Nichtophobia

Nichtophobia

Author: Elf X

Category: Casefile

Rating: R for language, graphic violence

Summary: Mulder and Scully’s search for a man of unspeakable evil leads to a man of undisputable goodness and solution of unimaginable dimensions.

Spoilers: Mytharc, All Souls, Displacement (VS11), Season Nine alternate history

Feedback: rossprag@fgi.net

Disclaimer: Once again, I foray into the fringes of Chris Carter’s dominion, with no claim but to entertain.

clip_image002

Thrif-Tee Mart Foods

Thurston, Ohio

6:44 p.m.

Jerry Pedersen heard the nauseous, rending crunch of fiberglass eating fiberglass before he could register the large cobalt object in his rearview mirror and hit the brakes.

He was old enough to remember when it was metal on metal, and you could find some guy within a couple blocks who’d bang and pull at the dents and dings until all that remained was a little character and a few bucks off the resale value. Now, cars were made out of plastic, like cheap particle board. Pederson suspected the move to fiberglass had been inspired not by safety or economy, but by the cafones in the bodywork industry who sucked your insurance company dry for a scratch on the bumper.

Jerry’s thick fingers squeezed the wheel as he inhaled deeply. He pasted on a smile, pushed the car door open (no tortured creaking — maybe the frame was still OK), and stepped out onto the Thrif-Tee Mart asphalt. The woman already was out of her car — yuppie broad, soccer mom type. Studying the taillight her Volvo had managed to shatter, a half-guilty, half-defensive look on her Barbie doll kisser.

“Aw, gee, you all right?” Jerry asked solicitously, eyeing the long scratch on her foreign yupmobile. “You were tearing along pretty fast there.”

“Well,” she breathed with an edge of indignation. “You just yanked right out of that space. I hardly had time to react.”

Jerry started to respond, then spotted the cell phone still in her deftly manicured hand. The soccer mom glanced down and instinctively shoved it into her jacket pocket. She looked up and apparently saw something in his eyes. He quickly extinguished it.

“They make the lanes so narrow, it’s almost impossible to maneuver,” the woman said in a more conciliatorily tone. “Somebody oughtta sue.”

“Well, at least nobody got hurt, right?” Jerry grinned.

They swapped numbers, and the yuppie broad went on her way. Jerry settled behind the wheel, willing away the white noise in his brain. The bitch would probably find some way to stick him with the tab for both cars, and the rocky road he’d bought for tonight’s pay-per-view fight was probably all melted to hell by now.

Before “the operation,” as he thought of it, Jerry probably would have paid that stuck-up putana a visit, rearranged a few of her botoxed features, maybe given her a little something else to thing about, capisce? In the universe from which he’d been exiled, Barbie here wouldn’t have said anything, and if she had gone bawling to her stoonad of a husband (probably some insurance agent named Brad, Jerry mused), Jerry’d set him straight, too, maybe give him the two-finger discount with a Rambo knife.

But that was then, Jerry mulled dismally. Betty Crocker would go home to her two shithead little brats and fix them and Brad a Velveeta casserole. Or maybe they’d all go to T.G.I. Effin’ Fridays by the mall, catch some Disney piece a’ puke at the Cineplex. Himself, he’d go home and throw a pizza in the microwave, watch the pay-per-view fight on cable. Nix that — ever since he’d been banned from betting on the fights, they just made him anxious and irritable. He’d watch the Wheel-Jeopardy combo, The Sopranos on HBO to get a yuk or two, then maybe go out and grab a brew or two, see what or who he could turn up.

The flywheel ground as he turned the key. Jerry inhaled deeply, as the anger management book from the library’d told him. Prick on the back cover, some kinda headshrink, had seemed to be smirking smugly up at Jerry, who’d ripped the cover off and told the library the dog had done it. No dog, of course — Jerry would never have an animal in his house.

Jerking out of the space, Jerry squealed his wheels. He escaped the supermarket parking lot as the first fat droplets of rain splattered across his windshield, and headed down Grove Road, toward Hell, as Jerry thought of it. At the intersection of Grove and Main, he changed his mind. To his surprise, Jerry had found the anger management prick was right about at least one thing. A ride through the country, past the flat corn and soybean fields and cows, seemed to quell temporarily the demons who told him to hurt and maim and destroy.

As the fencerows blurred past him on State Road 130, Jerry exhaled and pumped the gas, ignoring the pair of headlights well behind him. The storm picked up, and Jerry defied it, bearing down on the accelerator.

The raccoon scuttled up onto the road before Jerry could comprehend. He was no nature lover — he’d have squashed the rodent or whatever it was for fun — but out of sheer instinct, Jerry slammed the brakes. The car did a doughnut, then left the asphalt road. Trees sped past him as Jerry grabbed ineffectually at the wheel and hurtled down the embankment.

The trunk of the huge oak barely registered with Jerry before it stopped his car. Fucking worthless airbag, Jerry thought dimly as his head cracked into the steering wheel and blood blinded him…

**

“Donald?”

Jerry grunted, then winced at the pain in his legs, which were crushed into the dashboard. The voice was gentle, almost compassionate. God? Even in his severely damaged, delirious state, Jerry knew better.

“Wha–?” the ex-mobster mumbled, blood burbling over his lips. He felt a gentle pressure against his shoulder, although the figure looming over him in the twilight was indistinguishable.

“Please. Relax. The pain is nearly over.”

Jerry felt a stab of panic, then somehow, the stranger’s words began to sink into his broken bones, and he slumped back against the blood-soaked seatback.

“That’s good,” the voice cooed. “Donald, I know now that your existence has been one of misery, that your violence is a reflection of the hatred and cruelty you’ve endured. I forgive you, and I want to offer you a second chance. Now, just close your eyes. It’s almost over.”

Jerry’s lids closed. The last sound he heard was that of metal blades whispering and clacking together. A smile touched his dying lips.

“Not so much off the side, Sal,” he burbled before the breath left his body.

Home of Donald Gianisi/Jerry Pedersen

Two weeks later

“So this is where Sopranos go when they get canceled,” Mulder murmured as he took in the celery walls and hardwood floors. He moved across the oriental rug and glanced out over the well-fertilized lawn beyond the patio door. “That privacy fence — vinyl, right? Wow, they said maximum security, but I had no idea…”

“Mulder,” Scully sighed, leaning against the breakfast bar.

“Look, Agent Mulder,” U.S. Marshal Glenn Karnes responded tersely. “You’ve made it clear you’re no big fan of Witness Security. You don’t need to tell me Donnie Gianisi’s no angel, and I’m well aware that you busted your ass to help put him away. But Gianisi helped Justice put away several heavy hitters, including the head of Newark’s Russian Mafiya. So why don’t we just save our righteous indignation for talk radio, and get down to it?”

“Marshal, are you sure Gianisi didn’t just fly the coop, so to speak?” Scully asked as Mulder shrugged and strayed into the chromium-appointed kitchen. “You transferred a made mobster from his native environment in New Jersey to suburban Ohio, from an ethical culture of violence and excess to a nine-to-five existence in Middle America. It isn’t inconceivable that Gianisi may have felt…stifled in this environment. Could he simply have decided to find a new urban environment, maybe even skip the country?”

Karnes shook his large, crew cut head in agitation. “He’d be a dead man in Chicago, Vegas, anywhere with a Family presence. ‘Sides, Gianisi was one of the program’s poster boys — he’d adjusted well to the life, got good evaluations from his employers, even joined the Breakfast Kiwanis.”

Mulder snorted from the next room.

“Well,” Scully began, tentatively, “is there any chance at all, well, that Gianisi could have been discovered? That somehow his location got out, and his former associates ‘retrieved’ him?”

“No way,” the federal marshal growled. “Look, we’ve had our fuckups in the past, but the program’s waterproof now.”

Mulder emerged, sipping a Dasani. “Better break out the life rafts, Leonardo diCaprio. They ever question your poster boy on that shooting on the other side of town, the guy who punched out Citizen Gianisi for chatting up his significant other one Saturday night?”

Karnes head whipped around. “What the hell–? Who you been talking to, Mulder? That’s sealed shit. Only about three people know about that — I find out who leaked it, I’ll…”

“You don’t want to try to seal this leak, unless you want to wind up a park ranger at Mt. St. Helen’s. Your boy wasn’t precisely Kiwanian of the Year, was he, Marshal? You can take the wiseguy out of the Family, but you can’t take the Family out of the wiseguy, right?”

