Anyone watching the high speed car chase might have been forgiven for thinking they'd accidentally stepped onto the set of some TV cop show. A silver Ciera came flying over the brow of a small hill – quite literally, the wheels actually left the ground in the manner more often associated with Steve McQueen movies – and hit the ground with a hair-raising squeal of tires. Barely missing a beat, the driver gunned the engine and the car roared on down the road.
Seconds behind it, a police car followed the manoeuvre almost exactly, taking to the air over the hill and landing heavily again. Siren blaring, it shot after the Ciera, leaving a whirl of street debris behind it and the smell of burning rubber.
Anyone watching might have been agog; but in this part of Arlis, Maryland, no one was hanging about on the street to watch car chases, and the minor drama passed unnoticed.
The chase continued for another five or ten minutes, the two cars weaving in and out of streets and traffic at high speed, until the driver of the Ciera finally made a mistake. He took a wrong turning into a dead end and found himself trapped in a short alleyway that was fenced off at one end. On the other side of the fence was a pier jutting out into the small harbour that served the Arlis Shipworks.
Behind him, the police vehicle came to a halt and one of the officers, his voice magnified by a loudhailer, demanded "This is the police! Get out of your vehicle, put your hands on the roof and freeze!"
The man behind the wheel of the Ciera shot a quick glance at the police in the rear view mirror, then flung open the door and jumped out of the car. Ignoring his pursuers completely, he made a mad dash for the high fence at the end of the alleyway and seized hold of the links, trying to climb it.
Swearing, the two officers piled out of the car and ran after him. The one who had used the bullhorn took a swing at the suspect, hitting him heavily behind the knees; the man fell from the fence. The other officer pulled out his own night-stick and paused.
"Hold it! Get down on the ground – "
The suspect ignored him, trying to get up, and the first officer hit him again, knocking him back to the ground.
"Get down on the ground – do it!" he ordered, but was ignored. The second officer took a swing at the suspect. "Face down, dammit!"
Behind them, a second police vehicle drew up and another officer got out in time to see the suspect all but ignore another blow and reach out to seize one of the officers' night-sticks, yanking it out of his hands. To his disbelief, he saw the suspect lash out, catching one of the officers viciously behind the knees with the weapon, bringing him to the ground. A defensive manoeuvre by the second officer was countered with almost contemptuous ease and the suspect, now on his feet, drove the end of the night-stick into his stomach and followed up with a sharp upward blow to the man's chin. With two police officers out of commission, he turned a desperate and determined face onto their remaining colleague.
Something told this officer that he was facing an unequal contest. Nevertheless, he waded in and was ruthlessly beaten to the ground. The suspect cast the night-stick aside, and launched himself back at the fence, hauling himself up it. As he reached the top, a third police car was screeching to a halt and another officer was leaping out.
This man didn't even attempt to pull out his night-stick. Instead, he produced a fat black box and pointed it at the suspect. Two small conductors flew out of the "taser" and hit the suspect in the back, but he never even paused despite a jolt of electricity that should have felled him. Throwing himself over the top of the fence, the conductors were yanked out of his body without him apparently noticing, and he dropped to the other side untouched. Scrambling to his feet, he made a dash for the pier.
Stunned, the young police officer pulled his gun. "Halt! Armed officer!"
He fired, and the suspect was temporarily knocked off his feet. Blood ... or something ... blossomed at his side, but it didn't stop him; he was up again and staggering on to the end of the pier. The officer fired again as he jumped, and the suspect vanished. There was a distant splash from the harbour.
Holstering his weapon, the police officer scaled the fence with a little difficulty and dropped down on the other side. But when he ran to the end of the pier, there was nothing to be seen. Behind him, one of his injured colleagues dragged himself to his feet in time to see the young officer's puzzled investigation of the end of the pier.
"Where is he?" he shouted.
The other man shook his head. "I hit him," he called back. "I know I hit him. He was bleeding bad .... Where the hell did he go?"
By this time a fourth police vehicle had arrived and drew up at the edge of the harbour. Two more officers got out. They joined the young officer on the end of the pier.
As they did so, he looked down and saw some odd green patches of liquid on the top step of the pier. In a weird way they looked almost like ... blood.
The hand that appeared over Annie Rosen's shoulder and stole a peeled carrot got a swift slap for its pains. "Don't do that!" she scolded. "You're worse than the kids."
Fox Mulder crunched on the carrot, unimpressed, and studied the cluttered kitchen worktop thoughtfully. They were standing on the 'green' side of the kitchen; the side Annie reserved for preparing and cooking dairy and other non-meat foods. Annie kept a strict kosher kitchen, and since she and her husband Simon were comfortably well off, the entire room was divided down the middle: two ovens, two sinks, two worktops, two sets of utensils. On the fleishig or 'meaty' side everything was in red.
The worktop was currently heaped high with dishes and vegetables in various states of preparation. It seemed like an extraordinary amount of food to Mulder, even given that it was Friday night and he and Sam were staying the weekend with Annie's family. "Who's coming to dinner?" he asked.
"Rabbi Neuberger," she replied, chopping the carrots with ruthless efficiency and scooping them into a dish. She wiped her hands on a dishcloth, whipped a cover off a large ceramic bowl and tested the Challah dough with a careful fingertip. "Isn't it time you got ready for Temple?"
Mulder studied his cousin through slightly narrowed eyes. She was lousy at concealing anything, and right now he could tell something was up just by the way she avoided looking at him. "Why's the rabbi coming tonight?" he wanted to know.
"He sometimes does," she responded shortly. "Fox, you'll be late - "
"There's plenty of time. I haven't even decided if I'm going yet. You know I don't normally attend." Mulder heard the telephone ringing out in the hallway, and heard Simon pick it up.
"I know, but Sam wants to go and you'll go with him," Annie was saying firmly.
Well, it was Annie's house and she made the rules, Mulder ruefully acknowledged. If she said he was going to attend Temple, he'd better attend Temple. Besides, the entire family had him by the balls where Sam was concerned, and he knew it.
"Okay, okay, I'll go. But at least let me set the table for you first ... how many places do you want?" He opened the cupboard where she kept the best cutlery and reached for the place mats.
Startled by her almost-shout, Mulder stared at Annie. She took the place mats out of his hand and shoved them back in the cupboard, closing the door sharply. She was flushed and almost agitated. "Go and get ready for Temple, Fox."
"Fox - "
"Annie, what are you up to?" he demanded.
"Nothing! Will you just go and get ready for Temple?"
Simon appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. "That was Dana on the phone," he said and paused, eyeing the pair of them warily. "She said she's having a little trouble with her car and she might be a few minutes late."
Mulder sucked in a deep breath and turned a baleful glare on his cousin. "Dana's coming tonight? Why didn't you tell me?"
Annie crossed her arms defensively, her mouth setting in a stubborn line. "Every time I've asked her to dinner you've said no, so I decided to invite her myself. I don't know why you don't want us to get to know her better, Fox."
"And you just happened to invite Rabbi Neuberger over tonight as well, huh? It was just a coincidence?" Mulder made a disgusted sound in his throat, and turned to Simon. "Did you know about this?"
"I told her it was a bad idea," Simon shrugged.
"Great, just great! Annie, I've told you before - this is my life and I don't need you meddling in it. You are not the local matchmaker, dammit! And even if you were, Dana is not Jewish - "
"There's no harm in her just meeting Rabbi Neuberger and - "
"Where do you get this arrogance that makes you assume she'd want to convert?" Mulder snapped, interrupting her.
"She'll have to if the pair of you want to get married," Annie flung back at him.
"Oh, for crying out loud - ! For the last time, Annie, we are NOT talking about getting married." Mulder angrily stalked to the door.
"And you never will, if you don't ask her!"
Mulder halted with his back to her, and for a brief second his eyes closed. "For your information, I already have asked her," he said curtly. "And she said no!"
He stormed out of the kitchen, and a moment later they heard the front door slam. Simon leaned against the door-post and a raised a brow at his stunned wife. "I told you!"
"Yes, but he's asked her already!" Annie was a woman of mercurial moods; suddenly her anger was gone, and she was in a froth of speculation. "Why hasn't he said anything about it before?"
"Probably because he guessed you wouldn't let it drop once you knew," Simon observed dryly, but as usual Annie wasn't listening. She hurried back to her worktop and seized her knife, aware that time was rolling on and she had a meal to prepare.
"I wonder why she said no?" she continued, and Simon rolled his eyes in exasperation. Would she never learn?
"Annie .... Annie! Listen to me." She looked up, surprised, and he fixed her with a steady stare. "You are not to say anything to Dana about this when she arrives, okay?"
She gave him an old-fashioned look. "Simon!"
"I mean it. It's unfair to both of them, when it's their private business ... and besides, it's Shabbat. I'm not playing referee between you and Fox over dinner, okay?"
Annie grumbled and reluctantly acquiesced; but when Simon had left her to go and get ready for Temple, she wiped her hands again and headed purposefully for the telephone hanging on the wall by the door, and pressed number one on the speed-dial.
"Hi, Mom? It's Annie .... Mom, you'll never guess what - "
Mulder did not reappear in time to join the family for the Sabbath meal.
Scully, whose arrival had coincided with Simon and the rabbi returning from Temple with the children, felt deeply uncomfortable throughout dinner. Despite Simon and Annie's best efforts to appear as though nothing was wrong, Sam's excited chatter to her, and Rabbi Neuberger's flow of cheerful conversation, there was a subtle 'atmosphere'. Afterwards, when Annie and the children were clearing the table, Scully made an excuse and escaped into the hallway, where she rummaged in her bag for her cellphone.
She had a pretty good idea where Mulder was.
She hit number five on the speed-dial and waited; and when the answer eventually came, the voice on the other end of the line was obviously computer-distorted.
"It's Dana Scully," she said patiently, and was mildly amused at the sudden scrambling noises on the other end, as whoever had picked up the phone tried to disconnect it from the voice-modulator. Frohike, at a guess.
It was. "Agent Scully!" He sounded slightly breathless. "To what do we owe this pleasure?"
"I think you know, Frohike," she said with a sigh. "Is he there?"
There was a slight pause. "Well, he is," Frohike said cautiously, "but - " his voice dropped slightly, "he's not very happy. Are you sure you want to speak to him?"
"Yes. Would you put him on?"
There was another pause, and the sound of mumbling voices in the background, then Mulder picked up the phone. "You could have just called my cellphone," he said.
His tone was both sulky and defensive, and the corners of Scully's mouth turned down a fraction. "Oh, is it actually switched on?" He mumbled something that she decided it would be better not to hear. "This was childish of you, Mulder," she told him bluntly. "I can understand that you were angry earlier, but you hurt Annie very much by not turning up for dinner."
"Scully - "
"No, Mulder! It was rude and uncalled-for, and frankly I didn't think you could be so unkind."
"You're going to apologise to her."
"Like hell!" he snapped angrily.
"Oh, you will," she replied grimly. "Let me put it another way: I don't want to see you until you have." And she hit 'end' before he could say anything else. For a moment she wondered if she'd been right to say anything. Possibly not, but .... If I can't speak my mind to him by now, then we're in a poor state, she thought wryly.
She put the phone back in her bag and walked through into Annie's beautifully furnished living room. Rabbi Neuberger was already there, comfortably disposed in a large armchair and idly studying a copy of the "Washington Gazette". He was an elderly man, probably in his mid-seventies, with an open friendly face that was universally disarming. He looked up when she appeared, and there was a twinkle in his eyes.
"You think he'll listen to you, my dear?" He gave her an apologetic look when she stared. "The door was open, and I couldn't help but overhear."
Scully relaxed and gave him a rueful smile. "To be honest with you, I don't know," she admitted. "I hope he will."
"It'll be the first time in my experience that he's listened to anyone, if you'll pardon me saying so," he told her.
Scully took a seat on the sofa opposite him and gave him a curious look. "Do you know Mulder well, Rabbi?"
He made a noncommittal sound in his throat, and folded up the newspaper, putting it to one side. "So-so ... I know the family. I've seen less and less of Fox over the last five years. Since his grandfather died he rarely attends Temple, and when he comes now it seems to be more for Samuel's benefit." The rabbi smiled a little. "Even if he only attends for another's sake, it can't be a bad thing, and I'm hopeful that he may eventually appreciate the benefits to himself as well."
Knowing Mulder's feelings and general ambivalence about religion, Scully wouldn't have liked to offer an opinion either way, so instead she said, "You know his mother as well?"
"Ah." At this Rabbi Neuberger looked wry. "I see even less of Rachel than I do of her son. She attends another synagogue, my dear - I don't think she likes my style."
"Oh! I don't really know Mrs. Mulder," Scully explained. "I've only met her the once, and that was an official visit in my capacity as an FBI agent."
"I shouldn't think it would have made much difference if it was an informal occasion," the rabbi observed shrewdly. "I doubt she would have liked your style either, my dear." At her look of surprise he smiled again, this time a little sadly. "Rachel Mulder is an embittered woman - she's had some unfortunate experiences in her life, and she uses her religion as a refuge from them. The longer she goes on, the more insular and narrow she becomes. It's a pity, but I think it was inevitable that she would take a dislike to you."
"I ... had an idea she was more violently opposed to me than Mulder actually let on," Scully admitted. "He doesn't say much, but he's gone out of his way to avoid the two of us meeting again, which tells its own story."
"Does her opinion matter to you, my dear?"
"Only inasmuch as it affects Mulder," she replied frankly. "I hope you'll forgive me for saying so, Rabbi, but our relationship is really none of her business."
"It could become an issue if you become a member of the family, though," he suggested.
There was a pause ... then Scully saw that his eyes were twinkling again. She relaxed muscles that had tensed up without her realising, and grinned at him. "Annie?" she asked, and he laughed.
"If Annie is to be believed, you and Fox are practically under the Chuppah! I know her rather well, though, and I suspect the case is somewhat different, no?"
"We've talked about it," Scully said, choosing her words carefully, "and we've put it to one side as an option for now. Does that make sense?"
He chuckled. "It makes perfect sense to me, my dear, and seems only sensible under the circumstances. Forgive me, but ... I think you are unlikely to wish to convert, am I right?"
"I was raised a Catholic, Rabbi, and I still practice my faith ... although not perhaps as stringently as Father McCue would like. I know, from things Mulder has told me, that Annie feels strongly on the subject, and I wouldn't want to offend her, but - "
"My dear, you have nothing to explain!" he interrupted quickly. "Annie spoke to me about this several months ago. And, rather to my surprise, so did Fox shortly afterwards. I understand your situation better than you realise, and although I would naturally like to think that eventually the two of you would see a way to settling things the traditional way, frankly I can't see how you would manage it at the present time. Aside from the differences in your faith, there is the matter of Fox still being married by our law. He has the civil divorce, of course, and that would allow him to marry again outside the Temple, but I doubt such a solution would satisfy either of you in your hearts. Not to mention how both families would feel ... and I personally believe that the feelings of the two individuals' families do need to be taken into consideration in any marriage. A little care and thought beforehand can prevent many a marital difficulty later on."
"I don't think there's any great likelihood of Mulder being in a position to hand the 'get' to Phoebe in the foreseeable future," Scully commented, with a slight humourless smile.
"No," the rabbi agreed quietly. "A great pity. Much as it pains me to say it, he would be well-rid of her."
There was a brief silence, which was suddenly interrupted by Simon walking in with Sam and the older of his two sons, Brian. Sam was dressed in his pyjamas and he had obviously just been bathed, for his skin was pink and his hair damp and sticking up a little at the front.
"I'm putting Sam to bed, since Fox isn't here," Simon explained, smiling. "He's just here to say goodnight."
Scully accepted a sloppy kiss from the little boy, and watched with a smile as he trotted over to Rabbi Neuberger and gravely bid him goodnight as well. The rabbi leaned forward and laid one hand on his dark hair briefly. "Shalom Shabbat, Shmuel. Sleep well."
Simon took him out again, and Brian produced what looked like a copy of the Talmud. He took the seat next to the rabbi, and Scully abruptly realised that this was probably going to be some sort of religious instruction session. It seemed to be her cue to leave, and she got to her feet ... just as Mulder walked through the door with Annie.
"So ...." Mulder loitered uneasily on the gravel driveway as Scully unlocked her car door. "How was dinner?" he asked finally.
"It was nice." Scully regarded him thoughtfully for a minute or so. "It would have been better if you'd been there, though, Mulder," she told him gently. "It was a lovely meal, and it was nice to finally meet your family properly. And Rabbi Neuberger, for that matter. I had a long chat with him after I spoke to you .... It was interesting to hear his point of view on things."
"What things?" Mulder demanded, not sure he liked the sound of this.
"Why don't you ask him? You might be surprised."
There was a pause as they both looked at each other, and finally Scully sighed. "Look, I've got to go. I'll give you a call."
She turned to open the car door and was stopped by his hand on her arm. "Look ... I'm sorry about tonight," he said awkwardly. "I lost my temper, and .... Well, I've spoken to Annie about it."
Scully suppressed a smile, and patted the hand affectionately. "It's okay," she told him, and reached up to give him a quick peck on the cheek before she got into the car.
Mulder and Sam returned home late on Sunday evening. Since the main reason for their stay with Annie's family had not been the Sabbath, but rather an infestation of cockroaches in their apartment block, Mulder could be forgiven for being a little preoccupied as he parked the car and located his apartment keys. Supposedly the landlord had been bringing in the pest control people on Saturday to fumigate the entire building. Consequently Mulder's mind was more on chemical smells and dead cockroaches than security as he unlocked the front door and urged his son through it; but even so, he wondered a little at the remarkable darkness he encountered as they walked inside.
A craggy-faced older man appeared out of the shadows of the kitchen as he shut the door, making him jump violently and hiss a word that under ordinary circumstances he would never allow anyone to say in front of his son. Without thinking, one hand reached out to pull a squeaking Sam behind him, and the other went to his hip where, three years ago, his gun would have been holstered. It was a reflex Mulder had never quite lost, and he nearly swore again when his hand failed to encounter the reassuring butt of his old Sig Sauer.
"What the - !" he began, then he recognised his "visitor". It was a man he'd met only twice previously, just before and just after his abortive trip to Ellens Air Base in Idaho. "What are you doing in my apartment?" he demanded angrily, and tried to loosen Sam's anxious death-grip on his leg. "And why have you drawn all the blinds?"
"I'm taking a considerable risk just coming here," the man retorted, "and the danger attached to being seen in your apartment is beyond your imagination. I called you earlier - where were you?"
"I do have family, you know," Mulder snapped. He flicked one of the light switches on, making the man flinch and duck back into the kitchen. "Sam, go in the other room and take your coat off." He waited until the little boy was out of earshot, and turned to his uninvited guest, studying him. "You've got a lot of nerve," he stated. "It wasn't as though I was exactly expecting a call from you. I've had no contact with you at all since Ellens Air Base."
The man's expression became impatient. "On the contrary, who do you think has been providing you with information for the last six months?"
Mulder's brows snapped together as he suddenly recalled various titbits of information turning up on his desk at work, folded inside his morning newspaper, or appearing under the front door. "That was you?"
"I told you before: I have an interest in your work and I can help you, but only so long as it's in my best interests to do so."
But Mulder was unimpressed. "You sent me the cryptic hints about the so-called Litchfield cloning project? Yeah, fascinating stuff, but what's the use if the evidence keeps disappearing before Scully and I can do anything with it?" His tone turned sharp, angry. "And an agent died during the investigation of the deaths at the Eurisko building. Granted it was partly his own fault for running in there without proper back-up, but with a little more solid information on what we were dealing with, Scully might have been able to prevent that. Do you know how it feels to blame yourself for the death of a fellow agent? Do you know how other agents treat you after something like that?" He made a disgusted sound in his throat.
"No one said this was a game for the weak, or those without a vested interest," was the indifferent reply. "Failure is something you have to learn to accept, Mr. Mulder - you're not dealing with amateurs, after all."
"Brilliant. So what are you doing here now? What do you want from me?"
The man dug into the pocket of his nondescript beige trench-coat and drew out a video tape. "I'm assuming you haven't watched television tonight."
Mulder accepted it warily. "If it's "Debbie Does Dallas", I've already got a copy."
The flippant comment was ignored completely, and the man walked briskly past him and out of the door.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Mulder followed him out, but the other man continued on down the corridor as though they'd never met.
As much as Mulder would have liked to watch the tape immediately, there were other more important things to do first. He went through the usual evening routines of making Sam's supper, snatching a few minutes to check his answering machine and e-mail, bathing the boy and putting him to bed.
Sam was unusually subdued, a fact that Mulder put down to a combination of alarm at the unexpected visitor earlier, and general weariness from an exciting weekend with his cousins. He ate his boiled egg and bread fingers without pushing any of it around his plate, and got into the bath without an argument. He even let his father soap up and rinse his hair without undue protest, accepting the tousling of the towel placidly afterwards. Mulder took out a clean pair of pyjamas and helped the boy wriggle into them.
He was just adjusting the cuffs around the wrists and ankles when the previously silent Sam suddenly floored him by asking, "Daddy, is Day my mommy?"
Mulder froze, unsure what to say. "Why'd you ask, Tiger?" he asked finally, trying to maintain as normal a tone as he could. He was kneeling on the floor in front of the boy, and sneaked a quick glance up at him; Sam was gazing in a vague manner at the starfish-patterned tile border halfway up the bathroom walls.
"Sarah, an' Bri, an' Johnno have a mommy," he said.
"Aunt Annie is their mommy, you know that," Mulder told him.
"An' Li-Weng has a mommy."
"So is Day my mommy?"
Mulder hesitated, a little nonplussed. He really hadn't expected to face this particular question from Sam so soon, and wondered if his son had overheard some of the argument with Annie over the weekend. "No, she isn't," he said finally, because he never lied to Sam. "Why, would you like her to be your mommy?"
That could mean anything. Mulder sat back on his heels and regarded Sam, perplexed. "Are you okay, Sunshine?"
"Yes. Can we read "Green Eggs an' Ham" tonight, Daddy?"
Well, that seemed normal enough and Sam didn't seem to be upset. Nevertheless, Mulder was reminded of a conversation he'd had with his mother in one of her more expansive moments, when she'd told him that as a child he'd been prone to asking odd questions for no apparent reason. The two cases weren't entirely similar, of course, for Sam's question was hardly "odd" under the circumstances, but it made Mulder feel a little twitchy all the same. It was tempting to try and find out why the boy had asked in the first place, but a conversation like that could lead anywhere, and he wasn't ready to explore the question of Sam's real mother with him yet.
So Mulder reluctantly put the question to one side, and prepared himself instead for a session with Dr. Seuss.
Half an hour later, Mulder wandered back into the living room and prowled around restlessly for five minutes or so. The tape his informant had left behind was lying on the coffee table, taunting him; but although Mulder felt a vague urge to look at it, the impulse was not as strong as it had been earlier.
Finally, he went into his own bedroom, switching the light on in passing, and opened the closet doors. He rummaged around at the back until he uncovered an old box tied up with string, and took it back out into the living room, grunting a little under the weight of it.
The box contained a stack of old documents and photographs which Mulder reluctantly drew out one by one and examined. On top of the pile was a plain manila envelope containing a copy of his marriage certificate and the decree absolute from his divorce. He gave these a passing glance, but put them to one side. Underneath was another document, framed and wrapped in tissue paper; he unwrapped it and studied the beautiful illuminated Hebrew script of the Ketubah - the marriage contract - pensively. A lot of hopes and plans had been wrapped up in this single elegant piece of parchment, but looking back he now realised that they'd been his hopes and plans, and that was probably one of the reasons they'd never been realised. Briefly Mulder wondered what Phoebe had hoped for when they married; it was depressing and rather chastening to realise that he'd never really known what she wanted. Had he been that blind to his wife's personality? Evidently he had ....
Hastily, he re-wrapped the Ketubah and put it to one side. At least his grandparents hadn't been alive to see the mess he'd made of things; that was something to be grateful for. He dipped into the box again and pulled out a thick bundle of letters, most of them bearing British stamps and postmarks. Why on earth had he kept these things? He didn't need to be reminded of the nauseating state he'd been in over Phoebe after he returned from Oxford. The bundle was tossed hastily to one side, and a photograph album emerged from the box to take its place. Mulder leafed through it, beginning to feel irritable. This had been what he was really looking for, but he had to grit his teeth as he examined the cross-section of photos he'd kept of his ex-wife.
Wedding photos. Nice Chuppah ... pity about the couple standing beneath it. Her dress showed way too much cleavage; no wonder Aunt Esther had spent most of the service and reception muttering. Come to think of it, Annie didn't look too happy in the group photos either, although his former mother-in-law looked worryingly triumphant. The honeymoon photos were ... bright, sunny. Mulder squinted at himself and his scantily-clad bride. Was there anything in these pictures to suggest what was to come? Not unless an outsized bottle of sun tan lotion could be counted as grounds for divorce.
More pictures; standard stuff, the kind in everyone's albums. A skiing holiday ... a party somewhere ... a shot of Phoebe with a new car. Mulder finally closed the album and stared down at the cover pensively. He'd kept these photographs deliberately, a random selection taken from the crates of stuff that had gone into storage after Phoebe vanished.
Shortly after Sam's arrival, he'd made a point of picking out this box of documents and pictures so that he would have something to show his son when the boy was old enough to ask about his mother. It had seemed a very distant event at the time, but at least the other fear - that he would end up some day escorting Sam to a maximum security jail to actually meet Phoebe - had yet to be realised.
Small mercies ....
Mulder sighed and began to tuck all the other bits and pieces back into the box, leaving the photograph album out. If Sam asked again - if he asked the next big question about his mother - he would be prepared for it.
Then he sneered at himself as he took the box back into the bedroom and stashed it in the closet again. Who was he kidding? He would never be prepared.
Mulder switched the bedroom light out again, and stomped back into the living room. The photograph album was roughly tucked away in a drawer full of other 'important' documents that were kept carefully out of Sam's reach. Then he stalked over to the coffee table and snatched up the video tape, ripping the cardboard cover off it and shoving it into the slot of the VCR. A brief search, accompanied by caustic comments, uncovered the whereabouts of the remote control and Mulder flicked the television on, throwing himself down on the sofa.
This had better be good.
"New hairstyle," Mulder observed appreciatively, when Scully collected him from the reception desk at the Hoover building the next morning. "Suits you."
Scully gave him an unreadable look as she checked to see that he was wearing a visitor pass. "You came all this way, bunking off your classes, just to talk about my hair?" she asked dryly, although secretly she was pleased he'd noticed. She steered him into an empty elevator and pressed the button for the basement.
"Au contraire, ma petite. But the hair's pretty cool too."
Scully relaxed and smiled at him. "Thanks – it was a snap decision on Saturday morning, and I wasn't too sure about it, but no one's commented so far. I can't decide if that's a good or a bad thing."
"I like it." Mulder reached out and touched the curled-under ends of her hair lightly with his fingertips. "It's getting longer. I was expecting you to get it cut off again soon, but I like it this length."
"It feels kind of weird, but I think I'll keep it like this for a while." She made an effort and dragged her mind back to professional matters. "So, to what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?"
"Better wait until we get to your office. Have you checked it for devices lately?"
"I check it most days," she responded, puzzled and a little surprised. "I haven't found anything for the last couple of weeks, but we can look again if you like."
"No ... no, it'll be okay."
Scully shot a searching glance at him, but he was obviously unprepared to say any more, so she changed the subject. "How's Sam?"
"He's fine." Mulder hesitated, then decided he might just as well say something. "He threw me a little last night, though."
"Yeah …. He asked me if you were his mother."
To his surprise, Scully seemed unfazed by this. "I guess that's a natural reaction, Mulder. He sees other kids with their mothers and since I'm around a lot of the time, he made a connection somewhere." She studied his face for a moment, and realised that he was uncomfortable for some reason. "Was it a problem? For you, I mean?"
"It's not that." He gave her an embarrassed smile. "It was just … really unexpected. I'd like to know what triggered it."
"I don't think you have to look far for that," she observed. "He's bright, Mulder, and I can't believe he hasn't overheard various adults talking about you and me."
"Yeah – Annie, for a start. And probably I'm just as responsible." The lift came to a halt and they stepped out. "I feel under siege at the moment," Mulder admitted, as they walked slowly down the corridor to her office. "It's not just Annie. I got a lecture from Rabbi Neuberger as well, before he left on Friday."
"About you and me?"
"No, just me. He told me he'd spoken to Annie about things – well, I guessed that, because while I was upstairs with Sam, they were talking for a long while. But he thinks I ought to sit down sometime and really consider what I want to get out of my faith, and not just what I want for Sam." He gave Scully a look that was more than a little aggravated. "Then he got on to me about keeping in contact with my mother, which is a joke really, because she never keeps in contact with me."
It was on the tip of Scully's tongue to point out that two wrongs hardly made a right, but she bit the comment back, knowing that he wouldn't appreciate it. Besides, to be fair to Mulder, he had a certain amount of right on his side where his mother was concerned. "So what will you do?" she asked finally.
Mulder's mind flashed briefly to the box of Phoebe-related memorabilia, but decided that it wasn't worth mentioning right now. "Leave things alone for a week or two, until I get my head straight," he replied wryly.
He let Scully lead the way into her office, but he shut the door behind them firmly and, after a brief hesitation, threw the lock. Scully raised a brow at him, a little puzzled by his behaviour. "Is that necessary?" she asked, sitting on the edge of her desk and folding her arms. For once, a raised brow and teasing smile failed to get the usual leering response.
"I don't know," he replied, "but I'd rather not take chances until I find out."
"Sounds suitably mysterious. Can you tell me what this is about now?"
Mulder pulled the video tape out of his pocket. "I want you to take a look at this and tell me if you can see anything odd in it."
Scully raised a brow at him but accepted the tape, slipping it out of its cover and putting it into the office VCR. She pressed the 'on' button on the TV and set the tape rolling. It was a newsreel, and they both watched in silent concentration as a female reporter talked about a high speed car chase into the Arlis docklands in Maryland, that had ended with several injured police officers and a missing suspect. It was early evening in the shot, but behind the reporter could be seen numerous police cars, extensive artificial lighting and some kind of underwater search going on. The harbour edge was crowded with people.
"This was yesterday," Mulder murmured as the reporter tried to tackle the police captain in charge of the search. "I checked out a couple of the Maryland newspapers this morning and they're referring to it as "an intense manhunt". The search was called off for the night, and they were going to drag the harbour this morning."
"What did the guy do?" Scully wanted to know.
"Apparently he refused to pull over for a moving violation."
"Well, there's a good reason for Federalising the case," was her dry observation.
"Don't be too quick to judge. It took me a couple of viewings to see what was odd about this too."
Scully swallowed a sigh but allowed him to rewind the tape and show it again. And again. Finally she pinpointed something that looked a little out of place. "Who are these guys here?" she asked, freezing the tape and pointing to a small group of men in trench coats who were standing a little apart from the action.
"Agent Scully wins the prize!" Mulder congratulated her, and rooted around in his pocket until he found a foil-wrapped toffee to give her.
Scully accepted it gingerly, but gave him a doubtful look. "That's the odd thing about this?"
"Yep." Mulder glanced around the office vaguely. "Have you got that thing that prints screen-shots?"
"If you bothered to look, you'd see that it was hitched up to the VCR already," she told him reprovingly.
Mulder gave her an affectionate look and set about printing a selection of shots from the tape. Scully was still puzzled, though.
"Mulder, I don't get this. You just happened to see this on TV last night and decided to tape it?"
"Is that a problem?" he evaded, fiddling unnecessarily with the equipment.
"No, but …. Apart from those guys, what made this stand out to you? You've just admitted yourself that it took you a couple of looks before they stood out."
"Scully, why is there so much interest in this missing driver?" he pointed out. "Look at the police presence there! They're putting a hell of a lot of effort into finding a guy who was breaking the speed limit."
"Maybe it's because he brained three of Maryland's finest," Scully suggested mildly.
"Yeah, right." Mulder was unimpressed. "Did you see the papers this morning? There's one suspected serial killer on the loose, two rapists, and a drive-by shooting. But they're concentrating all their efforts on this one guy who wouldn't pull over when he was asked nicely. He could even be dead, since one of the officers knew he shot him and the guy jumped off the end of the pier! It doesn't add up."
"And you want me to do ... what?"
"Go take a look at the crime scene. Ask a few questions – see if you can get a look at the car. Anything. There's got to be more to this than meets the eye."
Scully considered this, eyeing Mulder thoughtfully. He was keeping something back from her, she knew. There was some other reason he wanted her to look into this, but for some reason best known to himself, he didn't want to tell her about it. That ought to set alarm bells ringing straight away, she thought uneasily.
Then the silence was ruptured by someone trying the door handle. There was a puzzled silence, then they knocked. "Scully?" a male voice said.
Mulder raised a brow at Scully. "You could take Jerry with you," he suggested.
Agent Jerry Castamir, Scully's occasional partner, was even less impressed by Mulder's reasoning than Scully was; and his reaction still managed to fall short of the obvious disdain displayed by Captain Lacerio of the Arlis Police when he found the FBI on his patch. It took considerable effort on the part of both Scully and Castamir to get any kind of information out of him, and what little information he did have was unrevealing.
"There were three different law enforcement agencies out here last night, Ma'am," he told Scully curtly, and handed back the screen shot of the men in trench coats. "Damned if I could keep track of everyone."
"Three different agencies looking for one man on a moving violation?" Castamir asked, incredulous.
"Look, son, it may not be "Silence of the Lambs", but it's what we do," was the irritable response.
"You said the suspect was shot," Scully intervened hastily. "Do you have any explanation of why the body hasn't been found yet?"
The captain glanced sideways across the harbour, where a couple of scuba divers were tipping backwards off a boat. "This is a working harbour, Ma'am. There's a lot of debris – cables, pipes, that sort of thing – on the bottom. It'll take time. Now if you don't mind me asking – what's the FBI's interest in this?"
"The suspect matches the description of a federal fugitive," Castamir replied smoothly.
The captain rewarded him with a scathing look. "Oh yeah? That's kind of interesting … since no description of the suspect has been released."
Once again, Scully intervened. "Would you object to us taking a look at the car?"
For a moment Captain Lacerio gave her a hard, searching look. Then he shrugged, evidently deciding the problem wasn't worth his time. "It's been impounded."
"Why are we here?" Castamir demanded in an undertone, as they headed back to their car.
"I think you said it yourself, Jerry. It's extremely odd that three agencies – two unnamed – were all out here searching for man who tried to avoid a speeding ticket."
"It's hardly FBI business."
"That remains to be seen."
"This is an x-file? That's what Mulder was in the office for this morning?"
Scully gave him a sharp look. "Does that bother you?"
Jerry chewed his bottom lip as they got back into the car. "Look," he said finally. "Don't take this the wrong way, but I was under the impression that we got our assignments from AD Skinner. Do we have his authorisation for this investigation?"
"Jerry, I had no idea you were so by-the-book," Scully muttered.
He winced slightly. "I'm not. It's just … well, I'm kind of comfortable with this partnership, and working part-time with the VCS. I'd really like not to be censured and shipped back out to a field office just yet, you know?"
Scully, who was about to put the key in the ignition, paused and stared at his barely-visible reflection in the windscreen for a moment. His expression was blank, but something about his eyes wasn't right. "Nothing's happened so far, Jerry," she told him after a moment. "We're just looking so far. We'll take a look at this car in the impound and see if it tells us anything. It probably won't and if it doesn't, that's the end of the matter. Okay?"
Jerry gave her a weak smile. "And if it does tell us something?"
"Then I'll go to Skinner for a 302."
"Right. Fine. That's cool. Let's go look at the car." Jerry looked away from her, out of the side window, and Scully turned the keys in the ignition.
The journey to the Police Impound was completed in total silence, Jerry apparently lost in his own thoughts and Scully busily turning over their conversation in her mind.
On the face of it, Jerry's concerns were perfectly reasonable; they had absolutely no legitimate business interfering in the Arlis PD's hunt for the fugitive, and if Skinner found out they'd been doing so without a good reason, let alone a 302, then they'd probably get roasted alive. On the other hand, something was gnawing at the edges of her mind. Since when had Jerry become so joyless? The man she'd originally been partnered with had had a real spark of mischievous good humour in him, not unlike Mulder. Yet they'd barely returned from that debacle at Ellen's Air Base before he'd turned into … well, the voice of her conscience, for the want of a better description. The investigation into the Eurisko building a few months ago, which had culminated in the death of Agent Jerry Lamana, had been a serious low point in their working relationship and he had been difficult to work with ever since. They'd looked into a couple of cases together where he'd almost seemed to recover – both of them wildly improbable ghost hunts that had led to the exposure of some serious hoaxes – but by and large he was a cheerless companion, twice as sceptical than she could ever be and, on occasion, downright short-tempered.
