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Faith by Suzanne Bickerstaffe
By Suzanne Bickerstaffe
originally posted May 30, 1997
SUMMARY: While working on a case involving the firebombing of black churches, Mulder and Scully share their innermost thoughts when locked in a life-and-death situation.
RATING: Probably R for language
CATEGORY: S, MA, SA, Skinnerangst. Some UST but generally non-shipper safe.
SPOILERS: Oh, yeah. Lots. Story set post Memento Mori (US4) with some references to both my own previous work as well as the episodes “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose” and “Kaddish”.
DISCLAIMER: The X-Files and the characters of Fox Mulder, Dana Scully and Walter Skinner belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. I merely borrow them, respectfully, happily and reverently. All other characters and the plot are mine. This story may be posted, archived and copied freely as long as no one profits by it, the story remains unchanged and my name is attached as author.
ACKNOWLEDGMENT: My thanks to all the fanfic authors who are my inspiration; to Joyce McKibben, an author whose work I respect enormously, who straightened out my Yankee misuse of Dixie vernacular; and to Miki, another fantastic author I respect and whose talent I envy, who helped keep my ending secret. Cover art by Tamara Kauffman.
Friday, March 14, 1997
His broad shoulders brushed impatiently by the agents scurrying around him, his dark eyes glittering as they scanned the chaotic office. Spotting his quarry – a tall, balding black man – he strode purposefully up to him. “Just what the hell is going on here?”
Mike Thomas’s head snapped up. “And who the hell would you be?” he demanded.
“Assistant Director Walter Skinner.” He flashed his ID, then slipped it back into his breast pocket, glaring at the man coldly.
“Oh, shit,” Mike breathed. At his glance, the two agents he had been speaking with melted into the woodwork, sensing an imminent explosion. “I’m sorry, sir. As you can see, things around here are a little…. Did you just get in?”
“We can dispense with the pleasantries, Thomas – we haven’t the time for it. When’s the last time you heard from them?”
“Sir, come on in the conference room where we can hear ourselves think. I’ll bring you up to speed with everything that’s happened so far.”
At Skinner’s curt nod, the Atlanta agent led the way. No small man himself, the AD noted that Thomas was two inches taller and some fifty pounds heavier than himself – an imposing man. When the two had seated themselves with steaming cups of potent coffee, the AD looked piercingly at his companion, expectant. “Well?”
Thomas sighed. “The last time I heard from them was when Mulder called in at about noon. He said he had a suspect that he and Scully were checkin’ out, but that he didn’t want to call in the troops yet. He didn’t say where he was. He just said he’d call back by two. He didn’t call back.”
“Jesus Christ, Thomas! You’re in charge of this fucking investigation!” Skinner fumed. “You’re supposed to know where your people are and they’re supposed to keep you informed.
This bullshit is strictly against protocol.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Thomas thundered back, rising from his seat, looming over the AD. “Did you ever try to get Mulder to do anything by the damn book?” He sank down in his chair, rubbing his hand over his eyes, massaging his temples in fatigue and frustration. Nice work, Mike, he thought to himself.
The Assistant Director of the whole fuckin’ FBI, and you smartmouth him twice in five minutes. Wonder what the Anchorage office is like, because that’s probably where I’m headed. He opened his eyes and was amazed to see a small smile playing at the corners of Skinner’s mouth.
“I have frequently tried to get Agent Mulder to do things by the book – and with just as little success.” Skinner sighed.
“We seem to have gotten off to a bad start. Let’s try this again.
What’s been going on up to this point?”
– – – – –
Tuesday afternoon, March 11, 1997
Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport
“Hey Spaceman! Over here!”
Mulder glanced to his left as he and Scully made their way from the jetway and spotted Mike immediately, his face creasing into a rare grin. Scully looked on, smiling herself.
Anyone who could break through Mulder’s formidable defences, who could help him to throw off the mantle of sadness he wore so often, was a friend in her book. Mike enveloped Mulder in a huge hug, then threw his arms around her, effortlessly lifting her feet from the floor and nearly suffocating her in his overcoat in the process.
“Hey, Scully! Great to see you again. Still hangin’ with the Spaceman, I see.”
“Nice to see you, too, Mike,” she said when she could breathe again.
He picked up her garment bag over her vehement protests and led the way into the sea of humanity that was a given at Hartsfield, regardless of the hour. “It’s not too far from where I’m parked. Hey, only thirty minutes late – that’s not too damn bad.”
“Considering it’s only an hour and twenty minute flight, it’s not too damn good, either,” Mulder replied dryly.
“What the hell, what do you care? You’re flyin’ on government time. Um, just through here.”
They darted across the flow of human traffic to the automatic doors leading out of the terminal. Mike walked up to a white Taurus parked at the curb in the loading zone.
“You must rate,” Mulder observed, as he helped Mike put the bags in the trunk.
“Me? Hell, no. They heard you were comin’ to town, Spaceman.”
“Yeah, right. Oh, Scully, I may not have mentioned it to you, but you might find Mike’s driving a little…unsettling. You want the front seat or the back?”
“I’ll live dangerously and take the front.”
“No truer words were ever spoken,” he muttered, climbing gratefully into the back.
“What kind of trash you talkin’, Mulder? You’ll be as safe as if you were in your Momma’s arms.” In the back, Mulder rolled his eyes expressively. “Don’t you worry, Dr. Scully.”
“Call me Dana – please,” she said warmly.
With a squeal of tires and other cars’ brakes, they set off. Forty terrifying minutes later, they pulled into the garage of the Federal Building. Any attempts to talk about the case had been so punctuated with gasps and squeaks of alarm that they had given up the effort. Shakily, they climbed from the car.
“See, now that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Mike beamed.
“Mulder, you owe me – bigtime,” she murmured, and was answered by his chuckle.
Mike waited until they were comfortably ensconced in the conference room with mugs of coffee clutched in unsteady hands before opening the case file. “Okay. What we have here is some joker who likes to firebomb black churches. It’s obvious it’s a hate crime, which is why the Bureau’s involved. We thought originally it was just more of the same shit that’s been goin’ on throughout the South. But then we found out about the notes.”
“Notes?” the partners asked in unison.
“Yeah. The first firebombin’ was just after Thanksgivin’ took out a small church on the outskirts of the city during a meetin’ of the council of elders. Killed two of ‘em outright, two others after all this time are still in the Burn Unit at Emory, a real mess. Then, just before Christmas, a fair-sized church downtown went up – during practice for the children’s Christmas pageant, no less. Five kids and one adult were killed, thirteen others injured.”
Scully frowned. “I remember reading about that. It was awful. But where do the notes come in?”
“It wasn’t until we got this” – he pushed a piece of cheap lined notepaper in a clear plastic evidence bag toward her – “that we even knew about the letters. This was mailed to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. When it landed on the editor’s desk, he called us immediately. We did a little askin’ around, and found out that this was not the first note – that there had been at least two others. The first one went to Classifieds, and they pitched it.
No one remembers when it was exactly, just that it was around Thanksgivin’. The second one went to the Society column, of all places, and not seeing any Society connections in it, they too put it in the circular file. That was shortly before Christmas.”
“Didn’t anyone tie them in to the bombings?” Mulder asked incredulously. “Even after the fact?”
Mike sighed, leaned back in his chair and crossed massive arms on his equally massive chest.. “According to the people I spoke with in Classifieds and Society, no. The notes were vague, not outright threatenin’. Of course they might be sayin’ that now to cover their asses, but I don’t think so. According to the editor, they get a lot of mail at the paper from crazies. It takes something special to stand out, as it were. It was precisely because this note was more threatenin’ that it ended up on the editor’s desk.
That was – let’s see – the fourth week in January.”
Mulder lowered his eyes from Mike’s grim face and read the note, then pushed it over to his partner.
I HAVE BEEN GIVEN MY ORDERS FROM GOD. THE SOLJERS OF SATAN MUST DIE BEFORE ITS TOO LATE. I HAVE BEEN HIS INSTRIMENT, AND THIS WEEK I WILL DO HIS WILL AGAIN.
Mulder frowned reflectively. “Oh, great – a religious lunatic. One who flunked spelling.”
“Unless he’s misspelling deliberately, to throw us off track,” suggested Scully.
“Possible, but in this case, I don’t think so,” Mike replied.
“Usually the smartasses who try that just screw themselves up misspell the easy words, get the tough ones right, and misspell inconsistently. As you’ll see in the other notes, ‘soldiers’ and ‘instrument’ are consistently spelled wrong – and always the same way, like it’s habitual. It’s just my opinion, but I’d say these are genuine.”
She nodded. “What happened after this note was received?”
“Three days later a black church twenty miles southeast of the city went up like a torch. Two women, in the church to do the flowers for Sunday, were killed. The same kind of explosive device as in the first two firebombings started the fire. It was definitely our guy. Two weeks after that, this one came….”
THEY MUST ALL DIE. THE SOLJERS OF SATAN WILL BE KILLED AND THERE SINFUL CHURCHES WILL BE DISTROYED. MY ORDERS ARE CLEAR. I AM HIS INSTRIMENT. I WILL DO GOD’S WORK AGAIN SOON.
“And we caught a break – a big one. There was a church supper planned at the Emanuel AME Church just east of here for the Saturday after we got this note – supposed to start at six P.M. But at four that afternoon, the pastor’s wife was rushed to the hospital with a suspected coronary. The church supper was cancelled at the last minute and most of the membership turned up at the hospital and held a prayer vigil in the chapel there. At six fifteen, their church exploded and went up in flames.” Mike looked thoughtful. “The pastor’s wife died in the Coronary Care Unit at seven. You know, it’s funny. Call it what you will – the hand of God, or fate, or karma or whatever, dependin’ on what you believe in. But if the pastor’s wife hadn’t had that heart attack, the body count would have been way over a hundred.”
He passed them the next note. “This came the following Wednesday.”
DAMN THEM ALL TO HELLS FIRE! SATAN IS STRONG, BUT THE LORD GOD IS STRONGER. I WILL PROVE IT THIS WEEK. THE SOLJERS OF SATAN MUST ALL DIE. BLACK FLESH MUST BURN!
“Our guy was pissed,” Mulder observed mildly.
Mike grunted. “He didn’t wait long, that’s for sure. The night after this was received, a big old church in one of the bedroom suburbs was firebombed. The blast went off about an hour before a religious education class was to start – a rescheduled class. Originally it had been scheduled for seven o’clock, which not so coincidentally is when the bomb went off.
The caretaker was found in the rubble. Dr. Scully – Dana – I’d like you to take a look at the autopsy reports and photos.”
“He wasn’t killed by the blast or the fire?”
He hesitated. “I just got a feelin’ about this one. I don’t have a lot of faith in the guy who did the autopsy at the best of times. I was there when they found the body and it looked to me… well…. I dunno. Decide for yourself after you’ve seen the file.”
“You think he was killed by our guy – up close and personal?” asked Mulder.
“Maybe.” Mike waved noncommitally, shaking his head.
“Or maybe it’s my imagination. Anyway, the body count obviously wasn’t enough and our guy felt like a slacker, because a week and a half later, this came.”
DEATH TO THE SOLJERS OF SATAN! GOD WILL NOT STOP UNTIL THERE ALL DEAD. HE HAS ORDERED ME TO STRIKE DOWN THERE SINFUL CHURCHES AND SLAY THEM. I MUST WORK HARDER TO PLEASE THE LORD MY GOD.
THIS WEEK THERE WILL BE MORE DEAD NIGGERS AS I DO HIS WORK.
“Last Sunday morning – the Calvary Baptist Church in my neighborhood. I was there, with my wife and youngest son.
Reverend Johnson was in high gear – a real powerful preacher if there ever was one. But he does go on.” Mike grinned. “And on and on and on. Calvin Johnson – a ten year old kid and no relation to the Reverend – got restless and decided to go downstairs to use the facilities. Turns out a couple of friends of his – including William, my boy – heard the call of nature at exactly the same time.”
Mulder smiled. “I think I can recall skipping out on a couple of long services that way myself. Don’t suppose you ever did that, huh, Scully?”
“Certainly not,” she said with a severity contradicted by the twinkle in her eye.
“Anyway, the kids decided that it would be more fun to play a game of hide and seek rather than return to the sermon.
So they started playin’. Calvin was about to hide in a storeroom full of old hymnals, prayer books, altar cloths and what have you, when he noticed a pile of oily rags in the corner of the room. Now, Calvin’s been around that church enough to know what belongs there and what doesn’t, and that pile of rags didn’t.
He got a bit closer, and spotted the timin’ device and three sticks of dynamite. Bein’ a smart kid, he took it for what it was, found William and the other kid and the three of them went tearassin’
upstairs, screamin’ about a bomb in the basement. Knowin’
Calvin, and knowin’ William wouldn’t dare kid about a thing like that, I took them at their word and started gettin’ the people out of there. I was the last one out, callin’ the fire department and the bomb squad on my cellular as I went down the front stairs.
My feet never hit the last step – the blast knocked me on my ass about fifteen feet away.”
“Were you hurt?” asked Mulder, concerned.
Mike grinned ruefully. “Took ‘em an hour to get all the splinters out of my butt, but beyond that, no.” His expression became grim. “Mulder, there were close to five hundred people in that church. If Calvin hadn’t spotted that bomb, at least half of those people would be dead now.”
“Thank God he did,” murmured Scully.
“Amen to that.”
Mulder frowned. “So our guy is going to be even more frustrated this week, cheated out of all that carnage. He’s going to be planning something big.”
“Exactly what I was thinkin’, Spaceman. That’s why I wanted you down here. We’ve been chasin’ our tails on this one. I know you don’t do much profilin’ anymore, but I was hopin’….”
“We’re happy to do everything we can, Mike. You know that.”
“I suppose the notes have been analyzed,” said Scully.
“Nine ways from Sunday, sugar. The notes, the stamps, the envelopes, and the writin’. The writin’ – well, you can see for yourself. The lines on the paper helped to make sure that he stayed uniform. Block capitals, nearly featureless, certainly not enough to ID anybody.”
“What about the ink?”
“Deadend. From a Bic ballpoint, sold in packages of ten everywhere in the world. There’s billions of ‘em out there. The notepaper and envelopes are also cheap and available anywhere.”
“What about the glue on the envelope or the stamp?” suggested Mulder. “Our guy might be a secreter, and we could do some DNA testing and – “
“No dice. The stamps are the self-stickin’ kind, and the glue on the envelope flap has been moistened with plain ol’ tap water on a cellulose sponge – a not very clean cellulose sponge.
There’s nothin’ there.”
Mulder sighed. “Well, he’s not well educated, but he’s certainly cagey. Or paranoid.”
“Or maybe he’s just seen enough TV and movies to avoid the more obvious traps,” suggested his partner.
“Yeah, could be. Anything else about the notes, Mike?”
“A little. They’re always postmarked on a Monday – in the early afternoon – and arrive at the Journal-Constitution on a Wednesday.”
“Different post offices, I assume,” said Scully, peering through the evidence bags at the envelopes.
“What else would you expect – nothin’s been goin’ our way on this. Okay, today’s Tuesday, so the next note may show up at the newspaper tomorrow. I say ‘may’ because he does skip a week or two from time to time.”
“Not this week,” replied Mulder with grim certainty.
“He’s angry, he’s frustrated and he thinks he’s pissed off God.
He’ll do it this week.”
His companions’ heads bobbed in agreement. “So, that doesn’t give us a lot of time. It’s – what,” Mike looked at his watch – “nearly five now. How about I take you to dinner before droppin’ you at your hotel? We can make it an early night to give you time to work up the profile and give Dana time to check over the autopsy findin’s. How does Jackson’s sound to you?”
Mulder’s eyes gleamed.
“I think I’m still carrying around the five pounds I gained on my last visit there,” groaned Scully.
“We can go somewhere else if you like. I was just thinkin’ of my man Mulder, here. Sizzlin’ fried catfish…butter beans and fresh hot cornbread…sweet potato pie….”
“All right, all right,” she laughed. “I know when the deck’s being stacked. Jackson’s it is.”
– – – – –
Radisson Atlanta Hotel
Tuesday, 11:00 PM
She sat at the table in her hotel room, barefoot and in sweatpants and a tee-shirt, her favorite ‘comfortable’ outfit. Her glasses were on and her hair pulled back in a ponytail. On the table before her in neat piles was the evidence from the autopsy folder – photographs in one pile, lab results in another and the postmortem exam report in a third. The communicating door between their rooms stood open, as usual.
Mulder, also barefoot and in sweats and glasses, sat tailor-style on her bed. She glanced over. The photocopies of the case documents were scattered around him, seemingly haphazardly. Viewing the mess, she smiled, knowing that for all the apparent chaos, there was an order, a system known only to him, and that he could put his hand to any document he wanted in a heartbeat. She watched him appreciatively, lost in thought.
Sensing her gaze, Mulder glanced up for a moment, then dropped his eyes back to his papers, a gentle smile on his lips. “Am I disturbing you, Scully?”
She colored slightly. “Uh, no. I’m uh… I’m just thinking.”
“How are you coming on that autopsy file?”
She frowned. “I can see Mike’s point. The pathologist’s description of the postmortem exam is sketchy, to say the least.
It’s hard to know if he didn’t notice something, or he just didn’t bother to comment on it. His heart’s not in his work, that’s for sure. Maybe not his brain either. The lab reports don’t tell us much. But I did find a couple of interesting things. For a start, Dr. Morton didn’t note any burns to the throat, trachea or lungs.
If he had died in the fire, or even had been killed by the explosion, I would have expected those to be mentioned. Also, it’s hard to tell from the photos – the body is burned and the victim’s skin is quite dark – but I think there’s some bruising on the neck.”
“You think our guy strangled him?”
“No. There’s no mention of a crushed trachea or hyoid not that that means much with this pathologist,” she added dryly.
She passed him a photograph and pushed aside some papers to join him on the bed. She crawled closer on her hands and knees, leaning over his shoulder and pointing. “See – right here…and here? I think the carotids were occluded by external pressure from our guy’s hands. If they were blocked for long enough, the victim could have lost consciousness. Also, it could have caused or exacerbated a cardiac arrhythmia. And certain cardiac arrhythmias can be fatal, especially for someone who has a heart condition anyway.”
“The caretaker had a bad heart, I assume?”
She sat back on her heels. “Evidently. Even Dr. Morton saw fit to mention the myocardial scarring, consistent with a previous severe infarction.”
Mulder’s brows knot in a frown. “In your opinion, does this mean our guy had to have medical knowledge? Because I have to tell you, if so, I’m going to have to go back to square one on this guy’s profile. That’s not the way I’ve pictured him at all.”
“No, you’re safe. He wouldn’t necessarily need to have had medical knowledge – he might just have gotten lucky. If the caretaker interrupted him in the act of setting the bomb, he might just have reached out instinctively and grabbed him by the neck. He may have actually been surprised when the caretaker went down. Have you made any progress?”
He tossed the legal pad and pen onto the bed. “There’s something there that I’m not quite seeing,” he said. His glasses joined the mess on the bedspread and he rubbed his eyes tiredly. “Maybe I’ll go out for a run, shake some of the cobwebs loose in my brain.”
“More like work off two or three helpings of sweet potato pie.”
“That too… Anything wrong, Scully?” he asked, seeing the worry in her eyes.
She forced herself to keep her response nonchallant.
“No, it’s nothing, really. It’s just a thought, Mulder, but why don’t you use the exercise room downstairs?” It was after eleven on a chill and foggy night, and for some unaccountable reason, she always felt uneasy when he went out running late in a strange city. “After all, we don’t usually get to stay in a place with all the amenities.”
He looked at her for a long moment, then slowly nodded and slid off the bed. “Good idea. And after all, not even I can get lost on a treadmill.”
“Mulder, I didn’t mean to imply – “
“Hey, I know, Scully,” he replied gently. He had recently become aware of her concern about his nightly runs, knowing that she’d never come out and voice them. But she had enough to worry about – she didn’t need to be worried about him as well. Not now. He crossed to his room and emerged a few minutes later in soccer shorts and his beat-up running shoes. “I’ll be back in an hour. If your light’s out – “
“It won’t be. I still have some more work to do on the file. Have a nice run.” He waved and the door clicked behind him.
She stood and stretched. Pulling a nightie from the bureau drawer, she headed for the bathroom.
This is more like it, she thought, spying the basket of small ornate bottles on the wide marble counter. She scanned the array of shampoos, conditioners, lotions and bath gels, and made her selection. Then she turned the taps of the spotless tub full on and dribbled some of the gel into the torrent. Minutes later, she was in bubbles up to her chin. She opened the drain and adjusted the taps so that fresh warm water would replace what was draining out. Yes, this was definitely more like it…no scraping mildew off of cheap, cracked plastic shower curtains in some scuzzy motel…no checking cruddy tubs for giant bugs… a real bidet, for God’s sake…. She drifted for a while, completely relaxed in the floral-scented tub, on the edge of sleep.
The slam of her door jolted her out of her reverie. She sat up sharply, the air cold on her exposed, wet skin. “Mulder?”
“Scully? Where are – oops! Sorry.” His head disappeared from where it had peeked around the door. She sighed, then stood and quickly lathered her hair, rinsing it in the spray from the shower. Wrapping her hair in a towel, she pulled on the thick terry robe thoughtfully supplied by the hotel and joined her partner in the bedroom.
He glanced up and then returned to the case documents. “Sorry about that.” He sat on the bed, panting, his cut-off sweatshirt soaked with perspiration.
“No problem. Although I didn’t know seeing me in the nude would provoke such a reaction from you.”
Perhaps it was her imagination, but she could swear he blushed. Recovering quickly, he smiled and shook his head. “I got a brainstorm while I was on the treadmill. I wanted to run up here and check it out.”
“Run up? Mulder, the exercise room is on the second floor – we’re on twelve!”
“Well, I wanted to finish my run anyway.” He handed her a zipcode map, the photocopies of the envelopes, and a list of the addresses of the bombed churches. “Scully, take a look at this and tell me if you think I’m crazy.”
“Mulder, it’s no fun when you make it that easy,” she murmured, her brow furrowed in concentration. “Just what am I supposed to be looking at here?”
“Take your time…it took me a couple of hours to see it.”
