A League of Demon Cats

TITLE: A League of Demon Cats

AUTHOR: Sue Esty/ Windsinger

RATING: PG-13 –for occasional sick humor.

CATEGORY: Casefile

DISCLAIMER: No, Mulder and Scully and Maggie Scully are not mine but to my way of thinking Chris has clearly given up all rights to them.A League of Demon Cats

SUMMARY: Three elderly people have been murdered and the evidence points to the most unlikely person you can imagine.

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Grantsville, Maryland

January 22, 2005

Mrs. Helen Landsburg lowered the footrest of her Laz-E-Boy then paused for

strength. Before reaching for her walker she pushed her frail body to the edge

of the chair. This was too hard, she thought as she shuffled towards the kitchen.

She should have petitioned her doctor for a prescription for one of those lift

chairs whose seat raises to push you to your feet. And a trapeze bar above her

bed would be helpful as well like the ones they have above hospital beds. Or a

service dog? A nice, friendly Lab could bring her things she forgot and save her

at least half the trips she made around her house each day. And a dog would be

company. Grace had a service dog, Peetie, the sweetest little Border collie you

ever saw. Helen had Missy but the gray tabby refused to fetch anything that

didn’t resemble a dead mouse. Still she slept on the old woman’s stomach on cold

nights, a warm, welcoming presence. That was worth a lot.

Behind her the television still blared. It was playing the opening theme music

for that soap Helen hated which came on after Jeopardy. Since the remote was ten

feet away now, the damn thing would just have to stay on until she could get

back to it. By then maybe the Meals on Wheels volunteer would get it for her. In

truth the volunteer who brought her lunch and dinner six times a week didn’t

work for Meals on Wheels but another organization even if Helen couldn’t

remember its name.

Helen never made it to the kitchen where she would have waited at the kitchen

table for the volunteer to come to her back door. She felt suddenly a little

dizzy and very weak and the bedroom was closer. She was lying down, useless

Missy mewing at her side for her missed breakfast, when the expected knock

sounded at her back door. “Come in,” she tried to cry though barely a whisper

escaped. As if from far, far away she heard the lock turn and the door open.

* * * * * * * * * * *

January 24, 10am

Georgetown

Washington DC

Scully found her partner and housemate in their back yard putting the little BBQ

grill away in the duplex’s four-by-six garden shed. The red dome was covered

with a double layer of dry-clearer bags. No fancy grill-covers for Mulder.

Scottish frugality and Yankee ingenuity all the way. Timing however…

“You should have done that in November,” she commented with a smile.

He shrugged as he tried to manhandle the grill past the lawn mower that took up

most of the floor space in the tiny shed. “I thought we might get another warm

spell before the holidays.”

“Which one — Thanksgiving or Christmas?” she teased.

He paused in his maneuvering to narrow his eyes at her. “I’ll remember that the

next time you’re in the mood for home-grilled shrimp, not that either of us are

going to get that wish for the next couple of months. They’re finally seeing a

change in the jet stream.” His attention turned to banks of clouds building from

the north then went back to struggling with the shed’s aluminum door. “I forgot

how living in a house with a yard required so much stuff.”

“I told you that we didn’t need a mower. A yard the size of this you can cut

with an electric hedge trimmer.”

“At least I didn’t get the riding mower that I really wanted. By the way, did

you have a nice morning with your Mom?”

For the holidays, Mulder had bought the house a bench made out of recycled

plastic and had set it up under the back yard’s drooping cherry tree in

anticipation of its spring fountains of pink blossoms. Scully collapsed down

onto the bench, which was overhung in January by only bare whips of twigs and a

lifeless sky. She looked suddenly so downcast that Mulder immediately came to

sit by her side. “What’s wrong? Is Maggie still having problems dealing with

Bill’s death?” And Charlie’s coldness he could have added but didn’t. When

Scully didn’t respond immediately he assumed both were a ‘yes’. His complexion

went a little paler than usual even for January. “W-Would it help if we …. if we

discussed the… uh… the ‘M’ word.”

With that Scully threw back her head and laughed even as she patted his clenched

hands. “Don’t get your intestines all tied up in knots. You know that you’re as

much of a son to her now as you will ever be.” In relief his death grip relaxed

and color returned to his face. “You just don’t have to be so relieved about

it,” she chided. “No, what’s wrong with Mom is not depression. She’s more….

manic.”

“Being manic is the flip side of depression,” he said. “It’s just another way of

grieving. Keeping busy helps.”

“I know,” Scully agreed reluctantly, “but this is just not Mom. It’s as if she’s

flying from one thing to the other. Some of it’s understandable — like her work

at the hospital which she’s very committed to — but she’s joined a community

chorus and a committee for the county fair. She volunteers at the library and

there’s the neighborhood watch she’s organized. Her schedule would exhaust

anyone!”

Mulder eyed his partner with concern. There was more. “What aren’t you telling

me?”

She sighed. “As I said, she’s just not Mom. She’s always been so neat, so

careful of her appearance. Now it’s as if she doesn’t care. She hasn’t seen her

hairdresser in months, she’s pulled out clothes from seasons and seasons ago and

wears them, and not just around the house. She goes out like that. Don’t get me

wrong, I’m not into that entire status thing, but I do believe that for most

people neatness mirrors emotional well being. She’s also forgetting things, like

our shopping date today. I found her wandering around the neighborhood.”

“Was she lost?”

Scully shrugged. “She says, no. She says that she was just getting exercise

though how anyone as busy as her needs more exercise, I don’t know.”

“And her forgetting her favorite daughter was coming?” he asked. Only belatedly

did he remember that Dana had been Maggie Scully’s only daughter for some years.

“We’ll invite her to dinner,” he offered, “though I don’t know why. She cooks

better than either of us.”

“It might be tough finding a night she’s free.”

They didn’t have time to discuss the topic further. At that moment, Mulder’s

cell phone began playing the Close Encounters theme that he had downloaded off

the Internet. He answered and listed before replacing the instrument into his

pocket.

“That was Moratti in VCS. They have a consult for us. Yes, I know that we had

the morning off but we’ve been specifically requested. Murder of an elderly

woman. Grantsville, Maryland.”

Abruptly, Scully’s back straightened. “That’s a suburb of Baltimore and not very

far from where Mom lives.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Mulder’s thumb and first finger rose up under his reading glasses in an attempt

to pinch away the headache rising behind his eyes. “You called us in about

demonic cats?” he repeated for the fourth time in the past two minutes. “Demonic

‘cats’?”

Lyndon Freize was an young, over-eager agent, five-foot-ten, slender and blond,

who had been so enamored by Mulder’s lecture series at Quantico on profiling and

out-of-the-ordinary cases that he had earned a near perfect score and then

audited the classes twice more. He had also applied for assignment to the X-

Files a least half a dozen times until Scully took him gently aside to assure

him that, in the opinion of the bean counters, there was barely enough work to

keep she and Mulder occupied. If there were ever an opening, however, Lyndon

would be the first one they would call.

“Lyndon,” Mulder repeated slowly, knowing the man preferred the use of his first

name since ‘Frieze’, shouted in the midst of a critical law enforcement action

could lead to unnecessary and potentially fatal confusion, “say again why you

believe demon cats are at the heart of these murders?”

The slender young man nearly danced around Helen Landsburg’s genteelly shabby

living room as he performed for his idol. “All three victims — one over the

line in D.C. and two in Maryland — were suffocated. All owned cats, who from

the amount of cat hair in the bed clothes, slept with them regularly. Upon

autopsy, cat hair and dander was found in the nasal passages and deep in the

lungs of the Uba and Pulaski. This third appears to be nearly identical though

they’ve barely started the autopsy. ‘Two may be a coincidence, but three? ‘Watch

your ass.’” Lyndon quoted and beamed, Mulder groaned inwardly. The quote was

from Mulder’s summation statement from lecture number three.

Scully was scanning the two earlier case files. “There is a surprising degree of

similarity. All elderly and in poor shape physically. One man, Ivan Pulaski. Two

women, Angela Uba and Helen Landsburg. All lived alone except for a cat. All

were suffocated.” Suddenly, like a hound on a scent, she was off, heading for

the kitchen. Mulder followed, Lyndon sliding in his wake. Mulder watched as she

leaned down to read a single sheet of paper on the otherwise empty kitchen table.

With a latex-gloved hand she swung open the hinged door on the trash receptacle

and opened the refrigerator. There she stood, back straight. Too straight,

Mulder noted. Then she went to the sink next to which sat a small forest of

prescriptions. After searching for only a few seconds she held up two bottles.

“Different religions, different neigh-borhoods and economic classes, but all had

a least some of their prescriptions filled at Baltimore-Washington Hospital.”

Mulder’s right eyebrow raised. “We’ll start there then, Scully, after we wrap up

here.”

Lyndon looked up, pert as a terrier. “Where do you suggest I start, Agent

Mulder?”

Mulder considered for a moment and for once did not say the first words that

came into his head. Instead he gestured as a sleek, gray and white shape crept

in through the cat door, glanced quickly and with disappointment at the empty

food dish, then vanished into the living room. “After we talk to your evidence

people, why don’t you round up our chief suspect there, and keep him, or her,

close confined for the next few days. With a name like Missy I guess it’s a her.

See if she exhibits any unusual behavior. Also, see if all three victims

frequented the same veterinarian.” Lyndon nodded with the same eagerness and

started off, crouching low. “And Lyndon,” Mulder added tongue so firmly in his

cheek that he was in danger of choking himself, “perhaps it would be best to

lock the cat out of your room at night.”

As they left Helen’s modest sixties-era ranch house, Scully headed for the

driver’s side of their Bureau car. All too familiar with that determined posture.

Mulder settled without a word into the passenger’s seat. She drove unerringly

and in silence for fifteen minutes, sliding at last onto the Baltimore-

Washington Parkway. The Parkway was like the cherry tree in Mulder’s back yard,

gray and barren, but in his mind he could see all the seasons interposed one

upon the other; the new green of spring, the jungle lushness of summer and the

golden splendor of fall. Variable yet never changing like partner’s moods. They

continued in silence. Scully turned off a few exits later at a sign for the

Baltimore-Washington Hospital. The set of her chin mirrored the steel in her

spine.

“You knew your way here without even glancing at a map,” he commented carefully,

“yet I don’t remember bleeding on the floor of their E.R. anytime in the past.

This must be the only hospital in the Washington area that can boast that

distinction.”

The expression on her face finally softened. “Not for lack of trying. This is a

small, private hospital. It specializes in geriatrics.”

Mulder’s eyebrow twitched. “That would explain why I haven’t checked in there

lately. So why did you know your way here so well? Geriatrics isn’t one of your

specialties. Is this related in any way to what you saw in Mrs. Landsburg’s

refrigerator?”

The tenseness was back. “On the table was a monthly receipt from Lots in the Pot,

a meal delivery service for the at-home infirmed. There’s a sliding scale for

payment depending upon need. The clients are usually elderly, but don’t have to

be. It’s like Meals on Wheels only in addition to a prepared lunch they also

deliver upon request a ready to heat dinner and other small necessities like

toothpaste and shampoo and staples like milk and cereal.”

