Contretemps

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TITLE: Contretemps

AUTHOR: dtg

EMAIL: dgoggans@earthlink.net

RATING: R (occasional language)

CATEGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR

SPOILERS: Through VS9

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then

Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine,

just let me know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright

infringement intended.

SUMMARY: “Contretemps (kahn’-tra-tahm)- Etymology

French, from ‘contre’ (counter)+ ‘temps’

(time), from Latin ‘tempus’: An

unforeseen event that disrupts the

normal course of things; an inopportune

occurrence.” American Heritage

Dictionary, 2000

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Many thanks to Sally and Judie for

masterful beta (say THAT three times

fast!) and moral support, and to

Michelle for never flinching when

toughlove is required. I couldn’t

have done it without you!

* * * * *

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Contretemps

By dtg

~~~~~~~~~

Teaser

2118 M Street NW

Georgetown, MD

Monday, 5:29 am

The dream always started in the same place: his long

fingers trailing fire from the base of her throat,

then down between her breasts, moving so slowly that

she wanted to scream. They circled her navel, pausing

to gently tweak the small golden ring that pierced

it… lower still… oh, so lightly, the anticipation

driving her mad… And finally–

*Beep! Beep! Beep!*

“Damn it!”

It always ended in the same place,too. You’d think

with so much practice, her sex-starved subconscious

would get it right. Start five minutes earlier, and

she could wake up with a smile on her face. Just one

damn time…

Amy Carson slapped blindly in the direction of the

sound, knocking over a box of tissues and a glass of

water before she managed to connect with the off

button.

She stood under the shower’s needle spray for ten

minutes longer than she could really afford, just to

take the edge off. Nothing like a bracing cold shower

to flush the cobwebs… and not just the ones in her

head.

At 6:25 exactly, she was wrestling open the door of

her 1999 Volvo, juggling a travel mug full of

lukewarm coffee and a khaki canvas satchel jammed

with textbooks destined for the university bookstore.

She certainly didn’t need the money, pitiful as

resale prices always were, but she had relished the

act of clearing out her bookcase. It was her own

little graduation ceremony. Out with the old, in with

the new. Besides, she was going to need the space.

She tossed the satchel onto the passenger seat and

dropped gratefully behind the wheel. She was fitting

the mug into the console cup holder when all

sensation below her neck abruptly vanished.

Blanked by shock, her mind barely registered the

soft rustle of movement in the back seat. A back seat

that had been empty only seconds ago.

******

Patrick McNamara Building

FBI Field Office

Detroit, MI

Monday, 4:50 pm

Mike Demarco made one final search of his center desk

drawer and shoved it closed for the last time. Two

cardboard boxes crammed with miscellaneous personal

items already occupied the trunk of his car. It was

fascinating how much junk could accumulate in five

short years.

Well, not so short, really. He had been working

toward this transfer since he graduated from the

Academy, and these last six months had been the

longest of his life. His wife of ten years had found

a younger, less career-oriented version of himself

and departed for greener pastures the day after

their tenth anniversary. The very next day, his SAC

of six years had been replaced by a woman who hated

Demarco on sight and hadn’t cut him a break since.

Only the prospect of this transfer to fibbie Mecca

had kept him sane.

There was only one drawback. He was losing the best

partner a man could have. Built like a linebacker,

with the IQ of a Rhodes scholar and the heart of a

lion, Gerry Spencer was going to leave a hole in his

life that would be damn hard to fill.

“You have one hell of a shit-eating grin on your

face there, partner.”

Demarco looked up and his smile widened. ” Ex –

partner, to you.” He grabbed the meaty paw Gerry was

extending and gave it a firm, double-handed shake.

“I’m gonna miss you, buddy.” He surprised them both

with the honest emotion in his voice.

“Yeah, like a bad tooth.” Gerry was looking

everywhere but at Mike. It was obvious that saying

good-bye was hard for him, too. He cleared his throat

gruffly and gave Mike a friendly punch in the arm.

“Just wanted to stop by and see you off. When you’re

Director Demarco, remember the little people who

helped you on the way up, ok?” He turned on his heel

without waiting for a reply and never looked back.

Mike Demarco picked up his briefcase and walked to

the door. Unlike Gerry, he did look back, scanning

the room one more time. With a smile that could have

meant any number of things, he snapped off the light

and closed the door.

***

27118 Northline Road

Allen Park, MI

5:30 pm

Mike parked illegally in front of his house to

shorten the distance he’d have to haul the boxes.

When he’d gotten them stacked on the porch, he

returned to move his car to an empty spot in the next

block.

The spot was smaller than he’d thought, and it took a

little finesse to maneuver his gas hog of a Buick

into it. He was half out of the car when he

remembered his cell phone. As he reached for the

glove box, something hot bit at the back of his neck.

Bee sting, his mind supplied helpfully as it ordered

his right hand to swat at the injury…

…except that he couldn’t move it. He couldn’t move

anything. As gravity pulled his body to the right and

down onto the front seat, he realized he couldn’t

breathe. And suddenly nothing else mattered.

***

ACT I

Basement office

Tuesday, 11:00 am

“Scully, you gotta see this.” Mulder crooked two

fingers in her direction without looking up from the

computer screen. She got up from her chair and walked

around behind him.

“What have you got?” She leaned down to see what he

was looking at, and her face was mere inches from his

ear when she spoke. His startle reflex nearly tipped

over the chair.

“Sorry.” She stood back a bit and gave him an

apologetic wince. “I thought you heard me coming.”

“You scared the crap out of me.”

“What did you want to show me.” She shrugged into her

jacket and began to button it up.

Mulder turned around and looked at her. “Was it

something I said, or are you just chilly?”

“I’ve got an autopsy to do. You didn’t hear me on the

phone?”

“You were on the phone?”

She finished buttoning and picked up her briefcase.

“You need to get more sleep.”

“So I’ve been told. Where are you going?”

“Quantico. Mel Harmon wants a second opinion on an

autopsy. I’ll be back in a couple of… ” He was

looking at her so intently that she felt her face

heat up. ” What ?”

“And there’s something strange about the body?” He

was all but wagging his tail.

“Down, boy. You know Mel as well as I do. She’s never

been one to accept ‘undetermined’ as a cause of

death, and this one has her stumped. I’m sure it’s

nothing that would even register on your radar.”

He grinned and stood up, rolling his sleeves down.

“You’d be surprised what registers on my radar these

days.”

“Mulder, stay here and finish what you were doing. If

any flukeworms wriggle out of the chest cavity,

you’ll be the first to know.”

He looked at her for a moment, then shrugged and sat

back down. “I’ll keep my hip boots at the ready.”

Scully stopped at the door and turned to fire a

parting shot, but her mercurial partner’s attention

was already refocused on the computer screen, to the

exclusion of everything and everyone else in the

room. She smiled to herself and closed the door

quietly behind her.

****

Quantico

4:20 pm

The young woman on the table before her, violated now

for the last time, had died of asphyxia. There was

no doubt on that point. Scully stripped off her

gloves and looked up to find Mel Harmon watching her

with both eyebrows raised in anticipation.

“So, what did you find?” The tall, willowy brunette

had watched the examination in silence, but Scully

had felt Mel’s eyes tracking her every move.

“You heard my comments. I agree with your

conclusions, Mel. Asphyxia without apparent cause.”

The woman came quickly around the table and stopped

a foot from Scully. “I’m not interested in the

provable observations you put on the tape. I want to

know what you *think*. Don’t you have a feeling about

this?”

It was so close to what Mulder would have said in the

same situation that Scully had to smile. “If I

didn’t know better–”

Mel’s hands came up, warding her off. “This is not

about looking for a paranormal explanation when a

perfectly mundane one exists. There *is* no

explanation that either you or I can find– mundane

or otherwise.”

“Not one we’ve discovered, but you know as well as I

do–”

“–looks like she just crawled into the trunk and

stopped breathing,” came Mulder’s soft baritone from

the direction of the door.

Scully rolled her eyes heavenward for a moment before

she turned around.

He was leaning rakishly against the door frame, arms

crossed over his chest. A lovely picture that made

her forget how much she hated being snuck up on.

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“What are you doing here, Mulder?”

“Just watching my partner’s back.” He pushed away

from the wall and came toward her in graceful, lazy

strides, his dark eyes never leaving her face. “And a

damn fine back it is.” He winked, and she blushed.

Mel cleared her throat pointedly. Mulder looked up

and smiled. “Hey, Mel. When did you get here?”

Mel was one of a rare handful of people with whom

they felt comfortable just being themselves. It was

one of the reasons Scully enjoyed her company so

much. Mel’s banter with Mulder was always fun to

watch, even though Scully had always suspected her of

harboring a bit of a crush on him. Mulder seemed

