Category Archives: Holiday

Oh Holy Night

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OH HOLY NIGHT

By: Traveler

Rating: PG13 for language

Summary: Mulder gets some unexpected help in a harrowing situation on this most

special of nights.

Disclaimer: 2 weeks exclusive to VS…

Author’s Notes: I don’t know where I get these story ideas…other than watching too

many movies about the subject from ISLAND IN THE SKY to AIRPLANE, I know very

little about flying a plane. So with the help of a neat worst case scenario archive I

found on the web and some special help from Phoebe this story became possible.

Don’t try this at home.

BUFFALO FIELD OFFICE

CHRISTMAS EVE

“Hey, Scully, it’s me,” Mulder tried to put forward his best “happy voice” but the

news he had to tell his partner wasn’t good.

He’d been in town for the past two days as a favor to his superior, he certainly owed

Skinner enough of them. Frank Bartinelli, the field office’s ASAC, was an old Marine

buddy of the Skinman and desperately needing help on a missing person’s case

involving one of his own agents. The department felt the case could be tied to

several others up and down the east coast also involving law enforcement personnel.

As it turned out, the missing agent, one Terrance Emerick, had gone missing of his

own hand. Using the information gained on the other cases he’d staged his own

disappearance in an attempt to get out of a gambling debt. Case closed.

“Mulder, please tell me you’re getting ready to board a plane,” came his partner’s

reply through his cell.

Mulder looked across the desk at the snow that blew furiously outside the ASAC’s

office window. “I’m ready, my luggage is ready, Frank is ready to take me to the

airport — there’s just one problem.”

“And that would be?” she questioned.

Mulder sighed, “They shut down the airport about half an hour ago, nothing’s going

out of here tonight.”

From the other side of the connection Scully could hear the disappointment in his

voice. They’d both been looking forward to a little holiday downtime. Now it

appeared he was stuck in Buffalo, just a little over 45 minutes away by air. “Oh,

Mulder, what’s going on up there? When I talked to you earlier, you said everything

had been wrapped up.”

“With a big red bow and a Ho, Ho, Ho,” he joked at her unconscious slip. “No,

seriously, Santa’s gonna need Rudolph if he’s gonna deliver any toys up here

tonight. Buffalo is in the throws of what Frank here says is classic lake effect snow

courtesy of Lake Erie. They’re talking 18 to 20 inches by morning. The visibility is

close to zero.” When he got no response from the other end of the line he

continued, “I’m sorry Scully, I know your mom wanted everyone to be together this

year.”

Scully knew what lake effect snow was. The waters of the Great Lakes were one of

the few places on the planet that it occurred. North winds coming across Lake Erie

would pick up moisture and depending on their direction dump it in the form of snow

anywhere from Cleveland to upstate New York. Evidently this time Buffalo was

ground zero. “I could say I should blame Skinner for this one,” came her eventual

reply. “But that wouldn’t be fair would it?”

“No, but don’t think I’ll let him get away without a serious guilt trip.” He looked

around the now empty office wondering where Frank had disappeared to. “Look,

maybe it will let up or if worse comes to worse, I’ll rent a car. It’s only about an 8

hour drive; I could still be there by morning…”

“Mulder, I want you here but I don’t want you driving in a blizzard. We’ll all be here

when you get here. Just be safe, please.”

For a moment he didn’t want to hang up, thinking that they could spend Christmas

Eve together over the phone. “Give my apologies to everyone and I’ll call you if

there’s any change,” he paused before disconnecting, wanting to reassure himself

that he wasn’t in the dog house.

“It’s not your fault, Mulder. Stay warm.”

He stared at the phone for a long moment before pocketing it and then moving to

stand near the window. What he saw outside at the moment put to rest any

assumption that there was any truth to global warming, or at least that’s how it

appeared. What had only started a couple hours ago had turned the world outside

into a white wilderness. Traffic crawled along in the street below him as the wind

swirled the heavy flakes. He reached out and put both palms on the cold glass in

front of him sending a chill all the way to his toes. Shit.

“Get your stuff!” Mulder startled at the sound of Frank’s voice behind him.

“What?” he asked almost in astonishment as he turned around. Frank was standing

in the doorway already in the process of wrapping himself in his overcoat. “Come

on, I got you a flight.”

Mulder hesitated as he glanced outside again, “In this?” he asked, pointing to the

nasty weather just beyond the window’s glass barrier.

“You want to be home for Christmas don’t you?” Frank asked as he tossed the other

agent his coat and finished the thought before Mulder could even acknowledge him.

“Your sleigh’s waiting,” he told him as he turned and headed down the hall.

It took several seconds before the agent moved, grabbing his brief case and the

handle of his rolling garment bag, while in the process of trying to wrangle into his

own coat. Frank was waiting by the elevator and grabbed the bag from him. “Put

that on,” he motioned to the coat that at the moment only covered the agent’s left

shoulder. “I can’t send you back to Scully with pneumonia.”

“Just how are you sending me back to Scully?” Mulder asked as he stepped into the

elevator behind the other agent and pulled on his coat.

“Friend of mine has a small plane. I just promised him some of my Bills seats for

next year to fly you home.”

“In this?” Mulder watched Frank break into a grin.

“Relax,” Frank patted Mulder’s shoulder. “He flies out of a little airport in Collins,

about an hour south of here. He said it’s as clear as a bell down there. You see,

that’s the funny thing about lake effect snow. It can be snowing like hell one minute

and then ten minutes down the road there isn’t a flake in the sky.”

Mulder wasn’t sure he believed the story but if that was the case then rather then tie

up someone else’s holiday he’d just get a car and drive back to D.C. “Frank, it’s

Christmas Eve for God’s sake. I don’t want to ruin someone else’s holiday, just get

me a rental and I’ll drive.”

The elevator doors opened into the parking garage and Frank motioned to the black

Lexus in the first spot as the car answered the remote with a beep. Five minutes

later he was edging the car out onto the crowded street. “Jack’s another Nam buddy

of mine, Mulder. He doesn’t have any family. Fact is I worry about him and you’ll be

keeping him company on an otherwise lonely night.”

It took almost an hour for Frank to fight his way through the weather-snarled Buffalo

traffic, but by the time they were leaving the city limits the snow had already

tapered to light flakes. “See, what’d I tell ya. All depends on which way the wind

blows who gets the snow.”

“I still say I could have rented a car,” Mulder nodded in acknowledgement of the now

clearing skies.

“Yeah, but I feel bad about dragging you out here for what turned out to be nothing

and this way you’ll be walking in the door in a couple hours instead of being behind

the wheel for eight,” Frank told him, fumbling through his coat pockets and pulling

out his cell phone. The other party answered almost immediately. “Hey man,”

Frank replied. “We’re about 30 minutes out, warm that bird up!”

Mulder sat back and watched the dark landscape pass by. Occasionally they would

pass a home brightly lit with Christmas lights. “Have you in the air in 15 minutes,”

the other agent told him as they passed a sign stating they were now in Collins, New

York.

As they passed through the center of town, the Christmas displays reminded Mulder

that he needed to make a call himself. Scully answered on the second ring, she

sounded a little out of breath. “Mulder, why did we buy so much stuff?”

“You okay?” he asked with concern.

“Oh, yes, I’m fine. I’m trying to pack up the car — by myself, thank you”

“Well then pack me some clothes, I’ll meet you at your mom’s,” he answered,

realizing she was just ragging on him. “Rudolph’s warming up his engines and I

should be in around 11.”

“Mulder? I thought Buffalo was shut down, where are you?”

Mulder looked out the window as Frank turned the car onto a side road and past a

sign proclaiming that they had arrived at Gowanda Airport. “Long story, and we’re

both short on time. Frank found me a twin engine sleigh and a little old driver. I’ll

be home for Christmas.”

“Just please tell me you’re not doing something stupid,” she asked knowing her

partner’s propensity of putting himself last.

“No, actually Frank’s preventing me from doing that, fortunately,” he replied as the

senior agent pulled the car up next to a white metal building and killed the engine.

“Well, thank him for me. And Mulder…”

“Yeah.”

“Please, be careful.”

“You know, I’m really trying to be.”

Frank was already pulling his bags from the trunk of the car and handing them off to

another man that Mulder assumed was his pilot friend. He clicked off the phone and

exited the car.

The plane was actually larger then Mulder had pictured. A twin engine Beechcraft

that was a little long on age but looked to be in good condition. The engines

hummed as Frank’s friend loaded his luggage into the cargo section, secured the

door and turned around.

“Mulder, this is Jack Pierce. Jack, this is Fox Mulder, a colleague of Walt Skinner’s,”

the Buffalo SAC made the introductions while Jack lit up a cigarette and then reached

out to shake Mulder’s hand.

“Don’t mind if I catch a quick fix do you?” the pilot asked motioning to the smoke

that luckily curled away from them in the breeze.

The agent motioned his approval and then made a quick assessment of man. Jack

looked worn. He was about Mulder’s height with stringy gray hair that tufted out

from under his Pittsburgh Steelers’ cap. He wore a leather bomber jacket dotted

with patches that had obviously seen better days. His hand when Mulder shook it

was roughly calloused indicating that Jack probably didn’t spend his days behind a

desk like his two war buddies.

Jack took one last drag on the cigarette and then flicked it away. “Well come on,” he

said, patting Mulder’s shoulder. “Let’s get the pretty Fed home to the missus.”

The agent gave the SAC a wary look as Frank and Jack broke into laughter and then

Frank gave his friend a rough hug. “Merry Christmas, man. Safe flight.”

“I’m holdin’ you to those football tickets, you know,” the pilot told his friend stepping

away and then turning to Mulder as he opened the cabin door. “Sit up front,” he

motioned. “Your legs are as long as mine.”

The agent tossed his overcoat onto one of the rear seats and climbed into the co-

pilot’s seat. Within a few minutes they were airborne, banking to the north and then

circling the field and heading southeast.

Mulder watched the earth pass by below them. Flying at a lower altitude the festive

colors of the holiday countryside were wonderfully visible. In a childish way he could

almost imagine it was the view Santa himself would see as he made his mythical

journey across the continent.

Finally the drone of the engines became too monotonous and he turned to study Jack

from the corner of his eye. “You know Skinner from Vietnam too?” he asked

breaking the silence.

Jack pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes momentarily and then turned to

Mulder. “Not exactly,” he told the agent, wincing slightly as if he were in pain. “I

was a medivac pilot. He ever tell you the story ’bout leavin’ the country in a body

bag?”

Mulder remember the conversation in his office many years ago when Skinner had

talked him out of leaving the F.B.I., and nodded.

“Damn’dest thing. I’m loading up corpses from this whole platoon and all of a

sudden one of them groans. Nearly shit my pants right then,” he told the agent a

wry grin spreading across his face. “Called over a corpsman and sure enough, the

guy’s not dead. Anyway, my cargo went from being a load of stiffs that night to an

emergency flight to Saigon, with the only two guys we found alive, him and Frank.

They — ah looked me up after the war and we — ah kinda keep in touch.”

“That’s nice, to know that you’re still looking out for each other,” Mulder commented.

“Yeah, but I ain’t got much in common with these guys,” Jack admitted before he

wrapped his left arm around his abdomen. “Jesus,” he winced.

“You alright?” Mulder asked, suddenly concerned by the man’s distress.

“Damned pain in my gut again,” Jack told him fumbling under the seat and producing

a large bottle of Tums.

Mulder watched Jack dump four tablets into his palm and then toss them into his

mouth, chewing them rapidly. He recapped the bottle and dropped it on the floor,

before grabbing a paper cup from the plane’s console and washing the pills down

with its contents. “Lord, wonder how old that stuff was!” He grimaced and then

laughed. Mulder wasn’t so sure it was funny.

They sat in silence again until Mulder heard the radio crackle to life with a course

change that Jack acknowledged. “Sorry, they gotta get those big birds in there first.

Where did you say you were headed, Baltimore?”

“Yeah, hopefully.”

“You wouldn’t think it would be this busy so late on Christmas Eve, would you? Ah,

damn,” he winced again in anguish. “Got so the Tums don’t do me much good

either. We should still get in before midnight,” Jack informed him and then leaned

forward to examine the heavens from the cockpit windshield. “Clear as a bell down

here.”

Mulder followed his gaze to the moonlit sky ahead of them. It really was a pretty

night. It would be a lot prettier once he had his feet back on the ground and in Mrs.

Scully’s living room.

“You’re a vet, you’ve got the medical benefits, ever think about having that pain of

yours checked out?” Mulder didn’t want to sound like he was prying into Jack’s

business but he was looking pretty white to him at the moment.

“Yeah, I’ve thought about it. Afraid they’ll tell me I got cancer, you know what I

mean?” Jack asked, turning to look at Mulder. “And I really don’t want to go through

that hell.”

“Yes, I do know what you mean,” Mulder answered, meeting Jack’s eyes. “It could

also be something else. You look like you’re in a lot of discomfort, that’s got to be

hell too.”

Jack acknowledged Mulder’s comment and then turned back to study his

instruments. The plane buffeted a little as they passed over the eastern Appalachians

and out over the foothills of southeast Pennsylvania. Studying the darkened

countryside below Mulder realized that there was still plenty of open land even on

the crowded east coast.

“Ah, God!” Jack’s shriek of pain startled the agent. Suddenly the plane dipped

sharply to the left. Feeling like he was falling, Mulder’s first instinct was to grab onto

something, like the yoke in front of him. A quick glance to his left revealed that Jack

had let go of the pilot’s yoke and was practically doubled over with pain, causing the

plane to descend. The older man gasped for air. Mulder feared the man was

having a heart attack.

“Jack!” he exclaimed reaching out for the man.

“No!” the pilot gasped, “get us — us level!” he gasped again. “God, can’t breathe —

grab the yoke…” he told Mulder, reaching out a shaky hand to point at the yoke in

front of the agent.

Mulder put both hands on the yoke and looked desperately toward Jack, “What do I

do?”

Jack took a few more rapid breaths and then seemed to relax a little. “Turn easy to

your right and then pull back — slowly.”

Mulder did as Jack asked. He wasn’t sure who was shaking more at the moment,

Jack or himself. The plane rolled slowly back to level. “Pull back a little more,” the

pilot instructed as he watched the altimeter climb back to about thirty eight hundred

feet. “Press that little button on the right there, that’s your autopilot…”

With the plane flying on it’s own for the moment Mulder turned to look at Jack. The

man was as white as a sheet. A thin veil of perspiration covered his face, once again

contorting in pain. “What can I do?” he stammered.

“I — pain in — in my chest…” Jack managed to gasp out.

His actions seeming to confirm what Mulder had already suspected. “You’re not going

to be able to land this thing are you?” he asked absurdly. Jesus, what was he

thinking? The man could die up here.

Jack stared at the agent with glassy eyes, “I ain’t gonna be able — ah…”he gasped

out as pain erupted from his abdomen again up into his chest, taking his breath

away. He reached toward the agent next to him. The last thing he remembered was

grabbing Mulder’s hand and squeezing it hard.

As Jack’s hand when limp in his own, Mulder froze, “No! Come on Jack!” He tried

desperately to rouse the older man. Finding a thready pulse, he was at the moment

relieved that the man hadn’t died but he still could not waken him. “Jack,” he

grabbed the man’s chin, turning his face towards his own. “Jack, come on, man,” he

pleaded.

The pilot’s eyes flickered briefly and then his face scrunched in pain, “Radio…” he

whispered.

“What?” Mulder asked momentarily confused.

“Take — the radio, mayday…” Jack doubled over in pain again, wrapping his arms

around his abdomen and then his body went limp.

“Shit,” Mulder told himself as the realization hit him and he fumbled the headset

from Jack. “This is not happening!”

As Mulder dropped back into his seat he slipped the headset over his head and

adjusted the mike. He pressed the button on the yoke in front of him and began his

distress call, “Mayday! Mayday! This Agent Fox Mulder with the F.B.I.. My badge

number is JTT047101111 Requesting assistance!”

Silence. He pressed the button again, “Mayday! Mayday! Can anybody hear me out

there?”

“Washington Center, can you identify yourself?” came the reply.

“This is Agent Mulder with the F.B.I. I have an emergency situation.”

“Are you the pilot Mr. Mulder?”

“No, no, the pilot’s taken ill,” he told the voice glancing to the side to see that Jack

was still unconscious. “I need some help up here!” Mulder looked out into the dark

night sky beyond the plane’s windshield, at the moment it seemed like he was on the

edge of an abyss.

“Okay, okay. My name is Mark, I’m going to help you,” the flight controller’s steady

voice came back. “I want you to relax and listen to me carefully. Is the plane flying

level?”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s on auto pilot,” Mulder answered trying desperately to keep calm

himself.

“Alright, that’s good. Do you have any experience flying a plane Mr. Mulder? I need

you to help me identify your position.”

“Not exactly,” the agent snorted out. “I knew a guy in college, used to take me up

in an old B-25.”

“Lucky you,” Mark replied. “Got a bunch of guys here who would envy you.” The

controller tried to calm the shaken agent. “Now I want you to look for a number on

the control panel, should start with ‘N’…”

“Yeah, call number, hang on.” Mulder started to look around the plane’s instrument

panel when it hit him, the number on the plane’s fuselage, N22364, Scully’s

birthday, he’d noticed it when he and Frank had pulled up at the airport. “N22364,”

he answered.

Mark Newman, one of the many air traffic controllers in busy Washington Center had

been one of the unlucky guys to draw duty Christmas Eve. He studied his screen

until he found the small plane near the PA, Maryland border just outside P-40’s

restricted airspace. Wonderful. P-40 was the no-fly zone around the presidential

retreat, Camp David. Luckily the President wasn’t in residence at the present time.

He needed to keep this guy’s attention on flying the plane, the last thing he needed

on his tail was an F-18.

“Hey, Mark, you still with me?” Mulder’s voice came back in his ear.

“Yes, I’m still with you Mr. Mulder. I have your position. You still okay up there?” he

asked the agent. The small plane was cruising at round 38 hundred feet. There

wasn’t a whole lot of traffic at that low altitude right now. The guy practically had

the sky to himself.

“Oh yeah, feel like Santa Claus dancing across the night sky. You’re gonna get me

down from here aren’t you?” Mulder tried his best to make light of the situation but

in fact he was pretty damn nervous.

“Yes, Santa, I just want you to remain calm and do just what I tell you and we’ll get

you home for Christmas,” the controller told him. “Did you say your first name was

Fox? Can I call you that?”

Mulder wanted to correct him, like he did everyone else but at the moment the idea

seemed moot. “That’s fine,” he acknowledged.

“Can you tell me the condition of the pilot, Fox?” Mark asked him through the

headset.

Mulder looked over at the older man, reaching over to gently touch his neck. Jack

stirred and moaned a little but did not waken. “I don’t know if he had a heart attack

or he’s just got a bad case of indigestion. Pulse is a little thready, he’s fading in and

out,” Mulder confirmed.

“Alright, Fox, your flight plan indicated you were headed into BWI. You and I are

going to make a little course correction in a few minutes that will take you into

Martin State. You’re only about 70 minutes out. You with me?” A quick assessment

of the plane’s location had told him that getting the plane into Hagerstown would

require some tricky maneuvers, best to try for the closest straight in approach.

“I guess so,” Mulder stated after taking a big breath. Making a course correction

meant taking the plane off auto pilot. Evidently Mark wanted him to fly this thing.

Something he was going to have to do sooner or later anyway if he had any chance

of getting down in one piece.

“Good. I want you to look at the instrument panel in front of you. Do you know

what an altimeter is? It should be in the center of the control panel,” Mark told him

with a steady voice.

“Tells me my altitude,” Mulder replied as his eyes came to rest on the panel in front

of him. “Says three, seven, eight, five,” he finally told Mark.

“That’s right, you want to try and maintain that when we do this turn. Do you

understand?” Mark asked him. “I want you to find the airspeed indicator. It should

be on your left. The auto pilot should have your airspeed at about 120 knots. You

want to try and maintain that in the turn also. If you start to slow down use your

throttle, between the seats. Pushing it forward will increase your airspeed and make

the plane ascend. Pulling back will decrease it but it will also cause the plane to

descend. Listen to your engines. You might need to compensate with the yoke. It

works the same way. It’s very sensitive, Fox. Just an easy touch is all you need.

Are you following me?” Mark tried to explain the plane’s controls as best he could

without sounding too condescending.

Mulder glanced around the cockpit trying to familiarize himself with his surroundings.

A small gold plaque on the center of the instrument panel caught his eye. In the dim

light of the cockpit, it was hard to read but by tilting his head a little so the words

caught the light, the sentiment became clear, ‘God is my co-pilot’ was written across

it’s surface in figurative script. The agent studied it for a moment, somewhat

surprised given his first impression of the man beside him. He let out a shaky sigh.

It had been a long time since he’d put any faith in God. Maybe now was a good time

to reconsider. This was going to be the longest hour of his life. “Well, I hope you’re

with me tonight,” he finally said to himself.

A quick look at Jack told him the man was at least still breathing. “Okay, I’m with

you,” he told Mark.

“Your fuel gauges should be on the lower portion of the instrument panel. Just like

your car, you want to be sure you have enough gas to get you where you’re going,”

he told the agent, with a slightly lighter tone.

“Looks like I have a little over half a tank in both,” Mulder replied.

“Alright, here we go, this plane’s going to be a lot easier to fly than that B-25,” the

controller told him.

“I sure hope so,” Mulder acknowledged, remembering the bumpy rides over the

English countryside.

Mark’s supervisor had come to stand behind him in the control center. “First thing I

want you to do is locate the heading. It will be a dial with a little image of a plane in

the center. The nose of that little plane points in the direction your heading. Right

now your heading is about 170 degrees,” he heard Mark tell the agent.

“Okay,” was all Mulder could say.

“Now you need to turn off the auto pilot and then gently turn the yoke to the left so

the plane turns to the left. You want to come to a heading of 120 degrees. Once

you’re at that heading, I want you to descend to thirty five hundred feet. Do you

understand?” Flight conditions in the area of the small plane were almost ideal. As

long as Fox followed his directions this harrowing evening should turn out alright.

This guy had to have someone watching out for him.

Mulder reached out and turned off the autopilot. He flinched when the plane dipped

a little and he gave the yoke a hair touch to keep it at thirty seven hundred feet. “I

guess I’m flyin’ this thing now,” he told Mark. “I think I’m going to be a little busy

for a few minutes, get back to you.”

The agent studied the instrument panel once more, his eyes coming to rest on the

little plaque once again. “You with me?” he asked it and then turned his gaze to the

heading dial and gently turned the yoke to his left. The plane started to bank

immediately, climbing slightly. Mulder watched the compass numbers drop slowly

compensating a little by pulling back on the yoke until his airspeed started to drop.

Nervous sweat started to bead his forehead. His hands were clammy on the yoke.

He pushed forward a touch on the throttle hearing the engine come to life, until

finally the small plane leveled out at the 120 degree heading Mark had told him he

needed to achieve. He could feel himself trembling. He pushed the mic button,

“Okay Mark, I’m at 120 degrees and I haven’t wet my pants. What else did you need

me to do?”

Mark had watched the plane’s tiny image on his radar screen, “Well that’s good Fox,”

Mark joked. “Unfortunately those old Beech’s didn’t come with lavatories.” His

supervisor tapped him on the shoulder. “Get him down,” he told the controller.

“You did that just fine Fox. Now I want you to descend to thirty five hundred feet

and keep that same heading. It will take you right into Martin State,” he told the

agent. He would have a tail wind all the way. “You’re only about 50 minutes out

now. How’s your pilot?”

“He’s still breathing, which I guess is a good sign,” Mulder replied. “You better have

some emergency equipment there to meet us.”

“I already have them on alert; they’ve cleared any other traffic. You have the sky to

yourself, Fox,” Mark told him reassuringly.

The controller watched the image on his screen again as the altitude reading dropped

just below thirty five hundred feet. “You can turn on the autopilot again for a while,

Fox. Catch your breath.” Mark could hear the nervous tone in the agent’s voice

when he spoke. He had to keep him focused.

Mulder reached out and flicked on the autopilot once more, letting the plane fly itself

for a while. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was on his way home but they were still

three thousand feet in the air. That was a long way to fall.

His gaze then drifted out the right window to the starlit night sky. It was a beautiful

night but he suddenly felt very alone. As his eyes came back to rest on the

instrument panel the little gold plaque glimmered in the low light as if trying to tell

him that that wasn’t the case.

He admired Scully’s faith despite the things she had been through in their

partnership. There were times when he had questioned and even condemned her for

it, but in truth he realized it was what had gotten her through some of the most

trying times of her life. She too, over the years had beaten him up over his belief in

the unprovable but he also knew she believed in him. He bit his lower lip. Perhaps

the time had come for him to put a little faith in her beliefs.

“Fox?” Mark’s voice came back into his ear.

“Let me guess, there’s something else you want me to do?” he replied.

“Yes, we’re going to start your descent now so I want you to turn off the autopilot

again and descend to three thousand feet, then turn it back on. You copy?” Mark

asked.

“I copy,” Mulder replied. Hell, he thought to himself, might as well get this over

with. Jack was in no condition to be of any help, the only way they were going to

get down was if he did it himself. Even though his present circumstances were not

his fault, he’d never hear the end of this from his partner. He hoped she had no idea

what was happening. But then on the other hand, he could use a few extra prayers

right now. Once again he reached over and turned off the auto pilot. The small

plane buffeted a little as they hit some air, but he was able to compensate for it and

eased the plane to an altitude of just under three thousand feet before turning the

autopilot back on.

“You’re doing just fine, Fox,” Mark told him. “We’re going to do that one more time

and then I’m going to turn you over to Martin tower. I have a gentleman there

who’s been listening in on our frequency. He’s going to talk you in the rest of the

way. You okay with that?”

Did he have a choice? Mulder just wished he could stop shaking. “I’m okay,” he told

the controller.

“Fox, this is Rich Franklin at Martin tower,” the other man’s voice came through his

headset. “I understand you need a crash course in landing a plane?” Joking with

Mulder, Rich was trying to keep the urgency of the situation at a minimum. The

airport was located in a mostly industrial area just north of Baltimore on Chesapeake

Bay, away from tall buildings and residential neighborhoods. As long as the agent

kept his cool there was a good chance this whole event would end in a good way.

“I hope not,” came Mulder’s reply.

“Rich will get you down in one piece, Fox. Don’t worry,” Mark came back on the

frequency. “I want you to descend to twenty five hundred feet, just like before and

then Rich will take over from there, copy?”

Mulder put the plane through another descent and then leveled it off. His airspeed

had dropped a little to around 110 knots. “My airspeed dropped do I need to

increase it?” he asked. He was actually starting to get the feel of the controls and it

made him relax a little.

“No, you’re going to need to slow down for landing,” Mark replied. “Rich will talk you

through that. You’re going to be fine, Fox. You’ve done a great job so far. You

have a wonderful holiday.”

“I hope so, you have a Merry Christmas too,” Mulder acknowledge back. “And

Mark…”

“Yes, Fox?”

“Thank you.”

“You’re more than welcome, Fox,” Mark replied back. He left his radio on the same

frequency until he heard that Rich was in contact with the F.B.I. agent and then

slipped it off and started to get up.

“He make it?” Steve Tucker, the controller at the next station asked.

“Let you know in about fifteen minutes,” Mark replied as he stepped away.

“Fox, this is Rich,” the Martin State controller came through Mulder’s headset. “I

want to go over some instruction with you before we start your final descent. The

last thing you want to be doing when you’re attempting your landing is trying to talk

to me, you copy?”

“What do you mean ‘attempting’?” Mulder asked. That nervous feeling had returned

as he noticed the landscape below him had changed from rural to a more densely

populated area. If this plane went down with him and Jack in it that was one thing.

The last thing he wanted to do was end up in somebody’s living room.

“Sorry, Fox, poor choice of words,” Rich told him lightly. “You’re on a straight in

approach, just follow my instructions and you’ll do fine.”

“I’m going to remember you said that, Rich,” Mulder replied.

“Okay, now listen carefully,” Rich began. “To begin your descent I want you to pull

back on the throttle. We’re not going to worry about the flaps. We’re just going to

use the throttle to control your airspeed. As the plane slows the nose will drop but

you don’t want it to be more than four inches below the horizon. Now you can’t see

the horizon in the dark so you’re going to have to rely on the instruments. You don’t

want your airspeed to go below 70 knots or you’re going to lose your lift and stall.”

“And drop like a rock…” Mulder finished.

An experienced pilot could probably pull out of a stall, Rich thought to himself. Fox

wouldn’t have much of a chance. “Just watch your airspeed and that won’t happen,”

he told the agent. “And you want to stay on a heading of 120 degrees. Is that

clear?”

