Facetime

Facetime

By Martin Ross

Category: X-Files/The Closer Crossover

Rating: R for language, sexual content, violent images.

Spoilers: Sanguinarium

Summary: LAPD Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson may finally have met her match in a

fugitive sorcerer and an agent named Mulder.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Chris Carter and James Duff for creating two of TV’s quirkiest

sleuths.

Residence of Dr. Robert Hartman

Beverly Hills, California

11:23 a.m.

“Jesus H. Marimba,” Provenza breathed as he frowned down at the body sprawled on

the pool deck, and then at the serene face on the skull that presumably matched the

body sprawled on the pool deck.

The white-haired detective then glanced irritably up at the young cameraman trained

on his every move.

“Damn it, Buzz,” Lt. Provenza growled as he glared at a clearly amused Lt. Flynn five

yards away. “Take two.”

“We have to keep rolling — Chief Pope says,” Priority Homicide’s official

documentarian apologized, his eye glued to the viewfinder.

“Like freakin’ MTV. I don’t know why we couldn’t have waited for Tao. I mean…Aw,

crap. The victim — or victims — is — or are — a male — or males,” Provenza

informed the camera, then sighed in exasperation. “The M.E. hasn’t arrived on the

scene yet, so we haven’t yet been able to, ah, definitively ascertain whether this

body–” he gestured — “belongs to this head. However, CSU has bagged and tagged

a wallet taken from the, ah, body that contains a California driver’s license belonging

to one Dr. Robert Hartman, who resides at this address. Said license appears to

match the, um, the aforementioned head, but we’ll need the M.E. to verify that the

head belongs to the body.”

Flynn, struggling to maintain a deadpan expression, nodded at the body. Provenza

shot daggers.

“There appear to be no other wounds on the body, or the head, aside from the body

being decapitated and the head being, um, uh, disembodied?”

Flynn doubled over, shaking silently, face scarlet.

“Cut, dammit!” Provenza snapped.

“Hey, Geraldo,” Lt. Flynn wheezed. “I know a good agent, you need one.”

“Hey, Flynn, shove it up your…”

“And a good morning to you, Lieutenant.” Provenza and Flynn turned in unison as

Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson approached the taped-off

crime scene, trailed by Sgt. Gabriel. The chief eyed the body, then the head. “Oh,

my. And who do we have here, Lt. Flynn?”

“Dr. Robert Hartman. Boob jobs and asslifts.” Flynn looked up from his notebook and

registered the tight-lipped expression beneath superior’s sunglasses. “Uh, cosmetic

surgeon, Beverly Hills. Does a lot of celebs, society wives. I think he did the tits on—

“Thank you, Lt. Flynn,” Brenda chirped. “Lt. Tao had a chance to go over the scene

yet?”

“Ah, he’s on a Homeland Security bioterrorism training exercise today, Chief,”

Gabriel murmured. The sergeant had struck the deal that had kept the squad intact

but on periodic loan to DHS.

“Dress slacks, shirt buttoned to the neck.” The transplanted Georgian nodded toward

the expansive mansion beyond the Olympic-scaled pool. “Anyone been inside yet,

Lieutenant?”

“Sanchez’s in there with the CSU guys.”

The deputy chief squinted at the open patio doors. “Sgt. Gabriel? Thank you,

gentlemen — carry on.”

“Detective Sanchez?” Brenda called as she edged past a tech printing the patio door

handles. Hartman’s den was immaculate, masculine and leathery and lined with thick

volumes. The CSU crew strove not to look up as the infamous head of the Priority

Homicide Squad prowled deeper into the plastic surgeon’s home. “Detective

Sanchez?”

“Right here, Chief,” Sanchez called from the front of the house. Gabriel hustled after

the deputy chief.

They found the compact detective in the marbled foyer, examining the front door

jamb with gloved fingers. “No sign of forced entry, Chief.”

“I assumed so, Detective,” Brenda murmured, scanning the small room. The foyer

opened both into a spacious living room and a darkly paneled dining room. A broad,

carpeted staircase beckoned to the right of the Olympian dining table. Sanchez and

Gabriel exchanged resigned glances as their boss beelined for the staircase.

Brenda used her pen to lift the tail of a cerulean blue Daniel de Fasson tie draped

over the newel post. “Must’ve just came home – barely had time to get his tie off.”

“Maybe the killer was waiting for him to get home,” Gabriel suggested. “Doc invited

him in, they went out to the pool, had a fight…”

“And the killer pulled out his handy machete and sliced his head off?” Sanchez

grunted.

Brenda turned and peered into the dining room. A pair of French doors lie beyond

the table, and she spotted brick and stainless steel beyond the doors.

“Or,” Brenda breathed, striding past the staircase, “or the killer came around the

back way.” She threw open the French doors. “This is one of those, oh,

whadoyoucallits…?”

“Grilling patio,” Gabriel murmured, admiring a gleaming commercial barbecue and

the arsenal of grilling tools hanging beside it. “My uncle, the dentist, he has one of

these. Not nearly as nice as this, though.”

Brenda stepped out onto the flagstones and slapped the high brick wall surrounding

them. “Nice private place to meet somebody, you don’t want the neighbors to see.”

“What?” Gabriel called over a growing mechanical roar.

“I said—” Brenda stopped, eyes widening. “What’s that sound, Sergeant?”

“Sounds like a mower,” Gabriel half-shouted.

“A what?”

“A lawn mower, Chief. I think it’s a lawn mower. Maybe next door.”

Brenda rushed back through the house. Sgt. Gabriel shrugged as Sanchez looked up,

and gave pursuit.

**

“Sir!” Brenda called as she stumbled over the immaculately tonsured turf next door.

“I need to talk to you!” The landscaper, hardwired into an iPod, looked up briefly,

then returned to his mowing.

Brenda stepped up her pace. “Sir, stop that! This is a police investigation! Y’all have

to stop that!”

The compact, mustachioed man continued to plow a shallow furrow in the emerald

lawn.

“Pare que, o voy a tirar su culo en la cárcel!” Sanchez shouted behind Brenda.

The man slowed, looked around, but did not stop. “El jefe dice que hay que hacer

hoy!” he grunted loudly.

“‘The boss says I have to do it today.’”

“Lord,” Brenda gasped as the phrase simultaneously translated itself. Then she

jumped again as she detected the black-suited stranger behind her shoulder.

Sanchez gave chase. “Hey! No me importa. Se trata de una investigación de

asesinato.”

“‘I don’t care. This is a murder investigation,’” the helpful interpreter provided.

Brenda edged away from him.

“‘Esa no es mi preocupación,’” the gardener called out, staring straight ahead at the

vast expanse of unshorn grass.

“‘It is not my concern,’” the stranger murmured into Brenda’s ear. She batted at

him.

“Excuse me,” she snapped. “Who would you happen to be?”

“Si yo llamo de INS, sera!”

The mower halted and its operator disengaged the engine.

“Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI,” the newcomer supplied. “Your guy said it will be his

concern if he calls the INS–“

“INS, yes, I got that,” Brenda said through her teeth. She beamed at the young

Latino cop. “Thank you, Detective Sanchez.” The smile vanished as she returned to

Mulder. “Agent, while I truly do appreciate your spirit of interagency cooperation, I

can assure you that I am quite fluent in Spanish. Now, may I ask why you’re

tromping all over my crime scene?”

Mulder grinned, jerking his head toward the house next door. “I thought the crime

scene was over there. I mean, that’s where your men currently are swapping

headless guy puns with the CSU techs.”

Brenda’s eyes narrowed as her lips twisted into a forced smile. “Sgt. Gabriel, could

you please remind Lts. Provenza and Flynn that this is a high-profile murder

investigation, and that the media and especially Asst. Chief Pope may not share their

sparkling re-par-tay? Thank you, Sergeant. Detective Sanchez, could you please ask

this gentleman…”

Sanchez nodded stolidly.

Brenda turned to the gardener, who stood by with bored anticipation. “Un momento,

por favor?” The man shrugged. Brenda nodded curtly.

“Now, Agent Mulder, you were about to tell me about your jurisdictional interest in

this case?”

“We — my partner, Agent Scully and I — believe your victim to be the suspect in a

series of fairly grisly murders about 12 years ago, in Chicago. The suspected

murderer, Dr. Jack Franklyn, also was a cosmetic surgeon.”

Brenda frowned. “And you’re telling me this man came to L.A. and eventually put out

a shingle as one of Hollywood’s highest-profiled nip-and-tuck specialists?”

Mulder paused. “The Chicago case dead-ended, well, based on some fairly compelling

evidence…”

“Evidence of what, Agent?”

“Evidence of our chief suspect‘s demise,” Mulder said hastily. He turned. “By the

way, barn door’s open.”

The landscaper’s eyes and right hand moved immediately to his jeans. His fingers

froze, and the dark brown eyes rose guiltily.

Brenda glanced appraisingly at Mulder, then smiled sweetly at the lawnmower man.

“Well, it appears as though we have conquered a major cultural barrier here.”

“OK, OK,” the man sighed with a Latin-tinged California accent. “My name is Rey

Menendez. I heard what happened to that man next door, an’ I guess I didn’t wanna

get messed up in it. I was born East L.A., but I got cousins, comprende?”

