’s the way it was till I got sick; Thor and me
together except while my body was upstairs, he waited outside, or
more truly we waited outside, he and I together.” The huge brown
eyes looked up at Mulder. “I don’t ‘spect you to believe that.”
“You’d be surprised what I believe. So what you told me at our
first meeting was true. After you got sick you really did send
Thor out to see things and bring you back stories, only that
wasn’t quite true, was it? He never really had to ‘tell’ you
anything because a part of you traveled with him.”
A resolute expression put color into the boy’s pale cheeks.
“So what happened yesterday? The basketball game? You did more
than send Thor to spy on me.”
Excitement animated the little body. “I’d never tried that before
and it was so easy. You wanted to help me so bad that you let me
in, you ‘wanted’ me in.” The enormous chocolate eyes glittered
with something like worship. “There’s never been anyone like
“As I said, got that in one,” Scully breathed.
“As for the game, I was always the smallest. I wanted to know
just once what it was like to be bigger, taller. I wanted to know
what it felt like to win.”
“Hmmm, we’ll talk about fair play later. And the ice cream?”
“I like strawberry.”
“You could have killed Agent Mulder,” Scully admonished in her no
“I didn’t mean to.”
“And last night… that was you, too,” she said. Mulder noted
with relief that the statement was not phrased as a question.
“How’d you guess?” Spark asked in all sincerity.
Amused, Mulder cocked an eyebrow in her direction. “Yes, Agent
Scully, how did you know?”
Coolly, she answered the boy. “It’s come to my attention that
Agent Mulder has some skill in that area, skill which was
decidedly lacking last night.”
Spark didn’t have time to ask how Agent Scully had come to be
acquainted with Agent Mulder’s skill in these matters, for at
that moment Thor issued a low, warning growl. His head jerked,
first towards the window, then towards the hallway. Before either
of the partners could react, the apartment’s cheap door burst
open and a masked, fatigue-dressed figure spun into the room, a
lethal automatic revolver raised. Nothing could have been more
unexpected. Neither agent was in any position to reach their
weapons quickly, certainly not in time to beat a bullet that
would come from a gun already aimed at Mulder’s chest.
His hand was only half-way to his shoulder holster when the room
echoed with the distinctive ‘Splat!’ but at the same time a black
blur passed before Mulder’s eyes. Another shot and another.
Scully was rolling low. Thor had the invader’s gun hand in his
jaws deflecting the aim so that the next shots went safely wild.
It was when Mulder felt a new one whistle by his ear from the
direction of the open window that they were far from being out of
From the balls of his feet he launched his body towards the knees
of their attacker. A whine screamed by like an incensed bee. Thor
yelped and Spark screamed just as Mulder brought the gunman down.
Two seconds, keeping below the level of the window, and the man
was cuffed. Scully, first crawled over to check on Spark and
seeing no blood on the terrified boy bent low and streaked out
the door, reaching for her cell phone with her left hand even as
she raised her service weapon. Mulder heard her call for backup
as her heels hit the stairs with a shower of staccato clicks. He
kept his own heel on the back of their attacker’s neck, which
went a long way towards muffling the obscenities that steamed out
of the man’s mouth. At the same time he worked himself around as
best as he could to try to see from where the other gunman had
been firing. The roof of an adjacent building lined up almost
perfectly. With the sounds of sirens already blaring from only
blocks away, Mulder caught a fleeting glimpse of the second man
disappearing through a rooftop door. Staring from the side of the
window down to the street below, he noted that Scully had all the
help that she would need. What looked like two nightshift police
officers and as many security guards had poured out of their
apartments in nearby buildings, a little groggy from their
interrupted sleep, but armed to the teeth. They scattered
following Scully’s directions.
With a jerk on the cuffs, Mulder pulled his trash-talking captive
to his feet and pushed the man towards the door. He paused at the
last moment to look back at the bloodless face of the boy whose
eyes were fixed on the floor now streaked with footprints in
blood. There Thor moved weakly, whimpering. “Stay still!” Mulder
ordered both animal and boy. “We’ll be back in just a few
Both partners were back in less than five after handing off the
two perpetrators to the local police with promises to be in to
give statements as soon as possible. Breathing hard from having
taken the five flights, two or more steps at a time, Mulder found
the boy of little more than skin and bone sprawled on the floor
with the head of a panting Thor in his lap. Within moments Scully
slid down beside them, her hands moving swiftly through the black
“I don’t think it’s very bad, Spark,” she assured the boy after
her initial examination. “Grazed his hip. You were a brave, good
boy, Thor. Thank you.”
