Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (10/?)|
Somehow he made it across the room. Every step sent bright shards of agony through his injured leg, telegraphing the pain from hip to toe. His body was a jumble of contradictions, limbs shivering uncontrollably though heat flushed his cheeks and burned the tender skin beneath his eyes. His heart hammered wildly in his chest, fueled by the horror on Grey's face, while his brain felt sluggish and disconnected.
Three steps from the bed Mulder stumbled and nearly went down on the slippery hardwood floor. His sharp hiss of pain snatched Grey from his own nightmare just in time to snag a handful of Mulder's jacket and halt the plunge.
"Thought I told you to stay put." The gruff words were a reflex, spoken without malice. Grey draped his brother's arm around his neck, steadying him.
Mulder stared at the bloody sheet, which had fallen back over the dead man's face when Grey grabbed him. "Looks like Jed...won't be much help. What did you mean...?" For the first time Mulder noticed an odd but familiar odor lurking beneath the heavy, metallic smell of blood. "What the hell...is that?"
Grey grimaced. He gingerly reached down and tugged back the sheet. Mulder blinked, swallowed.
Chris Peterson's eyes bulged from the sockets like two pale blue marbles, mute testimony to the terror he must have experienced. His skin, leeched of color, contrasted sharply with the bright crimson droplets that splattered his cheeks and pooled over his chest. His lower jaw sagged, revealing a white, crystalline substance that filled his mouth and spilled from between blue lips.
"Mothballs." Grey's face was still, his voice flat.
Mulder's beleaguered stomach did a long, slow roll, the combination of sight and smell proving too much for his already tenuous self-control. He closed his eyes and breathed through his mouth, swaying a little despite Grey's firm grip.
Grey immediately drew the soiled sheet back over Peterson. "Enough. Let's get you somewhere you can lay down before you fall down."
Mulder shook his head, feet dragging as his brother steered him toward the bedroom door. "Wait! Not yet. I need to know..."
"You will. I'll tell you the whole story. But not until I get you settled and finish securing the house."
Mulder allowed Grey to propel him onward, feeling as if he were operating in slow motion while events around him hit fast forward. His normally fluid thought processes lurched and stuttered as badly as his shivering body, images of the dead man tangled up with his yearning for Scully and his fear of what he'd seen written on Grey's face.
Back in the family room, Grey lowered him onto the large couch and disappeared. Mulder flopped back against the cushions like a rag doll, unable to do more than listen as his brother checked the locks on doors and windows, rummaging through drawers and cupboards as he passed through each room. A loud thud from the front hallway and Mulder bolted upright, fingers reflexively scrabbling at his waist for a nonexistent gun.
Several smaller thumps and Grey's muttered curses assuaged the tightness in his chest. Mulder willed tense muscles to relax, keeping his ears keyed to his brother's every movement until Grey's footsteps signaled his return. His brother engaged the lock on the French doors, fingers absently massaging the crown of his head.
Mulder frowned. "Are you all right? What happened?"
Grey dropped his hand, expression sheepish. "I was ambushed by a box of files."
Mulder just quirked an eyebrow.
"It fell off a shelf in the coat closet," Grey growled. "I was hoping to find a gun, not a decade's worth of tax returns."
An impatient puff of air. "Plenty of luck--all of it bad." Grey's eyes panned the windows, his posture stiff and guarded.
"Tell me. All of it."
His brother's quiet command regained Grey's focus. He ran a hand over his face and around to cup the back of his neck, dropping chin to chest. With a gusty sigh, he wandered over to sink into the chair opposite Mulder. Elbows on knees, he laced his fingers together and chewed on his lip.
"About six years ago..." His voice faded to a whisper and he stopped with a sharp shake of his head. "This is hard. You're asking me to go back to a place I...I never wanted to revisit."
Mulder nodded, hugging his arms against his body to conserve heat and hide his shivering. "'S Okay. Take your time."
Grey drew in a long breath. "About six years ago there was a string of unsolved murders in Raleigh. The victims seemed random--male, female, black, white, professional, blue collar. All ages, all backgrounds. Under normal circumstances it probably would have taken us quite a while to link them together as products of the same killer. Except for the fact that he was leaving a very specific calling card."
Grey tapped a finger to his nose. "We knew we were in trouble by victim two, and we'd called in the FBI after the discovery of number three. The profiler was useless." He hunched his shoulders, shot Mulder an apologetic grin. "In my opinion. He spouted a lot of suppositions about the killer that could have been attributed to half the population--white male, thirty-five to fifty, average height and above average intelligence. Said the condition of the bodies showed anger, rage. That the reduction of time between killings indicated he was escalating, getting good at what he was doing and enjoying it. All very interesting, but..."
