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The Common Fate of All Things Rare

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J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
FRIDAY, JANUARY 17TH
8:56 AM

When the phone finally rings this morning, I dive to pick it up, my fingers closing on the receiver as though I am strangling my partner by proxy. I haven't heard from her in nearly thirty six hours. The aggravated manager from the Philadelphia hotel where she'd been staying had no clue about Miss Scully's whereabouts. She had not checked out; that's all he knew.

"Where the hell have you been?" I bark into the phone.

"Agent Mulder…"

I know Scully's voice goes deeper when she's tired, but I'm pretty sure that baritone means I've just yelled at my boss. "Sorry, sir. I thought it was Scully."

Skinner's pause is too long and it makes the hairs at the back of my neck prickle.

"I just got a call from the Philadelphia P.D.," he says. "Agent Scully was injured. She's at the hospital."

I feel something hard crush my chest and the pencil I've been playing with snaps in half between my fingers. "What happened?"

"The suspect is one Edward Jerse. He apparently tried to shove her into an incinerator yesterday morning. He's also the prime suspect in the murder of one of his neighbors the day before."

"Where was this?" I throw both broken pencil halves towards the trash can and miss.

"Near Center City in Philly. They've got her at the University of Pennsylvania Hospital right now."

I'm already yanking my coat on and come close to ripping the lining in my haste. "How bad is she hurt?"

"A few bruised ribs and a concussion. Fairly banged up, but nothing life-threatening."

The knot in my stomach loosens some. "Can I bring this Jerse guy back to DC for a cozy 8x8 suite on Uncle Sam's dime?"

“Don't be a pain in the ass, Mulder," Skinner growls on the other end of the line. "Just go check on her for now. And play nice with the Philly cops until I can get someone reputable from the local field office to deal with this."

I feel like kicking something hard, but instead I hang up, take the steps two at a time, and requisition a car.

**********

UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA HOSPITAL
PHILADELPHIA, PA
12:52 PM

My information on what happened is still sketchy at best. I spent the most of the drive scrounging up details, but all I could gather was that the guy called the FBI switchboard asking for Dana Scully. And that her injuries occurred shortly afterwards. The charred remains of his neighbor were found in the same incinerator where he'd planned to shove Scully. He was still at the scene when EMTs and the police arrived, and the Philly PD had him in custody.

No one could give me much info on how this Edward Jerse character figured into our investigation. His apartment was well south of the Russian neighborhoods and he had no prior criminal history to indicate involvement with Pudovkin or Svo.

I am more and more curious to know what led her to him in the first place and I have to control the urge to fidget impatiently as I stop at the nurse's station to find out where she is.

When I reach Scully's room I see two men by her door; local detectives by the looks of them. The younger one is sitting and jotting things on an immaculate white pad while his colleague is scanning a file and twirling the corner of an impressive walrus mustache. He's the first one to spot me.

"Agent Mulder?"

"Is she in here?"

The young guy stands up. He's got the fresh-faced air of a Mormon missionary. "Yes, but the nurse is with her." He extends his hand and I shake it briefly. “I'm Detective Smith and this is Detective Gouveia. We're hoping you can help us with a couple of things." Smith runs a finger between his collar and neck somewhat nervously. "Your partner…well, she's not been very forthcoming.”

Hasn't she? Take a number.

"Forthcoming about what? You caught the guy who hurt her, right?"

Detective Smith looks sympathetic. “We did, but there are a few things that don't quite add up and, because of the circumstances, Agent Scully's been a little…reticent."

Gouveia snorts. It complements his facial hair and I consider offering him a dead mackerel. Or slapping him with one.

I glare at him. "If you have something to say, just say it."

He shrugs. "Seems Agent Scully and Mr. Jerse spent the evening together. Had a few drinks, hit up a tattoo parlor. And I guess it was a pretty nice time because she never went back to her hotel that night."