“You recognized the carry out containers in the trash.”

She nodded, suddenly grim again. “There was also an unopened delivery in the

refrigerator. I know it was unopened because each client’s delivery is packaged

in a medium-size, brown grocery bag which is stapled closed at the top with a

list of the contents and the date and initials of the volunteer who made the

delivery. Deliveries are made between 10am and 2pm. This delivery was made the

day Mrs. Landsburg was murdered.”

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“So about the time of her death according to the coroner.” Suddenly uneasy, he

added gently, “We’ll need to question whoever made that delivery.”

They had reached the visitor’s packing lot. Scully pulled into a space and

turned off the ignition but her eyes remained focused forward. “You know that

Mom volunteers at a hospital. Well, this is the one. Lots in the Pot works out

of here as well as other places. They have a contract with the kitchen to

prepare the food. She often drives for them. Those were my Mom’s initials on the

receipt in the refrigerator. I’d know them anywhere.”

Their first stop was to the pharmacy where they were the youngest people in the

room, both in front of and behind the counter, by at least three decades. They

requested and received all of the information the pharmacy database had on the

three victims which included drug history, doctors, and diagnoses. There was

nothing unusual in this information, Scully reported after a quick read. Just

the various ailments of old age – arthritis, diabetes, heart disease. They also

had different primary physicians. A trip to the hospital’s blue and beige

business office provided them with personal information that matched that in the

case files. All lived alone with no family close by. The second, Ivan Pulaski,

was relatively well off while the first, Angela Uba, seemed barely able to make

it month to month. Helen Landsburg’s finances seemed to fall somewhere in the

middle.

They retreated to the hospital’s coffee shop to review the new information.

Large picture windows looked out upon barren trees and gray sky which shortened

the already short day and did nothing to raise their spirits. As they finished

their coffee, Mulder’s cell phone chirped up with its Close Encounters Theme.

“Forensics,” he informed his partner, seeing the number, and took the call. He

asked a few questions and hung up less than a minute later. “That was easy.”

”Because it was just like the other ones?”

“Actually, they don’t have results on Landsburg yet. I asked some question on

the other two. In both cases suffocation was with something soft — but not a

cat — though they did indeed find cat hairs in the mouth and windpipe of both

victims. I did, however, see a several soft pillows listed as having been

removed from both Angela Uba’s bedroom and Ivan Pulaski’s bedroom. I asked the

lab to check for saliva on the pillow and the approximate number of cat hairs.

Other than the pillows they slept on, the pillows with the most cat hairs from

each bedroom also showed traces of the victim’s saliva.” As she stared, he added,

“I’m talking about cat pillows, you know. The beasts usually have only a few

preferred sleeping places. They’re very territorial. A neighbor in Chilmark had

three. I fed them when he was out of town.”

She found herself smiling for the first time in hours. “I know what a cat pillow

is. I wasn’t sure you did. So you really don’t buy into Lyndon’s demon cat

theory after all?”

He returned her smile. “I won’t say that I didn’t give it a passing thought.

After all there’s also that old wives’ tale which blames SIDS deaths on cats

smothering babies while they sleep. Old wives are not old wives for nothing, but

I’d still say that there are no demon cats today.”

“Your fan club will be disappointed,” Scully remarked as Mulder put in a call.

Within moments he had switched the speaker on and placed the cell phone on the

table between them. It sounded as if a half-dozen dogs were barking in the

background.

“Lyndon, any luck checking out vets?”

“REPEAT THAT?” asked the young agent in a raised voice.

“Any LUCK!” Mulder shouted back.

“NOT MUCH… “ The rest was lost.

“Check to see if Helen Landsburg kept a cat pillow in her bedroom. A CAT

PILLOW!”

“CAT PILLOW! Riiiight….”

The rest was grateful silence. Mulder folded up the phone. “That’s all.”

“I’d say that was enough,” Scully retorted.

Reluctantly, Scully led her partner down to the hospital’s ground floor. Here

the decoration was more utilitarian overall and the halls were narrower. The

overall impression was of coats and coats of blinding white paint. They were

very close to the hospital’s kitchens which was obvious not only from the warm

aroma of cooking from but from the hollow clatter of trays and cutlery, the

bell-like ring of huge pans, and the hiss of steam. Scully walked directly past

all this to a door marked: “Lots for the Pot. Welcome.”

She had been here before with her mom, Mulder surmised, feeling awkward. The

room was small and simply but neatly furnished with a couple of comfortable

chairs, a sofa, and end tables. On the end tables were lamps and little racks of

brochures. They had been in the room less than a minute before a small woman in

her mid-seventies wearing a print dress, low heels, and a single strand of

pearls greeted them.

“Dana,” she exclaimed with a smile, “so good to see you again. When I heard the

bell I thought it was someone coming in to inquire about the service for a

relative.”

Scully extended a hand and proceeded to tell ‘Delilah’ how good it was to see

her again as well.

“Are you here to see your mother? I can check her route for today,” Delilah

offered.

“Unfortunately, I’m here in my professional capacity today.” Noting how directly

the older woman was eyeing Mulder, Scully added. “This is my partner,” she

introduced as the partners both automatically pulled out their ID.

“Yes, Fox Mulder,” Delilah said smiling up at him as they shook hands, “Maggie

has mentioned you often.”

“Positively, I hope,” he replied radiating charm in the way only Mulder could.

Delilah hesitated a moment before answering. “We certainly have found the

stories of your exploits fascinating. But she never mentioned how… tall… you

were.”

Scully was willing to bet that ‘Good-looking’ was what the woman was actually

thinking, or ‘scrumptious’. Scully was proud of her handsome lover and gave

points to her mother for downplaying that aspect otherwise her mother’s friends

would all be planning her wedding.

Briefly, Scully summarized the reason for their visit. Delilah was shocked at

the news of the tragic deaths for, as Scully feared, all three were clients of

‘LIP’ as Delilah called it.

“We need to know the delivery dates in December and January and the IDs of the

drivers for Pulaski and Uba,” Mulder said.

“Let me go get the schedule for those weeks,” Delilah answered and hurried off

so quickly that she almost ran into a gangly, middle-aged security guard with

bold, arresting features. “Oh, Rubin, you’re still here? Do you have a minute to

help me pull down a box from the file room?”

As Delilah and the guard hurried away on their errand, Mulder murmured, “So our

exploits are fascinating?”

“I only discuss the most mundane of our cases with Mom,” Scully protested.

“She probably guesses that and makes up others to fill in the gaps.”

“Couldn’t be stranger than the truth,” Scully grumbled remembering ‘Flukeman’

and the carnival murders of many years past and others as bizarre since.

Delilah returned, her head buried in charts, her heels tapping brightly on the

linoleum. “Deliveries around December 17th for Mrs. Uba, January the 6th for Mr.

Pulaski, and the 13th for Mrs. Landsburg? All Thursdays,” the woman noted as her

eyes scanned down the columns. Mulder felt Scully’s eyes on him. Rattled over

Maggie Scully’s possible involvement, the pattern hadn’t occurred to either of

them. Delilah had a perplexed expression on her face when she next looked up.

“Dana, your mother was the assigned driver for each one of those clients and

there was a delivery on each of those days.”

To Mulder’s eyes his partner was visibly shaken but not so much that anyone but

he would notice. “And who was the driver for the next day’s delivery?” What

Mulder was asking was who should have found the bodies. None of the three were

found for at least forty-eight hours and always through a phone call to police

or a neighbor from a concerned and far-away relative.

Delilah’s brow furrowed as she referred to the sheets again. “There were no

other deliveries. Each contract was cancelled on the dates you stated.” The

woman looked pale. “I guess that that would have been the same day each died.”

A chilly breeze suddenly flowed through the room though no one had opened a door.

“Who cancelled?” Mulder asked, as Scully clearly couldn’t.

“Maggie,” Delilah reported and didn’t need to consult her spreadsheet this time.

Mulder led his partner from the hospital a few minutes later. She walked through

a light flurry of snow flakes in a kind of daze.

“We need to call Skinner,” Mulder said. “He likes your mom. He’ll want to be in

on this from the beginning.”

Scully’s step became more firm in the cool air. “Not yet. At least not till we

know more. Besides, odd behavior or not, she didn’t do it.”

“Of course she didn’t,” he assured her and meant it.

“But it looks bad,” Scully said. “How could she know to cancel the deliveries if

the bodies hadn’t even been found yet?”

“That’s what we’re going to have to ask her,” he said opening the car door.

“It’s only a coincidence, I’m sure.”

“I thought you didn’t believe in coincidences,” Scully accused.

He frowned. “There’s always a first time.”

Act II

January 24, 4pm

Mulder drove this time. He needed no help finding Scully’s childhood home, a

rambling white colonial sitting slightly below street level half way down a

gentle slope that ended at a little stream and a line of willowy trees. They

were relieved to find her car in the driveway, but alarmed to discover the door

unlocked and Maggie Scully nowhere to be found. Scully was clearly frantic but

struggled to hide it. Mulder climbed back into the car and they slowly drove the

neighboring streets. All the stately homes were at least forty years old, and

unlike the mega-cookie-cutter mansions of today had been built to house large

families in comfort, not opulence. Some were brick, some stone, some frame. Some

had wrap-around porches, some bay windows. Some had turrets, others were topped

with widow’s walks or gingerbreak. There were wrought-iron fences, stone walls,

brick walls and hedges. The streets were all lined with sidewalks and everywhere

there were trees. Mulder finally saw a small figure trudging along in the

distance, though with its overlarge coat, unfashionable goulashes, and slouch

hat pulled low he didn’t think it could possibly be Maggie. But it was. Scully

instantly recognized the outfit as one that many a bag lady would have disdained.

Maggie smile broadly as her daughter leaped out of the car before Mulder had

even brought it to a stop.

“Mom, what are you doing!” Scully exclaimed.

“Getting exercise,” and in truth Maggie’s cheeks were glowing from the cold.

“It’s nearly dark.”

“So it is. I love the glow of lights behind the windows of the houses,

especially in the winter. I think about everyone safe and warm inside. And talk

about warm…” Her walk had been brisk and she pulled off the shapeless mass of

the hat and briefly wiped at her perspiring forehead. “What’s wrong?” she asked

seeing her daughter’s grim expression. “I know that look. I first saw it when

you were eight. You disapprove of something. Don’t you like my hat?”

“I looks like it got run over by a truck.”

“So it does, but it does the job. Besides, I made this one myself.”

“But you don’t knit.”

Looking fondly at the misshapen object, Maggie sighed, “Some people will say I

still don’t.” She cast another look at her daughter. “You disapprove of more

than my hat.”

Scully squirmed. “Mom, it’s just that that outfit makes you look… sort of old.”

A button clearly having been pushed, Maggie flared, trounced a few steps over to

a bus shelter, and dropped herself firmly onto the bench. “In case you haven’t

noticed, I am old, or getting old. One day you’ll realize what it’s like. And

I’m not talking about the aches and pains part — that’s bad enough — but the

narrowing of your options, the limitations on being able to do everything you

still want to do in your life –“

“Mom, stop,” Scully said so sharply that Maggie did stop. “And don’t say such

things to anyone again.” Looking from one grim, young face to another Maggie saw

that there was more going on here than her attire. “Why? What did I say?”

