Category Archives: Season 10

Small Fries

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TITLE: Small Fries
AUTHORS: Kel
RATING: PG-13
CATEGORY: Casefile
SPOILERS: VS9 and “Small Potatoes”
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then
Gossamer and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let us
know.
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement
intended.
SUMMARY: Progeny of Eddie van Blundt…

Small Fries

by Kel

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Martinsburg Elementary School

Martinsburg, West Virginia

Recess was just long enough for a good round of hide-and-seek or

kickball, but today Michael didn’t have time for games. He was

going to the secret clubhouse for a meeting of the Butt Club.

Michael was a first-grader in the Martinsburg Elementary School,

a public school that was recognized as a paragon of excellence.

Principal Burnside said that at every assembly, and while

Michael wasn’t sure what it meant, he knew it had something to

do with why he had to wear a jacket and tie every day.

Michael liked first grade way better than kindergarten, and it

was all because of Mrs. Cooper. She was the best teacher he’d

ever had and probably the best teacher in the whole world. The

bad thing was that she was in big trouble, and it was all because

of the Butt Club.

Mrs. Burnside said that the first grade class was disruptive and

unruly. The art teacher said they were rude and the music

teacher called them fresh and bratty. Mrs. Burnside said

they reflected badly upon their parents, their community,

and especially Mrs. Cooper. Everyone hated them, except

Mrs. Cooper.

Maybe it wasn’t just the Butt Club and their tricks.

Maybe it was the Greavy twins. They played tricks too. Like when

Andrew told the lunch lady he never got any chocolate pudding,

and then really it was Dylan who didn’t get any, ’cause Andrew got two.

Or it could have been Gabrielle Nelligan’s fault. She dressed

like the other girls, with a blue skirt and a white shirt, but

her hair was funny. Two braids wrapped up into meatballs on top of her

head. She had a big mouth that made grown-ups angry.

The bell sounded for recess, and the children marched from the the

stuffy building into the sunshine of the schoolyard. At the sound of

the second bell, the line scattered. In a six-year-old’s display of

nonchalance, Michael strolled hurriedly to the far end of the yard.

Matthew and Christopher were heading there too, tossing a ball

back and forth to disguise their purpose. Joshua must have

beaten them all. He was probably already inside the clubhouse.

Once all four boys were in the shed, their meeting began.

“I think Mrs. Cooper’s in trouble,” Michael said. “She got called to

the principal’s office again.”

“But she’s so nice,” Joshua protested. “Tons nicer than Mrs.

Pandermarck.”

Mrs. Pandermarck was the school’s irritable kindergarten teacher.

“You’re the one keeps getting her in trouble,” Christopher said.

“Making faces in gym class.”

“You and Matthew were making faces in music,” Joshua said.

“Making fun of the music teacher.”

Michael shuffled guiltily, He’d seen what Matthew and Christopher had

done and he’d joined in. It was so funny, how the music

teacher stared and gaped and then shook his head as if that would

fix what he’d seen with his eyes.

“No more making faces!” Michael ordered the others. “Cause what

if they fire Mrs. Cooper and we get another crabbypants like Miss

Pandermarck to be our teacher?”

“You think it’s us getting Mrs. Cooper in trouble? Cause we’re always

good in her class,” Joshua said.

“You know what Mrs. Burnside said. We are disruptive and unruly,”

Michael said. “It makes Mrs. Cooper look bad.”

There was a tiny metalic groan from the hinges of the shed door.

“Hey, somebody’s out there!” cried Matthew. “A spy!”

“Must be Erica Carlyle!” Christopher whispered.

If there was one kid in the first grade who wasn’t disruptive and

unruly, it was Erica Carlyle. Erica was perfect.

The creaky door swung open a few inches. Michael was relieved to see

that it wasn’t Erica, who was the biggest snitch in the world. It was

Gabrielle. She was weird, but she knew how to keep her mouth

shut when she wanted to.

“This is a private meeting,” Michael said. “Members only, and no

girls!”

“You’re not the boss of me,” Gabrielle protested.

“This is our club, and you’re not invited,” Christopher said.

“I know all about your club,” Gabrielle announced. “If you don’t

let me join I’m tellin’.”

“She don’t know nothing,” Matthew opined. “And she can’t join because

it’s a special club.”

“I’m just as special as you are,” Gabrielle sniffed. “Wanna see?”

To the shock of Michael and the other boys, Gabrielle turned around,

flounced up her skirt, and pulled down her panties.

Christopher was breathing in little gasps, trying not to cry. Joshua

was whimpering. Michael was surprised he was able to speak at all.

“You can put down your skirt,” he said.

“Then I’m in the club?” Gabrielle asked.

“Yeah,” said Christopher. “Just cover up your butt.”

Gabrielle pulled her panties back into place, keeping her back to the

boys as she rearranged her clothing. When she turned around, she

had a big smile.

“Now you boys gotta show me yours,” she announced. “You gotta prove

that you’re special too.”

Michael wondered how she knew that rule. She must be a pretty

good spy after all. He really didn’t like showing his butt even

to the other boys, but rules were rules. He was lucky, because

his belt was Velcro. He opened it easily while Matthew, Joshua,

and Christopher were still struggling with their buckles.

“You ready?” he asked. He didn’t want to be the only one with

his pants down. The others nodded. Together, they turned around,

bent over, and lowered their pants.

“Pick up your shirt a little,” Gabrielle said. Michael wasn’t sure if

she meant him, but he tugged up his shirt tail.

“Well, okay then,” Gabrielle said, but before Michael and the

other boys could pull up their pants, there was a distinctly

adult voice coming from the doorway.

“Boys, fix your pants,” Mrs.Cooper ordered them reproachfully.

Big, big trouble, thought Michael. Probably the worst trouble any kid

had ever been in ever. And then it got worse. There was another

grown-up with Mrs. Cooper

“This is beyond anything I even imagined!” Principal

Burnside shrieked. “Mrs. Cooper, you’re fired!”

= = = = =

ACT I

Residence of Mr. and Mrs. Curtis Cooper

Martinsburg, West Virginia

“My wife is a good teacher. She taught six years in Hatboro and

you can check with them,” Curtis said.

Scully hadn’t recognized the name when Curtis Cooper called, but now

that she saw him she remembered his face. Of course the

deputy uniform helped too.

“Why did you switch schools, Mrs. Cooper?” Mulder asked.

“I moved to Martinsburg when we got married. I hated to leave my old

school, but the commute was too much,” Jessica said.

“They had it in for her from the beginning,” Curtis said. “Always

treated her like an outsider.”

Jessica shrugged a little, as if to downplay her husband’s assessment.

“Principal Burnside favors the conservative, traditional approach, and

my experience was in a progressive environment,” she explained.

“Is that why you were fired?” Scully asked. She noticed

Jessica flinch at the word “fired.”

“They gave her the first grade. The worst kids in the whole school,”

Curtis said.

“They are not!” Jessica protested.

“Well, the principal calls them ‘disruptive and unruly,’ but I have a

feeling there’s more to it than that,” he asserted.

“Are they disruptive, Mrs. Cooper?” Mulder asked.

“They’re imaginative. They’re playful,” she answered.

“They play doctor in the equipment shed,” Curtis added.

“Is that why you called the FBI?” She turned from her husband to the

two agents. “Are you some special sex-crimes division?”

“Nothing like that, honey. These agents were here in town when all

that crazy stuff was going on. Before we met,” he said.

“We specialize in crazy stuff,” Mulder explained. “Eddie Van Blundht

was one of our more memorable cases. Wouldn’t you agree, Agent Scully?”

“By all reports, Eddie has been a model prisoner,” Agent Scully said

after a long silence.

Jessica recognized the name. Her husband had told her about a large,

dangerous prisoner who had ambushed him and knocked him out.

“There were five of those monkey babies,” Curtis said.

“They’d be about six years old now,” said Scully. “Were any of

those children in your class, Mrs. Cooper?”

The two agents leaned forward, eyes fixed on her face as they

waited for her answer, but Jessica was too offended to reply.

“Monkey babies?” Jessica repeated. “You call them monkey babies?”

Mulder exchanged glances with Scully, and then he rephrased

the question.

“Were any of the children in your class born with caudal

appendages?” he asked.

“I don’t have access to the children’s medical records,”

Jessica answered.

“Let’s see… Nelligan? Or Nieman? Scully, do you remember any

of the other names?” Mulder asked. He rubbed his hands together

impatiently.

“Agent Mulder, there is only one first grade class. Of course

I taught Gabrielle Nelligan and Michael Nieman,” she said.

“Did you notice anything different about those children?” Scully

asked quietly.

“I notice something different about every child, because every

child is different,” Jessica insisted. “I only wish that the

Martinsburg Elementary School could respect and accept those

differences.”

Curtis patted his wife’s hand.

“My wife’s never seen them do anything out of the ordinary. But

if you listen to the other teachers, you’ll hear a lot of complaints

about ‘making faces,'” he said.

“Making faces!” Jessica repeated. “As if that’s a crime.”

= = = = =

“Six-year old shapeshifters. That would be wild,” Mulder said.

His driving was impeccable, but when they had to slow for traffic or

stop for a light, he would tap his fingers on the wheel or

shift around in the seat. After all these years he still lit up

at the chance to encounter some truly beyond-the-pale phenomenon.

“Six-year-old shapeshifters would present gargantuan ethical and

medical dilemmas,” Scully replied.

“Party pooper,” he snorted.

“Seriously, Mulder. I recommended medication to control Eddie Van

Blundht, but he’s a convicted criminal,” she said. “The use of

drugs to control behavior in children is controversial at best.”

“You might even call it a hot potato.” He raised his

eyebrows, inviting her to appreciate his joke. “But your point

is well taken. How do you keep the Tater Tots out of trouble?”

“I’m still hoping these are ordinary children,” she said.

“Making faces, Scully. Sound familiar?” Mulder asked.

They parked by the school, and Scully was taken aback by the sight of

the children at play.

“Is this a public school or an MBA program?” Mulder asked.

“Some studies show that a conservative dress code can enhance learning

and improve behavior,” Scully said.

“It would appear that it also enforces traditional

gender-stereoptypes,” Mulder observed.

There was a distinct separation of the sexes, as Mulder had noted.

Little girls in pleated skirts skipped rope or hopscotched, while boys

in shirtsleeves and ties played catch or basketball.

“There’s nothing like a skirt to keep you off the jungle gym,” Scully

said.

Mulder sucked in a big, noisy breath and looked her over up and down.

“Hm,” he said.

“Stop it right now,” she said. How had her innocent comment triggered

Mulder’s libido? She didn’t want to think about it because it

might do the same for hers.

“I stopped,” he assured her, but he was chewing on his lip and she

wasn’t convinced.

“Quick–why are we here?” she quizzed him. They were about to

interview the principal of the Martinsburg School, and Scully didn’t

want Mulder gazing out the window imagining God knows what about the

playground equipment.

“Six years ago five babies were born, all fathered by a man with the

ability to transform himself, in appearance and voice, into someone

else. We want to ascertain if the children have some of that same

ability,” Mulder said in a monotone.

“Very good,” Scully said, although his languid drone didn’t

sound quite as focused as she would have liked.

“Scully,” Mulder asked dreamily, “what about the swings?”

= = = = =

Mrs. Cooper was gone and Miss Panasci took over. Usually she taught

art, even though she could hardly see, and health, even

though everyone knew she smoked cigarettes. She wasn’t as

interesting as Mrs. Cooper, but she wasn’t mean or anything.

Michael thought she was probably tired. She was an old lady,

even older than Mrs. Cooper, and she wasn’t used to teaching the same

kids all day long.

The whole class missed Mrs. Cooper. Christopher was the one

who thought of a way they could get her to come back.

“If we’re real bad, the principal will see that it wasn’t

Mrs. Cooper’s fault,” he said. “We just have to be more bad than

we were before.”

Miss Panasci didn’t seem to care if you talked during lessons, as long

as you weren’t too noisy. It was coming up on the time for K

through 3 recess, but the storage shed was always locked these

days. If the club was going to form a plan, they’d have to do it

in the classroom.

“I don’t want to show my butt no more,” Joshua said. “If I ever

do that again, Mom says I can forget about Disney World.”

Michael didn’t want to show his butt again either, but that would be

hard to top, if they were proving how bad they could be.

“We’ll make faces,” said Christopher. “When Mrs. Burnside comes into

the classroom, we’ll all be Joshua.”

“Why me?” Joshua asked.

“I think cause you don’t make faces as good as the rest of

us,” Matthew explained.

“You just have to practice more,” Michael said kindly.

“I know what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna bust up Mrs. Burnside’s car,”

Gabrielle declared.

“Wow,” said Joshua.

“Won’t you get a whoopin’?” asked Matthew.

Matthew was always talking about getting a whoopin’. Once Michael had

asked him what it was, and Matthew didn’t know. Just that it was

something you wouldn’t want to get.

“Nuh-uh I’m not gonna get a whoopin’,” Gabrielle said confidently.

“Cause everyone’s gonna see that it was Erica Carlyle who did it.”

Erica Carlyle, the most perfect kid in the whole school. She

never wore pants, not even on weekends, and she could write her

name in script and play the piano.

Matthew started laughing, that cartoon laugh of his that sounded like,

“A-yuck-a-yuck-a-yuck.” The other boys were quiet, almost solemn.

Everything they’d done before was kid stuff. Imitating the music

teacher, playing quadruplets, making faces. They gazed in

admiration at the the only girl in the club, and the newest member.

“Awesome,” said Christopher.

= = = = =

The main office of the Martinsburg School was a bustling place, and

Principal Burnside was a busy woman. One of the harried secretaries

assured Scully she would inform Mrs. Burnside that the FBI wished

a few minutes of her valuable time. Scully waited on a wooden

bench while Mulder paced and explored, reading the names on the

mail slots and the postings on the bulletin boards.

A nervous boy with downcast eyes joined Scully on the bench, then a

little girl with trembling lips. Adults arrived as well,

some anxious, some angry. A tallish woman in a blue cardigan

emerged from a side office and nodded brusquely at one of the

men on the bench. He seemed to gulp before obeying the summons.

“Was that Mrs. Burnside?” Scully asked the child next to her.

He nodded without looking up. Mulder finished perusing the notices

and made his way over to the bench.

“Hey, what are you in for?” he asked the two young miscreants

sympathetically.

“I can’t find my library book,” the boy answered in a guilty whisper.

“That’s rough,” Mulder said, turning his attention to the girl.

“Mrs. Pandermarck said I was talking, but I wasn’t talking,” she said,

sniffling a little. “Melanie was talking. I was only answering.”

“I see,” said Mulder.

Mrs. Burnside emerged from her office, followed by the man she’d

summoned inside minutes before. As he shuffled away she pointed

at the little library felon to Scully’s left.

“Good luck,” Mulder said pleasantly. The boy rose to meet his

fate, and Mulder took his place on the bench.

“Mrs. Burnside runs a tight ship,” Scully commented.

“I can’t wait to mess with her head,” said Mulder.

Scully knew she should try to discourage him, but she liked the idea

herself. She’d expected the principal to be an old battle-ax, but Mrs.

Burnside was a young battle-ax. Her dress and demeanor seemed to

suggest that she was a woman of high, rigid standards who

was constantly offended by the flawed, chaotic world around her.

The bookless boy looked unharmed when Mrs. Burnside dismissed him, and

the kindergarten girl survived her meeting as well.

Mrs. Burnside stood in her doorway, surveying the people who

awaited her attention. She crooked a finger at Mulder and he smiled

jauntily.

Scully was prepared to let Mulder take the lead in the

interview. He’d probably start with some open-ended questions

before focusing in on the Van Blundht children. Or maybe he’d

ask about the problems that led to Mrs. Cooper’s dismissal. She

never really knew with Mulder.

“I haven’t seen you here before,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“It’s nice to finally meet you,” said Mulder. Scully smiled politely.

“You must be Erica’s parents,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“How do you know that?” asked Mulder pleasantly.

The principal had gone out on a limb, and Mulder had decided to saw

it off. Scully could have ended the deception, but instead she let

it continue.

Mrs. Burnside smiled. Not a warm smile, but a smile nonetheless.

“Just an educated guess, Mr. Carlyle,” she said. “Your daughter has

apparently inherited your poise and grooming.” She included Scully in

her approving nod.

“I’m sure Erica would make any parent proud,” said Mulder.

“I can also guess the purpose of your visit,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“You’re concerned about discipline problems in the classroom.”

“We’re disturbed by some of the stories we hear about the

first grade,” Mulder said.

He practically winked at Scully. =See, I’m telling the truth now.=

“Obviously I’m not at liberty to discuss other children, but I

can offer you some general reassurance. On further investigation,

an incident that at first seemed to signal precocious sexual activity

turned out to be something different,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“How can you be so sure?” asked Scully.

Mulder gave her a tiny nod, welcoming her active participation.

Mrs. Burnside pursed her lips.

“Suppose a group of children were comparing appendix scars. You

wouldn’t consider that to be sexual, would you?” she asked.

“Appendix scars? Really? All five children?” Mulder asked.

“It’s a hypothetical example, Mr. Carlyle. I can’t comment any

further,” Mrs. Burnside said.

“We had other concerns about the first grade class,” Mulder said.

He’s pushing it, Scully thought. Unless they’d lucked out and little

Erica happened to be a first-grader, Mrs. Burnside was going to become

suspicious.

“Of course your daughter’s conduct has always been exemplary.

She’s an inspiration to the other children,” the principal said.

“I’m sure the rest of the class will fall into step, now that

they have a good teacher.”

“Mrs. Burnside, the sad fact is that the behavior of the first grade

class has only deteriorated since the removal of Mrs. Cooper,” Mulder

said accusingly.

“With time and patience, every child in the class will be as

mature and well-mannered as your daughter,” the principal promised.

At that moment the office door burst open. Mrs. Burnside whipped her

head around to confront the offending intruder.

“What’s the meaning of this, Miss Panasci?” she demanded.

“S-s-orry,” Miss Panasci stammered.

This was the teacher who had inherited the first grade class when Mrs.

Cooper was fired, Scully remembered. She looked like some 1950’s

ideal of the school marm, except for her nicotine-stained

fingers.

“Well?” Mrs. Burnside asked.

“Erica Carlyle took a baseball bat to your car, Principal

Burnside. She cracked your windshield!” Miss Panasci exclaimed.

“Miss Panasci! Erica’s mother and father are right here. Do you

honestly expect them to believe that Erica would ever do such

a thing?” Mrs. Burnside asked.

“But I saw her. Half the school saw her,” Miss Panasci protested. A

bratty little voice behind her confirmed the misdeed.

“I did it all right!”

“Erica Carlyle, get in here!” Mrs. Burnside ordered.

Now what, Scully wondered as the child flounced into the room.

The little girl was dressed in the obligatory blue skirt and white

blouse, although both had seen better days. Her scuffed sneakers were

untied. She didn’t quite fit the portrait of perfection that Mrs.

Burnside had painted.

“I want you to look your parents in the eye and tell them why you did

it,” Mrs. Burnside commanded.

Scully decided to wait until Erica protested that these strangers were

not her parents. Then she would take out her credentials and

claim that the principal had somehow misunderstood.

The kid, however, seemed unaware of the deception. She folded

her arms across her chest and addressed herself to Scully and Mulder.

“Mommy, Daddy… I won’t be good no more until Mrs. Cooper

comes back,” she announced.

“Child, your grammar!” Mrs. Burnside groaned, as if the

double negative was as appalling as the vandalism.

“Oh… I won’t talk good no more neither,” said the girl.

“We’re taking you home, young lady,” Mulder announced.

Scully’s jaw dropped. She looked at him and mouthed the word, “What?”

