Another Piece of Cherry Pie

Another Piece of Cherry Pie

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Forest outside Twin Peaks, WA

Sheriff Harry S. Truman stood at the base of a large and still growing sycamore tree. Sighing, he looked down at the body on the ground before him. The neck was broken by the way the head was angled. Deep slashes across the torso were near black from the blood pooling on the ground. If not for the eye patch, he might not have recognized the victim.

“I’ll call the doc. You want to go over and give Ed the bad news?” The voice of Deputy Hawk Hill almost startled the Sheriff.

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head. “I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this.”

Hawk nodded slowly. “Are you going to put in a call to — is there anyone back there who would even care?”

“We have to call the FBI, Hawk. It’s what Coop would want.”

Hawk, a tall graying man of obvious Native American heritage, shook his head. “It’s just like Windom Earle, isn’t it, Harry?”

Harry nodded in agreement. “But this time, maybe we can get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later. We have a good idea who we’re lookin’ for. We just have to find him before he kills again.”

FBI Regional Office

Seattle, WA

April 23, 2007

Skinner looked around the assembled group of agents. Mulder and Scully were seated to his immediate right, along with two other members of the Seattle office, Agents Morrow and Klein. The local ASAC, Tim Watkins, sat to Skinner’s left next to a member of the Marshall’s Service, Frank Haglund.

“Thank you all for coming,” he started the meeting. “The file in front of you is very delicate for the Bureau. I appreciate all the help given to us by the other agencies in this matter.” He nodded to Watkins, who dimmed the lights and turned on a slide projector. A dark haired man, good looking, with serious eyes stared down at the assembled from the screen at the end of the room.

“This is former Special Agent Dale Cooper. Cooper was a ten year veteran of the Bureau, an exemplary agent who was being considered for supervisory positions until he came to Twin Peaks, Washington to investigate a murder with possible serial markers.” Skinner clicked the remote and the image changed to a young girl with blond hair, smiling for a graduation picture. “This is Laura Palmer, the murder victim Cooper came to investigate.” Images flashed quickly on the screen. “Cooper spent a little over a year in Twin Peaks, to the exclusion of any other cases. He stumbled on drug deals, other murders, eventually jailing several suspects but it was finally discovered that Laura was murdered by Cooper’s former partner at the FBI, this man, Windom Earle.” The screen showed another stock Bureau shot of an older man with gray hair.

“Earle was an escapee from an institution for the criminally insane. He has never been found. However, Cooper, after a mysterious disappearance, was found in the forest by the local Sheriff. It was the day after this disappearance that Agent Cooper was found also to be mentally unstable and was remanded to the Washington State Hospital where he remained a patient until three weeks ago.”

A final picture, this time of a crime scene, flashed on the screen. “This is Nadine Hurley. She was found in the same woods that Cooper disappeared in 16 years ago. She was murdered in the same manner as Laura Palmer. There was a piece of paper found under the nail of her left ring finger — similar to the letters found on the bodies of Palmer and the first murder victim, Theresa Banks.” Skinner turned off the projector with a flick of the remote. Watkins brought up the lights. “That letter was a ‘C’. Questions?”

“How positive are we that Earle killed the first two victims?” Agent Morrow asked.

Skinner drew in a deep breath. “We aren’t. Since he was never apprehended, there was no trial. But all evidence points to him, including several eyewitness accounts, most notably a young woman by the name of Annie Blackburn, who was abducted by Earle. Cooper was actually in the process of tracking and arresting Earle and freeing Ms. Blackburn when he disappeared. Ms. Blackburn was found with Cooper the next day, both were unconscious. It was Ms. Blackburn who correctly identified Earle and said he confessed to the killings.”

“So who are we looking for — Earle or Cooper?” Klein asked.

“Earle would be in his early 70s right now,” Mulder spoke up. “The UNSUB who killed Mrs. Hurley had to have been able to drag her through the woods. Footprint casings also point to a man who wears a size 10 and a half shoe. The same size as former Agent Cooper. According to Earle’s records, he wore a 9.”

“In all likelihood, Windom Earle is dead. It’s even been speculated that killing him, while defending Ms. Blackburn, was what drove Cooper out of his mind. Right now, it appears that Cooper is reliving this case that took so much of his life. Our job is to find him before another murder,” Skinner intoned.