“Hey, screw you, J. Edgar,” Karnes spat as his cell phone sounded. He held up a finger as large as a bratwurst as he answered.

Scully sidled up to her partner. “Way to win friends and influence people, Mulder. I was waiting for you two to begin comparing appendage length, and my guess is, you wouldn’t have been pleased by the results.”

“Youch, kitty has sharp claws. Sorry, Scully, but look at this place. Gianisi was responsible for at least four deaths, including two civilians, before they packed him off to the Heartland here. They give him a new life, a home, a middle-management gig, and all’s forgiven because he rolled over on a few other homicidal assholes. And when the DOJ loses him, the Bureau sends us out to locate his sorry ass like he’s Elizabeth Smart.”

“Is this moral outrage?” Scully posed, “Or are you perhaps upset because we’re tracking a low-level mobster instead of Sasquatch or the Loch Ness monster? This case a bit banal for the great Spooky Mulder?”

“Good news, for me, anyhow,” Marshal Karnes declared, flipping his phone closed. “You and the missus here can catch the next flight out of Dodge. Local boys just busted what looks to be our man. Looks like one of Donnie’s ghosts came out west to haunt him. On my way to the cop shop now – been real, agents.”

“You don’t mind, Marshal, mebbe we’ll just mosey on down there ourselves,” Mulder drawled.

“Yeah,” Karnes muttered sourly.

**

“Are you the police?”

Mulder, Scully, and Karnes turned in unison halfway down Gianisi’s front sidewalk. The elderly woman in the purple housedress wasn’t much larger than the equally elderly bulldog who accompanied her.

“Sort of,” Mulder offered.

Tugging the bull, she teetered up the walk and planted herself before the trio. “Is this about Lars? Did you finally get him?”

“Get who, ma’am?” Scully asked.

“‘Pedersen.’ As if that were his real name. He’s as Scandinavian as I am Korean.”

“Yup, tight ship, Marshal,” Mulder purred. “Who’s Lars?”

“Sven’s brother,” the woman snapped impatiently, inclining her white head at her panting pet. “Lars was a bit high-strung at times, perhaps a little, well, vociferous, and one night, that ‘Pederson’ threatened to put him on a spit and ‘rotisserie his little ass’ if he heard him barking. A week later, Lars disappeared after his, um, his evening duties. The next day, I find an unmarked envelope in my screen door, with my Lars’ collar and a bottle of steak sauce inside. The policeman they sent out was very lackadaisical, almost unwilling to investigate ‘Pedersen.’”

“I’m sorry to hear that, ma’am,” Mulder commiserated with as much sincerity as he could muster. “Did Mr. Pedersen have similar problems with his other neighbors?”

“I try to mind my business,” she responded with a hint of reproval. “But the neighborhood has gone considerably downhill since my Lawrence died.” Mulder wondered if Lawrence was Lars’ and Sven’s sibling, but thought better of asking. “I mean, the Hudsons never take care of their lawn, Thorvald down the block sits on his porch with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and the woman who lives next door to Pedersen here – a young mother-to-be, mind you – well, I saw a strange man coming out of her house one night while her husband was out of town. I mean, it’s almost like my stories on TV, oh, what’s that show about the housewives and all the sex…?”

“Desperate Housewives,” Scully supplied.

“Knot’s Landing. Disgusting.” The woman frowned as Sven tugged at his leash. “When’s this Housewives show on?”

**

“I thought Monk was on Fridays,” Mulder commented, staring at the robed figure seated in the Thurston P.D. interview room.

“Monastery’s about two miles out of town,” Lt. Carl Benjamin grunted. “The brothers sell bread through some of the bakeries in Cincy, along with some jam, jelly, herbs. Raskov here showed up about two weeks ago, asked to join up.”

“Two weeks ago,” Scully observed. “About the time the woman at the grocery last saw Gianisi.”

“Next day,” Benjamin supplied. “They took him in, no questions asked. The brass balls – settles in two miles away from Gianisi. Town’s turning into Dodge City: We didn’t even know that creep Gianisi had moved in until you guys swooped in to bail him out of some barfight.”

“Same government, different club,” Mulder corrected. “How’d you get on to Raskov?”

Benjamin, a square, muscular cop, jerked his head at the meditative man in the room beyond. “After your fed buddy let us know Michael Corleone had disappeared, we started asking around his neighborhood. Got a sketch worked up of some guy’d been sneaking around Gianisi’s house a couple of weeks before he went AWOL. Imagine our astonishment when patrol unit spotted the suspect with another friar down at the Thrif-Tee Mart. Brothers closed ranks tighter than a virgin after the prom and the head, er, monk, insisted he come downtown with Raskov. Talked him into waiting out front.”

“What’s Raskov say?”

“Jack shit, so far. Thought I’d let you two have a shot at him. Now, why don’t you rub my back a little, OK? Who is this guy?”

Mulder smiled. “You must have missed the Nobel Prize Awards on CBS back in 1998, right after Murder, She Wrote, I think. Peter Raskov won the science prize for his genetic work. He’s one of the men who helped map the human genome, and he developed several genetic markers that have been crucial to cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s research.”

“Jeez,” Benjamin nodded. “Known that, I’da stopped by Dunkin’ Donuts steada offering him the day-old Hostesses. So this world-renowned scientist is related to Joe Pesci how?”

“Raskov left biomedicine in 2000,” Scully related. “After his wife and son were gunned down at a gas station near his home. By a man named Theo Randazzi, who had just murdered the station owner, who had been running an illegal gambling operation in competition with Randazzi’s employer. Raskov’s family was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Randazzi tried to shoot it out with the NYPD a few days later, and wound up on the losing end. So the D.A. went after the man who’d ordered the hit on the station owner. Randazzi’s employer.”

“Gianisi,” Benjamin stated.

“Who began naming more names than the Yellow Pages. The D.A. dropped the case against Gianisi and put him into Witness Security.”

“Against the recommendation of the FBI,” Mulder murmured. “Meanwhile, Raskov dropped out of the scientific limelight for awhile, quit his university post, and nobody heard anything from him for about a year. He reappeared about a year later with a book postulating a connection between human genetics and the soul. Kind of pop science stuff for the ‘intelligent design’ crowd that was beginning to emerge from the creationist-evolutionist debate. He was laughed out of the scientific community and pissed off a lot of the rollers in the bargain.”

Benjamin was quiet for a second, registering Scully’s own silent, bemused reaction to her partner’s recitation. “What say we see what the brother says, huh, folks?”

**

“I take it this is some sort of homage to Mendel,” Mulder began.

Raskov’s eyes came up. They were filled with surprise and, Mulder perceived, a germ of interest.

“Gregor Johann Mendel, born July 22, 1822, in Heizendorf, Austria, the only son of a peasant farmer,” the agent supplied. “In 1843, Mendel began studying at the St. Thomas Monastery of the Augustinian Order. He was ordained into the priesthood in 1847. In 1851, after failing to earn his teaching certification, Mendel entered the University of Vienna to train to be teach math and biology. He developed his skills as a researcher, and became the virtual father of modern genetic theory — the first man to trace the characteristics of an organism from generation to generation.

“And here you are, one of the world’s top geneticists, now a member of the Friar’s Club. The irony must’ve appealed to you: Mendel, a man of God who unlocked the secrets of genetic expression; you a man of Science who’s devoted the last three years of his life to

quantifying the metaphysical in genetic terms. How close am I?”

Raskov smiled slightly. “And what do you think of my theories?”

“I think it’s more than divine fate that you somehow managed to wind up within spitting distance of the man responsible for the death of your wife and son.”

“Of course.”

“Who fingered him for you? Someone inside Witness Security?”

“I pledged my confidence.”

“Kind of a fine ethical point, don’t you think? What did you do with Gianisi?”

Raskov shrugged. Mulder’s brow rose. “You want an attorney? I assume you took a vow of poverty — we can line you up with a public defender.”

“I don’t need an attorney. I’ve committed no statutory crime.”

Mulder caught the adjective, and pulled out a chair. “What kind of crime have you committed?”

“Nothing in your jurisdiction, I’m sure.”

“He’s dead, isn’t he?”

Raskov folded his hands before him on the table.

clip_image004

Mulder stood. “I can see you’re ready to crack under the pressure. You want a cup of coffee while I leave you to sweat?”

