by Dawn Zemke
art by Theresa Filardo
by Dawn Zemke
KEYWORDS: Casefile, MSR
SPOILERS: Through VS9
ARCHIVE: Two weeks exclusively on VS10, then Gossamer
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to
SUMMARY: How far will one man go to see justice served?
FEEDBACK: Gratefully accepted.
AUTHORS' NOTES: Many thanks to Michelle, dtg, and Vickie for insightful beta, and to Suzanne for both beta and medical expertise.
Helen Rezek tugged the pillow off her head, flopped onto her back, and glared at the ceiling. Heavy footfalls--what was he wearing, ski boots?--interspersed with sporadic thumps and thuds. No basketball yet, but it sounded like he was just warming up.
Why me? She asked herself. Fifty apartments in this building and I get stuck living under Mr. Insomnia. Why doesn't he just move in with Red permanently and put us all out of our misery?
Okay, so he was good looking. She and Carmen had bumped into him at the mailboxes a few times, and even bathed in sweat the man was gorgeous. Carmen was particularly fond of the cropped off blue tee shirt that displayed his abs to rock-hard perfection. She had stared at 42--Mulder, his name was--with a come hither look of such unbridled lust that Helen had wished she could sink through the floor. Subtlety was not one of Carmen's strong suits.
So, yeah, he was easy on the eyes. But he was still a pain in the ass.
And the insomnia was the least of it. Gunshots, break-ins, dead
Another thud, this one so loud she nearly jumped out of her skin.
The sharp crack of her knuckles against the wood felt good--so good she had to rein in the impulse to let loose and pound. At first she received no answer, though the thumping and thudding abruptly ceased. Helen gritted her teeth and knocked again, more insistently. Too late, Buster. You're gonna get an earful.
The door finally swung open several inches to reveal a darkened interior, and Helen sucked in a deep breath, ready to release two years worth of frustration...
Except even in the poor lighting she could sense the face was all wrong--thinning blond hair, nose too small, and that lower lip... Best not to go there. She took hold of herself with a firm reminder that she was pissed.
"I want to speak to Mr. Mulder."
"He's not home."
Helen stopped the closing door with her foot, a little surprised by her own audacity, and matched the man's glare. "Then where is he? And who the hell are you?"
For just an instant she thought she saw the bland expression on the man's face flicker, as if something dark and dangerous kindled in the depths of his eyes. She jerked her foot from the doorway and took a quick step back, but his voice remained matter of fact.
"He's out of town. I'm a friend. He...asked me to take care of his fish."
"Last time I checked, feeding fish didn't require you to throw things." Shaking off her unease, Helen craned her neck to peer over his shoulder. "It's three in the morning, you know? Some of us would like to sleep."
The man drew farther back into the shadows and inched the door closer to the jamb, effectively blocking her view of the apartment. "Sorry. It won't happen again."
The apology was flat and insincere. Helen stared into the cold blue eyes and decided it was enough.
"Make sure it doesn't, or next time I'll go straight to the landlord. Your friend won't be too happy if you get him kicked out of his own apartment." Her attempt to bluster came out more like a whine.
He shut the door without reply, a fact for which she found herself profoundly grateful. She walked back to the elevator, arms clasped against her body in an effort to ward off a sudden chill that tingled between her shoulder blades.
"Taking care of his fish," she huffed under her breath, stabbing the button and shuffling inside. "Why should I be surprised?"
What did surprise her was the feeling she couldn't shake--the deep relief of someone who has narrowly avoided a head-on collision or just missed plunging over the side of a cliff. It was ridiculous, really, to let one of Mr. Mulder's oddball friends unnerve her so. She let herself back into her apartment, engaging the deadbolt. After a brief pause, she slid the chain lock into place.
Despite the silence from above, it was more than two hours before she found her way back to sleep.
His head felt like a bowling ball--too large and heavy for his neck.
What hit me--a sledgehammer?
My mouth tastes like a tofutti rice dreamsicle.
His attempt to rub the sleep from bleary eyes was cut short by a sharp tug and the bite of metal. Surprise drove away the last of the cobwebs. He snapped his head right, then left, teeth gritted and cuffs rattling until the ice of logic cooled his rage from a boil to a simmer. Tamping down the initial panic, he drew in a deep lungful of air and slowly panned the room with forced objectivity.
The faint glow from a single lamp provided the only illumination. Across the room a Jacuzzi burbled, a bottle of wine perched in a silver ice bucket on the edge. The waterbed beneath him was king-sized, the sheets lavender silk. Mirrors on the ceiling, the walls, the headboard--all reflected the stunned disbelief on his haggard face. He jerked the handcuffs against the steel rings conveniently built into the headboard and groaned, head falling back on the pillow with a thud.
"Oh God. Please tell me this is just a kinky dream."
The trail of blood down the side of his neck, drying to rusty brown on his collar, was hardly reassuring.
By a combination of wriggling and scooting, Mulder managed to sit up. A quick inventory revealed that he'd been divested of cell phone and gun, and that the handcuffs binding him to the bed were his own. McNally had even removed his belt and shoes.
"Hey! Can anybody hear me? I'm a federal agent and I need help! Somebody? Help!"
He called out until his voice disintegrated to a rasp and the drums in his head turned from easy listening to heavy metal. No windows, and the louder he yelled, the more the walls seemed to swallow his cries.
"Soundproofed." He bared his teeth at his own reflection. "Loosens up those pesky inhibitions."
Ten minutes of trying to separate the restraining rings from the
His eyes fastened onto Mulder, sharply assessing, as he shut the door and engaged both the deadbolt and chain lock. One hand on the weapon at his side, he approached the bed, his wariness easing to a smile once he confirmed Mulder was still securely bound.
"Glad to see you're awake. We can get down to business."
"I'll admit I've had this fantasy plenty of times, McNally, but you were never the one that walked through that door. Sorry to disappoint."
The smile slid off Kyle's lips and his eyes went flat and cold. "You're a real funny guy, Agent Mulder. The only problem is, I don't feel much like laughing right now. I spent the last hour searching that dump you call an apartment for something that belongs to me, and I'm a little short on patience."
Mulder shrugged. "My partner always says I'm the only one who could understand my own filing system. Maybe if you told me what you were looking for..."
"You know what I'm looking for. I don't know how you got your hands on it, but I sure as hell don't intend to let you show it to the police."
"I would've pegged you as a smart guy, McNally. ASAC in the Violent Crimes section, a profiler. It was risky to cheat on your wife, but just plain stupid to take pictures."
McNally drew his gun and placed the barrel against Mulder's head. "Where is it? Tell me now or I pull the trigger."
"Pull the trigger and you'll never know--until the cops show up on your doorstep to arrest you for her murder." Mulder kept his voice soft and steady, though he could feel his pulse hammering against the cool steel at his temple.
Kyle didn't remove the gun, but his demeanor did an about face. "Look, I don't want to hurt you. Fair exchange: You give me all your copies of the email and I'll let you go."
"Such a deal."
"Looks to me like it's the best you've got."
The headache was back. He suddenly felt dizzy, disoriented. "How do I know you'll keep your word?"
"You'll just have to trust me."
Someone was tugging him, pulling him aside. Mulder tucked his chin to his chest, eyes slipping shut.
"Well?" Kyle prodded him with the gun.
"Trust you, huh? No problem. We all know you can be trusted, don't we, paisan'?"
Kyle gasped and stumbled backward a step, the gun dangling from his hand. The eyes staring back at him were now black as coal.
"Th...that's impossible, you're..."
"You're going to pay for what you did, buddy. To me, to Monica. I'm gonna make sure of it."
"You're no better than the monsters we hunted; just another cold-blooded killer. Remember how you usta talk about Patterson? You said he was the lowest form of life--a nutcase who turned on his own. Well, look in the mirror, Goombah. You got ol' Billy boy beat."
"I said SHUT UP!" Kyle backhanded him, the muzzle of the gun catching Mulder across the cheekbone and rocking his head back against the headboard with a sharp crack.
Mulder's eyes slammed shut, an involuntary cry of pain wrenched from his lips. One hand reflexively rose to soothe his rapidly bruising cheek but the cuffs prevented it. Hazel eyes cracked open to glare at Kyle.
"So much for trust."
McNally had the gun pointed at his head again, but he couldn't mask the tremor in his hand. "I don't know what kind of headgame you're trying to play, but it won't work. You'll tell me where that file is or you'll die chained to that bed."
He holstered the weapon and walked to the door. "It's your choice. Think it over."
Mulder didn't want to ask; couldn't stop himself. "I think better when I've had a glass of water."
Kyle smiled, but his eyes were steel. "A little thirst won't kill
The telephone receiver smacked into the cradle with a loud crack. "Damn it, Mulder! Why won't you pick up?"
Hands tucked under her arms and top teeth tugging on her bottom lip, Scully paced the length of her apartment. Two calls last night, another five this morning, and all had been met with the voice recording from his answering machine.
Fear gnawed at her stomach like a persistent rodent, last night's anger at being ditched long forgotten. She should have known better. Should have predicted how he would react to her concerns. She hadn't planned on telling him about the counselor until they were home where she could explain it to him calmly, in the right context.
She huffed loudly. The best laid plans and all that...
Scully paced towards the phone again, her hand automatically reaching for the receiver before she pulled it away and tucked it back under her arm.
Well into the early hours of the morning, she had tossed and turned, wrestling in her mind with everything Mulder had said to her. And no matter how hard logic argued in favor of PTSD, or worse yet, brain damage, when she'd taken time to objectively sift through all the facts, Mulder's reasoning made a weird kind of sense.
Perhaps it had been easier for her to believe he'd suffered some kind of mental breakdown due to his near death experience. It sure as hell beat the alternative: A disgruntled ghost determined to use her partner as a means to right a perceived wrong? At least medical science offered her a concrete path to a cure. But now... She wasn't so sure.