“Oh, yeah,” the agent acknowledged. “Throttle back, drop the nose and don’t stall

the plane.”

“It will all make sense when you start to execute,” the controlled told him. “What’s

your airspeed now?”

Mulder looked for the airspeed dial on the instrument panel, “The autopilot is still on,

I’m at about 110 knots.”

“I want you to keep your eyes focused forward. As you get closer to the field you’re

going to see our runway lights, just follow them in. You want to keep the nose

centered on those,” Rich instructed. “You want to be at about 100 feet when you’re

just above the runway. Your airspeed should be just about 70 knots. Are you still

following me?”

“How about I just put this thing down in the bay and then you come fish us out?”

Mulder asked, once again using humor to hide his fear. His heart rate was increasing

by the minute. He took a deep breath.

“Well, if you overshoot the runway, that’s where you’ll end up,” Rich told him. “At

100 feet I want you to pull back all the way on the throttle but don’t let the nose dip

too sharply. You want the rear wheels to touch the ground first. After the nose

wheel touches the ground, use the brakes, those are the upper pedals to slow your

groundspeed until you come to a stop. Don’t worry about where you stop, we’ll

come get you.” Rich checked his radar again. The plane was about fifteen minutes

out, time to get this show on the road. “Okay, Fox. You ready?” he asked the agent.

Mulder hesitated to reply for a moment. Closing his eyes and taking several deep

breaths. When he opened them again he once again sought out the little gold plaque

on the instrument panel. “God, I know we don’t talk, but I’ve got someone very

close who puts a lot of faith in you,” he whispered. “So, if you can hear me now, I

could really use your help here.”

The agent pressed the mic button, “What do I do first?”

“Good,” Rich replied. “First you need to switch off that autopilot. You’re going to fly

the plane from here on. Then I want you to look for a lever near the throttle, looks

like a little wheel. That’s you landing gear. I want you to lower the landing gear.

Now you’re going to feel some drag on the plane that might require you to increase

your airspeed a little. Do you follow me?”

As Mulder switched off the autopilot the little plane rocked slightly, he had to steady

it by turning the yoke slightly. The air was becoming a little more turbulent as he

neared the bay. He found the control for the landing gear and lowered it, feeling the

drag immediately and compensating for it. Maybe this wasn’t going to be as bad as

he thought. He glanced momentarily at Jack and wondered if he could do this with

his eyes closed. At the moment both their lives were in his hands.

“You’re doing fine, Fox. I need you to descend to 2 thousand feet,” Rich’s voice told

him. “Can you see the runway lights yet?”

Mulder peered into the darkness ahead of him. He had already been able to make

out streets and building below him. He was hoping he would see a big sign that said

“LAND HERE” but he hadn’t found it yet. Then on the horizon in front of him in a

dark open area the parallel lights of the landing strip began to become clear. “Yeah,

I got it,” he told Rich.

“You’re almost here then. You don’t need to talk to me from now on. I just want

you to concentrate on what we talked about before. Watch your airspeed and your

altimeter, trust the instruments. We have some light cross winds at the field so it

might be a little bumpy as you come in. Don’t let that frighten you. Orville and

Wilber knew what they were doing,” Rich concluded. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” Mulder acknowledged, his voice betraying him by trembling a little.

As the runway lights grew closer, Mulder throttled back again and the plane began

its descent. Watching his airspeed as Rich had instructed he felt the plane rock

slightly again from the crosswinds. He used the yoke to straighten himself out.

He crossed the outer marker for the runway and started to bite his tongue. His

airspeed had now dropped to 90 knots. The plane rocked back and forth, he was

having a hard time getting the feel of the yoke to keep it steady with one hand.

Crossing the end of the runway he throttled back one more time, reducing his

airspeed to 80 knots and dropping the nose. He grabbed the yoke with both hands

and pulled back, the ground was right below him now, passing by at what seemed

like an alarming speed. He was coming in at a slight angle, one wing slightly higher

than the other and tried to steer it back level. Suddenly the right wheel hit the

ground and then he bounced up again. Turning the yoke to the left, trying to

compensate and level himself out both wheels hit the ground hard and then the nose

wheel dropped onto the pavement.

Jostled by the impact, he heard Jack moan beside him. He was on the ground but

moving too fast. Mulder pulled the throttle all the way back but the plane still rolled

along much too fast for his liking. “Brakes! Brakes!” Jack’s yelled from the seat

beside him, reaching out an arm to try and steady himself against the instrument

panel. Mulder looked down trying to find the pedals in the dark cockpit and then

working them as if he were sliding on ice the plane finally came to a stop. He

reached over to kill the engines and then dropped his head. It was over.

Sirens and flashing lights approached from his left. He looked over at Jack who was

resting wearily against the opposite door but appeared to be alright for the moment.

Mulder opened the cockpit door and dropped out onto the tarmac as the first

emergency vehicles pulled up. He doubled over resting his hands on his knees,

trying to catch his breath and steady himself.

“Sir? Sir, are you okay,” the EMT’s voice broke through the momentary haze in his

head and he stood up. Someone wrapped a heavy blanket around his shoulders.

“Yeah, I’m fine. The pilot, he needs your attention,” he told the young man stepping

around the plane to watch as the EMT’s pulled Jack from the plane and began

working on him.

“Agent Mulder?” The familiar voice came from behind him and he turned around.

“Rich Franklin,” the younger man said extending his hand to Mulder. He accepted

the man’s hand and shook it hard. It was a pleasure to see the face the belonged to

that patient voice.

“Hey, thanks, Rich,” Mulder told him pulling him into a gentle manly hug. “Thanks

for getting me back to planet earth.”

“He going to be okay?” Rich asked motioning towards the commotion over Jack.

“I — I don’t know,” Mulder replied as he stepped away from Rich and headed

towards the ambulance. “How is he?” he asked as he approached the vehicle.

One of the EMT’s, a young woman with “Erica” on the front of her jacket stepped

towards him. “We don’t think he’s had a heart attack. We suspect a gall bladder

attack or even a perforated ulcer. We’re getting ready to transport him now,” she

confirmed. “How about you? We can take you along with us.”

“No, I’m okay, just a little shook up,” the agent replied pulling his sleeve back to

check his watch. It was almost ten thirty. “There’s somewhere else I need to be right

now, like home,” he told her glancing around the field as if hoping his car would

mysteriously materialize. He stepped back over to Rich who had been waiting for

word on the pilot. “You don’t know where I can get a car do you?”

“Hey, man,” Rich said, patting Mulder on the arm. “You might have landed that

plane shaking like you are but there’s no way I’m letting you get behind the wheel of

a car. Let me see what I can do.” The controller turned away and headed for the

bank of emergency vehicles that were parked nearby. Mulder pulled the blanket

around himself. He was shaking but he’d thought it was from the cold.

A few moments later Rich returned with a sheriff’s officer. “This is Deputy Wagner,

he’ll take you home Agent Mulder.”

Great, Mulder thought to himself. That’s all he needed was to pull into Mrs. Scully’s

driveway with the emergency lights flashing. He looked at Officer Wagner. “I’d really

appreciate that,” he replied. “I just need a ride to my moth… He almost said

mother-in-law’s before he caught himself. “Actually you can drop me off right here

in Baltimore — but no emergency lights, okay?”

“No problem, Agent Mulder,” the young office acknowledged. “You have anything in

the plane you need to take with you?” he asked as they all turned to watch the

ambulance pull away.

“Get your things,” Rich told him. “We’ll take care of the plane.”

Mulder pulled his bag and coat from the plane. Exchanging his wool coat for the

blanket he slipped it on and slid his hands into his pockets to warm them while the

office put his bag in the trunk of the cruiser. As Wagner slammed the trunk Mulder

turned to Rich. “I don’t know what else to say besides thanks again,” he told the

man reaching out once again to shake his hand. “Do you know how I can get in

touch with Mark,” he asked, remembering the controller at Washington Center who

had answered his Mayday call.

“Talked to him before I came out. Let him know you were on the ground — in one

piece,” he said with a smile. His name’s Mark Newman,” he told Mulder handing him

a slip of paper with a phone number scrawled across it. “Have a Merry Christmas,”

he told the agent.”

“Merry Christmas to you too,” Mulder replied accepting Rich’s handshake once again.

“And leave the flying to the licensed pilots from now on, okay?” Rich joked.

Mulder waved and stepped away, smiling before he climbed into the cruiser’s front

seat. The officer started the car and Mulder took one last look at the Beech before

they pulled away. “Rough night?” the officer asked.

Mulder thought for a moment, maybe landing that plane was the easy part,

explaining it all to Scully was going to be the rough part. “Could be,” he replied.

They drove the thirty minute drive in relative silence. As they pulled into Mrs.

Scully’s drive the radio squawked and Wagner picked it up. Mulder watched him

listen to the voice on the other end. “That’s good to know,” he finally said. “He’s

still with me, I’ll let him know.”

“The pilot’s going to be alright, perforated ulcer, could have bled to death. He was

lucky he had someone with him tonight,” he told Mulder.

Mulder thought about the little gold plaque on the instrument panel for a moment.

“I think maybe we were both lucky we had someone with us tonight,” he replied

turning to the officer. “Thanks for the ride.” Wagner nodded in reply.

Tara was just finishing getting the kids ready for mass when headlights flicked across

the front room window indicating that a car had pulled in the driveway, “Dana, I

think Fox is here,” she called out. Scully had been in the kitchen helping her mom

with preparations for the next day’s Christmas dinner. She smiled at her mother,

“Maybe this is our Christmas miracle,” she joked, wiping her hands and then heading

into the living room. She opened the door before Mulder was even on the first step

of Maggie’s porch. “Mulder?” she asked as she came out to greet him. “We were

just about to leave for Mass, what’s going on?” she asked eyeing the cruiser in the

driveway.

Mulder pulled her into a tight hug. She could actually feel him trembling in her

arms. “I’m just glad to have my two feet on the ground,” he replied and then pulled

back. “You haven’t gone to Mass yet?” he asked.

Scully looked at her partner puzzled, “No, why?” Scully didn’t quite understand her

partner’s behavior but she could tell that something tonight had shaken him badly.

“I figured you’d have some time to relax while we were gone. I need some help with

‘assembly’ after the kids go to bed.”

“I think I’d like to go with you, if you don’t mind,” he searched his partner’s face for

her approval. “There’s someone else I need to thank.”

Realizing that she’d get the whole story when he was ready to tell it, Scully smiled at

him, “I think we’d all like that very much.”

1

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Turkey Trot

Title: Turkey Trot

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Can an old dog learn new tricks?

Category: Holiday fic, X

Rating: for everyone

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended and that goes for yahoo news (see

notes at end)

Written for Virtual Season 15, two weeks exclusive.

Archive: yes

Thank you, Lisa for beta and Donna for patience. May your turkeys never dry out.

3605 N Street NW

Washington, DC

November 18, 2007

4:30 pm

“Yeah, well it can’t be helped.”

Scully tucked a strand of hair behind her left ear as she held the phone at her right

ear with her shoulder.

“No, I understand completely, Mom. Chicken pox is chicken pox, there is no easy

way to get around it.”

Mulder had been ignoring the call, listening to the football game but at the words

‘chicken pox’, he sat forward and openly eavesdropped.

“No, you tell Tara not to worry, we’ll be fine. Sure. No, I don’t think we’ll let the

Gunmen know that we’re by ourselves for Thanksgiving this year.”

He stood up, slicing his index finger across his throat in a vicious manner, indicating

that he was not going to subject himself to Frohike’s culinary experimentation again.

“Well, that case of food poisoning last time was pretty hard on Mulder. Besides,

maybe I’ll make him take me to some bed and breakfast in the mountains. Yeah,

just the two of us.” She tilted her head and gave him a saucy smile. “That does

sound nice, doesn’t it? Well, kisses to the pox-riddled from Auntie Dana and I’ll call

you later if we do end up going out of town. We love you, too, Mom. Bye.”

Mulder had been hanging on every word and when his partner finally hung up the

phone, he shot her a worried look. “What’s going on?”

“Well, Thanksgiving is a bust this year. Both Matt and Claire have come down with

chicken pox. They’ll be pretty miserable for a week at least.”

“Chicken pox,” Mulder mused aloud. “How did they both come down with it — they

don’t even go to the same school?”

“Kid down the street. The whole neighborhood is under quarantine. And Mom is

staying over to help Tara out.”

“So, it’s just you and me for Thanksgiving, huh?” Mulder asked, stepping over to

where Scully sat on the sofa and pulling her up into his arms. “I can think of lots of

things to do with a turkey baster, Scully.”

“I’m sure you could, Mulder, but I think a nice four-poster bed in a quaint little

country inn overlooking some spectacular scenery is more what I had in mind.”

“You leave this one to me. I have the perfect destination. I just have to do a little

research and I’ll make all the arrangements,” he assured her.

She cocked her head and frowned. “Some place nice, Mulder. I want nothing that

has the word ‘save’ in the name.”

He dutifully ran his index finger over his heart. “Cross my heart and hope to die,

stick a needle in my eye,” he quoted. “I won’t even look at places that have less

than 600 thread count sheets.”

She nodded. “OK. I’ll leave it all up to you.”

FBI Headquarters

November 21, 2007

11:45 am

“So that’s your explanation, Agent Mulder? Field mice?”

“Yes sir,” Scully responded before he could open his mouth and get them stuck in

another long explanation of the reasons he took this case. “In the transformer.

What Agent Mulder originally thought might have been telekinetic force was actually

just an electrical arc from the transformer — ”

“–That was caused when some field mice chewed through the insulation,” Mulder

finished.

Skinner nodded his head and closed the file. “Well, good work. And might I

commend you on the lack of medical costs associated with this investigation.”

Scully hid her smile behind her hand but Mulder frowned at the dig. “Well, sir, if

that’s all . . . ”

“Oh, yes, you two have requested the afternoon off. Going out of town for the

holiday?”

“Just a little R&R, sir,” Mulder said as he rose from his chair and followed Scully to

the door.

“Just be careful. I’ll see you on Monday, bright and early.”

“Happy Thanksgiving, sir,” Scully said for both of them.

They rushed over to the townhouse to change their clothes and grab their packed

suitcases. In less than an hour they were locking the door behind them and tossing

the cases in the trunk of the car.

“Mulder, will you tell me where we’re going now that we’re on the road?” Scully

asked pointedly.

He grinned at her. “The Rose. A little B and B in Elk County, Pennsylvania, my love.

And we’re in the Sungold Suite. Each suite is named after a particular rose and the

decor is in that rose’s color. From the brochure, the Sungold Suite is — ”

“Yellow,” she said with a smile and a nod.

“Very good Agent Scully. Remind me to put you in for Agent of the Year,” he teased.

“The brochure is in the glove compartment if you want to look. It also has the

directions, so keep it handy.”

She pulled the slick brochure out of the compartment and opened it on her lap. After

a few moments, she turned to him with a look of pure awe. “Mulder, how in the

world did you find this place? It overlooks the mountains, it’s absolutely gorgeous —

“Internet, my love. And the pictures don’t do it justice, according to the owner when

I made the reservations. He FedEx-ed the brochure down so I could see it. I did

good?”

She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “You did very good. And you will be

handsomely rewarded,” she told him with a wink.

“Oh yeah,” he sighed happily.

They arrived a little before 4:30. The sun was sinking low and had just dipped

behind the mountaintop, casting the world in shadows. The trees on the hillside and

along the drive, maple, sweet gum and oak, were ablaze with the colors of the

rainbow. Near the three-story clapboard structure was a fall garden of mums,

accented with bales of hay and pumpkins.

“Mulder, you are getting an _extra_ special reward for this,” Scully murmured as she

pressed another kiss to his cheek. He grinned like a Cheshire cat as he pulled their

suitcases from the trunk.

A little bell on the door signaled their arrival. A woman in her early 60s stepped into

the foyer, wiping her hands on a green and white striped dishtowel.

“You must be the Mulders,” she said with a warm smile. “I’m Hannah Morgan. I

believe you spoke to my husband Harold on the phone.”

“Yes, Mrs. Morgan,” Mulder said politely. “I’m Fox Mulder and this is — ”

“Dana,” Scully said, stepping forward to shake the woman’s now dry hand.

“Fox and Dana, how nice that you decided to spend Thanksgiving with us,” Hannah

said with such sincerity that Scully was touched. “Now, let’s get you registered.

Have to keep the bean counters happy,” she said with a wink.

She showed them over to an antique secretary and pulled out an equally ancient

hotel register. Scully’s eyes widened.

“Oh, this is just for show. I have a Mac Book Pro in the office,” Hannah assured her.

“But I think this old book was here when we bought the place and it’s nice to keep all

our guests names in.”

Scully quickly entered their names and their address while Mulder handed Hannah

his Visa card. She ran the card through a reader that was secreted in one of the

secretary’s many drawers and then handed the slip and the card back to him. He

signed the slip and returned the card to his wallet.

“Now, let me see if I can get Harold out of the basement long enough to help you

with your bags.”

“Oh, that’s all right, Mrs. Morgan. I have them,” Mulder assured her.

“Now Fox, please call me Hannah. We’re all family here. And if you’re sure you can

manage, I’ll show you up to your room.”

The two agents trailed after her up the curved staircase to a second floor, then up

again to the third. Hannah led them down the hallway to a door on the east side of

the house. “You’ll get the morning sun, but please feel free to pull the shades if you

want a little extra time in the morning,” she directed.

She opened the door with an old skeleton key on a metal fob, which looked like it

had once been in similar service in a hotel from decades gone by. Mulder ushered

Scully into the room first and she took a few steps then stopped in the middle of the

room.

The walls were the palest yellow, with a border near the ceiling of cream and yellow

roses trimmed in blue. The four-poster bed dominated the room, but didn’t

overcrowd it. The bedspread was satin, in a slightly darker shade of yellow. The

door for the bathroom was open and Scully spied a claw footed tub and pedestal

sink.

In the room, the dressing table was dark oak, as was the armoire that was situated

between the two double-hung windows. Sheer panels were the only window

dressing and the china blue shades were up, allowing a view of a mountaintop and

above it, the nearly full moon. When she looked down out the window she could see

the rose garden that spread out from the back of the house now frosted with

moonlight. There was a path and walkways and thanks to the mild fall, some of the

roses were still in bloom.

“It’s breathtaking,” Scully sighed. Mulder was still standing by the door, admiring his

partner more than he had noticed the room. She smiled at him.

“I did good?” he asked with obvious pride.

“You did good,” she assured him. They both startled when Hannah cleared her

throat behind them.

“Dinner’s on your own tonight, I’m making preparations for tomorrow, but town is

only 15 minutes up the road and there’s a nice little steakhouse just a few blocks in.

Just stay on the state route, you’ll come right to it. It’s called the Angus. Oh, and

they have vegetarian dishes,” she added quickly. “But tomorrow, Harold and I will

have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for all our guests,” she beamed. “Well, I’ll let

you two get settled in. Please make yourselves at home.” She smiled at them again

and left, closing the door behind her.

“You are amazing,” Scully said, walking over to her partner and encircling his waist,

laying her hand on his chest.

“Nah, you’re just easy to please,” he teased and tipped her head up so he could kiss

her. “Are you really hungry?”

“Not for steak,” she whispered, catching his eye. She stood on tiptoe and kissed him

greedily.

“Who needs food, right?” he asked but it was entirely rhetorical for his partner’s

dainty fingers were already hard at work divesting him of his clothing.

They ended up not going out again that night and were ‘too busy’ in the morning to

bother with breakfast as well, so the next time the vacationing agents surfaced was

at noon for the Thanksgiving feast. Hannah had obviously enlisted the help of a

caterer for some of the dishes, because the breakfront in the dining room and an

additional 8-foot long table set against the windows were both groaning from the

multitude of warming trays and dishes. Harold made his appearance, cutting slices

of the 24 lb turkey and the accompanying whole ham and standing rib roast. Mulder

made the comment to his partner that he wished he had two plates, one for meat

and the other for everything else. She rolled her eyes but managed to fill her own

plate to overflowing.

There were four other couples staying at the house so with the Morgans, there were

an even dozen for dinner. Names were exchanged and Harold led the table in a non-

denominational grace before everyone grew silent except for the tinkling of silver on

china, and the occasional request to pass the bottomless gravy boat that was making

the rounds.

An hour and a half later, Mulder was half passed out in front of the 48-inch flat panel

television in the parlor, sharing a sofa with two other men who were in similar states

of near unconsciousness. Scully kicked his foot and he blearily cracked open one

eye.

“Hey,” she said, nudging him over just enough so that she could perch on the arm of

the sofa. “What quarter is it?”

“Scully, I don’t even know what game we’re watching,” he admitted, pulling her

down into his lap.

“If you’re that sleepy, why don’t we go upstairs and take a nap?” she suggested.

“Are you trying to kill me this weekend,” he nuzzled into her ear. She giggled and

hit him on the chest.

“Mulder, I meant to _sleep_,” she whispered back.

“Not a bad idea, since I didn’t seem to get much sleep last night or this morning,” he

said in a normal tone of voice that earned him another slap to the chest.

“Gentlemen, Happy Thanksgiving,” he said as he peeled himself off the sofa cushion.

There were mumbled groans that seemed to convey returned sentiments.

The nap lasted an hour and a half and there was sleeping involved. But when Mulder

awoke alone he felt the humid air and could smell the undeniable fragrance of

Scully’s favorite bubble bath. He smiled because it had been one he picked for her

and it pleased him to no end that she liked it so much.

He groaned as he tugged the satin sheets and then stumbled out of the bed. He

wandered in to the bath and smiled before letting out a jaw-cracking yawn. “Got

room in there for another?”

“Another what,” she replied with a tilt of her head. She knew exactly how it affected

him when her hair was up in a clip and the loose strands curled from the steam

rising off the bath water.

“Another turkey,” he replied, stripping quickly and waiting for her to scoot forward in

the water so that he could slip behind her. When he was settled, she leaned back

into his arms and sighed.

“I didn’t think you had it in you, Mulder,” she said happily.

“No, Scully, I think that’s the soap,” he quipped, though he had a pretty good idea

that she wasn’t talking about his recent bout of stamina.

“No,” she said seriously and turned to look at him over her shoulder. “This weekend.

We’re in this beautiful inn, we’ve eaten wonderful food, we’ve drank wine, we’ve

made love — ”

“That last part I plan on doing again — in the almost immediate future,” he

interjected.

“And in all of this — the last 24 hours, not one X file!” she finished, settling back into

his arms. “I’m proud of you, Mulder. Maybe you can teach an old dog new tricks.”

“Oh, for that, — you are going to pay, G-woman,” he growled playfully. “Pay and

pay good!”

“Bring. It. On,” she challenged and he happily complied.

Friday dawned crisp but cloudy. After a wonderful breakfast of Belgian waffles with

apple compote, Mulder found Scully in the living room by the fire, curled up with a

book.

“Hey, want to take a walk?” he asked, leaning casually against the fireplace mantel.

Scully looked out the window behind the sofa where she was sitting. She turned

back to him with a frown. “It looks cold. And seems like it might rain.”

“We can be back the minute the first drop hits,” he assured her. “And you brought a

sweater as well as your coat. We’ll bundle up.”

She laid her book beside her and crossed her arms. “Mulder, why are you so intent

on going for a walk?”

“Hey, we ate all that food yesterday. I thought it might feel good to walk some of it

off.”

“Uh huh,” she replied, not believing him for a moment. Just when it looked like she

was going to object, she picked up her book, replaced her bookmark, and then held

out her hand so he could help her up.

“We’re going?” he asked, confused.

“That’s what you want, isn’t it?” she answered. “Give me a couple of minutes to get

my boots on.”

She didn’t say a word when he ushered her out to the car. She did shoot him a look

as she buckled her seat belt, but he said nothing. After a short drive, he pulled into

a parking lot for a state conservation area.

“Mulder, how did you know this was even here?” she asked.

“Harold told me. He said there were some nice hiking trails through these woods.”

“Woods,” Scully repeated ominously. “We’re going on a walk through the woods.”

“Scully, just because we’re in a wooded area — ”

“Mulder, could we just get on with this. Because I’m pretty sure there is more to this

than a simple walk in the woods.”

Mulder tactfully avoided her eyes and led the way over to the trailhead.

The forest thickened within just a few yards and they found themselves in a stand of

oak and maple. The path was gentle for a while before they came to the first valley,

when the walking got a little more difficult. Still, the rain held off, the hills shielded

them from the wind and the forest was truly beautiful, even as the evidence of fall

colors crunched beneath their feet.

They trudged up a hillside, Scully giving Mulder a hard look when he offered her a

hand over a large fallen tree, when Mulder veered off the marked path and onto

what appeared nothing more than a deer trail. Scully’s suspicions grew with each

step. The forest was thicker here, lots of fallen branches and piles of dead leaves.

With each step she expected to step into a nest of unhappy creatures, perhaps even

snakes. She shivered and glared at Mulder’s back as he forged on blithefully

unaware.

“Mulder, you seem to have a destination,” Scully said, panting lightly as she jumped

over another fallen tree trunk.

“Harold gave me some general directions,” he replied over his shoulder. “There’s a

really pretty overlook not far from here.”

“Overlook,” she muttered as she struggled to keep up with his much longer strides.

It was another quarter of a mile when Mulder held up his hand to slow their

progress.

“This is the overlook?” Scully queried, leaning around her partner to look at the

scenery beyond.

“Sort of,” Mulder said cryptically. He looked around a moment as if trying to

triangulate his position. Suddenly, he bounded over to a tree and crowed. “Scully,

you gotta see this!”

Rolling her eyes, she made her way over to him with a minimum of jumping. “It’s a

tree, Mulder,” she said in disgust. “And there are a few million all around here.”

“Scully, look where I’m pointing,” he commanded. About 5 feet off the ground there

appeared a slash mark on the bark of the tree.

“I’m seeing it, but I don’t know what I’m looking at,” she admitted.

“Evidence, Scully. That’s evidence!” Mulder told her happily.

“Of global warming?” she shot back sarcastically.

“Of Bigfoot!” he corrected her, dancing around the tree, kicking the leaves as if

looking for more indications of recent activity.

“Mulder — you dragged me all that way — ” She stopped suddenly and glared at

him. “You brought me all the way to Pennsylvania to hunt Bigfoot?” she accused.

“Now, Scully, it’s a really nice inn and we had a great day yesterday,” he countered

hastily.

“You did! You came here to hunt Bigfoot!” she shouted, not caring that her words

were echoing off the surrounding hills.

“But Scully, I did bring you to a nice Bed and Breakfast, I did play the dutiful

significant other — ”

That got him a well-timed raised eyebrow and a glare that veritably dripped icicles.

“Not that I didn’t want to be the dutiful significant — ” The rest of his apology was

said to her back as Scully turned on her heel and stomped back down the trail.

“Scully! Scully wait a minute!”

He had to hustle to catch up with her. When he grabbed her arm, she almost broke

his wrist pushing his hand off. He stood there while she glared at him.

“Scully,” he said quietly, meekly, with as much sincerity as he could muster.

As if ordained by on high, the clouds opened up and a cold rain started to fall.

“Bigfoot,” she repeated, crossing her arms. The rain was starting to get heavy and

her hair was sticking to her face, streams of water running off her chin.

“He’s been sighted Scully. Right here, in Elk County, Pennsylvania. It just seemed

too perfect. You wanted a nice quiet hideaway for Thanksgiving and I found this

place — ”

“Mulder, did it ever occur to you to _ask_ me if I wanted to go to Pennsylvania and

hunt for Bigfoot?” she growled.

“And you’re going to stand there and tell me that you’d agree to come out here and

hunt Bigfoot on our Thanksgiving weekend?” he snorted.

“Here we are,” she countered. “Except now it’s raining cats and dogs and I’m royally

pissed at you!”

Thunder and lightning punctuated her statement.

“Scully, I know you’re pissed at me, but I think we need to find some shelter,”

Mulder shouted at the thunder continued to roll around the hilltops.

“Sure, fine, whatever,” she exclaimed, throwing up her arms. “Maybe Mrs. Bigfoot

will invite us in for Thanksgiving leftovers!”

“I think I saw some rocks off this way — maybe there’s a cave near here,” Mulder

said, deftly sidestepping his partner’s snide comment.

A bolt of lightning struck a tree not more than 100 feet away when Mulder finally

found the rocks and as luck would have it, a small cave. Taking her hand, he led

them into the damp interior.

It wasn’t much more than a ledge cave carved out of the solid rock hillside, but it

was relatively dry and out of the elements. Mulder pulled his leather jacket off his

shoulders and draped it over Scully’s back. She glared at him, but accepted the

offered jacket.

