The Romany Curse

cover

Episode 10×21

Artwork by Xscout

Link to VS10 Home

TITLE: The Romany Curse

AUTHOR: Judie Murphy

EMAIL: judie@webaxs.net

RATING: PG-13

CONTENT: Case File, MSR, A, MT

SPOILERS: None that I can think of.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Scully investigate strange deaths

in Norfolk, Virginia. Does an old music box hold the answers

they need to solve the case?

THANKS: To Daydreamer, Gerry, Sally and Ten for your

support, encouragement and suggestions.

FEEDBACK: Yes please, to judie@webaxs.net

DISTRIBUTION: Written for I-Made-This Productions’ Virtual

Season 10 and they have exclusive rights for the first two

weeks. After that, anywhere is fine but I’d appreciate it

if you’d let me know where. It helps inspire me!

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and any characters you

recognize belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox

Studios and have been used without permission. Anyone else

belongs to me. No infringement of copyright intended.

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The Romany Curse

by Judie Murphy

***********************************************************

Teaser

Benson Residence

Norfolk, Virginia

March 10, 2003 10:48 p.m.

“Hey, Uncle Frank. Are you sure about the safe?”

Frank Matthews looked up from where he was rummaging

through the drawers of a large desk and glared at the

younger man. He questioned for the hundredth time why he’d

taken on the annoying seventeen-year-old but knew it was a

debt he owed an old friend, a debt he was determined to

repay even as he wondered if his patience would outlast his

resolve.

He rolled his eyes in exasperation, frustrated that his

pupil still hadn’t grasped the basics. His voice took on

that strained, patient quality of a teacher repeating

something that had been discussed many times before.

“You listen, boy, an’ you listen good.”

Lifting his gloved hands, he used the pointer finger of

one hand to mark off the fingers of the other as he spoke

“You keep quiet. You ‘member what I told you ’bout alarms

and how t’ ‘void ’em. You wear gloves, grab th’ good stuff

an’ leave the junk. You do what I tell you, when I tell

you, with no arguments. You stay close, an’ most important

of all, you don’ ask damn fool questions. You got that?”

Embarrassed at being reprimanded yet again on only his

third job, the teenager solemnly nodded but silently cursed

the circumstances that forced him to make a living this

way. Since his father’s premature death in an auto accident

three months earlier, he’d been ‘helping’ Uncle Frank at

nights because the money he earned as a delivery boy at the

local supermarket wasn’t enough to support his mother and

two younger sisters.

Even though Frank wasn’t his real uncle, he’d always

called him that ever since he was a small kid because the

older man had been his father’s best friend. He wanted to

tell Frank to ‘go to hell’ but he had no choice. He needed

the extra money these nighttime jobs gave him. If only he

could find a way to make some really quick money. Then he’d

show Frank.

Frank snorted a dismissal and turned his attention to

where the man had said the key to the safe could be found.

With a cry of satisfaction, he grabbed the copy of

Webster’s Dictionary lying at the back of the drawer and

opened it to where a small 2-inch square by ¼ inch deep

section had been cut out of the middle pages. In the cavity

lay the key, exactly where he’d been told it would be.

Removing the key, he tossed the book back in the drawer and

began tapping the wall-to-ceiling bookcase opposite the

desk, listening for any change in pitch.

“What…” began another question from the teenager,

startling Frank from his concentration and drawing his

immediate wrath.

“For Christ’s sake, Sam, didn’ your old man teach ya

anythin’? I showed you the things t’ take, so get to it. I

want some good stuff in your sack by the time I finish

here. We gotta get out ‘fore someone comes lookin’ for the

old lady.”

He inclined his head towards the body slumped in the

corner and continued tapping along the bookcase.

Sam tried not to look at the blood that ran down the side

of the old woman’s lined face, but his eyes were drawn to

the spot against his will. She looked so pale and still

that he was sure she was dead. If only she hadn’t walked in

and caught him, he thought worriedly. Frank had hit her

from behind and she had collapsed like a sack of potatoes

so he was sure she hadn’t seen what he looked like. The

pale moonlight had only silhouetted his frame against the

French windows that they had forced open. He was

about to ask Frank if he should cover her up when he heard

a cry of triumph behind him.

Spinning around, he saw Frank standing in front of a false

panel that was part of the bookcase. With experienced

fingers, Frank inserted the key, opened the wall safe and

looked inside.

“What’d I tell ya, boy?” he crowed, as he reached inside

the safe and pulled out a wad of money and shoved it into

his sack.

He felt around inside, searching for something else. Damn,

the suit’d said it was in the safe and Frank didn’t want to

leave without it. He’d been promised five G’s if he handed

it over but he intended asking for double that. The guy had

seemed pretty desperate to get it. He was about to turn

away and ask the kid to shine the flashlight into the

interior when he caught sight of something dark lying on

its side against the rear of the safe. He’d almost missed

it because it fit neatly against the back wall. Eagerly,

he pulled the object out.

It was a carved mahogany box about 6 inches by 4 inches

and maybe 6 inches high. The workmanship was the best he’d

ever seen and it had to be very old. He rubbed his hands

reverently over the dark polished wood and traced the

strange markings etched into the sides and lid with his

finger. Frank had never seen anything like it in all his

years. He hesitated, knowing the man had been emphatic

about his not opening the box but then he shrugged. Maybe

he’d have a better idea of what to ask for if he knew what

was

inside.

He slowly lifted the lid but nearly dropped the box when

the sound of some old waltz he remembered from his courting

days filled the air. Recovering quickly, he slammed the lid

back down, relieved when he didn’t hear any sound of alarm

from outside. He raised the lid again but this time he

placed his finger against the spinning pedestal and stopped

the music. A carved figurine that looked like a couple

entwined in each other’s arms sprung up and stood frozen on

the now still platform. Frank stared in disappointment at

the otherwise empty interior. Nothing. Why the hell did

the guy want it? He shrugged, deciding it didn’t matter as long

as he got his five G’s.

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Then he heard the wail of sirens in the distance. Damn!

Maybe the cops weren’t headed for this house but he

couldn’t take a chance that the kid hadn’t tripped a silent

alarm. He dropped the box in his sack and shoved the boy

towards the exit and hissed in his ear. “Make a run for it.

We’ll meet up at your place. Now move.”

The kid didn’t have to be told twice. He hurried out the

French doors with Frank hot on his heels and they melted

into the night as the old lady on the floor moaned feebly.

***********************************************************

Act 1

Hoover Building

Washington

March 12, 2003 7:26 a.m.

Scully entered the office, an autopsy file in her hand.

She stopped just inside the door, silently observing her

partner. He was chewing the end of his pen, his eyes glued

to the monitor, so absorbed in the information displayed

there that he hadn’t heard her enter.

“I thought you gave up surfing the porn sites, Mulder?”

Startled he looked up, the pen falling from his lips onto

a notepad that was covered with his barely legible scrawl.

Then he smiled the smile that always made her pulse rate

quicken, his joy at seeing her obvious.

“Not me, Scully. You must have me confused with the guy

who used to own those videos that aren’t in the bottom

drawer any more.”

Mulder leaned back in his chair until it creaked in

protest and put his feet on the desk, trying to look

relaxed but she knew he was tense by the way his fingers

drummed the arm of his chair.

She inclined her head towards the screen and asked “What’s

wrong?”

Sighing, he said, “Nothing that seeing you hasn’t cured.”

Then he crooked his finger at her and said in a husky

voice,” “Come here.”

It wasn’t what he said but how he said it that made her

heart thump in her chest and what was worse, she knew he

knew it by the mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

She forced herself to be the voice of reason. They had a

rule about fraternizing in the office and she wasn’t going

to relax that rule no matter how good he looked.

“Muldeerrrr.”

“What? I merely wanted to show you what I’ve been doing

while you were slicing and dicing.” He stared at her wide

eyed and innocent, a hurt look on his face.

She stepped back and looked up and down the corridor.

Seeing no one, she stepped back into the room and gently

closed the door. “You know very well what I mean,” she

whispered.

“Hey, I didn’t do anything,” he protested. He flashed her

a smug look that told her he knew exactly what she’d meant

and then he added, “Yet.”

Scully sighed. “All right, Mulder. I’ll be right there.”

She placed the

folder on the edge of her desk and slowly reached for the

buttons on her jacket. She undid the buttons, one by one.

Then she lifted one shoulder and shrugged her arm out of

the jacket, forcing her back to arch and her breasts to push

forward. Then she let the garment slip off her other

shoulder and fall to the floor.

Bending over so that Mulder had a perfect view of her

breasts as they peeked out from the top of her blouse, she

smiled up at him as she picked up her jacket and gave it a

shake.

Mulder’s eyes never left her.

She slowly turned and wiggled her hips as she walked to

the coat rack to hang it up. She ran her tongue around her

lips and smiled sweetly at him and said, “Would you like a

cup of coffee before we compare notes?”

He was squirming in his seat now and his face was flushed.

With a moan he lifted his feet and dropped them to the

floor and leaned his elbows on the desk, dropping his head

into his hands. “No fair. I didn’t tease you like that.”

“No, not like that but just as bad. Now… back to work and

if you behave yourself, I’ll let you finish what I started

when we get home tonight.”

Mulder looked as if he was going to say something but

resignedly nodded his assent. “Better make that coffee

black and strong. A guy can take only so much you know.”

Scully suppressed a smile and went to make their coffee.

By the time she returned, he was once again absorbed in the

information displayed on the computer screen but this time

he appeared more relaxed. She tapped his shoulder and

handed him his cup.

Smiling his thanks, he sniffed it appreciatively, took a

long swallow and said, “Ahhh, you know what I like.”

Deciding to ignore him this time, Scully said, “All right,

so what have you been doing?”

Mulder put his coffee down, stood up and began to pace.

He absently ran his fingers through his hair, causing it to

stick up in all directions. “When Skinner handed us this

case yesterday, I remembered reading about a couple of

similar cases a few years ago. So… while you were going

over the body, I went through the old files.”

“And did you find those other cases?”

He nodded and she saw that strained look she couldn’t

quite identify flash across his face again. Returning to

his seat, he avoided her eyes and spoke hurriedly as if by

doing so he could get through the unpleasant debriefing

sooner, which was not like Mulder at all. He usually

enjoyed these show and tell sessions.

“On 22 October 1997, a small-time thief by the name of

Vince Morelli was found dead in his apartment in

Chesapeake, Virginia. An autopsy showed his heart had

turned to stone just like the victim in this current case.

All the doors were locked and there was no sign of a

struggle. The next day, a second hand dealer and known

fence, William John Clarke aka Honest Willie, was found

dead in his locked shop on Poindexter St, also in

Chesapeake. Same manner of death. There was no sign of

forced entry or a struggle. Since the locals had no leads

and the deaths were unusual, they forwarded the files to

the Bureau for investigation and they were sent down here.

Both cases remain unsolved. In fact, I found two other

similar cases from the thirties but the details are even

more sketchy except for the manner of death.”

Scully looked puzzled. “I don’t remember the files. Why

didn’t we investigate? It sounds like …” She trailed off

as the significance of that date sunk in and at the haunted

expression on Mulder’s face.

Now she understood.

He’d been looking for a cure for her cancer in October

1997 and nothing else had mattered to him at the time.

“Oh, Mulder. I…”

He shook his head, his eyes asking her to forget it. She

nodded, silently agreeing to let the subject go.

“So, where are the files now?”

“Umm, well since there were no further deaths, the files

were pushed to the bottom of the pile.” He let out a long

breath and continued. “Then they became MWA’s”.

MWA’s were ‘Missing Without Action’, the name Mulder gave

to any file he hadn’t been able to salvage after the fire.

He sat back down at his desk and hit the print button. The

computer sent the pictures on the screen to the printer,

which obediently began printing.

“I’ve managed to reconstruct part of both of the 1997

files from information stored in the central computer at

the Chesapeake PD, including photos and autopsy reports, but

all the legwork and interviews were in the hard copies of

the files that were destroyed.”

He gestured to the screen. “I just received the photos

taken at the scene. Luckily, the photographer still had

them on file and was kind enough to email me his copies. I

even found newspaper reports printed at the time but they

are a bit vague because the details of the deaths were never

released to the press. The articles help to reconstruct the

files though.”

Scully’s brow creased in concentration. “I’ll look over

the reports on the way to Norfolk. What I can’t understand

is why the five year gap between deaths?”

He shrugged. “Well, I was kind of hoping you’d find

something when you autopsied the latest victim. No such

luck, huh?”

She shook her head as she walked over to her desk to

retrieve the autopsy report she had left there earlier.

“Sorry, Mulder. I couldn’t find any reason why Samuel

William Styles, a normal healthy teenager should have died

except for one minor detail.” She paused for effect and

was pleased when he looked up, the haunted look gone from

his face and replaced with one of intense interest. “His

heart was almost double its normal size and hard as a

rock.