Everything Mulder had said to her last night... In the cold hard light of day it didn't seem quite so improbable. What if he was right? While her mind had been busily rejecting each outlandish claim he threw at her, in her heart she had known that what he was suggesting was more than mere coincidence. How could he know so much about Sal DeAngelo? And his wife?
Easy answers eluded her. And the truth was frightening. But the image of Mulder's stricken face when she'd suggested he had lost his grip on reality frightened her more. And that, at least, was something she could fix.
Finding herself back by the phone, Scully snatched up the receiver and punched the redial button, her fingers nervously tapping against her leg as the connection was made. On the sixth ring the answering machine picked up. This time she waited for the beep and left a message.
"Mulder, it's me. I'm coming over."
Weapon holstered and ID tucked into her pants pocket, Scully snagged her jacket from the coat tree, her cell phone and keys from the sideboard and headed out the door.
Relieved to find a parking space in front of Mulder's building, Scully made a quick inventory of the other vehicles lining the street. There was no sign of his car.
She ran lightly up the steps leading to the entrance and pulled hard on the glass door. A young woman, dressed in sweat pants, long sleeved tee shirt and running shoes stumbled out, her fingers still wrapped around the handle.
Scully muttered a hasty, "Sorry," and slid past the woman.
"Oh. It's you."
"Excuse me?" Scully half turned, her attention still focused on getting to the elevator.
"If you're here to feed his fish," the woman flicked her eyes skyward, "you're too late."
"I'm sorry, you are...?"
"The poor sap that ended up in the apartment beneath your boyfriend."
Scully shook her head, mouth opening and closing, but unable to come up with an appropriate response.
The young woman cast Scully a disparaging glare, "Look, I've got to go or I'll be late for work." With a quick swivel she turned, her short, brown ponytail swinging in time to her footfalls as she jogged down the steps.
Curiosity held Scully momentarily in place before urgency overrode her confusion and she continued towards the elevator.
Three sharp raps on his door, followed by a succession of heavy pounding, failed to produce any sign of life from within Mulder's apartment.
Her fingers jittery and clumsy, it took Scully three attempts before
she found the right key and inserted it into the lock.
What greeted her sent the hairs on the back of her neck standing on end and her hand reaching for her weapon. Disengaging the safety, Scully wrapped her fingers firmly around the grip, only marginally comforted by the weight of it nestled against her palm.
Mulder's coat rack lay across the floor, an upturned chair behind the door.
Moving cautiously, she made her way into the living room, weapon held securely in both hands, barrel aimed towards the ceiling.
Silence, heavy and ominous filled the apartment. Her own breathing sounded unnaturally loud in the stillness.
She stepped around a large painting lying on the floor, the frame splintered and the glass cracked. The fish tank, undamaged and long devoid of any marine life, gurgled quietly on its shelf--a deceptive illusion of normality.
The living room looked as if a hurricane had swept though it.
But she'd seen similar destruction before. Years ago, when Mulder had been searching for a well-hidden bug. At the time Scully had been surprised by his ability to turn his own apartment into an admirable impression of a garbage dump. While somewhat taken aback, she'd kept her surprise in check, reassured by the fact that he appeared rational and all in one piece.
She wondered if what she was witnessing now was the result of his frustration. Because he thought she was more willing to believe he was crazy than accept his theory. ...You'd rather believe I've lost my marbles than open yourself to the possibilities.
Is that how he'd interpreted her concern?
Oh, Mulder. How could I have gotten it so wrong?
A quick search of his bedroom and bathroom came up empty. Scully holstered her weapon and surveyed the devastation around her with a critical eye.
His coffee table, upside down, was pushed up against the couch. Most of what usually sat on his desk was now strewn beneath. Drawers were open and teetering on the edge of their cavities, the contents spilling onto the floor.
Nearly all of Mulder's books and CDs had been dumped from their shelves, piled in an untidy heap beside the couch. Ornaments and photos, some intact, others smashed to bits, lay in a scattered mess around the room.
One photo in particular caught her eye. The familiar face of a dark-haired girl sitting on a tire-swing smiled up at Scully through a spider web of cracks. The early stirrings of alarm were beginning to escalate into full-blown panic as Scully scooped up the picture. Even at his worst, she knew Mulder could never bring himself to ruin this treasured memory of his sister.
She stood quietly in the middle of the living room, letting her mind process the situation. What had happened here?
She turned in a slow circle, seeking anything that might offer a clue.
The soft hum of his computer caught her attention. The hard drive was running, the monitor blank, yet an orange light just above the power button indicated it was switched on.
Maybe he'd left her a message.
She moved to his desk and jiggled the mouse. The screen burst to life and Scully's heart leapt to her throat.
"ACCESS DENIED," blinked back at her.
Why would Mulder be denied access to his own computer? Slowly, the pieces began to fall into place, and the picture they formed made Scully's blood run cold. Biting down on her bottom lip and willing her hands to comply, she typed in the correct password and gained immediate access. No message from Mulder and no clue as to who or why someone might have been trying to hack into his computer.
She drew small comfort from the fact that Mulder had probably not been home when the intruder broke in. If he had, she felt sure he would have been forced to type in the correct password.
But that still didn't explain where he was and why someone would want to search his apartment.
His words from the previous night came back at her. ... Feeling that I'm not myself. ...An injustice to correct...I've gone over the case file...If Sal knew they convicted the wrong man...
The wrong man.
If Mulder was correct, then that left the real murderer still at large.
And if he was on to Mulder...
"Sir, it's Scully. I'm at Mulder's apartment." She took a steadying breath, surprised at the tremor in her voice.
"Agent Scully? Is there a problem?"
"I think so, sir. Mulder's apartment has been ransacked. There's no sign of him or his car."
She could almost hear Skinner's jaw grinding as he processed what she'd told him.
"What are you saying? Do you think he did it?"
"The thought crossed my mind, until I discovered that someone attempted to log onto Mulder's computer--and failed. I know he was upset after I suggested he speak to a counselor, but... there's something more going on here, sir. I'm worried about him."
"Okay, Scully, I'm in the car now. I'll call ahead to the Bureau to arrange for a forensics team, and ask the local PD to put out an APB on his car. I should be there in...about thirty minutes."
"Thank you, sir."
Scully pocketed her cell phone, wondering if she should have told Skinner about Mulder's theory. But she was still having her own difficulties coming to terms with it. She'd wait, and tell him in person.
Desperate to find Mulder, but mindful of the fact that she now stood in the midst of a crime scene, Scully decided on a compromise. A quick trip to the car provided her with a pair of latex gloves, which she donned before carefully sifting through some of the papers spread across the floor.
Twenty minutes of fruitless searching failed to supply her with any new information on Mulder's whereabouts.
Scully sat on the couch, head cradled in her hands and mind grappling
with everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. She didn't hear
her boss enter the apartment.
"Forensics should be right behind me. Have you found anything to indicate where Mulder may have gone?"
"No. Unfortunately, it's going to take some time to sift through this mess. Whoever tossed the apartment was thorough."
Skinner nodded and his eyes cut over to the window. A small muscle above his cheekbone jittered and he grated his next words through clenched teeth.
"What the hell is going on, Scully? Last night Mulder broke into a dead agent's home and scared the hell out of his wife. Now this. Did he confide in you when you spoke to him at the police station? Do you have any idea what he's gotten himself into?" He tipped his head toward Mulder's overturned coffee table. "This would seem to negate the post-traumatic stress theory."
Voices drifted down the hallway, followed momentarily by several agents bearing forensic gear. "Don't have to ask if we're in the right place, " a dark-haired agent smirked as he set down a box. "How many times have we been here now?"
Skinner's eyes narrowed and his voice turned dangerously soft. "One of our own is missing, Agent. I suggest you cut the bullshit and concentrate on gathering evidence."
The reprimand had the desired affect. Scully watched with a combination of amusement and satisfaction as all three moved swiftly into professional mode, donning gloves, snapping open cases and labeling plastic bags. Skinner's hand on her elbow drew her toward Mulder's bedroom, out of earshot.
"Level with me, Scully."
"I'm not sure where to start." She laid one finger beneath her nose and took a deep breath. "Mulder's been...preoccupied by a serial murder case involving the death of a woman named Monica Mitchell. It's a closed case--solved by the VCS about six months ago. He believes they convicted the wrong man."
Skinner folded his arms. "A VCS case? Is that why...?"
"Sal DeAngelo was the profiler on record."
"Didn't he know DeAngelo is dead?"
"Oh, he knew." Scully poked her tongue into her cheek as she chose her next words. "Sir, Sal DeAngelo died the same night Mulder was shot. In fact according to Mulder, the incidents occurred simultaneously."
Skinner huffed. He strode several steps down the hall, spun on his heel and returned to Scully. "I'm not sure I'm reading you, Scully. What does Agent DeAngelo's untimely death and a closed murder case have to do with the fact that Mulder is missing?"
"Mulder is convinced that Sal DeAngelo was murdered because he'd discovered the identity of the man who really killed Monica Mitchell. He believes his spirit and Agent DeAngelo's became...linked during his near death experience, and that he's...channeling Agent DeAngelo."
"For lack of a better term." Scully shook her head. "Look, I know how it sounds. But even I have to admit that Mulder has been experiencing something not explainable by conventional methods. Sir, from what I can tell, he's been dreaming the last moments of Agent DeAngelo's life. In detail."
"Scully, last night you were willing to put this down to stress. Are you saying you believe him?"
Scully met his gaze squarely. "I'm saying Mulder deserves the benefit of our doubt. Putting aside the more...paranormal aspects of his theory, we both know there's no better profiler. If he says the courts convicted the wrong man..."
Skinner ran one hand along his jaw. "Then the real killer is still out there somewhere."
Scully's throat tightened. "Or maybe closer to home." She forced the unwanted emotion back into its box, well aware of Skinner's scrutiny. "I need to speak to Vickie DeAngelo. Mulder may have stumbled upon evidence when he was there last night. Something that could give us a clue as to where he is now."