oblivious, but Scully could often hear truth in Mel’s

teasing words. Like now.

“I’m just invisible, as usual,” Mel quipped. “And

I even changed my perfume for you.” She gave him a

wink and headed for the door.

Mulder’s teasing smile turned genuine. “Mel, you

don’t have to go. I can wait until you’re finished

here.”

“We’re finished. Besides, I have some research to do.

I’ll let you know if I turn anything up.” She snapped

off a jaunty salute and closed the door behind her.

“Mulder, what are you doing here?” He was directly in

front of her now, and she had to cross her arms to

keep from reaching out to touch him.

“Skinner called to see if you were back. I told him

I’d give you the message.”

“So, what was the message?”

His eyes exuded that languid sex appeal for a moment

longer, then he straightened and took a half step

back. “There’s been another death. In Detroit. Body

found in the trunk of the victim’s car. No visible

cause of death. Only this victim happens to be an FBI

agent.”

Scully pulled off her lab coat and tossed it at the

bin. “What’s the connection between a 22-year-old

college student in Georgetown and an FBI agent in

Detroit?”

“Aside from being killed on the same day with the

identical M.O.? That’s what we’ve been assigned to

find out.” He gave her a pat on the shoulder and

headed for the door.

“They want you to profile.” The knot in her stomach

was immediate.

“And you’re slicing and dicing,” he tossed over his

shoulder, then stopped in the doorway to turn and

smile at her. “Just like old times.” He slipped out

the door before she could react.

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”

***

Casey’s Bar & Grill

7:20 pm

Mulder found a quiet booth in the back. He ordered

for both of them and sat back to wait for Scully.

He’d expected an argument over his choice of eating

establishments. A greasy burger and fries washed down

with cold beer might be *his* idea of a banquet, but

it far from Scully’s. She’d hesitated for a moment,

then smiled. ‘Sounds good.’

His surprise had been genuine. ‘Scully! You turning

over a new leaf?’

She’d leaned over and whispered in his ear. ‘Just

keeping you on your toes, Mulder.’

She’d also given him a smile that made his palms

sweat and his voice squeak. ‘I *knew* you were a

closet carnivore.’

She’d rolled her eyes. ‘I’ll meet you there after I

wash off the formaldehyde.’ He could never convince

her that she was the only one who could smell it.

The waitress had just brought the beverages he’d

ordered when he spotted Scully coming toward him. She

eyed the pitcher of beer as she took her seat across

from him.

“Mulder, I’m doing an autopsy first thing in the

morning.”

He picked up her icy mug and filled it. “And I

promise you’ll be in bed by nine.” He waited for the

eye roll. “Besides, beer is good for you. I read that

somewhere. Keeps you hydrated.” He set the mug down

in front of her and refilled his own, then held it up

for a toast. “To Anheuser Busch.”

She shrugged and clinked her mug against his before

taking a sip that immediately turned into a long

pull. Mulder grinned at her over the rim of his mug.

She looked up at him and raised both eyebrows. “What?

I’m just replenishing my fluids.”

Their food arrived at that moment, and he almost

forgot to eat in his fascination with watching

Scully. She alternated between impressive bites of

burger and mouthfuls of ketchup-dipped french fries

at a pace that would do a lumberjack proud.

“Slow down, Scully. My Heimlich is a little rusty.”

She washed down a mouthful of burger with a deep

drink from her mug. “Don’t watch me, Mulder. Eat.”

He ate, but he didn’t stop watching her.

Half an hour later, the waitress came to clear the

table, bearing a fresh pitcher of beer to replace the

empty one. Scully looked at it in surprise.

“We finished the entire pitcher?”

Mulder smiled as he refilled her mug. “It was a small

pitcher, Scully. And you’re replenishing your fluids,

remember?”

“And *you* are trying to get me drunk.” She scowled

at him, but picked up the mug and took a sip.

“No, I’m trying to get you to relax.” He reached

across the table and took her hand. Scully

immediately looked around to see if they were being

watched, but he just tightened his hold. “Nobody’s

looking, and I don’t care if they do.”

She did relax a bit, curling her fingers around his.

“I don’t like the idea of you profiling, Mulder. You

know that.”

“It’s not going to be that way. This is just plain

old-fashioned detective work for a change.” He gave

her fingers a gentle squeeze. “Besides, I’ve got you

to watch my back.”

She squeezed back, smiling faintly. “I can’t watch

your back unless you’re with me, keep that in mind.”

He smiled a promise to her. “There’s no place I’d

rather be.”

***

2118 M Street NW

Georgetown, MD

Wednesday, 9:00 am

He had left Scully at Quantico waiting for the second

victim’s body to arrive from Detroit. The plane was

going to be late, and there had seemed no point in

both of them wasting an entire morning pacing the

autopsy bay. Scully had suggested that he go ahead

and conduct the interview they had scheduled for

later in the day. She would meet him back at the

office to compare notes.

Mulder drove slowly down a tree-shaded street flanked

by elegant brick row houses, looking for a place to

park. The first spot he found was more than a block

past his goal, so he had time to take in the view as

he made his way back toward Amy Carson’s home. It was

obviously a very pricey neighborhood, he noted.

Particularly for a college student.

The weathered brick, white-shuttered residence had a

eucalyptus wreath on the front door beneath a

polished brass knocker. He gave it a quick rap and

waited.

He was about to knock again when a young woman came

jogging up the sidewalk. She stopped when she saw

him, and he quickly flipped out his ID. “Fox Mulder,

FBI. Are you Lindsay Marsh?”

She nodded and came forward. “They told me you were

coming to talk to me.” She stepped around him and

opened the door. “Come in. I’ll be with you in a few

minutes.” She closed the door behind them and jogged

up the carpeted stairs to his right.

Mulder surveyed the room from his position just

inside the door. It was as elegant inside as out,

soft grey walls and tasteful window treatments,

furnished in the manner of an English country house.

His mother would have been at home here, but it

felt wrong for two college-age girls.

“I have a class at 10:30, so we have to make this

short.” The young woman came down the stairs two at a

time. She had brushed her hair and washed her face,

but she still wore her jogging clothes.

He nodded and followed her into the sunny kitchen.

Once again, it was elegant and fashionable, like a

page out of a decorating magazine. She grabbed a

bottle of Evian from the refrigerator and sat down at

the table, gesturing for him to take the seat

opposite her. “I’d offer you some coffee, but we

don’t drink it.” She held up the bottle. “You can

have some water, if you like.”

Mulder shook his head and sat down. “No, thanks. I’m

fine.” He studied her for a moment, then pulled out

his notebook. “You and Amy were roommates?”

She nodded. “For the past three years. We’re in… we

*were* in… the same major. Psychology.” She took a

long drink from her bottle and leaned back in her

chair, observing him with casual interest. “I’ve

already told the police everything I know.”

He referred to his notes. “You said that Amy wasn’t

involved with anyone special. Did she go out casually

at all?”

Lindsay almost choked on her water. “Amy? Hardly. If

it wasn’t directly related to her studies, she

couldn’t be bothered. If you look in the dictionary

under ‘driven’, you’ll find Amy’s picture.”

Mulder smiled. “And you didn’t share her dedication?”

“Not to the exclusion of everything else, no. Unlike

Amy, I do have a life.”

He leaned forward, resting his arms on the table.

“You don’t seem particularly upset by the death of

someone you lived with for three years.”

Lindsay gave him a wounded look. “We weren’t all that

close, and I resent your implication.”

Mulder shrugged. “How did you two come to share this

house, then?”

“Our mothers have been best friends since childhood.

They bought this place for us after our freshman

year.” Her smile had the glint of mischief. “I guess

my behavior was some cause for concern. They must

have hoped that Amy would be a calming influence.”

She laughed shortly. “It didn’t work.”

“You were both Psych majors. Have either of you done

any internships in mental hospitals or clinics?” He

wondered if she might have encountered her killer

this way. “What was she planning to do with her

degree?”

Lindsay looked stunned for a moment. Her mouth fell

open and she pointed at Mulder. “You! I *knew* I’d

heard your name before.” She got up suddenly and

dashed out of the room.

Mulder rose quickly to follow her, his hand going

automatically to his weapon, but she returned almost

immediately with a wire bound notebook.

“Here, look at this.”

It was a kind of journal, written in a theme book

with perforated pages. Mulder began to flip through

the book, but Lindsay stopped him.

“No, right there.” She pointed to the middle of the

page.

Written in the curly script of a girl still searching

for her identity were two words that made his mouth

drop open.

Fox Mulder.

He looked up to find Lindsay grinning at him. “She

was quite a fan of yours.”

***

Basement office

12:30 pm

By the time he got back to the office, Mulder had

convinced himself that it was nothing more than a

coincidence. Lindsay told him that Amy had applied

to the FBI Academy just weeks before her death. She

had wanted to be a behavioral profiler, Lindsay said,

and had studied the careers of several FBI profilers

in preparation for her admission interview. Mulder’s

career, in particular, had interested her. Hence, his

name’s appearance in her files.

A coincidence. Eerie, but still a coincidence.