Lovingly, she ruffled the dog’s silky head, very much the same
way she ruffled his own hair from time to time, Mulder thought
“We should really take him to a vet to be sure though,” she told
the teary-eyed boy.
Spark’s response was an emphatic, “No! They’ll want to keep him.
We’ve never been apart.” Belatedly remembering the days Thor had
been lost in the fire and later stayed with Mulder, the boy
amended with, “Well, almost never. Please, if he’s really not so
bad could you fix him up here?” His pleading eyes were fixed in
“That’s what I thought you’d ask,” she said with a nod towards a
small suitcase she’d brought back with her. “I think I might have
something in here for our brave hero.” She opened her well-
stocked first aid kit. “From time to time, it’s been sufficient
to handle the heroics of a certain other male of my acquaintance.
Meanwhile, Mulder will be looking for bullet fragments; we’ll
need them as evidence. The one that hit Thor just kept going.”
A short time later while Scully completed her treatment with only
a vague murmur about whether this was a step up or a step down
from autopsying pregnant elephants, Mulder sat down next to the
boy. He held up a set of plastic evidence bags containing the
remains of five slugs. “These men meant business, but they
clearly weren’t after you.”
The brown eyes lowered displaying lush lashes. “No, you. You went
sniffing about on the boats, didn’t you? Someone got scared and
hired those goons to take you out. Pretty dumb going after two
“Right, pretty dumb but then that’s more often than not how the
bad guys get caught. They might even have succeeded if it weren’t
for Thor, to which I offer my thanks as well.” Hearing his name
mentioned the canine’s tail wagged so energetically that it got
in the way of Scully’s bandaging.
“The good news is, the bosses didn’t pick their hit men very
well. These two are going to talk like a couple of magpies. There
will be no trouble tracing them back to their paymasters.
Attempted murder on two FBI agents? Your local police will be
able to close them down. That is what you were trying to do with
the fires and the deaths, yes?” The boy hung his head. Mulder
went on. “That’s what I was doing on the boats, you know. I had
to find out who started the fires and killed those men. That’s
what put my life in danger — mine and Scully’s and Thor’s. You
joined with Thor, didn’t you? You did it all.”
There was no remorse in the child’s voice, only anger. “They were
evil. I wasn’t the only one they used. It had to stop.” The boy’s
mouth curved up bitterly. “Don’t you see, the gentleman of the
night are always on the lookout for more, the more exotic the
better. What about the boys — and girls — to come?”
“Just promise that you won’t do anything like this again. We have
them now. We’ll shut them down lawfully.” This group at least.
“So Thor and I aren’t in any trouble?”
“I didn’t say that. And while we’re at it, let’s talk again about
what else you’ve seen through Thor’s eyes.” By the look of
defiance on the boy’s peaked features obviously quite a lot.
From the floor where she was just finishing attending to Thor’s
injury, Scully spoke in a voice that was soothing yet absolutely
firm. “Intruding into other people’s lives, invading their
privacy? That’s wrong.”
“And what they did to me wasn’t wrong?”
“I seem to remember an old adage about two wrongs,” Mulder
commented as he rose to help his partner repack her supplies.
Mid-action he felt the unpleasant pull of still-tender tissues.
That discomfort had been momentarily forgotten in the earlier
“Then there’s your traveling through Thor to me,” he said, doing
his best to sound paternally displeased, “don’t you ever do that
again either. Not to me, not to anyone.”
Guiltily, the boy’s head drooped. Then seeing Thor standing,
albeit shakily, he reached out his thin arms for comfort. Thor
made it up onto the bed and into those arms though with less than
his usual bounce. Hugging his friend to him, the boy sank back
against the pillows looking far too small and old for his age.
From the bed the chocolate eyes followed Mulder as he started to
leave with Scully.
“Please don’t go. Could you… could you stay and talk to me
today, at least until I fall asleep?”
Seeing her partner’s hesitation, Scully gestured him closer to
whisper, “I know you want to stay, so stay. I’ll go deal with our
two would-be assassins. We promised a statement. I’ll also get
things rolling in terms of closing down this sordid little ring.
Take all the time you need.”
It was a generous and kind gesture and all at once he wanted more
than anything to kiss this loving woman, only there was Spark and
his sad, hungry eyes.
The hell with it.
Bending, he kissed her softly on the forehead which they still
did though more often than not their kisses moved from there to
more intimate territory. Her eyes closed in pleasure and with a
returning squeeze of her hand, she was gone.
