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The Black Hole & St Pat’s
From: (Nicole Mason)
Subject: New: The Black Hole – black.asc [01/01]
Date: Fri, 22 Sep 95 18:54:10 GMT
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and Skinner belong to CC/1013/etc.
Warning: NOT a romance
The Black Hole
By Nicole Mason
Foreword: This story is based on actual events. Many names have been changed, but the events are real enough.
When he first read the post in the newsgroup, he thought it was a joke. It only consisted of two sentences.
Help. I’ve fallen into the black hole and I can’t get out.
O.K., the line was old. It had lost all of the humor first associated with the commercial. He was getting ready to post a response flaming the person’s outdated humor, when he noticed all of the responses to the comment. The e-mail was generated from all over the country with a few international responses as well.
A person in California claimed to have barely escaped with his life, his sanity had not been as lucky. Someone in Texas said that there was a support group for the survivors. Their main goal was to paint the town and get stupid at St Pat’s. After reading several more of the responses, all empathizing with the original poster, Mulder was intrigued. Some of the advice given to those still in the black hole was to “just grin and bend.” ( Now why did he think that referred to a sexual situation?) Another one remarked on the gravity well surrounding the place and its dimensions. This one was from the Los Alamos complex in New Mexico.
Mulder was distracted from the postings when the phone rang. “Mulder,” was said in an abrupt tone.
“Mulder, I want you and Scully up here in 10 minutes.” A.D. Skinner’s voice was annoyed and brisk.
“Yes, sir,” he replied with long suffering acceptance and hung up the phone.
Scully looked up from the files she was reviewing. “Skinner?” Mulder nodded. “What did you do now?” A small smile touched her lips at the exaggerated look of innocence and the ‘Who? Me?’ gesture that accompanied it.
“He wants to see both of us.” He stated, closed out the newsgroup, and put on his jacket. Scully closed her file and preceded him out the door.
They didn’t even have to wait when they reached Skinner’s secretary. “He’s expecting you,” she supplied without looking up from her work. Mulder knocked on the door and opened it when a brusque “Come” was issued.
The two agents entered confidently. “You wanted to see us, sir.” Scully said as they approached the desk.
“Have a seat,” came from on high. Mulder was curious. The man looked more annoyed than usual. He also looked gleeful (if that was possible). After several moments of silence, Mulder prompted, “Sir?”
“There’s been some reports of missing persons. Well not exactly missing,” Skinner finally said, his eyes going to each of the agents.
Scully gazed steadily at the AD, “Sir?” There had to be a reason for his statements.
Skinner nodded, knowing as soon as he finished the briefing Mulder would be off on a tangent. But that was Mulder. “Apparently people are leaving for vacation, or even a weekend, and they aren’t going back.” He told them this fact in a bored tone.
“Kidnapping? I thought you just said this was a missing persons.” This was too normal for the X-files, Scully reflected.
“How do missing persons reports involve us, sir? Have there been any reports of alien abductions with these?” Mulder was getting interested.
“Nothing like that, Mulder.”
“Where do we come in, sir?” Mulder asked, disappointed.
“You don’t. You leave.” Skinner was smirking.
Scully was apprehensive, “Sir?”
“You’re both booked on a flight tomorrow at 8:00 am for St Louis. From there, you’ll go to-” he paused as he shuffled some papers, “Rolla, Missouri.” It was a small midwest town. Nothing unusual. ‘This should keep them out of trouble for awhile,’ Skinner reflected. “This is where the “missing people” are turning up.” Skinner stated without further explanation. “Your tickets will be at the ticket counter in the morning.”
“Yes, sir” they both said. What the hell was this all about?
As they exited the office, Skinner spoke again, “Oh, and take your time on this.” There was that smirk again. He’d been “requested” to assign Mulder and Scully to this case. At first, he’d been apprehensive about the motives of the request. But what could happen to them in a quiet midwest town. (REAL QUIET!)
x X x
They landed at Lambert International without a problem (That event would be an X-file). They headed toward the St Louis office to check in with a friend of Mulder’s( He never seems to have any friends, I decided to give him at least one. Arrogant of me, wasn’t it?).
“So you’re going to Rolla,” Amanda Sullivan stated.
“You’ve been there?” Scully asked.
Amanda shook her head. “Only driven through. Its school is one of the best in the country,” the native St Louisan stated with pride.
“I’ve never heard of it,” Mulder responded.
“It’s an engineering school mainly. The sports teams suck.” Amanda continued, “My husband went there. And he’s pulled back every year.” She finished with a laugh. (“Pulled back,” what an odd way to phrase it.)
The two agents said good-bye shortly after that, and set out for Rolla. They found their way to 44 west, and then wished that they hadn’t found the highway. Major road construction was going on for at least 3/4 of the 103 mile trip (O.K. that’s just a slight exaggeration). And the drivers with Illinois plates were out to kill everyone. The highway was surrounded by gently rolling hills that were in the first stages of the fall extravaganza. (enough of waxing poetic, I don’t want to make anyone ill.)
The trip seemed to drag out forever. They had both gone over the small file on the plane, so that couldn’t occupy their time. When they finally arrived at Rolla, they were surprised at the booming town that boasted 3 exits off the highway. (the biggest town they’d seen since St Louis)
They stopped at the Dreary Motel to get rooms and make some calls concerning the twelve people on their list. The name was appropriate for the place (Of course. Why else would I call it that?) It had a prison pallor almost, maybe dormitory atmosphere would have been more accurate. They were small rooms with absolutely no personality, even for a motel room. They got the addresses for the first 3 people on the list from the tiny phone book that served about 15 surrounding towns as well. The first two weren’t home. The third one was a woman who was being hassled by two small children.
“This is Special Agent Mulder. I’m Agent Scully.” She said to the woman she was eye level with. (I don’t know why sometimes they are special agents vs just agents, so it’ll be arbitrary designations)
“Yes. Can I help you? Lauren Michel! I told you not to throw the spaghetti at your brother.” The two agents tried not to smile at the angelic little girl who was acting like the devil incarnate.
“Ms. Evers, there was a report filed that you’d been missing for three weeks before you relocated to Rolla. Could you tell us what happened in that time?” Mulder was definitely looking for Lost Time episodes.
“Missing? Who did that? We moved back here so I could get my Master’s. Anyone who would report me missing knew that.”
“You can account for the time in question?” Mulder was skeptical and disappointed.
“Unfortunately, every second. We almost killed someone on the track of torture also known as a highway. Then the hassle of getting the electricity set up, and the phone, and cable, and dealing with the realty company. I know it’s the Ozarks, but I didn’t think that the inbreeding would be so bad.” (Please, no one take offense at that statement. I wouldn’t want to be hunted down for having a diversified gene pool. On second thought, I’m not too sure about my own family’s evolutional progress)
“You moved back here?” Scully asked a little aghast.
“Yeah. I didn’t think that once I got out, I’d ever come back. But that’s Rolla.” She said as she looked over at a phone that had stopped ringing. There was a resigned acceptance in her voice that the agents didn’t understand.
“What do you mean?” Mulder was forming a theory.
“Ammie, Renee just called. They’ve moved your class to 4:30,” a disembodied male voice called from another room.
“I’m sorry. I’m going to have to go. I have to finish a presentation for that class.” She said as she rushed to kiss her children and grab a backpack. She practically pushed the two agents out the door. “I’m leaving,” she called and closed the door behind her. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way here for me to tell you that,” she said as she got into her car.
“We have a few other people we need to question,” Scully said with a small smile for the frazzled woman.
They went back to the motel and did a search on some of the other names on the list. All of them had graduated with B.S.‘s from Rolla. All were back for graduate school. “That’s strange,” Scully mused as she stared at the computer screen.
Mulder’s ears perked up. “What is?”
“All of these people are enrolled in graduate school here.”
“What’s so strange about that?”
“Well, they all also received their bachelor’s from Rolla within the last 3 years as well. Most people go somewhere else for graduate school,” she stated.
Mulder was silent as he reworked his theory.
After another hour of gathering background information on the “missing” people, they decided to try to find something to eat. In the brochure provided, there were several fast food places, and it looked like 3, maybe 4, actual restaurants that served real food.
“Hey, Imo’s. Amanda’s talked about this place.”
“I thought she hadn’t been here?” Scully questioned.
“It’s based out of St Louis. Want to try it?” The question was rhetorical. He’d already made up his mind. They had no problem finding it. Wally World was a big clue. Mulder groaned when they stepped into a small restaurant with Italian decorations. It was kid’s night apparently. Thrills. They sat at a table the furthest away from the noise that was possible. The waitress was exceedingly slow. When she finally took their order, they were practically salivating due to the smells generated in the kitchen. They decided on the special for the night: house salads, toasted ravioli, and a 16” pizza with 2 toppings. Mulder figured the leftovers could be a midnight snack. They devoured the salads and ravioli. When the pizza arrived, Mulder was shocked. It was thin. Really thin. He bit into one of the squares of pizza. The cheese was gooey and stuck to his teeth. The sauce was tangy and the meat was greasy. It was wonderful. Scully grimaced after biting into her first slice. She reached for the pink tinged water. The waitress had explained that the water dispenser had once been the tropical fruit punch dispenser. The water didn’t help. The cheese felt like glue on her teeth and the crust resembled a cracker. (That is a non-St Louisan’s opinion. I agree with Mulder on this one.) She ate a few more slices, but finally took mercy on her digestive track. Mulder ate 90
of the pizza. (It really is *thin*)
“What do you want to do now?” Mulder asked. He had this unexplainable urge to play hooky.
“I’d like to call some of the names on the list,” Scully stated firmly.
“Don’t you want to see if there’s a movie?” Mulder asked as the waitress placed the bill on the table.
“There aren’t any showings starting after 7:30, ” the teenager supplied.
“What?!” Both agents asked.
“Only on weekends and during the summer is when they have late shows.” She stated this fact casually. (Life really sucks when you have to drive an hour and a half just to see a movie when it first comes out.)
