Nuttin’ But Time
Author: Vickie Moseley
Category: MT, Angst, MSR
Cover Art: Martin Ross
Summary: An assailant who can disappear at will leads the X files agents into deadly territory.
Spoilers: Alternative 4D (no Doggett)
Disclaimer: CC and Fox own The X-Files. I’m just correcting some errors.
Original web date:02/02/2009
Nuttin’ But Time
Dillon Park, MD
Chamise Williams flicked her hair behind her shoulder, looking out on the Saturday night traffic. It was a slow evening so far but it was still early. Her regular customer had yet to show his face. She smiled — the guy was kinda creepy, but he paid in cash and usually gave her a Jackson for a tip. He could be as creepy as he wanted for the right money.
As she began to think he was going to show, his old beat up Celica pulled to the curb.
“Hey, baby. I was gettin’ worried? Wha’z the matter? Mama wouldn’t let you out before you ate all your peas and carrots?” she teased as he put the car in park and shut off the engine.
“Let’s go,” the john said, ignoring her jab. Sometimes she wondered if the guy really did have a ‘mama’ at home. He sure didn’t seem the social type.
She smiled and tilted her head to the alleyway. She preferred the johns who at least took her to a hotel room, but this guy always liked it in the alley. Made no difference to Chamise, he would always find a grocery sack or something to put on the ground so that she didn’t get her knees dirty. A regular Sir Walter Raleigh, this dude.
He dug through the dumpster, coming up with an old pizza box. Carefully he placed it on the broken asphalt pavement, pizza side down. Chamise smiled at him and proceeded to work his belt buckle as she knelt before him.
“You’re all squished in there, baby. C’m’ out where Momma can get hold of you,” she cajoled as she unzipped the zipper to his trouser. Finding her prize, she brought her other hand up to get to work when something cold slid across her throat. In an instant, she found she couldn’t take a breath. She looked up, right before the blackness overtook her and saw her john with a razor dripping blood, smiling down at her.
It was the image she took to her grave.
Two months later
Dana Scully crouched in the hallway of the Anacostia apartment building, struggling with the small air pump, trying to fit the nozzle on the stem of the inner tube of the 18-speed racing bike that was almost taller than she was. Her hair was in a ponytail, a baseball cap was fitted on her head and she was wearing bike shorts and a tank top layered with a windbreaker. A small backpack was hugging her shoulders.
“You want to tell me again how we got roped into this one, Mulder,” Scully whispered into the microphone cleverly disguised in the shoulder strap of her backpack.
“A pool game, Scully,” the familiar honey-toned voice replied in the tiny earpiece in her left ear. “And it wasn’t a fair game. How was I to know Mullins hustled his way through Philadelphia when he was a detective there?”
“Maybe by seeking the counsel of your partner? It’s been the talk of the restroom gossip crowd since he was made ASAC,” Scully murmured. “Still doesn’t explain how we got pulled in.”
“I made a small side wager that promised our involvement in any case he named,” Mulder admitted. “He named this one. They’ve been trying to catch this guy for six months. Besides, admit it. There’s something funky about a guy who’s eluded capture as many times as this guy — even when neighbors have called police and the police have arrived on the scene within 10 minutes of the murders. Murders in broad daylight, Scully.”
“Yes, Mulder I know all that. I just want you to realize that ‘side wager’ is going to cost you,” Scully informed him firmly. “Dishes for the next two weeks, Mister,” she ordered. Finally, the nozzle sank on the stem with a satisfying hiss and she was able to start pumping air. Meanwhile, she could see all comings and goings at the entrance to the building by the strategically position bike mirror on the handlebars.
The door opened and a man walked in. He was unassuming, middle-aged, not what anyone would describe as good looking. A face only a mother could love. His rumpled jacket and wrinkled pants just added to the general unappealing appearance. He glanced over at Scully, she patently ignored him. He licked his lips and stopped at the row of mailboxes set in the wall. Pulling out his key ring from his coat pocket, he used a key to open up one of the apartment boxes — 4-D — and withdrew all the mail there. He stooped down to pick up one of the free alternative weekly papers lying in a pile near the mailboxes. He folded the paper over the few envelopes in his hand and started toward the end of the hall where Scully was still working on her bike. He was only a few steps from her when he suddenly turned on his heel and started in the other direction, toward an exit to the back alley.
“He’s on to us. I’m following,” Scully breathed into her mic.
“Scully, don’t! We’ve got the alley covered, we’re almost in position.”
“You won’t get him, Mulder. I’ll get there before you,” she hissed as she hurried after the man. All pretense of the casual observer were gone when she pulled her weapon and held it in position, waiting to fire. “I’m there already,” she said into the mic.
The alley was long and narrow, not even wide enough for a dumpster. She looked around frantically — she was alone! There were no other doors, no place for her prey to hide. Where had he gone? Where could he have possibly run? She took three steps forward, looking up at the wrought iron fire escape cascading down the building. It was empty and silent — he would have still been climbing stairs. The bottom portion of the ladder would be ringing with some movement. Nothing. He wasn’t there.
Before she could turn, she felt something cold and sharp slide across her throat. The cut was deep and warm blood flowed freely around her hand as she gasped out one more breath. She turned as she fell, just able to see the suspect — her killer — Ed Lukesh standing over her with the knife in his hand now dripping with her blood.
She fell to the ground, silently mouthing one name — Mulder.
Mulder had shot out of the operations truck the minute he realized Scully was alone with the killer. As he rounded the corner of the brick building, his worst fears were playing out in less than glorious technicolor. He saw Lukesh standing over Scully, the bloody knife raised, Scully on the ground, a deep gash at her throat through which blood was pouring onto the filthy pavement of the alley. His heart stopped but his hands didn’t. Mulder took two steps and raised his gun to a firing stance, thumbed the safety off, glanced down at Scully one last time, looked up to aim and fire —
Lukesh wasn’t there! It was impossible. The killer had been right there, standing over Scully and now he was nowhere. Mulder stumbled forward toward Scully’s body, the anguish taking over his soul. He reached out his hand toward her but there was a loud sound in his ear and some force from behind slammed him to his knees. Hot pain in his back and then slowly a numbness started to overtake him. With his last thought he reached the short distance and clasped his hand around Scully’s lifeless fingers that were already growing cold to the touch.
