The dark didn't matter. She knew the tracks and hollows of these woods as well as her own body, and could put her head down like a deer and run. The sting of branches against her skin didn't matter. She'd felt worse pain in her life, and there'd be worse to follow if she slowed.
She was fast, but she couldn't run forever, and the fog – ever present when he was near – already caught in her chest with each breath. There wasn't much time, and this wasn't the place she wanted to be for the end.
She should hate the woods. They were his place, after all. Even after all that he had done to her, she never lost her love for this strip of green folded around the lake. Her parents – Hannah, babe, don't think about them now – never understood, but always brought her here when she asked. Here she learned to hike, to climb trees. Trees are more than the things that nest in them. Trees are always beautiful, as tall and strong as she wanted to be.
The narrow path – familiar, so familiar – would come to a fallen tree just around the turn. She gathered her body for the jump, pulling momentum from the spring of her feet against the ground. In the air, she was soundless; no thumping of feet against pine-needles, no heaving for breath. In that instant of flight, strength flooded her body. Suddenly she knew the place. Head down, legs pumping, strong and alive, she took the uphill path.
The trees thinned and fell away from her, and her feet hit the spongy turf of the lookout. There was mist lying over the lake tonight, but up here away from the trees the air was crisp and clean. She slowed her pace and walked the last few steps to the fence at the edge of the cliff.
A low snarl curled out from the last fingers of fog behind her. She turned to face him, hands on hips, ready for the race. Crouched beside a picnic table with outstretched hands, he tipped up his head and hooted in victory. She took a breath, another, then tilted her head up to the stars. The sky was deep and dark, and beneath it she felt strong. She would not let him in. Turning her back on him, she crouched too, just as she'd been taught at track meets.
Behind her, the hooting stopped abruptly and there was a rush of sound towards her. As if that were the starter's pistol, she lunged forward, legs a blur. Acceleration was a drug, and she laughed as she ran, laughed as her legs hurdled the fence. There was a glorious stillness as she hung above the cliff, and for a moment she remembered all her dreams of flying. Her last thought, as she fell, was that she would have liked to see his face, knowing he was thwarted. But the stars were beautiful tonight.
"Not this girl. Not my girl. Not suicide." The woman's face was lined beyond the shadows wrought by grief. "Hannah tore through life, she was fierce." She took Mulder's hand and pressed a framed photograph into it; Hannah wore a life-jacket, and waved an oar to the camera. Her grin was wide and infectious.
"You knew her, Agent Mulder. You knew the things she overcame. This isn't a girl who gives up."
Mulder made a soft noise of understanding, and Dana looked at him sharply. This was the first she'd heard of any past association with this case. The fact he'd omitted this detail, and the way he was indulging the grief-based fantasy of a bereaved mother told Dana everything. Mulder only withheld information on the cases she would otherwise dismiss out of hand before they left the office. This one had to be cruising on fumes.
She pushed up out of the overstuffed armchair and held out her hand. "Mrs Nedro, we'll do our best to find out what happened to Hannah." No promises. No false expectations. That's what they taught at Quantico: never offer anything to the family beyond the truth.
On the white steps of the porch, Mrs Nedro caught Mulder's hand again. "We fought so hard to hold onto her, to keep our family together. Please don't let go of her now."
"I promise," said Mulder, because rules were nothing to him. "I'll find answers for you."
Dana held the wrought iron gate open for him. "You okay?" There was more going on here than he was telling her, and it had left him jangled.
Mulder shoved his hands deep in his pockets and kept his head down as they walked past the lake. "I'm fine, Scully. Didn't get much sleep."
"You knew the victim?" Dana put herself between them and the lake, cutting off his view.
Mulder sent a stone skittering ahead of them. "It was a long time ago. Earlier case, back in the BAU."
Dana put a hand on his arm. "If it's easier for you, Mulder, if you're too invested, let me handle the case. If this is a suicide, we can't turn it into a homicide. As much as we'd like to make things easier for her parents to bear, we can't change the truth."
Mulder's gaze finally lifted from the muddy sidewalk ahead. "We don't need to change the truth, Scully. We just need to find it."
Dana spread the pages of the coroner's report on the table behind her, where she could scan the pages while her hands were gloved.
Mulder pulled himself onto a bench and leaned his head against the tiles.
Dana watched him thoughtfully while she gloved up. Autopsies generally didn't disturb him. "Sure you want to be here for this? You knew her when she was alive. It's normal to want to remember her that way."
"I want to see it through, Scully. She didn't get the chance to sit out the difficult stuff in her life. I'll stay out of respect."
Dana nodded, switched on the recorder, and whisked the sheet away. Mulder exhaled slowly, and his face relaxed, as if it wasn't as bad as he had anticipated. Dana looked at the body; it was hard to imagine what he had been expecting. The rocks had not been kind.
Mulder pointed to the body; Hannah's arms were scratched and bruised, bright purple lines on the pale skin of her forearm. "There's definitely defensive wounds there. She must have put up a fight." The idea seemed to bolster him.
Dana carefully unfolded one arm, and positioned it over the girl's face as if shielding her. "Possibly. Or she struck branches as she fell. Let me do the exam, Mulder. You tell me about her."
Hannah had already been autopsied, which meant the body had been cleaned and readied for the morticians. Dana took a moment to outline her approach: she would be following in the footsteps of the first pathologist but this time looking for anything missed.
Mulder tapped a toe against a cabinet. "She was a tough kid. You see a lot of pain, working BAU cases. When you see someone take that pain and turn it into determination, you wind up rooting for them. She was a survivor. Seeing her like this, it hurts."
"What was the case?" Dana aligned Hannah's head correctly and gently moved the compound fractures on the limbs into position.
"Serial rape," said Mulder. "Three victims across the Great Lakes region."
"Oh." Dana looked down at the girl. Hannah was twenty-two; Mulder had last worked for Behavioural Science ten years ago. She suddenly understood Mrs Nedro's determination.
Mulder watched his toe drum against the painted door. "We couldn't pin down a profile. Victimology was all over the place. There were two wildly varying descriptions of the attacker. In the end, it was handed back to state authorities."
Dana sifted through the fine strands of hair, feeling for the bones of the skull where they were still intact. The open wound, where Hannah had caught the rocks, had been washed clean by the lake. Now, only the faint smell of disinfectant wafted up from the cold flesh. "It doesn't explain why we're here now, though. What's your interest in the case?"
"I'd just found the X-Files back then. Hannah's name – all three victims, actually – were on a list."
"And this list was in the X-Files?" Dana worked her way down the girl's body, noting each broken bone, each bruise blooming across the torso. So far, she agreed with every finding on the coroner's report.
"Psychic manifestations. When Hannah was in the third grade, she experienced a precognitive vision or premonition of some sort. Whatever it was, she believed in it strongly enough to convince her teachers to evacuate the school. A couple of hours later, a cloud of chlorine rolled off the lake from a vinyl processing plant. Totally enveloped the school and surrounding areas." Mulder sat up straighter now, buoyant with facts. "The other two victims had also experienced psychic phenomena in childhood. I thought maybe there was a connection, that the assailant was choosing victims with psychic potential."
Dana folded the girl's right hand around her own to examine the nails. "That's odd."
"What's odd?" Mulder slipped from the cabinet to stand beside her.
Dana looked over her shoulder at the file spread across the empty table. "According to the coroner's report, there was little peri-mortem trauma to the nails: he thinks Hannah fell with her arms wrapped around her body. But look – " she pointed to where the nail of the index finger had lifted away from the bed "– There's some tearing, and it's definitely post-mortem. Mulder, this wasn't recorded in the original exam."
"It's new? Something that happened while she was here in the morgue?" Mulder grabbed a glove and used it to hold Hannah's hand closer to the light. "Scully, I think there's something jammed in under there."
Dana had to reach deep under the nail to grip the foreign material but once she had it between the tips of her forceps, it slid out easily. "It's paper, I think. Rolled up."
Mulder passed her a dish, and she gently teased the tiny damp curl of paper open. The letter 'E' lay on the glass surface; a square of text stained with old blood.
Mulder was the profiler, the expert on signature crimes. Dana looked at him. "Have you ever seen anything like this before? What does it mean?"
Mulder shook his head. "Scully, I have no idea."
Back in Dana's motel room, Mulder unfurled. He sprawled on Dana's bed with case files strewn on either side of his body while he talked to ViCAP on the phone.
Dana combed through the pathologist's report and her own, comparing minutiae, looking for any other signs of interference.
"The ViCAP database didn't bring up any active cases where objects were inserted under the nails." Mulder rolled onto his back and propped his head up on pillows. "They're running a search with wider parameters, but frankly, it surprises me that this would be hard to find. It's a strong signature. You'd think someone would have noticed it before."
"And it was enacted with confidence," said Dana. "No hesitation, one single wound. Most people would be a little squeamish about pushing forceps under a fingernail. I doubt that this is the first time he's done it."
Mulder shook his head. "There's something not right about this. This guy is confident enough to walk into the morgue of a small town: he's obviously functional and he's not worried about standing out. Then he commits an act of incredible obsession, this tiny, focused deed. It's such a strong message. I wonder who it was meant to reach."
"Maybe it was for Hannah? Maybe she had a stalker?" Dana flipped through Hannah's medical history. "She's had some rough times in the past. There's some indication of self-harm, possible drug use, promiscuity. I'm not being judgmental but that kind of behaviour stands out in a small town. It's easy to imagine someone developing an unhealthy fascination for Hannah."
Mulder punched a pillow into better shape. "If it was about Hannah, the letter would have been left in the eye or the mouth – somewhere intimate. Embedding it into her nail is colder, more withdrawn. He doesn't desecrate the corpse, he doesn't act out his anger or his lust. Whatever his interest in Hannah, he's finished with her now." He sat up suddenly. "Oh, I get it."
Dana raised her eyebrows.
"It's for the investigator." Mulder extended his right hand. Dana, by reflex, slipped hers into his. Mulder shook her hand as if they'd just met. "Pleased to meet you. I'm a serial killer." Dana looked at his index finger, resting flat against her palm, pointing towards the veins at her wrist.
She pulled her hand back, disturbed. "Nobody stops with an introduction."
"Exactly," said Mulder. He settled back against the pillows. "We should probably try to figure out what his next action will be."
At the end of the week, local gossip was turning to why Hannah's body was being held and not buried. The two of them were forced to admit defeat.
Mrs Nedro was distressingly kind about it. It was painful that it was important and unexpected when the two of them listened to her doubts and treated her with respect.
Again, Dana had a better understanding of how united the Nedro family had been. Small town mentality judged Hannah to be a troubled child. No surprise to anyone that she'd throw herself off a cliff. The truth was that Hannah was a happy, focused young woman, dedicated to sport and her family. She'd weathered much prejudice in life, and it went on after her death.
"We're not giving up," Mulder said at the gate. "We're going to go back, and we're going to review what we've got. Go over Hannah's original case file from ten years ago. Maybe there's a connection."
Dana pressed a card into Mrs Nedro's hand. "If you think of anything – it doesn't matter how trivial or unrelated – call us."
It still hurt to drive away. Dana watched in the side-mirror; Mrs Nedro stood by the gate, even as the car turned the corner. "I hope we can do something for her."
Mulder flipped on the indicator and took the turn for the highway. "I hope we can do something for the next kid."
That night, in the comfort of his own apartment, Mulder threw himself into sleep with great vigour but little success. Every time he felt himself drifting off, his leg would itch or a muscle in his back would spasm, and he'd be wide awake on the sofa again.
"Goddamn motel beds are bad for my back." He jumped at the sound of his own voice, and punched his pillow viciously then threw it at his running shoes on the floor. He'd go for a run, but that would bring back the image of Hannah Nedro's even-paced footprints leading to the edge of the cliff at Soap Lake. She had been an athlete. Mulder had seen the photos in those regular letters Mrs Nedro sent to all the investigating agents, a gentle reminder that the sexual assault case remained unsolved. Hannah knew how to spring from the blocks, how to pace a sprint, how to push through the wall. It was easy to lose yourself in physical exertion, forget the things that hung over you. Shape a new identity.
Thinking about running was enough of a suggestion; Mulder slipped as easily into sleep as a body into water. The path ahead of him was dry, padded with thick blankets of pine needles which muffled the steady impact of his feet. Sometimes he caught sight of someone running at his shoulder – long, skinny legs thrown forward with assurance and enthusiasm – but more often it was just him, placing his feet carefully on the moonlit path. Before too long, the pine-needles and dust became the smooth linoleum of the Hoover Building, and he slowed his pace to a walk.
Mulder was experienced enough with the precepts of lucid dreaming, both from an academic and a personal point of view, to recognise that what he saw was not real. Nonetheless, the part of his subconscious that monitored appropriate behaviour quickly substituted a suit for his sweaty running gear and grubby shoes, and thrust a file into his hands. Work is work, after all. Mulder followed the incentive, and headed for the basement, brushing past faceless agents on the way to the elevators. Wait, his mind said. Watch.
An agent walked past him with an incandescent smile on his face. The dreamscape turned viscous, and movement became thick and syrupy. Mulder saw the agent pause and turn his head, throwing the rictus beam in his direction. The man closed his eyes, tipped his head back and inhaled deeply, scenting the air moving around Mulder's body.
Mulder flung himself upright on the sofa. Vision? His subconscious, slipping away under wakefulness, offered a different theory. Memory, it said.
Special Agent Audrey Horne was feeling far from special this morning. Case files were due in a couple of hours. There was an inch-thick wad of unpaid bills crammed into her briefcase that she really needed to deal with, and the group home had called to say that Johnny's appointment with the ophthalmologist had been shifted again. She pushed everything to the back of her mind and concentrated on the case file. If the SAC didn't have everyone's report in on time, she'd be keeping the whole team back.
She looked around the bull pen while she turned scribbled notes into typed words. Most of the team was in the same boat; the tail end of a case was always hard, and now they were all in massive let-down. It made Audrey itch with frustration.
Her laptop announced new mail with a soft chime and she clicked the program open with guilty relief.
Got a flag on your case.
The meaning of the words slipped past her at first, too much to take in. Trust Rebecca to put the whole message in the subject line, Audrey thought, absurdly. Never one to bother with small talk, Rebecca.
Next came guilt: she hadn't thought about Dale Cooper today, and couldn't remember if she had at all during this last case. Ten years ago, she was driven by her fierce determination to save him from whatever peril had swept him away from Twin Peaks. She never stopped looking – here she was at the FBI, after all – but the attrition of time, study, and deliberate obfuscation by the Sheriff's office had taken a toll.
Realisation shivered through her. Someone, somewhere, had come across a case with similarities to the Twin Peaks murders. That truth left her ringing, as if her body were a bell.
Rebecca was no more forthcoming on the phone. "You know I can't divulge details. It's enough of a stretch that I put the file into the database. I'm not messing around with another agent's investigation."
Audrey sighed. Rebecca was right to put her foot down. She had only been willing to add Audrey's case because it remained open, and that meant a violent sexual offender had walked free. There was just so little information to work with: Sheriff Hawk and his coterie had shut her out years ago. Two murders, one assault, a missing FBI agent, and no new information in a decade. Now, it was nearly impossible not to scrabble frantically for details from her friend.
Rebecca knew her too well. "It's not Twin Peaks," she said. "I doubt it's anyone you know, either. I'm not even sure it's a homicide, the details seem a little thin to me."
"It's the letter, isn't it? Under the nail?" The only part of that horrible year that provided enough solid information to enter in the database was Ronette's assault. Of that case, the strongest, weirdest piece of evidence was the tiny letter placed under the nail of Ronette's index finger.
"It's a strong signature element," said Rebecca. "I'll give you the agent's name and you can make contact on your own. I've got –" Audrey heard a rapid tap-tap-tap of a keyboard "– an Agent F Mulder."
The name was familiar, and not in a good way. "Wait a minute. Isn't he the UFO guy? What do they call him again?"
"'Spooky'," said Rebecca. "They call him 'Spooky'."
All heads in the office turned towards the door, and a soft ripple of conversation moved from desk to desk. Audrey took in the stranger in the doorway with a sinking feeling. "Rebecca, I have to go."
She put down the phone and prepared herself to meet Agent 'Spooky' Mulder.
The White Collar unit in the Hoover Building was notoriously cliquish, and people stared as Mulder wended between the desks. He identified Agent Horne by her age: she was the only female agent under thirty in the room. Neat and slender, she perched on an office chair as if it were a velvet covered throne, legs neatly crossed and a distant expression on her face. As Mulder approached, she turned towards him with thoughtful, half-closed eyes.
"Do you like coffee, Agent Mulder?" She curled a hand around a mug, and watched him through the ribbons of steam.
He shrugged. "What did Frank Herbert say? It is by caffeine alone I set my mind in motion." The rustle in the office intensified. Someone in the far corner softly sang the theme to The Twilight Zone.
Agent Horne smiled beatifically. "Exactly." She took another sip, still watching him. The rest of the White Collar unit watched her watching him. You rattle cages, Mulder thought to himself. That's why you're here in White Collar: you look at self-made men with that expression, and they spit out all the things they think you already know. Someone tipped you off that I was coming down here, and now you're scrabbling to find my buttons. He was suddenly very irked; he was not in a mood for mind games. Not when Hannah Nedro was lying on a slab in the Soap Lake morgue.
"You were –" he took a punt at her age "– eighteen when something went horribly wrong in your home town. You call it your defining moment, the reason you wanted to join the Bureau. But deep down – and I know this because you're not a psychopath – you feel guilty about plumbing someone else's suffering for your own inspiration."
Agent Horne raised an eyebrow. "You're profiling me. What am I supposed to do in response? Analyse your financial records?"
"That's not a White Collar case you put on the ViCAP database."
"It really, really isn't," Agent Horne agreed. She opened a drawer in her desk and pulled out a battered folder. "Let's go somewhere we can talk."
In the elevator, she let the façade slip a little. She leaned against the silvered wall, watching him while she spoke. "I was eighteen when Ronette Pulaski was assaulted, but there was always something wrong with my home town. I don't feel guilty, because even ten years later Ronette wants closure on her case and the law enforcement in my home town is far from forthcoming. And the crimes themselves weren't my inspiration; the investigating agent was. He still would be, if he weren't missing." She curled her mouth into a beguiling smile that gently mocked. "You were mostly right. Not bad."
Mulder frowned. "You said crimes. Plural."
"Murders," said Agent Horne. "Also plural."
Dana tapped her fingernails impatiently against the laminate of the desk. ViCAP had given them a name, a brief description of the assault, and a contact number at the Twin Peaks Sheriff's Department. On the phone, Sheriff Hill was perfectly charming, but there was something in the tone of his voice that made her want to stab his eye with a pencil.
"Sheriff, I understand it was a long time ago, but the details in the ViCAP database are scant. If you could fax or email the original case file, I would be very grateful. I can give you the name again: Pulaski. Ronette Pulaski. Sexual assault and battery, early February, ten years ago. I'm happy to wait while you go and get the file." She had a special tone of voice she saved for law enforcement who used a good ole boy persona to block her from the facts.
Mulder swept back into the office with a junior agent in tow, a slight woman in a navy suit with a sleek, dark cap of hair. The woman caught the door on the rebound and closed it carefully behind her. Then she took in Dana's expression, phone in hand.
"Sheriff Hill, this is sounding less and less convincing..." Dana resisted the urge to roll her eyes in front of a junior agent.
"He hates it when people call him Hill," said the agent. "He's Sheriff Hawk, even on his badge. Has he told you about the fire in the filing room?"
"Agent Horne has a conspiracy," Mulder said, by way of introduction.