“I do, sir, and I see no need to delve into your family affairs,” Brenda said softly.

“But we do have a murder investigation here, and anything you can tell us would be

greatly appreciated.”

“In other words,” Sanchez rumbled, “the sooner you talk, the sooner you walk.

Comprende, amigo?”

“Si, yes,” the gardener nodded somberly. “I was getting my mower off the truck —

like I said, the owner here, he’s having some kinda party out here tomorrow. Well, I

hear this yelling from next door — the dead man, he’s fighting with this chica–“

“Latino?” Sanchez demanded.

“No, man, blonde babe, muy caliente, you know? She had these wraparound shades,

but I know I seen her before, like at the movies. But around here, that ain’t no big

thing. Comprende?”

“Yes,” Brenda murmured troublingly.

Priority Homicide Squad

Los Angeles Police Department

Park Center, Los Angeles

3:54 p.m.

“Shit, shit, shit,” Erin Linscott sobbed, a pinkie perched under her lower lid to

prevent disfiguring liner leakage. The actress beamed tearful gratitude as Sgt.

Gabriel nudged the box of Kleenex across the interview table. “I told Bobby he

needed to hire some security, a little muscle. He was in US just last week.”

Brenda perked. “Excuse me.”

“The magazine. It was a huge spread, all about how many careers Bobby’s saved

while he does all that work with burned kids.” The pinkie trapped a small, salty

reservoir — the two-time Golden Globe nominee quickly swabbed it away. Brenda

noticed the artful curve of her button nose — a curve that hadn’t existed when

Linscott had filmed Sophomore Summer seven years ago. Her chest also had gained

breadth and definition since that classic had been released. Brenda took a flyer ar

how she and “Bobby” had met.

“I’m sure he was just a fine man,” Brenda murmured sympathetically. Will — Chief

Pope — had given her the speech about the sensitivity of Dr. Hartman’s homicide and

its implications for Hartman’s largely A List clients.

“Thanks — he was,” Linscott said, sniffling. She smiled poignantly — the signature

smile that had branded her “the Julia Roberts for a new generation” and catapulted

her beyond Meg Ryan’s aging charms. “You’re a very nice lady, not what I would

have expected from a cop.”

“Why, thank you,” Brenda beamed, dripping magnolias.

“With that voice and bod, you could get into movies, or at least TV. Shit, half the

girls I know would kill for those lips. Collagen?”

“They are my own,” Brenda cooed.

“Wow. If you just had a little work done on–” Linscott halted, looking away from the

center of Brenda’s face. The deputy chief absently touched the tip of her nose, and

Brenda imagined she could hear Flynn’s laughter from the Tech Room, where several

of the squad were watching the interview with Hartman’s bereaved girlfriend. Gabriel

bit his cheek, while Mulder, behind Linscott’s shoulder at Will’s insistence, appeared

oblivious to the exchange. Linscott’s attorney sat stoically, like an Armani-draped

lawn ornament.

Brenda’s smile faltered. “So, ah, Ms. Linscott? When did you last see Dr. Hartman?”

The starlet paled. “Two nights ago — we went to a premiere, Jake Gyllenhaal’s new

thing, then Lucques on Melrose.”

“Then back to Dr. Hartman’s place?” Brenda inquired casually. The attorney came to

life, and she raised a hand. “I don’t mean to be intrusive — it’s just the doctor’s

cleaning woman was in yesterday, and we’ll want to eliminate any prints of friends or

acquaintances we find in his home.”

Surprisingly, Linscott was smiling coyly. “You don’t read the trades or the tabs, do

you?”

“I’m usually pretty busy,” Brenda flustered, not wanting to sound elitist.

“Uh, Chief, Ms. Linscott’s straight-edge,” Sgt. Gabriel said.

“Excuse me?”

“No booze, no tobacco, no drugs — not even coffee,” Agent Mulder interjected. “And

absolutely no sex. Straight edge started in the hardcore punk culture in the ‘80s —

it’s been revived by alternative rockers and entertainers into the organic/natural

foods movement.”

Linscott grimaced. “You make it sound like a cult, like Scientology or something. Oh,

Jesus, don’t tell anybody I said that, or I’d never work with Cruise or Travolta or

diCaprio again. Not that I have, actually. My mother — she used to manage me —

told me sex would ‘drain my focus’ on the set, and then I started hanging out with

Woody Harrelson…”

“All right,” Brenda interrupted, glaring balefully at Mulder. “So you claim not to have

been on Dr. Hartman’s premises since two nights ago.”

“I’ve been busy — we’re shooting an indie, great story about lesbian colonists in New

England who were tried as witches. Real Oscar stuff.”

“Reason I ask,” Brenda persisted, “is we have a witness who claims to have seen a

woman matching your description engaged in animated discussion with Dr. Hartman

shortly before his decapitated body was discovered by a neighbor.”

Linscott gasped. The attorney clasped her arm.

“This interview is concluded,” he purred. “I will note your insensitive and derogatory

manner with your superiors.”

“How sweet,” Brenda smiled. The attorney gathered his case and his client and

exited with well-crafted dignity.

“She seemed surprised,” Sgt. Gabriel suggested a beat later.

“She’s an actress, Sergeant,” Brenda retorted.

“You don’t get out to the movies much, do you, Deputy Chief?” Mulder asked,

grinning. Brenda spun on him.

“You know, Agent, you never did explain to me just how an apparently deceased

suspect could remain a viable suspect? I’ve had some small experience in forensic

pathology, and that just doesn’t seem to track. Would you care to amplify?”

Mulder sighed and perched on the edge of the interview table. “Agents Scully and I

investigated the murder of a patient at the cosmetic surgery unit of Greenwood

Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The murder was particularly gruesome — the patient’s

physician used a liposuction wand to extract much of the victim’s internal organs.”

“My God,” Brenda whispered. “And this was Dr. Hartman? This Dr. Franklyn you

referred to?”

“No,” Mulder drawled. “An associate of Dr. Franklyn’s, a Dr. Lloyd.”

“I’m afraid I don’t understand…”

“The lipo-cide was the first in a series of deaths that occurred at the hospital, Several

of these deaths occurred under highly unusual, improbable circumstances. Agent

Scully and I managed to intercede in the last murder attempt. A set of surgical

instruments was found in the intestinal tract of the intended victim. Our investigation

revealed several of the doctors in her unit were involved in ritualistic practices. The

black arts, to be precise.”

Brenda’s jaw dropped. “What are you trying to tell me, Agent Mulder? That Dr.

Hartman is some kind of cult leader or warlock or something.”

“Actually, a male witch is still called a witch, not a warlock–”

“Thank you for the comparative religions class, Agent Mulder.” Brenda murmured.

“And you believe our victim is this witch doctor Franklyn?”

“There’ve been a couple of strange murders in Southern California over the last few

months — murders with vaguely medical overtones and with links to Dr. Hartman’s

practice. And Dr. Hartman’s arrival in Los Angeles coincides roughly with Dr.

Franklyn’s abrupt disappearance in Chicago.”

Brenda nodded, her expression incredulous, and turned. “Sgt. Gabriel, find out if

Det. Daniels has managed to locate the deceased’s partner, Dr. Callan?”

Mulder adjusted his rump uncomfortably. “Ah, Deputy Chief?”

“Yes?” The single word was imbued with simultaneous dread and menace.

“My partner, Agent Scully, managed to run down Dr. Callan at L.A. Memorial right

before Ms. Linscott got here. She’s already headed over.”

Brenda was silent for a moment, before her eyes turned glacial and a copperhead

smile spread across her features. “Well, Agent Mulder. I appreciate your wanting to

save us the inconvenience of chasing all over town after Dr. Callan. But we have an

active, local homicide here — not some. . .some witch hunt. So if you’d like to try

another end run around my squad, we’ll see what you’re A.D. thinks of your little

fairy tale. Have I made myself clear, Agent Mulder?”

He swallowed. “Yes, ma’am.”

The copperhead smile vanished. “Excellent. You don’t mind if Sgt. Gabriel drives, do

you?”

Los Angeles Memorial Hospital

4:56 p.m.

The FBI’s end run had been blocked at the gate: They found Agent Scully — a small,

ultra-serious counterpoint to Mulder’s flaky persona — checking her phone mail in

the L.A. Memorial burn ward waiting area. Scully pocketed the phone as her partner

approached, cops in tow.

“Skin grafts,” she sighed. “He’s been in there the last two hours.”

Mulder blinked. “I guess everyone grieves in their own way.”

“It’s actually fairly admirable,” Scully suggested. “Callan’s colleagues say he was

pretty broken up about Hartman’s murder, but insisted on operating on the kid in

there. I guess Callan did most of the pro bono surgery for the partnership. Hartman

loved the Hollywood scene. Weird — if it is him, you wouldn’t think he’d want to

maintain such a high profile.”

Scully’s observation was designed to discourage, but Mulder wasn’t so easily

daunted. “He’s demonstrated his arrogance and ego to us. Given his ‘abilities,’ I’m

sure he feels a growing omnipotence. Flaunting his power and success is probably a

big part of his trip.”

“What abilities?” Brenda inquired. Mulder spun. “See? Pretty unnerving, isn’t it? What

abilities?”