Mulder and Scully were both in Culture Shock. “I guess it’s a good thing I brought some paper work along,” Mulder said ruefully. They paid their bill and tried to drive around the town. Thirty minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of the Dreary. Scully was grumbling. Mulder had kept driving, insisting that there had to be something more to the town. They couldn’t have seen the whole thing in ten minutes.
Mulder didn’t feel like working just yet, so he called up his newsgroups. After killing some time that way, he decided to go to work on some of the old files. Scully had been on the phone for over an hour with several of the people on the list. They all had the same story as Ammie. They didn’t know why anyone reported them missing. They could account for the entire time between their disappearance in one city and their reappearance in Rolla. She took notes on all of the conversations. She threw the notepad at Mulder after the last person had been called.
“Everyone I talked to, is not, was not, and never has been missing,” she stated with disgust. Mentally she was cursing the idiots who had filed the reports in the first place.
“We’ll try and talk to the others tomorrow. I think that there is some kind of cult thing here. I just received an e-mail back from Frohike. He has volumes on this place.” Mulder continued even as Scully rolled her eyes. “One particular story is interesting. The whole town is sinking.”
“So? If I recall correctly, Missouri is riddled with caves generated by the retreat of the glaciers during the Ice Age.”
“But the whole town, Scully?”
“You’ve seen how big this town is, Mulder.”
“What about the missing persons? Frohike had over 100 names on his list.”
“These people aren’t missing, Mulder. They moved here, of their own free will, for educational reasons.”
“Let’s talk to the other 3 names on the list and go from there.” He offered as he saw her reasoning mood reach high gear. She nodded and started to transcribe the written notes onto the computer.
Time dragged. They worked on reports they had to catch up on, and started on a few that weren’t due yet. Scully kept looking at the clock. When 10:00 pm finally rolled around, she used the excuse of a different time zone for retreat into sleep. Mulder fought his own boredom by flipping through the 10 channels offered by the motel. It didn’t work. He gave up and laid in the darkness. There was something about this town. He could feel it.
The next morning, they called the other 3 people they needed to talk to and arranged times to meet. A repeat of the same old conversation occurred with 2 of them. The third one and a different story. (Always, the last one on the list, right?)
Mulder was a little shocked at this woman. Was every woman only a little taller than Scully? (Scully is NOT that short) There were also books on supernatural events sitting right beside the technical books of her field. Renee Jamison eyed the two agents with a cynical glare. “You ever been to Rolla before?” Both agents shook their heads. “Ever know anyone that has?”
“A friend’s husband.” Mulder supplied.
“He comes back here. Doesn’t he.” It wasn’t a question. Mulder nodded. “It’s the Black Hole. Leave while you can.” Her tone was totally serious.
“The Black Hole. Wasn’t that a movie in the late 70’s?” Scully asked. She couldn’t believe that Skinner had sent them on this case. It was worse than one of Mulder’s wild goose chases.
“Yes. But I’ve never seen it. I’m serious. This place will pull you back. There is no limit to its range. It reaches across both oceans. Occasionally, escape velocity can be reached. But you can only go as far as the event horizon.”
This woman had weirder theories than Mulder and the Lone Gunmen combined. Scully was fed up with this situation. She stood up and said, “Thank you for seeing us. We’ll tell our superior that you’re not missing.”
“Scully-” Mulder started. He changed his mind about restating his theory until she’d calmed down a little. “Thank you for your time” he said as he followed his partner out to the car.
“No problem. See ya later,” she said as she closed the door.
“I guess so. Come on, let’s go.” Mulder was getting a sinking feeling in his stomach. (Just Rolla water, but he doesn’t know that) They went to the Dreary to make a call to Skinner and check out. Skinner was in a meeting, so they left a message. They headed for the highway and St Louis. They made it 7 miles before the car died. All of a sudden the engine just stopped. There was plenty of gas. The damn thing just quit. (this one actually happened, but we were 50 miles from Rolla) Scully called for a tow truck while Mulder looked under the hood. He stopped trying when the heavens opened up and it started pouring. They waited impatiently for the truck. An eternity later it arrived. They called the rental agency from the garage and Mulder listened as the representative told them the good news.
“The mechanic has said that the car should be ready late today. If you could just wait there..?” The woman sounded hopeful.
“Can’t we just get another car?”
“We don’t have an office in Rolla. And by the time we sent someone with a replacement vehicle, that car would be fixed.” The woman continued to list the pros of waiting in Rolla. Mulder put his hand over the receiver and asked Scully to see if there was another rental agency in Rolla. “Fine. We’ll just wait then.”
Scully came back with the news that there were no car rental agencies within 90 miles. Jefferson City was the closest place that had one. And it was more than an hour away. It would be after noon as well before someone could get there with a car.
“We stay here, then.” A slow grin developed as Mulder said, “The Black Hole, Scully.”
An evil glare was his answer.
x X x
It was almost 4:30 by the time the car was ready. They had sat in the mechanic’s waiting room the entire time. The downpour had prevented any walking tours of the town. There wasn’t a suitable place for them to work on any of their files, either. Scully had read through the old Field and Stream issues twice, mentally composed a list of all the things she needed to get done in this lifetime, and managed to pick every bit of lint off of her clothing before the mechanic told them the car was ready. She envied Mulder as he mentally reread an entertaining book. Scully desperately wanted to leave this little town. Mulder wanted to explore some more.
“Come on. We can drive around in the daylight, eat and then hit the road. I want to look at their Stonehenge. It was made scientifically,” he tried as persuasion.
“If we do, we won’t be able to get a flight out tonight. We still have to drive almost 2 hours to get to the airport, Mulder.” Sometimes she really hated pointing out facts to this man.
“Skinner told us to take our time,” he said with a cajoling smile.
“Fine. But take me to a bookstore first. If we’re stuck somewhere again, I want to read something besides work files.” He grinned in triumph and held open the car door for her. She rolled her eyes as she closed the door before he could.
After spending a little time in the bookstore, they went to the edge of the campus to look at the newest Stonehenge. They had both seen the original and marveled a little at the clean lines of the stones. Scully was thankful when the light misting increased enough to call a halt to the inspection. They then drove to one of the other ‘nice’ restaurants in the town. The parking lot was full and laughter could be heard from a banquet room. They were sitting down when Mulder saw Renee Jamison walk by in the hallway.
“I’ll be right back,” he told Scully as she picked up the menu shaped like a cow. He followed the woman into the banquet room filled with an eclectic group of people. Some were in business suits, while others had jeans and T-shirts on. A few of the people noticed him, but no one said anything. He tried to overhear part of the conversations. Paint. These people were all talking about paint. He shook his head at the obsessive behavior of some people and their work. Renee saw him as he was going to leave and headed toward him.
“I see you haven’t left yet, Agent Mulder.” There was barely suppressed amusement in her voice.
“Our car died right outside of town.” His smile was a little sheepish as she laughed.
“I understand. Are you stuck here for the night?” (Oh, la la)
“No. We’re leaving after dinner.” (damn)
“Enjoy the trip back.” Her smile sent chills down his spine. She headed back into the middle of the room.
Mulder went back to the table in the other room and picked up the cow menu. “As soon as we’re done eating, I’ll get us out of here,” he said with a large amount of determination and a small amount of apprehension. Scully looked at him with a question in her eyes. He shrugged and smiled at the waitress who came to get their order. As they were leaving, they heard clapping coming from the banquet room. An awards thing? They left the restaurant and headed toward the car. They stood under the overhang in disbelief. The rain that had kept them indoors the entire day was worse. They watched as another car pulled into the parking lot, hit a rainbow spot under the parking light, and skidded right into their rental. Mulder’s chin dropped to his chest. Ten minutes. Ten lousy minutes and they would have been on the highway and out of Rolla. What was even worse though, the person driving backed up and drove away. Mulder pulled out his cellular phone and called the police, resigned to staying in Rolla one more night. He should have picked up a book as well.
The police and the tow truck were just leaving as Renee and several of the business people came out of the banquet hall. She saw the two agents and wondered at their bad luck. Rolla was usually a little kinder to people just passing through.
“What?” She asked of the person next to her.
“You’re driving to St Louis in this weather? ” (Co-inkidink city!)
“It always rains when I have to drive on 44.” She did glare at the streams of water pouring from the overhang for good measure.
Scully saw Mulder get the idea in his head. “Mulder.” She warned. It was too late.
“Could we catch a ride with you?” He tried his best smile. It almost faltered as she watched him steadily. She then looked at Scully in the same way.
Scully was a little reluctant to ride in the same car with the woman. That was silly though.
“Hey, Ren. Have a safe drive.” Someone called from the hallway behind them. She waved over her head.
“I guess so. A hotel or the airport?” She had no idea why she was agreeing. Yes, she did. These two didn’t deserve the fate awaiting them if they stayed here.
“The airport. There’s a flight leaving at 10:30.” She was silent for a few more seconds.
“No bitching about the tunes or the driving.” She said and walked over to a dark blue two door and opened the trunk. “With the rain and the construction, you better get in the car sometime this century.”
Mulder picked up the bag that was sitting at his feet. Scully did the same, marveling at Mulder. She crawled into the back seat and prepared herself for an interesting ride, especially if Mulder started asking the woman about the Black Hole. She drove unto the highway and quickly reached a steady pace above the speed limit. (I’m not going to incriminate anyone by saying how fast) Scully was glad she wasn’t able to see.
“We’ve reached escape velocity,” Renee said with a sigh of relief and was quiet. A collection of Melissa Etheridge played from a tape. They were just passing St. James, 10 miles from Rolla, and three songs had gone by before Mulder started with the questions.
“Tell me about the Black Hole.” He didn’t take out anything to take notes with, he wanted her to be relaxed. Scully rolled her eyes and waited.