Not that she knew Jerry Castamir all that well, of course. The nature of their partnership was such that she didn't seem to spend an awful lot of time in his company, and when she did, it was hardly in a social context. She had no idea what he did with his free time or who he associated with. She knew he was gay – although she would never have known that if Mulder hadn't told her – and presumably he had relationships; possibly he even had a significant other, but she didn't know who that person might be.
In fact, he was something of an enigma to her. He knew a hundred percent more about her than she did about him, and for the first time that struck her not as odd, but faintly disturbing. Scully was not a woman to pry into other people's lives, but it was strange that he should never spontaneously mention anything about himself – not even the most innocuous of details. He could talk the leg off a table when he was in the mood to do so, but it was only now she was realising that he never said anything that related to him.
Frowning a little, Scully pondered this anomaly. Perhaps she was over-reacting; perhaps he was naturally reticent. Of course, it could just be that she was a woman; she wondered if he talked to the other agents on the Violent Crimes team, and hard upon that thought was the urge to find someone in the VCS as soon as possible, and pump them for information.
Then she almost laughed at herself. The only person she knew really well on the current VCS team was Tom Colton, and it would be a cold day in hell before either of them would willingly talk to each other. Which left ... Mulder. The only other person who knew Jerry Castamir well.
Mulder it would have to be.
"The car was registered to a rental agency in Gaithersburg, according to this," Jerry commented, waving a file at Scully. She was checking the glove compartment, although it had been emptied by the police earlier. "They had no idea the vehicle was even missing." He watched her get out of the car, and added, "I think we're wasting our time, Scully."
"Could be," she admitted, stepping back and scanning the Cierra irritably. "I wish I knew what I was looking for." She rummaged around in her pocket and pulled out one of Mulder's photos, looking first at it and then at the car again.
Jerry leaned over her shoulder. "That a shot from the video Mulder showed you?"
"That's interesting." He took it out of her hand, and went to look at the front of the car. "You can't make out the license plate in the photo. Pity." Then he paused. "Wait a minute – look at this."
"What?" Scully followed him.
"Well … I might be wrong, but I don't think this is the same car."
Scully shot him a startled look and took the photo back, comparing it to the vehicle in front of her. For a moment she couldn't see what Jerry meant – then she saw it. "There should be a sticker inside the windshield."
"I guess the police could have removed it …." Jerry went to have a look, running his fingers over the spot inside the toughened glass where the sticker should be. "No, there's no glue residue. And the glass is quite dirty – there would have been a mark if something had been peeled off."
They looked at each other. "Interesting?" Scully asked finally.
Jerry nodded soberly. "Interesting."
Back in the office, they took another look at Mulder's tape, slowing it down and examining it frame by frame.
"Definitely a different car," Jerry commented. "Do we tell the Arlis PD that someone switched it?" He cocked a brow at Scully, who gave him an amused look.
"Not yet," she told him, and he grinned slightly.
"I had a feeling you'd say that. Okay, what next?"
"Let's take a closer look at that sticker." Scully fiddled with the VCR and other equipment until she got a slightly enlarged photo of the car's windscreen. She took it over to the light table in the corner, and found a magnifying glass under which she could study it. "That's interesting," she commented, at length. "It's a caduceus – sort of the adopted symbol of the medical profession."
"So maybe the driver was a doctor?" Jerry suggested idly.
"It's a good bet." Scully put the magnifier down, frowning a little. "It's not something I recognise off-hand, but there's a good chance that this is a sticker from some kind of research society or pharmaceutical company."
Jerry perked up. "I'll see if I can get a decent shot of it, and find out whose it is," he offered.
"Okay." Scully handed the photo over to him and ejected the video tape from the VCR. "While you're doing that, I'll take this up to Danny and see if he can get a clearer picture of the car's license plate."
Scully gave him a quick smile, grabbed her jacket and purse, and headed out of the office.
Jerry listened to her heels clicking down the corridor for a moment, his teeth worrying at his lower lip. When he heard the elevator doors 'ting' open softly and shut again, he crossed the office quickly and shut the door, locking it. Then he hurried back to Scully's desk.
For several minutes, he stared at the array of photographs scattered across the neat expanse of wood. It had been a mistake to point out the sticker in the car's windshield, but the words had been out of his mouth before he realised. Although there had been a sporting chance that Scully would have seen it anyway .... But now he knew with certainty what the sticker was, he couldn't risk not reporting it. Reluctantly, Jerry reached for the phone and dialled a number.
Whoever was on the other end of the line, answered immediately. "It's me," Jerry said, his throat dry. "There's … there's a problem."
It was a weary Scully who arrived on Mulder's doorstep late that evening.
"You look like you could use a stiff drink," he observed as he relieved her of her coat. "Bad day?"
"So-so," she sighed, and rotated stiff shoulders a little. "I spent most of the afternoon in a budget meeting, trying to justify a receipt for photographic services from Sci-Crimes. Internal transfer orders are a bitch – they come back to haunt you at the worst moments."
"One of the many things I never thought I'd have to deal with again when I left the Bureau," he agreed, "although trying to do the same thing with the University bursar is ten times worse. They tried to sting me for an order of encyclopaedias the other day. What they thought I was going to do with fifty of the things is anyone's guess."
"Prop up wobbly table legs?" Scully suggested.
Mulder snorted good-humouredly. "Don't even get me started on the tables!"
"I brought your tape back," she said, as he led her through to the kitchen. "We checked out the car in the video at the impound, and found that it wasn't the same car any more."
"Seriously?" Mulder's eyes were bright with interest as he poured her a glass of white wine.
"As I live and breathe. Danny managed to enhance the tape enough to get the true license number, though, and between us, we tracked it down to a Doctor Berube. We're going to go see him tomorrow."
"That's brilliant. Any ideas about this doctor's background?"
Scully swallowed a sip of the wine appreciatively. "Jerry did a little research into a sticker on the windscreen – Berube appears to have connections with a company called Pinck Pharmaceuticals, although that could just be a coincidence. We'll probably find out more tomorrow … although I have to say, Mulder, I don't know exactly what you think we'll find."
"Maybe nothing," he acknowledged. "But if the cars were switched, I'd like to know why."
"I doubt Berube will know," she said with a sigh. "He reported the car stolen the morning before the police tried to flag it down. All the same, it's worth talking to him just in case." She rotated her shoulders again, trying to loosen the knots in the muscles, and rubbed her forehead absently.
"Come in the other room and sit down," Mulder said gently. "Forget about the case for a while and veg out."
"Sounds good to me. Where's Sam?" she asked suddenly, realising that she hadn't heard any of the usual little-boy noises around the apartment. She followed Mulder through into the living room, but there was no sign of his son.
"He's in bed. I wore him out with half a dozen games of Twister earlier." As proof Mulder had to scoop up the Twister mat from the floor, and Scully laughed softly.
"You're having to get creative, Mulder."
"Hey, I've always been creative!" he protested, grinning. He tossed a couple of cushions onto the floor, and they both settled down on the rug with their backs against the sofa.
"This is nice," Scully sighed, and let her eyes wander vaguely around the room, not really taking anything in. "There was something I was going to ask you, but I can't remember what."
"It'll come back to you." Mulder eyed her with concern. "You look really drained. Are budget meetings that bad these days?"
"Oh! No, it's not that."
There was a long pause, and Mulder finally asked, "Are you sure you don't want to just go home and get some sleep?"
"I've already been home once." Scully thought about it for a minute and turned her head so that she could see his face. "I wasn't going to tell you this, but …."
"What?" His stomach tightened with concern.
She reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a folded buff envelope. "This was waiting for me with my mail." When he hesitated about taking it, she pushed it into his hand. "It's okay – I want you to read it."
Mulder sat up slightly and examined the envelope. It had obviously been delivered by hand – there was nothing on it but Scully's name in firm, hand-written black script. When he opened it, there was a single piece of stiff cream-coloured paper with the same firm black writing tilting across it.
Ignoring me won't do you any good. I'm not
going to go away. I need to see you; we
have to talk.
I know why you're doing this; I know you're
trying to punish me. I can accept that. We've had
our problems. I'm telling you, though – screwing
another guy is not the answer. I can forgive a
lot of things, but my patience isn't infinite.
Give it up, Dana. You can't win. I'm always
going to be here, so why don't you just meet with
me and we'll talk about it? Our old place, the
bench on the Potomac - be there tomorrow.
I'll be waiting.
Mulder let out a slow breath and dropped the letter and envelope on the floor between them.
"I know what you're going to say," Scully said quickly, her tone half-defensive, half-apprehensive.
"No, you don't," he responded quietly. "I'm not going to scream at you anyway, if that's what you're thinking. Is he still phoning you?"
"Occasionally," she muttered.
"How often is "occasionally"?" She hesitated, and her body-language told him everything he needed to know. "How often, Scully?"
"I find messages on my answerphone two or three times a week."
Mulder let out a shaken breath. "Every week?" he asked, and she nodded reluctantly. "Holy shit! What about e-mail?"
"I don't get them at work, but I get – or did get – quite a few at home. I've got the programme set up to filter them out now."
Mulder stared at her with wide eyes – her tone was so calm. "Why aren't you going out of your mind?" he demanded.
"What?" Scully was genuinely surprised.
"Most women would be going nuts if some guy had been harassing them for nearly two years. Hell – I'd be going nuts! But you don't seem to have a problem with it."
Scully opened her mouth – and shut it again. "It's not that I don't have a problem with it, Mulder," she said after a moment or two, and shrugged helplessly. "It's just that ... well, it's just Jack. I guess I've got used to it."
"Back at Christmas you were ready to turn him in to Skinner," he pointed out. "Why the change of heart?"
"Well, he left me alone for all of a month." She smiled wryly. "I had time to cool down."
Mulder didn't know what to say. That she could treat this so cavalierly was beyond his comprehension. Finally he picked up the letter again. "This – is this the first time he's sent you letters?"
"No, but it's the first one in maybe a year." Scully plucked it out of his fingers and put it back into the envelope. "I guess that's why it rattled me so much."
"Or maybe it's the threatening terms it's couched in," Mulder retorted bluntly.
"Oh, Mulder! He's not threatening me."
"The phrase "you can't win – I'm always going to be there" doesn't bother you? Because it sure as hell bothers me!"
"Are we going to fight about this?" Scully asked quietly.
"I don't know – are we?" Mulder studied her closed expression and sighed, reaching out to take her hands. "We've had this out before, Dana. If I'm pushing the issue, it's because I'm worried." His eyes fell on the envelope in her hands. "No, scratch that – I'm frightened. You can argue until you're blue in the face that he's never done more than harass you, but the VCS file store is full of stories about harassers and stalkers who waited years before they suddenly lashed out at their victims. Willis has escalated his behaviour at least three times now – he went from the occasional e-mail and phone call right up to dragging you out to a case in New York, and lying in wait for you at the Bureau ball. Now it's this. Okay, it may seem like a little thing compared to him actually confronting you, but it came out of the blue, didn't it? You don't know what's fuelling his obsession with you, or what triggers the variations in his behaviour. And when you don't know that, you don't stand a chance in hell of predicting what he'll do next."
Scully looked down at their linked fingers for a moment, her hair screening her face from his view. When she finally looked up again, there was a tiny rueful smile on her lips. "Is that Agent Mulder, the profiler, talking?" she asked softly.
But Mulder couldn't smile back. "By the time I profiled someone, Scully, the victim was dead already."
The smile vanished, and she looked away again.
"I'd rather it didn't come to that," he added, when it was evident she wasn't going to say anything. "I'd rather someone like Skinner took a good hard look at Jack Willis now and gave the bastard the fright of his life. The chances are that it's all he needs – he's probably only trying his luck because he knows you're reluctant to bring your relationship with him to everyone's notice again."
Scully bit her lip, but nodded reluctantly. "I guess that's what it comes down to," she confessed. "I keep thinking that Skinner or the OPC won't believe me, or they'll think I'm being vindictive. And no matter what I do, Mulder, it's going to look bad."
"The longer you leave it, the worse it'll look," he pointed out. "How much evidence do you have? Have you kept copies of the letters and e-mails he sent you? What about the tapes from your answering machine?"
"I wiped the tapes," she said tiredly, "and I got rid of a lot of the messages and letters. Out of sight, out of mind, I thought."
"Okay, so start now. Keep a file of everything he sends you and start keeping your answering machine tapes .... Is it the kind of machine that dates and times each message? If it isn't, get one that does. And notify your service provider that you're being harassed – find out what their policy is for dealing with internet stalkers."
At this, Scully gave a soft snort of laughter and looked at him affectionately. "Mulder, who's the FBI agent here?"
"Just what I was thinking." He smiled, relieved at her change of mood. "All the same ... will you see Skinner tomorrow?"
"Jerry and I are supposed to be seeing Dr. Berube tomorrow morning," she pointed out, but Mulder was having none of it.
"Screw Dr. Berube – see Skinner first. This is more important."
"Okay, I'll give his PA a call first thing," she agreed. She gave him a mock-stern look. "Happy?"
"Ecstatic." Mulder sat back, looking relieved.
Scully remembered her wine and picked the glass up, draining it in two quick swallows. "So," she said casually, "are you going to invite me to stay tonight?"
He chuckled. "Scully, you don't need an invitation – my bedroom door is always open to you."
"Good, because I thought you were never going to ask."
"Assistant Director Skinner will see you now," his PA, Kimberley, told Scully.
Thank God for that, Scully thought, smiling mechanically at the other woman as she stood up and went to the office door. She had been able to get an appointment with him in the morning, but an over-running meeting had delayed him and she consequently spent twenty minutes in the outer office battling sweating palms and a churning stomach.
She had promised Mulder that she would deal with the Jack Willis problem immediately, but that didn't mean she had to like it. She had only a vague idea of what happened when charges were filed against a fellow agent for harassment, but she knew enough to know that this was the very beginning of a descent into hell.
Nobody liked disciplinary hearings. And nobody liked the person who instigated one.
You can do this, she told herself, and turned the door handle resolutely.
Skinner was standing behind his desk when she entered the room, and he looked up at her briefly.
"Agent Scully, I'm glad you're here. I wanted to see you about something anyway." He waved her to the seat in front of the vast desk, and Scully slipped into it, feeling hot and cold all over. Skinner sat down and looked at her. "Are you working on anything major at the moment?"
Scully's mind scampered briefly over the case-not-case that Mulder had shoved under her nose, pausing at the visit to see Dr. Berube that she and Jerry Castamir were supposed to be making that morning and the Section 302 request that she had intended to ask Skinner for at some point ... and she gave the expected response. "Not at the moment, Sir."
"Good. Have you seen the papers this morning?"
"No, Sir ...." Not between waking slightly later than usual, having a lightning assignation with Mulder in his shower, followed by two drives from hell, one back to her apartment to get changed and the other into the office. She hadn't even had breakfast, although that was more due to her stomach churning in anticipation of this interview with Skinner.
Skinner frowned. "Are you aware of the unimaginatively named "Slasher" murders, Agent Scully?"
Her eyes widened slightly. "Yes, Sir. Four victims found in the DC area over the last four months with multiple lacerations, puncture wounds to the eyes and mutilation of the face – "
"Five murders, Agent," he corrected her grimly. "There was another one found last night."
There was a pause, and Scully ventured to comment: "I take it the Bureau has been called in on this one?"
"We were called in when victim number four was discovered two weeks ago," Skinner nodded. "Unfortunately, this latest killing would seem to suggest that the UNSUB is escalating suddenly, and we're under a lot of pressure to catch him before he kills again." He pulled a file out of one of the trays on his desk and held it out to her. "The initial VCS team is being enlarged in response to this, and both yourself and Agent Castamir have been requested – you especially, given your background in forensic pathology. The Special Agent in Charge is hoping that a new ME on the case, particularly one with field experience, will find something that may have been missed previously."
"Of course, Sir." Scully accepted the file. "Who do I report to?"
It might have been her imagination, but she thought she saw a line or two of disapproval briefly dragging the corners of Skinner's mouth downwards. "Special Agent Jack Willis," he stated heavily, and she felt her stomach plummet in response. After a stiff, unnatural moment of silence, he added, "Agent Willis was cleared for field duty again nearly a year ago ... as you may know. He has a strong interest in this case, and it was the decision of Assistant Director Rolfe to let him take charge of it."
Was that Skinner's oblique way of telling her that it wasn't his fault she was being put in this situation?
Breathe, Scully commanded herself silently, fighting for control. You will NOT break down in front of AD Skinner. You're a Federal Agent, damn it, not some shrieking heroine from the silent movies – you can handle this.
Jesus, she was supposed to be here to make a complaint against Willis ... what the hell happened now?
"Agent Scully?" Skinner was frowning even more heavily now.
Scully dragged in a deep breath and straightened up in her chair. "Yes, Sir?"
"There's a meeting of the task force at 10.30 am. Agent Willis will brief you then, so I suggest you take the remaining ..." he glanced at his watch, "fifteen minutes to take a look at the précis in the file that's been prepared for you. Is there anything else?"
"No, Sir." Scully gratefully took refuge in the routine monosyllables, and dragged herself out of the chair.
She had just reached the door when Skinner's voice called her back. "Agent Scully?"
She turned back to him reluctantly. "Sir?"
"You wanted to see me about something else, I believe?" When she looked at him blankly, her mind reeling, he added, "Kimberley said it was urgent."
"Oh!" Abruptly, her mind lurched into action again, saving the day. " I was only going to ask for a few days' personal time, Sir, but under the circumstances ...."
Skinner nodded. "Maybe later, Agent," he told her gruffly. "When the UNSUB's off the streets."
Scully nodded and made her escape.
Out in the busy corridors, her conscience suddenly piped up, disconcertingly taking on Mulder's voice.
What about Willis? Aren't you going to explain to Skinner about the harassment? What if this is just another ploy?
But what would be the point? This had to be the worst of bad timing – Skinner would never believe in the coincidence, was unlikely to want to take action immediately even if he did. And Scully's mind couldn't help going back to the words of the letter that was tucked inside her purse.
Ignoring me won't do you any good. I'm not going to go away.
Jerry Castamir was waiting for her outside the briefing room. "You heard," was his dry greeting, and she nodded curtly. "I guess this means we won't be continuing with Mulder's case," he added.
Scully was unreasonably irritated by his tone, but managed to hang onto her temper by a thread. "You don't have to sound so pleased about it," she responded, as mildly as she could.
Clearly it wasn't quite mild enough, for Jerry raised his hands defensively. "Hey, it was only an observation! Why, did you ask Skinner about the 302?"
"I didn't get an opportunity."
"Huh. Well, we might get a gap sometime today. We could, uh, swing past Dr. Berube's lab if we get a chance. It shouldn't take long."
Scully blinked at him, and he ventured a tentative smile.
"Maybe," she sighed, trying to relax. "Although I'll be honest, Jerry – I don't think it's likely we'll get that chance."
He frowned a little. "That bad, huh? All I had was a note on my desk telling me it was the Slasher case and to be here at ten. Do you know who's in charge?"
"Jack Willis," she bit out, and pushed past him to knock on the briefing room door.
"Oh shit ...." she heard him say softly behind her.
Two of the victims' bodies had already been released for burial, but the other three – two of which had so far been unclaimed by family or friends – were laid out in the autopsy bay at Quantico waiting for her. Scully surveyed the three sheet-covered forms silently for a second before taking refuge in the case files in her hands.
"So, Agent Scully," an insinuating male voice drawled from behind her, "any observations so far?"
The muscles in her shoulders twitched imperceptibly, but she managed to contain any other outward reaction to Willis' snide tone. Instead, she glanced up again at the bodies and seemed to study them meditatively for a moment. "I think," she said slowly, thoughtfully, "that they might be dead. I'd need to take a closer look, of course, just to be sure ...."
There was a soft snicker, also from behind her, that was quickly suppressed and Scully's mouth twitched involuntarily. Bless Jerry for sticking his neck out and insisting on coming along too. She hadn't appreciated the mother-hen behaviour when he suggested it, but his presence, despite their uneasy relationship, was a comfort and would undoubtedly keep Willis from stepping over the line, at least for now.
"It's not another medical examiner you need here ... Sir," she said stiffly, turning to face Willis. "You need a profiler. I doubt I can tell you any more about these victims – "
"I didn't ask for another medical examiner," he interrupted her curtly. "I asked for you. A set of fresh eyes, coupled with field experience, instead of just a career scalpel-man. Of course, if you're not up to it ...."
Scully gritted her teeth, and was grateful when Jerry jumped into the gap. "A profiler's been requested, Scully," he told her. "But I'm guessing he'll need all the extra information you can give him."
He placed only the tiniest emphasis on "you", but she was amused by the insinuation all the same. Yes, she'd seen Willis' reaction to the suggestion that a profiler was needed on the case; not just now, but also earlier in the briefing when someone else had muttered the suggestion. This was his case and it was galling him beyond measure that someone from outside the team was being brought in to take all the glory. More than that, he resented the implication that he couldn't find this killer on his own efforts. That his own profile had failed to get them anywhere so far was immaterial.
"How long's this going to take?" Willis snapped, his eyes fixed on Scully coldly.
She took a quick glance at the three bodies again. "Two of them have already had most of the basic work done on them, so ... four to five hours, at a guess."
He made a harsh sound in his throat. "I've got other things to do. Let me know when you have the results. Castamir ...." He swung towards the door, clearly expecting Jerry to follow.
Jerry held his ground though, smiling blandly at the SAC. "Oh, I thought I'd hang around for a while. You'll be doing the latest victim first, right Scully?" She nodded. "Well, someone needs to be here to relay any relevant new information to the task force."
Willis stared at him for a moment, then shrugged and was gone.
Scully took a deep breath, almost welcoming the sour smell of formaldehyde in place of the equally bitter smell of Willis' rancour. "Thanks, Jerry."
"No sweat," he smiled. "If you ask me, the population's more at risk from that crazy son of a bitch right now, not our UNSUB. What's his problem?"
It was tempting to say "me", but Scully was well aware that she was only a side issue right now. Jack Willis' problem was that he clearly felt he had something to prove, and that, in Scully's opinion, was bad news for everyone on the task force, not just her.
"I don't know," she said instead, "but I do know that I don't want to give him any excuses to fault my work right now, so this could take a little longer than I said. You don't have to hang around here – why don't you go and get yourself some lunch? There's a really good diner nearby ...."
His nose wrinkled. "I don't know ... formaldehyde as a dressing just doesn't work for me."
She chuckled softly. "It clings, doesn't it? I'm used to it, but ...."
"I'll get a coffee and study the files for a while," he told her and grinned. "I don't know if you heard Mike Rawlings, but there's a suggestion this could be a copycat, and I'd like to go over the previous file and get a feel for what we could be dealing with. Willis is denying it, of course, but that's one of the things the team are hoping the profiler will clarify."
Scully got a sinking feeling at this statement. Agent Rawlings was Willis' second in command, and the suggestion that he and Willis were divided in their opinion on the case – and worse, that Rawlings felt strongly enough to express his opinion to others – was very bad news. Divided leadership was the last thing the task force needed.
"Well, whatever," she nodded. "Let me know what you find out. I didn't have a lot of time to go over the files myself."
"How's it going?"
Scully glanced up from the open body cavity of victim number five and saw Jerry poking his head around the door so that he didn't have to see too much of the cadaver's insides ... or get too much of the smell. She smiled, switched off the recorder and stripped off her latex gloves, and joined him outside in the corridor. He was holding two large cardboard cups and had a file tucked under one arm.
"Frankly, it looks just the way the previous ME described victims two, three and four," she told him, and accepted the cup he was offering. "Is this coffee?"
"Starbucks' best Costa Rican," he nodded, and smiled at her sigh of relief.
"Jerry, you're a marvel."
"I try. So ... there's nothing new?"
"Not yet," she admitted. "I think it's a fair bet there won't be. This is definitely our UNSUB so far, although I want to take another look at the other victims, especially the first one. I took a look through the ME's notes on that one, and there's a suggestion that it may differ from the others." She frowned. "If that's the case, I'd like to know why it was so quickly lumped together with the other murders."
"Well, I've taken a look through the files and there are few things you might like to know."
"Oh?" She looked at him with interest.
Jerry nodded and put his cup down on a nearby surface. He took the file from under his arm, and flipped it open to show her a prison mug-shot of a thin, staring-eyed man with a shaven haircut. The picture was a copy but disguised none of the lurking insanity in the face. "This is one John Mostow, born in Uzbekistan and emigrated to the US ten years ago. Absolute certified lunatic now, doing time in the Druid Hill Sanatorium, Baltimore."
"Druid Hill?" Scully shuddered slightly. That was where Eugene Tooms was incarcerated, hopefully for the rest of his natural life ... however long that might be.
"He got put away, oh ... six years ago now, for a string of murders involving puncture wounds to the eyes, multiple lacerations, facial mutilation .... Sound familiar?"
"So we've got a good reason for Agent Rawlings to believe it's a copycat," she observed gloomily. "Presumably this guy Mostow is still locked up?"
"Absolutely – it was the first thing Rawlings checked out. Then, in an act that undoubtedly just killed SAC Willis with happiness, he tossed the files like a hot potato over to Patterson at the ISU. And as a point of interest, Patterson himself passed me in the corridor twenty minutes ago, moving like an express train and looking way too happy for my comfort levels. But you want to know the really cool thing about this?"
Scully raised a brow at his evident amusement. "How can anything about this case be "cool", Jerry?"
He grinned. "Trust me, you'll love it." He flipped a couple of pages over in the file to show a photocopy of a rather messily typed document that bore all the headers of an official profile. Then he turned another page so that she could see the footers and signature at the bottom of the document.
Special Agent Fox Mulder.
"That's excellent," she stated after a moment, her voice indicating that it was anything but. "I can't imagine who'll be more pleased about this – Jack Willis or Bill Patterson."
"I doubt it'll make a great difference," Jerry replied, a little surprised at her sour tone. "Mulder isn't with the Bureau anymore, and since this is clearly a copycat a new profiler will be brought in. Besides, this is anything but a full profile. Mulder's best works of art used to take up an entire stationery store. This is just a working draft, and from the paperwork it looks like they caught Mostow before he needed to take it any further. This time around, it'll probably be a different story."
"Whatever," Scully sighed. She couldn't work up a great deal of enthusiasm either way, partly because she had a feeling that this was going bite her on the rear if Willis could possibly arrange it, but also because her shoulders and back were starting to ache. They always did if she had more than one autopsy to perform.
"Are you nearly finished?" Jerry asked, concerned.
She snorted. "Not yet, not by a mile. I've got to finish up on the latest victim, then I need to look over the others. Really, Jerry, you don't have to hang around."
"Well, I'll wait for you to finish up this one, then I'll take your notes to be typed up if you like."
"That would be great," she agreed thankfully. Then an idea occurred to her. "I was thinking …." She trailed off hesitantly, and he raised an expectant brow at her. "Well, I was thinking maybe you could drop by Berube's lab and see what he knows about our vanishing carjacker."
Jerry's brows went up. "Without a 302?"
"Yeah, okay, it was a stupid idea," Scully sighed, and he felt a twinge of contrition.
"Well, so long as you cover for me ...." He gave her a quirky smile at her look of surprise. "You can always say I was upstairs, chatting up the new recruits."
Berube worked for the EmGen Corporation in Gaithersburg, an organisation working on the Human Genome Project. On the face of it, this was perfectly legitimate – in fact, Jerry had no real reason to believe it was anything but.
…. Except that there was a sticker on the window of Berube's stolen car which spoke of a connection to another, less innocent company he had definitely heard of before; one which he didn't think it would be a good idea to have Scully sniffing around. And, of course, there was the fact that for some inexplicable reason, Fox Mulder was interested in the missing driver of that car.
Jerry Castamir was a man in a quandary. He wanted nothing to do with this investigation, but for various reasons he was obliged to be involved if Scully chose to pursue it. He was terrified of what he might find, of what she might find, and of what he might be forced to do in either case. And yet …. There was still enough of the original man left inside him that he badly wanted to do damage to those holding his chains. And although he was supposed to lead her away from situations like this, part of him couldn't help but wonder if he might not be doing himself a favour by leading Scully towards them instead.
So hard to know which way to turn, so hard to know where the traps and pitfalls lay ….
Pulling up outside the EmGen Corporation laboratories, Jerry was not entirely surprised to see a string of police cars parked around the building, and yellow crime scene tape festooning the steps around the entrance. The only question was: had he arrived too late or too soon?
Chewing on his lower lip, he climbed out of his car and flashed his badge at the police officers who were keeping a watch on the inevitable rubber-neckers outside the building. "What have we got here?" he asked the most senior officer, ducking under the tape. Like he didn't already know.
"Someone broke in here and attacked one of the research staff," the woman replied. "He was already dead by the time we arrived, and the place is a mess." She cast him a curious look. "FBI, huh? One of your guys is already in there."
That nearly brought Jerry up short, but he nodded smoothly as though it was what he'd been expecting, and turned to run up the short flight of steps to the entrance.
"Be careful in there!" the woman called after him. "Some of the animals are still loose …."
Animals? Jerry stepped through the front door, letting it swing shut behind him, and paused in the short hallway outside the laboratory. The police officer had been right; the place was a mess. In the middle of all the broken glass, toppled shelves and empty cages, the coroner's team was zipping up a body bag on a stretcher. Meanwhile, various members of the police and representatives from a nearby animal centre were trying to recapture a score of small monkeys who appeared to have been released during the break-in. Most of them were already safely shut up inside small carrying cages, but a couple were still resisting capture, and the handlers were trying to corner them at the far end of the room.
Watching them with a cynical little smile on his face was Special Agent Alex Krycek. Jerry regarded him with sour resignation, thinking, Yep, some of the animals are definitely still loose .... He swallowed and, stepping carefully around the coroner's people, took a quick look down at the body on the stretcher, before the final few inches of the bag were zipped. Staring back up at him blankly was the battered face of Dr. Berube, a length of nylon rope still twisted around his neck from where he had supposedly hung himself out of the window. Not that Jerry had many doubts that it would be the good doctor, but it was always as well to check.
Krycek looked up then and saw him. "Castamir," he said casually, when Jerry approached him.
"Krycek." "Skunk" would suit you so much better ....
The younger man gave him a quick, appraising look. "What brings you down here?"
"I think you already know," Jerry countered, keeping his voice low.
Krycek smiled, that little warped boy scout smile that made his flesh creep. "Ah ...! Ditto, my friend."
Not sure what to say in reply to this, Jerry looked around at the wreck of the laboratory. "Someone did a real number here." It might have been a statement ... or a question.
"Yeah. Someone knew their business, I'd say." Krycek's response was casual, but the brow he raised at the other man was mocking. "I guess we'll never know now how far Dr. Berube's work progressed."
"The gene therapy he was working on. All his papers seem to have been burned – a pity, but I guess his colleagues will be able to recreate his work."
"Recreate his work", huh? Jerry watched as Krycek casually sauntered away, following the coroner's people out with the body. He wasn't sure he liked the sound of this: he'd been given the impression that the whole point was to shut Berube down, although what exactly that had to do with the missing driver of the doctor's car was still a mystery. He could, of course, simply ask Krycek what was going on, and the answers would surely be forthcoming, but it was instinctive in Jerry to resist being dragged any further into this horror he already lived in. And besides, the answers would almost certainly have to be paid for at some point, and whether it was to Krycek himself or to the men who held his leash, Jerry was not willing to pay it.
The only other way to find answers was through Scully and Mulder. Jerry wondered if it was worth it, considering that it would be extremely dangerous, both for them and for him. On the other hand, there was the question of how long he was prepared to carry on being a spy and double-agent for Krycek's paymasters. The more 'jobs' he did for them, the less likely escape was, and the threat they held over his head no longer outweighed his desire to be free. Perhaps it was time to start looking for a way out.
Start small ... start with something that would hopefully go unnoticed. He looked around, wondering if anything in this lab had been left undamaged, and noticed a wire rack containing several substantial glass containers on a desk in the corner. Two of the flasks held a dark reddish-brown liquid.
Jerry glanced quickly out of the window and saw that Krycek was talking to the police lieutenant on the steps. The animal handlers, meanwhile, were occupied in the opposite corner of the room, struggling to put a screaming monkey into a cage. He slipped quickly over to the table and picked up one of the flasks gingerly; it had a tightly-fitting rubber bung in the top with a kind of wire latch holding it securely in place, and a printed label on the side saying "purity control".
He didn't stop to wonder what was in it. Glancing around once more to make sure he was unobserved, Jerry slipped the flask into the capacious pocket of his trench coat, and quietly made his exit.
Krycek caught up with him as he reached his car. "So," he said, his eyes searching Jerry's face. "Did you find what you came for?"
Jerry gave him an equally sharp look in return, uncomfortably aware of the cold weight of the flask in his pocket. "I wasn't looking for anything," he retorted.
"So why did you come?"
Good point, he thought sourly. Trust him to make it. "I was curious to see if any action had been taken after yesterday."
"You could have asked," Krycek told him impatiently.
Jerry began to wonder if the creep was telepathic, and gave him a smile that was more than half snarl. "Yeah, but the day I ask you for anything, Krycek, is the day I eat my gun," he stated bitterly.
The younger man sneered at him. "You took a risk, Castamir. Don't do it again."
Jerry ignored the threat, opening the car door and sliding inside. He slammed it shut again and was about to put his keys in the ignition when he remembered something else, and wound the window down. "What about the driver of the car?" he demanded.
Krycek shrugged, indifferent. "We'll find him."
So they hadn't found him yet. Jerry meditated on that fretfully as he drove back to Quantico to pick up Scully. If they hadn't found the driver yet, everything still had time to go pear-shaped ... or not, depending on how you looked at it. He wondered if he should tell Scully.
Then he had to take a sharp turn, and the bottle in his pocket bumped against his leg, reminding him. The decision whether to tell or not had already been made.
Scully was waiting when he got there, looking tired and distracted.
"Eeuuuch! If I didn't know better, I could have sworn you'd just spent the last four and a half hours cutting up dead bodies," Jerry quipped, wrinkling his nose a little as she climbed into the passenger seat and tossed her briefcase and coat onto the back seat. Despite having changed into scrubs for the examinations, Scully's clothes had nevertheless acquired a slight taint of disinfectant.
"Ha ha." Scully pulled the seatbelt on, and leaned her head back against the headrest wearily. "Do we have to join the rest of the team anywhere now, or can we leave it until the morning?"
"Under the circumstances I think it's safe for you to go home. You want me to take you straight there, or do you want to pick your car up?"
"I'd better get my car – there's some stuff in the trunk that I need. What happened with my notes about the latest victim?"
"I dropped them off with Secretarial Services. Holly said she'd e-mail the document to you as soon as they were finished."
"Good – that's great. I'm going to need to amend them."
"Oh?" Jerry shot a quick glance at her, noticing the odd tone in her voice.
"Yeah …. There's definitely a difference in the first victim." Scully slipped one hand behind her neck and rubbed at it, trying to ease the ache of tension. "I might be jumping to conclusions here, but it looks almost as if there were two different attackers. Of course, it could just be that the killer hadn't got into his stride yet …."
Jerry was silent for a moment, puzzled. "What makes you think there were two?"
"The other four victims all died from blood loss and the severity of their wounds. This first guy … superficially it looks like the same kind of mutilations, but the original ME was right – at least some of the damage was done post mortem, most significantly the cuts to the face. And if you ignore the post mortem slashes, there's not a lot to connect that victim to the others."
"And the ME reported all that to Willis originally?"
"He did. And Willis ignored it," she nodded grimly. "Or discounted it, depending on your point of view. That said, I don't want to go into a meeting with the rest of the team cold, without having studied all five of the autopsy reports more closely. I particularly need to look at the reports on the two bodies I didn't see for myself, so I'll take a look at that tonight and present my report tomorrow."
"I'll remember to wear my asbestos underwear," Jerry joked, but her answering smile was weak and distracted.
"Did you get a chance to drop by Berube's lab?" she asked after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
Jerry could have wished she hadn't remembered that, given that he still wasn't one hundred percent certain what he wanted to do about the Berube situation. Still, if it took her mind off the other case .... "Yeah."
Scully raised her head, instantly interested. "What did he have to say?"
"Nothing much. Berube's dead."
"The lab was broken into and trashed. Berube was attacked, and by the time the Gaithersburg PD arrived, he was dead."
Scully was stunned. "When did this happen?"
"I don't know for sure but it can't have been too long ago, because they were only just taking the body out when I arrived." Jerry hesitated, then added: "Looks like a dead end, huh?"
"That depends. Shit!" Scully ignored the startled look he gave her at the unexpected expletive. "I wish I'd been with you …."
He shuddered inwardly, remembering Krycek. "There wasn't much to see," he told her firmly. "Whoever trashed the place did a really thorough job – the lab was a wreck, and they even released all the monkeys he had in there. I only got a brief look at the body, but he was pretty badly beaten up. It looks like they were aiming for his research – most of his papers had been burned."
"Did it look like animal rights people had done it?" she demanded sceptically.