3605 N Street
Mulder fumbled with his key and the two wrapped objects in his hands but finally opened the front door to their townhouse, closing the door with his foot. “Scully?” he called out.
He could hear sounds from the kitchen and headed in that direction. Paint cloths littered the dining room and the smell of latex was heavy in the air. He skirted a stepladder and finally found his partner teetering on the edge of the sink, diligently painting the molding where the wall met the ceiling.
“Scully, I told you to wait for me to do that tall stuff. You’re gonna fall off there and break your pretty little neck!” he scolded as he set down his parcels and reached up to help her down from her precarious position.
“Mulder, you promised to be home an hour ago. I don’t want to be doing this all weekend,” she countered.
“Sorry. I got sidetracked at the office. But I brought you something. A real treat,” he informed her with his usual boyish enthusiasm. “Here, you gotta try this.” He handed her one of the elongated packages.
Her expression was dubious but she folded back the white wax paper to reveal — “Hot dogs, Mulder?”
“Not ‘hot dogs’, Scully,” he exclaimed with indignation. “Polish sausages! Remember Pops, the old guy with the handcart at the corner on Penn?” At her raised eyebrow, he continued. “Well, his son took over the cart and started importing these directly from Warsaw. I smelled ’em as I came out of the office and decided we’d do this for lunch.”
“Instead of the Cobb salad I’d been dreaming of since this morning when you said you’d take me to the cafe on Wisconsin to repay me for going to the office on our day off. Gee, Mulder — how romantic,” she deadpanned. Rolling her eyes, she nodded toward the dining room. “I don’t want to eat them in here, we’ll get paint on the food or ‘polish sausage’ grease in the paint. Clear off a section of the table and I’ll bring the plates and drinks.
“Plates? Scully, just use the wrapper, for cripes sake!” But he took the wrapped sausage out of her hand and moved into the dining room obediently.
She smiled after him as she pulled off the paint gloves she was wearing and opened the cabinet, withdrawing two salad-sized plates. “Mulder, do you want iced tea or do I have to ply you with beer to get you to help me finish this paint job?” she called over her shoulder as she stood at the refrigerator. When he didn’t answer, she stepped to the doorway and found she was talking to an empty room.
“Mulder?” She glanced over at the door to the half-bath, expecting it to be closed, but found the door open and the room also vacant. “Mulder, if you slipped out to go back to the office to get out of painting I won’t be held responsible,” she shouted to the walls.
Frowning, she headed for the stairs to see if he’d gone up to their bedroom to change into the old clothes she’d set out for him. She was just at the foot of the stairs when the phone rang. “I’ll get it,” she called up to him, stepping over to the phone unit in the living room.
“Hello,” she answered.
“Scully, thank God I found you,” breathed Skinner with a relieved sigh. “Look, I . . . I have some bad news.”
Her stomach dropped at the words. Who could it be? She’d spoken to her mother just that morning. The gunmen had been over the night before offering to help them paint which she had politely refused after the experiencing their ‘help’ with replacing the trap on the bathroom sink. Who was left to worry about? “What news, sir?” she asked.
“It’s Mulder. He’s being taken to Washington General. I can’t get away right now, but I’ve sent a car over for you.”
“Mulder? Sir . . . Walter, that’s impossible. Mulder is here in the house. He brought home lunch — ” She looked at the table, expecting to find the hot dogs — oh, yes, polish sausages — in their wrappers but the surface was bare, unmarred.
“Scully? Scully are you there?”
She couldn’t answer, only stare around the dining room in confusion.
Washington General Hospital
Scully had gone from confused to angry in the short time since she’d hung up with Skinner. Although she had a perfectly good car sitting at her townhouse, a set of agents complete with mirrored Ray Bans arrived at her front door and ‘escorted’ her to the bu-car waiting at the curb. She was ‘helped’ into the back — all that was missing was the set of handcuffs.
She’d wanted to ask what the hell was going on, what did they know, but by their stiff backs and precise movements, she knew none of her questions would be answered. She held her tongue until they arrived at the hospital. Her ‘escorts’ led her to the elevator and immediately pushed the button for the fifth floor — where she knew the Surgical Unit was housed.
As they stepped off the elevator car, Assistant Director Jana Cassidy was waiting. “Thank you for coming down, Agent Scully. I’m sure we can clear up this matter quite quickly now,” Cassidy said, nodding toward the two agents who peeled off and headed down the hall.
“I really don’t understand what’s going on here, but there has been a terrible mistake. Agent Mulder is not here. He was at the townhouse when I received that call from AD Skinner. He’s probably still there somewhere. If you allow me to call home, I can clear this up.”
Cassidy looked at her, somewhat sympathetically. “Agent Scully, come with me, please.” They walked down to a small office, one Scully remembered sitting in for consultations with Mulder’s doctors following surgery. “In here, please.”
Once they were seated, Cassidy folded her hands on the small desktop and smiled wanly at Scully. “I’ve been asked to head this investigation and while we have some time before Agent Mulder is out of surgery, I’d like to use it to get as much information as possible. Do you have any idea why Agent Mulder was in the alley behind a building at the corner of Clark St. and Nova Ave. in Prince George’s County?”
Scully blinked at the other woman and licked her lips slowly before answering. “No, ma’am. As I said earlier, Agent Mulder was with me . . . ” She hesitated to go on. It was common knowledge that she and Mulder lived together, but stressing that fact to an Assistant Director outside her normal chain of command was not something Scully thought prudent. “I talked to him, he brought lunch — I’m telling you, that isn’t Agent Mulder in surgery!”
Cassidy reached out a hand and laid it gently on Scully’s forearm. “Dana, I understand this is very upsetting.”
“No,” Scully objected, moving her arm closer to her body. “It’s not upsetting — it’s insane. Mulder wasn’t in an alley in Dillon Park this morning. I saw him, I talked to him. There would be no reason for him to be in that area!”
There was a tap at the door and one of the surgical nurses that Scully knew from their many visits to the hospital stuck her head in the room. “Oh, Dana, thank heavens. Dr. Wilison is looking for you. I’ll tell him you’re in here.”
Scully stood up, chewing her lip. They would get to the bottom of this. She’d known Greg Wilison for years. He knew every scar and mole on Mulder’s body almost as well as she did. If there had been a mistake, it would be revealed when Wilison arrived.
As he came in the room, he looked curiously over at Cassidy. Scully struggled to remain civil and introduced them. “Dr. Greg Wilison, this is Assistant Director Cassidy with the Bureau.”