“It’s simple. Once you’ve been to school in Rolla, you can’t leave. “She spoke almost in a monotone. “Sure for holidays and such, but you always come back for the next round of classes. When you reach the upper level of classes, is when escape becomes the most difficult. Between projects, classes, and research there is no time to even think about leaving. Some people graduate, but even then the escape isn’t permanent they come back to visit friends on vacation. Others stay for grad school, get jobs here, or come back for grad school. If your children are born here, there is no escape.” Renee met Scully’s eyes in the rearview mirror. “You don’t have to believe me. You two are the ones that came here to see why people were reappearing in Rolla when they were supposed to be missing.” There was only music for a few minutes.
“What is the event horizon?” Mulder asked.
“The edge of the Black Hole. Most people here agree that St Louis is it.”
Mulder remembered the postings in the news groups. “Do you know anyone from here that now lives in California, Texas, or New Mexico?”
“All three. Plus Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, Utah, Massachusetts, several other states, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Taiwan, and mainland China. And almost every one of them has come back to Rolla at least once since they graduated.”
Scully was getting fed up. “You don’t really believe that Rolla is a black hole, do you?” Sometimes she got angry at people when they fed Mulder a line of bull.
“Logically, no. It doesn’t make sense. But it does exist. It’s like not believing in the possibilities of extra-terrestrials. It’s arrogant and narrow-minded to think that we’re the only beings in the entire universe advanced enough for space travel. The people who go to school here have a tough time leaving it behind, no matter where they end up.” Renee started asking the two agents about some of their work, to change the subject. No one outside of Rolla really understood or accepted the Black Hole. These two would be worse than normal in accepting unusual things.
Talk turned to sports and science when they proved closed-mouthed about their jobs. She dropped them off at the airport just in time for them to catch the flight. “Hey, when you get back to Rolla …” She let the sentence drop when Scully turned around with a glare. Mulder had a distracted look and nodded absently as he pulled his bag from the trunk.
“Thank you for the ride. We can get the bureau to reimburse you for the gas.” Scully said to fill in the silence.
“It was only five minutes out of my way. Don’t worry about it.” She said and drove off before either agent could comment further.
They went to the ticket counter and walked to their gate before Mulder commented on what Renee had said. “She could be right. Frohike’s files would backup most of her story.”
Scully barely controlled her jaw before it dropped. “Frohike’s files would back her up? Mulder, your friends are the ones that need outside sources to back them up. Not the other way around.” He didn’t answer. Their flight was called and they boarded the plane. Scully didn’t realize it, but she felt herself relax as the plane lifted off of the runway and headed home.
x X x
In the abandoned sewer tunnels under a city, two figures sat and glared at each other. “He’s not going to like this,” the younger one said to his companion.
“No shit, Sherlock.” He was extremely pissed. The hydroplaning had been difficult to plan that perfectly. But it had been perfect. He smiled. “Tell him that everything for the next step has been set in motion.” He reached for a cigarette, but stopped himself when he remembered where he was. No use in blowing himself up at this stage of the game.
x X x
Subject: Story: St Pat’s
Date: 25 Oct 1995 00:02:04 GMT
Somewhat of a sequel to Black Hole. I’m only saying that so people will read it, if they haven’t. But this can stand on its own. That’s how deep some of it gets, and I don’t mean in thought.
Foreword: Again, this story is based on actual events which are a little out of sequence. I didn’t want to strand M&S in Rolla forever, so I condensed the 2+ weeks into something manageable. If any parts resemble the Simpson’s episode, I think it’s called “Whacking Day”, UMR-MSM has been doing this idiocy for over 80 years now. Yes, there is a demented note of pride in that statement. You decide which came first. Also, I have to apologize to friends and aquaitnaces. I needed to give names to some of the people that our heroes talked to and about.
I apologize for any incorrect medical stuff. I’m a chemist, man, not a doctor! I’d like to thank the my fellow lab inmates Kurt and Missy for following the dictate of “Read This”, Larry for his off-the-wall-out-of-this-galaxy’s theories and Kia for answering a multitude of questions that began, “O.K., what about … (Insert appropriate medical stuff).”
O.K. on with the show! Oops. Almost forgot the disclaimers. Mulder, Scully, Cancerman, Skinner, and anyone else I forgot that is recognizable from the X-files belong to C.C./1013/Fox/etc.
St Pat’s Part 1
Monday, March 11
10:00 a.m., FBI HQ
Mulder felt a sense of deja vu when the phone rang while he was reading some new postings about the Black Hole. It had been almost 4 months, but the people there were something he didn’t like to think about even in the bright light of day.
“Mulder,” he said around a mouth full of sunflower seeds.
“Mulder, I want you up here in 10 minutes.” A.D. Skinner’s voice was neutral.
“Yes, sir,” he replied and hung up the phone. He looked across to the empty desk. What a day for Scully to be on vacation. He’d hate to call her in from her break, but if … He went up to Skinner’s office and waited until the secretary told him to go in. As always now, he quickly scanned the inner office for any signs of smoke. He relaxed a little when he didn’t detected any.
“Have a seat,” Skinner said absently and kept his face buried in a file. After several moments of silence, Mulder prompted, “Sir?”
“I don’t know what it is about you, Mulder, but there seems to be a cult situation now in Rolla, Missouri.” The tone of the man’s voice seemed to accuse Mulder of causing the cult. “Was your last trip there so enjoyable that you had to find a way to go back?”
In Mulder’s mind was the image and words of Renee Jamison. “Leave while you can… This place will pull you back. There is no limit to its range.”
“Uh, no, sir.” Had the woman been right?
“Well, there have been three reports of freshman dying and 10 reports of vandalism or destruction of property,” Skinner said summarizing the file in front of him.
“Were they freshmen also?” Initiations?
“No. In fact the vandalism were done by upper classmen. Seniors and juniors, mainly.” He handed the file to Mulder. “Have Jeneane get you and Scully a flight out tomorrow.”
Mulder listened to the silent dismissal and left. When he got back to his office, he called Scully.
“Mulder, I’m not coming in today,” came the firm voice before he could even say hello. She was curled up on the couch with a Mel Gibson movie, a medical journal and a hot cup of tea. There was no way she was going to move willingly.
“I know, Scully. But we have to leave tomorrow on a cult case.” He could see her relaxing a little.
“Seven o’clock.” He winced at the early time. That had been the only flight available in the morning.
“Where are we going?”
“You’re not going to believe this.” He was a little dazed about it as well. Was Jamison psychic?
“I don’t know Mulder. Look who I work with.” Sometimes she couldn’t believe her blase acceptance of some events.
He smiled at the dig. He’d get her back later. “Rolla.”
“Missouri?” He was right, she didn’t believe it.
“Yep. See you at the airport. Flight 1620, American Airlines.” He hung up the phone and went to work on the large pile of paperwork. The thing had multiplied while he had been in the meeting with Skinner.
Tuesday, March 12
11:00 am, St Louis
Once again they were at Lambert International. This time, though, there had been a 20 minute delay in takeoff, due to someone’s dog. Then they landed 30 minutes late because a luggage car had blocked the gate.
A bit leery, they headed down 44 west again. The road construction had moved, but was still there. The view was bleak and rainy, a usually occurrence in March. Scully reviewed the autopsy reports done on the 3 students that had died. All 3 had different, natural causes of death: an aneurysm, a heart attack, and a head on collision with an on ramp. The blood toxicology on the last one had showed blood/alcohol levels to be within legal limits.
They got off the highway at the second exit and went straight to the campus police station. An incredibly tiny building, it housed the infirmary and the police offices. The receptionist was not altogether friendly. She abruptly told them to wait while she verified whether or not they had an appointment.
“We’re not trying to see the president,” Mulder mumbled sardonically as he sat in one of the uncomfortable vinyl chairs.
“Mulder,” Scully warned. She was not happy to be back here. Sure small towns were fine and dandy. But small towns and X-file cases made her uneasy. She wished she hadn’t chosen a John Saul book to bring on this trip.
They waited for 20 minutes before the receptionist/secretary returned and told them they could be seen.
“I’m glad to note that we’re not invisible. I’d hate to have to investigate us.” Scully had to stop herself from laughing outloud. Like a small child, Mulder would see that as a sign to continue with his antics.
They were shown into a small office in the back of the building, with the name James Simon on it. A middle aged man stood up reluctantly to greet them. As he offered his hand to Mulder, his eyes did a once over of Scully. ‘Great. Another one.’ She thought to herself and smiled coldly.
“Now what brings two big city, FBI agents to Rolla?” The phrase could have been cordial, but the tone was condescending and challenging.
“We’re investigating the possibility of a cult situation.” Scully let Mulder do the talking on this one. The man’s attitude was wearing on her temper. It was taking a lot of energy just to keep a hold on it.
“Cult?” he asked, almost as if he didn’t know what the word meant.
“Yes, reports of ten acts vandalism all within a 24 hour period. The odds are against that, even during midterms, on a college campus this size.” The vandalism was considered campus jurisdiction. Mulder wasn’t looking forward to dealing with two sets of local officials. They would have to go to the Rolla Police to get some answers for the deaths.
“Now, who reported anything about vandalism to the high and mighty FBI?” his tone had turned defensive.
“Are they true?” What was this man trying to do? Cover-up some antics of a few college students? Mulder was rethinking his reluctance to return to Rolla.
“Now, I didn’t say that they weren’t. I just asked how the feds got a hold of it.” He may just be a small town-small college-campus cop, but he wasn’t stupid enough to try and hide something like this when the feds already knew about it. The doc wasn’t going to be happy about this, though.
Mulder mentally went through the files, looking for the name on the original reporting. He didn’t see one. Anonymous? His gut tightened. “I can’t tell you that.” Better to make it sound like he was protecting someone, rather than saying he didn’t know.
“Six of the events happened on last Friday night. The other 4 on Saturday. Some of the desks in ME 104 were destroyed, ripped out of the floor. In G3 in Schrenk Hall, the bench top at the front of the lecture hall set on fire. A few windows were knocked out in the CE building and the EE building. TJ and the Quad suffered an egging. Parker Hall had manure spread on all the entrances. Stonehenge was T.P.‘ed on Friday and spray painted with symbols on Saturday. And the hockey puck was urinated upon. Not that the last one is unusual, but this time, board reps weren’t responsible.” There was a resigned quality to his voice as well as misplaced amusement.