She did *what*? "I think you've gotten your wires crossed somewhere, Detective.”

Smith taps the edge of his notebook against his palm, obviously hesitant to continue. "Your partner requested a blood test. Jerse claims his tattoo drove him nuts, and Agent Scully seems to think his behavior might have been caused by the ink used. Which happens to be the same ink used in her own tattoo."

"My partner got tattooed?" I must have fallen down a trapdoor through the multiverse. This is definitely not my world. I’m expecting a white rabbit with a big watch any minute now.

"Tramp stamp, dead center. Very classy," Gouveia sneers.

I feel the muscles in my hands start to curl into fists. Play nice, Skinner said. Fine. I'll play nice. And then I'll snatch this case out from under them as soon as they tell me what I need to know.

The young detective moves between me and Gouveia with the fluid ease of a guy who knows it’s his job to soften the edges. I wonder if Scully has ever felt that way around me. I turn towards him, cutting his partner out of the conversation.

"And she just told you all of this?"

"Not exactly. The first time we met Agent Scully was yesterday morning. Kaye Schilling had been reported missing and we were going door to door in the building. When we got to Jerse's place, it was your partner who answered. "

"And?" And I know exactly what, but I feel a perverse desire to defend Scully's honor. If anyone's going to cast aspersions on her, it will be me. I'm so noble that way.

"She was wearing a man's shirt, Agent Mulder, and her appearance generally indicated that she'd just woken up.”

“We’re big fans of Occam’s Razor,” Gouveia points out.

Oh, Scully, what the fuck were you doing there?

I know the operative word is somewhere in that sentence and I just can't believe that a woman who has marveled at the stupidity of casual sex could ever be so reckless. Do all of her dates involve one night stands and body modification?

I really don't know how to feel about this. There are so many options, and I know that tonight I will have the fun of experiencing and dissecting them all. In any case, right now all I can do is double bag everything, seal it tight, and slam the lid shut on the great shoe box labeled "She Keeps Me Guessing."

I fix Smith with a cool, even gaze. "Tell me more about the tattoo. Jerse said it drove him nuts?"

Smith flips some pages on his pad before answering. I think he does this more to avoid looking at me rather than a need for a memory boost.

"Mr. Jerse believes that his tattoo directed him to kill Miss Schilling. Agent Scully thinks that he's been suffering from hallucinations brought on by ergot poisoning, due to contaminated rye used for the red ink of the tattoo. We've sent his blood to the lab and we're waiting for the results to see if this theory pans out."

"Where's this tattoo parlor?"

"Some Russian dive near Bustleton, though Jerse was the one who told us about it. Your partner…well, apart from the ergot poisoning thing, she refuses to speak to us. Which is why we'd really appreciate your help."

I shove both hands in my pockets and rock back on my heels. "Well, I'm afraid you're out of luck. Phone records indicate this guy called the Bureau to ascertain that Scully was in fact a federal agent. He knew it when he attacked her, which places his assault under federal jurisdiction. You fellas better run along and get busy if you want him for murder."

Smith closes his eyes and looks tired while Gouveia takes a step closer to me. "In the future, keep your partner on a shorter leash instead of wasting our time. You never know; she might like it."

I don't even think. I react. My hand is around Gouveia's meaty throat and his head slams against the wall as my fingers dig in under his jaw. "You watch your goddamned mouth."

He smirks. "Thoughtless of me. I'm sure this affects you on a personal level."

I push him against the wall a little harder and Smith taps my elbow. "You don't want to do that, Agent Mulder."

Oh, but I do.

I hesitate and then release Gouveia with some regret. He clears his throat and straightens his tie.

"Let's go," says Detective Smith.

"We'll be in touch, Agent Mulder," Gouveia tells me. It sounds like a threat.

As they leave I can hear him tell Smith, "I don't know why he's so worked up. I would give my right hand to have a kinky redhead for a partner. No offense, Matt."