“That would be best,” Mrs. Burnside agreed.

Mulder and Scully walked out of the building with their new daughter

skipping along between them. A couple of teachers were standing

by Mrs. Burnside’s car, studying the cracked windshield.

“Yeah, it was me!” the girl shouted gleefully to them.

The Lariat rental was parked a few rows away. The child slipped into

the back seat without protest. Scully closed the door for her, then

took the passenger seat in front.

“We’re taking you home, Gabrielle,” Mulder said.

Scully held her breath for a second. Mulder wasn’t =always= right.

“But Daddy, I’m Erica!” she answered. Mulder looked at her

reproachfully.

“You’re not Erica,” he said firmly.

“Oh yeah? Well, I bet you ain’t Erica’s daddy neither,” Gabrielle

retorted.

“We’re federal agents,” Scully said, wondering if Gabrielle had

any idea what that meant.

“Aw, fudge,” said Gabrielle. Her long blond hair turned into

twin buns, and her features softened and changed as well. “I wanted

to see where Erica lives.”

= = = = =

end 1/3

ACT II

Residence of Amanda Nelligan

The Nelligans lived in a shabby neighborhood of tired little bungalows

and run-down shops. A convenience store on the corner boasted of “Hot

Lotto” and cold beer.

“You can drop me off here,” Gabrielle offered helpfully as

Mulder parked in front of her house.

“That’s okay,” Mulder said. “We want to talk to your mom.”

“I don’t want you to get in trouble,” Gabrielle said.

“You don’t want =us= to get in trouble?” Scully asked. She’d

been around children enough that she was prepared for some

twisted kid-logic, but at the same time she was feeling rather guilty.

“I’m gonna have to tell on you if you come inside,” Gabrielle warned

them earnestly. “‘Bout how you tricked me into getting in your car.”

“That was very wrong of us,” Scully said soberly. She glared

at Mulder, because even by his free-wheeling standards they

were playing with fire. Mostly she was angry at herself, because she

knew better.

“Yeah, very wrong,” Mulder agreed dryly. “I think the best thing

is if we all go inside and confess about the bad things we’ve done.”

Gabrielle looked beseechingly at Scully.

“It’s okay, sweetie,” Scully said. “We’ll all work this out together.”

Gabrielle led Mulder and Scully around to the side of her house. She

looked over her shoulder a few times to show them how pitiful and cute

she was, but when that didn’t work she broke into a run.

Gabrielle always used the side entrance, which opened into

the kitchen. Her mother, meanwhile, was occupied in another room….

….The Nelligans’ den was full of second-hand furniture, but it

was cozy and comfortable. Amanda slid the videocassette into

the player and sat down on the couch.

“This is from Gabrielle’s first birthday,” she told the roguishly

dashing man who sat beside her.

“She sure is cute,” he said, reaching his arm around

Amanda’s shoulder, pulling her closer.

“I can’t believe you want to watch my home movies. Most people

would be bored to death,” Amanda said.

“I like children,” he said. “When are you going to let me meet your

daughter, anyway?”

Amanda pulled away a few inches.

“You have to understand, Jack. All these years it’s been just me and

Gabrielle. I don’t know how she’ll feel about sharing me with

somebody,” she said.

“She’ll be fine, once she gets to know me,” Jack said, giving Amanda

that look that always made her melt. “Trust me.”

Jack stretched and casually placed his arm over the back of the

couch. Amanda leaned against him a little stiffly, but then something

startled her, and she pulled away.

“There’s someone at the door,” she said.

“Probably a salesman,” Jack said. “Ignore him.”

“No, Jack, the side door. It must be Gabrielle,” she said.

“You said she doesn’t get home until three,” he protested.

Amanda seemed to hold her breath, and in the quiet they could clearly

hear the squeak of a door, and then a child’s voice:

“Mommy, I’m home….”

….The first thing Scully noticed when she followed Gabrielle

and Mulder into the kitchen was the R2D2 cookie jar. She wondered

if it beeped and whistled when you lifted the lid.

She heard Amanda’s flustered voice from another room:

“Just a minute, honey. Wait in the kitchen.”

Amanda wasn’t expecting her daughter home this early, Scully remembered.

“Oh my God,” she whispered to Mulder. “She’s not alone.”

“You still have time to get away,” Gabrielle informed them craftily.

“You’re scary, kid,” Mulder answered, and Gabrielle glared.

“Mommy, I’m hungry!” she called out in a sing-song.

“Nobody’s trying to get you into trouble,” Scully assured her. “You

have a gift, Gabrielle, but you mustn’t use it to hurt other people.”

Gabrielle stuck out her tongue.

“Mommy, I came home in a car with two strangers!” she shrieked.

“You what?” Amanda shrieked back.

“We’re cops,” Mulder said. “It’s okay to get in the car with us.”

Scully found herself siding with Gabrielle on this one. They were

strangers and they’d tricked her.

“Don’t be alarmed, Ms. Nelligan. We’re from the FBI,” she

shouted with more self-assurance than she felt.

“You might remember us. Agents Mulder and Scully,” Mulder called.

Gabrielle was frustrated and furious. Her little shoulders

hunched and her breath huffed out through her nose.

“Mommy!” she bellowed.

“I’m coming,” Amanda answered, and a second later there she was.

Amanda hadn’t changed at all in six years, Scully thought. She didn’t

look any older than the day she told them that Luke Skywalker was the

father of her baby.

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“What’s going on?” Amanda demanded as Gabrielle wrapped herself around

her mother’s legs.

“They fooled me, Mommy. They made me get into their car,” Gabrielle

said. Tears welled in her eyes and she started to sniffle.

“Why are you here?” Amanda asked. “Is this something about…

E-D-D-I-E?”

“It might be,” Scully confirmed.

“Isn’t he in prison?” Amanda asked. “For what he did to… his

victims?”

“He’s been transferred to a halfway house, but he’s still under close

supervision,” Scully said.

“This doesn’t involve him directly,” Mulder added.

“Mommy, the strangers are scaring me,” Gabrielle whimpered.

“It’s all right, baby. I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Amanda promised.

“Ask your daughter what happened in school today,” Scully suggested.

Amanda looked at the two agents with a mix of hostility and suspicion,

and then kneeled down so that she was eye-level with Gabrielle.

“Tell me what happened in school today,” she said.

Gabrielle’s lips quivered.

“Everyone saw Erica Carlyle cracking the glass on Mrs. Burnside’s car,

but =they= say I did it,” she said in a hurt little voice.

Amanda swallowed hard and gave her daughter a squeeze before she stood

up.

“I see what’s going on,” she said, glaring at Mulder and Scully.

“Gabrielle, I want you to go to your room so the grown-ups can talk.”

“Can’t I go to the den to watch TV?” Gabrielle asked.

“No! Just go to your room for now, okay, honey?” Amanda said.

Gabrielle scuffed off to her room with only a backward glance or

two for dramatic effect.

“Maybe you ought to sit down,” Scully said.

“I don’t need to sit down because you’re leaving,” Amanda retorted.

“Unless you got a warrant or something.”

“We have to talk about this,” Scully insisted.

“Talk about what? The way you single out me and my kid because

she’s poor and illegitimate plus her father’s a convict?” Amanda

asked angrily.

“You know that’s not it,” Mulder said.

“I want you out of my house,” Amanda said. “I want you to leave

my daughter and me alone.”

“You’re trying to protect her, but you can’t do it by hiding from

the truth,” Mulder said, taking a step forward.

Mulder had the tendency to use his height and muscle as an unspoken

threat, pushing himself into people’s space to make them back down.

Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t.

“Maybe you didn’t hear me right,” said Amanda staunchly.

Scully put a hand on Mulder’s arm, and he broke off the confrontation.

“You must know your daughter is special,” he said, already turning

toward the door. “You must have seen it.”

“You’re real big shots, coming around to try to scare us,”

Amanda said. “Why don’t you just drive across the railroad tracks

and try telling the rich folks that their children are freaks?”

“Gabrielle is not a freak. She has a gift,” Scully said.

“Those are real pretty words,” Amanda said. “Close the door on

your way out.”

….Meanwhile, back in the den, the man called Jack was asking himself

why Mulder and Scully had to turn up again just when everything was

going so well.

“Oh, crap,” he said.

= = = = =

“We need to talk to Mrs. Burnside again,” Mulder said. “She’ll

be more objective.”

They were sitting in the car outside Amanda’s house. People actually

seemed to walk in this neighborhood, Scully noticed.

“It might be difficult to win her over,” he said.

Very difficult, Scully thought, since they’d have to begin by

apologizing for their pointless deception. What had they gained by

telling the principal they were the parents of one of the first-graders?

“Perhaps she already suspects about those children,” Mulder

continued. He started the engine.

Eddie Van Blundht had fathered five children, Scully thought,

and Amanda Nelligan was the only parent they’d contacted so far.

A single mother struggling to make ends meet. No wonder she was

defensive. Furthermore, Scully was sure there was someone else in

the house at the time, someone that Amanda wanted to keep hidden.

“I’ll ask the principal if I can speak to the class. I’ll

appeal to the children’s sense of fair play,” Mulder said. “I’m good

with kids.”

Maybe Scully would drop him off at the school while she paid a

visit to one of the other families. Or maybe she’d stay right

here and try again with Amanda.

“I just want to wait a few more minutes,” Mulder said, leaning

back in his seat. “Let’s see what Amanda does next.”

They waited in silence. Scully found herself irrationally curious

about the secret guest. She remained convinced that Amanda

had company.

“Scully,” Mulder said, jerking his head toward the house. A man was

walking from the side door toward the street.

“Knew it,” said Scully. Maybe Amanda’s friend would confront them and

repeat her demand to leave her alone.

He was a seriously fine-looking man, Scully noticed. He

headed straight to their car, but instead of rapping on the glass

he gave them a long, smug look and then strolled away.

“Kind of flamboyant for these parts, don’t you think?” Mulder asked.

He wore black trousers and a plain white shirt, but Mulder was right.

There was something larger than life about him.

“It’s Harrison Ford!” Scully proclaimed.

“I think you’re off by a couple of decades,” Mulder answered casually.

clip_image005

“Mulder!” she complained. It was rare for him to be so obtuse. She

opened the door and got out of the car, but he just sat there.

“Scully, you got a thing for Harrison Ford?” he asked.

“Harrison” was walking purposefully, and Scully had to hustle to

close the distance. Damned if he didn’t turn and wink at her

before he slipped into the corner convenience store.

By that time Mulder’s synapses were back up to speed. He practically

shoved Scully off the sidewalk as he ran past her.

“Han Solo!” he explained unnecessarily.

“Back door, Mulder. I’ll cover the front,” she called after him. She

thought she saw him nod that he’d heard her.

= = = = =

“Sorry, Scully. He got away,” Eddie said.

Mulder’s face, Mulder’s body, but Scully wasn’t fooled. For

one thing, she’d seen Mulder slip out the back door as soon as she

caught up with Eddie.

“Who got away, Mulder?” she asked, reaching for his hand.

“That guy we were following. That good-looking guy,” Eddie said. He

let her take his hand, but he gave her a surprised, questioning look.

“Where’s your tie?” she asked as she led him out of the store.

“I, uh, took it off,” he explained. “Anyway, I think we’re all done

here.”

“You said we’d talk to Amanda again,” Scully said. “Let’s go, Mulder.”

He stopped in his tracks until she gave his hand a tug.

“We really don’t need to bother that poor woman any more,” Eddie said.

“We’ll just go in to tell her we’re leaving town,” Scully said.

Eddie looked very uneasy, but he was still walking with her.

When they reached Amanda’s house, Scully held back a step, waiting

to see if Eddie would head for the side door. When he remained

motionless at her side, she made her own decision and headed for

the front entrance.

“You wait here,” Eddie suggested. “I’ll go in and tell her myself.”

Scully rang the doorbell. Amanda opened the door with a startled frown.

“You again,” she said.

“Just wanted to say that you’re off the hook,” Eddie explained.

“May we come in?” Scully asked, pushing the door open and

dragging Eddie along with her.

“I thought I was off the hook,” Amanda said.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Eddie. “That fellow, Jack, took care of everything.”

“All right then,” said Amanda. “He told me he would.”

The room held a sofa, a chair, and a loveseat. Scully

maneuvered Eddie to the loveseat because it was next to the

old-fashioned radiator.

“Jack’s quite a guy,” Eddie said as he sat down.

“Isn’t he?” Amanda asked enthusiastically. “He treats me like

a queen, and he doesn’t mind I have a little girl.”

“Where is Gabrielle?” Scully asked.

“I sent her next door,” Amanda said. “Mrs. Doran lets her help on

baking day.”

Good, thought Scully. She really didn’t want Gabrielle around for this.

“So, you really like Jack,” Eddie commented.

“Of course she likes him, Mulder,” Scully explained. “He’s very

handsome.”

“That’s not the only reason,” Amanda protested.

“He’s a snappy dresser, too,” Scully said. “In fact, Mulder,

I believe you’re wearing his clothes.”

Amanda’s eyes widened as she looked him over.

“Where is he? What did you do to Jack?” she demanded.

Eddie’s eyes bugged out too as he looked to Scully for help. Scully

decided she could wait no longer. She slapped the handcuffs on

him, one end around his wrist and the other through the radiator.

“Jack is right here in this room,” Scully announced.

“Scully, what are you doing?” Eddie stammered.

“You son of a bitch,” Amanda said. “I don’t believe this.” She stood

over him, shaking with anger.

“Scully? Please?” Eddie asked, rattling the cuffs as if she might be

unaware of his predicament.

“Lies. All I get from you is lies!” Amanda screamed.

Eddie let his features soften and shift until he was once again the

dashing captain of the Millennium Falcon.

“You don’t understand, Amanda,” he said. “Every time I start to make

something of myself, the FBI comes along and screws me up.”

“I must be the stupidest woman on earth,” Amanda wailed.

“At least he didn’t claim he was Han Solo,” Scully tried to console

her.

“I don’t know why I didn’t recognize him,” Amanda said. “I

just wanted so bad to believe.”

“He can be very charming,” Scully said, remembering an evening

six years ago.

“Amanda, everything I told you was the truth,” Eddie said.

“Don’t you even talk to me about the truth! Not while you’re

sitting on my sofa being someone you’re not!” Amanda yelled.

“I want to treat you like a queen,” Eddie said. “I want to be

a father to my daughter.”

“You leave her out of this,” Amanda said. Her voice was shaking and

Scully thought she might start to cry. “I don’t want my daughter

growing up around a con man.”

Eddie looked stricken, and suddenly he looked like Eddie.

“I didn’t mean to con you, Amanda. I just wanted you to give me a

chance,” he said.

“But you never gave me a chance,” Amanda said. “You can’t use

tricks to make someone like you, Eddie. It doesn’t work that way.”

clip_image007

= = = = =

The Martinsburg Elementary School

The first grade was watching “The Food Pyramid” for the second

time that afternoon, and Miss Panasci was sitting by her desk with

her hand on her head, rocking back and forth.

=Potatoes are an excellent source of fiber, vitamin C, and

niacin! A small potato, baked or boiled, equals one serving

from the vegegable group.=

“I gotta go to the bathroom!” Christopher blurted.

Even a kindergartener knew you were supposed to say, “Please may

I leave the room.” Miss Panasci didn’t bother to correct him,

though, just waved him to the door.

“Miss Panasci, me too,” Michael said. “I gotta leave the room real

bad.”

There was only one boy’s bathroom pass, so Michael had to carry

the one for the girls’ bathroom, but that was the least of

his problems. Gabrielle had never come back from recess, which made

sense. She was probably still being Erica, maybe busy

getting hollered at.

The big question was, Where was the real Erica?

Kids had all kinds of stories about that, but Michael didn’t know

what to believe.

The Greavy twins, Andrew and Dylan, were telling everyone that they’d

locked Erica in the Art room again. The Art room was where the kids

went for recess when it was raining out, so it had lots of neat

stuff to play with. Most kids would be happy to be locked in

there, but Erica didn’t like to have fun.

“Do you think we should let her out now?” Dylan had asked Andrew.

“No, dummyhead, cause she got out herself. Didn’t you hear how she

busted up Mrs. Burnside’s car?” Andrew had rolled his eyes

because his brother was so clueless.

“She didn’t either, and you’re a dummyhead,” Dylan replied.

The most disturbing story was about what happened next. Some

kids said that two grown-ups took Erica away in a car. Not her

mom and dad, because her dad was fat and her mom had black hair

and glasses. These were strangers.

Michael knew that strangers sometimes stole children.

His mind was clouded with worry as he walked down the corridor with

Christopher, but he kept silent. Finally, behind the closed door

of the bathroom, he dared to speak.

“Did strangers really take away Gabrielle?” he asked.

“I saw them,” Christopher confirmed. “But maybe they weren’t the bad

kind.”

“What do you mean? Strangers are bad,” Michael reminded him.

“There’s, um… you know, like police and ice-cream men,” Christopher

said. He leaned down to tie his shoe.

Michael nodded wisely.

“Yeah, helpers. Maybe they were taking her to millary school,” he

suggested.

“Millary school,” said Christopher. “What’s that?” He was

still working on his shoelace. He had one real good loop, but

the rest was just a long string.

“Bad kids’ school,” Michael explained. “Like on Malcolm-in-the-Middle.”

“That’s smart kids’ school,” Christopher said. He twisted the

loop and the string together and stuffed them into his shoe.

“No, where Francis the boy went,” Michael said.

Michael had an Aunt Frances, and it made him feel funny that

Malcolm’s brother had the same name.

“Oh, that,” said Christopher. “The real Erica would like millary

school.”

“And Gabrielle would like if Dylan and Andrew locked her in the Art

room,” Michael giggled.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if you could be locked in there all night? That

would be so cool,” said Christopher.

The Art room had clay, paint, crayons, toys, and even a

puppet theater. There was a VCR with real tapes, not just “The

Food Pyramid” and “Metric Mania!”

“Super-cool. But someone gotta let Erica out,” said Michael.

They walked back to the classroom, where a new shock awaited them.

Miss Panasci was gone, the video wasn’t playing any more, and there

was a man in the front of the room.

There was a clue on the blackboard.

“Special Guest: Mr. Mulder.”

Michael tried to sound it out. If the vowels said their names, the

Special Guest was Mr. Mule-deer.

Funny name!

Mr. Mule-deer was talking about right and wrong, and how everyone made

mistakes and the important thing was to try your best. He was talking

about responsibility and telling the truth.

It didn’t sound that different from a lot of things grown-ups

said, and Michael was at a loss to understand why the kids were

acting so frightened. Then Christopher grabbed his arm,

clutching so hard that it hurt.

“That’s the stranger who took Gabrielle,” Christopher whispered. “The

millary-school man!”

“Should we run?” Michael asked, but it was too late. The man had seen

them.

“Come on in, boys,” he said.

They slunk back to their seats, and the millary-school man went

on with what he was saying.

“Everyone likes to play make-believe, and there’s nothing wrong with

that,” he said. “Playing make-believe is fun because no one is

really trying to trick anyone else.”

Michael looked over to Erica’s seat, forgetting for the moment

that she was missing. Erica was in the habit of raising her

hand after pronouncements like this in order to voice her agreement.

“When we use tricks to deceive our friends, we damage their trust in

us,” the man said. “How many of you feel that it’s important for

friends to be able to trust one another?”

The millary-school man was as boring as the food pyramid, but Michael,

along with most of the class, raised his hand.

“Mr. Mulder? What if a person de-, uh, deceived his friend, and he’s

real sorry now?”

The question came from Dylan. Andrew was shaking his head wildly,

gesturing his twin to be quiet.

Mul-der, Michael realized. Not Mule-deer.

The millary-school man seemed to consider the question carefully.