Wilison reached over and shook Cassidy’s hand. “What, they put Walt Skinner out to pasture?” he asked with a perplexed look.
“No, Assistant Director Skinner is at the crime scene,” Cassidy supplied. “I’m Assistant Director Jana Cassidy. Was there something you needed from AD Skinner?”
“Oh, no, not really. Just missing riding him about the Nats this season. Dana, let’s have a seat,” he said, taking Cassidy’s chair and leaving the AD to stand. He looked up at her and then over to Dana. “Dana, this is under the HEPA — ”
“It’s all right, Greg. AD Cassidy can stay. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“Alrighty then,” Wilison said. He reached over and shoved an x-ray film in the viewer on the wall, flicking it to life so that Scully could read it as well. “As you see, the bullet entered the body here and lodged here,” he pointed with a pencil. “I’m sorry, Dana. There was significant damage to the spinal cord here and subsequent swelling around the area. I was able to successfully remove the bullet but . . . ”
“This man is paralyzed from the neck down,” Scully said sadly.
Wilison looked over at her, startled. “Dana, I thought they told you. This man is Mulder.” After waiting a beat, he continued. “We replaced blood lost, which was two units, and have him on full support because his pulmonary functions are drastically compromised. I’ve had him moved to ICU.”
“Greg, you’re telling me this is Mulder. You checked — it’s not someone who looks like Mulder,” she pressed.
“Dana, the old shoulder wound was right there,” the doctor said, pointing to the spot on the x-ray right below the left clavicle. “After all the times I’ve treated him, I think I remember what he looks like on a table,” he added, just a little offended.
“I don’t understand any of this. I’d like to see for myself, Greg. Because this poor man is not Mulder.”
Wilison looked over at Cassidy with a mixture of regret and sympathy. “Of course you can see him. You’re his next of kin, Dana. I’ll walk you over there.”
The moment she stepped into the ICU cubicle, she felt lightheaded and her legs wouldn’t hold her. “No, no, this is not possible! This has to be a dream,” she whispered breathlessly. She closed her eyes tightly and reopened them slowly. The image before her had not changed.
It was the same familiar face she’d awakened to just that morning, now marred by the intrusion of a tube snaking out of the side of his mouth. The same strong, long fingers now lay slack against the white sheets and blankets. Wilison wrapped an arm around her shoulders as she started to collapse.
“Dana, it’s all right. He’s stable, for the moment,” Wilison assured her. He got her over to a chair and helped her to sit.
She looked up at the doctor with a frown. “You know how these things work, Greg. Even if he pulls through — ” She choked on the words and couldn’t continue. “I don’t understand. He was there,” she repeated, more to herself than to Wilison. She reached over the bedrail and grasped Mulder’s hand, almost crushing it in her anguish before loosening her grip and leaning her forehead on the rail. “Why is this happening?”
Wilison put his hand on her shoulder in sympathy. “If you need me, have me paged. I’ll be around all afternoon. We’ll see where we are tomorrow, OK?” He waited for a response, but never received one. Squeezing the tight muscles of her shoulder, he left them alone.
Holding back tears, she reached over and took Mulder’s still hand. It was cool to the touch and limp — she was used to him being ill or injured but each time it amazed her how different he looked. The spark that made him the man she loved was hiding.
Tears came without her bidding and she brushed them aside with one hand, refusing to release her grip on him. “Mulder, I’m here. I have no idea how we got here, it’s all too confusing. You went to the office this morning to clear up a consult you were doing. I stayed home to paint the kitchen. Remember, you helped me pick out the colors. Anyway, you came home and brought me polish sausages . . . ” It was too much, none of it made any sense. Finally she lowered her head to rest on the bedrail and gave herself over to the soul-wrenching sobs.
Jana Cassidy strode over to where Walter Skinner was deep in thought, coming up beside him and crossing her arms. “You found a bullet?”
“Yes. A 9 mm. Lodged in a wall in the alley. It’s from a Sig Sauer, probably a 226 or 228.”
“That could make it Bureau issue,” Cassidy said thoughtfully.
“Look, Jana, I’m not sure what you’re thinking, but it didn’t come from Mulder’s weapon. Ballistics don’t match up and his gun hasn’t been found.”
Cassidy straightened, her face hardening. “Assistant Director, I would appreciate timely updates. This is a very serious case.”
Skinner looked at her curiously. “What are you implying?”
“How long have you had this bullet? An hour, two hours? Why wasn’t I called immediately?”
“We dug it out of the alley two hours ago,” Skinner said, obviously uncomfortable under the force of Cassidy’s stare. “But we had no idea if it was even related to the shooting. I wanted to get the facts before presenting them to you.”
“I just want to keep the lines open, Walter,” Cassidy said coolly. “And I want that slug run through the Bureau’s own database.”
“You can’t think Mulder was shot by one of our own agents,” Skinner sputtered.
“Just run it, Walter. What’s the harm? If you’re so sure it’s not one of our own, we’ve just eliminated a possibility. Nothing more.” She turned on her heel and marched off. Skinner’s eyes narrowed and he stretched his neck. He didn’t like the way things were going — not one bit.
Metro Police Sixth Precinct
Walter Skinner had seldom seen Agent Dana Scully quite so angry. Her eyes flared as they met his and her mouth was set in a grim line that looked cast in stone. His stomach dropped as he realized her anger wasn’t held in check even from him. If looks could kill, he was certain he would be a pile of smoldering ash at that moment.
“You want to tell me what is the meaning of all this?” she demanded, her voice low and hush but not lacking any force. “Mulder is in critical condition and some cherry agent drags me out of the hospital to come down here and talk to the police about a shooting that I was no where near?”
“I’m sorry,” Skinner said and deeply regretted how that simple phrase could only attempt to cover the multitude of his sins. “We’re trying to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.”
“Ah, Agent Scully, would you mind stepping in here,” called AD Cassidy from a door down the hall.
Scully’s eyes narrowed as the again landed on Skinner. “What is she doing here?” Scully hissed.
Skinner swallowed nervously. “Word from the Director. She’s leading the investigation into Mulder’s shooting.”
That had the exact effect Skinner thought it would. Scully’s back stiffened even more and Skinner was afraid he could hear muscles and sinews snap from the strain.