“Because a D.A. could read a motive in there.”

“What? Fox…” Not getting sense from her distraught daughter Maggie turned to her

‘adopted’ son.

As quickly and simply as possible, Mulder told her about the three deaths. There

was no doubt that she was surprised and saddened.

“I knew that they were no longer clients of ours, but not why. Did you know they

were on my delivery route? Yes, you must have known or you wouldn’t have brought

it up.”

“Mom,” Scully explained in control again, “they aren’t just dead. They were

murdered and you were the last person that we know of to have seen them all

alive.”

Maggie’s eyes widened with a dawning expression of horror and sadness. “You

can’t possibly think that I –“

“No, of course not!” Scully exclaimed. “But a D.A. might see that a woman

undergoing a mid-life crisis, who complains about the ‘limitations’ of her life

–“

“Semi-end-of-her-life crisis,” Maggie corrected. “So how did you become

involved?”

Helplessly, Scully shrugged. “It’s not really our jurisdiction. They called the

FBI in because the crimes are similar enough that they might be the work of a

serial killer as well as the fact that the murders cross state lines.” Her eyes

went to her partner almost accusingly, “Then one of our bright young agents

called Mulder in because of some unusual ‘features’ of the case –”

“What features?” Maggie demanded.

“Cats,” Mulder answered with a kind of apologetic cough.

“Excuse me?” Maggie asked, not sure that she had heard correctly.

“Cats,” Mulder coughed again. “All three kept a cat.”

“That’s right. One of the reasons they were assigned as my clients was because

I’m not only _ not _ allergic to cats, but I like them. But I can’t see how

that has anything to do with the murder of those poor people.”

“Neither do I,” Scully murmured nearly, but not entirely inaudibly.

Mulder sighed. “Just tell us what you know about the last time that you saw each

of these people alive.”

Maggie looked hurt. “Do you really think I’m a suspect, Fox?”

Helplessly, Mulder waved a hand. “Just think of it as helping us to determine

time-of-death.”

Thought not altogether satisfied, Maggie gave it some thought. “I’d have to look

at my log to give you exact dates and times. I didn’t talk to Helen that day. I

came to the back door as usual and knocked, but she didn’t answer so let myself

in. I have a key. As important as bringing food, we check on the well-being of

our clients — mental and physical. Helen was lying on her bed asleep but

breathing easily so I didn’t wake her. The last time I saw Angela, she and I

chatted about her new great-grandchild and Ivan complained about his arthritis.

I changed a light bulb in a ceiling fixture for him.”

Without a glance in Scully’s direction, Mulder went on to ask, “What can you

tell us about their cats?”

Eyes round, Maggie proceeded to clasp her hands in her lap while making a

visible effort to comply. “Angela’s was a great big tom. Mycroft, a yellow tabby.

Followed her like a dog. Ivan’s was this white ball of fur, which he brushed

religiously twice a day. Its hair was still everywhere. I tried not to wear

black when I visited Ivan. It had a longer name but he called her Snowball.

Helen’s was a gray and white female. Missy, I think. I didn’t see her or

Snowball much. They didn’t like strangers but Mycroft would sit in your lap,

anyone’s lap. Does that help?”

Mulder sighed again. “I have no idea. Would you like a ride home? It’s cold.”

“Not when you’re walking it isn’t, which I’m not any more, but my neighborhood

watch meeting is just two houses up the street.” She glared at them pointedly,

“And no one there accuses me of murder or criticizes my hat,” and Maggie

proceeded to dump the lopsided tangle of wool on her head as she rose to do just

that.

“Mom,” Scully called after her, “I’m really sorry. I didn’t handle that very

well.”

Maggie paused, smiling softly. “No, you didn’t, but you’re forgiven.” A few

steps further and she took a moment to look back at the two of them. Dana wore a

bereft expression like the one last seen on the ten-year-old Dana when the

family dog died; her ‘son’ stood with shoulders hunched, hands deep in the

pockets of his long coat.

“Don’t you wait too much longer, you two. Life is shorter than you think.”

Jan 24, 6pm

Having no heart for food or even for a night on the couch before a movie, they

headed for the scene of the first murder, Angela Uba. She had lived in a tiny

duplex in the D.C. side of Takoma Park. It was an isolated place near a railroad

track and just as dreary inside as out. Clearly the person who had lived there

had been chronically ill for too long to do much more than the most rudimentary

house-keeping. The detective who let them in was well versed enough in the case

to answer most of their questions.

“And where is the cat now?” Mulder asked. “Mycroft, was it?”

“Animal shelter,” the detective answered. “Almost jumped into the cat carrier it

was so lonely. Has the run of the place now, I hear.”

Wearily they turned to Ivan Pulaski’s neat, gothic revival. It sat with its back

against a dark, looming parkland. Its red-shingled roof was almost lost in the

branches of the trees and three-quarters of its brickwork had been invaded by

English ivy. A single turret stood gracefully beside the front door, it’s cone-

shaped roof reaching to the second floor. Despite the presence of its feline

familiar, here was the romantic beauty of Tolkien’s English heritage and not the

lair of any witch or warlock. They found no garden troll on the doorstep,

however, only a tired-looking Lyndon Frieze.

“Heard you were coming,” he explained as he used a key to open the front door.

“You look as if you had as successful of a day as we did,” Mulder muttered as

the young agent used a latex-gloved hand to reach for a light switch.

“From the expressions on your faces, better than the two of you,” was Lyndon’s

reply as a foyer with high walnut wainscoting sprang into view. The rooms

opening on either side, small formal living and dining rooms, matched with their

dark wainscoting and pale stucco above. They were furnished in a graceful and

classic style, all dark wood and cream upholstery with here and there a splash

of color.

‘Nice place,’ was Scully’s thought. ‘Not expensive but elegant, if a little dark.

Mulder would love living here.’ When she saw the small study, its walls floor to

ceiling with books, she was sure of it.

Lyndon led them up a stairway, each tred so deeply carpeted that their steps

made no sound. Half way up the steps turned within the turret they had seen from

the outside. A window seat was constructed under each of the two oversized

arrow-slit windows. Between them on the wall, in what was clearly a place of

honor, hung an icon of Michael the Archangel. Its gold leaf and tiny pinpoints

of jewel colors reflected the yellowish light of a brass and glass fixture that

hung from a chain from the point of the turret roof above.

They had just reached the second floor and Lyndon was searching the shadowy wall

for the hallway light switch when a ghostly form, low to the ground, darted

across their path. Startled, Scully jumped and stopped still and was promptly

run into from behind by Mulder. Only by grabbing for the head of the handrail

did he stop himself from pitching down the stairs.

“What the…!” Mulder exclaimed even as he felt his partner’s touch on his arm,

steadying him.

“I think we found our demon cat,” she said, “at least temporarily.” Like some

will-o-the-wisp, the gray streak was gone.

The bedroom, the murder site, was all hunter green and beige beneath the

comfortable day-to-day clutter of a single man who had not had time to put his

affairs in order. Lyndon began to speak but a gesture from Scully stopped him.

Mulder was silently ‘feeling’ up the room, not only with his eyes, but with his

whole body, long hands raised like medium. A few minutes later at a nod from

Mulder they left for what from the thin layer a dust was an infrequently used

guestroom. In addition to a bed and small bureau there were two comfortable

chairs with a lamp table between them. Mulder dropped into one of the chairs,

long legs sprawled and gestured to the young agent. “Sit. Tell us what you

have.”

clip_image004

Perching on the corner of a cream chenille bedspread, Lyndon pulled out a small

dog-eared notebook, which in truth was a dog-chewed notebook. “I’m not sure what

it means. All three victims did take their cats to the same veterinary office,”

Mulder sat up a little straighter, “but to different vets in the practice. No

other similarities. I did find this, though,” he extended a scrap of paper,

“with the records for Maxilla’s Mischance Pulaski, AKA ‘Snowball Pulaski’.”

Scully took the paper, which seemed to be cut from a glossy magazine, and asked

as she read, “With a formal name like that, Snowball, was — is — purebred?”

Mulder’s eyes flickered with interest.

“A pure white Turkish Van,” Lyndon replied. “One blue eye, one amber eye.

Relatively rare markings for the breed and show quality but no champion.”

Scully continued to read. All at once she sat up still staring at the paper. “I

need to see Maxilla’s vet.”

Being nearly eight p.m. Mulder, Scully and Lyndon agreed to meet the slight,

fair-haired veterinarian at a neighborhood bar.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Tami Nash explained in a slight southern drawl, “I enjoy

talking genetics, but after a whole day of dealing with socially maladjusted

canines, I just have to get out.”

“We understand,” Scully said. “What we need is simple, I hope.” She handed over

the clipping which Lyndon had given her. “This came from Snowball Pulaski’s file.

This is from a top cat breeder’s digest and describes Pontifar, a rare lavender-

eyed, ring-tailed, Turkish Van. He is unique in my understanding in that he did

not trigger the typical reaction with any of a hundred individuals reported as

being medium to heavily allergic to cats.”

The woman looked with soulful eyes at the picture in the clipping. “Yes, I

remember this. Tragically, he escaped from his handler, lost his head in traffic

and was killed.”

“So an absolutely unique gene was lost. If the trait bred true, kittens of his

would have been worth thousands, not to mention the prestige to the breeder.”

“At least,” Nash agreed, “because Turkish Vans are luxurious animals. Almost any

cat owner would prefer them over your hairless breeds which many cat lovers with

mild allergies keep at pets. Interestingly, it’s not the hair but cat dander and

their saliva that people are allergic to. Light-colored, long haired breeds have

even been found to be less allergenic so it’s not totally surprising to see this

rare trait coming up in something like the Turkish Van. The Turkish Vans, in

case you don’t know, is a type of medium-haired magpie. That is a bi-color. One

of the most common coat patterns is generally referred to as a ‘tuxedo’. Turkish

Van’s, however, are largely white. Any contrasting color, if found, is primarily

on the head and tail. Very striking.”

“And the article states that Maxilla’s Mischance, Ivan Pulaski’s Snowball, was

Pontifar’s mother,” Scully said. “So the genes aren’t entirely lost. Did Mr.

Pulaski consider breeding her?”

“We had many conversations after Pontifar’s uniqueness was discovered.” Nash

took a sip from her beer. “He was even in contact with the owner of Pontifar’s

sire only he was worried about the dangers of pregnancy. He loved that animal.

You’ve seen her I take it?”

“Actually, she’s been making herself scarce,” Lyndon reported, “though she’s

somewhere in the house. Food laid out for her disappears.”

“She must be frantic. Anyway, Mr. Pulaski ordered a complete work-up on Snowball

before he would consider breeding her. I take it that he was a rather solitary

individual who seldom left his house after his wife died. Snowball was all he

had. In the end, he decided that the dangers were too great. She had her first

and only other pregnancy when she was too young and things went wrong. This was

before Mr. Pulaski acquired her. I agreed with his decision not to breed her

again. Could be fatal.”