“It’s complicated,” Scully began.

Brenda squinted and rubbed her temples. “Well, gimme a try. I finished high school,

you know.”

“As well as graduating Langley and passing the Atlanta and D.C. police exams,”

Mulder grinned. “We’re not being condescending — this is just a very convoluted

case with some unorthodox dimensions.”

“Yes.” Brenda stretched the word by a syllable. “You mentioned that Dr. Hartman

was a witch.”

Scully exhaled loudly. “That was an oversimplification,” Mulder said. “Based on the

circumstances of the Chicago murders and certain, ah, symbols we found on the

hospital premises, we believe Hartman, AKA Franklyn, was a black magician. A very

adept practitioner of the dark arts.”

Brenda listened silently, then smiled and nodded. “Now there — was that so difficult?

I’ll simply ask Sgt. Gabriel here to deputize David Copperfield, and we’ll have this

whole thing wrapped up by suppertime.”

Sgt. Gabriel tapped his boss’ shoulder. “I think the operation’s over, Chief.”

A distinguished, if homely, man in scrubs emerged as the double doors of the

surgery suite whooshed open. Brenda adjusted her purse on her shoulder and edged

past Mulder and Scully.

“Good job, Mulder,” Scully breathed.

**

“Dr. Callan?” Brenda called, her heels clicking on the gleaming hospital tile.

Darrel Callan looked up blearily. “I assume you’re the police, about Bob.”

“Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson,” she announced briskly.

“How’d the operation go?” Gabriel asked quickly. Caulking the gaps in his chief’s

interpersonal skills set had become an important duty as otherwise assigned.

Callan glanced back. “According to form. That’s the easy part — now, we have to see

if the grafts take. And any 10-year-old who’s sustained this kind of trauma is looking

forward to decades of counseling.”

“Speaking of trauma,” Brenda interjected gently, “I’m sure you’ve been informed of

the extreme circumstances of your partner’s death.”

Callan nodded. “I’ve been in surgery since about 11 or so, but your Detective Flynn

notified our office nurse, and she text-ed me.”

“Yes,” Mulder said. “We’ve been trying to reach you.”

The plastic surgeon straightened with a severe smile. “Agent, let me tell you

something about the medical profession. We see death on a daily basis — maybe not

in my practice, but here, in the trenches — and we soon learn that if death isn’t final,

it is at least irrevocable. Now, that boy in there has been waiting in intense, nearly

untreatable pain for some glimmer of hope. He and his parents. Bob, sadly, is

beyond pain. Triage, people — that’s what it’s about.”

“I hear you do a lot of pro bono work, Doctor,” Scully said.

Callan glanced at the redhead. “Dr. Hartman is — was — an accomplished aesthetic

surgeon. He accomplished sheer magic with a scalpel — his work was as seamless as

God’s own. I’m no slouch myself, but I have an aptitude perhaps better suited to the

clinical setting. Bob and I are blessed with the resources, the wherewithal, to offer

our skills to those who most acutely need them.”

“Your skills, don’t you mean?” Brenda asked sweetly. “What I hear, Dr. Hartman was

more accustomed to the club scene than the burn ward.”

Callan nodded knowingly. “OK, I see where this is going. Look, Bob was the big

moneymaker for the practice — Bob. Let me tell you up front — with Bob’s death,

yes, I inherit controlling interest in the practice. But not Bob’s skills or reputation.

Less revenue, less pro bono. Besides, Detective Flynn said Bob’s death was violent,

as you characterized it, extreme. A crime of passion, it would seem. I know of only

one person who elicited much passion in Bob.”

“Erin Linscott?”

“I doubt that New Age wraith would have had the strength or stomach to do what

was done to Bob. However, wherever there’s a hot young Hollywood starlet, there’s

usually some young piece of beefcake driven by testosterone and temperament. You

might look there. Now, I want to start making arrangements for Bob’s internment. If

you have any further questions, I’m confident my attorney can address them.”

“Thank you,” Brenda told Callan’s back as he headed resolutely down the corridor.

“He makes a good point,” Sgt. Gabriel conceded. “Hartman’s the one in the tabloids,

the one on Entertainment Tonight.”

“And the one with a partner who’s more interested in healing scarred kids than

realigning the noses of the rich and famous,” Mulder suggested. “As commendable as

Callan’s altruism is, it has to be a drain on the practice’s ‘resources.’”

“Hartman was ready to give Callan the old heave-ho,” Brenda murmured, tasting the

idea. “Callan does a pre-emptive strike, makes it look like a crime passionel. Or he

goes to Hartman’s to save his skin, so to speak, and tempers flare. Sergeant, we

need to see if Hartman had the clout to cut Callan loose.”

“Could’ve been a hit, too,” Sgt. Gabriel offered. “The assistant M.E. at the scene said

Hartman may have been beheaded with a single blow. Sounds like a pro trying to

look like a meth head gone wild.”

“Superhuman, almost supernatural strength,” Mulder noted.

Brenda regarded the agent with disbelief, then turned on her heel. “C’mon, Darren.

I’ll give you a ride back to the sstation on my broom.”

Howard-Johnson residence

Los Angeles

6:38 p.m.

“Uh, oh,” Special Agent “Fritz” Howard breathed as he pulled his key from the front

door and the scent of herbs and rich gravy hit his trained nostrils. He lowered his

briefcase and peered into the dining nook. The glow of candles illuminated the aged

wood of the table.

“Oh, boy,” he sighed.

“Hi, there, Fritzie,” Brenda beamed as she emerged from the kitchen with a steaming

casserole. She was wearing an apron over the only dress Fritz had ever given a

nickname — an unspeakable nickname.

Now, he was truly frightened.

Brenda crooked an arm around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss that might

have brought life back to the dead. The deputy chief leaned back, sighed

contentedly. “How was your day, Baby?”

“OK,” Fritz said, extracting himself. “What’s up?”

Brenda blinked. “Fritz, whatever do you mean?”

“What do you have? Rachel Ray hidden in the kitchen? You’re wearing your fu–,

your hey sailor dress, and you’re pouring on the Steel Magnolias routine a little

thicker than usual.”

Brenda’s nostrils flared. Then she composed herself with an injured smile. “I just

thought you might enjoy a little spoiling tonight, a little special treatment.”

Fritz smiled. “Brenda. C’mon.”

She stared at her fiancé for a moment and frowned. “Oh, all right. You have pretty

good pull with the L.A. field office, don’t you?”

“I guess. Wait a minute. Is this about that Mulder guy you asked me to check out?”

“He is absolutely, totally certifiable,” Brenda pleaded. “You have to do something,

Fritz.”

“Wow, this guy must be a real flake, if you’re–”

Brenda’s nostrils returned to full aperture. “And just what is that supposed to

mean?”

Fritz backpedaled. “Hey. All I’m saying is, you’re a big girl — I mean, you have a

very strong force of will. Very.

“You are not helping yourself,” Brenda said through her teeth.

“Look, I’m not questioning your take on Mulder. He definitely seems a few grains

short of a bowl. He and his partner, who seems solid enough, are basically their own

two-person department within the Bureau. The X-Files, whatever that means. I

couldn’t find out much, but apparently, they investigate freaky stuff — paranormal

occurrences, crimes with some kind of scientific angle, supposed ritualistic or

government conspiracies.”

“Oh, my God.”

“He’s also one of the FBI’s top profilers — he’s cleared dozens of serial cases. He

might actually be useful. At the very least, he seems to be harmless — a slightly

obsessive goofball. And Mulder doesn’t seem to care much for authority — you give

him a chance, and you two actually might hit it off.”

Brenda’s lips tightened. “So you don’t intend to help me.”

“You don’t need help — at least in the professional sense. Wait. Scratch that. C’mon,

Brenda, where you going?”

Brenda stopped ion the bedroom doorway. “Gonna get this damned dress off. It’s

killin’ me, and you sure as hell ain’t gonna get the opportunity.”

Residence of Dr. Robert Hartman

Beverly Hills

9:12 a.m.

“You weren’t in yet, and he said it was real important,” Provenza explained as

Brenda strode purposefully up the late Robert Hartman’s paved drive, Sgt. Gabriel

again in tow.

“I told y’all I had a dental appointment,” the deputy chief huffed, brushing past the

white-haired detective. She sailed through the open front door. “Agent Mulder?

Agent Mulder! Where the hell are you?”

“In here — the kitchen.”

“Criminy dutch,” Brenda muttered as she stalked through the luxurious home. She

found the agent poring with gloved fingers through a series of bottles lined up on a

marble prep table. Scully was comparing bottles with a book spread open on the

counter. Mulder looked up.

“Chief Johnson,” the agent grinned. “There’s something I wanted you to see.”

“Y’all going to fix me breakfast?”

Mulder chuckled and plucked a bottle from the table and jiggled its chopped yellow

contents.

“Basil.” Brenda paused. “I thought basil was green.”

“Goldenseal. It’s most commonly used to make yellow or orange dye, but it’s also

celebrated in some circles as an herb used for healing and to attract money.”

“That’s fascinating,” Brenda drawled.

“So far, Dr. Hartman’s spice cabinet appears to contain goldenseal, alder bark,

patchouli, myrrh, and what’s the rosemary, Scully?”