"Lewis, if you had a kinky redhead for a partner, you'd need your right hand more than ever."

***

Same smell of antiseptic and bleach. Same low electric hum of monitors and machinery. Same irritating squeak of dress shoes on worn-out linoleum.

I've lost track of how many times I've lived this moment, heading down a drab hallway to find Scully wearing another shapeless cotton gown in another uncomfortable bed. The scenery shifts a bit, the background players have different faces, but Scully and I are once again the stars of Hospital Room Improv.

A nurse emerges from Scully's room and treads silently down the hall in her rubber shoes. I catch the edge of the door and push it back open.

Scully's picking at the blanket draped over her, a magazine lying closed on her lap. She's got a goose egg on her forehead and miscellaneous cuts and abrasions about the face and neck. There's a nasty looking bruise on her right arm, just above the elbow. And another set of bruises above it that appear to be finger marks.

She turns when the door creaks and her eyes widen a fraction at the sight of me, but she quickly smoothes her face back into a disinterested mask. "Mulder. You didn't have to come all the way here."

"What happened, Scully?"

She speaks to me as though I am a particularly dim child, her voice a precise monotone. "You sent me to Philadelphia on a case. I was attacked by a murder suspect. Now I'm at the hospital. I could have told you this over the phone."

I cross my arms and give her an arch look. "If you'd called. Which would have been nice. Let me know you were okay and everything. Besides, it seems you've left out a few significant details. Sloppy reporting, Agent Scully."

She pins me with a withering gaze. "Well, you obviously found them out, so you can go back home now. And thanks for checking up on me."

"Not so fast. You're an FBI agent, as you may recall. Even when you're engaged in…recreational activities. It appears discovering your G-woman identity set Jerse off. You know that makes this a federal investigation."

"And you've decided to add this to your UFO-rich workload? How chivalrous." She opens the magazine and examines it incuriously.

"No. Skinner just told me to play nice with the local boys until the Philly field office coughs up someone he trusts enough to handle it."

She looks up at this. "Handle what? There doesn't need to be an investigation. I'm not pressing charges."

"The guy tried to turn your ass into S'mores and you won't press charges?"

"He's already being charged for murder; there's no need."

"It's not your call."

She shrugs indifferently. "What else is new?"

She's letting me know something with this; something important about her and her needs and the way we work. And in any other circumstances I would have caught her pitch and demanded to know what the hell kind of a curve ball she was throwing at me. But I need to stand on firmer ground to do it properly; not here in this sterile room as she looks at me like that, all banged up and distant and strange.

So I change the subject. "Can I see your tattoo? It sounds kind of hot."

I never said I was going for transitional subtlety.

She sits up fully, wincing as she does, and drops her magazine to the night table before turning to me. "Is there something you'd like to ask me that actually pertains to the case?"

I arrange my face into a thoughtful expression. "If Comrade Svo is Boris Badenov, does that make me Rocky or Bullwinkle? I'm thinking Bullwinkle because I'm taller, but I look better in hats than you."

She closes her eyes briefly and exhales a long-suffering sigh. "They're releasing me this afternoon pending some blood work. Go home."

"Yeah, about that blood work. Not just a tattoo, Scully. A psychedelic tattoo. You really know how to live it up in the City of Brotherly Love. I usually just get a cheesesteak."

She turns her head to stare out the window and I see more bruises smudged against the white line of her neck. There's one tucked into the tendons of her throat that looks suspiciously like a bite mark. For Christ's sake, Scully.

”Is that what's making you act like this, Mulder? That I did something you didn't expect? That I didn't fit your profile?"

Mostly.

"What's upsetting me is that you were almost killed and that you don't seem too concerned about it. I need your help to get this guy. Do you know what he did to his neighbor? He dismembered her with poultry shears and a saw and stuffed her into a cardboard box. He then fed her piece by piece into the incinerator, which is where they found her bones and her teeth and the melted locket she got as a graduation gift. "

Scully goes still for a moment, then her shoulders drop a fraction and she looks down at her hands. The knuckles of the right are scraped raw. "We had a few drinks. We went to the, uh, tattoo parlor and then back to his place. The weather was bad. I decided not to drive back to the hotel."