She studied the documents for several minutes. “I don’t …wait! I think I see what you’re getting at. The zipcodes on the envelopes, right?”
He nodded. “That’s it. In each case, the zipcode in which the note was mailed is geographically close to the church that ends up getting bombed. In fact, I would guess that he mails them on his way home, after checking out his next little job for God. Wish we had those other two notes. It’s harder to see in the downtown churches, of course, but I’ll bet if we had enough of these notes, we could even figure out where Billy Bob lives.”
He shrugged. “It’s easier to picture him as a person if he has a name.”
“Well, we’re here to see that there are no more bombings, Mulder. And we have damn little time to pull off that particular miracle.” She yawned.
“Look, why don’t you get some sleep now – you look like you could use it.” He began gathering the case documents and his belongings from the bed.
She opened her mouth to protest, but ruined the effect by yawning again.
“Go ahead, hit the sack, Dana. It’s been a long day and you look beat. I’ll wake you if you want to get up early to finish going over that file.”
“Mm, maybe I will get some sleep. I didn’t realize how tired I was. Okay, Mulder, wake me at five thirty. I have at least a couple more hours of work to do on that autopsy report…and thanks.” Thanks for making it easy for me, she thought. Thanks for being here, for being you.
He nodded, a slight, almost shy smile curling his lips.
Then he headed for his room, pulling the communicating door behind him.
She watched the door closing and suddenly felt a profound sense of loss. Before she could stop herself, she blurted, “No, don’t! I mean…. You can leave that open, Mulder.”
He looked into her eyes. “I don’t want to disturb you. I may be up late.”
“It’s already late. And you won’t disturb me. It’s okay, leave it open.” She met and held his gaze, hoping the need, the unease in hers was not discernible.
He nodded again, his eyes never leaving hers, an intelligence and an empathy in them that almost took her breath away. “Okay. Sweet dreams, Scully.”
FBI Office, Atlanta
Wednesday, March 12
“‘…all of which leads me to conclude that the suspect in the Atlanta area firebombings is a white male, aged twenty two to thirty eight, and more probably in the twenty eight to thirty five range. He was brought up in a rural area of the South, quite probably locally. Racial hatred as irrational and violent as that displayed by the suspect is not the result of recent experience; rather it has been in his family for generations, possibly since the War between the States or before. His family perpetuated these prejudices, with it being likely that his father and possibly mother as well were active in the Ku Klux Klan or some other white supremacist group.
“‘His family was lower class’ – “
“Wait a minute,” interrupted Scully. “Mulder, that seems uncomfortably stereotypical.”
He looked up from his profile and shrugged. “White collar bigots usually find other outlets for their prejudices – by not hiring qualified blacks, unfair treatment in the workplace, excluding them from memberships in clubs, or just by having what they perceive as financial and social advantages over them. There isn’t the need among middle and upper class whites to turn to violence. But violence is usually the only weapon accessible to poor whites.”
She nodded. “I guess I can’t argue with that. Okay. Go on.”
“Umm, let’s see here… ‘lower class, undereducated and underemployed. His father was probably either an unsuccessful small-time farmer or a marginally skilled worker in a small factory or mill. Neither parent graduated from high school and their rural surroundings further limited their employment opportunities. His mother was probably not employed on a full time basis outside the home, but may have done cleaning or sewing to help make ends meet, expecially during his father’s periods of unemployment.
“‘The family attended religious services on at least a semi-regular basis, undoubtedly one of the fire and brimstone Christian’ – and I use this term in the loosest possible sense,” added Mulder dryly – “‘sects which emphasize an omniscient, angry and vengeful Supreme Being. Love and forgiveness was not a feature of their belief system. In fact, love was probably in short supply in his life, with his parents too weighed down by drudgery and financial worries to show much love either to each other or the children in the family.’ Nature hates a vacuum,” he explained. “Where there is neither love nor hope, hatred moves in to fill the void.” Receiving no argument from the others, he went on.
“‘The suspect completed at least some high school, but had an undistinguished academic career. He tended to be a loner, did not join any clubs, nor did he try out for any athletic teams’ – “
“Hold it!” boomed a deep voice. “How the hell can you know that?”
“Mike, think about it. He’s of the right age to have attended high school after the fall of segregation. His parents sure as shit didn’t have the money to send him to a private school where he could avoid mixing with blacks. So if he tried out for a team, he would have been competing against black kids who were also trying out. Our guy wouldn’t do that – he couldn’t put himself in the position of possibly being found inferior to blacks in a head-to-head competition.”
“You’re right. I went to school with some guys like that. Okay, sorry for the interruption.”
“No problem,” he smiled. “This is only my take on the guy. Feel free to yell if you disagree with something. Okay…‘He may have had some association with the Klan in his late teens or very early twenties, but has not been an active member for some time. This conclusion stems from the suspect’s increasing isolation from his peers as well as the fact that his predilection for violence puts him at odds with the modern Klan’s desire to be viewed as ‘acceptable’.’ “
Scully watched her partner as he read from his profile.
Only the redness that rimmed his eyes and a slight pallor to his complexion hinted at the exhaustion he must feel. Her own sleep had been restless, but every time she had awoken, his light was on and she could hear the scratching of his fountain pen and the rustle of papers above the hum of her fan. Yet here he sat, looking fresh and immaculate in one of his impeccably tailored suits. How did he do it, she wondered. She had probably had at least three or four hours of sleep and felt like crap. She sighed. Must be his long experience with sleep deprivation. One day she expected him to do away with sleep altogether.
” …’ that the devices and materials he uses in his bombs are not sophisticated, but do point to someone with some experience in handling explosives as well as someone with access to them. The occupations in which these two elements are usually found are mining, the military and construction. I believe our suspect is either currently employed in the construction industry or has been in the past and still maintains some links with it.’ “
Scully frowned. “Whoa. Why not military?”
“A lot of reasons. Admittedly, there are some facets of this guy’s personality that would gain satisfaction from his being in the military – being given responsibility, maybe even some recognition, having weapons entrusted to him and learning to use them effectively.”
“That’s what I was thinking.”
Mulder nodded. “But I think the reasons against his being in the military are stronger. There’s no draft, so he would have to enlist, and I don’t think our guy would do that. He’s not a joiner – he’s a loner, and the military is not known for its opportunities for solitude. Also, he’d have to mix with black recruits – live with them, work as a team with them. Again, extremely unlikely. He couldn’t risk either being found inferior to them, or worse yet, discovering that there was reason to actually like and respect them, causing the whole belief system he grew up with to crumble. Finally, Billy Bob has been very regular in his habits – when he checks out his next site, when he mails the notes, assuming our theory is correct. The nearest military base is Dobbins Air Force Base. I don’t think he’d have such a regular schedule, nor the freedom to scout for sites, mail the notes from various locations, and then go back and set the bomb, if he were in the military. As we all have reason to know, when Uncle Sam’s your boss, he calls the shots about where and when you’ll work.”
“That’s for damn sure,” Mike said mournfully.
Mulder smiled. “The fact that our guy doesn’t hit every week makes it just barely possible that he is from Dobbins and he skips the weeks that his schedule would not permit his extracurricular activities. But I think more damning evidence against the military theory is what they’ve found by studying the explosive devices so far. There’s been no mention of the use of anything in those devices that is used by the military. Frankly, the military has better, more effective and more sophisticated materials than what Billy Bob’s using. Put it all together, and that’s why I think he’s not military.”
His partner nodded. “Besides, if our theory about mailing the notes somewhere between the bombing site and his home is true, it looks like he lives in Atlanta proper, not on a base some miles northwest of the city. And the mining angle is out because this area is not exactly replete with mines. Okay,” she summed up. “So we’re looking for a white male between 28 and 35 who lives in Atlanta, is a Georgia native and who works in the construction trade.”
“Or has worked in it,” Mulder amended. “I don’t think our guy sets any records for steady employment. He probably hires onto a construction crew for a particular project, and sticks around only until that project is finished, he gets pissed off and walks, or he gets into trouble and gets fired. We are not looking for the guy most likely to be presented with a gold watch for faithful service on retirement. Okay, that’s it. What you heard is what I got.”
“Makes sense,” Mike nodded. “Okay, we’ll feed it into the computer and see what comes out. What about you, Dana?
What did your examination of the autopsy results turn up?”
“I agree with you, Mike. I think that Billy Bob killed the caretaker, probably while in the act of setting the device, or while getting into position to do so. The fact that he killed him with his bare hands is a departure from his usual method, but I think it was a reaction to being surprised in the act. In any case, that old man would be no less dead if he had been killed by the bomb.”
She passed Mike her report. “There are a number of points of evidence that contradict Morton’s conclusions in his autopsy. The caretaker wasn’t breathing when the bomb went off and the church caught fire. Also, there’s no indication of trauma sufficient to have killed him – severe blunt abdominal or chest trauma, head injury, and so on. The only thing I can see” she passed the closeup photo of the victim’s neck to Mike – “are these apparent bruises on the victim’s throat. I believe he died of a massive myocardial infarction secondary to carotid occlusion.”
He scanned the photos, shaking his head vehemently.
“We gotta get rid of that jackass Morton. It makes me sick to think that killers might have walked due to his incompetence.”
“If you need documentation, just let me know. Normally I would give another pathologist the benefit of the doubt – even the best can miss something on occasion. But Dr. Morton missed not one but several critical pieces of evidence, and generally did such a slapdash job that it makes me think he had reached his conclusion and started dictating his report before the body even arrived at the morgue.”
Mike nodded glumly. “Wouldn’t surprise me. I got to the church before the fire was out. Even suited up with the fire department so I could get to the evidence before they messed with it. The caretaker was lyin’ in the middle of the hallway at the furthest point from the blast. His clothes were smouldering, but there wasn’t much around him – no fallen beams, not much in the way of debris. He could have been overcome by smoke, but if you say he wasn’t breathin’….”
“There was no evidence from Morton’s autopsy records to indicate smoke in the lungs or burns in the nose, mouth, throat or trachea. I’m sure of that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t there, but just that there’s no record of it. But from the photos I saw, it would support my opinion.”
“That’s good enough for me. And I have a little news. I went down to talk to Crowley, our explosives expert. He says that the kind of timer our guy is usin’ means that he can set it only eleven hours and fifty nine minutes ahead of ‘boom-time’.
That means he has a twelve hour window to set the bomb in place. And he probably wouldn’t set it that far ahead, just in case it was discovered and the bomb squad was called. So, it supports the idea that our guy might have been at the church and been surprised by the caretaker. Okay, it’s nearly ten thirty.
The mail gets to the Journal-Constitution by eleven and then gets sorted. The guys in the mailroom know what we’re lookin’
for and will run it up to the editor when they find it. We might as well go over there now. It’s not too much of a drive – ” “Speaking of which,” Mulder said hurriedly. “Where do I go to sign out a car?”
He did his best to look innocent of ulterior motives. “No!
Nothing against your driving, Mike. It’s just that we’ll need one eventually when we split up to cover more ground, and now’s as good a time as any. Really.”
“Yeah, right. Chicken shit!”
– – – – –
“Agents Scully and Mulder, this is Matthew Johansen, editor in chief of the Journal-Constitution. He’s been extremely cooperative in workin’ with us.”
The short, silver-haired man reminded Mulder of Senator Matheson. He rose from his seat and shook their hands with a firm grip. “It’s a pleasure. Have a seat.”
Scully crossed her legs and smoothed the skirt of her green suit. “Agent Thomas tells us that you frequently receive hate mail and irrational letters.”
“At least twenty or so every week, that I’m aware of,” he agreed. “And I’m sure I’m not aware of all of them. Our policy is that anything overtly threatening be sent up here so we can notify the authorities, just in case. Most of the time it turns out to be nothing, just some hotheads or lunatics blowing off steam.
But these are strange times we live in. After one incident in which a mail clerk had his hand blown off by a letterbomb, we even installed an xray device down there to screen – ” They were interrupted by a knock on the door. At Johansen’s summons to enter, a young man came in, his cheeks flushed with excitement. “It’s here,” he announced, brandishing the envelope. He crossed the room and handed it to the editor.
“Thanks, Larry. Nice work.”
The kid nodded and left, though Mulder noted with sympathetic amusement that the expression on his face made it clear he would have preferred to stay where the action was rather than return to the mailroom.
Johansen gave the envelope to Mike, who brought it over to the conference table and sat down. Carefully he used his pocket knife to slit open the envelope. Sliding out the note, he slipped the envelope into the clear plastic evidence bag Mulder held open.
“Sorry, maybe I should have had my people wear gloves,” murmured Johansen.
“No need,” replied Scully “We’ll check it of course, but if it’s like the others, the only prints will belong to the US Postal Service and to your people. It appears that the suspect is the one wearing gloves. What’s the zipcode, Mulder?”
“Um – 30341.” He closed his eyes, trying to recall the image of the zipcode map to his mind. “I think that’s a place called Chamblee, a town northeast of here. Can you find out?” he asked Johansen.
“I’ll call Circulation. Hang on.”
As the editor spoke quietly into the phone, Scully and Mulder peered over Mike’s shoulder, reading the note.
“Yeah, it’s Chamblee all right,” said Johansen, crossing the distance to join them at the conference table.
“Unfortunately, I’m not sure that tells us much, in this instance,” Mulder replied, frowning. The editor scanned the note.
THE LORD GOD HAS SPOKEN. HE IS VERY ANGRY.
MY WORK HAS BEEN TOO SLOW, SO I MUST WORK
DOUBLE HARD. MORE SOLJERS OF SATAN WILL DIE THIS WEEK – MANY, MANY MORE. GOD’S INSTRIMENT WILL BE BUSY. THE ALMIGHTY WILL GIVE ME THE POWER TO STRIKE TWICE AS HARD. HE WILL BE WITH ME WHEN I DISTROY THE TEMPLE OF SATAN HIMSELF, SENDING THE SOLJERS TO HELLS FIRE.
“I don’t think I understand,” said Johansen.
“He’s goin’ for two churches this week,” replied Mike grimly. He rose, slipping the note into a plastic bag. “Mr. Johansen, thank you. If by any chance anything else comes in from our friend….”
“I’ll be sure to let you know immediately, of course.”
Mike nodded. “We’ve got to get back to headquarters.
It appears we have a lot of work to do.”
– – – – –
“We’re agreed then? There’s goin’ to be two this week?”
Grimly, Scully returned Mike’s gaze. “That’s what I get out of it.”
“Which means that our zipcode theory may be of little use,” added Mulder, frustrated. “We may be able to guess the general location of one of the bombings, but as to the other…. I doubt he’d do two in the same area. Maybe we’ll get another note from him, but I really don’t see this guy making it that easy for us.”
“Me neither.” Mike examined the text of the note from the photocopy on the table in front of him. The original had been passed on to the lab for testing. He glanced up to see a man striding purposefully up to them, then turned back to his companions and whispered, “Oh, shit, this is all we need.”
“Agent Thomas, I’m sure not introducing me to these people was merely an oversight.” The little man stared acidly at Thomas, not bothering to disguise his expression of distaste.
“Uh, yes sir. Special Agents Scully and Mulder, this is Howard Fildster, chief of the Bureau here in Atlanta.”
They shook hands. Scully appraised the man. Short, paunchy, and balding, he exuded a sense of importance clearly not shared by Mike. She hoped that Mulder would behave Fildster was just the kind of officious jerk that brought out the beast in her partner.
“Is that the latest note?”
Fildster read it quickly. “Well, you know my feeling on this. It’s time we started dealing with this man, ask him what he wants.”
“Apparently, he wants to kill a lot of black people,”
Mulder observed reasonably.
“I see you subscribe to Agent Thomas’s premise of a Mad Bomber,” Fildster said with distaste. “No. No, I think he’ll deal – we just have to dangle the right carrot in front of his face.
And I’ve never known money to fail to be a great motivator.
We’ll offer to buy him off, and when he goes for the cash, we’ll nail him. I’m notifying Johansen now. I’ll draft an open letter to the son of a bitch, and Johansen can print it in the paper. Our guy will see it, and it will get him talking, take his mind off the bombings.”
“You don’t mind if we continue with our own avenues of pursuing this case,” Mike said stiffly, trying to keep his temper in check.
“Spin your wheels if you like. But I’m telling you, this guy is no psycho. He’s just waiting for us to give him an offer he can’t refuse. I’m telling you, he’s gonna jump like a mullet to my bait. Money talks. And after this case is finished, Agent Thomas, you and I are gonna have a little come to Jesus meeting. You’ve mishandled this case from the start, and your highly placed friends from Washington don’t seem to be doing any better.” He glared at the trio, then turned on his heel and strutted away, bellowing for his secretary to get Johansen on the phone.
Mulder watched the Bureau chief’s performance with a bemused smile. “Incredible. They must breed guys like that on a big farm in Montana, just to become Civil Service hacks and Motor Vehicle Department employees.”
Mike’s normally cheerful, open expression was sour. “The man is such a prick. Oh – sorry, Dana.”
“No problem,” she smiled. “I happen to agree with you.”
Briefly, he grinned back, then turned to Mulder. “Okay, Spaceman. Now, if your theory is right, where do you think our guy’s gonna hit? We may not be able to get any clues about one of the bombings, but we can sure as shit try to do some damage control on the other one.”
“He hasn’t mailed his notes from the zipcode where the bombing will take place – at least so far – but from somewhere between the target site and downtown Atlanta. Based on that, I would guess that the target is in a town east of Chamblee.”
“Okay, let’s get some people on the phones to the pastors of the black churches in that area, give ourselves two or three towns’ leeway. Include Chamblee – just in case – Doraville, and Norcross. See if we can get them to cancel some of their activities until we catch this guy. It’s gonna be a hard sell, I can tell you…. Hey, Dana – you alright?”
She looked at the men, puzzled.
“Scully – nosebleed,” Mulder said softly.
She grabbed some tissues from the box on the desk.
“Sorry – I’ll just clean up in the ladies room.”
Mike noted Mulder’s concern as his eyes followed his partner. “Anything wrong, Mulder?”
Suddenly, the exhaustion and stress seemed to catch up with him. He sat heavily at the table next to Mike. “No. It’s nothing.”
“Don’t lie to me, son. This is your buddy Mike. I’ve never seen you look so down in the mouth.”
Mulder hesitated, torn. “I – I can’t, Mike. It’s not mine to share. We’re playing this by Scully’s rules. No offence, right?”
“No offence taken, my man. But I’m a good listener and I know how to keep a secret if you need to talk, okay? Either of you.”
“You’re a good friend, too. Thanks, Mike,” he said with a halfhearted smile. “I’ll remember that.”
“Look, you didn’t get much – if any – sleep last night.
Why don’t you and Scully knock off early? We got plenty of people to make the phone calls, and the computer’s still cogitatin’ on the profile we entered. If there’s any developments, I can give you a call.”
“Yeah, sure I’m sure. Can’t have you fallin’ asleep at the wheel when somethin’ important’s goin’ down, can I?”
“In that case, I’ll take you up on your offer.”
“What offer?” Scully strolled up to them, interested.
“Mike just said that I look like shit and I should go and put my tired ass to bed.”
She caught Mulder’s eyes. “Do you really think that’s necessary?” she asked with an edge to her voice.
He shrugged. “You stay if you want. Of course, it’ll make me look bad to our buddy Howard. But yeah, I’ve hit a wall. I gotta crash for a while.”
“Why don’t you go too, Dana? I’ve told Spaceman that I’d give you a call if anything happens. But until the computer spits out somethin’ more to go on, it’s just a matter of notifyin’ the pastors of the churches in the area, and we have plenty of people to do that.”
“If you’re sure…,” she said doubtfully.
“Yeah, go on. Go tuck Spaceman in.”
“All right. Bye, Mike.”
On their way to the car, Mulder could feel the tension in her body through the light contact of his hand on the small of her back. “Everything all right, G-woman?”
Suddenly she stopped and whirled to face her partner, searching his eyes. “You didn’t tell him, did you?” she demanded.
“Of course not. You should know you don’t even have to ask that question.” His tone was mild, his face guileless.
“I – I’m sorry, Mulder. I guess I am pretty tired. It’s just that you’re much closer to Mike than you are to most other people, and I know…I know all this is hard for you. It’s probably selfish of me to ask you to keep this strictly confidential. But I don’t….”
“But you don’t want anyone treating you differently. I know.” He held open the car door and she slid inside.
She was quiet as he eased the car from the parking space and out of the garage.
“Mike was a Marine in Vietnam, did I ever tell you that?”
Mulder said conversationally. “He was really disturbed by some of the things he saw over there. But rather than allowing himself to be destroyed by the experience, he used it. With the GI Bill, he got his degree in Theology. A couple years later he became an ordained minister.”
“You’re kidding! It’s hard to believe that you and he ever became such good friends. You don’t seem to have a whole lot in common.”
“We’ve had some stimulating discussions,” Mulder admitted with a smile. “And we’ve kind of agreed to disagree on a couple of subjects.” He became serious once more. “But I think why I’m telling you this…. He’s a good person to talk to, Dana. He is compassionate and wise and practical, and has a bedrock faith which – like yours – I envy, as hard as that may be for you to believe. If you needed someone to talk to, I can’t think of anyone better.”
She nodded, her throat tight. “Thanks, Mulder. I’ll remember that.”
– – – – –
Radisson Atlanta Hotel
Wednesday, 10:17 PM
The telephone shrilled insistently. He was sitting up with the receiver in his hand before his eyes had even opened.
“Time to wake up, Sleeping Beauty. Our guy didn’t waste any time. Gospel Baptist Church in Doraville. Be there or be square.”
“Thanks, Mike. We’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Wednesday, March 12
“Y’all made good time.”
Mulder closed the car door. “Thank Scully – she was navigating. What’s going on?”
The two joined Mike and began walking toward the church, pulling their collars up against the cold drizzle. Mulder had parked on the edge of the gravel surrounding the church, well away from the emergency vehicles that dotted the parking lot. The pitch dark of the raw, damp night made the blaze in the wreckage of the church appear ironically cheerful in comparison.
The church was located on the outskirts of town – only Scully’s map-reading skills and dumb luck had let them find the dirt road which turned off the main highway leading into town.
