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Flights by Suzanne Bickerstaffe
From Sat Oct 05 23:49:49 1996
by Suzanne Bickerstaffe
Originally written and posted to EMXC April, 1995
Summary: The pair are on the trail of a serial killer with an odd penchant for souvenirs, while Mulder helps Scully to deal with a shattering experience. (S, T, Scullyangst)
The usual disclaimer – aren’t we all sick of reading them by now – the X-Files and the characters of Mulder and Scully are the property of Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, Fox Television, etc. I borrowed them but made everything else up, so it’s mine, for what it’s worth.
Rated R-lite for adult themes. Very Carteresque Mulder/Scully relationship, so anti-relationshippers should not be offended, but lots of closeness and a touch of UST.
This may be forwarded, printed, posted, etc., but only if it is not changed, no one makes any money, and my name appears as author. This story was released only on EMXC at the time it was written.
Monday, March 27 Atlanta Nine A.M.
With the single exception of the body, the hotel room was not much different from thousands of other hotel rooms. The ‘art work’ bore a dreary likeness to the pictures which seemed to be on sale in vacant lots by the side of every highway for $10.00. The bedspread was a tedious pattern of neutral colors – neutral except for the corner crimsoned from absorbing the blood of the victim. On the end of the bed his suitcase still lay open, the neatly arranged garments now awaiting other hands to unpack them. The heavy beige drapes on the windows were parted; they and the window beyond them were splashed with blood and brain tissue.
The killer silently checked the room, making sure that no identifying clues had been left, and then went to work on the body, taking the souvenir, the trophy earned. The change of clothes came out of the plastic bag; the trophy, the knife, the household gloves, the clothing spattered with blood went in. The murder weapon – the base of the heavy ugly table lamp – was left on the floor. It would convey no information other than the fact that it was indeed the instrument of death.
It had gone very much like the others. Justice had once again been served. Wardrobe change completed, the killer again looked around the room, the stimulated brain sensitive to everything, missing nothing. Assured that, like the other rooms in the other towns, this room would tell the police nothing, the killer grabbed the plastic bag and slipped out, gently closing the door.
– – – – –
Monday, March 27 Washington, D.C. 3 P.M.
Mulder shifted uncomfortably in his seat for the fifth time since boarding twenty minutes before. The flight was sold out, people packed in, the air conditioning functioning poorly while they were still on the ground taking on passengers. Having waited an hour for the delayed flight, everyone’s mood was quarrelsome. Three rows back, a huge beefy man with the bad luck to draw the middle seat had been loudly demanding for at least ten minutes that the flight either take off or the “waitress” start serving drinks immediately. The tall, elegant-looking woman who was head of the flight crew went over to the man and began to softly explain the situation to him.
“I never really thought about it before, but they do work for their money,” commented Scully. “I’d have drawn my weapon on that guy five minutes ago.” She observed the boorish man with obvious distaste, then turned her attention back to Mulder. “Now, you’d better bring me up to speed on this case. I obviously picked a bad time to take a few days off.” She hadn’t yet made it to the office after her week off – in fact, had barely made it back to her apartment for more than a few hours. Her partner had phoned her this morning and arranged to meet her at National. To have to get on another plane – at this point – was almost more than she could bear, and her expression showed it.
Mulder gave her a long look, then pulled a folder from his briefcase and opened it. He passed three photographs over to Scully, who tried to shield them as much as possible from the curiosity of the elderly woman in the window seat. While she began studying them, he had an opportunity to study her. Something was wrong. She seemed tired, depressed, circles under her eyes and a downward curve to her mouth. She had been either all-business with him, or curt and ill-tempered since they met at the airport. Nobody likes to hit the ground running after coming back from a vacation, Mulder thought, but this was something else, something more serious. And she was doing everything she could to prevent his asking her about it, from filling the silences with talk of work to being just plain bitchy.
“Okay. We have four victims, all male, killed in three states and the District of Columbia.”
“Good grief, Mulder, how did anyone ever connect them?” Scully murmured, scanning the photos, relieved to apply herself to something other than her thoughts.
“That was mostly my suspicious nature,” Mulder explained. He ducked suddenly as the last passenger struggled past him down the aisle holding an optimistic number of carry- ons. Few people on either side of the aisle managed to avoid being struck by one or more of her packages. Cries of outrage and exasperated grumblings followed her, mitigated slightly by the announcement that they were about to depart.
“As I was saying. I read a couple of months ago in the newspaper about a body that was found in one of the better D.C. hotels. Now this normally would not be particularly noteworthy, but I was fascinated by some of the implications. The victim was Howard Burnett, a 28 year old account executive with a big brokerage house, and quite a success at his chosen profession. He was divorced, one child, lived in Manhattan. He had been struck by multiple blows to the head with the proverbial “blunt object” – in this case, one of those wheeled luggage-carrier things. His wallet was still in his pocket with several hundred dollars in cash and every credit card known to mankind. He had just arrived in town for a meeting – hadn’t even unpacked yet.”
“Where are you going with this, Mulder? I don’t see what makes this any different from all the other murders that happen every day. I mean, it’s terrible, but it’s a fact of life.”
“Well, you’re not likely to notice anything from this photograph. The killer took a trophy from the victim – specifically, his right testicle.”
Intrigued, Scully searched the photograph carefully. “Did examination of the body yield any clues? Did it seem like the killer had medical or surgical knowledge?” The victim’s slacks and the floor around them were soaked with blood, but nothing was exposed. Evidently the killer had some sense of decorum.
“Professional opinion was divided – one M.E. said yes, the excision had a ‘surgical precision’; another said that while it was a very neatly done job, it did not necessitate medical knowledge,” Mulder said. “Also, the excision was performed while the victim was unconscious, but not yet dead. The head injuries were severe enough to kill him, but he may have exsanguinated first. Again, opinion was divided.” Mulder smiled wryly. “There’s apparently a little feud going on in the Medical Examiner’s office.”
“Was anyone ever caught or questioned?”
“There wasn’t anything more in the paper about it so I did a little nosing around on my own. At first, Burnett’s company made outraged noises and was inclined to push the D.C. police, but decided not to when some of the facts of the case were released to them.”
“Why did they back off?” asked Scully. She turned the photos over – the lady in the next seat was becoming far too inquisitive.
“With robbery as a motive pretty well ruled out, the cops had to look around for other motives. Considering the trophy taken, it wasn’t a huge leap of reason to assume some sort of a sexual angle, maybe a pissed-off girlfriend or possibly his ex- wife. But the divorce had been reasonably amicable, the settlement huge and costly for Burnett, and the ex-wife had a cast-iron alibi in any case. Reportedly he had considered himself quite a ladies’ man, and there was a long list of girlfriends to check out.” Mulder looked over at Scully. “They confirmed that he thought he was God’s gift to women and could get pretty obnoxious at times, especially when he had had a couple drinks. But basically, none really cared about him one way or the other, at least not enough to murder him. Their alibis were checked out as a matter of procedure, but there was nothing there. When the motive turned from robbery to sex, Burnett’s company backed off. Apparently, his sexual proclivities were not unknown to them. In fact, they had narrowly avoided a couple of messy harassment lawsuits that he had been instrumental in causing. He was on notice to clean up his act, at least on company time. Interestingly, one of the harassment complaints was from a male secretary.”
Scully raised an eyebrow as she let the latest piece of information sink in. “Why were you all that interested, Mulder? What did you see that the D.C. cops didn’t?”
“It wasn’t what I saw, really.” He smiled apologetically at her. “Well, you know me – extreme possibilities and all that.”
“Mulder, if this is going to be another one of your Reticulan stories, I am not in the mood.” The expression on Scully’s face was forbidding.
He essayed a smile, hoping it would be contagious. “No, no little gray men, and no Eugene Tooms reincarnation, either. I just kind of thought that there was a “serial” feeling to this. So I looked around some more.”
“And…, ” Scully relaxed into a little smile, and gave a gentle shake of her head. Mulder and his intuition.
“And I found a story in the Orlando Sentinel a few weeks later.” He picked up the photographs and shuffled them so the picture of the second murder scene was on top. He then fished a newspaper clipping out of the folder and passed that to her as well. “John Bathgate, aged 34, insurance adjuster, just back home from a convention in Boston.”
The plane hurtled down the runway and threw itself into the air at a steep angle. Scully grasped the armrests, her knuckles white as they always were on takeoffs and landings, and Mulder as usual pretended not to notice.