She swallows and then I see a stream of dark blood come from her nose and spill over her lips and chin.

"Scully! Jesus." I look around for a tissue but she's already got one, dabbing at her face while she pinches her nose and tilts her chin upwards to staunch the flow.

"It's nothing. The air in here is so dry."

Her nose isn't broken so I must accept her word that I cannot lay this at the feet of Edward Jerse. Back to questioning. "What happened in the morning? The detectives said that you answered the door."

She drops her hand from her face and looks at me sharply. "You know all this already then. Do you just like hearing me say it?" Her voice is angry now, which is almost a welcome change from the flat affect of before.

"I need your perspective on what happened. Details, his frame of mind, triggers. Help me get into his head."

"Why? He's been caught and he's confessed. You don't need to profile him now. Just drop it."

"Aren't you curious to know why he did what he did? What made him tick?"

"He was hallucinating, Mulder. You want me to get into someone's head, you bring me a corpse and a skull key. This is your area of expertise. Not mine."

Maybe she doesn't want me to get into his head because I might look into her own while I'm there. "Why are you protecting him? He must have been great in the sack, Scully. But the thing is, you’re federal property and the government doesn't like seeing its agents get smacked around. Even if they like it a little."

A subtle change comes over her face, hardening her jaw and narrowing her eyes ever so slightly. "Get. Out."

I glance at my watch. "I've got a hot date with your boy toy anyway. I'll send him your love."

She doesn't deign to reply; just stares fixedly ahead in her maddening way.

I leave her room and head for the Burn Center at Temple University Hospital, where I hope for a warmer reception from Ed Jerse: Homicidal Maniac.

***
ST JOHN BURN CENTER
PHILADELPHIA, PA
2:48 PM

I impatiently jiggle some loose change in my pocket, wishing I had X-ray vision while the cop guarding the hospital room unlocks the door. I am about to meet Edward Jerse, the man who laid his hands on my partner.

The man who left bruises on her skin.

Some of which I am now pretty sure she didn't entirely object to.

The man who then beat her up and tried to shove her unconscious body into an incinerator like she was a bag of dry leaves.

I feel the love.

The cop pushes the door open and steps sideways to let me in. An acidic web lines my stomach as I enter.

I expect a monster. I want him ugly, one cleft palate away from white trash inbreeding, but the man who raises his head and stares at me anxiously as I step inside the cramped white room is disappointingly normal. I hear the door being locked behind me, the sound metallic and final.

So that's Ed Jerse. Rather handsome, dark hair, blue eyes and young. Somehow I've always pictured Scully going for older men; the bookish university professor type, with glasses and worn tweed suits. This guy does not fit the profile at all.

The skin around his eyes is red and puffy. Poor baby.

"Edward Jerse? I'm Special Agent Mulder, Agent Scully's partner." I hope the full title will make him shake in his boots.

He straightens up. "Oh, God. Dana. Is she okay?"

Dana.

I pull up a chair and sit in front of his bed, picking up the scents of iodine and cotton and charred flesh from the gauze-wrapped bundle of his arm. "It seems a bit late to worry about her well-being, don't you think, Ed?"

He rubs his eyes and runs his good hand through his hair with the jerky movements of the sleep-deprived. "Look, if you're here to tell me what a crazy sack of shit I am, don't bother. I already know."

"You think you're crazy?"

"My Betty Page tattoo told me to kill people. What do you think?"

Where is your remorseless psychopath when you need one? Virgil Incanto, I miss you, buddy. I want to retain the cold, cold rage I nurtured all the way here, the one that made me want to kick Ed's teeth in and bash his pretty boy face viciously until I hear bone crack; but he looks so lost and dejected I can't seem to get a proper grip on my fury now that I'm sitting in front of him.

