RATING: R (occasional language)
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
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
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!
* * * * *
2118 M Street NW
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!*
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
“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
“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.
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
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
“Not one we’ve discovered, but you know as well as I
“–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.
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“Mulder, I’m doing an autopsy first thing in the
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,
“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
“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
2118 M Street NW
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
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
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
“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
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
Written in the curly script of a girl still searching
for her identity were two words that made his mouth
He looked up to find Lindsay grinning at him. “She
was quite a fan of yours.”
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
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.
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
“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
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
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
“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
“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
“It doesn’t have to be a total loss. We can stop by
Tiger Stadium and–”
They both jumped. A boy of about ten or so was
standing directly behind Mulder, tugging on his
“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
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
*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.”
Detroit Metro Airport
“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
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,
“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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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–
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
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
“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
“Let’s hope she got a look at his face in the
* * *
A.D. Skinner’s office
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
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.
“She *knew* you, Mulder?”
He managed not to cringe at her tone. “Knew *of* me,
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
“You’re looking for a connection among the victims.
Isn’t that, by definition, a search for coincidence?”
“*Significant* coincidence, yes. This doesn’t
“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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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.
“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
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
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
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
“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
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.”
A Division of Roush Laboratories
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
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
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
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
“It was a government contract, but I imagine you know
that already.” There was a hint of challenge in the
Scully put down her notebook. “Why was the project
“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
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
“So, you’re saying the device itself was never
produced.” Mulder’s question was as perfunctory as
“Could we speak with the project manager?” He tried
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
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,
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
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
It was like a voice from the grave. And given Mel’s
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
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
“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
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.
“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
“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
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 to what?”
“The future, Agent Mulder. Back to the future.”
* * *
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
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
“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
“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
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
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.
* * *
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
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.*
* * *
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
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
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–
–the shots were nearly simultaneous, and beneath the
echoing reports, she heard Skinner’s voice shouting
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“Scully…” He hesitated for a moment, then shook his
head and stood. “I’ll check back with you later
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
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*
“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
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.*
* * *
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
“I get the impression there’s a lot of information
missing from this report.” He fixed his eyes on
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
“Did you have anything to add, Agent Mulder?”
Skinner studied their faces, then nodded. “Very
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
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
* * *
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