Star of the East

Star of the East

Author: Martin Ross

Category: Holiday

Rating: PG

Summary: An old friend calls Mulder on Christmas Eve

Spoilers: Closure, VS12: Dispensation, Nichtophobia

Disclaimer: Chris Carter offered up the gift of Mulder and Scully, and I

hope to spread further his cheer.

E-mail: fwidsvnt@ilfb.org>

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Mulder sipped his cold organic half-caff gingerbread latte as he scanned

the kirlian photos of the five Centaur murder victims — a Christmas

gift of sorts from Chuck Burks. The third victim had projected a far

darker aura than any of the others, and the agent pondered this in the

basement twilight of his office as the phone warbled.

“Mulder.”

“Yeah, it’s me.” Scully sounded cheerful but worn out. “We’re done at

the Galleria — going to head for the rink now. Found that DVD Frohike

was wanting, though the clerk looked at me like I was a candidate for

VICAP. Matty’s been an angel, but Clara set up a howl in the food court,

and Mom had to step in. She’s loving this grandmother thing.”

Mulder smiled at the domestic intrusion into his grim foray. “I’ll be

home by seven or so — got a possible lead on the Centaur case. You guys

have a good time.”

“What did you decide about the caroling?”

Mulder chuckled. “You know I’m no American Idol. And if I want

ritualistic chanting, I’ve got a whole shoebox of tapes from that

Louisiana case.”

Scully was silent for a moment. “Okay, Ebenezer, enjoy your pizza and

COPS, but be sure you’re not up when Santa arrives.”

“Little kinky, but I guess it beats last Christmas’ Grinch roleplay.”

“Merry Christmas Eve, Mulder.”

“Bye.”

The phone rang again almost as he cradled the handset. “Mulder.”

“Agent Mulder,” a pleasant voice murmured. It took Mulder a second to

place it, but when he did, his chair came forward with a plaintive squeal.

“Harold? That is you?”

An appreciative chuckle. “It is. How are you and Agent Scully?”

“Fine, fine. Yourself?”

Mulder’s mind spun. He hadn’t seen Harold Piller in nearly six years,

since he’d gone running into the night and the inky blackness of denial

about his son. Mulder, having reached the end of his quest to learn

about the fate of his lost Samantha, had offered Harold validation of

his theories and consolation about his own loss, but the ersatz missing

children’s “consultant” found only desolation in Mulder’s revelation.

Mulder since had come across his name a few times on Google, in the more

esoteric hinterlands of the media, but he’d never expected to see or

hear from the grief-ravaged man again.

“Wonderful,” Harold murmured warmly. “So much better. I just wanted to

wish you and your partner the best of the holidays, and thank you.”

“For what?” Mulder stammered.

“And I just wanted you to know. I found him.”

The agent’s grip tightened on the phone. “Who, Harold? Oh, God, wait.

You found HIM?”

“I knew I would, someday.”

“Where are you, Harold?” Mulder demanded breathlessly.

“That’s the other thing, Agent Mulder. I assume you’ve seen or read

about Therese Mangold?”

“Mangold? Terry Mangold? The 12-year-old from Queens, the one who

disappeared on the way to dance class? Is that who you’re looking for?”

“No, Agent Mulder. She won’t be found. But you might want to investigate

a man named Yuri Krasnyek. He lives in Brooklyn.”

Mulder’s head was buzzing. “But, Harold, if you know where this girl is,

dead or alive, you have to tell us. For her family’s sake.”

“She’s fine. It’s fine. Please pass my best wishes on to Agent Scully?”

“Harold, please…” But Mulder heard only a quiet whisper, and then what

sounded like a child’s laughter. A girl’s laughter. Then silence.

“Harold? HAROLD?”

His heart was beating as he dropped the phone onto its cradle. The girl.

What had Harold done? And his son. Had this Krasnyek somehow been

involved in the boy’s disappearance, as well?

Mulder snatched up the phone and punched away. He fidgeted as it rang

three times. “The Sprint cellular customer you are trying to reach, Dana

Scully, cannot be–”

He rang off in frustration, mind whirling. Either Harold or Therese —

perhaps both — were in jeopardy. If Harold had use a cell phone, it

would be easy enough to track the cell from which he’d called, but he

would be long-gone by the time Mulder negotiated the phone company

bureaucracy.

Christmas Eve — at best, he’d be able to muster up only skeleton

support either from the Bureau or local law enforcement This was a night

when only workaholics, lonely singles, and divorcees would be burning

the oil.

Something clicked, and Mulder yanked open his top drawer. He shuffled

through the clutter, and came up with a small, white, never-before-used

business card. It was a shot. Mulder entered the embossed number on the

card and waited with an impatient agnostic’s prayer for luck or kismet.

When the gravelly voice answered, Mulder remembered to exhale.

“John? It’s Fox Mulder.”

“Hey.” The NYPD detective’s tone lightened. “Good to hear from you?

How’re you and that partner of yours’?”

“Great, great. You?”

“Can’t complain. Hopin’ for a quiet night — Barbara and I’re heading to

her folks’ tomorrow.”