This guy is no Ted Bundy.

I rest my elbows over the bed rail and steeple my fingers. "Ed, why don't you start from the beginning and tell me what happened?"

He smirks joylessly. "I got the tattoo I deserved."

And he tells me about his divorce. How ugly it went, how devastated he was when he found out that his wife was moving to California with the kids and he would hardly ever see them.

He tells me about getting blind drunk and getting his tattoo. How he started hearing the voice of a woman in his head mocking him and calling him a loser, how he lost his job because of it and how he thought in his delirium that the downstairs neighbor was taunting him.

"I just wanted that voice to stop. It was right inside my head, She was laughing and...and hateful and it was driving me fucking crazy." He stops and looks at his good hand as if he could still see the blood on it. "I completely lost it."

"Did you kill Kaye Schilling, Ed?"

"Yes, I did."

I was at least expecting an attempt at denial or some 'it wasn't my fault' argument, but Ed doesn't seem to care enough about himself to lie. What I have here is major damaged goods. I stand up and knock at the door. The chubby police officer who let me in opens it and I ask him if we can get something to drink. He nods and the door closes again.

I turn back to Ed, who's staring at the wall. "How did you meet Agent Scully?"

"She came in the shop when I went back in the morning to ask that Russian guy to cover that damn tattoo. He asked her what she thought of it and we got talking."

Hmm…she was probably following Pudovkin. I take the chair and turn it around so I can straddle it. "And you asked her out?"

"Uh…yes. No. I don't know. I was wondering what someone like her was doing in such a crappy neighborhood. She sure didn't look like a regular customer. But she seemed lonely and, uh, kind of sad and there was like a vibe between us, so I gave her my card in case she wanted to go to dinner." He smiles ruefully. "I never thought she'd call."

I know Scully was feeling blue before leaving for Philadelphia – our parting conversation had been less than cheerful and she was mad at me for sending her here. I guess my phone call where I all but questioned her abilities to handle the case didn't help either. Would she have called Jerse if I had been less of an asshole?

A vibe; right.

A knock on the door makes Ed start. I get up and accept the two cans of Dr. Pepper from the cop before returning by the bed. I set one can in front of Ed, who ignores it and gives me a pathetic look.

"Please, at least tell me she's not hurt too badly."

The bastard actually seems to sincerely care. I open my drink and take a sip. "She's got a concussion and some bruised ribs. It must hurt like hell when she breathes. I bet you hit her pretty hard, didn’t you, Ed?"

Jerse makes a pained sound in his throat and takes hold of the wheeled stainless steel tray table. He does his one-armed best to steady it, then slams his forehead right on the edge.

"Hey!"

His soda rolls onto the bed as he does it again, and again. The idiot wants to split his head open.

"Ed! Cut it out!"

I move around the bed to stop him and wrap my arm around his throat in a headlock as he struggles against me. "Ed, that's enough."

He suddenly goes slack and I release him.

"Are you done?" I ask behind his back.

He rubs his hand against his neck and, as his hospital gown collar slips a bit, I notice something. Oh, this can't be what I think it is. I push his head to one side and pull on the fabric to take a closer look. Holy fuck. It *is* exactly what I think it is.

I may lack Scully's forensic expertise, but I hardly need dental records to know whose teeth left that neat ring above his collarbone. His 'n' hers. How cute.

Ed shrugs me off and pulls at his gown self-consciously before looking up at me – his tone suddenly defensive. "I didn't rape her, you know."

"That's not what she said."

His eyes narrow. He knows immediately that I'm baiting him. "You're lying."

“How do you know?"

"Because she wouldn't."

"You think a one-night stand gives you insight into what my partner would and wouldn't do?"

"Maybe I know more than you think. She talked to me, man." He retrieves the can from his bed and traces patterns on it with his thumb. "Sometimes it's easier to let go with a stranger."

