Author: Martin Ross
Spoilers: Synchrony, Law and Order: Criminal Intent
Summary: Scully is drawn into the investigation of an old college
“friend,” who appears to be leaving her clues to a possible murder.
Rating: R for sexual content and language
Disclaimer: To Chris Carter, who took crime into new realms, and Dick
Wolf, who enforces Law and Order on the networks.
The last time I saw Melissa Cline, I’d narrowly avoided practicing one of
my then-new Quantico chokeholds on her. Instead, I emptied my mimosa
into her Prada bag while she was perusing the brunch bar, dropped some
currency on the table, and left her cooing over the gymnastics of the
She never called back, and I never looked back. Well, I suppose I later
regretted the petulance I showed in my parting gesture – or perhaps the
fact that “Missy” likely considered the lining of her pricey handbag a
small price to pay for getting my goat. Melissa had been one of the
University of Maryland’s most relentless and perceptive goat-hunters, and
nothing had changed five years later, when she’d blown into Washington
to heckle my decision to leave medicine for federal law enforcement.
She’d brought fresh blood to the wounds of disappointment Dad had
Mulder, obviously, finds the story hilarious and periodically cajoles me to
repeat it to others. If Missy savors goat heart, Mulder relishes raw Achilles
heel. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to ration his servings, and I swore off Missy
Or so I thought.
“So, did you ever read the novel?” Missy asked as she looked over my
shoulder at the New York skyline. It had been her novel, of course – a
signed Christmas gift, and her first to crack the New York Times list.
Missy’s futuristic tales of crime, espionage, and romance had bridged two
disparate readerships, even if they hadn’t won the hearts of the entire
critical community. I’d quit after about 30 pages, the buzzing in my head
after about two hours and a couple of wine coolers.
“It was fun,” I smiled.
Missy nodded appreciatively. “We’re talking with Jolie about playing Ava
Phoenix.” Phoenix was her recurring FBI agent-sleuth, prone toward a
jarring mélange of hardboiled cop jargon and wistful romanticizing. I
prayed I wasn’t her inspiration, although she had shown uncharacteristic
interest in my graduate thesis on quantum mechanics and time. Missy’s
recently dermabrased face clouded. “If the whole deal doesn’t fall through
“Is that why you called me?” I asked, careful to keep the acid out of my
tone. “I didn’t expect to hear from you again after our last meeting.”
Missy smirked fleetingly. “Water under the bridge, Dana. But I will admit
I could use your help with this thing.”
“This thing” was a dead 17-year-old who Missy allegedly had caught
attempting to burglarize her apartment two weeks earlier. She’d secured a
carry permit a year or so ago to protect herself against a stalker, and when
Anthony Underwood tried to attack the returning condo owner, Missy had
exercised her Second Amendment rights.
The case had seemed fairly cut-and-dried at first – Missy had sustained
some bruises and scrapes from her altercation with Underwood, and there
had been a series of neighborhood robberies prior to the shooting. But then
the wire had started exploring Underwood’s back story – high school
salutatorian, multi-lettered varsity athlete, prospective Yale recruit from a
solid middle-middle-class family. He also owned a substantial science
fiction library, and the press on the case forked off toward two basic
hypotheses: a.) Anthony Underwood was a buff gone bad, a junior league
Hinckley or Chapman who’d become obsessed with Missy; or b.) Missy
was an aging femme fatale who’d lured, then rejected, a young fan and
That the shooting had occurred on Valentine’s Day only fueled the
media’s affection for the case.
“After I passed the polygraph test, the press started to die down,” Missy
continued. “But this detective on the case is psychotic, obsessed. Goren.
He keeps insinuating I cold-bloodedly murdered that boy.”
I sighed. “I don’t know what you expect me to do. I’m sure the local
police would only resent my interference, and you passed the polygraph,
right? If this Detective Goren is fishing, I’m sure this will pass soon
enough. Missy, why did you call me, anyway? I don’t want to appear petty
or insensitive, but you have to admit we were never the best of friends.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’ve kept up with your career. You understand things.”
I frowned. What did she mean, I understood? Because I was a woman?