It was so hard that I had trouble getting a sample to

analyze. Not that the section was any help in finding

answers.” She paused while she opened the file, found

the lab report and handed it to her partner.

“Mulder, I’ve never seen anything like it. All his other

organs were healthy and showed no signs of whatever

affected his heart. I went over his body with a magnifying

glass. Nothing out of the ordinary. No sign of trauma. No

needle marks. No pills in his stomach. No drugs in his

bloodstream although I do suspect a poison of some sort. I

ran every test I could think of but came up empty. I have

a few tests pending but at the moment, I can’t tell you why

an apparently healthy seventeen-year-old male died of heart

failure.”

“Heart failure, Scully?” He put the autopsy report down

and gave her a sardonic grin. “I suppose having your heart

enlarged to twice its size and turned to stone will do that

to a guy.”

Scully rolled her eyes in exasperation but merely

suggested, “Maybe there’s a new designer drug on the

streets. Or a bad batch that was around five years ago but

pulled off the streets because of the other two deaths.

Maybe the kid found the stash and decided to experiment.”

She shrugged. “I’ll know more when the test results are in

but that won’t be for at least forty-eight hours. The lab

will email me the results and send the hard copy here.”

Mulder retrieved the papers and photos from the printer

and added them to the partially reconstructed files then

placed the files on top of each other. He stood up and

reached for his jacket behind the chair, saying, “Let’s go

then. I think I’d like to talk to the kid’s mother first.

It says here that she was the one who found his body.”

***********************************************************

Ghent Arms, Apartment #24,

Norfolk, Virginia

March 12, 2003 1:45 p.m.

“Rachel Styles?”

“What do you want?” asked the flat female voice from behind

the door which was opened just far enough so that the

occupant could see who was on the other side. The one eye

that was visible from the hall was red and puffy.

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The agents held up their IDs for her inspection.

“Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI, Mrs. Styles. We’d

appreciate a moment of your time.”

“What for?”

“I’d rather not discuss this in the hallway. May we come

in?”

“No. Go away. Nothin’ you say is gonna bring my boy back.”

Her voice faltered and she finished on a sob.

Mulder gave Scully a pleading look but before she could

respond, the woman continued, “Can you tell me why he died?

Can you?” Her eyes filled with fresh tears and she looked

accusingly at the agents. “No, I didn’t think so. My boy

is

dead and I just want to be left in peace.”

Scully stepped up to the door. “Mrs. Styles, that’s why

we’re here. We need to ask you some questions so we can

find out what happened to your son. Just a few minutes,

please?”

“No. The cops never went after that drunk rich man’s son

that ran my Charlie off the road and no one can tell me

what killed my Sam. I don’t trust cops and I don’t trust

you. Now leave me alone.” The woman burst into even louder

sobs as she slammed the door closed and they could hear her

footsteps receding from the other side of the door.

Scully looked at Mulder, arched an eyebrow and asked,

“Didn’t you call first?”

He looked a little guilty but before he could answer, the

door opposite opened and a grey-haired black woman in her

seventies, broad-shouldered and full-bosomed, poked her

head out and pointed a pudgy finger at Mulder. “Don’t mind

her. She don’t like anyone with a badge. I heard you say

you work for the FBI. That true?”

Mulder and Scully held up their IDs in unison and

walked the short distance across the hallway. The light

brown eyes flicked from the photos to their faces as Scully

repeated their names and asked, “We’re here investigating

the death of Jonathan Styles. Is there anything you can

tell us about the day he died?”

Even as Scully asked the question, the old woman was

shaking her head sadly. “I watched that boy grow up and

looked after him and his sisters when his Mama was at work

and his Pa was away. His death is a real tragedy coming as

it does on top of his father’s death.” She paused a moment

and then started as if she realized that she was still

standing in her doorway. “But where are my manners? I’m

Felicity Smith. Please come in.”

************************************************************

Mulder placed the coffee cup beside the case file on the

small table in front of him and looked at his hostess who

was trying hard not to break down. She’d obviously had a

soft spot for her young neighbor.

Taking a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbing at her

eyes, she sniffed, “I loved that boy and I want to help in

any way I can.”

“How long have you known the family, Mrs. Smith?” Scully

asked.

“Since Sam barely reached his Papa’s knee. About 15 years,

I guess.”

“Were you home the morning his mother called for an

ambulance?”

The old lady nodded. “I heard Rachel screaming so I went

right on over but I knew he was dead the moment I laid eyes

on him.” She lifted her handkerchief and blew her nose.

“Rachel said he’d come home late and was just fine when he

went to bed.”

“Do you know where he’d been?”

She shook her head. “That boy would go out at all hours. I

used to tell him not to bang the outside door but would he

listen?” She paused and then crossed herself, saying a

quick silent prayer. “Sorry, didn’t mean to speak ill of

the dead. He was a good boy really.”

“Do you know if Sam experimented with drugs?”

“No,” Mrs. Smith said emphatically. “He would never do

that. Not after what happened to his best friend in high

school. He died of a drug overdose. Sam took it hard and

then, well… Sam’s dad died just a few months ago in a car

accident.” She sighed wearily and added, “Driver that hit

him was high on drugs.” Shaking her head she repeated,

“No, there’s no way that boy would have touched drugs,

although he did get drunk every now and then, but that’s not

odd in a young man these days, is it?”

She looked up at the agents as if defying them to say

otherwise. They didn’t so she continued, “He dropped out

of school to support his Mama and sisters after his Papa

died although if it wasn’t for Frank, I don’t know how that

family would survive.”

“Frank?”

“Yes, Frank Matthews, Charlie’s best friend. Oh, sorry,

Charlie was Rachel’s husband, God rest his soul. They

worked together or something like that. Frank was always

over there and since Charlie’s died, Frank’s been taking

Sam out a couple of nights a week and Rachel says the extra

money he gives the boy for helping him in his work is real

handy.”

“Do you know what kind of work Frank does?”

“No, but I doubt it’s anything honest. Both Frank and

Charlie done some time … or so I heard. Not that I’m

judging them. They was always nice and polite to me.”

“When was the last time you saw Sam?”

“That would be the night before he died. I heard him and

Frank come back about 11:30. Like I said, that boy

always slams the outside door. I know it was that time of

night because the news had just finished and I was about to

watch Leno. I only watch the monologue and then go to

sleep, but I do like to hear what that boy has to say about

life.”

When neither agent responded to her thoughts on Leno, she

continued a bit awkwardly, “Anyways, I heard Frank

shouting in the hallway and I went and opened my door just

a little to see what all the commotion was about. Not that

I’m nosey, mind.”

“Of course not, Mrs. Smith. What did you see?”

“Well, Frank had Sam by the collar and was yelling at him

to hand it over. The poor boy looked scared out of his wits

and pulled this wooden box from his pocket. Frank grabbed

it and threw Sam to the floor. I didn’t understand what all

the fuss was about ’cause it was just some old music box. I

know ’cause I heard the music when Frank opened it.” She

shrugged. “I guess he wanted to make sure it still worked.

Anyways, they had this big argument. Frank yelled at Sam,

saying as how he was ungrateful and that he never thought a

son of Charlie’s would betray him. Sam said he just wanted

to give the box to his sister for her birthday but Frank

said it was worth more than she was. What do you suppose he

meant by that?”

Scully gave a little shrug and said, “What happened next?

“Nothing much. Frank put the box in his pocket, told Sam

he was finished with him and left. Sam went inside.”

Scully was about to say something when Mulder reached over

and picked up the file he had left on the coffee table.

He pulled out one of the photos and folded it in half so

that the dead body was underneath and showed the other half

to Mrs. Smith.

“Did the box they were fighting over look like this one?”

He pointed to a small wooden box, sitting in the middle of

a desk beside a small desk lamp.

Mrs. Smith reached into her pocket for her glasses, put

them on and looked at the picture.

“Why, yes, I believe it does. I’ve never seen anything

like it before and I could understand why Sam wanted it for

his sister. It was very beautiful. Those carvings are

unusual, aren’t they?.”

Scully spoke, drawing the old woman’s attention back to

her. “Were you wearing your glasses that night, Mrs.

Smith.”

“Why, of course. Like I said, I was about to watch Leno.”

Mulder gave Scully a triumphant grin and put the photo

back in the file.

“Do you know where we can find Frank Matthews, Mrs. Smith?”

“No, I’m afraid not. He used to live over near the bowling

alley but he moved in with his girlfriend a month or so

ago. I don’t know where she lives but I guess he’ll be at

the funeral.” The hand clutching her handkerchief dabbed at

the corner of her watery eyes again.

Scully raised an eyebrow at Mulder and he answered her

unspoken question with a slight shake of his head. He

didn’t have any further questions.

Both agents stood and Mulder leaned over and picked up the

file saying, “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Smith. You’ve

been very helpful.”

***********************************************************

Scully contained herself all the way to the car and it

wasn’t until Mulder was doing up his seatbelt that she

asked, “All right, Mulder. Give. You think that music box

is connected to these deaths somehow, don’t you?”

“It’s scary how you know me so well. Hope that doesn’t

mean you’ll get bored with me and find someone new.”

He flashed her a grin that told her he was joking but

underneath she knew he was fishing for reassurance. She

supposed his trip down memory lane that morning had made

him particularly vulnerable today. She did the only thing

that seemed right. She leaned over and took his face

between her hands and kissed him long and hard.

“Breaking the rules, Agent Scully?” he gasped as she

released him.

She knew from his surprised grin that it was what he had

needed. Just as well the car had dark-tinted windows, she

thought.

“All right. Out with it. What are you thinking, Mulder?”

“That the music box, which is unusual and rare, was seen

in the possession of young Sam hours before he died. And

according to the crime scene photos, that same music box

was in the possession of the fence who died the same way

five years ago. Plus … the other victim was a known petty

criminal and I’m guessing he stole the box and passed it

on to

the fence and he also died. That’s too many coincidences

for me.”

“Mulder, that’s a long shot, if ever I heard one.”

“It’s just a hunch but we’ve solved cases on less. Come

on, Scully, work with me here.”

She looked into his hazel eyes, alight with enthusiasm and

merely nodded.

“All right. Where to now?”

Mulder pulled out the file again and began flicking

through the pages.

“Well, since we’ve already checked in with the locals, I

guess we could ask them to find an address for Frank

Matthews while we pay a visit to Mrs. Benson. She was the

owner of the music box 5 years ago. I want to know if she

still has it and if so, where it is now.”

Scully was about to protest but decided she could indulge

Mulder’s whim. They had checked into their motel on their

way into town and since Ben Carter, the local ME who had

performed the initial autopsy on young Styles couldn’t see

them until 5.00 p.m., they had time to visit Mrs. Benson and

still be in time to make their appointment with Ben.

Meanwhile, Mulder had found the page he was looking for

and read it quickly. He looked up at Scully with an

apologetic sigh.

“No phone number listed. Must be an unlisted number.

Guess we’ll have to hope she’s home and willing to talk

to us without an appointment.”

***********************************************************

Benson Residence

Norfolk, Virginia

March 12, 2003 2:42 p.m.

They pulled up in front of a large, two-story brick home,

set far back from the road. The curved driveway cut across

lush green grass and was bordered with well cared for

flowers of a dozen different varieties. There were bars on

all the windows and Mulder thought he saw the curtains in

an upstairs room move and then fall back into place. He

pushed the door bell on the security gate and heard the

chime echo through the house. They waited for a few

moments and he was just about to press the bell again when

he heard the inner door open and a young Hispanic woman

dressed in a maid’s uniform answered the door.

“Good morning,” she said in perfect English. “Can I help

you?”

They produced their IDs and Mulder gave their names.

“We’d like to speak to Mrs. Benson please.”

“Is she expecting you?”

“Not exactly.”

“Then she won’t see you. She won’t see anyone without an

appointment.” The woman began to close the door.

Scully felt Mulder tense for battle and she poked him in

the ribs and said sweetly, “Why don’t you check with her?

I’m sure she’d like to co-operate with the FBI.” After a

moment’s hesitation, the maid returned Scully’s smile and

said, “Very well. Wait here.”

They were left cooling their heels on the doorstep for

only a few minutes before the maid returned and unlocked

the security door

“Follow me.”

She led the way up the stairs into a tastefully decorated

living room where they found a rather large woman in her

late sixties reclining on a sofa, propped up by cushions.

Her iron-grey hair was pulled back from her face and the

pale blue eyes that shone clear and bright from under her

still dark eyebrows dispelled any impression that she

might have lost some of her intelligence with the passing

of time. She had a small bandage over her left temple and

was a little pale, but the overall impression was of a

strong woman who commanded respect and got it.