And that she did. "Too bad you tried to kill her. You guys might have had something really special."

His head drops and he is quiet for a while, turning the can over and over between his fingers. When he looks back up his eyes are bright and pleading. "Could you please tell her how sorry I am? It won't mean much to her now, but for what it's worth, I really am."

"I'll let her know." I stand up and cross the room. The guard sees me through the window and ambles over to unlock the door.

I glance back at Ed, who is staring at his drink as though he's waiting for a sign. "You're right, Ed. I was lying. If you had done such a thing to her, you'd be dead already."

He nods and, for a heartbeat, we share an understanding. But the moment passes and I leave him to his demons while I head back into the stinging January drizzle to face my own.

***
J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
TUESDAY, JANUARY 21st
7:51 AM

I'm walking down the hall more briskly than usual, the sharp click of my heels making me feel efficient and purposeful. In addition to a sarcastic reception from Mulder, yesterday morning brought unabashed stares and some whispering, so I arrived an hour early today in hopes of avoiding an encore. I'm almost to the elevator when Skinner's assistant comes up to me.

"Agent Scully? Assistant Director Skinner would like to see you right away."

I knew this was coming and that not being summoned yesterday was only a stay of execution. My stomach lurches slightly anyway.

I follow Kim up to Skinner's office and notice her sneaking in a stare when she thinks I'm not looking. I feel like slamming the door in her face, but instead push it gently closed as protocol dictates.

“Welcome back, Agent Scully,” Skinner says.

“Thank you, sir.”

“Back on your feet?”

If Mulder had said that, I'd assume the word choice was deliberate. But coming from Skinner, I let it slide. “Yes, sir.”

“Good. Please, take a seat.” I perch at the edge of a chair, attempting to look both relaxed and engaged, which is no mean feat in my present state.

Skinner returns to his desk. He looks at me like I’m some new fish he never noticed was in his tank before. “I understand you’re reluctant to participate in the federal case against Edward Jerse.”

“That’s correct, sir.” I’m sitting very straight with my hands resting flat over my thighs, trying to focus on how the fabric of my skirt feels under my palms. Anything to make me forget that the soles of my feet are itching with the urge to bolt.

Skinner folds his hands on the desk. “Unfortunately, it's not really an option. The man tried to kill you. We just can’t let him get away with this.”

“With all due respect, sir, he did not attack me because I was a federal agent; he attacked me because he was hallucinating.”

“From what we've pieced together, he called the Bureau switchboard asking for you just before the attack. That seems to indicate your position may have been a motive.”

I shift in my seat, trying not to wince as a stabbing pain shoots through my battered ribs. “I doubt he can be held responsible for his actions at that time. He's already confessed to murder and it is my opinion that he committed his crimes under the influence of a psychotropic substance. Keeping him in prison longer for his assault on me isn't going to make the world a safer place. What difference does this make?"

Skinner pushes his glasses further up his nose and settles back in his seat. “The difference, Agent Scully, is that if the Bureau goes after him, we can't be accused of going easy on the guy.”

Just because he got lucky with one of our agents, is what he doesn’t say. But the unspoken words hang in the air like a greasy fog.

I remain silent and stare at the brass lamp on his desk.

Skinner brings his hands forward and leans towards me. “What the hell were you thinking, Dana? Do you have any idea how bad this makes the Bureau look?” His voice is edged with the tremors of someone trying very hard not to shout.

I look straight at him. “Well, I guess that makes us even now.”

Skinner blinks, the Marine equivalent of a shocked gasp. Yes, Walter, I remember when you were an embarrassment to the Bureau too.

“Don’t play games with me, Scully. You were on a case,” he hisses between clenched teeth.

“Actually, I wasn’t anymore. I’d given the case to the local PD. And if this is such an embarrassment to the Bureau, why the hell do you want to drag it in front of a courtroom?"

