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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (5/?)
133 Waterbrook Lane
Scully eased the car to the curb and killed the engine. She pulled the keys from the ignition but made no move to exit the vehicle, dropping her head onto the seatback with a weary sigh. A young mother pushed a stroller along the sidewalk, its tiny occupant bundled so thoroughly only two eyes and a pair of rosy cheeks protruded from the blanket. Across the street, an older woman tramped from car to house and back again, hauling plastic bags of groceries. Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked incessantly.
Less than thirty-six hours ago, a little girl had disappeared from her bed without a trace, yet peaceful suburbia hummed along with barely a hiccup. Bitter irony considering the devastation wrought in the lives of those who loved her.
Grey had been civil but distant during the car ride back to the precinct. Scully hadn't pressed, though her stomach churned with empathy and regret. At the station they'd gone their separate ways--Scully to follow up with the forensics team and Grey to check on the search for Talbot. She hadn't seen him since.
Kira haunted the hallways like a hollow-eyed waif, consuming cups of bad coffee and waiting for some scrap of news on her daughter. She'd politely rebuffed Scully's offer to bring her a sandwich from the cafeteria, though Scully was certain she'd eaten little or nothing over the past twenty-four hours.
And Mulder... Scully closed her eyes but could not shut out the memory of the almost physical pain Grey's scorn had caused. Cases that involved missing children could not help but resonate within Mulder. In such a state of heightened vulnerability, Grey's bitter invective had drawn blood as effectively as fists.
A sharp shake of her head, and Scully got out of the car. She glanced up and down the street, then, seeing no sign of Mulder, walked around to the rear of the house. He sat perched on the cement stoop outside the back door like a lanky black bird, legs folded to his chest and open coat flapping in the breeze. She crossed the narrow strip of grass to stand beside him.
Mulder cocked his head, squinting a little in the glare from the sun. Despite the lines of weariness and grief around his eyes, his mouth curved into the gentle smile that never failed to make her heart ache with emotion. "Hey, Scully."
She smiled back, reaching down to sift her fingers through dark, windblown hair. "Hey yourself. Any luck with the neighbors?"
He scooted over, patting the now vacant corner. "Most were spectacularly unhelpful."
"Most?" She sat, leaning into his warmth.
Mulder tipped his chin toward the house next door. "Corrie and Sam Logan, Claire's surrogate grandparents. According to Corrie they didn't see anything unusual the other night. Except for the lights in the sky."
She cocked a skeptical eyebrow, but he headed her off with an upraised hand. "I know what you're going to say, Scully, but this isn't some crank. If I hadn't questioned her I don't think she would have given what she saw a second thought. She and her husband dismissed it as a meteor shower."
"Maybe it was."
He gave her a long look, then jerked his thumb toward something covered by a large piece of canvas near the back of the yard. "Take a peek in the sandbox and then we'll talk."
A moment passed before she realized he was serious. Scully stood, feeling his eyes on her back as she walked across the grass and peeled back the tarp. Scorch marks, melted plastic, hunks of glass... It didn't take a genius IQ to see what Mulder had--just a few years on the X-Files.
He loomed at her back, hands stuffed into coat pockets. "We've been here before, Scully."
Short, clipped, the words held both self-assurance and stubborn determination. Good. He was going to need both in order to convince his brother.
Scully turned and met his probing gaze. "You're right."
One corner of his mouth turned up. "Dear Diary..."
"I'm not saying Claire was abducted by aliens. I'm saying there's sufficient evidence to warrant further investigation." She hesitated. "Mulder... There's another possible explanation. One we've also seen before."
His lips tightened to a thin line. "I'd thought of that. But why Claire? She doesn't have a drop of Mulder blood; there's no reason they should be interested in her. It's far too coincidental that she would be a random test subject."
"And your theory isn't? Less than one percent of the population claims to have been abducted by aliens. What are the odds that your brother's niece should be one of them?"
He propped hands on hips, frustration and weariness sharpening his voice. "I thought you agreed that the evidence..."
"I do. But bright lights and melted toys are only half the equation. You said it yourself--why Claire? Motive is as important as method, Mulder. Grey is not going to take you seriously until you can answer your own question."
He glared at her a moment longer before nodding. "You're right."
Scully arched an eyebrow. "Dear Diary..."
It earned her a delighted chuckle--the first, she realized sadly, since they'd gotten the call from Grey. Scully grinned back, basking in the moment.
"So where do we go from here?" she asked as they began walking back to the car.
"I think I'll give the Gunmen a call. Have them check UFO activity over the last week or so."
"You think this might have happened elsewhere?"
Mulder shrugged, crossing to the driver's side of the car. "I need to find some kind of pattern, Scully, if I'm to understand why Claire and not the kid down the street." His eyes hardened and he bent over to unlock the door. "And to have any chance of convincing Grey."
"Save it, Scully. I don't need you to make excuses for him."
"I wasn't going to."
He paused, key halfway to the lock, momentarily nonplussed. "Well...I don't need you to make me feel better, either."