He was looking at the twins funny, but Michael had seen grown-ups do

that before. Special Guests, like the ecology lady or

the bicycle-safety man, would sometimes do a little double-take when

they realized that Andrew and Dylan looked the same.

“Understanding that you’ve done something wrong is the first step

in making it right,” said Mr. Mulder. He was staring hard,

and Michael could see the twins really starting to squirm.

“It wasn’t me,” Dylan said. “It was him.”

“You did it first,” Andrew protested.

“That’s okay,” the millary man assured them. “Why don’t we go

out in the hall and have a little talk?”

Michael was terrified, but he was angry, too. The millary

man was talking about tricks and trust, but all the while he

was looking for kids to take away in his car.

Andrew looked at Dylan, and Dylan looked at Andrew, and for once they

were in perfect agreement.

“Run!” they both screamed.

Mr. Mulder was too near the front door, so they both raced for

the door at the rear of the classroom. The man ran after them,

but Joshua stood up and shoved his desk into the aisle. For a

minute it looked as if the man would leap right over it, but he

didn’t jump high enough and he landed on his face on the floor.

“Stop him!” Joshua yelled, and Michael jumped on the man’s back. Mr.

Mulder was strong and tricky, and he managed to toss Michael aside and

make it out the door.

“After him!” Michael commanded, and the class obeyed.

If only the twins would split up, at least one of them would have a

chance, Michael thought, but they ran together down the hall and to

the staircase.

By the time Michael reached the staircase, Mr. Mulder was halfway down.

“Hey, look at me!” Michael shouted. He turned himself into Dylan, who

was somehow a little easier to do than Andrew. “I’m here!”

The man looked up and stopped in his tracks.

“Come and get me,” Michael called, but after a second’s

hesitation, the man continued down the stairs and then Michael

ran after him.

“Split up!” he yelled, hoping the twins would hear him.

“They’re going to save Erica,” Christopher shouted from the middle of

the mob.

It was the right thing to do, but the wrong time to do it. Also,

Michael didn’t think they’d have time to pop open the big

padlock before the millary man snatched them and dragged them

away.

The whole mob arrived at the locked door, and while the twins

tapped and jiggled the padlock a bunch of kids piled on top of

the millary man. They had him on the ground when the lock

sprang open, and Michael heard Andrew yelling for Erica to come on out.

Erica took her time leaving the room, taking her little lady-girl

steps. And she was drinking a juice-box. Michael didn’t know

they had juice boxes in there too.

Mr. Mulder was back on his feet, but before he could grab the twins,

Joshua and Matthew swarmed at him, with the other kids behind them.

“Lock him up!” Christopher yelled.

“Not again,” Mr. Mulder complained, but the swarm advanced,

bumping and pushing. They shoved Mr. Mulder through the door,

pulled it closed, and refastened the lock.

Matthew let out a yelp as the door pinched his finger, but he

managed to yank it free. Nobody else was hurt.

“Now what do we do?” asked Christopher.

Somehow everyone was looking at Michael, as if he knew what

they should do next.

“Let’s go back to the classroom,” he said.

They could hear pounding and yelling from inside the Art room, but

as they walked away, it got quieter and quieter.

= = = = =

ACT III

Residence of Amanda Nelligan

Scully phoned Deputy Cooper for a favor, and he said he’d be happy to

take Eddie over to the county lock-up for safe-keeping.

Eddie, still hand-cuffed to Amanda’s radiator, was resigned but

resentful.

“What’s the charge?” he challenged her.

“I’d advise you to accept voluntary confinement while we figure out

what to do with you, but if you prefer, the charge is impersonating an

officer of the law.” Scully left him to weigh his options while

she joined Amanda in the kitchen.

“Agent Scully, are you planning to tell the school about

Gabrielle?” she asked.

“Even if I don’t tell them, it’s just a matter of time until they

learn,” Scully pointed out.

“They’ll throw her out of school,” Amanda said. “Those rich boys

stand a chance, but not my kid.”

“It isn’t easy raising a child on your own,” Scully observed, taking a

seat at the kitchen table.

Amanda shrugged.

“I’ve had help. My neighbor is great about babysitting and Dr. Pugh

kind of keeps an eye on us,” she said.

“Dr. Alton Pugh? The obstetrician?” Scully asked in surprise.

“He’s ‘semi-retired’ now.” Amanda used her fingers to indicate the

quotation marks. “He doesn’t deliver babies any more, but he has

a special laser beam that’ll take away your varicose veins right

there in his office. If you’ve got any, that is.”

Amanda sounded so enthusiastic that Scully was loathe to

disappoint her, but she shook her head apologetically.

Amanda filled a tea kettle with water and placed it on the stove.

“Dr. Pugh says he feel responsible. Not that anyone blames him

for what Eddie did, or what the kids can do,” she said.

Mulder was right, Scully thought. Deputy Cooper was right.

Eddie’s children were all shapeshifters.

“How long have you known?” she asked.

“Matthew was doing Teletubbies before his first birthday. The others

didn’t have it real bad until this year,” Amanda answered.

“Did you really think you could keep it a secret?” Scully asked.

“Dr. Pugh thought we could,” Amanda said. “He thought he could help.”

“What could he do?” Scully asked.

“He’s president of the school board,” Amanda explained. “He

thought the kids needed a strict school to keep them in

line, someplace with a lot of rules and standards. Otherwise we might

have to use drugs on them.”

“It would be better for the children if you could avoid medications,”

Scully agreed.

“Dr. Pugh brought in that loony Mrs. Burnside to run the

school. Guess that didn’t work out very well,” she said. “Do

you want some tea?”

Amanda dropped tea bags into a couple of mugs and filled them with hot

water.

“You know, Amanda, I think Dr. Pugh was on the right track. The

children will need education and self-discipline,” Scully said. “What

they don’t need is secrecy.”

“We just want our kids to grow up normal and get treated

normal,” Amanda said. “If you spill the secret, it’s all over for us.”

“Your secret won’t keep, Amanda. You must realize that,” she said.

Scully picked up her mug. For a few minutes, she and Amanda sat and

sipped, saying nothing.

Finally Amanda set down her tea and stood up.

“Maybe it would be better if we were the ones who told the

school,” she said. “I’ll call Mrs. Neiman, see what she thinks.”

= = = = =

end 2/3

Small Fries

(3/3)

= = = = =

Martinsburg Elementary School

Mulder leaned back in the little chair, ignoring its ominous groans.

There wasn’t a single full-size chair in the room. He shook the

sunflower seed bag into his open hand, but it was empty, so he

tossed it onto the table.

His jacket hung over the back of another little chair, and he

reached in the pocket and pulled out his cell phone. The display

was still blank, and it remained blank no matter how many times

he pushed the button. He tried every button and then every key, but

when none of his maneuvers brought it to life, and he shoved

the useless thing back in his jacket.

Resigned and bored, Mulder returned his attention to the TV.

=No one hits like Gaston, Matches wits like Gaston, In a

spitting match nobody spits like Gaston….=

“Scully never told me her brother was in this movie,” he mused

out loud. Then he licked his salty fingers and reached for another

juice box.

= = = = =

It was rare for anyone to stand up to Mrs. Burnside, and she

didn’t like it.

“I cannot allow shapeshifters in this school,” she repeated

staunchly to the parents assembled in her office.

“This is a public school and you must provide every child with an

education,” Michael’s mother replied, and the other parents nodded in

agreement.

“And don’t call my daughter a shapeshifter,” added Amanda Nelligan.

Scully didn’t have to say a word. The parents were more than

capable of arguing their case. At first the principal had refused

to believe that a child could transform into another person, but

then Gabrielle had made herself into a perfect miniature of

Miss Panasci, complete with yellowed fingers and smoker’s cough.

“Your children will be best served by home tutoring,” Mrs. Burnside

asserted. “You can’t expect us to endure the antics of five little

chameleons.”

“Lady, you’re asking for it,” said Matthew’s father.

“Miss Panasci resigned today,” Mrs. Burnside said. “Where will I

find a teacher willing to put up with this level of disruption?”

“Mrs. Cooper might still be available,” Scully volunteered.

“Let’s add that to our demands,” said Joshua’s mother. “We want Mrs.

Cooper back.”

The parents broke into applause.

“You know, these kids couldn’t be getting everybody so rattled if you

didn’t make them dress alike,” Amanda said. “You’re making it way

too easy for them to trick you.”

“That’s right,” said Matthew’s mother. “Beyond that, I am sick

to tears of ironing those white shirts.”

“Me too,” said Michael’s mother. “And replacing all those lost ties.”

“This is America!” announced Christopher’s father. “It’s bad enough

when grown-ups have to wear a tie.”

“Are you challenging the dress code?” Mrs. Burnside asked in amazement.

“You bet your sweet ass we are,” said Michael’s father, and his

wife led the others in applause.

“See you at the next school board meeting,” said Christopher’s father.

“I think you’ll be surprised how many of the parents have had

enough of your rules.”

Scully felt hopeful that the people of Martinsburg would find

their own way to deal with the special children. She thought

about slipping out of the meeting to watch how Mulder was

entertaining the six-year-olds, because he really was good with

kids. But it was almost three o’clock and she decided to wait.

= = = = =

Gabrielle Nelligan was the star of the day.

First she’d turned herself into Erica and busted up a car. Then she’d

gone home early from school, and it wasn’t even her fault because the

strangers tricked her. That was a big surprise for Mom!

And then Mom had called up other parents, and they all went to

school to yell at Mrs. Burnside. Gabrielle missed most of that,

unfortunately. After she showed Mrs. Burnside how well she could

make faces, they made her wait outside on the bench while

the grown-ups talked in the office.

Then Mom told her to go back to class. Gabrielle didn’t even mind,

because she had so much news to share.

“Hey, everybody, I’m back!” she called, marching into the room like a

triumphant general.

The class was very quiet, and the VCR was on. “The Food Pyramid.”

Usually they had to watch that when Miss Panasci had a headache, but

Miss Panasci wasn’t even in the room.

“You missed all the fun!” Andrew told her. “Erica Carlyle destroyed

the principal’s car! She almost went to millary school, only she

‘scaped!”

“Quiet,” Michael reminded everyone. Michael thought he was in

charge of the world.

“That wasn’t Erica,” Gabrielle protested. “It was me.”

“Everybody saw me,” Erica boasted.

Usually the kids groaned when Erica said something, but now they were

nodding and agreeing with her. It was kind of disgusting.

“Guys, Erica doesn’t do stuff like that,” Gabrielle reminded them.

“People saw her,” Christopher said pointedly. “They =saw= her.”

Gabrielle remembered about their secret.

“Well, you wanna know what I heard in the office?” she asked. “Miss

Panasci quit!”

“Really?” Michael asked.

“I ain’t a liar!” she shot back. For the star of the day, she

wasn’t getting a lot of respect.

“She has been gone a long time,” Michael conceded.

“You don’t have any grown-up at all?” Gabrielle asked, looking around

the room.

“We had a stranger, but we locked him in the Art room,” Matthew

said.

Gabrielle was mad she’d missed that.

“Shut up!” said Christopher. “Unless you want to be the one to

let him out.”

“And then you’ll get a whoopin’ *and* go to millary school,” Joshua

said.

“We have to let him out some time,” Michael said.

“Maybe you should have thought of that before you put him in there,”

Christopher said sharply.

“You put him in there too,” Michael insisted.

“Guys,” said Gabrielle. “They’ll let him out next time we have

to stay inside for recess.”

“Yeah, soon as it rains,” Christopher said. “Good thinking,

Gabrielle.”

She smiled proudly.

“All right!” Michael conceded. “Let’s just stay quiet, okay? It’s

almost three o’clock.”

Gabrielle took her regular seat.

“The Food Pyramid” was near the end, where the perky lady told

them how much they’d learned.

=Instead of greasy french fries, try a baked potato! Butter is

loaded with fat, so use a squeeze of lemon juice or splash of vinegar!

Delicious!=

= = = = =

Mulder had three choices.

He could pull the fire alarm. There would be bells and sirens and

firetrucks and huge embarrassment, but he would be free.

He could blast his way out. With the hasp and the padlock on the

outside where he couldn’t see them, he’d have to shoot off the

hinges. It would work, but it would be noisy, destructive,

and potentially dangerous. He’d have to wait until the building

was empty.

Or he could just hang out. Scully would find him sooner or later.

The video on the TV rolled into its closing credits, and Mulder was

surprised at how much he’d enjoyed it. Stiffly he lumbered up

from his miniature chair.

Scully had seen “Babe” dozens of times, thanks to her nephews. It

was a cute movie, but Mulder decided that once was enough.

“That’ll do, pig, that’ll do,” he said as he hit the “rewind” button.

= = = = =

Mulder’s vanishing act was annoying, but at least today Scully

had no worries about his safety.

She’d loitered by the principal’s office, expecting him to make an

appearance after school was dismissed. When that didn’t happen she’d

tried his cell phone and finally walked over to the

classroom. Mulder’s name was still on the blackboard, but the

room was abandoned.

She phoned Curtis Cooper.

“I haven’t heard from Agent Mulder all day, but I’m glad you called.

What do you want us to do about Eddie?” the deputy asked.

“Good question,” she said.

“If he’s not back at the halfway house by supper, he’ll lose his

privileges,” Cooper reminded her. “Maybe that’s not a bad thing.”

“Maybe not,” Scully agreed.

Some people seemed to think Eddie Van Blundht was a lovable scamp,

but Scully didn’t see him that way. He’d used his sensitivity

and his unique physiology to steal intimacy, and she could not easily

overlook his crimes.

“Someone who can do what he does shouldn’t be walking around loose,”

Cooper said.

“I hope you’re wrong,” Scully said, but she wasn’t thinking about Eddie.

“I’ll leave it to you, Agent Scully. The next bus to New Cumberland

leaves at four-thirty,” Cooper said.

“I’d like to drive him back myself,” she decided. “That is, if

you can lend me a car.”

The Lariat was parked by the school. It would serve Mulder right

if he came back from wherever he was and found it missing, but

Scully didn’t have the keys.

Deputy Cooper took a few minutes to make the arrangements. He had a

patrolman swing by the school to drive Scully back to

headquarters, and there he had an unmarked vehicle waiting and

the prisoner ready for transport.

Somehow the blousy white shirt and the fitted black trousers

that looked so dashing on young Harrison Ford looked silly on

Eddie Van Blundht.

Scully let him sit in the front seat, after some quick consideration.

She wagered that Eddie had too much to lose by trying a

direct physical assault.

“I guess you’re going to rat me out to the prison board,” Eddie said.

He seemed incapable of understanding that he was not the

injured party, Scully thought.

“Rat you out?” she asked.

“You know. Tell ’em,” he said.

“Oh. As in, tell them that you continue to use your shapeshifting in

order to deceive women? Yes, I believe I will report that,” she said.

Eddie nodded. Scully felt his eyes on her as he studied

her, pondering the best way to win her over.

“I can respect that,” he said earnestly.

“Thank goodness. I was worried,” said Scully.

Eddie seemed hurt by her sarcasm.

“You know, all over the counry there are guys trying to blow

up bridges and pump up the stock market. Why are you so interested

in me?” he asked.

“Yeah, what did you ever do?” Scully asked even more sarcastically.

“Okay, Agent Scully, what did I do that was so terrible? All I

did was try to give a woman everything she wanted,” he said.

If it was just about Eddie, Scully wouldn’t have cared so much.

She had to prove to herself that the ability to transform was not

part-and-parcel with lack of character.

She decided to try something totally unorthodox.

“You know, Eddie, you have a point,” she said.

He seemed surprised but he quickly readjusted.

“I just want to make people happy,” he said. “Especially Amanda.”

“I can see that. What woman wouldn’t be delighted to have a handsome

boyfriend who took an interest in her child?” she asked.

“Don’t forget, that little girl is my child too,” he said.

Arguably, the four little boys were also his children, but Scully was

grateful that Eddie wasn’t taking that view.

“You’re just trying to make a family,” she said.

“Uh-huh. You know why women enjoy my company?” Eddie asked.

Unfortunately, Scully knew exactly why women enjoyed his company.

She vowed not to show her discomfort.

“Why?” she asked blankly.

“Because I listen to them. When I’m with a woman, she has my full

attention,” he said.

Scully nodded thoughtfully.

“I give you a lot of credit for that,” she said.

“That’s why I know I could make Amanda happy. Don’t you think she

deserves that?” he asked.

“She’s been so lonely,” Scully said. “She thinks about you a lot.”

May God forgive me, she thought.

“Really? What did she say about me?” Eddie asked eagerly.

“Oh, just that she was hoping there was a way you could be part of her

life. And Gabrielle’s,” Scully said.

“I’ve been hoping the same thing,” Eddie said. “I’ll be eligible for

full parole in six months.”

“I hope my report won’t hurt your chances,” Scully said, promising

herself she’d make early Mass on Sunday.

“It would be a shame if your report ruined things for Amanda,”

he said.

Scully turned to him and patted his arm.

“She was asking when I thought you’d be able to move in with her,”

she said.

His jaw dropped, and Scully saw tears in his eyes.

“That’s all I’ve been thinking about,” he said.

“That would be exactly what you want,” she said.

“My dream come true,” he whispered.

Eddie looked so goofy and vulnerable that it was hard for Scully

to do what she had to do next. She counted silently to ten and then

she made her move.

“Keep dreaming, Eddie. It’s all a lie,” she said.

“What are you talking about?” he asked with a nervous laugh.

“Amanda doesn’t want you around because she doesn’t trust you. Her

biggest fear for Gabrielle is that she’ll turn out like you,” she said.

“But everything you said before…?” His question ended in a grunt as

the truth hit him.

“Lies, Eddie. Every word,” she said.

His lip curled with disgust.

“What the hell’s the matter with you?” he asked angrily.

“What did I do?” she asked.

“You lied to me, you–” He caught himself and started again in a more

controlled tone. “You lied to me, Agent Scully.”

“I gave you everything you wanted,” she countered. “I was listening,

Eddie. You had my full attention.”

She knew she had hurt him, but she didn’t know if she had made her

point. In any event, he would have plenty of time to think about it.

Eddie Van Blundht had demonstrated that he wasn’t ready to return to

society.

His face was turned toward his window. He said one word, but he

said it quietly and she let it pass.

= = = = =

Nieman residence

Michael’s room was over the garage, so he woke up when Mom and Dad got

home. He slipped from his room to the top of the staircase, where he

could hear Mom thanking Aunt Frances for babysitting on such short

notice.

“Not a problem. That was one meeting you couldn’t miss,” Aunt Frances

said before she left.

Mom usually went to the school board meetings with some of

her friends, so Michael had known something big was up when his

dad went along. It wasn’t an ordinary meeting. It an emergency

executive session.

Michael hoped it was something about getting Mrs. Cooper

back. Earlier he’d heard Mom on the phone with Uncle Alton, and

she’d told him how much everyone missed her.

Mom and Dad were talking quietly downstairs, and about the only word

Michael could catch was his own name. They didn’t seem to be

angry, but they sounded very serious. Then there was a long

pause, and then his mother’s voice, a little louder but still

not angry.

“Michael?” she called.

He felt apprehensive as he climbed down the stairs.

“I woke up from the garage door,” he explained.

“It’s all right,” said Dad. “We want to talk to you.”

Oh-oh, Michael thought. Dad pointed to the couch, and Michael sat.

“You remember when we told you not to make faces at school,” Dad said.

Michael nodded guiltily.

“Why do you think we told you that?” Mom asked.

“Cause it’s bad,” he answered in a voice barely over a whisper.

“No,” Dad said. “It isn’t bad.”

“It’s not =necessarily= bad,” Mom added.

“It’s only bad when you use it to do something bad,” Dad said.

