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Carol-Lee by West Shore
An X-Files Tale by
SUMMARY:….Mulder is kidnapped and kept in a prison — in his mind— by an odd woman with mysterious powers. One of his captors begins to sympathize with him and calls Scully to his rescue.
DISCLAIMER: The X Files and the characters of Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and Walter Skinner are the creation and property of Chris Carter and Ten Thirteen Productions. They are used here without permission. There is no intent to profit from this use. The story line and characters other than the above are my own invention. (written: September, 1995)
Jimmy Botina is a four-flushing, bona fide ignoramus.
From my perch up here on this dirty catwalk, I can see him pacing below, I spit a sunflower seed husk forcefully and watch it arc up, then down, flying toward Jimmy’s skinny, overly-kinetic form.
Damn. Missed again.
The shell falls soundlessly to the floor just behind him. He continues his pacing, oblivious to my treasonous sunflower seed war games. Just as well. It’s just not a good idea to piss off the leader of our little band of thugs. He’s got a nasty temperament under the best of circumstances and right now…
Well, right now, circumstances are getting increasingly worse.
Today is supposed to be the day Jimmy wants us to move our little operation to another site. Crates of hastily packed records and a table full of neatly bundled currency are stacked just below me on the floor of this dirty, abandoned warehouse.
We are waiting on the arrival of the van so we can load all of this crap and move to a new ‘business’ site of Jimmy’s choosing. Every three months or so, Jimmy seems to get a wild hair up his butt, and we have to shut down operations and move around. I have to admit, though, this erratic schedule of his seems to keep him off the police blotters. He always seems one jump ahead of a raid and two steps ahead of the Organized Crime Bureau that likes to sniff around our neighborhoods. This despite the fact that he doesn’t pay anyone off and he seems to operate pretty independently of any other gangs.
Jimmy’s relative anonymity as far as the law is concerned usually stands him in good stead with some of big time gangsters…the “old money”…not the “nouveau riche” street gangs. They toss Jimmy enough of their odd jobs to keep Jimmy Botina rolling in dough, with enough left over to keep his four member rat pack…and me, Joey Gauthier…from seeking otherwise gainful employment.
I probably should consider myself one of Jimmy’s rats, but that thought galls me to no end. I’m just not on the same level as his goons, and he knows it.
I’m sure he doesn’t know how deep my resentment has grown. I know I could do a better job with this rag-tag outfit than he chooses to do. But I also know Jimmy Botina has a secret, and it’s his secret that keeps him safe from the cops and keeps us on a short leash. Ironically, it also seems to keep him from getting any richer.
“Hey! Joey!…Whatsa matter? Are you deaf?”
I am forced out of my reverie for a moment. Jimmy’s got his face craned up, looking at me as I sit up here, casually dangling my legs over the edge of the catwalk, idly listening to the icy rain rattle against the old metal roof just above my head.
“I said…DO YOU SEE THEM?” Jimmy’s manner is just a wee bit too snide for my liking, but I still smile down at him pleasantly.
Mr. Cool…that’s me.
You learn to be cool, careful when you’re part of this group. Not for nothing have I survived as long as I have.
“Sorry, Jimmy. The rain’s making a bit of noise against the roof up here.” Another smile. “I’ll let you know as soon as I see something.”
My own fault. I’m the one who wanted to be the lookout up here. I really just wanted to remove myself from the people below. When the van hadn’t showed up at its appointed time, things began to get a little tense down there. I didn’t want to get caught with any bad vibes showing — so I put some space between me and Jimmy as soon as he started his pacing and fuming over a half hour ago.
I lean over the low rail of the catwalk as Jimmy resumes his pacing. Round and round the crates — and now a change — twice around the money-laden table — now back and forth. I watch in amusement as our fearless leader pauses in his frenetic walk to nowhere, wringing his hands. He’s right below me again. I am briefly tempted to hock a wad of spit down on top of his perfectly coifed hair; maybe mess up that imported, European-cut suit of his.
You sure know how to dress for these executive-dirty-warehouse meetings, Jimmy, I sneer inwardly as I cull up a really good wad of saliva from my throat. I could always plead innocence, tell him I didn’t see him down there.
But my saliva dries right on my tongue and all my malicious thoughts seize up in my brain when I realize the big doe-like eyes of Carol-Lee are looking up — straight at me.
An icy thrill of fear races down my spine, and I wonder if she sensed my nasty intentions toward her older brother, Jimmy. As a test, I throw her a weak smile. Nothing. No change in those big dark eyes. Just the unreadable innocence of a child — in the face of a 30 year old woman. She blinks once and looks away from me, preoccupied again with the old, worn Barbie doll she always carries.
She’s the secret behind Jimmy Botina and his smooth success, and I don’t think she’s even aware of it.
Chronologically, Carol-Lee Botina is three years younger than her brother. But Carol-Lee’s brain never made it past that adolescent level even as her body continued on toward womanhood. She is smallish and kind of skinny like Jimmy. Big dark eyes in a thin face. She might actually be attractive if Big Brother didn’t do his level best to bury her obvious womanliness under layers of plain, sack-like clothes and short, choppy, institutional-looking haircuts done at the local barber shop.
Jimmy guards his sister jealously, way beyond your usual brotherly love. I used to think he had some disgusting, incestuous thing going on with her. But that was before I found out about Carol-Lee’s little gift. No sirree — Carol-Lee has a lot more value than plain old brotherly love can account for.
No more time for revisiting the Jimmy and Carol-Lee story right now. I see a flash of a single headlight through the sheets of icy rain outside. It’s got to be the old van. It has had a broken headlight for about …let’s see…how long? Oh, right. It was broken about three traffic citations ago. And the bozos still haven’t gotten it fixed.
I shake my head and am about to announce the imminent arrival of the van when Jimmy starts growling like a grizzly bear in a trap. Even Carol-Lee looks up from her doll play as he starts his bellowing:
“Where are those jackasses? I wanted that van here over a half hour ago! I’m going to kill ‘em!…I am going to kill them!!”
He pounds his bony fist into his other hand, looking for all the world like Deputy Barney Fife of Mayberry, RFD — on speed. I suppress a laugh. Mickey Fernandez, a fellow gang member, sitting on a crate nearby, hunkers down, desperately avoiding eye contact with the rabid Jimmy. Unlike him, I don’t fear Jimmy, mostly because I’m a couple of light years ahead of all of them on the evolutionary ladder.
Jimmy’s fist comes down on the table with a crack that echoes up in the rafters near my head. The bundles of money bounce on the table and a few of them fall to the floor, breaking open. Jimmy kicks at them, briefly sending up a small shower of hundred dollar bills.
Mickey jumps down and hustles forward without a word to gather up the flying currency, cautiously keeping his distance from Jimmy. Even Carol-Lee seems to huddle into herself, drawing her Barbie doll closer to her, as if hiding it away from the sight of her brother’s rage. I’m sure she’s afraid; I’ve seen Jimmy smack her around a few times, though I never understood why she let him do it. With her “gift”, she could turn him into…
“Leave the money! Just leave it!” Jimmy’s screaming is hurting my ears as it echoes around these rusty rafters. Below me, the hapless Mickey freezes letting the few bills he was able to collect drift down out of his hands. Jimmy resumes his pacing.
“Uh…what if somethin’s happened to ‘em, Jimmy? Maybe the cops or the feds lucked onto…” OOPS. Baby-faced Mickey Fernandez always makes the mistake of opening his mouth when his brain isn’t connected.
Jimmy whirls on him. Cops or feds might be what Jimmy is thinking about, but he really hates to hear his thoughts being shared by the intellectual likes of Mickey. Best to keep your mouth shut around ol’ Jimmy. Let him do all your thinking, Mickey, I snicker to myself, give your gray matter a well deserved rest. Save it for the really important stuff like: do I put my pants or socks on first? Duh.
Jimmy’s eyes actually look rimmed in red from where I sit. Man-oh- man! Jimmy’s gonna pop a vein in his head or something! Or maybe pop a vein in Mickey’s. He looks just that mad. I glance over at Carol-Lee. She’s watching the exchange.
Mickey should know better. Looks can kill in this quaint little gang of ours.
Mickey, too, is peeking nervously over his shoulder at Carol-Lee. I can see this is where I’ll have to interrupt the scene below me. The van is backing up to the door of the warehouse now.
“Hold on, Jimmy. Here come your three stooges now.” I drawl casually.
Jimmy breaks his murderous glare from Mickey and looks up at me.
“You see them?”
I nod toward a bank of broken windows at the side of the warehouse. “They’re backing the van up to the door as we speak…”
“Fools! Damn morons!” Jimmy kicks at the money on the floor again and looks back up at me. “Can you see if they were followed? ” he snaps at me like I’m one of his regular toadies.
The veins on either side of his neck are standing out like rope and his face is coloring red. His mood is clearly not improving. I really hate it when he pulls this sturm-und-drang act with me. If only he knew how really stupid he looks.
I take my time answering, making sure not to betray my own aggravation. I’ll wait until his face gets that nice eggplant purple.
Oh-oh. Now THIS is interesting…
Jimmy’s three errant gangsters, the two Duron Brothers, Omar and Fernando, and their buddy, “Gator” No-Last-Name had been pulling and tugging at something in the back of the van. Then suddenly their little chore seemed to explode into a full fledged battle as their cargo came to life.
What the hell…? They were only supposed to be bringing a few more of Jimmy’s papers from his soon-to-be-vacated loft located in one of the trendier river-front neighborhoods of downtown Pittsburgh.
I pop another sunflower seed in my mouth and smile down at Jimmy. “Seems your boys must have stopped along the way to bring you a surprise, Jimmy.”
I know how much Jimmy hates surprises.
“A surprise!,” Carol-Lee squeals with childish delight.
Jimmy whips around and silences her with a sharp look. Her eager grin quickly disappears from her face. She shrinks back a little, pulling her doll tightly to her again, nervously twirling its ratty black hair around her little finger.
Jimmy turns back to me. He’s not as purple-and red-looking as he was when he was throwing his little temper tantrum. Still, I know that vicious energy of his hasn’t gone too far. It’s slipped just under his hide, waiting like a snake about to burst its skin, shedding its husk to become something bigger, uglier, meaner.
“I said: Were. They. Followed.”
I have to make an extra effort to keep my jaw from clenching when he talks to me like that, like he talks to the rest of his vipers. I’m not part of your little nest of snakes, Jimmy-Boy. Be careful how you talk to Joey Gauthier, bud. Things could change someday.
Aloud, I say, “It’s hard to tell with all the rain, Jimmy, but so far, the road looks clear.” I make a great show of straining to see what’s going on outside.
Truth of the matter is, I can see all the goings-on quite well from up here. The rain doesn’t quite obscure all the chaos taking place outside. I really have to fight myself not to laugh out loud or even smile. I don’t want Jimmy to see just how amused I am with the antics of his three gorillas.
Whatever those boys have in the back of that van, it seems very, very angry. The old battered van is rocking and bouncing on its worn shocks from the force of the turmoil. I bite back a grin when I see Omar fly backward, away from the van, struck in the jaw by a well placed kick from the dark figure they are struggling to subdue. Omar’s brother, Fernando, is half-in, half-out of the van, his legs kicking comically in thin air while his arms flail at the almost unidentifiable mass within the van’s dim interior.
Ah, Omar. Ah, Fernando. I guess that’s what you get when you major in self defense at Clown College.
Suddenly, I catch a glimpse of the mystery cargo: It’s a man, but I can’t see much more detail than that just yet. He’s fighting like a wildcat, and from the chaotic efforts of Jimmy’s band of idiots to overcome him, I have to guess that this guy must have surprised his captors with his strength.
Time for the heavy artillery. I see the van dip low under the weight of Gator’s 300 pound carcass as he throws himself into the back of the van. I almost feel a pang of pity for the prisoner. Gator lives for these kind of fights. What nature didn’t give him in brains or looks was easily made up in muscle mass. Simple language skills are beyond our Gator; he prefers to do all his talking with his fists.
I see Gator’s big bulk pin the struggling man to the floor of the van with some minor assistance from the Brothers Duron. Gator raises a meaty fist and brings it down with such an unbelievable force that I feel myself wince in empathy for the stranger. The prisoner’s legs go limp, swinging listlessly from the back of the van. Nice try anyway, fella.
I watch as Gator backs slowly out of the van. He reaches back into the van and pulls up the still form of a man, draping him easily over one shoulder. I guess the guy must still be alive or Gator wouldn’t have bothered. I look down at Jimmy. Maybe Gator shouldn’t have bothered.
“They’re coming in, Jimmy,” I say as I get up slowly and dust the dirt off the butt of my new jeans. Standing on the catwalk, I do a lazy stretch and yawn, as if bored with this whole scene.
Just enough to goad Jimmy.
“Did you put a federal agent on your wish list? From the cut of the trenchcoat, I’d have to say it looks as if your three stooges are bringing you an early Christmas gift.”
Jimmy goes slack-jawed. “A FED! HERE?,” he squeaks.
Oh, this is good. That deep purple color is coming back to his face.
“Yep. Kind of like bringing a fox into the chicken coop, don’t you think?,” I chortle as I wave my hand significantly at all of the crates and the money. I love it when I have a chance to highlight the flawed thinking processes of my colleagues to the bossman. It seems like such a small indulgence in a job so full of disappointments lately.
I make my way across the dirty catwalk toward the metal rung ladder attached to the near wall. I want to be closer to the action now. I’m curious about this fed, and it’ll be interesting to see how Jimmy handles this one.
The ancient metal squeaks and groans as I make my way down to the littered floor of the old warehouse. I have to jump free of the last three rungs of the wall ladder which are a bit too rusted through for me to trust.
God, it’s getting cold, I realize when I feel the draft from the side door as it is opened. Early November in Pittsburgh was acting a bit more like the weather I grew up with in Chicago: chilling rains and yo-yo temperatures.
I take a moment to brush the dust and dirt from my clothes again as I listen to the trio make their way toward us through the gloominess. I have to admit I’m a bit fastidious for a ‘90’s ‘gangster’. Even though I may favor jeans and wool sport coats over Jimmy’s extravagant dollar-burning wardrobe, I still like to keep a neat appearance.
I suppose, at thirty-seven, I am beginning to resemble the comfortable, established academician I once aspired to be instead of the street tough I started out as and eventually returned to. Wool sports coats and jeans: a small fashion reminder of who I thought I might be some day. Even my dark blond hair, which is just beginning to thin, is kept collar length and unkempt.
I suppose that I could pass for anyone’s favorite self-important English Lit professor, except for the small matter of my criminal record.
As I make my way over to the rest of our assembly, I can clearly hear the stooges making their way toward us, the brothers arguing back and forth in low unintelligible stage whispers. Jimmy’s jaw muscles are twitching with malevolence.
I glance over at Carol-Lee. She is watching Jimmy with caution and occasionally sneaking a look at the noisy trio and their bundle. She is alive with curiosity. There is a glow of excitement that almost makes her seem pretty. She catches me staring at her. I give her a reassuring smile, but she turns shyly away, as she always does. As Jimmy always makes sure she does.
Jimmy’s growl brings my attention back around as the boys step from the dusty dimness into the gray circle of light that we are in.
“Can any of you morons tell me what time you were supposed to be here?”
Omar holds up a hand to Jimmy, like some kind of beggar. His voice is whiny and thin. “We know, Jimmy, we know! We’re late ‘cuz we met up with a complication.” He turns and motions Gator forward.
The big man shuffles up to Jimmy and, with a grunt and a shrug of his shoulder, drops his burden at the bossman’s feet, on top of the litter of hundred dollar bills.
Jimmy kicks the bundle over, and I lean in to get a better look at their prize.
Well, except for the swollen lip and the trickle of blood from his nose, the prisoner has a boyish, handsome face. In the dim light, with a shank of dark, damp hair falling over his brow, he looks almost too young to be a federal agent. I briefly wonder if the three stooges have made another stupid mistake.
But Jimmy crouches down and throws open the folds of the unconscious man’s wet trenchcoat. The stranger is dressed out in suit and tie, regulation fed-wear. Standard, not much imagination — except for that tie.
Jimmy’s face is coloring up again as he leans over and flips open the man’s suit coat, revealing a shoulder holster — the gun still in its place! They hadn’t even disarmed him. I puzzle over a scenario where these fools were able to overtake this agent before he could even draw his gun.
Jimmy, however, was boiling over the more immediate implications. I have to put my hand up to my mouth, pressing hard against the smile on my lips as Jimmy picks up the man’s gun and slowly flips it from one palm to the other while he glares at the trio before him. “You bring an ARMED federal agent in here!?” His voice is as shrill as I’ve ever heard it.
I watch Fernando and Omar shift nervously on their feet. Between them, they share a small, inadequate brain. The Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum of Twitville. But they wisely keep their mouths shut. There is no defense for this blunder.
However, fools rush in…Gator decides to speak up: “Awwww… He’s harmless, boss. He spent the last hour counting stars under his eyelids. He never came to until…”
Gator stopped when Jimmy’s glare hardened. Well done, Gator. I smile indulgently at the big man as he swipes his rough, thick hand over his shaven head. Hair would have mercifully hidden the curiously pointed shape of his skull. I’m sure he thought shaving his head would earn him a respectful place in the tough guy gallery. I think he looks like Humpty Dumpty — after the great fall.
“There isn’t ever a federal agent that’s harmless, you idiot!.” Jimmy snaps. “The only harmless federal agent is a dead federal agent.”
He pulls a leather folder from the unconscious man’s suit pocket. He flips it open and silently reads the identification next to the metal insignia that glitters in the gray light. He hands me the lawman’s ID and snorts, “Looks like you were right, Joey: a ‘fox’ in the chicken coop.”
This time I smile openly. “Boys, say hello to Special Agent Fox Mulder —from Washington, DC. Wonder what he’s doing on this turf?” I turn and toss the badge onto the table behind us.
I see Carol-Lee look at it, then at me. I can see that her simple curiosity has turned into avid interest now. She slips quietly from her sitting place and inches toward the table, unseen by everyone except me. I wink at her and turn back to the group. I think I’ll keep Carol-Lee’s confidence for just now.
Jimmy is busy frisking the agent. He finds a wallet, handcuffs and the requisite keys, a penlight, a lock-pick set, a half-full bag of sunflower seeds and an official looking piece of paper, folded neatly in thirds.
Jimmy stands up and hands me the bag of sunflower seeds with a look of disgust. “Here…a present from your federal government.”
He drops the wallet and handcuffs by the agent’s head and turns his attention to the folded paper. He opens it and reads to himself. Without moving his lips.
“Son of a…,” he suddenly hisses. He looks at me, slapping the paper angrily with his other hand. “It’s a goddamn warrant! With my name on it! ME! This fed was looking for me!” He looks down at the silent figure at his feet and then up at all of us, one by one. “So? How’d a Washington DC fed find out about ME!?”
The rest of the group is scared to silence.
I take the opportunity to help myself to the fed’s sunflower seed stash. Obviously, this is a guy after my own heart.
I jump in spite of myself when Jimmy slaps the bag out of my hand, spraying sunflower seeds over the floor. “I’m talking to everyone, Joey! You’d better work this into your short attention span, y’hear?”
I smile. He doesn’t know I’m smiling at the mental image I have of me strangling his scrawny neck until…
I look around for Carol-Lee. Jimmy might not see my mental image, but Carol-Lee could — if she were paying attention, that is.
I breathed a sigh of relief to see her at the table, totally preoccupied with comparing the face on the fibbi’s ID to the face of the man who lay at our feet. Jimmy’s attention was back on the group.
“How’d you find this guy, or… let me guess… he found you.” Jimmy’s sneering question was directed at the three stooges.
Gator looks reluctant to talk anymore. Fernando has apparently been struck dumb with fear, leaving Omar to give us the low-down on the show-down.
“There was two of ‘em, Jimmy. Him — and he had a woman with him. His partner, maybe? A good-lookin’ redhead. In fact, we didn’t even think she was a cop until she pulled a gun on us!”
I could tell Jimmy was getting impatient with this garble. “Omar, just take it from the top. You’re not making sense,” I urge him.
“Okay…okay.” Omar licks his lips and takes a moment to recall this evening’s adventures.
I can almost smell the brain cells frying on overload.
“We was…We was just leavin’ your loft, Jimmy. Gator’d already taken the boxes of your papers down to the van in the alley way. Just like you told us! Fernando an’ me was lockin’ the place up. We thought it was Gator comin’ up on the freight elevator, so we didn’t pay much attention… But then this redhead walks off the elevator. She only sees me, cause Fernando’s in your bathroom doin’…Uh, well, she only sees me and yells, ‘FBI don’t move!’ An’ she whips out a gun faster than anyone I’ve ever seen!!”
He gives us a big smile. He is obviously warming to his story.
“But Fernando comes ‘round the corner, surprising her. He hits her, and she falls back into the elevator. But, all of a sudden, before we could grab her back, the damn elevator starts down even though we didn’t push no buttons! The FBI lady is out cold, a big gash on her head and her left hand kind of looked funny, like maybe it got broke… Anyway, we’re lookin’ down at her when the elevator stops on the next level, and we see him get on…” Omar nods at the captive. “He calls out something like ‘Scully!’, like he’s surprised to find her there. He couldn’t have been thinkin’ too clearly for a moment there, ‘cause the first thing he does is start fussin’ over his broad!”
Omar shakes his head as if he still can’t believe their dumb luck. Hell! I can’t believe their dumb luck!
Omar continues: “But he musta realized what happened, ‘cause all of a sudden, he looks up, right at us, and he’s going for his gun when Gator comes up behind him and cold-cocks him with a brick from the alley.”
Omar and Gator grin at each other with unabashed pride. What a couple of buccaneers! They bested a woman and took her partner by surprise. “So? Why is he here? ” I press for the answer this time.
Omar’s face falls. “Oh. Uh, well…Fernando and I had the last of Jimmy’s things, and we didn’t think he’d want us to leave the feds behind, so we had Gator put them in the van…” He pauses. He was getting nervous again.
“And?” Jimmy prompts impatiently.
“AND?” Jimmy says again, a bit louder this time. “And so? Where is Agent Scully? Did you drop her off somewhere —perhaps — as a nice gesture?” His voice is oiled with sarcasm.
Omar is struggling with this. He takes a deep breath. “Uh, well…she was out cold, too, so we didn’t keep a guard on her while we was loadin’ the van. Fernando and me was already up front, with the motor runnin’ when Gator threw this guy in the back and…” He looks at his two companions.
“AND?” Jimmy is growling again.
“Well — the bitch woke up! When Gator started back to get her, she was at the door screaming ‘FBI’ and ‘Freeze!’ and ‘Mulder!’ We started to take off, and she shouted again and opened fire. She shot at us!”
Poor Omar. Seems as if he’s taking this whole matter personally, actually distressed that a pretty female fed opened fire on him.
“So what did you do?” I ask.
“I had to fire back! She’d hit the van a couple o’ times. I think she was aiming for the tires. Anyway, we had guns in the van, so I shot at her and…” He drops off again, but I urge him on with a wave of my hand.
“Well, I think I got her. I think I killed her.” He glances quickly between Jimmy and me as if gauging our reaction to his tale.
There is a long uncomfortable silence while the implications of his story settle in on Jimmy. “Let me get this straight : You kill one agent and kidnap the other right outside of my home — the very home that these two agents had a search warrant for. You flee from a gun battle in the middle of one of the best neighborhoods in the city in a rather distinguishable van.”
Jimmy flops onto one of his crates, looking dumbfounded.
My heart bleeds peanut butter for him. He’s led a pretty charmed life as far as the law enforcement establishment is concerned. All good things must come to an end, Jimbo. Fox Mulder is just a harbinger of things to come, perhaps.
Jimmy’s moaning and groaning: “I can’t go back. They know! How did they find out about me? What is he? Psychic?” He whirls around to the still form by the money table, and I see him immediately stiffen up.
“Carol-Lee!” he shrieks, “Get the hell away from him. He’s a corpse! He’s a dead-man! Do you hear me?”
He’s way out of control now. I sprint ahead of him as he stomps toward Carol-Lee and the still figure she is kneeling beside. Carol-Lee’s eyes are wide with fear, and her fingers, frozen in shock at the sound of her brother’s voice, are still hovering over the agent’s face. I pull Carol-Lee up to her feet, send her off to her sitting place and turn to face Jimmy and his rage.
“It’s okay, Jimmy! It’s okay! She’s just being curious. That’s all. No harm done. Hell, the dude may never even wake up if Gator nailed him with a brick.”
So I lied. Jimmy didn’t need to know about the Big Mulder Battle outside. As much as I enjoy getting those goons in trouble, it was now clear that we were all in big trouble, and we’ll have to get real busy to put some space between us and the law in the next few hours.
I grip Jimmy by his scrawny shoulders, and he breaks his glare at Carol-Lee.
“We haven’t got time for this, Jimmy. You have to assume they’re on to you. We’ve got to move fast!”
“Yeah.Yeah.Yeah!” Jimmy speaks like someone coming out of a trance. He seems to take charge of himself again and smiles at me briefly. Sure, Mr. Botina, this is another fine mess I’m getting you out of.
I’m getting tired of it.
I watch him as he takes a minute to look around, to collect his thoughts.
“Yeah,” he repeats. “We’re going to have to ditch that van. You three morons: Clean out the van! Put my papers in my Bentley. Then find us a truck or another van. Rent it. Steal it. I don’t care! Just do it! And as for this piece of garbage…”
He plows a vicious kick into the federal agent’s side. Wasted energy; the man is way beyond feeling anything. Jimmy on the other hand, seems to have injured his foot. Serves you right, bud.
“Ow! Dammit!!” Jimmy squeals as he limps away from the captive. “You son of a bitch!” he howls uselessly at the unconscious man.
I just roll my eyes.
Jimmy catches my look and jabs a finger at me. “You! Joey! Cuff this jerk to that ladder on the wall so he’s out of my way. Then I want you to take your car, go get some gasoline — something, anything — and burn this place to the ground. I want that van and HIM…” He points at the agent. “…to burn with it! And I want you to do some checking around. Find out how this pretty little bastard found out about me — about us.” With that he whirled on the group. “Now, everyone! MOVE!”
The group scattered. Jimmy glared at Carol-Lee one more time before heading for the door and his shiny new Bentley. I sigh and bend to catch Agent Mulder up under his arms. He’s tall and lanky, built like a runner, but dead weight is dead weight, and he proves to be a handful for me.
Before I can even look around for help, Carol-Lee is by my side. “Please, Joey, can I help?” There is a little quaver in her voice.
“Sure, Carol-Lee. Thanks. Can you just grab the shoulder of his trenchcoat there, please?”
I watch her carefully as we drag the fed to the wall. Once I maneuver him to a half-sitting position, I can pull his arms up high enough to secure him to one of the rusty lower rungs of the old metal ladder, using his own handcuffs.
I pocket the keys and then pause a moment to watch Carol-Lee. She’s hovering over this fed, big crocodile tears streaming down her face.
Oh, boy — now what?
“Carol-Lee?Come on, princess. You’ve got to get ready to go. You’ve got to leave him.”
She has her hands on his face, caressing it like a blind person, trying to learn every angle, every scar, everything special and unique to that handsome face. I watch for a moment more and then look around to make sure Jimmy isn’t witnessing this treason.
There’s a funny look on Carol-Lee’s usually semi-blank face as she touches his forehead. Rubs his full lips, carefully avoiding his injury. Caresses his eyelids.
Her voice is turning into a frantic whisper as she stares trance-like at our prisoner, her fingers never stopping in their dance over the lean planes of his face. “Don’t use fire. Don’t burn him. Please don’t burn him, Joey. He’s afraid of fire, Joey.”
I snort, probably a little too loudly. “Hey, princess, you heard your brother. And believe me, ol’ Foxy here won’t be awake enough to know what’s happening to him. Think of it like a sort of Viking burial — you know, with a van instead of a boat and a warehouse instead of an ocean.”
Whewboy! That was lame. But Carol-Lee is ignoring me and fixating on her FBI Agent.
CAROL-LEE’S FBI AGENT.
That thought is being pressed into my brain with an almost painful intensity. Where’s it coming from? I look down to see Carol-Lee’s eyes fixed on me now. There is no sign of the innocent little kid to be seen. The eyes that stare up at me are full of grown-up, fierce determination. Far in the back of my mind, I register a little astonishment. Carol-Lee is using her gift! And more importantly, Jimmy’s not around wielding its power.
Carol-Lee is using it on her own!
Just to be sure, I look around to see if Jimmy’s nearby or even aware that Carol-Lee is doing this. No sign of him! This might be the break I’ve been looking for!
I look back down at Carol-Lee, and for a moment I think I see a little smile. A smirk, almost. But just as quickly, it is gone. With a vague feeling of unease battling with my exuberance over my little discovery, I kneel by Carol-Lee’s side. She is concentrating on her FBI agent again.
“Okay, princess,” I say to her in a voice just above a whisper. “What do you suggest I do? You know your big brother gave me my marching orders. He’s going to be watching tomorrow’s news for a report of a burnt warehouse, a burnt van and a burnt body. In that order. I can’t just go up to Jimmy and say ‘Carol-Lee thinks the fibbi should die a kinder, gentler death’.”
“NO!” Carol-Lee’s sudden hiss startles me enough to make me draw back a few inches. “He won’t die!”
“Carol-Lee…” I start to argue. But suddenly I get a very odd, but very strong impression of whose in charge here. I’m no longer arguing with a little Shirley Temple whose head is full of sunshine, lollipops and Barbie dolls. I’m brushing up against a dark intelligence. I have to shake my head to clear my mind of the feeling of being overcome.
I meet Carol-Lee’s stare and nod. It’s pointless to fight this. I was already aware of some of the things she could do, but I had always thought Jimmy had the control over them. I can tell I’m going to have to rethink my plans in view of this revelation.
And immediately, I fear that Carol-Lee has caught a sense of my excited plans for the overthrow of the mighty Jimmy Botina. But she is too fascinated with the fed now, having supposedly secured my loyalty with her unusual power. I chew my lip nervously. This is my first actual encounter with her gift, and it’s leaving me a little unsettled, unsure of my ability to control it.