The door opened and he looked up. Scully was coming

toward him with a cardboard takeout tray in her

hands. Mulder sniffed appreciatively at the greasy,

charbroiled aroma of burgers and onions.

His eyebrows rose. “Who are you and what have you

done with my partner?”

She placed the tray on his desk and flashed him a

warning look. “It was a drive-thru and it was on the

way. And I haven’t had anything to eat since last

night.” She fished two sandwiches out of the bag and

dropped one in his lap. “Don’t be cute or the next

one will be tofu and bean sprouts.”

“I’m not complaining! I’m very pleasantly surprised.”

He unwrapped the burger and saluted her with it

before taking a large bite.

She pulled up a chair and began to unwrap her own

sandwich. “Did you find out anything from the

roommate?”

She’d caught him with his mouth full, but it gave him

a moment to do some mental editing. “Turns out our

murder victim applied to the FBI three weeks ago. She

was going to be accepted, too. I checked.”

Scully stopped in mid-bite. “You’re kidding.”

“She wanted to be a behavioral profiler, too. How’s

that for a coincidence?”

She put down her sandwich. “How do you know that?”

Mulder popped the last bite of burger in his mouth

and wadded up the wrapper, aiming carefully for the

wastebasket to avoid looking into her eyes. “Her

roommate showed me some papers, stuff she’d been

researching for her interview. It was all there.”

When he looked back at Scully, he found her watching

him closely. “Mulder, was there something else?”

He had no idea why, but he really didn’t want to tell

her about his name being in the girl’s papers. Yet

hiding it from her made it seem much more important

than he knew it was. And every second he sat here

waffling was making it worse.

“Mulder?”

Irritated with himself for making so much out of

nothing, he made his decision. “No, that was it. What

did you find out from the autopsy?”

She eyed him a moment longer, then shrugged. “Nothing

new, I’m afraid. Same unexplained asphyxia, same M.O.

His body was found in the trunk of his car, parked in

front of his house. A Detroit field agent interviewed

the victim’s neighbors. No one saw anything

suspicious.”

“I’d like to see a copy of that report.”

Scully gave him an odd look, then reached over and

picked up a document that was directly in front of

him on the desk. She waggled it under his nose and

laid it back down. “The Detroit agent’s field report.

It came over on the fax just before I left to meet

you at Quantico. You haven’t read it?”

He’d been too preoccupied with deciding how much of

Lindsay Marsh’s interview to share with his partner.

“Oh, you mean *this* report?” He picked it up and

began to read. Halfway down the second page, he

looked up at Scully. “The body was found by a man

walking his dog?”

“Yes, the dog wouldn’t stop barking at the car. Its

owner got suspicious and knocked on the victim’s

front door. He said he saw the boxes on the porch and

thought maybe one of the neighborhood kids had

crawled in the trunk while Demarco was unloading it

and gotten trapped. When no one would come to the

door, he called police.”

“What would we do without nosey neighbors?” He

resumed reading. “The body was found around 8 pm.

That’s a good hour before sunset, which means the

victim was killed *and* his body was placed in the

trunk in broad daylight. On a busy street.” He looked

up at Scully again. “Pretty neat trick.”

“You have a theory?”

“I have an irresistible urge to catch a plane.”

Scully bowed her head and sighed. “Detroit, here we

come.”

***

27118 Northline Rd

Allen Park, MI

Wednesday, 6:11 pm

Michael Demarco’s suitcases were stacked next to the

front door along with two cardboard boxes stuffed

with what looked to be the contents of his desk.

Sealed and labeled boxes were stacked in every room,

destined for the trip to D.C. The only piece of

furniture still in place was the bed he had intended

to occupy the night he was killed.

“It doesn’t look as if he made it inside, does it?”

Mulder stood in the middle of the room, hands on

hips. He shook his head. “Those open boxes were found

on the porch. Whatever happened, happened outside.”

He jerked his head toward the door. “Let’s go talk to

some neighbors.”

They split up to save time. Scully crossed the street

and Mulder started with the neighbor immediately to

the west. It was dinner time, and the man who

identified himself as William Grant was clearly less

than pleased to see another inquisitive FBI agent at

his door.

“Look, I’d like to help you out, but I already told

the guy last night everything I know.” He was holding

a dinner napkin in his hands and did not invite

Mulder inside.

“This will only take a few—”

An earsplitting shriek from somewhere inside the

house stopped Mulder in mid-sentence and caused the

man in front of him to curse under his breath.

“I’m sorry. I really can’t help you, and my kids are

gonna dismantle the kitchen if I don’t get back

there.” He jerked his head toward the sound and

closed the door in Mulder’s face.

Mulder glanced across the street in time to see

Scully receive a similar greeting. When the door

closed in her face, she turned and shot a glare at

Mulder before heading to the next house.

When he came out of the last house on the block

nearly an hour later, he found Scully standing on the

sidewalk, arms crossed over her chest.

“Mulder, if this is what was going on last night,

it’s no wonder no one saw anything.”

She looked tired and irritable, a dangerous

combination under any circumstances, but potentially

lethal for the partner whose idea it was to come on

this apparent wild goose chase. He hadn’t found

anything worthwhile himself, and it was obvious

Scully hadn’t, either. Knowing he was taking his life

in his hands, he opted to inject a little humor into

the situation.

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“It doesn’t have to be a total loss. We can stop by

Tiger Stadium and–”

“Hey, Mister!”

They both jumped. A boy of about ten or so was

standing directly behind Mulder, tugging on his

jacket.

“Hey, yourself,” Mulder responded with a grin.

“I heard you talking to my dad.” He pointed down the

street, presumably toward his house.

Mulder crouched down, resting his arms on his knees.

“Who’s your dad?”

“William Grant. We live next door to the FBI guy that

got killed.”

Mulder looked up at Scully who had the fingers of one

hand pressed to her lips, hiding a smile. He turned

back to the boy. “And your name is…?”

“Jason Grant.” He was clearly pleased with the

attention Mulder was paying him. “Nobody believes

me.”

*I know the feeling, kid*, Mulder thought. “Believes

you about what?”

“I saw the man who did it.” The boy crossed his arms

over his chest and lifted his chin. “He disappeared

right in front of me.”

***

Marriott Inn

Detroit Metro Airport

11:06 pm

“Mulder, this is *my* room and I want the television

*off*. Unlike you, I can’t sleep with Godzilla

ravaging Tokyo in the background.” She rolled over so

her back was to him and punched her pillow for

emphasis.

He clicked the mute button. “Are you still ticked at

me?” When she didn’t answer, he leaned over her

shoulder to get a look at her face. “You are not

asleep, Scully. Talk to me.”

She rolled over and scooted up against the headboard,

sighing dramatically. “I am not ticked at you,

Mulder. Maybe ‘worn out’ would be more accurate.”

“You’re ‘worn out’ at me?” He raised his eyebrows.

Scully gave him a weary look, then dropped her head

back against the wall with a soft thud. “Sometimes,

yes.”

“In a good way?” He was shamelessly fishing, and it

earned him an eye roll that made him smile. “Okay,

*not* in a good way.”

“Not in this case, no.” She sat up and turned around

to face him, tucking her legs beneath her. “Mulder,

the boy imagined it, or he made it up. His own

father told you what an inventive liar he is. Just

because you empathize with him– and don’t try to

tell me that’s not part of it– doesn’t make him a

reliable witness. He did not see a man disappear

into thin air.”

“I never said I believed him, I just said it would

explain a lot if the killer had the ability to come

and go without being seen.”

“*Think* about it. If the killer could make himself

invisible, why would he have let the boy see him at

all?”

Mulder shrugged. “Maybe it was a mistake. Or it could

be that the invisibility is just an off-shoot of

whatever it is he’s really doing.”

She opened her mouth to respond, then closed it and

simply stared at him for a moment. “Do you even *try*

to hear how crazy you sound sometimes? These are

straightforward homicides, Mulder. I’ll admit that

the manner of death has been hard to pin down, but it

*will* be pinned down. When you go off on a tangent

like this…” She reached over and gave his hand a

gentle squeeze. “Mulder, I worry about you.”

He squeezed back. “I know that, Scully. And I’m not

crazy, all evidence to the contrary.”

She smiled at that. “Not everything is an X File,

Mulder. I just don’t want you to get distracted by

this and end up getting hurt.”

He raised their joined hands to his lips and planted

a gentle kiss on her knuckles. “I promise to keep my

eye on the ball, okay? Now, I’ll give up Godzilla if

you let me rub your back.”

She stroked her chin sagely, considering his offer.

“Let me see if I’ve got this: my choices are either

lie awake to the sounds of Raymond Burr and cheesy

Japanese dubbing, or enjoy blessed silence and a

backrub.” She waggled her eyebrows at him in a

perfect imitation of his favorite leer.

“Scully! You–” His surprised delight was cut short

by the chirp of his cell phone. They both looked at

it, then at each other. Mulder groaned and crossed

the room to snatch it up from the desk.

He listened for a moment, then closed his eyes.

Scully was standing in front of him when he opened

them again. “What’s her condition?”

Scully gripped his arm, questioning him with her