For a moment, he thought she would bolt, possibly grab his gun from his hip and start shooting her way back to Mulder. But reason slowly crept into her eyes and she followed Cassidy into the interrogation room.
Scully’s gaze roamed the room, taking in the features. Standard scratched formica table with four sweat stained wooden chairs. Cinderblock walls on all sides, but in the middle of the wall directly opposite the door was a large mirrored window. Two-way mirror, she knew from long experience. She bit her lip and stared over at Cassidy, who was seated with her back to the mirror, leaving Scully’s only options in full view of the observers in the adjoining room, separate only by that thin pane of glass.
Her eyes told nothing, but fear was creeping into the pit of Scully’s stomach. She pulled out the chair across from Cassidy and wondered if this is what Mulder had felt when he had been questioned about the deaths of Amy Cassandra and her husband, David. Slowly, she sat down, steeling herself for what was to come, what answers she might find in this day that was anything but normal.
“Agent Scully, thank you for your cooperation. I’m sure we can get to the answers we seek in a timely manner,” Cassidy crooned. “Now, you’ve told us that you were with Agent Mulder at the time of his shooting. Is that a fair and accurate statement of the facts as you see them?”
Scully recognized the phrase immediately and drew in a breath. “He was with me — at our home,” she corrected. “We were together. But we were not in an alley.”
“Look, Dana, I’m trying to help you here. Both AD Skinner and I just want to understand what happened between you and Agent Mulder. But you have to give us something . . . perhaps you two were having an argument . . . maybe you mistook him for the UNSUB . . . Dana, we need a reason for your actions.”
“What is this?” Scully demanded. A glance at Skinner found him looking toward the mirror. “Is there someone over there? Is there a witness? Is someone here to ID the shooter?”
“Scully, settle down,” Skinner hissed as she stood and marched over to the mirror.
“Agent Scully, sit down!” Cassidy roared.
“Tell me what the hell is going on here!” Scully roared back.
“A bullet found at the scene matches the ballistics on your weapon. It was your gun that was used to shoot Mulder in the back,” Skinner finally told her, his eyes deep brown with compassion.
“That’s a lie,” Scully spit out.
“We can show you the ballistics — ” Cassidy soothed.
“And they would be fabricated. I wasn’t there, this is insane! Did you find the weapon, did you check it for prints?”
Skinner looked uncomfortably at the mirror in the wall. “We haven’t recovered the weapon yet.”
In the observation room, one of the District’s finest put his hand on the lone observer. “Is that the person you saw shoot the man in your alley?” the officer asked.
“Yes. Yes, that’s definitely her. Can’t mistake that hair,” the man said with a bitter smile.
“Well, that’s all we need. Thank you for your cooperation Mr. Lukesh. You’re free to go now, but we’ll be in contact as we come closer to the date for the trial.”
As the officer led him from the room, Ed Lukesh had a broad smile. It was so easy to be a model citizen. You just needed the right motivation. His mother would be so proud.
Washington General Hospital
Mulder fought his way to the surface of a nightmare. Blood, red blood. Blood staining the dirty, cracked cement. Blood dripping from the garish imitation smile across the neck of the woman he loved more than life itself. Scully was dead and there was nothing he could do to bring her back.
He felt so sluggish. He struggled even to open his eyes. He needed to open his eyes because it had to be a nightmare he was having. Scully couldn’t be dead — not the way he saw it happen. He had to find Lukesh and he had to end this once and for all.
As his eyelids slowly opened he saw the room he was in. Standard ICU. Tube down his throat — but something was wrong. He couldn’t feel his feet. For that matter, he couldn’t really feel much of anything halfway down his chest. Nothing. Not the drugged sensation of really good shit — he knew when he was on high doses of Demoral or morphine. The pain would recede, but he could still feel it in the corners, waiting for the drugs to wear off. But this time there was none of that. Just this . . . empty numbness.
“Oh, hey, you’re awake,” said a too cheerful voice to his left. He tried to move his head in that direction but his neck refused to obey his direct command. What the hell?
“Agent Mulder, I’m Nan, you’re on my list tonight. You’ve been seriously injured and you’re in ICU. Dr. Wilison will be by shortly to explain what happened and your treatment. Why don’t you just rest for now?”
He wanted to scream. Scully wasn’t there. Scully was always there, or at the very least she would leave a message with the nurse if she’d just gone down to get coffee — like that ever happened. No, this woman didn’t seem to have a message for him. Scully wasn’t here. The bits of his nightmare came back to him — Scully, with her throat sliced full open, bleeding to death in an alley in Dillon Park. Lukesh — the son of a bitch who killed her — gone, vanished in thin air. He had to get out of this hospital bed. He had to hunt that bastard and put him down. Save a bullet for yourself, he bitterly vowed. Scully, I’ll be with you soon . . .
Some time later he heard the door to his room open. It caused a slight breeze and the air flowed over his face. Her perfume. It was Scully’s perfume! His eyelids refused to open. He needed to see her — he had to know if she was really alive!
“The nurse said he only regained consciousness for a moment, Scully. I’m sure he won’t remember — ”
“I wasn’t here,” she bit out angrily. “I was down at that cluster fu–”
He could feel her hand on his arm. His fingers, his only way to communicate, were sluggish and slow. He wrestled the swollen digits to obey. Now, if he could just remember.
“Sir, look at his fingers?”
“What is that? Is that a muscle spasm? It looked like he’s scratching an itch.”
“That is to be expected with this type of spinal injury, but it’s too systematic. Wait — I know what he’s doing. It’s Morse code.”
“Scully — ”
“No, sir. This isn’t the first time Mulder’s been on a vent. It’s how we communicate.”
“What’s he saying?” Skinner asked, somewhat dubious.
“Just a minute. He keeps repeating it. One word. L-u-k-e-s-h. Lukesh?”
“What does it mean? It sounds like gibberish.”
“No, sir. It’s a word or maybe a name. It’s important. It could be a clue to the shooter’s identity.” Her voice came right at his ear. “I have it, Mulder. I’ll look into it. I’ll be back soon. Just rest, OK. Just rest and I’ll be back soon.” He felt her kiss on his forehead and let sleep overtake him again.
Dilllon Park Apartments
Ed Lukesh opened the door and immediately turned to close it and set the lock. From a nearby room a timid voice called out. “Who’s there? Edmund? Is that you? Who’s there?”
“It’s me, Mama,” Lukesh replied tiredly. “Who else would it be?”