“Mr. Bathgate was married and lived in Longwood, an affluent suburb of Orlando. He was hit on the head with a hammer taken from a toolbox in his garage. The body was mutilated in the same manner as in the first murder. He was discovered by his wife when she arrived home from work. Time of death was estimated about three hours previous. His wife was questioned closely, as their marriage was known to be shaky. She stated that her husband had a long history of extramarital affairs. She was at work at the time of his death, with her class of 31 fifth graders as witnesses.” Mulder shrugged. “If there’s ever been a better alibi, I haven’t heard it. Some of the people with whom he attended the convention were then contacted, mostly just for background information. Apparently Bathgate did not attend most of the educational offerings at the convention, preferring to spend his time checking out what’s left of the Combat Zone.” Mulder looked over at Scully and noticed her puzzled expression. He smiled, “Sorry, Scully – a euphemistic expression used by the locals for the “adult entertainment district” of Boston. One of them also mentioned how he made a total ass of himself trying very determinedly to hit on one of the flight attendants on the trip back.”
“Charming guy.” Scully grabbed involuntarily for the armrests as the plane suddenly hit some turbulence.
Mulder nodded. “Yeah. Anyway, at this point, barring some massive coincidence regarding the method of death and the mutilation, it appeared that there was indeed a serial nature to the crimes. No one was arrested in either murder. At that point, I sent out a release to all offices asking them to keep an eye out for similar cases. While you were off, I got a call from our Boston office and I flew up there. Robert Upshaw, aged 49, a real estate developer living in Hingham was found in his home by his housekeeper.” Mulder pointed out the third photograph, showing a distiguished man who must have been quite good looking at one time. “He had been hit with a fireplace tool, and his right testicle had been removed. He, too, may have exsanguinated, although the head injuries would have killed him eventually if the blood loss hadn’t. Upshaw was divorced. His ex-wife lives in Ohio with his three teenaged children and had a solid alibi. He had been in Atlanta visiting his sister for the three days prior to his murder and had just arrived back. He was openly bi-sexual and according to a co-worker, and I quote, ‘he hit on everything that didn’t move out of his way fast enough’. Oh, no thanks.” Mulder looked up at the flight attendant and declined her offer of a drink. “Has that guy a few rows back settled down?” he asked her.
“Yeah, thanks. I thought for a minute we might need you. I wish we had Federal agents on board every flight,” she laughed. Airline crews were always informed about the presence of Federal agents on their flights because of the weapons they carried.
“Does this sort of thing happen often?” asked Scully.
“More often than you’d like to think,” she said with a grimance. “Anything to drink?”
Scully took a Coke to try to quell her nausea, and passed a cup of coffee to the elderly lady in Seat F. Then the flight attendant, with a final smile at Mulder, pushed the cart up the aisle.
The plane hit another air pocket. Scully closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and grabbed for the armrests, accidently grabbing Mulder’s right arm instead. As the turbulence gradually abated, she opened her eyes. Noticing her death-grip on her partner’s arm, she quickly let go. She sighed and licked her dry lips. “Sorry, Mulder.”
“No problem,Scully.” He smiled. “I kind of missed the bruising on the Boston trip.” When she failed to rise to the bait, he looked at her, concerned. She did appear to be paler than normal, and seemed distracted. “Are you feeling all right?”
“Not really, to tell the truth. I’m sick to death of planes and I hate flying in conditions like this.” She sipped at her Coke. “And all the running around, the jet lag. And…my vacation was not exactly what I had hoped.”
He waited, but she said no more and her expression was closed. Mulder decided not to press. If she felt like talking later, he would be there. His eyes were warm as he surveyed her. Gently, he said, “I know, I’m sorry – after flying in from Honolulu yesterday, the last thing you needed was to get on another plane today. Look, why don’t you try to get some rest, and we’ll go over the remainder of the information when we check in at the hotel, okay?”
Scully nodded gratefully and closed her eyes. She knew she had been bitchy to Mulder all morning, and felt badly about it. Unfortunately, feeling guilty about being in a rotten mood just intensified the problem. She was already beating herself up over everything that had transpired on her vacation. Rationally she could tell herself that none of it was her fault, and a small part of her believed it. A very small part. But an insistent voice kept whispering that if she hadn’t let her guard down, if she hadn’t been so trusting, if she had been more ‘herself’, none of it would have happened. That voice had been with her for two days, and by now it was becoming impossible not to believe it. Concentrating on quieting the voice and settling her stomach, exhausted from one night in the air and two nights of tossing and turning, she finally let herself doze.
Mulder slid the photos from Scully’s tray table and put them back in his briefcase. Scully’s mood was something more than just disappointment over a lousy vacation. He rarely took vacations, himself; there just wasn’t any point. What he most needed a vacation from followed him wherever he went – the nightmares, the isolation, the guilt. But Scully was different, and she had been so excited about this trip – a chance to attend a convention on forensic medicine, see Hawaii and meet with some old friends from med school at the same time. He really hoped that she would confide in him later – distracted as she was, she would not be at her best on this case. Yeah, right, Mulder thought – like that’s the only reason I want her to open up. If he had to be honest with himself, a far better reason would be that he hated seeing her in pain, and maybe talking about whatever was bothering her would help. And if he had to be brutally honest, her stony silence, her emotional distance, scared the hell out of him and made him feel terribly alone. Scully shifted in her sleep, her head now resting against his shoulder. It was completely unconscious on Scully’s part, Mulder did realize that, but her physical closeness helped to reassure him a bit. Careful not to jostle her, he gently adjusted his position and settled in for the duration of the flight.
x X x
Atlanta 5 P.M.
They had landed, gotten a rental car and driven to the hotel. Scully had uttered a total of perhaps a dozen words in all, most of them single word replies to Mulder’s attempts at conversation. Several times he had been on the verge of asking what the problem was and stopped himself at the last minute each time. When she was ready, she’d tell him. He hoped it would be soon.
They checked into their hotel on Peachtree, not so coincidentally the same hotel as the victim, and took the elevator to the fourteenth floor. Stepping into their rooms, they hung up their coats and unpacked with a speed and an efficiency born of long practice. Scully opened her communicating door. In his room, Mulder’s head came up from the papers he was perusing when he heard it, and he opened his own. This was a good sign – he had been afraid she would try to isolate herself. He walked through to her room carrying the case folder and laid it on the small round table in front of the window.
“Are you up to this, Scully? Would you rather take it easy for the rest of today, hit the sack early or something, and catch up in the morning?”
“No, I doubt I’d be able to sleep anyway.” Her expression was grim.
Mulder stopped shuffling the case documents and looked over at her, concerned. “Do you want to talk about it?” he asked quietly.
“NO!” It came out abrupt, rude. Scully pushed her hair back from her face with both hands and closed her eyes briefly. She sighed. Contrite, her tone softer, she said, “I’m sorry, Mulder. No, no thank you. Not yet, anyway. Let’s just get into the case.”
Mulder nodded, his eyes never leaving her face. “Okay.” This was progress, anyway – she had admitted, more or less, that there was a problem, and had left the door open to talk about it later. He would have to be satisfied with that for now.
“Down the hall we have – or had, the body’s been taken away – victim number four. Ernesto Trujillo, aged 39, from Orlando. Married, a couple of kids. He was originally from Cuba, he escaped from there with his family in the early 60’s, but had lived in Florida ever since. He was a sales rep and part owner of an up-and-coming electronics firm, and was, according to his company, here in Atlanta to close a lucrative contract. He had checked into 1422 only this morning. Information is still coming in. I didn’t hear about this until just before I called you. We’re meeting Special Agent Mike Thomas of the Atlanta office in the victim’s room. He probably has more for us by now. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be,” Scully said, without much enthusiasm.
They walked a few feet down the hall and knocked at the door hung with wide yellow ‘Crime Scene’ tape. It was answered almost immediately by a tall, balding black man whose face cracked into a huge grin when he saw Mulder.
“Hey, Spaceman! How’s it goin’?” he boomed in a thunderous voice, shaking hands vigorously.
Mulder groaned theatrically, then smiled. “I was really hoping you had forgotten about that, Mike. Special Agent Dana Scully, I’d like you to meet Mike Thomas, the only man to call me ‘Spaceman’ and live.”
“This is Scully? Nice to meet you. I’ve heard a lot of real good things about you. Come on in.” They shook hands, then the three stepped through the door.
