Mercury Falling by CSlatton

Mercury Falling online cover


Mercury Falling by CSlatton

Mercury Falling online cover

Date: Mon, 1 May 2000 08:25:44 EDT

Source: xfc

TITLE: “Mercury Falling” AUTHOR: cslatton. Yeah. Sure. Whatever. You’ll never take me alive… Flames and such to:

DISTRIBUTION: You mean you actually want it? Ooookay. Whatever. Just keep it intact, please, and with my name attached. And I’d appreciate a note to let me know where it’ll be hanging out.

SPOILERS: None, unless you’re really paying attention. If you catch them, then you’ve seen the episodes they’re winking at so they don’t count as spoilers, do they?

RATING: Definite R. Language, violence, adult situations– did I leave anything out? Warning: Rape is mentioned: NOT described. The majority of the violence described is after the fact, the effects are described but not in any effort to glorify the situation. If you are easily offended, turn back now. This is a case involving violent crime including murder. If this presents a problem, I invite you not to read. But then, how are you managing to watch this show to begin with…?



SUMMARY: It’s 1988 and Wheeling, West Virginia has serial killer on the loose. One who kills to attract the attention of a very exclusive audience: a young, hotshot profiler named Fox Mulder. But that’s not Mulder’s only problem for the moment. In fact, the killer may just have to get in line…

DISCLAIMERS: Mulder and company including Purdue, Patterson, Skinner, Fowley, Henderson and Nurse Owens belong to Chris Carter and Company, 1013 Productions and Twentieth Century Fox. Everybody else is mine all mine and if you decide they’re worth playing with, please treat them gently: God knows I’m putting them through enough hell as it is. James Wright is quoted with credit and without intentional infringement of copyright, as is Irving Feldman. Ditto, kiddo for John Ashbery, who is quoted exclusively from his book “A Wave”, copyright 1985, by Penguin Books. Great stuff… Apologies are sincerely lavished upon Dashiell Hammett for references in chapter one. The film being viewed in Chapter 21 is Howard Hawk’s “To Have and Have Not”, a marvelous screenplay co-written by William Faulkner and based on a short story by Ernest Hemmingway. Musical interludes are courtesy of Ella Fitzgerald and Phil Collins. Special thanks to Salvador Dali for his extraordinary “Burning Giraffes”. As you can see, I’m trying to blame this on as many people as possible– that way, I won’t be so lonely when they lock me away.

Dedication: Okay, Pat and DJ, for what it’s worth this one’s for you. Emerex, for all your encouragement and your kind notes, you can have your share, too– Too bad we’re not making any money off this, huh? And, Connie, well– Connie knows. I love you, doll. Thank you.

Finally, on with the story.

“For no one ever came to his help, to help him avoid the thorns and snares that attend the steps of innocence.” –Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies; New York: Grove Press, Inc. 1956.

“Mercury Falling”

Part 1: Prologue: Maintenance Agreement

Friday, April 1, 1988, 9:46 PM. Seattle, Washington.

Something was in the air. Jake Beckett could feel it. Hell, no private eye, on or off the job, could miss it. Something was brewing at The Red Dust Bar ‘N Grill and it didn’t come from behind the bar.

Jake took a deep breath and blew it out slow, watching from his quiet corner booth. At the table near the door Bennie the Crutch sat rubbing elbows with Rags Richmond and Big Eddie Manahan. Outside the door, Big Eddie’s muscle boys were keeping their eyes peeled for trouble while trying to make out like they were just getting some air. They weren’t selling anybody on the routine, though: this time of year Chicago smog was so thick a man could develop lung cancer just taking out the dog.

At the table Rags laughed and Beckett felt himself start to sweat. Jake had seen Rags laugh twice in two years. Both times someone very much alive wound up very much dead. Something was definitely going down in Detroit and it wasn’t the price of Buicks.

Beckett edged his way to the pay phone and tried to keep his bulky frame in the shadows. He popped a coin in the slot and dialed headquarters——-

“Hell’s bells!” Purdue barked as his pen went flying from his hand. “Damned potholes–”

Reggie Purdue grimaced in his effort to retrieve the Bic from the floorboard of the cab. The streetlights in this area of town were few and far between and he searched blindly, probing hand encountering gum and candy wrappers, a bit of orange peel. An empty bottle of Schlitz Malt Liqueur rolled against his foot and he kicked at it in his aggravation. It wobbled obediently under the front seat as the cab jerked to a halt– betraying the prodigal ballpoint in its flight.

Purdue retrieved the Bic with a rumbling sigh and scrambled for a more dignified position in his seat. He held his legal pad up to the ruby glow of the traffic light and tried to assess the damage the street had wrought upon his hasty scribble. Aside from a long shaky line tearing through the bottom of the page, every word seemed present and accounted for, relatively legible despite the darkness. Still, he shook his head mournfully.

Reggie, you’re a damn fool.

And the dull yellow tablet was mute testament to the fact, glowing its accusations in the passing lights of Seattle street life: page upon page of scribbled notes and doodles– mostly doodles– the work of months of stolen moments, here a paragraph penned in a taxi in Grand Rapids, there a page crafted on the red-eye from Syracuse to DC.

On his better days, Purdue could convince himself that this was the next great American mystery novel in its infancy. Except that he could never seem to come up with a viable plot. Or even a halfway decent gumshoe.

Today, however, was not one of his better days. Purdue swallowed at the bitterness in his mouth, recognizing the flavor all too well: the acrid taste of disgust. After all, he kept telling himself, hadn’t he finally achieved everything he’d ever wanted? Sure he had. Twenty-four years with the FBI and he’d finally made ASAC for one of the Bureau’s toughest units: Violent Crime. Purdue’s reputation was solid, his solution rate high and he had all the commendations that went with it. Behind his back, agents had labeled him Mr. Cut-the-Crap– but they pronounced the words with a certain level of pride, and a heavy emphasis on the Mister.

Yeah. So, where did that and a buck eighty get him now? Well, specifically, Mr. Cut-the-Crap was in the back of a cab writing juvenile drivel Dashiell Hammett wouldn’t wipe his shoes with.

It didn’t get much more pathetic.

Purdue shook his head as the cab rolled through the shadow of an overpass. He should give it up, he knew; he had given it up any number of times through the years. But somehow his wife had always managed to scavenge the bits of paper he’d wadded into the trash. She’d gather the pages back out and press them– press the damn things with a steam iron, for crying out loud– and he’d come home to find them laying on his desk with a fresh pad of paper and a new pen for encouragement. And he didn’t have the heart to do anything but try again.

But there was no one to press the pages anymore. Hadn’t been for eleven months now.

Eleven months and twelve days. If Purdue looked at his watch, he could calculate the hours pretty quick, too. He didn’t look; it didn’t matter. Cancer, unreasoning and unyielding, had finally beaten Olivia Purdue. And it’d taken most of Reginald Purdue with it when she’d left. The pages before him were his last defense, his one source of comfort. The one activity that allowed him to step outside his own intolerable life and pretend all was well once more.

Purdue swore as he ripped the pages loose, balled them up and flung them at the floorboard. Peace, compassion, comprehension: what right did he have to seek such trivial comforts? It meant nothing now–

The ball of crumpled yellow wobbled forlornly amongst the candy wrappers and soda stains. Headlights of a passing car washed across the cab’s deep blue upholstery and his mind’s eye caught a glimpse of Olivia’s favorite summer dress: a little navy number with spaghetti straps and a bow that highlighted her waist and hips and never failed to set his heart to racing. He heard her laugh; God help him but he did.

The papers were snatched up off the floor in an instant. Purdue swore himself a fool again, but dutifully pressed the pages open against his pants leg. A simple enough action, odd that it should assuage so much pain. He swore a few more times, just for reassurance; the driver never even glanced at the rearview. Purdue had paper, legal pad and trusty Bic pen tucked tidily into his bag when the cab slowed and turned into a parking lot.

Motel 6. Well, what do you know? They really did leave the light on.

It looked like someone was having a keg party at the far end of the parking lot. The Mariners must have won a championship. Hell, he couldn’t keep track anymore. Purdue paid the fare, shouldered his bag, and stared up at the building. What was that room number Mulder had given dispatch when he’d checked in?

Purdue found the slip of paper in his jacket pocket: “Room 212.”

Halfway up the stairs, the ASAC paused. Odd, he could have sworn he’d heard a muffled scream–

Too long on the job, Reg, give it up, just the kids goofing off in the parking lot.

But by the time he reached room 204 Purdue had stopped again. There it was: a distinct wail, low and muffled. And abruptly silenced.

He reached instinctively for his weapon but didn’t pull it. Hand on the familiar grip, Purdue twisted, back to the wall, crab-walking up the hall, seeking the source of that inhuman moan.

There were few occupied rooms in this area but a light snapped on as he passed a window. Apparently he wasn’t the only one alerted by the cry of pain. Through the thin walls, Purdue heard the distinct click of an ordnance, the slide of a semi-automatic slipping a bullet into the firing chamber. The ASAC noted the door number. Room 212.

What the hell–?

A bump on the door from the inside and Purdue danced back on reflex. Behind the door were more muffled sounds: breaking glass, a man swearing frantically, more stumbling. Purdue frowned. He prided his team on efficiency; if this was the agent he’d flown out to see, they’d be having a serious discussion about lapses in Bureau procedure. Hell, if the man couldn’t even navigate his own motel room–

The dull click of the room lock and the turn of the knob and Purdue stepped forward, gun level, safety off, as the door slammed open.

“Federal agent. Freeze!”

Special Agent Leonardo Sauceda complied with the request instantly. His eyes went wide and he was stuttering but he had the presence of mind to handle his weapon surrender fashion, finger well off the trigger.

“Shit. Sir. Ah, I–” Sauceda’s vision flickered up the hall, back to Purdue in such a total panic Reggie almost felt sorry for him.


Purdue lowered his weapon and the pathologist did the same, if a bit nonplused. Sauceda even got enough on the ball to cover his potbelly and his boxers, belting the worn out terrycloth robe. His graying hair, still enviously dark for a man of sixty-three, stuck out at odd angles; his slippers were on the wrong feet.

“What the hell’s going on, Lenny?” Purdue demanded.

“Ah. I heard a noise. Ahm. Yeah. That’s all.”

The ASAC frowned. Despite his valiant attempt at nonchalance, Sauceda was twitching anxiously, shooting furtive glances further up the hall.

“You hear what room it was coming from?”

“Uh, nope,” the pathologist tried a hollow grin on for size and shrugged. “Hell, it was probably nothing.”

Purdue glowered and Sauceda swallowed hard.

“Oh, I see,” the ASAC sneered, “you always pack your Smith and Wesson to check out ‘nothing’? Or maybe you just need it to fight the women off when you go for a stroll in your skivvies?”

Sauceda didn’t do sarcasm very well this late in the day. He glared, looking away vaguely to avoid a charge of insubordination, and slipped his weapon into the pocket of his robe.

“Where’s your partner?” Purdue growled.

“In his room,” Sauceda nodded encouragingly. “Sleeping,” he insisted.

Purdue shook his head. The man could lose a fortune playing poker. “I thought this was Mulder’s room. It’s the number he gave dispatch.”

Sauceda rolled his eyes peevishly. “Yeah, well. Why should he give dispatch his number and have the brass calling him at all hours when he can just as easily give them mine? Thoughtful, he ain’t, the little prick.”

The kids in the parking lot whooped a bit louder and Sauceda was back to the nervous shifting routine.

“You wanna come in, sir?” Sauceda offered a little too eagerly. “No sense waking the kid, I mean, anything you need to tell Marty, you can tell me and–”

“You know, Hot Sauce, if I didn’t know better, I’d say you just didn’t want me talking to him.”

Sauceda managed to look scandalized. “Oh, no sir. That’s not–”

“You know how I know you’re lying, Lenny?”

Sauceda blanched again and shook his head reluctantly.

“Your lips are moving.”

It was more sarcasm and the pathologist winced.

Purdue sighed. “Look, if the kid’s got a woman in his room, fine. Shit, it’s not the Bureau’s business what he does on his own time, but I’ve flown clear across the country for this little chat. Now, where the hell is he?

“He’s sick,” Sauceda offered, confusing the situation even further. “I’m his doctor and I don’t want you bothering him. Sir.”

Purdue swore and decided it was time to cut the crap. He noted the line of Sauceda’s anxious glance, and stepped for room 214.

Sauceda bit his lip and followed.

Purdue knocked and identified himself. Waited. Repeated the procedure.

“Your partner a sound sleeper, Hot Sauce?”

“Oh, yeah. Very sound.”

“Uh huh. His partner ever tell the truth?”

Sauceda took a minute to digest that, time enough for Purdue to get the door kicked open.

Room 214 was dark, lit only by the flickering glow of the television, volume muted. The bed was empty. A gun gleamed darkly on the dresser: Sig-Sauer, Bureau issue. Next to the badge.

Retching noises were immediately all too audible through the open bathroom door. Purdue flipped on the light and crossed the room.

Special Agent Mulder was kneeling over the john, pulling at his hair in the violence of his vomiting. He was bathed in sweat and shaking convulsively even between the spasms from his gut.

Sauceda gave Purdue a pleading look as he brushed past and the ASAC stood a moment, watching Sauceda wet a cloth and blot it at the profiler’s forehead. Mulder slapped him away, trying to be sick in peace.

Purdue grimaced. Olivia had made that noise a lot those last few months. He’d hated it then and had developed no fondness for it since. But he certainly hadn’t found much he could do about it. He sat down in the chair near the door, just out of view of the goings-on the bathroom and concentrated on not thinking, not remembering. Beside him was a table, beyond that another chair. Polaroid prints littered both and Purdue collected several up for closer inspection: corpses in various stages of decomposition. None of the victims appeared older than eight years of age. None of them looked like they’d died easily.

Sauceda peered around the doorjamb presently, frowning to find Purdue so comfortable. The noises continued behind him.

Purdue dropped the snapshots back on the table and nodded at the bathroom. “What’s this about, Hot Sauce?”

The pathologist shrugged but didn’t make eye contact. “Something he ate?”

Purdue closed his eyes and tried to push the tension from his shoulders. The little Hispanic was starting to get on that last nerve…

“Sauceda, I’ve talked with you. I’ve talked with Lamana. God knows I’ve had long and too-long discussions with Patterson. Hell, I instigated Mulder’s last psych evaluation, myself.”

He looked up; Sauceda was watching him hollowly.

“I know about the dreams, Lenny. I know about the mood swings. I know all about the so-called psychotic behavior. And I know he’s the best damn profiler the Bureau’s ever likely to see. A ninety-eight point-nine case solve rate covers a multitude of sins. So what the hell is this?”

Sauceda dragged fingers through his graying curls. “Well, some of his dreams get pretty vivid.”

Purdue frowned. He’d been in Shreveport when Mulder had closed the Baby Killer case. Watched him cracking jokes with the locals while standing in a morgue he’d shipped twenty-seven small bodies to. Watched him eat Chinese while examining photos of three-week-old corpses–

And the man puked on his dreams?

Purdue rubbed at the ache at the base of his skull. “Jeezus– Hell, isn’t there anything you can give him? He can’t be passing anything but bile by now.”

“Nothing he can keep down,” Sauceda grimaced. “And you don’t mention the word suppository to Marty if you want to retire with the use of both arms. Besides, the man hallucinates on Dramamine for Chrissake.” He glanced to the bathroom. “Anyway, he’s past the bile stage. Nothing but dry heaves now. He’ll stop soon.”

Purdue chewed his cheek. “So what you boys chasing out here? Another serial killer?”

Sauceda grunted. “Since Patterson got Marty in his harem, I figured serials were the only thing BSU covered anymore.”

The retching had finally ground down to an angry moan and Sauceda returned to the little room. Purdue kept to his chair, listening to Sauceda’s soft cooing and Mulder’s harsh profanity in response.

“Aw, Marty–” Sauceda whined.

“Damn you.” Despite his frustration, Mulder’s graveled tenor was little more than a hiss. “I don’t need to talk about it. He didn’t touch me. It didn’t happen to me.”

“Marty, listen. I keep telling you, you can’t just shove this stuff down into some kind of subconscious hole and expect it to stay there, kid. One of these days it’s all going to start coming back up–”

Purdue could hear Mulder gasping for breath. “Not today,” the profiler rasped. “It’s not coming back up today.”

“But Marty–”

The pathologist was ejected abruptly backwards into the bedroom, the door slamming in his face and locking. Water began running in the shower.

Sauceda re-belted his robe indignantly, and gave Purdue a shrug as he sat on the end of the bed. “He’ll be a while,” he assured pleasantly. “Sexual molestation cases keep him in the shower for hours. Say, you want some coffee?”

Purdue nodded slowly, still trying to digest all this. “Yeah, sure. This place got a coffee shop downstairs?”

Sauceda frowned. “Nah. Let’s just, like, order some up. Okay?”

“Order some up? Since when does Motel 6 have room service?”

Sauceda grinned. “It’s okay. I got an inside with the kid working the desk.” He called down and placed his order.

Purdue could smell a situation at seven yards and this room wasn’t that wide. “Look, Sauceda, unless there’s some medical reason for us hanging out in Mulder’s room, I’d prefer to give the man a little time to get himself together–”

“You don’t leave Marty alone when he gets like this.” Sauceda’s voice was sullen. “Not unless you want to play serious catch-up later. Hell, he’s usually already far enough ahead as it is.” He jerked his head in the general direction of the bathroom. “This is part of the spook, sir.”

Purdue felt like he needed to spit. “Spook, my ass. Don’t start that crap, Sauceda–”

Sauceda shrugged. “You said you talked to Patterson. I know you talked to the shrink. It’s Marty’s gift. It’s who he is.”

Purdue was still frowning. Mr. Cut-the-Crap was a long way from buying all this “spooky” nonsense, but the psych work-up had managed to open his mind to some extreme possibilities.

“Is that what this is about then? Mulder getting into the killer’s head and poking around? Gaining insight–”

“God Almighty,” Sauceda almost spat on him. “Spook or no spook, I think you need to get this much straight, sir: when Marty walks into this monster’s world, he goes in as the victim. Not the killer.” He jerked his head at the photos on the table. “You seen what this bastard does to those kids before he kills them? Well, the son of a bitch does it to Marty, too. In his dreams.”

Sauceda let that one soak. Purdue knew Sauceda’s reputation, of course. The man’s sadistic streak was a good mile wide and his role as resident mole in Mulder’s life was common knowledge. Sauceda was beyond a snitch as far as Purdue was concerned– the man had walked into this partnership as a damned spy, Patterson’s edge to keep the maverick profiler in hand. Somehow, Purdue couldn’t imagine Fox Mulder, one paper shy of an Oxford psychiatric doctorate, sharing his dreams with anyone–least of all Sauceda. And he told him so.

Sauceda grimaced. “No, indeed. Eight months with this kid, dragging through half the backwater morgues in America and I have to get information like that from that three-hundred dollar-an-hour shrink you had them send out to Shreveport. Thank you, sir.”

Coffee arrived, accompanied by honey buns as fresh as any vending machine can belch. Purdue settled on the coffee, cream, no sugar. He checked his watch. The shower was still roaring away.

Sauceda piled up against Mulder’s headboard, plowing through the honey buns, vision roaming wistfully from Purdue to the TV.

But Purdue would be damned before he’d play second fiddle to reruns of “Alf.” He grinned maliciously and Sauceda sat up a little straighter, dropping the remote control without turning up the sound. You didn’t get to be an ASAC without developing a sadistic streak of your own.

Purdue sat back in the chair and crossed his legs. “So, Patterson let you read Baez’s psychiatric evaluation?”

Sauceda nodded, “The kid’s my partner. I’m entitled, doncha think?”

“Baez listed symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress. He was careful to note the ones that Mulder didn’t exhibit. At least he didn’t then. Compulsive disorders, eating disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, fascination with suicide, self-mutilation. How about you, Hot Sauce? You seen evidence of that kind of thing with Mulder?”

Sauceda shoved a wad of pastry into his cheek, washed some coffee past it. “Nah. Marty just doesn’t sleep so hot. He eats sporadically, but he’s a good eater when everything’s quiet. He likes to run. Keeps to himself but he’s not a recluse or anything. Just doesn’t like to be crowded, you know? Baez knew his stuff, all right. Not like those yahoos in Personnel Services.” Sauceda grinned proudly, “Hell, Marty could eat two of them for breakfast and not even work up a sweat.”

The shower died in the next room and Sauceda lowered his voice, balancing the styrofoam cup precariously as he leaned forward. He reminded Purdue of some old shrew gossiping over a fence. “That’s why the Bureau brought Baez in for that evaluation, isn’t it, Reg? Somebody high enough up the psychological food chain that Marty couldn’t fool too long if he tried. Right?”

Purdue was careful not to answer. Sauceda nodded anyway.

“Yeah. I hear the bill was somewhere on the order of eight grand. And approved at the highest level.” Sauceda grinned. “Ever thought about investigating who signed what for that little invoice? And why?”

“Anybody ever tell you you’re a sadistic little cuss, Lenny?”

Again the grin. “Why do you think Patterson sicced me on Marty?”

The bathroom door clicked open and Sauceda jerked up guiltily, a light splatter of coffee unnoticed on the thigh of his robe. The pathologist kept his lips locked down tight, offering a nervous smile to his partner as Mulder emerged from his little refuge. The silence was abrupt and contagious. Purdue found himself unaccountably speechless, mute in the presence of Patterson’s hellacious protege: New Hampshire’s Mind Hunter, the assassin of Baytown’s Butcher. Shreveport’s Death Angel.

Right now, aforementioned Angel was clutching a bathrobe for warmth, dark hair plastered to his forehead from the shower. He stood, framed in the door as if planted there, staring soundlessly at his partner, body tensed like he expected to be tackled.

Purdue saw a young man about six-foot, slender, with a choir boy face too young even for twenty-six. The face was all planes and angles, the nose too large, bottom lip too large, chin too short, but combined the features had a distinct beauty. The thought surprised him; Purdue was unaccustomed to such aesthetic speculations. He supposed it was Mulder’s eyes that intrigued him though. The Bureau paid this man to look into hell, after all, and not blink until he’d found what he’d come for. And Mulder’d never failed to do just that. The eyes were intelligent, deep set, hazel, much too human and vulnerable. For all the youth and passion of the face that framed them, Mulder’s eyes were somehow tired, old, beyond old, ancient, present at the discovery of fire and the wheel–

Purdue shook his head; he must be suffering from jetlag or something. Still, it had not escaped his notice that Mulder’s eyes were dilated right now, his face a pasty white. And Purdue didn’t think the room was cold enough to warrant that kind of shivering.

The profiler swung briefly from Sauceda to Purdue then away, scarcely acknowledging the ASAC’s presence. He gave no response to Sauceda’s nervous “Hey, Marty!” before disappearing into the closet.

The ASAC kept his mouth shut, watching the scene play out, gauging the two men involved in this little drama. Sauceda seemed to be in familiar territory, nervous but expectant, resigned to what would come. The pathologist kept his attention glued to the television but it was obvious he wasn’t watching it. Instead, he sat like a man caught in an electric current: rigid, panicked, and ready to flee at the first opportunity. He was chewing on his lip, too, knuckles whitening in their grip on the coffee cup. He jerked as a pair of sneakers erupted from the closet, followed closely by Mulder in sweat pants, yanking a T-shirt over his head.

The profiler scooped the shoes from their respective landing zones and sat in the chair at the little table across from Purdue. Purdue watched him work the shoelaces viciously, fighting the trembling in his fingers with a concentration that should have been comical. Purdue grimaced in pain.

Sauceda was watching the young man, too. Sauceda’s eyes were big, about the size they’d gotten when he’d run into Purdue’s gun up the hall. The pathologist glanced up at Purdue’s quizzical stare and turned abruptly back to the silently mouthing muppet on the television screen.

Well, Reg, that’s why you get paid the big bucks…

Purdue pulled his cigarettes from his pocket, fished one out of the box. “Going somewhere, Agent Mulder?”

“I’m going for a run.” The dark head bobbed up. “Sir.” The profiler stood.

“Sit down.” Purdue ordered.

Mulder stood there, like he had options or something. Purdue blinked slowly, waiting.

And finally, Mulder sat. He looked like it took every nerve in his body to remain there, but he made no protest.

Downstairs, the kids in the parking lot were briefly louder; a car peeled away down the frontage road. Purdue leaned over and rasped his match on the underside of the table.

He froze when Mulder flinched at the motion.

The two men regarded one another across the table. Mulder’s eyes were large in the sudden quiet, his breathing ragged, the shivering just barely masked. His face went from ghost white to soft pink but he didn’t break that breathless gaze. Over his shoulder, Sauceda was sweating, fuzzy television aliens forgotten.

Purdue gauged his own breathing, kept it calm as he lit his cigarette and shook the flame out of the match. Mulder watched him, a cold glint in his eye. Mulder was notorious for using attitude like a switchblade: show him a soft underbelly and he was libel to cut first and ask questions later. Word was there was only one type of person he seemed to have any regard for: the man who just didn’t give a damn. It seemed to be something the young man could relate to.

Thankfully, that type of man described Purdue perfectly this evening.

The ASAC tossed the spent match at the ashtray on Mulder’s side of the table. The action was willful and deliberately orchestrated, suspiciously resembling the tossing of a gauntlet. It was an illusion he was certain Mulder would not fail to interpret correctly. Mulder didn’t disappoint him and didn’t flinch at the action. His focus never wavered.

Purdue dragged blissfully at his cigarette. “Tell me,” he commanded.

Great green eyes flickered from the ASAC to Sauceda, frowned, flicked back to Purdue.

“I’m tired. I want to go for a run.”

Purdue raised a sardonic brow. “Most people want to go back to bed when they’re tired, Agent.”

Mulder spared another glance at Sauceda. A nerve in his jaw twitched. There was a studied lightness in his voice that didn’t reach his eyes.

“But Papa Bear, someone’s in my bed already.” He turned back to the ASAC. “And he’s not quite my type, thank you.”

Purdue leaned to tap his ashes at the already half-filled ashtray. So many games, so little time…

“I can understand why you’re tired, Mulder,” he answered reasonably. “Patterson’s slapping you on this case set a record. Even for you. Just four hours between investigations involving multiple homicides. That’s a severe breach of Bureau policy. Besides the fact that you’re already averaging less than twelve hours between major cases.”

The eyes watching him remained unyielding. “Skinner send you?”

“Did you report this to Skinner?”

“I report to Patterson. Sir.” He didn’t add the word “exclusively” but it hung there in the air with the smoke anyway.

Purdue sighed. “Look. Let’s just drop the crap, Mulder. I’m here to help you, not to get on your case again. Okay?”

“Help me?” Mulder’s face was incredulous. “You ordered a psychological work up on me that could have landed my butt in an institution. Baez followed me through three of our toughest cases. One right after the other. No break. You wanted me to fail, you son of a bitch.”

“Marty–” Sauceda’s fearful hiss was ignored. Purdue didn’t bother to acknowledge the eyes pleading for mercy across the room.

Mulder had remained seated but adrenaline was pouring off the man like sweat. He held his hands on either side of the chair awkwardly, apparently believing them hidden from the ASAC’s view: they were trembling violently. The sight made Purdue’s gut knot up and grieve. It took all of his training to keep himself smoking calmly in the chair.

“It was not a question of fail or succeed, Agent Mulder. There were serious concerns for your health. Baez was there to evaluate and assist if necessary. If you were going to have problems, you’d have done it then, and in the presence of a sufficiently trained doctor who could give you the help you needed–”

Mulder bolted to his feet, swearing as he paced to the bed and back to Purdue again. Sauceda made a dive for the opposite side of the mattress just in case Mulder decided to make the trip a second time.

Purdue continued, raising his voice to be heard but keeping the tone neutral. “I’ve read Baez’ evaluation, Mulder. He says that as long as you’re telling the rest of us to go jerk ourselves, you’re sane. And he has the credentials to make sure I believe him.”

The profiler paused mid-step and Purdue shrugged. “You have unusual methods. I don’t pretend to understand them but they don’t interfere too frequently with Bureau procedure. And they work. I just intend to make sure the Bureau leaves enough of you intact to let you retire someday. And not get your butt locked up in some wet-brain ward your second year out of the Academy.”

“Why?” Mulder demanded.

“Excuse me?”

“Why? What the hell do you care?”

Purdue exhaled smoke in an impatient huff. “Why shouldn’t I?”

Mulder put his hands on his hips to keep them from shaking, dropped his head and shook it instead. “Don’t bullshit me, Purdue. I’m so goddam tired of the crap–”

“I’m not bullshitting you, Mulder.” Purdue was tired and he allowed the fact creep into his voice. He’d done nothing but sit in this chair since he’d gotten here and he felt like he’d gone two rounds with Holyfield. “Point of fact, Agent, I’m here to call a truce. You think I’m trying to keep you from doing your job. I think Patterson’s been trying to run you in the ground. I think you think that too but don’t bother saying one way or the other–”

Mulder looked like he was anything but convinced. He watched Purdue smother his cigarette with brutal efficiency.

“Personally, Mulder, I think it’s time me, Skinner and Blevins stopped whining and got off the pot and let you do your job.”

“I’m sure,” Mulder growled, “Patterson will be thrilled to hear it.”

“Patterson isn’t being asked.” Purdue flicked a stray bit of ash off his trouser leg. “Bureau policy, Mr. Mulder. You abuse, you lose. Patterson was warned to cut back on your cases, vary the types of cases you were assigned–” He looked up, saw realization already dawning, and nodded. “Welcome to VICAP, Agent Mulder. Good to have you aboard. Skinner signed the transfer this afternoon.”

Mulder’s voice was soft, thoughts escaping on a betraying breath. “Patterson said he’d die and rot in hell before he’d allow my transfer–”

“Then consider yourself kidnapped. Permanently. Trust me, Agent, Patterson can’t afford the ransom. You have friends in the Bureau, Mulder. Friends you’re apparently not aware of.” Purdue frowned. “A few even I don’t recognize.”

“And just like that.”

“Just like that.”

“Just that easy.”

Purdue laughed and allowed himself the luxury of enjoying it. “You’re the highly lauded genius in this room, son, so you tell me how easy you think this was. I damned near sold my soul for the privilege.”

Mulder sized him up there in the chair, his face poker flat. Purdue was an old hand at that game, too.

“Don’t call me son,” was Mulder’s only response.

Purdue nodded reasonably, allowed Mulder time to digest reality while he extended the welcome aboard schpiel to the wide-eyed physician on the bed.

“Whoa, here,” Sauceda sputtered, “Just hold the damned bus. How did I rate a transfer? ‘Cause I make such a good Spookster-sitter?” He winced, glancing at this partner, “Sorry, Marty.”

Mulder didn’t hear him; he was busy staring at the ashtray.

Purdue squinted at the profiler. An uncertain alarm was ringing in his gut, but nothing he could put his finger on. He turned away reluctantly to address Sauceda.

“Relax, Lenny. Every one knows your record. Patterson lost two good agents in this transfer. I lost one of my field pathologists to maternity leave. You want to be reassigned within VICAP, fine. You want to remain with your current partner, I have no problem with that either. Consider it a feather in your cap when you retire.”

Sauceda considered all of three seconds before shrugging and wiping honey bun off his chin. Purdue glanced quickly at Mulder, expecting some objection. The young agent had to know Sauceda was writing reports on him; now would be as good a time as any to end the relationship. Mulder’s expression was distant, however, apparently unconcerned with the status of his partnership.

“VICAP,” Mulder whispered, more thinking aloud. “Shit.”

Purdue frowned. Well, hell, Mulder didn’t sound exactly ecstatic about the idea. And there was something wrong with his eyes suddenly–

Something else hit the front of the young man’s brain just then, too, and he jerked with the impact. “The case–”

“You’re still on this case, Agent. The transfer isn’t effective until May first. You’ve got a month of Patterson driving your butt into the ground then you’re mine, all mine. And your first order of business at that point will be a week’s vacation. For both of you.”

Sauceda grinned gleefully.

Mulder’s eyes dropped into dark slits, his attention back on the ashtray. Purdue glared.

“Hell’s bells, Mulder,” he growled. “You got a problem with a week off with pay, deal with it. It’s not a damned punishment, you know?”

Mulder hadn’t moved, sneakered feet flat on the floor, hands forgotten on his narrow hips, focus unwavering on the curl of smoke rising from Purdue’s mutilated cigarette. His breathing was rapid.

Purdue softened his voice, careful to keep it out of the “coddle” range; he’d managed not to get swung at so far and intended to keep it that way.

“Listen, Fox, I want your head clear when you walk into VICAP–”

“Don’t call me Fox.” The voice was distant, the response a habit.

“Yeah. Whatever. I want your head clear and I don’t want any repeat performances of what I just walked in on tonight. You listening?” Purdue sighed, gauging the profiler. Jeezus, but he was hard to read. He tried another tactic and grinned. “Hey. You got anything else I’m not supposed to call you? Never mind.” Purdue held up his hands, surrender fashion. “I’ll just keep everything longer than three letters and that should cover it.”

But Mulder wasn’t even listening. That wall-eyed stare had burned clean through the ashtray and still hadn’t managed to focus. He was breathing through his mouth.

Purdue knew his own eyes were heading for saucer-size in the silence. Something was definitely wrong. Purdue backtracked his short-term memory, trying to determine at what point Mulder had stepped off into the Not-So-Wonderful Land of Oz.


The pathologist was already padding over. He kept a respectful distance between himself and the profiler, making no sudden movements. Purdue followed his cue and remained in his chair, carefully uncrossing his legs.

Mulder’s lips moved but no sound emitted.

Sauceda looked at Purdue. Mouthed the hated word “spook” but kept his face solemn as he baited his partner for the benefit of his new ASAC.

“In your dream, Marty, you see the killer’s face?”

If he had seen any such horror, Mulder wasn’t telling. And from the look on his face, Purdue imagined what he was seeing now was beyond telling.


“Sauceda,” Purdue warned, sotto voce, “leave him alone.”

Sauceda shrugged. “Weirdest thing. He sees all this crap about the victim. Everything to the last detail. Zilch on the killer. And he still manages to catch the sons of bitches.” He addressed Mulder again, voice level, droning, honeyed with counterfeit concern.

“Marty, I know it’s hard, but you’ve got to talk about this. You gotta let it out–”

Mulder’s silent dialogue continued and Purdue’s mouth tasted like he’d choked down acid. “Sauceda, shut up.”

Sauceda took a hesitant step forward. “Come on, Marty–”

Purdue exploded from the chair. “I said leave him the hell alone.”

Sauceda retreated several steps, complied. “I just though you’d want to see–”

“I want a goddam show, I pay for the ticket just like everyone else. Patterson’s head games stop here, understand?”

Sauceda swallowed hard as Mulder gasped suddenly. “Look, Marty gets manic when he’s like this. Baez prescribed a few things. To keep him calm–”

“Calm? You bait him like he’s in a freaking sideshow and now you want him calm–” Purdue bit back the rest. Jeezus, Reg. And you asked for this–

Mulder was watching him, reason not so far away now, the trembling subsiding. Deep green eyes swung carefully between the two men. Sauceda took a second step back from the gaze, like a man caught in the track of a cobra. Mulder focused on Purdue.

Purdue kept to his official Assistant Special Agent in Charge stance, kept his voice neutral. “Baez specifically stated the drugs were to be held until requested. By you, Mulder. And–”

The ASAC squinted at Mulder’s eyes, stopped breathing momentarily with the realization that they were changing color: deep green bleeding off back to hazel. Purdue swallowed, kept talking.

“You know the score, Agent, as well or better than Baez. You sure as hell know it better than I do. You know when you’re headed for trouble, right? Mulder?”

“Yes, sir.” The voice was quiet but steady.

“Then I trust you have the maturity and good sense to say so. You let us know what you need and when. Once you’re on a decent work schedule, Baez says you probably won’t need them anyway. Meanwhile, don’t over-reach yourself. You do, and I’ll slap you clear back to Washington and save the taxpayers the airfare.” He softened his gaze a little as the eyes finally picked a color and stuck with it. “You okay?”

Sauceda opened his mouth, thought better of it as Mulder glanced back over at him. The pathologist got his warning choked down with a hiccup.

Mulder turned back to Purdue. “I’m fine. Really.” His jaw clenched.

“You need anything to keep you that way for the night?”


Purdue stood patiently, waiting as the profiler’s mind churned just four feet away. Somehow, he sensed the importance of Mulder being allowed to get his bearings. Sauceda chewed his lip some more, watching the two men warily, waiting for a clue. It took a long while before Mulder’s shoulders loosened. He was still breathing through his mouth.

“He’s dumped the kid,” he said finally. “The body’s not far. I’ll take you.”

Purdue spared a glance at Sauceda’s “told you so” face and turned back to Mulder. The profiler had thrown his own gauntlet now. And the field he’d chosen for the duel would be the bloody body of a child– his serial’s new victim. The cold-bloodedness of the gesture was not lost on the ASAC, but Mulder’s son-of-a-bitch bravado didn’t reach the young man’s eyes; Purdue noted the pain there before Mulder could look away.

Purdue nodded solemnly. “Locals gullible enough to trust you two clowns with a car?”

Sauceda bobbed his head.

“Then get your gear, Hot Sauce.”

Several minutes later the car’s console clock blinked out the date in the dark. Purdue paused with his hand on the gearshift.

Good Friday. The night spent by Jesus in hell. Only tonight He’d had company.

Beside him, Mulder ordered a left turn. Again.

Part 2: Purdue Passes the Pop Quiz


Interoffice Memorandum

From: Assistant Director Walter Skinner
To: ASAC Reginald Purdue, ViCap
CC: Personnel– Confidential
Date: April 27, 1988
Re: SA Fox Mulder– Stress Analysis Rating

Thank you for forwarding Agent Mulder’s recent stress analysis to my attention. As I’m sure you are aware, the Bureau has limited resources to offer this agent in the area of counseling. ASAC Patterson’s abuse of the Social Services, particularly in respect to Agent Mulder, is a matter of record. Agent Mulder’s subsequent distrust of our counselors is equally a matter of record and, in my opinion, understandable given the circumstances.

While I sympathize with your concerns regarding Agent Mulder’s mental condition, I am unwilling to remove him from full duty status at this time. Such an action would reflect poorly on an otherwise exemplary record and would, in my opinion, be premature. Agent Mulder’s previous analyses have indicated that he is remarkably resilient and I am certain you will find he has his own singular methods of dealing with the stresses inherent in this job.

I would advise that you follow your original course of action: allow Agent Mulder to report to you for assignment as scheduled on Monday, May 9, following one week of vacation time. As his ASAC, Agent Mulder’s work level is entirely under your control; the content of his caseload is at your discretion. And, of course, with his return to duty, you will yourself be able to maintain a close watch on him.

Should you require further assistance or have questions concerning this decision, please do not hesitate to call my office.

Walter Skinner

Addendum: As per our agreement, any change in Agent Mulder’s condition is to be reported directly to me. No exceptions. — WS


Sunday, May 8, 1988, 5:13 AM. Suburb of Fredricksburg, VA.

Purdue slowed his Ford to a crawl as he approached the empty corner lot. Beyond the line of curious neighbors and news crews, the Crime Scene Investigative Unit was hard at work, portable halogens and flashlights spotlighting their efforts. Purdue scanned the busy figures in the light of early dawn: some were kneeling or standing in shallow pits of recently dug earth. Driving past, he counted four shallow graves and two, maybe three more being dug. A group of local officers stood together in the middle of it all, looking away to the opposite end of the lot, talking and staring. Purdue noted their line of sight and drove on around the corner.

A typical suburban neighborhood wound out before him, modest frame houses roosting in neat little rows, vehicles of various denominations huddled in the drives, worshippers before their respective shrines. A cherry red Monte Carlo sat alone in the street, parked at the curb bordering the far end of the vacant lot. Purdue recognized the solitary figure perched on the hood. Mulder sat there quietly, arms at rest across his knees, a pair of latex gloves dangling from one hand, a half-smoked cigarette in the other. His eyes were closed like he might be asleep.

Purdue parked across the street and approached. He hadn’t seen Mulder since Seattle. And, except for Seattle, he’d never seen the agent when he wasn’t all business. Even on stakeout, Mulder had always managed to look like he was bucking for young executive of the year.

But the man on the car hood was obviously operating on too little sleep. He’d dressed hastily, too: jeans and a rumpled pullover, hair unkempt. Untied work boots rested on the bumper. He hadn’t shaved.

“Hey,” Purdue tapped the hood of the car and smiled an apology when Mulder jerked his head up. “Don’t get up,” Purdue ordered lightly. “Finish your cigarette.”

Mulder blinked down at the little white stick and left it hanging there, mind apparently elsewhere, lost in thoughts he seemed reluctant to let go.

Purdue lit a smoke of his own and prepared to wait out the silence. He resisted the urge to frown as he studied the younger man. A week’s vacation and Mulder still evidenced the strain of the past few months: still ten pounds too light, and two shades too pale. The cigarette between his fingers trembled now and again; the motion was slight but quite involuntary. Mulder seemed completely unaware of the sporadic tremors; apparently the condition had existed so long his mind had ceased to find it noteworthy.

Damn Bill Patterson, Purdue bit his cheek to keep from speaking the words aloud. If there’s a God, someday all this’ll come back to haunt that sorry bastard.

His own cigarette was suddenly bitter; Purdue spat and flung the stub into the street. The profiler watched it bounce twice and roll, still smoking itself, into the gutter. Purdue waited until those patient eyes returned regard to him.

“Alright,” Purdue demanded. “Tell me.”

“You’re not going to believe me.” It wasn’t a challenge or even a veiled insult. Mulder spoke the words as quiet resignation, a fact settled beyond debate.

The ASAC’s stomach was grinding. Mulder was just way too young to have eyes that looked like that. Purdue pocketed his hands and concentrated on a yellow Pinto parked up the street. It was easier to smile, to feign indifference when he wasn’t looking at that earnest, wounded face.

“Let me detail the finer points of my morning for you, Agent Mulder,” Purdue drawled amicably. “Four o’clock in the A M, I get a call telling me I’ve got some rookie out here terrorizing the locals. I tell dispatch to go to hell. At four oh seven, they call back. Say it’s you. Suggest that I should sort of expect these things. And strongly suggest I get my fuzzy butt out here. So do us both a favor and don’t presume to tell me what the hell it is I will and will not believe.”

Purdue’s voice had remained light, but Mulder didn’t smile. Instead, he lowered his head and rotated his neck, pulling the tension from his shoulders. Purdue bided his time. One way or another Mulder would surrender to the inevitable need to explain; it wasn’t like he had a hell of a lot of options here.

“Okay,” Mulder conceded. “I had a dream.”

Purdue scanned the profiler’s face; Mulder was waiting to gauge his reaction. Purdue didn’t give him one. “And?” Purdue prompted patiently.

“And… There was a little girl. In the dream. She came and sat on the end of my bed and… suggested I get my fuzzy butt out here.” Mulder frowned at his own hollow attempt at levity and then shrugged it off. “So here I am.”

Purdue kept his facial muscles still and tried not to think about Seattle. Seattle had just been him and Mulder and Hot Sauce. Then they’d called out the investigative unit. After they were certain. After they’d actually found the body. Now Mulder’d hauled himself a hundred miles just to check out a hunch, calling out law enforcement himself–

The kid must have balls the size of the Chrysler Building.

Purdue’d been doing some research since Seattle, trying to comprehend the unfathomable. Doctor Baez had proclaimed Mulder’s singular talent a gift. Doctor Sauceda, of course, contended that it was the “spook”– something akin to the “shine” in a Stephen King novel. Neither answer satisfied the ASAC, however: Baez’s report was filled with psychobabble and technospeak, and Purdue just wasn’t big on Stephen King. For his part, Mulder had flatly refused an explanation. If Purdue doubted his sanity, the profiler insisted, then maybe the ASAC should pull his personnel file.

Purdue tugged his coat a bit tighter. The morning air was misty and unusually chill for early May. “I know you’re not a Freudian, Mulder,” he acknowledged warily. “And I’ve looked into some of Jung’s stuff myself. I’ve seen some of his better theories played out in the field, in actual cases.” He shrugged. “His dream analysis is kind of new to me, though, and I’m not real swank with the terminology. Was this girl you dreamed, uh, what does he call it… the figure that men dream about that connects them to their unconscious mind–?”

“The Anima?” Mulder’s little smile had no hint of condescension. “No, she was no Anima. She was just a little kid. She was…” He nodded his head toward the grassy lot. “She looked like a few of them. The more recent ones anyway.”

“The bodies?” Purdue found himself re-assessing the situation suddenly. His mind tried vainly to wrap itself around the image of a half-decomposed corpse engaging in a friendly chat… Purdue knew Mulder walked in a different world than most but– the ASAC frowned savagely. Patterson had never mentioned this kind of thing. Extreme leaps in logic, okay, frighteningly accurate insight, sure. Precognitive dreams, well, yeah. But–

It occurred to Purdue suddenly that perhaps Mulder was just jerking his chain, that this was simply some kind of warped test. The kid was trying to see how his new ASAC handled the spook routine. Yeah, that was it– Purdue felt better for the realization; it was something he could understand and appreciate. One glance at the activity on the lot, however, and his resolve wavered.

Hell of a test.

The silence ran too long and Mulder pushed at his forelock nervously. There it was again. That golden band on the third finger of the left hand. Mulder’s personnel file said “Single.” There was a story on that finger but Purdue’d be damned if he’d ask. In the morning mist, his own wedding band was suddenly heavy with warmth and comfort. He sighed and came to a decision.

“Mulder, tell you what, there’s an IHOP a couple of blocks up. I want you to go get some coffee and order us some breakfast. I’ll handle things here and join you in a few.”

Mulder’s disappointment was evident. “But they haven’t…” He recovered himself and looked away.

“Haven’t what?”

“Haven’t found her yet.” He said the words and watched Purdue’s closely.

The ASAC spared another brief glance toward the field. “Mulder, I’ve talked to the Fredricksburg PD. They don’t feel they need the Bureau’s assist on this one. We’re not on this case.”

Mulder shrugged. “I just want to see her. That’s all.”

Purdue studied that impassive face and decided to accept the subdued tone in the eyes as sincerity. The kid had no Messiah complex, at least; most young agents would be trying to argue the point to distraction. But murder was simply not a Federal jurisdiction and the Bureau could not force their services if they were not wanted. Mulder, of course, had worked enough cases to know the political minefield of law enforcement first hand. Probably why he was out here on his car instead gleaning clues on the lot.

“Okay,” Purdue agreed. “We’ll wait. Then we’ll go eat.” He grinned. “And then you can call your mom.”

Mulder’s eyebrows scrolled up on that one and he choked on a lungful of smoke.

“It’s Mother’s Day, Agent Mulder,” Purdue winked. “Hell, if I’d ever forgotten, my mother would have killed me.”

Mulder raised sardonic brows, nodding at the activity in the lot. “With all due respect, sir, I think I’ve disturbed enough mothers this morning as it is.”


Both men jerked around at the shout. A young officer was trotting toward them across the grass. Obviously a rookie, and anticipating a lot more footwork and shit detail before he’d be the one giving orders to fetch the wacko on the car hood.

“Agent Mulder? Sir, they found another body.”

The agent was off the car before the sentence was half completed. He tossed the cigarette in the road and donned his gloves, fast-walking behind the officer.

Purdue followed more slowly, as befitted an ASAC. He paused near the grove of local law enforcement; they nodded warily, watching as he clipped his ID to his coat collar. Mulder squatted by the freshly dug grave, a scant three feet deep. Purdue approached and stood resolutely behind his agent, steeling himself for the view of the open pit.

The corpse was that of a young girl, some side or the other of eight years of age. Mud matted the dark hair, smeared the ash gray face and blinded open eyes. Rigor mortis had relaxed its claim, surrendering the body to its inevitable decay; the jaw had loosened, opening the mouth slightly, as children’s mouths will do in sleep.

Purdue blinked briefly against the stinging in his eyes, the weakness that often hit his knees with the smell. The outdoor killings were the worst to him, the exposure to the elements, the unpitied soul dumped like trash in a hole, were a final slap that never failed to reawaken him to the reality of what he did for a living and why.

Mulder, co-worker in this quest, steadied himself with a hand on the pile of turned earth and reached in to the half-buried child. A gentle hand probed the shoulder, fingers tapping cautiously on the blistered skin as they ran the length of her collarbone, seeking Purdue knew not what.

Mulder’s face was tense and hard with grief; a tinge of relief crossed his eyes and mingled with other emotions as he lifted his hand from that shoulder and laid it briefly on the swollen chest. Purdue’s heart clinched. Mulder’s compassionate hand looked like the touch of benediction: something holy lain upon the profaned, sanctifying, restoring dignity. Purdue turned away, an intruder upon intimate things to which he had no part.

Mulder’s whisper made him look back once more. Mulder didn’t seem to be speaking to the living gathered at the edge of the grave, however. The profiler’s lips moved, now soundlessly, dark eyes staring down upon the mud streaked face.

Purdue frowned and concentrated on his breathing. He suddenly realized he didn’t trust himself to think. Nothing, no words, seemed adequate to the silent grief, the elaborately masked rage he was witnessing in the young man’s face.

And then, without warning, the display was over; pity and passion subsided together beneath the surface of Mulder’s dark tranquil eyes. Apparently appeased, Mulder stood to leave, pausing only to nod his thanks to the two investigators watching him across the grave. Turning, however, he found Purdue at his shoulder. Mulder abruptly froze. Purdue took a single step back, just outside the young man’s personal space.

“That her?” the ASAC asked, his voice quiet.

Mulder shook his head quickly and looked away.

“Are you sure you’d know when you saw her?”

Mulder didn’t look back at him but he didn’t look like he’d focused on anything else, either. “Yeah,” his answer was almost reluctant. “She broke her collarbone falling from a swing. This one’s not her.”

Purdue frowned again. “You got all that from a dream?”

Mulder’s vision swung back to the ASAC and he blinked rapidly. A slow flush of comprehension washed his face. “Oh. No.” He shook his head like he was trying to flinch something off. “It is her. The one in my dream. I thought–” He shifted nervously, shoving his hands into his overcoat but not before Purdue noticed they were trembling again. “Look,” Mulder shrugged, “how about that breakfast?”

The profiler’s voice was agreeable enough but Purdue knew only that a wall had dropped between them suddenly. The barrier was so solid, so abruptly there the ASAC would have sworn he’d felt the concussion when it connected with the ground. Mulder, sheltered on the opposite side, had the look of a man accustomed to defending his battlements.

Purdue left it alone, conscious once more of the eavesdropping officers to his right. He nodded to his profiler by way of salute and raised his voice to be easily heard. “Good job, Agent. Come on, breakfast is on me this morning.” He jerked his head toward their waiting cars and Mulder fell into step beside him. Purdue’s steps were sure and confident, Mulder’s gate nonchalant as always. The ASAC grinned in spite of himself.

Let the locals chew on that for a while, he mused. Damn Feds have to come out in the middle of the night to tell the local yokels they’ve missed a serial killer in their own backyard. Damn Feds acts like they do this sort of thing every day. Before breakfast.

And, dammit, one of them acts like they were digging up the corpse of his own sister or something….

Part 3: No Deposit. No Return.

Tuesday, May 10, 1988. 11:27 AM. Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, Wheeling, West Virginia.

When the departure light hit green, Purdue barely restrained himself from skipping off the plane to kiss the ground. Three hours of Leonardo Sauceda praising the technological advances of oscillating tissue slicers was a new definition of hell as far as the ASAC was concerned. Mulder had been no help at all, sprawled in his window seat, practically unconscious, and shielded shrewdly beneath his headphones.

And now that they were blissfully grounded, Sauceda’s luggage had gone AWOL. Purdue remained dutifully at the pathologist’s side through this trauma, listlessly watching a leopard-spotted overnight bag make its way around the baggage carrousel for the third time. There was a thump behind the flaps to the loading area and Sauceda steeled himself to see what popped out next.

Purdue resisted the urge to let loose another sigh and stepped back to get a better view of the lobby, instead. Mulder, not feigning the slightest interest in his partner’s little dilemma, had wandered off early on, leaving Purdue to play concerned friend. It was not one of the ASAC’s better roles, to be certain– he’d had far too little practice– and Reg had a vaguely uneasy feeling about letting the young man out of his sight for long. He couldn’t account for the sensation– hell, Mulder was grown and packing a nine-millimeter handgun. Still, it was a gut reaction Purdue hadn’t been able to shake since Fredricksburg, and the ASAC had spent too many years learning to trust his instincts to start turning the alarms off now.

Mulder had slept most of the flight, a string of catnaps, waking frequently and jerking violently as he did so. The profiler then sat with his arms tight across his chest, locked in anxious silence until sleep attacked him once more and the process would begin all over again. “I’m fine, really” was his answer each time Purdue asked, and the private wall was an almost visible companion between them. Purdue had wondered if he’d be calling Fredricksburg when they landed, but Mulder had remained practically mute and the ASAC didn’t press it. Sauceda had made no comments about Mulder’s behavior either, but Purdue doubted that was anything to rely on.

Mulder, of course, had a reputation for mercurial mood swings– Patterson had always chalked it up as a by-product of what made him function so well as a profiler: the ability to view so many sides of events at once. The problem was, Mulder could apparently see each side so clearly he could even empathize with it; the resulting emotional confusion had to be tough– something the young man would have to learn how to control as he matured. Baez had confirmed this assessment months ago when he’d presented his findings, commenting that Mulder would either learn to deal with it or go mad. The quack even had the gall to shrug when he said it. Never in his life had Reg come so close to flat out decking a man in anger.

Purdue turned back to the baggage carousel and found the pathologist leaning too far over the conveyor belt, trying to squint through the flaps into the loading area. He laid a steadying hand on the older man’s shoulder. “Okay, Hot Sauce. What gives?”


“Mulder, dammit. There something going on I should know about?”

“Ah,” Sauceda shrugged, distracted. “Well, I don’t know. I mean, since when does an ASAC go traipsing around the country working cases with his agents? Hum?” Sauceda nodded as the blush spread across Purdue’s face. “Hell, Purdue, put yourself in Marty’s shoes. If your CO suddenly took to following you across the country, wouldn’t you get a little… ”

“Paranoid?” Purdue sighed.

Sauceda chuckled and shook his head. “Marty was born paranoid. Patterson says the kid’s a natural born sociopath that’s just too damned smart to get caught. ‘Course,” Sauceda winked conspiratorially, “Marty’s response to that was to remind Patterson he knew where he lived.”

Purdue grunted, watching a matched set of American Tourister slide through the flaps. “Is Mulder hard to work with?” he asked. “Or is it just authority he has a problem with?”

“No more a problem than authority has with him.” Sauceda sighed. “Look, Purdue, you’ve got a year of Patterson’s crap to plow through with that kid. It’s all he ever got out of that old man and it’s all he expects out of you. And it doesn’t do any good to tell him otherwise. I’ve tried.”

Purdue blew air out from his cheeks. Great. Here he’d thought he’d made the big time only to find he had to prove himself to a damned rookie. He noted the gleam in Sauceda’s eye and frowned. “Is this something Mulder’s told you?”

“Shit,” Sauceda grunted. “Marty wouldn’t tell me the time of day if he thought I’d share it with someone.” He shrugged again. “It’s not your fault, Purdue. Marty’s just not one to let people too close, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. Why?”

“I dunno. He’s never let me close enough to ask.” Sauceda’s grimace dissipated as a battered brown suitcase slid through the flaps. “Hey! What the hell–?”

Sauceda’s bag looked like it had made the trip to Wheeling strapped to the outside of the plane. The old brown hard-shell had seen an awful lot of wear in its time and now, apparently, the antique latches had failed. Somewhere between the cargo hold and the baggage lane, some merciful soul had sealed the ratty case with nylon strapping. Newly adorned, the suitcase bumped forlornly down the conveyor belt, bright orange disclaimer tag flapping on the handle.

Sauceda retrieved his treasure with a moan, hugging the oversized case like a mother in mourning. He carted the bag off to a counter to access the damage, remonstrating the powers that be in both English and Spanish.

Purdue decided it was probably best to let the man grieve in private and stepped to the door looking into the lobby.

He lost no time homing in on his profiler. Mulder was seated across the expansive room on a bench near the ticket counter. A little girl in a bright blue pinafore had also singled him out from the crowd. She stood before the agent, hugging a little plastic doll and staring as small children will. Mulder wriggled his eyebrows at her Groucho Marx fashion and was rewarded for his efforts with a huge, breathless smile. A few more elaborate faces had the girl in giggles. Purdue bit his lip to keep from laughing aloud himself: Mr. I-Don’t-Give-a-Shit making a fool out of himself for a toddler…

Another thought, however and the smile on Purdue’s face froze painfully: he was watching a man less than a decade out of his own childhood, a man who dreamed of children’s corpses, delighting a three year old without saying a word.

Purdue cursed himself quietly. Morbid thinking was an occupational hazard in VCU, just part of the job. But like the rest of the job, it spilled its bloody mess into the facts of routine life. Reg frequently found himself comparing people’s faces to the grimacing skulls his agents were called in to catalog. And kids were the worst. Purdue’s last trip to the zoo had become an exercise in endurance: all those children, their faces full of promise– His wife’s barrenness had been a guilty comfort to him more than once.

And Mulder had worked nothing but child homicides for months now. Purdue wondered if he, too, was assessing the skull beneath that creamy skin. Something sad and distant behind the profiler’s smile said he was. Purdue took no comfort in the thought. Mulder, his face as unlined as the child’s before him, was far too young for such work. The fact that he was so damned good at it was surely one of God’s inside jokes. And one punch line that would need a hell of a lot of explanation–

Purdue turned abruptly back to the luggage area. Sauceda was approaching dejectedly, the re-strapped suitcase, thumping against his leg.

“Anything missing, Lenny?”

“Nah. I don’t think it can be fixed though. Damn. My Dad gave me this thing when I left for college.” He gave the case one more loving pat and shuffled after the ASAC into the lobby.

The little girl with the doll had her foot stuck out, a picture of three-year old patience as Mulder, bent double, tied her shoe. Completing the job to her satisfaction, the agent gave the little foot a reassuring pat and she skipped away to rejoin her mother at the entrance of the terminal.

Midway to the outstretched hand of her parent, however, the child spun back. Her mother’s calls were ignored as the little figure raced back to the young man on the bench. She dropped her doll and reached up on tiptoe to give him a hug, spun once more to catch up the toy and danced off, waving back to him so hard she stumbled.

Mulder’s delighted smile vanished as Purdue and Sauceda’s footsteps rang out beside him.

Purdue looked after the child trotting beside her mother, still waving. “You like kids, Agent Mulder?”

Mulder sprawled deeper into the bench and shrugged, promptly finding a blonde at the ticket counter to leer at. “They’re okay, I guess.”

Sauceda gave Purdue a grin and pointed out a poster on the wall advertising the local chamber of commerce: some little dog looking earnestly out and adjuring: “Wheeling: Get that Feeling.” Sauceda patted Mulder on the shoulder and wriggled his eyebrows at the blonde. “Yep, someone’s gettin’ that Wheelin’ Feelin’, alright.”

Mulder shook off the hand and scooted over on the bench without comment.

Sauceda, undeterred, plopped down beside him. “So, Marty, how come you’re sleeping on the plane, huh? You got a girl? Maybe I need to call her up and tell her to let you get some sleep now and then.” Sauceda gave Purdue a few “got-it?” winks.

Mulder didn’t look over at either of them. “Go to hell, Len,” he advised distractedly.

Sauceda leered, “Uh huh. Afraid I’ll steal her away from you, aren’t you?”

“It’s been tried before,” Mulder gave him a sidelong look too brief to be clearly translated.

Sauceda’s face darkened. “I did not and you know it.”

Mulder didn’t answer one way or the other, crossing his long legs to slap a bit of invisible lint from his shoe. Sauceda had a reputation for knowing how to dish it without taking it too well; Mulder’s silence had the pathologist quickly spewing.

“You little shit,” he barked. “You’re gonna forget and spout off like that in front of my wife one of these days and I’m gonna have your balls in a sling.”

“Always knew you were hot to get your hands on them.” Mulder turned back to his partner and, without a hint of a smile, fluttered his eyelashes provocatively.

Sauceda choked and swore, retreating to his corner of the bench to sulk. “Screw you, Marty.”

“Not even on your best day, Hot Sauce,” Mulder promised serenely.

“Well damn my bad luck– it’s Reggie Purdue!”

All three men turned to the booming voice approaching across the lobby.

The speaker was somewhere around Mulder’s height with a good twenty pounds and a tough fifteen years over the agent. Obviously former military and probably all business when he didn’t have Reggie Purdue pounding his back with joy.

“Nat!” Purdue’s grin couldn’t get much bigger and Nat’s infections laugh wasn’t helping any. The curiosity on the faces of the men on the bench got the ASAC settled quickly, though, and Purdue made introductions.

The old friend was Detective Nathan Harris, senior investigator for the West Wheeling PD. Harris had agreed to be their host for the next few days and said he had a few files for Mulder to review. Some older cases, a few recent ones he’d picked up off his desk. Stuff he’d been thinking about faxing the Feds and never gotten round to.

Purdue noted Mulder’s impassive face and suddenly realized how all this must look to the young man. In Patterson’s harem, Mulder had been the best thing since sliced toast and hauled out from his desk– and out from under Patterson’s thumb– only for the unsolvable. And here Purdue had hauled him three hundred miles to work on the kind of cases Mulder routinely profiled in minutes on the phone. And the ASAC had accompanied him on the trip like Mulder couldn’t be trusted to do the job unsupervised. Purdue bit his lip to keep from swearing aloud. It didn’t help that Mulder didn’t comment, merely nodding in all the appropriate pauses.

“Actually,” the ASAC was looking at Harris but talking to Mulder, “Mulder here is a profiling genius. He’s just out here humoring me while I get a feel for his methods. The Bureau is looking to expand his repertoire so to speak, expose him to a variety of case types.”

Sauceda looked away innocently. Mulder was frowning; the expression was not so much a change in expression as an ominous darkening of the eyes.

Harris, oblivious to all this, took Mulder’s reticence in stride. “Well, it’s good to have you guys here,” he assured, then eyed the youngest man. “I’ll try not to bore you.” He flashed Purdue a wicked grin and winked.

Purdue felt himself cringe reflexively. Harris was an honest cop and a good man, a reliable friend both in the field and off, but he didn’t give his trust easily. Purdue had lauded Mulder, praising him for weeks to the detective. But it was obvious that in spite of everything Purdue had said, Harris was going to make the young agent prove himself. Purdue shrugged in resignation, wondering why this should come as such a shock to him. Hell, it wasn’t anything personal, just Harris’ nature and couldn’t be helped.

Mulder watched the subtle emotional interplay without comment, meeting the ASAC’s eyes, his face revealing nothing. Purdue was speechless within that solemn gaze. The profiler bent to collect his bag and Harris herded his guests out to find his car.

Purdue and Harris preceded the two less senior agents and Sauceda turned his volume up just enough to make certain he was overheard, but low enough to at least pretend he was talking to Mulder alone. Mulder, apparently too guileless for his own good, was the only one of the group who didn’t immediately catch on to the tactic.

“You know, Marty, Purdue thinks you don’t like him.”

Purdue cringed. Leave it to Len Sauceda to make a bad situation worse. He rolled eyes at Harris’ grin and made a mental note to refine his sadistic streak for Sauceda’s sake.

They heard Mulder hiss, “Shit.” Then in a quiet, suddenly unconcerned voice: “Where would he get that idea?”


Purdue could pictureSauceda’s innocent face even without turning his head to look.

Mulder’s grunt was untranslatable. “And I suppose one of us is supposed to be concerned about it?” he asked disinterestedly.

Purdue quickly tired of Harris’ grin and mouthed a few expletives at him silently. Harris barely managed not to burst out laughing.

“Come on, Marty,” Sauceda taunted. “You care and you know it.”

Mulder’s only answer was the rasp of his lighter as he lit a cigarette.

Harris kept his voice low. “So, that’s you rookie, huh?”

“That’s him,” Purdue groaned. “Word of warning, Nat. Don’t let him catch you trying to be nice to him. He’ll slam your hood just for having the audacity.”

“You’re suggesting I get tough with him, then?” Harris grinned mischievously.

“Then he’ll definitely slam it.” Purdue found himself grinning at the thought of Harris getting his comeuppance. “It’s a matter of principle with Mulder.”

Harris shook his head. “And of all the gin joints in the world, you toss him into mine. Gee, thanks, Reg.”

Purdue laughed, keeping his voice quiet. “But no kidding, Nat. The kid really is the genuine article. His profiling is downright– well, spooky.” Purdue choked on the hated word, shrugged. “And, like I said on the phone, I appreciate your help on this one.”

The detective nodded solemnly “Well, I appreciated your call, and that you chose to come out here of all places. Hell, I know how tough burnout can get in this line of work. A man can get desperate and do himself a lot of damage. It’s why I left LA. Like I said, I’ve got enough cases to keep you boys looking busy and keep the brass off your butts, but I won’t be tossing the kid any of the pressure-cooker stuff.” He glanced back at the man with the cigarette. “Still, I wasn’t expecting him to be so young. If your bunch has burned him down that hard this fast, maybe you need to reassess some policy– or some supervisors.”

Purdue had more than he cared to say on that subject so he didn’t bother, taking comfort in companionable silence. Harris knew better than to pressure for answers he didn’t have.

They found Harris’s blue Ford and the detective popped the trunk for their luggage while on his way to the driver’s side. He swung an arm to the agents behind him, waving at the back seat.

“Get in the car, kids,” he called playfully. He paused and pointed to Mulder. “Dump the weed, son, no smoking in the car. Policy.”

His voice had been friendly enough and Mulder dropped the offending cigarette and ground it under his shoe without comment. And a little too thoroughly. Purdue noted the overly solicitous hand Sauceda laid on Mulder’s arm. Mulder shook it off and donned his shades: mirrored gold Ray Bans that made you look back at yourself when you looked at the wearer.

Mulder tossed his bag in the trunk and crawled into the backseat behind the ASAC. Sauceda settled his case in carefully, lingering a minute more before joining them.

Harris started the car and shuffled through some papers on the dash. “Heads up,” he called, tossing a manila envelope over his shoulder to the only vaguely alerted profiler. Mulder just managed to catch the file and Purdue caught his expression in the mirror on his visor. Even through the shades, Mulder looked like he was trying to determine where he could aim a bullet and keep the blood from splattering on his suit.

Purdue kept his own expression neutral as Sauceda settled into the back seat. The ASAC was actually disappointed that Mulder hadn’t responded to Harris’ baiting. Instead, Purdue realized, Mulder was busy watching him in Purdue’s vanity mirror, spying on Purdue spying on him– The ASAC snapped the visor back up with a guilty thump.

The quartet sailed down Highway 5 toward downtown Wheeling, listening to the rustle of papers in the back seat. Purdue and Harris shared small talk and jokes with Sauceda. The slightest bit of interest from the pathologist set Harris into performance mode and the detective started in on his repertoire of gritty anecdotes, beginning with the one titled “The Last Time I Embarrassed the Hell out of Reggie Purdue.” Harris told this same tired story to everybody, in pointless detail, and it never failed to make Purdue squirm– which was, of course, just what Harris told it for. Purdue noted Sauceda was lapping it up like cream.

Midway through his sordid tale, with Purdue gritting his teeth audibly, Harris jerked into silence. Mulder’s file, reassembled, had suddenly plopped down over the front seat, landing precariously across the gearshift.

Harris eyed the rearview mirror. “So,” he mused, “done already?”

“This is the case we flew out to profile?” Mulder sounded sleepy.

“You have a problem with it, Agent?”

“Well, you did promise not to bore me.”

Purdue twisted in his seat so Mulder could catch his grin. Maybe, finally, Harris wouldn’t be the only one with an embarrassing story to tell. The ASAC helped himself to the file. “What is this, Nat?”

Harris shrugged. “The Reader’s Digest version? A rape homicide. The victim was a young woman, bludgeoned to death, tossed in the River. Body washed up across the bridge in Bridgeport, Ohio. No prints, no nothing. Coroner thinks the murder weapon was some kind of bottle.” Harris glanced back in the rearview at the shades. “Your boss here tells me you know your stuff, son. So what’ve we got?”

Mulder sat sideways to stretch his long legs and Sauceda, frowning, slid his feet over to accommodate.

“The rape was a crime of opportunity,” the profiler stifled a yawn. “The killer is local, known to the victim but not a boyfriend. You’d have closed the case by now if it had been that obvious.”

Harris nodded; Mulder continued. “The killing was the focus, the rape was an afterthought, but the plan itself was fairly spontaneous. The killer was improvising, getting a feel for the event. He was obviously panicked and overplayed it– mostly due to adrenaline– but he enjoyed it and performed the murder itself thoroughly. Very thoroughly–”

Purdue grimaced at the photos in his hand. Autopsy found forty-six separate blows to the body, more than half of them hard enough to fracture bone. He flipped his visor down quietly, watching as the profiler continued.

“He’s young, late teens, early twenties, not much upper body strength–”

“She was beaten to death,” Harris was watching for his exit. “You don’t think that takes much upper body strength?”

Mulder shrugged, leaning back against his door. “She was already wounded, in shock. One well-placed or just plain lucky blow low along the base of the skull,” he pointed out such a spot on his own skull, “she’s history. The rest is just working out frustration. From the look of it, he wasn’t too sure of what he was supposed to do when it came down to the actual rape; that probably frustrated him even more.”

Mulder tapped his foot against Sauceda’s shoe just for spite like some kid on a too-long car trip.

“I’d look through the local misfit file,” Mulder winked at Sauceda’s glare. “Punk wannabe’s still living with Momma and walking because Dad won’t let them borrow the station wagon. Psychopath in infancy. Right now he’s biding his time and seeing how the police work their angle before he tries it again.”

Harris frowned. “You can’t be serious.”

“Okay, official profile,” Mulder sighed. “Perpetrator is an asocial offender with an average to below-average intelligence and a disorganized presentation. He’s socially and sexually inadequate, and has probably revisited the crime scene to relive fond memories. Consistent with most of the Holmes Typology of obsessive-compulsives, he’ll have a hiding place at his house, probably under his mattress where he keeps the Hustlers. He’s kept something from the kill. Your file doesn’t mention anything missing off the victim so he’s probably saved an article of his own clothing. Maybe his shirt. The little shit’ll pull it out late at night when Mom’s asleep, bury his face in it, get an erection off the smell of his sweat and her blood. It’s better in memory than reality. It always is.”

Harris had slowed the car and was staring a bit too hard at the Mulder’s reflection. Purdue knew what was going through his head, comparing the words to that milquetoast face. This was standard profiling but Mulder’s voice was just too damned flat somehow. It was beyond professional distance; it was downright cold-blooded.

“How do you explain the bow?” Harris demanded.

Purdue consulted the photos again: a mess of flesh that was only just distinguishable as human, a big ribbon bow, torn from the victim’s dress, tied up around the neck like the wrapping on a gift that wouldn’t quite fit in a box.

“Staging,” Mulder explained blandly, staring out at the passing billboards. “Little dweeb had a brain-storm and wanted to make you think you had some tight-ass killer on the loose in Whoville. He’s managed to keep his mouth shut only because he hasn’t got any friends to tell, but by now he’s fancying himself a somebody. The next FBI’s Most Wanted. Just dying to let everyone know how important he is. He’s probably been calling your boys up, offering assistance. Wanting to be Mr. Helpful. Mr. Neighborhood Spy who may or may not have seen something significant on the night in question. That kind of crap.”

Harris bit his lip. “Well, interestingly enough, Mr. G-man, we’ve got someone matching at least part of your profile. One Albert Graves. Neighborhood kid. Plagued with acne and a history of bad haircuts. Beyond that, he’s got no criminal record.”

“Hasn’t had much time to build one at his age. Pick him up. Interrogate him.”

“Hell, good old Al was sitting in the public hall when I left the precinct. He’d heard one of the uniforms mention the fibbies had called in and the kid just couldn’t wait to see you guys. You know, just in case you boys couldn’t find your butts without his assist.”