Hawk came back on the line with a long winded and rambling explanation. Dana inclined her head. "Is that so, Sheriff? All the files relating to that case? And you kept no back-ups? Then there's nothing else you can do for me today." She placed the phone down on the cradle with extreme care and gritted teeth.
Agent Horne smiled apologetically. "I'm sorry that you're caught up in this. He's a good sheriff. He's just obstructive on this one point."
She was very young, thought Dana. "You couldn't have worked the Pulaski case originally."
"I didn't work the case. Nobody's working the case anymore. I put the details together later with Ronette, so I could enter it in the ViCAP database."
Mulder settled into his desk chair and waved his hands like a conductor, gesturing at Agent Horne. "Tell Scully about the murders."
"What murders?" said Dana, frustrated. "I think you'd better start from the beginning. What does this have to do with Hannah Nedro's death?"
Audrey put her back to a bank of filing cabinets. "It starts with Laura Palmer." She laughed, the sound catching in the back of her throat. "It always starts with Laura."
The office was cluttered and dim. Audrey eyed the pencils lodged in the ceiling tile dubiously. Was she tanking her career just by being here? Agent Scully was well-regarded – she probably didn't remember, but Audrey had attended her lectures on forensic pathology at Quantico – but Agent Mulder? Associating with the biggest flake in the Bureau could be toxic, even for a low-level agent. She wasn't in the Bureau just to find Agent Cooper. She had a brother to keep, a future to think of.
The gold ring she wore on a chain swung heavy against her skin, and she made her decision. When it came to Dale Cooper, she'd learned to listen to instinct. The risk was worth it. It was time to put ambition aside for a moment.
"Laura was the prom queen in my senior year. The cheerleader, the meals-on-wheels girl. You know the kind: beautiful, clever, popular. She and Ronette Pulaski were both assaulted one night, in an abandoned train carriage halfway up a mountain. Ronette woke up and walked out along the tracks. Laura washed up on the riverbank, taped inside a plastic sheet. That's when the FBI got involved. Not that you'll find any record of any of this. I presume it was there, originally, but there's nothing now."
Mulder's fingers rattled over the keyboard. "She's right; there's no record of a Laura Palmer, nor of any federal agents assigned to Twin Peaks."
"His name was Dale Cooper," said Audrey. The hardest part of telling this tale was leading people through the empty spaces, convincing them to believe in things they couldn't see.
Mulder shook his head at the screen. "Not as far as the database is concerned."
"You won't find anything," said Audrey. "Trust me, it was the first thing I looked up when I got my login code at the Academy." She remembered the tacky vinyl of the seats in the FBI library, and how the impact of that blank screen was almost a physical blow. From that point on, she could no longer assume that Dale was merely unreachable. Someone had actively erased his presence: from the computers, from case files, from every place she could think to search.
"Exactly what brought this into Federal jurisdiction?" Agent Scully was still dubious. Audrey didn't blame her.
"Laura wasn't the first." Audrey pulled a newspaper clipping from her file. Proof of Dale's existence, reduced to yellowed paper, cracked and fading. " Agent Cooper had investigated a case the year before: Theresa Banks, of Deer Meadow. The MO was the same, sexual assault and battery. Same cause of death, the body wrapped in a plastic sheet." She looked at the photo of Dale at the town meeting. She had clipped the article from the Twin Peaks Gazette the next day. She remembered the weight of the metal scissors in her hand, the ones that lived on the reception desk of her father's hotel.
"And a letter under the girl's nail?" asked Scully.
Audrey shook her head. "That wasn't announced at the meeting. They never released the information about the letters, which I know makes sense now, for such a definite signature. I know about it because Ronette heard Agent Cooper and Sheriff Truman – he was in charge before they promoted Deputy Hawk – talking about it in her hospital room. It's probably in the case files, wherever they've been hidden. I know they're somewhere." Mulder was watching her, his head to one side. He was a profiler, she reminded herself, he's reading you. Keep a lid on the anger, Audrey.
She met Agent Scully's eyes. "The case is still open, technically. They interviewed a few suspects, but they never made an arrest that stuck. They just stopped investigating."
"Something happened, though." Mulder let his chair fall back onto four legs with a clunk.
"What do you mean?" Audrey's first reaction was defensive. She forced her shoulders down, took a deep breath. You want this, remember? Outside opinions will see the things you've overlooked.
"Something happened when they dropped the case, something that makes your skin crawl. I mean, I'm only hearing it second-hand and my skin is crawling. Something happened, something that makes your mind rebel against the facts. Listen to yourself." Mulder affected her posture. "You said 'The case is still open, technically.' That implies to me that you actually think it's closed."
Audrey put the clipping down carefully. She had been so focused on Agent Cooper's disappearance that the murder he was investigating had shamefully fallen back in priority. Agent Mulder was right: in her own mind, the case itself was not relevant. Why would she think that?
She remembered her father coming back from the sheriff's office, eyes hollow and face pale. "They arrested my father briefly for the crime and took him down to the station to interview him."
"And when he came back, things were different?" Mulder's face was intense as he eked details from her that she had forgotten, things she couldn't have understood at that age.
The memory was the same, but now the images were underscored with adult comprehension. Audrey could see the wrongness, the tension of the situation in a much clearer light. "There was an accident at the station while he was there. Laura's father – he was my father's lawyer – slipped on wet tiles in a cell and died. Fractured his skull. And that's when it seemed that the case was closed."
"Blunt force trauma to the head," said Mulder. "That's an odd coincidence, dying of the same wound that killed his daughter."
"Wait," said Scully. "Laura Palmer's father was representing yours, in the murder of his own daughter?"
"It didn't seem odd at the time," said Audrey. At eighteen, she had had only the barest grasp of what Leland Palmer did for her father's business.
"Something happened in that cell," said Mulder. "There was some unspoken agreement, an understanding that the murders were finished business." He pushed the slim folder towards her with the end of a pencil. "Your Agent Cooper covered something up that day."
Audrey snatched the folder up defensively. "He would never do that. Ever."
Mulder hunched in his chair. "Ugly cases contaminate everything they touch. You're probably not going to find answers without getting a little tarnish on that teenage crush you're fostering."
"Is there anyone else we could talk to about the case?" asked Scully. "How about your father, since he was there on the day that Laura's father died?"
Audrey was glad of the distraction, but this new line of questioning brought with it a different set of complications. "Well…"
Mulder smirked. Suddenly Audrey knew what he must have found, tapping into the computer with the screen turned away. She squared her shoulders and stared Mulder down. "We can't talk to my father: he's on the run. Major tax crimes. The last I heard, he was living in Belize." This battle, at least, she fought and won regularly. "That isn't a state secret, by the way. I'm in White Collar because all my recommendations came from agents who worked my father's case. I made sure my family was very co-operative. They let us hold onto a few assets so I could go to college and my disabled brother could stay in school. Is there any other dirty laundry you want me to air?"
Mulder didn't look away. "So, is he a murderer, too, your father?"
"My father is a lot of things: a philanderer, a thief, and frankly, a lousy parent," said Audrey. "But he's not a killer." It had taken time, but now she could remember without bitterness how her father's voice softened when Laura was mentioned, or the photo he kept on his desk. Her father's flaws lay in appetite, not in anger.
"So, someone with intimate knowledge of the crimes in Twin Peaks is repeating behaviour ten years later," said Scully.
"ViCAP has your new case listed as a suicide," said Audrey. "Is there even a crime here, beyond interfering with the body?"
"Yes, there is a crime, and the timing fits," said Mulder. "Ten years ago, not long after the murders in Twin Peaks, Hannah and two other children were sexually assaulted. The assailant is still at large."
"That's a good starting point," said Scully. "We need to go over the original cases – the murders in Twin Peaks and the Great Lakes assaults – and see what connections we can draw." She took the file from Audrey, and spread the papers across the desk.
Mulder's pencil clattered to the desktop, and Audrey jumped. Mulder picked up the newspaper clipping and examined it more closely. "Is this him? Your Agent Cooper?"
"Yes." Audrey looked at him with suspicion, expecting another accusation. "Why? Do you recognise him?"
"I don't know," said Mulder. He smoothed his hand over his hair, as if the skin was prickling at the back of his neck. "I think my subconscious is trying to tell me that I do."
"You're looking frazzled." These days, Denise Bryson wore her hair in a neat chignon, befitting, as she said, a woman of her seniority in the DEA.
"It's been a day," said Audrey, slipping into her seat. The ambience of the restaurant wrapped around her, a comforting blanket of low conversation and the muffled clink of heavy cutlery. She had grown up eating in a dining room like this. "I'm collaborating outside my department. That's new, for me."
Denise raised her eyebrows. "It can be a crapshoot. Depends on the other agents, really. You know your own abilities, but the other guy? He could be amazing, or he could be tying his shoes at exactly the wrong second. Who are the agents? Maybe I've heard something, good or bad."
"Oh, everyone's heard of these agents," said Audrey. "I mean, they have a reputation, but it doesn't really tell you anything about the way they work. One of them seems okay. I took a few of her classes at Quantico. The other one – Agent Mulder – I don't know about him. He puts on quite a show."
Denise smiled wistfully. "Ah, Fox. Pretty eyes. Huge ego to go with them, unfortunately." She frowned. "His field of expertise is kind of specialised, Audrey."
Audrey nudged her fork with one finger. This was dangerous territory. "Something turned up on a cold case."
Denise's eyes became wary. "Audrey," she said in a warning tone. So much for a nice, gossipy lunch.
"They came to me!" Audrey was indignant.
"You're not a kid any more, Audrey. I expect you to listen when I tell you to leave something alone. This is not high school, and meddling is going to put other agents in danger."
Audrey leaned back in her chair, angry now. "What is it? What am I bringing them into? I don't even know what happened!"
"It's done," said Denise. "It's over. I miss Coop as much as you – don't you dare suggest otherwise – but you need to leave this alone."
"It's not over," said Audrey. "There's someone out there who knows too much about Laura Palmer's murder." Probably. She crossed her fingers under the table: lying to Denise was a haphazard affair. They'd known each other so long that sometimes it seemed that Denise could only see the teenage girl she met in Twin Peaks.
Denise sat very still in her seat, eyes shocked and skin pale. "Are you sure? Audrey, this is important: are you absolutely sure about this?"
Audrey's stomach clenched. Denise was calm under fire, or she'd never have survived the snide remarks and active sabotage while climbing the ranks of the DEA. What could be so awful that it made Denise afraid?
She took a breath and straightened her back, as if delivering a report agent to agent. "We're not sure if the case is a suicide or murder, but there was a fragment of paper under the victim's fingernail. That's straight from Laura Palmer's case. Or Ronette's, or Teresa's or Maddie Ferguson's. That's the unifying MO."
Denise grabbed her purse and stood up. "Don't act on this information, Audrey. More importantly, keep the other agents out. Do not involve them. Do you understand me? You have a responsibility to keep them safe. Don't do anything until you hear from me or Sheriff Hawk." Without another word, she left.
Audrey watched her leave, listened to her heels clip down the stairs. "What happened to you, Dale?" She said the words out loud. Diners at other tables watched curiously as she, too, gathered her things and left.
Mulder cleared his desk with neat efficient movements, swift enough when he wanted to be. He piled papers into towering stacks on the shelves behind his chair. When he was satisfied with the open space in front of him, he took a breath, then opened the case file stamped with the letters BAU. Scully watched as he arranged a series of photos on the desk.
"Three victims?" Scully touched a finger to Hannah Nedro's face, which looked out from the glossy square with a wary expression. One eye was blackened and swollen. Dried blood still crusted on bruised lips.
Mulder nodded, and placed a photocopied newspaper article next to the photo. In it, Hannah Nedro was younger, tomboyish in frame. She stood with awkward posture next to her mother, one hand clutching a medal on a red ribbon. "Local Girl Saves School!" proclaimed the headline.
Audrey pushed open the door, and Mulder scowled at her. "They have long lunches in White Collar."
Audrey's face was pale but calm. "You don't catch embezzlers by queuing at the burger cart," she said, tranquilly. She leaned over the desk . "Nedro – that's the current victim, right?"
Mulder felt suddenly, irrationally protective. He shoved his hands in his pockets, for fear he'd slap Audrey's away from the photos. "Three victims, all mentioned in an X-File on childhood psychic manifestation."
He lay down the remaining clippings beside the relevant photos. "When she was six, Katie Mansoor called the fire department to report a fire at her grandmother's nursing home, from her own home thirteen miles away. When police questioned her, she said she heard her grandmother calling out in fear." He tapped Hannah's photo. "Based on a premonition, Hannah managed to convince her second grade teacher to evacuate the school an hour before a cloud of toxic gas enveloped the area. And at around the same age, Christian Wiles," – he pointed out the photo of a tow-headed adolescent – "led a search party through dense scrub to a previously unknown sink hole, where his brother had been trapped for two days. He claimed to have received visions of his brother's location." He watched Audrey's expression carefully, ready to retaliate against derision.
"The assaults happened a few months after the murders in Twin Peaks. Hannah was, what?" Audrey checked the dates. "Thirteen. Christian was fourteen. Is this psychic thing part of the victimology?"
Mulder slumped down in his chair and took a deep breath. What was it about this case that raised his hackles, made him want growl and snap at anyone who came close to these kids? Agent Horne was doing her job, and he should be grateful for the extra information she brought to the case. Instead, he wanted to send her back to White Collar. This wasn't like him. He wasn't one to shy away from nameless dread.
Scully broke the awkward silence. "Whether or not psychic ability can be proven, it's clear that these childhood events made Hannah, Christian and Katie more attractive to the suspect." Mulder poked her in the hip where Audrey couldn't see. Faced with a junior agent, she became Doctor Scully, lecturer.
Audrey traced a fingernail down the clipping next to Hannah's photo. "Laura used to have these, I don't know, she called them fevers. She'd get all glassy and sweaty, then say the weirdest things. Once in seventh grade, she screamed, right in the middle of geography class. She kept saying there was blood spraying from her arm. It turned out, right at that time, over at the Packard Mill, Walter Hoenigs cut off his right hand with a band-saw." She looked at them both defensively. "Okay, I know that sounds like a ghost story kids tell each other over campfires – and I'm not going to lie, we did tell it to each other like a ghost story – but in Twin Peaks, everything ran by the clock at the mill. The times were verifiable." She heaved a sigh. "Later, she got into cocaine. A lot. The weird stuff didn't happen as much after that."
Mulder took the photo of Laura Palmer from Audrey's file and nudged it into position next to the other three victims. "That makes four." He took in the row of faces. The elation that came from processing new data pushed the anxiety far back in his mind.
"We don't know that she was one of the assault victims," said Scully. "She's older than these kids."
"Maybe she was an earlier victim? Everyone starts somewhere, right?" said Audrey. "Most rapes go unreported, and that's even more likely in a small town. And it wasn't a big secret that Laura was leading a dangerous life towards the end. Drugs, sex," – she hesitated for a moment – "Prostitution. Doesn't a rapist move from low-risk victims such as Laura to high-risk victims? And these kids are well-protected, they're the definition of high-risk." She paused. "I mean, that's what they teach us in criminology."
Scully picked up Katie's photo and reached for the phone. "I don't think it's unreasonable to get in touch with the surviving victims, and check they're safe. Whether or not Hannah was murdered, she has been in proximity to someone dangerous. Maybe the other victims have seen something that can help us protect them."
While Scully spoke on the phone to Katie's parents, Audrey read through the rest of the case reports.
Mulder watched her fingers track the files that described horrible acts. "You haven't worked much violent crime yet."
Audrey shook her head.
"You okay with it?" Everyone in law enforcement had a version of this speech. Mulder's was brief and realistic: it doesn't get easier but you get better at coping.
"I will be." Audrey touched the photos once as if to remind herself that they were real. "Are you?"
"What do you mean?"
Audrey tapped a finger against the clipping from the Twin Peaks Gazette. "Dale's photo spooked you out." She blushed when she realised what she had said. "I didn't meant it like that."
Mulder grinned. "Spooky isn't easily spooked." He let his gaze slide along the yellowed newspaper, and felt his heartbeat rocket. "There's something about his face. I think I've seen it before. Not being able to remember, that's what's putting me on edge."
Audrey leaned forward with sudden eagerness. "You think you met him?"
"Maybe," said Mulder. "I don't know when." In the photo, Agent Cooper appeared calm and assured. He was probably the kind of man who instantly engendered trust, but Mulder did not trust that face.
Recognition came with a satisfying click, and he scrabbled amongst the files on his desk for the suspect sketches.
"The problem with this assault case was two wildly different descriptions of the assailant," he said as he flicked through pages. He pulled out a drawing; a dark haired man gazed calmly out of the page. His hair was neatly parted, and there a gentle smile across his lips.
Audrey shifted uncomfortably in front of him.
"Have you ever considered that your Agent Cooper might be the suspect we're looking for?"
Audrey's eyes flicked to the photos on the desk, bruised faces and wary, shocked expressions. "No. Dale Cooper could never, never do that."
"He was missing at the time of the attacks," Mulder said softly. He tapped the sketch. There's distinct similarity here."
Audrey shook her head. "No, there isn't. I knew him. He would die before he hurt someone."
"But you don't know for sure." Mulder watched her long-held certainty waver, held against her training in criminology.
Audrey picked up the sketch and studied it coolly. "You said there were two suspects."
"There were," said Mulder. "The adults reported a dark haired man in the area at the time: well-presented, clean, nothing suspicious. The kids saw an older man with straggling grey hair, unwashed with dirty clothes, smelling of motor oil."
He reached inside the file to grab the second sketch. Audrey flipped open her own file on the Twin Peaks murders. The sketches they drew out were almost identical. On the pages, the man snarled through long, lanky grey hair. The teeth were terrifying: flat, square and prominent. It was a face from nightmares.
Mulder quelled a wave of sudden nausea at the sight of that face. "How did you know they'd be so similar?"
"I didn't." Audrey's voice was quiet. "It just felt right, somehow."
Scully put down the phone. "Katie Mansoor is part of a study abroad program and she's living in the UK. If she's in any danger, it's outside our jurisdiction."
Mulder nudged the photo of Christian Wiles in her direction. She shook her head. "His parents were… cagey. They say he's living on campus and that we don't need to interfere in his life anymore."
Mulder remembered a crisply conservative man and his wife, deeply shocked by what had happened to their son. "I guess I can see it from their point of view."
"I'll follow it up with campus security," said Scully. "He's no longer a minor, and his parents have no legal way to prevent us from checking on him."
"He was always, you know, a little bit spooky." The girl tried to blot her eyes without smearing more of her make-up, but her fingers came away silver and black. She wrapped her hands around the steaming paper cup of coffee. "But I never thought he would do anything like this."
The darkness was thinning by the time the cops got everyone rounded up for statements. The paramedics, with nothing better to do, circulated blankets and coffee for the shocked teenagers. The organisers of the rave rolled up their banners and stacked their sound equipment, slowly stripping the warehouse of neon bunting and inflatable rabbits. Nobody looked towards the tractor-trailer hairpinned over three lanes of traffic, nor the bright orange tarpaulin on the asphalt.
The officer nodded sympathetically as he noted down the details and tried not to think of his own daughter going to one of these things. "Do you know if he was using anything before he…" He gestured tactfully towards the highway where the paramedics were packing their bags.
The girl blinked away tears. "I didn't see him take anything tonight. I mean, he wasn't a choir boy or anything, but tonight he seemed fine, you know? He was having a good time then suddenly he screamed and ran onto the highway." She shrugged the blanket higher on her shoulders, huddled into it with her back to the road.
"Did he say anything before he ran? Anything at all, even if it doesn't seem significant."