“I heard something — something outside. I was sure it was the robbers. They want to kill me, Edmund. Why were you gone so long when you know I’m here and defenseless?” The woman’s voice was halfway between a growl and a high-pitched whine and was enough to peel the paint right off the walls.
“I told you I had to go downtown, Mama. Important police business.”
“Oh, look, my show’s starting. Get me a glass of juice, Edmund. And my hot sandwich. I want to eat my hot sandwich while I watch my show.” Her son’s ‘important business’ apparently wasn’t as important as her most recent addiction — a daytime drama.
“Are you getting my sandwich? And don’t put mustard on it this time, you know I hate mustard. Just a little mayo — but the real mayo, not the salad dressing. Only real mayo tastes like mayo. I don’t know why you keep buying the salad dressing, Edmund, I don’t like chicken salad anymore and that’s the only reason to have it in the house. Oh, and cut the crust off the bread, too, don’t forget. The crust gets caught in my bad tooth.”
“Yes, Mama,” Lukesh said without thought. He pulled the bread from the keeper and reached into the refrigerator, withdrawing a plastic zippered bag.
“What meat are you using, Edmund? You know I don’t like ham.”
“It’s potted meat, Mama. I get it from the butcher, you had it yesterday.”
“I don’t remember. I don’t know that I like it, Edmund.”
“Oh, you loved it, Mama. You told me it was the best thing you’d ever tasted,” Lukesh answered, hoisting the bag to eye level. Inside, a human tongue languished in some blood at the bottom of the bag. “You couldn’t get enough of it.”
X Files office
Scully stared at the half eaten sandwich in her hand. Sneering at it, she tossed it in the garbage bin beside Mulder’s desk. “I should be at the hospital,” she growled.
“They’ll call if he comes around again. Scully, we have to get to the bottom of this. You’re still under suspicion.”
She pursed her lips and craned her neck. The whole day had been one unbelievable moment after another. If this was a nightmare, why couldn’t she wake up? She just wanted so badly to wake up and roll into Mulder’s welcoming arms, have him rouse enough to kiss her head and mumble ‘what’s the matter’ and she would hug him and tell him to go back to sleep. Why couldn’t she wake up and do that?
“So, what did you find?” she asked, looking at the folder Skinner had just dropped on the top of Mulder’s messy desktop.
“Something I shouldn’t show you. If this gets out . . .”
“I won’t tell if you won’t,” Scully said absently. “Edmund Raymond Lukesh,” she read aloud. “This is the witness?”
Skinner shrugged, not really an affirmation but definitely not a denial.
“He was a patient at the State Mental Hospital in Gaithersburg for delusional disorder anger that manifested after his father’s suicide,” she read aloud from the file. “He was treated for a few months and released.” She closed the file folder. “A former mental patient. That’s one strong witness the DA has there,” she sighed.
“He was treated for four months, Scully. He lives with his mother in the apartment building adjacent to the crime scene. His bedroom window has full view of the alley.”
“What’s his story?”
“He heard a noise, went down to investigate and saw you standing over Mulder with a gun in your hands. Then you exited the alley. He called the police.”
“So he’s the one person we know was in the alley at the time of the shooting,” Scully said. She rubbed her forehead and licked her lips. “What if . . . what if Mulder was investigating this man? What if that’s why he was in that alley this morning? That’s why he gave us his name?
“Investigating him for what? There’s absolutely no criminal record — just the mental hospital stay. Scully, it’s not against the law to have a mental illness following the suicide of a parent,” Skinner reminded her with a dismissive wave of his hand. He was about to go further when he cell phone rang.
“Skinner,” he said, turning. By the stiffening of his back, Scully knew it had to be AD Cassidy on the phone. “Yes, she’s here with me,” he said, casting a glance in Scully’s direction. “We’ll be right there,” he said, disconnecting the line. “C’mon, we have to get to the hospital.”
“Mulder — is he . . . ” She couldn’t voice her worst fear, she could only show it in her eyes.
“He’s conscious. They rigged something up so we can talk to him. Cassidy wants us over ASAP.”
Washington General Hospital
Scully left Skinner in the dust near the elevator. She was in Mulder’s room before the AD had managed to negotiate the nurse’s desk. When the AD finally arrived, she was at her partner’s side, smiling at him and holding his hand. There was a black tube attached to his right index finger and a computer monitor situated at the end of the bed. The cursor blinked lazily on the blue field.
“Just so we understand what’s about to happen,” AD Cassidy intoned. “We ask the questions and only our questions are to be answered. I won’t have anyone shading his testimony,” she added with obvious displeasure. “We will be outside, but the room is monitored. At the first sign of trouble, five agents will be in this room, weapons drawn.”
“Why didn’t you ask him the questions before we arrived, then,” Skinner sneered.
“He refused to speak until Agent Scully was present,” Cassidy bit out. “And he says he’ll only talk to her alone.” She glared at Scully, then at Skinner before heading out the door.
“We’ll be out in the hall,” Skinner told Scully, giving her shoulder a light squeeze before he followed Cassidy out.
Scully smiled at Mulder and watched letters appear in white on the blue screen.
“Yes, you’re alive. You keep cheating death like this, Mulder, he’s gonna call out the gaming commission on you,” she tried to joke.
NO WHY YOU ALIVE
“Why am I alive? I was never in any danger,” she assured him. “I don’t even know how you were in that alley. Mulder, who shot you?”
Her heart jumped when he painstakingly typed out one word: YOU. She was starting to speak when she saw that he wasn’t finished typing.
YOUR THROAT CUT
“Mulder, my throat wasn’t cut. I’m fine, as you can see.”
LUKESH KILLED YOU TRIED TO KILL ME
HAS KILLED SEVEN WOMEN
SLICES THROATS CUTS OUT TONGUES
SLICED YOUR THROAT
HE SHOT ME IN THE BACK USING YOUR GUN
Scully stepped to the door and motioned Skinner and Cassidy in. She pointed to the computer screen.
Both Cassidy and Skinner looked over at Mulder who stared right back at them.
Dillion Park Apartments
Ed Lukesh kept his breathing even and his eyes trained on his mother. She was dead to the world. Her chest rose and fell in perfect rhythm. Slowly, using only the moonlight to guide his feet, he rose from the bed and left the room. Stopping at the coat closet he found his jacket on the hook closest to the door, right where he’d left it. He shrugged it on and stepped to the door. Unlocking the chain was problematic, but he had years of practice. He held the chain in his hand and softly let it hang so that it did not bounce and cause a noise. The slightest noise at this point would awaken his mother.