But I push that thought to the back part of my mind as I realize that if an ignoramus like Jimmy had used her, then certainly I would have no problem. I would just have to proceed carefully, slowly. Hell, I’ve waited this long, I can afford to wait a little longer. I can use her fascination with this man to my advantage perhaps. Go along with her twisted dreams. Help her with her little plan. Make her complete the break with her brother. I could show her how life with me would be so much better than putting up with Jimmy’s tyranny.
And— well — if I feathered my own nest, who could blame me? I will have earned my success by saving Carol-Lee from her big, bad brother.
I can be such a nice guy.
Carol-Lee is talking to me again, so I snap quickly out of my little daydream. She gives no indication that she knows what I’ve been thinking.
Does this mean she can put stuff in my head, but she can’t take anything out?
Yet she seems to be picking up thoughts from the unconscious man in front of us. I’ll have to ponder this later. I have to give her my complete attention now.
“His head… hurts. Brain hurts. Injury…” Carol-Lee looks at me like I can do something about it. Sorry, kid, I was absent the day they passed out the neurology degrees. But I do make the effort to check him out. Taking his jaw in my hand, I carefully turn his head to the right. Then to the left.
There it is.
Hidden behind his slightly swollen left ear. Lost in the mass of his dark, rain-drenched hair. Blood and lots of it, some of it congealed and sticky. Some of it still trickling down the back of his slender neck, concealing itself in the black folds of his trench coat and suit.
There was a largish bump under the gash behind his ear. Presumably, this was the result of Gator’s artistry with the brick earlier.
I prop open one eyelid, then the other, then repeat my actions just to be sure. One hazel eye reacts normally, the pupil tightening in on itself, protecting itself from the sudden onslaught of light. But the other, the right one, responds weakly, making only a sluggish attempt to react. Bad sign.
I check both his ears. No cerebral fluid leaking out. Good sign. But his nose is bloody, and I can’t tell if that’s the result of a head injury or his close encounter of the pugilistic kind with Gator in the back of the van.
“I can’t tell how bad off he is, Carol-Lee. He’s got some of the signs of a serious head injury. Are you…?” I hesitate and then put my hand experimentally on the man’s forehead. “Are you getting some kind of information from him… er… somehow?”
She nods, looking at me as if to say “Doesn’t everybody do this?” Then she turns her attention back to Special Agent Fox Mulder. She presses her palms gently to the fed’s chest which is rising and falling in short, fast patterns. He moans softly, startling us both.
“Hard… to breathe… hurts…too hard to breathe,” she gasps in a mimic of the agent’s own quickened breathing. Is she feeling all his feelings as well? I lean forward to loosen his tie and reach under his bound arms to unbutton his shirt. There are a number of purpling bruises scattered over his chest and abdomen, probably a result of the battle in the van. However, there was a really ugly red mark deep around his left side, almost at his back. This, I was sure, was Jimmy’s contribution. Kick a man when he’s down, Jimmy. This blow to the ribs might have produced a few fractures, making breathing a bit of a chore.
Carol-Lee is still touching, exploring. She takes his head in both her hands again and closes her eyes.
I take this moment to look around the warehouse. I really don’t want Jimmy to walk in on this little performance.
“His thoughts are so… so…” Her eyes fly open for a moment. “Scary! Too scary!” She closes her eyes again, but she seems a little nervous this time. This fibbi must have some spooky kind of slide-show going on behind those long-lashed eyelids.
“Dana. Dana Scully,” Carol-Lee is whispering now.
Scully. Didn’t Omar say that’s the name of the redheaded woman? The name of this man’s partner?
Then Carol-Lee gasps and looks at me, her eyes wide with wonder. “He knows about me!”
What? What is she talking about? I look at the fed. He hasn’t moved. Carol-Lee’s palm is pressed along the left side of his head. “What do you mean?”
Carol-Lee is delighted in her little-girl way again, pleased to think that somehow this man knew about her, was aware of her existence in a world where very few knew about her, or rather, were allowed to know about her. She pauses as if listening to something. I only hear the pounding of the rain on the leaky roof over our heads and the distant shout of the voices of the rest of the gang outside.
“He has a photo of me and Jimmy. From when we were little. From the children’s home.” Her face seems to shadow over at that thought for a moment.
“That’s how he found Jimmy! He was looking for me!” The excitement in her voice died suddenly, and she looked as if she were listening again. She frowns and looks over at me.
“It’s because of those two men Jimmy had me put to sleep,” she whispers, as if she were going to wake the fed up if she spoke any louder. “That’s why they know about me. That’s why they’re looking for Jimmy.”
Two men that she ‘put to sleep’?
Oh-oh. I remember now. That little money laundering job in early September. One of the three-piece suit types that Jimmy had been dealing with had threatened him with exposure, cops, lawyers — the whole nine yards. No one ever threatens Jimmy Botina! Within an hour, Jimmy — with Carol-Lee in tow — ‘bumped’ into this guy and his fancy pants lawyer at this guy’s favorite watering hole. A deliberate coincidence on Jimmy’s part, I’m sure. I wasn’t there for that one, but I’m sure I can recount the scenario from my other experiences:
Jimmy, ever the polite little mobster, pays his respects to the Suit and the Lawyer, then steers himself and Carol-Lee to a nearby booth. He gives the waitress orders for two, and when she leaves, he gives Carol-Lee orders to lay out the two nicely dressed guys at the bar.
Minutes later the two gentlemen at the bar were clutching their heads and falling forward in a what must look like a dead faint. Well, dead is right. And in all the confusion of ambulances and curiosity seekers, I’m sure Jimmy was able to usher Carol-Lee out of there unnoticed well before their food was delivered to the table.
So those deaths are probably the cogs in the gear that got this fibbi involved. Mysterious deaths. Two of them, side by side. In a public place yet.
Way to go, Jimmy. Shot yourself in your own foot. Hah! Just the kind of thing I wouldn’t have been stupid enough to do.
What a mess! No wonder Jimmy didn’t brag about that one, although I did know that he got a six figure bonus from one of his up-river rat friends for that particular money-laundering job.
If this fed and his redheaded partner were curious enough to press beyond the typical death certificate explanations, they probably hadn’t found the rest of the trail to Carol-Lee and her Gangster Brother too hard to follow.
There have been other such instances of mysterious deaths in our fair city, but largely we had confined them to other small time hoods, competition in our charmed circle, never anyone that the law would have cared about. And always, Jimmy had been able to convince Carol-Lee of her duty: keep Jimmy safe, keep Jimmy’s livelihood secure.
As much as I suspected, I never realized the extent of Carol-Lee’s talents. Jimmy had kept them well hidden.
He keeps this woman locked up in this costume and mindset of a child, and he keeps her away from all other influences. All the other shiny toys in a normal adult’s life that might take her away from him: money, sex, TV, friends. Jimmy has told her what to think and how to think it for the better part of three decades. He’s even taught her about death…
She calls it “putting them to sleep”.
Maybe that’s something Jimmy has convinced her of, or maybe she really has a murderous little soul like her brother. I can’t tell. Most of the time, she’s a simple-minded big kid but now I’ve seen the times when something seems to change behind those big, dark eyes. There’s danger there, something tells me…
But right now she seems truly distressed. She doesn’t want her new-found pet to be thinking bad thoughts about her. She is pressing both her hands to the FBI man’s forehead, her lips pursed, pinched into a thin whitish line.
“What are you doing, Carol-Lee?”
Clearly, something is happening. The young man is moving slightly, putting up a weak struggle of some kind. Trying to move away, out from under Carol-Lee’s hands. His squirming has more of an instinctual, defensive quality to it now. What is she doing to him?
When he begins groaning, I reach over and pull her up and away from him. I’m a little shook up and a little peeved. I don’t understand what she’s doing nor how she’s doing it.
And I can’t control what I can’t understand.
“Stop it! Carol-Lee! What are you doing to him? “
She is pouting petulantly, struggling against my tight grip on her thin wrists. I am being very careful not to hurt her, but yet I feel I must be firm with her. Show her I’m capable of helping her handle this power of hers without using any of Jimmy’s tricks and abuse. Will she listen, or will she cook every neuron in my brain with one of those lethal looks of hers? I am holding my breath, but I do not otherwise betray any of my frightened feelings.
Good. Thank the heavens or whatever. She seems to relax in my grip. If she’s picking up any of my thoughts, she’s certainly not inclined to argue with them. She’s looking apologetic, actually, like a kid whose been caught lighting matches in the barn.
Violent retching sounds cause us both to look back at the FBI man. He has come around and is getting sick all over himself. Cuffed to the ladder as he is, he doesn’t have too many options when his stomach decides to empty itself of its contents. He is struggling to get his legs under himself, trying to get to his knees, when another attack of nausea overcomes him.
Son of a bitch!
This time I’m not fast enough to get myself out of the way. My new jeans! Ruined! I jump back and for one nasty moment, I think death by fire just might be too merciful for this guy.
“Oh, he can’t help it,” Carol Lee is cooing as she is combing back his hair from his sweaty brow. He does look miserable, I remind myself, and I’m sure Carol-Lee wouldn’t appreciate any acts of aggression against him right now.
He’s awake, but, I don’t know… Something just doesn’t seem right. He’s silent, moving his eyes listlessly from Carol-Lee to me.
Whoa. Lights are on, but no one’s home in Agent Mulder’s head. Is this the head injury, or is this Carol-Lee’s handiwork?
“D-Did you do something to him?,” I ask again. Calmly this time. I really need to know what she’s done.
Carol-Lee is smiling at her new charge. Gone is the Barbie doll; she’s got a life-size Ken doll to play with now.
Without looking at me, she nods and answers, enormously pleased with herself. “I buried his memories for him. There was too much. Too scary. Too sad. He’ll be okay, Joey. You’ll see. Will you help me hide him from Jimmy?”
Still careful to avoid the spatters of vomit, I kneel back down beside Carol-Lee and try to make eye contact with her. I need to know that she is listening to me. “You can’t just hide a full grown man, Carol-Lee, much less one that comes equipped with a government ID! And you’re forgetting that your brother is expecting this guy’s body to turn up on tomorrow’ evening news.”
That fierce determined look is back again. It sure frightens me the way she can switch personalities like this. “So?,” she hisses. “Then a body will turn up on the news.”
She turns to look significantly at the lone figure that just returned to the warehouse interior.
I feel almost forced to drag my eyes along the path of her gaze. She is staring at Mickey as he struggles with two heavy crates. I feel a precipitous drop in my gut. She wants me to substitute Mickey for Mulder. Charred remains would be hard to identify if I could throw in enough red herrings. Mickey was about Mulder’s height and build. And coloring. Dressed out in the fibbi’s clothes, with the fibbi’s wallet, holster and other stuff on him, maybe they would just figure…
Wait a minute! I’m not a philosopher when it comes to killing my fellow man, obviously. What’s really bugging me is the ease with which this plan is forming in my mind.
I steal a glance at Carol-Lee. Could this be some more of her manipulation? Who would be controlling whom? It’s a bothersome question, and it will need further exploration, but for now, the plan is a means to an end. An ending of MY design, so, sure — I can indulge little Carol-Lee for now.
So, now I’m committed to a rather elaborate scheme. Murder Mickey. Burn his body in the van in this warehouse. Kidnap this fed from his kidnappers. Find a hiding place and watch and wait to see if Carol-Lee will favor me with her trust after all this. Or will I be left holding the proverbial bag? Murder, Kidnapping a Federal Agent, Arson — and a long list of sins and minor offenses that mark high points in my criminal career. If convicted, people would think I was some kind of common thug.
I have to take a chance on this Carol-Lee thing. It is my only chance at solid career advancement.
“Carol-Lee! Where in the hell are you? Carol-Lee! Get over here! NOW!” We both heard Jimmy’s caterwauling from outside. He is probably ready to leave, and he would not make the mistake of leaving her behind.
I take a deep breath and look at her. She gives the agent’s face a final soft stroke, and his eyes follow her as she gets to her feet. He still looks a bit lost. I don’t expect that’s going to improve.
“Carol-Lee, do you know where Dante’s Steakhouse is in my neighborhood?” I ask her quickly as the last part of the plan falls into place.
“Can you get away from Jimmy tomorrow around lunch time?”
She shrugs and nods.
“Meet me there. I’ll buy you lunch, and I’ll show you the set-up. You can make whatever changes you want after that.”
She smiles. I had said just the right thing, apparently.
She gives her FBI agent one last look, then turns and walks quickly away. Mulder is watching her leave, a troubled look on his face, but he has said nothing so far, and for a moment, I wonder just how much of his memory Carol-Lee has helped herself to.
I lean in and shake his shoulder a little. He slowly turns to me and stares mutely. “Hey, pal, thanks for sharing your lunch with me.” I indicate the leg of my once-immaculate jeans. He follows my gesture and stares at the spatters, then looks back up at me, very slowly as if moving his eyes is too great an effort. He seems to understand that he is responsible for the stinking mess and looks genuinely remorseful.
I smile indulgently at him. “Hey, relax. It was a joke. You’ve got a head injury. That’ll make you feel kind of seasick for awhile.”
He seems to look a little greener after I said that, so I decide to leave well enough alone. He swallows, closes his eyes and rests his head in the cradle of his upstretched arms. His breath is still coming in fast, little wheezes, and I’m sure he doesn’t feel like making small talk with me.
If he can even make small talk, that is. He has remained eerily silent. I shrug and get to my feet.
Behind us, I can hear Mickey grunting and groaning as he tugs a few more crates toward the door. Hard worker. Too bad. I’d rather substitute Gator in this complicated little switcheroo, but there is no way that Gator’s body would ever be mistaken for Mulder’s.
Good body, bad fortune, Mickey.
Well, at least if this plan goes well and the cops don’t get suspicious enough to go beyond the initial physical evidence I’ll be leaving for them, you’ll get a nice paid-for federal funeral out of it, kid. So what if you’ll be spending eternity under Fox Mulder’s headstone.
What’s in a name when it comes to the Grim Reaper?
I have to get going. Lots to do. I’ve got to get a few common accelerants. I have a favorite mix, a real sure-fire fire starter. Nothing too fancy. There’s no time and no need to make this a work of art.
When I get back, everyone should be ready to go their separate ways. That is, until Jimmy calls our next move. That’s when I’ll have my little chat with Mickey. When we’re all alone — except for the prisoner, of course.
Mickey’s such a simpleton; this should be easy.
Here Mickey, Mickey, Mickey. Here, boy. Come and get it.
I smile as I head out, jangling my keys anxiously in my pocket. Damn. I’m going to have to clean these jeans off somehow. My whole car is gonna smell like puke.
Thank you very much, Agent Mulder.
As I head toward the door, I have an uncomfortable feeling that those hazel eyes are watching my back, staring after me.
I’m getting real mad.
This little set-up is fast becoming more than I bargained for. I should have known that. I would have known that — if not for the undue influence of Carol-Lee. No. I brush that thought away as I struggle to pull the clothes off Mickey’s corpse.
She can’t be controlling my head. She can’t be! This is MY plan. I’M the one in charge.
I AM IN CHARGE!
I pause in my struggle long enough to look over at the fed. He’s huddled up against a few empty crates trying to stay warm, trying to stay conscious, trying to stop throwing up.
Why bother? Pass out, pal. You’re no help.
I had to help the Hoover Boy strip. When he wasn’t even able to unbutton his own shirt, I wondered just how scrambled his brains were. But, time was of the essence, so I had to move him along to keep up with my schedule.
He had come awake when he heard the shot fired from his own gun.
I had persuaded Mickey to stay behind to help me with the arson set-up. Mickey likes me. I mean, liked me. So he was glad to be of some help to me. I wish he hadn’t been so obliging. I wish he hadn’t been so eager. The look on his face, right up to the moment the fed’s bullet went crashing through his sternum, into his heart, was pure surprise. I hated to be such a disappointment to him.
When I turned around to get my new charge, I was surprised to see him awake and on his feet, eyes wide and face as white as a sheet. You’d have thought a simple murder wouldn’t have shook a fed.
That is, if he even knew he was a federal agent any more.
I pull off the last of Mickey’s clothes and throw them at the fed.
“I’m not helping you this time, pal. If you don’t want to freeze where you’re sitting, you’ll have to dress yourself.” The snarl in my voice seems to have gotten his attention. “I’ve got to get Mickey, here, ready to greet the media tomorrow.”
I start to pull the agent’s dress shirt onto Mickey’s corpse. The body is cooling rapidly, so I try to move a little faster, being careful to avoid the blood all over its chest and on the floor. No telling what Mickey might have picked up in his travels on the seedier side of life.
When I look up, the captive is staring at his hand, bloodied when he tried to pick up Mickey’s mangled Steelers sweatshirt. He looks like he’s going to get sick again.
“Hey! Pal!” I whistle sharply to snap him out of his trance. He jumps a little and turns his stare on me. “Forget the sweatshirt! Just get into the jacket and jeans. The shoes will probably be too small for you, but you had better put the socks on.” He nods and gingerly pulls Mickey’s worn leather bomber jacket on. He is slowly untangling his long legs out from under himself as I turn back to my macabre task.
There. Done. Mickey the FBI Agent.
As I struggle to get the shoulder holster in place, I am aware of the real FBI Agent standing over the body. I look up to see him studying Mickey’s corpse with intensity. As I rise to my feet and look down at the body, I guess I know why it fascinates him so.
Dressed in the fed’s clothing, Mickey is a credible copy of the man beside me. I could tell he was studying the corpse, looking as if he were trying very hard to remember something. He has still not said one word, has not asked one question. It’s clear that his memory has been wiped clean. He doesn’t seem to be making any progress in understanding his situation.
Which, perhaps makes him easier to handle, but suddenly, with him standing there next to me, I don’t feel as safe as I did when he was cuffed to the ladder.
I reach down and catch one of the handcuff bracelets left hanging from his wrist. When I have his attention, I motion toward the ladder. He does not resist as I push him toward the wall. He’s got to be cuffed while I do the last of my walk-arounds of the warehouse, checking my fire traps and making sure there are no potential witnesses lurking about in the dark.
It is well past two a.m., and the rain has turned to sleet.
No one around. Good. I think the fire will need at least thirty minutes to burn without the intervention of Pittsburgh’s fire department. By that time, the whole building will have been an inferno, and they’ll all have to wait until things cool down before they can play ‘CLUE’ with what I’ll be leaving behind.
Right. Time to get moving. I’m tired, and this has already taken an hour more than I planned.
The fibbi is crouched to the floor again, his head resting in his arms. He doesn’t even look up when I drag the body into the van. I stoop to pour a measure of acid into Mickey’s mouth and then sprinkle it over the dead baby-face. Hopefully, this last minute idea will slow up identification of dental work.
I hastily sprinkle the last of the gasoline over the body and splash the back end of the van just for good measure. Making sure that I’m free of any fire-attracting petrol, I light my ancient Zippo. And in a grand gesture, I toss the lighter and flame onto Mickey’s well-dressed corpse.
Fire is a living thing, I think. I never fail to pause a few moments to worship before its altar, watching as it runs, jumps, races to enjoin everything it can into its greedy grasp. And it talks, too! I swear I can hear it in the whoosh, whisper and tiny explosions that reach out along the trails I laid for it.
What the hell…? What’s all the other noise?
There is the mad clanging and the groan of metal twisting from the wall behind me. I whirl around and see the fed as animated as I have ever seen him. The wildcat from the van is back! Only this time, the cat’s not angry…
It’s scared out of its wits.
Special Agent Mulder is wrenching at the metal that is holding him. He is in the throes of open-mouthed horror, looking right past me, into the van, at the corpse in its fiery funeral pyre. In his fright, my hostage is actually tearing himself free. The rusty rung of the ladder disintegrates under the force of his pulling, and he falls as I start forward to grab him.
I catch him just as he gets his feet under him, and I ride him back down to the floor. With my knee pressed into his spine and a handful of hair I’ve grabbed to pin his head down, the fed is pretty much immobilized.
But I can still feel him squirming, struggling against my weight. Absolutely amazing! Such is the power of terror. I didn’t expect him to have this much fight left. He has to be running on pure adrenaline.
“Calm down, pal! Calm down. Stop your struggling!”
This was like trying to stay on top of a Brahma bull in the Calgary Rodeo.
I tighten down on him, leaning over to hiss directly into his ear: “I said: calm down! As soon as you stop your fighting, we can get out of here.”
I don’t know if he hears me over the roar of the flames and his own noisy breathing, but he seems to weaken just then. I pat his shoulder in a brotherly gesture and smile, even though he still isn’t looking at me.
No, for sure, the only thing he’s looking at is a vision of himself in hell.
“Okay. Nice and easy. I’m going to help you up, and I don’t want you trying to run off. You’ll be okay if you just calm down and do as I tell you.”
He is still staring at the burning corpse, but he seems to be paying attention to me, too. I lift myself off of him, cautiously, in case he spooks again, and I have to restrain him.
But he rises easily as I pull him to his feet and face him to the door, away from the growing tempest of heat in the center of the warehouse. I hustle him toward the exit. The fire is spreading rapidly enough that we could easily be cut off from our one and only way out.
I guess I didn’t even realize how oppressive the fire had become until we burst into the cold wet weather outside. The fibbi is sucking air like a drowning man, and for a moment, I have a problem keeping him on his feet as we move toward my car.
I unlock the trunk and throw the lid open. “Sorry, pal. You’ll be traveling coach. First class is reserved for passengers that I can count on. You know — the ones that won’t throw up on me, bleed on the leather seats or try to strangle me when I’m driving.”
I smile brilliantly at him and indicate his assigned seating.
He looks utterly defeated now. Wet. Sick. Exhausted. I guess he’s had a long day, too. With a little assistance from me, he settles into the cramped space of my trunk. I slam the lid shut and race to get in the driver’s seat, to start the engine, and to put some distance between me and this old warehouse.
Damn. It’s past three o’clock in the morning. My street is dark when I finally pull into my parking spot in front of the old two-story row house that I call home.
I own it. I’ve owned it for the past three years actually. Bought it with the money from my first big job with Jimmy Botina. Not as fancy as his downtown lofts with views of the Allegheny River, but it suits me fine. Old neighborhood. And the neighbors all mind their own business.
I had converted the whole bottom floor to a large one bedroom apartment for myself. There was enough left upstairs to make a kind of efficiency apartment that I’ve rented to some middle aged merchant marine who goes sailing for months at a time. And when he is home, he just quietly sits up there, drinking himself into a stupor.
Like I said, suits me fine. No one knows me. No one bothers me.
My houseguest is docile enough now. Pain, cold and exhaustion seem to have taken their toll from him. He needs a bit of help getting up to my front door as the steps are all iced over with sleet and he is still unsteady on his feet. I hope that if anyone is awake at this hour to witness our trek up the steep steps that we will only look like a couple of drunks helping each other home.
He stands quietly by my side as I fumble with my keys in the hallway. Once inside, I push him ahead of me through my living room which is lit with the blue flickering light of my television and my aquarium. I like to keep the television on, even while I’m gone, a habit I picked up years ago.
Down the hall to my kitchen. He stops in the dim light shining from the fixture over my stove and looks at me quizzically. I smile at him and throw open the basement door. He looks at the steps, one or two descending sharply downward and then swallowed by inky black shadows.
“Come on, pal. You’ve got the presidential suite. Down there.” I motion into the darkness. I know I’m going to have to get a flashlight; the lights down there haven’t worked since just after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
I generally avoid going down into that basement. I hate the way it smells — like oldness and rot and dampness. I’ve often imagined that’s the way a grave must smell.
Anyway, I’ve never liked basements and so, while the rest of my apartment is neatly kept, the basement has gone ignored.
As I am unwilling to give up my bed or couch to Carol-Lee’s FBI agent, he’ll just have to bunk down in the old coal cellar in the back.
At least he has the courage to go down about four steps into the dark, but when he almost stumbles in the blackness, he turns his face back up to me with something like panic in his eyes.
I shouldn’t toy with him like this. Carol-Lee might not like it.
And immediately, that thought makes me a bit resentful toward the man below me.
But I reach around the door and grab the big flashlight I have hanging there and snap it on, illuminating the rest of the old stairway for him. He continues down, clutching the rickety rail. I wait until he gets to the bottom before I follow him. My gas furnace comes suddenly alive as the heater kicks on. The sudden noise and soft flood of blue light from the furnace flame cause the fibbi to jump. I laugh as I come up alongside of him and take his elbow to steer him to the back of the basement.
The cellar has walls blackened by years of coal dust, from coal deliveries made through a chute from the alleyway. The antique furnace had gone the way of coal wagons as electric and gas heat became safe, clean alternatives. My coal room had been swept clean by previous owners, but the black, stained walls and the bricked-up hole for the delivery chute would always be reminders of its past.
I had pressed it into service as a storage room. I had gutted an old passenger van I had when I moved here from Chicago, just before I met Jimmy Botina and decided to pursue interests other than the refitting of ancient cargo vans. The old van’s back seat bench and two front bucket seats were still down here, hidden in the shadows.
The beam of my flashlight fell on the old passenger bench from my long-gone ‘76 Chevy van. I lean over the seat, running my hand along the underside, looking for one of the structural support bars.
“C’mere, pal.” I motion the fed to my side, and he kneels obediently next to me. I unlock the bracelet from his right wrist and secure it to the metal bar under the van seat. I smile again at him, reassuringly, as I pat the dusty vinyl surface of the seat. “Just a little security measure. You’ll be fine. Just lie down and get some shut-eye, okay?”
He couldn’t answer me if he wanted to. His teeth are chattering so hard I can hear them. I chew my lip and reconsider the sleeping arrangement. It wouldn’t do for Carol-Lee to come here tomorrow and find a frozen corpse.
I sigh with resignation. “Look… Just sit here for a moment, okay? I’ll be right back.”
I carefully make my way back up the dark stairs to gather a few old couch pillows and to pull my ancient sleeping bag from the closet in the hallway. As I make my way back down to my guest, I am silently cursing him, cursing Carol-Lee, and cursing myself for getting this deeply involved in such a stupid scheme.
The fed is too sick and too tired to even look grateful that I am extending such hospitality to him. His eyes are slipping shut even as I pull the musty-smelling sleeping bag around him.
His breathing is still labored, which I expect if Jimmy had cracked a few of his ribs. But the breathing sounds a bit wet, too — kind of wheezy.
I pause just a moment to shine the flashlight beam onto his face. Beneath the accumulated grime from his adventures today, he is ghostly pale. Under his almost closed eyelids, those chameleon-like hazel eyes look unnaturally glassy. I touch my hand to his forehead. As much as he is shivering, his body seems to be generating a lot of heat.
I shake my head. Carol-Lee is going to have her hands full with this one. Hope he keeps her happy. If he lives, that is.
I make my way out of the damp, grave-like basement. As I close the door at the top of the steps, I make sure to turn the skeleton key in the lock, and, after a second thought, I hide the key in a cupboard over the stove, tossing in his government-issued gun and his fibbi ID.
One last shudder throws off the chill I’ve been feeling. As I stand in the glow of light from my refrigerator, looking for a beer, I try to force thoughts of today’s events to the back of my mind. But, I am feeling far too much tension. There are still too many unknowns ahead of me. And I began to feel the old anxiety well up in me, icing over my gut.
I grab a long neck Corona and slam the refrigerator shut. A single beer is just not going to cut it. I head to my bedroom to search through my stash of pharmaceutical courage — uppers, downers, a collection that would make most doctors pale. Jimmy is nothing if not generous with his drug connections. One of our little company’s benefit packages.
I choose two of my favorites with the thought in mind that I would have to be up in three or four hours, bright eyed and bushy tailed, to go back to the warehouse and review my handiwork.
I down the capsules and chug my beer as I make my way to the living room and flop down on my leather couch, waiting for dreamless sleep to overcome the drone of Carol-Lee’s voice in my head, the vision of Mickey’s face as I pulled the trigger, and the dark stare of Special Agent Fox Mulder’s eyes…
I come awake to the sunny visages of the Eyewitness News Team on the Early Morning Report. A tiny blonde, chosen, I expect, for how many teeth she could reveal in a smile rather than her journalistic ability, is brightly relating the story of a warehouse fire found just a few hours ago. She makes no mention of the van or body. I’m sure that discovery hasn’t been made yet. It would be soon.
The film they are showing makes my fire look like hell itself. I’m even a bit surprised. I give myself a mental pat on the back, rub the red-blond stubble of a beard that had sprouted over the last twenty-four hours, and get up to head for the shower. I need to face this day fresh.
Dressed and ready to go out the door, I take a minute to substitute a couple of lines of coke for breakfast. I tell myself I don’t have time for real food, and besides, I need to super-charge my brain cells for today.
I close my eyes as I feel the first rush of cold, pure energy speeding through my skull and racing down my spine, wrapping my nerves in steel and transforming me into Superman. I smile to myself at the thought of revisiting the scene of last night’s crime; there will be the extra pleasure of standing there, anonymous among the crowd of lawmen, firemen, media and curiosity seekers. While all about me speculate about who, what, when, where, why and how, I will be standing there with all the answers taking great joy in their useless, ant-like scramble for clues.
I check my look in the mirror again. In my pressed jeans, white dress shirt, sweater and tweed sports coat, I can easily blend into the pack of reporters that are sure to swarm around by the time they find the van and Mickey, the fake dead fed.
Ooops. The Fed.
I almost forgot about my houseguest. I grab the flashlight and head down into the basement. The black shadows are growing gray as the early morning light struggles through some of the painted-over windows.
Light is unwelcome down here; it is never truly day.
I ease open the old wooden door to the coal room and stand in the doorway for a moment, dancing the beam of the flashlight over the prone figure at the far wall. He is huddled deep into the sleeping bag, his face hidden from my view.
Special Agent Fox Mulder is still alive, though. From where I stand, I can hear his quick breathing, punctuated with small, tight coughs that seem to shake his whole body.
“Hey! Pal! You awake?”
He lifts his face up and looks right into the beam of my light. His eyes glitter with fever. He looks miserable. Even so, he struggles to sit up, gingerly holding the back of his head with his free hand. This is almost too painful for me to watch.
He looks around the rest of his black-walled prison illuminated by my light. He pulls impatiently at the handcuffs as if not remembering how they got there, and then turns his shining eyes back on me.
