The Y Folders

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Title: The Y Folders

Author: Vickie Moseley (story concept with Susan Proto)

Summary: A television producer disappears under mysterious circumstances. Must be a Y Folder.

Written for Virtual Season 11

Category: MSR, H

Rating: PG

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Any characters who resemble real people are purely coincidental (I saw that on Comedy Central).

Archive: Two weeks exclusive on VS 11, then anywhere.

Dedicated to my ET, who helped me come up with this crazed idea. If it didn’t work out, it sure wasn’t from the concept.

Additional note: This is a work of fiction and an attempt at humor. It is not a social commentary on any events or situations that have taken place in the last few years. Please take this episode of the Virtual Season in the spirit in which it is offered: with love and affection. And if I haven’t scared you off by now, on with the show . . .

 

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Teaser

Emerald Bay State Park

California

April 2, 2004

The location was perfect, none better could be found. Pine trees, soaring to the clouds sixty to seventy feet in the sky looked like the spires of some green and black cathedral. The lake, so blue it looked artificially colored, reflected the sky and the snow peaked mountains on all sides. When the sunset behind those mountains, it was glorious. Of all the places he’d been to in the last three days, this was perfection. It was exactly what he wanted. His boyish good looks, dark flowing hair, dimpled chin and deep chocolate eyes took on a radiance of someone who had found his heart’s desire, all in one little plot of mountaintop.

Bill Burger prided himself on knowing what he wanted and getting it, at least most of the time. He had gone from rags to riches, a real god honest Horatio Alger story, or at least that’s what that bullshit artist at Entertainment Weekly had dubbed him. Bill had meant to ask what the asshole had meant by that statement, but he never got the time. It seemed his time just wasn’t his own anymore. Hell, even this, a location search, was a cover for what he really intended — a few hours on the slopes at nearby Tahoe, hot-dogging for all the babes in their fur and down jackets. Skiing, that had been his life until he found fame and fortune in LaLa Land. He’d go back to that passion in a heartbeat, if he could pull down 2 million bucks a year, as he was currently doing. Too bad skiing just didn’t make the big money that television provided.

It was as big a surprise to him as it was to the network jerks when the first pilot he pitched captured a consistent top twenty spot in the Nielsens after two short years on the air. It had become the networks anchor for the weekend schedule and had managed to add several dozen independent stations as affiliates just to get the feed.

All that from the simple retelling of old Native American ghost stories and UFO conspiracy tidbits he’d copped from the Fortean Times website. Not for the first time he smiled to himself over the utter gullibility of the American viewing public. Was this a great country or what?

It was a good show, but in the middle of it’s seventh year it was starting to show some strain. The lead actor started making noises about his ‘on hold’ movie career and the leading lady was whining about money all the time. Then the competition for their nearly uncontested prime Saturday night time slot heated up with some rip off of an old radio game show. It had been a lousy year and the show needed a shot in the arm desperately. Hell, he had to be honest with himself, he needed the show to have a shot in the arm. All the other pilots he’d pitched to the network’s new programming honcho had ended up in the circular file. When this show’s run was over, he was back to slopes, but not in a good way–he’d be penniless.

Burger sighed and walked off a piece of land right near the base of the pine trees. There was even enough room for the flood lights, the camera dolleys, the trailers — well, the two actors trailers, everyone else would have to make due at the inn ten miles down the road. He could set up the camera dolleys there, near the trees.

The lights, if they shot at night . . . what was he thinking, they always shot at night! Maybe it should be raining. Was there enough room for the hoses for a light mist?

He chuckled as he thought about the fuss the female lead would put up when she found out they’d be shooting another episode in the rain. Screw her, hell, screw both of them. They were getting paid enough. Too much, if the money guys from the network were to be believed. Neither one of the leads had been more than beer and toilet paper commercial actors before they’d started this series. If the series went under, Bill was pretty sure that was where they’d both end up, too. “Star power, my ass,” he muttered to the trees as he mentally did the calculations to place the hoses and the water trucks. All that equipment was going to tear the hell out of this little campsite, but who really gave a rat’s ass? The production company was paying the state of California prime rent for this property. More than enough to replant a few trees and toss some grass seed on the ground. Good thing the network and Governor ‘Arnold’ were on such good terms.

He stood near the trees and watched as the sun sank below the ridge of the mountain. Picturesque, that was it. Just like a postcard. The powder on those mountains would only be good for another couple of weeks before the run off ruined the runs. Damn spring and summer. Who needed ’em?

He was so deep in thought he didn’t hear the hum in the air. It wasn’t until the brilliant white light hit him that he looked up.

What the hell? Where the hell was that light coming from? It was huge! He blinked his eyes shut to keep his retinas from being burned to a crisp. The hum was louder now and the wind picked up. The sun was below the horizon but it was bright as day around him, no — much brighter than day. The ground seemed to be vibrating. Holy shit, what was that sound?

Something hit him in the back of his neck and he swatted at it. Suddenly, the ground was no longer just vibrating, it was moving. No, he was moving. He was sinking to the ground, falling. He tried to move his arms, but they hung lifeless at his sides. He tried to pry his eyes open, but the blinding light kept them sealed shut. He tried to open his mouth but it was as if his lips were stuck, he couldn’t even scream.

His last thought, as darkness overtook him, was to reflect on what a friggin’ wonderful visual this all would have made for the season finale.

The Y Folders

by Vickie Moseley and Susan Proto

Act I

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Scully, would I kid about this? It’s almost too good to be true! But I heard it from Henderson in Handwriting. It all came down late yesterday.”

Scully blew a breath that lifted her bangs from her forehead and neatly placed them to the side of her face, a trick that never failed to make Mulder immediately five degrees warmer. “I just . . . I mean after all the grief he caused . . .”

“I know. Who would have thought that Alvin Kersh, Pain the In Ass Extraordinaire, has been playing footsie with the mob!” Mulder crowed, and tossed a sunflower seed into the air to catch it on his tongue.

“This all came out in Michelin’s trial?” Scully asked, as she closed the file drawer and moved over to perch on the edge of Mulder’s desk. She patently ignored her partner’s keenly leering gaze and his hand on her knee. He did it just to see her reaction and she’d discovered that reacting only made him do it more, something she didn’t find acceptable in the workplace.

“Best part is the end, Scully. Alvin is officially ‘terminated’. Out on his ass, no chance of reinstatement.” He looked wistfully at her. “And here I thought they came up with that punishment just for the likes of little old me.”

“Mulder, this is like . . . it’s like winning the Pick Four on the lottery!”

“My thoughts exactly. Which is why I thought we’d sneak out a little early tonight, change into some glad rags and hit that really nice place up Rockville Pike. The one that serves fresh lobster,” he said with a grin.

She looked at him, letting him think she was about to shoot him down. But the twinkle in her eyes gave her away. “You’re on,” she said in a rush. “And what is this ‘glad rags’? You’ve been watching ‘I love the 80s’ behind my back again?”

“Hey, you’re the one who had to go shopping with your mom. Don’t blame me if I got bored and had to entertain myself,” he grinned. She rewarded his boyish enthusiasm by ruffling his hair and then combing it straight with her fingers. Before he could take their playfulness too far, she hopped off the desk and wandered over to her own. She had to suppress a smile when she heard Mulder start humming ‘Ding Dong the Witch is Dead.’ The phone interrupted his one-man performance.

“Mulder. Yes ma’am.” He winced and glanced down at his watch. He scowled and wrinkled his nose. “Ten minutes, your office. Yes ma’am, we’ll be there.” He hung up the phone with exaggerated care, obviously trying to control some deep-seated rage within. “Scully, when is Skinner due back from that Task Force he’s on?” he asked quietly.

“I talked with him yesterday afternoon, he needed something from an old casefile. It’s a serial killer, Mulder. You know how long they could be working this case. He could be in Florida a few more weeks. Why?”

“Because I’m pretty sure that strangling an Assistant Director of the FBI with her own phone cord is a capital offense, and the threat of lethal injection is the only thing stopping me from going upstairs and offing that bitch!” he seethed. At her confused look, he elaborated. “The bitch in question is Janna Cassidy. Ring any bells?”

Scully couldn’t help but wince, too. She remembered all too well sitting in front of Janna Cassidy and her Spanish Inquisition into the X Files some 6 years before. “So, I guess that was Assistant Director Cassidy on the phone.”

“With Skinner away on the Florida Task Force and Kersh out the door, I guess that leaves us without a ‘master’.”

“Hey, does that make us ‘ronin’?” Scully teased.

“It’s not funny,” he shot back. “Ever since she was instrumental on the panel investigating the events of the Dallas bombing years ago, that bitch has had it out for us. Now, apparently, we’re to report to her until Skinner is back.”

Scully’s eyes widened in shock. “Mulder, she wouldn’t try to shut us down . . .”

“I’m pretty sure we’re on firm ground again, Scully, but I would not put anything past that dragon lady. Geez, we get rid of one pain in the ass and another pops up! So much for cutting out early,” he said with a sigh.

“Did she say what it’s about?”

“Maybe the Bureau is throwing a ‘we got rid of Kersh’ party and we’re in charge of refreshments,” he offered sarcastically.

“Or, maybe she has a case,” she countered. “We’ve been doing paperwork since Skinner left last week. Maybe something has come up for us.”

“If it’s coming from Cassidy, I’m not too sure we want it,” Mulder said, no happier at the thought of a new case than at the thought of a chewing out. “Knowing her, it will be a real winner. And it’s for damn sure we won’t be going to Hawaii, again,” he snorted as he rolled down his shirtsleeves and pulled on his jacket.