Surely it wasn’t because of my “special” assignment with Mulder. Missy
was up to something here. I waited for her to elaborate, but she sat
silently, studying me.
“All right,” I finally murmured. “I’ll talk to your psychotic detective.”
For once, the queen of hyperbole wasn’t far off the mark: There was
something distinctly unsettling about Det. Robert Goren.
After leaving Missy’s, I called a friend of Mulder’s on the NYPD, and
he’d filled me in. Goren had been a star on the Narcotics Squad prior to
his transfer to the Major Case Squad, racking up 27 major arrests and 27
convictions. Now, he was one of the department’s top homicide cops and a
fierce interrogator who specialized in playing both good and bad cop
almost simultaneously. Goren was into French Impressionism, knew fluent
German from an Army stint, and enjoyed ballroom dancing. His
knowledge of psychology and behavioral science was encyclopedic and
instinctual, though he’d never bothered to earn the doctorate. Goren was a
lapsed Catholic (join the club), and his mother reportedly was
institutionalized somewhere upstate.
And while he talked like a tenured NYU criminology prof, he looked like
and seemed to have the sly savvy of many of the more lethal psychopaths
Mulder had profiled over the years.
“You’re a friend of Ms. Cline’s, then,” Goren stated with an ingratiatingly
unnerving smile. His hands were steepled before him on the tabletop, and
he was an oasis of serenity in the center of the diner’s whirlwind of
activity. His partner, Det. Eames, was as petite and elfin as he was hulking
and troll-like, but she sat silently and seriously as her partner took stock.
“We knew each other in college,” I answered neutrally. His smile
“She’s a very assertive woman, I mean, your friend, Ms. Cline.” Goren
shrugged, almost apologetically. “Isn’t she? A real take-charge sort of
person. Lots of charisma? Wouldn’t you say?” He looked to Eames, who
nodded curtly. “What struck me about Ms. Cline is how she almost takes
command of any room she’s in. It’s a trait I admire, though, well, I guess
it could probably be off-putting to those closest to her.”
“Detective,” I murmured. “Let’s save some time here. I know Melissa
Cline, we went to the same university, and we shared the same social
circle. However, as you’ve obviously surmised, we’re not what you’d call
close friends. I hadn’t seen her for nearly a decade when she called and
asked me to look into your investigation. I will say I don’t see Melissa as a
Goren glanced at Eames with mock astonishment. Her brows rose and fell.
“Yeah, Danielle Steele meets Isaac Asimov. You don’t think she has it in
I sighed. “I don’t believe Melissa has the depth or passion necessary to
have seduced and then lured this young man to his death. Melissa was
never inclined toward relationships that didn’t have some professional
end-goal. In college, she dated boys who could offer her social
advancement on campus or a step up on the career track. The rest she
dismissed offhand — ‘Not if he was the last man on Earth,’ she always
said.” I swallowed the bitterness in my voice as Goren’s eyes sharpened.
“I just don’t see what the point would have been for her — the Underwood
boy wasn’t what she wanted, served no purpose.”
Goren nodded. “You ever read The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Agent? You
know, your ‘friend’ has been slipping on the Times list lately. Last book
didn’t crack 13. Maybe Underwood was what she needs right now — a
little reflected glory, a little ego validation.”
“From what I understand, you haven’t been able to establish any evidence
they even knew each other, let alone had a relationship going. Did you
check his e-mail? If they hooked up, that’s likely how it would’ve
The detective’s smile vanished, and he blinked as if at a minor annoyance.
“Everything was clean there — no sign of any communications between
them, or that he’d deleted any messages between them. Underwood’s cell
phone was clean, too. Likewise with your friend’s PC.”
I sipped my coffee. “Detective, have you read any of Melissa’s books?”
Goren’s smile reappeared, like a snake returning to feed on carrion. “I
scanned a few.”
“Well, what was your impression?”
“Derivative but innovative, if that’s possible. Sound scientific research
and expert extrapolation of future technology and social trends. The
characters, the dialogue, the plots, on the other hand, were hackneyed,
clichéd, but smooth and calculated. If I had to guess, I’d say she has a
professional researcher or maybe a ghost, except her first book had the
same style, well before she hit the bestseller lists.”