“It would appear to be blessed thistle,” his partner reported dispassionately.

“Great for hex breaking,” Mulder told the deputy chief. “All these herbs and

botanicals are used by neopaganists and other practitioners of the dark arts. And get

this.”

Brenda followed Mulder to the breakfast nook, where he indicated a large wooden

bowl full of white crystals.

“Salt?” Brenda queried. “So the good doctor had a thing for margaritas.”

“Coarse salt. It’s a little less conspicuous than an altar pentacle for cleaning tools

and other mystical knick-knacks.”

“I’m partial to anchovies on my pizza,” Brenda responded dryly. “Different strokes.”

Mulder sighed, shaking his head. “Scully, keep inventorying. Chief, would you

accompany me to the dining room?”

“Do I have any choice?”

Mulder stopped before an antique sideboard. A large black platter trimmed in gold

hung above the piece. The agent peered at his reflection in the platter, brushing a

lock from his forehead.

“Pretty,” Brenda said, tersely.

“And functional, if you’re a functioning sorcerer. See that pattern at noon, 3, 6, and

9? The circle flanked by two crescents. That’s the Lunar Triple Goddess, which

represents the three aspects of the moon — waxing, waning, and full. Another

common neopagan symbol. This is a black mirror — what’s called a scrying object.

You look into it, and eventually, an image appears that can be viewed directly or its

meaning interpreted by a trained practitioner. I could go on and on, but the fact is,

this house is full of subtly hidden manifestations of pagan belief and practice.

Brenda was silent for a moment. “Obviously, Agent Mulder, you haven’t been in L.A.

nearly long enough.”

“If Dr. Hartman were a run-of-the-mill Hollywood whack job, you think he’d go this

far to hide it? I thought whackjobbery was kind of a badge of honor out here.”

“I’m beginning to think so,” Brenda mumbled.

“The point is, isn’t it straining coincidence that Dr. Hartman follows the same pagan

practices Dr. Franklyn employed to commit several murders?”

“You’ll have to pardon me, Agent Mulder, but I’m still at something of a loss about

the specific circumstances of your Chicago homicides. And what led you to Dr.

Hartman?”

Mulder paused. “Well, as I told you earlier, you’ve had a couple of suspicious area

deaths. The teenager in Encino who was found in a ditch without his kidneys?”

“Satanists,” Brenda suggested, not mentioning the crucial fact that the boy’s body

revealed no incisions or scars.

“What about that woman in Belair? The realtor who went in for an appendectomy

and who wound up with a lungful of locusts?”

Brenda formulated a response, then reconsidered and formulated three more.

Finally, she slung her bag over her shoulder.

“I have some real police work to do, Agent Mulder,” she stammered, bumping into a

dining room chair. “I’ll leave you and Agent Buffy to pursue these ‘leads.’”

Mulder stood with mute amusement as Brenda barked a series of orders at her

underlings. The mansion’s front door clattered.

“Hey, Scully,” he called into the kitchen. “Chief Johnson just gave me a great idea for

a new role-playing game…”

Priority Homicide Squad

Los Angeles Police Department

Park Center, Los Angeles

3:54 p.m.

“All right, what’ve we got?” snapped Brenda, who was flanked by a long double white

board painstakingly filled with photos, documents, and sticky notes outlining

timetables and trivia about all the persona involved in the life and untimely death of

Dr. Robert Hartman.

The deputy chief had returned to Parker Center under a black cloud, and her

detectives came to rapid attention as she entered the squadroom. Now, the

members of the LAPD’s crack Priority Homicide Squad glanced uneasily at each

other.

“Um,” Lt. Flynn finally articulated. “Turns out the good doctor had a gambling jones.

Haunted the poker parlors every Thursday night.”

Brenda was intrigued. “Was he in deep?”

“Actually, Chief, he’d been warned off at a couple of joints. They couldn’t prove

anything, but he cleaned up on every table he played.”

“Maybe his sportsmanship came into question,” Brenda muttered. “Check to see if

there’ve been any particularly disgruntled playmates. Lt. Provenza? Any unhappy

patients?”

Provenza, who’d volunteered to take the list of starlets, debutantes, and models,

pushed his bag of Fritos aside. “You’da thought this guy was Dr. Schweitzer or

something. A medical miracle worker, according to the brain trust. Gotta say, he

sure does some fine work…”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Brenda sang. “Detective Daniels, any leads on the angry ex

front?”

The young detective consulted her notes. “Linscott dated that Australian action guy,

Troy Patersen, for a while last year, but things just kind of fizzled out, and he’s with

some British supermodel now. A few other guys, but everybody checks out for the

time of the murder.”

“Lt. Tao? What did Dr. Morales come up with?”

Tao’s glasses fell onto his nose as he rose for his customary discourse. “As the M.E.

thought, cause of death was a simultaneously severing of the carotid and jugular

arteries. One clean stroke with what appears to be a single-edged, rough-edged

blade.”

“Serrated?”

“No — it would appear the blade was recently sharpened, but not professionally. The

wound itself contained traces of dirt and chlorophyll. Now, the lab hasn’t processed

any of the blood found near the body yet, but…”

“Just a second, please.”

The squad looked up as one. Mulder was framed in the squadroom doorway, arms

crossed, wearing a frown.

“Lt. Tao, right? Did you say chlorophyll?”

Tao looked to Brenda. The deputy chief nodded curtly, in resignation.

“Yes, um, the wound contained traces of chlorophyll, as well as metal particles,” Tao

explained. “The particles were only a few microns—”

“Particles?” Mulder queried.

“Yes. Particles. Traces.”

“Traces?” Mulder murmured.

“Traces, yeah. I dunno. Like filings, I guess?”

“Metal filings?”

“Agent Mulder,” Brenda implored. “Before poor Detective Tao exhausts the entire

Roget’s Thesaurus, could I please ask why these, these…filings…are such a source of

fascination for you?”

“Filings and chlorophyll,” Mulder amended.

“Of course, chlorophyll,” Deputy Chief Johnson breathed. “Chlorophyll and metal

filings.” Brenda froze; her eyes widened as she bit her lips. “Oh, my goodness. Lt.

Flynn.”

Flynn’s mug stopped halfway to his mouth. “Chief?”

“I need you to secure the lawn next door to the Hartman house.”

The lieutenant frowned. “The lawn? Wait a minute. The lawn next to the victim’s

house?”

“The lawn, Lieutenant, the lawn. I need you to put up a perimeter around the entire

lot. Nobody else gets in.” Brenda looked up at Flynn. “Lieutenant, shoo. Shoo now.

And take Detective Tao with you. I want you to check for blood, skin, whatever,

behind the neighbor’s house.”

Tao’s glasses dropped from his forehead onto his nose. “You know how big that lawn

is, Chief?”

“Detective Tao, all I need you to do is test a patch about 20 feet long and, oh,

maybe six feet wide.” Brenda pivoted toward Provenza, who glanced guiltily up from

his Far Side desk calendar – his 2005 Far Side desk calendar. “Lt. Provenza, I need

you to locate the landscaping service that was, uh, servicing the Hartman home at

the time of the murder. Though I don’t hold out a lot of hope that you will. I’m

guessing our landscaper has gone to ground, you should pardon the pun. Well, get

dialin’, Lt. Provenza, please. Time’s wasting.”

“Ok, whoa” Sgt. Gabriel blinked. “I’m lost. Totally. You think the lawnmower guy

killed Hartman.”

“Heat of the moment?” Mulder suggested. “An impulse kill? If so, he was pretty quick

on his feet.”

“Chief,” Detective Daniels demanded.

Brenda ran a hand through her hair. “Rey Menendez or whatever his name turns out

to be must’ve been staking out, or stalking Dr. Hartman, but Dr. Hartman caught on,

confronted him?”

“Must’ve had a replacement mower blade handy,” Mulder explained. “Just sharpened,

thus the filings. Used blade, thus the chlorophyll. Like a machete.”

“But with the cops working the protest down the block, he couldn’t risk making a

hasty exit,” Daniels contributed. “So he decided to stay at the scene and bluff it out.

There’s always a lawn service working somewhere out there.”

It dawned on Sgt. Gabriel. “So you’re saying he put the murder weapon on his

mower and—”

“And ditched the evidence in full view of the LAPD,” Brenda fretted. “Yes, I suppose

that’s what I’m saying, Sergeant.”

“Don’t feel bad,” Mulder commiserated. “I should’ve suspected something was up

when ‘Menendez’ was so worried about us siccing the INS on him. If he was a real

illegal, he’d probably have known Immigration and Naturalization had become

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, ICE. We all kind of dropped the ball, Chief.”

Brenda smiled sourly and crooked her head coquettishly. “Well, thank you — that is

sooo sweet, Agent Mulder. C’mon, Sgt. Gabriel, let’s roll.”

Residence of Yves Faison

Beverly Hills

11:05 a.m.

“You hear me just fine,” the indignant landscaper snapped. “Not your grass. Mine.”

Yuki Matsuhari, CEO and president of Beverly Gardens Landscape (indeed the firm’s

sole executive officer), had ignored the LAPD crime scene perimeter next door and

had proceeded to buzz (and mulch) the crucial turf. This time, no interpreter had

been necessary — the sight of Flynn and Tao charging across the lawn, arms flailing,

had struck a universal chord with the homeowner’s regular landscaper.