“As long as it’s not Texas during tornado season, I’m fine with it,” she told him as she followed him out the door.

“Admit it, Scully. You thought that deputy was hot,” he teased as they waited for the elevator.

“I think Dexter might have caused some brain damage, Mulder. Maybe we should stop by the hospital on the way home and run a CT scan on you,” she deadpanned back. As the doors opened and they stepped inside the car she stared straight ahead but added, “besides, I wasn’t the one to go 3 rounds with Chicken of the Sea.”

“Ouch, Scully. That hurt,” he replied in mock petulance. Cassidy’s office was just across the hall from Skinner’s. Mulder and Scully were surprised to see Kim, Skinner’s administrative assistant at the desk outside her office. “It’s just till AD Skinner is back in DC,” she assured the two agents. “I’m filling in while Marilyn’s on maternity leave. AD Cassidy is waiting for you. Go right in,” she said with a wink.

“Is this a good or a bad thing?” Mulder asked as they walked past her desk.

“If I knew that, Agent Mulder, I’d start playing the lottery numbers. I did put through a call from the Director’s office about 20 minutes ago, if that helps”

“Is this floor too high up to jump out the window and make an escape?” Mulder whispered to Scully as she reached for the knob on Cassidy’s office door.

“If it’s that bad, we can resign and work at the Starbucks down on 20th and M,” Scully whispered back.

“Think she’ll give us a good recommendation?” was Mulder’s quick reply.

“I doubt that entirely,” Scully shot back.

Cassidy’s office was set up almost exactly like Skinner’s, even down to the desk blotter. Mulder nodded to the two chairs in front of the desk and Scully took one seat, he took the other.

“Agents. Thank you for coming up on such short notice,” Janna Cassidy said, looking exactly as she had at their last encounter, six years ago.

The memory of their argument that day, over whether Scully had torpedoed Mulder’s explanation of events in Antarctica was something neither partner wanted to revisit. Scully shot Mulder a glance and he gave her the ghost of a smile before turning on his ‘professional G-Man’ persona and giving his full attention to the Assistant Director.

“Is that a case, AD Cassidy?” Mulder asked, noting that she had a file folder open on her desk and kept sweeping her gaze over it.

“This isn’t just a case, Agent Mulder. This is an opportunity,” Cassidy intoned as she pushed a file folder across the desk in Mulder’s general direction. Mulder picked it up and skimmed the contents.

“This is a missing person’s case. And not even an old one. This man disappeared only,” he glanced quickly at his watch, “a little over 36 hours ago, according to this report.”

“Time is of the essence, Agent Mulder. Did you see who the missing person is?”

“William Andrew Burger, 426 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu, California,” Mulder read from the file.

“That name doesn’t ring any bells?” Cassidy asked, looking first at Mulder and then hopefully at Scully. “You don’t watch television on Saturday nights?”

Scully had the good grace to blush, but Mulder stormed a little at the inference. “Ma’am, if you check the records, most Saturday nights we’re either on a case or writing up a report for a case.”

“Or at the hospital recovering from a case,” Scully muttered and Mulder shot her a glare for her efforts.

“We don’t get a lot of time to watch network television.”

“If it ain’t the Knicks, the Yankees, or the Redskins, we don’t see it,” Scully mumbled.

Mulder glared at her again, and turned back to Cassidy. “Sorry, ma’am, the name doesn’t mean anything to us. Should it?”

Cassidy frowned slightly and shook her head. “Well, it should. But it doesn’t really matter. He’s the creator and executive producer of the hit show ‘The Y Folders’ on the SPAN network.”

Scully looked up. “SPAN is the newest challenger to the four major networks, isn’t it, ma’am?”

“Yes, Scully, glad to see one of you is up to date,” Cassidy smiled broadly at her. Mulder raised an eyebrow in a ‘so what?’ expression. “SPAN is hot on the heels of CBS, NBC, ABC and FOX and is picking up new affiliates every day. Mr. Burger’s show is largely responsible for their success.”

“So why are we getting this case, ma’am?” Mulder interrupted.

“This is obviously a missing person’s case.” A horrible thought suddenly cross his mind. “It isn’t because of that awful zombie movie, is it?” he blurted out.

Cassidy looked confused at his outburst but shook her head. “No, Agent Mulder. The reason I decided to give this file to your division is because of the nature of the disappearance. Read the file. This is not your simple missing person’s case. I expect you to treat this just as seriously as you would any other X file. A representative of the studio is flying out to speak with you this evening. He’ll be coming here, to the office. Tomorrow you can fly back with him to California and look at the scene. Be sure to follow the new procedures for air travel. Kim can help you make your arrangements. I want daily reports on this case, Agent Mulder. Give it your full attention until this man is found and returned to his studio safe and sound.”

“Ma’am, you said this isn’t a case, it’s an opportunity?” Scully interjected, partly to save her partner a further ass chewing.

“Yes, Agent Scully, that is exactly what it is. This is an opportunity to foster good will between the Bureau and a major television network. Believe me, with the recent high profile court case connecting a senior special agent and an assistant director in cahoots with organized crime, the FBI can use all the friends in the media we can get. SPAN is not only rivaling the major four, but its spin off, SPANews, is giving CNN and FOXnews a run for their money. Free positive press is priceless. Now, I suggest you get started on this case.”

Scully stood, Mulder started to say something but thought better of it and instead rose to join her at the door. Without another word, they departed the assistant director’s office.

At the elevator again, Mulder turned to Scully, rubbing his forehead. “When did you say Skinner was coming back from Florida and can how I get a strange, exotic illness that will last exactly the same length of time?”

“Look at it this way, Mulder. She gave us this case. We didn’t dream it up and send it through on a 302. It’s a win-win. If we find this Burger guy, the Bureau gets the good press and maybe we earn some much needed brownie points.”

“And what if he really was abducted, Scully? What kind of points will we be getting then?” he shot back. “I’ll tell you — not the good kind!”

“It’s a case, Mulder. A famous man has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.”

“And that makes this a federal case?” Mulder squeaked.

“Well, we do handle missing persons,” Scully reasoned.

“Scully, this bozo hasn’t been missing for two whole days yet! Chances are good he’s just tied one on and is holed up with some mammary enhanced young starlet going over ‘production notes’,” Mulder huffed.

“Cassidy is taking this seriously, Mulder. I assume the front office is, too. I think we should, as well.”

“Fine, we take it seriously. But what was that crap about new procedures for air travel? Don’t we just make our reservations on the internet, like always?”

They had finally reached their office and Mulder plopped down in his chair, propping his feet on the desk, waiting for Scully to answer.

“It’s a good thing I read those email memos that come to you from the Budget Department, Mulder,” she said with a sigh. She dug through the pile of papers on his desk, found the one she was looking for and handed it to him. “No more turn arounds, they’re costing the Bureau too much money. We have to have all travel arrangements approved through Budget. Effective April 1.”

“I thought it was an April Fools joke,” he said, taking the paper and shoving it back in the pile. “This is full of crap, Scully. Our ‘Kersh is gone’ par-tay is on indefinite hold, we’re stuck here waiting for some Max Federman –”

“His name was Wayne,” Scully interjected patiently.

“OK, ‘Wayne’ Federman type to get in the way of our investigation and tomorrow we’re stuck flying to California . . .”

Scully had a decidedly ‘shit eating grin’ on her face which made him think back on what he’d just said. Suddenly, he was smiling, too, but for the life of him, he didn’t know why.

“Let me explain this to you, Mulder, just in case you got lost in your tirade. We are being told to go on an all expense paid trip to California to find out that this Bill Burger has been shacked up and banging some production assistant. And, with the new travel procedures in place, we have to stay at least three days before we can return home.”

His eyes grew as wide as teacups. He grabbed the sheet of paper out of the pile and scanned it quickly. “Hot damn. You’re absolutely right!”

“I think we can probably manage to find a decent hotel somewhere near LA with a pool, don’t you?”

“First Hawaii, now LA, before too long they’re bound to catch on, Scully.”

“What? That we’re only investigating cases in locations that include beach attire?” she asked coyly.

“Shhh, the ceiling has ears,” he said in a hushed whisper. He was about to pull her into a kiss when there was a sharp rap on the door.

“Shit,” he muttered while Scully walked over and opened the door. A thin man, under six feet with faded green cargo pants and a Jethro Tull tee-shirt stood staring at her. “Can I help you?” she asked, glancing to make sure he was wearing a visitor’s badge. She couldn’t help but notice it was on upside down.

“Bob Denver, no relation,” the man said, stretching out his hand in a friendly gesture. “I’m here about the Bill Burger abduction.”

Scully shook his hand and then stepped aside to allow him to enter the office. Mulder stood and shook Mr. Denver’s hand, then motioned for him to take a seat at the only other chair in the room. Scully chose to lean on the edge of her desk.

“So, this is the office of an FBI agent, huh?” Denver asked, looking askance at the bulletin boards covered with photos from cases and newspaper articles. His eyes landed on Mulder’s ‘I want to believe’ poster and he stood up and moved closer to take a better look.

“Two agents, actually,” Scully corrected him.

 

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“Think I could borrow this for a couple of days, just to let my art people — ”

“Mr. Denver, if I’m not mistaken, you’ve come a long way to tell us a story,” Mulder lightly scolded the man. “Could we please stick to the topic?”