“The media has made a big deal out of Anthony Underwood being a sci-fi
fan,” I persisted. “But do you seriously see a teenaged boy getting into this
derivative hybrid romance Melissa writes?”
“No,” Goren conceded. “But I do remember what teen boys are into, and
I’d say your friend meets the necessary criteria.”
“Well, you know what Jon Bon Jovi said,” Mulder finally piped up after
I’d filled him in. “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame! Honey, you
give love a BAD NAME!!”
He was on speaker back in D.C., and I smiled despite myself as I pictured
him performing a flawless air guitar solo.
“It just doesn’t track,” Scully said. “Any of it. Missy seducing some high
school kid, him being attracted to her. Missy calling me — we’re not
precisely sorority sisters.”
“Maybe that’s it,” Mulder suggested. “She wants an objective viewpoint,
and who would be more objective than the woman who ruined her best
“Let it go, Mulder.” I leaned back against the pillow. “Look, you said you
filed your report on the Jeffords case. Why don’t you take a few days’
personal and come down here?”
“I don’t know, Scully. I’m checking a lead on the Centaur killings…”
“Did I mention I’m naked?”
“C’mon, I have to beg you to take off your sensible suit to take a shower.”
“Well, I’m sure I could be naked on a moment’s notice, if offered the
“I heard it’s raining up there. Should I bring my raincoat?”
“Bring a whole box of them, Mulder.”
“It’s ridiculous,” Mary Underwood spat, setting her coffee cup down with
a thump. “Tony falling for some older woman. He had a girlfriend — a
very sweet, gorgeous girl. I’ve seen this Cline woman on TV — he’d never
go for that silly, preening woman.”
Nathan Underwood stared at his wife as if trying to understand her words.
Grief had energized Mary’s anger and outrage; it had virtually paralyzed
Nathan. Their home was small but tidy and tasteful, and I suspected their
lives were the same.
“I’m sorry I have to bring all this up again,” I offered. In truth, I felt like
crap, coming here to pry information from these people on behalf of the
woman who’d shot their son. They hadn’t even questioned why the FBI
would be investigating Anthony’s death. “I’m just trying to understand
how your son and Ms. Cline might have come into contact. They seemed
to be from two different worlds. If he didn’t know her…”
Mary’s arm shot out and grabbed a plaque from the nearby fireplace.
“Look at this — Anthony was last year’s state National Meritorious
Scholar. He kept up a 4.0 and, AND led his school team to a regional
championship. He could’ve got an athletic scholarship, but he was going
to get a degree in microbiology and help people. I know, I know,” she
shrilled, holding up a hand to stop a thought I hadn’t expressed. “Good
kids go bad. Well, not Tony. You can check — he had a good weekend job,
he didn’t party, and the school made the whole team take drug tests just
three weeks ago. Tony was clean — you can check.”
“Mrs. Undwood, I’m not trying to impugn your son’s character. It’s just,
well, this is baffling. Was Tony having any problems at the time of his
death, any anxiety?”
“He seemed fine,” Mary murmured, replacing the plaque with care.
“Happy, full of enthusiasm about his future…”
I turned to Nathan. He looked up in astonishment, suddenly remembering
we were there, then sighed. “No, nothing I can think of. Well, just the
“They didn’t think it was important,” I explained. Goren leaned back in
his chair, saying nothing. Eames leaned forward, the yin to his yang.
“Anthony reported it missing a few days before, after going downtown
with some friends to see a concert. He thought it was probably lifted on
the subway. He was missing a driver’s license he hardly used, some family
photos, and about $20 in cash, so he wasn’t overly concerned.”
Goren nodded and pulled out the top drawer of his desk. He reached in
and extracted a plastic evidence bag. Inside was an assortment of personal
effects, including a black cowhide wallet.
“$23,” he corrected with a grim smile. “Looks like some good Samaritan
recovered Anthony’s wallet. Maybe this Samaritan called Anthony and
asked him to come to their place to retrieve it.”
“We had no reason to run it before,” Eames told her partner, not me. “I’ll
have the lab dust it.”
“Sure,” Goren said, smiling at me. “Who knows what we’ll turn up?”