I sigh and walk over to one of the old vinyl bucket seats. I wipe it carefully before sitting down, close to the fibbi, but just out of reach, in case he suddenly decides to become that wildcat again.
“Were you able to get any sleep here at ‘Chez Joey’?,” I ask him, wondering if he’s found his tongue yet.
Apparently not. He just stares at me, swaying slightly in his effort to stay sitting upright. No answer.
I sigh and straighten up, stretching as I stand. “Well, then, I guess you don’t have any complaints for the management. Just as well. The management hates complaints.” I reach over and ruffle his dark hair in mock playfulness. He winces and pulls back.
“You’re on your own for a few hours, pal. I’ve got to keep several appointments today. And I think I’ll be able to bring your warden, Carol-Lee, down to see you.” I frown and turn to leave. “Anyway, she’d better come to see you. I’m not playing nursemaid to any…”
There it was! A whisper so low, it may have been spirits talking for all I knew. I turn back to stare at my guest in astonishment.
“Did I hear you say something?”
He bowed his head and nodded weakly. “Water. Please.”
So, he can talk! I crouch in front of him, shining the light into his face. He cringes and turns away, raising his free hand to block the glare of the light.
I smile without really knowing why. Oddly, I am genuinely happy that this guy can talk! I suppose the thought that Carol-Lee might have had the power to take just about every sentient thought and function from this fellow’s brain bothered me more than I knew.
After all, if she could do it to him, she could do it to me.
I shook my head. No. Not possible. This is just the result of a bad head injury.
“Water. Can I please have water?” He is asking again. His voice is weak, shaky.
“Sure, pal, sure. I’ll be back in a moment with your water.”
As I get up and head back to my kitchen, I realize that I’m going to have to be careful with this Carol-Lee plan of mine. There persists a feeling that there is much more to Jimmy’s little sister than I had thought originally. This captive agent is like my guinea pig. I’ll watch Carol-Lee and how she interacts with him. Maybe she’ll continue to expose her power; maybe I’ll be able to learn and to understand how it works. That’s important, I tell myself, because understanding means control.
I wonder how much danger I might be exposing myself to, and suddenly, I feel like the male spider courting the female Black Widow. It could be that I will be successful in my courtship only to find myself eaten alive soon.
I shudder again as I feel the now familiar chill creep over me.
As I fill a large plastic tumbler with tap water, I look into my living room. The news-on-the-hour is showing the warehouse again. The fire is under control, and the pretty reporter in the foreground has assumed a patented serious look that indicates that she does, indeed, have grim news for all of us out here in viewer-land. I snap the tap water off to be able to hear the report.
“…just discovered. The body is rumored to be that of an FBI agent missing from a raid last night in the downtown district. Details are sketchy at this point, Marla. I’m sure we’ll have an update for everyone by the noon report.” Sunny smile. Now, back to you — and merrily on to the report on a spelling bee at a local grade school.
Well, so far, so good.
I start to head downstairs with the room service request for my guest. I turn back as another thought occurs to me. Maybe my house guest would like to clean up a little. I wet a kitchen towel and wring it out until it is just damp. Damn. I’m such a nice guy.
I toss the damp towel to him as I come into the room. He is much more interested in the tumbler of water in my hand, however.
“Wash up, first.” My order sounds a bit imperious, even to me. But the man obeys, all the while his eyes flicking between my face and the glass of water I hold just out of his reach.
Well, he looks a little better any way. He needs a shower and a shave, but at least the streaks of blood and grime are gone. With a nod of approval and a generous smile, I offer him the tumbler. He takes it, but he’s shaking so badly that nearly half of it is spilled before I can help him steady it at his lips. He gulps and swallows.
“Slow down! Take it easy, pal, or you’ll…”
He is soon wracked by a fierce fit of coughing and gagging that must really hurt.
I struggle to keep him sitting up so he won’t choke. After too many minutes, he seems to get his breathing under control. He moans and leans heavily into me. I slide him back down to rest on the seat, but I’m not gentle about it. This is getting on my nerves. I pull the sleeping bag over him roughly.
“That was kind of stupid, don’t you think?” I snap at him as I brush water off my sport coat. He groans but does not open his eyes. “Look, pal, I’m late getting out of here. I’ll be back in several hours. Stay put. No funny stuff while I’m gone, you hear?”
Who knows if he hears me now? He certainly doesn’t give me any indication that he has heard. I grab the tumbler and leave, this time bolting the coal room door as well as locking the basement door. No one gets in; no one gets out.
I park my car about six blocks away, near an auto body shop. No need to chance having someone remember that my car was a some-times visitor to that old warehouse.
I can smell the tang of burning wood and scorched metal on the air and see the gray-white clouds of smoke and steam rising over rooftops, wafting toward the iron gray autumn skies. The rain had stopped much earlier, but the icy temperatures had ensured that the sidewalks were still slick.
Except closer to the warehouse. I can feel the change in temperature almost as soon as I turn the corner. The heat from the fire has kept that street from icing up. I can hear the roar of the two remaining fire trucks as the fire fighters keep steady streams of water flying at troublesome hot spots.
The excitement seems to have dulled. Most everything seems to be under control now, and there are a few knots of spectators and media people on the lookout for the next sound-bite. And I see the men that they are waiting for: the officials that will have to give them that precious two seconds of audio.
I smirk as I imagine the predictable statements:
“No Comment At This Time”
“It’s Too Early To Tell”
“Our Investigation Is On-Going”
Platitudes-R-Us. Film At Eleven.
I make my way through the small crowd to huddle closer to the official types that the media are favoring with their attention. No one seems to notice as I become one of them.
I can see Chief of Police Komisky talking with two of his detectives, Garrison and Delaney. I recognize them only because this is largely their turf, and they turn up every now and then, poking around for gang information,but never really making any headway. At least with regard to our little group.
My eyes are drawn to the imposing stranger in the midst of their gathering. He is a well built man with a military bearing, balding, and with glasses that are not able to hide the fierce intensity in his brown eyes. He has an FBI badge clipped to his coat, but I am not quite close enough to read the name. I sense, however, that he is not a local fibbi. Maybe this one is from Mulder’s tribe.
Two more suits with FBI badges. From the way they are cringing and scowling before Mr. Intense, I would guess that these dudes are from the local bureau. They are all bristling. I almost expect them to unzip and start spraying to mark out territory.
Wouldn’t do any good, guys.
Looks like the Big Dog wins.
And I can hear the rumble of the Big Dog’s voice as he accepts a bag of something from one of the local agents. It looks like what must be the charred remains of a wallet. He looks grim. I have to get closer to hear this exchange.
“…of what we found inside,” one of the agents is talking hastily. “It’s Agent Mulder’s wallet. And even though the body is burnt pretty badly, the local coroner is fairly sure this is your man.”
“Has Agent Scully had a chance to see the remains?” The out-of- town hot shot is talking, but he is looking at what is left of Mulder’s wallet, moving it absently in his hand.
He’s mentioned Agent Scully! Then Omar’s rumor of her death was greatly exaggerated.
Why am I not surprised?
The other two agents and the cops exchange exasperated glances and shuffle nervously for a moment before answering. “Uhh… well, yes, actually she has, sir, but frankly, she has pretty much dismissed our opinions and assistance out of hand…”
Mr. Intense’s deep voice rolls right over the local agent who spoke up: “If Agent Scully’s report of the difficulties that she and Agent Mulder encountered with the local field office in this case is true, and I have no reason to doubt her word, then I would expect her to dismiss anything you have to say.”
Ouch! I sure would hate to be on the receiving end of that glare of his.
“Now, look here, Skinner!,” the other agent pipes up angrily. He must share rank with this guy, but he still seems a little nervous about trying to bring him up short. A fibbi turf war! What fun! My money’s on Mr. Intense. “Agent Jordan, here, tells me that Agent Mulder had gone off on some half-cocked theory about mind controllers and…”
“Am I incorrect in thinking that the reason Agents Mulder and Scully were called up here in the first place was precisely because of Agent Mulder’s half-cocked theories coupled with the amazing conviction rate of the X Files team?” That came out as a low, even rumble, but Mr. Intense might as well have pulled an Uzi on them for all the cowering that was going on.
The local cops were looking intrigued with all the official federal tension in the air. The other two feds were looking chastised and disgusted, respectively. The younger, chubbier of the two local agents saw fit to offer his two cents: “I was at the academy at the same time as ol’ ‘Spooky’ Mulder. So, when he and his girl partner showed up on our doorstep, I expected some of this damn nonsense…”
“I wasn’t aware, Agent Jordan, that it was your job as an employee of this agency to pass judgment on fellow agents while criminals are — literally — getting away with murder on the streets.” This time the D.C. fibbi’s voice is loud and clear. He moves within inches of the other agent’s face. “And if I find any reason to believe that your attitude toward this team has assisted in the death of one of my agents, I will have you — and your superiors — twisting on a thin wire in front of a Board of Inquiry.”
Agent Jordan stands silently for a moment, his face all red and his fists clenching and unclenching. Then he turns and walks briskly away. The other agent, Jordan’s superior, stays to offer a final handshake to his comrade. The handshake is ignored, and for a long moment the two feds just stare at each other. Finally, the local fibbi turns on his heel and leaves as well.
Hold on! What’s this?
I glimpse a flash of bright red hair moving among the forest of dark uniforms, suits and trenchcoats. Then I see her face. In the dim grayness of an November morning in Pittsburgh, she stands out like a beacon. A slash of white bandage shows just a bit at her right temple, and I’m able to see a small cast on her left wrist, souvenirs of her earlier encounter with the Brothers Duron.
So! Hello, Special Agent Dana Scully!
I allow myself to be absolutely entranced as I watch her move toward the FBI man I had noticed earlier. She is beautiful. A pale, freckled face graced by a full, sensuous mouth, a small aristocratic nose and two jewel-like blue eyes. How did Mulder ever get any work accomplished with this angel as his partner?
She stops, planting herself firmly in front of Mr. Intense. Her face looks grim, yet determined. I can hear her as she has to raise her voice to be heard over the noise of the fire trucks.
“Sir. That’s not Mulder. The skeleton is largely calcined, but there is evidence of acid etching at the dental work and on the skull. Someone was trying too hard to delay identification of this body.”
He looks down at her with some surprise and pulls the plastic evidence bag up in front of her face. I can see the remains of Mulder’s wallet. “The local coroner called it, Scully. They found his wallet, portions of shoe soles, scraps of fabric, part of his holster…”
Her voice is louder now, more insistent. “As I said, sir, someone has tried very hard to put us off the track here. And I don’t think they’ve been careful enough with the evidence!”
Her bossman sighs. “Agent Scully — Dana — I know this is hard for you. But preliminary evidence would seem to indicate…”
She answers with some force, despite the fact that the fierce looking guy seems to be her superior.
“Sir! I’d like to request permission to do the autopsy, sir…”
The FBI boss replies with a firm shake of his head, “Absolutely not, Agent Scully. You know I can’t allow you to…”
The little red head is really getting fired up now. I can see the tension in her small frame, hear it in her voice.
“I am a fully qualified forensics doctor…”
Wow. I am impressed. A medical fibbi. Beauty and brains!
“Agent Scully! Since when do I need to be reminded about your qualifications? ” The Federal Bossman’s voice rises sharply and then drops just as suddenly as he takes her by the shoulders.
“Scully. Please. Just take some time to think about this. You haven’t slept for over twenty four hours. And I’ve…” He drops his hands away from her shoulders. “I told you I’ve come up here to escort you back to DC. The field office here in Pittsburgh is willing to continue…”
“Continue what? How could they have a clue about what we were onto? The local bureau was of little or no help when we were called in on this investigation a week ago! Mulder and I had to pull teeth for every scrap of info we got! And with every scrap we got came a fresh round of ridicule and abuse! And now…and now… this!”
She waves toward the smoking building. There are several EMT’s near the building working with fire fighters to get a black body bag into their ambulance. She turns back to her boss, pleading with her eyes while several of the other men in the group look around uncomfortably, afraid of her tirade.
“I repeat: Someone has gone through a lot of trouble to mess up that body, sir! THAT IS NOT MULDER! And the sooner that is determined, the sooner we can find out where he is and who is responsible for this!”
The man is pressing his lips into such a tight line that they seem to disappear from his face. He is looking at his female agent as if weighing several answers for her. I move a bit closer to see his badge.
Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Well, hello, dude! What brings a tight ass bureaucrat like yourself to our fair city? Come to join the fox hunt? He must have come up from Washington DC to retrieve Mulder’s partner after the agent’s disappearance. An unusual display of concern. There must be something special about her, or perhaps, about both of them.
Agent Dana Scully is immovable. She looks cast in stone: a lovely, yet intimidating, sculpture. And Skinner looks resigned, as if he’s seen this posture before. He runs his hand over the top of his bare head, in what has to be one of the world’s most useless gestures.
“All right, Scully, all right. Run whatever tests it takes. Are you sure you’ll be okay with this? I mean, if the body turns out to be…”
She doesn’t allow him to finish that thought. “I’m going to order tissue typing, a full raft of DNA tests. And I’d like them done at the Washington labs, please. These tests take long enough. If I use our resources, I think I can save some time.” She turns her ice-blue eyes on Chief Komisky. “I’d appreciate it if my work here has your stamp of approval, Chief. It will go along way toward speeding up this identification process and making sure no one is left with his or her nose out of joint.”
Komisky looks open-mouthed from her to Skinner. Skinner’s face is unreadable, but those dark eyes look expectant. Komisky nods congenially at last. “Sure. Of course, Agent Scully. I’ll talk to all the offices involved and see to …”
“Thank you.” Wow! She just cuts him off and turns back to her boss, leaving Komisky with his mouth still hanging, open and useless.
I am loving this!
“Sir? Could you do the same with the local bureau? Mulder and I have already trod on enough toes there.” Her tone with Skinner is much more respectful. Skinner gives her a dismissive nod of his head as if he’s used to running interference for the Mulder/Scully team.
The lovely red head is already moving away from him, half running toward the ambulance. Damn. I hadn’t expected them to be this quick about questioning the identity of the corpse.
Then again, I hadn’t expected Special Agent Dana Scully.
I sigh. At least it is still pretty likely that the tests she orders will take time, and they are not likely to let the press know their suspicions at this point.
I am not too threatened by this quicker pace, though. My involvement would be pretty hard to pinpoint, no matter what they come up with. So far, Jimmy Botina is the one person they are looking for. And if, by the time they catch up with the bastard, Carol-Lee and I have made our little pact, I’ll really be home free.
However, now I am aware of another potential problem. Just past the ambulance, I can see a tow truck pulling the blackened, bent remains of the old van out of what is left of the building. I am not the only one watching it. I can hear Assistant Director Skinner’s voice again: “Chief Komisky, may I speak to you about that van?”
We should have just sunk it in the Allegheny. It is sure to become a liability.
Our ramrod-spined police chief quickly and respectfully turns his attention to Skinner, motioning his two lap-dog detectives forward. I fade back a little into the crowd and come around on the other side of a nice, new CSU van. I’ve never had occasion to meet these guys, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t recognize me as one of the neighborhood regulars. Better to stay out of their line of sight. Better safe than sorry. I turn my back to them, but stay near enough to catch parts of the conversation.
“…when Agent Scully reported she fired upon the van?” Skinner’s voice is deep and insistent. He is looking at Detective Garrison as he is speaking.
I see the back of Garrison’s head as he nods, and I lose his response in the roar of the fire trucks’ pumps as he gestures in the direction of the charred van. I chance turning back toward them in order to hear the conversation a bit more clearly.
“…the same van. The plate’s gone from it, of course, but our boys in this district think they recognize it. A couple of them recall stopping its driver for the broken headlight and messed up bumper. There must be outstanding tickets on the books. It may only take a few cross references on the traffic computers.”
Chief Komisky barks, seeing his opportunity to act officious in front of the Federal Big Dog. “Then get on it! Now! Find out who it belonged to and bring him in!”
Oh-oh. Gator. I don’t know where he’s gone to ground, but if they unearth him…
I should tell Jimmy about this complication. If loose lips sink ships, then Gator could be a goddamn fleet of destroyers.
Garrison and Delaney snap to attention like good little soldiers and head off to their car. Chief Komisky takes the fed’s arm in an overly confident gesture that says: “I’m in charge here. Can’t you see what a good job I’m doing?”
But the Head Fed is not really impressed. He slips easily out of Komisky’s grasp to turn and scan the crowd. His dark eyes settle on me — and don’t move on. For one hot/cold moment, I watch his eyes narrow on me, but I’m already slipping into character before the instinct to run takes hold of me.
I step up to Assistant Director Walter Skinner and boldly proffer my hand in a friendly shake. I smile broadly. “Good morning, sir. I’m Eddie Betts from the Pittsburgh Patriot Weekly. I’m also on the board of the Economic Revitalization Committee for this business district, and I gotta tell you, we’re kind of worried about what’s going down here. Do you have any further inform…”
Skinner is already turning away, dismissing me without a word. Chief Komisky, ever vigilant to a potential political ally, is much more attentive. He rushes forward to shake my hand as Skinner walks away. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Betts. You can tell your readers that we’re fully dedicated to a speedy resolution to the problems that are being uncovered here. And you can tell your committee that your city PD is making this warehouse district a safe harbor for reinvestment.”
Blah. Blah. Blah. See you at the polls, mister.
I stuff my hands in my pockets as I walk slowly back to my car, congratulating myself on a fine performance. What a bunch of idiots.
As I turn the corner, I glance back to see if I can catch one more glimpse of Agent Mulder’s shapely partner. The red hair is like a signal flag. It is easy to spot her next to the ambulance. She is staring fixedly at the ground while her boss is leaning over her, talking, looking intense again.
In that instance, watching them, I have a cold feeling that I’ll be seeing more of these two. Fine. Scully’s easy on the eyes. I just have to make sure that if and when I encounter them, it’ll be on my terms.
Dante’s Steakhouse is gloomy and dark, as it always is, ignoring the usual rules and constraints of daytime versus nighttime. A perfect meeting place for discussions that should never be considered in the full glare of sunlight.
Gloomy assignations in perpetual gloom.
And the food ain’t half bad, either.
I see Carol-Lee making her way toward where I am sitting. Carol-Lee looks all of twelve years old. She is outfitted in childish denim overalls with a dull flannel plaid shirt underneath. An over-large peacoat. Mismatched socks. Hi-top sneakers.
I wince and look around to see if anyone is watching. She might be 30 years old, but in this light, it must look as if I’m courting jail-bait.
She looks appropriately shy and nervous as she slides into the booth across from me. I realize that in the three years that I have worked for Jimmy Botina, this is really the first time I’ve seen her without her brother hovering nearby. That thought makes me nervous, and I automatically sweep my eyes around the restaurant.
“Hi, Carol-Lee. Uh — nice outfit. So. Where’s Jimmy? I was afraid he wouldn’t let you come.”
A quick smile and then she pops two fingers into her mouth and extracts a wad of pink gum. With lowered eyes, she answers me as she neatly rolls the gum into a paper napkin.
“Uhm…Jimmy’s gone to get rid of his car. He says he’s got to get something less… less con…” She pauses, perplexed in her search for the right word.
“Less conspicuous?” I offer.
Yeah. Sure. Jimmy Botina driving something less conspicuous than his Bentley. I laugh inwardly at my mental picture of him in his European suits, driving some dusty old Ford pickup.
Carol-Lee smiles again. “Yeah. That’s the word he used.” She plays absent-mindedly with the rolled paper napkin, just as our waitress slouches up to our booth. “I told him I was sick and didn’t want to go. I told him I would stay in the hotel room.”
I can see this scrawny, prematurely-aged hag is looking us over, evaluating us. I didn’t want to give her too much time to think, so I order quickly.
“Two Philly steak and cheese sandwiches and a coffee and a vanilla shake.”
The waitress is scribbling the order down lazily and then repeats it to me as if she were giving a graveside recital: “Two Philly steak and cheese sandwiches. A coffee. And a strawberry shake. To go. It won’t take long.”
I gape at the woman’s back as she turns on her heel and heads to the kitchen. The stupid bitch! That’s not what I said!
But I catch the look on Carol-Lee’s face. She is smiling at me, coyly.
“Did you do that, Carol-Lee? Did you change my order?”
She nods, no longer smiling. “Uh-huh. You’re not mad are you, Joey? I just suddenly felt like having strawberry. I didn’t think you’d mind. Jimmy hates when I do that. He gets real mad, so I never do it around him.” She looks as if she’s going to cry.
“Hey, look, forget it. I guess I just misunderstood,” I offer gently. She is smiling again and looking around the restaurant like a kid on a grand holiday.
It isn’t until I’m standing at the register, paying for a take-out order of two Philly steak and cheese sandwiches, coffee and a strawberry shake that I remember: I hate Philly steak and cheese sandwiches!
But I follow Carol-Lee out of Dante’s Steakhouse, two heavy deli bags in my hands, and head for my car, not saying a word.
My ring of keys rattles noisily as I toss it onto the kitchen table. Carol-Lee is antsy, anxious to see her government-issued playmate. She has been flitting from room to room, looking for him. I sigh and start to take the food out of the deli bags.
“Carol-Lee. He’s down there.” I wave toward the basement door. I lean over to get the skeleton key and the flashlight. Carol-Lee looks at me for a moment as if not understanding, then she frowns.
Oh-oh. Did I make a mistake? Have I not been nice to her foxy fed?
“Look,” I explain hastily as I unlock the door. “I had no choice. He freaked on me last night, when we were at the warehouse. I wasn’t sure what he’d be capable of, so I had to find some place I could keep him locked up.”
Carol-Lee is already past me and down the steps. As I follow, I can already hear her sliding the bolt away from the coal room door.
When I come into the room with the flashlight, she already has his head in her lap, running her fingers through his dirty hair, trying to see his face. I sit down heavily in one of the bucket seats, the one nearest to the passenger bench.
Carol-Lee does not look happy. When she brings her big, dark eyes up to glare at me, my stomach does a quick flip-flop.
“He’s very sick now, Joey. And he’s cold. He shouldn’t be down here.” Her voice is low and steady, warning me that I had better say something in my defense, and I had better say it fast.
“Carol-Lee. Please. It was after three when I got home. I didn’t know what else to do with…”
That thought echoes in my skull as if I was standing in front of a loudspeaker. Right. No excuses. Maybe I can make up for my bad hospitality to my unwanted guest.
I run my hand through my hair nervously. “All right. All right. Now that you’re here, I can help you with him. He can… Uh — I can get him upstairs to the shower. Maybe get him cleaned up. See what we can do for him, you know? There just wasn’t time to do that last night, Carol-Lee.”
I wince, as much from the force of that thought as the sound of my own voice, whiny and defensive. I feel a spark of anger but suppress it. If this alliance with Carol-Lee is going to work out, I’ll have to calm down and learn some more about her.
I lean over the fed and unlock his handcuffs. As I untangle him from my sleeping bag, he moans and stirs. His eyes flutter open, but remain unfocused, still glassy with fever. As I pull him up to a sitting position, he makes more of an effort to be aware of what is going on.
I take hold of the front of Mickey’s leather jacket and hoist the man in it to his feet. He’s as wobbly on his long legs as a newborn colt. And he smells of vomit and dried blood and sweat.
Carol-Lee is watching me like a hawk, so I’m extra careful with my handling of Extra Special Agent Mulder. As I guide him toward the door and help him up the steps, I marvel once again at how I could have possibly gotten myself involved in this idiocy.
I set the water temperature in the shower as Carol-Lee fusses with the fed’s clothes. He is beyond caring about modesty and has given himself over willingly to her attentions. Good. I’m not feeling too altruistic towards him right now. He’s taken over my bathroom, my bedroom, my apartment, my life! This whole scheme had better have a big payoff, I think as I sit on the edge of my couch, angrily flipping through the channels on my television.
“Joey…” Carol-Lee is looking at me strangely.
I must have been daydreaming again. She is standing in the doorway of my bedroom with an armful of dirty clothes. I note that her face looks a little flushed and I smirk inwardly, thinking that the sight of a mature, naked male must be a bit daunting to her.
No Ken doll. I’m sure Fox Mulder is anatomically correct.
“He’ll need help.”
Great. Fine. I brush past her, not really caring if she notices that I’m a bit pissed off.
Agent Mulder is not looking well. With clothing peeled away, he looks much frailer than I expected him to be in such a short period of time. Fever has burned this fragility into him. The bruises on his ribs look angrier than last night, and his chest is heaving with the effort of breathing.
I’m careful enough with him when Carol-Lee is looking on, but as soon as I close the bathroom door behind us and I am out of Carol-Lee’s sight, irritation floods back into my brain. A thousandfold.
I push him toward the shower.
“You’re on your own, pal. Get in. Get clean. Get out. Can you handle that?”
He is acting like he’s going to be sick again, so I raise a finger in warning at him. “And don’t puke anywhere!” He just nods his head and disappears into the mist of the shower.
Still angry, I fumble through my drug collection looking for some chemical nirvana that will remove me, mentally, from this situation. I note, with some alarm, that my supply will need some restocking soon. No problem. With the considerable share of cash I received from Jimmy last night, my inventory will be up in no time.
And — I smirk with this thought — I also have Mickey’s donation.
Well, he wasn’t going to need it now, was he?
I pop a couple of capsules into my mouth, swallowing them dry. I pull myself up onto the cabinet top, sitting next to the sink. I can keep an eye on my charge from here, Carol-Lee, I think smugly. At least he’s staying upright.
I don’t know how much time went by before I hear the water shut off. He doesn’t come out right away, and I can hear his labored breathing again. I sigh, grab a towel and toss it in to him.
He emerges from the shower, shivering and clutching the towel around his hips. I don’t think the shower was a refreshing experience for him, but he does look better, cleaner. I can still see the fever in his eyes as he lifts them to look at me.
“I… need to lay… sit down,” he rasps. “I feel dizzy.”
I grab his arm to steady him. “Well, you’re too tall to pass out in here, pal. Let’s just keep moving.”
When I pull him into the bedroom, I notice Carol-Lee already has the covers pulled back on my bed.
MY BED? Son of a bitch! This just about tears it!
“Carol-Lee! That’s MY bed!” I roar so loudly that even Special Aggravation Mulder shies away from me while I am gripping his arm. I must be squeezing too hard, because he is whimpering and squirming in my grasp.
I suddenly feel an electric shock bite at my hand and, with a yelp, I release the fed.
Dammit! That smarts!
As I rub my still-tingling hand where Carol-Lee had touched it, I look directly into her eyes. They are fierce again.
Did she do that ?
She is clearly angry with me, but she turns her attention to her FBI agent almost immediately. Ignoring my earlier protest, she motions to my bed, silently commanding him to lay down. He glances fearfully at me but obeys her.
I can’t blame him. In fact, maybe I should probably be grateful that she’s so fascinated with him. If she’d had more time and the inclination to concentrate on me, I’d probably be drooling all over myself in some dark corner. Fox Mulder is a pretty good shield to hide behind. So, for not the first time today, I remind myself to behave.
Maybe my drugs are finally start to kick in. Maybe it’s more of Carol-Lee’s specialized mind games. At any rate, I decide to make an effort at graciousness.
“Look, princess, I’m sorry. I’m just not used to all this, okay? How about…uh… how about shaving him? I’ll bet he’d like that.”
She looks infinitely more pleased with me. And she has that eager little kid look back on her face. It’s like a sign post; things will be better now. We can all be friends again.
Well, maybe not the fibbi.
Right now, he’s extremely disinterested in the interactions between me and Carol-Lee. The comfort and warmth of my bed seem to be lulling him back to sleep. That and the ravages of fever are pulling him away from us, his only escape from this very odd prison.
I go back into my bathroom to gather up shaving gel, a new razor, a warm wet washcloth and towel for Carol-Lee. And for the next twenty minutes, I find myself in the laughable position of teaching Carol-Lee the intricacies of shaving the landscape of the male face, with a kidnapped, unconscious FBI agent as our practice dummy.
Done. Carol-Lee stands back to admire her work. I give her an encouraging thumbs-up sign. Mulder is clean shaven, with no unnecessary loss of blood.
Too bad he’s not awake to survey the job himself. Lying there, in the soft bedroom light, he looks positively angelic, his face all shadows and handsome, classic angles.
Carol-Lee has found a comb — mine, of course — and is smoothing out the tangle of dark hair on his head. I hear her suck in her breath as she exposes the gash behind his left ear. She looks up to me, wide-eyed.
“Joey, can we fix this?”
I shrug and spread my hands in a helpless gesture. “He needs a lot of ‘fixing’, Carol-Lee. I think your sweet brother has fractured some of his ribs; they should be taped up. And he’s got a fever. That usually means something else is going wrong.”
“Take me to the drug store, Joey. We can get the stuff there, can’t we?”
Not unless we kidnap a doctor, too, I think grimly. But to Carol-Lee, I smile gently, “Sure. Come on. We can at least pick up some bandages and maybe a bottle of aspirin for his headache and fever.”
Carol-Lee heads eagerly for the door. I look back at our sleeping captive. Maybe he looks angelic, but…
I pull his handcuffs from my back pocket and secure his right wrist to one of the polished brass bed poles in my headboard, ignoring the glare of Carol-Lee as she casts it at me from the doorway.
I don’t care. Let me feel as if I’ve got some control over this nightmare, okay?
Well, that was two of the strangest hours I have been through in my thirty-seven years on this planet.
What I expected to be a simple shopping trip to the local drugstore became a bold, daylight heist commandeered by my gum-chewing, sneaker-wearing, innocent-looking companion. And it was all executed with plenty of on-lookers!
Even as I stand here in my kitchen, looking through the shopping bags of prescription drugs, first aid items, and some oddball sundries, I am still shaking my head in disbelief.
I was there. I was part of it. I have the booty. And I still can’t believe it happened. I still can’t believe we walked out of there as if we had been on a regular shopping trip.
I run my hands through my hair.
And I’m feeling very, very nervous. <Hmmm. Didn’t you pick up a drug for that, Joey?> The voice in my head was laughing, but the feeling in my gut was not amusing me.
For the third time since we arrived back at the apartment, I head into the living room to peer out my front bay window, searching up and down the street for cops.
We can’t have gotten away with this!