“Might as well get comfortable, we’ll probably be here a while,” Mulder said, finding

himself a nice rock to sit against.

“Bigfoot,” he heard her mutter again. “Honestly.” The rest of her mumbling was

drowned out by another clap and roll of thunder.

“Scully, it really was just a whim. It was a nice day — ”

“Mulder, it was overcast and windy,” she countered.

“And I thought it would be a — ”

“Say it and die, Mulder,” she growled. “I swear to God, if the words ‘nice trip to the

forest’ cross your lips — ”

“Scully, what’s this?” he asked, interrupting her in mid-threat.

He was holding something in his hand. In the dim light of the cave, she could only

imagine what his twelve-year-old mental self had discovered. “I don’t know, Mulder,

and I really don’t care.”

“I think . . . are those teeth marks?” he asked, levering up to his feet and coming

over to squat next to her on the other side of the cave.

“Probably. Probably bear,” she said, not looking at the small bone he held in his

hand.

“Scully, admittedly I’m not an expert here, but doesn’t that look kinda human?”

He was practically sticking it under her nose when she finally looked down at the

bone. Taking it from him to examine it more closely, she wrinkled her nose in

distaste.

“Mulder, some hunter probably used this cave before we found it. We are in a state

conservation area,” she pointed out reasonably.

“There’s no sign of a fire,” he told her.

“Guess it’s a hunter who likes steak tartar,” she shrugged and dropped the bone to

the ground.

He moved back to ‘his’ half of the cave, kicking at the soft dirt of the floor. “Scully,

there are other bones over here,” he said slowly.

“I wouldn’t doubt it. It’s a nice cave. I’m sure we aren’t the first, human or animal,

to discover it,” she replied. “I think the storm is finally moving on. We might be

able to make it back to the car,” she suggested. When he didn’t reply, she looked

over at him. “Mulder, did you hear me?”

“There are more of those slash marks we found on the tree over here,” he stated,

pointing to the cave wall.

“Mulder? The car? I’d like to get out of here before the next cloudburst,” she

prodded.

“You go ahead, I want to check this out,” he answered absently.

“Go ahead? We’re at least a mile from the parking lot,” she countered. “What are

you looking at now?”

“More bones, Scully. And this one looks sorta — ” His voice trailed off as he held up

a human skull.

“Oh my God!” Scully gasped as she walked over to examine the newest find.

“Mulder, this is an adult skull. Look, the wisdom teeth have been extracted, but

there was a break in the jaw bone to do it.”

Mulder paled at her casual observation. “I think there’re more remains here.”

“We need to get a forensics team up here immediately. There’s not telling what

we’ve stumbled on. This could even be a decades old murder.”

“You think they’re that old?” he asked, chewing his lip and looking out at the

diminishing rainfall.

“Well, without carbon testing it’s impossible to tell. But I don’t think they’re newer

than ten years.”

Mulder stepped over to the opening and pulled out his cell phone. “No service.

You’re right, Scully. We need to get back to the car.”

“Do you remember the way back?” she asked.

He stepped out of the cave and looked around. “Uh, yeah. Didn’t we . . . ” He

frowned and turned in a half circle. “Boy, it looks different without the lightning.”

Scully rolled her eyes. “OK, let’s just think a minute.” She walked a few feet from

the cave chewing on her bottom lip. “Doesn’t that tree look familiar?”

He glared at her and shook his head.

“Well, let’s do this. Are you wearing a tee shirt under your sweater?”

“Yeah,” he said warily.

“Tear off a piece so we can mark the cave. At least we’ll know which one it is in case

we get turned around.”

“Good thinking. Sure you weren’t an Indian Guide,” he grinned at her. He pulled up

his sweater and ripped a ten-inch scrap of material off his undershirt. “Glad I didn’t

wear my Knicks shirt this morning,” he said, handing her the white strip of cotton

material.

She tied it to one of the branches of the tree nearest the cave opening. “OK, which

way?” she asked, crossing her arms.

He thought about it for a good two minutes. “That way,” he said confidently.

They’d walked for fifteen minutes when Mulder held up his hand. She started to

object when he shushed her. “Look over there,” he whispered, pointing to

something off in the distance to their right.

On another rise, far enough away that it was just a glimpse, there appeared to be a

large animal. It was crouched on the ground, foraging through the leaves. Then

suddenly it stood up on two legs and ran off into the deeper woods.

Mulder grinned at his partner’s astonished stare. “Scully, that was him! That was

Bigfoot!” he whispered excitedly.

“Yeah, and he was headed in the direction of our cave,” Scully pointed out dubiously.

“You think — those bones . . . ”

“I think we better find the parking lot. And fast,” she told him, taking the lead and

picking up the pace.

They slipped and slid down the hills and scrambled up the hills and by the time they

arrived at the parking lot, both agents were covered in mud, wet to the bone and

exhausted. Mulder tried his cell phone again, this time getting service. The local

sheriff’s department requested that they stay in the area and just as he was putting

the phone away, the skies opened up again, drenching them once more.

He looked at his partner over the hood of the car. She was sopping wet, her hair

sticking to her face. But she had the same expression she wore over a decade ago

in a rain-deluged cemetery in Oregon. And he couldn’t remember her ever looking

more beautiful.

“C’mon, Scully. Let’s get in the car till the Sheriff arrives,” he said with a gentle

smile.

“If we get in the car right now, Mulder, it will cost us a fortune to have the car

detailed when we get back home,” she said, crossing her arms defiantly.

“I’ll pay it, gladly, if we can avoid hypothermia and pneumonia.” He opened the door

and waved her inside.

Once in the car, Mulder started the engine and cranked the heater up to high. The

blast of cold air made them both shiver, and Mulder pulled Scully into his arms

rubbing her shoulders until the warmth started to flow.

“Scully, I’m sorry if you think I deceived you,” he said softly in her ear.

“It’s just that sometimes I wonder if you’ll ever grow up, Mulder,” she said quietly.

“I’m not a grown up?” he asked, slightly offended.

“No, Mulder — you are the quintessential Peter Pan. Meteorites in Washington,

Bigfoot in Pennsylvania — you’re still sneaking around playing hooky. The only

problem is you aren’t skipping school — you’re skipping real life.” She turned so that

she was looking right at him. “You’re skipping our life.”

His eyes widened at her accusation. “Scully! That is so untrue,” he objected. “Look

at this weekend. I wouldn’t be here if you weren’t with me. I wanted to find

Bigfoot, I’ll be the first to admit that, but I wanted to find him with you and only

you.”

“Whether I wanted to find him or not, right?” she asked, her expression showing her

own feelings on the matter.

“I guess . . . I just assumed you’d go along with it once we were on the trail,” he

said with sudden realization. “I blew it, didn’t I?”

She took his hand, brought it to her lips and lightly kissed his knuckles. “Mulder, I

knew what I was getting into with you. You’re a work in progress. Doesn’t mean I

can’t point out your flaws from time to time. Also doesn’t mean I would be

anywhere else.”

“So you still love me?” he asked with a boyish twinkle to his eyes.

“Forever and always,” she answered, leaning over to kiss him. When she pulled

back, she wiped a smear of mud off his cheek.

He leaned forward to capture her lips when there was a loud tapping on his window.

Three hours later

Scully pulled into the parking space outside the inn and cut the engine. She turned

to her partner and then turned back to look out the windshield.

“Don’t feel bad, Scully. Anyone could have made that mistake,” Mulder assured her.

“I just would like to know what’s so impossible about the fact that we saw Bigfoot?”

“They were county cops, Scully. Lack of imagination is a job requirement.”

“But I’m a scientist, Mulder. I gave them a totally reasonable statement and they

laughed at me!”

“I know, I know,” he consoled. “Hey, let’s go upstairs and scrape all the mud off

each other and then spend the rest of the evening in that big claw footed tub?”

She looked over at him and smiled. “Just another day in our real life, huh?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Would you?” he asked.

She shook her head. “C’mon Mulder. Race you to the tub.”

the end

End Note: Yahoo news had a brief report of a Bigfoot sighting in Elk County

Pennsylvania. It’s so close to DC that I couldn’t resist. Happy Turkey Day everyone!

13

Turkey Trot by Vickie Moseley

Matty’s Big Adventure

Title: Matty’s Big Adventure

Author: Vickie Moseley

Summary: Trick or treating will never be the same for Matthew Scully. Written for Virtual Season 15 Halloween Special.

Category: X, VS15

Rating: general audience

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: no copyright infringement intended.

Author’s Notes: Big Thanks to Lisa for quick beta!

Matty’s Big Adventure

Maggie Scully’s residence

Baltimore, MD

October 20, 2007

“The water was up to my armpits, it was smelly and icky and slimey. I kept trying to get hold, but I couldn’t. Finally, when I was able to get the lever pulled, the gate came crashing down and sliced the flukeman in half!”

Matt Scully’s eyes were as big as saucers as he sat in rapt attention, listening to his favorite ‘uncle’ regale him with past exploits.

“Did you drown, Uncle Fox?” the ten-year old asked anxiously.

“Well, if I’d drowned, I wouldn’t be here right now, would I, sport,” Mulder replied, ruffling the boy’s reddish brown hair.

“Wow, you’ve seen everything, Uncle Fox,” Matt whispered in awe.

“May I remind Uncle ‘Fox’ that he was not alone in all his endeavors,” Scully intoned from the dining room. “. . . and there is a large bag of trash with his name on it waiting for him in the kitchen,” she added, arms crossed and a bemused expression dancing in her eyes.

“Duty calls, sport,” Mulder sighed and pulled himself off the sofa to go do his ‘manly’ duties. As he passed his partner she lightly jabbed at his arm.

“Uncle Fox now, is it?” she asked quietly, so the young man in the living room couldn’t overhear.

“He told me the kids at school thought it was weird to call your uncle by his last name. I told him it was OK to call me Fox.”

“Everybody on the planet,” she muttered, eyes toward the ceiling. “Except me.”

“Hey, you can call me Fox,” he crooned low in her ear. At her challenging look he smiled and leaned into nuzzle her neck. “In the bedroom, up against the wall in the hallway, when we’re using the dining room table for purposes other than holding plates and silverware …”

“Garbage. Under the sink. Now!” she commanded, pushing him away and holding back her smile. She smacked him on the flank has he sauntered into the kitchen.

“So, I don’t know what to do,” Tara was saying to Maggie as he approached the sink and was pulling out the trash basket secreted beneath it.

“She’s frightened by anyone in a mask?” Maggie asked. “Oh, Fox, could you take the recycle bin out, too?”

“Sure, Mom. It’s in the pantry?”

“Yes, thank you.” She turned back to her daughter-in-law. “Well, if she gets that frightened, you can’t take her out with you on Halloween.”

“I know, but that means no trick or treating for Matty,” Tara replied.

“Oh dear. He’s had his costume picked out since Memorial Day,” Maggie said mournfully. “He’s not going to be happy about this.”

Mulder stopped trying to juggle both the bag of trash and the blue plastic recycle bin. “Why can’t Matty go trick or treating?”

“Claire has developed a deep fear of all things Halloween. We were in the pharmacy the other day and she was running over to the toys section, like she always does. They had a display of this life-sized animatronic zombie — he removes his own head. Well, it makes a growling noise and she looked up, saw the head go up — I’m afraid we sent some of the pharmacy customers into cardiac arrest with her blood-curdling screams. I had to take her out of the store and couldn’t even go back inside to buy the gallon of milk I had gone there to get.”

“Oh boy. That’s rough. Poor little pumpkin,” Mulder sighed. “But hey, why can’t Dana and I take Matty trick or treating?”

“Um, Mulder,” his partner said from the doorway. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” At his very blank expression she tilted her head. “I’m on the opening panel at the forensics seminar in Boston October 30 through November 1 — and you promised to stay out of trouble this year.”

He rolled his eyes upward. “Scully, how much trouble could I get into with a 10 year old boy trick or treating?”

All three women turned and stared at him with equally disbelieving expressions.

“Ah, c’mon now! I’m not that bad!” he exclaimed.

“Fox, what about the Halloween you were bitten by a black widow spider in your own home?” Maggie asked.

“Or the Halloween you guys were headed back home after a case and ran into a kidnapping — that was an overnight stay at the hospital as I remember,” Tara added.

“I was treated and released,” he objected.

“And then there was last year at the old sanitarium in Louisville,” Maggie said, shaking her finger at both her daughter and her partner.

“Hey, that was Dana in the hospital, I was — ”

“Treated and released,” both Maggie and Tara said mockingly in unison.

“Tara, you don’t trust me with your son?” he implored. His hurt expression spoke volumes.

The young woman sighed. “Mulder, I trust you with my son’s very life. It’s you I’m worried about.”

“It’s pretty hard to get into too much trouble in this neighborhood, Tara,” Maggie finally admitted. “If they stay in this subdivision, maybe they can go to the mall afterward. Quite a few of the restaurants have free kids meals for children who come in dressed in costume. It can be a ‘boys night out’.”

“It’s supposed to be cold that night, too,” Mulder added. “You don’t expect Mom to walk all over town in the cold.”

“Dana, what do you think?” Tara asked, chewing on her bottom lip.

“Yeah, ‘Mom’, can I go trick or treating with Matty,” Mulder asked, arms folded, thoroughly disgusted that no one seemed to be treating him as an adult.

Scully huffed a breath. “Oh, all right. I guess I can trust you to go around the neighborhood and gather candy. But Mulder, you will bring your cell phone and if you see anything suspicious — ”

“Call the police!” Maggie, Tara and Scully said in unison.

Mulder hefted the garbage bag and recycle bin again. “I get absolutely no respect in this family,” he grumbled as he made his way out the door.

Halloween Night

5:45 pm

Matty was bouncing on the balls of his feet, watching out the window of his grandmother’s living room. He let out a whoop when he saw the red SUV pull into the driveway. “Uncle Fox is here, Grandma, Uncle Fox is here!”

“I see that, Matthew. Now come here so I can try your cape on you.” The boy ran over to her chair and stood at attention as she fastened a flowing black cape about his shoulders. “There, much better now that I shortened it. It won’t drag on the ground or trip you when you’re walking. Do you have your flashlight?”

“Right here,” announced the short ‘Count Dracula’ as he dug through his black silk treats bag and brought forth a small flashlight. “Mom says it’s just like the ones Auntie Dana and Uncle Fox use,” he said proudly.

“Use or lose?” Mulder quipped as he came in the front door. “Hey, I thought I was picking up Matty Scully here. All I see is a vampire.”

“It’s me, Uncle Fox!” Matty exclaimed excitedly, and somewhat mumbled. “I just have on fake teeth and blood on my chin.”

“The transformation is remarkable,” Mulder noted, smiling with approval.

“Costume adjustments are complete,” Maggie said with a wink. “I think you’re ready to go.”

“So I’m to take him back home to Tara, right? That was the plan last time I talked to her, but it keeps changing.”

“Oh, yes, well, actually, come back here after you finish the neighborhood. We’re to take him ‘out of costume’ and then if you don’t mind, you can drop him off on your way home. I had to keep his cape over here this week because any time little Claire sees it she becomes hysterical,” Maggie told him.

“She’ll get over it. By next year she’ll be out there with Matty and the rest of the kids,” Mulder assured her, but he still wondered. Maybe the events of the balloonfest had affected the little four-year old more than anyone had considered.

Willows of the Lake Subdivision

Halloween night

7:30 pm

“Hey, Mattster, what say we call it a night, huh, sport?” Mulder pleaded as he studied his watch.

“Uncle Fox — there’s a whole ‘nother block left,” Matthew whined back.

“Yeah, but it’s gettin’ pretty cold out here. I can see my breath.” Not to mention, not feel my toes, Mulder thought ruefully. “I promised your Aunt Dana I’d be home when she called at 9.”

“You got your cell phone,” Matty replied, rushing off to another house with the porch light on. Mulder stuffed his hands in his jacket pockets and stamped his feet. His ears were tingling from the cold. Frost bite. That would piss Scully off to no end and likewise, he would never hear the end of it, either. He sighed deeply as Matty returned from yet another candy bonanza.

“Butterfingers — the big ones!” the boy crowed. “Grandma’s neighborhood is the bestest!”

“Yup, I think you’re right there. But Matt, your bag’s startin’ to bulge at the seams.”

“I gotta get enough for me and Claire,” the boy replied reasonably. “Jest ‘coz she’s scared of the masks don’t mean she wants to miss out on the candy. I promised her half of everything I get — except the Snickers, of course. I’m keepin’ those.”

“Oh, of course,” Mulder answered, trying hard to hide his amusement.

“But she gets all the gummy bears. ‘Specially the girly ones.”

“Absolutely,” Mulder agreed. “The girly ones taste funny, anyway.” The sarcastic tone to his voice was completely lost on the ambitious 10-year old.

Finally, they came to the end of the block. Mulder heaved a relieved sigh. “Well, that’s that. Let’s head back to Grandma’s house — ”

“Wait, Uncle Fox! There’s another house,” Matty objected.

All Mulder could make out was the dense growth of trees that marked the end of the subdivision. “Matt, that’s just part of the forest preserve,” Mulder pointed out.

“No, see the driveway?” Matt said, motioning toward a gravel path. “And look — you can see the lights through the trees. It even has a mailbox!” Sure enough, a mailbox stood quiet sentry next to the path.

“Matt, that house has to be a quarter of a mile down that road. I really doubt they’re expecting any trick or treaters,” Mulder reasoned.

“That’s always where you get the most stuff, Uncle Fox,” Matty countered. “See, the people who live in those kinda houses buy all this stuff and then no kids come. So if any kid does show up, they give ’em tons of candy! It’s like those guys in California — the gold diggers!”

“Prospectors,” Mulder corrected, stifling a chuckle.

The path was pockmarked and it made walking treacherous, but Matty insisted on holding the flashlight. A couple of times Mulder worried that a twisted ankle might be added to the impending doom of frost bite, but he managed to stay on his feet.

It was quiet in amongst the trees. The leaves rustled and blew in the wind, creating little dust devils that pranced before them. Halfway to the house, Matt’s bag grew too heavy and Mulder ended up carrying it the rest of the way.

“You stand here, Uncle Fox,” Matty informed the agent and even went so far as to physically position him at the end of a long broken sidewalk.

“You sure you want me so far back?” Mulder asked with concern.

From a pocket of his jeans, Matty withdrew another smaller plastic trick or treat bag. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he said with a smile. “The idea is that I don’t want ’em to see my treat bag is full,” he explained, with infallible 10-year old logic.

“Oh, got it,” Mulder agreed with a bemused grin. “Go on, it’s cold and this is the last house — no negotiation. Right?”

“Oh, OK,” the boy agreed reluctantly.

“Go on,” Mulder encouraged, waving toward the front porch of the old house.

Mulder regarded the house closely. It had been a beauty in its day, but that day was long past. The two-story house had all the intricate gingerbread molding of truly fine craftsmanship, but now the clapboard was worn and detaching in places. The roof of the porch sagged precariously and the Victorian style porch light was missing one of its panes of glass, showing the naked bulb inside. The agent couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it was a ‘real nice fixer upper’ that had come on hard times due to the current housing market and tight credit.

Still, the doorbell worked. Mulder could hear it plainly all the way at the end of the sidewalk. After a few seconds of waiting, the door opened. Mulder could only see shadows, but he could plainly see Matthew holding out his empty treat bag and nodding with anticipation.

Suddenly, the unthinkable happened. Mulder watched in horror as Matty stepped into the house and the door slammed shut behind him.

Bad, this is bad, the agent’s instincts screamed at him as he ran up the sidewalk. The concrete was more precarious than the road leading up to the house and Mulder tripped on a large cement ‘iceberg’, dropping to his knees hard. He groaned and grabbed his ankle, looking back at the house.

“Matty! Matt, come out, sport — we have to get going!” Mulder yelled, hoping his voice didn’t sound as desperate as he was feeling. He didn’t want to scare the boy if there was no danger, but he wanted whoever was in the house to know for certain that an adult was nearby and in control.

“Matt, c’mon!” Mulder shouted again. He scrambled to his feet, ankle protesting all the way and pounded up the steps to the porch. Reaching the door, he latched onto the doorknob and turned it hard. Nothing happened, the door was locked. He hammered on the doorbell and threw his shoulder against the door. Solid oak, nicely aged, resisted his efforts and bruised his upper arm.

He pounded on the door, now frantically. He could hear nothing inside the old house, no footsteps, no talking. “Matty, if you can hear me, yell!” he directed through the slim crack where the door met the molding. “Matty, it’s OK, sport. I’ll get you out of there.”

Mulder moved quickly over to the big picture window next to the door. With little thought, he brought his elbow up and jammed it into the pane of glass. The window shattered, sending a cascade of dirty shards down his pants leg. Mulder hit a few more panes until he had enough room to squeeze through. His leg caught on the saber-like shards embedded in the glazing, but he took no notice.

Inside the house was absolutely still. He shined his light around the room to find only dustcovers on the furniture and a thick coating of cobwebs in the archways. Running over to the door, he flashed the light to his feet. There were no footprints by the door except those he made as he turned around.

Matty and whoever had answered the door had vanished.

The lady at the door was pretty — as pretty as his own mom. She smiled at Matthew. “Oh, my, at last. Come in, come in,” she beaconed. “I had put the candy bowl away, I was afraid I wasn’t getting any trick or treaters this year.”

“It’s our last house,” Matty explained with a shrug.

“Well, I hope it’s the best one,” the lady smiled brighter.

While she was away getting the candy, Matty looked around. The house was really nice. It was old filled with lots of neat stuff. Antiques, his grandma would call them. He didn’t see a television or any toys, so he guessed the lady didn’t have kids.

She was gone quite a while and Matty’s curiosity got the better of him. He walked over to a long table and looked at all the stuff there. He realized he was wrong; she did have toys — just not ones that I had ever been allowed to play with. There were old style trucks, one that said ‘milk’ on the side and had doors that opened in the back. He could see little wooden bottles packed in tiny boxes inside the truck. There was a fire truck, but it wasn’t the neon green of the Fairfield Fire Department. This one was red and had horses in front!

“You can pick that up, if you like,” the lady said from behind him. It startled Matty and he twisted around, almost dropping his bag. “It’s OK. I don’t mind if you look at them.”

“This is really cool,” Matty said appraising the collection. “What’s this one?” he asked, picking up a car unlike any he’d ever seen.

“That’s a Studs Bearcat,” the woman said proudly. “That was his favorite,” she added with a big smile.

“You have a kid?” Matty asked.

“Oh, yes. I have a son. But he’s not with me now,” she said wistfully. “I hope he gets to come home soon.”

“Oh, divorced,” Matty reasoned.

The woman laughed. “Oh, no, nothing like that. He just got older and moved away.”

“He’s a grown up!” Matty exclaimed, proud he had figured it out.

“Yes, something like that,” the woman said sadly. She looked toward the staircase that led to the upper floor. “Would you like to see his room? I’ve kept it just as it was when he was your age.”

“Sure,” Matty agreed willingly. All thought of his uncle outside had completely disappeared from his mind.

Mulder opened the door easily from the inside and stepped out onto the porch. It hit him. Time to call for back up. He grabbed his cell and punched 9-1-1.

No service.

He cursed loudly and dropped the useless piece of technology back in his pocket. His mind told him to go back to the subdivision, find a house and call for help. But his heart wouldn’t let him leave. He knew Matt was somewhere in that house.

He stood on the porch for several heartbeats, glaring at the broken sidewalk and the path beyond. Go get help — it’s what Scully would tell him to do.

No, that wasn’t entirely true. There had been plenty of times when they’d been in danger that Scully was the one to forego leaving for trying to save his sorry ass.

His decision made, he turned back around and entered the house. Matthew was there, somewhere. He just had to find him.

The bottom floor held nothing of interest. There was a sofa and a few tables in the parlor, a dining room that held a long table but no chairs and a kitchen that seriously needed updating.

He found a small bathroom off the kitchen but the sink was hanging off the wall and the medicine cabinet was missing, leaving an unsightly hole and exposed studs.

Everywhere he went he found no footprints, no sign that anyone had been in the house for years. His worry gnawed at him as he finally climbed the stairs to the second story.

“Wow!” Matty exclaimed as the lady opened the door to the room at the far end of the long upstairs hallway. “Is that a real train set?”

“Um hum,” the woman smiled and nodded. “Lionel’s finest,” she said proudly.

“Does it work?” Matty asked, still in awe.

The train set ran the length of one wall and stood on a platform that was as wide as a twin bed. It contained several sets of tracks and all around the tracks were small villages and pastoral scenes. There was even a river with a bridge.

“Sure it works,” she said calmly. She walked over to the platform and flipped a switch under the table. Two of the trains sprang to life, chugging along the tracks. They were headed in the opposite directions so that they passed one another twice as the looped around the platform universe.

“This is great! Man, I wish I had one like this,” Matty said with glee. “Hey, is that a draw bridge?”

“Why, yes it is,” the woman answered. “Would you like to work it?”

Matty licked his lips. “Yeah, sure,” he said timidly. She took his hand and led him to the far end of the platform where there was a series of toggles.

“You push this up when you want the bridge to go up and then when the train approaches, you push it back down,” she instructed. She gave it a quick test and he nodded that he understood.

“This is way cool. Wait till I tell Uncle Fox about this!” Matty said happily. Suddenly, his young face took on a panic stricken look. “Oh gosh! Uncle Fox! I left him outside!”

“It’s OK, I’m sure he’s still waiting for you, dear,” the woman said soothingly. “It’s cold out there. How about we go down to the kitchen and fix your uncle a nice cup of cocoa?”

“I don’ know,” Matty said fearfully, biting his lip.

“It’s awful cold,” she prodded. “It would warm you both up on your walk back to the main road.”

“But he’s been waiting so long already,” Matty said worriedly.

“Then he’ll definitely need something to warm him up, right?” countered the woman.

Matty couldn’t argue with that logic. “OK, I guess. But we need to hurry,” he admonished.

“I’ll do my best.”

“Cocoa only takes a minute forty in the microwave,” Matty said casually as they walked back down the steps.

“Well, it takes a little longer on the stove, but I’m sure we’ll have it in a jiffy,” she answered kindly.

The stairs creaked noisily, shattering his already jagged nerves. Mulder stopped in mid step and steadied himself with a hand against the railing. When he lifted it, his fingers came away coated with years of neglect. The wall to his right was marred at precise intervals with bright colored squares of the original wall paper, places once covered with framed pictures of loved ones, he had no doubt.

The top step sagged under his foot and he held his breath, hoping it would hold his weight. It did and he was able to ascend to the hallway. There were three doors on one side of the hall, four on the other, but one was narrow and appeared to be nothing more than a closet or a pantry. He tried each door in turn, shining his flashlight into the rooms.

There wasn’t a stick of furniture in the upstairs until he reached the last door in the hall. Opening this door, he found a platform — too long for a bed and too wide to be a suitable dining table. It was crudely made of bare two by fours and he wondered at its purpose. He was about to leave the room and go back down stairs when a hand landed on his shoulder, causing him to drop his flashlight.

“May I ask what you’re doing here?” came a voice from the darkness. The hand remained on his shoulder, but Mulder reached down and it released him so he could pick up his light. When he stood up again, and directed the light toward the other person, he found himself staring at a man at least twice his age.

“Again, may I ask what you’re doing here?” the man inquired.

“I’m looking for my nephew,” Mulder said tersely. “He was trick or treating and someone in this house has hidden him here.”

The man looked Mulder up and down and sighed. “It’s all right. She’ll let him go in a bit.” The old man turned and left the room with Mulder standing dumbstruck behind him.

Mulder quickly gain his senses. “Wait a minute! You know who has Matthew?”

The man kept walking down the hall to the steps. “Ay-yup,” he answered.

“Who? Where is he? It’s a federal offense to kidnap — ”

“Hey, nobody said anything about kidnapping,” the old man intoned with a shake of his head. “She wouldn’t hurt a soul. She’s jest showin’ him around.”

“Showing him — ” Mulder sputtered. “Look, I think you better explain yourself. I’m a Special Agent with the FBI and I demand to know — ”

They had reached the bottom of the stairs and the old man look at Mulder with abject pity. “Won’t do ya no good, being from the FBI. She’ll let him go in a bit. You jest gotta calm down and wait fer her to be done.”

“If she harms a hair on that boy’s head — you are an accomplice and you’ll go down!” Mulder shouted. “I will see you all the way to the prison gates!”

“Calm down, calm down,” the old man chastised him. “She wouldn’t hurt him! I know her.”

“Who is she?” Mulder bit out through tightly gritted teeth.

“She’s my mother,” the old man sighed.