“God, an FBI agent,” Yvonne Redmond breathed. “That’s incredible.
Then again, who thought I’d be one of Chicago’s top contract lawyers?
Doesn’t exactly summon images of adventure and intrigue, does it?”
Missy wasn’t home when I got back to the hotel after dinner, so I’d made
another calling card call. Yvonne had been one of Missy’s friends, at least
before Missy had worked enough of her magic to chill their relationship.
“Yvonne, I’m sure you’ve seen the news about Missy Cline.”
“Oh, shit, yes. Freaking unbelievable. Wait — you aren’t working on that
case, are you?”
I shifted the handset. “I know this is going to sound strange, but do you
remember when Missy disappeared for that half-semester, then came back
to school that January? There was some talk she’d been seeing campus
Mental Health Services.”
Yvonne was silent for a moment, then sighed. “I don’t why I’m even
hesitating, after she fucked my boyfriend in my own apartment. She’d
been having some delusions, I guess you’d call it. Missy was hearing
voices. Weird voices, she said — she thought they might even be alien
voices. But after she got back from her little sabbatical, she was fine,
better than ever, like nothing had happened. In fact, it was like Missy had
been born again. Ha.”
“Oh, I was thinking about something goofy she said after she’d had her
psychological epiphany or whatever. I was worried about my spring mid-
terms — my boyfriend and I had been having trouble, I didn’t know why
yet — and she told me to relax, that everything would be fine for the both
of us. That she just knew. I remember thinking I’d liked her better as a
pessimistic bitch. Oh, well. So when are you coming out this way? We’ll
get together, shop, catch up. Reunions are a blast.”
I laughed hollowly. “Yeah, this one is.”
I hadn’t brought Missy’s novel with me. In fact, I wasn’t positive I still
had it. So I dropped into the lobby gift shop and bought a fresh paperback
It was both a fast read and a slow one, full of fascinating futuristic detail
and staggeringly one-dimensional dialogue and predictable plot
development. Ava Phoenix obviously was a romanticized rendition of
Missy – beautiful, brilliant, confident, and utterly desensitized to her
colleagues, friends, and lover. One out of four, I guess.
Two hours and a room service cheeseburger later, I put the book down and
rubbed my bleary eyes. What had Missy wanted me to see here? Why had
she thought I could help?
Had someone asked Missy to lure Underwood up here and ambush him?
Why – what would be the purpose? Who’d want to kill a high school jock,
an A student, a potential scientist with the power to save lives?
I jumped. The sound of a strange phone ringing is one of the most jarring,
“Yeah,” Mulder mumbled wistfully.
“You downstairs?” I asked, working at my blouse buttons.
“Keep your pants on. At least for a while. We got another body — Skinner
thinks it’s a Centaur murder. I gotta check out the scene, talk to the local
cops, I don’t know how long. Maybe I can drive down after.”
“You’ll be beat,” I sighed, heart falling. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“Maybe. I could…”
The rest was lost in the hiss of a hostile cell.
“Love,” I whispered, hoping stupidly the sentiment somehow would
transcend electromagnetic interference.
“Look, it was just a job,” Edward Tweaks protested. “Snag the wallet, give
it to the lady. Nobody said anything about killing anybody.”
Goren pulled a chair to Tweaks’ side of the interrogation table, positioning
himself inside the professional pickpocket’s personal space. “Well, that’s
too bad, because somebody got killed, and we have your fingerprints on
his wallet. Why didn’t you wipe it clean?”
“Gettin’ older, I guess,” Tweaks frowned sourly. “Lady said she just
wanted to fix up a meeting with the kid – you know, it was a couple of
days before Valentine’s. I figured she liked ’em young and hard, you
Eames smiled sweetly.
“So you’re like Cupid, huh?” Goren grinned. “You think you could
identify our smitten lady?”
“Sorry, Ace. She had on this Yankees cap, brand-new, bill wasn’t even
broke in. And some Raybans. And she was talking like Jessica Rabbit –
you know, that actress lady with the sexy voice. I wanna help you. Believe
me, I wanna help. But she was, what do you call it, incognito.”
“But she knew where Underwood lived, right?” I asked. “You said you
followed him on the subway.”