The room was neat, orderly and horrifying. The odor of blood was overwhelming. Two huge bloodstains appeared about three feet apart on the carpeting at the foot of the bed. Bone fragments and brain tissue could be seen in one of the stained areas, as well as splashed on one wall, the drapes and the window. Mulder walked into the bathroom, automatically flipping the light switch with his elbow. A couple of towels had been used, and were spotted here and there with faint pink marks. The sink was damp, but the remaining fingerprint powder showed that it was unlikely that anything usable had been lifted from there. The complimentary soaps and other toiletries had not been used and the trash was empty, so there were no wrappers to dust, eliminating that often-valuable source.
Scully crouched by the bloodstains. The amount of bone fragments and brain tissue left on the floor and dotted around the room spoke to the damage done by the blow, and made it unlikely that this victim died of anything but skull trauma. “The body must have been a mess,” Scully murmured.
“Yeah, I guess you could say that,” said Mike. “I just got these photos about 20 minutes before you arrived. Help yourself.” Mulder and Scully walked over to the table where Thomas had laid out the stack of photos and began to study them. Thomas went on, “I saw your directive a few weeks ago. Now see, I got this bad habit of listening to police band radio. When I heard the report of this murder, with a victim of about the right age and no evidence of robbery, I decided to take a little look-see. The Atlanta police were not amused, but they can stick it, right? Anyway, by the time I got here they had bagged up the body but hadn’t bothered to look at anything beyond the head injury. I made myself real popular by insisting that they unzip and let me check for mutilation. I think it pissed ‘em off even more that I found what I was looking for and they had missed it completely. I can’t imagine what the hell they thought that other big bloodstain was from. Anyway, when I saw it was probably your friend again, I called you and brought over our guys from the office. Yeah, I’m REAL popular with APD right now – mine will be the car with the 34 parking violations,” he finished glumly.
Mulder grinned broadly at him and patted him on the back. “Yes, but you have the satisfaction of knowing you did the right thing.”
“Yeah, right. I’ll call you to bail my ass out of jail,” Mike said, with no change in tone. He looked over Scully’s shoulder at the photos. “Okay, there’s the lamp. Not that you can tell much from this picture, but it was the murder weapon. I saw it before they bagged it and took it away. Big dent in the metal base, more or less the size and shape of the head wound, blood, hair and tissue still on it. No prints, but I’m sure you expected that. Didn’t find a print in here, as a matter of fact, other than the victim’s and housekeeping’s. Hotel rooms are always tough anyway – if there are prints, they usually belong to someone who had the room earlier.” Mulder nodded his agreement. “Now that’s the victim, the next four shots. The last one is a little tough on the tummy, so consider yourselves warned.”
Absently, Scully nodded. The first photo was shot from a distance of perhaps 12 feet or so from the victim, showing the body in relation to the rest of the room. His face was turned away from the camera. His arms were flung above his head, which was slightly misshapen from that particular camera angle. The arms had probably been moved there out of the way by the killer prior to excising the testicle, thought Scully. The second had been taken from the end of the bed, with the body still facing away from the camera, but with the blood on and around the trousers much more visible. The third was an almost useless photo taken at the victim’s feet and facing the window. Between the glare from the window, and the low angle of the shot, nothing of any value could be discerned. Scully raised a questioning eyebrow at Thomas. “He’s just training,” he explained.
“I hope he improves,” she observed, then caught her breath at the next photo. A closeup of the victim’s face and head. The force of the blow had depressed the skull at least 2 inches into the soft tissue of the brain, with resulting facial and eye deformities that did indeed made the photograph rather hard to take. Even Mulder and Scully, accustomed to examining bodies with varying amounts of trauma and and in varying stages of decomposition, glanced away for just a second to compose themselves before taking a closer look.
“The killer must have taken one hell of a swing at him,” said Mulder. “His skull is crushed like an eggshell.”
“Probably, but not necessarily, Mulder,” replied Scully. “There are some people who just have very thin skulls and sustain massive trauma from injuries which would hardly raise a bump on someone else.”
Mulder looked from Scully to Thomas. “Do we know anything else about this guy, Mike?”
“Just got a fax before you came in. Let’s see. Yeah, here it is. Okay, Ernesto Trujillo, married to his wife Maria for 16 years. She had recently filed for legal separation, and he’s been living with his brother in Orlando for the past three weeks.”
“Does it give the reason for the separation?” inquired Scully.
“No. You want me to find out?”
“It might be important,” Scully explained. “All of the other victims so far have long track records of extramarital affairs. It would be interesting to see if this guy fits the profile. Of course what it all means, I have no idea. What about you, Mulder? Any thoughts?”
“Thoughts, yes. Good ideas, no. We can sit down tonight and try to do some kind of psychological profile of the killer. It’s certainly unusual. Serial killers generally confine their activities to one place, or they commit a series of killings in one place and then move on to another and start killing again. This batch of crimes kind of breaks that mold. Anything else, Mike?”
“You got what I got, Spaceman. The results of the post mortem won’t be available for another couple hours yet. I’ll tell you what – give me your cellular number. You folks go out and get some dinner and I’ll give you a call when they come in.”
“Thanks, Mike, that would be great.” Mulder thought a second. “Hey, is that really fantastic fish place still around – the one you took me to last time I was here?”
“Spaceman, not all of us are blessed with photographic memories, and that had to be – what, four or five years ago? Give me a clue, what was it called?”
“Ummm – Jackson’s?”
“Sure, that’s still here, it’s an institution in my neighborhood. Remember how to get there?”
Mulder reviewed the directions with Thomas and shook hands. Scully said goodbye to the agent and exited through the door Mulder was holding open.
“You might want to change before we go, Scully – we’re a little overdressed for where we’re going,” suggested Mulder.
She looked at him. She had regretted many of Mulder’s unorthodox choices in restaurants and hotels, and her expression showed it.
He grinned. “Trust me, Scully, you’ll love it.”
They changed into sweaters and jeans and running shoes, and left. They found Jackson’s with no problem. After initial misgivings about the dubious location and the lack of decor, Scully relaxed a little, but something was puzzling her. She looked around for their waitress.
“Mulder, they forgot to bring us menus.”
“They don’t need to – they serve only one thing.” The beer he ordered for both of them arrived at the same time as the food. Scully’s eyes widened as a sizzling platter of fried catfish, bowls of greens and butter beans and a basket of biscuits and cornbread were set down on the table. “When in the Deep South, it’s a sin not to eat the local cuisine.” Mulder smiled, and heaped her plate.
“Do you have any idea how much fat and cholesterol is in this?” Scully sighed. “It’s going to go right to my hips. But it looks and smells wonderful and I haven’t eaten any real food in days, and I’m going to eat it. So what were your thoughts on the case?”
“Nope – no shop talk. Tonight we’re just going to relax, and pretend we’re normal people and have a nice dinner and not talk about dead bodies for a while, okay?”
Scully looked at him suspiciously. “Well, if you can declare shop talk off limits, I can declare my vacation off limits.”
“Fair enough,” said Mulder mildly. “How’s your mom?”
The conversation continued in that vein throughout the meal – relaxed, non-threatening, non-controversial. The classic jazz playing in the background served as a harmonious accompaniment.
“Sweet potato pie for dessert?” Mulder inquired.
Scully groaned. “Please, I couldn’t eat another bite.” She smiled at him. “Thanks, Mulder, this was great. I feel one hundred percent better, almost human again.”
He warmly returned her smile. “They don’t call it ‘comfort food’ for nothing. I’m glad you feel better. Now, let’s get back and see what we can do on that psychological profile.” He paid the check and left a generous tip, and they exited the restaurant.
Back at the hotel, Mulder brought his briefcase to Scully’s room, pulled off his running shoes and got comfortable on one of the beds. Scully curled up on the other. He put on his glasses, pulled a pen and a yellow legal pad from the case beside him, thought for a few seconds and started writing.
After several minutes, he said, “Okay, Scully, what do we know about serial killers, in general?”
Scully thought for a minute and started counting off on her fingers. “One, they are almost always white and male. Two, they usually don’t stick out in a crowd. If anything, they are often described as quiet loners. Three, they generally are of at least average intelligence, although they usually performed below expectations in school. Four, there is often a sexual angle to their crimes, or to the motivation for those crimes. Five, as you mentioned to Mike Thomas, they tend to work in a circumscribed area, or a series of circumscribed areas. Did I miss anything?”