Great Northern Hotel

Twin Peaks

11:21 pm

Scully nodded to the young desk clerk. “Hello. My name is Agent Dana Scully. I believe my partner checked me in this afternoon. I need my room key, please.”

“Certainly, Agent Scully. You’re in room 303. You’re partner requested an adjoining room.” The young woman winked and smiled. Scully sighed, took the key with a nod of thanks and headed off to find their rooms.

“Mulder, I really think we should try to be a little less conspicuous. Especially with other agencies staying here at the hotel,” she said as she entered his room through the connecting door.

“Let ’em get their own girls,” he quipped without bothering to move from his slouched position on the bed. “Find anything in the autopsy?”

“Aside from the fact that Nadine Hurley looked like she’d been ‘rode hard and put away wet’, as my dear Aunt Laura used to say?” Mulder snickered and moved over so she could join him on the bed. “Basically, she was stabbed repeatedly and strangled. But she was dragged through the woods, I think he might have dragged her by her hair.” Mulder winced but didn’t interrupt. “I put the time of death somewhere between midnight and 5 am.”

“Latents?” he asked hopefully.

“Gloves were probably used. I did find one print, we’ll see if they can make anything out of it. Sorry. I picked up some fibers, but it could have been while she was being dragged. She was not sexually assaulted, but she’d had intercourse within the last 12 hours before death.”

“Maybe this isn’t Cooper. Maybe it’s a lover’s quarrel,” Mulder suggested.

“But I thought Laura Palmer was strangled and there was the letter found under the nail,” Scully countered. “Mulder,” she asked, picking up a small tape recorder. “What are you doing, auditioning for American Idol?”

He grinned at her and started the tape. “Get a load of this Scully. Just listen.”

A disembodied voice filled the room. It was masculine and well modulated — easy to listen to. “Diane. They were out of cherry pie today. I think I got the last piece yesterday. Norma made a blueberry pie and it was out of this world. Josie Packard has been acting strangely lately. I believe this visiting cousin of hers is more than he appears. Could be tangled up in the Renault drug cartel. I have to contact Agent Bryson in the next day or two and ask him-slash-her if there are suspected dealings in the Far East. In addition to the pie, I had the blue plate special — meatloaf, mashed potatoes with gravy, corn, roll and butter and coffee. Came to 5.95 with tax, I left a dollar tip. No time for dinner.”

Scully stared at him, one brow cocked and demanding an explanation.

“Dale Cooper has hundreds of these, Scully. Skinner said they were with his belongings locked up at the mental hospital. Little audiocassettes documenting almost every move he made while he was investigating the Palmer murder. He even marked them with the dates!”

“Who is Josie Packard? Was she a suspect?”

“Listening to these tapes, I think every resident of Twin Peaks was a suspect at one time or another. But no, he suspected her of being involved in a drug deal on this side of the border with Canada, not of the murder. Scully, these tapes are a gold mine! Don’t you see — his thoughts are right here, in his own voice. I would have killed for this kind of insight back when I was profiling full time.”

She frowned and rolled off the bed. “And with those words, I’m going next door and getting some sleep. Don’t stay up all night, Mulder.”

As she made her way across the room he looked up. “Hey, I could always use a break. Wanna wrestle?” He wiggled his eyebrows and patted the pillow next to him in invitation.

“When we get home,” she responded with a yawn. “Or if you catch me in a good mood in the morning. I’m setting the alarm for 6:15. If you’re there by 5:30 — you might get lucky.”

Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Office

8:15 am

Mulder schooled his features into a more professional mask as he guided Scully through the door to the Sheriff’s Office. The woman behind the receptionist’s desk was talking on the phone. Her high-pitched voice reminded Mulder of nails on a chalkboard.

“No, I told you, Daddy is on his way to pick you all up to take you to school. No, Andy Jr. can NOT drive you — he only has his permit, not his license. Well tell the twins they’d better get their shoes on — Mommy said so. Look, there’s somebody here, I have to go. Get your book bags and be ready when Daddy gets there. Love you. Bye!” She wiped a strand of curly blond hair out of her eyes and smiled at the two agents. “Hello. You must be Agents Mulder and Scully. Everyone’s already in the conference room, it’s the door right over there.”

“Thank you, um . . . ”

“Lucy. Lucy Brennen. Nice to make your acquaintance,” she smiled brightly.