Scully had to remind herself that this was a serious case. People had been killed as well as taken revenge on the school. Mulder helped in that regard by asking, “What type of symbols?” She could hear the barely leashed excitement in his voice.
“Not pentagrams and such associated with graffiti, Agent Mulder. These were greek symbols.”
“A frat? Can we see them?” He was getting ready to stand up when Simon shook his head.
“No, not fraternity letters. These were equations and such. And no, you can’t see them until the pictures are back. One of the professors does a lot of work with paint and had some stuff in his lab. It was off of Stonehenge an hour after it was noticed.”
“The pictures aren’t back yet? It’s Tuesday.” They was a huge note of disbelief in Scully’s voice.
“There wasn’t a rush.” Simon’s eyes shifted around the room.
“Do you know who was responsible for these instances?” Scully’s question was worded as politely as possible.
“Yes, ma’am. We do.” There was a long pause as the agents waited for the names.
“And they are?” Mulder prompted finally.
“Why?” A deep suspicion and a territorial claim was in Simon’s eyes now.
“We’d like to ask them a few questions. If there is a cult here, we might be able to help.” Mulder really hated humoring people sometimes. Scully could see him hold back on the impatience eating at him.
“Fine,” Simon said finally and went to the filing cabinet across the room. He pulled several files out and handed them to Mulder. He quickly wrote down the names and addresses of the 10 students involved. Their file had only the names of the dead students and the number of people involved in the vandalism, not who they were.
“Thank you for your time, sir.” The words almost stuck in his throat. “Can we contact you if we have any more questions?”
“That would be fine,” Simon said through clenched teeth. He relaxed as soon as the two agents left his office. He quickly dialed a number on campus.
“The FBI just left,” He said hoarsely.
“You gave them the names.” Simon always hated the way the questions sounded more like royal commands.
“Yes. But -” He wasn’t given a chance to finish the sentence as the line went dead. “I really don’t like that man,” he mumbled to himself and went back to work on the mound of paperwork he still had to do for the vandalism files. This was more than all of last years work combined.
Mulder and Scully decided to walk the few blocks to the city police department. She thought they had gotten lost until she saw the patrol cars in the parking lot behind the store front. They went into the building and asked to see Officer Raymond.
“I’m sorry. He’s off duty right now. Can someone else help you?” The young man looked like he’d just graduated from an academy.
“Maybe. I’m Agent Scully and this is my partner, Special Agent Mulder. We’re with the FBI.” They both took out their ID’s. She smiled inwardly as the young man’s eyes lit up in appreciation.
“Well, ma’am,” she winced at being called that twice in as many hours. “Maybe, Lt. Krowski can help you.” Again they were led into the back of the building. There was a good-ol’-boy attitude here as well, but it wasn’t as bad as the campus police one.
After getting the introductions out of the way, Scully was the one to ask the questions.
“According to the autopsy report, only one of the students had a medical history. This was the second death, John Stevens. Do you know if it was general knowledge?”
“No, ma’am. It wasn’t generally known. We only found out after the autopsy. The family doctor told the coroner about the possibility that the boy would develop the heart disease that caused the attack. It had only been a few months since the boys last check-up and it hadn’t been detected yet.” He felt a little uncomfortable speaking about autopsy reports with a woman, but the other agent looked almost green in the gills.
“With the first one, Ryan Penn, the family doctor didn’t mention a history of aneurysms?” There was a curious tone in her voice. Aneurysms might not be predictable, but if someone else in the family suffered from them, they could be probable.
“No ma’am.” She almost screamed at the phrase. She really didn’t like it. “And the third boy, he had a beer with some friends, but the levels were no where near intoxicated.”
“Did he drink on a regular basis?” Mulder asked. One beer was not enough to make most teenage males drunk. Were his friends covering for him?
“This is a college campus, Agent Mulder. And the boy was in a fraternity. Though he was only 18, I’m sure he had a healthy tolerance to alcohol.” Was he defending a minor’s drinking habits? raced through Scully’s mind.
“All three of them were in a fraternity. Is it possible that this involved an initiation?” Mulder didn’t ask if the initiation were for a cult or a frat. He let the officer decide which one.
“No. The fraternities have had to watch the hazing. Too many have lost charters for it. Besides, they were all different ones.” He didn’t really like the fraternities in Rolla, but they didn’t cause that much trouble. Except at St Pat’s, he qualified.
“We have the names and the former addresses for the students. If we have any more questions -?” Scully let the sentence fade.
“Feel free to contact anyone here at the station, ma’am.” He stood up and offered his hand in departure. He was much more relaxed and professional than the campus police occifer.
“Are you hungry yet?” Mulder asked as they walked back to their car.
“Yes. Let’s get something to eat before we ask the students any questions” She was dreading the choice of eating establishments.
“I think I saw a Japanese place the last time we were here.” Scully was relieved at the suggestion. She really wasn’t in the mood for fast food, cow menus, or crackers with glue. They ate quickly, going over some of the impressions that they each had from the two interviews.
“Simon didn’t want us there,” Mulder said around a mouthful of salad with ginger dressing. Scully nodded her agreement.
“Yes, it wasn’t just territorial either. Do you think that the University wants to keep this quiet?” Oops wrong thing to say to Mulder. She knew better than to suggest a conspiracy before he did.
“It’s a thought, Scully,” he concurred. They decided to investigate the deaths first, after finishing their lunch. They went back over the highway to frat row. It was now early afternoon. The huge house seemed deserted. No one was around, except for the house mother.
Scully was curious, “Where is everyone?” The woman was amused by their befuddlement. “St Pat’s.” she replied.
“You’re not from here, are you,” she said as she noted their clothing. “It’s St Pat’s.” She stated again.
Mulder shrugged at the look Scully shot to him. “We’re with the FBI. We’re investigating the recent deaths of several of the students. Ryan Penn was a member of this frat, wasn’t he?”
“**FRATERNITY**” Scully blinked at the emphatic response.
“Excuse me?” She felt like a broken record now. These people didn’t make any more sense this time either.
“It’s a fraternity, not a frat.” There was a mulish expression on the woman’s face. “Yes, Ryan was a member here. It was terrible what happened to him. And those other two. The chancellor’s bound to stop St Pat’s now.” There was a heavy note of sorrow in her voice.
“Could we speak with Ryan’s roommate?” Mulder was going on a hunch.
“Bob’s not here, right now.”
“Will he be back soon?” Maybe they could question one of the other fraternity members.
“Probably not. It’s St Pat’s.” The way she said it, made Scully think of the end-all and be-all explanations she used to receive in catholic school.
“Not even for dinner?” The woman shrugged at Scully’s question.
“Can we leave a message for him to contact us?” again the woman shrugged. They gave her the cellular number and left quickly.
“So which one do you want to contact now?” Mulder was uneasy.
“John Stevens’ roommate,” she said decisively and almost slammed the car door shut.
They drove the short distance to the next address on their list, a little bit south of campus. Again, there was no one present but the house mother.
“Well, John didn’t have a roommate. He was the only one of the new boys that didn’t have one, though.” The woman was a little more “normal”, Scully thought, she wasn’t reminded of a robot with this one. “I can’t tell you much more than that. I only started working here in January. Maybe if you wait for the students to return, they can answer some of your questions.”
They thanked her, left Mulder’s cellular number and went onto the third address. At this one, they couldn’t even find the house mother. They then decided to move onto the names on the vandalism list. The first 5 were not home. At the sixth house, they finally found someone with a few answers. A Next Generation rerun was playing in the background, as they stood on the porch and questioned the bedraggled student.
“He’s not here. Try campus.” The student said over his shoulder as he kept his eyes on the TV.
“On campus? Test?” Most students he knew didn’t stay on campus unless they had to.
“Yeah. Plus it’s St Pat’s.” There was that phrase again. St Pat’s wasn’t for several more days. The Irish didn’t even start partying this early for it. They thanked the young man and went back to their car.
“We could check out the campus.” Scully suggested. Mulder agreed and they drove back to the edges of campus. They found the visitors parking lot and went to look at the campus map.
“Chemical, Civil, Electrical, Geological, Mechanical, Nuclear, …” He kept reading the list of buildings, looking for the library. “I don’t see a psychology, English, history, or any other kind of building,” he stated.
“There’s a Humanities one,” Scully pointed out.
“Only one building for all of the humanities?”
“Looks that way.” She had a hard time assimilating the information as well. Even at the most technical schools, there are some non-scientific disciplines.
They found the building they needed and walked through the center of campus. By a large, circular, concrete stand, several students stood around a table. They wore kelly green jackets and sweatshirts, all saying St Pat’s and something about Alice. As they walked by the table they were asked “Got your ‘96 green?” The two agents looked at each other and politely said “No thanks.” A “scruffy looking nerf-herder” decided “No thanks” was not an acceptable answer. “Come on. The special editions are only $55.” Again they said “No Thank You.” and walked away quickly.
They saw very few students. The ones they did see had books and notes scattered around them like protective circles. The lack of student body worried Scully. It was too early for every one to be at dinner. Maybe it was just between classes now. They walked to the opposite end of campus and went into the library. What they saw there was astonishing. The place was jammed pack with students. They were hunched over tables and computer terminals. All of them wore the terrified looks of cornered animals.
“Well the place isn’t deserted,” Scully muttered. There wasn’t a logical way to find the person they were looking for in here. They asked a librarian if there was a PA system. At the negative answer, they scanned the crowd. Maybe one of the students would know if he was even on campus. Scully walk over to a girl who seemed to be staring into space and muttering incantations at the same time. Scully jumped after she tapped the girl on the shoulder and the girl attacked.
“Pardon me. We’re looking for a Jim Martin.”
“What’s his field?” The distracted look was still in the girl’s eyes.
“I don’t know. Mulder?” After a seconds pause, he answered, “Civil Engineering.”