"Well, the animals were released," he shrugged. "And the deliberate destruction would seem to suggest that kind of motive. According to what I could find out about him, he was supposed to be working on the Human Genome Project …."
"Really?" Scully considered this for a moment, making Jerry feel a little uneasy. She was too damn quick and had a habit of veering off at unexpected tangents. Then she shook her head. "I might check with the Gaithersburg PD later, but at the moment I've really got too much else to think about. Thanks for checking it out, though, Jerry."
"No problem," he murmured, unsure whether to be relieved or not.
Jerry dropped her just outside the Hoover Building parking lot. Scully walked to her car wearily, her mind obstinately refusing to leave the image of the first victim's body. There was certainly an argument to be made for the killer having hesitated over the first victim, and it was possible, she supposed, that he could have left the body for a while before coming back to complete his handiwork. But somehow it just didn't gel for her. It looked more to Scully like he (or she – there was always that chance) had stumbled upon the victim of a violent robbery or similar and been overcome with the urge to mutilate the corpse. And the cautious notes left by the first medical examiner suggested that he'd thought the same.
What kind of bearing this might have on the case, her tired brain couldn't decide. But later – when she'd had a long soak in her bath and something to eat – she would study the reports on the other victims and see if there was anything else yet to be discovered.
She was only a few feet away from her car when she realised someone was leaning casually against the hood, waiting for her.
"I began to think you weren't coming back here," he said. His tone and body language were friendly, non-threatening, but Scully was in no mood for any kind of confrontation with him.
"I wish I hadn't now," she replied curtly. She unlocked the driver's door and threw her briefcase over onto the passenger seat.
"So …. Any new information for me?"
"You'll have my full report in the morning, when I've typed up my notes."
"I've already seen the stuff you sent to Holly," he countered. "What I want is your opinion."
Scully's jaw clenched for a second as they stared at each other. "The notes I sent to Holly aren't complete – I want to work on them further tonight."
"So we'll discuss them over dinner." His tone suggested he would not brook a refusal, and she didn't like the way he was studying her, like the proverbial bug under a microscope.
"Is that an order – Sir?"
"Does it have to be?" His voice lowered, becoming caressing, and he shifted to invade her personal space. "C'mon Dana – give me a break! This is just work."
"Yeah – like it was in New York," she snapped, tensing at his unwelcome proximity. "Like all your phonecalls, and letters and e-mails are, no doubt. Well, you'll just have to report me for insubordination, Jack, because I'm going home. Alone." She jerked the door of her car open, barely missing hitting him in the groin with the handle, and scrambled inside quickly, slamming it shut again behind her.
For a second, as she was fumbling the seatbelt on, she thought he might push the issue – his hand actually went to the door handle, and she swiftly slapped down the lock before he could open it. Apparently accepting this with equanimity, he backed away, watching as she started the car and reversed out of her parking space. Alarm made her put on an unnecessary burst of speed as she pulled away, and when she looked in her rear-view mirror, she saw that he was still watching as she drove off.
It was only when she was out on the highway that full reaction suddenly set in. To her shame and infuriation, Scully could feel herself beginning to shake, and she was even angrier with herself when she realised that she was afraid to go back to her apartment alone. What if he was there? Common sense told her that even Willis wouldn't take the risk of harassing her in her own home in the middle of an investigation, but her nerves were screaming otherwise.
She was halfway to her apartment before she finally gave in and turned the car around, heading back to Alexandria.
Mulder was grinning when he opened the door. "How did you know I made too much casserole?" he began, and was startled when Scully practically wrapped herself around him. The briefcase in her hand gave him a rather rude bump on the rear, but he let that pass, hugging her uncertainly. "Hey ... what's going on? Eww! Formaldehyde ...."
Scully gave a muffled chuckle that sounded more like a sob. "It's what the well-dressed pathologist's wearing this season," she managed, and pulled back a little, sniffling. "Sorry, it's been a long day."
"That's okay ...." Mulder drew her back into his arms for another squeeze of reassurance, then pulled her gently inside, shutting the door behind her. That something else had upset her was obvious, but he let it pass for now, knowing it would probably come out later. "How about you grab a quick shower while I dish up the dinner?"
"I don't have anything else to wear, and this stinks ...."
"I'll find a t-shirt or something for you," he said firmly, and pushed her towards the bathroom. "Go on!"
Sam came running out of the living room then, and grabbed her around the knees, beaming. "Hi Day!"
"Hey, baby!" Scully bent to give him a kiss, and the little boy screwed his face up.
"Pooh, Day, you're stinky!" he complained.
Mulder snorted with laughter and pointed mock-sternly at the bathroom, taking her briefcase and trench coat out of her hands. "Into the tub with you, miss!"
"A girl could get a complex about this," she smiled, but obediently shut herself into the bathroom. It was a relief to strip off clothes that had been tainted by hours in a morgue, and climb under the hot spray.
When she emerged, it was to a wonderful savoury aroma wafting through from the kitchen. Mulder had left a plain black cotton t-shirt and a pair of his silk boxers on his bed, and Scully pulled them on gratefully before dragging a comb through her damp hair and going to join the other two.
Sam was already sitting at the table, propped up in his chair on a couple of large books and a thick cushion, and watching his father keenly as he removed a large casserole dish from the oven. "I'm hungry, Daddy."
"I know you are, you've been telling me for the last twenty minutes." Mulder carefully settled the dish on a woven raffia mat in the centre of the table and smiled at Scully. "I hope you've got an appetite, Scully, or I could end up taking this to work with me for the rest of the week."
"Actually, I have." That surprised her a little, given the kind of day it had been. An hour ago she would never have believed she could eat a piece of dry bread, let alone this. "Can I help?"
"There's a jug of ice-water in the fridge, and Sam's juice ...."
When she returned to the table with the jugs and three tumblers, Mulder had put a plate of sliced crusty bread next to the casserole, and lifted the lid on the dish. A cloud of fragrant steam rose and parted to reveal succulent chicken and vegetables. Scully sighed with pleasure. "My God, Mulder, I think you've been seeing my mother behind my back."
He grinned modestly and was just about to start dishing up when the doorbell rang. "Who on earth ...?" He frowned and put the spoon down, heading for the door.
Moments later, Jerry Castamir was standing in the kitchen doorway like an orphaned child.
"I knew my cooking was good, but I didn't realise it would bring stray dogs to the door," Mulder commented, grinning at his one-time partner, and returned to his place by the table, picking the spoon up again. "I guess I won't be taking it to work with me after all. Take your coat off, Jerry, and grab a seat - there's enough for four."
Jerry was flustered. "I didn't mean to - I mean I wasn't – " He flushed. "I mean, I suddenly realised there was something I meant to give Scully, but there was no reply on your home phone or your cellphone, and I guessed you must be here – "
"Hungry, Daddy!" Sam interrupted, finding the stranger less interesting than his dinner.
"Sit down, Jerry. You're holding up the food," Scully said, amused. "Sam, this is Jerry – he works with me."
Sam eyed Castamir with disfavour. "Are you stinky too?" he demanded.
"Samuel!" Mulder fixed him with a freezing glare, which was quickly transferred to Scully when she failed to smother a laugh.
Jerry paused in the middle of taking his trench coat off and sniffed his arm rather self-consciously. "I don't think so," he said nervously, and cast a look of agonised enquiry at Scully. He didn't have much experience of small children.
"I didn't smell too good when I got here," she clarified. "The formaldehyde."
"Oh – yeah, right." Then he was thrown for another loop when Mulder suddenly pounced on him, all but ripping his holstered weapon off his belt and stuffing it into a cupboard above the worktop.
"We don't leave things like that where small fingers can get at them," was Mulder's explanation, and he shoved a loaded plate into a speechless Jerry's hands. "Sit down, for crying out loud."
Jerry gave in with good grace and took the empty seat opposite Sam.
The conversation during the meal was composed almost entirely of neutral topics, for it was an unspoken rule between Scully and Mulder that "shop-talk" was avoided around Sam where possible.
"Are you going to tell Dana what we did today?" Mulder asked Sam, as he helped him cut up his meal into more manageable portions.
Sam's face screwed up. "No."
"Why not, sweetheart?" Scully looked enquiringly at Mulder, who was looking faintly amused.
"We had interviews at a couple of elementary schools," he explained, sitting down and tucking into his own dinner but keeping one eye on his son.
"Oh!" Scully's mouth twitched. "Didn't you like it, Sam?" He shook his head vigorously, negotiating a large mouthful of potato. "But you'll like school," she told him encouragingly, ignoring Jerry's snort. "It'll be so much more interesting than day-care."
Sam clearly did not agree, and set about pushing his peas carefully to one side of his plate, scowling.
"He had an admissions test for one of them," Mulder explained, "and he didn't like the teacher who showed us around, did you?" Sam shook his head again, and mumbled around a mouthful of chicken. "Don't speak with your mouth full, sunshine. It was the beard," he added. "He doesn't like beards. And I have to admit that the guy was kind of patronising. We're having a look at another place tomorrow, and I've got to make an appointment to see the principal at the Alexandria Jewish Community School. Time's rolling on." Suddenly he looked a little sad.
"Growing up fast, huh?" Jerry observed with unexpected perception.
"Too damn fast." Mulder leaned over and used the serving spoon to push Sam's peas back into the middle of his plate. "Don't mess with your peas, kiddo. Eat them up." He glanced up at Scully and Castamir, his expression a little wry. "It's bad enough hearing what the assistants at day-care say every day. I don't know that I'll much like being replaced as the source of all wisdom by a teacher, either."
"Is the Community School where Annie's kids go?" Scully asked after a moment.
"Yeah." Mulder pulled himself together. "It's private and pretty heavily subscribed, but Sam's name has been on the list since he was a baby. My mom's idea."
"Are you still working part-time?" Jerry asked.
"Sort of. I do mornings at Georgetown, and occasional evening and relief cover. I'm still doing some journalism, though, and I have a couple of regular magazine columns."
"So will you go back to work full-time when Sam's at school?"
There was a pause, and Mulder's expression twisted slightly. "Probably."
"I just wondered if you'd go back to the Bureau."
"To work with Patterson? I don't think so." Mulder's tone was dry and discouraging, and as if to emphasise his reluctance to continue this topic, he put his napkin on the table and started to gather up the empty plates. "Anyone for raspberry cobbler?"
"What was it you wanted to give me?" Scully asked Jerry, while Mulder was finishing the washing up. Sam was in the living room, lying on the floor with some of his picture books.
"What? Oh yeah." Jerry rescued his trench-coat from the sofa and fumbled in the pockets. "I forgot about this earlier." He pulled out the Erlenmeyer flask, relieved to discover that it had survived its travels, and handed it over to Scully, hoping that his ongoing internal conflict about this course of action wasn't showing in his face.
Scully accepted it gingerly. "What is it?"
"I don't know, but it was one of the few unbroken objects in Dr. Berube's lab." Jerry grinned at her. "I grabbed it while everyone else was chasing the monkeys around."
Mulder appeared out of the kitchen, drying his hands on a towel. "What's that?" he demanded, staring at the flask.
Jerry explained, adding "I was thinking maybe we could get it analysed and see what Berube was up to."
Scully wrinkled her nose. "Jerry, if this turns out to be monkey-pee, I'll make you regret it."
"Monkey-pee!" a small voice piped up gleefully, and Mulder sighed.
"Thanks, Scully. I'll be hearing that for a month."
She gave him an apologetic look, and turned back to Jerry. "I'll drop it in to Pendrell in Sci-Crimes tomorrow, but I don't suppose it'll tell us much."
He shrugged philosophically. "Oh well, you never know. I checked up on the driver of Berube's car, as well – the Arlis PD still haven't found him, so what happens next is anyone's guess."
"'What happens next' is that I submit my report on the five victims to Jack Willis, and he blows a gasket when the profiler contradicts whatever theories he has," Scully sighed. Suddenly she remembered the work she'd planned to do on her report that evening, and all the tension rushed back into her neck and shoulders with a vengeance.
Mulder was giving her a sharp look. "What 'five victims'?" he asked.
"I think I'd better be going," Jerry mumbled hastily, sensing a sudden atmosphere, and he began to pull his trench-coat on. "Thanks for the dinner, Mulder …."
Mulder perched on the back of the sofa when he was gone and regarded Scully steadily. "Okay, give," he told her. "What five victims and what has Willis got to do with them?"
This was not the way Scully had intended to break this news to Mulder, but the cat was truly out of the bag. "When I went to see Skinner today, he had a new assignment for me," she admitted reluctantly. "The so-called "Slasher" killings. You've probably seen it in the papers."
"And Jack is SAC of the task force."
Mulder was silent for a moment, watching her, but Scully was studying the carpet. "I thought Willis was on restricted duties at the Academy?" he said finally.
"He was re-certified for active duty just under a year ago. Apparently he has a particular interest in this case, and one of the other Assistant Directors let him take it. He ... appears to have specifically requested that Jerry and I be assigned to the team, me in particular because he wanted an ME with field experience to review the forensic evidence."
"Great. So did you tell Skinner about the problems you've been having with Willis?"
Mulder sighed and rubbed his face with both hands. One step forward, two steps back .... When he looked up again, he saw Sam standing to one side, regarding them both anxiously. The atmosphere was obviously upsetting him.
"Come on, sunshine. You can watch your Scooby-Doo video for half an hour."
Scully watched Mulder take the little boy into his bedroom without a backward glance. This was not what she had wanted when she came here, but she supposed that she shouldn't be surprised at his reaction under the circumstances. Willis was too sore a subject between them, even after all this time.
Finally, she went into the main bedroom and found her clothes, changing out of Mulder's t-shirt and boxers quickly. When she returned to the living room, he was standing by the sofa uneasily, arms crossed over his chest. He viewed her change of attire without surprise.
"You're going home." It wasn't a question, but she nodded all the same.
"I have to work on my report for tomorrow."
Mulder nodded and picked up her briefcase from the coffee table, holding it out to her. This made it feel uncomfortably like she was being shown the door, but Scully told herself not to be paranoid. After all, she'd made the first move to go.
"I'll ...." Her throat closed up for a second, and she swallowed. "I'll call you."
He nodded again, his expression unreadable, and - realising that this was probably all the response she was going to get - Scully sighed and headed for the door.
When Jerry arrived home, his apartment was dark and cold.
Sort of like a metaphor for my life right now, he thought sourly, switching lights on, and dumping his trench coat and suit jacket on the couch.
Stalking through to the kitchen, he yanked the fridge door open and pulled a tray of ice cubes out of the icebox. He found a clean tumbler in one of the cupboards and dumped three ice cubes into it, followed by an unhealthy slug of vodka from a half-empty bottle of Vladivar on the countertop.
It was indicative of how often he'd been over-imbibing lately that the first long swallow of the drink failed to do more than give him a mild buzz. Leaning back against the counter, Jerry loosened his tie and reviewed the day's events morosely.
It was done. He'd taken the decision to take the Erlenmeyer flask from Berube's lab and, having done that, he'd then gone one step further and handed the flask over to Scully. For good or ill, events were now out of his control and he could only wait to see what happened next.
Soberly, he acknowledged that the next step could easily be his own execution if the men yanking his leash discovered what he had done. The risks were enormous for him personally ... and possibly for others, although that remained to be seen. But it couldn't be any worse than the way things had been going so far.
Tossing down the rest of the vodka, Jerry refilled his glass and slowly walked through to his living room.
He was just considering switching on the TV when a flicker of movement from the open bedroom door caught his eye. For a split-second he froze ... then he was putting the tumbler down on the coffee table and unholstering his gun in one smooth movement, his eyes riveted to the dark aperture.
"Relax, it's me," a mocking voice said, and Alex Krycek stepped out of the bedroom in to the light, his hands raised. He was dressed casually in jeans and sweatshirt under a light jacket.
There was an appreciable pause before Jerry relaxed his grip on the trigger and slipped the safety back on the weapon, which made Krycek raise a questioning brow.
"A little jumpy, aren't we?"
"What the hell are you doing in my apartment?" Jerry demanded, unamused.
"I thought I'd drop in after what happened this afternoon," the younger agent said pointedly. "Where've you been all evening?"
"I had dinner with Scully." It wasn't a lie, after all.
Krycek managed to cross a sneer with a leer. "I didn't think she was your type!"
"She's my partner, asshole." Jerry slowly re-holstered his weapon. "Now what do you want? I'm not in the mood for company – least of all yours."
"Like I said, I was wondering what was going on today." Krycek considered him thoughtfully. "The old man wasn't too happy when I told him you were at Berube's lab. He got to thinking that maybe you were up to something."
"Such as?" The older agent suddenly felt cold.
"Who knows?" The retort was scornful. "That old fool would suspect his own furniture of betraying him .... I told him you were just making sure everything was cleaned up. That was what you were doing, after all ... wasn't it?"
"That's right," he managed.
Krycek's brown eyes, sharp and bright with false sincerity, studied him for a moment. "I mean, you wouldn't do anything stupid, now, would you? I like you, Jerry. It'd be a pity to have to ... make you redundant."
"I haven't forgotten how I got into this mess, if that's what you mean." Jerry didn't have to feign the bitterness in his voice. It was already eating him alive.
Krycek studied him a little longer, then nodded. "Okay. It's forgotten. It's just ... if you get any more ideas about checking up on operations, talk to me first. Don't forget what happened at Ellen's Air Base – memory loss will be the least of your problems if they get the idea that you're snooping around."
Jerry eyed him wearily. "Get out."
The younger man shrugged. "Don't say I didn't warn you." He hesitated a moment longer and left, the front closing with a 'click' that was somehow not as final as it should have been.
Alone, Jerry Castamir slumped down into the embrace of his sofa and mechanically picked up his drink again, wondering how much further he had to go down this path to madness before it was all over for him ... one way or another.
Mulder was not a man who handled inactivity well. Over the past few years he'd learned enough patience to deal with the restrictions Sam placed on his movements, but it didn't mean he liked it, and at times like this when he was under more than ordinary stress, it was hard not to climb the walls with frustration. As it was, the rug in front of the sofa was in danger of developing a bald patch as he resorted to pacing for the second time in three days.
He didn't like being at odds with Scully, but on the other hand he didn't feel equal to the situation as it presented itself. The problem of Jack Willis was both deeply frustrating and – as he had told her the night before – alarming, but what bothered Mulder more was Scully's apparent reluctance to deal with it. She was a strong woman who hated to show a weakness, yet she kept backing down from Willis and apologising for him like a battered wife.
Not a simile he liked much. Fortunately, his analysis of Scully told him that such a scenario was in reality highly unlikely, despite appearances.
And of course, it didn't help things any that he still felt ... well ... a little concerned about Willis' place in Scully's life; and her obvious ambivalence about the man made those feelings worse. Mulder accepted that he was an insecure person and fought against the tendency manfully, but it was an uphill battle. It was at times like this that his mind, despite his best efforts, wilfully returned to his mistimed proposal back at Chanukah. Her rejection had been a solid blow to his self-esteem, and come to think of it, it had followed close upon yet another encounter with Jack Willis.
A guy could really become paranoid over things like that, Mulder thought to himself, blackly humorous. Then he was brought up short by new and uncomfortable idea. Would I behave the way Scully's behaving if Phoebe suddenly returned?
Well, of course, it wasn't the same thing at all. For one thing, Phoebe was a wanted criminal, the list of her crimes including not least a charge of sexual assault and battery against his own person. The chances of her turning up in town with the intention of playing merry-cob with his personal life and relationships were pretty small.
Well. Maybe not so small. You never knew with Phoebe.
Did that make him a battered husband? Actually, yes, it does, a small mental voice pointed out sternly. Totally aside from the final physical assault he'd suffered at her hands, he'd put up with a year or more of outrageous behaviour on her part without more than a token complaint. He'd made excuses for her to his friends and family, excuses which he was ashamed to admit he'd more than half believed himself. No one would ever know what it had taken for him to start the legal separation and divorce proceedings, nor what the official investigation into her professional misconduct had done to him. The coup de grace had been the discovery of Sam, abandoned in a Denver maternity unit nine months later; and all in all, the psychological battery she'd subjected him to was just as great, if not greater, than the sexual assault.
The Bureau had given him compulsory counselling at varying points during the Phoebe incident, a resource which he was prepared to admit he had totally wasted. The lure of playing mind-games with the poor guy, of proving that Fox Mulder, the hot-shot FBI profiler, could run rings around the common psychologist, had seemed more attractive at the time. As a consequence, he undoubtedly had "issues" with Phoebe which would probably trip him up big time should he ever come face to face with her again.
At which point Mulder recognised that he was being unfair to Scully. However confused her treatment of Jack Willis was, he had no right to condemn her for a behaviour pattern that he was surely just as guilty of.
The temptation to phone her at this point was strong, but not quite strong enough. With a grunt of frustration, Mulder strode over to the desk in the corner and switched on his computer. He could at least download his e-mail and attempt to work on his latest article. His state of mind was not improved, however, when the only messages to appear in his mailbox turned out to be job offers – one from Georgetown University (again) and the other from a reasonably respectable science magazine based in New York.
Mulder grimaced, his hand hovering over the mouse. It was tempting simply to dump both offers straight into the recycle bin, but it was also true that time was running out for him to make a decision on his own future. When Sam started school he would need to get back to work full-time. With a sigh, he clicked to print out both messages and deferred the decision. There was no harm in looking at them, after all.
He closed the e-mail programme and was just about to open WordPerfect when the telephone rang. Scully? He made a dive for the phone before the answering machine could pick up.
There was silence, followed by a couple of clicks, and the dialling tone returned. Mulder stared at the handset for a moment and put it down again. Almost at once it rang again, and he snatched it up. "Mulder - " Two more clicks, and the dialling tone.
What the …? He put the receiver down again and stared at it fixedly for a moment, but now it was silent. Mulder went over to the window and lifted the edge of the curtain, peering out.
Across the road, standing underneath a streetlight, was his informant. The man was staring up at the window patiently.
Great, just great. Now what was he supposed to do? He couldn't leave Sam in the apartment on his own, and it was patently obvious that the man was not going to come up here again. For a moment he stared out of the window in frustration, then he swore softly and headed back to the phone and dialled the number of the Li family upstairs. He'd looked after Li Weng often enough that Mrs. Li surely wouldn't mind keeping an eye on Sam for five minutes.
When Mulder finally ran out into the street, the other man was looking considerably less patient and had switched positions to a handy bush by the side of the entrance.
"You took your time," he commented sourly.
Mulder was so frustrated by this time that he nearly took a swing at him. "In case it's escaped your notice, I have a three-year-old son," he snapped. "Babysitters aren't just crawling out of the ether, you know."
"Spare me your personal problems," was the curt response, and Mulder lost his temper.
"Fuck this." He turned around and was heading back up the steps, when the other man's voice pulled him up short.
"I'm surprised at you – your level of commitment seems to have diminished. I would have expected you to be working harder on the information I gave you."
Mulder swung back to face him. "My "level of commitment" as you call it, is directly commensurate to the amount of disruption it creates for my son," he retorted angrily. "I'm sorry if that causes problems for you! If it's such a big deal, I suggest you find some other dumb bastard to do your donkey work – otherwise you'll just have to wait until I have a chance to look into things on my own time. Besides, it's not like you gave me much to work with in the first place."
"Under the circumstances, I've given you all I can," the man told him heavily.
Mulder laughed humourlessly. "A news report?"
"And where has it led you?"
"It hasn't led me anywhere. It led Scully and her partner to a dead man."
The man nodded. "Just so."
Mulder opened his mouth to speak – and paused. There had been a curious emphasis on those two words. "Who is Dr. Berube and why is he dead?" he demanded bluntly.
"Berube worked on the Human Genome Project," the other man replied. He looked thoughtfully into the distance for a moment. "It's a noble and worthy endeavour, Mr. Mulder, an attempt to map every gene in the human body. Thousands of scientists are involved in it."
"So what was so special about this particular scientist that he deserved to die, and only days after his car had been stolen?"
"That's the question, isn't it? They destroyed all the data in his laboratory, so I'm told. A dedicated man ... he worked all hours, sometimes even taking his work home with him." The man's focus returned to Mulder's face and he gave him an almost paternal smile. "Goodnight, Mr. Mulder."
And he turned and walked away.
He could have chosen to wait for Scully to get Jerry's mysterious flask analysed, of course, but as Mulder had recognised in himself earlier, he was not a patient man. Or he could have called her and suggested they make this a joint venture, but right now he could think of a number of admittedly specious reasons why it would be so much better if he did this himself.
Having taken a good look at Dr. Berube's house from all sides, Mulder found a window that was open a crack and let himself in.
Inside, the building was dark and silent. He rummaged in his jacket pocket and pulled out a small flashlight. The narrow beam gave him enough light to navigate, and it didn't take him long to find a room at the front of the house that looked like a study.
Mulder wandered around for a few minutes, taking a sweeping look at the books on the shelves and other bits and pieces scattered about the room. Eventually he came to a desk, and a swift glance at the clutter there convinced Mulder that the small flashlight wasn't going to be sufficient. He glanced at the wide window and decided to take a risk. He pulled the drapes closed and snapped on a small desk lamp, adjusting the shade on it to ensure the minimum possible beam of light.
Sitting down in the chair, he looked around the surface of the desk and began flicking through the stacks of papers lying there. A lot of the material was dry scientific stuff, which made him wish he'd brought Scully along after all. None of it seemed to relate to the work Berube had been doing at the EmGen labs. Finally, he put them back into the untidy piles he'd found them in, and started opening drawers. Files, notebooks, magazines and journals, bills …. Mulder paused and pulled out a sheaf of telephone bills. Looking down it, one number seemed to have been called far more times than any other.
There was a telephone on the desk. He reached out and picked up the receiver, dialling a number.
Mulder smiled faintly. "Guys, it's me – turn off the tape."
There was a pause, and the distorted voice asked cautiously, "Mulder?"
"Who else? Look, quit screwing around – I'm in a tight spot and I can't hang around here."
There was a sudden scramble and Langly's voice emerged. "Dude, what are you doing now?"
"Never mind that. I've got a telephone number here – can you get me a name?"
"No problem." Langly was confident.
"Okay. It's 555-2804, area code 301. An address would be good, too."
"We're on it. Can we call you back?"
Mulder hesitated, then shrugged. In for a penny, in for a pound. "All right - I'm at the same prefix … 1516."
"Be there – " Langly hung up.
Mulder put the receiver down, suddenly feeling jittery. To distract himself, he continued to go through the drawers of the desk and was intrigued to find several equipment invoices on paper headed with the logo and credentials of Pinck Pharmaceuticals, the company Scully had said Berube had a car sticker from. He wondered if it was worth looking into them, but decided he currently had enough on his plate.
Then the phone rang, making him jump. Mulder snatched up the receiver quickly. "That was fast – "
But it wasn't Langly.
"Terry? Is that you?"
Mulder paused, staring blankly at the telephone. Unknown to him, a plain black van with a satellite receiver on the roof had drawn up outside the house, the driver staring intently at the one window that had the dim glow of a light inside.
Finally Mulder decided to take a risk. "Yeah. Who is this?"
"They shot me, Terry. Oh God …. I've been in the water for three days – I'm hurt."
Mulder blinked at the phone, his brain in overdrive at this information. This was the missing driver of the car! But … in the water for three days? Was it possible? "Where are you now?" he asked quickly.
"I'm at a pay-phone – "
"I'm going to pick you up. Tell me where you are."
There was a long pause, and a sudden agonised wheeze. Mulder became alarmed. "Hey, are you still there? What's going on? …. Hello?"
The silence stretched out for ages, in which time Mulder could the faint background noises of traffic and a mumble of voices. It sounded like someone was protesting. Then a new male voice came on the line.
"Hello? This man's been hurt here – I think he needs medical attention. He's in pretty bad shape."
"What's the street?" Mulder demanded, frustrated. "Can you tell me where he is?"
"I'm going to call an ambulance," the other man said.
"Hey, Sir? Wait a minute – " But the line went dead. Mulder swore violently and slammed the handset down. Almost at once it rang again, and he snatched it up. "Don't hang up – "
But it was Langly this time. "We got it."
Outside, the man in the van switched off his equipment and quietly drove away.
Mulder slumped back into the chair. "Oh, you guys …. Hold on, let me find some paper." He rummaged around on the desk until he found a sheet of paper and a pen. "Okay, go ahead."
"All right, the number belongs to a company called Zeus Storage."
"Yeah?" Mulder frowned as he scribbled.
"…1616 Pandora Street. That okay?"
"That's great. You guys are the best."
"You'd better remember it, man!" Langley snorted. "Later …" And he rang off.
Mulder put the receiver down and sighed, looking around. Then he looked down at the scrap of paper in his hand. Whatever was at Zeus Storage was going to have to wait for another night – he had a small boy to get home to.
Sam collapsed bonelessly against his shoulder as he carried him downstairs from Mrs. Li's apartment. The little boy was exhausted, and Mulder had to admit that he felt pretty wiped out himself. It had been one hell of an evening, all things considered.
But when he reached the bottom of the stairs, one further surprise was in store for him. Waiting outside his apartment were two men dressed in the almost-uniform FBI dark suits and trench coats, who turned to look at him as he approached.
Mulder groaned inwardly, for they didn't present the appearance of people who were going to leave soon.
"What have I done now?" he demanded flippantly, as he dug in his pocket for his keys.
"Fox Mulder?" The older of the two displayed his ID. "Could we have a word? I'm – "
"Assistant Director Lyle Rolfe," Mulder finished for him. "I know, I remember you." He glanced at the other man, cocking his head to one side questioningly. "You I don't know."
This man was nearer Mulder's own age, a tall man of African extraction with a lean face that showed a lot of laughter lines. He produced his own ID hastily. "Special Agent Mike Rawlings," he said, and offered his hand. "You won't remember me, Mr. Mulder, I joined the VCS the week you left."
"VCS, huh?" Mulder unlocked his door and gestured for them to enter. "I've got a sneaking suspicion I know what this is about." He flicked the lights on with a sigh. "You'd better give me a few minutes to put my kid to bed."
Scully arrived at work at 7.00 am the next morning, after spending a restless night. A note in her e-mail the night before had warned her that there was a team meeting at 7.30 am, so she took the opportunity to run upstairs to Sci-Crimes first, on the off-chance that someone there might also have arrived early. Weaving her way through the cluttered workstations, she saw that she was in luck: Agent Pendrell's ginger hair stood out like a beacon in an otherwise empty room.
Predictably, he all but fell off his chair when he saw her. "Agent S-Scully!" He flushed to the roots of his hair. "W-what … how … how can I help you?"
He was sweet, Scully thought, but really far too nervous. The stammering adoration might have amused her when she was a girl, but not when she was in her thirties. Nevertheless, she couldn't be sharp with him, and offered a warm smile that she was far from feeling. "I was hoping you could analyse a substance for me."
To her surprised approval, he pulled himself together almost at once and became more businesslike. "Sure. What have you got?"
She pulled out the Erlenmeyer flask Jerry had given her – now prudently wrapped in a couple of layers of bubble-wrap – and handed it over. "I need to know what this is."
Pendrell unwrapped the flask, his eyes sharpening with interest. "Any clues?" he asked.
Scully felt her mouth twitch in spite of herself. "Well … it was found in a room full of monkeys," she offered.
He gave her a shy grin. "So it could be, uh, simian urine, Agent Scully?"
She grinned back at him. "That was my first thought, but you never know."
"Okay … how long can you hang around?"
"Twenty minutes tops …."
"Let's take a look under the microscope."
Pendrell was quick and efficient, she gave him that. He had a sample on a slide and under the microscope practically before he finished speaking. There was a moment of silence as he adjusted the lens, then he continued speaking, his voice a little abstracted. "Looks like some kind of bacteria sample. Where did you get it?"
"It was found at a crime scene," Scully replied. "It's probably nothing – "
"No, you've definitely got something here." Pendrell's voice indicated sudden interest. He sat back and fiddled with an attachment to the microscope that linked it to his computer. "Here, look at this."
The knobbly image of what looked like a simple organism appeared on the screen, and Pendrell zoomed in the images.
"Wow, look at this!"
Scully shook her head. "What are they?"
"Well … they're the size of bacteria but this is like no bacteria I've ever seen."
"How do you mean?"
"Most bacteria are symmetrical and smooth. These are …." He shook his head, clearly fascinated. "I don't know, Agent Scully, these are strange."
"Well, do you have any way of identifying them?" Scully asked.
He pursed his lips, considering.
"I could do a freeze fracture. Take a slice off and see what's going on inside these things. You want to leave it with me?"
"If it's not a problem …." But Scully could see that it wasn't. Pendrell was so clearly intrigued by the challenge that he'd lost all his former awkwardness and was grinning at her in a way that really made him look quite handsome.
Maybe he wouldn't be such a loss as a date after all, she mused as she left the labs … then told herself off for even thinking such a thing.
When it became evident that the investigation was going to take time and manpower, the VCS relocated the "Slasher" taskforce to the Bureau's Washington Metropolitan Field Office, taking over a spare set of offices there. Most of the agents involved in the 'grunt work' – the routine footwork and interviewing of witnesses – were field agents from that office anyway.
Scully arrived at the incident rooms with barely a minute to spare and walked squarely into the middle of what sounded like a regular free-for-all. The small meeting room seemed to be crowded with agents talking and arguing, but she saw Jerry keeping to himself on the sidelines and went to join him.
"What on earth's going on?" she demanded in an undertone, grabbing a spare seat and sliding into it.
He gave her an irritable look. "You mean you don't know?"
"Jerry, I only just got here – "
"But I thought …." His voice trailed off as the SAC's door at the other end of the room flew open, and he shook his head hastily. "Never mind – you're about to find out."
Jack Willis came storming out, his face red with fury. Following more slowly was Assistant Director Rolfe, wearing an expression of wary inscrutability, and behind him was …. Scully sucked in a sharp breath, staring. It was Mulder, dressed in black jeans and a leather jacket, his bland expression hiding what probably only she would recognise as mockery. He glanced around the crowded incident room and for the briefest of seconds their eyes met. She saw a flicker of a smile on his lips, then he turned away, following Rolfe over to the oblong boardroom-style table where the rest of the agents were congregating.
Willis seized on Agent Mike Rawlings, his second in command. "I told you to leave the profiler to me!" he snarled. "The last person I want touching this case is Bill Patterson, for crying out loud – "
Rawlings stood his ground though. "When I showed the case file to SAC Patterson, he recognised the UNSUB's MO and signature immediately," he interrupted. "This is a copycat killer we're dealing with – "
"Copycat my ass! That crazy son of a bitch is losing his mind."
Scully wondered if she was the only person who saw the expression of unholy glee that flashed across Mulder's face at Willis' loudly asserted opinion of Patterson.
"As I've said already, Jack, I concur with the opinions of Agent Rawlings and Bill Patterson," Rolfe was saying, interrupting forcefully in his turn. "I spoke to Bill about it myself yesterday – based on the evidence we have at this time, it seems fairly clear that this current killer is modelling himself on John Mostow."
Willis wheeled around, too angry to moderate his behaviour in front of his superior. "Great!" he snapped. "So why isn't the mighty god Patterson on this case himself? Or why, if he won't condescend himself, hasn't he assigned one of his bootlickers at the ISU to help us? Why do we get some burned-out former agent who'll probably try and tell us that the victims were killed by pot-smoking aliens in the Pentagon?"
"How the hell did he say all that in one breath?" Jerry whispered to Scully, briefly amused.
Scully shook her head, not daring to speak. There was a sick feeling in her stomach and she was praying it wasn't going to become actual nausea.
AD Rolfe took a moment or two to consider his reply, his eyes fixed on Willis in a disconcerting manner. Mulder beat him to it.
"There are no aliens in the Pentagon, Willis," he said in a pitying tone. "It's too damn cold there. Why do you think they built Area 51 in the middle of Nevada?"
Rawlings managed to hide his snicker of laughter, but the agent standing behind him was less restrained, and there was a tiny ripple of amusement throughout the room. Willis glared around impartially but failed to quell it.
"Besides," Mulder continued in a more normal tone, "It doesn't matter if I'm a Federal Agent or not – I'm still certified to act as a profiler, regardless of who I'm legally employed by."
"I don't give a rat's backside what you're qualified to do," Willis stated angrily. "I don't want you on my team."
"Suits me," Mulder shrugged. "I don't want to be here either."
"Enough!" Rolfe said sharply. "Mulder, cut it out! Jack, the formalities are sorted – he's on the taskforce. If you don't like it, you have the option of putting your objections in writing and stepping down as SAC in this investigation. Otherwise, I suggest we get the hell on with this meeting. We've wasted enough time already."
For a moment it seemed like Willis might actually force the issue. Then he took a step back, making an inarticulate sound of disgust in his throat. Wheeling around, he started calling the room to order, and the other agents slowly began to shuffle into the places at the long table.
