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Blood Alley by D Deckert
Blood Alley by D Deckert
Summary: An ailing Mulder and a distracted Scully investigate serial killings with a paranormal bouquet in the Southern California Desert.
Rated: R for Language.
Disclaimer: Don’t own em. Can’t seem to make any money off of them. Wish I could.
FYI: I live in the town of Llano in the Antelope Valley. Every place in this story really exists. I hardly even changed the names of local businesses. Highway 138 is locally known as Deathtrap Highway and Blood Alley. Every year we get funding to fix this Highway from Hell, and every year they manage to spend that money somewhere else. I dedicate this story to the hundred or so people who have died on this fifty mile stretch of road in the 10 years I’ve lived here.
Special Thanks: To Donna, who I Emailed and asked for her aid in Beta reading, and though she didn’t know me at all, graciously caught my few foibles and errors, probably saving me from future embarrassment. And thanks for the compliments too!
Spoilers: Specifically “Anasazi”, “Fire” and my favorite epidsode “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose”. Probably pieces of other shows too.
Feedback: Please! What’s the point of writing if no one reads it? .
Blood Alley By D Deckert
August 2000 9:29 P.M.
The fortune teller’s sign was brightly lit by floodlights, but anyone could see the large splayed hand, covered with exaggerated lines, without the aid of the lights for the traffic on Pearblossom Highway was heavy with travelers from Los Angeles heading for Las Vegas for a weekend of fun in the sun. The sign proclaimed that fortunes and palm reading could be had for a reasonable price and a gold BMW was parked rather conspicuously next to a twenty year old beat up Toyota.
Madame Chalise was a pretty woman, in her mid-thirties, with unusual silver hair, one black strand running from her temple. She puckered her brow in concentration as she looked at the palm of a young woman, who could not seem to sit still.
“So, I saw your sign and said to myself, ‘Marilyn, you have got to stop! I need to know if I should really go to Las Vegas.’ And I got all the way to the San Bernadino County line before I convinced myself to turn around and come back. Pearblossom. That’s a funny name for a town that doesn’t grow pears.” The young, beautiful blonde woman stopped here for a breath, squinting down at her palm. “So, what do you see in my palm? Fortune? A happy marriage?”
Madame Chalise looked up at the girl, then back at her palm. “There is money in your hand. Here.” She pointed a long, perfectly manicured nail at the mound of flesh under Marilyn’s index finger. “But I see no sudden windfalls.”
Marilyn giggled, squirming like a schoolgirl. “Yeah, well Daddy’s a producer. Frank’s got money too. He wants me to meet him in Las Vegas. So we can get married this weekend. Should I?”
Chalise turned the girl’s palm toward the bright light set up in a comfortable dining room to look more closely at her hand. Then she took the girl’s other hand, looked at it carefully, drawing a deep breath. “How old are you?”
“Can’t you tell by looking at my hand?”
“I would guess twenty-five.” Chalise said, tracing a line with her fingernail.
“Wow! Frank thinks I’m twenty-one! Hot damn! You are good!” Marilyn sighed. “So, should I marry him?”
The silver haired woman furrowed her brow, searching for the right words to convey her message. She settled on bluntness. “Don’t go to Las Vegas tonight. In fact, get back in your BMW and drive straight home to Beverly Hills.”
The blonde girl smiled. “Wow, you are good! How did you know I live in Beverly Hills?”
“Lucky guess.” Chalise said, grasping the girl’s hands tightly. “Honey, don’t go to Las Vegas. Don’t hang around this town either. Get in your car and go straight home!”
Marilyn shivered. “You’re scaring me.” She pulled her hands away and eyed them with trepidation. “What do you see in my hand?”
Chalise shook her head emphatically. “Just go home.”
Marilyn nodded, opening her purse and laying a twenty on the table. “Frank can wait. For some reason I believe you.”
The young beauty got to her feet then, pulling her keys from her suede purse. “Thank you. I was expecting to hear a bunch of crap about tall, dark and handsome. Frank’s all of five foot four. I will go home.” Marilyn let herself out the door into the bright oncoming headlights of steady traffic.
Chalise sat at the table a moment, then got up, going to the window and watching as the other woman got in her car and pulled out toward the highway. “Oh, Lord, when will it stop?”
Marilyn sat in her car watching the steady stream of headlights and fighting an inward battle with herself. She wanted to turn around and go straight home, but she found herself merging her vehicle into the eastern bound lane and accelerating out of the little town of Pearblossom toward Las Vegas. She snapped her cell phone open and hit the automatic dial. “Frank, I just had the weirdest conversation with a palm reader.” She listened to his retort. “No, a fortune teller. She kinda freaked me out. Why can’t we get married some other time? At home? A real wedding?” She hit the gas harder as she left the last vestiges of the small town. “I’m gonna turn the car around. Something bad is gonna happen. I just know it.”
In her rearview mirror, a red light appeared, flashing. Marilyn swore under her breath. “No, I didn’t mean you, Frank.” She sighed, slowing her car down and looking for a wide place to pull off the highway. “I’ve picked up the highway patrol. In a double fine zone. I’ll call you back. No, Frank, I’m turning around right after I charm my way out of this speeding ticket.”
Marilyn disconnected her phone, brought her car to a stop and reached into her purse in search of her driver’s license and proof of insurance. A bright light appeared through the driver’s window as she rolled it down. She put her hand up to shield her eyes from the sudden glare. Her car door opened.. She screamed.
Palmdale, California Holiday Inn
White light from a muted television set cast a ghostly light over the typical motel room. Sudden pounding on the door caused the figure sleeping soundly to sit up groggily. Fox Mulder picked up the digital clock by the bed and eyed it, then reached over and turned on a light. Squinting from it’s sudden glare, looking haggard, he sat on the side of the bed, running his hands through tousled, sweat soaked hair. The pounding began again.
“Yeah, yeah, Scully. I’m coming!” Mulder yelled, reaching to the chair near the bed to retrieve his sweatpants and pull them over his boxer shorts. Slowly, the tall, lanky man picked his way over piles of papers spread out over the floor and reached the door, unlocking it and opening it. Then stepping away from the door, he leaned heavily against the wall.
Agent Dana Scully entered the room, closing the door behind her. She looked completely fresh and well-rested, her auburn hair neatly in place, her outfit neatly pressed. Mulder felt annoyed. How could she do that? How could she get up in the middle of the night and put on such a professional attitude, when he, quite frankly, felt like garbage? He sagged against the wall.
“We have another victim.” She said, carefully stepping over the papers on the floor. “Jeeesh, Mulder, you look like shit.”
What a way with words this petite woman had. And the truth of the matter was, he felt like shit. Why couldn’t he get the flu in the middle of winter like other people? Why did he have to get it while profiling a case in the middle of the God awful Death Valley? Okay, it wasn’t Death Valley, but it was the Mojave Desert. And it was August. And damn it was hot. Even at four-fucking-forty A.M. “I’m not feeling all that great.” He admitted, bracing himself for the lecture sure to follow.
“Well, I’m not surprised.” The redhead said, glancing at the chaos around the room. “It’s no wonder you got out of the violent crimes unit when you did. When you’re profiling, you don’t eat, you don’t sleep…”
“I WAS sleeping.” He said as he brushed past her to sink heavily onto the bed.
She gave him a smile, wading through the files and papers, bending to straighten up the mess.
“Scully, DON’T!” He hollered, his voice gravelly. “It took me until two A.M. to get those in that order!”
The pert redhead immediately restored the papers to their original condition. Carefully she picked up a pile from a chair and plopped down onto it. “Sorry, Mulder.” But she wasn’t really. That irked him about his partner sometimes. “Get dressed. We have to drive to the crime scene.” She watched as he stood up and headed for the closet, pulling out his trousers and a clean shirt. “Some place called Llano. L-L-A-N-O, pronounced Yawn-O. They found the female victim in some ruins over there.”
Mulder went into the bathroom, leaving the door ajar. “Are you sure it’s the same killer? The same M.O.?”
Scully idly leafed through a pile of papers on the desk next to her. “Another absolutely stunning girl. Early twenties. Sexually assaulted and her heart was cut out. Eyes removed and stuffed in her mouth.” She shifted in her seat. “Mulder, do you ever think we’re getting too hardened in this job?”
The water started running in the bathroom sink. “It’s why I got out of VCU, Scully. If Skinner hadn’t asked us to investigate, I sure as hell wouldn’t be here.”
“This is so gruesome. Why would someone take out these women’s eyes and put them in their mouths?” Scully asked, looking once again at the horrific photographs in a file next to her.
“Shit!.” Mulder exclaimed.
“What?” His partner was on her feet in seconds.
“Cut myself shaving! Dammit!” Mulder informed her through the half closed door. He couldn’t admit to her that he was having trouble keeping his hands from shaking.
Scully lowered herself back into her chair, crossing her little legs and leaning back. “Why do you think he takes out the eyes?”
Mulder’s voice echoed from the bathroom. “If thine eye offends thee, pluck it out?”
She snickered. “And sticks them in their mouths?”
Mulder exited the bathroom, shirt unbuttoned and hanging loose from his trouser that appeared a little too large. “I don’t know Scully. I’m having a bitch of a time profiling this guy. Aside from the fact that he’s murdered one woman a week on a Friday night for the last six weeks, I can’t find any other connection. I know I’m missing something.” He tucked in his shirt, dragging his tie off the chair.
“Mulder, you’re bleeding.” Scully said, taking a piece of tissue from the desk and reaching up to blot at his latest wound.
“Now we have another victim. I should have collared this guy by now.” He pulled the tie around his neck, fumbling with it, then let it drop. “I’m missing something.”
Scully stood up, continuing to dab his chin. “It’s not just you. The entire Sheriff’s department can’t make a connection either. Don’t take it so personally.” She reached up and grasped his tie. “Let me do that. You’re shaking.” (Damn, she noticed.) “Maybe you should take a day or two and just get some rest?”
“It’s just the flu. I’m okay.” He said, bending over to pick up his shoes.
“Your resistance is down. You aren’t going to solve this case if you collapse.” She told him, as he reached past her to grab a pair of socks and then returned to the bed, pulling them on and following up with his shoes. She picked up his suit jacket, offering it to him as he stood up.
“You think I’ll need my jacket today?”
“Sure, Mulder, the news said it was going to be a cool day. Only 95 degrees.”
“I hate the desert.” Mulder announced.
Llano, California Highway 138
They had no trouble finding the crime scene. The gold BMW was right on the side of the road, just four miles east of the town of Pearblossom. One of its tires was flat. Yellow tape surrounded the vehicle. Several sheriff’s cars lined both sides of the busy highway. Scully pulled their rented vehicle in behind the tape, noting to her partner and herself that the frame around the BMW’s license place read “Beverly Hills, Land of the Stars”. As she turned off the car, Mulder got out of the passenger seat, immediately removing his jacket.
“Six AM and already hotter than hell.” He said, folding the jacket and laying it across the seat before slamming the car door.
“Quit whining, Mulder.” But she also removed her jacket, revealing her service weapon tucked into the back of her slacks. She smiled as a Sheriff’s deputy approached them, carrying two styrofoam coffee cups.
Brandon Hicks, a good looking man in his mid-thirties, handed Dana Scully a cup of coffee, then put the other cup on the top of the car for Mulder. Brandon took a moment to take in the sight of the beautiful redheaded FBI agent he’d been trying to date for the last two weeks. Mulder took a sip of his coffee.
“Great. Diesel fuel for breakfast.”
Hicks laughed. “Sorry, Agent Mulder. If you like, I can get you some stale, taste like cardboard, donuts to go with your diesel fuel.” He exchanged a glance with Dana. “I don’t have any spare men to send over the mountain right now for designer coffee.”
“Got any sugar?” Mulder asked.
Scully gave her partner an assessing look as Deputy Hicks dug a handful of small packets out of his pocket and handed them to Mulder. The agent put the coffee down on the roof of the rental, opened several sugars and poured them into the coffee. Taking a pen from his pocket, he stirred the coffee violently.
Brandon took Scully by the elbow, waiting at the side of the road for a break in traffic to cross the street. “A local man found the body over there a three A.M.”