Raskov smiled more broadly. “Thanks, no.”

Mulder nodded and stepped back into the hallway. “That’s one cool monk,” he told a waiting Scully. “He’s being playful about something, but I’m not sure he’s killed Gianisi.”

“Then where is he? You think he kidnapped him, maybe has him stowed somewhere?”

“I‘m sure the monastery has rules about roommates. Whatever’s going on, I’m positive Raskov’s involved. But hell if I know what it is.” He looked over Scully’s shoulder. “Lieutenant.”

Benjamin stalked toward them, an agitated frown on his red face. “We’re kicking him.”

“He knows something about what happened to Gianisi.”

“B.F.D. Prosecutor says he’s not busting some ‘holy man’ without hard evidence. Thinks the press, the ACLU, and the Cincinnati diocese would crucify us, pardon the pun. Says we know where Raskov is, we need him.”

Mulder pursed his lips. “Probably a safe bet. Whatever he’s done to Gianisi, I get the feeling he’s at peace in his new home.”

“I’d probably be, too, if I offed that human disease. Unfortunately, nobody asked me.”

“Hey, Lieutenant!” The trio turned to see a uniform at the end of the hall. “Got a Terry Seaver on your line. Says he’ll only talk to you.”

“Shit,” Benjamin muttered. “My insurance guy. Hope the wife didn’t rack up the car. A minute, OK, agents? And, hey, Benson?”

“Yeah,” the uniform yelled.

“Tell Friar Tuck out there he can take his guy home now, then process him out. ‘Scuse me.” The detective sprinted down the hall.

Scully looked after the cop, then at the meditative monk in the interview room.

“You think that’s good?” Lt. Benjamin posed from the doorway. “I just got a call on Gianisi. Says they’ve got him squirreled away somewhere.”

Mulder’s head whipped around. “The kidnapper?”

“Uh uh. Witness. Says she talked to our missing boy.”

**

“Sharon insisted we call you, but I had no idea you’d bring the feds along,” Terry Seavers muttered. “Swear to God, if the paper finds out about this…”

“Federal case, Terry — sorry,” Lt. Benjamin shrugged as he hooked his raincoat on the foyer rack. Mulder and Scully followed the cop and the contractor back into a cozy family room complete with bomber’s jacket leather recliners and a fireplace lined with sports memorabilia.

Seavers leaned against the mantel, arms crossed defensively over his chest. “Well, I’m already regretting this. Hell, media’d make my girl into some freakshow.”

“This is just us, Terry,” Benjamin assured him. “Agents Mulder and Scully understand that, OK?”

“You said your daughter told you some specifics,” Mulder prodded.

Seavers eyed the agent and sighed. “Says the guy’s name is Donald Gianisi, but everybody calls him Jerry. Lives over on Greenleaf Drive.”

“Nothing’s been released to the press, right, Lieutenant?” Scully asked. Benjamin shook his head. “Mr. Seavers, does your daughter say where Mr. Gianisi is?”

The girl’s beefy father paled, and he washed his face with a pink white-collar palm. “Jesus, like she wasn’t already twisted enough. Look, if we have to do this, why don’t you just talk to Sharon yourself?”

**

“He’s dead,” Sharon Seavers murmured. “Least, he said he thought he was.”

At 15, Sharon herself appeared the youthful personification of death. Full black goth gear, rings and needles pushed through every fleshy feature, black lips in contrast to her buttermilk skin. She rocked on her bare mattress — a salmon sheet was crumpled at the foot of the bed, an embarrassment discarded but kept at hand. Seavers was silent in his daughter’s presence, having obviously abdicated authority long ago.

“But he’s not now?” Mulder inquired, astonishing all but Scully by flopping onto the foot of the mattress. Sharon seemed blandly impressed by his unbidden violation of her hostile space.

“No, I don’t think so. But I think he’s hurt — he can’t see, and he said he can’t move his arms or legs or even feel them. He’s scared, and he’s pretty pissed off.”

“What’d he say?”

Sharon told him verbatim. Seavers turned to the wall with a put-upon sigh; Benjamin scratched the back of his neck, puffing his cheeks. Mulder nodded. “Sounds like our Donnie. He have any idea where they’ve got him?”

Sharon dug her tattooed knuckles into the mattress. “He’s in water, like he’s floating or something. Maybe they got him in, what do they call it, suspended animation, or something. In a big tube like in some sci-fi flick, maybe.”

Mulder ignored her sudden flippancy. “Is this the first time you’ve ever had a telepathic communication?”

Sharon’s black-rimmed eyes darted toward her father, Lt. Benjamin, with a mix of hostility and wariness. She shivered. “I’ve had like déjà vu or whatever — you know, you see or hear something you know you’ve seen or heard before, but you know you haven’t? And I knew when Zephyr was about to die. Our dog. He got hit by a truck when I was 10 – I told Mom to keep him inside that day, but she didn’t listen. Big news.”

“Jesus, Sharon,” Seavers breathed.

“They think its bullshit,” she told Mulder flatly. “Of course.”

“Say it isn’t bullshit,” Mulder suggested. “Do you think you could reestablish contact with Donald?”

“I don’t know his cell,” Sharon mumbled, scratching her forearm with a long, black talon. “And even if I did, I’m not sure I want to talk to him again.”

**

“Christ,” Lt. Benjamin breathed as the Seavers’ front door closed behind them.

Mulder looked up at Sharon’s blacked-out window. “Studies of telepathic subjects at Stockholm University suggest that strong emotional messages or signals of danger may for evolutionary reasons be easier to transmit than neutral messages. If Sharon has vestigial psychic abilities, Donald’s fear might have been able to break through her subconscious.”

“Jesus,” Benjamin invoked, looking to Scully. She shrugged.

“Lieutenant, you have to admit the girl knows a lot about Donald Gianisi. How could she have come across that information?”

The cop started toward his unit at the immaculately manicured curb. It was dusk, and lights were glowing throughout the Seavers’ subdivision. “Take a look at her, Agents. She’s the fucking Angel of Death. Probably hangs with Satanists. Maybe her and her little Addams Family clones offed Gianisi for kicks, and now she’s just fucking with us.”

“Despite their apparent preoccupation with death and darkness, Goths generally are peaceful people,” Mulder informed him. “And Goths frequently are neither Satanists nor pagans.”

“Frequently, they’re scared, insecure children looking for a way to belong in a world that they assume doesn’t want them,” Scully said quietly. The cop and her partner fell silent as the first fat drops of evening rain stained the concrete beneath them.

**

“After it happened, I became a sort of bereavement junkie,” Raskov murmured, hands clasped before him on the interview table. As he had the day before, he’d turned down Mulder’s offer of coffee. After a half-hour or so of maddeningly cryptic conversation about the case at hand, Mulder had found Raskov more than receptive to discussing the murder of his wife and child.

“Well-meaning friends and colleagues confused my customary stoicism with emotional withdrawal. Truth be told, I’d seen no option following Fran and Grant’s deaths but to immerse myself in my work — again, a response my friends mistook for denial, evasion.

“So I allowed myself to be coerced into joining one of those bereavement/survivor groups — I can’t even remember the name, now. We were a motley crew: There was some kid whose husband had been stabbed by his drug dealer, an ex-Teamster whose wife had been on a flight that crashed in the Adirondacks, a gay lawyer who’d lost his life companion to AIDS, and this couple — a New York cop and his wife whose young son had been abducted and murdered apparently by some deviate. John and Barbara.

“Barbara clearly had coerced John into coming to group each Wednesday, just as I’d been browbeaten into seeking closure. John came, occasionally held Barbara’s hand, listened dutifully to the others, and said nothing. Marine type, meat-and-potatoes policeman. As time went on, we all became addicted to the grief, to the quest for some revelation that would permit us to move on without the crushing mantle of guilt. The endless storytelling alone, as if we were grappling frantically to reconstruct our fading lost ones before they vanished altogether. John remained mute through it all.

“At first, I leapt to the perfectly human assumption that John was there merely to anchor Barbara. Then I gradually recognized that Barbara was John’s emotional safe harbor, his anchor. I decided that grief had struck him mute. But again, I was wrong.”

Mulder wasn’t sure where this was heading. Raskov had opened up almost immediately, but not in the direction the agent planned. However, the behavioral scientist knew truth often was buried in bullshit, or whatever this personal confession was.