Bob look a tad perplexed, but sat down in Scully’s desk chair again and propped his elbows on his knees. “I think we all know why I’m here,” he said cryptically.

Scully raised an eyebrow and cocked her head. Mulder just frowned. “No, I’m afraid we don’t all know. Why don’t you enlighten us?”

“Well, according to the Fender-man, you two are the best at this, uh, alien shit.”

Mulder bit his lip and Scully shot him a quick glance as if to say ‘don’t go there’. Mulder ignored her. “Fender-man?”

“Yeah, Wayne Fender-man, er, Federman. And well, I saw ‘The Lazarus Bowl’. Not the whole movie, of course. I saw the outtakes, but I must say the lighting on that set was primo! Great shadows, the way the beams shot off the Pope-like guy’s jewels, and the Zombies, I mean they were — ”

“Mr. Denver, I thought we were talking about Mr. Burger’s disappearance!” Mulder broke in.

“You guys are supposed to find people snatched by aliens, or am I wrong?” Denver shouted back defensively.

Scully licked her upper lip and gave Mulder a tight-lipped expression. He sat up and pulled the file folder closer to him. “Mr. Denver — ”

“Call me Bob. Hey, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking this is just some stunt, but it’s not. Bill went up to that park to find a shooting location and when he didn’t show up at the lodge, er, I mean the studio that night, a couple of us went up there to look for him. What we saw made our hair turn gray! Figuratively speaking, of course.”

“Why don’t you tell us what you found?” Scully asked in a calming voice. “Please?”

Denver glared at Mulder for a moment, then looked over at Scully and visibly relaxed. “Sure. Why not?” He settled into the chair and took a deep breath. “It was just freaky, ya know?”

Mulder nodded in an encouraging manner, earning him a slight smile from Scully. The exchange went unnoticed by Denver.

“Bill decided to go check out locations for the season finale. The script is done, but the last few pages are being kept secret – he wanted to avoid any possible leaks to the press.”

“That sounds pretty paranoid,” Mulder muttered and Scully stifled a snort in his direction.

“You have no idea. I mean, we’ve been on the air seven seasons and there are 4 knock offs already, including a cartoon. If we didn’t safeguard our big shows, they’d be on some Japanese Anime a week before we had a chance to air it here!”

“Back to the disappearance,” Mulder prompted.

“Yeah, well, anyway, like I was saying, he was supposed to check out this park, we have a really good relationship with the California State Parks system. The location was near Tahoe, so I expected to get a call from him telling me he had car trouble. That’s his ‘little code’ for going skiing on company time,” Denver explained to Scully.

“But you didn’t get the call,” Mulder prodded again. He rolled his eyes to Scully.

“When it got to be afternoon, and I hadn’t gotten a call, I called his cell. It rang, but no answer. So I called the ski resort that he always sneaks off to. They hadn’t seen him. That’s when I got worried. So I called Steve — ”

“Steve?” Scully interrupted.

“Yeah, one of the other production staff. Steve Marker. Anyway, I called Steve and we decided to take a look. By that time it was already close to two. We had to jump the commuter flight to get to Sacramento and the drive took a couple of hours to the park, so it was dark when we got there. I have one of those really big flashlights in my trunk, for when you have a flat. We found Bill’s rental parked near a trailhead, so we took the flashlight and went down the trail. It opened up into a meadow and that’s when we found his cell phone. But when I flashed the light around, well, it scared the shit out of me!”

“What exactly did you see?” Scully asked, saving Mulder the trouble.

“It was just like ‘The Starting Point’!” Denver exclaimed. Mulder raised his hand. “Starting point? I’m afraid you’re losing us here, Mr. Denver.”

Denver gave him a disgusted look and then turned hopefully to Scully. When she obviously didn’t understand the reference, he threw up his hands. “What, do you people live in caves? The Starting Point, it’s the first episode of the series! It’s been on reruns about a hundred times. Surely you’ve seen it!”

Scully shook her head. Mulder gave his head a quick shake and a shrug. “Why don’t you just tell us what you saw?”

He rolled his eyes, but Denver nodded. “OK, the trees were scorched, near the tops. There was a big scorch mark on the ground, the size of an above ground pool, without the deck,” he added quickly. “And there was this fine, gray ash all over the place. Bill’s cell phone was near the pile of ash. We called and called and no one answered. That’s when we decided to go get help. It took us a while to find a park ranger and then he wanted us to go through the county Sheriff’s department, but that would have turned out the press and there was no way we could let that happen! Finally, I remembered Fender-man bragging that he had all these connections with the FBI and I called him. It took a while to get the ball rolling, but here I am.”

Mulder was biting his lip, to keep from laughing or screaming, he wasn’t sure. “So, based on your somewhat limited observations, in the dark, with a flashlight, you think — ”

“Bill was abducted by aliens,” Denver said in hushed tones. “The man who created it has lived it,” he added solemnly.

Both agents shared a look. Scully finally broke the uneasy silence.

“And you want us to . . .”

“Get him back. Call them, we’ll negotiate. Whatever they want, residuals, marketing. Hell, we’ll give them shares in the production company.”

“The aliens?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Sure! I mean, they had to know his net worth to pick him off when there were all those bodacious babes just a few miles away in Tahoe,” Denver reasoned. “But that’s OK. We just want him back.”

“I can understand that you’re worried about your boss,” Scully started.

“Who said we’re worried? Bill can be a real a-hole. No, we need him back because he’s the only one who knows where the last four pages of the final script are stashed. And we have to start rehearsals in a week.”

Act II

Scully’s apartment

Georgetown

7:15 pm

Mulder picked up the last container of rice from dinner, peering in it to determine if there was enough to save.

“Toss it, Mulder. We won’t be home for at least three days,” Scully told him as she put the last plate in the cupboard.

“Three days and it’s just getting good,” he replied, but tossed the container into the trash in a fairly good mock ‘lay up’ shot.

“Take that out, please,” she reminded him.

He nodded and grabbed the liner, tying it off and lifting it up. “You going to take a bath?” he asked hopefully.

She grinned at him and shook her head. “No, not enough time. We have to pack for tomorrow. Remember, our flight leaves at 6 am. We have to meet Denver at BWI at 4:30.”

“This is the Bureau’s big cost saving initiative? Make us get up in the middle of the night to drive forty-five minutes so we leave from Baltimore rather than spend the $25 to fly out of Reagan or Dulles at a sane hour in the morning?”

“Hey, quit your complaining. Our return flight has us getting into BWI at 5 pm. We can swing past Mom’s and she can feed us.”

She heard him mumble something unintelligible as he left to take out the trash.

She was in the bedroom when he came back up. “Do you want to take your charcoal suit or your blue one?” she asked, holding them both out for his inspection.

“The blue one, it’s lighter. Where did you put my travel kit?”

“Under the sink, behind the extra towels.” She stopped to admire the view — his behind — as he went to retrieve the kit. “So, do you think Bill Burger is really an abductee?” she asked as Mulder returned and helped pack his suitcase.

“No. I think it’s all a set up, a big publicity stunt. I’m going to email the guys once we know more, ask them to check into this Y Folders. My money says they’re in the seventh season, probably starving for ratings and this kind of tabloid headline is just what they need to bring in the viewers.”

“But involving the FBI? Mulder, if it is a stunt and they’re found out, they could be in serious trouble!”

“I’m guessing that’s why they didn’t want the Sheriff’s Department in on it. They probably figure they can lie their way out of any trouble with us. Honest mistake and all that,” Mulder mused, zipping the case shut. “Want me to take these to the car so we don’t have to bother with them tomorrow?”

She smiled at him and handed him her suitcase. “There are definite advantages to having you here, Mulder. I keep finding that out every day.”

“Yeah, when I get back, I’ll show you a few new ones,” he said with a wiggle of his eyebrows. She slapped his backside as he made his way out the door.

United Flight 3091

landing at Los Angeles International

10:42 am

Scully nudged Mulder from where he’d fallen asleep on her shoulder. Slowly, his eyes blinked open. “We’re here already?” he asked around a yawn.

“You slept the whole way,” she said dryly.

“Sorry, Scully. You know how I get on long flights,” he said with a half-hearted apologetic shrug. “I’ll get the briefcases from the overhead. See if you can catch Mr. Hollywood out at the gate, before the paparazzi get to him,” he sneered.

“Mulder, his ticket was paid for by the production company. He can’t help it if he got to fly first class,” Scully chided.

“I can use any excuse I want to hate the man, Scully. He dragged us out of a warm bed, made us endure hours in dry, sinus infection inducing air and now we have to face another three hour flight plus an hour drive just to see their set up. So help me, when we uncover this as the media stunt it is, I’ll personally spend the rest of my life working with the nearest US District Attorney to put them all behind bars!”

“Well, as long as you have goals,” Scully said smugly.

“And why couldn’t we have flown into San Francisco or even a direct flight to Tahoe? Why add five hours to this trip from hell?”

“You’re the one who wanted to see his apartment and his office, Mulder,” she pointed out.

“Next time I come up with such good ideas, kick me to shut me up,” Mulder shot back, but at least he was grinning again.

Offices of Hot Dog Productions

Hollywood, CA

11:30 am

A harried receptionist looked up at them over the counter, and jumped up when she saw Denver. “Bob! Have you found it?”

“Him, Stacy,” Denver said uncomfortably with a glance over to the two agents. “No, we haven’t had any word from him.”

She seemed confused and disappointed at the same time. “Oh, shoot.”