“He’s got you made to order then, doesn’t he?”

“Shit,” Harris was more than a little annoyed; the blank mirrored stare in the back seat looked suspiciously delighted. Purdue bit his lip and kept his face impassive.

“Look, son,” Harris scanned the curb in front of the precinct for a parking space. “We’ve taken a statement from this kid every three days for two weeks. He’s got nothing left to say.”

“Sure he does,” Mulder insisted. “He’s guilty. But he’s not stupid enough to just pop out with a confession until you confront him with some evidence.”

“Evidence which we don’t have.” The detective slammed the vehicle into park.

Mulder sighed again, one hand working at the muscles at the base of his neck. “And on the eighth day God created search warrants. Look, Detective, its all a game to this kid now. You ignore him so he tweaks your nose with it. He’s laughing at you. He’s sitting out in your public hall laughing his ass off. And planning his next kill. Just so he can rub that one in your face, too.”

Harris spared a quick glare for Purdue, and shifted in his seat to get a better look at those shades. “Okay, Mr. G-man,” he purred, “how about we go in and you interview the kid. Eyeball to eyeball.”

The shades betrayed nothing. “What’s wrong, Harris, can’t your department handle a punk-ass kid?”

Harris winked savagely at Purdue. “Well, I don’t seem to be doing too well right now,” he answered. Mulder opened his mouth and Harris waved him quiet. “You make a good sell, kid; all that psychobabble sounds real good. But you obviously have no idea what you’re talking about in the real world. Trust me, it’s a little different when you get out from behind a desk.”

Mulder’s face in the rearview flushed about as deep as Purdue felt his own doing. Neither reaction was lost on Harris and the look he gave his friend was a flat out challenge. He gave the same expression to Mulder. “I mean it, son. You look that kid in his beady little doe’s eyes and accuse him of this shit. I want to see the cold son of a bitch that can do it.”

Mulder grinned his delight. “Sounds like a plan.”

Harris swore again. He looked like he wanted to spit. “Do you even hear what you’re saying? We’re not talking gangs and hardened criminals, here. You’re saying some nineteen-year-old boy raped and beat a girl to death. Think about that. Think about what that takes. Have you ever hit a man hard enough to kill him? It’s not that easy.”

“No, I haven’t,” the profiler admitted. “But I’ve thought about it.”

“Well, remind me to stay on your good side, son.”

“I don’t have a good side,” Mulder growled. “And I’m not your goddam son.”

Mulder leaned into the front seat and Harris flinched. The profiler ignored him, snatching the file from Purdue and bailing out of the car. Sauceda grinned broadly, popped his door open and trotted after him. Harris and Purdue were playing catch up, following the profiler’s rapid stride into the precinct, donning badges out of habit.

Harris was hard on Mulder’s heels when the young man swung through the doors. Mulder pocketed his shades and stepped toward the public hall. The room was full: yuppies in power suits rubbing elbows with janitors and working girls. There were even a few kids present. But Mulder obviously had no problem finding what he’d come for.

“You,” he barked so roughly Purdue jerked along with most of the people in the room. The profiler pointed to a young pimple-faced man with eyes big as plums. Mulder spoke like the kid had been the only one to respond. “Yeah, you. Get your butt over here.”

The boy hopped up, obviously pleased to have been singled out and impressed with his own sudden fame. The other occupants in the room shrank from him as he passed, wary of guilt by association.

Mulder swung on Harris. “You got a room we can work him over in?”

The detective’s answer was a silent glare; he spared an apologetic smile for the kid as he came trotting up.

“Hey, Albert. Look, these gentlemen–”

“I’ll handle the introductions,” Mulder rumbled, putting a not too-friendly hand on the back of the boy’s neck. “You handle the accommodations.”

Harris raked a steely glance over profiler and punctuated it with a growl at Purdue. Mulder had the detective’s self-righteous indignation working overtime; it fairly rolled off the man’s shoulders as he led the way down the hall. Several passing officers gave them a wider berth. Harris slammed open the door of a standard police interrogation room: stained wooden table, three chairs, one-way mirror and bad linoleum.

Mulder smiled sweetly and thanked him. The detective sputtered, trying to form a reply but Mulder pushed past him, propelling Albert through the door. Inside, Mulder released the boy suddenly, like their suspect was suddenly of little consequence. The profiler stepped through the room instantly taking possession of it, tossing the file on the table, spilling victim photos onto the scratched and cigarette-burned wood. Harris perused the staging, chewing his cheek and eyeballing the ASAC. Purdue raised a noncommittal brow and kept his attention on his profiler.

Mulder moved deliberately, rapidly, with the attitude of a man who had a lifetime of plans and a short time to live. Grabbing a chair from the mirrored wall, he plopped it down at the table, glancing up as he did so. He froze suddenly, attention riveted on the wall across the table. Purdue felt Sauceda stop breathing beside him.

Purdue followed Mulder’s line of sight and studied the bulletin boards that filled the wall. Harris had been complaining that the precinct was running low on space; the presence of the boards indicated this room was used for more than just interrogation. The cork was covered with diagrams and autopsy reports, crime scene photos and chemistry work-ups. The looser pages danced occasionally from the breeze of an oscillating fan. A Disney calendar fluttered quietly next to full color enlargements of dismemberments.

Purdue noted the reluctant fascination on Harris’ face as the detective studied Mulder’s profile.

“Something wrong, Agent Mulder?” Harris’ voice was cold but the eyes he turned on Purdue were uncertain, questioning.

Mulder shook his head without turning. Another few seconds of this and Harris’ mouth opened again. Mulder, however, spun abruptly to face Albert and introduced himself. Special Agent Fox Mulder. With the EFF-BE-EYE. Purdue smiled. Mulder had Harris read the kid his rights. Harris did so, out of courtesy to his training, but it was obvious he didn’t like it much. Purdue was impressed; this Albert kid had must have done a real number on the detective to be afforded so much consideration. Right now, though, Albert was far from suave: his eyes were wide and he seemed to be having trouble collecting enough spit to even stutter.

Mulder planted himself in a chair, pushing it back and balancing himself nonchalantly on the rear legs.

“Sit.” He commanded.

Albert obeyed, taking the chair situated as far from the profiler as possible. It put him facing the mirror and Mulder, his back to the bulletin boards filled with photos. Mulder regarded the wall over the kid’s shoulder like he couldn’t be bothered with the interview suddenly. Harris frowned.

“You got a lawyer?” Mulder asked absently.


“Are you deaf?” Mulder was looking at him now, but his voice remained disinterested. The kid didn’t answer, turning to look at Harris.

Mulder looked at Harris, too. “I think that’s a yes,” he quipped.

The kid blushed and turned back to the agent. “No. No, sir. I’m not deaf.”

“Then do you have a law-yer.” Mulder said it slower this time.

Albert squinted uneasily. “I don’t need one.”

“The hell you don’t.”

The boy swallowed hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively. Mulder leaned forward, allowing his chair to slam back down on all fours.

“Did you even listen to your rights when they were read to you, Albert? I’m not stupid. Detective Harris here’s not stupid. Don’t fucking act like we’re stupid. You’re going to sit there and tell me you don’t watch LA Law or Miami Vice? Yeah? Then you know that when you make a confession you’re entitled to the presence of legal counsel.”

The boy’s eyes swung wildly from the hostile agent to his old buddy Harris. Harris was too busy glaring at the interrogator. Mulder stood and indulged in a luxurious stretch, working his shoulders loosely as he removed his jacket and tossed it into the abandoned chair.

Albert surveyed the profiler, cautious as a cat. “Hey,” he stuttered, his voice little more than a high-pitched whine. “You guys’ve got it all wrong.” He managed a half laugh, trying to shrug away the contempt rolling off Mulder from across the table. “I got nothing to confess. I just came in ’cause I thought–”

“You thought you remembered something else,” Mulder mocked. “Something that might be useful. Yeah. Been there, heard that. You little shit. Sitting here, wasting my goddam time.” Albert recoiled into his chair as the agent came around to his side of the table. Harris shifted uneasily but kept his place as Mulder folded his arms and sat on the tabletop, settling himself just within reach of the kid.

Mulder didn’t even look at Albert, though, busy staring at the bulletin boards again. “So, you’re waving your right to legal counsel?” Mulder insisted on clarification of the point.

“I ain’t done nothing,” Albert mewled. “I don’t need a lawyer.” He risked a pleading look at Harris. Harris was watching Mulder carefully.

The kid turned back to the profiler, pleading hopefully, “Look, I told you, man– Hey, I’m as innocent as you are.” Albert smiled, turning on as much charm as his tense facial muscles would allow. The profiler didn’t seem too impressed.

“Hate to tell you this, Al,” Mulder grimaced bitterly, “but that pretty much makes you guilty as hell.” The agent sighed, rotating his shoulders wearily. “Okay, that’s how you want to play it. I’ll tell you how you did it. You interrupt me if I get something wrong.” Mulder raised a quizzical brow. “Hell, screw that,” he decided. “I’m not going to be wrong. I’ve solved more difficult cases in my sleep.” Once more dropping the irritating Albert for the photos on the wall, Mulder’s voice took on a flat quality like he was speculating aloud, simply talking to himself. Albert sat silent, apparently aware that he was no longer required, listening intently, eyes wide, shoulders progressively sinking. “It was her fault, of course,” Mulder reflected. “That much is obvious. That short skirt, laughing at you when you stopped to stare at her. Teasing you, rolling that bottle of soda around all slick in her hands. Then ignoring you for the inconsequential little shit you are. Hell, she did everything but just come out and ask for it, right?”

Mulder was playing the interrogator’s least favored role: projecting blame on the victim. It was a necessary tactic in investigative work and one that never failed to leave a bad taste in Purdue’s mouth. The fact that Mulder made it look easy didn’t sit too well in the ASAC’s gut, but this was what the agent was trained for. And Mulder had never been faulted for his grasp of procedure. Purdue frowned, though, as Mulder leaned forward to peek at one of the more tantalizing photos fluttering on the board. The profiler’s voice was increasingly distant as if he were functioning on automatic.

“You planned the assault,” Mulder insisted blandly, “planned the killing, but only after she was already in reach and the opportunity was there. You just didn’t plan the logistics too well.” Albert fidgeted silently beside him. “Having shit for brains, you just hadn’t thought things out and didn’t know what else to do. So there goes a charge of Murder One right out the window, dammit.”

Albert twisted his hands together painfully, squinting at the agent who seemed intent on both terrorizing him and ignoring him. He opened his mouth and anxiously snapped it shut again as Mulder straightened to scan another set of photos on the wall.

The agent’s voice remained flat. “You think you had us all screwed with that bow business, don’t you, Al? What? You stay up and watch reruns of The Boston Strangler on the late show or something?” Mulder looked back down at the squirming kid and the laugh that escaped him was genuine. Purdue resisted the chill that ran down his spine. “Albert DeSalvo and Albert the Screwup,” Mulder grinned, “side by side in the annals of crime.”

The agent shook his head and Albert went white. “You know what the problem with that is, Albert?” Mulder critiqued solicitously. “The problem is you don’t have the balls it takes to actually kill someone by strangling them.” Mulder, without turning, spoke over his shoulder. “How about you, Detective Harris? You ever strangle anybody?”

Purdue gulped air and cursed Sauceda’s Cheshire cat grin.

Harris’ voice was amiable enough though, it almost concealed the razor-edge of contempt as he moved to take a solid stand behind Albert. “About as many times as you’ve beat a man to death, Mr. G-man,” Harris mocked. “How about it, Agent? Why don’t you give us the benefit of your vast experience?”

Mulder smiled softly, eyes on Harris disarmingly agreeable. He held up his hands for inspection and Albert stared, caught up in that sure and steady voice.

“It’s an amazing sensation, really,” Mulder assured them. “The feel of that soft skin against your palms, the feel of tendons tightening against your fingertips.” He leaned toward Albert slightly, his voice suddenly inviting and seductive. “The scent of perfume getting stronger from the heat of the friction as you start squeezing.”

He sat back, flexing his hands slowly and Purdue felt his testicles draw up.

“And then the tendons start moving,” Mulder intoned, beguiling, enticing, “and she’s struggling, begging you for her life. Her body moving against yours. She’s moving against you and moaning, pushing at you, tearing at you. Feels like you’re having sex. Really intense sex. Not that you’d know, Al.”

Harris glanced back at Purdue, his face twisted with confusion. Purdue’s response was a half shrug. Damned if he knew where Mulder got all this crap. It was obviously having the desired effect on Harris, though. There was just the barest edge of fear in the man’s eyes. Purdue hadn’t seen Nat getting personal with that particular emotion in years.

Beside the ASAC, Sauceda’s grin was positively wicked.

Mulder wasn’t finished yet. His smile never wavered and the eyes he focused on Harris were deep green, unblinking as a cobra’s. “Real world analysis, out from behind the desk, Detective: your boy Al is the ‘blunt-force-trauma’ type. Can’t get it up enough to kill her clean, he’s gotta beat her to death.” He turned back to Albert and the kid cringed in his chair.

“What’s the matter, Al, couldn’t you make her enjoy it?” Mulder’s smile was so sincere it hurt and the boy winced. “Of course you couldn’t. And that’s the beauty of putting some planning into these little ventures, Albert. You see, it’s a simple fact: you can’t kill someone by blunt-force-trauma without getting blood everywhere. Just… everywhere.”

The kid looked green. Mulder propped a foot against the wall under the photo collection and leaned his elbow on his knee. “Blood on her,” he mused. “Blood on the ground. Blood on you. Can’t take that home to mommy to wash, huh? Only you can’t walk home naked. Somebody might laugh. And that’s where we got you. Your semen matches and you can claim consensual sex. That the killer came along after you left. But her blood on your clothes– that pretty much nails it, doesn’t it?”

In lieu of any response from his suspect, Mulder nodded to himself. “Here’s how it works, Al. My profile gets Detective Harris here a search warrant, we find your dirty laundry, and you go to prison. No confession necessary. Its just that simple.”

Mulder reached a hand out and pulled up the kid’s chin. Albert flinched as Mulder eyed him critically. “Still, you know, you’re not that bad looking.” The profiler dropped his hand, wiped it on his knee. “You’ll get that ass of yours raped the first shower you take. The rest of the inmates will figure you’re into that kind of thing, anyway. Not that it’d matter. And all because some little split tail wiggled it at you and said you couldn’t have it. See what women are, Albert? All the trouble they cause?”

Harris had finally had enough. “Goddam,” he exploded and the hands he slammed on the back of Albert’s chair had the kid cringing from both men.

“Goddam,” Harris repeated, almost howling the word at Mulder, “look at him! He’s just a kid. Just a few years younger than you, you little bastard!”

Mulder’s smile was surprised but genuine. “Why Detective Harris. I do admire the intensity of your good-cop/bad-cop routine,” the smile disappeared abruptly, “but this is my interrogation, as I recall.”

Harris stepped back, speechless and Purdue advanced to lay a steadying hand on his friend’s arm.

Mulder ignored them, reptile eyes back on his suspect. “Sure, Al’s just a baby. The apple of your momma’s eye, aren’t you Al? Well, Albert, I think Detective Harris needs to take another look at his photo album, don’t you?” Mulder nodded his head at the collection littering the table and his eyes dropped to hard slits. “Because, Albert, your momma’s stone fucking blind. You’re good, Al. You got a police detective patting you on the head and thinking the worst thing he could charge you with is truancy. But we know the truth, don’t we, Al? You and I, we know what kind of hate it takes to do that to a woman.” Mulder stood, leaning over the kid and Purdue got a better grip on Harris’ swinging arm.

Mulder slammed his fist into to the table and watched as Albert bounced in his chair. “Tell him, Al,” Mulder demanded. “Tell him what it’s like in the real world. In your world. You want him to know, don’t you? Aren’t you just dying to tell the world how wrong they are about poor pathetic little Al?” Albert had stopped shaking, lost somewhere in Mulder’s cold eyes. Mulder smiled. “Better yet, don’t tell us. Then your lawyer can’t get your confession thrown out of evidence because you were obviously too damned stupid to understand your rights to counsel.”

Albert shifted in his seat and worked his jaw. Mulder raised an admonishing finger and the boy locked his lips down tight, eyes wide like the agent had pulled a weapon on him or something.

“Not a word, Al,” Mulder warned softly. “Let me explain it. Let me invite you’re badge-toting pal here into your universe.” Mulder didn’t break his gaze from Albert’s tense face. Purdue could feel the muscles straining in Harris’ arm.

“Real world,” Mulder’s face darkened, “you hit a man that hard you feel it. You feel the concussion of the blow clean up your arm. You feel like your goddam teeth are shattering in your head. Forty-six blows. At least twenty of them enough to rattle your own teeth and you just kept hitting her. She was dead by the fourth swing, you little bastard. You had to have noticed by the tenth. And you didn’t stop. You just kept at it until you couldn’t lift your arm anymore. That’s not just evidence of murder, Al. That’s evidence of a murderer’s soul. A hateful heart.” He slapped one of the victim’s photos at the kid’s chest. Albert caught it on instinct. “Here, Al,” Mulder growled. “Have a good look. It’s your self-portrait.”

Albert complied, grimacing down at the photo in his hands. Mulder glared up at Harris, trembling in anger beside Purdue. “Now, Detective, you get that warrant, get this little shit in a cell and let’s get on to some real work. And quit wasting my time.”

Harris swung his enraged gaze from Mulder to Purdue, back again. And then gasped when he looked down at Albert. The kid was watching him, grinning maniacally, dry-eyed in the chair. It was everything Al could do to keep from laughing.

The detective stood as though frozen in place, jaw working silently. Words just didn’t seem to want to form. It hurt to watch the man as he put it all together, standing there staring into that vapid, acne-plagued face.

Purdue gave Mulder a sour look but the young man didn’t notice, intent once more on his bulletin boards. The ASAC felt Sauceda shift beside him and glanced over. Sauceda slipped both hands in his back pockets and sighed contentedly; his grin was so wide he looked like he was in pain.

Harris took a deep breath and shrugged off Purdue’s grasp. Vision focused warily on Mulder’s face, Harris nodded slowly at the bulletin boards.

“So, Mr. Mulder,” he asked carefully, “you ever knife anybody?”

Part 4: Be It Ever So Humble…

Tuesday, May 10, 1988. Wheeling, West Virginia. West Wheeling Precinct, Interrogation Room Two.

“Two vagrants and a prostitute. In the wrong place at the wrong time,” Harris grimaced at the table full of files. “That’s what we thought at first, anyway.”

“Then you found victim number four,” Mulder mused. He didn’t look up from the pile of reports and photos, copies and then some of what hung on the bulletin boards above.

“Yeah,” Harris frowned. “Well, you picked up on that, quick enough.”

Purdue adjusted his butt against the old wooden office chair he’d claimed for himself and indulged in a told-you-so wink at his friend. Harris gave him a resigned shrug and a cup of coffee, cream, no sugar.

Once Albert had been hauled to Holding, the detective had tried to make his guests comfortable in the cramped quarters of the interrogation room: rookies trotted in coffee, sodas and– “God help us,” Purdue’d whispered — donuts as quickly as Harris could snap fingers. Harris himself had disappeared into the office behind the one-way mirror and returned with stacks of files. They watched patiently as he culled out various items as unworthy, finally settling on the sordid mess they were looking at now: four apparently separate homicides perpetrated in the past few months.

Sauceda peered over Mulder’s arm at the file his partner was perusing. “So what’s the story on victim four, then?” he asked. “Different MO?”

“The three others were killed on the streets. The victims were indigents,” Harris explained. “We figured it was some kind of hate crime or someone stumbling into the wrong gang turf, maybe drugs. But Four was a businessman, family man with no priors. He made regular stops here in Wheeling. Always the same hotel. Manager got so used to the schedule he usually kept the same room available for him. He was killed in that hotel room.” Harris shook his head. “It was a slow night, not many people registered. No witnesses and no security cameras.”

Harris set an ashtray in easy reach of both Purdue and Mulder. Reg noted it favored Mulder’s side.

Harris shrugged at the profiler’s raised brows. “Policy says you can’t smoke in the car, son. It don’t say jack about the office.”

Mulder glanced away from the act of kindness, apparently not quite certain what to do with it. Purdue didn’t really need a smoke just yet, but he fished out his cigarettes anyway. Tapping one out for himself, he offered the pack to the profiler; the agent accepted hesitantly. The ritual of lighting accomplished, Mulder took a few cursory puffs, and availed himself of the ashtray, scooting the little glass dish closer to Purdue in the process. The action was furtive, designed to look completely accidental, Mulder’s attention clearly riveted on the folder in front of him. Mulder’s covert peace offering, however, did not escape the ASAC’s notice.

Harris had finally stopped fussing with his arrangements and took a seat across the table.

“So what links your victims?” Purdue asked him.

“Nothing. Except Ballistics says they were all killed with the same .22 semi-automatic. One shot, skin-touch range, through the back, through the heart–”

Purdue shrugged, eyeing Mulder as the profiler shuffled through the reports; he’d seen men less excited over nude women. “A number of professional killers favor a .22 Ruger at that range,” the ASAC noted. “The weapon is easy to obtain, easy to dispose of. Then there’s that nice messy ricochet damage the bullet leaves inside the body. Maybe there’s a drug angle–”

“Drug killings don’t usually involve mutilations,” Mulder dissented. “Especially not this extensive.”

Sauceda looked up from his collection of autopsy reports. “What’s the perp using, a hunting knife?”

Harris nodded, swallowing a mouthful of coffee. “Looks like.”

Mulder’s brows were furrowed as he flipped through photographs. “No sign of sexual assault, no necrophilia, no cannibalism, no fetishism, at least not of body parts. Yet all the victims have been gutted with the intensity and brutality of lust murder.” He shook his head, looking up at Harris. “All postmortem.”

“You sound disappointed, Mr. G-man.” It was Harris’s turn to wink at Purdue.

Mulder frowned. “Amazed, actually,” he admitted. “With most serials, mutilations of this intensity are done prior to the killing. It’s a sexual thrill, a means of degrading and subjugating the victim. The fantasy role being played out to its logical conclusion.”

“So what’s the significance when it’s postmortem?”

Mulder sat back and chewed the inside of his cheek thoughtfully. “That the killer feels so little control over the situation the victim must be killed immediately. Yet, he’s in control well enough that he can get within several feet of his target, get him to turn his back, and then fire point blank.”

Sauceda shrugged. “Hey, if a guy walks up to me in an alley, points a gun and tells me to turn around, I’m turning around, muchacho.”

“Maybe,” Mulder brought the cigarette to his mouth but didn’t bother to complete the action, his attention absorbed by the photos collected before him. “These gunshot wounds are all clean shots, right? All pretty much in the exact same location…” Mulder balanced his chair on its rear legs, rocking. “And your businessman here had a gun on his nightstand, leaves it sitting to let our killer in?”

“So, maybe he knew the guy, Marty. I don’t see the big deal.” Sauceda shrugged at Harris. “You’ve checked the victim’s local contacts, someone who might have known he knew someone, that kind of thing? Get any leads?”

Harris sighed. “Straight arrow police work, all the way. We’ve checked every contact, right down to the pharmacy on the corner. And all we’ve got is zip.” Harris waved at the photo in Mulder’s hand. “Mr. Businessman’s so squeaky clean he makes me look like the Marquis de Sade.”

Reggie was watching the struggle on the profiler’s face. “Mulder.” The agent’s head remained bowed over the evidence, but he lifted his eyes to the ASAC. “You’re working up a theory,” Purdue noted. “It’s what we’re here for. Tell us what you’ve got so far.”

Mulder regarded him, looked away to a bare spot on the wall and back again. He ran a nervous hand through his hair.

“Okay. Where were the bodies found?” he demanded. “Other than Four, I mean.”

Harris shrugged. “On the streets–”

“No, specifically. Were these locations strongly associated with the victims?”

“You mean did they hang out there?”

“Sleep there.”

“Well,” Harris searched through his notes. “Rene Reynolds’ pimp had dumped her and a witness said she’d been living in the alley she was found in.” He flipped back a few pages. “The first victim was killed under an underpass where he’d apparently taken up housekeeping. The second was found in a cardboard box. Probably called it home from the look of the lot it was in.” He looked up at the profiler expectantly.

Mulder was nodding. “I think that if these people were not transient you’d be calling these home invasions. And that includes Mr. Business in his home-away- from-home hotel room.” Mulder tapped vacantly on a file, watching his diet soda sweat a ring of water onto the table. “How far apart are the murders?”

“They average about one a month since the second one,” the detective answered. “The first was November 26. The second, January 4. Then February 27, and March 29. It’s been quiet since.”

Sauceda was looking from Purdue to his partner. “Look, Marty, if you’re speculating a serial killer, the guy’s gone overdue, don’t you think?”

“Or, he’s gone to less frequently visited housing locations.”

“Meaning there’s a body waiting to be found somewhere?” Harris frowned.

“It won’t be on a street or in an alley,” Mulder advised. “Not a hotel room, either.”

“Maybe someone’s actual bonafide home?” Purdue suggested quietly.

Mulder nodded. “I think that’s the next step in the progression. I also think the mutilations will be worse.” He was staring at that bare spot on the wall again, his vision distant and unfocused. “The hotel victim’s carving is more… intricate. The killer took his time. The position of the body, the face uncovered… He enjoyed this one more than the others. Probably because he felt no pressure to hurry.” The eyes refocused and he glanced from his ASAC to the detective. “These are not hate crimes. They’re not drug killings. And they’re not random. And your victim profile is about to take a dramatic turn. Our guy’s moving from the fringes and freaks. And into the heartland, into the home. Mr. and Mrs. America are next on the entree. Then it’s going to get messy because Mr. and Mrs. America have relatives and friends; you don’t find him quick, you’re going to have a political hot button on your hands.”

“Great,” Harris sighed.

There was a tap at the door. A uniformed officer popped his head in and Harris waved him frantically back out the door, rising to join him in the hall. The detective held the door partly closed and Purdue caught only muffled voices.

Sauceda finished scanning the last of the autopsy reports and tossed it on the table. He gave the ASAC a rueful smirk.

“Well, hell, Reg,” he quipped, sotto voice. “Not here four hours and you’ve found us another serial killer. So much for expanding the kid’s repertoire.”

Purdue didn’t answer, taking his frustrations out on his cigarette, mashing it methodically into the ashtray.

Mulder stared at the violence the ASAC wrought, stared without focusing, lost in thoughts Purdue would have paid good money to hear. Mulder glanced up though as the door rattled.

Harris stood there a minute, the officer behind him straining to see over his shoulder. The detective stepped in, however, and slammed the door in the man’s face, oblivious to all else but the profiler across the table. Mulder frowned at Harris’ sudden interest and glanced away, momentarily intrigued by the nutritional disclosure of his soda can.

Purdue was more interested in the paper sack Harris was carrying. The detective’s eyes were too bright, too cold and too damned hungry; Purdue licked his lips nervously.

Harris caught the look in his friend’s eye and grinned. The expression managed to be both genuine and begrudged. “Well, well, Reggie,” he quipped, nodding his head in Mulder’s direction. “Just what did you bring me here?”

Purdue assumed his accustomed mask of deliberate calm. “Just what you deserve, Nat,” he replied. “A round trip ticket to hell.”

Harris swung a coolly delighted face to the profiler. “I bet he is, too,” he mused.

Mulder shifted uncomfortably but said nothing; a nerve in his jaw twitched angrily.

Harris’ grin broadened at the reaction and he turned back to the ASAC. “So where were we? We’ve got four victims found and a fifth hypothetical victim unaccounted for. Don’t suppose your criminal virtuoso over here can tell me where this missing body might be?”

Purdue shrugged off the challenge, irritated that Harris felt like he had some kind of right to talk about his agent like the man wasn’t even there. “Look, Nat, like I told you, we’ll be staying a few days–”

“I’ll let you know in the morning,” Mulder said quietly.

Harris and Purdue eyed the profiler with identical expressions. Sauceda took a sudden interest in the linoleum. Mulder’s eyes never waved from Harris’ face; they were cold and hard and piercingly green under the flickering fluorescent bulb above him.

“Excuse me?” Harris glanced from the young agent to the ASAC like he’d missed the punch line of a long joke. “You see something else in those photos I didn’t?”

“No,” Purdue barked. Mulder opened his mouth, closed it again under his ASAC’s glare and instead, busied himself straightening evidence back into folders. Purdue leveled an equally uncompromising squint at Harris. “We’ll let you know how long we’ll be staying by morning.” Purdue said it like it was the obvious explanation. Said it like he’d cut Harris’ throat if the man had the balls to question it. Harris didn’t take him up on the threat. Purdue continued. “In any event, you’ll have a workable profile before we head back to Washington. Meantime, it’s getting late–”

Purdue stood and the detective looked around the room: Sauceda and Mulder had the table in order and the younger man was doodling on an empty Styrofoam cup. Harris’ attention roamed back to the ASAC. Purdue’s face said, Yeah, this is how we’re playing it.

“Fine,” Harris nodded reasonably. He smiled at Mulder and called out “Heads up, kiddo,” tossing the paper sack to the profiler before the warning was halfway out.

Mulder didn’t disappoint by missing the catch. The look he gave Harris bespoke crimes way beyond misdemeanor and Harris shrugged a relatively sincere apology.

The detective nodded at the bag. “A gift from your pal Albert,” he said.

Mulder unrolled the top of the sack and dumped the contents onto the table: a white button down shirt, long sleeved. Soaked in blood.

Harris grinned at Purdue. “I’ll look forward to seeing you guys in the morning.” For once, Harris sounded sincere.

Part 5: Cannibals in the Cafe

5:15PM. It’s still Tuesday. We’re still in Wheeling.

Harris extended the courtesy of an unmarked unit and Purdue got his team registered at the Fort Henry Motor Lodge: no room service, but free– imagine that– cable TV and hot and cold running highway traffic just outside your bedroom window.

Mulder had remained silent through the proceedings. The wall was back up and as impenetrable as those mirrored shades he’d slipped on when they’d left the precinct station. Mulder had made no effort to remove them in the dim confines of the motel office, either.

Purdue honored the self-imposed solitude; Sauceda was chattering away enough for the three of them anyway. In fact, Purdue got the impression Hot Sauce was trying to cover for his partner’s silence, maybe hoping the ASAC wouldn’t notice. Purdue allowed the man his little delusions and doggedly took care of business. He’d requested a block of three motel rooms when Mulder finally spoke: a request for one of the rooms to be several doors away from the others. Mulder was looking at the desk clerk when he made the pronouncement but Purdue had Mulder enough in profile to detect the uneasy shift of his eyes as the words tumbled out. Purdue nodded his agreement to the clerk and told Sauceda to shut his yap when the pathologist began squawking about it. Purdue felt Mulder’s wall slip just a bit as the ASAC signed for the rooms; the profiler even managed a quick “thank you” when Purdue handed him his key. It was far more than the ASAC had expected.

Fort Henry’s was conveniently flanked by a twenty-four hour Wal-Mart and a diner calling itself Chris’ Cafe. Purdue gave his little flock just enough time to dump their luggage before gathering them up again. They descended on the cafe for dinner.

As they walked across the parking lot, Sauceda simply picked up where he’d left off, yammering away about this and that; Purdue wondered where the hell he was managing to find so much of nothing to talk about. Mulder, still within his sanctuary of silence, remained doggedly unaffected by his partner’s ramblings.

Chris’ was one of those Norman Rockwell places idolized by “American Graffiti”: soda bar, retro chairs, booths leathered in teal and pink, waitresses crowned with little Florence Nightingale hats and sporting round ruffled aprons tinted to match the leather. The pastels reflected brightly in the mirror of Mulder’s shades; the profiler seemed determined to retain his eyewear even here. Purdue sighed. Well, what the hell ever.

The cafe was obviously popular; the place was packed, but Mulder surprised the ASAC by wordlessly blazing a trail to a vacant booth. The profiler waited patiently as Sauceda claimed the first seat, scooting down the bench to make room for the younger man. Purdue accepted the opposite bench as his own and stretched his legs wearily. He told himself that he really needed to stop worrying so much and start sleeping better.

The jukebox was hopping to the Fine Young Cannibals. Purdue chuckled silently as Mulder began drumming along with the tune unconsciously.

Sauceda, propped comfortably against the wall, gave his partner man a playful slap on the arm.

“You know, Marty, if you need to work off some excess energy, we can take you cruising later and pick you up a redhead or something,” Sauceda winked at Purdue. “Women love a man with a badge. I’m sure you find one willing to flop on her back for love of Mulder and country.” “Screw you, Lenny,” Mulder answered absently; it was obviously a tired joke between them.

“Forget that,” Sauceda wriggled his brows dramatically, “I ain’t floppin’ for you for nobody’s country.”

Mulder ignored him as one of the pink waitresses came over and automatically began pouring coffee. It was a beverage requirement, apparently, but she flashed them a smile that was pleasantly more than just obligatory.

“You boys in town for some greyhound racing?”

Purdue returned the smile perfunctorily and inspected his cup. If the coffee were any darker it could have saved her the trip and walked itself to the table.

Sauceda was grinning, though, a sure sign of impending mischief. “My friend here’s looking for a little different kind of action. You know, kinda expanding his love life. Know anyone that could help him out?”

Mulder shot Sauceda a look they could see even through the shades.

“Oh,” the woman fell easily into the game, regarding the profiler thoughtfully, one hand on her hip. “And how does that wife of yours feel about that, honey?”

Mulder glanced up. Even Purdue could see she was checking out the ring. The profiler turned a shade of pink not quite as garish as her apron and stared into his empty cup, looking like he was trying to find the nerve to swear. “There isn’t a wife,” he said.

“She know that?” she asked. Purdue busied himself with his menu.

“Yeah,” Mulder admitted quietly.

Her voice was just a tad softer. “You know that?”

Mulder’s head dropped so far down Purdue could see the trembling of the man’s lashes as he squeezed his eyes shut. He didn’t speak.

Sauceda was choking with laughter, oblivious to the desolation beside him. Over top of his menu, Purdue glared at him to little effect.

Sauceda didn’t seem to notice the angry glint in Pinkie’s eye either. She tried for a more direct approach, though, leaning past Mulder to ask sweetly, “You want some more coffee, pal?” She was holding the pot over the pathologist’s lap. Sauceda recovered quickly and declined.

Pinkie looked back to the profiler. Her sudden proximity seemed to have exorcised his heartache at least temporarily; his blush was gone and he looked like he was reassessing initial impressions.

Purdue watched the couple discreetly, careful to keep the menu between himself and Sauceda. The woman was cute. Not overly pretty, but she carried herself well. A dainty little brunette, maybe five foot nothing, maybe five or six years older than Mulder. Steel blue eyes and perfect teeth that must have set mom and dad back on her college fund. No ring on the appropriate finger.

She straightened and poured Mulder’s coffee slowly, letting him get a better look. She must have felt the man’s eyes through the shades because she smiled softly. The expression seemed to hit Mulder like a blow, however; the young man actually caught his breath. Purdue blinked and re-inspected his menu but Mulder recovered quickly enough, concentrating on upending the sugar dispenser into his coffee.

Pinkie relented her flirtations, flipped open her pad and took their orders: specials all around, salad, no baked potato for the man in the shades.

Business handled, she flipped another page and got that smile again, readying her pencil. “Well, now,” she purred to the profiler, “if I’m supposed to get you set up with someone, honey, I’ll need to know what it is you like.”

Mulder choked on his coffee and Sauceda howled.

“Oh, I know just his type!” he offered, slapping Mulder on the back solicitously.

“Uh huh. And that would be…?” Pinkie requested.

“Breathing,” Sauceda threw the punch line and twisted on the bench in a fit of giggles.

“Oh, come on,” Mulder deadpanned. “I can’t afford to be that choosy.”

Sauceda totally lost it and even Purdue and Pinkie had to smile. The jukebox reset for the Bangles.

“You got a name, honey?” she asked the profiler. She managed to ask the question like it was no big deal.

“Mulder.” She raised critical brows and his lips twitched ruefully. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the first name,” he explained.

“Try me.”

Deep sigh. “Fox.”

Pinkie paused, skeptical gaze swinging to Purdue, then back to Mulder. “You got ID to back that, angel?”

It was clear Sauceda would never recover. Mulder fished out his badge with the air of a man donning his blindfold before a firing squad.

“Well, well, Fox,” she smiled, “your parents must have been psychic.”

Mulder’s blush was pure scarlet this time and Purdue shook his head. So, this was the man Patterson had tried to pass off as the son of the Antichrist… Hell, maybe the Bureau needed to bring Baez back in to analyze Bill Patterson. Pinkie let the profiler recover before reaching to shake his hand. “Hi, Fox. Welcome to Wheeling.” “Hi yourself,” he squinted over his shades at her name tag, “Kay.”

She winked lightly. “I’ll be back with your orders, boys. Sit tight.”

Sauceda watched her walk back to the next table before leaning over to his partner. “Yep, someone’s got that Wheeling feeling–”

“Shut up, Lenny.” Mulder’s voice was suddenly tired.

“Uh, huh. Now I know what the big deal was about getting a room away from mine or Purdue’s. You don’t want any embarrassing interruptions in case she turns out to be a squealer–”

“No, I just get tired of your headboard ramming into my wall every time you call your wife.”

“Why, you little prick–”

“Jeezus. Are you two always at it like this?” Purdue demanded. “Continually,” Mulder assured him.

“You might have warned me.”

The agent shrugged. “You didn’t ask.”

And finally the wall had broken down just that much more, just enough, perhaps for the question Purdue had been strangling since they left Harris’ office. “Yeah,” the ASAC nodded, keeping his voice neutral. “Well, apparently I haven’t asked quite a few things–”

Mulder swore silently and retreated back against the bench, head turning abruptly away. In profile, the eyes behind the shades were unyielding.

“You’re going to make me ask, aren’t you?” The ASAC sighed. “Jeezus, Mulder, why do you have to make everything so damned hard–”

“Is that your question?” Mulder demanded. Sauceda made a noise and Purdue told him to shut the hell up.

“Allow me to quote, Mr. Mulder,” Purdue’s voice was calm, but clipped and harder than he’d intended, “‘I’ll let you know in the morning.’ Just what the hell was that all about?”

“What did you think it was about?”

“I’ll be damned– Don’t start that shit with me, Mister. I ask you a question, you give me a straight answer. Jeezus, answering a question with a freaking question– You were willing to answer to a homicide detective who doesn’t know you from your maiden aunt, you can answer to me, dammit.”

Mulder sat up straighter but didn’t look particularly contrite. Cornered, but not contrite. He distracted himself, swirling patterns in the sweat of his water glass as he answered.

“I’ll know where the other victim is by morning. That’s all,” Mulder shook his head, his voice softer. “It was a stupid thing to say,” he conceded. His hand slipped around the glass, knuckles white, clinched as tight as his jaw. He leveled a look at Purdue. “But it’s true,” he seethed. “What’s the matter, Purdue? Isn’t that what you brought me out here for? So you could show off your wacko profiler to your friends? Or maybe I’m just here to perform a few tricks to up the Bureau’s PR with the locals? You know: sit, roll over. Retrieve the dead?”

The surprise on Purdue’s face must have been answer enough. Mulder glanced away and Purdue was left with that revealing profile; again, the lashes fluttered behind the shades.

“Look,” Mulder mumbled, “forget it. I don’t want to fight with you–”

“The hell you don’t.” Purdue made the statement but didn’t elaborate. He was giving Mulder room and an opening to lay some cards out on the table if he chose to do so. He didn’t figure the odds were high, though.

Mulder’s hand slipped from the glass and flattened out beside it, long fingers pressed against the table, seeking the assurance of something solid. His head was back up, his voice fiercely composed. “I said I don’t want to fight with you. And I won’t. I just don’t want to discuss this… stuff. And I won’t. Everything I had to say about it is on record.”

Purdue snorted. “A record we both know was written by Patterson and quotes you only twice–”

“That’s all I had to say to him, either.”

“Have you even read the report, Mulder?”


“Aren’t you curious–”

“No.” “Well, I am.” Purdue waited for a reply that was apparently not forthcoming. “Look, Mulder, I can appreciate that you get a little tired of the Amazing Wunderkind routine but you have to see this thing from my side. I’m not the type of man who can have a quiet chat with a corpse then enjoy a smoke on the hood of my car while the locals dig up thirteen bodies. That’s not generally part of my routine. Until now.” He sighed. “I don’t want to pick your brain, Mulder. I woud just like a few answers.”

Mulder had studied him intently during the speech, and in the pause the ASAC realized suddenly that his words, his actions, his whole freaking life was being weighed in a balance, assessed. The possibility Mulder might find him somehow unworthy was oddly disturbing.

The profiler looked away after a minute, picking absently at the edging on his napkin. He hadn’t responded one way or the other on the issue, though and Purdue decided to take the silence as permission to continue. He chose his words carefully, keeping his voice level and unassuming.

“Do you always know when these insights are going to… come to you?”

Mulder startled him by actually answering. “Not always.” He apparently didn’t intend to elaborate and Purdue sighed. This was like pulling teeth.

“But you know this time,” Purdue prompted.

Mulder nodded. Purdue raised questioning brows at Sauceda. The pathologist shrugged and resumed his scrutiny of the label on the ketchup bottle.

“How is it you know this time,” Purdue asked patiently, “and maybe not the next time?”

Mulder grimaced. “I just know,” he said.

“So tell me now,” Purdue invited. “Where’s the body?”

“I don’t know right now.” Mulder was back to solemnly swirling patterns on his glass.

“Do you have to be asleep for it to come to you? Like the thing in Fredricksburg?”

The young man chewed his lip a moment. “Yeah.”

Sauceda squirmed at the answer and Mulder shot him a look that sent Sauceda scooting for the far corner of the bench.

Purdue raised interested brows. “You have something to contribute to this discussion, Agent Sauceda?”

Sauceda blinked painfully. “No, sir.”

Purdue swore. “That’s a lie,” he growled. “And I won’t tolerate it.” He pointed a stern finger at Mulder. “From either of you, is that clear?” He glanced around the dining room and lowered his voice when he focused on his profiler again. “Look, Mulder, I’ve heard the so-called ‘spooky’ routine and I don’t buy it. I don’t think you buy it, either. You’ve damn near wound up in the loony bin twice because too many people do buy it. Then you waltz into Wheeling and start this spook shit with Harris. What do you want? You want him thinking you’re some kind of psychic crackpot with a badge?”

Mulder shifted uncomfortably. “No. I just thought–”

“No, you little bastard, you just thought you had me pegged as Patterson Part Two, didn’t you? Figured you could jerk me off just like you did him– and like he did you, too,” Purdue conceded as Mulder sank back against his seat. The ASAC sighed irritably. He was just a little too tired for this conversation. He hadn’t had much sleep since Sunday and that never failed to make him grumpy.

“Okay, I’ll lay it out for you, Agent: I think you’re a good investigator. I think you can get in people’s heads sometimes. That’s fine. I can buy that. I’ve seen your work. Some of your insights have been downright frightening. Shreveport. Seattle. Saint Paul. Solving four-year old cases stone blind. I don’t pretend to know where you get half this stuff you come up with. And I don’t care. But damn you, don’t ever make the mistake of lying to me.” He turned to Sauceda, “And don’t you sit there and back him on it, you little shit.”

Mulder looked over at his partner. Sauceda was watching Mulder warily.

Mulder took the shades off, but didn’t look at the ASAC directly. “Sometimes,” he said quietly, “I see things wide awake. Like I’m dreaming. It’s like a film being played out against a wall. You know, like family movies and somebody gets up and the images play across their face, their body… That’s what it’s like sometimes. But that’s… a bad case. Like Shreveport. Twenty-seven kids dead. That kind of case. This isn’t that kind of case.”

“You can dream this stuff on demand?”

“No.” Mulder rubbed at his face wearily. Purdue recalled Mulder’s violent nap on the plane and wondered how much sleep he’d had since Sunday. “I can’t just make it happen,” the profiler admitted. “But, my mind gets focused on something sometimes and just, I don’t know, works it out subconsciously for me. And I see it in a dream. Or in the back of my mind.”

Purdue nodded, kept his face a mask. There was just too much Mulder wasn’t saying. Watching Mulder’s eyes, Purdue realized suddenly that the young man might not even know the rest of the explanation. That thought was more than a little frightening.

“So,” the ASAC asked reasonably, “you think your subconscious is working on the location of this victim?”

“I don’t– Hell,” Mulder hissed. “Look, it’s not with every case. And I could be wrong; it might not even be with this one. But it’s not some kind of weird hocus-pocus. It’s sure as hell not hallucinations. I don’t care what Patterson told you. Or Sauceda over here–”

“Hey, Marty–”

Mulder waved off the pathologist’s protest. “I am a good investigator, dammit. My investigative technique is in the top ratings; I’ve never been faulted on it. I’ll give you my best on any case you put me on. But some cases… I can give more than just that. Somehow–” Mulder wouldn’t meet Purdue’s eyes again. His voice was soft. “It’s like… It’s like someone walking up behind you and not quite touching you. You can feel them standing there, but… Then, when everything is quiet, they reach out.”

Salads arrived and Kay didn’t take long picking up the fact that the table had gone solemn. She opened Mulder a fresh bottle of blue cheese dressing and made herself scarce.

The men ate in silence a few minutes, lost in the sound of crackers and croutons. Mulder drowned his lettuce with the dressing and pushed around more on his fork than he managed to chew. He kept his head down, risking furtive glances at Purdue when he thought the ASAC wasn’t noticing. Across the table, though, Purdue’s mind was churning.

“In Shreveport,” Purdue muttered around his saltine, “you told them where to find the victims. Things about them, too. Their age, sex. How they would be laid out.” He swallowed. “Sauceda says that you’re not so much in tune to the crimes through the killer as much as through the victim. Okay, I’ve got no problem with that. I mean, if we believe profilers can get the skinny on a killer, why not the victim? But if you’re seeing through the victim’s perspective, how did you know what the killer was doing postmortem? It’s not like these kids would have been aware of that kind of information. They’re dead. Right?”

The profiler was looking at him over his salad. His face was suddenly very pale. Purdue frowned.

Mulder ducked his head abruptly, staring down at the fork in his hand; it trembled slightly. He speared a cherry tomato, waiting patiently for the seeds and juice to settle into the soup of blue cheese. His voice was quiet, his head stayed bowed. “Sometimes. Most times. Maybe because they’re not expecting death when it comes… The soul exits the body. But it still feels a sense of obligation to it, somehow. Sometimes they stay for a while, and watch. Like they’re not certain what’s expected of them. Or maybe just out of curiosity. Or confusion. Until someone comes for them.”

Purdue sat his fork down quietly. “Sacred Heart of Jesus,” Sauceda whispered. “Who comes, Marty?”

Mulder shook his head, staring at the tomato. “Someone,” he said. “I don’t know. I can’t see.” He slipped the tomato off his fork. “It’s not me they’re coming for.”

Kay was back. She dealt out the chicken fried steaks with gracious finesse, generally making a friendly fuss. Assured everyone was just pleased as punch with the service, she took few extra seconds filling Mulder’s tea glass. He wouldn’t look up at her, though, busy eyeing his steak. He looked a little odd just then. She bit her lip, considering. “Honey,” she said softly, “let me take that beef back to the kitchen. Gosh, a Band-Aid and that thing would be back out grazing.” Mulder looked up gratefully and nodded. “I’ll bring you a baked potato, okay, angel? No butter, lots of sour cream.”

“Thank you.”

Purdue busied himself cutting up his chicken-fried and Sauceda followed his cue. There hadn’t been anything wrong with Mulder’s steak but neither man mentioned the fact. Kay was back quickly with the potato and making a fuss about whether there was enough sour cream, and dammit if they hadn’t gone and put the butter on it anyway–

Mulder protested meekly as she sputtered. Sauceda used the opportunity to scratch a note on his empty sweet-n-low packet and slip it to Purdue. The ASAC read: “The ‘someone walking up behind’ is getting closer.” Kay got things situated to her satisfaction and finally left the men in peace. No one spoke for a bit. Purdue kept the younger man in his peripheral vision, watching him trying to not eat a potato while making at least part of it disappear somewhere. Purdue bet the kid had given his momma hell eating his vegetables. Mulder’s inoffensive steak never grazed itself back to the table and no one mentioned that either.

Kay returned shortly with more coffee, and, of all things, hot tea for Fox. Mulder accepted the cup, comically stunned but grateful and downed fully half the liquid straight off. There was a faint whiff of alcohol to the steam and Purdue wondered if there wasn’t a little honey and whiskey swirling around in there. Like his granny’s home remedy.

Purdue ordered pie he didn’t want and played with it, ordered more coffee he wasn’t drinking, waiting for Mulder’s tea to settle. Purdue had scooped out and squashed four cherries flat before he noticed the agent staring at him.

“Just say it,” Mulder’s voice was harsh.

Purdue set the pie aside and watched as Sauceda begin scooping out cherries for himself.

“I’m telling you this as a friend, Mulder. Hell, I’m telling you as your ASAC. And I just want you to think it through. Spooky is cool in DC. Spooky’s expected. At least as far as you’re concerned. But this is Middle America and they don’t know your stats from Dallas. Don’t interrupt. Please.” He held out his hands, surrender fashion and Mulder relented. “Don’t do this to me. Don’t do it to yourself. Even if you can do this crap, even if it works… You just gotta find a better way to deal with it in the real world.” Sauceda was nodding, cherry juice on his chin.

Mulder’s face over the tea was dark. “You want me to lie on an investigation? To withhold evidence–”

“First off, your impressions, even if they’re from the lips of God, are not legally evidence. Second off, say you do know where the body is, you go popping this pertinent piece of information off on Harris, he’ll pick us up for obstruction, thinking we got an inside somehow and were holding out on him. All I’m saying is this: you know something, you let me know. Let me handle it. That’s my job, to take some of the crap off you so you can do your job. You’re a profiler. So, profile. Let me fade the heat. Let me figure the angles on the locals.”

Mulder was quiet, staring hard at the cooling dregs of his tea. “You’re not sending me back to DC?” he asked finally.

Purdue frowned. “Do you want to go back to DC?” “No.”

“Mulder, let’s get this straight. If you didn’t have the highest solve rate in the Bureau, no one but no one would put up with your crap. If you didn’t have the highest solve rate in the Bureau I wouldn’t have kicked so much ass to get my grimy hands on you. But I don’t expect miracles. Just good investigative work. And you’re right, you’re one of the finest investigators we’ve got. Even without the spook. I want to solve this case. More importantly, you want to solve this case. So do it. You do your part, whatever the hell you think that entails and you let me do mine. We’ll let Sauceda here poke around on the bodies and let Harris make the arrests.” He smiled. “See, that’s not so hard.”

Sauceda pursed his lips. “That’s easy for you to say, I’m the one that has to put up with the smell in the autopsy room.”

Purdue waved for the check. Mulder’s troubled smile took a sudden turn south and he blanched, teacup rattling. He excused himself and made his way to the men’s room. Not all his steps were steady. Kay was hot on his heels and got the door slammed in her face for her trouble. She hovered outside the locked door, her questions apparently ignored.

Sauceda sighed and followed Purdue into the little hall. Behind the door, the faucet sounded like it was running full blast. The sound almost covered the retching noises.

“Just how much whiskey did you put in that tea?” Purdue demanded.

“A couple of teaspoons,” Kay protested, “as God is my witness.”

Sauceda shrugged. “It’s not the tea, I tell you. Hell. If I had a corpse walking up behind me, you wouldn’t see me keeping anything down either.”

Kay eyed the pathologist warily and he took pity. “Your Fox in there is a profiler–”


He waved Purdue off. “We show the kid photos of murder victims and he tells us what the killer is like. Then the local PD goes out and finds the bastard.”

Her face was thoughtful. “And this is his chosen career? Or did he just luck out in dog catcher school?”

Sauceda grinned. “No kidding. He’s good at it. Really.” He called out as the water stopped: “Aren’t you, Marty?” “I’m good at a few things too,” she said, “but if I did them for a living they’d lock me up.”

Mulder got the door open on that one, his head down to conceal the slightly dilated pupils. “They threaten to lock me up now and then, too.” He managed a smile of sorts for Kay, quickly lost it as he shoved past Purdue and Sauceda and stalked out of the diner.

Purdue shoved the check to Sauceda and followed. The ASAC had to trot to cover the ground of Mulder’s stride. They were halfway to the hotel before Purdue caught up and spun the profiler around.

“Look, Mulder–”

Mulder exploded, “Don’t ask me anymore, dammit!” Purdue released the man’s arm, watching open mouthed as Mulder’s entire body shivered violently. “Patterson’s had me jumping through hoops for a fucking year and now you want to start it all over again–”

The profiler gasped and jerked away several yards distance. Purdue followed slowly, giving him room. Mulder pulled his jacket tight, hugging himself as he paced the length of shadow cast by a parked van. He swore softly all the while. Purdue did not interrupt. He’d seen enough in Seattle to identify the symptoms.

After a minute or so, Mulder seemed better– still hugging himself, still pacing– but his shivering had eased to infrequent shudders and he registered Purdue’s presence again. Purdue watched him swallow hard and look away.

Realization finally struck the ASAC. Jeezus, Reg. The kid is terrified of you.

Purdue did some hard swallowing of his own, choosing his words, his tone, even the stance of his body, very carefully.

“Do you know what I dislike most about you, Mulder?” he asked across the silence of the lot.

Mulder stopped mid-stride, eyes wide but steady finally.

Purdue smiled. “The way you’re always interrupting me. I hate that.”

Mulder’s expression of numbed surprise was priceless but Purdue couldn’t find the will to laugh. The agent remained speechless, wary. Purdue studied his scuffed shoes.

“I know, Mulder, you’re used to being out here on your own more or less. But that’s not how I operate. My being here is no slight on you or your work. Or of my respect for you. I know it may be difficult for you to accept that. But it’s true.” He frowned, “And I’m sure as hell not looking for some kind of circus act.”

Mulder stared away across the parking lot, not focusing on much of anything. When he answered, his voice was distant and hesitant.

“Half the time,” he said, “Sauceda’s scared shitless for me. Or of me–” He grimaced. “And one’s just as bad as the other.” He shifted uncomfortable, rubbing his left arm before finally focusing on Purdue. “Do you know that when Lenny gets stressed, he shaves three, four,” he shook his head, “eight times a day? Breaks out in a rash of razor burn. I have to hide the batteries on the Norelco or he’d rip off his entire epidermal layer– I’m not kidding!” Purdue was chuckling in spite of himself. Mulder finally grinned, looking about half embarrassed at the absurdity of his conversation. He watched Purdue, his voice becoming lighter. “But me, now,” he mused, awaiting the ASAC’s reaction, “I have a few bad dreams after studying half a dozen corpses, and they call me the nut.”

Purdue was still smiling. “You know, Mulder, you need to find the son of a bitch that told you life was fair and beat the crap out of him. It’d make you feel a whole lot better.”

“No doubt,” Mulder smirked ruefully, setting his hands on his hips as Sauceda came trotting up to hand him his shades. He managed to look almost relaxed, slipping the shades on, finally safe behind his bit of armour. Purdue felt the wall dropping back in place, too, but slowly, now, brick by brick. It didn’t seem as high this time, either.

Mulder bobbed his head at his partner. “Moocher,” he accused. “Making time with my girl, I see.” Sauceda grinned. “Just getting her warmed up for you, kid. That’s why they call me the Hot Sauce.”

Purdue shook his head. “Look, you guys stay out here and shoot the shit if you want, I’m going to bed. I’ve had a tough week.” He looked pointedly at Mulder. “And I get a phone call in the morning, it had better be from you with some info. Or a ‘Good morning, Mr. Purdue.’ Not Harris telling me where I can pick you up and how much your bail is.”

He didn’t turn until Mulder gave him a grudging nod. Sauceda grinned at his partner and gave him another playful slap before following Purdue off toward the motel. Purdue turned at Sauceda’s approach, kept walking as he glanced back at Mulder.

The profiler remained there in the gathering darkness, staring across the parking lot toward the highway. His face was suddenly deadly serious.

“It’s a woman,” Mulder announced.

Purdue paused and spun around, gravel sliding beneath the soles of his dress shoes. Mulder turned back to face him, shades reflecting black pavement and burning red sky.

“The victim,” Mulder explained, dispassionate as a weather report. “And it’s bad. Worse than the others.” He frowned. “The killer found this one a bit of a challenge…” He bit the inside of his cheek, his voice husky and soft, like he was talking to himself. “There’s something… Something’s off. Something odd about all this. Somehow…”

“What’s odd, Marty?” Sauceda’s voice was a little too high-pitched.

The profiler scanned the parking lot like he expected to find the answer parked there on the blacktop. He shrugged and pocketed his hands. “Hell, I don’t know. I’m not the freaking Amazing Kreskin.” Purdue sighed, “You know, you don’t have to struggle to turn the world over, Mulder. Just give it twenty-four hours, it’ll roll over all by itself.”

Mulder grimaced, still staring across the parking lot. “Yeah,” he whispered. “You hope.”

Part 6: Ollie North, Apple Pie, and American Dreamscapes

Tuesday evening. Wheeling. Fort Henry Motor Lodge. Room 37. 8:17 PM.


“And I see once more how everything
Must be up to me: here a calamity to be smoothed away
Like ringlets, there the luck of uncoding
This singular cipher of primary
And secondary colors, and the animals
With us in the ark, happy to be there as it settles
Into an always more violent sea.”


Mulder flipped the little book of poetry across the bed and watched it skid over the blanket. Such tremendous stuff in so slim a volume: the clockworks of a heart exposed and laid bare to the world… It took guts for a man to do that. Mulder briefly entertained the idea of writing Ashbery a letter– an honest to God fan letter no less– thanking him for his courage and explaining how so many of his poems fit the pattern of life in Mulderville.

Yep. Great idea, Fox. Could get a little complicated though: “Dear John, hey, you don’t know me, but I chase serial killers for a living and your poems really speak to me…” Hell, the man would probably hire a bodyguard and give up writing altogether–

Well, saved that stamp.

Mulder rotated his head against the back of his chair and surveyed his situation: another third rate motel room– bed, chair, TV, end table with it’s obligatory Gideon Bible and equally obligatory listing of local, ah, entertainment outlets. The bed was empty. The room was empty. Except for him, of course, but he couldn’t very well count himself, could he? What was the old story about the tree falling in a forest? If no one sees, does the tree exist? If a man blows his brains out in a motel room and no one sees…

Mulder tore his eyes away from the gun on the nightstand and stared dutifully at the television screen. He’d been sitting there for hours, still fully dressed, feet propped on the bed, TV blaring. CNN had cycled through the headlines four times now and no matter how many ways they told it, it was obvious the state of the Union was up for grabs. The incidence of AIDS was rising rampantly in San Francisco. Donald Trump was buying up New York and whining that the Japanese were trying to beat him to it. And in East Heller, Montana the bodies of three children were found buried in a playground and no one knew anything, but three blocks over, twenty six people were swearing they’d seen an image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of burnt toast.

Jeezus, next thing you knew, they’d be running those hokey alien abduction claims on “Meet the Press.”

Mulder poked at the remote in disgust, watching the blur of channels until even the blurs began to look familiar. He wound up back on CNN and the remote control joined the little book on the bed with an apathetic thump. Maybe he needed to get some video tapes. Hell, maybe he just needed to get out and get a life. Sure, like the Bureau’d give him time off for that.

He grimaced at his reflection in the screen. What the hell was he doing here, anyway? Every other profiler in the Bureau got to fly a desk in the basement at Quantico. Not Fox Mulder, though. It was Patterson’s credo: got a bad case? Haul Fox out and let him smell the blood. Hell, he’ll dig you up bodies you didn’t know you had… He could solve cases with finesse, dazzle the locals– and the press. It played well with the penny-pinchers in the Ways and Means Committee, too.

Never mind that good old Fox has developed night terrors, REM rebound and every symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder listed in the DSM-III. We’ll just patch him back together with massive doses of Seconal and a seventy-two hour involuntary committal. He’ll bitch like hell but he’ll be so grateful to be out he’ll make sure he stays vertical long enough to get the next half dozen cases worked. Maybe.

Mulder scrubbed at his face fretfully, pushing the thoughts away. Hell, it was his own fault. He should have told his recruitment officer to go to hell and finished out his clinicals. But Mulder hadn’t taken up psychology to figure out what made other people tick. He’d been trying to wrestle his own demons, and had simply found too few answers for himself to see psychiatry as a viable career. He just wasn’t that good a liar.

So, here he was, hunting down the psychos who believed they were the Second Coming of Christ and the Charles Manson wannabes who said it with a hatchet and a smile. And somewhere, early on, he’d discovered this latent talent, the spook: the shivering, the occasional vomiting and the inevitable body in the ditch. And a whole Bureau full of folks willing to pay him for such services, content to stand in awe as he silently drowned in that ever more violent sea–

Mulder swore silently, fed up with his own morose mood. His legs had gone to sleep and the tingling would soon be unbearable. He ignored it.

It was the waiting like this that he hated the most. He could feel her, that someone walking up behind. He’d sensed her presence when he’d first spotted the photos on Harris’ bulletin boards. She didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry, though. Well, why should she be? She’d waited this long. She could happily keep her secrets just a bit longer if for no better reason than to tease him, stringing him along, enjoying the attention.

It fascinated him how the personality endured death like that. How it continued to alter the fragrance in a room long after the body had been stilled. He wondered if his own soul would linger when his time came. It might be interesting to hang around and see who showed up.

Yeah, and wouldn’t it serve you right if no one did, you little bastard–

He stopped the thought without completing it. No. Someone would come, he was certain. Someone from the living to claim the body. Someone from the dead for the soul. He wondered if one of the someones would be his sister. Surely, Sam would come for him. Samantha would be there, somehow, he was sure of it. But from which side of the living…

His left leg convulsed into a bitter cramp and Mulder staggered up, swearing and grabbing at the pain in his thigh. Jeez, Fox, where are you digging up all this morbid shit from anyway?

His perpetual headache probably wasn’t helping much. It’d been running for months, a dull persistent ache. Since Sunday though, it had taken to periodic explosions; he’d had to pull over twice on his way to Fredricksburg, blinded temporarily by searing pulses of light. Stress. Nervous tension. He knew the symptoms, and the aspirin he’d been popping like breath mints wasn’t helping any. Baez had prescribed Valium, the occasional moderate dosage of Seconal or Thorazine– Patterson’s unholy Trinity of psychological domination. Sauceda still carried the drugs, he was certain. But even for a simple Valium, Sauceda would insist on a confessional: when did you eat last? Are you sleeping? You getting enough protein? Mulder’d be damned before he’d surrender his life’s history for the sake of one little pill, no matter how bad it got.

Mulder hobbled to the open window and steadied himself against the frame as he looked out. The breeze that brushed his face smelled alternately of asphalt and burger grease but he was grateful for it all the same; it was the fragrance of freedom, of people living their lives, unconscious of evil in their midst, unconcerned.

Somewhere across the parking lot, a child screamed. Mulder convulsed with the sound, his mind galvanized by memory– forty-six bodies in the past nine months. The scream echoed again, subsiding quickly into a squeal of delight and then laughter. It took a full minute for Mulder to identify the subtle change, then the relief hit him. It slammed into the back of his knees, in fact: he collapsed, folding down to the floor, panting as his head lolled against the windowsill.

For several minutes, he made no effort to rise. Every emotion, every bit of energy he possessed had been expended by that little scream and he simply had nothing left.

He needed help. He’d needed it for weeks. The knowledge was certain– one of the more dubious advantages of his training. What Oxford had failed to tell him, however, was who he could and couldn’t trust. Patterson’s psychological betrayals were a matter of record. Purdue wasn’t much better; he’d brought in Baez in Shreveport and threatened involuntary committal if Mulder didn’t cooperate in what was tantamount to mental rape.

And, hell, Mulder’d puked in front of Purude twice in as many months now. Purdue must already think he was a total flake, a candidate for the Immaculate Order of Our Lady of the Burnt Toast. Unbidden, an image crossed his mind: Purdue’s face that night in Seattle, right after Mulder had presented him with that body: that small, cold little form, face down in the mud of a ditch beside the road, bathed in the headlights of the car. And Purdue just sitting there, staring at Mulder, his dark hands shaking too hard to pull the key out of the ignition…

Mulder finally managed to sit up and push himself away from the wall. His eyes fell on the television screen, a gesture born of habit rather than real interest. Images of Poindexter and Secord paraded across the screen followed by the scrolling text of the twenty-three count indictment returned against them. Mulder watched it closely, staring without seeing.

Tonight, standing out there on the parking lot with Purdue, Mulder had envisioned the latest victim quite clearly. But it was just a glimpse: a whiff of perfume, a snatch of song just audible above the traffic, a glimpse of matted hair, and blood drying dark on pallid skin. The next body he’d haul this ASAC out to see…

Mulder closed his eyes against the steady, dizzying flow of words on the screen. Shielded by the bloody curtain of his own lids, only sound could reach him: CNN droning on, a Senate panel speaker asking a question. Oliver North’s tenor claiming “Senator, I do not recall.”

Screw this. Mulder’s decision was abrupt. He had to get out.

Mulder hadn’t thought to change before leaving, though, and realized too late that he wasn’t really dressed for a long walk. Was a little overdressed, he imagined, for Wal-Mart; besides, he couldn’t recall needing anything right now. He briefly entertained the thought of catching a cab and getting the driver to recommend a good bar, or one of those better entertainment outlets.

He didn’t really want a drink, though, and in the mood he was in, he honestly didn’t think he could work up enough lust to do the leering-animal routine. Between the headache and the stress he was operating under, Mulder’d be no great prize anyway; put him in the room with a willing woman and he’d probably just wind up humiliating himself– even if he was paying her enough not to say so.

Mulder scanned the highway forlornly and turned back to the parking lot. Hell, the diner looked pretty quiet. He could order some pie. Maybe… He let the sound of his shoes scuffing gravel drown out the rest of his tormented thoughts.

Chris’ was nearly deserted when he ambled in. A couple in a booth were romancing over the remains of chili dogs and cheese fries. An old man in denim was permanently installed at the soda counter, nursing his iced tea like it was a whiskey sour–and not his first for the night. Simply Red was on the jukebox. The singer’s voice was hungry; the saxophone backing him had the longing sigh of seduction. Mulder grimaced at his observations: for a man who was just rating his achievable limits so dismally, he was feeling remarkably lascivious. Mulder told himself to behave, staked out a corner booth and set his menu to spinning lazily on the tabletop.

“Hi ya, Fox.”

Mulder glanced up, surprised and surprisingly pleased. “Well, hi yourself, Kay. Don’t they ever let you go home?” He felt a warm flush at her smile; it was disturbing but he held the self-analysis at bay, an easy reflex for him, perfected through years of practice.

She maintained the smile as she filled his water glass. “Every day this month I’m on from three to nine. Then I hit the day shift again.”

“You close at nine?”

“Uh huh.”

He checked his watch– ten ’til– and started up guiltily, “Jeez, I’m sorry–”

She gave him a playful push back into the seat, laughing. “Don’t fret yourself, honey. If the FBI doesn’t mind me borrowing you for a while, I certainly don’t mind having a little security on the premises while I count the drawer down. And you gotta be hungry– unless you’d like some more tea,” she winked mischievously, but her voice was soft with genuine concern. “Kitchen’s closed but if there’s something on the menu you think you can keep down–”

Mulder shrugged his shoulders against that glorious smile; her hand on his chest as she’d pushed him back had radiated an intoxicating warmth. And the realization hit him: he’d hoped she’d be here; he’d lied to himself that it was the pie that had brought him across the parking lot…

He asked for it anyway, avoiding her eyes. She laid a knowing hand on his head, leisurely brushing back a lock of dark hair.

“Oven’s still warm,” she said easily. “I’ll pop one of the apple pies in and get it hot. It’s not half bad with ice-cream.”

“I don’t want you going to any trouble, Kay–” Oh, the convoluted layers, the euphemisms of mutual need–

“So, who’s being bothered?” Her voice was satin, cool and comforting against the pounding in his brain. “By the time the crust is hot, I’ll have herded these misfit out and join you,” she promised.

She had a great smile. And an even better laugh. He hadn’t heard a lot of laughter lately–

He shouldn’t be here and he knew it. He’d be doing her a favor to just get up and walk out. He looked up at her, to tell her so, saw suddenly in her face a glimpse of blood-matted hair in a dark room– and she smiled again and it was gone. He managed a grimace in return.

“Sounds great,” he said.

Ten after nine and Kay had the place locked down tight and half the lights shut off. She’d managed somehow to get that damned stupid hat off without making too big a mess of her hair and he’d joined her at the soda counter as she counted down the register. He was quiet as she concentrated, amusing himself with the spin of his pedestal stool.

She kept him in focus out of the corner of her eye: spinning on the seat like some kid when his Momma wasn’t looking. His eyes were striking– you didn’t see many men with hazel eyes– but the expression was distant and kind of sad unless he knew you were watching. Probably that crappy job of his…

By nine-forty, the remains of pie and ice cream were scattered on the counter. They shared an ashtray. He knew she was from Bridgeport across the river, had skipped college for a marriage that didn’t work, that it was a long time ago and she’d been at Chris’ ever since, no kids. She knew he was from Martha’s Vineyard, had been to Oxford for a psychology degree, was new to the Bureau, no kids. He’d pointedly not explained the ring. She didn’t mind too much; he laughed at her jokes. It was a nice laugh and she got the impression he didn’t get to use it much.

“So, how long you gonna be in town, Fox?”

His smile dissipated. “I don’t know. Sometimes I’m in town just long enough to file a report. Sometimes they keep me hanging out ’til the case is solved. Could be this week. Could be next month.”

“Ever get lonely traveling like that?”

He laughed. “Hell, I get lonely sitting at home.”

“Ever thought of finding someone to sit in it with you?” He glanced up under his brows and she waved off the innuendo. “I’m not proposing to you honey, just answer the question.”

He shrugged and laughed, trying to make this look easy. “Well, yeah. But, I work a lot and…” He looked down at the puddle of ice cream on his plate and his voice got soft and reluctant. “I have bad dreams sometimes.” He smiled like a man with his foot on a grenade, and he wouldn’t meet her eyes. “I have them a lot, actually. Sometimes they’re not so bad if someone’s there to wake me. But that kind of thing tends to freak women out.” His laugh was painful, hollow, and he cut it short.

“You’re going to have one of those dreams tonight, aren’t you?”

The question shocked him into looking up at her. “What makes you say that?” he whispered.

Her own voice was soft. “It’s all over your face, honey.”

Mulder studied his plate again and she made her voice light. “So, when you haul these women home so they can keep the nightmares away, do you have sex with them? I mean, just because they’re expecting it and all?”

His head jerked up just before the blush set in, followed by the little smile as he looked vaguely away over her shoulder. “Yeah, well,” he mused, “the least I can do is try to make it worth their time.”

“And I bet you do, too.”

He turned a brilliant shade of red and dropped his head again. She took the pressure off by wiping up the crumbs from the counter.

After a minute he flicked his ashes and chuckled. “You know, I can just see that: me walking up to a woman in a crowded bar and drawling, ‘Hey, babe, I’m about to have one hellacious dream. Whatdoyasay we go back to my place and see if we can fight off the boogie man?'” He pretended a frown. “Actually, I know some bars where that just might work.” He gave her a self-effacing shrug and tapped his fork at the crumbs in his saucer.

“It works for me,” she said.

He caught his breath, too stunned to blush, too scared suddenly to drop his head. He dropped his fork instead.

“You’re not going to disappoint me by being one of those men who’re all-talk-and-no-do, are you, Fox?”