“Every so often, the discussion would descend into raw, visceral anger,” Raskov continued. “Anger at a virus, at the airline industry, at the judges who set drug dealers and predators free to take our lost ones. Eventually, that anger would turn on those lost ones — for leaving us, for making foolishly fatal decisions, for venturing recklessly into harm’s way. And ultimately, that anger became self-directed. And although he never spoke, never offered a comment or reflection, I could tell no one in the room was as full of self-hatred as John. You could see it in his eyes, the way his fingers clutched the arms of his chair, as if he were keeping them from his own throat.

“Well. One night, we’re wallowing and reminiscing, and John abruptly sits up in his chair. We all started, and John apologized and left the room. He’d been off in some reverie, no doubt about his son, his Luke. Barbara didn’t pursue him – from her demeanor, I could tell his erratic behavior had become old-hat. But his sudden departure had disrupted the emotional flow of the conversation, so our counselor called a break.

“I sought out the men’s room down the hall, but the toilet was broken or some such thing. So I went downstairs to the restroom off the lobby, and there I found John, on the pay phone. It was clear he was talking to some colleague, and he was highly agitated. He was urging his colleague to issue a warrant on someone, I assume someone connected to his son’s death. Yes, he was aware they’d already interviewed and released the man. No, he had no real evidence or information that cast any new light – it was just his hunch. Yes, he understood, but. Yes, they’d talk tomorrow.

“After he rang off, John just stood there, the phone in his hand, as still as a statue. I don’t know what led me to hang behind, eavesdropping, but I nearly jumped out of my skin as he began to beat the handset against the cradle. ‘You bastard,’ he yelled. ‘You stupid bastard.’ It took me a minutes to realize he was deriding neither his colleague nor this man who’d reawakened his suspicions.

“And when I realized who we truly were destroying with all this toxic wrath, how this poor man was chasing futile leads and blind alleys in an attempt to somehow absolve himself of whatever role he felt he’d played in his son’s death, I suddenly felt a veil lifting. I no longer needed to absolve myself or avenge myself on Gianisi.”

Mulder waited for more, but Raskov simply stopped with a serene expression. “You turned it off, just like that.”

“Well, perhaps my epiphany had been building. I’d sat through weeks in the courtroom, every day, while Gianisi’s associates and enemies casually related the violent world in which they — he — existed. In the end, Gianisi himself testified with a childish, sullen bravado. There was a void in his soul — his innocence was lost at an early age, never to be retrieved. The revelation filled me with a certain grudging sadness for the man, despite what he’d done to my life. I found myself wishing he could know the wonder with which my Fran greeted each morning, the joy Grant found in a simple word game or a bedtime story.”

“So why?” Mulder pursued. “Why did you come to Thurston? Why did you track Gianisi down?”

Raskov smiled sympathetically. “Who did you lose, Agent Mulder?”

The agent gawped, dumbfounded. “What?”

“I could see it in your eyes, the set of your jaw as I talked about Fran and Grant, about John and Barbara and Luke. Whose memory is pressed in your subconscious? Who did you lose? I see no sign of a ring. My assumption would be a sibling.”

Mulder sat rigidly, staring at the scientist/monk. Then he remembered to breathe. He grinned. “We a big Silence of the Lambs fan?”

Raskov grinned back and shook his head. “Sorry, Agent. I wasn’t attempting any mind games. I suppose bereavement makes one sort of a grief specialist. My studies have cast an entirely new light on the nature of life, of death.”

“That’s right. You’re the soul man.”

Raskov didn’t respond. Mulder was about to follow up on that silent clue when the interview room door swung open. Benjamin glanced anxiously at Raskov, then turned to the agent.

“We got…something,” the cop reported haltingly. “Mr. — Brother, I’m gonna ask you to stick around a while longer. At least.”

**

“They been doing some work up on the road, tearing things up pretty good,” Lt. Benjamin informed Scully as she examined the decomposing, blood-caked husk that had once been Donald Gianisi. Troopers and deputies explored the surrounding embankment. “That’s why it took so long for anybody to find the car – road crew ripped out any signs of skid marks and took out the vegetation at the side to widen the road, without even noticing things were already torn up. And with traffic detoured around the construction, nobody much came through the area in the last week or so. Some nature photographer hadn’t been memorializing our rural biodiversity this morning, Donnie here would might have become part of the ecosystem next spring.”

“What do you think, Scully?” Mulder asked, his back to the pathologist/agent and her “patient.” “How long’s he been here?”

“Well, based on decomposition and insect damage, I’d venture more than a week. I’ll try to tie it down in the post-mortem. Of course, we can peg it somewhere between the start of construction and his encounter in the grocery parking lot.”

“Which means about a two-day window about two weeks ago,” Benjamin contributed. “Gianisi had his fender-bender on a Tuesday, county started roadwork Friday. Can you tell if there was anything fishy about this, Agent?”

Scully glanced down at Gianisi’s damaged face. “Post-mortem can probably determine if he died accidentally or not, but it’s up to your lab to figure out whether the accident was an accident. Wait.”

“What?” Mulder turned, and turned back with a green expression.

“Lieutenant, what’s this appear to be?” Scully inquired. “Don’t touch it.”

“Hair,” Benjamin suggested. “You think the perp left some trace?”

Scully peered at the four or five black strands. “These weren’t shed – no follicles. They were cut. And given the color and thickness, I’d guess they’re probably Gianisi’s.”

“Probably grabbed a haircut earlier. There’s a salon a few doors down from the market where he met up with the yuppie babe.”

“No. See, there’s no blood on these hairs. They were cut after the accident, and probably hours after the accident, after the blood had had time to dry.”

“A posthumous haircut?” Mulder demanded. “The killer took a lock of his hair as, what? Proof of a successful hit? A souvenir or fetish for a serial killer?”

Scully turned from the corpse. “Mulder, I’m not even sure we have a killing here.”

Benjamin grunted as he stood up, back cracking. “But he is dead, and has been for a couple weeks. Like to see what Buffy the Vampire Seer has to say about her little ‘vision’ now. Especially since I found out this afternoon her cousin lives — lived — next door to the late Mr. Gianisi here.”

**

“I told you,” Sharon repeated in a dead monotone, picking at her already-scabbed arm as her eyes darted between Mulder, Scully, and Benjamin. “I didn’t know the guy. I can’t explain why he chose me.”

“Your cousin’s Jenny Gleeson, right?” Benjamin demanded.

“Yeah…”

“You see her a lot?”

“Sure – I babysit for her and her husband, though since she got pregnant, not so much.”

“And you never met her neighbor? Slick dude, abs of steel.”

Life sparked in Sharon’s eyes. “Oh, shit. That perv? That’s the dead guy?”

“Perv?”

Her face wrinkled in disgust. “Yeah. He was always checking Jenny out – real eye-fuck. I even caught him checking my ass once. I told him to go fuck himself. He looked like he would’ve broke my neck, if Brad – Jenny’s husband – hadn’t been there. That’s the guy?”

“Yeah, that’s the guy,” Benjamin mocked her. “So he didn’t tell you what a nice keister you had when you had your little after-death chat?”

“Hey,” Terry Seaver growled from beside his daughter.

“Lieutenant,” Scully cautioned.

“He never talked to me, you pig,” Sharon said through her teeth, eyes filling in betrayal of her bravado. “And he wasn’t dead. If you’d’ve heard his voice – he was scared shitless. He, he…”

“Baby?” Seaver inquired, concerned, as she placed both hands on the table. “Sharon?”

The girl’s head came up, eyes now full of terror. The adults in the room jumped at the voice that ripped from her blackened lips. “Get me the fuck outta here!! I’m dyin’ in here, I’m goin’ crazy.”

Mulder stepped toward Sharon. “Gianisi? Donald Gianisi.”

“I think they got me in some kinda fucking factory!” Sharon/”Gianisi” screamed. “I can hear the fucking generators thumpin’ away. You gotta come get me outta here!! I can’t take the dark!! I got nichta–, nichta–, I’m scared of the fucking dark!!” The girl shrieked, then collapsed on the table.

The room was silent as Seaver kneeled beside Sharon and lifted her head. Her black-lidded eyes fluttered open, and she stared wildly at the frightened faces around her.

“That was him,” she said.

Benjamin applauded, a bead of sweat rolling down his neck. “Great performance, Linda Blair.”