The girl seemed to sort through mental images. “I’m not sure. I’m Chem E, I don’t know that many CE’s.” She paused for a second. “You wouldn’t happen to know an easy way to remember all the ways to form alcohols from alkenes, would you?” A hopeful look now showed on her face.
Scully looked at the book the girl was buried in, “Sorry, it’s been ages since I had Organic.” The girl’s face fell and so did her head unto the open book.
“Maybe this time osmosis will work,” she prayed.
“When’s the test?” Scully figuring it was early tomorrow morning.
“Thursday.” Mulder cringed at the panic was evident in her voice.
“You’re cramming now?” Didn’t that happen only on the night before?
“Since Saturday. I’m dead.”
They left the girl to her self inflicted tortures and asked a few others if they knew the names on their list. The answers were basically the same. Yes, they knew the person, but didn’t know where they were. Or no, they didn’t know them because they weren’t in the same field with them. After a futile time in the library, they decided to check into a motel and make some more calls. If they could judge by the number of students in the library, this week was a big test week. They probably wouldn’t get a hold of any of the kids until late tonight. They were accosted by the thugs in green again on the way to their car. A firm response was again issued and ignored the first time.
At the motel, Scully worked on a report for the case from last week. Mulder actually reached one of the students responsible for the G3 vandalism.
“I don’t know what happened. Some friends and I were watching the sub movie. After that, we started joking about the demonstration one of the chem professors had given. Next thing I knew, we were in the building and I was lighting the bench top on fire.” The young man sounded confused by his actions.
“What about the other students? The didn’t try to stop you?” Part of the initiation?
“Yes. They did. I didn’t listen to them, though. I had to set it on fire,” extreme confusion was evident, still.
“Can you tell me if this was a part of joining a society?” Mulder tried to phrase his question carefully. He didn’t want to lead any of the answers.
“No, it wasn’t. I graduate in May. Why would I do something stupid like that, this close to the end?” The voice was firm and sure this time. There was no hesitancy in his response.
Mulder asked a few more questions. The only answer he could get from the student, though, was shrouded in confusion for his own actions. “Well thank you, Mr. Gray. Can we contact you if there are any more questions?”
“Sure, but it’ll be hard, though. Midterms. And I’m going to St Louis Wednesday.”
He hung up the phone and contemplated life for awhile. Dinner time came and they ate at the restaurant connected to the motel. Once again they tried to contact the other students. No one was home. Hours passed and the phone didn’t ring. Neither one of them could go any further with the investigation without interviewing some of the witnesses. Mulder was bored. It was raining again, so he couldn’t run. He tried flipping through the channels. When that didn’t work he borrowed Scully’s computer. His heart wasn’t in the old cases. He wanted to work on this one. With nothing better to do, he did get some work done on his reports as well. He had just laid down to get some sleep when his cellular phone rang at 12:30.
“Yo. Whadya want?” was the slurred greeting.
“Who is this?” He had no idea. They had tried to contact so many people today, it could be anyone of them.
“Bob Caan. I got a message to call youse.”
“Oh, yes. Would it be possible to meet with you some time tomorrow morning? I’d like to ask you some questions about your roommate, Ryan Penn.”
“Uhmm-after my 8:30. UCE at 9:30… Yeah! I’m coming!” The line went dead.
St Pat’s Part 2
Wednesday, March 13
9:15 am, UMR campus
“What is UCE?” Scully asked as they parked the car the next morning. Mulder shrugged his answer.
“I hope it’s one of these two buildings. I don’t want to pass the clowns in green again.” He needed coffee. Something about a place with nothing to do prompted an urge for more than normal intact of caffeine. They found the building, and it had a cafeteria. They sat down by the windows and watched the students pass by. Scully brow wrinkled in puzzlement when she saw several young men walking by outside carrying tree trunks on their shoulders. She saw the symbols for different fraternities on each. She was pulled from her thoughts when Mulder said, “That must be him,” about the young man that was headed directly toward them. He guessed they did stand out in the from the student population. They both stood up and introduced themselves to the student. He looked severely hung over, and he was wearing a green jacket like the thugs they saw yesterday.
“Was Ryan having a lot of headaches?” Scully asked.
“Not that I know of. He was fine until, oh, last Tuesday. Then on Wednesday, he did have a headache. It got worse during the day, so he went to the infirmary. By Wednesday night he was in the hospital.” The young man was uncomfortable talking about this, they could both see. But they needed a few more answers.
“Was he involved in any new activities?” Mulder phrased the question as vaguely as possible.
“Naw. With midterms and St Pat’s, we’re all so busy, even intramurals has been cut down to nothing.”
“What is this St Pat’s?” Scully felt as if they were being kept in the dark on a subject the whole town knew about.
“It’s huge. It goes on for about two weeks.” Before either one of them could ask another question, he continued. “You ever know anyone that graduated from here?” Was he going to start on the Black Hole thing?
“A friend’s husband.” Mulder supplied.
“He comes back here. Doesn’t he.” It wasn’t a question. Mulder nodded. Not this again, he thought as a chill went down his spine. “Almost all the alums come back for the St Pat’s parties.” Before either one of them could answer, someone called from across the room.
“Hey, Bob! Did you get that work done for I-Love-You-Bob’s class?” This student closely resemble Bob in appearance. Tousled, short, dark hair, sweats, and a dark green jacket. Was it a cult, or an interfraternity fraternity?
“Yeah. Jim went to talk to him. He gave us the wrong constant.” The other student let loose with a string of curses pertaining to I-Love-You-Bob’s parentage.
Scully was fed up with this situation. She stood up and said, “Thank you for seeing us. If you remember anything useful, please contact us.”
“Yeah. Sure.” He jumped up and ran out the door. Scully and Mulder looked at each other and wondered why they had ever joined the FBI to begin with. They left the cafeteria somewhat in a state of shock. They couldn’t seem to get answers from anybody in this town.
They stepped out into the chill morning and headed toward the registrar’s office. They needed to talk to the other students. They apparently weren’t going to return the calls the agents had left. They had take only a few steps, when “KILL THE SNAKE, FRESHMAN!!!” came from the center of the campus. They walked near the men in green again and saw something that they couldn’t believe. Several of the young men that were carrying the tree trunks were now swinging them at the ground. There was an individual in a green tunic and a gold lamee cap type thing. Scully had to suppress the urge to laugh as she was reminded of medieval serfs. The serf was the one yelling at the freshmen. They swung the trunks about 30 times each. When the serf told them, they bit the heads off of the little green rubber snakes. It had rained again during the night so the ground was nice and muddy. The students did not hesitate. Scully and Mulder watched as one of the students made it about 50 feet before another serf told him to kill another snake. During this entire time, the thugs in green were screaming at the top of their lungs that St Pat’s was only 3 days away.
The two agents were in a trance. They stood there for what seemed like hours, watching the parade of students. They hurried to their classes after killing more mud-coated rubber snakes. In between the rush for classes, the student population dropped drastically. It did remain constant enough for another parade to start. This one consisted of people covered with pins, of people painted green, and of men sporting ratty beards. There were several other contests that accompanied the scene. Each one more ludicrous than the last.
“These are supposed to be smart, technical people?” Scully could not keep the disbelief out of her voice.
“I guess so. Come on, let’s go.” They left the baffling scene and went into the registrar’s office to get the class schedules of the people they needed to see.
They split the list, after dealing with the registrar, and went to search out the students spread all over the campus. Scully tracked down two of the students in the Mechanical Engineering Building. They were both in the middle of tests. She gave the professors her cellular number and was assured they would get the messages as soon as they were done.
Across campus, Mulder was talking with a student that had a similar story to the one Mr. Gray had told him yesterday. He’d been watching the movie with some friends, on the way back home, he’d picked up a rock and threw it at the civil building. No, he wasn’t with a fraternity or any other such society. Mulder spoke with two more students before he decided they had enough common links.
Scully also concluded questioning three of the students on her list. She groaned when she noted the trend. Mulder was going to love this one. They met back up at the cafeteria on campus. Over a tasteless lunch they compared notes.
“It’s the movie, Scully. So far all of them have attended the movie.”
“Subliminal messages would have effected a larger crowd, Mulder. Apparently, the place was packed for both showing Friday night and one on Saturday.”
“What if they were getting it reinforced somewhere else?” There was that smile she loved to hate. That confident little smirk made her blood boil sometimes.
“And where would it be happening? None of them live together. No more than two at a time have similar classes.” It was her turn to smirk when he didn’t answer right away. She carefully bit the inside of her cheek, though, to keep the expression off her face.
Mulder was stumped for a moment. Absently he stared at the lists of names, addresses and schedules spread out before him. Scully was right on that score. Only the movie, on different nights and at different times, tied any of these students together. Something was eating at his stomach. He glared at the remains of his lunch. Cafeteria food was the same all over. His eyes caught a series of numbers. 300’s, 200’s, mainly, but in between were lower numbers, less than 100. That was it. “Scully,” he demanded. She looked at him over he glasses. “It’s the classes. Not the course itself, but the number of the course.” Still silent, she raised her eyebrows to ask the question. “These are all upper level students, right? Well why are they in freshmen classes?”
Oh, that’s clear, she thought. “What do you mean? Maybe the classes were full earlier.”
“And maybe they were full because the seniors were waiting until the last second to take the class.”
“Are you saying, that this has been going on for years?”
“Yes. Think about it. People in certain fields don’t always think highly of other fields right?” He prompted. She nodded her reluctant agreement. “Now suppose, you’re an engineer, a scientist. What use do you have for English, history, psychology, or languages?”
“I don’t know, Mulder. What use?”
“You would think you had no need of it. And what if the people in the other fields were tired of being treated like that?”
She watched his earnest expression before answering. “You’re saying, that the humanities professors on this campus got tired of taking the backseat and decided to prove themselves equal?”
“Yes.” He nodded for emphasis.
“O.K. I can agree with the subliminal messages. These kids have had no prior records and showed no signs of such tendencies. But a conspiracy involving all of the humanities professors?”