Scully frowned, looking across the road at what appeared to be stone ruins. “What was a local doing out here at three A.M.?”
The deputy laughed. “Believe it or not, he owns an ostrich farm right over there…” Hicks motioned to the west. “One of his ostriches got out and he and his dog were out here looking for it. Apparently he stumbled on a coyote which had found the body. Damned scavenger. Well, it’s not a pretty sight.”
Mulder took a sip of the coffee, made a face and stirred it some more.
Scully frowned in concentration. “So what do you think happened?”
“What do I think?” Hicks scratched at his chin thoughtfully. “I think the girl had a flat tire and the killer was either stalking her, or just happened to be driving by, and boom…another homicide. There’s an extra set of tire tread marks behind the BMW. We’ll make a mold.”
Scully nodded. Mulder came around the car to join them. “The stalking would be more plausible, considering the killer has only been killing on Friday nights.”
“So you think he was stalking her and got lucky when she had a flat tire?” Hicks asked the FBI agent.
“That would be awfully convenient, don’t you think?” Mulder said, sipping the coffee carefully. “I don’t think she had a flat tire. Check that tire and see if there was a puncture or if someone just let the air out after the fact. I think she was pulled over. By someone impersonating a cop. Or by a cop.”
“That won’t be a very popular theory around here.” Deputy Hicks stated the obvious.
“I’ve never been voted Mr. Popularity.” He looked across the road. “Where’s the body?”
Hicks motioned across the highway. “Over there. In the ruins of what used to be a Russian Commune back in 1912.”
They all stood, watching traffic flow past them. “Busy highway.” Scully said.
“Yeah, and deadly.” Brandon said, taking her elbow more securely to dash across the two lane road. Mulder beat them across and headed toward the yellow tape at a trot. “Where’d your partner come up with that theory? It’s kind of a leap.”
She shrugged. “He does that a lot. You get used to it. He’s right a lot of the time.”
“Are we still on for dinner tonight, Dana?” Brandon stopped, turning to look at her.
“Sure, if this new murder doesn’t tie us up.” Scully said, glancing toward the taped off area and her partner scanning the area carefully.
Hicks frowned. “You still have to eat.”
“I know, but if Mulder has a lead to pursue….”
“That partner of yours doesn’t let you have much of a life, does he?” Brandon asked, frustration creeping into his voice.
Dana Scully furrowed her brow, glancing at the attractive man in front of her. “Listen, Brandon, we’re not out here on vacation. I’ve enjoyed the dinners we’ve had together, but the case comes first.” She hoped she’d been firm enough. Sometimes this deputy reminded her of the overeager Saint Bernard her best friend had owned years ago.
He shrugged good naturedly. “I know. I’m a jerk. It’s just that I really like you, Dana.”
Scully smiled. It was nice getting some attention from this handsome devil. “I like you too.”
With an apologetic look, she left the deputy to walk over and stand by her partner who was crouching on the ground by a pile of ostrich dung. “Mulder, what is that?”
Mulder took a sip of his coffee and grimaced. “I think it’s bird excrement. Big bird.”
Scully took an involuntary step back. “Ugh.”
“Probably tastes better than this coffee.” He announced, tossing the foul tasting stuff into the desert behind him.
“You’ll hurt Deputy Hicks feelings the way you insult his coffee.” Scully chided gently.
“I can’t believe you can drink that stuff, Scully.” He said. “It must be love.”
Scully chose to ignore that snide remark. “So, why are we looking at ostrich…er…manure?”
Mulder stood up, a little shaky. “I think that’s a partial footprint, Scully. Guess the ostrich was out here before the murder took place. Too bad ostriches can’t talk.”
“Like big bird.”
“So can you get a casting out of that so we can get a shoe size?”
“You want me to take a casting out of bird crap?”
Mulder gave her a quick smile. “Well, it’s the only thing soft enough around her for miles. I’d say we got a break.”
“You’re gonna owe me big time for this.” Scully informed him.
“Tell you what. I won’t mess up your “big” date with Hicks tonight. How’s that?”
“It’s a start, Gman.”
Mulder looked down at the partial footprint again. “Hey, Scully?”
“How many euphemisms are there for “shit” anyway?”
She stared at him for a long moment. “I’ll get a casting after we take a look at the body.”
He grinned at her, then took her by the arm and walked with her over to where a group of law enforcement officers stood around the body, sipping coffee, eating donuts, laughing and talking. Hicks came to join the pair as they knelt by the victim. Mulder put his arm up to his mouth. Even Scully made a face.
“I have a whole new respect for coyotes.” Mulder stated.
Scully pulled on some gloves. “What a mess. I’ll have to deal with this during the autopsy.”
Mulder stood, unsteadily. Scully pulled the gloves off immediately. “I’m going to stay here until the Medical Examiner arrives.” She eyed her partner. “You feeling okay?”
Scully sighed. The man would survive up until the moment he keeled over. Oh well, there was nothing she could do about his pig-headed behavior. “Why don’t you talk with the man who found the body?”
Hicks nodded. “I’ll take you over there. Not that you’ll get anything outta him that we didn’t already get.”
The ostrich farm was set up on twenty acres. Ten pipe corrals formed two rows. There were two ostriches per corral, each one standing eight to twelve feet tall. John Ranklin, a man in his mid-thirties was walking with a bucket past each corral, plopping a mixture of corn, lettuce and raw meat into the feeder. A raunchy looking dog trailed behind.
The sheriff’s vehicle pulled up and Hicks and Mulder got out, approaching the bird man, who wore bib overalls and hadn’t shaved in a few days. “Deputy Hicks.” John said by way of greeting. “Long time no see.”
Hicks gave him a smile. “John, this is Special Agent Mulder with the FBI. He wants to ask you some questions.”
Ranklin held out his hand and Mulder eyed it a moment before shaking the hand that was doling out an unsavory looking snack for the huge birds. “Well, not much to tell. I was at the bar until about closing. I came home and came out here to check on the birds and discovered one of the birds was missing. Our “pet” ostrich, if you will. So I took my dog, Fox, and we went out to look for her.” He pointed to the dog sitting at his feet.
“Your dog’s name is Fox?” Hicks asked, smiling broadly. Mulder glared at him.
“Yeah, ” John continued. “Anyway, Fox heads off toward the ruins and I follow him and we chase off a coyote that’s feeding off that poor girl. I come right back home and called the cops. And that’s pretty much the whole story.”
Mulder walked over to look at an ostrich that stared back at him with eyes bigger than its brain. “Did you find the missing bird?”
An unrestrained ostrich walked up behind John. Mulder and Hicks stepped back a few feet instinctively. John fed this bird the remainder of the food.
“It’s okay. ‘Brat’ is the family pet. She found me and followed me back to the ranch.”
“I didn’t realize ostriches could be tamed.” Mulder said.
“It’s unusual, but not unheard of. I hand raised her. She pretty much follows me everywhere. Her and Fox.” The dog jumped up on the farmer when he heard his name. “Fox, DOWN! Fox, STAY!”
Mulder gives the dog a thoughtful look. “Thanks for your time, Mr. Ranklin.”
“Sorry I couldn’t be of more help.” Ranklin said.
Mulder started toward the car, then turned to look back. “You can see the highway from here at night? Did you see anything unusual?”
“Like I said I was at the bar in Pearblossom from around 9 to closing.”
“Right. You did say that.” Mulder nodded to the man and headed for the car, Hicks catching up with him.
Hicks shivered. “Those birds give me the creeps. They’re like dinosaurs.” He paused to open his door. “You get anything out of him that we missed?”
Mulder shook his head, opening his own door.
“Isn’t your first name Fox?” Hicks asked innocently. Mulder glared at him a moment, then got into the car, slamming the door.
Lancaster Sheriff’s Station
The conference room was cluttered with crime photos, maps and notes plastered all over the walls. Mulder was seated in a chair, his feet on the large table, looking at the photos. Scully entered the room carrying a fast food bag, which she handed to Mulder. He raised an eyebrow at her.
“Eat Mulder. I know you haven’t today.”
He eyed the bag suspiciously.
“It’s a breakfast burrito. It’s full of things that will clog your arteries. Eggs… sausage… hashed browns…”
He grinned at her, taking the bag and opening it. “You’re a life saver.”
“Tell me that when you have your first bypass surgery.”
Hicks entered with coffee, setting one in front of Mulder and then handing one to Scully. He pulled out a stack of sugar packets and tossed them on the table. Mulder glanced over at Scully who sipped the coffee casually. “The M.E. called and said the autopsy is set for 2 P.M.” Mulder said, taking a bite of the burrito, nodding his approval to his partner. Sometimes she could save the day. Then he sipped the coffee, made a face and started pouring sugar into it as he filled them in.
“I’ve been reviewing this case. I still can’t come up with a common link. Aside from the fact that every woman was drop dead gorgeous. And if that’s the key, we’re in deep shit, because the world is full of beautiful women. And Southern California has more than its fair share. He has his pick.” He stood up suddenly, taking the coffee with him, crossing over to a photo on the wall.
“So what do we do?” Hicks asks, sitting down and stretching out his legs.
Mulder sighed. “I know I’m missing something. Let me go over it again.”
Mulder pointed to a picture of a beautiful, young redhead. “First victim. Delia Thomas. Age 19. Worked at a local movie theater nights, going to the community college during the day. Body found near her home in Rosamond, along Avenue “D”.
“Her eyes weren’t cut out though. I’m not so sure she was one of his victims.” Scully went to the map, took a push pin and marked the location of the site of the crime.
“I’m pretty sure she was. Friday night. Beautiful girl.” He turned to another picture of a gorgeous brunette. “Second victim. Felicity Morgan. The reason we’re on this case. She’s the daughter of an old marine buddy of Skinner’s. Age 22.”
Scully looked down at a file. “Worked as a receptionist at an Insurance Agency. Engaged to be married. Lived in Hesperia.” She looks back at the map.
“About 70 miles from where the first victim was found.” Mulder walked over and pointed at the map. Scully pushed in another pin.
Brandon leaned his elbows on the table. “Third victim. Roberta Howley, aged 26, mother of three. On her way up to Mountain High for a girls night out. Her body was found not far from her car.” He got up and went to stand beside Dana. “Here.” He pointed, then glanced at the picture of an adorable blonde woman.
Scully put yet a push pin into the map. Mulder strolled over to take another bite of the burrito, then focused on a picture of a stunning redhead. He looked at the picture a moment.
“Janna Rich, model, age 24. On her way from San Francisco to Big Bear for her sister’s wedding. She’s the only non-local girl aside from this new victim. Body was found in Phelan.” Scully pushed in another pin.
“Fifth victim, pretty lady.” Mulder indicated a photo of a brunette. “Nadine Hart, lived in Littlerock. California, not Arkansas. Worked in Los Angeles as an accountant.” He looked at the map a moment. “Hell of a commute.”
Hicks shrugged. “Since the aerospace business went under, about eighty percent of the people who live here commute down to Los Angeles everyday. Three hours a day on the freeway. If they’re lucky and no one has an accident.”
Mulder coughed, turning slightly green. “Excuse me a moment.” He said, setting down his burrito and coffee, leaving the room quickly. Scully pushed in a pin. “And today’s victim was found here.” She pushed in the final pin, then reached down, picking up a coffee cup.
“That’s Mulder’s coffee, Dana. Yours is over there. You’re sweet enough without all that sugar.” Hicks said, winking at the attractive lady.
Scully picked up her own coffee. “Brandon, when we were driving back from the scene today, I noticed a couple billboards calling Highway 138 ‘Deathtrap Highway’.”
He nodded, wandering back over to his chair and straddling it. “Highway 138 has the most fatalities of any highway in California. I think it’s rated fourth most dangerous highway in the United States. They call it Blood Alley and Deadman’s Road too.”
Mulder re-entered the room, tie loosened, shirt opened a few buttons, dabbing a paper towel to his face.
“Mulder, I have a theory that’s almost as weird as one of yours.” Scully announced.
Mulder grinned, walking over to join her while she stared at the map. “You’re turning me on.”
Scully laughed once. “Every victim was on Highway 138. Avenue “D” is considered Highway 138, right, Brandon?” At his nod. “All the victims drove this highway daily. They call it Deathtrap Highway and Blood Alley.” She glanced at Mulder to see him grinning at her.