“Really?” Michael asked.

“It’s bad when you change your face to trick someone or get someone

else in trouble,” Mom said.

“It isn’t bad if you’re just playing, or just showing people what

you can do,” Dad said.

Michael couldn’t have been more surprised. Even Mom was looking

at Dad funny.

“Most people can’t do what you do, son. That makes you

different,” Dad continued. “But it’s okay to be different.”

Grown-ups said that a lot, but Michael knew it wasn’t entirely

true. It was okay to have different color skin or use a

wheelchair, but it wasn’t okay if you talked funny or wet your pants.

“When it’s so easy to trick people, you have to work extra hard to

be truthful and fair,” Dad said.

“It’s a big responsibility,” Mom added.

Like Spiderman, Michael thought. With great power comes great

responsibility.

“I just want you to know we’re proud of you,” Dad said. “You’re

a good person, Michael.”

Michael felt confused, especially because Mom looked like she

was about to cry. He also felt terribly guilty.

“I did something bad at school today,” he said. Mom and Dad

both looked scared, and Michael hurried to reassure them. “But

I didn’t show my butt.”

Mom and Dad started laughing, which made Michael feel better

and safer. When they stopped laughing, he told them.

“I locked up a stranger in the Art room.”

= = = = =

Martinsburg Elementary School

Mulder had drunk all the grape and cranberry juice boxes, and only the

syrupy orange ones were left.

He should probably slow down on the fluids anyway, he decided, or

long before morning he’d be choosing between the garbage can and

the water fountain.

His jacket was still over a chair, joined now by his tie, but Mulder

himself was sitting on the floor.

He hummed along with the music from the VCR, but most of his attention

was directed to a massive construction project.

Mulder had discovered that the Mighty Mega Garage set could interlock

with the Mighty Mega Car-wash, and now he was working to tie in the

Mighty Mega Freightyard and the Mighty Mega Speedway.

= = = = =

Martinsburg Sheriff’s Department

Deputy Cooper was near the end of his shift when Scully met him

back at headquarters. She helped herself to a chair by his desk.

“Any word from Agent Mulder?” she asked, trying to sound casual.

“Nope,” Cooper answered. “How did it go with Eddie?”

“He’s been transferred back to the reformatory, but they’re

letting him keep his job,” Scully said.

Cooper shook his head.

“A guy like that shouldn’t be on work release,” he said.

She pulled a plastic band from her pocket to show him.

“He’ll be under much closer scrutiny now. They fitted him with a

security device,” she said.

Cooper snorted.

“They should have had one on him in the first place,” he said.

Scully examined the band, flicking at the straps. She’d had

no earthly reason to take it…. just the vague idea that

Mulder needed something like that.

“I think your wife has a good chance of getting her old job back,” she

said.

“Yup. The school board made her an offer at the meeting tonight,” he

said.

“That was fast,” Scully commented. Nothing in Washington

ever happened that quickly.

“I don’t feel real good about her going back to those monkey babies,”

Cooper said. “I think they’re trouble waiting to happen.”

Scully hoped the kids didn’t have to face too many people with Curtis

Cooper’s attitude, but she didn’t try to argue with him. If his wife

hadn’t brought him around, Scully knew she wouldn’t have much luck.

“They have that potential,” she conceded.

Cooper had begun to clear his desk, slipping loose papers into folders

and stacking up the large ledgers.

“I’ll be shoving off in a few minutes. Need a lift?” he asked.

“I’ll try Mulder once more,” she said.

Mulder remained unavailable, and Scully was torn between her

intellectual certainty that he was all right and her anxiety and anger

over his unexplained absence.

She keyed in Amanda Nelligan’s number.

“Have you heard from Agent Mulder, by any chance?” she asked.

Fortunately Amanda didn’t ask for an explanation, but she had no

information to offer.

“I suppose Gabrielle’s in bed by now,” Scully said.

“Yes she is, Agent Scully, but I can’t see where she’d have

anything to tell you either,” Amanda said.

“You’re probably right,” Scully replied. “I thought Mulder might have

mentioned where he was going when he spoke to her class this afternoon.”

“Agent Mulder wasn’t there when Gabrielle got back to her classroom,”

Amanda related. “The kids were all alone until school let out at

three.”

= = = = =

Mulder had to admit it was strangely exhilarating to be locked up

with nothing to do but play. His empty stomach and full bladder were

nagging him for relief, but there was so much left to do. He

decided he could hold out a little longer.

The jars of poster paint caught his eye. Just one painting, and then

he’d shoot his way out.

He carried his tiny chair over to an easel, selected three

brushes, and chose his paint. Big rolls of butcher paper hung from

a rack. Mulder pulled out about a yard, and as he raised the end

so that he could tear the paper against the serrated edge, he saw

something behind the rack. At a distance it was completely hidden

by the rolls of paper, but from this close it was staring up at him.

A puny, child-sized, paint-stained sink, with little blue palm

prints on the faucets and a gray halo around the drain. A

beautiful little sink.

“Thank you, God,” Mulder uttered reverently.

He rolled the rack out of the way and utilized the sink with

a profound sense of gratitude and contentment. After he’d washed

his hands, he sprinkled in some scouring powder and gave it a good

rinse.

The night was young, his bladder appeased, and nothing stood

between him and his creativity. He sat down on the chair, rolled

up his sleeves, and started to paint. He was as happy as Frohike

at a nudist camp, except for one little thing. He was starving.

= = = = =

EPILOGUE

“Maybe I was wrong about those kids,” said Deputy Cooper said,

his eyes fixed on the road ahead. “That little Michael must have

some kind of conscience to come clean about what he did.”

Scully was feeling considerably less charitable about Michael and his

classmates. The deputy was driving like an old man, and she was ready

to snap.

“Would you mind using the siren?” she asked curtly. “My

partner happens to be trapped in a deserted building.”

“Ma’am, he’s locked in the playroom is all. I was thinking he

might be kind of embarrassed if we draw a lot of attention to the

situation,” Cooper said.

Scully hadn’t thought of that. Martinsburg was the kind of small town

where people would ask about the siren.

At last they arrived at the school. The deputy parked the

prowler next to the Lariat car, and Scully began to turn her anger

on herself.

Some partner. Driving halfway across the state to play mind-games

with a convicted rapist while her partner was held prisoner by

the Village of the Damned.

“Where is this so-called Art room?” she barked at Cooper as

he unlocked the door to the school.

“In the basement,” he said.

Like a dungeon, Scully thought, but she stifled her response and

followed him down the stairs.

Even after Cooper flipped on the lights, the hallway was shadowy and

creepy.

Poor Mulder, Scully thought as she walked down the hall.

He’d probably shouted himself hoarse and pounded his fists against the

door until his knuckles bled.

Scully thought of all the situations he’d weathered, all the ordeals

he’d endured, and this one didn’t seem that bad.

But there was another possibility. All those past experiences

would be dancing through Mulder’s head, haunting him. What if

she found him cowering in a corner, overcome by anxiety?

The padlock was huge and heavy, but not very sophisticated. No wonder

the kids had been able to poke at it until it opened. Scully’s pick

unlocked it in less than a second.

She turned to Cooper.

“I want to go in alone,” she said, still imagining that Mulder

might be whimpering on the floor.

“‘Course,” the deputy agreed easily. “He’ll feel like enough of

a fool without me around. Just remember to bring back the keys.”

As Cooper walked away, Scully opened the door slowly.

“Mulder,” she called. “Don’t be afraid, Mulder. It’s me, Scully.”

“Scully, what took you so long?” Mulder called cheerfully.

Scully’s relief escaped in a sound between a gasp and a sob.

She could see him on the far side of the room, folded into a little

chair, and he waved to her before turning back to… painting.

Mulder was painting a picture.

She almost tripped over a sprawling toy city that covered much of the

floor, and she was surprised that the strict principal didn’t

insist on the children putting away their toys.

Mulder was chewing on something as he painted, and the cluster

of empty juice boxes on the floor told her it was a straw.

The painting looked finished, but Mulder was adding little dabs

and flourishes, squinting as he worked.

His finished paintings lay across the table, the wet paint still shiny.

She expected aliens and spaceships but found not a one.

The theme of the day was food. A steaming pizza pie with one slice

gone. An ice-cream sundae. A bagel–or was it a doughnut?

His work in progress was a gigantic cheeseburger.

Not bad, either. The man had talent.

clip_image009

“Hey, Rembrandt,” she said, leaning down to flick a stray shell

from his hair. “Want to go get something to eat?”

“Okay, Scully, if you’re sure it’s really me,” he said, laying

his brush on the ledge of the easel and rising from the chair.

“Aren’t you going to clean up?” she asked.

Mulder looked around the room.

“Wasn’t planning on it,” he said.

“Then let’s get going,” Scully said. She took the picture from the

easel, holding it carefully by the corners.

“You’re going to check for fingerprints,” Mulder teased. “You really

aren’t sure who I am, are you?”

“I’m sure, Mulder,” she said.

“Then why?” he asked. As they walked, he cleared a path for her with

his foot. Occasionally he had to bend down to move something aside.

“I want it for my refrigerator. I didn’t know you could paint,” she

said.

“Maybe I can’t. Maybe it’s Eddie who can paint,” Mulder goaded her.

Carefully Scully placed the painting on a desktop and turned to him.

“I know it’s you, Mulder. I know you so much better than I did six

years ago. I know how you talk, how you smell.”

She reached for him, and if he’d had any notion of disguising his

identity, he blew his cover by leaning toward her in an

automatic response.

She kissed his full lips, once so elusive and now so familiar.

“I know how you taste,” she sighed, gazing up at him.

Mulder didn’t release his embrace but gathered her closer.

“How I feel?” he murmured into her neck.

“Mm,” Scully agreed, but then she forced herself to pull away. They

were professionals. They were FBI agents. They were closing a case.

“Besides,” she said crisply, retrieving the painting and holding it

up to him. “Pickles aren’t gray.”

=end=

Justice, Interrupted Part 2

cover

TITLE: Justice, Interrupted

AUTHORS: Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

EMAIL: sunrise@lightfirst.com

bahnsen@optusnet.com.au

RATING: PG

CATAGORY: X

KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR

SPOILERS: Through VS9; Justice, Interrupted Part 1

ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer

and Ephemeral. Others are fine, just let us know.

DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to

Chris Carter, 1013 and Fox. No copyright infringement

intended.

SUMMARY: How far will one man go to see justice served?

FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.

AUTHORS’ NOTES: Many thanks to Michelle, dtg, and Vickie

for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta and

medical expertise.

clip_image002

Justice Interrupted — Part 2

By Dawn Zemke and Sally Bahnsen

~~~~~~~~~

TEASER

~~~~~~~~~

Hegel Place

3:17 a.m.

The idiot up in 42 was at it again.

Helen Rezek tugged the pillow off her head, flopped onto her back,

and glared at the ceiling. Heavy footfalls–what was he wearing,

ski boots?–interspersed with sporadic thumps and thuds. No

basketball yet, but it sounded like he was just warming up.

Why me? She asked herself. Fifty apartments in this building and I

get stuck living under Mr. Insomnia. Why doesn’t he just move in

with Red permanently and put us all out of our misery?

Okay, so he was good looking. She and Carmen had bumped into

him at the mailboxes a few times, and even bathed in sweat the

man was gorgeous. Carmen was particularly fond of the cropped

off blue tee shirt that displayed his abs to rock-hard perfection. She

had stared at 42–Mulder, his name was–with a come hither look

of such unbridled lust that Helen had wished she could sink

through the floor. Subtlety was not one of Carmen’s strong suits.

So, yeah, he was easy on the eyes. But he was still a pain in the

ass. And the insomnia was the least of it. Gunshots, break-ins, dead

bodies–to hear Mrs. Leibowitz talk, he’d been dead himself. More

than once! He wasn’t pretty enough to outweigh all that. Hell,

George Clooney wasn’t pretty enough to outweigh all that.

Another thud, this one so loud she nearly jumped out of her skin.

Muttering all the things under her breath that she’d never have

courage to say to his face, Helen slid out of bed, added a pair of

faded gray sweats to the ratty tee shirt she was wearing, and

stomped out to the elevator.

The sharp crack of her knuckles against the wood felt good–so

good she had to rein in the impulse to let loose and pound. At first

she received no answer, though the thumping and thudding

abruptly ceased. Helen gritted her teeth and knocked again, more

insistently. Too late, Buster. You’re gonna get an earful.

The door finally swung open several inches to reveal a darkened

interior, and Helen sucked in a deep breath, ready to release two

years worth of frustration…

Except even in the poor lighting she could sense the face was all

wrong–thinning blond hair, nose too small, and that lower lip…

Best not to go there. She took hold of herself with a firm reminder

that she was pissed.

“I want to speak to Mr. Mulder.”

“He’s not home.”

Helen stopped the closing door with her foot, a little surprised by

her own audacity, and matched the man’s glare. “Then where is he?

And who the hell are you?”

For just an instant she thought she saw the bland expression on the

man’s face flicker, as if something dark and dangerous kindled in

the depths of his eyes. She jerked her foot from the doorway and

took a quick step back, but his voice remained matter of fact.

“He’s out of town. I’m a friend. He…asked me to take care of his

fish.”

“Last time I checked, feeding fish didn’t require you to throw

things.” Shaking off her unease, Helen craned her neck to peer

over his shoulder. “It’s three in the morning, you know? Some of

us would like to sleep.”

The man drew farther back into the shadows and inched the door

closer to the jamb, effectively blocking her view of the apartment.

“Sorry. It won’t happen again.”

The apology was flat and insincere. Helen stared into the cold blue

eyes and decided it was enough.

“Make sure it doesn’t, or next time I’ll go straight to the landlord.

Your friend won’t be too happy if you get him kicked out of his

own apartment.” Her attempt to bluster came out more like a

whine.

He shut the door without reply, a fact for which she found herself

profoundly grateful. She walked back to the elevator, arms clasped

against her body in an effort to ward off a sudden chill that tingled

between her shoulder blades.

“Taking care of his fish,” she huffed under her breath, stabbing the

button and shuffling inside. “Why should I be surprised?”

What did surprise her was the feeling she couldn’t shake–the deep

relief of someone who has narrowly avoided a head-on collision or

just missed plunging over the side of a cliff. It was ridiculous,

really, to let one of Mr. Mulder’s oddball friends unnerve her so.

She let herself back into her apartment, engaging the deadbolt.

After a brief pause, she slid the chain lock into place.