The conference room table was longer than either agent had expected and covered with . . . donuts? Every possible variation — glazed, powdered, cinnamon, chocolate glazed with sprinkles. They were lined up in straight lines almost like little soldiers. Mulder’s eyes lit up as he reached for a chocolate covered circle sans sprinkles and snatched it off the table. Out of the corner of his eye he caught Scully’s warning glare before quickly stuffing half the object into his mouth.

“Coffee?” asked the good-looking man with dark hair just graying at the temples.

“Yesh,” Mulder mumbled around the confection he was still attempting to chew.

The other agents were indeed already seated around the table. From the breaks in donut formation, it appeared that Mulder and Scully were considerably late, or the others were just particularly hungry. Scully accepted the coffee mugs handed to her, passing one over to her partner while giving him a strong kick to the shins which he chose to ignore.

“Well, seems some introductions are in order,” said the man replacing the coffee pot. “I’m Sheriff Harry Truman. This gentleman to my left is Deputy Hawk Hill. Our other deputy, Andy Brennen, will be with us shortly, he has the school run today.” Truman looked expectantly at Mulder and Scully. Since Mulder had yet another donut in his mouth, Scully smiled wanly and introduced them both.

“Great!” Truman said enthusiastically. “Great to have you all here. Now, I know this is your show, but Hawk and I are at your complete disposal. Real sad what’s goin’ on. It’s been a few years and things have finally settled back into normal around here. We’d just as soon keep it that way.”

The agents went around the table, dividing up avenues of investigation. Haglund asked Morrow and Klein to join him in interviewing the staff at the mental hospital, some 40 miles from Twin Peaks. Mulder and Scully agreed to interview the victim’s family and other residents of the town. They would all join up again that night. Truman offered to drive them around to their interviews. Before they left the station, Lucy called out to them.

“Agent Scully, you got a fax. I think it’s from the mental hospital.”

“Oh, thank you, Lucy,” Scully said with a smile as she collected the pages and followed Mulder and Truman out to the squad car. She settled in the back seat and started to read while the two men in the front seat talked.

“I understand the victim was divorced, Sheriff — ”

“Harry, please, call me Harry. Yeah, Nadine and Ed called it quits, well, I guess it’s been about 6 years now. Nadine got the house and all. Ed, poor Ed, he just wanted out of that loony bin.” Harry looked up startled, “sorry, but Nadine had her faults. Sure didn’t deserve this, though.”

“No, of course not,” Scully agreed sympathetically. “But do you think her ex-husband might have been capable of — ”

“No, not in a million years. Ed is the salt of the earth. He and Norma run the diner. It’s a bit of a puzzle, how Ed and Norma took so long to get together. Some people just make bad choices,” he said wistfully. “But in the end, it all works out. Don’t you think?”

Mulder smiled and looked over his shoulder at Scully in the back seat of the squad car. “Yes. Yes, I have to agree with that statement. But could you fill us in a little more? About Ed and Norma and Nadine?”

Harry sighed, but nodded. “Ed and Norma were high school sweethearts. But Norma, well, she had a wild streak back then. Hooked up with Hank Jennings, a total loser. Dumped poor Ed right before the Spring prom. Ran off to Seattle and married Hank. On the rebound, Ed took up with Nadine. Back in those days, Nadine was a looker. But after they got married, Ed found out the truth.”

“Nadine was unfaithful?” Mulder supplied.

“Oh, heck no. Nadine was an abuser! She used to pop off and smack Ed around from time to time. I could never get him to press charges. He got in a few — shot her eye out on a hunting trip.” Harry didn’t see the look of abject horror that appeared on Scully’s face as she and Mulder exchanged glances.

“Maybe this was just Ed’s way of tying up a loose end?” Scully suggested, looking up from the fax pages.

“No,” Truman countered. “See, as much as they fought, Ed really did have a soft spot for Nadine. But after a while, well, her crazy antics just got the better of him. After she got hit in the head and thought she was back in high school and he and Norma had a shot at a life together — but then Nadine got in a car accident and came back to herself, well, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Ed, so to speak.”

Scully’s left eyebrow had disappeared completely into her hairline and Mulder had a perplexed look on his face.

“No, I would say Ed definitely didn’t do this,” the Sheriff continued. “Besides, he and Norma were over at Shelley and Bobby’s babysitting all night the other night. His whereabouts are confirmed.”

“If his alibi is Norma, couldn’t she be covering for him?” Mulder asked hesitantly.