They had followed the glare in the sky and the sounds of sirens the rest of the way. At one time, the church must have been pretty. A small, white steepled structure, it stood set back from the road, surrounded by a gravel parking lot. Beyond the parking area was tall, old-growth pine forest. A serene setting for a house of God – that serenity now replaced by a scene of frenzied activity. Silhouettes of firefighters moved in a kind of choreography, pumping water onto flames leaping in a demonic dance of their own.
“This is – was – the Gospel Baptist Church, Doraville. I spoke to Pastor Jackson myself this afternoon, tryin’ to get him to cancel choir practice and Bible study for the rest of the week.
Like so many of the others we contacted, he refused. Said the Lord would protect his church.”
“The Lord helps those who help themselves,” Mulder murmured.
“Oh, Spaceman – you of little faith,” Mike said, shaking his head. “Actually, the Lord didn’t do too badly. Choir practice was scheduled for eight-thirty – forty people plus the choir director. But she came down with the flu this afternoon, and practice was cancelled at six. Bomb went off at nine-fifteen.”
“Then who’s in the body bags?” asked Scully, pointing.
Mike sighed. “A bunch of homeless people had taken shelter from the cold and rain in the basement. It’s pretty well known around here that Pastor Jackson never locks up. The homeless could always find some cots and blankets and even food the members brought by.” He watched while the firefighters brought out more remains and paramedics packed them into body bags. “We think there were five or six of them.
Kinda hard to tell – they must have been real close to the blast.
‘Bout all we’re gettin’ is bits and pieces. A real damn mess down there, from what the chief tells me.”
A shout rang out and the emergency workers ran from their posts near the church, diving for cover behind the firetrucks. Seconds later, there was a sharp crack, and the onceproud steeple of the church collapsed into the structure in a shower of sparks and blazing debris.
The trio watched the spectacle as the firefighters once more took up their hoses and edged closer to the flames. “This is a real damn shame,” Mike commented, his voice husky. “This is the fourth time these people have been burned out of their church. First time in the twenties, then again in the thirties.
Pastor Jackson was newly ordained when he came here in the early sixties. By ‘sixty-six, his church was in ashes. And now he’s goin’ through it all again. He’s over there.” He pointed to an older black man standing with hunched and shaking shoulders near the ambulances. “If y’all don’t mind, I think I’m just gonna go over and have a word with him.”
They nodded and looked on as Mike approached the old clergyman, enveloping him in a hug and drawing him aside to talk. But they were not the only ones watching.
Not a hundred yards away, in the cover of the forest, a lone figure observed the scene before him. Frustration, terror and a small sense of satisfaction warred for pre-eminence within him. He had noticed the three that seemed so out of place here, in their suits and their late-model cars with the government licence plates. A big nigger – that figgered. And another tall drink of water, with Jew-boy written all over him. Lookin’ like he’d be more at home at Harvard, or some other damn snooty rich-boy school. Real pretty woman, though – what the hell was she doin’, hangin’ around with the likes of them? Shakily he wiped the drizzle from his face with the back of his hand.
Tonight was a disappointment in the eyes of the Lord – again.
Oh, yeah, he got some of the Soljers – but not as many as he had planned, not as many as the Almighty had demanded.
Well, next time would be different. He would prove to the Lord that He had chosen well. His hands shook as he folded them in prayer. I promise, Lord, he prayed, tears running down his cheeks. Just a little more time, just give me a little more time. I promise I’ll do better, he pleaded, hoping that his God would have just a little more patience. I’m your man, I’ll do your work.
Just stick by me, and I’ll do you proud. I promise – I’ll do much better, real soon. Wiping the tears away furtively, he withdrew further back into the woods.
“Where’d Spaceman go?” Mike’s shoes crunched on the gravel as he walked up to Scully, the sound all but lost in the shouts of the firefighters and the pop and crackle of the blaze they were battling.
“He went back to the car for the camera. I think he’s hoping that our guy may have stuck around to witness his handiwork.”
He peered around at the sea of faces surrounding the dramatic scene. “He won’t be easy to pick out – the whole damn town’s here.”
“How’s Pastor Jackson doing?”
Mike shrugged. “About what you’d expect. He’s with the church elders now – they’re takin’ care of him. It’s just a damn shame. He’s a good man, been better to the poor of this town than a lot of well-heeled folk. Now his church is in ruins again – and I heard from one of the elders that his daughter’s dyin’ of a brain tumor…. You all right, Scully?”
She averted her gaze to watch the fire intently. “Yes….
Yes, I’m fine. Here’s Mulder. You’d better take the pictures.
It’s not his forte, or mine either, I’m afraid.”
“Hand it over to the pro, Spaceman.” He met Mulder’s eyes and dipped his head in an almost imperceptible nod in Scully’s direction. Then he strolled off to the periphery of the parking area to take photos of everyone who might meet Mulder’s profile.
“You okay, Scully?”
“I wish to hell everyone would stop asking me that question,” she replied ascerbicly. “I’m fine.”
He shrugged. “Sorry. You just looked a little pale.”
“It’s the blue lights from the police cars – it makes everyone look washed out. It’s nothing.”
“Okay,” he said mildly. Obviously, time for a change of subject. “You think our guy’s here?”
“Hope so.” She jammed her numbing hands deep into her pockets. “It would make identifying and then catching him a whole lot easier.”
He was just about to suggest she sit in the car where it was warmer and drier, but bit it back in time. Bad move, Mulder, he thought. She wouldn’t appreciate it right now.
Something had happened to rattle her. He would have to ask Mike when he got the chance.
“Hey – you Dr. Scully?”
She turned toward the paramedic sprinting toward them. “Yes, I’m Scully. Can I help you?”
“Evidently.” The young man grinned, his even, white teeth gleaming against his soot-streaked face. “Agent Thomas said you’d be doin’ the autopsies on the bodies. We got orders to take ‘em right to the morgue in Atlanta so you can get to work. Don’t have to worry about pronouncin’ ‘em – not when they’re in pieces like this.”
“Yes, fine. I’ll be right along.”
“You can ride with us,” he called over his shoulder, trotting back to the ambulance.
“Thanks. Be right there.” She looked up at Mulder.
“Seems like it’s going to be a long night. Where will you be?”
“With Mike. Back at headquarters, I expect, by the time you’re finished.”
“Okay. I’ll meet you there when I’m done.”
His eyes searched hers, speaking the words he refused to allow his lips to utter. Her cool, reassuring gaze in return prompted his nod. “Go get ‘em, G-woman.”
She smiled and strode over to one of the waiting ambulances. As soon as the door closed, they crunched over the gravel and wound their way down the dirt road.
– – – – –
It was over three hours later that the weary agents found themselves back at the Bureau conference room. One or two others worked bleary-eyed at their desks.
“You always have a night shift working, or is this just to impress me?” asked Mulder. He poured his third cup of coffee in twenty minutes and sprawled in his seat at the table.
“Oh, you know how it is – there’s always some buttkissers tryin’ to score points with the brass from Washington,”
Mulder returned his friend’s smile. “I’ve been called many things, but ‘the brass’ has never been one of them. One word of praise from me and these guys will spend the rest of their careers in North Dakota.”
“Nice to have friends in high places. Nah, I called some of the guys in when I got word of the bombing. Someone from the photo lab, a couple of guys on the firebomb team, an explosives expert…and someone to get the damn computer system to do its thing. We still don’t have the results on your profile.”
They sat in silence for several moments, Mulder’s mind busily turning over the details of the case, Mike’s on something else entirely. In view of his friend’s retiscence earlier to discuss it, he was hesitant to bring it up again. Finally he felt he owed it to Mulder – and to Dana – to try.
“She’s sick, isn’t she.” It wasn’t a question. “Real sick.”
Mulder brought his head up slowly. “Did Scully say something?” he asked guardedly.
“She didn’t need to. I can see she’s lookin’ tired. And there was that nosebleed, with both of you handlin’ it like you expected it, like it’s happened before. And the way you’ve been lookin’ at her, like you’re scared shitless she’s gonna disappear any second. I thought myself she was gonna pass out when I mentioned that the Pastor’s daughter is dyin’ of cancer.”
The younger agent lowered his gaze, sitting numbly, staring at the fake wood grain of the table.
“Mulder…. Mulder?” Frustrated, Mike leaned over and placed his massive hand on his friend’s. “Mulder, let me in.
Let me help.”
He met Thomas’s eyes finally, but didn’t speak. He didn’t have to.
“Oh, man. Oh, shit. I’m sorry, Mulder. I’m really sorry.
Is it cancer?”
Nodding, Mulder’s face was granite-hard. “A little leftover from when she was abducted. The bastards…. there were tests, and… other things… done to her. One of the ‘side effects’ was… this. A lot of women who were taken – had similar abduction experiences to Scully’s – have already died of it.” The stony facade began to crumble. “Christ, Mike, I don’t know what to do,” he whispered brokenly.
“Knowin’ you, you’re doin’ everything you can – and tryin’ a few things you can’t. Knowin’ her…” – he chuckled wryly – “Knowing her, I’m bettin’ she lets you do a hell of a lot less than you’d like.”
Mulder nodded miserably.
Mike sat back in his chair, his arms folded across his chest, surveying his friend. “You know, you two have something special goin’ on, somethin’ I’ve never seen before. I mean, I’ve seen close partnerships, but what you two have is spooky. It goes way beyond bein’ partners, it’s almost like sometimes you’re livin’ in each other’s skins, in each other’s brains. It’s weird, but it’s beautiful.” He sighed. “Well, I’ll be prayin’. And somethin’ will happen, Mulder. Somethin’ good, somethin’ unexpected. A miracle, I guess, is what I’m talkin’ about.”
“Mike – “
“I know, I know – you don’t believe in that stuff. But listen to me, man. You gotta have some faith.”
“I’ve never had a lot of luck with faith,” he replied quietly, but with no trace of the bitter irony Thomas had been expecting.
Mike nodded. Firmly, he said, “But this time somethin’ good’s gonna happen.”
“How can you be so sure?” Mulder asked wonderingly.
“How can you believe so strongly, in something so… so….”
“Irrational?” Mike finished for him, chuckling. “You’re no stranger to that yourself, Spaceman.”
He smiled slightly. “I suppose not.”
The black agent leaned over, his head within inches of Mulder’s, his voice low and as comforting as cocoa. “I’m not sayin’ there won’t be hard times. What I am sayin’ is… I just have a feelin’ about this. That it’s gonna come out all right in the end. You gotta believe that. But Mulder, I’ve seen the cross she wears. Her faith’s obviously important to her. Do me a favor – do Scully a favor… support her in that, okay? She’s gonna need it. So are you, but I’ve given up the hope of savin’
your heathen ass.” A glance ensured that he was smiling as he said it, but the eyes were deadly serious. “Just try to be openminded about it. It’s hard enough for her to hang on to her faith right now, without you takin’ potshots.”
“No matter what I believe or don’t believe, I wouldn’t do that, Mike.” Then he frowned, remembering the Crider case when he and Scully had been at such odds over the subject of faith. “Well, maybe I haven’t been particularly supportive in the past on that front, but I’ll work on it, I promise.”
“Somethin’ good’s gonna happen. Hold on to that.”
“I’d like to believe that, Mike.”
“Then just do it, my man.”
He let out a long breath and looked at his friend. “I’ll try.”
“Can’t ask for better’n that.”
For some time, the men were alone with their thoughts once more, then Mike scowled. “Damn idiot Fildster. He was the one who screwed up the computer system. Decided that somethin’ else had a higher priority than your profile. Probably his damn kid’s term paper, or that assinine letter to the bomber.
So he feeds in somethin’ that doesn’t agree with it, and now the computer’s too busy bein’ sick with its virus to help us out here.”
Much more accustomed to being thwarted by his superiors than Mike was, Mulder only shrugged. “We’ll get it eventually. If the system’s still down later, we can fax my profile back to Washington and they can tap into the system from there.”
“I just hope ‘eventually’ is soon enough. We caught another break tonight, Mulder. The body count could have been a lot higher. We can’t expect too many more breaks like this one.”
Mulder stretched in his chair, then sat up straighter.
“No. Not to mention the fact that our guy is going to be more pissed off than ever – and scared.”
“Scared… of being caught?”
He shook his head. “That’s the least of his worries at the moment. This guy is twisted, Mike. He actually believes he’s following God’s orders. And right now his track record with the Almighty stinks. He’s got to be absolutely terrified of Divine Retribution – almost every attempt he’s made has gotten fucked up. He’s got to be under a lot of pressure to make the next one something that will please his God, something that will make up for all the screw-ups.”
“So he’s gonna be that much more determined to slaughter as many people as possible.”
Mulder nodded, distracted. He thought for a few more seconds, then asked, “Hey, Mike. Have you got a Religion section in your newspaper here?”
“Glad to see you takin’ my advice to heart, Spaceman.”
His lips twitched in a ghost of a smile. “Well, I did, but that’s not why I’m asking.”
“Yeah, there’s a Religion Page, but it doesn’t come out until Saturday’s paper. There’s just a few articles… it’s mostly just advertisements, really.” He had worked with his friend often enough to know when he had an idea on a case – his voice held a finely balanced tension and his eyes became alert, his body movements precise.
“Yes, that’s what I want to see. Can you call Johansen to see what ads have been placed?”
“I can – but I doubt he would know off the top of his head,” Mike replied dryly. “Especially when I call him up at four in the mornin’ to ask him.”
“Oh. Yeah, right. Okay, let’s go down to Photos and see if they have anything yet.”
Mike stood with a groan and slipped his suit jacket back on. “You’re a real pain in the ass when you’re on a caffeine high, you know that?”
“I’ve been told. Let’s go. And…uh, Mike….”
“I won’t let on to her, Mulder.”
He nodded slightly and followed his friend downstairs.
– – – – –
It was ten thirty and Mulder was feeding the last page of his profile into the fax machine when he heard the cadence of Scully’s steps. She had stopped by the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothing. Except for the dark smudges under her eyes, she didn’t look like she had been up all night piecing bodies back together.
“What are you doing, Mulder?”
His face creased into a brief smile of greeting. “The system’s still down. I called Skinner’s office and Kim said she’d enter my profile from there. Have you eaten?”
“There’s a great place around the corner.”
Mulder nodded. He was hungry, but more importantly, he had taken her welfare as his special charge, and she needed to eat, whether she realized it or not. “Okay. We’ll bring you up to speed there, Scully, and you can tell us what you found. There’s nothing to do but wait at the moment, and I’m starving.”
– – –
When they were comfortably settled into the rear booth of the diner, Mulder turned to his partner, sitting next to him.
“There were six victims in all. I did autopsies on five.”
His brow rose questioningly.
“I did what I could, Mulder, but I’m not a miracle worker. I had five heads, five torsos, eleven arms and twelve legs. It took me two hours just matching the extremities with the heads and trunks, and – “
She broke off at Mike’s chuckle. She looked up to see the elderly waitress staring at her, aghast. “Good morning,”
Scully said pleasantly. “Do you by any chance have granola?”
“G-granola? I-I’m afraid not, miss. Jus’ what you see there on the menu.”
Scully scanned the slightly greasy laminated sheet, her arteries hardening just reading the selections. Mulder would be in pig heaven. “Just some grits, please, and an order of fresh strawberries on the side. And ice tea – no sweetener, extra lemon.”
“And you, sir?”
“I’d like ice tea, the same as the lady’s, and the Lumberjack Big Breakfast with extra home fries,” said Mulder, as his partner made a show of shuddering and rolling her eyes.
“Hey Scully, I’m just a growing boy.”
“I’ll have the same, with sweet tea,” added Mike.
“Some example you are,” she grumbled. “All right, don’t blame me when you two stroke out.”
Mike watched the waitress move away, scribbling on her pad, and favoring the trio with very suspicious glances. “So, what did the autopsies show?”
“All the victims were killed by the blast. They had to be close, almost on top of the bomb when it went off. There were metal fragments from the timing device embedded in the flesh of two of the victims. No surprises, really. Four men and two women, from the appearance of the extra extremities. We’re still missing the rest of one woman. All in average to poor health, which is unfortunately not unexpected for the homeless.”
“Not that being in better health would have done them much good, under the circumstances,” Mulder added reasonably.
“I suppose not. Looks like they hadn’t been there long the evidence suggests they had just started eating, probably some of the food left there by the congregation. What about you two? Anything new?”
“We’re still waiting on the matches to Mulder’s profile, thanks to Fildster. The Photo guys got some good prints of the crowd last night, but again, until the computer’s up and we have somethin’ to compare them with, we’re stuck. There’s not much in life that’s perfect, but Fildster comes close to bein’ a perfect asshole.”
“I didn’t notice him around this morning,” Scully remarked.
“And you won’t – not when there’s trouble,” replied Mike sourly. “But, on the bright side, your partner has a theory.”
She turned to Mulder and raised her eyebrows. “Dare I ask?”
He smiled. “No cause for palpitations this time, Scully.” He broke off as the waitress set the men’s platters down, and laid his partner’s comparatively Spartan breakfast in front of her.
“The cholesterol count on that plate has to be 200 grams, Mulder.”
“That’s another one of my theories – that cholesterol is actually good for you. But the one that pertains to this case is more germane. Our guy is going to want a big hit next time. In fact, I think that he believes his life may depends on it. His record so far has fallen well short of the body count that he believes is being demanded of him. Bad luck for him, and sure to get him in the doghouse with his Boss. But good luck for those of us in the sane world.”
“Since when did you join the rest of us, Spaceman?”
“Thanks, Mike. I’m glad you said it,” grinned Scully. “I wanted to, but my mouth was full.”
“Any time you two are finished….” Mulder said goodnaturedly. “Anyway, I’ve gathered some information together – some from Johansen, some from Mike and some from the city records – about the largest and most active black congregations in the area. I think our guy is going to target one of those churches. Unfortunately, the list is a lot longer than I thought it would be.”
‘How long is long?”
“At least thirty churches in the area fall into the category I would call “most endangered”.
“Well, it narrows things down a little, anyway.” She pushed back from her half-finished food as if she had given up on eating. Mulder reached for one of the strawberries – not that he really wanted it, but recent experience had taught him it was the surest way to get her to eat. The expected rap on the knuckles was delivered. “Hey, you have your own food!” she exclaimed, and popped another strawberry in her mouth.
Mike watched the partners’ interplay without comment, well aware of Mulder’s motives. “I got the whole crew in today, workin’ on goin’ through the old records manually, tryin’ to see if they can find someone who fits the profile. We can’t wait for the computer forever. Some of the guys remembered a few names. At least it’s a start.”
“And we can get on the phone to the pastors on the most endangered list,” added Mulder. “We may not have any better luck than we did yesterday, but it’s worth a shot.”
Scully crushed the last berry between her teeth, then wiped her mouth with a napkin. “Then if you gentlemen are finshed occluding your arteries, we’d better go back. Sounds like we’re in for a long day.”
Forest Park, Georgia
Friday, March 14
“…we’re sorry for the inconvenience, sir.”
“It’s no problem. I can see where y’all would think I mighta been involved. But that was the old me. I’m a new man now, since I’ve found the Lord – or should I say, since He found me.” The short, stocky man beamed at them.
“Thank you for your time, sir.”
“Y’all be careful now. Praise Jesus, and I hope you find your man.”
The door closed behind them as they walked down the short flight of steps from the small brick home. “Well, what do you think, Scully?”
“Unless this guy is capable of Oscar-caliber acting, I’d say it’s a washout. What about you?”
Mulder sighed. “I’d have to agree, he seems genuine enough. He’s done a hell of a turnaround in three years, but I guess it’s possible. You want to drive?”
“No, go ahead.” They got into the car. Scully crossed the name of their last interview off the list. “Two down, three to go.”
“What’s the name of the next lucky contestant, and where do we find him?”
“James Robert Gatling. No permanent address. Looks like he’s had several in the past couple of years, all of them in Atlanta proper. Jeremy, the agent who prepared our list, said that he’s working for A-One Construction at the moment, and they have a big job in downtown Atlanta. I have that address.”
“Just tell me where to go.”
She shook her head and smiled. “I keep telling you, Mulder, you make it too easy sometimes. I’ll pass up the cheap, easy shot – just take 285 to 20.”
He took the onramp for the interstate as his partner rested her head against the back of the seat and closed her eyes. She was exhausted – they both were. He was glad for the chance for her to get a catnap. Thursday had passed in a blur….
Thursday, March 13
After being up all night as a result of the Doraville bombing, they had worked without a break the entire day. Part of the time they spent helping the agents who were contacting the pastors of the churches most at risk, having no more success than they had had the previous day. All of the ministers had steadfastly refused to let the bomber’s activities curtail theirs. While Scully had sympathized with them in principle, Mulder had railed against the blind faith that was putting their congregations at risk.
“If you asked the congregations, they’d say the same thing as their pastors, Mulder. Why should they let some lunatic bigot shut them down? In a way, it would be allowing him to win, letting him realize the power he can exert over them.”
Mulder rolled his eyes and countered heatedly, “Yeah, but all the high principles and blind faith in the world won’t help them if they’re dead because of him.” He stopped, remembering what Mike had said about supporting Scully in her faith, and wondered if this qualified. He sighed, and in a milder tone, he continued, “Sorry. I’d just hate to see a lot more flying body parts generated by this guy.”
“I know.” She smiled. “Any word on the computer yet?”
Mike strolled up and had heard her question. “Nope.
Got a lot of computer geeks down there scratchin’ their heads, wonderin’ what the hell’s wrong with it. Have we gotten the profiles from your boss’s secretary yet?” It was nearly four in the afternoon.
“One of your guys has gone out to Hartsfield,” Mulder replied. “Evidently there were a lot of matches to my profile, too many to fax. Besides, Kim was sure the fax transmission would make the photos unusable, and she probably has a point there.
So she bundled everything up and put it on a flight from National to Hartsfield. Should be here anytime now.”
“Lots of matches, huh? I was afraid of that. Sounds like we’re working overtime again,” commented Mike.
“Buddy, as if you couldn’t tell by the way our asses are dragging, we’re already on OT.”
“And now you’ll have somethin’ to do to keep you awake. I pulled in a few markers with the Atlanta PD. I have some of their files on guys that fit the profile and have arrest records for racial incidents. We can get started with those.