Scully let out a shaky breath and hastily elbowed her way into a space at the table. The room was packed tight despite the relatively small size of the taskforce, with many of the agents being forced to pull up seats around the edge of the room. She needed to be nearer the front if she was to present her autopsy findings effectively. Looking around, she was grateful to see that Mulder was several places up from her, sitting slightly turned toward the head of the table. She wondered if he was deliberately avoiding eye-contact with her; if so, she was grateful, for it would be easier to concentrate without his attention on her.
Willis took his place at the head of the table, shuffled a few papers, and glanced around, gathering everyone's attention. "Okay, everybody, as you know we had a fifth victim yesterday morning – Peter Gilson, art student and life model at George Washington University. Agent Scully, you were detailed to do the autopsy and to look over two of the previous victims. Are you able to give your report on that now?"
Scully stood up slowly, wondering if anyone else had caught the slight sarcastic emphasis on Willis' final word. Or maybe she was just being paranoid. "I completed the examination of Gilson's body, and re-examined victims one and four, yesterday afternoon. I also spent most of last night going over the previous autopsy reports for all of the first four victims. This is my report on my findings – " She passed around copies of the thick document. "In brief, the injuries to Gilson match those of the other victims. Cause of death was primarily loss of blood in all cases, but the victims suffered extensive facial mutilations during the attacks, including the puncturing of both eyes. The lacerations were primarily deep, heavy gashes running from the corners of the mouth to the ears, and there was very little in the way of hesitation cuts. Our UNSUB is clearly someone with physical strength, confidence and a clear idea of what he wants to achieve. In all but one of the victims, the slashes were made prior to death, and in the case of the latest victim there are so few signs of a struggle or restraint that I would conclude the wounds were made within seconds of him being surprised by his killer. He literally didn't have time to defend himself, although there are some marks around his hands and wrists that would suggest he made subsequent attempts to fend off his attacker."
There was a slight murmur from the gathered agents at this, but Willis held up one hand to silence them. "Weapon?" he asked tersely.
"I would have to concur with the previous ME. The UNSUB used a very sharp, short-bladed knife, with a blocky, easily-gripped handle – something like a heavy-duty craft knife, probably one with a retractable blade."
"John Mostow was an artist," Mulder commented quietly. "He used a craft knife with a retractable blade, one he kept for sharpening pencils."
"It's hardly unusual as a weapon," Willis retorted. "They're available in every craft store in the country."
Mulder shrugged. "Just an observation."
Agent Rawlings hastily stepped in. "You said that all but one of the victims were mutilated prior to death, Agent Scully?"
Scully threw him a grateful look. "That's right. The first victim's facial injuries were inflicted post-mortem, and from the condition of the cuts I would hazard a guess that he'd been dead a short while before they were made. The body had started to cool. Also, the punctures to the eyes were different, and he was the only one to have had his throat deliberately cut – the severing of the jugular occurred prior to death and was certainly the wound that killed him. Two of the other victims had minor cuts to the throat, but they were incidental."
Mulder leaned forward, his expression deeply interested. "Was there anything else different about the first victim's injuries?" he asked.
"His throat was cut with a different kind of knife," she nodded. "From the shape of the incision, I would say something bigger and not so sharp – a carving knife, or maybe a hunting knife."
Mulder glanced across at Willis and then over to where AD Rolfe was sitting off to one side. "I took a look at the files you gave me last night. Descriptions of the crime scene showed a lot of scuffling around the area of the kill, and the forensics team suggested more than one person had been there."
"The body was found in an area frequently used by homeless people at night," Agent Rawlings commented neutrally, but there was a spark in his eyes that Scully noted.
"But with a gap between the victim's death and the mutilation of the body, it could have been two different UNSUBs – especially if there were two totally different weapons involved."
"Or the UNSUB could have gone away and come back," Willis said curtly.
"Unlikely," was Mulder's assessment. "Let's assume the killer used a bowie knife to kill the victim. Okay, yes, he could have wandered off and come back a little later. Maybe he was shocked by what he did, went a little way away, but came back – kept looking at the body maybe. But then he suddenly switches to another knife – a completely different kind, designed for a completely different purpose – and slashes the victim's face violently, with what looks like a lot of rage." He shook his head. "It doesn't fit. For one thing, the knives are just wrong. A guy who carries a hunting knife isn't usually the kind of guy who keeps a craft knife as a spare in his pocket – it's not man enough for him. Likewise, a guy who uses a craft knife won't touch a bowie knife – it's just not the tool for the job. So if Bowie-knife Man has already killed the guy, and then wandered around agonising about it, I guess he might suddenly rediscover his anger …." Mulder paused, his face distant for a moment as he considered this. "Yeah, I can see why he might do that, but not with another knife. That doesn't fit with his personal rage. And the method of the cuts, almost carving the face – that's wrong for Bowie-knife Man too. No, you've got two different guys here."
"The wounds to the eyes were different, too," Scully put in, and everyone's eyes instantly swivelled back to her. "They were probably the last wound inflicted, and the method was different." She hesitated, then leaned over and borrowed a pen from the agent on her right, holding it like a knife in her hand. "In all the other victims, the eyes were punctured with one quick stab each from the point of the blade." She demonstrated with the pen. "But in this victim it was slower, more of a gouging twist ...."
"Is that relevant?" Willis asked, his tone almost bored.
Mulder shot him a quick look, his eyebrows twitching briefly in genuine surprise. "Could be. Everything about this victim is different, and the guy who worked him over was probably practising for his later killings." He leaned back in his chair looking thoughtful. "The first body that turns up is always an interesting one, because it can tell you a lot about how the killer got started – what's on his mind, what kind of victim triggers his impulses, and so on. What's strange about this is that this probably wasn't even his kill. This body was just a canvas for his art ...."
Mulder's voice drifted off and seemed to totally lose awareness of his surroundings for a moment. He didn't seem to notice the looks he was getting from the other agents, but Scully was acutely aware of them. More disturbing to her, however, was the tone of his voice, the look on his face, his apparent disconnection. With an inner start of surprise, she realised this was a side of him that she'd never seen before – this was Mulder the profiler, Mulder as he would have been when he was an agent. And it made her uneasy. She wasn't sure she liked the sudden change in him.
AD Rolfe spoke up then. "Okay, I think we've got more to go on. However, after discussions with SAC Willis, I have agreed that with the assistance of the DC Police, we can downsize the taskforce a little and redirect some of you back to your previous assignments." Scully saw Willis's head come up at that, a sudden sharp look at Rolfe followed by a quick smoothing of his expression.
Willis hadn't been consulted on this move; this was Rolfe's own decision. Another indication of Willis's lack of a grip on the case, and it was beginning to make her very nervous. If everyone was so doubtful about his ability to run this show, why wasn't he just removed?
"Agents Carmichael, de Lancie, Wollerton and Castamir – thank you for your help. You've all done good work. Your usual senior agents will advise you on your reassignment," Rolfe was saying.
A "little" downsizing? That was half the taskforce gone, Scully thought, surprised. That left just her, Rawlings, Willis, Rolfe, and Rawlings' partner Addersley. They must be pretty confident that they would catch this guy.
Then Scully glanced across at Mulder once more and saw that he was still mentally someplace else. The penny dropped. It wasn't the team Rolfe had confidence in ….
It was Mulder.
The agents who had been dismissed by Rolfe were filing out of the door. Scully saw Jerry lingering there, and quickly scooted over to speak to him.
"Will you be going back to the VCS?" she asked.
He looked tired and out-of-sorts. "I guess. Why, is there anything you want me to do?"
"I left that stuff you gave me with Agent Pendrell," she explained quickly in an undertone. Jerry's manner was a little off-putting, but perhaps his pride had been pricked by the sudden dismissal by Rolfe; she let it pass. "He's doing some tests on it – can you drop in there later and see what he's found? Maybe follow up on it, if it's anything interesting?"
Scully touched his arm in a quick gesture of gratitude. "Thanks, Jerry – I'll talk to you later."
He nodded, then looked across at Mulder. "Er – Dana?"
She cocked her head on one side. "What?"
"You might want to keep an eye on him," Jerry said quietly.
"Well … it's been a while since he did this, but when he profiles he can get … kind of intense and wrapped up in it."
She gave him a puzzled look. "What do you mean?"
"Unh …. Well …. He's a graduate of the Patterson School of Profiling, if you get my meaning."
"No I don't. What are you talking about?"
Jerry sighed. "Look, take my word for it, Mulder gets very wrapped up in his cases. Ask him about Patterson's methods if you get a chance. I've got to go."
Scully turned back into the room, wondering what he meant. ASAC Rawlings came over to speak to her.
"Agent Scully, Agent … I mean Mr. Mulder has asked for permission to visit John Mostow at the Druid Hill Sanatorium. Since he's not with the Bureau anymore, would you be willing to accompany him?"
It wouldn't be her first choice, given what the inmates at Druid Hill were like, but Scully could recognise an order when she was given it. "Of course."
"Good." Rawlings shot Mulder a thoughtful look. "I understand he wants to talk to Mostow, because he never had the opportunity the first time."
Mulder suddenly became aware that he was the topic of conversation and looked up at them. "The profile I wrote for Mostow was only an outline," he said, although whether the comment was directed at them or the room at large was debatable. "The Baltimore PD would have caught him without it. I need to talk to him to work up an accurate profile of the new UNSUB."
"Or find out who Mostow's working with," Willis interjected sharply.
Mulder gave him a strange look, unfocussed and disconnected. "Maybe," he said after a moment.
"Has anyone spoken to the warden at Druid Hill about our visit?" Scully asked Rawlings quickly.
"He's expecting you," the other agent nodded.
"Okay …. Mulder?"
He nodded, apparently shaking off whatever was going on in his head, and stood up. As he did so, Jack Willis picked up his jacket and moved to follow him. Scully's heart sank; the last thing she wanted was to make a trip to a Baltimore asylum in the company of both Willis and Mulder, but it looked like she wasn't going to be able to avoid it.
Then AD Rolfe looked up. "Jack, you're needed here."
Willis paused, and his eyes went from Scully to Mulder and back again, his expression bland and unreadable. But to Scully the look was transparent; he didn't want the pair of them working together, at least not without his supervision.
Apparently Rolfe saw something there he didn't like too. "Jack?" he repeated sharply.
Willis dumped his jacket over the back of a chair, turned his back on them and stuffed his hands into his pockets.
They didn't speak until they were in the car; then it was Mulder who broke the ice, and not with the topic of conversation Scully had expected.
"I'm sorry about last night." Mulder grimaced a little. "I had no right to get on your case about Willis."
"Oh ...." Uncomfortable, Scully paid more than her usual amount of attention to starting up the Bureau rental car and backing it out of the parking lot. For a moment or two there was silence, until she drove out into the street. "Mulder ... there's nothing to apologise for. You were right, after all. It's just ... I was jumpy already last night because when Jerry dropped me off at my car, Jack was waiting there for me. His behaviour weirded me out, and what with the case and everything else – I didn't know what to think."
"Jesus - ! And I made it a hundred times worse by laying into you about it."
"No, you didn't," she told him sharply. "Don't start blaming yourself for Jack's behaviour."
"It's not that ...." Mulder sighed. "I got to thinking after you left – not just about you and me and this thing with Willis, but about me and Phoebe as well. I kept wondering what would happen if she suddenly turned up again."
"You'd call me immediately and I'd arrest her as a federal fugitive," Scully said promptly, and he laughed softly.
"Yeah ... at least we'd have that option with her." He sobered. "I just wondered how you would feel about the situation with her."
She smiled slightly. "Nauseated? Outraged?"
"You think? I don't know .... Looking back, I know she didn't get along well with other women – she never had time for them." Mulder's tone became slightly dry. "She thought men were more important ... in every conceivable way."
"There's a basic difference between us right away," Scully commented, trying hard to keep the slight note of humour in the conversation.
Mulder wasn't having it. "Dana, what I'm trying to say is I don't think I'd be able to deal with Phoebe any more rationally than you can deal with Willis. So for me to expect you to just deal with him - coldly, logically - is unfair."
"Maybe," she admitted slowly, "but you're right about him, all the same. His behaviour is beyond unacceptable ... and yet I don't know what to do about it at the moment."
"So don't do anything," was Mulder's response. "Just take the precautions I suggested and wait a while. I doubt he'll get up to anything for now anyway – he's got too much to focus on with this case."
Scully drove for a while in silence. Then, finally, she spoke again. "He's not the Jack Willis I dated," she admitted, glancing quickly at Mulder. His face was open and sympathetic, non-judgemental. "His behaviour is ... strange. I don't suppose you noticed back there, but - "
"He's not firing on all cylinders," Mulder finished for her. "I noticed all right – along with everyone else in that room. He doesn't have anything like control of the situation, and I've never seen anything like that meeting before – I've never seen an Assistant Director do what Rolfe was doing. If it's bad enough that he's actually colluding with Rawlings to keep things on course, then they should simply remove Willis before the team fragments completely. I don't understand why Rolfe hasn't done that."
"Jack used to be a good agent," Scully stated, her voice low.
"I know he was," he replied, surprising her. "I don't say I knew him personally, because I didn't, but I knew other agents who worked with him in the field and they had nothing but praise for him. He was a good investigator, dedicated and with a good feel for the victims as well as the perps. And that's the only reason I can think of that they're letting him hold on to this case. He already had one major career set-back when he got invalided out as an instructor at Quantico – as good an agent as he was, it must have nearly driven the poor bastard crazy. To be given an opportunity like this and then have it taken away again would probably be the finish of him."
"But for the sake of the case, it should be done?"
"What do you think?"
"Logically, I have to think of the victims," she replied, keeping her eyes on the road.
"Especially since there were moments back there where he was almost being actively obstructive." Mulder sighed and shifted in his seat restlessly. "Look, let's forget Willis for now, since we can't do anything about him. Focus on Mostow instead."
"Okay. What do you know about him?" Scully asked.
"Not a lot. Ordinarily, I would have followed up on him after his trial and conviction – the ISU has an ongoing programme of interviewing dangerous serial offenders, did you know that? But I never finished the profile and by the time he was convicted, I was in no shape to follow it up."
Scully shot Mulder a quick glance, and saw that he was staring out of the window on his side. "How so?" she asked.
"I was just starting my first three week stay at the Bremermann Clinic," he responded. He turned his head and flashed her a grin. "I was flying off the handle for no reason, and seeing ghosties and ghoulies crawling out of the walls at night. Patterson got me booked into the clinic before anyone could seriously start threatening me with Psych Services. I think he visited Mostow himself in the end, but if he did, he didn't get much out of it. Mostow was declared legally insane."
Scully took a few anxious moments to digest this, before framing the question that had been bugging her ever since Jerry's parting comments. "Mulder … do these cases affect you badly? Mentally, I mean."
He gave the question the serious consideration it deserved. "It depends," he said after a while. "Some scenarios affect me worse than others – child killings are a bad one for me to deal with."
"Those cases get to everyone."
"No, you'd be surprised. There was one guy in the ISU with us who didn't have any more problem with dealing with child deaths than he did with straight homicides. But that's not necessarily a good thing for a profiler. Patterson always gave me the kids because he knew how they screwed me up – I guess his theory was that with my empathy for the victims, I'd work twice as fast to solve the case." Mulder sighed, and tried to stretch his legs out a little in the cramped footwell. "It wasn't so much the individual cases, Scully – it was the number of them I was dealing with. I could be working up profiles on seven or eight cases at any one time. And on top of that, I was teaching – the whole team was."
"At the Academy?" Scully tried to recall if she'd ever seen him there.
"At the Academy, and to law enforcement agencies across the country. It's part of what the ISU does, but sometimes it felt like I was perpetually living out of a suitcase. You'd be teaching a course during the day, then go back to the motel and try to work on one of your current cases. Nine times out of ten, one of the guys you were teaching during the day would call and ask for your opinion on this or that case he was having problems with. Then the next day you'd be on a plane to the next training venue, and the whole thing would start again. You could be on the road for two or three weeks at a time."
Scully blinked, unsure what to say. This was something she hadn't known about the ISU, and it was gradually becoming clear why, when they'd first met, Mulder had referred to his former colleagues in the Unit as being "borderline basket-cases".
"Anyway," he continued, after a moment. "To answer your original question: yes, sometimes the cases affect me badly and my behaviour becomes … erratic, for want of a better word. But this is just one case, Scully – I don't think it'll be a big problem unless I have trouble getting into the guy's head."
For some reason, she didn't feel very reassured by this. "One more question," she said presently, slowing down and taking the turning into the sanatorium gates. "Why would Patterson advise AD Rolfe to bring you in on this case?"
"Beats me," Mulder replied, shrugging. "There was nothing he liked better than screwing with my head, and he's never forgiven me for transferring out of the ISU. This could very likely be his twisted idea of a joke."
After his dismissal from the task-force, Jerry Castamir spent most of the morning in the VCS bullpen trying to reorganise his desk, which appeared to have been the dumping ground for every unwanted background check and wiretap file in the office while he was gone. Since he inevitably got stuck with those kind of duties when he wasn't working with Scully, he accepted this philosophically, although he was more than a little annoyed to discover that his absence had encouraged someone to pilfer not only his Wile E. Coyote mousepad but the mouse and keyboard to his PC as well. A quick search, followed by a snappy exchange with Agent Rayburn, ensured their return but left him feeling decidedly ruffled.
It was petty stuff, the kind of thing that always went on in large offices occupied by groups of people who weren't necessarily compatible, but Jerry had been on the receiving end of it a lot since he was transferred back to Washington. Working with Scully didn't help his relations with his fellow agents, despite Scully herself being fairly well-respected; the inevitable "spooky" taint that seemed to go hand in hand with the X-Files assignment had somehow missed the more legitimate target and fastened itself squarely on his back, not hers. And Jerry didn't particularly appreciate being the Mulder-surrogate of the team.
On top of that, he was hung-over and stressed out from the night before, which didn't help his mood at all. Feeling irrationally out of charity with his occasional partner – and more than a little reluctant to involve himself with that damn flask of gunk any more than he had to - Jerry decided that visiting Agent Pendrell for Scully's test results could wait a while. He put in a phonecall to the Sci-Crimes team asking for the other agent to call him when he got a chance, and then buried himself in a wiretap transcription for a couple of hours.
Scully studied Mostow's file again while they were waiting, and after a moment or two of restless prowling around the neat, sterile little consulting room, Mulder finally sat down next to her and glanced over her shoulder.
"Wondering what Mostow is like?" he asked.
"Wondering what makes someone kill not just one, but several other human beings in such a vicious and calculated manner," she replied absently.
He cocked a brow at her. "The state says he's insane, Scully. Do you need any more of an answer than that?"
She gave him a curious look, aware of an underlying challenge in his question. "You don't agree with the verdict?"
Mulder leaned back in his seat. "Oh, I agree that he did these murders," he conceded. "But despite being a legal term, "insane" is an interesting word to associate with most serial killers. For one thing, it's not particularly precise."
Scully flipped the file shut and looked at him, wondering what he was getting at. "What do you mean?"
"Well, most people assume that insane means ... off your rocker, foaming at the mouth, seeing fairies at the bottom of the garden. Not in control of your actions."
"As a psychologist, I would assume you to have a more precise description than that," she smiled.
He chuckled. "Okay, so the relevant phrase there was "not in control". As a psychologist and a criminal analyst I could pin a couple of more precise tags on most serial killers – psychopath and sociopath are the ones that spring readily to mind. I could give you a brief outline of the kind of behaviour that characterises such personalities and show you how it relates to known serial offenders. But one thing that would not be in that outline is a lack of control. On the contrary, a great many of the worst murderers suffer from the complete opposite." Mulder paused, looking thoughtful. "Actually, that's something I learned from Bill Patterson. When I started out in the ISU, I was idealistic – I'd only done limited clinical practice and during training at the Academy I soaked up all this shit about legal definitions of insanity. The first thing Bill did was drag me out to various institutions to meet some of these so-called lunatics. It was an eye-opener."
"So Patterson doesn't believe guys like John Mostow are really insane?"
"I don't know about Mostow – I haven't seen his notes on him – but Bill always said that a good ninety-nine percent of the killers he helped catch weren't insane by ordinary definitions. They were highly intelligent and self-aware, and they'd made a conscious choice to do what they did. And he believed that if they were capable of making a reasoned choice to kill, then they were capable of taking whatever punishment the full weight of the law demanded."
Scully sat back in her chair, considering this. Then one of Jerry's parting comments came to mind. "Mulder, Jerry told me that you were, and I quote, "a graduate of the Patterson School of Profiling". What did he mean by that?"
Mulder gave a soundless laugh. "He was probably referring to Bill's oft-stated maxim on tracking serial killers. "If you want to know the artist, look at his art." What he meant was that if you wanted to catch a monster, you had to become one yourself."
"Sounds like a one-way ticket to the nearest mental institution," Scully commented, and instantly wished she hadn't. That was a stupid thing to say ....
Mulder was giving her a look that seemed to be equally composed of irony, amusement and affection. "Yeah well, for some of us it was," he smiled, "probably Bill included, although you would never get him to admit it."
"Is that what you do, though?"
Mulder didn't have a chance to respond, for the door opened then and two well-built orderlies were bringing in John Mostow, shaven-headed and heavily shackled.
Scully wasn't sure what she had expected to see, but John Mostow came as something of a surprise. He was a thin, slightly-built man, made shorter by a severe stoop. The shackles on his ankles reduced his movements to a clumsy shuffle, but she got the impression from his bearing that his natural movements would be clumsy and hesitant anyway. And he was squinting badly in the brightly-lit consulting room; a normal reaction, they had been told, given that he refused all forms of lighting in his cell.
He took the seat across the table from them, and after one lightning glance, quickly turned away from them.
"I have nothing to say to you," he said curtly, his voice heavily accented. "Leave me alone."
"You may not have anything to say to us, sir, but we have questions we want to ask you and we're not leaving until we get the answers," Scully replied pleasantly. She felt a creeping prickle up the back of her neck as she regarded Mostow, and was aware that the comforting weight of her gun was missing from the small of her back – removed by the Sanatorium's staff when they first entered the building.
"There is nothing I can tell you," Mostow stated sullenly.
Scully ignored him. "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI, and this is Fox Mulder, a behavioural psychologist working with me. We want to ask you some questions about the killings that got you committed to this institution, Mr. Mostow."
"Six years ago you got sent down for the murders of seven men between the ages of nineteen and twenty-five," Mulder put in quietly. "The important question has to be: Why did you do it?"
"I did not do it." Mostow huddled in his seat, looking pointedly away from them. His face was twisted, but whether from pain at the exposure to light or from Mulder's question was not clear.
"I'm told that's what you claimed at the time." Mulder's fingers caressed the surface of the table between them absently. "It's what you've claimed ever since. If you didn't do it, John, who did?"
Mostow shot him a quick, savage look. "Not "who" – "what"," he hissed. "I did not do it - it did."
Mulder nodded as though he had been expecting this response. He bent down and picked up a slim brown folder from beside his chair; Scully had noticed the Warden of Druid Hill handing it to him earlier. He laid it on the table but instead of opening it, he reached across for the bulky FBI file in front of Scully and quickly flipped through it, extracting a couple of sheets of paper. He spread them out, glancing down briefly at them, then turned them around and pushed them across to Mostow.
"This "it" you're referring to – it wouldn't look like this, would it?"
The two sheets of paper were thick white artists' cartridge paper, now yellowing faintly at the edges from having spent several years in a folder. Both bore crude drawings, one in a smudgy charcoal and the other in sharp black ink, of a grotesque face with sharp pointed features and evil eyes. Gargoyles.
After a moment of rigid and determined silence from the thin prisoner, Mulder opened the folder in front of him and pulled out a sheaf of newer drawings, all essentially the same – more gargoyles and grotesques; some full-face, some sideways; some with bodies, some with just faces.
"You draw these images a lot," Mulder mused, studying them critically. "I'm told that if you can't get paper, you'll draw them on the walls and floor of your cell, with your fingernails and your own blood if necessary. Tell me about this thing, John – tell me why you have to keep drawing it."
Mostow shuddered. "It killed those men," he muttered.
"Does it have a name?"
"All men know its name," was the contemptuous response.
"But what do you call it?" Mulder persisted. "Satan? The devil?"
"Maybe it's just the name of your accomplice," Scully suggested, hoping her voice didn't sound as uneasy as she felt.
The thin man gave her a searing look. "I had no accomplice!"
"So you killed all of those young men yourself," she nodded.
"No! It killed them! How many times do I have to tell you?"
"Its fingerprints weren't on the murder weapon, Mr. Mostow, yours were. It didn't escape the death penalty by a hair's breadth, and it wasn't committed to this institution for the rest of its natural life. You were."
Mostow glared at them both impartially. "That is why it laughs at fools like you ... fools who would pretend evil can be brought to heel like a brindle bitch or held by your pathetic gulags. While with a snap of its fingers, it makes men lick the greasy floor of hell, just to see its reflection."
The imagery this conjured up did nothing for Scully's sense of unease, but she refused to let this be seen in her face. "Is that what it's been doing these last few months?" she asked calmly. "Snapping its fingers and letting more young men die?"
For a second she thought Mostow hadn't heard her. Then he sucked in a gasping breath, his eyes wide with terror.
"It has killed again?" The staring, crazed eyes searched first her face, then Mulder's. "Then it has found somebody else ... somebody, like it found me."
"Possessed by an evil spirit," Scully sighed, as they walked back through the sterile, echoing halls of the sanatorium. "I guess I should have expected that."
"Satan, the ultimate accomplice," Mulder commented absently.
"Well, I think that answered the question of whether Mostow really is one of Agent Patterson's one percent of genuinely insane people, don't you?"
"You think?" Mulder's mind was elsewhere. "Well, I guess we'll soon find out."
Scully gave him a concerned look. "Mulder, are you okay?"
He blinked, and smiled at her. "Sure. Just thinking."
She wasn't convinced, but let it go. "I just want to speak to the Warden about something, okay? Then we can get out of here."
"I guessed you'd want to know that," the Warden, a portly man in his early fifties said, when Scully spoke to him. "I got the records out just in case .... John Mostow has received only three different visitors since he's been an inmate here, and all three of them were FBI agents."
"Seriously?" Scully accepted the relevant log books and looked down the entries. "Patterson ... Nemhauser ... Kingsley. Kingsley?"
"Nemhauser and Kingsley are both profilers," Mulder put in. "Phil Kingsley took on part of my workload just after the arrest of Mostow – he's one of Patterson's bootlickers." Scully shot Mulder an astonished look, and found that he was grinning at her. "According to Jack Willis," he amended. "He probably came here with Patterson to do the follow-up with Mostow that I told you about."
"What about Nemhauser?"
"He's Patterson's shadow, and acts as his partner on the rare occasions Bill actually does field work."
"Well, they all came here on the same day," she admitted. "But look at this – Patterson came back here several times on his own. At least twice in the first year after Mostow's incarceration, and once ... three months ago?" She looked up at Mulder, eyes wide. "Why would he do that after all this time?"
Mulder glanced across at the patiently waiting Warden. "Does Mostow have contact with anyone else? Letters, phonecalls ...."
The man shook his head. "No sir. Apart from those Agents, and sessions with the resident shrinks, John Mostow hasn't had contact with the outside world since he was admitted. Not even his lawyer visits him – if he even has one anymore."
"I'd like a list of the personnel, medical or otherwise, that he's been in contact with since he came here," Scully requested. "What about other inmates? Are there any he might have had regular contact with, who have since left Druid Hill?"
"No ma'am." The Warden gave her a dryly humorous look. "Most of the people who come here, stay here, if you'll pardon me saying so. And in any case, we tend to keep Mostow separated from the other patients – on the few occasions when he leaves his cell willingly, his behaviour is too unpredictable. But I'll check, if you like."
"There's one question we haven't asked ourselves," Mulder said thoughtfully, as Scully slipped the car into gear and pulled out of the Sanatorium car park.
"What's that?" she asked absently, concentrating more on the traffic.
"How did this new killer know about the mutilations? Apart from the fact that the victims were knifed to death, no detailed information on the injuries was released to the press or public."
"That's been bothering me," Scully acknowledged, "although I admit that I hadn't really focussed on it until now. I assumed that the new killer must have had contact with Mostow – it's the only explanation. And it's still possible – we won't know until the Warden gets us the information on people he's had contact with, and we can follow it up."
"I guess that would explain why the killer picked Mostow to emulate rather than some of the more dramatic serial killers we've known." But Mulder sounded dissatisfied with this explanation.
"Yeah, he could have picked Eugene Tooms," she muttered.
Mulder gave a her a look full of amusement. "That was said with a lot of personal feeling, Scully."
"It may have escaped your notice, Mulder, but we probably passed within feet of Tooms while we were in that place." She shuddered slightly.
"Don't dwell on it," he said gently. "He's locked up, and he's staying there." But Scully made no comment, and he let it go. "Where are we heading for now?"
"Back to the Bureau," she replied, glancing at him. "I have to make my report. Why?"
"Could we take a slight detour?"
"If you want .... Where to?"
"Annie's place." The humour had totally drained from Mulder's face. "I need to ask her to look after Sam for a while."
Scully looked surprised. "Why?"
"I'm erring on the side of caution," he replied, and sighed, rubbing his eyes with one hand. "This case might take more for me to get my head around than I originally anticipated, and if it does ... I don't want Sam to see any of the stuff that goes with it."
John Mostow had, so his file said, been apprehended in his studio/workroom in an old factory building. Evidence had suggested that he lived there most of the time, probably in perpetual twilight as there had been no evidence of artificial lighting and the only natural light had been filtered through a single, dirt-crusted skylight.
The need to live in twilight was only one aspect of Mostow's character that Mulder wanted to explore. As yet, he had few theories on the nature of the new killer and he needed to familiarise himself with Mostow's case before he could understand what attracted his copycat to him. However, given the length of time that had elapsed since Mostow's capture, the studio itself would no longer be available for inspection. So Mulder did the next best thing – he got the complete FBI case files and evidence box out of storage.
Taking them to a spare meeting room, Mulder rummaged around until he found a sheaf of crime scene photographs, which he spread out across the table in a rough order. He was staring at them thoughtfully, along with another broader selection of Mostow's gargoyle drawings, when Scully appeared in the doorway.
"I bought you lunch," she told him, offering him a wrapped sandwich and glancing curiously at the scattered pictures.
"Huh? …. Oh, thanks. I'm not really hungry, though."
"Suit yourself." Scully put the food to one side and looked down at the crime scene pictures. They made grim viewing, if only because of the crude monochrome shades and grim surroundings of Mostow's lair. His mania for gargoyles had led him to paper every surface of his studio with black and white grotesques, which did nothing to improve the spartan living area he had occupied in one corner. There was a narrow, metal-framed cot stuffed in one corner under a shelf, and the floor had apparently been grimy, undressed concrete. "Nice place he had," she commented after a moment. "What are you looking for?"
"Him," was Mulder's distant response.
"Him? You mean Mostow?"
"And the guy who's mimicking him. But mostly Mostow right now."
Scully gave him a curious look. "Is the new killer likely to copy him this closely?"
"He is if he's driven by the same kind of mania that drives Mostow." Mulder looked up at her, his brow furrowed. "Whatever. The important bit is the art."
"Which will enable you to know the artist."
"According to Bill." He gave her a faint smile. "In this case, he's probably nearer to the truth than he knows. Look – " He gestured at the gargoyle drawings. "Mostow drew just one image, over and over, in different poses and with different media."
"One of those different media was human flesh," Scully observed. She pulled one of the drawings towards her and traced the wide slash-like mouth of the gargoyle with a light fingertip. It stretched almost from ear to ear, and the sharp line extended into the shape of the ears, nose and chin of the creature.
"Exactly. Mostow drew gargoyles – still draws gargoyles – as a defence against the spirit or demon he believes is using him, and he was driven so insane by it in the end, that he actually started carving up the victims in the hope that it would drive it away. There are probably other, earlier victims we will never find – ones who show little or no sign of his signature. The big question, of course, is how closely the UNSUB is mimicking Mostow now, though. There's no doubt that he's copying Mostow's signature and MO, but the question is – is that his signature or is it just his MO? Is that his particular quirk or is it just what he needs to achieve his ends? Is he an artist or a forger?"
Scully blinked, gazing uncertainly into Mulder's tense face. "How do we find out?"
Mulder shrugged. "By studying the art. You examined most of the latest victims, Scully. Would you say that he's getting better at what he's doing as he goes along?"
"You know he is – it's in my report. The first victim's mutilations are clumsy by comparison to the others, even given that they occurred post-mortem."
"But he's worked on only five. How quickly do you think he's improved his technique? Is there a noticeable difference between, say, victims two and three?"
Scully began to feel slightly queasy at the casual way he spoke of victims and their injuries, as though they were nothing but … canvas. "The wound patterns of the latest victim showed considerably more control and - and technique, for want of a better word," she admitted.
"And there was a bigger gap between the death of victim five and victim four." Mulder glanced down at the crime scene photos again. "He could be practising."
"Improving his technique by practising somehow – probably drawing or carving or sculpting …. Becoming more familiar with the images he's trying to produce. Just like Mostow …."
Scully tore her eyes away from Mulder for a moment and looked down at the photographs of Mostow's studio. "If he's doing that, then he needs somewhere to work and materials to work with. That's somewhere to start looking - "
"Until we know what kind of person we're looking for, checking out art supplies is no good," Mulder commented absently.
"I was thinking more of a place to work," she retorted, with a certain amount of asperity.
He glanced up at her, surprised, and his face suddenly softened into a rueful smile. "Sorry, Scully, I didn't mean to imply otherwise. I was just thinking out loud, I guess."
"It was more likely your stomach talking," she huffed. She picked up the abandoned sandwich and shoved it at him. "Eat. You're rumbling worse than an elephant with gas."
He made a face but accepted the offering and, tearing the plastic wrapper off, devoured it with a starved speed that refuted his earlier claim of not being hungry. Meanwhile, Scully took a closer look at the scattered pictures.
"Do you have any idea yet of what kind of person we're looking for?" she asked. "I mean, is it going to be someone who resembles Mostow a lot – age, appearance, mental history?"
"Difficult to say," Mulder mumbled around a mouthful. He swallowed quickly. "At first glance, that's the kind of person we'd look for since we don't have anything else to go on. You would assume that it's someone who feels he has an affinity with Mostow in a number of ways, and that would influence his behaviour a lot. But until we get the list of contacts back from Druid Hill, we won't know if there's anyone who's got close to him and answers that description. But …." He hesitated, considering. "If I had to make a guess based solely on what we know now, I'd say that it's someone older. Assuming that it's one of the narrow selection of people who've had contact with Mostow since he was locked up, he probably doesn't have a history of mental illness, since it would have been picked up when he was screened for employment. But he might have an obsessive personality, both with people and things – the choice of weapon and the economy of action in the mutilations would appeal to this guy, and it might explain his interest in Mostow. And he probably has the kind of background history we often see in serial killers … abuse – "
" – Firestarting and animal torture," Scully finished for him, nodding and smiling slightly. "Why do you say he's older?"
"Well, there didn't seem to be a lot of younger staff at Druid Hill. But aside from that, the early hesitation in the mutilations, and the fact that he hasn't bothered to improvise on Mostow's basic design, suggests to me that it's someone who isn't intrinsically artistic. This is something new to him, a skill he's having to develop against his basic nature. On the other hand, he's also taking a lot of care to make the face-carving look like Mostow's work – he's making a real effort to show us that connection. That speaks of patience, Scully, and I think someone younger, with less experience of life, would be less inclined to make the effort. It's also why I say he's practising – he's taking his time, making his point, and he wants it to look exactly right. I don't think a young guy would do that."
"Bravo, Mulder," a sarcastic voice said from the doorway. Jack Willis was standing there, his eyes cold. "Tell me something – if you can produce a profile that good in a matter of hours, why haven't you shared it with the rest of us?"
Scully jumped at the unexpected intrusion, but Mulder showed no reaction other than to turn and face the other man.
"It's not a profile," he replied calmly. He finished the last bite of his sandwich and balled the wrapper up, tossing it into a wastepaper basket in the corner. "It's just an outline at the moment – I need more information before I can attempt the profile."
"You've talked to Mostow, you've read his file, you've had all of his crap out of Evidence – how much more information do you need?" Willis demanded. "And where the hell do you think you're going to find anything else? Mostow's been locked up for the last six years – the only other evidence we have is the new victims and crime scenes, but you spent less than half an hour on them!"
Mulder cocked his head on one side, studying the other man curiously. "Do you have a problem with the way I work, Willis? Because if you do, I'm quite happy to step back and let a different profiler take over. But I feel obliged to warn you that I don't think they'd work any differently."
Scully, watching the confrontation with carefully disguised concern, noticed something odd; Willis had given no indication that he knew she was there. Despite the fact that they were standing practically shoulder to shoulder, his attention was totally centred on Mulder, and she might just have well been invisible. Which was completely at variance with Willis' previous behaviour towards her, although come to think of it, apart from the confrontation in the parking lot, he'd been strangely detached with her from the moment she was pulled in on the investigation. What this meant she couldn't tell, but she filed the observation away in her brain for later consideration.