“Oh, Norma isn’t his alibi. Andy and Lucy live right next door to Shelley and Bobby and Lucy’s a light sleeper. If Ed pulled out of the gravel drive at any point during the night, Lucy would have heard him.”

“Bobby? Would that be Bobby Briggs? His name comes up a couple of times on Cooper’s audio journal entries,” Mulder interjected. “Where was he the night Ms. Hurley was killed?”

Truman chuckled and shook his head. “Delivery room B, if I’m not mistaken. The reason Ed and Norma were babysitting over there was Shelley’s water broke at the diner and Bobby and her had to hightail it to the hospital. Little Elizabeth, that’s their youngest before this one, was almost born in the back of Bobby’s Suburban. They weren’t taking any chances this time. But Edward Andrew Briggs took his own sweet time coming out. He was born just after dawn — not more’n an hour before we found Nadine’s body in the woods.”

The squad car turned into a parking space in front of a typical small down diner. “You’ll find most of the people you’ll want to talk to here,” Truman assured them as he got out of the car.

Mulder held the door for his partner and then leaned in close as they walked to the diner. “Scully, I think my inner Jung is wrestling with my inner Skinner on this one — ”

“AD Skinner?”

“No, B. F. From a strictly clinical perspective, this town is a loony bin. No wonder Agent Cooper went nuts.”

“Mulder, it’s just a small town, like so many others across the country. Sure, it seems sort of . . . well, I guess you could say crazy, to us. But if we were to give someone a five-minute summary of our lives — we’d both be wearing straightjackets less than a minute later. The question is: did any of these people kill Nadine Hurley and try to make it look like Agent Cooper? For all we know, Agent Cooper is dead.”

He stared down at her, his brow wrinkled in confusion. “OK, Scully, what did you find out that you haven’t told me?”

“Mulder, Agent Cooper was indeed hospitalized but what Skinner hasn’t mentioned is that it was for early onset Alzheimer’s. His health has deteriorated at an alarming rate. The reality is he couldn’t survive outside the hospital. His bone density is so low that even a minor fall would have resulted in serious injury. According to the fax I got from the hospital this morning, his doctor’s prognosis is not good.”

“Then why didn’t Skinner tell us that yesterday?”

“I don’t know what to tell you, Mulder. I would have assumed someone would have checked with the hospital.”

“Or someone at the Bureau wants to lay the blame on Cooper,” Mulder mused. “But why?”

They realized they’d been standing outside the diner and Truman was standing by the door waiting for them. With Mulder’s hand to Scully’s back, they entered the building.

The interior was knotty pine and Formica. Booths lined the left wall with a counter that curved around to enclose the kitchen. A woman with long blond braids was filling coffee cups for the customers already seated in several of the booths. Another woman, mid-forties but still very pretty, was taking an order at the counter. She finished jotting down the request, handed it back through to the kitchen and then greeted Truman with a smile.

“Sheriff, how’s Josie feeling?” she asked, filling three coffee mugs and placing them in front of the agents and Truman.

“She’s fine, fine. Catherine’s a handful sometimes, but, well, you know how that goes.” He sipped his coffee. “Norma, these are Agents Mulder and Scully. They’re here to investigate Nadine’s murder.”

Norma’s sunny expression clouded over immediately. “Oh. I better get Ed.”

“If you can spare him,” Truman nodded. He picked up his coffee cup and pointed to one of the booths along the front of the restaurant. “We can talk over there,” he told Mulder and Scully.

In a moment a tall man with a full head of luscious brown hair, just flecked with gray came out from behind the counter. “Harry,” he said, taking a seat as Truman scooted over.

“Ed,” Truman replied. “This is Agent Mulder and Agent Scully with the FBI. They came all the way out from DC to look into Nadine’s murder.”

Ed nodded and shook hands across the table. “Thank you. Thank you for coming. I just . . . my poor Nadine,” he choked out and grabbed out a handkerchief from his back pocket. “To end up like that — ”

Mulder glanced over to Scully and she nodded. As upset as the man was, the interview needed her touch. “Mr. Hurley, had you seen your ex-wife at any time the day of her murder?”

“Uh, no. Not that day. She came by the diner the day before. She got some new drapes for her place and asked if I’d come by and help her hang ’em. She loved her drapes . . . ” he trailed off. “I never did get over there,” he sobbed anew.

“Mr. Hurley, was there anyone in town who might have wanted to hurt Nadine — besides Agent Cooper?” Scully continued.