As I head back to the kitchen, Carol-Lee’s voice stops me at the bedroom doorway. My federal guest is still sleeping. Carol-Lee has pulled a chair to the bedside and is just sitting there watching him.
She doesn’t even look up as she talks to me in her quiet, calm little girl voice. “Joey, stop pacing. No one is coming. When are you going to help me fix him?”
I can only stand there, chewing my lip. She turns her eyes to me for a moment, expectantly. Her question needs answering.
“Just give me a few minutes, Carol-Lee. I have to sort through what we picked up today. As long as he’s quiet, we don’t need to bother him.”
“But I have to get back to the hotel before Jimmy gets in town, Joey!” Her voice is insistent. And nervous. Of course. She still fears Jimmy.
“Sure, Carol-Lee. I’ll be ready for him in a minute” I walk back to my kitchen to start sorting through our hi-jacked merchandise for bandages, tape, topgrade narcotics, and the antibiotics recommended by our friendly and unusually cooperative pharmacist.
Unbelievable! I just have to replay the whole preposterous scene in my mind again:
Carol-Lee and I had driven a mere six blocks to get to the tiny aged business district in my neighborhood. A bar, a mom-and-pop grocery store, a resale shop, a beauty salon frequented by the blue-rinse crowd, and the small drugstore are the long-time anchors in the little area. Other businesses seemed to come and go around them.
The big franchise types are another mile away, closer to the bridge and freeway traffic.
I’d shopped in this little drug store for the occasional hang-over relief medicine, but I wouldn’t consider myself a regular patron. Most of its customers were elderly types, people from the neighborhood, too poor to retire to Florida and too stubborn to move to the ‘burbs. I recognized no one, and no one recognized me.
I had been worried that my curious-looking companion might attract some stares, but people seemed to move around us in the store as if we were invisible. As I had wandered over to collect some first aid items, I saw Carol-Lee standing, with an enthralled look on her face, gawking at row after row of bright lipsticks, nail polishes, make-up. Regular girl stuff.
I had paused to watch her for a moment and had wondered exactly what her life with brother Jimmy was like. Was he a skinflint, an abusive tyrant? Did he deprive her of all the normal things in life? Had she ever seen a movie? Did she ever own a puppy or a kitten? Did she ever wonder what it would be like to be a mom? Have a baby? Love someone? Have sex with someone?
What was this fixation with Fox Mulder? And why, after knowing her for three years, did Carol-Lee suddenly turn to me for help in this weird play of hers? Was there a hidden agenda here? Was I so blinded with my own ambition that I couldn’t see the greater plan? A plan that Carol-Lee — not me — had designed?
That would hardly be possible. She can’t have the IQ of a second grader, but there was still a feeling in the back of my mind that I didn’t know the whole story of Carol-Lee. And my lack of knowledge in that area was fast becoming a liability.
I had forced myself back to the matters at hand. I came up behind Carol-Lee, leaned over her shoulder and picked a pale coral shade of lipstick out for her. When I handed it to her, she looked back at me with surprise and wonder.
“Get it, princess. It would be a pretty color on you.”
I remember being surprised to see her blush a little. She shook her head.
“Jimmy would get really mad.”
“Carol-Lee. You’re a thirty year old woman! Hell, if you want to get some of this stuff to — you know — play with, you can leave it at my place. Jimmy doesn’t have to know until you are ready to tell him you’re old enough to have a mind of your own!”
Carol-Lee had giggled and looked over at the array of make-up again.
“Okay, Joey,” she had laughed. “I will!” She took a few more items, carefully selected, with glances back for my approval. Satisfied with her selections, she put them in the shopping basket I had already started to fill.
“Come on, Carol-Lee. I’ve got some questions to ask the pharmacist about the care and feeding of your FBI agent.”
She had followed me to the back where an old gentleman with more than a passing resemblance to Captain Kangaroo was patiently labeling a bottle of prescription medicine for a much older woman who stood waiting at the register. Behind him was a wall of bottles, cartons and jars, the tools and toys of his trade.
We had waited until the little old lady made her purchase and gotten her instructions from the good Captain. As she shuffled off, he had turned his bright, friendly smile to us. “Well, hello, folks. What can I do for you?”
Carol-Lee had fixed him with a curious gaze, I noticed, but I swear, up to that moment, I had never really noticed anything else that was odd — except for how cooperative he was.
I explained about ‘my injured friend’, about his sore ribs, his fast breathing, his high fever. Captain Kangaroo the Pharmacist frowned and knitted his fuzzy gray eyebrows together as he listened.
“Well, son,” he said. “It sounds like your friend could be in a bad way. He should probably get himself to a hospital, or at the very least, a doctor. Sounds like a case of pneumonia! He’ll need looking after. And a course of strong antibiotics.”
“Well, would you carry those kinds of drugs here?,” I asked. I had expected him to start getting wary at this point, but he still chatted on companionably.
“Sure I do, son, but you can only get them by prescription. And those pneumonia bugs can be a fussy lot. Depending on what strain it is, one antibiotic may be more effective than another. If your friend doesn’t get to a hospital or doctor for tests, there’s no way to tell…” He paused just then to gaze at Carol-Lee who was beside me, chewing gum and twirling a lock of her short hair.
And that’s when things got weirder.
The good Captain suddenly turned to survey his wall of medicines and just as suddenly turned back to me with a big smile on his face. “Tell you what — I’ll just put together a few courses of drugs for him. Take them home with you.” He cheerily stepped up to his pharmaceutical desk and began filling bottles.
I watched him open-mouthed for a moment. Then I glanced over at Carol-Lee. Her expression had not changed. If anything, she looked disinterested in this whole transaction. She had already begun to play with her new make-up, picking tubes of lipstick out of our basket and popping them open to wonder anew at the colors.
I looked again at the oh-so-helpful pharmacist. He acted as if this was nothing out of the ordinary. Who wouldn’t send a customer out the door with a variety of prescription drugs for a make-believe patient?
I looked around the rest of the store, feeling a bit nervous. Several customers were browsing, well within earshot of our strange conversation, but no one seemed to notice us. I turned back to my new-found pharmacist friend.
Whoa! The pills that were being counted out looked rather big. I ruefully remembered that Mulder had a pretty delicate stomach.
“Uh… Sir? Those pills are kind of… I mean, my friend hasn’t been able to keep much on his stomach, so…”
Captain Kangaroo looked at me with genuine concern. “Oh dear, of course. He’s quite ill, isn’t he? Here. I have that in a liquid form, too. Be sure to follow the instructions I have typed here.” He busied himself with fussing over his labels. ” And make sure to get some Pedialyte. Over there, third shelf down. It’s normally used for babies, but I recommend it for any of my customers who are having problems with dehydration. Some of our sports drinks might be good too. They’re up front.”
I shrugged and went to gather the recommended items. When I returned, he had already accumulated a number of prescriptions for us. I leaned back and scratched my chin. I remember thinking: if it was this easy, could I possibly…?
“Say there — you know, my friend’s been in a lot of pain, too. Do you have something in your narcotics cabinet that might help?”
Before I had finished my sentence, he was unlocking his safe and laying his small but impressive store of federally regulated drugs before me with a great big ‘help-yourself’ smile. You’d have thought this was MacDonald’s.
I smiled back, took a few vials, some bottles, and when I looked up, he was still smiling as if I was doing him the biggest favor in the world.
This was too much! I rattled off a wish list of my personal favorites, and my new buddy gleefully complied. I tried not to be too bug-eyed as the Captain filled two shopping bags with our selections and handed them to us — free of charge!
Then he had turned like a sleep walker and went to sit down at his desk, sort of staring off in space, looking as if he suspected he should be doing something important just then, but darned if he could remember what it was.
Gosh. And I hadn’t even thanked him.
It was my instinctive feeling that we should have run out, right then and there. But Carol-Lee lagged behind, casually perusing the comic books and magazines. I think I was shaking in my shorts, but I forced myself to wait for her, forced myself to be calm.
I had felt another surge of panic when I saw a customer approach the pharmacist. However, he just simply seemed to snap out of his little trance and came forward to the counter to get the man’s written prescription.
I had watched, ready to bolt, as the pharmacist looked at his shelves with some puzzlement, actually scratching the back of his head. He turned to his customer, and I heard him lament: “I could have sworn my stock was all up. I seem to be missing a lot of…”
I hadn’t waited for the rest of the conversation. I urged Carol-Lee out the door, and we left without incident, without being noticed by anyone, and with an arm load of drugs.
Then Carol-Lee had insisted on repeating her little feats of shopping magic at the grocery store and at a nearby Army Navy surplus where she gathered some Tshirts, sweats, fatigues, underwear, socks and sweaters for her G.I. Fox doll. I helped her out with some of the sizes, but since I didn’t have a clue about his shoe size, shoes were not among his pilfered presents.
By the time we had headed home, I had developed a splitting tension headache and a stiff neck from looking over my shoulder for cops and store managers or anyone who might see what we were doing. But nothing happened.
No one had given us a second glance!
I began to understand how Jimmy could feel invisible. I began to understand why he felt invulnerable. No wonder Jimmy Botina was never hassled by the law! He had Carol-Lee as his specialized ‘cloaking’ device!
All the way home, I let my mind wander over the possibilities of a power like Carol-Lee’s, while she examined and re-examined her new purchases.
No, I can’t really call them “purchases”.
“Acquisitions” might be a more accurate term.
Now, standing in my kitchen, surveying all this stuff, I find myself distancing from what happened. I’m struggling to understand how she does this, but maybe there is no understanding to be had.
It’s not like I can run to the library and get a reference book on this Carol-Lee thing. It’s not like this has been studied and written up, has it? Who else knew besides Jimmy Botina and his merry band of thugs?
Then, I remember. I know who else knows about Carol-Lee and her unusual abilities.
<He knows about me!>
Fox Mulder had it figured out.
He and his pretty partner. And like stepping on a rattler in the middle of a snake hunt, he was now a victim of the very thing he had been looking for.
But he had known about her! It was Carol-Lee they were looking for, not Jimmy Botina! And now, the man who could tell me what I am up against here is laying, helpless, in my bed!
I am not able to enjoy that gruesome moment of irony because Carol-Lee is standing in the kitchen doorway, her favorite fed just behind her. He is leaning weakly against the door jamb, one long, thin arm wrapped protectively over his sore ribs.
She’s gotten him half-dressed anyway. The navy blue sweatpants hang on his hips, just a bit too large for his present condition.
Carol-Lee guides him to the kitchen table, and pushing aside a number of bags and bottles, motions to him to sit on top of it.
“Joey, can you fix up his ribs? And may I warm some food up for him?”
Agent Mulder doesn’t look like he cares about food right now. He’s still hung over with exhaustion, but he’s on Carol-Lee’s schedule, not his own. Tough luck, fella, Carol-Lee wants to play house now.
“Sure. The pots and pans are in the drawer under the oven.”
I turn to my houseguest. “Well, pal, I guess Carol-Lee has declared me your doctor. You’ll need to sit up real straight for me. I don’t think this will take long, but it’s gonna hurt like hell.”
He just closes his eyes and swallows hard as he tries to pull himself straighter. I play doctor for about fifteen minutes, being more careful than I am inclined to be with him because I can feel Carol-Lee’s eyes on me.
“All done, pal. It might not be as great a job as your pretty Doctor Scully could do for you, but then she’d probably…”
Carol-Lee’s look freezes me in mid-sentence.
Damn. I said that name.
Mulder is looking at me, too, searching my face. The pain I see in his eyes in that instant comes from a deeper place than his physical discomfort. Then, as if a veil is dropped over him, his eyes lose that brief fire and he looks away, not replying to me, not asking questions of me. I can feel, rather than see, Carol-Lee relax.
Thankfully, she ignores my indiscreet remark. She must have tamed her agent’s troubled mind again. How does she do that? Don’t think about it, Joey, old man. Just be grateful she gave you a reprieve.
Mulder seems a bit more comfortable with his ribs taped. I extend a hand to him to help him down from the table. Carol-Lee has cleared all our merchandise away to the cupboards and is setting a bowl of steaming broth down. She makes another quick motion at him, and he moves quietly forward to sit in the chair she has pulled out for him.
She isn’t going to let him feed himself. Just as well. He’s shaking like a leaf again.
As she spoon feeds him, I pull out the super antibiotic that Captain Kangaroo the Pharmacist had told me was a “wide-spectrum” bug killer. I pour out two fingers of it in one of my shot glasses and set it in front of Carol-Lee.
“Better get him started on it now.” But I curse under my breath, because I know I’m going to have to be the nurse who is going to be dosing him again at midnight and six a.m.
She gets him to swallow the nasty stuff. He makes a sudden gagging sound and just as quickly looks up at me. I shake a finger at him. He swallows again, remembering my warning. He turns his head away from Carol-Lee’s offer of more broth. He’s had enough.
Carol-Lee sighs and drops the spoon back into the bowl. Then she leans forward impulsively and gives him a light, chaste kiss on his cheek. Brushing back his dark hair from his forehead, she kisses him again and stands up.
“I had better go, Joey. I could be late.”
“Sure, princess. I’ll drive you back to the hotel.”
She looks genuinely alarmed. “Oh, no! Jimmy might see, and I’d be in worse trouble! Both of us would be in trouble! Can you go out and get me a cab?”
I nod, a bit disgruntled. Yeah. Right. So what’s the big deal with Jimmy? Why doesn’t she just turn him into a human cauliflower? Well, there will be no answering that question now.
She nods and turns her attentions back to her new project. He still needs her help to get back to bed.
Is it possible to feel a color?
The thought makes me giggle into my half-full tumbler of twelve year old scotch. Feeling ‘blue’? In a ‘black’ mood? Seeing ‘red’?
I giggle some more.
I can certainly feel the red that I know must be rimming my baby-blues right now. It’s the red feeling that comes from just a tad too much of this scotch and the couple of Darvon that I helped myself to.
“That was kinda stooooopid, Joey.”
I startle myself with my own voice. It sounds so alien in my quiet apartment, like there’s actually something alive here. I snort at that thought, startling myself again.
Feelin’ kinda lonely.
What color is ‘lonely’, do you suppose?
Maybe I should go check out the workin’ girls tonight. Maybe a redhead — a redhead like her.
Not likely to find a medical-degreed, government badge-toting beauty walkin’ the streets, lookin’ to turn a few tricks for…
Ah, well, shitty weather anyway. Just take another hit of scotch, Joey.
Sitting here in the dark of my living room. Television flickering. ESPN on, sound off. The snap, crackle and pop of icy rain against my bay windows with a low chorus of wind singing back up.
Yeah… I think it’s possible to feel colors. But only the dark ones. I cannot attest to the feel of the ‘bright’ ones, having never, ever, in my life, felt one.
What’s that? Who in the hell…?
Oh. I almost forgot. I still have company.
I can hear him now, the faint echo of his desperate whispering coming from down the hallway.
“Who…?,” he is gasping. “Who is it? Who is that?” Then silence. Then something like a sob. “No… No! Not me…No… It’s not me…god-oh-god. That’s not me!”
And then he starts up again.
I roll my head back into the soft leather of my couch, feeling just a little nauseous as the drugs and alcohol slosh my brain around in my skull. My thoughts turn to him, as I lay here and listen to his pained mantra.
“It’s not me… not me.”
I wonder what color he’s feeling? Wonder what colors make up the landscapes of his nightmares? Wonder if he was allowed to keep his own nightmares or if he’s acting out one of the pre-packaged visions that Carol-Lee might have planted in his gray matter?
I can’t say whether it’s the drink, the drugs, or just the need to not feel lonely right now. Maybe the need to not feel like the dark coldness outside is really just me inside. Or maybe the need to not feel at all.
But I determine that I’m going to go check on my houseguest.
Getting up on my feet is another matter. Ooops! The ol’ internal gyroscope just ain’t what it used to be. I giggle again and head for the bedroom. Funny. I don’t remember there being such a tilt to this floor before.
I feel my way clumsily through the familiar dark of my own room. Feeling the side of the bed, I sit down a bit too heavily.
Not your usual graceful self tonight, Joey.
I grope around for the bedside lamp and manage to turn it on at the same time that I catch it before it crashes on the floor.
Ooops. Nice save, Joey.
The soft light reveals Agent Mulder to be awake, staring at me wide-eyed. I must have really jolted him with my theatrical entrance.
“Hey, pal.” I greet him with a grin and a salute with the tumbler of scotch which I am still, by some miracle, carrying. “Sounded like you were talking in your sleep. Have a nightmare?”
He tears his eyes away from me and searches the shadows of the room as if he expects something to come jumping out at him. Then he turns his gaze back to me. His face has a fine sheen of sweat on it.
Probably the cold sweat prompted by terrors of the night.
It’s not as if his fever has broken; his skin still feels hot and dry when I touch his arm.
He runs his free hand through his hair and shuts his eyes for a moment.
“Yes.” That soft voice, just above a whisper. “A bad… dream? Maybe a dream is all it was.” And then his breathing gets ragged and noisy again, as if he’d been holding his breath until just now.
I take another hit of scotch and watch him through slitted eyelids as I wait for the liquor to burn its way down and spread out over my lungs like a blanket.
He’s a handsome fellow.
Probably not the type to go play with the working girls. Probably doesn’t have to. And then, too, he’s had Dana Scully to look at every day. Dana Scully to talk to every day. Dana Scully to laugh with. Dana Scully to…
My eyes narrow at my vision of Mulder’s partner.
And Mulder with his partner.
Another thing to envy about him.
I lean over him, swaying a bit drunkenly. His eyes pop open, looking alarmed. I smile in what I hope looks like a friendly manner. By the expression on his face, however, I must be looking very feral indeed.
Well… Dammit! Maybe I am feeling a bit feral after all.
I pause, studying his face. His goddamn handsome face.
In this light, his hair is ebony, a soft frame for all those not-quite- precise angles and shadows. And his eyes, of course. The kind that make women go crazy when they’re soft and freeze men in their tracks when they’re hard. Changeable. Just like their green-brown color. And fringed with long, dark lashes. A slight cleft to his chin and surprisingly full lips.
Those lips. Open just enough to see the glitter of pearly, straight teeth beneath. Good breeding or good dental insurance, I wonder as I touch those soft, pale lips and feel gently for the sharp, hard edges of those oh-so-white teeth.
I must be making him nervous. He licks those lips cautiously and pulls his lower lip in protectively. Turns his head slowly away from me. Hides his face in the shadows. I can sense his confusion and unease.
“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” I whisper. “Don’t be so anti-social.” It is easy enough to bring his face back into the light with my finger under his chin. He does not resist because he’s scared, and he’s not sure what I’m up to.
Hell. I don’t know what I’m up to.
For one drunken moment, this whole scene strikes me as so funny that I can only laugh. Laugh so hard that I have to hang my head between my knees. I mean, he looks so scared! What the hell is he thinking?
This is rich. This is too much. Sooooo funny.
Why isn’t he joining in on the joke? Loosen up, Foxy!
And then, just as suddenly, nothing’s funny.
I go from tickled pink to white-hot rage in less time than it takes to swallow another hit of scotch. I look down at him again. This is the guy that’s getting Carol-Lee’s attention. This is the guy that gets Dana Scully’s attention.
And this is the guy who had all the answers. The guy with the big brain who figured it all out.
The Real Smart Guy.
I have to smirk at him.
He doesn’t look so smart now, chained up in my bed, not sure who he is, where he is, or whether he’s even graduated Sandbox 101 in kindergarten, much less some Ivy League College and the fibbi school.
I dip my finger into my fine scotch and brush it over those fine lips. He tries to turn away from me again, and again, I have to move his head back. Not so gently this time.
He’s begging me?
I’m starting to feel amused again. I’m starting to feel good again. I brush those exquisite lips with the scotch one more time.
“Shut up, pal. Taste it. I always get the best. Now, c’mon. I’m watchin’.”
I see that pink tongue sweep over those lips once more. And, maybe he smiles at me, or maybe that’s a grimace. Like I care about the difference.
This boy’s gonna drink with me — one way or t’other.
I lift the tumbler to his mouth and wink at him.
And watch those lips.
He knows what I want him to do. He takes a swallow, but he’s a bit too hesitant. I have to encourage him so I spill a bit more into his mouth than he may have been expecting.
I smile with mock solicitousness at his sudden fit of coughing and gagging.Take a swallow of scotch for myself. Wait patiently for his coughing fit to calm down.
He’s gonna have to get a lot better at this, and “practice makes perfect”.
I press the tumbler to his mouth again. He starts to struggle but gives it up as soon as he makes eye contact with me.
That’s better. That’s right. Drink with me, boy.
And now, again. ‘Atta boy. One more time. Good!
His head lolls back. He’s struggling to keep those eyes focused, but he must be feeling that fire in his lungs by now. I can see the racing beat of his heart fluttering the thin skin in the hollow of his neck. I place my finger over that fluttering skin, enjoying the feel of his quick, pounding heartbeat. He’s scared.
And I’m the one who is scaring him.
Such a power. Such a seductive feeling. Warped. Delicious.
I frown as I pass my hand softly over his chest, past the bandages, onto the firm, warm hollow of his belly. I tug gently at the line of fine hair that starts at his navel. I run my finger along the waist of his sweatpants.
“No. Please. Don’t.” His voice is so faint, so tortured.
He shouldn’t have wasted the breath.
I freeze when I see the look in his eyes. Reminds me of something. I’m not really paying attention to him any more, anyway.
‘Cause suddenly, I’m remembering…
The memory is nagging at me. One of my own nightmares. Someone I hadn’t thought about for years —
That other me. The guy I used to be.
Feeling much like my roommate here must be feeling. A time — years ago —when the quivering that I am sensing now beneath my exploring hand was from my own body. The insult. The hurt. And the rage that I was never able to be free of even when I stood over my attacker, watching him struggle to breathe his last breath around the kitchen knife I had plunged into his chest after he had finished with me.
It was a life-defining moment.
In that instant, I made the big leap from “bright, rebellious young student” to “soul-less murderer” of one of Northwestern University’s most respected professors emeritus.
Who would want to hear how betrayed I felt? Who cared about how trapped I felt? Who was going see how scared I felt? Who knew that he stripped away my life just minutes before I took his? In front of his television. In front of the flickering electronic image of Ronald Reagan placing one hand on a bible and raising one hand in the air, and pledging his oath to serve.
It’s still one of Chicago’s most famous unsolved murder mysteries.
And it made my life, or lack of one, another long unsolved mystery, too. Poor boy from Chicago’s Infamous South Side turns from academic mind to criminal mind. Poor boy from South Side abandons Northwestern scholarship to escape scholarship in the Joliet State Pen.
The proverbial sobering thought.
I pull my hand away from Mulder’s body as if I had just realized it was resting on a hot coal. He closes his eyes as if relieved, but I can see he’s still shaking.
I stand up, feeling dead sober but still not too steady on my feet. I avoid looking at him any more and mumble, “Midnight… ‘s time for your bug-killer…b’right back.”
I barely remember getting to the kitchen, pouring his shot glass of medicine and putting it on the bedside table before staggering to the bathroom to offer up my stomach contents to the toilet. For what seems like hours, I stand fully clothed in my own shower, with icy water pounding on my head and cry for my loss.
Cry for the loss of myself.
And Fox Mulder and me? Well, maybe we’re in the same leaky boat.
But — this, too, shall pass. And — I know I’ll be back to Joey Gauthier tomorrow. When Fox Mulder comes around, he still won’t have a clue about who Fox Mulder is, will he?
In that half-step from drunken unconsciousness to sickened wakefulness, I am having trouble figuring out what that annoying noise is.
Half ring, half buzz. Half ring, half buzz. Again and again.
I groan. It’s the outside door buzzer, an antique remnant of the days when people really cared about opening their doors to company. Loud enough to wake the dead. Loud enough to wake me. I turn and shoulder into my couch and pull a pillow over my head which feels twice its usual size.
Half ring, half buzz. Half ring, half buzz.
Christ! Can there be a more annoying sound in the universe?
I throw the pillow off, striking the face of the aquarium and startling the fish into a frenzy. My head hurts so much when I get to my feet that I’m sure I’m going to puke again.
Half ring, half buzz.
I’m going to kill whoever is out there leaning on that button.
I throw open my apartment door and lean into the hallway to see if I can make out the identity of the shadowed form in front of the frosted glass of the lobby door. I should have checked this out from the safety of my bay windows, I think ruefully.
There is something familiar about the stance of the stooped, skinny body.
Omar, the more talkative idiot-half of the Brothers Duron. What the hell does he want? What the hell time is it? I see him reach for that goddamn buzzer again.
“All right! All right! I’m coming, already!”
He cranks the doorbell one more time anyway and for one second I entertain the fantasy of crashing through that frosted glass to grab him by that scrawny neck of his.
I run my hand through my hair instead. Even my hair hurts! I start toward the door, but step back to shut my apartment door as I remember that I’m still playing host to a federal agent against his will. Whatever was left of his will, that is.
I am not prepared for the icy blast of air that hits me when I open the lobby door. I lean in the doorway, making it clear with my body language that I will not be inviting this clown in for coffee and small talk.
“Jesus! You look like shit, Joey!” Omar’s weasley face was all lit up with amusement. I’m not feeling amused, though.
“You’d better have a good reason for this house call,” I growl. I can see his brother, Fernando, sitting in a car across the street, nervously scanning the area.
“Maybe, just maybe, if you got a phone like normal people, Joey, we wouldn’t have to drive all the way over here and disturb your beauty sleep,” he growls back. He’s getting very cheeky. When I level a look at him, he decides to get a bit more respectful in his tone. “Jimmy wants to see ya. Wants ya to come now. We’ll drive to…”
Nope. I’m smarter than that.
“I’ll come, but not with you two morons. I’ve got to clean up. Get dressed.”
“Forget it! Give me the address, and tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
Omar begins to look a little nervous. This is a deviation from the plan. He doesn’t handle deviations too well. Deviations require thought processes, decision making — chaos for his already chaotic mind. He looks at me for a long moment, but I know he’s almost as scared of me as he is of Jimmy. Finally he shrugs and sighs, digging into his jacket pocket. He pulls out a wadded scrap of paper and hands it to me.
The address of a motel on the north side of the Allegheny. About a half hour’s drive from here.
I shake my head in disgust. I am really not up for this little den meeting of ours. “What’s so all-fired important this time? Jimmy’s shipment of Italian leathers get lost?”
“Very funny, Joey! I’m sure Jimmy will appreciate the joke.” Omar sneers. “Just get your ass to that address in forty-five minutes.” He turns to head down my front steps.
“You still haven’t told me why this meeting is important enough…”
Omar turns his head back to me as he reaches the sidewalk. “Gator was picked up this morning by the cops. Jimmy’s afraid he’s gonna talk, so he has a little job for you.”
A job for ME?
“Just tell him I’ll be there when I get there!” I yell angrily after him. I slam the door so hard that the glass rattles in the frame. And the sound rattles in my head. Ow! That was stupid. Very, very stupid.
I notice it’s well after 9 a.m. Nurse Joey is at least three hours late with Patient Mulder’s medicine. Damn! This day is only ten minutes old, and already it sucks! If I get a chance today, I’m going to have to talk to Carol-Lee about this cock-eyed arrangement.
I don’t even bother looking into the bedroom as I pass by on my way to the kitchen. If the ring-buzz didn’t wake him, then he’s dead. I think sullenly: More power to him; “dead” seems like an enviable state to me right now.
Okay. Two fingers of bug-killer. A glassful of that baby stuff — Pedialyte? And I’ll get him to swallow some Darvon. That should knock him out for the time I’m gone.
When I enter the bedroom with “breakfast”, the fibbi is already propped up against the back of the bed. His eyes follow me warily. Apparently, I didn’t get him drunk enough last night to forget our little encounter.
I don’t give a damn. Let him be wary.
I watch him down the antibiotic. His eyes never leave me. I notice he finished what I left him last night, too. I snicker as I pick up the empty shot glass. Guess he’s feeling a bit more motivated to get stronger.
I must have really scared him last night.
I wave the glass full of the baby drink at him and step closer to set it on the nightstand with the Darvon capsules. “I’m going to take my shower and get dressed. When I come out here, you’d better have finished this and taken these pills. Understand, pal?”
He shifts uncomfortably in the bed, moves away from me and nods.
I just smile and chuck him under the chin. He’s making me feel better again. I’m getting a sense of my own power back again.
“When I’m done, I’ll let you out of those cuffs so you can get into the bathroom.”
I smile down at him. I’m such a nice guy.
Besides, if Carol-Lee smells that stale liquor all over him, I might have some fast explaining to do.
I can see the sign for the seedy motel that is Jimmy’s temporary hiding place. I am going to be late by an hour. Fine. I don’t like adhering to his “come-when-I-call” schedules anyway.
And Special Houseguest Fox Mulder slowed me down a bit, too.
At least, by the time I was ready to head out the door, he appeared to be asleep again.
I can see Fernando Duron, leaning back on the fake brick facade of the motel, one leg up, braced against the wall. As I pull into the parking space next to his car, he motions silently with his thumb at the door beside him. He can’t speak; he’s too busy trying to cough and smoke his cigarette at the same time.
What a talent.
I try the door. Locked, of course. So, I am forced to knock to gain entry. God, I hate these games. I am fed up to my eye teeth with this whole charade.
Carol-Lee’s little girl face peers out from the partly open door. She smiles sweetly when she sees me. Now I remember why I’m doing this. I am going to take Jimmy Botina’s place. I am going to sit where Jimmy Botina sits.
Well, right now, he’s not sitting well, so to speak.
As I walk in, Jimmy’s the first person I notice. He’s crouched in a sitting position on the edge of one of the two beds, nervously chewing his nails and watching the television. Omar is sitting at a small table, playing solitaire with a new deck of cards. Always cockier toward me when Jimmy’s around, he throws me a scornful glance and then pointedly ignores me.
Jimmy doesn’t even acknowledge me at first. His leg is bouncing as if it’s hard-wired to a vibrator. He doesn’t look good. Gone are the expensive suits. Gone is his European shine.
And this surprises me. Jimmy Botina is fast becoming unraveled. I have never seen him like this.
I look at Carol-Lee. She seems unaware of all the tension in this room. She just shrugs and bounces back onto the other bed where she resumes looking at the comic section of the newspaper.