“But maybe not.”

“Maybe not, but Mr. Pulaski needed her companionship more than he needed the

money. He was also offered quite a high sum to purchase her outright.”

Mulder perked up. “Do you know by whom?”

Nash shook her head and took a longer swallow of her beer. “No, though he

complained to me once about being harassed.” Mulder and Scully exchanged glances.

When they turned back the vet’s expression had changed to one of mild surprise.

She began to rise from the table. “Excuse me a moment, but I think I see someone

I know. I’ll be right back.”

They paid little attention as Nash greeted a nondescript sort of man sitting

alone with his back to them two tables from theirs. “If Pulaski refused to breed

or sell and never left his home, making theft difficult, then we may have found

our motive,” Scully suggested.

“And the other two murders were just ‘copycats’?” Mulder asked.

Scully groaned though from Mulder’s grim expression she knew that he found no

humor in the thought of two elderly people being killed merely to serve as a

smokescreen for a single intended victim. “The tragedy is that even if our perp

has the dame and the original sire, it may still take dozens of pairing to

reproduce a Pontifar.”

“Not fifty or twenty-five percent?” Lyndon asked.

“This is not simple high school wrinkled pea, smooth pea genetics here,” Scully

explained. “It’s a mixture of genes, more like looking for one wrinkled, yellow,

spotted pea among thousands of smooth, green peas. Maybe five percent; maybe one

percent. I’m not current with advances in veterinary science, but if the

technology were available and I were an unscrupulous professional breeder and I

had a female with Snowball’s history, I’d put her on huge doses of fertility

hormones to ripen the eggs. I’d then harvest them and fertilize them in the lab

with the right sperm. The fertilized eggs could then be implanted in multiple

surrogate females. In that way it would be possible, if expensive, to create

hundreds of offspring, vastly improving the chances of creating another

Pontifar.”

“I’d hate to see that tom’s child support payments,” Mulder murmured.

Scully allowed herself a thin smile. “In any case, the chances would be far

better than keeping poor Snowball constantly pregnant for the rest of her nine

lives if much more technically complicated. But then if this extreme

hypoallergenicity were due to a single spontaneous mutation, then they may never

be able to reproduce it.” Scully had been scanning the vet’s records as she

talked. Now she pointed to a later entry in Snowball’s history. “Look, here. The

harassment must have picked up. Six months later he and Dr. Nash actually

discussed hysterectomy for Snowball which would remove the ovaries as well, but

not to harvest the eggs, only to make her worthless in the eyes of certain

people. They went back and forth on that for months. The last note here

indicates that he was coming around to that decision.”

“Panic time for our mysterious breeder,” Mulder noted.

Lyndon raised an eyebrow. “You’re right about the panic. There’s a police report

of a break a month before the murder but only a watch and a pair of gold cuff

links were taken.”

“But not Snowball because, being skittish around strangers, she was obviously no

where to be found,” Scully said approvingly.

“After that Pulaski got a security system,” Lyndon read.

“So our perp needed another way into the house,” Mulder said.

“The Lots in a Pot drivers!” Lyndon exclaimed so loudly that the partners

gestured in unison for him to keep his voice low. “You suspected from the

start!” He said excitedly to Scully. “That’s why you were looking so closely at

the delivery containers. The LIP volunteers have got to be involved in some way

with the murders.”

Mulder coughed discretely. Scully flushed but only so much, as Mulder would

notice. “True, we have been looking into that,” she told the young agent. “LIP

is probably the source but we don’t believe that the driver is involved, at

least not criminally so. We think they are being used. LIP volunteers always

have the means to let themselves in since that’s part of their function — to

check on their clients who usually live alone and who might be sick or hurt and

unable to get to the door.”

“Think of it this way,” Mulder went on, describing the scene. “The LIP volunteer

inactivates the alarm if there is one, unlocks the door, announces herself and

goes in. While the driver goes to check on their client, the door is unlocked,

maybe even left open, and our perp can just walk in and hide until the volunteer

leaves.”

“You referred to this fictitious volunteer as ‘she’,” Lyndon said. “Do you have

one particular driver in mind?”

“Most LIP volunteers are female,” Mulder answered a bit too quickly, so much so

that Lyndon raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Besides, I think that we are looking

for two people. One who saw the article about Pontifar in Snowball’s records and

one who has access to LIP’s schedules and the other elderly people on that

volunteer’s route.”

“But why target other cat owners?” Lyndon asked. “Wouldn’t non-cat-owners make

for a better smokescreen?”

A little desperately, Mulder sought Scully’s eye. Lyndon’s point was far too

sharp. Luckily, Scully was already adding “Thursdays…” in an attempt to

complicate matters. “All the deaths occurred on a Thursday so wherever he works

now, our perp seems to have Thursdays off.”

But the young agent’s expression showed that he had already become distracted in

another direction. He was staring up to where Nash was still talking to the man

whom she obviously knew. Lyndon was soon furtively skimming through the dog-

chewed notebook. “I know that man,” he reported to the partners in a fast, low

voice, “the one Nash is speaking to. He’s a veterinary assistant in Nash’s

practice. He retrieved Snowball’s records for me. Took his time doing it, too. I

took down his name from his ID badge. DuPres. Jonathan DuPres.”

Scully raised both eyebrows at Mulder. “Coincidence again?”

“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice…. I think we’d like for you to look

into the background of Mr. DuPres, Lyndon, since you’re practically old friends

already. For example, does he have Thursdays off? Also, see if you can find out

if he has any connection with anyone at LIP. Also, who currently owns Pontifar’s

sire or do they have such things as feline sperm bank and is he a donor. We’ll

take care of the LIP contact.”

Once alone in their own car again Scully asked, “Why _ would _ the perp target

only cat owners? As Lyndon says, damn him, it doesn’t make sense.”

Mulder started the engine. “The fact that that all have cats may be due, like

your Mom said, to her having so many cat owners as clients since she’s not

allergic and actually likes the beasts. She was probably singled out at LIP to

‘take the fall’ only because she had Pulaski on her route but we have to prove

this before Lyndon’s superiors start getting itchy for a progress report.”

Act III

Jan. 26, 11:30am

Just before noon on a sunny, winter day, a white medical assistance van pulled

up in front of Ivan Pulaski’s brick and ivy home. A petite brunette in dark-

rimmed glasses and a practical but shapeless coat got out from behind the

driver’s seat and went around to the sliding van door to assist a thin, elderly

man in exiting the van. As she handed the frail old man his walker, he grumbled

and began to swear loudly in a thick Eastern European accent. Crotchety with

impatience, he began shuffling along towards the house moaning over how Ivan had

died leaving his whole house for his poor cousin Boris to have to clean out and

how he wasn’t a young man any more.

Grasping a portable oxygen tank in one hand and a suitcase in the other, his

‘nurse’ hurried to catch up. A brand new cat carrier sat in full view on the top

of the pile of luggage visible through the van’s open rear door. Over his loud

protests the small woman took the old man’s arm to assist him painfully up the

four steps and onto the front porch.

“Pull back on the awful accent,” Scully warned in a whisper close to the well-

known ear, “or he won’t be able to understand a word you’re saying.”

In answer the old man harrumphed loudly and fumbled for a full five minutes with

a ring of keys before he hobbled inside.

Once away from any windows the old man straightened up but not without clutching

his lower back. “Being old is going to kill me,” Mulder grumbled in his own

voice.

Scully scratched at the edge of her dark wig. “And here I thought Halloween was

in October.”

“You make a fetching brunette,” he leered, swooping down to nibble an ear, but

she only swatted his attentions away.

“And you’re a dirty, old man.”

“Someday. Now I’m only a dirty, not-quite-so-young man.”

“I’d better go bring in the rest of the luggage,” she announced and turned on

her heel and marched outside. Three trips later and it was all piled in the

small living room where in full view of the room’s largest window Mulder sat

sprawled with his legs far apart and his arms on the armrests of a deeply

upholstered chair, his walker by his side. “You don’t like my plan,” he sulked.

Forcing herself not to overtly snarl at him, Scully did allow herself a frown.

“I never have. You have your basketball buddies over in drug surveillance make

you up like some sort of Methuselah. Then you show up here trying to lure our

perp out of hiding by making him think that Ivan’s cousin has come to clear out

the house, including the cat. This assumes that he’s watching the house.”

“I assume he is, if only with a hidden video camera. ‘Boris’ even showed up at

LIP early this morning to loudly sign up for meal delivery starting tomorrow. He

was clear that he would only be in town a few days.”

“And Maggie is not scheduled to drive,” Scully said. “I made sure of that. If

Mom has been picked to be the scapegoat in this mess they’ll have to find a way

to change the schedule. It’s just the ‘they’ we need to find.”

“Remember that she can’t know about the masquerade,” he went on. “We know she’s

innocent, but we have to have proof for the rest of the world. Jonathan DuPres,

our eavesdropper of the other night, is clearly half of the team. Cream of the

crop that one: Age forty-five,” Mulder repeated from memory, “one-time furniture

salesman, one-time supermarket checker, one-time lawn service employee, and

currently veterinary assistant.”

“Who still lives with his mother — ”

“– and is desperate not to be, I’ll bet,” Mulder observed.

“You’d feel the same way if your two-bedroom apartment was also home to thirteen

cats. Mulder, you know why I’m against this. I don’t think the possible gain is

worth the risk, not when we’re so close without it. We know from his mother that

he picks up her prescriptions at the hospital pharmacy when there are a dozen

pharmacies closer. He has some reason to go there besides that. To meet his

contact probably. Sooner or later we’ll find that contact.”

“But we don’t have a name yet or what kind of job that person holds.” Mulder

made a motion to scratch at his make-up but forced himself to make an irritated

gesture instead. “He’s also dropped from sight, which his mother says that he

does from time to time, mostly to gamble, but who knows what he’s up to this

time. Worse, he knows that the FBI is sniffing around the veterinary office

where he works. He’s got to be worried, the kind of worried that can make a

person do something stupid. Scully, it’s imperative that we flush both of these

characters out as soon as possible. What if DuPres decides that they need to

suffocate another old person this week just to thicken the smokescreen?”

“So we arrange for him not to suffocate any ‘unknown’ old person, only you?”

Mulder leered again. “But I’m hard to suffocate, as you should know, my little

lamprey.”

The memory of a recent marathon kissing session when she had tired to ‘steal his

breath away’, and been successful, flowed through her. When she dared look back

at him again there was heat in his ‘old’ eyes.

“Cousin Boris and his cat carrier is a threat to any plans they may have.

They’ll need to make new plans, regroup. They won’t move for a day or two.

Tonight at the earliest.” He gestured towards the second floor. “Nothing to do

but wait then. We could try out the guestroom bed,” he suggested with a wink.

“Mulder, someone died in this house!”

“The forensics teams are finished here. Besides, that hasn’t exactly stopped us

before.”

He was right about that. “An authentic medical assistance service would only

linger here long enough to get ‘Boris’ settled. The plan — much as I dislike it

— is that you should be here alone.”