“Can you give Agents Mulder and Scully here visitors badges? They need to go to Bill’s office at the back of the studio.” Denver pulled out a cell phone and started talking quietly into it.

Stacy smiled up at Mulder. “Sure. Agents, huh? What kind?”

“FBI,” Mulder said and leaned forward to allow Stacy to clip the badge onto his lapel.

“Been to LA before?” Stacy asked seductively. Scully raised her eyebrow, but was basically being ignored by Stacy and her partner.

“Once, for a premiere,” Scully butted in and took the badge intended for her out of Stacy’s hand. “The Lazarus Bowl.”

Stacy’s eyes grew wide. “Ohmigod!! You’re him! You’re Gary Shandling’s character!”

Mulder cringed. “Actually, that character was an amalgamation of several different . . . what I mean is, it was never meant to be . . .”

“Ready to go, folks? We have a cart to take us back to Bill’s office,” Denver interrupted.

“Yes, more than ready, I’d say,” Scully said with a smirk to her partner.

“You’re an evil woman, Agent Scully,” Mulder whispered close to her ear as they left Stacy admiring his back view.

“You just remember that, mister,” she whispered back.

It was a short ride in a luxury golf cart to the small bungalow looking buildings where Bill Burger had his office. Denver produced a key and opened the office door. The place was not that large, considering the occupant was an Executive Producer on a highly successful television series. Mulder pulled on some latex gloves and started to look around.

“Does any one else have access to this office, besides you?” Scully asked as she joined Mulder in examining the contents of the bookshelves and bulletin boards.

“All the production staff has access. This is where we come for story meetings. But there isn’t anything out of place. Bill was fine when he left here.”

“Has anyone looked at his computer?” Mulder nodded toward the shining new Dell computer sitting on the walnut desk that took up a large part of the room.

Denver shrugged. “We didn’t think about it. Besides, he keeps it locked with a password.”

“Aren’t you networked in any way? Shared files?” Scully asked.

“Oh, sure. But Bill kept most of his notes entirely on his PC.”

Mulder exchanged a look with Scully. “What time does the commuter flight take off?”

Denver checked his watch. “About an hour and a half from now. We should be getting to the airport.” He headed out the door.

Mulder leaned over to Scully as they made one last look around the office. “I’ll call the guys, maybe they can hack his PC.”

Scully just nodded and followed him out the door.

Emerald Bay State Park

6:30 pm

Mulder slowly unfolded himself from the front seat of the Suzuki Sidekick. “So, this is where you found the car?” he asked, standing up and wincing as every vertebra in his back cracked and popped from the strain of his stretch.

“Right there, by that tree,” Denver said, moving over to the side of the road. He pointed at a spot on the ground totally undistinguishable from the rest of the needle-covered surface. “We followed that trail,” he said, pointing off a few yards.

“Up for a nice walk in the woods, Scully?” Mulder asked with a grin.

“My gun is loaded, Mulder. I’d watch my step if I were you,”

Scully returned.

The trail wasn’t at all taxing and after a few dozen yards they found themselves on the edge of a rather large clearing. Denver ran into the grassy area, gesturing up at the trees. Sure enough, the tops, or at least very near the tops, of several of the pine trees looked scorched. He then ran over and pointed to the burnt circle on the ground near the center of the clearing. Finally, he reached down and grabbed a handful of ash from the ground and let rubbed it between his fingers. “See, it’s just like I told you. Just like the show!”

 

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Mulder looked over at Scully, who shrugged her shoulders. “I have to admit, it does look like . . .” His voice trailed off as he walked over to the trees with the charred tops. Before his partner could shout out in protest, he was scrambling up the nearest tree.

“Mulder, so help me, I am not calling for a rescue helicopter!” Scully yelled up to him.

“What the hell are you doing?” Denver asked, chewing his lip. After a few tense moments, Mulder climbed down, jumping the last six feet and landing perfectly. “Scully, what do you make of this?” He handed her a few pine needles sticky with a substance.

She took the needles and examined them closely. She brought them up to her nose and sniffed. “That’s not pine sap,” she said with a shake of her head.

“No, that’s kerosene,” Mulder supplied. “It’s all over up there.”

“Wow, you mean the aliens sprayed this place with kerosene?” Denver demanded. “That’s incredible!”

Both agents just stared at the man, then Mulder walked over to the pile of ash. Stooping, he picked up a good pinch of ash and deposited it in a plastic evidence bag. “I’m betting this is a lot more common than we think,” Mulder said, handing the bag to Scully.

“What about the burned spot on the ground?” Scully asked. She stepped over to the circle and knelt down. “Mulder, doesn’t this look like the kind of burn you’d find with a blow torch?”

“The aliens have blow torches?” Denver cried out. “Wait till I tell the guys!”

Mulder stood up from where he’d crouched next to Scully. “Mr. Denver, there are no aliens at work here. This whole area is nothing more than an elaborate hoax.”

Denver’s eyes went wide. “What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that someone, maybe someone in your organization, has set this up to make it appear that Bill Burger was abducted by aliens,” Mulder said through gritted teeth.

“That’s insane! Why would we do that?” Denver blurted out.

“That’s exactly what I hope to find out,” Mulder told him and headed back down the path with Scully hot on his heels.

“Mulder?”

“We can’t go back home yet, Scully, so we’re stuck here. Let’s just get find a motel room and figure this out.”

“Mulder, there’s just one little problem,” she said, pulling his sleeve to get him to stop. At his questioning look, she tilted her head.

“Where’s Bill Burger?”

“I think he’s hiding out somewhere, Scully,” Mulder growled.

“And when I find him, I’m going to take him apart!”

Days Inn LAX

12:20 am

They had just made the last commuter flight back to Los Angeles. Mulder was tense and grumbling all the way back. Scully almost felt sorry for Bob Denver, the man really did look as perplexed as he claimed he was. He dropped them off at a hotel near the airport and promised to cooperate in any way he could while Mulder conducted a one-man manhunt for the missing Bill Burger. They made arrangements for him to pick them up at 10 the next morning.

Scully took the bathroom first and was fully expecting to find her partner sound asleep when she came out. To her surprise, he was sitting on the edge of the bed, glued to the television screen.

“Mulder? Are you going to get ready for bed?” she asked, crawling under the covers.

“Look what I found on one of the cable networks? Old Y Folders episodes. Apparently they’re running a marathon.”

“You’re kidding,” she murmured as she rolled over and punched her pillow.

“I’ll be coming to bed in a few minutes, Scully. I just want to finish this episode. I think it’s the pilot Denver was talking about.”

Scully lifted her head enough to squint at the screen. “Who’s the blond guy?”

“Bertram Wilson. He’s the lead investigator.”

“I think I’ve seen him on dustjackets for romance novels,” Scully muttered as she sank back down into the pillows. “Turn it down, Mulder. And don’t stay up too long. We still have to track down Burger in the morning.”

As soon as that episode ended, a new one started. Mulder found himself drawn in to the complicated plots, the interesting use of shadows to portray the scary aliens and monsters. He even had to admit the humor in the writing was pretty sharp. The leading man was intelligent with a rapier wit. The leading lady, Penny Pennelli, was a buxom blond who could rattle off scientific terms with a smoldering look. When he looked up at the clock, he realized it was almost 4 in the morning.

He was bone tired, but knew that if he lay down, he’d only wake Scully up. One of them needed to get some sleep. He quietly moved to the adjoining room, that they’d requested but hadn’t intended on using. Once seated at the desk, he opened Scully’s laptop and powered it up. Thank heavens for free high speed internet in motel rooms. In seconds, he was chatting with Frohike, the early bird of the gunman who tended to wake up at the crack of dawn.

Gman1013: I need you to do a little checking on something for me.

Ladiesman55: Whazzup?

Gman1013: See what you can dig up online for a TV show called the Y folders.

Ladiesman55: You mean ‘The Y-Folders’, right?

Gman1013: Whatever. Just see what you can find.

Ladiesman55: You want actor filmographies, character bios, episode guides, fanfiction, hot pictures of the blond bombshell naked–what are you looking for?

Gman1013: You’ve got to be kidding! They have all that on line?

Ladiesman55: Mulder, I’m just scratching the surface. I can get you anything, man. You know that.

Gman1013: It’s a stupid television show!!

Ladiesman55: A stupid television show that consistently falls in the top twenty for the 18-35 male demographic in the Nielsens every week! Advertisers dream demo! If you didn’t have such a hot babe in the sack every night, you’d know about this show!

Gman1013: You keep forgetting that ‘hot babe’ has a gun and a sharp eye, don’t ya?

Ladiesman55: Oh, yeah, like you’re gonna show her this.

Ladiesman55: Mulder, you aren’t going to show her this, are you??

Gman1013: It’s fun to see you sweat.

Ladiesman55: So, as I was asking, what do you want to know?

Gman1013: I don’t know, everything. Ratings (which you obviously know about), problems on the set, disgruntled actors, what fans are saying.

Ladiesman55: What’s up? You know you can trust me.

Gman1013: This can go no farther–Bill Burger has disappeared.

Ladiesman55: Shit damn, you don’t say!!! Last I saw on E!, they were about to start shooting the finale!

Gman1013: It appears that when Burger disappeared, he took the whereabouts of the last four pages of the script with him.

Ladiesman55: oooooh baby!! So you’re trying to find him?

Gman1013: I think it’s a ratings stunt conjured up by Burger. But Scully thinks the production people aren’t in on it. They’re all frantically trying to find the missing script pages.

Ladiesman55: I’ll see what I can dig up.