She’s going to go cross-eyed if she keeps looking at me like that over her glasses, he thought and opened his notebook to a new page. The sudden quiet caught his attention. The cafeteria had stopped serving what passes as food, and the place was deserted now. Where was he? Oh, yeah. He started compiling the classes and the professors. There were two in the English department and one in the psychology department. “Not all the professors, Scully. Only three. Is that a small enough conspiracy for you?” He ducked from the wadded napkin flying at his head.
“How only the upper classmen then? Why hasn’t it affected the other students in their classes?”
“Let’s find out.” The game was afoot and Holmes was on the case.
Mulder agreed to let Scully do the talking when they got to the humanities building. The first English professor was not as he would picture one at a small town university. This one definitely resemble an aging hippie, not exactly the type to go along with brainwashing.
“Yes, I am aware that two of my students had committed some of the crimes. No, they weren’t ‘problem students.’ They did their assignments and turned them in on time. That’s what I like about most seniors. They don’t try and bullshit their way out of things the way freshmen do, who usually use the same lines we did as students.” Mulder shared a smile with the man as he remembered a few of his more outrageous stunts.
The second English professor was an older woman. In the course of the conversation she implied a severe dislike for engineers in general, and seniors or ‘super seniors’ in particular. “I think the culprits should be expelled,” she finished emphatically.
“Isn’t that a little harsh?”
Scully’s question was ignored, “And the freshmen with their shilleighlies. That should have been banned decades ago. But, no, they keep perpetrating the evil.” She continued to rant and rave as Mulder and Scully shared a look.
“Was Ryan Penn, John Stevens, or Michael Adams in any of your classes?” Mulder watched the woman’s face carefully as Scully mentioned the three dead students.
“Mr. Stevens was. But he dropped the class in February. He said something to the effect that the fraternity was taking up too much of his time. I believe he wishes now, that he’d dropped the fraternity instead,” she finished with a hint of malice.
“You believe the frat is responsible for the boy’s death?”
The woman blinked, “Well, of course not, Miss Scully. The boy had a heart disease. Or so the paper said.” Now her voice was gentle concern in nature. “Oh, my. You’ll have to excuse my. There’s a faculty meeting scheduled for 3:00.”
Scully glanced at her watch. Yipes. Time seemed to fly and drag by at the same time in this town. They tried the psychology professor next. They were told he was in a meeting and should be out by 4:00. Twiddling their thumbs, they decided to work on their notes so far. The psycho green thugs were still at it. Scully noted with concern the rapid breathing and sweaty look of the young man swinging the tree trunk. He tried to stop and catch his breath, but the guy in the gold lamee cap kept yelling at him. Slowly the freshman raised the shilleighly over his shoulder and collapsed. Scully rushed forward and turned the young man face up. He was weasing heavily, unable to move.
“Asthma?” She asked. The kid nodded. “Inhaler?” He weakly pointed towards his backpack. Mulder grabbed it and passed it to Scully as he talked into his phone to the 911 rep.
The campus was eerily quiet as a crowd gathered to watch the young man struggle to breath. The inhaler hadn’t helped. The wail of the sirens grew closer and finally drove into sight. The driver disregarded the concrete pathways for a more direct route over the grass. The two attendants rushed over with a stretcher. Quickly and efficiently they loaded him into the ambulance and hooked him up to a monitor. Scully and Mulder ran to their car and followed the sound of the sirens. They arrived at the hospital only minutes later. The young man was dead. He was barely through the doors when he’d stopped breathing. The hadn’t been able to revive him.
Mulder half listened as Scully and one of the hospital doctors talked. He knew this death was connected to the others, but not how. You couldn’t subliminal message someone into an asthma attack, heart failure, or an aneurysm. The on-ramp would be a different story. Yes, in a few cases, if someone believed in something enough, it could happen. Faith healing and Voodoo were prime examples. But these teenagers hadn’t had that type of background.
“Mulder.” The impatience in her tone brought him out of his thoughts. “I’ve talked them into letting me help with the autopsy.”
“Do you think you’ll find anything?”
“No. But I will look.”
“Scully,” he started as she turned away.
“Could you check and see if there’s anything unusual about the brain?” He mentally reviewed cases involving any inflammation of the brain tissue. Maybe that would lead to some answers.
She stared at him for a moment. Finally she nodded and went to follow the doctor waiting at the end of the corridor.
Mulder looked at his watch. Scully wouldn’t be done for a couple of hours. He could go and speak with the psychology professor. He appeared to be in his mid to late fifties. The mostly gray hair was neatly cut and conformed to the image of a college professor. The suit jacket wasn’t tweed, but it was a nice, conservative navy blue.
“Dr. Michael Smith, Agent Mulder, pleased to meet you. Have a seat. Now what can I do for you?”
Mulder was quiet for a moment as he quickly scanned the room. “The rash of vandalism on campus was brought to our attention. And we were sent to investigate the possibility of a cult.”
“And how can I help?”
“Were any of the students involved in one your classes?” He tried to keep his voice neutral. That was easy. He already knew the answer.
“Yes. Five of them. Two are in my 9:30 Monday/Wednesday/Friday, two are in my 10:45 on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and one is in my Wednesday and 6:30.”
“What kind of students are they?”
“I’m not sure what you mean. Normal, I guess. Usually bored and uninterested. And as you are aware, the most bored are the ones to do such things.” A note of preaching had crept into the professor’s voice.
“Bored? Covering Freud?”
“Actually Freud generally promotes interest. I think it’s his theories dealing with sex.”
“Isn’t that all he deals with?” Mulder swallowed at the glare he received. This guy had an attitude.
“No, Agent Mulder. He’s much more complex than that.” Mulder didn’t bother to tell Dr. Smith he’d studied Freud, then wished he had. The professor rambled on for almost 30 minutes. No wonder his students were bored. His interest was renewed when Dr. Smith started talking about way to keep attention spans focused.
“Oh, no, Agent Mulder. Those are totally unreliable. No, more along the lines of hypnosis. If a slight meditative state can be induced, then the person could process all information subconsciously.”
The man wanted a bunch of zombies walking around, Mulder reflected as Smith droned on all over again. With extreme thanks, he answered the cellular phone that started ringing. “Excuse me,” he said to the professor. “Mulder.”
“We’re almost done with the autopsy, if you want to come by and get me.” He winced a little at the censure in her voice. He wasn’t her personal chauffeur.
“Be right there, Scully.” He closed the phone and stood up. “I’m sorry. That was my partner.”
“Any time, Agent Mulder.” Smith stood and shook hands with the agent. “Anytime,” he whispered as Mulder walked out of the office.
Scully looked across the car at her partner. He hadn’t said a word yet. “Mulder?”
“Yes,” he said slowly.
“Did you speak with the psychology professor?”
“What did he say?” A note of impatience rang in her voice.
“Nothing much. What about the autopsy? Find anything?”
“Yes,” she said it the same way he had.
“Sorry. I was thinking. What did you find?”
“Cause of death was due to suffocation from the asthma attack. He bronchial passages were swollen closed. He couldn’t get any oxygen.” She only had to wait two seconds.
“And there was a slight. I repeat. Slight. Inflammation in the brain, which could have been caused by the attack.”
“No sign of any unusual drugs?”
“Not yet. The tox report wasn’t back yet. Sometime tomorrow… Mulder, where are we going?”
He blinked as he realized, he just turned onto the highway. “I think to St Louis.”
“Are you O.K?” She asked as he got off at the next exit and turned around.
“I do believe I know how he’s doing it, Scully.”
“How who is doing what?”
“Dr. Smith has been using hypnosis. And then the suggestion is triggered by something in the movie.”
“You mean they weren’t abducted by aliens and in a repressed memory episode, reacted violently?” She was proud as she kept a totally straight face.
“Nothing that interesting,” he said with a grin.
“So are the deaths normal or tied in with the hypnotizing professor?”
“I’m working on it. But I don’t think so. The M.O.‘s are different. Dr. Smith is trying to keep students interested, not dead. If someone is causing the deaths, it’s for a different reason,” he finished, as he pulled into the motel parking lot. “Let’s order pizza for dinner and go over everything.”
Several hours later, Scully stretched her cramped legs. She winced as Mulder munched on a cold slice of supreme pizza and dropped crumbs onto his notes. Absently he brushed them away.
“The only connection between any of the deaths is that they were freshmen. They were in different frats with different backgrounds and different fields. They had similar schedules, but no overlapping classes. Nothing is tying them together.” He threw the half-eaten slice back into the box. The room phone rang.
“This is she.”
“This is the front desk. There’s an envelope here for you and Mr. Mulder.”
“Thank you. I’ll be right down.” At Mulder’s questioning glance, she said, “There’s a present for us.”
“Mr. X?” Though he doubted it.
“I’ll be right back,” she said with a shrug. A few minutes later she returned with a plain envelope. “It had been left on the counter. The clerk didn’t see by whom,” she answered before he could ask.
Carefully he opened the thin paper. A single sheet fell onto the table. He touched only the corners as he opened it. Typed inside was: ‘Snakes in the tunnels under campus.’
“Oh, joy,” Scully said and grabbed a pair of jeans out of her suitcase on the way to the bathroom. Yes, it could be a trap, but that wouldn’t stop Mulder.
“Was a map provided with the note?” He shook his head as he finished tying his shoes. “Then how are we going to find the entrance?”
“City records?” He suggested.
“I think it’s closed now, Mulder.”
“Frohike?” She rolled her eyes and sat down. Her eyes then caught something under the door.
“Mulder,” she said and pulled her pistol from under the pillow. He followed and picked up the paper as she opened the door. No one was there, of course, not even a shadow. “It’s a map, isn’t it.” She really didn’t like when these things happened.
“Yes. The tunnels run all under the campus.”
“Is there more than one exit?”
“There are three marked.”
“Oh, joy,” she said again.
Several minutes later, Scully watched as Mulder climbed down the ladder first. At least it didn’t smell like a sewer, she reflected.