“The better to draw them out, my dear.” His long fingers began stroking the arm

of the chair as they so often stroked the skin of her back. She found herself

staring transfixed at that hand. “Come on, Scully, I’ll be here all alone

tonight. A quickie on the study floor. All those musty books for company. The

windows are heavily curtained already.”

She wavered, tried to think of an excuse and wavered again. He saw that and

began making feeble attempts to get out of the chair. Dutifully, she went over

to take his arm and help him begin tottering towards the back of the house.

“You’ll be gentle with me, won’t you?” he asked in his most ancient of voices.

“Of course, I will, but only to save wear and tear on your makeup, not because

you deserve it.”

1 pm

Hastily, Scully straightened her wig in the hall mirror. “Try not to play the

hero while I’m gone,” she warned him.

Mulder rolled an eye even as he reapplied black lines of mascara on either side

of his mouth. Kissing _ was _ hard on makeup, even when you’re careful.

He hobbled with his walker out onto the porch with her. They both shivered

automatically. In the hour they had been in the house the wind had picked up and

the air had a wet, chill to it. The blue sky was gone replaced by a sea of thick,

flying, gray clouds.

“Real snow for sure,” Mulder grunted in his Slavic accent and proceeded to take

in a thick breath of air that left him coughing. “Also smells like snow. Besides,

almanac says so. Three inches.”

“Five,” Scully challenged in a low voice, “or you pay for Starbucks for a week.”

It was a game of theirs, but then predicting the weather in the D.C. area was

always a gamble.

“Done!” Mulder whispered back but didn’t drop the accent. “Won’t keep the

delivery lady from coming, will it? Neither rain nor snow, nor dead of night—“

“That’s mailmen and five inches? My mom? She was raised in New England. She’ll

be here… What are you doing?”

The ‘old’ man was half-bending, half-falling down, long trembling fingers

reaching for one of a half-dozen newspapers which had been delivered since Ivan

Pulaski’s death. With a sigh of exasperation, she picked them up for him so that

their hands had an excuse to touch before she headed back to the van.

Dressed once again in her own clothes and without the awful wig, Scully stopped

at the FBI field office in South Baltimore and signed up for a visitor terminal.

Despite the backup agent who was staged less than a block from the Pulaski’s

house, she didn’t want to be as far from Mulder as their D.C. office but she

needed access to the FBI’s wider database that even Google didn’t have feelers

into. There was a lot they didn’t know about their chief suspect and his

supposed contact at LIP. And it wouldn’t do any good to catch him if they didn’t

have the evidence to hold him and confirm her mother’s innocence. Now she had

access to all the employee and volunteer records from LIP and everything they

had been able to come up with on Jonathan DuPres. With determination she began

crosschecking backgrounds.

9 pm

Hours later she found it. Good old-fashioned police work. Her last query had

come up with a match between DuPres and a security guard at the hospital who had

recently begun volunteering at LIP some evenings and on a few his days off.

Rubin Sweet. DuPres had been a student at Towson University when Sweet had been

a security guard there. She had also found how Sweet had probably been pulled

into the scheme. DuPres not only played poker but was preparing to finance his

future life by gambling, of which he was clearly very good. DuPres probably made

all those trips to the hospital because he had a little game going on off hours.

Certainly Sweet’s bank account showed large withdrawals over the past six months.

How much did he still owe? Enough to pay it off by volunteering at LIP, thus

obtaining access to the delivery schedules? Enough to break in and commit

murder? Also DuPres had Thursdays off and Sweet mostly worked nights.

Before she could call Mulder with the news, her cell phone buzzed. As she feared,

it was Tippett, Mulder’s backup.

“Got a problem, Harry?” Scully pounced, having detected a note of excitement in

the young agent’s voice.

“McAlester has turned himself in,” Harry Tippett reported in a rush. “That’s the

interstate fraud case I’ve been working on for the past two months. They want me

in the office ASAP. I’ve called for a replacement but there will be a gap in his

getting here.”

Scully felt a loosening in most but not all of the tension in her back. Not a

huge problem. Having a backup in place was part of their trying to take proper

precautions for once. They didn’t expect a visit from their perp until the next

day when the LIP volunteer — Maggie Scully — made her first delivery. “How

long of a gap?”

“Half hour, probably longer what with all this snow.”

The tension locked around her spine again. “How much snow?”

“What planet have you been living on, Agent Scully. There’s ten inches on the

ground and it’s still coming down like a house-afire.”

Her hand clenched and unclenched around the pen she held. She barely remembered

the lowering clouds and the bet she had laughingly made with Mulder. Then for

the first time she realized how quiet the usually busy office had been for some

time. Of course, this was the Baltimore-Washington area and the first

significant snowfall of the year. The roads would be clogged before the first

flake fell, its citizenry manic. Not a loaf of bread, a quart of milk, or roll

of toilet paper would be left on any shelf in any store in the area, and every

employee that could would had headed for home hours before.

She realized that Tippett was calling her name. “Sorry. I’ve been down in the

tombs of the South Baltimore station for the past — “she stared at her watch in

amazement “ — six hours.”

“Then I hope that you have four-wheel drive, otherwise you might be there for

another six, or more likely twelve hours,” Tippett informed her. “They’re

predicting at least eighteen inches now.”

“Eighteen inches! What happened to four?”

She sensed a shrug on the other end of the line. “A low pushed up from the Gulf

and got stalled by highs in the Midwest and New England leaving the storm right

over us with no place to go. But enough weather report. If I don’t get moving I

won’t make it to the station and you know that these scumbag lawyers don’t

respect snow delays.”

“Okay, go,” she told him. “Just urge your replacement to get there as soon as he

can.”

The connection broke and she dashed for the elevator. The first floor was just

as silent as the basement had been. She skidded to a halt by the employee lounge.

The large windows looked out on — black. She found the switch and turned off

the lights. Now she could clearly see the falling of the thick snow by the

parking lot’s security lights. There was an unbroken blanket everywhere except

for one solitary lump the size of her car.

Mulder had been going through Ivan Pulaski’s papers in study and bedroom, attic

and basement. He had spent the last few hours in a third bedroom on the second

floor. There seemed to be nothing there but paperwork. The man kept everything.

But did he keep an offer to buy his cat? It would be helpful to have that kind

of evidence if they were unable to catch the man red-handed. When Mulder’s cell

phone rang he had to return to the guest bedroom to retrieve it from the pocket

of his jacket. More time must have passed than he thought because the house was

totally dark except for the light in the bedroom where he had been working. By

the time he reached it, the phone had stopped ringing but he didn’t need to call

up his messages or missed calls log to guess who it had been. Her research must

have borne fruit. He called back. “You have news?”

She pounced without preamble. “Why didn’t you tell me about what’s been going on

outside?”

“I’ve been working. What has it been going on outside? Wait, what was that?” An

odd, muffled rumble had shaken the house. Mulder cocked an eyebrow. “Thunder?

Couldn’t be.”

“Ever hear of thundersnow, Mulder? It’s rare, but happens.”

“I know about thundersnow. It usually means inches per hour.” Peering though

slats in the blinds, he was shocked by the transformed street scene. “How much

snow _ have _ we gotten?”

“You don’t want to know. Also your backup had to leave to attend an

arraignment.”

“Well, it’s not like –” Mulder’s voice suddenly cut off. He wouldn’t have heard

the sight sound if it hadn’t been for the unnatural silence of the muffling snow

and the empty roads. It seemed like the grinding of a door being unhappily

opened somewhere, perhaps in the garage. Shit. “I think I have company, Scully,”

he reported in a hushed, tense voice.

“It might not be DuPres. It might be a hospital security guard named Rubin Sweet.

Sweet owes DuPres a lot of money.”

Mulder swore softly and reached for his service weapon. Not there. The stiff

leather of his new shoulder holster had been digging into his side. He had taken

if off and left it… where? In the master bedroom on the bed in plain view.

Stupid. The house had been so peaceful, but still stupid. The master bedroom was

on the other end of the house, but the hallway was carpeted. He should be able

slide down easily before whoever was tampering with the garage door could get in.

The door from the garage to the house was locked; of that he was sure. He

couldn’t risk any more lights though.

“Mulder, what’s going on!” Scully was demanding from the other end of the call.

“I’ll be right with you. I have to –“ He had begun soft-footing it down the hall.

It was nearly black but he remembered the layout; pass the entrance to the

stairway, then two more doorways and he’d be there. Suddenly there came a

glimmer near his feet, a ghostly white shape streaked across his path.

Unfortunately he hadn’t seen what Scully had before or he wouldn’t have been so

surprised. A whisper of Lyndon’s original demon cat theory flitted across his

mind. Deftly, Mulder stepped aside to miss the phantom, or so he thought. At the

last moment the form changed direction with a sinuous leap. Mulder stepped on

something soft that screeched and rolled. Losing his balance, he grasped for the

head of the railing post but it come off in his hand just as it did in Jimmy

Stewart’s in It’s a Wonderful Life. He found the black void that was the unlit

first floor not coming up to meet him, but he was definitely going down to meet

it. There were eight steps to the landing and he hit every one.

Scully found herself screaming into the phone, her voice bouncing eerily off the

glass of the empty employee lounge. There was no answer, however, but a long,

odd roll of thunder from outside where the snow, if anything, was descending

even more heavily than before. Ten more seconds of silence from the headset and

she began to run.

Back down the steps she went to the computer room where she had left her coat,

laptop and notes. She knew from Tippett’s call that she should still have signal

in the basement. The signal bars still glowed, but there was no answer to her

demands that Mulder answer. There were only odd scratching noises that could be

the sounds of a battle too far away from the phone to be picked up clearly or

just as easily be static. Much as she hated to take the time, she paused at a

desk to stab in ‘9-911’ on one of the office phones. She had no illusions about

her ability to travel dependably in this weather. The stressed-old dispatcher if

anything was even more discouraging. “We have limited vehicles that can navigate

safely under these conditions and all are tied with other emergencies. Can you

be more specific about the nature of yours?” Scully wanted to scream ‘Officer

down!’ but had to admit that she had no way of knowing that for sure. The noises

from the garage Mulder had heard could have come from a noisy water heater, an

old furnace, or raccoons and she had heard no shot, just some grunts and banging

about. He had been fumbling around in the dark. He could have bumped a knee then

dropped the phone, which was now malfunctioning. Damn she needed more

information! In the end she could only request that an officer might need

assistance, give the location, her cell phone number, and flee.

Outside the rear entrance to the building, she paused only a moment as she

fished for her keys in the deep pocket of her coat. Juggling awkwardly with

phone, keys, notebooks and laptop, she prepared to ferry out into the dismaying

expanse of unbroken snow to her car. Nothing to be done but to plunge in. Even

when walking in the tracks of cars which had fled for home less than two hours

before, Scully found that the snow was well over her ankles. Her feet were cold

and wet within seconds. A sweep of her arm cleared the trunk lid where she

dumped in everything but keys and cell phone and fished around for the ice

scraper. As she swept away the worst of the cold, white stuff from the hood and

windows of the car, a glow of lightning lit up this upside-down fairyland. The

thunder that followed rolled and rolled across the sky. As if in response, it

seemed to snow harder. It was coming down so fast that her windshield was

covered almost as fast as she could clear it. Finally she was behind the wheel,

windshield wipers on high. Still, she barely dared to touch the accelerator as

her car rolled carefully out of the uncleared parking lot, snow groaning under

her tires. The side street she turned into was not much better.

clip_image005

10pm

She finally made time on a snow emergency route but not because it had seen a

plow. Some four-wheel drive monster must have gone up the same way no more than

ten minutes before. Other than these two tracks that were already white, her

world was quickly limited to the meager yards that her headlights could cut

through. Beyond that cone, the night was all blue-gray ground and formless black

sky that brightened from time by time by the ghostly lightening. Belatedly, she

realized how devoid of color the night was. It had been blocks since she had

seen a working traffic light. Not unexpectedly for an area that saw such storms

only every five years or so, dragging tree limbs had already taken down power

lines and transformers all over the city.