Lt. Flynn stepped toward Matsuhari, who grasped the handle of his mower

territorially. “Listen, buddy…”

“Lieutenant, if I may,” Brenda Leigh cooed. “Sir, I’m sure you would want to

cooperate with the Los Angeles Police Department. That…grass…in your possession

may be evidence in a murder case.”

Matsuhari crossed his arms. “Compost. My tomatoes. My grass. Mr. Faison say I can

take away. Good organic content — I fertilize myself.”

“Jesus,” Flynn breathed as Brenda tried to avoid the potential implications of the

gardener’s proud revelation. She raised a calming hand and bolstered her smile.

“Mr. Matsuhari, I regret to inform you that the gentleman next door was murdered.”

Matsuhari’s brow rose. “No shit?”

“No sh–…I mean, no, sir. We’re currently investigating the poor man’s death. That’s

why it’s imperative we take custody of this grass.” She glanced back at the half-ton

pickup in the drive. “Every bag of it.”

Matsuhari frowned, considering.

“Sir,” Mulder interjected from behind Brenda’s shoulder. Again, she jumped. “I’m

with the FBI. I’m sure the Bureau would be happy to compensate you with the

composting material of your choice in exchange for you surrendering the clippings in

question.”

Matsuhari looked at the phalanx of cops around him. “Deal.”

Flynn moved toward the truck.

“Not so fast, ‘buddy,’” Matsuhari shouted. “You get grass when I see my compost.”

Priority Homicide Squad

Los Angeles Police Department

Park Center, Los Angeles

5:14 p.m.

“Jason Peavey?” Brenda inquired as she entered Interview Room 1. She glanced at

the paler and far less buff man beside the thirtysomething landscaper. “And you

would be Jason Peavey’s attorney, I presume.”

“My client was enjoying a fishing weekend in San Jose when the Coast Guard

swarmed his vessel,” the lawyer huffed.

“How very frightening that must have been for your client,” Brenda purred, arching a

conspiratorial brow at the burly Peavey, whose gaze had been fixed several inches

below the deputy chief’s chin. Peavey smirked; she’d surmised from his bored

expression that he had little use for his attorney.

“Let’s see how sarcastic you are when we challenge your seizure of Mr. Peavey’s

property,” the lawyer sneered.

Brenda blinked. “Your client’s property was at the scene of a homicide yesterday,

without your client.” She turned to Peavey. “Do you have an employee named

Menendez, Rey Menendez?”

Peavey frowned. “Nah. It’s just me and my cousin, and he was with me in San Jo–”

“Jason,” the attorney prompted. Peavey exhaled, annoyed. Brenda smiled knowingly

as she straightened in her chair. “We’ve got a half-dozen witnesses, including the

dockmaster, who can vouch for my client’s whereabouts the last three days.”

Brenda nodded. “Mm. Well, then, maybe somebody stole your client’s truck.”

“Obviously,” the lawyer faltered.

“Except, shoot, we found it parked in your client’s driveway, wiped clean of

fingerprints. And the keys were inside his condo, on the kitchen counter, also wiped

clean. In all my years in law enforcement, I swear that is the most considerate car

thief I’ve ever heard of.” Brenda leaned across the table. “That what you think, Mr.

Peavey? That you’ve been the unfortunate victim of a gentleman car thief?” She

cocked her head. “Or is it possible instead that you’ve been taken advantage of?

That you’re the victim?”

“Address your questions to me, Chief,” the lawyer asserted weakly.

Brenda obliged, with a sunny smile. “Reason I ask is, we — I mean that editorially, of

course — found something kind of curious when we inspected the undercarriage of

your mower. I’m sure an educated gentleman such as yourself knows about

centrifugal force.”

She waited. The attorney stared stonily for a moment, then coughed.

“Oh, my.” Brenda turned back to Peavey, who looked up quickly. “Well, my daddy

used to take me on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair — scared me something awful,

but then Daddy had trouble distinguishing sheer terror from squeals of delight.

Anyway, that car would keep whirlin’ and whirlin’ and whirlin’, and I’d be squashed

up against the seat like a tick on a huntin’ dog.” The chief’s already viscous southern

patois thickened as she reminisced. “I’m sorry. My point is, that was centrifugal

force. That’s what we think happened with your lawn mower.

“See, we think your gentleman car thief was considerate enough to clean the blood

and tissue off your lawn mower blade after using it to nearly decapitate a man.” The

magnolias in her voice turned to steel. “This fellow’s pretty bright — he knew the

police were on the way, so he put the murder weapon on your mower and used our

murder victim’s lawn to wipe away his sins, so to speak.

“But our friend apparently failed his physics courses, because he just forgot all about

centrifugal force. When that blade started whirlin’ and whirlin’, it spattered eensy,

teensy, microscopic bits of blood and DNA and brains inside the undercarriage. My,

your attorney appears a might green about the gills. I’m sure we could round up a

glass of water…”

The lawyer shook his head vigorously. Brenda nodded hers with equal vigor, and

turned back to Peavey.

“So in short, your gentleman car thief has implicated you in a homicide. That

scarcely makes up for the fact that he apparently fed your cats and took your

newspapers and mail inside while you were down the coast trolling for…marlin. This

man must be the most courteous murderer in the annals of crime. Either that, or you

know this man. We got two different sets of fingerprints off your cat’s food dish.

Guess when we run those prints down, we’ll just ask our killer if he knows good old

Jason Peavey.”

“Jason, no–” the lawyer advised.

“That’s right, Jason.” Brenda’s voice once again was redolent of honeysuckles. “You

listen to your attorney. He’s represented some very important folks over the years —

you’re lucky to have him. What, do you do his lawn? He must be very committed to

you…”

“Hey,” the attorney protested weakly.

Jason blinked, and Brenda knew she’d guessed correctly. The landscaper fell back in

his chair and exhaled loudly.

“Guy’s kind of an asshole, anyway,” Peavey muttered. “Jay Pirelli — he’s an actor.

Commercials, ‘Third Doctor in Background’ on Grey’s Anatomy, that kind of shit. We

play Texas hold ‘em every Thursday night, and when I’m out of town, I let him take

the truck out, do some mowing and shit to help him out. For a split, of course. In

exchange, he keeps Guenther fed and keeps the neighborhood methheads from

knowing I’m gone. Shit, you say he killed somebody?”

Brenda’s expression was unreadable.

Jason paused. “One of my clients?”

The deputy chief shoved a legal pad toward him. “Name, address, phone number,

anything else you can come up with.” Brenda shoved her chair back, and left the

landscaper to confer with his still-ochre attorney.

Tao was waiting in the corridor, fidgeting, tapping a manila folder against his palm.

“Chief, lab results just came back. They’re still analyzing the clippings, but there are

a few traces of what might be blood on the mower undercarriage. They have to do

some more tests, but if they can separate…”

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Brenda sang, turning happily on her heel.

Sierra Hills Productions

Burbank

9:23 a.m.

“No, no, NO!” the director, a Francis Ford Coppola look-alike (save for his bleached

hair) shouted. “You’re a freaking fireman, not a Gap model! Quit pouting, asshole.”

He took a calming breath and a gulp of Evian. “All right, all right, everybody, take

five. Then maybe we can get this cinematic masterpiece in the can. You think?”

The pouting fireman lowered his hose, which had been trained on a bikinied blonde

in an Adirondack chair holding a bag of Ultra Caliente Habanero Snak Puffs. The

young actor, cheesily dashing with sharp Mediterranean features, tried to chat up his

co-star, who quickly retreated to the makeup table. He shrugged, then spotted the

two old dudes approaching him.

“Jay Pirelli?” The younger of the two asked. He looked like a slickly-dressed extra

from The Sopranos, as did his more rumpled white-haired buddy, but Jay was up on

his gambling obligations, so he smiled dazzlingly.

Then, the slick-dressed one came up with a wallet, and before Jay could see the first

flash of badge, he swung the Adirondack chair at the cops. It caught the white-

haired one in the gut, eliciting a stream of words Jay recognized from that gangsta

flick where he’d played “White Prison Guard.” Gaffers and technicians scattered as he

sprinted for the soundstage fire exit. Flynn and Provenza trampled the bikini blonde’s

fabricated “back yard” in pursuit, sidearms now drawn.

The exit door slammed into brick as Pirelli blinked against the harsh sun. It had been

somewhere around 10 takes to induce the director’s near-aneurysm, and he hadn’t

seen daylight for a few hours. His car was a block away, but Jay was buoyed by the

advanced age of his pursuers and his daily regimen at one of the cheaper Gold’s

Gym knockoffs.

“Mr. Pirelli?”

The voice was feminine, throaty, but full of steel. Like Hilary Swank or Sandra

Bullock in one of those cheesy action movies. His eyes adjusted to the light, and he

spotted the short redhead attempting to block the alleyway. Jay could hear the old

cops cursing behind him, and the redhead went for what he assumed to be a gun.

The actor had been an extra in the Longest Yard remake, and he crouched and

charged the short chick.

Then the lights momentarily went out. Jay came to to a field of blue sky, a startlingly

black gunbarrel, and a furious face framed in red. Agent Dana Scully rolled him onto

his belly, roughly.