"Never crossed my mind."
Mulder straightened up, irritation creasing his brow. "Then what were you going to say?"
Scully strode over and nudged him out of the way, pulling out her own set of keys. "I'm driving." She unlocked the door and slid behind the wheel, her expression daring him to protest. "After all, the seat's already adjusted so my little feet can reach the pedals."
Mulder slouched around to the passenger side. "You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"
Scully just started the engine, her smile distinctly enigmatic.
Raleigh Police Station
Something had changed. Mulder and Scully could feel the undercurrent of restrained excitement the moment they entered the building. Grey stood behind his desk, phone tucked between ear and shoulder as he wrote on a yellow legal pad.
"...That's right. Take the car straight to impound; forensics can go over it for trace evidence." He motioned them over, still scribbling frantically. "What did you expect, a spontaneous confession? Just get him in here; we can hold him for up to 48 hours if we have to."
"You've located Talbot?" Mulder's voice was scrupulously neutral.
"Our APB paid off. A state trooper spotted him about fifty miles south of here, on Interstate 95. They're on their way in now, should be here in about fifteen minutes."
"Is Claire with him?" Scully asked.
A wisp of doubt dimmed the satisfaction shining in Grey's eyes, but he shrugged it off. "No. But he could have her stashed somewhere--a motel, a friend's place. Once he sees we're onto him, I'm hoping he'll come clean about everything, including where to find Claire."
"Which direction was he headed?"
Grey turned to his brother with a frown. "What?"
"Talbot. Which direction was he headed when the cop stopped him, north or south?"
Grey glanced at his notes. "North." When his brother didn't reply other than to flash Scully a significant look, he folded his arms. "What?"
Mulder's face was expressionless but a hint of impatience crept into his voice. "Don't give me that. You know what."
"So he was heading toward the city. He still didn't show up for work the past two days, and he's still the most likely suspect."
"This is the first break we've had, Fox. If things go well, this nightmare might be over in a matter of hours. Allow me a little optimism, all right?"
"Grey?" Kira wound her way through bodies and desks until she stood beside Scully. "Is it true? Did they find Steve?"
"He's on his way in right now. No sign of Claire--yet."
"I want to be there when you talk to him."
"Kira..." Grey looked at Mulder.
"Kira, it's not a good idea." Mulder reached around Scully to lay a hand on Kira's shoulder. "Aside from the fact that it could influence Steve's response to questioning, it's completely against police procedure."
A line appeared between Kira's brows. "Unless I'm mistaken, Grey working a case that involves family isn't exactly going by the book either. Claire is my child; I have the right to hear what Steve has to say."
"Does your interrogation room have an observation area?" Scully asked Grey.
He nodded, relief softening his features. "Yeah. I guess that would be all right." He turned to Kira. "You'll be able to listen in without him knowing you're there. Okay?"
A slight hesitation before she returned his nod. "Okay."
Grey glanced around, then beckoned to a nearby uniformed officer. "Covelli, would you please show my sister to observation for interrogation B?"
When Kira had been escorted away, an awkward silence fell between the three. Scully watched Grey fiddle with his pencil and Mulder shuffle his feet, biting back the urge to knock their heads together. When Grey finally spoke, it was with eyes still trained on the pad of paper.
"So... Find anything else at Kira's?"
Mulder caught the slight jerk of Scully's head from the corner of his eye. He gritted his teeth but kept his tone mild. "Nothing I care to share at the moment."
Grey looked up sharply. "I'm not sure if I should be disappointed or relieved."
Mulder bared his teeth in a grin. "Like you said, this may all be over in the next few hours."
"But you don't think so."
Grey's phone trilled and he scooped it up. "McKenzie...Put him in B; we'll be right there." He dropped the receiver back onto its cradle, scooped up a folder, and stood, tugging his jacket from the back of his chair. "Let's go."
Talbot was seated at a small wooden table, hands cuffed in front of him, when they entered the room. Scully wasn't sure what she expected, but it certainly wasn't the harmless-looking man with weary eyes and a slight build. He looked up, eyes widening, then narrowing at the sight of Grey.
"I should've figured you were behind this. At least maybe now I'll get some answers."
"These are Special Agents Scully and Mulder from the FBI," Grey said as he and Scully took seats at the table. Mulder wandered to lean against the wall at a point just beyond Talbot's left shoulder. Talbot's gaze flicked quickly over him before returning to Grey.
Grey set down the file folder in his hand and pressed both palms against the scratched and pitted tabletop. "Claire is missing."
Talbot stared at him, blank expression quickly transforming to angry confusion. "Missing? What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"She wasn't in her bed when Kira went to wake her up yesterday morning. We've searched the area, checked in with all her friends. No one has seen her since Monday night."
"That doesn't make any... Why would she run off like that? And how could an eight-year-old kid just disappear?"
Grey's face remained impassive but his hands curled slowly into fists. "Maybe because she didn't 'run off.' We don't believe Claire left of her own free will."