“Nichtophobia,” Scully said, abruptly.

“What?” the cop squeaked.

“A morbid fear of darkness. That’s what ‘he’ was trying to say.”

“So what?”

“When Agent Mulder and I were investigating Donald Gianisi’s disappearance, I read a report from a court-ordered counselor Gianisi was required to see. He’d had a series of violent encounters as a teen, and the counseling was part of a plea agreement. Gianisi told the psychiatrist he was terrified of the dark, and eventually dropped some clues that led the counselor to believe he’d been abused by a male relative, possibly in a basement or closet.”

“So now, he’s a victim,” Benjamin sneered.

“That’s not my point, Lieutenant,” Scully said patiently. “How does Sharon know about Gianisi’s nichtophobia? Information that was in a sealed police report?”

Benjamin stared incredulously at Scully. “Shit, Terry, take her home. Maybe sign her up for drama club. Betcha she’d be great.” He rubbed his face wearily as he turned to Mulder and Scully. “And you two, why don’t you get the hell out of my face, too, while we’re at it?”

**

“I’ll just save some time and breath and assume you don’t believe she’s lying,” Scully said dryly as she negotiated a discarded Coke can in the Thurston City Hall parking lot.

Mulder dug for the key fob, and their rental sedan beeped admittance. “If she was, Nicole Kidman has something to worry about.”

“You don’t see Gianisi being dead being a problem?”

“It’s a teaser, all right. Maybe he’s in some kind of limbo state, doesn’t know he’s dead, and has been channeling through Sharon.”

“Or perhaps Sharon’s suffering some kind of disassociative mental or emotional condition? Maybe ‘Gianisi’ is the product of her creative subconscious?”

Mulder smirked. “Well, now, you’re just being ridiculous.” His jacket warbled, and he plucked his cell phone from the inside pocket. “Yeah, Mulder. Hey, yeah, thanks for getting back to me, Agent. I understand you worked the kidnapping angle on a child murder a few years back, cop’s kid…Yeah, wow, you’re memory’s amazing…Dead end, huh? Well, we’ve got a case here, unrelated, but it could have a bearing on your old homicide…You would? Gee, you must’ve skipped a few of the orientation sessions on anal-retentive bureaucracy…Yeah, yeah, I’d like to help them, too. I know what it’s like to – ah, sorry, never mind. Maybe you could express mail – already e-mailed. Hey, I really appreciate it, Agent—Oh, sure, Monica. Thanks, Monica.”

“I’m not into partner-swapping, Mulder,” Scully informed him as he restored the phone. “What was that about? Does it have a bearing on Gianisi?”

“No, no,” Mulder murmured hastily. “Just a little something I’ve been checking up on.”

**

“An adolescent cry for attention, a bizarre pseudo-paranormal scam, or something more sinister?” the pretty blonde posed, staring intently at the hotel bar’s dinner crowd. “Police in a quiet suburban town just north of Cincinnati are investigating the allegedly accidental death of Donald Gianisi, once a key lieutenant with the New York mob, who had been living in Thurston, Ohio, as part of the federal Witness Security relocation program. CNN has learned Gianisi may have been involved in at least two separate criminal incidents in the five years he had been living under the alias Jerry Pedersen, raising renewed questions about government protection of potentially violent states’ witnesses.”

“Shucks, Marshall Karnes, looks like y’all might have some ‘splainin’ to do,” Mulder chuckled as a middle-aged redhead dropped a basket of buffalo wings before him and a small salad at Scully’s place.

“Shut up,” Scully ordered.

“…The case took an unusual turn when a self-proclaimed 15-year-old psychic claimed to have talked to Gianisi days after his car crashed into a rural creek embankment. The minor, whose name has not yet been released by local authorities, reportedly may have been involved in satanic rituals, and had been in counseling over the past years. Authorities would not speculate on a reported possible connection between Gianisi and the girl…”

“But, of course, you will,” Scully sighed at the anchorwoman. “Benjamin, you asshole.”

Mulder smiled disarmingly at the elderly couple at the next table, who’d craned in disapproval at his partner. “It might not have been him.”

Scully laughed harshly. “It’s the only way it could’ve got out this quickly. He’s probably at the Seavers right now, along with Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo Rivera, interrogating that girl.”

“I suppose, if it would make you feel better, we could…” Mulder drawled, his gaze moving from Scully to his wings and back. Scully was on her feet and headed toward the exit before he could complete his thought. He looked in frustration for his waitress, sighed, and tossed a $20 onto the table.

**

“Oh, God,” Scully whispered as Mulder turned onto Jacaranda Lane. It was as if the neighborhood had thrown some kind of macabre block party: Red and blue lights strobed on the street before the Seavers home, and a knot of neighbors clustered beyond the home’s perimeter in pajamas and sweats. Two Cincinnati TV vans were angled into the curb nearby, and their occupants were debating First Amendment rights with the Thurston P.D.

Scully leapt from the car before Mulder could brake at the curb three houses away, and he watched her sprint toward the Seavers’. She stopped short as a gurney emerged from the open garage bay, her arms limply at her sides, and turned toward Mulder, eyes wide.

The first thing that hit Mulder as he approached his partner was the smell of concentrated gasoline exhaust. His eyes darted toward the garage’s brightly lit interior; Lt. Benjamin was on his knee at the tailpipe, which had been extended with a piece of sump hose into the driver’s window of a white Maxima. He looked up with what could have been an expression of shame.

“EMTs worked on her for, shit, must’ve been a half-hour,” he informed Mulder and Scully dully. “Kid probably saw this shit on TV or the Internet. Probably some website out there tells fucked-up teenagers how to off themselves. God, Terry found her – thought he’d heard the car running out here.”

“Was there any note?” Mulder asked, willing himself not to look into the car.

Benjamin looked curiously at him for a moment, then blinked. “Shit, yeah, sorry.” He retrieved an evidence bag from the trunk lid. It held a folded sheet of what looked to be computer paper, a neat inscription scratched across the center above the fold. “It’s addressed to your partner.”

Scully tugged it from the cop’s grasp.

“Where is she?” Terry Seavers appeared in the garage/kitchen doorway. His hair was disheveled and his eyes framed in red. “I asked you to let me know when they took her, damn it. Goddamit, I’m her fah-fah—”

“Terry, Terry, man,” Benjamin jumped forward, throwing his muscular arms around the man. “We’ll take good care of her, OK, buddy? I’ll make sure they do, or they’ll answer to me. You gotta go back inside now, OK?”

Seavers looked with astonishment at Mulder. “I didn’t know what she meant. I thought it would be good if she got away for awhile, even with those freak friends of hers. I didn’t know. I didn’t. She asked, and I just said, sure.”

“What, Mr. Seavers?” Mulder asked gently.

“She asked…” Seavers gulped oxygen hungrily. “She asked if she could use the ca-ca-car.” He laughed hysterically, doubling over as he fell to his knees. Mulder looked to Scully as Benjamin attempted to console the wailing father. His partner was staring off into the night, the bagged letter dangling from her fist.

“Scully?” Mulder asked. “Scully, I need the letter. Please.”

She turned, eyes shining, and thrust the bag at him before stalking back out into the street. Mulder tuned out the police radios and the almost animalistic cries of grief rising from the oil-stained floor behind him.

“ ‘Dear Agent Scully,’” Sharon Seavers had written in an absurdly elegant hand. “‘What’s the opposite of nichtophobia?’ ”

**

Mulder’s voice was quietly strained, filtered through controlled anger. “That girl is dead most likely because of us, Raskov. Our intellectual screwing around allowed her delusion to grow and metastasize. The time for bullshit is over. What did you do? Slip Gianisi something to make him fall asleep at the wheel and crack up? Doctor his car? Finish him off as he was dying behind the wheel?”

Raskov’s face was as serene as ever, with the exception of a troubled cast around his eyes. “Agent Mulder, I accept my responsibility in that child’s death, and I will be called to atone for it, I’m sure. I’d reassure you you had no role in this tragedy, but I doubt it would provide you any consolation. You seem to take on the world’s burden as your own, and I can feel this young girl’s death particularly weighs on you, as if it resonates with some past tragedy in your life.”

Mulder blinked, catching his breath momentarily.

“But if that girl was tortured,” Raskov continued, “it wasn’t by any demons of her own making. There was no delusion beyond that of her own hopelessness.”