I look nervously over at Jimmy as I pick it up. I can clearly see the picture of FBI Agent Fox Mulder at the bottom of the front page. I scan the accompanying article while Jimmy is still zoning out on the boob tube news.
Relief washes over me. According to the article, the remains from the warehouse are still assumed — “by authorities” — to be the missing agent. It’s only a matter of time though, I tell myself as I remember the determined look that I saw on FBI Agent Dana Scully’s face yesterday.
At any rate, there is nothing in the news that will give Jimmy a hint that Carol-Lee and I have acted out a little double-cross of our own within this criminal comedy of errors.
I clear my throat for attention. “So, Jimmy, Omar said you wanted to see me.”
Silence. More chewing of the nails. More bouncing of the leg.
He finally looks up at me like a sleep walker awakened.
“You have to do something for me, Joey. I have to stop this thing from getting any bigger — any closer — to me.” He looks all hollow-eyed and desperate.
I shrug and sit next to him on the bed.
“Jimmy. You’ve got money. You’ve got ‘friends’. Why don’t you just get out of the country for awhile? You could do it easily with your connections.”
He shot to his feet and began pacing. “No, I can’t! Carol-Lee won’t leave, and suddenly my wiseguy friends are treating me like some kind of pariah!” He was looking angry now.
I am a bit surprised at his complaining. A bit surprised that he says it is Carol-Lee that is preventing him from leaving.
“I can’t go on living like this! Bouncing from motel to motel!” He stops in front of me, his fists clenching and unclenching. “Did Omar tell you they picked up that stupid sonofabitch, Gator?”
I nod wearily.
“He’s being held at the downtown precinct station. They’ll be questioning him in an hour, when his court-assigned lawyer shows up.”
I look up into his red face. “And you are telling me this because…?”
“He’s got to be stopped before he has a chance to open his goddamn mouth!”
Now it’s my turn to jump to my feet. I am nose to nose with Jimmy. “Sure thing, Jimmy! I’ll just walk right in to the cop shop at high noon and take down Gator for you! And then maybe I should hurtle myself through a third story window for you, too!”
Jimmy backs up a step or two. He’s sure getting meeker these days.
“Of course not, Joey. That’s not what I need you to do!” He lowers his voice and, with a quick glance at Carol-Lee and Omar, pulls me over to the far side of the room.
“I need you to take Carol-Lee there.” He’s looking uncomfortable, hoping I’ll understand the import of my little task. “She…um…she knows what has to be done, but if I go, I’m sure to be recognized. She couldn’t help me in a place like that… and… and I couldn’t help her, either.”
Huh? What was that supposed to mean? How does he help her?
He’s clutching my shoulders like he’s family or something. “I’m trusting you to get her in and out of there safely, Joey. You’re the only one with brains enough to figure out all the right moves.”
Yeah. Yeah. Butter me up, Jimbo.
I should take more time thinking this over. I should be paying more attention to that little voice in the back of my head that’s been trying to tell me something ever since the night this craziness began. But it’s like that little voice is unintelligible. I mean, I know it’s screaming something at me, trying to get me to pay attention to some problem with all this, but I just can’t seem to focus in…
I look back at Carol-Lee. She is looking at me, too. Unreadable.
I sigh with resignation. Maybe this is for the best. Maybe this is how I keep firming up the pact with Carol-Lee. All it takes is sharing a little assassination with her. And Mickey’s murder. And Mulder’s kidnapping. And some shoplifting. And a daylight drug store robbery.
Is this the ‘career advancement’ I’ve been expecting?
But just as soon as that depressing thought came into my mind, it disappeared. Replaced by the vision of Jimmy Botina’s steady decline, eclipsed by my own rising star.
I turn back to Jimmy with a wide, brotherly smile on my face. “Sure thing, Jimmy. I agree that we have to act now or things are going to get worse, fast. I’ll leave with Carol-Lee right now, but we won’t be back until this evening.”
Jimmy’s eyes went round with panic. “Why? I…I can’t hang around here that long! I’ve got to find another place for the night!”
“Just calm down! Go about your business… Carol-Lee will be safe with me. Tell you what…she can even stay with me until you find a safe house to…”
Shit! What’s wrong with my head? I don’t want another houseguest! I’m one over my tolerance limit as is! And now — Carol-Lee?
That’s it. This is Carol-Lee’s little magic act, again. But I don’t even have a chance to show her that I’m displeased with this arrangement. Because I’m not the only one who’s upset.
“NO!” Jimmy’s roar was part anger, but I could see the fear in his eyes, too.
“You can’t just drag her around Pittsburgh with you, Jimmy!,” I hiss into his face, taking advantage of that part of him that was afraid. And that fear must be a bigger part of what he is feeling than I realize, because he backs off quickly, looking like a man on the verge of a nervous break down.
“I don’t like this, Joey. I don’t like it at all.”
Yeah, well, neither do I, buddy-boy, neither do I.
But he’s already resigned to it. Hell, we’re both resigned to it! Carol-Lee is watching our little exchange, of course. Without one word from Joey, she jumps off the bed and starts gathering her things into her worn suitcase.
Jimmy’s face is a kaleidoscope of emotions as he watches her.
He finally turns to me, anger back on his face. “Stay away from her, Gauthier. I don’t want you messin’ with her!”
I manage to look equally angry and indignant. “Get real, Jimmy. She’s like a kid! I’ve got better resources than…”
He grabs my coat lapels and slams me up against the wall.
Ooo-kay. Now I’m getting real mad…
“I don’t give a good goddamn about your ‘resources’!” he growls. “Just see to it that she stays…”
He pauses. As if he forgot what he was going to say next. And then he gently releases me, brushing my coat apologetically. Carol-Lee is right behind him, staring.
“I’m sorry, Joey. I know you’ll watch after her. I suppose this is the best thing for a few days. Just see to the Gator problem for me. Please.”
I snap my coat back into place and push past him to grab Carol-Lee’s suitcase. “Sure thing, bossman! Whatever you say.”
I take Carol-Lee’s hand in mine and head for the door. My gaze falls on Omar as I open the door for her. I turn back to Jimmy. “And I don’t want the Bozo Brothers snooping around in my neighborhood, either! Understood?”
Jimmy just nods, already looking like a defeated man. “Hey! Carol-Lee?,” he calls after her softly, but she is already out the door and headed to my car. I look back at him and shrug, closing the door firmly behind me.
Just as I’m getting into my car, Fernando plants his foot on my front bumper, looking between Carol-Lee and me. He has the same weasel-like, pock marked face as his brother.
“Don’t do that,” I start to growl at him.
He takes his foot off my car with deliberate slowness and exhales a narrow stream of cigarette smoke from his nostrils. “Just wonderin’ if you knew where Mickey went to, Joey. You was the last to see ‘im at the warehouse. Omar and me — we ain’t heard from him. He don’t answer at his apartment.”
I lean over my open car door, making sure the contempt I’m feeling for this idiot is easily readable on my face. “He told me he was headed to the red light district with his wad of cash. Kind of stupid, don’t you think? Probably got himself rolled by a hooker and her pimp. Watch the obituaries column for news of Mickey.”
“Sure. We’ll be watchin’. Sure we will.”
Huh? A cryptic remark from this idiot? I’d like to take the time to wipe that sardonic grin off his scrawny face, but think the better of it. I transfer my anger to the gas pedal and peel out of the parking lot.
Just Carol-Lee and me…off to pay a little visit to Gator at the police palace.
Carol-Lee is smiling beatifically. “When we get to the apartment, can I put some lipstick on, Joey? Maybe the one you picked out for me?”
So shy. So coy.
“Uh…well, sure, Carol-Lee. You don’t have to get my permission. I think it’ll look great on you.” I glance sideways at her, just a bit disconcerted.
Does she realize what our errand is for this morning? Jimmy said she knows what to do. Is it possible for her to be this disconnected from the task?
I shake my head. Priorities. Priorities.
Murder first, then the lipstick, Carol-Lee, and don’t forget your G.I. Fox doll.
I had no idea how I was going to proceed with this.
At least we’d made it through the metal detector. I never carry hardware and Carol-Lee…? Well, I guess, Carol-Lee was a walking weapon, wasn’t she?
I mean, it wasn’t like waltzing up to an information booth at a hospital and asking where I might find patient so-and-so. Nope. In fact, the one-armed desk sergeant we had approached looked like he was going to be more inclined to book us than help us find our murder-victim-to-be.
The desk sergeant had hardly glanced at us. He was busying himself with the clips on some badges when I approached his desk. When I had cleared my throat nervously, he looked up and smiled <!?> Like I was some kind of visiting dignitary or something!
“There you are,” he had proclaimed as he handed me two visitor badges.
What was this? Open House Day?
I had passed one of the badges to Carol-Lee, and noticed that she had seemed to fix her concentration on the desk-jockey cop.
Oh. I should have known.
Maybe this wasn’t going to be too hard after all.
And before I had started to worry again about how I was going to find “Gator” No-Last-Name, the cop was chatting again.
“You’ll find Mr. Aaron Hempless’ interrogation has just begun. Second floor. Detective squad room is the third door on the left.”
Who was Mr. Aaron Hempless?
Right. I guess I never knew the jackass’ real name.
So that bit of information must have been provided direct to my brain from Carol-Lee. I was a bit uneasy with the fact that I was becoming used to the feeling of that voice in my head.
At any rate, that’s how we came to the busy squad room upstairs just minutes later. And I had that same eerie feeling that I had at the drug store, walking unnoticed through the din of several dozen people. Phones ringing, typewriters clacking, detectives huddled in small teams, discussing matters of import over tightly-gripped coffee cups.
And, sub-audibly, Muzak playing… What was it?…“The Green, Green Grass of Home”? “Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley”? “Folsom Prison Blues”? Nice touch.
Surly Perpetrators. Grumpy Lawyers. Aggravated Cops. Stale Doughnuts. Burnt Coffee. Accusations made in loud voices. Deals made in soft voices. All in all, a real pleasant working environment.
Well, we’re here! I get the feeling that if I leaped up on a desk and shouted our arrival, no one would really take notice. What a rush!
So where’s our hapless Gator?
I have to scan the room twice before I notice him in a glassed-in office to the back. He’s surrounded by several detective types, two of whom I recognize as Delaney and Garrison, a tailored-suit type that must be his lawyer, and…
I have to hold my breath. It’s the lovely Special Agent Dana Scully.
Oh. And her boss, Skinner.
Thankfully, he’s got his back to me.
Agent Scully is standing at an angle to the rest of the group, so I can only see her in profile. The two of them are standing apart from the rest of the group, apparently letting the local PD grind their ax with ol’ Gator first.
Gator is sitting at a table, holding his misshapen head in his meaty hands, silent while his lawyer appears to be doing verbal battle with the detectives. He is the picture of misery. That is, until he looks up and spots me through the window, standing at the door of the squad room.
He begins to flash a relieved smile, like I’m the one who’s going to take him away from all this.
I guess I am, in a way.
I shake my head and feign a sad face at him before I step aside to reveal Carol-Lee just behind me.
Gator starts at the sight of her, his face going leaden gray. He begins to rise from his chair. He looks as if he’s about to scream. And just as the cops and the lawyer and Assistant Director Skinner all leap to restrain him, his face purples up and begins gushing blood all over them.
I am stunned.
In those slo-mo seconds, in which all hell breaks loose, I am aware of one other person who seems to know what’s really going on. I see Special Agent Dana Scully’s lovely head turn sharply, and she appears to be scanning the crowd in the squad room.
I can tell she has spotted Carol-Lee. She knows about Carol-Lee. She knows because Mulder knew, too.
I push Carol-Lee out the door, out of sight, hopefully out of mind. But a quick glance over my shoulder reveals Agent Scully battling to get through the crowd that had gathered in front of that office. She’s trying to follow us. She is shouting something to someone.
But I don’t have time to care. Like a bee hive that’s been kicked out of a tall tree, the cop shop is coming alive with activity. Lots of shouting, lots of unintelligible pages over the intercom, lots of people pouring into the squad room to gawk.
We pass a couple of cops carrying resuscitation gear. I suppress the urge to tell them it’s too late as I follow Carol-Lee down to the lobby.
I am nervous, but we do not leave hurriedly. No one seems to have any interest in us, and I have to keep telling myself to remain calm.
But, by the time we get to the car, I find myself unable to turn the key for a few moments. I’m that shook up! Carol-Lee is just sitting beside me, regarding me with…what?
Curiosity? Disgust? Anything?
I can hear the pop and snap of her bubblegum. She says nothing for the first few moments. Finally, she puts her tiny hand over my shaking hand as it grips the steering wheel. “C’mon, Joey,” she says sweetly. “Let’s go. I really want to try some of that lipstick.”
I give up. There is no way to comprehend this!
“Okay, Carol-Lee. Okay,” I gasp out after allowing myself a breath. I fire up the engine and pull away from the station just as I see an ambulance pulling in, lights rolling, no siren. Nice response time, guys. However, no need to rush for Gator now.
Carol-Lee skips up the steps ahead of me and stands at the door, bouncing on the balls of her feet as I slowly follow her. I’m juggling my keys for the house with her suitcase. I finally have to put the suitcase down in order to free up my hands to open the door.
Carol-Lee bolts ahead of me — and runs directly into my apartment.
My apartment door is gaping open into the hallway! I know that I had closed and locked it! How in the hell did it get opened?
I enter the lobby cautiously, warily keeping the outside door unlocked just in case I need to make a quick exit. Every sense in my body is singing, on edge. And except for Carol-Lee’s footsteps inside of my apartment, everything is too, too quiet…
“Carol-Lee?” I call out quietly, hoping she’ll hear me. Hoping she’ll pick upon the fact that there is something dangerous here. I inch toward my open door. “Carol-Lee? Come back out here, princess. Come…”
The door rockets past my face, slamming shut, rattling on its hinges, shuddering in its frame.
And behind that door, sitting, braced in a corner, with his gun gripped in both his hands and pointed at my chest is that wunderkind/wildcat, Special Agent Fox Mulder! He looks half-mad, like an escapee from an seventeenth century asylum.
Sweat is pouring off him. And now that he’s caught me in his little trap, he’s panting like a badly-run thoroughbred. I’m frozen where I am standing, a million thoughts racing through my brain at once.
Who is this guy? Houdini? How did he get loose? How did he find his gun? And WHY, if he was able to get this far, did he not make good his escape by walking straight out my lobby door to freedom on the other side?
I lift my hands slowly, palms outward, showing him I am unarmed. I don’t think he cares. His eyes are dark and wild with…fear?
What’s up here? I think I can see his hands shaking. Maybe I still have the advantage on the home court .
“Hey, pal. What’s the deal? Come on…it’s cold out here. Don’t you want to go back in where it’s warm?” I keep my voice soft and calm. I smile, real big, lots of teeth. I have no idea if this is the right tack or if I’m sailing into darker waters with this guy. If he remembers who he is, I’m dead. If he doesn’t remember…
What difference does it make? He’s still got the gun.
There is a glimmer of confusion in those dark eyes. He looks past me to the lobby doorway. I wonder if he’s going to make a break for it. Will I take the risk of stopping him? If I do, I might also be stopping a bullet. And if I don’t, and he gains his freedom, I might lose mine.
So, the great debate rages on in my head. I’ve come this far, have I? My choices are not choices at all. And in one brief moment of clarity, staring down the barrel of Mulder’s gun, I suddenly realize that I’ve been living a life without choices all along.
Mulder is pointing one shaking finger toward the lobby door.
“It’s not me. Not me.”
Huh? I look over my shoulder to where he is pointing. Nothing there. What is he babbling about? Is this his nightmare again? Is he ‘sleepwalking’?
“I can’t leave. I don’t want to be him.” His sentence is strangled by a sob. His eyes are welling up with tears, but he does not move his gun off point. “That’s not me, is it? No. Not me.”
My apartment door is slowly opening, and Carol-Lee appears in front of me. As she shuts the door, she follows my horrified gaze down to her missing FBI agent.
Inexplicably, she seems totally oblivious to the loaded gun still held in Mulder’s hand. At first, her face lights up with delight when her eyes register on Mulder. “There you are, baby…” She moves toward him, but I catch her by her elbow and pull her back out of the way.
“He has his gun, Carol-Lee!” I hiss.
She frowns and looks again at her FBI agent. She pulls loose from me and drops down to her knees before Mulder, shaking her head like a mother with an unruly child. His eyes are fixed on her, but his gun is still fixed on me.
“No, no, no,” she coos. I watch, incredulous, as she places her hand over the barrel of that gun, gently tugs it from his tight grip, and hands it back to me.
When my hands close around the gun, I throw my head back and shut my eyes for a moment in relief. I feel my knees shaking. As cold as it is here in this lobby, I still feel a bead of sweat slither down the back of my neck.
Score one for Mulder. This has got to be a bigger scare than I gave him.
Fox Mulder, who, not five minutes before, looked every bit the deadly government agent, is now curled up in the corner. He is sobbing, hugging himself, rocking himself. And Carol-Lee is stroking his sweat-damp hair and humming softly to him.
As soon as I feel my fear drain away, I feel my anger rise. I walk away from the fed and Carol-Lee and force myself to go into my apartment. What I see only fans the flames of my wrath.
My bedroom is trashed.
A wire hanger — probably one I left on the bed as I was getting dressed — was the tool the bastard used to free himself from the cuffs.
Couldn’t have been easy, you sly prick.
And there, lying among the tangle of sheets and pillows were the two Darvon I had given him. He had palmed them! And then convinced me he was sound asleep when I left.
As torn apart as my bedroom is, my kitchen surpasses that damage in spades.
He had obviously spent a great deal of time in here. Probably looking for his gun. Cabinets hanging open; dishes scattered, many broken. Drawers pulled out and emptied across the floor.
Our considerable cache of drugs is all but ruined: broken bottles, a sink full of soggy pills thrown together in the garbage disposal, which is now clogged. Burnt out. DOA on its peculiar overdose, compliments of my crazed houseguest, an FBI agent conducting his own private raid.
A kitchen chair stands propped against the stove. The door to my not-so-secret hiding place for his gun has been torn right off the hinges.
The shock over the mess and the image of Mulder on his rampage in my apartment feeds viciously into my madness. The fury I am starting to feel is becoming uncontrollable. Besides, it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that I have no control in this insane theater that has become my life.
And, I think murderously, Mulder is the linchpin; the center around which all this foolishness revolves! The Fox is in my chicken coop and the disruption and destruction are beginning to unravel me.
What was my goal here?
How did I get in this deep?
I am beginning to feel like someone in a trance. And who is the spell binder?
Rage does not allow me to answer my questions. I head back down the hallway and out into my lobby with a dark purpose: I’m going to kill that pretty bastard with my bare hands. With little regard for the fact that Carol-Lee is there, I reach past her and wrench Special Anarchist Mulder to his feet.
The first blow with my fist sends him up against the stairway banister with such a force that some of the spindles snap under his weight. I grab him again. There is a fresh cut over his right eye and to me, the sight of his blood is like a red flag waving in front of a bull. I want more of his blood, as if it will serve to wash away years of the anger and the frustration that I feel in this existence.
Too bad, Mulder. You picked a real bad time in my life to be dropped in my path.
I slam him viciously up against the wall, but he surprises me with two quick, effective uppercuts to my jaw, sending me spinning away from him. I see stars for a brief second, but I’m back on top of him in the space of a breath, pinning him to the stairs. I can hear and feel the pop of bone in his shoulder, just as he screams from the pain. I pull him forward, punching him, intent on bloodying those lips of his.
There is no fight left in him.
His oh-so-white teeth are stained with red. Pink-red bubbles froth from his lips and nose as he struggles to breathe against the press of my body over him. I lean in until I can see myself in his glassy eyes.
And then I feel the electric tingle of fingers on the back of my neck.
An icy draft of air is slipping up my back, past my jacket, burrowing through my shirt and sweater to chill my spine. This is the sensation that greets my first conscious thought. I hear someone carefully stepping over me as I lay here. I hear a door open. I hear it close. I lay quietly, not moving, trying to figure out where I am, what happened.
I am in the lobby of my own home. That much is certain. It is dark. Hours must have passed. With a lift of my eyes and a half-turn of my head, I can see a sliver of blue light coming from the crack at the bottom of my apartment door.
Canned laughter. Familiar voices. It’s my television. An ancient rerun of “I Love Lucy”. Lucy and Ricky. Fred and Ethel. Dead people still trapped on this plane of existence by the electronic medium, endlessly repeating aged scripts, tired plots…never learning from their mistakes.
Such is the fascination of absurd theater and such is my life.
But I am not inclined to lay here in the cold and dark, philosophizing on my sad condition. Time to get up and act out the next scene in this little drama of Carol-Lee’s.
Just wish I had had time to review the script…
Jesuschristalmighty! The pain in my head!
I can only roll up onto my knees. Can’t go any farther.
Hold my head. Press it against the cold floor.
Still feels like a railroad spike was driven into the top of my skull.
Moan. All there is to do for the moment is crouch here and moan.
But even as I am struggling with the headache, I am quickly assessing my mental faculties. If Carol-Lee is the one who sent me to la-la land, she could have rewired me along the way.
Nope. All systems go.
Still have all these goddamned memories. Still have all these angry feelings. Still have all these unresolved conflicts.
Still me, Joey Gauthier, a psychiatrist’s wet dream.
Why should Carol-Lee fool around with ‘art’? I’m already so screwed up, she probably thinks she couldn’t improve upon my condition.
And that thought strikes me as so funny, that even through all my pain and groaning, I hear myself start to laugh.
Laugh so hard that tears are falling in a puddle on the floor right in front of my face.
I’m aware of light spilling over me, and a draft of warm air gives me a clue that someone has just opened my apartment door. I still can’t quite bear to bring my head up.
Carol-Lee’s soft, girlish voice. Ricky Ricardo exploding in a frustrated barrage of Spanish on the television in the back ground. Oh-oh, Lucy…you got some “es-plainin’” to do…
And so do I, I guess.
So. How do I explain to her?
Carol-Lee, I tried to kill your G.I. Fox doll ‘cause he’s ruining my life.
How about: Carol-Lee, I tried to kill your G.I. Fox doll ‘cause you’re ruining my life?
Mmmm… possibly not acceptable.
Well, she’ll love this one: I want to kill that bastard because my life is one big ruin and he’s a constant reminder of what I could have had: the looks, the brains, the ivy league degrees, the career, the Dana Scullys in life.
And I can’t even have that part of you, Carol-Lee, that part I’ve been hoping to win over. I can’t have it because of him, and if I kill him maybe this void will feel filled somehow.
Oooo. That last explanation sounds true enough to be real, or is it real enough to be true? But, I sense she just ain’t gonna wanna hear it, anyway.
OhgodIfeellikeshit… Please! I just want to stop thinking! It hurts on every level!
Carol-Lee, again. I suppose I should answer or something, but all I feel like doing right now is moaning, feeling sorry for myself, nursing my nuclear headache.
I feel her hand on my back. “Joey?” Again. She sounds just a tad concerned. “I’m sorry I had to do that to you, Joey. I just had to stop you from hurting him, and you weren’t listening to me. I can’t talk to your mind when you’re like that.”
What the hell does she mean she “can’t talk to my mind” when I’m like “that”? Like what? Crazy with rage? Is rage what it takes to shield oneself from the manipulations of Carol-Lee? No wonder she didn’t stop me until she could touch me physically.
I just groan again and hold my head with both hands as I sit up. “You did what you had to do, Carol-Lee,” I say flatly. It hurts to move my eyes. That Friggin’ Bastard Interloper better not have destroyed my store of painkillers, too.
Carol-Lee gently brushes some of my hair out of my face. She is clearly being penitent. “I cleaned up as much as I could, Joey. I hope you like it. You know, he didn’t mean to do it, Joey. He was just acting kinda crazy.”
I get slowly to my feet, not looking at her. I just want to be back in the warmth of my apartment. “I don’t want to talk about it, Carol-Lee. I don’t want to think about it, either. I have to get something for this headache.”
The clock beside the television reads 6: 04. She left me laying out in that goddamned lobby for over five hours?
And where is the Lord Almighty Fox?
I head for my bedroom, stripping off my jacket and sweater. God! It’s hot in here!
I stop in the doorway, gawking.
Carol-Lee has got everything cleaned up all right.
She’s stripped away everything that was me about the room. There are clean sheets and blankets on the bed, tucked and smoothed, picture perfect, making the whole room surreal. Three candles are burning at the bedside, casting yellow light over the very still, pale form of Fox Mulder.
The place looks like some kind of shrine!
He is so still and so pale amidst all those tidy blankets that I wonder at first if I actually had succeeded in killing him. Nope. No such luck. As my eyes adjust to the dimness, I can detect the fast rise and fall of his chest. And if he’s naked under those sheets, I’m sure he doesn’t have to worry about staying warm since Carol-Lee seems to have the heat in this apartment kicked up to the “stifle” setting.
Almost to the “suffocate” setting.
Well, so long, Joey’s Bedroom; hello, Mulder’s Shrine Room.
I just sigh with resignation and toss my clothes in a heap by the closet. I have to give up caring. This is getting weirder all the time. Without comment, even though I sense Carol-Lee is waiting for me to say something, I just move on to the kitchen.
It’s obvious that she worked hard in here. There were very few reminders of Mulder’s redecorating efforts. I think she even tried to replace the door over the stove, but the hinges have been bent beyond their intended usefulness by the Houseguest from Hell.
The pharmaceutical disaster has been cleaned up. A few plastic bottles have been salvaged, but a cursory exam of the contents of each tells me that Carol-Lee has mixed them up pretty well.
Interesting system, Carol-Lee — sort by color, not by content.
Certainly simplifies things.
Thankfully, I spot some Fioricet in among a number of blue-colored drugs. I don’t recognize what the other pills and capsules are, nor do I know what they are for.
Nor do I care. The Fioricet is a godsend.
By the time I down my painkillers, Carol-Lee has set the table with the few dishes I have remaining in the wake of Hurricane Mulder.
She is unpacking sweet-smelling cartons of Thai take-out, probably from the restaurant a few blocks over.
One of my favorites. How did she know?
Maybe she took a little look-see into my head while I was out cold. After all, she had done it to Mulder at the warehouse.
I shuddered. She had done some thing else to Mulder, too.
<He had too many memories… I buried his memories for him!>
Good thing? Bad thing?
I’m starting to see the advantages of walking around this planet without a memory of self.
Lucky guy, Mulder.
The smells are telling my stomach that I’m hungry. My headache is telling my stomach that I’m not hungry.
I sit at the table with Carol-Lee, feeling miserable. She is lighting candles, pouring out plum wine, smiling apprehensively at me.
Something is different…
I notice she’s wearing one of the lipsticks. And she’s tried to do something with that chopped-up hair of hers. Actually — in this light — she looks more like a woman than a child. A pretty woman. I can tell she’s insecure about this new look, waiting to see if I will comment.
But I’m not in the mood to be kind. Not in the mood to be forgiving. I’d rather discuss why I spent over five friggin’ hours laying outside like forgotten garbage, Carol-Lee.
So, take evasive action, Joey.
“Nice job. The kitchen looks great. Thanks.” I wave my hand absently, indicating the room around us.
She purses her lips, registering a look of disappointment and nods her acceptance of my comment. “I just didn’t want you to be mad at…”
“Yeah, yeah — I know. You didn’t want me to be mad at him,” I snort sullenly as I reach for a set of enameled chopsticks.
Well, I am MAD, Carol-Lee! Mad as a hatter and you’d be crazy to think Fox Mulder and I will ever be bosom buddies.
We eat in silence for the next several minutes. This contrite mood of hers will only work for me so long, so I’d better start softening up around the edges, be a little more charming.
“I was right.”
She looks up at me with wide, brown eyes. She’s a bit confused at my cryptic remark?
I smile, tracing a small circle in the air with my finger, indicating her lips. “I was right about the lipstick. It does look pretty on you.”
She dips her eyes back down, blushing. “Thanks, Joey.”
She sighs and looks back toward the Mulder Shrine Room.
I suppose she’d like a comment from him, too.
I think it’ll be awhile, Carol-Lee. I’ve damn well beaten the conversational chatter out of him, I’d say. I smile inwardly at the satisfying memory of the feel of my fists connecting with that pretty face of his.
When I look up, Carol-Lee meets my eyes. Can she read my mind? If she can, she certainly isn’t giving me any indication of it. But there is something different about her. I can’t quite put my finger on it.
She seems to have “matured”. Not the simple-minded maturity that comes from the addition of makeup, but something more — I don’t know — sinister?
Now, with the flickering candle flame between us, I can see no trace of the twelve year old woman-child that I’d always seen her as. And even though there is a part of my mind that should see this new woman as attractive — sexy — there is another part of my mind that is seeing her as dangerous, evil.
Carol-Lee breaks eye contact with me, returning to eating. In the half light, I think I can see a smirk again.
More than puzzling me, it frightens me.
Yep. This is still Carol-Lee’s game, Joey.
And I’m beginning to think I’d better be looking for the exit sign, but I’m so caught up in this self-destructive little drama, that I hurtle myself further into it, daring myself to be bolder.
She looks up at me, almost expectantly. Between us, the vision of the candle flame dances at her lips.
An omen, Joey.
But onward, I plunge…
“We need to talk — uhm — about the future. About what’s been happening. About where all this is going…”
Her dark eyes do not move. I am not able to tell if she understands what I am trying to get at. I squirm mentally. The best approach may be the direct approach, but I can’t resist making myself sound like some kind of white knight. “I never liked the way Jimmy treated you, Carol-Lee. I don’t understand why you’ve allowed it. Just because he’s blood-related…”
Carol-Lee is shaking her head and smiling. But there is something extremely unsettling about that smile.
“He’s not my brother, Joey.” She even giggles at this. “We’re not related…by blood.” She lets that last statement hang on the air.
What the hell…? If not related by blood, then by what?
She giggles again as she watches question after question draw over my face, unspoken.
“This power, Joey…it cannot be…” She is searching for words. “I need another. Or rather, I needed another — to help me control it. I think that I’ll be able to change that now. I think I’m strong enough now,” she says cryptically with a calculating look in her eyes. “But I was just nine years old when I found Jimmy in Allentown. My own parents were dead, and I was living with my half-dead grandmother.”