Ed looked up and frowned. “That’s the thing. Nadine didn’t win any popularity contests, that’s for sure, but I can’t think of anyone who would want to kill her. She was the sweetest thing alive — when she put her mind to it.”

Truman coughed a little into his coffee mug, but covered quickly. “When she was of a mind, that’s true, Ed.”

“No one ever threatened her, was angry at her . . . ” Scully continued.

“Oh, well, Hank got sort a mad at her when she testified against him in court. See, that’s what I mean. Here was Hank, the only thing standing between me and Norma, after I asked Nadine for a divorce, you see, and she goes and testifies against him because she saw him dealing drugs out of the back of his pick up. She knew the minute Hank was in jail I would convince Norma to divorce him and marry me, yet she still testified against him. Now, would a mean or spiteful person do something like that? No, not in a million years!”

Mulder and Scully exchanged glances and Scully bit her upper lip. Mulder cleared his throat and pulled out one of his business cards from his coat pocket. “Thank you, Mr. Hurley. I think that’s all the questions we have for now. Here is my cell phone number and we’re staying at the Great Northern if you think of anything else. We’re very sorry for your loss.”

“Sheriff Truman, has anyone checked on Hank Jennings?” Mulder asked pointedly.

“Hank served his time down in Tacoma, got out about two years ago. No ones seen or heard from him since,” Harry admitted.

“Is it possible that Hank Jennings came to town, killed Nadine Hurley and made it look like the Palmer and Banks murders just to throw off the trail?” Scully asked.

At that moment, an elderly woman carrying a cut log in her arms like a baby stepped up to their table.

“One that was two is now one. The one you seek is not the one you will find. That one is gone. Find the one; help him go to the white place. The log has spoken.” She nodded once and left the diner.

Norma came out not a minute later carrying a tray laden with slices of pie. “Just out of the oven. Cherry. I’ll grab the coffee pot and get you all some refills.” She was gone before Scully could utter her objection.

“Sheriff Truman, what was that all about?” Mulder was scowling, but he managed to pick up his fork and take a bite of pie. The look of near rapture took some of the sting out of his growl.

“Cherry pie. Norma makes the best pie — ”

“The woman with the tree baby,” Mulder interrupted, around a mouthful of pie. “Scully, if you don’t want your pie, I’ll be happy to take it off your hands,” he added.

Scully had managed to taste a bite of the pie and immediately pulled the plate toward her, protecting it with her fork. “Try it and die, Mulder,” she hissed. “Sheriff, was that woman . . . um, shouldn’t someone look after her? She left alone.”

Truman shrugged. “We call her the log lady. She’s been like that for — well, I can’t even remember when she wasn’t around. She used to appear a lot more back when Coop, er, Agent Cooper was investigating the Palmer killing. He generally tried to heed her advice.” He smiled and dug into his own slice of pie.

“That was advice?” Mulder quipped. Norma had returned with the coffee pot and refilled their cups. He downed half of his and finished off the pie. “Sheriff, I think we need to go out and see the crime scene.”

“Sure.” He gestured toward the counter and Norma hurried with the checks. Mulder took Scully’s bill and paid, then headed after the Sheriff.

They traveled several miles through the mountain passes before coming to a dirt track between the trees. As they got out of the car, the wind died down and a thick cloud cover lowered over the canopy.

“I think we’re gonna get a storm soon,” Truman said as he lead them toward the forest.

The pine trees were tall and the canopy thick so that the trail wasn’t hard to follow. Mulder guessed they’d only gone about half a mile from the trailhead when they came to a stand of a dozen or more sycamore trees arranged in a circle. There was a fire pit of white stones in the middle. Off to the side was a chalk outline of a body. The pine needles and sycamore leaves were stained a rusty brown.

“That’s where we found her,” Truman said solemnly. He took off his hat and held it respectfully at his side.

Mulder crouched down to look at the ground leading up to the stone circle. “I know you got casts of the footprints, Sheriff, but I see more than one set of prints here.”

Truman hurried over and looked more closely. “Those weren’t here before,” he said, shaking his head.

“Who else would come out here? Ed?” Scully asked.

“No, Ed wouldn’t come out. Norma wouldn’t let him even if he tried. No, besides, those aren’t big enough to be Ed’s shoes. He’s a big fella,” the Sheriff countered.

“Well, if it had been Morrow and Klein or any of the others, there would be more prints. You didn’t make those when you found the body?” Mulder asked Truman.