“Not much. The age – usually between 25 and 45.” Mulder tapped his pen against his lower lip, thought for a minute, then sighed. “The problem is, Scully, that there is an exception for every rule. For every ten serial killers who fit the mold, there’s one who breaks it in some way. Our guy has already broken it, in the wide geographic spread of his crimes.”
“Or our woman,” Scully said grimly.
He glanced over at her. “Okay, it’s extremely unlikely, but I’ll give you that one. All right, what is our killer like – what’s the profile? Want to take a shot?”
“Your turn, Mulder.” She yawned hugely. “I’m getting sleepy.”
“All right. And if you don’t mind, in the interest of simplicity, I’m going to refer to the killer as ‘he’. Okay, let’s start with what we know, which isn’t much. You know, it’s interesting that the choice of murder weapon seems to be whatever’s handy, but the killer obviously has a weapon with him that he doesn’t use to kill his victim. He brings the knife or scalpel with him and takes it away when he’s finished excising the testicle. But he doesn’t use it to kill his victim. I wonder why – or if it’s even significant.” Mulder paused, thinking. “I think we can take it as a given that, in view of the trophy taken, that there is some sort of a sexual motivation to the crimes.”
“Ummm-hummm.” Drowsily Scully nodded. Mulder’s soft voice faded into the background as she relaxed completely for the first time since it had all happened. Funny how she could relax with “Spooky” Mulder, trust him, as she could no one else. She let her thoughts drift, let herself sink deeper into that twilight world between waking and sleeping….
He looked at Scully, seeing her expression clear for the first time since her return from vacation. Getting up, he crossed the room and shut off the big table lamp, leaving the small reading light over the bed he was using as the only illumination in the room. He picked up the phone on the nightstand and turned down the volume of the ring. Just as he reached for his cellular phone to do likewise, it beeped. He pressed the answer button even before the sound had completely dissipated. “Mulder,” he said quietly. He quickly padded next door to his room, pulling Scully’s door to within a couple inches of closing and flicking on a light. “Just a second while I grab a pen. Okay, Mike, shoot.” Mulder took notes as his colleague spoke, occasionally grunting understanding or assent. “If she could, I’d appreciate it…. Yeah, it was great, wonderful…. Okay, thanks, Mike…. Yeah, you too.”
Mulder switched his phone off, extinguished the light and returned to Scully’s room. He found her sitting groggily on the edge of the bed, the guarded expression once again pulled down over her face.
“Sorry, Scully. I was hoping that wouldn’t disturb you.”
“Was that Mike with the autopsy results?’ Scully rubbed her face, then looked up at Mulder.
“Yeah. You hit the nail on the head, Scully, no pun intended. Turns out Trujillo did have a very thin cranium, which accounts for the really massive trauma to the skull that wasn’t seen in the other victims. He died of the head trauma probably within a couple of minutes. The trophy was taken as soon as he went down, probably a couple of minutes before he died, which accounts for the blood loss there. Nothing else interesting from the autopsy. Mike did mention that Trujillo’s wife stated that his numerous affairs was indeed the reason for their split. In fact, she said that he was ‘relentless in his pursuit of sex’ – her words.”
“So that part of the pattern is holding, anyway. Look, Mulder, my brain is just not functioning. I’m going to shower, maybe that will help.”
“Maybe a decent night’s sleep would help,” he suggested, his gaze never wavering from her face.
“Look who’s talking. Mulder, back off. I’m taking a shower, then we can work together on the profile.”
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No, that’s okay, stay put. When I get out maybe I’ll be in better shape to actually contribute something to this profile.” Scully got her robe from the closet and closed the bathroom door behind her.
Mulder stared thoughtfully at the closed door. Whatever was going to happen would happen soon.
x X x
Mulder stared thoughtfully at the closed door. Whatever was going to happen would happen soon. He was accustomed to lack of sleep, getting four hours on a good night. Scully was not. As he well knew, she needed a minimum of six hours to feel halfway human and eight to function at her usual level. As sleep-deprived as she was, she’d hit the wall soon, and then finally, with a little luck, would let him know one way or another what was bothering her. He took up his position again on the spare bed.
She emerged from the bathroom about 10 minutes later, rubbing her hair dry with a towel. “Okay, Mulder, all better now. Let’s get to work.”
He gave her a long look and she returned it steadily. All right, if that’s how she wanted it, he thought. “Okay. What else do we know about the killer?”
Scully stood in front of the mirror, brushing her hair. “I would say that the victim must know the killer, or at least the victim does not perceive this person as a threat. There’s no sign of forced entry, no sign of a struggle. It looks like the victim opens the door, even turns his back on his killer. Is there any link between the victims, other than the fact that they were all sexual predators? I mean, could they have worked at some time for the same company, or been in the army together, the same fraternal organization, anything like that?” Tossing the hairbrush back in her toiletries bag, she crossed the room to stretch out on her bed, leaning against the pillows.
Mulder glanced up from his notes to look at her. “So far nothing has turned up. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I was wondering if a mutual friend or acquaintance could be doing this, stalking a particular group of people with something in common, seeing as it’s someone the victims don’t fear.”
“It’s certainly a possibility, and I’m writing it down,” said he doubtfully. “But between the geographic, age and occupational differences, I’d have to say it’s pretty unlikely.”
Scully sighed. “Yeah, me too, really. All right, what else do we know? Do you think it’s worth pursuing the medical knowledge angle? No, I suppose not,” she murmured. “By the way, is there any chance I can look at the body? I know the post has been done and there’s probably relatives waiting for the body’s release, but I wouldn’t mind seeing it for myself.”
“All set up for you.” Mulder half-smiled to himself. “I had a feeling that you would want to see it, so I set it up with Mike tonight when we spoke. They’ll expect us down at the morgue at 9 a.m.sharp. You know, Scully, the more I think about it, the more elusive this killer becomes from a psychological point of view. I just can’t see him in my mind.” He grimaced in frustration. “Usually by this point in a case, I have some picture of the killer, some pretty clear motivation for his crimes. I don’t have a whole hell of a lot on this one, and it’s really bothering me. We know that the killer appears non- threatening. We know that there very likely is some sort of sexual trauma, probably perpetrated by a male, in the killer’s past, in view of the choice of victim and trophy. The killer must be in fairly good shape – even though Trujillo had an abnormally thin skull, the victims were all healthy adult men, none of them smaller that 6 feet tall, and none of whom could be described as a pushover.”
“Doesn’t the fact that the sexual trauma in the killer’s past was probably committed by a male point to a female killer?” asked Scully, an edge to her voice. “A woman is, after all, far more likely to be a victim of a sexual attack than a man.”
Something in her tone made Mulder look up. He put down his pen and legal pad, took off his glasses. “Okay, Scully, what’s up?” His tone was soft, but made it clear he would be put off no longer.
“Nothing, Mulder!” The look he was giving her was clearly disbelieving “Stay out of this. It’s none of your damn business!” Her voice was hoarse with fatigue and tension.
He kept his voice level, determined not to have this become a shouting match between the two of them. “Look, you’re exhausted. If something has happened that’s so upsetting that you can’t sleep and you haven’t been eating properly and you can’t think straight, then it IS my business.”
She crossed her arms over her face. “It’s just jet lag.”
“Sorry, Scully, but that’s bullshit,” he said emphatically, on the verge of losing his patience. He took a deep breath and, regaining control, he said more gently, “Dana, something is eating you up. I know you’ll feel better if you talk about it. I thought we had the kind of relationship where we could be there for each other. I’d like to be there for you now, but God knows, you are not making it easy.”
Scully peeked out from under her arm. “You’re not going to let this alone, are you?”
Seriously, Mulder shook his head. “‘Fraid not. Whatever it is, it’s doing a real number on you, and I won’t sit back and watch that happen.”
“It’s…really hard to talk about, Mulder.”
He reached up and shut off the reading lamp over his bed. “Okay, pretend that I’m not here. Does that help?”