eyes. Mulder nodded as he listened to the rest of

Skinner’s news. “Yes, sir. We’ll be back in DC by 11

am. We’ll see you then.”

He ended the call and placed the phone back on the

desk with exaggerated care.

“Mulder?”

He took a deep breath and took her gently by the

shoulders. “Mel Harmon was attacked an hour ago.

She’s in critical condition.”

She put both hands to her lips. “Oh my God.”

Mulder pulled her to him and brushed his lips against

her hair. “Scully, it looks like the same M.O.”

She pulled back and looked up at him. “Same M.O. as

what?”

He didn’t answer right away, and her eyes widened.

“As the two victims? Mulder?”

He nodded. “This time, we have a security camera

video tape. He was interrupted, which is why she’s

still alive.”

He could see her shaking off the shock, shifting back

to the safety of professional distance. “Can he be

identified from the tape? Could Mel I.D. him?”

“She hasn’t regained consciousness.” He was stroking

her arms, comforting himself as much as her.

She leaned into him again and just nodded against his

chest. They stood that way for a long time. Finally,

Scully raised her head and looked up into his eyes.

He took her face in his hands and kissed her lightly.

“We’re going to find this bastard. I promise you.”

He could feel her shivering as he bent close and

spoke softly against her cheek. “Now, come back to

bed.”

He drew her down with him and held her until she

relaxed into sleep. Then he got up carefully and

took her laptop into the adjoining room. With only

the light from the display screen to work by, he

began to type.

***

Thursday, 7:31 am

Scully woke to the muffled hum of Mulder’s electric

razor, her nose buried in his pillow. The bathroom

door was ajar and, judging by the amount of steam

still escaping around it, he hadn’t been out of the

shower more than a few minutes. She peered at the

clock radio on the nightstand and groaned. He had let

her sleep, and now she was running late. She slipped

out of bed and grabbed her suitcase on the way to use

Mulder’s bathroom in the connecting room.

Her laptop was sitting on his desk, the screensaver

flashing the time in pastel 3-D numbers. She had shut

it off last night and left it on the desk in her

room. He’d probably been up all night, she realized,

working on the profile.

*We’ll find this bastard, Scully. I promise.*

Torn between the need to hug him and an urge to shake

him silly, she shut down the computer and headed for

the shower.

***

Act II

George Washington University Hospital

Thursday, 11:16 am

Mulder leaned against the wall outside the ICU,

watching Scully through the glass double doors. She’d

gained admittance with her medical credentials. Not

even their FBI badges had worked this time.

Investigation or no, the patient was accessible for

next of kin only.

They’d called Skinner for an update from 35,000 feet

over Pennsylvania. He told them that the video showed

very little of the actual attack, only that the

killer had been in the back seat of Mel’s car. There

was a struggle that was interrupted when a car pulled

into the spot across from Mel’s. According to the

witness, a man got out of the car, stepped behind the

concrete support pillar next to the car, and

vanished.

No matter how he looked at them, the pieces simply

refused to form a coherent picture. An unknown murder

weapon, used by a killer who seemingly disappeared in

full view of at least two witnesses, a killer who

wasn’t afraid to attack in a high-security facility

like Quantico. Two victims with the FBI in common,

but in a way that seemed impossible for the killer to

know about. There were precedents in the X Files for

each of the factors in this case, but all of them

together presented a–

“Mulder?”

Scully was standing in front of him, her hand on his

arm. He’d been so deep in thought that he hadn’t even

seen her come out of the ICU.

“How is she?” He looked over her head, back toward

Mel’s room.

Scully followed his gaze. “She’s in a coma. They’re

not sure if it’s due to the head injury or the

anoxia. Her respiration was depressed, and there’s no

way to know for certain how long her brain was

without oxygen.”

“Just like the first two victims.”

Scully nodded. “But this time, the victim was found

and resuscitated in time. Neither of the first two

victims was struck on the head. Mel must have fought

with him.”

“Let’s hope she got a look at his face in the

process.”

* * *

FBI Headquarters

A.D. Skinner’s office

11:48 am

Skinner waved them to their seats and came directly

to the point. “I’m aware that you are both friends

of Agent Harmon. I need to know if this is going to

compromise your ability to pursue this case.”

Scully answered first, her voice steady and sincere.

“I would feel the same way whether I knew the victim

or not, sir. I’m outraged and I’m angry, but I won’t

let that affect my judgment.” She looked over at

Mulder who nodded his agreement.

Skinner studied his agents for a long moment. “If at

any time you feel differently, I want your word that

you will tell me before someone gets hurt.”

“Yes, sir. You have our word.” Scully answered for

both of them.

“Very well.” He pushed three folders across the desk.

“I’ve put together a task force and the two of you

will be heading it up. You’ll want to review the

updated files before your kick off briefing at two

o’clock. I expect to see your field report on my desk

no later than one.” He reached for his phone and

punched viciously at the keypad. The meeting was

over.

***

Basement office

12:40 pm

They sat at Mulder’s desk and began to read, each

selecting a file and commenting to the other as they

came across new information. Mulder had grabbed

Demarco’s file, and Scully had Amy Carson’s. Mulder

was watching her over the top of his folder, nearly

holding his breath with hope that his little sin of

omission wasn’t about to be exposed. He should have

told her, dammit. He– Too late. He saw her posture

stiffen, then she looked up at him in shock.

clip_image008

“She *knew* you, Mulder?”

He managed not to cringe at her tone. “Knew *of* me,

yes.”

Her eyes flashed fire. “And you didn’t see fit to

share that information with me?”

His hands were out in front of him, warding off the

verbal blows, before he realized what he was doing.

He pulled them back immediately. “I’ll admit, it was

a little unnerving to see my name in her journal,

until I recognized it for what it was.”

“And what might that be?”

“Scully, she was trying to get into the Academy and

had done some research, though not enough to realize

that using my name would gain her no points.”

Scully seemed to consider that. Her posture eased

slightly and her eyes lost their feral glow, but he

knew better than to drop his guard quite yet. “It’s a

coincidence, Scully.”

“You’re looking for a connection among the victims.

Isn’t that, by definition, a search for coincidence?”

“*Significant* coincidence, yes. This doesn’t

qualify.”

“In your opinion.”

“Tell me how my name in her journal has any relevance

to her death.” He crossed his arms over his chest.

Scully put down the folder and did the same. “That’s

not even the point. You withheld information. I

thought we got past this a long time ago.”

Her voice was calm and steady, but the disappointment

in her eyes made him want to bang his head on the

desk. Instead, he took the only rational course open

to him. He apologized.

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

She actually smiled. “Okay, who are you and what have

you done with Mulder?”

“I’ll tell you after the briefing. Right now we have

twenty minutes to type our report and get back to

Skinner’s office.”

***

The briefing was routine, devoted mainly to assigning

roles to the team members and introducing them to one

another. Mulder distributed copies of their report,

described the approach he would take in producing his

profile, then turned the meeting over to Scully. She

presented her autopsy findings, meager though they

were, and answered a few questions.

Less than an hour after it began, the meeting was

adjourned.

Mulder was packing up his papers as the rest of the

task force filed out of the room when Skinner

approached him. Scully had been on her way to the

door, but returned to Mulder’s side.

“Agents, I’m not going to waste your time or mine by

telling you how important this case has become. I

just want to remind you that the scrutiny you’ll be

working under won’t be mine alone.”

Mulder shrugged. “This is not new information.”

Scully was less cavalier. “Sir, what are you telling

us?”

Skinner pushed his glasses out of the way and pinched

the bridge of his nose. “I’m saying that every move

you make will be dissected. This isn’t the time to

indulge in a paranormal fishing expedition.”

Mulder hesitated for an instant longer than

necessary, and Scully shot him a warning glance. He

nodded, acknowledging her. “Yes, sir.”

The A.D. seemed uncharacteristically hesitant

himself. Mulder and Scully exchanged a look, and

Scully prodded gently. “Sir? Was there anything

else?”

He cleared his throat. “Just prior to the briefing, I

came into possession of Michael Demarco’s personnel

file. It included a personal essay listing his

qualifications and his reasons for wanting to

transfer to the ISU. He mentions your name, Mulder.”

It felt so much like a physical punch in the stomach

that Scully had to concentrate on not doubling over

from the impact. She looked at Mulder and found him

avoiding her eyes.

“You need to add it to the case file.” Then, speaking

directly to Mulder. “Watch your back.” Skinner turned

and left the room without waiting for a response.

Scully kept her voice level with some effort. “I

don’t think I need to point out that your name in Amy

Carson’s file just stopped being an insignificant

coincidence.”

Mulder placed his armload of papers back on the table

and leaned one hip against it. “I never said it was