He turned the deadbolt and slid back the last of the locks. Finally! He turned the knob, but before stepping over the threshold he held his breath and listened for any sound of movement in the other room. Nothing. He smiled in relief. Using as much care as he’d already expended, he shut the door behind him and put the key in the lock, making sure the door was secure. With each step his feet felt lighter, his breathing easier. He continued to smile as he crept down the stairs and to the hallway that led to the alley.
The crime scene tape closing off the alley to casual observers was broken and floated in the late night breeze. He buttoned his jacket against the chill. The moon was full and it lit the alleyway like a street lamp. Where should he go, what should he do, he mused giddily. The thought crossed his mind and he smiled again. Down by the river, where the ‘girls’ hung out. Yes, that was exactly what he wanted. So many women, so little time. At that thought, Ed laughed out loud. So little time — unless you knew what you were doing. He headed straight for the brick wall that closed off the alley. He knew what he was doing. He’d figured it out all those years ago. With his steps sure and his expression blissful, he walked right into the solid brick wall — and disappeared from sight.
Washington General Hospital
Greg Wilison was not a happy man, but he tried hard not to show it. He pressed the long needle against the skin of his patient’s chest and watch for any sign that it caused discomfort. Hazel eyes stared back at him, unmoved. Greg pressed again and again. Same results — nothing.
“Even if it’s faint, Mulder. If you feel anything at all, let us know.”
NOT A PRICK — YOU MAYBE
“Hey, no picking on the doctor,” Scully scolded from her place on the opposite side of the bed. Her heart wasn’t in it, though. She was just as disappointed as her partner and his doctor.
“We’ll try again tomorrow. As I mentioned before, there is significant swelling. There’s the chance when it goes down that sensation will return.” Greg carefully replaced the covers he’d folded down for his examination. Scully immediately went about smoothing out all the wrinkles. Wilison caught her eye and motioned toward the door.
“I’m going to yell at him for sticking you. I’ll be right back,” Scully told Mulder.
NOT GOING ANYWHERE
She was back in a few minutes, her eyes red but clear as they met his.
She sighed. “Wondered how long it would take you to bring that up,” she muttered. “It’s fine.” At his sharp look, she recanted. “OK, it’s going nowhere. Mulder there are so many things about this case that simply don’t add up.”
LIKE THE POLISH SAUSAGES
“Exactly! Mulder, you say I was on a stake out with you in Dillon Park a day ago, but we have a half-painted kitchen at the townhouse that says otherwise. I couldn’t have been two places at once — nor could you!”
IF WE HAD TWINS
“Which we don’t,” she sighed. At his expression she rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “No, we aren’t going there, Mulder. I still don’t buy the doppleganger theory and besides, neither of us can afford the dental work again. Your jaw took weeks to heal.”
AND I FELT IT
She closed her eyes and gripped his hand, the only part of him that could feel her touch. “I know. It hurt. But that’s beside the point. We don’t have twins and we don’t have dopplegangers and none of this makes any sense.”
She shook her head in confusion. “What about time?”
FOURTH DIMENSION TIME
“I still don’t understand what you’re talking about, Mulder. What about Time?”
NOT SO INVARIANT
“Mulder, what — ” Before she could finished her objection, he was typing again.
EINSTEINS TWIN PARADOX A NEW INTERPRETATION DS SR THESIS
She closed her eyes and tilted her head back, praying for patience. “Mulder — what you’re suggesting . . . ”
TWIN WORLDS PARALLEL
LUKESH PASSES BETWEEN THEM
“Mulder, you’ve been watching too much Star Trek again — or maybe Quantum Leap reruns on TV Land,” she sighed.
DIDNT EXPECT YOU TO BELIEVE BUT YOU AND I ARE PROOF
She still wasn’t convinced. His eyes showed his frustration.
YOUR GUN IS MISSING
WHERES MY GUN
“I don’t know. They haven’t recovered it, either,” she said with a shrug.
CANT RECOVER WHAT ISNT HERE
“You’re suggesting it what — disappeared?” she asked with a raised brow.
PUSHED OUT OF THIS WORLD
LIKE POLISH SAUSAGES
LIKE DEAD SCULLY
THINK ABOUT IT
“Not exactly a pleasant prospect,” she muttered.
How could she possibly deny him? “I’ll think about it. But right now, you’re exhausted and in order for the swelling to go down, you have to rest.”
Dutifully he closed his eyes. She leaned over and kissed his cheek since she couldn’t negotiate the tube snaking from his mouth. “I’ll be back soon. Have them call me if you think of anything else.”
He fluttered his eyes in response and then kept them closed. She waited until she was sure he had fallen asleep before she left the room.
When he was sure she was gone, his eyes opened and he looked around. This would be his life — imprisoned in a hospital bed, only able to talk to Scully through a computer monitor. Sure, he’d once asked for a pegleg — this was not what he’d wanted. And what about Scully? He would be a burden, not able to help her in the slightest little thing. Never able to hold her again. It would have been better if the bullet had simply ended his life. A single tear tracked down his cheek as he drifted off.
Washington Police Station
Ed Lukesh was looking a little worried as he stepped into the interrogation room. Skinner glanced over to Cassidy who gave him a subtle nod. He smiled to himself. It was a game he and Jana hadn’t had a chance to play in over 20 years, but at one time, they’d been pros at it.
“Mr. Lukesh, thank you for coming down here again. We just have a few questions,” Skinner began.
Lukesh accepted the cup of coffee that Skinner poured and offered him. “Sure, anything to help. Gotta cross those Ts and dot those Is. What is it you want to know?”
Skinner smiled but Cassidy stepped up out of the shadows and asked the question.
“Well, for starters, we have an eye witness who has come forward and told us that you, in fact, were the shooter. That you shot Agent Fox Mulder in the back.”
Lukesh’s hand shook almost imperceptively but his gaze at Cassidy never wavered. “I don’t see who that could have been. There was no one else in the alley except Agent Scully.”
“Oh but there was,” Cassidy replied with a tight smile. “Agent Mulder. See, he woke up and he’s giving us quite a different story from the one you gave us the other day.”
“A different story?”