The sensation of her hand on his arm must have set off an electric charge. He practically flinched. You didn’t have to be a psychologist to appreciate his situation: a single male, living alone and on the road, too strung out to expend necessary energy on a long term relationship, pretty much tactilely deprived. Add to that the pressures of a nightmare of a job and you had a very young man overly sensitive to even the slightest physical contact. And she knew enough about men to know no Oxford degree was going to alleviate his physical reality. Still, she wasn’t certain she was really ready for this kind of thing. It’d been an awfully long time…

She released his arm abruptly, leaving him to deal with the decision for her as she hauled the plates and pie tin to the sink in the back. She took her time with it, running the water until it was hot, watching the dish liquid bubble up her reflection a hundred-fold. And she wondered what he saw when he looked at her. She certainly knew what she saw in that mass of reflections: an only moderately-pretty woman on the wrong side of thirty– with far too little to show for the years.

She shook her head, slamming off the tap.

And he’d come wandering in like she was his best option, talked to her with respect and concern, like she was his only option. Like there was no one else in the world willing to just be good to him for a while– Beautiful man like that and he had come to her. It made you wonder just what was wrong with the world….

When she emerged, she knew the decision had been made– and exactly what that decision was. He was standing at her side of the soda counter. He wasn’t blushing but with that look on his face he should have been; she did it for him, suddenly and inexplicably shy. He smiled at that. He apparently had no idea what kind of damage that little smile could do when he put some real interest in it.

He moved closer and she backed into the wall involuntarily. He slowed but didn’t stop, watching her concentrate on her breathing.

“Do you want me to leave?” he asked quietly.

She shook her head, suddenly speechless after talking his ear off for an hour…

He closed the distance between them much too slowly, but she didn’t rush him, enjoying the fluid motion of his body in the dimmed lights of the diner. And then he stopped, finally, very close, so close she could feel his breath against her hair. He stood there a long moment, watching her silently, but he didn’t touch her. Her own hands were shaking too much to trust them just then and she waited him out. Jeezus, it had been way too long–

Slowly, leisurely, he placed first one hand, then the other on the wall to either side of her. She wished she was taller suddenly, tall enough leave both her feet flat on the floor and still reach his mouth, tall enough to feel his breath on her face– He still wasn’t touching her but she could feel him like he was all over her.

“I’m, ahm, I’m afraid I’m one of those all-talk-and-little-do types, Fox. Pretty small town to boot. I–”

He leaned down and she offered her mouth in welcome, blinked rapidly when he moved her chin aside, nuzzling it upward. His evening stubble rasped lightly against her jaw, his lips brushing her neck, searching, sure of their destination. She felt his mouth open against the soft vulnerable skin beneath her jaw and she held her breath, unable to comprehend his intention. Mulder’s lips and his check brushing her were his only point of contact; her entire body trembled.

She’d never known a man who went straight for the throat: the mouth, the side of the neck, the ear, perhaps, but not the throat. The movement was amazingly sensual, frighteningly predatory, as though his passion, tightly reigned, cloaked another desire entirely, concealed and threatening as a switchblade. She gasped at the intimacy of such a caress, and at the complete abandonment with which he accepted her.

His breath was trembling and measured, burning as his mouth pressed gently against the cage of tendons that protected her windpipe. He slid his lips– just his lips, dry and hot– down the ridge of her throat, closing his mouth at last to lightly touch the little hollow where her collar bones rested. He lingered and his breath down her dress sent a shiver over her body that lit up everything it passed through. She knew he felt it and felt him smile as he moved up, now along the side of her neck, planting almost-kisses, demure and sweet, as he went. He paused again, brushing her earlobe now, a soft chaste caress that made her feel anything but. A gentle kiss at her jaw. Slowly, slowly. Another tender kiss on her neck.

He was definitely not small town. Any man from Belmont County would have had her groped by now and been halfway to touch down, but this man was obviously in no hurry. It was wonderfully infuriating. Her heart was pounding in her ears, drowning out all other thought but the sensation of that mouth against her skin.

The kiss under her jaw repeated itself and her breath escaped as a whimper. She felt him smile again. He knew exactly what he was doing, and she was powerless, completely unwilling to prevent him from taking from her whatever he deemed necessary.

A gentle caress on her collarbone that lingered and she finally reached for his arms, pulling his hands to her waist. He accepted their placement but left them there, light and hot, still concentrating on her neck and ear. The heat of his fingers burned through the cloth of her dress and she was kissing his neck, infuriated that he wouldn’t give her his mouth. She unknotted his tie with difficulty and he made no attempt to make it easier for her.

More kisses, his breath too warm on the side of her neck as she tried to remember how to breathe, how to work the buttons on his shirt. She had four managed when his hands began to move, easing down to her hips, his thumbs dragging along her flanks, tracing where his palms had been. He reached her hips as the fifth button finally surrendered and she gasped as his hands moved back and stroked softly well below the bow of her apron.

He chose that moment to kiss her mouth, deepened the kiss as she rose to tip-toe to feed on his breath. She ran her hands under his suit jacket eager and insistent, and flinched when she found the holstered weapon. He stiffened.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered against her mouth. The voice was low and rough but very quiet, truly regretful.

Kay caught his mouth again as he pulled away, even as she tried to speak, “It’s alright. I’m not afraid–” she lied.

He gasped at the ferocity of her kiss, the intimacy of her hands, the intimacy of his own. She grasped his belt loops and pulled him against her, feeling his breath catch with the pressure of her stomach against the reaction of his body. The sudden hesitation in his eyes made her shiver with greed for him.

He misinterpreted the response and pulled away abruptly. Kay lost her balance in his sudden motion; he caught her instinctively even as she bumped into the wall. She laughed at his fear– losing her own at last– and pulled him to her again, pushing his shirt open and laying feather soft kisses on his chest. It was his turn to tremble.

He shifted to hold her hips at bay despite her protests, finally pushing her away entirely, holding her to the wall with his hands on her arms. He was panting, eyes closed, head turned away. She waited, fascinated by the trek of a single drop of perspiration making it’s way down his temple and across his cheek. When he looked back again, his breathing had eased and his eyes were still but it was the kind of stillness you find in the eye of a hurricane: electric and alive, and cast in livid green.

She knew her eyes were smiling. He smiled back.

“Okay now, Fox?”

He nodded hesitantly.

“You place or mine?” She smiled, her words a breathless whisper.

“Mine’s closer.” His voice was a bit harsher than he’d probably intended and his smile faded as he searched her face. She ran her hand down his arm, laughing softly, reassuringly. He closed his eyes, concentrating again and she was merciful, pulling her hand away and slipping under his arm. He looked around to the rattle of her keys.

He held her hand as they walked across the parking lot, apparently not trusting himself to touch her further until they were in his room. Then she kissed him again.

It was some time later, with the world finally quiet and still, when he realized he had made love to her while still dressed: suit, jacket, tie hanging loose around his neck.

Kay laughed at his amazement. And helped him rectify the oversight.

4:03 AM.

She woke to the pressure of his body shuddering against her. Kay smiled, turning to greet him with a low moan of pleasure, then realized his eyes were not closed in desire. He was asleep. Sweat was pouring off him.

She remembered his warning and pulled him close, hugging him tightly, staying under his arms in case he woke fighting.

Fox gasped, moving vaguely and she rubbed his back, keeping her voice low and calm, coaxing him back from the land of dementia.

He struggled to respond, his body tensed in desperation, like it had when he’d first laid her on the bed. His hands then had spoken of too much death, of blood cold and dried on children’s faces. Of the need to feel life, and love– or at least it’s sister, mercy.

Kay stayed tucked tightly against him now, her voice at his ear soft and steady. She was listening, too: to his heartbeat as it calmed its frantic hammering, his breathing as it eased. His struggling ceased, though the trembling had not lessened.

She felt his hands on her, light, tentative and questioning, then firmer, reassuring himself. Reassuring her.

“Okay?” she whispered against his neck. She felt him nod hesitantly. Okay.

She sat up, pushing with her hand on his chest and he rolled onto his back, his eyes quiet in the wounded face. She leaned down and kissed his eyelids, her hair cascading about his face, a shield, soft and merciful, against all he had seen. He allowed the kisses, turning his face to make it easier for her, but left his arms laying still, one flung to her side of the bed, the other laid across his ribs.

She watched his eyes, moving her hand on his chest, feeling the dark hair curling beneath her fingers. She could feel his heart pounding bare inches below her palm, his breath shuddering to escape it’s precious cage, and then returning anxiously. Her hand slid lower, comforting, caressing, and there was the contour of his ribs, the flatness of his stomach. And still he was quiet, watching her, but unmoving, unresponsive.

She smiled and had resumed the slow downward slide of her hand when another wave of trembling shook him.


He closed his eyes against her fear. There was little else he could do, she supposed. Kay pulled the blanket up over her shoulders, then covered him with it, with her, as she lay down upon him. The trembling subsided after a moment and he wrapped his arms around her, pulling her to fit against him less awkwardly. He released his hold, sliding his hands to her thighs where they straddled him, searching her face. Kay gave him the smile he sought and felt the tension recede from the muscles across his abdomen, from his arms.

She settled her hips gently and leaned to kiss his neck. Softly. Softly. She continued the caresses along his collarbone, his chest, going slow, trying to remember how he had begun the seduction so many hours before. He lay quietly under her, under her hands and mouth, a shiver taking him sporadically. She knew he could feel her reaction to his body beneath her, given her position it was impossible to hide. Yet he remained so utterly still…

Her kisses became less chaste. She moved her mouth to his nipple, tugged insistently, teasing it with her tongue. She felt it harden beneath her lips and smiled again. Laughed softly when the hands on her thighs moved back up her hips.

Mulder rolled her onto her back gently, finally responding to her kisses with soft ones of his own, pausing to breathe quietly against her as a final spasm shook him. It ceased and he moved his hands over her, slow and intimate and then suddenly she was spasming beneath him, feeling him warm and alive and glad to be alive, no longer desperate or frantic but slowly luxuriating in the power of life.

She moaned her delight at the soft resonance of his laughter and covered his chest with feather kisses.

Part 7: No Left Turn

Wednesday, May 11, 1988. 8:22 AM.

Mulder was dressed– slacks, dress shirt, wingtips– when he noticed Kay watching him from the pillow. He held her eyes in the mirror, his fingers knotting his tie on reflex. The smile in her eyes traveled to her lips when he gave the silk a final tug and winked at her.

She didn’t rise, though, when he sat beside her and he had to lean over to kiss her. She pulled him closer, deepening the caress, hands moving up under his jacket to massage his back and shoulders. She was too damned warm, her skin too soft and the taste of her was almonds and honeydew in summer. He heard himself thinking such things and it terrified him, embarrassed him as if she might be capable of discerning his thoughts through the simple intimacy of a kiss. Her hands bespoke such knowledge, though; they moved across his body with the ease of one born knowing him.

The truth of it made him giddy. The familiar burn of desire ravaging his gut and mixed with too many more things he couldn’t afford to dwell on just now. He broke the kiss and pulled away; her response was a soft, startled “oh” that made her blush and his chest pound. She recovered quickly enough, however, and laced her fingers through his belt loops, capturing him before he could rise. Despite her desperation, she was careful to avoid the weapon on his hip; Mulder noted the fact and relented, retreating no further.

“Hi, ya, Fox.”

“Hi yourself.” His smile broadened with hers, and against his better judgment, he leaned to kiss her again. She received and gave with equal passion, her kiss overwhelming the fear in his heart, shattering his resolve. He slid his mouth down across her throat and buried his face in the billow of hair on the pillow, reluctant to release her, content to simply be here.

“Say,” she whispered against his neck, “isn’t this how this got started last night? You dressed to the nines and me naked on the bed?”

He laughed, swallowing her giggles with another kiss. Kay moved against him playfully; magical and omniscient, she knew he could not say no to her now– and that he needed to. She laid her hands on his chest and pushed gently even as she welcomed his kiss, his fingers’ brush against her right nipple. Mulder conceded reluctantly, resting his forehead against her shoulder, breathing the fragrance of her skin for later reference. His hands found hers, motionless against his chest, and wrapped them up, small and wise within his grip.

“I’ve got to go to work,” he whispered, a confession, a grief. She moaned and he realized his tone had been a bit more seductive than consciously intended, his breath doubtless too warm against her breast. She read his regret clearly enough, though, and smiled her forgiveness, squeezing the hands that held hers.

He couldn’t let her go so lightly, yet he was completely unable to locate the words that seemed necessary. He sat instead, fascinated by the play of morning sun against her skin as she breathed, his thumbs unconsciously swirling provocative patterns within her palms.

Her face was still– who could not regard such a creature as utterly perfect, beautified by gods– her eyes spoke languages he feared to translate. She had to feel his heart pounding beneath her fingertips–

Ever merciful, she whispered her assurance. “You know where to find me, Fox. I’m not going anywhere.”

He shuddered in relief; she pretended not to notice and he rendered his thanks in one long soft kiss. She didn’t struggle to hold him when he rose and crossed to the door.


“Yeah?” He turned, stopped. She’d slipped the covers back, smiling again; she might be letting him go but she didn’t intend to make it easy.

“See you tonight?” she invited.

Her smile faded uncertainly. He knew his appreciative leer had subsided too abruptly but he was struggling to recover his breath; it didn’t help that his difficulties suddenly had nothing to do with desire. He covered with a feeble wink, his pupils still too dull and distant.

“It’s a date,” he forced his own smile, lost it as he closed the door between them. His hand shuddered on the doorknob and just standing was a conscious effort.

For one brief moment, he’d caught a glimpse of matted hair. And blood….

Chris’ Cafe. 8:31 AM

Purdue grimaced at his cup of coffee-flavored water and poured in another tablespoon of cream. If the stuff got any lighter, he could have ordered them to hold the coffee and just bring him a glass of milk. Still, it was about the only way he could handle decaf. He hated the stuff, only drank it when he remembered he’d promised his wife he’d take care of himself– which wasn’t often enough, he admitted.

Sauceda sat across from him, straining his neck with twisting to look out over the parking lot for some sign of Mulder. Sauceda turned back around again and announced adamantly, “He’ll be here any minute now, you’ll see.” The pathologist filled his mouth with fried egg and chatted around it. “Probably just late coming back from his run.”

The ASAC grunted noncommittally. He’d caught a glimpse of a young couple walking hand in hand from a certain diner last night and had little question about what kind of exercise had delayed the agent’s breakfast hour. Purdue didn’t offer the information to Sauceda, though; hell, it wasn’t anybody’s business but Mulder’s and– what was her name? Kay? Still he couldn’t help but smile ruefully into his cup of creamer, recalling the image out his window.

Purdue was no fool. He knew the rumors and the cover-ups that went on with the agents in his department, male and female: the all-night binges, the hangovers, the hooker parties, the “flight-delay” excuses… It was a tough job and the occasional radial release valve was expected. And the fact that Mulder was so rarely the subject of such rumors was a topic of uneasy speculation among the powers that be. Mulder was probably one of the more intensely investigated agents the Bureau had and they still hadn’t found any dirt worth mentioning. Sure, there was that brawl in Baytown and another in Newport; Mulder had gained a reputation for being quick with his fists his first two weeks in the Academy. Aside from that, however, the man was notoriously decent: his few affairs had been short and discreet enough to escape notice, he rarely drank, had to be threatened to take even prescription drugs– and he never allowed anything to interfere with the job.

Point of fact, Mulder seemed to have no life at all outside his work. And it was just that fact that worried Purdue. It had worried Patterson, too. Because the sad but simple truth was, men didn’t hold up to the kind of stress Mulder shouldered without some kind of occasional high-end release. It was especially true of young men: the blood was too impulsive, they were too ambitious; too much was on the line.

So Purdue could appreciate the fact that he’d enjoyed a quiet night’s rest rather than having to haul out in the wee hours to peel his agent, sodden drunk, off the floor of a whore house. If Mulder’s only “vice” was an occasional fling with a diner waitress, well, the man was old enough to know to take precautions. And he was just too damned good to be true–

“… Just don’t let him freak you out.”

“Excuse me?” Purdue frowned. Sauceda was a regular Chatty Cathy this morning; the ASAC should have ordered him the decaf.

“I said, I know this is going to be a little unusual but just don’t get freaked out. Marty knows what he’s doing. Hell, we find half our bodies this way.”

“He just dreams them up and off you go to fetch them?”

Sauceda grinned. “Just like Seattle. And Shreveport.” The grin disappeared abruptly and Sauceda’s eyes got hollow, remembering. “That first body in Shreveport– that was a tough one. By the time we got called in they had seven bodies and Marty knew that they were too well staged to have been the first, that there had to more ‘earlier works.’ So, we hadn’t been there a day, and we’re driving down this road with the local sheriff, and Marty starts with his ‘turn here, turn there’ thing. The sheriff’s just looking at him, you know, like he’s thinking maybe this kid’s just out cruising for massage parlors or something. Anyway. We get to this abandoned house and Marty has him drive to the back. The body’d been laid out in an old storm cellar. You can’t even see it from the road. Hell, I couldn’t even see it until Marty’s standing on top of it, kicking the lock out to get at her. And there she was, just like he’d said. Blew that sheriff’s mind clean away. Everything from then on out was Agent Mulder this and Special Agent Mulder that. Which, of course, really hacks Marty off–”

Purdue frowned. Stuff like this had set the foundation of the “Spooky” legend surrounding Fox Mulder. And it was this kind of story that only rarely got written up in officer reports. The very things that might give the most insight into Mulder’s work were often the things no one wanted to admit to, afraid of getting themselves labeled as crackpots. Instead, Mulder’s bewildering talents were heralded by gossipmongers at water coolers, whispered in “off the record” conversations in deserted halls. And God only knew at what point the truth ended and rampant imaginations began. But this was insight from a man who should know– Mulder’s own partner for the past nine months.

Unfortunately, Sauceda, the little bastard, was the worst gossip of all, a sensationalist from the cradle. The ASAC kept his tone skeptical, scarcely feigning interest. “So, that body was the first victim?”

“Nope,” Sauceda grinned sagely. “That’s the thing, see? We really wanted to find the first victim. That would have been the killer’s sloppiest work, ’til he got his technique down, you know? And he’d have left more clues with the earliest ones. But this was his seventh victim, and he was well practiced by then. Marty was damned near apologizing about hauling us to her first but he swore that he found her straight off because when he went looking,” Sauceda tapped his forehead, “she stepped up first. Loudest. ‘Cause she didn’t like being alone, he said. He said she was afraid of the dark.”

Purdue hesitated, “Lenny, most kids are afraid of-”

“No, no. Not like this. We ID’d her and I went with the sheriff to go see the parents. I asked them. They showed me her room. The kid slept with two lights on so in case one of the bulbs burned out, the other would still be on for her, so she wouldn’t start screaming. They’d taken the door off the hinges, so she wouldn’t feel closed in or alone either. Kid had a pile of stuffed animals on the bed, barely room for her. She slept with all of them. And the dog. Couldn’t stand to be by herself. Or in the dark. And Marty knew that.”


“On the drive out to find the body, Marty told us what she’d be wearing. What had been done to her. In what order. Knew where she’d be found. What position she’d be lying in. The placement of her hands. Everything. He told us that on the rest of the bodies, too. Nineteen more.”

Sauceda swallowed hard, wincing at the effort, the memory apparently over-running his exhibitionist’s tongue. Purdue had the Shreveport file damned near memorized and he could sympathize with the pathologist. All those autopsy reports. All those sweet little lives thrown away like so much garbage. Worse.

Sauceda’s voice was distant when he spoke again, his mind, no doubt, still somewhere south, in the swampy waters of Caddo Lake.

“Marty told us the killer’d given the girl a candy bar when he picked her up. Mars Bar. But that her favorite was Baby Ruth. I asked her mom about that, too. Wild for Baby Ruth.” Sauceda’s glare was an accusation. “He coulda told you the same kind of things about that kid in Seattle. Only he’s gotten so he doesn’t like to tell that kinda stuff anymore. It scares people.”

Purdue shook his head. “So you’re saying– what? Mulder’s telepathic or something?” There was a caustic taste in his mouth as he formed the words.

“Empathic. Maybe. How the hell should I know? I’m just trying to tell you what I’ve seen, dammit. Look, you watch him day in and day out, watch those eyes get dull and dilated and listen to him whisper poetry to himself like most people pray, trying to comfort himself, trying to make sense of the senseless, insane shit of the world. Then you sit there with that look on your face and tell me how the hell else he does it. ‘Cause I wanna know. Sir.”

Sauceda shoved his egg-streaked plate away and spent a few minutes apparently trying to wash out his mouth with coffee. “Shit,” he declared to no one in particular, waving the waitress down for a refill.

Purdue stared past the waitress’ arm, watching a figure in dark blue striding across the parking lot, jacket swinging loose and easy. “So,” he brooded, “you’re saying when Mulder walks in here he’ll look like he’s just seen a ghost or–”

“Hell no,” Sauceda took another gulp, wincing as he choked the hot liquid down, “that’s just it, Reg. He’ll walk in like he’s got the world by the tail: mirror shades and son-of-a-bitch mode full on. And that’s how you know–”

He was silenced by the expression on Purdue’s face and the tinkling of the bell on the cafe door. He took a quick glance back and grimaced at the ASAC. “Told ya,” he mourned.

Mulder entered the diner just like he entered most rooms, with the confidence of the terminally unconcerned. Diner, motel, crime scene, morgue: Purdue had known him to grace each with the same indifferent stride. Only the constant motion of Mulder’s head betrayed him now, his roving focus impatient, preoccupied, shades incapable of settling on any one thing for long. The profiler was immaculate as ever, suit too impossibly unwrinkled to have been shoved in a suitcase, cologne only subtly pervasive. He gave Purdue a cursory nod and plopped himself next to his partner. And instantly began drumming to the jukebox. Purdue listened to the tune a minute: Cheap Trick. Good band.

Sauceda was frowning, though. “Say, Marty, didn’t we discuss this hyperactivity of yours yesterday?”

Mulder glanced over the shades at him briefly and completed his percussion solo as the waitress, a blonde with too much blue eye shadow, stopped to take his order. Coffee.

Sauceda was obviously displeased. “You’re not going to start this not-eating routine of yours again, are you, kid? ‘Cause it’s a little early in the case for–”

“When my mother decides to vacate her position, I’ll let you know, Len. Drop it.”

Sauceda gave Purdue a knowing look. The ASAC smiled. If this was the pathologist’s idea of son-of-a-bitch mode, Purdue needed to introduce him to Walter Skinner when the auditors were in.

Mulder poured about five tablespoons of sugar in his coffee and didn’t bother to stir before downing it. “So, what’s first on the agenda?” he asked pleasantly.

Purdue pointedly maintained eye contact with the shades. “I thought we’d go for a drive. See the city.”

“Okay.” Mulder’s face was expressionless. “I’ll drive.”

Sauceda’s eyes got big. “You drive like a bat outta hell, Marty, especially if you’ve got someplace to be.” He turned to the ASAC, pleading. “I swear. I ain’t getting in the car with him behind the wheel.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my driving–” Mulder protested solemnly.

“Not usually, but if you take a notion to–” Sauceda paused. Even Purdue could feel the glare behind the gold glass.

“If I take a notion to what?” Mulder demanded. Sauceda, damage done, clamed up to await the passing storm in silence. The profiler swore and swung to Purdue. “Look, if I’m going to be continually discussed behind my back like some freaking lab rat, maybe you should ship me back to BSU.” He grimaced and looked down. “Sir.”

“Fair enough, agent,” Purdue answered evenly. He ignored the hiss in Mulder’s voice, noting the trembling in his fingers as Mulder clenched the coffee cup. Instinct assured him it was not anger. The ASAC shrugged, seeking to lighten the mood. “Your partner here seems to be under the impression that you have something to show us. Is that right?”

Mulder regarded him a moment; the shades couldn’t hide the convulsive bob of his Adam’s apple.

“Same routine as Seattle,” Mulder shouldered a levity he obviously didn’t feel. “I’ve got a body. Somewhere to the northwest. Take the highway. I’ll know when we get close.” He looked away quickly, swallowing again as he shrugged. “So how’re we going to explain this to Harris?”

“You let me worry about Harris,” Purdue ordered. He glanced at Sauceda. “And the driving.”

Mulder shrugged again and remained silent, watching as the blonde, unbidden, refilled his coffee cup.

Sauceda had been watching his partner closely. Now he raised his eyebrows at Purdue and his voice went quiet. “So, Marty, what’s this one look like?” he asked soberly.

Mulder’s jaw twitched, threatening. “You’ll see her when we get there,” he growled. “I’m not your goddam performing seal.”

Without another word, Mulder rose and slammed out of the diner. Sauceda favored the ASAC with an apologetic shrug and followed. Mulder strode back across the parking lot, Sauceda skittering after. Purdue watched the performance languidly; he was the ASAC, after all. He was perfectly free to finish his coffee in peace while his agents cooled their heels at the car. He was the one calling the shots here. He was the one in control. He looked down into the tasteless cup with it halfway to his lips.

Oh, hell, might as well get this comedy on the road…

Mulder sat in front with Purdue, which didn’t keep Sauceda from at least having his face shoved in the front seat. The pathologist choked as the wind from the open window periodically blew Mulder’s cigarette smoke back into the car.

“Marty. You need to give those things up, kid. They’ll kill you.”



“If I toss it, will you stop your incessant babbling? Christ, you act like you’re on meth or something.”

Eliciting the vow, Mulder let the cigarette sail out the window. Purdue enjoyed a minute of silence before the profiler flipped the radio on. Rolling Stones. Mulder nodded approvingly, drumming on his thigh with one hand. He cradled the other against the door and absently chewed his thumb.

Sauceda promptly slapped at him from the backseat. “Stop that.”


“Chewing your thumb. Jeez, whatsamatta, you’re momma wean you too early or something?”

“Hey, you’re the breast man, as I recall–”

“You little bastard. That gets back to Imelda and I’ll–”

“Yeah, right. Like she’s little Miss Faithful while you’re out here–”

Purdue felt his seat jerk as Sauceda exploded. “Goddamn you, you take that back, you son of a bitch. That’s my wife– and I never touched that girl in Dallas–”

“Hey!” Mulder turned in the seat and Purdue wondered if he was about to have a fistfight on his hands. Mulder’s voice was sincere enough, though. “I’m sorry, Len. That was out of line. I didn’t mean it. Hey, you listening?”

“Yeah, well–” Sauceda shrank back in his seat, apparently uncertain of just what to do with the anger just then. Or with Mulder’s mercurial mood.

Purdue watched the man in the rearview mirror. Sauceda was hurt, his expression confused when he glanced up, down and up again at his partner. He was managing to choke his rage down for Marty Mulder, though. Purdue would have to remember that.

Len sputtered quietly for a minute. “Well, you know,” Sauceda managed to cover at last, “a guy gets lonely on the road. Thinks about things. You know? That he shouldn’t sometimes. That’s all. That’s all that was, Marty. Honest.”

Mulder slumped back down in his seat, staring forward, his face an undecipherable mask. “Yeah,” he said.

After a minute, there was a chuckle from the backseat. “You know, Imelda says that considering the number of bodies I’ve seen molested and whatever, if my libido hasn’t gone south by now, my body chemistry must be pretty much immune to anything. What’s Freud or Jung say about that, Marty?”

Mulder closed his eyes– Purdue could tell because he had him in profile. “Psychology 101, Len. The drive for life is strong in everyone. No matter how twisted the individual.”

“Yeah, I guess so– Hey! Who’re you calling twisted?”

Mulder sighed wearily, turned to Purdue. “Take a left at the light. And put some speed on it, wil you? He’s giving me a headache.”

Sauceda’s face was back in the front seat. “You wanna talk about twisted–”

“No,” Mulder answered and was promptly ignored.

“–How about that gal you cuffed in Baytown?”

“Oh, so, I was supposed to know she liked being handcuffed?”

“Well, you know the earring in her tongue would have given me some indication–”

Mulder sat up suddenly, pointing, gripping Purdue’s arm insistently. “Here. Turn here.”

Purdue obeyed, tires squealing dully. A street of walkup tenements. Lower middle-class. Identical buildings lining both sides of the road. Purdue shifted his vision from the light traffic to the agent, electric beside him.

Mulder scanned the rows of windows as Purdue slowed the Chevy to a crawl. The ASAC shook his head at the rearview mirror and Sauceda gave him that wicked little grin he’d used in Harris’ car. Mulder was chewing his lip.

Halfway down the block. Three quarters and Purdue sighed. Almost to the second light–

“Stop,” Mulder barked.

Purdue pulled to the curb and hadn’t gotten fully parked when Mulder hopped out and paced back up the street to the stoop they’d just passed. Sauceda waited until the car was still and ran to catch up.

By the time Purdue had reached the building, Mulder had found the landlord’s door and was fidgeting as a myopic man stared at his badge.

“In my building?” the man looked from Mulder to Sauceda, his eyes growing wider as he caught site of Purdue. Purdue maintained an authoritative presence but kept his distance. No sense making the super feel like he was being surrounded. Might come in handy later, though.

Mulder repeated himself. “Would you get your keys and accompany us? Please.”

The man scratched his T-shirt a moment, and closed the door in Mulder’s face without further comment. The three men were regarding one another blankly when the door re-opened and the burly gentleman re-emerged, slippers flopping, keys jangling.

“Which apartment?” he demanded.

“Upstairs.” Mulder preceded them up, runner’s legs taking two steps at a time.

The super was huffing not even half the way up. “Who called this in? Huh? Nobody told me nothin’–”

They made the second floor and followed Mulder as he made a sweep of the doors, examining each as though he expected someone to just open up and invite him in. Purdue grabbed Sauceda’s arm; the little pathologist just grinned and tried to keep pace.

The only way the super was keeping pace was verbally. “Hey, I run a legit place here. Inspectors were out, what, two weeks ago? Gave me a clean bill a health. Well, ‘cept for that little incident in 12. But hey, I got that taken care straight off. Booted ’em right out. Legally, though– Hey, I know tenants got rights–”

The landlord was beginning to remind Purdue of Sauceda on a nervous streak: non-stop yap. The ASAC had him fairly well tuned out halfway round the second floor, just nodding and uh-huhing occasionally. It was clear Mulder had tuned him out as soon as he’d heard the keys rattle. Right now, Mulder was making for the stairs again, on his way up to the third floor.

The super blanched, following dutifully. “Say, this ain’t about that letter that bunch in 302 sent to the Federal Housing Commission, is it? ‘Cause I can explain all that–”

Mulder began his step-and-pause dance on this floor as well. Two doors. Three doors. Four. Five. He stopped abruptly, the hulking super almost slamming into him. Mulder turned and pushed past him, past Purdue and the grinning Sauceda, back to apartment 304. He laid one hand on the door and interrupted the super’s babbling.

“Who lives here?”

“Uh.” Again, the myopic stare. “Three-oh-four? That’s Mary Kelly. No. Michele Kelly. Something like that. It’s on the rent agreement–”

“Open it,” Mulder demanded.

“You ain’t even knocked,” the super protested.

Mulder didn’t take his eyes off the little man, rapping the side of his fist against the wood like he was out to wake the dead.

“She’s not answering,” he explained even as he pounded. “Open it.”

The super squinted at Purdue and the ASAC nodded. He fumbled for his keys, paused and fumbled again, gaping as Mulder donning latex gloves. “Say,” he mused slowly, “don’t you need a warrant or something?”

Purdue sighed. “Sir, do you own these premises?”

The man looked up from working the doorknob. “Sure.”

“Are you opening this door under threat of force?”

The super swung his head uncertainly between the three men, pausing to scrutinize the man in the shades a little more closely. “No…” His answer sounded doubtful.

“Then we have the something,” Purdue advised. “Unless, of course, you’d prefer that we file for a warrant–”

The verb ‘file’ apparently held unpleasant associations and the super shook his head vehemently. “No. No, sir. No problem.” He pushed the door open almost triumphantly, glancing in; his face blanched, white as cigarette ash. Mulder pushed him back and took one step inside.

“Hello, Ms. Kelly,” Purdue heard him whisper.

Part 8: Table Setting

Apartment 304.

The a/c was running full blast: the apartment was like a freezer. Which would explain why the neighbors hadn’t called in the odor.

Mulder pulled his jacket tight as he stepped inside and Sauceda followed hard after. The apartment was nice enough, pleasantly furnished: combination living room/kitchenette with doors leading off left and right, but all this was absorbed peripherally. The main attraction was on the table, splayed legs facing the front door for maximum shock value.

As far as Sauceda was concerned, it was working. He was grateful that his partner had a good seven inches over him: the pathologist could duck back behind for a minute’s reprieve. Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, he’d never get used to looking at crap like this. Not ever.

Behind him, Purdue was on the cell phone calling for Harris and whatever passed for an investigative support team in this burg. He sent the super downstairs to direct them up. The old man was more than eager to comply.

Mulder stepped through the apartment cautiously, his attention focused everywhere, roaming, roaming. Always roaming back to the body of Ms. M-something Kelly. He spared a questioning glance for Sauceda and the pathologist grimaced into action: found a place for his bag, dug out the Polaroid. He was snapping away at the body when Mulder discovered the stereo was on.

Purdue stepped over. “What’ve we got?”

“Turntable left running.” Mulder fished a pen out of his coat and reset the switch to automatic.

Purdue watched the needle set itself to the little forty-five disk. “Just forego any drum solo’s on this one, okay?” the ASAC suggested. “I think your partner’s got enough on his hands right now.”

Mulder grinned and slipped off his shades, continuing his circuit of the rooms. He stopped in mid-step as the song blasted from the speakers: a jazzy upbeat number with get-back-Jack horns and a driving swing beat. Ella Fitzgerald does Rogers and Hart.

“This can’t be love because I feel so well, no sobs, no sorrow, no sighs–”

Sauceda looked up at the two of them like they’d sprouted secondary heads.

“Evidence,” Mulder quipped.

Sauceda noted the absence of the shades and warily resumed his initial inspection of the body. The song was short and he sighed as Ella completed her little spin. And glanced up sharply as the horns be-bopped again. Might have known the little punk would have set the machine to automatic.

“This can’t be love, Ella crooned again, “because I get no di-i-i-zzy spells. My head is not in the sky. My heart does not stand still–”

“Wanna bet, sweetheart?” Sauceda whispered under his breath, regarding the swollen corpse before him. “Jeezus, Marty turn that crap off. Like it’s not bad enough–”

Mulder not only ignored him, he began singing along as he approached the body. “But still I love to look in your eyes,” Mulder’s soft tenor cut short and he nodded his head to the instrumental interlude.

Sauceda’s face was red and he was breathing hard, just staring at Mulder: those clear eyes, that angelic face– the Angel of Death with a devil-may-care grin. Sometimes, at least once a day, Sauceda wondered if Mulder was even sane anymore. Sometimes, now specifically, Sauceda didn’t much give a damn.

Over Mulder’s shoulder, Purdue was watching the two of them like he was anticipating a fist fight. The pathologist kept his voice a low hiss as his partner made a circular, hands-off inspection of Ms. Kelly.

“Now I know why you can catch these bastards, Marty. It’s ’cause you’re as twisted as they are.”

Mulder had moved from the feet to the torso and bent over slightly. He briefly lifted eyes and brows at Sauceda without comment. Sauceda rolled up his tape measure with a disapproving snap. He pushed past Purdue as the investigative team made their entrance and quietly fanned out through the apartment.

Sauceda turned back at the door, though, watching Purdue watching the profiler alone with the body in the kitchenette.

“This can’t be love,” Mulder sang softly along with Ella’s sultry purr, “because I love to look in your eyes.” He carefully lifted the tablecloth draped over the face and looked down into the empty gouges where the aforementioned eyes should have been. Just as carefully replacing the checkered shroud, he moved to the lower torso, lifting the skirt to expose the disembowelment. A wire coat hanger protruded from between the legs. Mulder’s expression never changed.

An officer with a camera approached. Mulder stepping back to allow the photographer room to work. He requested snapshots of the contents of the cabinet drawers, requested– respectfully– that the fingerprint team not overlook possible prints on the closet and the stereo. Asked if the rape kit would be run on site or at the morgue.

Sauceda knew what Purdue was watching for. But except for that damned forty-five playing round and round, he would find nothing wild or weird about Mulder’s behavior. Nothing spooky. At crime scenes, Mulder was generally devoid of overt reaction; emotionally, he was habitually– and remarkably– flat. He behaved like a man who’d seen it before, right down to the last detail: read the book, seen the film, bought the T-shirt. No surprises; he’d already gotten the overview, thank you– in his dreams. Sauceda’s vision focused back on the body; he turned away with a jerk and stepped down the hall.

When Purdue pressed past the officers gathering in the door, he found Sauceda in a corner of the hall, looking through his Polaroid’s.

“Is there a problem, Hot Sauce?”

The pathologist shook his head. He knew the ASAC was fishing for clues on this little spat with Marty but damned if he’d concede the point. Instead, Sauceda waved his photos vaguely. “Sometimes it just helps to get a little perspective with the photos first,” he insisted. “Get past the touchy-feely stuff, you know?”

The ASAC pocketed his hands. “So, you always take your own photos?”

Sauceda was caught off guard by the sincerity of the question; Marty was usually the focus of attention these days. Sauceda squinted, wondering if Purdue actually cared or if he was just being kind. The ASAC’s face was bland as butter. Sauceda shook his head stubbornly. Hell, Len, you’re getting as paranoid as the kid.

“I’ve found others don’t have the same outlook I do sometimes,” he admitted. “I know what I’m looking for. Besides, Marty likes it; I keep the copies for him.” He grimaced. “Not that’s he’s not in there collecting his own Kodak moments.”

Purdue nodded. “Eidetic memory.”

Sauceda was squinting again. Purdue squinted back uncertainly and Sauceda dropped his head, staring at the photographs without really seeing them. Mulder’s memory was beyond legend; it was verifiable fact. While most people saw the beauty of it, however, few thought about it long enough to imagine the horror. Sauceda’d certainly thought about it, though.

“Wonderful thing, that kind of talent, huh?” Sauceda noted quietly. “Marty’s memorized every book he’s ever read. He can recall every conversation he’s ever had or heard. Recalls every event right down to the smell in the air and the sensations of touch. And he never forgets. He can’t forget.” He lifted his chin to find Purdue watching him patiently, like he was waiting for the other shoe to land. Sauceda tossed it to him. “It’s all in there, Reg, every crime, every corpse in implicit detail. Imagine keeping that shit locked up in your brain for the rest of your life.”

Purdue looked away, point taken evident in the pained shift of those dark eyes. Sauceda felt guilty suddenly. Sixty-four years of life behind him and he still too often just didn’t understand himself. Why was it he always seemed to be talking about Marty behind his back? Why couldn’t he ever manage more than preliminary chatter and tough talk to the kid’s face? Sauceda swore silently, consoling himself with the dubious fact that Marty’d probably hand him his balls just for trying a more compassionate approach. He pushed the thoughts aside as he moved back into the apartment.

Mulder was standing in the middle of the room again, just staring, slowly panning left. Stopping, moving again. Moving to the window, lifting the shade. Looking out. Look back at the room with the sunlight at his back, pulling the shade again. Humming softly all the while. Sauceda felt a pressure on his back and stepped aside to let Purdue re-enter.

Mulder noted the movement and stopped humming, regarding his partner quietly. Sauceda returned the deceptively vacant look.

“You done, Len?”

With Sauceda’s nod, Mulder waved the pathologist over to join him back at the body. The coroner had begun his own preliminary work; the forensic technician was busy repeating Sauceda’s measurements and temperature taking. The tablecloth shroud had been removed. Mulder stood respectfully at the shoeless feet while Sauceda assumed a position near the victim’s head, arms folded, watching Mulder. He would be getting all too clear a look at the remains in the autopsy bay.

The body was swelled to bursting, the skin blistered and green; fluids leaked from every orifice, rigor mortis a distant memory. With a permissive nod from the technician, Mulder resumed his scan of the horror from all angles, mentally cataloging everything. There were times Sauceda envied the young man that steel-trap of a mind; this was not one of those times. This… this was the stuff of nightmares. Hell, their being here was the result of one of Marty’s less intense ones.

Mulder had paused again at the eyes, empty beneath the softly curling hair matted with crusted blood. His own eyes bled from cold green back to hazel and human, and he looked up at Sauceda, swearing under his breath.

“She’s got Imelda’s hair. Len, I’m sorry–”

Sauceda nodded, shrugged, and looked away.

Mulder clamped his mask back down but it didn’t fit as tightly this time. He retreated to the wall, several feet from his partner, out of the way of the coroner with his endless variety of kits and labeled baggies.

“So what’re we looking at?” Mulder asked distantly after a minute’s reflection. “A good two weeks?”

“More like two and a half,” Sauceda estimated.

“A woman that pretty, no friends calling, wondering where she is?”

“Back off it, Marty,” Sauceda growled, “that’s Harris’ job. Remember what Purdue–”

Mulder waved away the protest. “Just speculating, Len. Don’t get yourself excited.”

Sauceda squinted at the damaged face as Mulder regarded the hanger. “Marty. How do you know she was pretty? You dream–”

Mulder sighed, unpocketing a baggied driver’s license for his partner’s inspection. “A woman looks that good in a mug shot, she’s bound to be a knock-out in reality, wouldn’t you think?” he noted reasonably.

Sauceda shrugged, not looking at the photo.

Mulder re-examined the bit of plastic for himself before tossing it into a box of evidence at his feet. “So you speculate, Lenny,” he insisted, staring into the box blankly, “how come she’s here two weeks with no one noticing?”

“Two and a half weeks. How the hell should I know? Maybe she’s a loner. Like you.”

Mulder grinned at him over the body. Made Sauceda’s skin crawl. The younger man shrugged. “If I’m laid out two weeks, my guts on my dining room table, you wouldn’t come looking for me, would you, Hot Sauce?”

“Two and a half weeks, dammit. And sure I would.”

“No, you wouldn’t.”

“Damn you,” Sauceda snarled, “I said I would– And I would, too. What the hell’s wrong with you, anyway?”

Mulder shrugged. “I know people.”

“You don’t know shit, you little prick. You gonna pull that son-of-a-bitch routine, put the damned shades back on. Half-ass punk,” Sauceda hissed. “And turn that stereo off. If you’re done ogling her, I’d like get the hell outta Dodge. I’m gonna have a full afternoon of this crap.”

Mulder resumed his grin but obediently donned the shades. “I don’t know, Len,” he quipped, “I thought maybe we could hang out and hear how Purdue explains this to Harris.”

“Maybe he doesn’t need to.”

Harris’ voice from the door made Sauceda jump. Purdue didn’t look too amused, either. Mulder, the little bastard, grinned like a Cheshire cat behind his gold lenses.

“Home invasion,” Harris leaned against the doorframe, regarding the profiler. “Just like you said.”

Mulder’s grin settled into a friendly smile; he had Harris hook, line and sinker and obviously knew it. Harris seemed to be enjoying the taste of the bait, though. And why not? “Assists” like Mulder was offering often wound up bringing promotions to the ones still left in town with the Fibbies moved on.

Harris waved a hand at the room in general. “Watching you move around the scene here, Mr. G-man, if I didn’t know any better I’d say you were just slightly turned on by all this.”

“What makes you think you know better?” Mulder blinked over his shades.

Harris chuckled wisely and turned to Purdue. “Speak to you outside, sir?”

Purdue followed without so much as a glance for his dynamic duo and Sauceda gave Mulder a shove that knocked him back against the wall.


“Hey?” Sauceda demanded, “Hey? Look, Marty, it’s one thing to go jerking people from DC to Seattle when it’s your butt on the line, but you’re hanging Purdue out to dry now–”

“Bullshit,” Mulder spat the word, straightening his tie indignantly. “Like Purdue gives a damn what someone else thinks. The last time that man knew what intimidation was, Gerald Ford was in office.”

“You’re wrong, Marty–”

“Since when? He’s fine. You’ll see. Besides, what do you care?”

Sauceda knew only that he did care for some reason. Purdue was a decent man who tried to be fair, who seemed content to simply step out of the way and let his agent do their jobs. After Patterson, it was a refreshing change of pace. Still, Sauceda surrendered the argument. He was unaccountably angry right now; bodies like this had a way of doing that to him. And Marty always seemed to be the one standing by to take the heat, like it was his just due or something.

“What’s with this sudden happy rush of yours, anyway?” Sauceda’s tone was that of a cross-examination. “Harris is right. You’re prancing around here to that damned music, smirking like a kid with his hand in the candy jar–”

“I do not smirk–” Mulder looked scandalized.

“And there’s a dead woman on the table, if you hadn’t noticed.”

“I’ve been paying attention, Len.”

“So what gives?”

Mulder shrugged. “It’s not kids. God, I’m so sick of working kids…” He sighed, running hands through his hair and his focus fell back on the body. “Damnation,” he whispered.

Sauceda’s voice was softer in spite of his best efforts. “Ah, hell. Come on, Marty. Let’s get out of the way.”

Mulder followed him meekly enough, down the stairs past the super’s verbal barrage as some poor officer took his statement, out into the mid-morning air. Sauceda blinked, dazzled in the onslaught of sun and temporarily envied his partner his shades.

Purdue and Harris were standing by their borrowed Chevy. Harris glanced up as the men approached, stepping back with a deferential nod as he moved off to intercept the evidence van.

Sauceda raised his brows at the ASAC. “How’re we doing?”

Purdue took a hard look at Mulder. “We’re doing just dandy. Seems Harris called up the NCIC as soon as we left his office yesterday. Then spent half the night on the phone with damn near every detective you boys have worked with from Baytown to Seattle. And most of the homicide division in Shreveport.”

Mulder grinned. “We’re screwed.”

Sauceda face was incredulous. “Jeezus, Reg, I thought you said this Harris was your pal. He’s got a hell of a lot of nerve checking us out. You piss him off and now he’s taking it out on the rest of us or something?”

Purdue shrugged. “No. Harris just isn’t the trusting type. We’re here under his invite: we screw up, we make him look bad. Nothing personal, gentleman. He warned me beforehand–”

Sauceda choked. “He warned you–”

“Christ, Len,” Mulder was grinning mischievously. “You got a few skeletons hiding in your closet? So the man likes to keep his bases covered. Lighten up.”

The ASAC folded his arms. “Apparently you cover your bases pretty good, too, Mulder. Harris seems to think you can’t take a bath without walking on the water. Problem with that is, I’ve worked with him before. He’s not that easily impressed.”

Sauceda frowned. “And that’s a problem?”

“Sure,” Mulder mused. “Now he expects miracles. And PDQ.”

Purdue shook his head. “No. But, among other things, he’s got some other cases he wants you to look at.”


“Not okay.”

Mulder looked bewildered. “Sorry?”

“Not ’til this one’s profiled. One serial at a time.”

“Since when? Every profiler in the bureau does multiple cases–”

“This one’s kids.”

Mulder paused, pale in the sun behind the shades. His voice was quiet. “All the more reason to get started–”

“Most recent kill was fifteen years ago. One of Harris’ pet projects. UNSUB’s probably dead by now, it’ll keep. That’s an order.”

Mulder glanced at Purdue then looked abruptly off up the street. He shrugged. “You’re the boss.”

Purdue’s eyebrows did a quick hop. “So they keep telling me. Sauceda, they want to get you set up with the autopsy before the body, ah–”

“Pops? Thanks.”

“Harris is making arrangements with the coroner now. I’ll be following up at the precinct–”

“Gee, Dad,” Mulder quipped, “guess that leaves me with the car.”

“Guess again, smart ass. When we hand you the evidence all neatly typed and cross-referenced, Harris is going to get the finest profile he’s ever held in two hands. Therefore,” Purdue smiled sadistically, “I’m having an officer drive you back to the hotel so you can get started studying up on all those statistics you learned in serial killer school.”

Sauceda rolled his eyes. “Studying up. Yeah, right. Enjoy your nap, Marty.”

“Thanks, Hot Sauce. I will.”

Purdue studied them both but kept his mouth shut. His face said he really didn’t want to know if they were serious. Sauceda grinned. Purdue was right: some things in life you were just better off not knowing too much about. Marty Mulder was one of them.

Sauceda laid a hand on Mulder’s arm, directing a smile to cover the vice-like grip. “Just do us all a favor, Marty. This time, hold off the full profile until we give you some evidence to actually base it on. Okay?”

Mulder shrugged. “Whatever.”

Sauceda thought he looked a little sad, though.

Mulder’s chauffeur was a first year rookie cop still green enough to be impressed with the initials on the agent’s badge. That could have made the ride fairly interesting if Purdue hadn’t given him strict orders not to mess with the boy’s head. Still, Mulder couldn’t help but feel they were making this whole thing entirely too easy on him. And somewhere in the back of his genetically predisposed-for-paranoia mind he couldn’t help wondering when the other shoe was going to hit.

So he sat meekly in the car and occupied himself by writing out his profile in his head. Like he usually did.

Mulder was well versed in all the Bureau’s stats and indicators: the killer does this and so, because of this and that– so he’s so tall and has a limp and he wet his bed till he was twelve and his father beat him every third Saturday. Mulder hadn’t slept through the training; he knew all the formulas and he could give them back in spades– along with enough of the terminology to make it all sound good.

Mulder’s insights however had little to do with psychological surveys. His profiles were worked off the bits and flashes in his head, images disjointed, randomly ordered, wildly skewed perspectives like Polaroid’s slipped from the Twilight Zone. He was red/green color blind– something Personnel was told to conveniently forget when he’d been accepted at the Academy– but the images in his head were in full color. And developed to nerve-shattering clarity.

Mulder’s profiles were simply the critical interpretation of such visions, instinct and training merging to create a unique whole. The beauty of it was: no one had ever proved him wrong, or cite why he should be wrong. Because he had the same facts they did, twisted and expertly knotted, ends tucked neatly away. And the fact that he was usually not wrong was lost on no one.

Dazzle them with bullshit and frightening accuracy: perfect combination as long as he didn’t get too cocky, didn’t get too free on the particulars.

There was a limit after all, to the number of things you were supposed to know. Get too desperate to stop the killing, get past the line, spout off one too many details and they pumped you full of Haldol and call the shrinks in. Didn’t matter that the details were faultless, didn’t matter that meanwhile, some kid somewhere was being tortured to death–

Post Traumatic Stress, they labeled it. Only no one seemed to notice he was never out of the stress long enough for it to really qualify as ‘post’ anything.

Motel. Key in the lock. Mulder saw the figure on the bed and caught himself just before he hit the light switch. Closing the door quietly, he leaned against it, just watching Kay breathe in the muted light of the drawn shades: a white sheet draped over glorious curves.

He glanced at his watch. High noon. Well, he hadn’t really given her much opportunity to sleep…

He slid off his jacket in the silence, shed his shoes and tie. Her face was peaceful and calm, untouched by the horror that was apartment 304.

Mulder slipped onto the bed beside her and Kay rolled over into him sleepily, sliding her hand down his chest and sighing back into dreams that left her face soft and smiling.

His shades were off and SOB mode on temporary hold. His chest hurt suddenly and there was a pain in the back of his throat trying to choke him. Mulder gathered her against him, gathered her against that Polaroid reality in his head, reveled in the sensation her breath steady on his chest, her heartbeat rhythmic and real, the smell of her hair filling his head with what was truth in everyone else’s world.

This must be what it feels like to be alive, he thought. His tears were a surprise, but silent by long practice.

Part 9: Dazzled

3:22 p.m. West Wheeling Precinct Interrogation Room Two.

“I don’t get it,” Harris grieved for the third time this afternoon. “No one heard anything. Paper thin walls and a damned .22 pistol firing point blank… Even if the clown’s made himself a silencer, that only muffles the detonation– nothing muffles a muzzle blast–”

Purdue crossed his legs and stared at the scuffed toe of his shoe. “Hell, Nat, people even rig silencers for those damned paintball guns, now. It wouldn’t surprise me one way or the other, anyway. Maybe ballistics can find some indication. I don’t think the killer would necessarily need one though. A .22 fired that close… the target’ll soak up most of the blast. Of course, that would come closer to the technique of a professional hit–”

Harris was nodding– he knew all this, of course, they were simply brainstorming, tossing around the facts and waiting to see what fell out. Purdue glanced briefly at his profiler silent across the table and frowned. “Hell, Harris, you know how people are. They don’t listen or they think it’s the TV. Or they just don’t want to get involved–”

“Nah uh,” Harris grunted. “Maybe in New York. Maybe in DeeCee. But this is Wheeling. People aren’t like that here–”

Purdue shrugged. “People are people, Nat.”

The detective shook his head, adamant, and like Purdue, he looked to Mulder for support.

The profiler must have felt Harris’ plea peripherally; he hadn’t looked at anyone directly since Purdue had ordered him to take off his shades.

“Don’t ask me,” Mulder murmured. “I have it on good authority that when it comes to people I don’t know shit.” He rubbed at his eyes, missing Sauceda’s glare. “These aren’t professional hits. I think our killer’s just had enough practice to know how to play with his toys by now.” He scanned the room vaguely, meeting no one’s glance. He looked tired. Old. “Anybody find a slip cover for that record on the turntable?”

Harris frowned, watching the profiler. He’d seen less severe cases of fidgets in four-year-olds at Sunday services. “Why?” he asked. “You’re thinking the killer brought the record with him?”

“Would put an interesting spin on things, don’t you think?” Mulder studied the scratches in the table, using his thumbnail to add a few more.

The detective considered a moment, uncertain where the younger man was going with this. “We found some Quaaludes in the jewelry box,” he noted.

Mulder, eyes down, shook his head. “Can’t dance to that.”

Harris scanned the table again. Purdue and Sauceda were watching the young prince furtively and looking nervous. Neither man had spoken privately with Mulder since his arrival back at the precinct all of a half hour ago and Harris would be damned if he could figure what was getting everyone’s dander up.

Still, for a man who’d apparently been off to take a nap, Mulder was looking pretty worn. Without the seclusion of his shades, he was suddenly vulnerable and reticent, a far different man than the cocky SOB Harris had picked up at the airport yesterday. Hell, this wasn’t even the same man that he’d spoken to this morning.

Leonardo Sauceda, at his partner’s side as constant as a shadow, scowled at the detective’s cool perusal. Harris blinked like he’d been caught in the glare of headlights and quickly found something else to focus on. He wound up staring at the crime scene photos scattered on the table.

“Okay,” the detective offered, pushing back one of the photos in disgust. “Not that we’re exactly small town here but even I get the thing with the hanger. ‘Object rape’ they call it. Postmortem. Right?”

Mulder chewed the inside of his cheek. “Not that simple,” he said. And said nothing else.

After a minute, Purdue took up the point with a shrug. “An obvious association with back street abortions. Maybe.” He frowned, analyzing his own statement. “But this is the Eighties, so who needs to go to the back streets? Abortion’s legal.”

“Maybe it’s a protest against abortion,” Sauceda offered. “Or maybe this is an old wound the killer’s protesting, from before abortions were legal.”

Mulder sighed, tiring of the discussion. “Oh, it’s an old wound, all right. It’s festering and incurable. But this is not a social protest.” He drummed his fingers on his unopened laptop and Sauceda frowned, squinting at the machine so hard he missed Purdue’s question.

“Any evidence the victim had an abortion at some point? Sauceda?”

“Huh? Uh, no sir. None. Ditto on the prostitute. Goes without saying for the male victims.” He looked back at Mulder and pointed accusingly at the computer. “You got a profile, don’t you?” he hissed. “You little shit. You couldn’t just wait for a chain of evidence–”

Purdue cut the man short with a growl. “I requested Mulder to start work on a preliminary for us, Sauceda. He knows his job. I trust his judgment.”

The ASAC was using that tone of voice parents took when they were trying to spell out their arguments in front of the kids. Harris didn’t need Sauceda’s sudden guilty glance in his direction to tell him who was the alleged kid here. The pathologist mumbled something indistinctly submissive and took a sudden interest in a water stain in the ceiling.

Harris had done his research: a dozen phone calls to five different states, faxed photos and reports, even a few e-mails. And twenty-three lawmen in seven jurisdictions had confirmed one singular fact: Purdue’s new pet profiled off the invisible, the unknown. And then waited for the evidence to line up and back him. The kid was cagey about it, certainly, tossing the profile out as a “preliminary report” subject to change as lab reports and witnesses became available. Only there never seemed to be any changes. Because the “preliminary” was always dead on target.

Harris had decided he could learn to like that in a profiler. And he was more than willing to play whatever games Mulder deemed necessary to maintain his cover.

“How about it, son,” the detective asked. “You got something for me?”

Mulder shook his head. “Let’s talk about this first,” he insisted.

Sauceda’s brows made a climb for the back of his head but he kept his comments to himself.

Purdue prompted levelly, like a teacher working a third grader through the multiplication table: “Mulder, you said last night that something was off, that you felt something wasn’t right.”

“Yeah, well,” the young man answered, apparently uncomfortable with this game. “It hit me, now it’s on. But I don’t think it’s going to be too popular.”

“It hit you when?” Sauceda asked warily.

Mulder gave him a withering look. “During my nap,” he snarled.

Harris had been watching Mulder’s eyes since the shades had come off. They were red and bloodshot like he’d gone a few rounds with some bad tequila. Only he walked too steady for that and word was the kid didn’t drink. That just left a crying jag but Harris had sat through some serious horror stories on the phone last night; after some of the tales he’d heard from Shreveport, the detective wasn’t ready to concede that Fox Mulder knew how to cry– not after three hardened cops had sworn the kid had walked dry-eyed through shit that had given them nightmares. Still, they had mentioned he had a tendency to wear those shades a lot, maybe–

Mulder caught Harris’ open stare and jerked his head down abruptly. He dragged his hands through his hair and left them resting on the back of his neck, arms forming a shield of sorts against prying eyes. “You want the report?” he asked Purdue.

“You in a hurry?” Purdue’s voice was quiet.

Mulder didn’t bother to look up. “I have a headache,” he admitted.

“If the shades help that, put them back on,” the ASAC offered.

Mulder pulled the shades from his pocket, paused and then sat them on the laptop. It was a small act of defiance but Harris was damned if he could tell whether Mulder was directing it at Purdue or if it was a self-inflicted assault. The profiler spoke, his voice flat, his vision focused on the shades.

“The weapon of choice is interesting. A .22 isn’t likely to be someone’s old service revolver–”

“Great,” Harris spat, “at least we don’t have another one of guy-gone-nuts-in-Nam things–”

Mulder shook his head. “A .22’s more in line of what men buy their wives for protection. To carry around in a purse or something. Most women I know pack at least a .32 if they’ve got a choice. It’s not too bad on the recoil and it’s more accurate at a greater distance–” He interrupted himself, shrugging off his own lecture apologetically. “Anyway, the point is, a .22’s can be a killer if you use it right, but it’s not an overkill like a .45 or a .357. Of course, it’s also easier to handle if your upper body strength is not particularly well-toned or you’re not used to handling firearms–”

Mulder paused, actually pulling away, as Sauceda leaned past him, grabbing a can from the soda collection sweating rings in the center of the table.

“Geez, Marty, so the killer’s not a professional, fine.” The pathologist shrugged. “Given our victim array, I can buy that. So maybe the killer’s some young punk like Harris’ friend Albert–” Sauceda offered the detective a derisive grin across the table, “–just out to make a name for himself and he’s borrowed momma’s gun to do it. Right?” Sauceda snickered and popped his beverage open for emphasis. Harris chose to ignore him.

Mulder, indifferent, continued blandly. “The victimology suggests that the killer is Caucasian, late forties, possibly early fifties. Long-time victim of emotional and physical abuse including sexual abuse by at least one family member. There is a strong attraction toward men, and an equally strong hatred and distrust of them. The hatred also extends to women the killer sees as weak or flagrantly provocative. Diagnostically, the perpetrator is a paranoid schizophrenic, a functionally delusional psychopath.”

Harris raised a critical brow. This was more the man he’d dueled with yesterday. “So loosely translated,” he noted wryly, “my APB’s gonna be for a middle-aged white male? That narrows our suspect list down to, what, several hundred thousand people in this state?”

Mulder sighed and flipped through his photo collection before tossing Harris a chosen Polaroid. “The victim’s positioned on the table facing the door,” the agent pointed to the photo. “The killer wants to leave the body as exposed as possible. As humiliatingly as possible.”

Harris nodded.

“Only, the killer can’t quite bring himself to do it.”

“Could have fooled me,” Sauceda growled.

“The hem of the skirt was left down. Not up,” Mulder continued, oblivious. “The tablecloth was placed over her head. The killer doesn’t feel good about the crime. There’s begrudged deference. That’s important. There wasn’t any such concern for the others. Not even for the prostitute–”

“The prostitute was mutilated but not exactly gutted. And there was no object rape,” Purdue conceded.

“The latest victim endures far more profanity than the rest,” Mulder nodded. “But then at the last… Why the final courtesy? At that point Ms. Kelly’s nothing more than a piece of meat. What does the killer care?”

Harris frowned. “Shouldn’t we be asking you?”

“You are asking me,” Mulder insisted. “I’m just trying to lead you to see something here. Okay?”

“See what?”

Mulder rose, went round to Harris’ office and reappeared with a hanger from the detective’s coat rack. He peeled off the cleaner’s paper wrap and stared at it a minute before handing it to Sauceda.

“Show me what you found, Lenny.”

Sauceda’s eyes went wide. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“It’s okay, Len. Please. It’s important.”

Sauceda glanced round the room looking for a rescue that wouldn’t come, apparently, but finally resigning himself to set to work. Disgust fueled his muscles and with each twist and pull he glanced up at Mulder standing over him. Mulder waited patiently, eyes hooded, emotions masked. When at last, Sauceda had approximated the shape of the weapon in the body, he handed the bit of wire back to his partner.

Mulder didn’t take it. Mulder just looked at it and then regarded Sauceda expectantly.

“What!” Sauceda exploded.

“Look at it, Len.”

Sauceda gave both the wire and his partner the same disgusted expression.

“No, Len,” Mulder sighed. “Think. You’re the killer. You’re angry enough to kill. To kill quickly, kill relatively painlessly, a quick shot through the heart, but angry enough to kill all the same. Then you decimate, desecrate the body because you’re so full of rage, killing is not enough for you. You gouge out her eyes with a spoon. Rip her intestines out with a barbecue fork. You rape her, but not with your body, you don’t want to get too messy here–”

Harris grunted.

“–not too personal. Everything you’ve done past the shooting has been done with something you’ve found at the scene. You’ve got an apartment full of objects. Now, you’re going to rape her. What are you going to use?”

Sauceda stared at Mulder, his eyes wild. “I’m not raping her, Marty,” he hissed. “I’m not killing her and hacking her up, either. To hell with you.” He threw the wire at the table like it had caught fire. “I’m not going to even think about what he–”

“No, you’re not, but you expect me to, goddam you.” Mulder’s voice was dangerous and razor-edged. Sauceda flinched against his glare. Mulder squeezed his eyes shut suddenly, as though pained by the sight of his partner’s fear. He spun quickly, jerking his eyes open again, a slight hesitation betraying a passing attack of vertigo. He recovered before Harris could rise, however, and reached for his shades. Harris spared a quick questioning glance at Purdue, stone still across the table.

“Is anyone working with me here?” Mulder asked quietly, shielded once more behind the mirrored gold.

Purdue stared at his agent, stared at the wire. “I wouldn’t use a hanger.” He looked up and found Mulder regarding him. “I’d use… I don’t know… that kind of hatred, that level of violence– I’d use something… bigger?” He shook his head. “A broom handle. A bottle– God, I can’t believe I’m even imagining this.”

“Welcome to the wonderful world of profiling, sir,” Mulder grimaced. “Now. Why bigger?”

Purdue couldn’t seem to answer his own reflection in the shades. Mulder gave him a sad smile and a nod and slipped back into his chair. “Harris?”

The detective shifted uncomfortably. “This must be one hell of a profile,” he sighed. “A bigger object? Yeah.”


Harris looked around the table, embarrassed. “Because… size matters?”

Mulder nodded; he suddenly looked like he wanted to spit. “Because you’re a man. Size dominates, size conquers. Size wounds.” Mulder slapped his open palm against the table and it echoed like a bullet slamming into concrete. All eyes jerked up. The shades were off again; his pupils were dark and dilating by the second. He pointed at the hanger.

“That’s not a man’s weapon,” he threatened. “The eyes,” he pushed another photo across the table, setting it spinning to the floor with a little plop. “A man takes out your eyes in rage, he gouges them with his thumbs. He doesn’t rummage through the kitchen looking for a damned teaspoon.” He slapped away a third Polaroid and it went sailing to join the other. “A man slits you open with a knife, guts you like a deer. He doesn’t grab a barbecue fork and scrape away at you–”

Purdue was blinking rapidly. “You’re saying we’re hunting a woman? Mulder, statistics prove the incidence of women as serial killers is next to nil–”

“Next to,” Mulder emphasized. “There have been several apprehended–”

“Always operating with a partner, usually male–”


“And when we sat down at this table you said this was a solitary killer–”

“Don’t interrupt,” Mulder requested blandly. “I hate that.”

Purdue stared at him.

The profiler seemed to concede a silent point before rubbing at his face wearily. His hands were trembling. He placed them flat against the table and took a deep breath.

“Listen,” he pleaded. “The incidence of serial killers of the female persuasion can be expected to rise as the population of serial killers rises. It’s inevitable. This is the hip disease of the eighties. I think they’re out there. Their numbers are not as high as their male counterparts perhaps, but they’re out there.”

“Marty, that’s just speculation–”

“Perhaps, they’re not being caught as frequently because they’re smarter,” Mulder continued doggedly, “more adaptive. But mostly I think because they’re not expected. Most men don’t believe them capable. And the majority of law enforcement is, unfortunately, male. Case in point: why is it I’m the only person at this table who believes it’s even possible?”

“Why would any woman want to do this to another woman?” Harris demanded.

“Why would any man want to do this to a woman? Or another man? It happens every day, Detective. This isn’t a rape, it’s an experiment. She’s playing out fantasies of revenge, lashing out against people that are probably long dead.”

Sauceda looked at the remaining photos on the table. His face was thoughtful. “And covering the head, the skirt… She couldn’t quite leave her there like that. Exposed. Even after all she did…”

Mulder nodded. “Gender courtesy. She’s still adapting. Still able to be touched on some level with the guilt of what she’s doing. And that’s our trump. She’ll make a mistake at some point, give herself away. She’s already left at least that clue. Problem is, it’s also our problem. As long as she’s capable of perceiving how we see her work, she’s not developed tunnel vision. She can still see part of the big picture, though the edges are terribly fuzzy.”

Purdue shook his head. “I don’t think I follow.”

Mulder spun another of the photos to him gently. “Look. She’s still capable of turning from that door and looking back at that body and seeing what we see. Not just what she wants us to see, but what we actually will see. And it scares her. She’s still shape shifting. She can be anyone she needs to be. Do and say anything she needs to live with herself. She’s adaptive to her immediate situation. You could interview her right now and she’d pass through your net and you wouldn’t give her a second glance. Probably help her with her coat and hold the door open for her.”

Sauceda had a distant look on his face. “Man walks down a dark street, sees a woman, wonders why she’s out so late alone. Keeps walking. Sees a man, he pays attention, considers his options: flight or fight. A woman walking down the same street. Sees a man, same thing. Sees a woman… wonders why she’s out so late alone. Keeps walking.”

Mulder smiled sadly. “You’re a woman, alone in your apartment. Another woman knocks on your door, asks to use the phone–”

“I let her in. Next thing, I’m gutted on my own kitchen table.” Sauceda shuddered. “Jeezus, Mary and Saint Joseph, help us.”

Mulder slipped on the shades. “Why is it you start praying every time I get turned on?”

Sauceda glared at him. Even Harris could tell, though: this wasn’t turned on. This was Fox Mulder, hiding behind his SOB shades and kiss-my-ass attitude.

Sauceda played along for the sake of the assembled audience. “You’re sick, Marty.”

Mulder inhaled deeply, “Like you can’t taste it.”

Sauceda’s frown deepened. “Taste what?”

“The hunt. For the most dangerous prey of all. The wounded animal. The one that thinks and reasons. Serialus killeria. The female of the species. Angry enough at last to leave her lair for vengeance.”

Harris regarded the twin mirrors. “Wounded?” “Geberth’s Practical Homicide Investigation,” Mulder noted, quoting: “‘No one acts without motivation.’ Not even serial killers.” Mulder’s voice was distant. “It’s taken a long time. And she’s definitely out to get her money’s worth.” Mulder stared down, unseeing, at the photos. “She’s even trying out new surgical instruments, going from a hunting knife to cooking utensils. More familiar territory. Maybe she’ll keep the method. Maybe she won’t. But she’s trying it on for size.”

He removed the shades again, rubbing at invisible pressures behind his eyes.

Harris was chewing his lip, now, reviewing the discussion. “What about that record on the turntable? You think she brought it with her, don’t you? What? She likes to hum along to the tune while she works? Like you?”

Mulder’s eyes were hard and dark as they focused on the detective. There were too many years of pain locked away behind that hostile stare; Harris felt he could count centuries if he could just force himself not to look away.

Mulder settled the dilemma for him, however, retreating back behind his Ray Ban armor. The profiler’s voice was civil enough, though. Dead, actually. Lifeless and cold.

He said, “Her mother would listen to the radio until late in the night, listening to it while she lay alone in her bed trying not to think about where her husband was and what he was down the hall doing; listening to the music so she wouldn’t hear her daughter pleading for mercy.”

Harris licked his lips distastefully, comprehending the image Mulder’s words were painting. “How the hell,” he whispered, “would you know something like that, Mr. G-man?”

The profiler had looked away, however, nodding to himself. “Man. Woman,” Mulder insisted to the wall beyond Purdue’s head. “They’ve each betrayed her in their way and she’s capable of hating both equally. There’s still a great deal of confusion in her mind: who to love, who to hate; the conflict between the normal sensations of sexual desire, and the anger and fear of a child who’s been violated repeatedly and given no voice to protest.” He frowned, staring down at his hands, his voice quieter. “She’s the type of child I profiled in Shreveport and Seattle: abused and silenced. Only this one didn’t die. This one has endured the abuse of a father. Of a husband.” He nodded solemnly. “For years she just wanted to be left alone. Now, she just wants justice.”

Even through the shades, they could feel the storm roaring. Purdue opened his mouth and formed the word “Mulder.” The word was availed no voice, however. No one spoke. No one moved.

Sauceda squeezed his eyes shut, mouthing a silent prayer as Mulder’s world-weary voice whispered, invoking supplications of his own.


“The doors open in early evening.
Swinging their purses, the women
Poured down the long street to the river
And into the river.
I do not know how it was
They could drown every evening.
What time near dawn did they climb up the other shore,
Drying their wings?
For the river at Wheeling, West Virginia
Has only two shores:
The one in hell, the other
In Bridgeport, Ohio.
And nobody would commit suicide, only
To find beyond death
Bridgeport, Ohio.”


Mulder glanced up from his distant perdition, hesitated. Then the mask slammed back down. He raised a sardonic brow at Harris. “So,” he demanded, “where the hell did you hide my ashtray?”

Part 10: Not Waving, Drowning

Wednesday evening.

Sauceda was tired. Harris had nit-picked Mulder’s profile for two hours, going over each point, Mulder’s every answer prompting only more questions, an endless parade of inconsequential detail. Sauceda never failed to marvel at his partner’s patience for these kinds of discussions– and the amount of psychobabble Marty could dredge up to make it sound like he’d just pulled all this Spook crap out of a textbook somewhere.

Hell, who knows, Sauceda conceded, maybe he had. Some of it anyway.

Harris had dropped his skeptic routine, at least, apparently too fascinated by Mulder’s insights to realize how odd all this looked: a seasoned police veteran being schooled by an upstart rookie. But the detective’s interest was sincere and he wasn’t fawning over the kid– maybe Purdue really had known what he was doing when he hauled them here to Wheeling. Sauceda dared to hope they wouldn’t have to go through the rookie hazing so many of these cases started out with. Most cops didn’t appreciate Uncle Sam trotting out to tell them how to do their jobs; more often than not, Feds were about as welcome as a flu epidemic. Sauceda was generally viewed as the lesser of two evils, though: he might be a Fed, but at least he wasn’t a Rookie Fed. The locals would take one look at Mulder’s fresh too-damned-young face and the die was cast. There was always one overly-promoted ass who’d set in with the sarcasm, then the whole team would wind up blowing off brilliant profiles as so much hocus pocus, completely ignoring credentials and qualifications.