Gman1013: just email it. Thanks, Frohike.

Ladiesman55: good luck!

7:15 am

Scully woke up with the alarm she’d set and looked over, expecting to find Mulder. He wasn’t there. She got up, took her shower and then peeked inside the connecting door to the other room. Sure enough, Mulder was seated at the desk, head resting on his arms, sound asleep. Her initial aggravation turned to affection as she walked behind him and saw that he’d drooled on his arm. Ruffling his hair, she leaned forward and kissed his ear.

 

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“If this is a dream, don’t wake me,” he said with a sleepy rasp to his voice.

“If you’re going to sleep, why don’t you crawl into bed,” she whispered.

“Coming with me?” It was a request and an offer.

She chuckled. “Not this time. I’m showered and dressed. But it’s still early, only a little after 8. Why don’t you stretch out for a few minutes and I’ll wake you up so you can get ready before Mr. Denver shows up at 9:45.”

“Hmmm,” was his groggy reply, but he did force himself out of the chair and launched himself onto the bed, not even bothering with the blankets and duvet. “There should be an email from Frohike,” he muttered before he drifted off to sleep again.

Scully smiled in his direction and then sat down at the computer, tucking one strand of hair behind her ear. “What have you been up to, Mulder?” she asked but expected no answer. She found the email from Frohike and opened it up. It was a series of links, which she clicked open in succession and started to read.

9:45 am

Bob Denver showed up at Mulder’s door at precisely 9:45. He handed Scully a drink carrier with two Starbucks Grandes and a bag with two bagels. “I thought I should bring a peace offering after last night.”

“Really not necessary, Mr. Denver,” Scully said dryly, but didn’t refuse the offered coffee.

Mulder took his cup and snagged one of the bagels out of the bag. “I should warn you, if this is supposed to be a bribe, you’re doing Federal time for under 20 bucks,” he said with an evil grin. Denver gulped but said nothing. He motioned the two agents to his waiting Land Rover and they drove in silence to the production company offices.

Once inside Denver’s personal office, Scully got right to the point. “Mr. Denver, I think you have something you really want to tell us,” she said with a barely suppressed sneer.

Denver licked his upper lip nervously. “I’m not sure I know what you mean.”

“This was a set up. It’s been staged. And we have reason to believe you have some knowledge of it,” Scully shot back. This time, Mulder was caught by surprise, but he covered well and leaned back in his chair, content to give Scully the lead. This was going to be fun to watch.

“The ratings for the show have been in the toilet this season, haven’t they, Mr. Denver?” Scully asked, standing to walk around the desk and lean over the trembling man. Mulder had to put his hand up to his mouth to hide his broad grin. Scully was treating the poor guy like a hardened criminal. The case did have an upside.

Mulder was getting decidedly turned on. “I . . . I . . . It’s not like that,” Denver stammered.

“Not only are the ratings bad this season, but there are other indications that the show is on the skids. It didn’t receive a single Emmy nomination this year, not even in the wide-open Best Actress in a Drama category. Not to mention, not a single Golden Globe. More importantly, you didn’t even get the cover of TV Guide for your seventh season premiere, did you, Mr. Denver?”

Denver was having trouble speaking. He sat there, mouth gaping and closing like a fish out of water.

“You need something, something spectacular, to attract an audience for the end of the season finale. If your numbers aren’t significantly improved in those all important May Sweeps, you are likely to be cancelled, aren’t you?” She leaning over him now, so close her hair was actually brushing his ear.

“Agent Scully,” Denver managed to rasp out. “Please! Stop!”

Scully stood, looking as cool as a cucumber. Mulder would have given his right arm to rush her back to their motel rooms at that moment, but he knew the show was really just starting. He directed his attention to Bob, who was white as a sheet and shaking violently.

“All right, all right already! Yes, it was a set up, at first! But I swear, he wasn’t supposed to really disappear! Someone took him! But it wasn’t me! I had nothing to do with it”

Mulder couldn’t sit idly by any longer. Besides, it was time to play ‘nice cop’. He leaned forward and gave Denver his best sympathetic smile. “Maybe you should start at the beginning, Bob. Tell us everything. Just the truth. That’s all Agent Scully’s after, isn’t it, Scully?” From her spot behind Denver, out of his eyesight, it was hard to keep a straight face, but she managed. This nut had cracked in under five minutes. A new record! “Yes, that’s all we really want.

Because if you continue to lie to us . . . does the name Martha Stewart mean anything to you, Mr. Denver?” she asked sweetly.

Mulder was afraid she’d gone over the top with that one. Denver started to pitch forward and for a moment, Mulder thought the man had a heart attack. But he was just burying his face in his hands.

“It was all so simple, really. Bill, Steve and I were working on the storyboard for the finale. Steve made a crack, wouldn’t it be perfect if we could stage a ‘real’ alien abduction? And it was late, and we were all punch-drunk and it seemed like a great idea at the time.”

“Were you always going to involve the FBI?” Scully asked sternly.

Denver dropped his hands and looked up at her, shaking his head emphatically. “No. Never. We were going to do a press release that he was ‘missing’. Then, when we told the local Sheriff where he’d disappeared and after the headlines ran in the papers, hopefully picked up by AP or Reuters, well, a couple of days would pass and Bill would show up, shaken but unharmed.”

“And claim he’d been abducted by aliens,” Mulder supplied, leaning back with his arms crossed over his chest.

“No. He’d say he couldn’t remember anything. See, that’s the beauty of the show: we don’t give answers. We only pose more questions. And this would be the biggest question of all. Was Bill really abducted? Which would lead in to the finale, where Pennelli has an abduction experience.”

Scully sat down on the edge of the desk, her face grim. “So why don’t you think that Bill is following the plan as you laid it out?”

“This,” Denver said, reaching down into his bottom desk drawer.

He withdrew a blackened piece of plastic and metal and dropped it on the desktop. “We found that near the circle burned in the grass.”

Mulder reached over and picked up the object. Years of experience told him exactly what he was holding. “It’s a cell phone.”

Denver nodded. “Bill’s cell phone. See, he would never leave that. It was the only way we could keep in contact. And it’s mangled. Why would he do that if this was just a hoax?”

Mulder turned the charred plastic over in his hands. “So someone was privy to your plans,” he said evenly. “How about this Steve you keep mentioning?”

Denver winced. “That’s the thing. Steve had to finish up episode 20, The Lost Game, so he wasn’t in on the actual planning stages. He had no idea of location or anything else.”

“Then who did know?” Scully asked.

“Just Bill . . . and me,” Denver said miserably. “Which is why I’m scared shitless! If we don’t find him, I’m . . .”

“Likely to be charged,” Scully finished for him. The poor man dropped his head to the desktop and banged it a few times.

“I’m so screwed,” he repeated over and over again.

“I think we need to talk to Steve,” Scully said, pushing off the desk. As Bob nodded and pulled out his cell phone to contact the other production assistant, Mulder caught her elbow and steered her over to a corner, out of earshot.

“That was truly impressive, Agent Scully,” he whispered.

She made a point of glancing down to just below his belt buckle.

“Yeah, I see that,” she said with a wicked grin.

Mulder ignored her. “Where did you get that stuff about the Emmys and the TV Guide cover?”

“Frohike’s email. It was big news in all the online critic websites. The online pundits think the show has run its course. They kept talking about shark jumping or something.” Mulder shook his head, as confused as she was by the reference. “Anyway, it was obvious that they needed something tremendous to save them. With what we found yesterday, it was just a matter of applying a little pressure to get him to confess. But I expected him to tell us where Burger was hiding, not this.”

“So basically, we’re back where we started,” Mulder said, pulling on his lip.

“With less evidence than we started with, yes,” Scully replied. She glanced at her watch. “Don’t forget, Cassidy is going to want a report in, oh, three hours.”

He winced and rubbed his head. “I think I’m having an aneurism,” he said flatly.

Denver was more than willing to cooperate. He gave the agents a conference room, supplied them with a steady supply of coffee and even offered sandwiches, which they politely refused. He then proceeded to parade every writer, actor, extra, make up artist, production assistant, second production assistant, best boy and gaffer who worked for Hot Dog Productions.

The writers were fairly clueless. For the most part, they were noncommittal about Bill Burger, and were just grateful to have jobs.

Since Burger was very ‘hands on’ when it came to the plotlines of the show, they were all more than a little upset that he, and the last four pages, were missing. A couple of them even offered to help search for Burger, if it would help.

The actors were another matter. Keith Stover, who played Bertram Wilson, made it quite clear that he was very hopeful that Burger would never be found.

“The asshole promised me three seasons and we’d go to movies. It’s been seven! But I’m not an idiot. As much as I’d love to see him homeless and penniless, he’s the only guy who can write this crap,” Stover had huffed. When Scully pointed out that he could have walked, just not signed the extra contracts, he gave her a tightlipped smile and shook his head.

“Not in this town, baby,” he’d said through clenched teeth.

“Besides, Burger has been dangling the promise of a movie out in front of us for years now. As soon as we finish up the series, we’re headed for the big screen.”

“And you’re willing to stay around just for that?” Scully asked, a little perplexed.

“Hell, yes! I mean, have you looked at the residuals Diaz, Barrymore and Lu got from those two movies they did? The DVD sales alone would make up for the last seven years of 16 hour days, 6 days a week.” Stover looked from one agent to the other as if struck by a sudden thought. “Hey, should I have called my lawyer?”