She was being fussed over by a short, dark-haired woman

dressed in a nurse’s uniform and they had to wait for her

to finish before they could introduce themselves. She

examined Mulder from head to foot and he had an odd urge to

straighten his tie and run his fingers through his hair.

She then gave Scully a similar inspection and he wondered

if she had the same impulse.

The old lady gestured for the agents to take a seat

opposite her and dismissed the maid and her anxious

attendant with a wave of her jeweled hand.

“I’m Amelia Benson. This is my granddaughter, Julia

Winters.” She motioned towards the window.

They turned their heads towards the light and saw a woman

about Scully’s height, weight and age standing to the side

of the window. Her clothing had blended so completely with

the curtains that they’d failed to notice her when they’d

entered. Her blonde hair fell softly about her small oval

face, framing high cheekbones and wide blue eyes.

Julia Winters nodded pleasantly at them and sat down on

the window seat, nervously fidgeting with a gold chain that

hung around her neck.

Mrs. Benson cleared her throat to get their attention and

when all eyes turned back to her, she asked, “Have you

found the men who assaulted me? Have you recovered my

property yet, Agent Mulder?”

“Err… Someone assaulted you?” he asked, caught totally

unaware by her question and then realized that her question

explained the bandage and pale complexion.

“Yes,” she said impatiently. “That *is* why you are here,

isn’t it?” Her refined voice had a slight accent, which

suggested an expensive finishing school or an European

heritage that he couldn’t quite place.

A glimmer of an idea was taking root in his brain. “No,

I’m sorry if you got that impression. When were you

assaulted?”

Mrs. Benson’s exasperation was evident in her scowling

face. “This is ridiculous. No wonder law-abiding citizens

have to pay such high taxes if our Government departments

duplicate everything. I have given all that information to

Detective Downer at the Norfolk Police station. I suggest

you go and see him.”

Mulder ignored the implied dismissal. “I’m sure your

statement is on record but we are here on another matter

although I’m beginning to think the two are connected. I’d

like to go over what happened again, if you don’t mind.”

He gave her his most charming smile, which didn’t seem to

have its usual effect, so he matched her stare for stare.

He

had to wait a full minute before the old woman inclined her

head and gave him a tight smile. “Very well, I suppose it

is in my best interests to co-operate with the FBI. Ask

your questions.”

“Thank you. From what you have said, you were assaulted

and robbed. When was this?”

“Three nights ago. I heard a noise and went downstairs.

There was a young boy by the French doors in the study. Of

course, I demanded to know what he was doing in my home and

then someone came up from behind and hit me.”

She shrugged and lifted a hand to her head. “That’s all I

remember. They left me for dead. The doctors told me I’m

lucky to be alive. I was only released from hospital

yesterday on condition that I engage a nurse and *rest*.”

She emphasized the last word and dropped her hand weakly

to her lap.

Mulder felt a little guilty but he needed answers that he

was sure he wouldn’t find in the police report. “I’m sorry.

I’ll try to be brief. Were you alone in the house?”

Mrs. Benson sighed, “Yes, the maid had the night

off and my granddaughter was visiting friends.”

“Can you describe the teenager?”

“Not really. He was in the shadows. I never saw the other

man.”

“You mentioned something about some property being stolen.

What was taken?”

She hesitated and said in a puzzled voice, “Why… money, of

course. There was about two thousand dollars in the

safe.”

“Did they take anything else?”

“Some silverware and an old music box that has been in my

family for generations. It is the music box I am most

anxious to have returned.”

Mulder gave himself a silent high five. He’d been right.

The music box had been stolen again and the unusual deaths

had started soon after. He had his connection – now he had

to convince Scully and find the music box before anyone else

died.

Mulder heard a soft sound like a sigh from behind him and

he shot a quick glance at Julia Winters but her head was

bowed. She appeared to be absorbed in a book on her lap but

he had a feeling she wasn’t reading a word.

He looked back to the older woman and asked, “This music

box — did it contain anything valuable?”

“No, the box was empty but has considerable sentimental

value to me.”

“How long have you had it?”

“It has been in my family for generations. It was part of

the dowry given to my great-grandfather when he married my

great-grandmother. I… I must have it back soon.”

Mulder looked up when the refined voice cracked a little

and he thought he saw desperation reflected in those pale

blue eyes, but it was so fleeting that he might have been

mistaken.

“I understand it has been stolen before?” he asked.

“Yes. The last time was about 5 years ago but thankfully

it was returned undamaged.”

“The last time?”

Her frustration at this continued line of questioning

became evident when Mrs. Benson replied frostily. “I fail

to see how the theft of my music box in the past can

possibly have any bearing on this latest robbery.”

“I assure you, Mrs. Benson, that I wouldn’t ask these

questions if it wasn’t important. I can have my superior

call you if you prefer.”

It was a bluff of sorts but it achieved its purpose. The

old woman hesitated, swallowed her irritation and sighed

dramatically.

“Very well. There have been other occasions when the box

was stolen along with money and jewelry. I’m afraid it

has always been so. Those without stealing from those who

have. Thankfully, the box was always recovered even if the

other items were not.” The steel-blue eyes flashed and the

mouth pursed into a thin line indicating without words that

she would answer no more questions . “Now, I’ve been more

than patient, Agent Mulder. I think it is time you told me

why you are here.”

“We’re investigating the unexplained death of a young

teenager who may have been the one you saw on the night you

were robbed.

A look of satisfaction crossed Mrs. Benson’s face at the

same time as Julia Winters gasped and raised a hand to her

throat. Both agents spun around to see that she was white

as a sheet, her blue eyes wide with horror as she looked at

her grandmother and said in a quivering voice, “Not another

one.”

Mrs. Benson said harshly, “That’s enough, Julia.”

“But Grandmother, it has to be that cursed music box.”

Scully groaned inwardly and she could almost see her

partner’s ears prick up at the word ‘cursed.’ Now she’d

never get him to listen to reason.

He addressed Julia Winters eagerly. “You said ‘cursed.’

What do you mean?”

Her voice was louder now, as she spat the words out.

“Exactly what I said. It’s been a curse on my family for

over a hundred years. It may bring us wealth but not

happiness and I, for one, was glad when it was stolen. It

killed my grandfather and I never want to see it again.”

She stopped abruptly and Mulder had to strain to hear her

next words. “But it will come back. It always does.”

“I said that’s enough, Julia.” The sharpness of the old

woman’s tone would have cut diamonds.

Her granddaughter blushed furiously and dropped her eyes

to her lap.

Mrs. Benson spoke, forcing Mulder to turn his attention

back to her. “Please forgive my granddaughter. She’s going

through a rather messy divorce at the moment.”

She gave the younger woman a disapproving look and jerked

her head in the direction of the door. Her granddaughter

rose instantly, excused herself and hurried from the room

before Mulder could stop her. He turned back to Mrs. Benson

but before he could utter a word, she waved her hand

dismissively.

“Now, you really will have to excuse me, Agents. I need to

rest. I’ll have the maid show you out.” She leaned

forward

and rang a silver bell that was sitting on the small table

beside her.”

Her face was set in a determined frown and Mulder had to

concede that he probably wasn’t going to get any more

answers but decided to try anyway.

“A final question, Mrs. Benson?”

She replaced the bell and said wearily, “You have exactly

as long as it takes the maid to get here, Agent Mulder.”

“Why did your granddaughter say the music box killed her

grandfather?”

“I’m afraid she’s listened to gossip. My late husband died

of a heart attack 2 years ago.”

“So you don’t believe a cursed music box killed your

husband?”

Her sharp eyes lit up in approval and he was perversely

pleased with himself for making a connection that she was

obviously already aware of, but she only said, “Ah, so we

are back to the curse?”

Before he could say anything else, the maid opened the

door and stood waiting to receive her instructions.

Mrs. Benson waved a dismissive hand in their general

direction. “You have had your question. Good day.

Angela will see you out.”

***********************************************************

McDonald’s

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 4:25 p.m.

“She was hiding something, Scully, I know it.”

Scully sighed and looked at her partner. “Like what,

Mulder? This curse? ”

“Well, she didn’t deny it,” he mumbled around a mouthful

of hamburger.

They were seated at the rear of McDonald’s where Scully

had given in to Mulder’s need for something greasy before

their appointment with the ME. She put down her fork and

pushed the remains of her Caesar salad away. She picked up

one of his fries and popped it into her mouth.

“Hey,” he complained. “Get your own.”

She smiled at him and grabbed another while she asked,

“Are you suggesting that a curse is responsible for those

two deaths five years ago as well as the death of the

Styles boy?”

“And,” he picked up the folder with the hand not holding

the hamburger, and waved it at her, “don’t forget the other

unexplained deaths that I found in those old newspaper

cuttings.”

“Oh, you mean the ones where witchcraft and superstition

were the main suspects?”

He grinned sheepishly. “Or a curse.” At her raised

eyebrow, he conceded. “All right. There’s nothing to

connect those older deaths with the more recent ones or the

music box. But,” he took another bite of his burger, “you

know autopsies back in the thirties weren’t done to the

standard they are today. The ME might have missed making

a note of the condition of the heart. That is, assuming the

bodies were autopsied. The report only mentions that

otherwise healthy males died of heart-related problems.

Even Mrs. Benson’s own husband died of a heart attack and

you know how I feel about coincidences.” He flashed her a

grin. “By the way, can you check out the husband’s death

certificate?”

Scully nodded. “I’ll get on it as soon as we get back to

the

station but I still think the tests I have pending will

show something.”

“Come on, Scully, you have to admit that the music box was

found at the scene of the pawn broker’s death. Plus Mrs.

Smith identified the same box as the one she saw Styles

with on the very night it was stolen from Mrs.

Benson by

a person fitting his description. Coincidence? Not

likely.”

“All right. Suppose the music box *is* the common

denominator here,” she said cautiously. “It doesn’t mean

the thing is cursed. It could still be a poison. Inside

the

box maybe. Perhaps the poison leeches from the wood or is

in the lining and is absorbed through the skin on contact.”

“Then why weren’t the officers who recovered the box and

returned it to Mrs. Benson affected? For that matter, why

not the forensic guys who must have dusted it for prints or

even Mrs. Benson’s cleaning staff? There must be a hundred

people who have come into contact with the box over the

years and yet only a small percentage die.”

“Maybe the poison only effects certain

people, like those with the same blood type or genetic

background.”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, his warm breath

sending shivers down her spine. “Have I told you lately

that I love you?”

“Mulderrrr.”

She reached out and stroked the side of his face and he

kissed the palm of her hand. She licked her suddenly dry

lips and then dropped her hand when she remembered where

they were but she held his eyes, her gaze telling him that

she loved him too.

He looked away first, nodding his understanding. “All

right. I’ll behave,” he said grudgingly. “But only until

we’re off duty and then, Agent Scully…” He trailed off and

waggled his eyebrows, implying that she had better watch

out.

He was just so damn cute when he did that and he knew it

so she responded with an arch of her own eyebrows. “I look

forward to it.”

He swallowed hard and she could have sworn he blushed but

all he said was, “All set?”

She nodded and they packed up the remnants of their meal

and placed the rubbish in the bin.

Mulder picked up the file and said, “I called the Norfolk

PD for the report on the robbery at the Benson residence

and they’re sending a copy to the motel. On our way back, I

want to talk to Frank Matthews, the man who argued with …”

He

broke off when his cell phone rang. He answered on the

second ring and identified himself.

He listened for a few moments and then asked, “When?”

This was quickly followed by “Where?”

At Scully’s questioning look, he put his hand over the

mouthpiece and whispered, “They’ve found another one.”

He listened intently to the person on the other end of the

line and then said, “We’ll meet you there.”

***********************************************************

Act II

Ocean View Apartments # 57,

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 5:10 p.m.

There was a group of people standing around outside the

apartment on the fifth floor, all trying to talk at once

when they arrived. It never ceased to amaze Mulder how the

discovery of a dead body made previously indifferent

neighbors take an interest in their fellow tenants. There

was even a short, middle-aged man with heavy brows and a

Roman nose waving what looked like press credentials in the

face of the young cop stationed at the door. The officer

was shaking his head and the crowd pushed him back as they

approached.

Mulder shielded Scully’s smaller frame as they gently

eased their way through the dozen or more onlookers and

showed their IDs to the officer.

On seeing the agents, the newspaperman must have decided

to try and get an interview because he attempted to push his

way through the solid barrier of bodies. He was

unprepared, however,

when an opening allowed him to surge to the front and he

slammed into Scully so hard that she fell against the

closed door.

Mulder was by her side in an instant and after

checking she was all right, he whirled on the man and

grabbed him by the collar, tightening his grip until his

hapless victim’s face went beet red.

Scully placed her hand on Mulder’s arm and said, “Let him

go. I’m fine.”

“I think you owe my partner an apology, don’t you?” he

asked, easing his chokehold so that the man could answer.