Marty always swore it didn’t bother him, insisting the only ones hurt by the attitude were the victims. But victims of homicides are notoriously silent and it was Marty’s reaction Sauceda had to look at: the pain that had no place in the young man’s wise-ass cracks, the way he held his shoulders walking across blood-soaked carpets. Even his words were often deliberately chosen, flippant and cold, calculated to prove he wasn’t emotionally invested in his own life’s work. The victims could afford their silence; Marty, after all, hurt enough for all of them.

Harris’ dinner invitation was a thoroughly pleasant surprise, then. Sauceda sat up with a grin and damned near choked when Purdue had the nerve to decline. A disappointed puff of air escaped Sauceda’s throat with audible force and the ASAC sent him a murderous look. Sauceda nodded reluctantly. After Mulder’s little upset at the diner last night, the last thing they’d need was a repeat performance with an audience. Still, it might have been nice.

Harris didn’t tolerate rejection, however. Apparently, he’d put out the word the boys from the Bureau were working one of his cases and he was anxious to show them off. He was hauling Purdue’s crew to the Pasta Palisade even if Harris had to kidnap them. Purdue was equally unyielding and the dispute took scant seconds to degenerate into the viciousness only true friends are capable of. Sauceda, disgusted, pulled his penknife and cleaned his nails. Well, hell. He disliked Italian food anyway. Didn’t this burg have a decent steakhouse?

Mulder, consummate instigator that he was, seemed to be enjoying the fray. He sat enrapt behind the haze of his cigarette, never blinking, eyes never wavering. Sauceda grinned mischievously and gave his partner an encouraging nod. Mulder’s answering chuckle brought both Purdue and Harris up for air and the profiler waved his cigarette in the sudden silence.

“Hell, Harris, if Purdue hates spaghetti that much, we can leave his butt here. I’m starving.”

The ASAC leveled a glare that could have melded sheet metal and his verbal response bordered on the obscene. Mulder answered with a grin just this side of manic. Purdue’s scrutiny turned wary but he yielded his end of the debate and Sauceda resigned himself to the specter of soggy noodles and ketchup-splattered garlic bread.

Purdue’s surrender seemed to leave Harris slightly dazed. He shook his head. “Hell, Mulder, you don’t even worry about getting written up for insubordination?”

Mulder shrugged. “I have a reputation to maintain.” Despite the words, there was no challenge implied by the young man’s tone. His voice was too flat, the words a reflex, his momentary humor past. He sat simply staring at the photo before him, staring through it. Dark blue suit, blue shirt and lemon yellow tie only highlighted the pallor of his face. Sauceda wondered how the state of Mulder’s health had escaped his notice until now.

There was still work to be done at the precinct, though. Ms Kelly’s body had been positively ID’d; her sister was flying in from Tulsa in the morning. Not that they expected much from her. Statements were still being taken from neighbors and co-workers. Harris, thorough and not shy about ruffling a few professional feathers, had gotten the crime lab to spray Luminol throughout the apartment and even in the outside hall. The chemical, which caused even invisible traces of blood to fluoresce, revealed the killer’s tracks through the kitchen and living room and even took them to the elevator. The sight had brought the boys in blue to total silence: glowing footprints, short, dainty steps, size six-and-a-half pumps. Everything from then on out had been Mister Mulder. Special Agent Mulder. And spoken with reverence.

Special Agent Mulder insisted on holding up his end of the paperwork and by six o’clock his blood-shot eyes had begun to clear. Sauceda, however, was still keeping a close watch on him: Mulder’s walk was no longer terribly steady, and his pupils had developed a bad habit of slipping out of focus. His handwriting had degenerated to almost complete illegibility but he resolutely ignored Sauceda’s offers to take dictation. And Sauceda decided if he heard “I’m fine, really” just one more time he was going to pull his gun. Purdue didn’t improve the situation by stopping in with another report: statements from the super and two more neighbors. The ASAC walked in talking, stopped mid-sentence and did a double take.

“Agent Mulder? Are you all right–”

Mulder promptly told the ASAC to go take a flying piss and leave him the hell alone.

On that happy note, Harris popped his cheerful face in and informed them it was chow time. No one answered but it took no special training to detect the tension in the room. Harris told Mulder to get his butt in the Ford. Mulder accepted the rescue, grabbing his suit jacket. Harris ignored Purdue’s renewed efforts to decline their invitation and followed Mulder down the hall. Purdue and Sauceda, conspicuously not invited for the ride, dutifully followed in the Chevy.

They’d driven several blocks before Purdue asked: “The someone walking up behind–”

Sauceda nodded, “–is getting closer.”

“Shit!” Purdue slammed his palm against the steering wheel. “So why the hell does he insist on going through on this dinner? What? It’d kill him to admit to weakness or just needing some goddam help?”

Sauceda considered a moment as the car echoed the ASAC’s rage. “Yeah,” he answered softly. “I think it would, actually.”

The rest of the drive was remarkable only for its utter lack of conversation. There was simply too much to say to even bother.

Harris and Mulder were waiting for them in the parking lot of the restaurant. If anything noteworthy had transpired within the Ford, Harris was admitting nothing, and Mulder’s face was ominously innocent. The detective escorted them in and didn’t bother to wait to be seated, making a beeline for a corner table and the middle-aged man who was waving at them frantically. Aside from the hokey wave, the stranger wasn’t exactly the standout type; in fact, he reminded Sauceda of Abbot and Costello– the shorter half. Cheap, decade-old double knit blazer and matching corduroy loafers should have provided comic relief but one look at the man’s cocky grin had Sauceda’s paranoia button sliding over to yellow alert status.

“Agent Fox Mulder,” Harris beamed, “this is Andrew Nilson. Reporter for the Ohio Sun.”

Sauceda bit back a string of profanity worthy of a Marine sergeant. Hell on a shingle, a friggin’ reporter— Mulder didn’t need this right now. None of them did. It was a disaster waiting to happen. Not one of Harris’ guests made the vaguest move to sit and the detective hesitated.

Purdue ignored Nilson’s proffered hand, slipping his own into his pockets. “Shit, Harris,” his smile was tight, “What’s the problem? You piss off every reporter in Wheeling and have to swim the river to find one willing to swallow your current line of bull?”

Harris didn’t answer, ignoring the thinly veiled animosity, too busy watching Mulder slowly return Nilson’s handshake. Mulder spoke slowly too, reluctant and careful.

“I may as well tell you straight up, Mr. Nilson, I don’t generally talk to reporters.”

“Really?” Nilson gave him a politician’s smile. “Why’s that?”

“The last reporter I granted an interview quoted me. The killer took the comments personally and escalated. Another four kids died before we found the son of a bitch.”

Nilson shook his head. “Well– surely you can’t blame all those killings on the reporter, Agent Mulder.”

“No, not all of them,” the agent conceded. “But if I blame just one, that’s just one too many. Don’t you think?”

Nilson’s laugh was a response of nerves, the man was obviously unaccustomed to being flustered, but Mulder jerked his hand back like he’d been electrocuted. Nilson gave him an apologetic shrug.

“Look, kid, I’ve worked quite a few cases with SAC Vara out of the Cincinnati field office. You can check with him if you’re worried about my credentials–”

Mulder’s voice was cold. “Considering Terry Vara couldn’t find a criminal on San Quentin Point, you’ll pardon me if I don’t take that as a glowing recommendation.”

Nilson blinked and got his hands on his hips. “Well. I’ll tell him you said so.” His smile was calculatedly dangerous.

“I’ve already told him,” Mulder assured, “but you feel free to remind him.”

Nilson finally stopped grinning long enough to regard the boyish face, the utterly calm, listless eyes. Sauceda could have warned him not to look too close: still waters were often deadly and the unfathomable depths of Mulder’s soul were no exception. Nilson broke away of his own accord, however, as Harris tried for an intervention.

“Nilson’s not like that, guys,” the detective promised. “I’ve used him before. You know: proactive reports to lure the suspect into a false sense of security, things like that. I figure you guys might want him to help us out with this one.” He looked pointedly at Mulder. “I have not shared any current information with him on this case.”

“That’s right,” Nilson side-stepped Mulder for another try at Purdue. “I don’t print anything, sir. Not one word until you’ve rubber stamped it.”

Mulder rubbed his eyes. “So much for freedom of the press.”

He sat heavily in the nearest chair and Sauceda resisted the urge to feel his forehead for a temperature. He took the seat to Mulder’s left, frowning as the reporter grabbed the seat to the right, almost slamming into Purdue to grab the coveted space. Sauceda tried to recall where it was Judas had sat at the Last Supper.

The waiters descended and the homey fragrance of fresh baked bread prompted an unspoken truce. They made small talk and ordered, except for Mulder who remained absolutely mute. For all intents and purposes, Marty could have just as soon not been there. For all intents and purposes, suddenly, he wasn’t.

Nilson, apparently unfazed by Mulder’s stoic silence, maintained an easy banter. He wasn’t fooling Sauceda, though. Out of the corner of his eye, the reporter was cataloging every breath Marty took.

The ass– Sauceda only just managed not to say the words aloud. Each lull in the conversation set his heart to pounding, and he slipped his formidable conversational skills into overdrive, intent on keeping the reporter busy talking or listening, trying to insure Mulder wouldn’t be expected to take too active a part in the proceedings. Purdue was way ahead of him, though, and assumed the lion’s share of the burden. Harris snapped to a minute after with the air of a man who’d gotten a swift kick under the table. Between the two of them, they quickly had Nilson spilling his guts about every case he’d ever assisted on. Nilson, assured of making a good impression, was happy to oblige. With the reporter adequately distracted, Sauceda risked a closer assessment of his partner.

Mulder sat quietly, making no sudden moves, uttering not a sound. But the tension radiating off him made the hair on Sauceda’s right arm rise up against his shirtsleeve. The calm of his demeanor was an inadequate veil, Mulder’s muscles, tortured and too fiercely restrained, trembled occasionally. His pupils were fully dilated and had the fixed, unfocused quality Sauceda expected to find when he pulled the sheet back on a gurney. The eyes were feral, possessed of no human conscience. Thoughts flickered over their surfaces like the candlelight, leaving no trace within the boundless depths– it would have been easier, Sauceda imagined, to leave an imprint in a pool of oil.

Shit, Sauceda hissed mentally, what the hell did the kid do with his shades?

Sauceda ordered for the both of them, making the process look routine and even expected. He ordered himself a beer– hell, he wanted something worthwhile out of this evening, after all– and ordered Marty a glass of wine.

On the other side of the table, the ASAC had been hazarding the occasional questioning glance. His brows did a short dance on the wine order and Sauceda gave him a determined twitch of his jaw. With members of the media present, he couldn’t exactly break out the Valium, but it was obvious they’d be having serious problems if he didn’t get the kid medicated somehow.

Nilson pretended oblivion. “So,” he waved a hand vaguely, indicating the dining room without being too specific, “howdoya like the joint?”

Sauceda frowned to keep from swearing. He might have known he had this goon to thank for his inevitable indigestion. The Palisade was what Sauceda’s wife would call “a fancy place.” Sauceda usually translated that to mean okay food you have to pay double for and wait twice as long to get. Right now a bucket of chicken would have been just fine, thank you, so long as they had Mulder in the quiet sanctity of his motel room.

Mulder glanced up just then, his face lit with sudden interest. He looked Nilson full in the face then looked away without speaking; Sauceda recognized the event: a random flicker of memory and neurological response. Whatever had brought Mulder’s attentions to focus wasn’t located anywhere near this zip code.

To Nilson, however, Mulder’s actions could easily be interpreted as deliberate disinterest. “This,” the reporter waved again, eyes narrowed slits, “is one of the finest restaurants this city has to offer.”

Sauceda couldn’t resist. “Well, then, maybe we won’t be in town too long.” He felt a breeze pass across the bit of exposed leg between the hem of his pants and the top of his sock. Across the table, the ASAC looked like he was recalculating his aim. Sauceda pulled his feet under his chair and attempted an apology of sorts.

“I’m just more of a steak and potatoes man, Mr. Nilson. Sorry.”

Nilson eyed him suspiciously but seemed willing to accept a truce. “You know why homosexuality’s on the increase now, don’t you?” he asked knowledgeably.

Sauceda’s brows scrolled up and he chanced a speculative glance at Harris. The detective was beet red, just about the shade of the tablecloth.

Sauceda answered the reporter with a cautious shake of his head.

“It’s all these damned hormones they’re pumping into the beef.” Nilson nodded. “Gotta watch your intake of that stuff. I’ve got stats that would curl your hair–”

“My hair’s curly enough, thanks,” Sauceda grumbled, then winked viciously, “if you had a decent perm, though, you’d be quite a looker.”

Harris gawfed, and effectively ended all conversation with one of his more involved “Hey, Reg, do you remember when” stories. It was apparently one of his more embarrassing memoirs but Purdue egged it on with the occasional ribald laugh and wink. Grinning resolutely, Purdue spent most of the meal with his fists clinched, wielding knife and fork like implements of destruction, chewing with menacing passion.

Mulder, on the other hand, was holding out fairly well. He hadn’t refused the wine. In fact, once placed in his line of vision, the young agent seemed content to devour most anything: bread sticks, wafers, wine and water– every item was consumed with the same dispassionate deliberation. His motions were hesitant and brittle, as tightly controlled as a blind man who’s been told to reach into a fire, but at least the kid was eating. Sauceda began to hope they might just pull off this fiasco– unless of course, Nilson stuck his Budweiser too far into Marty’s territory.

Sauceda had to remind himself not to stare as Mulder worked his way through most of his lasagna, oblivious to the world. The water was sipped with the same unconscious reflex that had downed the alcohol but mid-way through the meal, Mulder’s movements began to assume more of their accustomed grace, the hesitation becoming simply discreet deliberation, the muscles more fluid with only an occasional tremor.

Mulder had begun focusing again, too, staring around him with the air of a man awakening in new surroundings. Sauceda was reminded of his own father, stolen from him even before death, kidnapped by the cruel hand of Alzheimer’s. Marty had the same startled expression and watched, bewildered, as Harris attempted to diagram a particularly involved section of his story with a napkin and several forks.

Harris made his point, and Nilson and Purdue exploded with laughter. Mulder was instantly alert and wary, every muscle tensed for flight. Sauceda reached to lay a comforting hand on his arm and thought better of it, fearful of the Marty’s reaction to an unexpected touch.

Mulder, meanwhile, had discovered Nilson at his right flank. His mouth opened in a kind of half-strangled gasp and he suddenly dropped his head to stare at his plate. Harris hesitated mid-sentence and Nilson glanced over, confused but silent, mouth full of linguini. The pasta sauce on his lip reminded Sauceda of an image in an old horror flick: vampire gorging on blood.

Mulder was blinking rapidly and seemed to need to concentrate just to pick up his fork. He buried the instrument into the remains of his garlic bread, an action performed with such slow, murderous deliberation that Sauceda was certain they’d lost him again. Mulder gave him a sidelong glance, though, and shifted hesitantly in his chair until his shoulder just touched Sauceda’s. Sauceda returned the contact with a reassuring nudge that said, “I’ve got your back, partner.” Or at least, that’s what he hoped it said. Marty could comprehend the motivations of any psycho on the planet; the rational mind, however, was sometimes a bit more unpredictable.

Mulder turned his head to regard Sauceda warily, blood red tablecloth reflecting in the highlights of his hair, light from the candles dancing over the translucent skin of cheekbones. Mulder’s jaw was darkening with the hint of stubble, a whisper of graphite on vellum.

Sauceda maintained the eye contact but he had no answers for those oil-dark pupils. Mulder’s face radiated the certainty that he was utterly alone, the unyielding conviction that all Sauceda’s good intentions would not change that fact. At that moment, Sauceda would have killed to reassure him otherwise. The pathologist had no facial expression adequate to state the fact, however. Mulder resolutely laid down his fork and the jaw turned away, clinched tight.

Nilson was watching, enrapt, apparently, at the site of the profiler finally alive and breathing independently. The table was spared his witty repartee, however, as the waiters descended to remove the dinnerware and make room for the inevitable.

In the commotion of coffee orders, Mulder pushed his chair back a bit, favoring Sauceda’s side. Sauceda crossed his legs and relaxed into his seat; the position put his shoulder lightly against his partner’s. He gulped gratefully when Marty didn’t shove him away.

Nilson rolled his eyes over the profiler, sizing him up as the agent quietly ordered a cappuccino. Mulder’s position forced Nilson to turn his head back awkwardly to get a clear look at the young man. Nilson didn’t dare reposition his chair without ramming into a patron at the next table. Mulder’s maneuver made Sauceda smile. Marty could set up an interrogation like no other agent he knew– even when he was the intended target.

Mulder returned Nilson’s gaze, as cryptic as the Sphinx. The reporter twisted in his seat, vainly seeking a position that would alleviate his tactical disadvantage. Across the table, Purdue snorted.

Nilson stopped struggling and dredged up his wise-ass grin again. He leveled it on the ASAC, finally adopting that let’s-get-down-to-business tone Sauceda had so dreaded.

“I’m curious, Mr. Purdue. Isn’t it rather unusual for the Special Agent in Charge to be out in the field like this? I mean, this must be quite an important case if–”

Assistant Special Agent in Charge.” Purdue’s smile and voice were flat. “And, no. To both questions.”

Harris returned Nilson’s questioning glance with a look of pure innocence. Nilson jerked his head in Mulder’s direction.

“And I guess you’re going to try to tell me it’s standard procedure for a profiler to operate almost exclusively out in the field? And to be assigned a partner?”

Purdue’s voice was patient enough, but the look he gave Nilson suggested he’d commit homicide with glee. “Sauceda is a pathologist, Mr. Nilson,” he explained. “His medical expertise is invaluable. Agent Mulder is at his best in a hands-on situation–”

“Agent Mulder,” Agent Mulder quipped quietly, “is here for the view.”

Nilson gave Purdue a triumphant sneer and twisted around to view the young agent. “Of the city?” Nilson mocked, “Or the corpses?”

Mulder’s eyes narrowed as he leveled them on his opponent. “The corpses, of course. And I hold the patent on the smart ass routine at this table, Mr. Nilson, try another.”

Nilson’s mouth opened, and abruptly closed as Harris sputtered delightedly. The detective wriggled his brows as Nilson glared at him.

“Give it up, Andy,” Harris suggested amiably. “If that one tells you he’s not talking, you’re not gettin’ get jack.”

Nilson tried for an agreeable smile but only managed to grit his teeth. He fidgeted a minute, apparently trying to determine some way to redeem the situation. The perpetual stare Mulder was giving him didn’t seem to be helping any. Sauceda chuckled just watching Nilson’s wheels turn. The guy had probably offered to buy dinner when Harris brokered this deal and now he’d be trying to figure how he was going to take it off his expense account if he couldn’t get enough information to produce a story with it.

Across the table, Nilson noted the pathologist’s bliss and gave him an acrid look. Sauceda didn’t mind, and widened his grin. Hanging out with Marty got him enough good press; he could afford a few sour grapes now and then.

“Okay, guys,” Nilson tried his politician’s grin once more, “we’ve obviously gotten off on the wrong foot here but, really, I’m just looking for a story, you know? Isn’t there anything you can tell me about the case that I can print?”

Purdue answered. “No.”

“What about the freedom of the press?” Nilson gave Mulder a crocodile smile, a last ditch effort. “Come on, Agent. Just one insight?”

Mulder shrugged. “We have five victims.” He was back to swirling patterns in the sweat of his water glass but glanced up sharply as Nilson registered a protest. Sauceda cursed the fact that Marty’s head was turned away from him and he was not privy to the look the young man gave the reporter. Whatever it was, it was effective; the words died in Nilson’s throat. Mulder’s face was tranquil as glass as he turned back to take a swig of his water.

“Look,” Nilson wet his lips watching him. “I can understand you don’t want to alert the killer to your understanding of any recent developments but… Hell, I’ve written the first victims’ stories from every angle by now. Surely, there should be no problem discussing them.”

“No problem,” Mulder conceded. “And no point, ether.”

Nilson swore. “Okay. So how about just discussing some non-specifics?”

“Non-specifics,” Mulder mused, “that would be what? The weather? Last night’s Knicks game?”

Nilson chuckled. “Harris is right. You’re tough, son–”

“No, I’m not,” Mulder’s voice was suddenly bitter and Sauceda’s panic button snapped into the red zone. “I stare at photos of body parts for hours on end and hand people’s babies back to them dead. That doesn’t mean I’m tough.”

“What does it mean, then?” Nilson grimaced. “You’re a nut case?”

“That, or I’m really hard up for the cash.”

Nilson laughed. Sauceda joined him, grinning from relief, grateful for Mulder’s continued composure, the momentary bitterness firmly squelched. Purdue even managed a tight chuckle. Harris, though, was breathless, watching the profiler. Mulder’s face was unreadable, his eyes too bright.

“Okay, Agent.” The reporter took his time lighting a cigarette, slid the package across the table with a nod and settled in his chair. “How about I just throw out some questions? You answer, or not. Up to you. No strings.”

Mulder helped himself to a cigarette and allowed Nilson to light it for him before tossing the pack to Purdue. He took a deep drag and sat back, legs crossed, both arms resting comfortably on the chair arms, hands hanging loosely. He bearing was almost regal, like some monarch lounging on his throne, surrounded by his minions. He even smiled. There was no humor in it, but it was a generous effort nonetheless. He said, “There are always strings, Mr. Nilson.”

“My friends call me Andrew, Fox.”

“My friends call me Agent Mulder, Mister Nilson.” Mulder exhaled another lungful of smoke and regarded the reporter through the haze.

Nilson tried twisting around to the profiler. “Okay,” he shrugged. “There’re strings.”

“So ask,” Mulder granted.

Nilson hiccuped on his smoke and took a minute to consider his sudden good fortune. “Okay, ah. I understand that most profilers put a lot of stock into what they call the killer’s signature. That the signature isn’t supposed to change through the course of the killings.”

Mulder nodded and Nilson relaxed visibly.

“Okay. But all the other victims were homeless, more or less. So doesn’t that make this a departure from the previous signature–”

Mulder smiled. It wasn’t a particularly kind smile and Nilson hesitated.

“Define signature, Mr. Nilson.”

The reporter glanced back at Harris. “Well, it’s part of the MO, isn’t it? How the killer does the crime, how he sets up the scene, the kinds of things he leaves behind–”

Mulder was shaking his head. “That’s MO, alright. But it’s primarily staging. In routine murder, staging’s something the killer does to disavow his work. To throw off the investigation: making rape look like routine burglary. That kind of thing. It’s a way of saying ‘look for this person. This someone-not-me.'”

The profiler flicked his ashes over the remains of his lasagna, and stared at his water glass. “Serial killers as a rule, are immensely proud of their work. Their MO is variable: whatever is necessary to accomplish the murder. It’s the signature that’s static. Whatever’s necessary to gain satisfaction from the crime: the type of degradation they engage in, the types of victims they’re attracted to, the fantasy life their behavior displays. When a serial gets into posing, it’s usually part of the signature, not the MO. It’s their way of saying, ‘In case you haven’t noticed, this is my work.'” He smiled without looking up. “‘I made this.'”

Nilson frowned. “So… you see no change in the signature?”

“I see an artist becoming more confident in the skill necessary to accomplish the work. An artist ready to spend more time on the work itself, with less fear of interruption.”

“Ah. So, he changes the MO. Moves indoors to avoid interruption. But shouldn’t that have occurred to him before?”

“I assume you’re an educated man, Mr. Nilson. College graduate?”

Nilson shrugged. “Sure.”

“Greek and Roman mythology still required courses for journalism?”

Nilson squinted. “Yeah. The myths cover all the basic plotlines of humanity. From Shakespeare to Watergate. What’s that got to do–”

Mulder nodded. “You’ll recall, then, the story of the birth of Athena?”

Nilson smiled indulgently, “I’m… afraid that particular story escapes me just now.”

“It’s one of those trick questions they like to pull on Jeopardy,” Mulder returned the flat smile. “According to myth, Pallas Athena wasn’t born at all. She sprang fully formed from Zeus’ head. In full body armor, no less.” He gave his cigarette a cursory puff. “Bet that was the headache from hell.”

“So…,” Nilson’s face was twisted in the effort to comprehend. “Your point is that none of us arrives fully formed? And the killer has evolved to this point? Okay. That makes sense.”

Mulder’s cigarette smoked itself in his hand, forgotten. He was lost once more, somewhere in the depths of that glass of water. “Goddess of wisdom and war. Goddess of discernment and death. Ever wonder about the connection, Mr. Nilson? What it was the ancient Greeks knew, what they understood that they would attribute such attitudes to the same personality?”

Nilson was silent, putting out his cigarette even as he watched Mulder’s vacant stare.

Sweat was running down Sauceda’s face and he was trying desperately to find something to say, a tow line to rescue Marty from whatever sea of thought he seemed intent on drowning in.

But Purdue was quicker to grab the line. “It’s time to put this show to bed, gentlemen. We’ve got a considerable amount of information to sort through in the morning–”

“One last question?” Nilson apparently wasn’t too proud to beg.

Purdue opened his mouth, closed it again; he turned to Sauceda but for the life of him, Sauceda could find no viable argument. “Sorry, but the kid needs his nap” just didn’t apply when the kid was twenty-six with a reputation for being hell on wheels when he wanted to. Right now would have been a good time for him to want to, but everything Marty seemed to want was in the small confines of that damned glass of water.

Nilson took his opportunity. “For the record, Agent Mulder,” he asked. “How do you see your role as a profiler?”

Mulder dropped the corpse of his cigarette into the glass and watched it drown. “If I’m ever given one last question, Mr. Nilson, I sincerely hope I do better than that.”

Nilson grinned ruefully. “I don’t know. I’ve always been told there are no stupid questions.”

“Of course there are. Certainly not every question is legitimate. Ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer.” He glanced up. “Unless you’re really listening.”

The look in Mulder’s eye was positively seductive.

“I’m listening.”

“Maybe. Like I said, you’re an educated man. And I’ve just sat here and told you our entire case. Now. You tell me what I’ve said and we’ll both know.” Mulder’s brow furrowed. “Just don’t let me read it in the newspapers.”

Nilson stared, recovered. “That doesn’t answer my question.”

Mulder shook his head, obviously disappointed. “For the wrong question, you’re awfully hot for an answer. Okay, how do I see my role?” He closed his eyes for a moment, suddenly pale, drained, decades older. “My mother’s father’s father was a tailor. I’m a tailor. I try to thread the clues together before someone puts out the eye of the needle. That quotable enough for you?”

“Positively poetic,” Nilson grinned.

“Then I’ve probably plagiarized it from somewhere and you could be sued for using it.” Mulder stood abruptly. “I need some air,” he announced, voice husky, and turned on his heel, striding for the door.

Sauceda snapped to in a delayed reflex and jumped up to follow. He was obviously tailing his partner but dammit, he didn’t care one way or the other right now. Let Purdue make some kind of cover story if he wanted to. This kind of crap was supposed to only happen to Marty when he was dreaming. Or when the case was really bad. If Marty thought things were this bad already….

“Christ,” he whispered, resisting the impulse to cross himself.

Mulder slammed through the door of the restaurant and didn’t even pause. Sauceda was right at his heels, praying all the way, pleading for the tension in the young man’s shoulders to loosen, praying for the storm to pass them quickly. Mulder headed straight for the Chevy, crawled into the backseat and slammed the door.

Sauceda peered through the glass a moment, seeing nothing but shadows of shadows. Voices raised in anger echoed across the parking lot. Harris and Nilson were having it out at the door of the restaurant with Purdue standing near to keep apprised of the situation. His dark eyes were watching Sauceda.

The pathologist tried leaning nonchalantly against the side of the car. Tried the pose with his hands in his pockets. Tried it again with only one hand in his pocket, the other serving as a prop for his head. He wasn’t tall enough to make the pose look comfortable, though and he was grateful when Harris finally got Nilson packed off in his car. Nilson had to pass the Chevy on his way out of the parking lot and Sauceda feigned interest in a billboard, blinking painfully as the headlights of Nilson’s Chrysler grazed his eyes. The reporter lost no time in peeling off down Market Street.

Now it was Purdue and Harris’ turn to have some words. They kept the volume down though, and Harris looked like he was offering an apology. Within the confines of the Chevy, Mulder hadn’t so much as twitched.

Unable to remain still any longer, Sauceda paced the length of the vehicle, watching for some hint of motion behind the glass. The profiler sat perfectly still, the darkest shadow of all, eyes glinting now and again as Sauceda moved back and forth, casting shadows of his own in the lights of the parking lot.

After an impossibly long minute and a half, the pathologist deemed Mulder’d had enough time to sort through all the insanity of the world and he carefully popped the door handle. He paused, waiting for a barrage of profanity to tell him he wasn’t welcome. There was none and he frowned, opening the door cautiously.

The interior lights must have burned out in the too-old two-door; the car remained dark even with the door open. In the dim light filtering through the glass, Mulder was pale, glistening with sweat, unruly wisps of hair plastered ink black against the parchment white forehead. His head lolled back listlessly against the seat, his lips moving, producing no sound.

Sauceda turned at the sound of shoe leather on gravel and swore. Purdue was approaching, Harris following behind.

The pathologist closed the door protectively, careful to prevent the latch from catching, and moved to the fender nearest the two advancing men. He didn’t speak and pointedly avoided Harris’ eye.

The detective was only heading for his own vehicle, however. He gave Sauceda a cursory nod, wishing them both a quick goodnight.

Purdue waited for Harris to get his engine started before turning to Sauceda. “He keep the lasagna down?” he demanded.

“So far,” Sauceda grimaced. “But, I don’t think Toto’s in Kansas anymore. At least not much of him, anyway.”

The ASAC eased the door open and knelt. Sauceda stayed at his shoulder, trying not to block the light as Purdue took stock of the situation.

Purdue turned to glance up at him warily. “We going to have another body in the morning?”

The pathologist frowned. “Wouldn’t that put her a little ahead of schedule?”

“Now wait just one damned minute,” Purdue hissed. “I thought he only did this kind of crap when the crime was going on. You know, real time.”

Sauceda shook his head patiently. “That’d be way too easy, wouldn’t it? Marty’s not really into easy.”

“So I’ve noticed.”

Sauceda snorted. “You ain’t seen jack. Sir. He’s just gotten better at hiding it, that’s all.” He reached over Purdue’s shoulder and laid a gentle hand on Mulder’s arm. The nerves trembled in the muscles beneath his hand. “Marty?” he asked softly, “who’s car you sittin’ in, kid?”

Mulder blinked slowly against the headlights of a passing truck, his profile blue-white then deep gray again. In the flash of the high beams, the pathologist noted Mulder’s pupils: they were dilated, restricting only sluggishly in the glare, unfocused or just too deeply focused for the confines of the car. Mulder’s lips moved again, still with no sound.

Sauceda squeezed Mulder’s arm cautiously. “Marty.”

Mulder’s volume came up obediently to a hoarse whisper. His eyes scanned as though reading a far distant script.

“There were two babies,” he murmured. “Years back. Before it was too late for babies.” Mulder licked his lips, concentrating on the scene playing for his perception alone. “The first was a fetus… swam away in the toilet of the Enron station outside Belaire, Ohio. The second–” He gasped in the gleam of headlights as a second car passed. Sauceda’s jaw trembled with the realization that it was no longer just sweat shimmering on the profiler’s cheeks.

“I don’t want to see, Lenny,” Mulder begged, voice pitifully small, strained with grief. “I don’t want to know these thing–” Sauceda pushed the ASAC aside; Purdue surrendered the ground without struggle, allowing the older man to squeeze a hip onto the floorboard. Sauceda grasped Mulder’s arms, offering too little support– but it was everything he had.

“It’s okay, Marty. All this crap’s just gone on too long, kid. That’s all. You just need a rest–”

Mulder moaned– a despairing, keening wail cut short almost as soon as it began. He leaned forward, every muscle trembling with the effort to contain the outburst.

Sauceda watched, powerless to offer any more than the comfort of his presence. Purdue’s face in the door beside him was pinched.

“The more I see,” Mulder moaned, voice distorted with pain, “the more I see, the more comes for me to see– Oh, God, I just want them to go away and leave me alonegoawaygoaway–”

Even as he pleaded, Mulder pulled away from Sauceda’s steadying hands. Sauceda relented and Mulder pressed back against the seat, rolling his head hopelessly, lost once more in his invisible far off world.

“The second baby was twenty-six weeks before it cast itself out.” Mulder grimaced, one hand fluttering fretfully to his chest. He left it lying there as though the pain was continuous, but inconsequential. “He never mentioned them,” he insisted. “Her own husband, her savior, her knight in shining armor and he never mentioned them. Not even in passing. No what-if wistful look… like they never existed. She hates him for it. In his grave, she hates him for it.”

Mulder’s voice wavered, began fading, whispering and fading as he cringed away from the visions in his tormented brain: “He sleeps in a ditch of fire, and cannot hear; and where, in earth or hell’s unholy peace, men’s suicides will stop, God knows, not I.”

Mulder gasped again. “Not I,” he insisted, eyes squeezed tightly shut. “Not I–”

Purdue jerked up, pulling Sauceda to his feet. The action sent them both lurching free of the car and Purdue held onto Sauceda’s arm, roughly protecting him from stumbling as he shoved the keys into his hand. No explanation was necessary and Purdue ran for the opposite side of the vehicle and wrenched the door open. Sauceda, clamoring dutifully in behind the wheel, fought to pull the driver’s seat forward, his attention tightly focused on the image in the rearview mirror.

All the movement seemed to snap Mulder’s spell and he looked around warily to find Purdue seated next to him. He spent a moment simply blinking, apparently trying to identify which reality he’d landed in this time.

“You look tired, Mulder,” Purdue noted calmly. “Ready to get back to the motel?”

Mulder silently scanned around him. He caught Sauceda’s stare in the rearview and Sauceda gave him a smile he apparently didn’t register. The profiler’s focus moved on and Sauceda followed the track of his eyes: the oddly empty bucket seat beside Sauceda, the not quite empty parking lot, and again the ASAC. Purdue exuded a confidence and calm that had no place here.

Sauceda knew from experience that Mulder wouldn’t recall how he’d gotten here; he watched the young man glance quickly at Purdue’s quiet face, quickly away again.

Mulder ran a hand through his hair then fumbled in his jacket pocket. His hands were trembling but he managed to slip the shades on. Sauceda held his breath, vision weaving from Mulder to Purdue back to Mulder: a pale man in a dark car on a dark parking lot, wearing shades.

Purdue made no comment, allowing the young man this small defense. Sauceda breathed a prayer of blessing on the ASAC as he started the engine.

Part 11: Sunday Mourning Paper

Saturday. May 14, 1988. 7:36pm. Fort Henry Motor Lodge. Room 37.

The door was unlocked and swung open slightly as she knocked. Mulder was clearly visible from the door: flat on his back on the bed, one arm shielding his eyes from the overhead light. His other arm stretched out beside him, fingers tangled tight in the bedspread, fist knotted even in his sleep. He was still dressed– well, jeans and a T-shirt, anyway– surrounded by reports, diagrams, and photos she knew better than to focus on. The television was blaring: CNN with more boring details of the Bush/Dukakis debate.

Kay switched off the light and got the volume down on the television. Mulder stirred fitfully, arm sliding from his eyes to rest above his head, bare feet shuffling briefly. She held her breath, waiting for him to still again before turning on the bedside lamp. Even in the muted light she could see the sweat on his face, the random twitch of muscles. He was haggard, too tense to be truly resting, his eyes rimmed with red. Kay laid her palm against his face gently; he was feverish but not seriously so and there was no REM motion beneath his lids– he wasn’t dreaming yet, thank God. Four nights they’d spent together and she’d woke every night to his trembling and moaning, his body clammy with night sweat. He never spoke about it. Even in the daylight. Even holding her hand through the Overlook park this afternoon. Even nibbling her ear in the movie theater when he’d dragged her to see “Die Hard”– and then spent the whole movie necking with her in the balcony.

He sighed again, jaw working silently and she leaned to kiss his forehead. There was regret in the kiss. Regret for the mysteries that shut his heart away. Regret for the fear he woke to each night. Emotionally closed one moment, the next, suddenly and fiercely passionate, he was a mystery as deep as any he found in those files of his. And although he refused to admit it, she knew he was afraid– afraid for himself, afraid for her.

And Kay loved him for it.

She switched off the lamp, collecting his files carefully, unwilling to wake him just yet. In the glow of the TV, the photographs were blissfully indistinct. There was enough light, however, to identify the newspaper slung across the floor: the early issue of the Sunday Ohio Sun. Kay had read it herself just a few hours ago. “FBI’s Finest Stalks Serial Killer” the headline bragged. What followed was a whole range of articles dealing with Mulder’s work on previous cases– told in enough detail to make her skin crawl. Yesterday, Mulder had sworn this new case was quiet right now, that he was just filling time on other cases, helping out at the precinct until Purdue said it was time to go. But he ate less every day and he feared sleep, fought it like hell, reaching out sometimes in the night, just to reassure himself that Kay was still there.

The television went bright as she bent to retrieve the paper. Children’s faces stared up at her, smiles solemn in the newsprint ink: row after row of tiny photos– kids dug up from shallow graves or found on the side of the road while her Fox hunted their killers. Christ, was there no wonder he jerked when she touched him unexpectedly? Sometimes life just… well, caught up with you after a while. Maybe he was hearing all those little feet fleeing after him. Maybe he just had nowhere else to run–

A distant peel of thunder rumbled, just audible beyond the walls and windows. Kay crammed the newspaper into the wastebasket and emptied Mulder’s ashtray on top of it.

By the time she emerged from her shower, Mulder had rolled to his side, facing the television. She belted his robe around her as she crossed the room.


Still locked in desperate sleep, Mulder shifted his head against the pillow, huddling away from her voice. Turned in profile, he looked almost boyish. His hand fisted spasmodically then he was motionless again. She sighed.

There was just enough room on the TV side of the bed for Kay to lie comfortably; she could slip between the sheets and not even wake him if she was careful. She managed to do just that and was feeling rather proud of herself when his breathing altered abruptly.

“Oh– Fox, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean–”

“Uhm.” His voice was husky, groggy. He slipped his arm around her waist, spooning her up loosely and she settled in beside him.

“Comfortable?” he mumbled. Kay nodded and felt him kiss the back of her neck. She wriggled slightly, ensuring him his share of the pillow and an adequate view of the television. Her concern earned her another kiss, this one on the top of her head.

By mutual consent she manned the remote control and they watched “Family Ties,” “Night Court” and Ted Koppel. There was no conversation; she offered the simple comfort of her presence and he simply accepted it. She couldn’t tell whether he slept or not: his breathing was regular enough but his tension never eased. She lay in his arms, her head light against his collarbone, her back warmed by the motion of his breathing.

She was asleep herself when she felt him rise, moving cautiously. She listened, drowsy and content, as he undressed: the rasp of his zipper, the sighs of fabrics in motion. The mattress dipped as he slipped under the sheet and she rolled against him, wrapping her arms around his chest. His scent was warm as life itself and she inhaled deeply, circling his nipple with feather soft kisses. He grunted softly and laced his fingers through her hair, a gentle thumb stroking her earlobe. His other hand fumbled behind her, his evening stubble scratching her forehead pleasantly, and then the TV was abruptly silent as he located the remote control. She smiled against his neck and felt a tug at her waist as he unknotted the belt of the bathrobe. It surrendered willingly and he pushed the fabric aside, pulling her close, sighing at the warmth of skin against skin. She wrapped her thigh over his hip, inviting but not insistent. He kissed her softly, pulled her head to his chest– and then the world was suddenly still again. There was only the beating of his heart, the pattering of rain against the window.

3:17 AM.

Kay woke to a thump against the floor. She reached one hand out, seeking him in the dark but found only the empty sheet, still warm. The light filtering through the drapes was too dim to see clearly but she could hear him breathing, gasping in pain or fear.


He didn’t answer and she crawled across the bed, calling softly, hands scrambling. She found his tousled head, a shadow amongst shadows, propped against the mattress as he sat on the floor.

“Fox, honey? Did you fall out of bed?”

He gave no answer and she ran her hands through his hair, down his neck and shoulders, squeezing his upper arms in comfort as much for herself as for him. He was alive and whole, why wasn’t he answering– God. He’d had another dream and she hadn’t even woke to help him–

He pushed her away and struggled to stand. She didn’t insist when he refused her help and stumbled to the bathroom; she was simply grateful when he didn’t close the door on her.

He was on his knees and retching before she could locate the light switch. The harsh bulb was not kind: his skin was chalk-white and slick with sweat, his ribs too prominent suddenly as he strained. Kay ran for the bed and snatched up the blanket to lay across his shoulders but he tugged it into his lap instead, suddenly modest in his illness.

“Let me go get your partner, Fox, okay? I’ll be right–”

He grabbed for her abruptly, pulling her into the floor beside him.

“No–” he choked, the grip on her wrist desperate and painful as he fought to control the next spasm. “He’ll tell Patterson,” he gasped at last. “You can’t tell–” He spit a mouthful of bile into the bowl and shivered. “Promise me. Promise!”

She didn’t know this Patterson so the promise came easily and he seemed to take comfort from it. He released her, resuming his vomiting. Kay felt that it would continue forever, and it did, long after there was anything left in him to come up. It was painful to watch and he didn’t answer her questions, flinched each time she tried to touch him. She finally surrendered, waiting patiently in the doorway, clutching her robe and trembling as she listened to him gasping for air.

The worst of it finally passed. He accepted the glass of water she offered him, rinsing his mouth gratefully before vomiting what little liquid had trickled down his throat in the process. His entire body shook and he grabbed his head suddenly, pulling at his hair. His moan was pure animal pain. She reached to hold him and Mulder pushed her away, snarling as he scrambled to his feet, swearing. The words were slurred and indistinct and his eyes were fiercely dilated, frightening in their intensity. And when they turned on her, there wasn’t even the vaguest hint of recognition. She retreated to the door.

He climbed into the bathtub, slapping at the shower control, and stepped beneath the pounding stream without even waiting for it to warm. Mulder apparently needed all his concentration just to stand. He planted both hands against the tile, eyes squeezed tightly shut. The tension pouring off him was violent; it flavored the room and shook her to the core.

She marveled at the transformation in him. This was not the man who had tucked her into bed a few hours ago. Not the man who had held her, made love to her this morning. Only the memory of the man who had held her, had loved her, gave her the courage to remain now.

“Want me to scrub your back, Fox?” She thought a playfully sensual tone would be comforting to him, something that would reach the man beneath the pain. But her voice quavered pathetically and she almost choked on the words.

He pressed his forehead against the tile, refusing to look at her. “I need to get out of here,” he rasped. “I’ve got to get out. I can’t–” whatever he couldn’t do was drowned beneath the water.

Kay bit her lip. “You can’t leave just now, angel. You’re sick, and it’s only four o’clock in the morning–”

He exploded, slamming the side of his fist against the tile. It hit with the force of a sledge and every muscle in his body jerked. Kay yelped in terror.

“Goddam it! Leave me alone!” he screamed. The eyes he turned on her were black, crazed with fear and a desperation she had no answer for but total panic.

She fled for the bedroom, found his clothes rumpled in the chair and shimmied into his T-shirt, too frantic to even wipe at her tears. Something shattered in the little room behind her.

The mirror– Oh, God, he’s hurt. He’s hurting himself–

She snatched up his trench coat, fumbling it on as she ran for the door. Her foot caught in the hem and she stumbled, slamming her shoulder and the side of her face against the door frame. Mulder’s angry snarl echoed from the bathroom, and suddenly the pain was no match for her panic. She fled, half blinded, out into the night.

The slam of a door had Purdue moaning against his pillow. Seconds later the echo of frantic pounding had him wide awake and struggling into his trousers. The racket was coming from Sauceda’s door, just next to his own, and showed no sign of letting up.

Dammit to hell. Lenny could sleep through a freaking hurricane.

Shirtless, shoeless, Purdue grabbed his gun and checked the view out his window.

“Christ Almighty–”

Purdue jerked his door open and Kay spun at the noise, her fist still resting against Sauceda’s door. Sauceda popped the door open a second after, clad in slacks and a T-shirt. Kay squealed a silent “Oh!” and stumbled back in confusion. She wavered uncertainly between the two men, one hand unconsciously tugging at her hair. She was trembling violently, crying so hard that Purdue doubted she could even speak. The air was misty with light drizzle, plastering her hair to her face and neck. Mulder’s trench coat had slipped from one shoulder, pulling the collar of her T-shirt with it. There was a bruise there as big as a man’s fist. A perfect match for the one just above her eye.

“Help him!” she wailed. “You’ve got to make him stop!” Before Sauceda could grab her, she whirled and fled back toward Mulder’s room, bare feet slapping concrete, coat dragging in the rain after as she ran.

Purdue caught up with her just before she reached Mulder’s door. She barely stifled her scream as Purdue pulled her away.

“You stay out here,” he hissed. “Do you hear me? You stay out here or you go to my room and stay there.”

She nodded without really comprehending the order. Purdue noted Sauceda out of the corner of his eye; the pathologist had his medical kit in one hand, his revolver in the other, shoulders hunched against the mist. He assumed the standard back-up position next to Mulder’s door, prepared to cover the ASAC’s entrance.

Purdue took a deep breath and set his back against the opposite side of the door frame. Rain dripped from the eave of the roof and onto his bare back, setting him to shivering despite his best efforts. Kay backed up down the walk, clutching the trenchcoat, her eyes wide. She shook her head vehemently. “Don’t hurt him. You can’t hurt him–”

Purdue waved her back and rapped the door calmly. “Mulder?”

There was no response. Purdue wiped sweat and rainwater from his face.

“Mulder, its Reggie Purdue. I’m coming in, son. We need to talk. Okay?”

Still no answer. Purdue watched Sauceda wipe his hand on his damp pant leg, resume his grip on his weapon.

Purdue tried the knob. It turned easily and he let the door swing open a few inches. And waited.

Nothing. A glance at Sauceda earned him a nod. Purdue shook his head and entered slowly, his face a mask of friendly composure. He held his gun low, tucked behind his thigh. His posture was neutral, his free hand in plain site. He wasn’t exactly dressed like an ASAC and was counting on that fact to make him a little less threatening.

Mulder was standing on the other side of the bed, oblivious to his entrance. The profiler was dressed, a pullover and jeans stuck to his damp skin, water running from his hair down into his collar. His right hand was bleeding, splattering his clothes, but he didn’t seem to notice. Mulder’s motions were manic, his steps jerking and unstable, both hands shaking hard enough to make even the smallest task an effort, but he searched the room methodically, dilated pupils intense and roaming. He’s not sane. Purdue’s gut rolled over with the realization. Christ help me. This is it.

“Agent,” Purdue asked calmly, “what are you doing?”

Mulder slung a book from the top of the nightstand, fumbled behind the lamp, patting down the surface like he didn’t trust his eyes to tell him that nothing else was there. “I’m going for a run,” he answered finally. The response was slurred, only half considered. He pulled at the nightstand drawer next and patted it down as well.

“You’re not leaving this room, son.” Purdue’s words were not a challenge, simply a statement of fact. “We need to talk,” he repeated. He noted the stack of files littering the dresser: cases from armed robbery to triple homicide, Mulder’s work for the past week and he wanted to spit suddenly. This was his doing. He’d brought him here, handed him the files. He was responsible for this man wrapped in madness. For the bruised woman panting in the door behind Sauceda’s shoulder–

Mulder turned but didn’t look up, his brows frowning in concentration as much as anger. He knelt to slip his arm under the mattress. “I’m going for a run,” he repeated, numbly. He might have been talking to himself. “Where the hell’s my gun?”

Purdue slipped his finger off the trigger of his Ruger, laying it flat against the trigger guard. “You don’t need a weapon, Mulder. Let’s just sit down and talk. Then you can run– okay?”

“I’ve got a crime scene to detail–”

Purdue nodded, familiar with the pattern now. “Listen to me, Mulder. You’re not going anywhere until I know you’re in control.”

Mulder was on the floor, feeling under the bed, his voice muffled. “I’m in control, dammit,” he growled.

“Like hell.”

Mulder’s dark head jerked up, enraged. Purdue knew the dangers of antagonizing injured wildlife, but at least he finally had Mulder’s attention.

The young man struggled to stand, and Purdue felt Sauceda step up beside him.

“Calm yourself, Agent,” the ASAC warned softly. “Or we’ll have to do it for you.”

Mulder was finally on his feet, finally fully aware, his voice a hiss. “You said there’d be no drugs unless I requested–”

“Do you think you’re in control enough to know to request a drug, Mulder?” Purdue waited for the question to register. He watched reason flickering in those feral eyes, fighting it’s unsteady way through the madness.

He heard a rustle behind him in the door, then Kay’s voice, tender, pleading.

“Please, Fox. Please let them help you.”

Sauceda wouldn’t allow her to enter, however. Across the room, Mulder’s answer was to remain quite still, both hands pressed against the bed, the closest bit of furniture to offer support. Blood pooled onto the rumpled sheet but Mulder didn’t see. He was watching Kay, Purdue, and Sauceda with the same wide-eyed horror. Thunder rolled somewhere to the south.

Purdue held his tone steady. “Everything’s going to be all right, Mulder–”

Mulder swallowed hard and tried to stand upright without support. It was a valiant effort and he gasped. “He’s dead. She’s killed again. We’ve got to go see.”

Purdue shook his head and chanced one cautious step forward. “I’m not walking onto a crime scene with you in this state.” Mulder took a step back and the ASAC froze.

“We’ve got a job to do, Mulder,” Purdue remained patient. “I’m not losing evidence because you can’t hold it together.”

“I can hold it together,” Mulder’s voice was an angry plea now. Purdue advanced slowly and Mulder retreated, backing himself into the wall. “I was all right in three-oh-four,” he insisted, “You remember. I was fine. I was okay. Right?”

Purdue nodded carefully, slipping his weapon into the back of his waistband. “Because you gave yourself time first, son.” He paused, just a few feet from the young man, and presented his empty palms. “This one’s not getting any deader, Mulder. Me and Sauceda have to get dressed. You gonna have it together by the time we’re ready?”

Mulder’s nod was emphatic, his eyes wild, watching Purdue’s hands. His own hands clawing the wall behind him reflexively, like he was contemplating his odds of tunneling through.

“Prove that you’re in control, Mulder. Sit down.”

Mulder met his gaze with one of complete panic.

“You can sit down, can’t you?” Purdue demanded calmly.

Mulder stared at him, opened his mouth, closed it again as though he didn’t trust himself to speak. His Adam’s apple convulsed. “I’m all right,” he whispered. “I’m all right. I swear. I’m not crazy–”

Purdue sighed heavily. Jesus, but this hurts. “No one thinks you’re crazy, Mulder.”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut against the lie. Purdue didn’t want to startle him, didn’t want to have to rush him, but Mulder was starting to lose some serious blood. The wall was smeared with it; it dripped from his hand and onto his untied running shoes. Meanwhile, Mulder was whispering, short insistent little phrases as untranslatable as the tongue of angels.

Purdue tried again, voice soft. “You’re in a difficult position, Mulder, operating under a lot of stress. It’s not failure if you can’t do it on your own ever so often.”

Mulder’s injured hand fluttered to his chest, rubbing at some pressure there. Purdue shifted his stance, prepared to take the young man down; he froze mid-step as Mulder’s eyes blinked open again.

“Valium,” Mulder whispered. “Ten milligrams.” His face was defeated and resigned. “Better make it fifteen.”

Sauceda had been ready for him and approached carefully, his only weapon a syringe filled with clear liquid. Mulder frowned as he registered the drug and Lenny shrugged an apology.

“It’ll work faster this way, Marty, that’s all. Let’s get your sleeve rolled up, ‘kay?”

Mulder tugged at his sleeve obediently, froze with the realization that his hand was bleeding. He paused, regarding the injury blearily, then glanced up at Purdue, his face unreadable. Sauceda chattered away comfortingly, delivering the drug with practiced hands.

There must have been something familiar and unwelcome in the burn of the medication, however; the needle was barely out of his arm before Mulder’s eyes went wide and he grabbed for Sauceda. Sauceda was quick on his feet, however, already dancing away, needle aloft as he fled.

“Goddam you,” Mulder hissed after him. “Goddam you, you had no right–” The drug hit him then, hard and impossibly fast. Purdue caught him as he staggered.

“What did you do to him?” Kay demanded. Sauceda tried to intercept her and she slapped at him furiously. “What the hell did you do?” Sauceda wrestled her into the chair as she flailed at him bitterly.

Purdue had his hands just as full with Mulder. The younger man was in no shape to put up a full fledged fight but he was giving the ASAC hell in spite of it. Purdue gasped with the effort to hold him, grateful that Mulder wasn’t lucid enough to remember much of his training.

Mulder was registering Sauceda’s struggle with Kay, however. Enraged, he slammed Purdue into the wall, knocking the breath out of the ASAC. He spun to go after Sauceda but Purdue had a handful of Mulder’s shirt and was holding on for dear life. Mulder swung at him, but ineffectively, his focus still on Sauceda.

“You leave her alone! You leave her the fuck alone!”

Mulder’s shout and Purdue’s frantic swearing brought the second fight to a finish. Kay and Sauceda turned, wide-eyed and gasping. Sauceda flushed beneath Purdue’s glare and retreated to a corner. Kay pulled Mulder’s coat about her regally and wiped her face on the sleeve.

Purdue used the distraction to good advantage and got Mulder’s arms pinned behind him. Mulder’s resistance was failing, the drug finally beginning it’s work in earnest. Purdue dragged the young man face down onto the bed and held him there. Mulder swore at him blearily, words slurring against the sheets.

Sauceda held out a plastic baggie to Kay, a flag of truce. “Here. Go down to the ice machine and get some ice–” He half muttered “please” and snatched up his medikit, crawling up onto the bed to kneel beside his partner. Kay watched a moment as Sauceda applied pressure to Mulder’s bleeding hand then she disappeared into the dark with the little bag.

Mulder, caught up in the reflex of the fight, was still struggling furiously, his muscles hindered by the drug ravaging his system. He lashed out at Sauceda despite Purdue’s best efforts to hold him. Sauceda seemed content to wait him out, holding Mulder’s wrist tight, keeping the towel pressed to the injury.

“Shit, Sauceda, you sure he doesn’t need another dose?”

Sauceda grimaced. “I should have shot him full of Seconal. Sorry, but it’s been a while since he’s been this bad. I just didn’t think he’d fight like this.”

Purdue snorted. “You look at her face again and try telling me that.”

“Oh, hell, he didn’t hit that girl, Reg. You know he didn’t.”

“I don’t know any such thing. He’s a crazed animal–”

Kay’s reappearance ended the argument. She stepped to the bed tentatively, eager to present her baggie full of ice. The bruise on her forehead was bad but the blow hadn’t been low enough to cause any swelling of the eye itself. She’d been fortunate, Purdue mused.

Mulder moaned and made another effort to rise and the ASAC shoved him back down with a bit more force than necessary. Kay stared at him in horror and he looked away. He’d come to respect Mulder but temporarily insanity was a plea he’d never had much use for– he’d rot in hell before he’d listen to her defend this man.

Sauceda sighed and pointed her to the chair. “Get some of that ice on your face,” he insisted. Her mouth worked in surprise and his voice softened. “We’ll use the rest on his hand, okay? But I can only handle one patient at a time.” He turned back to Purdue without waiting for her answer. “You got him?” he demanded.

Purdue laid himself across Mulder’s back and got a better hold on the injured arm. Mulder didn’t fight him now; his muscles still jerked but it seemed more reflexive than any real effort. His eyes were mere slits. He looked like a child fighting sleep. A very sick child.

Purdue shook his head. “What the hell did you give him, anyway?”

“Thorazine,” Sauceda held Mulder’s hand to gain the best light as he pried a piece of glass from the knuckle. “Valium won’t cut it when he’s really bad.”

Purdue grimaced watching Sauceda dig for another tiny bit of slivered mirror.

“All this stuff hits him hard,” Sauceda assured, blinking in concentration as he worked. “You hafta be careful. Half the psychopharmaceuticals on the shelf will put him out in five minutes even at low doses. His system’s just… off like that. I swear to God he’s not human sometimes.”

Purdue eyed Kay, busy dabbing at her face with a washcloth full of ice.

“It’s not so bad,” Sauceda insisted, inspecting Mulder’s hand. “Bled like a sonofabitch, but no real damage.” Mulder was still conscious but just barely, his eyes only half focused. “‘S’okay, Marty,” his partner promised, slathering ointment into the wound. “‘S’alright. You quit fighting the medication and get some rest. Okay?”

Mulder didn’t respond. Sauceda smiled pleasantly, putting the finishing touches on his bandage. He pushed himself off the bed and slipped off Mulder’s shoes, nodding at Purdue. “You get his shirt, I’ll get his pants.”

Purdue scrambled to his feet. “Don’t you think he needs to go to a hospital?”

Sauceda stared at him. “The wounds are superficial. Unless you’re just looking to make sure this gets on his record.”

“I’m filing on this, Lenny,” Purdue warned. “And you’re co-signing it.”

Sauceda frowned. “But– Shit. Just help me get him in bed.”

By a concerted effort, they got the bloodied sheet off the bed and Mulder stripped down and under the bedspread. Sauceda added a blanket for good measure, pushed the young man onto his side and repositioned his pillow. Mulder eyes were still open but Sauceda declared it was just out of sheer cussedness. Each time Sauceda was in reach, Mulder slapped at him groggily.

Kay finally had enough of the two men playing nursemaid and shoved Sauceda aside to sit on the bed next to Mulder. She held his uninjured hand while Sauceda propped the bandaged one against a pillow and slipped the rest of the baggie of ice under it.

Purdue watched the young couple closely. With Kay near, Mulder had stopped struggling completely. In fact, he seemed grateful for her presence, staring up at her with an unspoken plea. She leaned to whisper in his ear and he lay motionless, all his effort concentrated on listening, her hair cascading across his face, shielding the moment from Purdue’s view. Mulder squeezed her hand softly as she sat up. His eyes remained closed. His breathing finally calmed. His face was suddenly just newly born, too tranquil, too perpetually innocent; no scar of time betrayed the horrors hidden beneath the sealed lids.

Kay nodded at the ASAC shyly. “Thank you,” she said.

Purdue sat on the end of the bed and rubbed his face. “So. What started the fight?”

“I don’t– No. No, there was no fight. He just–” she paused staring at him closely. “He just had a bad dream and it upset him.”

“So he took a swing at you.”

Her face flooded with comprehension. Then anger. “He never touched me. I tripped and hit the door–”

“The door do that, too?” Her coat sleeve had pulled back and he pointed an accusing finger at the bruised imprint of Mulder’s fingers across her wrist. She looked down, looked back up at him like she wanted to spit.

“You son of a bitch–” she hissed.

Mulder moaned again, his bandaged hand fingering the blanket fretfully. She lowered her voice to an indignant whisper. “He didn’t hit me, he didn’t even try to hit me. When he broke the mirror I wasn’t even in the same room–” She set her jaw. “He’s not that kind of man–”

Purdue sighed. “Well, what the hell am I supposed to think? You were scared to death when you came running down that hall–”

She squeezed her eyes shut. “I have… bad memories. It’s nothing to do with him.” She glared at him imperiously. “You’ve got to believe me. He didn’t hurt me. God is my witness.”

Purdue kept his face closed. “Unfortunately, God’s not here to testify and I have to file a report.”

“Screw you and your damned regulations. He didn’t hurt me!”

Sauceda squatted next to her. He looked tired and old suddenly. “Don’t worry about it, kid,” he nodded resolutely. “I’ll be filing a report of my own.” He glared at Purdue. “Marty’s never hit a woman in his life.” He sighed and indicated Kay’s forehead. “How’s your headache, kiddo? Any problems with your vision, any sudden piercing pain or pressure?”

She shook her head resolutely and allowed Sauceda to examine her briefly, checking the dilation of her pupils, testing minor motor skills. Sauceda seemed pleased with the results but she absolutely refused to allow Purdue to drive her home.

“I’m staying here. You’ll need someone to watch him. It might as well be me.” She glanced at Sauceda. “I’d rather it be me.”

Purdue opened his mouth to protest but Sauceda was already shaking his head. He pointed at Kay’s eye.

“He’s going to blame himself the minute he sees that. Hey!” He held his hands surrender fashion as her anger rose again. “I know he didn’t do it. But he’s gonna feel responsible. You know it, too. Look, maybe it’s best to give him a couple of days. I’ll explain it to him.” He shrugged gently, “We’ll take you home and you can call him tomorrow, all right? It’ll be okay. You two’ll work it out.” The tenderness in his voice had Purdue blinking owlishly. “This isn’t about you, Kay,” Sauceda insisted. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”

The two men waited as she stared down at the young man beside her, considering, maybe fighting tears.

“I’ll get dressed,” she answered finally, then paused as she stood, fumbling for the pocket of the coat. “Oh. You want his gun?” She held the weapon up with a grimace. Purdue accepted it solemnly.

“It was in the pocket when I put it on,” she said levelly. “I wasn’t trying to protect myself from him or anything.”

Sauceda frowned at the weapon in the ASAC’s hand. “Is he getting it back?” he demanded.

Purdue swore but Sauceda waited him out. Kay watched them warily, confused, but both men understood the significance of the question.

“Yeah,” Purdue agreed, finally. “Yeah, he’s getting it back.”

Sauceda beamed. “Well, hell, then. I’ll get housekeeping in here to wipe that wall down.”

Part 12: Didn’t We Just Leave this Party?

Sunday. May 15, 1988. 11:37 AM. The Valley Inn, Bridgeport, Ohio. Room 6.

Hell of a way to spend a Sunday….

Harris excused himself from the motel room, dodging crime technicians and equipment with equal care. The carpet was slick with intestines and bits of organs; just walking across the floor could earn a man hazard pay.

The motel, The Valley Inn, was located just off I-70, still in view of the Ohio River. It was small, simple but nice enough, a privately owned affair that could have been the stunt double for the Bates Motel, sans mansion. A maid had discovered the body in Room Six a little after nine; Bridgeport PD had taken one look and put out a courtesy call to Harris. He didn’t take long identifying the handiwork: the star-shaped hole of a .22 semi-automatic, close-range, the jagged V-shaped incision that opened the gut from breast-line to groin. There were variables in the presentation, but Mulder had warned them she was adaptable; Harris would lay good money it was their girl.

The deputy at the door stepped aside to let him pass. He eyed the detective like he was expecting an apology or something. Like it was Harris’ fault this monster had decided to expand her territory across the river. Harris smiled at him brightly and swore beneath his breath.

Where the hell is Purdue? Called him a freaking hour ago and if he’s off drag-butting around–

He paused on the porch, squinting in the sunlight. It was a beautiful day with just enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable. A great day for hauling the kids to the zoo, or playing Frisbee with the dog. Not hanging out in blood spattered motel rooms listening to the coroner bitch and moan.

Most people tended to think that Harris’ job was glamorous, a kind of Sam Spade routine with a regular paycheck, roughing up bad guys and sweet-talking mysterious dames. Harris swore it was more like being in the army: an unlimited process of hurry-up-and-wait while someone else pulled all the strings. Harris pulled strings when he could get them though: based on Mulder’s revelations, Harris had sent two officers to Bellaire, scavenging records of miscarriages for the past twenty years. They’d been at it since Thursday with little to show for it; Belmont County had plenty of records but so far, there’d been nothing mentioning an Enron station. It didn’t help that most of the older stuff wasn’t on computer yet and a lot of early trimester deaths weren’t even recorded. A pretty slow go with not much hope of yielding anything solid. Still, aside from several thousand handgun registrations it was all they had to go on right now.

The squeal of a bad rotor announced Purdue’s arrival. Harris spat and got his hands on his hips as the borrowed Chevy pulled into the parking lot. Purdue might have a reasonable excuse for being late but Mr. G-man was overdue for a little ribbing. It wasn’t like Mulder to let the locals get the jump on him like this. Besides, the kid had been a little too quiet lately; maybe a good-natured tongue-lashing would get him back to his old obnoxious self. God knew Harris could use the comic relief.

Purdue was the first to exit the vehicle. The look on his face kept Harris on the porch, hands slipping off his hips of their own accord. Reg looked like he’d spent the night grieving– or maybe drinking. He wasn’t meeting Harris’ eye, either. Sauceda was next to tumble out; he looked tired, too, but began fussing softly, almost automatically, as he reached into the back seat. Purdue waited for him patiently, both men oddly subdued.

Harris squinted through the glare on the windshield. Sauceda was trying to help Mr. G-man out of the car and his efforts earned him an irritated backhand just this side of criminal assault. He dodged the swing deftly, waiting as Mulder finally managed to unfold his six-foot frame from the back seat. Purdue watched the proceedings with his hands in his pockets.

The profiler’s movements were awkward and hesitant and he made several grabs for the car door before actually locating it. Once vertical, however, he took great care with himself, pausing to button his jacket, straightening his tie with studied concern. He was dressed to the usual nines, Armani suit and golder-than-thou shades but his right hand was bandaged, gauze wrapped tight across the knuckles, allowing only the fingertips to protrude. Both hands shook a little as he patted the tie down and his steps were slow and deliberate like he was walking on unpacked sand.

Harris frowned, scanning the solemn faces surrounding the profiler. What the hell have they done to you, kid?

Sauceda hovered behind his partner, watching Mulder’s progress carefully but staying well beyond the range of his swinging arm. Harris took the hint and stepped back as Mulder approached. There was a single step to the porch and Mulder navigated it with a care that should have been hysterical. The detective’s mouth went spitless. He made no attempt to hide his anger as he looked Purdue square in the eye. The ASAC jerked his head away with the disgrace of the guilty.

Harris bit his lip and led the way into the room. Sauceda proceeded to the already well-perused body and began digging in his bag. Purdue stationed himself in a bare spot against the wall, an unobtrusive location that put him only a couple of steps from Mulder, Harris noted.

Mulder refused to enter, though, taking in the room from the door, leaning against the frame like he was just to tired to go any farther. Golden mirrors reflected the body across the room and the shades didn’t move for a long time. Mulder’s breathing was quiet but rapid and Harris recognized the tension pouring off him: he’d seen that bare edge of hyper enough times in Nam.

The ASAC wearied of the silence and settled his arms across his chest. “What’ve we got, Nat?”

Harris shrugged and waved at the room in general. “Like I told you: same crap, different day. It’s a weeknight so the motel didn’t have many guests. Nobody saw nothing and, of course–” he sighed, “nobody heard anything, either.”

“There’s music,” Mulder announced. The steadiness of his voice surprised Harris, the direction of his shades still hadn’t moved from the body. “A record,” Mulder insisted. “A tape. Something.” It was not a question. Sauceda was watching him, chewing the inside of his cheek.

Harris poked a thumb at the boom box on the dresser behind him. “I rewound the tape. It’s a homemade dub. One song. No background noises as far as I can tell but we’ll have it analyzed, of course.”

Mulder nodded. “Tell me about the body.”

Harris raised an eyebrow at Purdue, stoic, busy watching his profiler. “Male, twenty-five, single. Just moved into the area for a job with the Wheeling PD. The East Precinct. Apparently he’s been living here waiting for his apartment to empty out at the end of the month.”

“But we’re back to the routine guttings,” Mulder noted. This wasn’t a question either. “No apartment three-oh-four.”

“Maybe the last one kind of vented some steam, you think?”

“If she hadn’t gutted him according to pattern, we wouldn’t have been called,” Mulder answered wearily like such facts should be clear. “Play the tape.”

Harris hesitated but Mulder stood like it was everything he could do to keep from self-detonating. It was apparently a delicate balance and Harris had no desire to unsettle it. He hit the play button without comment.

Jump-back-Jack beat. Swing horns. And Phil Collins. “We’re two hearts, living in just one mind, we’ll be together till the end of time–”

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Purdue squinted, “but isn’t this song a bit recent to be one she’d associate with a bad childhood?”

“She’s got her own repertoire now,” Mulder’s voice was distant, listening. “It’s just the chorus? No verses?”

Sauceda shook his head fretfully and pulled out his measuring tape.

Harris shrugged. “I’m not all that familiar with the tune, son.”

“It’s just the chorus,” Mulder repeated the words to himself, then seemed to recall there were other people present. “She’s afraid we won’t take the hint,” he explained, finally swinging the shades in Harris’ direction. “We got a newspaper on the premises?”

“Yeah,” Harris grimaced, suddenly unable to withstand Mulder’s scrutiny himself. “Sunday’s Ohio Sun. Look, Mulder, I’m sorry about–”

“Where was it?” Mulder demanded, his expression unchanged.

“Under the tape player.”

Purdue frowned, chewing on his lip as he studied the profiler.

Mulder was nodding. “The whole paper or just the section on me?”

Harris sighed. “Well, just the section on you, actually–”

“Your friend Nilson must not write too well,” Mulder smiled vacantly. “She thinks we’re idiots.” He frowned, the action not greatly affecting the dispassionate cast of his face. “Or maybe she’s trying it on for size,” he brooded. “Yeah. She’ll go for subtle later.”

Purdue was looking more uncomfortable by the minute. “Mulder, what the hell?” He waved a hand at the bed. “You think this was set up for your personal benefit?”

Mulder didn’t answer, busy weaving his way over to the body. Sauceda stepped back but the profiler ignored him, regarding the bloodied form coldly. “She left the eyes,” he noted.

Harris scanned the tight faces in the room. “Significant?”

Mulder leaned over for a closer view of the corpse. “She wants me to see,” he explained reasonably. He glanced up at Purdue. “He looks a little like me, don’t you think? Same hair color. Same build. Similar jobs.” Mulder managed another smile; this one bordered on genuine.

“He’s a couple inches shorter,” Sauceda offered warily.

“He’s staying in a motel,” Mulder insisted. “I’m staying in a motel.”

Harris stared down at the baggied newspaper. “Christ. She wanted this to be you?”

Purdue approached the foot of the bed and stared down. “We need to put a body guard on you, Agent?”

“No,” Mulder answered hastily. “No, it’s not me she’s after.” He noted Purdue’s look and set his jaw. “It’s not. Not really. But she’ll escalate. She’s got something to prove now,” he explained patiently. “And her own personal fan club courtesy of the Ohio Sun.” He shook his head, his voice going soft. “She’s been manipulated all her life. Lied to and controlled. And she’s tired of it. She’s just so damned tired of it.” It sounded more like a confession and Mulder’s voice containing all the weariness in the world at that moment. Harris felt as if his life force had drained away just listening to it, that if he were not careful his heart might forget to beat. Purdue was frozen, watching Mulder’s profile in fascination. The profiler’s face behind the shades was pinched and hard. He removed the shades to rub at his eyes and put them back on without looking up. His hands were shaking again.

Sauceda shifted beside him, swallowing hard. “Marty, how’d you know about the music?” His voice was guarded.

Mulder shrugged vaguely, pocketing his hands. “Maybe I heard it in a dream.”

Sauceda grimaced at the mess that was the body on the bed. He grabbed Mulder’s arm and a few of Harris’s alarms went off when Mulder jerked at the contact.

“Marty, did she do this to y–”

Mulder shook him off, his voice a soft warning. “It’s just music, Len. Don’t get bent out of shape.”

Sauceda had to be tired: Mulder’s response had him seething. “Let me explain something to you, kiddo,” he growled. “This shit ain’t exactly easy for the rest of us, either. These damned dreams of yours are so hot, why don’t you just dream us up a name? Huh? Then we could all get home–”

Mulder’s whole body shook and Harris stepped forward, watching the dam crack just this side of disaster.

“A name?” Mulder hissed. “I gave them a fucking name in Shreveport and they had you shoot me full of Thorazine. Put me down like a rabid dog. Just like you did last night.”

Purdue stepped forward, arms ready, but he didn’t touch the young man. Mulder ignored him, intent on his partner.