Skinner looked at the bustle of activity in Mulder's living room, then jerked his head toward the door. "Go. I'll oversee Forensics and stay in touch with the police. Report back to me when you have something."
"Thank you, sir. I'll..."
Scully and Skinner looked up to see the dark-haired agent hovering near the entryway.
"There's a woman here who says she might know something about Agent Mulder's disappearance."
Frowning, Scully strode toward the front door. Standing just inside was a young woman dressed in a smartly tailored navy suit, her chin-length dark hair cut in a smooth bob. It took a moment for Scully to recognize her potential witness.
"You live on the third floor. I bumped into you earlier this morning."
The woman nodded, hands fidgeting. "That's right. My name is Helen--Helen Rezek. My apartment is right under this one."
"You have information regarding Agent Mulder?"
"I think so."
Scully stepped closer, every muscle in her body on alert. "Did you see something that might help us determine his whereabouts?"
"Yes. Um, that is, no. Not exactly." Helen's eyes darted between Scully and Skinner. "I mean, I saw something, but I'm not sure it's relevant."
"Why don't you let us be the judge of that?"
"Sure. It's just--I wouldn't have thought twice about what happened if I hadn't seen all the cars out front this morning and heard the commotion. I mean, he's not exactly a model neighbor. He's got a lot of weird friends always coming and going--" She darted a glance at Scully and flushed. "--and I hear him knocking around at all hours of the night. Not the kind of guy you want living over your head. Except he's been really quiet lately, and I thought maybe he was turning over a new leaf. Which is why I got so pissed last night."
Scully clung to her patience. "Last night?"
"This morning, really. Two a.m. and I hear all this godawful thumping and banging coming from your friend's apartment. It got loud enough to wake the dead. So I got dressed and came up to tell him off." Helen frowned. "Except he wasn't here."
"Not according to his friend. He said Agent Mulder was out of town, and that he was taking care of his fish." She looked at the wreckage with a mixture of fascination and disgust. "Guess that's not all he was doing."
Scully and Skinner exchanged a long look. "I'll take care of it." Skinner gestured toward the hallway. "Go ahead."
"Thank you." She impulsively laid one hand on his arm, then jerked it back, heat rising to her cheeks.
As she squeezed past Helen Rezek and started down the hallway she heard Skinner speak in what Mulder called his "take no prisoners" voice.
"You've been extremely helpful, Ms. Rezek, but I'm afraid I have to ask you to bear with us for a bit longer. I'm going to get a sketch artist over here and..."
"Suppose room service...'s out of the question."
It came out little more than a froggy croak, and he grimaced at the effect on his throat. He levered himself up to peer at the red LED display of the alarm clock on the nightstand.
8:23. AM or PM? In the windowless, soundproofed motel room time had a disconcerting ebb and flow. He didn't think he'd lost an entire day--had he?
Judging by McNally's demeanor, he doubted he'd been left alone and unmolested for more than a few hours. In fact, he was certain that McNally would only put up with him playing the strong silent type for so long before deciding a quick bullet to the head was the easiest solution.
He was isolated, helpless, in the hands of a man who had already killed his best friend with less provocation. Scully liked to tease him about having more lives than a cat, but he was hard pressed to see a way out this time.
Scully. A crystal clear image imprinted itself in his mind--the carefully neutral expression she'd maintained as he'd driven away from the police station. He'd hurt her.
If those are my last words, I can do better.
He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, praying to a God he'd tried not to believe in and never allowed himself to trust.
Please, let me do better.
Anger bubbled up, and he jerked hard on the cuffs, heedless of already abraded wrists. Something, a slight give in the left, caught his attention. With some pretzel-like twisting he was able to examine the metal ring more closely. One of the four screws bolting the faster to the headboard had begun to loosen--no doubt weakened by countless acrobatic feats Mulder refused to contemplate.
One screw out of four. It was an outside chance, and even if he managed to loosen them all, it still left his right arm locked to the bed. Still, an outside chance was better than no chance, and any action was preferable to lying there passively, like a lamb awaiting slaughter.
Mulder gritted his teeth, grasped the chain, and began methodically wiggling the cuff against the ring. And tried hard not to watch the ticking clock.
By contrast, the home before her was still, silent. Drapes remained drawn against the bright sunlight and a paper sat untouched on the front porch. Scully had just raised her hand, intending to ring the bell a second time, when she heard soft footsteps and the door cracked open to reveal a pair of wounded brown eyes.
Scully held up her ID and allowed Vickie DeAngelo to scrutinize it and her face. After a moment the door swung wide and Vickie motioned her inside.
"Come in. Can I offer you a cup of coffee?"
"Yes, thank you. It's been a long morning, I'm afraid."
She followed Vickie down the hallway to the kitchen and took a seat at the small wooden table. Vickie, clad in faded jeans and a pale blue sweater, poured coffee into two mugs and set one on the table. Scully couldn't help noticing how the clothing hung on the woman's slight frame.
Scully shook her head, sipping the steaming liquid. "Black is good. Nothing to dilute the caffeine."
Vickie smiled as she added a healthy dollop of cream to her own cup. "I'm afraid I find coffee completely unpalatable without this. Sal always said..." She broke off with a look of such intense sadness that Scully had to look away. Vickie cleared her throat and continued. "He used to say I didn't like coffee--I liked cream with coffee flavoring."
"I'm sorry. You must miss him very much."
Vickie sat down, swiveling the cup between her palms but not drinking. "A piece of me is gone forever. It's not easy learning to function with a chunk of your soul missing." The small line between her brows deepened. "Which is why your partner upset me so badly yesterday."
"I'm sorry. Please believe me when I say that Agent Mulder never intended to hurt you."
"I just hope you find him so he gets the help he needs. I was a cop's wife, Agent Scully; I know the toll that kind of stress can take."
Scully opened her mouth to protest; thought better of it. "Mrs. DeAngelo...
"Vickie. As I said on the phone, I need to know more about what Agent Mulder may have been doing while he was here yesterday. I'd like you to tell me, in detail, exactly what happened."
Vickie brought the mug to her lips and blew gently on the hot liquid, only to set the cup back down, untouched. "When I came home from the store yesterday, there was a strange car in the driveway. I looked around outside the house, but didn't see anyone, so I just went ahead and pulled into the garage. Some of the teens around here aren't too discriminating about whose driveway they use to park their cars. I didn't think too much about it.
"I came into the house and started putting away the groceries I'd bought. And then I heard a noise."
Vickie nodded. "From upstairs. A...a kind of a crash, like something had fallen over."
"What did you do?"
"I didn't want to panic, I mean, it could've been anything. The cat is always jumping up on the furniture, knocking things over." Vickie licked her lips. "I walked into the living room and called up the stairs." She chuffed, blushing. "Something stupid, like 'who's there?' As if a burglar's going to answer."
"What happened then?"
"Someone--your partner--answered. Scared the hell outta me. But that wasn't the worst part. It was the WAY he answered me that had me ready to scream." She shoved aside the cup and laced trembling fingers together.
"What did he say?"
"He said..." She drew in a long breath, visibly shaken. "He said, 'It's just me, sweetheart.'"
It felt like a punch to the gut, but Scully kept her face carefully neutral. "Go on."
"It knocked me for a loop. I...I was scared, confused, I didn't know what was going on. And he just kept talking to me like I was the crazy one and he was trying to calm me down, sounding just like..." A violent shake of her head and she popped up from her chair. The coffee from her mug found its way into the sink, followed by hot water and soap.
Scully stood and moved to her side. "Sounded like who, Vickie?"
"You'll think I'm as nutty as your partner."
She stopped fiddling with the dishes and pressed the back of one sudsy hand to her lips. "I was married to the man for nearly fifteen years. I know the sound of his voice as intimately as I know my own name, and..." Dark, haunted eyes searched Scully's face. "Agent Scully, I would've sworn it was Sal talking to me. The tone, the accent--he even called me 'cara mia' the way Sal did. How...how could that be?" She laughed, a bitter, jagged sound. "Maybe I am as nutty as your partner."
"Vickie... I can't explain what happened last night. I'm not sure anyone could. What I can tell you is that Agent Mulder has been experiencing a...connection to your husband. A connection that has to do with a case Sal profiled."
Curiosity drove some of the anguish from Vickie's eyes. "A case? Is that why he was in Sal's office?"
Scully concealed her surprise. "Most likely. Is that where he was when you found him?"
Vickie nodded. "Sal did all his Bureau work up there. It was his territory, and after getting a peek at some of the casefiles he worked on I was only too happy to stay out." She frowned. "What case was Agent Mulder interested in?"
"The murder of a woman named Monica Mitchell."
Vickie grimaced. "Oh my God. Not that one. First Sal couldn't let go of it and now your partner?"
"What do you mean 'Sal couldn't let go of it'?"
"Just what I said. The case was closed. The killer was caught, tried, and sentenced. But for some reason, Sal couldn't seem to move on. He kept saying something wasn't right, that the pieces just didn't fit. It had started to become an obsession. Even Kyle was worried about him."
"Kyle McNally. He was Sal's closest friend, worked with him at Quantico."
Scully nodded--the name was vaguely familiar. "Vickie, would you mind showing me Sal's office?"
Vickie dried her hands on a dishtowel, teeth gnawing her lip. "I guess not. You must realize there aren't any files up there anymore. Kyle came and took them all back to Quantico after..."
"I know. I'd just like to take a quick look around. Maybe it will give me an idea as to what Agent Mulder was doing here."
A moment's hesitation before Vickie nodded. "Sure. I suppose there's no harm in that. Follow me."
Scully stood in the center of the study, trying to see through Mulder's eyes. She ran a finger along the psychology and criminology texts, studied the diplomas. Something perched on the edge of the desk caught her eye and she crossed the room to pick it up.
A mangled photo of four men, frame bent and glass missing.