Despite the silence from above, it was more than two hours before

she found her way back to sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT I

~~~~~~~~~~~

Location Unknown

4:17 a.m.

His head felt like a bowling ball–too large and heavy for his neck.

Mulder struggled to crack sticky eyelids, two thoughts cutting

through the muzziness in his brain.

What hit me–a sledgehammer?

and

My mouth tastes like a tofutti rice dreamsicle.

His attempt to rub the sleep from bleary eyes was cut short by a

sharp tug and the bite of metal. Surprise drove away the last of the

cobwebs. He snapped his head right, then left, teeth gritted and

cuffs rattling until the ice of logic cooled his rage from a boil to a

simmer. Tamping down the initial panic, he drew in a deep lungful

of air and slowly panned the room with forced objectivity.

The faint glow from a single lamp provided the only illumination.

Across the room a Jacuzzi burbled, a bottle of wine perched in a

silver ice bucket on the edge. The waterbed beneath him was king-

sized, the sheets lavender silk. Mirrors on the ceiling, the walls, the

headboard–all reflected the stunned disbelief on his haggard face.

He jerked the handcuffs against the steel rings conveniently built

into the headboard and groaned, head falling back on the pillow

with a thud.

“Oh God. Please tell me this is just a kinky dream.”

The trail of blood down the side of his neck, drying to rusty brown

on his collar, was hardly reassuring.

By a combination of wriggling and scooting, Mulder managed to

sit up. A quick inventory revealed that he’d been divested of cell

phone and gun, and that the handcuffs binding him to the bed were

his own. McNally had even removed his belt and shoes.

“Hey! Can anybody hear me? I’m a federal agent and I need help!

Somebody? Help!”

He called out until his voice disintegrated to a rasp and the drums

in his head turned from easy listening to heavy metal. No

windows, and the louder he yelled, the more the walls seemed to

swallow his cries.

“Soundproofed.” He bared his teeth at his own reflection. “Loosens

up those pesky inhibitions.”

Ten minutes of trying to separate the restraining rings from the

headboard achieved nothing but abraded wrists. Though his

headache had subsided, the still-healing muscles in his chest

throbbed, and a simple case of dry mouth had turned to real thirst.

Searching for a more comfortable position, Mulder froze when the

door abruptly swung open and Kyle McNally slipped inside.

His eyes fastened onto Mulder, sharply assessing, as he shut the

door and engaged both the deadbolt and chain lock. One hand on

the weapon at his side, he approached the bed, his wariness easing

to a smile once he confirmed Mulder was still securely bound.

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“Glad to see you’re awake. We can get down to business.”

“I’ll admit I’ve had this fantasy plenty of times, McNally, but you

were never the one that walked through that door. Sorry to

disappoint.”

The smile slid off Kyle’s lips and his eyes went flat and cold.

“You’re a real funny guy, Agent Mulder. The only problem is, I

don’t feel much like laughing right now. I spent the last hour

searching that dump you call an apartment for something that

belongs to me, and I’m a little short on patience.”

Mulder shrugged. “My partner always says I’m the only one who

could understand my own filing system. Maybe if you told me

what you were looking for…”

“You know what I’m looking for. I don’t know how you got your

hands on it, but I sure as hell don’t intend to let you show it to the

police.”

“I would’ve pegged you as a smart guy, McNally. ASAC in the

Violent Crimes section, a profiler. It was risky to cheat on your

wife, but just plain stupid to take pictures.”

McNally drew his gun and placed the barrel against Mulder’s head.

“Where is it? Tell me now or I pull the trigger.”

“Pull the trigger and you’ll never know–until the cops show up on

your doorstep to arrest you for her murder.” Mulder kept his voice

soft and steady, though he could feel his pulse hammering against

the cool steel at his temple.

Kyle didn’t remove the gun, but his demeanor did an about face.

“Look, I don’t want to hurt you. Fair exchange: You give me all

your copies of the email and I’ll let you go.”

“Such a deal.”

“Looks to me like it’s the best you’ve got.”

The headache was back. He suddenly felt dizzy, disoriented. “How

do I know you’ll keep your word?”

“You’ll just have to trust me.”

Someone was tugging him, pulling him aside. Mulder tucked his

chin to his chest, eyes slipping shut.

“Well?” Kyle prodded him with the gun.

“Trust you, huh? No problem. We all know you can be trusted,

don’t we, paisan’?”

Kyle gasped and stumbled backward a step, the gun dangling from

his hand. The eyes staring back at him were now black as coal.

“Th…that’s impossible, you’re…”

“You’re going to pay for what you did, buddy. To me, to Monica.

I’m gonna make sure of it.”

“Shut up.”

“You’re no better than the monsters we hunted; just another cold-

blooded killer. Remember how you usta talk about Patterson? You

said he was the lowest form of life–a nutcase who turned on his

own. Well, look in the mirror, Goombah. You got ol’ Billy boy

beat.”

“I said SHUT UP!” Kyle backhanded him, the muzzle of the gun

catching Mulder across the cheekbone and rocking his head back

against the headboard with a sharp crack.

Mulder’s eyes slammed shut, an involuntary cry of pain wrenched

from his lips. One hand reflexively rose to soothe his rapidly

bruising cheek but the cuffs prevented it. Hazel eyes cracked open

to glare at Kyle.

“So much for trust.”

McNally had the gun pointed at his head again, but he couldn’t

mask the tremor in his hand. “I don’t know what kind of headgame

you’re trying to play, but it won’t work. You’ll tell me where that

file is or you’ll die chained to that bed.”

He holstered the weapon and walked to the door. “It’s your choice.

Think it over.”

Mulder didn’t want to ask; couldn’t stop himself. “I think better

when I’ve had a glass of water.”

Kyle smiled, but his eyes were steel. “A little thirst won’t kill you,

Agent Mulder. Yet.”

Georgetown

5:42 a.m.

“This is Fox Mulder; I’m not home. Leave a message and I’ll get

back to you.”

The telephone receiver smacked into the cradle with a loud crack.

“Damn it, Mulder! Why won’t you pick up?”

Hands tucked under her arms and top teeth tugging on her bottom

lip, Scully paced the length of her apartment. Two calls last night,

another five this morning, and all had been met with the voice

recording from his answering machine.

Fear gnawed at her stomach like a persistent rodent, last night’s

anger at being ditched long forgotten. She should have known

better. Should have predicted how he would react to her concerns.

She hadn’t planned on telling him about the counselor until they

were home where she could explain it to him calmly, in the right

context.

She huffed loudly. The best laid plans and all that…

Scully paced towards the phone again, her hand automatically

reaching for the receiver before she pulled it away and tucked it

back under her arm.

Well into the early hours of the morning, she had tossed and

turned, wrestling in her mind with everything Mulder had said to

her. And no matter how hard logic argued in favor of PTSD, or

worse yet, brain damage, when she’d taken time to objectively sift

through all the facts, Mulder’s reasoning made a weird kind of

sense.

Perhaps it had been easier for her to believe he’d suffered some

kind of mental breakdown due to his near death experience. It sure

as hell beat the alternative: A disgruntled ghost determined to use

her partner as a means to right a perceived wrong? At least

medical science offered her a concrete path to a cure. But now…

She wasn’t so sure.

Everything Mulder had said to her last night… In the cold hard

light of day it didn’t seem quite so improbable. What if he was

right? While her mind had been busily rejecting each outlandish

claim he threw at her, in her heart she had known that what he was

suggesting was more than mere coincidence. How could he know

so much about Sal DeAngelo? And his wife?

Easy answers eluded her. And the truth was frightening. But the

image of Mulder’s stricken face when she’d suggested he had lost

his grip on reality frightened her more. And that, at least, was

something she could fix.

Finding herself back by the phone, Scully snatched up the receiver

and punched the redial button, her fingers nervously tapping

against her leg as the connection was made. On the sixth ring the

answering machine picked up. This time she waited for the beep

and left a message.

“Mulder, it’s me. I’m coming over.”

Weapon holstered and ID tucked into her pants pocket, Scully

snagged her jacket from the coat tree, her cell phone and keys from

the sideboard and headed out the door.

Alexandria

6:32 a.m.

Morning rush hour and badly placed road construction combined

to stretch Scully’s already taut nerves to almost breaking point. By

the time she’d reached Mulder’s apartment, she’d given the car horn

a heavy workout and left a trail of bird-wielding motorists in her

wake.

Relieved to find a parking space in front of Mulder’s building,

Scully made a quick inventory of the other vehicles lining the

street. There was no sign of his car.

She ran lightly up the steps leading to the entrance and pulled hard

on the glass door. A young woman, dressed in sweat pants, long

sleeved tee shirt and running shoes stumbled out, her fingers still

wrapped around the handle.

Scully muttered a hasty, “Sorry,” and slid past the woman.

“Oh. It’s you.”

“Excuse me?” Scully half turned, her attention still focused on

getting to the elevator.

“If you’re here to feed his fish,” the woman flicked her eyes

skyward, “you’re too late.”

“I’m sorry, you are…?”

“The poor sap that ended up in the apartment beneath your

boyfriend.”

Scully shook her head, mouth opening and closing, but unable to

come up with an appropriate response.

The young woman cast Scully a disparaging glare, “Look, I’ve got

to go or I’ll be late for work.” With a quick swivel she turned, her

short, brown ponytail swinging in time to her footfalls as she

jogged down the steps.

Curiosity held Scully momentarily in place before urgency

overrode her confusion and she continued towards the elevator.

Three sharp raps on his door, followed by a succession of heavy

pounding, failed to produce any sign of life from within Mulder’s

apartment.

Her fingers jittery and clumsy, it took Scully three attempts before

she found the right key and inserted it into the lock.

“Mulder? Are you there?” Scully pushed with her hip. The door

swung open and she stepped inside.

What greeted her sent the hairs on the back of her neck standing on

end and her hand reaching for her weapon. Disengaging the

safety, Scully wrapped her fingers firmly around the grip, only

marginally comforted by the weight of it nestled against her palm.

Mulder’s coat rack lay across the floor, an upturned chair behind

the door.

Moving cautiously, she made her way into the living room,

weapon held securely in both hands, barrel aimed towards the

ceiling.

Silence, heavy and ominous filled the apartment. Her own

breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness.

“Mulder?”

Nothing.

She stepped around a large painting lying on the floor, the frame

splintered and the glass cracked. The fish tank, undamaged and

long devoid of any marine life, gurgled quietly on its shelf–a

deceptive illusion of normality.

The living room looked as if a hurricane had swept though it.

But she’d seen similar destruction before. Years ago, when Mulder

had been searching for a well-hidden bug. At the time Scully had

been surprised by his ability to turn his own apartment into an

admirable impression of a garbage dump. While somewhat taken

aback, she’d kept her surprise in check, reassured by the fact that

he appeared rational and all in one piece.

She wondered if what she was witnessing now was the result of his

frustration. Because he thought she was more willing to believe he

was crazy than accept his theory. …You’d rather believe I’ve lost

my marbles than open yourself to the possibilities.

Is that how he’d interpreted her concern?

Oh, Mulder. How could I have gotten it so wrong?

A quick search of his bedroom and bathroom came up empty.

Scully holstered her weapon and surveyed the devastation around

her with a critical eye.

His coffee table, upside down, was pushed up against the couch.

Most of what usually sat on his desk was now strewn beneath.

Drawers were open and teetering on the edge of their cavities, the

contents spilling onto the floor.

Nearly all of Mulder’s books and CDs had been dumped from their

shelves, piled in an untidy heap beside the couch. Ornaments and

photos, some intact, others smashed to bits, lay in a scattered mess

around the room.

One photo in particular caught her eye. The familiar face of a

dark-haired girl sitting on a tire-swing smiled up at Scully through

a spider web of cracks. The early stirrings of alarm were beginning

to escalate into full-blown panic as Scully scooped up the picture.

Even at his worst, she knew Mulder could never bring himself to

ruin this treasured memory of his sister.

She stood quietly in the middle of the living room, letting her mind

process the situation. What had happened here?

She turned in a slow circle, seeking anything that might offer a

clue.

The soft hum of his computer caught her attention. The hard drive

was running, the monitor blank, yet an orange light just above the

power button indicated it was switched on.

Maybe he’d left her a message.

She moved to his desk and jiggled the mouse. The screen burst to

life and Scully’s heart leapt to her throat.

“ACCESS DENIED,” blinked back at her.

Why would Mulder be denied access to his own computer?

Slowly, the pieces began to fall into place, and the picture they

formed made Scully’s blood run cold. Biting down on her bottom

lip and willing her hands to comply, she typed in the correct

password and gained immediate access. No message from Mulder

and no clue as to who or why someone might have been trying to

hack into his computer.

She drew small comfort from the fact that Mulder had probably not

been home when the intruder broke in. If he had, she felt sure he

would have been forced to type in the correct password.

But that still didn’t explain where he was and why someone would

want to search his apartment.

His words from the previous night came back at her. … Feeling

that I’m not myself. …An injustice to correct…I’ve gone over the

case file…If Sal knew they convicted the wrong man…

The wrong man.

If Mulder was correct, then that left the real murderer still at large.

And if he was on to Mulder…

Then she needed help.

Scully pulled her cell phone from her pocket and punched in

Skinner’s number. Long seconds stretched an eternity before her

boss finally picked up.

“Skinner.”

“Sir, it’s Scully. I’m at Mulder’s apartment.” She took a steadying

breath, surprised at the tremor in her voice.

“Agent Scully? Is there a problem?”

“I think so, sir. Mulder’s apartment has been ransacked. There’s

no sign of him or his car.”

She could almost hear Skinner’s jaw grinding as he processed what

she’d told him.

“What are you saying? Do you think he did it?”

“The thought crossed my mind, until I discovered that someone

attempted to log onto Mulder’s computer–and failed. I know he

was upset after I suggested he speak to a counselor, but… there’s

something more going on here, sir. I’m worried about him.”

“Okay, Scully, I’m in the car now. I’ll call ahead to the Bureau to

arrange for a forensics team, and ask the local PD to put out an

APB on his car. I should be there in…about thirty minutes.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Scully pocketed her cell phone, wondering if she should have told

Skinner about Mulder’s theory. But she was still having her own

difficulties coming to terms with it. She’d wait, and tell him in

person.

Desperate to find Mulder, but mindful of the fact that she now

stood in the midst of a crime scene, Scully decided on a

compromise. A quick trip to the car provided her with a pair of

latex gloves, which she donned before carefully sifting through

some of the papers spread across the floor.

Twenty minutes of fruitless searching failed to supply her with any

new information on Mulder’s whereabouts.

Scully sat on the couch, head cradled in her hands and mind

grappling with everything that had happened in the last 24 hours.

She didn’t hear her boss enter the apartment.

“Agent Scully.”

“Sir.” Scully stood, stripping the latex glove from her right hand.

She watched Skinner’s gaze roam across the room, taking in the

destruction, before homing in on her face.

“Forensics should be right behind me. Have you found anything to

indicate where Mulder may have gone?”

“No. Unfortunately, it’s going to take some time to sift through this

mess. Whoever tossed the apartment was thorough.”

Skinner nodded and his eyes cut over to the window. A small

muscle above his cheekbone jittered and he grated his next words

through clenched teeth.

“What the hell is going on, Scully? Last night Mulder broke into a

dead agent’s home and scared the hell out of his wife. Now this.

Did he confide in you when you spoke to him at the police station?

Do you have any idea what he’s gotten himself into?” He tipped his

head toward Mulder’s overturned coffee table. “This would seem to

negate the post-traumatic stress theory.”

Voices drifted down the hallway, followed momentarily by several

agents bearing forensic gear. “Don’t have to ask if we’re in the right

place, ” a dark-haired agent smirked as he set down a box. “How

many times have we been here now?”

Skinner’s eyes narrowed and his voice turned dangerously soft.

“One of our own is missing, Agent. I suggest you cut the bullshit

and concentrate on gathering evidence.”

The reprimand had the desired affect. Scully watched with a

combination of amusement and satisfaction as all three moved

swiftly into professional mode, donning gloves, snapping open

cases and labeling plastic bags. Skinner’s hand on her elbow drew

her toward Mulder’s bedroom, out of earshot.

“Level with me, Scully.”

“I’m not sure where to start.” She laid one finger beneath her nose

and took a deep breath. “Mulder’s been…preoccupied by a serial

murder case involving the death of a woman named Monica

Mitchell. It’s a closed case–solved by the VCS about six months

ago. He believes they convicted the wrong man.”

Skinner folded his arms. “A VCS case? Is that why…?”

“Sal DeAngelo was the profiler on record.”

“Didn’t he know DeAngelo is dead?”

“Oh, he knew.” Scully poked her tongue into her cheek as she

chose her next words. “Sir, Sal DeAngelo died the same night

Mulder was shot. In fact according to Mulder, the incidents

occurred simultaneously.”

Skinner huffed. He strode several steps down the hall, spun on his

heel and returned to Scully. “I’m not sure I’m reading you, Scully.

What does Agent DeAngelo’s untimely death and a closed murder

case have to do with the fact that Mulder is missing?”

“Mulder is convinced that Sal DeAngelo was murdered because

he’d discovered the identity of the man who really killed Monica

Mitchell. He believes his spirit and Agent DeAngelo’s

became…linked during his near death experience, and that

he’s…channeling Agent DeAngelo.”

“Channeling?”

“For lack of a better term.” Scully shook her head. “Look, I know

how it sounds. But even I have to admit that Mulder has been

experiencing something not explainable by conventional methods.

Sir, from what I can tell, he’s been dreaming the last moments of

Agent DeAngelo’s life. In detail.”

“Scully, last night you were willing to put this down to stress. Are

you saying you believe him?”

Scully met his gaze squarely. “I’m saying Mulder deserves the

benefit of our doubt. Putting aside the more…paranormal aspects of

his theory, we both know there’s no better profiler. If he says the

courts convicted the wrong man…”

Skinner ran one hand along his jaw. “Then the real killer is still out

there somewhere.”

Scully’s throat tightened. “Or maybe closer to home.” She forced

the unwanted emotion back into its box, well aware of Skinner’s

scrutiny. “I need to speak to Vickie DeAngelo. Mulder may have

stumbled upon evidence when he was there last night. Something

that could give us a clue as to where he is now.”

Skinner looked at the bustle of activity in Mulder’s living room,

then jerked his head toward the door. “Go. I’ll oversee Forensics

and stay in touch with the police. Report back to me when you

have something.”

“Thank you, sir. I’ll…”

“Excuse me.”

Scully and Skinner looked up to see the dark-haired agent hovering

near the entryway.

“There’s a woman here who says she might know something about

Agent Mulder’s disappearance.”

Frowning, Scully strode toward the front door. Standing just inside

was a young woman dressed in a smartly tailored navy suit, her

chin-length dark hair cut in a smooth bob. It took a moment for

Scully to recognize her potential witness.

“You live on the third floor. I bumped into you earlier this

morning.”

The woman nodded, hands fidgeting. “That’s right. My name is

Helen–Helen Rezek. My apartment is right under this one.”

“You have information regarding Agent Mulder?”

“I think so.”

Scully stepped closer, every muscle in her body on alert. “Did you

see something that might help us determine his whereabouts?”

“Yes. Um, that is, no. Not exactly.” Helen’s eyes darted between

Scully and Skinner. “I mean, I saw something, but I’m not sure it’s

relevant.”

“Why don’t you let us be the judge of that?”

“Sure. It’s just–I wouldn’t have thought twice about what happened

if I hadn’t seen all the cars out front this morning and heard the

commotion. I mean, he’s not exactly a model neighbor. He’s got a

lot of weird friends always coming and going–” She darted a

glance at Scully and flushed. “–and I hear him knocking around at

all hours of the night. Not the kind of guy you want living over

your head. Except he’s been really quiet lately, and I thought

maybe he was turning over a new leaf. Which is why I got so

pissed last night.”

Scully clung to her patience. “Last night?”

“This morning, really. Two a.m. and I hear all this godawful

thumping and banging coming from your friend’s apartment. It got

loud enough to wake the dead. So I got dressed and came up to tell

him off.” Helen frowned. “Except he wasn’t here.”

“He wasn’t?”

“Not according to his friend. He said Agent Mulder was out of

town, and that he was taking care of his fish.” She looked at the

wreckage with a mixture of fascination and disgust. “Guess that’s

not all he was doing.”

Scully and Skinner exchanged a long look. “I’ll take care of it.”

Skinner gestured toward the hallway. “Go ahead.”

“Thank you.” She impulsively laid one hand on his arm, then

jerked it back, heat rising to her cheeks.

As she squeezed past Helen Rezek and started down the hallway

she heard Skinner speak in what Mulder called his “take no

prisoners” voice.

“You’ve been extremely helpful, Ms. Rezek, but I’m afraid I have

to ask you to bear with us for a bit longer. I’m going to get a sketch

artist over here and…”

The Atlantis

Bungalow 26C

8:23 a.m.

He didn’t realize he’d fallen asleep until he woke up, arms pricking

with invisible pins and needles and tongue glued to the roof of his

mouth. Staring blearily at the less than flattering reflection above

his head, he tried vainly to moisten dry lips.

“Suppose room service…’s out of the question.”

It came out little more than a froggy croak, and he grimaced at the

effect on his throat. He levered himself up to peer at the red LED

display of the alarm clock on the nightstand.

8:23. AM or PM? In the windowless, soundproofed motel room

time had a disconcerting ebb and flow. He didn’t think he’d lost an

entire day–had he?

Judging by McNally’s demeanor, he doubted he’d been left alone

and unmolested for more than a few hours. In fact, he was certain

that McNally would only put up with him playing the strong silent

type for so long before deciding a quick bullet to the head was the

easiest solution.

He was isolated, helpless, in the hands of a man who had already

killed his best friend with less provocation. Scully liked to tease

him about having more lives than a cat, but he was hard pressed to

see a way out this time.

Scully. A crystal clear image imprinted itself in his mind–the

carefully neutral expression she’d maintained as he’d driven away

from the police station. He’d hurt her.

If those are my last words, I can do better.

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, praying to a God he’d tried not

to believe in and never allowed himself to trust.

Please, let me do better.

Anger bubbled up, and he jerked hard on the cuffs, heedless of

already abraded wrists. Something, a slight give in the left, caught

his attention. With some pretzel-like twisting he was able to

examine the metal ring more closely. One of the four screws

bolting the faster to the headboard had begun to loosen–no doubt

weakened by countless acrobatic feats Mulder refused to

contemplate.

One screw out of four. It was an outside chance, and even if he

managed to loosen them all, it still left his right arm locked to the

bed. Still, an outside chance was better than no chance, and any

action was preferable to lying there passively, like a lamb awaiting

slaughter.

Mulder gritted his teeth, grasped the chain, and began methodically

wiggling the cuff against the ring. And tried hard not to watch the

ticking clock.