"It didn't put you any closer to catching your killer."
The effortful, thin sound to his brother's voice drew Grey's eyes like a magnet. "You look awful," he said, digging into the front pocket of his jeans. "I didn't find a gun, but I did manage to scrounge these prescription painkillers from the medicine chest. Looks like our friend the hermit got migraines."
Before he could stand, Mulder waved a weary hand. "Later. Keep going."
The line between Grey's eyes deepened. He looked about to argue, but Mulder's steely glare evidently caused him to reconsider. He leaned back, raking his fingers through unruly hair.
"Finally, after the fourth death, we made a connection. It was so simple, really. All the victims had achieved success. In some cases that success didn't fit into the normal definition of the word. Along with a dead lawyer, we had a construction worker. Turned out he not only owned the business, he'd built it from the ground up." Grey snorted softly at his unintentional pun.
"Then there was the high school literature teacher. Nothing unusual about her at first glance. 'Till we found out she'd won several prestigious awards for her poetry and had recently been approached by a major publishing house interested in printing a collection of her work. Even our housewife was voted citizen of the year by her hometown in recognition of her charity work."
Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Sounds like your profiler wasn't so worthless after all. That's a nice piece of work."
Something in Grey's face shifted, a hint of color rising in his cheeks, but he just nodded. Mulder's eyes widened and delight nudged the exhaustion from his expression. "You? You're the one that made the connection?" When his brother's silence spoke louder than words, he continued, "I'm impressed, Bubba. That's downright...spooky."
"There were a lot of folks working on the case," Grey disclaimed. "I was just lucky enough to put the pieces together. Anyway, in the end it really didn't matter. Thanks to my blunder, our killer fled a crime scene and got away clean."
Grey stood, walked over to gaze out the French doors, his back to Mulder. "Fate? Blind chance?" A sigh. "Kate had already been diagnosed and she...she wasn't doing so well. She was in the hospital overnight, having a treatment. Visiting hours were over and I was headed home.
"It was late--the nurses had cut me some slack and let me stay longer than usual. I was headed to my car in the parking garage when...I smelled it."
Mulder blinked. "Smelled it?"
"Camphor. Like someone had been packing away sweaters for the winter. Sharp and bitter. I just...stopped dead in my tracks. Stood there sniffing the air like some kind of bloodhound, thinking I'd gone round the bend. That I was so far into the damn case I was starting to smell things that weren't there."
Mulder strained to see his brother's face. Gave up. "I've been there."
Grey didn't turn, but his hunched shoulders eased a bit. "Yeah. I bet you have." Seconds passed with no sound but Mulder's ragged breathing. "So just as I was about to start walking, convinced I was crazy, I heard a sound. Like something heavy being moved, dragged across the concrete. It only lasted a second, but it was enough to send me in the right direction. Straight into the middle of a God- awful mess." Grey's voice trembled. He cleared his throat and plowed on.
"I never saw his face. He was bent over the body at first, then took off running as soon as he heard me coming. I chased him, but he lost me among the cars." Grey huffed, shaking his head. "Maybe I was lucky. I wasn't armed, and judging from the condition of the victims, he uses one heck of a hunting knife."
Mulder frowned at the self-deprecation; let it go. "The victim?"
"Survived--sort of." Grey finally turned, his face blank. "A doctor from the hospital. Attacked inside the car, according to the forensic evidence, then dragged outside. Guess he needed more space. I interrupted the bastard as he was putting on the finishing touches. The doc pulled through, but there was brain damage. I heard he wound up in a nursing home."
Mulder let his head drop onto the back of the couch, struggling against eyelids increasingly determined to close. "It wasn't your fault he got away. You stumbled onto something you were completely unprepared for and unequipped to handle. No one could blame you."
Grey blinked, animation seeping back into his features. "This from the master of self-castigation." But he slowly returned to sit in the chair. "The fact of the matter is that I had the perfect opportunity to stop the monster, and I came up empty. A permanently crippled victim and a vanished perpetrator. Hell, I blame me."
"Vanished..." Comprehension bypassed the fuzziness. "You never found him?"
"Never had the chance. After that close call in the garage he must have packed his knife in mothballs--or left town. The murders stopped, and as time passed the case sank to the bottom of the pile and was filed, unsolved. I had other things on my mind by then. Like watching my wife die." Grey's long fingers curled into fists. "I thought that was the end of it. I haven't thought about the sick bastard in more than three years."
"And now he's back."
Grey's eyes darted to his brother's face. "Why now? And, more importantly, why me?"
"I wouldn't be surprised if he was out of circulation for a while. It's not uncommon for a killer to be temporarily sidelined--even apprehended--by some other crime. He could have spent the last few years in jail.