Chances are, several of these guys will make both lists.”
Mulder grinned. “After the last time we were here, I wouldn’t have thought you’d have that many markers to pull in.
You were whining that you were a marked man, after showing up the APD on that serial killing. All right, I guess we get to work, then.” He shrugged out of his suit jacket and rolled up his sleeves.
By ten that night, they finally stopped. By that time, they had taken two lists with over one hundred and sixty possible matches to the profile Mulder had drawn and whittled the possible suspects down to forty. Eight teams of agents, including Mulder and Scully, and Mike and his partner Alvin, divided the forty names. The agents coming on duty at eleven would work all night to get the current addresses and places of work of those suspects, so the teams could hit the ground running the following day.
Mulder stood with a groan, feeling the insistent protest of muscles that had spent too long hunched over a desk. “See you in the morning, Mike. Is seven early enough?”
“Yeah, I don’t see why not. You and Scully have a good night, now.”
“Speaking of my partner, where is she?” Mulder frowned as he scanned the office.
Mike looked around and shrugged. “Try the conference room. Last time I remember seein’ her she was going for coffee, about half an hour ago.”
Mulder pulled on his jacket and walked into the conference room. She had fallen asleep at the table, her head pillowed on her arms, an untasted mug of coffee nearby.
Hunching down next to her, he stroked her cheek and called softly, “Scully?”
She woke with a start and an expression of acute embarrassment crept over her face. “Oh shit,” she groaned.
“Sorry, Mulder, I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I was just taking a break – the words on the profiles were starting to blur – and I must have drifted off.”
He brushed back an errant lock of flame-colored hair.
“No need to apologize. It’s way past both our bedtimes, which I estimate were” – he looked at his watch – “a long time ago.
Ready to go back to the hotel?”
“More than ready. Lead on, partner.”
They drove the short distance back to the hotel. In the lobby, Mulder urged Scully to go on up to the room, that he’d be up shortly. She had changed into her nightshirt when he arrived through the communicating door, bearing a bag from the coffee shop. “Midnight snack time.”
“It’s not midnight.”
“Well, it’s not far off. Besides, we never stopped to have dinner. I’m not counting those packages of peanut butter and cheese crackers from the vending machine. Sit down and eat.”
He distributed the food – a burger with all the trimmings for himself, and a tuna salad sandwich and an apple for her. Two containers of iced tea completed the repast.
“I’m so tired, Mulder. I don’t think I can eat.”
“Try. It’s a long time since you’ve had anything.”
Reluctantly, she nibbled at the sandwich. “So what did I miss due to my impromptu nap?”
“Nothing much. We narrowed the list down to forty, and split them up. You and I have five names to check out. The guys on night shift will get us the current addresses and anything else we need to know. Some of these suspects may even be in jail, so that might eliminate some footwork. With a little luck, we’ll nail the S.O.B. tomorow and you’ll be sleeping in your own bed this time tomorrow night.”
“That would be nice. No bombs tonight, I take it?”
“No news is good news.”
“I really don’t think he’ll try until Sunday, Mulder. If he does want a high body count, Sunday would be his best shot at getting it.”
“That’s what Mike seems to think.”
She picked up something in his tone. “You don’t?”
Mulder shook his head, his brows drawn together in a frown. “It makes sense, and you’re both undoubtedly right.
There’s something that’s bothering me, though…. I spent about an hour going over the notes again. He’s telling us something, I just haven’t figured out what it is yet.”
She pushed back from the table, only one of her sandwich quarters eaten. Mulder pushed the last of the burger into his mouth and made a grab for one of her sandwiches.
“It won’t work this time, Mulder.”
He looked up with an air of aggrieved innocence to see a smile lurking at the corners of her mouth. “What? What won’t work?”
“Your making a play for my food to motivate me to eat.”
“I wasn’t – “
She raised an eyebrow.
He put down the sandwich. “Am I that transparent?” he asked sheepishly.
She chuckled. “No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t catch on for a long time.”
“I’m sorry, Scully. I’m just worried about you.”
“I know you are,” she said softly. “And you’re probably right. That’s why I’ve been playing along. But I’m exhausted and right now my body needs the sleep more than the food.”
He nodded and stood. “You hit the sack. I’ll see you in the morning.”
She caught his hand as he walked by, holding it in both of hers, and he stopped. “Thank you,” she said softly, looking up at him. “Thanks for thinking of me. But I wish you wouldn’t worry so much.”
His lips curled in a sad smile. “Can’t help it.”
He stroked her hair once, twice. Her eyes filled with tears at the tenderness in his gesture, and she closed them quickly so they wouldn’t betray her. “Sweet dreams, Dana.” He went into his own room, leaving the door between them open.
“You too, Mulder,” she whispered.
Friday, March 14
After getting their assignment and updates at headquarters the next morning, they drove to Fairburn for their first interview.
“The profile looks promising, but the geography’s all wrong,” commented Mulder. “Our guy should live downtown or on the east side of Atlanta. Nothing in our zipcode theory could account for his living this much south and west. Assuming our theory is worth anything, of course. What’s the guy’s name again?”
She scanned her reports. “William Robert Murtree, aged 31, construction worker.”
He broke into a grin. “Hey – Billy Bob!”
“He’s probably not our guy for that very reason,” she said dryly.
They had found their suspect just leaving for work.
“Mr. Murtree, I’m Special Agent Mulder, this is Special Agent Scully of the FBI. We have some questions we’d like you to answer, if you would please.”
He squinted at them. “What about?”
“About the recent bombings of churches in the area.”
He grinned, showing off cracked, nicotine-stained teeth.
“Yeah, I been readin’ about them.”
“You don’t seem terribly upset by it,” Scully observed coolly.
“Upset? Why the hell should I be upset? The more niggers that guy can kill off, the better. More power to him.
What? Y’all think I might be the guy?”
“It had crossed our minds.”
“Sorry, but y’all are gonna be disappointed on that score. I’m happy he’s doin’ it, and I’d give him cash money to get a lawyer when he gets caught, but no way I’d get involved in shit like that. The wife’ud kill me.”
“Can you give us a detailed description of your whereabouts on these days?” Scully handed him a list.
“Hell, this is gonna take some time. You’re makin’ me late for work.”
“That’s most unfortunate, sir.” They stood immovable in his driveway.
He saw their resolute expressions and spat. “Oh shit, y’all might as well come in. I’m gonna have to think about this.
Shit. Lurlene? I’m coming in and I have some people with me.”
They heard an outraged screech from behind the door as they entered.
Forty minutes later, they had a detailed statement from Murtree. He had a solid alibi for two of the weeks in question, since he had been out of state, on jobs for his construction company. They had confirmed it with his boss.
“Nasty little son of a bitch,” Scully commented when they were driving away.
“Yeah, he’s no prize, but he couldn’t be our guy. Not quite the right touch of fanaticism about him. Plus, he was out of state for two of the bombings and I don’t see this as a cooperative effort.” Mulder grinned. “Besides, having met the formidible Lurlene, I’d believe him even without the air-tight alibi. She would kill him. No doubt about who wears the pants in that family.”
Their next call had been the born-again in Forest Park, also not the person they were looking for, though for entirely different reasons. Now they were in the middle of downtown Atlanta. Mulder glanced across at his partner, hating to wake her, but she had the address of their next stop. “Scully?” She stirred. “Almost there, G-woman. I need the address of the construction site. Feel better after your nap?”
“Mmm, thanks.” Scully sat up and stretched. “It’s a whole city block, according to Jeremy. Dulane and 134th to 135th Streets. Backs onto the railroad yards, if that’s any help.”
Ten minutes later, they parked the car and got out. The site was an entire city block of abandoned warehouses and factories, due to be demolished for the construction of a convention center. The size of the site made finding the foreman a challenge, but eventually they caught up with him.
Mulder pulled out his ID and made the usual
introductions. “We have some questions about a James Robert Gatling.”
“Jim-Bob?” Mulder flashed Scully a grin that said ‘I told you so’. The foreman removed his hardhat and wiped the sweat from his brow. “What’s he done now?” he asked resignedly.
“You act like you almost expect him to be in trouble, sir,”
“Well, let’s just say it wouldn’t surprise me a whole hell of a lot. The guy IS trouble, with a capital ‘T’. I’ve warned him, one more problem and his ass is outta here.”
“What sort of trouble has he been in, Mr….?”
“Granger. Bud Granger, ma’am. Fights, mostly. Can’t seem to get along with anyone. ‘Specially blacks. His work isn’t that great, so I really don’t know why the hell I keep the sum’bitch on. If we weren’t goin’ into the biggest part of our contract here, I’d fire him, but right now I need every man – ” His reply was lost in the shrillness of the noon whistle.
“How long has this project been underway?” asked Mulder.
“Six months, though you wouldn’t think it to look around here. Looks like we’ve done jack shit. But we’ve had stoppages for labor and permit problems, and we’ve done quite a bit of site work that doesn’t show.”
“Has Mr. Gatling been with you the whole time?”
“‘Fraid so. He’s calls out a lot though, with some lousy excuse or other. I figure he’s got a booze problem or is real partial to long weekends. Maybe both. Whatcha want him for, anyway?”
Scully smiled pleasantly and ignored the question. “Can you tell us where we could find Mr. Gatling, sir?
“Well, the noon whistle just blew. He’s usually one of the first to clock out. Far as I know, he doesn’t leave the site just finds someplace to hole up and have his lunch by himself. I think he was working down that far end, the old meat packing plant. You’ll see it – has a beat-up old sign that says ‘Astor’s Sausage’ over it. Watch yourselves in there. It’s not a real safe place to walk around.”
They thanked Granger for his time and began walking over the rubble and broken asphalt to the end of the block of brick buildings. “I got a feeling about this one, Scully,” Mulder said tensely. “I think this might be our guy.”
“True, he matches the profile very closely, Mulder, but so do a lot of the other suspects. At this point, there’s no evidence to show he has a greater chance of being the man we’re looking for than anyone else.”
“I know, but I have this feeling….” He pulled the celphone from his pocket and began dialling. “Mike? …Yeah, it’s Mulder. How are you guys doing?…. So no one has turned up anything yet?… Okay. Scully and I are checking out a possible…. No, this one looks better than most…. No way, not yet, Mike! I don’t want fifty cars rushing in here and scaring him off. We haven’t even talked to him yet, it’s just a feeling I have…. Yeah, I know they have a pretty good track record, but I don’t want to blow this by someone getting overanxious and doing something stupid. All we’d need is for Howard to get wind of this and come charging in on his white horse….” Mulder laughed. “Yeah, I agree, it would be hard to tell…. Look, give us until around two. We’ll check back with you. We should have enough by then to decide one way or the other about an arrest….Okay…Bye, Mike. Happy hunting.” He slid the phone back in his pocket.
“Shit!” She turned her ankle for the fourth time on the uneven, debris-strewn ground. “Remind me not to wear heels on construction sites again, will you, Mulder?”
“Hey, Scully, don’t wear – “
“Shut up, Mulder.” They walked the last hundred feet in amused silence.
“There’s no indication that he’s armed,” he said quietly at the entrance to the building. “Mr. Gatling?,” he called. “Mr. Granger said we could talk to you…. Mr. Gatling?” He shrugged. “He’s probably not here, but we’ll have to check it out.”
After traversing the pitted ground, she initially entered the old meat packing plant with relief, but it soon faded. “God, this place is terrible.” It smelled of grime, oil, and old blood.
The narrow strip of windows, set high in the right-hand wall and now missing all the glass, allowed in only small amounts of dusty light. Meat hooks hung from the ceiling, and tracks were set into both the ceiling and the floor, making walking as hazardous as it had been outside. Machines, too large to be removed and dormant for years, loomed over them like huge threatening monoliths.
“It’s not the country club,” admitted Mulder. “Let’s split up – we can cover more ground.”
Distractedly, she nodded. She set out, sweeping the right side of the expanse, her hand on her weapon. Something about this place gave her the shivers. Maybe it was the purpose of the place, an abatoir in a very real sense. Or maybe it was the sensation of claustrophobia induced by the darkness and the towering steel and iron machines. The building felt profane, like it contained the ghosts of terrible memories – She smiled humorlessly to herself. Thank God her partner couldn’t tell what she was thinking. She whirled in the direction of a crash.
“I’m all right,” he called, his voice echoing in the cavernous building. “The foreman was right, Scully. Watch yourself. Wish we had brought the flashlights.”
You and me both, she thought grimly. She continued along the right-hand wall, nearly coming to grief herself several times. Her partner’s voice called out periodically, after a loud thump or crash had startled her. His way seemed punctuated with mishaps on a fairly regular basis. A few minutes later, she heard another thud. She kept walking, almost at the back wall of the plant now. She should be meeting Mulder any time….
It was then she realized that he hadn’t called out to reassure her after the last noise. “Mulder?” There was no response. Her voice edged with anxiety now, she called out again. “Mulder? Are you all right?” The echo of her own voice taunted her. She drew her weapon and hurried over in the direction from which the sound had come.
In the darkest section of the building, an isolated shaft of weak light bathed a small section of the floor, throwing illumination on the body of her partner. He wasn’t moving.
“God, Mulder!” She rushed over to where he lay, and suddenly stopped short. A figure appeared from out of the shadows.
“Stop right there, miss. I ain’t got no quarrel with you.
But I have his gun, and I’ll blow his head off if you don’t stay where you are and slide your gun over to me, real easy-like.”
“Are you James Gatling?”
“That’s me.” He pointed the gun at Mulder’s head. “Do what I toldja. Now.”
Slowly, she bent down and laid her weapon on the floor.
“That’s right. Kick it on over to me.”
With a sinking feeling, she did as he instructed. On the floor, Mulder began to stir.
“Okay, FBI guy. Stand up but do it slow.”
Mulder complied with a groan. Standing slowly was not a problem – fast would have been out of the question. A rivulet of blood dripped from a gash on his head as he swayed on his feet.
“All right now. Miss, you just go through his jacket pockets, take everything out.”
With a withering glance, she pulled Mulder’s celphone out and handed it to Gatling, along with his keys and his wallet.
“Hey, I allus wanted to get me one of these things!” He grabbed the celphone and experimentally began punching buttons, inordinately pleased with his new toy. “No, keep the wallet, this ain’t no hold-up. I’ll take those carkeys, though.”
Scully took the opportunity to study him more closely.
As his records had said, he was of medium height and build, with nothing to distinguish him from countless others. He was dressed in filthy jeans and a tattered flannel shirt over a T-shirt.
His moustache – newly grown since the last addition to his record – was stained and ragged, and a three-day stubble of beard covered his face. She turned her attention to her partner.
“You okay, Mulder?”
“Outside of a huge headache and a case of terminal stupidity, just fine,” he murmured dryly. “You want to try to talk us out of this mess?”
“Mr. Gatling, I’d advise you to put down the weapon and come with us,” Scully said evenly. “All we want to do is ask you a few questions. Holding us like this will get you into very serious trouble. Before things get out of hand, put the gun down.”
“Well, now believe me, I’d like to. But fact of the matter is, I just can’t let y’all stop me.”
Scully’s pulse raced. So they had managed to stumble on the firebomber.
“Now – you two just walk over to that big door, there.
That’s it, nice and easy. Good. Now open it and go on inside.”
With an effort, Mulder pulled the huge steel door and it opened jerkily on creaking hinges. The air inside was stale and it stank. They hesitated.
“Go on, get in there. Then sit on the floor, back to back.”
Reluctantly, they did as he instructed.
“You – Jew-boy. Put your arms behind your back.”
Scully felt him stiffen, but with the gun aimed at her head, he obeyed. They heard a tearing sound in the nearly total dark. Seconds later, Mulder felt his wrists being tightly wrapped with duct tape and Gatling’s breath hot on the back of his neck.
“Now you, little lady, or the Jew-boy gets messed up.
That’s right.” With their wrists taped, he felt safe enough to put down the gun to tape their ankles. Then he taped their arms together at the wrists and elbows.
“There. I reckon that’ll hold ya.” He stepped back to admire his handiwork.
Scully looked around as her eyes became adjusted to the poor light. The walls were steel, even the ceiling was metal.
She saw more meat hooks set into the ceiling, and shelves along the side of the walls. She felt the rise of panic. “Look, Mr. Gatling – “
“Shit, don’t call me that. That was my daddy. Call me Jim-Bob.”
“All right – Jim-Bob. You can’t hope to get away with this. Consider your actions very carefully. There’s still time to let us go, and we can forget about all this.”
“Sorry, can’t do that. I’m on a mission from God, and He’s waited too long already.”
Mulder chimed in. “My partner’s right, Jim-Bob. The FBI knows we’re here, and they know that we came to find you.
They’ll – ” He broke off with a cry of pain, as Gatling’s foot connected sharply with his ribs. Unbalanced by the momentum of the kick, the two agents fell heavily onto their sides. They struggled to get themselves upright, nursing bumped heads.
“When I want to hear from you, you nigger-loving son of a bitch, I’ll tell you,” Gatling growled. “I have my orders from God Almighty. Satan’s soljers must die, and that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna do what He tells me to do.”
“God doesn’t want you to do this, Jim-Bob,” said Scully quietly.
He squatted on his heels, closer to her than she wanted.
She had to force herself not to shrink away from his bad breath, his crazed eyes. “Well, if He doesn’t, He can tell me Hisself,”
Gatling said reasonably. “See, I been workin’ on this problem for a while, and I asked God’s advice. Then this idea – it just came to me. Outta the blue. It was like a miracle, I tell ya.” He stood up and began moving toward the big steel door. “God put this idea in my head, and no one but God is gonna get it out.”
Scully could hear Mulder draw in a breath to speak, and urgently nudged him in the back. Obviously, Jim-Bob had taken an instant dislike to her partner, and she didn’t want him to take any more punishment than he already had. She broke in before he could open his mouth. “What you’re doing is against the law, Jim-Bob.”
He smiled. “I’m obeyin’ a higher law.”
“When – not if, but when – you’re caught, it will go much harder on you if you kill us,” she said evenly.
“Hell, I ain’t gonna kill you! All I’m doin’ is keeping you on ice for a while.” He chortled. “On ice, get it? This here’s a refrigerator and I’m keepin’ you on ice!” His smile faded.
“Anyway, I gotta go do God’s work.”
He turned around at the entrance to the refrigeration unit. “Don’t bother to yell – no one would ever hear you. I’d advise y’all to stay nice and still. That way your air will last a little longer.” Admiringly, Jim-Bob ran a hand down the door.
“Yup, best refrigeration unit made, forty years ago. Air-tight.”
He looked down at the two agents. “No air – not a nice way to go, is it? Aw, don’t worry about it none. You might even have enough air left to enjoy the explosion.”
“Explosion?” echoed Mulder. “You’re going to blow up this building?”
Gatling looked at Mulder with loathing. “I told you to shut your fuckin’ trap. Your kind ain’t no better’n Satan’s boys.” He focused on Scully and his tone softened. “Shit, I ain’t gonna blow up this building….”
Her heart slowed its pounding for a moment.
“…Naw, I ain’t gonna do it – the construction company’s gonna. They wouldn’t let me set the charges. Think I can’t do it right. Guess I showed them, huh? Yup, high noon tomorrow there’s gonna be one of the biggest spectacles there’s been ‘round here for a long while. These buildings are comin’
down. They’re even filming it – it’s gonna be in a big Hollywood movie. I’m sure lookin’ forward to seein’ it.”
He began to push the door closed. “Y’all take care now.
I have my work to do. Important work – God’s work. And just remember, this is God’s just punishment. This is what y’all get for sidin’ with Satan’s soldiers.”
The huge door closed. The darkness was complete.
Astor Sausage plant
Friday, March 14
“Scully, can you get your hand into my left pants’ pocket?”
“If you’re coming on to me, Mulder, you picked a really lousy time.”
Though she couldn’t see it, trussed up to him back to back in the dark, he grinned. “I’m not coming on to you – at the moment. I have a Swiss Army knife in my pocket. If you can reach it, maybe we can cut the tape.”
She squirmed. “If – if we can somehow…. Wait a second. Turn yourself as far to the left as you can, and I’ll go to the right.” They shifted as well as they could under the circumstances, now more side by side than back to back, their arms straining, feeling like they were being slowly wrenched from their sockets. “Okay…move your arms to the left, just a little…. A little more….
“Agh – that’s as far as I can go.”
“It might be enough… Hold on.” Scully strained, her fingers reaching for the cloth of his pocket lining. She knew she couldn’t extend into his pocket far enough to grab the knife. But if she could turn the pocket inside out… spill the knife onto the ground and pick it up from there…. Sweat poured down her face. “It’s – it’s coming, I think.” Her fingers picked at the cloth, trying to maintain a steady traction. Each time they slipped, the cloth would slide pack into place and she would doggedly start over. It took close to half an hour, by which time they were both trembling and sweaty from exertion and pain, but finally the knife tumbled to the cement floor of the refrigeration unit. “Got it!”
They returned to the back to back position to take the strain off their arms and spent, rested against each other.
“Catch your breath, Scully. We have lots of time.”
She smiled grimly. “Depends on your point of view, I guess. God, my arms are shaking so much I’m not sure I can get the knife open.”
“You rest. Let me try.”
She felt her partner’s shoulders and arms move as he groped between them for the knife, barely biting back a gasp when his fingers brushed her bottom.
“No problem,” she managed to reply, glad that he could not see the color flaming her cheeks.
“Okay. Got it.” His nails tried to catch the grooves in the knife to pull a blade out. After some time, he gave a grunt of satisfaction, then said, “Scully, be careful, but try to feel around – can you tell what thingy I pulled out?”
Cautiously, she extended her fingers, feeling the warmth of his hands, finally touching the Swiss Army knife. “I don’t think a corkscrew is quite what the occasion calls for, unfortunately, Mulder. Better keep it out – if you put it back you might end up wasting a lot of time pulling it out again.”
He sighed. “Good thinking. All right. Let’s see what else I can come up with. With my luck, it will be the handy nail file.” He felt for another groove and began to pluck at it. The repeated click of the tool snapping back frustrated them both to the screaming point and he gouged his hands twice on the corkscrew, but finally a blade was pulled out and locked into position. He set the knife down carefully between them. “Okay.