~~~~~~~~~

ACT II

~~~~~~~~~

The DeAngelo Residence

8:23 a.m.

Scully pressed the doorbell and stepped back, adjusting her suit

jacket with a sharp tug. Around her the neighborhood hummed

with early morning activity: chattering children wound their way

along the sidewalks toward school, a frazzled man juggled a cup of

coffee and briefcase as he attempted to open his car door, a

garbage truck rattled and clanked its way from curb to curb.

By contrast, the home before her was still, silent. Drapes remained

drawn against the bright sunlight and a paper sat untouched on the

front porch. Scully had just raised her hand, intending to ring the

bell a second time, when she heard soft footsteps and the door

cracked open to reveal a pair of wounded brown eyes.

“Agent Scully?”

Scully held up her ID and allowed Vickie DeAngelo to scrutinize it

and her face. After a moment the door swung wide and Vickie

motioned her inside.

“Come in. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?”

“Yes, thank you. It’s been a long morning, I’m afraid.”

She followed Vickie down the hallway to the kitchen and took a

seat at the small wooden table. Vickie, clad in faded jeans and a

pale blue sweater, poured coffee into two mugs and set one on the

table. Scully couldn’t help noticing how the clothing hung on the

woman’s slight frame.

“Cream? Sugar?”

Scully shook her head, sipping the steaming liquid. “Black is good.

Nothing to dilute the caffeine.”

Vickie smiled as she added a healthy dollop of cream to her own

cup. “I’m afraid I find coffee completely unpalatable without this.

Sal always said…” She broke off with a look of such intense

sadness that Scully had to look away. Vickie cleared her throat and

continued. “He used to say I didn’t like coffee–I liked cream with

coffee flavoring.”

“I’m sorry. You must miss him very much.”

Vickie sat down, swiveling the cup between her palms but not

drinking. “A piece of me is gone forever. It’s not easy learning to

function with a chunk of your soul missing.” The small line

between her brows deepened. “Which is why your partner upset

me so badly yesterday.”

“I’m sorry. Please believe me when I say that Agent Mulder never

intended to hurt you.”

“I just hope you find him so he gets the help he needs. I was a

cop’s wife, Agent Scully; I know the toll that kind of stress can

take.”

Scully opened her mouth to protest; thought better of it. “Mrs.

DeAngelo…

“Vickie.”

“Vickie. As I said on the phone, I need to know more about what

Agent Mulder may have been doing while he was here yesterday.

I’d like you to tell me, in detail, exactly what happened.”

Vickie brought the mug to her lips and blew gently on the hot

liquid, only to set the cup back down, untouched. “When I came

home from the store yesterday, there was a strange car in the

driveway. I looked around outside the house, but didn’t see anyone,

so I just went ahead and pulled into the garage. Some of the teens

around here aren’t too discriminating about whose driveway they

use to park their cars. I didn’t think too much about it.

“I came into the house and started putting away the groceries I’d

bought. And then I heard a noise.”

“A noise?”

Vickie nodded. “From upstairs. A…a kind of a crash, like

something had fallen over.”

“What did you do?”

“I didn’t want to panic, I mean, it could’ve been anything. The cat

is always jumping up on the furniture, knocking things over.”

Vickie licked her lips. “I walked into the living room and called up

the stairs.” She chuffed, blushing. “Something stupid, like ‘who’s

there?’ As if a burglar’s going to answer.”

“What happened then?”

“Someone–your partner–answered. Scared the hell outta me. But

that wasn’t the worst part. It was the WAY he answered me that

had me ready to scream.” She shoved aside the cup and laced

trembling fingers together.

“What did he say?”

“He said…” She drew in a long breath, visibly shaken. “He said,

‘It’s just me, sweetheart.'”

It felt like a punch to the gut, but Scully kept her face carefully

neutral. “Go on.”

“It knocked me for a loop. I…I was scared, confused, I didn’t know

what was going on. And he just kept talking to me like I was the

crazy one and he was trying to calm me down, sounding just

like…” A violent shake of her head and she popped up from her

chair. The coffee from her mug found its way into the sink,

followed by hot water and soap.

Scully stood and moved to her side. “Sounded like who, Vickie?”

“You’ll think I’m as nutty as your partner.”

“Try me.”

She stopped fiddling with the dishes and pressed the back of one

sudsy hand to her lips. “I was married to the man for nearly fifteen

years. I know the sound of his voice as intimately as I know my

own name, and…” Dark, haunted eyes searched Scully’s face.

“Agent Scully, I would’ve sworn it was Sal talking to me. The

tone, the accent–he even called me ‘cara mia’ the way Sal did.

How…how could that be?” She laughed, a bitter, jagged sound.

“Maybe I am as nutty as your partner.”

“Vickie… I can’t explain what happened last night. I’m not sure

anyone could. What I can tell you is that Agent Mulder has been

experiencing a…connection to your husband. A connection that has

to do with a case Sal profiled.”

Curiosity drove some of the anguish from Vickie’s eyes. “A case?

Is that why he was in Sal’s office?”

Scully concealed her surprise. “Most likely. Is that where he was

when you found him?”

Vickie nodded. “Sal did all his Bureau work up there. It was his

territory, and after getting a peek at some of the casefiles he

worked on I was only too happy to stay out.” She frowned. “What

case was Agent Mulder interested in?”

“The murder of a woman named Monica Mitchell.”

Vickie grimaced. “Oh my God. Not that one. First Sal couldn’t let

go of it and now your partner?”

“What do you mean ‘Sal couldn’t let go of it’?”

“Just what I said. The case was closed. The killer was caught, tried,

and sentenced. But for some reason, Sal couldn’t seem to move on.

He kept saying something wasn’t right, that the pieces just didn’t

fit. It had started to become an obsession. Even Kyle was worried

about him.”

“Kyle?”

“Kyle McNally. He was Sal’s closest friend, worked with him at

Quantico.”

Scully nodded–the name was vaguely familiar. “Vickie, would

you mind showing me Sal’s office?”

Vickie dried her hands on a dishtowel, teeth gnawing her lip. “I

guess not. You must realize there aren’t any files up there anymore.

Kyle came and took them all back to Quantico after…”

“I know. I’d just like to take a quick look around. Maybe it will

give me an idea as to what Agent Mulder was doing here.”

A moment’s hesitation before Vickie nodded. “Sure. I suppose

there’s no harm in that. Follow me.”

Scully stood in the center of the study, trying to see through

Mulder’s eyes. She ran a finger along the psychology and

criminology texts, studied the diplomas. Something perched on the

edge of the desk caught her eye and she crossed the room to pick it

up.

“What’s this?”

A mangled photo of four men, frame bent and glass missing.

Vickie reluctantly left her spot in the doorway and took the picture

from her hands. “That’s Sal, Kyle, and two of their friends from

work.” Her index finger caressed the face of a dark-haired man

with olive skin and a beaming grin. “I found it after the police

hauled off your partner yesterday. He must have knocked it onto

the floor when he was using the computer–there was broken glass

everywhere.”

“Agent Mulder was on this computer?”

The sharp edge to Scully’s voice pulled Vickie’s attention from the

photo. “Not only was he on the computer, he logged into Sal’s

email. I can’t imagine how he figured out the password.”

“Would you show me?”

Vickie pressed her lips into a thin line. “Look, I appreciate you

wanting to find your partner, but that’s Sal’s private email and your

partner already…”

“Please.”

A deep sigh but Vickie sat down, grumbling as she booted up the

computer. “I don’t know what you think you’re going to find. Kyle

volunteered to check things over last night, and he said it all

looked fine.” She stood and motioned for Scully to take the chair.

Scully clicked her way through the various folders that contained

bits of profiles, reference data, and personal notes. She opened

Sal’s email and scanned through the entries without noting

anything unusual. She was about to shut the window when

something caught her eye.

“Vickie, would you have deleted any of these emails?”

“Deleted? Are you kidding? I can still barely bring myself to dust

in here. Like I said, Kyle came and took all the file folders away,

but otherwise this office is just like Sal left it.” She leaned over

Scully’s shoulder to stare at the screen. “Why?”

Scully pointed to the received dates. “There’s a significant gap

here. It’s as if a week or two of emails is missing or was deleted.”

“Maybe Sal did it.”

“Maybe.”

Scully stared at the screen, the creeping feeling at the back of her

neck screaming that those missing emails were more than just a

coincidence. That they just might hold the key to Monica

Mitchell’s killer, and Mulder’s location.

There was one sure way to find out. But the woman hovering at her

back wasn’t going to like it.

“Vickie, I’m afraid I’m going to have to take this computer with

me…”

The DeAngelo Residence

9:14 a.m.

Scully loaded Sal’s hard drive onto the back seat of the car.

Turning briefly toward the house before shutting the car door, she

caught a glimpse of Vickie watching her through the window, face

tense and arms folded tightly across her chest. Scully’s initial

suggestion that she take the computer had been met with an

emphatic “NO!” and it had taken some persuasive arguing before

Vickie had reluctantly agreed to part with it.

Scully settled herself into the driver’s seat and started the ignition,

hoping she could make good on her promise to have the computer

back in Vickie’s possession by the next evening. Now all she

needed to do was retrieve the missing emails. And she knew just

the guys for the job.

Turning out of the quiet suburban street, Scully joined the stream

of traffic heading back to DC. When she reached a straight stretch

of road she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and hit 4 on the

speed dial. Balancing the phone between ear and shoulder she

waited for someone to pick up.

“Lone Gunmen.”

“Frohike, it’s Scully.”

“Ah, the delectable Agent Scully. What can I do for you this fine

day?”

“Unfortunately it’s not so fine. I need your help.”

Scully could almost see the smile slip from his face and the quick

squaring of his shoulders.

“Mulder?”

“You could say that.” Scully heaved a sigh, and ran her tongue

over dry lips, “It’s a long story, Frohike, but he’s missing. And I

may have a piece of evidence in my possession that will shed some

light on his whereabouts. A hard drive, actually.”

“What can we do?”

She smiled to herself. No questions, no second-guessing. Straight

down to business, just as she’d hoped.

“I need you to meet me at the Hoover. I think there’s a block of

emails that have been deleted. A few days, maybe a week’s worth.

I need you to recover them. Mulder’s safety may depend on it.”

“Hey, you know us, Scully. Our kung fu is the best.”

“I’m counting on it.”

She hit end and had the phone halfway to her pocket when it trilled

in her hand.

“Scully.”

“It’s Skinner. Where are you?”

“I’m heading back to the Bureau with Sal DeAngelo’s computer.

Apparently…

“Scully. We’ve had a report on Mulder’s car.”

She swallowed around the lump in her throat and forced her voice

to remain steady.

“Sir, is he…?”

“I don’t know. The details are sketchy. A patrolman spotted the car

on a routine check and called it in.”

“Where?”

“Rock Creek Park. I’m headed there now. Do you know it?”

“Yes. Thank you, sir. I’m on my way.”

Scully dropped her cell on the seat beside her and pushed the gas a

little harder. What the hell had Mulder been doing at Rock Creek

Park?

Rock Creek Park

9:56 a.m.

Scully eased her foot off the gas. Tiny stones crunched under the

tires and pinged against the undercarriage as she made her way

along the narrow gravel road. It wasn’t hard to find the right place.

Red and blue lights from a police vehicle telegraphed the location

as effectively as a neon sign.

When she rounded the bend, Mulder’s blue Taurus came into view.

Seeing his car surrounded by law enforcement officers and

forensic specialists sent her stomach plummeting and created an

ache so deep in her chest it momentarily robbed her of breath.

Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off a long rectangular area

surrounding the vehicle–a sight she was all too familiar with in

relation to Mulder.

Scully pulled the car into a vacant space. She sat, engine still

running, hands locked firmly around the steering wheel and eyes

glued to the action ahead of her. She wasn’t sure she could face

this again. Not after everything else they’d just been through. It

was too soon.

A sudden onslaught of emotion constricted her throat, her breath

hitching around a small sob. She pressed the palms of both hands

to her eyes, physically holding the sting of unwelcome tears at bay

while at the same time wishing she had the luxury of simply

surrendering to them.

Mulder had to be running out of chances. He couldn’t continue to

tempt fate and expect to walk away. Somewhere along the line his

luck was bound to run out.

Willing uncooperative limbs to move, Scully pushed her door open

and climbed out of the car. She took a deep breath, straightened her

jacket, and walked toward the crowd of investigators.

“Agent Scully.”

A firm hand on her arm halted her progress.

“Sir…” She swallowed, and then forced her mouth to ask the

question she wasn’t sure she wanted him to answer. “Is…Agent

Mulder…?”

“No, Scully. There’s no sign of him.”

Relief weakened her knees and she felt herself sway. Skinner

steadied her. “Easy does it, Scully.”

“Sir…I…”

“Come and sit down.” His large hand grasping her elbow and

guiding her away from the car was so Mulder-like she wanted to

cry. Instead, she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the

other and convincing herself there was still hope of getting Mulder

back. Alive.

Skinner led her to a park bench. She eyed him from beneath a

loose strand of hair before stubbornly pushing it behind her ear.

“I’m fine, sir.”

“Sit down, Agent Scully.” Lips pursed into a tight line of defiance,

already self-conscious over her display of emotion, Scully perched

on the edge, refusing to give the impression she intended to stay.

Skinner dropped down beside her, leaning forward and propping

an elbow on each knee. He clasped his hands and fixed his eyes on

the patch of dirt between his feet.

“Sir, what have they found?”

“The crime scene boys have done a preliminary search of the

vehicle. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. However…” Skinner

cast a quick look in Scully’s direction and sat up straight. “We have

found bloodstains on the ground about 30 feet from the car.”

Scully kept her face impassive, although she was sure the

pounding in her chest could be heard in the next county.

“We’re sending a sample to the lab for analysis.” Skinner paused

and met Scully’s gaze, his voice losing some of its official edge.

“We’ll find him, Scully.”

Scully laid the back of her hand over her mouth, stilling the quiver

in her bottom lip. Not now. Not here.

“They also found faint tire tracks near the blood. They’re not in

great shape but we’re making a cast. It’s the best we’ve got at the

moment.”

“Actually, no, it’s not, sir. I’ve got Sal DeAngelo’s hard drive in

my car.”

Skinner looked startled. “How did you…? No, don’t tell me.”

“When Mulder paid his little visit to the DeAngelo residence

yesterday, Vickie found him at her husband’s computer. I checked

it over. I’m not certain, but some of Agent DeAngelo’s emails may

have been deleted. I have a strong feeling they are connected to

Mulder’s disappearance.”

Skinner nodded, stroking the line of his jaw with his finger. “We

can get it to the lab and have…”

“Sir…I’d rather keep this part off the record. If what I suspect is

true, Mulder may be the person responsible for deleting those files.

He would never destroy evidence without a good reason, but then,

he hasn’t exactly been himself lately. I just think it would be better

to keep our cards close to our chest for now.”

Skinner tipped his head to the side, eyes narrowing, “What do you

have in mind, Scully?”

“The Lone Gunmen. I’ve arranged for them to meet me at the

Hoover.”

Skinner raised an eyebrow. “You’re having them go to the

Hoover? ”

“I know, sir, but I didn’t feel comfortable keeping such a key piece

of evidence outside normal channels. I know their methods can be

a bit…unorthodox, but if anyone can recover those missing emails,

they can. And we’re running out of time. They can work in the X-

Files office; that way the hard drive is still in our custody.”

A brief hesitation, but Skinner nodded. “You’re right to see that the

computer doesn’t leave our sight. It could affect the credibility of

any evidence we might recover, when it comes time to prosecute

our killer. ” He grimaced. “Just keep an eye on them.”

“I will.” A sudden thought occurred to Scully. “When they

searched Mulder’s car, did they find the Mitchell case file?”

“No. As far as I know they’ve found nothing except for a few

personal items. Why?”

Scully chewed the inside of her cheek before continuing. “Mulder

told me he’d been reading the Mitchell file. He even offered to

show it to me last night, which means he had it in his possession. I

haven’t seen it at my place, so it should have been in his apartment

or with him when he came here.” She surprised Skinner by

swearing softly. “Without that file we’re working blind.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “I think it’s about time we spoke to

someone who was on the case with DeAngelo.”

“Sir, if you’ve no objections, I’d like to contact Kyle McNally. He

was the agent in charge and a close friend of Sal DeAngelo. I want

to speak to the man convicted of Monica’s murder, and Agent

McNally will be able to provide me with his name and where he’s

been incarcerated.”

“Go ahead, Scully. Forensics is almost finished with the car and

then…”

“There’s one problem. The boys should be on their way to the

Bureau. The hard drive is still our best lead. They need to begin

working on it as soon as possible.”

Skinner worked his jaw, gaze traveling between Scully and the

activity surrounding Mulder’s car. He sighed. “Give the computer

to me. I’ll babysit the three stooges.” A slight twist to his mouth

took the sting out of his words. “And you can go speak to

McNally.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Violent Crimes Unit

11:01 a.m.

“Hey, McNally! You coming to the game tonight?” Corey

Peterson leaned back in his chair. Index finger hooked into the

knot of his tie, he yanked it down to reveal the top button of his

shirt. With practiced dexterity he popped the button with thumb

and forefinger and let out a quick sigh of relief.

“Hey! Earth to McNally.”

Kyle McNally stared intently at his computer monitor, eyes fixed

on the image of flying windows leaping toward him. But his

thoughts had turned inward. His mind’s eye viewed an

unwelcome slideshow of a once beautiful woman covered in blood.

Of a man, caught in the glare of headlights, face twisted in

confusion, then frozen in horror.

“Hey!” A firm slap on his shoulder sent Kyle to his feet, hands

clutching the shirt of the man standing before him. It took a

moment for the bewildered face only inches from his own to

register as that of Agent Peterson.

He released him immediately.

Shock sent Corey Peterson reeling backward. Mischief replaced

by confusion, he dusted off his shirt and massaged the area where

fisted knuckles had dug into soft flesh.

McNally ran a trembling hand through his hair. “Jeezus, Peterson,

what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?”

Peterson eyed him suspiciously, “You okay, Kyle?”

McNally scrubbed at his face. When he answered an underlying

irritation coated his words. “Yeah, I’m okay. What is it with

everyone around here and their sudden interest in my health?”

“You gotta admit, McNally, you haven’t exactly been yourself

lately. Is there something you want to get off your chest?”

A sudden stab of panic turned his blood to ice. He stared at

Peterson, eyes narrowed, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Peterson dropped his voice an octave. “Hey, it was tough on you

when Sal died. Hell, it was tough on all of us. I know it bugs the

hell out of you that we haven’t been able to catch the creep who did

it. And…” Peterson paused, choosing his words carefully. “I saw

the memo this morning.”

“What the hell are you talking about, Peterson? What memo?”

“You haven’t heard?”

“Heard what?”

“About the new profiler.”

“New…?”

“McNally! Pick up the phone!”

Both men turned to see an older, disgruntled agent seated across

the room, one hand cupping the mouthpiece of his handset, the

other signaling for McNally to take the call.

Giving Peterson an irritated glare, Kyle turned back to his desk and

scooped up the receiver.

“This is Kyle McNally.”

“Agent McNally, I’m Special Agent Dana Scully. I work in the

Hoover. We haven’t actually met, but I think you may be able to

help me with a case my partner was looking into.”

An unpleasant tingle ran up McNally’s spine. He turned to Corey,

still lingering at his side, and pressed one hand over the phone.

“Private call. Give me some space, will you?”

Peterson held his gaze for a second before returning to his own

desk, brows pulled into a tight frown, muttering to himself about

‘only trying to help.’

Kyle pitched his voice smooth and friendly. “Agent Scully, what

can I do for you?”

“My partner, Agent Mulder, is missing, and I think his

disappearance may be connected to a case you worked with Sal

DeAngelo. It involved the murder of a woman, Monica Mitchell.”

Kyle fought to keep his tone neutral, “Yes, I know the one you’re

referring to. We caught the killer. He’s already stood trial and been

found guilty.”

“Where is he currently being held?”

He ground his teeth together–there was no way to withhold such

information without further raising her suspicions. “Maryland

Correctional Adjustment Center. But I don’t see how that…”

“We have reason to believe you may have convicted the wrong

man. Agent Mulder…”

“Agent Scully, I know all about Agent Mulder. I got a frantic call

from my best friend’s widow after she found him, uninvited, in her

home. I suggest…”

“With all due respect, Agent McNally, from what Vickie

DeAngelo has told me, her husband held the same concerns as

Agent Mulder. She told me that he couldn’t put the case to rest,

said there were certain things that just didn’t add up. He

believed…”

“Sal was under a lot of stress. He thought he saw something that

wasn’t there. Trust me, we got the right guy. We had hard physical

evidence–his prints were on the murder weapon and Monica’s

blood was all over his clothes. This is a cold-blooded killer, Agent

Scully, responsible not only for Monica Mitchell’s death, but four

other young women, as well. A jury found him guilty, and now

he’s going to die for his crimes.”

“You didn’t share Agent DeAngelo’s doubts?”

“Look, Agent Scully, Sal was my friend. He was an excellent

profiler, but he had an obsessive streak a mile wide. This wasn’t

the first time he couldn’t let a case go.” Kyle dabbed at a drop of

sweat sliding down the side of his jaw. “I’m sorry your partner is

missing. I’m not sure what he’s told you, but after the way he was

acting yesterday…”

“Thank you for your candor, Agent McNally, but I need to check

some things out for myself. Please give me the name of the man

who was convicted.”

Hand slick with perspiration, Kyle locked his fingers in a firm grip

around the telephone receiver. His jaw ached with the effort of

maintaining control. Reluctantly, he supplied Scully with Gary

Jansen’s name.

The erratic clatter of fingers tapping on keyboards and the friendly

buzz of bullpen banter came to a brief lull as Kyle slammed the

receiver back in its cradle. He gave the trashcan a satisfying kick

and ran a trembling hand through sweat-dampened hair.

“Damn it!”

McNally swiped at his coat, draped over the back of his chair,

cursing loudly when it snagged around the backrest. With an extra

tug he pulled the coat free and snatched his briefcase from beside

the desk.

“Hey, McNally! Where you going?” Peterson rose halfway to his

feet.

“I’m taking some personal time.” Without looking back, Kyle

strode purposefully toward the exit.