“You’re talking in riddles,” Mulder sputtered. “Did you kill Gianisi?”

Peter Raskov closed his eyes momentarily, then stared into Mulder’s. “Had that been the case. God forgive me.”

**

“So what’s worse than murder?” Mulder posed, toying with his burger. It was late, and the diner was populated primarily by teens pushing their parental envelope, second-shifters bitching about managerial veniality and customer cupidity, and socially marginal specimens for whom time and its flight had come to mean little beyond a marker between meals. Their waitress was absorbed in a TV Guide crossword puzzle, and the highway beyond was a barren strip virtually devoid of traffic.

Scully swabbed a fry through a puddle of ketchup. “Looks like for once, you’re out of your depth, Mulder. Which is pretty deep by anyone’s standards.”

“What’s that mean?” Mulder grumbled, leaning back against the red vinyl banquette.

“Just that Raskov may have pulled you into some uncharted waters. At least, for you.”

“Scully, knock off the marine metaphors or I’ll drag you into the men’s room for a porcelain shampoo.”

Scully nibbled her fry. “It’s just that you believe in spontaneous combustion and telekinesis and panspermia. You accept without question the existence of subatomic particles that defy our manmade physical laws and tears in the space-time continuum. But the idea that there’s some kind of design to all of this, that some forces guides the universe—”

“Sister Dana Stigmata,” Mulder sighed. “Am I going to have to leave a buck for you and the busboy?”

“My point precisely. You have a chip about religion about the size of the Vatican on your shoulder, Mulder. You may be willing to go up against jumbo Flukemen or bone-squeezing mutants. You’ve even picked up my feminine protection supplies at the Walgreen’s, for which you have earned my undying affection. But the idea of God scares the living crap out of you. Not that you’re an anomaly – it’s a typical intellectual reaction these days. Look at the debate between the creationists, the evolutionists, and the intelligent design people. Look at the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, anti-Muslim feeling and open verbal warfare directed against Christians in this country. Look at what happened to Raskov after he dared suggest some nexus between science and faith.”

“You wearing that cross a little too tight these days, Scully?” Mulder smirked. “If you’re planning on embracing celibacy, let me know so I can lay in some supplies.”

“Relax, Mulder,” Scully said, selecting another fry. “I’m on your side, whether you know it or not. I’m merely being open to the possibilities. Including the spookier ones. Now eat up, and maybe we can go back to the hotel and try for a few miracles of our own.”

**

“God, don’t you ever clock out?” Benjamin snorted, hands on hips in the open garage doorway. “Well, come on in. Maybe we can kill a bottle and a few dozen brain cells. I know I sure as hell feel like it.”

The cop lived in a small frame ranch house at the end of town. It was clearly his sanctuary: A neatly laid stone border outlined a bright thatch of ivy and begonias, and the lawn looked as though the PGA had paid its maintenance. A candy red ’69 Mustang was centered in the garage bay, it’s hood propped open and a spanner poised atop the engine block.

“Beauty, eh?” Benjamin chuckled. “Snagged it at a state auction a few months back — some meth-dealing asshole used to tool around town in it looking for prospects. Love to drive it up to the state hotel someday and let the bastard see what he’s missing while he’s getting boo-fooed by his prison squeeze.”

“You a hometown boy?” Mulder asked, leaning against a tool-lined workbench. “Must be frustrating to have people like that come in and dirty things up.”

“Well,” Benjamin shrugged, too casually. “Gotta leave it at the office, right?”

“But you couldn’t,” Mulder said gently. “Could you?”

The detective leaned into the Mustang’s interior. “You’re losing me.”

“Karnes, Gianisi’s keeper, told me only a few people knew about ‘Jerry’s’ interactions with some of the townfolk. The prosecutor boils it down to himself, your chief, and the investigating officer in the shooting of Gianisi’s bar ‘buddy.’ That’s you. Frosted you, didn’t it, having the feds drop this sociopathic criminal in your town, in the midst of your friends and neighbors, and you can’t do anything to control him?”

Benjamin emerged from the car, a greasy rag bundled in his hand. “The fuck you talking about?”

“You had no idea Sharon would react the way she did when you called in the media,” Mulder continued. “You must have nearly soiled yourself when she went into her Gianisi ‘act.’ You knew Gianisi’s voice from when you brought him in, before the feds pulled the plug. You had to know she wasn’t acting.”

“Gianisi was dead,” Benjamin grunted. “And it was an accident. Your partner backs that up. Raskov didn’t kill anybody, and I sure as shit–”

“But you did finger him to Raskov, didn’t you? Was it out of sympathy for his loss, or just to get rid of a town nuisance? How do you think Raskov would feel about being used to execute Gianisi? That’s why you let some oddball fed interview Raskov alone. I thought it was kind of weird, but you didn’t want Raskov unconsciously tipping us that he tipped you. I assume it’s also why you tried to lead us off the trail with that theory about Goths and Satanists.”

Benjamin’s rag dropped to the floor, revealing a gleaming .22. It hung at the cop’s side, but the threat was explicit.

“I didn’t mean for her to do…what she did,” Benjamin said gruffly. “Terry and me go back to the high school basketball squad, and I was at Sharon’s baptism. I knew what was happening was fucking impossible, but I knew I had to stop it, too. I was hoping she’d just lock herself up in her room, shut up, leave it alone.”

“Lieutenant,” Mulder said. “Like you said, Raskov couldn’t have killed Gianisi. The worst you’d face is dismissal, maybe even just a suspension.”

“This isn’t Boulder, Colo., Agent,” Benjamin laughed harshly, raising the gun. “My people are straight arrows — except for Raskov and Gianisi, I was, too. Why’d you have to screw it up? What do you gain, except I guess a slug behind the ear?”

“Don’t think so, Detective,” Marshal Karnes said, appearing around the side of the garage. “You just put it down on the floor, and nobody risks creasing the finish on that fine automobile.”

“Drop it, Benjamin!” Scully punctuated, coming up behind the marshal.

“You bastards travel in swarms, don’t you?” he asked Mulder sadly. “Neighborhood’s going to hell fast. Guess I’ll know soon enough, though.”

“Benjamin!” Karnes bellowed as the policeman shoved the barrel under his chin, and, with a shattering blast, showered blood and brain matter over the meth dealer’s former Mustang.

**

Mulder tensed as he entered the interview room. Raskov was in his place at the end of the table, but at his right hand was a fullback of a man with bull shoulders, a mastiff’s jaw, and a clean scalp ringed with salt-and-pepper hair. He might have been a cop or an aging pro wrestler, but for the brown woolen robe and the small gold cross nestled in the folds across his barrel chest.

The large man beamed and half-rose. “Agent Mulder, I presume. I’m delighted to meet you. I’m Father Ignatius with St. Eustace’s Abbey. Brother Peter asked me to accompany him today.”

Mulder, baffled, grasped the muscular fingers briefly and sunk into his chair. “Even if I’d had any reason to read him his Miranda-Escobedo, I think it’s pretty clear he’s entitled to legal rather than divine counsel.”

Father Ignatius chuckled. “Brother Peter’s spoken of your wit and insight. Your conversations have given him great pleasure. No, I’m serving as Peter’s mouthpiece today only in the most literal sense.”

Mulder looked to Raskov. The scientist/monk, eyes serene, ducked his head almost imperceptibly, with a seeming note of apology. Then it hit Mulder.

“No,” he breathed.

Father Ignatius spoke gently. “Brother Peter asked me to help him say goodbye. You see, he decided last night he was ready for the next step in his spiritual journey. He wishes to break completely from the world, to contemplate its mysteries.”

Mulder sat, speechless. As did Raskov.

“Brother Peter wanted me to express the high esteem in which he holds you. He said he’ll miss your talks.”

Mulder composed himself. “Father, I’m not sure a vow of silence will satisfy either the county prosecutor or the U.S. attorney’s office.”

The friar smiled sympathetically. “Brother Peter regrets any inconvenience this may cause you, as well as the deaths of that poor, unhappy young lady and that policeman, but he assures you that he has told you everything you need to understand. Peter told me you’re a man with a strong belief – he and I will pray you gain that understanding.”

“I’m not—” Mulder blurted. “My belief isn’t the same as yours, Father.”