Vickie reluctantly left her spot in the doorway and took the picture from her hands. "That's Sal, Kyle, and two of their friends from work." Her index finger caressed the face of a dark-haired man with olive skin and a beaming grin. "I found it after the police hauled off your partner yesterday. He must have knocked it onto the floor when he was using the computer--there was broken glass everywhere."
"Agent Mulder was on this computer?"
The sharp edge to Scully's voice pulled Vickie's attention from the photo. "Not only was he on the computer, he logged into Sal's email. I can't imagine how he figured out the password."
"Would you show me?"
Vickie pressed her lips into a thin line. "Look, I appreciate you wanting to find your partner, but that's Sal's private email and your partner already..."
A deep sigh but Vickie sat down, grumbling as she booted up the computer. "I don't know what you think you're going to find. Kyle volunteered to check things over last night, and he said it all looked fine." She stood and motioned for Scully to take the chair.
Scully clicked her way through the various folders that contained bits of profiles, reference data, and personal notes. She opened Sal's email and scanned through the entries without noting anything unusual. She was about to shut the window when something caught her eye.
"Vickie, would you have deleted any of these emails?"
"Deleted? Are you kidding? I can still barely bring myself to dust in here. Like I said, Kyle came and took all the file folders away, but otherwise this office is just like Sal left it." She leaned over Scully's shoulder to stare at the screen. "Why?"
Scully pointed to the received dates. "There's a significant gap here. It's as if a week or two of emails is missing or was deleted."
"Maybe Sal did it."
Scully stared at the screen, the creeping feeling at the back of her neck screaming that those missing emails were more than just a coincidence. That they just might hold the key to Monica Mitchell's killer, and Mulder's location.
There was one sure way to find out. But the woman hovering at her back wasn't going to like it.
"Vickie, I'm afraid I'm going to have to take this computer with me..."
Scully settled herself into the driver's seat and started the ignition, hoping she could make good on her promise to have the computer back in Vickie's possession by the next evening. Now all she needed to do was retrieve the missing emails. And she knew just the guys for the job.
Turning out of the quiet suburban street, Scully joined the stream of traffic heading back to DC. When she reached a straight stretch of road she pulled her cell phone from her pocket and hit 4 on the speed dial. Balancing the phone between ear and shoulder she waited for someone to pick up.
"Frohike, it's Scully."
"Ah, the delectable Agent Scully. What can I do for you this fine day?"
"Unfortunately it's not so fine. I need your help."
Scully could almost see the smile slip from his face and the quick squaring of his shoulders.
"You could say that." Scully heaved a sigh, and ran her tongue over dry lips, "It's a long story, Frohike, but he's missing. And I may have a piece of evidence in my possession that will shed some light on his whereabouts. A hard drive, actually."
"What can we do?"
She smiled to herself. No questions, no second-guessing. Straight down to business, just as she'd hoped.
"I need you to meet me at the Hoover. I think there's a block of emails that have been deleted. A few days, maybe a week's worth. I need you to recover them. Mulder's safety may depend on it."
"Hey, you know us, Scully. Our kung fu is the best."
"I'm counting on it."
She hit end and had the phone halfway to her pocket when it trilled in her hand.
"It's Skinner. Where are you?"
"I'm heading back to the Bureau with Sal DeAngelo's computer. Apparently...
"Scully. We've had a report on Mulder's car."
She swallowed around the lump in her throat and forced her voice to remain steady.
"Sir, is he...?"
"I don't know. The details are sketchy. A patrolman spotted the car on a routine check and called it in."
"Rock Creek Park. I'm headed there now. Do you know it?"
"Yes. Thank you, sir. I'm on my way."
Scully dropped her cell on the seat beside her and pushed the gas a little harder. What the hell had Mulder been doing at Rock Creek Park?
When she rounded the bend, Mulder's blue Taurus came into view. Seeing his car surrounded by law enforcement officers and forensic specialists sent her stomach plummeting and created an ache so deep in her chest it momentarily robbed her of breath. Yellow crime scene tape cordoned off a long rectangular area surrounding the vehicle--a sight she was all too familiar with in relation to Mulder.
Scully pulled the car into a vacant space. She sat, engine still running, hands locked firmly around the steering wheel and eyes glued to the action ahead of her. She wasn't sure she could face this again. Not after everything else they'd just been through. It was too soon.
A sudden onslaught of emotion constricted her throat, her breath hitching around a small sob. She pressed the palms of both hands to her eyes, physically holding the sting of unwelcome tears at bay while at the same time wishing she had the luxury of simply surrendering to them.
Mulder had to be running out of chances. He couldn't continue to tempt fate and expect to walk away. Somewhere along the line his luck was bound to run out.
Willing uncooperative limbs to move, Scully pushed her door open and climbed out of the car. She took a deep breath, straightened her jacket, and walked toward the crowd of investigators.
A firm hand on her arm halted her progress.
"Sir..." She swallowed, and then forced her mouth to ask the question she wasn't sure she wanted him to answer. "Is...Agent Mulder...?"
"No, Scully. There's no sign of him."
Relief weakened her knees and she felt herself sway. Skinner steadied her. "Easy does it, Scully."
"Come and sit down." His large hand grasping her elbow and guiding her away from the car was so Mulder-like she wanted to cry. Instead, she concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and convincing herself there was still hope of getting Mulder back. Alive.
Skinner led her to a park bench. She eyed him from beneath a loose strand of hair before stubbornly pushing it behind her ear. "I'm fine, sir."
"Sit down, Agent Scully." Lips pursed into a tight line of defiance, already self-conscious over her display of emotion, Scully perched on the edge, refusing to give the impression she intended to stay. Skinner dropped down beside her, leaning forward and propping an elbow on each knee. He clasped his hands and fixed his eyes on the patch of dirt between his feet.
"Sir, what have they found?"
"The crime scene boys have done a preliminary search of the vehicle. Nothing appears out of the ordinary. However..." Skinner cast a quick look in Scully's direction and sat up straight. "We have found bloodstains on the ground about 30 feet from the car."
Scully kept her face impassive, although she was sure the pounding in her chest could be heard in the next county.
"We're sending a sample to the lab for analysis." Skinner paused and met Scully's gaze, his voice losing some of its official edge. "We'll find him, Scully."
Scully laid the back of her hand over her mouth, stilling the quiver in her bottom lip. Not now. Not here.
"They also found faint tire tracks near the blood. They're not in great shape but we're making a cast. It's the best we've got at the moment."
"Actually, no, it's not, sir. I've got Sal DeAngelo's hard drive in my car."
Skinner looked startled. "How did you...? No, don't tell me."
"When Mulder paid his little visit to the DeAngelo residence yesterday, Vickie found him at her husband's computer. I checked it over. I'm not certain, but some of Agent DeAngelo's emails may have been deleted. I have a strong feeling they are connected to Mulder's disappearance."
Skinner nodded, stroking the line of his jaw with his finger. "We can get it to the lab and have..."
"Sir...I'd rather keep this part off the record. If what I suspect is true, Mulder may be the person responsible for deleting those files. He would never destroy evidence without a good reason, but then, he hasn't exactly been himself lately. I just think it would be better to keep our cards close to our chest for now."
Skinner tipped his head to the side, eyes narrowing, "What do you have in mind, Scully?"
"The Lone Gunmen. I've arranged for them to meet me at the Hoover."
Skinner raised an eyebrow. "You're having them go to the Hoover? "
"I know, sir, but I didn't feel comfortable keeping such a key piece of evidence outside normal channels. I know their methods can be a bit unorthodox, but if anyone can recover those missing emails, they can. And we're running out of time. They can work in the X-Files office; that way the hard drive is still in our custody."
A brief hesitation, but Skinner nodded. "You're right to see that the computer doesn't leave our sight. It could affect the credibility of any evidence we might recover, when it comes time to prosecute our killer. " He grimaced. "Just keep an eye on them."
"I will." A sudden thought occurred to Scully. "When they searched Mulder's car, did they find the Mitchell case file?"
"No. As far as I know they've found nothing except for a few personal items. Why?"
Scully chewed the inside of her cheek before continuing. "Mulder told me he'd been reading the Mitchell file. He even offered to show it to me last night, which means he had it in his possession. I haven't seen it at my place, so it should have been in his apartment or with him when he came here." She surprised Skinner by swearing softly. "Without that file we're working blind."
Skinner nodded slowly. "I think it's about time we spoke to someone who was on the case with DeAngelo."
"Sir, if you've no objections, I'd like to contact Kyle McNally. He was the agent in charge and a close friend of Sal DeAngelo. I want to speak to the man convicted of Monica's murder, and Agent McNally will be able to provide me with his name and where he's been incarcerated."
"Go ahead, Scully. Forensics is almost finished with the car and then "
"There's one problem. The boys should be on their way to the Bureau. The hard drive is still our best lead. They need to begin working on it as soon as possible."
Skinner worked his jaw, gaze traveling between Scully and the activity surrounding Mulder's car. He sighed. "Give the computer to me. I'll babysit the three stooges." A slight twist to his mouth took the sting out of his words. "And you can go speak to McNally."
"Thank you, sir."
"Hey! Earth to McNally."
Kyle McNally stared intently at his computer monitor, eyes fixed on the image of flying windows leaping toward him. But his thoughts had turned inward. His mind's eye viewed an unwelcome slideshow of a once beautiful woman covered in blood. Of a man, caught in the glare of headlights, face twisted in confusion, then frozen in horror.
"Hey!" A firm slap on his shoulder sent Kyle to his feet, hands clutching the shirt of the man standing before him. It took a moment for the bewildered face only inches from his own to register as that of Agent Peterson.
He released him immediately.
Shock sent Corey Peterson reeling backward. Mischief replaced by confusion, he dusted off his shirt and massaged the area where fisted knuckles had dug into soft flesh.
McNally ran a trembling hand through his hair. "Jeezus, Peterson, what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"
Peterson eyed him suspiciously, "You okay, Kyle?"