“So you think the highway has something to do with these killings? Murder by freeway? Road Rage with a twist? I’m sure some of the commuters in this valley would agree with you.”
Scully mentally counted to ten. “What I’m saying is whoever is doing the killing is picking his victims on Highway 138.” Mulder nodded, grinning like a goon. “Mulder, you look like hell. Are you all right?”
“I think I have the flu.”
Scully reached up, putting her hand to his forehead. “Only you could get the flu in August. You do have a fever though. Why don’t you take the rental and go back to the motel? Brandon can take me over for the autopsy.”
Mulder was already reaching for his jacket. “Good idea, Mom.”
Scully tossed him the keys, which he managed to catch after a slight fumble. “Take a couple aspirin and get some sleep.”
He headed for the door. “Nag, nag, nag…”
Scully scrunched her brow. “I heard that Mulder.”
He closed the door behind him. Scully looked after him in concern. Brandon looked confused. “What’s wrong, Dana?”
“Mulder never takes my advice. He must be really sick.”
“He’s a big boy.” Hicks said. “Now about this theory the victims are being selected on Highway 138. I think you might be on to something.”
Scully nodded, but concern was evident in her face.
Palmdale, California Holiday Inn
Mulder stumbled from the shower into the freshly made bed. He was furious with himself for not putting out the “Do Not Disturb” sign when he’d left this morning, hence all his hard work sorting papers now lay in one pile on the desk. His stomach felt like it had been looking at microfiche for hours. He needed dramamine and he needed it now. He fell face first onto the crisp linens and buried his face in the pillow. Why did motels always have such flat pillows, anyway? He took the other pillow and put it on top of the first one.
When he’d come in, he’d stripped off his clothes, turned the air conditioning unit down to sixty-five and hopped into a lukewarm shower. God, it was hot outside. The news may have predicted 96 degrees, but it had already hit 106 according to the local radio station. One of two as far as he could ascertain. One played country and western and the other seemed fond of “Smash Mouth” and “BareNaked Ladies”. He’d settled on that one.
Now, lying naked on the bed, the sheets cool beneath him, he let his mind drift over the events of the day. Scully smiling up at that slobbering puppy of a deputy. He grimaced. Why shouldn’t she date the man? Not like it would stick anyway. They’d catch this perp sooner or later and head home to D.C. At least she was eating for free.
Food. His stomach roiled. That burrito had tasted pretty damn good after that coffee from hell. Too bad it didn’t stay down very long. Mulder hated the flu almost as much as he hated the desert. He reached down and pulled a sheet up over his still damp body.
Sleep came quickly.
His alarm clock was blaring! He reached over and hit it several times, but it didn’t stop. Mulder forced an eye open. The clock read 1:30 P.M. He’d had a whole half hours sleep. Better than nothing, but not by much. He reached over and picked up the phone. The horrible noise stopped.
“Agent Mulder? My name is Chalise Gillette. I got your number from a friend over at the Sheriff’s Station. The girl who died last night… Marilyn? I think I might have been the last person to see her alive. Aside from the killer, of course.”
Mulder sat up, suddenly wide awake. “Have you reported this to the Sheriff’s department?”
There was a brief hesitation on the other end of the phone. “In all honesty, I’m hesitant to talk to local authorities. There’s some bad blood between us.”
Mulder sighed, pulling on fresh boxers. “Where are you?”
“I can meet you at “The Cactus”, in Pearblossom. It’s the local dance hall and saloon. It’s air conditioned too, which I like on days like this.”
“I saw it this morning.” Mulder responded, “I’m on my way.”
“You can’t miss me.” The feminine voice on the other end said. “I have silver hair.”
Mulder hung up the phone, picked up his discarded trousers and stared at them. Damned if he was going to put a suit back on. He went to a drawer and pulled out a pair of jeans.
Lancaster Morgue Autopsy Bay
Scully, wearing scrubs and protective glasses, was elbow deep in the middle of an autopsy. Brandon Hicks entered, gagged, then managed to control himself.
“How’s it going?” He asked from a distance.
Scully placed a lung on the scale. “It’s going okay. Nothing different. We have semen traces, but without a suspect we’re still in the dark. Can’t do a DNA match without a suspect. But if we catch the guy, we have enough evidence to put him away for good.”
Hicks inspected the ceiling. “Why do you suppose he cuts out their eyes and puts them in their mouths?”
Scully made a note on a piece of paper and removed the lung from the scale. “I don’t know. Mulder would come up with some bizarre idea about keeping her mouth shut about what she saw.”
“Just how close are you and Mulder?” He asked, finally getting to the question he most wanted to ask her.
Scully paused a minute, wondering where the hell that came from? Men could be so insecure. She smiled. “He’s been my partner for seven years. Pretty close, I guess.”
“Have you two ever dated?”
‘Ah, now I get it!’ Scully thought. “In my own way I care very much about Mulder. But I can tell you right now, I couldn’t live with the man. I’d shoot him inside of a week.” At Hicks relieved look. “So, I’m famished. Where are we going for dinner?”
Hicks looked at Scully and the cadaver, swallowing hard. Food was the last thing on his mind right now. “Italian?”
Scully put the intestines on the scale. “Hmmm, I love Italian sausage.”
Hicks could take no more, dashing from the room. Scully smiled to herself. “Men can be such wimps.” She reached up to turn the recorder on. “Intestines weigh…..”
The Cactus Saloon & Dance Hall
Mulder pulled the rental into a parking space behind the bar. There were a lot of cars there for a Saturday afternoon. ‘Everyone in town must want to get out of the heat’ he thought to himself, entering the bar.
The bar was smokey, despite the State wide ordinance banning cigarette smoking in restaurants and bars in California. The walls were covered with photographs of old western stars. There was a shuffle board lining one wall, a dart board, and a pool table. All in use. Country Music blasted from the juke box. Mulder paused in the doorway, scanning the crowd. He spotted a woman with silver hair in the corner by the wall, nursing a glass of wine, and approached her.
“Chalise Gillette?” At her nod he slid onto the barstool beside her. The bartender, a tall, lanky man, stopped in front of Mulder.
“What’ll it be?”
Chalise eyed him a moment. “They make great iced tea here. Plain, no booze.”
Mulder felt immediate relief. Iced tea would sooth his sore throat. “I love iced tea. It’s like a furnace outside.”
“Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.” At his look of confusion. “Sorry, desert humor.”
Mulder settled a little, glancing around the room. “So what can you tell me about Marilyn Zachar?”
Chalise sipped her wine, eyeing the man next to her. (What a hunk. Probably taken.) “Not much really. She was going to Vegas to get married. Her lifeline ended abruptly. I tried to convince her to turn around and go home to Beverly Hills, but she didn’t listen.”
Mulder stared at her. “Her lifeline?”
“Oh, I’m the local fortune teller. You passed my place driving through town. You probably saw it.” Chalise informed him.
Mulder nodded as the bartender puts an iced tea in front of him. Chalise pushed a dollar toward the bartender who took the money and left. “How did you know she lived in Beverly Hills?”
Chalise shrugged. “It was on the license frame of her BMW. A lot of fortune telling is just plain old observation. And anyone can learn Palmistry by reading a book on it. I just happen to be very good at it, and a little empathetic, which helps a lot.”
“So her lifeline ended abruptly?” (Maybe this was an X-file?)
“Yes, on her right hand. But on her left hand it was a nice, long line.” She shivered. “Then I just suddenly knew that she would die very soon.”
“So on the basis of a lifeline, you called me out here.” (Hell, Mulder, you’ve gone off on tangents on less evidence than this… you must be feeling like shit.)
“Hardly, Agent Mulder.” Chalise was genuinely insulted. “On the basis of SIX lifelines I called you out here. This wasn’t the first time. I had met all the victims. Three of them were regular customers.”
Maybe this was finally the connection he was looking for. Mulder leaned towards her, arms against the bar. “You knew all six victims?”
Chalise nodded. “Agent Mulder, I’m not a strong believer in coincidence. Something horrible is going on, and I think the killer is picking his victims because they came to me.”
“Why do you think he would do that?”
“Oh, Lord, I’m a fortune teller, not a mind reader!”
Littlerock, California Highway 138
Brandon was at the wheel of his civilian automobile, Scully sitting beside him. Both had changed into casual clothing and Scully was enjoying her chance to get out on the town. She gazed at Brandon’s profile through her lashes. He was a good looking man. God, it had been a long time since she’d spent any time with a man. ‘Well’, she shrugged, ‘Mulder doesn’t count.’
“It’s a bit of a drive to this Italian place, but the food is great. But it doesn’t open for another two hours. I thought we’d stop at this saloon up ahead and get a cool one, and I’ll teach you how to play darts.” He glanced at her anxiously, hoping she’d approve his plans.
‘Well, why not?’ thought Dana Scully, ‘Mulder is sick and needs to rest. I deserve a little time off.’ Okay, her conscious was appeased. “Sure, that sounds like fun.”
Brandon smiled. ‘She likes me.’ he thought. ‘She really really likes me.’
The Cactus 4:25 P.M.
In the background, the song “You Dun Stomped On My Heart” played on the juke box. Mulder was relaxing with a fresh iced tea. The tea and the lemon actually seemed to be helping his throat.
“So the hair just turned silver almost overnight. I was, what, about twenty-two when it happened. Maybe it was the horror of seeing my two best friends killed at twin bridges. I would have died too if I hadn’t insisted on driving my own car. After that I tried coloring it. First red, then brunette, then I bleached it blonde, but I gave up doing that about five years ago. I’m used to it now. And my clients think it makes me “spooky”. “
Mulder gave her a conspiratorial smile. “Spooky. Been called that myself. ” He sipped his iced tea. Man it was nice to be in an air conditioned bar sucking up caffeine. “So tell me about the victims?”
“Those poor women.” Chalise hugged herself. “They all had abrupt lifelines. But see, that’s what was so strange. On my three regular clients they’d always had NORMAL lifelines when I’d seen them before. That really spooked me. Lifelines don’t change suddenly.” She pauses, reaching for her wine glass. “At least, I’d never seen it happen before.” She downed what was left of her wine and put the glass out to indicate she wanted another drink..
(Ah, an X-file, back on familiar footing.) “So that’s pretty weird, right?”
“Yeah, it’s weird. Give me your hand.” Chalise held her own hands out. Mulder gave her his left hand and she traced his lifeline.
“So that’s my lifeline?”
“Yours is pretty normal, I suppose, for an FBI agent. Looks like you’ve had some close calls. But theirs… theirs all cut off around here.” She made a slashing motion with her fingernail. Mulder retrieved his hand.
“So, you believe this stuff?” He asked.
“Well yeah, and according to your hand, you do too.” She paused as the bartender put down a fresh drink. “But I’m the town witch, ask anyone.”
Mulder pushed a couple dollars at the bartender, who took them. “More like the town bitch.” He said, giving Mulder a wink before going about his business.
Chalise took a sip of her wine and shrugged. “Small town mentality.” She traced the top of the wine glass with sensual fingers. “So anyway, Delia loved having her fortune told. She came to see me about once a month.” She took the napkin from under her glass and dabbed at her eyes. “The second girl, Felicity, she stopped to see me every week. I was on her way home from work. I read her cards. The third one….” Chalise waved her hands around in the air.
“Roberta Howley.” Mulder supplied.
“Yeah, man, you have a good memory. Anyway, she was on her way up to Wrightwood to meet some girlfriends and was running early, so she just stopped in to see me to kill a half hour. Pardon the expression. She had a short lifeline too.”
“At this point, weren’t you getting just a tad suspicious?” he asked.
“Not really. Local news sucks hind tit. They really didn’t start covering it until that model got killed. Janna Rich.” Chalise stared long and hard into her glass, almost as if dredging up visions in a crystal ball.
“And she stopped at your place too?”
“She came to see me as a total lark. Said she’d been driving for hours and just wanted to get out of the car for a bit. Poor kid.” Chalise sniffed back a tear. “That’s when I started to worry. When the news started talking serial killer.”
Mulder handed her a fresh napkin from the pile in front of him. “And the fifth victim?”