“No sir. We didn’t go around that side of the fire pit. Besides, those are too recent. I’d say they were made the last couple of hours, maybe even sooner.”

As they spoke, a thick fog settled in around the trees. Before long, it was impossible to see more than a few feet. “Sheriff, I think we need to head back. We can’t see anything in this.” Thunder rumbled in the distance, reverberating off the mountaintops so that it was hard to tell where it had originated.

“Yeah, I think you’re right, Agent Mulder,” Truman agreed. “Let’s head back. The trail head is over here.”

“Wait,” Mulder ordered, searching around. “Scully? Scully where are you?”

“She was right here a minute ago,” Truman said needlessly.

“I know,” Mulder growled. “Scully! Answer me!” Only the sound of the approaching storm returned to him. He hastily dug in his trench coat and came up with his miniature mag-light. It cut a small slice out of the fog, but the beam bounced back at them. “Damn it! I can’t see a thing! SCULLY!!”

“I have a stronger flashlight back in the squad car. I’ll go get it,” Truman offered. Mulder nodded gratefully and the Sheriff hurried off into the trees and fog.

“SCULLY!!!” Mulder shouted again. Again, thunder was the only reply. But as he tried to calm his harsh and frantic breathing, he heard something else. It came on a the softest of breezes, barely disturbing the thick blanket of mist.

” . . . mulderrrrrrrrr.”

Nearly hysterical now, Mulder twisted one way and then another, trying to make out which way the voice had come.

“Scully!” he called again, almost hoarse from the yelling. “Scully, say again! Where are you?”

” . . . twin trees . . . ”

The wind had picked up, swirling the fog around him. He shook his head, trying to understand what she was saying. Twin trees? They were in a forest, for gods sake! But then the wind cleared a path through the fog and he noticed that two of the sycamore trees were mirror images of each other, down to the lowest protruding limbs. He ran off between them and suddenly encountered . . . fabric?

Velvet. It appeared to be red velvet. Hung in drapes, almost like a stage curtain of some sort. Mulder didn’t give himself any time to ponder the ridiculousness of a stage curtain appearing suddenly in the middle of a Washington State forest. He dove in between the curtains.

Truman was running back from the squad car when he all but smacked into Scully, running in his direction. She grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. “Where is Mulder?” she demanded.

“He was right there, by the fire pit,” Harry shouted over the wind that had suddenly kicked up. “You go back to the squad car, radio Lucy to get Hawk and Andy and the others. We’ll find him, Agent Scully, I promise!”

Back behind the curtain, Mulder discovered a hallway. The floor was a zigzag pattern of black and white tiles that would have made him dizzy if he’d stopped to look at it for long. Instead, he called out again. “Scully! Are you in here?”

“Mulder! I’m here!” came the reply and he almost wept with relief. The voice came from the far end of the hall, near a bust of Roman styling. He ran to the bust and called again. “Scully, which way?”

“I’m here, Mulder. In HERE!” The voice was coming from the left. He found a part in the draperies and stormed into a room.

It was empty, save for two arm chairs and a tall floor lamp. He turned around slowly, searching for his partner. “Scully? Come out!”

“Thank god, you’ve come,” came a voice from behind him but it wasn’t Scully. He twirled around, drawing his weapon and aiming it at the person standing in the corner of the room.

“You don’t need that. It won’t work here even if you tired to fire,” said a man near Mulder’s age, dark haired, not overly tall. Good looking. He wore a dark suit and a narrow tie.

“Who are you?” Mulder demanded. “Where is my partner?”

The man shook his head. “I haven’t seen any else here. At least not anyone else alive. As for who I am — I’m Dale Cooper.”

Mulder shook his head in disbelief. This man looked nothing like the picture faxed to them from the mental hospital. This man was strong, healthy. And in the fax, Dale Cooper’s hair was complete white, unlike the man before him.

“No. You’re not Dale Cooper. Who the hell are you and what have you done with Agent Scully?” Mulder growled, raising the gun so that it was aimed directly at the other man’s head.

The man held his hands up. “You don’t understand. I’ve been here — stranded here, for years while he . . .” His eyes went wide as he looked at something over Mulder left shoulder. “Look out!”

Mulder turned and saw a short man with wild long gray hair rushing toward him. The shorter man tackled Mulder, taking him down hard on the tiled floor. Mulder struggled to bring his gun up and finally had it between them. He fired once, twice, but only clicks resounded amid the grunts and gasps as the two men fought. The short man favored Mulder with a feral grin before lunging forward and biting the agent’s neck.