My turn for a rest.”
“Try to keep your breathing slow and shallow if you can, Mulder. Our oxygen will last longer.” Scully felt him nod. The ache subsiding somewhat in her arms, she picked up the knife and maneuvered it into position, the sharp edge of the blade resting against the duct tape that bound them. “Don’t move,” she ordered. She began sawing at the tape, getting little force behind the motion because of their awkward positions. The knife slipped and she heard a quick intake of breath from her partner.
“Oh God, Mulder. Did I cut you?”
“It’s okay,” he said calmly. “Keep at it.”
She dropped the knife and wiped her sweating hands on her suit. Taking a deep breath, she picked it up and began sawing at the tape once more.
After a while, he grunted. “I think it’s working, there’s a little more leeway. Keep going.”
Ten minutes later, the knife suddenly cut through the remaining tape. Before she could stop its forward motion, the blade sliced into her partner’s wrist, forcing a hoarse cry from him. “Shit! Oh, Mulder, I’m sorry!”
“‘An equitable exchange’, as Mr. Spock would say. Don’t worry about it – you did great.” With a twist, he freed his wrists of the tape. His lower arms now able to move, he forced them outwards as hard as he could, shaking with the effort, trying to free his elbows of the tape. Finally, the tape gave with a snap, and the upper part of his body was free. “Hold on, Scully. Let me cut the tape around my ankles and then I’ll cut you loose.” His wrists were bleeding freely from the numerous slashes and gouges and his hands were slippery with blood.
With that sort of liability and the darkness in their prison, he wanted to be in the best position possible to cut her bonds so he wouldn’t accidentally cut her.
Mulder stood unsteadily, the pounding in his head making him dizzy and nauseous. When he had his equilibirium, he stretched his cramping muscles, then knelt on one knee behind his partner. “Just a second.” He wiped his gory hands on his pants and gripped the knife firmly. Feeling for the tape binding her wrists, he carefully placed the blade against it and pressed downward. In seconds, the tape was off and he was helping her to her feet.
“God, it’s pitch black in here. I want to take a look at your wrist, but I can’t see anything.”
“It’ll be all right, Dr. Scully. Right now we have to explore ways of getting the hell out of here.”
“Mulder, you might be bleeding. Besides, it could get infected.”
“It won’t matter if it gets infected if we’re still in here at fireworks time.” With their arms outstretched in front of them, they inched their way in the blackness to where they thought the door should be. At last their hands touched smooth, cold steel.
“Feel around for edges or a handle,” Scully said, moving carefully to her left. Nearby she heard the clang of metal.
“Fuck! I think it’s a wall, Scully – unless the door has shelves sticking out of it.”
“Are you all right?”
“Now my head hurts in three places instead of two, but yeah, I’m okay. Keep moving to the left, we’ll come to it eventually.”
Moments later, she said excitedly, “I feel a seam!”
“Okay, now we’re in business. Go way to your left, Scully. I’m going to see if I can force the door open.” Keeping his fingers on the top frame, he moved to the left until he could feel the angle of the corner of the door, and let his fingers follow the groove downward. “No handle, but I guess I really didn’t expect one. Okay, keep clear.” He took a couple of careful paces back, then threw his shoulder against the door. It didn’t budge. Again he tried, this time with the other shoulder, and then his foot. Finally, leaning against the door, he panted, “It’s no good, Scully – it’s like trying to shove my way through concrete.”
“Don’t try again, Mulder. You’ll only hurt yourself.”
“Too late.” He sighed, frustrated.
“Well, it’s back to Plan B,” she said.
“I guess we’ll have to think of one. Meanwhile, let’s conserve our energy and the oxygen in here.”
She reached out for him and grabbed his arm. They held hands as they explored their steel prison, less for the emotional comfort it provided than for the purely practical reason that it prevented them from bumping into each other in the impenetrable dark. She felt, between their palms, the insistent ooze of something warm and sticky.
“You’re bleeding, aren’t you?”
“It’s slowing down.”
“I’m sorry, G-man.”
“Don’t be, it wasn’t all you. I nailed myself a couple of times.”
“Let’s sit down, let me see what I can do with it.”
“In a minute. I want to explore our new home first. I guess we should be thankful that this thing isn’t plugged in, huh?”
They paced the walls, estimating that the refrigeration unit was approximately fifteen feet by eight. In their travels, they found an old mop, an empty five gallon paint can, a roll of butcher paper and other items, mostly by tripping over them or banging into them. It became clear that there was no way out, and nothing that could help them break out. They surrendered to the inevitable and sat down next to each other, leaning against a wall for support. Scully shrugged out of her suit jacket and began to tear out the lining.
“What are you doing?”
“I want to stop that bleeding and cover up those gashes.
I’ve never had to do it by Braille before, but there’s a first time for anything, I guess. Come here, give me your hand. I’m going to use my jacket lining to bind up your hand and wrist.”
“Getting into bondage, are we, Scully?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know.”
“Actually, now that you mention it….”
She laughed. “In your dreams, Mulder.”
“How’d you guess?” he said in mock-surprise.
She smiled and shook her head. “There. That’ll have to do. I just hope I covered them all.” She set his newly bandged hand back in his lap and patted it.
“Awkward of them, not to have left any food or water,”
“Or a bathroom,” agreed his partner.
“Necessity is the mother of invention, Scully. I expect that the paint can may be pressed into use in the not too distant future.”
“That takes care of the bathroom problem. Doesn’t do much for the food or water shortage – or oxygen, for that matter.
But you don’t seem overly worried,” she said, intrigued.
She felt him shrug. “Not much point, is there?” He was silent for a while. “Anyway, I told Mike we’d call in by two.
Maybe he’ll send in the troops when we miss our call-in.”
Her tone was not hopeful. “I’d be more reassured if Mike didn’t know you so well. You don’t exactly have a stellar track record when it comes to checking in punctually. Mike knows that. Someone else might get alarmed. Mike will think it’s just you being you.”
“My sins come back to haunt me – again,” he murmured reflectively. “Well, when he doesn’t hear from us by the end of the day, he’ll do something. It just postpones things a few hours.”
“So what do you want to do?”
“I don’t know. Play Twenty Questions? Spin the Bottle?”
She smiled in the darkness. “No bottle.”
“Shit. Just my luck. Look, we’re still in the debit column as far as rest goes. Why don’t you try to get some sleep? It’ll help conserve our oxygen, too. Stretch out, rest your head in my lap and take a nap.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll stay awake for a while. Maybe a work crew will come into this building. There’s not much chance I’ll hear them, but if I do, I’ll start yelling. They might hear me. We might get lucky.”
“Yeah.” She stretched out on the hard concrete of the floor and lay her head on his thigh. “It’s about time we had some good luck for a change.”
– – – – –
Friday, March 14
Mike paced the conference room. He had already ordered the receptionist, on pain of death, to put Mulder’s call straight through to him as soon as it came in. That was two hours ago, and he still hadn’t heard from his friend. The other teams were all convening at headquarters, having checked their lists of suspects and come up empty. Head bowed and lost in thought, he completed circuit after circuit around the huge oak table.
“What’s up, Mike?”
His head came up as he briefly noted his partner’s arrival, then he resumed his pacing. “Oh, Alvin. Nothin’. Just gettin’ a bad feeling about Mulder and Scully.”
The younger black man poured himself a cup of coffee and took a seat at the table. “Well, you said he was kinda…
“I know. But unconventional or not, we should have heard somethin’ by now. And the fact that everyone else is strikin’ out makes me think that Mulder mighta found our guy – or our guy mighta found him.”
Alvin put down his mug and stood. “What can I do?”
Mike took a deep breath and let it out forcefully. “Okay.
I might be panickin’ here when I don’t have to, but I’d rather have Mulder razz me about this for the next thirty years or so than stand around doin’ nothin’ when he might be in trouble.”
Start goin’ over the names on his list. Judgin’ by when he called me, the first couple probably checked out clean, but you never know. Get Davis and Giometti to help you. See if you can get in touch with the suspects, and get an idea when they talked to Mulder and Scully. We’ll see if we can track them down.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Call their boss in Washington and report that Mulder and Scully are missing. And Alvin – “
– – – – –
Astor Sausage plant
“Okay, your turn. Favorite food?
“Um, it’s a tossup – my mother’s pot roast, or her homemade minestrone soup.”
“Not any of your own cooking? Scully, you’re a good cook!”
She shrugged. “I’ve never had a lot of time to put into it.
And Mom always preferred to have the kitchen to herself. With four of us kids around, it’s not hard to see why. Okay. My question for you…. If you could live in any other time in history, what would it be?”
They had been playing the game for about an hour. It had started as a way to relieve the boredom, asking each other both trivial and thought-provoking questions, listening intently to the answers. But it soon became more than that – a fascinating window into the other’s soul, opening up areas that, for all the years they had been together, had never been viewed. For all of that, neither had yet asked the questions they really wanted to. The questions they were afraid to ask, the answers they were afraid to utter, or to hear.
“Hmm. I don’t know,” Mulder said reflectively. “Maybe the Age of Exploration. Discovering new worlds. Seeing if there really were dragons out there, if the world really was flat. Not when it got into the commercial end of things, or going in and wiping out existing indigenous civilizations. Not those parts.
Just the actual voyage of discovery itself. That would have been incredible. Or, of course, I would have liked being in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. How about you?”
“Oh, it’s hard to choose. It would have been nice to be hanging around the courts of the Medici during the Renaissance, that would have been interesting.” Her voice took on a soft, solemn quality. “And I wish I had been at the wedding at Cana to see the miracle there.” She was silent for a little while, then she suddenly asked, “Mulder, are you Jewish?”
The question was obviously completely unexpected. He hesitated, then said, “Why do you ask that?” His tone was cautious, reserved.
“The way you reacted when Gatling called you Jewboy.”
“I didn’t think I reacted.”
“You got stiff as a board, Mulder. Maybe no one else would have noticed it, but I did. Besides, you’re begging the question. Unless you don’t want to answer it, which is okay.
Just tell me to mind my own business and there’ll be no hard feelings. I’ll think of something else to ask you.”
“No, it’s all right.” His voice was soft, serious, but she was glad to note it had lost the caution that was there before.
“My mother’s family was Jewish. I guess according to Jewish law, that makes me Jewish. According to her, I’m the spitting image of one of her uncles, when he was younger.
Never met the guy, so I couldn’t tell you.”
“Were you brought up Jewish?”
He laughed then, a short, humorless laugh. “No. Most emphatically, no. I guess Dad loved Mom, but not her religion.
He suffered from the same prejudices as his very Yankee family, and even a lot of the people in the State Department.
He was always a terribly ambitious man. Back when he was starting out, there was still a lot of discrimination and his marriage to a Jew could have hurt his career. He wanted to put as much distance between us and Judaism as humanly possible.
So all of us were trotted out to the Methodist church whenever he was around. He felt it was important for us to go make a public show of our Christianity,” he finished bitterly.
“Did you ever go to a synagogue?”
“In case you never noticed, Martha’s Vineyard is not exactly Little Jerusalem,” he said dryly. “It’s not like we were overwhelmed with synagogues down there. But yeah, when Dad was away and Mom would take us to visit her family in Brookline, I went. Of course, I was sworn to secrecy. If Dad had ever found out, there would have been… trouble.” His voice fell slightly on the final word, ironically emphasizing it more.
She left him that space, knowing that was an area that she dare not ask about. Any information about the abuse he had suffered as a child was surrendered sparingly, and only at his instigation. “So you never considered yourself Jewish?”
He shook his head, then realized she wouldn’t be able to see it. “I wasn’t allowed to consider myself Jewish. That’s why it was particularly ironic that I was on the receiving end of antiSemitic prejudice. I guess that’s… that’s where the reaction to ‘Jew-boy’ comes from. You know how kids are, especially kids back then, brought up to hate anyone different from themselves, or whom they even perceived as different. So I got beaten up a few times. I remember I didn’t dare tell my Dad. I didn’t know which would make him angrier – the fact that I had let myself get beaten up by the neighborhood Nazis, or the reason why I was getting beaten up, that I had been mistaken for a Jew. It was a no-win situation, to say the least,” he continued dryly. “Then, by the time I was old enough to make those sorts of decisions for myself, what with one thing and another, I had kind of decided to pass on religion altogether. But….” He was quiet for several moments.
Scully’s heart ached for the small boy who had no one to turn to after being brutalized. What kind of a father…. She shook her head. She knew what kind of a father he had had.
“But…?” she prompted. She knew Mulder felt acutely uncomfortable discussing this, but sensed he wanted to tell her, wanted to share it.
“I – I guess I always kind of missed it. Not from a religious standpoint – I haven’t changed my mind about that – but more from a cultural point of view. The sense of belonging to something. When we were on that case in New York City, the hate crimes case involving the Hassidic Jews….” She felt him shake his head. He spoke softly, almost to himself. “I don’t know, I had the weirdest feelings when we were up there, among those people. When that scholar at the archives assumed I could read Hebrew and I had to tell him I couldn’t… I felt almost embarrassed, Scully. Like I had turned my back on something important, something intrinsic, something that should have been a part of me, but wasn’t.”
“You can do something about that, you know,” she replied practically. “You always can study it now. I don’t know anyone with a better mind than yours, Mulder.”
“I’ve thought about it. I just don’t know if it’s fair to listen to the pitch if I have no intention of buying the cow.”
“I’m interested in learning more, Scully, but not necessarily incorporating the beliefs. The question is, can someone study religion and not be religious? Is it possible to develop a cultural appreciation for a religious faith, without having any faith?”
He could hear the smile in her voice. “You have faith, Mulder.”
He seemed genuinely surprised by her statement. “Me? No, I don’t.”
“Sure you do.”
“Well, I have faith in you, Scully. But that’s about it.”
She curled her arm around his. “And you have faith in yourself….”
“Yeah – but it’s real shaky,” he said, only half-kidding.
She squeezed his arm for a second and then relaxed. “I think it’s possible for you to study your religious background in an objective way. But you might find out you have more faith than you think.”
“That would be a Revelation.”
“Bad joke, Mulder.”
“No, I – I’ve always envied people like you, and Mike, for your religious faith. I wish I could believe in something so powerful that strongly. But I just can’t bring myself to do it.
Maybe it has a lot to do with the way my father used religion.
Maybe it’s the way religion has been used to validate anything from the Crusades to the Inquisition to the troubles in Northern Ireland. Conversions at swordpoint of happy pagans into guiltridden Christians. An excuse to shove one viewpoint down people’s throats by proclaiming that God is in your corner, and only your corner. Somewhere along the line, organized religion just seems to have missed the point.”
Scully shrugged. “It’s like statistics, Mulder. You can make them say anything you want them to say. Religion is a powerful force, and there will always be those unscrupulous enough to use it for their own ends. It has less to do with faith than in adherence to a particular faith, or those that purportedly represent it. I see those two things as being very different.”
“But you’re Catholic, right?” he asked, puzzled. “From what you’re saying, it sounds like – “
“I haven’t been a practicing Catholic for some time, Mulder,” she admitted. “Yeah, I was brought up Catholic, and that’s an upbringing that’s hard to get away from. That was my first major rift with my family. My parents hit the roof. Melissa was always a ‘happy pagan’ at heart, which never seemed to bother them. But when I came home from college and blithely announced I would no longer be accompanying them to Mass, the shit hit the fan, bigtime.”
“So why did you leave the Church? If you don’t mind my asking?”
“No, I don’t mind. I don’t know who left whom. All of a sudden, I just realized what I believed and the teachings of the Church differed significantly in some pretty fundamental areas.
A lot of what I was taught as a kid remains. Just not enough for me to consider myself a Catholic – or for the Church to consider me one either, for that matter,” she finished dryly. “Do you want to get some rest now?”
“What did you once tell me, Scully – that I ‘keep unfolding like a flower’? Yeah, I guess I’ll take a nap. All this deep conversation wore me out,” he said. He cautiously moved to stretch out his long legs, and Scully cradled his head in her lap. “This is nice. We need to do this more often, Scully.”
“Thanks, Mulder, but I’d prefer not to be locked in any refrigerators again for a while.”
He chuckled again. “I didn’t mean that.”
“I know,” she said softly. “And I agree. Get some sleep, Mulder.”
She combed her fingers through his hair until she felt his breathing become even.
– – – – –
Friday March 14
Skinner stretched his long legs out in front of him as he leaned back in the uncomfortable chair. “So what steps have you taken so far?”
Mike sighed. “We’ve been to all the places that were on their list. We talked to the first two suspects they interviewed, and everything seemed all right. From the time he called in, I would estimate that it was the third or fourth suspect they were interested in, anyway, so I take it he had ruled out the first two.”
“He might have been wrong.”
“He might have,” agreed Mike, “which is why we had to check it out. But I think he was right. Then, by the time we got to the third address – a construction site where the suspect worked – it was dark and everyone had gone home for the night.
We checked out the other two that we had home addresses for, and they claim never to have seen Mulder and Scully.”
“Which might be true and might not.” Skinner frowned.
“Any gut feelings?”
“One of the guys – Number Five on the Hit Parade seemed genuine. The other one, Number Four, would lie just for the hell of it, just for the fun of watchin’ us chase our tails.
He’s bein’ watched.”
“And the third suspect?”
“We never had a reliable home address for him. Seems he moves around a lot. We’re tryin’ to track him down now. He looks like the best shot. A James Gatling. There’s an APB out on him.”
“An APB is out, but no one’s reported anything yet.”
Mike rested his elbows on his knees and covered his face with his hands.
Skinner’s eyes narrowed as he observed Agent Thomas.
From what the agent had said minutes after they met, he had deduced that Mike and Mulder had known each other for some time. Interesting, he thought. Usually the better people got to know Mulder, the more difficult and crazy they thought he was.
He had assumed that he and Scully were the only ones who actually liked and respected the man for himself. But apparently so did Thomas. He certainly appeared shaken by Mulder and Scully’s disappearance. “You’ve done everything you could, Thomas. Something will turn up, or we’ll get out there and turn it up ourselves.”
Mike sat up. “You sound like you’ve been through this all before, sir.”
There was no smile, but the brown eyes twinkled.
“Once or twice. Have you had anything to eat lately, Thomas?”
“Not lately, sir.”
“Let’s go out and get something. You can tell me how you met Mulder while we eat. Then we’ll come back here and work out a plan.”
“But – “
“It’s likely to be a long night, and maybe a long day tomorrow, Agent Thomas. You won’t be doing Mulder any good by starving yourself. Let’s go.”
Friday, March 14
Skinner took a long swallow of his beer. They had walked down Broad Street to the little tavern, the raw, damp air temporarily chasing the fatigue from their bodies and minds.
Now, the jukebox over in the distant corner blared an upbeat country song, contrasting with their tension and dread. Skinner found himself in the unfamiliar role of social director, trying to lighten the mood. “So tell me how you and Mulder met.”
Mike grinned softly in reminiscence. “He came down here on a case. It must have been, oh, seven years ago or so.
He was in Violent Crimes at the time. We had had a rash of murders down here that no one in the Atlanta Police Department seemed to be able to get a handle on. At the time, it wasn’t known they were connected – we had different methods of death, victims of different age, sex, race. We just thought we had a rash of homicides goin’ on for unknown reasons. Then the APD asked for our help on one of the murders. The victim was from Atlanta but his body turned up across the Tennessee line, so to some people it looked like it might have been kidnappin’, and therefore a Federal crime. The APD was takin’ a lot of heat at the time for the miserable solve rate on these cases. Personally, I think it was just an excuse to claim Federal jurisdiction and dump it on us.”
Skinner’s lips curled in a knowing smile. “That’s the usual drill – they act like the Bureau is interfering, but are only too happy to be rid of it.”
Nodding, Mike continued. “We were gettin’ involved pretty late in the game – the APD had had the case for somethin’
like three weeks, so the ground was pretty cold. Truthfully, we weren’t able to do much with it ourselves. Anyway, the Bureau Chief at the time, Norm Pelletier – “
“Norman Pelletier? I know him, he’s a good man. He’s in Washington now.”
“I know,” Mike replied wryly. “It was a promotion he richly deserved, but it didn’t set well down here.”
“And why not?” Skinner demanded. His stare was piercing.
“Have you met the current Bureau Chief?” Mike said, keeping his tone and expression neutral with difficulty.
“Then I won’t say anything. I’ll let you meet him and figure it out for yourself. Anyhow, after it was clear that we were gettin’ nowhere fast, Norm decided to call in the big guns from Washington. Reggie Pardue came down with this wet-behindthe-ears kid.” Mike chuckled at the memory. “He looked more than anything like he needed someone to give him a good meal and send him home to his Momma. We had heard of Reggie he was a legend, God rest his soul. But no one knew anything about this new guy, Mulder. He looked like such a frail bookworm. We figured his first look at a dead body and he’d pass out – if he didn’t do somethin’ stupid and get himself killed first.
“Reggie and Mulder looked over the case file and Reg started askin’ the usual questions. Then Mulder pipes up and asks to see the case files of all the other unsolved murders in the area. So everyone starts givin’ him a hard time. I mean, we can’t solve the one murder we’ve got, and this cocky kid wants to solve all of Atlanta’s crimes. But Reggie asked him why he wanted to know. And the fact that Reggie was takin’ the kid seriously shut us up in a hurry. So Mulder starts quotin’ from the file – from memory, you understand, after skimmin’ it only once and points out a couple of tiny details that no one had thought were important. Reggie ordered us to get copies of the other unsolved homicides for the past six months from the APD, so we did. Damned if the kid didn’t spot the same details in six of the other cases. That’s the first we knew we had a serial killer out there. Freaked everyone out.”
“He has a photographic memory,” said Skinner. “It’s one of the reasons the Bureau recruited him. But the processing, the analysis of all those tiny details – no one knows how the hell he does that.”
“I know – spooky, right? Anyway, so now we have a serial killer on our hands. Mulder went into a room, closed the door and came out six hours later, lookin’ like shit, with the profile in his hand. And I mean, he nailed the guy. He couldn’t have done much better if he had given us a snapshot and the guy’s home address. After goin’ through the computer there were just three possible matches to his profile. Mulder read what the computer spit out, pointed to a name, and just said, ‘That’s him – that’s the guy’. ‘Course we had to check ‘em all out.