“Nadine. Nadine and I went to school together. She just dropped in to say “Hi” and I glanced at her lifeline and I totally freaked! I told her to be careful for a few days, but she just laughed at me.” The seer looked up and saw Brandon Hicks and Dana Scully entering the bar. “Oh, Lordy, my Ex-Boyfriend just came in!”
Mulder glanced over at the door, hunching down. “Brandon Hicks is your ex-boyfriend?”
“That’s why I didn’t go to the Sheriff’s department with this information!” She whispered.
Mulder nodded. “Yeah, well, he’s with my partner.”
Chalise sighed dramatically. “I hate small towns. Oh my god, they saw us!”
Scully walked into the blissfully air conditioned barroom with Brandon anticipating nothing more than a cold mug of beer and a little dart throwing. Seeing her partner upon entering, she found she was angry. Angry that he was sitting with a beautiful woman with incredible silver hair, drinking what looked like a high-ball, when he should be home in bed feeling like crap. Schooling her features into what she hoped was a pleasant expression, she approached the pair keeping pace with Brandon. Brandon surprised her by speaking to the woman, venom in his icy tone.
“Hello, Lisa. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Get lost, Brandon.” Short and to the point..
Mulder and Scully exchanged surprised glances. Hicks now pinned down Mulder with his furious gaze. “Hello Agent Mulder… feeling better?”
Scully could get into this. “Yes, Mulder. Feeling better?”
Scully slid onto the barstool next to Mulder. Mulder attempted to save the situation, not quite sure why Hicks was suddenly acting like a bull in a prize fight. “Scully, this is Chalise Gillette. Chalise, this is my partner, Dana Scully.”
‘Things aren’t going so well.’ he thought as the two women eyed each other warily. “She has information on the case.” That should get him out of hot water. He hoped.
Hicks laughed, but he didn’t sound amused. “I wouldn’t take anything Lisa has to say very seriously. She’s the town joke. Not to mention the local tramp.”
(That does it. I knew he was a jerk!) Mulder stood up quickly.
Chalise put her hand on his arm. “It’s not worth it.”
Mulder shrugged off her hand. “I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t insult the lady in my presence.”
Hicks pointedly looked straight at Chalise. “I don’t see any lady.”
‘Okay, that’s enough’, Scully thought. ‘I sure know how to pick them.’ She put her hand on Hick’s arm. “Brandon…”
Chalise grabbed Mulder’s arm again, more forcefully. “Let’s just get out of here.” She collected her purse and got up.
“You know Hicks, ” Mulder says, “I’ve been trying to like you for Scully’s sake. But I think you need to apologize to the lady right now. That was uncalled for.”
“I agree.” Chimed in Scully.
(Yikes, how did we get back on the same side again?)
The bartender approached cautiously. “I think you gents had better take it outside.”
Hicks ignored the bartender. “I won’t apologize to that bitch in heat!”
Mulder threw the first punch. (Those knuckles are gonna hurt like a bear real soon.) He ducked as Brandon tossed a punch back at him, catching him in the jaw. ‘What am I doing? This guy is at least five years younger and has thirty pounds on me easy?’ and Mulder landed another one.
The bartender came out from behind the bar, hoping to break it up. He looked at Chalise in dismay. “Should I call the cops?”
Chalise sighed. “Hell, Charlie. They ARE the cops.”
Scully stepped off to one side, watching the bar fight progress with a perplexed expression on her face. She watched as Mulder took a blow to the ribs. ‘Oh, that’s gonna feel good when he’s puking up his guts later.’ She picked up Mulder’s drink. ‘Drinking what?’ She sniffed it, then tasted it. ‘Iced tea?’ Okay, maybe he really was working on the case. ‘Oh, nice one, Mulder, Brandon is gonna have a shiner from that fist.’
The bartender waded in with a couple big fellows who had been playing pool and together they pulled the fighters apart. Mulder was more than happy to quit. ‘Way too old for this.’ The men dragged Brandon out the front door. Scully took Mulder’s arm and propelled him out the back. Once outside, Mulder sank down on the ground, placing his back against the wall. Scully took his face in her hands and inspected his split lower lip.
Scully went back into the building. Chalise came out the back door. “You okay?”
“Compared to what?” He mumbled, already feeling his lip swell.
Man, that was it. Scully was gonna kill him. Speaking of whom, she was bending beside him with a bowl and a towel, once again examining his face. “Well, Mulder, you got off pretty lightly. You only broke one chair and one table. Fifty dollars from you and fifty dollars from Brandon and the owner is willing to forget all about your little bar fight.” She dabbed the towel in the bowl and then patted his lip with the towel.
“Tough it out, He-Man. Of all the lame things to do!” Scully said.
Chalise stood a few feet away, wringing her blouse in her hands. “I thought it was kind of nice, defending my honor and all…”
Mulder glanced around. “How’s Hicks?”
Scully cracked a slight smile. “I think you broke his nose. Not that he didn’t deserve it.”
Mulder tried to smile, wincing from the pain. “Honeymoon over so soon?”
Scully dipped the towel again and applied it none to gently. Mulder cringed. “So, I was a bad judge of character.” (Wasn’t the first time, won’t be the last, probably.)
Chalise looked around the parking lot and then glanced inside the bar. “Where is Brandon, anyway?”
“I shoved him in his car and sent him home. I think you’re going to need me to drive you anyway, Mulder.” She stood up, tossing the bloodied towel into the bowl. “Let me return these things and then I’ll take you back to the motel so you can lick your wounds.” She took the bowl and went into the bar.
Chalise approached Mulder slowly. She bent down next to him, taking his right hand. “I’m sorry I got you into this.”
He shrugged. (Man, even shrugging hurts.) “You didn’t do anything. That creep needed a lesson in manners.”
Chalise glanced down at his hand, then put her hand gently on his face. “How about I make you dinner tomorrow night? Try and make up for it?”
Mulder rubbed his jaw with his left hand. “I doubt I’ll be eating solid food for a few days. I’ll be in touch with you if I have any more questions. At least I understand now why you didn’t want to talk to the Sheriff’s office.”
Mulder stood up slowly, letting Chalise help him find his balance. She took his hand once again. Scully came out of the building in time to witness this touching little scene.
“There’s something wrong here…” Chalise said.
Scully approached them. “Come on Mulder, let’s get you home before you stiffen up too badly. Don’t you think you’re getting a little OLD for barroom brawls?” She went to the rental, opening the passenger door. Mulder walked unsteadily to the door, getting in. “By the way, you owe me fifty dollars.” She slammed the door.
Palmdale, California Holiday Inn
Mulder had just fallen onto the bed. Scully had forced him to sit down in a local chain restaurant called Carrow’s that actually had pretty good food and he’d managed to eat some beef stew that seemed to actually be settling safely on his stomach. He was pulling off his tennis shoes when the phone ran.
“Mulder.” He answered, tugging at a sock. ‘Please don’t let it be another emergency. I’m way too tired.’
“Agent Mulder, I was just calling to get an update on this case.” Assistant Director Skinner’s voice was loud and clear.
‘Shit’, Mulder thought, glancing at his watch. Did the man never rest? It was ten o’clock on a Saturday night in Washington D.C. “Well, Sir, we may have had a break in the case today?”
“As well as a break in some barroom furniture?”
He’d kill her. How dare Scully report his little lapse into juvenile behavior to their superior? “Well, Sir. That’s been taken care of. I’m rather surprised Scully mentioned that.”
“Oh, she never said a word. I called the Sheriff’s department first and apparently everyone thinks it’s rather a big joke. No one particularly likes the Deputy that you’re assigned to work with. This Brandon Hicks. Did you know that?” Skinner enquired.
‘Hell,’ Mulder sighed, ‘Some profiler I am if I didn’t even notice.’ He laid back on the bed, propping the flat pillows up behind him. “Well Sir, it doesn’t surprise me, considering the man is a jackass.” He heard laughter on the other end of the line. “But, I believe we do have a lead. Hopefully we’ll be able to catch the killer before he strikes again.”
“I did speak with Agent Scully on a matter other than your barroom brawl. She says you have the flu and she thinks it might be affecting your judgement.” His voice was neutral. Scully immediately went back on Mulder’s hit list. “It’s true I haven’t been feeling well, Sir, but it’s just a stomach bug. I feel confident we can solve this case and be home by next weekend.” Mulder said, hoping he wasn’t slitting his own throat.
“All right then. Please keep me informed. Roberta Howley’s father wants results. I want my old friend to know we did all we could to catch his daughter’s killer.” Walter Skinner hung up.
Mulder stared at the phone. Great, now Skinner was hanging up on him just like Scully did. Well come to think of it, he hung up on Scully all the time too. He replaced the phone in its cradle and sat up to pull off his shirt. He was getting WAY too old to be fighting. Mulder tossed the shirt aside, standing up to remove his jeans. He glanced in the mirror over the desk. What a nice bruise he had on his right ribs. He crossed to the mirror, turning on the light on the desk. What a nice swollen lip he had too. Mulder shrugged, again noting that shrugging hurt and crawled into bed wearing just his boxer’s.
At least it wasn’t hot anymore. He’d left the air conditioning on all day and the room was a frosty 65 degrees when he’d returned. He punched the pillows a couple times, grabbed the remote to turn on the television, pushed the mute button and was out cold.
9:13 (the writer’s birthday) P.M.
Hard knocking on the motel room door woke him from a sound sleep. Mulder pushed himself off the bed, groaning from his various bruises and sore muscles and groped around for his discarded jeans. More knocking. “I’m OKAY, Scully. If you would can the mother hen impressions I might actually get some sleep.” He yelled as he pulled on his jeans. Then he crossed to the door, unlocked it, and flung it open.
A sheepish looking Brandon Hicks stood on the other side of the door, a bakery box in one hand, a bottle of something in a brown, paper bag. He has a tape across his nose and two black eyes. Mulder attempted to shut the door in his face, but Brandon managed to get his foot in the doorway.
“Hear me out first, Mulder.” Hicks said, grimacing as Mulder pushed harder on his foot. “I know I was a total ass. I’m sorry. We have to work together.” He took a breath, his foot was being smashed rather forcefully. “Can I come in and state my case? I brought some rum cake and some rum to wash it down with. Peace?”
Mulder wanted nothing more than to amputate Hick’s foot, but on the other hand, they did have to work together. He gave the door one more hard shove, then opened it. “Okay, but no more punches. I’m feeling old and decrepit right now.”
Hicks entered the room, setting the box and the bag on the desk. “I don’t know what you’re complaining about. You probably have five years on me and you beat my sorry ass.”
Mulder went back to sit on the bed. Hicks handed him a slice of rum cake on a motel washcloth. “Hey, I didn’t wake you, did I?”
‘Like he really cares.’ Mulder thought, taking a bite out of the rum cake and making a face.
“Bitter, eh?” Hicks asked. “It’s the booze. It’ll taste better after the second bite.”
Hicks poured a couple fingers of rum from the bottle into a motel glass and handed it to Mulder. “Look, I know I didn’t make any points with you today and I totally ruined any chance I had with Dana, but I need to explain.”
Hicks poured himself a glass of rum, straddled a chair across from Mulder, pulling a piece out from the opposite side of the cake.
Mulder took a sip of the alcohol. “Haven’t had rum straight since I was in high school, raiding my dad’s liquor cabinet. It’s still pretty putrid.”
Hicks laughed. “Ah, but it numbs the pain.”
Mulder raised his glass. “To numbing the pain.”
“Here here.” Hicks raised his as well, then took a healthy slug. He poured himself another and topped off Mulder’s glass. “You ever been madly in love, Fox?”
Mulder set down the drink and applied himself to the rum cake. “Mulder.”
“Sorry.” Hicks said. “Have you?”
Mulder nodded slightly.
Hicks settled himself more comfortably on the chair. “I was twenty-one years old. Lisa was twenty-two.” At Mulder’s look he elaborated. “Lisa. Chalise. She changed her name for her hocus pocus business.” Hicks took another slug of rum. “I met her when two of her friends were killed out on 138, at the twin bridges.” He closed his eyes a moment, reliving the past. “I was brand spanking new out of the academy. I’d been on patrol two whole weeks. It was a horrendous accident with a decapitation. Lisa had been following behind her friends. She was first on the scene.” He looked at Mulder. “She had the most spectacular raven hair. I just fell head over in love.”