McNally scrubbed at his face. When he answered an underlying irritation coated his words. "Yeah, I'm okay. What is it with everyone around here and their sudden interest in my health?"
"You gotta admit, McNally, you haven't exactly been yourself lately. Is there something you want to get off your chest?"
A sudden stab of panic turned his blood to ice. He stared at Peterson, eyes narrowed, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Peterson dropped his voice an octave. "Hey, it was tough on you when Sal died. Hell, it was tough on all of us. I know it bugs the hell out of you that we haven't been able to catch the creep who did it. And..." Peterson paused, choosing his words carefully. "I saw the memo this morning."
"What the hell are you talking about, Peterson? What memo?"
"You haven't heard?"
"About the new profiler."
"McNally! Pick up the phone!"
Both men turned to see an older, disgruntled agent seated across the room, one hand cupping the mouthpiece of his handset, the other signaling for McNally to take the call.
Giving Peterson an irritated glare, Kyle turned back to his desk and scooped up the receiver.
"This is Kyle McNally."
"Agent McNally, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully. I work in the Hoover. We haven't actually met, but I think you may be able to help me with a case my partner was looking into."
An unpleasant tingle ran up McNally's spine. He turned to Corey, still lingering at his side, and pressed one hand over the phone. "Private call. Give me some space, will you?"
Peterson held his gaze for a second before returning to his own desk, brows pulled into a tight frown, muttering to himself about 'only trying to help.'
Kyle pitched his voice smooth and friendly. "Agent Scully, what can I do for you?"
"My partner, Agent Mulder, is missing, and I think his disappearance may be connected to a case you worked with Sal DeAngelo. It involved the murder of a woman, Monica Mitchell."
Kyle fought to keep his tone neutral, "Yes, I know the one you're referring to. We caught the killer. He's already stood trial and been found guilty."
"Where is he currently being held?"
He ground his teeth together--there was no way to withhold such information without further raising her suspicions. "Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center. But I don't see how that "
"We have reason to believe you may have convicted the wrong man. Agent Mulder..."
"Agent Scully, I know all about Agent Mulder. I got a frantic call from my best friend's widow after she found him, uninvited, in her home. I suggest..."
"With all due respect, Agent McNally, from what Vickie DeAngelo has told me, her husband held the same concerns as Agent Mulder. She told me that he couldn't put the case to rest, said there were certain things that just didn't add up. He believed..."
"Sal was under a lot of stress. He thought he saw something that wasn't there. Trust me, we got the right guy. We had hard physical evidence--his prints were on the murder weapon and Monica's blood was all over his clothes. This is a cold-blooded killer, Agent Scully, responsible not only for Monica Mitchell's death, but four other young women, as well. A jury found him guilty, and now he's going to die for his crimes."
"You didn't share Agent DeAngelo's doubts?"
"Look, Agent Scully, Sal was my friend. He was an excellent profiler, but he had an obsessive streak a mile wide. This wasn't the first time he couldn't let a case go." Kyle dabbed at a drop of sweat sliding down the side of his jaw. "I'm sorry your partner is missing. I'm not sure what he's told you, but after the way he was acting yesterday..."
"Thank you for your candor, Agent McNally, but I need to check some things out for myself. Please give me the name of the man who was convicted."
Hand slick with perspiration, Kyle locked his fingers in a firm grip around the telephone receiver. His jaw ached with the effort of maintaining control. Reluctantly, he supplied Scully with Gary Jansen's name.
The erratic clatter of fingers tapping on keyboards and the friendly buzz of bullpen banter came to a brief lull as Kyle slammed the receiver back in its cradle. He gave the trashcan a satisfying kick and ran a trembling hand through sweat-dampened hair.
McNally swiped at his coat, draped over the back of his chair, cursing loudly when it snagged around the backrest. With an extra tug he pulled the coat free and snatched his briefcase from beside the desk.
"Hey, McNally! Where you going?" Peterson rose halfway to his feet.
"I'm taking some personal time." Without looking back, Kyle strode purposefully toward the exit.
"Just my luck. First beautiful woman I see in longer than I can remember, and she's a Fed."
Scully folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. "Special Agent Dana Scully. How did you know I was FBI?"
Jansen snorted. "I've talked to enough of you to last a lifetime. Eventually you all start looking alike." He shifted on his bunk so his back was propped against the wall. "What do you want?"
Scully took a half step closer. "I'd like to ask you a few questions about Monica Mitchell."
Dark eyes narrowed. "Look, you've got me right where you wanted me. Why the hell can't you leave me alone? No one believes a word I say anyway."
"What if I were to tell you I have reason to believe you did not kill Monica?"
Something--hope?--flickered in Jansen's eyes before they went flat and hostile. "Yeah? Well it's too bad you weren't around when it counted, lady. In case you haven't noticed, the jury already made their decision."
Scully bit the inside of her cheek, struggling to remain calm, professional. "Mr. Jansen, someone very, very close to me may be in the hands of the real killer. Now I realize you don't know me, and have little cause to trust me. On the other hand, you have nothing to lose by talking to me. And possibly everything to gain."
She submitted to his scrutiny for several long minutes before he nodded. "All right. Go ahead."
Relief left her feeling weak-kneed, but she forged ahead. "What really happened the night Monica Mitchell died?"
Jansen dry washed his face with both hands, then let his head drop back against the wall with a thump. "Somewhere around eight o'clock that night I drove to Monica's house. She hadn't been returning my calls, so I'd decided to just show up on her doorstep."
"My understanding is that you'd broken up nearly a year previous. Why were you trying to see her? Were you hoping to rekindle the relationship?"
Gary snorted. "Hardly. She owed me money, nearly five hundred bucks. She kept promising she'd pay me back and I'd let it slide for months. Then the brakes on my car went out and I needed the cash."
"So you drove over without calling first. What happened when you got there?"
"I rang the bell, pounded on the door--no answer. I started to get pissed off because I was pretty certain she was there. Her car was in the driveway and when I walked around the house I could see lights and hear music playing." He paused and grimaced. "Okay, here comes the stupid part.
"I still had a key to her place. Don't ask me why--I'd been in another relationship for months and I certainly had no intention of ever using it. I was just so damn tired of Monica giving me the runaround and there it was, hanging on my keychain."
"So you let yourself into the house," Scully murmured.
Jansen began rhythmically tapping his head against the cinderblock wall. "Ever notice how you can justify practically anything when you feel like you're getting screwed? I told myself it wasn't breaking and entering because, after all, she'd given me the key. And besides, I was entitled to that money. If I gave Monica a little scare in the process, it was no more than she deserved." His lips twisted into a bitter smile. "If she could see me now. Too bad she'll never know she got the last laugh."
He sucked in a long shaky breath. "She was face down on the floor, halfway between the living room and the kitchen. "I... at first it was like my brain couldn't understand what my eyes were seeing. I thought she must've hurt herself or something--how's that for dense? I ran over and scooped her up in my arms, tried to get her to wake up, t...to breathe. There was so much blood."
Scully observed Jansen carefully during his speech. She was interested to note that despite his earlier bravado he appeared deeply affected by the memories. Increased respiration, the slight stutter, the nervous movements of head and hands. If Jansen was faking, he was one hell of an actor.
"You said you tried to get her to breathe. Was she still alive?"
"No." Jansen spit out the word, sharp and cold. "When I turned her over, her eyes were wide open. And the knife...there was a knife sticking out of her belly. That was when I realized just what I'd stumbled onto. And how it was going to look when the cops showed up."
"So you panicked and ran."
"Damn straight, I did! I never belonged in that apartment in the first place, and now I had her blood all over me."
"And your prints on the knife."
"I tried to wipe them off. Guess I was too rattled to do a good enough job." His lip curled. "Shoulda just left it in her. That's what I get for being sentimental." But the pain in his eyes belied the brutality of his words.
"I'd say that's what you get for fleeing a crime scene. You might not be here right now if you'd faced up to what happened."
"Yeah, right. You've gotta admit, Agent Scully, I was the perfect patsy. It's a story as old as time--the ex-lover becomes insanely jealous over the guy who replaced him. Hell, Monica and I were never shy about fighting in public, before or after we split. There was no shortage of witnesses to that at the trial." He sat forward, cradling his head in his hands. "Bad enough when I thought I was taking the rap for Monica's murder. But when they dragged out those other dead women..."
Scully didn't respond for a moment, replaying Jansen's words. "Gary, are you saying Monica was involved with someone?"
A nasty laugh. "Agent Scully, Monica was always involved with someone. She wasn't the type to let the sheets get cold, if you know what I mean."
"Do you know if the police checked him out?"
Jansen's head popped up. "As a suspect? No, I don't think so."
"Because they already had their man." The sneer faded and he sighed. "Anyway, Monica was seeing the guy on the down low. He was married."
A spark of hope flared, warming the cold inside her. Somehow Scully knew instinctively that this was it. This is what she'd come for.
"She told you about him?"
"She liked to rub my nose in it now and then. See, Monica was an ambitious little lady and I never really measured up to her standards. I was good enough for a screw and a few laughs, but she dropped me like a hot potato when Mr. Wonderful came along."
Tamping down her excitement was excruciating, but Scully kept her features bland. "What did she tell you about him?"
"Nothing specific. That he had a hotshot job and was climbing his way up the ladder. That he'd tell his wife he was going out of town on business and then sneak off to some sleazy motel with Monica." He rolled his eyes. "And that he was gonna get a divorce so he could marry her."
"You didn't believe that last part?"
Jansen shrugged. "I guess it's possible. I learned a long time ago not to underestimate Monica. She might've looked like Barbie on the outside, but on the inside..."
His lips curved. "On the inside, she was Xena. Nothing stood between her and what she wanted. Not for long."
Except this time, Scully thought. This time, she met her match.
"Thank you for talking to me, Mr. Jansen," she said aloud. "You've been very helpful."