"It's weird." The girl's voice trailed away as she thought. "He was yelling about this guy – how this guy would never leave him alone. But nobody had been bothering him, you know? We watch out for him. It had just been us, all night."
The officer leaned forward. "Did you catch the name of this guy?" He didn't know how long exactly he'd been taking statements, but the cold was seeping through the soles of his shoes. His stomach was gnawing over the stale sandwich he'd crammed down in the station. He blamed the early hours and the length of his shift for the way things were slowing down around him, like a replay on ESPN. He blinked and it took an hour. When he could see again, the girl's mouth was round and open, wrapped around one syllable of a name.
"BOB," she said, in a long drawl that reminded him of a super 8 film track slowing down. "He said the guy was called BOB."
Audrey woke with aching shoulders to a grey dawn. A bruise bloomed behind her ear where Johnny's hand had accidentally clipped her, mid-nightmare. She had slept in an awkward sprawl between Johnny's bed and the dresser, ready to reach for him if he awoke with fright. It had been a bad night, one of the worst since they had left Twin Peaks. Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she fumbled for it, hands stupid with sleep. She read the brief message from Agent Scully: flight details and terminal numbers. She groaned silently. DC to Chicago was barely long enough for a nap.
The nursing staff at Johnny's sheltered living apartments had phoned her just before midnight, when it was clear that Johnny was having a bad episode. She'd sat with him all night, calling him out of nightmares through which he searched endlessly for Laura. Eventually, Kwame, the on-duty carer, had given her a blanket and pillow. Once Johnny finally settled, closing his eyes with exhaustion, she had propped herself in the corner and dozed.
Now Johnny lay on his side, watching her. His face was haggard, and there was a bristling of hair over his chin. Kwame hadn't dared suggest shaving last night.
"How long have you been watching me?" Audrey was wracked, and the idea of putting on her suit and professional persona made her wince.
"A long, long time." Johnny's voice was hoarse from shouting Laura's name.
Audrey punched her pillow into better shape and slipped it back behind her head. "Well, stop watching and get some sleep. You have a job now. I have a job, too. We're both going to fall asleep at work tomorrow." She curled her arms around her knees. He was picking this tension up from her, she was sure of it. She shouldn't have come.
"Don't go." Johnny hunched under his coverlet, watching her with hollow eyes.
Audrey rested her head on her knees. "I have to, Johnny. You do, too." She looked at him again, desolate and exhausted, fighting hard to keep his eyes open. She propped herself on her knees to hug him through the blankets. "Get some sleep, Johnny. I'll try to come around tonight. You want me to bring pizza?"
Johnny gave a low moan and curled under the blankets, too worn out to fight anymore. Audrey pulled the curtains open a crack before she left, and watery sunlight spilled into the room.
The security guard at the morgue asked them to take a seat while he called in the badge numbers with the Bureau. Dana and Mulder looked at each other, and Mulder shrugged.
"What?" said Audrey.
Mulder pointed to the extra guards by the sliding door. "We've worked a few cases out of Cook County, and that's an unusual level of security."
"They don't usually call the badge numbers in, either, not with all the agencies they deal with." Dana tapped her fingers on the arm of her chair, then stood up.
She walked to the desk and caught the receptionist's attention. "Has something happened here? Forgive me, but everyone seems on edge."
The man covered the phone with one hand and leaned in, conspiratorially. Dana smiled; she had yet to meet a morgue employee who didn't gossip. "Some jackass let a guy in to see a body, took him all the way to the viewing suites without verifying next of kin status. There was a fracas. It's a real mess up there, I'm telling you."
Dana took the phone from the man's hand before he went back to his call. "Was it Christian Wiles' body?"
Mulder and Audrey joined Dana, and the three of them loomed over the desk. The receptionist suddenly became cagey.
Dana gently hung up the phone. "We need to see Christian Wiles right now."
A security guard showed them up to the third floor. The window to the viewing suite was broken, and a janitor swept fragments of broken glass into a pile. The guard shooed him away, and gingerly stepped into the room.
"You left the room unattended?" Dana raised her eyebrows. The body lay on the table, arms and legs akimbo. The incongruous vase of flowers supposed to put the family at ease had been smashed, and plastic irises were strewn over the floor.
The guard shrugged sheepishly. "It's been a busy night. We booted the creeper out. I just wanted the place cleaned up before the kid's real family shows up."
"This is a crime scene," said Dana. "I want crime scene protocol in place right now. Once we've relocated the body, I want technicians to process for fibres and prints. Mulder, you take Agent Horne to the monitoring room, find an image of the intruder. I'm going to get the autopsy underway." Christian's parents wouldn't be far away, and Dana wasn't sure what access they'd grant once they were here.
Mulder nodded and waited for the security guard to point him in the right direction, then took off with a swirl of coat. Audrey glanced back over her shoulder as she followed, and Dana gave her a quick nod of encouragement. This wasn't high school, and she didn't have time to babysit.
The monitor room smelled of corn chips and sweaty feet; it brought back uncomfortable memories of secret places at school where students were forbidden to linger. Audrey perched on the edge of the office chair and tried not to think of sweaty buttocks while she scrolled through security footage. Behind her, Mulder flipped through the sign-in log.
"He checks in at 5:28am, ten minutes after the body arrives. Puts his name down as Mike." Mulder turned the logbook left and right, peering at the scrawl on the page. "Can't read the surname."
"Okay. Let's have a look at Mike." Audrey zipped the scroll bar forward to the right time, and selected the camera over the front door.
The figure waiting at the front desk was hunched into an oversized blue puffer jacket, with a baseball cap pulled low.
"That could be anyone," said Audrey. "That could be Elvis, for all we know."
Mulder shook his head. "Too short to be Elvis."
Audrey was not completely sure that Mulder was joking. "Are you sure? If we cross Elvis off the suspect list, we have to cross Cooper off too."
"So, it isn't Cooper?" Mulder's question was direct, and Audrey winced. It was right to ask, but she was still processing the possibility that things for Dale had gone so horribly wrong. Her first impulse, reflexively, was to say no. Height aside, Dale Cooper's silhouette was not so stocky, and his shoulders would never stoop in defeat like this man.
"I can't tell. I don't know if I'm being blindly optimistic, or if I genuinely don't recognise him. You're right. I'm too close to be objective. I should leave this up to you."
"Are you prepared to say that it's him, when you've got no other recourse?" Mulder pulled up a chair so he could watch the screen with her.
Audrey nodded slowly. "I think that's what he'd want me to do. The man that I knew ten years ago, anyway."
"Okay," said Mulder. "I trust you. People are going to tell you that it's wrong to work personal cases. To bring down evil – true evil – you need that claw digging in your heart. You can make bigger leaps when you've got something to lose. And you've got a lot to lose, so I trust you."
"That is definitely the kind of advice that can get me my own basement office, isn't it?"
Mulder laughed. "Yeah. That's how you do it."
Audrey scrolled through footage. Was it Dale? The puffy jacket and thick scarf made the figure stocky, and she imagined Dale lean and wiry with age. She followed the man from camera to camera, and not one managed to catch his face. He took the stairs rather than the elevator, slipped under cameras in corridors; the way he avoided being caught on tape was uncanny. That skill with strategy was something she could definitely attribute to Dale.
Mulder was watching her instead of the screen. She caught him out of the corner of her eye as she scrolled. "What?"
Mulder shifted in his chair. "Did you have weird dreams last night?"
"I didn't have time to dream," said Audrey. She turned in her seat. He was as haggard as she felt, with cowlicked hair and tired, sunken eyes. "Do you mean portentous stuff? Omens and so on?
Sorry, I was about the most un-psychic person in Twin Peaks. When I was twelve, I told everyone I could bend spoons with my mind, but I was faking it." Housekeeping had been cross, but Johnny had laughed in delight and asked her to do it again and again.
Mulder shrugged. "I think I'm working the problem over in my sleep. Letting the subconscious process the data. It's getting kind of exhausting, actually."
Audrey sat back in her chair, glad to be distracted from the identification process. "Well, maybe it's time to bring it into your conscious mind and carry on the processing. What did you dream? Let's see what an outside perspective makes of it."
"I was at a baseball game," said Mulder. "At Wrigley Field, which requires no stretch of the imagination, since we'd been talking about Chicago in the office. The whole stadium was silent – I mean, I could hear traffic, birds – but nobody spoke. It was bright and sunny, and none of us moved. And that's it, more or less." He watched his hands, folding them carefully one over the other. "It's just that around the time I was dreaming this, Christian Wiles was dying on a highway."
"Maybe you picked something up from Agent Scully, and her conversation with Christian's parents? Something that told you Christian was in danger. The same way animals read detailed body language, and we mistake it for genuine communication."
Mulder snorted. "So I'm Hans the Counting Horse now? Could be worse." The idea seemed to please him, though.
Audrey was beginning to understand Scully's position with the X-Files. She provided a buffer for those huge intuitive leaps, and she backed Mulder up with rational explanations. What Mulder did was costly, in terms of emotional currency. He was spooky, but he wasn't blithe about it, either.
It felt right to pay back the intimacy he had shared with her. "Laura was my half-sister. It didn't come out until after she was killed that my dad had an affair with her mother, but I think I always knew. The way my father treated her, the way she was with my brother. There was always a connection."
"Really?" Mulder looked at her. "You know, that does make sense." He ruffled his hair and flicked the video footage back on. "But don't tell Scully. She's a stickler for the personal involvement thing. If she finds out you're the sister of a victim, she'll put you on a plane home."
"Okay." The promise hung between them, a connection. Audrey focused on the footage with a strengthened determination. This was a way to help Laura, as well as Dale. She could do this.
The man appeared at the top of the stairs just outside the viewing suite. He was met by an woman in a white coat, and they both stood at the window. Audrey saw a light coming from behind the glass. The man's shoulders sunk at whatever he saw in that small room, the woman nodded to whoever was inside, and the light went off. She spoke to the man using sympathetic gestures, and he bowed his head further, apparently affected by grief. When she put a soothing hand on his shoulder, though, the peak of the cap inclined sharply to look at it, like a hawk narrows focus on prey. The movement was vicious, and Audrey automatically took her hands off the keyboard to protect them.
The woman must have sensed something in the man's posture, because she stepped back and instead spoke to him with wide spread hands.
Mulder leaned closer. "They're arguing about something."
The man lunged for the woman, and shoved her hard into the wall. Dazed, she slid to the floor, hands fumbling. The viewing room door flew open, and an orderly in scrubs shot out to help her. His face was pale and his mouth open. He left the door ajar. The man in the baseball cap was inside in a moment, slamming the door closed behind him.
"God, is there a camera in there?" Audrey flicked through the menu until she found a view from above the door. Inside, the man tore the room to pieces. He pulled at the blinds, flung the vase of flowers against the wall, and beat a chair against the glass until it shattered. The light, a hooded shade, swung crazily from side to side. The man flung himself onto the table while the light jerked and bounced on its cable. In the flickering strobe of the dancing light, it was another figure crouched over Christian's body like a hyena – lean, corded and cruel, with long grey hair spilling down over a denim jacket. The stranger arched his back, howling. Then as if he knew he was being watched, he looked over his shoulder and leered horribly into the lens. In the next frame of light, the grey haired man was gone, and only the figure in the baseball cap remained. He slumped over the boy's body, as if exhausted.
"That's the man from our sketches," said Audrey. "He hasn't changed much in ten years. I wonder how he got into the room. Maybe he was there already."
Mulder didn't answer, and she turned. His face was grey, his eyes fixed on the screen.
"Are you okay?" Worried, she touched his arm, and he jumped as if he been burned. His breathing was short and shallow, his forehead damp.
"He looked at me," said Mulder. "Right out of the screen."
"It was an 'R', clipped from the Tribune." Dana stood outside the autopsy suite in her scrubs. Her feet and back ached. There was a certain level of exhaustion that came from working with a body as badly hurt as Christian's. "Otherwise, there's nothing suspicious about this death. It was an accident or it was self-inflicted, but the cause of death was multiple traumatic injuries resulting from a high-impact collision." She handed the sample bag to Mulder. "It was inserted post-mortem, less than two hours ago." She rubbed her forehead; she could still feel the imprint of the safety glasses. "What did you get from the security cameras?"
"The suspect is on camera, but he keeps his face out of view," said Mulder. "He signs in under the name 'Mike', with an illegible surname. We never really get a good look at him. I think he's white. That's about it."
"He had an accomplice." Audrey, on the other hand, was bursting with information. "Whoever Mike is, he's working with one of the suspects in the assault case, the same guy from the Twin Peaks murders." She held up a print from the video, and Mulder turned his head aside sharply. "I think he was waiting in the room."
Mulder blanched. "I think it's a manifestation. A ghoul of some kind, or a fetch." Dana watched him; he didn't look directly at the image as he spoke. "There no way he could have been in the room without someone noticing. There are many spirit forms attracted to places of death or violence, this place is probably crawling with paranormal hot spots."
Audrey pointed at the photo. "A spirit in a denim jacket, that's very contemporary."
"Could you be a little less pleased with yourself?" Mulder couldn't stand still. He twitched at his coat, ruffled his hair with a hand. "It's not your precious Dale Cooper, we get it."
"Hey!" said Audrey, offended. "I'm just glad we have some solid leads that tie our two cases together."
"Can we step back for a moment, and remember that someone died this morning?" said Dana. "I've spent the last couple of hours piecing together a college student who should be at home nursing a hangover. Are we any closer to determining why he had to die?"
Audrey and Mulder both had the grace to look abashed.
A hand fell on Dana's shoulder and she jumped. It was a tall man, thin and haggard looking. Behind him, a woman in a pale green twinset pressed a handkerchief to her swollen eyes.
"Excuse me, I was pointed to this room. They say..." The man's voice thickened. "They brought my son here."
Dana nodded, and drew the man aside. She checked the visitor's pass clipped to the man's pocket. "Mr Wiles, Mrs Wiles. I'm very sorry for your loss."
Mulder reached out a hand. "Mr Wiles, I don't know if you remember me. I'm one of the agents who worked on your son's case nine years ago. Fox Mulder."
Mrs Wiles crumpled inwards, choking back a sob. Audrey took her by the elbow. "There are some seats over here, why don't we sit down? I can't imagine how hard this must be for you both. Let's take it slowly."
Mr Wiles straightened his back. "We don't... we don't often think about that time."
"No, of course not, and I'm sorry, but this is extremely important." Mulder's voice was soft and soothing. Dana knew this voice: this was his voice for ruthless decisions, the one he used when the truth outweighed compassion. Before she could say anything in warning, he reached into his pocket and drew out a yellowed newspaper clipping. "I remember that there was some confusion with the sketch artist at the time, but I have this photo..."
Audrey's head lifted from where she sat with Mrs Wiles but she was too slow. Mulder held the clipping out for the man, and Dana recognised the photo of Dale Cooper at a town hall meeting ten years ago.
"Do you recognise this man, Mr Wiles?" Mulder's voice was solicitous. Dana fumed silently, because this had less to do with who had assaulted Christian Wiles, and more to do with proving Agent Horne wrong. Saying anything, at this point, would only increase the distress for the Wiles family.
Mr Wiles' face turned pale, then a dark red. "Yes. That's the man who molested my son."
Audrey thanked years of hospitality training for the way her body took over. From a great distance, she easily followed Agent Scully's instructions. Neither of them paid any heed to Mulder's defiant protests that he was only working for the benefit of the victims. Absurdly, it was barely afternoon by the time Scully bundled them back to the airport.
In the car, Audrey rested her head on the glass and let the hum of the tires buzz against her temple. She knew better than to try to identify her response to what she had just learned about Dale, Like her brother, she retreated from vast emotional shocks. That smooth protective wall inside her mind gave her some breathing space and a chance to process. In the quiet of the back seat, she sorted through the mess of reactions.
She trusted her instincts – she'd learned that they were good instincts during that terrible year in Twin Peaks – and her instincts rebelled horribly against the suggestion that Dale had raped three children. Personally, she felt disappointment and fear that Dale could ever be violent towards a child, but there was also a fundamental wrongness to the idea. The disjointed feeling of it was familiar, like a crack in a familiar sidewalk. It was the look on her father's face when he held that photo of Laura he kept on his desk. It was the panicked note in Johnny's voice when Audrey was four and he led her into the forest to hide. It was the furious gleam in Margaret Lanterman's eyes as she cradled her log and made declamations in the Double R Diner. That sense of dislocation from reality, and the harm that came from it, these were the real reasons she had followed in Cooper's footsteps and joined the Bureau.
Three weeks after Dale disappeared, ten years ago, Audrey received an envelope with her name and address scrawled on it in frantic capitals. Inside was a gold ring, the surface nicked and scratched from wear down the generations. It was a message from Dale to her, and though she didn't understand the details, she knew it was important. It was the best message he could send from wherever he had gone, and he had chosen to send it to her.
She was used to deciphering people: often around her, people said one thing and meant another. When the Sheriff's Department was done analysing the ring, she strung it on a chain and wore it around her neck. She would understand the message one day. Until then, it was a constant reminder to trust herself, and the instincts in which Dale Cooper had placed his faith.
Agent Mulder expected her to crumple now that her ideals had been betrayed. Instead, she felt tempered by this new truth. Dale Cooper was hurting children. Dale Cooper needed her to make him stop.
She shifted herself upright in the back seat of the car, felt the ring slide heavy against her skin. With her hands folded in her lap, she waited patiently for the next discovery. When things started moving fast, she would be ready.
Dale dreamt, despite the medication; when it wanted, his mind evaded chemical suppression too easily. As the dream rolled in, he searched for his centre and tried not to become tense. Lucid dreaming had once been a favourite investigative tool. These days it locked away the retreat of the dreamscape. Sometimes, he thought, it would be nice not to be aware.
Lately, the dreams were not necessarily an ordeal. Nonetheless, he felt a plunge of dread, for the dream was sweeping into Chicago. The Chicago dreams were some of the worst. This time, though, it wasn't the criss-crossing girders of that place under the bridge where fires in drums threw shadows over graffiti. Instead, it was the geometric green of Wrigley Field.
Every seat in the arena was filled, a kaleidoscope of colour that shifted in waves. Dale walked over the striped velvet turf, the blades bending softly under his shoes. It was too quiet here. Not silent, not the ringing absence of sound. Dale could hear the rustle of people moving in the seats, and the mewing cry of the gulls that wheeled over the arena. Nobody spoke: no cheers, no cat calls. The spectators and he, they waited together.
Dale remembered vigils such as this, standing with others caught between breaths, while evil was done upon the world. There were no symbols here, though, and no attendant spirits from other planes. He turned, searching for familiar faces, and his shadow stretched narrow and long over the grass.
He woke full of knots, his heart racing. Beside him, Albert slept undisturbed, though he frowned as he slept, as if sleep had disappointed him. Dale took a breath, and another, working his way through an affirmation for calmness. When his heartbeat had settled enough that it wouldn't wake Albert, he pressed his body to Albert's back and slipped an arm over his chest. Sleep was returning, and this time it had the sweet, heavy promise of chemical oblivion. In the morning, he'd talk to Albert. For now, he was safe.
Albert let him sleep too long. Dale woke to sunlight on the counterpane and the sound of water running in the bathroom. The meds left his mind sandy, and he drifted in and out of sleep until the chirrup of Albert's phone called him all the way into wakefulness. He watched the slim black tablet shiver across the dresser. Finally, as it fell, he put out his hand to catch it.
"Did I hear my phone?" Albert appeared in the doorway, wrapped in a towel. He walked around the bed to stand beside him. "You want to answer that?" He affected sarcasm, but it was not an ironic question. Telephones were a source of anxiety and compulsion, and Dale did not often volunteer to use them.