Mulder yelped and brought the gun up, using it to bludgeon the other man on the head. The crazed man feinted back and lunged again, this time sinking his teeth into Mulder hand that held the gun. Mulder tightened his grip on the gun and brought his other hand up to punch the man in ear as hard as he could.

The man rolled off and crouched, rubbing his ear, but still grinning like a madman. He opened his mouth, but the noise that came out was no language Mulder had ever heard. Mulder looked around for an escape, but before he could get to his feet, the maniac attacked again, pouncing on Mulder, his feet pile-driving into the prone man’s stomach. All air rushed out of Mulder’s lungs and he gasped for breath through the pain. Hands encircled his throat, crushing his larynx, cutting off all air —

There was a sickening crack, and suddenly, the gray-haired man’s eyes went wide and then rolled back into his head. As he fell to the side, he loosened his grip on Mulder’s throat. Mulder tried to suck in air, but nothing was happening. He clutched at his neck, gasping and abruptly air flowed into his lungs. He sagged back on the floor, glancing over at the man who had tried to kill him and then up to the man who had saved his life.

Dale Cooper, if that was who he was, stood over the still body of the gray-haired man, holding the floor lamp as a staff. He was breathing heavily and sweat was running down his face. Slowly, he lowered the lamp to the floor and stretched out his hand to Mulder. “C’mon, we have to get out of here.”

“Scully. I won’t leave until I find her,” Mulder croaked out. He was bleeding from the bite on his neck and his hand and he was feeling woozier by the moment. Still he was determined to find his partner.

“I told you, she’s not here. It was a trick. Bob tricked you into coming here. I fell for it once, too, many years ago. Now we have to leave before he comes around.”

Mulder swallowed thickly. He was having a hard time making his eyes focus. “How do we get out?”

“Here, lean on me.” Cooper grasped Mulder under the arm and around his waist, taking most of his weight and moving forward. Mulder’s head lolled to the right and he saw the man Cooper had called Bob twitching on the floor. In an instant, the body erupted into flame.

“Fire!” Mulder cried out in a panic as the curtains flared and caught. “Fire!”

“Walk with me,” Cooper soothed as the blackness engulfed Mulder. “Walk with me.”

Great Northern Hotel

afternoon

His mouth was as dry as dust. His throat felt like it had been held in a vice and crushed over a number of hours. His hand hurt, his neck hurt. He wanted nothing more than to sink back into oblivion and never open his eyes again. But he couldn’t, because he smelled her perfume.

“Scul . . . leee,” he rasped out, barely a whisper. Not since his run in with the dreaded tobacco beetles had it hurt as much to attempt speech. But he had to know.

“Easy, Mulder,” she cooed. He opened his eyes, relief overriding his aches and pains. “Here, just a few sips. We probably should have taken you to the hospital, but your injuries, although painful, are really superficial.” She held the glass to his lips and helped him take a few sips before putting it back on the nightstand.

“Cooper,” he croaked out.

“Agent Dale Cooper is currently giving his statement to Agents Morrow and Klein. Mulder, it’s amazing. It’s like — it’s like it’s not even the same man! His doctor from the mental hospital came up last night to examine him and he’s dumbfounded. Not only that, Cooper has no recollection of ever being committed. He claims he’s been someplace called the Black Lodge. Deputy Hill seemed to know all about it. He and Sheriff Truman explained some of it to me last night, while the doctor was bandaging your wounds. It’s sounds like something right up your alley. I’m sure they’d be more than happy to tell you all about it later, if you want.”

“Nadine’s murderer?” He was rather proud of himself for managing so many syllables at one time.

“The casting of the shoe print did not match Agent Cooper’s — from the shoes at the hospital nor the wingtips he was wearing when the Sheriff and I found him carrying you out of the forest. Nadine’s body did produce one latent — a thumbprint. It didn’t match Cooper, either. Without some sort of evidence linking him to the crime, it will be hard to charge him with it.”

“He was trapped there, Scully,” Mulder whispered. “It was a place, really. A strange, horrible place.”

“Well, when you two first showed up, there was some thought that he might have hurt you. But the finger spread of the bruising on your throat is considerably smaller than his. That falls in line with the story he had of this Bob character — ”

“Bob is evil, Scully. Pure evil,” Mulder said harshly. “I think Bob killed Nadine.”