"Is that it?" He sprang to his feet, though he was careful not to approach her. "That's all? What about me? If you believe I didn't kill Monica, what are you going to do to get me out of here?"
Scully signaled the guard to open the cell. "I'm going to find the man who did."
For the first time, Jansen's composure broke. "Please, hurry. There's not much time."
I know, she wanted to scream. Instead she walked briskly past the whistles and catcalls and tried not to wonder if she was already too late.
Mulder collapsed against the mattress, sweat trickling down his temples to darken the satin sheets. His head ached, his shoulder burned, and the inside of his mouth had turned to sandpaper. Nearly seven hours of focused effort had earned him a bruised wrist, bloody fingertips, and the three screws squirreled carefully under the pillow. All for naught, unfortunately, due to the one stubborn holdout that refused to budge. The steel ring holding the left handcuff jiggled and spun but refused to pull free.
Mulder's eyes fluttered closed and he drifted, exhaustion temporarily overcoming fear. Not awake, not fully asleep, images flickered through his mind, jumbled and hazy.
Soft, strong hands moving over the tight muscles in his shoulders and chest, first soothing, then arousing. Reaching up to tangle his fingers in hair like red silk, pulling her down, lips brushing, then clashing. Breathless laughter: Mulder, this is supposed to be therapy. Silencing her with another kiss: It's working, I feel better already...
...I feel better already, Scully. Why should I have to sit around for another three weeks before...? Blue eyes radiate anger and tears while her hand traces still tender flesh. Damn it, Mulder, for once in your life can't you exercise a little self-preservation? This time you weren't poised on the edge of the abyss--you were in freefall. Her voice breaks and suddenly only anger remains, like a knife to his heart. Don't you get it? For three minutes I lost you...
...I've lost you. Blue eyes shimmer, darken. Short copper tresses lengthen to a cascade of long black curls. She drops to her knees, heedless of the cold, muddy ground and traces a name etched into stone. I told you to call the damn tow truck. If you'd listened to me the first time, this never would've happened. If I'd gotten there five minutes sooner... Sobs wrack her slender shoulders and she presses her cheek to the icy granite. Oh, God, Sal, I'm sorry. Five minutes and I've lost you forever...
He groans, struggling to reach past an impenetrable barrier. Vickie. Cara mia...
"...Vickie. So sorry."
Pain exploded along Mulder's jaw, wrenching him to full consciousness. He blinked, struggling to think past the buzzing in his ears and the taste of copper on his tongue. Kyle stood over him, fist upraised, his face nearly purple with anger.
"Hi, honey. How was your day?" His rapidly swelling lip contributed an unintended but effective lisp.
"I want you to tell me where the disk is--now--or I'm going to show you just how tired I am of your little Twilight Zone act."
"I've heard dehydration causes memory loss."
They glared at each other in Mexican standoff fashion for several long minutes before Kyle stalked into the bathroom, cursing under his breath. Mulder heard the crackle of cellophane wrapping and then the blessed patter of water on plastic. He propped himself up on his elbows, remembering the loosened cuff when it rattled. Darting a quick look at the bathroom, he carefully shifted his body to conceal the loosened bracket.
Kyle returned, water in hand, but simply stood beside the bed. Mulder struggled unsuccessfully to conceal how desperately he wanted the contents of the cup. He instinctively ran his tongue over cracked lips, though his mouth was too dry to provide any real relief.
"Maybe you should decide how badly you want this." Kyle waved the water in front of his face.
"I could say the same about the disk."
Kyle gritted his teeth, grabbed Mulder by the hair, and thrust the cup to his lips. Mulder gulped down two delicious mouthfuls before the water was swiftly withdrawn. He pressed his lips tightly together to hold back a whimper of frustration.
"That's enough for now."
Mulder pulled his lips into his mouth, sucking every drop of moisture from them. "You're a real prince."
"Give me the location of the disk and you can have all the water you can drink."
"Last I heard, dead men don't need much."
He saw the fist coming this time, but couldn't move fast enough to dodge it. Mulder's head rocked back and warmth gushed from his nose.
"I'm tired of the smart mouth, too. You'd better come clean or..."
Kyle's voice faded as the white noise in his head grew louder and his vision swam in and out of focus. This time he clearly felt himself shoved gently aside as another presence took over.
"Managgia! You really think he's gonna give up the only thing keeping him alive? If so, you're stupid as well as crazy, paisan'."
Kyle stumbled back a step, eyes huge. "I told you to stop that."
"You're the one who needs to stop. How far you gonna take this? You cut up your girl, pinned it on an innocent man, ran down your best friend like a dog in the street. Now you're ready to kill this poor schmuck? When's it gonna end, Goombah?"
Kyle dropped the cup; clapped his hands over his ears. "Shut up, SHUT UP!" He lowered his hands and stabbed one finger at Mulder's chest. "You're dead, paisan'. I watched them bury you. So you can stop spouting this bullshit, because I'm not buying it."
The eyes regarding him darkened to black. "You watched 'em put me in the ground, all right. And you were right there to comfort Vickie when she was ready to follow me. How'd it feel, huh? Holding my wife in your arms, knowing you're responsible?" His voice rose in an eerie imitation of Kyle's. "We're here for you, Vickie. Anything you need, day or night, you just call."
Kyle's face went chalk white and he swayed on his feet. "That's imposs... How could you...?"
His lips stretched into a bloody grin. "Because I was there, you bastard. I was there."
Kyle turned and fled.
"Are you about finished with that?"
"Keep your pants on, Hickey. I'm going as fast as I can."
"Which is exactly why you should've let me do it."
"Like you'd be any faster."
"My mother would be faster."
"Oh yeah? Well, your mother is..."
"Gentlemen, this isn't helping Mulder. Frohike, move over a minute."
"Ow! Watch it, that's my foot!"
Scully shoved back her chair, stood, and strode out of the office, the staccato tap of her heels barely registering above the raised voices. She stabbed the elevator button with her thumb, folded her arms, and tucked chin to chest as she listened to the car rumble down the shaft.
She'd been going over her notes, trying to fit the pieces she'd gleaned from Vickie and Gary into some sort of cogent whole. One that would somehow point her in the direction of the killer--and Mulder. Her head throbbed from too much caffeine and too little sleep, and her body felt like a tightly coiled spring. One more minute cooped up with the poster triplets for annoying computer geeks and she wouldn't be responsible for her own actions.
The elevator doors slid open and she nearly collided with Skinner, who was studying a piece of paper in his hand. Scully took three quick steps backward, allowing the AD to exit the car.
"Excuse me, sir, I was just..." She shook off her surprise. "Is there something new on the case?"
"Ted just dropped off the composite put together by Mulder's neighbor. I thought you'd like to see it before we start distributing copies."
Scully accepted the proffered sketch, a frown creasing her pale brow as she scrutinized the bland features. "Nothing particularly striking. Didn't the guy have any distinguishing features--a mole, freckles, something?"
Skinner cupped the back of his neck, massaging the flesh with a grimace. "Ted said it took her a long time. She claims it was pretty dark in the apartment and he only opened the door a crack, so she couldn't see much."
She started to hand the sketch back to Skinner; hesitated, her frown deepening. "Still... There's something about him, about the eyes, that seems almost...familiar."
Skinner ducked his head to better see her face. "Funny you should mention the eyes. According to Ted, that was the one feature she was completely sure of. She said they 'gave her the creeps.'"
Scully studied the face a moment longer, then returned the paper to Skinner with a shake of her head. "It's not going to be much help, I'm afraid. That could be anyone of a hundred guys--a thousand. We need something concrete, damn it, we're chasing shadows."
Skinner's eyebrow lifted at the slip. "How did things go with Jansen? Did you learn anything new?"
"Only that Monica Mitchell was an ambitious woman who knew exactly what she wanted. And that she was involved with a married man."
"You think he could be the killer?"
Scully pursed her lips. "I think maybe Monica wouldn't take 'no' for an answer."
"Then we need to concentrate our efforts on finding out just who this mystery man is." Skinner thrust his chin toward the office door. "Have they had any success?"
"Getting on my nerves, yes; with the computer, nothing yet."
The acid tone brought Skinner's eyes back to her face. "Scully, we're doing everything possible to find Mulder. It's been less than twenty-four hours, you can't expect..."
"With all due respect, sir, if the man in Mulder's apartment found what he was looking for, Mulder may already be dead. If by some chance, however, he left empty handed, Mulder's only hope may be for us to find it first. Whatever 'it' is." She glared up at him, anger her only shield against the deeper emotion she refused to reveal. "I can expect, sir, and I do."
Before Skinner could respond, Byers barreled out of the office. He pulled up short when he saw Scully and Skinner.
"We've found something. I think this is it."
Scully darted a quick glance at the AD before following Byers into the office. Langly and Frohike, clustered in front of the computer, parted like the Red Sea when they saw Skinner on Scully's heels.
"It's an email with an attached photo, nearly a year old," Frohike explained as Scully skimmed the writing on the screen. "Looks like it came into the guy's work computer and he forwarded it to this one."
...wonder how the lovely Mrs. Kyle McNally would feel...
Scully's sharp intake of air drew four pair of eyes. She gripped the edge of the table, knees turned to jelly. "Oh my god."
Alarmed by the uncharacteristic behavior, Skinner grasped her elbow. "What is it, Agent?"
"Scroll down to the photo." She forced the words past numb lips, the sound of her own heartbeat deafening.
There was a brief power struggle as both Frohike and Langly went for the mouse. With a low growl of impatience, Skinner batted away their hands and took control of the device himself. He gave a cursory glance at the photo before returning his gaze to the more troubling sight of Scully's chalk white face.
"Scully, what is it?"
"Let me see that sketch again."
Skinner handed her the drawing, grinding his teeth as he waited her out. She studied the drawing, then the photo, finally holding the piece of paper beside the monitor. The resemblance between the two was obvious.
"I'd say we found our killer." Skinner frowned, reaching out to take the sketch from her trembling fingers. "Let's get a copy of that photo, start running it..."