The phone rang on. Albert had it set to ring for long enough to put down his scalpel, strip off his gloves and blast the caller for interrupting his work. Dale looked at the woman's face on the display. "It's Denise." He was seeing the day in bright, clear colours now, fuelled by adrenaline and dread.
Albert sat down beside Dale, close enough that Dale could breathe steam and soap on his skin. "Well, one of us had better take it. She's just going to keep on calling."
Make a decision, Dale told himself. Don't force yourself to waste energy on things that don't matter. He passed the phone across, then dragged his legs out from under the counterpane. While Albert spoke curtly to Denise, he pressed his lips to Albert's damp shoulder, then vanished into the bathroom. Enclosed by glass walls, with scalding water pounding his back, he couldn't hear the conversation going on in the bedroom. If he needed to know, Albert would tell him. That's what a partnership was about.
Dale was dressed and working in the kitchen by the time Albert emerged with shirt unbuttoned and a tie over his arm. The day was already warm, so Dale had the pastry board chilling in the refrigerator while he cut shortening into flour.
"There's been an incident in Chicago. Bryson's going to look into it, talk to the investigating agents. She'll get back to me later; she won't call here again. I might, though, so try to pick up the phone if it rings." Albert flicked through the mail, stuffed a couple of bills into his briefcase and closed it with a sharp snap.
Dale ran a mental inventory as he worked the flour. It was too warm for chocolate. Fruit needs sugar, lemon. He had enough cream, eggs, butter. Follow the recipe. Step by step.
Albert watched him work while he threaded the tie through his collar and formed a knot with a surgeon's precision. "What's on the menu?"
Dale nodded towards the pile of pie dishes, buttered and waiting for layers of pastry. Words were far away now, chased by that bright flash of fear. The afterimage still burned inside his head.
Albert wrapped an arm around Dale's waist and gave him a squeeze, then stepped away before he collected a dusting of flour. "Let me talk to Denise before we go to Threat Level: Pie. It's probably nothing."
Dale took a deep breath, and concentrated on the texture of the flour. Breadcrumbs. Everyone was looking for breadcrumbs.
Back in the office the next morning, Mulder was still jumpy and snappish. Agent Horne was somewhere deep in the building, catching up on her official assignments. Dana put a cup of coffee on Mulder's desk.
When it sat, ignored, she tapped his hand. "Mulder? How are you doing?"
Mulder started, and looked at her in surprise. "I'm fine. Why?"
"This case has been under your skin since Soap Lake," said Dana. "I know you feel a connection to Hannah's death. I know we've got two bodies and very little evidence. Should we be pursuing this case at all?" I need you to have my back, if we go out in the field with a junior agent.
"I don't know, Scully. Do you ever get the feeling that there's something crawling all over your skin? Or someone watching you all the damn time?"
"In this job?" Dana raised her eyebrows. "Are you kidding me?"
Mulder shook his head, frustrated. "No, this is different. There's something really wrong at the bottom of this case. I think I've had some kind of contact with this Agent Cooper. A long time ago. My mind keeps replaying this moment when we passed in a corridor. I don't remember it, not consciously." He tapped his temple. "But it's in here. Scully, I dreamed about him. More than once."
Dana frowned. This wasn't the first time Mulder had rummaged inside his own mind for something not scientifically plausible. "What do you mean? Are you talking about flashbacks? Repressed memories?"
Mulder leaned forward, speaking low and fast. "No, I think the original contact was so incidental that it never made it to long term memory. But it's there, Scully, in the part of your mind that notes detail. The part that remembers the licence plate or the colour of a car. If Dale Cooper really did walk past me in a corridor, then that part of my mind saw something very wrong that day. I think it's trying to tell me about it, in dreams or in emotional response to stimuli. Maybe we're in danger. Maybe there's something I can do to prevent another death. My mind is re-prioritising that memory, trying to bring it to the forefront."
He looked across to the door, as if expecting Audrey to appear. "I didn't tell Agent Horne, but I dreamed about Cooper the night Christian Wiles was killed. In Wrigley Field. Standing right there in the middle of the stadium. Only he was different, somehow. This time, I didn't have the feeling he was going to…"
"Going to what? Hurt you? Hurt someone else?"
Mulder squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. "Consume me. I don't have any other way to describe it. Whatever I saw, that day in the corridor, the primeval part of my brain reacted, as it would to a predator. The night Christian Wiles was killed, it wasn't like that. This dream I had – it was calm, it was expectant. And I think he was trying to tell me something."
Dana shook her head. "Mulder, that's bizarre, even for you."
Mulder shrugged. "I can't explain it. But I feel better for talking about it, I have to say." He pushed his coffee with one finger. "Secrets thrive on darkness. Bad things bloom in the darkness, Scully. And this case? This case is full of secrets."
The phone trilled to life, and they both jumped in their seats. Mulder reached for the receiver, but Dana snatched it up first. "Scully."
"Agent Scully, this is SAC Denise Bryson with the DEA." The woman's voice was low and modulated. "I understand you're trying to contact Dale Cooper." There was a brief pause, and Dana was sure she could hear a smile in the woman's voice. "Agent Horne will probably be bursting through your door any second now."
The door flung open, bounced hard against the trash can and nearly clipped Audrey on the forehead. She was panting, and her face was rosy pink with exertion and triumph. She put both hands on the desk, and leaned in. "Agent Bryson is going to put us in touch with Dale."
The apartment was small, but sometimes there were too many doors. Dale carefully watched the saucepan of bubbling syrup, but even so, he couldn't stop himself seeing flashes of movement from the corner of his eye. He took a deep breath, counted, released it, then turned down the heat. The syrup could wait.
One by one, he checked each room, closing and locking each door behind him, even though it would soon be too hot in the apartment with the ovens roaring. He knew there was nobody in the apartment but him, just as he knew that he was closing the doors to settle an hallucination. It had taken a long time to understand and accept that this small act was not indulging a fantasy but a way to maintain functionality. And that small compromise was okay.
When he got back to the stove, the syrup had caramelised beyond the usage point and he felt a brief, intense flash of fury. He stepped away to the centre of the room and let his arms hang by his sides, breathing slowly before he spoke.
"I forgive myself completely and unconditionally. I am worthy of forgiveness, and I give it freely to myself and all others." He paused, mid-affirmation, head tilted. Something was wrong. There was an incandescence in the air, a vivid, palpable anticipation cresting. His hand was on the phone before it started to ring.
"It's me," said Albert. "I'm coming home, we need to talk."
Dale nodded, though he knew Albert couldn't see it. "I'll be waiting."
Dana waved her hand for silence, so she could hear Agent Bryson continue. "I have a location for Special Agent Cooper, but I need you to understand that the case you're working on puts him at a particular risk. Meeting with him is conditional."
Dana raised her eyebrows, sceptical. "I wasn't aware that homicide was within the DEA's purview, ma'am. Nor that you could put conditions on our search for a suspect." She watched Audrey clasp her arms around herself. How did a junior agent know people like this?
"No need to be pert, Agent Scully." Bryson's voice was clipped now. "I know full well it's a stretch to call this case a homicide. What's more, I don't need jurisdiction. I can place one call to your Assistant Director, let him know what kind of wild goose chase you're on, and he'll ground you in an instant. However, this is too important to play interdepartmental games. Are you willing to accept my conditions?"
Mulder made insistent gestures at her. Dana ignored him. "That depends, ma'am. What kind of conditions are we talking about?"
Mulder reached out imperiously for the phone. "Give it to me. I know Denise, I'll talk her around."
Agent Bryson was not as impressed as Mulder would have liked. "Tell Agent Mulder he's dreaming. Now, all contact with Dale Cooper goes through Professor Albert Rosenfield, he's the head of Forensic Science at…"
"Boston University Medical, yes. I know his work." Dana was intrigued now. "So, I need to speak with him?"
"Professor Rosenfield has the final say on who gains access. I think, Agent Scully, that once you've heard what he has to say, you'll understand why we've kept Dale Cooper in hiding."
"Bryson got the pathology reports, and there's no doubt. A single letter inserted under the right index fingernail." Albert sat next to Dale on the sofa. The house was stifling, and the smell of scorched sugar pervaded every corner. It caught in Dale's throat, made him want to cough.
"Who?" Dale knew that Albert had the crime scene photos in his briefcase, just as he knew that Albert would refuse to show them to him. Those were rules they had agreed to long ago. Dale had promised not to seek weapons to use on himself.
"Nedro. And Wiles." Albert's face was grim, a set determination Dale hadn't seen for years.
"Soap Lake. Chicago." Soap Lake was slate-coloured lake water, metallic in his mouth. And Chicago was ash and petrochemicals, the wide-spaced eyes of a frightened boy. Dale's arms itched, the skin there creeping and calling out for attention. He folded his hands carefully, rested them on his knee.
"I don't want to put you through this," said Albert. "But I don't think we can deny what we're seeing here."
It hurt, worse than any harm he could inflict on himself, to see Albert girding for this battle again. Dale opened his mouth to apologise, then closed it again quickly, catching the words but not the cascade of self-destructive thought. The tearing sensation of a dissociative episode followed, and he watched his hands and feet moving. He felt the steel of the kitchen sink under his fingers, then the solid weight of Albert's body holding him still. Then, for a long time, he felt nothing.
"What's going to happen when we get there?" Audrey leaned across the aisle to speak quietly with Dana. Agent Mulder slumped in his window seat with a grim expression, watching DC drop away from them. Dana kept a worried eye on him. Since the call from Agent Bryson, he had slipped into a quiet gloom that would not budge.
Dana frowned and turned back to Audrey. "We'll complete the investigation. We still don't have a clear picture of what happened with Hannah Nedro and Christian Wiles. If Cooper gives us reason to believe it wasn't suicide, then we follow that lead and if necessary, make an arrest." She watched Audrey's face. Was this going to be a problem?
Audrey processed this. "What about the original assault case? What if he's responsible for that?"
"It depends on state law," said Dana. "And on what's already been investigated. What do you think we should do? Will you be able to maintain objectivity if we have to arrest him?"
Audrey nodded firmly. "If he did those things, and he doesn't want to pay for what he did, then he's not the person I remember. The Dale Cooper I remember would want me to follow this through."
It was perhaps a little too fervent, but it would do. This case was working everyone into knots. The best Dana could hope for were cool heads and a clear purpose.
Outside Professor Albert Rosenfield's office, a student rested his head on his knees, choking out great, raw sobs. It looked like he'd been there for a while. Audrey looked around the waiting room, but everyone ignored the man as if this was nothing unusual. She met Mulder's eyes and he shrugged, turning instead to the desk.
At the desk, Scully was quietly insistent. "It's urgent that we speak with Professor Rosenfield."
"I'm sorry, Professor Rosenfield is out of the office right now." The receptionist could have stepped out of any college office; an older woman with a mouth set like her hair, lacquered into rigidity.
Audrey liked the way that Scully looked at the phone, pointedly. She filed that expression away for later use.
The woman was unaffected. "Honey, if you were on fire, I wouldn't call his private line. I have my job to think of."
"That's fine," said Mulder. "We'll wait in his office." Ignoring the woman's protests, he sailed through the open door. Audrey followed as if she had been invited too, her eyes scanning for any trace of Agent Cooper.
Scully left the door ajar. "For all we know, Professor Rosenfield is bolting for the border right now."
"Nah," said Mulder. "Look at this set-up. He's far too comfortable to go on the run just because we want to ask a couple of questions." He rifled unapologetically through the papers on the desk.
Audrey turned a circle in the middle of the room. Professor Rosenfield's space was tidy for an academic, given the limited space. Qualifications lined the walls, and the shelves were densely packed with journals, reference books and folios.
Mulder picked up a book and flicked through it. "What do we know about this guy? Where does he stand, professionally?"
"I know he co-authored that book: Poly-Morphism in Blood Typing," said Scully. "He built a great program here, it brought BU to the forefront of criminal pathology. I've heard he's a bear in the lab, but he gets results. He used to be Bureau, he worked out of the Pittsburgh field office."
Mulder put the book back with a shudder. "The Pittsburgh field office is a freaky place, even by my standards."
Audrey looked at him, thoughtfully. "Dale was out of that office," she said. She took a flight there one spring break, in the early part of her quest to find Dale. "The Field Chief is Gordon Cole. He's quite the character.
She remembered Gordon Cole from his brief visit to Twin Peaks; a tall, kindly man with an old fashioned hearing aid in one pocket. In his own office, five years later, the avuncular manner fell away. "I HEAR YOU'RE JOINING THE BUREAU," he had said. "UNDERSTAND THIS, MISS HORNE: IF YOU WANT A CAREER OF ANY NOTE, YOU'LL FORGET YOU EVER MET DALE COOPER."
"I'm not surprised that your Cooper worked out of Pittsburgh. That makes three mysterious disappearances from that office." Mulder perched on the edge of the tidy desk. "One of them was the spitting image of David Bowie – how's that for an X-File?"
Audrey looked at him, uncertain. "None of the agents I remember looked like David Bowie."
Agent Scully picked up the book, and flicked to the cover sleeve with the authors' photos. She held it up for Audrey to see. "How about Professor Rosenfield?"
Audrey looked at the photo and barked out a laugh. "Him? Oh, I remember him. He was outstandingly rude. The kitchen staff used charge a dollar to spit in his food."
"Well, I hope they gave you a cut." The voice was acerbic, and it came from the open door. Professor Rosenfield's face was gaunt, his hair grizzled salt and pepper. He pointed a finger at Audrey, a short, stubby gesture full of anger. "Miss Horne. You've been nothing but trouble since they gave you a badge. You don't know how much danger you've put Coop in."
"It's Agent Horne," Audrey spat back with a defiant expression. "And if you didn't want me to dig around and cause trouble, you should have told me what was going on in the first place." She put her hands on her hips and stared back at him. She put on a good front, she knew she did. Underneath the veneer, though, she fought jubilation and despair – Coop, he said, as if he were familiar, as if he saw Dale every day – because how could she stop Dale?
Professor Rosenfield was taken aback by this outburst. He huffed out a breath and gave a curt nod. "Fair enough." He took a couple of small plastic trays from his desk, handed one to Scully, and tucked the other in his pocket. "Come with me." He picked up his briefcase and left the room.
The student sobbing by the doorway stood up, caught at his elbow. "Please, Professor Rosenfield, let me explain!"
Professor Rosenfield shook him off scornfully. "Did you rewrite it? No? I'm sorry you have the impression I would sign off on mediocre work. "He strode away and the student sunk back into his seat, heaving deep panicky breaths.
Mulder leaned over Scully's shoulder. "What is that?" Audrey leaned closer. It was the kind of thing you saw in stock photos of high-end laboratories, flat and white, punctuated with shallow divots in rows.
Scully turned it over in her hands. "It's an ELISA testing kit. It detects traces of complex biological material, and indicates it with a colour change – the same way a pregnancy test picks up hormone levels and turns blue."
"So, are we expecting a boy or a girl?" asked Mulder.
Agent Scully looked at the label. "Platanus occidentalis. A sycamore tree, apparently."
Professor Rosenfield led them to a lecture theatre. He bellowed at a couple necking in the front row and sent them scurrying for the door. He ran his hand over a bank of switches, and flooded the room with light. "Take a seat, make yourself comfortable."
Mulder turned immediately for the back row, padding silently up the stairs.
With his back to the auditorium, Rosenfield opened his briefcase with a snap. "The back row is for self-identified rebels, masturbators and grown men chasing their lost youth. By all means, Agent Mulder, take a seat back there."
"Are you always this amiable, Professor Rosenfield? Or are you feeling a little threatened by our presence?" Mulder stumped noisily down the stairs again, and slumped into a seat in the front row instead.
"By you? Agent Mulder, you're the last thing that I have to worry about right now."
Dana peered into the open briefcase. "Do you always carry a microcentrifuge with you, Professor?"
Rosenfield gave the closest thing to a smile that Dana had seen yet, a barely visible curve of the lips as he lifted the device from his case. "We learn to wield the weapons that suit us best, Doctor Scully."
Audrey stepped neatly over Mulder's outstretched legs and sat in the seat next to his. She crossed her legs and rested her hand on her knee with a deliberately attentive expression, as if waiting for the lecture to begin.
"Teacher's pet," Mulder hissed at her under his breath. Dana shook her head at him. They needed Rosenfield onside.
"Professor Rosenfield, do you know why we're looking for Dale Cooper?" She watched as Rosenfield laid out a packet of sterile latex gloves, a handful of foil-wrapped lancets and three plastic sample tubes.
"I don't think highly of what's coming out of Quantico these days, Doctor Scully, but you are responsible for some of the better work." He reached across the lectern with one long arm, and flipped on the slide projector. The lights in the auditorium dimmed slowly, like at the cinema. The first slide was the crime scene photograph of Hannah Nedro, sprawled across rocks at the bottom of the cliff-face. The next was Christian Wiles surrounded by the paraphernalia of resuscitation. "I do have some idea about your investigation, though."
For Dana, anger easily overwhelmed flattery. "Agent Bryson had no right to access those files, let alone share them with civilians."
"Well, I am a civilian now, that's fair. But I'm also advising you on your case, Agents, and I'm the only person qualified to do so. Your suicides are not suicides. Your victims were fleeing an assailant, someone who posed a threat that made jumping off a cliff or in front of a truck a rational decision." Rosenfield clicked the button, and the angelic face of a teenage prom queen flooded the room with soft light.
Audrey made a small noise of recognition.
"Laura Palmer made the same decision ten years ago: that it was far better to lose your life in violence than to succumb to the predations of this man." Rosenfield clicked the remote one more time. The face of the lean, grey-haired man from the autopsy suite sprung up on the screen, crouched over the body of Christian Wiles.
Dana glanced away from the screen, to find Rosenfield examining her face, carefully.
"That was a reaction test," said Dana. "You wanted to see how we would respond to that image."
"You, and your partner. I'm not so worried about Agent Horne. She lived near the creature for years and remained obliviously self-focused." Albert switched off the projector and the auditorium lights came up. "But Agent Mulder is a point of concern."
Audrey gasped, and Dana understood why. Mulder's eyes were wide, and a sheen of sweat glistened across his forehead. "What?" he gasped. "What are you staring at?"
"He's had contact," said Rosenfield. "And he's not going anywhere near Cooper. What's more –" he slipped his hands into the gloves with practiced ease " – nobody gets to see Cooper without a blood test."
Trust Audrey to go first, thought Mulder with a sullen curl of anxiety. He kept trying to place the panic growing inside him, but there was no context for it. He left his hands safely in his pockets. "I don't understand – if this is a paranormal event, how can there be a biological agent?"
"It's not hard to understand." Professor Rosenfield held Agent Horne's hand in his as he jabbed her fingertip with a lancet. A bead of ruby bloomed there, and he pressed her fingertip to the open mouth of a collection tube. "The biological trace is an artefact of interaction with BOB. "
Mulder shuddered at the way that Rosenfield – clearly as hard-nosed and grounded as most pathologists – dipped his voice when he said that name; Mulder knew instinctively that the name was BOB, not Bob.
Audrey watched her blood drip steadily into the clear plastic vial. "So, BOB is an inhabiting spirit? Something that you'd experience, like demonic possession?"
Scully watched from the side of the room, arms crossed. "I'm a little uncomfortable with 'demonic possession' as a defence for assault, Professor Rosenfield." Mulder wanted to cheer: he'd never been so glad to hear a sceptical response. If Scully didn't believe, there was a chance it wasn't true.
"It's an explanation, not a defence, Doctor Scully." Rosenfield dropped the lancet into a bright yellow sharps bin, and tore open another alcohol swab.