In the kitchen, Matty was staring wide-eyed at the woman by the stove. “Gee, you make cocoa just like my grandma,” he told the woman.

She smiled down at him and reached out to ruffle his hair, then dropped her hand before touching him with a bittersweet expression on her face. “My son loves his cocoa,” she said and turned quickly, hiding her face. She cleared her throat before speaking again. “Would you mind getting the cups? They’re in the cupboard over there, next to the ice box.”

“What’s the ice box?” Matty asked, confused.

“Oh, sorry, it’s there, the big machine over there — ” She was pointing to a very old style refrigerator.

“Wow, does this thing still work?” Matty asked. “Where’s the water and ice part?”

She shook her head with amusement. “The water is here in the sink and the ice is in the top of the ice box,” she explained patiently.

“Huh,” Matty grunted. But after a moment, he found the cupboard and the cups. “Three?” he asked.

“Oh, no, thank you. Just two. One for you and one for your uncle.”

Matty brought the cups over to the counter next to the stove.

“So, is your father in the war?” the woman asked, stirring the pan of warming milk and chocolate powder and sugar.

“No, my dad died,” Matty said quietly.

“Your mom — ” The woman coughed and started again. “Is your mom still living?” she asked, though her voice was strained.

“Oh, yeah, sure. My little sister is scared of Halloween. So my Uncle Fox is taking me around.”

“That’s very nice of your uncle, to take you trick or treating. Would you like marshmallows in your cocoa?” she asked. When Matty wasn’t looking she quickly wiped at the corner of her eye.

“I would. Uncle Fox likes ’em but sometimes Aunt Dana won’t let him have ’em. She makes sure he doesn’t eat too much fat and sugar.”

The woman laughed. “Well that is a woman’s job, to take care of her family.” Carefully, she poured the hot liquid from the pan into the mugs and then reached into a canister at the back of the counter and pulled out four fat, fluffy marshmallows, dropping two in each cup. “There you go,” she said. “Can you carry them without spilling?”

“Sure, I’m good at that,” Matty assured her. “Thanks, uh, — hey, what’s your name anyway?”

“Helen,” she said. “My name is Helen.”

“Oh, mine’s Matt,” he replied with a nod. “Well, I better get going. Uncle Fox is probably wondering where I am.”

“Matt, before you leave, I forgot to give you your treat! Here, let me get it from the pantry.” She stepped over to a small room off the kitchen and returned with a little paper bag just like the ones Matty had for his lunch bag. “I’ll just slip it in your pocket so you don’t have so much to carry.”

“Thanks, Helen,” he smiled up at her.

“Can you find your way out? I have to clean up the pan,” she explained, nodding toward the sink.

“Sure.” Matt cautiously moved to the door of the kitchen, mindful of the precious cocoa in his hands. He stopped at the door. “Hey, um, Helen? Happy Halloween!”

She smiled at him, and this time he saw the tear tracks in her eyes. “Happy Halloween, Matt. And if you see my son, please tell him I love him.”

“Yeah, sure,” Matty said, a little confused. “No problem.” He turned then and walked to the door of the house. He was just trying to figure out how to hold both cups and open the door when the door opened on its own. On the front porch were his uncle and a really old man.

“Hi, Uncle Fox! Look what the nice lady made for us!” Matty exclaimed, nodding down at the cups.

“Matthew!” Mulder gasped, almost causing the boy to spill the cocoa. He took the cups, put them on the ground and then hugged the boy for all he was worth. “Matty, you scared me. Please, don’t ever do that again! I was so afraid — if anything were to ever happen to you — ”

“It’s OK, Uncle Fox. Helen wouldn’t hurt me. She’s nice. You’ll like her. C’mon, you can meet her.” The boy turned back to the doorway to enter the house but stopped, stunned. Where there had once been a warm and welcoming home there was now nothing but darkness and cobwebs. “Hey, wait a minute!” he demanded. “Where did the insides of the house go?”

“I think you have something you wanted to explain,” Mulder sneered at the old man.

9:00 pm

“So Helen was a ghost?” Matty asked as they walked back toward Maggie’s house.

Mulder pulled on his lip. “I guess you could call her that, yes,” he admitted.

“But she wasn’t scary and she let me play with the trains and she made us cocoa with marshmallows,” Matty pointed out, shaking his head.

There was nothing Mulder could say to that. They walked for several moments in silence.

“It this what you and Aunt Dana do all the time, Uncle Fox?” the boy piped up as they approached the block where Maggie’s house stood warm and inviting, the porch light still gleaming in the darkness.

“Pretty much, yeah,” Mulder replied. “Does it scare you?”

Matty thought about that for a minute. “Nope, not really.” Then he looked up at Mulder and smiled. “She was really nice, Uncle Fox. And the house was really cool. I think she was just lonely for her little boy.”

“Well, she died when he was pretty young. Mr. Andrews said she died suddenly when he was ten years old. So I guess maybe you reminded her a little of her own little boy.”

“She wanted me to tell him that she loves him. I forgot to do that,” Matty said and started back toward the woods.

Mulder caught his cape and tugged him back beside him. “I’m pretty sure he knows that, sport.”

Matty nodded. “Like I know my dad still loves me,” he said wisely.

“So, what are we going to tell your mom and grandma?” Mulder asked.

“Just that we found some neat houses and lost track of time,” Matty said with a firm nod. “I don’t think they could handle the real story.”

“Me neither, sport. It’ll be our little secret.”

the end

Haunted

Title: Haunted

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Summary: Mulder is trapped in a ‘haunted house’ on Halloween.
Written for the VS.

Category: X-file, Mulder in peril, Scully in peril

Rating: PG-13

Two weeks exclusive with VS15.

Disclaimer: no copyright infringement intended.

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BASEMENT OFFICE

WASHINGTON, DC

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1400

“Mulder, why are we here?” Scully asked with a sigh, staring up at the pencils embedded in the ceiling as she leaned back in her chair.

“Because there have been reports of unexplained phenomena in this particular house, in the suburban neighborhood just outside—”

“I’ve listened to that explanation for the past hour and a half,” Scully said, sitting up straight now and looking him in the eye. “And I fail to see how we have any real evidence of an X-file here. What we have is a children’s newspaper article—something you picked up entirely by chance, that is most likely made up to scare their friends at school.”

“The Hillside Elementary School’s newspaper won awards for its credibility,” Mulder said. “They reported on Presidential elections, the stock market, current affairs…not to mention a highly developed video game review section and comic page.”

“They’re eight years old.”

“Some of them are ten,” Mulder said. He put the child’s article down on his desk, and stood up. “Scully, the evidence presented in their article may sound juvenile but it all checks out. It doesn’t matter if their writing style is childish—they’re children! It doesn’t mean they aren’t credible. I’ve checked out every sighting they mentioned in the article, and they were all established with the local police.”

“A local police office in Hillside, Virginia, that has less to do than Andy Griffith.”

“Come on, Scully, it’s worth checking out.”

“It’s Halloween.”

“And you’re already here, so why not go trick-or-treating with me?”

She gave him a ‘look’.

“Like you said, it’s Halloween! Let’s have a little fun with it!”

She stood up, and sighed. “Mulder, I swear, if I didn’t love you I’d have killed you by now.”

“I knew you’d see my side of it,” Mulder said cheerfully, apparently ignoring her implied threat. He stood up and grabbed his coat, and started out the door.

Scully reluctantly followed, and said, “If this turns out like the last haunted house, Mulder, it won’t matter if I love you. I will shoot you.”

Mulder looked behind him, and smirked. “I thought you didn’t want it to turn out like last time.”

She rolled her eyes, and barged in front of him. He grinned, and followed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

HILLSIDE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1430

Walking through the halls, the agents were bombarded by a stream of giggling eight-year-olds in the third grade section of the school. One little boy tripped and Mulder feared he would be stampeded by his classmates, so he helped the third-grader to his feet. The thanks he got was a screeching cry, “Stranger! Stranger! Help! He’s got me, help!”

Mulder let the little boy go, and a teacher ran out into the hallway. The kids made way for the adult, who looked like she was about to punch Mulder.

The agents quickly drew their badges. “We’re here with the FBI,” Scully said before the woman could ask. “And we’re investigating suspicious activity near 435 Westbury Street.”

“A little girl named Ashley Burns wrote a detailed article on the subject, and we were wondering if we could speak to her about her sources.”

The teacher looked taken aback. “Um…of course. She’s in my class. I hope you understand that the ‘suspicious activity’ is nothing more than teenagers playing pranks around that area.”

“Yes, we’ve considered that option,” Scully said, aiming a pointed glance at Mulder.

Mulder quickly covered his tracks. “But in the event that it wasn’t teenagers, and illegal activity has been occurring in the location, we need to investigate,” he said.

The woman nodded comprehensively and led them into her classroom. A bell rang, and the little children ran toward their classrooms to take their seats. “I’m Pam Wells, by the way,” the teacher said.

“Agent Mulder, and this is Agent Scully,” Mulder said.

”Pleased to meet you,” Pam told them, and approached a little girl sitting at a desk. “Ashley, these people are here from the FBI. They’re interested in your newspaper article.”

The little girl’s eyes grew wide. “Did I break any rules?” she asked.

“No, Ashley, we just had a few questions,” Mulder said kindly. “Want to step out into the hallway?”

Ashley nodded cautiously, and Scully offered her hand to the fearful girl. When Ashley took it, they moved into the hallway and could hear the classroom explode with chatter as soon as they were gone. The door shut behind them, and Ashley looked up inquisitively.

“We understand you checked out the Westbury house, for your newspaper article,” Scully said. “We were just wondering how you made sure all the things you put in the article were true. Could you tell us that?”

“I talked to the police,” Ashley said, “And I brought them a big list of things that people had seen. I wanted to make sure everything I wrote had a police record, ‘cause people report things like that. And they had records of everything. So I put it all in my article.”

“Could you tell us if you’ve ever seen any of the things you’d written about?”

“I saw the lights going on and off, and I knew the house was contempted, so no one lived there.”

“Condemned,” Mulder corrected with a small smile. “Do you live near the haunted house?”

“I live about two blocks away. I ride my bike down there all the time.”

Mulder nodded, his facial expression still passive and non-threatening. “So I’ll bet your friends and you sometimes want to go inside, huh?”

“Sometimes we dare each other, but no one’s actually done it. The sign on the front says you can get in a lot of trouble if you cross the fence. But a lot of teenagers have come really close. Most of them were arrested.”

“They were arrested right away? Before they got into the house?” Scully asked.

Ashley nodded. “The police sit right around the corner, and sometimes right out front. If anyone goes near it, they arrest them. That’s why not many kids make it past the back yard fence. And no one goes in the front. That’s just dumb.”

Scully looked perplexed, but Mulder spoke before she could voice any concerns about the story. “So you’ve probably heard a bunch of stories about that haunted house, huh?”

Ashley nodded.

“Would you share some of them?”

She looked uncomfortable for a moment, before saying, “It’s just supposed to be a Hillside thing. That’s what the grown-ups told us when they told us all the stories. That’s how the story starts. ‘You can’t tell anyone outside Hillside.’”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other. “We’ve got special permission to hear things like that, Ashley,” Scully said. “FBI agents are like police officers—you can tell them things you wouldn’t tell other people.”

“So I won’t get in trouble?” Ashley asked.

“You won’t get in trouble, I promise,” Mulder said.

“Okay,” Ashley started, hesitating for a moment. “I’ll tell it just like my parents told me. Twenty-five years ago, before I was born, a man in Hillside went crazy. He got a chain saw and started hacking people up with it, just like in the movies only for real. They tried to catch him, but he got away. He ran into the forest.” She shuddered a bit. “And then ten years later, some people say they saw him. They say he met somebody outside the forest who led him straight to the contempted—condemned—house. But when the police went and searched it, they said no one was there. Still, every night, the lights come on for a bit and then go out. The doors open up and close by themselves. One minute you’ll see a window closed, and the next it’s open again. The yard’s unkempt and overgrown and messed up, and the ivy’s about to take over the house, but no one dares go near it. ‘Cause if you do, the crazy man will get his chainsaw and hack you up. It’s not a person in there—it’s his ghost. And that’s why it’s haunted.”

Mulder and Scully were quiet for a moment. “And why aren’t you allowed to tell people that live outside Hillside?” Mulder asked.

“Because, that’s how the story starts,” Ashley explained. “It’s a Hillside secret. Not even the real estate office tells people about it. That’s what my dad says.”

“Ashley, what’s the house like on Halloween night? Is it very busy, with police all around it? Or is it kind of quiet?” Scully asked.

“There are two more cars than usual on Halloween. It’s kinda something all the kids go and stare at, until they’re told to move away. It’s kinda cool, like that. But we don’t want to get hacked up or something. So only stupid teenagers go past the fence in the backyard.”

“Thank you, Ashley, you’ve been very helpful,” Mulder said. “And I’m very glad you wrote that article.”

Ashley shrugged. “It was just a school project.”

“We’ll let you go back to your classroom now. Thanks for helping us out,” Scully said. Ashley smiled and went back into the classroom, leaving Mulder and Scully alone in the hallway.

“Well, I think it’s fairly obvious what’s going on here,” Scully said.

“Yes, I do too,” Mulder said, and started walking.

“I’m afraid to ask, Mulder,” Scully stated.

”Don’t worry, I don’t think this is a ghost, or an X-file,” Mulder stated.

Scully stopped in her tracks. “You don’t?”

“No, of course not. It’s pretty obvious what’s really happening.”

“Well…why don’t you enlighten me?”

“The chainsaw man—whatever his name is, we’ll have to look that up—he’s being harbored in the house by the police. Clearly it’s their own little secret. We’ve just got to get a warrant to go in and drag him out.”

Scully smiled, and looked down as she started walking.

“What?” Mulder asked. “You don’t think he exists, do you, Scully?”

“It’s a child’s tale, Mulder. And that house is condemned—a very attractive thing for children. It makes sense that there would be a police presence, especially on Halloween. Imagine what would happen if one of those kids went in there, and fell through the floor?”

“Explain the lights, then. And the windows.”

“Kids imagine things all the time. They love ghost stories, and you yourself admit that this is not a ghost.”

“Not a ghost. A fugitive,” Mulder said.

“A fugitive we’ve never heard of? A fugitive that is guilty of a violent killing spree with a chainsaw, from twenty-five years ago, that we haven’t heard of?”

“It’s possible. We don’t know every serial killer who’s ever walked the Earth.”

“But this is Virginia,” Scully argued, opening the front door to the school. “It’s too close to home. We would at least remember it from the nightly news. You would definitely remember something like that.”

“I was in England, and you were in college, and please tell me you didn’t watch the nightly news every day at college.”

“No,” she admitted reluctantly, “But I would’ve heard about something like this. It would have been all over American news everywhere.”

“I doubt it. If he only killed two people and it was contained to Virginia, it would have been a brief story on one or two nights of the week, and people may have mentioned it in casual conversation, but it wouldn’t have been big. We’ll find out, though.”

“Where are we going?”

“Back to the office. I want to look a few things up before we head to that house for the night.”

“For the—Mulder, we can’t spend Halloween night in a condemned house!”

“Why not? Sounds perfect to me.”

“We don’t even have a warrant, or backup, or…what are you planning on doing? Waiting for the chainsaw man to come home from the grocery store?”

“I doubt he leaves very often.”

They climbed into their car, and Mulder started the engine. “Mulder, I want you to do me a favor,” Scully said.

“Ooooh, Scully, I thought you’d never ask,” Mulder said with a mischievous grin.

Scully rolled her eyes, and ignored the comment. “I want you to promise me you aren’t going to ditch me and go in there by yourself. If we’re going in, we’re going in together, and we’re doing it with backup and a warrant. If there is a chance that this chainsaw maniac is in there, then the police are obviously trying to protect him and we’ll be working against a madman and the locals.”

“I think we can dish out more reserves than little Hillside can,” Mulder said nonchalantly. “I’m not worried. But okay. I won’t go in alone. And we’ll approach the maniac with extreme caution.” He didn’t voice his happiness that Scully was acknowledging the maniac’s existence with so little argument. He didn’t want to spoil the moment.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

435 WESTBURY ST

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1800

Trick-or-treating had started in the tiny town. It was less than a mile across, but the kids were in every square meter they could occupy. They ran around happily, ready to start their candy-collection, or T.Ping and egging in some cases.

Mulder and Scully walked down the street, having parked a few blocks away, and surveyed the police presence casually. They noticed three cars, one hidden and two visible. The only way in seemed to be through the back. They had federal agents ready to move in and surround the place the minute they had confirmation of the suspect’s presence. The agents also had orders to detain any police officers who might try to resist the apprehension of the suspect.

What they had found at their office was disturbing. There was indeed a chainsaw maniac twenty-five years ago that no one had caught. No body had ever been found after the final chase that forced the killer’s car into the forest, and caused the vehicle to explode in a ball of fire. But no charred human remains had been sited, even after a careful inspection.

What was even more disturbing was Mulder’s discovery of the nearly successful cover-up that took place directly afterward. The maniac was the police chief’s younger brother. Mulder and Scully didn’t even bother talking to the man. From witness testimony, and what they pieced together, they had enough for a warrant. And surprisingly enough, Mulder had found a contingent of field agents willing to be his backup.

The one snag was that the house was, indeed, condemned and they had no idea about the infrastructure. They weren’t sure if they were walking into a booby trap or rotted floorboards from the moment they entered. So they had no choice but to enter carefully.

The police presence made that very difficult. Since they were operating under the radar, in a completely FBI-sanctioned mission to discover if the local police really were concealing a fugitive from the federal government, they had clearance to detain anyone who resisted. But that, naturally, would undermine the nature of their mission. If the occupant inside was alerted to their presence, there was a chance he could make a run for it.

Mulder spotted a hole in the woods right behind the house. “See that clearing?” he pointed.

“Yeah, I see it. Are we moving in that way?”

“We should try,” Mulder said. They were both wearing concealable GoldFlex vests under their shirts, which allowed them to look like they were wearing normal clothing, thanks to the nanotechnology. They carried their weapons in their holsters, but their jackets covered them up. Whenever someone would look in their direction, Mulder would grab Scully’s hand so they looked like a normal, civilian couple. And considering her reaction to the necessary but comfortable contact, Mulder wished people would look in their direction a little more often.

They were able to sneak through a few backyards to get to the woods behind the Westbury Street house, and saw the policeman guarding the door in the back. “Damn,” Mulder said, and swung back around the trunk of a tree, dropping to his butt as he leaned against it.

Scully sighed. “We’ve gotta create a diversion,” she said.

Mulder nodded, and spoke into his radio. “This is Agent Mulder,” he said on the secured channel. “Requesting diversion for a single officer guarding the back door.”

“Copy,” came the reply, and a moment later, some firecrackers were set off in the backyard of the house next door. The policeman rolled his eyes, and walked away from his post. “Hey!” Mulder and Scully heard him yell. “Hey, you kids, get out of there! Where are you? Where’d you go? Yeah, that’s right, leave before I call your parents!”

They took that as their opportunity to enter in the back door. They did so as quickly and quietly as possible, drawing their weapons and opening the creaky door carefully. They shut it once inside, and began scouting out the house.

It was full of cobwebs. There wasn’t a spot they could walk in without getting one on their face, arms, or hands. The dust was piled so high that Mulder felt like he was walking on sand, and he knew no one had been in this house for at least a decade. He was beginning to feel a little discouraged, when Scully gasped.

Mulder quickly made his way through the rotting wood-paneled house and reached her location. “What’s wrong?” He asked, gun extended in front of him.

“Mulder, look at this,” she said, looking curiously at the kitchen counter.

Mulder lowered his weapon slightly and glanced at the counter. There wasn’t a speck of dust on it. It was rotting, like the rest of the house, but there was no dust.

“Odd,” he said.

“Extremely. I think you may be right—there could be someone living here.”

“Then how did he get to the kitchen? There are no footprints in the dust.”

“I have no idea,” Scully said, shaking her head.

“Maybe he really is a ghost.”

She rolled her eyes. “You take the upstairs. I’ll see if there’s a basement.”

He nodded, and extended his weapon again.

“Be careful on the stairs,” she told him.

He listened, and tried each step before putting his full weight on it. Before he knew it, though, he was on the second floor of the tiny house, and encountered nothing more than more dust, and some vacant rooms. The hinges on the doors had rusted completely, and every door had fallen off. Mulder was surprised that such decay occurred in such a short amount of time—the house had been abandoned and condemned since 1967, but it had lasted 102 years prior to that. Perhaps it had just been in existence for too long.

Mulder heard a noise, and turned his head and his gun instantly. He walked carefully into the room from which it came, holding his weapon and flashlight straight out in front of him in a cross-hand position.

The second he entered the room, though, he felt something heavy come down on top of him and he collapsed, as the world faded.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

435 WESTBURY ST

HILLSIDE, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

1830

Mulder awoke handcuffed to a very rusty pipe, sitting on the ground. He looked around, and wished he could rub his aching head. He didn’t see anyone, and so he called, “Scully! Scully, I need help!”

“Shut up, or I’m gonna have to do something you’re not gonna like,” a voice said. Then a man emerged from the closet. He wore all black, looked to be in his late fifties, and carried a chainsaw in his hand. He matched the picture of the police chief’s younger brother.

“Mulder?” Scully called, and they heard her mount the creaky steps.

“Sorry ‘bout this,” the man said with a wicked smile, and stomped once on the floorboard he was standing on. Suddenly, everything began shaking, and there was an enormous crash. Mulder heard Scully scream.

“Scully!” He called, panicked, as he struggled against the handcuffs. “Scully! What did you do to her, you bastard?!”

The man rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, stop your whining. She’s not dead. Just buried.”

“You son of a bitch, I’ll—”

“Not from this position, you won’t,” the man said, stepping out of reach of Mulder’s low kick and stomping on the floorboard in one motion. The floor directly beneath Mulder caved at that moment, and the agent dropped downward, only to be stopped by his hands, secured on the rusty pipe. He cried out in agony, and hung there painfully, half supported by the piece of floorboard sticking against his back, and half by his now bloody wrists.

“I’m gonna enjoy this,” the maniac said with a nasty grin, and started up his chainsaw.

XXXX

One story below them, Scully was half-buried by collapsed floorboards. Her upper body was exposed though, and when she came to, she groaned in pain and tried to extricate herself. She found she couldn’t. She tapped her hand against the radio in her ear, and said, “Request backup, request backup, move in immediately! Move in!” Then she placed her hand on her head, and felt the sticky liquid that could only be blood.

She tried again to extricate herself just as she heard the sound of sirens and commotion outside. This time, she was able to wiggle most of her lower body free. It took her a few more moments, but she was fueled by adrenaline and the ever-present, urgent screams from upstairs. She knew Mulder was in trouble. They had found their killer.

She knew the sixth step was barely accessible, but the upper half of the stairs were still intact, and she had to get up there quickly. She found her gun and picked it up with a bloodied hand, holstered it, and climbed on top of the unstable rubble. She leapt for the sixth stair, scraping her hands and nearly falling off in the process. She gripped the rotting floorboards and pulled with all her might, thinking only of Mulder and what could be causing those horrified screams. Images of chainsaws descending on her partner were ever-present in her mind.

She hauled her leg up to the sixth stair and rolled into a position where she could get to her knees, and climb the rest of the way up. She nearly fell off twice when the boards started to give way, but she made it up the short flight and half dove, half stumbled, into the room where the screams were coming.

Drawing her weapon as she entered the room, she quickly assessed the situation. Mulder was hanging by his hands from a rusty pipe—one that would likely break soon. He was unable to pull himself up, quite obviously, as at least one of his arms had to be already dislocated. And from his position, Scully could tell that the floorboards from the collapsed floor were likely sticking into his back, if not penetrating it.

She pointed her weapon at the older man standing over her partner with a running chainsaw. Its blade was far too close to his skin for her comfort. “Turn it off and drop it, now,” Scully yelled.

“Scully—” Mulder cried in pain, looking at her with…concern? How could he be concerned about her when he was the one hanging by his wrists from a rusty pipe?

“I ain’t stoppin’ for no one. This is my first kill in—”

Before he could continue, and just as he lowered the chainsaw so it was level with Mulder’s midsection, Scully put a bullet in his temple. He dropped to the side, the chainsaw falling on top of him and slicing his own midsection open. Scully shot the machine, after quickly scanning for a battery and making sure she wouldn’t blow them to kingdom come by shooting a gas tank. When the chainsaw ceased running, she ran over to Mulder.

“Scully, my God…” Mulder panted.

“I know, Mulder, I’m gonna get you out of here.”

“No—I’m okay—”

“You’re not okay,” Scully said. That much was obvious by his labored speech and profuse sweating. She assessed his position, and after quickly determining that he didn’t have any broken bones, she asked, “Do you think you can bring your legs up if I supported your torso?”

He squinted in pain, and nodded. “Scully, please…let someone else—you’re hurt.”

“I’m fine, Mulder,” Scully said.

Mulder shook his head. “Your ear,” he said, before he couldn’t help but cringe in agony, and yell out at the pain.

Scully reached her hand up to her ear, where she felt a flap of skin clearly open and bleeding profusely. She still didn’t feel it, but she knew she would soon. She could only imagine how it might look. “It’s okay, Mulder,” she said quickly. She hugged his torso tightly, trying to support it and alleviate some stress from his arms. He cried out in pain, and she said, “Pull your legs up. Come on, you have to try, Mulder. I know it hurts, just try, damn it!”

Mulder yelled the entire time he was attempting to get his legs out, and by the time he managed to raise one knee so that it was level with the floor, a fireman walked in with a paramedic not far behind.

“We can take over, Ma’am,” the fireman said. “Alright, Sir, we’re gonna get you out of there. Don’t worry.”

“I’m a medical doctor,” Scully explained. “And I’m his partner. Let me help—I’ve already assessed his condition.”

“You need some help yourself, Ma’am,” the paramedic said.

“I don’t think he has any broken bones,” Scully said quickly, ignoring their protest. She watched as the fireman supported Mulder’s back on a short backboard, and alleviated some of the stress from the jagged floorboards digging into his back. “He can move his legs. You just need to pull him out slightly. One or both shoulders might be dislocated, be careful—” she tried to say, but the two of them were already on their way to extricating Mulder. They had him out fairly quickly, and they cut the handcuffs off of him and loaded him on a portable stretcher.

“We’re gonna have to get him out the window,” the paramedic said. “We can’t navigate that staircase.”

“Absolutely agreed,” the fireman said. “We’ll get the chopper over here,” he stated, and radioed it in. It wasn’t long before the chopper arrived, and they broke the window open.

During the exchange, Scully’s eyes wondered from Mulder’s form to the suspect lying dead on the floor. She couldn’t believe what she saw next.

The man rose, grabbed his chainsaw, and before Scully could even get a shot off, walked through the walls.

Only a few seconds after that, she collapsed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GEORGETOWN MEDICAL CENTER

GEORGETOWN, VA

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 31st, 2007

2000

Scully entered Mulder’s room with a bandage around her head, over her ear. The ear wound hadn’t caused any nerve damage, and had required nineteen stitches but had otherwise been superficial.

But she had gone into shock and had only woken up after receiving blood and being hooked up to an IV. She now traveled, as was hospital policy, in a wheelchair pushed by a nurse.

Mulder’s left shoulder had been dislocated, but his right was just strained. Both wrists were bandaged and his left arm was in a sling, but he was otherwise no worse for wear. He was expected to be released that night, while they wanted to keep Scully overnight for observation.

“Hey,” Mulder said, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and getting up to meet her. “I can take it from here,” he said to the nurse.

“I’m sorry, Sir, but I can’t let you do that,” the nurse stated.

Mulder rolled his eyes. “I should’ve been the one to come see you, Scully,” he said as they walked back to his bed together. He held her hand once he had climbed up onto the bed, and she smiled at him. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m fine, Mulder. They’re just keeping me for observation.”

“I’m sorry to make you come over here. You really shouldn’t be out of bed.”

“Tell me about it,” the nurse said.

“Do you think you can give us a few minutes alone?” Scully asked the nurse.

The woman rolled her eyes. “If you get out of that wheelchair, it better be to get into a bed.”

“Oh, so that’s how this hospital operates,” Mulder said with a grin. “I don’t think we’ll have trouble following those instructions.”

The nurse muttered something about ‘need to retire’ before she left.

Scully chuckled at Mulder, and smiled tiredly at him. “How’s your arm?”

“It’s okay. It’ll be fine. Scully, you’re never going to guess what the police found when they searched the house.”