“It’s still belief,” Father Ignatius said, rising with Raskov. He placed a broad, warm palm on Mulder’s shoulder. “And that’s a starting point. Peace be with you, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder stared dumbly at Scully as she took the chair beside him a few minutes after the pair departed. She squeezed his hand.

“He can’t get away with this,” her partner stammered. “We’ll get the U.S. attorney to put some heat on the diocese—”

“Mulder. We have no case. Gianisi died of injuries sustained in what the forensic evidence and the state police accident reconstruction specialist agree was an accident. There was no murder, Benjamin can’t testify about Raskov’s intention, and any effort to prove anything more, well, I don’t see the U.S. attorney being willing to take on the Catholic Church, especially given the current religious environment in this country.”

Mulder looked beseechingly into Scully’s eyes, saw what was there, and sighed. “So what do we do?”

She stood and squeezed his forearm. “Go with God?”

Three months later

“I appreciate you guys helping with the sofa,” Tara beamed, bearing a tray of sandwiches into the living room. “Bill and I had looked at it months ago, and I finally decided it was just silly of me to hold off buying it after, well.”

Scully relieved her sister-in-law of the tray, holding it beyond Mulder’s reach and placing it on the coffee table. She knew Tara had had one of her moments and that her brother’s widow had asked them to come out for their company and comfort rather than for their backs. As they waited at the furniture warehouse dock, Mulder and Scully had both noticed the “Free Delivery Anywhere in the D.C./Georgetown Area” placard.

“I just put Clara down for her nap,” Tara informed them as she scattered a bag of Lay’s in a bowl before the agents. She rubbed her sweatshirt in mock pain. “Just like her Daddy – always needs a siesta after supper.” She winced, and her smile wavered as her eyes filled. “Oh, Jeez. I’m sorry, guys.”

“Tara,” Scully murmured, jumping from the new couch and taking Tara into her arms. Mulder awkwardly but unhesitantly pulled the pair into an embrace. After a half-minute, Tara laughed weakly and pushed them away.

“Probably my little monthly visitor come to call,” she apologized, brushing a tear away. “Dig in, Dana, Fox. I’ll be right back.”

“She still seeing the counselor?” Mulder asked as she disappeared into the downstairs bathroom. “I’m not sure she’s making any progress.”

Scully dropped beside him on the sofa, resting her head on his arm. “The way Bill died…I think it made it all more random, more senseless for her. And while Clara has helped Tara focus her attention and affections, it’s also a reminder of what she’s lost. Sometimes, I’ll look into Clara’s eyes and see a little bit of Bill…” She fell silent, and after a second, Mulder felt her shoulders shake. He pulled her closer, combed her hair with his fingers.

Then Mulder froze, an icy finger jabbing at his gut. He choked the unspeakable notion back, forcing his fingers mechanically through Scully’s locks.

Thurston Community Hospital

Thurston, Ohio

Mulder looked into the dozens of eyes before him – some open and staring fearfully around a new universe, some still squeezed shut against the light. Their faces were uncomprehending, nearly alien, their fingers curled, untrained, and semi-formed. He searched the rows of tiny beings, fixing finally on the nameplate neatly lettered “Baby Boy Gleeson.” Scully leaned, arms crossed, against the glass of the viewing window, studying her partner as Mulder studied the recently emerged life before him.

“Mulder, what are we doing here?” Scully challenged. “You still believe Raskov killed Gianisi?”

Mulder continued to stare through the window. “I think he did much worse.”

“Worse?” Scully’s brow creased with concern. “Mulder, what are you thinking? Every time I’ve mentioned this case over the last four months, you’ve fallen into some kind of mumbling, pensive trance. What’s bothering you? Tell me – maybe I can help.”

Mulder turned to his lifemate with a grim smile. “I hope you’ll feel that way when I’m done. I could be totally off, but if I’m right, you may wish I’d never told you.”

Scully fell silent, searching his face. “Tell me,” she finally invited.

“All right,” he sighed. “Why do you think Raskov joined the brotherhood after Gianisi disappeared?”

“I had assumed he was atoning for what he’d done to Gianisi. Whatever that might have been.”

“When I asked him if he harbored any remorse for harming another human being, Raskov’s reaction was adamant. Raskov felt no regret. Or, maybe, he felt he hadn’t harmed Gianisi. But if either possibility were true, then we still have to explain what he apparently was repenting for.”

“What could be worse than murder?”

An obstetric nurse passed, beaming, and Mulder waited, nodding back. “Raskov was a scientist who’d rediscovered his faith in the face of tragedy. He was a decent, gentle man who went to great lengths to track down Gianisi. Why, if not to kill him?

“You remember Raskov’s theories about consciousness? That human memory and sentience are rooted in genetics? That somewhere in the genetic code is the key to the soul? Something, some force, God, cosmic energy, something turns on our consciousness, causes it to express itself.”

Scully breathed, unconsciously fingering the cross about her neck. “Frankly, Mulder, I suspect his theories reflected a grief-stricken search for answers he could accept rather than objective insight. Raskov was a scientist at heart: He probably needed an identifiable rationale to believe in a divine destiny, not just fragile faith.”

“But I think he may have been right,” Mulder said quietly. “I think Raskov not only discovered the truth, but put it into practice.”

Scully was mute for a second. “What do you mean, Mulder?” she asked, reluctantly, her face draining of color.

“I believe that somewhere in his research into the human genome, Raskov identified the gene, the chromosomal strand, whatever, that controls consciousness, the spark of human life. My guess is that that’s why he so abruptly abandoned his work – Raskov knew that what he’d discovered was earthshaking. To some, it would be the scientific proof of everything religion holds to be divinely endowed, proof of an intelligent design at the most fundamental level of human existence.

“But for others, I suspect, Raskov’s discovery would be devastating – a debunking of everything every religion on Earth holds sacred. God would be dead for millions who may only have that faith to hold onto. Can you imagine the consequences? Suicide, abandonment of moral and ethical prerogatives, the death of hope for a majority of the world’s population? We’re already seeing a second Inquisition, Scully, except instead of the Church putting Science on trial, Science is putting Faith on trial. A lot of people would love to destroy that faith, and my guess is a lot of people don’t have the Faith to stand up to this kind of trial, even if Raskov’s discovery essentially proves nothing except the physical source of consciousness.

“And think about this, Scully. If consciousness is hardwired into our DNA, a genetic switch that can be turned on at our conception, then what happens when we die? What scientist, what biotech conglomerate wouldn’t dream of unlocking immortality, turning the switch back on after it’s been turned off? You want to unlock that Pandora’s box?”

“My God,” Scully whispered, laughing bitterly at the apocalyptic irony of her remark. “I pray—, I hope you’re wrong. What if Raskov changed his mind? What if others – people we know – lucked onto what he was working on?” She shook her head vigorously before he could venture an answer, and stumbled to a nearby bench. Mulder dropped beside her, his hand brushing hers on the cushion. Scully looked up, eyes wide, as if yet another horror had emerged on the horizon. “What did you mean, Raskov put his theories into practice?”

Mulder leaned back, resting his head against the stark white hospital wall. “After his family’s death, Raskov made a study of Gianisi – his childhood growing up in a mob family, the indications of sexual abuse at the hands of a family member, the environment of violence and crime in which Gianisi was raised. Raskov was intrigued by the eternal debate over genetics vs. environment – nature vs. nurture. What makes us a saint or a monster?

“Consider Raskov’s spiritual rebirth, his turning to faith in the face of grief. After interviewing him for hours, I don’t believe cold, premeditated vengeance was what he was after. At least, not in the conventional sense.”

Scully closed her eyes. “What other sense is there?”

“Raskov and I talked about second chances – making amends, doing penance, recapturing missed opportunities. And here was one of the world’s top molecular biologists, who, if I’m right, had discovered the genetic key to human consciousness.”

Scully waited for her partner to continue, then her eyes popped open in realization. “No. That’s… No, Mulder. God, no.”

“Remember the hair cuttings on Gianisi’s shirt collar? Why would the killer or anyone else take a lock of Gianisi’s hair? Scully, think about the place where Gianisi ‘told’ Tracy he was being kept. Inky darkness, little sound except for the rhythmic throbbing of some kind of engine. Suspended in some kind of liquid. Unable to move, seemingly trapped inside his own body.”

Scully merely stared at Mulder.