“I don't want to drag this in front of a judge any more than you do, but the law is the law. You're an FBI agent, and your behavior should always reflect that. We take pride in the standards we set; even Mulder knows that. You’re the last person I thought I would have to give this lecture to.”

Oh, I’ve had enough of this.

“Are we talking double standards here, sir? It's okay for you to pick up a woman at a bar but I can’t accept a dinner invitation from a guy I just met?"

“I was set up. I didn’t get drunk and get myself a tattoo.”

“I wasn’t drunk.”

Skinner stares at me for a long time. The new fish may not be a fish at all. “I didn’t ask you up here to argue with you about your life choices, Agent Scully. The Bureau will be moving forward with the case against Edward Jerse, whether you like it or not. It's my hope that I will not have to order you to comply.”

He opens a folder on his desk and pulls out two thick folders before picking up the phone. "Agent Mulder? I'd like you to come up to my office. Agent Scully's here already and I have an assignment for the two of you."

I sit rigidly in my chair and try not to look sullen while Skinner organizes his paperwork. Mulder appears in mercifully short order and takes a seat next to me. "So what's the assignment?" he asks with contrived lightness, keeping his eyes on Skinner. I don't seem to register much beyond the chair I'm sitting in.

Skinner hands a folder to each of us and begins speaking as we flip through pages of gory details.

"A series of kidnappings and homicides in Baltimore. The local police aren't making much headway and our guy observes a strict timetable. He kidnaps a victim, kills her, then leaves her body at the home of the next woman he kidnaps. This occurs five days from the date of abduction. His second victim was found this morning. The woman who we hope will not become the third was taken from the apartment."

Mulder looks up from an 8x10 glossy. "Sir, this case is clearly disturbing, but it's not an X-File."

"This guy is working fast, Mulder. Serial killers are a breed all their own, and it's a breed you know well. The ritualistic elements of the crime scene were enough to get it assigned to you."

Mulder throws an uncertain look towards me. He thinks I’m not ready to go back in the field. I avoid his gaze and examine a picture of one of the dead women. She is lying on a wooden floor, her left breast cut away and the ribs exposed. A patch of bone has been cut away and then replaced just slightly off-center. Her throat has been slit several inches superior to the clavicles. Just above her head, the word "sinister" is scratched into the floor. To say the least, I think.

Mulder is reading a page of the report. "Their hearts were removed?"

Skinner nods grimly. "And replaced with small metal beads that have been identified as selenium. April Larsen, the woman taken today, was a nurse at Union Memorial. She never showed up for her 6 AM shift and when police went to her apartment to check on her, they found the body of Heike Brandstatter, the last woman taken. I want you both to head to Baltimore immediately. Based on the coroner's estimated time of death, the women are killed approximately twenty-four hours prior to being left at the scene. We have less than four days."

He watches us intently for a moment and then turns his attention to another file. "That'll be all," he says.

Mulder opens the door in his oblivious, gentlemanly way. I walk out into the hall, studiously ignoring Kim's transparent curiosity.

Mulder and I head to the elevator. "I need to go get my coat from the office," he says. "And grab some clothes from my apartment. You need anything?"

"No, I still have my bags in the trunk."

He presses the down button. "Okay. Well, uh, do you want to meet me at my place or should I pick you up here? Or what?"

He's trying, I tell myself. Be appreciative. "Thanks, Mulder. Pick me up at Constitution Gardens, would you?"

His face registers surprise, but he doesn't comment. "Sure thing. I'll be about an hour, then we can hit the road." He presses the elevator button a few more times. "Are you sure you're up for this, Scully? They mostly need a profiler for this case. Skinner would understand if you need more time to recover."

The elevator arrives and we step in. "Thanks Mulder, but I'm okay."

He looks like he wants to say something else, but I stare ahead until the doors slide open at the lobby. "I'll see you in an hour or so, then," I tell him.

I walk back out into the gray morning and hail a cab.