"I've got news for you, Mulder," he was saying now, his voice tense and harsh. "The Bureau's moved on since you left. Things are done differently ... everything's changed."
"Basic human nature hasn't," Mulder replied coolly, "and that's why I'm here. You may not like me or my techniques, Willis, but you still need a profile and someone bigger than you has decided I'm the best person to do it. Live with it."
"This is my case," was the savage retort, "and I'm going to solve it, with or without your profile!"
"I never doubted that." Scully was surprised to hear the sincerity in his voice. "Any good investigator knows that the profile is just another tool, a means to narrowing down the suspect pool – it's no replacement for old-fashioned investigative skills."
Willis stared at Mulder for a moment, his eyes narrowed. "You just remember that, then, and stay out of my way." He turned on his heel and strode from the room.
"Whew!" Mulder exclaimed softly, watching him go. "What the hell was that about?"
"I was right earlier, wasn't I?" Scully said, worried. "There is definitely something wrong with him – he's not himself."
"That's an understatement. What was with all that crap about the Bureau changing? He wasn't even expressing himself coherently." Mulder gave her a concerned look. "He's seriously on the edge about this case .... I think the sooner I can pull together a working profile, the better." He paused for a moment, tapping his fingertips restlessly on the table and thinking. "Look, there's some research I need to do about this stuff – " he gestured vaguely at the crude drawings littering the surface. "I'm going to head over to the library at Georgetown."
"Well, while you're doing that, I'm going to speak to Rawlings and Addersley and see if we can come up with some places to look for the UNSUB's hide-out," Scully replied. She gave him a look tinged with a tiny bit of mischief. "While you've still got your psychic profiler hat on, can you give me any hints?"
Mulder grinned and shrugged. "You could try looking around the area Mostow hung out in - it's always possible that the guy has taken his obsession that far. Of course, there's a chance that he's simply doing this stuff at home but if he's the obsessive I'm thinking he is, particularly with objects, then he might try and separate the mess of his work from his home life." He paused, his eyes unfocussing for a moment. "Actually, that's a real possibility ... he may be trying to divorce the side of him that kills from the rest of him ...." He shook his head. "I need to think about that. But in any case, take a look at the layout of the crime scenes – whether he's working at home or from a separate studio, I think he's probably nearby. And if he has a separate workshop, it's going to be a lot like Mostow's – somewhere dark and out of the way, where he won't be disturbed by people or daylight."
"An abandoned factory, in fact."
Scully rolled her eyes. "Thanks, Mulder. I can tell what the rest of my day's going to be like. Give me a call when you've finished at the library, okay?"
But Mulder's attention was already drifting away again to the drawings on the table.
By lunchtime Jerry Castamir's hangover had eased and he was generally feeling more human, so when Pendrell finally called him back in the early part of the afternoon he was more than happy to abandon the wiretap detail and run over to the labs to find out what was in the flask he'd appropriated the day before. Except that Pendrell wasn't in the Bureau's labs. He was at the Georgetown Microbiology Department, borrowing a friend's lab there to the do the work.
Intrigued in spite of himself, Jerry agreed to join him, and eventually found Pendrell in one of the smaller labs at the facility.
"What have you found?" he demanded as he walked in, amused at the younger agent's obvious excitement.
"I've definitely got something here for Agent Scully," Pendrell told him, and practically beamed.
Jerry hid his grin, wondering if the huge smile was in response to whatever the younger man had discovered or merely anticipation of Scully's hoped-for reaction. He also wondered if Pendrell knew Scully was already seeing Mulder ... not that it was any business of his. "So ... what is it?" he prompted. "And why did you come all the way out here for it?"
"Better containment procedures." Pendrell manoeuvred the screen of his computer around so that Jerry could see a picture of the bacteria after the freeze fracture. It didn't look much to the agent, a greenish thing with little blue dots all over it. "It's some kind of bacteria and each of them contains a virus. It looks to me as if whoever was doing this was cloning them."
Jerry's brows snapped together in concern. "Cloning ...."
Pendrell nodded, his adam's apple bobbing as he swallowed. Suddenly all his excitement was gone and he looked concerned. "They also contain something that looks like chloroplasts – plant cells – but I've ... well, I've never seen anything like it before. Bacteria like this may have existed, but not for millions of years, not since before our ancestors first crawled out of the sea."
"Any idea what they could be doing with them?" the older agent asked slowly.
"Well, the only reason you clone a virus inside a bacteria is in order to inject it into something living," the younger man explained. "It's called gene therapy and it's still highly experimental. Agent Scully told me this stuff was found in a lab full of monkeys – is that right? The scientist working with this could have been testing it on them."
Jerry grimaced. "And you say that it contains plant cells? I don't want to think about that too closely." His own science was only average but even he knew that there was something not quite right about this scenario, especially given the circumstances under which he had retrieved the flask in the first place. "So what happens next?"
Pendrell shrugged. "We're running some primary cell cultures and a DNA sequence as we speak. If you want to hang around, I should have some results shortly."
"Okay." Jerry nodded and smiled at Pendrell, suppressing the anxiety he was beginning to feel. He dug inside his trenchcoat pocket and pulled out his cell phone. "I'll try and get Agent Scully, and let her know what's happening."
Pendrell nodded and turned back to his computer, leaving Jerry to go out into the hallway and attempt to call Scully. But her number came up with the 'out of range' message. After a minute or two of pondering, he tried Mulder's number instead.
"It's Jerry. I've been trying to get Scully but she's out of range."
"She's not with me," Mulder told him. "She went off with Rawlings and Addersley some time ago, I think. They're supposed to be checking out some possible workshop sites."
"Workshop sites ...? Never mind, I don't need to know. Look, I'm at the Georgetown Microbiology Department with Agent Pendrell. He's been analysing the contents of that flask I lifted from Berube's lab."
Mulder's slightly distracted tone instantly sharpened into interest. "What's he found?"
In as few words as possible, Jerry explained Pendrell's discoveries, finishing with, "We know Berube was part of the Human Genome Project so some of this is hardly a surprise, Mulder, but why does the inclusion of plant cells in a bacteria that was being tested on primates bother me? Especially when it's teamed with the word "cloned"?"
Mulder hesitated. "I'm not a scientist like Scully, but I'm sure she'd come up with a logical link between the Human Genome Project and cloning."
"Yeah, Scully's good with the logical links," Jerry muttered a little sourly.
"It's the chloroplasts I'm interested in," Mulder continued, letting the other man's comment pass for the moment. "Why include plant cells?"
"More to the point, I'd like to know what any of this has got to do with that missing driver."
"Shit! I forgot about that," Mulder hissed. There was an agitated pause which had Jerry raising his brows, then he said, "Look - I had some information about that from a source of mine, but in the excitement of this case, I forgot about it. I think the driver got picked up by a paramedic team last night."
"How? Where?" Jerry demanded, astounded. "And how the hell did you find this out?"
"Probably somewhere in the Arlis area, but I'm not sure. And I told you, it came from a source."
Jerry took the phone away from his ear for a moment and stared at it incredulously. Mulder receiving information from a "source" and not acting on it immediately? He briefly wondered if he should phone the Vatican and find out if the Pope had converted to Buddhism. Shaking his head, he put the phone back to his ear.
"Jerry, are you still there?"
"Yeah, I'm here – I think. So, what – you want me to find out if and where he got admitted?"
Mulder hesitated. He wasn't stupid and he knew that Jerry was probably supposed to be somewhere else entirely, after being dismissed from the Slasher case. On the other hand, he wasn't able to follow up this lead right away and neither was Scully. Jerry was the logical person to do it. "Will you get any grief over it?"
Jerry rolled his eyes. "Please! Let me worry about the ass-kicking I'll get from Skinner, will you? Besides, I doubt anyone's seriously going to miss me from wiretap duty until tomorrow at the earliest."
"Well, I'll leave it up to you what you do," Mulder replied, shrugging it off. "I've got a profile to write."
"Yeah, all right. Let Scully know I called, will you? I'll call back later." Jerry pressed "end" and tucked the phone back into his pocket. Then he turned and walked back into the lab, where Pendrell was bending over a monitor again. "I've got to go and check on something," he told the younger agent. "How long will these tests take?"
"Not long – a few hours," Pendrell responded absently, not even raising his head.
Jerry supposed that a few hours wasn't long in terms of scientific discovery, however much it might be to the rest of humanity. But in the meantime, he had other things to be getting on with. Like finishing up the wiretap tapes.
On Mulder's advice, Scully, Rawlings and Addersley began their search for the killer's 'workshop' at the site of Mostow's own studio. The building, a disused factory in one of the city's more run-down areas, had recently been consumed by a fire and pulled down for safety reasons, but there were more like it in the old industrial district and they began the slow, rather tedious search with the two nearest.
It was dangerous work, for most of the buildings were derelict and in poor shape, so the three of them stayed together in case of accidents.
"Makes you wonder how the owners of these places can afford to let them get into this condition," Scully observed, shining her flashlight into a couple of murky areas while Rawlings checked out a room further along.
"These days, the land's worth more than the buildings," Addersley replied. "It won't be long before someone buys this area up, pulls these places down, and builds office blocks." He watched her investigate a metal staircase to one side for a moment, looking at her thoughtfully. "Say, Scully ...."
"You known Mulder long?"
"About two and a half years," she replied absently, panning her flashlight over the walls. "Why?"
"Is it true what the guys are saying about him?"
Suddenly all Scully's attention was fixed on the other agent. "What are they saying?"
Addersley's eyes were looking anywhere but at her. "Oh, you know ... stuff," he replied uncomfortably.
"'Spooky Mulder' stuff?" she asked coolly. "Little green aliens, that kind of thing?"
"Look, Scully, I just heard some ... stuff ... about him. About him leaving the Bureau."
Scully stared at him. "Go on."
"Some of the guys are saying he didn't leave at all. They're saying he was disciplined and lost his badge because of some corruption case involving a female agent called - "
" - Phoebe Green," she finished for him, feeling sick. "His ex-wife."
"Well, yeah .... The thing is, Scully, is this true? Because if it is, should the Bureau be using this guy to ...."
Suddenly Rawlings was there, looming up behind her. "What the hell is this crap, Drew?" he demanded.
"Hey!" Addersley took a step back, spreading his hands defensively. "I'm just repeating what I've been told. There's a lot of talk, Mike, and I don't like what I'm hearing."
"Do you seriously think Rolfe would countenance using a bent agent on this case?" Rawlings snapped at his partner. "Besides, I never heard anything like that about Mulder .... Scully? Do you know anything about this?"
"It's true that Mulder's ex-wife is wanted on a number of charges, including corruption," Scully replied reluctantly, "but Mulder himself was never suspected of anything. He resigned from the Bureau because he needed more time to look after his little boy. Mulder told me all this himself, but I was under the impression that the official file was sealed. Who told you about this, Agent Addersley? It's not supposed to be general knowledge around the Bureau."
"I told you, some of the guys were talking about it," he muttered, a little sullenly. "I don't know where the hell the information came from originally."
Scully gave him a hard stare, but he seemed to be telling the truth. All the same, the fact that such information was being bandied around bothered her and she made a mental note to look into it when she got back to the office. "Let's just get back to case," she said curtly. "Was there anything down there, Agent Rawlings?"
He shook his head. "A couple of old offices; nothing we're looking for. You want to try someplace else? There are a couple of buildings across the street, and one of them was supposedly rented out for storage not so long ago."
"You don't want to check the upper floors?" Addersley asked, grateful to seize on the change of subject.
"Too dangerous." Rawlings glanced around, and turned decisively back towards the entrance. "Let's go."
Scully turned to follow – and hesitated. She turned back to the staircase she'd been examining and stepped closer, shining her flashlight over the metal framework that secured it.
"Scully?" Rawlings and Addersley were watching, perplexed. "Scully, come on. It's too big a risk."
"I don't know ...." she said slowly. "Maybe we're meant to think that."
"What do you mean?" Rawlings came to take a look.
"The bolts on some of the steps look newer than the rest of the stairs," she commented, "like it's been reinforced."
They exchanged glances and Rawlings' lips tightened with concern. "It's still a risk."
"Still," Scully said decisively, "there's only one way to find out, and I'm the lightest of the three of us." She took hold of the handrail and gave it a rough shove. It wobbled unnervingly but the steps themselves didn't move, so she put a cautious foot on the bottom step and put her weight on it. The staircase didn't move. "Okay ...." Slowly, taking it step by step, she climbed up to the second floor of the old factory building.
This was the part of her job that Scully secretly hated the most. As a child, her brother Bill had locked her in the basement of their house on one of the Navy bases; it had been damp, cold and the single light-bulb had been faulty, flickering and going out at intervals. She'd been stuck in there for nearly three hours until her sister Melissa heard her whimpers and rescued her, and to this day she retained a creeping horror at having to investigate dark, disused spaces. No amount of scientific rationalisation had succeeded in curing her of it.
Nevertheless, there was a job to be done and Scully would never have allowed anyone to know how much doing this creeped her out. She straightened her shoulders as she reached the top of the staircase and panned her flashlight around warily. Aside from the faint sound of water dripping somewhere, the building was silent and still.
"Scully, what's up there?" Rawlings called.
She panned the light around again, noting the huge expanse of floor marred by remnants of equipment and other trash. "It's just a huge factory floor," she called back, restraining a shudder at the way her voice echoed. "There are what look like offices and storage areas down one side, though. I'm going to take a look."
"Yeah, like I'm going to deliberately be careless," she muttered under her breath, and struck out cautiously across the floor. She didn't like the look of some of the boards under her feet and had no desire to rejoin her colleagues via a more direct route.
The offices and store rooms were obviously empty from the moment she shone her flashlight through the doors. Nevertheless, Scully resolutely examined each one, finding little more than some evidence of habitation by junkies and homeless persons. The smell was appalling. Finally, she turned back towards the stairs.
Something leapt out of the shadows, making her cry out with surprise and alarm, and blundered past her into the room she had just exited.
Addersley and Rawlings were up the staircase before she had time to catch her breath, and Scully instantly felt a complete fool.
"It's okay," she gasped. "It was a cat … I think." She took a deep breath to steady herself and turned back to the old storeroom resolutely, flashing the light through the door. "Where on earth did it come from? I didn't see it when I was checking out the other rooms …."
Two more flashlights joined hers to probe the room. There was no sign of the cat.
"Are you sure that's what it was?" Addersley asked finally, stepping into the room and flashing his light into the dim corners. "There's nothing here now."
"It felt like a cat – it was too big to be something like a rat, anyway."
Rawlings was checking out the room methodically. "What's this?" he said suddenly. He crouched down and was peering at what looked like a small hole at the bottom of the wall. "A cat could have got through here," he held his hand in front of the hole for a moment, "and there's a draft coming through." He stood up straight again, checking the edges of the wall with an intense expression that Scully realised held controlled excitement. "I wonder what's behind it? Drew, give me a hand here – "
The two men set their shoulders against the wall, giving it a solid shove – and it moved. The stained material was nothing more than a plasterboard partition painted to match the rest of the room and carefully fitted to look permanent in the semi-darkness. At some point it must have become damaged, which had allowed the cat access to whatever was beyond.
Between them, the three agents managed to move the fake wall just enough that they could squeeze through into the hidden room behind it. They were greeted by a cold draft of air, dank and carrying a faint undertone of something sickly sweet and decaying.
"Oh my God …." Rawlings whispered blankly.
Mulder was in one of the reading rooms at the Georgetown University Library. He had staked a claim to one of the tables there at mid-afternoon, and had been steadily building a fortress of books around himself ever since.
He was researching the history of the gargoyle, writing up swift notes in his spidery longhand, jumping from one idea to another across the pages of a lined notepad – some of it direct quotes from the books before him, some of it his own mental ramblings, snatches of a draft profile here and there, occasional sketches of pictures and ideas.
Mulder's style had earned him something of a reputation with both his fellow profilers and his senior agents. No one else – except, perhaps, Patterson – could work with his files; they might look neat and orderly on the surface, but they were crammed with page upon page of rambling notes that only he could decipher. The final profile, when it was written, was always typed up by Mulder himself, for aside from his dislike of letting the clerical team touch his work, no one could read his manuscripts anyway. It had caused immense frustration among his superiors, as it meant they had to rely on Mulder himself for a rundown on how a case was proceeding … and he was notoriously vague and uncommunicative.
The notes forming on the pad in front of him now were a typical example of his style.
The name is from the French – "gargouille" …. The
name of a medieval dragon that prowled the River Seine,
whose horrible image became the symbol of the soul
of the condemned turned to stone …. Or of the
devils and demons of the underworld spared eternal
... The embodiment of the lesser forces of the
universe who inspired dread, the threat of our own
damnation; ushers into hell or into the realm of our
own dark fears and imagination. …. For over 1200
years, this grotesque image has found its expression in
stone, clay, wood, oil and charcoal, born again and
again as if resurrecting itself by its own will through
tortured human expression, almost as if it existed,
haunting men inwardly so that it may haunt mankind
for eternity. As it must have haunted John Mostow ….
But what impulses moved it to kill? Could this
be the same dark force at work? Is its ultimate
expression the destruction of the flesh, of the very
hand that creates it? Is this evil something born in
each of us, crouching in the shadow of every human
soul waiting to emerge? A monster waiting to
violate our bodies and twist our will to do its bidding
…. Is this the monster called madness?
Here and there on the page he had sprinkled half-formed images of gargoyles, the barest pencil outlines of pointed and hideous faces. Deep in concentration, Mulder was comparing one of Mostow's crude charcoal drawings and one of his own efforts to a old monochrome photograph in one of the books, when he was jerked rudely out of his thoughts by a crisp, familiar voice.
"The library's getting ready to close."
He looked up and was not entirely surprised to see Bill Patterson standing in front of his table. The older man's face was as unreadable as ever, the round-lensed glasses presenting too much of a reflection in the low lights of the library to be revealing, and his face fixed in its customary expression of cynicism. Not that it mattered: the cynicism was just a shield, and Mulder had given up trying to read the real Bill Patterson years before. He leaned back in his chair, and waited to see what happened. Nothing Patterson did was without a purpose; if he was here, it was for a good reason … although that reason might not necessarily become clear to the profiler's former acolyte.
They stared at each other a little challengingly for a moment, then the older man walked around the edge of the desk and picked up Mulder's notepad, flipping the pages over and studying the notes. Then he picked up one of the many books piled up on the desk and studied the title on the spine.
"So …." He dumped the book and notepad back in front of Mulder, and perched on the edge of the desk next to his one time protege. "This is how you intend to find the second killer? Jesus, Mulder ... haven't you learned? What do you expect to find in here?"
Mulder shrugged, apparently unconcerned by the implied criticism. "I'm not sure yet."
"But you must have some idea – some kind of theory."
A weary little smile crossed the younger man's lips. "I always have theories. I'm just trying to stitch them together right now."
"With your face stuck in a library book," Patterson sneered. It was an expression his face seemed uniquely suited to.
Mulder's brows rose. "You said it yourself: If you want to know the artist, look at his art. I'm finally agreeing with you, Bill – because if ever there was a case that bore out your maxim, this one is it."
He more than half expected an explosion of wrath and criticism from Patterson for this, and braced himself for it, but to his surprise the older profiler merely sat there silently for a moment, only the bunching of the muscles around his jaw giving a hint of how annoyed he really was. Such restraint was completely atypical of him, and it disturbed Mulder far more than a full-scale tongue-lashing would have.
"I know where you're going with this, Mulder," Patterson said finally, with even more surprising mildness, "and I'm telling you that you're wrong."
Mulder gave his former mentor an exasperated look. "Then maybe you can also tell me why this man is compelled – like Mostow – to sculpt and draw the same face over and over again. Why he's still doing it now."
"Because, like Mostow, he's insane."
"Oh, come on! Who was it told me that insanity is the last thing most serial killers suffer from?"
"Most of them, yes," Patterson responded patiently, "but I studied Mostow, Mulder – you never got the chance. And Mostow is a text-book case of Multiple Personality Disorder. He's insane, all right."
"That doesn't mean the guy who's copying him is," Mulder retorted. "Do you seriously believe that there's another guy out there, suffering from the same mental illness as Mostow, being driven by some crazy coincidence to kill in *exactly* the same way?"
"No, I don't."
There was a pause as the two men stared at each other, Mulder a little defensively despite his best efforts not to let Patterson rile him.
"Mostow said this thing wants to see its own reflection," he said finally.
"Mostow said everything but what you need to hear – the name of the guy who's copying him."
"Unless he's telling the truth."
Now it was Patterson's turn to raise his brows. "About being possessed? I'm disappointed in you, Mulder. After all this time, and with a kid to look after, I thought you would have put your feet firmly back on the ground, but clearly I was mistaken."
Mulder snorted, stung more than he wanted to admit. "Well, I wouldn't want to disappoint you by not disappointing you!" he retorted.
"Maybe, instead of blinding yourself with pictures of demons and grotesques, you should be considering the other common factor with these two killers," Patterson suggested sharply.
"Shock me," Mulder invited him.
"He's sitting on his dumb ass, looking at me!"
Mulder was silent for a moment, genuinely startled. "What do you mean?"
"You profiled Mostow, didn't you?"
"Barely. They caught the guy before I had a chance to do any really in-depth work on him – "
"Don't give me that crap, Mulder! I saw the notes you made that never reached the file." Mulder felt the hair on his arms stand on end as Patterson threw that scornfully at him. "You went in deeper than you let on with the Mostow case – and while it might not have been that case that tipped you, it was the last one you profiled before you went over the edge."
"Do you have a point?" Mulder snapped. Patterson's casual reference to the breakdown he'd suffered infuriated him.
"You profiled Mostow; you're profiling this killer. You're the common denominator."
"I'm not an agent anymore, Bill. There's no way in hell this killer could have known I'd be pulled in on this case!"
"Don't be too sure of that," Patterson advised him and stood up. Whatever purpose he'd had in coming here had clearly been served.
"Only you could have known," Mulder realised suddenly, staring at him. "And you visited Mostow at Druid Hill on several occasions."
Patterson frowned. "What are you talking about? Of course I visited Mostow after he was committed – that's ISU procedure, you know that. Kingsley and Nemhauser went with me."
"But you visited him three months ago – it's in the Warden's records!"
Patterson stared at him, looking genuinely bemused. "Mulder, you're losing it," he said finally. "I haven't been near Druid Hill in over five years." He turned impatiently, shaking his head slightly, and walked away.
Mulder stared after him, his mind whirling. But before he could even begin to sort out his thoughts, his cell phone rang. He fumbled it out of his pocket and pressed the 'connect' button.
"It's me." Scully's voice was saturated with weariness, and something else he couldn't quite identify.
"We've found the killer's workshop."
"Seriously?" Mulder was astounded; he hadn't honestly expected them to find it so easily.
"I thought you might want to come down here and take a look before they move the other ... remains."
"I'm on my way."
It was growing dark by the time Mulder got there, but the old factory building was flooded with artificial lights brought in by the forensic teams that were scurrying around the new crime scene. There seemed to be an extraordinary amount of people present, considering that the task force had only that morning been downsized, but as he ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and stepped inside the building, Mulder realised that a great many of the people there were actually safety workers and structural engineers.
Scully met him at the bottom of the metal staircase she'd climbed only a couple of hours before. "The engineers are here to make sure the floor doesn't collapse," she told him by way of greeting. Under the harsh halogen lamps the forensic team had set up everywhere, all the colour in her face seemed to have leached into her hair; she was pale and clearly exhausted.
He touched her elbow gently, a tiny gesture of support that made her smile weakly at him. There was no real enthusiasm in the expression though, and he realised after a moment that she was probably contemplating a night in the nearest mortuary, performing any necessary medical examinations.
"What have we got?" he asked softly, knowing her well enough to guess that expressions of concern would be unwelcome.
But Scully shook her head. "Come and see for yourself. It has to be seen to be believed."
"You said there were more remains?" Mulder asked, following her up the staircase.
"You could say that," was the grim reply. "Stick to the roped off areas," she added, as they reached the top of the stairs. "Parts of the floor up here are dangerous, but the engineers have cleared a small section that's safe to walk on, provided no one starts jumping around."
"It's been a while, but this area looks very familiar to me. Is this near the building where Mostow was holed up when he was caught?" Mulder observed quietly.
"It's adjacent to that site," Scully confirmed. She led him by a rather more circuitous route to the abandoned office, past a number of forensic workers who were meticulously examining the outer room for trace evidence.
Mulder didn't envy them their job. Even a casual glance could tell him that the place was thick with debris and had probably been used extensively by vagrants and addicts since it had fallen derelict. Sorting out hair, fibre and other forensic evidence could take weeks or even months … and might not tell them anything at the end of it.
Then he noticed something else. One of the female agents was sorting out a pile of equipment on a plastic sheet just inside the door. There were no body bags, as Mulder would have expected if more bodies had been found, just a stack of specially constructed plastic crates. He knew what that meant, even had the smell in the room not given him a hint.
The artificial wall had been completely removed to allow access to the hidden room, and the grisly contents were revealed.
"Flash," a photographer warned, and Mulder quickly turned his head away. When he turned back, he had suppressed any hint of initial nausea and the profiler in him had taken over, making him step forward confidently, far more fascinated than revolted.
The room was full of full-sized clay images, sculpted busts of gargoyles that almost exactly matched the two dimensional drawings Mulder had been studying earlier. Most of them were slowly drying out in the cold air of the makeshift studio, but at least one of them was fresh, the clay still glistening wetly in the harsh halogen lamps brought in by the forensics team. The faces were sickeningly real, twisted into grimaces of agony.
"Looks like you were right, Mulder," Willis' cool voice observed from where he was standing to one side with Agent Rawlings. "The guy's practising his technique."
But Mulder barely glanced at him, focussing instead on the wet clay model. Half of the material had been scraped away, with someone's bare hands to judge from the appearance of it, to reveal what lay underneath – the cold, decaying flesh of a human face and torso. The eyes were mercifully closed, but the mouth had been slashed and mutilated in the same way as the bodies previously discovered.
"Are they all like this?" he asked, glancing around to find Scully at his shoulder.
"Bodies underneath the clay? Yes … that is, we're still examining them, but of the six we've checked so far, all of them have the head and torso of – of a victim underneath."
"And there's how many?" Mulder did a quick count himself even as Scully said "Eleven", and let out a silent whistle of disbelief. "This guy is escalating way too fast. And he's getting inventive - Mostow never did anything like this."
"That you know of." Willis' tone was cutting. "The truth is, Mr. Mulder, you don't know half as much about John Mostow as you should."
Mulder felt a flicker of real annoyance. "I don't have to," he replied curtly. "The ISU did a full investigation of Mostow after he was incarcerated – whatever could feasibly be discovered about him was uncovered even after I had to leave the case, and I've had full access to the reports of the three profilers who interviewed him. But if you've got any personal insights, Agent Willis, I'd be happy to hear them."
"Oh no!" Willis sneered. "I wouldn't dream of treading on your toes, wonder boy. You take your time dreaming yourself into this asshole's twisted little mind, while the rest of us do the real work." He pushed past Rawlings, and stalked out of the room. After an indecisive moment, Rawlings followed him, leaving Mulder and Scully alone in the room apart from a couple of the forensics people.
Whatever effect Willis had hoped to have was wasted, however; the moment he was gone, Mulder forgot about him entirely, turning his attention back to the room.
In general layout, ignoring the structural differences, it bore a marked resemblance to Mostow's workshop. There was little provision for artificial lighting, the room being crudely rigged with a single battery-powered lamp hanging from the ceiling, and it lacked the skylight that had been a feature of Mostow's rooms. What ventilation there was came through a grille in the outside wall on a level with the floor, and there was no heating; like the rest of the abandoned factory, it was damp and chilly. The UNSUB had a small metal-framed cot in one corner, with a single, stained blanket tossed across it, but there were few other signs that he was doing more than working and occasionally sleeping there. The clay-encased figures were standing on a random selection of small tables; there were different tools – mostly an assortment of stained and rusting knives – scattered randomly around the room, along with heaps of filthy rags and old pots containing water and clay residue. In one corner there was a large plastic tub, the supplier's mark scraped off, containing a supply of fresh clay.
"I can't decide what this tells us about our killer," Scully observed quietly, watching him examine the room carefully. "He's obviously not doing his day-to-day living here, though."
"No – he's compartmentalising," Mulder agreed absently. "The part of him that kills is being contained here, while he probably has an apartment somewhere else where he goes about his daily routine with little or no indication of this side of his personality. That other part of him may not even consciously recognise what he's doing. That's a big difference between him and Mostow – Mostow didn't have another existence, he lived and breathed his "art", even though he claims that something else was acting through him. He knew what he was doing the whole time; this guy might not."
Scully frowned. "But if he's a copycat - ?"
"That's the bit I don't get either." Mulder looked around again, trying to make some order of the random pieces of evidence building in his mind and link them together with theory. "I take it there's no indication of what he did with the other body parts?"
"Not so far, but we're searching the rest of the building and the surrounding area."
He shook his head. "They won't be here, Scully. He's too clever. He knows how to cover his tracks when he wants."
"He didn't cover his tracks to this place," she pointed out dryly.
"No," he agreed, and felt his mouth go ever so slightly dry at the thought. "This is deliberate. He wanted to make absolutely sure that we understood the Mostow connection."
"Which brings us back to one of my original questions: Why Mostow?"
"He couldn't get access to Monty Propps?"
Scully stared at him blankly. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Mulder smiled humourlessly, avoiding her eyes. "Bill Patterson has a theory; he says the only connection between Mostow and our UNSUB is me."
"When did you speak to Patterson about this?" she demanded.
"He dropped by earlier and did his usual 'Your theories are crap and your methods stink' routine," Mulder said with a shrug.
"And he's suggesting that the UNSUB is trying to get your attention in particular? Why?"
"Jesus, Scully, how the hell would I know? This is the kind of shit Bill comes out with all the time. Half the time when I closed cases while I was working with him, I'd be left wondering if he knew who the killer was all along – like it was some sick little test, to see how long it took me to figure it out."
"Mulder!" Scully was horrified. "Whatever you think of his methods, Patterson was – and is – a senior agent in a position of huge responsibility. Surely you can't think – "
"I don't know what I think," he snapped impatiently, trying to keep his voice down, and ran a nervous hand over his hair, eyeing the other agents in the room warily. Finally, he spat out what was really bothering him. "He told me he didn't visit Mostow three months ago."
Scully opened her mouth, and shut it again, blinking. "His name was in the register at Druid Hill," she stated after a moment's silence. "His signature was there. I'm not saying I examined it with a magnifying glass but dammit, Mulder, it looked just like his signatures for the earlier visits."
"You think I don't know that!"
"Do you think he was lying?"
"I don't know what to think."
Scully let out a very shaky breath. "Well, you know him better than I do, Mulder – you probably know him better than most people. What reason could he have to lie to you about something like that?"
"I don't know ... I don't know ...." He shifted from one foot to the other. "Thing is, Scully – I keep thinking about what he said - "If you want to know the artist, look at his art." If you want to catch a monster, become a monster. Bill Patterson has profiled more cases than practically any other profiler in the history of the ISU. But I know from my own experience that it's hard to drag yourself out of the killer's mindset when it's all over. What if Bill's lost the ability to – to detach himself?"
"Whoa, there!" Scully put a restraining hand on his arm. "Back up a minute, Mulder – think about what you're saying. You've just leapt from a minor discrepancy in his story to him being a full-blown homicidal maniac! Don't let him get to you like this – can't you see what he's trying to do? I haven't forgotten what he said to you at Christmas about re-joining the Bureau. This is probably just more of the same."
"Yeah, but that's just it! This isn't the same. Bill was acting …." He hesitated, searching for a word, and finally said, rather lamely, "He was acting weird."
Scully's brow puckered. "In what way?"
"He was almost being nice to me."
Her expression turned to one of exasperation, and she gave him an ironic look. "Great. I can just see you explaining that one to Rolfe or Skinner. Being nice to someone isn't an indication of psychotic tendencies, Mulder, even in someone like Patterson." Then her smile turned wry. "Now, if you'd said Jack was being nice to you …."
But Mulder couldn't smile at the joke. "Look, I've seen all I need to see here," he told her. "I'm going to head home and think about this. Let me know if you find anything else."
"Mulder …." Scully reached out a hand to grab him, but one of the agents from forensics suddenly popped up beside her.
She sighed and let him go, turning to face the woman. "Yes?"
The other agent held up a plastic evidence bag. "We just found this in a pile of trash the corner – behind the tub of clay?"
Scully accepted the bag initially without much interest … then she saw what it contained and suddenly clutched at it tightly, staring. It was an empty pill bottle.
"We've found scores of discarded needles and syringes around the outer room, and assumed they were left by addicts," the woman was saying, "but I guess this could put a different slant on things."
"Damn right," Scully breathed, still staring at the bottle, her mind working furiously. Something about this seemed familiar, but she couldn't quite put her finger on it. She straightened up. "Someone tell Agents Willis and Rawlings about this," she ordered, " and go through the stuff you found in both rooms again, with a fine tooth-comb. If you find anything else that could link to this, call me immediately."
"Where will you be?" the woman asked, a little taken aback by Scully suddenly snapping out orders.
"I'll be checking something out," Scully replied. She was already heading for the door, the bagged bottle in hand. "Get me on my cellphone if you need me."
Later, Scully was unable to say what exactly what made her react the way she did to the discovery of the pill bottle. It wasn't as if Micronase was an unusual medication, and God knew there were enough people suffering from Type II Diabetes in North America; there was nothing to say that their killer couldn't be one of them.
It was perhaps a measure of her state of mind that this time she never even gave a thought to Eugene Tooms. The two personnel photographs in her pocket were occupying her mind far more.
Mulder was drawing gargoyles again. Using a stack of thin paper and cheap-grade charcoal pencils, he was working on the pictures with a single-minded intensity, carving out the lines of the twisted faces over and over again. As fast as he finished one image, he would slap it up on the wall of his apartment with blu-tack, and begin another one. His mind wasn't precisely on what he was drawing, however. Instead it was turned inward, searching his thoughts and feelings for something that would clue him in to what the killer thought and felt as he worked.
Finally, Mulder slowed to a halt and blinked dazedly around the small living room of his apartment. Two of the walls were covered with crude drawings crookedly placed. He gritted his teeth with frustration, aware that whatever it was he was looking for was simply not coming to him. There was something there … something that tickled at the back of his mind darkly, but he was unable to get a grip on it.
There was only one thing for it. Mulder threw aside the stub of charcoal in his hand, and reached for his leather jacket. He glanced at the clock in a cursory way, noting with passing satisfaction that it was after midnight.
Good. The killer's workshop would have been sealed up for the night and he would be undisturbed.
"Are you sure about this?" Scully asked the Warden of Druid Hill. She pushed the two photographs towards him slightly.
He sighed, stifling a yawn. Scully had been lucky to catch him still on the premises; it had been pure chance that there had been an emergency requiring his attention there earlier. "Yeah, that was definitely the guy who came here a few months ago. He was asking a shitload of questions – I wondered at the time why he didn't just check out his own files, but that's none of my business."
"Do you even recognise the other man?" she persisted.
"No, ma'am. Look, what the hell is all this about?" He narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "Is this some oblique way of telling me that this guy is not an FBI agent? 'Cause I'm telling you, he had a badge and – "
Scully shook her head, ignoring his sudden blustering indignation and gathering up the two photographs numbly. "No sir, you have nothing to be concerned about. He's an FBI agent all right."
Just not the FBI agent he claimed to be, she finished silently, as the Warden let her out of the building.
Out in the parking lot, she sat behind the wheel for several minutes without moving. It was hard to get her mind around what she had just heard, but the Warden's identification had been unequivocal. He might not recognise Agent Patterson – he had been Warden at the facility for only a couple of years – but he certainly recognised Jack Willis.
There has to be some rational explanation, she told herself desperately. There must be some reason Jack came out here …. Her mental voice tailed off helplessly. There was also the pill bottle to be considered. Willis had taken Micronase for a number of years to control his diabetes; the condition had been one of the reasons he'd been taken off active duty in the first place - and why Scully herself had been so surprised when she found him back on active duty and in charge of this case.
Of course, it was impossible that Willis could have anything to do with these killings, but ….
There was only one way to find out the truth of the situation, she decided. Starting the car up, she set out for Jack Willis' apartment.
Blithely ignoring the 'crime scene' warnings on the wads of tape stuck across the old office door, Mulder pulled out a penknife and sliced them open. The door creaked a little as he pushed it open, but made no other protest. The workshop was dark and cold, echoing emptily, but Mulder's flashlight picked out the tall halogen lamps left behind by the forensics team and in minutes the room was lit up garishly.