“See,” came a small and yet triumphant voice from the bed, “I
knew that she’d like it.”
Mulder whirled. “Not the way you did it!”
The smile vanished from the boy’s sharp features and his hand
clenched more fiercely into Thor’s thick fur. “I said I was
sorry. I just wanted to know what it was like between a man and a
woman who actually cared for each other.” In the bitterest of
ironies, the boy who knew more of the dark side of sex then
Mulder hoped that he would ever know, didn’t know about the best
“If not that, then talk to me about other things. Everything.
Like how was it to grow four inches in one summer?”
“Painful, and it was six.”
“Cool! Tell about the first time.” The fixed brown eyes glittered
with pleasure but behind them was a great hunger.
Heaven help us, Mulder mused.
After a moment, he took off his suit coat, loosened his tie,
rolled up his shirtsleeves, took his place again in the chair
beside the bed, and sighed. “I’m glad Scully’s gone.”
The boy grinned expectantly with his perfect white teeth.
“There’s painful parts to this and it’s not something I’m
especially proud of, on the other hand…” A flood of bittersweet
memories warmed him. “I warn you, it’s a long story if you really
want to understand it all.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” the boy responded eagerly.
Another sigh. “Very well.”
“How old were you?”
“Fifteen. It had been a terrible summer and some of my so-called
friends asked me to go with them to the State Fair and there was
this gypsy fortune teller…”
“How old was she?”
“An older woman. In her twenties, if you must know, but am I
telling this story or are you?”
Spark closed his mouth and made a zippering motion across his
“All right then. Let me start from the beginning…”
Scully found herself dozing in the cab even though the ride was
less that two miles. She had done a good night’s work, but then
she and Mulder were such heroes with the locals that it hadn’t
been hard. They booked the two would-be assassins on attempted
murder and better yet got the ringleaders of the pedophile group-
those who still lived- on murder-for-hire charges. She had not
expected to see Mulder and hadn’t. The man didn’t just have a
soft spot for children in distress, he had a whole bloody swamp.
The girls reminded him of his sister, ripped from her life, her
family; the boys reminded him of himself, equally traumatized,
lonely and abused, psychologically if not physically. The man-to-
man talk would do them both good.
The smell of wet street rose up to her as she crawled tiredly
from the cab in front of the boy’s building. The last of the
street lights glittered in the puddles. As the sound of the
taxi’s engine faded away, there remained only that odd, almost
unnatural quiet of a city just before dawn.
At that moment the front door of the building opened and Mulder
himself sidled out. He was awkwardly burdened with a large
shapeless bundle, which was wrapped in a blanket that Scully
recognized as being from the sick room. She met him at the bottom
of the short flight of stairs within steps of where their rental
car was parked. He hadn’t glanced up as he had come slowly down
the steps, but with his face nearly hidden he had looked about as
weary as she had ever seen him. Preoccupied with maneuvering the
steps with his burden, he was unaware of her presence until she
was beside him.
Red-rimmed eyes gazed on her gratefully from his gray and haggard
“Mulder, what is it? What’s happened?” Fingers on his chin she
turned his face to the east and the soft colors of coming dawn.
There were tracks of tears on his stubbled cheeks. His eyes
lowered towards the bundle he carried. The blanket-wrapped shape
was large enough for the boy’s emaciated body.
“What is this? Spark? Is he worse? Are you taking him to the
The dark-haired head jerked in a negative sign. “Thor…” The
word caught in his throat. Hurriedly, Scully folded back an edge
of the blanket. Her probing fingers found cool, stiff skin under
the thick, soft coat. That bubbling life force was still.
“Oh, Mulder…I don’t understand. His injury wasn’t that bad.”
He clutched the bundle to him, his tired eyes closing. He opened
his mouth to speak but couldn’t get the words out. Giving up, he
inclined his head towards the trunk. After she had unlocked it,
he laid the motionless bundle tenderly in the back. With aching
slowness, he straightened up and reached blindly for her hand.
“Spark’s dead, too.”
“No…” but she had half suspected that already.
“I was just telling him stories.” Pent up before, the words
tumbled out. “We’d been at it for hours. He was just lying there,
eyes half open, this little smile on his face. I don’t know how
long he had been like that but too long.” His grip tightened,
grinding bone; his low, ragged voice staggered on. “He just
slipped away. And…Thor…was lying beside him and when I bent
to touch him I found he was gone, too…” The eyes closed, tears
on their lashes. “They went together. That bond they shared…”
Shaking himself as if from a dream, he pushed back from the car.