“Sssorry. Aaaccident.” The man stammered, his face now

drained of color, perspiration dotting his forehead.

Mulder released his grip and the man fell against the

door, gasping like a fish out of water. Then he swallowed

and wheezed, “I really … am very sorry. Tripped.”

Scully gave him a half smile and said, “No real harm

done.”

She shot Mulder a glare that would have frozen Lake Tahoe.

“I’m Agent Scully and…” she gestured to her partner, “this

is Agent Mulder. And you are?”

“Steve Denton. I’m with the Virginian Pilot.”

He chanced a look at Mulder and decided that this nice

lady agent had her partner under control. Perhaps she might

give him an interview. “I got a tip that there was another

death like those unsolved ones a few years back. Care to

comment?”

“Sorry. Not at the moment,” came the brisk standard reply

but she softened any offense by giving him a smile that he

soaked up like a sponge. “But why don’t you give me your

card and if anything breaks…” She left the sentence

unfinished, implying she would contact him. Of course, she

wouldn’t but she didn’t want the little man reporting her

partner for police brutality and he would be less inclined

to do so if he thought he might get a story.

Mulder frowned as the man eagerly handed over his business

card but kept quiet, deciding his partner had her reasons

for playing nice with the reporter. He turned around and

the now silent bystanders parted like the red sea.

“Show’s over, folks. Why don’t you go home and let us get

on with our jobs?”

The onlookers slowly dispersed into adjacent apartments,

down the hall or into the elevator. The reporter hung

around for a moment but when Mulder scowled at him, he

apologized for the third time and scurried after the last

of the bystanders.

They showed their badges to the stunned cop who hadn’t

moved during their run-in with the journalist and the young

officer recovered enough to stiffen to attention, open the

door and wave them inside.

As the door closed behind them, Scully whispered, “You’re

not off the hook, Mulder. We’ll discuss this later.”

Mulder cursed under his breath, trying to decide if he

should plead temporary insanity or just beg her

forgiveness. He chanced a furtive look in her direction

and his face must have shown his anguish because he was

rewarded with a wry smile that

relieved the tension between them.

“It’s all right, Mulder. But we *will* talk about it.

Okay?”

Relieved, he nodded but didn’t have time to say anything

more because they were stopped just inside the apartment by

another cop who checked their I.D.’s and asked them to wait

while he found the Officer in Charge. While they waited,

Mulder poked his head around the archway and looked into

the main living area.

The room was a hive of activity with a forensic team

dusting for prints and taking samples of anything that

might be useful. There was a kitchen straight

ahead where a round table was set for two and an opened

bottle of wine

floated in a bucket of water. There was a bedroom off to

the right, but the living room was his focus. Against the

wall backing onto the entry, he could see a television and

stereo set in a dark stained wall unit. A two-seater sofa,

two matching chairs and a coffee table were placed opposite

the TV. It was beside the sofa that most of the activity

was centered. Two men in dark suits and a uniformed officer

were called to the bedroom leaving one man with his back to

the doorway directing a photographer who took pictures of a

body on the floor.

Mulder turned to Scully and was just about to suggest they

go and take a look at the body when he noticed a tall,

solidly built black man approaching, followed by the

officer from the entry hall. The man could have been aged

anywhere between forty-five and fifty-five and he wore a

dark, crumpled suit that looked like he’d slept in it. He

had a long face with heavy pouches under his eyes and a

thick head of greying hair that was overdue for a cut. His

dark eyes assessed them even as he removed his gloves to

shake hands.

“Sam Allender, Norfolk PD.”

Both agents returned the handshake and introduced

themselves.

“Thanks for coming down. Ben asked me to give you a call

because you were due to meet with him about another case.

He thinks this death is more of the same and he thought

you’d want to be in on it. Follow me.”

They followed the big African-American to where a slender

man in his early thirties with a strong chin, small ears

and a prominent straight nose was leaning over a body on

the floor. He wore a white lab coat and a cap, with the

words ‘Medical Examiner’ stenciled on it jammed on his

head, almost covering his unruly, sandy hair.

“Hey, Ben. The Fibbies are here,” said Allender, gesturing

to the agents.

Ben stood up and shook hands with his old friends. While

Scully asked after Ben’s wife, Mulder looked at the latest

victim. Her body lay half on her right side, half on her

back, her bleached blonde hair splayed out over her left

shoulder. She was a little overweight and wore tight jeans

and a sweater but her feet were bare. There wasn’t a mark

on her body that he could see but the anguished look on her

face, frozen in death, told him that her passing had been

anything but peaceful.

Ben seemed genuinely disappointed when he said, “Guess we

won’t get to catch up on old times after all, at least not

tonight.” He grinned ruefully and added, “But this is right

up your alley, Mulder. Take a look.”

They knelt down beside the corpse and Ben leaned over,

lifted the sweater and pointed to the woman’s chest. “You

see here. The heart has pushed the rib cage up and if you

apply any pressure, you can feel that the heart is quite

hard.” He demonstrated by pushing gently on the woman’s

chest but the lump was solid and didn’t give. “It’s got me

beat. I’ve never seen or heard of anything like it except

for the Styles case yesterday.”

“He’s not the first,” said Mulder. “There are X-Files

dating back to 1997 when two people died in similar

circumstances. There are also some mysterious deaths in

the 30’s that might be related.”

“Really?” Ben shrugged and shook his head skeptically.

Mulder looked at the detective and asked, “Do we know who

she is?”

Allender nodded and looked at his notes. “Deceased is

Stella Ann Lawrence, female Caucasian, 43 years old. Worked

at the local laundry. Her body was found at 3:40 this

afternoon by her landlord. Apparently, her boss called the

landlord and asked him to check up on her because she

hadn’t turned up for work. Seems she’s very conscientious

and never takes a day off without letting him know. The

landlord knocked on the door and decided to use his master

key because he heard the TV on and thought it was odd when

no one answered.”

“Does she have a criminal background?”

“None that we know of.”

A cell phone rang and they all stood up, checking their

pockets. It was Detective Allender who said, “It’s mine.

Excuse me.” He lifted the phone to his ear and walked a

short distance away.

Ben motioned for the waiting technicians to remove the body

and they moved out of the way, allowing the ME’s assistants

to do their job.

Ben asked, “Did your lab find anything new on the Styles

boy?”

She shook her head. “No, but some of the tests we

discussed on the phone aren’t in yet. Like you, we found no

evidence to suggest that death was caused by a new

pathogen. The lab checked everything twice to make sure.”

When her partner broke into a wide smile of triumph, she

turned to him and continued, “And no, I don’t think a curse

is involved. I still think the tests I have pending will

show something. It will be even easier now that we have

another body to run comparisons on. Can we start the

autopsy right away, Ben?”

Ben nodded, raised an eyebrow and inquired, “Curse?”

Mulder shrugged and Scully grinned ruefully but before

either could answer, Detective Allender finished his call

and headed their way.

“The highway patrol have found another one,” he said

grimly.

At Mulder’s questioning look, he elaborated, “Seems a man

was found dead in a car at Seashore State Park, just over

the city line in Virginia Beach. Paramedics at the scene

said his heart is rock solid and pushed up through his

chest just like this one.” He pointed to the body that was

being strapped to a stretcher. “It’s not my jurisdiction

and I don’t have any other details but here’s the location.

You know, for once I’m glad the Bureau is taking this

one.”

Mulder took the offered scrap of paper, memorized the

information and passed the slip to Scully who knew from the

eager expression on his face that he wanted to go check it

out. She, however, wanted to start the autopsy before any

possible poison was broken down by the passing of time.

She hated splitting up but there seemed no way around it.

“Okay, Mulder,” she said resignedly, “you go check this one

out and I’ll do the autopsy with Ben to see if we can find

anything new.”

He ginned at her, nodded and was moving towards the entry

when she called after him. “I’ll call when we’re finished.”

He never turned around, just waved his hand in

acknowledgement and disappeared around the corner, his mind

already on the case and the new developments.

She looked at Ben and he shrugged. “He hasn’t changed.

Come on, you can catch a ride with me.”

***********************************************************

Seashore State Park

Virginia Beach, Virginia

March 13, 2003 7:05 p.m.

Mulder saw the flashing lights well before he pulled onto

the shoulder of the highway. The usual crowd of onlookers

was being held back by a couple of burly cops who stood

guard beside the yellow crime scene tape.

Mulder held up his badge to the officers and was about to

duck under the tape when a voice called his name. He turned

slightly as he bent and saw the reporter who had

accidentally pushed Scully over earlier in the day wave to

him from the crowd. He groaned inwardly and pretended he

didn’t see the man as he continued under the tape and

straightened on the other side.

He headed towards the corner of the parking lot near the

visitor’s center where a group of men stood watching a

photographer take pictures of the exterior and interior of

an old white station wagon. The car was parked under a

grove of sea oaks, their limbs casting eerie shadows over

the

concrete lot making it difficult to see the car clearly

except for when the flash of the camera lit the scene.

A small wiry man in his early thirties with a dark

moustache and brown eyes broke away from the group and

greeted Mulder with a huge smile as he drew near. Mulder

smiled back when he recognized his old friend, Don Anderson.

They shook hands warmly and engaged in small talk for a

few minutes, briefly catching up on the intervening years

since they had last seen each other before moving on to the

reason for Mulder’s visit.

Anderson indicated the station wagon. “When the paramedics

said this guy died the same way as that kid over in

Norfolk, I called it in and dispatch said the Bureau was

involved and that someone would be over. I thought it might

be you and the lovely Agent Scully.” Anderson looked around

and asked, “Where is that lovely partner of yours?”

“She’s doing an autopsy. What have you got?”

“Highway patrol found the guy already dead when they

pulled in for a routine check of the area.”

“Was anyone else here?”

“Not when they pulled up but they did mention something

odd.” At Mulder’s inquiring look, he elaborated, “A few

minutes after they arrived, a man in a Mercedes drove

in, saw the officers and took off like a rocket. They

remarked on it because most people pull in here to use

the conveniences and it was odd that the driver left in

such a hurry.” He shrugged. “Maybe he didn’t want to

get involved.”

Mulder wasn’t so sure. “Did they get the plate?”

“No, they’d just found the body and were calling it in.”

Anderson inclined his head towards the station wagon. “The

photographer’s finished. Want to take a look before they

load him up?”

Mulder nodded and reached into his pocket for a pair of

gloves and pulled them on. He leaned in the open door and

saw the body of a man who looked to be in his mid-forties

although it was hard to tell. His tortured face reflected

the same look of suffering that had been on the face of

Stella Lawrence. He lay on his back, his upper body slumped

across the front seat of the car towards the passenger side

door, his lower body still under the dashboard.

Mulder gently lifted the man’s sweater and shirt. The

bulge in his chest was clearly visible with the naked eye

and almost certainly confirmed that the manner of death was

the same as the other two victims.

“Any idea who he is?” he asked as he went around to the

passenger side of the car and began digging through the

glove box.

“Frank Matthews, a small time petty thief. Got a long rap

sheet but only a few arrests and fewer convictions.”

The name caused Mulder to jerk his head up and bang it

painfully on the doorframe.

“You know him?” asked the cop as Mulder rubbed his aching

head.

“Not really but I did want to talk to him. Guess that’s

not an option now,” he said dryly. “You got an address for

him?”

The officer consulted his notes. “The address on file

isn’t current according to the boys at Robbery. He’s been

shacking up with his new girlfriend over in Ocean View.”

“Her name wouldn’t be Stella Lawrence, would it?”

Anderson again checked his notes and said, “How’d you

know? We haven’t had a chance to send someone over there

yet.”

“Don’t bother. She’s dead too. Scully’s doing the autopsy

now.”

At Detective Anderson’s surprised look, Mulder just

shrugged and continued searching the car, his mind

already processing the new information. This third

death re-established a connection between the victims

but not why they died. And not why Frank was here in

this park. And if the music box was responsible in some

way, where was it now?

He finished checking the interior of the car and then the

trunk, finding nothing of interest.

Anderson asked, “You done here?”

He nodded at his friend who gestured for the technicians to

remove the body. As they carefully lifted the body of

Frank Matthews out through the driver’s side door, something

fell onto the floor with a thud. It had been under the

man’s body and hidden from view until now.

Mulder reached in and picked up the brown paper bag. He

opened it and pulled out a small wooden box that looked

like the one in the photo he had shown Mrs. Smith earlier

in the day. It had the same unusual letters carved into the

wood on the lid and sides. He thought the language was

Romanian but he wasn’t sure. There was a date carved into

the bottom and it read 1888.

He carefully lifted the lid and watched as a tiny carved

figure spun round and round to the melodic sound of Mozart.

He looked closely and realized the carved figure was

actually two figures entwined together. But other than the

carved lovers, the box was empty.

