Return to main “Blood Oranges” page
Blood Oranges by Syntax6
Artwork: Dustjacket: Galia, above image: IOHO.
Title: Blood Oranges
Rating: NC-17; minors please read elsewhere
Classification: SRA, and W, for whodunnit
Summary: The latest victim in a series of brutal murders has a surprising connection to Mulder, but it’s Scully who has the connection to the killer. Their relationship might not survive either one.
Feedback: all types welcome at
~ ? ~
I like to cut them slowly, with a small knife.
It’s hard sometimes to keep them lying white and quivering on the table while I decide where to put the first mark, but this is a process that cannot be rushed. It’s no good if it is over too quickly. So when they cry, I tell myself that it’s okay because it is the last time they will need those tears. Soon I will make all the pain go away forever.
But this one is not crying yet.
She is looking up at me with huge black eyes that have gone glassy from the barbiturates I fed her earlier. When I move her tangled brown hair off her cheek, she does not even twitch a muscle. Her pale chest rises up and down with each shallow breath, and I trace my gloved finger lightly over the ridge of her breastbone. She doesn’t jerk away like some of the others before her, and I congratulate myself again on such a fine choice.
Of course some part of me knows this is wrong, but I can’t make myself stop. I don’t really want to stop. I’ve been this way since…well, since I can remember. I think maybe it all started back in Mr. Gilroy’s biology class, when I held the knife for the first time. Everyone else was busy complaining about the sickly sweet smell of the formaldehyde or giggling over the rubbery frog bodies, but my palms were sweating with anticipation and excitement.
The knife was cool and sharp in my hand, and I tried not to shake very much when I approached the pinned frog.
Naturally, Betsy Dombrauer with the blond curls did not mind when I said I wanted to do the cutting. I can still remember how the frog split open with one single slice.
That night, I dreamt over and over again of the steel blade as it slit through the frog’s soft, gray belly. It made me feel calm, and I knew I had to cut again.
The girl on the table whimpers into the rag in her mouth as I slice the first cut across her abdomen. It’s a clean cut, and the blood line is straight and narrow. I add a second line above it, touching my handiwork as I go along.
On my fingers, her blood is warm through the tight latex, and I wish I could feel its wetness as well.
My victim wriggles against her leather restraints as I cut into her flesh twice more. She is crying now, whimpering, and I see that she is older than I had originally thought.
Over thirty, maybe. Thirty years of pain that I am helping to erase.
One more line.
This one I draw from her collarbone all the way to her navel. It’s deeper than the rest, and I can feel the blood pounding through me in response to the sight of the red rivulets streaming over her ribcage.
After three more deep cuts, the woman goes limp on the table, her eyes closed and her head lolled to the side.
She is still alive, but there is blood everywhere. I can taste it in the air as I remove my shirt.
It is time for the most important part.
Glancing down at my naked chest, I see that the scar from the last time is still an angry red, and I guess that I must be cutting them closer together now. Six in all, is it? I think that is what the papers have been saying.
Well, five so far…six isn’t finished yet.
I take her wrist and wait until the faint pulse flutters and stops beneath my fingertips. She is gone.
She seems so peaceful in her death, and it is this peace I have come for. I want to smell it, taste it, wrap myself in it until the screaming inside my head is completely gone.
The small knife hurts me only for a minute as I cut my own stomach, and I can barely hold back a moan of ecstasy.
When the dark, red drops slide warmly over my skin, I climb on top of the girl, my body flat against hers. Our blood merges in a wet smear. My eyes close.
I breathe in deeply, and the screaming fades away.
Mulder shifted accordingly, never stopping the steady rhythm of his hips between her legs. “Like this?” he breathed against her face.
“Mmmm, yeah.” Scully’s eyes drifted closed again as she concentrated all her thought on the thick feel of his penis moving deeply inside her.
“You sure?” he panted, thrusting more firmly. “Want to..” thrust “Make sure it’s…” thrust “A happy birthday.”
It was about to be a very happy birthday, if he would just shut up and keep the hips going. Unlike Mulder, she did not multi-task very well, and consequently had to choose one form of intercourse over the other. Verbal was running a very distant second at this point.
She drew her knees up fractionally as her body tensed for the big finale. Another second of teetering, and she fell completely over the edge, jerking against him in rhythmic pleasure. “Mulder, now!” she blurted, just in case he wanted to join her.
He did. With low moan and three quick thrusts, he went rigid in her arms and then collapsed heavily on top of her, panting warm breaths on the side of her face. She hid her face in his neck, kissing him lightly. His hot, sweaty weight was a welcome comfort in her still-spinning world.
He answered by giving her hair a messy caress, and a moment later his low voice tickled the sensitized skin near her ear. “I think the books were right about the female sexual peak being around thirty-five.”
Eyes still closed, she smiled and squeezed his hips with the insides of her knees. “Are you complaining about my past performance?”
“No.” He raised himself up a few inches to look down at her. “I’m just really looking forward to the coming year.”
She laughed then, and he tumbled them over the bed until she rested half-sprawled on top of him. Feeling around behind her for the edge of the blanket, she drew the soft cotton over their cooling bodies. He kissed her head and was asleep within minutes.
It was always this way. He could hold a perfectly fine discourse during the act, but once the curtain fell, so did he. Today it was okay with her just to snuggle. The Merlot from dinner had made her extra sleepy, and she was technically still recovering from a gunshot wound to the abdomen.
Another year of cheated death, she thought with some amazement as she gently touched the scar. Happy damn birthday, indeed. No wonder the sex had been so exhilarating.
She nuzzled his chest in another silent “thank-you”, and realized suddenly that the aerobic workout had left her thirsty as well as tired. Extricating herself gently from his warm, heavy arms, she slipped on a robe and went to the kitchen.
Once there, she sipped a glass of water and studiously ignored the dinner dishes congealing with Alfredo sauce from the seafood primavera, concentrating instead on the framed Kandinsky reprint Mulder had given her. It was a chaotic, colorful piece, with too many shapes and images to process all at once. At the bottom, he had taped over the actual title with his own: “Sex with Scully”.
She smiled, remembering. Tonight they would have needed a full gallery.
Mulder had been teasing her earlier, but she really did feel differently about sex now than she had in her twenties. Perhaps it was the wisdom of age that allowed her to let go of all the youthful insecurities—Does this position make me look like an idiot? Should I moan more?
Less? What does he want now?—and just enjoy the moment.
Her body might not be perfect, but it satisfied her fine and Mulder certainly wasn’t complaining.
He was the other main reason she suddenly found herself craving sex all the time. It was not just that he was a creative and caring lover, though certainly that was true enough. But for the first time in her life she was making love with someone she trusted with her whole self—her intellect, her sexuality, all her shortcomings and all the tender places inside that she usually kept so well hidden.
It was scary and wonderful and the most amazing thing that had ever happened to her. Thank God he seemed to feel the same way.
She rubbed at the tape with one finger for a moment before deciding to leave it in place a little while longer.
Looking at it was actually making her feel aroused again, and she wondered idly if from then on, she was going to get turned on every time she walked into her living room.
One could only hope.
Setting her glass in the sink, she noted that the clock read nearly midnight. Perhaps Mulder would have recovered enough to squeeze in a quick round of sleepy sex before the day was officially over.
He seemed dead to the world when she returned to the bedroom, and the sight of him caused her to emit a sympathetic yawn. Maybe it was time to call it a night.
She tugged at the sash on her robe, but stopped abruptly when the phone rang.
Mulder jerked, blinking sleepily at her in the dim light.
She nodded, looking at her cordless and realizing it was not the source of the ringing. The noise was coming from Mulder’s pants. “It’s your cell phone,” she said, moving to retrieve his rumpled pants from the floor and extracting the chirping black phone from his pocket. She tossed it to where he sat up in bed.
“Hello?” he said, sounding vaguely puzzled.
Scully watched him carefully, trying to determine who could be calling him so late. There was no big case to worry about these days, and outside of the occasional shadowy informant, she was the only one who ever phoned him at this hour.
“I see,” Mulder was saying as he got up from the bed.
“When did this happen?”
She waited for him to turn and give some sort of hint about who the caller was. Instead, he went naked into the bathroom and shut the door. She jerked at the sound of the “click” and blinked in surprise at the white door. What the hell was this all about? He had not pulled the cloak and dagger routine on her since their first year together, when he still thought she might be spying on him.
Tightening the sash on her robe, Scully took three steps toward the door, intent on listening the murmurs coming from within. Then she stopped.
Spying was spying, and she wasn’t about to become guilty of it now. She would just have to wait. Curling in a nearby arm chair, she watched the door expectantly, half-needing, half-dreading the moment he would come back out.
At last, he did. He sat down heavily on the bed, his head bowed and his back to her. It was apparently not good news. “Mulder?” she said, rising slowly from the chair.
She padded across the room until she stood near his shoulder. “What is it, Mulder?” she asked softly. “Who was on the phone?”
He looked up at her, his expression unreadable, and answered her question with one of his own. “Are you well enough to travel, Scully?”
The remark did nothing to lessen her anxiety. “I’m fine,” she said as calmly as she could. “What is going on?”
“I put in for some profiling work to keep us off of wiretap duty,” he replied, sounding wooden and hollow.
“There’s been a series of pretty brutal murders up in Cambridge over the last few months, and they want us to look into it.”
Scully frowned, not content with his explanation. He was busy getting dressed in slow motion, as if his mind were already somewhere far away. Clearly, there was more to the phone call than he was telling. “What sort of murders?” she asked carefully.
“Mutilations. Someone is carving women alive.”
“My God.” She sucked in a sharp breath, already imagining the terrible autopsies ahead. “How many so far?”
“They just found the sixth one a few hours ago.” He shrugged on his shirt and began buttoning it from the bottom. He seemed just a little too focused on the menial task.
“Mulder?” When he did not answer, she walked over to where he stood and laid a hand on his arm. He jumped.
“Mulder, what is it?” she asked urgently, searching his shuttered face for any clues. He was as pale as the January sky.
After a long minute, he swallowed twice and answered her.
“The latest victim…the one they found tonight on the street…her name was Elizabeth Callahan.”
Scully drew back a bit in surprise. “You knew her?” He nodded slowly, and his eyes drifted shut. He reached for her hands, which he squeezed painfully. Her heart started to pound as she realized there was still more to this story. “You were…you were lovers?”
“In a way,” he whispered. His eyes opened, black and bottomless as he seemed to look right through her. “She was my wife.”
~ ? ~
The winter that greeted them outside Logan Airport on Wednesday morning was an ugly step-sister to the kind found in story books. No glistening, white capped trees or smiling snowmen. This winter was about bitter wind that chilled to the bone and brown slush that surrounded every curb, waiting for each hapless victim to plunge ankle-deep into its icy depths. It covered the bleak concrete landscape of Logan like a frozen shroud.
As they walked along the wet and slick sidewalk toward their rental car, Mulder risked a sideways glance at Scully. Usually she would feel his eyes on her and meet his gaze. Not this time.
She had not looked directly at him since he had come out of the bathroom and told her that Elizabeth was dead. He could tell by the set of her shoulders that she was still smarting from his clumsy revelation. Some people would get angry with only their faces, but Scully managed to use her whole body. It seemed to him that she had not blinked once during the two hour plane ride from D.C., as though even her eyelashes were angry with him.
He supposed he should try to explain. To give some sort of account of his actions, at least. But he could not think of anything to say to her that wasn’t a lie.
“I’m sorry I never told you” would be ridiculous because he had quite deliberately kept his marriage a secret from her.
He had promised not to tell, and after everything that had happened, it was easier just to keep the promise. And safer. If Scully had been in the empty hospital room with him on that last day, she might understand that he had done the best he could.
He had gotten the hell out of there and never looked back.
He wondered what Scully would say if he told her the first thought he had after hearing about Elizabeth’s death was “I suppose she finally got what she wanted.”
She would probably be sick. Of course she would. Who wouldn’t be, given such a terrible statement?
But at least then she would also have a sense of the truth.
He had been a fucking lousy husband when Elizabeth was alive, and there was no reason to think he would suddenly get it right at this point.
Their usual nondescript Taurus was waiting for them at the curb, and Mulder scrawled his name on the young man’s clipboard in return for the keys. After they had loaded the suitcases in the trunk, the man smiled cheerily. “I hope you and your wife enjoy your stay in Boston,” he said.
Mulder flinched, and Scully froze. Warily, he glanced at her again, and this time she looked right back at him. Her cool blue eyes held his for a long, painful moment before she turned without a word and got into the car.
He was left alone in the stinging wind.
Ten minutes into the trip to the Cambridge Police Station, Scully pulled her frozen fingers away from the heated vents and sighed. The story was not going to become any easier to hear, so she steeled herself enough to ask, “Are you going to tell me, or am I going to have to read about it in her background file like everybody else?”
His hands tightened on the wheel, and he looked at her cautiously. “What exactly do you want to know?”
Oh, no. No way. She saw the loophole in that question instantly, and it sent a fresh surge of anger through her.
What she did not ask, he would not have to tell. More lies by omission, that was what he was proposing. She drew a shaky breath and shook her head. “No, Mulder,” she said, her voice just on the edge of tremor. “I am not going to let you shift this onto me. Given the circumstances, I think it’s outrageous of you to even try.”
He frowned and lapsed into silence. For several moments, the only sound in the car was the rushing of the stale hot air through the dashboard vents. “I’m sorry about this,” he said at length. “I never meant to hurt you.”
His words caused unexpected tears to pool in her eyes as she realized suddenly how hurt she really was. “That’s difficult to believe,” she managed after a minute. “I don’t know how you could have thought that keeping something like this from me wouldn’t hurt.”
“I didn’t think you would ever find out.”
“And that’s supposed to make it okay?” she demanded angrily, turning in her seat to face him. The back of her throat was raw with pain. “Just what else am I never supposed to find out, Mulder?”
Startled, he looked at her with mild horror. “Nothing! I swear to you, Scully, there’s nothing else!”
The attempted reassurance only caused sadness to swell inside her, and she turned her head to look out the window at the choppy gray Charles river. He’s been lying all along, said a voice in her head. Who’s to say he’s not doing it again now?
Despite the warmth in the car, she shivered.
“You have to believe me, Scully.” His voice was rough and tight. “I would never lie to you, not like this. I’m not keeping anything else from you, I promise.” He snatched one of her hands from where it was balled in her lap and squeezed her with painful desperation. “Please…you have to believe me.”
She looked his face, pale and tired, his eyes dark with naked fear. It was like looking into an emotional mirror.
“I can’t,” she whispered achingly, and then carefully withdrew her hand. “I want to, Mulder, but I just can’t right now.”
“No.” She cut him off. “I can’t.” This was not a conversation she was ready to have. Not when she still felt so bruised inside. In a few minutes she was going to have to hear the evidence and view the body, pretending all the while that this case was just like any other. The pain was going to have to wait.
After another minute of stilted silence, Mulder began nodding slowly. “Okay,” he said quietly, but he did not look at her. “Okay, Scully. Just the facts then, all right?”
She nodded, not yet trusting her voice. She resisted the urge to screw her eyes shut as he began talking.
“Elizabeth grew up in my neighborhood. Sometimes she would play with me and Sam, but mainly she kept to herself. Her mother had died when she was still a baby, and her father liked to keep her home with him. She said he needed the company.”
Grown men should not require the company of little girls, Scully thought, and a terrible idea occurred to her.
Uncertain how Mulder would respond, she held back the ugly question. He heard it anyway.
“Yeah, I think now he may have been abusing her. It would explain a lot.”
“She never said anything to you about him?”
Mulder rubbed his eyes with one hand. “Oh, she talked about him constantly.” He glanced at her once and sighed.
“But it was mostly positive. The only time I caught a hint of something weird was Christmas, 1990. Liz and I wanted to spend the holiday in Vermont, just the two of us, and for some reason she seemed really afraid to tell her father. I wasn’t around when she made the phone call, but when I got home I found her sitting in the bathtub with all her clothes on, crying. Needless to say, we spent Christmas with the old man.”
Scully closed her eyes for a moment, his words still churning in her mind. It was “Liz” now, was it? She was not sure why this small detail hurt so much, but it did.
“How long…how long were you married?”
“Fifteen months. I ran into her on the Vineyard in the summer of 1989, and we got to talking. I don’t know exactly how it happened, but we were married by that October.”
“Seems awfully fast.” Tinged with disapproval, the words were out of Scully’s mouth before she could stop them.
“Too fast,” he agreed softly. “It was wrong almost from the start…” His voice trailed off, as if he had been sucked into the past right before her eyes. Whatever had happened with Liz, he was clearly still haunted by the memory.
How could you not tell me? The mournful question vibrated inside her, but she did not let it out. Instead, she treated him like any other background witness, gathering only the information necessary to solve the homicide.
“When was the last time you saw her?”
He let out a deep breath. “Almost eight years ago exactly.
February 21, 1991.”
A quick and sudden ending? That seemed rather strange, since Mulder was not one to let go easily of those he loved. “No contact since then?” she pressed, watching him closely. He shook his head. “Not even a letter or a phone call?”
“I signed the papers and never saw her again.” His mouth twitched at the corners, and she wondered what emotion he was holding back. Anger? Regret?
“Why did it end?” she asked after a minute.
His mouth opened but no sound came out. He swallowed once, then tried again. “When you see her, you’ll know,” he managed finally.
“What will I know?” He did not answer, instead steering the car into the Cambridge PD parking lot. When he moved for the door handle, she stopped him abruptly, straining against the seat belt to touch his arm. “Mulder, answer me. What will I know?”
He froze with his back to her, his elbow stiff under the thick wool overcoat. “Some people take their whole lives to die,” he murmured to the window, and then slipped his arm free.
So her name was Elizabeth Callahan. In the bar she had said it was Elise. Still, I don’t mind that she lied to me. We all do whatever we can to make it through the day, and surely Elizabeth was no different. At least now she can be at peace.
My own lies are getting more complicated. They found Elizabeth only three hours after I dropped her off, which is the fastest time yet. As much as I don’t like to leave the women lying in the snow for very long, I think next time I will have to chose a more circumspect location.
Perhaps the cemetery would be appropriate.
I make myself read the papers even though what they say is disgusting. No one seems to understand. That asshole reporter from the Herald has named me “The Slash and Dash Killer”, and it seems like this one is going to stick. I heard two guys talking about it in line at the coffee shop this morning, in between their discussion of the bigger guy’s new motorcycle and the Patriots’ upcoming game against the Broncos.
On the news, they are warning women to be careful. To stay home at night or at least not to go out alone. I can only shake my head at these earnest warnings, because they won’t make a bit of difference.
The women I choose will never stay home. It’s too quiet there. These are women on the run from their own demons, and they prowl the streets almost constantly, trying to create a moving target.
These women will not be out with friends because they do not really have any friends.
There is only me.
The Cambridge Police Department was not much different from the hundreds of others he had visited. Kept up a bit better, perhaps. The desks were not as scarred as those in the local D.C. stations, and the linoleum floor was not worn through to the cement beneath. The paint on the walls was fresh, but it was the same drab gray-green he had seen endless times before.
Except, of course, that this visit was very different.
This time Elizabeth was dead.
Scully kept pace with him as they made their way to Chief Englehart’s office, and he was glad for the reassuring click of her heels echoing through the corridor. It might be a temporary d*tente, but at least she had not left him yet.
Then again, she had not heard the whole, terrible tale.
At the door to Englehart’s office, he met her eyes briefly before knocking on the translucent glass window. “Come in,” came the call from the other side, and he led the way into the Chief’s office. It was like walking into a sauna.
A portly man of about sixty, Englehart sat behind his desk with his sleeves rolled up past his elbows and his red, striped tie hanging loosely around his neck. “You must be the Feds I asked for.” He rose from his chair and extended one beefy hand across the desk. Mulder accepted it.
“I’m Fox Mulder and this is Dana Scully.”
“Please, sit down,” he said, indicating the leather chairs in front of him. “I appreciate you coming so quickly.” He picked up the phone on his desk, putting the receiver to his shoulder. “Sorry about the heat in here. The whole floor is on the fritz today.” Then he punched a couple of numbers and said into the phone, “Hey, Marta. Send Bertelli and Jacobsen up here, will you? Thanks.”
Mulder pulled at his own tie as he shifted uncomfortably in the chair. “We saw the headlines on the newspapers outside,” he told Englehart. “Seems like you’ve got a pretty panicked city on your hands.”
The Chief heaved a deep sigh and leaned back in his chair.
“You’re telling me. The phones are ringing constantly.
I’m having daily press conferences at this point, and the damnedest part is I never have anything new to say except that there’s been another death. The Mayor is about ready to pull my plug.” He moved to sit with his hands folded on the desk. “That’s why I thought maybe you guys could help.
Maybe do a profile or something, so we know what kind of character we’re dealing with.”
Mulder fidgeted again, not at all sure he wanted to try to climb inside the mind of the man who had killed Elizabeth.
He was not even sure that he could. “You have no suspects at all right now?”
“Not a one so far,” grumbled Englehart. “We’ve had our guys going back through computer records for anyone in the area with priors for kidnapping or assault with a knife.
There’s been a couple possibilities, but nothing that’s panned out. Bertelli and Jacobsen can fill you in on the details. They’ve been on this since the whole goddamn mess started back in June.”
Nine months of chasing a monster with no breaks in sight.
Sometimes he managed to forget why he had left the BSU, but this sort of thing always brought it right back. He was about to ask if there was any sign of sexual assault on the victims when there was another knock at the door.
“Come,” called Englehart, and a man and a woman entered the office. The woman was perhaps forty, dressed in an olivecolored pantsuit and wore her thick brown hair in a French braid; she carried a stack of folders in her arms. The man was younger, closer to thirty, but with an early-receding hairline and belligerent eyes that passed coolly over both Mulder and Scully. “These are the Feds I was telling you about earlier,” Englehart explained. “Agents Mulder and Scully.”
“Claudia Bertelli,” said the woman, extending her hand first to Scully and then to Mulder. “I’m the one who caught the case.”
Yeah, she looked like it, too, Mulder decided as he took in her lined face and tired eyes. The man, who stood leaning with his back against the wall, nodded once in a curt greeting. “Robert Jacobsen,” he said.
Scully was eyeing the folders in Bertelli’s hands. “Are those the files?” she asked.
The other woman nodded and handed them over. “All we have.
We’re still in the process of gathering information on the latest victim, Elizabeth Callaran.”
“Callahan,” corrected Mulder and Scully at the same time.
“That’s right, Callahan,” Bertelli agreed, thumbing through her notes. She glanced curiously from Scully to Mulder.
“You’ve already got the details?”
Mulder glanced at Scully, who looked away. He cleared his throat. “No, not much. Just what we were told on the phone last night.”
Bertelli sighed. “Then you pretty much have the latest.
We are trying to nail down the specifics of Callahan’s movements last night, but so far it’s been hard. She seems to have been somewhat of a loner.”
“That’s not news,” commented Jacobsen from his post by the wall. “All the vics were pretty isolated.”
Scully began flipping through one of the folders. “What about other characteristics linking the victims?”
“Well, they all lived in the Cambridge area,” Bertelli said. “All were youngish white women, but beyond that there don’t seem to be any other physical similarities. Two were jobless at the time of their deaths, and the others had working class positions like temping and waiting tables.”
Mulder swallowed with difficulty. When he had known her, Elizabeth had dreamed of being a painter. He did not know much about art, but she had seemed to him to have an amazing raw talent. Her canvases always contained two pictures, one obvious and the other hidden underneath in the background. He had thought they were just clever optical illusions. By the time he understood the real meaning behind her work, it had been too late.
“The biggest link so far is Dempsey’s,” Bertelli finished.
“It’s a bar on Mass Ave, and three of the six victims were there on the night of their death.”
“What about the other three?” Scully asked, glancing down at the files in her lap.
“Elizabeth we don’t know about yet. The other two we just don’t know about. No one can recall if they were at the bar that night, but Anne Hingham had definitely been there in the past. Laurie Scofield is still an unknown.”
“I assume you’ve looked at the employees and the regulars,” Mulder said, glancing at Jacobsen. The man scowled.
“No, we local yokels just sit around on our asses and wait for the FBI to tell us what it all means.”
Bertelli frowned, and the Chief got up from his chair.
“That’s enough, Sergeant,” he admonished Jacobsen. “I know we’re all a little tense around here now, but we will maintain a civil atmosphere.”
Jacobsen held up his palms. “Hey, I’m civil. I’m just waiting for the big insights we’re supposed to get from these people.”
“Rob, please. We’ve talked about this,” said Bertelli quietly.
“Yeah, and my opinion hasn’t changed.” He pushed away from the wall and crossed to where Mulder and Scully sat. “No offense, but I’ve seen this profiling shit before, and I think it’s complete bunk. So maybe he has issues with his Mommy or he wasn’t potty-trained right. Who really gives a fuck? I know everything I need to know about this psycho from watching his handiwork for the past nine months, so you’ll pardon me if I skip psychoanalysis and spend my time on an actual investigation.”
“That hasn’t been working very well for you so far, has it?” retorted Mulder mildly, and Jacobsen glared at him.
“Screw this,” he muttered, stalking out of the office and slamming the door behind him. Bertelli gave a small, tight smile of apology.
“This has been a tough case,” she said. “For all of us.
But Rob has been taking it particularly hard.”
“You don’t have to explain,” Scully assured her gently.
“I’m sure the situation has been stressful on everyone involved.”
Mulder watched the exchange between the two women with interest, each playing peacemaker with just a few simple words. He wondered suddenly how many times he’d left Scully in Bertelli’s role—offering the awkward explanation for his abrupt and arrogant departure. “Yes, it’s fine,” he added abruptly, rising from his chair. “Jacobsen’s right anyway, that profiles alone do not catch killers. They can only point you in the right direction.”
The Chief sighed. “We sure as hell could use some pointing right about now.”
Scully got up then, too. “I’d like to get a look at the body, if that’s possible,” she murmured. Mulder stopped short, glancing down at her and trying to read her expression, but she was refusing to meet his eyes again.
“Of course,” Englehart answered, rising also. “Bertelli or Jacobsen can take you down to the morgue right now.”
Mulder looked up. “And I’d like to talk to the bartender at Dempsey’s.”
“Joseph King,” Bertelli said as they walked toward the door. She cocked her head at Mulder. “We’ve spoken to him several times before.”
“Well, I’d like the chance to question him myself.”
They reached the elevator, and Bertelli hit the button.
“I’m not trying to second-guess you,” she assured him. “I just think it’s interesting that you would start with him.”
Mulder shrugged. “You want to know what goes on in a bar, you talk to the guy pouring the drinks.”
“Especially when he has a record for assault,” agreed Bertelli lightly.
Beside him, Scully inhaled sharply. “With a knife?”
Bertelli nodded once, her expression grim. “With a knife.”
Scully removed her leather gloves as she walked down the hallway toward the M.E.‘s basement office. The door was partially open, and the light was on. She knocked gently.
“Oh, hello.” A slender woman in a white coat turned from her desk. Her blond hair was pinned in a neat bun, and gold, wire-rimmed glasses perched on the end of her nose.
Her hand was cold when Scully shook it. “Haley Atkins,” she said with a small smile. “You must be the doctor from the FBI.”
“It’s very nice to meet you. Chief Englehart said you would be coming by to see about Elizabeth Callahan.”
Scully’s stomach turned over, but she managed to nod.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“I just finished her about an hour ago myself,” Dr. Atkins said, retrieving a chart from her desk. She scanned it once. “Cause of death was massive blood loss due to multiple incisions on the torso.”
“May I see your notes?”
Scully was impressed that her hands did not tremble as she accepted the charts. At the top was printed “ELIZABETH CALLAHAN” in neat, bold letters. You can do this, she coached herself mentally. Focus on the facts.
It was easier said than done.
She could feel her breathing become shallow as all the words seemed to run together on the page…
At the bottom of the second page was Dr. Atkin’s final assessment: Thirty-seven knife wounds in total.
Scully abruptly lowered the chart, taking several deep breaths to fight her rising nausea. “Is there a water fountain nearby?” she asked.
“Right around the corner. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” Scully murmured as she left the room and hurried down the hall. After several sips of cool water, she leaned back against the wall with her eyes closed, feeling slightly less ill. What a fine impression she must be making by falling apart before she even examined the body.
Elizabeth’s body. Mulder’s wife.
She covered her face with her hands and took another slow, deep breath. Youcandothisyoucandothis. With measured steps she made her way back to Dr. Atkins’ office.
“Everything all right?” queried the other woman in a concerned voice.
Scully felt herself color slightly. In the course of her career, she had undoubtedly seen and survived things that would have given Dr. Atkins nightmares for the rest of her life, but at this point she was willing to have the other woman believe her problem was a weak stomach rather than spill the truth. She felt a renewed sense of anger at Mulder for putting her in such a terrible position in the first place. Never once had he stopped to ask her if she would mind cutting up his dead wife. “Yes, thank you, I’m fine. It’s just been a long night.”
Dr. Atkins nodded. “I understand completely. Would you like another moment to rest up, or would you like to see her now?”
“Yes, please, if you’ll just show me where.”
At that moment, a tall thin man with huge black eyes appeared in the doorway. Scully jumped a bit because he had made no noise on his approach. “I have the samples ready to take to the lab,” he said in a gravelly voice.
“Thank you, Howard. Could you get out the Callahan body before you go, please?”
He nodded, and left as silently as he had arrived. “An assistant?” asked Scully.
“Yes, Howard is my technician. He doesn’t have a lot to say, but he’s been great about reducing the workload around here. If you need anything in terms of lab tests and such, just ask him and he’ll help you out.”
“Hmmm,” Scully replied noncommittally, and squinted down the hall to where he had disappeared. Maybe she would ask.
But maybe not.