~~~~~~~~~~

ACT III

~~~~~~~~~~

Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center

1:19 p.m.

Scully handed over her weapon, squaring her shoulders as she

waited for the bars to slide open. Clad in a bright orange coverall,

Gary Jansen sullenly watched her step into the cell.

“Just my luck. First beautiful woman I see in longer than I can

remember, and she’s a Fed.”

Scully folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. “Special Agent

Dana Scully. How did you know I was FBI?”

Jansen snorted. “I’ve talked to enough of you to last a lifetime.

Eventually you all start looking alike.” He shifted on his bunk so

his back was propped against the wall. “What do you want?”

Scully took a half step closer. “I’d like to ask you a few questions

about Monica Mitchell.”

Dark eyes narrowed. “Look, you’ve got me right where you wanted

me. Why the hell can’t you leave me alone? No one believes a

word I say anyway.”

“What if I were to tell you I have reason to believe you did not kill

Monica?”

Something–hope?–flickered in Jansen’s eyes before they went flat

and hostile. “Yeah? Well it’s too bad you weren’t around when it

counted, lady. In case you haven’t noticed, the jury already made

their decision.”

Scully bit the inside of her cheek, struggling to remain calm,

professional. “Mr. Jansen, someone very, very close to me may be

in the hands of the real killer. Now I realize you don’t know me,

and have little cause to trust me. On the other hand, you have

nothing to lose by talking to me. And possibly everything to gain.”

She submitted to his scrutiny for several long minutes before he

nodded. “All right. Go ahead.”

Relief left her feeling weak-kneed, but she forged ahead. “What

really happened the night Monica Mitchell died?”

Jansen dry washed his face with both hands, then let his head drop

back against the wall with a thump. “Somewhere around eight

o’clock that night I drove to Monica’s house. She hadn’t been

returning my calls, so I’d decided to just show up on her doorstep.”

“My understanding is that you’d broken up nearly a year previous.

Why were you trying to see her? Were you hoping to rekindle the

relationship?”

Gary snorted. “Hardly. She owed me money, nearly five hundred

bucks. She kept promising she’d pay me back and I’d let it slide for

months. Then the brakes on my car went out and I needed the

cash.”

“So you drove over without calling first. What happened when you

got there?”

“I rang the bell, pounded on the door–no answer. I started to get

pissed off because I was pretty certain she was there. Her car was

in the driveway and when I walked around the house I could see

lights and hear music playing.” He paused and grimaced. “Okay,

here comes the stupid part.

“I still had a key to her place. Don’t ask me why–I’d been in

another relationship for months and I certainly had no intention of

ever using it. I was just so damn tired of Monica giving me the

runaround and there it was, hanging on my keychain.”

“So you let yourself into the house,” Scully murmured.

Jansen began rhythmically tapping his head against the cinderblock

wall. “Ever notice how you can justify practically anything when

you feel like you’re getting screwed? I told myself it wasn’t

breaking and entering because, after all, she’d given me the key.

And besides, I was entitled to that money. If I gave Monica a little

scare in the process, it was no more than she deserved.” His lips

twisted into a bitter smile. “If she could see me now. Too bad she’ll

never know she got the last laugh.”

He sucked in a long shaky breath. “She was face down on the

floor, halfway between the living room and the kitchen. “I… at first

it was like my brain couldn’t understand what my eyes were

seeing. I thought she must’ve hurt herself or something–how’s that

for dense? I ran over and scooped her up in my arms, tried to get

her to wake up, t…to breathe. There was so much blood.”

Scully observed Jansen carefully during his speech. She was

interested to note that despite his earlier bravado he appeared

deeply affected by the memories. Increased respiration, the slight

stutter, the nervous movements of head and hands. If Jansen was

faking, he was one hell of an actor.

“You said you tried to get her to breathe. Was she still alive?”

“No.” Jansen spit out the word, sharp and cold. “When I turned her

over, her eyes were wide open. And the knife…there was a knife

sticking out of her belly. That was when I realized just what I’d

stumbled onto. And how it was going to look when the cops

showed up.”

“So you panicked and ran.”

“Damn straight, I did! I never belonged in that apartment in the

first place, and now I had her blood all over me.”

“And your prints on the knife.”

“I tried to wipe them off. Guess I was too rattled to do a good

enough job.” His lip curled. “Shoulda just left it in her. That’s what

I get for being sentimental.” But the pain in his eyes belied the

brutality of his words.

“I’d say that’s what you get for fleeing a crime scene. You might

not be here right now if you’d faced up to what happened.”

“Yeah, right. You’ve gotta admit, Agent Scully, I was the perfect

patsy. It’s a story as old as time–the ex-lover becomes insanely

jealous over the guy who replaced him. Hell, Monica and I were

never shy about fighting in public, before or after we split. There

was no shortage of witnesses to that at the trial.” He sat forward,

cradling his head in his hands. “Bad enough when I thought I was

taking the rap for Monica’s murder. But when they dragged out

those other dead women…”

Scully didn’t respond for a moment, replaying Jansen’s words.

“Gary, are you saying Monica was involved with someone?”

A nasty laugh. “Agent Scully, Monica was always involved with

someone. She wasn’t the type to let the sheets get cold, if you know

what I mean.”

“Do you know if the police checked him out?”

Jansen’s head popped up. “As a suspect? No, I don’t think so.”

“Why not?”

“Because they already had their man.” The sneer faded and he

sighed. “Anyway, Monica was seeing the guy on the down low. He

was married.”

A spark of hope flared, warming the cold inside her. Somehow

Scully knew instinctively that this was it. This is what she’d come

for.

“She told you about him?”

“She liked to rub my nose in it now and then. See, Monica was an

ambitious little lady and I never really measured up to her

standards. I was good enough for a screw and a few laughs, but she

dropped me like a hot potato when Mr. Wonderful came along.”

Tamping down her excitement was excruciating, but Scully kept

her features bland. “What did she tell you about him?”

“Nothing specific. That he had a hotshot job and was climbing his

way up the ladder. That he’d tell his wife he was going out of town

on business and then sneak off to some sleazy motel with Monica.”

He rolled his eyes. “And that he was gonna get a divorce so he

could marry her.”

“You didn’t believe that last part?”

Jansen shrugged. “I guess it’s possible. I learned a long time ago

not to underestimate Monica. She might’ve looked like Barbie on

the outside, but on the inside…”

“What?”

His lips curved. “On the inside, she was Xena. Nothing stood

between her and what she wanted. Not for long.”

Except this time, Scully thought. This time, she met her match.

“Thank you for talking to me, Mr. Jansen,” she said aloud. “You’ve

been very helpful.”

“Is that it?” He sprang to his feet, though he was careful not to

approach her. “That’s all? What about me? If you believe I didn’t

kill Monica, what are you going to do to get me out of here?”

Scully signaled the guard to open the cell. “I’m going to find the

man who did.”

For the first time, Jansen’s composure broke. “Please, hurry.

There’s not much time.”

I know, she wanted to scream. Instead she walked briskly past the

whistles and catcalls and tried not to wonder if she was already too

late.

The Atlantis

Bungalow 26C

3:06 p.m.

“Damn it!”

Mulder collapsed against the mattress, sweat trickling down his

temples to darken the satin sheets. His head ached, his shoulder

burned, and the inside of his mouth had turned to sandpaper.

Nearly seven hours of focused effort had earned him a bruised

wrist, bloody fingertips, and the three screws squirreled carefully

under the pillow. All for naught, unfortunately, due to the one

stubborn holdout that refused to budge. The steel ring holding the

left handcuff jiggled and spun but refused to pull free.

Mulder’s eyes fluttered closed and he drifted, exhaustion

temporarily overcoming fear. Not awake, not fully asleep, images

flickered through his mind, jumbled and hazy.

Soft, strong hands moving over the tight muscles in his shoulders

and chest, first soothing, then arousing. Reaching up to tangle his

fingers in hair like red silk, pulling her down, lips brushing, then

clashing. Breathless laughter: Mulder, this is supposed to be

therapy. Silencing her with another kiss: It’s working, I feel better

already…

…I feel better already, Scully. Why should I have to sit around for

another three weeks before…? Blue eyes radiate anger and tears

while her hand traces still tender flesh. Damn it, Mulder, for once

in your life can’t you exercise a little self-preservation? This time

you weren’t poised on the edge of the abyss–you were in freefall.

Her voice breaks and suddenly only anger remains, like a knife to

his heart. Don’t you get it? For three minutes I lost you…

…I’ve lost you. Blue eyes shimmer, darken. Short copper tresses

lengthen to a cascade of long black curls. She drops to her knees,

heedless of the cold, muddy ground and traces a name etched into

stone. I told you to call the damn tow truck. If you’d listened to me

the first time, this never would’ve happened. If I’d gotten there five

minutes sooner… Sobs wrack her slender shoulders and she

presses her cheek to the icy granite. Oh, God, Sal, I’m sorry. Five

minutes and I’ve lost you forever…

He groans, struggling to reach past an impenetrable barrier.

Vickie. Cara mia…

“…Vickie. So sorry.”

“Stop it!”

Pain exploded along Mulder’s jaw, wrenching him to full

consciousness. He blinked, struggling to think past the buzzing in

his ears and the taste of copper on his tongue. Kyle stood over him,

fist upraised, his face nearly purple with anger.

“Hi, honey. How was your day?” His rapidly swelling lip

contributed an unintended but effective lisp.

“I want you to tell me where the disk is–now–or I’m going to

show you just how tired I am of your little Twilight Zone act.”

“I’ve heard dehydration causes memory loss.”

They glared at each other in Mexican standoff fashion for several

long minutes before Kyle stalked into the bathroom, cursing under

his breath. Mulder heard the crackle of cellophane wrapping and

then the blessed patter of water on plastic. He propped himself up

on his elbows, remembering the loosened cuff when it rattled.

Darting a quick look at the bathroom, he carefully shifted his body

to conceal the loosened bracket.

Kyle returned, water in hand, but simply stood beside the bed.

Mulder struggled unsuccessfully to conceal how desperately he

wanted the contents of the cup. He instinctively ran his tongue over

cracked lips, though his mouth was too dry to provide any real

relief.

“Maybe you should decide how badly you want this.” Kyle waved

the water in front of his face.

“I could say the same about the disk.”

Kyle gritted his teeth, grabbed Mulder by the hair, and thrust the

cup to his lips. Mulder gulped down two delicious mouthfuls

before the water was swiftly withdrawn. He pressed his lips tightly

together to hold back a whimper of frustration.

“That’s enough for now.”

Mulder pulled his lips into his mouth, sucking every drop of

moisture from them. “You’re a real prince.”

“Give me the location of the disk and you can have all the water

you can drink.”

“Last I heard, dead men don’t need much.”

He saw the fist coming this time, but couldn’t move fast enough to

dodge it. Mulder’s head rocked back and warmth gushed from his

nose.

“I’m tired of the smart mouth, too. You’d better come clean or…”

Kyle’s voice faded as the white noise in his head grew louder and

his vision swam in and out of focus. This time he clearly felt

himself shoved gently aside as another presence took over.

“Managgia! You really think he’s gonna give up the only thing

keeping him alive? If so, you’re stupid as well as crazy, paisan’.”

Kyle stumbled back a step, eyes huge. “I told you to stop that.”

“You’re the one who needs to stop. How far you gonna take this?

You cut up your girl, pinned it on an innocent man, ran down your

best friend like a dog in the street. Now you’re ready to kill this

poor schmuck? When’s it gonna end, Goombah?”

Kyle dropped the cup; clapped his hands over his ears. “Shut up,

SHUT UP!” He lowered his hands and stabbed one finger at

Mulder’s chest. “You’re dead, paisan’. I watched them bury you. So

you can stop spouting this bullshit, because I’m not buying it.”

The eyes regarding him darkened to black. “You watched ’em put

me in the ground, all right. And you were right there to comfort

Vickie when she was ready to follow me. How’d it feel, huh?

Holding my wife in your arms, knowing you’re responsible?” His

voice rose in an eerie imitation of Kyle’s. “We’re here for you,

Vickie. Anything you need, day or night, you just call.”

Kyle’s face went chalk white and he swayed on his feet. “That’s

imposs… How could you…?”

His lips stretched into a bloody grin. “Because I was there, you

bastard. I was there.”

Kyle turned and fled.

The X-Files Office

3:14 p.m.

Their bickering was driving her nuts.

“Are you about finished with that?”

“Keep your pants on, Hickey. I’m going as fast as I can.”

“Which is exactly why you should’ve let me do it.”

“Like you’d be any faster.”

“My mother would be faster.”

“Oh yeah? Well, your mother is…”

“Gentlemen, this isn’t helping Mulder. Frohike, move over a

minute.”

“Ow! Watch it, that’s my foot!”

Scully shoved back her chair, stood, and strode out of the office,

the staccato tap of her heels barely registering above the raised

voices. She stabbed the elevator button with her thumb, folded her

arms, and tucked chin to chest as she listened to the car rumble

down the shaft.

She’d been going over her notes, trying to fit the pieces she’d

gleaned from Vickie and Gary into some sort of cogent whole. One

that would somehow point her in the direction of the killer–and

Mulder. Her head throbbed from too much caffeine and too little

sleep, and her body felt like a tightly coiled spring. One more

minute cooped up with the poster triplets for annoying computer

geeks and she wouldn’t be responsible for her own actions.

The elevator doors slid open and she nearly collided with Skinner,

who was studying a piece of paper in his hand. Scully took three

quick steps backward, allowing the AD to exit the car.

“Excuse me, sir, I was just…” She shook off her surprise. “Is there

something new on the case?”

“Ted just dropped off the composite put together by Mulder’s

neighbor. I thought you’d like to see it before we start distributing

copies.”

clip_image006

Scully accepted the proffered sketch, a frown creasing her pale

brow as she scrutinized the bland features. “Nothing particularly

striking. Didn’t the guy have any distinguishing features–a mole,

freckles, something?”

Skinner cupped the back of his neck, massaging the flesh with a

grimace. “Ted said it took her a long time. She claims it was pretty

dark in the apartment and he only opened the door a crack, so she

couldn’t see much.”

She started to hand the sketch back to Skinner; hesitated, her frown

deepening. “Still… There’s something about him, about the eyes,

that seems almost…familiar.”

Skinner ducked his head to better see her face. “Funny you should

mention the eyes. According to Ted, that was the one feature she

was completely sure of. She said they ‘gave her the creeps.'”

Scully studied the face a moment longer, then returned the paper to

Skinner with a shake of her head. “It’s not going to be much help,

I’m afraid. That could be anyone of a hundred guys–a thousand.

We need something concrete, damn it, we’re chasing shadows.”

Skinner’s eyebrow lifted at the slip. “How did things go with

Jansen? Did you learn anything new?”

“Only that Monica Mitchell was an ambitious woman who knew

exactly what she wanted. And that she was involved with a married

man.”

“You think he could be the killer?”

Scully pursed her lips. “I think maybe Monica wouldn’t take ‘no’

for an answer.”

“Then we need to concentrate our efforts on finding out just who

this mystery man is.” Skinner thrust his chin toward the office

door. “Have they had any success?”

“Getting on my nerves, yes; with the computer, nothing yet.”

The acid tone brought Skinner’s eyes back to her face. “Scully,

we’re doing everything possible to find Mulder. It’s been less than

twenty-four hours, you can’t expect…”

“With all due respect, sir, if the man in Mulder’s apartment found

what he was looking for, Mulder may already be dead. If by some

chance, however, he left empty handed, Mulder’s only hope may

be for us to find it first. Whatever ‘it’ is.” She glared up at him,

anger her only shield against the deeper emotion she refused to

reveal. “I can expect, sir, and I do.”

Before Skinner could respond, Byers barreled out of the office. He

pulled up short when he saw Scully and Skinner.

“We’ve found something. I think this is it.”

Scully darted a quick glance at the AD before following Byers into

the office. Langly and Frohike, clustered in front of the computer,

parted like the Red Sea when they saw Skinner on Scully’s heels.

“It’s an email with an attached photo, nearly a year old,” Frohike

explained as Scully skimmed the writing on the screen. “Looks like

it came into the guy’s work computer and he forwarded it to this

one.”

…wonder how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel…

Scully’s sharp intake of air drew four pair of eyes. She gripped the

edge of the table, knees turned to jelly. “Oh my god.”

Alarmed by the uncharacteristic behavior, Skinner grasped her

elbow. “What is it, Agent?”

“Scroll down to the photo.” She forced the words past numb lips,

the sound of her own heartbeat deafening.

There was a brief power struggle as both Frohike and Langly went

for the mouse. With a low growl of impatience, Skinner batted

away their hands and took control of the device himself. He gave a

cursory glance at the photo before returning his gaze to the more

troubling sight of Scully’s chalk white face.

“Scully, what is it?”

“Let me see that sketch again.”

Skinner handed her the drawing, grinding his teeth as he waited her

out. She studied the drawing, then the photo, finally holding the

piece of paper beside the monitor. The resemblance between the

two was obvious.

“I’d say we found our killer.” Skinner frowned, reaching out to take

the sketch from her trembling fingers. “Let’s get a copy of that

photo, start running it…”

“I know who it is, sir. And I’m guessing you do, too.”

Her soft words had the impact of a scream. Skinner broke off,

expression blank with surprise. “What?”

“I saw that face just this morning in a photo on Sal DeAngelo’s

desk. And I spoke to the man not more than four hours ago when I

called for information on Gary Jansen. Sir, that’s Kyle McNally.”

Skinner’s incomprehension faded to disbelief. “McNally? Isn’t he a

profiler in the BSU?”

Scully nodded, some of the color returning to her cheeks as anger

replaced shock. “Profiler, ASAC, Sal DeAngelo’s best friend.” A

pause. “Monica Mitchell’s killer.”

“And Mulder’s kidnapper.” Skinner strode over to Mulder’s desk

and picked up the phone.

Scully turned back to the screen. “Jansen said they’d sneak off to a

motel. That must be where this photo was taken.”

“Either that or the dude has the kind of bedroom most guys just

dream about–” Langly grunted as Byers elbowed him in the ribs.

“Is there anything else we can do to help, Agent Scully?”

“I’ll need a copy of this file on a disk. Maybe with a little

enhancement we’ll be able to pick up a detail that can tell us where

this place is.”

“Your wish is our command.” The response was delivered without

the usual leer, communicating Frohike’s worry more clearly than

words.

Scully forced a smile, ashamed by her earlier impatience. “Thanks.

You three have been an enormous help.”

“You know we’d do anything for you and Mulder.” Byers glanced

a bit nervously at Skinner, who was barking into the phone. “If you

don’t mind, we’re going to keep looking. Just in case there’s

something more.”

“Of course. Take all the time you need.”

Skinner hung up the phone. The clenched jaw and stiff shoulders

told Scully all she needed to know.

“He’s not there now, is he?”

“He left around noon–hasn’t been back. No one seems to know

where he is or how to get in touch with him. I can try calling his

wife, but…”

“I doubt he’s got Mulder stashed in the basement.” Scully stared at

the disk Frohike placed into her hand. “I don’t know how Sal

DeAngelo came into possession of this email, but it may be the

only thing that’s kept Mulder alive. And our only hope for finding

him that way.”

Skinner gestured toward the door. “Then I suggest, Agent, that you

get started.”