“Naw, she told me what school he went to, and I followed him home, then
downtown. Then I delivered the wallet to the Princess at the Starbuck in
Times Square, like she said.”
“The Princess,” Goren savored. “So she was a sophisticated lady?”
Tweaks sneered. “She thought it was made outta gold, you know what I
mean? I told her, ‘Why you want some kid when you could have a real
man with a little life experience?'”
Goren leaned in, glancing furtively at me and smirking with a “just-us-
guys” look. “So, what’d she say to that?”
“Not if I was the last man on Earth.” He glared at the interview table.
“Thought it was made outta gold.”
I don’t know, really, why I didn’t share Missy’s favorite kiss-off line with
Goren and Eames. But I did feel the need to get together with my old
“You did it, didn’t you?” I demanded as she opened her apartment door.
Missy stared blankly at me and waved me in. No shock, no indignant
“You must have called one of the police sources you use for research and
told him you wanted to interview a pickpocket,” I continued. “You figured
the odds were with you, because once Tweaks was implicated in
Underwood’s murder, he couldn’t precisely come forward, could he?
“But I wonder what your psychopathic homicide cop will find out if he
checks the credit receipts at that Times Square Starbucks where Tweaks
met his ‘sophisticated lady.'”
Missy’s blonde head jerked toward me. It wasn’t as satisfying as I’d
“Plus,” I sighed, “he told us you’d displayed your customary charm with
men — men for whom you no longer have any use — when he tried to
come onto you. Your dialogue is as clichéd as your fiction.”
“I’d be insulted,” Missy said coldly, “but I suppose the ship’s already
sailed.” There was a slight fuzziness to her speech. I glanced beyond her
to the kitchen counter, where a pitcher of cosmos sat pinkly awaiting her
return. Probably’d seen it on Sex and the City.
“So tell me,” I demanded. “Why did you murder that boy?”
“Murder,” Missy muttered, shaking her head as if I failed to grasp a
crucial point. “I thought you might be able to understand, but I realize now
you lack the emotional capacity.”
I stepped forward and grabbed her forearms. “Melissa, quit screwing
around. Eventually, Goren is going to make his case against you, even if I
don’t tell him what I know. And I have no idea why I haven’t. So tell me:
Why did you call me, of all people?”
Missy jerked her arms free and stumbled to the couch. Her fingers found
the cosmo on the coffee table. “I remembered our talk, that time in the
campus grill, when you told me about your work, where you wanted to be
someday. It was the only time I felt like we almost connected, that I
almost connected to someone real and substantial. I was starting to slip at
the time, and I needed that. And, believe it or not, that 10-minute
conversation actually helped me do what I needed to to get back on track.”
I searched my memory, recalling only my endless babbling about quantum
mechanics and her gushing about her literary aspirations. She hadn’t
seemed to be “slipping” at the time… Then I recalled my conversation
“The voices,” I murmured. Missy put her drink down.
“That bitch always was untrustworthy,” she laughed. “Bet she loved
getting payback for Mark and I.”
“Actually, she was quite concerned about you, at least until ‘Mark and
you.’ Tell me about the voices, Missy. Is that what you thought I might
“Fuck the voices,” Missy snapped. “You’d never understand in a million
years. Dana the cop — just you and your gun and your flying saucers.”
She must have done her research — I didn’t precisely brag about my tenure
with the X-Files, and god knows, the Bureau didn’t crow about Mulder
“I doubt you have any concept of love — what it does to you, what you’d
do for love!” she yelled. Missy tried to jump up, and fell back onto the
“Love?” I puzzled.
“Just, just get the fuck out of here! Go back to Washington! This must be a
real rush for you — me drunk on my ass, about to spend the rest of my life
in prison. Get the fuck out of here.”
It seemed like a good idea — the only one I could comprehend at that
I had the key card halfway into the reader when I heard the rustling inside.
I silently retrieved my weapon from my purse, slowly slipped the card
home, and kicked the door open as soon as the green light flashed
“Shit!” Mulder gasped. I lowered my gun, heart pounding — he was lying
on the bed, reading the TV Guide, and he very clearly was unarmed.