“Shit, Flynn,” he heard the white-haired cop grunt. “I think I may be in love.”

Priority Homicide Squad

Los Angeles Police Department

Park Center, Los Angeles

12:12 p.m.

“Well, Mr. Pirelli, or should I say Mr. Menendez?” Brenda beamed as she settled

across from the actor. “I have to say, you were most convincing yesterday morning.”

Pirelli smiled lazily despite his circumstances. “Hey, thanks. I play better Latino than

Italian. I even did a terrorist on 24 last season. No lines, but hey…”

“New face must be opening a lot of doors for you,” the deputy chief purred. “I saw

your headshot before Dr. Hartman straightened that nose for you. Just another mug

in the crowd back then, huh?”

Pirelli leaned forward. “You gotta go ethnic today. And I don’t mean Italian — thanks

to those Defamation League assholes, most of the good Mafia gigs have dried up,

and ‘sides, it’s all about the gangstas now. After Doc Hartman fixed me up, the roles

started rolling in — I even lined up a semi-regular gig in a network version of one of

those Mexican telenovella things.”

“Sounds expensive, a nose job like that from a high roller like Robert Hartman.”

“We were in the same poker game lots, and he took an interest,” Pirelli said. “Doc

hardly ever lost a pot, but one night, I guess his luck went south, ‘cause by

midnight, he was into me five large. I’m sure he was good for it, but he knew I

needed a professional jumpstart, so he offered to front the five grand as a down

payment on a new nose.”

“Can’t repossess a nose, can you, though?” Brenda inquired. “Your agent says the

offers haven’t been rolling in so much the last couple months.”

The actor slumped back in his chair. “OK, I was a little slow coming up with the rest

of his fee. How was I gonna pay him off if I couldn’t get any parts?”

“You saying Dr. Hartman somehow blackballed you?”

“All I know is, one minute I’m up to my ass in primo roles — TV, movies. Then,

Hartman starts putting on the screws for his money, and I’m hustling commercials

for local check cashing joints. So I decide to see if I can find something to relieve the

pressure. Capisce?”

“Don’t you mean comprende?” Sanchez asked from his post on the interview room

wall.

“Hey, nothing personal, man,” Pirelli squeaked. “’Sides, I fooled you, right? I don’t

play into stereotypes, you know?”

“Gracias,” Sanchez replied. “So you decided to blackmail Hartman into letting up on

you?”

“He’s rich, these Beverly Hills docs can write scrip for anything, and he’s got a

gambling jones and a thing for the ladies. Though why he’d pick the Ice Queen…”

“Ice Queen?” Brenda inquired. “Ms. Linscott? She seemed like a perfectly nice young

lady.”

“With that 26-year-old virgin act? You ask me, Little Miss Straight Edge is a world-

class P.T.” Pirelli grinned at Sanchez. “You know what I mean, right, amigo?”

“Wouldn’t know, paisan,” Sanchez grunted.

“I figure if I can catch them in the act, prove Erin’s had her cherry popped, it might

be worth the balance of my bill to him to keep it on the down-low. So I staked out

his place last couple weeks.”

“Find anything good?” Brenda asked, a prurient glint in her eye.

Pirelli sucked at a tooth for a moment, evaluating his options.

The glint extinguished. “’Cause, Mr. Pirelli, you tried to eliminate key evidence in a

homicide — a murder weapon you brought to the scene. Now, I don’t really see you

for the part of killer, mainly cause I just don’t believe you got what Detective

Sanchez here might call the cojones for what happened to Dr. Hartman. But unless

you can offer me another scenario, I don’t see a happy ending for you, Mr. Pirelli.”

“All right, all right,” Pirelli puffed. “I took some pictures, last Wednesday and again

the other night, at Hartman’s place. He had Erin and some other people over — I

recognized an actor Erin did an indie with last year, and a couple of studio guys.

Some of the others, I don’t know — maybe some of Hartman’s doctor buddies. But it

was strictly low-key: Three or four of them parked down the street and went to the

back of the house. And there weren’t any lights on or music playing — it wasn’t a

party.”

“What do you think it was?”

“This town, I was thinking an orgy, maybe? ‘Cept a couple of these people would put

the brakes on an orgy at the Los Angeles Zoo monkey house. So I grab my Nikon,

and sneak around the bushes, hoping I can catch Erin doing a studio VP or Hartman

doing a collie or something?”

“And were there any unusual husbandry practices going on?” Brenda pursued.

“I got too weirded-out before I could see anything good. I finally found a window

around the side where I could see what was going on. There were candles all over

the dining room — on the floor, the tables, everywhere. Everybody was in a circle

around Hartman, and Erin was staring at some kind of screen on the wall.”

“Screen?”

“Screen, TV, I dunno. It was round, with like gold trim.”

Brenda’s nails grasped the table as she recalled Mulder’s tour of the dining room. The

agent had asked to monitor the interview with Pirelli in the Tech Room; she expected

him to come busting through the door any second.

“You positive it was a screen?” she asked, swallowing.

“They were watching some kind of weird shit — sci-fi, horror. Crappy special effects –

– face on the screen looked like something out of Star Wars. Nothing I could sell to

Hartman or the tabloids.”

Brenda looked up at Sanchez, who frowned in confusion. She turned back to Pirelli.

“OK. Let’s talk about Dr. Hartman’s murder. You borrowed your buddy’s truck to

stake out his place from next door.”

“Nobody pays attention to the lawn guy,” Pirelli explained. “I’d found out the

neighbor was out of town, so I set up on the back lawn.”

“You said you saw a woman arguing with Dr. Hartman. Was that the truth?”

“I, uh, I made that up. I thought I’d throw you off — point you toward Erin. I’d been

hauling crap around, trimming hedges, trying to sell the performance, you know.

Then I look over and see the doc’s legs sticking out from behind one of his pool

chairs. Then I see what looks like blood. So I go over, and, Jesus, I thought I was

gonna puke, except I did a Crossing Jordan and I knew you guys could trace my

DNA. I mean, shit, they lopped the guy’s head off. Who does that?

“And then, then I see the mower blade, all covered in blood. They must’ve got it off

the truck — somebody knew I’d been scoping things out and tried to frame me. I’m

about to get the fuck out of Dodge when I hear sirens, and I know I’m trapped. So

my actor’s instinct kicks in–”

Sanchez snorted.

“– and I pull the blade off Jason’s mower, replace it with the bloody one, and try to

clean it off on the neighbor’s lawn. I’m sorry about lying to you guys, but I didn’t

know what else to do. I couldn’t have done something like that, lady. Like you said,

I’m an actor — I don’t have the balls.”

Brenda nodded as she rose. “Well, why don’t you just hold on to whatever you’ve got

down there for a few minutes, OK? Detective Sanchez?”

Brenda jumped as she opened Mulder appeared in the open doorway. The deputy

chief shoved the door shut with her derriere. “Agent Mulder, would you please,

please stop…skulking? I assume you heard all that?”

“Franklyn’d definitely started a new coven out here,” Mulder concluded. “But made

up of, what, an A-minus-list actress and some other Hollywood types?”

“One of whom might’ve offed him,” Sanchez noted.

Mulder shook his head. “The Franklyn who engineered those murders in Chicago was

a powerful, accomplished magician. The gambling, the partying, dating young

starlets? It’s bush league. It doesn’t seem like him. Neither do those two homicides –

– the ones that led us to ‘Hartman.’ Too conspicuous, too risky.”

“So, what?” Brenda challenged. “Now you DON’T think Hartman was Franklyn?”

Mulder sighed. “I think Hartman WAS Franklyn. I think someone may have made a

deal with the devil. Or two.”

**

“Of course, I want to help any way I can,” Darrell Callan told Mulder tersely as he

took his seat in the Priority Homicide Tech Room. “But outside the practice, Bob and

I lived quite separate lives. As I’m sure you’ve discovered. I socialized with Bob and

Erin some, as a couple, but we scarcely traveled in the same circles/”

The agent smiled as Buzz tinkered with the interview room audio. On the monitor

before him, a grainy Brenda was oozing small talk and compliments as Erin Linscott

and her attorney settled in across the table. Provenza watched Mulder cautiously —

he’d been briefed on what had sounded like the most hair-brained, insane scheme

he’d seen his erratically brilliant boss perpetrate. Even Deputy Chief Johnson had

seemed tentative as she’d given him his sketchy marching orders.

“Interesting turn of phrase — circles,” Mulder murmured. “Hartman wasn’t always

the party boy, was he? According to some of his former associates, he was

something of a sociable recluse when he first came to L.A. Quiet, professional,

discreetly charitable, He earned a solid standing in the community and the

profession, re-established the kind of lifestyle he’d been used to in Chicago, but he

stayed under the radar. He didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to himself.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” the homely cosmetic surgeon demanded.

“On the other hand, Dr. Darrell Callan has been a fixture on the L.A. scene for

years,” Mulder continued. “You’re a gifted surgeon, but you’ve had something of a

checkered past, haven’t you? The horses, a DUI and a coke bust that both went

away with a little influence, the women…”

Callan sipped the coffee Provenza had supplied, staring calmly at Mulder. “Is that

what this is about? All right, yes, I’ve had my problems. I’m not proud of that, but

I’ve managed to gain control of myself, find a measure of discipline.”