Scully eyed him suspiciously, and he continued. “Nothing. Not a trace of him anywhere, Scully. You shot him. I saw you shoot him. I saw him fall—but he’s not there. Someone must have stolen the body. They’re gonna want to question you, when you feel up to it. Did you see anything after I was loaded onto the helicopter?”

Scully hesitated, and looked down. “You have to understand, Mulder, I had a concussion, I was in shock…I was probably delirious.”

“What did you see?” he asked excitedly.

She looked up at him, and smiled slightly. He’s gonna have a field day with this. “I saw him get up and walk through the wall. But it was a concussion-induced image, it means nothing—”

“It proves he was really a ghost,” Mulder said.

“No, Mulder, it proves that someone stole the body and I couldn’t process the information.”

Mulder frowned. “Who would want to steal the body, Scully? And how would they get it through the wall?”

“I don’t know, but it’s the only viable explanation. If he really was a ghost, then why would he have fallen when I shot him?”

Still frowning in thought, the agent let go of Scully’s hand. He rotated his right shoulder carefully, and shook his head. “Maybe he didn’t want anyone to know about his existence.”

“And why would that be?”

“He’s a ghost. I don’t know why they do what they do, what motivation they could possibly have. And let’s hope I don’t find out anytime soon.”

Scully smiled. “Yes, let’s hope for that.” She reached out for his hand again, and gave it a squeeze.

“Thanks for what you did in there, Scully.”

“No problem,” Scully said, meeting his eyes and starting to smirk. “But now you owe me one.”

Mulder laughed. “Always, Scully. Always.”

Slainte

Slainte

SLANTE’

By Martin Ross & StarfleetOfficer1

Category: Casefile; humor.

Rating: R for language, graphic descriptions

E-mail: rossprag@fgi.net

Three dead mobsters, three impossible crimes, an ex-genie, and a human luck magnet. When Mulder and Scully luck onto the case, they learn to be careful what they wish for.

clip_image002

Ballou’s

Chicago, Illinois

1:23 a.m.

It happened as Terry Fitzcarren was about to turn into Ballou’s for the evening’s final brew.

Initially, Terry thought he’d been blindsided. Stars had blossomed in his head, like they had after that piece of low Irish shit Joe Hannahan kicked him upside the skull with those heavy biker boots he wore to look macho. All because Terry’d been caught putting it to Joe’s little sister, what’s-her-name. But here, Terry had felt no collision of hardened, steel-reinforced leather against his temple, no jaw-slamming jolt as baseball bat or tire iron encountered tissue and bone.

Then there was the blinding light. Terry had heard of folks who’d seen such a light as they hovered between life and death, had listened vaguely to the priests yammer on about the illuminating glory of God. Long before he could legally buy his first pint, Terry had known the Miranda-Escobedo warning far better than The Lord’s Prayer or his Hail Mary’s. He discounted the possibility St. Peter was awaiting him with a Harp’s.

Even if he believed in such things as angels that looked like Roma Downey (like to polish her halo, mused Terry, whose only contact with angels was semi-comatose and out of remote range in front of the Hallmark Channel), Ellen Fitzcarren’s youngest long since had recognized any posthumous trip he was taking was going to be straight to the furnace room.

Terry’s eyes began to clear, and he realized he was standing in the middle of some field, maybe downstate, some freakin’ cornfield or whatever the hell they grew out in Redneckville. They must’ve hit me real good to get me from the edge of the Loop all the way out to the sticks without me coming to, he reflected, surveying the scenery around him. The trees looked funny; the air was strange, made him feel dizzy.

Terry felt something scurry over his soft leather wop loafer, which by the way had been pretty effed-up by the boggy soil on which he’d been standing. He looked down, yelped, and jumped about six times higher than he’d ever managed in that prick Coach Jacobs’ eighth grade P.E. class. The thing that had trespassed on Terry’s shoe scuttled off under a bush that didn’t look like nothing ever grew in the old neighborhood.

“Fuckin’ shit,” Terry breathed, checking all around him for more of the crab-sized cock-a-roaches. They must’ve taken him somewhere like Florida or California or some other primitive hellhole. It was kind of hot, he thought, and just like that, a cool shadow fell over the young man.

He glanced up at the too-blue sky to see if some rain was moving in. That would seriously fuck up his new shoes.

Instead of clouds, however, Terry Fitzcarren saw teeth, lots of them, and the wet, black hole behind them…

“Fuckin’ shit,” Terry reiterated. Considering his blood alcohol count, it was a reasonably eloquent assessment.

Congo Region

Africa

2:12 p.m. the following day

Sir Kenneth Rees-Petrie nearly ran his Rover into the corner anchor of the main research tent, then barely remembered to put the battered vehicle into park. He barked his chin on said stake as he stumbled toward the open flap.

Meadors and the students were huddled around the large worktable at the tent’s center, watching intently as D’Onofrio, one of the Americans hired under the Royal Academy grant, scraped and brushed at the domed object before him.

“This is it?” Rees-Petrie rasped, nudging his way through the group. No one asked how his permit negotiations had gone at the capital, how the turbulent plane trip back to camp had been. For once, the knighted and eccentrically garrulous paleontologist wasn’t center stage, and for once, he didn’t care. “You found this where now?”

“Grid 12-D,” Meadors murmured, as if afraid to disturb the object before him. “Where we uncovered the Megalosaurus jawbone.”

Rees-Petrie reached for the worktable to steady himself. “That can’t conceivably be–”

“But it is,” stated D’Onofrio, who’d never once allowed the scientist to finish a sentence, and who reveled in some “musical” group misspelled Phish. “And there was no sign of geological shift. You carbon date this fucker, I’m betting he’s gonna match the jawbone. And from the dinosaur shit we found in the vicinity and the scratches I’ve found on the temples, he might’ve been killed by the same jawbone.”

Rees-Petrie was too stunned either to chide D’Onofrio for his utterly inexcusable language or his identification of coprolites as “dinosaur shit.” “This is entirely insane. It not only would predate Leakey’s findings by eons, but it defies all known theories of saurian and mammalian evolution.” The scientist stopped dead and leaned in, coming nearly nose-to-occipital with his crew’s find. “Bloody hell. This is Homo sapiens.”

D’Onofrio grinned as Meadors frowned anxiously. “That’s why we didn’t dare give you details over the radio, Kenny. You can even see rudimentary evidence of modern dental work. But this skull undeniably came from the same Jurassic strata as the Megalosaurus remains.”

“Show him the other,” urged D’Onofrio, like some oversized, shaggy five-year-old playing doctor. “You are gonna fucking LOVE this.”

Rees-Petrie finally glared disapproval at his student, but he fell back into a trance as Meadors unwrapped a previously ignored parcel a few inches from the human skull which had rested impossibly for hundreds of centuries under the African topography.

It was a small metal disk, in remarkably good shape and clearly machine-tooled. Rees-Petrie gawped. “No, you didn’t find this…”

“Right by the skull,” D’Onofrio crowed. “It’s a watch – I mean, the back of a watch. I’d say solid gold. Maybe a Rolodex. Get it under the lamp – here, you’ll need a magnifier.”

Rees-Petrie snatched the glass from the impertinent Yank and squinted at the hieroglyphics inscribed on the back of the acid-cleaned disk.

“To Terence Fitzcarren, with, with…” the paleontologist recited, awestruck.

“I think it’s ‘love,’” Meadors ventured. “’With love and best wishes from Uncle Liam.’ Kenneth? Kenneth, you don’t look at all well.”

“He’s fucking stroking out,” D’Onofrio yelled, and the last terrifying sight Rees-Petrie saw before darkness descended was the hairy giant lunging to perform CPR…

The Breath of Cork

Chicago, IL

10:12 a.m. two weeks later

“Shit!”

Jenn glanced up warily almost as the obscenity escaped her lips. She gasped the oath’s twin blasphemy — Cragan O’Mara was grinning at her from his booth under the Guinness mirror. He’d finished his huge Irish breakfast — hard to believe such the old pixie could put away such a feast before noon, harder still to conceive of the octogenarian surviving on a daily diet of Irish bacon, fried eggs, grease-bloated black-and-tan puddings, and plumply lethal sausage links. Actually, Jenn was uncertain eightysomething might not be on the shy side. She wouldn’t have been surprised to find he’d shared a pint or two with the young James Joyce. Or started the Potato Famine his own self with a nod of his liver-spotted brow.

“And what would so dismay such a lovely lass as yourself in the dawning hours of such a fine day?” O’Mara murmured, his Trib limp in his leathery claws. His dialogue was straight out of ‘40s-era Hollywood, too. B’gosh and begorrah and gimme an effing break, Jenn moaned silently.

“Nah, just all the crap in the news today,” she smiled in a valiant attempt at nonchalance. “You know, same old same old.”

To her true dismay, the old “gent” rose and hobbled across the battered planks to the bar. Jenn found herself transfixed: He’d managed somehow to maintain eye contact the entire time, like an ancient mongoose hypnotizing a cobra. Except he was the cobra, too. A cobra hypnotizing a deer in the headlights? Formulating metaphors had never been Jenn’s strongest point. She cursed Kelli, who’d asked Jenn to sub a couple mornings so she could hit Atlantic City with her latest slab of man-beef. Cragan O’Mara was always Ballou’s solitary customer before the 11 a.m. barflies started drifting in.

“And so what is distressing me dear girl this a.m.?” Yellow-nailed fingers turned the folded Sun-Times she’d spread on the bartop. “Ah yes, I saw something about this. I wonder if this fella’s any kin to our poor absent Terry.” O’Mara chuckled, like a crow pondering a fresh strip of rodent carrion. “A curious affair, all right. But I’d scarcely imagine this should be anything to bother your pretty head about, Jenn, me dear.”

Something seemed to pass through his mineral eyes, made them brighter, sharper. Jenn unconsciously backed a step, banging her tailbone against a Harp tap. Then, it all fell into place as she recalled a certain last call a few weeks before.

“Just got me thinking about Terry, is all.” Jenn shrugged, “You know, how he just vanished without a trace. One of the guys said he saw him outside, you know, outside the bar, the night before he went missing.”

“And what would you make of that, dear girl?” O’Mara inquired, eyes dancing. “No doubt ran into one of his crowd. Or, more’s the like, ran afoul. Terence McCarren was always a bad sort, rough piece of work. Fine young gal like yourself shouldn’t concern herself about such a bad penny. Sure, and he’ll show up in some form or another.”

“Sure,” Jenn stammered.

O’Mara squinted for a moment, the grin vanishing. Then he cackled; Jenn jumped. “All right then. Guess I’ll be off with myself. Give Timmy my regards. And may the–”

“Bye, Mr. O’Mara,” Jenn interrupted, blithely. “Take care.”

The elfin Irishman nodded, smiling now in an altogether different manner. “Right. Right. Top of the morning.”

As soon as O’Mara shut the sun and the Tuesday morning traffic back outside, Jenn fumbled her Samsung from her bag under the bar. She nearly dropped the cheap phone in the ice bin before she could punch in the D.C. area code.

J. Edgar Hoover Building

Washington, D.C.

2 p.m.

“You must’ve read about the archeological find a couple weeks back in Africa. The body, the watch?”

Scully nodded cautiously. Terry Fitzcarren had been a low-echelon Chicago hood and enforcer, nephew of Liam Fitzcarren, head of Chicago’s Irish mob. He’d been reported missing the night after he’d been seen celebrating some suspiciously cryptic accomplishment, probably related to his uncle’s organization.

Then he turns up the next day under several layers of dirt and rock, known associates T. Rex and Brachiosaurus. Jurassic Park IV: Married to the Mob. It had been all over the papers, the media alternately alleging a colossal scientific fraud (Scully’s pet theory), gross incompetence (Oops, misplaced my mobster), or a massive criminal conspiracy (Hey pal, how’d you like to be sleeping with the Icthyosaurs).

Scully chased thoughts of mobsters and monsters from her mind. Mulder was sniffing at the edge of a new case just as she was trying to clear the decks for the reunion. Aunt Deborah’d guilted her into this Joycean trek into the Great Midwest to reconnect with a bunch of third-degree relatives Scully recalled dimly at best.

Wait. Chicago. Had Scully not missed her morning Americano Grande because of Mulder’s dallying, the dawn would have come earlier.

“Mulder,” she murmured frostily. “You are not leaving me alone with these people to go chasing sociopathic hoodlums, no matter how tempting.”

“Well, somehow, because this lad was with one of the Chitown outfits, Organized Crime got stuck with the case,” Mulder continued. “Case, ha. Closest thing we’ve got to a suspect is Fitzcarren had a run-in with one of Tony Caprano’s boys a month or so ago. You remember, big player in the western burbs?”

“Doesn’t sound like Caprano’s style, though,” Scully frowned. “Doesn’t sound like anyone’s style. And ‘we’ don’t have a case.”

“Which is what brings us to today’s presentation,” Mulder said hopefully.

“We have a 4:45 flight. And why can’t you learn PowerPoint, like everyone else?”

“When Gates gets the bugs out. See, there’re two things the press doesn’t know. Number one, the archaeological team in the Congo found some gouges in Fitzcarren’s ribs that seem to indicate…”

“Yes?”

“Ah, that Fitzcarren was gnawed to death by something big – bigger than anything walking around either Michigan Avenue or the Congo, except maybe Rosie O’Donnell.”

Scully’s brows rose. “Number two?” she asked slowly.

Mulder chewed at the inside of his cheek. “Well, there may be a couple of related homicides.”

“Related to this?” his partner asked, incredulously. “How?”

“Hold onto your popcorn,” Mulder breathed, fooling with switches.

**

“Richard ‘The Swordfish’ Fraternelli,” Mulder narrated as the first slide displayed a man. Or what had been one, Scully observed, grimacing. Looked more like Richard “The Flounder.” “He was one of Caprano’s collectors, about as low on the totem pole as you can get. He was supposed to meet some of the boys in Flatbush for dinner, wound up falling in the middle of the street in front of the restaurant, punched a three-foot-deep hole in the asphalt. Nothing on the block was more than four stories, and the coroner insists Fraternelli fell from a height of at least 30,000 feet. So we start looking for a helicopter, maybe one of the competing families wants to send a message to Tony, air mail. It was easy to find out – you know how tight they’re watching big-city airspace after 9-11. No chopper, no Cessna, no ultralights, not even any kids flying a kite in the area.”

Mulder clicked the projector remote. Another obviously mobbed-up man appeared onscreen, festooned with too much gold jewelry and wearing an expensive polo shirt and khakis. A tall drink was on the patio table next to the man’s chaise lounge. The man’s face looked like a Texas beef brisket about halfway through the grilling process.

“Jesus,” Scully exhaled. “He looks like he lost three rounds with a Radar Range.”

“Ramon DeColta, runner for one of the Venezuelan cocaine families, runs the Cook County franchise. His brains were cooked inside his skull. Eyeballs were like a couple of Swedish meatballs. And get this. We asked maybe did somebody do a job on him with a blowtorch, maybe one of those gas heat blowers. M.E. says no, this was radiation.”

“Nuclear?”

Mulder smiled sadly and hopelessly. “Solar, Scully. Solar.”

“What the hell—”

“Probably what he said, too,” Mulder empathized.

“Mulder, this is fascinating – I won’t deny your adolescent wonder. However, we are officially on P.T. in roughly three hours. In 24 hours, we will be in the warm bosom of Clan Scully – you no doubt playing World of Warcraft with the kids, me being interrogated about why you and I haven’t enjoyed the sacred sacrament and started churning out mini-Mulders. I won’t candy-coat it: It will be 72 hours of Gaelic-American purgatory, and if we escape with our souls intact, we will be all the stronger for it. But you will stay away from all mobsters – Irish or Italian – and certainly from Venezuelian drug kingpins. My Great-Uncle Francis should be grim and frightening enough for you. Is this registering, Mulder?”

Mulder nodded as he flourished a pink phone slip. “And then there’s this. It came in while you were with Skinner. Remember that case down in Florida? The Great Mouthless Storage Manager, your invisible slacker?”

Scully’s pale Irish skin lightened a shade. “No.”

Mulder grinned, folding his arms and nodding sharply with a blink. “Seems our favorite ex-djinn’s working a tap in Terry Fitzcarren’s former stomping grounds. She thinks she may know what happened to these people. I guess even after you lose the touch, you never lose the Eye.”

“Mulder, please. . .”

“It’s like kismet, fate, Scully. C’mon, lass; come leprechaun-hunting with me.”

O’Hare International Airport

Chicago

11: 10 p.m.

“I don’t want a pickup,” Scully said through her teeth for the fifth time. “I don’t like pickups, I can’t parallel park a pickup, I don’t want to haul some monster truck through Chicago rush hour traffic.”

The girl hadn’t yet broken contact with her computer screen. “You know, you’re really getting a great deal on the Sonora,” the clerk droned in a thick Chicago accent. “Normally, you’d haveta pay an extra $20 a day, but we got this special runnin’…”

“You’re not listening,” Scully growled, glaring at Mulder peering at the parade of bags, totes, and trucks circling the carousels. “I don’t want a Sonora.” She flopped her ID on the counter, as she had at Reagan when the airline tried to bump her. “I was supposed to get a Bureau car, but they’re all booked up, so I need a nice economy sedan, a Fusion, even a Yugo, if you have one. But I don’t want a pickup.”

The clerk’s fingers had been playing her keyboard during his entire discourse. Now she looked up for the first time with a beaming smile. “Jesus, you’re in luck. We gotta Dodge Grand Caravan.”

Scully’s right hand twitched toward her jacket, where her shoulder holster would’ve been if she hadn’t packed it.

“You want the insurance?” the clerk inquired.

Scully shook her head wearily. “I feel lucky.”

**

“Lemme get this straight,” Scully said slowly. “You gave away our room?”

“Nooo,” the impeccably dressed desk clerk responded patiently. “You failed to request a late check-in, and we have four, no, five, major conventions in this borough alone this week.”

Mulder had disappeared seconds after Scully queued up at the registration desk. “I have a confirmation number,” Scully complained. “I’m FBI, you’ve got that on your computer.”

“I sympathize,” the balding young man offered, a sympathetic look momentarily flitting across his pink face. “However, you failed to request a late check-in, and we were forced to offer your room to someone else.”

She pursed her lips momentarily before asking testily, “What else do you have? I just need a place to crash. Anything.”

“Well, we have one VIP suite open, but of course…”

“I’ll take it.”

“But it’s $350 a night.”

“Gimme the key.” Years of chasing other-dimensional entities and shape-shifting aliens and flukemen or man-flukes or whatever had rendered Scully immune to Bureau bean counters. And after said years of mind-bendingly unusual travel expenses, she doubted Skinner would lean too hard on her about Mulder raiding the hotel’s minibar and watching a few naughty nurse movies on Spectravision.

“But, ma’am, we like to keep the VIP suites open for, well, visiting VIPs…”

“How about VAPs?” Scully asked with a dangerous smile.

“What?”

“Very Armed People? Do you have a policy for them?”

“Need any help with your bags?”

“They got lost at the airport,” Scully informed him, slumping against the desk. “Just give me a 5 a.m. wake-up call.”

“Will do.” A phone warbled at the clerk’s elbow. He grabbed the handset. “Yeah? Oh…Oh. Oh, my. Yeah. Do that.” The desk clerk cradled the phone and looked nervously at the disheveled agent. “You have a Dodge Grand Caravan? It seems the attendant had a little accident in the parking garage. You know, those things are terrible for getting around in The Loop.”

“All set?” Mulder chirped as Scully’s trigger finger trembled. “I made a couple calls, and we’re all set for a meeting with the departed Mr. Fitzcarren’s Uncle Liam three hours before we have to be at Scullyfest 2011. Luck of the Irish, huh?”

“Erin go eff yourself,” Scully muttered, reaching for a luggage handle.

Chicago

9:21 a.m.

“Accommodations OK, guys?” Det. First Class Danny von Flanagan asked as they cruised past a seemingly interminable string of row houses, pizzerias, delis, groceries, industrial supply houses, and more row houses.

“Yeah, fantastic,” Mulder beamed. “They screwed up and we scored the Donny Trump suite. Little late night partying going on next door, but Scully straightened ‘em out. You know, after awhile. Right, Stallone?”

“Huh?” Scully grunted, head snapping up. “So what do we know about this McCarren?”

Von Flanagan shook his head. “Liam’s a smart one – hides under a few dozen layers of phony paper, cardboard businesses, straw men, and an Irish brogue so thick he could serve it up hot with some soda bread and green beer. He’s fourth generation Chicagoan, so when he’s alone, he probably sounds more like Elliott Ness than Father Flanagan, but he likes the image of a lovable but dangerous character.

“Nephew Terry settled for dangerous. Five assaults, two with intent, on his sheet, all kicked by his uncle and the family consigliere, a sharp old coot who’s been with the family since Eisenhower. Stupid kid, always wanted to throw gas on the fire. Not surprising he bought it young.”

“Little more surprising he bought it getting mauled by Barney’s tougher cousin,” Mulder suggested.

“Hmm,” von Flanagan murmured.

**

The Breath of Cork, a brick-fronted pub wedged between a women’s boutique and an insurance office, was Liam Fitzcarren’s base of operations. The almost impossibly deep room beyond the solid wood door was dark, comfortable, and permeated not unpleasantly with the smell of yeast, hops, and whiskey. Though it was early in the morning, a couple of guys in street department coveralls hurled darts and traded obscene observations about an unidentified female coworker.

Liam Fitzcarren was ensconced in a rear booth, a steaming cup of black coffee sending plumes to the stamped tin ceiling. On the bench across from him was an ancient man, bushy white hair neatly combed in waves, eyebrows like restless wooly worms, an expensive but vintage three-piece suit draping smoothly over his skeletal shoulders.

“My sympathies on your nephew’s death,” von Flanagan offered with nary a breath of irony, scooting in next to the old man.

Liam nodded, a small smile on his face. “Ah, that’s very kind of you, Detective. What I like about the boy – we may not often see eye to eye, but always a gentleman, he.”

The senior man smiled in kind.

“Mr. Fitzcarren, Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, from D.C. They investigate, um, unusual cases.”

Liam glanced over and extended a clean and exquisitely manicured hand. Mulder pumped it once. “And an unusual case it is, too, eh?”

“That’s an understatement,” Mulder said neutrally. He glanced at the old man. “And you are…?”

The gentleman smiled, the Mona Lisa number. “Cragan O’Mara, sir. A pleasure, I’m certain. I’m what you might call the family retainer, though I’m quite afraid I don’t retain as much as I used to.”

Von Flanagan snorted cheerfully. “Stow the blarney, Cragan. Mr. O’Mara here is either one of the most skilled attorneys in the five boroughs, or one of the luckiest.”

“I’d prefer to believe the former, but my honor forces me to confess to the latter,” O’Mara chuckled.

It was an immodest pass at modesty, but it was the elderly lawyer’s odd tone that brought Scully to attention.

“So,” Fitzcarren interjected, “I’m always happy to help my federal government in time of need, especially if we can find the son-of-a-bitch killed poor Terry.”

“You told Homicide the last you saw your nephew was right here, night he disappeared,” von Flanagan said, happy to be done with the amenities.

“That’s correct. My associates and I were celebrating a legal victory.”

“Any problems? Arguments between your nephew and anybody?”

Fitzcarren shook his head impatiently. “I’m sure you’ve already had a look at Terry’s sheet, and you know the boy has a touch of Irish temper.”

Von Flanagan’s eyebrows rose. “You’re a master of understatement today.”

Fitzcarren’s eyes narrowed, and Scully started to cough, but Cragan O’Mara cackled. “Come now, Liam. You and I both know the boy was no candidate for sainthood or even altar boy. But no, Detective, the evening proceeded without major conflict.”

“Major conflict?” Mulder inquired.

O’Mara’s blue eyes twinkled, and the agent could swear they became clearer. “What a perceptive fellow, this one. All right, Agent, you caught me in a sloppily constructed web of mendacity. The boy had a mouth on him, and little respect for his elders or betters. Liam, unclench that granite chin of yours. Friends, family, and associates alike, we’d come to ignore young Terry’s excesses. He was going a bit heavy on his drink, and one of the boys observed as how his consumption might lead him to an early demise. Terry took personal umbrage at this, but beyond a little bluster and crowing, no physical harm came to either party.”

“And who was the other party?” Scully asked blankly.

“That would be me, as a matter of fact,” O’Mara smiled. “I suppose I should know better than to try to staunch the foolish fervor of the young.”

“You think Cragan here bludgeoned Terry, booked the two of ‘em on a flight to darkest Africa, and put him to sleep with the dinosaurs?” Fitzcarren sneered. “And in case you should, I’ve got a dozen men plus William at the bar will tell you Cragan was with us ‘til the joint closed.”

“Nobody’s accusing anybody,” von Flanagan assured the mobster. “We want what you want, Liam – the guy that killed your nephew. You know of anyone in any of the other families that would have a reason to kill Terry?”

“Those fuck–, pardon my French, Johnny,” Fitzcarren said. “Those Capranos – you know the boy had a run-in with one of those hoodlums a few years back.”

Mulder suppressed a smile at the irony of Fitzcarren’s indictment. “You know Richard Fraternelli? Used to work for the Caprano organization?”

“Guy ripped a hole in the sidewalk in front of that eye-talian restaurant? Yeah, the arrogant smartass actually came in here looking for a job after Tony Caprano let him go. I told him politely to perform an unnatural act upon himself.”

“I was a bit more circumspect,” O’Mara added, unnecessarily. Almost purposefully unnecessarily, Scully thought.

Mulder persisted. “Ramon DeColta?”

Fitzcarren’s eyes flicked to his attorney, who sat smiling and motionless, and shook his head. Must’ve had business dealings, Scully concluded. But how would Fitzcarren jockey DeColta under a giant magnifying glass, like an ant ready for broiling?

“I’m afraid you’ve exhausted my supply of insight,” Fitzcarren said, rising. “Cragan and I have a meeting down at City Hall, a zoning issue, so we’ll say our goodbyes now. You want, William will set you up. My tab, William,” the mobster shouted to the bar as O’Mara slid carefully from the booth. The attorney’s expensive wingtips gleamed in contrast to his vintage suit and the surroundings.

“You mind if we ask William a few questions?” Mulder asked.

Fitzcarren grinned sadly. “Last I knew, William answers questions without authorization from myself or any other man. William, you help these fellows as a favor to Terry, hear? Anything you remember, right?”

The burly bartender nodded once. Fitzcarren nodded with finality, O’Mara with amiable courtesy, and von Flanagan with confusion. Mulder blinked his farewell.

“May you find what you’re looking for, and may it be what you seek, Agent Mulder,” O’Mara murmured. The crime boss and the lawyer took their leave, opening a blinding hole of outdoor light that sealed tight on their heels.

“What was that, Mulder?” von Flanagan demanded. “It was almost like the old man was trying to make a point. To you. And did you have to come on so strong with Fitzcarren? I have to keep my relationships solid in this town.”

“Let’s talk to the barkeep,” Mulder suggested, striding to the long expanse of dark wood. William placed a white towel and a newly polished stein on the bar. He looked to von Flanagan as if he’d been stamped out of that mold all Chicago bartenders used to pop out of before mixing frozen, syrupy cocktails had become the trend. “William…?”

“Healy,” he said. “Wha’ can I help you with?”

“The night Terry Fitzcarren disappeared, was there any trouble?”

“’Bout like Mr. Fitzcarren said,” Healy murmured. He smiled slightly. “Gotta keep your ears open and your mouth shut, kinda heavy clientele we get here. Terry always went through his belligerent drunk stage early in the evening, and if he didn’t get socked, or he didn’t sock somebody, or one a’ Mr. Fitzcarren’s boys didn’t sock somebody for him, Terry’d usually mellow into a whiny mope by ten or so. How his uncle won’t trust him with more of the business, how the chicks today are all lezzies ‘cause he can’t get laid, how the world’s just generally screwin’ him over.”

“Didn’t like him much, huh?” von Flanagan asked.

William shrugged. “You make your own luck, ‘cept Terry never wanted to waste the energy to do it. That night, he’d got all pissed off ‘cause one of the guys was ragging him how he was gonna drink and smoke himself into a early grave. He starts rantin’ and waving his arms, tellin’ everybody how he’s gonna outlive us all. The old man finally shut him up.”

“Cragan?”

“Yeah, he just smiles at Terry, that shit-eatin’ smile he’s got, and says, ‘May you live to be the oldest man in this room.’ He’s always spoutin’ some corny old Irish toast or blessing or some such crap. Well, Terry didn’t have enough brain cells left by that point to come up with anything, so he just staggered out.” William chuckled at the memory.

“Do you remember the night Richard Fraternelli came in here?” Mulder changed tracks.