“You want a name now, Lenny? Sisyphus. How’s that for a goddam name? ‘Sisyphus, her sleeves rolled, ready now to start getting that apocalypse out of the cellar’ while we bear up under a genocide or so.” He smiled bitterly. “There. More poetry over dead bodies. Chalk that one up on the Spooky chart while you’re at it.”

Mulder spun on his heel and promptly froze at the sight of Purdue so close. He got his shivering under control by what must have been sheer force of will. In a voice barely a whisper Mulder announced, “I need some air. And some aspirin.” Purdue allowed him to sidestep him, watching as Mulder stalked back out into the sun.

The men stood quiet a minute, waiting for some of the tension to dissipate from the air.

“Sorry,” Sauceda shook his head at the ASAC. “Not real bright on my part. I’ll go find him.”

Harris managed to restrain himself until the pathologist was out the door. “And just what the hell,” he hissed, “do you think you’re playing at here, Reg? You had no business bringing that man in here, expecting him to work a crime scene, for Chrissake.”

Purdue set his shoulders. “He was… agitated. I thought if he could see it with his own eyes, it would– I don’t know. Calm him down. Maybe.”

“Oh, well yeah,” the words were bitter. “I know this kinda thing just soothes the hell out of my nerves.” Harris held up his hand against Purdue’s protest. “Look, I don’t pretend to know how Mulder works these things, okay? And I don’t wanna know. But he’s obviously in trouble. And apparently we’re all just supposed to stand around and watch him fall apart?”

“I deny him access, he’ll see it as failure–”

Harris shook his head. “You just don’t get it do you?” Purdue blinked at him. “Look, you have problems getting the kid off this case, fine, I’ll do it for you. I’ve got a profile. He’s done good work on the other cases I handed over, I’ll write him a nice commendation and you take his butt home.”

“I can’t just–”

“Murder’s not a federal jurisdiction, Reg. He’s off the case. Dammit, take him home.”

Purdue closed the distance between them, his voice a painful hiss. “You don’t get it, Nat. If I take him home, that’s just where he goes– home. And–”

“Shit– Would you listen to yourself? If he’s so damn bad you don’t trust him to his own supervision, then get him in a hospital, Reg. What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Purdue sighed, paced two steps away and turned. “Patterson’s used the mental health system like a club. I swore I wouldn’t do that to him–”

“Reg, If the kid needs help–”

“But Mulder doesn’t see it that way. He won’t see it that way. Don’t you understand?”

“Yeah. I understand. I understand you’ve got a hell of a problem. Look. I’ll give you a couple of days to make some kind of arrangements. But as far as I’m concerned, Mulder’s off this case. Off any case in my jurisdiction. For his own sake.” He shook his head. “Hell, take him back to Quantico and let him teach–”

“Patterson’ll have him back in a heartbeat. The Bureau’s not going to let that kind of talent stagnate sitting on his thumbs.”

“Talk to Skinner, explain the circumstances.” Harris’s eyes narrowed. “Or is he still not returning calls? Christ.” Harris shook his head. “Then God help him, Reg. Because you obviously can’t.”

“Like hell.”

Reg’s face flushed red as he passed. Harris grabbed his arm.

“‘She’s been manipulated, lied to and controlled'” He quoted Mulder softly and waited for Purdue to look him in the eye. “God Almighty, Reg,” he hissed. “Just who the hell is he really profiling now? The perp or himself?”

The officer that drove Mulder back to the motel reported that the young man was quiet during the trip and insisted that he was going to nap the rest of the day. Sauceda was skeptical but didn’t bother to say so. He had an autopsy to do, after all, and Purdue surely knew the score well enough by now.

Several hours into the dissection, however, Sauceda glanced up to find his partner watching through the window of the autopsy bay. Mulder hadn’t even changed clothes, his hair as rumpled as his navy suit. The shades were gone, though. Mulder held an unopened can of soda in one hand; his forearm lay across the glass, forehead resting against it. His eyes were hollow, haunted. Sauceda smiled at him, Mulder didn’t change expression but he at least seemed to take Sauceda’s greeting as a kind of invitation.

He entered quietly, nodding without actually looking Sauceda in the eye. The pathologist watched him swing himself up to sit on a cabinet across the room.

Sauceda’s mind was a whirl. Marty didn’t often visit with him in morgues. In fact, Marty never visited with him in morgues. Marty occasionally popped round to spend time with a corpse he found particularly unsettling, but that was an entirely different thing. Sauceda shut his tape recorder off.

“Hey, kid.”

“Hey.” Mulder’s voice was soft. He busied himself scanning the array of equipment on the cabinet beside him.

“You get some sleep?”

Mulder shook his head.

“Hell. Marty–”

“Kay called.”

Sauceda swallowed. “Yeah?”


“So. So how is she?”

Mulder shrugged, still not looking at him. “I told here we’re just in town a couple more days.” Sauceda waited him out. “She wants to see me tonight.”

Sauceda finally let out the breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. He grinned. “See? Told ya.”

Mulder stared down at his unopened can of soda. “I didn’t mean to hurt her, Len.”

“Shit, Marty, you didn’t hurt her. Didn’t she tell you? What? You didn’t believe her?”

Mulder didn’t answer.


“I just don’t remember!”

Sauceda sighed. “Look, don’t get yourself agitated, kid. I just need to finish up here. Almost done, then we’ll go get something to eat. I’ll tell Purdue I picked you up at the motel. Okay?”

Mulder nodded.

Sauceda watched him a minute before turning on the recorder. He didn’t really have much to add to his report, just a few general observations but he liked to keep the recorder on in case something occurred to him. He moved from the stainless-steel table containing Kress’ yellowed body, to the scale hanging beside him. He scooped up the stomach and internal organs hanging there and patted them down into a clear plastic bag.

Across the room, Mulder began rattling a bottle of pills. Bag in hand, Sauceda watched as the profiler dumped about five too many aspirin into his palm and popped the top on his soda can. Mulder was in the process of downing both when he noticed Sauceda’s glare.

Mulder shrugged an apology and choked down the tablets before the pathologist could protest. Sauceda scowled as Mulder leaned his long frame against the wall above the cabinet and blinked at him innocently. Sauceda sighed. Maybe by the time they were done here the aspirin will have finally convinced the young man that his body didn’t hurt anymore; Sauceda just hoped Marty could manage the wait quietly. Mulder in the autopsy room always made him nervous. He’d just never bothered to figure out why.

Sauceda dropped the bag into the open cavity in Kress’ abdomen and rolled the contents around a minute, trying to make them fit back in the hole he’d pulled them from. He laid the slab of ribs back on top, stepping back to judge his handiwork. A few adjustments and he finally returned to his discussion with the tape machine.

“Final conclusions: no defense wounds are present on the hands or arms. No blood traces or skin fragments under the fingernails. Victim died without struggle. Tox screens reveal no drugs present, minimal alcohol levels. Death resulted almost immediately from a .22 caliber gunshot wound entering posteriorly just below the aorta. Powder burns and residue indicate skin contact range. Victim has been gutted postmortem via a “V” incision beginning just below the nipples, ending at the bladder–”

“You know,” Mulder lisped, ignoring Sauceda’s flaming look and the gloved hand popped over the microphone. “When I was in university there was this guy in Suffolk. The constable found his body in a little patch of woods off the main road. He was just laying there, draped over a log, like he’d been sitting there and fell off and never got up.”

Sauceda sighed impatiently. “So the guy fell off a log, bumped his head and died. Can I finish–”

“Nope.” Mulder took another swig of his beverage, staring absently at the gurney. “Coroner found no evidence of cranial injury, no stroke, no aneurysm. No nothing. Just a perfectly healthy man sitting on a log for a week and a half.”

Sauceda was squinting. “A week and a half? What? He just sat there ’til he died?”

Mulder’s stare was intense, his voice far too reasonable. “Yep. Inquest ruled a suicide.”

Sauceda tried to fathom those eyes across the room. He had to swallow down the tension in his throat before he could speak. “What are you thinking about, Marty?” he demanded.

Mulder head shook almost imperceptibly. “Nothing.”

“Well, stop thinking it,” Sauceda growled.

Mulder blinked at him but didn’t request clarification.

Sauceda swore heatedly before removing his hand from the mike.

“The majority of the small intestine,” he continued shakily, “has been excised along with the liver, gallbladder and ascending colon. Stomach and pancreas have been incised randomly but remain intact. Weight of the organs collected from the scene are consistent for an adult male of the victim’s general build. No body parts or fragments thereof appear to be missing.”

“All items present and accounted for,” Mulder quipped. He’d waited for Len to switch the mike off but only just. He winked and took another swig of Sprite while Sauceda snapped off his gloves peevishly.

“You know, Marty, you’re awfully smug considering you think this lady is so hot for your liver. And gall bladder.”

“Let’s not forget that ascending colon.” Mulder’s voice was tired. “She’s not after me, Hot Sauce. She’s just out to interest her new audience.”

Sauceda removed his scrubs and moved to the sink, washing up carefully, giving the profiler time to inspect the body if he wanted. Mulder made no move to do so, however, apparently content with his post on the cabinet, staring vacantly at his soda can.

Across the room, Sauceda bit his lip, watching the lanky form reflected in the stainless steel back splash of the sink. He didn’t much like what he saw. The kid had managed to gain a few pounds since Seattle but they were a few too few to do him much good. Still, the past couple of days had been pretty quiet and the nights blissfully so until last night. Sauceda had begun to hope this Kay had been good for the kid, had even begun chiding himself for not hauling a woman in for Marty in Shreveport when they really needed help.

Sauceda dropped the thought and tapped on the window for a tech to remove the body. He hesitated a minute and then pulled a chair up to Mulder’s counter.

“Look, Marty, I… I want to apologize for switching drugs on you last night–”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, shaking his head violently. “Don’t. Don’t do that. I don’t want to think about that right now.”


“No, dammit. Look, you did what you thought you had to do, what you thought was best for me. Let’s just leave it there.”

Sauceda could tell Mulder really wasn’t feeling that generous, he probably just didn’t have the snap to win an argument right now. And Marty didn’t like to lose. Not to Sauceda, anyway.

Mulder chewed his lip, considering his words. “I meant what I said this morning, Len. That’s how I feel… But, hell, maybe you were right. I don’t know. I can’t– Maybe.”

“And maybe not,” Sauceda conceded.

“Yeah. And maybe not.”

Mulder’s voice had been a little too bitter just then and they sat locked in silence by mutual agreement. Several minutes passed and Mulder began swinging his feet softly against the cabinet doors. Sauceda smiled. The kid just didn’t do sitting very well.

“How are you, Marty? Really.”

Mulder shrugged, staring at the wall. “I feel a lot better.”

Maybe it was true, but it was certainly relative. Sauceda didn’t press it, though. He was watching the body being wheeled away, thinking about that incision.

“You heard the music, Marty–”

“Did I feel the knife? We’re not discussing that either.”


“Screw you, Lenny,” Mulder suggested wearily.

“But we never discuss this crap–”

“That’s right. We don’t discuss it and I don’t keep winding up in shrink’s offices for knowing too much.” Mulder bit his lip again. “Shit.”

Sauceda kept his voice soft. “Purdue wants to know how much of it you’re not telling.”

“Well, screw Purdue, too.” Mulder took another swig of Sprite.

Sauceda rubbed the back of his neck. “Marty.” There was no answer. “Marty. How come you told Kay not to tell me you were… sick?”

“‘Cause you’d have done just what you did. I don’t like the drugs, Lenny. They do… stuff to my head.” Mulder wasn’t looking him in the eye anymore.

“You told her that I’d tell Patterson.”

Mulder sat up straight, looked like he was considering fleeing. The knuckles were white around his soda can. “Is there a point to this, Len?”

Sauceda kept his tone gentle. “You were confused, weren’t you? You didn’t remember Patterson wasn’t around anymore–”

Mulder’s eyes were hollow. “I’m tired, Lenny. Just lemme alone. Okay?”

The admission and the plea had Sauceda blinking. Mulder’s eyes were hollow, focused on the opposite wall. His jaw twitched convulsively.

“One question, Marty?”

No response.

The pathologist sighed. “So. How is it you can do this when the killer’s a woman?”

Mulder frowned and turned to look at him blankly.

“You know,” Sauceda nodded, “the spook stuff.”

Mulder’s laugh was humorless. “Jeez, Len, you’re some piece of work. I don’t even know what this crap is or where it comes from and you go getting your Latin machismo all in a wad because I’m tuning in with a woman. Hell, why can I tune in with men, for that matter?”

“Cause you are one. Same with the kids. You’ve been a kid.”

Mulder shook his head, his voice sour. “You got it all figured out, partner, you explain it to me.”

“It’s just a question, Marty.” Sauceda scrubbed at his face with both hands. “Hell, never mind.”

Mulder’s face was pinched. “I don’t know,” he said distantly, “maybe– All vertebrae animals are essentially female, right? It just takes the addition of hormones at a critical stage to create the male. Of course, that would imply that this shit is locked in the genetic code…” He rolled his eyes and gave Sauceda a seductive wink. “Hey, maybe all that machismo of yours has just put me in touch with my feminine side.”

“Sounds like this Sisyphus of yours missed a few doses of something when she plopped off the assembly line.”

Mulder’s voice was quiet again. “All the experts will tell you that in violence we forget who we are. She doesn’t forget, Len. She finds.”

Sauceda reached out and stilled the steadily drumming foot, leaving his hand resting on it. “Some of these wackos find their compulsion to kill fearful and bewildering. They want to be caught so they’ll be stopped. Is that why she’s focusing on you, Marty? Hoping you’ll stop her?”

“She doesn’t want to be stopped, Len. She wants to be appreciated.”

Sauceda tugged gently at Mulder’s shoe, asked softly, “So when does it get to be too much?”

“When she gets caught,” Mulder shrugged. “Or when she says it’s enough.”

“No, Marty. I mean for you. When does it get to be to much for you?”

Mulder tried to smile, failed. “When I get caught,” he said. “Or when I say it’s enough.”

Part 13: Hostile Takeover

Sunday. May 15, 1988. 10:13 PM.

Mulder woke with a start. The lights were off– it’d been daylight when he’d gotten back to the motel, sunlight streaming brightly through the window, so he hadn’t bothered to switch on the overhead light. Now the security halogens from the parking lot filtered through the curtains, casting the room in an unearthly greenish glow. Mulder checked his watch and grimaced. Christ, where was Kay?

He rolled off the bed and made a frantic dive for the phone. No messages at the front desk. Mulder tried to tell himself he wasn’t overly surprised. It didn’t help though. The shattered feeling in his chest was just too much to ignore, somehow. He slammed down the receiver and promptly jerked it up again. His hands were shaking so hard it took three times to pound in the number for information; sorry, sir, that number is unlisted.

Mulder banged the receiver down yet again, left his hand on it a minute, trying to determine if there was another source he could call. He had any number of contacts in the Bureau that could get him a phone number– but instinct and common sense told him the last thing any woman would want is a man who would use his badge to violate her privacy.

Hell, maybe she’d come by and just hadn’t wanted to wake him…. Mulder made a quick search of the room but found no note. His frustration and disappointment were instant and intense, and directed entirely at himself.

The room blurred without warning. He swore heatedly, clawing at his eyes. Tears, unbidden and unwelcome, came entirely too easily for him lately and he despised himself for it. It was another sign that he was losing control. Yeah, like he needed another sign.

She didn’t work Sundays as far as he knew but he was instinctively drawn to the window and its view of the diner. Chris’ sat, squat and small in the shadow of the Wal-Mart, lights out, empty.

Mulder grimaced and dropped his head against the cool pane of window. Did you say you were disappointed, Fox? Hell, let’s translate that to what you really mean: you’re scared shitless, terrified she won’t be back. You fucking jerk, you’d never even asked her for her phone number. Been so long since you’ve had a woman put up with you more than a few hours that you’ve forgotten all the little niceties, all the necessary protocols. Wonderful, Fox. Just great. That one little oversight probably told her volumes about your level of interest in what mattered to her–

He peeled off his jacket and the bed caught it with an unsatisfying thump. His tie was close behind. He ruffled his hair fitfully, crossing the room on instinct, eyes closed against the emptiness.

Hell, the least she needs is a break. You haven’t exactly been making her life easier by being here. It’d serve you right if she left your butt flat out–

His pacing had brought him to the door. He yanked it open, stepped out. He peered into the darkness, this way, that way, looking for that familiar form to come dancing out of the dark, that soft, confident swing of hips, those creamy legs, that glorious smile. The longing was so intense, he even sniffed for her perfume; reality slammed home with the bitter fragrance of blacktop oil and gas fumes from the highway.

There was a man downstairs near the motel office, kneeling at the ice machine with a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. In the dim light, Fox could read the stained T-shirt: “Don’t even ask.”

He grunted. “Don’t worry. I won’t.”

A car honking insistently across the parking lot brought Mulder back to himself. It was an unsettling awakening. He was back inside his room, door firmly shut, staring out the window at Chris’. He had no clear remembrance of his actions or how he’d gotten there, no idea how long he’d stood there this time. Fear kept him from looking at his watch. Best to know only that he was terribly tired and that his left arm was throbbing unmercifully. Then suddenly low-grade headache he’d had for weeks pulled a switchblade on the base of his skull. Mulder gasped as the combined pains escalated, slamming into his frontal lobe.

He found the bed without realizing he was even looking for it, collapsed in a writhing ball, just trying to remember how to breath, forcing oxygen to his brain, waiting for the episode to pass. It would pass. It would pass. It always passed…

And at last it did, receding as abruptly as it had hit. He lay quite still for some time after, hesitant to move, fearful any motion on his part would invite a repeat performance. It was a full half hour before Mulder could convince himself to risk a few tentative, rational thoughts and he was careful to keep them simple, calm, stripped of any emotive quality. He never knew just what would trigger these events, after all.

He made himself some more promises, without bothering to reason out just how he was going to pull them off. It’s going to be all right, Fox. You’re going to get yourself together and then you’ll make it right in the morning. She’ll call. You’ll see, she’ll call. Maybe her mom took sick, or… something. Maybe… maybe she’ll let you make it all up to her. Hell, she’s got to call, she’s not the type to just walk off without at least telling you off. If she just calls, you can handle it from there. You can make it right. You’re good at that. She’ll listen. You know how to make her listen–

It was a convincing argument when he didn’t bother himself with details, and Mulder found he was finally able to stretch out on the bed without the headache rising to more than the dull-drone level he’d grown accustomed to. Something slid across the mattress and bumped softly into his hand: the remote control.

He stared at it a moment, punching buttons blearily and solely on instinct. The television complied with the commands and Mulder curled to his side, propping his throbbing head on the pillow. He got the moisture blinked from his eyes and dried his face with his shirt sleeve, resolutely oblivious to either action as he struggled to concentrate on the channels fleeing across the screen in a rapid blur.

Ah, the marvels of modern technology: forty-seven channels of nothing, twenty-four hours a day. He settled on HBO and “The Fly.” It was the damned remake, Jeff Goldblum and Geena Davis, but Geena looked good enough to make even the gross-out scenes worthwhile. Hell, she could pull mutated hairs out of his bare back anytime.

The thought of small, soft hands running down his shoulders hit a bit too close to home, though, and Mulder jerked up guiltily. The movement sent the pain in his head escalating into the danger zone and he froze waiting for the inevitable neurological assault. The spasm retreated mercifully, however, back to normal levels. Mulder sighed gratefully– carefully– and switched the channel over to the safer haven of CNN.

The tones of “Larry King Live” followed him into the bathroom. Gary Hart was assuring Larry that he was running higher in the polls than George Bush. Larry didn’t sound too convinced. Mulder drowned out the discussion with a twist of the shower control, allowing the water to heat up while he stripped off.

Yeah, she’ll call, he reassured himself, back to what really mattered in this election year. You’ve just got to pull yourself together, here, Fox. You’re no good to her if you’re falling apart…

He stepped under the warm, steady stream, closing his eyes against the torrent as it poured over his head. The simple motion triggered a wave of vertigo that tried to buckle his knees. Mulder held himself steady, hands flat against the tile, and somehow managed not to blackout.

Christ. Where the hell was all this crap coming from, anyway? He’d slept most of the morning, spent the rest of the day fairly quietly: getting chauffeured from the crime scene, calling a taxi to haul him to the morgue. He’d kept lunch down, even if Lenny did have to threaten him with a mandatory physical to get him to eat it. He’d even managed to get out of eating dinner, although he’d probably have to listen to Sauceda bitch about it in the morning. Major annoyances had been kept to a minimum, though and, all things considered, it had been a fairly pleasant day as far as murder investigations go.

Mulder pushed away from the tile and back under the stream of the shower. The water congealed into steaming rivulets down his neck and shoulders, highlighting the tension in the muscles there. He flexed his arms carefully, trying to pull the pain loose, but the action only served to reveal further areas of tension. Hell. Muder had already taken to popping half a dozen aspirin every few hours, you’d think that would be enough to get rid of most any pain for a while anyway. You know, Fox, if you collect any more signs of stress, you’re going to have to consider requesting a leave of absence, maybe even put yourself in for medical treatment–

Yeah, right. He’d tried that in Shreveport and they’d left him on the case, calling Baez in and scaring the shit out of him. Mulder had just one point in his favor in Shreveport: the results of his Rorschach tests were consistent with sanity. He grinned without joy: that must have broken Patterson’s balls…

Mulder tore the paper off a fresh cake of soap, wrapped it in a wash cloth and began scrubbing himself down. The motions were automatic and vaguely comforting and his thoughts slipped into autopilot, flying where they willed.

Lathering his chest and abdomen, Mulder thought about the latest victim: Officer Kress, gutted in his own motel room, his badge on the dresser.

Yeah. Right where you leave yours usually… Well. Is that the problem, Fox? You wondering when she’ll come for you? When it’ll be your guts being ripped out and plopped on the floor?

Mulder forced himself to think about it, brutalized his frontal lobe into analyzing the photos stored away in that filing cabinet of a mind, gauging his reactions clinically. There was no aching in his chest at the thought, though, no change in his heart rate. His balls hadn’t taken a dive for his abdomen. Nothing he would label as fear.

Well, maybe that was the problem, then. After all, any rational man would be afraid. Because at some point, somewhere, Fox Mulder would be on this woman’s list of things to do. He had lied to Purdue on that count. Well, not lied, really. He wasn’t on the list yet after all. And he did intend to catch her ASAP–

The water was noticeably colder and he searched the washcloth suspiciously, flinging it at the far end of the tub when he found only a small sliver of soap remaining. He dove under the showerhead to rinse before the hot water failed entirely. “Shit, Fox,” he hissed. Losing track of time, standing in the shower half the night– What’s wrong with you anyway? It’s not like this is a sexual molestation case. Kress had been nude but it’s not like there was any evidence of–

Kress had been the only victim nude. Mulder froze, evaluating the thought. The others had been partially undressed, the clothing pulled back for the benefit of the blade but Kress, Kress had been robbed of all dignity, his clothes flung in the corner, stained with blood and gun powder.

And Kress looked like you, Fox. A couple inches shorter, maybe. A couple of pounds heavier. A little thicker through the chest… She’s coming onto you, sir, being coy and seductive. What’s that you’d said about her getting ’round to subtle later? Well, well, Fox. It’s later than you think.

The thought soured in his stomach. And was disturbingly intriguing. Mulder grimaced, shutting the water off. Sauceda was right: he was becoming as twisted as the perps he hunted.

Mulder toweled himself dry, resisting the shiver that took him suddenly. Strange. He could swear he wasn’t cold…

He found his robe hanging on the back of the bathroom door and slipped it on. The trembling stopped abruptly. The terry fabric still smelled like Kay: Heaven Scent and Sassoon shampoo. He smiled, pulling the robe close as he climbed into the bed.

He would locate her in the morning, no more waiting for her to come to him. He was a Federal agent, after all, trained for manhunting. Besides, he’d heard that a certain amount of groveling was good for the soul…

Monday. May 16, 2:07 AM.

“Fox! Help me, Fox!”


The sound of his own cry woke him even as he groped the darkness seeking Samantha, reaching out to calm his sister’s fear.

He was alone. The fact had long ceased to amaze him– he always woke from that dream alone. Always woke sweating and shaking with the pain of uncertain horror, and certain loss. He gulped air rapidly, struggling to reorient himself, to dismiss the dream, convince himself it didn’t matter.

But it did matter. His dreams of Sam had never involved blood before and he’d never woke from them with this kind of pain radiating through his chest and down both arms. Something was wrong. Something had to be wrong.

Mulder’d had the same dream for so many years now that he could no longer recall if he’d even lived the events– or if he’d simply dreamed the events so often– so vividly– that they had become reality to him. He was unwilling to decide upon the truth, however. If the dream was just a dream it was surely the reflection of impending madness. If it was a reflection of reality and the events were real–

Mulder never allowed himself to finish that thought. It was impossible. He didn’t want to believe.

Mulder dropped back to the sheets and flung his arm over his face, shielding himself from the twilight of this room that was not his own, this empty bedroom that was too much like his own. He thought of the Sam in this dream: bathed in unearthly light, her gown glowing red, blood red and bleeding more even as she called for him. And he couldn’t reach her. He could never reach her–

His chest constricted with the memory and he gagged, made it to the toilet only just in time. There were tiny streaks of blood in the bowl when he was done. He stared at the sight a long minute, his mind a whirl of too many thoughts. Without coming to any conscious conclusions, Mulder flushed the evidence away and moved to the sink to rinse his mouth. His own image stared out of the mirror at him, accusingly. There were dark rings under the eyes, a shadowing under the cheekbones that he hadn’t noticed when he’d shaved yesterday. His irises had disappeared entirely, his pupils fully dilated even in the bright mirror lights.

What he needed most, he decided, was sleep. Even if just to fight the depression. Truthfully, he needed a lot of things, but right now he’d settle for sleep… Jeezus, if only Kay were here…

2:23 AM.

Sauceda opened his door blearily, and let Mulder in. He opened his mouth to ask, “You on your own tonight, Marty?” but closed it before the words formed. Mulder was fiercely private on some subjects. Besides, if Kay had been a no-show, there was no use embarrassing the kid. Or hurting him.

He settled for telling Mulder he looked like hell. Mulder thanked him, then just stood there, hesitantly. Sauceda frowned.

“We expecting another body in the morning, Marty?”

Mulder shook his head. “No, this is… It’s personal.” He said it quickly, his face closed and the pathologist didn’t press it. No one got through the shield when it went up that tight and even at this ungodly hour, Sauceda knew better than to try.

Sauceda tucked his hands in his robe. Even in T-shirt and jeans, Mulder could manage to make him feel underdressed. “What can I do you for, then, kiddo?”

Mulder grimaced. “You got anymore of those sedatives Baez prescribed?”

Sauceda concentrated on keeping his breathing even. He knew how Marty felt about taking drugs of any kind. No way this was a simple request for him and Mulder refused to meet his eyes, suddenly interested in the weave of the carpet.

Sauceda tried to not make a big deal of locating the capsules in the bottom of his bag. He kept his conversation light and his expression neutral even when Mulder’s hand shook when he held it out for the pill. Even when Mulder spilled the glass of water for the other hand shaking so hard.

8:23 AM.

Mulder woke with James Wright echoing through his drugged fog:


“The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.

The dark wheat listens.

Be still.


There they are, the moon’s young, trying

Their wings.

Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow

Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone

Wholly into the air.

I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe

Or move.

I listen.

The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,

And I lean toward mine.”


He lay a long while, leaning back toward the darkness without really entering it, waiting for his head to clear, the fog to lift and the nausea to ease. He recalled vague dreams of Sam and blood. Something about Kay. And more blood. None of it was clear, though, just snatches of snapshots, blurred by the Secobarbital haze. He finally gave it up. And wished it would give him up.

The shower helped. At least the nausea had dissipated and he managed to get dressed without incident. That was important. Mulder was a master of presentation; it was the first rule of Faking It: look good and they invariably assumed you felt good, and then you avoided all those difficult questions…

From habit, he crossed to the window while he knotted his tie. Kay wouldn’t be at work yet, of course, but he’d come to find the view oddly comforting anyway.

He paused in mid-step. Odd. There was a bigger crowd than usual in front of Chris’. A dozen police units. Harris’ Ford.

The coroner’s Buick.

Mulder didn’t remember the numbed walk across the parking lot. Only knew that suddenly he was there, flashing his badge on instinct, reaching for the door with it’s “Closed” sign. Most of the activity appeared to be centered behind the soda counter.

Purdue blocked him before he was halfway across the room.

“Step back, Agent.”

“No–” Mulder’s voice was muffled in his own ears, as if traveling from a great distance; he studied the commotion over the ASAC’s shoulder, the wisp of dark, blood crusted hair curling on the floor, just visible beyond the corner of the counter. Purdue was speaking but none of it registered. Nothing registered but that soft brunette tress…

Purdue raised his voice, trying to be heard above the roar in Mulder’s head.

“Mulder, you’re not coming in on this–”

The young man moved to push past and Purdue wrapped his arms around Mulder’s chest and arms in a tackle posture and half-carried, half-dragged him back to the door. Mulder was too numb to struggle; he stared at the ASAC blankly and Purdue released him, still keeping himself resolutely between the profiler and the body behind the counter. Harris was there, too, suddenly, and took an uneasy stand behind Purdue.

“You’re not getting in on this one, Mulder. That’s an order.” Purdue’s voice softened, his eyes dark. “I’ll give you a report later, son.” He licked his lips. “Come on. Let’s step outside.”

“No.” The word sounded too weak and ineffectual to adequately convey much, but right now, it was the only word Mulder found he knew.

Sauceda’s eyes over the counter were large and round and pained. Sauceda turned away guiltily from his partner’s gaze.

Purdue had a solid grip on Mulder’s right arm. “Outside,” he insisted softly.

Mulder didn’t resist; he simply didn’t move, didn’t allow himself to be moved. No. No. No. No–

“Don’t do this to yourself, Mulder,” Purdue whispered at his ear. “Let us handle it. It’s too close, son. Let’s step outside.”

Sauceda was suddenly close at hand now, taking his other arm. “This what you saw last night, Marty? When you asked for the pill?”

Mulder muttered something, he didn’t know what. Something about being too close to see… He closed his eyes, searched his short-term memory for some snatch of the dream. The blood. Sam. But Sam hadn’t bled when they’d stolen her away from him. Kay did though. Beautiful Kay with the smiling eyes.

He realized he was still speaking, couldn’t comprehend his words, couldn’t snatch them back. He forced himself to open his eyes, forced himself to focus, bit his tongue until he drew blood and used the pain and salty anger to bring his mind forward. He owed it to Kay.

Sweet God. Kay.

“Where is it?” His voice was harsh, vision boring into Sauceda, the weaker of the two links which held him. Purdue swore as Sauceda handed him the sheet of paper, tagged within its baggie. Mulder took it and read.

It was John Ashbery. From the book laying beside his bed a parking lot away…

“…you forget the direction you’re taking.

Suddenly you are interested in some new thing

And can’t tell how you got here. Then there is confusion

Even out of happiness, like smoke–It’s anybody’s story,

A sentimental journey–‘gonna take a sentimental journey,’

And we do, but you wake up under the table of a dream:

You are that dream, and it is the seventh layer of you.

We haven’t moved an inch and everything has changed.”

Mulder heard a soft voice: “See you tonight?” Heard his own voice: “It’s a date.” He felt Sauceda watching him. Purdue, watching him. Harris. But they were so far away. And Sisyphus was so close, so stiflingly close. He forced himself to breathe. In. Out. Again. The room was very dark suddenly and there was a rush of movement, then searing light.

He blinked, realized he was outside now. And the hands on his arms were holding him up. He tried to help them, managed a good imitation of a man standing, confident he could maintain it if no one let go.

The motel stared at him across the parking lot, cheap and gritty in the morning sun. Someone’s horn was broke at the Wal-Mart. There was a tight pain in his left arm that had nothing to do with Sauceda’s grip.

“It’s to you, isn’t it?”

Mulder took a moment to register the question, took another to seek out the questioner. Purdue’s face was masked; Mulder didn’t bother to nod. The ASAC spoke across his chest to the pathologist.

“Get him back to the motel and keep him there.”

“No–” Mulder heard the moan, didn’t recognize his own voice.

Purdue swung back to him, his face cold and the young man flinched involuntarily. The eyes regarding him gentled and Mulder’s stomach turned. He tried to freeze his face into SOB mode, tried to find some way to blow Purdue off. He tried desperately to think of something, anything to prove he wasn’t worth the pity, to force a distance between himself and all approaches. There had to be some way to convince these men that he could handle the unimaginable horror behind the counter, that he could touch just once more the pale, soft arms that had held him just the morning before–

He could think of nothing. Only one word would come and he cringed as he said it.


Purdue pushed Sauceda away, took both Mulder’s arms, squeezing them, trying to draw him back to conscious recognition of his words.

“Mulder. You cannot be objective on this one. You know that. You need distance to operate–”

“There’s never been any distance,” Mulder whispered, closing his eyes against the intensity of Purdue’s face, against the morning sun reflecting off the Buick beside him. “There’s never been any distance. Not on any of them. From the first one, the first set of photos, they’re walking around in my head. All of them. Every case–”

“Dammit, Mulder, look at me.”

Mulder obeyed.

“The killer’s gone after someone you know,” Purdue hissed. “Left you a note. It’s personal. She want’s your attention–”

“She’s got it,” he hissed. He struggled resentfully against the arms that held him, and Purdue spun him around and slammed him back against the Buick.

“What happens the next time she thinks she’s not got enough of your attention?” Purdue demanded. “Who’s next on her list, Mulder? Sauceda? Me? Goddamit, think! I need you rational right now.” He shook his head mournfully. “You need you rational right now.”

Mulder stopped struggling and Purdue pushed verbally while he still held some leverage. “Listen to me, Mulder. Maybe she decides she wants all of it and you open your door to a pretty little thing with a .22 in her purse. Now that may be okay with you, but I’m not letting you off the payroll that easily. You’re going back to the motel and you’re going to pack your butt back to Washington. Today. Right now.”

Harris’ voice behind him was a point of calm in the maelstrom: “I’ll assign a guard detail till he’s on the plane.”

And just like that. Mulder finally comprehended: they weren’t going to let him see her. Not even a glimpse around the counter.

She lay on the floor where she’d stood on tiptoe to kiss him. And they wouldn’t even let him see her.

He felt a door close inside his soul. A light went out, something precious shut away forever. And he was left with only with the eclipse as his life passed into sudden total darkness.

Part 14: Long Day’s Journey into Nightmare

Monday. May 16, 1988, 11:22 AM.

Mulder only vaguely comprehended the drive to the airport. He remembered coming to and finding himself back on his bed at the motel, his suitcase lying next to him, Lenny on the phone. Since then, Mulder had been functioning solely on automatic: Lenny told him to sit and he sat; Lenny told him to walk, and he put one foot before the other, repeating the process dully until told otherwise.

The ease with which he fell into this arrangement surprised him. All his life Mulder had suffered from an unfounded paranoia, the deep-seated sensation that he was being maneuvered, controlled somehow. Absurd as it was, he’d never been able to shake it and finally came to credit this fear to either some kind of chemical imbalance or– worse– an inherent tendency to madness. He raged against it, this certainty that things were not what they seemed and the equal certainty that such anxieties had no basis in reality. But because of it, he had rarely followed easily.

He was finding this new procedure, however– Lenny’s monosyllabic commands, his own ready compliance– rather intriguing. The set-up required little thought and no emotional response whatsoever. Still, he couldn’t help but feel vaguely uncomfortable, like a man driving into a darkened tunnel and hearing the distant whistle of a train. Only, just now, it wouldn’t have occurred to him to turn around.

Besides, through his window in the back of the Chevy, there was no visible tunnel. Instead, Wheeling and its environs sped past, a blur of channels with no personal significance, demanding no response, evoking none. Even the voices of Purdue and Sauceda, bickering in the front seat, were muffled as if traveling to him through a great depth of water. It reminded him of his childhood: his parents’ constant conflicts muted and distorted by walls, doors, and his own adolescent innocence. Except now, the emotional trauma was blissfully absent.

Mulder’s upper arm throbbed petulantly and he rubbed at it, finding the telltale knot left by one of Sauceda’s less diplomatic needles. Mulder didn’t remember the injection nor did he much care. He just knew he didn’t hurt anymore; this was surely a marvelous enough thing and Hot Sauce could be forgiven his small treasons.

The images out the window slowed and then turned, focusing suddenly on the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport which had greeted him just– was it only a week ago? Lenny was speaking again, tugging at his arm from the open car door. Mulder obliged, grateful that Lenny was there to help him keep things straight, there to help him out of the car. It was good to have friends. Mulder spoke the words aloud. Sauceda blinked at him like it was the revelation of angels.

Purdue escorted them into the complex, waiting with Mulder while Sauceda disappeared to tend to luggage and whatnot. He kept asking questions Mulder couldn’t quite comprehend; the roar in his head had apparently deafened him to all but the simplest sentences. Still, it seemed important that he answer, so each time Purdue paused, Mulder shook his head or nodded. Either action was entirely random, but at least he had a fifty-percent chance of being right. And he must have done pretty well because after a bit, Purdue patted a fresh pack of cigarettes into his jacket pocket and told him everything was going to be okay now. Mulder was relieved to hear it.

Sauceda was back and it was time to walk some more. Purdue led them through the terminal, flashing badges and such. Mulder presented his badge, discreetly revealing the weapon on his hip to the gate attendant, behavior as routine now as tying his shoes. This time he must have screwed up the procedure, however; Sauceda and Purdue were back hissing at one another almost immediately. Mulder’s forlorn look silenced them both. Lenny sighed and told him to get the hell on the plane.

They were taxi-ing down the runway before Mulder realized that Purdue hadn’t joined them. Sauceda didn’t volunteer any explanations and, comfortable in his reclined seat, Mulder didn’t inquire. The window beside him was misted with rain, the view outside dispassionate as a Monet landscape, color bleeding into color with few distinct lines. Between Sauceda’s uncharacteristic silence, the patter of rain and resonate hum of engines, Mulder finally relinquished control, content at last to surrender to oblivion.

They were circling Dulles when he woke. By that point Mulder was no longer stoned but he sat quietly, his lids heavy and half-closed as the announcements of final approach echoed from the intercom. Sauceda wasn’t fooled by the dazed look, however, and commenced his usual chatter. He’d made plans, he said, and Mulder would be spending the night at his place and, my, wouldn’t Imelda be excited. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Mulder didn’t respond, busy weighing his options. Sauceda could be a cagey old cuss when he wanted: overt resistance would have him force-feeding Mulder Valium and hauling him home to Georgetown despite all protest. Sauceda’d pulled that trick before, after all– in Newark, the first time Patterson had employed the drugs against him. All Sauceda needed was for Mulder to make a scene: he’d flash his badge, declare “psychotic episode” and airport security would be on Mulder in a heartbeat. Sauceda’d probably prepared the syringe before they left Wheeling. Mulder had no delusions about his position– or his partner’s determination on some subjects.

Sauceda’s reflection in the window was watching him now, frowning. After a minute, Sauceda leaned across him, fumbling for Mulder’s seat restraint. “Here, kid, let’s get you buckled in, ‘kay?”

Mulder pushed him back, his voice mild. “Not in public, Len, people will talk.” He struggled to sit upright and tried working the buckle himself. His fingers were numb, though, and it took a few tries to get it right.

Sauceda smiled uncertainly. “So. How you feeling, Marty? You sleep okay?”

“I had a choice?”

“Now, Marty–”

“Look, Len. We’re not doing this, okay?” Mulder’s voice was as diplomatic and reasonable as he could make it, “I’m going home. I haven’t been there in a week. I’m tired, I’m fed up and I just need some time to myself. And that’s it.”

He could have saved his breath, Sauceda was not taking no for an answer and Mulder’s calculated silence had him swearing brutally in no time. When Mulder bothered to respond, he kept his tone calm and disinterested, infuriating Sauceda even more– which, of course, was the whole point. Lenny was tired and Mulder knew he shouldn’t be doing this but what could he say? Sometimes self-preservation was a bitch.

Several minutes into Sauceda’s diatribe, a wide-eyed flight attendant was sent to Mulder’s rescue. She insisted Sauceda calm down for the sake of the other passengers and to watch his language. Still, Lenny wasn’t having it. Mulder, the obstinate catalyst for all this commotion, smiled languidly from his window seat, genuinely appreciative. The woman’s answering smile said that surely this is the gentlest of men, born innocent of both violence and original sin. She glared at Sauceda and made her way to the forward cabin with the air of a woman with something to report.

Sauceda caught on at last and let loose with another string of profanity. He kept his voice down this time, though, regaining his composure as he jerked his seat belt tighter. He had to get his hands busy doing something, apparently. Anything to keep from knocking the shit out of his partner and getting himself arrested.

“You are going home with me, you little piss-ant punk,” he hissed. “And you damned well better like it, too.”

Mulder didn’t answer.

“Goddammit, you are. And that’s final. You’re in no condition–”

“I’m fine, Len. Real–”

Sauceda twisted in his seat. “God is my witness, one of these days, someone’s gonna ‘I’m-fine-really’ you to death and I’m gonna be laughing my ass off.” He looked like he wanted to spit, both hands clenched tight into his armrests. “You’re not ‘fine-really.’ Mentally and emotionally you’re about this far from loony-tune land, and you know it, you little shit.”

“I damned well am fine. Or I will be as soon as I get home and out from under your goddam thumb.” Mulder gritted his teeth, careful to maintain his veneer of composure. “You know, you seem to keep forgetting that I’m the psychologist in this team.”

“Uh huh,” Sauceda glared doggedly. “And that means what, exactly? That you can explain why psychologists have one of the highest suicide rates in America?”

“Is that why you’re hauling ass back to DC with me, instead of doing your fucking job and working up an autopsy?” Mulder’s voice shook ominously and he turned away again to the window, deliberately shutting his mind away from images of bodies and blood and that brunette tress…

It took a few minutes to steady the erratic hammering in his chest; he finally became aware of a light pressure on his arm. He looked down to find Sauceda’s hand, comforting, reassuring, curled around his wrist. He flinched it off.

“Of course,” he mused soberly, “you shared that bit of dubious statistical trivia with Purdue?”

“Damned straight I did.”

Sauceda was blinking rapidly. Mulder couldn’t determine if the grimace on the man’s face was triumph or pain. It didn’t much matter, he supposed. Mulder’s emotional armor still held; as long as he could keep it that way, he’d win. And for some reason, he desperately needed a win right now.

“It’s not happening, Lenny,” he assured coolly. “I’m not going home with you. End of discussion.”

Sauceda glowered. He looked desperate, his cheeks flushed with mental effort. “The hell you’re not,” he growled finally. “I have a gun, you know.”

The threat brought Mulder up short for all of three seconds. “So have I,” he noted slowly. “Is that what you and Purdue were arguing about at the airport?”

Sauceda blanched, his hostility draining away with his color. “I stood up for you, Marty. I didn’t let him pull your gun or your badge. You owe me.”

“I’ll send you an FTD bouquet.”

Sauceda flinched like he’d been slapped. Mulder turned away, completely unable to look him in the eye suddenly.

“Ah, come on, Marty,” Sauceda moaned his despair, “I called Imelda hours ago, she’s expecting you.” He rubbed his face wearily when Mulder failed to respond. “She’s gonna be real disappointed if you don’t show–”

They disembarked with Mulder enduring a barrage of emotional blackmail. Sauceda, however, found himself playing a one-sided game of tug of war– with Mulder flatly refusing to pick up his end of the rope. Caught up in the details of luggage retrieval and the navigation of crowded terminals, Lenny finally calmed a bit. Mulder warily agreed to share a cab but he had no illusions that the truce was anything but temporary.

Sauceda insisted that the driver start the car while the two men loaded their own luggage. Nothing unusual for the penny-pinching pathologist– keeping the tip to a minimum was Sauceda’s credo. But when Lenny tossed his once precious suitcase into the trunk and sprinted for the backseat like a man fleeing a fire, Mulder shook his head wearily. He plopped into his seat in time to catch the tail end of Sauceda’s bargain: a twenty-dollar tip if the driver drove straight to Lenny’s home and refused to drive his partner any further.

Sauceda smiled up at him innocently– until Mulder waved a fifty over the seat. The driver’s grin couldn’t have gotten much bigger– just his luck to have picked up two extravagant loons. Sauceda pushed himself into his corner to sulk. Mulder didn’t bother to interrupt him.

In the silence of the drive Mulder found himself shuffling through the same aimless ramblings he’d been meditating on for months now: the unnecessary savagery of life, the treacherous nature of sanity. Bandaged fist pressed to his mouth, elbow on the door, he wondered why he didn’t simply give this all up, just surrender and walk away. He’d thought about it often enough and God knew no one would care. And the problem was, no one would care. The only person Mulder would have walked away for was three hundred miles away now, lying on a stainless steel tray.

Mulder dropped his head against the window. Christ Almighty. He didn’t want to think about Kay like that, cold as ice, probed and prodded by the gloved hands of strangers. At least if Sauceda had stayed, it would–

No. He shook his head rapidly, rolling his forehead against the glass. Lenny or a stranger. It made no difference. Not for her. Not for him. Nothing would ever be the same again. Nothing would ever be right. Mulder wished they’d at least let him see the histamine test– he’d know then if she suffered or if her death had at least been quick–

He marveled that his mind could even form such thoughts without his heart exploding. There was a pressure in his chest, certainly, a sensation of a fist tightening around the cardiac muscle. But otherwise a great emptiness pervaded his being. Even his weariness was distant, like a coat borrowed from a stranger, held out of courtesy until called for. Emotionally, he was a wasteland: a barren sea of ash, the benign face of a dormant volcano. Mount Saint Helens came to mind.

In the quiet of the car, with Sauceda notably mute, Mulder searched for some remnant of the pain that had threatened to erupt and engulf him on the plane. This, however, had bubbled quietly back below the surface as well, and there was no way he could blame it on the pharmacokinetics of Valium. The psychologist in him knew that he should find this oppressive numbness disturbing, another symptom of depression to add to his formidable collection, but he just couldn’t manage to care.

Beside him, Sauceda’s voice was solemn. “Whatcha thinkin’ about, Marty?”

Mulder shook his head. “Nothing.”

“No, kid. Seriously.”

“Seriously, Len. I’m thinking about Nothing.”

Sauceda let it go and Mulder was granted a few more miles of silence.


“Yeah, Len.”

“How about you just have supper with us? You gotta eat, you know.”

“I’m not hungry, Len.”


“And if I go and don’t eat, Imelda’ll get all hurt about it and I don’t want that, either.”

“That’s okay, Marty, she’ll understand–”

“No!” Mulder scrubbed at his face wearily. “Hell, Len, I just want to sleep in my own bed. That’s all.” He forced himself to look his partner in the eye. “If I get in any trouble, or if I feel the need to talk, I’ll call. I owe you, remember? Len, I swear, I’m not going to do anything to myself.”

It took a long minute for Sauceda to nod and he chewed his lip as he did so. It obviously wasn’t okay. Mulder resigned himself to being granted two or three hours to himself, four at the outside, before Sauceda showed up at his doorstep, ready to spend the night. Sauceda said nothing further, though, and seemed almost grateful when the cab finally stopped to let him out. Mulder couldn’t blame him. Sauceda was a good old man. Most days he deserved a hell of a lot better than Marty Mulder.

Sauceda turned before closing his door, bending low to peer back into the car, trying to see Mulder clearly. The profiler sighed, steeling himself for the last of the argument. Considering the outcome was already determined, he could afford to be patient.

Over Sauceda’s shoulder, he could see Imelda, raven-haired, exquisite even at sixty, standing on the stoop of the porch. She waved at him– a sincere, welcoming gesture extended to a near stranger, a man who went out of his way to give her husband so much hell. Her smile was genuine and Mulder felt his heart clinch against the glow in her eyes, the joy, the unaccountable willingness to give even a small part of herself away for the sake of her husband. God in heaven. To have found a woman like that, with a smile like that– A woman to spend your life with, to grow old with. To–

Mulder choked down bile. Surely God was the source of all evil, to put such glorious beings in the world and then snatch them away with savage hands–

Imelda’s smile turned uncertain, apparently discerning Mulder’s distress even with the distance across the yard. He managed a grimace and about half a wave before retreating to his corner, eyes resolutely forward, too full of moisture to even see out the windshield. He felt Sauceda shifting uneasily.

“Marty, are you sure–”

“Christ, Len–” Mulder moaned, then caught himself, trying for a softer tone, still not looking directly at his partner. “Go on, Hot Sauce, enjoy your family.” He shrugged. “I– just need some time to myself right now. And hey, I’ll see you in the morning, right?”

He felt the older man lean into the car a few more inches, peering at him. “You’ll come over for breakfast then?”

God, he was tired of talking, why did Lenny insist that he keep talking– “No, Len, I’ll see you at the office–”

“Uhuh, kid. No office.”

Mulder turned. Sauceda was frowning intently.

“Purdue’s put you on five days mandatory leave of absence.” Mulder opened his mouth and Sauceda cut him short. “It’s not negotiable, Marty. It’s already been filed. He faxed it to Skinner this morning.” Sauceda’s voice softened uneasily. “You want time, kid, he’s giving it to you.”

Mulder blinked, considering the cast of his partner’s eye. Sauceda held his gaze with an effort, that much was obvious, but he didn’t look away.

Mulder responded at last, his voice quiet. “You want my gun, Len?”

Sauceda gulped too much oxygen with the question; he recovered well though, eyes still level and Mulder could almost see the gears turning behind them. Sauceda’s fist clenched and unclenched nervously, anxious, obviously, to claim the cold metal of the Sig. He was a long time reaching his decision, every tormented thought etched across his face. Finally, he shoved his hand in his pocket.

“No, Marty,” he nodded even as he choked on the words. “I don’t need to take it. I know that.”

Mulder clamped his jaw tight and turned away to his window. His own decision took brief seconds. When he turned back, Sauceda was looking over his shoulder mouthing some silent comfort to Imelda. Mulder pulled his weapon.


“Yeah, kid–” Sauceda leaned back in then froze at the sight of the Sig, magazine ejected, laying benignly in the young man’s palm.

“Here,” Mulder said simply, possibly the most difficult word he’d formed in months.

Sauceda’s chin trembled. His knees didn’t look too stable either. He leaned farther in to the car but made no move to receive the weapon. “No, Marty, I–”

“Yes.” Mulder bobbed his hand to emphasize the gift upon it. “I want you to have it, Len.” He actually managed a shrug. “If nothing else, it’ll keep Purdue off your ass.”

Sauceda waited a long minute and Mulder endured his penetrating gaze stoically. The pathologist’s hand trembled when he finally reached for the weapon. He wrapped his fingers around it, letting the fingertips pass gently over Mulder’s palm as he did so. The stroke conveyed comfort, trust– regret. Mulder pulled away, wincing regrets of his own as he shoved his hand to his chest, wrapping it in the warmth of his jacket. His fingers were numb, as cold as the metal they had surrendered.

“I’ll just hold it for you, Marty,” Sauceda whispered, then cleared his throat and tried for a more flippant tone. “You just let me know when you want it, okay? Just let me know. ‘Cause, I ain’t gonna break my back toting an arsenal for the both of us, you know?”

Mulder nodded but kept his eyes resolutely forward. He had no energy left for the conversation, no witty comebacks, no further reassurances to offer.

Sauceda’s door was a long time in closing, but even then Mulder didn’t shift position, didn’t break the tightly controlled rhythm of his breathing. He was too busy concentrating as the cab pulled away. It took everything he had not to look back, not to turn his head and watch the happy reunion on the porch as it receded silently in the distance beyond his tunnel.

4:14 PM. 2630 Hegal Place, Alexandria, VA.

The driver misunderstood his directions and let Mulder out on the curb at the back of his building. Mulder collected his bag and paid the fare without comment.

The walk in took him across the parking lot. His red Monte Carlo, sporting a fine coat of dust, was still in its space next to the trash dumpster, none the worse for the down time, apparently. Mulder would have to remember to run it a while, keep the battery charged. Maybe he’d just take the time off without bitching about it this time, take a real vacation and drive up the coast, visit with his dad. He had friends in Boston he hadn’t seen in a while, too. It would do him good to get out, go away to someplace where no one knew what he did and know one would question how he felt. Live like a normal human being again. Mulder speculated on the idea without actually imagining himself doing it, though; he just had no heart left for life. Sauceda had taken it all away when he’d laid the sheet across Kay’s face–

Mulder gasped at the sudden roar in his chest, the sickening kicked-in-the-balls agony that echoed through his larynx and squeezed off his air supply. He stumbled, slammed into the side of the trash bin, managing to knock the rest of his breath out in the process.

His vision pulsed white hot, nausea burning from his lower intestines to his sinus cavities but he held quite still, waiting it all out, gulping air, clinging to the dumpster until his legs were reasonably stable. His headache was back with a vengeance but this time it seemed focused rather oddly around his right eye. A second’s not-so-gentle probing located the source: an inch-long cut along his right cheek that was bleeding with comic ferocity. Still, the roaring in his chest had subsided to a dull ache and his hearing seemed to have been restored– that’s when he heard the muffled squeak.

It was accompanied by a frantic scratching– and coming from the dumpster. Mulder held his breath a moment, fingers still unconsciously palpitating his cheekbone. Able to resist any temptation but curiosity, he took a quick look around. That would be all he’d need, after all: his neighbors reporting him to the super as some kind of pervert with a trash fetish. The coast clear, he poked his head over the lip of the trash bin.

Nothing. The squeaking and scratching had abated as well. Well, hell. Mulder reached in, tugging gingerly at bits of debris and the unseen creature exploded with a squeal of terror. Mulder jumped back, heart pounding but neither the squealing nor the scratching subsided this time. He chanced a second look sans hands.

It was a kitten. Scrambling free of the trash, it was old enough to have both eyes and ears open but probably wasn’t fully weaned yet, so filthy little else could be distinguished except that its eyes were piercing green. Those eyes stared wildly into Mulder’s own, a flurry of filthy fuzz and gaping maw squealing like his life depended on it.

The little guy was right, Mulder admitted. It probably did. Hell, this was just great. What was he going to do with a cat? He didn’t want the damned thing. Still, it wasn’t like he could leave it here to die, either. Mulder swore– and reached dutifully into the bin, wriggling welcoming fingers toward the mewling mass of fur.

“Here, kitty-kitty,” he sang softly. “Come home with me and I’ll take good care of you, okay?” That sounded suspiciously like a line he’d used in a bar once. Come to think of it, it had worked, too.

And it was working again: the kitten didn’t resist. In fact, it dug its claws into the arm of Mulder’s jacket and clung for dear life. Mulder winced, trying to disentangle himself and avoid further injury for either of them. The little fellow was a fighter and Mulder had no sooner gotten the kitten loose from one arm than he had a repeat performance on the other one.

“Great. Now I know why you were in the dumpster, you little–”

Disentangling himself, Mulder deposited the squirming body into the side pocket of his luggage and closed the flap over it. The insistent mewling and his battered face earned him a few suspicious looks as he made his way down the hall and slipped into the elevator. He let out a grateful sigh when he finally reached his door.

The phone was ringing before he got his key in the lock. Mulder took his time, though, carefully settling the bag on the couch before answering.

“Yes, Lenny, I’m home, now,” he informed the receiver.

Sauceda’s laugh was full of forced pleasantry, his voice pitched a little higher than normal.

“Hey, Marty!”

Mulder sighed. “Hey.”

Another pause. Mulder filled it by grabbing a tissue from the box beside the phone and dabbing blood from his cheek.

Sauceda tried again. “Hey, kid, look, we’ve got a great spread over here. Imelda’s made chicken enchiladas just like you like ’em: lotsa cheese–”

“Purdue’s already on your case, isn’t he?”

“Ah. Quesadillas, too. With extra sour cream and pico de gallo. Extra hot.”

“Listen, Len. Did he e-mail you the autopsy report yet?”

“Friggin’ hell, Marty–” Sauceda’s voice was a seething hiss and then bright again as he called out some excuse to Imelda. Mulder listened to the rattle through the receiver as the older man jerked the phone into a more private location. “What the hell’s wrong with you?” Sauceda must not have gotten very far, he was still trying to keep his voice down.

“I have to know, Len.”

Sauceda swore heatedly. “You don’t need to know jack, you little prick. Look, I’m coming over there to get you and I’m not listening to any more of your flack about it.”

“Will you show me the report?”

“Show you the–” Sauceda lapsed into a sudden litany of Spanish. It was melodic and rapid-fire, satisfying to the ear as only flagrant profanity can be in a foreign tongue. “I swear to God, Marty. I freakin’ swear to God, I’m calling Skinner myself and I’m having you committed. Do you hear me? Do–?”

“Do it, then.”


“I said fucking do it. And the first time I get the chance I’m biting my fucking wrists out–”

“Look, Mart–”

“I just asked you a question. That’s all. And I’m sick of the goddam threats–”

“Christ, Marty, I–” Sauceda’s voice was a high pitched squeal.

Mulder’s was ominously calm. “All I want is the work-up on the blood chemistry, Len. That’s it. I won’t ask for the rest.”

Sauceda was panting heavily. “I– Marty, I can’t do it. I’m sorry, kid. Purdue said–”

Mulder gulped air. “She was alive, wasn’t she? Jesus Christ, she was alive when she–”

Mulder’s voice was steady enough but his knees refused to hold him upright any longer. He slid to the floor quietly, wedged between the coffee table and the couch, the rattle of the table too gentle for Sauceda to hear.

She’d been alive. He knew it. He’d always known it. Sisyphus had found her but hadn’t killed her immediately, just knocked her unconscious and began her work. Mulder had profiled the Baytown case where drawing and quartering had been the modus operandi. He was well versed in the procedure: with even minimal skill, a human could be flayed, colon deposited on the floor to one side of the body, stomach and kidneys removed to the other side. Done right, it could take hours for a victim to die. Kay would have been conscious near the end, in too much pain to move, too much pain to scream. And she would have been grateful for death when it came–

Mulder’s grief suddenly was too deep for words, it rendered him motionless, almost unaware of feeling at all, his mind numbed by the truth. Lenny’s voice filtered through to him, urgent, frantic. Mulder didn’t trust his voice, though, couldn’t get his hands to stop shaking. He forced himself to concentrate, to feel the warm reality of the couch against his back, the rug wrinkled beneath him, the unyielding solidity of the coffee table where he’d rested his forehead. He took one deep breath and sat up.

“Lenny?” The calm in Mulder’s voice surprised even him. “Lenny, tell Imelda that I appreciate all the trouble she went through, okay? I’ll make it up to her, I promise. I just don’t want her worrying about me. You know I don’t look so hot. I haven’t been eating right and–”

“Marty, are you okay?”

“I’ve got to have some time, Len. Just give me that much, okay? Then I’ll be okay again. You know I will. And I promise. You know I don’t break my promises.”

Sauceda’s sigh came through the line with the intensity of a North Atlantic squall. “I don’t like the idea of you being alone, kid–”

There was a tearful cry from the other end of the couch. One fuzzy kitten paw had liberated itself from the bag and was clawing air. Mulder’s jaw worked silently for about two seconds, busy on a new thought. “I’m, uhm. I’m not alone, Lenny. I’ve invited a friend over.”

Sauceda’s voice was suddenly and pathetically relieved. “Yeah? Well, hell, Marty, why didn’t you say so. Anybody I know?”

“Nah. Ah. Just somebody who lives in the building.”

Sauceda gushed his delight and then, dammit, he wanted facts: a name, a brief social history.

“How about I just fax over some prints for you?”

“Jeez, Marty, I didn’t mean to–”

Sauceda droned on. The clawing was starting to look desperate. Mulder frowned; it was quite likely his new “friend” was struggling for oxygen by this point. Mulder began talking faster now, walking on his knees to reach the bag. “What? Yeah, call me later, ‘kay, Len? Yeah, well, we might step out for dinner, maybe a few beers, so don’t get hacked off it I don’t answer. No, I’m not taking my damned cell–” Mulder grunted reassuringly a few more times and finally just hung up. He got the flap open, yanking his hands away to avoid further entanglement.

Finally freed, the kitten flipped out backwards, no worse for the wear, tiny claws scrambling for traction on the wood floor. The squealing had not abated and showed no signs of doing so now. Undeterred by unfamiliar surroundings, he lit out across the expanse of the apartment and disappeared into the darkened the kitchen.

Mulder scarcely noticed. The same velcroed pocket that had revealed the kitten had yielded one more dubious treasure. Mulder tugged the book free, holding it like a thing afire. Its gray cover was now lightly clawed, one corner sporting fresh teeth marks. Mulder’s hands were trembling suddenly; he swore at them as he fished the note from his jacket pocket and spread the evidence bag flat on the coffee table. He laid the book of poetry beside it, opened to page sixteen, and read.

And all the typed lines on the paper in the bag were all the typed lines he had highlighted, blue ink, in the book, how many months ago?

Just so.

5:10 PM.

A trip to Mrs. Beckman’s up the hall got the kitten settled in: cat litter, a couple cans of food, her vet’s business card.

The bath had been traumatic for them both but the kitten seemed to have forgiven him. Its freshly toweled fur still poked wildly at opposing angles, yellow and white stripes confused into manic swirls. Clumsy and slightly damp, the little creature managed to look every bit as pathetic as he had in the dumpster but at least the smell was better.

Mulder served the food like he’d seen it done in all the cat food commercials: a saucer with the chunks mounded up for the benefit of the camera. The arrangement didn’t seem to benefit the cat any, however. The little thing seemed to scarcely know what to do with the bits of meat, had difficulty getting the hang of even lapping at the gravy. A closer inspection revealed the animal had a mouth full of teeth but that they didn’t seem to be useful for chewing on anything other than Mulder’s new wingtips. He tried a little strategy, mashing a bit of the food with a fork and stirring in diluted cream. The little body trembled over the bowl like he’d provided manna from God.

Mulder dumped the litter into a hospital basin collected from a trip to Georgetown Medical Center last year: a grazing gunshot wound that had hurt like hell and hadn’t even left a decent scar. The pan was a bit deep, he imagined, but kitten managed okay. In fact, the little guy seemed to know exactly what to do with it– even if he did exit the box backend first. With a little luck, this Doctor Dolittle crap might just turn out to be easier than he’d thought.

Yeah. Sure. Somehow, that just had the suspicious ring of famous last words…

9:22 PM.

Things were rapidly getting out of hand. Mulder had spent most of the evening on the floor playing chew toy for a damned cat he didn’t want, then the little imp had the nerve to take a dump behind his chair. Meanwhile, Sauceda had called him at least a dozen times. Between the two, Mulder had about had his fill of Sauceda. All the while, images of Kay’s final hour had haunted him until he was ready to literally climb the walls. He shouldn’t have given Sauceda his gun. Shouldn’t have made all those promises.

Mulder finally gave up trying to stay sane at home and tried the bar on the corner. Drummond’s was just walking distance from his apartment, an infrequent after-work stop since he’d moved to Alexandria– the place was quiet, dim, lined with old Ronald Colman and Jimmy Cagney posters. There were too many booths, too many secluded tables to allow for dancing, which was just fine with Mulder most nights. It reminded him of the pubs that had fed him in England: good food, strong brew, clientele too self-absorbed to be annoying. Most of the time anyway.

Tonight he’d managed to choke down the soup of the day and about half a cigarette before attracting company. The woman was quite a bit older, thickly set, pretty enough, he supposed, but she just didn’t seem to care that he wasn’t interested. She didn’t belong here, that much was obvious: long, tribal earrings, black tights, bright spangley, ah, blouse-thing. She seemed determined not to let him get drunk in peace so he staked out a booth near the jukebox, intent on exorcising his demons with good scotch and Depeche Mode’s “Stripped.”

She followed him over and invited herself to sit down. Well, she tried to sit anyway, managing only a grotesque sprawl. She walked like she’d had about four beers too many but she found everything so incredibly funny Mulder felt like a heel trying to shoo her off. He finally stopped protesting and let her sit there. She wasn’t really bothering him, after all; she just seemed to want some place to sit while she sang. She kept her voice to a reasonable level, unlike most drunks he knew, her voice was surprisingly pleasant, and she even knew most of the words.

When she started warbling to a Karen Carpenter number, though, Mulder excused himself to the men’s room. She waved graciously, intent on her high note and Mulder slipped down the hall and out the back door. She was still going strong when the door whispered shut behind him.

11:43 PM.

It was late and he was tired, but Mulder knew sleep would be long in coming. The weariness was depression, of course, and the insomnia simply more of the same; his mind was rebelling out of principle, his body suffering the results.

Well, hell, he mused. See? I don’t need a shrink. I recognize the symptoms. And as long as I’m able to recognize them, I’m not in any real trouble. I can’t be in any real trouble, right? I just need a little time, that’s all.

He repeated the notion like a mantra, a shield against that little area of his conscience that insisted otherwise. Unbidden, a scene from his childhood played itself out in his mind: Sam gone three months, his parents oblivious, deep into another late night argument, Fox cracking his door just a bit to peek down the hall. His mom wrapped in a chenille robe, hands on her hips, her back to her son, shouting at his father. And the words: “Well of course he’s proof, Bill! Proof that a lie repeated long enough will became indistinguishable from the truth– Goddammit, is that the legacy you’re going to leave your own son?” If his father had responded, Fox hadn’t heard.

He wondered why he should think on such things now. Didn’t he have enough to worry about that he felt the need to go dragging up ancient history? Mulder fled from thought, turning the television up until it was impossible to think anymore. Emotionally, he could no longer afford the luxury of being cognizant. At least not tonight…

He waited several minutes for a thumping against the wall or the ceiling, maybe the floor: irate neighbors who might not want to listen to the program he had on– especially at this hour. There was nothing. The neighbor below him was half-deaf so that was no surprise. Mrs. Beckman next door would be too sweet to say anything, dammit, and whenever he’d asked, she was always quick to claim she was a sound sleeper. Mulder preferred to believe her. The room above him was a mystery. The super couldn’t seem to keep it occupied for very long, anyway. The tenants usually moved out after only a week or so. Maybe he was just renting to the wrong kind of tenants; as far as Mulder’d been able to determine they’d all been professional military men of the ilk his father would have labeled Defense Department goons. Dad could smell them a mile off. Said they’d sell their own mothers for a bit of Pentagon pie.

A thump near the floor had him peering into the shadows below the coffee table. It was the kitten, bewildered and pained, staring at the table leg in mute offense. Mulder sighed and stroked its head. The cat rolled to its back and attacked his hand with abandon, all four paws scrambling at the air. It made a sound like Purdue’s pager when it was on vibrator, no doubt a determined attempt at a growl. Mulder shook his head. His mother’s cat– an aging Tom since the world began– had been an elegant, disdainful creature who would have died of embarrassment had it made just one graceless motion. The kitten, on the other hand, was all fur and paws and far too much energy. It alternately scrambled and slid across the floor, tripped– twice– on the rug and would certainly suffer permanent brain damage if it collided into just one more piece of furniture.

He shook himself free of the little monster and lay back, kicking off his shoes. The kitten immediately scurried to investigate. Having sniffed, slapped and hissed with no retaliation from the sneakers, the little beast claimed one for himself, dragging it off by the laces. Mulder stretched fitfully, staring at the noise on the TV screen, not really seeing much, drifting slowly into the gentling haze of sleep.

A commercial blared, rousing him enough to get his eyes open if only just partially. Mulder found himself focusing on the beckoning welcome of a woman: a nice looking brunette holding out a Lowenbrau. When she looked into the camera, Mulder realized she had stolen Kay’s smile–

Unprepared for the assault, Mulder was defenseless against the raging that exploded in his chest. He squeezed his eyes against it, pressing his back into the sofa. Try as he might, though, there was no escaping the encroaching pressure radiating from his heart, threatening to choke off his windpipe.

He resolved himself to the attack and stopped cringing. It would either pass or kill him; he would not allow himself to speculate on which result would be most preferable. Instead, he observed the extent of the sensation, noted with clinical detachment the quality of the pain as it radiated down his arm, the intensity of his heartbeat as it hammered against his vocal cords.

After a few minutes, the pressure subsided to a light caress, soft as feather kisses. And he felt his body slowly responding, even now, with just the memory. Even as his hands still shook, even as he gasped for air. Even with Kay in a body bag in cold storage. Because of him.

Mulder covered his head with his arms, trying to block the memory of the look of her eyes. Those soft, gentle eyes, watching him as he walked into the diner. Watching him as he dressed. Watching him as he read her the poems. Watching him as he moved against her–

A sudden pressure on his leg had him gulping air frantically. He jerked upright, clawing at the moisture in his eyes. The kitten, tiny talons fastened to his jeans like velcro, mewled up at him, its face a pitiful bit of fuzz. Mulder choked his heart back down into his rib cage and fell back in relief.

Well, hell. That’s what he got for hauling home strays.

The late show was running “Attack of the Thirty Foot Woman.” Mulder relaxed with the realization that she, at least, was a blonde. He was asleep before the second set of commercials, the little tabby purring, uninvited, upon his chest.

Part 15: All Messed Up and No Place to Go….

Tuesday, May 17, 1988, 8:47 AM. Apartment 42.

The phone woke him with a violent start. It was just as well. He’d had a bad night, jerking awake repeatedly from dreams of one subject: his murder and subsequent dismemberment. After all that, there was bound to be another body somewhere in Wheeling. Or maybe he really was just losing his mind. Mulder scrubbed his face wearily. Hell, who said one possibility was mutually exclusive to the other…

“Good Morning America” was droning away at hyper perky. Mulder slapped the off button on the remote and grabbed the phone, wincing as several scabs popped open on his hand. The voice in the receiver identified herself and Mulder mouthed several silent expletives to the room at large.

Personnel Services. Shit.

The slightly bored, slightly nasal voice was telling him he had an appointment this morning. Or this afternoon, if it was more convenient.

Mulder blinked slowly and the woman outlined the pros and cons of a 10:00 a.m. appointment as opposed to, say, a 3:30 time slot. He stared blearily at his reflection in the TV screen. The bitter taste in his mouth had little to do with morning breath.

The voice on the line paused for his response. He muttered vaguely about checking his calendar and would she please run down the list of available times, slowly this time. He tuned her out as she complied.

What the hell was wrong with him, he wondered? This wasn’t even the counselor. This was some Psychology 101 dropout smacking her gum on the end of the receiver– and his palms were sweating, his legs trembling so hard he was afraid to stand–

Mulder rubbed at the heavy stubble on his jaw, taking in one deep slow breath, releasing it with absolute control. “Under whose orders,” he asked calmly, “was I assigned a mandatory counseling session?”

Another pause and the shuffling of papers. “Assignment was signed by ASAC Purdue, sir. But it’s not mandatory. Just strongly suggested.”

So. Purdue was not above resorting to Patterson’s early tactics: the concerned-friend approach to assuming sovereignty over Mulder’s life. So much for Purdue’s grand words and posturing.

Mulder glanced over at the kitten sitting in the middle of the dining room door. The little thing was still half-terrorized after some of Mulder’s more dramatic awakenings during the night. It had that wide-eyed “what’s next” stare his dates had begun developing over the past year. Right before they hit the door. He waved an inviting set of fingers toward it, holding his hand near the floor, a peace offering to nibble on. The kitten retreated to the kitchen.

“Hell,” Mulder sighed into the phone. “Look, ahm. I’m not sure I can make it today. How does tomorrow look for you?”

“No, sir. ASAC Purdue specifically stated today. I’ll have to notify him–”

Mulder stopped listening abruptly, stopped breathing, his eye caught by the bright item lying on his coffee table. He reached a tentative hand, lifting the jewelry to the light filtering through the shade. A garish bit of plastic and metal. The long, swirling earring worn by the woman at the bar.

Mulder declined the appointment. As easy as declining a dinner invitation. Polite, firm. The receiver back in its cradle.

He didn’t have time for this crap. He had a litter box to clean.

9:22 AM

The phone again: Purdue this time. The ASAC’s voice was calm, matter-of-fact, if not exactly pleasant. No mention of Sauceda. He understood Mulder hadn’t scheduled with Personnel Services, though.

“I’m fine,” Mulder informed him helpfully.