In the main autopsy room, Howard removed Elizabeth Callahan from her refrigerated chamber and placed her on a silver autopsy table. He lowered the sheet until she lay naked, stark white and staring under the bright florescent lights.
Smoothing her hair back in a rhythmic caress, he stood over her for a long moment. Then he shook his head. He had heard that they brought in a fancy doctor from the FBI to see about the murders. That must be the redhead in Dr.
Atkins’ office. Who would have thought there would be two female pathologists?
The new lady seemed nice. Pretty, too. Not as pretty as Dr. Atkins, but still…
He patted Elizabeth one last time and sighed. He wondered what he would say if anyone ever thought to ask him about the deaths.
Hopefully, no one ever would.
She seemed more naked than any body Scully had ever encountered before.
Logically, of course, this was not possible, but she felt it was true all the same. Elizabeth was whiter, somehow.
Or maybe more still. Whatever it was, the effect was nerve-jangling, and for the first time Scully felt a little like a voyeur.
She set her tape recorder aside for a moment and approached the woman slowly. Yes, she could see it now. All the Mulder hooks were there—long hair with legs to match, sculpted cheekbones and ample breasts. Alive, Elizabeth Callahan had no doubt been a beautiful woman.
Now she was covered with gaping lines that stood out sharply against her pale skin. Her lips were cracked and devoid of color, and her nipples had shriveled to grayishblue stubs. Death had spared none of her earlier charms.
Scully snapped on her gloves but made no move to actually touch the body. “Who are you?” she whispered over the dead woman. “Why did he hide you for so long?”
Elizabeth answered her with the perfect silence of the dead.
Scully closed her eyes and swallowed hard against the lump in her throat. Out of all the women in the world, Mulder had picked this one to marry. But then something had gone terribly wrong.
It was time to find out what.
She opened her eyes again and reached for the tape recorder. Her finger poised on the buttons, she murmured, “Whatever happened between you and Mulder…whatever he did or you did, I don’t know. But I do know that you didn’t deserve this.”
Three hours later, Dr. Atkins had disappeared somewhere, and Scully was scribbling some notes when her cell phone rang, startling her in the dimly lit office.
“It’s me, Scully.”
“Mulder.” She was too worn out to say much else.
There was a long pause on the other end of the phone. “Was it…did you…” He stopped and started again in a low whisper. “Are you okay, Scully?”
Now he finally asks, she thought, but did not have the energy to put much anger into the sentiment. “I’m fine,” she lied, because it was easier than trying to come up with words to describe how she really felt. She sat up a little straighter in her chair. “Mulder…”
He was quiet, but she could hear him breathing. God, how to put this?
“Mulder, there were old scars. Scars on her wrists.”
She rubbed her fingers at her temple. “These scars were lengthwise up the arm, Mulder. She really meant it.”
“I know she did, Scully…I’m the one who found her.”
~ ? ~
It was dark when Scully finally left the Cambridge morgue, night having greedily claimed half of the afternoon hours for its own. She waited in the freezing rain with only a briefcase full of dead women to shield her from the gnawing wind. Her taxi arrived ten minutes late, on a wave of icy slush that splashed onto the sidewalk and caught her squarely across her knees.
Damp and chilled, she huddled on the far side of the vinyl seat, not paying any attention to the passing scenery. Her feet were frozen inside her boots, and her fingers were white and stiff. She cupped her hands over her mouth and blew gently to try to warm them.
It was the kind of bone-deep cold that always reminded her of the cancer, when she had lost so much weight it was impossible to ever be really warm. She had spent months with hands as cold as the dead themselves. Months of autopsies performed by the woman with a backstage pass, she thought wearily. Surrounded by death from the inside out.
Elizabeth’s white face passed through her mind, and Scully shivered.
Mulder’s wife had had her own kind of macabre dress rehearsal. Even if he had found her relatively quickly, the large cuts on her arms must have given her an up-close and personal look at her own death. Eight years later, death had finally looked back.
Still huddled deep inside her coat, Scully leaned her head back against the seat and dreamed of a long shower with the setting turned all the way to “H”. Thousands of prickly hot needles on her skin, driving away the numbness. Her joints ached with fatigue.
She shifted slightly on the seat, trying to get comfortable, and her hand brushed something sharp.
Squinting in the darkness, she peered down to see what was there.
It was a rip.
No, not a rip. A cut.
Someone had taken a knife to the cheap, black vinyl, splitting it open about three inches so that the foam stuffing pushed through the covering. Scully fingered the sharp edges around the hole, thinking suddenly of Elizabeth’s killer.
You want to know, too, don’t you? she mused silently. You want to know what it feels like when everything stops.
With a jerk, she yanked her hand back into her lap, shaking slightly. She blinked rapidly in surprise. Where the hell had that come from? The taxi suddenly lurched to a halt in front of the hotel.
“Ten dollar, sixty,” said the man in front without turning around. She hastily shoved some money at the driver and tried to push aside the voice from her head, but it followed her as she hurried into the bright warmth of the lobby.
Distracted as she was, it was not surprising that she failed to notice the figure watching her from the bench near the windows.
I did not expect that they would send a woman.
When I first heard they were bringing in the FBI, I pictured a couple of Ken dolls in pin-stripe suits with sunglasses. It was even kind of exciting to learn that I rated an honest-to-God profiler. But Englehart’s press conference never said anything about a woman.
I should know because I was there.
It was kind of amusing to watch the reporters heckling away at him like a pack of crows as he sweated out their questions under the bright camera lights. Blind as he was, I doubt he could have noticed me in the back. I used to go to every one of his daily soir*es in the Cambridge PD press room, but lately I’ve had to scale back my outings.
Mistakes are for other people, that’s what Father always said. The day Helen died, he yelled at her for leaving her new bike in the driveway. Stupidstupidstupid. I can still see his face, purple from screaming, and how he carried on so long that Momma had to bring the inhaler from the bedroom.
It was stupid of me to take so many of the women from Dempsey’s. Convenience is nice, but it can also make you lazy. The next time I will have to be more careful.
If I were really smart, I would get my ass out of this hotel before I am recognized. It’s a foolish risk to be here, and I cannot afford stupidity right now.
She looks tired as she checks into her room. Pale and cold, like the women are when I am finished with them. I watch as she picks up her bags and heads for the elevators without even a glance in my direction.
In my pocket, the knife is sharp against my thumb.
Mulder entered the hotel elevator carrying a large portion of green curried beef and an even greater helping of guilt.
Scully had sounded so tired on the phone, her voice laced with the same traces of painful exhaustion he had heard in the New York hospital room only a few weeks ago. Thirtysix hours with no sleep was probably not what the doctors had in mind when they had suggested she ease her way back into work.
Hell of a welcome back party you’ve thrown here, he congratulated himself. Good show.
But the guilt was not because he was sorry about bringing her along on the case. Quite the opposite—it was because he was not sorry. He had made Elizabeth so many promises he never kept, and this was his absolute last chance to get it right. In the end, he just hoped Scully would be able to forgive him for it.
Reaching her door, he knocked gently, just in case she was sleeping. She answered within a few seconds, wearing flannel pajama bottoms and an over-sized gray sweatshirt from the University of Maryland that nearly swallowed her whole. It felt like days since he had touched her. “Hi,” he said awkwardly, holding up the bag. “I thought you might like some dinner.”
She eyed the bag for a second and then nodded, widening the door so he could enter. “I was just making some tea.”
Brushing the worst of the rain from his coat, he stepped into her brightly-lit room. The six victims’ files were spread in semi-circle across her bed, and the sight of them pricked his conscience again. Clearly he was not the only one pushing himself hard on this case. Dripping icy water onto the rug, he watched her silently gather the folders into one neat pile and set them aside. Elizabeth was on top.
When she had finished, she turned and frowned at him with disapproval. “Mulder, you’re soaking wet.”
He glanced down at himself sheepishly. Not wanting to presume anything, he had not even taken off his coat.
“Yeah. The rain has really picked up outside.”
“Well, there’s a clean towel in the bathroom,” she said, taking the bag of food from his hands. “Just hang it up when you’re done, all right?” He nodded dumbly. It was not an effusive welcome, but he noticed that she set out both paper plates for dinner.
He rubbed his hair until it stood on end and then dabbed at the wet trails of water on the back of his neck.
Dutifully, he hung the wet towel next to hers before returning to the round table, where Scully was busy doling out equal portions of the curry with a plastic spoon. He approached her hesitantly, stopping just inches behind her back. She stilled instantly but did not turn around.
He touched her shoulder with three fingers. “Scully, about today…I’m sorry. I know I should have explained better…”
She bowed her head and shuddered slightly under his touch.
“Not yet, Mulder, okay? Let’s just eat first.”
“Okay,” he agreed softly, hoping that it really would be.
They ate his peace offering in relative silence, since all topics at hand led back to the same terrible place. When at last the dishes had been cleared away, she rose with her mug in hand, heading back toward the hot-plate. She turned to him. “Would you like some more tea?”
He gave a wry smile and fingered the rim of his own mug.
“For this conversation? I think my tea better be fifty proof.”
Scully’s eyebrows lifted a touch. “Not the worst idea you’ve ever had,” she replied after a beat, and she retrieved a miniature bottle of brandy from the nearby wooden cabinet. Apparently Scully also felt the need for a little false courage tonight.
Not to mention distance.
She took her tea and brandy over to the bed, where she curled up with her back against the headboard, about as far away as she could get from him and still be in the same room. He felt a moment of overwhelming relief. It would be easier this way, to tell the story without having to look her in the eyes. Scully’s eyes never lied.
But after a moment he moved to the small settee across from the bed. His willful blindness had nearly killed Elizabeth; he was not going to look away now.
Scully sat motionless on the bed, staring into her mug and not saying a word while the heater delivered its own clanking monologue. When finally he could not bear it any longer, he asked her, “What are you thinking?”
She gave a tiny shake of her head, her eyes still on her tea. “I just…”
“You just what?” he prompted when she trailed off.
She sighed. “I thought I knew you, Mulder.”
He scooted forward on his perch. “Scully, you do know me!
You know me better than anyone in the world.”
“Well, apparently that’s not saying very much.” Her eyes met his, translucent with pain, and his insides tore open like wet tissue paper.
“You’re wrong, Scully,” he insisted unsteadily. “It means everything. At least to me it does.”
She lowered the mug from her lips to frown at him. “It means everything to me, too, Mulder. Why else do you think it hurts so damn much?”
He flinched at her sharp words, fingers tightening around the warm porcelain. “And I’m sorry for that, really I am.”
She went back to staring at her tea, and he sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe I should have told you that I was married before. But Scully…what happened with Elizabeth, it was all in the past. It has nothing to do with us.”
She was silent for a long minute. “It scares me that you might actually believe that, Mulder.”
He leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. Didn’t she understand? He had to believe it. It was the only way he could bring himself to share her bed at night. “I just wanted it to be different this time,” he murmured at the ceiling.
“Well, you got your wish,” she answered darkly. “This sure as hell feels different to me.”
He jerked upright. “What do you mean, ‘different’?”
“I mean two days ago, I thought you had never been married.
Now I know you were. To me, that is a big difference.”
He shook his head. “It’s just one thing, Scully. A stupid, awful mistake I made a long time ago. But it’s a mistake that has been there since I first met you…nothing’s different now. It doesn’t change who I am or how I feel about you.”
She exhaled in exasperation, setting her mug on the night stand. “You really don’t get it, do you? I don’t care that you were married before.”
Now he was confused. “I don’t…”
“Okay, that’s not completely true,” she amended, interrupting him. “Yes, I care. A lot. But I care more that you kept it from me, Mulder. Here I was, just trusting that if there was anything important like this, you would tell me about it. Instead, I find out you were deliberately hiding this marriage from me, and now I can’t stop wondering what other secrets might be waiting out there for me.”
He rubbed his hand over his eyes in frustration. “Scully, I told you there’s nothing else.”
“You say it was just a mistake that doesn’t matter,” she continued in a carefully controlled voice. “But your actions speak otherwise, Mulder. Your purposeful silence about your marriage spells out its importance more clearly than words ever could.”
“I didn’t have the words to explain it,” he answered simply.
She gave him a sad, reproachful look, tears threatening in her eyes. “You might have tried,” she whispered painfully.
“For me, you might have tried.”
“Scully…” He half-rose from his seat, needing to comfort her, but she stopped him with a vehement shake of her head.
“No.” Her chin trembled, and she clapped a hand over her mouth, looking away from him.
He slowly sank back into the chair. “I’m so sorry, Scully.”
She nodded a little, still not looking at him. “I know you are, but I think it’s for the wrong reasons.”
“Tell me what I can do,” he urged her. “Tell me how to make it better.”
She made a sound that was part sniffle, part laugh. “Don’t you think I would if I knew? I can’t give you the magic words, Mulder. You can’t just find the right phrase or gesture and expect it will all go away.”
“I know, I know.” He leaned heavily back in his seat.
God, he was tired. His eyes felt like they had been vacuumed dry, but to sleep meant going back to his own empty room, where the solitary bed would remind him just how completely he had fucked up. “I guess…I guess we should just try to get past this case,” he said after a long silence.
Scully shifted on the bed so that her arms looped around her knees. “It would be a start,” she agreed softly.
“Especially for you.”
He looked at her sharply, meeting her calm gaze with some surprise. Then he half-smiled. “You see? Better than anyone, Scully…that’s how well you know me.”
She seemed to hug herself tighter. “Sometimes,” she allowed. “But it doesn’t take a clinical degree to understand that you and Elizabeth parted under pretty emotional circumstances.”
“Everything with Elizabeth was emotional—the highest highs dissolving into the lowest lows. At first, the roller coaster ride was exciting, but after awhile…” He shrugged. “I just needed to get off.”
Scully hesitated. “Is that when she…”
“No. Well, maybe.” He sighed and drained the last of his tea in one fiery gulp. “It’s complicated.” Scully waited patiently while he tried to figure out where to begin the story. “She needed me,” he said finally. “She needed me in a way no one had before or ever has since. And I guess that in my way I needed her, too.”
“Needed her how?” Scully asked softly, her chin on her knees.
He considered for a moment. “Elizabeth had this sweet, gentle quality to her…naive almost, but with an inner sadness that gave her depth. When we met again, I was spending my time working cases just like this one, where I got to see all the ways people found to exploit and torture one another. Every day was a new variety of evil wearing a human face.” His mouth twitched in a self-deprecating smile. “That sort of stuff becomes hard on the psyche after awhile.”
“Of course it does.”
He nodded. “Yeah, well anyway, Liz was a direct contrast to the shit I dealt with on the job. Plus she had known Samantha. It wasn’t very often I found someone I could talk to about her.” He rose from his seat and began slowly pacing the room. “I guess you could say that for a short time, Liz and I filled a hole in each other’s lives.”
Stopping short, he shoved his hands in his pockets. “Or maybe I’m just kidding myself to think we were ever really happy.”
Scully was watching him silently, and he squirmed under her gaze, resuming his random trips across the carpet. When he did not make any attempt to continue the story, she asked, “What happened in the end, Mulder? Why did she try to kill herself?”
Ah, the million dollar question. He had come up with so many answers to it over the years. Which one would Scully want to hear? He stopped pacing to stand near the round table, where he fiddled absently with a left-over paper napkin. “She asked me to stay that night,” he said finally.
“But then she always asked me to stay. It was almost to the point that I hated going home because I knew eventually I was going to have to leave again and hurt her. But that February, I thought we had been doing a little better. Liz was painting again, and I was busy surveilling this guy who was suspected of murdering three teenage boys. Henry Finklestein, that was his name. Funny, the parts you remember…
“Anyway, the Finklestein case was actually in town, and I thought that would make her happier, you know? For awhile, I even made it home for dinner a couple of nights a week.”
“Did she ever try to talk to you about why she wanted you home so badly?”
“If she did, I wasn’t listening hard enough.” He sighed, pushing the napkin around on the smooth table-top with one finger. “I knew it made her unhappy and nervous to be alone. She was always sad whenever I had leave town, but I never thought…” He broke off suddenly and snapped his hand away from the table. “I suggested she get a dog.”
The words hung heavy in the air for a long time. Finally he ambled back to his original seat and slumped down with his eyes closed. “We busted Finklestein that night…caught him in his apartment with a fifteen year old runaway. Some of the guys wanted to go out to the bars and celebrate, but I figured I should get back to Liz. The apartment was totally dark when I got home. At first I just thought she was sleeping.” He shook his head faintly.
“Took me at least five minutes to find her.”
“I’m sorry, Mulder.”
He barely heard her, still picturing the stark white bathroom and a tub full of bloody water. And Liz…pale as the walls surrounding her, with her dark hair wet and clinging to her head. “There was so much blood,” he whispered. “I thought she was already dead.”
“But she wasn’t,” Scully pointed out gently. “You saved her.”
He shook his head. “No, I just stopped her from dying.”
“I should have known, Scully.” He sat up with a jerk, trapping her under the force of his own anger. “Seven years of psychology classes…seven fucking years and I never saw what was coming! I had no problem climbing inside the heads of the worst kind of sociopaths, predicting their every goddamn move, but I couldn’t read my own wife! What the fuck does that say about me?”
Scully was silent.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he said bitterly.
“You loved her,” Scully murmured after a minute. “It’s often hard to see the people we love clearly.”
“Well, Liz would have been better off without my kind of love. I nearly destroyed her.”
“No, Mulder,” she corrected quietly. “She nearly destroyed herself.”
“While I stood by without doing a damn thing. Same difference.”
Scully was quiet again for a few minutes. Then she asked, “Is that when it ended?”
He ran a hand through his hair and nodded. “Pretty much.
Her father showed up at the hospital to ream me out over what happened to his daughter. He didn’t have much to say that I wasn’t already saying to myself.”
“Let me guess…he was the one who pushed for the divorce.”
“You win the washer-dryer,” he answered wearily. “Alan Callahan had the lawyers in before the next night. Only he didn’t want to stop at divorce. He went all the way up to an annulment.”
“Did you talk to Elizabeth at all? What did she want?”
“She was pretty sedated when I saw her, but we spoke for a few minutes.” He dropped his eyes to the floor. “She kept apologizing to me, can you imagine that? Said she was sorry for disappointing me.”
Scully considered for a minute. “It sounds like she was very troubled.”
“She was,” he sighed. “And not all of it was me. I knew that even then. The doctors told me it wasn’t her first attempt—she’d swallowed a bunch of pills in college, but her roommate found her and called the paramedics.” He blinked several times to keep the tears away. “I wish I’d known earlier,” he continued in a hushed voice. “Maybe then…” He broke off with a shake of his head. “I don’t know. I guess there are a whole lot of maybes.”
“You aren’t responsible for what happened, Mulder.”
He rubbed his shaking hands together and managed a small smile. “But I’m not completely blameless, Scully. I should have paid more attention to her. I should have known something was very wrong.”
Scully uncurled from her position and moved to sit on the end of the bed, facing him. “Mulder, tell me the truth…why didn’t you mention any of this to me before?”
Why, indeed? He thought for a long moment. “I guess…I guess I felt that if I never talked about it, then it would be like it never really happened. Erased, just like the legal papers said.”
“Except it did happen.”
He dropped his head in acknowledgment. “Yes.”
Scully took a deep breath. “Mulder, I think you should know…”
He looked up. “What?”
“When I did the exam today, I found abrasions on her wrists and ankles, probably caused by a nylon rope. She struggled, Mulder, right up until the end. Whatever choices she made eight years ago, Elizabeth did not want this kind of death.”
He held her eyes for a long time. This was pure Scully, emotionally generous even when he had given her no reason to be. He nearly started shaking.
“I should have told you,” he whispered tightly. “I’m sorry.”
She reached for his hands and squeezed. “I know,” she murmured, leaning over so that their foreheads nearly touched. He could feel her breathing. “It’s just going to take time, Mulder. You can’t make it better all in one night.”
He managed a tired nod. “I know that, I do. I just…”
He broke off in frustration, pulling his hands free. “I just want you to know how sorry I am.”
“Mulder, listen to me.” Reluctantly, he met her eyes. “I know you want me to be okay again, and I know you want to take away the hurt. But my feelings are my responsibility, not yours. It’s not up to you to change how I feel.”
He was quiet for a long time, thinking about what she had said. She touched his knee gently. “And Mulder…” He looked up at her. “You weren’t responsible for Elizabeth’s feelings, either. Think about that for awhile, would you?”
He smiled weakly. “I’ll try.”
“Good.” She withdrew her hands and glanced in the direction of the victims’ files. “What did you get out of the bartender? Anything?”
Joe King. He had almost forgotten about him. “He was off the night of Liz’s murder, apparently at a gym in Newton between eight and ten p.m. No alibi after that.” He scratched the back of his head. “I can tell you that he was less than thrilled to be interviewed again. His portion of the conversation can be summed up this way: He didn’t do ‘no murders’, all cops are pigs, and we can go to hell.”
“Sounds like a real charmer.”
“Yeah, that’s my problem with him, too. He’s an angry guy, there’s no question. From the special glares he gave Bertelli, I’d even say he has a particular resentment of women…at least women in authority.”
“But the victims weren’t powerful women,” Scully interrupted. “They were shy and vulnerable, lonely even.”
He sighed and rubbed his tired eyes. “Well, you could argue that he was displacing his anger onto more manageable targets, but that’s not how I read the murders. Our killer puts the clothes back on the women before dumping the bodies—he cares about them. Maybe he even sees himself as rescuing them from their loneliness, I don’t know.”
“Almost like he identifies with them,” Scully mused to herself.
Mulder looked at her with some surprise. “I wouldn’t have phrased it quite like that, but yeah, I think maybe something about their isolation strikes a chord with him.
Probably he was a loner growing up.”
Scully opened her mouth to say something, and then quickly shut again. “What?” he asked her. She shook her head.
“I was just wondering…when you do profiles, do you really get to think like the killer?”
“You mean like do I hear his voice in my head?” She nodded. “Sometimes, yeah.” He studied her carefully.
“Why do you ask?”
“No special reason. Just curious about the process, that’s all.”
Scully had always been a bad liar, and on two days with no sleep she was even worse than usual. Her eyes were trained on the bedspread, where she was picking at imaginary lint.
But he decided not to call her on the fib; after all, he was in no position to be demanding absolute honesty from anyone. “What about the victims’ files? Did you find anything else of interest there?”
“If you’re asking if I found anything to connect the women other than what Bertelli and Jacobsen told us this morning, the answer is no. That bar, Dempsey’s, seems to be the only substantive link.” She hesitated. “There was one other thing, though.”
“All the women were drugged with barbiturates before they were killed.”
“So they were unconscious during the murders?”
She shook her head. “No, Dr. Atkins seems to think they were awake, and I tend to agree. There wasn’t that much of the drug left in their systems, which suggests that they were given a pretty mild dose.”
“None that I saw. If they were picked up at the bar, it’s possible the killer slipped the drug in their drink.”
He leaned back on the settee and started at the ceiling.
“That’s interesting. It means that the killer wanted them unconscious for the trip back from the bar to the murder site, but awake for the actual murder. It could be he doesn’t have the physical strength to abduct the women on his own.”
“Or he’s trying to spare them any extra fear.”
Again, her observation made him sit up and take notice.
“What makes you say that?”
She looked uncomfortable. “Well, it’s like you said, Mulder…he identifies with the women…he can feel their pain.”
“I didn’t say that, Scully. You did.”
“I did?” She frowned. “Oh.”
He got up from his chair and moved to sit next to her on the bed. “Scully, is there something you’d like to tell me? Was there something else in the files that bothered you?”
“Of course not,” she bristled. “Other than what I told you, there was nothing else that stuck out as important.”
She stood abruptly. “It’s really late, and we could both use some sleep. Why don’t we just resume this conversation over breakfast?”
He regarded her from his place on the bed. “Scully, are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Mulder,” she said, annoyed. “I’m just tired.”
He blinked at her another moment, searching her face for the real reason he was being suddenly dismissed. For once, he could not read any indication of what she was thinking.
He rose slowly and gathered his coat. She herded him gently toward the door. He paused before opening it. “I’m in room 1521 if you need me.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
He hesitated a moment before leaning down to kiss her lightly on the forehead. “Night, Scully.”
The look on her face made him think she might grab him and hold on tight, but the moment passed and she only nodded again. “Good night, Mulder. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Outside in the hallway, he stared at her door for a few minutes and then decided to go have one last drink at the bar. If he waited until he was too exhausted to stand, it might be possible to ignore the overwhelming silence of his hotel room.
The dimly lit hotel bar was nearly empty when he walked in and selected a stool. Strains of canned jazz played from the overhead speakers. “Give me whatever you have on tap,” he told the man in the green vest as he grabbed a handful of peanuts from the dish. The beer appeared in front of him almost immediately. He downed half of it on the first drink.
“Is this seat taken?” A female voice floated from behind his shoulder.
He turned, half-expecting Scully even though his brain had already concluded the voice was not right. Instead, it was Detective Bertelli. “Uh, no,” he stammered, moving his damp napkin over. “Please, sit down.”
“Thanks. Don’t mind if I do.” And she took the seat next to him.
~ ? ~
Detective Bertelli ordered a gin and tonic with orange, not lime. She sipped it twice before giving him a sideways glance. “You know, I have half a mind to haul your ass down to the station and arrest you.”
Mulder’s blood-shot eyes flickered over her once. “Is that your standard opening line?” he asked, dead pan. “Because if it is, you might have better luck at Leather Leon’s up the street.”
She gave him a humorless smile. “No, I save it for smartassed FBI agents who lie to me about their relationship to my homicide victim.”
Oh. He swallowed the rest of his beer, watching as the remnants of foam slid back down the inside of the glass.
He was not sure he had the strength for another Elizabeth discussion that evening, with his emotions still in tatters after his talk with Scully. “I plead temporary insanity,” he said finally.
Bertelli sighed and leaned her elbow on the bar, facing him. “You shouldn’t be anywhere near this case, Agent Mulder, and you damn well know it. What the hell were you thinking, accepting this assignment? If Englehart knew about this…”
The mention of the Chief’s name irritated him. “Hey, Englehart was the one who yanked my chain, not the other way around! I never asked for this assignment.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t exactly say ‘no’, either, did you?”
He turned away and began tracing the smooth rim of his glass with one finger. “I couldn’t,” he answered thickly, shaking his head to himself. “I couldn’t walk away this time.”
She stared at him hard for a minute, then nodded. “You’re right…I don’t think I could have left it alone, either.”
She paused. “You still should have told us.”
“Sorry,” he replied, even though they both knew he wasn’t.
“There really isn’t much to tell. Liz and I were married for a little over a year, and I haven’t seen or spoken to her since 1991.”
“When she tried to kill herself.”
He stiffened and nodded tightly. “Yeah.”
Detective Bertelli sipped her drink in silence, as if lost in thought. Then she tilted her head at him. “Does it bother you?” she asked softly. “Does it bother you to think like the guy who killed her?”
He made a sound that was somewhere between bitter laugh and choking cough. “It always bothers me.”
“Then why do you do it?” Her eyes were huge and dark in the dim light. He held her gaze steadily.
“Why do you?”
She squirmed a bit on her stool, sitting upright again and rubbing the edge of her cocktail napkin with one fingernail. “It’s not the same thing. I just interview the suspects, I don’t try to read their minds.”
“Oh no?” he asked mildly. “I think it is the same. I think that since this case started, you’ve become a different person. Maybe not on the outside so much—just a little lost weight, dark rings around the eyes—but on the inside you’re jittery and tense. Irritable. You don’t talk to your friends anymore, because they don’t understand. They want to discuss their families and politics and the last episode of ‘ER’. Maybe they ask about the case out of morbid curiosity, but you know better than to tell them about the horrible things you’ve seen.
You don’t want to give your nightmares to anyone else.
“You live on scorched coffee and stale pastries from the precinct basement. It makes your stomach hurt to eat that crap, but if you don’t get the caffeine you start to shake, and then your partner might think you can’t handle yourself.
“You have pictures of the victims in your house. Not taped to the wall, but somewhere you can see them often. Maybe stacked on your dresser. The sound of the phone in the middle of the night makes your bones rattle, because you know it means they’ve found another one, cut up and left in the snow.
“And the worst part is that you remember back to when they found the second one—Laurie Scofield, wasn’t it? Yeah, when they found her, you were excited at first…a serial murderer in town, and he was all yours. You had caught the big one, the case that was going to make you famous.” He paused. “How do you feel about seeing your name in the papers now, Detective?”
She clenched her hands on top of the bar, her breathing shallow as she turned to stare at him in wonder and horror.
“My God,” she whispered, “can you do that to just anyone?”
He did not reply, instead fixing his gaze on the empty beer glass in front of him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Bertelli down the rest of her drink in one gulp. Then she withdrew a pack of cigarettes from her suit pocket and held them up. “Do you mind if I…?”
He shook his head. “Of course not.”
“I was trying to quit when this whole thing got started,” she said after she had taken a few shaky puffs. Her mouth twitched in self-deprecation. “But then you probably already knew that, too, didn’t you?”
Despite himself, he was amused. “Mind Reading 101,” he said, tapping the side of his head with one finger. “You learn stuff like that on the first day.”
She blinked in surprise, then laughed. “I’m beginning to think my partner was right about you FBI people having a low opinion of the locals’ brain power.
He smiled, too. “There were three unopened packs of gum on your desk, and I saw you smoking this afternoon in the station parking lot. Not exactly a hard conclusion to reach.”
She stretched over him for the ashtray and tapped her cigarette gently into it. “Okay, so I believe you’ve got a good read on people. What have you figured out about the killer?”
Mulder rubbed his face with his hands, trying to call to mind what he had learned during the day. Instead, he heard Scully’s voice…“When you do profiles…do you actually think like the killer?” The words haunted him as he mentally flipped through the photos of the dead women.
His stomach began to quiver.
“Agent Mulder?” Bertelli was watching him curiously.