Mulder nodded, finishing off the rum cake. Hicks finished off his drink then poured himself another. “Anyway, at first she wouldn’t have anything to do with me. She was pretty tore up about the accident. So tore up her hair actually turned the color it is now.” Hicks glanced at Mulder for a reaction. “Freaky, huh?” Mulder gave him a slight nod. “But I wore her down and pretty soon we started dating, every Wednesday and Saturday. I mean, we did it everywhere…”
“Brandon…” Mulder really didn’t want to hear about this man’s sex life, especially since he had none.
Hicks waved down his concerns. “No, I’m not trying to be crude. Really. Heck, she once grabbed me in a graveyard, can you believe that? On a headstone! I was so in love I would have done it with her on the freeway at rush hour.”
Mulder stared at Hicks for a long time.
Hicks finally nodded. “You think the graveyard thing is pretty weird, don’t you?”
Mulder shifted uncomfortably. “Actually, no…. I can see how that might happen.”
“Well, she was wild, okay? And I would have followed her to the ends of the earth. And to top it off she kept changing her hair color, red, then brunette, then finally blonde, so it was like being with different women, but not…” Brandon sipped his drink a moment. “Then I found out she was sleeping with the CEO at her office to get a raise. He had Thursdays. Can you imagine?” Mulder nodded his head in commiseration. “She toyed with me. You have any idea what that feels like, Mulder?”
“Actually I do.” The agent admitted.
“Then one day she just stopped seeing me, no explanation, no nothing. I think she just got TIRED of me. Anyway, we shouldn’t be allowed in the same town, let alone the same bar. It’s been ten years and I still lose my head every time I see her.” Hicks downed more drink.
“You need to get over it Hicks.” Mulder told him.
“I know. I know. And I can’t expect you to understand. But thanks for letting me spout off.”
“I might understand more than you know. But hurling insults isn’t really the answer.” Mulder reminded him.
Hicks nodded. “Well I came to offer up the white flag. I’m completely at fault and I don’t want this to get in the way of the investigation. We have a complete lunatic out there killing women and the FBI sent us you because they said you were the best when it came to profiling unusual killers.”
Mulder reached for another piece of rum cake. That beef stew seemed to have settled his stomach. Hicks snagged him another piece and handed it to him. “I’m sure they didn’t use the word unusual.” Mulder responded.
“I think they said weird.”
Mulder raised his glass to Hicks. “That sounds more like it.”
“Anyway, if you feel you can’t work with me, just speak up, and I’ll bow out.” Hicks offered magnanimously.
Mulder shrugged. (Have to stop doing that.) “I think at this point it’s Scully you might want to worry about.”
There was a knock at the door. Mulder raised an eyebrow. “Sometimes I think she’s psychic.”
Mulder got up stiffly, limping over to the door. He opened the door and Scully charged in, wearing a white robe, facial mask applied, gun in hand. “I heard voices!” She stopped short and glared at Hicks. “What are you doing here?”
“Burying the hatchet.” Hicks said as Scully eyed him doubtfully. “I came to apologize.”
Mulder closed the door behind her. “All is forgiven. Have some rum cake, Scully.” He motioned to the cake on the desk.
Scully reached for the cake, but Hicks snagged her a piece, pulling it out gallantly, putting it on a bathroom hand towel. “Allow me. Dana, I have to apologize for that ugly scene at the bar. I lost my head.”
Scully took a bite of cake and eyed him for a long moment ‘He’s a jerk, but we’ve got to work with this jerk.’ She capitulated. “Hey, if Mulder accepts your apology, that’s good enough for me. What’s in the bottle?”
“Rum.” Hicks replied.
“Oh oh.” Mulder said.
Scully turned on her partner. “Mulder, you know better than to be drinking alcohol after a head injury!”
Mulder rubbed his lower lip gingerly. “It’s hardly a HEAD injury.”
Scully took the glass from Mulder’s hand and took a sip. Then she took another.
“You might get the flu, Scully.” He reminded her.
“Nonsense, the alcohol content would kill any germs.” She turned on Hicks. “By the way, nice shiner, Brandon. And you owe me fifty bucks.” Scully opened the door. “Well this little pajama party is all very well and good, but Mulder needs his beauty rest. Brandon, get yourself home to bed.” As Brandon stood up. “Mulder, turn off the TV and get some sleep.”
“Mother hen syndrome.” Mulder informed Hicks.
“I don’t envy you one bit.” Hicks said, collecting the box and the bottle and leaving through the door Scully held open.
Scully watched his retreating back. She turned around as Mulder lowered himself stiffly down on the bed. “Men. One minute tearing each other into little pieces…the next all chummy, drinking buddies.”
“We’re from Mars, remember?”
Scully sighed. “Really Mulder, you look like ostrich shit. Get some sleep.”
“You have such a way with words, Scully.” Mulder said as Scully left, shutting the door firmly behind her.
Mulder sighed, looking up at the ceiling, then stretched his neck left and right. He fell back into the bed with a groan.
The television was the only light in the room. There was a knock at the door and Mulder groaned loudly, pulling the pillow over his head. As the knocking continued, Mulder dragged himself out of the bed in his boxers and padded over to the door.
“This had better be good, Scully.”
He opened the door. Chalise stood in the doorway, wearing the same clothes she wore earlier that day. She brushed past him, entering the room. “I couldn’t sleep. I had to see you again. How’s your face?” She raised a hand gently to his face. Mulder brushed her hand away abruptly.
“Couldn’t this wait until morning? I’m really feeling lousy.”
Chalise pushed Mulder down on the bed, then turned on a light, sitting down beside him. “Give me your hand.” He offered her his left hand. “No, your right hand. Give me your right hand.”
Mulder started to stand up. “I’m not in the mood for this nonsense right now.”
Chalise grabbed his right hand, dragging him back down beside her. Thrusting his hand under the light, she examined it closely. “What the hell is that?”
“What? Are you trying to frighten me?” Mulder asked, bile rising in his throat. “I’m too stiff and sore for this bullshit.”
Chalise gave Mulder a hard look. “Why would I want to frighten you?” She returned her gaze to his hand, then looked at his fingernails. Mulder forcefully pulled his hand away from her. “Cut it out.”
“There is something very wrong here.”
Mulder’s guts were churning. “What? That I’m not falling under your spell?”
Chalise suddenly pressed her lips to Mulder’s forehead, then to his lips. Mulder froze a moment, then put his hands on both of her shoulders and pushed her away.
“I can’t put my finger on it.” She said.
“Apparently you want to do more than put your finger on it.” Mulder stood up quickly, feeling slightly faint. “I think it’s time you left.” He took her by the arm, walked her to the door and opened it. He pushed her firmly into the hallway. At the same time, Scully opened the door next to his.
Chalise touched her own lips. “Be warned, Agent Mulder. You taste of death. Death is in your future.” Chalise turned then and ran down the hallway.
Scully came out of her room and watched Chalise flee. “What was that all about?”
“I think she just cursed me. Did that sound like a curse to you?” Mulder leaned heavily against the door jam.
“It sounded like a woman scorned.” Scully ran a professional medical eye over her partner and concluded he looked sicker than a dog. “Get some sleep, Mulder. You look like death warmed over.”
Scully turned and re-entered her room, shutting the door quietly behind her. Mulder looked down the hallway for a moment, then looked at his palm. Something in it made him suddenly look harder. He stepped back into his motel room and shut the door.
Moments later he was curled around the toilet in the stark, motel bathroom The beef stew didn’t taste half as good coming back up.
Lancaster Sheriff’s Department
Mulder sat at the conference table, staring at the photographs on the wall, trying to grasp what his subconscious was trying to tell him. The piece was there. He just couldn’t quite focus on it. Hell, he couldn’t focus on anything. He’d spent the rest of the night on the cold bathroom floor vomiting first the rum, then the rum cake and finally his dinner. Around dawn he thought he puked up his own toes. He felt vile and he knew he looked awful. He hadn’t shaved, his sleeves were rolled up and he hadn’t even bother with a tie. ‘Oh well, casual Sunday.’ he thought. He was idly stirring the diesel fuel that Brandon had handed him when he walked in the door. He needed the caffeine, but the stuff was awful. How Scully could drink it with just a little milk was beyond his understanding. At that moment, Scully entered, looking more rested and attractive than any person of his acquaintance had a right to. She carried a box of donuts. She opened the box and offered him one. He felt himself turning green, but simply shook his head.
“Mulder, you okay? You’re not letting that curse thing get to you, are you?” She asked.
Curse thing? What curse thing? Mulder’s brow wrinkled in consternation. Oh, yeah, the thing with Chalise last night. He couldn’t believe she thought he might actually be thinking himself sick. (Well yeah, he could believe that.) “Of course not. It’s just the flu.”
“Maybe I should get someone to drive you back to the motel. You won’t be any good to us dead on your feet.” Scully suggested. The man was impossible. He was obviously very ill, yet he just sat there trying to ignore it.
“I’m FINE!” He snapped. God, he needed a new line. How many times had he said that to Scully over the last seven or so years? “Sorry, I didn’t sleep well. I was up most of the night making love to the porcelain goddess.”
Brandon entered the room, his black eyes even worse, carrying some files. Mulder headed his partner off at the pass. “Good, Hicks, you’re back. I know you said we couldn’t trust any of Chalise’s testimony, but frankly, it seems to me that if she actually DID see all six women before their deaths, that could be the constant we’ve been looking for. Perhaps another scorned lover? Or just some flake that targets fortune tellers.” He glanced at Scully. “We’ve seen that before.” Mulder suddenly swayed in his chair.
Scully reached for a donut. “Mulder…”
“I’m FINE.” He said again. Hell he should just write that phrase on his forehead and point to it every now and then. Problem was, he wasn’t fine. His vision was fading in and out. He was shaky. He felt feverish. And it was about 150 degrees outside. “I just felt a little dizzy.” He looks back at Hicks. “So I got to thinking, if the killer is targeting Chalise’s clients, then he’s got to be watching Chalise’s business, right?”
Hicks nodded. “That makes sense. So we need to assign a man to stake out her place.”
Mulder nodded, then wished he hadn’t moved his head. “What about the tire? Was it punctured?”
“No, it wasn’t.” Hicks informed him. “You were right. There was nothing wrong with it. Someone just let the air out. You really think it’s a cop?”
“It could be.” Mulder responded. “Scully, what about that partial footprint?”
“It didn’t get to the L.A. lab in one piece. I think it dried too fast and the plaster just crumbled.” Scully said, taking a bite of her donut. Suddenly she started coughing, and reached for Mulder’s coffee which was right next to her. She took a swallow to help the donut go down. Scully made a face.
“I know. Too much sugar.” Mulder admitted.
Scully looked at the coffee a moment, then sipped it again, spitting it back into the cup. She put down the coffee and pulled her gun, aiming it directly at Brandon. Brandon slowly raised his hands.
“Don’t move Brandon. Don’t move an inch or I’ll gladly neuter you.” Scully aimed a little lower.
Mulder was confused through the haze in his mind. “Scully? What are you doing?”
“Get his gun, Mulder.”
Mulder got to his feet, unsteadily, and went over to take Hick’s weapon. “What’s going on?” He took the weapon and placed it in his waistband, stepping back a few paces. He leaned heavily against the table, the room spinning around him.
“Mulder. Listen to me. I want you to pick up the phone and call 911. We need an ambulance now!”
Her voice sounded a little funny through the pounding in his ears, but he really couldn’t believe that Scully was really going to shoot Brandon. “You planning on shooting him?”
“Not for Hicks, you idiot! For you!” She pointed the gun at Hicks as he let his arms lower a little. He corrected his error. “Mulder how could you drink that stuff?”
Mulder was a little behind in the conversation. “I don’t need an ambulance.” He sat down heavily on a wood chair.
Scully moved closer to Mulder, placing a hand on his shoulder. “What’s in the coffee, Brandon? What have you been doing to my partner?”
Brandon gave her his best puppy dog look. “Just a little Jimson weed. A little dried jimson weed.”