“Yes,” Cassidy replied. “He tells us that you are a suspect in the murders of seven women. That you cut their throats and take their tongues as trophies. That you shot him in the back because he was on to you.”
Lukesh licked his lips, took another sip of coffee with unsteady hands. “My heart goes out to Agent Mulder. But I think he’s very confused.”
Cassidy smiled again. “It’s a fairly easy matter to resolve. Will you allow us to perform a gunshot residue test on you? See, it can tell us if you’ve fired a weapon in the recent past — say the last 48 to 72 hours.”
The suspect chewed on his bottom lip. “I don’t know. I think I’ll have to consult my attorney about that.”
“Well, perhaps there’s someone who can corroborate your story? Your mother, perhaps. You do live with your mother, don’t you?”
“Yes, but she was sleeping. She’s not well. That’s why I went down to investigate the noise — she frightens easily.”
“We can go to her, no need to even have her leave your apartment,” Skinner suggested helpfully.
Lukesh fumed. “No, absolutely not. I won’t have you scaring her out of her wits simply because you don’t want to admit that one of your own agents shot another one. Now, unless you are going to arrest me, I’m going home.” He stared at each Assistant Director. Skinner, who was closest to the door, stepped aside and tilted his head, indicating that Lukesh was free to leave. He hurried out the door.
“Be sure to say hello to your mama,” Skinner sneered after him.
It was hard to see where he was going when he was so angry, but Ed pushed through the people in the hall. Suddenly, someone he pushed shoved him back. He looked up, into the eyes of Dana Scully.
She stared at him evenly, making no move to let him pass.
He blinked at her and then an oily smile formed on his face. “Agent Scully, isn’t it? What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”
“I know who you are, Mr. Lukesh. I want to know one thing — how you do it? How do you manage to live out your sick fantasies on innocent people? There’s this world — and then there’s the nightmare world of your making where you’re free to kill. When did it start? During your mental breakdown after your father slit his own throat? All the anger had to go somewhere. Not here, not where your mother could end up finding out. But in a world just like this one?”
Lukesh’s slimy smile great a full wattage brighter. He leaned in close to Scully and she almost reared back from the stench of his breath. “God, I loved doing you. You bled just like a pig.” He leaned back, favoring her with another smile, and continued down the hallway.
Skinner was watching the exchange from the doorway of the interrogation room. “Scully?” he asked.
Lukesh turned once more before he entered the elevator and gave Scully a wink. She stood in the hallway and seethed.
“Dana, are you all right?” Skinner asked again.
“Not until that man is behind bars,” she growled.
Dillon Park Apartment
Ed Lukesh might have shown an outward bravado, but in the privacy of his own kitchen, fear clutched his stomach like a vice. He reached into the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of iced tea, uncapped it and took a big calming swig. He brought the cool bottle up to his forehead to ease the aching there. What the hell was he going to do with the second FBI agent onto him?
“Mama, I’m home,” he called out, not hearing the sound of the television in her bedroom. “Mama, I’m back. Do you want something? I’ll fix you a drink if you want.”
Still no answer from the back of the house. Ed got worried. He put the iced tea on the counter and went to see about his mother.
She was standing by his dresser, holding Agent Scully’s gun.
“Mama, what are you doing out of bed?” he demanded in a quivering voice.
Carefully, as if it were a snake ready to strike, she laid the gun on the top of the dresser and backed stiffly toward the bed. “You don’t tell me things, Edmund,” she said, her voice low and threatening.
“Mama, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he answered, eyeing the gun on the dresser and licked at his top lip. “I tell you things all the time.”
“No you don’t. Not the truth. And you sneak out when you think I’m asleep. I don’t sleep all the time, Edmund. Sometimes I pretend to sleep just to see what you’ll do. You keep sneaking out. And now I find that gun! Edmund, I don’t know how I picked it up without it going off in my hands and killing me! I was so scared, Edmund!”
The fear in his stomach had now reached his heart and was squeezing the very life out of him. His mother wiped a tear from her eye as she leveled herself back into bed.
“You won’t tell me, then you can just tell the FBI. They’ve been calling all day. They left three messages. Can you imagine — the FBI wanting to talk to me!”
Ed couldn’t stop the tears that choked him. “Mama, you . . . you’re gonna talk to the FBI?” He was openly sobbing now, like a little boy, like he did when he found his father in the bathroom and the blood and the smell —
“Oh, don’t you turn on the waterworks this time, Mister,” his mother sneered. “Of course I’m going to talk to the FBI! They’re the government, I have to talk to them. And you will too, if I have any say!”
“Mama, please, don’t do this,” Ed begged, but even as he said the words, his hand reached into his pocket and found his father’s old shaving razor. Such an old thing, his father had sharpened it every morning as he shaved for work. It was a good razor, it cut through skin and sinew just like butter. It was still marked with Agent Scully’s blood and the woman he’d met at the bar by the river last night.
“Edmund, stop your blubbering. I’m going to call . . . Edmund, what are you doing? What is that? Edmund, where did you get that? Edmund, don’t . . . Edmund nooooo!
She was still screaming as he plunged the razor into her. So easy, so very easy. And finally, it was over.
Washington General Hospital
Scully forced a smile as she finished wiping the shaving cream off Mulder’s chin. “There, all better,” she informed him.
YOU MISSED A SPOT
She gave him a cocked eyebrow look and went back to cleaning up the shaving supplies.
She sighed and licked her upper lip. She forced a neutral expression as she turned to him. “Thinking about what?”
“You majored in psychology, Mulder. Don’t try messing in physics without a guide.” When he stared at her, she swallowed and smiled. “What were you thinking about my thesis?”
2 MULDERS CANT BE IN 1 WORLD
CAN BE FIXED
“Mulder, that’s a theory and we’re not even certain that theory applies to this instance,” she answered without thought. He narrowed his eyes at her and she relented. “OK, how do we fix this?”
PULL THE PLUG
Her mind was so far away from where he was going that she didn’t understand at first. “Pull what plug?”
Her heart skipped a beat. “No,” she replied emphatically. “Absolutely not.”
THEORY IS SOUND
IF IM GONE YOUR MULDER COMES BACK
“Are you out of your mind?” she choked out. “No, don’t bother to answer that, I know you are! Mulder, under no circumstance — ”
CANT LIVE LIKE THIS SCULLY
CANT TOUCH YOU
CANT LOVE YOU
DONT WANT TO LIVE LIKE A VEGETABLE
“Mulder, we have to give your body time to heal,” she pleaded. “Greg was very pleased with the progress you’re making. The swelling is going down.”