“While good Dr. Hartman has adopted a lifestyle that might make Lindsay Lohan

flinch. Weird role reversal, huh?”

A retort formed on Callan’s thin lips. “Uh, Agent, she’s starting,” Buzz announced,

and the physician turned abruptly from Mulder.

“Ms. Linscott,” Brenda’s voice crackled through the speakers. “You are aware that

your boyfriend was engaged in some rather…unorthodox religious practices?”

Silence filled the interview room.

“This is Hollywood, Deputy Chief,” her attorney chuckled. “Whether Dr. Hartman

read L. Ron Hubbard or practiced Kabbala would seem irrelevant to this case. I hope

you’re not planning to intrude into my client’s privacy rights.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Counselor,” Brenda purred. “However — and this is

unfortunate — someone else already has committed a fairly grievance invasion of Dr.

Hartman’s and Ms. Linscott’s privacy.”

Brenda pushed a manila envelope across the table. Erin glanced at her attorney, and

he nodded warily. The actress emptied its contents — a series of photos printed from

Jay Pirelli’s SmartCard — onto the table. Even over the video monitor, Provenza

could make out the somber faces eerily illuminated in the glow of dozens of candles,

especially Erin Linscott’s normally perky countenance.

“OK,” Erin uttered finally, with a slight edge of defiance. “Like Ted said, this is

Hollywood. I’m sure some Southern Baptist police chief wouldn’t understand, but I’m

open to a wide variety of ideas and beliefs. Bob had gotten interested in Wicca, in

pagan beliefs, so I went along for kicks. Just kicks. I’d kind of appreciate it if we

could keep this out of the media — it might offend some of the Presbyterians in my

fan base — but there’s nothing illegal about exercising my religious freedoms.”

“Not a blessed thing,” Brenda assured her. “But this old Southern Baptist gal has a

feeling — call it a divination, if you’d like — that Dr. Hartman’s little old church

meetings might be connected to his murder.”

Mulder glanced at Callan, whose eyes were fixed on the monitor. “Beats the old

‘What’s your sign’ approach, huh? Don’t make disciples like they used to, do they?

He must have seemed like an ideal recruit at the time — weak, hedonistic, greedy.

You had to start fresh, and you were already aware of the logistical advantages of

the medical community for your ‘needs.’ I’m sure your new partner took to it,

especially after his practice — his medical practice — bloomed and he started scoring

with the ladies and the ponies.”

Callan turned with a disdainful expression. “You think I was involved in Bob’s childish

nonsense?”

“I think you created a monster — literally. Your partner was a pawn, though I’m sure

once you convinced him of your abilities, he was more than willing to accept your

deal. He’d have even greater fame and fortune, and the looks Nature had cheated

him out of. And most people would jump at the chance for a fresh start, even if their

appetites and weaknesses.”

The doctor turned to Provenza, who was deep into a bag of microwave popcorn.

“This man’s clearly insane. Do you and your chief really want to be associated with

this?”

The lieutenant shrugged and chewed thoughtfully.

“This no sex thing,” Brenda continued. Four sets of male eyes returned to the screen.

“It’s not just some trendy Hollywood thing.”

“It’s not a trend — it’s a lifestyle,” Erin snapped. “But if you mean is some new thing,

then no. I’ve been acting since I was 10, and Mom and Dad didn’t want me to fuck

anything up by getting knocked up or an STD or something.”

“That was the key,” Mulder announced, causing a kernel to pop from between

Provenza’s fingers. “You’d decided to start fresh, too. You had a new life in Paradise

and a new outlet for your power. The folks at the L.A. Memorial Burn Ward call your

work with those kids nothing short of miraculous, and they’re right, aren’t they? You

learned to curb your appetite, even as you whetted your partner’s. He became

obsessed with the powers you’d helped him discover. That realtor who wound up

with a chestful of locusts? The kidneyless kid they found in a ditch? My guess is, they

were sacrificed to strengthen his power.”

“So,” Brenda drawled. “You’ll pardon me if this sounds a mite personal, but Ms.

Linscott, would you be happen to be a virgin?”

“Hey,” the attorney protested. But Erin merely grinned.

“Maybe the only one in L.A.,” the actress laughed.

“I was wondering why — and I hope you guys will pardon me — a party-hearty

pussyhound like your partner would hook up with a clean-living, straight-edge

celibate like Linscott,” Mulder said. “But I think she was exactly what he wanted,

what he needed. A true, dyed-in-the-wool virgin. It must’ve been like discovering a

unicorn in the wild. The teenager and the realtor were appetizers — your partner

figured if he could offer Erin up, he’d gain untold abilities.

“I don’t know how you found out what he had in mind for her, but it was the last

straw. A couple of freak deaths in California are filler on Headline News; the murder

of an up-and-coming actress is round-the-clock coverage on CNN and MSNBC. You

could’ve lost everything. Sooner or later, we’d make the link to Greenwood

Memorial.”

“I think I’m done here,” Callan muttered, though his eyes remained fixed on Erin

Linscott’s image. “This is total gibberish.”

“I convinced Chief Johnson to authorize DNA tests on the victim.”

Callan snorted. “On Bob? I wouldn’t think identification would be a major problem.”

“I think you know what I was looking for, Doctor,” Mulder chided. “I had the lab pull

two samples. One from the victim’s cheek, which was confirmed as Robert Hartman’s

DNA.”

“What a surprise.”

“The other was taken from his bone marrow. I think you know what we found.”

Callan looked up, disdain – and anxiety – etched into his long, vaguely equine face.

He said nothing. Mulder smiled.

“So, did Dr. Callan ever participate in these little ceremonies?” Brenda inquired.

Erin paused. “A few times. He and Bob got into it more than once over it. It was like

with their practice – Callan wanted to be the big man, but he just didn’t have the

charisma, the clout.”

Callan straightened abruptly. “What? That bitch…”

“The trail might’ve ended with your partner if you hadn’t slipped at the hospital

yesterday,” the agent murmured. “You convinced Callan to switch faces – and places

– with you in exchanges for your power and protection. But when we showed up

unannounced to talk to you about the murder, Deputy Chief Johnson got down to

business before any of the rest of us were introduced. She’s a very assertive

woman.”

Provenza chortled, nearly choking on a popcorn kernel.

“But you called me ‘Agent.’ For all you knew, I was one of the chief’s detectives. But

you must’ve been rattled to see me after all these years. Was that it, Dr. Franklyn?”

To Mulder’s surprise, “Callan” — AKA Hartman, AKA Franklyn – offered no outraged

denial. Whether or not he and Scully could sell the L.A. D.A. on Franklyn for

“Hartman”’s murder, the black magician had been unable to alter his own DNA, and

they’d link him to the Chicago killings.

“Doctor?” Mulder asked, concerned.

Franklyn/”Callan” had paled, and his face glistened with sweat as he stared at the

monitor. His jaw, encased in his partner’s former skin, twitched. For a second,

Mulder feared his ploy had induced a cardiac episode.

The doctor finally turned, eyes wide and haunted.

“I need to get out of here,” he rasped. “Please.”

Hollywood Marriott

5:34 p.m.

“You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you?” Scully asked, rubbing

Mulder’s shoulder as she passed the bed. “At best, it was a long shot. At the least,

I’d say his reaction was confirmation of your theory. If we can get that warrant for

‘Callan’s DNA, we should have him.”

Mulder laughed sourly, laying back on the hotel mattress. “Given the judge’s reaction

to our request, I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on getting that warrant. Deputy Chief

Johnson didn’t exactly speak up in there.”

“Give her some credit, Mulder,” Scully protested, stepping out of her slacks. “She let

you carry out your bizarre little scheme.”

Johnson’s AV man, Buzz, proved a techno-whiz in incorporating the image a local

SFX specialist had crafted from the sketch based on Jay Pirelli’s description of the

face in Hartman/Callan’s scrying mirror into the interview room feed. Mulder had

picked what he’d felt was the right psychological moment to spring the demon’s

image on Franklyn. The result had been positive but somewhat short of totally

satisfying.

Staring at the hotel ceiling, Mulder barely felt the pressure on the mattress next to

him.

“Mulder!”

The agent blinked, and became aware of the naked redhead straddling his hips.

“There’s one thing bothering me,” he muttered.

Scully rolled off with a sigh. “That’s at least one less than what’s bothering me.

Maybe Erin Linscott has the right idea with this celibacy thing. Thing of how much

more work I’d get done, how much more energy I’d have.”

Mulder reached for a breast. “Sorry, Scully. I was just remembering…”

“Mulder, what?” Scully turned his chin. “Oh, shit. Can I surmise that we’re not about

to partake in crazed expensed hotel sex?”

Her partner grabbed for his jacket on a nearby chair. “I gotta call Deputy Chief

Johnson.”

Scully reached over the mattress’ edge, searching for her panties. “I surmise

correctly.”

Priority Homicide Squad

Los Angeles Police Department

Park Center, Los Angeles

8:04 p.m.

She found Mulder alternating between a trio of monitors. Buzz shrugged at the chief.

“Agent Mulder,” Brenda sighed in exasperation, “I thought you’d left for the day. You

putting together tomorrow’s séance?”