“That grows wild out here, doesn’t it?”
Mulder was beginning to realize his partner was very pissed. And for a change, not at him. “What is it, Scully?”
“Pick up the phone and call for an ambulance. It’s nightshade. How long, Brandon? How long have you been poisoning Mulder?” Scully was furious.
Hicks shrugged. “Nine days. Not enough to kill him. Just enough so he’d stop dragging you around so we could go out together.”
Mulder laughed. “I’ve heard about desperate measures to get a date…”
Scully grabbed Mulder’s shoulder hard. He winced. “This isn’t funny.”
A dim light went on in Mulder’s cloudy mind. “You mean your coffee didn’t taste really bad?”
Scully pointed her gun at Mulder. Not only was Jimson weed poison, but it could also cause hallucinations. No wonder he hadn’t been able to concentrate on the case. Mulder saw the gun pointed at him and reached over to pick up the phone.
“We need an ambulance right now. In the conference room.” He hung up the phone.
Scully re-aimed the gun at Hicks. “Mulder, cuff him, will you? I think he’s our killer too.”
Hicks looked panicked. “I’m not! I never met any of those women!”
Mulder stood up slowly, finding his balance and pulling the cuffs from his belt. He went over to Hicks and slipped the cuffs on hard. “The rum cake last night?” He asked.
Hicks sighed, defeated. “Yeah.”
Mulder shoved Hicks up against the wall. “I spent the night puking my guts up because of you. If I felt better I’d pull your lungs out through your fucking nostrils!” He released the bigger man, returning to his chair. He hunched over, cradling his stomach, stabbing pains engulfing him.
Scully put her hand to Mulder’s damp, feverish neck. “Mulder, the next time you feel like you’re dying, mention it, okay? Your pulse is racing….thready… You shouldn’t even be conscious.”
Mulder thought that was the first thing she’d said that really made sense. “Okay.”
And he slipped from the chair in a dead faint.
Scully watched as her partner slowly started to slide. She dropped the gun and got under him, taking most of his weight and easing him onto the floor. Hicks leaned against the wall. Scully glared at him.
“I’m half tempted to shoot you, just for the fun of it.” She snapped at him.
“Whatever. Listen, you could have avoided all this if you’d just told me the truth from the start.” Hicks said.
“What truth?” Scully cradled Mulder’s head in her lap, smoothing his damp hair off his fevered brow.
“The truth about you and him.” He gave a harsh laugh at her blank look. “You really don’t know, do you?”
The sound of an ambulance siren blared in the background.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She stated. Maybe Hicks was on drugs?
“Yeah. That’s obvious.”
Antelope Valley Hospital
Tuesday 4:26 P.M.
Fox Mulder recognized the sounds and smells of the hospital room before he could force himself to open his eyes. He shifted his weight, taking stock of his condition, which was weak and sore. He could feel the I.V. in his left arm, the clip on his finger, and the dreaded Foley catheter. When he opened his eyes would there be an angry redhead glaring at him? What had he done now? He let his mind drift back over his memories, which seemed hazy, an unusual feeling for someone with an eidetic memory. The last time he’d felt this fuzzy, he’d been drinking water laced with L.S.D. and had tried to punch Skinner out in an F.B.I. hallway.
Oh, yes. He remembered. That lovesick puppy Brandon Hicks had been poisoning him. The coffee from hell. His stomach roiled at the thought. Well the redhead shouldn’t be angry at him. But then, Scully was always surprising him. ‘Oh, well. Better open my eyes and take it like a man.’ He thought, and forced his eyelids to open.
Scully was bald. When had that happened? Then he focused his eyes and realized he was looking into the concerned face of Assistant Director Walter Skinner.
“Welcome back to the living, Mulder.” Skinner said, standing up from the chair he’d been sitting in beside the younger agent’s hospital bed. “You gave us a scare.”
Mulder tried to talk, coughed and tried again and managed to say one whispered word. “Water.”
Skinner nodded, taking a plastic pitcher and pouring water into a plastic drinking glass. He placed a straw in the glass and fed the other end between Mulder’s blistered, dry lips. “Just a sip, Mulder. You’ve been out of it a couple days. Take it easy.”
Skinner needn’t have worried. Mulder was barely able to draw two sips before he gave up, exhausted. “Scully?” He whispered.
Skinner pulled the chair up closer to the bedside and sat back down. “I ordered her back to the motel to get some rest. She stayed here with you all Sunday and all day yesterday. She’d still be here. Which is why I got on a plane and came out here. I don’t need two of my best agents in the hospital.”
Best agents. Mulder grimaced. Hell, he couldn’t even tell when he was being poisoned. Or that he was working with a psychotic deputy sheriff. And the man had given him plenty of signs too. Unreasonable jealousy. Uncontrollable temper. Mood swings. His mind focused on Skinner’s words. “I’ve been out cold two days? It’s Tuesday?” His words were barely audible.
Skinner rested a hand on Mulder’s forearm. “Take it easy. You’ve been through quite a bit.” At Mulder’s raised eyebrows, the older man continued. “They were worried about renal failure. But the last test came back all right. There was some damage to your stomach lining, but they seem to think that will correct itself with time and a bland diet.”
Mulder cringed, licking his lips. “Hicks?”
“He’s off the force. He’s been charged with assaulting a Federal Agent. They’ve got him under observation in the psych ward. I’m guessing the plea will be insanity.” Skinner said.
“There’s something important.” Mulder whispered. “Something about the case.” God, he felt weak. “I just can’t remember.”
“Take it easy, Mulder.” Skinner said, pushing the nurse call button. “You’ve been in intensive care for two days. You were under the effects of an hallucinogen. No one even knows how you continued to function, let alone get involved in a barroom brawl and come out on top.” The nurse entered the room. “Agent Mulder is awake. Perhaps you should tell his doctor?”
“I’ll do that. Thank you Sir.” The nurse glanced at the machinery next to Mulder to assure herself everything was in order, then left the room.
“But there’s something I need to tell you. About the case.” Mulder struggled with his cotton filled brain.
“Just rest, Mulder.” Skinner said, patting his arm sympathetically. “The DNA reports should be back tomorrow. Then they can put Hicks right into the penal system, crazy or not.”
Mulder furrowed his brow. Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t coming to him. He closed his eyes and let his exhaustion overtake him.
Skinner heaved a sigh of relief as his agent fell into a healing sleep. There had been some concern that he wouldn’t wake up at all. He had arrived mid-afternoon yesterday and had listened as Scully and the doctor had discussed treatments, most of which had quite frankly gone over his head. What he had understood had scared him. Mulder had been fed enough poison to possibly shut down his vital organs. They had pumped the agent full of drugs he’d never heard of, placed him on a dialysis machine to remove impurities from his blood. All the while, Mulder hadn’t moved an eyelid. Hadn’t flexed a finger. Hadn’t twitched a muscle. Skinner had been very worried. He felt professionally responsible for Mulder. And now that Mulder was completely alone except for Scully, he felt an unreasonable responsibility on a personal level as well.
And Scully, talk about guilt. She was racked with it. As they both sat in silent vigil at Mulder’s bedside, tears suddenly began streaming silently down her face. When her boss had questioned her she’d broken into sobs saying that all the signs had been there and she’d been so busy thinking about the case, and when she wasn’t thinking about the case, thinking about Brandon Hicks, that it was entirely her fault that Mulder was as sick as he was. Normally she “mothered” Mulder and now, the one time she hadn’t, he’d actually needed the attention.
Walter Skinner had held Scully, letting her cry herself dry, then watched as she managed to compose herself long enough to discuss even more treatment and drugs with Mulder’s doctor. She had refused to leave Mulder’s side Monday night and would undoubtably still be here had not Skinner insisted she go back to the motel and not return for at least eight hours. Then he remembered his promise that he would call her if there was any change in Mulder’s condition.
Skinner reassured himself with another glance that Mulder was sleeping soundly, then went out to find a pay phone.
Scully had tossed and turned when she’d returned to the motel room. She’d showered, forced herself to eat a sandwich from a vending machine and then crawled into the bed. She couldn’t stop thinking about all the signs she’d seen, but ignored. How ill Mulder had been. Then she flushed remembering the way she’d cried in her bosses arms like some sniveling baby. Finally around ten in the morning she’d fallen into an exhausted, dreamless sleep.
Scully woke to the phone ringing. She sat up, reaching for the phone and pushing her hair out of her eyes. She felt a deep sense of dread, hoping the news on the other end would not be bad news. She really didn’t feel like she could live with herself if it was.
“Agent Scully. Walter Skinner here.” The deep voice informed her. “He woke up. He seemed a little disoriented, but he asked for you.”
She threw back the covers. “I’m on my way.”
“No. No Scully. Get a little more rest. He went back to sleep.”
“I need to be there when he wakes up again.”
“I spoke with the doctor in the hallway not five minutes ago. He said he was sure that Mulder would sleep through the night. There is no point in your being here.” He could hear her objection before she even formed it. “Agent Scully. You still have a case. Until it’s concluded, I expect you to do as I say.”
Scully sighed. “Yes Sir. But I want you to call me if there’s any change.” A thought occurred to her. “You will be staying there, won’t you? You won’t leave him alone?”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Skinner lied, knowing full well he was going to go across the street to that coffee shop he’d seen and feed his growling stomach. “I’ll stay here with him.”
“All right then.” Scully said. “Thank you, Sir.” She hung up the phone.
Skinner hung the phone. Apparently neither of his agents knew how to say ‘Goodbye’ at the end of a phone conversation. He checked the change compartment out of habit, knowing there would be no change, and found a dime. His lucky day. He walked out the door into the sweltering August afternoon heat and headed for the coffee shop.
Antelope Valley Hospital Wednesday, 9:08 A.M.
Mulder lay back in his bed, exhausted. It was amazing how tired he was just from being moved from intensive care into a regular hospital room. And he hadn’t done anything at all. Skinner was putting his personal belongings away while the nurse re-attached the finger thingey and hung his I.V. up on the stand.
Skinner glanced over at the pale agent on the bed. “How you feeling, Mulder?”
“Tired.” He admitted. “I hate feeling this way.”
“Just take it easy. Give your body a break.” Skinner said, pulling a paperback he’d bought at the hospital gift shop out of his jacket pocket.
Mulder watched the door to his room. “Where’s Scully?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. I sent her down to Los Angeles. I wanted her to double check the DNA results.” Skinner said, seating himself in a plastic hospital chair, crossing his legs and opening the book.
DNA. Mulder gave that some concentration. His brain was still barely connecting electrons. What was it he was trying to remember? “You don’t have to baby sit me, Sir. I’m fine.” (Yes, etch that on my forehead.)
‘Good’, Skinner thought, ‘Even if Scully kills me. I’m not as young as I used to be, and I need some sleep.’ Skinner nodded, standing up. “You’re sure?”
“All I’m going to do is sleep anyway.” Mulder lied, fighting back an unreasonable panic at being left alone.
“I’m going to use your motel room, Mulder. No point in costing the taxpayer’s more than we have too.” Skinner informed him. “If you don’t mind?”
Mulder shrugged. “I have nothing to hide.” He was pretty sure he had left Miss July at the bottom of his suitcase.
Skinner picked up the book and stuffed it into his jacket pocket. “If you need anything, you call me.” And he left.
Mulder pushed his head back into yet another flat pillow. He felt tired, but also alone. And there was something about the case that was making him crazy. Well, maybe if he slept on it.
So he did.
Antelope Valley Hospital
Thursday – 4:00 P.M.
Mulder was bored stiff. He sat up in bed playing with the remote control, annoyed with the local cable company. When the petite redhead walked into his room he gave her a big, goofy grin. “Hey, Scully, where you been? I’ve been bored silly.”
Scully smiled. He must be feeling better. And that goofy grin lightened her guilt-ridden heart. “Trying to tie up this case. How are you feeling?”
“Lots better.” (Hey, I didn’t say, “fine”!) “They’re going to spring me tomorrow.”
Scully’s forehead crinkled. “So, soon?” Maybe she could bribe them to keep him a couple more days? “Well, at least that’s good news.” She sat down on the hard, plastic chair.