"As for why you? You got in his way. He had a good thing going until you came along and spoiled it. A lot of serial killers are meticulous about the process of death--compulsively so. When you interfered with that ritual, he may have fixated on you." Mulder gnawed his lip. "Did you receive a lot of attention after the incident in the garage? Media coverage?"
Grey's lips tightened to a thin line. "Yeah. Didn't seem to matter that the man I saved was little more than a vegetable. The press had me billed as the hero, taking on the killer with my bare hands. I even got a letter of commendation for it."
"A sign of success in our business--wouldn't you say?"
Grey's intense gaze shifted from Mulder's face to his injured leg. "I'm so sorry, Fox. I know you only came up here for me, and now you're stuck in this nightmare because of it."
Mulder shrugged, though the normally fluid movement looked stiff. "Hey, forget it. To tell you the truth, it's a refreshing change to have someone else be the target of the crazed killer."
Grey expelled a short puff of air and shook his head. "Gotta hand it to you, little brother. You always know the right thing to say."
He stood and walked into the kitchen, returning moments later with a glass of water and an amber vial. At the sight of the clear liquid Mulder's thirst, forgotten in the distraction of Grey's story, returned with a vengeance. He accepted the glass and tried not to guzzle, watching over the rim as Grey shook two small white pills into his palm and extended it.
"I told you, remember? Something with codeine. If it'll treat a migraine, I'm sure it'll take the edge off the pain in your leg."
Mulder set the glass on an end table, disconcerted by his own jittering fingers. "Uh...I'll pass. But if he's got some ibuprofen in that medicine chest, I'll take a couple."
Grey's brow furrowed. "Take the pills, Fox. I'll still consider you a manly man, I promise."
A firm shake of the head, accompanied by a grimace. "You don't get it. This has nothing to do with a fragile ego. In my present condition those pills will knock me out--not something I can afford considering our killer is out there somewhere, just waiting for the right opportunity to renew your acquaintance."
"You said it yourself--he's out there. And that's where he'll stay if I have any say in the matter. You, on the other hand, are in very rough shape. That leg is infected; you're already running a fever. Antibiotics would be real handy at this point, but we both know that ain't happening. So I'm going to clean and dress the wound, and then you're going to get some sleep. I'll keep watch for our friend."
"And then what? How long do you think we can just sit here, Grey? We have no weapons to speak of, and pretty soon it will be dark. Odds are, that's what he's waiting for." Mulder's voice trembled with anger and fatigue. "You know what has to happen. You just don't want to face it."
Grey's scowl deepened. "I don't know what you're talking about."
The storm passed abruptly, and Mulder became very calm. "We know who he is, and we know what he wants. He's orchestrated things very carefully to get you here--isolated, weaponless, and hampered by my injury. We can't just hang out, waiting for him to play the trump card."
Grey's eyes narrowed. "I don't think I like where this is headed."
"If you get started now, you'll still have a good five hours of daylight. If you stay off the road, keep to the trees..."
"NO! Forget it! I'm not leaving you, Fox. You're in no shape to defend yourself. You'd be a sitting duck."
"Better me than us both!" Mulder leaned forward, face twisting in anger and pain. "I'm tired of being a liability to you. Without me, you can make it out of here, get help. Think, Grey. Look at this logically, objectively. You'll see the truth."
Grey clenched his fingers around the pills, stalked across the room. For a split second Mulder thought his brother was going to drive his fist into the wall. Instead his shoulders relaxed, and he walked back to sit in the chair. He bent forward, locking eyes with Mulder.
"The truth is, you're my brother, Fox. There's nothing logical or objective about it. So whatever happens next, we'll deal with it. Together."
Mulder looked away, struggling to push words past a closed throat. "You're crazy."
Grey leaned back. Smiled. "It's been said. Look, Dana and Kristen have got to suspect something is wrong by now. Knowing those two, I think I can say with confidence that they will track us down. We just have to dig in and give them time."
He stretched out his hand, the two little pills still nestled in his palm. "At least take one. I'll go raid Jed's medicine chest for something with a little less kick."
Mulder stared at the pills for a long moment before fumbling one to his lips with unsteady fingers. He washed it down with the remaining water, still evading Grey's eyes. His brother collected the empty glass and stood, intending to refill it.
The subdued voice stilled his feet, turned him back. "Yeah?"
"It's not logical for me either. That's why I wanted you to go."
Grey's mouth curved and he tipped his head in acknowledgement. "United we stand, little brother. The bastard doesn't have a chance."
Mulder's tentative nod sent him on his way.
Continued in Chapter 11