The minutes crawled by. Scully gripped the steering wheel so tightly that her

hands cramped. Neither did she have a hand free to hold the cell phone though

from time to time she shouted down to where it lay on the seat beside her. No

answering voice came back.

After what felt like hours, Scully began to notice familiar lines in the

streetscape of buildings and trees that even the drifts and heaps of thick snow

and the dark could not make entirely unrecognizable. This was the area where her

mother ran her day-to-day errands. Knowing where she was, Scully realized that

she could cut off some time if she dared. She paused in the middle of the street

— it wasn’t as if there was anyone to have an accident with — and picked up

the silent cell phone. Praying that she was doing the right thing and that the

chirping of Mulder’s phone wouldn’t call attention to him at a bad time, she

hung up the call and tried again. She screamed as the phone displayed ‘No

Service’. Of course, the storm would disrupt the microwave towers and everyone

would be calling loved ones who were not home or just clogging up the airways

chatting about how horrible the weather was. All of that meant that emergency

calls – like hers! – could not get through.

Swearing in frustration, she threw the phone back down on the seat and guided

her car into a sliding left turn onto a side street. The smaller road could not

have seen another car in hours and yet was a straight shot to where her own

loved one was. But in what shape? Injured? Dead? Foolishly stumbling around a

black, unfamiliar house looking for a flashlight or candles? Pulaski’s house

would undoubtedly be as dark as all the other houses around her by now.

Progress on this new road was slow. The snow was easily up to the undercarriage

of her car in places. There were no tracks going her way but then there were

none on the cross streets either so at least she could keep the car going in a

reasonably straight course. Deciding where the edges of the road were was

another matter. She sighed in relief when the street became tree-lined and the

black trunks against the misty-white field of snow gave her a guide. The

drooping branches overhead, mostly pines, also caught an amazing quantity of the

white stuff so the inches under her tires lessened and her visibility improved

so she dared to increase her speed. Finally she was making some time.

Feeling confident enough at last to free a hand for the phone, she tried another

call. The green glow of ‘No Service’ continued to leer at her. During that

second of distraction she failed to notice that the road ahead was no longer an

infinitely unbroken expanse of white. A faint black line, unclear in outline but

unmistakably there, had appeared. Even when she saw it, it took a few more

precious seconds to interpret what she was seeing. It was a tree, an aged blue

spruce brought down by the weight on its branches but long enough ago that it

was almost entirely covered with snow. Throwing down the phone, two hands on the

wheel again, she gently tapped the brakes and turned more sharply than she would

have wished. The tree did not seem to cover the entire road. With luck she

should be able to pass it on the right.

Their luck must have taken an early flight to Florida. The car began to slide.

It may have been packed snow from earlier in the day or old ice. It didn’t

matter. The car spun and spun as if she were on some slow-motion amusement park

ride. Turning into the skid didn’t help; her tires were that caked with snow.

Her car, and possibly Mulder’s salvation, ended up sliding tail first into a

ditch on the side of the road. The front wheels of her front-wheel drive car

spun uselessly in the air. In despair Scully dropped her forehead down onto the

steering wheel.

From the shadowed floor where she had thrown it, her cell phone began to ring.

End of Act III

11:30pm

Mulder had had worst falls. He had broken bones, dislocated joints and suffered

more concussions than were good for anyone. He had fallen in worse places —

onto hard pavement, parked cars, among rocks and in cold and rainy woods dozens

of miles from help. Falling down stairs was totally mundane, but then so was

falling in your own bathtub. At least the steps had been well carpeted, and

there had been only eight of them; he knew because he had a bruise for each one.

He had also come to rest on a landing, just as well padded, in a warm house in

an old Baltimore neighborhood while a once-a-decade storm raged outside. Things,

therefore, could be worse. Granted, he had no gun and no cell phone. What he had

was a back in a conflagration of pain and someone — very probably their three-

time murderer — was methodically searching the first floor.

From time to time Mulder could look down and see the gray light of the man’s

flashlight flickering off windowpanes, light fixtures, and the glass fronts of

cabinets. There was no other light, not even the light that he knew he had left

burning in the third bedroom above him. The storm must have disrupted electric

service. All Mulder knew for sure was that he had passed out, and woke

completely in the dark. Oh, yes, and any attempt to move caused all his limbs to

involuntarily contract and brought tears of indescribable agony to his eyes.

For long minutes he lay there, frantically concentrating on relaxing — a

contradiction if ever there was one. He was pretty sure of what the problem was

and what to do because he had thrown out his back before and super strength

muscle relaxants were what Scully had prescribed then. This time, however, there

was no Scully standing over him with weapon drawn, prepared to deal with the

perp on one hand while she dispensed her pharmacy of good drugs with the other.

In comparison his mind games seemed pretty lame.

So here he was, nearly blind in the dark and totally helpless. He had had a cell

phone once. He had even been talking on it at the time he had plunged down the

stairway. But where was the instrument now? Even if he knew he doubted that he

would be able to get to it.

‘Stay calm,’ he raged to himself again. He knew from before that anger only

locked the muscles tighter as if squeezed in a gigantic vice. Damn, but the

tightening spasms around his ribs were so bad that he could barely breathe.

There was a weight on his chest too. Fear racketed up a notch. Please, not a

heart attack; not that, not at his age. Not when he had just found…

But then heart attacks don’t rumble on your breastbone like a very small

motorboat.

Scully leaped for the ringing phone, finally pulling it out from under the seat.

“Mulder…” she began anxiously.

“Sorry,” apologized an only moderately familiar male voice in her ear, “just

Lyndon, and before you ask I’m stuck at Baltimore-Washington hospital. And where

are you celebrating the great snow-in? Clearly you’re not shacked up snug and

safe with Agent Mulder.”

Scully felt a wave of unease, but there was no way that Lyndon knew about their

relationship. He could only guess like all but the very few. “Neither snug nor

safe. I’m stuck in a snow drift about five miles from Pulaski’s house.”

There was a pause while Lyndon took this in. “That doesn’t sound good. I mean

about your car, not the other thing. Mulder on his way to rescue you?”

“Unfortunately not. He’s playing stalking goat at Pulaski’s and now he’s

stranded without a car or backup. Worse, he was cut off suddenly the last time

we talked and I haven’t been able to get any service on my cell since. How did

you ever get through?”

“It’s totally a volume problem or so I hear. It’s hit or miss getting a

connection. I’ve had nothing to do — except try not to be enlisted to pass out

bedpans since they are so short-shaffed — so I’ve been calling everyone I know.

You’re the first person I’ve been able to reach. So how did you get caught out

in this?”

”Backing Mulder up. He was hearing noises from the garage the last we talked.

Tippett had to leave and his replacement hadn’t arrived.”

“You tried 911?”

“Got through, but what can they do in this?”

Scully heard the edge in her voice; part fury, part fear. Sitting in her useless

car, in the total dark, how could she help it? But her anxiety was not for

herself. She was in the middle of a well-settled neighborhood. Knock on a few

doors, show her ID and some citizen would take her in. But Mulder… What in the

hell had happened — was happening — to him?

“I’m coming,” said Lyndon firmly. “How far away is the hospital from where you

are. Can’t be far.”

“Two miles, maybe, but Lyndon…” She’d seen what he was driving. It was no better

than her own.

His voice sounded distant as if he were already on the move. “I can do this. We

have snow in Texas, in my part anyway. Where do you think I got this first name?

Anyway, how can I make it any worse?” Scully could think of about half a dozen

ways but before she could interrupt, he continued, “There are emergency vehicles

here but very few. The storm caught everyone by surprise. I can’t even attempt

to commandeer one unless you’re sure the problem with Mulder is an emergency.

Are you?”

“No, I’m not sure,” she admitted through gritted teeth. “Just come then.”

Each left their cell phones on for who knew when either could get a connection

again and she talked him through the familiar streets now totally unfamiliar. He

was a good driver on snow, which meant slow and steady, not foolhardy, no sudden

moves, no stopping on uphill slopes. Still he had to get out from time to time

to brush off street signs so that he could accurately report his location. It

took an hour for him to make the two miles. During that time, Scully had waded

through the ditch drift to her trunk for a better look at what she had in the

way of emergency supplies. She found a pair of ankle high hiking boots, stiff

from cold and inadequate for the foot-and-a-half of snow, but better than her

work shoes. There was some food and the water was frozen, but what was most

useful was a small emergency shovel. It was like trying to empty Lake Michigan

with a spoon. Still, between trips to the car to sit in the dark to warm up, she

cleared the tailpipe and dug a kind of path to the road and tore branches from

the fallen tree to lay on a snow as a marker so Lyndon wouldn’t fall into the

same trap that she had.

Finally through the thick black of the storm, a gray car-shape loomed into sight

within a soft bubble of headlights. Lyndon’s young face was damp with sweat and

etched with strain as he crawled stiffly out and, taking the shovel from her,

dug out around his own idling tailpipe. “We’re not going to make five miles,” he

reported. “The exhaust is dragging in the snow and this poor old thing is

overheating. We need something higher off the ground.”

From his passenger’s seat Scully thought for a long moment, brow furrowed, hair

damply dripping with slush. Then her body straightened to alertness. “Can this

thing make two miles?”

“Probably, if we’re careful,” Lyndon reported.

“Then let’s head for my mother’s. It’s about two miles away and she just brought

home a new SUV to help her with her deliveries and shuttle her older friends

around. She also knows everyone in the neighborhood so she might be able to find

us something better.”

Not needing their own cell connections any longer she tried calling Mulder, her

mother, 911, the FBI switchboard, all in rotation while Lyndon crept on,

windshield wipers frantically trying to keep pace with the storm. When he got

out to clear the tailpipe, she would chop away at the corners of the packed

slush and ice that built up at the far sweep of the wiper blades. She had gloves

but they were already wet so it wasn’t long before her fingers, as well as her

feet, were like that ice. Finally a call got through to Mulder’s phone but her

worries soared when all she got was a busy signal.

“Busy! Who the hell’s he talking to?”

“Did he call you the last time?” Lyndon asked.

Scully found it hard to think clearly as if her brain had also turned to mush.

Then she remembered about how her last call to him had rung with no answer and

that he had called her back almost immediately. “He did.”

Lyndon’s lips tightened in renewed concentration and he gave his unhappy vehicle

just a whisper more of gas. They both had the same thought, that maybe the line

was still open from the original call.