“He’s invisible,” he stated abruptly.
“The killer. People don’t tend to notice him, even in a small crowd. His face is the kind that’s gone from your mind within minutes of meeting him, and part of him likes it that way. It’s what allows him to take the women with a hundred witnesses around and yet never be seen.”
“Terrific,” groused Bertelli sourly. “So how the hell do we catch him?”
Mulder was quiet for a minute. “I’d like to see any reports you have on people who have come forward as possible witnesses.”
She snorted. “I can assure you we’ve checked every one that seemed even remotely connected with this case.
There’s nothing there.”
“Except maybe the killer.”
“What?” She gaped at him. “You think he would actually walk into the station and file a report?”
Mulder gave a wry smile. “He’d have to be insane, now wouldn’t he?”
Bertelli shut her mouth with a snap. Then she nodded.
“Okay, point taken. But you really think he’s been inside?
I thought that kind of crap only happened on TV and in the movies.”
“I don’t know for sure,” he answered, “but it’s a strong possibility. Killers like this are often obsessed with their own investigation, and sometimes they even want to talk directly to the cops on the case.”
A strange look passed over Bertelli’s face. “Why on earth would they want to do that?”
He shrugged. “It’s frustrating to commit the perfect crime and not be able to have anyone to share it with. Who better to appreciate their hard work than the cops who find the body? The killer feels superior to the lead detective-after all, he’s stumped him good so far—but he also desperately wants validation from him. It’s your classic love/hate relationship.”
Bertelli’s gaze skittered away, and he suspected she was remembering what he had said about her being secretly thrilled to catch the case. “I’m the lead detective,” she whispered after a long minute. “Do you think he’s ever come to talk to me?”
“I think it’s worth looking into,” he replied softly, not wanting to shake her up any further. “And remember that it’s just a theory.”
“But if he did come, how would I know if it’s him?” she persisted.
He sighed. “You might not. But sometimes he’ll ask more questions than he answers, wanting to know about your progress on the case, if you have any prime suspects…he might ask to see pictures of the victims.”
“That’s sick.” She shook her head. “I just can’t believe that the guy would have the balls to come right into the station.”
“It often happens that way. When the case gets solved, the killer turns out to be closer that anyone would have ever dreamed possible.”
She gave a breathless laugh that was tinged with anxiety.
“Then maybe I should take a hard look at Jacobsen.”
“Your partner?” Mulder shook his head. “He’s bottling a lot of stuff right now, but I wouldn’t corner him in the investigation room quite yet.”
“Can you imagine that?” Bertelli asked dryly. “If he was the perp, I’d go down as the stupidest cop in history.”
“But think of the money you would make from the movie rights,” he pointed out, and she chuckled with real humor.
“I can’t believe we’re even talking about this, let alone laughing,” she remarked. “It’s positively ghoulish.”
“Hey, defense mechanisms aren’t always a bad thing. If the guy doing these murders had chosen black humor over black rage, we wouldn’t be here right now.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “I’ll tell you this, though— if I don’t get some sleep now, I’ll be drowning more than my sorrows in this beer.”
Bertelli’s warm fingers circled over his wrist. “You’re sure I can’t talk you into another? It’s only a little after nine.” She leaned a tad closer, and he caught a whiff of her perfume. It made him want to find Scully and wrap himself around her.
“Uh, thanks, but I’m dead on my feet. Another time.” He reached into his pocket for some money.
“Sure,” she answered hollowly, retreating back into her own space. “Another time.” Her eyes narrowed slightly, and she added, “Maybe Agent Scully could join us.”
Mulder froze for a microsecond, his hand hesitating just an instant as he tossed the bills on the bar, but he knew it was enough to give him away. Suddenly uneasy, he turned to her. “It’s not what you think…”
“Oh, please.” She waved a hand at him. “Don’t even bother. You’re not the only one around here who can read the obvious. It doesn’t matter, anyway.”
That’s where you’re wrong, he thought. It matters more than anything in the world.
Bertelli was still staring at him. “Scully didn’t know about Elizabeth, did she?” He didn’t answer, but she did not need him to. “Yeah, something was definitely off between you two back in Englehart’s office. I just didn’t know what it was until now.” She folded her arms across her chest. “I was wrong about you, Agent Mulder.”
This remark stopped him cold. “What do you mean?”
“I thought you must be the staunchest person on this team, with nerves of steel if you could work your ex-wife’s homicide.” She retrieved her overcoat from the stool behind her and rose to her feet. “It seems I picked the wrong agent.”
Her words followed Mulder up into his quiet room, where he lay under the stiff sheets and dreamt that Scully was dead.
The doctor broke the news with a long, solemn face and a tangle of cold, gray wires. “It was her nerves that did it,” he said, dropping the mess into Mulder’s lap. Like snakes, they came writhing to life, sliding up his body until they wrapped tightly around his neck.
He’s gone now, but the pounding in my chest has not stopped. I close my eyes and tell it go away, because I can’t do the cutting now. It’s too soon after Elizabeth.
But inside, I can feel the blood pushing to get out, my heart pumping it closer and closer to the surface of my skin until I feel that I might burst right here in the bar.
The image of red streaks running down the walls only feeds my hunger.
How exciting it would be to take one right here, right out from under them while they were sleeping. I touch the knife to make sure it’s still there. It is.
Sometimes after he had been angry, Father would bring me and Helen a treat to make nice again. Helen always forgave him right away, hugging him around his prickly neck and planting big, wet kisses on his cheek.
One day instead of candy, he brought us oranges from the store where he worked. “These are special oranges,” he told us with a smile. “They’ve got a secret inside.” We peeled them fast, right there on the front porch. The skin fell away, and we saw the inside sections were dark red.
“Blood oranges,” said Father, rubbing his hands together at the surprise. Helen was horrified, but not me.
I ate them both.
Blood oranges, with the red secret inside. Just cut them open and you’ll see.
There is a woman smoking in the rear corner booth who looks a little bit like Helen might have, if she had been allowed to grow up. Dark hair and wide-set eyes. So small you could fit five of her on one side of the black leather booth.
I think I’ll go and introduce myself.
~ ? ~
Mulder left the room with his tie on crooked because he could not wait any longer to see her. Even though the disturbing dream had faded with the gray light of dawn, it left him still with the hazy memory of her coffin and a sickening feeling that there was much more at risk than he had originally realized.
Downstairs in the breakfast room, the smell of black coffee and muffins reminded him of his words to Bertelli the evening before, making his nose quiver and his insides roil in acid. He rubbed his stomach uncomfortably and scanned the quiet room for Scully, spotting her small form easily amidst the bulky businessmen.
She was sitting motionless in front of a giant window, her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee, her eyes unfocused, as if she were lost deep in thought.
He exhaled deeply.
The dream of her death still floated around in his head as his feet propelled him automatically over the thin carpet to her table. In her black suit, Scully was a stark contrast to the brilliant morning sun pouring through the gauze curtains at her back. He wondered if she had dreamed of death last night as well.
She glanced up sharply at his approach, and he slid into the seat across from her.
“Hey,” he murmured, his eyes probing her for any lingering distress from the evening before. But like the winter that had crystallized overnight, Scully was pale and frozen on the outside, her ice chip eyes giving no hint of what lay beneath the surface. She did not give him a verbal greeting, but pulled back her plate so that he had a full half of the shiny, black table.
He placed his palms on the smooth top and stretched his fingers out to give her coffee cup a gentle, stroking caress. The lukewarm porcelain was a poor substitute for the soft skin of her wrist, but he knew better than to reach for her right then. He glanced around the breakfast room and then down at the half-eaten bagel on her plate.
“Hey, this is the VCS budget we’re on here, Scully,” he told her with an affectionate, worried smile. “You’re allowed to go all the way up and have a croissant.”
She frowned at the bagel. “I’m not very hungry.”
“Scully, you’ve got to…”
Leaning forward abruptly, she cut him off. “Where were you last night, Mulder?”
“What?” He jerked upright, sending a nearby butter knife clattering to the ground.
She regarded him with a level gaze. “I tried calling you, Mulder. Once around eight, and then again at eight-thirty.
I even tried your cell phone, but you weren’t answering.
Where were you?”
He had not lied, not this time, but he flushed a bit anyway. “I couldn’t sleep so I went to the bar for awhile.”
Her lips parted in horror. “Mulder, you didn’t go over to Dempsey’s by yourself, did you?”
“No, no,” he assured her quickly. “Just down here. I had a beer and went back up.” The waitress appeared with his coffee then, and Scully watched his face throughout the pouring, obviously trying to discern if he was telling her the whole truth.
And obviously, he wasn’t.
He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Detective Bertelli dropped by to see me,” he said when they were alone again. “We had a quick chat.”
Scully’s eyes narrowed. “Why you? Why not both of us?”
His mind flashed back to the feel of Bertelli’s hand on his arm, enticing him to stay. He shook his head to clear it, keeping his eyes trained on the table as he said, “She, uh…she found out about me and Elizabeth.”
Scully sighed. “Oh, Mulder. Did you really think she wouldn’t?” The trace of hurt in her words made him twist uncomfortably in his chair, reminding him of his lie and their unfinished conversation. He gave a rueful shrug.
“It’s like the psychologists always say, Scully. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.” He paused. “At least Bertelli agreed that my marriage to Elizabeth doesn’t have much bearing on this case.” Scully’s lower lip twitched, and he could feel her biting back the words, “That’s no excuse.”
No excuse. Well, of course not. There never had been, not for him. No excuse when he was a paralyzed twelve year-old unable to get the damn gun, no excuse when he was a trained psychologist unable to see his wife dying inside every day, and no excuse when he was a hot-shot FBI agent unable to reach Skyland Mountain fast enough to save his partner from unmitigated horrors.
No, he did not make excuses, he made corrections. That was why they were here, after all, when justice was the only thing he had left to give.
He leaned forward again toward Scully, wondering whether he would ever be able to give her a similar gift. “Why were you calling last night?” he asked softly.
She blinked, apparently just remembering there had been a reason she had wanted to reach him. “About the victims…”
She took a deep breath and met his eyes. “There was one other woman who had attempted suicide before the murder.
He chewed his lower lip, trying to put the image of Elizabeth’s blood red bath out of his mind and concentrate on the facts. “The wrists again?”
Scully nodded. “According to Dr. Atkins, her scars were more recent than Elizabeth’s, perhaps a year or so old.”
“Well, I guess it fits pretty with the overall image of the victims. Maybe this is the link we’ve been looking for.
You think there might have been other attempts that we don’t know about?”
“We’ll know by this afternoon. I already asked to see the medical and psychiatric histories of all the victims. It probably wouldn’t hurt to questions their families again, either.”
He nodded distractedly, still thinking about this latest twist. A killer who carved his victims. Scars on the wrists. No, something was not quite right…
Just then, Scully pushed her sleeve up to check her watch.
“We should probably—” she began, but stopped short when he reached out to grab her.
“When was Kimberly killed?” he asked quickly.
A puzzled wrinkle appeared between her eyebrows. “She was the fourth victim, found on December sixteenth. Why?”
“Long sleeves, Scully. See?” He held her wrist with one hand and used the other to push up her cuff. “Both the women were killed in the thick of winter, when their scars would not have been visible to most people. If the killer was specifically targeting suicidal women, he would have needed some way the to get a look at their arms.”
Scully dropped her eyes, her arm going limp as her pulse fluttered beneath his fingers. “Scully?” He squeezed her gently, but she pulled her arm away and hid it in her lap.
Lines creased her forehead, and she screwed her eyes closed. “Scully, what is it?”
She shook her head faintly, as if replying to words only she could hear. “I don’t think he needs to see them,” she whispered finally, the words small and strange, as if pried from deep inside. He felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck as he strained across the table closer to her.
“What do you mean he doesn’t need to see them?”
“I mean…” She broke off and opened her eyes, drawing in a deep breath as she met his gaze. “I think he just knows.”
“Knows?” he repeated hoarsely, his eyes wide. She nodded slowly.
His heart pounded its way into his throat. He licked his lips, not sure he wanted an answer to his next question but decided to ask it anyway. “And you, Scully?” he questioned softly. “How do you know?”
She turned away. With the seconds measured out by the throbbing in his fingertips, he waited.
Her fingers skimmed the edge of the table several times, her eyes still focused on her plate. At last, she opened her mouth to speak. “Mulder, I…”
His cell phone rang. Their eyes locked for a fraction of a second before he moved reluctantly to answer it. He had just flipped it open when hers called softly from the coat on her chair, and their eyes met again with unwelcome understanding; he turned in his chair, head down.
“Mulder,” he said curtly into the phone, and then listened in silence to the news he already knew.
There had been another murder.
The freezing rain had been pushed out overnight by a blustering cold front that blanketed the city of Cambridge under a thick layer of ice. The sun shone brightly against a cloudless sky, bouncing blinding white lasers off each encrusted object. Scully kept her head bowed against the rushing wind as they crunched their way toward the latest murder scene, where the usual gruesome circus was already underway.
Mount Auburn Cemetery, normally dreary and quiescent in the winter months, was abuzz with color and motion.
Six black and white units were parked inside the iron gate with their lights flashing dizzily around the graveyard, while outside a curious crowd jostled one another for a better view. Yellow police tape was strung about like party streamers, and dozens of uniformed officers traipsed around the perimeter.
At least the victim is spared this, Scully thought, feeling slightly sick as she took in surrounding cacophony. It was almost enough to wake the dead.
Their identification granted them access to the inner circle, where Englehart, Bertelli and Jacobsen stood over a slender, dark-haired woman who lay unblinking in the snow.
Englehart, in the midst of a tirade, barely acknowledged their arrival.
“People in this town are scared shitless, and they’re angry as hell. Who can blame them? This animal has been slashing women for nine months now, and we’ve still got our thumbs up our asses! Not one piece of forensics, not one eyeball witness. Seven dead women and no one has seen a goddamn thing!” He turned away in disgust, kicking the snow at his feet. “May as well put out a warrant for the Invisible Fucking Man.”
His detectives turned away, digging at the snow with their boots, saying nothing.
Scully followed Bertelli’s gaze to Mulder, but he was oblivious to her attention. He stood transfixed at the dead woman’s feet, his eyes wide and his face ashen gray, as if he had been cast in stone by the terrible sight.
Jacobsen noticed, too. He smirked. “Hey, man, you’re not going to puke, are you?”
Mulder did not answer. He swallowed convulsively but did not even look up. Even the rookies stopped their jawing to snicker behind their notebooks, and Scully frowned in their direction before taking a protective step closer to him.
“Mulder, are you okay?” she asked gently, in a voice too low to be heard by anyone else.
He nodded automatically, his eyes still locked on the woman in the blood-stained shirt. There were ice crystals on her eyelashes. Scully felt her heart clench with sympathetic pain as she watched him take in every detail of the ugly scene. She shifted position slightly to block out the prying eyes. With everything else that had happened, it was easy to forget he had lost someone he’d once loved.
“Mulder…” She touched his arm lightly.
“Huh?” He jumped at the contact, blinking rapidly, as if trying to focus on her face. She tightened her fingers on his sleeve.
“Mulder, it looks like he got in through the smaller gate over there,” she said calmly, nodding toward the area of fence taped off in the distance. “Why don’t you go check it out?”
He glanced distractedly at the point of entry, then nodded.
Rolling his shoulders back once, he seemed to regain a little bit of his color. He lowered his eyes once more to the dead woman. “Check her wrists, will you, Scully?” he murmured. “The sooner we know, the better.
She nodded and watched closely as he loped off toward the back gate. Turing around again, she found the uniformed rookies still gaping with barely-contained amusement, obviously relishing the sight of a seasoned agent becoming unglued at the sight of blood.
She fixed them with an icy glare and walked slowly around the body. Their smiles faded at her approach.
Hands on her hips, she pulled back her overcoat so that her identification was clearly visible. “Those reporters over there by the trees,” she demanded evenly, “are they supposed to be inside the gates?” The younger, blonder one craned his neck around to see.
“Uh, no, Ma’am.”
She paused significantly. “Then might I suggest you attend to your own job before you start evaluating others?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” they muttered together, nudging their caps lower over their eyes before trotting off toward the rogue photographers, already shouting orders. Shaking her head, Scully moved back to the where the body lay.
Jacobsen hovered nearby, looking uncomfortable. He touched her arm. “Hey, Bertelli filled me in about your partner,” he said awkwardly. “Sorry if I was out of line.” She looked up at him silently, letting him squirm a little longer. “I’ve, uh…I’ve got an ex-wife myself. No major love lost there, but I wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to her, know what I’m saying?”
Holding his eyes with her own, Scully kept her tone neutral. “Then you must understand how much Agent Mulder would prefer that everyone remain focused on the task at hand.”
He grimaced at her gentle rebuke. “Yeah, I get it.
She moved past him to crouch down by the dead woman, neither accepting nor rejecting his apology. “Okay to touch her?” she asked without looking up.
“Yeah, she’s been snapped from all angles by now.”
Exchanging her black leather gloves for latex, Scully gently picked up the woman’s arm. It was cold and stiff, her hand tinged blue and encased inside a plastic bag.
Scully raised the sleeve a few inches and tilted the woman’s wrist toward the light.
She let out a slow breath and replaced the arm in the snow.
“Any identification yet?” she asked as she pulled back the V-neck on the woman’s blouse, revealing the edge of a long, deep cut.
Jacobsen moved around until he stood at the woman’s head and flipped open his notebook. “According to her driver’s license, the victim’s name is Marianne Maubry, age thirtytwo. Her address is listed as Metuchen, New Jersey. We don’t know yet what she was doing up here.”
“She’s not a local?” Scully glanced up in surprise.
Bertelli had reappeared to stand with Jacobsen.
“It appears not,” she answered, holding up a plastic evidence bag. She withdrew a small, black leather purse.
“We found this not three feet from the body, cash and cards all untouched. Her wallet had this plastic thing inside, and Jacobsen thought it looked like a hotel key.”
Scully squinted at the gray rectangle in Bertelli’s hands, then rose slowly to her feet. “May I see that?”
Bertelli handed it over. “If it is a hotel passkey, we can probably get the name from her recent credit card purchases.”
Scully stared at the maroon striped key for a moment before closing her fingers over it tightly. “That won’t be necessary,” she answered, surprised by how calm she sounded. She held out the card to Bertelli. “It’s the Charleston Hotel.”
The other woman understood the reference immediately and gave a choking cough. “Your hotel?” she managed hoarsely.
Scully nodded, digging through her pockets for her own key, a direct match to Marianne Maubry’s. The plastic glinted mockingly at them in the sun.
“Wait a second,” said Jacobsen, glancing between the two women with confusion. “You’re saying the perp took Maubry from your hotel last night?”
“It’s not possible,” moaned Bertelli, shaking her head.
She turned haunted eyes on Scully. “You were there, Mulder was there, I was there…how could this have happened?”
“We don’t know he took her from the hotel,” Scully said, but the words were a lie. She knew.
Bertelli was still shaking her head, her hands clenched in frustration. “If he was there, I would have known, dammit!
After all this time, I would have known!” She spun around angrily and stalked off toward the main gate.
Jacobsen squinted in the direction she had gone, then turned his eyes to Scully. He searched her face assessingly. “Would you have known?” he whispered. She blinked twice, startled.
Jacobsen did not answer. He looked her up and down slowly and then left her alone with the body, the ice breaking under
his feet as he wove between the headstones into the distance.
~ ? ~
“Scully!” Shivering, she turned to the sound of Mulder calling her name. He waved her over to the gate.
“Did you find something?” she asked when she reached him.
“No footprints, that’s for sure. This guy is good, Scully.
See the pine branch leaning against the gate here? He used it like a broom to erase his tracks in the snow.”
Mulder pointed at the swishing marks that had frozen fossil-like on the ground overnight. “There’s not one usable print.”
“What about outside the gate?”
He shook his head. “Too much foot traffic from pedestrians.” He stepped through the narrow gate to the slushy sidewalk, and she followed him. “Any prints he might left have been obliterated. We are going to look into the tire tracks over here, though. And there is one other thing…” He crossed in front of her to the curb.
“What is it?”
“Imagine that I’m the killer. I’ve pulled up as close as I can to the gate which would be about…here.” He stood six feet from the gate. “Marianne would likely be in the trunk, so I’d have to go into the street to get her out.”
Moving to the back of the imaginary car, he pantomimed opening the trunk. “Not wanting to leave any prints on the body, I pull my gloves out of my coat pocket.”
Scully walked around to where he stood. “And?”
“And maybe I’m like other people—I have lots of junk in my pockets. Loose change, ticket stubs…” He withdrew a plastic evidence bag from his overcoat. “…a match book.”
“You found that here?” she asked, moving closer for a better look.
“And you’ll never guess where it’s from.”
“Dempsey’s.” The gruff voice came from behind them, and Mulder and Scully turned in unison to face Chief Englehart, who had materialized on the sidewalk. He held out his hand with a frown. “Let me see that.”
They waited in silence as he studied the red cover with the black lettering. After a minute, he raised blood-shot eyes and scowled, thrusting the bag back at Mulder. “This is the last one he get gets, do you hear me? The very last one.”
Scully turned her face into the wind, looking back through the iron bars to where Marianne Maubry was being zipped into a black plastic bag for transport. Within seconds, she disappeared from view entirely.
Walking down the dark halls of the Cambridge morgue, Scully tried to tell herself that it would be better today, when the body awaiting her was not Mulder’s wife…when she would not be slicing skin that he had once caressed.
Marianne Maubry was a blessed stranger, no different the countless victims she had examined in the past.
She inhaled sharply at the onset of sudden nausea, halting halfway down the corridor. Closing her eyes, she leaned weakly against the cool wall. Right from your hotel, whispered a voice in her head. Her eyes flew open as she recognized it as belonging to Detective Bertelli.
I would have known
Would she? Scully took several, calming breaths and looked to the square windows of door to the autopsy room, where light was casting an eerie shine on the black floor.
Slowly, she followed the path up and into the bright room.
Haley Atkins was already inside. So was Marianne Maubry.
“I hope you don’t mind that I got started,” Dr. Atkins said, switching off her tape recorder. “Englehart was climbing all over my people by nine thirty this morning.
Poor Howard really got an earful.”
Scully shook her head, actually glad that she had been spared the unveiling of Marianne’s terrible wounds. Easier to take them in all at once. She draped her coat over a nearby chair and pulled out some fresh scrubs from the cabinet. “Anything notable so far?” she asked as she joined Dr. Atkins by the autopsy bay. The other woman shrugged.
“It’s the definitely the same killer, if that counts as notable. Twenty eight cuts in all. I’m guessing that the extent of the blood loss will show that her heart was still beating through most of it.”
“Mmm,” replied Scully, circling around the body to the other side. There was something familiar about the patterns of the cuts, something that had been nagging at her before, but she could not figure out what it was.
Perhaps it’s the victims’ photos blurring together, she mused. He probably cuts them the same way every time.
Dr. Atkins cleared her throat, pulling Scully out of her thoughts. “I, uh…I heard what you did at the crime scene today.” Scully glanced at her, puzzled. “With those rookies?” Dr. Atkins clarified. “Steve and Jake, the guys who brought her in said you really put them in their place.”
Scully hesitated. “I wouldn’t put it that way.”
“I would,” replied Atkins solemnly. “And thank you.” She smiled a bit. “I’ve wanted to give them a piece of my mind for a long time now.”
Inwardly, Scully felt a twinge of guilt. If it had been anyone other than Mulder, she doubted she would have stepped in. “I just think people should show a little more compassion,” she murmured finally. Marianne Maubry had not been Mulder’s wife, but she had been someone’s daughter, someone’s friend. She deserved better.
Dr. Atkins smiled again. “Exactly.”
And then with as much care as possible, the two women commenced the autopsy. It was three hours before they had catalogued every cut and sampled every smear. Scully accepted a chair with relief as Dr. Atkins went to make a phone call in her office. A few minutes later, Howard entered the room.
“Dr. Atkins said you had some samples to send to lab?”
Scully made an effort to hide her fatigue, giving him a tight smile. “Yes, thanks. They’re right here on the table.” She indicated a sealed Styrofoam box containing the evidence they had collected.
“I need your signature here,” he said, handing her a pink form. He stood patiently while she scanned the content.
As she added her name to the bottom, he cleared his throat.
“That other woman, Elizabeth…you knew her?”
Her head snapped up. “Who told you that?” she demanded curtly.
He blinked at her with wide dark eyes, apparently unfazed by the sudden change in her demeanor. “Uh, no one really.
I just heard some guys talking about it in the hall. They said she was your partner’s wife.”
“Ex-wife, yes. But I never met her.” She gave him back his form, but he did not move to leave; she frowned. “Was there something else?”
He hesitated, the paper crinkling in his hands. “I can tell you’re a good doctor. You care about the women, just like Dr. Atkins does.” He broke off and looked at the floor for a minute. For some reason, Scully felt her heart start to pound as he raised his head. His eyes bore straight through hers. “Sometimes…sometimes you can care too much.”
Her mouth dry, Scully was unable to respond. They stared at each other for several seconds, the clock ticking loudly, until her cell phone rang across the room. She snapped abruptly out of her fog and licked her parched lips. “Excuse me,” she murmured, passing him with her eyes lowered. He picked up the box of evidence and turned to watch her as she answered the call.
“Hey, Scully, it’s me. Apparently the noon news conference was a disaster. Englehart’s even popped a blood vessel in his eye, but he refusing to go to the hospital. We’re all supposed meet in his office in an hour to review the latest evidence.”
Turning her back to Howard, Scully lowered her voice. “I hate to say this, Mulder, but it’s going to be an awfully short meeting. We didn’t find anything new on Marianne Maubry.”
“I’ll second that.” He paused. “I get the impression that Englehart’s got something up his sleeve.”
“Any idea what?”
“Not a one. But the way he’s been acting, it could be we’re calling in the National Guard to storm the gates of Dempsey’s bar.”
The matchbook. She had almost forgotten. With a sigh, she rubbed her forehead. “An hour, then?”
“Bring your fatigues.”
She clicked off the phone and turned around to find Howard had left. Fine by me, she thought, repressing a shiver.
What had he said again? Sometimes you can care too much?
She made a mental note to have Dr. Atkins deal with Howard and the lab samples from then on. There was something about the way he looked at her…like Jimmy Ranovski in the eighth grade. Always watching, with eyes that never changed expression. Jimmy had been sent away that year for setting fire to the boys’ locker room.
As she took her seat, she wondered idly what had happened to him after that.
“That’s odd,” she murmured a moment later, picking up papers on the counter in search of her pen. “It was here just a second ago…”
Howard placed her pen under his nose and inhaled deeply.
It smelled of plastic and latex, just like the ones that Dr. Atkins always used.
He went to his office and opened the top drawer on his file cabinet. In the back, behind the folders, was a gray metal box. He unlocked it and added his latest treasure. It fit nicely next to the one from last night.
Picking it up, he smiled faintly at the maroon lettering.
It was still stiflingly hot inside Chief Englehart’s office, causing his face to flush nearly as red as his right eyeball. He leaned forward on his desk, bracing himself on his arms as he scowled at the agents and officers collected in front of him.
“What I hear you all telling me is that we don’t have anything new. Is that correct?”
Bertelli and Jacobsen shared a long, uncomfortable look with Mulder and Scully. No one wanted to be the one to say it out loud. At last, Jacobsen cleared his throat. “Well, there’s the match book…”
“That’s not new!” hissed Englehart. “We’ve had our eye on that goddamn place for six months now. Why the hell hasn’t anything come of it? If you all think the bartender is guilty, get his ass in here, for Chrissakes!”
“It’s the same story as before, Sir,” Bertelli said reluctantly. “On paper, Joe King is a terrific suspect, but we’ve questioned him three times now and even searched his house. There’s nothing concrete that links him to any of the murders. Short of round-the-clock surveillance, I don’t know what more we can do.”
“If that’s what it’s going to take, then that’s what I’ll authorize. I would like something—anything—to tell Maubry’s parent when they arrive here tomorrow from L.A.”
“Just give me ten minutes alone with him, Chief.”
Jacobsen’s tone was angry and grim. “If he’s the perp, I’ll get you your confession.”
Englehart rubbed his ruddy cheeks and sighed. “I’d almost like to step into the box with him myself, but there is no way on God’s Sweet Earth that I’m going to let this one get tossed on a 10-17.” He shook his head. “No, we do this one by the book.”
Mulder, chewing thoughtfully on a toothpick, moved from where he was leaning against the wall. “I might have a suggestion.”
The Chief threw his hands in the air. “By all means.
Let’s hear it.”
“He’s feeling bolder now and more confident. Maybe we can use his arrogance to our advantage.”
“And just how do we do that?” Englehart crossed beefy arms over his chest.
“I don’t know if Joe King is the guy or not, but if he is, he might be willing to talk under the right circumstances.
Maybe brag a little about what he’s done.” He glanced at Jacobsen and Bertelli. “You’re not going to get anything by charging in there like the last reel of a John Wayne movie. He’s just going to answer aggression with aggression.”
Bertelli looked skeptical. “You want us to sweet talk him into a confession.”
Mulder’s mouth twitched in a near-smile. “Something like that. I would suggest wiring up someone and sending them into Dempsey’s near closing to engage him in a little conversation. With a couple of drinks under his belt, he just might let something slip.”
“Anyone?” Jacobsen’s eyes lit up as the gears started turning.
Mulder shook his head. “Not you. Someone he hasn’t had dealings with before…someone less threatening.”
“Well, that leaves me out on both counts,” Bertelli sighed.
“King always looks like he wants to take my head off.”
Scully, quiet until this point, put her folders aside.
This is what I’ve come for, she thought, ignoring the pounding of her heart. Bertelli’s voice echoed in her head once more: “I would have known.”
Will I? Scully wondered as she turned her eyes to Mulder.