~~~~~~~~~~~

ACT IV

~~~~~~~~~~~

The Atlantis

4:19 p.m.

The exquisite torment of thirst, the sensation that his mouth had

somehow become one with the Gobi Desert, had been completely

eclipsed by this new misery. Mulder blinked back sweat that

persistently dripped into his right eye and tried to concentrate on

the gradually loosening handcuff rather than his screaming

bladder.

“Good thing…I never had that…cup of coffee.” He ground the

words through gritted teeth as he worked the bracket back and

forth. “Something to be said…for dehydration.”

His eyes sought out the clock and he tugged harder, grimacing at

the bright sparks of pain in his wrist. McNally had been gone over

an hour. The little voice in his head–the one he ignored all too

frequently–whispered that it was now or never. McNally was

nearly out of patience, and Mulder was nearly out of time.

“Some mess you got me into, paisan’. Set up the chess board–I got

a feeling we’ll be meeting face to face real soon.”

The intruder that had somehow taken up residence in his soul

remained silent, and yet… Mulder could feel him there, grief and

anger simmering on a low boil. He shivered, torn between dread

and empathy, and rattled both handcuffs.

“Should see me now, Scully. You thought…I was crazy…when I

dreamed about him.” He punctuated each pause with a vicious

yank on the chains. “Now I’m actually…talking to him.”

A grinding scrape of metal on metal and the final screw flew

through the air, landing on the carpet with a barely audible plop.

Mulder lifted his newly-freed arm and watched a trickle of blood

run from wrist to elbow, momentarily mesmerized.

Shaking off the shock-induced stupor, he sat up, only to groan in

frustration. Focused on removing the loose bracket, it had never

occurred to him that the phone was on the left side of the large bed.

Even with his wrist no longer tethered to the headboard, his

fingertips barely brushed the corner of the nightstand. Mulder

lunged against the right cuff, nearly pulling his shoulder from its

socket, to no avail. His lifeline to Scully perched cheerily on the

table, oblivious to his curses.

Mulder slumped back onto the mattress and glared at his reflection.

Hours of tedious, agonizing work and what did he have to show for

his pain? No means to call for help, no weapon… The only object

within reach was the empty cup, and the damn thing was made of

plastic.

“What’s up with that?” he growled at himself in the overhead

mirror. “Silk sheets on the bed and they can’t afford real glass…”

He watched a slow, cunning smile spread across the face of the

man in the mirror.

Mulder scooted onto his knees and turned toward the mirrored

headboard. Grasping firmly the bracket that now dangled from the

left handcuff, he brought it sharply against the glass with as much

force as he could muster. There was a crunch like breaking

eggshells, and several hairline cracks radiated out from the point of

impact. Clamping his lower lip between his teeth, Mulder raised

the bracket and smashed it against the mirror again. This time the

glass shattered, several shards popping out to land on the pillow.

Mulder picked up the largest, sharp as a knife and tapered to a

wicked point. No match for a gun, but maybe he could make sure

McNally had some ‘splainin’ to do back at the bullpen–and get in a

few licks for the man he’d failed. He tucked the other pieces of

glass beneath the pillow.

“Bring it on.”

Mulder flung himself onto his back, pressing the broken bracket

back into the headboard as best he could.

And waited.

Hoover Building

4:31 p.m.

“There. What is that?” One manicured fingernail pointed at a white

patch on the purple sheets.

“Looks like a towel. Hang on.”

Rob Eddings, the irreverent whiz kid of photographic evidence,

zoomed in on the object. Several clicks of the mouse, and Scully

and Skinner could clearly see a white towel draped across the end

of the bed.

Skinner leaned closer, adjusting his glasses. “See the gold near the

top? Looks like some kind of emblem.”

“Probably a logo for the hotel.” Eagerness seeped into Scully’s

voice. “Can you clean it up enough to read it?”

“Patience, grasshopper. I’m trying.”

Scully realized she was breathing down the Edding’s neck; stepped

back a pace, flushing when she felt Skinner’s gaze. “I know you

are, Rob.”

“There…we…go.” More clicks and the gold lettering on the towel

sharpened. Rob frowned. “That’s about as clear as she’s gonna get,

I’m afraid.”

“Looks like an A.” Scully traced the letter, careful not to touch the

screen. “Here’s the point. And this is the cross bar.”

“Except there’s something running diagonally through it. It almost

looks like a fork.” Skinner looked down at Eddings. “We’ll need a

printout of this.”

“Gotcha covered.” Eddings reached over, pulled the photo off the

printer and handed it to Scully. “Hope it helps you find Agent

Mulder.”

“So do I.” Scully smiled at the young agent. “Thanks, Rob. Hope

we didn’t cause you any trouble, jumping the line like this.”

Eddings chuckled. “No problem. I’ll just blame it on the AD.”

Skinner gave him a quelling look that appeared to go completely

unnoticed. Not for the first time Scully reflected that Eddings and

Mulder were two branches off the same tree.

“I’m going to start searching for hotels online,” she told Skinner as

they stepped into the elevator. “If we proceed from the assumption

that the name begins with the letter A, and factor in

the…peculiarities of room design and clientele, we should be able

to narrow the field to a manageable number.”

“The DC police have put out an APB on Kyle McNally and I’ve

got some of our own people looking for him, as well. If he

surfaces, we’ll be waiting.”

Scully stared at the floor indicator light as it tracked their descent.

“I’m afraid I tipped him off when I called about Jansen. He knows

I’ve connected Mulder’s disappearance to the Mitchell case.”

“You had no way of knowing one of our own would be the killer.”

Skinner shook his head. “His own wife hasn’t got a clue. She told

me he’s been sent out of town on a case. Asked if she could pass a

message to him when he calls home.”

The elevator lumbered to a halt and the doors opened. Skinner cast

a final intent look at Scully’s face before stepping out. “I’m going

to check in with the boys in blue. Keep me apprised of the

situation.”

“I will.”

The doors began to roll shut but Skinner stopped them with an

outflung arm. “Scully, if not for your sound investigative

technique, we wouldn’t have that photo. Whatever happens…you’ve

done everything you could for Mulder.”

She tipped her chin up and coolly met his concerned gaze. “I

respectfully disagree, sir. I haven’t found him–yet.”

She held on to the illusion of confidence until Skinner removed his

arm and allowed the doors to close. Sagging against the back wall,

Scully pressed trembling fingers to her lips.

“When I bail you out of this one I expect some serious groveling,

Mulder. Don’t you dare deprive me of the pleasure.”

She’d regained her composure by the time the elevator reached the

basement. The Gunmen were still huddled around DeAngelo’s

computer, though Frohike and Langly apparently had put aside

their squabbling. Scully sank into her chair with a sigh and booted

up her computer.

“Find anything new?”

Langly glanced up from the screen, poking at his glasses with one

long finger. “Only that the dude bookmarked some righteous porn

sites.”

“Terrific,” Scully muttered.

She’d pulled up Google and was beginning a search when Frohike

wandered over. He lifted the photo and squinted at it.

“Well, what do ya know? The guy was playing nookie with her at

The Atlantis, huh? At least he has good taste.”

She was concentrating so hard it took Scully a moment to process

his words. Her head snapped up. “You recognize that logo?”

Frohike snorted as if the very question insulted his intelligence.

“Of course I do. It’s The Atlantis. Classiest no-tell motel there is.

Way I hear it, they cater to all appetites. If you can’t find it there, it

doesn’t exist.”

“You’re certain?”

By this time Byers and Langly had picked up on the exchange and

come over to stare at the picture in their friend’s hand.

“He’s right. See? This object across the ‘A’ is a trident. That’s the

Atlantis’s trademark.” Byers flushed at Scully’s raised eyebrow.

“Um–so I’ve heard.”

“How far is it?”

A brief, silent consultation before Frohike spoke up. “It’s in

Hagerstown, about an hour from here. I can draw you a map.”

Scully stood and snatched up the phone. “Do it.”

The Atlantis

6:12 p.m.

He’d have sworn he was too wired to sleep, but his body had other

ideas. A puff of cool air carrying the faint scent of fall leaves and

fireplaces brought Mulder out of a light doze. He winced when his

fingers closed reflexively around the glass shard, nearly piercing

the skin. Leaning up on his elbows, he scooted back toward the

headboard, attempting to shield the broken bracket with his body

as much as possible.

McNally pocketed his keys but remained standing just inside the

door. In the muted light the glitter of his eyes gave Mulder the

distinct impression he was being examined like a particularly

interesting bug. A fifty-pound weight settled on his chest, and a

tingling sensation began at the back of his neck, shooting down his

spine. He pressed his thumb against the glass shard, the bright

spike of pain driving back panic until he could breathe again. He

batted his eyes.

“See anything you like?”

The wisecrack seemed to pull McNally from a daze. His lip curled.

“You know, I always heard you were a pain in the ass, Mulder.

The stories don’t do you justice.”

“You obviously haven’t been talking to the right people.”

Kyle didn’t reply, but he stepped close to the bed. His right hand

drifted to the small of his back and touched something tucked into

the waistband of his slacks.

Mulder futilely attempted to wet dry lips. “You know, it’d be in

your best interest to let me use the little agent’s room. Otherwise

I’m afraid at least one of us is going to regret it.”

“I don’t think that will be necessary.”

Damn. I hate it when I’m right.

Mulder kept his expression neutral. “If you really want that disk…”

“It’s too late for that now. Your partner’s poking her nose around,

asking all the right questions. It’s only a matter of time before she

figures things out.”

“Then turn yourself in. This doesn’t have to end badly.”

Kyle chuffed a bitter little laugh. “I killed my best friend, Agent

Mulder. It already has.”

“Is that regret I hear, McNally?”

For the first time something like remorse flickered in Kyle’s eyes.

“I didn’t want to kill him, he left me no choice. Sal was a good

friend, but he never would’ve kept his mouth shut.” The emotion

vanished as quickly as it had appeared. “This is all Monica’s fault.

That cheap little hustler got exactly what she deserved.”

“Of course, cheating on your wife is hardly the moral high

ground.”

That stare again. Flat. Assessing. “How do you do it?”

It wasn’t the reaction he’d expected. Mulder eyed Kyle warily.

“What?”

“Sound like…him. I can understand where you came up with the

idea. I’ve heard about the stuff you and your partner investigate–

aliens and Bigfoot and crazy shit like that. What I don’t understand

is how you knew those things about him. About…what happened.”

Mulder sensed it–the slow burn of anger and betrayal. He tried to

push back, determined to remain in control, but it was like trying to

stem a tidal wave with a bucket. “You mean how it felt to be

blinded by headlights and to hear the sound of your bones

breaking? Or what it was like watch your best friend drive away

while you choked to death on your own blood?”

Kyle recoiled, face a sickly gray. “That doesn’t mean a damn thing.

Your partner’s a pathologist. You could easily have picked up that

information from the police report, or the autopsy.”

And suddenly, Mulder found he owned the anger as completely as

the tortured soul of his unwelcome guest. As one they turned on

Kyle, zeroing in for the proverbial kill.

“How about this, paisan’? You took your foot off the gas for a split

second before you ran me down.” A nasty, jeering laugh. “You

were almost too chickenshit to go through with it.”

Face twisted by rage, McNally snatched a Bureau-issue Sig from

his waistband and leveled it at Mulder’s head. “I’m going to shut

you up, once and for all.”

“Do it like a man this time, you bastard. Tuck it right under my

chin and look me in the eye when you pull the trigger.”

“With pleasure.”

Kyle propped one knee on the mattress and bent over. With one

quick motion Mulder rolled toward him, swinging his left arm in a

wide arc. The heavy steel bracket dangling from the handcuff

caught Kyle across the cheekbone, splitting skin. He yelped,

swaying as blood sprayed from the wound. The gun slipped from

his fingers, falling to the mattress with a soft thump, and he

tumbled on top of Mulder.

McNally’s weight drove the air from Mulder’s lungs and pinned his

left arm to his chest. He dug his heels into the mattress and bucked

his hips, attempting to throw Kyle off so he could use the chunk of

glass. Kyle rammed an elbow into Mulder’s chest, fingers

scrabbling for the dropped Sig. The blow, though lacking in real

force, connected with still healing muscles and tissue. Mulder

screamed and nearly lost his grip on the glass, vision graying

around the edges and an insistent hammering in his head.

Their struggle had knocked the gun halfway across the slippery

sheets. Kyle, sensing his advantage, planted one hand over

Mulder’s heart. He raised up, forcing Mulder’s chest to support the

full weight of his upper body, while he reached for the weapon.

“Get ready, paisan’. I’m gonna send you back to hell where you

belong.” He leaned across the mattress, legs shifting slightly to

maintain his balance.

With a howl of rage and pain, Mulder brought up his knee squarely

between McNally’s now parted legs. Kyle shrieked, rolling onto his

side in a fetal curl. With superhuman effort, Mulder scrambled

onto his knees, respiration reduced to sobbing gasps for air. He

knocked the gun off the bed and pressed the razor sharp piece of

mirror into Kyle’s throat. Kyle groaned, then gasped as blood

oozed from the edges.

“Time for you to join me, you son of a bitch. Let’s see how you

like it on this side.”

The pounding in his head became a single, deafening bang. Scully

and Skinner blew through the door with a gust of cold air.

“Federal Agents. Freeze!” Guns leveled, they stared at the tableau

before them.

“It’s okay, Mulder. We’ve got things under control. Let him go and

step back.”

Despite his giddy sensation of relief, Mulder wondered at her

careful, soothing tone. He blinked at a stinging drop of sweat,

reflecting that he must look pretty bad for Scully to use her

“victim” voice.

“Put it down, Mulder.”

His fingers wouldn’t move–in fact, they pressed the shard more

firmly into flesh. Beneath him, Kyle whimpered again and more

blood trickled down to darken the sheets. Mulder gaped at his own

hand, willing the digits to obey. Stunned, then frightened when

they defied him.

“Don’t do this.” He said it aloud, not caring how it sounded. Scully

and Skinner already thought he was crazy. Might as well go for

broke. “It’s over.”

“Mulder…” She trailed off when Mulder lifted huge eyes to her

face, pleading. Skinner remained silent, watchful.

Mulder closed his eyes, mentally following the connection, his

voice soft and reassuring. “He’ll pay for what he did, and Gary

Jansen will walk out of prison a free man. Justice has been served,

Sal. You can let go.”

A bewildering jumble of emotion rose up within him–regret,

sorrow, release. It flooded his soul like an enormous wave,

breaking over him, washing through him.

And was gone.

Mulder dropped the makeshift knife and moved back against the

headboard. He pressed one hand to his chest, shivering as he

watched his boss efficiently take McNally into custody.

“You all right?” Skinner’s inquiry was as business-like as his

Miranda recitation.

“Yeah.” He looked up at Scully. “I’m okay.”

She unlocked the remaining cuff, fingers discretely massaging torn

flesh, eyes communicating everything Skinner’s presence

restrained. A feather-light touch to his bruised cheek and the lump

on the back of his head, then a raised brow. “You’ll still need to see

a doctor.” A pause. “But I think we can dispense with the

psychiatrist.”

So he wasn’t the only one with regrets. One corner of Mulder’s

mouth turned up. “Deal.”

The adrenaline rush ebbed and he was suddenly aware of a need

more pressing than any of his other aches and pains. “Uh, Scully. I

do have a bit of a problem. In fact, I’d call it an emergency.”

She snapped to attention. “What’s wrong, Mulder? Is it your chest?

Your head?”

“Uh-uh.” He lurched to his feet, barely resisting the urge to dance.

“My bladder. If I don’t make it to the bathroom in about ten

seconds I’m going to contaminate a crime scene.”

Scully folded her arms as he staggered past her. “Damn it, Mulder,

that’s not funny. You had me really worried.”

“Brings a whole new meaning to the term ‘pissing you off,’ huh,

Scully?” He flashed her an impudent grin as he shut the door.

She sighed and shook her head. Mulder’s irreverent sense of humor

had apparently survived intact–and so had he.

Thank God.

~~~~~~~~~~

Epilogue

~~~~~~~~~~

Hoover Building

Two days later

Skinner closed the file folder and leaned back in his chair. “I’ve

read your report, Agent Mulder. You must admit your account of

the events is more than a bit…unorthodox.”

Mulder shrugged. “I’ve given you the truth. How you choose to

interpret it is completely up to you.”

“Is it true that Agent McNally has admitted culpability for the

murder of Monica Mitchell?” Scully asked.

Skinner nodded. “And of Agent DeAngelo, as well. We have a

signed confession.” Skinner gave Mulder a shrewd look.

“According to the DC cops, he was eager to cooperate, even

waived his right to have an attorney present. They said he seemed

anxious, kept muttering some nonsense about burying the dead.”

Mulder’s face revealed nothing. “And Gary Jansen?”

“Should be released within the next 24 hours, if he hasn’t been

already. He owes you his life, Mulder.”

The hint of a grin tugged at the corners of Mulder’s mouth but his

expression was wistful. “Not me.”

Skinner glanced uneasily at Scully, then forged ahead. “At any

rate, McNally’s confession omits our need for the email that cost

Agent DeAngelo’s life–and nearly yours, as well.”

All traces of the smile vanished. “I believe that’s called irony, sir.”

Scully turned from Skinner to her partner. “That reminds me,

Mulder. Where did you put the floppy disk McNally was after? He

certainly tore up your apartment looking for it.”

He smirked. “I subscribe to the ‘hide in plain sight’ rule, Scully. I

labeled it and put it with all my other disks.”

Both eyebrows soared. “You labeled it? As what?”

The smirk became a grin. “Porn.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to Skinner. “Is that all, sir?”

“I’d say that’s more than enough, Agent Scully,” Skinner replied

dryly.

As they stood up he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a

piece of paper. “By the way, you might be interested to know that

the owner of The Atlantis was quite upset when he learned a

murderer had used his establishment to hold a federal agent

hostage. He doesn’t want his reputation tarnished by the negative

publicity.”

“Some reputation,” Scully muttered.

“Be that as it may, he insisted on giving me this certificate for two

complementary nights in one of the deluxe Jacuzzi suites.”

Mulder snickered. “Walter, you dog! Who’s the lucky lady?”

Skinner slowly stood and walked around his desk, face unreadable.

Scully glared at Mulder. “Sir, I’m sure Agent Mulder intended no

disrespect…” She trailed off when she realized Skinner’s expression

was smug, not angry.

“Actually I thought I’d pass it along to you two. I’m sure you’ll

figure out what to do with it. There’s a three day weekend coming

up soon, isn’t there?” He pressed the coupon into Mulder’s hand

with a cheery shark’s grin.

Mulder stared blankly at the coupon while Scully’s cheeks flushed

and she searched futilely for an appropriate response. As if

oblivious to their discomfiture, Skinner sauntered back to his desk,

sat down, and began reading from a file folder. He glanced up at

them over the top of his glasses.

“That’s all, Agents. Dismissed.”

It wasn’t until they were alone in the elevator that Scully found her

voice. “Well. I guess that’s his way of telling us he knows. How do

you suppose he found out?”

Mulder shrugged. “Does it matter? Cat was bound to squirm out of

the bag sooner or later.”

She scowled at him, hands propped on hips. “You’re awfully calm

about this! Aren’t you the least bit concerned that our boss now

knows we’ve both been playing doctor?”

Mulder shrugged, never taking his eyes from the certificate his

hands. “Nah. Skinner doesn’t care, Scully. As long as we aren’t

playing tonsil hockey or doing the naked pretzel in the office, he’ll

look the other way. Right now we’ve got something far more

important to worry about.”

“Really? And what would that be?”

He waved the certificate in front of her nose, a kid with a new toy.

“How soon can we use this?”