Scully took the swab and cleaned her fingertip, then opened a clean lancet and stabbed her own finger. "Did Dale Cooper assault Hannah Nedro, Christian Wiles and Katie Mansoor ten years ago?"
Professor Rosenfield held out a collection vial, and his expression was disconsolate. "Yes," he said, simply. The word fell heavy from his lips, weighted with history.
"And it's your assertion that he did so under the influence of a supernatural entity called Bob?"
He took her finger and pressed it to the vial, before the blood welling there could fall to the ground. "A supernatural entity that moves from body to body, Doctor Scully. When it chooses to wear a man like a kid runs a sack race, it leaves behind a biological trace, an oleo-resin common only to the American Sycamore. Take the kit I've given to you, and rush it to the Bureau labs. You'll find this oil in your victims, you'll find it in minute amounts in the letter pushed under their nails. And hopefully, we won't find it in you."
"Wait," said Audrey. "Dale Cooper really hurt those kids? Why didn't you stop him?" Her hand drifted slowly in the direction of the gun on her belt.
Professor Rosenfield dropped Scully's sample into the centrifuge and reached for another swab. "Why didn't we stop him? Because we couldn't find him, not for weeks."
Mulder watched the swab as Rosenfield unwrapped it. The sharp chemical smell of alcohol flooded towards him. He tried not scrabble backwards in his seat.
"I may not remember," said Audrey. "But I put it together. He vanished from his bedroom in the Great Northern Hotel." She stood up, walked towards the bench. "You found him."
"We found him. Sheriff Truman, Deputy Hawk and I." Professor Rosenfield put his back to the lectern, waiting for questions he had obviously been expecting.
"Does he know what he did?" There was outrage in Audrey's voice.
Rosenfield curled a lip. "Oh, brandish your flaming sword of justice. As if you know what was going on back then." It was all but a sneer. Mulder saw Audrey's shoulders come up, ready for an all-out battle. His breath caught in his throat; tension and repressed panic boiled upwards. Why was his brain telling him to run? Why was he poised to sprint? He carefully forced his heels flat on the ground.
"Mulder." Scully reached out for his shoulder, and he grabbed at her hand reflexively.
"What's happening to me?" he gasped. "Why am I so afraid?"
"As I said, you've had contact with the entity." Professor Rosenfield peeled the foil back from a third lancet. "The problem is that I have no way of knowing if it's made you vulnerable to infiltration. If you have the oil in your system, then it's possible you will bring the entity back in contact with Coop. It's fond of Coop. We've worked hard to keep him clear and safe."
"But when? Wouldn't I know?" Mulder's breath was short and sharp, and pain shot across his chest. It's a panic attack, he told himself. You're a psychologist, you know these signs.
"Do you know the first place Dale went, when he left Twin Peaks?"
"Why would I?" said Mulder, weakly.
"He went straight to DC. To the Hoover building. To rummage in the basement. That was before it was your basement, of course."
Mulder's skin prickled and burned. He knew how this story went. This was his dream, and his memory. This was the contact with the predator, and the predator was BOB. It was true.
"He was sighted by three security cameras, walking towards the basement section of the Hoover Building," Professor Rosenfield went on mercilessly. "Once he stepped into the elevator, we lost sight of him. We don't know what he did in the basement and we don't know how he left the building. He was just gone."
"That's not possible. It's a well-guarded building," said Audrey. Mulder felt sorry for her: after all, this was her crisis point with the paranormal. Up until now, she had theoretically believed in some aspects of his work – the psychic potential, for example – but now, there was no backing down.
"Are you okay, Mulder?" Scully pressed a hand to his forehead. While she leaned over him, she spoke more softly. "Seriously, are you okay? You look like you're running a fever."
Rosenfield approached with his little silver lancet in hand, and Mulder swayed in his seat. Scully glanced over her shoulder and back to Mulder. "You don't have to do this."
"I have to know," said Mulder. His mouth was dry. "I dreamed about him, Scully, I saw him in the corridors at work. I dreamed it, and it was true. And look at me! I'm obviously affected. I need to know if it has control over me."
Scully nodded, and cupped his hand in hers, holding it steady. There was a sudden stinging, and then the pressure of the collection vial. He leaned his head back against the desk behind him, listening to the hum of the centrifuge. "The suspect in the Laura Palmer case, the grey haired man, was he inhabiting a body?"
"Leland Palmer!" Audrey spoke suddenly, with the satisfaction that comes from an intuitive leap. "It was in Mr Palmer, right? For how long?"
"A long time," said Professor Rosenfield. He looked tired, Mulder thought. "It started when he was a child." The centrifuge finished its cycle and gave a merry beep. Professor Rosenfield flipped open the lid and with a pipette, dropped plasma from each tube into a well on the testing tray. "Now, we wait."
Haloperidol, Dale thought when he woke with tight, sore muscles and a dry mouth. Diazepam, too, from the heavy calm upon him, despite the fact that someone who wasn't Albert was moving around the kitchen. He rubbed his bicep, found the injection site with his thumb while he stared around.
"You awake, Dale?" Margie put down a bowl of jello on the table beside the sofa, and a cup of steaming hot tea next to that. "I don't know about you, but Haldol always left me with a bad case of the munchies, and a mouth so dry I couldn't swallow."
"I've been out long enough to set jello?" Dale croaked. He hooked a finger in the handle of the mug and pulled it close. Margie was the upstairs neighbour. She was well-padded and wrapped in multiple shawls, and old enough that being unrepentantly gay had led to institutionalisation in her youth. Dale liked her: she was calm and unruffled in a care-worn way. And tough. She oozed the kind of fearless quality needed to keep her going, through protest marches, unsanctioned marriages that led to unsanctioned divorces, cancer. It was hard to imagine anything hurting her.
"Oh, sweetie, no. I always keep it made up in the fridge. It isn't just Haldol that gives me the munchies, if you know what I mean." Margie grinned at him from the kitchen, hands wrapped around her own mug. She knew very well that he and Albert had been law enforcement. "You want me to give Albert a call? He really didn't want to leave you. Must be some emergency to call him away."
The other thing that Dale appreciated about Margie was that she never pried. He shook his head. "I'll call him." Pillowed by diazepam, the phone was a small thing, easily defeated. And he desperately wanted to hear Albert's voice, to know what was going on.
Audrey's fingertip throbbed. She pressed it hard against the cold metal of the seat to ease the heat, and thought about Leland Palmer walking past her room day after day. She had good instincts and they'd served her well in childhood and through her career. She had never once felt that twist of fear that told her she was in danger around Laura's father.
Even stranger than that was the way these ideas settled comfortably into her mind. It was as if she had always known about inhabiting spirits and possession and evil as a concrete entity. Like a magnet, the fact that Leland Palmer was a killer pulled smaller fragments of information to it and held them fast.
While they waited for the results, Agent Scully talked softly on her phone with the technicians at Quantico, explaining the tests she wanted them to run. Mulder stood by the door, seemingly engrossed in a chart of the human digestive tract. Professor Rosenfield leaned against the bench with his eyes on the white plastic tray.
Audrey watched him watching the samples. "You did the autopsy on Laura Palmer."
"I did the second, and frankly more professional autopsy on your friend, yes. A couple of your little friends, by the time it was all over." Rosenfield looked back at her unapologetically.
"What did you find? I mean, I scammed a copy of Doctor Hayward's report, but Sheriff Hawk had anything with actual content buried by the time I was looking for it."
He crossed his arms. "I found that sleepy little country towns are just as vulnerable to predation as big cities. And sleepy little country town doctors are basically incompetent."
Audrey opened her mouth to ask more questions – did you know she was my sister? Would it have made a difference? Could you tell why fate chose her, and not me, or Donna Hayward? – but Rosenfield's phone trembled and sang from the open briefcase. He lunged for it, face suddenly animated.
"Are you all right? Is Margie still there?" Rosenfield reached out with one finger as he spoke, and nudged the tray. "No, not yet. Still a minute on the timer. How are you feeling?"
Mulder peeled himself away from the anatomy charts, and drifted towards the bench, leaning his elbows on it as if he were a kid waiting for cookies to come out of the oven. He was still grey, but the worst of the panic seemed to have receded now that the blood tests were underway.
"Is that him?" Audrey didn't mind barging into a private conversation. "Can I talk to him?"
Rosenfield ignored her. "Yes, that's her. Well, she seems to know her stuff, basically. And they've given her a gun, god help us all, but she never got the memo on being socially appropriate." He frowned. "Of course she looks like an agent. What did you think she'd look like? A bee-keeper? What the hell kind of question is that, anyway?"
His phone rattled an alarm, and he held it away from his ear to read the display. "That's the timer. I have to go." A voice protested loudly on the other end of the call. She strained to hear it more clearly, see if she could recognise it, but it was too muffled. Rosenfield rolled his eyes.
"Fine. Hold on." He crooked the phone against his shoulder and tilted the tray under the light, examining each well. "Special Agent Audrey Horne, you're clear, no surprises there. You too, Agent Scully. Agent Mulder is..." He frowned and rocked the tray back and forth, gently agitating the contents, as if uncertain of the result.
At the bench, Mulder craned his neck, trying to peer into the tiny wells on the tray.
Finally, Albert raised his eyebrows, and spoke into the phone. "No, it's clear. Yeah, I'm surprised, too. It must have been only the briefest contact."
Mulder let out a sudden gust of breath, and leaned his head on the bench.
Rosenfield shrugged into the phone. "It's your decision. I'll bring him too, if that's what you want." He turned away from the others. "Yeah. I know that. Me, too." He ended the call and threw the phone into the briefcase, then faced the three agents.
"So, what?" Mulder stood up straight. "I'm not affected? What does it mean, that I'm not affected? Because I feel pretty damn affected right now."
"It means that your exposure was minimal, BOB didn't find a way to get inside your head." Rosenfield dumped the sample tubes into the biohazard bin, and unplugged the centrifuge. "Take it as a warning, though. You wouldn't be having this physiological fight or flight reaction if you weren't already vulnerable to infiltration."
Mulder shook his head. "What does that even mean?"
Rosenfield snapped his briefcase closed. "It means you can visit Coop. Let's walk, people."
He meant it literally, walking at a brisk clip out of the building and onto the street.
Agent Scully followed at his shoulder, matching her stride with his. She pelted him with questions on biochemistry and the development of the sycamore test, technical details far above Audrey's level of understanding. Rosenfield seemed to relish the assault, barking replies back just as fast, sometimes arguing his point by jabbing his briefcase in her direction.
Audrey fell back to walk beside Agent Mulder as the streets became narrow and leafy, lined with red brick buildings. He glanced sideways at her without breaking step. "How are you doing?"
Audrey watched Agent Scully gesturing with her hands. "I should be asking you that question."
Mulder shrugged. He looked a little better out in the sunshine. "I'm used to it. You're the one with the quest that's going places. What do you think it's going to be like, seeing him again?"
"Weird," said Audrey. "I've had everything planned for this meeting, rehearsed it for years in my head. Then I find out that he's done horrible things, and I brace myself for what has to be done. And now? With all this talk about possession, I just don't know what's right. I believe it. But I don't know what it means."
Mulder nodded. "Emotional whiplash. This is one of those cases that you just have to ride out till the end and trust your instincts. And you know, I think you have pretty good instincts. Take it step by step."
Step by step, thought Audrey. Mulder was hard to read, but he understood what she felt. It was strange to think that a week ago she had been alone in this search. She squared her shoulders, and followed Professor Rosenfield as he turned down increasingly twisty streets. She trusted her fellow agents, and she trusted her own judgement. Everything else could fall in behind.
Dale could see them from the moment they turned down Canton Street. He rested his head against the glass and watched them walking. He could do this. A few steadying breaths, and he stepped out onto the stoop. This would be costly, in terms of personal resources, but it was worth it for the opportunity to help put things right. It was his choice.
The afternoon had almost tipped into evening, and wide shadows cast by the plane trees made a patchwork quilt of the sidewalk. Albert walked with a frown, brows furrowed and back rigid. He was worried and Dale's heart ached for him. Agent Scully kept pace with him, the two deep in conversation that was hopefully medical and not antagonistic. Agent Mulder he would have recognised by notoriety, if he didn't have other, darker memories to inform him. And beside him, came Audrey. A little taller, perhaps? Certainly stronger and more assured than the teenager he had seen a decade ago. Dale took a breath, and found an unexpected calmness, a feeling of things returning to whole. He would think about that later. For now, he would open the door and welcome them in. He stood at the top of the stoop, and waited, and breathed.
Albert clipped up the stairs. He paused on the top step to give Dale's shoulder a squeeze, then moved past into the hall. Agent Scully's face was shuttered; she gave him a measured gaze that hid a deeper assessment. It was Agent Mulder who hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. Audrey stopped halfway up, looking between Dale and Mulder in confusion, uncertain who needed help most.
Dale walked down the wide steps, paused halfway to smile a greeting at Audrey – Audrey! – and stood beside Mulder.
"I'm sorry. I remember what happened, I remember how close you came to danger. I'm sorry that it was me that brought it to you."
Mulder sagged a little against the bannister in relief. Dale knew how that felt, that moment when you realised that someone believed you and understood.
Dale reached out a hand to help him up the first step. "Come inside, and we can talk about it."
Inside, he had coffee and pie ready to serve, and there was the business of shuffling seats and balancing plates on knees. The clatter of forks on plates turned hollow in Dale's ear, and he realised he was drifting. He looked across to Audrey, who clasped her coffee with both hands, and solidity came back to him. He cleared his throat, and all heads turned his way.
"I have no secrets. I want to help you." Was that the right way to say it? His mouth was dry, and it was hard to put the words in the right order, but he remembered the language of law enforcement. The sentences began to spool with more confidence. "Albert has probably explained the physical dimension of what happened that day at the Hoover Building, but I can offer some clarity on the motives. Once BOB has access to your body –"
"Yes, how does that happen? How did this possession happen, Agent Cooper? How did it lead you to hurt those children?" Agent Scully hadn't touched her pie.
Dale didn't flinch. "It's Mr Cooper, now. I'm a civilian." He took a breath, ran the affirmation through his head: I have a right to respect, I ask and receive forgiveness from the universe. "BOB does everything he can to sully your self-worth. I have no illusions about the things I have done. I hurt children. I took lives. I promise you, Agent Scully, I'm cognisant of the harm that has been done with my hands." He was aware of Albert standing behind him. Solid, solid, he was solid.
"You've confessed to some pretty serious crimes, Mr Cooper." Scully sat neatly on the edge of the armchair. "Why shouldn't we arrest you?"
That stung in the place where Dale used to feel professional pride. "You think you could bring a case, with the little evidence you have and my mental health history? Things have changed in the Bureau."
Scully nodded. "You're right, we don't have the evidence to back up your statement. That doesn't mean we won't consider you complicit in the crimes we're investigating."
"I am complicit," said Dale. "I was there, for the original assaults." He leaned forward for a moment, took a little time to settle his breathing. "BOB seeks out vulnerability and I was vulnerable: I was willing to give anything to save someone's life." Annie is fine, he reminded himself. Annie has a good life. Annie is happy. "My weakness, my own arrogance let him in, but it was… opportunistic. BOB prefers to plan, to inhabit a body he has watched and cultivated for years."
"Laura?" asked Audrey. "Laura's father… cultivated her, right?"
Dale felt a swoop of anxiety at the thought of Laura, and the things he knew about her from his time with BOB. Those times were done. Laura forgave him for knowing. He forged on with his explanation.
"Laura was smarter and braver than me. She never let him in." His hands were moving faster now, gesticulating as he spoke. "That's the problem with the victims he chooses, you see, he wants them smart and intuitive and full of fire, but those qualities also help them resist. So he wears them down. Isolation, abuse, and finally invasion. That process takes time. It can't be done without a safe place, a host he can occupy for a long time." He rubbed a hand over his forehead and it came away damp. "I was never going to be a long term prospect for BOB."
He leaned back on the sofa and the words came quickly. "He used my name, my badge, my face to gain access. Start the process in lots of places. Now he's coming back to those places – like the cuckoo, do you know what I mean? – because he's done with his temporary host. It's time to settle down. Soap Lake would have been perfect. Forty or fifty years in the same body – Hannah's body – and he would have a new nest." Clipped a bird's wings in Soap Lake, BOB had said. She ain't gonna fly again. But Hannah was stronger than that, stronger than Dale. Strong like Laura. Was he speaking in metaphor again? It crept up so easily on him, even with the medication.
"Hannah Nedro," said Mulder, revolted. "Was it the location? Or the victim?" He was steadier now, leaning forward, eyes narrow. This was the profiler Dale had heard about. "Wait, you said he wants them intuitive? How intuitive?"
"You're not the first agent to discover the X-Files, Mulder. I wasn't the first, either, but I knew about the list of children with exceptional abilities. BOB picks the choicest morsels from your mind first."
Mulder made a noise of satisfaction as he sat upright. "He targeted the psychic kids. That's our profile, Scully, he was after kids with psychic abilities."
"But you're not psychic, Mulder." Scully's voice was dry. "As much as you'd love it, you don't have that ability. BOB has certainly displayed an interest in you."
Dale edged forward on the sofa again. His heart was pounding, and it was getting difficult to catch his breath. "Oh, but Mulder had something else that BOB loves. He sees what hurts in you. He sees the way you think, the openness of it, the way you reach for the truth, and it excites him. He'll take you, ride you for a short time, do as much damage as he can with your own ability to see the truth."
The words were tumbling out too fast. He was taking gasping breaths. Damn. Thinking about that time was breaking him apart like melting ice. "Don't you see? He's already reached out to you and he'll do anything to lure you in. He will never let that fascination die. He will want to contact you. We're too similar, you and I. He wants to use you the same way - your access, your knowledge. Your badge, your gun, your name."
Albert's hand was warm on his shoulder. Dale leaned into it, suddenly tongue-tied.
"That's enough," said Albert. "Take a break, people. Go and, I don't know, nose around in our personal belongings. Whatever will make your Assistant Director think you're conducting a proper investigation."
Somehow, thought Dana, the way that Cooper fell to pieces in front of them was reassuring. There was no room there for deceit or persuasion, no attempts to waive his responsibility for what he had done. It was clear they could never put together any sort of prosecutable case for the assaults on Hannah, Christian and Katie but Cooper obviously knew this and hated the fact. She picked up her fork and took a mouthful of pie. It was actually pretty good.
Rosenfield thumped a heap of files on the table in front of her, and she jumped.
"Medical histories and a couple of studies," he said. "You'll need to review some data if you're going to force BOB to abandon his current host body."
Dana shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'm not a practising physician. This isn't in my area of expertise."
Rosenfield flipped open a report, and pointed to a medical regimen. "Don't worry. No practising physician would carry out this procedure."
Dana read down the list of medications with a growing sense of panic: atropine, potassium chloride, adenosine. "This is a protocol for inducing cardiac arrest."
"BOB is a stubborn tenant," said Rosenfield. "He doesn't move out until the house is burning down. I have to admit, I was hoping we'd finished him last time we went through this. He's hard to kill."
Dana was incredulous. "You did this? You took an oath!"
"Two oaths, actually: the Hippocratic, and an Oath of Service to the Bureau," said Rosenfield. "We both took those oaths, Doctor Scully, and they require that we seek justice and compassion for those in our care. Without us, your suspect is already a dead man. I've seen what BOB does when he vacates a body: he embraces a scorched earth policy. This protocol give you a chance to save your suspect's life." He gave a wry shrug. "And besides, we're pathologists. We know the dead as well as we know the living. Who better to walk the line between the two?"