“I think I made a miscalculation, Chief,” the agent mumbled. “I want you to see

something.”

Brenda stood rooted in the Tech Room doorway for a moment, then waved Buzz

aside to lean in toward the monitors. She donned her horn-rimmed glasses.

“As you know, your interview tapes are time-stamped,” Mulder said. “The same’s

true for the webcam video of Dr. Frankl–, Dr. Callan’s reaction to Ms. Linscott’s

interview. We’ve paused both videos at the same point – right before you ask Ms.

Linscott about Dr. Callan’s involvement in Hartman’s coven. It struck me as strange

that a magician so adept would hang out with a bunch of Hollywood wannabes. Ah,

Chief, I need you to sit in this chair — the one Franklyn, er, Callan occupied this

afternoon.”

Brenda pursed her lips, then sighed and sat.

“Buzz?” Mulder prompted. Buzz looked to Brenda, who nodded in resignation. The tech

punch dual play buttons: Erin Linscott related “Dr. Callan’s” involvement in “Dr.

Hartman’s” rituals and noted the surgeons’ ongoing feud.

“Keep your eyes on Linscott,” Mulder instructed.

“What?” Callan sputtered on the other monitor, straightening in his chair. “That bitch!”

Brenda gasped. “Freeze it, Buzz,” Mulder snapped.

“It has to be a coincidence,” the deputy chief breathed. “It has to be.”

“Run them both back to the beginning of Callan’s outburst. Yeah, there. Play them at

half-speed.”

“Whaaaaatttt?” Callan shouted on Monitor 1. “Thaaaaatttt biiiiiitch!”

On Monitor 2, Erin Linscott’s head snapped up. Her eyes blazed into the interview

room camera, projecting fury at Brenda — at Callan. They lingered for a moment, then

returned to the chief.

“She knew Callan — Franklyn — was here, and what he’d said. He wasn’t frightened by

the subliminal demon image — Linscott scared him. This was a warning. To keep his

mouth shut.”

“That’s, that’s just impossible,” Brenda said coldly, standing, backing away from the

monitor bank.

“I was so intent on getting Franklyn that I ignored the obvious,” Mulder sighed. “After

seeing this, I went back to Jay Pirelli’s description of ‘Hartman’’s ceremony and the

photos he’d taken that night. I counted 13 separate individuals in the photos, including

‘Hartman’ and Linscott. That’s a traditional coven gathering — I don’t think they were

missing anyone. Certainly not ‘Callan.’ I think Linscott was lying, trying to divert

attention much like Franklyn did when he told us about the ‘magic’ the real Dr. Callan

performed with his patients.

“Then there was Pirelli’s account of the demon’s image in the mirror. He said it was

Linscott staring into the image. I don’t think she was merely observing it — I think she

summoned it. Like I said, I’d ignored a major clue to the true nature of this case.

Remember my showing you the symbol on the mirror — the full moon flanked by two

crescents? That’s the Lunar Triple Goddess symbol. It represents not only the waxing,

full, and waning phases of the moon, but also the three aspects of womanhood —

mother, maiden, and crone.”

“Maiden,” Brenda whispered.

“Or virgin,” Mulder clarified. “Buzz, bring up that video, please. I want you to see this,

Chief.”

She lowered herself slowly back into the viewing seat as Erin Linscott was replaced by

a younger, more flamboyant version of herself, strolling up a red carpet in a

microscopic red dress as crowds cheered around her.

“The 2003 Golden Globes,” Mulder explained. “Linscott took Best Supporting Actress

for her role as the daughter in Domestic Dispute.”

“Hated that show,” Buzz murmured.

“Amen,” the agent concurred. “There, Buzz. Great. Now zoom in just above the good

stuff. Yeah, yeah, there!”

Brenda adjusted her glasses and stared at Erin’s bare shoulder blades and sternum.

“The pendant,” Mulder urged. “Look at the design.”

Brenda peered, then stopped breathing.

“Breathe,” Mulder advised as she stared at the three lunar phases etched into the

platinum teardrop dangling from the actress’ neck. “Looks like Erin kept a few secrets

from the good witch doctor. Now, who do you think was using who?”

“I can’t believe I’m saying this,” Brenda murmured, “but you think

Callan…Franklyn…oh, whoever — you think he knows all this?”

“I think he knows he’s been outclassed,” Mulder said, pushing his chair back. “And so

does she. Scully’s already on her way to Franklyn’s place.”

Brenda paused, eyeing first Mulder, then the would-be sorceress on the runway. Then

she unholstered her cell phone.

Residence of Dr. Darrell Callan

Palm Springs

11:58 p.m.

When they arrived at “Dr. Callan’s” Palm Springs mini estate, Mulder and Scully

spotted Erin Linscott’s signature black Testarossa in the dead center of Callan’s

elaborately paved drive. They parked in the street below; Brenda and Flynn pulled in

a half block down.

“She may look like Lindsay Lohan’s sober twin, but Linscott’s very dangerous,even

unarmed,” Mulder warned Flynn as he drew his sidearm.

“Shoulda brought my cross,” the lieutenant chuckled, slipping on a Kevlar vest and

handing another to Deputy Chief Johnson.

As Brenda and Mulder sprinted up the lawn beside the home’s steep driveway, Scully

and Flynn took the stone perimeter wall in a rear approach. Twenty feet from the

front veranda, Brenda touched Mulder’s arm and nodded toward the darkness

beyond the open front doors. They moved to either side, then slipped into the foyer

with a mutual signal.

The cop and the agent were halfway to the kitchen when they heard it – a low,

animal moan that nonetheless was all too human. A single shadow danced in the

flicker of candlelight. The moaning changed pitch, and Brenda momentarily hugged

the wall beside the arched doorway. She hefted her weapon with a deep breath, and

charged into the light with Mulder.

“Dear God,” Deputy Chief Johnson cried out, slumping against the brushed steel

refrigerator. Mulder’s hand twitched on his gun, his feet frozen to the terra cotta

tiles.

The mass of exposed muscles, tendons, and bone seated at the kitchen table was,

unfortunately, human. Blood dripped slowly from the skinned man’s left foot, pooling

in a widening reservoir.

Brenda fumbled her cell phone from her slacks, fingers trembling uncontrollably as

she punched 9-1-1. Mulder inched toward the grisly apparition.

“Dr. Franklyn?” the agent whispered.

The lidless eyes moved for the first time, conveying nothing as they stared at

Mulder. Franklyn’s jaw twitched and opened. The agent leaned forward as the

magician’s blackened tongue slipped between his teeth. Then Mulder spotted the

opaque obsidian eyes, and fell onto his ass as the eel slid onto the tile between his

legs, slapping the bloody tiles.

Franklyn was gone before the EMTs arrived. An unfortunate crime scene technician

found the rest of the late doctor hanging neatly in his bedroom closet.

Vino: A Restaurant

Hollywood

7:25 p.m.

“In ancient Greek culture, virginity denoted strength and independence,” Mulder

explained as he prodded his duck confit. “Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the

moon and the hunt, protected women in labor, small children, and wild animals.

Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, never took part in the struggles of men and gods.

Virgin goddesses were immune to the temptations of Dionysus, the Greek god of

seduction and wine.”

“That’s so fascinating,” Brenda murmured cheerfully, eyes darting about the now-

hushed tables around them. Fritz had focused on his steak, and his sawing

intensified. Scully reached for Mojito No. 3.

Erin Linscott had seemingly dropped from the face of the Earth, and with the FBI and

Homeland Security blanketing every conceivable escape route, Mulder and Scully

booked a new flight east. The farewell dinner had been Mulder’s idea; Brenda could

find no plausible escape route.

By the time the entrees had arrived, Mulder already had shared insights on Wiccan

and Druidic rituals, an amusing anecdote about a Tibetan shaman, and his thoughts

on the latest Chris Tucker flick. He made no mention of the horror he and the deputy

chief had shared the previous night.

Brenda nearly swooned with relief as their waiter, yet another tragically flawless

young actor, materialized at Scully’s shoulder. The agent jumped, hiccupping twice.

“We have a delightful selection of desserts this evening,” the waiter purred,

brandishing a silver tray. “In addition to our famous black forest torte, the chef has

prepared a Mexican chocolate soufflé, an apple and goat cheese turnover laced with

Calvados, and a white chocolate and raspberry trifle. May I tempt you?”

Brenda’s eyes devoured the trayful of confections, then locked on Fritz’s stern

expression. Her eyes implored him; he shook his head once.

“I can’t,” Brenda whimpered, evoking Tennessee Williams.

“Two of those,” Mulder ordered, pointing to the renowned black forest torte. He

scooted back. “Gotta find the little fed’s room,” he informed his hosts. “Don’t let

Scully on top of the table.”

“Well, this was just a…a wonderful idea,” Brenda sang as Mulder disappeared into an

alcove. “Your partner is just so full of interesting information.”

Scully toasted with her mojito. “Yeah, he’s full of something, all right. Look, I know

he must seem kind of, well, flaky to you–”

Fritz snorted, then flinched under Brenda’s icy stare.

“Just for that,” the deputy chief informed her fiance with offended dignity as she

canvassed the room, “I am having what he’s having.”

end

1

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