Artwork by Xscout
Link to VS10 Home
TITLE: The Romany Curse
AUTHOR: Judie Murphy
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 email@example.com
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.
The Romany Curse
by Judie Murphy
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
“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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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,
March 12, 2003 1:45 p.m.
“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.
The agents held up their IDs for her inspection.
“Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI, Mrs. Styles. We’d
appreciate a moment of your time.”
“I’d rather not discuss this in the hallway. May we come
“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
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,
“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
“Since Sam barely reached his Papa’s knee. About 15 years,
“Were you home the morning his mother called for an
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.”
“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
“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
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.
“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
She knew from his surprised grin that it was what he had
needed. Just as well the car had dark-tinted windows, she
“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
the fence and he also died. That’s too many coincidences
“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
“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
“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.”
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
They produced their IDs and Mulder gave their names.
“We’d like to speak to Mrs. Benson please.”
“Is she expecting you?”
“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
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
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.
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
“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
“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
“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
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
“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
“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
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
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
“Now, you really will have to excuse me, Agents. I need to
rest. I’ll have the maid show you out.” She leaned
and rang a silver bell that was sitting on the small table
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
“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
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.”
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
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
“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
“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
Scully nodded. “I’ll get on it as soon as we get back to
station but I still think the tests I have pending will
“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.
a person fitting his description. Coincidence? Not
“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
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
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?”
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
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 …”
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.”
Ocean View Apartments # 57,
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
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
when an opening allowed him to surge to the front and he
slammed into Scully so hard that she fell against the
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
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
“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.
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
“Sam Allender, Norfolk PD.”
Both agents returned the handshake and introduced
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“Don’t bother. She’s dead too. Scully’s doing the autopsy
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
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
on Scully’s voice mail and dropped his phone back into his
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.
Norfolk City Morgue
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
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
With just a little more patience, the box would be his at
Virginia Beach Boulevard
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,
“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
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
“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
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
March 13, 2003 9:56 p.m.
“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
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
“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.
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
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
The man, gave her a look which said without words, ‘Sure
you are. Prove
Impatiently, Scully pulled out her ID and held it up for
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
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
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
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?”
“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
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
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
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
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
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
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
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
He squinted hard and gradually both Scullys converged
into one. This improvement in his sight went unnoticed,
because he was really ‘seeing’ her for the first time in
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.
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
At her questioning look, he grinned boyishly. “Yes, I see
only one of you now so you can safely leave me and get some
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 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
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
“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.
“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.”
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
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.
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
“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
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
He was already dead when Detective Allender and two men
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
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.
Sentara Norfolk General Hospital
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.
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
She shook her head. “Detective Allender arrived with
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
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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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
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,
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.”
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