He sat down beside her, and pulled one of the reports to him. "Now, you're going to need an ice blanket. I can organise that for you. You'll do better with a hospital issue defibrillator: the battery operated sets aren't up to much with a patient full of potassium chloride." His voice went on.
After a few minutes, Dana put down her fork and pulled the paperwork towards her. This couldn't be the only way.
Dale sat on the back steps in the last of the sunshine. He ached from tension in every muscle, but the heat of the sun-warmed stone helped. There was a sense of relief in this fatigue. Even if it was a brief respite, it was an unexpected one and he took pleasure in it.
He knew Audrey's step on the threshold, though she'd never walked there before.
"Can I sit with you?" Her voice was cautious but not hesitant or afraid. Dale smiled to himself and bunched across the steps to make room for her. She folded up beside him, neat as a cat, and they sat in silence while the sunlight softened into pink and mauve.
She wrapped her arms around her knees. "I like your apartment."
"Academic housing. All thanks to Albert: Boston University was keen to recruit him." Dale looked at her. It was foolish to expect her to have remained the same as he remembered her. She was older now, and the presence that was overwhelming and uncontrolled in a teenager had become poise and certainty in adulthood. "How is the Bureau treating you?"
She smiled and took out her badge, passing it across to him. "I love it. I can't imagine doing anything I would love this much."
He opened the wallet and traced his fingers over the brass emblem. It was odd, this feeling of pride. It wouldn't surprise him to discover that he was glowing like everything around him, touched by the setting sun. He closed it and passed it back to her.
"I have something of yours." She hooked the chain at her neck with one finger, and withdrew it. A gold ring dangled there. "I kept it with me, you know."
"That's why I sent it to you." Dale remembered the post office, the way the pen felt alien in his hand. "There were not many ways to ask for help, not without attracting BOB's attention. It was easy to believe I would be lost forever, so I reached out where I could."
He stretched out his own hand, let her see the wedding band on his finger. "I have a new ring now. Would you keep that one? It was my mother's. It would make me very happy to know it was safe."
Audrey nodded. She let the ring spin and turn in the fading sunlight. "I knew you were in danger. I tried to help. I never stopped trying."
"I wish I could have told you." There was no panic in the telling of this story, not now. There was just him and Audrey and the setting sun. "First I didn't have the tools. For a long time, I didn't know where or who I was. Albert, Harry, Denise and Gordon, what they did – deleting my records, erasing my past – was to protect me." He swallowed, mouth still dry. "I don't like hiding, Audrey, but the harm I could do if BOB found me again… I have to trust my friends. They took care of me when I could not. This is what they want."
She turned to sit sideways, resting her back on the iron bannister so she could face him directly. "Well, you're not hiding from me anymore. I'm here now. Let me help keep you safe, too. I'm ready to take it on, this evil thing. And anyone else that is hurt by it."
The tension had leeched from his body. He stood and stretched his arms up tall, then looked down at her on the steps. "Then there are things I need to tell you, Agent Horne. Come inside, and we can talk properly."
Mulder took the invitation to snoop around the house literally. While Scully talked science with Rosenfield and Audrey was having a heart to heart with Cooper on the back steps, he prowled the corridors and peered into rooms. The absence of anxiety had left him hungry and curious, so he headed for the kitchen to ferret for facts.
The kitchen was spacious, with sparkling steel fittings and huge, glass-fronted cabinets. A large standing freezer, big enough for a few bodies, was actually full of pies. He lifted a few up – loganberry, plucot, quince and pear – then closed the door. The pantry was stacked in neat but dense rows.
"Who the hell needs five kinds of flour?" he said. He peeked inside the tin of suet, and made a face. Suet was definitely an ingredient for serial killers. There was a mason jar full of cookies, and he stuffed a couple of them into his mouth as he ventured down to the lower shelves. That was usually where the interesting stuff was.
Behind a forgotten pack of rice crackers, a half-empty carton of candles, and a corroded tin of tomato soup, he found a dusty old jam jar holding a couple of inches of black fluid. He pulled it free, blew off the cobwebs and held it up to the light. The lid was rusted tight, but he caught a waft of something scorched. It brought back the time his father let the lawn-mower overheat and catch fire. He was twisting at the lid when the back door to the apartment opened. Dale and Audrey were coming in from the back stairs.
Face suddenly focused, Dale Cooper leapt for him. He clapped his hands over Mulder's and held them tight. "Don't open it. Don't ever open it!" When he was sure that Mulder had listened, he stepped back, hands raised.
"What is it?" Mulder had caught the note of panic in Cooper's voice.
"Sycamore oil," said Cooper. "It opens a gateway. In the right place. At the right time. Not here."
Mulder held it out, but Cooper shook his head. "It found its way to your hand, you're the one who gets to keep it. Frankly, I'm glad to see it go."
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully stood at the other door, hand hovering over her weapon.
Cooper turned a full circle, taking them in, one by one. "Come on," he said. "Let's finish this."
Dale remembered how this felt, to speak and hold the attention of his peers. Exhilarating, as it always was, but exhausting, too.
"BOB is physically present when he does harm. Hannah, Christian, Katie – Laura, too, in her time – were all able to see BOB's true face, hence the misidentification of their assailant. Their parents saw me. The children saw BOB. Like Laura, they knew what BOB wanted; they knew he wanted to one day occupy them the way he used me."
Mulder poked at the jar of sycamore oil on the coffee table. "You're saying that BOB was there, when Hannah ran off the cliff, when Christian stepped in front of a truck."
"They were driven to do it," said Dale. "He's there, physically, and this is the residue he leaves behind. When BOB left Leland Palmer, he found his way to me. After he was forced from my body, he obviously took another. It won't be anyone as enticing as the psychic children. It will be a temporary, flawed host. Someone familiar, someone he's had contact with. Someone he considers less than perfect, since he's trying to gather the children we assaulted ten years ago."
"We have the whole continent to search," said Audrey. "He could have gone anywhere."
"Audrey," said Dale. He felt suddenly sad, and depleted. "Where do any of us go, when we are tired and hurt? We go to the place where we feel safest."
"Twin Peaks." It was Mulder, this time, hazarding a guess. "He was there a long time, in a stable situation. It would have been easy to set up bolt-holes there."
"All he really needs is bodies," said Dale. "In Twin Peaks, he had decades to establish his hold on them." He remembered driving into the town, that first day. BOB was all around him, then, and he knew nothing of it.
"Wait," said Audrey. "You mean he… What was the word you used? Cultivated people? Do you mean he was molesting kids in Twin Peaks?"
Dale nodded. "I didn't have access to all his memories, but yes. The assaults of the psychic children, the long-term abuse of children at Twin Peaks, this is how he makes them vulnerable to infiltration. Leland had forty years in Twin Peaks. I think it will be someone around your age – the same age Laura would have been. It will be someone who grew up within driving distance of the Palmer household: BOB needed Leland Palmer to carry out the assaults physically."
"Will they show positive to the sycamore test?" asked Scully.
"Yes," said Dale. "The residue never leaves you." He held out his hands and looked at them. "It's still in me."
Scully seemed pleased by the idea that there could be a scientific solution. "Can't we test the town? Narrow down the suspects that way?"
Albert shook his head. "No dice. Pretty much the whole town tests positive. There's a few outliers, of course – Agent Horne and myself for a start – but otherwise the background signal is too strong. I think there's something in the water."
"Nice to know that pervasive evil works the same way as radiation," said Mulder.
"Well, BOB was physically at the sites where Hannah and Christian died," said Scully. "That at least gives us a timeline to check alibis. That person will have been away from Twin Peaks at critical times. In Soap Lake when Hannah died, in Chicago when Christian was killed."
Audrey frowned, obviously forming a mental list. "That's not going to be too difficult to figure out." She gave a grim smile. "I can work from my yearbook. But what do we do when we find him?"
"I've given Doctor Scully a protocol," said Professor Rosenfield. "Whether or not she chooses to follow it is up to her."
"Try," said Dale, earnestly. "It's the best way to save the host. It might be the only way. BOB will break him open like an egg as he leaves." He remembered the cold steel table, the rattle of shackles, and Albert's face, grey and determined. "I wasn't given a choice at the time, but I am glad that I had a chance to fight for my life again." He met Albert's eyes. I mean it, he tried to say. For all the times I've thought about the other options, I am glad I'm here with you.
Mulder picked up the jar of sycamore oil and swirled it. "The right time. The right place."
"I'll call ahead," said Audrey. "Make sure they hold us some good rooms for when we arrive."
Dale smiled again, broadly happy for a moment. "Ah, the Great Northern Hotel. Excellent beds. Damn good coffee."
They stayed overnight in Boston. Around midnight, still buzzing with exhilaration and completion, Audrey couldn't sleep in her overheated hotel room. She kicked off her blankets and called reception to tell them she had run a better hotel than this before she could legally drink. Then she lay on her bed, rerunning every conversation with Dale that afternoon.
He talked a lot about the vulnerability of the children in Twin Peaks; how BOB was free to prey on them because he wore a face that people trusted. It made sense to her now that the Sheriff's department had briefly considered her father to be that man. Benjamin Horne played the avuncular host with charisma and flair. Leland Palmer, though, Audrey had very little opinion on. She couldn't remember a time when she had ever been alone with him. She'd certainly never felt threatened in his presence. It made her wonder who their suspect could be. Who had she gone to school with, who had the kind of bland, easy-going charm that lets you walk into a mortuary and interfere with a corpse?
She turned over again, punched her pillow –cheap fibrefill things they'd never use at the Great Northern – and thought some more. Foolishly, she hadn't realised how disturbing it would be to make lists of classmates who might have been molested. Shelly Johnson, for example, had dropped out of school early to marry an abusive husband. Bobby Briggs had been a mess from the first day of school. There were dozens more who seemed normal. There was no way to exclude, say, Mike Nelson or Eliza Battis or the Blackburn twins. There didn't have to be an outward sign revealing the horrors of your childhood.
Johnny. She sat upright suddenly and turned on the light, but the thought refused to budge. It sat, toad-like in her mind with cold and poisonous solidity. She couldn't ask Johnny about it, not in the middle of the night, on the phone, from miles away. That kind of question would take preparation, support, if she even had the right to ask it at all. She flicked on her cell, and scrolled through the contacts. Dale said she could call any time. The idea delighted, and offered a welcome respite from dark thoughts.
The call picked up on the first ring. "Audrey?" Dale's voice was hoarse with sleep. "Is everything all right?"
"Things are okay. I'm sorry if I woke you." Audrey drew her knees up close.
"It's fine. This is important, and I can catch up on sleep tomorrow."
"I'm glad you can," Professor Rosenfield muttered almost out of hearing. There was a rustle of bedclothes and a low conversation, then Audrey heard footsteps on a wooden floor.
"So, what's troubling you, Audrey?" On the end of the line, there was a clink of dishes, the seal of the refrigerator. Again, she felt the odd rightness of being able to speak with him again.
"I was thinking about what you said, about Leland Palmer, about Twin Peaks. I used to wonder why we were all so messed up. It feels weird to know there's an actual cause. I always thought that I was just being melodramatic."
Dale gave a soft laugh. "Growing up around pernicious evil doesn't exclude you from teenage melodrama, Audrey."
Audrey was glad he couldn't see her blushing. "Yeah, all right. I had a great and epic adolescence. But that's just the point – why was I okay, when everyone else wasn't? Leland Palmer was in my home nearly every day of my life, and he never tried to hurt me."
"That's not the question you want to ask me." Audrey heard liquid pouring into a glass.
"If he hurt my brother..." Audrey wasn't even sure what the end of that threat would be. If it was true, there was nothing to be done about it anyway.
There was a silence on the other end of the line. "I think Johnny did what every older brother wants to do: protect his little sister from harm. And he succeeded. Some of us are swords, Audrey, and some of us are shields."
"What are you, then?" What am I?
"Swords don't always survive the war, but there's always another sword."
Audrey nodded. "Okay. I think I can do that."
"I don't have a doubt. Good night, Audrey. And good luck for the morning."
Audrey put her phone down. This time, sleep came quickly.
The roads seemed especially familiar to Audrey on this trip home. Maybe it was that she was in the back seat of the car, as she had been on childhood trips. Even though it was her home town, Mulder insisted on taking the driver's seat. She sighed, then told him to watch the traction around Meadowlark Road. It was usually slippery this time of year.
"Hey! Look at you!" Shelly Johnston's heels clipped over the lobby floor of the Great Northern Hotel. She threw her arms around Audrey's shoulders. Shelly had managed the hotel for the past five years for the new owner, Catherine Martell. "Sheriff Hawk is in the conference room." She stepped back, and nodded to Mulder and Scully. "Special Agents. We've held the White Water suites for the three of you, we'll get your bags moved in right away."
"Much obliged," said Mulder. His smile was wide and ingenuous. Audrey suppressed the urge to roll her eyes at Shelly.
"I'm looking forward to meeting this Sheriff Hawk," said Dana. "We have some professional courtesies to exchange."
"Come on," said Audrey. She turned on her heel and walked back across the lobby, the same path she had taken every school day a decade past.
Mulder took in the timber floors, the glowing wood panelling. "Agent Horne, how many trees had to die so you could skip across their planks in your shiny Mary Janes?"
"They've been dead a hundred years or so," said Audrey as she walked. "My grandfather cannibalised most of the timbers from other houses."
"The hotel that ate houses. Can't imagine why an evil entity was drawn here." Mulder ran his fingers across the glowing surface of the conference room door and shuddered.
"Great place to grow up." Scully pushed the doors open.
Sheriff Hawk's face was grim, but there was a spread of sandwiches and a big pot of coffee on the table. No doughnuts, Audrey noted sourly. She never particularly craved them, but it was Hawk's way of letting her know that she wasn't yet accepted into the law enforcement brethren of Twin Peaks.
"Andy and Lucy started background checks the minute we heard from Coop," Hawk said. He led out a chair for Agent Scully. She ignored the gesture loftily, and moved past to examine the list of suspects on the table.
Audrey took a seat at the head of the table, just to irk Hawk. She didn't really want to gloat. Much. After all, she had jurisdiction on her side. He could have all the doughnuts in the world. She still outranked him.
"It's a pity we can't use this ELISA test to winnow the list down," said Scully.
Sheriff Hawk shook his head. "We thought it would be great when Albert developed the test, but only a couple of us come up clear. Still, the kids coming through elementary school are clean. Anyone born after Leland Palmer's death."
"That's a good thing," said Mulder. "Whoever it is, they're not passing on the abuse. At least, not in their home town." He leaned right across the table and grabbed a handful of sandwiches, stuffing them into his mouth one by one.
Hawk watched him, fascinated, as he spoke. "Anyway, best I could do was narrow the list down to a few likely people. Now, that doesn't mean we've got the suspect in that group, but it's a good place to start."
"We can compare the list to our profile," said Mulder, indistinctly.
Audrey clamped her mouth shut before she said "We have a profile?" in surprise.
Scully was more adept at dealing with Mulder's last minute revelations. "Let's review that profile now, for the benefit of the Sheriff." She poured herself some coffee and sat down next to Mulder.
"Right," said Mulder. "So, working up a profile on the possessed based on a sample group of two – Leland Palmer and Dale Cooper – well, that's not a lot of data." He pulled the sandwiches closer, ostensibly to offer them to Scully. When she shook her head, he gave up the pretence and left the plate in front of him for easy access. "But, we know there is a physicality to the possession, that the suspect's body has be in the places where BOB is sighted. From that, we can determine that the person is someone who has the ability to travel freely from place to place. That gives us the itinerant, and the travelling salesman. But Dale Cooper theorises that the entity encourages a host to settle down, find stability…"
"On a theoretical level, that makes sense to me," said Scully. "What Cooper described, paranormal or otherwise, functions like a parasite. A good parasite makes things easier for the host. It doesn't go to all the trouble of finding a host just to kill it off quickly."
"Exactly." Mulder gestured with a sandwich. "I think we can exclude the itinerant. Our suspect is either in a job that requires travel from here to Chicago, or they're independently wealthy."
"Okay," said Audrey. "Let's go through the list." She took the sheet of paper, and her mouth twisted up. "Really? You put me on the list? At the top?"
Hawk's face was expressionless. "You fit the criteria, Agent Horne: out of town on both occasions. I'm sure you wouldn't want me to leave anyone out."
"For god's sake." Audrey took out her wallet and opened it, threw a handful of receipts out on the table. "There's a docket for fuel from a DC gas station for the night Christian Wiles was killed. If that's not enough, there's a log-in book at my brother's apartment building that I signed that night. And you can cross Johnny off, while you're at it. He signs in and out of the building, too."
"Good enough for me," said Hawk. He clicked his plastic biro once, and leaned over Audrey's shoulder to cross the first two names off the list.
Audrey moved to the next name. "Robert Briggs. Well, that's a fair assessment, he's hardly what I'd call stable. I wouldn't call him independently wealthy, either, but I know his parents are supporting him."
"He's living in his family's lake house," said Hawk. "He's supposedly working on his art collection, but it's isolated. If he took it upon himself to drive to Chicago, I doubt anyone would notice for a week."
"Okay, I'm sorry to be nit-picking your list," said Audrey. "But Donna Hayward's still in medical school. I really doubt she has time to go anywhere."
"You're out of the loop, Audrey. Donna Hayward dropped out a couple of months ago. She's living with her parents. Takes the car, goes out of town and won't tell anyone where she's been."
Audrey was shocked silent by this.
"Unpredictable behaviour?" said Mulder.
Audrey nodded slowly. "The Hayward girls don't drop out of anything. They're obsessive achievers, all three of them." She gazed out of the window, watched the mist climb up over the falls, and shivered. She shouldn't be surprised. Hadn't she been through this with Dale? Friends and family aren't automatically protected from evil. This is what Mulder was talking about. This was the claw in the heart.
Scully stood up. "That's our first call, then. We need to narrow down Donna Hayward's movements over the past two weeks."
Audrey shook her head. "Let me go. I've known her all my life; we've been close since Laura died. Let me talk to her. I'll know if there's something not right. You could go up to the lake, talk to Bobby Briggs." She was already reviewing the Cook County footage inside her head. Donna was tall – could it have been her, hidden in that huge jacket and concealing cap?
"All right," said Scully. "But I don't want you going alone. If Donna is our suspect, you'll need back-up."
"I'll have Andy drive you down, Audrey." Hawk ignored Audrey's furious glare. "I'll take you folks out to Pearl Lakes myself. I'll go bring the car around."
Scully pulled a chair over to sit in front of Audrey. "Remember to keep your objectivity. Don't let your familiarity fill in the gaps in her story. Get the timeline cleared up, and if you have any doubts, bring her in to the Sheriff's office."
"This isn't my first interview, you know." It sounded more defensive that Audrey intended. Deputy Andy? Wouldn't she be better with no back-up?
"It's your first with a suspect you know personally," said Scully. "It makes a difference. Be prepared for it."
Audrey nodded solemnly, and wondered what Scully would say if she knew just how close she was to Donna Hayward. "I understand. I'll remember."
Shelly knocked and opened the double doors to the conference room. "Agents. Sheriff Hawk's at the front entrance." She directed them towards the lobby.
"You can take a blood sample," said Mulder, with enthusiasm as they walked out the door. "I'd love to see what a positive result looks like."
"Scientific method is entirely lost on you, isn't it, Mulder?" Scully's voice drifted down the corridor.
Shelly closed the doors behind her, and Audrey could see she was smiling. "You look amazing. Really professional."
Audrey sat back in her seat. She smiled at Shelly, the old, slow smile she used to wear with half-closed eyes. "We both do, Shelly."
"Yeah, we do." said Shelly. "It was hard work, but we grew up okay in the end."