William frowned for a second. “Didn’t get his name, but that must’ve been the Italian guy came in. See, we usually don’t get anybody in here from any farther south than Oak Lawn, so he stood out. Plus, he got a little, ah, loud. Seems he blamed some falling out he’d had with his boss on Mr. Fitzcarren.”

Looking for a job, Scully reflected. “Did it get physical?”

“Nah, the guy was a little shit-faced, but he knew not to fuck with Mr. Fitzcarren or the boys. He started talking kinda loud, like you do when you wanna punch somebody but you know better? Well, Mr. Fitzcarren just talked him down quiet-like, and suggested he go home to dry out. Even asked if I’d call the guy a cab, and Cragan sent him on his way with some more genuine Irish folk shit.”

“OK. Ramon DeColta.”

William didn’t seem to lose his composure, but his eyes shut down. “Nah, don’t ring a bell.”

“Doesn’t ring a bell, huh?” Mulder smiled. “I’d have thought DeColta would’ve ‘stood out.’”

“Mighta been off that night,” the bartender suggested. “Yeah, Jen, she was subbing for me.”

“Yeah. Look, William, I’m not going to start talking about bringing in health inspectors and checking to see if your license covers after-hours, ‘cause I’m sure you or Fitzcarren or whoever’s paid off the appropriate municipal officials,” von Flanagan said pleasantly but purposefully. “But if I start looking at this bar, your ownership papers, any illegal activity taking place on these premises, and Mr. Fitzcarren finds out it was you who brought all this federal heat down on him, I don’t think he’s going to bring out the good whiskey for your wake.” He paused. “We’re not looking to burn Fitzcarren,” he added, swallowing a “for now.” “We just want to know why DeColta came in here.”

William paused a beat, and then sighed. “OK, but you gotta keep this confidential. All I’m gonna say is DeColta and Mr. Fitzcarren were discussing a business deal, and Mr. Fitzcarren didn’t like DeColta’s terms. There were a few what-you-call ‘veiled threats’, and DeColta and his guys left. No guns, no problems, OK? That’s it.”

Mulder waited, but William had turned into a Stonehenge lawn ornament. “OK,” the agent said, pushing off the bar. von Flanagan sprinted after him into the sunlight, only to find him standing on the sidewalk, transfixed. Scully exited shortly thereafter.

“Mulder?” she inquired, walking up to him after a quick glance at von Flanagan. “Hey, you all right?”

“Ah, I was just thinking about the ‘killings,’ if that’s what we want to call them.”

Von Flanatan gave him a skeptical look. “Jesus, Mulder, you’ve been acting spooky ever since we left headquarters.”

“I’m fine,” Mulder smiled, half at the old nickname. “Look, the two things the victims have in common is Liam Fitzcarren and this bar. But what could that mean? I mean, Terry was part of the organization, part of the family. And how did a bunch of mobsters pull off three such bizarro murders? I’m sure they’ve got the money, but how do you hire the muscle to stick a giant, seemingly extinct carnivore on one man, drop a second one on the street out of thin air, and fry a third with solar radiation?”

He looked over at von Flanagan, who was staring incredulously at him. “Unless that’s how you Windy City guys roll,” Mulder added with a lazy grin.

Cicero, Illinois

10:17 a.m.

“He did something to him, that mick flauta de hijo,” Rosarita DeColta spat as she set a plate of sugar-dusted pastries before the agents and quickly crossed herself. “I just know it. Those criminals killed my Ramon.”

Standing in an apron in the spacious living room of her son’s luxuriously ill-gotten home, wearing a doubtlessly extravagant diamond necklace and a designer housedress, Ramon DeColta’s mother seemed unaware of the irony of her indictment of the Fitzcarrens. The universal battle cry of the doting mother – “He’s a good boy.”

“How do you think they might’ve done that?” Scully asked patiently.

“How do I know?” the fashionable, gray-haired senora snapped. “Prob’ly one of those satellite laser beams I seen on the TV. Those Fitzcarrens, they got loads of money, the Capranos, too. Everybody’s getting’ all high-tech, with the Internet and the cell phones and the fax machines. Maybe they figure it’s cheaper just to buy some surplus killer satellite than to pay out all that money on hitmen.”

“Uh, we’ll look into that,” Mulder suggested.

Rosarito’s eyes narrowed. “You think I’m muy loco , a little crazy, huh? Well, let me tell you, Mr. Bigshot Federal Cop, you grow up like I did in one of the villages a thousand miles from the nearest indoor bathroom, you’d know there are loco things going on around us every day you can’t even see if you had Superman’s x-ray glasses…”

Mulder started to correct her on the superheroic inaccuracy, but she was on a roll.

“My papa, he saw the chupacabra at our window one night, waiting to snatch my sister from her bed. One time, I saw my dead uncle digging in our garden – just like that boy in the movie.” She crossed herself once more, whether for the dead uncle, herself, or Haley Joel Osment, Mulder didn’t know.

“You, ah, found the body, right?” he ventured.

Rosarita turned gray and back to Maybelline pink. “It was as if they’d barbecued him alive. I could hear his skin crackling, like frying meat. And he just kept screaming, as if the devil himself would take him. I didn’t tell those pinchi policia, those dumb cops, but that’s how I knew it was those criminals who were always bugging my Ramon.”

The report hadn’t mentioned DeColta saying anything before he died. “What did he scream?” Mulder asked.

Despite the horrific circumstances, she had their attention now, and she crossed her fleshy arms with satisfaction. “Omerta.”

**

“Omerta,” Scully murmured as von Flanagan calmly dodged a vintage Lincoln pulling an abrupt three-lane change across the exit from 290 into the business district. Scully grabbed the dash and waited for her heart to return to a normal rhythm. “The mafia code of loyalty. DeColta betrayed somebody in one of the families, or they betrayed him.”

“Yeah, but wait,” Mulder said as the cop screeched to a halt to allow a jaywalking homeless man to pass. The man grinned toothlessly and flipped the agents off. “DeColta was a Venezuelan. Why would he have used an Italian mob term like that?”

Scully shrugged. “Maybe he was trying to say an Italian mobster had killed him. One of Caprano’s guys, perhaps.”

“I don’t buy it. He’s being fried alive, probably going out of his mind. Why would he be that roundabout about who killed him? If it was one of Caprano’s guys, why not yell, ‘Caprano’? I mean, it’s not like the hitter matters; Caprano put out the hit. If it was a hit. And the same for Fitzcarren. I mean, if it was a hit. Oh, crap, I don’t know what I mean.”

The assistant district attorney von Flanagan had recommended Mulder meet was a tall, thin, Lincolnesque man named McCoy, who’d recently left the New York DA’s office to take a post in Cook County. He was now located in one of the high rise buildings off of Chicago Avenue. They parked and entered the lobby, rode the elevator to the fifth floor, and walked into the cubicle land. McCoy was burning the late night oil at his desk, and his serious demeanor gave way to a dry smile as he considered the Fitzcarrens.

“Extraordinarily lucky,” McCoy said. “We’ve had them up on a few local charges, trying to make something stick long enough to put Liam away, but something would always break in his favor. Some juror we had pegged to convict him would choke on a piece of hot dog, a crucial piece of evidence would just vanish from police inventory, the jury would fly against all logic and just cut Liam loose. Incredible luck. The same was true of his father, Seamus, and, I heard, his grandfather, too. Cragan’s been representing the family for nearly 50 years.”

“What about this Cragan guy? The lawyer,” Mulder asked. “He must be really good, huh?”

McCoy started to nod, then frowned. “You know, not really, when I think about it. As I recall, he’s not particularly adept with case law, and his closings are based more on colorful cultural aphorisms and appeals to sentiment than on the facts of the case. Half the time lately, he’ll just stop in the middle of a motion, like he’s lost the thread of what he’s thinking. Of course, he’s somewhere between 80 and 150. It’s amazing he’s had such an impressive win record.”

“Amazing,” Scully moaned unconsciously. She was getting an uneasily familiar feeling…

**

“Agent Scully?” Patel’s low voice crackled over the speaker of Scully’s iPhone. The young man had taken second seat to Scully as the X-Files’ forensic specialist of choice. “It’s me. I had a look at your victims, and I can honestly say I am totally at a loss. I ran the bite marks on Fitzcarren’s body against every animal large enough to have inflicted the injury, and nothing even came close. Except some fossil teeth I examined at Georgetown University.

“Fraternelli’s injuries were more, ah, conventional: He actually appears to have died of cardiac failure, which is common enough in fall victims. But, given the condition of his body, I could find no evidence of him struggling or having been restrained in any way, which I might have expected if he’d been taken on an evening helicopter ride.”

“No helicopters were up anywhere near that part of town,” von Flanagan supplied, swerving smoothly around a cursing Chicago cabbie. “That’s been confirmed – 9/11, the threats to the Sears Tower.”

“As for DeColta, he had suffered injuries that might be consistent with one who’d spent his summer about two planets closer to the sun. I checked to see if the burns might’ve been caused by radioactive exposure, but he exhibited no other physiological symptoms of radiation poisoning. In short, Agent, you are up the creek without benefit of forensic insight.”

“Thanks, anyway,” Scully sighed, clicking off. She glanced at her watch. “Detective, can you drop us off at the station? I have a family, er, thing we need to get to.”

“That reminds me,” Mulder ventured. “I seem to have forgot to pack that 30-year-old whiskey for Great Uncle Francis.”

“Argh,” Scully stated.

**

“Dana!” the old man’s ancient eyes looked even more sunken in his skull because they were shaded from the sun by his enormous eyebrows.

“Uncle Francis,” Scully greeted with a suitably polite smile, trying not to wince as she got close enough to hug the man who smelled like his diaper probably needed changed.

The elderly Scully turned to Mulder and asked with a frown, “And who are you?”

“This is Mulder—you met him before, Uncle Francis,” she replied, hoping she didn’t sound too annoyed.

“What kind of a name is Mulder? And where’s the whiskey?”

“Um—“ Mulder started, but was rescued by Maggie, Tara, Matt, and Claire, who rushed outside the giant suburban home as soon as they realized Mulder and Scully were there.

“Fox! Dana!” Maggie called as if she hadn’t seen them in ages. They lived close to each other—in fact, they were considering inviting Maggie to live next door in the duplex. It was recently vacant and they wanted to make sure she had help when she needed it.

“Why is it you have to travel a few hundred miles to be excited to see someone?” Scully asked rhetorically so only Mulder could hear, but then put on a bright face for her immediate family as they approached.

There was kissing and hugging, and Mulder and Matt high-fived. Then they started back toward the house, and on their way to the porch, Francis backhanded Mulder across his arm and asked, “Who are you again?”

“Dana! And Fox!” Someone yelled, and Mulder wasn’t sure whether he should turn or duck.

A very large woman in her fifties bustled over, nearly knocking down two rowdy red-headed children fighting over a Nintendo DS. She held out her arms and waved her hands at her wrists. Scully wasn’t sure whether she was fake-crying or waving them to hug her, but the agent smiled politely and said, “It’s nice to see you again.”

Mulder glanced at her, questioningly, but she pointedly didn’t look at him. “My God, you look like you’ve lost weight,” she said, but didn’t give Scully a chance to respond as she enveloped her in a hug, and pulled Mulder in too. “So when’s the wedding date?”

Mulder laughed nervously. “There’s not a…”

“We’re not sure,” Scully answered with a half-smile.

“Well, don’t you live together in Bethesda?”

“Georgetown,” Mulder corrected, and promptly received an elbow in his side.

“Oh, you’ll have to give me your address so I can send you baked things. I love to bake,” she said with a grin. “What do you like to eat? You look like a man who can eat.”

“I—“

“He’s watching his weight,” Scully answered, falsely apologetic, and grabbed one of the kids nearby to rescue them from this situation. “Aedan, how’s school?’

“Good, I guess,” the six-year-old answered, and then said with sudden excitement, “You know what I did yesterday? I put a piece of a stick in Jessie’s backpack ‘cause it looked like a turd.” He giggled. “’Cause it looked like a *turd*,” he repeated, making sure they understood why it was hilarious.

“That’s very commendable,” Mulder said kindly, and the child beamed as Scully shot him an angry look.

The woman was now gone, and so her ploy had worked. She had gone on to talk to someone else in the exquisite but crowded house. “Who was that?” Mulder asked her.

She shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. “No idea.”

“Okay. Well, I’m gonna go check out the hors d’ oerves.”

“Mulder, don’t you dare leave me here—“ he was gone too quickly for Scully to catch him. “Dammit,” she whispered, and little Aedan giggled and said, “Ooooooh! Aunt Dana said a bad word!”

Scully rolled her eyes but managed to smile. “Go play with your cousins, Aedan,” she told him kindly and sighed in relief as he ran off. But she was instantly sorry, because when Great Aunt Kathleen saw that she wasn’t talking to anyone, she promptly approached her and offered a hug, and the most popular question of the afternoon. “When’s the wedding date, dear?”

Meanwhile Mulder was telling stories of mothmen and flukemen and man-eating amoebas to a group of previously bored college and high-school-aged Scully’s.

“That’s amazing, man,” a sixteen-year-old hipster with red hair told him.

Mulder nodded his agreement.

“But you ever seen a Prince concert while you’re high?” the young rapper wannabe asked with a smirk. “Now *that* is truly amazing.”

The other kids stared at him and Mulder chuckled. “Can’t say I have, but I have seen an intelligent octopus used as a weapon before. And I wasn’t high.”

“*Sick*” one of the college-aged boys declared.

“What are you folks talking about over here?” an older voice asked, and Mulder turned around to see a middle aged man approach. He didn’t know who he was, but he said, “Just talking about what I do for a living. I’m Mulder—Scully—Dana’s partner.” He fumbled with his title.

“Mulder? That’s a strange name. I’m Don. Jessie’s husband,” he said, and pointed to someone Mulder didn’t know with his unoccupied hand.

Mulder nodded politely and some of the kids dispersed, sensing the ‘cool’ factor drop now that a mature adult had apparently entered the picture.

“So you’re her partner? Are the two of you going to tie the knot?”

It was about an hour later when Maggie brought out cookies and Mulder snagged three that he spotted a familiar face in the crowd. Scully nearly bumped into him from behind. “Mulder! There you are. I’m going to kill you.”

“Scully—look over there.”

“I can’t see over there. People are too tall. What is it?”

“Cragan O’Mara.”

Scully’s face changed from perpetual annoyance to shock. “What’s he doing here?”

“Let’s go find out.”

He stuffed one of the cookies in his mouth and handed the other two back to Scully. He nearly ran into that woman who had originally greeted him. She turned to see who had bumped her, and was now staring Mulder straight in the face. “Watching your weight?” she asked after a moment’s pause.

Mulder’s mouth was full, so Scully simply said, “It’s the high-carb diet,” as she pushed him forward in the sea of Scully’s. But by the time they reached where Mulder had previously seen O’Mara, he was gone. “Excuse me,” Mulder asked, and swallowed the last of the cookie as he tapped the shoulder of some woman he didn’t recognize, “Excuse me. Have you seen the man who was standing right here a moment ago? Old fellow, older suit?”

She smiled and said, “Hi, Dana. Good to see you again. You must be Fox. It’s nice to meet you. And yes, I did see Cragan. He was just here—he’s a delightful man, isn’t he? I’m sure he’ll want to catch you before he goes. He was just leaving.”

“Sally, do you remember how we’re related to him?” Scully asked brightly.

Sally paused, then frowned. “As a matter of fact…I don’t. Isn’t that terrible? I guess with a family this big, though…”

Mulder frowned. “Thanks for your help, Sally. Good to meet you.”

He spotted O’Mara by the door, then, and said, “There! Scully, come on.” He nearly dragged his partner by the wrist, leading her to the front door. But again, he lost sight of O’Mara and then he was gone. “Mulder!” Don from the yard suddenly rescued himself from a conversation with Francis, and clapped Mulder on the shoulder. “Hey, have you seen Cragan around here? You know who I’m talking about?”

“Actually, we were looking for him too,” Scully said.

“We just made a bet and I owe him $10,” Don said. He shook his head. “But he disappeared before I could give it to him. I guess with this many people in the room…”

“Do you remember how your wife is related to him?” Mulder asked.

Don laughed. “I’m lucky if I remember what my wife *looks* like with this many Irish people in the room. Sorry,” he said, and shook his head.

“That’s okay. Thanks,” Scully replied, and turned to Mulder. “Think we should—“her phone interrupted her, and she immediately answered it. “Scully. Oh, no, it’s no problem. No, really. Oh? Okay. Where? Mulder and I will be there in about thirty minutes. Thanks.”

Mulder gave her an inquisitive look.

“That was von Flanagan. Apparently there’s a woman named Jen who says she has important information regarding the case. She wants us to meet her in a coffee shop on Michigan Avenue. We should get on the road if we want to beat rush hour.”

Mulder laughed. “You just want to get out of—“ he received a prompt elbow in the side as Scully’s mother approached from behind.

“Fox, Dana! Come on into the kitchen—Tara wants to know if you’re going to have time to set up some video games for Matt and the other kids.”

Scully gave her an apologetic expression. “Sorry, Mom, but we have to take off. We just got a call.”

Maggie’s face fell, but then she perked up. “You’ll be by later, right?”

“Absolutely,” Mulder said, and gave her a hug. “Try not to suffocate in here.”

She laughed and slapped him on the shoulder playfully, then gave her daughter a hug. “Be careful driving. It’s supposed to snow. But they said it’s going to be a wet snow, so it shouldn’t be too bad until it starts to freeze. Oh! Before I forget—Cragan had to leave, but he asked me to give you this.” She handed them a small folded Post-it note.

Mulder took it and read, “May the roof over your heads be as well thatched as the couple inside is well matched.”

Maggie burst into laughter. “See, even *he* knows you two better than you do.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Scully said with a smile and a jesting eye roll.

When they were on their way in the car, Scully turned to Mulder and said with a nearly crazy smile that really turned him on, “So Mulder, when’s the wedding date?”

___________

“Ah,” Jen smirked. “You brought the little woman. And by little woman—-”

“Wassup?” Mulder interjected, seizing Scully and guiding her into the chair across from the retired djinn. The Michigan Avenue coffee shop was packed as the Chicago nightlife roared outside. Jen had commandeered the window table that afforded her the best seat for the human parade of which she’d never tired. She smiled sweetly at Scully; Scully fired back with an equal serving of strychnine-laced saccharine.

“Serious bad mojo in the workplace.” Jen sipped at her Kono Caramel Macchiato and sighed blissfully. “Haven’t felt this kind of vibe off anyone since Mussolini asked me to make him immortal. For a guy who always made the trains run on time, he sure didn’t see that one coming back to bite his Fascist ass. You know his middle name was Andrea? I always thought maybe he was overcompensating—-”

“You called?” Scully murmured.

“Sure. Fine. Whatever. There’s this old dude, probably a few centuries older than me. . .”

“Cragan O’Mara,” Mulder supplied. “Already had the pleasure.”

Jen raised an eyebrow. “Wow. You have wised up. Anyway, I think he’s cleaning up Chicago’s surplus douchebag population, though I can’t figure out how Liam Fitzcarren’s brain-deficient kid fits in.”

“You think O’Mara’s a leprechaun,” Scully said.

“Oh, please, of course not. There’s no such thing. Said the genie to the first fed ever to autopsy an invisible man.” Gen turned to Mulder. “I was working the stick a few weeks ago when Old Man Fitzcarren told that South American drug dude — DeColta — in no uncertain terms he wasn’t interested in doing business with him. Then DeColta turns to the goon that came in with him and said somethin in Spanish that didn’t sound very complimentary. They grab their coats, and Cragan, who’s been grinning the whole time, says to DeColta, now, lemme see… Yeah. ‘May the sun shine warmly on your face.’ Something like that. Blarney bullshit. Or so I thought.”

“And what did Mr. O’Mara tell Richard the Swordfish when he came in to leverage Liam?” Mulder inquired, clearly exhilarated. “No, wait; lemme guess. ‘May the road rise up to meet you.’”

Jen smiled serenely, embracing her mug with black-nailed fingers. Then the smile dropped away. “William’d told me what Cragan said to Terry the night he went missing, but I didn’t put it together ‘til yesterday morning, when I read about what happened to him. My poker face seems to have disappeared with the mystical powers, and I could tell Cragan could tell I knew. Must be some kind of fraternity between preternatural entities. I thought for a second he was going to toast my continued weight loss or wish me into the cornfield or something, but he just hobbled out. I think he may just be biding his time, though, and I figured you’d be the only guy, well, open enough to the possibility.”

“The possibility one of Chicago’s oldest and worst octogenarian lawyers is a leprechaun?” Scully squeaked. “Listen to yourself.”

“Still an absolute joy, huh?” Jen sighed. Mulder shrugged.

“”All three of the vics talked to Liam Fitzcarren shortly before they died, and they weren’t exactly pleasant encounters,” Mulder explained to his partner patiently. “All three encounters were in Fitzcarren’s favorite bar. And this lawyer, Cragan O’Mara, was in the vicinity each time.

“Then we got the murder methods, if you wanna call them that. O’Mara tells the first vic, ‘May the road rise up to meet you,’ and sure enough, it does, so to speak. The second time, it’s another old Irish saying: ‘May the sun shine warmly on your face.’ Next day, the victim gets a sunburn a tanker truck full of No. 400 sunblock wouldn’t have stopped.”

“Mulder…”

“No, Scully, wait. The third guy, Fitzcarren, the one sleeping with the dinosaurs, he gets a little soused, starts mouthing off. This old shyster tells him, ‘May you live to be the oldest man in the room.’ Now, where those scientists found Fitzcarren, wouldn’t that make him the oldest man in existence? Of course, I don’t think the kid’s uncle would’ve had anything to do with his murder, so that means the lawyer’s working on his own. At least in the last murder.”

“Mulder,” Scully said, this time more quietly but firmly. “This is like saying Tinkerbell jolted Fitzcarren with her magic wand, or accusing the Big Bad Wolf of huffing and puffing and, well, you know what I mean. A leprechaun?”

“When DeColta got fried, he kept yelling something,” Mulder persisted. “His mom thought he was screaming, ‘Omerta!’ Probably’d been around mobsters too long. What if he was shouting, ‘O’Mara!’? His mom’s a superstitious old broad: What if DeColta realized Cragan O’Mara had put a curse on him at the bar?”

“I thought those old Irish toasts were supposed to be blessings. A leprechaun?”

Mulder sat up. “This O’Mara, he’s been working for three generations of the Fitzcarren family, for a half-century. He’s not a particularly great lawyer, but he always manages to get Fitzcarren off. And there’s his shoes.”

“His shoes,” Scully finally intoned.

“Bear with me for a minute. I surfed up some stuff about leprechauns on the web. The word came from the Irish ‘leith phroyan,’ which means ‘one shoemaker.’ Quote: ‘Their clothing is never extravagant. Their footwear, however, is a source of pride, and every leprechaun possesses the very finest he can make. O’Mara was wearing this suit that looks like he bought it for Harry Truman’s inauguration, but you should’ve seen his shoes. They were gorgeous, like some kinda work of art or something.”

“Mulder…”

“Look, the British Isles have always been what, kind of mystical, right. OK, now, don’t most folk legends and superstitions have some sort of basis in reality? People started eating kosher because the pork back then was full of worms and the shellfish would rip you up from the inside. Now it’s a religious practice.”

“So much for Shaw’s Crab House tomorrow night,” Scully said. “Mulder, I could understand if their were some sort of scientific rationale for this. But magic, John? Leprechauns?”

“What would a leprechaun be, Monica? I mean, if there was such a thing? Maybe some kind of genetic fluke or something? Maybe from ‘way back or something, some race or culture that’s been breeding true for centuries.”

“You’re saying you think this ‘leprechaun’ is some kind of psychokinetic genetic mutant? What you’re talking about is the ability to move a human being through time, to control the power of the sun.”

“Like he’s so damned special,” Jen muttered.

**

It wasn’t long into their conversation that the phone rang, and von Flanagan informed them that they had another lead. A building in Cicero, used as a law office, had apparently employed all of the Fitzcarren’s at one time or another, and since Terry met his end, it had mysteriously popped up on Google searches as ‘Chicago’s first mobster house, home to Fitzcarren.’ It was too good to refuse, especially considering there was one employee who had left years ago, but whose name was on the building contract: Cragan O’Mara.

Neither Mulder nor Scully took much notice of the man in front of a central pipeline exposed in the wall of the lobby, tinkering with the temperature controls through a remote connection coming from the boiler in the basement.

They instead got on the elevator at the receptionist’s direction and traveled to the top floor, where the storage lockers were kept. They planned to go through lots and lots of files.

The receptionist at the 10th floor was more than happy to show them the files, but told them how to let themselves out and explained that she was leaving for the day. There was no one else left on the floor. The 10th floor was more like a warehouse with a bathroom and a desk. Rows and rows of filing cabinets lined the massive open space.

“Odd…I always thought the 10th floor was reserved for the boss,” Scully commented as they walked to the building’s files to confirm the Google article that identified O’Mara as the original owner.

“In this building, it’s the 9th floor,” Mulder stated. “I read that on the elevator. It’s a penthouse too, so it looks like the current ‘boss’ lives there part of the time. We need to determine if Terry Fitzcarren might have worked here before he died. I’m willing to bet that something here will solve this case.”

Scully raised an eyebrow as she opened the top drawer and extracted a building plan. “Mulder, that’s an enormous leap you’ve made.”

He stopped, and stepped back before opening the building plan he held in his hand. “Scully, don’t you ever get tired of having the same argument? I mean, we tend to repeat ourselves. Why don’t we just jump to the part where I say that’s it’s not so fantastic, and you say—”

“Shhh,” she held up her hand.

He was silent for a moment, and then asked, “What?”

“Do you hear water running?”

He shrugged. “It’s probably the old pipes in this building and the radiators. Everything here is ancient.”

She frowned at that explanation, but opened her building plan. “Now *that’s* interesting. Mulder, this floor was built to be waterproof. The roof is triple reinforced with the same techniques used in nineteenth century cargo ships at the dawn of the industrial age. It’s old technology but it works. No wonder O’Mara keeps his files up here.”

“Lower humidity and watertight environment. There’s probably enough paper trails and fuzzy math in here to make a politician’s head spin,” Mulder quipped, and glanced at the rows and rows of files as he opened his building plan. “But it’s well-shielded fuzzy math.”

“This is amazing,” Scully ignored him as she put her building plan back and extracted another, and then another. “This entire floor is built to be watertight, fireproof, and earthquake resistant. It acts as a lightning rod for the rest of the building. And this was all done in 1896.”

“But nothing to confirm that O’Mara was the builder.”

“O’Mara couldn’t possibly have been alive in 1896,” Scully said in her typical skeptical tone, but Mulder looked away for a moment and began walking toward the sound of the running water.

“So now you definitely hear that too,” Scully stated.

“Yeah, it’s kind of odd…it sounds too loud to be basic building piping and…” he touched the door to the receptionist area, then looked behind him in alarm. “Scully, this door is vibrating.”

He then suddenly looked down, noticing something wrong around his feet. They were getting wet. He realized that the waterproof seal on the door had broken, and that water was now leaking in at an alarming rate. “Uh-oh,” he said, and ran from the door just as the hinges began rocking violently. He pushed Scully to the far end of the room and said, “It looks like we’re about to get wet.”

Scully’s expression was one of alarm, but it changed to utter shock when the door burst open, wood from the frame splintering in a small explosion around the site while water gushed in at the doorknob level. It quickly dissipated to fill up the room to their ankles, and it was rising.

“Let’s get to the stairwell!” Scully exclaimed, and they ran through the thick, clear water to the staircase by the elevators. It was locked down. “Why is this locked?!” She yelled, getting ready to kick it.

Mulder held her back. “That’s not going to help. Come on, we need to find out the root cause and stop this from getting any worse.”

When they began looking, it didn’t take them long. The bathroom was clearly the source, based on the sound and the flow of the water. The toilet and sink pipes were in the process of severely overflowing, gushing water out at gallons per minute. The pressure was threatening to buckle the system and cause an explosion.

“This is too dangerous to work on—we need to find a way out of here,” Scully told him. The water was now rising to their knee level.

“There should be another staircase…” Mulder said, and grabbed Scully’s hand as he waded through the water. The cold liquid that surrounded them splashed up and they were quickly getting soaked. Scully’s teeth begin to chatter.

They ran around the massive floor but found nothing that resembled a way out. The tenth floor had no windows—it was part of the plan to make the place hurricane proof. They looked around desperately, and then Mulder said, “Go try and save some of O’Mara’s personal files.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’m going to try to break out of here the only other way,” he said, and began wading through the water toward the fire ax on the wall. Scully watched him for a moment before rushing away herself, trying to find O’Mara’s personal file cabinet in the rows of endless flooding files.