The small tables and upended packing crates were empty, their grisly displays removed earlier for proper forensic examination. The tools and rags had been removed as well, and every corner of the room swept clean of dust and debris, but the tub of clay was still standing in the corner with a single metal pot abandoned beside it.
Good enough. Mulder took off his jacket, tossing it across one of the tables by the door, and rolled up his sleeves. The clay inside the tub was not as damp as he had expected, but was certainly much colder, and it took him some time to dig out enough with his bare hands to make a respectable mound in the centre of one of the tables. It was also a lot stiffer and rougher in consistency than he had bargained for. Standing back for a moment, Mulder knew that he needed water to make it more malleable but was at a loss to find the UNSUB's source. In the end he ran outside to his car and dug out a half bottle of Evian that Scully had left in the pocket of one of the doors at some point.
The next hour or more was spent on the serious business of making the clay do what he wanted. It wasn't easy, as he had never been particularly artistic. In fact his profile hypothesis, that the killer was working against his own nature, was a trait that could just as easily have been applied to Mulder himself when it came to forcing his hands to draw with charcoal or mould clay. All afternoon and evening he had been trying to follow unfamiliar lines and mimic skills he didn't possess, but the effort was not wasted. Now, as he squeezed and smoothed the cold, silky material between his hands, a glimmer of understanding was dawning.
He knew that when they eventually found the killer, there would be few if any drawings of gargoyles as there had been in the Mostow case. The texture and feel of the clay had spoken to him, and he recognised that this man would not be satisfied with paper drawings in an attempt to silence the demon riding him. Somewhere along the line, this man had felt the cold, moist texture of dead flesh on his hands, and his use of clay as a medium of expressing himself was logical in that the touch of the material mimicked the feel of a corpse.
But this was not someone who necessarily dealt with death routinely in his everyday life. Mulder stepped back from the growing demonic shape on the table for a moment, his mind only partly on what he was doing. The UNSUB had killed sixteen people that they knew of, horribly disfiguring the corpses in the process, and eleven had been dismembered, the limbs and lower body being removed and presumably dumped elsewhere. Yet those eleven torsos, with heads intact, had been brought here, smothered with clay and the clay then moulded to resemble the nightmare – or entity – that was driving the killer.
The killer was not irrational or totally out of control. His actions, twisted as they were, were nevertheless calculated, driven not only by the need to kill but by his need to be noticed. He was almost desperately saying to the task force "Look at this! Come catch me!" And yet at the same time, something within him was equally driven by a need to cover up what he had done and place the blame on something else – the grotesques he moulded the clay into.
Who was this guy? He would not, Mulder felt sure, be someone like an undertaker or member of the emergency services, who dealt with corpses on practically a daily basis. No, this man was killing to relive the feel and scent of dead flesh, which argued that he generally had little contact with it. And yet he had had some contact with the dead, or he would never have developed the craving in the first place ....
Maybe the necrophiliac-like urge was incidental. If what Patterson said was true, this individual's motivations went far beyond the simple need to kill; indeed, horrific as it was to contemplate, the killings themselves could be merely incidental. If someone was doing this to get Mulder's attention, for whatever reason, then it severely narrowed down the pool of possible suspects. It could be someone he'd put away when he'd been an agent ... or someone he'd tried to put away but failed.
Or it could be someone he'd worked with.
Mulder knew now, without a doubt, that it couldn't be Bill Patterson. He wondered if he'd ever seriously considered that option. But working here in the studio this evening had given him enough insight to know that it couldn't be his former mentor, if only for the simple reason that Patterson, despite outward appearances, had an artistic bent. The head of the ISU was a keen watercolourist in his free time, and had surprised a number of rookie profilers in his time with startlingly accurate crime-scene sketches drawn solely from descriptions by others.
It couldn't be Patterson, but that didn't mean it couldn't be someone else in the Bureau. Someone with the interest in Mulder, and the level of access necessary to perpetrate a series of copycat crimes this close to Mostow's originals.
Mulder hesitated then, wondering exactly where this train of thought was leading. And in that moment he heard a noise behind him.
Spinning around, wide-eyed, he was startled to see Agent Willis standing in the doorway of the workshop.
Scully hadn't been near Jack Willis' apartment in the better part of two and a half years, and it gave her a creepy feeling of deja-vu to be standing in the hallway outside his door now. She pressed the buzzer, feeling jumpy and exposed, and wished he would hurry up … not that she had much idea of what she was going to say to him when he opened the door.
Fortunately, she was spared the decision, for after a couple of minutes of buzzing and knocking it become obvious that he was out. Racked with indecision, Scully finally pulled out her cellphone and dialled his number, only to get the "caller unavailable" message. Now what?
Reluctantly, but driven by her need to know, she began to rummage in her shoulder bag for a handy – if extremely illegal – little device that Frohike had unexpectedly presented her with a few months before: an electronic lock-pick. Which was when her hand brushed against something else and she was struck with an uncomfortable realisation. Digging a little deeper into the detritus at the bottom of the bag – Scully was really no different from any other woman in this respect, and her bags collected old receipts and shredded tissues just like everyone else's – her fingers finally located a worn leather keyring. Pulling it out, she turned the plain, brass-coloured key over and looked at the crooked "J" scratched onto the fob.
What does it say about me, that I still have a key to Jack's apartment? she wondered, even as she glanced furtively down the hallway and unlocked his front door. Although there was really no deep psychological reason for it: she had simply forgotten until that moment that she hadn't given it back. She wondered how Mulder would react if he knew, and decided that she didn't want to consider that.
The apartment was dark and still when she entered. For a moment Scully fumbled for her flashlight, feeling uncomfortably like a burglar. Then she told herself not to be a fool, and reached out to switch on the lights. She stood for a moment just inside the living room and listened, but there was nothing – no sound, no stirring of the air – to suggest that another person was somewhere around. Nevertheless, she took a quick, cautious look around to reassure herself.
It was much as she remembered it, a typical bachelor's apartment, short on furnishings and a little untidy. The walls were lined with books and he possessed a worn leather couch not unlike the piece of furniture Mulder was so attached to. Over in one corner was his computer, surrounded by small messy heaps of CDs and print-outs. The desk it stood upon was an ugly old metal office desk she remembered him rescuing from Quantico during a refurbishment exercise; it had deep, lockable drawers and a battered, scratched surface. She had never understood why he wanted it.
The lock-pick was useful for unlocking the drawers, and in moments she was perched on his uncomfortable typing chair and rummaging through the papers she found.
The contents did nothing to settle her mind and were, indeed, even a little frightening. Copy after copy of official FBI files surfaced from the heap, each neatly hidden away inside a bland yellow cardboard folder. Many of them were the most recent x-files she had been working upon, but more disturbing than that by far were the copies of old case files that had been signed off by Mulder years ago - the Monty Propps case, the abductions of Bellefleur, one about a killer called John Barnett, another about a husband and wife team called Dupree ... and the Mostow case file, complete with drawings of gargoyles, photostats of autopsy notes, and a vastly annotated copy of Mulder's original profile. Most of the attached notes were copies of details made by Agent Patterson during the later interviews with Mostow, but the margins of the profile itself were filled with cramped biro notes in Willis' own handwriting. Most of them were so abbreviated and disjointed as to be unreadable.
This was not what Scully had wanted to see, and she was shaking by the time she dropped the files back into the drawer and slammed it shut. For a moment she stood by Willis' desk, staring blindly at the opposite wall, then she managed to force herself to move. Pulling the empty pill bottle out of her pocket, she turned into Willis' bedroom and walked quickly through to the bathroom.
In the medicine cabinet on the wall, she found a stack of medications, most of them connected with his diabetes. Redundant as it seemed, she compared the bottles and felt her heart sink a little further when the scuffed and filthy label on the bottle from the crime scene appeared to match up. Then she saw something else: at the back of the cabinet was a syringe and pack of brand new disposable needles. Rummaging further, she found three little vials.
Pulling them out, she sat down on the edge of the bathtub to study them, noting the word "Humulin R" on the labels. Humulin was a human-derived form of injectable insulin usually used by diabetics with Type I of the condition – insulin-dependent. But Willis had Type II diabetes …. Puzzled, Scully examined the labels more closely and noted that, while the Micronase pills had been prescribed by the Bureau doctor Willis usually saw, the Humulin had the name of a different medical practice and pharmacy on it.
It was not inconceivable that Willis had developed a condition that required him to take insulin intravenously on occasion, as she was well aware – she had looked into the various ramifications of diabetes when they had been seeing each other. But Scully also knew that if the Bureau had been aware that his diabetes had progressed to this degree, he would never have been allowed back into active service. It was questionable that he should have been allowed to do so anyway, and this had puzzled her from the beginning for she knew that his diabetes had been one of the reasons he'd been assigned to Quantico.
But there was more, which – grasping at straws though it was – might explain some of Willis' erratic behaviour. Scully had read in one of her scientific journals only recently that some diabetics suffered adverse reactions to human-derived insulin which could, in extreme cases, lead to hallucinations and worse.
None of this could be considered anything other than circumstantial evidence in the case they were working on, she argued with herself. The files could easily be explained away as professional interest, the pill bottle as coincidence. The only case that could be made against Jack Willis was that of failing to disclose a condition that was potentially life-threatening to himself, and which could endanger the safety of those colleagues he was in the field with. It was a disciplinary matter, but one which she knew would be dealt with by the Bureau in the quietest manner possible.
Suddenly exhausted, she glanced at her watch and was shocked to realise that it was nearly three in the morning. Where on earth had Jack got to? Not that it was any of her business, she supposed, and knowing the habits of her fellow agents, it was more than likely that he was back at the DC field office, still working. At any rate, it was more than time she got out of here before he came back and surprised her. At this point, a confrontation was the last thing she wanted.
She stood up, and as she did so she happened to glance down at the bathtub. The surface was filthy, with a dark reddish-brown ring halfway up the sides, and a thin deposit of silt-like material around the plug. It looked like –
Scully stopped. No …. Dragging a latex glove out of her pocket, she bent down and touched the silt with a trembling fingertip. It was thick and slightly gritty, like clay residue.
In the corner of the room was a wickerwork laundry basket. Before she fully realised what she was doing, Scully had the lid off it and was turning out the discarded jeans, check shirt and worn fleece jacket that had been stuffed untidily into it. All three were smeared and caked with drying clay, particularly around the cuffs of the shirt, and there was a dark brown stain on the front of the fleece that could not be anything other than blood.
For several minutes she stood in the middle of the bathroom floor, clutching the stained garments blindly. This was it. This was undeniable proof – only the murder weapon itself could be more damning.
Scully's hands were now shaking so badly that it took her several attempts to get her cellphone out of her pocket again and press the speed-dial. She needed to speak to Mulder ... but his phone was ringing out, unanswered. Concerned, she selected another number and waited impatiently for a reply. After several long moments, Addersley's voice responded.
"Addersley? What are you still doing up?" she demanded.
"Scully? I've been down at the morgue." His voice was saturated with weariness. "Where the hell were you? I've been trying your cellphone for the last couple of hours – have you got it switched off? We were hoping to get some of the examinations done tonight."
"I ... had some things I had to do," the responded reluctantly. "Look, Addersley, is Agent Willis still there?"
"Jack?" He sounded surprised. "No – we haven't seen him since we finished up at the factory. In fact, I thought he was with you."
For a second, Scully was silent. If Willis wasn't with the rest of the task force and wasn't at home, where was he? Alarm knifed through her as she remembered that Mulder was unaccounted for as well. "What about Rawlings or AD Rolfe?"
"Rolfe?" Now Addersley was confused. "Sure, they're both here – Scully, what the hell's going on?"
"There's no time, Addersley! Put me through to Rolfe now - I have to speak to him."
"What?! I – jeez! Okay ...."
There was a fumbling sound, and a low buzz, then Assistant Director Rolfe came on the line. "Agent Scully? What's going on? Where have you been?"
"Sir, I'm at Jack Willis' apartment," she stated, trying to keep calm. Rolfe was a straight, old-fashioned kind of agent – if she became emotional now, it would prejudice anything she said to him.
"Is Agent Willis there?" he demanded.
"No, Sir. I don't think he's been back here tonight – "
"Then what are you doing there, Agent?"
"I came here to speak to him, Sir. I found something at the crime scene which raised some concerns and I wanted to speak to him directly about them. But when I got here – " Quickly, and in as dispassionate a manner as she could manage, Scully related her findings, including the revelation that Willis had posed as Agent Patterson to get access to Mostow, and the possible side-effects of the insulin he had been taking.
Rolfe heard her out, but when she finished there was an ominous silence at his end of the line. "Agent Scully," he said finally, and there was a dangerous edge to his voice, "I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear what you just suggested."
"Sir?" She was confused.
"Jack Willis is a fine agent, and a very old friend of mine. I would be … extremely distressed, if I thought that you were using this case, and his health problems, as an opportunity to take some kind of twisted revenge upon him for the loss of your position at Quantico."
Scully's heart sank. Now she knew how and why Jack had been put in charge of the task force, and why closer checks had not been kept on him. "Sir," she said, and her voice shook despite her strenuous efforts to control it, "I can assure you that I would never – "
"That's enough, Agent! I don't want to hear any more. Consider yourself off this case – and I want to see you in my office first thing tomorrow morning, is that understood?"
"Yes, Sir." Scully disconnected the line. Her hands were white-knuckled where she gripped the cellphone. After a moment, she tried Mulder's number again, but still received no reply. Staring blindly around her, she wondered desperately what to do next.
Then it came to her, and with fingers that trembled she punched out the number of the FBI's central switchboard.
For a heartbeat, Mulder and Willis stared at each other.
Then Mulder straightened up, calming nerves that had been jolted by the sudden and unexpected appearance of the agent. "What the hell are you doing here?" he demanded.
Unlike Mulder, Willis didn't seem in the slightest bit rattled. "Shouldn't I be asking you that?" He paused, then took a slow step into the room. "It's three o'clock in the morning, Mulder, and this is - or was - a sealed crime scene. Just what the hell do you think you're doing breaking in here?"
"You want me to profile this guy," Mulder replied warily. "I'm profiling."
"This much-vaunted profile of yours ...." Willis circled around Mulder and studied the half-formed clay gargoyle on the table. "Is there any chance we lesser mortals will see it before the turn of the century?"
"If you'll leave me alone long enough, you'll see it first thing in the morning."
"It might have escaped your notice, Mulder, but it is morning already." Willis' mind was clearly not on what he was saying, though. He gazed distractedly at the unfinished sculpture and, in a move that gave Mulder a very queer sensation down his spine, he reached out and drew a finger down the length of the face. "Word of advice," he observed after a moment. "Don't give up your day job."
"Yeah." Willis turned back to stare at him and smiled. "If you're going to make a sculpture out of clay, Mulder, you need something underneath to give it shape and structure."
"Like a body?" Mulder suggested, thinking of the gargoyle sculptures that had been removed earlier. "Since when did you become an authority on art, Willis?" Then, watching that eerie little smirk, the facts suddenly snapped together and comprehension dawned. "Jesus … it's you, isn't it? But – "
He never got a chance to finish what he was saying.
For a man of his age, who had been sitting behind a desk at Quantico for nearly four years, Willis moved incredibly fast. Mulder saw the flash of a blade as the other man's arm came up, and threw himself backwards. He wasn't quite fast enough and felt the raw sting as the short-bladed craft knife just nicked his cheek.
Then he was on his back on the floor and Willis was on him. Mulder managed to throw up his left arm to block the second murderous slash and gasped as the blade gouged him deeply just below the elbow. He kicked out frantically, feeling his boot connect with the other man's knee, and followed it up with a rather poorly executed punch. Willis gasped and reared back, lashing out wildly with the knife, and Mulder managed to roll free. By the time he had scrambled to his feet, clutching his arm, Willis was up and running for the door.
Stumbling a little, Mulder followed.
Under any circumstances this was a bad place for a chase; the derelict factory was pitch black and filled with hazards, and Willis knew the terrain far better than his pursuer. Mulder followed doggedly, stumbling and tripping, relying more on his ears for clues to direction. Ahead of him he could hear rough breathing and the scrape of footsteps - Willis was climbing the rickety staircases as he came to them, probably heading for the roof. What he hoped to achieve by this, Mulder couldn't imagine, but in any case the man couldn't hope to escape; as an FBI agent his face would be everywhere as soon as the Bureau knew what had happened.
Mulder was just considering the possibility that it might be better if he broke off his pursuit and contacted Scully when, to his relief and amazement, he heard a shout from below.
"Scully?!" He turned back towards the distant voice without thinking - and was seized from behind.
The knife just pricked the skin of his throat, but the threat was enough. Mulder swallowed convulsively, and felt all his muscles go rigid.
Willis' voice was barely an inch from his ear. "One word and you're dead. Let her come up."
From far below them in the silent, empty building they could hear running footsteps, the sounds of two or even three people. Willis began to move back slowly, dragging Mulder with him until they were scrambling awkwardly up another set of steps backwards. Then Mulder heard a creaking noise and there was a frigid gust of wind, and he was being pulled out onto the roof.
Willis let out a breath of laughter as they heard Scully calling again, and dragged Mulder further out onto the roof, closer to the edge. Mulder swallowed again and briefly closed his eyes. He wasn't normally afraid of heights, but he had an idea he might be after this … always supposing he lived long enough.
"Willis – " he croaked.
"Shut up, or I carve you up here and now," the other man said calmly.
Mulder did as he was told; he had a lot of experience in telling when someone deranged meant what they were saying, and Willis definitely meant it. He wondered where Scully was now – would she head straight for the workshop, or would she follow his voice and come up here first? And who was with her? Rolfe? Or Rawlings and that other agent?
The question was answered when Scully suddenly burst through the door onto the roof closely followed by Assistant Director Skinner. The sudden, scrambling halt the two of them came to when they saw Willis and Mulder would have been funny under any other circumstances; then they sorted themselves out and split up, warily putting some distance between them to present a divided target.
It was only then that Mulder remembered that Willis would probably have a gun on him as well as the knife, and felt his whole body go cold.
Willis dragged him back a few more paces, closer to the edge of the roof, and settled the point of the knife more comfortably against Mulder's neck. Then he chuckled, the sound carrying across the broad roof of the factory on the chilly night breeze.
"Hey, Dana," he called, "look what I caught! You know, I was only thinking the other day how good he'd look with the rest of my gallery. What do you say, huh?"
"Jack ...." Her voice came out as a croak; horror had dried Scully's throat and mouth up, horror and the knowledge that practically anything she said to a madman would be wrong. She licked her lips and tried again. "Jack, what have you done? Why are you doing this?"
Her voice came out more anguished than she intended, and Willis grinned to hear it. "Because .... No! Why don't we ask our mighty profiler here why I do it? Come on, Mulder, you're the man with all the theories. Tell everyone why I do it."
The pressure from the knife let up fractionally, but only a very little; it was not enough to give him any opportunities. Mulder swallowed and licked his lips, feeling cold sweat trickling down his spine and a warmer, sticky flow of blood down his left arm. It was tempting to say "You do it because you're a homicidal maniac", but flippancy would probably get his throat cut. "I don't know this time, Willis," he said desperately. "You tell me."
"You know, I've read your profiles, Mulder. All of them." Willis voice changed, something ugly and dark creeping into the tone. "And they're all missing one really important detail."
Scully and Skinner both shifted slightly, as aware of the change as Mulder was. Skinner thought angrily and futilely of his useless, holstered gun, knowing that to draw it would probably get Mulder killed. "Agent Willis – " His voice trailed off as he realised that any kind of threat or plea he could make was unlikely to make a difference.
Mulder squeezed his eyes shut for a second, feeling the cold blade of the knife touching his skin again, and told himself to keep the man talking. "What detail's that, Willis? Tell me what I missed."
Willis' voice, when he spoke again, was pitched for Mulder alone. "You missed out how good it feels to kill," he breathed in the younger man's ear.
"Drop the knife, Willis," a cold voice said from behind them.
Willis gasp and spun, dragging Mulder around with him. Patterson was standing a few feet away, having come up from the rear unseen; in his hands was his gun, aimed unwaveringly at Willis' head. Mulder, pulled almost off his feet by the sudden movement, and feeling the sting of the blade as it scored the skin of his throat, panicked and grabbed at Willis' arm with frantic hands.
Suddenly everything dissolved into chaos. In the brief struggle with Willis that followed, Mulder was dimly aware of Scully crying out, of Skinner cursing, of a brief vision of Patterson flinging his gun aside and leaping forward.
He wasn't aware that he and Willis were teetering on the edge of the roof until they were over it.
How Mulder caught hold of the parapet he never knew. Willis was a brief and terrifying weight hanging from his shoulders, then he felt something – his shirt? - rip and pull away, felt a slicing pain down his right thigh – and the weight of the other man was gone, leaving him clinging onto the parapet by his fingertips.
Then Patterson and Skinner were there, seizing his arms and dragging him back onto the roof.
Mulder didn't even attempt to stand up, but collapsed in a messy heap onto the gravel surface of the roof. His whole body felt limp, and the impact of what had just happened to him had barely begun to sink in yet; he didn't like to think what would happen when it did. Judging by what was going on in his stomach, he suspected it would involve throwing up in impressive quantities, and decided to keep his mouth shut just in case.
Scully appeared, falling to her knees beside him. She was as white as a sheet, her hands shaking as they hastily examined the all-but-forgotten knife wound on his throat. She was also babbling a whole set of words that made little or no sense to Mulder, but that was okay – another good reason for keeping his mouth shut right now was because he suspected he might babble quite a bit himself if he opened it. Her relief was nothing compared to his when she determined that the cut on his throat was little more than a bloody graze, but the slash on his forearm was considerably more serious, as was the one on his leg made by Willis' knife as he lost his grip on Mulder and fell. Scully quickly set to making crude bandages out of what was left of his shirt.
Skinner, whiter in the face than Mulder had ever seen him, even in the poor light, quickly removed his heavy black trench-coat and wrapped it around the younger man. Scully made an approving noise, saying something about shock, but Mulder was light-headed and having a hard time focussing on her words.
"Scully, I feel really weird," he mumbled, hoping he wouldn't be sick all over her.
She was hugging him, holding him close to her chest in an embrace that he really appreciated, given how cold it was. "You've lost a lot of blood, but it's okay, you're going to be okay, we're getting a medical team up here .... Sir?" This was directed at Patterson.
Mulder forced his eyes to focus on his former mentor, and was gratified to see that even Bill Patterson, stony face notwithstanding, had slightly shaking hands as he finished speaking to the emergency operator on his cellphone. "Cool," he mumbled into Scully's bosom.
And he passed out.
Jerry arrived in the office early the next morning, thinking he might do some digging on the missing driver. It took some phoning around, but he eventually discovered that a man apparently suffering from gunshot wounds had been picked up from a telephone kiosk the night before by a paramedic team from the Southern Maryland Hospital Centre. He hadn't been treated by the Centre, however … because he'd attacked the paramedics and leapt out of the vehicle halfway. The Centre was unable to supply him with more than a sketchy description and the advice that the Maryland Police Department had been notified of the incident.
Jerry didn't think it was very likely that the police would have any luck in finding the man, but there was one place that it seemed worth his while to investigate. As there was undoubtedly some kind of connection between the two men, it seemed to him that his best chance was to look for it at the late Doctor Berube's residence.
He was heading out of the office again when it occurred to him that he hadn't heard from Pendrell. Diverting to the bank of elevators at the end of the corridor, he took a quick trip up to Sci-Crimes and wove through the crowded desks there until his found the younger agent's.
There was no sign of him. Come to that, there was no sign of anyone else in the section. Frowning, Jerry glanced at his watch – it was nearly 9.00 am. The place was normally bustling by this time, and he knew that some of the Sci-Crimes team liked to work through the night if they had something particularly complex they were working on. Then he noticed that most of the desks sported jackets, briefcases, half-empty mugs etc. Pendrell's was the only one that was clean.
Getting an uneasy feeling in his stomach, Jerry went further into the room and peered around the corner into the SAC's office. They were all in there, standing around while the SAC spoke. Several of the women were weeping.
At this point, Jerry would have backed quietly out of the offices without saying anything, but he was seen and someone opened the door brusquely.
"Yes? Is there a problem?"
"I'm sorry, I was just looking for Agent Pendrell."
The other agent's face soured. "I'm sorry, the news hasn't been made generally known yet – Brian died in an accident last night."
For a second Jerry was very still. Then his body and mind seemed to go into autopilot mode. "I'm sorry to hear that," he heard himself say calmly. "He was a great guy. Can I ask – what happened?"
"It was a car accident. We don't know the full details yet, but it looks like his brakes failed."
Not for one minute did Jerry believe that Pendrell's death was an accident – not after the conversation with Krycek the night before last. No – someone had become suspicious of Scully's interest in the mysterious contents of the Erlenmeyer flask and had taken swift action. Dully, he wondered how they had even become aware of its existence. It seemed unlikely that Pendrell's office or the labs at Georgetown were bugged, which realistically left Mulder's apartment.
Knowing what he did about the organisation which currently had a stranglehold on his loyalties, and how they apparently felt about Fox Mulder, Jerry could have kicked himself for handing the flask over to Scully in such a stupid place. But it was too late now. If he had been revealed as the double-agent he was, he didn't have time to stand around lamenting.
At this point he recognised that he could step back if he wanted to. The damage was not irretrievable – if they knew he had pilfered the flask, it could be explained. He couldn't remember saying anything disastrously revealing to Scully at Mulder's place, and if he was asked why he hadn't given Krycek the flask instead of her, he could cite his mistrust of Krycek. Mistrust was something the organisation seemed to live by. It would take some real verbal fancy-footwork, but he could get himself out of this.
But doing so would put Scully directly in the firing line. And Jerry didn't know precisely how the organisation felt about her. She might be viewed as a minor nuisance, to be watched and impeded but left alone.
Or she might – like Mulder – be considered a serious problem.
He wouldn't - couldn't - take that risk. Which meant removing Scully from the picture somehow, and continuing with the Berube investigation by himself to draw their fire.
The decision made, Jerry felt a sudden sense of calm and clarity of thought. He headed briskly down to the basement, noting only with passing relief that Scully had not yet made an appearance, and gathered up every scrap of material associated with the Berube case. He would burn it at the first opportunity.
Walking back through the VCS on his way out, he was conscious that the offices seemed to be in a state of restrained uproar. The bullpen was full of milling agents discussing the outcome of the "Slasher" case, and he was hailed almost enthusiastically as soon as he walked in.
"Say, Castamir, have you heard?" That was Zimmerman, a much older agent who had come to the FBI from the Boston PD.
"No, what?" Jerry didn't pause in his swift walk to his desk, forcing Zimmerman and three or four other agents to follow him across the room.
"Skinner, Patterson and that partner of yours caught the Slasher last night."
"Really?" Jerry quickly flicked through the heaps of stuff on his desk, making certain that there was none of the Berube material there. "That was quick. Mulder's profile nail him?"
"Nope. He never got a chance to finish it." Zimmerman was stringing this out, enjoying the opportunity of a fresh audience. "The Slasher grabbed him in the early hours."
That brought Jerry up sharp, horrified. "What?!"
Apparently this was the reaction the older agent had been looking for, for he let out a raucous burst of laughter, and the other agents standing around sniggered.
"Relax, man! He got roughed up a little, but Scully and Skinner turned up in the nick of time. Apparently Scully found some evidence at one of the crime scenes that clued her in to the killer's identity – "
"How?" Jerry interrupted, frowning. "They didn't even have a suspect yesterday."
"That's the good bit," Zimmerman nodded. "They found an insulin bottle, right?"
"They did? Where – "
"And it belonged to Jack Willis."
"Zimmerman, if you're winding me up – " Jerry went pale, shocked by the clear insinuation in the other agent's voice.
Suddenly no one was smiling. "Straight up," one the other agents, a woman called Claridge, said grimly. "Turns out he was a complete freak, and had been harassing Scully for months. Mind you, I heard something about that from Henderson as far back as Christmas, but it wasn't the first time I'd heard weird stuff about him."
"Anyway, when Scully found the insulin bottle, she put two and two together," another agent, Knight, continued. He dug his hands into his pockets, looking thoughtful. "Apparently Willis was a diabetic all along, although how he kept his field agent status .... Anyhow, Scully called AD Rolfe, but he wouldn't believe her, so she ended up calling Patterson, of all people. He rounded up Skinner and they went to the rescue. Willis had got Mulder on the roof of some old factory building downtown, with a knife to his throat ... the whole nine yards."
Jerry blinked, trying to process the flood of information. "Willis ...?" He ran a hand over his hair reflexively, remembering the SAC's odd behaviour when he and Scully had first joined the case. "Jesus Christ. This is going to cause one hell of a stink .... Is Mulder okay? And what's happening with Willis now?"
Zimmerman shrugged. "Willis is dead – he fell off the roof, apparently." His tone suggested that he felt this outcome was something of a disappointment – possibly too good a fate for a serial killer and bent agent. "Mulder's okay so far as I know. Got a few cuts, according to Rawlings."
"And Rolfe? Wasn't he the one who got Willis onto the case in the first place?"
"Don't say that too loudly," Agent Claridge advised him. "Word has it that Rolfe got called in by the Director this morning."
"I'm betting we won't be seeing much of him for the foreseeable future," Knight speculated, and Zimmerman snorted his disgust.
"He's damn lucky Patterson was willing to take Scully's word, or he could have been accounting for a dead profiler this morning … and not one of our own people at that."
"Mulder's an ex-agent," Claridge objected.
"He's a flake, is what I heard," was Zimmerman's dismissive opinion.
Someone else stepped into this new debate with their opinion - whether it was first-hand or merely hearsay was not clear – and within moments Jerry was forgotten, the other agents too intent on dissecting Fox Mulder's reputation.
He took the opportunity and slipped out of the bullpen while their attention was elsewhere.
Mulder was awake by the early afternoon, but as usual he was being stubborn about accepting pain medication, so he was uncomfortable and his level of concentration could not be said to be at its best. His right leg and left arm were sporting light dressings over the stitches, but he swore it felt like they were bandaged up to his armpits, and he had a dressing on his face that he kept trying to scratch. He was short-tempered from discomfort and generally being difficult, but Scully was giving it her best shot to explain what had happened, because he refused to rest until she did so.
"It was the insulin," she was explaining, as patiently as she could.
"Jack's. He was diabetic. We found an insulin bottle at the crime scene and I linked it back to him. It was just a hunch that paid off." Scully hoped he would leave it at that. She wasn't sure she wanted to examine the thought processes too closely that had led her to make that hunch.
"Huh." Mulder scowled and fingered the dressing on his cheek irritably. "So Willis was a diabetic … how the hell did he get into the Bureau with diabetes, for pity's sake?"
She stifled a sigh of frustration. "He didn't have it when he joined the FBI - he had Type II diabetes, adult onset. That's how he ended up at Quantico."
"I thought Type II diabetics don't inject?"
"It's unusual, but sometimes they develop a condition that necessitates it."
"Fine …." Mulder shifted his leg and winced. "That's great, but it doesn't explain how he ended up as a sociopath with a fine art fetish."
"Well, it's a tenuous link, but it's possible that could be due to the insulin as well." Scully debated trying to explain about the Humulin and allergic reactions, and decided she didn't have the patience for it while he was in this mood. "We'll know more when the autopsy results come through, I hope. But getting back to the insulin bottle …. I went back to Druid Hill and showed the Warden pictures of Jack and Patterson, and he confirmed that Jack had had been there. So I went to his apartment, and I found your case files in his desk and some clothes stained with clay in his bathroom. Which is when I phoned A.D. Rolfe."
"You took a hell of a risk, going to Willis' apartment like that. What if he'd been there?"
"What about the risk you took, going back the workshop?" she asked pointedly.
The look Mulder gave her was apology enough. They hadn't said much to each other about what had happened on the roof, but she hadn't left his side for a minute during the journey to the hospital and afterwards, and for most of that time she'd held his hand in a frantic grip. Not that he hadn't felt pathetically clingy himself.
"So what did Rolfe have to say?" he asked after a moment.
"He didn't believe me – in fact, he as good as accused me of denouncing Jack out of spite and told me I was off the taskforce."
"What!" Mulder jerked upright and groaned as the sudden movement dragged on his stitches.
Scully pushed him back onto the pillows, exasperated. "Mulder, if you don't lie still, I'll leave now!"
"Okay, okay …." He subsided, and she sat down again.
"And that was when I phoned Patterson," she continued, before he could ask.
"Well I guess that explains why he was with you and Skinner on the roof," Mulder commented with a sigh.
"We'll make an analyst of you yet, Mulder," Patterson himself said dryly, stepping into the room. "Agent Scully."
"Sir." She stood up, a little surprised to see him and not sure what to say.
"Assistant Director Skinner's looking for you," Patterson said after a moment. "He needs a full debrief of what happened last night."
Scully started, glanced at her watch, and nearly swore. "I didn't realise the time. Thank you, Sir." She grabbed her coat, and glanced down at Mulder. "We'll talk more later," she told him, and her lips quirked in an involuntary smile. "Play nice with the nurses while I'm gone, okay?"
"You want me to play with the nurses?" he replied, and grinned when she threw him a mock glare over her shoulder as she walked out of the door.
Patterson watched her go, and shut the door behind her. Then he turned to Mulder, studying him.
Mulder eyed him back warily. "I'm warning you, Bill, I'm feeling pretty rough right now. Don't piss me off or I might say something we'll both regret."
Patterson was not impressed. "How's the leg?" he asked, strolling over to the window and peering out.
"It'll be okay. They're really only keeping me for observation."
The other man nodded absently, and turned back to face him. "So … remarkable performance you put in on this case," he stated, coolly sarcastic as ever. "Remarkably pointless, that is."
Mulder groaned. "Don't start giving me that shit about critiquing my profile! I'm not one of your team anymore – "
"What profile?" Patterson interrupted. "You didn't have a profile! Scully broke this case, and practically without your help."
"Well, I'm glad someone noticed Scully made the break on this," the younger man retorted sourly. "It's about time someone noticed how good she is."
"That's always been your problem, Mulder – women. Quit worrying about her. She's well able to look after her career." Patterson gave his former protege an appraising look. "It's your own you should be thinking about, although where the hell you think you're going to end up if you keep turning in results like this - "
"Spare me the same old lectures! You think I don't know where you're going with this? You want me back at Quantico about as much as I want to be there, Bill, except you can't bear to admit that I could just walk away."
"Bullshit," was Patterson's dispassionate retort. "It's where you belong, and you know it – you're just too pig-headed to admit that you're in a dead end, teaching abnormal psychology to a bunch of dumb-ass kids who'll forget it the moment they walk out of the classroom."
Mulder frowned. "It's criminal psychology."
"They want me to teach criminal psychology full-time."
"Christ on a crutch! And how the hell are you supposed to do that when you've been out of the loop for the better part of four years?"
Mulder managed to keep a grip on his annoyance and fell silent, watching Patterson as he strode back to the window and looked out again. Outwardly the head of the ISU looked as cool and calm as he always did, but his tone had a real edge in it which surprised the younger man. For the first time he realised that Patterson was not as young as he had been; he was probably ten years away from retirement – always supposing they could prise him out of his office when the time came – but he was beginning to look his age. Studying him, Mulder saw stress lines around his mouth and forehead that had certainly not been there when he'd quit the ISU himself six years previously. He had talked briefly to Scully only the day before about the pressure of walking through criminals' minds day after day, year after year, and the difficulty of remaining detached. He had just never bothered to connect that fact to his mentor until now.
"I read through your notes on this case," Patterson said, breaking into his reverie and squelching the incipient sympathy. "Crock of shit, as usual. You've still got a lot to learn."
"I'd reached the stage of thinking it was someone I'd worked with in the past," Mulder stated, rather nastily.
"I'm flattered that you seemed to think it was me." Patterson turned to look at him, but as usual the light was reflecting off his glasses too much for Mulder to read his expression. His tone of voice was almost smug, though. "I'll enjoy passing that particular theory around Quantico – suitably annotated, of course. Your former colleagues will lap it up."
Mulder restrained himself with a real effort, telling himself that Scully would kill him if he burst his stitches. "I'll bet," he growled savagely.
Apparently satisfied with the effect he'd had, the older man glanced at his watch. "I've got a meeting with the Director," he announced. "I'll be talking to you again, no doubt." He strode to the door.
Patterson waited, his hand on the latch and one brow raised enquiringly.
Mulder struggled with himself for a moment, before spitting out, "Thanks for stopping me falling off that damned roof."
The usual mocking sneer appeared. "Really, Mulder, I was only trying to make sure Willis didn't get away." And he was gone before the younger man could come up with a suitable retort.
"Son of a goddamned BITCH!" Exhausted by the explosion of wrath and indignation, Mulder flopped back against his pillows. He was miserably aware that the brief encounter had somehow managed to totally use up the last of his painkiller, leaving his leg and arm throbbing painfully. "Every fucking time – " he continued, careless of language in the solitude of an FBI-financed private room. "Every fucking time he does this to me! How does he do it?"