Scully smiled in the darkness and chuckled wryly. “I don’t know yet. Maybe.” She exhaled forcefully, hesitated a moment and slowly began. “My vacation was wonderful for the first four days. The flight out was interminable but smooth, and I travelled with my friends from L.A. to Honolulu, so catching up on what was going on in their lives and remembering old times helped to make the flight go a little faster. There were four of us. Jeff Page, who’s now a pathologist in Manhattan, we always used to call Porky, because he was overweight and seemed to live on junk food. Naturally, now he’s gorgeous and married to an internationally known model. And Janice Blusinski, who’s pregnant with her second baby and still manages to head up the pathology department at her hospital in Kansas City. We had been very close in med school. Most women in med school tend to close ranks a bit – it’s a pretty tough experience. We shared an apartment for about a year before she moved in with her fiance. And the fourth member of our group was Blake Sponholtz.” Scully’s tone changed, moved from pleasant nostalgia to something much more serious. “He had been very quiet, very studious, kind of hung out on the fringes of our crowd. I – I always had the feeling he might have had a crush on me, but I was so busy hitting the books that I really didn’t give it much thought.
“As I said, the first four days were great. The educational offerings were very worthwhile, and even better, they were only scheduled in the morning, leaving lots of time for doing all the tourist things, which we did – Waikiki, the Arizona Memorial, even Don Ho, which was just as awful as you would guess, but we had a terrific time anyway. It was just like being back in med school again, we were all so close,” she said, smiling wistfully. She was quiet for a few minutes. Mulder maintained his silence, even as he felt her tension build.
Scully’s voice became low, strained. “Uhh…it was on Friday night. It had been another wonderful day, seminars, shopping and sightseeing. That evening, we all went to one of those supposed “genuine” luaus – put on grass skirts, ate poi, did all those stupid touristy things and made fools of ourselves, but it was so much fun. We went back to the hotel for a nightcap, but Janice was tired – what with the pregnancy and all, I don’t see how she did everything that she did – so she turned in early. Jeff stayed for one drink, then he went to bed – his wife was flying out to meet him in the morning. I guess he wanted to save his strength. Blake and I had a couple of drinks, but that’s all. Then he suggested a walk on the beach, and I thought it would be a nice way to end a wonderful day, so I agreed.” She drew in a shuddering breath.
“I don’t know what happened. We were just talking about nothing in particular, certainly nothing personal or anything. We had walked for nearly two miles and were on a part of the beach that wasn’t populated, especially at that hour. One minute we were walking, and the next minute I was down in the sand on my back and Blake was all over me, touching me. He – he was saying how much he had always wanted me and he knew I felt the same and…. ” Scully swallowed hard and took a few seconds to steady her voice. “Well, Blake’s a big guy, but it wasn’t much of a problem getting him off me. Only I had to hurt him to do it. I guess I was in shock or scared or something, maybe instinct took over, I don’t know. I started walking – running, really, I guess – up the beach back to the hotel, and he just kept following me, screaming at me the whole time. How I was nothing but a bitch for leading him on, and that he should have known better, that the – that the ‘Ice Maiden’ that everyone had talked about in med school could never be a real woman with a real man, and…” Scully’s voice was almost a whisper. “Well, he went on like that, screaming things and sobbing, following me until I was almost back at the hotel. And then someone, I’m sure it was him, made a couple of nasty phone calls in the middle of the night that were…much worse. I left a message for Janice that I had a family emergency. I just didn’t want to face any of them. I took the first flight out that I could the next morning.”
In the darkness, Mulder’s head pounded and his jaw was clenched as he thought of all the things he would love to do to the jerk who put Scully through this kind of hell. Certain his expression would have given away his thoughts, he was glad for the darkness. He cleared his throat and tried hard to keep the anger out of his voice. “There are times I’m ashamed of men, Scully, and this is one of them. He needs help – on a professional level I do realize that. However, speaking on a purely personal level, it would still give me the greatest pleasure to kick the shit out of him.”
“Yeah, I kind of thought you might feel that way.”
A long silence stretched out between them. Mulder thought he could hear Scully sniffling very softly, but he wasn’t sure. He waited until he no longer heard the sounds, then said softly, “It’s not the physical part of the attack that bothers you, is it?”
She was quiet for a moment or two. “No. I mean, it could have been horrible. If I didn’t have much better than average self-defense skills, he would have raped me, I know that. Hell, at six four and 220 pounds, he would have easily overpowered me. But you’re right, Mulder, as things worked out, the physical attack is not what’s bothering me.”
Scully stopped speaking, trying to work out in her mind how to talk about what had shaken her so badly, trying to decide if she wanted to expose all that to anyone else, even her partner. The silence must have gone on a long time. Suddenly she heard Mulder shifting position, getting up and moving off the spare bed to stretch out next to her on hers. Almost automatically she slid over a little to make room for him, appreciating his warmth and his closeness, appreciating most of all the fact she hadn’t had to ask for them – he had intuitively known that she needed them.
Scully said quietly, “You know, Mulder, how you always say ‘just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you’? Well, just because some guy is an immature, delusional, misogynist jerk doesn’t mean everything he says is a lie. I’ve spent the better part of the last three days listening to his words echo in my ears and I’m afraid that there’s some truth to them.”
Had she been able to see it in the gloom, Mulder’s expression would have illustrated his profound doubt. “All right, what did he say that you think was true?”
“I – I started thinking back to med school, and he’s right. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I did cut myself off from people. I was so driven to succeed…” Her voice was low, close to breaking. “But I didn’t know they all called me ‘Ice Maiden’.”
“Scully, cut yourself some slack, you had to be ‘driven’. Medical school is tough for everyone; you get through an experience like that however you can. Some people party, some eat junk food, some get into relationships, some people become hermits, that’s just the way it is. Besides, that’s all in the past. You got through med school the way that worked for you. You can’t do anything about that now, even if you wanted to change it.” His tone softened. “About the ‘Ice Maiden’ part – if they really did call you that, yeah, I know that hurts. But you have only Blake’s word for it that they did.”
“The way he said it, it all just came out very naturally. It sounded true.”
Mulder was quiet for a few seconds. “Well, if that’s something he wasn’t lying about, all I can say is they obviously didn’t know you as well as I do. Okay, what else?”
“Come on, Scully.”
She spoke slowly, as if pulling the words from deep inside of her. “Maybe I did lead him on, unconsciously. I…ummm… I haven’t had much of a social life lately, as you well know. I was relaxed that night, I let my guard down. Maybe he took that as some kind of a signal. Maybe, unconsciously, I even meant it as some kind of signal. I just don’t know. Believe me, I’ve been wracking my brain to try to remember anything I might have said that would have given him the idea that I’d be receptive.”
A silence. Then, “Why?”
She turned in the direction of his voice, puzzled. “Why what, Mulder?”
“Why are you wracking your brain? Do you remember saying, Oh, please Blake, throw me down on the ground and assault me and then subject me to slander?”
“No, of course not, don’t be ridiculous, Mulder.”
“Then you didn’t give him permission to treat you like that.” Even in the dark, Mulder could see the stubborn set to her face. With a flash of insight, he tried a new direction.
“What are you really upset about here, Scully? Or should I say, who are you really upset at?” Mulder looked at her intently.
It was almost a laugh, but the sound that came out was bitter, devoid of humor. “Unbelievable. Your perceptiveness can really get on my nerves at times, you know?” She was silent for some minutes, then she looked over towards him in the gloom. She sighed and squeezed his arm gently. “I’m sorry, Mulder, I know you’re only trying to help, and that was a really shitty thing for me to say. But you do have an unnerving way of seeing into my thoughts. Are you like this with everyone?”
It was Mulder’s turn for a few moments of silence. The words came out deadly serious, perhaps laden with more meaning than he had intended to show. “No, Scully. Only you.”
Another silence hung in the air. In a chastened tone, she said, “You know who I’m angry at – myself. If I hadn’t let my defences down, it never would have happened.”
“You’re sure about that. You have proof,” he said flatly.
“No, of course not, Mulder. How could I? But….”
“Scully, all you did was let your guard down in front of someone you thought was a friend, someone you thought you could trust. And it hurts when someone like that does betray you. It hurts and you feel stupid. But letting your defences down in front of a friend is a long, long way from leading someone on, being a tease.” His voice was soft but sure. “I know you’re exhausted and not thinking clearly about this, Scully. You couldn’t be. If you were thinking clearly, you wouldn’t have lost a second’s sleep over it, much less three nights.”
Her face was etched in fatigue, and much of the stubborn set to her jaw was gone. He could see that she wanted to believe him. He sighed and tried one last time, using his best argument. “Scully, if your sister Melissa had come to you with the story you just told me, what would you have said to her?”
She gave his question the thought it deserved and was quiet for several minutes.
“Pretty much what you said to me,” she whispered. “Thanks, Mulder.”