Mulder chewed on his bottom lip, wondering if Frank might

have been waiting for someone. Possibly the man who drove

off when he saw the cops? A petty thief like Frank wouldn’t

be out in the State Park because he liked the scenery.

He shook his head, deciding that it didn’t matter now that

he had the box. If his theory was correct, the deaths would

stop now. He dropped the box into a plastic evidence bag.

Anderson asked, “You want that fingerprinted?”

“Can you do that here? I want to take it with me.”

“Sure, one of the forensic boys will have a kit. It won’t

take long.”

Mulder handed over the bag. As his friend turned away, he

asked, “Any of your people speak Romanian?”

“I doubt it but I’ll ask.”

While he waited, Mulder pulled out his cell and punched

‘one’ on the speed dial. Frustrated by no answer, he left

a message

on Scully’s voice mail and dropped his phone back into his

pocket.

Anderson returned and handed over the bag containing the

box, saying there were no fingerprints and it had probably

been wiped clean by the victim. He added that there was no

one in his unit who could read Romanian and suggested that

Mulder take the box to the Norfolk PD in the morning since

it was getting late. They would have access to someone.

Mulder nodded and, after signing the chain of custody

receipt for the box, he thanked his friend for his

help. They made the usual promises to keep in touch even

though both of them knew they wouldn’t.

As he pulled out from the side of the road, Mulder heard

horns blaring and looked in his rear vision mirror to see

what all the noise was about. There seemed to be a lot of

people milling around a cluster of cars but he couldn’t see

anything other than the backs of the crowd. He dismissed

the incident and headed back to pick up Scully.

He failed to notice the car that pulled out 10 seconds

later and follow him at a discrete distance.

***********************************************************

Act III

Norfolk City Morgue

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:35 p.m.

Mulder pulled Scully’s note from the front door of the

morgue and walked tiredly down the steps and climbed into

his car, wondering why she hadn’t just called. A quick

check showed that his battery was dead and there’d been no

way for her to let him know her movements.

Annoyed with himself for not hearing the telltale beeping

that would have alerted him to the imminent loss of power,

he plugged the phone into the car charger and turned it on.

He found three messages from her and the last one made

him grimace.

While Mulder reflected on how he was going to pacify his

irate partner, a figure in a dark-colored Mercedes parked

across the street watched his every move.

When Mulder pulled out from the curb and headed down the

main street, the man shoved the still-burning cigarette

between his lips and trailed after him at a safe distance,

still contemplating his rotten day. He’d seen the agent

take the box with him when he left the state park so it had

to be in the car with him. Again that wouldn’t have been a

problem if it hadn’t been for the pack of onlookers who had

hemmed his car in. He’d intended to follow the Taurus and

take the box back but by the time he’d blasted his horn to

move them out of the way, the other car was nowhere in

sight. After an anxious half hour, he’d finally spotted the

car on the outskirts of town and followed it to the morgue.

He’d been about to get out of his car and search the Taurus

for the music box when the cop found the note and climbed

back into the car.

He drew in another lungful of smoke and smiled to himself

as he followed the taillights along the deserted streets.

There was no way he was going to lose his quarry this

time.

With just a little more patience, the box would be his at

last.

***********************************************************

Virginia Beach Boulevard

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:45 p.m.

Mulder rubbed his tired eyes and moved his neck from side

to side in an attempt to ease his acing muscles while

keeping his eyes on the road ahead. What he needed was one

of Scully’s famous massages.

Maybe if he called and offered to buy dinner on his way

back, she might just accommodate him. Besides, his eager

mind could think of lots of things they could do after the

massage if they ate in.

He punched number one on his speed dial and waited,

suddenly anxious when she didn’t answer. He tried again

and this time she answered on the fourth ring with a curt,

“Scully.”

“Hey, Scully. Where have you been?” He tried to keep the

relief he felt out of his voice but in doing so, his light-

hearted question had came out as an accusation.

“That’s a fine question coming from you,” she retorted.

Then a little relieved at hearing his voice too, she

relented. “I was in the shower, if you must know. I’ve

been

trying to reach you. Why did you turn your cell off?”

“I didn’t. The battery died on me. I’ve got it on the

charger

now.”

“Where are you?”

“Just crossed the city line. How did the autopsy go?”

He could visualize the raised eyebrow as clearly as if

she was standing in front of him and he smiled to himself.

“Not now, Mulder. It can wait till you get here.”

“Okay,” he paused for a moment and then asked in a husky

voice, “Did you miss me?”

Her voice softened immediately. “Always.”

“Hold that thought. I’ll be there in about…” The phone

flew from his hand as the car was hit from behind and he

was blinded by headlights that suddenly flashed in his rear

view mirror. The car had come out of nowhere.

He fought to keep the Taurus on the road as he was hit

from behind again. This time the impact was enough to send

his car into a spin as the front, passenger-side tire hit

the gravel and the front left bumper ricocheted off

something solid. His head slammed sideways against the

doorframe and his world exploded in a flash of pain then

nothing. He didn’t feel the sticky wetness run down the

side of his face or the seatbelt dig into his chest or the

force of the air bag when it finally inflated as the car

came to a sudden halt amid the sound of screeching metal

and breaking glass.

He was oblivious to the sound of Scully’s distant voice

screaming

his name through the cell phone and the crunch of footsteps

on the gravel outside his door.

He certainly didn’t feel the rough hands search him and

the car or hear the angry expletives when the man didn’t

find what he was looking for.

***********************************************************

Downtown Marriott Hotel

Norfolk, Virginia

March 13, 2003 9:56 p.m.

“MULDERRR”

“ANSWER ME, DAMN IT.”

Scully was screaming into her cell, as if by yelling the

man on the other end would miraculously answer. She knew

it was a forlorn hope because she had heard the sound of

screeching metal and breaking glass and then the silence.

Frantically she tried to decide if she should cut the

connection and call 911 or keep the line open in the hope

that Mulder could respond. She hesitated to break her only

line of communication with Mulder so she put her cell down

on the bed and used the hotel phone to call 911.

Satisfied that the ambulance and police were on their way,

she grabbed her cell and yelled into her phone again.

“Mulder…please answer me. Mulder… I’m on my way…”

When there was still no response, she ignored her pounding

heart and only delayed long enough to pull on some clothes

before heading out the door.

She stopped dead when she reached the parking lot and

realized she didn’t have a car. Frantically, she looked

around and saw a taxi dropping off another guest and raced

over, throwing a twenty at the driver as

she climbed in and told him to head for Virginia Beach

Boulevard. Mulder had to be on that

road somewhere.

She tried again to get a response from her partner and was

surprised when her babbling was interrupted by an unknown

male voice that stammered, “H..h..hello?”

“Who is this? What’s happened to Mulder?”

“Umm… there’s blood. Lots of b-blood, but he’s

breathing.”

“Don’t move him and don’t leave him,” shouted Scully into

the phone, relieved that someone was on the scene and that

her partner was alive. “An ambulance is on its way.”

“I,umm, I c-can smell g-gas.”

Then the phone went dead.

Scully screamed at the driver to go faster and was leaning

forward in her seat searching the road ahead when she heard

an explosion and saw the fireball above the treetops.

As the taxi rounded a bend in the road, she was horrified

to see flames engulfing what was left of Mulder’s car. The

ambulance was already on the scene as was a police cruiser.

A fire engine pulled up at the same time as the taxi and

began to pour water on the fire.

Scully was out of the car before it had even stopped

moving and a state trooper grabbed her by the arm to stop

her from getting too near the flames although the heat

radiating from the burning car was so fierce that there was

no way she could get closer than 20 feet. She didn’t

struggle in the officer’s arms, knowing it was hopeless.

She

just stood there, frozen.

Her stricken face must have clued the officer in to what

she was thinking and he said,” It’s okay, ma’am. He’s over

there.”

Scully looked in the direction the officer indicated and

nearly collapsed with relief at the sight of two paramedics

kneeling over a human form, silhouetted in the dying

flames. Her weak legs hardly held her up as she stumbled

over to where her partner lay on the ground.

The paramedic who was taking Mulder’s blood pressure and

pulse, took one look at her face as she dropped to the

ground beside them and asked if she was all right. She

nodded dumbly, watching as the other paramedic placed a

cervical collar around Mulder’s neck and inspected the head

wound that was bleeding profusely.

She tore her eyes away from her partner and looked at the

paramedic who had been concerned about her. “I’m a doctor

with the FBI and this man’s next of kin. What are his

vitals?”

The man, gave her a look which said without words, ‘Sure

you are. Prove

it.’

Impatiently, Scully pulled out her ID and held it up for

his inspection.

He squinted at it in the dying light from the still

burning wreck and gave her a quick apologetic smile.

“Pulse is strong, BP is 120 over 80. Looks like a severe

concussion,

possible skull fracture. Laceration to the left temple. No

broken bones or internal injuries that we can determine but

we need to transport ASAP.”

She nodded her agreement and Mulder was carefully loaded

onto to a stretcher.

Scully stood back to give them room and was startled when

a man stepped from the shadows and asked, “Will he be all

right?”

Scully spun around and stared at the man she recognized as

the newspaper reporter who had accidentally pushed into her

earlier in the day.

“What are you doing here?” she snapped, convinced he was

here to get the gory details so he could publish them in

the morning edition.

The trooper cut in. “Take it easy. He saved the guy’s

life. He pulled him from the car just before it exploded.

We think the fuel tank ruptured when the car sideswiped the

barrier.”

Scully had the good grace to look embarrassed and flashed

him a small but genuine smile, saying, “You’re the man I

spoke to on the phone?”

He nodded.

“Well, I guess I owe you my thanks.”

The reporter gave an embarrassed shrug. “It was just lucky

I came along when I did.”

The officer interrupted. “We’d like to speak to your

husband when …”

“Partner,” corrected Scully and showed him her ID as she

followed the stretcher into the ambulance. “I’m going with

him to the hospital so you can contact me there.”

With those parting words, the doors slammed shut and the

ambulance left in a swirl of dust and flashing lights.

***********************************************************

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 14, 2003 10:15 a.m.

Mulder woke to the steady beep of the heart monitor and

the distinctive antiseptic smell that told him he was in a

hospital. He wanted to give in to whatever drugs they were

pumping into him and go back to sleep to escape the intense

throbbing in his head that was increasing by the minute,

but he couldn’t. Not until he knew that Scully was all

right.

Then he felt it.

The gentle movement of a hand through his hair. The slow

trailing of soft fingers down the right side of his face.

They stopped to stroke his eyebrows, cheeks and lips before

moving down his right arm and across his chest. He knew

that touch. He’d know it anywhere.

Reassured that Scully was all right, he relaxed into her

touch, trying to remember what had happened but he gave up

when his head began to throb.

The monitor’s steady beep increased marginally, and

Scully’s hand stopped its circuit as she leaned over and

whispered in his ear.

“C’mon, partner, open those beautiful eyes.”

He turned his head in the direction of her voice but the

movement sent shards of pain piercing through his scull and

he moaned aloud.

“Sshhh. I’ve just buzzed for the nurse to bring something

for your head. Do you remember what happened?”

“No. Thirsty.” He cracked one eye open and couldn’t

stifle an even louder groan when pain exploded behind his

eyeball as the light hit his retina. He briefly saw three

of his partner before he slammed his eye shut and gulped,

trying not to vomit all over the clean bed.

“Sshhh. I’ll have them bring something for your stomach as

well.”

A small part of his now throbbing brain wondered how she

knew he felt nausea as well as pain but of course,

Scully always knew how he felt.

She spooned a few ice chips into his mouth and he sucked

on them greedily.

“What happened?” he whispered, afraid any louder noise

would cause the top of his head to explode.

“Don’t you remember?”

He tried to think but the ever-increasing pain in his head

made it difficult to concentrate. Wrinkling his forehead

in concentration only succeeded in making his headache

worse, and he bit his lip to stop from moaning out load.

Scully’s soothing hand brushed the hair from his forehead,

careful of the bandage that covered the ten neat stitches

along his hairline above his left temple. “That’s all

right. Here’s the nurse

with your pain med. Just rest now and you can tell me

later.”

He felt the cold sting of the Demerol as it flowed into

his veins and he relaxed a little when the pain released

its stranglehold on his brain. He tried again to remember

what had happened but there was a black hole in his usually

perfect memory and it bothered him. He wanted to ask Scully

but the blackness claimed him before he could remember what

it was.

***********************************************************

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 15, 2003 7:25 p.m.

Scully looked at her partner propped up in bed, eyes

closed, perspiration dotting his upper lip but very much

alive. A bandage was wrapped around his head like a turban

and he looked like a foreign prince except for his color,

which was a pale substitute for his usual healthy tan.