Dr. Berube's house was still and untouched when Jerry arrived. It was two days since the man's death; as he checked the doors and walked around the side of the house looking for an unlatched window or similar, he wondered if or when someone would arrive to sort out the dead man's affairs. Until they did – or until Welfare became involved - the poor devil would languish in a downtown morgue, unwanted and unburied.
In his current morbid mood, Jerry found himself feeling gratitude for working for the FBI. If anything untoward happened to him, at least they would ensure he got a decent funeral.
The doors into the house were all locked tight, and although there was one window which seemed to be latched a little looser than the others, he didn't particularly want to try climbing through it in broad daylight, so in the end he forced the lock on the back door and let himself in.
The house was surprisingly dark inside, the rear windows at least not letting in enough light to relieve the pressure of dark, heavy furnishings. Jerry walked slowly through the kitchen, up a short set of stairs and into the hallway, feeling an uneasy prickle up the back of his neck.
Empty houses gave him the creeps. They always had. He had never been able to shake the notion that the building itself was watching him, which was a throwback, he suspected, to the ghost stories his older sister had enjoyed telling him when they were children. Oddly enough, if someone had told him that the house was supposed to be haunted, it would have been easier for him to deal with, as he had discovered since he worked with Scully.
Knowing that if he stood around for too long he would become too spooked to continue, Jerry made himself search the lower floor briskly and methodically. You developed your own ways of doing these things early on, the things you would never have the nerve to do if you didn't have the gun and the badge of authority. Jerry had always found that it helped to imagine that his partner was only a few feet away, even when he knew perfectly well that they could be halfway across the city.
It was only when he was checking what appeared to have been Berube's study that he realised that it was not Scully he imagined searching the other side of the room, but Mulder. What the hell - ! Jerry paused by the big desk, almost indignant, and looked around the room. Why was he thinking of Mulder right now? He'd always been very fond of the guy, but even so ....
The creaking of a floorboard above his head drove the question right out of his mind. Abandoning the study, Jerry headed for the stairs, unholstering his gun as he went.
The sound had come from the room directly above the study, but wasn't repeated as he climbed the stairs. Sidling warily through the open door to the left of the landing, Jerry discovered a plain, rather masculine-looking bedroom, bare of all furniture but a bed, chair and wardrobe. The bed was made up, although the covers had not been turned down; there was creasing and a faint indentation in the middle which was just warm when he touched it. Someone had been here then .... He checked the wardrobe routinely, but it was empty.
Then he checked the rest of the floor. The upper story contained nothing but spare bedrooms and a couple of bathrooms but at the far end of the passage, around a corner, was a foldaway ladder that had been lowered from the ceiling. Presumably it led to the attics.
The idea of climbing that ladder most decidedly did not appeal to Jerry, but he was committed now. Holding his gun in one hand and a pen-torch awkwardly in his teeth, he slowly climbed up.
He was barely through the hatch when he was clubbed heavily across the shoulders and sent sprawling across the bare boards. His gun and torch gone, Jerry struggled to turn onto his back. His attacker was standing over him, holding something that looked like a rolled up rug which he was swift to get rid of and replace with Jerry's own weapon.
It was a man; tall, emaciated, his face covered in several days' worth of stubble and his eyes staring. He looked wild and terrified, and Jerry instinctively raised his hands, recognising the look of a creature backed into a corner.
"Wait - !" He swallowed hard. "I'm a friend - I'm not here to hand you over to … to them!"
The man opened his mouth to reply, but never got the opportunity to speak.
As if in slow motion, Jerry saw another figure appear at the head of the ladder. It was impossible to identify this individual due to an odd circumstance: He appeared to be wearing a gas mask. Then the main raised his hand and Jerry saw a blossom of fire from the muzzle of a heavy calibre handgun.
The face of the man standing over Jerry ruptured, and he was falling to one side before the agent could fully comprehend what had happened.
For a moment, he lay still, too shocked to move. Then he was dragging himself up onto his knees and staring uncomprehendingly down at the dead man at his side.
Where the face had been destroyed by the bullet, brain and other matter was leaking out. But it was not crimson, as he would have expected from human blood.
It was green, and it was reacting violently as it came into contact with the air, fizzing and apparently dissolving into gas.
Shocked and horrified, Jerry sucked in a sharp breath - and felt his lungs begin to burn. His eyes were watering and the moist tissues of his mouth and nose were attacked with sudden needle-sharp, agonising pain, almost as though he had been sprayed with mace. Within bare seconds, he felt the muscles in his chest begin to cramp as his lungs tried and failed to drag in air.
With a wheezing groan, he collapsed on his side and fell mercifully unconscious.
Someone was pinching the lobe of his left ear. Groaning, Jerry tried weakly to turn away from the pain and became aware that he could breathe once more. His eyes were nearly swollen shut, though, and his lips and tongue felt fat, inflamed.
He was also conscious that his hands were cuffed behind his back.
He managed to open his eyes a fraction and slowly Alex Krycek came into focus. The younger agent was kneeling beside him, holding a gun in one hand and a gas mask in the other. He was the gunman, then.
"Are you awake?" he asked Jerry curtly. For once, his boy scout smile was missing.
"I guess so," Jerry managed, and felt the raw pain of his throat and windpipe.
Krycek actually looked angry. "I told you to talk to me first before you got to snooping around."
Jerry tried licking his lips, and wished he hadn't. "Never could obey orders," he managed finally.
Krycek stared down at him, and pursed his lips. "'Never' is a long time, Castamir. Well, I warned you."
Jerry squinted at him painfully. "What happens now?"
"Now we go for a ride, Jerry," she told him brightly.
"I wasn't aware we were running a day care centre in here."
AD Skinner's voice was unusually jovial, but nevertheless produced an atmosphere of restrained panic in the secretarial pool. Little Sam Mulder, who had been happily charming his new bevy of female admirers for the last two hours, looked up enquiringly and was intrigued to encounter someone whose stiff military bearing reminded him strongly of another friend.
"Cap-ten?" he chirped hopefully, and Skinner actually cracked a smile.
"Samuel Mulder, I believe?" He held out his hand and Sam solemnly shook it. Skinner looked up at the abashed clerical workers. "I take it you're looking after Samuel while Mr. Mulder's in the inquiry?"
"He was running late and had no time to take Sam to the babysitter, Sir," one of the women ventured.
Skinner nodded. "Very well. He'll be out in a minute, so I'll take charge of the boy now." He looked around, picked up Sam's coat, and held his hand out to the boy. "Come along."
Awed by the Assistant Director's firm, no-nonsense manner, Sam took his hand without a word and obediently skipped along at the man's side down the corridor, leaving the secretarial team to exchange bemused looks with one another.
When Mulder came looking for him shortly after, he was ushered into Skinner's office to discover that the Assistant Director himself was sitting behind his desk, perusing some documents, while Sam was curled up in a comfortable-looking chair in the corner, fast asleep. He appeared to be wrapped up in a hairy camel overcoat that could only belong to Skinner himself.
"Don't worry," Skinner grunted, seeing the younger man's expression. "He's been very good. We drew a few pictures – " he gestured to a small heap of paper on the desk in front of him, " – and we discussed the merits of being an FBI agent as opposed to being a truck-driver, then he crashed. I understand he's had a big day today."
Mulder's mind was so boggled by the images this conjured up that it took him a moment to find his voice. "Er – yeah," he said finally. "He had an entrance exam for a school this morning, and we over-ran by quite a bit. I wouldn't have brought him here, but ...."
"Oh, it's no problem." Skinner put the documents into one of the trays on his desk and took his spectacles off, rubbing his eyes. "I brought him in here, though, because it seemed to be taking an entire six-man clerical team to look after him. He's energetic, but not that energetic. Take a seat, Mulder. I was hoping for a word with you before you leave."
At this, Mulder became a little wary, but he slid into a seat in front of Skinner's desk and tried to look at ease. The two men studied each other for a moment, one wondering what was going on, and the other concealing a sense of satisfaction. Mulder's appearance at the inquiry that afternoon had gone off far better than the younger man could know.
"So you're looking at schools for him now?" Skinner commented finally. "Doesn't seem like five minutes since you were pulling your hair out over a newborn baby that was wished on you."
Mulder shrugged. "I guess." He was not reassured by this 'chummy' approach: it was unlike the Assistant Director he recalled, and besides, he'd already been unnerved once that afternoon by an uncharacteristically friendly encounter with Bill Patterson outside the inquiry room. The words "pod people" were springing to mind rather forcefully.
Fortunately, Skinner recognised that this approach was not working, and changed tactics. "How's the leg?"
"It's okay. I had the stitches out yesterday."
"Good. I take it Agent Scully has filled you in on the additional discoveries at Agent Willis' apartment?"
Mulder relaxed fractionally. "If you mean the diaries and pictures, yes, she did. In retrospect it makes sense – after the bust-up she had with Willis at Christmas, he partly turned his attention on me, although personally I think he started studying my cases long before then. It wasn't necessarily any one thing that turned him to violence, although I think Scully's theory about the insulin might have had something to do with it, and the diaries bear out her forensic findings about the first victim – he accidentally stumbled across a victim of a mugging and was presented with an opportunity to "try out" Mostow's signature mutilations on a dead body."
Skinner nodded. "This is an … unfortunate incident," he said at length. "I assume Agent Scully also told you that Assistant Director Rolfe is now on indefinite leave of absence, pending the results of the internal investigation?"
"She did mention it briefly."
"Unofficially and between these four walls, the Willis business has highlighted several unfortunate lapses in judgement on his part." The Assistant Director cleared his throat uncomfortably, and shifted in his seat. "I only mention it because there are indications that one of them may have involved the former Agent Green."
For a moment Mulder stared at him uncomprehendingly; then the words clicked in his brain. "Phoebe?" He glanced reflexively across at Sam, but the boy never stirred. Then he was seized by a sudden wave of wholly inappropriate mirth. "Jeez - !"
Skinner looked disapproving. "I hardly need remind you of the serious implications this could have," he stated repressively.
"No, no, of course not …." Mulder made an effort to get himself under control. He couldn't explain why he found this funny anyway, unless it was some sort of positive sign that he was finally over the Phoebe business. "So … what does that mean for the Bureau? Just between these four walls."
Skinner hesitated, then shrugged mentally. Why not? "Just between these four walls – there is enough evidence already that Rolfe will certainly be out within the year. The Willis business has caused a big enough stink in the press, but when the rest comes out – and it will – the Director will have to act decisively. There have been a number of high level meetings already to discuss the situation and start shifting key figures into new positions, ready for the change around. When it happens, we want the upheaval to be as little and as swift as possible."
Mulder cocked a curious brow at him. "Who gets the VCS?"
At this point Assistant Director suddenly backed away. This was not how he wanted the conversation to proceed. "That's still under discussion," he stated, and quickly changed the subject. "So, what happens next for you, Mulder?"
"Me?" Mulder looked mildly surprised.
"Well, with the boy starting school shortly, surely you'll be looking for a full-time job?"
This was evidently not as subtle as he hoped, for the younger man suddenly looked wary. "Georgetown offered me a full-time position recently."
"Lecturing?" Skinner looked sceptical. Mulder had done a lot of lecturing for the Bureau during his time with the ISU, but it had never been something he enjoyed and he had not been shy about making that fact known.
Mulder shrugged. "It's not so bad. I've kind of got into it over the last couple of years." He considered for a moment. "I've been offered a job with a newspaper in New York," he continued. "I've been freelancing for some time now, but this would be a permanent position and the money looks good."
The older man looked thoughtful at this. "A big upheaval," he commented.
"It wouldn't be the first." Mulder shrugged wryly. "The way I see it, there's going to be some big upheavals now whatever I do. I have friends and a few relatives in New York. It might be a good thing for me to get away from D.C."
"You've had more than your fair share of trouble here, that's for sure," Skinner admitted. "All the same .... Have you discussed this with Agent Scully?" He said this cautiously, but the other man was unoffended.
"Not yet - there hasn't been an opportunity."
Skinner nodded. "What about other options?"
Mulder suppressed a grin at the studiously casual way this was said. He had guessed what was coming the moment getting a full-time job was mentioned. "Such as?"
"Have you considered rejoining the Bureau?"
If this surprised Skinner, he didn't shown any signs of it. "And?"
"I don't think it's feasible."
"Well ... aside from re-certifying for active duty, there's the question of where I would be assigned." He gave Skinner a straight look. "I put a lot of work into the x-files before I left."
"So has Agent Scully since then," Skinner said, equally bluntly. "The x-files are her project these days."
"I'm not suggesting otherwise – "
"And given your current relationship with her, a partnership or any other kind of close working relationship could not be countenanced."
"That's what I thought you'd say," Mulder nodded. "Frankly, I'm not interested in any other kind of position in the Bureau, so that's that."
The Assistant Director gave him a sceptical look. "That's a little blinkered, don't you think? The Bureau's a big organisation. The x-files and VCS are only a small part of it."
Mulder didn't attempt to hide the cynical smile this time. "Yeah – and there's always room for a guy like me in the ISU," he suggested.
Skinner sighed and sat back in his chair, pinching the bridge of his nose again. "I can imagine what prompted that. If Bill Patterson has a tactful fibre in his body, we haven't found it yet. Did he tackle you before or after the inquiry?"
"At the hospital actually, the afternoon after the business on the roof with Willis."
"Christ!" Skinner shook his head. "Well, let that go for a minute. Is Bill your sole reason? I'm aware that your relationship with him could be difficult at times, but I thought that at least there was professional respect."
"Bill Patterson is one of the best criminal analysts there is," Mulder said warily. "You won't find me arguing with that."
"But that doesn't make him easy to work with," Skinner observed mildly.
"On the contrary, it makes him downright impossible to work with!" was the swift – and slightly bitter – retort.
Skinner regarded the younger man thoughtfully for a moment. He was amused by Mulder's reaction, although he was careful to hide it.
"It's interesting that you should say that," he said, at length, "because it's the general opinion of most of your former colleagues that you were just the same."
There was a stiff, offended silence from the younger man at this.
After a moment, the Assistant Director added, "What's more, it's a well-known fact, both inside and outside the ISU, that when you really "got going" on a case, Patterson was the only person who could keep up with you intellectually. It's my own recollection that you could be totally incoherent sometimes."
"If I was incoherent, it's because I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown," Mulder snapped.
"Like hell!" was the curt response, and it infuriated him.
"Oh – so I just dreamed up the three weeks I spent in a private psychiatric clinic? And the three months mandatory sick leave afterwards?"
Skinner sighed. "Mulder, why were you nicknamed 'spooky'?"
"It wasn't for your penchant for chasing aliens. The name got pinned on you because of your ability to get inside the heads of serial killers and other dangerous criminals. I'm not denying you were put under unforgivable pressure during your final year in the Unit, but your method of working was no different then from when you first joined the Bureau. You were noted at the Academy for your ability with profiling."
"My method nearly drove me insane," Mulder stated flatly. "I've no intention of doing that again."
"You just did, with Jack Willis," Skinner pointed out dryly.
"Look, cut the crap!" the younger man said angrily. "Lay it on the line, and say what you dragged me in here for."
Skinner nodded and leaned forward slightly. "You asked who would take on the VCS when Rolfe is kicked out. Bill Patterson's name has been put forward."
In spite of himself, Mulder's eyes widened. "The position he's always been waiting for."
Skinner inclined his head slightly. "Bill wants the job, Mulder, but he says – and the Senior Management agree – that there's currently no one in the ISU suitable to take his place there. And Patterson can't accept promotion without a successor, so to speak."
"Isn't there anyone else who could take on the VCS?" Mulder asked unexpectedly.
"Of course. Your former SAC Reggie Purdue was suggested."
"I like Reggie. He'd make a great AD."
"Agreed, but he doesn't want the position. Besides, he's coming up for retirement age."
"So .... Your performance over the past couple of weeks has sparked a lot of interest on the fifth floor, especially since it's become known you'll be in the market for a job shortly - "
"I didn't break that case!" Mulder interrupted sharply. "I was close but Scully made the break, not me. It's her you should be – "
"Just shut up a minute, will you?" Skinner looked more than a little ruffled for a moment. "Don't worry about Scully - there's a commendation in this for her anyway, and believe me, her work on this won't be forgotten. But we're not talking about Scully." The Assistant Director sat back as casually as he could. "We're talking about you right now. The brass want you to come back and take over from Bill Patterson in due course."
For a moment, Mulder was speechless. Then: "They must be out of their minds."
The other man shrugged. "Think about it – it makes sense. You're a known quantity, a former agent with the abilities we need. You've just proven that you haven't lost your edge. And you were always in line to take Bill's place, you know that."
"No, I do not know that! Bill and I were at each other's throats from the minute I joined the ISU and refused to kiss his ass like the others were doing – "
" - Which is almost certainly why he respected you more than them. He made you work, Mulder, he pushed you to the limits of your abilities. Anywhere else in the Bureau you'd have lazed around, making everyone else look like idiots while you used half the brain-power. He may have ridden you like a demon, but he knew what made you tick, and yes, he respected you. He sure as hell praised you enough. It was a hell of a blow to him when you transferred out to the VCS."
Mulder muttered something under his breath that Skinner decided it would be better to ignore.
"Look," he said, trying to be conciliatory, "here's the deal. If you agree to this, if you decide to come back, after mandatory re-training you will be assigned to the ISU as you were before. However, there will be a fixed limit on your caseload and due caution exercised over assigning you cases that are known to be difficult for you. You'll have a strong say in what you take on and what you don't, and this will be monitored by AD Hill. On top of that, there will be fewer cases where you'll be shipped out to work directly with a field office task force or local police department. It's envisaged that you'll do most of your work directly from Quantico."
"I sense a big "but" coming," Mulder said acidly.
"Not especially .... You'll be working directly with Bill Patterson, on the understanding that you'll be groomed to take over from him. Again, the situation will be monitored by AD Hill. And once Bill's promoted – " Skinner leaned back and shrugged expressively, " – the ISU is your baby."
There was a long silence, then Mulder shifted in his chair and snorted softly. "Head of the ISU .... That was Phoebe's big ambition, not mine."
"I'm not offering it like a carrot on a stick," was Skinner's sharp retort. "No one's suggesting it's a dream job, because only a lunatic would believe that. I'm offering it as a possibility, given that we need a man with your abilities in that position, and that you're shortly going to be looking for a full-time job again. You were a damn good agent once, Mulder – and you're being offered a chance to be an even better one. Put that genius-level intellect to good use!"
There was a long pause, then Mulder shrugged. "I'll think about it."
He found Scully frowning over a cup of coffee in the basement office. Her expression cleared when she saw the two of them, though, and she was quick to put the cup down and relieve him of a sleepy Sam.
"Oh sweetheart, are you tired? It's been a long day for you ...." Her voice soothing, she settled the little boy on her lap and Sam immediately went back to sleep. "If I knew you had him with you, you could have left him with me," she admonished Mulder softly over the child's head.
"I didn't have time to come down here, and Holly told me you weren't in the building," he replied equally softly, and he took a seat opposite her desk. "The girls up in Skinner's typing pool were happy to look after him for me, though."
"I'll bet." She smiled. "How did it go this afternoon? I saw you talking to Patterson, but you'd gone into the inquiry before I had a chance to speak to you."
"It was okay. I didn't have much to do really, just went over my theories and the events leading up to Willis' death." Mulder shrugged expressively. "Bill had more to say than I did, but he backed me up ... and you."
"Good." Scully tilted her head curiously. "What did he want beforehand?"
"Oh, this and that." Mulder knew he was being evasive, but it was something he didn't want to discuss with her just yet ... not until he'd got his own head around everything Skinner had said. "I expressed my regrets about his wife. I didn't find out until I had a chance to speak to Nemhauser the other day."
"His wife?" Her brows rose expressively, and he smiled a little sadly.
"Yeah, Bill was married. She died last year – breast cancer." Mulder looked down at the surface of the desk for a moment and prodded a knot in the wood idly. "Kind of cut me up when Nemhauser told me – Hester was very good to me, and a lot of other guys in the ISU. I think she liked to take us under her wing because she and Bill couldn't have kids of their own."
"Oh." Scully's uncertainty about what to make of Patterson, especially after the events at the factory that night – calling him after being rebuffed by Rolfe had been an act of sheer desperation on her part – was intensified tenfold. She couldn't imagine him as a family man, but given her own fertility problems, she felt a sudden and unexpected sense of empathy for his wife.
Mulder's hand suddenly covered hers, squeezing gently, and when she looked up his smile was warm. "She never made a big deal out of it, Scully. I forget how I even found out, but she just mothered everyone else to compensate. And she had Bill right here - " he pressed his thumb into the desktop. "It was an education to watch – she's the only person I ever saw him back down from." His grin was wicked, and Scully snuffled a laugh.
Satisfied, Mulder sat back and watched her rocking Sam for a minute or two. The silence was very peaceful.
"I forgot," Scully said suddenly, looking down at Sam. "How did the interview go this morning? It was at the Jewish Community School, wasn't it?"
"Yeah - it was okay. Actually, it's one of the most successful interviews we've been to, from Sam's point of view." Mulder mentally reviewed the morning for a moment. "He took the tests like a trooper and was on absolute best behaviour the whole time. We left him with one of the classes while I had a chat with the principal, and he settled in like he'd always been there."
"I don't know why that surprises you," she told him, amused. "He's very sociable."
"Yeah, well .... I don't think there's a problem with him being accepted, but if I settle on the Alexandria Jewish Community School – " He paused and rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "If I do – and I'd like to – then I'm definitely going to have to get a full-time job." He grinned at her wryly.
"You'd have to anyway," Scully pointed out.
"Hm. I'd better start reviewing my resume." Mulder changed the subject. "I ran into Rabbi Neuberger while we were there." He looked a little bemused. "He introduced me to another rabbi connected with the school – Jonathan Weiss."
"Yeah. He's a Reform rabbi with a temple in Alexandria."
Scully looked at him curiously. "So ...?"
"So Rabbi Neuberger told me he'd been hoping for an opportunity to introduce us. He thinks Sam and I might benefit from considering the Reform option."
Scully pursed her lips, her brow furrowing. "You've lost me. I thought your family were Conservative Jews."
"We are. Rabbi Neuberger thinks Sam and I might be better with a Reform congregation, though, and he personally recommends Rabbi Weiss's temple." Mulder shrugged. "The guy's a lot younger, has a young congregation apparently, and they run an active outreach programme for Jews like me. I.e. Jews who have married "out", or are considering marrying out."
Scully stared at him. "If this is Annie's doing, it seems a little atypical for her."
"It's not," Mulder smiled. "It's Rabbi Neuberger's idea, although he tells me that he did broach it with Annie recently. He was a little reticent about the conversation – "
"So I would hope!"
"But he says that while she wasn't keen initially, she came around to the idea. That might explain why she was a little subdued the last time I saw her," he added musingly.
"So what does an "outreach" programme involve?"
Again, he shrugged. "Basically the idea is to ensure that Sam and I are not lost to the community just because I might choose to marry, say, you in preference to a Jewish woman. It also means that if we were to have children, the support system would be there for them if they chose to follow my half of their heritage."
"Oh." Scully smiled slightly and looked down at Sam for a moment. The boy had a solid grip on the lapel of her jacket and was still slumbering peacefully against her shoulder. When she looked up again, her smile was teasing. "So are you planning to marry and have more children?"
"I'm certainly planning to marry at some point in the not-too-distant future," he said softly, "given half a chance."
He was not teasing, and Scully had to look away from him, her smile becoming idiotically shaky. "Oh, I think you've got more than half a chance, Mulder," she managed after a moment.
His eyes widened. "And h-how am I supposed to take that?" he asked, stumbling a little with surprise.
But she shook her head. "I – I don't think this is a good place to discuss it ... is it?"
"Later then." Actually, Mulder was grateful for the delay. He was suddenly feeling rather light-headed.
Scully nodded ... and her eyes filled even as she smiled at him. "Mulder, I know we haven't said much about - about that night at the factory, but ... you have *no* idea what went through my mind when I saw you go over the edge of the roof with Jack – "
Mulder shuddered involuntarily at the memory, which had given him several sleepless nights since. "I'll bet it's nothing compared to what went through my mind," he said dryly.
"It just came to me that ...that ...." But Scully was unable to continue.
He reached out to touch her hand again. "You know," he said after a minute or two, striving for a lighter tone, "of all the dumb things that went through my head, one really caps the lot." She looked at him questioningly, and he grinned. "I suddenly thought "I'm never going to know what the big deal was about that damn stuff in the flask that Jerry gave Scully"."
But instead of the laugh he was hoping for, she gave him a stricken look. "The flask! I forgot – I was thinking about it when you came in, but got distracted."
Mulder shook his head, confused. "What?"
"I gave the flask to Agent Pendrell for testing, the day you joined the task force. Do you remember?"
"Vaguely, but what – "
"Skinner told me, the day after the business on the roof. Pendrell is dead, Mulder – he was killed in a car crash that evening, on his way back from the labs at Georgetown University."
Mulder sat back. "Shit. I only met him once, but he was a nice kid."
"I know." Scully hesitated, regretting the death of the young agent for the hundredth time since she'd been told. "I thought it was just an accident, Mulder, but I'm beginning to wonder." His brows went up, but he waited for the rest. "The guy at Georgetown who was helping him was in the car too, and they were both killed on impact. But when I made enquiries, there was no documentation or anything else in the car with them. And no one at Georgetown knew anything about the flask or the tests they'd been performing - there's nothing left up in Sci-Crimes either. The flask and everything to do with it has gone."
Silence. Then Mulder said slowly, "What about Jerry? I spoke to him that afternoon, while I was at the library trying to work up the profile – he called looking for you, but your cellphone was switched off or out of range. He'd already seen Pendrell at Georgetown and told me that he'd discovered the stuff in the flask was bacteria containing a virus ... and there was something else about plant cells and cloning, but I have to admit that I wasn't paying as much attention as usual. Has he said anything to you?"
"That's why I'm starting to wonder," Scully said grimly. "I got caught up in the inquiry, so I wasn't paying a lot of attention myself last week, but then it suddenly dawned on me that I haven't seen him or heard from him since he got dismissed from the task force. But when I went upstairs looking for him yesterday, they hadn't seen him either. They thought he was with me all this time."
"I've been phoning both his numbers continually, but there's no reply. And when I went around to his apartment this afternoon, there was no reply there either. His car is gone, and his landlord says he hasn't seen him all week."
"Have you notified Skinner? Who's his SAC?" Mulder's voice was crisp and sharp – the voice of Mulder-the-profiler, not Mulder-the-father-and-college-lecturer.
"I was just deciding what to do when you came in," Scully stated patiently. "Mulder, we didn't have a 302 for the Berube investigation – the stuff with the flask was strictly on the quiet and so far Skinner doesn't know that was what Pendrell was doing at Georgetown. If this is connected – "
"You seriously think it isn't?" He raised a brow at her.
"I don't know what to think." She was silent for a moment, thinking. Then she continued quietly, "Do you remember the conversation we had after Ellens Air Base? The one where you told me you thought Jerry had changed from the man you knew? Well, I've been feeling the same thing lately – that Jerry isn't even the same man who was assigned to me as a partner. I meant to talk to you about it, but so much has happened over the last few weeks."
Mulder gave her a concerned look. "Scully, whatever has or hasn't happened to Jerry – it's not your fault."
She smiled, but it was half-hearted and didn't reach her eyes. "I know that, Mulder. But if what happened to Pendrell is because of that flask, then no one can blame me as much I'll blame myself."
"Worry about that later," he urged her quietly. "Right now we have to find Jerry. When was the last time he was seen?"
"The morning after we apprehended Jack. A group of agents in the bullpen – Zimmerman was one of them – said he came through that morning in a hurry. He stopped while they told him what had happened to us, but then he headed on out and he hasn't been seen up there since. I checked his desk," she added, anticipating his next question. "There's nothing there but some wiretap transcripts and a bunch of paperwork someone obviously offloaded onto him. He's got a day-planner on his desk which hasn't been changed since we got called onto the taskforce."
Mulder frowned. "What about the building surveillance cameras? Just because he hasn't been in the bullpen doesn't mean he hasn't been down here."
Scully looked reluctant. "I would have to get Skinner's authorisation to see those, and to do that I'd have to notify Skinner of his disappearance."
"We'll have to do that anyway if we can't find him by the end of the day," he replied, looking thoughtfully into the distance. "All the same, I'd prefer it if we could find him ourselves before that becomes necessary."
"Sounds great in theory, but if he's not here and not at his apartment, I don't know where else to look."
"I've got a couple of ideas for tracking him down," Mulder replied. He stood up, suddenly very brisk and businesslike, and reached out to take Sam from her. "Come on, let's head out of here."
"Where are we going?" Scully asked warily, surrendering Sam and reaching under the desk for her purse.
Mulder's smile was grim. "Not here – the walls may have ears."
"Phone records?" Langly's tone was one of injured professional pride, although his eyes looked as pop-eyed and startled as ever behind the thick lenses. "Where's the challenge in that?"
Mulder was amused. "The phone records are just the beginning. I want to know what else you have on Jerry."
There was a pause, and the trio of hackers exchanged glances. Finally, Byers spoke up. "What makes you think we would have anything else?"
"Because I know you guys, remember? You can't tell me you haven't at least tried to bug his apartment since he started working with Scully."
"We did try," Frohike admitted finally, "but he keeps the place swept clean. There didn't seem to be much point in replacing them every week just to have him smash them up a couple of hours later."
"That's something in itself," Scully commented, interested. "He's not just occasionally checking his apartment – he must be going over it almost every night, to find them all. Which means he thinks there's someone trying to watch him all the time."
"That's even more paranoid than me," Mulder agreed, surprised. "Although I guess it didn't help much finding the devices left there by you guys." He gave them a mild look of admonition, which they all ignored.
"All the same, it suggests that he thinks there's something to be worried about," she returned. "I check my apartment maybe once every two weeks - if I remember. I check the office more often, but frankly if they want to hear me brushing my teeth in the morning or dusting on a Saturday, then they're welcome to it."
"The man who wouldn't want to witness you brushing your teeth, Agent Scully, is a soulless freak with neither taste nor sensibility," Frohike informed her enthusiastically.
She gave him an amused look. "Thanks – I think."
"There's one Agent Castamir didn't find," Byers offered. "There's a camera in the corridor outside his apartment. It's in a lamp almost directly opposite his front door."
"The only problem is that it isn't set to view the whole time," Langly put in. "We set it up on fixed cycles, because there's no point recording continuously when there's a good chance he won't be there, like during FBI office hours and the early hours of the morning. So there's some overlap, but not much."
"Better than nothing," Mulder nodded. "Let's take a look for the past week."
Langly began rummaging through a box of tapes.
Sam appeared from around a corner where he had been playing games on a spare computer, and tugged on Frohike's elbow. "Uncle 'Hickie, I won!" he announced proudly.
"You learn quick, kid," Frohike replied approvingly. "Want me to set up the next level?"
"Okay …." The two wandered off around the corner again.
Scully raised a brow at Mulder. "What's he playing?"
"I don't know – Langly?"
The blond man glanced up from his search. "Uh – probably that tweaked version of Doom Frohike's testing for a friend."
Mulder's brows twitched together in concern. "I hope it's appropriate."
Frohike gave him an offended look as he reappeared. "I would never let him play something inappropriate. I made sure all the safeguards are on."
"Yeah, but he's pretty smart," Mulder warned him. "What level's he up to anyway?"
Langly whistled. "Not bad, man! I only made it up to five yesterday – hey, here's the tape."
Mulder looked unconvinced about the game, but let it pass as the other man loaded the video and set the surveillance tape running. The five of them settled down to watch.
It was very pedestrian.
"I use Levy's Pizza too, sometimes," Mulder observed at one point. "They're kosher."
"A kosher pizza house?" Scully raised a brow.
"Sure, why not?" Mulder leaned forward to squint at the screen. "What day is this? Tuesday? Jerry wasn't dismissed from the Slasher taskforce until Thursday. Fast-forward it a bit."
Langly pressed the button on the remote and they watched as Wednesday scrolled through at high speed – so high that they almost missed it.
He manipulated the rewind a little more cautiously and consequently they were able to see as two men arrived at Jerry Castamir's door on Wednesday evening.
"Who's that?" Scully breathed, staring. "That looks like Agent Krycek, but who's the other guy?" The second man was perhaps twice Krycek's age, tall, thin and smoking a cigarette casually. His face was deeply lined, but unremarkable.
They watched as Krycek's monochrome image looked up and down the corridor, then did something to the lock on Jerry's door. The two men disappeared into the apartment. Langly began to fast-forward through the tape, although more cautiously this time. A short while later, the smoking man left the apartment alone, sans cigarette. He stopped outside the door for a moment, digging in an inner pocket only to bring out a packet of cigarettes and light one. Then he walked calmly down the corridor and out of view.
"Krycek's still inside," Mulder murmured. "What's going on here? This is Wednesday night – he had dinner with us at my place that night and we both saw him at work the next day."
"At Christmas," Scully said slowly, reluctantly, "I was under the impression that he and Jerry were … together. But I haven't seen him more than once or twice since then, and never in Jerry's company."
Langly speeded up the tape again and they saw Jerry arrive home, looking worn out and anxious – certainly not how he had looked when he left Mulder's apartment. He let himself in and there was another gap until Krycek emerged and went on his way.
"That doesn't look like a social call to me," Mulder stated grimly. "Not with that other guy being there earlier."
Langly ran the tape forward a little again and they witnessed Jerry leaving for work again the next morning, and returning in the evening. There were no more visitors.
"He called me during Thursday afternoon," Mulder commented absently, staring at the screen as if he could somehow see through Jerry Castamir's front door. "He was obviously okay that evening – " As he spoke, they saw him leaving for work again on Friday morning.
Langly fast-forwarded the tape again, and this time kept his finger on the button. The date and time on the bottom right-hand corner of the screen slowly scrolled around. Friday evening … Saturday morning … Saturday evening … Sunday morning … Sunday evening … Monday morning ….
"I think we can safely say he went missing sometime during Friday," Mulder said into the silence when the tape finally clicked off. "We know he was seen by some of the other agents in the bullpen on Friday morning, but after that – nada." He sat back on the edge of a desk and rubbed his eyes wearily. "Langly, can you get us a couple of prints of that old guy with Krycek? And see if you guys can find out anything about him."
"Can do, man." Langly ejected the tape and took it over to another desk, popping it into a different machine.
"What do we do now?" Scully asked Mulder tiredly. "Talk to Krycek?"
"Seems like the logical place to start. Is there any way you can get an address for him from the Bureau?"
She looked doubtful. "I don't know ... I suppose I might be able to persuade Holly to get it for me."
"We can find it," Byers said calmly.
"Great – thanks." Mulder looked relieved; neither he nor Scully wanted to drag an innocent admin. worker into this if they could avoid it. "E-mail it to me?"
"Of course. But it might take a while to get at it."
Langly came back. "Say, Mulder, did you check out that address you had me find Wednesday night?" he asked casually, putting the box of video tapes back under a table.
Mulder froze, staring at him. "Address?"
"Sure." Langly gave him an odd look. "You remember – Zeus Storage? You called us from someplace, said you were in a tight spot and gave me a number to trace?"
"Jesus – " Mulder ran a hand over his face, appalled that he had forgotten. "The night before I got pulled onto the Slasher case .... I got home and found Rolfe and Rawlings waiting for me. It went completely out of my mind."
Scully was staring at him. "What's this about? I was with you Wednesday evening."
"Yeah, but after you left ...." Mulder hesitated, uncomfortable under her piercing gaze. Finally he decided to come clean. "Look, after you left an ... informant visited me and gave me some information about Berube. So I went and checked out his house."
"Without telling me."
"I would have told you!" he insisted. "Like I said, Rolfe was waiting for me when I got back, and in the excitement I forgot."
Scully wasn't letting him off the hook though. "You could have called me. Since you pushed for me to investigate this case in the first place, I should have been there." She was tense, appearing angry and disappointed with him.
"It didn't seem like a good time," Mulder muttered, recalling the atmosphere between them that evening, and winced inwardly at the hurt that flashed in her eyes.
The Gunmen, uncomfortable with the sudden atmosphere, made believe they were busy with other things, and Frohike wandered off to see how Sam was getting on.
"So what "informant" is this?" Scully asked after a moment, her voice cool.
"I don't know who he is. He's turned up once or twice over the last couple of years, and sometimes I get stuff, hints and leads about cases that might interest me, left with my mail or shoved under the door." Mulder sighed. "He gave me that tape of the guy who disappeared into the harbour in Arlis. This is all connected somehow."
"And why have you never told me about this "informant"?" Her anger seemed to grow. "How many so-called cases have you brought to me that have come directly from him?"
"They never come directly from him," Mulder retorted, growing angry himself. "It's rarely more than a hint – an article in the newspapers or a photograph. I have to do all the legwork to even begin to make connections."