Meanwhile Mulder grabbed a chair and stood on it, wobbling as it was almost completely under water now, and wielded the axe at the angled roof overhead. It was backbreaking work, swinging an axe upwards and not chopping off one’s foot or leg in the process.

**

While Mulder and Scully’s drama played out inside the building, Henry Weems, a local Chicago handyman, had been called to assist the man working on the main boiler pipes.

He had worked with Mulder and Scully before, on a case involving quite a lot of luck and the fortunate outcome of a mobster dead and a little boy the recipient of his liver. Having now knowledge of their location in the building or their dire situation, though, Henry decided that now was a good time to have a snack as he stood in front of the broken zone valve and assessed the problem.

He pulled out a box of St. Patrick’s Day cookies, sugar cookies in the shape of four-leaf-clovers with green sprinkles on top, and ate one as the original plumber looked on, annoyed. “I think you’ve got a zone valve isolation problem,” Henry assessed as he squatted down and proceeded to finish his cookie. “Yes, actually, that’s precisely what’s going on. This zone valve is reading that it’s disconnected from the rest of the system.” He stood. As he did so, sprinkles fell into the crack between the boiler pipe lead and the boiler below. The sprinkles almost immediately attracted a mouse that the building janitor had been trying to catch for weeks.

The mouse sniffed and then ate the sprinkles, which occupied him for just long enough for him to be in the correct location so that when Henry threw the switch and isolated that zone valve, the pipe he rested on began to retain the heat that would have been dissipated through the rest of the system. The sprinkles were gobbled up as the mouse heated up. He leapt off of the hot pipe and scampered away, but on his way down he fell painfully onto the boiler operating switch, tripping it and causing the boiler to gurgle and then chug to a stop.

Of course, with ingress still occurring, the water was not being pumped out and the pipes began to swell under the pressure. It ruptured, exploding the weak point of the pipe outward and puncturing the pipe next to it. Water began to gush out and into the basement, effectively draining the system.

All of this was unbeknownst to Henry, who finished the last of his St. Patrick’s Day cookies and mock saluted to the plumber, who stared dumbfounded at the system. All lights indicated that floors 1-9 were the correct temperature now, which meant his job was done. He closed up the panel and walked toward the locker area to prepare to go home.

**

“Mulder!” Scully yelled, unable to keep her head above the water anymore. She felt her partner’s arm around her as he dropped the axe into the water in favor of grabbing her. He pulled her close to him and helped her grab onto an I-beam secured in the ceiling.

“I think their roof is as well thatched…as we are appropriately matched,” Mulder quipped, and he blew bubbles as his face went underwater for a moment. Scully’s face hugged the ceiling, her arms quivering from the cold and the task of holding herself up.

She chuckled, and looked over to him. This was a desperate situation—one of the most desperate they had been in. They could not get out, and the water was still rising.

“I’m sorry, Dana,” he said over the sound of the rushing water, and didn’t look at her.

“Oh, please,” Scully shot back at him, and smiled. “You have nothing to be sorry about, partner,” her words were labored, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to hold herself up much longer. But that wasn’t the only reason why Mulder didn’t smile back. There was something about the way she said it…some twinge of regret laced in his voice that he wasn’t about to bring up in what looked like their last moments on planet Earth.

Suddenly, the water stopped rising. Then it began going down. Slowly but surely, the water was draining. Vents in the floor opened up and allowed the water to fall back into the piping system that carried it to the boiler. The basement was flooding, but Mulder and Scully didn’t know that.

“Don’t let go of that rod,” Mulder said.

Scully chuckled. “That’s what she said?” she asked, her arms and voice shaking violently at this point.

He laughed back this time, his voice shaking also from the labor of holding themselves up. There was no guarantee that they wouldn’t be swept into something sharp or deadly, so they had to hang on until they could see where they would land. The water went down far enough that a filing cabinet was visible beneath them, on its side. It was just the right height to assist their drop to the ground. Scully easily dropped on top of it, denting it slightly, and then gingerly stepped off.

Mulder, however, dropped and missed it completely, somehow, landing awkwardly on the soaked carpeting. Scully rushed over, but he held up his hand. “I’m okay. I’m just glad I didn’t fall through the floor.”

Scully sighed. “Now we just have to find a way out of here.”

As suddenly as the water began draining, von Flanagan burst through the stairwell door. “There you two are!” he exclaimed. Three uniformed officers were behind him, weapons drawn just in case. “Been tryin’ to call you for the past hour now.” He stopped, and looked around at the devastated storage floor. “What the hell happened here?”

**

“Ah, so good to see you lovely children again,” Cragan O’Mara exulted as the agents and his favorite barmaid/djinn walked into the den.

“I’m going to kick his lucky charms,” Mulder announced.

Scully waved him back as she closed the pocket doors between them and the assembled Scully clan. “Mr. O’Mara, I think we could make a solid case for attempted murder here — we’ll find the man who tampered with the pipes in your building, and I can’t imagine he or Liam Fitzcarren will be willing to take the heat for you. By now, I have to wonder if Fitzcarren doesn’t have some suspicion you had something to do with his nephew’s death. His man William doesn’t seem altogether trustworthy.”

“Well, dear Liam’ll have to send one of his boys to have done with me,” Cragan grinned. “You see, I am no longer in the Fitzcarrens’ employ.”

“What’s that mean?” Mulder muttered. “Don’t tell me he let you just walk out.”

“Liam knows I still have considerable influence,” Cragan murmured, spurring a chill up Mulder’s spine. “In fact, I wished him all the best. ‘May you be full to burstin’ with good fortune and health,’ I told him.”

“Jesus,” Mulder whispered.

Scully pressed on. “I have to know something, Mr. O’Mara. If what my partner believes about you is true, you could have found a far more creative and untraceable way to kill us.”

“Kill you?” Cragan sounded genuinely wounded. “Dear Dana. I knew fate would intervene well before you and your beloved would perish. I can read luck like a gypsy reads the tea leaves. Kill you? Heaven forefend.”

Scully started to protest, then stopped to consider. “Wait a minute. You wanted us to catch you?”

“And you’ve done so, admirably, my dear. I am now totally and utterly in your debt.”

“Took you long enough to work that one out,” Jen snorted. Cragan favored her with a bemused glint.

“I suspected you were a special girl,” the leprechaun nodded. “Only one with a special imagination would have suspected a feeble old gentleman such as myself could singlehandedly three tough customers like Terry and Mr. Fraternelli and Senor DeColta. But you’re no longer special, are you, Lass?”

“Quit loving the job,” Jen shrugged. “That’s what happened with you, isn’t it?”

Cragan templed his fingers and leaned comfortably back into his buttery leather chair. “More than a century I been doing for the Fitzcarrens and their sorry lot. A deal with the devil to save my kin.

“You’ve no doubt heard of the great troubles, when the blight took the potato crop? Well, one day I come home from a morning of wood-gathering to find this odd sort helpin’ himself to my secret store of Irish whisky. I’m ready to finish him right there, and he asks me, ‘How would you like to find your larder forever filled with potatoes?’”

Mulder turned to Jen. “Jeez — a bagful of turnips, a larder full of spuds? You guys really know how to haggle.”

“Had to be there,” the djinn sighed.

“At any rate, folks was dying all around us — I’d just buried my kid brother Joseph — and in my half-starved desperation, I couldna turn down the odd man’s offer. I think you’ve already guessed the rest. I believe the poor fella was wantin’ out of his contract and saw a willing mark.

Cragan’s eyes grew distant. “Like any foolish young hooligan, I tried to turn my newfound abilities to coin. And I was doing quite well for myself down to the village pub and the taverns roundabout. Until I ran afoul of a fearsome sort named Seamus Fitzcarren. He’d accumulated quite a name for himself with suspect enterprises, and he was headed to the States to expand his holdings, so to speak. Fitzcarren was a cruel man but quite an imaginative one, much like our fine Mr. Mulder here. He knew there was but one way I could transform the meager assortment in my hand into a winning pot, and there he had me. I was compelled into his service — it’s like a natural force, a law of physics for me and my kind.

“New York turned out to be a far more ‘provincial’ environment in which to ply the criminal trades, and Seamus decided my skills might be best employed in the courts. I was sent to Harvard on the Fitzcarrens’ dime, under the threat of what would happen to my people should I decide to strike out on my own. When old Seamus died of some bad rotgut in ’32, the eldest boy Sean inherited my services, followed by his ill-begotten spawn Liam in 1974.”

“That’s an impressive resume,” Mulder smirked. “What finally happened, they take away your health plan?”

Cragan glanced sympathetically at Scully. “He’s quite the flippant one, isn’t he? I think perhaps we can have a more constructive conversation if your mister were to enjoy a plate and a game of Frisbee outside.”

“Hey,” Mulder growled.

“Mulder, a few moments,” Scully requested calmly, regarding Cragan O’Mara curiously.

“Hah?”

“Humor me, OK?”

Mulder muttered a distinctly non-Gaelic oath and shoved the French doors open. The dusty door track blunted the drama of his attempted slam.

“Ah, and could you join Mr. Mulder, as well, dear Jen?” Cragan smiled.

The former djinn planted her stylish boots. “I used to practice the trade, Old Man. She needs some experienced representation to make sure her head doesn’t pop off or she grows a third boob.”

“How fanciful,” O’Mara sighed. “I didn’t lure myself into Dana’s trap just to pull some mischievous leprechaun antics. Go, child. And you needn’t worry about Liam and his lot any more.”

“It’s OK,” Scully assured Jen. “I trust him.”

“Your wake,” Jen breathed, following Mulder into the familial din.

“Now,” Scully said when they were alone. “I have a feeling I know what you’re about to tell me. I have to warn you, though — a pot of gold would be tough to explain to the IRS.”

Cragan cackled. “You’re havin’ me on, Dana. I’m sure you know it doesn’t work that way. I just want you to ponder, for a moment, what fortunes might lie before you.

“Y’see, I’ve trucked with swine for the better part of my misbegotten existence. Watched men like Seamus Fitzcarren and his brood swill the best liquor, bed the finest women, line their pockets with gold mined from the blood of others. I’ve aided, abetted, and stood by mutely, as they’ve widowed wives and orphaned daughters and pumped poison into the veins of unhappy children.

“Heaven knows, I’m no longer a spiritual man — I quit the Holy Communion decades ago. But from time to time, I’m left to wonder how in God’s begotten world men the likes of Liam Fitzcarren and Ramon DeColta are allowed to sip from the gilded cup of Life whilst good, pure souls such as yourself are forced to endure a litany of tragedy and loss even the great Mr. Joyce could never have created.”

Scully was silent, still.

“It’s seemed a hard road, hasn’t it, Dear?” Cragan now murmured, eyes filled with empathy and love. “Every turn a path down blind alleys and graveyards, every answer riddled with thornier questions. Mr. Frost’s road less taken has led you into darkness and despair.”

She could hear herself breathing, feeling the dull thud of her soul-weary heart. “Please,” she rasped.

“But there’s good news, Dana, my precious. I have one last bit of fortune stored up, and I’d as soon see it spent for one such as yourself. A pitiful attempt at penitence, as it were. Take a second, child, and look out there.”

Scully followed Cragan’s withered finger toward the open bay window, where her collected kin laughed and feasted and tumbled and embraced on the expansive lawn. Mulder sulked under a hard maple, staring toward her; Jen was sampling a foam plate of berries.

“What are you saying?” Scully croaked.

“Look,” Cragan repeated, and she turned back to the window. And gasped.

A burly crew-cut man in a Navy sweatshirt had a smaller, meeker version of himself in a headlock. The smaller man broke free and punched the hulk in the shoulder. The pair laughed, and a pretty thirty-something woman peeled off from a nearby cluster to see what the joke was. Tara soon joined Bill, Charlie, and Melissa Scully, distributing freshly grilled Chicago dogs.

A petite redheaded child dashed past the group as Scully reeled back against a wing chair. Wetness stung at Scully’s eyes as her lips twitched in elated disbelief. She glanced at Cragan O’Mara, who nodded benignly, and turned back to the window.

Scully’s eyes widened as a somehow-almost-familiar man — handsome, rough-edged, graying at the temples — scooped her from her sneakered feet, sending her into gales of giggles. Tom Colton whirled the girl about, stopping abruptly as his eyes locked with Scully’s.

And then, in a gesture that nearly stilled Scully’s heart altogether, her old Academy buddy brought two fingers to his lips. He puckered and, as she blinked at the glint of the gold band on his second finger, released a kiss aimed directly at the woman on the other side of the glass. Scully grabbed for the drapes, but her trembling fingers could not will the image away.

“No,” she cried harshly. Tugging at the thick fabric for support, Scully searched the yard for Mulder, for some handhold in reality. He’d vanished — no, he’d just. . .ceased.

“The fork in the road,” Cragan’s voice cooed behind her. “You found it again, girl. You found your way.”

“Where’s Mulder?”

“He’s down the road, attending to his own business. He has no place on this path. But you know that, don’t you, girl?”

Scully swallowed air and, gathering herself, tore the curtains shut. She turned to the ancient man in the antique suit and fine shoes. “No,” she said, her voice regaining timbre.

Cragan nodded once, the wrinkles at his eyes deepening in, what, pleasure. “So be it. Your choice, dear. Sorry I couldn’t be of service to you.”

Scully swiped at her eyes, laughed weakly. “I think perhaps you have been. And I suspect you know that.”

“Silly girl. So, what, are we to clamp on the irons now?”

Scully frowned as she peered down at the homicidal elf. “I have to ask. Why? I mean, why now? What made you turn against your mast– against Fitzcarren?”

Cragan grinned bleakly. “The Fitzcarrens had a powerful hold over me these many years — the life of those I held most dear. But the blessing and curse of immortality is that time cures all. Last month, I received a letter notifying me that Ned O’Mara had been struck dead by a taxicab in the streets of Ulster. And thus ended the O’Mara bloodline. And any lasting obligation to Liam Fitzcarren. Well, shall we go now?”

Scully shook her head. “I don’t even know how we’d make a case against you. I’m not even sure we could hold on to you.”

“It’s a dilemma.”

Scully nodded sternly. “I hate to belabor a cliché, but don’t leave town.” She turned and started for the door, then paused. Scully considered and turned back to Cragan O’Mara with a sad, final smile and a parting sentiment.

The old man stared at the agent for a second, then broke into a broad, peaceful grin. His gray-green eyes glistened.

“God bless you, dear girl,” Cragan whispered. “God bless you.”

**

“I said, no souvenirs,” Scully chided as Mulder unsuccessfully attempted an end move behind her.

Her partner grinned guiltily and brought the object of his guilt from behind his back.

“Tell me that isn’t the whiskey Don and Jessie gave Uncle Francis,” Scully sighed. She shrugged and smiled with a bit of her “cousin” Cragan’s mischief. “Put the hotel towel back, though – wrap it in the Trib.”

Mulder nodded happily and located the Sports section. “So you ever going to tell me what happened with you and the old bastard? The tickets still say we’re flying coach, so apparently, the pot of gold was off the table.”

Before Scully could respond, Mulder’s Droid sounded, tuned for the occasion to the Dexy’s Midnight Runners rendition of “C’Mon, Irene.” He punched up the speaker.

“Know you two are headed to O’Hare,” von Flanagan grunted without prelude, “but we got an interesting little development thought you’d want to know about. Liam Fitzcarren blew up.”

Mulder dropped the mummified booze on the bedspread. “Car bomb.”

“You weren’t listening. Liam Fitzcarren blew up. Beat cop found his Towne Car parked in front of Cragan O’Mara’s place about three hours ago. Two of Fitzcarren’s crew inside with what was left of their boss. One had Fitzcarren’s index finger driven into his forehead. The other, well, I can’t even do it justice. Fitzcarren hisself is a permanent part of the upholstery, the dashboard, the roof liner. M.E. hopes to ID him with the teeth he left embedded in the windshield.”

“Imaginative interpretation,” Mulder murmured respectfully.

“Figure William the Barkeep ratted out O’Mara, and Liam and the boys decided to do a little elder abuse. Punchline was on them. When we went up to grill old Cragan, we found him in his bed, laid out like Finnegan at his wake, a shit-eatin’ grin on his wrinkled old puss. He beat ‘em to the punch, M.E. says by at least an hour or two.”

Mulder glanced warily at Scully, who was somewhere else.

“Anyway, not your worry, but I thought you’d like to know what you’d be missing.” von Flanagan breathed. “Say hey to Barack for me.”

“Yeah,” Mulder mumbled as he ended the call. After a beat, or ten, he turned to Scully. “I thought this was supposed to be your wish.”

“Your friend taught me long ago the importance of being careful about what I wished for,” she smiled, faintly. “I have what I want, even if I don’t always know what that is. I simply gave an old man what he couldn’t do for himself. He is family, after all. I think. Maybe.”

“Scully, what did you tell him, my ear to God’s?”

Scully took a deep breath and folded a sweater for the trip home. “‘May you be in Heaven,’” she recited, “‘an hour before the devil knows you’re dead.’ My new Donna Karan suit arrives in D.C. soaked in whiskey and you may meet a similar fate.”

*end

Finnigan’s Snake

Finnigan’s Snake

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J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING

WASHINGTON, DC

OFFICE OF THE X-FILES

NOVEMBER 17

Special Agent Dana Scully was by now used to the frequent slide shows complete with Mulder’s narration. She often thought some of her partner’s droll monotone would put her to sleep if it went on past ten minutes, but then she always recalled some of the most boring lectures from medical school. Today, she felt as though she was watching an episode of Biography.*

“Doyle Finnegan is a bartender extraordinaire. His repertoire of recipes exceeds that required of any American bartender’s school or regulatory agency. He had learned the fine art at a community college bartending course and managed to be

as creative as any expert in the art, and just as chefs are required to create a signature dish before leaving, going off to the best of restaurants, he managed to think of a cocktail no one had seen the likes of. He was educated in Dublin,

Ireland, and emigrated to America at the age of 25. The dark brown haired man, with eerily blue eyes, was quite the enterprising young man.

“By the time he was 35, in 1995, he had managed to invest much of his hard earned money into a bar of his own in Framingham, Massechussettes: Doyle’s.

“While most people have an interest in dogs, cats or fish as pets, Doyle prefers the company of a snake. A king cobra. Together, they run Doyle’s. The cobra is quite a show piece.

“And there ya have it.” Fox Mulder ended his slide show and biography of Doyle Finnegan.

“Yeah, those eyes really are ‘eerie’, Mulder. So these people died how? You didn’t say how they died, Mulder.”

“Neither did the Framingham PD. The autopsies were inconclusive. All three died at home after a night out at Doyle’s.”

“What about the cobra, Mulder? If the autopsy results are a dead end, how does it fit into the case?” Strangulation had occurred to Scully, but there would have been marks on the bodies. “The toxicology report shows nothing remarkable, other than a slightly higher than acceptable level of blood alcohol.”

“That’s why we were called in, Scully. Remember, all the tips I get in this depart-ment put food on your table.”

“Did I even say a word this time about off-beat sources, contacts from crazy informants or a call from someone who worked with you years ago?”

“Now this is why I don’t have to tell you anything like this anymore, Scully. You know me very well now. We have a flight in two hours. Got your overnight bag re-stocked?”

“When don’t I these days?” They had been out in the field a lot lately, and things showed no sign of slowing down.

“Just for the sake of curiosity, how did you hear about this one?”

“One of my off-beat sources.” He knew that would cue the eye roll. Yes, right on time.

“I should have known. Well, let’s get a move on.”

***

FRAMINGHAM, MASS.

2:13 PM

Doyle’s was a friendly, warm, neighborhood tavern. For all intents and purposes, people could bring their families there for a meal and feel at home. As this was a weekday, most people were at work and school.

Frank Batista ordered another Scotch at the bar. “Hey, Doyle!” he slurred. “Another one!”

“Easy does it,” Doyle said with patience and care. “You can’t be spending all your unemployment on drinkin’. I know you put a couple under yer belt before you came here. None of you ever learn.”

“Well, I don’t care. I ain’t got no dependents, so it’s my life, the customer’s always r-r-r-right, and get me my damn drink!”

“My God,” Finnegan muttered as he reached for the bottle,

“Crazy bastard ought to be put out of his misery.” As he poured the whiskey, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a vial of a clear liquid substance, and added a few drops into the glass. *Finnegan’s signature drink*, he whispered to himself. “All right, there ya go. But after this, you’re cut off. And just for you, I’ve made me signature drink.”

“Yeah, right,” Batista sneered. “Cut off when the money runs out. Say, why don’t ya bring out that flute and have that snake do a dance for me?”

“Sure.” Doyle bent down and pulled up a basket that housed his cobra. “Entertainment’s on the house.”

To the strangely sad music in a minor key, the cobra rose from the basket as Batista sipped his Scotch. The size of the reptile was massive, and it slowly swayed to the song. After a moment, Batista only saw it as a blur, and within two minutes he had lost consciousness.

Doyle placed his flute on the bar, and the cobra slithered back down into the basket. “Well, Amber, another customer lost. Mind you, the ambiance should return. Can’t afford someone like him ruining business with his behavior now, can we?”

A young man saw Batista with his head on the bar and went to assess the situation. “Hey, what’s happened to him? He only had two drinks.”

“Two that I know of, Ralph. Just go back to your seat. I’ll let him dry out in me back room. Go on.”

Frank Batista was not going to go home that day. Doyle summoned his assistant to handle business while he disposed of Batista.

FRAMINGHAM POLICE DEPARTMENT

FRAMINGHAM, MASS.

4:21 PM

Mulder and Scully had gone straight to the police station to question detectives on the three reported murders.

“All were patrons of Doyle’s,” Mulder repeated. “Detective Burns, we have no definitive cause of death, and these men were found in three separate areas of town. Now, you tell us there are no fingerprints, the forensics experts gave no clue as to whether a weapon was used, yet Doyle Finnegan’s name keeps coming up. He has no criminal record. He’s now an American citizen, but that’s not a crime, so I don’t see how the man fits into any investigation. Well, other than the fact that he is, as you put it, ‘Just about the best bartender in the West’, I really don’t see much of a case yet.”

“That’s just it,” Burns, a balding man in his forties replied.

“We do know that they were all last seen at Doyle’s. There’s something missing here, and I can’t put my finger on it. We do have several accounts of Doyle Finnegan getting out of sorts with the victims, but they were under the influence and getting a bit demanding.”

Scully placed a file on Burns’ desk. “There were no toxins other than alcohol in their blood work, no marks on the bodies and no evidence of any trauma by weapon or otherwise.

We can’t just arrest someone without probable cause or concrete evidence.”

“I know, and that’s what is so damn frustrating about this case.” His thoughts were interrupted with the ringing of his phone. “Excuse me. Burns. Where? All right. I’m on my way. Another frequent patron of Doyle’s was found in a dumpster outside a dry cleaner’s by two high school kids.”

“A dumpster? That’s quite a departure from the first three locations. Had he been at Doyle’s?” Mulder asked.

“Yeah. Scotch on his breath, and a young accountant reported having seen the man at the bar. Swears the victim had consumed only two Scotch’s, and Doyle took him into his back room to sleep it off.”

“I think we should have a look,” Scully announced.

“Then let’s go,” said Burns.

***

ALLEY BEHIND RUTHERFORD CLEANERS

4:37 PM

Cruisers were still on the scene and officers were speaking to the two teen-aged boys who had found the body of Frank Batista. The area had been cordoned off with crime scene tape and the medical examiner was placing the victim in a body bag.

“What’ve we got?” Burns asked.

“Frank Batista, 31, unemployed. No wife or kids, parents live in Springfield, and Zack and Russ here found the body.”

Mulder flashed his badge, as did Scully. “Special Agents Mulder and Scully, FBI. We’d like to ask you a few questions.”

Scully ventured over to get the information from the police.

“Sure,” the tall sixteen-year-old known as Zack offered, all the while looking Mulder straight in the eye and making a grab for his wallet, while Russ linged at Mulder, pushing him into the side of a dumpster.

Mulder wheeled around and grabbed Zack by the collar as a police officer restrained Russ.

“Look, we can either do this the easy way or with charges added”, Mulder warned the one teen. “Now, how did you find the body?”

“Dumpster-hopping,” the shorter boy of the same age answered.

“Zack and me look for broken radios, stereos, things like that and fix them. Then we sell them. Need a motherboard fixed? I can do that.”

Mulder smiled. “I’ll remember that.” Mulder waived the police officer away. “No charges. Yet. You were saying?”

“He was lying pretty far down,” said Russ. “Today they emptied the dumpsters here, so there was hardly anything there but rotten food and a few old rags.”

“I see,” Mulder finished his notes. “So, I know you’re under age, but I think you might know the answer to this one: Where is Doyle’s?”

“Three blocks that way,” Russ answered, pointing west. “Can’t miss it. He has a sign with a cobra over the front.”

“I see. Thanks.” He walked away from the boys and met Scully midway between their car and the cruisers, rubbing his rather sore left ribcage.

“You okay, Mulder?”

“Just a bit winded. Good thing I have you around to keep me in shape. What have you got?”

“Well, the medical examiner is stumped. He’s going to look at the body in more detail tonight. What did you find out?”

“Well, Doyle’s is three blocks west of here, and I think we should find out where the other three bodies were found in relation to the bar. Did you know that these kids are techno wizards?”

“No, Mulder. But do you know how many people die form alcohol poisoning in this country every year?”

“No.”

“Then how could I know they were techno wizards?”

“Point taken. Why don’t we get the locations the bodies were dumped, find out if there’s a pattern, and if there’s another relationship to Doyle’s nobody’s thought of.”

***

FRAMINGHAM POLICE STATION

5:15 PM

Burns, Mulder and Scully studied a Framingham street map taped to the wall of an office. “Now,” Burns said as he pointed a pen to several push pins in the map, “These places are all about a five minute’s walk to or from Doyle’s. The dumpster is quite a bit closer to the bar this time. There’s another difference, even though the man had last been seen at Doyle’s in daylight, the first three murders took place at night, and

the victims succumbed at their own homes.”

“The autopsy reports showed no indication he doctored the drinks, there was no weapon used, no strangulation or suffocation… but it does seem like Doyle was in a hurry to get this guy out of the way. He was likely dragged to a car and thrown into the trash,” Scully surmised.

“Still,” Mulder said, “This count’s on Doyle’s scorecard, so it’s about him in some way. I wonder what Batista and the others did to tick him off?”

“We asked already. Witnesses to the first case reported Doyle was rather agitated that Todd Stranges, 40, had been drinking before he went into Doyle’s. The remark was something to the effect of, “You’re all alike,” or something like it. And he was

said to have been rather disturbed with the second and third victims for their, uh, state when they arrived.”

“But it’s not legal for him to serve people who seem impaired,” Scully reminded the detective.

“Well, a lot still do serve drunk people until they get caught.

They usually refuse them service instead of killing them,” Burns replied. “Doyle’s past is a mystery to us.”

“Maybe not to the Bureau, Interpol or Dublin Police,” Mulder suggested.

“Computer’s right there on the desk. Knock yourselves out. I’m off duty until noon tomorrow, but my home number is at the desk.

‘Night all. Not that I’m in any hurry for the Wednesday night meatloaf.” Detective Burns closed the door to the little room.

Mulder sat at the desk and began to type, then turned to Scully.

“I guess we should get something to eat. C’mon. I can do the same search on my laptop over take-out.”

“Yes, considering we didn’t have lunch, that’s a wise idea.”

“Say, maybe after that we can go out for a drink some place nice and friendly… ”

“With a dancing cobra as entertainment,” Scully finished.

“Yeah. Great idea, Scully!”

Scully avoided his face, choosing to look at the map. “I’m sorry I didn’t think of it myself,” she said lowly. “But let me remind you about that little rule regarding the ingestion of alcoholic beverages while on duty.”

“Not if we go as working stiffs Fox and Dana instead of Special Agents Mulder and Scully, and beer often goes with certain foods quite nicely, Dana. You know: pretzels.”

She smiled and smacked his arm. “It’s Scully to you.”

***

E-Z-REST MOTEL

6:37 PM

Scully sat on the bed going over the autopsy reports regarding the three previous victims, while Mulder sat at the desk looking for any criminal reports about Doyle Finnegan.

“Hey Scully. This guy’s life seems to have begun the moment he left Ireland. His resume outlines his education, but there’s no record of him ever having attended the bartending classes at Trinity College. Guinness and Bushmills Distillery do not have him on record as having been employed, yet his resume says he was at Guinness for two years as a quality control worker, and Bushmills for three. There are no birth records regarding a Doyle Finnegan his age and appearance, and no medical records.