Mulder closed his eyes and banged his head against the wall behind him while Scully calmed the actor down, assuring him they were only interviewing everyone who might know something about Mr. Burger’s whereabouts.

“Well, that would be every script girl, make up girl, female assistant and cantina worker in LA,” Stover snickered. “Oh, and every female ski instructor in Tahoe,” he added with a malicious grin.

Heather Lanear, who played Penny Pennelli, was no more helpful. “He’s shacked up with a ski bunny. We won’t find him till spring,” she said, puffing on her cigarette. “But he better stay lost, if the network figures out that we don’t have an ending to the finale. He’s lucky if he’ll ever work in this town again,” she said with a smirk.

Act III

It took six hours to work their way through all the staff members of Hot Dog Productions. It was almost 9 pm when they made it back to the motel.

“Want some dinner?” Scully asked, as Mulder flopped face down on the king sized bed in their room.

“Arsenic,” he suggested.

“Mulder, buck up,” she told him. “We just have to look at this rationally. Who has the motive and the opportunity to kidnap Bill Burger?”

“You mean narrow the field,” he said, muffled by his arm. “That would be about 95 percent of Orange County, Scully,” he added, flipping on his back. “And we don’t have enough time to interview all of them.”

She shook her head and stood up. “Look, there’s a Wendy’s across the street. I’m getting a spinach salad and I’m going to get you a Junior bacon cheeseburger, with extra tomato, and we’ll split a Biggie Frostie. And after you wake up from lapsing into a carbohydrate coma, we’ll figure this out, OK?”

He nodded forlornly. She kissed him on the lips and headed out the door.

He lay there a few more minutes, wallowing in self pity and misery. Finally, he rolled off the bed and started for the bathroom.

Scully’s laptop sat on the table, calling out to him. He shook his head and sat down at the table, pulling up his email. He had three messages from Frohike. Licking his lips in anticipation, he opened them and read each one carefully.

Scully juggled the two sacks and tried to find her card key. Finally, in exasperation, she just kicked the door. She had to do it twice to get an answer. A muffled ‘I’m coming, keep your shirt on’ came from the other side and she gave her partner a well-deserved glare when he finally unlatched the door and let her in.

“I should give your sandwich to the homeless guy out on the curb,” she grumbled as she handed over the silver foil wrapped burger.

“Scully, you won’t believe what Frohike found,” Mulder said excitedly, laying the burger on the dresser and pulling her over to the computer. “Check this out!”

The monitor displayed a website with a large, unflattering picture of William Burger and a big red circle and slash symbol over it like on do not enter traffic signs. On the top of the page was the banner for the site: “Die.die.die.Burger.die.com?” Scully read aloud. “My god, Mulder, this is serious!”

 

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“Actually, it’s only a joke, but it has serious implications, Scully,” he told her, sitting on the corner of the bed while she took the chair and looked through the site. “From what I can tell, this started out a fan site.”

“With fans like these, who needs network executives?” Scully quipped. “This doesn’t sound like a fan site, Mulder.”

“No, really. Fans of the show created it. They’re just upset with Burger for some of the bone-headed — their words, not mine — things he’s done in the last couple of seasons.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, still clicking on pages and wincing. “This is . . . this is vitriol.”

“Oh, I’ll agree it contains some bitterly abusive sentiments, Scully, but they are more than just ‘mere’ fans. These are people who are intelligent, who have become committed to this show and feel Burger has betrayed them.”

Scully was studying the page closely. “Who’s Darina Wellman?”

Mulder nodded, a sure sign she’d hit on something. “The ‘female’ love interest of Penny Pennelli,” he said with a satisfied grin.

“As in . . . ?” Scully asked with an eyebrow buried in her hairline.

“Lesbian affair. Apparently Burger decided that Pennilli was bi. But that was after Wilson, her partner, slept with her.”

“That sounds more like daytime drama than a science fiction format show,” Scully said in disgust.

“It gets better, there’s a three-way in the works,” Mulder grinned maniacally. “Oh, and the February Nielsen sweeps week had a fantastic mud wrestling scene, from what I can gather.”

“Now that’s just soft porn!” Scully exclaimed.

“Yeah, but it’s beating the crap out of the competition for the 18 – 35 year old male demographic!” Mulder shot back with a satisfied expression.

“So this fan site was created by female fans who feel Burger is only catering to one audience — ‘a bunch of crotch grabbing young males still living with their parents and dishing out fries at McDonalds’,”

Scully read from the page and crossed her arms. “I can understand where they’d be upset.” She got up and pulled her salad out of the bag, bringing it back to the table. “But does it mean they were angry enough to take action?” she asked of no one in particular.

“I’m going to do some more digging. I already fired back some additional criteria for Frohike to search. I should know something more by morning,” Mulder replied, finally grabbing his own sandwich and swallowing it in four bites. “Where’s the Frostie you promised me?”

“Still in the bag on the dresser, melting.” She pointed toward it with her chin. “So what are you thinking? We need to find out more about these fans?”

“I think that’s the direction I’m heading in,” he said, slurping up his rapidly melting milk shake. He leaned over and offered her a spoonful, which she absently accepted. “But in the meantime, I’m going to look around at the other sites like this one — ”

“There are more?” Scully asked, incredulously.

“Oh, Scully, there’s a whole search engine dedicated to this stuff! It’s all over the net. I’ll probably be up late again. Why don’t you go to bed in the other room? I’ll be in later.”

4:30 am

“Don’t these people ever sleep?” Mulder wondered aloud as he rubbed his tired eyes. He’d been in a chatroom for two hours, trying to find out what the ‘fans’ were saying — if anyone knew of Burger’s disappearance. But so far all they were talking about were husbands, children and laundry. He doubled checked the name of the board to make sure this was a Y-F fan site. He shook his head and then looked down the forum titles. One was inconspicuously marked ‘Saved Chats’. He clicked on it. There had to be thirty different postings. With a tired sigh, he went back to reading.

7:15 am

Scully was lying on a raft, in the middle of a pool of sparkling clear azure water when suddenly, a giant brown bird swooped down and landed hard next to her, almost spilling her off the raft. It opened its big beak and cried: “Scully, wake up, I found something!” She tried to swat it away, but it suddenly came to her that the bird sounded exactly like Mulder.

“Scully, get the lead out! C’mon! I’ve got something here!”

She opened her eyes and the azure pool faded away, leaving a non- descript motel room with white walls and a mirror, which reflected the boyishly excited expression of her partner, currently bouncing up and down on her bed.

“Mulder, go ‘way!” she grumbled. She pulled the covers over her head and tried to find her way back to the raft on the pool.

“That’s not what you said the other night,” he grinned manically. “C’mon, Scully!” Without further warning, he grabbed the sheets and blankets and pulled them all the way off the bed, leaving her exposed to the cooler air of the room. “Don’t make me get the ice bucket,” he threatened.

She grabbed a pillow and was about to project it in his direction when what he’d said sunk through to her. “Wait. You said you found something? Something do to with the disappearance?” she queried.

“Oh, yeah. and it’s a doozy! You have to see this, Scully!”

As she stood, his hand went to the small of her back and he escorted her into the other room. He brought her to the small table and seated her at the computer. She glared up at him and he smacked his forehead, then ran back into the room she’d been sleeping and returned with her glasses. Giving him a sleepy grin, she donned the glasses and disabled the screen saver so she could see what he’d found. After several minutes of his pacing behind her, she turned around in the chair, an incredulous look on her face.

“Mulder, this can’t be real,” she said firmly. “This is just some joke. Like the website last night.”

He grinned broadly at her. “I knew you were going to say that, Scully. But look at the evidence,” he said, pointing to the computer screen.

“Evidence? This is the transcript to a chat room,” she replied dryly. “And it sounds like it’s a bunch of bawdy women!”

“Scully! Look at what’s in front of your face! They did everything but sign the confession,” he howled, throwing his hands up in the air.

She pulled her glasses off and looked at her partner. “Mulder, according to this, six women planned a kidnapping and just decided to leave it posted to the internet? What kind of idiot would — ”

“Ones who never thought they’d be caught, obviously,” Mulder supplied happily. “Look, Scully, it may be a long shot. But at the bare minimum, it’s more than we’ve had to go on so far. I say we pack up and head to Tahoe, check out the area there and have DC subpoena the email accounts of Pennelli56, Bertluv, YFMom, LilY, Delores, and PGY. We’ll find out where they’re located and see if there is any more incriminating evidence in their mailboxes.”

Five miles outside Tahoe

3:30 pm

Mulder sat in the driver’s seat of the rental car, chewing on a sunflower seed and staring intently at the pages he held against the steering wheel.

“Gee, I wonder why they didn’t just include one of those maps from Mapquest,” Scully said sarcastically as she glared at him.

“They gave pretty good directions up to this point,” Mulder reminded her. “I just can’t tell where they go from here.” He scanned the small state route where they were parked on the shoulder. “It would appear that there’s a service road or something near here.”

“Mulder, we just flew three hours to get here, we’ve been driving around for another hour and a half, we completely missed breakfast and lunch — ”

“I offered you some seeds, Scully,” he chimed it.

Completely ignoring him, she continued, ” — and not to mention you have failed to provide AD Cassidy with a report today — ”

“I sent her a copy of the request for a subpoena,” he interjected. “And we’re probably going to get our asses chewed out for that, too,” she said as she finally acknowledged his comments.

“And for what, Mulder? We’re on a wild goose chase!”

“As we’ve done for the past 11 years, Scully,” he said with a tender smile. “As I hope to be for 11 years and 11 more after that and on to the old agent home. So why are you so uptight about this time?”