“What’s the bad news?” Mulder asked, pushing himself up to a more comfortable sitting position, thrilled to be rid of catheters and I.V.‘s. Now if they’d just let him have a hamburger.
“Brandon Hicks didn’t do it. I mean, yeah, he did poison you. But he’ll probably get off on insanity.”
“I don’t think it’s insane that a man might want a date with you.” Mulder teased. “Brave maybe, the way you wave that gun around.”
Scully gave him a look of mild annoyance. “Funny.” She continued, “But anyway, we just confirmed the DNA results and the semen and Brandon’s DNA are not a match. He’s not our killer.”
“I could have told you that days ago.” Mulder stated.
“If you’d been conscious.”
“Ha.” Mulder said, sometimes she was a real riot. “The guy doing this has got a pattern. I just couldn’t see it. Friday. Friday is the key. Hicks said he had Wednesdays and Saturdays with Chalise. That some other guy had Thursdays.”
“Apparently she hasn’t heard of AIDS.” Scully mumbled.
“You need to go see Chalise. Now. Find out who had Fridays. That’s our killer.” Mulder insisted.
“Mulder, you’ve been very sick. You haven’t been thinking clearly.”
“Tell me about it.” He said. “But you need to get over there. He’s going to strike again tomorrow night!”
Scully stood up. “Okay, I’ll drive out there and see her. Be glad you’re in here, Mulder. It’s about 110 degrees outside.”
“Yeah, but it’s a dry heat.”
Scully sighed and left the room. Mulder picked up the remote, turning the sound up and began channel surfing. The television announcer’s voice caught his attention.
“Stay tuned. In a moment the Discovery Channel spotlights the ostrich.”
Mulder clicked past that station, hesitated, then switched the channel back. Nothing like a little educational TV in a world full of soap operas.
Fortune Teller’s Residence/Business
Thursday 8:00 P.M.
Chalise was happy to see the female agent, ushering her into a still warm house, every ceiling fan running on high. Scully had thought she had had some nerve cursing Mulder and then playing happy hostess to his partner. She had so informed Lisa Gillette.
Chalise had laughed. “I wasn’t cursing him! And I wasn’t coming on to him, either! I TASTED something on his skin. Probably the poison coming out his pores. And his hand was off color. His fingernails had a bluish tint to them.” Chalise offered Scully a seat at her dining room table, taking the seat across from her and picking up a deck of tarot cards.
Scully was suddenly furious with herself. Fingernail color was an obvious and indicative sign of poisoning and she, a medical doctor, had missed it while this… this… floozy fortune teller had spotted it. “Why didn’t you say something to Mulder?”
“I did. But he was pretty unreasonable. Probably the drug, eh? I hear it can mess with your mind.”
Scully simply nodded. Just because this woman was the town tramp was no reason to be angry with her now. She HAD been trying to warn her partner, after all.
Chalise idly shuffled the cards. “Now, what brings you here?”
“Mulder thinks that whoever you dated on Friday nights is our killer.”
Chalise looked blank.
“You had Brandon on Wednesdays and Saturdays, and some other guy on Thursdays.” Scully prompted.
Chalise got wide eyed. “Man, you must think I’m the slut of the century.” She giggled. “That was a long time ago. Ten years. I was a basket case after watching my two best friends die. I drowned my sorrows in sex, pure and simple. I get a blood test every six months. You want to talk regrets? I’ve got them.”
“I’m not here to judge you.” Scully said uncomfortably, remembering the adage about walking a mile in the other man’s moccasins. “Fridays.”
“You’re partner is wrong. I spent Fridays in Los Angeles with my father. I can guarantee he’s not the killer unless he’s doing it from the other side of the grave. He’s been dead for seven years.” Chalise informed her. “He had cancer. I wasn’t just screwed up because my friends were killed.”
“I’m sorry.” Scully said, her brain racing ahead. Then who was the killer? How could they possibly find him before tomorrow night?
Chalise handed the cards to Scully. “Cut them, four times.”
Scully cut the cards four times. “Look, I don’t really believe in this stuff.”
“Neither do I.” Chalise laughed at her look of disbelief. “Not really. I believe in the palm reading, but not the fortune telling. But it makes for some fun, and this one’s on the house.” She took back the cards and dealt them out.
Scully watched, interested in spite of her beliefs.
“Anyone can learn to do this. But it really is all interpretation.” Chalise looked at the cards. “This is the Queen of Swords… I don’t know if it’s you, or someone in your life. She’s a perfectionist. Someone who has suffered greatly. A logical thinker.”
“Just how much did Mulder tell you about me?” Scully asked.
“Honey, if I could have gotten your partner off the subject of the case, I sure as hell wouldn’t have been talking to him about you. I’ve given up my wanton ways, but I could have a relapse for someone as good looking as your partner.” Chalise turned a card, ignoring the other woman’s shocked expression. “Page of Swords. Hmmm, this is a warning of peril. Peril to the Queen of Swords? Or Peril to….” She turned another card. “The Knight of Wands. The Knight of Wands would be your partner, I think.”
“The Knight Of Wands?” Scully asked, finding herself fascinated.
Chalise handed Scully a book on tarot cards. “Read it for yourself. Don’t believe me.”
Scully flipped through the pages finding the Wands section. “A man in his 30’s. One who is always in a hurry. Much nervous energy. Women are attracted to him.” Scully looked over at Chalise. “God, that could be Mulder! How bizarre!” She closed the book. “Well, as enlightening as this has been, I’d better get back to the hospital and see if Mulder has any other brilliant ideas.” Scully stood up. “Thanks for the reading.”
“I hope you catch this guy.” Chalise said, standing as well.
“We’ll continue the surveillance on you until we do.” Scully reassured her, opening the door and letting herself out.
Chalise sat back down at the table. She flipped over another card, catching her breath. It was the devil. Then she flipped the last card. Death.
Blood Alley – Highway 138
Thursday – 8:30 P.M.
Scully drove along the two lane highway, amazed at the maniac drivers that passed her defying the speed limit blatantly. She wasn’t surprised that this was such a dangerous road, considering the travelers disregard for the speed limit signs and the fact that they totally ignored double yellow lines, passing at whim. A red light appeared in her rear view mirror. She glanced down at her speedometer. Crud, she was going 60 in a 55 MPH zone. Why didn’t the jerk get one of those people passing her doing 80? Well, she’d flash her badge and get off with a warning.
She pulled the rental over to the side of the road and fished her ID out of her pocket. She turned off the car engine, pulling her drivers license out of her purse as well. Oh yes, insurance. Californian’s had to have proof of insurance.
She started to roll down her window when a glaring white light was suddenly shined in her eyes. Scully raised her hand to shield her eyes from the sudden glare and her car door was opened from the outside. She felt a hand on her arm. Scully sensed more than saw the heavy duty flashlight swinging toward her head.
Antelope Valley Hospital
Thursday – 9:15 P.M.
Mulder got out of the bed, telephone receiver against his ear. “You were supposed to be watching her! You didn’t see anyone follow her when she left Chalise’s?”
The deputy on the other end of the phone felt awful. He’d been told to watch the fortune teller. Not the F.B.I agent. “I’m staking out the fortune teller. Not your partner.”
“Well I can’t reach her!” He yelled, feeling the scab on his lower lip pop. “Get out there on that highway and look for her rental car. You do have the license number, don’t you?”
The deputy assured him that he’d written it down when she’d pulled into Chalise’s driveway.
“Go find her! According to Chalise she left an hour ago! I can’t reach her on her cell! Get out there and look for her!”
“What about Miss Gillette?” The deputy asked, torn between the urgency of this agents tone and his assignment.
“The guy isn’t targeting Chalise! He’s after her clientele! Go FIND Scully!” Mulder slammed down the phone. Damn, if Scully had just stopped off somewhere for dinner he’d bloody well rip her heart out himself. Mulder sat down on the bed. His little tirade had left him exhausted.
Well, no help for it. He forced himself back on his feet and went to the closet, retrieving his rumpled clothing. A nurse entered the room, apparently coming in to wake him up to give him a sleeping pill.
“What are you doing, Mr. Mulder?” She asked in alarm.
Mulder tossed his clothing back on the bed and turned away from her, giving her an excellent view of his bare ass, which she enjoyed even though she was old enough to be his mother. “I’m getting dressed.”
“You haven’t been released.” The nurse said.
The phone rang. Mulder was on it in an instant. “Scully?” He asked. It was the deputy on the other end of the phone. He’d found the vehicle not two miles down the road. Emergency lights were on. No sign of Scully. Her cell phone and purse were still on the front seat. “It shouldn’t be tonight!” Mulder exclaimed. “It’s only Thursday! Send someone over to pick me up!” He slammed down the phone.
He dragged his trousers up over his legs. The nurse went over and grabbed his shirt away from him. “You haven’t been released!”
Mulder snatched his shirt back. He didn’t have time for Mrs. Doubtfire right now. “The doctor said tomorrow. It’s almost tomorrow.” He jammed his arm into his shirt.
“The doctor said ‘maybe’ tomorrow. And I’m sure he was going to recommend bed rest for at least another few days.” The obviously agitated nurse said.
Mulder shoved his other arm into the shirt. “I’ll check myself out.”
“I’m calling the doctor. I think he’s still in the hospital.” The nurse stormed out of the room. Mulder bent over to pull on his socks and the room began to spin. He leaned against the bed, willing the motion to stop.
Walter Skinner entered the room quickly, having seen the upset nurse retreating at a pretty fast lope for someone pushing sixty. He paused a moment, taking in Mulder’s partially dressed state and then rushed forward to catch Mulder as he started sliding slowly to the ground.
“What the hell are you doing, Mulder?”
“The killer has Scully! And it’s all my fault. I sent her to Chalise’s!” Mulder said as Skinner pulled him upright and sat him on the bed. “He wants a redhead this time! They found her rental not two miles from Chalise’s house!” Mulder pulled on his socks, closing his eyes against the spinning room.
“You can’t be certain he has Scully.” Skinner said, trying to calm the near hysterical agent.
“I can be. It was slapping me in the face and I missed it!” Mulder fumbled with his shoes, dropping them. “His first victim was a redhead, second brunette, third blonde, then the cycle started over again. Just like the hair colors Chalise had before she let her natural color grow out.”
Skinner bent over and grabbed Mulder’s shoes, putting them on his feet and tying them. “I’m not following you.”
“You don’t have to follow me, but I need you to drive me to Pearblossom.” Mulder said, watching as his boss tied his shoes for him. Man, that’s a weird feeling.
“Against doctor’s orders? Mulder…”
“Damn it, Skinner! Now!” Mulder yelled. “Have you seen what this guy DOES to these women?”
Skinner nodded, helping Mulder to his feet and heading them both toward the door.
Juniper Hills, California
Thursday – 9:30 P.M.
John Ranklin, more commonly known as ‘Birdman John’ drove the car slowly up the winding road. Scully moaned once, opened her eyes slowly and sat up straight. Her hands were tied in front of her. She looked over at her assailant for the first time.
“Man, you had to be F.B.I. That just screws everything up!” He said, rubbing his unshaven jaw in annoyance.
“It’s not Friday night. It’s the WRONG night.” Well, that was brilliant Scully. Must be the blow to the head.
“Yeah, well, change of plans.” He said dryly. “Sue me.”
‘I’ll do more than sue you, fella.’ Scully tested the bonds of the ropes. Maybe. “Where are you taking me?”
“Devil’s Punchbowl. Lisa and I went there on our seventh date.”
Hmmm, Mulder had been onto something. “But you didn’t date her on Fridays.”
“Naw, I had Tuesdays. But I can’t get away from the ranch except on Fridays. I have a beer at the bar, make sure people see me, then leave, then come back just before closing. Buncha drunks just remember I was there. That’s all I need.” He was actually bragging to her.
“But tonight it’s Thursday.” She said, insistently.
Thursday 10:05 P.M.
Skinner drove the car, glancing occasionally with a worried expression at Mulder who sat in the passenger seat, his head against the cool car window. “I thought we were going to Pearblossom, but you just made me drive through it.”
Mulder forced his head to sit upright on his neck. “I lied. We’re going to the Nuclear Poultry Farm.”