A call that had been abruptly interrupted.

Lyndon continued his slow passage though black, featureless, snow-clogged

streets while Scully hunkered down in her coat and went back to pressing buttons.

Finally she got through to her mother’s house. Her daughter’s demands for use of

her SUV were crisp and edged with urgency.

“This has got to be related to Fox. I think that I can get you something better,

just you get here… That soon? We’ll still be ready.”

Scully didn’t take much notice of the ‘we’ll be ready’ only buttoned her coat

more tightly around her, in preparation for her dash from the car. Twenty

minutes later Lyndon’s wallowing Subaru labored up the last curving street, the

black trunks of old trees standing like ancient centennials to the right and

left. Scully anxiously sat on the edge of her seat peering out even though

visibility was less than twenty yards. A lightening in the distance caused her

to blink and consult her watch. Two a.m. It was no where near dawn yet the glow

grew as they crawled nearer. There were also pale colors in the light as if the

aurora borealis had come to earth. Engine laboring, Lyndon’s car rounded the

crest of the last rise. There was no need for Scully to announce that they had

arrived. As they slid to a weary stop, both stared.

One of Maggie Scully’s neighbors must have a generator because her house and the

ones on either side were brilliantly lit. Every interior light and every

exterior flood were burning. In addition, all three houses were fully

illuminated in holiday displays which may have been turned off after New Years

and Twelfth Night but never taken down. Hundreds of feet of tiny multi-colored

lights, cascades of shimmering ‘icicles’, white prancing reindeer, full-throated

choirboys, and animated Santas lit up the night with festival gaiety. Most

importantly, however, four high-clearance, four-wheel drive vehicles sat on the

street, engines purring and headlights burning. Eyes wide, Scully stepped out of

Lyndon’s weary sedan, which shook like a panting war-horse, to stare wide-eyed

at the largest and most amazing customized van she had ever seen. Each wheel was

half as tall as she was. The cab had been customized so that it could carry ten

or more people with ease.

There were figures everywhere shoveling and talking. One came briskly forward,

recognizable by her disreputable hat and shapeless coat even before anyone could

have made out her features.

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Maggie announced as step ladder dropped down

from the open side door of the monster van. “Let’s go!”

Mulder’s concerns over an incipient heart attack dispelled quickly as the

rumbling weight on his chest began to move and tiny pinpricks found their way

through his shirt to pierce the skin of his chest. His suspicions were confirmed

with the fluffy flag of a tail brushed his nose. It was all he could do not to

sneeze which wouldn’t have helped either the pain in his back or his anonymity.

Yes, Maxilla’s Mischance, AKA Snowball, had finally made an appearance. Even in

the tiny bit of light available to him on the pitch-black landing he could just

make out her outline. In full light she would have been white. Without a doubt

she was the misty-white ball of mysterious ectoplasm that had appeared under his

feet and that was responsible for his being stranded and incapacitated here.

With a wave of his hand – he dare not move more of his arm than that – he tried

to encourage her to move the rest of the way down stairs. If this was their perp

and not a random burglar, maybe the man would just take the damn cat and leave.

Not that Mulder ever liked losing a ‘collar’, but they knew enough that their

chances of finding DuPres again and getting poor Snowball back high. Balancing

the chances of losing Snowball temporarily with losing his life permanently,

therefore, Mulder made an emotional decision and pushed the cat again. She only

dug her claws into the carpet all the harder then bent back to what she had been

doing which was batting something around on the floor just out of his sight. All

at once, a paw made contact. The cat’s current toy made a quiet but unmistakable

‘beep’ and a pale light lit the furry, white face.

No seductive, silver mouse this but his cell phone.

Stuffing a fistful of his old-man’s sweater in his mouth, Mulder reached out,

curled, and rolled towards the instrument. Mulder wasn’t so much distressed by

the scream of pain that surged up and threatened to explode around the mat of

sweater. Pain he could deal with. It was the convulsive way his body thrashed

out involuntarily as the tortured muscles seized giving him so little control.

As his hand flailed in the direction of the glow, Snowball pounced, claws

extended and drew a long line of parallel scratches. “No, I don’t want to play

now!” Mulder growled deep in his throat. The only sound that made it out was a

grunt.

The abused hand finally slide against the phone. Though the hand shook, he

managed to get the instrument up to where he could read the screen. His original

call to Scully was still connected but, not surprisingly, she was long gone.

What must she be thinking? He disconnected and called again. The switching took

an inordinately long time and in the end there was no dial tone. Swearing, he

allowed his hand to drop to the floor.

Within seconds the instrument began to vibrate and chime in his hand. At least

the volume was set low, but it still sounded terrifying loud under the

circumstances. His finger stabbed down on the button even though the action of

raising his arm again sent a knife stab of agony down the length of his back. So

intent was he on silencing the ring that he temporarily forgot that his mouth

was full of musty sweater. He barely heard Scully anxiously repeating his name

as he spat the wad from his mouth.

“I’m here,” he finally answered hoarsely.

“Are you hurt?” was her next question, not ‘Are you in danger?’. How did she

always know?

“You could say so,” he whispered short and petulantly.

“Do you need help?”

“Just a bit,” he snarled.

“You can’t talk, can you?”

“Got it in one.”

There was a pause. She was obviously thinking. “Keep this line open. We’ll be

there in fifteen, twenty minutes. You’ve got to hold out that long.”

“You don’t need to assemble a whole cavalry. A small SWAT team should suffice.”

“In case you haven’t noticed, there’s eighteen inches of snow out here and it’s

still coming down, so I don’t have the cavalry, nor even a single SWAT team

member.”

“What do you have then?” he whispered.

“Mom’s neighborhood watch group.”

Scully placed the call on mute and leaned back against the monster van’s

incongruous glove-leather seat with a sigh of relief. Knowing what she was

facing, even if it was bad, was better than the unknown. Mulder was alive and in

good enough shape to be grumpy about it which was always a good sign. The nine

women and one man around her had heard her end of the conversation and deduced

that there was work to do. All but the man who drove and three who readied cans

of pepper spray began pulling out handguns from pockets and purses.

A mammoth headache began to buildup behind Scully’s eyes. Maggie noticed and

gave her arm reassuring pat. “Don’t worry. They all know what they’re doing. We

all have permits and go to the range once a month.”

At that moment old Mrs. Hampton whose husband had died in Vietnam dropped her

little Smith and Wesson and Frank whose converted van it was — “Better than a

blond and a red convertible,” his wife had testified — turned on the overhead

light so the weapon could be found. While rolling her eyes, Scully noticed for

the first time that all the women wore odd hats or scarves of various shades of

maroon and scarlet and purple. Noticing in the rear view mirror how her eyes

went from the head of one woman after another, Frank touched the brim of his own

jaunty red beret. “Honorary member,” he remarked enigmatically then went back to

his driving.

“Of what?” Scully asked more to herself than anyone.

“I’ll explain it later,” Maggie assured her with a sage smile. “We’re harmless.”

“Mostly harmless,” a spry octogenarian corrected, displaying a can of pepper

spray securely gripped in each liver-spotted hand. The purple feathers in her

red straw hat had seen far better days.

It would have all been surreal fun — as X-Files occasionally were — only

Mulder was not there to enjoy it.

“Can you give this monster a little more speed, Frank?”

The old man tipped his hat. “As you will, Mum,” and the truck leaped forward,

swallowtails of snow flying in its wake.

Mulder lay perfectly still, his heart slowing. For the first time he became

aware of the distinct chill in the air. His fingers and nose were cold. No

electricity must mean no heat. Just great. At least the soft sounds of the

intruder were still far away. Sweet was searching in the basement as he had been

for some time, a quiet kind of searching so that he wouldn’t alarm the cat or

the rest of the house. He would have to begin searching the second floor soon.

It was the only place besides the study that he had not searched. At least there

was no indication that he had heard the cell phone’s signature chirp or the

terse conversation. Good, but only a temporary reprieve. Mulder had to get off

this stairway and out of sight and it might not be a bad idea to have a weapon.

His eyes sought the dark at the top of the stairs. His own weapon in its stiff

leather holster was up there, and he was familiar enough with the layout of the

second floor that he was sure that he could find it even in the dark, but from

where he lay it seemed impossibly far.

A door shut below. Kevin Sweet the hospital security guard, if Sweet it was, was

finished with the basement and had shut the door to keep Snowball from

retreating down there later. Mulder knew that he dare not be seen and he would

be as soon as Sweet came down the hall from the kitchen. Sweet would only need

to swing the flashlight in just the right way. Chomping down on the sweater

again, Mulder rolled with infinite care onto one hip. His body trembled with the

stain of using as many muscles as possible that were not attached to his back,

but his limbs still threatened to twitch beyond his control. He was at least

facing the stairs now. And so he began the slow crawl up the eight steps to the

elusive second floor.

When the flash finally shone from below some minutes later, it first swung from

side to side. Soon enough, however, it touched the lower steps and traveled up

to the landing. So engrossed was the searcher on the brilliant gold of the icon

in the light from his beam that he failed to notice long legs being swung

laboriously over the last tred at the top of the stairs. When the cone of light

finally traveled up to touch the upper stairs, there was nothing to be seen. The

light disappeared into the study.

On the floor of the second floor hallway, Mulder lay belly down. His teeth were

clamped down on the now soggy sweater; his body jerked in spasms. His fingers

had dug into the nap of the rug up to the first knuckle and tears of strain ran

down his cheeks. For all of that, however, he felt an incredible upsurge of

exhilaration. Eight steps weren’t a mountain but it had been his.

3am

Weapon drawn, Scully cautiously approached the dark house. It was dark behind

her as well. The caravan had driven the last block with lights off. At least the

snow deadened not only the approach of SUVs and monster van but voices and

footsteps mounting stairs. That was, of course, if the voices were not too loud.

With irritation Scully spun around to where Lyndon was attempting in terse

whispers to prevent the gang from coming with them. Despite her instructions,

eight dark forms were struggling through the drifts following her tracks.

Furiously, she added a rather rude gesture of her own which managed to slow if

not stop them. Scully groaned. Sometimes there just were civilians around; risk

assessment was part of the job.

“Mom, you can’t come,” she admonished as firmly and quietly as she could.

“Do you think that I’m going to let you go in there alone?” Maggie’s pistol was

in her pocket but they both knew it was there.

“I won’t be alone. Lyndon will be with me, but only if we are certain that you

and your people are safe.”

“This child!” Maggie exclaimed. Lyndon glowered.

“He’s a fully trained agent, Mom.” Maggie looked dubious. “Mom, I need to depend

on you in this and Mulder needs you. What you can do is keep an eye out for our

suspect. He’ll try to escape if he hears Lyndon and I go in. If you see him with

a gun at any time, drop! So far he hasn’t used one. But I don’t want any of you

to use a gun either. I don’t even want to see one in sight. You can use pepper

spray, better bombard him with snowballs, but no guns.” Scully had laid down the

law in her FBI voice which he mother had seldom heard and the neighbors never

had.

Finally Scully could return to the house, this time with Lyndon at her side. On

the porch she carefully turned the front door knob. Locked. At least Mulder had

done something right and she had a key. It turned quietly in the well-oiled lock.