We all split up into teams to track down the three suspects and question them. With some fear and trepidation on my part, I took Mulder out with me. I knew he was smart – but he was spooky smart, know what I mean? Scary, like he had some sorta psychic thing goin’ on. That was weird enough. Add to that the fact that I had no idea how this guy would handle himself in a confrontation. So you can see why I was nervous.
“We were on the trail of the suspect – the one Mulder said was our guy – for four days straight before we caught up with him. You spend that much time with someone non-stop, you get to know him. And the more I knew, the more I liked. He was refreshingly free of any racial hangups. You’d be surprised at the number of white agents that can come up with a million excuses not to room or go into a restaurant with a black one, even in these enlightened times,” Mike said dryly. “And he was funny, and interestin’ to talk to. Curious about everything. More open to different ideas than anyone I ever met. Of course, he seemed kinda messed up. There were these huge walls, you could just watch ‘em come crashin’ down when certain subjects came up in conversation. And his eyes would get all wary, know what I mean? Bruised, like he had been hurt – a lot – in the past.”
Skinner nodded. “God knows Mulder hasn’t gotten the respect he deserves from most of the agents in the Bureau. It’s made him cautious. But I suspect that much of what brings down those walls happened long before he joined. You know, even a professional relationship within the Bureau is rare for Mulder. But you and he seem more like friends in the truest sense of the word, than merely professional colleagues.”
“It all began with that case,” Mike said gravely. “When a man saves your life, I guess it brings you a little closer.”
“You saved Mulder’s life?”
He smiled. “We had finally caught up with the suspect and were interviewin’ him in his apartment. Mulder did some of the talkin’, but as senior agent, I did most of it.” Mike shook his head wonderingly. “The guy just seemed so damn normal. He was cooperative, gracious, calm – even joked goodnaturedly about the ludicrous mistake we were makin’. I figured, hey, the kid did well gettin’ as far as he did, but he was just way off base about this particular guy. Whether he matched the profile or not, there was no way the man we were interviewin’ could be a serial killer. And that’s when it happened.
“I got sloppy – I admit it. I was totally convinced by this guy that Mulder was wrong. Mulder was across the room, kinda blendin’ into the woodwork, just takin’ everything in. I got up to leave, and turned my back on the suspect.” At Skinner’s expression of surprise, Mike grimaced. “Yeah, I know – a rookie mistake. And I was no rookie. Anyway, I don’t know whether the guy had been holdin’ himself together by a thread and it suddenly snapped, or if he thought we were about to arrest him or what. One second my back was turned, and the next second Mulder’s yellin’ at me to look out, and makes this flyin’ tackle across the room to bring this guy down. But not before he slashed me with a scalpel he had hidden in his pocket. Thanks to Mulder, I just have a scar to remind me of sixty six stitches across my back. But he had been goin’ for my throat.
“So Mulder cuffs him, and by now the guy has gone postal, babblin’ all kinds of shit, totally out of his mind. I felt unbelievably stupid. I was just standin’ there, lookin’ at Mulder and the suspect, in shock I guess. I didn’t even realize I had been cut, until I heard Mulder phonin’ for backup and an ambulance because an agent was down.” He laughed and shrugged. “Mulder looked okay, so I figured it had to be me. He was holdin’ his gun on the guy with one hand, and pullin’ me onto the couch and applyin’ pressure to the wound with the other. I guess I was bleedin’ pretty badly. At that point, the room started spinnin’ and I wasn’t too aware of what was goin’
on for a while. The next thing I remember I was bein’ loaded into the ambulance with Mulder standin’ beside the gurney, covered in my blood and his eyes as big as saucers.”
Skinner grunted. “Mulder had been on a case not long before that – a case that went bad and an agent died. Mulder always blamed himself.”
“The Barnett case, yeah, I know. I found out about that later. Of course he wasn’t to blame. But Mulder bein’ Mulder, he would blame himself, wouldn’t he?” The two men looked at each other in perfect understanding. “Anyway, he stayed in town for a few days to help with the paperwork, since I wasn’t in much of a position to do anything about it.” He laughed. “The one thing he’s never forgiven me for – I left him with all the paperwork. He met my wife and kids, and came a couple of times to the hospital to see me. We had a really good talk on one of the visits, and we got to know each other a whole lot better. Since then we’ve kept in touch. He flew down to see me once – after Dana was abducted. He was a mess, a real mess.
Very close to the edge. I really thought he might…. Anyway, I like to think in some small part I might have helped him get through that time. I owe him my life, it’s the least I could do.
And we get to work together on odd occasions. Even if he hadn’t saved my life, I think I would have been drawn to him.
He’s special, one of a kind. Difficult, maddening, certainly selfdestructive, but very special. And a hell of a good friend. That’s what’s so hard about this.” He broke off and toyed listlessly with the food on his plate. “I’m the one that called him down here. In a way, this is my fault.”
Skinner peered at the black agent intently. “Now you’re starting to sound like Mulder,” he said acidly. “Eat, Agent Thomas. That’s an order.” In a softer tone, he continued. “I know he’s your friend, and his and Scully’s disappearance is difficult for you. I take it as hard as you do, believe me, and as seriously. But you might need to save his neck this time.
You can’t do it if you’re passing out because you’re on a hunger strike.”
“You haven’t said why you’re down here. I can’t imagine you run after every agent that gets into trouble.” Mike said. He speared some food unenthusiastically and began to eat.
The AD hesitated. “When Mulder took on the X-Files, he and I were at odds, to say the least. We still are, sometimes.
But I don’t know anyone in the Bureau with as much integrity unless it’s Scully. Up in Washington, you can get pretty fucking charred around the edges. Things happen, and they make you cynical. You start to think that no one tells the truth anymore, that nothing is straightforward. But those two are a breath of fresh air. No politics, no hidden agendas. Just the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In a way, it makes them very naive. With some of the things they’ve worked on, some of the things they know, naivite can kill.” He frowned. “Let’s just say that I don’t like an unfair fight. I like to even the odds a bit.”
Skinner leaned back in his seat, and loosened his tie.
His behavior was more casual than he usually was with a subordinate, but he felt an instant comfort level with this man, a sense of trust that was rare. God knew Mulder needed all the friends he could get. He clearly had a good one in Agent Thomas.
He took another draught of his beer. He was exhausted.
It had been a bitch of a week, and now this. He was worried to death about the pair. The two were inseparable. One of the AD’s biggest fears was when the day would come that death would separate them – whether that came about in pursuit of a case, or because of Agent Scully’s cancer. He just hoped to God this wasn’t the day.
“So you would run down here for any agent?” Mike asked perceptively, realizing the AD hadn’t really answered his question.
Skinner paused a moment, then smiled. “No, I guess not. Off the record…” his sudden piercing stare made it clear that the consequences of repeating this would be severe – “…I made the mistake of getting to like them as people, rather than thinking of them just as agents under my command. With anyone else, it wouldn’t matter so much. And with their track record for getting into dangerous positions….”
“Then you must be getting used to this.”
“Yeah, one or the other of them has been in trouble before, too many times. But I’ll tell you, Mike, you don’t get used to it – not ever.”
– – – – –
Astor Sausage plant
Saturday, March 15
Mulder jerked into wakefulness. “What is it, Scully?”
“I think I have a nosebleed. My tissues… my bag’s outside… Mulder….” She felt a handerkerchief being pushed into her palm. “Thanks.” She leaned forward, pressing the cloth to her nose. There was silence for several minutes.
“How often do these things happen?”
He tried to keep his voice even, tried to hide the concern even as he realized that it was a hopeless task. He had been careful not to ask about the symptoms she might be having, careful not to do or say anything she might interpret as his being overprotective. He had resolved to play this thing out by her rules, showing his feelings only when she gave him the opening to do so. She was trying so hard to keep her own fears in check; he knew that she didn’t need to be burdened with his as well. As a result, there was a tension – not between them, but within them. A rigid control that relaxed only when she was feeling particularly vulnerable and reached out to him. As hard as those times were on both of them, he actually welcomed them. Welcomed the brief catharsis they brought, the chance to hold each other and surrender that tight control for something more comforting, more intimate, though no less frightening in its own way.
“What? The nosebleeds? Maybe every week or so.
There, it’s stopping already.” She leaned back carefully against his shoulder. “It’s almost funny, Mulder. I’ve spent – we’ve both spent – so much time and energy over the last few months thinking about the cancer, trying to find the answer, the cure.
Now it looks like we really didn’t have to worry about it after all.”
“We’re not going to die here, Scully,” he said firmly.
“Mulder, I admire your – dare I say it – faith, but it doesn’t look good. The air’s getting stale in here. I was a physics major, remember? I’ve done the calculations in my head. If we conserve our energy, we might just have enough oxygen to stay conscious until the building explodes. That’s not a lot of incentive. Do you really think that someone will find us before then and get us out of here?” She felt him shrug.
“We’ve gotten out of tighter jams.” He pulled her closer.
She lay her head on his chest and circled his waist with her arms.
“Yes, you’re right, we have. We both have. I wonder why?” she asked thoughtfully.
“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, Scully,” he murmured. He was quiet for a while, then suddenly became more alert as a thought crossed his mind. “Why? Do you think there’s fate at work here or something?”
“Maybe. Maybe something like that.”
“Ooh, you turn me on when you get all metaphysical.”
His cheek rested against her hair, his voice a pleasant rumble that reverberated through her body.
She felt him smile against her hair and her own lips curled in response. “Save your breath – literally. Whatever you have in mind would use too much oxygen.”
“My timing’s always been shit,” he grumbled.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that.” Her voice was soft, low, warm.
“We’re not going to die in here,” he repeated, squeezing her gently. “All right, let’s change the subject. We’ll go back to the Question Game. Let’s see – okay, what’s your political affiliation?”
“What, I brought up religion so now you’re bringing up a another taboo? Well, you’re going to be disappointed, Mulder.
Completely and totally Independent. It’s what comes from having a mother that’s as Democrat as they come, and a father who was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. So you won’t be able to embroil me in any political debates. I’ve heard them all, believe me. What about you?”
“Me? I’m as apolitical as anyone can be. Not quite to the point of anarchist, but not far off. Politics is meaningless, because the people involved are all the same, regardless of party. Blinded by their own greed, lust for power, and lack of imagination.” He shook his head. “Okay, my turn again.” He thought for a moment, then asked “What do you think are the five most important characteristics in a friend?”
“That’s easy. Integrity… strength… intelligence…
passion… and a good sense of humor.”
Her answer took his breath away. She considered him her friend, didn’t she? Is that how she saw him? Could he be that lucky? Or was he an exception to her criteria? Lightly, Mulder replied, “Just because we’re locked in this refrigeration unit together, Scully, you don’t have to flatter me like that.”
“It’s not flattery,” she responded seriously. “You are my best friend, and you are all those things and more.”
“As you are mine,” he said, his voice a soft, low rumble.
He paused, his mind turning over the implications of what had just been said. They had never spoken so nakedly to each other… but then, the circumstances were hardly routine. It was honesty time… there was precious little time for anything else.
“So, in friendship – integrity, strength, intelligence, passion and a good sense of humor…. So what characteristics do you look for in a lover?”
She paused. When she finally spoke, her voice carried a hint of surprise, as if she were discovering something for the first time.
“Exactly the same things.”
Astor Sausage plant
Saturday, March 15
Dimly aware of discomfort, Scully rolled over, then woke completely. She panicked for a moment, when she opened her eyes to blackness as dense as when they were closed. My God, she thought. The tumor…. I’m blind! Then she remembered where she was, and, feeling a little foolish, waited for her heart to stop its frenzied racing. Next to her, she could feel the presence of her partner, stretched out on the cement floor. She wondered if he ached as much as she did. Probably not – he was used to sleeping on his lumpy couch. He was undoubtedly as thirsty, though. She ran her tongue over parched lips, but it brought no moisture. Even her dreams had been filled with images of clear, sparkling streams and crystal waterfalls. She heard the rumble of her partner’s empty stomach.
“Are you awake, Mulder?”
She knew that tone. It was only one syllable, but it spoke volumes. He had been thinking again, probably trying to figure out a way to blame himself for their predicament. She sighed. “It’s not your fault.”
He started a little. “Becoming psychic, Scully?”
“Mulder, after four years I can read you like a book. You are so predictable. Whenever we get into a situation like this, you use your prodigious mental skills to find a way to take the blame for what’s happened.”
“Well, you’re the one with the appreciation for facts,” he said dully. “If I hadn’t blundered into Gatling and gotten knocked out – “
“Tell you what. Next time, I’ll do the blundering and get myself knocked out. Then we won’t have to go through this.”
There was a long silence. “Are you pissed at me, Scully?” he asked tentatively, a little surprised by her brusqueness.
She sighed again. “No. No, I’m not pissed at you.” She paused, considering. “Exasperated would be a better term.”
“Mulder, you beat yourself up constantly. Do you know how much energy we’ve wasted over the years – you blaming yourself and me trying to reassure you? God, you could power a city for a month with the energy we’ve wasted! And before you think of a way to blame yourself for that, we’re going to change the subject,” she declared. “What do you want to talk about?”
“I’m not sure we should be talking at all,” he responded dryly. “The air’s getting pretty sparse in here.”
She had noticed, but preferred not to dwell on it. “What time is it?”
Mulder looked at the luminous dial of his watch. “6:25 in the morning.”
“Well, Mike’s surely looking for us by now. Maybe someone will check all of the buildings before they set off the explosives.” Even to Scully, her words sounded thin.
“Yeah, maybe. But I haven’t heard anyone out there yet.
Gatling was right about one thing – this is a very solidly built refrigeration unit,” he said wryly.
He was silent for several minutes. Oh, no you don’t, she thought. Before he could indulge in another round of self-flagellation, she said, “All right. Your choice – do we talk about the case or about something else?”
“Um… something else, I think. There’s still something bothering me about Gatling’s last note, but the answer seems to get further away the more I think about it. Maybe if I concentrate on something else, it will come to me eventually. Except we don’t have a lot of eventually left, do we?”
She rolled over towards him, and he put out his arm, gathering her into it. “You were the one who said we’ve gotten out of tighter jams than this.”
After a few seconds, he hugged her closer. “You’re right. I will banish all negative thoughts from my mind,” he said lightly. “Okay – I get to pick the topic of conversation, then. How are you, Scully? Honestly.”
“I’m f – “
“No!” he interrupted sharply. Then his tone was urgent, strained. “Be honest. Please. Don’t protect me, don’t hold back.”
He felt her shrug. “Honestly, Mulder, there’s really nothing. An occasional nosebleed, a headache when I get overtired….”
“No, not how you’re doing physically. I mean, I’m glad you’re not in pain or anything, don’t get me wrong. I couldn’t be more delighted about that. But I can see how you’re doing physically. But there’s times… there’s times when I feel you want – no, need – to talk about what you’re feeling inside, what you’re going through emotionally. And a nanosecond later, there’s a huge fucking wall, keeping me out.” His voice softened. “You’re protecting me, Scully. Overprotecting me.
You know how you feel when I try to do that to you, right? Can’t you see that you’re doing the same thing to me? That I want to be there for you, but you’re pushing me away?”
He broke off, trying to put his emotions into words.
“Jesus, Scully. The only way I’m going to get through this – and the only way you are – is if we can talk honestly about what we’re feeling. Not climb into our respective suits of armor and pretend we’re invincible. Not try to shut it out, ignore it like it will all go away. I want to help, I need to help. You’re a strong woman, Scully – the strongest person I know. But even you need to be able to talk, or cry, or get pissed off and swear like a sailor sometimes. And you’re not letting yourself. There can be only two reasons for that.”
“Which are…?” she asked, her voice catching in her throat.
His words were measured, slow, carefully chosen.
“Because of the way you feel about yourself, and because of the way you feel about me. Ever since I’ve known you, you’ve been strong. But your strength is making you a prisoner, Scully.
“You’ve somehow gotten the idea that you wouldn’t be respected, or liked, or valued, or loved if you showed anything but strength. “And that’s come close to killing you on at least one occasion.”
He felt her stiffen in his arms, knowing that she was, as he intended, remembering the nightmare in Minneapolis on the Pfaster case. “And you know the most ironic thing of all, Scully? Admitting you need help, or are scared, or mad as hell, or whatever, wouldn’t make a goddamn bit of difference to the way I feel about you.”
She felt the tears start to spill then, quietly insistent trickles down her cheeks. She knew – on a conscious level, she knew – that everything her partner was saying was true. But it was hard to act against a lifetime of behaving a certain way.
Strength was the only way she knew how to cope. It had taken strength to get her where she was. Through the childhood of being a military brat, uprooted every couple of years to begin to build a life from the ground up, over and over again. Through the years of being the bookworm kid sister of a fun, pretty and popular older one. Through the years of college, and med school. Through the rift with her family when she joined the Bureau. Her father’s death… and Missy’s. Her strength had been so often the only thing she had any faith in….
“You can have faith in me, Scully,” he said earnestly, as if reading her thoughts. “Oh, I know all too often I behave like the Poster Child for National Psychosis Week. And I know your beliefs are different from mine and probably always will be. I accept that. But I also know you’re my partner, my best friend, and .. and more. I’m not made of glass, Scully. I won’t break.
Don’t make this easy for me – this shouldn’t be easy. I can do this, I can be there for you. Trust me, please. Put your faith in me. It won’t be misplaced. I want the chance to prove it to you. I need it. And so do you.”
There was a long silence. The wall cracked, and then crumbled. And Scully finally began to talk.
– – – – –
Saturday, March 15
“Take the next left,” directed Mike. “Then pull in front of the third trailer on the right.”
Skinner pulled the Grand Marquis to a stop outside the dilapidated dwelling. Here there were none of the flower boxes, shrubs and lawn ornaments that other residents had set out in an ingenuous attempt to cheer up the depressing trailer park. Here there was a greasy truck engine on cement blocks, and a trash can overflowing with Bud bottles. A Tucker Police Department cruiser glided to a halt behind them. The two tall, burly officers got out and strolled over to confer with the Federal agents.
“Thanks for backing us up on this one,” Skinner said, shaking their hands.
“No problem, sir,” answered the senior cop. “We just put the car on autopilot, and we end up here. We get called out to this place every weekend, regular as clockwork. Sometimes in the middle of the week, too. Ray Yancey’s a real bastard.
When your call came in, we figured y’all might need a bit of backup.”
“It’s appreciated, believe me,” replied Mike. “You know why we’re here.”
“Yes, sir. Yancey’s wanted for questioning in the church bombings and in the disappearance of two Federal agents.”
“That’s right,” Skinner responded. “And if he is our guy, he could do anything, so be ready. If he pulls a weapon and you have to bring him down, don’t shoot to kill. I want him alive to answer questions concerning the whereabouts of our agents.
Hate to put you guys behind the eight-ball like that, but it’s unavoidable.”
“We’ll do our best, sir,” said Blandford, the younger of the cops. “Y’all might want to let us go in first. Ol’ Ray’s kinda used to us, and he’s gonna be in a bitch of a mood. Always is in the morning. He probably tied one on last night and has a hell of a hangover at this point.”
“Whatever you think is best,” agreed the AD. In his heart of hearts, he didn’t think that Ray Yancey was the bomber.
Not with the collection of beer bottles and the confirmed history of habitual alcohol abuse. It simply didn’t fit into the profile. But the third suspect on the list, James Gatling, couldn’t be found, and both he and Mike were chafing at their helplessness. They had to do something, take some sort of action. So until the APB’s turned up some new information, either on Gatling, the missing agents, or their car, they had opted to interview the next most likely suspect on the list.
The Tucker officers made their way between piles of refuse and knocked on the door. “Ray? This is Sergeant Blount…. C’mon out, Ray. We need to talk to you.”
A string of obscenities was heard originating from inside the trailer. “Ray – we have a search warrant and we’re comin’ – ” The officer broke off as the door was flung open.
Ray Yancey stood swaying unsteadily in the doorway, squinting against the weak sunlight. His eyes were red, and his face wore a week’s stubble, not entirely successfully camouflaging an unhealthy complexion of grayish yellow.
“What the fuck do you want?”
“Ray, there’s two agents from the FBI here. They want to ask you some questions.”
He raised his head to peer at Skinner and Thomas. “No fuckin’ nigger’s comin’ into my home.”
Mike remained unperturbed. “We can do this here, Mr. Yancey, or we can cuff you and take you to FBI headquarters. Your call.”
Yancey hesitated, then looked disgusted and shuffled away from the door into the comparative dark of the trailer. The police officers followed him inside, with Skinner and Mike bringing up the rear.
The odor of stale beer, cigarette smoke and faulty plumbing permeated the miserable atmosphere. Paper plates with food in varying stages of decay were everywhere, and busy roaches scuttled over them hungrily. There was precious little space in the tiny trailer. The four law officers, each of them at least six foot two, dwarfed the short, skinny Yancey, contributing to the overwhelming sense of claustrophobia.
He threw himself into the one chair the small room had to offer. “So what the fuck do you want from me?” he asked sullenly.
“We’re here to ask you some questions about the firebombings of black churches,” began Skinner.
“I’m in favor of ‘em. What the hell else do you want to know?” Yancey smiled insolently.
Skinner kept his temper in check only with effort. “We understand you’ve worked in construction and have some expertise with explosives.”
“I was the best in the fuckin’ business.”
“Are you working now?”
Yancey laughed bitterly. “Shee-it, no. Ain’t you never heard of affirmative action? They gave all the jobs to niggers.”
He glowered at Mike.
Blandford chuckled. “Ray, you had your ass canned for the last time way before affirmative action ever came in. It’s the damn booze that made you lose your job. Your hands shake when you’re sober, and when you have a buzz on, you’re too busy fightin’ to do any damn work.” He looked over at Mike and Skinner. “My uncle has a construction company in town. Ray, here, used to work for him.”
The agents gazed down at Yancey, who had found the longest cigarette butt in the ashtray and was attempting to light it. Sure enough, his hands shook so much he nearly scorched his face with the lighter.
“We want to know your whereabouts on these dates.”