completely insignificant, and I’m not saying that

now. But tell me this: even if the killer could have

known that both victims knew my name, what would it

mean?”

“I don’t know the answer to that, but I think it

would be foolish to ignore the possibility that the

Bureau *and* you are factors in both the killings,

and in the attempt on Mel’s life.”

Mulder was shaking his head before she reached the

end of her sentence. “But they *didn’t* have the FBI

in common. Tell me how the killer could have known

that Amy Carson wanted to be an agent? She was the

first victim, and I think she proves that the FBI

can’t be the connection.”

It was a valid point. One she had no way to refute

with the evidence at hand. “Okay, for the sake of

argument, let’s say that it’s all a series of amazing

coincidences. That leaves us with the way they were

killed.”

Mulder nodded. “Exactly. Identify the murder weapon,

and we’ll find the murderer. So, on a very basic

level, how do you suffocate someone?”

“Either remove the oxygen from the air, or block the

body’s ability to use it. Gas, drugs, toxins, manual

constriction of the breathing passages, smothering,

strangulation, damage to the respiratory center in

the brain–”

“But any of those would leave physical evidence.”

Scully continued as if he hadn’t interrupted. “–that

would block the autonomic nerve impulses. All of

which we checked for, and none of which were found.”

Mulder seemed lost in thought all of a sudden.

“Mulder?”

“Didn’t Mel say something yesterday about some

research she wanted to finish?”

“Mulder, I’m certain her office has been searched.”

He smiled. “Not by us.”

* * *

Mel Harmon’s office was on the third basement level

at Quantico, down the hall from the autopsy bays

where she spent most of her time. Mulder stopped just

inside the door, scanning the room with his eyes.

Scully walked to Mel’s pin-neat desk and began

pulling out drawers.

“No envelope in the middle of the desk marked ‘Open

me, Dana’?” Mulder’s voice at her side made her jump.

“Mulder, if you don’t stop cat-footing up on me like

that, I’m gonna hang a bell on you.”

He moved past her to the counter against the far

wall, his expression serenely innocent. “Have a spot

in mind?”

She rolled her eyes and jerked open the shallow

center drawer. A notepad lay right on top, and it

contained a list of websites in Mel’s spiky scribble.

A name halfway down the list made her breath catch.

“Mulder, look at this.” She held the note up so he

could read it.

Mulder was bent over something on the counter. He

called over his shoulder without turning around.

“What have you got?”

“A list of websites she was looking at. One of them

is Roush Laboratories.”

He turned around and she waved the list at him. He

shrugged. “Maybe she was job hunting.” He stepped

aside to show her what he was doing. Mel’s laptop was

open and booting up.

Scully came around the desk to stand next to him,

arriving just as the password prompt appeared in the

center of the screen. “Shit.”

Mulder looked at her, one eyebrow raised at the swear

word. “I don’t suppose Mel shared her password with

you?” She raised hers back at him, and he nodded. “I

didn’t think so.” He closed the lid and scooped the

laptop under his arm. “I think I know someone who can

figure it out.”

* * *

They stopped by the Gunmen’s on their way back to the

office, hoping to get into Mel’s laptop and find her

notes. Langly all but grabbed it from Mulder’s hands

in his eagerness to show off. Twenty fruitless

minutes later, he was the picture of grim

determination.

Mulder stood watching over Langly’s shoulder. “Should

we come back later?”

He glanced back at Mulder. “No, man. Just hang for a

few minutes more. I got it covered.”

Frohike stood next to Scully, shaking his head. “I’ll

give him a few more minutes, then it’s my turn.”

Langly snorted, but his typing sped up noticeably.

Byers wandered in from the kitchen wiping his hands

on a chef’s apron that covered his pristine suit from

collar to knees. “There’s half a pot of chili

leftover from lunch, if you guys are hungry.” He

strolled up to Langly and looked over the man’s

shoulder at the computer screen. “Any progress?”

Scully expected her partner to jump at the offer of

food– her own stomach was grumbling, and she knew

he had to be starving– but he was looking at Byers

with his mouth half open, as if he’d just thought of

something. “We’re looking for a murder weapon. How

would you boys like to do a little contract hacking

for the FBI?”

Langly shoved the laptop aside and stood up, but

Frohike . “Ah ah ah, Stringbean. The master’s touch

is required.”

While Mulder put away two bowls of Byers’ chili, the

littlest Gunmen kung-fu’d his way into the Roush

Laboratories “Special Projects” site. He couldn’t get

into the active projects, but the historical files

were wide open. Twenty minutes of illicit browsing

later, they hit the jackpot.

Scully quickly took Frohike’s place in front of the

computer. As she read the weapon’s description,

Mulder put down his chili bowl and leaned over her

shoulder.

“Mulder, what are the odds that we just happened to

stumble onto the murder weapon?” She crossed her arms

and leaned back out of his way so he could work the

mouse.

Frohike looked indignant. “If you think we just

‘stumbled onto it’, I’m making this look too easy.”

Mulder smiled. “Maybe our luck is changing.”

“If this device,” Scully gestured at the screen, “has

actually been developed, it could very well have

produced the cause of death found in the victims.”

Mulder scrolled down to the bottom of the page. He

drew Scully’s attention to the facility noted as the

project’s home base. “Next stop, Wilkes Research.”

***

Wilkes Research

A Division of Roush Laboratories

Dulles, VA

4:45 pm

The Wilkes Research center was a long, two-story

cement structure that looked more like a bunker than

an office building. Dark glass windows no more than

eighteen inches high ran the entire length, like gun

ports.

The security guard at the front desk smiled cordially

at their approach. “Good afternoon. What can I do for

you?” His expression cooled considerably as they

introduced themselves and displayed their ID’s.

They went through the perfunctory ‘no we don’t have

an appointment’ and ‘there isn’t anyone available’

routine, working their way up through the ranks until

they reached someone in authority, albeit by phone.

The security guard accepted the receiver back from

Mulder and listened for a moment. “Yes, sir.” He hung

up.

He slapped two visitor’s badges on the counter and

spun the register around for them to sign. “Second

floor, down at the end. Suite 203, Dr. Lindell.” He

gestured toward the open staircase to his left.

Suite 203 was a sunny, corner office with a view of

the center courtyard fountain. Dr. Lindell rose to

greet them. “Andy Lindell. It’s a pleasure to meet

you both.” He motioned them to two well-padded

leather chairs facing his desk, waiting for them to

be seated before resuming his place behind the desk.

He folded his hands on the desk in front of him. “I

understand you’re here about one of our research

projects?”

Scully pulled out a notepad and pen. “Your company

had a government contract through Roush Laboratories

to develop a weapon that would have produced an

effect very similar to what we found in a recent

unexplained asphyxiation. I was hoping you could tell

me more about the project and whether any prototypes

of the device exist.”

Lindell sat back and his smile lost some of its

luster. “You do come right to the point. I imagine it

would be a waste of time to ask how you obtained this

information.” He nodded at their silence. “The

project you’re referring to was rejected by the

contractor and abandoned.”

Mulder leaned forward. “And the contractor would

be…?”

“It was a government contract, but I imagine you know

that already.” There was a hint of challenge in the

man’s eyes.

Scully put down her notebook. “Why was the project

abandoned?”

“The device was intended for self-defense, though it

had obvious potential as a lethal offensive weapon.

Our research was geared toward neutralizing its

offensive capabilities while retaining the benefits

of instant incapacitation.” Lindell offered a rueful

smile. “We were unsuccessful. The device relied upon

the user’s discretion, and that is not a factor we

could control.”

Scully had one more question, knowing in advance what

the answer would be. “We’d like to see any records of

the tests you conducted.”

“We never reached the testing stage. It was all

theoretical.”

“So, you’re saying the device itself was never

produced.” Mulder’s question was as perfunctory as

her own.

“That’s correct.”

“Could we speak with the project manager?” He tried

again.

The man tapped his chest with one hand. “Well, that

would be me, actually, but I wasn’t involved in its

closure. I had just been promoted to research

director and I left the details to my staff.”

“That’s quite a coincidence, you agreeing to see us

about what turns out to be your own project.” Scully

couldn’t resist a glance in Mulder’s direction. If he

had heard the extra emphasis she’d placed on the word

‘coincidence’, he gave no indication.

“Not at all. Until early this year, I oversaw *every*

weapons project.” Lindell stood, signaling the end of

the interview. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have an

appointment.”

Scully got up to leave, but Mulder remained in his

seat, looking up at Lindell. “Can I ask where you

were day before yesterday, between five and nine pm?”

Something flickered in the man’s eyes, just for an

instant. Scully was quite certain that Mulder saw it,

too.

Lindell seemed to give it some thought. “At that

time, I expect I was still at Heathrow Airport.”

Mulder’s eyebrows went up. “You were in London?”

“Yes. I can’t imagine why you need to know, but I was

there for six days on business. I can provide proof,