“Good thing I wasn’t the housekeeper,” I sighed, feeling a sudden rush of
mingled serenity and adrenalin flowing through my body. “I’ll tell you
what, Mulder: I’ll holster my weapon if you holster yours’.”
My partner looked down. “Sorry. Just happy to see a colleague.”
“Speaking of which,” I murmured, tearing at buttons and zippers. “Good
thing this is a sensible suit.”
The hotel air conditioning chilled the sheen of sweat covering my body,
but Mulder’s arm aside, I didn’t care to get up to adjust the thermostat.
Instead, I pulled the comforter to our chests.
“So why’d she do it?” he eventually asked.
“How’d you know…? Never mind. I have no idea, Mulder. You think you
have someone sized up, but I’m at a total loss. This boy was a parent’s
dream, a promising student. He had the rest of his life in front of him…”
Mulder turned me to face him as I struggled to grasp what I was
considering. “Scully? Scully, talk to me.”
“The voices,” I whispered. What love had done to Missy. What she’d done
for love, God help her. But the question remained. Why?
It was unfathomable, inconceivable. No wonder Missy was so confident
she’d get away with it. Goren would never make a connection between her
and Underwood, would never trip to the motive. He could make a
circumstantial case — almost certainly would — but her attorney could
create enough reasonable doubt to render a verdict unpredictable.
Mulder rustled in the dark, brushing the hair from my face. “You need me
to leave you alone?”
My arm searched under the covers and found its objective. Within
seconds, my chill was gone.
“I’m glad you’re a trained observer,” I gasped.
Goren had tracked the Starbucks receipt and the cop who helped Missy
lend an ersatz authenticity to her pulpy drek. They’d come to her
penthouse at 8 a.m. with a warrant, and she’d politely declined her
Miranda-Excobedo rights. When her publisher foisted an attorney on her,
Missy told him and Goren where to go and used her one call on me. I
started to use my federal leverage on Goren, but he beat me to the punch,
Eames in tow, or at least in tandem.
“I understand,” I said simply when we were alone. “But you were wrong,
morally wrong. You murdered an innocent human being.”
“And saved how many?” Missy asked, quietly.
“We’ll never know. I guess that’s the point. When did you decide your
voices were real, that you’d lucked into a literary gold mine?”
Missy looked hurt, then conceded the point. “It was what you said, about
time travel being physically conceivable. And it was just one voice. He
was as surprised to hear me in his head as I was to hear him. After I began
to consider the possibilities, I realized I could never have imagined the
things he told me. I’m sure you’d acknowledge I never had a lively
Before Missy’s call, I’d intended to research the incidence of cross-
temporal telepathy. Mulder and I had worked on cases where the dead had
communicated with the living, seemingly across time. Missy’s “voice”
had reached backwards, for whatever reason, tapping into a talent God had
somehow seen fit to grant her.
In a figurative irony, the voice had become Missy’s “ghost,” feeding her
details about his future. Certainly, if Missy’s works had endured, he’d
eventually have realized how she’d used his confidences.
“I reread your novel,” I told Missy. “The well-meaning scientist who
almost wipes out the world’s popluation with his mutated viruses. That
was Underwood, wasn’t it? Something happened, in the future. Recently,
in your timeframe, I mean. Had he grown up to be a microbiologist,
Underwood would have done the original work that ultimately led to that
catastrophe, right? That’s what your ‘voice’ told you, at least.”
At some point, they’d fallen in love — the mother of all long-distance
relationships. It was no coincidence that Missy had committed her horrible
act on Valentine’s Day.
Missy was silent for a moment, a flicker of doubt crossing her face. Then
she appeared to have made a decision. She looked up at me, a smile and a
trail of tears on her face.
“I always knew you’d make a difference someday, Dana, and that I never
would. But whatever happens, I have to believe I did. He’s gone now — I
knew whatever we’d had would be gone forever once history corrected
itself. But that’s what love is, right — sacrifice?”
I had nothing to say to that. “So, who was your ‘voice,’ Missy?”
Missy laughed, sadly. “Believe it or not, he actually was a federal agent —
the only one who had time to take the retroviral antidote after the
bioweapon was released into the atmosphere. Who else would he have to
be? The last man on Earth.”