Her voice is sounding hard and bitter now. Seems alien to me coming from the Carol-Lee I thought I knew.
“Jimmy hated his parents, too. So we made a pact. My grandmother was dead by Christmas. By an arrangement of our making, I was moved in with Jimmy’s parents. They were dead by the end of March. Child welfare put us in an state-run home when we convinced them we shouldn’t be broken up.”
That evil smile again.
“But that didn’t last long, either.”
My spine feels like a solid block of ice. All those bodies piling up. Together, Carol-Lee and Jimmy must have been like some juvenile Bonnie and Clyde.
Murder, murder everywhere and not a suspect in sight.
“How’d they die, Carol-Lee?”
She’s looking at me like I’m the simple-minded one now. “Who?”
I swallowed, my eyes never leaving hers. “Jimmy’s parents. Your grandmother. Your parents.”
Her face gets a little harder, and she watches me for a long time before answering, as if gauging my ability to process this new information. “I didn’t get rid of my parents, Joey, if that’s what you’re thinking. I didn’t have to. They took care of it themselves: My father was sent to the electric chair for the murder of my mother. It was his mother that took me in — a crabby old alcoholic who hated everybody. She talked constantly of dying. I just helped — a bit.”
Coy smile, again.
“I knew I had some unusual powers by that time, but it wasn’t until Jimmy and I met that I was able to focus them. You know, use them for a purpose. Jimmy was always better at that than me. He did all the…well, I guess, you’d say he did all the thinking for the two of us.”
I lean back in my chair, regarding her. The changes in her are becoming more apparent with each passing minute. Where is that little girl? I shake my head as if to clear that ludicrous thought from it.
Carol-Lee was never a little girl from the sounds of it. A murderer at age nine. While I had to work at becoming a “soul-less murderer”, she had been born a “murderous soul”.
Sounds like we are a match — made in hell.
She is smiling at me as if she has read that thought of mine and was amused by it.
“What about your FBI agent?,” I ask, jerking my thumb in the direction of the Shrine. “What purpose does he serve in all this?”
I want to know. I need to know. Is she going to make Fox Mulder a permanent fixture in my life?
She sighed deeply. “I chose him first, Joey. I wanted him to be the one to help me make the break from Jimmy.”
Make the break? What exactly was she talking about?
As if hearing me, she answers, “I may need another mind, Joey. I think the power uses a kind of bridge between me and another. Because I was so much younger then, Jimmy was always in charge, and he used that to keep me in check. Now — he has no idea how strong I’ve become. Even I wasn’t sure. I’d never had a chance to make a connection with anyone else. He made sure of that.”
That last part comes out bitterly.
“That night in the warehouse, when I saw Fox Mulder, I had an idea that he would be my best chance — and I knew I could get you to help me, Joey.”
So. She had chosen Mulder to be her brain partner! I was just an extra on the stage! Needless to say, I am not real happy with this information. But it seems Carol-Lee knows that, too, because she reaches across the table and takes my hand in a conciliatory gesture.
It’s hard not to feel like a fool.
“Joey?,” she whispers.
I force myself to look at her. I feel used and abused. I should have killed Mulder when I had the chance.
Carol-Lee is smiling again. “But, Joey, it’s okay! I don’t think I can use him. He resists too much. He’s fighting the power all the time, even now! That’s what happened this afternoon. That’s how he almost escaped!”
She can’t use her FBI agent? So what does this mean? Does this mean I’m still in the running?
I stop my crazy thoughts. God, I think like some crazed sycophant waiting for whatever table scraps might be tossed my way by Carol-Lee. But, suddenly I’m not as excited about this prospect as I was awhile ago. Having Carol-Lee in my head has fast become a frightening prospect.
She is squeezing my hand softly. “You’ve always been nice to me, Joey. And these last few days with you have been a lot more fun than the time I’ve spent with Jimmy. I’d like to stay with you.”
Here she was, discussing our future partnership, and suddenly all I can recall from the past few days are the times that little voice in the back of my head was screaming at me to bail out. I watch her hand on mine.
“What about your special agent man?,” I ask without looking up. “Are we going to get rid of him?”
She pulls her hand away, laughing. “Well, maybe he has other uses that I’d like to explore.”
I scowl. I don’t suppose I ever expected Carol-Lee and I to have a sexual relationship, but envisioning Mulder as her boy-toy really rubs me the wrong way. It is becoming clearer that this new partnership is shaping up under Carol-Lee’s control, not mine.
Once again, I’m feeling powerless, choice-less. I want to strike back. I want to feel in control. I’m going to have to take the time to think this out — and I’m going to have to be out of Carol-Lee’s range of influence when I do it.
I rise hastily to my feet, careful to keep my thoughts vague in an effort to shield my real purpose. “Well, Carol-Lee, if you’re ever going to have a chance at him, he’s going to have to be seen by a doctor. And I happen to know just the person.”
She looks up at me, at first startled, then quizzical, then angry as she senses who I am talking about. “You would bring Dana Scully here?,” she hisses.
“Carol-Lee, think about it.” I lean over the table at her. “Bringing her here would solve several of our most immediate problems. She’s a doctor; he needs a doctor. You’ve wiped out his memory of her anyway, so he shouldn’t even be able to recognize her, right? And, she’s the only one still out there who knows about you and this ‘power’. If I can convince her to come here for Mulder’s sake, we can eliminate a number of problems at once.”
She nods hesitantly. I can tell she’s suspicious of this eleventh hour plan of mine, but I don’t allow myself to think it out any further. She’s probably probing my mind even as I am speaking to her. Whatever she’s picked up from me, she seems to have accepted it. She rises from the table and begins to clear the dishes without further discussion.
Score one for my side.
Now what’s next? She is standing at the sink, running water over the dishes, looking distracted. “Do you have a plan to get her here?” Her voice is full of apprehension.
Ah hah! Perhaps I’ve stolen a bit of control away from her with this plan. Feels good.
“Not really. I haven’t really thought about it until now.”
She looks at me over her shoulder. “Maybe I should come with you…”
“No!,” I respond too quickly.
Calm down, Joey.
“No. She knows who you are, Carol-Lee. She saw you today at the precinct station. She knows what you did. I’m sure she wouldn’t put herself in danger by meeting with both of us. I need to convince her to come on her own, so to speak. And I think she will.”
I pick up Mulder’s gun from the cupboard and reach up into the gaping hole above my stove for his ID. I fail to find it at first, but after a few moments of groping around, I could feel it at my fingertips, shoved well to the back.
Gun in the waistband of my jeans. ID in my back pocket. I avoid looking at Carol-Lee. I will not look at her. I’ve set my course, as vague as it is. I don’t think I like the corner I’m being pushed into. Maybe I can find a way to push back.
She doesn’t follow me down the hallway to my bedroom. Good.
Fox the Fed is still sleeping quietly. As I pull my sweater and jacket back on, I watch him. He doesn’t look much like his identification picture anymore. He’s become a pale, porcelain thing.
It occurs to me that we have both become pawns in this game of Carol-Lee’s; he, unwittingly, and me, willingly. And yet she says he is fighting her still. He’s been waging a battle with her all this time, and I’ve been allowing myself to be led by the nose.
Time to change the rules of the game.
“Going for your redheaded cavalry, pal,” I whisper at him. And maybe she’s my cavalry, too. I need something to upset the balance of power here. Maybe the combination of Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, together again, will be the catalyst I need.
Maybe they can tell me how to deal with Carol-Lee.
I drive aimlessly for about half an hour. The Fioricet is dulling my headache. The distance is dulling my common sense. Distance from Carol-Lee, that is.
When I first got in my car and heard the roar of the engine as I turned the key, I was struck by the thought that NOW would be the time to just keep driving.
As I get farther and farther from my house, from our conversation in the kitchen, I also seem to get farther away from my resolve to get out from under this Carol-Lee thing.
I am still aware that I am going to have to change the situation. But now I’m back to telling myself that I just have to find a way to deal with these new permutations of the Carol-Lee phenomenon. I am beginning to believe there is still a way I can be in charge of this fiasco. I will have to convince Carol-Lee that I am capable of planning a future for both of us, yet still allowing her the freedoms that Jimmy denied her.
Seems workable, doesn’t it?
Keep her happy. Save her G.I. Fox doll. Make everything better. Take charge of the details. Think out the plans. She needs me. Otherwise, she’ll just be lost in the world that Jimmy kept from her. Yeah. That’s it…
Let her play house with her FBI agent. I will be busy making the deals. Stepping into Jimmy Botina’s business shoes. Finding places for us to live. Securing the future, safe from the law, enemies, and the ordinary burden of day to day life. The burden I was finding harder and harder to cope with.
Right, Joey. Who needs whom? My little voice is screaming again.
But I turn it off ruthlessly this time as I turn the car around and head downtown for the precinct station. I’ve got a date with a redhead.
The lobby of the Allegheny Parkway Hotel was pretty nondescript. Taxpayers will be relieved to know these feds are economically minded. No puttin’ on the Ritz for these guys.
It didn’t take but an hour of my time to narrow my search for Dana Scully to this hotel. Made sense, actually. This was the hotel closest to the FBI Field Office and was only two miles away from the precinct headquarters.
I had called several places, and it was the cheery clerk at the Allegheny that informed me that, yes, indeed, they had federal guests under their roof and yes, indeed,the lady agent by the name of Dana Scully had been in her room since 4:30 this afternoon.
More than I needed to know, but helpful nonetheless. My only worry now is whether her boss, Assistant Director Walter Skinner, will be hovering around.
That question was answered almost as soon as I walk into the lobby. I am forced to take a quick right toward the bar when I see Skinner heading at me, deep in conversation with the FBI men I had seen at the warehouse yesterday.
They seem a bit chummier today. Kissed and made up, I guess. Skinner is still looking like the man in charge, though, so I’m sure that if the local yokels are toeing the line, Skinner is the fellow that drew that line.
I wait in the dimness of the bar until I am sure they were well away. I watch as the three of them walk to a car at the far side of the parking lot and get in.
Good sign. They are leaving together. They’ll probably be gone awhile.
A bubbly blonde clerk is most eager to help me at the checkin desk. But she frowns and shakes her head when I ask for Dana Scully’s room number. “I can’t give you that information, sir, but I’d be glad to ring her room so that you may speak with her if you like.”
Damn. I nod and Ms. Bubbly Blonde resumes her cheerful demeanor as she dials the room. The phone is handed to me, and like a good little hotel employee, the clerk moves a discreet distance away from me, as if afraid she might be eavesdropping on a lovers’ meeting.
The phone only rings once. The voice on the other end is soft with sleep, but she had to be sleeping lightly to have answered it that fast. “Yes, what is it?” Nothing else.
As if she’s expecting news.
I smile to myself. I know she not expecting me.
“Ms. Dana Scully?”
Silence. Then a cautious reply, “Yes. Who is this?”
“I’m down in the lobby. I’d like to speak to you.”
“Who is this? What do you want?” Voice of authority. But she can’t quite hide the faint breathlessness I hear that tells me she is alert, nervous. This part of the game always makes me feel like the ball’s in my court.
“I’ll introduce myself properly when you come down to meet me. I have information that I think you’d like.”
More silence. She’s evaluating, calculating. “In regard to…?”
“Please, Ms. Scully. I think you know. I need to tell you about …”
I look up to see the clerk nearby. Too close.
“…about a fox hunt.”
I relax as the clerk moves to the far end of the desk again.
I hear Agent Scully suck in a breath softly. “I have to get dressed. Give me ten minutes.”
“Sure. I’ll watch for you in the back of the bar down here. Oh, and Agent Scully?”
“I just saw your boss — Skinner — leave. Please don’t attempt to page him or anything like that, okay? This has to be just you and me, understood?”
“Yes.” Her answer sounds a bit peevish. The line goes dead too quickly.
I have to admit: I’m just a bit nervous. Face to face with Mulder’s angelic partner. I could almost forget my purpose here, fantasizing about what she was wearing in bed, how she’ll be dressed when she appears in that doorway over there. I sip idly at my gin and tonic, never letting my eyes wander away from that doorway.
Don’t want to miss a second of her…
Business gray pantsuit. White turtleneck with a gold cross and chain at her neck. Odd combo with the almost-discreet bulge from her gun on her hip. Red hair hastily brushed, so it has a sexy wild look to it. There is still a bandage across the right temple of her forehead, but this one is smaller than the one she wore earlier. And what I thought was a cast on her wrist is actually a neatly wrapped brace.
Her lovely face is grim, professional.
I lift my drink in a quiet gesture as her eyes sweep over the near-empty bar and settle on me. I resist the urge to smile at her. I can sense she will not tolerate any cockiness from me. So, as she slips into the booth across from me, I hide my pleasure behind the rim of my glass, taking a casual drink as I watch her watch me.
The silence threatens to be prolonged. It is an exertion of my power if I force her to speak first. Those jeweled eyes do not lose their brilliance in this light. She is studying me, knows she has seen me somewhere.
I can tell the moment she has placed me.
“You were in the station this morning.” She states it flatly, as a fact. No questions in this woman’s mind. “You were with Carol-Lee Botina when Aaron Hempless was…” She hesitates. “When he died.”
“When he was murdered, you mean?”
She still looks hesitant. Now I smile.
“Yes, it was murder, but apparently, you are still struggling with the concept. How could Gator have been murdered in front of a room full of cops? The answer to that would sure sound funny on the witness stand, wouldn’t it, Agent Scully? That is, if it would even get to the witness stand stage. I mean, I suspect it would be hard to prove.” I take another drink.
She looks a bit miffed. “Arson, kidnapping of a federal agent and a very real murder-by-gun will be much easier to prosecute, Mister….?” She arches one lovely eyebrow up, daring me to be truthful.
I don’t mind. This will only be fun if she has all the facts. It can only be meaningful if the good guys know as much as us ‘bad’ guys.
“Joseph Gauthier. Of the Chicago Gauthiers. Please call me Joey. May I call you Dana?”
“No.” That was stated flatly, too. She assumes an impatient look. “What did you come here to tell me?”
“Well, Dana,” I answer purposefully. “Before I forget my manners altogether, may I offer to buy you a drink?”
Ooooo… She’s getting angry now.
“Am I to understand that you have some information about Agent Mulder?” She ignores my offer of a drink. There is a betrayal of emotion in her voice this time.
This matters a lot to her.
More than partners? More than friends?
I nod and take a moment to play with the ice in my drink. I start to reach for my back pocket, and I notice her go into her fibbi mode right away, stiffening up, reaching into her jacket for her gun.
This is no game to her, Joey, better be a bit more cautious.
I pull my hands into view quickly, Mulder’s ID wallet pinched in the fingers of my left hand.
Her face loses a bit of color when she sees it. She grabs it from me and flips it open, staring at the picture of her partner. Enough time for me to also produce his gun, keeping it just at the edge of the table, out of sight to all but her. Her eyes fall on the gun and then look up at me. I do not have the gun aimed and ready, so she has a questioning look in her eyes.
I smile again. “I’m not particularly fond of guns, Dana. And I’m not here to threaten you or do you harm.”
She is looking more quizzical than ever. “Then what are you here for?” she asks angrily. “What do you know about Mulder? Where is he? Is he…?”
She stops herself, almost choking on her question.
She doesn’t want to know if he’s dead. She doesn’t want to hear it from me.
“I’m here because he needs a doctor,” I respond simply. “He’s not doing well and…well, one of my team, at least, is interested in his health. However, unless I’m able to convince you to come back with me — alone — his health will be a moot point.”
“I venture to guess, from the look on your face, that you aren’t the concerned one,” she snaps.
“Smart lady, Dana. Let’s just say that Fox and I weren’t destined to be den brothers, and right now I’m not happy that he’s in my den. I have other motives.”
She begins to look nervous. “I’m still not sure what you have in mind. You must know the consequences of kidnapping federal agents.”
“Dana, Dana, Dana… Let me welcome you into our little world of Carol-Lee. A world without consequences.”
“Well, there were consequences enough for Aaron Hempless, weren’t there? And what of the fellow that died in Mulder’s place? Was he part of this little world without consequences, too?”
Her little speech is unsettling. Sounds too much like that little voice in my head, the one I’ve been ignoring.
“Look, I’m not here to debate man’s inhumanity to man. Are you coming with me or not?”
She is tense. “If I go with you, I would be in direct violation of bureau policy,” she starts. I’m sure her mind is looking for a hundred ways to do this her way, but I’m in charge this time. There will be no deviation from my plan.
I lean over the table to hiss at her, “Listen to me, Lovely Lady, he’s hurt. He’s sick. He’s in pain. He needs a doctor, and he needs one now! If we’re going to take the time to figure out how to do this by your rule book, I can promise you that you’ll never see Fox Mulder again.” I settle back into my seat and watch this threat sink in.
She remains silent, but I can see the concern in her eyes.
“I know you’re a doctor. And I know that you know, or at least suspect, that Carol-Lee Botina is, well, shall we say, empowered with ‘unusual’ abilities.”
She is glaring at me, not reacting. I continue, “Unfortunately for your partner, she took a shine to him when Jimmy ordered him killed. You’ve already figured out that your partner didn’t die in that fire. She has him. And now, Mulder’s all caught up in her little web.” I take the last swallow of my drink, all the gin watered down with melting ice. I can’t keep my voice from sounding bitter. “It might have been better for ol’ Foxy if I had just killed him then and there…and maybe better for you…and maybe me, too.”
I look up into her jewel eyes. She is full of questions. She still says nothing, however. She is not about to indulge me in my pity-party. I brush my empty glass aside and slap a ten dollar bill onto the table. “Time’s up. Now, are you going to help me help him or shall we just sit here and debate good and evil, crime and punishment, life and death?”
She looks a bit panicky. “I have to get some things from my room.”
I laugh and scratch my head in a gesture of impatience. “Do I look like an idiot? If you’re coming with me, you are coming now. Do Not Pass Go. Do Not Collect Two Hundred Dollars, Darlin’ Dana.”
“If I leave like this now, Skinner’s going to know something’s up.”
My argument cuts her off in mid-sentence. “Skinner thinks you’ve tucked yourself in for the night, doesn’t he? If you come quietly — all nice and friendly — we won’t attract any attention and your bossman won’t be looking for you until tomorrow morning, right?”
She nods, defeated. I hold my hand out. “I know this is a direct violation of bureau policy as well, but I am going to have to insist on keeping your gun.”
“I could easily pull my gun on you right here,” she growls. “Even if you didn’t give us any information, we could have info run down on you. The entire city would be searched for Mulder and we’d find…”
“You’d find him dead. Afflicted by the same mysterious disease that you saw Mr. Gator consumed by. Do you honestly think that Carol-Lee couldn’t tell you were coming? Do you think she’d let you have him back without some casualties?”
She just gapes at me for a few moments. She is really hating this! But she slowly pulls the gun from her neat little suit coat and pushes it angrily across the table at me. “Tsk! Dana! Let’s not cause a scene, okay?”
I smile and slide from the booth. I take her arm as she rises and gently direct her toward a side door. No need to risk running into any returning feds by boldly leaving via the front entrance. No one looks away from the television football game to notice us leave.
So far, so good.
The night air is nippy, and she is shivering by the time we get into my car. I gallantly offer her my coat, but she shakes her head. Her pretty lips are pursed in a tense line. She jumps a bit as I reach across her knees and open the glove box. “Relax. Just a little present for you.”
I hand her a strip of red cloth.
She looks quizzically at me. I smile indulgently. “As much as I hate to cover those beautiful eyes, Agent Scully, I would prefer keeping a bit of an advantage by blindfolding you until we arrive at my place.”
She seems angry, but she complies. I start the engine and pull away from the hotel. I will spend a good forty five minutes taking a circuitous route home, just like the city cabs. It feels wonderful to have the lovely Dana Scully by my side. I can smell faint spicy tones of …what? Perfume? Soap? Shampoo?
This was Mulder’s privilege. This was Mulder’s existence.She was part of his world, and now I’m leading her right to him.
I mentally choke at the irony of it. But it seems like the only way to change the action in Carol-Lee’s little drama: introduce another player.
The door to my apartment is not locked. I’m sure Carol-Lee doesn’t fear the common intruder. I can feel the wall of heat as we enter the apartment. I can tell Agent Scully is being ultra-alert. Her eyes sweep over everything in the room and cast down the hallway. They stop when they lock with Carol-Lee’s dark eyes as she stands in the doorway of my bedroom.
Carol-Lee is looking a bit territorial, and for a moment, I am fearful that this may not have been the best idea. My gut unties itself when Carol-Lee gestures Agent Scully forward and disappears into the room ahead of her. Dana does not even look at me. She moves to follow Carol-Lee quickly.
I stand for a moment in the solitude of my living room, listening to the roar of a B-ball game on ESPN. I used to feel part of that world, the sports fan, the team follower, the statistics quoter. Even as a small-time hood, I felt entitled to life in the ‘normal’ world.
Not any more. I might as well be living in an alternate universe, as alienated as I feel from everything ‘normal’.
I sigh and pull my jacket and sweater off. Head for the shrine room.
Dana is standing at the foot of the bed. She has her injured hand pressed hard against her mouth as if stifling a shriek and the other hand gripping the footboard so tightly that her knuckles are white.
She is staring at the frail figure of her partner. He is still sleeping, maybe unconscious, breathing in short labored gasps. The shadows from the burning candles aren’t quite enough to hide the damage I inflicted on his shoulder. The cut over his eye is no longer bleeding but it glistens accusingly at me in the candlelight. And his lower lip is puffy.
It is clear Agent Scully wants to go to her partner, but Carol-Lee is standing guard, glaring suspiciously at our new guest.
“Carol-Lee, this is Doctor Dana Scully. Dana, Carol-Lee.” My introduction sounds ludicrous; these two women are well aware of each other.
Mulder’s new owner doesn’t seem willing to step aside.
I should have known. At least she doesn’t seem to be playing any mind-voodoo with Dana. I think she knows that her G.I. Fox doll needs some serious doctoring, and this is the woman to do it.
“Carol-Lee, I think she needs to check him over. Could you come stand by me, please?”
She does not take my request pleasantly. She is definitely changing, becoming something meaner. Whatever made me think I could control this dark fury?
She steps quickly away from the bed. She brushes past me without a word or a look. I don’t even sense her in my mind as she leaves the room.
Unpredictable? If she’s unpredictable, Joey, she’s uncontrollable.
“I’ll need your help.” Dana Scully is talking to me. She is bent over her partner, her hands probing gently along his collar-bone and shoulder. He moans as she touches the core of his injury.
Why shouldn’t I help? I’m the one that tuned him up in the first place, wasn’t I? The least I could do for my pal.
She rotates his arm into what seems like kind of an odd position, and he begins squirming. “Hold him still,” she commands. “Hold him tightly.” I no sooner get a grip across the top of his chest before she puts her knee up against that shoulder and pulls on his arm. He convulses against me with a strangled cry, and then goes limp again.
She lays his arm gently at his side and reaches to feel his forehead, feels his pulse. She drops her head to his chest, listening, while I watch the shower of silky red hair slip over his chest as if protecting him. She pushes some of the blankets away, letting her hands wander over his chest, feeling, searching with her fingertips.
He jerks again as if electrified when she finds the broken ribs.
She looks up at me angrily, blaming me. I really don’t need this. “Hey. I’m not responsible for all the artwork on this guy, so don’t even start with me,” I respond to her wordless accusation.
So I lie a little bit.
She straightens up. “What other injuries does he have? What else has happened that I should know about?”
I reach over and move Mulder’s head to the side, exposing the gash that had been neatly bandaged earlier today. “That’s from a blow given to him by the late, great Gator. Caught him off guard when he was tending to you at the loft.” Her eyes soften a bit, and she leans closer to touch near the wound. Mulder groans and tries to move his head away. “By the time we had him at the warehouse, he had come around and got into a fight with Gator and two other slime from our group. He lost the battle. When I checked his eyes, the pupils were kind of unequal, and he was throwing up. A lot,” I added ruefully. “And he doesn’t seem to…” I’m unsure of how much I need to tell her about Carol-Lee’s interference with his brain.
“He doesn’t seem to what?,” Doctor Dana Scully demands. She seems very concerned.
“Well, he doesn’t know, or rather he doesn’t seem to remember anything. I mean, like who he is, where he’s from…who you are…”
Her lovely pale face goes a shade paler. “Head injury. A concussion for sure, but we need to get him to a hospital to find out how bad the injury is. And his chest sounds full… like pneumonia. He needs to be hospitalized!” She barks this out at me, which only succeeds in pissing me off.
“NOT an option, Agent Scully!,” I roar back at her. Carol-Lee returns quickly at the sound of the argument, leaning in the doorway, looking at me with approval. I continue, feeling a little mental push and shove from Carol-Lee: “You haven’t been listening! Fox Mulder is no longer ‘Property of the U.S. Government’! Got it? And you are here by invitation only! Your first order of business is to fix this boy up. Then we’ll discuss options and futures!”
I crook my finger at her in a silent gesture: Understand? She is quiet for along time, and then she finally nods, a quick, angry movement. Carol-Lee beams at me from the doorway and then turns to go back to the living room. I can hear the god-awful drone of MTV coming from the television in the silence that we have all left in the wake of this nasty little scene.
Agent Scully seems resigned for the moment. Her hand rests lightly on the shoulder she just repaired. She is studying her partner’s features. I am struck by the sudden flash of insight in that vision of the two of them: She has been at his side like this before, and perhaps he has been there for her, too. This is the closeness I sense, but it doesn’t quite answer the questions.
More than partners? More than friends?
The connection is so apparent that I force myself to stop thinking about it lest Carol-Lee wander by and pick up some note of it. I pull Agent Scully away from her partner. Away and out the bedroom door. After my tirade I feel the need to mend fences with her, out of Carol-Lee’s sphere of influence.
“We were able to start him on an antibiotic. I forget the name. He kind of destroyed our little pharmacy today, so he’s been without any kind of medication since early this morning…” I steer her toward the kitchen, intent on showing her what was left of our drug supply. Maybe some of it was useable.
I can hear Carol-Lee follow us through the hallway. There will be no discussion now. Agent Scully is uncapping bottles and spilling their contents on the table, impatiently. She is still annoyed with me. “Nice collection — for a street druggie.”
Huh? Was that some kind of slam against me? And for the first time, I wonder how she sees me when she looks through those jewel eyes. Just another thug? Just another social misfit?
“However, there is little of use to Agent Mulder. I need to get to a pharmacy, a hospital supply store. He’ll need bandages, antibiotics, painkillers. Probably IV fluids.”
“Make a list,” I order. “Carol-Lee and I can get them for you.”
“No!,” she says, almost too quickly. I am immediately a bit suspicious, but Carol-Lee has not picked up on any vibes, apparently. Dana Scully has a veiled look about her. Definitely. I glance at Carol-Lee. She has occupied herself with re-sorting the piles of pills and capsules that the other woman has scattered about the table.
Agent Scully looks quickly at Carol-Lee, too. And then she looks up to meet my eyes. I can tell she’s plotting something. I’d be very careful, if I were you, lady.
“I need to see what’s available, write prescriptions for some of the drugs. Is there a way that you can get me into a hospital pharmacy?”
What is she planning? I hope she’s not under the illusion that leaving Foxy here alone will allow him another chance at escape.
“Uh…yeah. But Carol-Lee and I will both have to be with you. I hope you understand. And as for your partner, don’t think he’ll make a break for it while no one is here. Turns out he’s quite content to stay where he is.”
“What do you mean?,” she asks.
To my surprise Carol-Lee answers, looking the other woman directly in the eye with a haughty sneer. “He cannot go out the front door. If he or anyone else gets him through that front door, he becomes his own nightmare. He’ll be lost to you in more ways than he is now. And one way or the other, he’ll be mine forever.”
I feel a very real shiver run straight up my back as I watch Carol-Lee. This viper-like transformation is way beyond my expectations, way beyond my grasp. I remember the terror on Mulder’s face as he looked toward the front door. So. He didn’t leave because he couldn’t leave. Carol-Lee has him locked up in a prison inside his own head.
The silence is palpable. My new houseguest is locked in a glaring contest with Carol-Lee. Women. I’d better break this party up.
“It’s nearly ten o’clock. If we get this show on the road now, ladies, we can be back before midnight. Okay?”
Carol-Lee pushes herself away from the table and heads down the hallway. Dana looks back to me. I feel like I should warn her. “You know, Carol-Lee’s been pretty good with you so far. Please, try not to piss her off, okay? You’ll be a lot more help to your partner if you can manage to stay alive and thinking. She can take either/or away from you in a heartbeat.”
The classic look of the skeptic. She still isn’t sure what power is at work here, but she knows what she has to do for the moment. “Just take me to a hospital pharmacy. I’ll do the doctoring. You and Miss Carol-Lee can do whatever ‘voodoo it is that you do’.” She shoulders past me in a huff, and I feel like wheat chaff in a windstorm. A windstorm of two powerful women.
Carol-Lee is already at the door, waiting. Agent Scully pauses at the door of the bedroom to look in on her partner again. He is still out, oblivious to all this plotting and planning swirling about him. I get into my coat one more time and motion Ms. Dana toward the exit.
I am convinced she is up to something, but as I watch her move gracefully ahead of me through my dim hallway, I listen to that small voice of mine for the first time. It’s telling me to trust this vibrant woman, trust her to find a way out of this for us all.
Even though it is well after business and visiting hours, City General is still easy to get into. Our odd little group walks through the emergency room doors and through the busy crowd of staff and walking wounded without arousing any suspicions. I can see Dana is perplexed by the time I ask the nursing station secretary where the main pharmacy is. My question is answered with extensive instructions on how to get there and the name of the single pharmacist now on night duty.
Before my favorite FBI agent can open her mouth to wonder aloud how I am able to get such foolish cooperation from personnel that should be more security conscious, I take her arm and push her along with Carol-Lee and me toward the big fire doors leading into the main body of the hospital. Carol-Lee stays ahead of my lady friend and me as we work our way through the quiet maze of halls.
Dana seems alert for other people. Does she think she might raise an alarm?
I tighten my hand around her arm. She looks sharply at me and tries to loosen my grip. “Dana, I think it’s about time for another warning.” I pull her to a halt and swing her around to face me. Carol-Lee is up ahead of us, out of earshot.