She shook her head, knowing there was no explaining herself to him. Mulder was in his zone and he wasn’t going to listen to reason. “It we don’t find this service road soon, it will be too dark to find anything,” she pointed out.

“I promise, we won’t miss dinner,” he said, raising one hand with two fingers extended.

“Indian guide, Mulder,” she huffed, but took the papers from his hands and read over them, then looked out the windshield at the surrounding forest land. “What’s that up there on the left?”

He peered out in the direction she was pointing. “Those two trees close together?”

“Just past them. Is that gravel?” she asked.

“I think that’s the trail of the elusive wild goose, Scully,” he said with a brilliant smile. “We’ll have this all cleared up in time for a nice steak in Tahoe!”

The road might have been a service road at one time, but that time was long past. It was rutted and pockmarked, giving Scully the impression that it might have been a testing ground for land mines in the distant past. Mulder managed to twist and jerk the wheel enough to keep them from falling in the larger holes, but the smaller ones were still enough to rattle their teeth. She was just about to warn him of an enormous pothole ahead when they hit a sharp object, followed by a loud pop. Mulder fought the wheel, but to no advantage. The driver’s side tire went over the edge, almost tipping the car and they came to rest at the bottom of the rut.

“I think we have a flat,” Mulder said after assessing that both of them were unharmed.

“I think we’re about to miss dinner,” she said with a scowl.

They exited the car, Scully being careful not to fall into the pothole and twist an ankle. She gingerly stepped around the rocks and gravel to join Mulder at the back of the car. He was looking at a point toward the front end.

“Is it flat?” she asked, but didn’t expect an answer because it was obvious that was at least one of their problems. Her partner nodded and then pointed to the front tire.

“Does that look a little odd?” he asked, moving toward the front tire. When she moved around for a better look, she grimaced and then sighed. The tire was not sitting at a natural angle.

“Looks like it broke the axle,” she said with a tired shake of her head.

“Or at the very least, the ball joint,” he supplied. “Well, I don’t think we’ll be able to drive this back to town. We’re going to have to call for a tow.” He pulled out his cell phone and held it up to his ear. After a few attempts to dial, he pulled up the antenna. When he continued to fail, he calmly put the antenna down and pocketed the phone.

Scully stood there, chewing on her bottom lip. He looked over at her and held up one finger, warding off the tirade she was building.

Without a word he lowered the finger to point in a direction past the front of the car. She shrugged and he started off, she followed hot on his heels.

“Mulder, where are we going?” she asked, after they’d walked several yards.

“To find reception,” he tossed over his shoulder.

She looked at his back and shook her head. Closing her eyes for just a second, to summon enough strength of will not to murder him, she ended up running right into him when he stopped abruptly.

“Did you hear something?” he asked.

They both stood as still as possible and listened. After a minute,

Scully looked up at him. “The wind?”

“No,” he said with puzzled expression. “It sounded like — ”

Off in the distance, Scully heard a low moan. She jerked her head over to look at her partner. “Like that?”

He nodded and took off at a trot toward the sound.

“Mulder, it could be an injured animal,” she reasoned, and pulled her weapon.

“No, Scully, that sounds like a human,” he said, turning his head toward her. “Hurry!”

They had to cut through the undergrowth for several feet, but finally they broke through into a small meadow. In the middle was a ramshackle building, most likely part of an old lumber operation. It had no windows, only one door and it was sporting a brand new padlock.

“Help! Somebody, help me!!”

Mulder looked over at his partner and then around the area. They were very much alone. He unfastened the clip on his holster and withdrew his gun, motioning toward the padlock.

“Step away from the door,” he ordered and waited a few seconds for the occupant of the shed to comply. He raised his gun, took aim, and precisely shot the padlock off the door.

“Good shootin’, Tex,” Scully teased and he wrinkled his nose at her. She hurriedly opened the door. The smell was a bit overpowering, even in the cool mountain air. A man about Mulder’s height, with dark brown hair that hung in a rather unkempt pony tail, came out of the shadows, squinting at the afternoon sunlight.

“Thank God, I thought no one would ever hear me,” he exclaimed.

He took two steps and stumbled, so Mulder grabbed one arm and Scully the other. They sat him down against the shed. Scully knelt beside him and assessed his condition.

 

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“Are you hurt?” she inquired as she looked into his eyes and took his pulse.

“Wow, bringing a paramedic! Good thinking,” he said breathlessly.

“Um, she’s a doctor, and . . . never mind,” Mulder said as he saw Scully’s eyes turn icy blue over the man’s unintentional faux pas.

“You wouldn’t happen to be William Burger, would you?”

The man looked up at Mulder and nodded. “Got anything to eat?” he asked with hopeful brown eyes.

Scully stood up next to her partner. “He seems fine. He has a bump on the head, but there are no signs of concussion. He appears slightly dehydrated and he’s probably hungry.”

“Damn straight,” Burger replied. “Now, where’s the rescue wagon?”

Scully raised an eyebrow as she looked at Mulder, who found the grass of the meadow of sudden interest. “Well, you see, Mr. Burger . . .”

“You do have a rescue wagon here, right? An ambulance, maybe? I’ve been trapped in that shed for four days, I stink to high heavens, I’m starved, I’m thirsty — ”

“Our car has a flat,” Mulder said succinctly.

“And a broken axle,” Scully added.

“Son of a b — ”

“Mr. Burger, we just need to find somewhere with some reception. I can call a tow truck and emergency vehicles and we’ll have you out of here in a jiffy,” Mulder promised.

Burger didn’t look impressed. “So who the hell are you jokers?” he asked.

Mulder winced and produced his badge just as Scully was doing the same. “I’m Agent Mulder, this is Agent Scully. We’re with the FBI.”

Burger looked intently at both badges and identification cards, then at the agents in turn. “Fox. That a stage name?”

Mulder sucked on his bottom lip and shook his head. “No sir. It’s my given name.”

“If you ever come out this way, I’d change it. Unless you want to go into porn — ”

“He’s quite happy as an FBI agent,” Scully interrupted angrily.

“Mulder, I suggest we find some reception, and let’s make it snappy.”

Burger managed to get to his feet and with some minor assistance, mostly from Mulder after he put his hand on Scully’s hip one too many times, they made their way back to the service road. The car was exactly where they’d left it. Scully scanned the road in both directions. “How far was it to the main road?” she asked Mulder.

Helping Burger to sit on the edge of the back seat, Mulder looked back the way they’d come. “About five miles, maybe a little more.”

“He can’t walk that far,” she said with a sigh. “Maybe we should split up?”

He frowned and stared off in the distance the other direction. “The road goes up. Maybe there’s clearer reception that direction,” he offered.

“Mulder, we don’t know what’s up that way. Just go back the way we came. If you can’t get any reception, maybe you can flag down a passing car to get help.”

He looked over at Burger, trying to judge if the man was faking his weakened condition. With a scowl, Mulder realized the guy probably was in bad shape. Was he in bad enough shape to leave with Scully, whom he’d already made one half hearted pass at? She had her gun, he decided, winning his internal debate. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he told her. His instinct was to grab her and kiss her goodbye in front of this latter day Lothario, but in the end he settled for an exchange of glances that told him to hurry back.

“So, you ever thought of taking a screen test?” Burger asked with a barely concealed leer the minute Mulder was out of sight.

Scully fingered the grip on her weapon, dug the tip of her tongue into the ridge of a back molar and prayed Mulder wouldn’t be long.

4:45 pm

It was about an hour later when Mulder found that jogging on a rutted road in good leather shoes was not conducive to staying upright and in a forward motion. He landed hard on his right knee, releasing a livid curse as his palm came down on a sharp rock. “Son of a b — ”

He’d barely had a chance to pick himself up when a late model SUV came barreling down the service road, taking the potholes like they were ski jumps. He leaped to the side of the road to avoid become a hood ornament. The vehicle proceeded down the road a few yards and abruptly came to a dead stop. In minutes two women were out of the front seats, running back to his aid. The taller of the two, a woman with salt and pepper hair and wireframed sunglasses grabbed Mulder by the shoulders and spun him around. “Ohmigod, I didn’t expect anyone on this road! Oh, I am so sorry! Are you hurt, did you fall? I didn’t knock you down, did I? Oh geez, will I have to report this to the insurance company?”

“Delores, you didn’t hit him,” said the other woman, a short, stocky blond with a bandana holding back her hair. “He was standing up when we came up the road.”

“That darned car is just too hard to stop,” Delores said, shaking her head. “I’m just so sorry!”

Mulder was getting his bearings, and stopped the woman from brushing the mud off his pants. “Really, I’m fine. Like your friend said, I was standing up. But I am glad to see you. Our car broke down a few miles up the road and I really need some assistance.”

Delores stood up and looked over at her friend. Both women bit their lips. “Your car broke down? Why on earth would you be up here in the first place?” asked the blond.

“Tracy! He doesn’t have to tell us that,” Delores said nervously. “Tell you what. We’ll take you back to town — ”

“No, thank you,” Mulder interrupted. “I’m not alone. My partner is up there with the car. And we have a person who’s been, well, injured. He needs medical attention.” Mulder reached into his pocket for his identification. “I’m an FBI agent. I assure you, this is all on the up and up.”

“Oh sweet je-zus!” Tracy exhaled. Both she and Delores were looking at Mulder like he’d just been transformed into a king cobra.

“Did you say someone n-n-needed m-medical attention?” Delores stammered.