He put an arm around her shoulders and she relaxed into him. Softly, affectionately, he said, “At your service, ma’am. ‘Problems solved 24 hours a day. We never sleep!’ ” He chuckled. “You were just a little too close to the problem to see the answer, Scully. I had the advantage of distance.” For a while he just held her, neither speaking.
“You’re very good at this, Mulder,” she finally said sleepily, her lashes dark against her cheeks.
“Thank you. Well, it will be a nice second career someday when they finally throw me out of the Bureau.” He looked down at her, her face now relaxed with sleep near. He briefly closed his eyes and sighed, then he gently extricated himself. “Sleep well, Dana. See you in the morning.”
“Mulder?” His name was a drowsy mumble.
“I’m glad you don’t think I’m an Ice Maiden.”
He smiled. “Good night, Dana.”
– – – – –
Georgetown March 28, 1995 2:45 A.M.
“What the hell…?” He lurched a little toward the door that led from his kitchen to his garage, still clutching the glass with the more than generous serving of bourbon. Flicking on the light, he looked around the orderly garage, seeing nothing out of place. He walked over to the door that led outside, turning the lock in the handle and trying the knob to be sure it was now secure. It paid to be careful these days. He went back inside the house.
He took another gulp of the smoky liquid, appreciating the bite as it flowed down his throat. Crossing to the wet bar of his opulent living room, he tossed some fresh ice into his glass. Just as he was splashing more liquor over the cubes, the door bell rang.
He opened the door and a self-satisfied grin spread over his fleshy features. “So you changed your mind. I kinda thought you might,” he smirked, standing back to open the door wider. He turned, swaggering a little, to precede his visitor into the room. Had he not done so, he would certainly have seen the gloved hand raise the huge wrench. He might have even seen it start to descend inexorably toward his skull. But his mind was on more pleasurable things. Things that would never come to pass.
The first blow sent him reeling to his knees, the heavy lead crystal falling from his grasp to smash on the marble floor. The second put him out. The visitor drew the scalpel from the plastic bag, concealed by the trenchcoat. The trophy was taken in a minute, leaving the victim bleeding profusely, the smell of blood mixing with that of the bourbon. A quick wash, then an equally quick change of clothes. The visitor surveyed the room coolly for one last time before exiting. Once again, the scene was perfect, devoid of meaningful clues. Once again, justice was served. The door closed gently.
And the victim opened his eyes.
x X x
Atlanta March 28 9:30 A.M.
Mulder and Mike Thomas stood alone in the harsh lighting of the morgue hallway. Beyond the doors marked ‘Authorized Entry Only’, Scully was examining the body. The other two agents were catching up on some of their more noteworthy experiences during the four and a half years that had passed since they last worked together.
“So then the som’bitch asks me for a light! Can you believe it?” boomed Thomas, his laughter at the recollection echoing in the bleak corridor. Mulder grinned broadly, as much at Mike’s own obvious enjoyment of the story as anything. The insistent beep of his cellular phone was barely audible.
“Mulder.” His expression sobered. “When?… All right, we’ll catch the earliest plane we can. What’s the address?… Okay, thanks.”
Mulder punched his phone off somewhat more force than was necessary. At that moment, Scully pushed her way through the heavy swinging doors to join the two men.
“What’s wrong, Mulder?”
“There’s been another one, Scully, in Georgetown this time, but with a difference. The victim is still alive – barely. And he was able to leave some evidence. We’re on a plane as soon as we can get to Hartsfield. See anything interesting in there?”
“Just pretty much what I expected. As the D.C. Medical Examiner’s Office reported, the excision was an uncommonly neat job – no slashing or excess, such as one would normally associate in a crime like this with the venting of anger.” Scully paused for a few seconds. After a good night’s sleep, she looked and felt a hundred percent better. “I would say that the killer either does have a medical background and that training is overcoming the more basic urge to slash, or we have someone who is calmly, coldly insane, which is a much more frightening prospect.” Mulder nodded in agreement.
“How so?” asked Thomas.
“It means that in spite of all the murders, in spite of the trophies taken, there’s no catharsis yet,” Mulder said. “In other words, this killer is still escalating, still trying to find relief from whatever is driving him to kill. The murders so far haven’t done it, so there will almost certainly be more, unless we can stop him. And this mistake – leaving the victim alive – gives us the best chance so far of doing exactly that. Mike, we gotta go – thanks for everything.”
“No problem, Spaceman. A pleasure working with you as always,” the big man grinned. “And I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet you, Agent Scully.”
Scullly shook his hand and warmly bid him goodbye.
– – – – –
Georgetown 3:45 P.M.
In a flight delayed by storms, they had surfed the line of the weather front the entire trip back to Washington. Scully was better rested but no more happy about flying in heavy turbulence than she had been the day before. She looked so miserable that Mulder didn’t even try to brief her – it could wait until they were on their way to Georgetown.
He suggested that Scully drive, in an attempt to quell her motion sickness. She appreciated this thoughtfulness. She knew he preferred to drive, and she had to admit – grudgingly – that he was the better driver. While she negotiated the short cuts through the rain-slicked streets, he brought her up to date with the latest crime, based on the phone calls he had received in Atlanta and upon landing in Washington.
“The victim is a Herbert Morrisette, a lobbyist for the American Alcoholic Beverage Association, aged 44. He’s been divorced twice and is currently unmarried. Unlike our other victims who were discovered by relatives or housekeepers, he apparently made his own 911 call – they have the tape for us to hear at the scene – then collapsed from his injuries. The paramedics discovered him in shock and close to death. He’s at Georgetown University Medical Center in the Intensive Care Unit suffering from severe head injuries and hypovolemic shock, and it’s anybody’s guess when, or if, he might be able to talk,” reported Mulder.
“If he can’t talk, we’re not that much better off,” Scully observed, driving through Georgetown’s pleasant neighborhoods.
“Left here, then your first right, number 1257. That’s true. But they said that the victim left a clue at the scene – they didn’t go into any more detail than that. We’ll know soon,” he said, as Scully drove the Taurus into the curving drive in front of a magnificent Georgian colonial home. Two squad cars and two other government-issue cars were also parked there.
They flashed their badges at the patrolman standing by the door, who nodded them inside. Stepping into the foyer, Mulder sniffed the odor of bourbon in the air of the house. “Evidently brought his work home with him,” he said under his breath.
They followed the murmur of voices to the living room. Mulder sighed when he spotted the agent in charge of the scene – Gerry Irving, not one of his most vigorous supporters, to say the least.
“What the hell are you doin’ here, Mulder? No little green men did this job.” Irving snickered and looked to his partner for support. Green laughed half-heartedly at his partner’s jibe. The guy was a jerk, but a partner is a partner.
“This is a serial murder, Agent Irving,” said Scully smoothly, professionally. “An area of expertise for Agent Mulder. And he was the first to recognize the serial nature of these crimes, some weeks ago. Now what can you tell us about this?”
Irving looked at Scully with distaste. He disapproved on principle of women in the FBI – unless of course they were secretaries. “I assume you know the details of the victim.” They nodded assent. “Okay, here’s the audio tape of the guy’s 911 call. You’ll probably have to hear it more than once – I still can’t tell what the guy’s trying to say and I’ve heard it half a dozen times now.” Irving pressed the ‘play’ button, and the scratchy sound of the EMS-recorded tape filled the room.
‘Emergency Response – can I help you?’
“This is Emergency Response – sir, can you talk?’
‘Sir, give me your address…sir, give me your address please…. Okay, just stay on the line, we’ll track you down and have help on the way to you. Just don’t hang up the phone. Do you understand?…Sir, do you understand?’
Irving clicked the tape player off and rewound the tape. “Want to hear it again?”
“No thanks, Gerry. It’s not going to tell us anything we need.” Mulder was bland, affable, but Scully could tell that it was with an effort. “Now what about this piece of evidence that the victim left?”
Green walked over to the near wall. A huge amount of clotted blood was on the floor, and a considerable amount had splashed on the wall. A sheet of newspaper was taped over one area of the wall near the floor. Green carefully loosened the tape and removed the covering. There, in bold, shaky strokes written by the victim in his own blood, were the letters: S T E and then something that might have been the start of a V or W.
“Have photographs been taken of this?”
“What do you think, Mulder? Think that you’re the only one who knows how to run an investigation?” spat out Irving. “Of course photographs have been taken.”
Well, I guess he IS still pissed about the Hoffman case, thought Mulder. “Sorry, Gerry, I didn’t mean to imply anything. Can we take a copy with us?”