"Hey, what's up with Donna?" Audrey leaned her elbows on the table, as though it were the cafeteria at school. "I couldn't believe it when Hawk told me she'd dropped out."
Shelly shook her head. "Nobody's really seen her much since she came home. Norma said she doesn't say anything when she's in the diner, and the only other place she goes is Ed's Gas Farm. I think Doc Hayward is pretty worried." She shrugged. "You always knew her better than me." Neither of them said it, but Audrey could almost hear the words: 'But Laura knew her best of all.'
"I know," said Audrey. She pushed her chair back from the table. "I'll go and talk to her. We're closer than we used to be in school."
Mulder didn't appreciate the back seat of the Sheriff's ranger. His knees were up around his ears, and he bruised his backside every time they hit a pothole. He would have been more comfortable in the front, but for some reason, Scully hadn't scorned the Sheriff's gallantry when he held the front door open back at the hotel. Instead, she had stepped up nimbly into the front seat and buckled herself in.
The car crawled upwards through the mountains, cutting through wisps of late morning fog. The scenery was probably devastatingly beautiful, but Mulder was more of a fan of cities. Wild places left him feeling isolated and vulnerable.
"What do you call this place?" he asked, suddenly. The way the light bent through the tall, narrow pines was familiar, in a disjointed way. The misplaced déjà vu crept over him with a chill. He knew he had never seen these trees before.
Hawk looked at him in the mirror. "Here? We call it Ghostwood."
Mulder hunched his shoulders and tucked his hands in his pockets. "Yeah, that would be about right."
The Briggs' lake house was small and rustic, tucked away on the shoreline of the lake. The neat little house was surrounded by debris: wrecked cars up on blocks, reclaimed planks and other scrap lumber, crates of broken glass and piles of tyres. Hawk pulled the car up on a scattered patch of gravel. Mulder threw open his door and stretched his aching legs. Thumping bass competed with the stuttering bark of a chainsaw from somewhere behind the house.
He caught Scully's eye. "Think we're lucky enough to catch him disposing of bodies?"
"I really hope not," said Scully. "The post-mortem on dismemberment takes forever."
Sheriff Hawk shook his head. "He's probably working on his latest masterpiece."
Mulder thought he was getting a handle on the Sheriff's subtle sense of humour.
"Right," said Scully. She marched off in the direction of the chainsaw. Mulder followed her, down a path that wound between seemingly random piles of garbage draped in clear plastic.
The chainsaw was painfully loud now, and the underpinning bass line thumped against Mulder's chest. The path opened up to reveal Bobby Briggs standing atop a giant novelty resin doughnut, the kind you'd see on the roof of a roadside diner. He held the chainsaw against the shiny pink glaze with intense concentration. Streams of pink and white chips jetted out on either side of the chainsaw blade as it sank into the doughnut.
"Bobby!" Sheriff Hawk bellowed at the top of his voice. Briggs was wearing huge industrial ear-phones and a welder's helmet, though, and did not respond. Scully observed him with narrowed eyes for a moment, then followed the cords that snaked through the grass. She gathered a handful of cables and yanked. The world fell silent. Mulder's ears rang with the aftershock.
Bobby Briggs flung the faceplate of his mask open and looked around, then leapt neatly from the doughnut to the ground. Mulder watched him put the chainsaw down carefully, then affect a swagger as he walked towards them.
"Sheriff Hawk! Who is this vision of divine beauty? Your new deputy?"
"You think he's talking about me?" Mulder spoke low as he and Scully took out their badges.
Bobby leaned forward and read the names. "Cool," he said. "FBI. Huh." His face was studded with jewellery, through his eyebrows, lip, septum. He grinned at Scully, unabashed. Wide blue and green tattoos in abstract swirls covered his arms, all the way down to his fingertips.
"So, you're an artist, Bobby?" Mulder nodded towards the partially deconstructed doughnut. "What's the current project? 'Those Things Will Kill You'?"
Bobby didn't take his eyes off Scully. "Actually, it's a statement on the way society imposes a morality on food. How is a doughnut evil? It's not. I'm deconstructing a concept that makes no sense."
"You seem to have some strong opinions on evil, Bobby," said Scully. "How did you develop them?"
"Oh, man." Bobby stepped back. "Is someone dead? The last time the sheriff brought round the FBI, there was trouble for years."
"You tell me, Bobby. " Scully took a step forward. "Can you account for your whereabouts in the last two weeks?"
Mulder tuned out the conversation, and instead, listened to the lake and the trees. This place was a mess, and it was clear that Bobby wasn't leading an ordered life. The house was well maintained, though, and the obvious care Bobby took with his tools suggested a steadiness that didn't fit Mulder's profile. If he had seen this place in photographs, he would have a different opinion. In person, though? It was a calm place, an obvious refuge. Mulder shifted uncomfortably. Their presence here was an intrusion.
"I don't know!" Bobby's shoulders were hunched defensively. "I told you, I was driving a collection to Seattle. I was gone for a week or so. I'm not really sure what day it was when I got back, because I'm not really sure what day it is now. It was a couple of days ago. I think."
"You must have stopped for gas, Bobby," Scully said. "Unless your truck runs on fumes and artistic nature."
Bobby threw his arms up in exasperation. "Of course I got gas. A couple of times. I don't remember where. I paid cash, I bought some coffee, some sandwiches."
"Bobby," said Mulder.
Bobby turned, warily. "Yeah?"
"Do you know what evil looks like?"
Bobby blanched. "What kind of question is that?"
"Just answer the question, Bobby." Hawk stepped into the conversation, corralling Bobby on the other side.
Bobby kicked a rock off the path with his boot. "Everyone in this sick little town knows what evil looks like. We've all had a brush with it. The trick is getting yourself clean."
Mulder leaned closer, watching his face carefully. "How did you manage that?"
"Took a while," said Bobby. "Tried to be this whole other person, you know? What everyone expected. It eats you up."
"So, what did you do?" Mulder was sure now that this wasn't their suspect. Hard won introspection was not on his profile.
Bobby shrugged. "You gotta let go of all that. Look inside, be the person you find in there." He turned a circle, indicated the collection of sculptures draped with plastic. "Turns out I'm an artist."
"Doesn't mean you're not trouble," said Hawk.
"That is true, Sheriff!" Bobby made to slap Hawk on the shoulder with sugary-fake conviviality, but stopped mid-way when Hawk's hand drifted towards his handcuffs. "It's because I love you so much. I never want to stop getting under your skin."
Scully met Mulder's eye and they stepped away from the path. Mulder shook his head. "He's not our guy."
Scully nodded. "We can verify his story, but I'm pretty sure Cook County would have identified him if he had been there. Those tattoos are hard to hide."
Bobby peered over Hawk's shoulder. "You are looking for someone, though, right? This is about Laura Palmer."
"Why do you say that?" Scully turned back to look at him.
"She floats back into every story here. When something goes adrift on the river, you think it's gone for good. Then all of a sudden, we're all talking about her again."
"Who were you talking to, Bobby?" Mulder felt like a compass needle, slowly pulled in the direction of the truth. "In the last week or so, who did you speak to?"
Bobby shrugged. "Friends. Old friends."
"I think it's just wonderful that you're an FBI agent, Audrey!" Deputy Andy was a little thicker in the body, and his hair had receded far back on his head, but he was still the same goofy scarecrow that Audrey remembered.
"Well, thank you, Deputy." Audrey kept her hands crossed on her lap. She would maintain her professionality in this unfortunate situation.
The Hayward house hadn't changed much in ten years. Somehow, despite a coat of fresh paint, it seemed to sag a little with careworn familiarity.
Andy parked the car by the curb. Audrey scrambled out before Andy could hurry around to open the door. It felt oddly like being a teenager again, to walk across the lawn and ring the bell. From inside the house, Mrs Hayward called out.
"Who is it?"
"It's Audrey Horne, Mrs Hayward." Audrey hadn't visited the Haywards all that often in her childhood. There had been birthday parties, and the occasional social call with her father. As she and Donna found out later, Audrey's father had a long-established habit of making social calls with Mrs Hayward. Sometimes Audrey wondered just how many half-siblings she would turn out to have in Twin Peaks.
There was silence from within the house.
"It's Audrey, Mrs Hayward!" Andy supplied helpfully. "From the FBI!"
"Andy? Come on in, dear, the door's unlocked. I'm in the living room."
Audrey turned the door handle with a frown. It was odd not to hear one of the Hayward girls thundering down the stairs to help their mother. Then again, Harriet was at college these days, and Gersten would still be at high school. Still, Donna was in the house, or so people seemed to think. She fought the urge to step off the porch and look up at the girls' bedroom. Was Donna up there, looking down at them?
"Well, this is a surprise! Andy, dear, why don't you go pour some coffee? There's fresh cups in the kitchen." Mrs Hayward sat on the sofa, her wheelchair beside her. Andy nodded, and vanished through the doors into the kitchen.
Mrs Hayward gestured to the needlework spread over her lap and on the cushions beside her. "I'm sorry, I have everything arranged…" Her voice tailed off as she noticed the gun on Audrey's hip.
"It's okay, Mrs Hayward." Audrey spoke with calm assurance, her nice cop voice, the one she used to put victims at ease. "I was in town, and I heard Donna was back. How long has she been staying with you?"
Mrs Hayward looked worried. "Why, Audrey, is this official business?" She couldn't take her eyes off the gun.
Audrey turned sideways to break Mrs Hayward's gaze. She hadn't realised it would be disturbing for people here to see her armed. "In a way, yes. We're rounding up some details about Laura's murder." It wasn't an untruth, as such. Lying was so easy on home turf. "I wanted to talk to Donna about it."
There was a loud clang from the kitchen, a reverberating clash that went on and on. Mrs Hayward started. Audrey's hand went straight to her weapon.
"I'm all right!" Andy shouted. "Didn't see the gong. But I see it now."
Mrs Hayward looked down at her hands. "Audrey, Donna is under a lot of stress right now, I'm not sure if talking about those difficult times is a good idea."
Audrey bobbed down, balancing on the arm of the sofa so she could look up into Mrs Hayward's face. "She's not okay, is she?"
Mrs Hayward's eyes filled with tears suddenly. "Oh, Audrey, I'm so worried. She goes out in the daytime, for hours and hours. I have no idea where she is."
"Just in the daytime?" You couldn't make it from here to Chicago and back in one day. Audrey relaxed just a little.
"I made her promise to be in by nightfall. Will and I, we never needed rules, we liked to rely on the girls' own judgement. Donna is an adult and I want to show her that we respect her choices. But I worry. "
"Mrs Hayward, would it be okay if I go and talk to her? I promise I won't upset her. Maybe it will help to talk to someone who isn't local anymore."
"I don't know. Audrey, I don't know if that's a good idea. Are you sure?"
"Yes," Audrey said. "I just want to say hello. I'll see myself up." She turned, and with forthright steps, walked steadily up the stairs. Mrs Hayward wasn't used to seeing Audrey speak in a calm and professional manner. Audrey had found, even at home, that people tended not to argue with that voice.
When Donna lived here, she shared a room with her two sisters, and they were very close. The arrangement was baffling to Audrey, whose own room had been three times that size. She rapped on the cream-painted door.
"Donna, it's Audrey Horne. Can I come in?"
There was no answer, but Audrey heard the springs of a bed shift as if someone had pulled their legs up off the ground. She leaned her head against the door, and spoke low so Mrs Hayward couldn't hear. Her voice was soft and dreamy, a code that Donna would understand.
"Hey, Donna. Remember eleventh grade, when we made out in the AV room? Do you ever think about that? Like, how that was technically incest?"
The door flew open, and Audrey had to step back suddenly. Donna grabbed Audrey by the hand and pulled her inside.
"Audrey, why are you so weird? Why are you still so weird?" Donna was huddled inside a giant blue cardigan. Her long dark hair was wrapped into a thick braid and wispy curls escaped down the length of it. It looked like it needed a good wash.
Audrey let her lips find the smile she used to wear all the time, all mystery and curves and wicked delight. She took Donna's hand and played her fingers over the knuckles, tracing the map of lines there. "Oh, that girl? I only let her out when it's safe."
Donna's face crumpled, and Audrey folded her arms around her. "Hey, it's okay." She helped Donna to the bed, and they sat together while Donna cried into Audrey's lap.
"I'm sorry," she croaked. "It just happens, I can't stop it."
"It's okay," Audrey said, again. "I'm okay, I don't mind. You don't have to apologise. Or explain."
"Look at you," Donna said, shakily. "I'm supposed to be the sensible one. You're supposed to be… you."
Audrey stroked Donna's hair. "You don't have to be anything you don't want."
"I can't be a doctor, you know. I thought, if I kept my grades up and just soldiered on, I'd figure out the emotional part. But it hasn't happened, Audrey. I can't keep giving pieces of myself away to people. They need so much. All the time, it never stops. I don't know how my dad does it."
"Your dad is good at boundaries," said Audrey. "Not everyone can compartmentalise like that. It's not good for some people. Some people are too good at it."
"I've been fighting this feeling for ages, but it got really bad this year. He's not mad at me, you know, my dad." Donna turned over so she could look up at Audrey's face. They'd worked out their vernacular years ago to sort out 'my dad' and 'our dad'. "I never thought he would be. I always knew I could come home. I thought, here, I'll get better. I'll break all those patterns and put good ones in their place. Home is supposed to be safe." A tremor moved through Donna's body, and as if transmitted to Audrey, her spine straightened, the hairs at her nape prickled.
"Has something happened since you came home? Something that makes you feel unsafe?"
Donna shook her head. "I can't stop. I'm haemorrhaging from trying to help so many people, I can't stop the flood. Do you know Laura's father was the one that killed her? Maddie, too."
The segue caught Audrey off-guard. "Who did you hear that from?" She hadn't known this until a few days ago; she doubted it was common knowledge about town.
Donna gave a half-shrug, which only served to settle her more comfortably in Audrey's lap. "Remember Mike Nelson? I went out with him in twelfth grade, you know, just before Laura…"
Audrey did remember: thuggish, ginger, Bobby Briggs' less-smart friend and side-kick. "I thought he moved out of town."
"He's in real estate. The company sends him out to do inspections, that sort of thing. He's not in town much, he travels a lot."
Now Audrey was fully aware, shifting her teenage self to the back of her mind. "How did he get in touch with you?"
"I went up to see Bobby Briggs – have you seen his art work? They give him awards and stuff, it's hilarious. He was worried about Mike, asked if I would talk to him." She shifted uncomfortably. "I think Bobby thinks I'm actually a doctor. I'm not. And Mike? He needs help, I think he's losing control of his life."
"Well, what kind of help did he need? I mean, what are the needs of a travelling real-estate agent, anyway?"
"It wasn't much at first. At first he just wanted to talk, me and Bobby and Mike. I'd bring food up for him or cigarettes, and we'd sit on the dock and talk. There's stuff you don't know, Audrey." Donna laughed, a hasty sound to cover her uncertainty. "Isn't that always the way in this town?" She curled herself up a little tighter, until her knees were touching Audrey's. "But yesterday, Bobby called, said that Mike was hurt. I went up there. Mike was all cut up, on his hands, on his face. I thought he must have been in a fight, but he wouldn't say how it happened. I had to stitch him up, and I mean, I could do that. I can suture perfectly well, and I can dress injuries, but that's not what he needs. There's something really, really wrong with him. I don't know what it is. But I told Bobby not to call me anymore. I'm not going up there again."
Donna lay very still, but Audrey could feel the tension in her body. She put her arm over Donna, bent over her body protectively, and held her tight. Some people were swords, some people were shields.
"It's okay, Donna. You don't have to worry about it." She eased Donna onto a pillow, and covered her with a blanket. "I have to go and do my job now."
Donna snorted, despite the fact that her eyes were dipping closed. "Because you've always been the sensible one."
"We do what we have to." Audrey kissed her behind her ear, and left the room.
Scully and Mulder were waiting for her at the Double R Diner. Audrey slid into the booth next to Scully.
Scully put down her fork, and dabbed her mouth with a napkin. "This pie is really very good."
Audrey caught Norma's eye. Norma held up the coffee pot, and Audrey nodded with relief.
"How was the high school reunion?" Mulder wasn't indulging in pie. He slumped in the corner, nursing a cup of coffee. "Bobby was a real blast. He's not our guy, but something's definitely creeped him out."
Audrey grimaced. "It seems like everyone who grew up with Laura is hurting, one way or another. I think we need to look up Mike Nelson."
"Wait," said Scully. She flipped a couple of pages in her notebook. "Mike Nelson has been staying with Bobby at the lake house on and off for a few weeks."
"The suspect at Cook County signed himself in as Mike," said Mulder. "But I would have assumed that to be an alias. Nobody on nefarious business uses their real name in the sign-in book. Do they?"
"Mike was never the most imaginative guy," said Audrey. "And Donna said he had fresh cuts all over his hands and face yesterday: I thought it might be from the glass window at the morgue."
Norma put down a cup and saucer at their table, and poured the coffee almost to the brim. "You still take it black, Audrey?" She smiled. "I should call you Agent Horne, I'm sorry."
"Audrey is fine." She smiled up at Norma. "Thanks." When Norma had left to clear away other tables, she continued. "Mike is working for a state-wide real-estate company. He's a regional property manager. His job is basically driving from place to place, checking on properties. It sounds pretty marginal. He's been leaning on Bobby for food, and Donna for medical help. He has a record, too, from memory, so his prints should be on file."
"I'll organise a background check, and run his prints against what we took in Chicago," said Scully. "We can look into his spending patterns, see if he's been in Soap Lake or Chicago."
"What we really need to discuss is how we proceed if it is him." Mulder leaned across the table. "That's your department, Scully."
Scully raised her eyebrows. "I'm not taking a suspect – a suspect, Mulder, not a convicted criminal – and electrocuting him until his heart stops. I'm not a trauma specialist, and neither, may I add, is Professor Rosenfield. What he did, whether or not it was with Cooper's consent, is ethically and legally wrong. I am not going to do it."
Mulder shrugged, as if it meant little to him. "Sheriff Hawk told me what happened to Laura's father when the entity was challenged. He rammed his head against the cell door until his skull caved in. I'm just saying, they're the authorities on this aspect of possession. Maybe we should listen to them."
Audrey remembered her father coming back from the Sheriff's office that day, dripping wet and uncharacteristically subdued. She tried not to look at the cherry-red stains on Scully's napkin.
Scully shook her head. "We can contact the local hospital and have an ambulance waiting. I'd like to see him cave his skull in while he's in five point restraints."
The bell at the door leapt into life, and the raucous jangle made them all jump.
"Who's the lady with the log?" asked Mulder with sudden enthusiasm. "Agent Horne, I love your little town."
Audrey glanced over her shoulder. Margaret Lanterman was making her way towards their booth. "Well, we call her the Log Lady. Hello, Mrs Lanterman."
The Log Lady gave Audrey a sharp look. "You bristle now, young lady, but I remember when you were caught by dreams and clouds. Watch where you step, the ground won't always be there beneath you." She slid into the seat next to Mulder as if she had been invited, and sat there with a thoughtful expression.
A few moments passed before Scully spoke. "Can we help you, Ma'am?" she ventured politely.
"I heard you coming, there's no need to shout." The Log Lady shifted her grip on the log. "My log has something to say to you."
"The log speaks?" Mulder was obviously torn between rapt fascination and laughter. "What does it say?"
The Log Lady slapped his hand sharply. "You'll get your turn, young man. Now, sit still, if you're able." She proffered the log to Agent Scully. "Faith shines in you like a beacon on a foggy night, my dear. You may ask."
Scully frowned, but leaned forward respectfully towards the log. "What do you have to tell me?"