“Clear,” came from several feet underground. She took one last look around and climbed down as well. Layers of dust covered everything. There were no footprints other than her’s and Mulder’s. “This way.” He pointed to the left and followed his hand. They found the cross-section marked. Footprints ran back and forth. At least three different sets were evident. Weapons drawn, they moved to the right. They could hear voices echoing slightly, now. A few more feet, and the distortion lessened.
“But what about the freshmen? Who is doing that?” It was a female voice with a worried, curious tone.
“Dunno. Not us though,” was the emphatic reply. “They were all natural, I thought.”
“Nope. Too much of a coincidence. You think -” the voice stopped.
“No. I do not,” anger was evident in the other voice. It now had a familiar ring to it.
Mulder’s nose twitched as he detected smoke. Not here, too. Slowly he rounded the next corner. He could see three shadows on the wall. He turned off his flashlight and motioned for Scully to do the same.
“No, it’s not working.” The woman was talking again. “If anything, they’re worse now. I think we should stop.”
“It’s too soon to tell. Maybe St Pat’s was the wrong time to test it. There’s more than the normal amount of distraction.” The voice didn’t belong to Cancerman. But he did know it.
“Dr. Smith, what about the FBI?” There was a fluctuation of fear in her voice now.
“They’d have to prove something. Which they won’t be able to do, will they?” Mulder could almost feel the glare.
“No, sir,” the other two voices answered.
“Good.” The shadows moved suddenly away from where Mulder and Scully were standing.
They waited a moment and then peaked around the corner. Mulder breathed a sigh of disappointment. There wasn’t a bank of TV screens, computers, or even lab equipment. A table, some chairs, and a thermos were all he could see. He could make out the shadow of another hallway.
“Let’s see where it goes,” he said in a low voice near Scully’s ear.
“Mulder..” but she knew it was useless. Quietly, they continued down the corridors. There were a few off-shoots, but the tracks were concentrated down the main one. Finally, they found a staircase. They listened for a few moments at the door to make sure no one was there. The door squeaked as Mulder pushed it open. They were in a closet. A dim light found its way under the door. He opened it as they both turned off their flashlights.
“The humanities building.” Mulder nodded his agreement.
“This was one of the entrances marked on the map,” he said and pointed to where they were standing.
“Where’s the third one, then?”
“Let’s find out.”
“No more tunnels, Mulder.”
He was a little disappointed, but agreed. Several minutes later they stopped when a building blocked their path. “Which one is this?” He pointed to the shadowed letters. Neither said anything as they walked to the car. Back at the motel, Scully asked, “Some new drug?”
“Or maybe an old one,” Mulder suggested.
“We’ll check it out tomorrow.” He agreed and went into his own room.
For over an hour he laid there, processing all they’d learned so for. The good doctor and two others were involved with the vandalism. Hypnotic state triggered by the campus movie. But how was it planted? One-on-one sessions with Dr. Smith? Too many variable any other way. What about the deaths? Were they involved in that as well, or was it someone different? He fell into that half-asleep state where no real rest is gained. In his dreams, people kept biting the heads off of rubber snakes.
x X x
St Pat’s Part 3
Thursday, March 14
6:30 am, Rolla Mo
Gratefully, he answered the wakeup call. He changed into some running clothes and left. He heard the shower running in Scully’s room when he returned. The phone was ringing as he stepped out of his 15 minutes later.
“They have the tox reports.”
“I guess there wasn’t any other cases to back them up.” She hung up and a few seconds later opened the door between their rooms. “There were traces of something, Mulder.”
“Well don’t keep me in suspense.”
She raised her voice to be heard over the running water. “A heavy metal was found.”
“Poisoning? What, arsenic?”
“No. According to information available, this one apparently attacks weak organs and makes them weaker.”
“What about the car crash?”
“That body’s already been released for burial. So have the other two. They would have been embalmed by now, and I doubt we could get a judge to have them released.”
“What’s the dosage?” He snorted carefully as he dragged the razor along his jaw.
“Parts per trillion.”
“This stuff is so sensitive that a few micrograms can kill.”
“So how did they find it, Scully?”
“It also leaves a distinct type of bruising that takes a few hours to develop. Something our killer wasn’t aware of, it’s too traceable. The M.E. here is new.”
Mulder rinsed the razor off and patted his face dry. “A new guy found something this unusual?”
“Yeah, he admitted that he got that question wrong on his last round of tests.”
“Making more conquests, Scully?” She shot a glare at him. “Can I guess where the only place in the state that this compound is stored?” He said with a straight face.
“I was just going to call there,” she said as she went back into her room. When she came back, Mulder was on the phone. He hung up a few seconds later.
“We can meet with the three department heads in 45 minutes. Who was that?” She gestured to the phone.
“The boys. There going to look into Dr. Smith’s research. Shall we get some coffee?” He asked politely and held the door open for her. Campus was almost deserted when they got there. As they walked into the conference room, they each noted the intense quiet. The agents were introduced to the chairmen of the chemistry, chemical engineering and the life sciences department. Their faces tighten as Scully told the men what they were looking for.
“It won’t be a problem. Two years ago, we inventoried the entire building. We can get an answer for you now.” Everyone stood up and followed the chemistry chair to the elevator. He lead the way into the stockroom and asked the young man there to call up the compound in question.
“There’s only one bottle in inventory, sir. It’s in Dr. Woodward’s lab.”
“Thank you,” he replied and started down the hall.
There was a grad student directly inside the lab they entered, near the door. A pair of graffitied goggles hung around her neck, and music was coming from one of the drawers in her desk. A curious expression crossed her angular face as she saw the number of people.
“Natasha, can you find this bottle for us?”
She took the slip of paper from the chairman. “Sure. It’s back here,” she said and started towards a cabinet under one of the hoods. A box of latex gloves was sitting in the hood. She grab two and pulled them on.
Mulder and Scully looked at each other. It was the girl’s voice from last night.
“Here it is.” She held up a small brown bottle carefully. Scully pulled on a pair of the gloves and looked at it.
“It’s almost empty,” Scully noted as she rotated the bottle.
The girl’s forehead scrunched up. “It should be almost full. I only needed a few milligrams of it.” She sounded confused. Suddenly a frown formed. “Is that all?”
“Yes, thank you, Natasha,” the chairman said and herded the small group out of the lab.
The two agents barely made it out of the building before Mulder’s phone rang.
“I need to speak with you.”
“Yes. Meet me at Denny’s.”
Slowly he closed his phone. “How’d she get your number?” Scully asked suspiciously.
“I’ve left it all over the campus,” he said with a shrug.
“Do you think she was the one that sent the map?”
“Yeah.” They drove to the place and waited in silence for the girl to show up. Ten minutes later, she walked in.
“I know I’m in trouble,” she said as she sat down. “But I didn’t give him that compound.”
“Natasha, you shouldn’t be talking to us,” Scully warned.
“Don’t worry. I won’t screw up your evidence. I’ll admit to what I’ve done. But I won’t be held responsible for the deaths. Read me my rights, so it’s all legal. I brought a tape recorder, too,” she said and placed it on the table in front of her.
No one paid any attention to the three people sitting in the back corner talking in low tones. …“Then about two weeks ago, Dr. Smith came to my lab. He started just shooting the breeze. That’s when he made me nervous. The man is too intense. He doesn’t just talk casually. It was only after he left, that I realized he’d been there for more than an hour. But I don’t remember it.” She ran a shaking hand through her tangled brown hair. “I don’t want to completely pass the buck, but I think he hypnotized me. He wouldn’t have known where the compound was any other way.”
“What about the other students? The ones involved with the vandalism?” Mulder prompted when Natasha paused.
“They’re like me apparently. I get so bored sometimes in class, that I almost fall asleep. It’s not the material or the teacher usually. And I haven’t done bad in any of those classes. But Dr. Smith is real picky about things like that. I tried to explain it. I didn’t have to take his class. I took it because I was interested in the subject. Anyway, he started talking about this idea of his, the meditating. I tried it and it helped. He wanted to expand it.”
“That’s how he involved the others?”
“Yes, but I think his choice of reinforcement was wrong. They were reshowing ‘The Crow’ last weekend. Not exactly a calming movie.”
She was right. It wasn’t a happy movie, “The bottle, who has handled it?” Scully thought quickly.
“Without gloves?” Natasha asked. Scully nodded. “I’ve worn gloves everytime I touched it after the bottle was opened. That stuff is nasty. If anyone’s handled it without gloves, I don’t know. Just touching the stuff will kill you.”
“How is he choosing the victims?”
“I don’t know.”
“How is he getting the poison into their systems?”
“I don’t know.”
“What else do you know?”
“Agent Mulder, I am basically ending my career here. My life. I am telling you all that I know. If it isn’t enough, Bite Me,” she said as she stood up and glared at him, her hands braced on the table. Ack! He felt the exactly the same way as this when Scully gave him one of her looks.
“We are not finished, Ms. Bielicke,” Scully said and Natasha sat back down. “Can you back your statements up?” The girl nodded her head. “How?”
“I kept notes on all of our sessions. I also sat in on a few with two of the students responsible for some of the vandalism.”
“Taped sessions and then notes.” Both agents looked at her sharply. She shrugged. “I was going to be almost hypnotized. There was no way I was going to trust him.” Mulder bit back a laugh. “Do you have enough to stop him?”
“We have enough to question him, though,” Scully said as she shook her head.
“We’ll have to take you into custody,” Mulder warned.
“That’s fine,” she said and stood up. Scully took the tape. They drove her to the police station and she quietly went along with the officers.
“Shall we go check on Dr. Smith?”
“I think we should get a warrant first.” Scully continued, “Just in case he tries to be difficult.”
As they were waiting for the paperwork, Mulder slapped his forehead, “The third person.”
“The third person in the tunnels,” he repeated and hurried down the hall toward Natasha. “Last night, who was the third person?”
She blinked, “A friend of Dr. Smith’s. He went by Simon.”
“Thank you,” he said and calmly turned around. “We’ll also need a warrant for James Simon.”