Somewhat mollified by Mulder’s manner, Irving nodded.
“Big plumber’s wrench from the garage. Damn thing probably weighed a couple of pounds. It was taken from one of those masonite pegboard displays on the wall. You can still see the outline of where it was. No prints.”
“Anything else we should know?”
“Last word on the victim was that he was on life-support and probably wouldn’t make it. We have someone there just in case he regains consciousness, but no one’s betting on that happening. This envelope has pictures of the scene and a few more facts on our victim. Take it.”
“Thanks. I appreciate your letting us come in on this,” said Mulder. “We’ll get out of your hair now.” He and Scully took another look around and then let themselves out onto the portico. Beyond the overhang, the rain was coming down in cold heavy gray sheets.
“Want to drive, Mulder? I’m feeling better now.” She tossed him the keys. “In fact, I’m hungry. Feel like subjecting yourself to pot luck from my freezer?”
“Anytime! Believe me, it will beat pot luck from my refrigerator. Thanks, Scully, I’d love to.” Mulder gave her one of his all-too-rare smiles. “Ready?” And the two made a break for the car through the torrent.
– – – – –
The trip back to Scully’s apartment was delayed by weather and traffic, but at last they were there. They made small talk while Scully pulled a loaf of her mother’s homemade bread and a container of her own homemade minestrone soup – a Mulder favorite – from the freezer and placed them in the microwave to defrost. The apartment still had a closed-up feeling to it – Scully had been in it only a few hours since her return from Hawaii. On his way to the bathroom Mulder noticed her suitcase was on the bed and had yet to be unpacked from the Hawaii trip – a sign of her earlier mental funk. Evidently she had been too upset to sleep, too depressed to unpack. Again, he cursed the the man that had been the cause of it all.
“Did you say something?” Scully called.
“Uh, no. No. I’m going to change, okay?”
Scully poured the thawed soup into a pot to simmer and popped the bread into the oven to warm. By the time Mulder had washed and changed into the sweats that he kept at Scully’s for just such occasions, she had finished making the salad and setting the table.
“Just watch the soup while I change. Give it a stir every once in a while and don’t let it boil over. Okay?”
“I can probably manage that,” Mulder said with a smile.
When Scully emerged, also clad in sweats, Mulder opened and poured the wine while she put the salad on the table and ladled the steaming savory soup into huge bowls. Then he held her chair for her as she set the hot bread down and finally sat.
The meal was delightful, not only for the food but also for the companionship. Having Scully at his side and returned to her usual quiet good humor underscored for Mulder just how much he had missed his partner. They chatted lightly as they ate about the enjoyable aspects of her trip, now that the horrific ones had been exorcised. The partners felt more at ease and relished each other’s company more tonight than they had for quite some time.
Mulder helped Scully clear up, then they went into the living room. He picked up the case file and stretched out on the couch and she curled up in the big armchair, their traditional perches.
Mulder opened the envelope Irving had given him, read the material quickly, and wordlessly passed it over to Scully.
“Well, the pattern among the victims is holding, anyway,” she commented. “An aggressive personality, a long history of running around, failed marriage – two in this case – and hints at bi-sexuality.
“I called the hospital before dinner – no change in Morrisette’s condition,” remarked Mulder. “But, on the plus side, we have the evidence on the wall. What did you make of that, Scully?”
“Well, I think I’m ready to admit that the suspect is a male.” She smiled and explained. “If we’re assuming that the victims knew their killer, and I think we are, then those letters probably represent the killer’s name, hopefully the first name. If it’s the last name, they’re not too much help at this stage. Try as I might, and I did try, I could not come up with any reasonably common female names that began with the letters S – T – E – V or S – T – E – W. However, there is Steven or Stewart on the male side. So possibly the killer is a male that the victims tried to hit on.”
“Mmm, I agree, it’s possible. Obviously with a head injury that severe, that much alcohol in his system, and bleeding that badly, Morrisette would not have been at his intellectual best. But he was thinking clearly enough to dial 911. I think we have to assume that he was trying to ID his attacker when he wrote those letters on the wall.” Mulder frowned and sighed. “Let’s go back through the commonalities between the victims again. I’ve had the uneasy feeling that we’ve been missing something right in front of our faces.”
“Okay,” said Scully. She was still tired, exhausted really, but working with Mulder again like this was stimulating, satisfying. “They were all ‘movers and shakers’ in their own way. They all had lousy and/or broken marriages. They all either knew or were at least unalarmed by the killer. They had all travelled within hours of being killed….”
Suddenly Mulder sat up. Scully, seeing the abrupt motion, became more alert but held her silence. How often had she watched this process? His eyes focused on the distance and he was silent for several minutes as his mind worked out the solution to the puzzle. In a low, tense voice, he said, “That’s it. It has to be.” He leapt for his cellular phone. “Actually, we don’t know for a fact that Morrisette had recently travelled. But we will in a minute…Gerry? Sorry to bother you at home. Look, do you happen to know if Morrisette had done any travelling recently?… When, do you know?… Do you know the airline by any chance?…Yeah, that helps a lot, thanks. Good night.”
Punching the phone’s ‘off’ button, Mulder returned to the couch and sat, smiling at Scully. “I think I’ve got it. Listen.”
x X x
Washington D.C. March 29, 1995 8:45 a.m.
Mulder ended up spending the night on Scully’s couch.
They had stayed up until the early hours of the morning like overexcited children, too consumed by the case to realize just how exhausted they both were. By the time they had picked apart every aspect of the case to confirm Mulder’s suspicions, his eyes were glazed with fatigue and she was openly yawning and struggling to stay awake. Rather than have Mulder drive across town only to return in a few hours, Scully pulled a soft warm quilt and a pillow from her linen closet and invited him to stay the night. Then she threw herself on her bed fully clothed and was asleep in seconds.
She awoke to the smell of perking coffee and the sound of Mulder using the shower. As soon as he was out, she took his place. In a surprisingly short length of time, the two were sitting in the kitchen in their business clothes sipping Mulder’s strong brew.
“Have we missed anything, Scully?” asked Mulder, picking up the conversation from where it had left off the previous night. “This is a rather unlikely scenario. Could we have gone wrong anywhere?”
“I don’t see where, Mulder, I honestly don’t. Each of the victims had flown on National Airlines within hours of his murder. If all the victims travelled so close to the time of their murders, it stands to reason that their killer did too. Given the times and cities involved, it has to be the answer. It just might be a fellow passenger, but that’s pretty remote. The most promising answer is that it’s someone who works for the airlines – a member of the flight crew. But when are we going to have a name?”
“We should be getting a call anytime now….” With that, the phone rang. Mulder smiled and shrugged as he answered it. “Mulder…. You have the passengers’ names, correct?…. Yes, the flights in question are New York to Washington D.C. on January 23; Boston to Orlando on February 19; Atlanta to Boston on March 23; Orlando to Atlanta the morning of March 27; and Atlanta to Washington D.C. probably late the same day. We’re looking for one person, probably a member of the flight crew, who was on board all these flights….Yes….When will you have that information?… Yes, you can always reach me at this number…. Thank you, I’d appreciate it.” Mulder looked at Scully with barely contained excitement. “We’ll know soon.”
The call came just as they entered the office they shared in the J. Edgar Hoover Building. Scully watched Mulder intently as he took the call, his face betraying no reaction to the information he was receiving. He jotted down a few notes. “And when does that leave?… Yes, two please. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful. Please keep this conversation confidential…. Yes. Thanks…. Goodbye.”
He looked at her guiltily. “Umm, Scully…how would you feel about getting on another plane in about an hour?”
– – – – –
Scully took her seat with some fear and trepidation. Her emotions had nothing to do with why she and Mulder were on the plane. They did, however, have everything to do with the the travelling conditions.
The airline administration had done a computer search, cross-referencing the names of the victims with the names of the flight crew on the flights Mulder had specified, and had come up with two employees who had been on all the flights that the victims had flown on. While the agents had been a little startled to have not one but two names, the airline assured them that since most of their crews flew as a team, that such an occurence was to be expected. Now they had the names of two flight attendants – Steven Boyle, who was stationed in the main cabin, and Valerie McGuire, who was in first class.