“The what?” Skinner thought maybe that Jimson weed had done some permanent damage after all.
“It’s an ostrich ranch. Did you know that ostriches are very territorial? They rarely wander out of their marked territory without a partner?”
“Are you delirious, Mulder?” Skinner was close to stopping the car and checking Mulder’s vitals.
“No. The last victim was found by a man who owns this ostrich farm. He SAID he was out at three A.M. looking for an ostrich that got loose.” Mulder thought that made perfect sense.
“So?” Skinner felt absolutely lost and was ready to stop and ask directions.
“So, there was this special on Discovery about ostriches today and it pretty much stated that an ostrich by itself wouldn’t wander five FEET away from its marked territory, let alone about half a mile like this guy said his ostrich did.” Mulder felt very good about getting that out coherently. “So first thing I want to do is see if this guy, John Ranklin, is minding the ranch tonight.” Mulder motioned to the front window. “It’s just up here. Turn left.”
Skinner made the turn, following the rutted dirt road for a good half mile. Every bump he hit made Mulder’s teeth hurt. He parked the car next to a beat up old Chevy Truck and got out, going to give Mulder a hand out of the passenger seat. Then they headed toward a floodlit area, where they found a woman in her sixties, hosing down the big birds.
“Can I help you?” She asked, squirting an ostrich in its open mouth.
Skinner flashed his ID at her. Mulder dove right in. “Where’s John Ranklin?”
“Why I imagine he’s down at the bar. That’s normally where he goes the one night I come ranch sit for him.” The woman looked at Skinner. “Has my son done something wrong?”
“Do you normally ranch sit on Thursdays?” Mulder asked.
“No, normally on Fridays, but I have a late doctors appointment in Los Angeles tomorrow, so I changed it to Thursday this week.”
Skinner was eyeing the humongous birds with something close to awe. “Mrs. Ranklin?”
“Does your son know a woman named Chalise Gillette?”
She turned the hose off. “That tramp! She broke his heart about ten years ago. He never got over it. I was hoping for grand babies by now.” She turned the hose on again, turning it toward the other pen and hitting the dog in the process. The dog yelped. “Dammit Fox, git away from there!”
Mulder turned and headed back to the car. Skinner eyed the dog a moment. “Thank you Ma’am.” He followed Mulder back to the car. As he got in he asked Mulder. “The dog. Is its name…”
Mulder slammed the door. “Don’t! Don’t even…”
Despite the seriousness of the situation, Walter Skinner smiled.
Thursday – 10:15 P.M.
The Devil’s Punchbowl was dark and foreboding, natural rock formations jutting at unnatural angles straight up from the ground forming a circular structure. The moonlight glowing down on it did indeed remind the casual visitor of a punch bowl. To Scully’s eye, it looked like Hell. John Ranklin, dragged Scully behind him toward a rocky precipice. Scully worked diligently, feeling the ropes around her wrist loosen somewhat.
“Who are you? Why are you doing this?” She asked, hoping to stall for time, but knowing that there would be no cavalry this time, she had to save herself.
“John Ranklin.” He said, stopping to catch his breath. “To get even with Lisa.”
‘Ranklin. Ranklin.’ Scully ran the name over her memories valiantly, a bell going off loudly in her thoughts. “You FOUND the last victim. You own the ostrich farm. Your alibi checked out!”
“Told you they were a bunch of drunks.” Ranklin smiled. “You’re a bright lady. It won’t save you though.” He scratched at his chin.
‘Probably has lice.’ Scully thought, her scalp itching.
“I wasn’t planning on finding the body, but my damned pet bird musta smelled me, or heard my car, or god knows what, and came out to be with me. Right after I made love to that pretty thing. Walking all around, leaving ostrich tracks. Following me. So I decided to “find” the body to explain my bird being there and my footprints all over the area.” He reached out and stroked Scully’s face gently. “I made a mistake taking her so close to home. Forgot about that damned bird. But that won’t happen tonight.”
He grabbed her upper arm, propelling her toward an incline. Scully stumbled. “Their hearts, John, why do you cut out their hearts?”
He turned to look at her, sadness in his expression. “Cuz Lisa tore my heart out.” He looked like he might cry, then suddenly his expression became gleeful. “I grind up the hearts and mix them with lettuce and corn and feed them to the birds. The birds think it’s a real treat. I fed that last girl’s heart to my birds right in front of Hicks and that other Fibbie.”
Scully shuddered. “And the eyes? Why do you do that with their eyes?” She felt the ropes give way and let out a deep breath she didn’t know she was holding. She eyed her gun, casually stuck in Ranklin’s waistband.
“Cuz Lisa has that damned second sight. And one day she looked at my palm and told me I was the Devil and she didn’t want to see me anymore. So I put em in their mouths to shut them up. But I can still hear them. I can hear them screaming in my head. All of them.” He shivered. “Enough talk. We have to go up there. That’s where Lisa and I made love.”
Ranklin started to drag Scully toward the incline once again.
Thursday – 10:20 P.M.
Mulder sat at Chalise’s dining room table, his head in his hands. “Think, Chalise. John Ranklin. Tuesdays. The victims were all killed somewhere along Highway 138. Did you cruise the highway with him?”
Chalise hugged herself, glancing at Walter Skinner who remained quiet by the window. “After my friends were killed on that highway? Hardly.” She stared at the crystal ball she used only as a centerpiece. “I’m trying to remember.” She closed her eyes, concentrating. “Wait! I kept a journal! Let me go get it.” She left the room.
Skinner gave Mulder a concerned look. “How you holding up?”
Mulder laid his head on the table. “I’ll make it.”
“Right.” His superior said dryly.
Chalise came back into the room, carrying a diary. “My therapist had me keep this.” She sat down, flipping through the pages. “First date. We went to the car races in Rosamond.” She thumbed the pages again. “Second date. Visited his mother in Hesperia. That was fun.” She said sarcastically. “Third date, up to Wrightwood. The local snow resort.”
Mulder stifled a groan. “It’s too HOT for skiing.”
“Not in the winter. Fourth date, we hung around town.” Chalise sighed. “At least Brandon was inventive. Crazy, but inventive.”
Mulder sat up suddenly. “I see the connection. Just skip to the seventh date! Do it!”
Chalise fanned the pages quickly. “Devil’s Punchbowl.”
“Where is that?” Mulder got to his feet unsteadily.
“In the dark you’d never find it. I’ll take you. I’ll get my purse.” Chalise ran from the room.
Skinner went over to Mulder, taking his arm. “You gonna make it.”
Mulder simply nodded.
Finally reaching the ledge where he’d had carnal knowledge of Lisa ten years before, John stopped, breathing heavily, and forced Scully down in front of him. He reached for his belt, going to unbuckle it, noticing the gun is in the way. He took it from his waistband and flung it down the slope.. Scully freed her hands completely of the rope, taking a handful of loose dirt and sand, and flung it into her attacker’s face. John yelled, reaching up to wipe his eyes but Scully was on him in a heartbeat, placing a well aimed kick to his groin, then another to his head. John hovered for a moment, trying to regain his balance, then fell off the ledge, screaming. Scully felt only relief when the screams cut off suddenly and only soft night sounds surrounded her. She sank to her knees, breathing hard.
The car came to a screeching halt, spewing dirt and gravel into the air. Mulder, Skinner and Chalise bailed out of the car, Chalise taking the lead to guide them to the ledge she remembered almost fondly up until this night. She stopped, pointing upward. Mulder stumbled up behind her, took a deep breath, his side hitching painfully.
“Sculleeeeeee!” He yelled at the top of his lungs.
“I’m all right!” Came the wonderful sound of Scully’s voice, echoing off the bizarre rock formations.
Mulder fell to his knees. Chalise sank down next to him, giving him much needed support. Skinner glanced at Mulder, then started off in Scully’s direction.
“Do you need any help, Dana?” Skinner called out into the darkness.
Scully appeared, scrambling down the incline, dirt covered, the knees of her pantsuit torn, but unhurt. (Unless she counted that pounding headache.) “I could have used your help, but you were a little late. We do need the Medical Examiner though. I’m afraid I killed Mr. Ranklin.”
Skinner smiled. She didn’t sound all that remorseful. “Think of the money you saved the local taxpayers.” He said.
Chalise was being pulled over by Mulder’s almost dead weight. “I could use some help over here.”
Skinner and Scully went to her aid at once, helping lower Mulder to the ground. “I’m fine.” Mulder said, pointing foolishly to his forehead.
“Sure you are, Mulder.” Scully said, exchanging concerned glances with her boss. She put her hand on his forehead. “You’re burning up.” She looked at Skinner who was pulling out his cell phone. “Better get an ambulance up here too.”
“No Sculleeeee. I’m all right. Realleeeee.” Mulder whined.
Skinner mopped his head with a handkerchief. “Are you sure he’s burning up? It’s so bloody hot out here, how can you tell?”
Mulder giggled. “It’s a dry heat.”
Scully rolled her eyes. The man was impossible. “He’s delirious.
“Deliriously happy you’re okay.” Mulder informed her, still giggling.
Scully just stared at him.
Antelope Valley Hospital
Saturday – 11:00 A.M.
Mulder sat back in the bed. Once again attached to an I.V. Chalise held Skinner’s hand and was stroking the lines with a pink fingernail.
“So, it’s a powerful hand, with a long lifeline, but there’s this thing I can’t figure out. Like some kind of threat… health wise…” She shrugged. “Anyway, that about covers it. I sure wouldn’t want to see you lose your temper.”
Skinner took his hand back, looking somewhat uncomfortable. “And people pay you to do this?”
Chalise nodded. “Sure, cross my palm with gold. Or buy me a drink.” She winked at Skinner. “Actually I just do it so I can hold big, handsome men’s hands.”
Skinner blushed. “Have you read Mulder’s hand?”
Chalise nodded. “Briefly, the night he thought I was coming on to him. By the way, I was trying to taste you, Mulder, not sleep with you. The poison tasted bitter. Deadly.”
“You’re breaking my heart. I thought you were after my body.” Mulder dead panned.
“So what did you see in Mulder’s hand?” Skinner asked.
“A major trauma in his early teens. Some near misses with death. And a strange headline. I don’t think Agent Mulder thinks the same way most people do.”
Skinner looked at Mulder’s shocked expression and started laughing. Mulder glared at him. Scully entered the room, carrying coffee cups. She handed one to Chalise, one to Skinner and popped her own lid of her styrofoam cup, taking a sip.
“What’s so funny?” She asked.
“Chalise read Mulder’s palm and saw that he has a different way of thinking than most people.” Skinner filled her in.
Scully shrugged. “She’s been around him long enough to have figured that out.”
“Chalise, read Scully’s palm. Let her Scully.” Mulder implored.
Scully shook her head. “I’d rather not.”
“Oh, come on. I can’t have caffeine. I can’t eat real food. Humor me.”
Scully sighed, holding her hand out. “Okay, but forgive me if I give off negative energy.”
Chalise took her hand, looking at it a moment. “You have a strong head line. Very methodical, scientific thinking. Logical. It’s a no nonsense hand.” Chalise glanced up at her. “You have had a very serious illness and survived it. You have such a long lifeline I find it difficult to believe that you’ll ever die.” She took a deep breath, not noticing that Scully looked slightly alarmed. “You have strong family ties. And you have loved but once in your life.” She folded Scully’s hand and returned it. “It’s a good hand. It’s the hand of a beautiful, highly religious person.”
Scully stared at her a moment. “You really got all that from my hand?” At her nod. “I’m impressed. I don’t know how you do it, but I’m very impressed.”
“Someday, Scully.” Mulder said. “Someday I’ll make a believer out of you. It’s only a matter of time.”
“Not in this lifeline, Mulder.”
He grinned at her.
Special Thanks: To Birdman Mike, who at first was insulted when I told him I’d made him into a serial killer but now seems to be warming enough to the idea that I’m actually a little frightened that I’ve created a monster. And to his mom and dad and everyone at the Atomic Chicken Farm for teaching me more than I ever really wanted to know about those huge, prehistoric birds. Pretty much everything stated about Ostriches is correct, except they aren’t real big on raw meat. And to my dog, Fox, who investigated the Trash Truck too closely and now resides in dog heaven.
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