He recognized her intent immediately and opened his mouth to protest. She cut him off.
“I’ll do it. Where do we start?”
~ ? ~
The stairway down to the morgue was dark and smelled like most old municipal buildings, a mixture of dust and cheap floor wax. At nine p.m., the heat had been turned off for several hours, so Mulder protectively pulled the large warm paper bag he carried into his side, shielding it from the drafty air. He was practically underground by the time he reached the morgue, but its basement location was not surprising. He had learned a long time ago that this was where people put the things they did not want to think about too hard.
Me, Scully, and the dead guys, he thought with bitter humor as he eyed the line of gurneys in the corridor. Out of sight, out of mind.
He walked down the hall to where light shone through the autopsy room doors. Pushing one open, he poked his head inside. A petite woman with a blonde bun and librarian’s glasses turned from the counter. She frowned at him, looking pointedly at his bag. “I’m sorry, but there’s no food allowed in here.”
He shifted so he held the bag in his other hand, outside the autopsy room. “I was just looking for Agent Scully.
Is she still around here some place?”
The woman’s face softened a bit and she nodded. “Down the hall around the corner,” she said, laying her pen aside and stepping closer to him. “You must be Agent Mulder. The Profiler, right?”
Amused by her wide-eyed interest, he ducked his head a bit and smiled. “Do I look like I have my own Saturday night series?”
The woman wrinkled her forehead in confusion, and he suppressed a sigh. Someone with a life, he thought ruefully. He tried again. “I’ve done some profiling, yes, but I’m here to help with the investigation in whatever capacity I can, Dr…” He trailed off when he realized he was not sure of her name.
“Atkins,” she supplied quickly. “Cambridge M.E. I’ve done all the examinations on the victims.”
“Scully mentioned. She said you do good work.”
Instead of appearing pleased by the compliment, Dr. Atkins pulled a face. “I’m glad to hear that somebody thinks so,” she murmured. “Chief Englehart has been less than thrilled with my reports on this case. I think that’s probably why-” She halted abruptly and looked at the floor.
“Why he asked for an FBI pathologist?” Mulder guessed. She nodded, her eyes reluctantly meeting his once more. “Hey, don’t kid yourself about why he asked us in here. He’d love it if we could nail this guy, but mainly it’s something to distract the media. It’s not your fault that you couldn’t find anything in the autopsies.”
“Isn’t it?” she asked in an odd voice. “Seems to me that there’s always enough blame to go around.” Mulder shifted uncomfortably, his eyes sliding to the stainless steel drawers on the far wall. She caught him looking. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
He jerked from his thoughts, meeting her steady gaze.
“Elizabeth.” She turned slightly to glance at the shiny refrigerated chambers. “I heard she was your wife.”
“Was, yeah,” he agreed, already retreating further behind the door, bumping awkwardly against its mate in the process. “It was a long time ago, so…” He cleared his throat. “So now I just want to help…her and the others…”
Dr. Atkins inclined her head slightly. “As do we all.”
He groped for the words that would let him end the conversation gracefully and was reminded of the bag in his hand. Glancing down the dim corridor, he asked, “You, uh…you said Scully was down this way?”
“Around the corner on the left, room three. You can’t miss her.”
“Thanks,” he muttered, and then breathed a sigh of relief as the door swung closed on the autopsy room.
He turned the corner and walked down the echoing hall until he reached a partially open door labeled “003”. “Scully?”
he murmured, pushing the door open with his palm, but there was no reply. “Scully?” He stepped a little further inside, and stopped short when he finally caught sight of her.
She was slumped sound asleep at the desk with her head pillowed on her arm, nose buried in her white lab coat and glasses curled under her fingers. Her hair was almost unnaturally red under the glare of bright desk lamp, contrasting sharply with the gray shadows cloaking the rest of the room. Photos of the dead women were spread in disarray across the desktop.
Oh, Scully. He swallowed the lump his throat. What are you doing?
Crossing the small room quietly, he set the bag on a nearby plastic chair and gently touched her shoulder. “Scully.”
She sat up with a gasp, pulling away from him as photos went sliding off the desk from all angles. “Jesus, Mulder!” She glared at him, breathing hard, and then bent to retrieve the pictures. He crouched next to her to help.
“Sorry,” he murmured, stacking a set of now-gritty photos back on her desk. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” She nodded distractedly, and he watched as she busied herself by rearranging the pictures, making sure the edges were carefully lined up and back in order. By the time she met his gaze, all her edges had been lined up, as well.
“What are you doing here, Mulder?” she asked, her voice still gravelly from sleep. “Is there more news?”
He shook his head. “Nothing since the meeting.” He reached one hand behind him to the chair and produced the bag of food. “When you weren’t in your room, I figured you might be here.” Giving her what he hoped was a peaceoffering smile, he pulled out two cardboard containers of soup and several hunks of crusty French bread. He dragged the chair closer to the desk, plopped down and nodded at the food. “Woman does not live by vending machine alone.”
She looked almost amused. “Food bribes two nights in a row? You’re worse than my mother, Mulder.” Off his querying look, she sighed, “Mom always handled bad news with food. If we were moving again, or if Dad was going to be delayed at sea for another week, she would break out the cake and cookies.”
He opened her soup container for her and pushed it toward her on the desk. Nudging, he knew, but if he got some food in her, it would be worth it. He smiled at her. “And you managed to stay so fit and trim, Scully…I’m impressed.”
“Yeah, well.” Her eyes grew sad as she stared at her soup.
“After I figured out what it was for, I couldn’t bear to eat the stuff anymore.”
He was quiet for a long time. “I’m not trying to fix you with food, Scully,” he said at last. “I just want to make sure you’re okay.”
“I’m okay.” The edge in her words dared him to argue. He did not have the energy.
“So eat the soup and then I’ll be okay, too, all right?”
She picked up the plastic spoon and sampled the creamy orange soup. “It’s good,” she said, sounding surprised.
“What is it?”
“Sweet potato. It’s from the place on the corner.”
She took another few bites. “You know you’re not going to change my mind about tomorrow, if that’s why you’re here.”
He gave a gentle snort. “Scully, when have I ever been able to change your mind about anything? I know better than that. I can’t say I love the idea, but I’m not going to try to stop you.”
“What do you mean ‘you don’t love the idea’? It was your idea in the first place!”
“I never mentioned your name.”
“Oh, please. You might as well have. I was the only one in the room who fit that description, Mulder, and you damn well know it. Someone less threatening than Jacobsen who has had no prior dealings with King? Tell me, just who else was supposed to take the assignment?” She set aside her half-eaten soup in disgust. “Maybe you needed it this way, Mulder, I don’t know. Maybe this way you can tell yourself that I’m not doing exactly what you wanted me to do.”
The possible truth in her words made him squeamish.
Certainly no one wanted the killer caught more than he did, and it had occurred to him that she might be chosen for the undercover work, but…
“Maybe you’re the one who needs to think that way,” he said quietly. “That I’m the reason you’re pushing yourself so hard on this case.”
She stiffened visibly. “Seven women have been murdered, Mulder. What more reason do I need?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, searching her eyes with his.
“I was hoping you would tell me.”
She held his gaze for a long moment, then wordlessly picked up the stack of autopsy photos from her desk. Her face became hidden behind a curtain of hair as she stared silently at the top image, which he recognized as Laurie Scofield. “There’s something I’m missing in these pictures,” she whispered at last. “I just don’t know what it is.”
“What do you mean?” he asked, bending his head for a closer look.
She took a deep breath. “There is something vaguely familiar about the pattern of the wounds. I don’t think their placement is entirely random.”
“You think the killer is carving some kind of message?” He took the photos from her hands and began flipping through them slowly.
“I don’t know,” she answered, rubbing her face with fatigue. “I can’t decipher any specific words or pictures, if that’s what you’re asking.”
Mulder laid one photo of each woman out on the desk, reaching past Scully to adjust the lamp for full illumination. “I don’t see any obvious pattern,” he remarked after a minute. “There are superficial similarities, such as the large cut down the center here, but they’re definitely not complete replications of one another.”
“I know, I know.” She sighed. “I’m beginning to think maybe I imagined the whole thing.”
He picked up the picture on the far right, a full body shot of Elizabeth as she lay naked on the autopsy bay. Her wounds were dark red lines that sliced at odd angles all over her body, and he imagined the rivers blood that must have flowed at her death. Blinking back sudden tears, he remembered what Scully had said, that Liz had not wanted this kind of death. “Is she…is she still here?” he asked thickly, his eyes still on the photo.
“Yes.” Scully’s voice was hushed. “There was no one to claim her body.”
No one to claim the body. Of course. He squeezed his eyes shut and allowed Elizabeth’s picture to slide from his hands. Not even Scully’s gentle tone could take away the isolation inherent in her words. Elizabeth had died utterly alone. “Can I see her?” he managed finally.
She studied him carefully for a moment and then nodded.
They made the short trip back to the autopsy room in silence, and Mulder was thankful to see that Dr. Atkins had disappeared. He followed Scully determinedly but with lead feet, reluctantly stopping in front of the gleaming wall of refrigerated chambers. She looked up at him questioningly, and he gave a short nod.
The sounds of the rubber seal pulling free and the sliding of the metal drawer echoed through the room as Elizabeth slowly emerged, covered head to toe by a white sheet. He clenched icy fingers together and swallowed with difficulty. Scully still hovered by his arm. “Would you like me to do it?” she murmured after a moment.
“No.” The word came out as a hoarse whisper. At last, he reached up to lower the sheet from her head, leaving it to settle around her shoulders.
His first thought was how colorless she was; in his mind, she was always be linked with dark, wet hair and a bright red bath of blood. Now her skin was gray and nearly translucent, like thin winter clouds.
“I’ll just be outside,” said Scully as she moved to leave.
He stopped her with a vice-like grip on her arm.
“No, stay.” She froze, and he turned haunted eyes to hers.
“Please.” After a beat of silence, she acquiesced and returned to stand beside him.
“Okay, Mulder,” she murmured, and he slowly relaxed his hold on her arm. A few moments later, he took a shaky breath, tinged with giddy humor.
“It’s funny, but the thing I remember best about the good times is her laugh. She had this amazing laugh…” He broke off with a shake of his head. “Deep and full, like it was coming from all the way down inside, but kind of dangerous too…like Mae West’s was, you know?” He turned to Scully and she gave him a small smile.
“And what did she laugh at?” she asked, encouraging him in his memory.
“Me, mostly.” He smiled, too, his eyes warming as he recalled some of the lazy afternoons they had spent together. “I remember this one time she tried to teach me to paint. It was in this field on the Vineyard—must have been spring, there were so many damn flowers out. We were on a picnic, and Liz was painting an old fisherman’s cottage about twenty yards away. Some tall grass, a few trees, a box for the house…didn’t look too complicated to me.”
“More challenging than you thought, huh?” Scully remarked dryly.
“Let’s just say that somehow my cottage ended up with five sides and my trees resembled giant green lollipops sticking up out of the ground.”
Scully smiled. “It sounds like a wonderful afternoon.”
“It was.” His smile faded as he stared at his ex-wife’s lifeless features. “I don’t understand where it went wrong, Scully,” he murmured after a minute. “She was happy that day, and other days as well…I know she was. When did it change? What happened to make her want to die?”
Scully joined him in staring at Elizabeth. “I don’t know, Mulder,” she said softly. “I guess she must have been hurting in ways she couldn’t articulate. She dealt with her pain the only way she knew how.”
He shook his head. “I’ll never understand it. I’ll never understand how some people can just give up like that.”
“It’s not about giving up,” Scully murmured after minute, speaking almost to herself. “It about making it all go away, about feeling like you finally have some control over your life again, even if that control comes at the price of self-destruction.”
A chill chased down his spine that had nothing to do with the frigid temperature of the room. “Scully…” he breathed, unable to form further words.
“Mmmm?” She did not look up, apparently still lost somewhere in her own thoughts. He was not sure he wanted to go there with her.
“Scully, the things you know about this case…” He broke off again, swallowing convulsively, and at last she turned to meet his eyes. He tried again to speak. “What you know, is it because you…” The words screamed in his brain, but he was literally unable to get them out of his throat. Fortunately, Scully grasped the question.
“No, Mulder. I’ve never attempted suicide.”
Oh thank God. He felt weak with relief. But it was a short-lived relief.
“But I understand it,” she continued softly, and he felt the fear creeping back up his neck. “Even though it’s never been that bad for me, to the point where I felt like I had no other options, I can see how a person could reach that place. Especially when I was sick, I came to understand how it could be comforting to control your ultimate fate…to take power over your own death.”
“That’s different,” he protested weakly. “When you’ve got a terminal illness, it’s not the same thing.”
“It is, in a way, I think.” She turned back to Elizabeth.
“Terminally ill patients who choose assisted suicide are doing it to save themselves and their families the last few weeks of agonizing pain. I think the young people are doing the same thing…ending a life that has become unbearable to live.” She drew an unsteady breath and then faced him once more. “I’m not saying I agree with it, just that I understand it.”
His mouth set in a grim line, he glanced at his wife. “How could it have been unbearable?” he asked, his voice raw with pain. “She had me…I would have listened. Whatever it was, she could have told me and I would have listened.”
Scully slipped her hand through his and squeezed.
“She couldn’t see you, Mulder. Not really. She had too much going on inside.”
He nodded dumbly, trying to believe it. They stood in silence for another few minutes before he released a shuddering breath. “Okay, then,” he murmured finally. “We can go now.” He reached out and gently stroked Elizabeth’s forehead in a silent “good-bye”, and then slowly covered her back up.
In the hallway outside her hotel room, Scully turned from the door to say good night. Mulder was only inches away, so close she could feel him breathing. He touched her face with one gentle finger. “Let me come in?”
She lowered her eyes. “I don’t think that’s a very good idea, Mulder.” Exhausted inside and out, she did not feel equipped to deal with his emotional turbulence, as well.
Residual pain and anger still simmered at her core, bubbling out his lies.
“Just for tonight,” he coaxed urgently, moving a little closer. “I don’t think I can take an empty hotel room right now.”
She closed her eyes, torn. She should have been upset at him for such blatant manipulation of her sympathy, but the truth of the matter was that she did not really want to be alone, either. How irrational is it, she wondered, to crave comfort from the very person who hurt you?
His warm hand moved to cup her cheek and she instinctively turned into his touch. He stroked the side of her face gently with his thumb. “Please, Scully?” Another look at his tired, haggard face and she felt herself relenting.
What did it matter if they took some time out to comfort each other? Wasn’t this part of being together?
Wordlessly, she took his hand from her face and led him inside.
With only the bedside lamp for illumination, they shed their clothes silently, Mulder stripping down to boxers and an undershirt, Scully slipping into her green flannel pajamas. She took the bathroom second, scrubbing away the fine layer of dirt on her face that she had acquired during her hours in the dusty basement office. Mulder was already under the covers when she emerged, but his eyes tracked her movements as she straightened her clothes on the chair and then walked around to her side of the bed. She slid carefully under the covers and turned out the light.
“Good night, Mulder,” she said softly, turning on her side away from him. He rustled under the sheets.
“Night, Scully.” She blinked in the darkness for several minutes before his voice floated out to her again.
“Scully…you can see me, right? You know I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
Tears burned her eyes and she squeezed them away. “I know,” she whispered, wishing that it were that easy. Most of the time she just didn’t have the words.
He rolled over suddenly, wrapping himself around her from behind and holding her tight. She gasped in surprise at the sudden contact. “I’m sorry,” he said brokenly, and she felt her chest swell inside with answering emotion. His arms tightened around her convulsively.
“It’s okay,” she murmured, allowing her hands to creep up and stroke the fine hair on his forearm. “It’s okay, Mulder. I’m not going anywhere.” They rocked gently back and forth on the bed.
“I love you,” he rasped in her ear, his hands rubbing her through the soft flannel. “I love you so much.”
I know, she thought sadly. Me, too. That’s what makes it so hard. It means I’m going to have to find a way to stop hurting and forgive you.
She leaned down to kiss his arm. “It will be okay,” she said thickly, reassuring herself as much as him.
Still rocking almost imperceptibly, he made a crooning noise and started planting desperate kisses wherever he could reach—her hair, her neck, the underside of her jaw.
The contact was warm and wild, and Scully felt a hot flush spread down to her toes. “Mulder…” She meant the word as an admonishment, but it came out more as painful longing.
“Love you,” he murmured again, shifting their rhythm to a more fervent pace, holding her hips and thrusting firmly so she could feel his arousal even through the layers of clothing. She shifted restlessly on the sheets.
Shouldn’t do this, angry voice whispered inside her, even as she pushed her breasts into his stroking hand. It’s for the wrong reasons, and it won’t fix anything.
Mulder blotted out the voice with his own. “Scully,” he breathed into her neck, still rubbing his hardened penis against her ass. “Let me…let me love you…” She moaned softly as he rolled one nipple between his fingers, torn between the outside pleasure and the inside pain.
We don’t have to do anything, she told the voice. We just lie here and forget. Like this…oh…oh, yes.
His hand slid underneath the elastic waistband on her pajamas, finding her where she was damp and swollen. She bit her lip and buried her hot face in the pillow as he stroked her through her panties. After a moment, she took his hand and guided it under the cotton, laying her palm over his to show him where to touch. They pleasured her together with short quick movements, limited by the restrictive clothing.
Then he stopped abruptly, withdrawing his stroking fingers and tugging awkwardly on her pajama bottoms. She lay panting into the pillow as he worked the flannel and cotton combination down her hips to tangle at her knees. His penis had somehow come free of his boxers, brushing hotly against the tops of her thighs. She scissorred her legs to help him get her pants all the way off, drawing her knees up immediately so he could be inside her.
“Scully,” he murmured again, his voice more urgent than tender. She closed her eyes. Just do it, she thought desperately, needing the feel of his body moving inside her. His penis nudged her opening.
“Yes,” she hissed, quivering in anticipation. His arm around her as an anchor, he pushed forward so that the tip of his erection slipped inside. Scully stopped breathing, her heart pounding in her ears as he slowly pushed all the way inside her body.
He fucked her slowly for only a few strokes, his hips quickening and his thrusts deepening almost immediately.
It was exactly what she had wanted. Not time to think. No way to feel anything but the force of his penis entering her again and again. Her mouth went slack with pleasure, her tongue sliding out to wet her parched lips.
No kissing. No holding. Only fucking.
She moaned into the pillow and clenched fistfuls of the sheet. Release was coming, she could feel it. Her thighs tensed for its arrival, and she reached down between her legs to help it along. Another few seconds…soon…yes…
“Oh!” She cried out sharply as the waves buffeted through her, coming in hard contractions that clenched his pumping cock. Everything inside her let go at once. She gulped in huge breaths of air as tears pooled hotly in her eyes.
They escaped in tickling trails as Mulder gave a tortured moan and thrust one last time inside her.
Sounds of his harsh breathing filled the room. She sniffled quietly, her limp arms feeling suddenly very empty. Instead of the warm lassitude that usually followed these interludes, she felt raw and vulnerable. Sad. She snuggled back against him, swiping at the tears that continued to fall. I miss you, she thought miserably. I miss the person I trusted more than anyone in the world.
“Scully?” His voice was tired and scratchy. “Are you okay?”
She nodded, burrowing her face further into the pillow.
“Fine,” she managed to whisper. After a moment, she felt his hand rub the back of her neck, his touch loving and tender. He brought his face down next to hers.
“It’ll be all right,” he whispered, repeating her earlier words. She nodded and turned in his arms. Their eyes met for the first time since they had begun making love. “It will be all right,” he said again, and kissed her gently on the mouth.
It was almost enough to make her believe.
~ ? ~
Scully glanced down at herself as she fidgeted with the hem of her silver shirt, tugging first in one direction and then the other to see if there was any hint of the wire running underneath the slinky silk. “Can you see anything?” she asked.
Bertelli slid off the long conference table and circled Scully, shaking her head as she took in her shimmering top and flowing black pants. “Only that you look sensational,” she sighed with a touch of envy. “I wish I had the coloring to pull off an outfit like that.”
Scully’s own coloring deepened a bit, and she ran her hands over her hips self-consciously. “So then you can’t tell I’m wired?”
Bertelli scrutinized her again with squinted eyes before shaking her head. “Nope. Can’t see the gun, either.
You’ll pass with no problem.”
“Great.” Scully wished she felt as confident as Bertelli sounded. To her, the wire between her breasts and the weapons holstered against her calf seemed as damning and as obvious as the scarlet “A” worn by Hawthrone’s famous sinner. “I just all this is worth it,” she said after a minute. “For all we know, King might not even talk to me.”
Bertelli gave a low, knowing laugh. “Oh, he’ll talk, all right. At this rate, we’ll probably have to peel him off of you.” The words sent a sharp chill racing through Scully as she remembered again that she was playing dress up for a man who might very well have sliced seven women to death. Images of the victims flashed through her mind in a macabre slide show, and she rubbed her forearms for warmth.
“Have you seen Mulder recently?” she asked, striving to make the inquiry sound casual. She had not seen Mulder since the ten a.m. task force meeting, and before that since he had awkwardly gathered his clothes from the floor of her hotel room at six a.m.
Bertelli paused from fiddling with the radio equipment. “I believe he and Rob are already on point with the others,” she answered, her eyes curious.
“Oh. Right.” Scully turned away to face the far window, where cold drafts wafted in through the thin glass. A prickling sense of hurt pinched at her insides, but she stomped it back down.
It’s a good thing that he left, she told herself sternly.
He’s the last thing you need to be thinking about now.
Him or anything else.
But her thoughts refused to cooperate; they went racing and tumbling over one another, silent from the outside but screaming internally in her own private quiet riot.
knifewifepatternMulderdeadcoldliarliarstopitIcan’tstopitI’m sorryI’msorryseemenowgetyourgundressedtokillknifewheresthep atternstopmebloodsomuchbloodcryinglyingsuicidedeadinthesnow whosthekillerwhosthekiller
“Dana?” Bertelli touched her shoulder, and she jumped.
Bertelli startled backwards, as well, regarding her with a worried gaze. “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Scully breathed on a shaky exhale. She managed a weak smile before returning her gaze to the window. “Just thinking about tonight, going over what I want to say.”
“Mmmm.” Bertelli stepped a little closer, joining Scully in watching the blue-black shadows as they lengthened across the snow-covered ground. “You don’t have to do this, you know,” she said finally. “We can find another way.”
Another way. Yes. Scully’s pulse picked up with the thought of escape, her knees going weak as the door suddenly loomed larger in her peripheral vision. Leave now, commanded the voice in her head. What the hell are you trying to prove, anyway? Call this ridiculous farce off and go back to the morgue where you belong.
“No,” Scully said clearly, as much to the voice as the woman standing next to her. “No, I can do this.” She turned to meet Bertelli’s eyes. “I need to do this.”
Bertelli held Scully’s gaze silently for a long moment, then she nodded slowly. “Okay,” she said, reaching for Scully’s hand. She squeezed it hard. “Then let’s go get him.”
Scully started to nod her agreement when she caught sight of an angry red scratch on Bertelli’s wrist, peeking out from her gray wool suit coat. She tightened her grip and rotated the woman’s hand for a better look, holding firm when Bertelli would have pulled away. “What happened?” she asked her softly, here eyes still trained on the cut.
cutalittlenooneseesalittlemoreallgonedripdripdrip Scully’s breath caught and she looked up sharply. “What happened?”
Bertelli tugged her hand free. “Oh, that. I caught it on a nail in my apartment a few days ago,” she replied, rubbing the wound protectively as she pulled her sleeve back into place. She frowned a little at Scully. “Hurt like a sonofabitch, but the tetanus shot was even worse. I just hate needles, don’t you?”
Scully drew back a bit. “I’m a doctor. I’m used to them.”
“Yes, I suppose you would be.” Bertelli also stepped back, appraising her anew. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as the two women eyed one another. Finally, Bertelli cleared her throat and turned back to the equipment lying on the table. “It’s getting late. We should probably go over the—” Just then, she was interrupted by a quick knock at the door, and Mulder stuck his head in the room. He glanced once at Bertelli and then fixed his gaze on Scully, his eyes traveling slowly over her provocative outfit before they settled firmly on her own.
“Hey,” he said softly, “can I talk to you a minute?”
Scully hesitated. It seemed like lately he was always standing in the doorway, waiting for her to say it was all right to come inside. She was suddenly unsure whether she had the stamina to tiptoe around the shards of their relationship right then.
But Bertelli made the decision for her, looking from one agent to the other with a resigned sigh. “I’ll go radio Jacobsen with the itinerary changes. Back in ten, okay?”
Her heels clicked smartly on the floor as she walked past Mulder and out the door.
He took the long way into the room, circling the long table on the far side before taking a seat at the end closest to her. He looked as tired and jittery as she felt, with his loosened tie and rolled up sleeves, and his spiky hair resembled a worrisome EKG read-out.
“Everything’s set at Dempsey’s,” he said finally.
“Jacobsen’s got two plain clothes officers to pose as customers on the inside, so you won’t be going in alone.
He and I will be in the van out front listening in. You’ve got all the words?”
Scully nodded, toying with the edge on her shirt again. “I say ‘No problem’ to make everyone stay put and ‘It’s hot in here’ to call in the cavalry. Bertelli gave me the details earlier.”
“Good, that’s good.” He ducked his head to meet her eyes.
“So how are you holding up?”
She straightened immediately and cleared her throat. “I’m fine.”
“Uh-huh.” He looked away, quiet for a long minute. Then he turned his gaze back to her. “I’ve got a bad feeling about tonight, Scully.”
“Mulder, you—” She clamped her mouth shut on the automatic protest. The whispery voices in her head had given her a new respect for such intuitions, and she licked her lips before trying again. “We’ve been very careful with the set-up, Mulder. What exactly do think might go wrong?”
“I don’t know.” His leg began to bounce, and he picked at the plastic edging around the table. “I just think maybe you should reconsider.”
“Okay,” she said slowly, moving to sit beside him. “I’m considering, and do you know what I think?” He shook his head, giving her a sideways glance. “I think everything will be fine.”
“Mulder, the night before last you said that you didn’t even think King was guilty of these murders, and now you think we should call the whole thing off? Have you changed your mind about him?”
“No.” He thought for a moment, then shook his head again.
“No, I still don’t think King is the guy. He’s more your garden-variety thug—too myopic in his anger to pull off these kinds of murders.” She started to speak, but he continued in a rush, “That doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous, Scully. King sliced up his former girlfriend pretty good when she didn’t serve him the first piece of cake at her father’s birthday party, and before that he pulled a switchblade on his younger brother.”
Scully drew a deep breath as he voiced what she had been thinking all day. King seemed neither bright enough nor cool enough to have carved seven women alive without leaving behind more evidence, but even on paper he showed a mean streak at least a mile wide. “I tend to agree that King’s not our killer,” she told Mulder, “but after tonight we’ll know for sure. That alone should make it worth the while.”
Mulder’s hands fisted in frustration, and he stared hard at the scratched floor. “I just don’t want to take the chance that we’re wrong.”
“Mulder.” She spoke his name softly, waiting until he raised his head to look at her, and when he did the emotions she read in his eyes caused her heart to swell and contract painfully. Fear, anger, and worry swirled in equal measure, darkening his usual hazel to a bottomless black. It was the same look that she had seen two months ago when she opened her eyes in the recovery room of the NYU Medical Center. Suddenly his ambivalence began to make sense.
She took his left hand, covering it with both of her own and resting their joined fingers in her lap. “This is different, Mulder,” she said quietly. “We’re going in totally prepared. I’ll be fine. Nothing will go wrong.”
“You can’t know that,” he insisted, his chin sticking out a bit. “Maybe it’s too soon, maybe you should wait. The doctors said—”
“The doctors said I’m well enough to work.” She paused and squeezed his hand gently. “They also said the first case back might be a little tough.”
He let out a humorless laugh. “They had no fucking idea.”
Well, he had a point there. “Look at it this way,” she said after a pause. “As risks go, this one isn’t even that bad. It’s a public place with lots of people around, and there will be officers right in the room with me. And besides…” He looked up at her hesitation, waiting. She gave him a near smile. “I know you’ve got my back.”
His hand tightened painfully on hers, and his lips twitched with restrained emotion. “Always, Scully.”
She nodded and grazed the back of his hand with her thumb before setting him free. “We should get going,” she said, her tone businesslike again as she slid from the table. He stood, as well.
“Yeah, I need to get back to Jacobsen so we can doublecheck the transmission on site.” He touched her cheek lightly. “I’ll see you later, okay?”
Her nerves started vibrating again as the tension stretched once more. “Okay…”
nottoodeepjustalittlemoreohitssharpsharpsharp He was almost out the door. Now or never. She took a breath.
“Yeah?” He turned expectantly.
She swallowed twice in quick succession. “I think…I think the killer cuts himself, too.”
“Suicide?” he asked curiously, crossing the room again to stand in front of her.
She shook her head. “No, not like that. Not to die, just to feel the pain, to see the blood.” She exhaled slowly.
“It sounds crazy, I know, but I think that he cuts to stop the pain.”
Mulder scratched the back of his head. “Maybe not so crazy,” he replied, looking thoughtful. “Let me check into it and see what I can turn up.” As he left, the door closed behind him with a sharp “click”, and Scully stood alone in the empty, echoing room, her heart pounding in her ears. He was gone, and she had not told him the other thing, the new fear that made her stomach quiver in dread.
The killer was close, she could feel it.
Maybe he could feel her, too.
“Here we go,” Scully murmured to herself and the men listening in on the other end of the wire. Her breath misted in front of her as she stood on the dark sidewalk in front of Dempsey’s Bar. She glanced over her shoulder at the battered white van parked across the street, then tugged hard on the heavy, wooden door, pulling it free from its swollen confines.