“I’m not saying you aren’t, Agent.”

Silence on Mulder’s end. The kitten had re-attached itself to his boot. The tiny pest seemed to be developing a major thing for leather. Great, Mulder mused, even my cat’s a pervert. He would have to remember to take that into consideration whenever he got around to naming the imp.

Purdue’s voice filtered through the line: the standard need-to-reach-out-and-touch-someone schmooze of the psychiatric profession. Wonderful, and just who did Dr. Reg here think he was talking to? The grinding sound echoing in the receiver was Mulder’s teeth.

“Listen, son,” there was a compassionate hesitation in the ASAC’s voice. It grated down Mulder’s spine like fingernails on a chalkboard. “I just want you to know,” Purdue insisted, “that I understand what you’re going through–”

Mulder felt something too tightly wound snap. His knuckles went white on the receiver and it was an effort to keep his voice level.

“You understand this, Purdue: I don’t give a shit what you do and do not understand about my personal life. You dismissed me from a case without cause, without a fair hearing. Hell, you didn’t even do me the courtesy of telling me I was being removed to begin with–”

“Mulder, this is not about your performance–” Purdue’s sigh rattled through the receiver. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s not my place to pry. I know that. But I also know that the death of a woman you… cared for is–”

“Don’t–” Mulder was unexpectedly gulping air. His left hand lost all feeling and he scrambled to keep from dropping the phone. “Fuck you,” he gasped. “I’m not having this conversation. Not with you. Not with anybody. And least of all those damned quacks at Personnel. Do you understand?” Purdue was silent again as Mulder panted, the receiver cradled on his shoulder as he rubbed the feeling back into his upper arm. “Look,” he seethed, “all the Bureau needs to know is that I haven’t swallowed my goddam gun and if that much isn’t obvious then you must have dialed one hell of a long distance number.”

Mulder paused. Well, hell, Fox, that’s an awful lot of violence to shove down a phone line considering you keep telling yourself you’re so damn numb otherwise. He closed his eyes, cursing himself, silently this time, and collapsed on the couch, receiver resolutely at his ear.

Now the silence reflected back to him on Purdue’s end. Mulder bit his lip and waited it out, one of his many talents. He finally heard a sigh.

“I’m in DC, Agent Mulder. Got in last night. You know Georgetown, right?”

Mulder ran a hand through his hair, pushing the kitten away gently with his boot heel.


“Meet me at the Greystone Condominium on Potomac. I’ll be out front.”

“Look, Purdue–”

“Are you on the job or not, Agent?”

“Ah. I’m on my way–” The line was dead before he could add the “sir.”

10:13 AM, Georgetown, Washington, DC.

Purdue was waiting as promised, standing at the front gate, hands buried in his coat pockets, half-chewed cigarette gripped resolutely between his lips.

Mulder parked up the block and took his time getting down the sidewalk, strolling with his usual careless leisure through the inevitable crowd of spectators huddled at the police barrier. His delay was deliberate, designed to give the ASAC a chance to look him over. Mulder had made certain that he could afford the extra attention: he’d dressed hurriedly but well, Armani suit and after shave adequate armor against all detractors. The suit was tan and rarely worn simply because Mulder didn’t like it much. Today, however, it was a godsend: very possibly the only thing in his closet that wouldn’t highlight the fact that he was far too pale. A breakfast of another half-dozen aspirin had subdued his headache to relatively tolerable but Mulder kept his hands in his pockets as much as possible: they seemed to have developed a tendency to twitch at the oddest times.

He shouldn’t be here. He knew it half-way out the door of his apartment. He had to pause too often to remember directions, and streets he should have known like the back of his hand were suddenly unfamiliar. Mulder told himself it was just a transitory displacement, a reaction to chronic stress and it would pass. He had to do this, after all. He had to do it, or admit he wasn’t fit for the job. When that excuse wasn’t enough to keep his foot on the gas, he told himself he had to do it at least long enough to pay for the impending vet bills. Yeah. That was it. He could hang on for that much longer.

Purdue nodded once as he approached, then waited him out, body perfectly still, face ominously calm. It was difficult, but Mulder maintained the man’s eye contact, looking away only once or twice and quickly back, managing, he hoped, to appear confident and serene and eager to be back at work. Without being overly eager, of course.

Purdue tossed his cigarette, brows raised warily as Mulder presented him with a small volume of poetry. The ASAC accepted the book with the same deliberately orchestrated courtesy with which it was presented, frowning at the evidence bag poking up from between the pages. He pocketed the volume without perusal, however, and Mulder followed him dutifully into the building. Not a word had passed between them.

Crime technicians and DC police spilled down the stairs and up the hall, converging on apartment 307. Mulder followed Purdue inside, meek as an asp. It was another nice, neat unit: cozy fireplace, ceiling fans and one seriously mutilated corpse.

“I’m sure you’ll recognize the work.” Purdue, re-pocketing his hands, remained at the door. He allowed Mulder just enough room to squeeze past.

Sauceda was busy with the body on the sofa: have meat thermometer, will travel, apparently. The pathologist waved the instrument at his partner in uncertain greeting; Mulder tossed him the stoic nod Purdue had given him earlier. Sauceda frowned, but returned to his work.

Mulder took in the room at a glance and backed away to the window. It was one large piece of plate glass stretching from ceiling to floor, the drapes open. The view alone must have pushed the rent well out of Mulder’s price range: Francis Scott Key Memorial Bridge spanning the Potomac. Pretty as a postcard in the morning light.

It was much too beautiful a day for all this crap. The thought startled him: Mulder couldn’t recall ever considering such a fact, couldn’t remember ever giving himself that kind of option. And while he was being so blatantly honest, that long, quick drop down to the street looked pretty inviting, too. He was dizzy suddenly but concealed it well; his only concession to weakness was to remove his hands from his pockets, steadying his balance with his fingertips pressed to the window.

The sensation passed within seconds and he found Purdue’s reflection in the glass next to his own. The ASAC, still at the door, was watching him intently. Mulder checked the vision of himself, trying to determine if he was as flushed as he felt under this man’s unblinking gaze. His image, however, floated serenely pale against the blue of sky and water and sun-washed expanse of bridge. He considered the dark eyes swimming in the glass next to his own. I’m tired, he confessed to that dispassionate vision. I’m just tired.

Purdue’s image blinked solemnly, impossible to translate.

Ah, the lies, Mulder mused, then spoke the words aloud, heart pounding as Purdue’s frown reflected back at him. “The lies to feed the lies. Until they feed us to the truth.”

Purdue bit his lip. Even in the distortion of the glass, Mulder could tell the ASAC was struggling with words and whether to speak them. The indecision never reached those too-confident eyes, however, and Mulder turned away abruptly, his hands trembling again. He shoved them deep into his pockets and crossed the room, the nonchalance of his stride a mask for prying eyes.

Sauceda stepped back, smiling wearily as he approached. Mulder noted the traces of razor burn on his partner’s jaw, but didn’t comment. For some reason, he just didn’t know what to say to Sauceda this morning. Mulder stared down at the corpse instead; somehow, the bloodied form seemed the least threatening person in the room.

The victim was male, with dark hair, about Mulder’s height and weight– judging from what was left intact, anyway. Sisyphus had left the eyes again. They were Academy textbook doll’s eyes: open, fixed, unfocused. He was nude, splayed disdainfully to the flash of forensic photographers, organ deep gray against the yellowed thigh. Purdue was right about the handiwork being familiar. So, Mulder mused, Sisyphus had followed him home. If her latest creation was anything to go by, she’d been pretty well hacked about the move– she’d certainly hacked this one up enough. Understandable, given the circumstances, Mulder supposed.

“The guy’s an American Lit Professor at Georgetown,” Sauceda offered. “Make that was.” The pathologist shuffled his feet nervously then froze with a guilty look. Fifth rule of forensics: walk lightly in a crime scene and never, never shuffle your feet. Mulder gave him a merciful shrug.

“I need my gun back, Len.”

Sauceda dropped his head.

“Shit, Lenny–”

“I, ah. I forgot it at home, Marty. I meant to bring it, though. Really. I’ll get it to you later, okay?”

Mulder wanted to tell him it wasn’t okay. That he’d surrendered the weapon in faith. That– Hell. What did it matter?


“Yeah, Len.”

“You okay?”

“Oh yeah.”

“What’d you do to your face, kid? You been fighting again?”

Mulder patted the Band-Aid on his check and gave his partner a cryptic shrug. “I cut myself taking out the trash.”

Sauceda screwed his face up, studying the response. His jaw worked silently for a minute. “Yeah. Well. Listen, kid–” His voice dropped to a conspiratorial hiss. “You watch yourself, okay? Purdue’s kinda pissed.”

“About my gun?”

“Hell no!” Sauceda squeaked. “Christ, Marty– ‘Member in Wheeling, I tried to tell you? He thinks you know shit you’re not telling. Maybe names and… and stuff like in Shreveport–”

“Now just who,” Mulder demanded, “would have given him that idea?”

Sauceda backed away from that penetrating glare. “Marty, you know I wouldn’t– ” Sauceda locked his jaw down hastily and Mulder sensed Purdue’s approach over his shoulder.

“No, Lenny. Not much you wouldn’t.” Mulder said the words but there was no anger in them, no animosity. There wasn’t much of anything in them, in fact. So, he mused, we’re back to that again.

Purdue positioned himself to Mulder’s right, well within both agents’ lines of sight. Sauceda practically squirmed beneath Purdue’s teeth-grinding silence.

Mulder wasn’t about to give Purdue that kind of satisfaction, himself. He blinked benignly, staring down into the open cavity of the man on the sofa. He could identify some of the organs if he was called upon to do so, not that anyone was asking. Human hands, he marveled, had performed this deed. No ravaging carnivore, killing what was necessary for survival. No hellish specter, no Late Show extraterrestrial. What need had humanity of such monsters when we have ourselves? The hands of a murderess had created this evil. The same hands that had touched his Kay only hours before–

Mulder tried to close his eyes, his mind, against the thought but it refused honorable retreat. The image of a woman’s hands presented themselves before his mind’s eye: small tender hands like Kay’s. Hands that had reached out in love to a man, seeking comfort, seeking to give a measure of herself to another. Gentle hands that had held the children of other women and longed for their own. Strong capable hands that had prepared meals, made beds, creating and caring for the minute necessities that composed a life. But these hands had taken life. Again. These hands had washed themselves in blood, had held a heart as it beat once, again, and then stilled. They had slashed Mulder’s life away, too, ripped his heart out of his chest and dropped it, still struggling, on the floor of a diner while he lay sleeping a few short yards– and entire world– away. Mulder wrenched back from the image, unable to completely muffle his cry of pain.


Purdue’s hand on his arm was sudden and startling and he recoiled with a gasp. The ASAC stepped back, Sauceda’s tug at his sleeve an unnecessary warning. Mulder swore, cradling his arm where Purdue had touched him, the flesh burning beneath his jacket. For all his earlier bravado, he was suddenly wishing he hadn’t forgotten his shades. He turned away from Purdue’s scrutiny, his mouth swallowing acid.

“She still on the poetry or has she moved on to prose yet?” he demanded. There was too long a pause and Mulder glanced back up into Purdue’s dark eyes.

“You little bastard,” the ASAC hissed.

Sauceda was pulling frantically at the ASAC’s sleeve again; Purdue pushed him away. “Like you don’t know,” Purdue spat. “‘Has she moved onto prose’–” He whirled on the pathologist. “Show him. You were so damned handy handing crap over in Wheeling–”

Purdue shoved his hands back in his pockets, his face a grotesque mixture of rage and concern. Sauceda tried to catch Mulder’s eye as he handed over the baggied slip of paper; Mulder snatched it from him, pushing Sauceda back to arm’s length. His heart was pounding much too hard.


“They don’t make rocks like us anymore.
And holding on to the thread, fine as a cobweb, but incredibly strong,
Each of us advances into his own labyrinth.
The gift of invisibility
Has been granted to all but the gods, so we say such things,
Filling the road up with colors, faces,
Tender speeches, until they feed us to the truth.”


He glanced back up again and into Purdue’s twisted face.

“Now, Mr. Mulder,” the ASAC’s voice was far from tender, “you tell me how you managed to stand there at that window and quote this before you even saw it. And I don’t want to hear any of that goddam spook shit.”

Mulder stood speechless. For the life of him, he had no answer for the man. The quote had simply come to him, or at least, he thought it had. He searched the paper again, staring through it, reasoning frantically. Had he heard the poem in his dreams? Or had he so tuned into this woman’s inner workings that he could anticipate her now and not even distinguish the presence of her personality from his own? For that matter, had there ever been any true line of demarcation from himself and any of his profiles–

Spook? Shit.

Meanwhile, the pressure of Purdue’s presence was overwhelming. This was a mistake, Mulder realized. Since his return to DC, he had discovered an unexpected comfort, something intensely reassuring, in the mundane activities of housework, of quiet routine. It was new to him, had lulled him into believing that he was almost whole again, that everything would be all right.

But nothing was all right. Nothing ever would be again. He understood that now. He should have gone in for the counseling, or– the unthinkable– sworn off the case. It was pointless, after all. He couldn’t bring Kay back. He should have refused to come here–

Should have. Didn’t. And there was no backing out now.

Mulder chewed his lip and handed the paper back abruptly. Sauceda reached out to accept it but Purdue slapped him away, watching Mulder’s hand, extended before him, shaking so hard the paper rustled within its bag. The profiler’s eyes narrowed viciously and he tossed the bit of evidence at Purdue’s chest.

The ASAC made no effort to catch it, didn’t even look down as the bag fluttered to the floor.

Mulder choked on his anger; the trembling moved up his arms and shuddered into his chest. His damned teeth were chattering for Chrissake–

“Page fifty-six,” he gasped. His hands clenched involuntarily and against all rational thought he envisioned himself flattening Purdue clean out, regulations and assembled personnel be damned.

Purdue frowned, hands out of his pockets, alerted. His vision wavered from Mulder to Sauceda. Hot Sauce, however, was meeting no one’s gaze, deliberately re-stuffing his medical kit with the air of a man who knew better than to go shoving his hand in a snake pit.

Mulder had his shivering under control by the time Purdue turned back to him and he pointed imperiously at the book peeking from the ASAC’s pocket. Purdue retrieved the volume, watching Mulder closely as he fumbled for the page. He read and stared at him again.

“I don’t follow. She’s quoting this book? And you recognized the poem–”

Mulder shook his head. “Now. Page sixteen.” His voice was remarkably steady now.

Purdue obeyed: the page marked by the evidence bag.

Sauceda was playing with something in his medical kit, out of view of his partner. Mulder leveled him with a look and he dropped what he was doing in the confines of the bag, taking a quick two-step to the far side of Purdue. Mulder grit his teeth, watching him: the little ass even had the gall to feign innocence, developing a sudden interest in the book as Purdue shuffled through the pages.

Mulder snatched up Sauceda’s case: a syringe, partially filled, remained imbedded in a fresh vial of Thorazine. Sauceda resolutely refused to glance up from the pages before him. Purdue was watching though. Mulder dropped the bag back to its place on the couch.

Sauceda chose that moment to frown, leaning sideways to get a look at the book’s cover. “Hey, Marty,” he blinked benignly, “isn’t this the same book you’ve been hauling around since Baytown?”

“Since Baytown?” Purdue slapped the volume shut. “Then you had this with you in Wheeling?”

Mulder didn’t bother answering; Sauceda was already nodding anyway. Purdue was jerking Sauceda’s coat sleeve now. He waved the book at him. “He had this SOB in Wheeling?”

Sauceda stuttered, suddenly comprehending the importance of the question. For the first time, he looked old to Mulder, old and confused and vulnerable. The sight made Mulder’s chest tighten for some reason.

“Leave him alone, Purdue.” He jerked his head away from Sauceda’s gratitude. “I’m the one screwing up left and right here. Not Lenny. You know it.”

“What I know,” Purdue growled, “is that Nilson didn’t say jack about poetry in that article.” Things were falling into place rapidly for the ASAC. “This bitch was in your motel room.”

Mulder would have killed for a decent pair of shades. He managed a shrug. “Either that or she’s a regular on the Psychic Hotline.”

The ASAC’s breathing got harder. Sauceda looked like he was anticipating having a fist fight on his hands. Purdue’s voice was even enough, though.

“She was in your motel room,” he repeated the observation with the determination of a ransom demand.

“I don’t know.” Mulder’s sigh dissolved into an exhausted moan. “I assume she had to be to see the poems. Maybe she found out where we were staying and came in while I was out. I don’t know.”

“‘Out’ as in ‘out of the room,'” the ASAC demanded, “Or ‘out’ as in drugged unconscious?”

Sauceda swore. “I told you, Reg, I checked on Marty every hour on the hour after I gave that pill–”

“Yeah,” the ASAC mused, “and maybe she decided to check on him on the half-hours.” He turned to Mulder, resolute. “I’ve had enough. From here on out you’re under constant guard. You don’t so much as step out for the paper without one of our people wearing blisters on your heels.” He didn’t allow Mulder to interrupt. “You’ve got damned near half this book highlighted, Mulder. When did you do that? Before the note showed or after?” Purdue took two steps forward and the profiler stepped back involuntarily. “Before, wasn’t it?” the ASAC demanded. “She’s writing you the parts you’ve highlighted, isn’t she? She’s done it this time, too.” Purdue’s voice had a habit of getting low and deep when he was angry. He was angry now. “You knew in Wheeling, you son of a bitch, and you said nothing. You stood there in that diner and read that goddam poem and said not one word about this book.”

“Damn you,” Sauceda sputtered. “He was hurting and you wanted a freaking criminal analysis?”

Mulder swore and was ignored. Purdue shook the older man away. “Sauceda, this is his job–”

“Not anymore it’s not,” Sauceda seethed. “It’s his goddam life now.”

The air was suddenly too thick to breathe– for anybody, apparently. There was sudden, total silence. Even the crime unit had stepped out to the safer sidelines of the hall.

Mulder couldn’t meet Sauceda’s eyes. He couldn’t seem to focus any higher up than Purdue’s tie pin for that matter. The ASAC was staring at him hard; Mulder hoped that his jacket was able to hide most of the uncontrollable trembling.

Purdue’s voice was ominously quiet. “You’re right, Len. It is his life now.” They were the same words but in Purdue’s mouth they assumed an all-too sinister meaning. Mulder looked up from under dark lashes and finally met the ASAC’s stare. Purdue kept his voice calm. “That’s why you didn’t tell me, isn’t it, Mulder? Not in Wheeling. Not at the airport–”

Sauceda moaned. “He was drugged, Reg–”

The ASAC waved him back, never looking away from the profiler. “–Not last night when you should have called me,” he insisted. “And not this morning.”

Mulder looked away, accused of a clarity he no longer possessed and completely unable to admit the truth. He had failed to report pertinent evidence and had no explanation to adequately account for such a lapse. Temporary insanity could get you clear of a murder conviction but it wasn’t much good for anything else–

Mulder shook his head. Christ. His world wasn’t just crumbling, it was imploding, and here he stood popping lame jokes. Physically he was falling apart where he stood: the trembling was getting worse and he would need to sit down before he collapsed. Mentally, he was screaming when he wasn’t laughing and it was becoming difficult to tell the difference. Emotionally, however, he was cold as stone and he was clinging to that fact for dear life. One sign of weakness, his father had warned him since childhood, one sign of weakness, son, and they’ll be on you like wolves. Mulder jaw clenched spasmodically as Purdue sighed.

“Look, agent, I can understand your not wanting a bodyguard dogging your every move. But you knew she had already gotten this close once and you wouldn’t even let Sauceda watch your back. This,” Purdue waved an arm at the mess drying on the couch, “this could have been you, dammit.”

It was me– in Wheeling– in the diner when it was Kay– Mulder’s mind screamed the words but Purdue couldn’t hear.

“Answer me, Mulder,” the ASAC demanded. “Do you want to die? Is that it? You’ve got a death wish?”

Mulder choked down the grief trying to strangle him. He shrugged a levity he couldn’t feel. “This,” he heard himself query politely, “is one of those rhetorical questions, right?”

The pathologist and the ASAC were a study in contrasts: Sauceda squeezed both eyes shut while Purdue’s couldn’t have possibly gotten any wider.

The ASAC’s voice was just above a whisper. “You don’t know, do you? You really just don’t know what’s going on in your own head. God Almighty, Mulder–”

Purdue seemed to run out of expletives suddenly. He stood, hands on his hips, apparently waiting for answers.

Mulder bit his lip and tried not to focus on very much. He didn’t dare shake his head, uncertain of how it would be interpreted at this point, but just how to answer was beyond him. It seemed, suddenly that he only knew two facts. One: he was reasonably certain that he didn’t want to die. Two: he was even more positive that he didn’t much want to live. His vocabulary held no words to explain such a paradox, however. Not to Purdue. Not to Sauceda. Not even to himself.

So Mulder did the only thing he knew to do at that moment. He smiled serenely and asked Purdue to repeat the question.

The ASAC rubbed his eyes wearily. “I submit, Mr. Mulder that you make a serious effort to get your head together here.” He pointed an accusatory finger at the body. “You take a good long look at this, and then let me explain something to you–”

Mulder’s knees finally gave and he sat down abruptly on the arm of the couch. “Please,” he insisted in the sudden silence. “Please explain it to me, Reg. Because right now I’m having a real hard time understanding how the FBI runs this set up.”

Mulder’s mind-numbing emotional vacuum was back with a vengeance and he was grateful: at least it helped him keep his voice steady. “Here’s how I see it,” he began counting off points on trembling fingers, too angry to care whether anyone noticed now or not. “This bunch of bureaucrats train me, tell me how damned brilliant I am, toss me out here and then try to run me into the ground with it. Meanwhile, they’re busy promising ‘every available means of support.’ Translation: we’ll provide you with a partner we can rely on to report any suspect activity and supply all the psychopharmaceuticals you can possibly ingest, shoot up or have forced on you at any and all available opportunity. ‘Just try to remain vertical around the locals, kid. And if and when you can’t pull it off anymore, we’ll tag you for psychotic breakdown, sic the goddam shrinks on you and commit your ass.’ And I’m just stupid enough to let them do it to me. So much for my highly lauded brilliance.”

He paused, ignoring Sauceda’s red face. Right now, he didn’t much care about that either. Purdue was very still, with an expression of supreme comprehension. Mulder wasn’t certain that was such a good thing.

“That’s what this is, then?” Purdue asked solemnly. “Jesus Christ, Mulder, didn’t we get this shit settled in Seattle?”

“Did we? I seem to recall an appointment with Personnel Services this morning.”

Purdue looked around for help and found only the bewildered Sauceda. “Jesus Christ,” the ASAC hissed again. “Look, I’m not out to institutionalize you, Mulder. You need help and you don’t want it. Okay, fine. That’s how you want to play it. But I’m trusting you to tell me what you do need and when. No mandatories. No involuntaries.” He licked his lips, watching Mulder closely. “You’ve got to trust me, son.”

Over Purdue’s shoulder, Sauceda was nodding reassuringly. Which was, of course, far from reassuring.

“I’m not your goddam son,” Mulder scarcely had energy for the words. They lisped of their own accord, a knee-jerk reaction. He drew back as Purdue approached, froze as the ASAC knelt beside the couch. Purdue squatted slowly onto one knee and waited for Mulder to restore eye contact. The profiler recognized the tactic. It was a trained negotiation technique, a deliberate maneuver meant to convey psychological advantage to an opponent. By kneeling, Purdue was literally giving Mulder the upper hand, seeking not to stand above him. The ASAC kept his voice calm, his expression neutral. God help him, Mulder mused, the man sounded sincere.

“I tried to tell you on the phone,” Purdue insisted. “I’ve been where you are. When I lost my wife, I thought I’d lost my mind along with her. But no one pulled the rug out from under me. Even when I knew they needed to wrap me up in the damn thing and bury me in it.” He lifted a hand from his knee, thought better of it and put it back carefully. “Here’s the plan, then. I’ll give you time if you think that’s all you need. I don’t agree, but you call the shots now. Until you become a danger to yourself or someone else, I’m not going to do anything drastic. But damn you, Mulder, don’t you hold anything back from me. I need to know what’s going on in your head. I need to know I can rely on you for that much.”

Mulder forced himself to take in oxygen. He indicated the body beside him with a waver of his eyes. “You don’t think this makes me a danger–”

“It’s not your fault that people are dying here, Mulder. It’s hers.” Purdue set his jaw. “And I’m not confusing the two of you. I hope to hell you’re not.”

Purdue waited a long minute, apparently waiting for some sign of compromise in Mulder’s unyielding stare.

“You made me another promise in Wheeling,” Mulder reminded him quietly. The profiler wet his lips, carefully holding to the advantage Purdue had surrendered, but Mulder was shivering uncontrollably now, desperation the only thing keeping him vertical. “You think I’m withholding information. Fine. Not that I give a shit, but I’m giving you everything I can rationally comprehend. When I can adequately comprehend it. But you–” he choked, shook his head savagely to clear it. “I want Kay’s file,” he had to hiss the words, clenching his teeth as the shivering escalated momentarily.

Purdue looked defeated. He took a deep solemn breath, flexed his fists and stood. “Why?”

“Why?” Mulder jerked his head up. “Am I on this damned case or not?” he demanded. “Look, you want answers. Well, I need a few of my own–”

Sauceda stepped between the two men. “Marty, don’t do this.”

Mulder grabbed Sauceda’s arm and pulled himself to his feet, eyes never wavering from Purdue’s. “I can’t profile off what I don’t have–”

Purdue’s brows crawled up several inches. “Really. You want to tell them that in Fredericksburg? You want to step over to the window and quote some more poetry?”

“Goddammit, you promised me a copy of Kay’s file. Give it to me now or take me off this case.”

Mulder had played his trump and Purdue didn’t even blink. “I’ve already gotten your profile, Mulder,” he answered quietly. “If those are my only options, I’ll take the latter.”

Mulder felt the world roll over much too fast. He forced himself to focus. Purdue was watching him like a man charmed by a spell.

Mulder nodded solemnly. “Then here’s a final addendum to your highly regarded profile: she’s escalating. Again. You might have a day before she goes for her next victim. I forced her hand by bailing on her and she doesn’t appreciate being dumped.” He grimaced ruefully. “Something she and I have in common, I suppose.” He turned on his heel for the door.


“Agent Mulder.”

Mulder turned to the ASAC, his eyes cold, willing himself to stand still when every nerve in his body screamed move!

Purdue’s voice was too level. “You’re in no shape to drive. Get one of the officers to take you home or call a cab. And I’m serious about that guard detail. I’ll make arrangements–”

“And the leave of absence?” Mulder dredged up a knowing smile from somewhere around the level of his knees.

“The leave of absence still stands,” Purdue assured him.

Mulder nodded. “When Sisyphus pops by for her next visit, I’ll let her know.” He fished a plastic baggie from his coat pocket and tossed it to the ASAC. Purdue shook it flat, staring at the earring it contained. “Send me a sketch artist. You’ll need a picture to show around Drummond’s on Fifth and Hegal Place.”

The profiler turned on his heel. DC cops, Bureau personnel and two federal marshals dove quietly out of his way as he passed.

11:42 AM, Apartment 42, Alexandria, VA

Mulder arrived at his apartment as enraged as he’d been when he’d left the one in Georgetown. Call a freaking cab–

And Mulder had done just that. From his cell phone. Sitting in his car while his hands shook so hard he couldn’t get the key into the ignition even on the third try. He’d had the operator dial the number for him or he’d probably still been sitting there.

The chair in the living room caught the coat he flung from the door. Mulder scrubbed at his face roughly, so incensed he was fighting tears– which only made him more furious.

Christ, I’ve just got to get it all to stop. Just for a while, till I can think this crap through. There’s something wrong, something you’re not seeing, Fox. Something’s wrong.

Something was wrong. Mulder felt it with every nerve, every instinct prickling with the certainty. He bit his lip, forcing the anger down, deep into that bubbling hole Sauceda was so afraid of. As his head cleared, he set his eyes to roaming.

Mulder couldn’t remember leaving the lights on. He also wasn’t in the habit of leaving his computer running. In fact, he couldn’t recall having used it since his return to Washington. Yet, there it was, blinking at him, screen saver glowing steadily against the sunlight streaming through the window.

He reached to his hip instinctively, recalling too late that he no longer had a firearm. Mulder bit back a few choice words as he knelt and pulled the switchblade from under his pants leg. It wasn’t a weapon he felt particularly comfortable with, one of his father’s more unusual Christmas gifts actually, but he’d felt naked this morning dressing for duty without a weapon of some kind. He flipped the blade open and assumed the open armed stance they’d taught him at the Academy. He seriously doubted the training would do him much good against a .22 but it was the best he had right now. God damn his stupidity for surrendering his weapon to Sauceda–

Mulder spared a glance for the kitchen door but entered the living room first, scanning corners rapidly, his heart racing, hand surprisingly steady under adrenaline rush. Nothing.

Mulder put his back to the window, pulling the monitor around awkwardly to view it while keeping watch on the dining room beyond. He hit the space bar to deactivate the screen saver and was greeted by his word processor: neatly typed lines. More Ashbery. The knife forgotten in his hand, he read:


“Somewhere someone is traveling furiously toward you,
At incredible speed, traveling day and night,
Through blizzards and desert heat, across torrents,
Through narrow passes.
But will he know where to find you,
Recognize you when he sees you,
Give you the thing he has for you?
Is it enough
That the dish of milk is set out at night,
That we think of him sometimes,
Sometimes and always, with mixed feelings?”


Mulder re-read it, then stared at it without seeing it. Dish of milk… Alarms set off with the realization he’d actually walked across the floor without that damned cat under his feet every step–


The knife at ready, Mulder followed its jerking movements to the kitchen door– and froze.

The slack little body, so full of energy when he’d left, was now on the floor, quite still, head in a saucer of watery milk. Random drops of cream drying on the tile were the only testament of struggle. A single eye, dull and dark, regarded Mulder from the depths of the bowl.

Mulder felt his heart slow, felt his panting ease to a single rasping breath. His mind iced over like winter in the harbor, ears deafened by the blast of snows blowing from a land beckoning beyond his vision. The earth rolled on beneath his feet and he did not care, standing rapt at the gates of Awe, his soul focused too far away, in the depths of that one unblinking eye.

The knife slipped from his hand, skittering across the floor, unseen, unheard, a discarded remnant of a world to which he no longer belonged. He slid to the floor into a place of great darkness.

It was enough, he decided on the way down. He’d had quite enough.

12:47 PM Georgetown Medical Examiner’s Office.

The problem with most ME offices, Purdue decided, was that they were designed for the bodily comforts of the dead– not the living. Chairs were a scarce commodity, as were halls you could stand around in without finding yourself leaning against a panel of recessed cadaver drawers. And forget looking for a lobby: it wasn’t exactly like there was a run of visitors at such facilities. Even when the public was invited, it was usually just to get a quick, identifying peek so the ME’d know who to bill once the autopsy was complete.

So when the Medical Examiner left for lunch, Purdue lost no time or pangs of conscience in commandeering his private office. The room was windowless and cramped but it beat the hell out of trying to conduct business with that damned clunky cellular the Bureau gave him to cart around. Sauceda was in his element up the hall, busy piecing together the various organs Sisyphus had left on Mr. American Lit’s plush pile carpet. Purdue didn’t have to hang out for the pathologist’s report, but he wanted some kind of peace offering for Mulder when he showed up with the guard detail.

He had dispatch forwarding calls from agents in three states: just checking in, nothing pressing. Rich Kirkland had promised to get back with him on assigning some agents to protect Mulder. Rich was reliable; Purdue’d have a call back within the hour. Meanwhile, Purdue had put in two calls to Skinner– yesterday and this morning– advising the AD on Mulder’s apparent mental state. Skinner had been singularly non-committal, suggesting Purdue handle the situation as he saw fit. Purdue could almost smell the cigarette smoke over the phone, though and hadn’t pressed the issue.

Harris had left two messages this morning. Purdue dialed Wheeling using the ME’s old rotary phone. The sound of the dial spinning, leisurely and solid, was laughably comforting.

“So, how’s your kid doing?” Three hundred miles distance didn’t manage to filter the concern from Harris’ voice.

Purdue shrugged, grimaced as he realized Harris couldn’t very well see the motion through the phone. He sighed, instead. “Mulder’s… Mulder,” he said.

“That bad, huh?”

Purdue didn’t bother to laugh, just too tired to try. “All right, smart ass, what’ve you got?”

“Latent found a partial oblique on the headboard in Kress’ motel room. Your boys at NCIC found no match but that’s no surprise given Mulder warned us she’d probably have no priors to compare prints with. It’ll be handy at trial once we find her, though, if it is hers to begin with.”

“Mulder’d also said she’d get bolder, maybe get sloppy. Good work, Nat. It’s more than we got at apartment three oh four.”

“Yeah. Oh, and I’m still following leads on the Enron thing. It doesn’t look too promising, though. Doesn’t she have some kind of recent history we can check out?”

“Yeah, actually. She does.” Purdue flipped Mulder’s book out of its evidence bag and spun it upright, avoiding the fingerprint dust coating its cover. “We’ve got a couple of prints out here, too–”

“Out there?”

“–I’ll have them checked for a match on your partial and send you a file on our latest acquisition. Soon as I get a file, anyway. Meanwhile, check your local book stores for recent purchases of “A Wave” by John Ashbery.”

“A what?”

Purdue scrubbed at his face and spelled it for him. “It’s poetry, so maybe you won’t need to plow through the New York Times bestseller list.”

“Uh huh.” Harris sounded less than thrilled. “How recent a purchase? Maybe something in this decade?”

“Try this week, Nat. Think you can handle that?” Purdue’s voice was much too tired.

There was a silence born of wisdom on Harris’ end of the line. When the detective spoke again, his voice was somber. “Things are really bad on your end, aren’t they, Reg?”

Purdue didn’t answer. He felt about seventy right now. He’d had Olivia on his mind for days. Not Olivia healthy and vibrant, but Olivia ill, and certain of death. Over and over, he’d wakened with the memory of her struggle for life, her weariness, the expression in her eyes when it was finally beyond hope–

Mulder had given him that same look, sitting there on that blood-splattered couch: inhumanly still, scarcely daring to breathe as Purdue had knelt. Fear had poured off the young man like sweat, a heady aroma, intoxicating as liqueur. Purdue had tasted the scent and felt his heart race, like a wild beast closing in on choice prey.

Then the profiler had looked up at him and all the life the man possessed seemed to have retreated to the depths of those too-green, too-liquid eyes. Purdue, on his knees, had gazed through doors best kept closed, a voyeur in a world God kept hidden for His own private viewing.

Mulder’s words, cool, arrogant, and defiant, had no answering reflection in the young agent’s eyes.


“Yeah. Ahm. Mulder thinks he may have a description. I’ll be faxing it over ASAP.” His coat pocket began ringing. “Hey, hang on a minute, okay?” Purdue fished out his cell phone and got the boxy instrument activated. “Purdue.” He waited through a few silent seconds of precious airtime but nothing seemed forthcoming. He jabbed the disconnect button. “Technology.” He made the word sound like profanity and sat the phone on the desk to return to Harris’ line. He scarcely got the detective’s response when the cellular rang again.

“Well, hell’s bells. Hang on Nat. This damned half-ass phone is at it again–” He jabbed the necessary button and barked. “Yeah. Purdue.”

“She’s been here.”

The voice on the other end was alien to him. The tone was wrong, the timbre of the voice off, the speaker far too vulnerable to be anyone he knew– . The ASAC’s breath caught in his throat.

“Mulder? Mulder, where the hell are you? Are you all right?”

“No. Ah– I mean–”

Purdue waited, listening to the man on the other end gasp air. A shaky rustling filtered through the line and Purdue got the sense Mulder was having difficulty holding the receiver.

“Agent Mulder, what–”

“I’m home,” the profiler managed at last. “I’m–”

And again that voluminous silence. Purdue was a long way from worrying about line charges. He closed his eyes, silently willing Mulder to hold on, to get himself to make some rational sense, at least for a little while longer.

“Mulder. Mulder, can you hear me? Look, I want you to get out of that apartment. She may be hiding somewhere. She may still be there.”


“Mulder, dammit, listen to me. Have you secured the premises?” Purdue shook the phone gingerly. “Goddammit–” No, no, the phone had to be working; he could still hear the young man breathing. “Mulder! Get–”

“I’m going to lie down now,” the profiler announced simply, finally.

“What the–? Mulder, Get out of that apartment, do you hear me?”

“I’m going to lie down, now.” Mulder repeated the words patiently. “It’ll be all right, Reg. You’ll see.”

Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place for Reginald Purdue. He finally recognized the crack in Mulder’s voice: it wasn’t fear. It was grief. And the soft click of the telephone was laughter, the delighted chuckle of Hell as it laid claim on a young profiler who’d finally taken just one too many trips in.

Part 16: A Trip Out through the In Door

1:47 p.m. Apartment 42.

Sauceda, weapon drawn, was hard on Purdue’s heels as the ASAC burst through Mulder’s door. Purdue’s pistol scanned left, tense, professional. Sauceda fumbled his bag, dropping it to the floor so he could two-fist his Smith and Wesson. Procedure dictated holding a firearm with both hands, but right now Sauceda needed them both just to keep the site steady.

Marty was dead. The words had rolled through his head when Purdue had slammed into the autopsy bay, stumbling against the door, trying to break the momentum of his frenzied dash up the hall. Purdue had gasped: “It’s Mulder. Let’s go.” But Sauceda knew all the same. He raced after the ASAC and the words echoed back to him with every frantic footfall. Marty was dead. It reverberated in the hum of the engine as Purdue floored his Ford through DC’s traffic and down the George Washington Parkway. Marty was dead. Surely, Marty was dead. She’d found him and he didn’t even have a gun to defend himself– He trusted you and you screwed him, you son of a bitch–

Purdue held up his hand, listening, and Sauceda forced himself to focus. He peered past the ASAC’s shoulder, holding his breath, searching for some hint that would tell him Marty was here, Marty was gone, Marty was safe. The apartment was a black hole, sucking up all sound, all life. Silent as the grave.

“Agent Mulder!” Purdue’s voice resonated in the emptiness, unanswered.

Purdue took a few hesitant steps in, past the dining room table, glancing into the living room warily. Sauceda watched his every move, alert for any sign of trouble while still trying to keep his peripheral vision scanning. Purdue paused, flexed his shoulders, concentrating, and Sauceda realized with a start that he now had his weapon trained on his ASAC’s back. He winced and spun to bring his .44 to bear on the kitchen door. Purdue, alerted by the frantic motion, turned to realign his own weapon, then froze, intent on something hidden from Sauceda’s view by the table.

The pathologist’s palms started to sweat; he flexed his fingers against his pistol grip, reassuring himself of his grasp, of his courage. He pressed silently to Purdue’s side and followed the ASAC’s line of sight.

On the floor near the kitchen door was a switchblade. Sauceda squinted in the faint light but the blade gleamed dully, cold and untarnished, blade and floorboards innocent of blood.

Purdue nodded at him solemnly before jerking his head toward the living room. Purdue himself stalked past and on to the kitchen. Sauceda’s heart had a death grip on the back of his tongue, but he concentrated on procedure, securing the living room, investigating behind the chair, the curtains. He felt like his chest was going to burst; his skin wouldn’t stop crawling and the revolver was far too heavy in his clammy hands. The room was so quiet he could hear his watch ticking. The computer hummed softly on the desk, screen dark, a field of stars fleeing for infinity. At the end of the couch, Mulder’s bedroom door was partially open, the room behind it impossibly dark. He took a hesitant step toward it.

In that same instant, however, Purdue’s savage swearing echoed from the kitchen. Sauceda scurried through the dining room, hermit-crab fashion, half-sideways, his gun still scanning corners restlessly.

He found the ASAC kneeling next to a saucer of milk. On the floor beside the dish was something covered respectfully with a cup towel. Purdue held up a corner of the cloth and displayed the cold figure of a tiny yellow tabby. Sauceda knew the signs of asphyxiation well enough; he didn’t need the fur, stiff from drying milk, to tell him the story. He choked down bile and grimaced.

“The bitch,” he hissed. The gun in his hand was suddenly not so awkward; it felt welcome and warm and good to hold. His finger sliding across the trigger provoked an almost sensuous burning in his gut. He hoped she was here, he realized abruptly. As long as Marty was okay somewhere, he hoped the bitch was still here–

“You sure it wasn’t Mulder?” Purdue asked softly.

The horror and instant consternation on Sauceda’s face must have said it all. Purdue held up his hand to forestall the indignant protest.

“I know, Hot Sauce, I just…” Purdue blinked down at the little body and his shoulders slumped. “Hell, I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said.

Sauceda watched Purdue lower the towel. The ASAC shifted his gun as he stood.

“Bedroom door’s open. Lights out,” Sauceda reported, marveling that his voice was so suddenly steady. “Back this way–”

Purdue grabbed his arm, pulling Sauceda back and proceeding him. Sauceda didn’t protest: between them, Purdue was probably the better shot.

The bedroom was in near total darkness, heavy drapes yielding no hint of the afternoon sun beyond them. Furniture and bric-a-brac were indistinguishable, ominous shapes looming up in the gloom. The four-poster was easily enough to find, however: a solitary sliver of daylight pierced the drapes and highlighted a mound of blanket, motionless on the far side of the bed.

Following Purdue’s unspoken cue, Sauceda kept his revolver trained on the lump on the mattress while Purdue checked the closet and bathroom for signs of life. The weapon was slick and cold again in Sauceda’s hands as he edged around the end of the bed, drawing nearer the form. The blanket trembled slightly, just once and was still again. Sauceda froze. Purdue, ever observant, set his back against a wall and leveled his weapon on Sauceda’s target. Sauceda stepped carefully to the nightstand, gun held absolutely steady as he flipped on the lamp. His breath caught in his throat. His weapon lowered of its own accord.

At the top of the blanket lay a dark head and too-bright eyes. Nothing else of the profiler was visible. The blanket shuddered sporadically.

Sauceda knelt to bring his face into Mulder’s line of sight. “Hey, Marty,” he whispered.

Mulder blinked a moment in the light, registering the voice, the presence before him. His eyes crinkled to impersonate a smile. “Hey,” he responded. His voice was soft, harsh like he’d been choking, his eyes glittering like liquid metal. Sauceda’s gut chilled as he realized Mulder was making no effort to hide the tears.

“You okay, Marty?”

Oh, brilliant question, Dr. Sauceda, go on, ask another…

Mulder nodded patiently, all wisdom and compassion, dark eyes waiting while Sauceda swallowed down something trying to strangle him.

“I really need to sleep right now, Lenny,” Mulder explained. “Just turn it all off for a bit…”

Sauceda nodded. Mulder’s voice was possessed by an odd calm, a dissociated quality that made Sauceda blink a few times just to test reality.

Mulder’s brows furrowed. “‘Cept I can’t sleep. And I’m trying really hard.” There was an expectancy across the eyes, and a weariness, too, deep enough to drown in.

Sauceda glanced at Purdue, quiet at the foot of the bed. “You want a pill, Marty?”

“I want to sleep now.” Those patient, wounded eyes, that fragile whisper.

Purdue ducked out the door, returning in seconds with Sauceda’s bag. He kept to the far end of the bed, locked in silence and out of Mulder’s line of sight.

Sauceda gulped air, digging through his supplies, determining the proper drug and Baez’s recommended doses. His hands shook as he loaded the syringe.

Mulder was shivering so hard Sauceda could hear his teeth chattering. It had nothing to do with the temperature of the room; still, Sauceda whispered an apology as he gently untangled Mulder from his blanket.

The young man was still fully dressed, still in the suit he’d been wearing in Georgetown, the tie a dark and portentous smear across the white expanse of shirt. Mulder blinked longingly at the syringe in Sauceda’s hand and uncurled himself but his trembling fingers couldn’t manage his belt and trousers. He accepted Sauceda’s help with childlike gratitude, dropping his hands to either side, palms up, arms flung out like Christ on the cross. Purdue shifted uneasily; Sauceda silenced him with a look and the ASAC kept his place.

Belt finally loosened, Sauceda helped Mulder turn back to his side once more. He pushed back the trousers and slid the shorts down discreetly then paused with the needle at the profiler’s hip, cursing the agitated muscles that could not relax but obviously ached to do so.

“Marty? You wanna to go to the hospital?”

Mulder shook his head, eyes squeezed tightly shut, anticipating the relief of the Thorazine. “Can’t I just sleep first?” he whispered.

Voices outside announced the arrival of the back-up unit. The ASAC gave Sauceda a nod and stepped out to direct operations, closing the door behind him quietly. Sauceda delivered the drug and tucked the shivering form back beneath the blanket.

Purdue’s voice filtered back into the room: “The bedroom is off limits right now. No exceptions. I want someone at HQ on the wire. I need a list of everyone accessing Agent Mulder’s personnel records for the past two months. And somebody get a print kit after that computer…”

The voices beyond the bedroom door were suddenly part of another world. Closed in with Mulder’s oppressive silence, Sauceda could only marvel that he’d ever been a part of it. He shrugged off the sensation– he didn’t have time for that kind of nonsense right now, anyway. He set about undressing Mulder as best he could without disturbing him too much: the shoes slid off easily, then the trousers. Mindful of Mulder’s continued shivering, Sauceda pulled the end of the bedspread up and over the young man, trying to provide further warmth before easing him out of his jacket.

Mulder grunted softly in his struggle against the encroaching psychological shock. Sauceda cooed in response, little nonsense words– doin’goodkid, ‘salright— chosen more for their comfort than their meaning. He ran a gentle hand across Mulder’s forehead, a touch of comfort that also managed to detect a fair amount of fever. He debated whether Mulder could manage a thermometer without snapping it in two; the chattering of his teeth decided against it.

He set his face into an expression he hoped would convey benevolence and calm and reached gently beneath the blanket to unknot Mulder’s tie. Mulder didn’t resist, raising his chin to make it easier. He seemed quite incapable, however, of unclenching his body from its fetal position. Sauceda didn’t ask him to try, unbuttoning the top button of the starched shirt and tucking the blanket back again. Mulder blinked at him, searching his face without judgment and accepting the comfort of his partner’s presence.

Sauceda turned, overwhelmed by the need to simply not witness the suffering– at least for a moment or two. He occupied the time guiltily, laid Mulder’s tie across the night table with exaggerated care. The pattern, a soft, sedate paisley, glowed with a mixture of silver and scarlet, iridescent in the pale light. Convoluted swirls drew the pathologist’s eye deep into the fabric and he touched it tentatively, wondering if this was a hint of what it was like for Marty: dazzled by the horror of the human heart, drawn into the killer’s madness.

He turned away abruptly and found that the profiler was still watching him, eyes as wide, unblinking as an owl’s. “Thank you,” Mulder whispered and Sauceda felt dizzy suddenly.

“Go to sleep, Marty. I’ll say your prayers…”

Mulder nodded, closed his eyes. His world stilled but he was not at peace. Random impulses twitched his facial muscles. His shivering, when it hit, was still much too violent. Sauceda laid a hand on his forehead.

“I fly to your Mercy, Compassionate God–” He whispered the ancient novena, certain that too many of the words had escaped his memory, praying that God would forgive him such oversight. “Friend of a lonely heart, although my misery is great and my offenses are many, I trust in Your Mercy, for neither Heaven nor Earth remember when a soul trusting in Your Mercy has ever been disappointed–”

Mulder whispered too, but the words were slurred as though traveling from a great distance. They had the mimicked quality of nursery rhymes, or prayers learned and repeated over the bed in childhood. “In peace, O God,” he lisped, “I shut my eyes. In peace again I hope to rise–” The rest was gibberish. Or Yiddish, Sauceda wasn’t sure which.

He watched as the young man descended backward into sleep, like a man drowning, surrendering without struggle into the dark current, unconcerned whether death awaited him within the fathomless depths below. As the drug claimed him, Mulder wriggled a bit under his blanket, a last gasp, then turned off like a light; his muscles finally following suit several minutes later.

Sauceda took a pulse and used his penlight to check Mulder’s pupils gingerly. It had been years since he’d worked with a breathing patient and his palms were sweating harder now than when he’d been waving his gun around. Hell, this was why he’d taken up forensics: with your patients already dead, you had a much more comfortable margin for error. Still, he would have paid good money right now for a half-decent blood pressure cuff.

He glanced up to find that Purdue had re-entered, watching reverently, his back against the door. The unit outside was uncharacteristically subdued, mutually confined to shuffling and muffled voices. With the ASAC on the premises, they’d be doubly thorough, though. Sauceda found the thought reassuring.

“He out?” Purdue mouthed the words soundlessly. Sauceda nodded. Purdue pocketed his hands and both men stood mute, watching the regular rise and fall of Mulder’s chest.

“What do you think, Lenny?” Purdue whispered finally. “We give him time or call the hospital?”

Sauceda shook his head. The motion was both an answer and a disavowal of his part in this decision. He was ashamed suddenly; ashamed of his role in Mulder’s apparent destruction, ashamed of every word he’d ever spoken behind the young man’s back. It was all coming back on him now, every tale he’d trotted off for Patterson and that damned man with the cigarette that had sat like part of the furniture in Patterson’s office. God was making sure Sauceda paid for such sins– only Marty was paying for them now, too.

Staring down at the form on the bed, Sauceda finally realized that Marty had always known the truth of it– hell, the kid’s rebellious intelligence was one of the reasons Patterson had kept such close tabs on him. Ten months together, though, and Marty’d never asked, never once let on that he knew for sure. They’d simply never spoken about it. Occasionally, Sauceda’d even allowed himself to forget the fact, had gone so far as to call himself a friend.

And Marty’d never called him on it.

Jesus, Mary. Saint Joseph– Sauceda hiccuped on the fist in his throat and stared down at the finally peaceful face. A moment ago, this young man had looked at him with eyes that pleaded trust, begged for reassurance of a perilous brotherhood. The plea had not wavered even as the lids had closed over, the drug dragging him down into the silent current of sleep. And Mulder had surrendered willingly, placed himself upon the mercy of the man standing at his bedside.

Sauceda’s eyes roamed the room but found no place of rest, no corner in which he could claim solace. This was Marty’s home; there was no place here for a man who was friend in name only.

“Lenny, I need an answer.”

Sauceda stopped breathing under the weight of the ASAC’s dark regard. He shrugged it off with difficulty.

“I don’t know, Reg. So far, the kid’s reactions have been pretty rational. I’d say he’s as sane as circumstances will permit.”

“That’s not saying much, is it?”

Sauceda grimaced. “Yeah.” He looked down at the sleeping form. Mulder’s right arm twitched slightly, struggling against life even when drugged senseless. The long lashes lay black against pale cheeks, sealing the eyes that had closed in hope.

Sauceda took a deep breath and scrambled for answers. His eyes on Purdue were cool and deceptively assured. “I think he’s been coherent and calm. He hasn’t refused help. Hell, Reg, he’s even asked for it. Requested necessary medication, time out to rest. I think he’s doing pretty damned good considering the hell he’s been through the past year.”

Purdue was back to watching Mulder breathe, apparently doing some fast thinking of his own. “Hospital worth its salt finds out the kind of stress he’s been under, they’d refuse to release him just to keep him away from the Bureau. Can’t say that I’d blame them,” he admitted cautiously.

“That’s not our only problem,” Sauceda’s voice barely masked the wonder of the realization. “Jeezus, we put Marty in a hospital ward, we get our hands slapped off entirely. Our access will be limited at best. Think about it. He’s got a killer stalking him. You want to trust his life to hospital security? Or even a couple of our guys out in the hall who wouldn’t question if Sisyphus herself walked in his room as long as she was dressed in hospital scrubs and carrying a bedpan?”

Purdue looked down at the crumpled lump of blanket. His voice was distant, “‘It’ll be all right’, he said.”

Sauceda blinked. “Come again?”

“On the phone. He said ‘It’ll be all right.’ As calm as if he was giving a weather report. His whole freaking life falling apart around him and he wants me to believe it’ll be okay.”

Sauceda had no answers for the ASAC. He had too few for himself. He sank quietly onto the foot of the bed, feeling the muscles in his legs give way, weary of bearing up under the anguish of thought. For the first time in his life, he felt old. Old and tired. Jeezus, Marty, I don’t wanna do this anymore. Please, Marty, get well so I can just walk away and not look back–

Mulder’s answer was to begin a feeble fight with his blanket, a hopeless gesture, a solitary hand, too pale in the dark room, rising to clutch at a bit of cloth. Long, numbed fingers curled and twisted at the linen, seeking to pull it closer– or push it away. Sauceda could only guess. The motion stilled fitfully, Mulder’s face frighteningly tranquil, his chest frozen, breath forgotten.

Sauceda choked, waiting for some sign of life, eyes widening in the darkness as he willed himself to see. He staggering to his feet– There was a fretful rasp and the hand loosened on the blanket. Mulder’s chest resumed its peaceful rhythm, air escaping in quiet sighs.

Sauceda felt something brush his arm and turned to find Purdue standing at his shoulder, face pinched and bitter. The ASAC’s voice was hard in the quiet. “What aren’t you telling me?” he demanded.

Sauceda didn’t even pretend to misunderstand. He bit his lip and swallowed. “Patterson said–” Sauceda choked briefly and tried again. “Patterson always said that Marty’s life was in my hands every time the kid gave a case his all. Every time he allowed himself to cross that line of reality to stop a killer…” Sauceda held his gaze steady on Purdue’s. “He was right. You’ve seen the kind of dreams Marty has while he’s on a case like this. Until this Sisyphus is stopped, they’re going to continue. You shove him in the hospital and he has just one dream and it’s over, Reg. They’ll diagnose paranoid schizophrenia and lock him in a nut ward.”

A soft knock on the door interrupted Purdue’s response. The ASAC moved to answer, blocking the view of the room with his body.

“Sir,” an unfamiliar voice whispered in the door, “what do you want us to do with the cat?”

“I told you I’ll handle it,” Purdue snarled. “Look, I’ll be right out.” He turned back to Sauceda with a sigh. “You know what happens if we’re wrong about this, Sauceda. Mulder cracks for real and we haven’t brought him in, they’ll hang both our butts for criminal negligence.” He looked Sauceda firmly in the eye. “It’ll mean your pension, Hot Sauce. You want to reassess?”

Sauceda spent a brief minute choking down the thought. It felt like molten lead sliding down, burning a hole through his gut. It must have solidified on it’s way to his knees, however. He found himself standing straighter as he shook his head.

“I don’t give a shit, Reg. You want an out, that’s fine, but I’m not backing you on an involuntary. You’ve got precedence. Marty damned near collapsed in Shreveport and Baez made the same call on it I’m making now. I’m the doctor here. No one will fault you.”

Purdue looked away. “Sauceda–”

“You promised. He gets some time, you son of a bitch. It’s my call.” There was a pitiful crack in the pathologist’s voice. Against his better judgment, Sauceda didn’t look away when Purdue turned back to regard him.

Purdue’s decision took even less time than Sauceda’s had. The dark man’s shoulders slumped in resignation. “You’re not standing for it alone, Len.” He shrugged. “What the hell, all this ASAC crap cuts into my writing time, anyway. Mulder wants to rest? Fine– we’ll give him tonight, at least. I’ll put a call in to Baez, update him on the situation. He’s more likely to toss me back to Personnel Services but at least I’ll have tried. We’ll see what Mulder has to say about all this when he’s… once more among the living.” He gave Sauceda a minute to digest his victory then nodded at the door. “Soon as these guys are done, I’ll put a guard detail in the hall. And I want someone one-on-one with Mulder from here on out. You want the first shift?”

“Shift, hell. I’m here. I’m staying. Just like any other case.”

Purdue nodded. “Look, why don’t you call your wife? Try to get some rest while the team’s here. I’ll… hell.” The ASAC bit off his speculations and moved to the closet; he flipped on the light and disappeared inside.

Sauceda used the combined lights of the closet and the lamp to check Mulder’s color again. The profiler looked even more pallid than he had before, if such a thing were possible. The Band-Aid on his cheek had pulled away and the scab was deep red against ash-white skin. The trembling had finally subsided, however, and Mulder’s breathing was deep, and as reassuringly steady as his pulse.

In the closet, something fell and Purdue hissed curses, emerging with a panicked face. Mulder stirred only slightly, however; a solitary sigh of protest all that managed to escape the riptide of Thorazine holding him under.

Purdue shook off his desperation and waved an empty shoe box at Sauceda, his mouth grim.

“I’ll be back shortly,” he promised.

Wednesday, May 18, 1988. 1:17 a.m. Apartment 42.

Mulder had always been of the opinion that he should wait, before he died, for his body to be dead. But then again, if he were dead he would probably feel a whole lot better than this…

He tried unfolding himself, stretching out on his back slowly, resolutely keeping his eyes closed: one major item at a time, Fox…

The unfolding accomplished, he waited anxiously for his muscles to calm. They twitched erratically, the muscles in his calves aching from the effort to lie still. His mouth felt like cotton batting and his head wasn’t much better.

He tested his vision, opening the left eye first. When that one came to no apparent harm, he worked on opening the other. He lay staring a long while before he actually began seeing anything, though: dark room, dim ceiling. Familiar blanket, familiar sounds in the walls around him. Home.

Somehow, he managed to free himself from the blanket and struggle to the dresser. Black jeans were the first thing in the drawer. He stumbled back to the bed to dress himself, still unsure of his balance. The jeans were warm after the cool air on his legs, and he rested a long minute, falling back onto the bed to wait for his energy to return.

It was a full half-hour before he was finally able to roll off the mattress and convince his legs to get his thirst to the kitchen. His stocking feet made no noise, long white dress shirt pale gray in the light of the transom window above the sink. He found a glass in the drying rack. His hands shook with the effort to hold it and he spilled as much as he drank, but the water was sweet as nectar running down his throat.

Then he noticed the bowl on the cabinet. The light through the window lit the residue of milk curdled in the bottom: curds glowing like embers, blinding white in white ceramic on white porcelain tile. The image burned into his retina, blinding him. He felt he would never see again.

Sauceda jerked awake at the slap on his leg. He caught himself just before he took the swing that would have landed his partner on the other side of the living room. Mulder, bleached as white as his shirt, glowed like Casper standing there in the dark.

“Jeezus, Marty, you scared the crap outta me–”

“Where’s my cat?”

Sauceda sat up, scrubbing the sleep from his face. “Marty. It’s okay–”

“Where’s my cat?” Mulder’s pupils were unfocusing even as Sauceda’s head cleared.

“Marty, listen to me. It’s okay. Purdue took care of it. He’s taking care of everything. You don’t have to worry about anything. Okay?” Sauceda pushed his blanket aside and struggled to his feet. Mulder took four rapid steps back, however and the pathologist froze.


Mulder stood quite still, head down, eyes shadowed, waiting for the violence of betrayal, waiting to be hit, slapped, screamed at, drugged. Something.

Sauceda squinted, trying to catch some subtle hint in the young man’s stance. He’d seen Marty in this state before. In Shreveport. In Saint Paul. But he’d never understood it and couldn’t identify the source of such certainty of treachery. Not for the first time, he wondered at Mulder’s past and the parents he never mentioned.

“Look, kid,” he whispered, “you’re tired. It’s late. Why don’t we go back to sleep?”

“I don’t want any more drugs,” Mulder warned.

“Okay.” Sauceda presented empty hands. “That’s fine. Do you need help getting back to bed?”

Mulder briefly considered the question. “I’m sleeping on the couch,” he announced. “I wanna watch TV.”

Sauceda rubbed the back of his neck, willing himself to at least look like he was okay with all this. “You sure?”


Sauceda backed around the coffee table, letting Mulder keep his distance. The young man waited until Sauceda was well out of range before climbing onto the couch, flopping the blanket over himself, wriggling down into the cushions. The remote control shook in his hand as he fumbled the TV on.

Sauceda padded across the room in his socks and boxers. He stopped at the sight of the front door. Randomly shifting shadows were highlighted in the slit against the floor.

“Marty, while I’m snoring in the bedroom, you’re going to sneak out, aren’t you?” He didn’t mention the two men posted in the uncomfortable folding chairs in the hall. Marty didn’t like being caged.

“No.” TV programs flipped by frantically.

“Not even for a little while? Not even for a run?”

Mulder didn’t look up, sleepy eyes staring at the blur of stations. “I’ll be right here the whole time. I promise.”

“Okay. You promised, Marty. Don’t lie to me.”

Mulder looked him full in the eye. His voice remained quiet and flat. “You think I’d just leave you here for her to waltz in and hack up?” He watched Sauceda blanch, and turned back to the TV. “I promised, Len. Now go to bed before I get up from here and kick your ass. Or get one of Purdue’s guard dogs outside to do it for me.”

Sauceda stood quietly a few minutes more. Mulder didn’t acknowledge his presence, however, and he finally padded reluctantly off to the bedroom. The profiler remained oblivious even to Sauceda’s continual tiptoeing back and forth, checking on him every few minutes. The trips finally slowed to once every half-hour or so.

Sauceda was in bed, finally asleep and unaware, before Mulder finally dared to investigate the sharp little item poking him in the ribs. He pulled it loose from its hiding place between the couch cushions, examining it in the glow of the television: Sauceda’s pen knife. A handy little instrument that was forever slipping out of Lenny’s pocket when he sat down…

Mulder stared at the marvelous little device for a long while. He held it tightly in the hand covered by the blanket, not thinking much of anything really. Not anything he could share with the rest of the class, anyway. He slipped it silently into his shirt pocket and resumed his television viewing.

“I’m going to have to remember,” he noted aloud, “to ask Purdue about that cat.”

5:57 a.m. Apartment 42.

Mulder woke with a scream. He managed to get it strangled to a gasp as Gregg and Mitchell burst in from the hall, guns at ready. Both agents froze, staring into the living room as Sauceda barreled in from the bedroom. One look at Mulder and the pathologist looked like his heart was about to do itself serious damage.

With everything still, finally, Mulder realized he was on the floor. He was on his knees, in fact, next to the couch, hugging himself and shaking convulsively. There was blood on his shirt, blood on the rug, more blood on the blanket.

Sauceda swore and ran for his medical bag. Mitchell crossed the room and grabbed the phone on the coffee table. Mulder grabbed Mitchell’s hand.

“No!” Mulder gasped, still trying to calm himself, to steady his heart.

“Agent Mulder, I’ve got to call 911.”

“No, I’m all right. I’m not bleeding.” Mulder looked away from the incredulity on the man’s face. Jeezus, he knew what it sounded like, but–

Sauceda was back and plopped down on his knees beside him, scrambling in his bag.

“Hot Sauce, tell them. Tell them I’m all right,” Mulder pleaded.

“Yeah, Marty. We know, kid. It’ll be okay–”

“Len, I’m not bleeding. Please–” Mulder was trying hard to keep his voice calm. Trying real hard not to break Mitchell’s hand on that damned receiver. And Sauceda’s expression was soft and so irritatingly compassionate. Mulder wanted to slap him but that would probably provoke Greg who was already eyeing Mitchell for some kind of permission. Mulder lowered his voice to a harsh hiss, the best he could manage given the circumstances.

“Dammit, Len, I’m not hurt. I’m not bleeding.” He tugged at the buttons on his shirt, fumbling to get them loose. “Dammit, look at me.”

Sauceda obeyed, to humor him and because he had to see the wound to repair it. He assisted with the buttons then blotted at the blood across Mulder’s abdomen with a corner of the blanket, one hand ready with the gauze.

But there was no wound. No cut, no abrasion. Nothing. There was nothing there.

Sauceda dabbed again, rubbing the blood into dark streaks on Mulder’s skin. His mouth worked on words that didn’t come and he grabbed his partner’s hands, bloodied and cold, rubbed them with the blanket.

Still nothing.

Sauceda sat blankly, holding Mulder’s wrist and gasping like a landed fish. Mulder, angrily patient, watched him.

“Open your mouth,” Sauceda demanded.

Mulder obeyed, closing it back grimly when Sauceda finished poking. Lenny even tapped the scab on his cheek but as best Mulder could tell, it was still well-crusted and dry. Sauceda sat back on his haunches, looking like the poster child for bewilderment.

Mitchell was staring alternately at Mulder’s bloody hand on his wrist and then at the two men on the floor. Just for the hell of it, Mulder grinned at him.

“Spooky strikes again, boys,” he quipped.

Sauceda’s entire body convulsed.

“Son of a bitch,” he spat, “I oughta slap the shit out of you, you little–” He slammed his fist into the coffee table, screaming at Mitch and Gregg. “Out! Just get the hell out!”

The two men wasted no time in obeying. Sauceda still had hold of one of Mulder’s wrists. He shook it at him.

“What the hell is this, Marty? Monkey blood? You got some of that fake vampire shit stashed out from Halloween or something?”

Mulder stopped grinning and shook his head. “No, Lenny. Look, I’m sorry, I–”

“That’s what it is, isn’t it? You just have to go around messing with people’s heads, don’t you? Goddam monkey blood. You little shit. You screwed up little shit–”

Mulder sat defeated; Sauceda’s hand was squeezing his wrist so hard, his fingers were tingling. Mulder accepted the pain as his due. “Whatever’s easiest for you to believe, Len,” he conceded quietly.

Sauceda wasn’t having it. His face flushed with rage. “Whatever’s easiest– what the hell is that supposed to mean? Damn you! What the hell do you think you’re playing at here?”

“Look, Lenny, I swear. I just woke up like this. That’s all. I had a really bad dream. And I woke up like this.”

“Just like that.”

“Just like that.” Mulder pulled away to lean against the couch. “I don’t know, Lenny. There are cases… Maybe it’s psychosomatic–”

“Psychosomatic, my ass, you little punk bastard–”

Mulder jerked his hand away, his voice finally hard and heading for dangerous. “Look, I’d like to tell you I’m just sick enough to think this is hysterically funny. That I did this to myself. But then you’d go and tell Purdue and he’d want to see the container I had this crap stored in and send it to the lab for analysis and prints and then I’d be totally screwed because there is no container and there sure as hell would be no prints.”

Sauceda sat numb in the sudden silence, frozen with the impossibility of truth. He watched Mulder jerk to his feet, watched the young man swear as another fit of shivers threatened to land him back on the floor.


Mulder didn’t bother to look down at him. “I’m going to take a shower,” he hissed.

Mulder made it out of the room by sheer force of will. Sauceda followed him cautiously.

“Marty, I’m sorry–”

Mulder turned, furious at the gentle voice beside him, holding his anger tightly, needing it to help him think, to remind him to breathe. “I don’t want you to be sorry, Lenny,” he seethed. “I don’t need you to be sorry. I just can’t afford to be kind, courteous and courageous just now, okay?” He moaned, jerked away, the explanation taking too much effort. “I’m going to take a shower. I just really need to take a shower.”

“Marty. You’re not steady enough on your feet, kid–”

“Damn you. Don’t tell me what I am. You have no idea. Don’t fucking tell me what I am!”

Sauceda followed him silently through the bedroom. Every step Mulder took convinced him he was in no shape to be standing, let alone trying it on a slippery surface.

Sauceda tried again. “How about a bath, kid?”

“Screw you. I hate baths.” Mulder didn’t bother to look back at him. “And you’re not going to help me. I don’t want you touching me,” Mulder’s voice was headed for hysterics. He bit back the words but they came anyway, slurred but clear enough for Sauceda to understand. “I don’t want anyone touching me anymore.”

He felt Sauceda freeze with comprehension: sexual molestation cases and Mulder’s penchant for long showers.

Shit. Shit, shit, shit–

Mulder steadied himself on the wall, still working his way over to the bathroom door, resolutely refusing to look his partner in the eye. He felt he’d landed in a Dali painting, “Burning Giraffes” perhaps, a tragic, surreal landscape of twisted images and illusions and too little oxygen. He paused, breathless, when Sauceda finally answered.

“Okay, Marty. Whatever you need, kid. I’ll just sit outside the door, in case you get in trouble. Then I’ll hear. Okay?”

Mulder swallowed hard, closing his eyes in gratitude, fearing the compassion even as he accepted it. He continued his exodus, Sauceda close beside with every step but careful not to touch him.

Mulder made it into the bathroom at last and sat down hard on the toilet seat. He closed his eyes against the spinning of the room, panting with the effort to remain vertical. He felt Sauceda standing in the door, watching him, shifting nervously.

Mulder’s stomach churned threateningly but he had other problems right now. If Sauceda knew what he knew, if Sauceda knew the extent of the blood, that it ran slick and sticky down his thighs, plastered his briefs to his body in areas the pathologist hadn’t dared to check…

If Sauceda knew, Mulder’d be drifting out on that cold dark Thorazine sea and Sauceda’d be cussing the smell in the autopsy room again.

Mulder looked over at his partner, keeping his eyes cold, his voice malicious, holding Sauceda off guard and at bay. “Just let me get cleaned up. Then you can crawl in the damned shower with me, I don’t care. Just keep your hands off the merchandise.”

Sauceda smiled meekly, apparently satisfied with the compromise.

Mulder nodded at him. “Make some coffee,” he ordered, “And close the door. I won’t lock it. I promise. Just… go away for a while.”

Sauceda stationed himself outside the bathroom door as promised. He listened to Marty moving around, probably undressing. The clothes hamper snapped open, slapped closed again after a while. Finally, there was the irregular splash of water against skin.

Sauceda dashed to the phone on the nightstand and dialed Purdue.

“We’ve got another body,” he hissed by way of greeting.


The remaining conversation was hurried and whispered, with Sauceda interrupting himself for frequent trips back to the bathroom door to listen. The water ran, pounding irregularly as Mulder moved beneath it.

Assured the ASAC was on his way, Sauceda sprinted to the kitchen to make coffee, trotted back to the bathroom door, listening even as he scooped the granules, back to the kitchen to pour the water in the machine. Back to the door. He thought briefly about calling Mitch in to help but balked at the idea immediately. Sauceda’d be damned before he’d admit he couldn’t deal with his own partner. Besides, Marty didn’t like crowds. And in Marty’s dictionary, just being alone was sometimes crowded enough.

The water still ran and after a bit Sauceda heard nothing but the water, no splash or step, just the water, running on and on. It was still running long after the hot water heater had played out.

It was 7:00 a.m. when Sauceda finally decided he couldn’t take it anymore. He called out twice and tapped on the door. There was no response.

Sauceda chewed the inside of his cheek, took a deep breath and reached his hand out to the knob. The water stopped abruptly. Sauceda jerked his hand back guiltily, glancing around, trying to imagine something he could be busy doing when Mulder came out. The kid had been fairly sedate up till now, there was no sense antagonizing him by being under his feet. Sauceda’d gotten Gregg to pick up a few groceries last night. They would need some breakfast–

Mulder emerged from his exile, still damp, wrapping himself in his robe. He glanced over at Sauceda but refused to look at him directly. Sauceda bit his lip. Mulder looked like hell. No one that young should have eyes in that much pain. It made Sauceda’s gut hurt just to look at him.

“You okay, Marty?”

“Go to hell, Len.”

Sauceda didn’t take the cussing personally. The voice that spoke it was tired, obviously operating on reflex, not fully connected to any real thought or malice.

“I’m gonna fix breakfast, okay?” Sauceda offered pointlessly. He didn’t expect Marty to be registering words just yet, anyway.

Mulder nodded blankly and Sauceda was off like a shot, guiltily grateful for the reprieve.

Twenty minutes later, Mr. GQ, hollow-eyed and solemn, stepped into the dining room for his sugar-with-coffee and found Sauceda, dressed, wolfing down a second bowl of cereal. Mulder eyed the box: “Life.”

“If memory serves,” Mulder noted, “this is what’s known as poetic irony.”

“Sit down and eat, Marty.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Marty, you gotta eat–”

Mulder sighed. “It’ll just come back up again before we’re done, Hot Sauce. You know the routine.”

Sauceda licked his lips. “Let’s wait a bit, Marty. Okay?”

“Why?” Mulder’s eyes dropped to suspicious slits. “You and Purdue got something planned?”