The agents had formulated a strategy as they slipped and skidded their way through the surprise Spring sleet storm to the airport. They were almost certain that Steven was their suspect – his name correlated with the letters Morrisette had written, he was a male and large and strong enough to have overpowered his victims, and had been in several scrapes, albeit minor ones, with the law in the past. But the airline had also informed Mulder that all the victims had flown in the first class section of the aircraft immediately prior to their murders. So they decided to split up while on the plane – Mulder taking the economy class ticket to sit where he could keep an eye on Boyle, and Scully in first class keeping tabs on Valerie. They did not intend to do anything while the plane was in flight. When it landed in Atlanta and all the other passengers got off, they would make their move.
The plane left as soon as the doors closed – there was talk that the airport would close down soon because of the weather. As soon as they were airborne, the pilot announced apologetically that they were in for a rough ride due to the weather, and for the passengers to please remain in their seats. Scully groaned inwardly and checked again for the whereabouts of the air-sick bag.
Forty minutes into the flight, Scully decided that, pilot’s instructions or not, a visit to the rest room was imperative. Stomach heaving, she timed her lurches toward the lavatory with the turbulence of the plane, and gratefully locked the door behind her.
Pat Walsh, Steven’s partner in the main section, came forward. “Val, do you have any more hot towels? We have some passengers that are really ill back there. I just want to try to make everyone as comfortable as possible for the next twenty minutes until we land.”
“Let me see, I think I have some here we can nuke…yeah, just give me a few seconds.”
“God, that FBI agent is gorgeous,” Pat said. “He’s not one of the sickies, either.”
Valerie’s head came up from the locker. “FBI agent? I wonder what kind of a case he’s on to have to fly in weather like this.” She put a tray full of moist towels in the microwave.
Pat looked around furtively. “I overheard this, and I’m not supposed to say anything,” she whispered. “But I heard they want to talk to Steven about some murders! Can you imagine? I mean, I’ve worked with him on and off for a few months now, and he’s a little weird, but I never took him for a murderer!”
The timer on the microwave sounded and Valerie jumped at the sound. She removed the tray of now-steaming towels and handed them to Pat, looking distracted. “I guess you never know about people.”
“Guess not. And I have no idea why they put his partner in first. Where is she? Oh – there she is! Coming out of the lav. She sure is pale, I wonder if she’s all – Val? VAL!”
Pale and shaky, Scully had emerged from the lavatory with no thought other than she wished she could brush her teeth. She was therefore totally and uncharacteristically unprepared for the flight attendant’s attack. Valerie grabbed Scully’s arm, twisting it behind her back, and put a knife to her throat. An older lady screamed and two men shouted. Mulder rocketed through the curtain that separated the cabins faster than Scully had thought possible, weapon drawn.
“Get back.” Her words were clipped, icy. Valerie tightened her hold on Scully. Mulder lowered his gun.
“We can help you, Valerie. Please put the knife down. You know you don’t want to hurt her.”
“No, you’re right, I don’t want to…but I will.” The voice sounded like it was coming form another person. It was soft, reasoned, controlled. It should not have come from the person whose eyes blazed with madness, whose hand on the knife trembled slightly. Mulder could see where that tremor had caused the knife to pierce the tender skin of Scully’s neck, a fine line of crimson welling up onto the blade. He locked his eyes on Valerie’s, not daring to think about Scully right now, knowing only that at this moment, he had to remove the barriers between himself and the flight attendant. Almost as if sensing his mission by telepathy, Pat drew the attention of the four people sitting between Mulder and Valerie, and one by one they scooted over to empty seats on the other side of the plane. Valerie seemed not to notice, so intent was her attention on Mulder.
“They all deserved it, you know.” Again, the calm, rational, frightening voice.
Mulder nodded. “I know you feel that they did. I’d like to hear why you feel that way.” He sat on the arm of one of the seats. He looked more casual, less threatening, which is how he wanted to appear to the desperate woman. He was also much steadier than she and Scully were on the jouncing aircraft. He laid his gun on the seat. It was useless to him at this point – an impediment in negotiating in a hostage situation, and if fired in such close quarters, a danger to bystanders or the aircraft itself. “Let her go and tell me about it, Valerie. I won’t move.”
“Like I’d believe you.” Her tone dripped scorn.
Scully was watching Mulder closely, waiting until she was sure she had his eyes. Then she blinked rapidly, three times. Mulder nodded almost imperceptibly. Nearly at the same time, the plane hit some rough air. Scully flung herself back, driving her head into the flight attendant’s face. Valerie let out an anguished howl and loosened her grasp on Scully’s arm, grabbing for her now-bleeding nose instead. In less than two seconds, Scully had the knife and was standing over the prostrate body of the woman while Mulder applied the cuffs. Together, they sat her in one of the small jumpseats near the door and belted her into the shoulder harness. With her hands cuffed behind her, she was helpless.
The agents were expecting her to scream, struggle, cry. They were ready for anything but total withdrawal, the almost catatonic state into which Valerie retreated. Keeping one eye on Valerie, Mulder snatched up a moist towel, now cold, and applied it with slightly shaking hands to the bleeding cut on Scully’s neck. “Okay?” he said in a low voice. She smiled reassuringly at him.
“Fine. I ought to thank her – I don’t feel airsick anymore.”
– – – – –
Washington D.C. April 3, 1995
“Good morning.” Mulder was already at his desk, a cup of coffee and a stack of newspapers at his elbow when she arrived at the office. In thirty minutes they had an appointment in Skinner’s office. Rumor had it that they were bound for northern California to check out some mysterious sightings and disappearances in a national forest. Scully was unenthusiastic – long plane trips and investigations in the woods were not a happy combination for her.
“Have a nice weekend, Mulder?” Scully asked as she deposited her briefcase and coffee on her desk.
“I was in Atlanta, actually,” he replied.
He nodded. He had taken a personal interest in her case. Valerie was confined in a psychiatric treatment facility in Atlanta, had been taken there almost as soon as the plane had landed. She was still deep in a catatonic state, unable to answer any questions. Mulder had offered to check into her background in his spare time, to try to find some clues as to why she had killed and mutilated as she had. He had managed to track down several co-workers, all of whom said that they had never known her to go out on a date or mention a boyfriend. The only one who seemed particularly close to her said she thought she recalled the flight attendant mentioning her step-father with hatred. She also said that Valerie, being a quite beautiful woman, had attracted more than her share of unwanted attention from men on the flights, and that she had reacted with cold anger to these propositions.
Her apartment in Atlanta had yielded proof, but few answers. It had been devoid of anything personal – souvenirs, photographs, books. There was a wall calendar with consecutive numbers written from time to time, starting with ‘9’ on January 12, and proceeding to ‘15’ on March 27, the last five numbers correlating to dates of murders, but with no explanation. In the freezer Mulder had found an explanation – a Tupperware container of excised testicles. But rather than the four or five he had been expecting, there were over a dozen.
“The next time I think I’m brilliant, remind of this case,” he said ruefully. “Here I thought I was so clever to notice that this was a serial murder case, and I didn’t even find half the victims. We’re still trying to track them all down.”
“Well, if it weren’t for you, she might still be out there killing, so don’t beat yourself up too badly. What did you figure out about the letters, Mulder? Why did Morrisette write STEV? Did Valerie use an alias with him or something?” Morrisette had finally died of his injuries two days previously, so answers from that source would not be forthcoming.
“I think he was trying to write ‘stewardess’. It’s the only thing that makes any sense. A guy like that depersonalizes women anyway – he may never have even noticed her name. He would also be the type to call a flight attendant ‘stewardess’, or even ‘waitress’, which is even more demeaning.”
Scully nodded. “That does make sense. But the real question is one that we may never know the answer to – why? I’ve had my problems with the male sex recently” – she paused and smiled over at him – “present company excepted, Mulder – but what could have happened in her life that was so horrible that all those murders and mutilations were the result?”
He shrugged. “It’s impossible to say. Maybe it was something truly horrific, perhaps in her childhood. Or maybe it was something similar to what you went through – everyone reacts differently to a given stressful situation.”
“ ‘There but for the grace of God go I’ ?”
“Yes, something like that.” He looked at her closely, but saw no haunting remnants of her recent experiences in her clear eyes and thoughtful expression. Only the healing laceration on her neck and the memories of what they had shared were testaments to the past couple of weeks.
“Well, we’d better go see what fun Skinner has in store for us.” Scully picked up a notepad and pen and headed for the door.
“I suppose.” He stood, stretched and followed her. “Nice day for flying today, Scully!”
x X x
End of Flights
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