It had been a rough couple of days but they finally had

the pain medication right and the nausea and disorientation

had improved considerably. However, it had been the removal

of the dreaded catheter and IV that had improved his

disposition.

The swelling around his left eye had gone down so he could

open it but he still suffered from double vision, headaches

and memory loss.

However, Scully knew he was much better than he had a

right to be considering he had been in a coma for 12 hours

after the accident. No fractured skull, subdural hematoma

or broken bones. And thankfully, no brain damage. Just a

severe concussion. Just… She shivered in the air-

conditioned room knowing he’d been incredibly lucky again.

He’d pushed himself as usual and had insisted on sitting

up after his evening meal but from the look on his face,

she figured he was ready to lie down again. Since he was

too stubborn to ask, she activated the control that lowered

the bed and helped him settle under the covers.

Mulder sighed in relief now that he was flat on the bed

and opened his eyes, waiting for the room to stop spinning.

It unnerved him to see two Scullys and he caught both of

them looking at him like he was made of glass. He chose to

ignore her concerned expression

because he felt a hundred times better now that the IVs

and catheter had been removed.

She had assured him that the nausea and headaches would

fade, and his vision would improve over the next few days

but there was no guarantee he would

recover his lost memories.

And that was what bothered him the most. The last thing he

remembered was leaving the park with the music box on the

seat beside him and heading back to town to meet Scully.

Now the box was missing and Scully had told him that no

trace of it had been found in the burnt out car. At least

there had been no more deaths since the box went missing.

An officer had turned up and taken his statement, such as

it was, and told him that an inspection of the wrecked car

and the stretch of road where the accident happened

confirmed that he had been hit from behind by a dark-

colored car. Unfortunately, the heat from the fire had

destroyed any chance of identifying what make or model the

paint had come from. Although investigations were

proceeding, it was doubtful anyone would be charged over

the incident. The only witness, the reporter who had pulled

him from the burning car, claimed he’d seen nothing but

the taillights of a dark colored car so the police had no

other leads since there seemed to be no

motive for ramming the Taurus.

Mulder was just about to ask Scully for an update on the

case when he saw the reporter walking down the passage

towards his open door.

Not ready to face any probing questions, Mulder closed his

eyes, moaned and slid even further down the bed. Instantly

concerned, Scully leaned over and touched his forehead

until he silently raised his hand and pointed to the

doorway, her body shielding his action. She turned and saw

the reason for his sudden relapse and quickly ushered the

man from the room promising to call him when Mulder was

well enough to talk to him.

When she had returned and helped her partner rearrange his

pillows, she reminded him that he owed the reporter for

pulling him from the wrecked car.

“I know, Scully, but I can’t tell him what I don’t

remember.” He closed his eyes in frustration and again

willed his aching head to remember but it was no use.

When he opened his eyes again, he was shocked to see

duplicate Scully’s, eyes drooping, swaying in their seats,

looking as if they were about to fall asleep sitting

up.

He squinted hard and gradually both Scullys converged

into one. This improvement in his sight went unnoticed,

however,

because he was really ‘seeing’ her for the first time in

days. Guilt

washed over him at the sight of the black rings under her

eyes, the limp hair hanging untidily about her pale,

listless face, which was a stark contrast to her usual

alert expression. Even her ramrod straight posture had been

replaced with slouched shoulders and the unmistakable

signs of exhaustion. It suddenly occurred to him that she

had been with him in the hospital since his accident.

“Hey, Scully.”

She jerked upright in the chair and looked at him with

concern. “You in pain, Mulder?”

“No, I’m fine.” He emphasized the last word and they both

smiled, sharing their private joke. Then he frowned and

added, “But you’re not. You need to rest, Scully. You look

beat.”

At her questioning look, he grinned boyishly. “Yes, I see

only one of you now so you can safely leave me and get some

sleep.”

She looked like she was about to argue so he added,

“Please. For me?”

She hesitated for just a moment and then nodded,

resignedly. “Okay, Mulder. I’ll be back in the morning

after I call into the locals and see if they have anything

more on the black car that ran you off the road.”

She leaned over the bed, took his head between her hands

and lowered her lips to his, kissing him gently. He

responded immediately by putting his hands behind her head

and pulling her closer, deepening the kiss, stroking the

roof of her mouth, teeth and lips with his tongue until

they were forced to part for lack of oxygen.

She moaned at the loss of contact so he slid his hands

down her back, grabbed the waistband of her pantsuit and

pulled her onto the bed with him, her legs dangling over

the side.

The throbbing in his head was pushed to the background as

his hands held her softly, gently caressing whatever part

of her body he could reach. He nuzzled the hair behind her

ear and then his tongue licked her earlobe as he whispered

tenderly, “Keep this up Agent Scully, and I won’t be held

responsible.”

Mulder never knew what her response would have been

because there was a knock on the door and a smiling nurse

entered with his evening meds. While Mulder cursed under

his breath, Scully instantly slid off the bed and sat on

the chair, flushed crimson with embarrassment.

The poor nurse whose smile had frozen on her face, quickly

checked his chart, handed him three tablets and a glass of

water, watched him swallow the medication and left the room

in complete silence.

Mulder looked at Scully. Scully looked at Mulder. Then a

slow smile spread over both their faces and they laughed

like two teenagers caught necking.

“Something to look back on in our old age,” grinned

Scully, feeling better than she had in days.

Mulder sobered instantly, took her hand in his and asked

in a pleading voice that touched a cord in Scully’s heart.

“Will you, Scully? Will you stay with me until we’re old?”

Scully saw the haunted look she had seen in the basement

office cloud his features again and lifted his hand to her

lips and kissed his knuckles lightly. “I told you Mulder, I

love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you.

Just don’t go running off any more roads. Okay?”

He nodded, relieved and exhausted all at once. He was

finding it impossible to keep his eyes open and it occurred

to him that one of the tablets the nurse had handed him was

probably a sleeping pill. He had been so unnerved at being

caught necking with Scully that he’d meekly taken whatever

he’d been given.

“Some stud I am,” he complained while trying to smother a

yawn.

“It’s okay, sweetheart. I need some sleep too. I’ll see

you bright and early in the morning.”

“Like that,” he mumbled, eyes closed.

“What?”

“When you call me that.”

She smiled and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead and

headed for the door. She was two steps from the bed when he

called after her. Even though his voice was a bit slurred,

she understood every word.

“Hey, Scully. Can you bring me something decent for

breakfast? The food here all tastes the same.”

***********************************************************

Parking Lot

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

March 15, 2003 9:05 p.m.

The driver of the dark Mercedes threw the stub out the

window to join the pile on the ground and lit another

cigarette. He sat watching the front door of the hospital

wondering what his next move should be. He knew his

impatience had caused him to make an error in judgement but

it hadn’t occurred to him that the box would be anywhere

but in the Taurus. He’d searched both the agent and the car

without success and even though his search had been

interrupted, he was sure he hadn’t missed it.

Even if he had, past experience told him that the box

couldn’t be destroyed so it hadn’t burned in the fire. The

fact that the police hadn’t found it in the remnants of the

car further reassured him. Logically, that meant the agent

had taken it somewhere after those stupid onlookers had

hemmed his own car in but he had no idea where.

He took another long drag on his cigarette and blew smoke

out through his nostrils while he tried to think. There

hadn’t been much time between when he’d lost the Taurus and

when he’d caught up with it. Maybe a half hour.

He sighed and sucked in another lungful of smoke. If he

hadn’t witnessed the power of that music box himself, he

wouldn’t be sitting here or going to such lengths to

possess it. But he had witnessed its power and he had to

have it or be ruined. He simply had no choice any more and

time was running out.

He was desperate to talk to the man lying in a hospital

bed on the third floor. He had tried to speak to him but

that woman, his partner, was always in the room running

interference. It was impossible to get to him.

An idea suddenly occurred to him.

The woman was the problem and the solution. If the woman

wasn’t around, then he could talk to the agent. And if the

agent wasn’t willing to tell him where the box was, then

maybe the guy would be willing to exchange the box for his

partner.

Pleased with his logic, the man tossed the cigarette and

reached for another but a movement from within the hospital

caused the automatic doors to open and caught his

attention. Luck was finally on his side. The redhead

appeared and walked slowly towards the empty taxi stand, 20

feet from the hospital entrance.

***********************************************************

Act IV

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 16, 2003 8:35 a.m.

Mulder sat propped up in his hospital bed, freshly bathed

and shaved, a frown darkening his features. His color was

better and the bandage had been replaced with a smaller

gauze dressing directly over the stitches. The dull throb

behind his temple was more manageable than the

piercing pain he’d experience a few days before. His vision

was back to normal although he felt a little dizzy and

nauseous if he turned his head sharply in either direction.

He’d been allowed to go to the bathroom twice accompanied

by a male nurse and had been appalled at how weak he felt.

Both times he’d stumbled and had to be helped back to bed,

frustrated with his slowly recovering body.

The television set was on but muted, as he had no desire

to listen to the inane chatter of the morning host. His

eyes flicked between the screen and the bank of elevators

at the far end of the hallway that he could just see

through his open door.

His frown deepened as two nurses and an orderly stepped

out of the elevator and went about their business and the

doors slowly closed behind them.

Still no Scully.

He checked the time again, which was only 3 minutes later

than the last time he’d checked. Scully should have been

here by now and he was getting worried.

The sound of the telephone ringing beside the bed gave him

a start and he sighed in relief. It had to be Scully to

tell him why she’d been held up.

“Hey Scully, I’ve already had breakfast but a burger…”

A muffled male voice asked, “Agent Mulder?”

“Yes. Who is this?”

“My name doesn’t matter. Where is it?”

Mulder couldn’t think what the caller meant. He’d expected

Scully to be on the other end of the line and the sound of

another voice had thrown him momentarily.

Recovering quickly and still hoping his partner would step

out of the elevator at any moment, he stalled for time.

He put on his best G-man voice and asked, “Where’s what?”

A deep sigh floated down the line. “Very well. We’ll do

this the hard way. Give me the box or that redheaded

partner of yours won’t see another sunset.”

Mulder felt as if a violent punch had caught him in the

stomach and forced all the air from his lungs. The man had

Scully. That was the only thing that registered. He didn’t

think, he just lifted the covers and swung his feet out of

bed and slid to the floor. The room spun dizzily and he

would have landed on his ass if he hadn’t held onto the bed

for support. Through the haze, he could hear the slightly

desperate voice on the other end of the line ask, “Do we

have a deal?”

He took a few deep, calming breaths and the room slowly

righted itself. He pushed down the nausea that threatened

and demanded, “Let me talk to her.”

“No. Bring my box to the warehouse on 22th Street, near

the Coca-Cola plant. Enter through the rear door. Be

there

by noon today and come alone or you’ll never see her again.”

Desperately trying to buy more time to think, Mulder

repeated, “I want to speak to her or no deal.”

A barely audible chuckle echoed in his ears. “So you do

have the box. You speak to her when I see the box and not

before.”

Click.

The phone went dead in his hands. His knuckles had turned

white from the death grip he had on the receiver and it

took a moment for him to tell his frozen fingers to release

the handset and return it to its cradle. He half fell, half

climbed back on the bed and lay down on his side,

exhausted. He willed his now pounding head to think, going

over his options and deciding he didn’t have many. He

didn’t dare risk calling the local field office or Don

Anderson for backup. The caller had said to come alone and

that was what he intended to do.

The man had sounded educated and desperate and Mulder knew

that desperate men made mistakes. The only half-baked plan

he could come up with was that he would pretend he had the

box somewhere else and lure the man away from Scully. If he

took his service revolver, the man might miss the one

strapped to his ankle and that might give him the chance he

needed. It would be better if he had the box to negotiate

with but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t remember

what had happened to it.

Sighing in frustration, he pushed his concern for Scully

and the pain away. Maybe if he went over their movements

since arriving in Norfolk – at least those he could

remember, it might jog his memory. He mentally began

ticking off places in his mind and something occurred to

him. The caller knew he’d had the box and thought he still

had it. So that meant the man was someone who had seen him

sign for the box at the park.

He rolled over onto his back and looked at the ceiling,

massaging his aching temples. The pieces were starting to

fit together and he now realized that the box was why he’d

been run off the road. What he didn’t know was what was so

special about the music box that someone would risk

kidnapping a federal agent for? And if, as he suspected,

the box was connected in some way to the strange deaths,

why would anyone want it?

His thoughts kept going round and round in circles,

tumbling over one another, making the headache that had

been building flare with an intensity that made him gasp.

He was forced to ask for some Tylenol. If he was going to

break out of the hospital, and he was, he had to have

something to help

ease the throbbing in his head and allow him to think.

The nurse frowned when she saw his pale color and frowned

again when she took his pulse and blood pressure. She

replaced his covers, fluffed his pillows and handed him two

Tylenol telling him he had to rest more. He flashed her his

most charming, ‘Of course, I’ll rest’ smile and she made

the appropriate notes in his chart and left.