“Now, you just saw some of Carol-Lee’s power back there in that emergency room. We waltzed through there as if we never existed! And that cooperative little secretary? She’ll have no recollection of having seen us or having talked to me. It’s a subtle thing, Dana, but Carol-Lee does it. That’s how we got in to the police station without notice.”
Agent Scully looks over her shoulder at Carol-Lee, who is now stopped and patiently waiting for us. I can tell this is hard for her to accept. “You thought you’d have a chance to get some help if we came here and you made some kind of scene, didn’t you?,” I accuse her.
She meets my eyes for a long moment and then slowly nods. I purse my lips and look into those sea blue eyes for a moment. And for a second, there is a flash of regret in my mind. Regret for my life, the twists and turns that have put me on the opposite side of this beautiful woman. I can see the way she looks at me, the loathing, the disgust, and yes, the fear. Useless to scream out that it’s not me…not me. Christ, I’m beginning to sound like Mulder and his ravings.
I pull her just a bit closer and lower my voice. “Dana. Do you know why I came for you? Do you know the real reason, I mean the original plan that I…” I am not able to confess my doubts and fears about this mess I’m in. Carol-Lee is heading back toward us, looking a bit disgruntled with my delay. Will I ever have a chance to confess, to explain? To tell her that I want out as badly as she does? That I feel as imprisoned and mindless as the unfortunate Fox Mulder?
“Let’s hurry!,” Carol-Lee snaps. She is tiring of this game.
I nod and look back down at Dana. “Just be very careful, okay?” In front of Carol-Lee, that sounds like a tough-guy warning, but I let Dana see the concern in my eyes and I squeeze her shoulder gently before releasing her. “It’s more dangerous if you don’t believe, Dana. It could make you careless, and Fox is counting on you. We’re all counting on you.”
She looks up at me again at my cryptic remark. I am already moving down the hallway toward the room marked “pharmacy”. Carol-Lee is already by the security guard. This time Dana Scully seems a little less incredulous when the hapless guard just smiles at us and unlocks the secured door to allow us entry.
The pharmacy area itself can only be seen through a small security window. Except for the work area, the lights in there are dim. The long funereal face of Mr. J. Robert Beaton, pharmacist, appeared at the window. He looked a bit disconcerted at first. I’m sure he doesn’t have many visitors at this hour. But Carol-Lee puts his mind ‘to rest,’ and he comes to regard our little troupe with a bit more kindness.
“Hello. May I help you?”
Agent Scully shoulders past me before I can say a word, flashing her fed ID. Pharmacist Beaton, already under Carol-Lee’s spell, does not seem impressed. “Yes. I am Doctor Dana Scully. I need to write some prescriptions. May I have a prescription pad and a pen?” Smooth, Dana, very smooth. Either you are warming up to this little act, or you are up to something, I think. Her face is set, unreadable.
I glance at Carol-Lee. She seems a bit tenser than I’ve ever seen her, as if the use of the power was beginning to take its toll on her. This is new, but I dare not spend too much time mulling it over. Dana is busily scribbling on the prescription pad. Carol-Lee is looking over her shoulder anxiously, then looks back at me and shrugs.
I glance quickly at the writing. Unreadable Latin. I took some of the language in high school, but it wasn’t, shall we say, my strongest subject. I also see her write some numbers and words that I do recognize: my street address! She looks up at me as she finishes and shoves them through the window to the pharmacist.
She seems to be studying me. Daring me to challenge what she has done.
I look over at Carol-Lee. She seems preoccupied. If she detects any treason on Dana’s part, she sure isn’t giving any indication of it. Maybe she’s trusting me to keep tabs on the machinations of the ravishing redhead.
Maybe her trust has suddenly been misplaced.
I return my attention to the pharmacist. Will he pick up on whatever Dana has written? Doesn’t seem likely. He is scurrying back and forth, filling the written requests for medicines, bandages, suture set, syringes, IV tray. When at last he shoves the trays of medical goods through the window at us with an accommodating smile, Dana seems disappointed.
She makes a pretense of searching through the trays for something. Looks back at the pharmacist. “Are you sure that you’ve given me everything? I seem to be missing some of the drugs I asked for.”
Mr. J. Robert Beaton smiles pleasantly at her and picks up the fistful of prescriptions she had written. He slides a pair of bifocals onto the end of his nose and reviews each slip carefully with the items he has put in the trays. I can hear Carol-Lee’s foot tapping impatiently from where she stands behind me and Agent Scully.
“Seems to be in order,” Mr. Beaton is musing, when he suddenly stops. He is puzzling over one of the prescriptions. He looks over slowly at Dana, as if in a fog. “I don’t understand this…You want me to call…?”
In the instant that Carol-Lee begins to understand what Dana was trying to do, she makes a sudden hissing noise, and grabs Agent Scully by the back of the neck.
I lurch forward to catch Dana as she loses consciousness, a result of Carol-Lee’s touch. And in that same moment, I see our new pharmacist friend’s face purple up and bloom into a gory mask of blood. He keels over onto his back, the prescription slips flying about the room like feathers.
Carol-Lee is furious. She seems immobilized by her fury for a moment.
Is this part of her change? She seems unable to decide what to do next.
She looks at me expectantly. I suddenly became aware of her in my head, looking for a decision, looking for instructions, looking for help. Is this the “bridge” she needs? Is this what Jimmy Botina provided for her for all those years? For her to wield her power independently was too much effort.
The effort is taxing her powers! She is weakening!
No time for panic now, Joey. If Carol-Lee is weakening, her powers may soon be useless. And I’m standing here with an unconscious FBI agent and corpse in a secured area!
I sweep Agent Scully into my arms. “Carol-Lee! Bring the supplies. We’ve got to get out of here now! I’ll need you to run interference with the security guards. Can you still do that?” I am a bit alarmed at this new revelation about her power and her limitations.
This is not the time or place to be left without the protective hocus-pocus that she usually provided.
Carol-Lee is rubbing her forehead, trance-like. “I…I think so.” She looks up at me, and I can see a glimmer of that twelve year old innocence in those big brown eyes for a few seconds. She obediently collects our ill-gotten goods and heads for the door.
So far, so good. I know we must make a rather unusual picture: me, with my arms full of an oblivious, beautiful woman; Carol-Lee, with her arms full of drugs and hospital supplies.
I hold my breath as we encounter the same security guard. He smiles at us, tips his hat in a congenial gesture, even chases down a vial of narcotics that Carol-Lee spills from her burden, returning it with a smile.
We smile back and hustle away as fast as we can reasonably go.
Carol-Lee’s strain is showing on her face. I decide to find a less populated route to leave by, avoiding the emergency room. If Carol-Lee’s powers are weakening, I didn’t want to risk exposure in such a high profile area.
We find a dimly lit service entrance.
It is locked and pushing through it threatens to trigger an alarm. It takes me only a second to decide to take the chance. We will be close enough to the car that the few moments that it will take for them to respond will still allow us a getaway opportunity.
The alarm sends up a god-awful wail, but by the time I see the first guard, we are in the car and headed for the highway.
I wish I could say it feels good to be home again. But now, as I gently place Dana Scully on my couch, I only feel the sense of imprisonment that this apartment represents. It used to be my hiding place, my independence from the outside world.
Now, with Carol-Lee here, with my two unwilling guests, the character of the place has changed utterly.
So have I.
And so has Carol-Lee.
She walks past me wordlessly, taking the medical supplies directly to the bedroom. Neither of us spoke during the car ride home. She seems oddly tired, sapped of energy.
As I wearily watch her disappear into the bedroom, I wonder about her need to have a ‘bridge’ for this power. Her transformation into a more adult, independent being over the last day may have had something to do with this weakness.
Or perhaps the fact that she has been using the power so frequently over the past few days is a factor?
Whatever is going on is significant. I must watch carefully.
I hear a soft moan beneath me. I look down to see Agent Scully stirring, trying to come around.
I sigh and brush a spray of red hair away from her lips. In the midst of all this, I still have a desire to feel those lips. Now. Before she is fully awake.
Those blue eyes of hers open and fix on me in much the same way her partner’s did the other night: filled with confusion and fear.
I pull away. I don’t need any more reminders of my bad-boy status in her eyes. “Do you have a headache? The Carol-Lee love tap is a sure-fire brain buster. I ought to know — she treated me to one earlier today. You’re lucky, though. My little trip had me out cold – in the cold – for over five hours.”
She ignores my chatter, pulling herself to a sitting position and then grabbing her head. “Yes. Oh, God. I need some aspirin. Something. Whatever…,“she groans.
“Well, it’s a fortunate thing you know a ‘street druggie’, isn’t it, Dana?” I get up from the couch. She looks up at me. She didn’t miss the bitter irony in my tone, but she is not about to apologize for her earlier insult to me.
I didn’t expect her to. “Just stay where you are. I’ll get some Fioricet for you. It’s about the only way to cut through that pain.”
As I pass my bedroom, I glance in. The candles are out and the room is dark except for the dim light shining in from the hallway. I can see that Carol-Lee has crawled under the covers and is curled around the body of her FBI agent like a boa constrictor.
It is a disturbing vision.
When I return with the drugs and a glass of water for Agent Scully, she is a bit more grateful. She swallows the pills quickly and looks around the room.
“Where is she?,” she asks in a half-whisper.
I incline my head toward the bedroom. “In bed with her fox. Wrapped tightly around him. Sleeping, I think.” I sink to the couch, close my eyes. It’s been along day. Hours are like years in my memory. I just want to sleep, for a long, long time.
But, no. Not meant to be.
Agent Scully is up and pulling on my shoulder. “Come on. We’ve got work to do.”
WE? I don’t remember signing on for medic duty, especially for Fox Mulder. But his redheaded partner has other ideas about what my responsibilities are.
“You may have to run interference for me with Carol-Lee. I can’t take care of him if she’s in there.”
True enough. I groan as I rise to my feet and follow her into the bedroom.
Getting Carol-Lee off of Mulder is easier than anticipated. She is sleeping so deeply that I am actually able to carry her out to my couch without waking her. I put a pillow under her head and a blanket over her. She never even stirs.
This seems odd. Using her mysterious ability must have really drained her energy. I dim the lights, leave the television on, and head back to the other woman running my life now.
Doctor Dana Scully is extraordinarily gentle with her unconscious partner. She cringes visibly at every moan and groan that escapes him as we begin to move him about. She tapes his injured ribs and tapes his injured shoulder, putting it in a sling and restricting the movement of his left arm.
Not that he has moved in over eight hours, anyway.
She ties a rubber tourniquet around his right arm, just above his elbow and begins searching for a vein sound enough to start an IV in. Her face is grim.
“He’s so dehydrated,” she says, more to herself than me. She slaps her fingers on the inside of his arm trying to raise a vein into sight. “If I can’t find a vein, Mulder, I’ll have to do a cut-down. You don’t like those, remember? Come on. Come on. Help me.” She’s talking to him as if he’s got some say-so in this matter.
Maybe it’s her voice. Maybe it’s coincidence.
Special Agent Trouble is starting to come around!
His eyelids flutter, and he shifts uncomfortably in my bed. His partner shakes him a little by his good shoulder. “Mulder… Mulder, it’s me, Scully. Wake up, Mulder. You’ve got to help me help you, mister.”
There they are. Those chameleon eyes.
He looks at her, bleary, blinking, not quite registering. And then he turns to me.
Memory serves him well when he looks to me. Those quick-change eyes darken and focus quickly. He is holding his breath. Fight or flight? He’s operating on a pure instinctual level at the moment. His eyes say fight, but…
Well frankly, the rest of his body knows better.
Dana Scully reads him like her favorite novel. She sees there is little love lost between us, and this alpha-male display is doing little toward fixing his medical problems. She pulls his head over gently until he is looking at her again. She smiles and speaks softly to him. “Hey — Hi. It’s me. Scully.”
He is studying her face intently.
“Mulder? — Fox? — Do you know who I am?”
He does not answer. Just stares. Glances over at me for a long moment, then back to Dana. Then at the tourniquet on his arm. That arm is getting dusky from lack of circulation, and he twitches it uncomfortably.
Dana releases the rubber with a practiced movement. “Sorry. That must hurt.” She smiles at him and rubs the arm gently.
He seems to relax, but he is still worried about my presence in the room. Dana the Doctor is talking steadily to him in quiet, even tones, trying to put him at ease, trying again to start the IV.
“Mulder, you need some fluids and antibiotics. I think you’ve got pneumonia. You’ve never liked these IV things in the past, I know. Because you’re so dehydrated, I’m having trouble finding a good vein. I need you to help. Can you do that?”
Another long look at her, studying her. Then another glance at me.
He’s suspicious, but he also knows he’s sick. Looks back at her.
Definitely prefers her to me.
I wonder if he remembers, or if he’s just transfixed by a pretty face.
He extends his good arm as if it is an offering. She smiles and re-attaches the tourniquet. Immediately, as if it is automatic to him, he begins to pump his hand into a fist, clenching and unclenching.
He has done this before.
Is it a real memory or the ghost of one? Dana Scully must be wondering the same thing, but she is busy searching for a plump vein to slide that tiny needle into.
With minimal grimacing on Mulder’s part, the whole procedure is over quickly. The lovely lady doctor swiftly tapes the needle down as she hurtles instructions at me: “I will need to hang this electrolyte solution. The higher the better. And I’m going to piggyback his antibiotic, so maybe if I had a hanger I could put them both on that. Do you have a floor lamp we could convert into an IV pole?”
She finally looks up from her work to make eye contact with me, waiting for my answer. And of course, my pal, Mulder, is looking at me, too. I think he’s confused about the cooperation between me and his pretty angel of mercy.
“I don’t have a lamp. But I can put a few strong carpenter’s nails into the wall over the head board. You can hang the stuff from that, can’t you?”
“‘Necessity is the mother of invention,’” is her only comment.
I go to the kitchen for my toolbox, shaking my head.
Here I am again, saving that bastard’s life.
What for? Beats me.
I seem to be on auto-pilot lately; just give ol’ Joey Gauthier an order, and he’ll follow it. Yessirree. I’m a puppet; pull my strings. Except, now, saving his life seems to favor my freedom from Carol-Lee. Ironic, since originally I saved him to curry Carol-Lee’s favor. Now, I’m depending on Agent Scully to work some magic of her own.
The whole setup only takes ten minutes. Foxy doesn’t exactly looked pleased to have me standing over him with a claw hammer while he’s all taped and tubed and helpless, but I ignore his body language, smiling pointedly at him when my part of the job is done.
The good doctor suspends the IV bag from a hanger and hangs another with amber fluid in it beside the first.
As she pushes the needle into the medicine port of the primary tubing, she opens the clamp, allowing the two solutions to mix. Mulder lets out a scorching hiss as the fluids find their way into him.
His partner lays a hand on his to quiet him. “Sorry, Mulder. The antibiotic is Keflex. Probably stings like acid in your veins.” She strokes his forehead sympathetically “But you’ve got to have it. I’m going to give you a shot for pain, and then you should sleep. Okay?”
He still does not speak, just looks anxiously at the trail of tubes attached to him and then at her. He shudders a bit and nods at her.
She fills a syringe with dream-drops for her partner, slips it expertly beneath his pale skin and slowly depresses the plunger.
His eyes begin to roll soon after that. He struggles to keep them fixed on her, and finally gives himself over to sleep. She keeps stroking his forehead well after he drifted off to his pharmaceutically-induced heaven.
The peace I see on his face reminds me sharply that I could use a little help from my ‘tiny friends’ tonight, too.
“I…uhm…I am going to the kitchen for something. Would you like coffee?” It is easy to offer Dana Scully my hospitality.
She looks up and nods wearily. She gets up from Mulder’s side and follows me out to the kitchen. I am intent on getting my drugs first, so she proceeds to make coffee for herself and wisely chooses not to make comments on my drugs of choice. Her look of disapproval is hard to hide, however, as she sits down across from me and my stash at the table.
“So. How’s that headache?,” I ask charmingly as I down two capsules with a gulp from the last beer in the fridge.
She eyes me, probably considering several comments. Then finally says, “Better. Thanks. Does she do that often?”
Meaning Carol-Lee and her love-tap.
I shrug. “Don’t know. As I told you, she treated me to a little preview earlier today when the Foxman and me got into a fight.” Another swig of beer. She doesn’t inquire further about the fight. The outcome was pretty clear to her, and she’s not likely to care about my motivations even if I took a lifetime to explain myself.
“What do you know about her?” The question was direct, like sitting in a federal interrogation room.
My first instinctual inclination is to clam up about Carol-Lee, Jimmy, and my mis-adventures as part of the Botina Brotherhood. But that is an instinct of the past.
My second, new instinct is to tell this woman all my suspicions, all my fears, the bit of information that I know for sure and the universe of information that I am uncertain about.
This is my self-preservation instinct. The little voice that I should have listened to.
And now, is it too late for us all?
“Three or four days ago, Dana, I thought I knew everything about her,” I sigh. With a pause to listen and reassure myself that Carol-Lee was still asleep, I continue, “I knew Jimmy used her power for his mysterious little assassinations. Hell, I heard he even had her do in one of his own gang members about a month before he recruited me. And when I first met her, I mean, it was hard to reconcile the fact that such a scary power was coming from this simple-minded — girl, I guess I’d call her. But so much about her has changed that now I believe I knew nothing at all before. I can’t even believe I became involved in Carol-Lee’s plot to separate herself from Jimmy. Who, by the way, is not her real brother.”
“Yes. We had found that much out about her,” Agent Scully confirms quietly. She sips her coffee, looking regretful. “Mulder had run down a few theories on the cause of the mysterious deaths that were occurring in the area. We were first called in on the two murders: the …uh…fine, upstanding citizen and his lawyer? At an upscale pub? This past September?”
She was looking at me as if to confirm these facts.
I nod wearily and then laugh a bit, more to myself than her. Pull another long draught from my beer. “As I suspected. Jimmy let his pride get the better of himself on that one. The beginning of the end.”
I look over into her eyes. Now was the time to confess all to her.
“I’m sure you and the Foxster found some disturbing similarities between those deaths and a few others around here over the past three years — deaths of citizens that the police department would hardly be alarmed about: druggies, dealers, deviants of all manner.”
“Actually, Mulder found evidence of similar deaths that seem to go back over twenty years. Here and in other parts of the state. Carol-Lee and Jimmy can be placed in the area of the deaths in nearly all of them. In fact, our first connection came when we found Jimmy Botina’s parents seemed to have met with the same curious death,” she informs me. “Mulder dug further and found that Carol-Lee’s mother also died in a similar manner, except in that case her father was convicted of her murder and put to death. That information and the child welfare records from that time told us who we were dealing with.”
Hearing her say it, I am mildly shocked at first. I guess Carol-Lee had intimated as much when she and I were talking at this very table earlier this evening, but —twenty years! That’s a long time to be walking around free and murderous. My own record pales in comparison, I’m sure. I tried to keep my crimes on the petty side; Carol-Lee and Jimmy indulged in their crimes like a lifestyle, a right, an exclusive privilege.
“Well, I just hooked up with this little club about three years ago,” I reply, trying to minimize my own complicity, sounding a bit too defensive for my liking. “Jimmy makes his money performing these little assassinations for his mobster buddies, and they, in turn, let him do some drug running, illegal imports, money laundering and the like. That’s the part of his business that I saw the most of.”
“But what about Carol-Lee? Did you see any actual evidence of how she fit into Botina’s business? Is there any way to prove she has some ‘power’? Any physical evidence?”
I have to think about that — hard. “Carol-Lee’s influence on our little group was so subtle as to be almost non-existent. I suppose I always suspected there was something special about her, but she really seemed to be disconnected from our concerns. Sure, Jimmy dragged her just about everywhere he went, but I never suspected how much her power influenced Jimmy’s success. Until recently.”
I fall silent for a bit, remembering how things seemed when I first joined up with the Botina crowd.
I shake my head. Seems like a lifetime ago.
I look up into the lovely eyes of Special Agent Dana Scully. What was she doing three years ago while I was partnering up with the devil incarnate?
Another sigh. Another swallow of beer.
What’s taking these drugs so long tonight?
“She also does this ‘mesmer’ thing. That was something I wasn’t aware of,” I continue finally. “You saw it tonight at the hospital. She messes with peoples’ thoughts. Changes them somehow. When I saw her do it at the drug store the other day, I started doubting how many of my own thoughts were actually mine and how many were planted there by Carol-Lee…”
I lean across the table in earnest. “I know that kidnapping Special Agent Fox Mulder was not my choice. I know that now. But, you — You were my choice.”
Her face does not change. She is watching me with the intensity of a predator. Must be effective in the interrogation room. I shudder involuntarily.
“Something is changing though,” I whisper, almost as if musing to myself. “Something —is different about her. Something is not right.”
Another swig of beer. My little “helpers” are finally starting to “help”. I feel a blessed wooziness.
My tongue is finally loosed, disconnecting utterly from my brain. I lean across the table again at the beautiful Special Angel Dana Scully.
I confess: “I’m scared.” My voice sounds foreign to me, but the truth of what I am saying sounds familiar enough. She is gaping at me. I straighten back up, vainly attempting to seem more in control. I can feel tears threatening.
“I thought I knew all about her. I thought I could use this power of hers,” I say, dropping my voice to a whisper. “But I had no idea. Not a clue. And now, I’m caught. Just like your partner in there. Carol-Lee has been using me, and I’m scared. I can’t see a way out of this mess. It’s like walking in a maze in the dark. That’s why…” I feel one tear burn its way down my cheek. “That’s why I came for you, Dana. Out of some vague, half-formed idea that you might change the balance of power in this little game of hers.”
I wipe my cheek roughly with the back of my hand.
Damn drugs. Damn me.
Now she leans toward me, urgently. “Yes, Joey, I can help. I can help you, Fox, all of us, but you have to let me call…”
I slam my fist to the table with such force that the beer bottle bounces, topples and rolls to the floor, shattering. Agent Scully is frozen upright in her chair by my outburst.
I am not angry, just desperate to get her to listen! Really, really listen!
“Please! You’re not hearing what I am saying! What we don’t know about her power is dangerous. I can’t just let you call in Skinner and the troops. We could all be dead before the first squad car rolled up! And, you heard her, she’s got your partner pre-programmed for a lifetime of basket weaving and rubber rooms if anyone attempts to take him out that front door! Maybe she’s got some little mind-bomb waiting inside my head! Maybe inside of yours! We just don’t know enough!”
The look of the skeptic again.
Damn! She’s hard to wake up!
“You may not believe, Dana. You may still be looking for a way to explain all you’ve seen so far. But I saw the fear in Mulder’s eyes… He had a chance to break out today! He actually got out into the lobby while we were gone! But he couldn’t go through the front door, Dana! Not even to save his own life! His mind is still caught in the prison that Carol-Lee made for him!”
She is looking perplexed, having a hard time with the ramifications of this information. But the conversation is not meant to be finished.
The shattering of the bottle was enough to rouse Carol-Lee from her deep sleep. I can hear the creak of leather on the couch as she gets up.
I look at Dana Scully.
She nods quickly, a signal that she is beginning to understand, to believe, even if it is hard for her.
So. Maybe I have an ally. Now all we need is a strategy.
But now Carol-Lee is standing in the doorway, a pale wraith. She is gazing with big eyes from the broken glass on my kitchen floor, to me, and then to Agent Scully. She seems to be trying to read us for what may have happened, but she gives up with a tired sigh and heads back down the hallway and into the bedroom. I am sure she’s going to curl herself around him again. She is going to go to sleep again.
Sleep seems like a good notion right now. And I’d turn in, except for my new problem: how to treat my potential ally, Dana Scully. I’m not stupid enough to trust her totally, and I’m too tired to stay up to keep an eye on her.
Only one choice left: the Mulder Memorial Suite downstairs.
“There is nothing we can do tonight. And I’m too tired to think any more, Dana. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.” I stand up. Reach for the key and flashlight. I look at her, a bit ashamed to have to do this. “You’ll have to spend the night downstairs. I’m sorry. I never remodeled this place with the comfort of kidnapped federal agents in mind.”
Dana looks angry but resigned. Her own Carol-Lee experience has probably left her drained of energy. She waits for me to grab some extra blankets. Silent, she precedes me down the rickety basement steps and stands, quietly indignant, as I open the coal cellar door for her.
My flashlight illuminates the dark room. The tangle of sleeping bag and couch pillows is still on the old van bench. It seems a sorry offering for such a beautiful lady. She straightens out the covers. I’m sure she notes the lingering smell of vomit and blood. I’m sure she senses it is Mulder she smells, the scent of his misfortunes with me. She wipes at a dried smear of blood on the vinyl and looks back at me, accusingly.
I shift uncomfortably, not wanting to meet those jewel eyes any more. “I…uh…can get you some more blankets, maybe more clean sheets.”
“No. Thank you.” The sarcasm in her voice is apparent.
I shrug. Leave the flashlight and blankets behind for her convenience. Pretend indifference and leave, locking the door behind me. It seems to take forever to climb the stairs in the dark, to close the door, and to head to my couch for the promise of dreamless sleep.
I can see Carol-Lee locked around the body of Fox Mulder. There is a kind of desperation in the way she seems to be clinging to him.
And he is oblivious to the cares and concerns of us all.
Cold air against my face. The familiar drone of my television. And something else, nearby. Fast, labored breathing. Sounds like…
Alarms begin going off in my brain.
I struggle to swim out of the hazy drugged feeling that is keeping my eyes cemented shut. Finally. I am able to open my eyes and make out a blurry form, kneeling before me as I lay here on the couch.
Dark hair askew. Dark eyes wide. Thin, satiny ribbon of blood flowing from already-bruised lips. White bandages against white skin. And hands crossed over his chest, bound together with bloodied IV tubing.
Mulder! How in the hell…?
I struggle to make sense of the vision of my federal houseguest before me. It is then that I notice the shiny switchblade poised at his slender neck and for a moment, I am fixated by the sight of his pulse. It is pushing at the blade, rapid, frantic.
I blink and follow the blade to the hand, to the arm, to the face of — Jimmy Botina.
Every part of me freezes. I am envious of Mulder’s pulse; I think I’ve lost mine just now. I can’t even make my brain think. I’m that terrified! And I can see my fright mirrored in the face of my den brother here.
Jimmy idly draws a short, thin line on Mulder’s chest with his knife. Droplets of blood well up and begin a slow trickling path over the white, neat bandages.
“Look, Joey!” Jimmy’s voice is a cruel rasp. “The corpse bleeds! I guess that would mean Agent Fox Mulder is not as dead as you would have had me believe!”
I struggle to sit up, but a blow from Jimmy’s fist throws me back to the couch.
I can taste blood in my mouth. Mulder is watching, probably enjoying this vicariously. Except he doesn’t look like he is enjoying anything right now. Jimmy has a handful of his dark hair and is pulling him to the floor, locking him down with a foot at his throat.
“Where’s Carol-Lee?,” Jimmy is growling at me.
I am confused, and another blow from Jimmy’s fist does little to clear my head.
“Goddammit!,” I shriek at him. “I don’t know! She was in the bedroom the last time I saw her!” I push myself upright, quickly this time, ready to hit back if he swings at me again.
And that’s when I got my first real look at him.
Jimmy Botina is not well. His face is a skeletal mask. His eyes are all dark and sunken in. He looks as if he hasn’t eaten in weeks. His hair looks dirty, disheveled, and he smells as if he last bathed about the same time he last ate.
His eyes are cruel, glittering with craziness. I glance down at Mulder, who is squirming, trying to release the pressure of Jimmy’s foot against his windpipe. Jimmy is fixated on me. Just as well. He would crush Mulder’s neck right now if he knew Carol-Lee spent the night huddled up against his prisoner.
But where was Carol-Lee? I glance toward the clock.
6:34 a.m. Still dark outside. I can see snow blowing past the window.
If she left, where did she go? When did she go? Why did she go?
I glance back up at the insane facade that has become Jimmy’s face. He wants answers to the same questions, and I haven’t got them.
“Can’t find her anywhere, Jimmy.” Omar’s voice.
I reel around at the sound of Omar Duron coming from my hallway. He comes into the living room and stands beside Jimmy, grinning down at me. “Well, hello, Mister Joey! So how come you sleep out here instead of with your FBI boyfriend? Huh?”
I’m not in the mood for Omar’s witless sarcasm. I remain silent, wipe the blood from my lip with the back of my hand, watch Mulder’s pitiful squirming.
Omar turns to Jimmy. “Fernando is checking the basement. But I don’t think she’s here.”
The basement? Oh God. What about Agent Scully? Jimmy’s going to think I’m opening my own fed flop house or something.
I can hear Fernando’s heavy tread up the steps and through my kitchen. I am holding my breath when he comes into view.
Nothing. He looks as blank as ever. He shrugs and shakes his head.
He didn’t find anything? Anyone? I can feel sweat breaking out on my forehead. What is going on?
Jimmy kicks at the helpless man at his feet in frustration. Freed from the pressure against his throat, Mulder moans and curls himself up, hiding himself from further hurt.
Jimmy sneers at him and turns to the windows, glancing up and down the darkened street.
“You were supposed to keep an eye on her!,” he snarls accusingly at me. His eyes fall on Mulder again. “Then again, there were a lot of things you were supposed to do, weren’t there, Joey?”
He reaches down and tugs the injured agent to a sitting position, forcing his face up until they are looking each other in the eye. “So why is this son of a bitch still alive, huh, Joey?” he growls at me, never taking his eyes off his captive.
” ‘cause Jimmy’s got a thing for a pretty pair of eyes,” Omar giggles. I ignore him. It is Jimmy that screams at him to shut up.
Jimmy turns back to me. “I want an answer. Why is this man still living, Joey?”
“And who was it that burned up in his place, Joey?” Omar again, butting in.
This time Jimmy silences him with a backhanded slap.
Jimmy turns back to me, shoving Mulder toward me. Jimmy’s glare is hot. He is rolling that switchblade in his hand. An impatient, blood thirsty gesture. He wants answers.
I swallow hard. I can only tell him what I know.
How can my voice be so awfully quiet when inside I am screaming?