Inside, she was immediately assaulted by a rush of noise and hot air filled with the thick scent of perfume and cigarette smoke. Crowds of people shouted at each other over a repetitive bassline so loud it vibrated the floor beneath her feet.
You would think that the threat of being carved alive would be enough keep people away, Scully thought grimly as she threaded her way through clusters of gyrating young bodies.
A college student in a leather vest and silver earring tracked her movements with hooded eyes, one corner of his mouth lifting in a suggestive twist when she brushed past.
Never again, she thought with relief. She turned away and pushed through the last layer of dancers to the bar, where she found one vacant stool on the far end.
She did not miss the days when she put on clothes she thought other people would like and stood in a circle with her similarly dressed friends, drinking one too many vodka tonics and eyeing the proximal males, all the while wondering, “are you the one I’m supposed to be with?”
Little had she known that finding the answer just created a new series of complicated questions.
<I, Mulder, take thee, Elizabeth…> No wait, she corrected herself. She probably would have called him Fox, like the rest of the planet. Fox and Liz. Liz and Fox.
God. <To have and to hold…> What day had it been?
June? September? Did he think to himself every year, “It would have been seven years with Liz today…don’t tell Scully.” <In sickness and in health…> How much effort had it taken to hide this from her? All the stories they had told, the sharing they had done in bed at night…what else had he censored?
<Till death do us part…>
A large man materialized in front of her; his dark blue eyes flashed with definite interest. “What can I get for you?” he asked, leaning over the bar.
So this was Joe King, the man who would be murderer. With his gray tee shirt and dimpled chin, he was nearly handsome. She summoned a smile and leaned a little closer.
“Tonic and lime, please.”
He grinned, his expression turning vaguely predatory.
“Coming right up.” She sat back in her seat, hoping that the wire couldn’t pick up the pounding of her heart.
The game had begun.
Scully hung up the phone, having ascertained that the time was twelve forty p.m., exactly forty minutes since the last time she had checked. She returned to her seat wearing what she hoped was a sufficiently annoyed expression, and Joe King sidled up to her almost immediately.
“It wouldn’t be good if he showed up now,” he offered casually, wiping a glass.
Scully raised her eyebrows. “Excuse me?”
“The guy you been calling all night long,” King clarified.
“If he showed up now, I’d just have to kick the crap out of him for leaving a pretty lady like you alone on Friday night.”
She shrugged and popped a pretzel in her mouth. “Kevin’s all yours,” she said.
“Yeah?” He grinned at her again, showing a row of even, white teeth. She smiled back.
“Well, I certainly don’t want anything more to do with him.”
“Good for you,” he congratulated, knocking a freshly opened Sam Adams against her third tonic and lime. “Here’s to leaving the losers behind.” She took a long swallow and set the glass back on its damp red napkin.
“So does my champion have a name?” she asked, keeping her expression neutral. He extended his hand.
“Joe King. I’m co-owner of this joint.”
“Really!” She leaned back, hoping she sounded impressed.
It must have worked, because he started preening.
“Yeah, me and my buddy Dave bought it six years ago. We fixed her up real good on practically no money, since Dave has friends in the construction business. It was a total dive, let me tell you, but now look at her! We’re packed every weekend!” Dutifully, Scully craned her head around to take in the still-crowded bar.
“It’s very nice.”
He rolled his eyes. “Chicks,” he grumbled. “They just don’t get it. See this railing here?”
“Hand carved oak. This baby will last you through the next millennium.”
She gave him a rueful smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know much about this sort of thing.”
“Don’t worry about it.” He waved a dismissive hand, apparently feeling superior and therefore magnanimous.
“What is it you do, Miss…”
“Dana,” she supplied. The fewer lies the better. “I’m a secretary downtown.”
It was his turn to raise his eyebrows. “Really, that’s interesting,” he said, taking her hand. “No chipped nails or anything. You must do careful work.”
Scully’s heart picked up again. “Uh, yeah,” she agreed, pulling her hand away. The less said about her, the better. She tried to steer the conversation back to him and the murder case. “So do you think I’ll have a problem getting a cab at this hour?” she asked. “Since Kevin isn’t here, I’m a little worried about getting home by myself, what with the murders and all.”
A shadow passed over King’s face, but he recovered quickly.
“Don’t you worry, darlin’. I’ll see that you get home safe.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want you to go to any trouble.”
“No trouble. I can see you right up to your door if you like. Majorie over there can lock up this place no problem.” He nodded in the direction of a young, buxom cocktail waitress.
“Thanks. I’ll, uh…I’ll think about it.”
He leaned over the bar again and gave her a slow smile.
“You do that.”
“I will.” She fidgeted on her seat. “You just can’t bee too safe these days, you know? Sometimes I wish the cops would hurry up and catch this guy already.”
King went completely still, his eyes locked on hers. “Only sometimes?”
“Well, you know.” She gave a tiny shrug and looked down, pretending to be embarrassed. “Sometimes I kind of like the thrill of it, like having a movie going on right in our own town. He’s so smart, this guy. It’s been months and no one can seem to catch him.” She widened her eyes at him, going for naive innocence. “Do you think they might make a movie out of this?”
He stared at her hard for a moment, then shook his head as if to clear it. “No, darlin’, I don’t.”
“But why?” Her voice was breathless.
He smirked. “‘Cause audiences like to see them catch the bad guy at the end, and this one ain’t never getting caught.”
Was that a confession? Scully’s palms went cold, and she struggled to think over the blood rushing in her ears.
“What do you mean?” she asked softly.
“Why, darlin’, what do you think I mean?” His tone was gently mocking. “If you’re so interested in these killings, you must know that I’ve been questioned. It’s been in all the papers.”
“I…I’m not one for newspapers,” Scully managed carefully.
“I just hear what people are saying around the office.”
“Oh? They talking about me?”
She shook her head slowly, her eyes never leaving his face.
“The cops really think you did it?” she whispered.
“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered solemnly.
His mouth twitched. “Some of the women had been in here.”
“Well, so have a lot of people,” Scully ventured, looking around her at the thinning crowd.
“Yeah,” he agreed softly. “Like you, for instance.”
The hairs on the back of her neck stood up, and she found herself searching the nearby faces for anyone who looked like they might be undercover cops. There were two who were supposed to be backing her up, one woman and one man.
Things had been so rushed she had not met them ahead of time, but Bertelli had assured her they would be there.
Easy, she coached herself when she failed to find them.
Calm down and keep him talking.
“Surely the cops must have more reason than that if they brought you in for questioning,” she said. “This is America. You have rights.”
“Damn straight I do,” he agreed flatly, and took a long sip of his beer. “They can’t touch me again without an arrest warrant. But that woman, Bertelli…she’s got a bug up her ass on account of it was my bar the women were in and because I happen to like knives.”
“You do?” She decided to press her luck. “What kind?”
“All kinds. I’m a collector, you know.” He reached out and stroked her hand with one finger. When he spoke, his voice was dangerously soft. “Say, why don’t you come with me and I’ll show you my collection, huh? Would you like that?”
Shit, he was offering the murder weapon? He had spoken so quietly that she was not sure the wire had picked him up.
“Uh, I don’t know…” She hedged, glancing around him once more. This time she spotted them—a thirty-something couple in a booth across the room who were clearly more interested in her than each other. What the hell was she supposed to do now? They would not be able to follow her to wherever it was King kept his “collection”, and Mulder would never let her leave on her own.
“Suit yourself,” King said with a shrug, his eyes flickering over her as he walked off to help a different customer. Young. Blonde. Sad-looking. He said something to her and she smiled.
The evidence said Joe King, and now he was offering her a possible look at the murder weapon. He glanced in her direction, meeting her eyes with a cool blue gaze, then turned pointedly back to the blonde. Scully snapped to her decision.
Reaching into her purse, she withdrew a black pen and scribbled a note on the edge of her cocktail napkin.
“I want to see. Meet me out back in five minutes.”
She went into the ladies’ room long enough to splash some water on her face and take a few deep breaths. Then with a last peek at her unsuspecting back-up, she slipped out the rear door into the cold winter night.
“She’s lost him.” Jacobsen’s tone was disgusted as he twisted on the metal bench inside the van.
“Shh.” Mulder ignored him, pressing a hand to one side of the headset so he could listen more closely. Talk to me Scully, he willed across the wire. Tell me what’s going on. The loud background noise had disappeared, but he thought he could make out the echoing sounds of her heels in the bathroom.
Jacobsen muttered an oath as his knees cracked loudly.
“I’m telling you, it’s no use,” he growled. “King blew her off when she wouldn’t go back to his apartment with him.
He’ll never talk now. We should just radio Bertelli and—”
“It’s too quiet,” Mulder interjected tersely. “Something’s not right.”
Jacobsen sat up a little straighter, leaning closer to the amplifier and squinting in the semi-darkness. “Yeah, what happened to the music?” he murmured. Mulder stretched over to adjust the volume on the incoming transmission, which only caused the static to crackle more intensely. Scully’s footfalls had completely disappeared.
C’mon, c’mon, he thought wildly. Say something. The silent seconds plucked at his taut nerves.
Finally, he could not stand it any longer. “It’s been too long. I’m going in there,” he announced abruptly, pulling off his headset and beginning to rise from the bench.
Jacobsen yanked him back down.
“Wait! She’s back.”
Mulder scrambled for the headset again, catching Scully in mid-sentence. <…too far away. It’s pretty cold out here.>
What the hell? They were outside? Every muscle in his body tensed at once. “It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” he hissed to Jacobsen. “We’ve got to—”
“Shhh!” Jacobsen waved a hand at him. “It’s King again, and he’s still talking. Let’s just see where this goes.”
<I’ll keep you warm, darlin’, don’t worry. I’m glad you changed your mind about coming with me.>
<You’re sure it’s okay to leave the bar?> Scully’s voice sounded thin and far away.
<It’s my bar, I can do whatever the hell I want.> There was an edge to King’s statement that made Mulder inch closer to the back doors of the van.
“I don’t like this,” he said, feeling the sweat break out around his collar. “Where the hell are they? Out front?”
Jacobsen did not seem to hear him, instead listening intently to the fuzzy conversation coming over the wire.
Scully said something that was cut off by a wave of highpitched feedback. A second later there was the sound of a car door slamming and the roar of an engine.
“Fuck,” growled Jacobsen. “They’re on the move.”
Mulder was already scrambling out the door. “Call Bertelli,” he yelled over his shoulder. “Get her to tail them.”
He dashed across the heavy traffic on Massachusetts avenue, dodging screeching cars until he reached the door to Dempsey’s bar. Lebrea and O’Hearn jumped up at his entrance, but he barely glanced at them as he pushed through the people on dance floor toward the rear exit.
The pounding music and laughter faded into the background as he hurled himself out the back door.
Nothing. The street was completely silent.
He jogged past the chain-linked fence and into the street, but could see no cars anywhere in the vicinity. “Scully!”
he hollered, his scream evaporating quickly in the night air. There was no answer.
Jesus, what had she been thinking? His heart pounded painfully against the wall of his chest as he considered his next move.
“Agent Mulder!” He turned as the two undercover officers burst from the rear door, guns at the ready. Lebrea was in the lead. “What the hell is going on?” she breathed as she caught up with him.
“Scully’s with King,” he replied, pushing past her and her partner. “I don’t know where they went.”
“Holy fuck,” said O’Hearn, keeping pace with him as they all headed back into the bar. “Now what?”
“Talk to the waitress.” Mulder did not slow down in his charge toward the front door. “Find out if she knows where King was going. If she does, radio the van and let me know.”
He kicked open the heavy door, throwing all his anger and adrenaline against it so that it slapped into the outer wall with a satisfying crack. Goddamn it, Scully! So much for going in prepared. He jogged back across traffic to the van, where Jacobsen was still listening through the headset.
“Bertelli’s on her way to King’s apartment in case they show up there,” he reported as Mulder climbed over him to the other side of the bench.
“The wire is still on?” Mulder asked, still breathing hard from his exertion.
Jacobsen nodded. “It’s fading in and out, though. They may be headed out of range.”
Mulder reached for his discarded headset, almost afraid to learn what was on the other end. “Did you get a read on their location?”
“King says he’s taking her to the knives,” Jacobsen whispered, “but I don’t know where they’re going yet.” He raked Mulder once with his eyes. “She’s a real piece of work, your partner. This is the most insane breach of protocol I’ve ever seen. Englehart’s not going to know whether to murder her or give her a medal of honor.”
Mulder turned away as he strained to hear the voices coming through the wire. You don’t get it, he thought, his pulse racing. She’s not thinking about getting a medal or making a big collar. She’s not thinking about anything but the victims.
Not even me.
Not even herself.
“Dammit,” he muttered again. The fury made his face flush hot, but he welcomed the burning sensation; it was easier to be angry than afraid.
<…been collecting for years now.> King’s voice crackled to life. <Must’ve got at least two dozen of ‘em now, a couple left over from when my grandfather was a kid.> Scully’s voice was a little bit clearer. <Oh, yeah? What do you use them for?> There was a pause, then King laughed darkly.
<Why, darlin,> he mocked, <I use ‘em for cutting, of course.>
Oh, God. Mulder squeezed his eyes shut.
“I don’t get it,” breathed Jacobsen, hunching next to him.
“King’s apartment was clean when we searched it! He didn’t have anything more dangerous than a steak knife.”
Never did find the real crime scene, echoed a voice in Mulder’s head, and the bottom of his stomach dropped suddenly to his feet. He swallowed against the bitter nausea. “They’re not going to his apartment,” he whispered, and King turned away.
Moments later, the wire went dead.
“It’s not too much further, is it?” Scully asked, squinting out the passenger side window at the passing houses. Her heart rate doubled with every mile they put behind them.
King squeezed her thigh. “Not much further now, darlin’.”
She nodded, hoping that her rising fear did not show on her face. Back at Dempsey’s, it had seemed like a good idea to push him as far as she could, but now she was starting to question the firmness of her position. They had only been driving for ten minutes, and already she was completely lost.
Time to even the odds again, she thought, catching the nearest street sight. “Hey, my friend Lily lives around here,” she commented as casually as she could. King seemed focused elsewhere.
“Yeah?” he answered, sounding bored. His hand crept up her thigh.
“Yeah, back there on Lincoln Street. Nice neighborhood.”
Are you getting this, Mulder? Lincoln Street. She wished she could be sure the wire was still working. King glanced at her with faint amusement, his eyes glinting in the darkness.
“People around here got money. That doesn’t automatically make them nice.”
She swallowed with difficulty and shifted a little so his hand was not quite so high on her leg. “No, of course not.
They’ve got troubles just like everyone else, I’m sure.”
“Yeah?” He slid his hand back into place, squeezing her almost enough to hurt. “What kind of troubles have you got, darlin’?”
“Oh, the usual,” she hedged. “Too little money, boring job, that sort of thing. Nothing serious.”
“Nothing serious.” He gave her a sideways glance. “That’s good, darlin’. We should all be so lucky.”
Scully twisted her fingers in her lap, glad for the reassuring weight of the gun against her leg. More clues, she thought. Give more clues. “I wish I had a Bread and Circus near me,” she said as they passed the corner market.
“I just love their fresh vegetables.” Please, God, let the wire be on. Pleasepleasplease.
“What are you, a health-freak?” King scoffed. “I can’t stand those yuppie-shit places.” He turned off onto a quiet, suburban street and parked under a flickering streetlight. His hand moved from her thigh to the side of her face, where he stroked her with a roughened thumb. Her breath caught.
“Is this it?” she managed tightly.
He nodded, his dark eyes boring into hers. “Just come inside with me, darlin’. I’ll show you everything you wanted to see.”
“Faster, dammit!” Mulder hollered from the passenger seat, one hand clutching the headphones and the other steadying the computer on his lap. “We’re running out of time.”
“Where the fuck am I going?” demanded Jacobsen in return.
“This is Lincoln Street and I don’t see a goddamn thing!”
<Wow, is this house yours?> Scully’s voice was coming in more clearly now. She had to be close.
<Not exactly,> King returned, and Mulder heard the sound of a door opening. Don’t go inside…don’t go inside…
<It’s dark in here,> Scully remarked a minute later. Shit.
“King have relatives in the area?” Mulder asked quickly, tapping furiously on his keyboard. Jacobsen shook his head.
“His father is dead, and his mother lives in New York. No sibs.”
“What about the friend he talked about…Dave? You know anything about him?”
Jacobsen swerved sharply on the narrow back road, nearly hitting an oncoming car. “Dave Luden’s his name. He’s been out of the country for the past three months, I think living with his girlfriend in Brazil.” His eyes widened.
“Shit, you don’t think—”
<It’s right this way.> King’s deep voice sounded gruffer than usual, and Mulder heard the sound of Scully’s heels on a hardwood floor.
<Where did you—> She broke off with a gasp.
<Bitch.> There was a loud crack, followed by the sound of King’s heavy breathing. Scully was coughing and choking.
“Ohgodohgod…” Mulder muttered to himself as he typed even faster, searching for Dave Luden’s address.
<Please…> Scully’s voice was thick and hoarse.
<Oh yeah, that’s right. Beg me. You cop bitch, think you’re so clever, coming into my bar like that. I can smell your kind a mile away.> The sound of material ripping grated in Mulder’s ears. <What have we here?> King snarled. <Seems we’re not alone in this conversation, darlin’.>
“He’s made her!” Mulder barked painfully. “Get us the hell out of here, now!”
“I’m trying, I’m trying!” said Jacobsen, trapped behind three cars at a red light. Tires squealed beneath them as he drove up onto the curb.
Finally the address appeared on the screen. “Eighteen sixty three Carmine Avenue. Is that close?”
Scully made another choking sound. King laughed.
fasterfasterfasterfaster… Mulder leaned forward in his seat, as if he could somehow propel them with his body.
<Who’s listening in, darlin? Are they friends of yours?> Another low laugh. <Let’s see how much they like hearing you scream…>
Can’t breathe. Mulder, hurry. Please hurry.
Tears of pain formed in her eyes as she struggled against the wall. King had pinned her with one arm at her throat, crushing her windpipe. In his other hand, he held a switchblade.
“You wanted to see?” he breathed on her face. “Well, here it is, darlin’, live and in the flesh.”
She gasped and jerked at the touch of the knife on her belly.
“Are you listening, Bertelli?” he asked into the wire. “I sure hope so. It’s too bad you couldn’t have been here for this little party. I would have liked that. So wouldn’t Dana, right darlin’?” The knifepoint nicked her sharply, and she squirmed backward.
“Where should I cut you first?” he continued, his breath hot against her ear. “Here on your soft, white belly?” He drew the knife slowly down her front. “Or maybe here, on your pretty, lying face?” Its blade ran smoothly over her cheek.
He loosened his arm fractionally with the motion, and she gulped in painful breaths of air. “No,” she managed hoarsely. “You…you promised to show me…show me your collection.”
One corner of his mouth lifted in a smirk. “Keep him talkin’ till the back-up arrives, right darlin? Yeah, I know all the tricks.”
Scully’s heart clenched in despair, but she realized it was working so far. He had let up on her just a bit more. “I want to see the knives,” she told him steadily. “I want to see the one you killed those women with.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she gauged it was thirty feet down the hall to the front door. And she still had her gun.
“Oh, you cops are such dumb fucks,” he laughed, shaking his head. “I didn’t kill those women.” He leaned in closer, speaking directly to the wire that poked up beneath her bra. “You got that, Bertelli? I said I didn’t do it!”
“Show me,” Scully challenged.
He paused, considering. Then he drew the knife down the front of her face, stopping just at her throat. “One quick peek.” He lowered his arm completely, and she coughed.
“No funny moves,” he warned, jerking her from the wall by her elbow. “Or I will cut you into tiny pieces right here.”
Scully nodded, moving gingerly toward the back of the house. He followed close behind. “Which way?” she asked when they reached the two doors at the end.
They walked in step for a few feet, then King’s toe caught on the edge of an oriental rug. He stumbled off-balance, and Scully jerked away. Gungungetyourgun…
Her heart was pounding as she tried to scramble further away and reach down under her pant leg at the same time.
Her fingers had just touched the smooth steel when King’s knife caught her across the arm. She recoiled in pain.
“Oh, no you don’t, bitch,” he snarled, yanking her by the injured arm. The cut was deep, and blood soaked rapidly through her silver shirt. “That was stupid…very stupid.” They were both breathing hard.
“Please,” Scully panted. “Just let me go. Right now you can still walk away.”
“Oh, right,” he spat. “What about all the women? I know that bitch Bertelli is just dying to send me away for those murders.”
murderknifecuttoodeepsomuchbloodpainpainallgonecutcutcut Oh, God. She felt the knife at her throat again and squeezed her eyes shut, quivering, preparing for the pain.
He shifted behind her, so close his breath stirred her hair.
But not close enough.
He moved a fraction to the right, teasing the side of her neck with the knifepoint, but it was enough to change their center of balance.
Scully grimaced. Gotcha.
With one smooth movement, she elbowed his gut to bend him over, then grabbed his arm and ducked low to flip him over her head. He yelled his surprise and hit the ground with a loud thud. With shaking fingers, she retrieved her gun.
“Don’t even think about it,” she ordered coldly when King moaned and began rolling around on the floor. “Face down and lock your fingers behind your head.”
“Shit,” he muttered, turning over and closing his eyes.
Scully kicked his knife out of reach.
“Where are the knives?” she demanded, training the gun between his eyes. Her arm was now completely covered in blood, but she could feel no pain. King smiled up at her.
“Fuck you,” he said softly.
Doesn’t matter, she told herself. If the knives were in the house, they would find them. She struggled to keep her arms upright as she stood over King. Finally, the front door crashed open, and she heard Mulder yelling her name.
“In here,” she called in a voice roughened by King’s crushing arm.
“Scully, are you all right?” Mulder appeared in the doorway with Jacobsen close behind. She blinked rapidly as the lights came on.
“I’m all right,” she managed, feeling suddenly weak.
Mulder came to her side while Jacobsen cuffed King and hoisted him from the floor.
“You’re under arrest, you sonofabitch.” King gave Scully a lingering look as he was escorted out the door. Mulder caught it, and moved protectively between them.
“Scully, you’re cut,” he said softly, taking her gun from her. “We need to get you to a hospital.”
For the first time, she looked down at the gaping wound on her right arm and was amazed that she had still been able to subdue King. The terror finally penetrated through her adrenaline, and she started trembling. “God, Mulder…”
“Sh, it’s okay now. It’s going to be okay.” He guided her gently to the nearest armchair. Removing one of the cloth arm flaps, he wrapped it around her injury and pressed inward to stop the bleeding. Scully dutifully held her arm in the air.
“The knives are in the house somewhere,” she whispered, suddenly fatigued.
“I know. We heard over the wire.” There was no real reproach in his comment, but she felt a flush of guilt all the same. His face was white and pinched, and she knew he must have been afraid for her. And angry.
“I couldn’t let him get away like that,” she tried to explain. “Not if I had a chance to stop him.”
“Just rest now, Scully. We’ll deal with everything else later, okay?”
She nodded, leaning back in the chair. Bertelli entered the room with two uniformed officers. “You got him,” she said quickly. “Thank God it’s over.”
Yes, thank God. Scully tried to smile but failed. The world was starting to seem fuzzy and far away. She felt Mulder’s hands tighten on her arm and closed her eyes.
“Get an ambulance,” she heard him say.
I’m fine, she insisted, but could not make the words come out loud. Just find the knives.
Mulder’s warm hand was stroking her forehead. “Hang in there, Scully,” he murmured. “Help is coming.”
She watched through slitted eyes as uniformed officers tromped back and forth through the house, gathering evidence. Suddenly, one called from a nearby room. “Hey, I found ‘em!”
He appeared a few minutes later with a large wooden display case, folded in two. “Let’s see,” Bertelli ordered, and Scully fought to sit up so she could look, too. The officer parted the edges of the slim box to reveal about two dozen knives, each gleaming and clamped in its own spot. “Great,” Bertelli said grimly. “Get those logged in right away.”
Scully leaned back in her seat, the room spinning dizzily before her eyes. “Not right,” she murmured. Mulder didn’t seem to hear her.
“You did good, Scully,” he said softly, resuming his gentle stroking. “You stopped him.”
She shook her head, fighting the looming blackness. “Too big,” she whispered, tugging his suit coat so he would listen. “The knife should be small…‘snothim…” And then the world slipped away.
~ ? ~
The faux leather chairs in the hospital waiting room were colored green, probably because someone had told the administrators that green was supposed psychologically soothing. Instead, Mulder felt like throwing up. Once again, his world had skidded to a halt only nanometers from the cliff into oblivion. It was still teetering on the skinny edge.
“Your partner is doing fine,” the nurse had told a few minutes before, and he had not bothered to contradict her.
She had not seen Scully’s face when the knives were taken away or tasted her tears in the middle of the night. She had not seen her partner disappearing under a river of her own blood.
No, Scully was not fine. Not this time.
He leaned back in the chair and stared unblinking at the muted TV, where a pretty-boy CNN anchor was silently relaying the middle of the night headlines. The clock in the corner read three-nineteen, and he wished for just a few more minutes to get himself together before he had to go and see her.
God, there had been so much blood. On the floor, on the chair…all over his fingers from where he’d tried to stop the life from leaking out of her. It marked him still, the cuff of his shirt tinged bright red as the slowly spreading stain edged upwards, thread by thread. He scrubbed his face with shaking hands.
This was always the worst part, when the immediate threat was gone and his adrenaline had evaporated, when his legs were all rubbery and his stomach was playing pinball inside his chest. Hospitals made him feel nervous, itchy, helpless. Usually he stayed only long enough to make sure she was all right, then fled the premises before she could tell him otherwise.
Are you okay, Scully? I’ll ask, but please don’t answer.
“You can go in and see her now if you want.” The petite nurse with the long braid was back, smiling at him kindly.
“Room six. She’s all stitched up, but we’re going to need to check her electrolyte levels one more time before she’s released.”
He walked slowly down the hall until he came to the appropriate room, hesitating only a second before rapping gently on the outside. “Scully?”
“Come in,” she answered, her voice thin with fatigue. He poked his head around the door and found her propped up in an adjustable bed, half-heartedly sipping a glass of orange juice. Her blood-soaked silver shirt had been replaced by an over-sized white tee-shirt emblazoned with the hospital logo, making her seem impossibly pale and tiny.
His heart lurched to his throat, and he swallowed several times as he entered the cramped room. “Hey,” he greeted her gruffly, approaching the side of the bed.
She glanced up at him somewhat warily. “Hi. I didn’t realize you were still here. Sorry this is taking so long.”
“It’s okay.” He forced his eyes down to where her right forearm lay limp at her side, swathed in a gauze bandage.
It was like stepping into a time machine—he was back eight years ago, heart pounding, stomach churning—trying not to hyperventilate in the claustrophobic little room with the antiseptic smell, trying not to scream as he made small talk over stark white bandages. His lover. His love. A woman who should have been dead, but wasn’t.
How could you do this to me?
“Mulder?” Her voice caused him to jerk back again, and he realized he had been trembling under the force of the memories. Her eyes searched his face worriedly. “Mulder, are you okay?”
“Yeah.” He took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah, I’m all right,” he repeated, sounding more sure this time. He managed a wobbly smile. Brushing her fingertips with his own, he found them reassuringly warm. “What about you?
How are you doing?”
“Under the circumstances, I’d have to say I’m feeling pretty lucky.” She shifted her injured arm a little, as if assessing the damage. “He did a number on the radial artery, but he missed the major nerves. I should be back to normal in a few weeks.”
Jesus, surgery? He hadn’t even known that was a possibility. He moved to sit by her hip and began toying with the edge of the blanket draped across her lap. After a moment, his fingers crept up to stroke the wrist of her uninjured arm. Her eyes met his and held. “You’re sure you’re okay?” he asked softly.
“I’m okay,” she answered, releasing a deep breath. Her gaze shifted back to her lap. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?”
She fidgeted restlessly and pulled her hand from his stroking fingers. “This is so wrong, Mulder. Everyone here keeps acting like I’m some sort of hero, coming in to congratulate me on catching the killer—I don’t know how to tell them it’s not true.”
Ah, so that explained the big bunch of flowers perched on the countertop He had wondered. “King had his cork in way too tight, Scully. He may not have graduated to murder yet, but it’s obvious now that it would have been only a matter of time before he used the knife on someone elsesomeone without FBI training.”
Scully looked away. “I guess.”
“No guess. You saved someone’s life tonight, Scully.
We’ll just never know whose.”
She did not answer, but her hand inched back until their fingers tangled once more. “I talked to Bertelli about an hour ago,” he told her after a moment of silence. “She said King is still refusing to answer any questions, but after his little performance tonight they have enough to hold him, no problem. Most likely he’ll be indicted tomorrow afternoon.”
Her eyebrows knit together in a frown. “For the murders?”
“Seven counts, plus the attack on you.”
She shook her head. “Joe King didn’t kill those women, Mulder. Those knives we found at the house were not small enough to make the kind of incisions on the bodies. We’re looking for something more like a scalpel.”
“A scalpel? You think it might be someone in the medical profession?”
“Could be,” she answered, leaning her head back against the pillows. “But medical instruments of that sort are easy enough for a layperson to obtain.”
He shifted on the bed, perking up a little. “Still, it would fit with the profile. We’ve said before that this guy is someone who cares about the victims. It shows in the way he cleans them up afterward, the way he puts their clothes back on before dropping them off to be found.”
Scully closed her eyes for a moment, then shook her head faintly. “I don’t think the killer is a doctor—it seems too antithetical to his viewpoint. The primary emphasis of the medical profession is to save lives, not take them.”
“No, no… I think you’re right, Scully. I don’t think he’s going to be your neighborhood pediatrician or even an emergency room intern. More likely he works in a nursing home or funeral parlor, someplace that would satisfy his obsession with death.” Scully drew a sharp breath, her fingers tightening on his, and immediately he followed her thoughts back to four years ago. Funeral parlor, death obsession….