Skinner handed him the list. Through eyes narrowed against the cigarette smoke, Yancey glanced at the list, then calmly crushed the paper into a ball and let it drop to his feet.
“Ray isn’t real fonda readin’,” murmured Blount to the Federal agents. He leaned over and picked it up off the threadbare rug. “Here, I’ll read it for you, Ray.” He began to read aloud the list of dates of the firebombings, then stopped.
“What?” asked Mike.
“Well, if I’da seen this, I coulda saved you gentlemen some time and trouble.”
Skinner glared. “How’s that?”
Blount looked up from the paper.“These dates in late November and December…. Ray had a snootful one night around Thanksgiving down at the local tavern, and got himself into a hell of a fight. After they put him back together at the hospital, he was guest of the county for thirty days.”
“Are you sure?”
“Surer than sure. I was doin’ my inside rotation – nights down at the station. Jail’s in the basement. He went into DT’s on us, had to have the paramedics out and everything. When he dried out, he got even meaner, which we didn’t think was possible. In the history of the department, we’ve never been so glad to get rid of a prisoner. In fact, he got out just in time to celebrate the New Year by getting tanked up and thrown into jail again. He mighta been around for some of these more recent dates, but if you’re lookin’ for just one guy, Yancey isn’t him. ” “Is this true, Yancey?” Skinner demanded.
Yancey looked up at him, his lip curling. “Yeah. Now why don’t you just fuck off, and take your fuckin’ nigger friend with you?”
Skinner, hands clenched, lunged involuntarily toward the man. Mike caught his arm. “Thank you for your time, Mr. Yancey. Sorry to inconvenience you.” he said dryly. “And thank you, officers.” He nodded at the two policemen and pulled Skinner from the trailer. Behind them, they could hear Yancey shouting “I hope you fuckers never catch him….” The AD tensed, ready to go back and take the man apart. Mike didn’t release Skinner’s sleeve until they were at the car.
“That drunken little shit,” Skinner muttered. “That son of a bitch…. “
“With you in your present state of mind, I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, sir, but I think I’d better drive,” Mike said, holding his hand out. The AD looked at him, then reluctantly dropped the carkeys into his palm.
As they drove out of the trailer park and down the road, Skinner fumed. “How the hell can you be so damn calm?” he demanded.
Mike shrugged. “Why should that guy bother me? God, look at him – he’s a mess! He’s thirty four years old and looks fifty four. His liver’s dyin’. He’s got nothin’. He’s so eaten up by hatred and envy, he’s livin’ in hell even before he’s dead.” He glanced over at Skinner. A vein in the AD’s temple pulsed wildly. “Maybe we better take you to the hospital and get your blood pressure checked, sir,” he said, jokingly.
Skinner’s jaw unclenched then, and a ghost of a smile curved his lips. He seemed to make a conscious effort to relax.
“I expect it’s been a long time since you’ve been out in the field, sir.”
He chuckled, nodding. “Yeah – too long. Or after today, maybe not long enough. Christ, what an animal! You handled yourself well in there, Thomas. How did you get into this line of work?”
“Long story.” He jammed on the brakes at a stop sign.
The air was filled with the squeal of brakes and the smell of burning rubber.
“I thought your driving was supposed to be an improvement over mine,” Skinner said dryly.
“You’re in good company, Mulder gives me a hard time about it, too. So how did I get into the Bureau? I never knew growing up what I wanted to do with my life. Needless to say, back when I was a teenager, there weren’t a lot of doors open to me. So I volunteered for the Marines and went to ’Nam.”
Skinner snorted. “Bad choice.”
“What the hell did I know, I was just a kid.”
“Yeah, me too.”
“Yeah? Semper Fi. I was in Hue around ’65, ’66. How about you?”
“Interesting spot. I was near Da Nang, 1967 through the summer of ’68.”
“Shit!” Thomas glanced over with respect. “Oh – sorry, sir. I mean, so you were there for the Tet Offensive.”
Skinner nodded, his lips tight. Mike knew the look – the guarded, closed expression so many of the Vets he had worked with got. He continued, “Anyway, two years in the Marines taught me only one thing – that I didn’t want to be a Marine.” He grinned at Skinner’s sympathetic chuckle. “So I went to school, got my degree and eventually became a minister.”
“Christ, Thomas! It’s a hell of a jump from minister to FBI agent. Hey, watch that kid on the bike!”
Mike swerved deftly but didn’t slow down.
“Yeah, it’s a jump, all right. I was good at it, and there was a lot I liked about it. I did a lot of counselin’, tryin’ to bring some peace to folks who were troubled. That was the most rewardin’. But there was a lot of bullshit too, bullshit and hypocrisy. That just about drove me crazy. But I was puttin’ up with it. Then, somethin’ happened. The Atlanta Child Murders.
And I began to feel like I wasn’t in the right line of work. The son of one of my congregation was taken. I had to try to put the pieces of that family back together – good people, totally devastated by what one sick bastard had done.
“I guess you could say I had a crisis of faith. Wonderin’ how a merciful God could allow that sorta stuff to happen. Anyway, I applied to the State Police Academy and went through trainin’, takin’ a few graduate-level law courses on the side. When I graduated, I applied to the Bureau. Shocked the shit out of me when I was accepted. Seems they were drawn to the ‘unique combination of skills and training’ I had had.
Gradually I got my faith back, stronger than ever. Maybe it was just God givin’ me a nudge in the right direction, I don’t know.
The rest, as they say, is history.”
The car phone beeped. Skinner made a grab for it Mike drove wildly enough without the distraction. But the black agent was quicker. “Thomas…..” His expression grew grim.
“When was that?… What? Look, Alvin, you get your ass over there and stop it, I don’t care what you have to do…. I don’t give a shit about the film crew, I don’t care if they dug up Cecil B. DeMille himself…. Well, if the shit hits the fan, Howard can deal with it and bring me up on charges, if he has a mind to. Just don’t let them bring down those buildings!” He accelerated up the ramp to the Interstate.
Mike glanced over at Skinner, who was looking at him expectantly. “They found their car, parked in one of the suburbs. Gatling’s prints are all over it.”
“What was that about bringing buildings down?” Skinner asked sharply.
Mike’s face was grim. “The construction project that Gatling was workin’ on. The last place we’re sure Mulder and Scully were. It’s a whole block of old factories and warehouses.
And it’s scheduled for demolition in exactly fifteen minutes.”
– – – – –
Astor Sausage plant
Saturday, March 15
His words came haltingly as he gasped for the oxygen that was no longer in their prison. His lungs burned and a lethargy hung over him, a lethargy with which he had been fighting a losing battle for the past two hours. Scully had already been overpowered and lay semiconscious on the cement beside him.
“Scully…. Have to get… in a corner…. Safer, better… chance… when building….”
He shook her. “C’mon…. Have to move….”
His thought processes had been sluggish for the past hour. If only I had thought of this sooner, he mused. He looked down on his drowsing partner, wondering if it wouldn’t be kinder to let her sleep through what was to come. No, he thought. No, they weren’t going to die in here, not while he could do something about it, however inadequate. Gently he moved Scully’s head from the cushion his arm had provided, and tried to stand. The effort left his chest heaving and he collapsed on the floor. Finally, he grabbed her collar and began to drag her, inch by painful inch, across the confines of the refrigeration unit.
“Mulder…? What…?” She struggled, accomplishing nothing but tiring her partner further and using more of the dwindling oxygen.
“Gotta… get… in corner…. Now!”
With a tremendous effort, she focused on Mulder’s words. Like trying to recapture some long-forgotten memory, she concentrated until her partner’s direction made some sense.
“Okay…. With you, now…. Go….” Together they dragged themselves to the corner nearest the door, and leaned against the wall there, panting. Some hours before, Mulder had remarked on the incredible irony of being locked in a big refrigerator that was approaching tropical temperatures. At this point it was beyond warm all the way to hot. Their dehydration had reached the point that now they sweated little, despite their exertions and the heat in their small chamber. Mulder wrapped himself protectively around his partner.
“How… long?” she asked.
“Any… time now…. Scully… I…- “
“I know…. Me too.”
Weakly, he nodded. It wasn’t enough. Months wouldn’t have been enough to say all he wanted and needed to say. But they had run out of time, and it would have to suffice. Surely, she knew how he felt. Didn’t she?
She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, resting her head on his shoulder, getting comfort from his touch, his proximity one last time. At least, they were together. At least one wouldn’t be left behind, to face the world wounded, alone, confused, always missing that vital part that made them whole.
Resolutely, she put the bitter regrets for things left unsaid, undone, from her mind. At least they were together.
The silence seemed to fill their ears, their minds.
Mulder thought once again of Gatling and his promise to bring down Satan’s Temple. He hoped that Mike would – My God!
“Scully! I know… where Gatling… will b- ” And then their ears were filled with the sound of chaos.
– – –
Skinner hung on grimly as the car careened all over the road. Mulder and Scully had to be at the construction site.
Someone surely would have noticed them leaving, whether under their own power, or…. But why wouldn’t they have been found by now? Unless their bodies had been hidden…. Skinner clenched his jaw. Don’t go there, he thought. They were alive.
They had to be. He had to believe that….
Mike drove like a madman, and the construction site was just a couple of hundred yards ahead and closing. They screeched to a stop and were out of the car at a run, wildly searching for Alvin, for the foreman, for anyone who could tell them that the demolition had been cancelled –
Suddenly there was a roar, as they were buffetted by windswept clouds of dust and smoke. Mike’s eyes widened in horror. Where the block of brick buildings had stood a second before, there was only rubble.
“Oh, sweet Jesus!”
A-One Construction site
They gaped in horror at the demolished block. Nearby, the film crew was congratulating each other on their capture of the unrepeatable shot.
Alvin approached them, tears of frustration brimming in his eyes. “I tried to stop it. I tried. But between their permit, their lawyers and the son of a bitch director of the fucking movie, they wouldn’t listen. Then they called Fildster. He wouldn’t back us up, Mike. The fucker told them they could go ahead with it. I couldn’t do a thing. They just brought it all down….” His voice broke.
Mike absently put a consoling hand on the young agent’s shoulder. Mulder… Spaceman… he couldn’t be dead – not like this. He observed the scene of destruction, but his mind, his whole being was praying harder than he had prayed in years.
“Where’s the foreman?” demanded Skinner. Alvin pointed to a stocky man about thirty feet away.
“Are you the foreman?” yelled the AD, striding up to the man.
“Yeah, that’s me. And before you start screamin’, we had a legal permit to do this. If we hadn’t done it now, it mighta taken weeks to get another one. There’s a lot of money ridin’ on this project. Your Bureau Chief seemed to understand that.”
“You had better pray that we don’t find the bodies of those missing agents in there,” Skinner said, his voice shaking with fury. “Because if we do, I will make it my personal mission to see that everyone connected with this – including the Bureau Chief – pays for it for the rest of their lives. Do you read me?”
Granger took an involuntary step back. If it had been up to him, he might have postponed it. But between the lawyers, the head of the construction company and that sleezy Hollywood guy, he had been stuck.. He was just following his orders. His impossible position made him bold. “Look, Mister. We checked out all those buildings – twice – before we set off the blast. We’re professionals here, not idiots.”
“Do you remember seeing the agents here yesterday?”
“Yeah. A guy and a girl, right? Lookin’ for Jim-Bob Gatling.”
“Where’s the last place they went?”
Granger scratched his head. “Let’s see, it’s been pretty busy here the last couple of days. I think… yeah. I think I sent them down to the Astor plant, that last building down there.”
The AD looked in the direction Granger pointed and felt a glimmer of hope. While all the other buildings in the block were now just piles of broken brick, the Astor plant still had the remnants of some walls. Maybe, just maybe –
“Mike, Alvin – let’s go.” The three men began running toward the remains of the building.
“Hey!” yelled Granger at the retreating figures. “You can’t go in there, it’s dangerous. You need hardhats…. Hey!”
He shrugged. “Samuels, Riley. Better go down there and make sure they don’t get into any trouble.” The two workers followed far behind the agents at a leisurely stroll.
Alvin, the youngest and fastest of the three, skidded to a stop and peered into the wreckage. It was like a postapocalyptic nightmare. The twisted metal corpses of huge machines and mounds of brick lay everywhere. “We’re gonna need help,” he observed to the others.
Skinner and Mike pushed past him and began clambering over piles of debris. “Mulder?” “Scully?” they called repeatedly, praying that they’d hear something, any kind of response. When they got it, they almost didn’t believe it.
From the far end of the building, they thought they heard a muffled call.
“Mulder?” Now the three of them scrambled as fast as they could over the shifting rubble, heedless of their own safety.
“Mulder? We’re comin’, man. Just keep yellin’,” shouted Mike.
There was a weak response, over in the direction of what looked like a huge metal box. A huge metal box that had been run over by a tank, its sides ripped and torn, its top crushed. A pile of debris blocked the door.
“Looks like a refrigeration unit,” observed Skinner. He grasped the handle and opened the door the scant two inches allowed by the wreckage. “Mulder, are you in there?” There was no answer, and his heart sank. “Mulder,” he yelled.
“Mulder, are you and Scully in there?”
“Yeah” was the shaky reply. “You’re late.”
“Thank you, Jesus,” murmured Mike. Tears rolled down his face unashamedly.
Skinner felt the rush of unaccustomed tears to his own eyes. “We’re gonna get you out, Mulder. Is Scully okay?”
“Can’t hear you – ears are ringing.”
The AD repeated his question, louder.
There was a pause. The response was hoarse, broken.
“She’s breathing, but she’s unconscious. Hurry!”
“Okay, Mulder. Help’s coming. You men” – Skinner yelled to the two workmen, finally arriving on the scene – “help us clear away this shit so we can open the door.” Horrified, the workers joined Mike in heaving bricks and machine parts away from the door. “Alvin – I saw an ambulance out there, standing by. Go get the paramedics.” Without a word, the young agent scrambled back out of the ruins as fast as he could move.
In a remarkably short time, the demolished building was filled with men, clearing a way for the stretchers the paramedics carried in.
“I need some light here!” shouted Skinner. Materializing from somewhere, a flashlight was pressed into his hands. As soon as enough rubble was cleared for the door to open just enough to admit them, he and Mike shoved their way into the metal prison.
He smiled wanly up at them. He was sprawled in the corner, still wrapped around Scully. They were covered with dirt and dust, and one of them had been bleeding. Not twelve inches from their heads was a huge ragged rent in the metal wall. The ceiling was crushed under the weight of fallen debris, and jagged metal beams had sliced though the unit like giant pins in a monsterous pincushion. The unit, never large to begin with, was now compressed to the point that the four figures in there filled it completely.
Skinner squatted down, placing his hand on his agent’s shoulder. He spoke loudly. “Okay, Mulder. We’re going to get out so the paramedics can get in. Hang on, we’re going to get you two to a hospital. Okay?”
Mulder nodded, not really hearing much of what the AD had said. But they were alive. Help was here. And now he could sleep.
– – –
He frowned. Why was someone sticking him with pins?
Couldn’t a guy get some sleep? Dimly in the background, he could hear sounds that were only too familiar. With a groan, he opened his eyes.
“Rise and shine, Spaceman. And you didn’t believe in the power of prayer,” Mike chided.
He rolled his head to his left. Mike stood by the side of the stretcher, holding his hand. “Sc – !” Mulder began to sit up, and his friend pushed him back down.
He tore off his oxygen mask. “Scully… where’s Scully?”
“They’re admitting her up to the floor right now. And you’ll be next.” Mike could see the fear in his eyes. “She’s all right, Mulder. Skinner’s with her. You guys were runnin’ on empty when they brought you in, so they’re just toppin’ you up with some IV fluids. They want to hold you here for a day or so, make sure all your parts are in working order.”
“What time is it, anyway?”
“Almost three thirty.”
“Shit! I can’t stay here, Mike. There’s no time.”
“Don’t be an asshole, Mulder. Of course you have to stay here. In the last twenty four hours, you’ve been beaten up, suffocated and exploded. Be sensible, Spaceman. Oh, Lord, what am I sayin’?” he said, looking heavenward for strength.
“Drop the siderail, Mike. I’m getting up.”
“The hell you are.”
“Drop it or I’ll climb over it. Believe me, I’ve done it before.”
“Spaceman, you’d fall flat on your face. You can’t.”
“Wanna watch me? Shit, what is this? IV’s in both arms?”
Mike shook his head resignedly. “Hold on. I’ll get the nurse.”
Two minutes later, Skinner barrelled into the cubicle, closely followed by a nurse in scrubs. “What’s this bullshit about you wanting out?” Skinner glared through his glasses.
“Sir, I’m fine. We’re wasting time here.”
“Mulder, you were dehydrated, you’ve got twenty three stitches in your hands, wrists and head, and you’ve lost a hell of a lot of blood, if what I saw on your clothes is anything to go by.
You’ve been in a goddamn explosion, for Christ’s sake!”
“And I’ve had some fluids and I’m not bleeding anymore, and I’ve had a nap and I feel fine,” Mulder insisted stubbornly.
“Besides, I didn’t lose that much blood – it just always looks like a lot when it’s not where it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, you’d know, with your track record,” Skinner retorted.
Seeking any sort of ally, Mulder turned on his most charming smile. “Nurse, is there any reason I can’t get out of here?”
“Well, you’ve had three liters of fluid, your blood gases are almost back to normal and your vitals are fair to middlin’,” she admitted with a smile. “If it’s a choice between forcing you to stay here so you make my staff’s lives hell, or letting you walk….”
“See?” he said to Skinner.
“I’ll have some instructions for you, and some prescriptions, and you’ll have to sign an Against Medical Advice form….”
“Great. Go get ‘em, take these damn needles out of my arms and show me where I can take a shower. Oh, shit! Do I have anything I can wear?”
Mike strolled into the cubicle, bearing his overnight bag.
“I had Alvin get this from your hotel. I had a feelin’ you wouldn’t be stayin’ here long.”
Skinner sighed. “Obviously, I have nothing to say about this. All right, Mulder, get ready to leave.”
Within twenty minutes, he had showered, changed, had his wounds rebandaged and signed his life away. When he appeared in Scully’s room, Mike and Skinner withdrew to the hallway to wait. She smiled at him, then noticed he was dressed.
“Mulder, what are you doing?”
He had the good grace to look somewhat guilty. “Uh leaving.”
“Then I’m getting out too.” She sat up and pulled the bedclothes back.
“No, Dana. No, you’re not,” he said, gently but firmly.
He covered her up again, then pulled a chair over to her bedside and sat down, reaching through the siderails to hold her hand.
“You were more dehydrated than I was. You haven’t been eating or drinking that much recently, so all this hit you harder.
And what with .. everything else….”
“You mean the cancer,” she grimaced.
He nodded. Quietly he said, “Scully, stay here, just overnight. Let them check you out. I’d feel better about it, after everything you’ve been through.”
“They’ve been in touch with my oncologist – do I have you or Skinner to thank for that?”
“Not guilty. It must have been Skinner.”
“I’ll settle that score with him later, then. Anyway, because I’ve been down here this week, I missed my regular weekly checkup, so they want to run those tests later today. So I guess I’m stuck.” She sighed and relaxed back into the pillow.
“In more ways than one,” he smiled, nodding at the IV.
He twined his fingers with hers, absently rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb. For a while they didn’t talk, just quietly celebrated the fact that they were both, against all odds, still alive.
“I assume you signed out AMA.” At his nod, she said, “Mulder, it wouldn’t kill you to stay here overnight. There was the explosion… and those lacerations could get infected.”
“They gave me some antibiotics for that, which you’ll probably have to nag me to take. Besides, I think my reputation as a bad patient precedes me. Somehow the charge nurse in ER thought I might give the hospital staff a hard time if they kept me here.”
Her eyebrow rose and her lips curved in a wry smile.
“Go figure. So what are you going to do?”
“I have an idea. I think I know where Gatling’s going to hit next. If I’m right, he’ll do it tonight. And even if I’m wrong, we have only until tomorrow morning. So we don’t have much time.”
She gazed at him – bandaged, a little pale, his hair still damp from his shower. “Be careful,” she whispered.
He stood, leaned over her, and gently kissed her forehead. “I will. I’ll be back in the morning to spring you out of here. Get better, G-woman.”
“Be safe, G-man.”
“Always.” He smiled, and was out the door.
– – – – –
“Okay, Mulder. So what’s up?” Skinner demanded.
The young man had been unnaturally quiet in the car on the ride back from the hospital, barely uttering a word. He sat alone in the back seat, cloaked in his own thoughts.
“I think I know where Gatling’s going to hit next.” He turned to the right, spotting Howard Fildster making his way toward them, and grimaced. “Mike, would you round up the team in the conference room?”
“Gladly,” his friend said darkly, making his escape.
“Assistant Director Skinner, what an incredible pleasure it is to meet you!” Fildster gushed. He grabbed the AD’s hand and pumped it vigorously. “And Agent Mulder,” he said, with considerably more chill. “How nice of you to resurface. Get lost in Underground Atlanta?”
“In a manner of speaking,” Mulder said dryly.
Skinner glared as only he could, his deep brown eyes snapping. “For your information, Fildster, Agent Thomas, Agent Lowell and myself spent the afternoon digging Agents Mulder and Scully out from under a few tons of rubble. It’s my understanding you gave the go-ahead to demolish that block.”
“B-but I…. T-they had a legal permit, and the movie crew was on a budget, and – and their lawyer…. They said they had checked everything out, that there was no chance that your agents were in there….”
“Can it, Fildster. We’ll talk later. You’re dismissed,”
Skinner said icily.
“B-but, the meeting….” Fildster pointed to the rapidly filling conference room. He drew himself up to his full, unimpressive height. “I have every right to be present for that meeting. I am the Bureau Chief here.”
A smile lit Skinner’s eyes – a ‘pucker up and kiss my ass’ smile that made Mulder very thankful it was not focused on him.
“That will be the subject of our discussion, I assure you. You’re dismissed,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument.
As the Bureau Chief withdrew to his office with his dignity in shreds, Mike strolled up. “They’re ready in the conference room any time you are, sir.”
Skinner preceded them into the briefing. On their way in, Mike leaned close to Mulder’s ear. “Glad I got to see that,” he muttered. Mulder smiled as he took his seat.