"I know who it is, sir. And I'm guessing you do, too."
Her soft words had the impact of a scream. Skinner broke off, expression blank with surprise. "What?"
"I saw that face just this morning in a photo on Sal DeAngelo's desk. And I spoke to the man not more than four hours ago when I called for information on Gary Jansen. Sir, that's Kyle McNally."
Skinner's incomprehension faded to disbelief. "McNally? Isn't he a profiler in the BSU?"
Scully nodded, some of the color returning to her cheeks as anger replaced shock. "Profiler, ASAC, Sal DeAngelo's best friend." A pause. "Monica Mitchell's killer."
"And Mulder's kidnapper." Skinner strode over to Mulder's desk and picked up the phone.
Scully turned back to the screen. "Jansen said they'd sneak off to a motel. That must be where this photo was taken."
"Either that or the dude has the kind of bedroom most guys just dream about--" Langly grunted as Byers elbowed him in the ribs.
"Is there anything else we can do to help, Agent Scully?"
"I'll need a copy of this file on a disk. Maybe with a little enhancement we'll be able to pick up a detail that can tell us where this place is."
"Your wish is our command." The response was delivered without the usual leer, communicating Frohike's worry more clearly than words.
Scully forced a smile, ashamed by her earlier impatience. "Thanks. You three have been an enormous help."
"You know we'd do anything for you and Mulder." Byers glanced a bit nervously at Skinner, who was barking into the phone. "If you don't mind, we're going to keep looking. Just in case there's something more."
"Of course. Take all the time you need."
Skinner hung up the phone. The clenched jaw and stiff shoulders told Scully all she needed to know.
"He's not there now, is he?"
"He left around noon--hasn't been back. No one seems to know where he is or how to get in touch with him. I can try calling his wife, but..."
"I doubt he's got Mulder stashed in the basement." Scully stared at the disk Frohike placed into her hand. "I don't know how Sal DeAngelo came into possession of this email, but it may be the only thing that's kept Mulder alive. And our only hope for finding him that way."
Skinner gestured toward the door. "Then I suggest, Agent, that you get started."
"Good thing...I never had that...cup of coffee." He ground the words through gritted teeth as he worked the bracket back and forth. "Something to be said...for dehydration."
His eyes sought out the clock and he tugged harder, grimacing at the bright sparks of pain in his wrist. McNally had been gone over an hour. The little voice in his head--the one he ignored all too frequently--whispered that it was now or never. McNally was nearly out of patience, and Mulder was nearly out of time.
"Some mess you got me into, paisan'. Set up the chess board--I got a feeling we'll be meeting face to face real soon."
The intruder that had somehow taken up residence in his soul remained silent, and yet... Mulder could feel him there, grief and anger simmering on a low boil. He shivered, torn between dread and empathy, and rattled both handcuffs.
"Should see me now, Scully. You thought...I was crazy...when I dreamed about him." He punctuated each pause with a vicious yank on the chains. "Now I'm actually...talking to him."
A grinding scrape of metal on metal and the final screw flew through the air, landing on the carpet with a barely audible plop. Mulder lifted his newly-freed arm and watched a trickle of blood run from wrist to elbow, momentarily mesmerized.
Shaking off the shock-induced stupor, he sat up, only to groan in frustration. Focused on removing the loose bracket, it had never occurred to him that the phone was on the left side of the large bed. Even with his wrist no longer tethered to the headboard, his fingertips barely brushed the corner of the nightstand. Mulder lunged against the right cuff, nearly pulling his shoulder from its socket, to no avail. His lifeline to Scully perched cheerily on the table, oblivious to his curses.
Mulder slumped back onto the mattress and glared at his reflection. Hours of tedious, agonizing work and what did he have to show for his pain? No means to call for help, no weapon... The only object within reach was the empty cup, and the damn thing was made of plastic.
"What's up with that?" he growled at himself in the overhead mirror. "Silk sheets on the bed and they can't afford real glass..."
He watched a slow, cunning smile spread across the face of the man in the mirror.
Mulder scooted onto his knees and turned toward the mirrored headboard. Grasping firmly the bracket that now dangled from the left handcuff, he brought it sharply against the glass with as much force as he could muster. There was a crunch like breaking eggshells, and several hairline cracks radiated out from the point of impact. Clamping his lower lip between his teeth, Mulder raised the bracket and smashed it against the mirror again. This time the glass shattered, several shards popping out to land on the pillow.
Mulder picked up the largest, sharp as a knife and tapered to a wicked point. No match for a gun, but maybe he could make sure McNally had some 'splainin' to do back at the bullpen--and get in a few licks for the man he'd failed. He tucked the other pieces of glass beneath the pillow.
"Bring it on."
Mulder flung himself onto his back, pressing the broken bracket back into the headboard as best he could.
"There. What is that?" One manicured fingernail pointed at a white patch on the purple sheets.
"Looks like a towel. Hang on."
Rob Eddings, the irreverent whiz kid of photographic evidence, zoomed in on the object. Several clicks of the mouse, and Scully and Skinner could clearly see a white towel draped across the end of the bed.
Skinner leaned closer, adjusting his glasses. "See the gold near the top? Looks like some kind of emblem."
"Probably a logo for the hotel." Eagerness seeped into Scully's voice. "Can you clean it up enough to read it?"
"Patience, grasshopper. I'm trying."
Scully realized she was breathing down the Edding's neck; stepped back a pace, flushing when she felt Skinner's gaze. "I know you are, Rob."
"There...we...go." More clicks and the gold lettering on the towel sharpened. Rob frowned. "That's about as clear as she's gonna get, I'm afraid."
"Looks like an A." Scully traced the letter, careful not to touch the screen. "Here's the point. And this is the cross bar."
"Except there's something running diagonally through it. It almost looks like a fork." Skinner looked down at Eddings. "We'll need a printout of this."
"Gotcha covered." Eddings reached over, pulled the photo off the printer and handed it to Scully. "Hope it helps you find Agent Mulder."
"So do I." Scully smiled at the young agent. "Thanks, Rob. Hope we didn't cause you any trouble, jumping the line like this."
Eddings chuckled. "No problem. I'll just blame it on the AD."
Skinner gave him a quelling look that appeared to go completely unnoticed. Not for the first time Scully reflected that Eddings and Mulder were two branches off the same tree.
"I'm going to start searching for hotels online," she told Skinner as they stepped into the elevator. "If we proceed from the assumption that the name begins with the letter A, and factor in the...peculiarities of room design and clientele, we should be able to narrow the field to a manageable number."
"The DC police have put out an APB on Kyle McNally and I've got some of our own people looking for him, as well. If he surfaces, we'll be waiting."
Scully stared at the floor indicator light as it tracked their descent. "I'm afraid I tipped him off when I called about Jansen. He knows I've connected Mulder's disappearance to the Mitchell case."
"You had no way of knowing one of our own would be the killer." Skinner shook his head. "His own wife hasn't got a clue. She told me he's been sent out of town on a case. Asked if she could pass a message to him when he calls home."
The elevator lumbered to a halt and the doors opened. Skinner cast a final intent look at Scully's face before stepping out. "I'm going to check in with the boys in blue. Keep me apprised of the situation."
The doors began to roll shut but Skinner stopped them with an outflung arm. "Scully, if not for your sound investigative technique, we wouldn't have that photo. Whatever happens...you've done everything you could for Mulder."
She tipped her chin up and coolly met his concerned gaze. "I respectfully disagree, sir. I haven't found him--yet."
She held on to the illusion of confidence until Skinner removed his arm and allowed the doors to close. Sagging against the back wall, Scully pressed trembling fingers to her lips.
"When I bail you out of this one I expect some serious groveling, Mulder. Don't you dare deprive me of the pleasure."
She'd regained her composure by the time the elevator reached the basement. The Gunmen were still huddled around DeAngelo's computer, though Frohike and Langly apparently had put aside their squabbling. Scully sank into her chair with a sigh and booted up her computer.
"Find anything new?"
Langly glanced up from the screen, poking at his glasses with one long finger. "Only that the dude bookmarked some righteous porn sites."
"Terrific," Scully muttered.
She'd pulled up Google and was beginning a search when Frohike wandered over. He lifted the photo and squinted at it.
"Well, what do ya know? The guy was playing nookie with her at The Atlantis, huh? At least he has good taste."
She was concentrating so hard it took Scully a moment to process his words. Her head snapped up. "You recognize that logo?"
Frohike snorted as if the very question insulted his intelligence. "Of course I do. It's The Atlantis. Classiest no-tell motel there is. Way I hear it, they cater to all appetites. If you can't find it there, it doesn't exist."
By this time Byers and Langly had picked up on the exchange and come over to stare at the picture in their friend's hand.
"He's right. See? This object across the 'A' is a trident. That's the Atlantis's trademark." Byers flushed at Scully's raised eyebrow. "Um--so I've heard."
"How far is it?"
A brief, silent consultation before Frohike spoke up. "It's in Hagerstown, about an hour from here. I can draw you a map."
Scully stood and snatched up the phone. "Do it."
McNally pocketed his keys but remained standing just inside the door. In the muted light the glitter of his eyes gave Mulder the distinct impression he was being examined like a particularly interesting bug. A fifty-pound weight settled on his chest, and a tingling sensation began at the back of his neck, shooting down his spine. He pressed his thumb against the glass shard, the bright spike of pain driving back panic until he could breathe again. He batted his eyes.
"See anything you like?"
The wisecrack seemed to pull McNally from a daze. His lip curled. "You know, I always heard you were a pain in the ass, Mulder. The stories don't do you justice."
"You obviously haven't been talking to the right people."
Kyle didn't reply, but he stepped close to the bed. His right hand drifted to the small of his back and touched something tucked into the waistband of his slacks.
Mulder futilely attempted to wet dry lips. "You know, it'd be in your best interest to let me use the little agent's room. Otherwise I'm afraid at least one of us is going to regret it."