Shit. No wonder she had been jittery lately. He lashed himself mentally for not seeing the parallels earlier.
“No,” she said, sitting up and cutting him off. “It’s not like that, Mulder. This is different.”
It was hard to believe her, looking at her pale face, bandaged arm, and scratched neck. The helplessness certainly felt the same to him. “Evil is evil, Scully—it just wears many types of clothes.”
She shook her head slowly, sadly. “Mulder, haven’t you been listening? We’re looking for someone who spends their days surrounded by death, someone who knows exactly how to work a crime scene, someone who honestly believes he is doing right by the victims. We’re not looking for evil, Mulder—we’re looking for someone just like us.”
Lately I’ve been contemplating my own death.
I think it’s closer than I imagined, but I’m not afraid.
I have watched the women very carefully for signs of what is to come. I wonder if I will see Helen on the other side and if she will still be eight years old. I wonder if she will still like knock-knock jokes and blue cotton candy.
I wonder if she will remember the day she died.
I remember the funeral best of all, when the thunder outside made it hard to hear Reverend Richmond as he talked about what a beautiful and sweet little girl Helen had been. Momma cried a lot but Father just sat straight like a board the whole time. I held Momma’s hand tight and watched Helen lying in the white casket, wishing that I could go climb inside with her forever.
Father thinks I killed her. I know because three years ago at Christmas he got drunk on home-made beer and came to the kitchen where I was doing dishes. He caged me from behind and whispered in my ear, “Why didn’t you save your sister?
The water wasn’t that deep, and you were the stronger swimmer…you could have reached her easily. Tell me, huh?
Tell me why you let our Helen die.”
He wouldn’t understand if I tried to tell him. I didn’t let it happen on purpose. I didn’t mean to make Helen go away forever. It was just so beautiful the way she gasped and bobbed in the water, each breath a little more desperate. And then finally the silence. That wonderful, perfect silence when she disappeared beneath the rippling lake!
Father could never understand the magnificence of such a moment.
Well, and now one other.
There is something in her eyes that tells me she knows, too. She understands the primacy of pain, relishes it like I do, pulls it all inside where no one else can see. I think she must have tasted death herself at one time—she has the look. Oh, the things we will be able to teach each other!
Tonight she bled for me. She wanted to find me so badly that she went under the knife in an effort to bring us closer. If I needed proof before, I certainly have it now.
They arrested the wrong person, of course—I find that almost amusing. Poor Joe King. It’s not like I ever tried to find someone else to take my place; I know there can be no other. I guess King was just so obvious that no one ever stopped to wonder who else might find Dempsey’s Bar convenient. Well, it’s only a matter of time, now…
This is why I have to act quickly. If she and I are to be together as I’ve planned, I must start planning immediately or the wrong person will die. I think I will start by sharpening my knives.
One for me. One for her.
The elevator ride was making her dizzy. Her injured arm in a sling, she reached a steadying hand toward Mulder, and he closed strong fingers around her elbow. “Easy, Scully.
We’re almost there.”
She nodded, barely hearing him over the buzzing in her ears. It seemed like she had been up for three straight days, her skin pulled tight, her eyes so dry they could crack, her knees so loose they threatened to collapse at any moment. And everywhere she could still feel the imprint of King’s hard fingers on her body.
Mulder followed her into her hotel room, carrying a bag filled with her prescriptions and fresh medical supplies.
Once inside, he set it down and cleared his throat, standing near the door and swinging his arms around awkwardly. “So…I can just leave you alone, if you want, or…”
“No, stay.” She turned from the bed to face him.
“Please.” More than a nursemaid, she needed a reminder of why she was putting herself through all this—and proof that she was not going through it alone.
He gave a short nod, his face shadowed by the small light from the bedside lamp, but the awkwardness lingered. “You want something to eat or drink? Maybe some more juice?”
She sat gingerly down on the bed and gave him a weary look.
“No, Mulder, please no more juice. Any more and I’m going to take on an orange tint.”
“Okay. It’s probably best that we try to get some sleep while it’s still dark out, anyway.”
She was already pulling the sling over her head. “I want to take a shower first.”
He frowned his disapproval. “Scully—”
“I can still feel his hands on me,” she said, and he clamped his mouth shut, staring at her uncertainly with his shirt half undone. Eventually, he turned away, shrugging out of his shirt with his back to her. She thought the conversation was done.
“You’re going to have to tell me soon.” The quiet intensity of his words startled her, and she paused from gathering up her nightclothes. His eyes were shone like black marble in the yellow light.
“Tell you what?”
“Whatever it is you haven’t been telling me.” His hands clenched around the shirt. “I can’t keep playing guessing games with you, Scully. Whatever the hell is going on with you, no matter what it is, I need you to tell me—even if you think it’s something I don’t want to hear.”
She waited a long moment before formulating her response.
“Make sure you mean that, Mulder,” she said softly. “Make sure you really understand and believe it…because it goes both ways.” And then she disappeared into the bathroom, closing the door behind her with a firm click.
It took a few minutes to maneuver out of her clothing, but the enormity of the hospital tee-shit actually made the task much easier. She splashed a bit of cool water on her face before attempting to remove the bandage on her arm.
Twenty-three neat little stitches stared back at her as she surveyed her latest injury. With a finger, she stroked the wound tentatively, moving as if in a dream as she traced the length of the line.
One deep cut along the radial artery—just like half of the matching set that she had seen on Elizabeth. How blessedly ironic.
Do you really want to know, Mulder? she wondered as she stepped under the steaming hot spray. It stung like a vinegar kiss, and she felt the handprints burn away.
When she returned to the bedroom, Mulder was sitting at the table with his glasses on, pecking at her laptop with his right hand, holding a soda can in his left. His eyes raked her once from head to toe, taking in her gaping pajama top.
“Need some help?”
She nodded, gesturing weakly at the purple satin. “The buttons are a bit much.”
“I’ve got it.” He moved to stand in front of her, his nimble fingers fastening the buttons from the bottom on up.
The whole experience reminded her of when she was little and her mother when she had buttoned her pink coat all the way to her chin every morning before school. His touch was infinitely gentle, and she felt tears of relief prick her eyes that they could still find this thread of tenderness.
When he was done, she squeezed his hand. “Thank you,” she whispered.
A slow smile spread across his face. “No problem, Scully.
Just think of me as your right hand man.”
She brought her hand up to frame the side of his face, her thumb rubbing gently over his prickly cheek “I do,” she answered, her own smile sad but certain. He leaned into her touch briefly before cupping the side of her head in his hands and pressing his lips to her hairline.
“Time for bed,” he murmured softly, and she nodded, opening her eyes.
The sheets were cold but his body was warm, and she found herself shifting closer to him as the settled in for the last few hours of darkness. “Here, like this,” he whispered, pulling an extra pillow from behind his head and placing it under her injured arm. Then he sidled up behind her, wrapping his arm around her waist so he could stroke her stomach. “Okay?”
Oh yes. Very okay. Her eyes slid shut as she gave herself up to the rhythmic touch of his hand. She was nearly asleep when his breath tickled her ear again. “And in the morning,” he murmured, “if there’s anything else you want to know about Elizabeth—anything at all—I promise I’ll tell you, all right?” She nodded, dreading what was coming next, but he only clutched her tighter. Her travel alarm ticked the seconds loudly as she decided whether to take the out he had provided her.
No. It wasn’t fair. “Okay, Mulder,” she murmured, groping for his hand. “We can talk in the morning.”
“Mmmm…” His voice came out as a sleepy hum. “M’kay.
“Night,” she managed softly, but she knew she was kidding herself with the word. Morning had already come.
~ ? ~
Scully awoke to throbbing pain, her injured arm laying across her stomach. Every nerve seemed to scream in agony.
She blinked slowly as the events of the previous evening came cascading back, then twisted her head on the pillow to look for Mulder. He was gone. The sheets were empty and rumpled, and she squinted at the window, trying to determine what time it was. Shafts of bright light slanted in at all angles from behind the closed curtains.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” Mulder’s voice floated from across the room, and she lifted her head to find him. He sat slouched with one shin propped against the table edge as he typed a final few words into her laptop.
“I’m okay,” she managed, though her mouth felt filled with cotton. “What are you doing?
“In a minute.” He rose from the chair and walked over to peer down at her. “How’s your arm?”
She shifted it in response, struggling to sit up, only to sink back down again when the white-hot pain lanced through her arm. “It hurts,” she whispered, eyes closed against the dizzying sensations. She heard his footfalls move away, and a moment later there was the sound of water running in the bathroom. He returned to sit on his side of the bed, scooting toward her with a glass in one hand and two capsules in the other.
“Here, this should help,” he said, handing her the pills.
She accepted them gratefully and downed them with several sips of cool water. Mulder stretched out next to her on the bed, breathing quietly in the semi-darkness as she waited for the pain to recede. Eventually he reached out and traced a line down her arm, close to the row of neat stitches. Her hypersensitive skin tingled in near pain.
“That was a really dangerous thing you did,” he murmured at last, his hand falling away. She shifted to look at him, but he was not meeting her eyes.
“I know. It didn’t go as I’d planned,” she admitted softly. “Probably I should have found another way, but I’d been thinking all along that it wasn’t him. Then all of a sudden he’s asking to show me the knives…I just had to know the truth.”
“I thought the same thing,” Mulder said quietly. “That maybe we’d been wrong, that it was King after all. Then you left the bar, and by the time I got around back, you had disappeared.”
There was a hint of accusation in his words, and a lingering note of fear that made her flush with guilt. Too many times she had been the one left behind, and she felt no satisfaction at having returned the favor. “I’m sorry, Mulder.” She reached across with her good hand and tangled their fingers together. “I wasn’t thinking.”
His hair rustled on the pillow as he turned to look at her.
“Yes, you were. You were thinking something, Scully—I just wish you’d tell me what it was.” She dropped her eyes to their joined hands, not answering. Gingerly, she moved her right arm to close her fingers around his wrist, turning his palm up and loosening her left hand so she could trace the spot where his wedding band would have been. He held his breath.
“Do you still have it?” she asked finally, her eyes gaze never leaving his fingers.
“Yeah, it’s buried in my stuff somewhere.” He paused. “I don’t really like to look at it.”
She folded his fingers down and covered them with her own, considering his words. “It must be hard,” she whispered after a moment, “never to let yourself remember. You lose so much more that way.”
“It’s more complicated than you think,” he answered, pulling his hand away, and her skin cooled at his withdrawal. She shifted from him, laying back to stare at the stucco ceiling. He sighed. “I’m doing the best I can here, Scully, it’s just…
“Just what?” She sneaked a sideways glance.
“I don’t think there’s even a name for what happened with me and Elizabeth. It all happened so fast—first it was good, then it was bad, then it was over—I didn’t know what the hell I was supposed to be feeling. It wasn’t like a divorce because we still loved each other, and it wasn’t like she had died and I could mourn her properly. And then on paper our marriage didn’t even exist anymore.” He propped himself up on one elbow so he could look down at her, his eyes troubled and sad. “I finally went numb inside, and it took me a long time to make the emptiness go away,” he finished quietly. “I guess I’ve just been afraid of falling in again.”
She held his gaze for a few silent moments. “When did it go away?” she asked softly.
He smiled a bit and gently brushed a lock of hair off her forehead. “I think you know,” he whispered. She smiled, too, and pulled him down so that his face was pressed against her neck. His arm wrapped around her carefully, and they held each other in silence for several long minutes. Then she kissed his head.
“Mmmm?” He hummed into her neck.
“You won’t fall in again. I won’t let you.”
He raised himself up to look down at her, and this time amusement marked his features. “I’d put you up against my subconscious anytime, Scully.”
She gave him a tired smile. “Better yours than mine,” she answered with a sigh, and his eyes darkened, kaleidoscopelike, to reflect his concern. He squeezed her hand briefly.
“Maybe it’s time you tell me what’s going on.”
She dropped her chin to her chest, trying to come up with the words. “If I knew, I’d tell you,” she replied finally.
He scooted closer. “You asked if I ever heard the killer’s voice in my head. Why did you want to know about that?”
His earlier words echoed through her mind: I think you know. But she did not say them aloud. Instead, she twisted so they lay eye to eye. “Ever since we got here, I’ve had this feeling about him—like he’s very close.”
She nodded. “Almost like…almost like he’s inside me.”
“You can pick up on what he’s thinking?” Mulder asked carefully, and she felt great relief that he had not come out and used the word “mind-reading”.
“I can’t answer that,” she replied. “I don’t know for sure if what I’m thinking is right.”
“What are you thinking?”
She paused, then shook her head. “Mainly what I’ve already told you—that the killer is motivated primarily out of empathy for the victims, and that he sometimes cuts himself, too.”
“You actually hear his voice in your head?” Mulder was eager in his questioning.
“Well, that’s the strange part.” She stopped, and his eyes searched hers until she continued. “It’s not someone else’s voice that I’m hearing—it’s mine. That’s what makes me think that maybe I could be imagining the whole thing, maybe confusing some of his feelings with my own.”
She tilted her head to look at him. “What do you think?”
He ran a hand through his hair and rolled to look at the ceiling. “I don’t know. You’ve displayed some pretty incredible intuition in the past, Scully. Maybe something about this case has sharpened it a little more.”
“You mean because of Elizabeth?”
“Could be. You would know better than I would. Is there anything about these murders that seems different to you, or maybe even familiar? Maybe you’re drawing on some previous experience you’re not consciously aware of, and it’s somehow integrating with the facts of this case to give you a heightened perception of the killer’s motives.”
She gave a faint smile.
“What?” he asked, turning to look at her.
“Nothing. You just sounded a little like me for a minute.”
His eyebrows lifted slightly. “You were maybe expecting me to advance the possibility of a psychic connection?”
“I guess a little, yes.”
“Well, you’re not reading anyone else’s thoughts, are you?”
She shook her head. “And you’re not getting visions of the crimes in progress, or having premonitions of future victims?”
“No, nothing like that. Nothing visual.”
“Then I’d say it’s a little early to set you up with your own 900 number,” he said. “You don’t display any of the traditional indicators of psychic ability.”
Thank God, she added silently. But still she was troubled by the source of the voice. “I’ve never been tempted to cut myself, either,” she told him, moving to sit up against the headboard. “So I don’t think I’m inventing these words on my own.”
“No,” he admitted. “Probably not.” He sat up as well.
“Is there anything else? Anything that might give a clue about his identity?”
She shook her head. “Just that fact that he likes to cut himself. That seems pretty unusual.”
“Maybe not as much as you’d think,” Mulder answered, and he slid off the bed to go retrieve her laptop. “After you mentioned it to me, I did a little digging on the internet and found quite a bit on self-mutilation. Apparently it’s not nearly as uncommon as once thought. Hundreds of people do it.”
He brought the computer over to the bed and switched on the nearby lamp. Scully scanned the first bit of notes he had typed, her brow wrinkling as she read. “I’m not sure I understand. Is the cutting some sort of way to get attention?”
“Quite the opposite, actually.” He rejoined her on the bed. “For most people it’s a great secret, and they take care to place the injuries in areas that aren’t likely to be seen by others.”
She read a little farther, to the part where he described the types of burns and cuts that people inflicted on themselves. It was gruesome. “How terrible,” she murmured, and he agreed.
“It’s just like you said, Scully—they do it to make the pain go away. It’s a way of controlling the internal anxiety by giving them an external focus. The greater the anxiety, the more injury it takes to make the feelings subside.”
“How do you make them stop?” she asked, scrolling further down the page.
“I had a tougher time with that one,” he answered, “From what I could find, it seems as though many psychologists have been reluctant to treat self-mutilators. They’re often afraid of them. It’s a hard disorder to treat because the patients frequently don’t feel they are doing anything wrong.” He scratched the back of his head. “But it seems like this profile fits our killer pretty well.
We’re dealing with someone who uses the knife to satisfy his pain.”
Scully drew a sharp breath and jerked her hand away from the keyboard, blinking rapidly. “Oh my God.”
“What?” he asked, moving closer. “What is it?”
She peeked at the screen again, where he had listed a bunch of traits that were best characteristic of people who liked to cut themselves. “Female” was at the top of the list, followed by “has suffered a large psychological trauma”, “trouble talking about negative feelings”, “likes to feel in control” and “emotionally distant parents”. There were a few others, but Scully stopped reading. She turned to face him, shaking slightly. “This isn’t just the killer,” she said in a low voice. “Mulder, this could be me.”
I prepared the basement this morning. It was a long drive out to the cabin and back, but it’s worth it for my peace of mind. The table has been shined, and the restraints are ready. I hummed a little while I laid out the knives and congratulated myself on the new plan. I don’t know why I did not think of it sooner.
As I drove back to town, a voice in my head started worrying about her, saying that she would not cooperate. I nearly ran off the road into a snow bank.
How could you ever think anyone else would be sick like you?
My heart was racing, and my hands hurt from gripping the steering wheel. What if I was wrong about her?
Then I realized it was just Father talking inside my mind, and I relaxed. There was no reason to be alarmed. She might resist at first—I remember I hesitated the first time—but once she understood how it could be, cutting into warm flesh, she would join in immediately.
Rush hour traffic slowed me down at the bridge, but I didn’t mind. The night would come soon enough.
Mulder was quiet as he watched the stitches disappear under the sleeve of her lavender cardigan. Wordlessly, he moved to help her fasten the buttons. “I thought you said you would never consider hurting yourself,” he said when he had finished. She met his eyes briefly, then looked away.
“I haven’t considered it. That’s why this is so odd.” She sank down slowly on the side of the bed, and after a moment, he joined her.
“Well, they’re just risk factors,” he said slowly.
“They’re not necessarily predictive of anything.”
She nodded, lost in thought. “It must be like gene penetrance,” she murmured at last.
“Just because you have the gene for something doesn’t mean it’s necessarily going to be transcribed,” she said, shifting to face him. “Take the breast cancer gene, for example. Only eighty percent of the women who have the gene will actually go on to develop the illness.”
He looked interested. “So what’s the difference? What makes one woman get cancer and the other not?”
“That’s the million dollar question, Mulder. Most likely it’s environmental factors that govern the gene transcription, but what those specific factors are has yet to be determined. Chances are there’s a whole host of contributing causes.”
“So you think that self-mutilation has a genetic basis?”
She shook her head. “That’s probably too strong an assertion, but there is almost certainly a genetic component. Complex behaviors such as this one are likely to be controlled by multiple genes and therefore more flexible in responding to environmental changes.”
They lapsed into silence for a few moments, and Scully glanced once more at the glowing screen that listed the personality types prone to self-mutilation. Gene penetrance. Diathesis-stress. All just fancy ways of saying that if X had been Y or right had been left, she might have turned to hurting herself as a way to manage her pain. She shivered. Some dark roads were best not taken.
“You okay, Scully?”
She drew her legs up on the bed and nodded slightly.
“Yeah, I’m all right.” She dropped her eyes, toying absently with the edge of the blanket. “Why, do you think?”
“Why did you turn out okay?” he asked. Nodding, she met his eyes. He looked uncomfortable. “I don’t know, Scully…I don’t know if we’ll ever know.”
I have to, she thought desperately, squeezing her eyes shut. I have to know whether I should look at that list and think “not me” or “not yet”.
A warm hand closed over her knee, and she opened her eyes again. “I think you’re okay,” he said softly. “Look here, see?” He leaned over and scrolled down to the bottom of the risk factors. “Most people start when they’re really young—teens and twenties.”
She read over the words once, then twice more before she looked up at him again. Sudden tears filled her eyes and she blinked them away. “No more complaining about turning thirty-five,” she whispered with a near smile, and he smiled and wrapped an arm around her, hugging her close.
After a few moments, she pulled away. “He’s still out there, Mulder. It’s just a matter of time until he kills again.”
“Probably sooner rather than later,” he agreed. “There were two victims this week alone.”
“I was thinking,” she began slowly. “If we’re right about the killer cutting himself, he might be doing it at the crime scene.”
“Could be. The profile suggests he’d be likely to cut more during times of extreme stress. I’d certainly put a murder scene in that category.”
“Well, then some of the blood traces on the victims might be his.”
Mulder looked confused. “Wouldn’t you and Dr. Atkins have spotted something like that before?”
“We didn’t assay every single stain—there were so many of them and we believed the blood all came from the victim.
But Marianne Maubry’s results should be in by now. We were pretty thorough with her, so perhaps there is something in her screens we haven’t seen before.”
“Okay. Why don’t I run over to the morgue and pick up a copy?” He was already on his feet, reaching for his coat.
“Mulder, I can—” His ringing cell phone cut short her protest.
“Hello?” he said, still struggling into his jacket. “Hey, how’d it go? Uh-huh…uh-huh…yeah, she’s doing fine.” He paused and mouthed, “Bertelli”.
“Did they charge King?” Scully asked, rising from the bed.
“In an hour?” he asked, and checked his watch. “I don’t know if I can make it—I’m heading to the morgue right now to grab Marianne Maubry’s lab results. Scully thinks there’s a possibility that the killer left his blood behind.” There was a longer pause as he listened to Bertelli’s response. “Yeah, well…if the blood is a match, then we’ll have King for sure, won’t we? And if it isn’t…”
Scully turned away. Blood or no blood, King wasn’t the killer. Why couldn’t they see that?
Moments later, Mulder snapped his phone shut. “Bertelli is less than pleased, and judging from the swearing in the background, Jacobsen shares her opinion. They’ve already handed King over to the D.A.”
“Without the murder weapon?” Scully was incredulous.
“Yeah, well they’re still searching King’s apartment and his buddy Dave’s house. In the meantime, Englehart’s crowing to the media that the case is closed.”
“At least until the next victim shows up,” she sighed.
“Speaking of, I’m going to head out now and pick up the reports. If I have time, I’ll catch King’s arraignment at one.” He began walking toward the door, and she followed him.
“I’ll meet you there. I’d like to talk to Bertelli and Jacobsen myself.”
He paused in the doorway, peering down at her. “Are you sure it’s a good idea to go? The press is going to be crawling all over the place.”
“They’re about to charge a man with seven murders he didn’t commit, Mulder. I can’t just sit in my hotel room and let that happen.”
He glanced at the arm she held protectively against her side. “As far as I’m concerned,” he muttered, “they can bury Joe King so deep he’ll be pumping in daylight.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to be advocating his release,” she answered darkly, and he nodded.
“See you in an hour or so.”
“Mulder, wait.” He stopped and turned around.
“Just…be careful, okay?”
He stepped back across the threshold and placed a kiss on the top of her head. “An hour, Scully. I’ll see you then.”
“Yes, see you.” Then she watched him walk down the hall and out of sight.
Mulder walked along the corridor of the basement morgue until he reached the swinging doors. Inside he found Dr.
Atkins standing, forceps in hand, over a dead man about sixty years of age. She looked up when he entered.
“Agent Mulder,” she said with some surprise and set aside her safety goggles.
He held up his hands. “No food this time—am I clear to come in?”
“Sure, sure.” She snapped off her gloves. “What can I do for you?”
“Actually, I’m here for Scully. She was wondering if the lab results for Marianne Maubry have come back.”
“Oh, I heard about what happened last night! Is she okay?”
“Other than a cut on her arm, she’s doing fine,” he reported.
“Did she lose much blood?” Mulder jumped as a tall, thin man materialized behind him. Jesus, had the doors even opened? He looked up at the man’s pale, solemn face.
“I’m sorry, have we met?”
Dr. Atkins stepped forward. “Agent Mulder, this is my technician, Howard Everby. He’s been helping me and Dana with this case.”
“I heard he cut her pretty badly,” Howard said, his dark eyes fixed on Mulder. Mulder stared right back. The man’s tone was entirely flat, but his dilated pupils suggested excitement.
“She’s going to be fine. The cut wasn’t that bad,” he said carefully, watching Howard for his reaction. The other man nodded slowly.
“Very good,” he answered softly. Then he turned to leave.
“Howard, wait. Did the labs come back on Marianne Maubry yet? Agent Mulder would like to see them.”
Howard turned from the door to look at Mulder again.
Dr. Atkins faced him, as well. “Yes, why? I thought the bartender from Dempsey’s was being charged with the murders. Englehart sent a memo this morning.”
“It’s not King,” Mulder informed them. “He’s dangerous, but he’s not responsible for these murders.”
Both Dr. Atkins and Howard went completely still. After several beats of silence, she spoke softly. “Howard, get the labs, will you?” Without a word, Howard disappeared through the swinging doors, and she returned her attention to Mulder. “Dana agrees with you about this?”
“She feels as strongly as I do—maybe more so. She’s off at the courthouse trying to intercept Bertelli and Jacobsen right now.”
“And if she is not successful?”
He shrugged. “We’ll keep searching. The real killer is making more mistakes, now. We’re bound to catch a break soon.”
At that point, Howard returned with a folder. “These are the results,” he said to Dr. Atkins. She nodded in Mulder’s direction, and Howard paused, glancing down at the folder before finally handing it over. Then he moved to stand behind Dr. Atkins.
“Thanks,” Mulder said, hardly looking at them as he headed for the door. “We’ll keep you posted.”
He began leafing through the reports as he made his way out of the basement, pausing on the staircase to hold a graph up to the light. “Should have paid more attention in chemistry,” he muttered, continuing on his way. Outside the bracing wind forced him to cut short his perusal. He held the folder close against his chest as he walked around the back parking lot.
In the car, he rubbed his hands together to warm them, the folder resting on the steering wheel. He opened it again and turned to the section detailing the hematological analysis. Squinting, he attempted to decipher which tests had been run. The final page revealed the big payoff.
“Holy shit,” he murmured, pulling the sheet free from the rest. “Am I reading this right?” He reached for the phone to call Scully, but then there was a tap on his window.
Of course he must die. I should have seen it sooner.
Elizabeth. Dana. He hurt them both so much—who’s to say how many others he’s wounded along the way?
Well, no more.
“Hey,” he says somewhat warily, rolling down his window. I can tell he’s surprised to see me. In my pocket, I uncap the syringe.
“Find anything interesting in the reports?” I inquire, and he nods, fumbling with the folder on his lap.
“Yeah, the blood typing showed—” He breaks off suddenly, tilting his head to one side. I can guess very well what it showed. Just as I am preparing to withdraw the syringe, he looks up at me—looks almost right through me—and I know the puzzle pieces have fallen into place.
“It’s you,” he whispers, horrified. “The blood, the marks on the bodies…”
“Yes,” I admit calmly. I’m almost pleased he’s figured it out. “It’s me.”
And the needle slides into his neck with no problem at all.
~ ? ~
In the bathroom, I open my arm with a two inch cut. The blood runs warmly over my skin, but it does little to calm my shaking. I try again with the other arm. Soon I am awash in red.
Jesus, it wasn’t supposed to happen this way. How long has he known? Who else could he have told? If he said anything to Dana…if he even hinted his suspicions, I could be in serious trouble.
You didn’t think you would really get away with it, did you?
My head snaps up. Not caught yet, I think. I was careless but not irrevocably so. There is still time to fix this problem before I bring Dana to the cabin. So what if this wasn’t the way I planned?
I take several deep breaths and realize the voice has gone away again. Pressing paper towels to my wounds, I hold the arm with the larger cut above my head until all the bleeding has stopped. Any remaining evidence disappears down the sink in a red swirl.
The knife is cool and sharp in my hand, and I smile with relief. I wonder if he will bleed any differently from the women—faster perhaps? More salty?
It is time to find out.
Scully had no choice but to enter the Cambridge courthouse through the front doors, where a mob of reports were waiting to swoop down on her the instant she got out of the taxi. They cackled questions at her as a beefy uniformed police sergeant elbowed a path through the crowd.
“Agent Scully, is it true King broke your cover in under five minutes?”
“How does it feel to have caught Cambridge’s only serial killer?”
“Can you confirm the rumor that King had sexual relations with the victims after their deaths?”
“No comment,” Scully snapped as a particularly pushy woman shoved a microphone at her, jostling her injured arm within the sling. She ignored their shouts, but still they hollered out questions. Pushing en masse up the stone steps like the incoming tide, they propelled her into the building on a wave of noise. The marble foyer was blissfully quiet.
“Can I see some ID?” asked the solemn, dark-skinned guard by the metal detector. Scully showed him her badge, and his eyes widened a bit. “Nice work last night,” he said softly, straightening to his full height. Scully gave him a short nod.
“Thank you. Has the arraignment started yet?”
“Not for another few minutes, I don’t think. It’s down the hall and the second door on your left.” He gestured through the frame of the metal detector, and Scully dutifully emptied her pockets. “You carrying?” he asked as he pushed the basket of keys and change to the other side of the table. She shook her head. “Okay, then. You’re clear to go on in.”
Collecting her things, then glanced up at the guard again.
“Has another agent come through here recently, do you know?” It was now a few minutes to one, and Mulder had said he would try to make it if he could. She was surprised she had not heard from him yet.
“No, Ma’am, no one else from the FBI. Plenty of the CPD blues, though.”
“Thanks.” Scully punched up Mulder’s number on her phone as she walked down the corridor toward the courtroom.
Pausing outside the door, she waited for him to answer but instead reached the automated messaging service. “Mulder, it’s me. I’m at the courthouse for the arraignment. If you got the reports on Marianne Maubry, bring them over here. I’d like to take a look at them.”
It was crowded inside the courtroom, which smelled of stale heat and wet winter clothing. Judge Anna Yin sat at the bench with a weary frown as the accused were paraded before her, one by one. Scanning the room, Scully spotted Bertelli and Jacobsen standing in the corner and watching the proceedings with intense interest. Jacobsen looked like he had not slept in two days, but Bertelli was dressed in a neat burgundy pants suit that nicely complemented her Italian coloring.