if you need it.”

“No, that won’t be necessary,” Mulder stood. He took

a business card from his vest pocket and handed it to

Lindell, “but we *will* need the names and addresses

of everyone who worked on that project. Call that

number and someone will come by to pick it up.”

Lindell accepted the card. Grudgingly. “I’ll have to

consult with our legal department.”

Mulder smiled. “Of course.”

Lindell escorted them to the door and closed it

firmly behind them. Mulder’s strides seemed even

longer than usual as he guided her out of the

building. The man was obviously in a hurry to tell

her something. As soon as they reached the parking

lot, Scully stopped and waited until he turned around

to look at her.

“Mulder, do you think Lindell is the killer?”

“He’s lying about the weapon not being produced. If

he doesn’t have it himself, he knows who does.” He

took her arm, leaning down to speak in her ear as he

moved toward the car. “And I’m beginning to wonder

how anyone could have access to the device without

Roush knowing about it.”

They got into the car and Mulder put the key in the

ignition. Scully put her hand over his and he turned

to look at her. “So, you do think there may be some

connection to the FBI. And to you.”

He shrugged. “Maybe.”

It was interesting, she thought. For three days she’d

been trying to get him to agree with her on this. Now

that he seemed to be doing just that, she realized

that what she’d really wanted was for him to prove

her wrong.

***

Scully’s apartment

6:40 pm

She hadn’t been back to her apartment since they’d

returned from Detroit, so she had luggage to haul as

well as the two bags of groceries she’d picked up on

the way home It was nearly an hour after she trudged

in the door that she noticed the message light

flashing on her answering machine. She pressed the

play button, and a tinny rendition of Mel Harmon’s

voice froze her in place.

‘Dana, I’ve got a lead for you on the murder weapon.

Kimberly tells me you two are out of town until

tomorrow, so I’ll get the data together and stop by

to see you in the morning, okay?’ There was a short

pause. ‘Your partner’s gonna LOVE this!’

Scully stood with her hand on the button and her eyes

closed until long after the cheery voice faded into

silence. The time stamp on the message was 7:21 last

night. In all likelihood, Mel had called just before

she left for home, mere minutes before she was

attacked.

It was like a voice from the grave. And given Mel’s

condition…

She needed to talk to Mulder. He had said he’d stop

by the Gunmen’s on his way home to pick up the

laptop. He needed to know about Mel’s message. More

than that, Scully needed to hear his voice.

She picked up the phone and punched in his cell phone

number, thinking it was possible he might still be

with the boys. Voice mail picked up, and she dialed

his apartment instead. His machine answered on the

third ring.

As she dialed the gunmen, she felt the first tingle

of alarm. Frohike answered and she asked for Mulder.

“He left here over an hour ago, without so much as a

‘thank you’, I might add. The boy’s manners are

slipping.”

“Did he say where he was going?”

Something in her voice must have tipped him off, and

his entire demeanor changed. “Home. What’s going on?”

“I haven’t been able to reach him, and I’m a little

worried.” She felt a little foolish, too, but her

sense of foreboding was getting stronger by the

moment. “Did you find anything on the laptop that he

might have gone to check out?”

She could almost hear his frown. “Nothing you didn’t

already know, except that your friend managed to get

into some of the same sites we showed you and Mulder.

And she didn’t do anything to hide her tracks.”

“And shortly afterward, someone tried to kill her.”

She was just thinking out loud, but Frohike must have

heard an accusation in her voice.

“Aw, man ! You think they’re after Mulder now because

of what we did?”

She heard his distress but didn’t have time to give

it more than a passing nod. “Frohike, I’m going over

to his apartment. If you hear from him, call my cell

right away.”

Mulder’s car was nowhere in sight when she pulled up

in front of his building, and his apartment windows

were dark. She dialed his cell phone on her way into

the building and listened to the ringing all the way

to the elevator. Voice mail picked up again.

As she approached his apartment door, her vague sense

of foreboding became a thudding dread. There was no

reason to think he was in there– hurt, or worse–

but knowing the illogic of it didn’t stop the images

from filling her mind.

The lock operated smoothly, tumblers clicking softly

into place as she turned the key. She called his name

automatically as she pushed open the door and stepped

inside.

She moved quickly through the apartment, flicking on

lights as she went. He clearly hadn’t been here since

they left for Detroit.

The sound of a car door slamming out front drew her

to the window. Mulder’s car was now parked directly

in front of the building. Standing next to it,

looking up at her, was Andrew Lindell.

By the time she raced down the stairs and burst

through the front door, he had vanished.

***

Act III

Mulder’s apartment

8:10 pm

Scully watched from Mulder’s living room window as

the forensics team worked on his car. Skinner was

standing by the trunk, supervising the process, and

he kept looking up at her. Probably making sure she

stayed put. He’d threatened to handcuff her earlier.

She had already been on her way to Lindell’s home

address when she called Skinner to report what had

happened. He had ordered her back to Mulder’s

apartment and sent the police to Lindell’s. Not

surprisingly, no one was home. They had an APB out

for him now. And for Mulder.

“Scully?”

She turned so quickly that she nearly lost her

balance. Skinner reached out and steadied her with

both hands. She hadn’t even seen him come toward the

building.

“I got a call just now from the Baltimore PD. Lindell

was stopped about ten minutes ago coming out of a

restaurant in the Inner Harbor.”

She did a quick time/distance calculation in her

head. “That doesn’t mean he wasn’t here.”

Skinner shook his head. “He was with a group of

people who all confirmed they’d been with him since 6

o’clock.” His grip on her shoulders tightened.

“Scully, he couldn’t have been here.”

She closed her eyes and breathed, stifling the urge

to scream in his face. “Sir, I know how this sounds.

Believe me.” She met his gaze with calm directness.

“Andrew Lindell has Mulder. I’ve never been more

certain of anything in my life.”

He released her and stepped back. “Scully, we don’t

even have proof that a crime has been committed.

We’ve done all we can legally do.”

It was pointless to argue. Skinner was right. The FBI

had no recourse.

But *she* did.

“Yes, sir.” She took a breath and kept her expression

neutral. “If you don’t need me here, I think I’d like

to go home now. You’ll call me if there’s any news?”

He studied her face, then nodded. “Of course.”

She managed to resist breaking into a run until she

was out of his sight.

***

The pain in his head was so intense that it was all

he noticed at first. He slowly became aware that his

face was pressed against cold, damp concrete and his

arms were pinned beneath him. It wasn’t until he

tried to roll over that he discovered the rest.

The lower half of his body seemed to be missing. At

least, that was the conclusion his scrambled brain

was trying to draw. He tried to redirect its efforts

to remembering how the hell he got in this condition.

“Welcome back, Agent Mulder. I was about to give up

on you.”

Strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and flipped

him onto his back, sending the room into a series of

nauseating spins. He clenched his teeth and breathed

through his nose until it began to slow down.

clip_image010

“How are you feeling?”

He knew he shouldn’t ask– knew it would just give

his captor an opportunity to gloat. Knew that the

fear in his voice would only bolster the man’s sense

of power. But he had to know. “What did you do to

me?”

“Amazing effect, isn’t it? Without harming you in any

way, a single application to the spinal column cuts

off all neural transmission below that point. It’s

the same result one would achieve by severing the

spinal cord, but minus the physical damage.”

The voice was familiar. Mulder blinked a few times to

clear his eyes and finally managed to focus on the

man’s face… and those puzzle pieces he’d been

struggling with began to snap neatly into place. The

man crouched at his side was Andrew Lindell. “I guess

we can assume you lied about the weapon?”

“There’s no simple answer to that question, I’m

afraid.”

“Try.”

Lindell laughed. “That FBI ego knows no bounds, does

it? Has it escaped your notice that you’re in no

position to be giving orders?”

“Fuck you.” Mulder’s wispy voice took some of the

bite out of his bravado, but it felt good to say.

“I appreciate the offer, but you’re not my type.”

Mulder’s eyes refused to stay in focus, and the

effort was increasing the pain in his head to

stupefying proportions. “What do you want?”

Lindell reached behind him and pulled up a small

wooden stool. When he raised up out of his crouch to

sit on it, his knees popped and he chuckled again.

“My legs aren’t as young as they used to be.” He

rubbed at the offending joints, then leaned forward

to look down at Mulder. “Reassurance, Agent Mulder. I

want you to convince me that I’ve finally got the

right players in this little melodrama. Then I can

move on.”

“Move on to what?”

“The future, Agent Mulder. Back to the future.”

* * *

Route 301

8 miles north of Crofton, MD

June 12th, 10:20 pm

It had taken the Gunmen less than an hour to put

together the list she needed. She’d reasoned that

Lindell must have taken Mulder somewhere private

where he felt safe. She hoped that meant a property

he owned, somewhere nearby. They turned up four,