Mulder regarded her carefully, not sure what he was witnessing.

“Yes, a man. I’m not at liberty to say what happened.”

“Oh Mother of God!” Tracy shouted. “I told you she wasn’t kidding!”

“Tracy, please. You’re . . . scaring Agent, um, Miller here,” Delores said timidly.

“That’s Mulder, and can I ask why you two ladies were on this road?” he asked, tumbling the pieces together in his head and coming up with a definite headache.

Delores’s face crumbled into tears, Tracy put a comforting hand on the woman’s back as tears streaked down her cheeks. “We better ‘fess up, D.” She looked up at Mulder. “C’mon, Agent Miner. We’ll take you back to your car.”

Mulder didn’t even attempt to correct the woman as she missed his name a second time. He had a feeling the mystery of the missing ‘creative executive director’ was about to be revealed and he and Scully would have ringside seats.

It was a very quiet ride to the car. Delores’s shoulders were shaking and when she looked in the rearview mirror Mulder could see the tears streaming down the woman’s face. Tracy sat ramrod straight and stared out the windshield, but Mulder was pretty sure she wasn’t seeing the forest primeval around them.

Scully was pacing about ten feet away from the car when she heard the SUV coming up the road. She looked at her watch in the growing dusk and wondered how long it would be before she saw food. They still had to deal with the recently recovered Mr. Burger and it would be essential to gather as much forensic evidence as possible from his ‘shed of captivity’ before nearby wildlife decided to move in and make themselves at home.

The silver SUV pulled to a stop and Mulder got out of the car. Delores and Tracy didn’t move from the front seat. They looked through the windshield at the person sitting sideways on the back seat of the disabled rental and all blood drained from their faces. It was all the confession Mulder needed. “Ladies, would you mind stepping out of the car. And please keep your hands where I can see them.”

Scully walked over to him, shooting him a perplexed look.

“Mulder, what’s going on?”

“I need your handcuffs, Scully. Oh, ladies, this is my partner, Agent Scully. I believe you already know Mr. Burger, your captive, over there.” He said all this while snapping his cuffs on Tracy’s wrists and holding out his hand to Scully for her set to snap on Delores.

“Mulder, who are these women?”

“I believe these women were coming up here to check on Mr. Burger, Scully. And I’m willing to bet, they weren’t intending to free him.”

“We didn’t intend to hurt him, honest,” Delores said through wrenching sobs. “We just, we just . . . we just wanted to make sure he couldn’t screw it up any more . . .”

“Shut up, Delores,” snapped Tracy. She turned to the two agents.

“Are you going to charge us? Because we want to talk to our lawyer.”

Burger watched on, unfazed. “Who are the old broads?”

Rockwater Bar and Grill

South Lake Tahoe, CA

11:21 pm

The Rockwater Bar and Grill was a beautiful little chalet building tucked on Emerald Bay Road. The owner was a friend of Burger’s and greeted the two agents with a warm welcome, even though the restaurant was technically about to close. Burger insisted that dinner was on him, a thank you for his rescue as well as a personal thank you to Scully for helping him hold off the paramedics and avoid a trip to the ER to be checked out.

Mulder smiled as he cut into his perfectly prepared prime rib. Dipping his morsel delicately into the au jus, he brought it to his mouth and moaned.

Across the table, Scully was having a hard time keeping the grin from her face. Not only was her partner’s boyish enthusiasm infectious, especially where the food was concerned, they had actually solved a case without injury to either of them. It was a red-letter day all around. She dug into her ‘Winter Spinnaker’, a delectable salad of fresh spinach, red onion, fresh mushrooms and sliced egg all smothered in warm bacon dressing. Mulder had convinced her to ‘go the whole nine-yards’ and get the additional grilled chicken breast. After all, it was the first real meal she’d had all day.

“So, tell me again who nabbed me?” Bill Burger asked in between bites of his Rubicon Reuben, a sandwich fit for a recently released hostage.

“Your fans,” Mulder mumbled around a mouthful of baked potato. “Or rather, fans of the show.”

“Bet that took some planning,” Burger said thoughtfully. “It sure seemed real at the time. I thought I was gonna come face to face with E.T.”

Scully gave him a tightlipped smile. “Well, after Delores and Tracy were persuaded to cooperate — ”

“For reduced sentences,” Mulder interjected.

” — they gave up the other co-conspirators. Apparently there were seven women, six from the US and one from Australia involved in this kidnapping.”

“Australia!” Burger exclaimed. “I’m a god in Australia!”

“I guess you’re considered an expendable god,” Scully explained.

“And they were just pissed off at what I’d done to the storyline?”

Scully swallowed the bite she’d been chewing and nodded. “They weren’t very pleased when you had the female agent get involved with the other woman,” she continued.

“But the dudes all think that rocks!” Burger cried. “The show hit top 10 in the — ”

” — 18 to 35 male demographics, yes, our investigation did show that. But you see, Mr. Burger — ”

“C’mon, Dana, I told you to call me Bill. Fox does.”

Scully flashed a grin over to Mulder as he rolled his eyes. “Well, Bill,” she corrected, “you might reconsider your target audience. Delores and Tracy made some convincing arguments for the loyalty of the over 30 female. Not to mention, they tend to be employed at higher paying jobs and have more disposable income.”

“Soaps,” Bill intoned succinctly.

“I beg your pardon,” Scully said hesitantly.

“Daytime soaps. The old broads watch daytime soaps. That’s why all the tampon and feminine Rogaine commercials are found between the hours of 11 am and 3 pm.”

“But Bill, that’s pretty archaic thinking,” Scully suggested. “Most women work during those hours.”

“Two words for you, Dana: TiVo,” Bill replied.

Mulder caught her attention and gave her a barely noticeable shake of his head. “Well, at least you’re safe and you can tell your staff where the last four pages of the script for the finale are.”

“Are you kidding?” Burger said happily. “Those are on the scrap heap. I have a much better ending planned. Think Pennelli, Wilson, and Wellman in an 8 by 8 foot shack in the mountains for four days!”

Scully choked, but Mulder covered for her. He raised his water glass in a toast. “Sounds like a sure bet Emmy to me.”

Burger looked from one agent to the other and then a smile of recognition came to his face. “Hey, weren’t you those two FBI agents in that crappy Zombie Pope movie?”

Epilogue

FBI Headquarters

Washington, DC

One week later

Mulder slammed the door hard, then remembered his partner had been behind him. Sheepishly, he reopened the door, took her elbow and guided her into the office.

“Sorry. But that bitch — ”

Scully raised a finger to his lips and pressed firmly in a totally unromantic motion. Her own barely contained fury was shining brightly in her eyes. “Mulder, stop right there! If you hadn’t egged her on, AD Cassidy probably would have let us out of there with just our usual ass chewing.”

“‘Egged her on!’ Scully, all I did was try to remind her that _she_ was the one who gave us that 302 which sent us on another trip to the forest! We found the kidnap victim alive and well, made six arrests, cooperated with law enforcement in another hemisphere, and got seven confessions! What in the hell does the woman want?”

“Apparently, she wants a report that doesn’t read like E! or _Variety_,” Scully said with a deep exhale.

“Well, screw her! When does Skinner get back?” He plopped down at his desk, propped his feet on the desktop and leaned back as far as he dared, which always had her waiting for the inevitable crash when he tilted back too far.

“I saw on CNN that they have a suspect in custody, so another week or so, if we’re really lucky,” she said sadly. She sat down at her desk, booted up her computer, and tried to get back to the journal article she’d been working on when Cassidy’s call had come through. After a few minutes, she noted that her partner was no longer slamming file drawers open and shut, but was very quiet at his own computer. She left him be, but knew he was up to something no good.

After a half hour, her curiosity, and caution, got the better of her. “Mulder you know if you sign Cassidy up to all those penis enlargement sites, they’ll trace it back to your computer,” she warned.

“Wouldn’t think of it,” he replied, not looking from his keyboard or monitor.

She regarded him for a moment and then got up from her desk and walked around until she was standing right behind him, in full view of his screen. He tried to hit the minimize icon, but was a second too late.

“Mulder! What the hell are you doing? Are you writing pornography on the Bureau computer?” she accused.

He crossed his arms over the keyboard and looked back at her over his shoulder. “It’s not pornography, Scully,” he said haughtily. “It’s ‘fiction’.”

She pushed him aside for a better look at the screen. “Wilson, . . . Pennelli, . . . Mulder these people are from — ”

“It’s called ‘fan fiction’, Scully, and there’s a ton of it on the net. Anything you could want, old shows, new shows, shows that have been recently cancelled.”

“Like The Y Folders?” she interjected.

“Exactly! It’s a shame Burger decided to fold his cards after this little incident, but hey, the story lives on . . . just in another form.”

“What do the words ‘copyright infringement’ mean to you, Mulder?” she asked, turning so she could perch on the corner of his desk. After giving her an admiring once over, he smiled.

“I’m not making money off this and neither are all these other people.” He typed in a few keystrokes and up popped a long list of names.

“Ohmigod!” she exclaimed. “All those people — there must be a thousand names on that list!”

“It’s incredible, Scully. And it’s all free!” He went back to the first screen. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m at an important juncture in the story,” he told her and went back to typing, allowing her to read over his shoulder.

“Mulder, nipples don’t ‘perk’, and that position you have them in is anatomically impossible,” she told him with notable amusement.

“Oh yeah? Well, let’s do some research at home tonight and we’ll just see about that,” he replied with a very happy grin.

the end

 

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