Perfect for the press conferences, Scully thought, repressing a tired sigh. She threaded her way through the on-lookers until she reached the detectives.
“Well if it isn’t the woman of the hour,” said Jacobsen.
“If you weren’t so indisposed, I’d give you the old highfive.” Scully ignored him.
“Dana, how are you?” Bertelli greeted her with concern.
“I’ll be fine,” she answered, eager to move past her injury and on to the point of her visit. “King hasn’t been arraigned yet?”
“He’s up next,” Jacobsen said, and just at that moment the side doors opened and the bailiff escorted Joe King into the room. Gone was the cocky, angry man Scully remembered from the night before. King now appeared pale, terrified and defeated. A complete hush fell over the courtroom as he joined his attorney by the defense table, and moments later the clerk read off the charges.
“The Commonwealth versus Joseph Anthony King, docket number 218356. Charges are concealing a deadly weapon, one count of kidnapping in the first degree, one count of attempted homicide in the first degree, and seven counts of first degree homicide.”
Scully leaned over to Bertelli. “You’ve got the wrong man,” she whispered urgently. “King did not kill those women.”
“Oh?” Bertelli arched an eyebrow. “And who did, may I ask?”
“I don’t know that yet, but I’m sure it wasn’t King.”
Jacobsen looked annoyed. “I didn’t realize they had started issuing crystal balls at the FBI.”
Scully colored slightly at the remark but pressed forward with her argument anyway. “There’s no need to summon any psychic powers here. We don’t have one piece of solid evidence linking King to any of the crime scenes—no witnesses, no DNA, not even a footprint. You’re telling me that a man who didn’t graduate high school had the ability to pull off such a clean crime scene?”
Jacobsen shrugged. “So he watches a lot of ‘Law and Order’. Or maybe he just got lucky there for awhile.”
“And the murder weapon?” Scully persisted. “That hasn’t turned up in any of the searches, has it?”
“Yet.” Bertelli was frowning. “Look, Dana…I’m not sure why you’re suddenly convinced of King’s innocence, but the fact remains that he had access to the victims, the means to kill them, and a violent temper that goes a long way toward motive. The rest will fall into place soon, I’m sure.”
“What about the barbiturates?”
“What?” Bertelli looked confused.
“The drugs that the killer used to sedate the women. Did you find any barbiturates among King’s possessions?” The two detectives exchanged a look, then fell silent. Scully sighed. “I expected as much. You’re not likely to find them, either. Not until we find the real killer.”
Just as the words left her mouth, the Judge remanded Joe King into the state’s custody pending trial. Scully shook her head. “I’ve got to see those lab reports.”
“What reports?” Jacobsen wanted to know.
“The lab work up on the last victim, Marianne Maubry.
Mulder was supposed to pick up a copy from the morgue and bring it over here.” She checked her watch and found it was quarter past one. “I can’t imagine what could be taking so long.”
As Joe King was led away, much of the crowd stood up to leave. Scully and the detectives found themselves pushed tighter into the corner. “Maybe he just couldn’t fight his way in,” Jacobsen suggested. “Give him a call.”
Scully nodded and tried phoning Mulder once more, but again there was no answer. As she was deciding what to do next, the ADA approached. “Agent Scully,” he nodded at her.
“Walter Litton with District Attorney’s office. I recognize you from the news. Thanks for your help in nailing Joe King—that was an incredible risk you took, following him back to the house. I hope you can rest easy now that we’ll take it from here.”
He continued over her protest. “Rob, as the arresting officer, you need to answer a couple more questions for me.
Do you have a minute?”
Jacobsen looked from Scully to Bertelli. “We done here for the moment?” he asked. Bertelli waved him away.
“Yeah, go on. I’ll catch you back at the station.” As the men walked out of the room, Scully turned to Bertelli.
“I’m going to head out, too. I want to go over to the morgue to see if Mulder is still there. If not, I can at least get a copy of the lab report.”
“I’ll go with you,” Bertelli suggested. “That way you don’t have to catch a cab.”
Scully gave her an appraising look. “You’re willing to consider that King might not be guilty?”
Bertelli paused at the doorway, considering the question.
“Let’s just say I’ll be interested to know what the lab report reveals.”
In the parking lot behind the morgue, Scully paused at the sight of a familiar red Taurus. “What is it?” Bertelli asked, coming to stand beside her.
“This is our car. Mulder must be inside.” So why wasn’t he answering the phone, she wondered to herself.
The building was quiet when they entered and even more silent as they reached the basement level. There was no sign of Dr. Atkins or Howard anywhere. “Mulder?” Scully called as they walked toward Dr. Atkins’ office, but there was no answer. She pushed open the door to the office.
The room was empty, but the desk lamp was on and papers were strewn across the desk. Scully leaned down to scrutinize them. “Is that the report you wanted?” Bertelli asked from behind her. Scully scanned a few more lines, then straightened up.
“No, this isn’t it. Maybe it’s in Howard’s office.” She glanced over at Bertelli. “I’ll check there if you look down the hall for Mulder. He must be here someplace.”
Bertelli hesitated only a second. “Okay, sure.” She left and Scully walked around the corner to Howard’s office. In contrast to Haley Atkins’ room, his was immaculately clean.
Even the paperclips were neatly aligned in their shallow dish. Scully shivered, glancing over her shoulder to make sure he was not creeping up on her.
“C’mon, c’mon…where are you?” she muttered, flipping through the stack on the corner of his desk with her good hand. None of the files bore Marianne Maubry’s name.
“Great,” Scully grumbled. “Now what?”
She turned and saw the tall, gray filing cabinet sitting in the corner. Anal as he seemed, perhaps Howard had already filed the report away, she reasoned. She tugged sharply on the top drawer, but it opened only halfway. “What the hell?”
She pulled on the handle a few more times, then noticed a catch on the side. Releasing the hook, she slid the drawer fully open. “Oh my God.”
Inside was a miniature shrine to Dr. Atkins, complete with a half dozen candid photos, a pair of latex gloves and what looked to be a lock of her hair. There was also a container of pens, one of which Scully recognized as belonging to her and suppressed a shudder. She pulled out a pair of gloves from the box on Howard’s desk and lifted out the jar of pens, bringing them closer to the window to see them clearly.
Her heart stopped.
“No,” she whispered, even as the hairs on her neck rose to attention. The maroon lettering stood out in stark relief against the creamy background: “Charleston Hotel”.
Marianne Maubry’s hotel. Her hotel.
Scully coughed suddenly as her throat seized up. Her eyes were watering.
“Scully!” Bertelli’s cry echoed from down the hallsurprised and horrified.
He’s back, Scully thought immediately, then realized she was unarmed. In the hall she found a steel pole, part of a disassembled gurney, and she picked it up before cautiously entering the autopsy bay. Bertelli stood motionless in the corner.
“What is it?” Scully asked, not moving from the door. She clenched her left hand around the pole.
“He’s dead,” whispered Bertelli. “His throat’s been slit.”
Scully walked into the room and finally caught sight of Howard lying on the floor, a large red smile gaping across his neck. She knelt next to the body and felt his cheek with the back of her hand. “He’s still very warm. Did you see anything?”
Bertelli shook her head. “Not a thing. He was like this when I came in.”
Scully stood up and looked around. “No sign of much struggle,” she noted.
Mulder, she thought. Where the hell was Mulder? A chill chased down her spine.
“I guess I had better call this in,” said Bertelli.
“You’re okay here with him?” Scully glanced down at the dead man and nodded.
“I’ll be all right.”
“Okay, back in five, I promise.” Bertelli jogged toward the doors, which swung closed behind her with a loud “smack”. Then all was silent.
Scully took a deep breath and then knelt to study the body once more. “Probably a similar knife,” she mused softly, noting the clean edge on the cut. “But no slow bleeding out this time—he caught both carotids in one slice.” As she stood up, she noticed a folder sitting on the nearby countertop. She picked it up and found Marianne Maubry’s labs at the front. Toward the back was a page from Anne Hingham’s file—blood analysis she had never seen before.
“So there were two blood types…we could have known this months ago.” She flipped to Marianne’s report and discovered something more. Marianne and the killer both had blood type O positive, so the lab had run some more thorough tests, including a chromosomal readout. “My God,” breathed Scully, staring at the results. “It’s a woman.”
Scully spun around to find Haley Atkins standing five feet away. In her hands was a gun; it looked suspiciously like Bertelli’s.
“Haley,” she said cautiously, her eyes trained on the weapon. “What’s going on here?”
Dr. Atkins took a step closer. “I think you know by now.
I think maybe you’ve always known.”
“You killed those women,” Scully said, amazed by how calm her voice sounded. “And Howard, too.”
Dr. Atkins cast a dispassionate glance at the man on the floor. “I had no choice with him. He found out about the cabin, about the women.” She blinked guilelessly at Scully. “I couldn’t let him ruin everything for us.”
“For us?” Scully licked her lips.
Dr. Atkins shook her head faintly, as if in wonder. “I never thought there would be another person like me.” She smiled. “Then you came. It’s fate, don’t you think?”
Scully had barely moved since the woman had entered the room. Now she took a small step forward. “I don’t understand. Why don’t you put the gun down and we’ll talk about it?”
“No!” She tightened her grip on the weapon. “Don’t make me do it, Dana,” she whispered. “I don’t want to have to kill him by myself.”
Scully froze. “Kill who?”
“Mulder, of course.”
“You…you have Mulder?”
“Yes.” She smiled broadly and nodded toward the door.
“Come with me, Dana…then we can have him together.”
~ ? ~
The road seemed to lead directly into winter, as the banks of snow rose higher around them and bleak clouds appeared like wisps of smoke on the horizon. Scully guessed it had been ten minutes since she had seen any sign of civilization. She glanced again at the gun resting in Haley Atkins’ lap, wondering if she could be quick enough to grab it. Her fingers inched a little closer.
As if sensing the motion, Dr. Atkins tightened her grip on the gun. “We’re nearly there. It won’t be long now.”
Scully looked out at the passing trees. “Where exactly are we going?”
Dr. Atkins gave a strange, twitching smile. “The scene of the crime,” she whispered, and Scully shivered in her seat.
The cold caused her injured arm to ache all the way to the bone.
“What about…” She stopped and swallowed hard, as visions of Howard’s separated throat flashed through her mind.
“What about Mulder? Will he be there?”
“Oh, yes,” Dr. Atkins murmured. “Of course he will be there. It’s his destiny.”
Scully kept her eyes focused on the gun. “I believe we choose our own destiny.”
“Is that so?” Dr. Atkins gave her an appraising glance.
“Let’s hope you choose the right one, then.”
The car hit a sharp bump as they turned off onto a snow covered back road, where tall pine trees nearly blocked out the gray afternoon light. They jostled along with the dashboard rattling until Scully heard a thump from the trunk of the car. She twisted in her seat. “Mulder?
Mulder, is that you?”
“Nearly there,” muttered Dr. Atkins as if she had not spoken. Scully turned back to face her.
“Is he all right?” she demanded. “What did you do to him?”
Dr. Atkins frowned at her, knuckles turning white as she clenched the wheel with her free hand. “Don’t worry, Dana, he’s perfectly untouched. Did you think I wouldn’t wait for you?”
The car bumped and rolled around another corner, and Scully saw a large wooden cabin looming up ahead in the clearing.
There did not seem to be another living soul around.
“Please,” she said, a note of panic beginning to creep into her voice. “Haley, this is not what I want. What I want is for all of us to be safe. It’s not too late to stop this. If you’ll just turn around and go back—”
“No! No, I can’t! I can’t stop.” She turned wild eyes to Scully. “Don’t you see? I can’t ever stop. And once you see how it can be, you won’t want to stop, either.” She brought the car to a halt outside the cabin, causing Mulder to hit the side of the trunk with a sharp jolt. Scully winced at the sound.
“Please,” she whispered again. “Don’t do this.”
Dr. Atkins raised the gun, her eyes gone cold. “Get out,” she ordered flatly. Scully got out of the car, and Dr.
Atkins met her with the gun barrel on the other side. “I’m sorry you’re having so much trouble with this, Dana, but you’ll see in a minute that it’s for your own good.”
Scully felt her eyes sting with tears. Whether it was from sorrow or the bitter wind she did not know. “How?” she asked achingly. “How can you think that good will come from hurting people?”
“I…I thought you knew.” Dr. Atkins looked surprised. “I saw you cutting the bodies. You had such care, such a gentle touch…I was sure you did it, too.”
“Did what?” whispered Scully, already afraid of the answer.
But instead of replying aloud, Dr. Atkins pulled open her long wool coat and tugged up her blouse. Scully gasped.
Angry brown scabs crisscrossed over the woman’s midsection, marring the white surface with scars and barely-healed wounds. Some were so deep they had clearly required stitches. “Let me see your arm,” breathed Dr. Atkins, licking her lips. “Let me see where he cut you.”
“My God.” Scully was still staring at the terrible cuts on Dr. Atkins’ stomach. Nothing Mulder had said could have prepared her for this. “You really did this to yourself?”
“For a long time now. It was the only way I found to stop the screaming. But then…” She lowered her blouse again and shrugged a little. “Then one day it just wasn’t enough anymore.”
“You need help,” Scully said softly, taking a step toward the other woman. “Please…let me help you. There are people we can talk to, people who understand the kind of pain you’re in.”
“You mean the talking heads?” Dr. Atkins laughed bitterly.
“Those idiots who come on the nightly news and try to dissect me for the viewers at home? What a bunch of crap that is! They don’t understand a thing about us, Dana, not a thing! They all think I’m a man, for chrissake!”
“We can find someone,” Scully implored, but Atkins cut her off.
“No. You know who understood? The women from Dempsey’sthey all knew about pain.” Her eyes narrowed. “Like Elizabeth, for instance. She knew. She even put herself under the knife to try to make it stop, that’s how much he hurt her.”
“Mulder tried to help her, not hurt her,” Scully protested through chattering teeth. Her thin sweater was no protection from the swirling snowflakes that had began to fall.
“He didn’t help her!” sneered Dr. Atkins. “I’m the one who ended Elizabeth’s misery, not him! She told me she wished she had never married him! What kind of love is that?”
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Scully insisted urgently.
“Mulder is not like that.”
“Oh, no? You’re saying he never hurt you? Don’t bother to lie about it because I could see it all over your face—and his. Guilt is always so easy to read.”
Scully hugged herself with her good arm. “Not everything is that easy,” she murmured finally. “But the hurt doesn’t have to go on forever.” She dropped her eyes to the other woman’s hidden scars. “Not if you don’t want it to.”
Dr. Atkins’ lips curved into a smile, and she nodded slowly. “I knew you would understand. Of course there is pain at first, but I know exactly how to make it go away.”
She waved the gun in the direction of the trunk. “Come on, then. It’s time to begin.” She tossed Scully the car keys.
Scully hesitated only a moment before inserting the key and popping the lid. Mulder blinked up at her, his mouth taped and his hands bound behind his back. Relief and worry swirled in his eyes with equal measure as he raked his gaze over her once. She leaned down a bit closer, searching him for any sign of injury. “Are you okay, Mulder?” she asked softly. He nodded.
“Help him out,” ordered Dr. Atkins from behind them. “And make it slow.”
It was an awkward process with his hands pinned at his back and her arm still in the sling, but eventually Mulder stood beside her in the snow. Scully glanced behind him and noticed his fingertips were turning blue. “We need to untie him,” she said, fixing Dr. Atkins with a level gaze.
“His circulation is cut off.”
“That problem will be fixed soon enough,” returned the other woman coolly. She indicated the cabin with a nod.
Scully met Mulder’s eyes and then turned to head for the cabin. If they were lucky, there might be a phone she could reach. The snow crunched under her feet as she walked, but after a few steps she realized the only sound behind her was the wind. She turned around again and saw Mulder still standing by the car with Dr. Atkins.
Dr. Atkins brought her other hand up to the gun, aiming the barrel directly at Mulder’s chest. “Tell him to get moving!” she yelled out. Mulder shook his head.
Oh, God, Scully thought frantically. He doesn’t think she’ll do it. He doesn’t think she’ll switch her weapon.
Thoughts of Howard and Bertelli flooded her mind again as she walked back towards the car. It was already clear how far Atkins was willing to go to keep her plans on track.
“Mulder, please,” she murmured. “Just come inside.”
“Better listen to your partner, Agent Mulder.” Dr. Atkins’
Mulder looked down at the gun and then shook his head again. Dr. Atkins gave no second warning; she shot him instantly.
“Mulder!” Scully screamed as he fell to the ground, curling inward in pain. She knelt beside him in the snow.
“Mulder, are you okay? Where were you hit?” His moans were muffled by the tape.
“Get him up,” said Dr. Atkins coldly.
“He’s been shot,” Scully snapped, stating the obvious. “He can’t get up.”
“He can and he will.”
Scully ignored her, still searching over Mulder for the point of entry. Then her hand grazed his pants leg and came away covered in blood. “Jesus,” she murmured, pressing against the wound. She looked up through the falling snow at Dr. Atkins. “We need to get him to a hospital. Now.”
“We need to get him inside,” returned the other woman, “or my next shot won’t be so low.”
Mulder began twisting in an effort to get up. After a moment of indecision, Scully helped him to his feet, wrapping her good arm solidly around his shoulders. At least inside there was still the possibility of a phone.
“Can you make it?” she whispered, squeezing him tight. His eyes slid shut in pain, but he nodded.
Slowly, they made their way to the cabin, with Mulder leaving bright red splotches of red on the new-fallen snow.
“Not up,” said Dr. Atkins when they reached the stairs.
She nodded toward the bulkhead. “Down there.”
As they paused to open the metal doors, the wind howled across the frozen lake, and Dr. Atkins turned towards the sound. “I hear you, Helen,” she murmured. “I’ll be coming soon.”
Scully shivered with cold and horror, and Mulder grunted in pain as they maneuvered down the rickety steps into the basement. Then Dr. Atkins flipped a wall switch, and Scully blinked rapidly in surprise.
It was an autopsy bay.
The floor was tiled and equipped with a drain, and a long, silver table gleamed under the fluorescent light. The only difference was that this table had restraints.
“Up you go,” ordered Dr. Atkins, waving the gun at Mulder.
Scully felt her heart lurch into her stomach.
“Haley, stop. Don’t do this.”
“You’ll understand soon, Dana. This is the way it has to be. I’m sorry about the gun, but I need it until I’m sure you will cooperate.”
Scully swallowed with difficulty as Mulder started to sway on his feet. “I’ll…I’ll cooperate, I promise. Just tell me what to do.”
Dr. Atkins smiled. “Excellent. Put him on the table, will you? I’ll make sure he’s strapped in nice and tight.”
Mulder’s eyes were fixed on hers, and for the first time, Scully detected real fear in his gaze. She squeezed his arm as they moved toward the table. Just for a minute, Mulder, she told him silently. We’re going to get out of here, I promise.
Aloud she said, “I need to untie his wrists now.”
“Fine,” answered Dr. Atkins, and Scully made quick work of the knots. Mulder flexed his fingers gingerly, and she pressed them briefly in reassurance. “Now step away,” Dr.
Atkins commanded. “I’ll do the restraints.”
Pulse pounding in her ears, Scully watched as Dr. Atkins pinned Mulder like a butterfly with leather restraints at his ankles and wrists. Blood from his leg smeared the side of the silver table. Dr. Atkins tested each knot with a sharp tug before proclaiming herself satisfied. “That will do for now,” she murmured, and Scully felt her panic ratchet up another notch.
Maybe Dr. Atkins had been lying when she said she would put the gun down.
“What…what do I do now?” Scully managed in a tight voice, and Mulder twisted his head to stare at her with huge, dark eyes. She turned away.
~ ? ~
“Get the camera,” said Dr. Atkins, watching her carefully.
Scully blanched. “Camera?” she whispered.
Dr. Atkins nodded. “We need to take the first picture before we begin. You can find it on the counter over there, under the other photos.”
Scully turned around slowly and saw for the first time what Mulder must have seen from his place on the table—neat rows of Polaroid photos, hanging like a gallery of death on the far wall. Her lips parted with silent horror, and she moved inexorably towards the terrible display.
Each of the seven women stared back at her from pairs of snapshots, the right side capturing their tear-stained cheeks and pleading eyes. Scully raised her hand as if to touch them, hovering for an instant over their terrified faces, then swallowed hard and dropped her hand, forcing her gaze to the row on the left. Their individuality seemed to evaporate, all pale skin and bottomless eyes blending to create a single portrait of death.
“You see? It’s beautiful,” whispered Dr. Atkins at her shoulder, and Scully startled backwards. Her breathing was quick and shallow.
“I…I see,” she answered in a thin voice. Her gaze darted to Atkins’ right hand, which still held the gun. She licked her lips as she met the other woman’s gaze again.
“They seem…very peaceful.”
Dr. Atkins smiled. “Exactly,” she murmured, reaching out to stroking Scully’s injured arm through the sling. “Now you understand.”
Scully moved away from her touch under the pretense of retrieving the camera. “I want to take the picture,” she said. There was a moment of tense silence as Dr. Atkins considered. At last, she relented.
“Very well. I supposed you’ve earned it.”
Scully took carefully measured steps back to where Mulder lay on the table. He squirmed at her approach. “Lie still,” she whispered, raising the camera. His eyes seemed to burn hers through the lens. Just as she might have snapped the shot, she paused.
“Where is the button?” she asked, turning to face Atkins.
The woman frowned.
“It’s there on the top. The red one.”
“I don’t see…oh, you mean here?” Abruptly, the flash went off, filling the room with an instant of bright light.
Dr. Atkins cursed and raised an arm to her eyes, and Scully took the time to yank hard on the knot at Mulder’s wrist.
It loosened only a fraction. “Yes, there,” hissed Dr.
Atkins, blinking at her like an angry mole. “Just take the damn picture already.”
Scully turned and snapped one of Mulder. As she set the camera aside, she noticed him twisting his wrist subtly back and forth. “What now?” she asked, hoping to distract Dr. Atkins just a little longer.
“Now the knife,” Dr. Atkins replied softly, and Mulder began twisting a little faster. Scully’s breath caught as the woman laid the gun on the Formica countertop on the other side of Mulder. Dr. Atkins smiled and picked up a shiny scalpel from where it lay amidst a tray full of surgical instruments. “Shall we start with a Y incision?”
Scully coughed, nearly gagging. “The marks on the bodies,” she said hoarsely. “They were like autopsies.”
Dr. Atkins ran her thumb lightly over the blade and nodded.
“My father taught me you should always start with what you know.” She crossed the few steps to Mulder, so that she stood on his right side and Scully stood to his left. She undid the buttons on his shirt with swift, efficient movements, then sighed as the material parted to reveal the broad expanse of his chest. Her eyes glowed as she looked up at Scully. “I’ll go first,” she whispered. “So you can see how it’s done.”
Scully tensed as the gleaming blade moved closer and closer to Mulder’s chest. He flinched at the first contact, moaned as a line of blood began to appear. Scully looked at the gun, six feet away.
She had cut him nearly two inches now.
“Who was Helen?” Scully blurted the words before she knew what she was saying. Dr. Atkins froze.
“I asked who Helen was,” Scully repeated, breathing hard.
Blood was running down Mulder’s chest in tiny red rivulets.
“She was my sister,” said Dr. Atkins, straightening up with the scalpel in her hand. “My twin sister, actually. She died a long time ago.”
Scully thought frantically for any words that might keep the conversation going. Mulder’s wrist was nearly free.
“You must miss her.”
Dr. Atkins dropped her gaze to the floor. “Every time I look in the mirror,” she whispered.
“I know that feeling,” Scully said a moment later, taking a cautious step forward. “I lost my only sister a few years ago. Sometimes I can’t even believe she’s really gone.”
Dr. Atkins’ stared at her with new interest. “How did she die?”
“She was killed—shot in my apartment.” Scully paused.
“She was shot by someone meaning to kill me.”
Dr. Atkins eyes widened. “She died in your place?”
Scully gave a short nod. “Yes.”
The woman nodded also, her expression grim. “Then he will die in hers.” Dr. Atkins returned her attention to Mulder, who was nearly covered in streaks of blood. “He will die for your sister and mine, and for Elizabeth and for you and for all the others, too.” Her hand shook as she lowered the scalpel to Mulder’s chest once more.
“Wait!” Scully cried, and Atkins stopped abruptly. Scully swallowed twice in rapid succession. “I want…I want to do it.”
Dr. Atkins hesitated only a moment before handing the knife across to her. “Of course. It’s your right.” Then she watched intently as Scully slowly removed her sling and rolled up her sleeves. Her breathing quickened audibly at the sight of the stitches on Scully’s arm, and Scully noticed her excitement.
“You want to hear about it?” she breathed, and the woman nodded slowly, taking a step closer. Scully also moved one step towards the foot of the table. “It was a switch blade,” she murmured. “Long and sharp. He held it to my neck first. See?” She brushed her hair out of the way so Dr. Atkins could see the nicks on her throat.
“Did it hurt much?” asked the woman softly, moving yet closer.
“Yes,” Scully whispered. “But I liked it.”
Dr. Atkins squeaked. “You…you did?”
“Mm-hmm. There was so much blood I felt like I could taste it.” She risked a quick glance at Mulder, who was listening with his eyes riveted on her face. He had gone completely still.
“I’ve tasted it before,” Dr. Atkins confessed in a small, excited voice. “It makes your gums swell up and your throat sting.”
Scully nodded, barely hearing her. They were only steps apart now, but Dr. Atkins still stood between her and the gun. What was worse, she showed no signs of moving any closer. Scully felt tears of frustration prick her eyes.
At last it came to her. Clenching her fingers around the steel blade, Scully brought it slowly toward the inside of her uninjured arm. Dr. Atkins held her breath, and Mulder cried out from beneath his tape. Scully dared not look at him.
Eyes fixed on Dr. Atkins, she let the tip of the scalpel sink into her skin. “Yesssss…” said the woman, drawing a step closer. Mulder began thrashing on the table.
“You like that?” whispered Scully. She lengthened the cut another few millimeters, and Dr. Atkins moved near enough that she could feel her breathing.
Scully waited the length of one heartbeat…
Then she struck.
“Don’t move!” she commanded, setting the blade against Dr.
Atkins’ neck. “Don’t even blink.” She glanced over at Mulder. “Mulder, are you okay?”
Her answer was more squirming and muffled words.
“This is not how it ends,” whispered Dr. Atkins. “This is not our destiny, Dana.”
“You’re right about that,” Scully agreed darkly, her arm shaking with pain and fatigue. “Now let’s get over there and untie him. Slowly.”
They inched towards Mulder, Scully never dropping the scalpel from Dr. Atkins’ neck. But as they reached first of the restraints, Dr. Atkins shifted suddenly, grabbing Scully’s injured forearm with vice-like force. Scully cried out in pain as the scalpel fell to the floor. She scrambled to retrieve it, but Dr. Atkins was faster.
She lashed out and caught Scully across the shoulder. “How dare you?” she yelled, outraged. “How dare you insult me that way?”
Scully backed away as Dr. Atkins kept swinging. “Haley, please, I—”
Then a shot whizzed past them, exploding noise into the room. Both women froze. Scully recovered first and moved quickly to one side. Mulder was arched off the autopsy table, the gun clenched in his freed left hand as blood trickled down his chest. He had the back of Haley Atkins’
head clearly in his sights.
“Drop the knife, Haley,” Scully ordered. “It’s over now.”
The woman looked across at her, tears streaming down her face. “I can’t,” she whispered. “You know I can’t stop.”
Then with lightning quick motion, she ran the blade down the side of her neck. “Haley!” Scully screamed as the woman slumped to the ground. She knelt quickly at her side, but wound was too deep and too large to stop the bleeding. Dr. Atkins had already lost consciousness.
This is the way it’s supposed to end
Scully froze. Her words or Haley’s?
“Scully. Scully are you okay?” Mulder’s breathless voice floated across the room, shaking her from her thoughts.
She rose unsteadily to her feet and walked to his side.
“I’m okay,” she said, accepting his one-armed, bloody embrace. His left hand still clutched the gun, which scraped over her spine. “You?”
“Okay.” He squeezed her hard and then dropped his arm.
“Let’s get the hell out of here.”
Scully nodded her agreement and helped him get free, her rust-tinged fingers working quickly at the knots. He leaned on her heavily as they limped through the blood, and her nose tingled at its heavy, metallic scent. Mulder lurched to a halt in front of the body, as if paralyzed by under force of Dr. Atkins’ dead stare. Scully urged him forward.
“Come on, let’s go.” So much of their blood already stained the room, seeping into tile cracks and mingling with the traces left by women who had not escaped. She refused to let Haley Atkins claim even one drop more.
Together, they mounted the dark staircase and pushed their way into the frigid night. Mulder shivered violently, and Scully worried it was more from shock than cold. “Hang on, Mulder,” she murmured. “I’ve got the car keys.”
The snow was falling furiously now, invisible in the dark but icy cold as it clung to their skin. “Where is it?”
Mulder asked, stumbling at her side. She struggled to hold him upright.
“There, I think.” Just as she spoke, the sound of an approaching car engine echoed from the trees. A few seconds later blue and red police lights began to dance across the snow. Scully squinted as two Ford Explorer cruisers appeared in the clearing, highbeams lighting the woods like the sun.
“God bless four-wheel drive,” Mulder muttered, already sagging again by her side. Two uniformed officers got out of the car with their guns drawn.
“Hold it right there!” one called sharply.
“We’re FBI!” Scully answered. “And we need an ambulance.”
The officer lowered his gun and jogged toward them.
“Ambulance is coming right behind us—it had some trouble in the snow. Where is Haley Atkins?”
“Dead,” Scully said succinctly. “She’s in the basement.”
“We’re on it. You can wait in the car.” He turned and waved to the other officers. “This way!”
