Scully closed the folder and put it down on the seat beside her. Frowning slightly at the desolate road before her eyes, she mused, "Mulder, all this happened ten years ago. Twelve if you count Dr Cogan's convalescence, the time period everybody still thought she would return to work. Didn't anybody investigate? I mean, a wildlife researcher known from National Geographics publications and TV documentaries around the world, suddenly quits for good because of a nervous breakdown? And in all these years nobody asks her what actually happened? Her associate at the time dies of a mysterious but locally common disease - I tell you, Mulder, that common bit worries me - wouldn't at least his family want to know the circumstances?"
Mulder turned off the AC temporarily. On the whole, he was grateful that the rental agency had included this feature in all its cars, but his throat felt dry to the point of soreness, and his face was chilled on one side. There was a distinct can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em factor about these gadgets.
"I doubt they had the time to investigate", he said. "You'll notice on page 114 that there was an unusually severe forest fire, starting on the morning of May 7th and taking three weeks to combat. Whatever remains there might have been of Dr Cogan's camp were lost, as was the nearest village, the one that provided the colourful plague stories. The fire was declared an accident, put down to somebody being careless with kerosene, which they seem to use for just about everything out there, from cooking to insect bite."
Scully gave her partner a searching look. "But you think the area was torched?"
He turned to her briefly, his eyes pained and haunted, as so often before. "In view of the swimming black eyes - don't you?" He flicked his gaze back to the road in time to avoid collision with a lonely King Cab pickup, the only other vehicle for miles. "As for Dr Cogan, I don't know. It says only that she had no comment. I guess we'll find out if she has any now."
* * * *
"Just keep at it, she's home alright!"
Mulder and Scully turned their backs on the door whose chime they had been assailing five times now, to look in some surprise at the old man in a checked shirt who stood leaning on a battered shovel behind his fence. "She ain't any too willin' ta talk to anyone though", he called again, chuckling as if he had just said something hilariously funny. Then he cast a quick, nervous look down the street, and his cheer died away as if it had never been. Quickly, he started busying himself with his garden work.
The two agents glanced in the direction the neighbour had, to see what had silenced him. A tall woman with a vague air of governess severity about her was just getting out of her car, precariously balancing a handle-less paper bag of groceries on one arm while she slammed the car door shut and locked it. Her dark hair was drawn into a prim bun at the back of her head, and there was a certain fastidiousness about the way she checked the handle to see that her car was really and truly locked. But as she turned, they both noted that she had quite a pleasant face. Officious, but not mean, Mulder thought, as a tentative first categorisation.
The woman pushed the gate open and entered, but not before she had shot a suspicious glance over the neighbouring fence. It was evident that she had some ongoing quarrel with the old man.
"Meddling old fool", she muttered under her breath, then, realising that this was not the most civilised of greetings, she managed to hold out a hand without upsetting her bag of groceries. "Sorry. Jette Mortensen, Dr Cogan's housekeeper. Have you been waiting long?" Her name had been spoken in uninhibited Danish, the rest of her words carried a vague Germanic flavour that might stem from the same part of the world.
They flashed their ID's, and Scully beat Mulder to making the introductions. "We'd like to ask Dr Cogan a few questions", she concluded.
The housekeeper gave her a surprised look, then shrugged. "Well, you can always try. Asking is free.." She awkwardly brought out her keys, apparently never expecting any offer of help with the groceries which she was balancing between the wall and the crook of her arm, making it difficult for anyone to assist her. She opened the door and entered, calling over her shoulder for the agents to follow her. This they did, exchanging puzzled glances behind her back.
Jette Mortensen went directly to the kitchen, to stow away her groceries. Following her lead, Mulder and Scully wound up in the same area. The kitchen was not empty. In the middle of the tiled floor sat a large cat, washing herself. She looked up as they came in, one hind paw in the air, then she resumed her toilette as though she had not been interrupted. Mortensen walked carefully around her so as not to step on her tail. Scully crouched down to say hello to the cat who merely glanced at her indifferently, without pausing in what she was doing.
"I thought you were allergic to cats, Scully", Mulder said.
His partner gave him a blank look. "Whatever gave you that idea? Besides, this is not your common house cat."
"That's Hermione", Mortensen said with a nod in the direction of the cat. "She's an ocelot, or something. Dr Cogan found her in Guatemala and brought her back with her, despite the rather fearsome quarantine fee. Two months of quarantine, I think. Compulsory, you know.." She thought for a moment. "Funny when you think of it. If she wanted an ocelot she could have got herself one right here in the state. I've always heard there's supposed to be a few of them still, somewhere farther south."
Scully had somehow obtained graceous permission to scratch a feline ear. "This is an ocelot? I thought the females weren't much bigger than the domestic cat."
"Oh, there are cats as big as this one", Mortensen said. "Not many, but there are. I remember one in Odense that would have reached your friend there to the waist, if he'd been on his hind legs. The cat, that is", she added unnecessarily. She tilted her head to one side, thinking. "Well, if he'd stretched a bit, he would. Sylvester by name. Magnificent animal. Common house cat, not like Hermione."
The ocelot had started to pull on a claw to get rid of a loose sheath. The claw seemed to go on forever, although it had been fully retracted a moment ago. Scully watched it with a slight frown on her face, until it suddenly occurred to her that perhaps it was impolite to stare. Besides, her legs were beginning to feel cramped. She gave the cat a final stroke along the head and back, and got to her feet.
"You're Danish?" Mulder asked the housekeeper.
"Born and bred", she answered proudly, closing the cupboard doors after putting the final items away. "Though I might not look much like your idea of a Dane", she added, brushing a black strand of hair out of her eyes and fixing it back into the knot it had escaped from.
Mulder flashed her one of his warmest smiles. "How do you know what my idea of a Dane is?"
"Well, blonde, blue eyes - long braids, I shouldn't wonder? Americans usually.." she broke off, and tilted her head again. "Though that might be just my idea of Americans", she soberly conceded.
"You don't like us?" Scully asked, trying to hide her amusement.
"Not much, to be honest", the housekeeper said. "Had some bad experiences when I was new in the country. Still, that's not your fault, so we won't dwell on that. Here's Dr Cogan now."
And there she was, in the doorway, having entered so quietly that they both wondered how long she had been standing there. Perhaps she had learnt stealth from her favourite subjects of study. She was a tall woman with a somewhat angular build and faded blond hair tied back in a loose pony tail at the nape of her neck. They knew her to be forty-six now, but her face had a good bone structure and she looked a few years younger. Pale, blue eyes behind weak glasses. No make-up. She wore a blue-checked shirt and jeans, probably no different from what she might have worn in the jungle. They couldn't really imagine her in fatigues.
Mulder and Scully flashed their ID's, and this time Mulder won the introduction race. Dr Cogan did not reciprocate, which surprised him to some extent, but then, there was no need, they had just been told who she was. Her eyes were calm and carefree behind the all but flat lenses, as she waited for them to state their errand.
"We'd like to ask you a few questions about your last expedition", Mulder began. He waited for a sign - any sign - of discomfort over the topic, but found none. Her eyes were as serene as a zen monk's, though perhaps less humorous. "First, why did you leave? Maybe you had better tell us all that happened - in your own words."
"She had a nervous breakdown, that's all", said the housekeeper unexpectedly behind him. "Couldn't get on with the job. Stressed out, being left with all the work after Dr Baldwin died."
"Thank you, Ms Mortensen", Scully said, "but we'd like for Dr Cogan to tell us herself."
The housekeeper's brown eyes widened. "Oh, I'm sorry! I thought you knew.. Dr Cogan can't speak. Not once after she came back that day!"