including his principle residence. She’d crossed off

the condo in Panama City, Florida as too remote, and

his home in Bethesda as too obvious.

That had left two investment properties: a small

office building in Reston, Virginia and a single-

family home in Crofton, Maryland. The home was

vacant, according to utility company records, and it

seemed the most likely prospect.

Frohike’s map, drawn painstakingly by hand, lay on

the seat next to her. They had wanted to come with

her. All three of them. She’d been touched, but firm

in her refusal. Then Frohike had surprised her by

urging her to tell Skinner. She’d patiently explained

that the Bureau couldn’t help her, not given

Lindell’s alibi, and not even Skinner would believe

what she suspected.

Until she could provide proof, she was on her own.

Frohike had seemed ready to stop her by force, so she

offered a compromise. She asked them to wait for her

call. It would take her roughly two hours to reach

Lindell’s house in Crofton. Figure another half hour

after that to search for Mulder, and she should be

able to call them with an update by 11 pm. If they

hadn’t heard from her by then, they had her blessing

to call in the cavalry. That had mollified them

enough for her to make her escape.

Now, two hours and six minutes into her drive, she

found the turnoff indicated on Frohike’s map and left

the main highway.

It was a semi-rural area and the mailboxes along the

road were spaced several hundred feet apart. The

houses were set far back on wooded lots. As the

numbers approached the one she was looking for, she

pulled over and parked on the gravel shoulder. The

rest of the way, she would travel on foot.

Lindell’s house was set even farther back than its

neighbors. When she was close enough to see the

building clearly, she stopped behind a large tree and

scanned the scene.

The house was long and low, a ranch-style with a two-

car attached garage at one end. It looked as if it

had been abandoned for some time. The gravel drive

continued around the side of the house to a taller

structure that was nothing more than a silhouette in

the darkness.

She moved as silently as possible along the edge of

the trees until she could see the back yard. The

second structure was approximately fifty yards behind

the house. It had a double-wide overhead door on the

front and an entrance door on the side facing her.

The entrance door was partway open and there was a

faint glow coming from inside. She drew her weapon,

pulled out her flashlight and made her way toward it.

* * *

“You’re telling me you’ve killed the same two people

more than once.” Mulder had the uncanny sensation of

standing in Scully’s shoes, asking this question of

himself. It gave him a whole new perspective.

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m telling you.” Lindell

spoke slowly and patiently, as if he were dealing

with a particularly dimwitted student.

“And you killed them because they were a danger to

you.”

“Not *were* a danger. Would *become* a danger. At

least, that was my conclusion based on the facts in

my possession at the time.”

“And this time machine–”

“Temporal bridge. Time machines are science fiction

movie props.”

“Temporal bridge, then. You invented the bridge to–”

“I’m willing to make allowances for your condition,

but you are trying my patience. I told you, I did not

invent either device. I’m an opportunist, Agent

Mulder. Not a mad genius.” He cast a weary look

heavenward. “Time machines and mad scientists. How

clichéd.”

Mulder took a deep breath, careful not to move his

head any more than absolutely necessary. “I actually

don’t give a shit about the details. Why don’t you

just tell me whatever the fuck it is that you want?”

Lindell grabbed Mulder’s chin with one hand and

squeezed. His voice was dangerously soft as he leaned

in close, speaking directly into Mulder’s face. “You

do like to take chances, don’t you?” He let go

roughly as he moved back, giving Mulder’s head a

painful shove in the process. “I want to know what

led you to me. Not in this case, but in the one

you’ll be assigned to five years from now. It took me

awhile to understand how far back I’d have to go, and

I wasted a great deal of effort killing your team

members too late. No matter what I did, I still ended

up trapped in the lab, about to be arrested. But

then, I didn’t uncover your contribution until the

last bridge.”

Scully would give this smug asshole a run for his

money. ‘My little physicist’, Mulder mused, knowing

she’d kick his butt into next week if he ever said

that out loud. They’d actually talked about time

travel one summer night a few years ago, over a

bottle of Merlot on Maggie Scully’s back porch. It

was the only time he could ever recall taking the

skeptic’s side in one of their debates. He wished now

that he’d done less drinking and more listening.

“You’re talking about events that haven’t happened

yet. Pretty convenient way to avoid having to prove

anything, isn’t it?” Hearing such Scully-like words

come out of his own mouth once again made him smile.

“You think this is funny?”

“Not at all. I’m wondering why you seem so desperate

for my approv–”

Mulder saw the backhand coming, but there was nothing

he could do to avoid it. The impact rocked his head

to the side and set off rockets behind his eyelids

that echoed the explosion in his head. When he could

see again, Lindell was leaning over him. The man’s

face was red with rage and his lips were moving, but

the sound wasn’t getting through.

Then the light started to fade along with the sound.

All he could hear was his own breathing. Loud in his

ears. Rasping in his throat.

Then nothing.

* * *

She stopped next to the door and listened for a

minute, then slipped quietly inside. The door opened

onto a small room with two doors on the opposite

wall. One obviously led to the main room. The light

she had seen from outside was coming from underneath

the second door. She was reaching for the knob when

she heard footsteps approaching the other side of the

door. She moved quickly back through the entrance and

outside. She stood with her back pressed against the

exterior wall, weapon drawn. Waiting.

She heard the interior door open, more footsteps

moving across the room. Then a second door opened and

closed, and the sound of footsteps disappeared. A

moment later, she heard the sound of an engine

starting and the metallic rattle of the overhead door

being raised and a vehicle moving out onto the gravel

drive.

Scully edged silently back to the open door. She

looked cautiously outside in time to see the red glow

from the departing vehicle’s tail lights already

halfway down the drive. She watched long enough to

satisfy herself that the car was gone, then she

turned back to the door from which the suspect had

emerged. It wasn’t locked, and she opened it.

There was a light on somewhere below. She saw a steep

flight of stairs descending into what appeared to be

a basement storage area that smelled of dust and

grease. There was no sound. She pulled the door open.

Scully began to move down the stairs toward the

source of the light. At the bottom of the stairs and

to the right, she could see a door. The light was

coming from a slot in door.

The door had a metal bar across the front, fitted

into braces on the wall. Scully leaned down to the

slot and tried to see inside the room. Her narrow

field of vision revealed a pair of Mulder-sized feet

clad in black dress shoes. They weren’t moving.

She removed the bar and pushed the door open, ducking

back against the wall for a moment to wait for a

reaction from the room’s occupant. There was none,

and she poked her head around the door frame to get a

good look into the room.

“Mulder?” He was lying on his back. She holstered her

weapon and knelt next to him, her hands trying to

touch him everywhere at once. “Mulder, it’s me.”

He was completely unresponsive, his skin cool and

clammy, and his pupils noticeably unequal. She pulled

out her cell phone and thumbed the emergency button

as she brought it to her ear. Her free hand was in

constant motion over his body.

It took a moment before she realized the call wasn’t

going through, and she looked at the readout. No

signal. She cupped his cheek. “I can’t get a signal

down here. I have to go upstairs and call for help.

Mulder, can you hear me?” She studied his motionless

face, desperate for a response. “Mulder, tell–”

The sound of a hammer being cocked brought her head

up but froze everything else, including the breath in

her lungs. Andrew Lindell was pointing the gun not at

her, but at Mulder.

“I don’t think I could miss from here, do you?”

He came forward slowly. “Your weapon, please.” He

held out his left hand, keeping his own gun aimed at

Mulder. Scully retrieved her SIG and dropped it in

Lindell’s waiting hand. “That’s better.” He pulled up

the chair and sat down, crossing his legs and resting

the two guns casually in his lap. “I have to admit to

being relieved to see you. You just saved me a

substantial amount of time, a commodity I can ill

afford to waste.”

“What do you want with him?” She kept her eyes on

Lindell while her hands continued to monitor her

partner. He had yet to stir, and his stillness was

more frightening than the lunatic in the chair.

Lindell smiled. “Information.”

“And you think this is the way to get it?”

He raised the gun from Mulder to her. “I think I have

very little to lose by killing both of you at this

point. Consider that your incentive.”

“What do you want?”

“Your attention, for the moment. I’m going to tell

you a story that Agent Mulder here seemed to have a

hard time following.”

Scully studied his face. He was the man she’d met

earlier in the day, and yet he wasn’t. His hair was

longer, his face thinner. His eyes… The jolt of

recognition– of the situation, not the man– felt

like a physical blow. “Who are you?”

Lindell raised his eyebrows. “Very good. Perhaps I’ve