"Oh my God." Talbot leaned forward, burying his face in his hands. "Do you know who might've..." He dropped his hands, glaring at Grey. "Is that why--you can't possibly think I would..."
"Where were you Monday night, Steve?"
"You've got to be kidding." When Grey didn't respond, Talbot turned to Scully. "Look, I don't know what he's told you, but I'm no kidnapper."
"I know exactly what you are, Mr. Talbot." Scully's voice was cool as she drew the folder from Grey and opened it. "Your record speaks for itself."
"That was five years ago. A lot has changed since then. I've changed."
Something in his tone, hidden beneath the sullen growl, made Scully steal a quick look at Mulder, who responded with a barely perceptible nod.
"You want custody of Claire," Grey said.
"Joint custody. Just because a man wants the chance to see his own daughter doesn't make him a kidnapper, for God's sake! I'd never do that to Kira."
Grey's lip curled. "'Course not. You're just a big ol' teddy bear, aren't you? You'd never hurt her."
"We've strayed from the question." Scully looked pointedly at Grey before returning her attention to Talbot. "There's an easy way to put these accusations to rest, Mr. Talbot. Just tell us where you were on the night Claire disappeared."
Talbot pressed his lips tightly together before answering. "I was...out of town."
"Where?" Grey asked. "And for what purpose?"
A sharp shake of his head before he looked coolly into Grey's angry face. "I can't say. It's a personal matter."
"Personal?" Grey's response was low, dangerous. "Like taking your daughter from her bed and driving her to wherever you're holding her right now?"
Face twisted in rage, Talbot shoved back his chair and stood. In a flash Grey was on his feet, hand on the butt of his weapon. "Sit down, Steve."
Talbot hesitated, breath puffing in short, hard pants. He dropped back into his chair, spine rigid. "I told you I didn't do it. Hell, I was 400 miles from here. You're wasting your time with me when you could be out looking for the real kidnapper." He scrubbed at his face with both hands and barked out a semi-hysterical chuckle. "But that wouldn't be nearly as much fun, would it?"
Scully tensed as Grey stepped closer to Talbot, looming over him. "What are you trying to say?"
"This is your big chance, isn't it? A way to get back at me for all the grief I caused your sister? You had me tried and convicted before you walked in this room."
"Maybe I just know what you're capable of, you little..."
Scully's hand on his arm pulled Grey back. Barely. He straightened, running the fingers of one hand through his hair, then stalked over to the door and shoved it open.
The uniformed cop who'd escorted Kira to the observation area appeared almost instantly, looking ready to bow or salute--Scully wasn't sure which. She chewed the inside of her cheek to hide her amusement. Evidently Grey's current run of bad temper had everyone walking on eggshells.
"Process him and put him in a holding cell." Grey ignored Talbot's angry hiss.
"You can't do this. Last time I checked, you need evidence to charge someone with a crime." Talbot spat the words at Grey as Covelli grasped one arm.
"I can hold you up to 48 hours without charging you with a damn thing. With any luck, by then I'll have the evidence I need."
Talbot's reply, as Covelli ushered him from the room, was crude but creative. Grey watched him go, then turned on his brother.
"What was with you? You're the great profiler; I expected you to say something."
Mulder pushed himself off the wall he'd been holding up, shrugging. "You and Scully had things under control. I can usually tell more about a person by observing."
Grey folded his arms. "So?"
"I think he's telling the truth. I don't believe he had anything to do with Claire's disappearance."
Obviously not the answer Grey wanted. "Were we just in the same room? The guy refuses to account for his whereabouts Monday night. Why--unless he has something to hide?"
Mulder shook his head. "I didn't say he's not concealing something. I just don't think it has anything to do with Claire."
"Really? Have you got anything to back up that opinion? Or am I just supposed to take it as face value because it comes from Spooky Mulder?"
Mulder's eyes went dark and flat. Scully started to speak, desperate to say anything that might deflect the anger, but he cut her off. "I watched him, Grey--did you? I saw his face when you told him Claire was missing, and I'm telling you, he didn't know. I guarantee when you get the forensics on his car there'll be no physical evidence, just as there was none at the house."
"You wrote him off from the beginning." Grey uttered the words softly and nearly without inflection, a sure sign he was furious. "You'd rather believe Claire was taken by ET than accept the truth. I know that son of a bitch, Fox. You ask if I've watched him? Damn straight I have--watched him bully and abuse my sister for years. He has Claire somewhere, and I'm going to get it out of him, with or without your help."
Mulder stared at his brother, face pale. "Talbot was right, wasn't he? This isn't about Claire, it's about Kira and what happened five years ago. You want him to be guilty, don't you? Damn it, Grey, can't you see you've crossed the line?"
For a moment Scully thought it would be all right. Grey's face crumbled and he dropped his head, breathing ragged. But when Mulder reached out to lay a hand on his brother's arm, it was shrugged off and Grey's shoulders stiffened.
"I need to follow up with forensics on the car and search his personal affects. Maybe there'll be something to tell us where he's been." He stalked out of the room without meeting their eyes.