“No. No. Really. But, it’s like the man says, the victim can’t get any deader, right? So, it’s not like we gotta get in a big rush or anything–”

Mulder looked at him a long minute and Sauceda prepared himself for the argument.

But Mulder just sat down in the chair opposite and shrugged. “You’re the one doing the autopsies. If you want him after the heat’s gotten to him, it’s no sweat off me.”

Sauceda blanched. “Just let me call Purdue, okay? Just to let him know we’re on the move.”

Mulder didn’t say anything, didn’t even nod.

Sauceda sat his spoon down and tramped to the living room to dial Purdue’s cell number. He exchanged a few carefully chosen words with the ASAC; Mulder watched from his chair, eyes too wise in that silent face.

Purdue was three blocks away. Jesus, Mary and Saint Joseph, just let him be here by the time we get to the parking lot. I can’t to do this shit anymore…

Sauceda reached up a trembling hand to blot tears. He was getting too old for this. He jerked the hand away at the sound of Mulder’s chair scooting back. The profiler had stepped out the door before Sauceda could even get the receiver cradled.

Mulder’s voice, flat and unrelenting, drifted back from the hall: “Good morning, boys, we’re going for a drive now. Of course, you can come, just keep your hands off the suit, I just had it cleaned–”

By the time Sauceda popped into the hall, Gregg and Mitch were staring in bewilderment. Sauceda didn’t bother to explain, eyes wild as he followed his partner down the hall. Mulder, coat swinging Joe-Cool easy, led them to the elevator. Mentally he was a world apart, towing three lesser beings in elliptical orbit.

Everything was moving too fast for Sauceda. Marty was walking too fast, the elevator opened too fast, depositing them efficiently on the first floor. Mulder led the way again, that animal grace, those too-green eyes hidden behind the shades, that inhuman mind locked in silence with secrets no man should know– Sauceda was praying again.

Jeezus, just make him slow down. Make him still be here when Purdue gets here. I don’t want to do this. Not this time. Not with all that blood already. It’s too much. It’s too weird. Just make him stop–

And just like that, Mulder did stop. Sauceda almost collided with him, the change of motion was so abrupt. Sauceda circled to check his partner’s condition. The shades were on, but the face was very pale, the breathing bordering on hyperventilation. Sauceda frowned.

“Whatsa matter, Marty? You need to sit down, kid? Let’s go back and sit down–”

Mulder pushed him away absently, staring at the door to his left. Number 9. As Mulder’s luck would have it, his super chose that moment to come up the hall, wrench in hand, muttering something about the hot water heater. Mulder waved him down.

“Can you open the door?” he requested politely.

Sauceda’s gut sank.

The super looked from Mulder to the door in question. “To Norman Seilman’s? Just knock.”


The man with the wrench took a closer look at his tenant. “You all right, Mr. Mulder?”

“Please. I just need the door open.”

The super’s eyes went wide. “Is this official FBI business?”

“No!” Sauceda gasped. “Marty, wait. You can’t. You can’t do it this time. It’s too much. You have to wait for Purdue. Let Purdue take care of it.”

Mulder blinked at him like he’d sprouted another head. He turned back to the super. “Just open the damned door.”

Seconds, bare seconds and they were in the room, through the room and into the bedroom. Mulder never hesitated, never slowed, certain of where he was going and of what he would find when he got there. Nude male, dark hair, somewhere one side or the other of six feet, gutted on the bed.

Sauceda stood at the bedroom door, defeated and exasperated with himself. Purdue’d asked him just one favor: keep the kid out of the next crime scene. And he’d blown it. Just that easy. Shit, he must be getting old. He was certainly too old for this–

He stared at the body, forcing himself to focus on the task at hand. The victim’s hands had been cuffed to the headboard. The tongue protruded, laid like some dark patch of beard against the chin. The corpse retained a grimace, like he was still straining against the cord around his neck. Sauceda wanted to spit. The sick bitch had probably kept the man alive, strangling him, trying to get a stronger erection so she could–

“Oh God,” Sauceda hissed, finally recognizing the organs spilled from their proper places. Sisyphus had gutted this one all right, but she hadn’t stopped there. This time, she’d worked her way south. And from the look of things, she’d enjoyed it immensely. And this is what the kid had dreamed so vividly he’d bled for the guy–

Mulder turned away from Sauceda’s numbed stare and stalked back through the apartment, Sauceda hard on his heels.

“You knew,” Sauceda voiced the accusation.

Mulder kept walking.

“Say it, dammit. You knew.”

“Okay. I knew. So what?”

Purdue was in front door, unreadable gaze flickering from Mulder to Sauceda. Sauceda was too numb right now to care. The ASAC passed them and moved to the bedroom without comment.

Mitchell backed out of the bedroom shaking his head. “Jeezus, Mulder. I think your lady friend is pissed.”

“I’m paying attention, Mitch.”

Purdue emerged.

Mulder had the balls to smile. It looked like a crack in his face. “So, what’dya think?” he asked. “Self-inflicted?”

“Got your poem, Agent?” Purdue demanded.

“Gregg’s bagging it for me now.”

“Good. I want it, your partner, your bodyguard and your ass back in your apartment until we’re done down here. Is that clear?”


“No argument?”

Mulder shook his head arrogantly but the color was draining from his face even as they watched.

Sauceda’s fingers itched to take the shades away and gauge the dilated stare that lay beneath. Mulder’s hands were shaking now, too. By Sauceda’s estimate, the carefully constructed shields Mulder had built around his life had cracked at least two months back, and now the reality of the corpse in the next room and all those that had preceded it was finally bleeding through.

Purdue turned as Mitchell approached. “Get him upstairs while you still can and this time you keep him there. Gregg, call an ISU out here. Sauceda, I’m arranging for a move to a safe house although we may have to get him in a hotel first. Damn witness protection must be having a two for one sale this week. But he’s not staying here. Not after this–”

“Where’s my cat?”

Sauceda’s eyes snapped shut and Purdue carefully turned back to the man in the shades.

“I took care of it, Agent Mulder.”

“Everybody keeps telling me that,” Mulder observed. “Isn’t it funny how they keep telling me that and I still don’t know what you did with it?”

Mitchell’s eyes were wide and busy calculating Mulder’s weight and the reach of his swing. Gregg looked like he was trying to determine from the hang of Mulder’s jacket if Sauceda’d had enough on the ball this morning to hide the profiler’s gun.

Purdue’s voice was soft. “I buried your cat in my backyard, Mulder. Next to my old dog, my wife’s cockatoo and three of our cats. I can show you the spot sometime if you like.”

“You didn’t put him in the dumpster?”

Purdue frowned. “Did you want me to?”


The ASAC licked his lips. “I didn’t put him in the dumpster, Agent Mulder.”

Mulder nodded. “He didn’t like it in the dumpster.”

Purdue nodded, too, like this was the most rational conversation he’d had in ages. Nodded like it didn’t feel like someone was kicking his guts out. Nodded like it wasn’t killing him to watch the Bureau’s finest shatter like so much misused crystal.

“Mulder–” Purdue began softly.

“Thank you,” Mulder whispered and Sauceda bit his tongue to have a reason for his eyes to go blurry.

“I’m going home and lie down now,” Mulder informed the room in general. “I’d like my poem, please.”

Purdue nodded and Gregg presented the baggied paper gingerly. Mulder accepted it without looking at it, turned for the door. It obviously took everything he had left, but he managed to remain vertical for the trip back upstairs to apartment 42: Mercury, mortally wounded, his little army of satellites tagging quietly behind.

Part 17: The Thing at the Bottom of the Stare

7:46 AM. Apartment 42.

Seilman’s poem was more Ashbery: bright blue highlights of “Ditto, Kiddo” from page thirty-three:


“How brave you are! Sometimes. And the injunction Still stands, a plain white wall. More unfinished business.
But isn’t that just the nature of business, someone else said, breezily.
You can’t just pick up in the middle of it, and then leave off.
What if you do listen to it over and over, until
It becomes part of your soul, foreign matter that belongs there?
Until those times when driving abruptly off a road
Into a field you sit still and conjure the hours.
It was for this we made the small talk, the lies,
And whispered them over to give each the smell of truth…
There was room. Yes,
And you have created it by going away. Somewhere, someone Listens for your laugh, swallows it like a drink of cool water,
Neither happy nor aghast. And the stance, that post standing there, is you.”


Mulder sat on his couch, heedless of the dried splatters of blood, and reread the poem. Sauceda stood in the living room door watching him. Out in the hall, Mitchell and Gregg were arguing in harsh whispers like some long-married couple trying to hash out the divorce without waking the kids.


Mulder didn’t hear apparently. He hadn’t heard the first two times Sauceda’d spoken, either. But Sauceda could blame those failures on the fact that Mulder was concentrating on the poem.

But the poem was on the floor, now. On the floor where it had slipped unnoticed from the profiler’s hands, the hands still posed like the paper was there between the fingers. And Mulder’s eyes still roved left to right like there was something there to read.

Sauceda was praying like he’d never prayed in his life: he prayed to be somewhere else, any place but here, watching Mulder’s slow slide into oblivion and knowing his part in the process. He prayed that Purdue would get back here to tell him what Baez had said, tell him what to do to make it better. Somewhere between the two requests Sauceda respectfully suggested that God do them all a favor and let some thug put a bullet in this bitch’s brain. The prayer he wished most earnestly, though, was that Marty would just come back from wherever it was he’d stepped out to.

Mulder blinked slowly and finally seemed to notice something was missing. He just didn’t seem to remember what. He eyed the coffee table blearily. The morning sun through the window illuminated the smears of fingerprint dust no one had bothered to remove. There was this morning’s newspaper, too, an ashtray with too many cigarette butts, a Bic pen. The phone was near at hand, still smeared with dried monkey blood. The television remote sat next to it.

In seconds, the TV was on and blaring. Mulder huddled on the couch, still in his suited finery, hugging his knees to his chest. The hand with the remote worked furiously. Channels flipped by at warp speed, washing neon colors across his face: pale green, electric blue and crimson. Mulder scarcely blinked, his concentration frightening in its intensity.



Thank you, sweet Heart of Jesus– “You want something to eat, kiddo?”

Mulder’s head shook almost imperceptibly, wide eyes staring at the screen. Sauceda waited until the finger on the control had stilled before stepping around to supervise the selection. Opening credits to “Son of the Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Mulder’s expression was impassive but the hand holding the remote trembled violently.

“Marty, you cold?”

No response.

“Marty, you gotta eat something. How about some warm soup? Maybe some juice? Something.”

Mulder’s brows furrowed, intent on the opening dialog of the film.

“Sure. Great,” Sauceda wasn’t above filling in the blanks for himself on occasion. “So. Juice sounds good, you think? Good deal.”

The pathologist trotted to the kitchen to stare into the refrigerator, grateful for a reprieve from the oppressive presence in the living room. He scanned the shelves, chewing his lip. Decisions, decisions.

The selections were V-8 and apple juice: good nutritious stuff, right? Sauceda grabbed the V-8, but stopped with the jug still on the shelf. He stared at it, considering the dull red tomato juice and how it looked in the clear bottle. Sort of like the stuff he’d scraped off the couch and put on slides for the lab.

Sauceda blinked, considering the possibility– Nah, Marty couldn’t have just spilled juice. The jug was still sealed. Besides, Sauceda wasn’t stupid enough to confuse tomato juice and blood. The smell alone–

Sauceda grimaced, thinking about that coppery odor, the odor of life spilling hot from the veins, the fragrance of impending death. It had been all over Marty. And all over the kid’s clothes when he’d pulled them from the hamper: that still unidentified substance, dark red and sticky, drying to crusty black on Mulder’s jeans and briefs…

Okay. Apple it is then–

Mulder’s view of the television was obstructed suddenly: a glass of amber fluid attached to a hand. He rubbed at his left eye, considering the implications of such a vision, then realized Sauceda was standing over him.

“Here you go, Marty.” The pathologist’s eyes looked desperate behind the brilliant smile. “Here’s your juice.”

Mulder frowned, considering the liquid. A quick tour of his short-term memory located no record of such a request. In fact, he couldn’t honestly say he could recall how he’d wound up on the couch. His frown deepened with his efforts to assess the situation, but too many areas of his brain seemed unwilling to participate in the process. He watched Sauceda’s face do a slow slide into desperation and found that he was also completely unable to form simple words like “no” anymore.

Well, hell, it was just a little juice, right?

He reached out to accept the glass. Sauceda, too-joyous smile returning, pulled it away to hand him a pill, instead. A little yellow pill. Valium, five milligrams. Mulder definitely didn’t recall ordering this and he’d be damned if he’d take it, no matter how pathetic Sauceda managed to look.

He opened his mouth to inform his partner of this decision but stopped mid-breath. Sauceda’s lips were moving, and try as he might, Mulder was hearing no sounds. He knew his eyes were wider suddenly, and knew Sauceda could read the fear there. The older man swallowed hard, moved his lips again, and Mulder heard the words.

“I’m praying for you, Marty. It’ll be okay.”

Mulder considered his options once more, a tedious and disappointing process given his current condition. “Lenny?” he asked slowly.

“Yeah, kid.”

“If I take the pill will you stop praying?”

Sauceda squinted at him. “No. Of course not.”

“I don’t want it then.”

Sauceda looked like he wanted to cry. “Aw, Marty, its just five milligrams. It won’t hurt anything.”

“I don’t need it.”

“I do, Marty. I need you to take it. Please.”

“If I say no, you’re going to force me to take something, aren’t you?” Mulder eyed the door, considering the two men beyond it: two well-trained, well-fed, completely-sane men with orders to protect him. Even from himself. That, at least, was one fact he was still clear on.

Sauceda waited for Mulder’s focus to turn back to him. “No, Marty. I won’t do that,” he assured, face set to convey absolute sincerity.

Mulder nodded. “Good.” He turned back to the TV and just like that, Sauceda and the juice and the little yellow pill winked out of existence, lost in the melee of black and white images running rampant before him.

They just didn’t make films like this anymore, Mulder realized after a bit. Considering the dialogue, he could understand why. The plot was about the most inane thing he’d seen in years. A distressing fact considering he seemed to be unable to keep track of most of it. He shook his head, trying to knock loose some rational explanation for this lapse.

A big-chested blonde squealed, running through the forest on the screen. Mulder counted to four before she stumbled over the obligatory stump. The creature, scaled and reptilian, reached for her, music swelling in the background before the screen dissolved into a commercial. A cat food commercial. Damn Friskies Kitten Chow with their little yellow tabby with big green eyes and fuzzy face…

“Lenny. Lenny? LENNY!

Sauceda trotted from the bedroom, his hair rumpled, unfastened belt buckle pinging like a dinner bell with every step. His eyes were wild and snapped to frantic when they turned to regard Mulder.

Mulder laid his hand across his face to shield himself from the fear in Sauceda’s eyes. He was shivering again and hating it, hating the tears he couldn’t make stop and couldn’t hide.

“I’d like that Valium now. Please.” His teeth were clenched to keep them from rattling and the words were slurred but Lenny seemed to comprehend well enough. The older man nodded, vanished, then reappeared, comforting and cooing. Confident hands removed Mulder’s suit jacket, slipped off his tie and wrapped him in the warm refuge of an old blanket. Finally, a little pill was pressed into his hand. It was a different color this time: the soft blue of a ten milligram and Mulder sighed his gratitude. But his hand was trembling too hard and half-way to his mouth, the tablet fumbled away. Salvation, however temporary, disappeared into the folds of the blanket gathered across his knees.

Mulder wailed his disappointment. It was a sound thin and pitiful even to his own ears– horrifying. It wasn’t his voice. It was, instead, that of a terrified child. Samantha’s voice. Samantha’s squeal, heard in one of his dreams, and Mulder choked it down frantically, desperate to flee before the horror finally caught up with him, became him. He slapped Sauceda away, struggling to escape the blanket. This was not happening. It couldn’t happen to him. It wasn’t possible. He couldn’t let it–

Mulder lashed out blindly as Sauceda reached for him. He was struggling against a stranger, struggling against himself. His panic rose as his vision blurred, darkened, refocused with the mind’s eye of a young child: a room full of men, shrouded in searing light, a needle, pain and pulsating flashes of heat. A dispassionate voice: “He remembers nothing,” the most frightening memory of all–

The pain altered, becoming more solid suddenly, assuming another kind of urgency. Mulder jerked his eyes open and his panic was instantly overridden by reality. He paused, panting, taking a long minute to realize that it was Sauceda that was holding him, pinning him to the couch, each fist held fast, his body held down by the older man’s hip.

Sauceda’s face was twisted in torment. Mulder turned away, seeking some place else to be, some place that required no explanations and kept no notes. He collapsed back into the cushion, limp and unresisting, face turned to the window, surrendering whatever ground Lenny might feel necessary to claim.

Sauceda loosened one wrist tentatively but Mulder remained quite still. Sauceda’s voice was a guarded whisper.

“You okay now, Marty?”

Mulder considered the question before nodding. He made no further motion, however, willing his body to relax. Sauceda released him slowly, sitting down on the couch beside him, watching him closely all the while.

“You sure?” He licked his lips as Mulder blinked a yes. “Where the hell did you go just now, kid?”

Mulder opened his mouth but words would not obey him, would not even form in his mind, and he shook his head finally, locking his jaw down tight.

“You still want that Valium?”

Mulder nodded, his head turned resolutely to the window. He squinted at the top of the sun-washed tree beyond: another world entirely. The room was silent; he could hear the clock tick even above the rattling of the pill bottle. A light pressure on his hand and he looked down, accepted the pill, and placed it carefully in his mouth. Sauceda stepped back, allowing him to sit up before presenting him with a glass. The juice was cooling, reassuringly real down his throat and Mulder drank greedily, juice sloshing onto his chin. The pill slipped down obediently, the sensation so endearing that he continued swallowing until the juice was gone.

“More,” he whispered, still refusing to look Sauceda in the eye. The old man rose to obey and Mulder found himself repeating the word to the empty room, something to keep him company in the silence, reciting it into the blurry hum of a mantra, blocking out the fear that gripped his heart without reason. And finally, the glass was back, back in his hand and full again and there was Sauceda’s steady grip on his numbed fingers, like God’s, delivering comfort in a glass, flooding his being with munificent grace.

His thirst sated, Mulder curled up back into the couch, eyes falling back to the television. Sauceda pressed the remote into his hand and he gripped the familiar object, his talisman, his sole measure of control in this world. Thus arrayed, he waited, unblinking as a sphinx, for the pill to convince his soul he didn’t hurt anymore.

Sauceda set up house in the chair, discreetly going back over autopsy files, glancing up now and again at the television and the man watching it. It’d been twenty minutes since the Valium and Mulder hadn’t so much as twitched, not even when the pathologist had removed the kid’s shoes. With Mulder in this state, Sauceda woud have felt safer having the kid’s belt off and squirreled safely away with certain other lethal objects– cutlery and forks and a drawer full of other belts, an entire collection of ties– but Mulder’s body was too tightly clenched just yet. Maybe when the Valium hit its peak…

Another girlie scream from the television and Sauceda glanced back over to observe the action. He shook his head. It must be Creature Feature day or something, he decided: one long string of old B-movies full of babes with pointy boobs. Well, hey, maybe the kid was on to something. Sauceda grinned at the thought, looked back to his partner’s wall-eyed stare and felt himself slide back to thinly veiled panic.

“I don’t know, Marty,” he whispered. “Maybe it’d be easier on the rest of us if we did just stick you in a hospital–”

Mulder lurched to life and Sauceda jerked guiltily. The young man flailed aimlessly, fighting with his blanket. No, not fighting really, Sauceda decided, just struggling to push it aside. Mulder got loose just as Sauceda freed himself from his lapful of files. Finally vertical, Mulder swayed above the coffee table, tipsy as a drunk on a binge. He flinched as Sauceda grabbed for him.

“Easy, kid,” Sauceda peered into eyes that didn’t quite manage to focus. “Just trying to get you steady.” Mulder grunted and shrugged him off absently. Sauceda allowed it, keeping his expression friendly. “So, where’re you going, Marty?”

“I gotta pee,” Mulder’s voice was soft and distant with a petulant quality that reminded Sauceda of his six-year-old grandson.

Sauceda nodded agreeably. “Okay, Marty. That’s fine, just let me help you–”

“Not in your best dream,” Mulder growled, slapping him away, a rough backhand against his chest. “Hot Sauce, my ass.”

Sauceda blinked at the abrupt transformation. The phone rang, however, interrupting his protests. He swore, releasing the profiler to reach for the receiver. He eyed Mulder’s belt warily.

“All right, Marty,” he warned. “But you take it slow getting there. And don’t lock that damned door. You hear?”

Mulder didn’t answer, apparently too busy concentrating on weaving his way across the room. Sauceda frowned. Ten milligrams of Valium shouldn’t cause a man Mulder’s weight to walk like that–

But voice on the line was insisting on its share of attention. It was the lab with test results on the monkey blood from this morning’s little episode. Sauceda listened, his frown deepening.

In the sanctuary of the bathroom, Mulder finished his business and got his pants zipped before the nausea hit. The juice, so cool and welcome going down, made the return trip like boiling acid. The vomiting was surprisingly discrete, however, accomplished quickly, almost silently. Mulder’s first reaction was one of utter shock. One hand clutched his chest uncertainly and he stared into the toilet in amazement. Little clumps of powder blue floated defiantly in the foamy fluid of the bowl.

Damn. The Valium.

Really now. This couldn’t be happening. Yet, there it was: the certain evidence of his own body’s betrayal. Mulder decided that right now, he really needed only one thing in this world, a single, simple necessity: the reassurance of his own sanity. He’d been promising himself that all he had to do was hold out for a bit. Just hold on and all the missing pieces of his brain would come home and he would be all right again. Like when Samantha disappeared: Mulder had disappeared then, too. Not physically, just into the consoling recesses of his mind, locked in a coma for three weeks while all hell broke loose around him. Then when he woke, it had been okay again. Not good. But okay. Sort of.

Only now, his body refused to shut down, refused to bring the comfort of coma, refused him even the comfort of drug induced solitude. It had left him, resolutely, on the front lines of a fight to hold his own or to die, apparently oblivious to the results of either choice.

Mulder swayed uncertainly, trying to comprehend it all. But what could he do, really? There was certainly no way to alleviate the immediate situation.

He turned to the sink and washed his face, trying to drown the roaring in his head. He couldn’t scoop the water fast enough, however, and finally just stopped trying. His fingers were numb and he left them under the water, letting them warm beneath the faucet while he stared at the intruder in the mirror. The man regarding him, however, had no answers, met his eyes with only bewildered resignation. Mulder looked over the man’s shoulder, staring hard into the space behind him, seeking he knew not what.

It was a trick of his own mind, surely, but Mulder felt suddenly that someone else had stepped up behind him. Someone warmer than he, someone softer, someone invisible in the glass. Someone fragrant and gentle. He could almost feel her breath against his shoulder.

“I’m sorry, Kay.”

The words came without thought, only barely heard above the running of the water. Mulder’s chest constricted unmercifully but he was beyond tears, the sorrow locked in too tight to express itself so easily. If he could simply believe that she had heard the words– if he could know that much– then he could surrender in peace. Just lay down and wait for death. Like the man in the Suffolk woods. Just sit and wait to die. Mulder wondered if that man, too, had sought forgiveness. If he had found it, somehow.

The numbness had spread from his hands and into his brain, finally. He shut the water off solely out of habit, and weaved his way back to the living room. Sauceda’s back was to him, the pathologist grunting monosyllabic responses into the phone. Mulder rubbed his arms– to be so emotionally numb, he seemed to ache an awful lot physically– and remembered how happy just swallowing all that juice had made him. He padded resolutely off to the kitchen.

Midway to the refrigerator, though, Mulder suddenly lost all forward momentum. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember what he’d come for.

The realization was bewildering and not a little frightening, and he felt his heart begin to pound. Mulder forgot things very rarely and the experience was traumatizing, an intimate violation, an assault upon his soul. When Samantha had disappeared, half of Mulder’s childhood had disappeared with her: huge gaps of data, the minute details of the past eight years, were suddenly a garbled, nonsensical maze or, worse, simply missing altogether. The prospect that the rest of his life could disappear as easily was a recurring nightmare– when he wasn’t otherwise busy dreaming up corpses.

It’s just a trip into the kitchen, Fox. Don’t panic. It’ll come to you–

There was a familiar clump from the living room: the sound of the receiver settling back on the phone. Mulder hugged himself comfortingly and waited for Lenny to find him. It didn’t take long.

“Whatsamatta, Marty?”

Mulder lost himself in the activity on the man’s face. Sauceda’s wary eyes seemed to be configuring Mulder’s position, triangulating his trajectory. Sauceda finally settled on the refrigerator and his face brightened visibly.

“Hey, kid. You want some more juice?”

The words sounded familiar enough but Mulder found he was having difficulty registering the question. Sauceda’s expression clearly said the older man was expecting a reply, however. Mulder decided he had only a fifty percent chance of being wrong if he stuck to “yes” and “no” answers and nodded after what he hoped was an appropriately sedate pause. It must have been the correct response. Sauceda got a broad grin and instantly transformed into Mr. Mom. Mulder watched him pull out a clean glass and shoo him over to the refrigerator to present a wealth of options.

Oh, yeah. Juice.

Mulder leaned down to examine the selections. He frowned at the bottle of red stuff, quickly looking away to other jug as his stomach began churning. He dragged the apple juice across the shelf, trying to get it as far as possible from that gross looking stuff in the other container.

Sauceda fussed gently, “Here, Marty, let me get that.”

Mulder didn’t argue. The jar was one of those economy sizes and still too close to full to make simultaneously standing and pouring a viable option. Mulder frowned at the realization. Jeezus, had he suddenly gone so far south, he couldn’t even manage a jug of juice? The thought made the drink bitter in his mouth. He swallowed it anyway.

When he lowered the glass, Sauceda was frowning and reached up to blot his chin. Mulder noted the tell-tale flecks of powder blue on Sauceda’s cup towel. Sauceda’s brows lowered suspiciously.

“You keep that Valium down, Marty?”

Even confronted by the evidence, Mulder nodded his lie. He didn’t know why exactly, except that he just didn’t feel like explaining. If he’d shaken his head the other way, Sauceda would want to know about how much had come up and that could get complicated. Mulder imagined a whole series of debates on granule sizes and just imagining the ensuing argument was exhausting. He slumped against the refrigerator, allowing Sauceda to finish blotting his face. Sauceda clucked like a hen, busy making what he no doubt thought were helpful noises. All the fuss made Mulder’s head hurt, though, and he really just wanted to be alone…

“Lenny, I’m going to take a shower. Okay?” That brought the helpful noises to an abrupt halt.

“Marty, you just had a shower a couple of hours ago.”

Mulder looked at Sauceda and read trouble there. When Hot Sauce got that look in his eye there was just no winning without breaking out some major hell and Mulder didn’t have that kind of energy right now. Or that kind of mental capacity.

“Can I watch the TV then?” he asked sweetly.

Sauceda paled and shook his head, his jaw working with wonder. He looked downright disappointed.

Mulder frowned. Hell, he wasn’t being sarcastic. He was even asking permission, for crying out loud. He’d let Sauceda blot his face and hadn’t even punched him out for it. You’d think the man would look happier. It was just TV, after all. And his TV at that.

You just couldn’t please some people…

Sauceda finally stopped chewing his lip and nodded. Mulder smiled, so grateful he didn’t even protest when Sauceda steadied him on the way back to the couch.

Sauceda was very quiet as he got Mulder settled in. Mulder didn’t even have to listen to those little cooing noises as Lenny tucked him under the blanket and handed him the remote. Mulder was thankful enough that he didn’t even protest when Sauceda asked him to remove his belt.

10:13 AM

Mulder was still installed in front of the TV when Purdue tapped and opened the door. Sauceda rose from the dining room table where he’d posted himself. Purdue stared at the profiler a few minutes before following Sauceda into the kitchen.

“Jeezus, Hot Sauce, what did you give him? I’ve seen guys strung out on smack with more on the ball than he’s got right now.”

Sauceda planted his back against the refrigerator. His voice was weary. “Ten milligrams of Valium. Not all of which has managed to stay down, thank you.”

Purdue frowned. “Well,” he said slowly, “at least you didn’t let him argue you out of it.”

“Argue? Hell, he asked for it. Damned near panicked when he thought he wasn’t going to get it down. He’s scaring me, Reg. Manic, depressed, worn out, even drugged, Marty prides himself on being uncooperative. It’s a matter of principle. And here he is: meek as Mary’s lamb. Man’s said ‘please’ twice in as many days, for Chrissake.” The attempt at levity failed to amuse either of them and Sauceda scrubbed at his face. “Look, Reg, I’ve seen Marty and Post Traumatic Stress. I’ve seen Marty and Valium. This ain’t it.” He choked briefly and cleared his throat. “We heard from Baez, yet?”

“He’s in some hotshot conference in Geneva or some such. He called about an hour ago though. Dispatch got him patched through downstairs. We had an, ah, interesting chat.”

“Is he going to hospitalize him?” Sauceda hadn’t intended to sound so hopeful and dropped his head.

Purdue seemed willing to let it pass. “Baez doesn’t want to hospitalize Mulder for the same reasons we don’t. And more.”

“What ‘more’?”

“He says at this point, hospitalization would be all Mulder would need to push that last button that says ‘self-distruct.’ Apparently institutionalization is Mulder’s biggest fear. Baez says he’s probably pretty much diagnosing himself at this point and thinking his odds aren’t so hot. He wakes up in restraints, that may just be the last straw.”

Sauceda chewed his lip a minute. “So what do we do?”

“We’ve got to find this woman, Hot Sauce.”

Sauceda didn’t bother to point out that that much, at least, was obvious. “Don’t suppose this place has surveillance cameras?”

“Damned things don’t appear to work half the time. And nobody saw anything. Christ. How many times have we been here, heard this?” Purdue sighed, shaking his head. “There’s some evidence that she might have climbed in through a window.” He slumped against the cabinet and picked up a half-empty glass of juice from the counter, studying it blankly. “I got a sketch artist to work up a composite of the description Mulder left for us. Local PD’s doing the canvas. So far, no one in the area remembers seeing anyone matching the sketch. The bartender didn’t get a name and she paid cash. Just to cover all the bases, I checked Mulder’s phone records for incoming and outgoing calls since he got back to DC.”

“Yeah? You got something? Sisyphus made a call while she was here?”

“No.” Purdue slid his thumb across the glass, staring into the sugary liquid. “But something significant otherwise. At least for me, anyway. Enough to know Mulder was managing to hold it together longer than I was giving him credit for.”

“Hell, the fact that he managed to get that description written out before we showed told me that much.”

“Yeah.” Purdue set the glass down with a soft clink. “It seems that right before Mulder called me, he put in a call to his father. I spoke to him this morning, too.” He noted Sauceda’s grimace. “You’ve met the man?”

“Once. I made the mistake of calling Marty’s mom when the kid was shot last year. She didn’t show at the hospital but his old man popped by and gave me the what-for about calling. Said Marty was a grown man and if he wanted to go and get himself shot it was Marty’s business and not my place to go bothering her about it.” Sauceda shrugged. “Still, he stayed with Marty at the hospital all night. Refused to leave until Marty came to and told him he’d be okay. Hell, Marty’s never complained about his parents, not that he talks about them much one way or the other. I don’t know, maybe I got just got Dad on a bad day.”

Purdue sighed. “Well, apparently I got him on the same day you did.”

“So, I don’t get it. Why would Marty call his old man?”

“Apparently he was worried Sisyphus might be digging a little deeper in his personnel file; he was afraid she’d find his parents’ addresses and pay them a little visit. Stands to reason: if she found Mulder, she could find his family, too.”

“So Marty called to get mom and dad on the alert? Shit, Reg. What’d I tell you? With everything Mulder’s got going on head-wise, he’s still five steps ahead of the rest of us–” Purdue’s raised eyebrow stopped him short. Hell, Sauceda wasn’t even fooling himself.

“Baez says to give Mulder time. What about it, Len? Think you can handle him a while longer?”

Sauceda shrugged. “Yeah. Sure.” He sighed, remembering how Marty’d let him help him to the couch, even let him put an arm around his rib cage. Sauceda had felt bones there that shouldn’t have been that close to the surface. “I don’t know about all Baez’s hare-brained theories but I know he pulled Marty through Shreveport. If he says Marty stays out of the hospital, then dammit, he stays out.” He ran fingers through his hair. “Marty’s just really fragile right now. If we can just keep him calm, maybe make him feel safe, he could relax long enough to get some perspective.”

Purdue smiled humorlessly. “He’s got a serial killer ripping out people right and left for his personal benefit. If that fact upsets him, I think his perspective is pretty much dead on target.” He rubbed at his face, let his hands fall to slap against his thighs. “All right then. We’re moving. I’ve paid cash, reserved rooms under an alias. Hotel suite with a kitchenette, and two more suites on either side. It’ll do until a safe house becomes available. It’s quiet, not too large to keep surveilled. Some place Mulder can settle in, have some peace and quiet.”

“He doesn’t have peace and quiet while she’s killing, Reg. And these days she’s always killing.”

“And she’ll get tired and start making mistakes. She might have forgotten her shower cap this time, Lenny. We found it near the head of the bed, slipped down beside the nightstand. And we got a strand of hair. Red. Hell, it’s probably Clairol Number Six. But it’s something. You got anything on that monkey blood business?”

Sauceda grimaced. “Yeah. The lab called. It’s blood and it’s his, all right. No thinners, no preservatives. Just Marty, fresh out of the vein.”

“How the hell–”

“And he’s anemic.” Sauceda looked defeated. “The kid musta been puking for weeks. His electrolytes are shot all to hell. I’ve order B-12 injectables. He needs Feosol, too, but all that damned iron would just tear his stomach up even worse than it already is–”

“So where’d the blood come from, Hot Sauce? He just, what, coughed and–?”

Sauceda shook his head. “I want to tell myself that maybe he just bit his tongue in his sleep and didn’t realize it, but there was just too much of it for that.”

“You checked him out, right? You’re sure you checked–”

“Hell, yes, I checked. It’s like… Hell. It’s like it just came out his pores, Reg.”

“But that’s not possible–”

“Of course it’s not possible! But Jeezus God, it had to come from somewhere. This isn’t a bad remake of The Exorcist, you know.”

“I don’t know what I know about this man anymore.”

Sauceda’s silence was an unwilling agreement.

Purdue sighed again. “Baez says Mulder’s got the most formidable set of coping mechanisms he’s ever seen. But that it may just be taking longer for them to kick in. He says Mulder has a history of shutting down mentally, while his brain restructures all those wonderful Polaroids he’s been collecting in that mental gallery of his.”

Sauceda’s frown slid into confusion. “History, hell. Look, Reg, I was with Marty every step in Shreveport, even before Baez got there. I didn’t see anybody shutting down, especially Marty. I swear, the kid was running the rest of us in circles mentally. Sick as a dog, and a physical wreck but mentally– well, hell, he wasn’t this bad anyway. Not then. And he kept on that damned profile, refining it so clear he could tell them what the next victim was going to look like. Hell, he even gave them a name before they started drugging him out of his mind.”

“He’s given us one, too. It’s not his profile I’m worrying about.”

“I’m telling you, Reg. Marty never shut down and this Baez is full of shit if he says otherwise.”

“Earlier, Lenny,” Purdue spoke slowly, watching him. “In his childhood.”

Sauceda’s confusion was getting thicker and a few internal red lights started snapping on. “Come again?”

“Medical history, Lenny. Mulder’s medical files covering his childhood were sealed. Some nonsense about family members of State Department employees. Total bullshit. The Bureau got a court order to open them for Baez, though.”

Sauceda sat down on a stool near the doorframe, face twisted with the effort to comprehend the implications and not certain that he was doing too well. “Who the hell seals medical records on a kid?”

Purdue shook his head. “I’ve requested the file. Even requested the Missing Persons file on his sister. Apparently no one at HQ knows what the hell I’m talking about. Baez admits only to seeing Mulder’s file once. Hell, he sounded guilty that he’d even mentioned it. He swears he wasn’t allowed to keep a copy, but… Seems damned odd to me.” The two men were silent, listening to the roar of the TV and the oppressive silence sitting before it.

Purdue tugged at his bottom lip. “You ever known Mulder have any kind of selective amnesia?” Sauceda’s face scrunched up and Purdue made vague motions with his hands, grabbing for words that wouldn’t come. “Baez says Mulder’s mind rearranges things, locks down events until he’s practically convinced they never happened, at least not to him. Ah… how did he say it? It’s like gluing photos in an album, then closing it and locking it away. And you can’t get at it again until you have a specific key. He thinks that’s what’s happening now– Mulder rearranging his memories so he can cope.”

“Uh huh,” Sauceda said slowly but without agreeing. None of this was making any sense. He could tell from the look on Purdue’s face that Reg was having similar problems. “Marty never mentions his childhood. I know about the sister, I’ve heard him talk about her in his sleep sometimes. She disappeared, kidnapped or just snatched, his parents divorced, but that’s it. That’s all I know.”

“I know Patterson raised billy-hell trying to get his hands on the sister’s case file. The Bureau said there wasn’t one.” Purdue was watching him intently.

Sauceda squinted. “The girl’s father worked for the State Department and we have no file?”

“Maybe…” Purdue seemed to have to force the words out. “Maybe mom and dad just didn’t want to lose both kids. Maybe they got Mulder help. Maybe they hoped it was in time–”

The look on Purdue’s face was enough to get the pieces in place for Sauceda. His shoulders set, his fists clenching of their own accord. “Hold the goddam phone here. The sister disappeared and they investigated Marty. That’s standard procedure, Reg. The family’s always the first investigated. It doesn’t mean they thought he was guilty, dammit.”

“No, of course not.” Purdue growled. “It’s just– Well, there was talk of a cover-up– I don’t know. It makes a certain kind of sense–”

“Like hell. There’s nuts out there that swear the CIA killed Kennedy, too. Get a government official in a bad situation and everyone screams cover-up. God, Reg, would you listen to yourself? We’re talking about a twelve-year-old kid hiding a body– and no one’s found one clue about it after fourteen years? It’s ridiculous. But then, of course, it’s the only goddam thing that you can pin on him that will lead back to this case, isn’t it? A murder.” Sauceda was off the stool and livid, his voice a hiss as he spat the words. “You think he killed Kay too, don’t you? You son of a bitch. You think he killed the cat and that guy up the hall. Hell, he probably flew to Wheeling on his day off and hacked up those vagrants, too, huh? And the prostitute.” Sauceda slammed his hand against the counter and silverware danced in the sink. “This is just freaking great. Just freaking–”

“Someone’s hot to give the impression, Sauceda,” Purdue closed the small distance between them. His face was less than a foot away, now, distorted in rage, voice very low. “Someone’s dropping major hints, Hot Sauce. Someone’s hot to see this case closed. Right now.”

Sauceda stopped quite still.

“Yeah,” Purdue sneered. “Tell me, Sauceda. Ever wonder who it was you and Patterson trotted out reports on Mulder for?”

“I don’t–” Sauceda didn’t bother to complete his lie. His mouth worked a moment. Anger finally overcame shame and slid his brain back into gear. “There’s no evidence that Marty was at any of the crime scenes, Reg. We’ve got prints–”

“We’ve got prints that match nothing and we’ve got no evidence, period. Nothing but Mulder, in no position to defend himself against charges. They want to pin the last two murders on him, Sauceda. Barring that, they’re working up a case for institutionalization.” Purdue ground his teeth. “The only thing keeping them off his back at this point is me and Walter Skinner. And I’ve got my doubts about Skinner.”

“They can’t–”

“The cuffs on Seilman were Mulder’s.”

Sauceda thought he might never be able to breathe again.

“They’re running Mulder’s switchblade, too,” Purdue growled. “They found traces of blood inside the handle. Fibers and blood matching Mr. American Lit, thank you very much. And Mulder’s are the only prints on the goddam thing.” Purdue was shouting now and Sauceda flinched against the violence staring him down.

“There’s no way, Purdue. You can’t let them arrest him. You son of a bitch. In his condition–”

“Like hell–” Purdue hissed, paced to the dining room, Sauceda hot on his heels.

“It’s circumstantial evidence, Reg,” Sauceda spun the ASAC around before he could reach the living room. “It’s circumstantial,” he hissed, “and that’s all it’s ever gonna be. If she could get into his room for a damned poem, she could get in here long enough to get his knife and back in to return it. Christ, Reg, you had two men posted outside his door all night– you think Mulder could slip past me and the two of them to kill Seilman–”

Purdue kept his voice down, now too, mindful of Mulder in the room beyond. “Seilman’s death is the only thing keeping Mulder out of jail right now. Sisyphus is doing her beloved a favor– whether she knows it or not.”

“See? The kind of so-called evidence they’ve got couldn’t convict him. It wouldn’t stand up in a court of law–”

“They don’t need him in a court of law, Sauceda. They just need him right where he is: freaked out on his own damned couch, damned near catatonic. You think he’d pass a psychological examination? No. They’d institutionalize him tonight. And conveniently lose the key. Tell me why? Who the hell are they? And what is he that they’re so damned scared of him?”

Sauceda’s chest hurt too bad to even swear. “I dunno. But I know Mulder didn’t do this. You know he didn’t do this. And if they’ve got some kind of evidence he killed his sister, well, they’ve rigged that, too. I swear to you, Reg, he’s not capable–”

“We’re all capable, Lenny. I just don’t think he did it.”

“Damned straight he didn’t–”

“And I want you to prove it.”

“Say again?”

Purdue was obviously tired of whispering, tired of leaning down to make certain Sauceda could hear. He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep steadying breath. “If someone in the Bureau’s building a case against Mulder, then I want to know what they’ve got. And I want that dammed Missing Persons file.”

“On the sister?”

“I don’t know who’s after Mulder. That damned cancer-mongering bastard you and Patterson kiss-assed–” Purdue looked like he wanted to spit. “–Blevins, or even Skinner himself. And I don’t care. They’re coming through me to get him. Guilty or not.”

Sauceda flexed his shoulders, pulling himself to his full height. The effort still left him a good six inches shorter than Purdue. “You can trust me, Reg–”

“Like shit.”


“You look me in the eye, you little bastard.” Sauceda obeyed, blinking painfully. “You screw Mulder over on this,” Purdue growled, “and I’m taking it personally. You understand?”

Sauceda swallowed down grief. “Honest, Reg, I– I’m not doing that. Not anymore.”

“You want to stay employed long enough to retire, sir, you just make certain of that fact.”

Words quite beyond him for the moment, Sauceda simply nodded. Purdue didn’t seem to notice, however, his attention on the long slender form occupying the couch.

Mulder returned the regard without blinking, silent and utterly still.

Part 18: Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night: No, make them drug you first….

Wednesday. May 18, 1988. 4:58 PM. Apartment 42.

Sauceda was in the bedroom patting a stack of freshly laundered T-shirts into a suitcase when the television snapped off in the next room. The ticking of Sauceda’s Timex was thunderous in the sudden silence and he glanced up. Mulder, unshaven and barefoot, was watching him from the door.

“Hey, Marty. Enjoy your nap?”

Mulder didn’t answer. Didn’t move. Sauceda licked his lips nervously, waiting for some hint of recognition on the profiler’s face. He’d opened the blinds that afternoon and the room was now awash with late evening sun. In the doorway, however, Mulder was nothing more than a darkly shadowed form, deep grays and black, absorbing all light, devouring it whole. He looked like death’s apprentice come to call.

Sauceda stared down into the suitcase on the bed, struggling to reorient himself. His palms had started to sweat and he wiped them on his undershirt as he moved back to the dresser, checking the next drawer for necessary clothing, struggling to remain calm.

“You, ah, you hungry, Marty? I got some barbecue chicken from the deli up the street. We got soup, too. All kinds. Mitch went to the store and stocked up for you, kid.”

Mulder again failed to answer, intent on watching Sauceda stuff socks into the case between stacks of underwear and blue jeans. He had the predatory stance of a stalking panther, muscles taut, coiled, perfectly motionless. The apartment was so quiet, Sauceda could hear Mulder breathe: short, desperate gulps following hard one after the other, but the struggle never reflected in the young man’s shadowed face.

Sauceda moved to the closet, keeping his distance from the sentinel in the door. He kept his motions slow and deliberate and dredged up a tune to hum softly, a talisman against dread. He shuffled through the clothes hanging before him, his peripheral vision prepared for assault. Mulder moved into his visual field and he flinched, but the attack never came. Instead, Mulder crawled onto the bed, an image of cautious grace as he curled, catlike, on the far side of the mattress, back tight against the headboard. He resumed his silent vigil of Sauceda.

“Hey, kid, you want me to do this later so you can go back to sleep?”

Mulder’s eyes, cold and feral, narrowed and he drew his knees tight against his chest. His head shook just a bit. Sauceda couldn’t tell if it was an answer or just an attempt to find a comfortable spot on the pillow. He sighed and tugged Mulder’s last remaining suits from the closet.

“Okay, kid, I’m about done anyway. So. You want me to pack the blue suit and the gray one?” He paused, regarding the nearly empty rack, knowing he was talking just to hear his own voice. “Or how about the brown one? You don’t have much left till the cleaners get done–”

He turned from the closet, holding the selection up helpfully, expecting no more response than before. Mulder was sitting up, however, still staring, breathing through his mouth.

Sauceda licked his lips. “Okay. Blue and gray it is, then–”

“Where…” Mulder tried words on for size, “are we going?”

“Marty, Purdue told you–” Sauceda bit his lip. Jeezus, Len, it’s the kid’s first full sentence of the afternoon, cut him some slack why don’t you? Sauceda tried again, pronouncing his words carefully, but keeping his tone agreeable. “We’re moving to a hotel, kiddo. And not one of those dive joints, either. An honest to God three-star jobby.” Mulder’s expression hadn’t changed much except for a twitch in his jaw. Sauceda shrugged reassuringly. “We’ll still be in Washington. Purdue just thought it’d be better if this Sisy-whatsit wasn’t visitin’ your neighbors. Okay?”

He wasn’t certain how much Mulder had managed to digest of that, but he gave the young man time to sort it out as he shimmied the suits into Mulder’s carryall and tried to steady his own breathing.

“We’re not going to the hospital?” Mulder’s voice was painfully small. Sauceda froze, looking up into those haunted eyes.

“No, Marty,” he answered solemnly. “Do you want to go to the hospital?”

Mulder blinked several times but didn’t seem to be able to form words anymore. Sauceda barely managed to find enough spit to speak himself.

“You’re not going to the hospital,” he repeated carefully. “Okay, kid?”

Mulder blinked once more then, without a sound, folded abruptly down onto the bed. It was a movement of such total collapse that Sauceda was certain he’d fainted and sprung onto the mattress, kneeling to reach him, his heart pounding. But no, Mulder’s eyes were still open, still slowly blinking. A fine sheen of perspiration bathed his forehead.

Sauceda checked Mulder’s pulse tentatively. The young man watched him without comprehension. Sauceda took a deep, steadying breath.

“Marty? Look, I know you’ve got a lot going on right now, but I really need to know you’re okay. Okay? Can you talk to me?” Mulder blinked at him calmly, apparently unconcerned or simply unable to speak. Sauceda ran a hand across Mulder’s face, brushing the sweat away. It occurred to him that he had never dared such a touch before. Mulder would have never allowed it, would have removed Sauceda’s arm just for having the audacity. In fact, Sauceda realized, he’d been touching Marty an awful lot lately, completely without retaliation. Sauceda’s hand trembled as he pushed the rumpled curls from Mulder’s forehead.

He’d surrendered. No defenses remained.

Marty had given up.

Sauceda wanted to slap him, suddenly. Hit him just to make him fight, just to have some kind of reaction other than this vapid withdrawal. The desire was so strong that he laced his fingers through his own graying curls, gulping air. He didn’t dare strike the younger man. If he slapped him and Mulder didn’t respond–

Sauceda backed off the bed, frantic, bumping into the suitcase in his flight. The lid slamming down echoed like a gunshot in the silence and brought him to his senses. He took another deep breath. And a second, just to be sure, and dredged up a smile from somewhere around his ankles.

“Okay, Marty. Look. How about I just fix us some tea? How would that be? You like iced tea, doncha, Marty? Yeah?” Mulder blinked at him rapidly for a second and seemed to be trying to remember. Sauceda grinned, relieved by even so minor an improvement. “Yeah. Yeah. Sounds good, huh? I’ll be right back, then. Don’t you go anywhere, ‘kay?”

Sauceda stumbled for the kitchen and busied himself with getting ice into a couple of disposable glasses. His hands were shaking and ice cubes kept escaping him, splintering onto the tile, skittering this way and that. Sauceda was oblivious to the mess. Something had to give, here. He couldn’t hold up to this. Hell, he didn’t think he could even stand to look at the kid anymore. Not like this. Jeezus, if Marty had some drugs in him, he could see it, but the kid was stone cold sober–

Sauceda jerked at the soft click of a door closing somewhere in the apartment, then the even quieter click of a lock.


Sauceda tossed the glass into the sink. More ice, slivered by the impact, joined the water on the floor as he sprinted for the bedroom. Mulder wasn’t on the bed any longer and the bathroom door was shut, light shining from the crack near the floor. Sauceda jerked the doorknob, already anticipating its resistance, swearing anyway when it refused to yield. He slammed his fist against the doorframe.

“Goddam it, Marty, you open this door!”

“I’m taking a shower.” Mulder’s voice was muffled. The “screw-you” tone had Sauceda’s blood pressure soaring on the first word. That damned Baez is gonna have a lot to answer for on these freaking mood swings– Sauceda froze there, his jaw working with realization. Well, hell, Sauceda, this is the fight you wanted, isn’t it? He choked down grief and gratitude and got his voice level.

“Okay, kid, you can take a shower if you want. But you need to unlock the door, okay?”

There was no response.

“Marty, come on. Unlock the door. You don’t have to open it. Just unlock it. Hear?”

Again, no sound in the room beyond.

Sauceda was suddenly, guiltily, missing the compliant patient from earlier today. Still, he was grinning like a madman while he shouted. “Look you little ass, I know you’re not in the shower, yet, the water’s not even running– Shit!” The water started up obediently with the words still in Sauceda’s mouth. He listened, shaking with anger, fear and joy.

And all he heard was water, just the water hitting the tub. No irregular splash, no thump of a body beneath the stream. Sauceda’s grin dissipated. He’d spent most of the day locking away knives and breakables, just to be on the safe side. He’d even removed the glass tumbler from Mulder’s toothbrush rack. All the young man had in there was a cake of soap, a bottle of shampoo and a dozen towels. Still, Sauceda had too much respect for Mulder’s intelligence to convince himself he’d covered all the bases. He swore softly, realizing he hadn’t gotten around to unscrewing the medicine cabinet from the wall. It had such a nice big mirror on it, too….

Sauceda shook his head, amazed at his own stupidity. Marty was his partner and Sauceda trusted the man with his life. He just wasn’t too keen on trusting Marty with Marty’s life right now.

Sauceda backed up, gauging the door for where to put his foot. He’d never kicked in a door in his life and he knew that most efforts were not as easy as they might seem. He’d seen Marty kick them open with leading man abandon, but Sauceda had never been the leading man, not even in his own life. Besides, Marty was liable to kill him for this– Sauceda pushed the thought aside, licked his lips, and sucked in a good breath. Then stopped, his foot in mid-air. Well, screw this, he stomped his foot down and popped his hands on his hips, that’s what the hell I’ve got Mitch and Gregg for–

Still as if on cue, someone tapped on the front door. Sauceda rolled eyes at no one in particular and slammed a fist into the bathroom door before stalking into the dining room.

Purdue was already on his way in, and paused in the doorway, Gregg peeking curiously over his shoulder.

“Sauceda? What’s going on–”

“Well, it’s about goddam time you showed up,” Sauceda wailed. He flapped an arm in the general direction of the bedroom. “Hell, the kid’s locked himself in the bathroom and won’t open the damned door.”

Gregg’s eyes were wide and he opened his mouth but Purdue closed the door in his face before he could get the words out. The ASAC eyed the older man gently. Sauceda paused, trying to remember what he’d looked like the last time he checked. Razor burn ran across his cheeks and halfway down his neck on both sides. The paunch he usually strapped in with a corset was resting over his belt, and he had barbecue sauce and ink stains on his T-shirt– and that was just the stuff he could identify. Sauceda imagined the mixture of rage and relief on his face wasn’t too pleasant, either.

“I’ll handle Mulder, Hot Sauce. Why don’t you go home for a while?” Purdue suggested quietly. “You need a break.”

Sauceda regarded the confident face and finally felt the full impact of his own anger. “Oh,” he growled. “So, now I need a break, do I? Well, screw you, sir.” He slammed back the nearest dining room chair and dropped into it heavily. “I sit here all damned day, alone, thank you so very much, supervising the Mayor of Loony Tune City, and now I need a freaking break–” Sauceda wanted to cry, suddenly, but he’d be damned first. He shook his head, marveling at his own impulsive mood swings. “Shit.” He sighed. “You want the latest update? The kid caught me packing his things and thought we were hauling him to a hospital.”

Purdue bit his lip and glanced away.

“He knows he’s not going,” Sauceda moaned, “but now he won’t unlock the bathroom door. I can’t follow his mind, anymore, Reg. Hell, he was five steps ahead of me before all this shit. Now I don’t even think we’re on the same planet half the time.”

“Well, I don’t need the two of you lost in space, Sauceda. You’re going home for a while. That’s an order.”

Sauceda studied his hands, flexing his fingers, thoughtfully. “Well… I did hear back about that file. The one on the sister?”

Purdue took a step forward, “Yeah?”

“I’ve, ah,” Sauceda blushed unaccountably, cleared his throat. “I’ve got a, ah, friend in Records and–”

“And she found the file. Good work. Have her courier it over ASAP. I want that damned thing yesterday.”

Sauceda was blushing in earnest, now, not wanting to know how Purdue knew the friend was a woman. Hell, the last time he and Dorothy Bahnsen had… met, was a decade ago. Sauceda still couldn’t think of her without breaking out in a sweat, though. He’d give the ASAC credit, his instincts were good.

“Tell her to be discreet about it,” Purdue was saying. “I had lunch with Skinner this afternoon. A clandestine little cafe in Logan Circle, his choice. Hospitalizing Mulder’s out of the question. That smoking bastard has something up his sleeve and he’s sniffing around for an excuse to bring Mulder in on an official evaluation. Skinner claims he doesn’t know what the hell it’s about, but I need that file. And Mulder on his feet, fast.”

Sauceda shook his head. “The file, I can handle. I told her to leave it where it was, that way she’s not responsible for it, ah, disappearing without a file request, you know? The only record on it was on an old card file, back before the Bureau went so damned hi-tech. Anyway, I can pick it up in the morning.” Purdue nodded. “Tell you what,” Sauceda rubbed at an ache in his shoulder, “we get the kid set up in the hotel tonight and I’ll go home for a few hours. You get someone else to take a shift–” He glanced up, the words freezing on his lips as Purdue grimaced. “What?”

“We’ve– got a security problem–”

“Security problem.” Sauceda repeated the words blankly.

Purdue waved his hands, helpless. “Hotel’s closing out a vacuum cleaner salesman’s convention–”

“And you’re afraid of what? Some clown trying to sell Marty an Electrovac?”

“There’s just too much going on there, Sauceda,” Purdue’s own strain was evident in his deliberate patience. “I’m not moving him until I have a few more empty rooms on our floor. Most of the reps will be gone by tomorrow anyway. We’ll wait, move him about one in the afternoon. I’ve got a few more details to cover tonight, then I’ll start running shift with you.”

Sauceda scrubbed at his face. “Hell, Reg, there’s no sense in that. You’ve got a damned department to run. I’ll go home tomorrow night and–”

“No. You’ll go home tonight. Gregg and Mitch will watch the kid. They know him well enough. Mitch’s mom’s diabetic so he’s used to needles. I want you to explain the Valium to him. Maybe load up some Thorazine, just in case. Tell him what to watch for.”

Sauceda was staring at him like he was sporting that secondary head again. “So, you think it’s just that easy, huh?”

Purdue sighed. “No, Hot Sauce, I don’t think it’s just that easy. I think you need a rest and right now, dammit, this is the best we can do. You think he’s going to be a problem the boys can’t handle, put him down before you leave.”

Sauceda’s answer was cut short by the whispered movement behind him. Mulder, clad in jeans and a T-shirt, limped slightly as he entered the dining room. He paused in the doorway, gaze drifting past Sauceda to the ASAC. He met Purdue’s eyes defensively, hugging himself against the ASAC’s quiet regard.

“Agent Mulder,” Purdue acknowledged softly. It was more a question than a greeting. Mulder didn’t answer it.

Sauceda frowned, staring at the leg Mulder was favoring. “Whatsamatta, Marty? You bump into something?”

Mulder searched Sauceda’s face coldly, but didn’t turn his head, keeping Purdue in peripheral focus. “Yeah,” he agreed distantly. “I bumped into something.”

“Want me to look at it–”

“I put a Band-Aid on it. I’m fine.”

“Really?” Sauceda was watching the young man’s eyes.

“Really.” Mulder stood like he expected to be tackled. Purdue frowned, watching the exchange. Sauceda ran his tongue over his bottom lip, trying to track the lie he was certain of. Mulder’s stance was intractable, however; he would tolerate no dispute. The pathologist decided that discretion was perhaps the better part of confrontation, for the moment.

Mulder hesitated, taking one long look at the men who had invaded his home before turning for the couch and his remote control. He managed not to limp at all now, Sauceda noted, suddenly completely confused.

Purdue studied Sauceda’s face. The older man chewed his cheek a minute, watching Mulder, before glancing back to the ASAC.

“You’re right, Reg. I need a break. I’m starting to see symptoms behind every breath that boy takes.”

Purdue kept his voice low below the blare of the TV. “What symptoms? What’s going on now?”

Sauceda stood, and Purdue followed him through to the bedroom, quick-stepping past Mulder’s fierce focus on the television screen.

“I was worried,” Sauceda admitted, sotto voce, “about that list of symptoms Baez nixed on his official report. You know, fascination with suicide, self-mutilation and such. So, anyway, I child-proofed the entire apartment straight off: knives, forks, glass, belts, ties, spare electrical cords. Everything I thought we could do without, I had Gregg lock up in the trunk of my car. That doesn’t cover everything, of course. He could always hang himself with a lamp cord or something…” He sighed, scanning the bathroom for some hint of mischief. “I don’t let him wander off anywhere by himself for more than a couple of minutes. Hell, I don’t even trust him with safety razors. If anyone could turn something like that into a weapon, it’d be Marty, you know?”

Purdue nodded solemnly.

“So far,” Sauceda shrugged, “he hasn’t had the snap to complain. Which is not necessarily a good thing with Marty, you understand. I’m hoping it just means that he’s not contemplating anything drastic. Hell, I’m probably being paranoid for no good reason, but–”

“I understand, Lenny.” Purdue peered over Sauceda’s shoulder into the bathroom: there were damp towels on the floor and one in the sink. Sauceda collected them, shaking them out, pausing as he noted the Band-Aid wrapper in the sink. Actually, there was more than one wrapper. More than several, in fact.

Sauceda frowned and leaned to examine the contents of the trash can: tissue and another wadded up Band-Aid. Another bit of wrapper floated in the toilet bowl. The bathroom was humid with shower mist, the mirror still frosted with condensation. Sauceda collected up the wrappers, counting out a good half dozen, then considered the combination of slightly damp skin and cheap adhesive. He tossed the wrappers into the toilet and flushed them away with a sigh. Purdue rose to tip-toe, watching the paper swirl in the bowl.

“Yep, seeing symptoms behind every breath he takes.” Sauceda gauged the height of the sink cabinet and leaned to examine that, too. The lower edge was rough, the Formica on the corner loose and sharp as a knife-edge. Mulder could have easily scraped his upper thigh, just below the groin.

“Well, hell, it’s not like the kid’s going to bleed to death or anything.”

Purdue straightened from his own examination and considered the calm on Sauceda’s face. “Everything okay, then?” he asked.

Sauceda nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s okay. Look, I’d like to put him down for the evening, I’d feel better about leaving if I could, but he’s in son-of-a-bitch mode again and it’s not going to go over too well.” He grimaced. “I need to get him to eat something first, anyway. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” Purdue intoned without enthusiasm.

But Mulder wasn’t hungry. And he didn’t bother to look up from the television when he informed Sauceda of this fact.

“I’m going home for a while, Marty.”

Mulder didn’t look up for that announcement either, patiently enduring Sauceda’s heavy sigh. Purdue, Mitchell and Gregg were making soft noises at the front door.

“You gotta eat before I go, kid. Otherwise I ain’t going. Understand?” Sauceda said it like it was some kind of threat and should warrant compliance. Mulder kept his eyes on the screen before him and didn’t so much as blink.

Sauceda threatened to bring him some soup; Mulder continued his oblivious routine. He really saw no point in all this emphasis on eating. Hell, if he couldn’t keep down something as useful as a Valium, then what was the point? He sniffed thoughtfully, rubbing at the pain behind his left eye, now a constant companion. Maybe he should ask for something stronger. Something injectable perhaps, bypassing his finicky stomach altogether. The thought was frightening, though. Lenny would chose the Thorazine and Thorazine robbed Mulder of, well, everything: all will, all reason. It was just a little too damned thorough and Mulder enjoyed the sensation of blissful thoughtlessness too much not to fear it. It’s why he’d been so busy in the bathroom, locked in with his numbness and the penknife, carefully slicing his way back to conscious thought, using the pain to force himself to think. It wasn’t enough, though. He wondered how deep he’d have to cut next time, just to find himself beneath the layers of apathy. Lost in such considerations, he scarcely noticed that Sauceda had trotted off, swearing softly.

The clinking of can, pan and can opener echoing from the kitchen brought him back to a semblance of numbed reality. Purdue had taken Sauceda’s place, kneeling on the floor to put himself at Mulder’s eye-level. The ASAC explained the situation to the profiler like Lenny hadn’t just told him all this crap. He introduced Gregg and Mitch like Mulder’d never met them before. Like Mulder hadn’t sat beside Mitch at the RICO lecture at the Academy, like he hadn’t come this close to breaking Gregg’s nose for that smartass remark about Mulder’s collar wearing the same lipstick as Grace Anderson over in Handwriting Analysis. Even if it had been hers, it’d been none of Gregg’s goddam business, as far as Mulder could recall.

Mulder flicked the volume control up another notch as Purdue droned. “Bride of Frankenstein” was coming on, for Chrissake. Didn’t the man have any respect for the classics….

Purdue swore and relieved him of the remote. Mulder registered the sudden loss and instantly rewarded the ASAC with more attention than he’d apparently anticipated.

The ASAC rose and took an involuntary step back as Mulder swung his legs off the couch. Mitch and Gregg stepped forward, training evident in every muscle. Gregg was stone white. Sauceda paused in the process of entering the room, soup bowl in hand, jaw suddenly slack.

And just as suddenly, everyone froze. Even Purdue’s “Easy, Agent” warning was forgotten on his lips as he watched Mulder slip into catatonia in mid-breath.

For seconds that felt like years, Mulder stared at Purdue without seeing, feet on the floor, hands braced on the edge of the couch to help him rise. Only Mulder didn’t get up. He just sat there, lost in amazement.

He moved his chin finally, a parody of slow motion, and looked down to his left hand where it gripped the couch cushion. He lifted the hand cautiously, left it hovering in mid-air as he examined the spot where it had been. The dark leather gleamed from the track of his sweaty palm. And there they were: the tiny set of pin holes he’d felt beneath his hand as he’d struggled to rise.

No. Not pin holes.

Kitten claw holes.

He felt entire corridors shutting down in his brain. The pounding of his heart became the echo of impenetrable walls slamming into place, barring both entry and exit. This was the final betrayal, then: his mind had had quite enough of him and was shutting down occupancy.

His vision was still operational, however, his hearing functioning. Mulder registered the fact that he was still breathing, that his muscles, while sluggish, were managing to hold him upright. Great. Take my sanity and leave me living. Son of a bitch–

Mulder felt the dip of the couch cushion and vaguely registered a large, hulking shadow next to him. He flinched as the shadow moved and it immediately stopped. Mulder licked his lips hesitantly, still staring down at the tiny holes invisible to all eyes but his own.

There was a bowl moving slowly from the shadow into his line of sight. Mulder surprised himself by accepting it. The dish was hot, stinging his hands, and the burning was answered by the throb of the cuts the penknife had left on his thigh. Between the two pains, Mulder felt almost alive again. Well, alive enough at least to hear Sauceda telling him he had to eat. He had to.

Well, of course he had to. Lenny told him so and Lenny didn’t lie. Not much, anyway. Not about something like that.

Mulder complied as best he could, frowning when his hand sloshed most of the liquid out of the spoon. Noodles were a distant temptation, tiny bits of chicken a lie he couldn’t swallow. Lenny had told him he had to eat and he wasn’t eating. But he had to. There was just not enough of Mulder’s mind available to explain why all this should be so frightening. He stared into the bowl, the spoon rattling against the ceramic even as he fumbled to hold it steady, and his vision blurred into a soup of its own.

Beside him, Sauceda’s voice came soft and pained.

“Here, Marty. That’s too hot to eat, isn’t it? Let me get you some more.”

Sauceda stood in the kitchen with the bowl of soup forgotten in his hand. He wiped tears with the back of his arm, blinking his eyes, trying to make them stop watering. He registered Purdue’s footstep in the dining room behind him, knew instinctively the ASAC would be putting himself in a position to watch both ends of this partnership, seeking an area where he could help. Damned if Sauceda knew what to tell him now.

The pathologist’s coffee mug was on the counter. Amazing how such mundane objects could be so damned comforting, could rouse the mind back to rational action. Sauceda dumped the remains of morning coffee into the sink, and washed out the ring before filling it with Marty’s soup. Most of the noodles remained in the bottom of the bowl but Sauceda was in no shape to fret about it. He sloshed a little water into the broth and tapped a spoon around in it. A few quick, deep breaths and he spun on his heel for the living room.

Purdue watched him pass, followed him silently. Gregg and Mitch were politely staring out the window, unwilling sentinels in Mulder’s brave new world. Marty had at least completed his examination of the couch cushion. Sauceda frowned; when he’d left the room he’d been reeling with the image of Marty so vulnerable and lost. Mulder was still seated where Sauceda had left him, but his eyes were closed in concentration, his left hand a fist, pressing hard on his thigh. There was nothing overt that Sauceda could identify but something in the action spoke of ravenous anger, a desperation dangerous in its intent. The pathologist licked his lips, the cup trembling suddenly in his grip.


Purdue’s quiet voice made him turn, assuming an ease he didn’t feel. Sauceda let his eyes rake over the ASAC and quickly away, unwilling to look him in the eye. He moved on to the living room but didn’t dare presume to sit beside the man on the couch. He squatted down beside Mulder instead, his back to Purdue, leaning to address his partner softly.

“Marty? I brought you some more soup, kid.”

Mulder’s eyes snapped open with a gasp. And there it was again, that lost, wondering quality that Sauceda had left when he’d stumbled to the kitchen. There was a wild desperation to it now, however, that made the skin down Sauceda’s back crawl.

“Marty? You still here?”

Mulder scanned his partner’s face. There wasn’t a great deal of comprehension in his expression but he accepted the mug, holding it with both hands, staring into it’s depths like a young Nostradamus pondering his mirror of time.

“It’s okay, Marty. I cooled it down for you.” Sauceda waited, then whispered. “Drink, Marty.”

Mulder sipped the hot liquid dutifully, then greedily. Sauceda actually smiled, watching him, turning to share the smile with Purdue. The ASAC had planted his back against the wall, like he didn’t trust his legs to keep him vertical. He held Sauceda’s glance a long moment. By the time Sauceda turned back to Mulder, the mug was lowered, empty. The profiler was watching him expectantly.

Sauceda grinned at him, delighted with such progress, and leaned to blot soup from Mulder’s upper lip; the young man’s eyes narrowed, however, and Sauceda thought better of it. Mulder wiped the liquid away with the back of his hand, his focus never leaving Sauceda’s face.

Sauceda took a deep breath and gently retrieved the mug, backing away before he asked the burning question of the evening. “You want to sleep now, Marty?” He pronounced the words carefully.

Mulder’s eyes went wide with comprehension, narrowed again, his head lowering and Sauceda’s heart sank. But Mulder nodded, a grateful glance from under dark lashes. Sauceda blinked at him, his own comprehension slower, unwilling to believe his grave good fortune.

His voice remained wary. “You want to sleep in the bed, kid?”

Mulder’s eyes were wide again. A shake of the head.

“Okay,” Sauceda assured. “That’s okay, kid, you sleep out here if you want to.” Purdue handed Sauceda the syringe full of tranquilizer. Sauceda received it without looking away from Mulder’s face, waiting for explosive retaliation.

But at the sight of the syringe, Mulder wriggled back onto the couch, not in fear, but passive expectancy. He lay on his side, his left hip within Sauceda’s reach, and cradled his head against the pillow. His gaze swung from the syringe to Sauceda’s face patiently.

Sauceda heard himself thinking you lay down and we’ll go night-night in a voice he usually reserved for his grandson. He bit his tongue to keep the words from popping out. Mitchell and Gregg made themselves scarce as Sauceda worked the button on Mulder’s jeans.

Sauceda delivered the drug, and quietly handed the syringe back to Purdue. Then he pushed Mulder’s hip back against the couch. Watching the profiler’s face all the while, Sauceda tugged Mulder’s jeans down to his knees. Mulder’s eyes were big and the profiler stopped breathing momentarily, but he did not resist. The pathologist examined Mulder’s upper left thigh: a half dozen Band-Aids lined up neatly across the skin, disappearing up into the leg of Mulder’s briefs. Blood soaked through the little pads and oozed in bright rivulets from the pressure Mulder’s fist had applied to the wounds. Sauceda tugged at the leg of Mulder’s black jockeys: two more Band-Aids lay hidden in the hollow of his groin but the injuries appeared to go no further.

Purdue laid a towel across Sauceda’s shoulder and the pathologist fumbled for it blindly, patting at the blood. Sauceda’s medical kit appeared from nowhere and he busied himself with gauze and antiseptics. Mulder watched the two men silently, completely without expression, his head pillowed on his hand.

The wounds bandaged to his satisfaction, Sauceda patted down the pockets of Mulder’s jeans, seeking the weapon. There was nothing.

“Where is it? Marty, where have you got it hid? Huh?”

Sauceda stared into the eyes regarding him. A man could get lost in those fathomless black holes that sucked in whole worlds of horror and let nothing back out again. The drug had began its work and Sauceda watched in fascination as Mulder’s eyes glazed slowly over, still unmoving, unblinking.

“I swear, Marty, we’ll tear this damned place apart till we find it. Hear?” But Mulder didn’t hear.

Sauceda sighed, turning to tug the young man’s jeans back up. He got them zipped and buttoned then ran his hands across Mulder’s chest and back, looking for a razor blade, perhaps, taped to the skin. Purdue patted down his legs, producing the same results.

Sauceda looked away at last, up at the ASAC standing at his shoulder. Purdue’s eyes begged assurance and his head nodded solemnly when Sauceda couldn’t give it. Together they tucked Mulder under his worn blanket. Purdue surrendered the remote control and watched a minute as Mulder’s thumb twitched through fifty-six channels of cable.

Pathologist and ASAC joined the two other agents in the kitchen. No one seemed particularly chatty and Sauceda handed Mitchell a pad of paper with a breakdown of symptoms and possible drug reactions. They waited, listening as Mitch read them aloud. Gregg’s eyes were big by the end of the page. Mitchell shook his head but didn’t protest.

“Can do,” he vowed hollowly.

Sauceda frowned but nodded anyway. He wriggled his finger for the man to follow him and wound up with the whole kitchenful following him to the bathroom. As if a unit, they double-stepped past the television; Mulder’s glazed stare might as well have been radioactive.

Sauceda’s little band gathered outside the bathroom door, Mitchell front and center with his pad of paper.

“Got a pen, Mitch?” Sauceda asked, yanking open a cabinet drawer.