“Every human hair holds the stuff of our genetic makeup. Raskov knew where to look, and had the tools to do what he needed. On one of his stalking expeditions, he’d noticed the nice young expectant parents living next door to Gianisi in the middle of a small-town Eden. Raskov told me he’d wanted Gianisi to know what it was like to be a child — full of innocence, his life ahead of him. I thought he was talking about his son, but he meant it literally.”

“How did he…. How could he?” Scully’s voice was tinged with horror. She could not look at the maternity window across the corridor.

clip_image006

“Sharon was disillusioned, but not delusional, Scully. The genetic link with her cousin, and the circumstances of Gianisi’s ‘captivity’ probably are why Sharon, who already possessed rudimentary psychic abilities, was ‘lucky’ enough to pick up Gianisi’s telepathic signal. My guess is Raskov waited until Mr. Gleeson was away on a business trip, doctored Mrs. Gleeson’s juice, her medication, whatever, and inoculated her in her sleep with Gianisi’s specially treated genetic material. She probably woke up with nothing more than a headache, which she’d likely have attributed to her pregnancy.

“Raskov didn’t want to kill Gianisi. He’d moved beyond that. He wanted to give his family’s killer a second chance. To become the human being he couldn’t have become in this one. But of course Raskov couldn’t have predicted how Gianisi’s newly transplanted consciousness might express itself. That all of Gianisi’s memories, thoughts, and fears might be programmed into that same chromosomal segment.”

Scully shuddered. Her finger pointed across the corridor.

“Do you think he, you know…?”

Mulder squeezed her hand. “I think somehow the development of the fetus’s own genetics somehow shut off Gianisi’s consciousness. I think that last vestige of Donald Gianisi is gone. Or at least gone as we know it.”

Scully grasped Mulder’s hand, squeezed hard. “It’s too monstrous to even contemplate.”

Mulder stood, looking down at his partner. “Ultimately, I think Raskov realized that. He didn’t join that abbey to hide or to seek sanctuary. Think, Scully – you’re Catholic. What sin could possibly merit a potential lifetime of penance? I think even Raskov at one time could’ve justified killing the vicious animal who’d helped wipe out his family. But he’d tinkered with the human soul. He’d played God.”

**

“Yes?” Father McCue inquired. After the confessional door slid shut, all he’d heard was low, rhythmic breathing. All he could see beyond the screen was the shadow of what appeared to be a woman. “Would you like to confess?”

The breathing stopped, then continued.

“I can promise you that nothing that is said within this confessional can be shared outside it,” Father McCue assured her. “Your secrets will remain mine. And I can tell you, there isn’t anything I haven’t heard in my years in this parish, and there’s little Our Lord cannot forgive.”

The figure shifted, sighed.

The priest chuckled uneasily. “C’mon. I’ve heard it all.”

The shadow on the other side of the screen hunched, and he was certain he heard a stifled sob. The sound of the door sliding open was followed by light, heeled footsteps echoing though the sanctuary.

Father McCue quickly emerged from the confessional, peering into the dim recesses of his church. The petite figure was silhouetted briefly as one of the two huge brass doors pushed open. He caught a brief flash of red hair, and then she was gone.

“Dana?” he whispered.

Brooklyn, N.Y.

3:21 p.m.

Mulder could tell he was a hardcase the moment the mobster turned from the bar. It was a cheap, outdated working men’s tavern in the industrial part of the borough, and he was a cheap, old-school thug, an enforcer who from all reports liked his job too much.

But he wasn’t a stupid thug. He’d slipped a couple of major indictments and had managed to escape doing any really hard time. And the eyes within the hard, cold face that turned to Mulder glinted with a feral, calculating intelligence.

“Yeah,” Nicholas Regali murmured, eyeing the agent with unconcealed contempt. He smiled. “Just let you out of Quantico, kid? Grab a stool; I’ll buy you a Shirley Temple.”

Mulder returned the smile. “Forgot it was Clichéd Gangster Dialogue Week on Turner Movie Classics. What gave me away, the suit?”

“Wind shifted, and I smelled a fed. You got business with me, Kid? Cause we’re burning daylight here, and you probably don’t want to be here when the regular crowds get in.”

“OK,” Mulder nodded, leaning on the scarred wood. “Name Luke Doggett mean anything to you?”

Regali answered with a sip of his whisky.

“All right. How about Bob Harvey?”

Another sip. Mulder’s heart quickened. Hardcases like Regali never caught on that nonchalance was as good a tip-off as frantic denial. Mulder perched on the next stool, the smile still on his face.

“I mean, you and Harvey did a stretch together in ’88, right?”

The shoulders twitched in a distracted shrug. “OK, Harvey, yeah. Creep, a perv — what we called a short-eyes in the joint. Liked the kids. Piece of human puke. Didn’t have much reason or stomach to hang out with old Bob, that’s what you mean.”

“You know Harvey died in a car crash a few years back?”

The corner of Regali’s lip twitched. “Tragic.”

“Say there was this guy — a ‘businessman’ of sorts,” Mulder began, low and casual. “Say this businessman, in the course of doing business, has to associate with any number of thugs, sickos, perverts on the fringe of his business. Like Bob Harvey, for example. And say, one day, Bob Harvey sees a little boy riding a bike on the street, and he just can’t stand it. He grabs the boy. So, Harvey takes the boy back to his place, only he doesn’t tell the businessman what he’s doing. So, the businessman walks in on him. You see what I’m saying, Regali? The boy sees the businessman’s face. That would be a problem, wouldn’t it? Well… every problem has a solution, right?”

“Interesting story — might sell it to HBO, you goose it up a little.” Regali tossed back the last of his drink.

“The day Luke disappeared, you gassed up your car two miles from his house. We can put Harvey in the area that day, too. And we can link up your mutual business interests.”

“And Jack Nicholson was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon.” Regali swiveled off his stool. “What’s not so hot about your story is what’s missing. Any kind of hard evidence to make a judge or jury buy it. They got writers’ courses down at the community college – you ought to look into that.”

The mobster was halfway to the door when a pair of men pushed away from their table. Regali tensed, hand twitching toward his back. Two guns came up, and the hand dropped to his side.

“We weren’t done talking yet,” Mulder complained, yanking Regali’s arms behind his back. “You haven’t even met my friends. Nick, meet Special Agent Vollmer and Detective First Grade John Doggett, NYPD.”

The hoodlum’s eyes narrowed as he stared into the policeman’s cold, craggy face. Anger, relief, a profound sadness were mingled in the father’s eyes.

“Detective Doggett wanted to come here alone,” Mulder murmured grimly, “but I convinced him it probably wasn’t safe. You think I was right?”

Castle Rock, Maine

20 years later

11:52 p.m.

The knock came as something of a surprise to Peter Raskov, and yet it was long overdue.

Raskov had left St. Eustace nearly 15 years before: He’d found his answers, or at least recognized that some questions would never be answered. Raskov had kept up with the industry via the abbey’s Internet service and journals forwarded by a former colleague, and after five years, he reactivated his now-rusty voice in front of a class at a private university. No one, not even the curious Mr. Mulder, had seemed inclined to investigate his previous transgressions, and his Nobel Prize still carried some cache in some circles of academia.

The one remnant of Raskov’s monastic life was the small brick cottage he’d rented off-campus. Silence outside the classroom had become a custom rather than a spiritual calling, and, as a result, he had few friends and, of course, no family.

So when the knock echoed through his small living room, Raskov started, but turned expectantly. And with a certain degree of guilty anticipation.

The boy would be 20 now, grown to genetic fruition, the product ideally of the suburban environment in which he’d been nurtured. If the boy had found Raskov, made the pilgrimage to his doorstep, it was an occasion that would rewrite every genetic and liturgical theory about human consciousness and the soul. That would never happen, and Raskov was glad of it.

The scientist’s withered fingers started toward the deadbolt, but he stopped to peer through the tiny lens set into the thick wood door.

A small, sad smile touched Raskov’s lips. The young man had his mother’s jawline, his father’s thick brown hair and aquiline nose. The eyes, the eyes were something else. Yes, they were blue, like his mother’s, but they had a familiar, feral cast, and shifted with predatory wariness.

Raskov nodded, unconsciously. For a moment, the scientist in him regretted that this momentous discovery, this cosmic moment, would be lost to a world in need even of dark wonder. But it wasn’t to be: Raskov made out in the dusk what the boy was gripping at his side, and understood for whom it was intended.

Without hesitation, Raskov turned the bolt…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s