"All the legwork?" Scully's brow rose and her tone was arid.
Mulder flushed and he looked away. "I don't have access to the x-files except through you, Scully," he said after a moment. "I don't have your resources anymore, and I don't have the sanction of the FBI. If I could do these things some other way, I would. But I thought you wanted to be involved."
"I do. But it would be nice to know the whole story, Mulder, and not just the parts you choose to tell me." She chewed on her lip angrily before bursting out, "In case it escaped your notice, Jerry is missing because of this case! And now you tell me that this wasn't just something you stumbled across by accident – it was something deliberately put in your path by a third party. How do you know this guy isn't involved in Jerry's disappearance?"
"Because I've had information from him before and – "
"When? When have you had information from him before?"
Mulder paused, sensing a pit opening up in front of him. "He led us to Ellens Air Base," he admitted reluctantly.
Scully stared at him. "Great. Do I need to remind you of what happened to you and Jerry at that damned air base?"
"I don't know – I don't remember," he joked feebly.
Wrong move. Scully's eyes practically flashed blue fire. "How can you joke about this?" she exclaimed. "Dammit, Mulder, you have a hole in your memory that I could practically drive a truck through!"
"Look, can you guys just cut it out?" Frohike demanded, reappearing from behind the crowded tables and assembled other detritus. He gave Mulder a meaningful glare. "You're not the only people here, remember?"
Mulder grimaced, but although Scully lowered her voice so that Sam couldn't hear, she was on a roll. "You know, Mulder, you mentioning Ellens Air Base is really prophetic, because it shows just how much we keep ending up back at square one. You didn't trust me then with information, and you don't trust me now – sometimes it seems to me that all I'm good for is digging you out of the trouble you get yourself into."
That stung him. "What kind of shit is this?" he hissed.
A small, detached portion of his brain was interested to note that the old romantic novelist's cliché was true – Scully's bosom actually heaved with indignation, although it was doubtful that any fictional heroine had ever looked so terrifyingly warlike.
"For a man with a supposedly eidetic memory, it's amazing how easily you forget, Mulder," she stated bitterly.
Mulder signed his death warrant. "Yeah, well let's not forget that I have a hole in my memory that you could drive a truck through, Scully!" he retorted acidly.
Scully stiffened, and the fire in her eyes seemed to flare for one moment into brilliance before going out completely. "Fuck you," she whispered coldly, and grabbing her bag and coat, she headed for the door. There was the brief sound of her swearing as she struggled with the multiple locks on it, then it slammed shut behind her.
The Gunmen were staring at Mulder, Langly with his eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights, Byers with a kind of grim embarrassment, and Frohike looking utterly disgusted.
The latter folded his arms across his chest and shook his head. "That was clever."
"Oh, give me break ...." Mulder moaned, rubbing his face with both hands.
"You'd better go after her."
"Why? It's not like she can go anywhere – I've got the car keys." Mulder felt like an asshole even as he said it, and Frohike's scowl deepened.
"Just go, Mulder, before I kick your scrawny butt! And don't worry about the kid – I'll feed him."
"Yeah, yeah, thanks ...." But Mulder dragged himself to his feet and turned towards the door.
Something soft hit him in the centre of his back, and when he looked around, surprised, he found a cushion at his feet. "What's this for?" He picked it up. Like most of the furnishings in the Gunmen's lair, it had seen better days.
"To protect your knees when you grovel," was Frohike's terse reply.
Scully was leaning against the side of the car when he emerged from the hidden offices. Without keys she hadn't even been able to get in and sit down. The face she turned towards Mulder was white and blank under the dim lighting, and he swallowed as he approached. This was not going to be easy.
"Keys," he mumbled, holding them out to her.
Scully accepted them wordlessly and unlocked the driver's door. Mulder had to move quickly to get in the passenger side before she decided to start up and drive off without him.
Except that she didn't start the car. Scully sat behind the wheel, staring blindly out of the windscreen.
Mulder swallowed again. This was not good. "We need to talk," he managed finally.
"Why start now?" Her voice was dead, devoid even of bitterness.
"Because I don't want this to be the end of our relationship."
"You don't trust me, Mulder – can you deny that?"
"It's not you I don't trust, it's me – "
"No!" Suddenly the fire was back in her, a blaze of wrath. "Don't start trying to make this about you again, like it's something separate from me, something that doesn't involve both of us. This is something fundamental, Mulder, something that goes to the heart of our relationship. And if you can't admit that, we shouldn't even being having this conversation."
Mulder was silent for several moments, at a loss. Finally he said, "What do you want me to say?"
Scully slammed her hands against the steering wheel in frustration. "It's not a matter of what I want you to say, dammit! It's a matter of what should be happening naturally between us! Dialogue, Mulder, the concept of sharing ideas. We should be talking, you should be telling me all this crap from informants, if we're going to work together. Otherwise, what's the point? There shouldn't be these kind of secrets between us – " She invested the word 'secrets' with such loathing that he nearly flinched. "I don't want to know your every waking thought, but I do want ... and need ... to hear the important stuff, the stuff that makes a difference to both of us and both of our lives." She paused, then added with sudden, unexpected quietness, "The stuff that makes a difference to other people's lives."
This time he did flinch, and it was a long silence.
Finally Scully's shoulder's sagged. "Get Sam, and I'll drive you both home," she said quietly, defeated.
"No? Mulder – "
"No, Scully." For a moment or two Mulder struggled, but when he eventually spoke again, he had control of his voice and his tone was almost normal. "I never used to tell Phoebe anything."
Scully felt her breath catch. Was this going to be a breakthrough for them both? "Why not?"
He shrugged, looking anywhere but at her. "I don't know. Well ... yeah, I do know why I didn't tell her stuff later, but I never talked to her about my work ... cases. And outside of work there was nothing but me and her, so ... there was never really anything to tell her about. She talked all the time and I listened." He smiled blindly; there was no humour in it.
"Why didn't you tell her about work?"
"Partly because I didn't want to talk about it, and partly because I was never sure who she might tell. Some of the stuff I worked on ... the details were sensitive. I got into a habit of not talking about the work long before we were married." He took a breath. "I got burned that way once before we started dating again."
Scully blinked, not understanding. "Before you started dating again? I thought you knew her at Oxford?"
He nodded. "I did. But there was a period after I joined the Bureau .... When I joined the ISU, I didn't socialise much for the first six months. When Phoebe graduated from Quantico, she was sent out to one of the field offices for a while – Portland, I think. So we drifted apart for while. I put my nose to the grindstone and was a good little profiler. Then Diana joined the ISU."
"Diana Fowley. She was trouble right from the beginning, although I didn't see it at the time. For one thing, Bill Patterson didn't want her there. She had all the right qualifications, and came to the ISU from the NYPD homicide squad – lots of experience. But Bill didn't want a woman on his team – he's old-fashioned that way, although there have been women in the ISU in the past – and he sure as hell didn't want one who was wished on him by one of the Assistant Directors. But Diana had connections and she wasn't afraid to use them, so he had no choice."
"That can't have been the only problem."
Mulder nodded agreement. "No. She was a blue-flamer right from the word go – " He glanced at Scully, and she nodded her understanding of the FBI slang term, meaning someone who was going to make like a rocket and either reach high places or crash without a trace. "It was obvious that she was using the work as a means to an end. She was ambitious." He grimaced. "At that point, so was I. We ... hit it off. Became involved. Then I got caught up in a multiple child homicide. One of the victims was the son of a senator, but there was some stuff ... I can't go into it, but it was bad, and the details were deliberately classified to spare the senator's family. Which was when I made my big screw-up. I talked to Diana about the case." There was a long pause, which Scully was reluctant to break. Finally Mulder sighed and continued. "So ... we talked one night. She got the details of the case out of me. She offered me her unique insights." His lips twisted sourly over that. "Then we ... went to sleep. I woke up late the next morning and headed into the office, only to find the place going crazy and that I'd been replaced as the profiler on the case."
"I'm missing something here," Scully prompted softly.
"You don't get it? She waited until I was asleep, took my draft profile and rewrote it to look like it was hers. Then she handed it over to her Assistant Director friend and he put pressure on Patterson to give her the case. Within two days, on the basis of "Agent Fowley's profile" they had the perp under lock and key. Big kudos to Agent Fowley, and a promotion out of the ISU. She's a LEGAT in Berlin now, I've heard. And big brickbats to Agent Mulder, who couldn't keep his pants up."
Scully felt a little sick. "But Mulder, if it was your profile ... didn't Patterson realise?"
Mulder snorted. "Of course he did. He gave me one hell of a chewing-out and told me it should be a lesson to me not to pillow-talk. Maybe in future I would learn to keep my hands off female agents and my mind on the job." He grinned mirthlessly. "Of course, I didn't listen to him and as you can imagine, he had one or two choice comments to make about my later screw-up with Phoebe."
"But you said you didn't talk to Phoebe?"
"No, I'd learned something from the Diana experience. By the time Phoebe was assigned to Serious Fraud, I'd buttoned my lip good and tight on all work-related subjects except the social ones." For a moment he looked thoughtful. "I think that seriously disappointed her. She had a big ambition to work in the ISU, but there wasn't much hope of that with Patterson the way he was, and she didn't have quite the connections Diana had."
"If you didn't talk about work, what on earth did you find to talk about?" Scully couldn't imagine how a relationship between two people working for the same law enforcement agency could have worked without at least some discussion of the job.
"Sometimes I wonder about that myself. We talked a lot about her cases – she would bounce ideas off me, picking my brains. And she was heavily into the social side of the Bureau. I was a member of the basketball and swimming teams, but she was big on the party circuit." Mulder's tone became rather dry. "As you can probably imagine."
"I can see why you didn't trust Phoebe later," she commented after another lengthy pause, "but you must have had some trust of her in the beginning. You married her, after all."
"We've talked about this before," Mulder reminded her. "I told you once that I'm not good at relationships. I was badly burned by the Diana incident – even Phoebe had a tough time cracking my shell after that. The betrayal ... it was big, Scully. She got what she wanted from me, and ditched me. When I tried to talk to her afterwards about the case, about my profile, she behaved as though all we'd had was some kind of cheap one-night stand, when in reality we'd been sleeping together for six weeks. It took a long time to get over that. But ... yeah, I trusted Phoebe. It took a while, but we'd had a pretty heavy relationship at Oxford, and I guess that helped things along. And I think as well that I didn't want to believe lightning could strike twice." His tone became bitter. "I know that's what was on my mind when I first began to realise she was screwing other guys. I went into denial, big time. Time and again I closed my eyes to it, believed her lies, made believe everything was just great between us. Until finally people like Jerry Castamir, Reggie Purdue, and my cousin Annie were telling me to my face that she was making me a laughing stock. She was taking guys home while I was out of town on cases. And I knew that already, really, I just didn't want to face it."
He took a deep breath, and hoped it didn't sound like a sob. "Until one day I came home and found her there with an agent from Hate Crimes – a guy I only knew by name. Afterwards I wondered if she'd planned for me to catch them .... There was no scene, no big showdown. I left the house without saying anything, and went to Annie's for a couple of weeks. Started proceedings for a legal separation. Let my Uncle Max deal with my mother-in-law when she turned up on the doorstep with one of her sisters, weeping and begging me to take Phoebe back and not shame her family." He glanced up at Scully for the first time. "The stupid thing is, I nearly did take her back. Annie practically blew a vein when I told her I was actually considering it."
"Oh Mulder ...."
"Then ... everything else suddenly happened – the OPC inquiry, Phoebe's suspension and disappearance – " Mulder hesitated again. "And the day when I went back to the house I shared with her, and found her waiting for me. And I'm sorry, Scully, but I really can't talk about that, even now. I just ... can't."
"It's okay," she replied softly, but he shook his head.
"No, it's not okay. None of it's okay. You have every right to demand that I trust you, and every right to be angry when I don't. But it's not a matter of whether I actually trust you anymore, because I do trust you. It's that I have an ingrained reflex in me not to tell you things; I don't have to think about it, it just happens. Call it the Diana Effect, if you like." The smile that accompanied this was not humorous.
"So what do we do to break this reflex?" Scully asked him gently.
"I don't know," he murmured and looked down at his hands.
Scully's fingers brushed gently, forgivingly against his cheek and he closed his eyes for a moment, savouring the sensation.
"How about you start by telling me some stuff you've been keeping back?" she suggested.
"Tell me more about this informant. Everything you know about him. That'll be a good start."
"I don't know much. He first turned up just before we went to Ellens Air Base and told me to drop the case, that I was exposing you and myself to unnecessary danger by interfering in it. He said he could give me information, but only while it was in his best interests to do so."
Scully frowned. "Why would he want to?"
"I don't know." Mulder leaned back against the headrest. "At the time I got the impression that he was maybe someone higher up in either the Bureau or the CIA – he had that look about him. But I don't know anymore. He turned up again when we got back from Idaho and talked another load of crap about the danger we were in, and I've seen him twice about this Berube case, although he claims to have fed me other material at other times. That's probably true, I certainly get stuff pushed under my door or left on my desk at work, now and again."
"What does he look like?"
"Nothing remarkable. He's middle-aged, average height, average build – looks like a Government official of some kind in the way he dresses and behaves."
"I just can't believe that anyone would be willing to give you this kind of information out of the goodness of his heart or pure self interest."
"Neither can I, but I guess that's the kind of business we're in."
"What about this Zeus Storage place Langly was talking about?" Scully wanted to know. "Where does that fit in?"
"I don't know. I got the telephone number from some papers on Berube's desk." Briefly Mulder outlined his visit to Berube's house, including the mysterious phonecall from driver of the stolen car that had started the whole thing. "I told Jerry about the phonecall, but I forgot completely about this storage place. I assume he followed up on the paramedic angle, but I can't imagine he had much luck – let's face it, if this guy made it to a hospital, the Arlis PD would have been all over it by now."
"Which leaves Zeus Storage to us, then. What do you want to do, look in the morning?"
Mulder shook his head. "No, let's go now. I've left it too long as it is."
Scully hesitated, her hand on the keys in the ignition. "What about Sam?"
"Frohike said he'd feed him." Mulder saw her expression and grinned. "Don't worry, Scully, he's done it before. Frohike's more domesticated than he looks."
She shuddered delicately as she turned the keys and slipped the car into gear. "Mulder, I don't want to know."
They'd been driving along for five or ten minutes before Mulder abruptly said, "There's something else."
Scully glanced at him uneasily. "What do you mean?"
"Something else I didn't tell you. It's nothing to do with this case or informants," he added hastily, seeing her expression. "It's just something I needed to think over for a while. I still don't know how I feel about it, but you need to know."
"Go on then." Scully tried to keep her voice at ease.
"When I spoke to Skinner this afternoon, he made me an offer. The Bureau wants me back."
For several moments, she didn't know what to say. "In what capacity?" she asked finally.
"As a profiler."
"But - you've always said you wouldn't do that again. I was surprised when you agreed to come in on the Slasher case."
"I know, but the offer he made me was kind of weird." Mulder glanced out of the side window, absently watching the world pass by. "See what you make of it. Skinner reckons AD Rolfe will be out by the end of the year, and they want Bill Patterson to head up the VCS. So they want me to go back to the ISU to be groomed by Bill to take over from him when he leaves."
She shot him a wide-eyed look. "This is a joke, right?"
"If it is, it's not the funniest one I ever heard, and Skinner didn't seem to get a whole lot of belly-laughs out of it either."
Shock held Scully silent for several minutes, and Mulder didn't want to interrupt her ruminations on the matter. He desperately wanted to know what she thought.
"To most agents, this would be the offer of a lifetime," she said finally, very cautiously.
He gave her a curious look. "Would you jump at the chance?"
"Well no, but I'm not a profiler. My dream job would probably be to head up Forensics ... not that it's ever likely to be offered me."
"It's not the only job offer I've received in the last couple of weeks," he told her. "I've had the usual one from Georgetown, and a magazine in New York wants to take me on full-time."
Scully shot him another look. "New York? Are you considering that seriously?"
Mulder shrugged. "No, probably not. But I need to get a full-time job now Sam's starting school, so I admit I haven't dismissed it out of hand." He hesitated. "How would you feel about that?"
"New York? I don't know ...." This was an entirely new idea, and one she wasn't sure she should be grappling with right now. "If you went, would you want me to go with you?"
Mulder gave her a small smile. "Let's put it this way: I wouldn't go without you."
That was reassuring. Scully tried the idea for size, and was surprised by the realisation that it wasn't entirely uncomfortable. "I'd have to get a transfer to one of the field offices, but I don't think that would be a problem with my record over the last couple of years." She shook her head. "Mulder, this is not the time - we should be discussing this some other place."
"Will we?" His voice was soft, sounding rather small and concerned.
She glanced at him, and nodded emphatically. "I will if you will," she replied equally softly.
The Zeus Storage complex on Pandora Street looked like a great many other such buildings on the outskirts of big cities. It wasn't quite the slum area that the factory district Jack Willis had holed up in was, but it had that curious feel of the urban industrial estate; the slightly shabby stillness, the buildings constructed uniformly and without character, solely for the purposes of light machine work and storage. Some of the units would be locked up and abandoned for months at a time with only cursory inspections by the security company hired to mind the estate.
Illegal operations could thrive in such faceless anonymity.
Scully's ID got them past the lone security guard at the entrance to the estate and they were outside the large aluminium doors of the building within minutes.
"Looks pretty deserted," she commented doubtfully, as she parked the car and they got out.
"Hard to say – there are no windows." Mulder surveyed the unit thoughtfully. It was single storey, with floor space that he estimated to be about the same coverage as two average-sized family bungalows. He pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket and shone it onto the doors. "The chain on the doors would seem to be fairly conclusive though. I don't suppose you have a lock pick?"
Scully clucked disapprovingly, but detached Frohike's small device from her keychain and handed it to him.
"You won't find anything," a dry voice said from behind them.
Scully spun on her heel to find a nondescript, middle-aged man in a beige trench-coat eyeing them with a world-weary expression from a short distance away. He was standing just under one of the weak street lights that dotted the estate at irregular intervals.
"I take it this is your informant," she said grimly to Mulder, when she got her voice back.
He nodded, never taking his eyes off the older man. "Good guess."
The man stepped forward slowly, apparently completely at his ease, despite the fact that Scully had reflexively pulled her gun when he first spoke, and was still holding it on him as he approached. "You won't find anything," he repeated, his eyes on Mulder. "The information I gave you is over a week old. They came a several days ago and cleaned this facility, when it became obvious its security had been compromised."
Mulder's brows went up. "Who "cleaned" it?" he asked.
"A black operations unit whose designation I guarantee you will never find in any Government budget sheet." The man heaved a faint sigh, his expression becoming gently resigned. "There is no case here anymore, Mr. Mulder, only a few loose ends that will shortly be tied up."
"What about the driver of that car?" Mulder demanded. "We've yet to find a solid lead on him – "
"Nor will you! The only remotely feasible lead was Dr. Berube, and with his demise – and that of a certain other operative of his organisation – all paths come to a dead end."
Scully's eyes narrowed. "Agent Pendrell's death – "
"Was arranged, as you suspected," he nodded, looking at her directly for the first time. "You can put the gun down, Agent Scully, I'm not a man of violence. Agent Pendrell's demise unfortunately became a matter of some urgency when it became clear just what substance exactly he was studying. There was already an operative within the Georgetown University complex – it was a simple matter to rig his car for an accident."
"What about Jerry Castamir?" she demanded.
For a moment the man studied her thoughtfully, then he turned back to Mulder. "Take a look at the storage facility, if you feel you must. These people are thorough, but … you never know." He gave them both an oddly paternal smile, and turning on his heel, he walked unhurriedly away.
"Hey, wait a minute!" Scully was incensed at this seemingly casual dismissal of them, but Mulder grabbed her arm, restraining her from following the man.
"Let it go, Scully. It's always the same – he's told us as much as he intends to." He unfolded the lockpick. "Let's take a look inside."
"There's a weird smell in here," Scully muttered as she fumbled with her flashlight, trying to find the switch in the pitch darkness of the building. Something crunched sharply under her feet. "Mulder, be careful – there's broken glass everywhere."
"That's not all that's broken." He was panning the narrow beam of his light around the floor and walls, and everywhere there was evidence of destruction – glass, metal, wood, plastics, and many twisted heaps and fragments. "I thought he said they cleaned up? They must have Sam's ideas of housekeeping. Here, there's a door - "
The warning was unnecessary, for the heavy steel door swung smoothly inwards at a touch, with only a faint squeak from the hinges.
"Jeez - !" Mulder stared around at the long room revealed by their flashlights, and the scattered debris covering the floor.
"This is – was – medical equipment," Scully said after a moment, examining some of the smashed glassware at her feet. After a moment she pulled a latex glove out of her pocket and put it on, before stooping to pick up a fractured vessel. "What does this look like to you?" It was an Erlenmeyer flask, the wire clasps around the neck broken and the glass cracked fully down the side. There was a faint greenish residue in the bottom. "More cloned bacteria?" she speculated.
"They must have been brewing it by the vat-load, if it was," Mulder told her. He pointed across the room to where a twisted iron frame held the remains of what had been a huge glass tank. It looked to have been about seven feet long by three feet wide and three feet deep, and when the beam of the flashlight caught it, there was a gleam of slime on the glass.
Scully rummaged in the deep pockets of her trench coat and found a specimen bag which she carefully slipped the broken Erlenmeyer flask into. Mulder watched with interest and amusement. "You were a Girl Scout once, weren't you?" he commented.
"I thought we established that during our visit to the Olympic National Forest." Scully sealed the bag up. "It may be nothing, but I'll run a few tests on the residue and see what I find."
"Better still, let the Gunmen do it. I don't like the idea of your car being fixed like Pendrell's."
She raised a brow at him in the dim light. "You think they'd take the risk of disposing of two agents in the same manner?" But she handed the bag over just the same. "I'll get a scraping from the inside of that tank as well, for comparison."
"Okay. I'll take a look around while you're doing that. It looks like there might have been more tanks over here."
Mulder set off across the room, keeping the beam of the flashlight low and his eyes on the floor in front of him, to avoid tripping over any wreckage. The room was a scattered mess of twisted metal fragments and smashed glass, and here and there were puddles of unidentified viscous liquid. Scanning the room, he became convinced from the material left behind that it had supported considerably more than just the one broken tank Scully was crouched beside. With a little imagination, it was possible to envisage two or three rows of tanks supported on low metal frames, although even Mulder's fertile brain faltered when it came to visualising what they had held. Obviously the green liquid had been a part of it, although whether it was a liquid or more a jelly was a pertinent question – he had accidentally trodden on a lump of something that oozed disgustingly, like the tubs of joke "slime" he remembered from the late 1970s.
Clearly this had been a serious operation, for you didn't just set up rows of glass tanks on frames, and – presumably – perform tests or experiments, just for the hell of it. This had been an important installation to someone, and equally it had been just as important to someone to destroy it ... and important enough to merit the deaths of least two men.
He turned sharply, startled by Scully's near-shout of alarm. She was standing beside the broken tank, shining her flashlight at something behind it.
"What?" He began to make his way back to her, alarmed by the rigid way she was standing and staring. "Scully?" Then he reached her side and saw what she was looking at. "Oh Jesus – "
Behind the broken framework of the tank, and half buried under a pile of other rubbish, was Jerry Castamir. Mulder had seen enough dead bodies during his FBI career to know, just by looking at the face illuminated by the narrow beams of their flashlights, that he had been dead for several days. The body was naked, and despite the discoloration of the slowly decomposing flesh, it was obvious that he'd received a terrible beating before death. The wrists and ankles bore the marks of restraints and his face, aside from being severely bruised, also displayed some curious mottled swelling around the eyes.
Scully broke the silence by fumbling clumsily in her coat pocket and pulling out her cellphone. There were two short beeps as she switched it on and pressed a button on the speed-dial, then a pause.
"This is Special Agent Dana Scully, I.D. number 2317-616. I need to report the death of an Agent – "
Subject: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I hope you're around. I'm sorry I didn't come over tonight,
but I went over to Quantico for some test results, and I
was late finishing there, so I just came straight home.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I'm here. What gives? You sound tired.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I *am* a little bit tired. I've been in meetings all day.
Don't worry, I'm planning to have a bath and an early
I got the test results back from the substances in the
flask we found, and the tank. It was badly decomposed
and we couldn't come up with more than that it might
have been some kind of nutritive mix, similar to the gel
used in petrie dishes. The only bacteria present were the
normal kind found in rotting material – no viruses, cloned
or otherwise. I have to concur with the Gunmen, Mulder
– whatever was in Berube's flask, this bears no resemblance
to it. My best guess is that they were growing something
in those tanks, but it could just have been pond weed for
all we can tell. This is another dead end, I'm afraid.
The only real news I have for you is one weird detail –
I managed to get a look at the autopsy results for Jerry
while I was at Quantico. Mulder, he wasn't beaten to death
– he drowned. His lungs were full of that fluid from the
tanks, and he was covered in a thin coating of it. Even his
hair was saturated, right down to the scalp. Impossible as it
seems, I have to wonder – was he drowned in one of those
Mulder, I don't know what to think about this. I'm supposed
to be compiling a full report of this case and what led up to
Jerry's death for Skinner by lunchtime tomorrow, and I don't
have a clue what to say.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Just tell the truth, Scully, that's all you can do. Even Skinner
will have to accept that there are something things that can't
I feel bad about Jerry. I keep wondering if, maybe if I'd gone
to check out that building earlier - but there's no telling what
could have made a difference, we just have to keep looking
for the answers.
As for the analyses of the stuff in the flask and tanks,
it's disappointing, but I guess I'm not really surprised. I don't
think we would ever have been allowed to find that stuff if
there had been a half chance of us working out what it was.
Did you find out what happened to Agent Krycek?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
No. Skinner still has agents out looking for him, but his
apartment has been stripped and his phone disconnected.
He's been actively named as a suspect in Jerry's murder
since I showed Skinner the Gunmen's tape, but so far we
can't find a scrap of information on him that's reliable. His
Academy records have been wiped, and we can't find any
traces of family or associates. Obviously he's not the man
he claimed to be, but how the hell he got past the Bureau's
screening programme is anyone's guess. But – surprise,
surprise – Assistant Director Rolfe's name is being whispered
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I think I'm beyond surprise now. It's going to be interesting
to see what actually happens to Rolfe.
Let's change the subject slightly - do you know when Jerry's
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Subject: Re: Are you there?
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It's on Friday at 2.00pm. I ... have a meeting right
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Mulder remembered this waiting area only too well – the severe dark panelling, austere benches, and intimidating FBI shields on the walls. And just as he remembered, here he was, sitting on one of the hard benches wearing a dark suit, crisp white shirt and subdued tie. If it hadn't been for the visitor pass hanging from his breast pocket, he might have been fooled into thinking the last five years had been a figment of his imagination.
A little way down the corridor was a reception desk: the woman sitting behind it was as old and austere as the decor, and she kept shooting him suspicious looks. She probably remembered him from the old days. In retaliation, Mulder took off his suit jacket, rolled up his shirt sleeves and proceeded to leave sunflower seed husks all over the floor.
That for the FBI and their Office of Professional Review. He wasn't one of their agents.
He wondered idly if the position in the ISU would still be open to him after this.
A door opened a few feet away and Assistant Director Skinner appeared, holding the door wide for Scully to exit. She shot him a quick, wary look as she passed him, which he returned inscrutably before pulling the door shut again behind her. Then she was walking towards Mulder, taking a deep breath.
He stood up to meet her, appreciatively noting her slender figure in the crisp, severely tailored charcoal jacket and skirt with the stacked heels, even as he noted the white, set look on her face and the strain in her eyes.
"How did it go?" The words dropped into the disapproving silence of the waiting area, and brought another suspicious look from the receptionist.
For a moment he thought Scully might actually cry; her eyes blinked rapidly and her mouth tightened. But she was, as ever, in control of herself. "Well … I guess this wipes out the commendation I got for the Slasher case," she commented after a moment, and tried to give him a weak smile.
"Screw 'em," was Mulder's response, and the quiet words came out thick with anger on her behalf.
But Scully shook her head, and her chin lifted defiantly. "No, Mulder. There's still too much work to be done."
God, she was an amazing woman. He nodded slowly and gave her a small smile in return.
"Now … we need to get moving if we're not to be late for Jerry's funeral," she told him.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Mulder's tone was gentle: there would be a lot of other agents present and once again Scully was getting the blame for a death that was not her fault.
"Mulder, he was my partner. I couldn't stop this happening to him, but the least I can do is put aside my own feelings and see him laid to rest."
"We'd better get moving then." He picked up his coat, and they walked out of the building.
They spent the evening at Annie's house, after an impromptu invitation, and drifted home to Mulder's later.
Scully was up to her neck in hot soapy water when Mulder finally walked into the bathroom after putting Sam to bed. Her expression was distant and pensive; it took two attempts on his part before she noticed the tall glass of red wine he was dangling in front of her nose.
"What? ... Oh, thanks." She accepted the glass and sipped slowly.
Meanwhile, Mulder set his own glass down on the wide lip of the bathtub and quickly shucked his jeans and boxers. "Move up a little."
"Hm?" Surprised, Scully sat up and slid forward enough for him to ease in behind her. "Is Sam asleep?"
"He's out like a light. So long as we don't get too noisy in here, we should be okay." He settled back into the water with a sigh and pulled Scully back against his chest. "This okay for you?"
"It's great." She leaned back against him and watched the water lapping perilously close to the rim of the tub. "Are you planning to get noisy in here, Mulder?" she teased.
She felt the chuckle more as a rumble in his chest. "I don't know – are you having ideas, Agent Scully?"
"Only that this is a really great bathtub. Really ... big."
Mulder grinned. "I bought it with you in mind," he responded gravely. He grabbed a sponge from the rack hanging beside the bath and dipped it into the water, swabbing it gently over her arms and shoulders. Scully murmured contentedly. "You looked worried when I came in," he continued after a moment. "What's on your mind?"
"Jerry," she replied reluctantly, and Mulder grimaced. "I keep thinking there's more I could have done … some signs I missed, or questions I should have asked. I feel responsible for getting him into the Berube business - "
"Stop that now," he told her, gently but firmly. "If anyone is responsible for getting the pair of you into this, it's me. You're not responsible for his death either – the person or persons who killed him have to answer for that. And they will."
"You can't be sure of that, Mulder," she said tiredly.
"Yes, I can. I don't want to sound dramatic, but no other outcome is acceptable. We owe it to Jerry to find these people and bring them to book."
"'We'?" She turned her head slightly towards him, questioning.
"Yeah, we." Mulder remembered the sponge in his hand and ran it over her body again. "I've made up my mind. I'm going back to the ISU … if they still want me."
Scully tried to relax muscles that had suddenly tensed in surprise. "That's sudden, isn't it? What made up your mind?"
He shrugged. "I've just been thinking." Then he smiled wryly, and she could hear it in his voice when he spoke. "Trying to think without my prejudices against Bill Patterson getting in the way. It makes sense for me to go back there. I'll be teaching wherever I go – "
"Not if you take the job in New York," she commented blandly.
He snorted. "You don't think I was serious about that, do you?"
"I don't know … it seemed that way for a while."
"I only seriously considered it tonight when Annie started nagging me to get a safe, steady job for Sam's sake."
Scully chuckled. "Go on. You'll be teaching – "
"I'd be teaching either way, but at least at Quantico I'd be teaching the subject to people who are really going to use the information to make a difference. Yes, I'll be profiling, but I'll have some say in which cases I take on. And if I take over from Bill – "
"If? I thought it was a given."
Mulder grinned. "You don't know Bill. He wants the VCS job, but it'll nearly kill him to have to take his fingers out of the ISU pie. I wouldn't put it past him to back out at the last minute."
Scully smiled slightly and stretched one foot out, lifting it out of the foamy water and wriggling her toes idly. "You're still going to have to work with him for a few months ... maybe as long as a year," she said presently, as he continued the slow, caressing strokes with the sponge. "Think you can handle that?"
"I think so. I know Bill – and besides, he needs me back in the ISU more than I need to be there. That's got to be worth something."
"This is a different tune to the one you were singing during the Slasher case," she observed.
"I'm beginning to think you don't want me back in the FBI!" Mulder retorted, mock-injured.
Scully's smiled became wicked. "I'm the one who'll have to listen to all your whinging and moaning about Patterson later, remember? I'm just playing devil's advocate."
"Oh, you're a little devil all right!" And he suddenly dropped the sponge, and launched a tickling assault on her sides.
A while later, after Mulder had mopped up the worst of the spillages and refreshed the tub with more hot water, Scully lay snuggled against his chest, her head under his chin, idly gazing at a splotch of foam on the tiled wall opposite.
"This is nice," she murmured, feeling him press a kiss to the top of her head. Her hair was wet and a little soapy, but he didn't seem to care. "I could get used to this."
"Think so?" His voice was amused, but equally lazy. "We must be getting pretty near the wrinkled stage by now."
"No, not just this – " Scully splashed one hand in the water illustratively, " – I mean this. Us. This feels so comfortable."
"Good." The word was simple, but said with great depth of feeling. After a moment or two, he added, "We never did finish that conversation, did we?"
"Which conversation was that?"
Mulder hesitated, remembering the very different feelings that had been flowing in her office the day she told him Jerry was missing. And the evening at the Gunmen's office, in the car outside. He decided not to remind her. "Never mind. Here – sit up a minute."
"What?" Scully blinked at him, confused. He was pulling himself into a sitting position and she was forced to sit up to avoid ending up face down in the water. Perplexed and a little miffed at the mood being broken, she sat back on her heels as he pulled himself up and out of the bathtub. Mulder grabbed a towel, more to avoid excessive dripping than out of modesty, and padded out of the bathroom.
Scully was inclined to be annoyed at his abrupt disappearance, but admitted to herself it was difficult to be peeved with someone whose body wore all over moisture and bath foam so nicely. She slid back into the water, and leaned arms and chin on the edge of the tub, waiting to see what happened next.
When he returned, Mulder had dried off a little but was still naked, a view which she appreciated. He tossed the towel over the toilet seat in the corner and she saw that he held a very small velvet box in his hand …. She sat upright, suddenly realising what was happening.
He gave her a grin that was almost shy. "I know I've asked you this once before, but – "
Mulder blinked. "Yes? Just like that?"
"What did you want, an argument about it?" Scully felt a happy bubble of laughter rising up in her throat.
Mulder shook his head, laughing softly. "Scully, I know you're the one with the gun in this relationship, but you've got to learn to let me handle some of the traditional male prerogatives here!"
"Oh, I don't know ...." The little demon of mischief was back in her smile as she studied his naked figure. "Looks to me like you're the one with the gun right now, Mulder – "
"- The question is, what are you going to do with it?"
"So they're getting married – how sweet!" Phoebe Green let out a peal of laughter. "It's a little rude of him not to hand me the 'get' first, of course, but I suppose they'll make it a registry office affair – that should ruffle a few feathers in that intolerable family of his."
"You think this is funny?" Krycek glowered at her from a safe distance. After witnessing what she'd done to Jerry Castamir – granted the guy had been incredibly stupid, but surely no one deserved a death like that? – he preferred to keep at least the width a room between them.
"Of course!" Her glancing look at him was contemptuous. "At least we know where all three of them will be in the future. Although I don't like the idea of him being back in the ISU. It's dangerous having him inside the FBI at all, giving him an official sanction for his interests, but for him to be inside the ISU, actually running it .... No, that's not a good thing."
"Why is it not a good thing?" a dry voice asked quietly from a wing-backed chair by the window.
Krycek turned to look at the old man, watching a thin stream of cigarette smoke drift over his head. He felt a tiny shiver go up his spine. Of the two of them, he wasn't sure who he feared more. Phoebe was the most unpredictable, with a casual violence in her nature that gave even Krycek himself a pause, but the old man wielded the most power. He was the one with the contacts, the information. The fine details of The Project, as he liked to call it.
Even Phoebe was wary of him. "Think of the influence he'll have – the brief for the Section Head of the ISU is enormous," she replied after a moment. "He'll be second only to Assistant Director Hill."
"And think how that limits him." The old man took a careful drag on his cigarette and studied the cherry-red tip of it for a moment. "I'm wondering if perhaps we've been concentrating on the wrong one for the last couple of years."
"How? You've said all along that Fox Mulder is the key – "
"And he is. But don't forget the investment we have in the boy. And potentially there could be an even greater investment in Agent Scully, if we ... cultivate ... her carefully. After all, she is the primary focus on the x-files now. We can nurture that. Guide her. Lead her in the directions we want her to take." He took another thoughtful pull on the cigarette. "And of course, there's her very useful involvement with our other two subjects."
He leaned forward suddenly, grinding the stub of the cigarette out in an ashtray decisively.
"Yes, I think there's a great deal of potential in this situation."
~ finis ~