Three of them laid siege to the cabin as the fourth, a young man with kind blue eyes, helped Mulder and Scully into the back of one of the cruisers. They accepted the blankets gratefully. “Hell of a job,” he told them solemnly. “You can bet people will remember this for a long time to come.”
He slammed the door and then disappeared into the falling snow. Mulder shuddered, and Scully moved closer to him on the seat. “You okay?” she asked. Eyes closed, he nodded and groped for her hand. He squeezed her fingers painfully.
“He’s wrong, Scully.”
“About the remembering. Haley Atkins wasn’t a monster from under the bed—she was the girl next door. It won’t be very long before people have forgotten that.”
Scully was silent for a long time, then rested her head against his shoulder in the darkness. “Not me,” she whispered.
~ ? ~
“Please, this really isn’t necessary.” Scully fidgeted as a third year medical student named Ben attempted to stitch up her latest cuts. He met her eyes and smiled.
“It will just take a few minutes. And you know it will help with the healing.”
“Really, I’m fine. My partner—”
“He’s going to be okay, I promise you. Dr. Amalia is in with him now, and she’s the best we have.”
Scully nodded distractedly, trying to glance past him and the striped curtain. “I want to talk to her.”
“Of course. I’m sure she’ll let you know what’s going on as soon as she can.”
Scully dropped her gaze to where Ben was gently stitching the inch-long cut she had made on her left arm. He caught her looking.
“Used a scalpel, huh?” he murmured.
Scully froze under his touch. “What?”
“The woman you caught tonight. She used a scalpel to kill those women in Cambridge.”
“Yes, it was a scalpel,” Scully answered, releasing a long breath. She wished he would hurry up and finish. She wanted to see Mulder. She wanted to find out what had happened to Detective Bertelli. She wanted to do anything besides sit in this too quiet corner and remember how easy it had been to turn the knife on herself.
“Is she really dead?”
Startled, both Scully and Ben looked up to see Detective Bertelli peering around the curtain. “Claudia,” Scully breathed with relief. “What happened? Are you okay?”
The other woman nodded as she squeezed into the tiny space, snowflakes still melting on her dark green overcoat. She reached up and touched the back of her head gently. “It’s just a minor concussion. Atkins whacked me with something as I was heading upstairs to call in about Howard.” She hesitated, her eyes raking Scully for any signs of permanent damage. “So is it true? She’s really dead?”
“Yes. When Mulder got control of the gun, she slit her throat rather than surrender.”
“Son of a bitch,” Bertelli said in an angry whisper. “I still can’t make myself believe it. I can’t believe it was her.”
Ben finished bandaging Scully’s arm, and she drew it protectively off the table into her lap. “You’re all set,” he said, rising from his chair. “Can I get you anything?”
“Dr. Amalia,” Scully answered immediately.
He smiled. “I’ll get right on it. Anything else?”
She rubbed her eyes as fatigue set in. Though the clock on the wall read a few minutes past eight, she felt like it was the middle of the night. “A cup of coffee?” she asked finally.
“Make it two,” said Bertelli. She moved into the seat Ben had vacated.
“Two coffees, coming up.” He drew the curtain closed behind him as he left.
“How about you?” Bertelli asked when he had gone. “How are you doing?”
Scully took a deep breath, rubbing her knees as she considered. “I’ll be okay,” she replied. “Eventually.”
“And Mulder, is he…”
“He’s fine,” Scully broke in quickly, but her gaze darted to the curtain again. It wouldn’t really be true until she saw him with her own eyes.
Bertelli leaned back in her chair. “If half of what I’m hearing is true, you did a hell of a job, Dana.”
Scully shook her head faintly, fingering the hem on her sweater. “Tonight never should have happened. It never should have gone this far. If I had identified the characteristic patterns of autopsy on the victims’ bodies from the start…”
“Don’t.” Bertelli’s voice was hard, with an edge of pain.
“Don’t even start, Dana, because I will win that game every time. Do you know how many conversations I had with Haley Atkins about this case? Hundreds. And I never suspected her for a minute, not even for one second did I think she was capable of this.” She turned in her chair so that they were face to face. “I saw the photos, too, and if there was a pattern there, she hid it well. How many wounds did the last victim have? Seventy two?”
“Seventy-seven,” whispered Scully, averting her eyes.
“See? There was no way you could have known. Not really.”
Bertelli turned back around and was quiet for a long time.
“I keep seeing Howard lying on the floor,” she confessed finally. “He was a huge guy, and she was able slit his throat straight across with a single cut. I keep thinking…why not me? I mean, she knocked me out cold.
Why didn’t I wake up dead?”
Scully glanced at her sideways. “I don’t know. Maybe she didn’t have time. Maybe she didn’t have the knife with her. Maybe…”
“I think she liked you, Claudia.” Scully took a deep breath before continuing. “I think she liked you and she saw how much this case has taken out of you. Maybe she didn’t want to take any more.”
Bertelli face grew sad, almost wistful. “You know the funny part? I liked her, too.”
“So did I.”
When Ben arrived with the coffee, he gave Scully a sample package of painkillers as well. “Figured you could use a Tylenol chaser,” he said with a slow smile. She accepted them gratefully. “Dr. Amalia will be out to talk to you in a couple of minutes, but don’t worry…Agent Mulder is doing fine. He is not even going to need surgery.”
“No.” The young man’s gaze flickered from Bertelli to Scully. “Thank you,” he said softly. He smiled again and left the room.
“At least it’s finally over,” Bertelli said, sipping her coffee.
“Right,” Scully agreed. “Over.”
And then they stared at the walls together in silence, pretending it was true.
Scully had punched thumb nail sized holes around the rim of her Styrofoam cup when Dr. Amalia finally arrived.
Bertelli had long since left, dragged away by an insistent Jacobsen before she had finished her coffee.
“Dr. Scully,” said Dr. Amalia warmly, “I’m sorry to keep you waiting, but I bring good news. Agent Mulder is doing fine now — we’ve moved him upstairs to a private room.”
Her kind brown eyes radiated concern. “What about you?
How are you feeling?”
“Fine.” Scully noticed that the woman’s ID badge was on upside down. “Busy night around here, it seems.”
“Yes, very. Thanks to the snow, we’ve had three motor vehicle accidents in the past hour alone.”
“I remember those days,” Scully answered with a small smile. She hesitated. “Mulder is really okay now? He was shivering, and there was so much blood…”
“He did require a transfusion, but his blood pressure has been stabilized for over an hour. Fortunately, the bullet passed through his leg without hitting the bone.” She smiled. “He’ll be hobbling around for a few weeks, but there should be no permanent damage.”
Scully tightened her hand around the cup, crushing the walls in on themselves. “Thank God,” she whispered.
Dr. Amalia nodded. “Would you like to see him?”
“He’s in room 211 in the Kelley wing. I can have someone show you where it is if you want.”
“No, I can find it, thanks.”
She opened the door to room 211 quietly and found Mulder lying on the bed with his eyes closed. He was as pale as the pillow, but his breathing was slow and even. His lower left leg, bandaged and propped several inches off the bed, stuck out from under the blanket. Scully blinked back tears of relief as she gently tucked the covers more securely around him. He opened his eyes.
“Hey,” he said hoarsely, a tired smile tugging at his mouth. He reached for her hand, and she gave it willingly as she took the seat next to him.
“You’re still cold,” she chided, bringing her other hand up to rub his chilled fingers between her palms. He let her warm him for a few moments, then lifted his hand to cup the side of her face.
“I’m all right.” She turned her head to kiss the fleshy spot at the base of his thumb and then took his hand again.
“Bertelli stopped by earlier. Jacobsen, too.”
Mulder smiled. “And he didn’t bring me any flowers? I think the romance has gone, Scully.”
Despite her lingering anxiety, Scully smiled, too. If he was cracking jokes, he must be feeling better. “The gift shop is closed,” she told him. “But they both send you well wishes.”
“Yes, Atkins just knocked her out. Lucky for us, too, because she’s the reason help showed up so quickly tonight.”
Mulder nodded and turned their joined hands over so he could see the inside of her arm. Her sweater was bunched at the elbow, displaying a taped, white bandage. He reached up and touched the edge with his index finger.
“You’re sure you’re all right, Scully?”
She pulled her arm away, tugging her sleeve back down as she did so. “It’s just a small cut, Mulder. Only four stitches.”
His eyes met hers. “That’s not what I asked.”
“Well, I’m not sure what answer you want. Tonight wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but we survived and Haley Atkins won’t be killing anyone else. Given our situation a few hours ago, I’d say this is the best possible outcome, wouldn’t you?”
“I’m not criticizing you, Scully, far from it. You were a revelation tonight.” His eyes were solemn but his tone was tender. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we would not be having this conversation if you hadn’t done what you did.”
“Or you,” she protested, remembering who had stopped Atkins at last.
He studied her face for a long moment. “This goes deeper than just tonight, Scully. Somehow Haley Atkins thought that you shared her sickness, but that was her mistake.
Don’t make it yours, too.”
Scully swallowed past the sudden lump in her throat. “I won’t.”
“Good,” he murmured, his eyes sliding closed. She sat and watched as his breathing evened out again. After a few minutes, her eyelids grew heavy, and she yawned. Someone had thoughtfully placed a blanket and pillow on the nearby cot, and she rose quietly, hoping to join him in a nap.
Then there was a knock on the door.
She glanced at Mulder, but he did not stir. Setting aside the blanket, she went and cracked the door open several inches. On the other side was a petite woman with pale skin and black corkscrew curls. She seemed cold, as if she had just come in from the outside. “May I help you?”
Scully asked cautiously. The press had been sniffing around the hospital almost since their arrival.
“Um, I hope so,” the woman said, shifting nervously from one foot to the other. “I was…I was looking for Fox Mulder.”
Scully did not move from where she was blocking the door.
“And you would be?”
“Oh, sorry. I’m Deborah Pullman.” She hesitated.
“Elizabeth Callahan was a friend of mine.”
Scully paused, turning her head so see if Mulder was awake, but he slept on. She moved out into the hallway and closed the door gently behind her. “He’s sleeping right now,” she explained. “I can give him a message if you like. I’m his partner, Dana Scully.”
“I know,” Deborah answered softly. “I heard about you on the news. That’s how I knew to come here.” She dropped her gaze to the floor. “That’s how I found out about Liz, too. I tried calling her when I got back from Toronto, but she didn’t answer. I figured she was just out shopping, you know? But then I turned on the TV.”
“Thanks,” said Deborah, shoving her hands in her pockets.
“She was a good person. A good friend. I’m really going to miss her.”
“How did you know her?” Scully asked, curious. Their search of Elizabeth’s background had turned up no close contacts.
Deborah gave a wry smile. “I bumped into her at the laundry mat a year ago and we got to talking. You might say we had a lot in common.”
“Painting?” Scully guessed, noting the splatters on the woman’s jeans.
“Yes,” Deborah replied. “And this.” She stuck out her wrists, and Scully’s breath caught at the sight of the deep scars. Then as if embarrassed by her display, Deborah tucked her hands back inside her coat. “Anyway, I can’t stay now. My boyfriend is waiting in the car. I just wanted to stop by and give him this.” She withdrew an envelope and handed it to Scully. It was addressed to Mulder.
“What is it?”
“I found it on Liz’s desk when I went to clear out some of her things today. She talked about writing him a lot, but I guess she never found the guts to mail it.” She paused, licking her lips. “Somehow I don’t think she would mind now.”
“Thank you,” Scully murmured, staring at the neat script on the front. “I’m sure he will appreciate your gesture.”
Deborah shrugged. “Liz would have done it for me. Listen, I’ve got to go, but I’m having a small service for Liz on Tuesday morning. If he wants to come, you can tell him it’s at eleven o’clock at St. Anthony’s in Cambridge, okay?”
Scully smiled. “Okay. I’ll tell him.” She watched the woman walk out of sight before returning to Mulder’s room, the slim weight of the envelope in her hand. He was awake again, blinking at her sleepily.
“Who were you talking to outside?”
“A woman named Deborah Pullman. She was a friend of Elizabeth’s who was out of town until recently.”
Mulder shifted on the bed, pulling himself up a few inches.
“What did she want?”
“She wanted to tell you about a memorial service she’s having for Elizabeth on Tuesday…and to give you this.”
Scully extended the envelope towards him. He stared at it without picking it up.
“What is it?”
“She found it in Elizabeth’s apartment. It’s addressed to you, Mulder.”
He looked at it for several seconds longer, then raised his eyes to hers. “Open it, will you, Scully?”
She frowned. “Mulder, I don’t think…”
She waited another moment before relenting. Taking the seat beside him once more, she slit the end of the envelope and removed the single sheet inside.
“Read it,” he ordered softly, and she felt her heart rate pick up.
“Mulder, are you sure about this? Elizabeth meant this letter for you, not me.”
“It’s okay,” he said. “Just tell me what she says.” Then he folded his hands across his stomach and stared at the ceiling as she unfolded the paper.
“Dear Fox,” she read,
“I was thinking of you the other day and decided to write you a letter. Who knows, maybe I will even mail this one.
I’ve written you half a dozen times since my father died two years ago, but I can never seem to get them all the way to the mailbox. I guess I’m a little afraid of what you might think of hearing from me after all this time.
“I was thinking of how we first met. I know you always said it was at the Morrison’s Halloween party, but it wasn’t. It was first day of second grade, when I was the new kid in Samantha’s class. I spent the whole morning making mistakes — forgetting people’s names, taking a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom, using the good white paper to practice my spelling words — so that recess seemed like a blessing. Then everyone decided to play ‘Sardines,’ and I had no idea where to hide. I looked behind every damn tree on the playground, but each one had someone behind it shaking their head and motioning for me to get out. The only one left was too skinny to hide even a lamppost, but I was desperate. Imagine my surprise when your hand shot out of the branches above my head. You pulled me up without a word — never even told me your name. But we won the game, and I have never forgotten it.
“I wonder sometimes if you ever remember those early days or if you just remember how it ended. Sometimes I wish we had never married. Because then I could call you up right now and say, ‘Fox, you remember the time Billy Haggerty dared you to go skinny dipping in the Anne Morrison’s new pool? I thought I’d die laughing when her father turned the floodlights on and hauled your skinny naked butt back down the block to your parent’s place.’ Then maybe I could even get you to do your Nixon impression again, or we could debate the best flavor of Popsicle from Mr. Houlihan’s Store. It would be so nice to share these memories with someone again.
“But then I remind myself that if we had not married, I would not be here writing this to you now, and I am grateful you reentered my life when you did.
“I hope that you are happy now because I’m getting closer every day, and I think we’ve both earned a little happiness. I’m even painting again after four years in creative hibernation. It was terrifying to pick up the brush at first — I was afraid I might have forgotten how to use one, it had been so long since I tried. But once I started working, I didn’t stop for sixteen hours. It was glorious. I’ve been thinking that I might take a workshop or two this summer — maybe try to get a local show together.
“If I do scrape together a show, I will be sure to send you an invitation. I hope you will come. I hope you will see my hand sticking out of the branches and come tell me everything you’ve been doing these past seven years.
“I’ll be up here waiting.
Scully ignored the stinging in her eyes as she refolded the letter. “I’m so sorry, Mulder.”
He nodded, still staring at the ceiling. “What’s the date on the letter?”
She dropped her chin to her chest and stroked the edge of the letter with one finger. “December fifteenth,” she said reluctantly.
“That was over two months ago. I guess she wasn’t going to send this one, either.”
“Maybe she would have sent it eventually,” Scully countered. “You never know.”
“Yeah,” he echoed hoarsely. “You never know.” After another few moments, he turned his head to look at her.
“Is it still snowing?”
“It might be. It was coming down pretty hard a while ago.”
“Go check, would you?” His eyes were luminous in the soft light. Wordlessly, she rose and drew back the curtain to reveal cascading snowflakes, swirling about under the yellow light of the street lamp. She moved to the side so he could see.
“She loved the snow,” he said at last. His eyes flickered as he tracked the falling flakes. “As kids, we would all get together and go sledding for hours, ‘til our butts nearly froze off. Liz always complained that we didn’t get more snow in DC.”
“It’s beautiful,” Scully whispered, turning to face the window. “Almost like it’s erasing the world.”
“Leave it open, okay?”
She nodded and walked back over to the bed. “You should really get some rest, Mulder.”
“You, too,” he answered, shifting to one side of the bed.
She understood his intentions immediately.
“Mulder, I can’t. Your leg…”
“Needs you as much as the rest of me. Get in.” He lifted the covers for her.
Scully hesitated only one second longer before slipping off her shoes and grabbing the extra blanket from the cot.
“Tell me if I hurt you,” she said quietly as she settled next to him.
It took a little maneuvering to get comfortable because she was technically on the wrong side of the bed; he usually slept on her right. She closed her eyes, listening to his heartbeat, but the events of the day still clutched and clawed at her. She started to shake uncontrollably.
“It’s okay, Mulder,” she answered through her quivering.
“It’s just the adrenaline wearing off.”
He stroked her hair awkwardly, his touch heavy and warm on her scalp, and she burrowed closer. His voice rumbled beneath her ear. “Shhh, Scully…it’s all right.”
She nodded, still shaking against him. “I know.” She squeezed back the hot tears and forced herself to look out the window, where the flakes were fluttering past in perfect silence. The wind tickled them as they twirled and pasted a rim of crystals around the window’s edge. Scully imagined she could pick just one flake and follow its journey down from the sky. Eventually, the peaceful quiet and Mulder’s gentle stroking helped ease her shuddering, and she slept dreamlessly inside the icy cocoon.
~ ? ~
Scully was up to her elbows in lemon-scented bubbles when Mulder limped into the kitchen. “You’re supposed to be resting,” she said with a frown.
He made a face. “Scully, I have barely moved all week.
Just this morning I had to turn away a family of spiders looking to set up shop in the curve of my shoulder.”
She sighed. “So help me, Mulder, if you have attracted any insects into my bed…” She trailed off as she resumed scrubbing the lasagna pan. It was more difficult than usual because she still did not have complete use of her right arm.
He hobbled a little closer. “Don’t worry, Scully. It’s not insects I’m hoping to attract into your bed.”
“Nice to see your afternoon painkillers are kicking in,” she answered dryly. “But you still shouldn’t be walking on that leg. Not without crutches.”
“I’ll go back if you’ll come with me.” He leaned against the counter next to her, looking hopeful. She smiled.
“Mulder, I was in there with you all morning.”
“Doing the Sunday crossword puzzle while I was sleeping doesn’t count.”
She rinsed off the pan and set it in the rack to dry. “You weren’t sleeping when I started. I can’t help it if you find my idea of entertainment boring.”
“Never boring, Scully.” He leaned in and nuzzled her temple. “And I promise you will have my full attention if you come keep me company now.”
Her skin tingled under his touch, and she hid a smile.
“Okay, Mulder,” she sighed after another moment. “You win.
Anything to keep you from bouncing the basketball on the ceiling again.”
He had the grace to look sheepish. “I didn’t realize it would leave marks.” She took his hand and led him silently back towards the bedroom, not admitting that the marks had long since ceased to bother her. They were not that visible anyway, and she liked the small reminder that her bed was no longer hers alone.
Once under the covers, he held her close, slipping one hand beneath her sweatshirt to trace warm circles on her belly.
“You smell like Joy,” he murmured against the top of her head, and the words warmed her even though she knew what he really meant.
“Most people don’t consider dishwashing liquid an aphrodisiac,” she teased before kissing the underside of his chin. He squeezed her affectionately.
“Their loss, I’m sure.”
She shifted so that less of her weight was pressing on her right arm and allowed her fingers to slip beneath the edge of his tee shirt. His skin was soft and sleek, and she reveled in the firm feel of his sleeping muscles. He murmured his approval against her hair.
“Mulder?” she asked after several minutes of quiet touching.
“Tell me about your wedding.”
He pulled back just enough to look into her eyes. “You want to know about my wedding?”
She nodded. “If that’s okay.”
“Of course it’s okay,” he replied, running the back of his finger down her cheek. “I told you that you can ask me anything you want.”
“I guess I just want to know what it was like.”
“It was very windy,” he said. “That much I remember.
October on the Vineyard is always that way.”
“You had it outside?”
“No, just the reception. The service was in the chapel of Liz’s church. It was pretty low key since neither of us was really into planning. Liz used to joke that she wanted to get married at Lenny’s Pub wearing her jeans and sandals.”
Scully smiled against his shoulder. “Sounds like you made a good match.”
“Yeah, I was all for the idea. Liz looked great in jeans.
But in the end she opted for tradition and went with the dress. It was long and straight, not really fancy. I probably have a picture somewhere if you want to see it sometime.”
“I would,” she said, and he kissed the top of her head.
“Anyway, I remain convinced that her father wanted the reception outside just so he wouldn’t have to let me in the house. But at least the wind kept him busy. He spent half the afternoon climbing trees in his tux, trying to rescue the napkins and paper plates. Liz thought it was the funniest thing she had ever seen.”
“I’m impressed she kept her sense of humor. Many brides would have had a fit.”
Mulder smiled. “I think the four glasses of champagne probably helped,” he said.
“Mmm, yes. I imagine it would.”
She closed her eyes, and he shifted position slightly, running his hand down the length of her back. “So are we okay now?” he asked eventually. “With Elizabeth and everything?” His question was casual, but she felt him tense beneath her cheek.
“Yeah,” she said softly. “We’re okay. I’m adjusting.”
“To the idea that you were married once.”
“Well, I wish you luck. I’m still adjusting myself.” He continued the soothing motions on her back, and she was quiet for a few minutes, enjoying the steady rhythm of his heartbeat next to her ear.
“Would you ever want to get married again?”
His hands froze, fingers digging into her spine. “Um, okay.”
She shook her head and pulled away. “Okay is not really an answer to the question, Mulder.”
“I don’t know what kind of answer you want,” he replied cautiously.
“An honest one.”
He withdrew his hands and stared up at the ceiling. “Well, honestly…I kind of like things the way they are now.” He glanced at her quickly, as if afraid of her reaction. She propped herself up on her elbow and looked down at him.
“So do I. I don’t have some hidden agenda here, Mulder. I was just wondering how you felt about the idea of marriage since we’ve never really discussed it before. I mean, up until a few days ago I had no idea you had personal knowledge on the subject.”
He fidgeted beneath the covers and met her eyes briefly.
“You want to know how I’d feel about us getting married?”
In for a penny, in for a pound, she thought, bracing herself. “Well, I meant the question more generally, but if you want to put it in the context of our relationship, that’s okay.”
His squirming stopped immediately. “Scully, that’s the only way I can imagine it,” he said.
She fell into a stunned silence for a moment, then looked down at him searchingly. He looked right back. “Really?”
she asked at last.
“Really,” he said, and they half-smiled at one another.
Then she leaned down and kissed him lightly, her lips barely catching on his. When she would have pulled away, he stopped her by curving his hand around the back of her head, his fingers threading through her hair. He massaged her scalp slowly and gently, coaxing her into a deeper kiss. As she parted her lips, the tip of his tongue grazed hers, and arousal pricked sharply inside her. She pressed closer, melting onto him as her world shrank to the feel of his leg pressing between her thighs and his tongue moving in her mouth.
He broke off the kiss and nuzzled her cheek, his breath tickling her sensitized skin. “Tell me what you imagined,” he whispered.
Her eyelids fluttered open. “Wha…what?”
“About getting married,” he said as he slipped his hands beneath her sweatshirt once more. She sat up slightly, easing the stress on her arm and allowing him to find her breasts.
“I, um…it’s changed a lot since I was young. I don’t care much about the ceremony anymore.” She licked her lips as he began rubbing circles over her nipples.
“Scully,” he said teasingly, “don’t tell me you were one of those girls who used to play ‘wedding’ all the time.”
She smiled as she tugged his shirt up over his stomach.
“God, no. But when we lived in Annapolis our house was just down the street from the chapel, and Melissa and I used to watch the wedding parties on the weekends. We had some pretty grand ideas about how our own weddings would be.”
“Ten bridesmaids and a rented cathedral?”
“Complete with a horse-drawn carriage and the long, white dress with the bow on the butt.” He made a face and she tickled his ribs. “I was six years old, Mulder. I can’t be held liable for any wardrobe choices I made back then.”
She drew her fingertips slowly down his chest.
“And now?” he asked.
“Now I don’t care about the details. The clothes aren’t important, the location doesn’t matter, and I don’t think there is anything particularly romantic about getting married on Valentine’s Day. I think it’s more about promising that you’ll be there for the day after the wedding and all the days after that.”
He was quiet for a long time, his hands unmoving on her back. “Well, when you put it that way, Scully, I think maybe all we have left is the details.”
“Maybe,” she whispered. “But it’s still a big step, Mulder, and we don’t have to work it out right this minute.”
“Good to know,” he replied, rubbing against her subtly with his hips until his erection pressed into the seam of her sweatpants. Her neck flushed hot and her nipples tightened against his palms. She leaned down to kiss him again, and this time it was deep and open from the start as they shared mingled sounds of pleasure.
Their gentle rubbing escalated to the point where the bed shook rhythmically with each thrust. “Your leg,” she said breathlessly when he broke off to plant light, sucking kisses up the length of her neck.
“It’s fine,” he muttered, taking her mouth again and tugging at the waistband on her sweatpants. She tried to help but didn’t want to stop the sweet friction between her legs long enough to cooperate. “Scully…”
“Okay, okay.” Trembling, she eased off him enough to pull down her pants and underwear. His erection poked out through the opening in his boxers, his hips twitching as he waited. She shivered as she discarded the remnants of her clothing and then helped him off with his boxers.
Climbing over him once more, she dropped her head to his shoulder as she took the hard length of his cock in her hand. “You feel so good,” she murmured, and he quivered.
Then she began a slow up and down movement that caused him to groan into her ear.
His fingers brushed the insides of her thighs several times before sliding between the curls to touch her. “Scully,” he breathed, his voice full of praise and awe. He rubbed the swollen folds gently and then teased her clit with two slicked fingers. Her hips jerked into his hand. “Scully, are you close?”
Eyes squeezed shut, she panted into his shoulder. “Yes.”
Her hips were pushing more insistently against his caressing fingers, searching for a rhythm. He shifted so that she could position the head of his penis between her legs. “Oh,” she cried softly when he began to push inside.
She raised up enough to kiss him, her tongue entering his mouth as his cock entered her body. His hands gripped her hips tightly. “Okay?” he asked hoarsely when he was all the way in.
“Oh, yes.” She licked the salty place at the base of his neck and began to move on him slowly. The bed bounced gently beneath her knees as she slid him in and out of her body, and she hummed her pleasure into his shoulder. His tee shirt smelled like sweat and laundry detergent.
She tried to keep it slow, to draw out the feel of his cock rubbing inside her, but soon they were thrusting in furious unison. He arched his head back on the pillow. “Scully, please…”
She widened her legs, bearing down on him even more, and drew his hand back between their bodies. He stroked her with firm, quick movements. “Yes,” she encouraged through clenched teeth. He kept up his caresses as she cried out and tensed in orgasm, the waves buffeting through her one after the other. Then clutching her close, he groaned his own climax in her ear.
For several minutes, she lay draped across him bonelessly as the pleasure still tingled through her. He smoothed the back of her hair and kissed her temple. “You all right?” he asked in a roughened voice.
“I’m fine.” In fact, her right arm was a little sore, but it seemed a small price to pay. “This beats the hell out of a couple of Tylenol.”
“Not to mention the Sunday crossword puzzle,” he pointed out, and she laughed. Then they lapsed into such a long silence that Scully assumed he had fallen asleep. But his voice came floating from above her head. “You know, Scully, Valentine’s Day is definitely not the most romantic day to get married.”
“Oh?” She rested her chin on the back of her hand and looked up at him. “Pray enlighten me, Mulder. What then is the most romantic day to get married?”
She rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh, I see. That way you only have to remember it once every four years. Very romantic.”
“No, Scully, you’re not looking at right. February twentyninth is actually present in every day for about one extra minute. We just choose to add it back in all at once.”
Scully thought about the idea for a moment and realized he was right: there was a bit of February twenty-ninth tacked on to every day of the year. She smiled at him. “Okay, Mulder, you talked your way out of that one. Very well, I might add.”
He grinned cheekily and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. “Told you.”
She shifted to lie next to him, pulling the covers around them and listening as his breathing evened into sleep. She closed her eyes and the clock ticked off several minutes before she suddenly opened them again. Glancing once at Mulder, she slid quietly from the bed and padded over to the top of her dresser, which displayed the mini calendar sent courtesy of her savings bank. She picked it up and shut her eyes, taking a deep breath before turning it over to check the back.
Yup, there it was.
February 29, 2000 — almost one year away.
She smiled and went back to bed.
~ ? ~
If you made it to the end, I would love to know what you thought. All types of feedback welcome at
Long winded author’s thanks:
Big virtual hugs of gratitude to my two beta readers, Fawn Liebowitz and Beaker! This story is much stronger for your input, and I thank you.
Special thanks also to Alicia, for helping me through my mid-story disenchantment and brightening my days with clever e-mail, and to jerry and Kim for the early and frequent encouragement.
This story was challenging for me to write because a number of the issues raised within it are quite personal. I have been especially appreciative of the comments and questions I’ve received along the way. Thanks particularly to Angelique for sharing her story. I’ll be rooting for you, dear. 🙂
Galia, Pat, and Brigitte…what can I say? You make my jaw drop with your generosity. Thank you.
This file has been downloaded from x-libris.xf-redux.com. It contains work/s of X-Files FAN FICTION and FAN ART which are not affiliated with Ten-Thirteen or The Fox Network. No income is generated from these works. They are created with love and shared purely for the enjoyment of fans and are not to be sold in any format. The X-Files remain the property of Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen and Fox, unfortunately.
Individual stories and art remain the property of their talented creators. No copyright infringement is intended. Any copyright concerns can be addressed to .