“Barbara?” The last time Mulder had encountered John, his personal life

was in shards. John had lost first his son under the most tragic of

circumstances, then his wife in the aftermath. A suspect in Ohio had put

Mulder onto the case — he’d hoped the resolution of Luke Doggett’s

murder would provide John some healing closure, but he never dreamed,

“John, I’ve got kind of a strange favor to ask of you. I mean, I realize

this is Christmas Eve and all, ”

“Agent Mulder,” John interrupted sternly. “After what you did for me —

for us? We’ll call it a Christmas gift exchange. What’s your pleasure?”

“It’s about Therese Mangold. I may have a lead, but it’s pretty iffy.”

Mulder could feel John tensing even over the line. His son’s fate had

driven an obsession with missing kids. “Iffy’s better than anything we

got so far.”

“You know a Yuri Krasnyek?”

“Krasnyek, Hey, yeah. Actually, I do. Jesus.”

“What?”

“Krasnyek’s Soviet Mob, operates out of Brooklyn. Enforcer type. His

people deal in drugs, prostitution, and trafficking.”

The icy tone in John’s voice told Mulder he wasn’t talking about heroin

or cocaine trafficking. He felt a chill in the meager light of his desk

lamp. “Jesus is right. What’s the chances Therese Mangold has to do

with, that?”

“She’s a pretty little girl,” John muttered grimly, “and these street

grabs are gettin’ more common and a lot bolder. Apparently, the client

base is growing — global economy, you know? And the Russians are

getting’ pretty good at it. God, I hate to say it, but if we’re talking

trafficking, I almost hope the girl’s dead. Might be more merciful.”

Mulder paused, then made a decision. “John, do you know a Harold Piller?

Works with the police internationally on missing children’s cases?”

“Piller.” John murmured, amused. “Actually, he offered us some help on

the Mangold case when she went missing. We shined him on with a pat on

the head.” He turned serious. “Wait a minute. This tip on Krasnyek — it

come from Piller?”

Mulder sighed and told John of his bizarre conversation with the

bereaved child-hunter.

“Guess maybe he might have more reason to trust you than us with this.

But he’s gotta know we’ll jump on anything halfway solid at this point.

This doesn’t make sense, unless he’s involved in some way he can’t come

to us. You said you heard a girl giggling in the background?”

Something hit Mulder at that second, but it was shadowy and indefinable.

“He said we’d never find her,” the agent supplied reluctantly. “I don’t

know, maybe he found out something about her home life he didn’t like,

and decided to rescue her from that, too.”

“Well, no use speculating. I’ll put out an APB on Piller and take a

couple cars over to Krasnyek’s place. I’ll keep you apprised.”

“Thanks, John. I really appreciate it.”

“So do we, Agent Mulder. So do we.”

Mulder returned to his kirlian photos, but the glowing corpses all

looked like Harold Piller or thick-featured Russian thugs. He leaned

back in his chair and closed his eyes.

“Fox?”

Mulder looked up from his Apollo 11 model. Samantha beamed down with the

interminable curiosity of an intelligent and hero-worshipping

five-year-old. It no longer annoyed Mulder, who’d come to embrace his

role as his sister’s protector and champion.

“What’s up, Sam?” he asked, setting the NASA logo on the carpet,

adhesive up.

“Ghost Story’s on in 10 minutes.” Samantha smiled shyly.

Fox sighed silently. The supernatural anthology was not his thing — he

preferred science or science fiction to this spooky idiocy, and he found

Sebastian Cabot hopelessly uncool. But he had put her onto the show,

expecting her to flee in terror, and, despite their mother’s weakening

objections, it was now Fox and Samantha’s “show.”

He nodded. “OK, lemme just put the stickers on and put the glue away,

and I’ll be right in. We got any Fritos left?”

“I’ll see,” Samantha promised excitedly, turning toward the kitchen.

“Sam?” Mulder called. She turned, eyes gleaming. “See if we got any

coward scream to go with “˜em?”

It was a corny joke — Samantha had asked for coward scream on her baked

potato when she was five, and Fox had never let her forget it. That

delighted her — she wanted to share everything with her brilliant,

funny brother — and she ran from the room giggling uncontrollably.

Fox began to stow the components of the space module in its cardboard

hangar, then looked up, alarmed. Samantha’s spastic fit of laughter had

escalated into a weird, almost alien drone.

Mulder snapped awake, heart thumping wildly. The phone shrieked at him.

“Mulder,” he croaked into the mouthpiece.

“Yeah, it’s John. You OK?”

“Fell asleep. Right after I talked to you, actually.” He glanced at the

wall clock. 8:45 p.m.

“Yeah. Well, we found your man Krasnyek.”

John’s tone, wary and uncertain, and word choice brought Mulder out of

his groggy state.

“I called in a favor and got a no-knock warrant for Krasnyek’s — he’s

too low-level to have his own muscle — and we went in. Smell hit us

right away. He was laying on his couch, eyes wide open, with an XL pizza

goin’ fuzzy on his coffee table. He mighta been gone two, three days.”