"I don't think that will be necessary."
Damn. I hate it when I'm right.
Mulder kept his expression neutral. "If you really want that disk..."
"It's too late for that now. Your partner's poking her nose around, asking all the right questions. It's only a matter of time before she figures things out."
"Then turn yourself in. This doesn't have to end badly."
Kyle chuffed a bitter little laugh. "I killed my best friend, Agent Mulder. It already has."
"Is that regret I hear, McNally?"
For the first time something like remorse flickered in Kyle's eyes. "I didn't want to kill him, he left me no choice. Sal was a good friend, but he never would've kept his mouth shut." The emotion vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "This is all Monica's fault. That cheap little hustler got exactly what she deserved."
"Of course, cheating on your wife is hardly the moral high ground."
That stare again. Flat. Assessing. "How do you do it?"
It wasn't the reaction he'd expected. Mulder eyed Kyle warily. "What?"
"Sound like...him. I can understand where you came up with the idea. I've heard about the stuff you and your partner investigate--aliens and Bigfoot and crazy shit like that. What I don't understand is how you knew those things about him. About...what happened."
Mulder sensed it--the slow burn of anger and betrayal. He tried to push back, determined to remain in control, but it was like trying to stem a tidal wave with a bucket. "You mean how it felt to be blinded by headlights and to hear the sound of your bones breaking? Or what it was like watch your best friend drive away while you choked to death on your own blood?"
Kyle recoiled, face a sickly gray. "That doesn't mean a damn thing. Your partner's a pathologist. You could easily have picked up that information from the police report, or the autopsy."
And suddenly, Mulder found he owned the anger as completely as the tortured soul of his unwelcome guest. As one they turned on Kyle, zeroing in for the proverbial kill.
"How about this, paisan'? You took your foot off the gas for a split second before you ran me down." A nasty, jeering laugh. "You were almost too chickenshit to go through with it."
Face twisted by rage, McNally snatched a Bureau-issue Sig from his waistband and leveled it at Mulder's head. "I'm going to shut you up, once and for all."
"Do it like a man this time, you bastard. Tuck it right under my chin and look me in the eye when you pull the trigger."
Kyle propped one knee on the mattress and bent over. With one quick motion Mulder rolled toward him, swinging his left arm in a wide arc. The heavy steel bracket dangling from the handcuff caught Kyle across the cheekbone, splitting skin. He yelped, swaying as blood sprayed from the wound. The gun slipped from his fingers, falling to the mattress with a soft thump, and he tumbled on top of Mulder.
McNally's weight drove the air from Mulder's lungs and pinned his left arm to his chest. He dug his heels into the mattress and bucked his hips, attempting to throw Kyle off so he could use the chunk of glass. Kyle rammed an elbow into Mulder's chest, fingers scrabbling for the dropped Sig. The blow, though lacking in real force, connected with still healing muscles and tissue. Mulder screamed and nearly lost his grip on the glass, vision graying around the edges and an insistent hammering in his head.
Their struggle had knocked the gun halfway across the slippery sheets. Kyle, sensing his advantage, planted one hand over Mulder's heart. He raised up, forcing Mulder's chest to support the full weight of his upper body, while he reached for the weapon.
"Get ready, paisan'. I'm gonna send you back to hell where you belong." He leaned across the mattress, legs shifting slightly to maintain his balance.
With a howl of rage and pain, Mulder brought up his knee squarely between McNally's now parted legs. Kyle shrieked, rolling onto his side in a fetal curl. With superhuman effort, Mulder scrambled onto his knees, respiration reduced to sobbing gasps for air. He knocked the gun off the bed and pressed the razor sharp piece of mirror into Kyle's throat. Kyle groaned, then gasped as blood oozed from the edges.
"Time for you to join me, you son of a bitch. Let's see how you like it on this side."
The pounding in his head became a single, deafening bang. Scully and Skinner blew through the door with a gust of cold air.
"Federal Agents. Freeze!" Guns leveled, they stared at the tableau before them.
"It's okay, Mulder. We've got things under control. Let him go and step back."
Despite his giddy sensation of relief, Mulder wondered at her careful, soothing tone. He blinked at a stinging drop of sweat, reflecting that he must look pretty bad for Scully to use her "victim" voice.
"Put it down, Mulder."
His fingers wouldn't move--in fact, they pressed the shard more firmly into flesh. Beneath him, Kyle whimpered again and more blood trickled down to darken the sheets. Mulder gaped at his own hand, willing the digits to obey. Stunned, then frightened when they defied him.
"Don't do this." He said it aloud, not caring how it sounded. Scully and Skinner already thought he was crazy. Might as well go for broke. "It's over."
"Mulder..." She trailed off when Mulder lifted huge eyes to her face, pleading. Skinner remained silent, watchful.
Mulder closed his eyes, mentally following the connection, his voice soft and reassuring. "He'll pay for what he did, and Gary Jansen will walk out of prison a free man. Justice has been served, Sal. You can let go."
A bewildering jumble of emotion rose up within him--regret, sorrow, release. It flooded his soul like an enormous wave, breaking over him, washing through him.
And was gone.
Mulder dropped the makeshift knife and moved back against the headboard. He pressed one hand to his chest, shivering as he watched his boss efficiently take McNally into custody.
"You all right?" Skinner's inquiry was as business-like as his Miranda recitation.
"Yeah." He looked up at Scully. "I'm okay."
She unlocked the remaining cuff, fingers discretely massaging torn flesh, eyes communicating everything Skinner's presence restrained. A feather-light touch to his bruised cheek and the lump on the back of his head, then a raised brow. "You'll still need to see a doctor." A pause. "But I think we can dispense with the psychiatrist."
So he wasn't the only one with regrets. One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up. "Deal."
The adrenaline rush ebbed and he was suddenly aware of a need more pressing than any of his other aches and pains. "Uh, Scully. I do have a bit of a problem. In fact, I'd call it an emergency."
She snapped to attention. "What's wrong, Mulder? Is it your chest? Your head?"
"Uh-uh." He lurched to his feet, barely resisting the urge to dance. "My bladder. If I don't make it to the bathroom in about ten seconds I'm going to contaminate a crime scene."
Scully folded her arms as he staggered past her. "Damn it, Mulder, that's not funny. You had me really worried."
"Brings a whole new meaning to the term 'pissing you off,' huh, Scully?" He flashed her an impudent grin as he shut the door.
She sighed and shook her head. Mulder's irreverent sense of humor had apparently survived intact--and so had he.
Skinner closed the file folder and leaned back in his chair. "I've read your report, Agent Mulder. You must admit your account of the events is more than a bit...unorthodox."
Mulder shrugged. "I've given you the truth. How you choose to interpret it is completely up to you."
"Is it true that Agent McNally has admitted culpability for the murder of Monica Mitchell?" Scully asked.
Skinner nodded. "And of Agent DeAngelo, as well. We have a signed confession." Skinner gave Mulder a shrewd look. "According to the DC cops, he was eager to cooperate, even waived his right to have an attorney present. They said he seemed anxious, kept muttering some nonsense about burying the dead."
Mulder's face revealed nothing. "And Gary Jansen?"
"Should be released within the next 24 hours, if he hasn't been already. He owes you his life, Mulder."
The hint of a grin tugged at the corners of Mulder's mouth but his expression was wistful. "Not me."
Skinner glanced uneasily at Scully, then forged ahead. "At any rate, McNally's confession omits our need for the email that cost Agent DeAngelo's life--and nearly yours, as well."
All traces of the smile vanished. "I believe that's called irony, sir."
Scully turned from Skinner to her partner. "That reminds me, Mulder. Where did you put the floppy disk McNally was after? He certainly tore up your apartment looking for it."
He smirked. "I subscribe to the 'hide in plain sight' rule, Scully. I labeled it and put it with all my other disks."
Both eyebrows soared. "You labeled it? As what?"
The smirk became a grin. "Porn."
She rolled her eyes and turned back to Skinner. "Is that all, sir?"
"I'd say that's more than enough, Agent Scully," Skinner replied dryly.
As they stood up he reached into a desk drawer and pulled out a piece of paper. "By the way, you might be interested to know that the owner of The Atlantis was quite upset when he learned a murderer had used his establishment to hold a federal agent hostage. He doesn't want his reputation tarnished by the negative publicity."
"Some reputation," Scully muttered.
"Be that as it may, he insisted on giving me this certificate for two complementary nights in one of the deluxe Jacuzzi suites."
Mulder snickered. "Walter, you dog! Who's the lucky lady?"
Skinner slowly stood and walked around his desk, face unreadable.
Scully glared at Mulder. "Sir, I'm sure Agent Mulder intended no disrespect..." She trailed off when she realized Skinner's expression was smug, not angry.
"Actually I thought I'd pass it along to you two. I'm sure you'll figure out what to do with it. There's a three day weekend coming up soon, isn't there?" He pressed the coupon into Mulder's hand with a cheery shark's grin.
Mulder stared blankly at the coupon while Scully's cheeks flushed and she searched futilely for an appropriate response. As if oblivious to their discomfiture, Skinner sauntered back to his desk, sat down, and began reading from a file folder. He glanced up at them over the top of his glasses.
"That's all, Agents. Dismissed."
It wasn't until they were alone in the elevator that Scully found her voice. "Well. I guess that's his way of telling us he knows. How do you suppose he found out?"
Mulder shrugged. "Does it matter? Cat was bound to squirm out of the bag sooner or later."
She scowled at him, hands propped on hips. "You're awfully calm about this! Aren't you the least bit concerned that our boss now knows we've both been playing doctor?"
Mulder shrugged, never taking his eyes from the certificate his hands. "Nah. Skinner doesn't care, Scully. As long as we aren't playing tonsil hockey or doing the naked pretzel in the office, he'll look the other way. Right now we've got something far more important to worry about."
"Really? And what would that be?"
He waved the certificate in front of her nose, a kid with a new toy.
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