LIVING IN A PRISON WITH NO WINDOWS NO AIR
Before she could answer him, her cell phone rang.
“Are you all right, Agent Scully?” Skinner asked on the other end of the connection.
“I’m fine, sir,” she replied, turning away from Mulder to wipe a tear from her cheek.
“Well, Marion Lukesh isn’t. We went to their apartment. Lukesh killed his mother. It looks like he used a straight razor.”
“Oh my God,” Scully breathed. “Is he there?”
“No, no sign of him. Do you think Mulder might have an idea of where he’ll go?”
“Let me ask him,” she said, steeling herself to turn and face her partner again.
“Mulder, Lukesh just killed his mother. He’s gone. Skinner is asking if you have any idea where he would go.”
She bit her lip. “Why me? Why not you?”
BOTH OUT OF THE PICTURE
She nodded and turned back to her conversation on the phone. “Sir, Mulder thinks he’ll come after me.”
“You’re in a hospital, Scully. He wouldn’t go someplace so public.”
GET MANPOWER HERE
Scully glanced over when she saw words appearing on the monitor. “Yes, sir. I think he might.”
She closed down her phone and put it in her pocket. “Skinner will send over some agents,” she said quietly.
DOESNT CHANGE PLAN
“There is no plan, Mulder. I refuse. I won’t give up.”
I HAD TO ONCE
YOUR LIVING WILL
I HAVE ONE TOO
“And you are no where near the conditions specified for withdrawal of support,” she bit out angrily. “This conversation is over.”
NOT THE END
YOU TAUGHT ME THAT
NOTHING TO FEAR
“Mulder — I can’t,” she whispered. “I can’t do that. I can’t pull — ”
I BELIEVE IN YOU
EVEN WHEN YOU DONT
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
She closed her eyes and struggled to keep her tears at bay. “I can’t live without you,” she said simply.
“Ah, how touching,” came a voice from directly behind her. “Don’t worry, Agent Scully. I’ll make sure Agent Mulder doesn’t have to live without you, either,” sneered Ed Lukesh.
“How did you get in here?” Scully demanded, but before she could full turn and confront him, Lukesh had her by the shoulders, her back against his chest. The razor was once again pressed against her throat.
“This time, I’m going make it slow, Agent Scully. I’m gonna enjoy every second of watching the life drain out of your body. And then I’m gonna do your partner over there. Pity, he won’t feel a thing.”
“I don’t think so, Lukesh,” Skinner boomed from the doorway. Scully felt the razor dig into her skin for a split second and then there was a loud noise and she was released. Lukesh was on the ground, half his head gone.
“Are you all right?” Skinner asked as he leaned down to ensure Lukesh wouldn’t be hurting anyone else.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Scully said, her voice shaking. “How did you get here — ”
“I was on my way to the hospital when I called you. When you said Mulder thought he’d be after you, I just hurried up a little.”
She chuffed out a laugh and closed her eyes.
Hours later, Mulder’s room had been cleared of all the forensics people and the coroner’s people. It was just the two of them because Skinner and Cassidy were back at the Hoover writing up the report on the shooting. Scully was exhausted and wanted nothing more than to crawl into bed next to her partner and sleep for a week. Mulder, of course, had other plans.
I DONT WANT TO WAKE UP IN THIS HELL
She winced and turned her head. She really didn’t want to get into the same argument again. Besides, he was starting to wear her down and that scared her more than anything.
What if he was wrong — if she was wrong in her thesis? She would be killing him. She couldn’t live with that thought. At the same time, however, she knew he was in agony even if he felt no physical pain. A person as active as Mulder would shrivel up and die inside confined to a bed for the rest of his life. Could she watch that? Could she force him to live out his life like that if there was the slightest hope that they could reverse this, go back to how they were?
He waited until she turned toward him before he started typing again.
I BELIEVE IN YOU
She closed her eyes. It was so easy to remember how life was just a few short days ago. Mulder, happy, healthy, full of life. Teasing her about the difference between hot dogs and Polish sausage. Ditching the housework to go into the office. Making love with her in the early morning light of their bedroom. She wanted that life back as much as he did.
When she opened her eyes and looked at him, there were tears on his lashes. His eyes were deep green and pleading. Their eyes locked and there was no need for the awkward communication device.
“Go to sleep,” she told him. He searched her expression briefly one last time and what he found there caused him to relax. He closed his eyes and she ran her fingers through his hair until he finally fell asleep.
Her body was wracked with silent sobs as she reached over him and carefully flipped off the respirator and silenced the alarm. Then, as the machine drew his final breath, she climbed into the bed with him, held him in her arms and closed her eyes as tightly as she could, mouthing a prayer.
“Scully? Don’t dirty two plates, we can eat off the wrappers.”
Her eyes flew open and she looked around frantically. She wasn’t in the hospital room, she was back in their kitchen. Mulder was standing in the doorway, holding the lunch from days before. He was whole, he was strong, he was standing on his feet but most importantly, he was breathing.
Was she dreaming? Could this be a dream?
“C’mon, they’re gettin’ cold. Oh, hey, grab that spicy stone ground mustard Tara got me for Christmas. That would be perfect — ”
Before he could finish his sentence she had rushed him and wrapped her arms around his neck, taking him a fierce bear hug. No dream had ever felt like this. He was real, he was warm and strong and she could hear his heart beating loudly as she pressed her ear to his chest. It was no dream. This was real. Maybe the other now fading memories were a waking dream — just a nightmare. Maybe someday she would have the courage to mention them to Mulder — if she even remembered them.
“Not that I’m complaining, but really, they’re only Polish Sausages, Scully,” he laughed, hugging her in return while trying to keep sausage juice from dripping on her back. When she kissed him soundly, he gave her a perplexed look and tilted his head. “Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” she said. “No, strike that. I’m better than fine, I’m terrific!”
“Oooh kayyy,” he drawled. “So, are we gonna eat these sausages or should we retire to the bedroom and play another game with sausages involved,” he teased.
She completely surprised him when she grabbed both rolls out of his hands. “Thought you’d never ask. Last one in the bedroom has to finish painting the kitchen — tomorrow.”
He had to race to keep up with her. “Have I told you lately, Scully, I really like the way you think?”