“I’ve called for an ambulance. They’ll be here for Spark soon,
but Thor, I couldn’t just leave him there. Just to be dispos–”
His voice broke. For an instant his fury at the world surfaced so
that he almost slammed the trunk closed. At the last second,
however, he caught himself and shut it gently, applying only
enough pressure so that the lock clicked. His eyes lifted then to
a window on the top floor.
“At least you were there,” she said, placing a small hand on his
shoulder. “No one should have to die alone.” Tenderly she turned
over his hand and kissed the palm.
And you’re not alone either, my love, and never will be.
“Come on,” she said. “I’ll come with you. We’ll find out who his
friends were in the building, try to contact his family, find
something for the funeral.”
Wordlessly, he nodded. They started forward. Suddenly, he took
her into his trembling arms and buried his face in her hair.
After a long moment, hand in hand, they climbed the steps
That night in the midst of death, they celebrated life. There was
no talk of risk. That no longer mattered. Over the next two days
they cleaned up everything they had to with the field office and
the local police. Everyone cooperated in quiet efficiency, not as
if Mulder would have noticed. Even Samson was surprisingly
subdued. No cracks, not a one. He certainly went up several
notches in Scully’s book, but then the man would have needed to
be made of stone not to see the grief that her partner wore about
himself like a shroud.
There was no funeral. Only Agents Mulder, Scully and a half dozen
‘family’ members attended the graveside service. The words were
few and impersonal. The eulogy was performed by a minister who
clearly knew little or nothing about the boy.
It was at dusk that the real service began. Called by word-of-
mouth they came by the hundreds; gray forms wrapped in mist. So
silent were they that the tracks made in the wet grass were the
only signs that the figures were not themselves the ghosts of the
Civil War dead out for a stroll. The partners were only two of
the number. In solemn procession at the head of the throng,
Mulder, stiff with control, carried Thor in his arms. At the edge
of the still-open grave they waited as from all directions the
mourners came. Children, parents, shopkeepers and young
professionals from blocks around – all came who had heard the
inseparable sounds of athletic shoes and the ‘click, click’ of
clawed paws on their streets and sidewalks.
As the last assembled, six silent men pulled the vault from the
earth. A stony-faced octogenarian opened it as well as the small,
lonely coffin within. By then there must have been two hundred
souls all woven about in the fog that had flowed in from the
Two hundred and two, Mulder corrected to himself.
In the end the blanket covered both. It was a tight fit but the
overwhelming consensus was that the two involved would rest
easier now. When the partners and their fellow shades passed back
into the land of the living, they left behind them in the
twilight a new-covered mound bedecked with flowers and candy and,
here and there, a dog biscuit. Oh, yes, and one peanut butter and
“That was irregular as hell, Mulder,” Scully whispered as they
neared their car, “if not down right illegal.”
“As illegal as it is to die so young? Or if it isn’t, it should
“How did they get the cemetery and mortuary staff to agree to
this? I doubt that the family was even asked.”
“The family was no family.” Then Mulder remembered his ‘dream’,
“Well, maybe the brothers and sisters, if they had not been so
afraid of the uncle. That individual, by the way, will be
receiving a visit from Social Services as soon as our report
reaches a certain director’s desk. As far as the community goes–
and the cemetery and mortuary staff are part of the community —
the official version of the story will be that a favorite
keepsake was forgotten when the coffin was closed. Re-opening has
been done before, only the humane thing to do for one so young.
Internment was not even complete. Certainly He who ultimately
bestows all forgiveness – or ‘She’ depending upon your level of
PC — won’t mind.”
“And the unofficial version?”
“Better this than having their children for the next hundred
years sit before their cereal bowls and ask whether the child who
was up all night walking the streets had found the dog he was
With understanding she took his hand and led him towards their
car. Her small one was warm, where his was still cold. Home soon.
Trusting her to steer him clear of the forest of gravestones,
Mulder briefly closed his eyes. Somewhere, he thought he heard
the joyous bark of a dog, Lassie finding Timmy after one of their
harrowing adventures, their Last harrowing adventure.
But then it might have just been his imagination.
Author’s Notes: The story Mulder tells Spark about his ‘first’
time is actually an older story of mine (and shorter than this
one) entitled, Carnival Dark, Carnival Light. If you are
interested you can find it on my very inadequate web site at
http://members.aol.com/windsinger and on Gossamer under Author,
Esty and, probably a lot of other fan fic sites as well.