“Hit?”

“Nah, that’s the thing. No wounds, no marks. M.E. thinks heart attack. I

had to say from his expression, Krasnyek died of fright.”

Mulder pondered this news, then felt his heart sink as he realized the

implications. “So, no Therese.”

“Not now. Krasnyek’s basement has this kinda hidden room behind the

furnace, three or four locks on the outside.”

John pronounced the last word with special significance. “He’d kept her

there?”

The detective’s voice was sad and angry. “That apparently wasn’t all

he’d done. But we found her purse and schoolbooks, and signs other kids

mighta been in there.”

“You think she’s been transported, or is it possible Harold has her?”

“When we busted the locks, we had to push like hell to get the door

open,” John continued, as if he was compelled to recount the evening in

precise sequence. “A cot had been wedged up against the door, like maybe

Terry wanted to try to keep him from coming back. Like that would’ve

worked.”

Mulder nodded somberly, then jerked upright in his chair. “Wait. Wait a

minute.”

“Yeah. The room was locked from the outside and was solid concrete all

around, no windows. If the girl pushed that bed against the door, how’d

she get out?”

It hit Mulder like a mortar shell before John finished his sentence.

Shock followed realization, and, unexpectedly, a sense of supreme calm

followed that, although he now knew they’d never find Therese Mangold.

“John?” Mulder finally asked. “Did you ever catch up with Harold?”

The line buzzed quietly for a few seconds. “You sure it was Piller you

talked to earlier, not somebody maybe yanking your chain or trying to

tip you without tipping them? Cause we been keeping an eye on the Morgue

for any juvenile Jane Does fit Terry’s description, and I was talking to

one of the assistant M.E.s about Piller and the case. He had me come

down and look at a body. A John Doe, glocked twice in the back of the

head, dead at least three or four days. I’m sorry, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder’s calmness broke momentarily. Piller had made it as far as

Krasnyek with no police support but also with no backup. Krasnyek

removed what to him must seemed a minor annoyance, then returned home to

his newest catch. Whatever he found, or whatever found him had liberated

Therese Mangold before she disappeared into the impenetrable veil of

white slavery and a life in Hell.

Harold had talked of “walk-ins” — cosmic, possibly preternatural

entities that traveled in starlight and intervened in situations where

the impending fate of an innocent was too cruel, too monstrous for most

people to contemplate. Interdimensional meddlers, angels, watchers, gods

— who knew? But Mulder now realized Harold had found both Therese and

the young boy who had haunted his waking dreams for years. Harold had

found peace, freedom.

“No, John, I think I should be sorry for dragging you into this on

Christmas Eve.”

“Hey, it was a shot, and the guys are going over Krasnyek’s PC right

now. It’s full of contacts and pictures. This could help us break this

trafficking thing, at least the New York link in the chain, maybe save a

few kids along the way or a lot more in the future. Don’t you be sorry.

Though I don’t know what we’ll tell the Mangolds.”

The news of their daughter’s ultimate fate would be of no more

consolation to the grieving parents than it had been to Harold. It

offered merely a germ of hope to Mulder.

“You did good tonight,” John stressed. “Even if we didn’t find her, you

probably helped make the world a little less ugly tonight. That’s not

too shabby for Christmas, Agent Mulder. My best to Agent Scully, OK?”

“My best to Barbara,” Mulder replied. “Merry Christmas.”

**

“God rest ye merry gentlemen/let nothing you dismay, ”

It had been one of Captain Scully’s favorites — he’d hugged “Starbuck”

to his side as her mother accompanied their off-key singing on the

piano. Now, Margaret Scully’s eyes filled with tears as she joined

waveringly in with her surviving child, her widowed daughter-in-law,

and her cheerfully oblivious grandchildren.

Scully glanced over, and their eyes locked. But Maggie’s smile assured

her that her tears were those of happy remembrance and communion, and

she grasped her cold fingers. Tara captured her mother-in-law’s other

hand, and their voices rose above the throng assembled on The Mall under

the steeple of the Washington Monument.

Scully jumped as two strong hands clamped onto her wool-draped shoulders

and a male voice leant harmony to the trio of altos. Mulder kissed her

lightly on the cheek and wrapped Maggie into his embrace.

As the melody ended, Scully turned, cheeks pink, smile serene and

loving. “So you couldn’t resist a little ritualistic chanting after all?”

“Guess I caught a little of the Christmas spirit,” Mulder confessed.

“I’ll take some Zicam when we get home, maybe it’ll go away.”

His partner shook her head, squeezing him to her as the mob began to

sing low and reverently.

“Star of the East, oh Bethlehem star/Guiding us on to heaven afar/Sorrow

and grief and lull’d by the light/Thou hope of each mortal, in death’s

lonely night, ”

Mulder glanced up into the clear Washington sky, into the starlight, as

his voice fell silent. Tara whispered into Mattie’s ear, tickling her,

and the girl giggled, just as Samantha had earlier that night as she

came to welcome Harold and Terry…

end

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