While he waited for the tablets to work, he checked the

time and knew he had just over three hours to get to that

warehouse, with or without the music box. It never occurred

to him that his body might not cooperate. He had to get to

Scully and that was that. He was trying to figure out how

he could get some clothes and his ankle gun from the motel

when there was a tap on his door.

He slowly turned his head and saw the smiling face of the

reporter. Then a thought flashed through his mind. The man

had been at Stella’s flat. And at the park. And had

probably seen him sign for the music box. And could have

followed him and run him off the road before conveniently

‘rescuing’ him. The fact that he’d hung around the hospital

for the last few days only made him appear more suspicious.

Although his voice didn’t sound like the cultured baritone

Mulder had heard, the reporter could have disguised his

voice.

Mulder didn’t allow any of these thoughts to show on his

face as he waited for the man to sit in the chair beside

the bed.

Scully’s chair.

Thinking of her only made the ache in his heart intensify

so he forced his mind to concentrate on the reporter. He

knew from his attempt to get out of bed a short time ago

that he didn’t have the strength to do what he wanted to do

– which was grab the man by the scruff of his neck and

squeeze until he told him where Scully was. So he waited.

The journalist seemed pleased to find the patient alone

and gave a satisfied smiled as he sat down, placing his

heavy coat beside the chair. He failed to notice that

Mulder didn’t return his smile.

“Remember me, Steve Denton?”

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, he pulled his

notepad and pencil from his jacket pocket and flipped to a

clean page. “Nice to see you looking better, Agent Mulder.

How are you feeling?”

Mulder ignored the question and demanded, “Why did you

come?”

Surprised at the obviously unfriendly tone from a man

whose life he had saved, Steve stammered, “I was h-hoping

to interview you. You know… a-about the accident and your

investigation. I’ve been by a few times but that partner of

yours is like a bull terrier and wouldn’t let me near you.”

He smiled again to take the sting out of his words, not

wanting to upset the star of his upcoming article.

“Where is she?” The words were crisp and to the point and

Mulder’s eyes never left the man’s face.

The reporter shrugged and met his gaze unwaveringly. “Your

partner? I haven’t seen her.” Again he flashed that

seemingly genuine smile and said, “If I could just have a

few words with you, I’d be happy to go look for her?”

Mulder hesitated. He detected no trace of deceit in the

man’s voice or manner. He decided to see what reaction he

got to the truth. “She’s missing.”

The other man’s jaw dropped open and his eyes widened in

concern. “Really? What happened?”

“That’s what I was hoping you’d tell me.”

Steve couldn’t have faked his astonishment. “M-me?

W-what makes you think I know anything about it?”

Mulder was beginning to think he’d misjudged the man but

wasn’t prepared to let up yet. “Because you called me ten

minutes ago.”

The look of utter incredulity on the reporter’s face did

more to convince Mulder that he was telling the truth than

the words he spoke. “Wasn’t me, I s-swear. I came straight

from room 511 where I interviewed Mrs. Stowe. She turns 100

tomorrow. You can ch-check if you want. Her daughter and

three grandchildren were in the room with me.”

Frustrated and disappointed that the man really didn’t

know anything about Scully’s disappearance, he said, “Then

tell me what you do know.”

“W-what do you want to know?”

“Why were you following me?”

Steve didn’t even bother to deny it or ask how Mulder

knew. “I-I wasn’t following you – at least, not at first.

I listen to the police and ambulance calls on my scanner

and when I heard about another unusual death, I went to the

Ocean View apartments. When I saw you again at Seashore

State Park, I decided to follow you, hoping you

might give me an interview. I lost you when you hit town

but after a few quick phone calls, I found out where you

were staying and I was on my way there when I saw your

smashed car on the side of the road.” He shrugged as if to

say, ‘the rest is history.’

“Did you see anyone else?” asked Mulder.

“No. Like I told the police, I did see some taillights in

the distance but I couldn’t tell what kind of car it was.”

“You said ‘another unusual death’ when you heard of the

one at the Ocean View apartments. What do you know about

any other unusual deaths?”

The other man hesitated, trying to decide how much he

wanted to give away before he got the exclusive he was

after and that he felt he deserved. “There were two similar

deaths about five years ago.”

He glanced up at Mulder who stared back, neither

confirming nor denying he knew anything about them.

Steve licked his lips nervously and pressed on. “I-I can

give you some details you won’t find in any reports, Agent

M-Mulder, but in return I want your word that you will give

me an exclusive.”

Mulder thought about it for less than two seconds and gave a

mental shrug.

“Deal. Now what do you know?”

Steve leaned forward and lowered his voice as if he was

afraid someone would overhear him and said,

“Well, according to local legend, deaths like those are

caused by a curse placed on a music box by an old gypsy in

the late 1800’s.”

When Mulder didn’t even blink at this revelation, the

reporter inquired, “You don’t seem very surprised?”

“Someone’s already beaten you to the punch. What I want

to know is why it’s considered cursed.”

“It’s quite a long story.”

“I have time.”

“Okay. According to my old granny, the music box was

given to the gypsy’s granddaughter when she married Jacob,

the son of a local landowner, a man by the name of Lucas

Parker, who is Mrs.Benson’s great-grandfather, by the way.

From what I’ve been able to find out from old newspapers,

diaries and such, Parker was a tough, unscrupulous rancher

who was a law unto himself. He initially forbade the

wedding

until he found out she came with a sizeable dowry that

would save him from financial ruin. Then he changed his

mind and fast.”

Anxious about Scully and impatient to get to the point,

Mulder interrupted, “What has that got to do with the

curse?”

The reporter shot him an annoyed glance. “I’m coming to

that. Just listen, will you? You have to have the

background in order to understand how the stories of a

curse came into being. Okay?”

Forcing himself to be patient, Mulder nodded and the other

man continued, his stammer less evident now that he was on

to a subject he was obviously comfortable with.

“Legend has it that the old gypsy was afraid that Lucas

Parker would use the dowry to pay off his debts and then

try to get rid of his son’s wife. Which was exactly what he

tried to do. Now this is where it gets interesting. Lucas

Parker was found dead the next day with the music box in

his hands.” He smiled triumphantly. “And that’s when the

rumors started about the curse.”

At Mulder’s questioning look, he explained, “Lucas Parker

was only 48 years, fit as a fiddle and ornery as they come.

Hadn’t been sick a day in his life. Of course, there

weren’t

any autopsies done in those days but the entry in the

church registry just states he died of a hard heart. And

Lucas wasn’t the only one to die that way.”

“Go on,” said Mulder, mentally adding up the bodies he had

attributed to the curse so far and wondering how many more

there were.

“Harry Benson died the same way two years ago. That’s what

got me interested because the Benson’s are big news in this

town. I found out that he died the same way as those two

ex-

con’s five years ago. I know because his business partner

told me he tried to revive Benson but his heart was so hard

it had been impossible to administer CPR. I got to

wondering what a successful businessman and two ex-cons had

in common. I did some research and found mention of nine

other deaths over the last eighty years, mostly employees

of the Parkers. The box was found in the possession of each

and every one when they died. I thought it was too much of

a coincidence so I wanted to write a feature on the history

of the box and the rumors of a curse surrounding it but

Mrs. Benson threatened to sue me if I did. She was a

Parker before she married Henry Benson, you know. My guess

is that she didn’t want the fact that her dear devoted

husband was having an affair with his secretary to come

out.”

He shrugged in a ‘my hands were tied’ gesture and Mulder

asked, “So why would anyone want the box if it causes the

death of the person who has it?”

Steve flicked back through his notes until he came to the

page he was looking for. “That’s easy,” he said. “Each

time

the box went missing, the family lost heavily on the stock

exchange and recovered their losses when the box was

returned. That’s how the rumor started that the box was

connected to the family fortune as well as the strange

deaths.”

Mulder had rolled on his side facing the journalist, his

headache forgotten as he listened intently, the pieces

falling neatly into place. “Do you believe that?”

The reporter looked up and nodded. “Yes, I think I do.

Mainly because most of the unusual deaths over the last

eighty years were employees of the Parkers. They were

people privy to the goings on in the house and must have

seen something that made them want the box. They were

prepared to risk the curse to obtain the fortune.”

Mulder nodded and decided to trust the other man. He told

him about the phone call and the proposed exchange. “Can

you think of anyone who might have taken my partner?”

Steve thought about it for a moment and then shook his

head, “No, I’m sorry.”

“I don’t suppose you know where the music box is now?”

Mulder asked, not expecting a positive response to this

question either.

“Why at Old Dominion University, of course,” came the

bewildered reply. “Where you left it.”

Mulder leaned up on one elbow, his heart hammering in his

chest, his voice abrupt as he demanded, “What do you mean

‘Where I left it?'”

“I-I told you I followed you from the State Park. You

headed back to town and suddenly veered off and took the

road to the University. You went into the linguistics

department with the box and returned without it. You got

back in your car and then I lost you, like I said before.”

“Did anyone else follow me?”

“N-no, just me.”

“Can you take me to the University?”

Steve looked at Mulder’s pale face and asked, “Now?”

Mulder didn’t even bother to answer. He pushed himself

slowly into a sitting position and eyed Steve’s coat.

“Have you ever escaped from a hospital before?”

***********************************************************

22nd Street Warehouse

Corner 22nd and Granby Streets

March 16, 2003 11:55 a.m.

Mulder opened his eyes as the car came to a stop and

looked into the concerned face of Steve Denton.

“Hey, a-are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

But of course, he wasn’t. He was worried sick about Scully

and he felt like shit. The adrenaline that had fueled his

escape from the hospital had disappeared like water down a

drain after he’d collected his clothes, ankle holster and

spare gun from the motel and retrieved the box and

translation from the obliging Linguistic professor’s

secretary. Now he was moving on sheer willpower helped by

the Tylenol and two cups of coffee they had bought at the

University cafeteria.

He picked up the music box that sat on the seat between

them and turned to his new friend.

“Thanks, Steve. I have just one more favor to ask.”

***********************************************************

22nd Street Warehouse

Corner 22nd and Granby Streets

March 16, 2003 11:55 a.m.

Mulder stepped cautiously through the back door,

sidestepped to the right and flattened himself against the

rear of the warehouse.

Sunlight filtered through the pair of dirty skylights set

in the high ceiling, casting odd shadows on the objects

below. He waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the

gloom and then slipped behind the first row of containers

that were piled six high and ran the length and width of

the building with three-foot aisles in between.

The only sound was the distant drone of traffic and his

own labored breathing as he moved as silently as he could.

He paused at the beginning of each new row, before crossing

the open space to the next row.

He had gone about half way down the building when he came

upon a cleared area about fifteen feet by twelve feet. The

containers had been moved and placed across the aisles on

each side, effectively making a small room and blocking him

from moving anywhere but forward.

He poked his head around the corner and the knot in his

stomach tightened when he saw Scully sitting in a wooden

chair, the light from the skylight above shining directly

on her like a spotlight on the lead actor in a play. Her

hands were tied behind her back and her feet were fastened

to the legs of the chair. A cloth was stuffed into her

mouth and she was staring straight ahead, towards his left,

her head held high.

Resisting the overpowering urge to go straight to her, he

held back, trying to see where her kidnapper might be

concealed. There was the smell of cigarette smoke in the

air but he couldn’t see the telltale glow of a cigarette

butt.

His eyes probed every nook and cranny but he didn’t detect

any movement. After every pass, his eyes were drawn back to

the pale figure, sitting ramrod straight in the chair.

Scully must have heard something because her head jerked

to her right and looked towards the shadows on the side

opposite to where he was standing.

Before he could react, a strong flashlight shone directly

at him, and he quickly stepped back out of its beam but he

wasn’t quick enough.

The cultured voice that had contacted him in the hospital

spoke from behind the light.

“Step forward, Agent Mulder, and raise your hands or I’ll

be forced to shoot your lovely partner.”

It bothered Mulder that he detected a desperate tremor

again. If anything, the man sounded even more desperate

than the last time they’d spoken.

Deciding there was no point in putting off the

confrontation, Mulder took a step forward. This was what he

had come for after all.

The light immediately zeroed in on his face and he raised

both hands in the air, his left angled to shield his eyes,

his right holding his gun. The blinding light made him gasp

and his vision began to fade. He stumbled a few more steps

before righting himself.

He took another step but froze when the voice commanded,

“Drop the gun. NOW.”

Mulder again heard the nervous edge to the voice that

indicated the man was as tense as a coiled spring and might

go off at the slightest provocation.

He shrugged as if disarming himself was no big deal and

carefully bent down and placed the gun at his feet, still

shielding his eyes from the bright light with his left hand.

“Kick it over here,” was the next command.