“Carol-Lee was here last night when I fell asleep, Jimmy. She was in bed with…” I nod my head toward Mulder. “…him. She’s the reason he’s alive, Jimmy. I suppose she just got tired of playing with those stupid Barbie dolls you always gave her. She wanted to upgrade her toy collection.”
Something like a roar escapes Jimmy’s throat, and he strikes out at me again.
Godammit! I’m tired of the pain, the helplessness.
Funny. Another thing Fox Mulder and I must have in common.
It is useless to fight back as long as Jimmy has the switchblade and his two goons behind him. But I do push him away from me.
His rage is bringing up the only color his face has had for days. And with that rage, Jimmy is hungry for blood. He turns on Mulder, grabbing his hair again, slamming him back to the floor and straddling him, the switch blade poised over the stricken agent’s heart.
I watch, oddly horrified. Suddenly, it is very important to me that Fox Mulder not suffer any more harm. Carol-Lee’s pre-programming? Or has my self identification with this man suddenly grown into an obsession?
I propel myself forward, knocking him off Mulder, before the Duron Goons can pull me away. I wrestle in their grip.
“Jimmy! Jimmy! Leave him alone!” I am shouting at him around the efforts of the two idiots to silence me. Jimmy is crawling back toward Mulder with a death’s head grin on his face.
Mulder, who is laying trussed up and expectant, like a sacrificial lamb.
I’ve got to stop this!
“God damn you, Jimmy Botina! If you kill him, you kill us all! Carol-Lee doesn’t want him harmed. She’ll kill us all! She’ll kill you, you stupid bastard!”
I can’t see what, if any, effect my hysterical screams have on Jimmy.
Omar and Fernando have started treating me to their peculiar brand of dirty street fighting, punching, kicking. By the time I feel the floor come up to greet me, I am in a world of hurt.
Despite my rapidly swelling eye, despite the pain, I look anxiously toward the couch, searching desperately for a glimpse of Mulder.
He’s still alive. He’s still alive. Thank God. He’s still alive.
That thought replays in my mind a hundred times.
Jimmy is slumped next to him, hand laying limply on Mulder’s bandaged chest, knife laying uselessly on the floor beside Mulder. And Special Agent Fox Mulder has his eyes closed as if the simple act of not looking at all of us loonies will somehow transport him away from our midst.
He is trembling.
But then again, so am I.
And so is Big Bad Jimmy Botina.
The mere invocation of Carol-Lee’s name, the mere threat of Carol-Lee’s anger stopped him cold. That’s why he worked so well with her for so long, I have to tell myself.
He knows her power, and he respects it. I know nothing.
I would have lost this game anyway. The realization is growing inside me, becoming a bitter pill to swallow.
I feel myself being pulled upright, to my feet. My right leg won’t bear weight, keeps flopping under me, sending shooting pains into my hip and groin. Dammit! Must be broken.
I’m sure that pleases the Weasel Brothers. Omar grins in my face as he holds me upright.
“He has a coal cellar downstairs with a bolt on it, Jimmy.”
Fernando is talking, but pain is starting to affect my hearing, or rather my understanding. I feel sick to my stomach. “You want us to throw him down there ‘til we find Carol-Lee?”
Jimmy is rubbing his head wearily, gazing thoughtfully at his federal prisoner. He finally nods and points to Mulder. “And take this one, too. Lock them up. Then, I want to ride around the neighborhood. She has to be around here somewhere. Omar, you’ll come with me. Fernando, you can wait here in case she comes back.”
Suddenly, I am aware of Fox Mulder at my side. I cling to him, trying to regain some footing. Although he can hardly walk himself, he patiently allows me to lean on him for support. Omar and Fernando push us forward toward the kitchen and the basement door.
The struggle to get down the steps is almost comical were it not so painful. The Duron Dopes seem to get a perverse pleasure out of our struggle, though. I only feel relief when we are shoved into the dark cellar. I hear the old wood door slamming shut behind us, the bolt sliding into place.
I have collapsed at the door. Mulder has made it a few feet deeper into the darkness. I can hear the labored breathing I have become so used to by now. I can also hear the squeak and snap of IV tubing being pulled at.
I can’t move. My thoughts turn away from my pain and to Dana Scully. Why isn’t she in here? Did Carol-Lee spirit her away? Did she kill her ? Did they just decide to go out for early coffee and croissants to discuss their man-troubles like two long-lost girlfriends? What in the hell was going on?
I can feel a long, warm arm push itself under my shoulders, lifting me to a sitting position. “Help me… get you… to the bench… pal.” Mulder’s soft voice at my ear. He’s trying to help me!
I can’t help but smile when he calls me “pal”. It’s a gentle mocking. He’s been paying more attention than I gave him credit for.
We both freeze at the sound of a soft shuffling in the dark, near us. Suddenly, we are bathed in the glare of a light. My flashlight! And Dana Scully’s heavensent voice, sardonic and weary: “Gentlemen – – welcome.”
I can feel the tension leave me as I realize that she had wisely hid herself behind the van bench when she heard all the commotion upstairs. Fernando the Fool would never have thought to look behind the old seat for anyone.
Good going, Dana, but where do we go from here?
Mulder hasn’t relaxed. He is still working on the Dana Scully puzzle in his brain. I’m sure Carol-Lee took several of the vital pieces to this puzzle and hid them well. I shift my weight on his good arm so that I can look him in the face. He is staring at Dana as she steps into the beam of light.
“Hey, Pal — it’s okay. Remember? She’s on your side.” I can feel him ease up a bit. She steps closer to him, reaches a hand out to touch his forehead. His eyes never leave her, studying, evaluating, trying to remember.
She smiles wanly. “Well, I think your temperature has fallen a bit at least.” She leans over to detach the last of the mangled IV. “I should have known, Mulder. Keeping an IV in you is like riding the space shuttle into orbit, clinging to the outside.”
She sighs, and he allows himself a shy smile. “I do feel better than I did yesterday,” he offers.
She nods wearily. “Yes, I’m sure you do. However, you need at least another day and a half of IV’s and… Oh, what’s the use? I’m talking as if walking out the door and getting you to the hospital is an option here.”
She looks at me, reproachfully at first, and then she seems to realize that I am in less than prime condition. Bless her heart. She actually looks concerned. She gets under my other arm as she gives Mulder his orders.
“Don’t take all of his weight, Mulder. Let me do most of the pulling. Now. Over to the bench…”
Is that me crying out? It might be. I only remember lightning-like bolts of brilliant colors every time my right leg is moved.
I hear Mulder’ soft voice saying something: “…broken leg…beating…”
Scully is propping my injured leg against the back of the van bench, stabilizing it with some of the old couch pillows, putting one pillow gently under my head. The only thing I need to complete this picture of bliss is my drugs, any drug.
My thoughts darken.
A whole bottle of pills, swallowed with an expensive scotch as a farewell gesture, would answer all my problems right now.
I look around for my two federal cell-mates. Mulder is huddling up in one of the old bucket seats. Half-naked, he is probably having trouble trying to stay warm. Scully is struggling with the ancient sleeping bag. She tucks it securely around her partner and then returns to my side to cover me with the remainder of sheets and blankets that I had left for her.
Surprise! Dana Scully sits by my side.
She gently probes my body, reading the injuries. Sighs. Sits back up. “You’ve acquired a broken leg and a number of bruises, Joey. Payback is hell. Or is this more of that ‘world without consequences’ that you told me of earlier?”
She’s not being mean, but she is being mildly sarcastic. I laugh even though it makes my jaw hurt. “Oh, Doc Dana… You know, I could fall in love with you if it weren’t for that devil tongue of yours.” I shake my finger at her.
She smiles and squeezes my hand sympathetically. “Our fortunes do not seem to be improving, Mr. Gauthier,” she says with worry in her voice. “Were those men members of your gang?”
I nod. “Yep. The Big Jimmy B himself and his two ugly step-henchmen. They were looking for Carol-Lee. She’s gone.” I pick my head up to look at Mulder who is semi-alert for a change. “The last time I saw her, she was wound around you like gift wrapping, pal. Do you know where she went?”
“No,” he answers simply.
“Well, this should prove very interesting — at least briefly — before we die.”
I laugh to myself again. The tables have turned all right…right on my head.
For a long time, there is a heavy silence between us. We must seem a curious collection of toys for Carol-Lee: me, bewitched; Scully, bothered; and Mulder, bewildered.
“I don’t suppose it would do any good to ask you if there might be another way out of here?,” Dana inquires.
Her tone is resigned. But before I can answer, I hear Mulder’s breathless, faint voice reply. “No…I…I’ve looked…already…a hundred times…it seems.”
And I thought he had been asleep all that time.
I smile to myself. Carol-Lee had said he was fighting her. Where has my head been? All along, Mulder’s been moving through this little drama like an animated ghost, not a stage prop. Given more time, maybe he could have changed the direction it has been going in.
Then again —Fate may be the only director.
As this play unfolds, and as I have time to consider my part, I realize that it’s not about Carol-Lee, or Jimmy, or Mulder. It’s all about me.
How am I going to conclude this absurdity?
“So…we wait?” Dana Scully again.
I can tell she is anxious to have a plan. She wants to fight back. She still wants to control the script, the outcome. I am still smiling like a mindless idiot. She must think I’ve gone mad.
Ahhhh! The clarity of thinking that comes when one is perched on the brink of insanity.
I can tell she is frustrated. She doesn’t know. She’s not sure she believes. She still thinks there is some way to get past this Carol-Lee phenomenon. How many days ago — hell — how many hours ago was it that I believed I could still control this situation?
So much has come undone. So much more has been revealed.
And it all seems soooo funny now.
A vision of Dana Scully before me, her image swimming, wavering. My eyes are full of tears. I’m crying? Even as I hear myself laughing?
“Joey?” She is shaking me gently by my shoulder as if trying to snap me out of a trance.
I can hear myself sobbing. Not laughing. Sobbing.
She stops shaking my shoulder and just lets her hand rest there. A gesture of comfort. I have not earned it. I am lost. Mulder is lost. And she can only look out for one of us, only help one of us find his way back.
So, go on, Ms. Scully…
Only one of us wants to find his way back.
It ain’t me, babe. No, no, no — it ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe.
I struggle to pull it together. Hysteria is so unseemly, not my style. There won’t be the time to explain to her — or him — how my life ended up like this.
Yet, watching her near me, reminding me of the way I once thought my life would end up, I want to confess, tell her everything. Maybe I’m not ‘soul-less’. Maybe my soul has just been wrapped up like a mummy, in moldy, stinking bandages, for a long, long time.
And so, in the dim, tomb-like room, I unwrap my soul in front of Dana Scully.
I tell her everything. My street-kid hopes, my college-boy ambitions. And then my rape followed by my rapist’s murder, followed by more crimes – some against others, some against myself – my rationalizations, my choices, my pact with the devil.
Dana Scully is listening. There is no judgment, no condemnation in those jewel-like eyes.
Well, so, confession is good for the soul.
However, having laid the jumbled script of my life out to her, I am also left with an empty feeling.
I wasted my life.
I have accomplished nothing.
And across from me, watching me with his chameleon eyes, is Fox Mulder, the reminder of what I should have been, what I could have done.
I am more curious than ever. Who is he really? Is he everything he seems? Educated? Passionate? Well adjusted? Am I right to be envious of him or have I lionized him as a way of looking at my own wreck of a life?
“Dana?,” I ask softly in the silence that follows my confession. She arches her eyebrows gently, waiting for my question. I nod my head at Mulder. “What about him? Who is he? Tell me about him.”
His mouth drops open slightly. He’s surprised by my request, but his eyes fly eagerly to his partner’s face. He is searching. He doesn’t want to be lost. Can she help him? Can she tell him who he is? Can she undo Carol-Lee’s damage?
Dana takes a deep breath as she meets her partner’s eyes. “Tell you about him?,” she echoes gently. “The story of Fox Mulder is a long, complicated one.” She smiles at him and continues, “He is a singular talent, a man unlike any one I have ever known.”
A pause. He looks a bit anxious now.
“He was known as a kind of phenomenon at the Bureau. He has an other-worldly talent for nailing profiles on serial killers, psycho criminals, et cetera. Helped enormously, I am sure, by the fact that he is a star graduate of Oxford’s prestigious college of psychology. The FBI had recruited him before the ink was dry on the sheepskin.”
“Oxford Mulder? ” I grin at him. I was right. He is a shining star. He looks a little awestruck, himself, just now.
Dana nods and continues, her smile saddening. “Well, along with his other-worldly talents, he has several other qualities that have endeared him to me if not our superiors: single-mindedness, unorthodox methods, a damning disregard for authority. He can trip more triggers among the establishment than the Libyan Army.” She sighs. “That’s how we became partners. The powers-that-be at the FBI thought I could rein him in when he made it clear he was turning his back on the promotions and politics of the Bureau and began pursuing the… the X Files.”
“X files? What are the X files?” This I have never heard of!
She turns to look to me. “You are an X file, Joey. Or rather part of one. Carol-Lee and her supposed power. She’s the subject of this particular, peculiar adventure we are now involved in. Agent Mulder has actively pursued cases that defy…uhm…rational explanations. I have been partnered with him for the past three years. Initially, I suppose I thought it was a ‘baby-sitting’ assignment. I was expected to make regular reports, make sure the rules were followed, try to keep Mulder’s feet on the ground and head out of the…”
She stops again. She can’t finish for a moment. She is drawing too close to some emotionally charged issue between them.
Those chameleon eyes of his are dark now, staring at Dana. She continues talking to me but is looking at him. “The X Files Division has surprised us all. The things I have seen… Our experiences… The things that have happened to us both…”
Her face pales a bit, and she can no longer look at Mulder. He looks frozen in place.
Maybe I was wrong. Appearances can be deceiving. Good looks, good education, good job — might not add up to a blissful existence after all. Could be that all those good things have been driven by a desperate force, desperate circumstances.
He is just like me, I think, but he had the sense to seek out the higher road.
Sense or destiny?
And the beautiful Dana Scully? What of her life? I can’t tell, due to the heavy blanket of angst that has fallen over all of us, whether she truly wishes to be a part of this pairing with Mulder or if she is resigning herself to fate, like I am doing now. Or is there some other bond? Some other passion driving her, keeping her at Mulder’s side.
I remind myself that the cement for pair bonds is not always made of love alone. It can be made of a seemingly incongruous blend of many things: greed, pain, passion, lust, fear, loneliness, loss…
She is wringing her hands as if trying to warm them. She will not meet my eyes, and she is outright avoiding his.
I can hear the groan of ancient vinyl as Fox Mulder shifts his weight uncomfortably in the bucket seat across from me. He drops his head to the side, resting it against the back of the chair.
He is staring off into a dark corner.
He does not say whether he knows who he is now. Maybe he’s trying to decide if he wants to know any more. I remember what Carol-Lee had said of him that first fateful night in the warehouse: <Too many memories…Too scary…Too sad>
He is trembling again.
Dana looks up and notices this, too. Without a word, she leaves my side and goes to him. She pulls the folds of my sleeping bag open and slips into it with him, holding him, trying to stop the shuddering that seems to have little to do with the cold in this basement.
The tomb-like silence returns. I’m more aware of the grave-like smell of this place. I’m also aware of the silence upstairs, where Fernando waits and watches.
While we wait and wonder.
My eye is caught by a spider actively spinning her web in a corner of the room illuminated by the flashlight. I watch with fascination as she delicately pulls and weaves with her tiny, thin legs.
She must spin the web to live.
Maybe it’s the same for Carol-Lee. Her web must be spun to entrap. She must feed on us.
Where did she go? Why did she leave?
She had been so strange last night, so different. Had she spun too complicated a web? Had she done herself in? Or maybe she and Jimmy have a deeper symbiotic relationship than she knew. He certainly seems to be suffering as much as she was after we came from the hospital.
The hospital! I’d forgotten!
Dana’s mysterious note in Latin; the message the pharmacist puzzled over before Carol-Lee went berserk!
I look quickly over at her. She has Mulder’s head buried against her shoulder. She is brushing her fingertips through his dark hair, a comforting gesture, as much for herself as him, I suppose. Her eyes are open, but she is lost in thought.
She turns those jewel eyes to me, focusing on me.
“You left a message, didn’t you?” I suppose my question sounds more hopeful than I honestly feel. “Back at the hospital?”
She sighs, but she doesn’t sound hopeful at all. “Yes. A note in Latin on the prescription form. I had hoped he would notice it — the pharmacist, I mean. I wrote it in Latin to disguise…” She looks a little embarrassed. “I mean, if Carol-Lee can really read other people’s thoughts, I hoped that a message in Latin would confound her.”
Damn! What a woman! Even in these dire straits, I have to marvel at her. I’ll bet she and Mulder made a helluva team.
“I expected that the note would have been found by now, though,” she is saying. “If they found the pharmacist’s body and followed standard investigation procedures, they would have reviewed his last prescription orders for clues. My note said we were in danger and to notify our AD, Skinner, and gave your address here.”
“How’d you get my address?”
She smiles. “Joey. Really. There were several pieces of mail addressed to ‘occupant’ in your kitchen. I am an FBI agent, you know.”
I laugh and rub my sore jaw. “Oh yes, Doc Dana. I could fall in love…”
“Well, save your love,” she sniffs. “They should have been here by now. And the early morning wake-up call from your fellow gang members has turned this into a race against time. If Jimmy Botina finds Carol-Lee and gets back here first…” She doesn’t finish her sentence. She doesn’t need to.
She pulls Mulder closer to her, a gesture that didn’t escape my notice.
In that same moment, I hear the creak of wood and glass that is peculiar to the opening sound of my lobby door upstairs. Dana hears it, too. Even Fox Mulder lifts his head and uselessly stares at the old floorboards overhead as if he could see through them, somehow divining who is at my front door and what their intent is.
Dana and I lock eyes for a brief second before she reaches over and switches off the flashlight. The image of her face is burned onto my retina in the darkness, a literal bright light in the blackness.
The apartment door creaks open, and I hear footfalls. Soft ones, small ones.
I hear the scrape of a chair on the linoleum in the kitchen. Fernando getting up. Probably in the kitchen studying the remains of the drug supply. I hope he helped himself to a lot. A whole lot.
“Who’s there? Jimmy? Omar?” I can hear his muffled calls. I can hear him head into the hallway. For a moment, there is silence and I envision the recognition on Fernando’s face. It’s not just Carol-Lee he recognizes, I think as I hear him shout her name, it’s the danger he sees.
I hear his gun discharge three times, but I hear only one of the bullets drill into the floor just as I hear his agonized scream and the thud of his body, falling almost directly overhead.
So long, Fernando. Can’t say it’s been nice to know ya…
I can hear those soft footfalls again. Wandering. Back to the living room. To the bedroom. To the kitchen. Back to the bedroom. And then it is quiet for a long time. I think I hear the creak of bed springs. More silence. And then slow, shuffling, unsteady steps toward the kitchen, toward the door to the basement.
I can see light from the kitchen, spilling down the steps into the tomb that is my basement. I can see fingers of that light poke through the chinks and cracks in the door of our prison. Creaking of stairs and the groan of the railing as if someone is leaning on it for support. The fingers of light in our prison dance as the shadow of the wraith beyond the door moves slowly forward. The slide of the bolt is a tortured sound, prolonged as if the person moving it is not strong enough to pull it.
Even though she is backlit by the light from the stairs, I can tell she has changed again. Her stance is stooped, uneven, as if she’s physically folding up on herself. Her choppy hair is spiked out in all directions, a fashion of madness. I can see that her clothes are torn, as if she had been running through briar patches. In downtown Pittsburgh? No way.
I’m glad I can’t see her face clearly, but I’m glad for the shadows. I don’t have to see that visage to know what it is like.
The soft, little-girl innocence will be gone.
The sexy, but short-lived, womanliness will be gone.
There will only be a rictus of insanity and, at the moment, that will scare me more than if she holds a knife to my heart.
With that thought comes the sudden knowledge that this is what had terrified Mulder.
This is what forms the prison in his head: the vision of unspeakable madness. The aloneness of the insane.
He saw himself. Wrapped in a straight-jacket. Endlessly weaving and pacing. From corner to corner of a stark white room. A room padded to keep harm away, well after the most harm had been done.
No wonder he was frightened. Scared.
Mr. X Files is being held by the thing that scares him the most: a senseless end.
A living death.
In those breathless seconds as I watch Carol-Lee, or rather, what is left of Carol-Lee and I understand Mulder’s imprisonment, I come to understand something else.
He doesn’t deserve this captivity. His prison should be mine. I want it.
A senseless end makes sense for my life, not his.
Let me have that prison, Mulder. You can have your X Files. Your partner. Your big brain. Take it all back, and let me have what I want most: off the planet. Away from the world as I know it.
Carol-Lee is frozen in the doorway, staring at Fox Mulder. Glaring at Dana Scully. Ignoring me. She lifts her hand to gesture silently at her G.I. Fox doll. She soundlessly commands him to come to her.
I watch anxiously. There is no way to know how this will play out.
I see Mulder grimace and turn his face away from her.
I still don’t need to see her face to know how she is taking his resistance. I can feel the fury building in her. I’m sure he’s feeling it, too.
She moves forward enough to reach for my flashlight. She turns it on, illuminating our latest prison.
The light also illuminates her.
Dana and I suck in our breath almost simultaneously. I was right about her face. But what the darkness had really hidden, however, were the two ominous red stains growing on her abdomen.
Fernando’s heavy metal greeting to Carol-Lee: two bullets low on the stomach Painful. Fatal.
Carol-Lee seems oblivious to the wounds. Insanity does have its perks, I suppose. She is too focused on her errant agent. She is too enraged with his insolent behavior. She is too obsessed with him.
When she turns her hateful glare on Dana Scully, I become alarmed.
This will be no simple cat fight. Dana has her arms around Carol-Lee’s stolen property. Carol-Lee will simply dispatch the bothersome intruder.
When Carol-Lee moves threateningly toward Dana, Fox Mulder becomes animated, the wildcat I’ve seen before.
He draws himself in front of his partner protectively, daring Carol-Lee with his dark eyes. In this light, in this room, they look coal black, hard. As usual, he and Carol-Lee don’t have to speak communicate. She’s getting the message loud and clear.
Overhead, I hear the front door swing open again. Two sets of footsteps.
They stop at the point in my hallway where Fernando must have fallen. They move on toward the basement door, one more quickly than the other. Their descent down the steps does not faze Carol-Lee.
She means to have her prize; all else be damned.
Sweat is beading up on Mulder’s forehead, but he is not trembling. He is unbending, rigid with ferocity. He is protecting Dana, even though he must know what this act of defiance will cost him.
Mulder, Mulder, Mulder, I sigh inwardly. Dana was right. This may all come down to a race against time.
And time moves into the lead position as Omar Duron bursts in on our cozy little group.
He is twisted with grief and rage. I’m sure the sight of his brother, dead on the floor in a pool of his own blood and brains, has fueled this mania. He grabs for Carol-Lee just as Carol-Lee reaches for Mulder.
Her shriek is one of surprise and pain.
Omar’s shriek is the tolling of death.
It comes just fractions of a second after I see the silvery glitter of Jimmy Botina’s switchblade, sinking between Omar’s shoulder blades, stabbing him in the back, finding its way to his heart, loosening his grip on Carol-Lee, loosening his grip on life.
Carol-Lee is in Jimmy’s arms. Her breathing is becoming ragged. This whole scene is unfolding in an unreal way.
I struggle to sit up. I must have some role here. I must!
Jimmy’s eyes are full of tears as he looks at the tiny person he is holding.
“Carol-Lee? Carol-Lee?” That’s all he can say. Over and over. He eases her down to the bench, next to me. Never even looks at me. But I can see his face change. I can see the hate turn him inside out, and I see his hand tighten on the switchblade again.
“Look out, Mulder!” I yell, praying there is time enough for both of them to get out of the way of this murderous animal.
Jimmy turns, screaming at the top of his lungs. “This is your work, you bastard! This is your fault! You started this!”
I feel so helpless. I cannot move. But I see that Mulder has shoved his partner loose from the tangle of the sleeping bag, out of immediate harm’s way.
In the moment he took to do that, he may have sacrificed himself. Jimmy’s knife blade seems to explode in the air as he arcs it down toward Special Pal Fox Mulder, who is hobbled by my sleeping bag, unable to move out of the way of that flashing metal.
My terrified mind tries to make sense of this noise. Knives don’t make explosive sounds.
Jimmy is standing stock still. Mulder is still crouched beneath him, expecting death from that knife blade for the second time today.
Where did the explosions come from? The echo of them seems to still be reverberating in my head as I look toward the door.
The gun is still smoking in his hands.
Mr. Intense. The Federal Bossman.
The Big Dog.
He stands there, looking like a recruitment poster. Stance correct. Steely eyes not moving off his target. Jaw set as if it were cast in iron. Waiting.
FBI Assistant Director Walter Skinner is waiting.
And there are other trained guns just behind him, waiting. Waiting for the corpse that Jimmy Botina already is to drop the knife from its lifeless hand and to drop itself to the floor, where it will do no more harm.
The corpse finally complies. Walter Skinner relaxes, but just a bit. There are still criminal elements in this room, he knows. He runs an evaluating glance over me and Carol-Lee.
She’s dying. He can see that. Maybe he can tell I’m dead, too, passed over a long time ago.
His two special Special Agents are re-uniting in a brief reassuring hug.
I can see Fox Mulder’s handsome face. It is lit up with something new, something I haven’t seen in him in our brief time together. I think he’s got himself back. I think he’s going to be okay.
Looking over his partner’s shoulder, his eyes meet mine.
Suddenly, those chameleon eyes go wide, as if frightened by something they see, as if they are warning me. I can see him stiffen. I can see Dana Scully start to turn in response to his signal.
At that same moment, I feel the half-dead, already cold fingers of Carol-Lee moving over my head. She is smiling at me, her mouth all bloody, a ghastly parody of her new discovery: lipstick.
“Bye, Joey. This is for you.” Her last words.
I can feel the electric tingle…
Marymont Psychiatric Facility
“Thank you for coming back, Doctor Scully.”
Doctor Helen Ames voice was full of gratitude and relief as she watched Special Agent Dana Scully lean over the dimly lit desk in the corner of the room to sign some papers. Doctor Ames stole a moment to glance over at the woman’s partner again. Special Agent Fox Mulder.
He was leaning against the glass of the two way mirror, intent in his observation of the patient on the other side. He hadn’t moved from his observation post since she came in the room with these forms for Doctor Scully to sign.
“Is that the last copy of the statements that I need to sign, Doctor Ames?”
Dana Scully’s voice wrenched her away from her thoughts. She picked up the papers and slid them carefully into a manila envelope. “Yes, thank you, once again. By making this special trip up here, you’ve helped expedite things for Joey.”
Doctor Ames smiled at Scully and added, “I’m sure Mr. Gauthier would be grateful for the efforts you’ve made on his behalf. I mean, if he was capable.”
Scully cringed inwardly at the irony of the woman’s statement. “Yes, I’m sure he would be. If he were capable.” Scully stood and smoothed out her gray business suit.
Doctor Ames turned to leave, sending one more appreciative glance at the male agent on the other side of the room. He was oblivious to her presence, as oblivious as the fellow on the other side of the mirrored window. Strange, Ames thought, just as she felt a staying hand on her arm.
It was Agent Scully again. “Doctor Ames,” she said in a curious, half-whisper, as if talking louder might agitate her mesmerized partner by the mirror. “What is Joey’s latest prognosis?”
Ames’ face became immediately sympathetic. Whomever this patient was to these two agents, he certainly is an important concern of theirs.
She laid a hand over Scully’s and shook her head. Following Scully’s example, she kept her voice low. “His case is stumping the experts. MRI’s. EEG’s. Toxicology tests. Chem screens. Nothing shows up. There is no apparent reason for him to be like this. Or to remain in this state. The prognosis is: there is no prognosis. That’s why we want to move him to the university hospital.”
She noticed the look on Scully’s face and added softly, “He’ll be well cared for, Doctor Scully. You needn’t worry.”
Scully tilted her head to the side a bit, like a self-conscious shrug. “Thanks. I know. I know he will.” She waited for Ames to leave and added after her, “But I don’t think he cares.”
She turned to her partner and watched him for a moment.
He was leaning heavily against the observation glass. He seemed to be barely breathing.
It had been six weeks of slow recovery for Fox Mulder.
Mending bone. Mending bruised tissue. Regaining strength. Regaining memories.
Scully had remained at his side through the worst of it, helping him cope with the worst of the memories. Helping him own them again. And at last, he had gently pushed her away, kept her at arm’s length while he sorted through the entire experience.
At first, Scully wondered if letting him make this trip with her was a good idea. He argued long and hard with her, throwing all sorts of psycho-babble tech terms at her: He needed closure; he needed to see the reality of what had seemed like a dream to him; he needed to experience; he needed to see Joey Gauthier again.
So, he had come along, making the long, tedious trip by car in near total silence, which made Scully doubt that she had done the right thing.
He had been silent through all of the meetings with Joey’s doctors.
He had been silent as the social services team and the psyche team explained their theories and strategies of treatment.
He had been silent as they were shown all the brochures and sunshine-up-your-skirt reviews of the new facility they wanted to send Joey to.
He had been silent as Dana had given her final statement, her own take on the strange case of Mr. Joey Gauthier.
He was silent now, staring into the room on the other side of the mirrored glass.
Scully could see he was staring at a vision of unspeakable madness, at the aloneness of the insane.
He stared at Joey Gauthier. Wrapped in a straight-jacket. Endlessly weaving and pacing. From corner to corner of a stark white room. A room padded to keep harm away, well after the most harm had been done.
Scully put a hand on her partner’s arm. He looked over at her.
“Mulder? Are you okay?” The usual question.
He smiled for the first time in days. There was deep relief in his eyes. “Yeah, Scully. I’m okay.” His voice was husky with emotion.
He looked back at Joey Gauthier. “So long, pal,” he whispered.
He shoved himself away from the glass and turned toward the door. He draped an arm companionably over his partner’s shoulder, effectively steering her out of the room.
As he held the door open for her, he looked down at her and smiled again.
“I’m glad to see it’s not me, Scully. It’s not me.”
The door shut on the room with a near silent click. Joey Gauthier never stopped his weaving, his pacing. Corner to corner in the stark white room.
He was a happy, happy man.
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