been dealing with the wrong partner all along.”

* * *

A.D. Skinner’s apartment

Crystal City, VA

June 13th 12:19 am

“Agent Scully is in trouble.”

The voice on the phone was familiar, but he couldn’t

place it, not ten seconds out of a sound sleep.

“Who is this?”

“Melvin Frohike. She’s gone after Mulder. We tried to

stop her but–”

He was instantly on full alert, firing questions as

he pulled on the first clothes he could grab. Every

answer he got kicked his alarm up another notch, but

he forced himself to listen without interrupting. He

wrote down the directions, the same ones Scully had

been given three hours ago. He even managed to offer

a tight-lipped ‘thank you’ before he hung up.

He punched in the FBI operations number and waited.

*Three goddamned hours.*

* * *

Crofton, MD

1:40 am

She had never in her life needed Mulder’s input more

than she did at this moment. Her hands hadn’t stopped

moving over his body, trying desperately to rouse him

as she wracked her brain for a way to keep them

alive. Frohike should have called Skinner by now. If

she could keep Lindell talking until the cavalry

showed up–

It took everything she had to hide her reaction when

her fingers brushed Mulder’s ankle and recognized the

shape of his backup weapon. Her heart in her throat,

she refocused on finding a way to get to it.

But Lindell had reached the end of his patience. He

stood up and took a step toward her, gun raised. “I

see you have no more to contribute than your–”

–for a split second, the amplified voice from above

froze them both. Then time slowed to an agonizing

crawl as the words registered–

“Come out with your hands up. The building is

surrounded.”

The silence that followed was louder than the sound

that had preceded it. Scully saw Lindell turn toward

the door, the gun wavering. She reached for Mulder’s

weapon without taking her eyes from Lindell. Her

fingers closed over it with aching slowness, as if

her limbs were moving through molasses.

–Lindell turned back toward her as she pulled the

gun free and began to raise it–

–his hand came up, the muzzle pointed at her head as

her own aim zeroed on his chest–

clip_image012

–the shots were nearly simultaneous, and beneath the

echoing reports, she heard Skinner’s voice shouting

her name.

* * *

Skinner was halfway down the basement stairs when

gunfire erupted from below and his instincts took

over. He flattened himself against the wall, as did

the three agents behind him. A man fell backward from

a door at the foot of the steps and crumpled to the

floor, blood spreading from a neat hole in the center

of his chest.

“Agent Scully!” There was no response. He quickly

covered the remaining distance to the door, halting

just outside to call her again. “Scully, it’s

Skinner.” He gestured for the other agents to follow

him, then poked his head carefully around the door

jamb.

Scully was crouched over her partner’s body, both

arms braced forward, hands gripping a snub nose .38

that was still aimed at the center of the doorway.

“Scully, it’s Skinner.” He pitched his voice in the

most normal register he could manage and raised both

hands, but she was already turning to Mulder.

“Where are the paramedics?” She was fully focused on

her partner now, assessing his condition with

trembling hands.

Skinner shouted up the stairs that the scene was

secure and to send the EMT’s down. Then he joined

Scully. “How is he?”

She looked directly at Skinner for the first time. “I

don’t know.”

Skinner looked back at the body he’d stepped over a

moment ago. “That’s Lindell?” He looked back at

Scully, but her attention was on Mulder.

The rattle of equipment descending the stairs drew

her attention. “In here!” She moved quickly out of

the way so the EMT’s could reach Mulder, reeling off

what she knew of his condition and watching every

move they made.

Skinner stood quietly next to her while Mulder was

stabilized for transport. There were questions he

needed to ask, but they would have to wait.

It wasn’t until after Mulder had been packed off to

the hospital with Scully at his side that the EMT’s

went back down to retrieve Lindell’s body, and twenty

minutes after that before Skinner accepted what his

eyes were telling him.

* * *

Anne Arundel Medical Center

Annapolis, MD

10:20 am

Scully had no idea how long Skinner had been standing

in the doorway before she noticed him.

“How’s he doing?” He gestured toward the bed as if

she might not know who he meant.

Scully released Mulder’s hand and let it rest on the

bed. “The paralysis is nearly gone. Just some

residual numbness that will dissipate over the next

twelve hours if he follows Mel Harmon’s pattern. The

concussion is another matter, of course, but the meds

have reduced the swelling.” She smiled. “He’s going

to be fine.”

Skinner nodded, but there was clearly something more

on his mind.

“Lindell was picked up at his home an hour ago.”

“And?” She could feel his tension.

“And there’s not a mark on the man.”

She nodded. “That’s because he’s not the man I shot.

I think that man was a… version of Lindell.”

The A.D.’s reaction would have been comical, but for

the circumstances. He stared at her for a moment,

then came into the room and sat down in the chair

next to hers. His mouth opened and closed a few times

before he spoke. “What are you saying?”

“The man you have in custody had nothing to do with

either the murders or Mulder’s abduction.”

“But you said Lindell was the killer.”

“Sir, the only way to prove what I believe is to

compare the DNA from the man I shot to Lindell’s.”

Skinner was leaning forward, resting his forearms on

his knees. He studied his clasped hands for a moment,

then looked up at her. “The man you shot has

disappeared.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean the body vanished from the basement while we

were getting Mulder into the ambulance. There’s not

even a bloodstain on the floor.” He took a deep

breath. “Are you absolutely certain it was Lindell

that you shot?”

She looked back at Mulder. “It doesn’t matter.” There

was no way to prove anything now. In a few days, she

would have a hard time believing it herself. She

turned back to Skinner. “I’ll have my report on your

desk in the morning, and there will be nothing in it

to implicate Andrew Lindell. You might as well let

him go.”

“Scully…” He hesitated for a moment, then shook his

head and stood. “I’ll check back with you later

tonight.”

She rose and touched his arm. “Sir, I haven’t thanked

you for coming after us.” She knew Frohike must have

called Skinner well before their agreed upon time.

She owed *him* a thank you, too, and a big hug–

after she let him squirm a bit for breaking his word.

Skinner looked uncomfortable, as he always did

whenever matters veered toward the personal. “Call me

if you need anything.” He was gone before she could

respond.

A soft sound drew her attention back to the bed.

Mulder’s eyes were open. Barely.

“Hey, Mulder. How ya feelin’?” She leaned over and

brushed her fingers over his cheek. His eyes closed

again at her touch. “It’s okay. You need to rest.

Just go back to sleep.”

He hoisted one eyelid to half mast. “It *was*

Lindell, Scully.”

“You were eavesdropping.”

He managed a sleepy smile. “You sounded like me.”

“Don’t let it go to your head.” She pushed the hair

back from his forehead and watched his eyes slip

shut once again.

“It was him,” he murmured. He was asleep in the

next instant.

There was a time when she could have convinced

herself that the man she killed was not who she

thought. That it was just someone who resembled

Lindell. Someone with deep psychological problems,

a vivid imagination, and a very convincing story.

Someone whose dead body just happened to vanish

without a trace.

Scully sank wearily into her chair and let her head

hang back, trying to loosen the kinks. Unanswerable

questions tended to tie her in knots. For Mulder,

of course, they were catnip.

She pulled her chair close to his bed and took his

hand. His fingers curled over hers, even in sleep.

*I can’t wait to hear your take on this one.*

* * *

Epilogue

FBI Headquarters

A.D. Skinner’s office

Two weeks later

Skinner pushed his glasses up with his index finger

and thumb to pinch the bridge of his nose. Then he

closed the case file he’d been reading and folded his

hands on top of it as he looked up at his waiting

agents.

“I get the impression there’s a lot of information

missing from this report.” He fixed his eyes on

Scully.

She glanced at Mulder, then met Skinner’s gaze.

“We’ve included everything that can be substantiated

by the evidence. The man who assaulted Agent Mulder

is still being sought. He remains unidentified.”

Mulder shifted in his seat, and Skinner looked at

him.

clip_image014

“Did you have anything to add, Agent Mulder?”

“No, sir.”

Skinner studied their faces, then nodded. “Very

well.”

Mulder and Scully got up to leave.

“One more question, Agents.” They stopped and turned

to face him. “If– just for the sake of argument– we

knew that someone had the potential to become a

serial killer. Could he be stopped? *Before* he

kills?”

Scully considered that for a moment. “Mulder’s

assailant believed he could change the future. Maybe

what he changed was himself.”

She could feel Mulder’s eyes on her as she led the

way to the elevator. When the car arrived, they

stepped in and she looked up at him. He was smiling

down at her. Grinning, actually. “Mulder, what?”

He bent slightly and planted a kiss on the top of her

head. “My little physicist.”

The doors opened on the basement at that moment. She

gave him the scowl he had earned, but let him see the

smile in her eyes.

“Tofu and soy, Mulder. Dinner’s on me.”

She strolled out of the elevator and headed for their

office, leaving her grinning partner behind to enjoy

the view.

* * *

Please feed the muse! dgoggans@earthlink.net

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