“They’re matching the print we found on Nadine with the ones on your neck, Mulder. If they are from the same man — Bob, as you say — Agent Cooper will go free for sure.”

“Wake me when the results come back,” Mulder sighed and drifted off to sleep.

The late afternoon sun was warm on his face when he next awoke. Scully was sitting by the window, reading from a file folder. He groaned and tried to sit up. She was by his side in an instant, helping him to his feet.

“Bathroom,” he grunted and she helped him steady himself enough that he could make it into the room unassisted. When he came back to the bedroom, he was looking much happier. “Results come back?”

“Yes. And you were right, Mulder. The fingerprints on your neck match exactly the thumbprint found on Nadine Hurley’s body. She was killed by Bob, whomever Bob is. Morrow and Klein are working with Haglund to search the woods for him.”

“They won’t find him, Scully.”

“Well, there is some thought that he might make it into Canada by foot — ”

“No. He doesn’t exist on this plane. I hope he doesn’t exist at all anymore. He was in that fire, Scully. The whole place went up like so much kindling.”

“You did suffer from minor smoke inhalation and you did smell like you’d been in a blast furnace. The strange thing was there hasn’t been any forest fires reported within a hundred miles of here over the last week. I still don’t understand it.”

“Don’t try. It’ll only make your head hurt,” he assured her. Stiffly he lowered himself back into bed and she covered him up tenderly. There was a knock on the door just as she was leaning over to give him a kiss.

“Shhh, if we’re quiet maybe they’ll leave,” he whispered. She ruffled his hair and went over to open the door. Dale Cooper was standing there with Sheriff Truman and Hawk.

“Agent Mulder, good to see you awake,” Truman said affably as they three entered the room on Scully’s invitation.

“Yes, finally,” Mulder replied. “I think I owe you a debt of gratitude, Agent Cooper.”

Cooper looked at Mulder for several minutes before he shook his head. “No, not at all, Agent Mulder. You saved me. I had about given up hope of ever finding a way out of there.” Cooper continued to stare at Mulder. “Agent Mulder, you wouldn’t happen to have a relative — a cousin maybe, in the DEA?”

Scully raised an eyebrow and Mulder shook his head in the negative. “No. Not that I’m aware,” he assured Cooper.

“Oh, well, never mind.”

“So, what are your plans, Agent Cooper?” Scully asked, slightly confused by the sudden tension in the room.

“Well, for one thing, it’s not Agent Cooper anymore. Beyond the fact that the Bureau officially put me on disability, I’ve decided to not seek reemployment. I’m going to settle down here, make a life for myself.”

Truman patted his shoulder. “I still have your deputy’s badge in my desk drawer, Coop,” he said with a wink.

“I don’t think I want to continue in law enforcement, Harry. I think — well, I think I might pursue a life long dream of mine.”

“And what would that be?” asked Hawk cautiously.

“I think I want to become a writer, Hawk. Fiction, actually.”

Truman and Hawk exchanged glances and Mulder and Scully continued to give each other confused shrugs.

“Well, it’s definitely worth sticking around here — for the cherry pie, if nothing else,” Mulder spoke up to fill in the silence.

“Did you have the pie, Agent Mulder?” Cooper lit up with excitement. “I couldn’t believe it the first time I bit into a slice. Nothing I’ve ever tasted could compare! And the coffee! Oh, my!”

“Speaking of pie and coffee, we should probably let Agent Mulder get some rest, Coop. C’mon, let’s head over to the diner. My treat,” Truman offered.

“Harry, that would be splendid!” Cooper stepped over to the bed and extended his hand. “Agent Mulder, I can’t thank you enough. If you two are ever in the area, please stop in.”

“Thanks, uh, Cooper, but I think we’re going to try to stay on the East Coast, at least for a while,” Mulder replied evenly, but gave the man a firm handshake. “Sheriff, Deputy, thanks for all your help with the investigation.”

“You folks take care,” Truman said as he shook first Mulder’s and then Scully’s hand. The three men left and Scully sat down on the edge of the bed.

“OK, Mulder. This is all well and good. But how do we write this up in a field report?” she asked.

“You know, Scully, my throat is killing me. I think I might have to just take a rain check on this report. I mean, I’m in so much pain, I don’t know how much I can remember.”

“Be careful, Mulder. Next time I take you out to the forest, I might just leave you there.”

the end.

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