Skinner began. “I want to thank all of you for your work during the past twenty four hours. It’s in part due to all of your efforts that Agent Mulder is sitting here with us this afternoon.
His partner is being held for observation but also was relatively unharmed. Good work, ladies and gentlemen.” He took a breath. “Now we get down to the business at hand – catching this S.O.B. Agent Mulder, who drew up the profile of the killer, has a theory on where he’ll strike next. Agent Mulder?”
Mulder took in the fifteen or so faces around the conference table. “The bomber’s last note bothered me. It bothered me when I first read it, and it has continued to do so.
I’ve had some spare time to think about it in the last twenty four hours or so” – there were chuckles around the room – “and I think I may now have a theory. Gatling made a reference in his note to ‘Satan’s temple’. I tried to put myself in his place. If I were an ill-educated bigot who considered black churches an abomination before the Lord, what would I be inferring with the words ‘Satan’s temple’?” He cast his eyes around the table again, but saw only puzzled expressions. “I think he equates Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – educated, black, man of the cloth – with Satan. And by inference, ‘Satan’s temple’ must therefore be the Ebeneezer Baptist Church.”
Murmuring filled the conference room. Mulder waited a few moments for it to die down. “Gatling is looking for a high body count. That led us to believe at first that he would strike on Sunday morning, when churches have their highest attendance during services. While that is still certainly a possibility, I would like to advance an alternative. In working with Agent Thomas and Matthew Johansen of the Journal-Constitution I learned that a city-wide candlelight prayer service is scheduled for tonight at midnight at the Ebeneezer Baptist Church – a prayer service being held because of the string of firebombings. I believe that’s where Gatling’s going to go for his body count.”
There was silence in the room as the assembled agents digested this information.
Skinner shoved his glasses up further on the bridge of his nose.“I think Agent Mulder’s theory is feasible. It would certainly seem to fit with this guy’s profile, to prove his point by firebombing a church with more than average significance for black Christians. Especially during a service taking place for the express reason of protesting his actions. Do we need to discuss this further?” The AD looked around, but there seemed to be concensus. “Very well. Good work, Mulder.”
He nodded. “I feel strongly that this is where he’ll hit, and I have a plan in mind. However, we’re going to have to be very discreet. If he gets wind that we’re there to stop him, he can simply move to another church and blast it off the face of the earth. It won’t be as satisfying for him, but he’ll do it.”
“So what’s your plan?” asked Skinner.
“First, we need to call the pastor – tell him what we suspect and ask for his cooperation. Then we’ll need a service van – plumbing or electrical, preferably. Agents in plainclothes a couple as workmen in the van. One or both of those should be from the bomb unit, since they’ll be the ones actually getting access to the church immediately. If the bomb has already been planted, they can get right to work defusing it. Others can be bystanders, joggers, passersby, all on the lookout for Gatling.
Maybe a couple of agents in clerical garb, in case he cuts it close to the time of the service. Send someone now to check out the church unobtrusively, to make sure that the explosives haven’t already been set, and to keep an eye on things until the rest of us are in place. Then we just wait.”
Skinner nodded. “All right. Remember, people, we don’t have to catch him in the act. Don’t wait for him to set the bomb. We have enough on Gatling to put him away for life right now. Let’s try to do this with as little risk to the church, the people at the prayer service, and ourselves as possible.”
Mulder handed Mike a folder. “Mike, could you – thanks.
“The photographs that Agent Thomas is passing around are of our suspect, James Robert Gatling. When I saw him yesterday, his hair was longer than in the photo, he hadn’t shaved for several days, and he had a moustache – one of those long, droopy, Pancho Villa-type moustaches. That may or may not still be true. Personally, I think he’ll look the same as he did yesterday. He’s just not a GQ kind of guy.” There was laughter around the conference table. Mulder smiled briefly, then sobered. “It’s important that you know Gatling’s state of mind.
“He’s desperate and irrational. He believes that he’s on a mission from God, one that has failed miserably so far. Don’t underestimate his motivation. Not only does he believe that his life is staked on the success of this mission – he also believes his eternal life is at stake. He may or may not be carrying Agent Scully’s or my service weapons. Bottom line – he is very, very dangerous.”
Skinner studied the faces in the room. They were ready.
“Agent Thomas will give you your assignments. Dismissed.”
Saturday, March 15
“Just how sure about this are you, Mulder?”
The agent returned Skinner’s stare calmly. It was little after eleven and the team had been in place for almost five hours. The church had been searched twice and both times had checked out clean. A sizeable crowd had gathered, waiting for the doors to open. There had been no sign of Gatling, and the AD was getting nervous. “He’ll be here,” Mulder replied with certainty.
Skinner pulled Mulder closer to the light spilling from the window of the cafe, about fifty yards from the church. They were dressed as joggers, but the cold mist was rapidly soaking them, adding physical discomfort to the unbearable tension of waiting. “He doesn’t usually cut it this close. He might have smelled a trap, gone somewhere else.”
“He’s cut it close before – we know he did in the fifth bombing, when he killed the caretaker. There may have been others. No, I think he’s waiting to mix in with the crowd going into the church. He’s going to want to leave as little opportunity for the bomb to be discovered as possible. I think he’s learned something from his past failures.” Mulder paused, thinking. “Is Alvin on the door?”
“Yes. Agents Lowell and Kovacks are on the door, purportedly to hand out the candles, but actually to screen everyone coming in. Why?”
“Better get word to them. No one – absolutely no one goes in with a box, package or bag of any kind. While I don’t think Gatling would defer the ‘honors’, it’s just remotely possible he would give the bomb in some sort of package to an unsuspecting person attending the service.”
Skinner nodded. “All right, I’ll tell them. They should be starting to let people in soon.” The official time of the doors opening was still some thirty minutes distant. But the thunderstorms which had been forecast rumbled threateningly overhead, and with the chill, wet weather already upon them, the attendees would probably be let in early. With a last glance at Mulder, the AD jogged down the sidewalk toward the church.
Mulder stretched his aching muscles and adjusted his sweatband to keep the drizzle from dripping from his hair into his eyes. Then he set off at a leisurely pace around the three block circuit he had run at least ten times since arriving at the site. There were fewer empty parking spaces now, he noted automatically. The prayer service would be well attended. He turned left and continued his run, his eyes sweeping both sides of the street for pedestrians and vehicles worthy of note. A pickup caught his eye and as he bent to tighten his shoelaces, he scanned the license plate. Then he began running again, a little bit faster now, taking another left, and then another, finally jogging past the Ebeneezer Baptist Church, where people were finally entering in a steady stream.
Mulder looked around for one of the agents on the team.
Shit, he thought. We don’t have to worry about Gatling spotting anyone – I can’t even find them. Panting, he slowed to a walk with his hands on his hips, his attention focused on finding a colleague to report to. He bumped into a tall black man in hat, overcoat and clerical collar who had suddenly loomed in from of him. Just as he was about to excuse himself “Hey, Spaceman, watch where you’re goin’.”
“Mike! Shit, I didn’t recognize you.”
“Well, I thought it would be a good disguise, ” he said, his face splitting into a grin. “And besides, I already had the costume.”
“Look, Mike. I spotted Gatling’s truck over on Turner an ‘87 black Chevy S-210 pickup, dent in the right front fender.
The license plate checks. Get word to everyone to look sharp, will you? I’m going to cruise around and see if I can spot him.”
“Will do. And be careful, now. Hear me, Mulder?”
“I hear you,” Mulder grinned. “I’ve picked up enough cuts and bruises for one trip.”
He and Mike took off in opposite directions. Mulder strolled up one side of the street, his eyes darting through the windows of the few establishments still open. He walked for a couple of blocks, then crossed the street and headed back in the direction of the church. It was then that he spotted Gatling.
The man was about thirty yards ahead of him, wearing a loose old raincoat. His hands swung empty at his sides.
Furtively, his head turned to the left repeatedly, searching the opposite side of the street. His profile was unmistakable. Still, he wasn’t carrying anything. Could he already have set the bomb, Mulder worried. Could the bomb squad have missed it, and now Gatling was just coming back to watch the fireworks?
His heart thudded painfully in his chest. Then he noted how the sides of Gatling’s raincoat bulged, flopping heavily against his hips with each step, and he sighed in relief. No, Gatling had the bomb with him, probably still unassembled.
Mulder lengthened his stride, hoping to catch up with the man without alerting him. He wished now he had the radio he had been offered. He had declined – he had enough of a problem securing and hiding his weapon in his sweatpants. He would just have to hope that someone on the team would notice them. A flash of lightning illuminated the street, followed almost instantly by the crash of thunder.
He had closed to within ten yards, the church still sixty yards distant on their side of the street. Mulder glanced away from Gatling for a few seconds, searching the crowd in front of the church for the faces of other agents, hoping to signal them.
When his eyes turned back, Gatling had disappeared.
Mulder broke into a run and darted around the corner to the right, his eyes scanning the dark, wet street for Gatling as thunder rolled overhead. Suddenly, an arm snaked around his neck and pulled him into a doorway. He felt the cold muzzle of a gun pressed against his jaw.
“Well, whaddaya know. It’s the Jew-boy.”
“Give it up, Gatling.”
“Shut up! Shut the fuck up!” He tightened his hold on Mulder’s throat. “Listen up, Jew-boy – I take orders only from the Lord. He’s told me what to do. If He wants me to do somethin’
different, He’ll give me a sign. Now we’re gonna take a little walk over to the back of Satan’s temple.”
They had gone no more than a few paces in the nowdriving rain, when a deep voice rang out.
“Federal agent, Gatling. Put down your weapon.”
Gatling spun, still holding Mulder around the neck, using him as a shield. “I’ll shoot this som’bitch if you don’t back off, nigger.”
Mulder caught Mike’s eye, and an almost imperciptible nod passed between them. He waited to the count of three, then twisted loose from Gatling’s grasp, diving down and to the right, rolling across the wet street and away from the bomber.
What happened next would be recorded on their reports, in versions differing depending on the eyewitness. It would probably be the subject of speculation for years to come. No one really could say exactly what occurred, though everyone had a theory.
Gatling raised his weapon, pointing it at Mike, who dropped, rolled and came up firing. Suddenly there was simultaneously a blinding flash and a roar and the crash of thunder. Both Mulder and Mike were thrown some distance away, their bodies tingling as they lay stunned on the pavement.
Skinner was fifty feet behind where Mike had been standing. He had seen the black agent break into a run, and assumed he might need help. “Jesus Christ!” he breathed. In the center of the road, where Gatling had stood, was a smoking crater. Buildings on both sides of the street were scorched, windows now devoid of glass, siding and bricks littering the road.
He picked out first Mike, and then Mulder, laying some twenty feet apart on the ground. Over his shoulder, he yelled, “Call an ambulance, two men down!”
The AD ran over to Mike, the closer of the two. He had been cut and bruised, and was twitching all over, but was starting to come around. “Thomas, are you alright? What happened?” He helped him to sit up.
“What happened? Are you kiddin’? The hand of God is what happened!” He sat curled over, trembling in the downpour.
“Over there. If you’re all right, I’ll go check out Mulder.”
Skinner nodded at the other agents who came running up. Then he moved over the where Mulder lay on the sidewalk. It looked as if he had been flung into the side of the building. Although unconscious, he too was twitching as if in some kind of seizure.
“We need the paramedics here!” he bellowed.
Mulder was breathing, had a strong if irregular pulse and didn’t appear to be bleeding too badly. Skinner took a raincoat one of the other agents offered and covered him. Some of the crowd waiting to get into the church, led by curiosity, had appeared on the scene. Several opened their umbrellas to shield the downed agents from the pouring rain.
Skinner left Mulder’s side to move over to the crater in the middle of the street. Shaking his head, he looked down into it. It was some twelve feet across and close to three feet deep.
In the morning, they would have to get someone down there, looking for remains. But from what the AD could see, there wasn’t much left of James Robert Gatling.
– – – – –
Sunday, March 16
Skinner went to Scully’s room as Mike and Mulder were being attended in the Emergency Room. Hospital grapevines being what they were, the AD was sure than Scully would hear of Mulder’s latest admission, and wanted the news to come from him.
“I’m going down there.”
“Agent Scully, that isn’t necessary. They appear to be all right. The doctors just want to hold them in the Step Down Unit for twenty four hours so their cardiac status can be monitored.”
“Cardiac status? Why? What happened?”
Skinner pulled up a chair to the bedside and lowered himself heavily into it. “That is a very good question. Mulder and Thomas and myself were the closest to the action, and even we can’t agree.” He sighed wearily. “Mulder was trailing Gatling close to the church. He lost him for a second, and Mulder being Mulder, dashed off looking for him. He walked right into him.” The AD noticed Scully stiffen. He was sure that any lecture by him would be nothing compared to the earful that Mulder would be getting from his partner about his rash behavior. “Gatling grabbed him and stuck a gun in his face.
Fortunately, Thomas saw what was going on and challenged him. Mulder and Thomas have worked together before.
Evidently they had some sort of pre-arranged signal. In any case, Mulder got away from Gatling, and Mike fired.”
“So Mike shot Gatling.”
“What do you mean, possibly? Surely an autopsy – ” “There won’t be an autopsy, Agent Scully. Unless we find body parts blown onto rooftops, there isn’t enough left of Gatling to put in an evidence bag, let alone a body bag.”
She gaped at him. “Did you say ‘blown onto rooftops’?
What the hell happened out there?”
“Depends on who you ask. Mulder said he didn’t see too much, since he was busy rolling around in the road, trying to get away from Gatling. He assumes that Mike’s bullet hit the dynamite Gatling was carrying for his bomb, and boom! But Agent Thomas tells a different story. There was a hell of a thunderstorm going on. The city took several direct lightning strikes – I’ve confirmed that with the weather service. Mike swears that he might have hit Gatling, but he was aiming high, so as not to mistakenly hit Mulder. Too high for his bullet to hit the dynamite, which your partner said was in the pockets of Gatling’s raincoat. Thomas said….” Skinner stopped, a bemused expression on his face. “He said that Gatling was struck by a lightning bolt – cut down by ‘the hand of God’, as he put it. And then the lightning in turn set off the explosives.”
The AD shook his head. “I was about seventy five feet away when it happened. The visibility was poor, what with the rain and the darkness. But I could swear I saw Gatling reach into his pocket just as Mike fired. The way I saw it, knowing he was about to fail for the last time, Gatling might have set off the explosives himself, hoping to take a few FBI agents with him.
Certainly, there was also a close lightning strike – that’s why Thomas and Mulder are in for observation. They have a few electrical burns and some cardiac arrythmias consistent with a close encounter with lightning. But as to what came first – the bullet, the lightning or the explosion – I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.” He paused. “Don’t worry, Scully. Mulder’s okay. He had a strong pulse when I got to him. I don’t think there’ll be any lasting effects from this. He’s even already tried to sign out AMA.” She rolled her eyes and he laughed. “This time I told the ER staff if he walked, they were to call the Bureau and we’d take him into custody. But Mulder didn’t fight it much I think he’s tired.”
“Thank you for coming to tell me.” She frowned. “I told him to be careful.”
Skinner smiled grimly. “With Mulder, ‘careful’ is a somewhat relative term.”
“I suppose you’re right,” she replied, smiling herself.
“When will they be discharged?”
“Not before Monday morning. I can pick you up here in the morning and take you back to your hotel. A day of rest without having to worry about Mulder might do you some good.
How did the tests…?”
“Okay. Nothing new, sir. Although I wish you hadn’t told them about the cancer.” Blue eyes met brown ones directly.
He shrugged. “When you and Mulder were brought in, they ran a battery of tests, skull xrays amongst them. With no next of kin around, I was approached by the doctors about it. I told them I was aware of your condition. I gave them the name of your oncologist because they asked for it. When medical professionals are just trying to do their job with your health uppermost in their minds, Scully, I don’t feel that I breached any confidences. Actually, they seemed a bit… surprised… that you were still in the field.”
“There’s no reason I can’t do my job, sir,” she declared firmly. “When there is reason, I’ll be the first to ask for medical leave.”
“I realize that, Agent Scully,” he replied softly. “That’s why you are still in the field.” He stood and stretched, the exhaustion of the last two days starting to catch up with him. “I’ll be back in the morning around ten, if that’s all right by you.”
“Yes, sir. And thank you for coming.”
He nodded, his fatigue-ringed eyes warm with concern.
“Get some sleep, Dana.” He held her eyes for a moment longer, almost as if he wanted to say something more. Then abruptly he broke his gaze and walked from the room.
– – – – –
Hartsfield International Airport
Monday, March 17
They were the last to board. Mike’s wife had driven them from the hospital to the airport, her husband having been forbidden by his doctors to drive for a week, much to his chagrin and everyone else’s relief. Now she waited in the loading zone while Mike saw his friends off.
“Spaceman, it’s always interestin’ when you come down here.”
“Let’s make it a little less interesting next time.”
Mike chuckled. “It’s a deal.” Then he grew serious.
“Thanks for comin’. I think we may have saved some lives. I know this is one of those things we’re gonna agree to disagree about, Mulder. But I know what happened that night.”
His friend shrugged. “Who knows, you might even be right.”
“Well, I guess I’m makin’ some headway, then. Maybe you aren’t a lost cause.”
“Stranger things have happened, Mike.”
“Yeah – but not many.”
The last call for their flight was announced.
“Guess this is it,” Mike said with a sigh. He hugged Scully. “Dana, you take care of yourself, sugar. And if the Spaceman gives you any trouble, you give me a call. Hell, even if he doesn’t give you any trouble, give me a call.”
She smiled fondly at the black agent. “I will, Mike.
Thanks for everything.”
“Spaceman….” The two men embraced. “You think about everything we talked about, y’hear? And you know where to find me if you need me.”
“Thanks, Mike.” A look passed between the two that Scully couldn’t quite categorize.. Mulder picked up their bags.
“Better get on board, I guess. Goodbye, buddy.”
They had reached the jetway when Mike’s voice boomed out.
“Keep the faith, baby!”
Mulder turned, then with a smile, nodded and waved.
The flight was comparatively empty, and they had the luxury of a vacant middle seat in their section, which was also an emergency exit. Mulder stretched out his long legs, grateful for the extra room. He still ached all over and his stitches were beginning to itch. His hand took up its traditional ‘takeoff position’ – closed over Scully’s – as the plane began to hurtle down the runway.
Once airborne, they put up the armrests between them and reclined their seats. Scully picked up his hand and peeked under the dressings, assuring herself that all was healing normally. Instead of freeing his hand, she laced her fingers through his and lay back against the headrest with her eyes closed. He knew that she had something on her mind, and he waited patiently for her to speak.
“It was close, wasn’t it?” she asked quietly.
“It was real close,” Mulder grimly agreed. “Ironically, the explosion saved our lives. If it hadn’t torn some holes in the walls of that refrigeration unit, we would have been dead by the time they found us.”
She was silent for so long he thought she had fallen asleep. He was on the verge of doing so himself when her voice startled him into wakefulness.
Her tone was tentative, but her gaze direct. “Mulder, do you remember Clyde Bruckman?”
He chuckled wryly. “How could I forget? My sex life underwent an abrupt and drastic change.”
Softly, she laughed. “In your dreams. You don’t have a sex life.”
“That’s just one of the many things I love about you, Scully – your devastating bluntness. Anyway, yes, I remember Clyde Bruckman. Why do you ask?”
“Well, when it was my turn to babysit him, after we had played gin until we were bored stiff, he started… I don’t know… tempting me, hinting around, sort of intrigued that I wasn’t badgering him for his ‘special knowledge’.”
“You mean his gift for predicting how and when people would die?”
She hesitated. “Yeah. I had come so close… after my abduction. I wasn’t ready to deal with it, didn’t want to think about it. Finally, I just… I guess my curiosity got the better of me. I asked him how I would die. Do you know what he said?”
Mulder’s throat tightened so much he could hardly get the words out. Not sure he wanted to, not sure he was ready to hear what the tragic prognosticator had to say about his partner.
He pulled Scully closer. “No, what?” he finally managed to choke out.
“I asked him how I would die, and… and he got this… this expression on his face, a sort of a smile. It was almost beatific, Mulder. And he said… ‘You don’t‘.”
His throat constricted so much he couldn’t speak, but his heart leapt. Surely Bruckman wouldn’t have lied…? But how…?
His thoughts went back to his conversation with Mike and his friend’s absolute certainty that Scully would find her truth, her miracle.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, Mulder. Since finding out… about the cancer. I mean, Bruckman was right about so many things. Do you think he was lying to me, that at the last minute maybe he couldn’t bear to tell me?”
Mulder swallowed hard, getting his emotions in check.
“I honestly don’t think he would lie about that, Scully. Other things, maybe, but not that. Ripoff artists and charlatans like the Stupendous Yappi are one thing. People who have… gifts… like Bruckman had…. Whatever else they might lie about, they take a certain pride in that gift, they don’t lie about it. That gift is surrounded by a kind of higher integrity, if you will, held inviolate. No, he wouldn’t lie to you about that.”
“But what do you think he meant?”
“I don’t know.”
There was a long pause. “There’s no scientific explanation for his gift, Mulder,” she said hesitantly.
“No, you’re absolutely right about that. There’s no scientific explanation.” He held her tight, his body tense, waiting to hear her next words. Would she follow form and dismiss this ray of hope, just because it didn’t have the imprimatur of science? Please, just accept this, Scully, he thought. Don’t question it, just accept it. We need this….
“Mulder, I want to believe what he said.” Her voice was small, almost apologetic.
He breathed out slowly, the tension leaving him. At last.
The final and biggest wall between them was cracking. They might have a chance after all. “Against all odds, Bruckman was always right, wasn’t he?”
“As far as when we were with him, yes, he was always correct,” she agreed.
Mulder’s voice was low, rich. soft. “I can’t even begin to explain Bruckman’s gift, Scully. I wouldn’t even try. Let’s just have faith in what he said. Not question it or analyse it. Let’s just believe he was right. I want to believe that, more than anything else.” His voice caught and he ended in a hoarse whisper as he buried his face in her hair.
Her voice, too, was hushed. “Me, too, Mulder.”
End of Faith
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