"That's lovely," said the Log Lady. "It's clear you come from good people. No, no, shhh." She patted the log gently. "Of course I will. Don't worry." She cleared her throat. "My log tells me that in a time, and in a place, you must trust that you know what is right. You will know when and where. Do not doubt. You see truths, and that is a weapon."
"Thank you," said Scully, uncertainly. "I'll remember that."
"Does your log have something to say to me?" Mulder was hopeful.
The Log Lady raised her hand again, and Mulder quickly slipped his own hands under the table protectively. "My log says to stop pouting and listen. The beast has your scent, and there are no fox-holes here."
Mulder's expression of smug glee faded, and he turned a little grey.
The Log Lady stood and looked over the table. Her gaze came to rest on Audrey. "It is not a choice between the sword and the shield, young lady. A able warrior wields both with skill and grace. But remember mercy. It is not all, victory."
Audrey nodded gravely. Dale had always been deferential to this woman, and she understood now. "Thank you, Mrs Lanterman."
The Log Lady gave them all a brisk nod, and walked away. At the counter, Norma Jennings gave her a foil covered plate, and she carried it out into the afternoon sun.
Mulder listened carefully. Audrey chatted to Mike Nelson on speakerphone as if they had met up after school, as if she didn't have a gun on her hip and confirmed fingerprint data in her hands. They were setting up a meeting at a place cheerfully named Dead Dog Farm. Mike was teasing her about the teenage crush she had on that FBI agent.
Mulder kept his head close to the speaker. Mike Nelson sounded like every other football jock who had grown thicker with age, who wondered just when it was that the best years of his life had slipped away. There was nothing in his voice that raised that fight or flight response; Mulder didn't feel the hairs prickling at the back of his neck. There was, though, an odd note in the way Cooper's name rolled out of the speaker, long and loving, as if Mike resented letting the word out of his mouth. Mulder picked up a pen and scratched a message to Audrey. Keep him on Cooper.
Audrey shrugged. "I can't help it, Mike. You know how it is. I know he was interested in Dead Dog Farm. Maybe this way I can be a little closer to him."
"You ever hear from him, Audrey? You're in the FBI, after all. You're never tempted to, you know, knock on his door?" Mike's voice was wistful.
Audrey pulled her lips back over her teeth in revulsion. Mulder had to give her credit; it didn't show in her voice at all. If there had been a cord on the phone, she would have been twirling it around one finger as she spoke in breathless sentences. "You know, I kind of grew out of that one, Mike. It was a hard lesson, but I learned that you're better off with your feet on the ground. Home turf, do you know what I mean?"
The leer was obvious in Mike's voice. "Nice that you finally realised it, Audrey. I'm looking forward to seeing you. How about we meet tonight?"
Audrey polled the two of them with her eyes. Scully shook her head, and Mulder nodded. Audrey looked at them both in exasperation. "I don't know, Mike, I have a lot of things to work out here at the hotel." She twirled a finger at them. Give me some direction, please.
"Come on, Audrey. Don't be like your brother, all holed up in the one room, banging his head against a wall. Come out in the dark. Don't worry, babe. I'll light your fire."
Now Mulder could hear it, a slowing, drawling rasp in Mike's voice, something that should taste of oilcloth and sulphur, something rancid and foul. He put his hand down flat on the desk in front of Audrey, looked down at her with insistence. My choice, meet him now.
"Oh, Mike. I'll say this: you haven't lost your touch." Audrey 's expression was flat but her voice was flirtatious as she set up the meeting. She ended the call and clicked the speaker off, then dusted her hands on her knees. "Okay. Now I need a shower."
"We shouldn't be meeting him at night, not in an unknown location." Scully was angry now. "Mulder, what were you thinking?"
Mulder flopped back into his chair, legs suddenly wobbly beneath him. "I don't know. It just felt right. I don't think this is a guy we'll catch in broad daylight."
Scully shook her head in frustration. "I'm going to call the Sheriff, see what he can set up for us this evening. He'll have contacts at the hospital."
Audrey's face was stormy. "How dare he talk about my brother like he knows him. Like he's ever met him."
"Has he?" Mulder leaned forward with interest. "Did you get the feeling that he knew more than he should about your brother?"
"It's hard to say. Not many people actually met Johnny, but everyone in town knew about him. Having a brother with special needs is not the kind of thing you keep a secret in Twin Peaks." Audrey's face grew thoughtful. "Laura knew him. She came to visit him and he was always a lot calmer afterwards. Do you think they had something in common? Something Mike is seeing from the other side?"
"We can ask him when we bring him in," said Mulder. "I think it will be an interesting interview."
Scully put down her phone. "Right, Hawk is going to meet us there with an ambulance crew. He says there's plenty of cover, and they'll stay out of sight until we call them." She met Mulder's eyes, and he could see she wanted him to stay behind. He was personally involved, now, and that left him compromised.
He heaved himself out of the chair. "I'll keep it together, Scully. Don't worry about me." He thought about the jar of sycamore, the way the lid felt, braced against his palm. "I think you'll need me there."
It was raining lightly by the time Audrey saw Mike's headlights heading down the road. Dead Dog Farm was a little cleaner than she remembered. Someone had at least tidied some of the rubbish and trimmed the trees, but there was still a coldness to the place. Not even a cheery coat of paint made a difference to that.
She stood in the little alcove by the front door with her coat drawn tight. Scully was in the house, watching from the hallway. And Mulder? Mulder was prowling the perimeter of the farm with that creepy jar of oil in hand.
The headlights drew closer. Mike drove a sporty little two door, red and sleek, and he pulled up in the drive with a squeal of brakes. The twin beams of light played across Audrey's body, and dazzled, she put a hand up to her eyes to block out the light.
"Audrey." Too fast to make sense, Mike loomed out of the rain and darkness. He jangled a set of keys in her face. "Let's get out of this rain."
She stepped back to let him unlock the door. He looked well enough, though there was a long gash across his cheek to the point of his jaw.
Inside, the rain was deafening on the steel roof of the house. Mike flicked the light switch on and off, to no effect. "Sorry. Wasn't sure if they'd put the power back on for a viewing. They need to be sure before they'll commit." The light from the headlights was thin and watery through the smudged window.
"Don't worry," Audrey chirped. She pulled a flashlight from inside her coat. "I'm always prepared for the worst." The beam was wide and strong and the handle was solid in her hand.
"You learn that in the FBI?" Mike grinned, wide mouthed. "I bet they teach you all sorts of things."
"You'd be surprised," said Audrey. The torch flickered, and she shook it, annoyed. When the beam came back, Mike was beside her again. Audrey reached quietly for her cuffs. "Mike, we need to talk."
He moved in a blur – too fast, how was he so fast? – then his arm was across her throat. "We sure do, Audrey. Let's cut to the real reason you're here." He leaned down, smelled her hair. "You know, he's all over you. Ah, Cooper. You were a fun ride. Much better than this old hack."
Audrey's heart thumped hard and fast, but her feet were already moving, smooth and practised. Just like in training, Mike went flying over her shoulder onto the floor with a dull thud. Audrey's weapon was in her hand, drawn so quickly that she didn't recall the action. With a bead drawn on Mike's centre of mass, she felt secure. "Freeze! FBI! Mike Nelson, you're under arrest." The flashlight rolled across the floor, and the circle of light slid over battered kitchen cabinets like a grubby little moon.
Scully flew in from the corridor, and the two of them held Mike at bay. He lolled on his back on the dusty linoleum, hands held awkwardly clear. He laughed, breathless. "Go ahead! Shoot him! What are you waiting for? I've got better digs coming up."
"You're staying right there." Scully pushed a toe into his shoulder. "Roll over. Keep your hands free." She cuffed him, face down on the floor, then picked up the flashlight. "I've radioed the ambulance. Sheriff Hawk is riding in with them."
"Good," said Audrey. She kept her gun trained on Mike's back. "Scully, the way he moved, it wasn't right."
Scully held the flashlight high, flooding the room with light. "Things look different, in the rain and the dark. We've got him down now, he's secure." She peered through the smudged windows. "Where the hell is Mulder?"
Mike chuckled, a dry, dusty sound. "Ding ding ding!"
Mulder followed the fence line around the perimeter of the property with senses prickling, but there was nothing more menacing than a large rat. He watched it move low to the ground, scurrying away from the beam of his flashlight. It dragged something behind it that glistened unpleasantly.
The ground sucked at his feet as he walked, and his hair was plastered flat to his head. He put a hand on the lid of the jar in his pocket, but felt nothing. Maybe Cooper was wrong. Maybe this wasn't the right place.
The air-pressure thickened around him, the way it did just before a storm. It's too cold for lightning, he thought, as the light flickered and danced around him.
There was no thunder, just a cold flickering sheet of light with no answering sounds. For a moment, ahead of him in the cold, white light, Mulder saw a zig-zag pattern of black and white tiles. The rain drew back, and instead, thick, red velvet brushed his face and shoulders. There was something fascinating and enticing about the sensation; he felt a great need to take a step and another. Then there was a single bark in the night and another flash of light. Gunshot this time, not lightning. Mulder spun on his heel and ran for the house.
Mike was still singing, even after the bullet struck his leg.
"Hold your fire! Agent Horne, put down your weapon!" Dana kept her own trained on Mike's body. Blood welled from the wound in the meat of his thigh: at least Audrey had chosen a non-lethal site to put her bullet. She chanced a look to the left. Audrey's face was pale, and there was a slight tremor in her hand.
Face down on the floor, Mike rattled off the verse again, this time in a sing-song, childish voice.
"Ding dong bell,
Johnny's in the well,
Who put him in?
Oh, wait, it was me."
Dana lowered her voice, willing Audrey to listen. "Audrey, put your weapon down. He's still cuffed. He's down, he's secure. Don't let him get to you. Are you listening to me?" Where the hell was Mulder? Where was their back-up?
"He hurt my brother! My brother! Don't you understand?" Audrey shouted, loud about the rattle of rain. The nose of her gun moved up to Mike's centre of mass.
"Audrey, he wants you to hurt him," said Dana. "Listen to me. Holster your weapon, go and find Mulder. I'll keep him down."
"Oh, you think I don't have anything on you, Red?" Mike's voice sneered out of the darkness. "How about a game of hopscotch? Oh, wait. Someone's missing."
Dana ignored him, let the words slide past. Surviving was more important than explanations. Audrey was finally looking at her, not Mike. Dana spoke calmly and with authority. "Go and find Mulder, now."
The door swung open. Mulder stood there, one hand training a beam of light over Mike's form, the other holding the jar of oil. "I'm here. Is everyone okay?"
Mike burst into hysterical peals of laughter. "We're all here now! Let's rock! I'm ready for it! It's time to be moving on!"
"You're not moving on," said Mulder. "You're going back to where you came from." He turned the lid on the jar. It shrieked as it opened, and Mike's voice joined it in chorus, a horrible high pitched wailing.
Scully felt her stomach drop, as if the room were an elevator. Gusts of air raised the loose strands of hair at her neck and tiny clouds of dust kicked up off the floor. Audrey gave a shout: the cracked linoleum lay bare. Mike and Mulder were grappling for the oil in the middle of the room, both their hands wrapped around the jar. Mike was shorter and leaner somehow, his hair improbably long and grey. Dana blinked, realised Audrey was raising her weapon. She moved sideways, shoving into Audrey's body to skew the shot – she could hit Mulder, the men were too close – and in that moment, Mulder and Mike let go of the jar.
The jar fell, slowly and lazily, like a stop-motion film. Dana's shoulder impacted against Audrey's, and she felt the recoil of the pistol through her own body. The sound of the gunshot was long and low over the crackle of breaking glass. Dana blinked, and it felt like molasses. The oil hit the floor in undulating waves of black and the world stood still.
Where the oil spread across the floor, the air shimmered. First it looked rain-slick and prismatic. In the next instant, Dana thought she saw the red, black and white of somewhere else. Then Mike and Mulder were gone.
"What happened?" Audrey staggered back upright, her clothes covered with dust and spattered with the dark oil. "Where are they?"
The veil of light danced and strobed; if she didn't know better, Dana would have called it jubilant. She walked a full circle around it, gun held low, careful not to let the light touch her. "I don't know."
The curtain gave a shimmer, eerily silent like the Aurora Borealis, and suddenly the men were back. Mulder held Mike upright; Mike's head lolled to one side. He leapt from the light, dragging Mike with him, and scurried to the corner of the room, as far away from the light as possible. Mulder's face bore scratches, wide and bleeding freely, as if raked by claws.
"Mulder!" Dana rushed to him, hands out, trying to assess any other injuries.
"Here." Mulder let Mike's unconscious body slide into Dana's arms. "I think he's okay. I'm fine. Don't worry. Just fine."
Audrey helped lay Mike on the ground, putting basic first aid into place while Dana examined Mulder. He shrugged her hands off him.
"I'm fine!" he barked sharply. Blood rolled down his face, and he swiped at it in irritation. He stared, fascinated, at the red smears on his hand. Then, to Dana's horror, he put out his tongue and licked blood from his hand. He looked up, caught her expression, and smiled.
Dana looked at her partner, watched expressions pass across his face that were not his. She saw appetite, raw and eager, and a horrible, secret kind of lust. Dana might not believe in possession, but there was something very wrong with Mulder.
She backed away, hands open. "You're not Mulder."
"He's not?" Audrey's voice was wary. She stood and moved slowly, manoeuvring herself behind the two agents.
"Oh, come on, Dana." Mulder had used a patronising tone like that before, but not with that cold and arrogant tilt to his head. He stepped forward, and Audrey slipped around behind him. "You're the sceptic here. Don't tell me you're falling for the mystic mumbo-jumbo of this little hick town."
"No! This stops here!" Audrey launched herself forward, shoulder down, rocketing towards Mulder. She shoved him hard in the small of the back and he stumbled towards the curtain of light, arms waving madly. Wherever the light brushed against him, he flinched and screamed.
Audrey bore down, gun drawn and trained on him. "Get out of my town! You've done enough damage here."
Mulder shuddered, and stepped further back into the light. His posture was more like him, now, ducking his head a little to meet Scully's eyes. His expression was bleak. "She's right, Scully. I don't have a lot of control here. I won't get this chance again. I don't want to do the things he's telling me." His voice was tired, but his own.
The wind picked up again, swirling around them, whistling angrily as it collected dust and leaves. Blue and red lights filled the room. Sheriff Hawk and back-up, thought Dana, too late. There was no such thing as dimensional portals or possession, but Mulder was falling backwards into nothingness with an expression of despair and acceptance. It was Mulder, though, and Dana wasn't going to let him go.
She stepped forward, and caught his hands, leaning backwards, though there should be no need. Mulder hung over the shimmering curtain. He was heavy, thought Dana, he was pulling her in, too. One foot slipped on the oily floor. She couldn't hold on much longer.
An arm snaked around her waist, and she felt Audrey's body braced against hers. Neither of them were tall or strong, but between them, they were enough to hold Mulder suspended. The wind roared around them, sucking at the windows until they rattled, thumping the door back and forth.
Mulder gave a great, desperate cry of pain, as if something inside him was tearing away. Then he fell forward, pulled by their bodyweight. His momentum bowled them all over, and they tumbled to the ground in a heap. The wind stopped dead. All they could hear was Mike's low and miserable moans, and the rattle of the door as Hawk burst into the kitchen.
He looked down at them, lying tangled on the floor, covered with leaves and oil and broken glass. "I guess I missed the fun part."
The next morning, they met to debrief, and this time it was at the Sheriff's department. Lucy had a spread of doughnuts on the table, and Sheriff Hawk updated them on Mike Nelson's situation. Audrey took a pink-iced doughnut, just for the triumph of it, and sipped her coffee.
"They've got him on suicide watch down at Calhoun Memorial," he said. "The bullet was a through-and-through – nice shot, Agent Horne – but they think he'll be up and about soon. No word on if and when they think he'll be fit for trial. He's currently delusional. They've got him medicated to the eye-teeth."
Mulder picked a cherry Danish to pieces. His face was scabby and bruised, but he was otherwise in good health, if a little subdued. "Is it gone? BOB, or whatever it was that lived inside him? That was in me?"
Hawk shrugged. "I don't think you can destroy a thing like that. Last time, after Cooper, it lay dormant for a long time, nearly a decade. Best guess I can give you is that you've bought some time. When ten years come around again, we'll know to look out for it."
Audrey dabbed up sprinkles with her fingertip. "Where did he go? BOB, I mean. What was that place?"
"The Lodge?" Hawk sipped his coffee. "Nobody knows for sure, apart from stories. We've seen it before. Coop's written about what he saw there. All I can tell you is it's the place where things like that come from."
"Well," said Dana. She put the last piece of her doughnut into her mouth and chewed it with relish. "At least we have a good solid case, with enough physical evidence to satisfy Skinner. Mike Nelson, physically at least, was the one who assaulted the mortuary assistant in Cook County."
Sheriff Hawk made a face. "He likes to keep a close eye on you two. We've practically had an open line to his office since you got here."
"Isn't it nice to be loved?" Mulder rocked back in his seat, pleased with himself.
It was nice, thought Audrey as she sipped her coffee, sitting in a seat that Dale Cooper had probably occupied ten years ago. She looked around the room: familiar and yet somewhere that she had newly been accepted. It was good to come home. It was even better that home needed her, and would need her again.
Skinner gave them misery for the expense report, but fortunately Mulder kept his mouth shut through the whole meeting. Dana thought there was something rueful in Skinner's face, and hoped that he'd taken a serve from Denise Bryson too. Denise had reached across agencies to interfere with their case: she could have taken her fair share of the paperwork, too.
As they walked back to their own office, Audrey passed them in a corridor. She was in the middle of a gaggle of White Collar agents, all impeccably dressed. She gave them both that smile, the mysterious one that people found so fascinating. This time, though, Dana could see through the façade. It was nice to be included in that mystery. It was nice to have gained an ally out of all this.
"Are you happy, Mulder?" she asked, in the elevator. "You've launched another agent off on a mystical quest."
Mulder pressed the button for their floor. Dana let him drive, even when it came to elevators. It made him so happy. "I think it's important to encourage the young ones, Scully. What are the children, but our future?"
Dana shook her head, but she was smiling too. "We could have done worse, I suppose."
Mulder nodded as the elevator started moving. "I think we made a pretty good team."
The phone rang a long time – a consequence of a big house that was mostly empty these days – but eventually it picked up. Mulder settled back on the sofa, and thumped the TV remote until he found the mute button.
"Mrs Nedro? It's Agent Mulder, from the FBI. I know it's been a few weeks, but I wanted to call and talk to you about Hannah. There's a lot I've got to tell you, and some of it is going to sound really out there. I know you know this already, but I wanted to tell you how brave Hannah was."
Audrey's team was still ribbing her gently for taking off with the spooky squad. She smiled an easy-going smile but gave them no explanations. They didn't expect one, either; Audrey's position on the team had been built around her ability to wreathe herself in enigma.
That night, when she stopped to collect her post, there was a parcel from Boston. She and Dale were speaking every couple of days, depending on his health. The dynamics of their renewed friendship were still in the defining stage, but speaking with him gave Audrey such joy. It was wonderful to know that he was alive, that he was happy, and that he felt as proud of her achievements as she did. The Bureau had never felt more like a home to her as it did on her return from Twin Peaks.
While the car idled, she opened the parcel. Inside, carefully wrapped, was a pie. The smell of cinnamon and buttery pastry filled the car. Audrey closed the box with a smile. She'd drop by her brother's apartment tonight, and they'd eat apple pie and ice-cream. It was the best way she knew to tell him how happy she was they were family.