Mulder obeyed and managed to move another two steps in

Scully’s direction as he did so. By his calculation, he was

somewhere to Scully’s left and only a few feet from the man

who still stood in the shadow of the containers.

He swallowed against the dryness in his throat and tensed

his body, ready to move the moment there was an opening.

The adrenaline flowed like an electrical charge through

his body.

The flashlight was turned off and Mulder sighed with

relief as he dropped his left hand. When the bright dots

faded from his vision, he noticed with satisfaction that he

was almost beside Scully.

He chanced a look at Scully and she gave him an apologetic

shrug, her blue

eyes telling him that she loved him but the arch of one

brow saying he’d better have come with backup. He gave a

slight nod, although that was not strictly true. He

figured he had a minute before Steve called the cavalry and

about five before they broke down the door.

A dark-haired, well-dressed man in his late thirties, of

average height and better than average looks, stepped out of

the shadows. He wore surgical gloves on both hands and

the hand holding the gun was pointed unwaveringly at Scully.

“Give me the box.”

When Mulder hesitated, the gun jerked impatiently at

Scully, the implication unmistakable.

Mulder took another two small steps forward but stopped

when the gun swung in his direction.

“That’s far enough,” the man warned. “Show me the box.”

Casually Mulder reached into his jacket pocket but froze

when the man cocked the gun and said, “No tricks, Agent

Mulder. Two fingers only.”

Mulder gingerly pulled the box from his pocket and held it

up for inspection.

“Take it and go,” Mulder said, extending the box towards

the man.

“You know I can’t leave any witnesses, don’t you?” came

the calm reply.

Using that poker face he was so proud of, Mulder said,

“You don’t really think I came alone do you? This place is

surrounded. Give up now before any one gets hurt.”

A manic grin made the handsome face appear grotesque in

the dimly lit warehouse. “I’m not worried. The rear

door locked automatically when you entered and I have a

way out that

won’t be found by your men until I’m long gone. And since

neither of you will be around to identify me…” He trailed

off, his meaning clear.

Stalling for time, Mulder asked, “Since I’m going to die

for this music box,” he lifted the box still in his hand,

“why is it so important?”

The man smiled a chilling condescending smile and

considered the question. “I suppose it won’t hurt to tell

you. I have been privileged to hold that box and through

it, make a fortune for the Bensons and build a very

successful brokerage business for myself. You might find

this

hard to believe, but holding that box clears my head and I

know what the market is going to do. Now that the box is no

longer available to me, my business is on the brink of

collapse. I won’t throw away it all away because that bitch

…”

He broke off at the sound of sirens in the distance and

shrugged. “I really am sorry.”

Scully, convinced that backup would materialize at any

moment, had been content to let Mulder handle things but

not when she saw the man was about to pull the trigger. She

pulled frantically at the ropes binding her hands but only

succeeded in almost tipping over. The man, seeing movement

out of the corner of his eye, turned the gun in that

direction and squeezed the trigger as Mulder launched

himself at the man, shielding his partner with his body.

Scully watched in horror as Mulder jerked with the force

of the impact. He dropped heavily to the floor and lay

still, the box falling from his limp hands.

The man picked up the box and carefully examined it to

make sure it hadn’t been damaged. He opened it and scowled

as the entwined lovers sprung up and slowly began their

slow circular dance. He stilled the moving figures with his

gloved finger and snapped the lid shut with a bang.

The sirens stopped abruptly and there was the sound of

pounding on the rear door.

The man looked to the rear of the warehouse and back to

Scully who hadn’t taken her eyes off her fallen partner,

her eyes refusing to believe what they’d seen.

Shrugging, he raised the gun but before he could pull the

trigger, his face lost all its color and he gasped for

breath. The box and gun fell from his trembling hands as he

clutched his chest, his face contorted in agony as he

cried, “No…no…I’m wearing gloves…” He dropped to his

knees and fell face first onto the concrete floor, his body

convulsing.

He was already dead when Detective Allender and two men

slipped

silently into the open area, guns drawn. Allender’s

experienced eyes took in the scene in an instant and he

sent one of his men to get the paramedics and the other to

finish searching the warehouse. He holstered his gun and

knelt beside Scully, worried that she hadn’t looked at him

or acknowledged his presence. He carefully removed the

sodden cloth from her mouth and cut the ropes.

Scully was oblivious to everything but the unmoving body

of her partner. She didn’t feel the pain as the blood

rushed back into her hands and feet when the ropes were

cut, didn’t feel the strong arms of the big detective

support her when her legs refused to hold her weight

and she certainly didn’t hear his plea for her to wait

for the paramedics. She stumbled towards Mulder and felt as

if she were wading through molasses. It seemed like hours

before she was kneeling beside him but it was only seconds

from the time she’d been freed.

She gently rolled him on his back and gathered him in her

arms, pulling his head onto her lap. She instantly felt for

a pulse but her fingers, numb and swollen from being

restrained behind her back for hours, couldn’t feel

anything.

Someone tried to take him from her arms but she resisted,

holding him in a fierce embrace. Then she began to shiver

and the pins and needles sensation in her hands and feet

finally registered in her brain. Her vision blurred and

through the haze, she felt herself being lifted up and then

the mist descended and swallowed her.

***********************************************************

Epilogue

Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

Norfolk, Virginia

March 17, 2003 3:55 p.m.

Scully sat listening to the steady beat of the heart

monitor, wondering how much more of this emotional roller

coaster ride she could take.

The hand in hers twitched. She looked down as Mulder’s

eyes fluttered and watched as one hazel eye cracked open,

squinting a little in the bright light of day.

He gave her a lopsided grin but from the confused look on

his face, he was having trouble remembering what had

happened or how he’d ended up in the hospital again.

Sudden tears filled her eyes as his gaze met hers and

Scully had to look away as a single tear slipped past her

defenses. The thought that she might never have seen that

grin or look into those familiar eyes again was more than

she could bear to think about.

Of course, Mulder noticed and his brow furrowed in

concern. He reached up and wiped the tear away.

“What is it?” he asked, managing a raspy voice from an

exceptionally dry throat.

She ignored his question and leaned forward, spooning some

ice chips into his mouth.

“Better?”

He nodded, knowing that his voice wouldn’t cooperate until

the ice melted and lubricated his parched throat.

Mulder ran a quick inventory and decided he wasn’t in too

bad a shape. He had a slight headache but nothing

unmanageable. He did feel washed out and tired but nothing

to cause Scully’s legendary veneer to crack and cause her

to cry. The sight of that lone tear had felt like a knife

stabbing at his heart.

He swallowed and asked, “Is there something you’re not

telling me? Are you all right?”

She looked into his concerned hazel eyes and took a deep,

shaky breath, trying to decide whether to kiss him or yell

at him for scaring her so badly. She hadn’t let him out of

her sight since she’d woken up and found him very much

alive with nothing more than another bruise on his right

temple to match the fading one on his left. Her fear that

this new injury might have caused damage to his already

traumatized brain had thankfully been eliminated by the

numerous tests she’d insisted on running.

She took his hand in hers and lifted it to her mouth,

kissing it lightly and shaking her head. “No. Everything’s

fine now. How do you feel?”

He let the deflection go for the moment and grumbled, “How

did I get here this time?”

“What’s the last thing you remember, Mulder?”

His brows drew together and he closed his eyes, trying to

concentrate. Then the memories came flooding back in a

rush. His eyes opened wide as he remembered the gun going

off and the impact of the bullet hitting his chest. He

raised the hand not held possessively by Scully and felt

his chest. No pain, no bandages.

“I don’t understand it, Scully. I felt the bullet hit me

here.” He indicated the center of his chest.

Then he remembered that the man had been about to kill

both of them. He looked at her sharply, noticing her pale

face and haunted expression. He gripped her hand tightly in

his. “What happened? Are you all right? Did he hurt

you?”

She shook her head. “Detective Allender arrived with

backup

and I’m fine, thanks to your lousy imitation of superman.”

At his raised eyebrow, she elaborated, “Don’t you

remember? You jumped in front of a speeding bullet aimed

at

me.”

He nodded, a shiver running through his body as he

recalled the split second of panic he felt when he saw the

gun pointed at his partner. Nothing had mattered to him at

that moment but getting between her and the gun.

“Mulder, you have to promise to stop risking your life to

save mine.” Scully felt tears threaten again but blinked

them away.

He saw the anguish she must have felt reflected in her

eyes but knew he couldn’t make that promise. He’d do it

again in a heartbeat if her life was threatened. “No can

do, Scully.”

He tried to lighten the decidedly morbid atmosphere.

“Besides, I was trying to disarm the guy, not get killed.”

“My hero,” she breathed as she leaned over and gently

kissed him, brushing her lips across his. He responded but

she pulled away before he could deepen the kiss and he

whimpered at the loss of contact.

“C’mon, Scully, give a guy a break. Don’t I get more …” He

broke off when he saw a shudder pass through her small

frame and the haunted look in her eyes.

“When I thought I saw that bullet hit you, I was sure you

were …” She couldn’t, wouldn’t say the word. Her chin

quivered, forcing her to turn away from him.

He reached out and turned her face back to his. “It did

hit me, Scully.”

She shook her head. “As near as we can figure, that music

box saved your life. The bullet must have ricocheted …”

“No. I tell you I felt the impact.”

“Mulder, there’s not a mark on your chest let alone a

bullet wound.”

Mulder chewed his bottom lip, trying to reconcile what she

was telling him with what he knew he felt. “What happened

to the guy at the warehouse? Who was he?”

“Julia Winters’ husband. He had the box in his hand when he

clutched his chest and fell to the floor. He died at the

scene, his heart hardened in the same way as the others.”

She was a bit vague on the details because she honestly

couldn’t remember much after she’d seen Mulder fall. Her

medical training told her that she’d been in shock but

she’d decided not to dwell on it too much. The man was

dead and Mulder was alive. She didn’t want to look any

further than that at the moment.

Mulder looked up sharply at this revelation but said

nothing.

“It all fits, Scully. That music box is cursed but not in

the way I first thought. That’s why I’m not dead.”

She arched an eyebrow at him and he loved it. Some color

had come back into her face and her eyes were less haunted

now that they were on familiar ground, finalizing a case.

“I don’t understand. According to your theory, the curse

*caused* deaths, not *saved* lives.”

Mulder smiled enigmatically. “It makes sense when you know

what the curse says. I had the carvings on the music box

translated by a linguistic professor at Old Dominion

University. That’s where I’d left it before I was run off

the road and that’s why it wasn’t in the car.”

Scully nodded and gestured for him to continue.

He closed his eyes, his eidetic memory providing a perfect

recall of the translation that he’d read the day before.

“Good fortune to those who hold this box but a curse upon

those who use it to betray another for their heart is made

of stone. Only the pure of heart prepared to give their

life for another shall receive a gift more valuable than

any fortune.”

Scully sounded a little skeptical. “And you think the

reference to the heart made of stone explains those

deaths?” Even as she said the words, she knew that was

exactly what he meant.

He nodded enthusiastically. “Work with me here, Scully.

Sam betrayed Frank and took the box to give to his

sister so he died. Stella betrayed Frank so she died.”

“Wait a minute. What makes you say that?”

“The wine sitting in the melted ice. I think you’ll find

she was having a fling with her boss. He seemed a bit too

interested in her whereabouts when she didn’t show for

work.”

“So who did Frank betray?”

“Take your pick. Mrs. Bensen when he took the box from the

safe or Winters who paid him to steal the box. Maybe Frank

demanded more money.” He shrugged. “And Winters betrayed

his wife and her grandmother’s trust so he died. If you go

back even further, Mrs. Benson’s husband was having an

affair so he died and the deaths five years ago are just

more of the same.”

He looked at her triumphantly, obviously pleased with

himself.

Scully thought about it for a moment, wondering if she

should tell him that the tests results she’d been waiting

on hadn’t shown anything but decided to let him read that

in the reports. He would only claim it gave credence to his

latest outlandish theory. Then again… maybe it wasn’t so

outlandish. There had been no more deaths and the box had

been returned to a grateful Mrs. Benson. However, there was

one point she wanted explained. “Not that I’m complaining,

but how does that explain why you aren’t dead if you

handled the box and betrayed Winters?”

He blushed and looked away. “Because I was pure of heart,

I guess.”

He shrugged, still not able to face her. “But I think the

box got it wrong, Scully. My life was spared because I gave

my heart for you. In return, it gave me what some people

consider a greater gift than fortune – my life, without

knowing that *you* are my life. If I had lived and not you,

well – It wouldn’t have been much of a gift.”

Scully squeezed his hand, applying gentle but insistent

pressure until he turned haunted eyes back to her.

“No, Mulder, the box got it right.”

THE END

Hope you liked it. Please take a moment to send feedback to

judie@webaxs.net

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