Lyndon gently pushed the door open as they stood to the side. They waited. No

light, no sound, no greeting or demand for identification. Scully peered in.

From the direction of the stairs halfway down the hall to the kitchen there was

a dim, gray glow.

Cautiously, they shook caked snow from their numb feet. They didn’t want to slip.

From the bottom of the stairs they could hear a voice — or was that two? —

coming from the second floor, but they couldn’t make out the words. The angry

one she heard most clearly was male but not Mulder’s. Gripping her service

weapon she padded as silently and quickly as possible up the stairs. The door to

the master bedroom was open. Here was the source of the light, a flashlight on

the floor. A dark figure half crouched in silhouette just inside the doorway.

“She bit me!” complained the crouching figure.

“Well, she scratched me,” came an equally peevish voice from inside. Mulder’s.

Scully let out a silent breath of relief. When there came a break in the

argument over who was most injured, Scully called out “FBI, no one move!”. When

it was clear that the figure now standing with arms raised was following her

instructions, Lyndon stepped rapidly forward and took control of the situation.

Beyond the round shouldered, middle-aged man who stood frozen in the doorway she

saw Mulder. He was sitting on the floor, strained features in high contrast from

the flashlight. He held his weapon in both hands, propped on his knees, and

still it shook with fatigue or pain, she didn’t know which.

“Took you long enough,” he growled.

“Aren’t you going to thank me for saving you?”

He gestured with the gun, an action which was accompanied by a grimace. “In case

you haven’t noticed, I managed to rescue myself this time. Now, can I put this

down?” Without waiting for an answer the heavy weapon fell and Mulder slipped

sideways to lie twitching on the floor.

Epilogue

4am till the snow plows come

It was the most delightful ‘snowed in’ party Mulder could remember other than

the one where he and Scully …

But that was another story.

Because of his injury Mulder got the couch in front of Ivan Pulaski’s roaring

fireplace. It was without a doubt the center of the snowbound party’s

festivities. Frank, the monster van driver, and Lyndon had built up the fire.

“Not because we can’t, dear,” Nina Pickeral told him, “but because they

volunteered and if they want to be responsible for having to go in and out

carryin’ wood, well, that’s their decision. Besides, it makes them feel useful.”

Maggie and her woman friends bustled about digging in the kitchen for anything

remotely edible and making nests of blankets for beds around the fire because no

one would think of going home even though with their vehicles they certainly

could.

The oddest, giddy sensation of celebration pervaded the group. It was almost as

if they had all taken part in the glorious capture of some notorious, black-

hearted criminal and not just middle-aged, mild-mannered and, at the moment,

very frightened Jonathan DuPres, a mamma’s boy if ever there was one. They had

suspected that the violence had been done by Rubin Sweet, the security guard,

who at least carried a gun on a regular basis. But it had been DuPres. Sweet had

only supplied information. Tied with loop after loop of Rita Pendergast’s

knitting yarn, DuPres now cowered in the corner staring wide-eyed at whatever

senior citizen was currently responsible for ‘covering’ him.

“But he is dangerous, Mulder. He murdered three people.”

“We talked some before you came. The killing of Angela Uba was an accident, not

that that absolves him. He was only trying to ensure she would be unconscious

for a while. He used less pressure with Ivan Pulaski but the old man was very

frail. DuPres swears that he didn’t kill Helen Landsburg. She died at some point

while he was searching the house. We’ll have to check the coroner on that. He

swears that he was hoping tonight to get nowhere near Ivan’s cousin ‘Boris’.

That’s why he searched the rest of the house first. Our theory was correct about

the three victims, by the way. He was only trying to keep the police from

identifying the real target.” Mulder inclined his head — carefully — to where

the pale, scanty-haired man shivered in his cold corner before Olivia Inaga’s

tiny, pistol-tottin’ form. “The influence of TV and the movies will have to be

blamed for much of this. DuPres thought that rendering someone unconscious would

be easy. He was terrified over the first death and tried to hide it as long as

possible by having Sweet cancel Angela Uba’s contract. They just repeated the

process after the other two victims died.”

Lyndon’s voice sounded from above their heads. “That’s what I found out at the

hospital when I was there just before the storm.” He was approaching with Maggie

having been pressed to help in the kitchen. “Although Margaret Scully was listed

as having called in and cancelled all three contracts, it was Rubin Sweet’s

handwriting on the log book each time. They were trying, rather clumsily, to

implicate her. Same reason they selected victims who had the same driver all

three times.”

“The fact that all three had cats,” Maggie added, “was just a coincidence. They

weren’t picking victims who had cats, it was just that most of my clients do.

And the reason why all three victims used the same veterinary office is that

that practice gives excellent discounts to senior citizens.”

“They didn’t choose cat pillows the first two times either,” Lyndon explained.

“DuPres just choose _ a _ handy pillow.”

Not for the first time that night Scully noticed a conspiratorial look pass

between the young agent and her mother. “So what’s up with you two? You’ve had

your heads together about more than this since we got back.”

“Your mother has been making improper advances, Agent Scully,” grinned Lyndon

boyishly.

“I have not!” Maggie retorted with a grin. “He just mentioned that he’s been

considering going to graduate school at John Hopkins University in forensics but

that the cost was prohibitive. I just offered to rent him one of my spare

bedrooms.”

“At a ridiculously low price,” Lyndon added.

Maggie drew her small frame upright. “In exchange for becoming a legitimately

trained addition to our neighborhood watch group since you and Fox seem so

against our carrying firearms.”

“I am considering it,” Lyndon replied, “though I’m not so sure how I feel about

being a kept man.”

“At least I’m not hiring you as my pool boy,” Maggie said.

“But, Mom,” Scully reminded her, “you don’t have a pool and it’s January.”

“Since when does that matter?” Maggie asked in all innocence. At that moment

Lyndon, smiling, was called away by the oldest member of Maggie’s gang who

needed help getting out of her chair. He was clearly a favorite already.

Maggie seated herself a little stiffly onto the floor next to her daughter. She

had been carrying a tray on which there was ‘something’ on crackers. At least it

was colorful. She extended it in Mulder’s direction.

“What is it?” he asked dubiously.

“Take-what-you-can-get S’mores: marshmallow cream and M&M’s on Ritz crackers

warmed by the fire.”

Scully made a face but Mulder reached for the plate. When a grimace crossed his

face, Scully magnanimously handed him one.

“I never heard:” Maggie asked as Mulder munched and Scully counted out more pain

medication. “How did you subdue the dread Jonathan Dupres?”

“I made it back to my weapon – somehow.” Pain crossed his face when he thought

of that agonizing crawl down the hall. “I was terrified that he’d come too soon

but instead he was taking forever. He really wanted to find that cat before

running into ‘Boris’. Then I began to worry that he’d get away when you and your

commandos showed up. Then we’d have to track him down all over again. So I lured

him into a trap.”

“And how did you do that?” Scully asked, smiling.

“What was he after?”

Enlightenment showed on her face and she glanced over to where Rita Pendergast

was entertaining the enchanting and enchanted snowy-white feline with more balls

of her endless yarn.

“She must have been lonely after all those days since Ivan’s death so she stayed

with me.” He frowned. “She won’t any more. I pulled her tail trying to get her

to meow. She didn’t like it but neither did she make much noise.” He licked at a

set of deep gouges on the back of his hand that ran perpendicular to his

original set. “She _ is _ a little demon. I had to shut her up in a closet.”

“So how did you lure DuPres?” Scully asked.

Mulder looked uncomfortable. “Made noises.”

“Like what kind of noises?”

He made a face and reluctantly answered, “Meowing noises.”

Maggie snickered. Scully knew better than to snicker, though she did ask,

“Interesting. Could I hear –“

“No,” he snapped. “You don’t ask me to make cat noises and I won’t ask you to

sing.”

“Better not then,” Maggie warned. “You don’t want to hear Dana sing.”

“I have,” Mulder reported with an adamant glare. He didn’t add that he had been

semi-conscious at the time.

“And you’re still together? Then it must be love.”

“Mom…” Scully began, knowing exactly where that subject was leading.

“Have another S’more,” Maggie suggested and the silence was filled for a moment

with the comforting crackle of the fire and a few snores from surrounding bodies.

Mulder was nearly asleep. The results of the day, the warmth of the fire, and

relief from the worst of the pain made it hard to stay awake. Scully had managed

to come up with an amazing cocktail of over-the-counter and some not over-

counter pain relievers from Ivan Pulaski’s medicine cabinet and the purses of

the neighborhood watch. Not surprisingly, the gang carried even more medication

than firearms. It was Scully who broke the four a.m. quiet to softly apologize,

“Mom, we are really sorry… about suspecting you.”

Maggie frowned. “That did hurt.”

“At the start the evidence did point to you as DuPres and Sweet intended it to,

and you had just been acting so strangely.”

“What you mean is differently. I guess that I should have told you about the

Society.”

Scully looked around the room at the women who had to be part of this ‘Society’.

They were a bright and energetic lot. Good friends for her mother to have, if a

bit eccentric.

“We’re members of the Red-Hat Society,” Maggie announced as if that should mean

something. When her daughter and as-good-as son-in-law exchanged blank looks she

went on. “Well, it’s fairly well-known in the over-fifty crowd, so well known

that we are thinking of changing the trademark for our local group. We agree

with the principle but once a secret handshake is no longer secret, a lot of the

fun goes out of it. How would you feel, Fox, if everyone suddenly believed,

unequivocally, that there were aliens on earth?”

Mulder raised an eyebrow, all the energy he could manage. “I wouldn’t exactly

call it ‘fun’, but I get your point.”

“Thought you would.”

“So the red hats mean what?” Scully prompted.

“It’s from a poem which describes one way of not going ‘silent into that good

night’.” And Maggie began to recite. “’When I am fifty, I will wear a red hat

and a purple dress that doesn’t suit me…”

As the twelve women in unison softly intoned their private mantra, Mulder let he

head lean against Scully’s shoulder as he sank into sleep as gently as he

thought he ever had. He had convinced himself once that he was alone and always

would be. Then he had found Scully. Then he thought that the two of them were

alone and now he found a whole sub culture of grown-ups who did not believe in

acting your age. He didn’t know if he had ever felt so contented in his life.

The End

clip_image006

The actual title of the poem is “Warning”. But I think “When I Am Old” makes

more sense.

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.

I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells

And run my stick along the public railings

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.

I shall go out in my slippers in the rain

And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens

And learn to spit.

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat

And eat three pounds of sausages at a go

Or only bread and pickle for a week

And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry

We must have friends to dinner and read the papers

And pay our rent and not swear in the street

And set a good example for the children.

But maybe I ought to practice a little now?

So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised

When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.

By Jenny Joseph, reproduced from the following web page:

http://www.jworkman.com/purple.html

You can find more out about the Red Hat Society at the following web page:

http://www.redhatsociety.com/info/howitstarted.html and, yes, I’m old enough to

be a member but X-Files fans don’t need red hats to not act our age.

1

48

A League of Demon Cats by Sue Esty

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