“The head of campus police?” Mulder nodded at the young officer’s question. He shrugged, “I’ll process it.”
With warrants in hand, and backup provided by the city and highway patrol, they went to Dr. Smith’s home. A call to his office had told them Smith and called in sick. Mulder knocked on the door, “Mrs. Smith?”
“I’m Agent Mulder with the FBI, and this is my partner Special Agent Scully. Is your husband home?”
“Yes. But he isn’t felling well. His ulcer’s acting up,” she said and motioned them inside. “Michael? There are some people here to see you. Michael?” The woman walked quickly at the silence answering her.
“Call an ambulance, Mulder,” Scully said as she rushed forward. He was alive, but barely. The pain was making him drift in and out of consciousness.
“That bitch,” he said at one point.
“Who?” Mrs. Smith asked as she held her husband’s hand.
“She didn’t warn me about the dust,” he fell back into silence. The ambulance arrived. At the hospital they found the ulcers had started bleeding. His stomach lining was almost gone by the time they put him under and started the surgery.
An hour later, one of the highway patrolmen bought them an evidence bag. “We found it in his office.”
“Almost ten grams were missing from the bottle. There’s only about two in here,” Scully said as she took the doubly sealed package.
“That’s all there was,” The officer stated and left.
“Officer?” Scully held her breath, already controlling the wince.
“Has Mr. Simon been found, yet?”
“No, ma’am.” He tipped his hat and left.
A doctor in scrubs came out not long after the officer had left. “Agents Scully and Mulder,” he said as he walked towards them.
“Dr. Smith’s out of surgery. He’s stable right now, but it’ll be several hours before he’s out from under the anesthetic.”
“Thank you, doctor,” Scully said and went to sit down. She gently held the bag between two fingers and stared at it. ‘Just breathing the dust is enough’ hissed in her mind. She suppressed a shiver and put the bag in her pocket, first checking to make sure there was nothing sharp in it. Quietly they waited. Almost two hours later, a nurse came by to get them.
“The doctor said you could speak with him for a few minutes.”
The sun was setting, and it had started to rain again. Mrs. Smith sat next to him, hold his hand. “It was that bitch, Natasha,” he was whispering. “I didn’t do anything, Jenny,” he said as he stared at his wife.
“Dr. Smith, we’ve recovered some of the missing compound from your office. And your prints were found on the original bottle,” Scully told him.
He let out a long breath. “Let me speak to the agents, Jenny.” Slowly she stood up and walked out the door. He took a slow breath. “I’m going to die. But I won’t be the only one. The other two will as well.” He fell silent.
Mulder asked, “How did you kill them?”
He laughed. “I didn’t. The snakes did.” He started coughing and clutching at his stomach. Scully pressed the call button and heard him whisper, “KILL THE FRESHMAN, SNAKE.”
A nurse came rushing in, blood had soaked through the bandages and the flimsy hospital gown. A few seconds later, several more hospital staff rushed in. Mulder and Scully moved out of the way as they wheeled the man out of the room and down the hall.
Knowing there was nothing they could do, they left a message as to where they could be reached. They took the bag to the city police. While they were there, they got the message from one of the officers on duty, “Mr. Simon’s been found.”
“Where?” Mulder asked as he pictured the tunnels.
“About 20 miles from here. State park.” He paused. “Gunshot wound to the head. It’s being ruled suicide.”
“Some campers heard the shot and went to check it out. They called the state guys. When they got there, they found only the three sets of tracks. The M.E.‘s working on the trajectory and the powder burns now.”
Mulder’s phone rang, interrupted the officer. “Mulder…O.K… Smith is dead,” he said and closed the phone. “When they went in the second time, he went into cardiac arrest.”
“What about Natasha?” Scully asked.
“She’s still back there. Quiet one,” he reflected and followed the agents as they walked to the holding cell.
“Natasha?” The young woman blinked and sat up. “Are you O.K?” She nodded and rubbed her eyes. “Simon and Smith are dead,” Scully finished. Natasha’s face grew old.
“He kept journals. I could hear him writing things down on the tapes,” she said.
“Good ears,” Mulder murmured under his breath.
“Yes. Extremely good,” she said.
“We’ll check it out,” Scully stated and turned away. Mulder followed a second later.
Mrs. Smith, in a state of shock, gave them all the journals she could find. Mulder read over them back at the motel. Most of it reminded him of the ramblings he’d heard in Smith’s office. Toward the end, with the onset of the latest project, the descriptions, goals and analysis became more clear and concise. Snakes were drawn in the margins. After two hours, he slammed the last book closed.
“You didn’t expect a confession from it, did you?”
“Not really, but it would’ve been nice,” he grumbled.
“What about the tunnels? Do you want to check the other off-shoots?”
“I don’t think we’ll find anything down there, Scully. It was too easy to get in.” He picked up a cold eggroll and started eating again. After several minutes, “There’s one missing.”
Scully looked up from her computer, “What?”
“The last entry is from last Thursday.”
“Before the movie?”
“Yep.” Scully got up at his answer and grabbed her jeans again.
“At least I get time to change,” she mumbled.
Swiftly they made their way back into the dust covered catacombs. They didn’t bother with the off-shoots that were undisturbed. Down one of the least used passages they found a box. In it, all nice and neat, were the final days of Dr. Michael Smith, professional notes as well as a diary.
Scully read the diary while Mulder finished the journals. “He put it in the snakes,” she said. “One of the seniors, I guess, was in his class. He put him in a trance and contaminated the snakes.”
“Does this all seem just a little too easy, Scully?”
“Sure. Lots of boring hours of interviews and waiting. Come one. Let’s get out of here.”
Mulder lead the way back carrying the notebooks. In the motel, he read them carefully. Smith wrote about how he’d hypnotized Natasha for the compound, how he’d implanted the hypnotic suggestion to be triggered by the movie, and finally how he’d arranged for the deaths of freshmen. There wasn’t a phrase of remorse, just triumphant crowings about how the Arts out-witted Science. He closed the last one softly. 2:00 a.m., he’d make the call at a more decent hour. No one would be there now to process the paperwork anyway.
x X x
Friday, March 15
8:00 am, Rolla Police Station
Natasha smiled as she stepped outside and looked up at the overcast sky. She walked over to the two agents. “This is one time I don’t mind getting up early. Thank you,” she said softly.
Scully watched as she walked away. The woman had contacted them, why were they being thanked?
A car pulled up. Three very big, very dark men were in it. She kissed all three on the cheek. No one smiled as they drove off. Scully opened the car door after Mulder was already seated. She watched as the sun gleamed dully off the other car. Mulder was quiet as well, something had not been right. Back at the motel, it clicked. The shoe prints had been wrong. Same size, yes. But the weight distribution had been off.
“Scully,” he called and ran back out the door, down the hall. “Her address. What is it?”
She grabbed her notes and followed. They pulled up to one of the many apartment complexes five minutes later. Banging on the door brought no answer from within. The next door down opened.
“Natasha. Some of her family came yesterday and moved her.” The young man was bleary eyed, but coherent.
“You spoke with them?” Scully questioned.
“Yeah. Natasha gave me a copy of her key to water her plants when she wasn’t here. She called yesterday morning and told me her uncles would be here before noon to move her.”
“Before she met with us.” Mulder nodded in agreement. “Thank you,” Scully finished.
“The lab?” Mulder prompted. She wasn’t there, and no one had seen her since yesterday morning, shortly after they had left. “She was a part of it. She was feeding us information, baiting us.”
Scully neither agreed nor disagreed. Silently she walked next to him back to the car.
“Agent Mulder, there’s a message for you,” the clerk said and passed on an envelope.
He opened it when they reached their rooms. “It can be absorbed through, the skin, too.” was all it said. He dropped the note and looked at his fingers. Slowly, the single sheet of paper fluttered to the ground. “GOTCHA” was on the back. Sick joke or not, Mulder gingerly picked the note up and placed it on the table, using a prophylactic.
Scully watched his careful movements. “Start a search for her?”
“Yeah, we’ve got enough of her prints. And they’re probably all over the notebooks.” He went to retrieve the last one. Another envelope was in its place. He was really getting tired of this.
“Thank you for all your help. If it weren’t for you, I’d still be in jail for a crime I didn’t commit. Now, I’ll ‘be on a beach, earning 20
‘. Line from a movie. Don’t worry. I’m still in the states. I just have to make a new start.” The signature was scribbled, but he could recognize it. The writing was similar to that in the notebooks.
A call to the police station had him feeling more dejected. Her prints were useless. They couldn’t get a clear reading. Sometime during the night, before they’d been entered into the computer, someone else had smeared their prints over hers. No car was registered in her name. And neither Scully or Mulder had seen the plates of the car she had left in. Mulder glared at nothing in particular the entire time he wrote his report.
x X x
Natasha slowly shook herself out of the trance. That really hadn’t been nice of her, the last little joke. She smiled as she re-entered her surroundings. The car was moving quickly down the highway. Her uncles were arguing the benefits of the new casino laws. They had given her the news as soon as they moved out of sight of the police station. Another job, this one a little less complex than the last one. That one had taken way too much time to set up. The three extra deaths had been sloppy, but untraceable. It was one thing to be sure, quite another to overkill things. She snickered at her pun. She picked up the picture sitting on the seat next to her.
The people were in their mid-thirties and dressed in a fashion designer’s nightmare. Slowly the image of them arguing over large portions of steak and lobster formed. She’d have to be closer to pick up actual noise, but her mind filled in the sound of the waves breaking in the background. She studied the couple for a few more seconds. Body language dictated a murder/suicide. So much easier than the orchestration of three related deaths, that didn’t have the same M.O. But, hey, she was proud of the last one. She’d have to watch the gloating, though. No sense messing up a clean getaway by shouting that you got away.
x X x
And that’s all she wrote on Rolla. Sorry I’ve had 5 years of frustration, fear, boredom, anger, and down-right loathing building and I needed to get rid of it. I stayed for grad school, so I have many more years that I’ll be stuck here. My fault, I know.
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