Records here say he was employed at a couple of Boston area establishments in the ten years before he opened Doyle’s. By the way, he currently resides at 462 Nash Street. Other than that, he has no doctor, dentist or podiatrist for that matter.”

“So you’re saying he doesn’t exist before age 25, but that he’s in perfect health and hates dentists? Mulder, everyone is born and lives somewhere. What about aliases?”

“I already ran his picture down at the PD when you were on the phone as we were leaving. His face is memorable, but he doesn’t show up in any database. Not even a school picture.”

“Next of kin?”

Mulder turned to look her straight in the face with a blank expression.

“I didn’t think so.” Scully stuck her fork into a container of fried rice.

“What about the autopsies?”

“I’ve gone over them at least three times and there is absolutely nothing to indicate a cause of death that we can link to Doyle Finnegan or his cobra. It’s possible the second victim died of a stroke, but… ”

“But?”

“But they cremated him two days after his death. Their religious beliefs dictated he couldn’t be buried on the Sunday. The first and third victims were in their early thirties and in excellent health. Cause of death: Unknown.”

“I think it’s time we met the man. Casual attire, Mulder. And one beer. One.”

Mulder closed his laptop. “No problem. Who wants to see double when you’re looking at a cobra?”

DOYLE’S TAVERN

7:14 PM

Mulder and Scully entered Doyle’s Tavern just in time to see Amber the cobra swinging and swaying to the mournful tune Finnegan played.

“That’s something you don’t see everyday,” Mulder remarked. He had chosen a blue tee shirt and jeans for the occasion.

Scully, in jeans and an over-sized white shirt looked at the reptile in both amazement and fear. “Those things are poisonous. I wonder how he manages to control it.”

Mulder looked on in fascination as people applauded and cheered.

The tune came to an end and the cobra found her way back into her basket.

A middle-aged woman sat at the bar with her husband and seemed quite impressed. “Ah, Doyle. For my birthday! That’s sweet.”

“Well, thank you, Edna darlin’. Bill here requested it just for you. He wanted somethin’ special for your birthday.”

Edna kissed her husband and finished her lager. “Bill thinks of everything.”

Bill stood and grabbed Edna’s coat. “Well, c’mon, dear. That movie’s about to begin. Thanks, Doyle.”

“Any time!”

As the couple left, Scully watched Doyle very carefully. “For someone who doesn’t exist, he’s quite the charmer.”

“Who ever heard of an Irish swami? Waiter, two beers!”

Of course, Doyle Finnegan noticed the pair weren’t regulars. He decided to join Mulder and Scully. It was his habit to assess the clientele, and Scully’s fascination with the snake, as well as Doyle’s ‘eerie’ eyes, hadn’t gone unnoticed by the man.

Mulder gave the ‘careful’ look to Scully and she nodded.

“Well, new here?” Doyle pulled up a chair. “I always like to personally welcome new patrons.”

“Yes,” Mulder replied. “My name’s Fox and this is Dana.” He shook Doyle’s hand.

“Odd name for a man, Fox. Dana, well that’s an intriguing name. You’re married, I take it.”

“No,” Scully answered. “We’re co-workers, it’s been a long day, and we decided to stop in for a beer. So, that was quite a remarkable performance.”

“Oh, you mean the flute and Amber,” Doyle said, smiling. “It’s very popular here. Mind you, it’ll never make it to Vegas.” He laughed, Mulder offered a slight chuckle, and Scully checked the man’s hand for a wedding ring.

“So, it looks like you’ve been quite successful,” Mulder remarked.

“Yes, business is good. Framingham’s been good to me. I should get back to work. It was nice meeting you, Fox and Dana. Drop in any time. Come see how amazing Amber can be.”

When the man had left them, Mulder popped a pretzel into his mouth.

“Not married,” Scully informed him.

“And he was sizing us up as much as we were checking him out.”

By about 10:30, there had been a few more performances by Doyle and his snake, but nothing really out of the ordinary other than the cobra’s dance had happened. So, Mulder and Scully decided to leave and retire for the night, Doyle Finnegan

eying them suspiciously until the door closed behind them.

“He doesn’t seem like the type to lose his temper and murder,” Scully said as they walked to the rental car.

“A lot of them don’t seem that way,” Mulder replied. “You know, with all the information we didn’t find on him, I’d think this was an X-File.”

Scully stopped at the car. “Is that just a feeling on your part, or do you have a file on anyone like him?”

Mulder unlocked the car. “No files. Just call it a hunch. And remember, cases like this are why we get assigned to such interesting guys. Don’t tell me you weren’t a bit taken by the man.”

“Well, no, Mulder. It’s just I haven’t seen that shade of blue in anybody’s eyes before. He does seem kind of overflowing with charm.” Scully fastened her seat belt as Mulder started the car.

“That’s just the type to be suspicious of, Scully. It’s late. May as well turn in and get an early start tomorrow.”

DOYLE FINNEGAN’S APARTMENT

462 NASH STREET

FRAMINGHAM, MASS.

1:52 AM

Finnegan carried the cobra and basket into his apartment and locked the door. “Another successful night, Amber. I love me work.” He placed the basket on the carpet in front of the couch, and crossed the room to get to a small desk. As he opened the top drawer, he told the snake, “No sense getting behind on me supply.” He removed a clear vial, syringe and tiny bottle and took them over to the couch.

He carefully reached into the basket, removed the cobra, and injected a sedating substance into his pet. When Amber was sufficiently docile, Doyle Finnegan proceeded to extract venom from her fangs, humming one of his haunting, minor key tunes.

On his coffee table was a notice from his landlord. Finnegan read the paper and crumpled it up, throwing it across the room in a fury. “So he knows what I’m doing, does he? Doesn’t want any exotic pets? Well, I’ll be dealing with him, Amber! Now, just rest for the night and we’ll be safe and sound. Good night, pet.”

FRAMINGHAM PD

8:30 AM

The agents decided to confer with Detective Burns, who they had called bright and early.

“Like he doesn’t exist?” The man showed mock surprise. “Everybody is born, grows up and leaves some sort of history, information or whatever.”

“Well, this man doesn’t.” Mulder set down several pages of the research he had done on Doyle Finnegan. “He begins in America and ends up at his own downtown tavern, it would seem. Ireland doesn’t even have any information on this man.”

“His license is up to date, and there’s been no real trouble at Doyle’s Tavern,” Scully added.

“However,” Mulder interjected, “We’re working on a theory and we’re going to stick around. Maybe it’s about time we checked his apartment.”

“On what grounds?” Burns asked. “We really don’t have enough evidence to implicate him in the murders, and we can’t get a warrant without it.”

“Well, that’s a shame. But, uh… ”

“No you don’t,” Scully warned her partner. “Don’t even think about it.”

“Think about what? I wasn’t going to say a thing. I was just going to tell Detective Burns here we were available in case anything is found — in order to get a warrant.”

“Sure,” Burns chuckled. “Haven’t we all ‘not’ thought about getting into places without a warrant?”

“Hey, I was only doing my job,” Scully said sternly.

“Well, while you’re here anyway, who am I to interfere with the Bureau? I’m not even on duty here until noon,” Burns said.

“Okay,” Mulder sighed. “It wouldn’t hurt to talk to whoever covers for Finnegan when he’s not in. Surely he has another bartender. Scully?”

“Coming.”

“Good luck, Agents. The man you want to talk to is Avery Perkins. He generally opens the place at around 10.”

“We may as well go for a coffee, then,” Mulder suggested.

“I could use one. Thanks, Detective Burns,” Scully replied.

As they were leaving the station, Scully grabbed Mulder’s arm.

“Just what are you trying to do?” she whispered.

“I know you don’t want me picking the lock, Scully. And I won’t. At least not yet.”

His partner shrugged and followed him out of the building.

***

KRISPY DREAMS COFFEE SHOP

9:16 AM

Mulder and Scully were biding their time over coffee and donuts when Mulder’s cell phone went off.

“Mulder. Where? Yes. We’ll be right there.”

“Burns?”

“Yes. There’s been another death. This time, it’s a lot closer to Doyle’s home.”

462 NASH STREET

FRAMINGHAM, MASS.

9:31 AM

Paramedics were working on an elderly man when Mulder and Scully reached the building Finnegan lived in. They hoisted him onto a gurney and into the back of the ambulance.

Burns had already arrived. “Well, now this is interesting. Our latest victim right outside Finnegan’s home.”

Scully hopped into the ambulance. “I’m going with them. If he dies, I’ll do the autopsy.”

“You were saying, Detective Burns?”

“Don’t tell me your partner’s a pathologist.”

“Actually, she’s a doctor. She kind of grew into the work as far as forensics goes. What happened here?”

“Male, age 62. Landlord. Perry Duncan. Wandered out into traffic, collapsed on the road, and the woman over there talking to my men thought she had hit him. As it turns out, she hadn’t.”

Mulder went up the stairs to the century old house and entered the building, pulling his gun in the process. He reached Doyle Finnegan’s third floor apartment and knocked on the door.

“Mr. Finnegan! Federal Agent! Open up!” When there was no reply, He kicked the door open. There was no sign of the bartender or his snake.

***

DOYLE’S TAVERN

10:05 AM

Avery Perkins had just opened Doyle’s for the late breakfast customers when Finnegan Doyle entered through the back door with the cobra. He was unshaven and appeared secretive.

“Didn’t expect to see you until three, Boss. Can I have Bess make you something?”

“No. I’ll be in me office doin’ the books, and I don’t want to be disturbed.”

“But Boss… What the heck. Anybody here want more coffee?”

A woman waved Perkins over to her table and he poured her and her friend a refill, topping up a third woman’s cup.

“What’s with him?” the first woman asked.

“He’s just… in one of those moods. Enjoy, ladies.”

Mulder and Detective Burns entered the tavern and showed their identification to Perkins.

“He doesn’t want to be disturbed. Something about doing the books. When he gets into that mood of his… ”

“Well, he’s not going to be in a better mood any time soon,” Mulder informed the man.

Doyle had opened his door a crack and was listening. He softly closed the door. He opened the lid to Amber’s basket. “I knew this day would come, but not this soon,” he whispered to the cobra. “We’ll meet again.”

Mulder’s cell phone rang as he was about to go into the back of the tavern. “Mulder. What? Look, Scully. Get a toxicology report for me. We’re taking Finnegan in, then I’ll meet you at the hospital.” Mulder turned to Burns. “The Landlord died. There was an injection site found.”

The two men went straight to Finnegan’s office with guns drawn and knocked. “Open up! We know you’re in there!” Burns shouted.

“It’s unlocked,” Finnegan calmly said.

Mulder opened the door, and there sat Doyle Finnegan, calmly closing his ledger.

“Doyle Finnegan,” Burns began, “You are under arrest for the murder of… ”

As Mulder reached for his handcuffs, the blue-eyed, dark haired young Irishman disappeared before both men’s eyes.

“What the — ?” Burns asked, blinking.

“Yeah. What the — ? is right. Talk about a speedy get away.”

“Well what the hell do we do next? Wait for him to show up again?”

“I guess. But I think it’ll be an awfully long wait,” Mulder answered. “I haven’t dealt with anything like this before, and believe me, I have had some very weird cases.”

“So I heard.” Burns placed his gun into his holster. “What do I tell my superiors?”

“He just disappeared. Personally, I prefer to write up exactly what happened, and leave the file open. I’d better call my partner.” Mulder eyed the snake’s basket. “Umm… I DO suggest you call the animal shelter.”

***

E-Z-REST MOTEL

2:15 PM

Scully walked into Mulder’s room as he was typing up his latest information on the Doyle Finnegan case. “All packed, Mulder. Ready to go?”

“The flight’s in two hours, Scully. A new X-File. How about that?”

“Yeah. How about that. I got a call from the hospital lab. No evidence of drugs, toxins or anything else that shouldn’t have been in the man’s body, despite that injection site. Apparently, Burns tells me Mr. Duncan had served Finnegan an eviction notice for breaking the rule stating ‘no exotic pets’. I don’t know if I

believe he just ‘disappeared’, Mulder.”

“Well, we hadn’t been heavily drinking and no, he didn’t have his cobra dance for us or drug us. You saw the look on Burns’ face when we told you.”

“What are you going to say in your report?”

“Case remains unsolved. You should get the autopsy report so we can head for the airport.”

“Gladly. By the way, what happened to the cobra?”

“Oh, that’s right,” Mulder smiled as he teasingly answered his partner. “You were quite taken by Finnegan’s snake.”

“Well, Mulder, she was a charmer.”

“Well, so was Finnegan, and look where that got him. Don’t worry. I’m sure she’s better off without him. Besides, you beat her hands down in any contest. She was taken to the animal shelter.”

“I don’t know whether I should be flattered or insulted, Mulder.” Scully gave Mulder that look of hers that told him to quit while he was ahead.

“What? All I said was… ”

“Don’t. Now, just slither out of that chair and let’s go.”

As Mulder opened his mouth to speak, he thought better of it.

***

TWO DAYS LATER

An article from the Boston Herald arrived on Mulder’s desk, courtesy of Mr. Avery Perkins, Finnegan’s assistant. The article read that Amber the king cobra, who had been residing contentedly in an enclosure at the Framingham animal shelter pending

transfer to an as yet unnamed zoo, had mysteriously vanished. As the shelter had taken precautions to prevent her escape, and there had been no indications of intrusion, Framingham police had no explanation for the disappearance of the cobra.

PRESENT DAY

Mr. Perkins took over the bar and renamed it “Avery’s”. To this day, he has not heard from Doyle Finnegan, and now owns the deed to the tavern property pending payment of a modest mortgage.

Michael Doherty makes quite the cocktail at his tavern in Paloma, Spain. A king cobra by the name of Amber is a popular attraction as Doherty plays mournful tunes on his flute…

END

How Mulder Forgot the Most Romantic Day of the Year (and lived to tell the tale)

How Mulder Forgot the Most Romantic Day of the Year

(and lived to tell the tale)

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He couldn’t believe he’d done it. It was arguably the worst crime he’d ever committed in their 14-year partnership. Even when he was up to his neck in heartfelt guilt over the myriad of agonies she’d had inflicted on her by the consortium, he still had a clear conscience that at least he hadn’t directly been involved. This time, though, the consortium — old Smokey, Charlie, even that goose-stepping Strughold — were nowhere in sight. It had been him, all him and nothing but him.

He’d forgotten Valentine’s Day.

On a good day, a day when he could calmly look back — say twenty or thirty years in the future — he could convince himself that it wasn’t really his fault he forgot. VCS had gone to Skinner, there was a kidnapping in the Midwest that looked like similar kidnappings in recent months. Six and seven year old girls had been taken. So far no bodies had turned up but it was in the back of everyone’s mind that it would just be a matter of time before the body count started. Surprisingly, that had not been the case. So, while Scully waited back in DC for the call to do some particularly gruesome slicing and dicing, he had flown out with a cadre of agents to assist the Kansas City Regional Office in their investigation and hunt for the missing girls.

The fourteenth of February had dawned just one more day in a seemingly endless case. But luck had been on their side and the farmhouse twenty miles outside KC had been raided, all three girls had been found — miracle of miracles, unharmed. The press conference was set up within hours of arresting the perpetrator — a grade school janitor who had been fired months before — and getting the girls to the hospital and the reunions with their families. All agents were required to attend — the Bureau needed all the brownie points it could get with the press in the days of Senate and House investigations. Mulder had showered, still going on only two short catnaps in a little over 48 hours, and put on a fabulous display for the media types. Wolf Blitzer had even joked that the country’s hearts where with the good guys and it still didn’t register with him why hearts would matter so much.

When the press conference broke, he’d found his way back to the hotel. The message light was blinking on the phone on the nightstand, but in his sleep-deprived state he’d ignored it as he collapsed face first on to the bed. He awoke as one of the agents was pounding on his door, telling him they were going to be late for the airport if he didn’t get a move on.

They’d taken the red-eye back to DC. He arrived at Dulles at the unholy hour of 1:25 am. Rather than wake Scully, he’d grabbed a cab — paying through the nose for the ride to Georgetown. He climbed the steps to their townhouse and wearily entered. As he stood at the bottom of the stairs leading to their bedroom all the energy seeped from his body. He turned right, dropped his briefcase on an armchair and with his coat still on, laid down on the sofa and was fast asleep before his head fully rested on the couch pillow.

When he woke up from the light streaming in their front window, he found his shoes off his feet, a blanket thrown over him and the smell of coffee in the kitchen. He wandered toward the wondrous elixir, shedding his overcoat and suit coat and tie as he went. There was a note on the fridge from Scully. She’d been called to Quantico to sub for a pathology teacher out with the flu. She promised to be home on time for dinner. Not a word about the preceding holiday, nothing to clue him in at all.

He showered, thought about calling in ‘asleep’, but opted to go to the office. Before he even got to the elevator, his cell phone had gone off — Skinner’s assistant Kim was calling him up to a meeting to discuss the recently completed case. He pushed the up button on the elevator and rode in silence with the rest of the occupants.

Once in Skinner’s outer office, he noticed a distinct floral aroma and saw a bouquet of roses gracing Kim’s usually tidy but bland desk. “Nice flowers,” he’d commented as she winked and ushered him into the inner sanctum, where he was soon required to report in detail on the actions of the previous four days. All thought of the flowers and their potential meaning were completely wiped from his mind.

The meeting lasted so long that Skinner had Kim send out for sandwiches. They broke once and Mulder high tailed it to the men’s room. Not paying attention to anything but his business, he couldn’t help but overhear a few of the other agents complaining about how long the wait had been at a specific upscale restaurant the night before and how the wait staff seemed to clear the table in a hurry, almost rushing diners out the door. That was the first time it occurred to him that something was amiss. It sounded like the place was overbooked. That usually happened only on the weekends. The night before had been a weeknight, he was sure of it. He even checked his watch and saw that yes, it was Thursday the fifteenth, just as he’d thought. Something about that date tickled against the back of his mind, but he shook his head and promptly busied himself with washing his hands before returning to his meeting.

The rest of the meeting was mind numbing in its attention to detail. Every action, every scrap of data, every lead was agonized over in an attempt to quantify the rare success where everyone was alive. The case against the perpetrator had to be airtight before it was handed over to the Kansas City US District Attorney’s office for prosecution. It was nearly eight o’clock when Skinner finally agreed that they had done enough for one day and everyone was free to go home for the night.

Mulder dragged his body up out of the chair at Skinner’s conference table and headed for the elevators. He thought briefly about making a quick stop at their basement office, but decided against it. Scully had promised she would be home for dinner, he only prayed that meant she was planning on preparing said dinner for the two of them. So, with a mind fogged with repeated facts about a case he would just as soon file away in the drawer and a body still suffering serious sleep depravation, not to mention hunger pangs, Fox Mulder finally found himself on the way home.

Scully indeed had dinner on the table. It was beef stew, canned. She had added some celery and some Worcestershire sauce, but it wasn’t exactly what he had hoped to find. Still, the grumbling in his stomach was loud enough that he finished his plate in no time flat. If Scully had made dinner table talk, he would have been able to pass a polygraph that he hadn’t been present in the room, he was that tired. With a kiss to the crown of her head, he mumbled something resembling ‘thanks’ and headed up to their bedroom where he just barely managed to shuck his clothes before crawling under the covers and falling into a deep and dreamless sleep at just barely nine o’clock p.m.

So it was that Mulder didn’t even come to find out about his most serious of omissions until Friday, the sixteenth of February. Again, Scully was called to fill in at Quantico. Since it would take her a full hour (due to rush hour traffic around the Capitol City) to get to her eight o’clock class, she left while Mulder was still sawing logs. He awoke to the alarm, showered, gulped down a cup of coffee that Scully had left warming in the kitchen and hurried off to work, blissful in his ignorance.

He always hated coming to their office when Scully was off somewhere else, even if he knew exactly where she was. The office seemed darker, colder without her. He looked up through their ‘window’ high on the basement wall — it was gray outside, more than likely a harbinger of snow. He put his coat on the hook, picked up the mail from in front of the door and was sorting through it as he walked around to sit down at his desk. When he sat on something — something that crinkled under his dress pants, he quickly got up and stared down at his chair.

A plain white envelope, not business sized but the kind cards came in, lay slightly wrinkled on the seat of his chair.

Putting down the mail in his hands, he gingerly picked up the envelope. There was no writing on the outside, but holding it up to his nose he detected Scully’s signature perfume — one he’d given her for Christmas. A love note? At the office? They weren’t above such little endearments around the house, but at the office where anyone could walk in and see it?

As if feeling the eyes of some intruder upon him, he glanced fearfully at the door. No one in sight. Still, he walked over and shut the door solidly before daring to open the envelope.

What he found caused his blood to freeze and his heart to stop beating. It was a card. A Valentine, to be exact. And to make matters much worse, it wasn’t a card that she found going through the selection at the local card shop. No, she had made this one, using their computer and color printer at home.

The card was simple. Two heart outlines, interlocked in the corner. A simple red border. No frills. No doves and rainbows. Classic. Even the font for the words was pure, direct. No curlie-ques and lace. Just words that went straight to his soul.

“To My Partner

My Love”

On the inside it continued: “Mulder, you are the joy of my heart, the love of my life, the man of my dreams, the center of my world.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Love forever and always,

Your Scully”

Valentine’s Day? Oh, shit on a shingle — VALENTINE’S DAY! He’d freakin’ completely forgot about Valentine’s Day! And what was worse, Scully had remembered. When they’d first become intimate, when they took that gigantic step and admitted their feelings to themselves and each other, he’d made a vow to himself. He would never become his father. He remembered running home on Valentine’s Day as a child so that he could present his mother with his own hand drawn creation. He also remembered that his card and his alone was the only way she could mark the occasion. Even before Samantha was taken, his father was never one for public displays of affection. No roses, no cards, no candlelit dinners for two at some quiet little seafood place on the Vineyard. Never for his mother. But he vowed that he would do better by his Scully.

He was torn between rage at himself and grief for what he had done to Scully when there was a loud knock on his door. “Agent Mulder, are you in there?” boomed Skinner’s voice.

Mulder opened the door, card still clutched in his hand. Skinner stood there a moment, regarding him coolly. “Mulder, is something wrong? You look — did someone die? Not Mrs. Scully . . .”

“No, no sir, nothing like that,” Mulder said brokenly. “C’mon in.” He went around to his chair once more and sat down despondently.

“If no one died — Mulder, what did you do?” Skinner asked tersely, his arms crossed.

Mulder handed over the card without a word. Skinner scanned the card, looked his agent over once again and slowly shook his head. “Don’t tell me — you forgot Valentine’s Day?”

Mulder’s answer was to prop his elbows on his desk and cover his face with his hands.

Skinner propped his hip on the edge of the desk, laying the card down on the blotter. “Valentine’s Day was Wednesday, Mulder. You’ve been home for a full day since then.”

“I know,” Mulder whimpered through his fingers.

“It’s the same day every year. I mean it’s not like they hide the date or any-thing,” Skinner rambled on.

“I know, I know, I know. There were clues, I just didn’t pick up on any of them. Kim’s flowers, the guys in the toilet talking about the wait at Michel Richard Citronelle on a Wednesday night, the fact that Scully got home early enough to make dinner and all I got was canned beef stew — ” He raised his face from his hands, his expression one of total dismay. “Walter, I really effed it up good this time.”

Skinner nodded his head in total agreement. “Mulder, you have to do some-thing. If Scully is pissed at you — ”

“My life is in the toilet,” he said, rubbing his face briskly and leaning back in his chair. “I’m fielding all suggestions at this point.”

“Flowers,” Skinner said firmly.

“Total cliche. I refuse to be the guy who has to bring her flowers because he for-got the anniversary.”

“Candy?”

He glared at his boss, who quickly relented.

“Oh, yeah, last year’s near tragic bon-bon poisoning. Forgot about that one. OK, diamond jewelry!”

“Walt, I forgot Valentine’s Day — I didn’t sleep with a Hill staffer! Besides, I have to have something to give her for her birthday in a week.”

Skinner put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder. “Look, you just completed a very im-portant and very stressful investigation. You’re owed some flex time. Take it. Get out of here right now — that gives you most of the day. And don’t show your face until you make this up to her — preferably by Monday at 8 am. Got that?”

Mulder looked up gratefully at his superior. “I’ll consider that an order, sir,” he said with a wistful expression.

On his way home, he panicked. This was more than just a casual ‘oh, yeah, it is February 14, isn’t it?’ This was a screw up that could potentially lead to disaster. Today, Valentine’s Day, tomorrow would he forget to kiss her goodbye or would they tumble into bed and not even touch hands before falling to sleep? It wasn’t the big things that drove wedges between people, it was often an accumulation of little things that built up over time, much like the Grand Canyon started as a little trickle of water. Well, their trickle was going to stop, if he had anything to do with it!

He knew that Scully wasn’t the hearts and flowers kind of girl that a lot of women were. She was no nonsense in her outlook on romance. Lacy black teddies and satin sheets never made an appearance in their sex life. Even so, in Mulder’s humble opinion, she _deserved_ hearts and flowers and rose petals covering the bed and scented baths with candles surrounding —

An idea was starting to form in the back of his mind. He’d have to make a few stops first, but he was sure he could pull it off in the time allotted. But he would definitely need to call for back up.

Mulder and Scully’s residence

6:35 pm

Scully pulled the car into the parking space off the alley and sighed. She’d com-pletely forgotten how tiring teaching could be. She’d been on her feet all day long, and when she’d taken half an hour for a lunch break, one of the recruits had tracked her down in the cafeteria for an impromptu tutoring session on blood splatter patterns. All she wanted to do was crawl into a nice hot tub and stay there until Monday.

She noticed Mulder had beaten her home. Poor guy — he’d been exhausted since his return from the case out in Kansas City. Both of them were going to sleep in on Saturday, if she had anything to say in the matter! She grabbed her briefcase and wondered if Mulder would have had the presence of mind to call for a pizza. No, probably not. She debated dialing as she walked, but decided she wouldn’t be able to juggle the cell phone, her briefcase and the back door all at once. The pizza could wait till she got to the phone in the kitchen.

She was fumbling for the right key when she saw the post it note stuck to the glass of the storm door. “Use the front entrance,” it read in Mulder’s distinctive scrawl. Oh dear. What had he done to the kitchen? It must have been bad if he was shooing her away from the scene of the crime. She sighed and headed around to the front of the duplex by the little sidewalk that bordered the house.

There was another note on the front door. It read “shed your coat and briefcase and follow the hearts — clothing optional” and had a large arrow complete with ‘feathers’ pointing up the stairs. Scully smiled to herself and hung up her coat, placing the briefcase on the little table by the door. Slipping off her shoes, she crept up the stairs, avoiding the step that squeaked. Along the way she took note of several red construction paper hearts with paper lace doilies. They looked like the work of the average 10 year old, but she sensed her partner’s artistic talents in the endeavor. She started to head to their bedroom when she heard the water lapping in the bathroom and saw the very large heart taped to the door. There were several aromas coming from behind the closed door, not the least of which appeared to be roses.

She opened the door and was immediately entranced by the glimmering sight before her. Several dozen votive candles sparkled in tiny glass cups on every flat surface of the room. Rose petals were scattered all over the floor, a vase with at least a dozen blood red roses graced the vanity. There was a champagne bucket with a wine bottle chilling next to the tub. And in the tub sat her partner up to his chest in water, sipping from a wine flute and nibbling a piece of shrimp.

“Scully, lose the clothes. You’re chillin’ the mood here,” he chided. “Hurry, be-fore the water gets cool!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. In just a few seconds she’d escaped the confines of her business suit and had returned to lower herself into the fragrant water of the tub. “Mulder, there are rose petals,” she whispered in awe as her hands skimmed the delicate pink and red blossoms floating atop the water.

He busied himself with her champagne flute. “There’s more food in the bed-room. Some brie, some fruit, nothing heavy. Oh, and for after our bath.” He fished around in the water and pulled up a tube of massage oil, warming in the water.

“You finally remembered Valentine’s Day,” she said with a loving smile.

“The most romantic day of the year? How could I forget? I’m partnered with the most beautiful woman in the world. A guy would have to be a total cad to forget Valentine’s Day when he gets to spend it with you, Scully. Admittedly it’s a couple of days off the calendar — but here, tonight, it’s Valentine’s Day.”

She leaned against him, her back to his chest and sipped her wine. “OK, Mulder. You’re forgiven. This time.”

“I sense a ‘but’ coming . . .” he countered.

“No, I’m just wondering how in the world you’re going to top this — for my birth-day next week.”

She wasn’t sure if the groan was from the kiss she bestowed on him but she de-cided to give him the benefit of the doubt.

the end