A dark hand handed Mitchell a Bic over his shoulder.

“Ah. Yes, sir,” the agent assured.

“Take notes.” Sauceda’s voice rose and fell as he opened drawers, patted them down, pulled them out and turned them over, and slammed them back in place again. “Okay. Marty should sleep all night, probably most of the morning with that dose I gave him.”

“Sle-ep a-ll ni-ght,” Mitchell inscribed this information on his pad of paper as he quoted. “Uh-huh.”

Sauceda was on to the next cabinet; his voice muffled as he flipped out towels and linens.

“Under no circumstances,” he growled, “do you clowns let him sleep on his back. He likes to sleep on his back but if he gets nauseated– and he does– he’s liable to choke if he’s on his back–”

“Keep-him-m off his baa-ck,” Mitchell mimicked, scribbling dutifully.

“If he starts in on his ‘I-wanna-shower’ routine, tell him that as God is your witness, you’ll drug him again. And call me. Do not call 911, unless my wife tells you I’m dead or something. If you have to call 911– which you’re not going to do– tell them I gave him Thorazine–” the rest was obstructed as Sauceda dropped to his knees and shoved his head in the cabinet under the sink.

Gregg was watching over Mitchell’s shoulder. “I don’t think there’s an ‘s’ in Thorazine, Mitch–”

Mitchell gave him an elbow to his ribs and returned to his dictation as Sauceda popped back out of the cabinet, catching his breath, both hands planted against the floor.

“I wrote the dose and all on the pad next to the phone. If he wakes up, let him go to the john– but not by himself, no matter who he threatens to kill– He gives you any flack, make him pee in a damned cup. Then give him a Valium. A blue one. But just one. And call me. I can be here in ten minutes.” Sauceda sat on the floor and frowned up at the ASAC. “I don’t know what the hell he’s used. I’ve even checked for razor blades taped to the plumbing. Nothing.”

Purdue nodded at the toilet. “How about the tank?”

Sauceda scrambled up. “I checked that earlier today–” He checked again, however, peering into the water, then running his hands down the back of the ceramic, then down the tile wall. He sighed as he straightened, rubbing his face wearily. “Nothing. Hell. I don’t know. There’s not much we could do with him now, anyway.” He pointed a stern finger at the two younger men in the door. “I swear to God, if I come back here and find one scratch on him that I didn’t know about beforehand, I’ll castrate the both of you, understand?”

Both men nodded solemnly, shuffling as they said their “Yes, sir’s,” and Sauceda rolled his eyes at the ASAC.

Purdue shook his head. “I need you rested, Sauceda. Especially now that we know what we’re up against.” His voice softened. “We’re fresh out of options here.”

Sauceda regarded Mitchell and Gregg, sizing them up carefully. Mitchell was tall like Mulder and a good fifteen to twenty pounds heavier. And Gregg, well, Gregg could have been a halfback but it was clear that Gregg was about half-scared of Marty. Which probably meant he had pretty good sense.

“He’s hell on wheels when he’s angry, boys,” Sauceda warned. “He’ll look you straight in the face with a smile like an angel and lay you flat out, and not take a second breath in between. The kid’s old man learned to swear from Patton himself and there’s enough acid in that tongue to corrode platinum. Barring that, he can charm you into letting him sleep with your sisters and convince you he’s doing them a favor. You keep him calm. You keep him quiet. And you do not under any circumstances leave him alone. Not even to take a leak. Especially to take a leak.”

Mitchell nodded. “Can do,” he assured again.

Purdue and Sauceda stared at him like he’d grown a second head.

“Jeezus, Reg,” Len sighed. “Why can’t I just wait and do this crap tomorrow night?”

10:20 p.m.

After an hour’s worth of effort, Mulder finally managed to get his feral greens open. His brain felt thick as cotton batting but was operational enough to inform him his remote was gone and some inane sitcom was droning away on the TV screen. Gregg was piled up on the floor– Mulder could make out his blonde head propped up on the other side of the coffee table– grunting every time the canned laughter notified him something was funny.

Mulder couldn’t recall inviting Gregg over. Hell, he couldn’t even imagine why he would have invited him over. He felt no great shock or outrage one way or the other, however. He was still quite well cocooned within his Thorazine haze, his emotions and body both pleasantly numb. There was the dispassionate patter of rain against the window, the distant percussion of thunder in the unseen sky another floor above. Mulder listened quietly, taking comfort in the ominous rumble. He liked the rain; somehow it always reminded him of Samantha and days spent indoors playing board games or reading. Days when life was pleasant, or at least when unpleasantness was blissfully forgotten. Through the fog in his head, he felt neurons spring to life, off to analyze these thoughts, unbeckoned, clambering their way down the more accessible corridors of his brain. He waited, contentedly, confident of their return.

Mitchell passed into his line of sight and reached for a slice of still steaming pizza from the box on the coffee table. He stopped as he noticed Mulder blink.

“Hiya, Mulder. You hungry?”

The face was kind, but not pitying; Mulder had always liked Mitchell. He was that rare combination of honest investigator, blue-flamer and solid family man: everything, in fact, that Mulder had ever wanted to be. And knew he never could. Another set of neurons bumped about in the fog, seeking out theories for this random observation but Mulder ignored them– he was still waiting for the first group to get back. He didn’t respond to the proffered pizza, too involved with the internal exchange to reply.

He did note, at last, that Gregg, too, was all interest now, wide blue eyes regarding him over the coffee table. There was an awkward silence and not for the first time in his life, Mulder realized he was the cause. He wished he hadn’t wakened and wondered vaguely why he had.

He managed to get out “I’m thirsty,” even as he searched the Thorazine haze for snatches of a dream strong enough to have roused him. He’d surrendered the quest by the time Gregg got back from the kitchen with a glass. Mulder watched blearily as Mitchell poured soda from the two-liter bottle on the coffee table. Mitchell hesitated, with the glass half-full, continued to the three-quarter mark before finally offering the drink to Mulder.

“Uh-uh,” Gregg intercepted the glass and popped in a straw. He nodded to the profiler while he held the liquid to an angle Mulder could manage.

The fizz burned on the way down but didn’t manage to dispel the Thorazine cotton wadding in his brain. Mulder drank the liquid greedily until the fizz began to choke him. He stopped to cough and then drank some more.

Gregg’s hands were patient but not overly gentle when he settled the profiler back under the blanket. Mulder realized he probably would have slapped Gregg for any overt show of kindness and the agent knew it. Mulder frowned at the thought and what it said about him. After twenty-six years, however, he had grown accustomed to the realization that sometimes just being himself was unsettling enough for most people.

Mitchell leaned back over the coffee table. “You need to take a leak or anything, Mulder?”

Gregg sighed wearily.

Mulder shook his head. He would have thought the caffeine in the soda would have given him a bit more snap but if anything, he was drowsier now. He frowned again, eyes automatically back to the TV screen: a bunch of people at a bar. One of them was wearing a postal uniform…

Mitchell’s voice in the gathering haze: “Well, hell, Gregg, man’s gotta take a leak sometime. Think something’s wrong–”

“Mitch, any idiot can look at him and tell he’s dehydrated. If he needs to go, he’ll say so. There’s no sense in getting him riled up over nothing. Hey, what kinda games has he got in that computer, anyway–”

Thursday. May 19, 1988. 2:43 AM.

The VCR clock had rolled over to 2:43 a.m. when it finally dawned on Mulder that he was awake again. Numbed hands rubbed sleep from his eyes but couldn’t manage to get at the fuzz in his head. His mouth tasted like someone had shoved more cotton batting in it.

After a number of efforts, the most strenuous being mental, Mulder managed to get relatively vertical. He sat a while longer, recovering, before his brain began the slow and arduous task of assessing his current situation.

Remains of pizza littered the coffee table, cold and unappetizing in the light of the TV. Soda in a bottle. More soda in bright disposable glasses. A well of comforting familiarity flooded him at the sight of the glass with the straw.

He was thirsty, he realized, a solid bit of reasoning for his conscious mind to latch onto.

He knew better than to trust his still unconscious fingers, though, and leaned precariously to the coffee table, using the straw to sip the liquid from where it sat.

He frowned. The soda was flat. Well, Of course, it’s flat, Fox. You’ve been asleep how many hours now?

The VCR clock was still in view but he didn’t bother to consult it, not certain he could handle the math just yet. Besides, it wasn’t the flat part of the soda that bothered him. It was that bitter edge it left in his mouth. A bitterness he wouldn’t have tasted with the fizz…

Mulder sat back on the couch, eyes large and empty in the darkness.

He sat in the flickering glow of the television, listening to the familiar sounds in the walls, the sounds of home. The chilled silence left by the passing rain.

He sat staring into the dining room, lit by the dual glow of the hall light through the transom windows and the computer screen on the desk.

He sat a long time thinking about that oppressive stillness, thinking about the fact that he’d surrendered his gun. Thinking about the deadly seriousness of a .22 slug through the heart.

Thinking that it, at least, would be quick…

He didn’t remember reaching for the phone. Didn’t remember dialing it. Just knew that somehow Sauceda’s sleepy voice was suddenly on the line and that the sleepy was gone at the sound of Mulder’s quiet “Len?”

“Marty? Hey, kid– Hey, you okay? What– ah, where’s Gregg?”

“I dunno.”

“You in the living room, kiddo?”


“Then he’s probably in the bedroom asleep. Where’s–”


“Yeah, kid. Listen–”

“Remember in Wheeling. ‘Member when I asked if you’d come see me if I was laid out and gutted on my dining room table?”

“Jeezus, Marty, don’t think about that stuff right–”

“Lenny, how ’bout if it’s Mitch instead?”

Part 19: A Trojan Horse of a Different Color.

“And to tell the truth he was by temperament more reptile than bird and could suffer extensive mutilation and survive.” Samuel Beckett, “Malone Dies”; New York: Grove Press, Inc. 1956.

Thursday, May 19, 1988. 3:40 AM. Apartment 42.

Sauceda thundered off the elevator, his weapon drawn, loafers slapping the floorboards like gunshots. The door to apartment 42 opened before he was halfway down the hall, and he came to a skittering halt, bringing his revolver to bear, the trigger already half depressed. Mulder stepped out, regarding him stoically, and Sauceda stumbled, gasping. Every muscle in his body was screaming and it took conscious thought to pull his finger from the trigger.

“Jeezus, Marty–”

Mulder didn’t bother to answer. He just stood there, his arms loose at his sides. He was still in his T-shirt and jeans but had slipped on a pair of work boots, the laces apparently tucked somewhere in the trunk of Sauceda’s car. The apartment behind him was an abyss, the glow of the computer monitor encircling his body with a deep blue halo. The light of the hall, however, made Mulder’s eyes glow like unmitigated hell.

Sauceda heard himself swallow in the silence, and Mulder turned and walked back into the apartment’s murky gloom. Sauceda followed cautiously, the grip of his revolver slick with sweat. The movement of his own shadow startled him, and he froze as the light behind him divulged the contents of Mulder’s dining table. Mitch’s head hung limp, upside down over the table’s edge. The face was simply too calm, too utterly still to have ever known life. The rest of the body was a pulpy mess with arms and legs, and Sauceda turned away.


Over the wail of sirens, he heard the rattling of keys. Mulder re-emerged from the shadows, shrugging into a leather jacket. Sauceda recognized the car keys dangling from his hand and swore, making a wild grab for them. Mulder blocked the move, shoulder lifting in an easy shrug, his forearm firm across Sauceda’s chest. Sauceda continued his struggle, however, and Mulder shook his head, slamming the pathologist backward into the doorframe as the older man cursed him. Sauceda lashed out, too busy trying to keep his gun hand out of reach to be very effective. Mulder grunted as Sauceda’s fist grazed his chin but made no move to strike back.


Mulder’s voice, remarkably reasonable, made Sauceda stop struggling. He searched the young man’s face, not bothering to hide his surprise, his hope. Mulder endured the scrutiny calmly. He was haggard, his skin fine as porcelain beneath the stubble of a two-day-old beard. His pupils were tightly constricted, the light from the hall making his eyes too pale, clear as glass, almost completely devoid of color. Sauceda searched them, seeking some reassurance of sudden sanity. The man he sensed looking back at him was Marty, all right. Just not a Marty who seemed at home in his own skin quite yet.

Mulder dropped his arm and took a step back, wavering slightly. “Look, Len. I’m just going downstairs to sit in my car. I’m not gonna go anywhere. I promise.”

The voice was weary, but Mulder’s tone bespoke complete comprehension. Sauceda’s jaw worked, trying to absorb what his senses were telling him. He couldn’t force his mind to make that kind of mental leap, though. After days of madness, Mulder was suddenly far too rational. It just wasn’t possible. Sauceda shook his head, holstering his weapon. “Gimme the keys, Marty.”

Mulder grimaced. He slapped Sauceda’s hand back. “No! Dammit, you can come with me if you have to. But I’m going. Understand?”

“Marty– I don’t get this at all. You’re just gonna sit in your car? That’s crazy–” Sauceda winced at his own declaration, damning himself for so little tact. “Christ, Marty, I didn’t mean–”

Mulder turned away, his face clouding with bitterness. Regret battled with the sudden moisture in his eyes and he ducked his head abruptly. “I’ve just got no place else to go–” he choked on the words, fled through the door.

Sauceda grabbed for him, managing to get a good handful of wrist and jacket sleeve as Mulder tried to shrug him off. The profiler swung around in Sauceda’s grip but Lenny’s hold was resolute, the grasp of a drowning man, clawing his way to a too-distant surface. To his surprise, Mulder didn’t lash out. Instead, he seemed suddenly intent on dragging Sauceda with him across the hall. Lenny struggled with the wrist and the leather jacket, clawing like a man possessed, but couldn’t slow the young man’s momentum, couldn’t slip free of Mulder’s grip. In the blur of their motions, Sauceda’s mind was whirling, trying to envision Mulder’s strategy. If he were Marty, he’d use the wall, sling him into it like a sledge. Sauceda imagined the bone-jarring blow and moaned in anticipation. He refused to release his grip however, tightening his hold on Mulder’s sleeve, preparing for the impact.

Sauceda almost lost his grip from shock when Mulder himself slammed into the wall, knocking the air from his lungs with an agonized cough.

“Jeezus Christ, Marty–”

Mulder gasped, gulping oxygen, eyes tightly closed, unperturbed by Sauceda’s cussing and frantic pleas. He’d taken the force of the blow in his back and he maintained the position, spine set firmly against the wall, pressed tight like he planned to disappear into the paint. He planted his feet resolutely, an immovable force and pocketed his keys defiantly. The older man shook his head.

Up the hall, the elevator “pinged,” resolving into a low rumble as the doors opened. Purdue and the backup team thundered out into the hall. The ASAC caught sight of the two men immediately and paused, waving the team of agents past him. They spilled into Mulder’s apartment, brandishing weapons and snapping on lights. Sauceda composed his features, but Purdue’s focus was on Mulder, the young man’s unyielding stance. The profiler was fragile and trembling, but he held his ground with the tenacity of a bull elephant, his head resolutely down. He didn’t even bother to struggle against Sauceda’s fierce grip on his wrist.

Purdue approached slowly. “What’s going on, Hot Sauce?”

Mulder didn’t raise his head, but his jaw tightened. Sauceda took a deep breath. Bewilderment lent his voice a measure of calm he didn’t possess.

“He wants to sit in his car.”

Purdue considered the words, scanning Mulder critically, assessing the situation. Sauceda knew he’d be calculating the tension of Mulder’s muscles, the weakened trembling of his hands, the fact that Sauceda was apparently unharmed.


The profiler understood the unspoken command and pulled his head up, leaned it back against the wall. It seemed to take a supreme effort, but he looked the ASAC in the eye, refusing to blink as Purdue studied him, an unlicensed doctor of the soul weighing the intent of his heart. The muscle in Mulder’s jaw twitched once, but even his breathing seemed to be tightly controlled.

Purdue himself remained stoic. He nodded finally. “So take him to his car, Lenny. Just make sure it stays parked.”

Mulder swallowed and squeezed his eyes shut, dropping his head again before he found the energy to push himself away from the wall. He surrendered the keys to Sauceda’s outstretched hand and glanced up at Purdue once more, just the briefest glimpse, fathomless eyes under damp lashes. Sauceda thought that he might have noted a hint of gratitude before Mulder brushed past the ASAC and tugged Sauceda to the elevator.

7:48 AM.

The investigative unit worked efficiently, solemnly, checking every detail with the thoroughness born of anger and the desire for justice– or at least for vengeance. It was one of their own gutted on the table, after all. One of their own ripped open on the bed. And one of their own, almost as lifeless, curled up in the red Monte Carlo in the parking lot.

Diana Fowley scanned Mulder’s cluttered desk. The computer screen was blank: the word processor displayed an empty page, no new file saved and nothing recovered. They’d found no note elsewhere, either. If this Sisyphus person had left another love letter, Mulder was keeping it to himself. A framed photo sat beside the monitor: a young boy, smug and confident, leaning against a tree. Beside him in the frame was a little girl with long dark pigtails and a wistful smile. Well. An interesting photo to find displayed in a bachelor’s apartment.

Fowley had always heard that you could determine a man’s character by looking at his home. Personally, she had her doubts. While still a rookie, she’d helped investigate a prostitute in Oceanside: a woman living in an abandoned church who collected icons and figurines of the Virgin Mary. Each item had had the appearance of being lovingly placed and adorned, but, in fact, they served as objects of ridicule, spectators to the woman’s murderous fascination for preadolescent boys. Fowley’d since learned not to take too much at face value.

Still, Mulder’s rooms were darkly masculine, filled with books and files and mismatched collectibles. There was a definite design, the organized chaos of one accustomed to discerning order in random facts. This was the domain of a man who lived in his head, who tracked the regions of the soul and viewed shelter simply as a place to lay his head when it was too full to reason any longer. The haven had offered too little shelter last night, however, and in the cold light of day, everything she touched smelled of remorse.

A solitary plant claimed a perch in the window, stubbornly competing with the drapes for the sunlight. Fowley decided it might have been a rubber tree once, before someone watered it with Agent Orange. Still, considering the status of the apartment’s other occupants, the little rubber tree didn’t look half-bad. If plants served as reminders of the impermanence of life, Fowley decided, then Mulder had obviously learned the lesson well.

She heard Purdue swearing behind her and turned. The ASAC stood at the entrance to the living room, deeply absorbed in a losing argument with his cell phone. He shook the unit, jabbed a few more buttons before placing it to his ear again. The results only drove him to another round of profanity. Fowley had worked only briefly with Purdue– AD Kersh didn’t loan her out from Domestic Terrorism very often– and that had been years ago when she was still just an overly nervous rookie. She didn’t recall Purdue being easily agitated, however. The stress of this particular investigation must be hitting a critical juncture. Two dead agents could do that to you, she supposed.

“I don’t give a shit if he’s on freaking Mars–” Purdue informed the phone, “You find Skinner and you tell him to call me. Now. I’m sick of him dodging my goddam phone calls.” He paused, growled, “Yes, you can quote me,” and jammed his finger at the number pad, dialing yet another set of digits. This effort failed to yield the desired results as well, apparently, and he swore again, this time at some unreachable individual named Baez. His tantrum halted abruptly as he glanced up, catching sight of Fowley.

She feigned chronic hearing loss as he disconnected the call. “Quite a case you have here, sir,” she offered sociably. “How is Agent Mulder holding up?”

Purdue glowered at his phone. “That’s what I’d like to know. Shit.” He shoved the instrument into his coat pocket and tried to rotate the tension from his shoulders. “Sauceda packed him a bag a couple of hours ago. Took him down to the YMCA for a shower. They should be back by now.”

Fowley raised a solitary brow. “Couldn’t that wait until we got him to the hotel?”

“Mulder said he needed a shower.” Purdue answered evenly, like such things should be obvious. He glanced away, scanning the walls for answers. “At least there are no private stalls and Sauceda could keep an eye on him.” He seemed to have said more than he’d intended and looked over at her sharply. Fowley was careful, however, not to react, and his sigh was a low rumble. “You got any useful theories on this one, Agent?”

She shrugged, ignoring the barb. “Seems fairly obvious on the surface. There’s a tap on the phone. If Sisyphus had access, maybe she heard the boys ordering pizza, ran a drug-laced bottle of soda up and set it by the door. The delivery boy found the soda sitting there when he got here. He says he thought someone had put it down to unlock the door and just forgot it. He handed it over when Gregg paid for the pizza. I figure the guys thought they’d lucked in on some kind of weekly special.” She leaned against the desk, long legs crossed at the ankles. “What’s your take on it, sir? You think she’s one of us? Someone in the Bureau? Or at least someone with access to wiretapping equipment and personnel files?” Purdue regarded her coldly, chewing his cheek, and she paused, suddenly wondering if she’d wound up on the wrong page.

“Maybe she just set the soda outside and hoped they’d pick it up. Ever consider that option, Agent?”

Fowley’s mouth opened but she closed it again. There was something in the ASAC’s eyes, something she couldn’t read clearly. “Well, certainly that’s possible but–”

Purdue turned abruptly. The investigative unit was still processing the bedroom, but the coroner’s office had returned, ready to collect their second grisly project of the morning. Mitchell had been carted out in his body bag a good twenty minutes ago. The event had been marked by a solemn assembly of the entire on-site unit. The body passed, venerated by absolute silence, and after a moment, the teams had dispersed again, soundlessly, back to their duties, collecting lint samples and fingerprints. The soft whir of a hand-held vacuum in the kitchen had sounded like sacrilege.

Purdue didn’t seem to relish the idea of a second memorial, however. He waited for the techs to enter, then vacated the apartment like a man fleeing a fire. Fowley jerked to life, skittering after him.

The ASAC tossed a notebook of orders to the officer in charge, but didn’t wait for a response, plowing his way to the elevator. Fowley trotted to catch up, silently cursing his long stride. She felt ridiculous chasing after the man, but she’d be damned before she’d let this kind of opportunity pass her by. She had lobbied for admission into Violent Crimes for seven years. Patterson, ViCap’s mystical guru, had taken an interest in her, but aside from a brief– and best-forgotten– reassignment, Fowley had been snubbed repeatedly. She’d continued a tenuous association with Patterson and the man had no qualms about using her research skills. He’d never reciprocated, however, never offered a recommendation, and side-stepped the issue deftly whenever she’d worked up the nerve to ask point blank. She’d screwed up for him once, and with Patterson that was all it took. Still, if Fowley could make a difference in this case, Bureau brass might reconsider. This, after all, was not just any assignment. This case had put the Bureau’s brightest and hottest-burning star on the line. This was Fox Fucking Mulder and she’d make good if she had to screw Blevins himself to stay here.

“Sir, you seem so certain the wiretap has no link to Sisyphus–,” her voice bounced with her footfalls as she hurried but she had to offer the observation to Purdue’s back. The ASAC didn’t answer, jabbing the elevator control impatiently. She followed him in as the doors slipped open. “Sir? May I ask why?”

Purdue still refused to respond, poking at the desired button then cramming his hands in his pockets. He rocked on his heels, eyes on the ceiling. Fowley couldn’t decide if he hated confined places, or if he was just simply that eager to be free of her.

“Sir. Have you assigned anyone to that angle yet? If not–”

“Yeah. Sure. Like it’s going to do me some freaking good.” Purdue didn’t volunteer anything further, slamming his fist against the doors as if he could make them open any faster. They shuddered obediently after several long seconds, freeing them, and Purdue bolted out of the building. Fowley double-stepped after him as they fled across the parking lot.

Mulder’s Monte Carlo was back, parked in a far corner of the lot, radio playing softly. Sauceda was in the driver’s seat, his window down as he chewed on the side of his thumb, eyes vacant. He looked about eighty. A smile of relief flooded his face as he noted Purdue’s approach. He opened the door and stepped out, pausing to squint at Fowley. He didn’t speak.

Purdue bent at the waist, peering in the door at the figure slumped in the back seat. Fowley stood behind him, flustered from her haste and her inability to control her rising anger. Sauceda moved aside and Purdue pushed the driver’s seat forward, prepared to crawl into the back seat of the two-door.

Sir.” Fowley had had enough and didn’t bother concealing the fact in her tone. Her temper would be her undoing some day, but enough, dammit, was enough. The man wasn’t her ASAC, after all. Not yet, anyway.

Purdue turned and did her the courtesy of looking her in the eye.

“If I may respectfully point out, sir, you called me in on this case.”

Purdue looked her over, shoulder-length hair disarrayed by the wind, cheeks flushed with anger and some measure of embarrassment. “So I did, Agent. So get in the damned car.”

He slipped behind the driver’s seat quietly, and motioned for Sauceda to pull the door to without shutting it. Sauceda obeyed, resuming his place behind the wheel and turning to watch the two men in the back seat. Fowley was left on the blacktop, her hands on her hips. Well, hell– She circled the car and availed herself of the front passenger seat.

Sauceda’s eyes narrowed at the intrusion, and he looked like a man at a tennis match, glancing from Fowley, to Purdue and back again, looking for some kind of clue. The ASAC paid no heed, busy assessing the man slumped in the seat beside him. Fowley turned to do the same and her breath caught in her throat.

Fowley had never met Mulder. She’d seen him, of course; there wasn’t an agent in the Bureau that hadn’t offered his right arm for a peek into Patterson’s bullpen, just to get a glimpse of the golden boy that had set ViCap all abuzz. Fowley had made the pilgrimage herself several times, casting hungry eyes after the GQ suit, that confident I-don’t-give-a-shit stride as she’d tracked the man through the halls of Quantico. Mulder turned heads both professionally and personally. She’d glanced back herself more than once, when she thought no one would notice. But this–

“Jesus H. Christ,” she hissed, swallowing back the words as Purdue glanced at her sharply. “I’m sorry, sir. I know you said he’d been ill, but– I’m sorry.” She turned away, looking out the windshield, waiting for the flush to leave her cheeks. She couldn’t shake the image of the man seated behind her however: the thin body curled in restless sleep, the face in profile, unshaven, the dark stubble a stark contrast to the pallor of the skin. Long black lashes shadowed deep circles beneath the eyes. His hands, palms up on his thighs, trembled spasmodically, his breathing a series of weary sighs.

There was the whisper of leather as Purdue shifted uncomfortably. “You give him another dose, Sauceda?”

The pathologist shook his head stubbornly. “I offered but he said he didn’t want anything. He said he needed to get his head clear.” He glanced over at Fowley, then away again, lowering his voice like he was divulging some guilty secret. “I think the shower tired him out.” He glanced over at her again, looking her up and down closely enough to make her check the length of her skirt. She curled her legs up daintily, turning to get a better view of the back seat.

Sauceda nodded at her, reluctant but respectful. “He’s not been eating,” he explained. “Just hasn’t been able to keep anything down.” He glanced back at Purdue. “If he doesn’t make a turn around pretty quick, I’m going to start him on Compazine. It’ll knock him flat on his butt, though.” He grimaced. “And it makes him dream more vividly.”

“Hell,” Purdue sighed the word, letting his own head slump against the window.

“So,” Fowley whispered, “do you think that’s what he’s doing now? Dreaming up more facts on the killer?”

Both men looked at her like she’d turned into some ranting hydra. “I’m sorry, sir. I thought you’d said that he–”

“He’s asleep,” Purdue growled. “Just asleep. Period. Until he tells us otherwise. Understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

Mulder stirred, pausing mid-breath. His leg jerked involuntarily and he moaned. ASAC and agents alike held their collective breaths as Mulder slipped back into fitful sleep with the barest flutter of his lashes.

Purdue slapped Sauceda on the arm. “How about it?” he hissed. “Is he dreaming? Can you tell?”

Sauceda squinted. “Hell, I don’t know. I don’t see any REM activity, do you?”

Purdue leaned in closely, then shook his head. He collapsed back in the seat like he was his own heaviest burden. “Well. We get an analysis on the drug she put in the soda, maybe we can trace it–”

“I don’t get it.” Fowley kept her voice down but didn’t bother hiding her exasperation. “Why am I the only person that seems to be surprised that there’s a tap on Agent Mulder’s phone? And a very professionally installed tap by the look of it. This is clearly a matter for investigation. OPR has been notified, correct?”

Sauceda ducked his head, laying his forehead on his arm, leaving Purdue to answer. The ASAC’s whisper was cool, a dispassionate tone not reflected in his enraged glance.

“Mulder’s been surveilled since his admission into Quantico. Maybe even before. No one knows for sure. No one has taken responsibility for it and no one has been investigated. OPR has been notified repeatedly with the same results. Nothing. They deny all knowledge of the situation. Every request for an official investigation has been ignored. Patterson filed four times on it himself and I co-signed three of them. There’s no record the requests were even made.”

Fowley’s brows crawled up to her hairline. Her mouth worked silently for a moment before she thought to close it. Purdue’s expression was absolutely impassive.

“Just to let you see,” he hissed, “what you’re getting yourself into.”

That statement brought Sauceda’s head up. He stared at Purdue, open mouthed, then turned the same attention to Fowley, his eyes narrowing to hard slits. He looked her up and down again and she tugged her skirt down self-consciously.

“As I was saying,” Purdue’s tone brooked no further interruption. “We get an analysis on the drug, maybe we can trace it to a pharmacy somewhere–”

“It’s Thorazine.”

Three sets of eyes jerked around at the sound of Mulder’s voice. The profiler sat up slowly, rotating his chin to ease the tension in his neck. His efforts seemed to tire him, however, and he rested his head against the window, scanning the faces around him but meeting no one’s glance. His eyes were puffy and bloodshot, but his focus seemed clear enough. He swallowed convulsively a moment before he spoke and Fowley wondered if he were thirsty.

“I drank some of the soda last night,” he explained, pronouncing his words carefully like he was unsure of them. His voice was raspy and raw but calm. “I didn’t taste the drug for the fizz. Drank some more when I came to.”

“You sure, Marty? You sure it’s Thorazine?”

Mulder tried unsuccessfully to work his face into smile. “I’m a connoisseur. Remember?” He wiped sweat from his neck, peering at Sauceda, his vision still bleary. “You do what I told you?”

Sauceda frowned. “You mean all that mess about getting Imelda to a safe house? Well, hell, no.”

“Christ, Len–” Mulder stared at his partner, struggling to get upright in his seat. Purdue laid a steadying hand on the profiler’s arm and he ignored it. “You didn’t even listen–”

“Listen, hell. You weren’t making any kind of sense, Marty. Starting a sentence. Never finishing it. Jumping though ideas like I could read your mind or something–”

“She got into my room for the poems. You don’t you think she could get into yours for the drugs? Dammit, Len, what else do you cart around with you in your suitcase? Pictures of your family? A phone book with addresses, maybe?”

Sauceda’s mouth worked a minute before the words would come. “You little shit!” He lurched to life, digging out his cell phone. “You could have told me this three days ago–” He jerked the door open and tumbled out, frantically punching buttons on the cell.

Mulder bit his lip and noted Purdue beside him. “I– I didn’t put it all together straight off. I should have and I didn’t–”

“Don’t go there, Mulder. You’re not the only one working this case. It should have been the first thing on my list. It’s my responsibility.”

“No! I should’ve–”

“No. We should’ve. We didn’t. And you’ve had a hell of a lot on your mind, in case you haven’t noticed.” Purdue lowered his voice and ran a hand through his hair. “Let it go, Mulder. We don’t have time for regrets just now.” Purdue’s gaze was as calm and professional as his tone, but he held it too intently, like Mulder’s slightest action could reveal the secrets of life.

Mulder turned away, glancing down, and noted his hands trembling on his lap. He shoved them to either side of his chest, crossing his arms, fingers tucked out of sight. “So,” he quipped hollowly, “if I confess to all this you think they’ll lock me away some place safe?”

“She sashays into your apartment and kills two men and a damned kitten,” the ASAC’s voice was an accusation. Outside the window, Sauceda was tapping more buttons, his face not so frantic now, but determined. Purdue laid his hand on driver’s seat’s headrest, knuckles white as his grip tightened. “She’s killed five people since she discovered you, Mulder. Everyone but her primary target. Why didn’t she just kill you?”

Mulder looked away out the window, his face hard. His eyes had too much water in them suddenly. “‘Cause she’s cruel.” His answer was bitter but he seemed to find the control he’d been looking for and turned back to Purdue. “She and I understand the same things.” Purdue waited. Mulder closed his eyes against that unrelenting stare. “Death is the easy part,” he explained simply. “It’s living that’s so damned hard.”

“Is that why I’m having to treat you like a walking suicide?”

There was an uncomfortable silence and Purdue turned away from the man beside him, from the trembling shoulders and the tightly set jaw. He found nothing out the window to ease his mind, however and he turned back, his gaze rock hard as he leveled it on the young agent. “Why would she want to make you suffer, Mulder? What the hell is her point?” His voice was so hard Fowley flinched with the words.

Mulder considered for a long moment. He loosened his arms, allowing his hands to fall to his sides. They shook when he relaxed them, which wasn’t often, but he seemed actually to draw strength from Purdue’s rage; Fowley’s eyes widened as she considered the fact, wondered if that was the rationale behind Purdue’s hostility.

Mulder answered at last, keeping his tone neutral; his voice was steadier now. “She’s suffered. She wants to share the experience with someone who comprehends it.” He shifted away from Purdue’s scrutiny, his fists clenched beside him. “Maybe, she’s screwing me over for the psychological advantage.” His own sigh shook him. “It’s what I should be doing to her. Where the hell was my poem, anyway? Or did she leave two of them? One for each–” He couldn’t seem to complete the sentence and slumped down into the seat, letting his head fall back against the upholstery.

The position brought his eyes up and Mulder finally seemed to realize that he had a brunette curled up in his front seat. She returned his regard with her own open appraisal. A relatively attractive woman, Fowley was accustomed to a certain level of reaction from a man, even when the male in question was merely a colleague. Mulder, however, froze beneath her gaze, the startled reflex of a deer caught in the headlights of a semi. For a moment, she thought he was seeking something in her face, recognizing someone he couldn’t quite place. The intensity of his examination made her blush. His response was to pale, becoming suddenly so ashen she thought he would faint. He gasped instead, fumbling his arms across his chest once more, shuffling back away from her, pushing into the upholstery, fleeing with nowhere to go. He never broke his gaze, however.

Fowley was reminded of one of those tragic cats in the zoo, the ones that paced their cages. Sitting stock still, Mulder was roaming yet, side to side to side to side seeking that one point of weakness, that one weak link he could worry until it released him. The eyes were too bright and artificially calm– surely, Sauceda had lied about the drugs. Fowley was, however, certain of one thing: this wasn’t Mulder. This was something from “Zombies of the Stratosphere,” a leftover Patterson had tossed Purdue.

Purdue needed to get his money back.

She nodded by way of salute. Mulder’s response was to look away, staring out the window without really focusing, blinking rapidly.

Purdue’s focus was dancing between the two of them, Mulder to Fowley, Fowley to Mulder, back. She could sense some mammoth gears turning behind those intelligent eyes.

“We get anything on Mulder’s personnel records, Fowley?” he asked quietly.

She shook her head, licking her lips to recover herself. “The only record of access is from Personnel Services.”

Purdue frowned. “I had Personnel call–,” he glanced at Mulder, glanced away as Mulder turned and raised eyebrows at him.

“Oh, this is just great,” the profiler quipped, “so now you think we got a serial in Personnel Services. Shit.”

Fowley snorted. “You think we got someone that inventive over there?”

Mulder turned back to her, surprised. A slow smile spread across his face but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Not likely.” The smile disappeared as he watched her and she was blushing again, unaccountably. “Who are you?” he demanded slowly.

Purdue moved to make introductions. Fowley beat him to it, offering her hand to the profiler. Mulder didn’t accept it, keeping his arms across his chest, holding himself together.

“Diana Fowley?” He seemed to be absorbing the name. “I wrote a couple of profiles once based on some of your field work. That spree killing in Westchester.” He blinked, benign as a cobra. “The one the DA sent you packing on after you came up with that asinine astral projection theory.”

“I’ve heard of your work, too,” she answered neutrally. “They say you catch serials from visions. That true?”

Purdue was watching them closely. Mulder’s eyes turned a deeper shade of green, the soul roaming, roaming– “I’ve been told,” his tone was that of a challenge, “that I can catch them because I’m as twisted as they are. You think that’s true?”

She answered gravely, “I wouldn’t know, Mr. Mulder.”

“Do yourself a favor,” his glance at Purdue was volatile and brought the ASAC to attention. “Keep it that way.”

Fowley wasn’t to be outdone, however, not with Purdue near at hand and paying attention. “I’ve also heard you don’t like being called Fox, Fox.”

Mulder looked like he was already losing interest in the game. He growled, embitter and tired, “You may have also heard I tend to get people killed.”

She shrugged. “That’s one of the charms of working Violent Crimes, Mr. Mulder. You get to meet so many violent criminals.” She let her gaze flick him up and down. “Look, I’m no rookie, sir. I’ve been in this outfit seven years now. I’ve had my share of bad calls but I’ve been advanced and commended with the best of them. I’m reliable and I make damned certain that I pull my own weight. Any time you don’t think so, you’re free to report me.”

Mulder’s eyes were suddenly all wisdom. Fowley could see the wheels turning in that formidable brain, Mulder putting two and three together and finding the square root of six. She tried to mask the surge of adrenaline, biting her lip to keep the triumph off her face. She could do this. She could pull this off. Spooky Mulder– Patterson’s Second Coming– was now dawning on her career horizon. She didn’t let it bother her that he seemed less than impressed with the realization. He’d get used to the idea once he realized how valuable she could be, how much she could bring to his work. Purdue might have warned her, however. Might have warned him. It was suddenly glaringly obvious– unthinkable, but obvious– that no one had bothered to tell Mulder that his partner was bailing on him. Now he was expected to deal with betrayal on top of everything else. The sons of bitches. No one had even bothered to tell him–

Sauceda slipped back into the front seat beside her, sighing gratefully.

“How we doing, Lenny?” Purdue asked. “Everyone accounted for?”

“Yeah. Everything’s okay. I’m rounding up Imelda, my daughter and her family. Dispatch is sending out a couple of agents. They should be in Memphis tonight.” He licked his lips, regarding Mulder regretfully. “I’m sorry, Marty. It dawned on me– hell, I had your number in that book, too. You know? Your address.” Mulder didn’t respond, studying the floorboard, scarcely breathing. Sauceda shook his head, making his confession to Purdue, now. “She never had to access Mulder’s files. I handed him to her all by myself. I told you, didn’t I? I told you I was too damned old, too damned stupid for this shit–”

“Lenny.” The ASAC shifted in his seat carefully, a casual gesture, or an overly tired one. “Agent Mulder, Sauceda had asked me to begin making some arrangements–”

“No.” Mulder’s voice was low and vicious. Sauceda squeezed his eyes shut, blinking them open again as he took a shuddering breath.


Mulder ignored him, intent on the ASAC. “You’re not doing this.”

Purdue didn’t bother to look confused. He didn’t bother to answer, either, waiting for Mulder to make his case.

“Damn you,” the profiler growled. “I’m not doing this–” Mulder leaned forward over Fowley’s shoulder, jerking the door handle. Purdue grabbed for him but Mulder shook him off, slender body slipping free of the back seat and stepping out into the sun. He’d stumbled several feet across the parking lot before Purdue managed to get Sauceda out of his way and climb out his side of the two-door.

“Agent Mulder!”

But Mulder wasn’t fleeing, just seeking room to maneuver. He spun to meet Purdue’s approach, body trembling with rage and fatigue. Sauceda was just a few paces behind Purdue’s back and Fowley hovered near the car, waiting for some indication that she was needed.

“I’m not doing this,” Mulder repeated. “Goddammit, you know what she does to women. What she did to Kay.” He waved an arm at Fowley. “You’re just giving her another target!”

Purdue’s brows gathered. “How the hell do you know what she did to Kay? If Sauceda showed you that goddam file–”

Mulder’s eyes were cold and feral. “Maybe,” he hissed, “you boys shouldn’t go jumping to conclusions about what it is I hemorrhage for.”

Sauceda looked like he might faint. Even Purdue gasped, a landed fish gulping air. Fowley had heard about the so-called monkey blood and her heart was pounding.

Mulder stepped sideways toward her, keeping his focus leveled on Purdue. “How about it, Fowley?” he demanded. “You’ve seen the file, haven’t you? Sure you have. Everyone gets a copy but me. Right?”

Fowley desperately wanted to glance over at Purdue, find some clue for the situation in the ASAC’s face. Mulder was close enough to backhand her, however. Close enough that she could feel the rage pouring off him with his sweat. Even in his weakened condition, she knew Mulder’s reputation well enough to understand the damage he could do. Besides, to look away would be an admission of fear, of uncertainty. Something in her told him he deserved better.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “I’ve seen the file.”


“I’ve seen worse,” she lied.

“What’d Purdue tell you about me?”

Jeezus but his eyes were vicious– Her voice was smaller than she cared for. “He told me that half of what I’ve heard about you isn’t true.”

“He lied,” Mulder hissed, nodding his chin at the two men waiting him out. “He tell you I’ve already run one partner off and run another into the ground?”

Sauceda shifted where he stood but didn’t speak. Fowley didn’t answer either. Mulder took a step back, away from her, still tightly focused on the ASAC.

“What’s she supposed to do that someone else can’t, Purdue? You think a woman’s going to settle me down?”

Purdue bit his lip and refused an answer.

“You son of a bitch.”

Mulder’s tone was savage. Fowley shivered but she was the closest one to him, the only one he wasn’t directly angry at. If she could diffuse the situation–

“Maybe,” she quipped, “he just thinks you won’t take a swing at me, Fox. Like you did Lamana.”

“Shit,” Purdue answered absently, licking his lips, studying Mulder. “I took a swing at Lamana once myself.”

“So have I,” Fowley took a tentative step toward the profiler, watching Mulder’s eyes, making certain they were still on Purdue. “But that’s beside the point, isn’t it? I think Agent Mulder deserves an answer.”

Purdue paused, taking in the sight of Fowley, thin boned and elegant, her head almost touching Mulder’s shoulder, she was so close. Mulder was watching her too, scarcely breathing. The profiler stepped back warily and she swallowed hard.

“Why do you want me here?” she repeated, her voice light, trying to provide a gentling force on the young agent just three feet away.

Purdue set his jaw, playing along, biding his time. “You’re strong,” he conceded, “you’re discreet. You’ve got a strong stomach.” He glanced back at Mulder, still addressing her. “And you usually give as good as you get.”

Mulder glared at him. It was a ravenous, haunted expression, like one of those big cats in a little cage–

The ASAC turned to Fowley. “He has visions–”

“Shit!” Mulder exploded behind her and Fowley recoiled in spite of herself. Mulder’s arms were back across his chest again. He looked like he was in pain this time, though. He swayed and Fowley reached out, steadying him. He flinched from the contact.

“He has visions,” Purdue repeated breathlessly. He’d taken several steps forward, closing a small bit of the distance between himself and the profiler. His focus was completely on Mulder. “He has visions, Fowley, and dreams that don’t just come true, they’re already true when he dreams them. And they’re straight out of hell.” Mulder finally looked up. “They’re straight out of hell,” Purdue insisted, “and that’s just where he’ll take you when he wakes up. He’ll haul you fifty miles to find a body. And three days later,” Purdue was almost spitting the words, “he’ll sit there and tell you it was just something his friggin’ subconscious was working on.”

Mulder’s motions in the next moment were little more than a blur. One arm grabbed Fowley from behind, cradling her waist roughly as he jerked her against him. She gasped as his free hand groped beneath her jacket. There was the hiss of metal sliding on leather, and as the pistol cleared her holster, Fowley felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck. Just as quickly has he’d claimed her, Mulder shoved her away, his hand on her back like flame, searing clean through her jacket, her blouse. Purdue caught her as she stumbled, pulling her behind him. Sauceda kept his own hands in plain sight, arms half-raised, a conductor who’d forgotten his baton and was suddenly uncertain of protocol.

“Goddam you–” Mulder hissed. He stepped forward, the weapon trained on Purdue, knuckles white around the pistol grip. He held it right-handed, his left arm cradled against his chest as though paralyzed or just too numb to trust anymore. He trembled convulsively but the gun was remarkably steady, aimed straight at the ASAC’s chest. “I’m not doing this, Purdue. I’m not doing this with her. You get that much straight right now.”


“I’ll do it alone,” Mulder vowed. “But I’ll be damned if I do it with her. Do you understand? I’ll fucking end it. Right here, right now.”

Purdue’s voice was a haven of calm. “Put the weapon down, Mulder. We’ll talk it out–”

“I won’t put it down and we’ll still talk it out,” Mulder mimicked. “I can’t take this, don’t you understand? I don’t need anyone else dying! It’s over, Reg–”

“Mulder. Listen to me. This just temporary. Sauceda’s request. I just need someone to assist you. Someone to help me understand all this.” He swallowed, maintaining his poise before that murderous gaze. “Diana has some experience in psychology and the paranormal. She’s studied the kinds of things you’re experiencing, precognitive dreaming, spontaneous bleeding–” Mulder was staring at him. Not hearing, just staring. Purdue took one step forward, motions easy, non-threatening. “Everything’s fine, son. Just put the gun down.”

Mulder shook his head, hefting the weapon, flexing his hand for a better hold. “Mitch was just helping, too.” His face pinched with misery. “And Gregg. They’re dead, goddammit!”

Purdue was inching forward carefully, never taking more than half a step at a time, steadily holding Mulder’s gaze. “What are you going to do, son? You said it yourself. You don’t need anyone else dying. So what are you doing with the gun? Just think about it, Mulder. Think about what you’re doing.”

Mulder blinked rapidly, watching Purdue’s creeping advance. He took a step back, but only one and even that motion seemed to require more strength than he possessed. His knees tried to buckle in mid-step and he faltered. Purdue stepped forward, ready to assume the advantage but Mulder brought the weapon’s front sight higher, trained on Purdue’s head, now.

Purdue didn’t halt, simply nodded, still maintaining his slow steady pace. “Are you going to kill me, Mulder?” he asked quietly, “Is that what you want?”

Mulder shook his head again, all the grief in the world constrained into one man. “Ultimately,” he confessed, “she has only one target.”

Purdue stopped. The muzzle of the semi-automatic trembled just inches from his forehead. Purdue’s voice, his face, the stance of his body– nothing betrayed the ASAC’s studied calm. “Is that the plan, then?” he asked softly. “You finish the job for her?” He watched the muscle in Mulder’s jaw work. “And then what? You kill yourself, Mulder, she’ll just find another target. You have to see that, son. You know this woman. Is that what you want? All these people dead for nothing?” He straightened, took a deep breath. “I would have thought that Kay, at least, deserved better.”

It was a cruel, calculated blow and it hit its target full in the chest. Mulder staggered under the words, the briefest conflict in his concentration and Purdue was on him, quick as a heartbeat. The ASAC grabbed for the hand that held the pistol, aiming the weapon into the air as it discharged. Mulder refused surrender, however, fueled by desperation. He twisted, slamming into the ASAC’s gut with his shoulder, driving it into Purdue’s left rib cage with the force of a sledge. Purdue bent double from the blow, but used the momentum of Mulder’s maneuver to pull the agent forward, Mulder’s back against his chest. Mulder stumbled, falling against him, and Purdue aimed a sucker punch for the young man’s kidney. Fowley’s Sig hit asphalt as Mulder staggered. He didn’t fall, however, his left hand reaching up and back, grabbing Purdue by the scruff of the neck and he twisted yet again, finally facing the man, shoving him backward.

Purdue only barely managed not to go down. He skittered back, trying to regain his balance. Mulder pursued him, the deliberated steps of a man with unfinished business. Sauceda circled around behind him, but the fight had moved the two men into the midst of several parked cars and the pathologist paced too wide an arc to be a threat. Fowley circled the opposite direction, seeking to retrieve her weapon. Mulder ignored them both. Purdue had no such luck, however, and no such fear. He regained his footing, steadying himself against an aging Buick, then bounded forward suddenly to take a punishing swing at his profiler’s jaw.

Mulder dodged it with astonishing ease, instead catching the fist with both hands, twisting Purdue’s arm so hard Fowley swore she heard bone snap. Mulder held back the coup de grace however, pushing Purdue’s too stiff arm and the ASAC with it, driving Purdue back against the automobile.

Purdue laid himself hard against the hood, using the smooth surface to slide along the side of the vehicle, slowing Mulder’s momentum even as the younger man freed one hand to take his next swing. Purdue rolled his upper body, suddenly, letting his knees buckle down. Mulder’s left fist connected with the glass of the driver’s door and it cracked with the explosion of a gunshot, spider-like veins splintering through the window. Fowley gasped at the sound, racing to the near side of the vehicle. Purdue, however, hadn’t pulled his own weapon and she hesitated, pistol at her side, uncertain of the plan. Threatening to shoot a man who was already suicidal didn’t seem too intelligent somehow. Meanwhile, Mulder hadn’t even changed expression, too far gone to even register his own pain.

Purdue launched himself from his crouched position against the fender and lunged again, wrapping his arms around Mulder’s hips. The profiler, already unbalanced, flailed wildly at Purdue’s back as the ASAC propelled him into the side of a nearby van. Mulder’s spine and the back of his head hit glass and metal in rapid succession. There were two equally sickening thuds and he dropped to the ground, stunned.

Purdue was taking no chances and made certain Mulder stayed down, dragging the profiler flat on his back down onto the asphalt. Mulder, dazed and bleeding, still struggled, swearing frantically. Purdue held him fast, straddling him, one hand holding his right wrist tight against the pavement, the other trying to capture the bloody fist Mulder was pounding him with. Sauceda managed to do what Purdue could not, catching Mulder’s left arm as he swung and pinning it down as well.

ASAC and pathologist considered one another a moment, both of them gasping. Mulder swore at them, ranting– “You can’t do this to me. You can’t make me do this–” Sauceda shook his head. Mulder howled his frustration, kicking against the pavement and managing to drag himself and Purdue several inches in his effort to break free. Purdue held tight, but refused to fight any longer. He looked like he wanted to grieve, just taking it all in.

“Goddam it, Hot Sauce, give him the Thorazine–”


“Do it!” Sauceda obeyed, waiting only for Purdue to shift his grip and take control of Mulder’s right hand as Sauceda released it. The pathologist ran for the car and Fowley moved in to help Purdue but the ASAC shook his head at her. She stared down into hellishly green eyes and found no hint of recognition in Mulder’s face, no whisper of human reasoning. No breath of surrender.

“Oh, Mulder,” the ASAC rasped, his breathing as labored as the agent’s beneath him. “God forgive us for what we’ve done to you.”

Sauceda was back, brushing Fowley aside as he found a spot for his bag and rummaged through it. He spent another few precious seconds trying to find a suitable location for his needle.

Purdue growled, “Jeezus, Sauceda, do I have to do it myself? Move it!”

Sauceda jerked into motion, settling on Mulder’s right arm, and shoved the needle through the shirt sleeve. Mulder’s too tense muscles fought the syringe and Sauceda gasped at the effort it took to drive the needle in. He winced at the pain he was inflicting, and Fowley found herself doing the same, knowing Mulder was unable to do it for himself.

“NO!” Mulder gasped. “Nonononono! I’ll be good, God– I’ll be good, don’t do it, don’tdoitdon’tdoitdon’t–”

“Sauceda,” Purdue gasped as Sauceda tried to push in the plunger. “Stop.”

“What the–”

The ASAC shook his head. “Don’t do it. It’s okay. Just– leave him be a minute.”

Sauceda’s jaw worked but Mulder was quite still suddenly. The young man’s eyes were wide, watching the ASAC, not even daring to breathe. There were too many emotions on his face and Fowley lost herself, trying to track them all.

Sauceda obeyed finally, pulling the syringe away without delivering the drug. He didn’t bother to recap the needle immediately, settling back on his haunches as Purdue nodded down at the profiler.

“How about it, Agent?” Purdue asked levelly. “Can you hold it together now?”

Mulder seemed to take another minute to register the question. He nodded but offered no other explanation for himself.

“You okay?” Purdue asked reasonably, as dispassionate as if he were asking over the health of a distant aunt. Mulder found the strength to nod again, but Purdue waited another minute before releasing the profiler’s left hand. Mulder didn’t move, and Purdue released the other wrist, straightening. Another few seconds without a response and the ASAC struggled to his feet, grunting as he tugged on Mulder’s limp weight.

Sauceda pitched in to help and between the two of them, they managed to get the profiler vertical. Mulder moaned several times during the process but they ignored him dutifully. Once his legs seemed steady enough, Mulder pushed them away. His actions were entirely without malice, however, and Fowley noted that the two men seemed to accept this as a kind of psychological defense rather than an overt act of aggression.

Mulder leaned against the van that had felled him, and then doubled over, his hands on his knees, gasping. Drops of sweat glistened in his hair, burning gold in the sunlight, and Fowley, standing three feet from him, caught her breath, unable to look away. Sick, half dead from grief, he was still the most beautiful man she’d ever laid eyes on. Prometheus in shirt sleeves, tormented by the gods for bearing gifts to Man. Just to look on him, wracked with pain and preferring death to life– it was an intrusion, an act of intimacy. There was a sudden warmth in her lower abdomen and for once she was grateful not to be the object of attention.

Purdue wasn’t looking too steady himself, in fact, and he backed away to lean against a car. Sauceda fished a handkerchief from his back pocket and began solemnly folding it into a longish rectangle. Mulder watched the motion of his hands, fascinated or just too tired to look away. Sauceda stepped toward him finally, the bandage ready, but Mulder moved back, matching the distance, sliding down the length of the van, still firmly focused on Sauceda’s hands. He stopped when Sauceda did, slid just a bit more as Sauceda took another step. The pathologist halted, Mulder did the same. Sauceda sighed and simply offered up the bit of cloth. Mulder accepted it, still not looking up and Sauceda watched critically as Mulder wrapped the handkerchief around his hand. The bleeding was minimal, but there would be a hell of a bruise, Fowley imagined.

Sauceda shook his head, his voice low. “Dammit, Reg, I’ll rot in hell before I let anyone else see him like this. Do you understand me? It’s bad enough she’s here.” Sauceda looked back at the profiler, expecting some kind of reaction. Mulder didn’t give him one, however, busy tending his injuries. Sauceda scowled. “We’re taking him to my house,” he declared, “screw the damned hotel.”

Purdue grunted. “Sure, Hot Sauce. You got neighbors giving you problems?”

Sauceda opened his mouth, closed it with a grimace. “Well, shit.”

Fowley found her voice at last, a suitably penitent tone. “I’m sorry, sir. I take full responsibility for this situation–”

“Jeezus Christ,” Purdue moaned. “What the hell is this? A meeting of Martyrs Anonymous? We’re going to the damned hotel. We’ll just let him get himself together first, all right?” He crossed his arms and regarded his profiler. Mulder had straightened, still leaning against the van, and was watching the proceedings now, unconcerned, apparently, that he was being discussed like he was no longer present. “Well, son,” Purdue said evenly, “it looks like you’re going to get another nice long shower.”

Mulder blushed and looked away, cradling his left arm across his chest unconsciously. Purdue didn’t move, just watching Mulder breathe. Sauceda, for all his fidgeting, was doing the same. Fowley decided that she’d probably need drugs to deal with these two herself.

“Mulder,” Purdue’s voice was quiet. “I need to know what you’re thinking right now.”

Mulder licked his lips, pulling the sweat and grit into his mouth and running the moisture across the inside of his cheeks. “I just wanted it all to stop,” he whispered hoarsely. “You know? I don’t want to die.” He sighed. “Not really.”

“You sure?”

Mulder didn’t answer, didn’t look up, his face renewing its flush but his resolve was evident. “I don’t know anything else to do.”

Purdue clamped his jaw. “You can make me a promise. Promise me that I can trust you to live. At least until this is over.”

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, his uninjured hand clawing fingers through his hair, trying to comb through the tangle of emotion clouding his mind. He shook his head. “I can’t–”

The ASAC exploded forward, slamming the profiler back against the van. He held each of Mulder’s wrists tight against his chest, pinning him in place. “I made you a promise in Seattle, you little bastard. Now I want you to promise me this one thing. You promise me!”

Sauceda watched wide-eyed and at a safe distance. Fowley felt as though she were spying on the souls in hell, locked in their respective torments, desperate, drowning within an overwhelming tide of flame.

There was nothing Purdue could threaten that would force Mulder to comply. Nothing he could do to force the words or enforce their sanctity. How do you threaten a man who has nothing left to forfeit, not even his own sanity? The ASAC had to realize the foolishness of the effort and, indeed, it was written on his face, the muscles twisted with horror and fear. His gaze was fierce, however, determined. He would have this much. He would have his promise or kill the man. Fowley realized she was trembling.

Mulder’s face, just inches away, was rapt with surprise. He searched Purdue’s eyes, blinking like a startled rabbit. Whatever he discovered there seemed to be enough, however and finally, he nodded.

“A promise for a promise,” he said simply.

Purdue stepped back, releasing Mulder’s wrists to lay a hand against his chest, still holding him in place.

“Don’t lie to me, Mulder.”

The profiler looked like he’d been slapped. “Fuck you.”

Purdue grinned.

Mulder glowered at him, embarrassed again. “You give me back my goddam gun.”

Purdue’s smile dissipated abruptly. “You, sir, give me that goddam knife.” He nodded at Mulder’s left leg and the profiler flushed a deeper shade of red.

“I’m not insane,” Mulder insisted. “Not now.”

Purdue didn’t answer. He seemed to be having difficulty just swallowing. Mulder gulped air for a few minutes himself, staring into the distance, coming to some kind of decision. He held his hand out to Sauceda but didn’t bother to look over at him. “Give me the keys, Len.” Sauceda didn’t move and Mulder growled. “Gimme the goddam keys.”

Purdue nodded consent, and the pathologist complied, slipping the car keys into Mulder’s outstretched hand. His fingers brushed Mulder’s wrist as he released the bits of metal. The profiler jerked away from him, stumbling the short distance across the parking lot.

“Jeezus, Marty–”

Fowley remained quite still as Mulder passed her. She might as well have not been there for all the notice he took of her. Purdue followed him closely, ready with a steadying hand, but Mulder only staggered twice, seeming to grow stronger with each step as he paced to the back of his vehicle.

Fowley followed Sauceda, taking her place at the rear fender as Mulder slipped the keys into the lock on the trunk, reached in to unzip a duffel bag. He slung a bottle of shampoo and some damp towels into the recesses of the trunk, items that Sauceda had apparently packed for Mulder’s trip to the Y. He paused a moment, his hand motionless in the bag, biting his lip as though considering his options. Purdue was silent beside him, waiting for Mulder’s decision.

The profiler shook his head, a gesture of remorse, eyes shielded beneath a wisp of dark hair. He pulled a white terry cloth robe from the bag, holding it like a cloth of gold, lifting it to his face and inhaling its scent, eyes distant suddenly, and pained. Sauceda shifted, fidgeting again, and Mulder seemed to come to himself. Back from his netherworld, the profiler pushed his fingers into one of the terry pockets and turned to Purdue. His eyes looked like his soul had been ripped out, but his hand was steady as he pulled out his fist. He turned the hand over and opened his fingers. The penknife lay in his palm, closed and benign.

Sauceda blanched but Purdue didn’t glance at him, studying Mulder. The young man’s eyes were still hazel, still sane. Purdue accepted the weapon like a man in a trance and Mulder tossed Sauceda the robe, scarcely looking at him. The pathologist caught the garment, holding it at bay like it might bite him.

“Now, you give me back my gun,” Mulder demanded.

Purdue squared his shoulders. “I can’t do that, son.”

Mulder’s jaw worked a minute. “No. You promised–”

“No, Mulder, I didn’t promise.” He swallowed. “I just asked for the knife.”

Mulder searched his short-term memory, his face clouding ominously.

“I’m sorry.” Purdue hefted the knife, truly regretful. “You haven’t left me much of a choice. You know?”

Mulder’s eyes narrowed, his face grim. “Son of a bitch.” He stepped back, scanning the faces around him like a thing trapped. He flinched to find Fowley standing so near, licked his lips, glancing back to Purdue. “I’m going to end this thing, Reg. One way or the other.” He grimaced. “You get in my way, I’ll chop you in half. That’s a promise.”

The ASAC nodded, solemn but satisfied. “You just make sure you’re still standing when it’s over.”

Part 20: Encrypting the Tell-tale Heart

Mulder had no clever comeback for Purdue’s challenge, no witticism worthy of the ASAC’s betrayal. His rage, his guilt, were overwhelming and his attempts at physical assault had done nothing to relieve the turmoil. He’d spent days locked in apathy– brief bursts of agony suspended in an emotional vacuum. This morning, however, every breath was torment, every glance– at Purdue, at Sauceda, at the windows of his apartment– a reminder of grief, of the crisis beyond his control.

Purdue was watching him closely. Sauceda was doing the same. Mulder didn’t even glance in Fowley’s direction, preferring to imagine that at least one clown in this circus had good sense. Why were they always looking to him? After everything, how could they stand here like this, anxiously waiting some marvelous pronouncement? What was it they wanted to hear? All will be well, my children, you may breathe now? Jeezus, was he really that good a liar, or were they just that desperate?

“God damn.” Mulder backed away, squeezing his eyes shut. Someone spoke but his chest was constricting with the effort to remain calm, and he had to concentrate to hear, to distinguish just who had said what. It scarcely mattered; he knew no words that wouldn’t choke him in mid-sentence. Hands laid hold on him–


No more. He jerked away, fleeing for the front seat of his car. Purdue blocked his access to the driver’s side so he wound up in the passenger seat. Sauceda caught the door before he could close it. He laid a steadying hand on Mulder’s wrist as his fist clenched defensively.

“Easy, kid. Hey.” He waited for Mulder to focus, for the heartbeat beneath his fingers to stabilize. “Come on Marty. I’ll get you back to the Y. Okay? Get you cleaned up?”

The ringing in Mulder’s ears had finally subsided and he nodded, grateful. As he lay back against the headrest, Purdue crossed into his field of vision. Mulder watched the ASAC dig for his cell phone, dial a number. The phone at his ear, Purdue turned, studying the young agent through the windshield. Mulder didn’t bother to glance away.

Purdue was impossible to read, dark eyes shielded under drawn brows as he squinted in the sun, body perfectly motionless. The ASAC had made his reputation as a master interrogator. He knew the subtle tell-tales signals, the body language that betrayed the mind, the thoughts that energized the blood, the muscles. He was giving Mulder nothing. And Mulder had already given him everything.

What is happening to me? Mulder wondered. So many mistakes. So many errors in judgment–

Judgment, hell. He hadn’t even thought this morning, just lashed out with blind instinct. And buried himself. There was no way out of this. Mulder had pulled a gun on a fellow agent– more, he’d threatened the life of his own ASAC. The least the Bureau would do was terminate him, but Mulder was too high profile to be let off that easily. Brass couldn’t have every second year rookie, especially one as privileged as he, brandishing weapons with impunity. No, Mulder was looking at criminal prosecution.

Or institutionalization. His heart was pounding again with the realization. It would be in Mulder’s best interests after all, to lock him away some place quiet for a good long while. And the PR would be better too: press reports would inform taxpayers that another agent, overworked, overwrought by his responsibility to the public good, had cracked beneath the strain. It played well with the masses. And it helped to have so much public sympathy when it came time to plan the budget. Much more popular than the idea that J. Edgar’s heirs had handed a badge to a murderer.

Christ, how could he have been so stupid? So–

So lost.

Mulder knew his first mistake, the foundation he’d laid for all the others: he should have remained with the BSU. Better the devil you know, after all. Of course, Mulder had never pulled anything this desperate with Patterson. No, he’d always been so very sure of himself, so carefully contained…. Still, with Patterson on hand, Mulder could have maneuvered his way out this mess, he was certain of it. Bill was always too involved with his own psychological manipulations to be swayed much by Mulder’s, too content to wait out the case, giving the profiler room to work, calmly waiting for Mulder to become the thing he hunted.

But Purdue was an honorable man, too set on doing the right thing, whatever the hell he perceived that to be. Purdue saw himself as Mulder’s only trustworthy friend, whether Mulder ever reciprocated that regard or not. The ASAC would have Mulder put away in a nice quiet hospital and all for his own good, case or no case. And Purdue wasn’t the type to let a little thing like a promise stand in his way. Not if he was smart. He was probably calling the hospital right now– Just beyond the windshield, Purdue lowered his phone. He stood a moment, shoulders relaxed, breeze cooling the fine sheen of sweat on his face. And then he saluted his profiler. It was a slow movement of the hand, fingers lightly brushing his forehead, deliberate and respectful. His expression was still cautiously neutral, but not unkind. Jeezus, the man almost smiled–

Mulder held his breath, refusing to respond. His face was a perfect blank as Sauceda backed the car out of its space and turned them away.

One block down, two, and Sauceda chanced a glance behind him. He kept his voice low, like Purdue might actually be able to hear him. Mulder resisted the urge to turn around and check.

“I’m sorry, Marty. You know, about not giving your gun back. Purdue just– Hell. We don’t think it’s a really good idea for you have access to a weapon right now. Not just yet. You understand.”

Mulder kept his focus out his own window. He watched Chinquapin Park fleeing past, then shrugged, his voice hoarse. “What the hell. I can always borrow Fowley’s, huh?”

Sauceda’s foot slipped off the gas abruptly.

Mulder sighed. This was hopeless. “I’m kidding, Len.”

“Uh. Uh-huh.”

The rest of the drive was blissfully silent, Sauceda allowing Mulder the space to recoup if he could. Nothing much was said when they reached their destination, either. Sauceda signed them in and Mulder dutifully followed him down the hall, standing to one side as Sauceda commenced setting up house in a corner of the locker room. The pathologist staked out an entire bench, arranging first aid kit, toiletries, and a change of clothes with the precision of a scrub nurse prepping for surgery.

Mulder watched him quietly, marveling. Sauceda’s attitude was simply business-as-usual. He was well acquainted with his role in this partnership, especially when Mulder was quiet like this, and he evidenced no false hope, no anticipation of Mulder’s continued cooperation. But he wasn’t nervous, either, or belligerent. Sauceda had simply made himself a neutral target, a disinterested canvas, suitable for any shift in Mulder’s emotional landscape. His smile, genuine but tired, was careful, his eyes quick as he registered everything, motions deliberately open and non-threatening.


“Yeah, kid.”

“You ever think about going into hostage negotiation?”

Sauceda turned to eye him cautiously. “As the negotiator? Or the hostage?”

Mulder decided the conversation had headed too quickly into deep water. “I wanna wear a suit,” he said. Sauceda simply nodded and repacked his jeans.

Mulder didn’t bother with the ceaseless showering that had so occupied him of late. A quick wash up and a change of clothes was enough: a white shirt with extra starch, and his blue suit. Dressing well usually made Mulder feel better, and right now he was pretty desperate to feel better. There would be Purdue to deal with shortly and no matter what the ASAC had up his sleeve, Mulder knew he couldn’t afford another loss.

Sauceda, however, had his own agenda: Mulder wouldn’t be wearing a belt– no belt and no tie. Mulder took several ragged breaths before cussing him savagely. Sauceda endured the diatribe in silence, bearing up with practiced stoicism. He remained oblivious to the other patrons as they fled the room, turning only the barest shade of pink and crossing his arms.

Mulder stripped as he ranted, tossing his pants at the older man, then the shirt. Lenny said nothing, stooping to retrieve the items as Mulder grabbed his jeans from the suitcase. Something solid slapped the floor and Mulder caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. He froze mid-breath, his violence forgotten. Sauceda, too, had come to a complete halt, only halfway straightened, staring at the small, leather bound notebook on the tile next to his hand. Mulder’s journal. The pathologist jerked upright, guiltily, but Mulder’s focus remained on the book. Surely this was further betrayal– Lenny’s confession was written on his face as Mulder finally met his eyes.

Mulder’s growl was so deep only part of the words were distinguishable. “…treasonous bastard… piece of shit–”

“Now, don’t start, Marty.” Sauceda shook his head, taking an unsteady step backward. “You know I can’t read your damned shorthand. Jeezus. I just thought you might want it, is all. Honest.”

Mulder’s jaw worked, trying to think beyond his panic. But it was true. Sauceda had no way of comprehending the symbols in the journal. He’d tried. Patterson had tried, too. And Blevins. Each mark on the paper, however, was Mulder’s own particular product, a code devised for his personal use, defined nowhere outside his head. Through the preceding year, the Bureau had confiscated his laptop, “borrowed” his books, memorized his files. Mulder’s journals, however, remained intact. His final inviolable armament.

Mulder calmed himself with the reassurance, taking a deep breath to steady the trembling of his hands as he slipped into his jeans. Sauceda moved in slow motion, face set with his “just being helpful” expression, leaning down to retrieve the book. His partner’s look made him think better of it, however. He danced back as Mulder lunged for his feet, snatching the journal off the floor and shoving it roughly into his back pocket. Sauceda nodded, apparently relieved that Mulder considered him unworthy of actual physical assault. He snaked out a hand as Mulder zipped his pants and handed the young man a polo shirt, relatively free of wrinkles. Mulder accepted it indignantly but didn’t bother to tuck it into his jeans; maybe this way no one would notice his lack of a belt, after all. Sauceda reached up to straighten his collar and got his hand slapped for his trouble.

Ultimately, Sauceda did concede one bit of ground: he would let Mulder shave– as long as he could supervise the activity. Mulder, wearied by his own histrionics, agreed. He accepted the safety razor with a restrained bit of profanity, but otherwise feigned complete lack of concern. Sauceda had no response either way.

Standing over the sink of running water, however, Mulder was almost reluctant to scrape away the shaving cream. His own reflection would betray him, he knew it. Above the snowy lather, his face was hot with embarrassment, his hand trembling violently with every stroke. The simple act of shaving, an activity he’d performed without thought every day for a decade, felt like a rape with Sauceda’s eyes so intense over his shoulder. Lenny watching him pee hadn’t been this humiliating.

Sauceda gave no indication that he noticed Mulder’s discomfort, however. The pathologist had no probing questions– “whatsa matter? You okay?”– and demanded no explanations. Mulder watched the lather swirl down the drain, falling down, down into endlessness, and decided that he owed Lenny for that much then, at least.

Dressed, dried and finally fit for public consumption, Mulder followed Sauceda out into the hall. Lenny wasn’t headed for the parking lot, though. He turned into the gym and proceeded to stake out a seat on the bleachers: front row for the suitcase, second row for himself. The place was almost deserted. A couple of spectators on the bench across the room, a half a game’s worth of kids on the court, practicing hoop shots.

Mulder remained at the door. “Len, what the hell–?”

“Have a seat, Marty.” Sauceda patted the lump the cell phone made in his jacket. “Purdue’ll call when he’s ready for us.”

Mulder came over reluctantly. “Lenny. Don’t you think we should be at the crime scene, processing evidence?”

Sauceda blinked at him calmly and Mulder blushed. Where did he get off with this self-righteous schpiel? Hell, he’d spent the best part of the morning hiding out in his car, unable to face his own blood-splattered apartment.

Sauceda’s voice was irritatingly gentle. “Kid, anywhere you are lately, turns into a crime scene. Why don’t we just say you’re here processing this one a little early?” Mulder was lost suddenly, trying to digest this reality, but Sauceda shrugged. “Bad joke, Marty. Sorry. Look, just… take a seat and watch the game, okay? Give the rest of us a chance to get caught up this morning. It’ll be okay.”

Mulder bit his lip but the conversation seemed to have ended without him. Sauceda rested his elbows on the bench behind him and crossed his legs, obviously ready to enjoy what little game was to be had on the floor. Mulder felt foolish just standing there, like a child dismissed to his room. He considered walking out. It would do him good just to be alone for a while, to catch his breath mentally, maybe hear himself think. The fact that it would also piss Lenny off royally would just be icing on the cake. Escaping, however, would only make his situation worse. They wouldn’t just put Mulder in a hospital, they’d have him in restraints. And he hated restraints. Besides, Sauceda had his car keys.

Mulder resigned himself to his fate and climbed up the bleachers, settling several rows behind Sauceda, and a full arm’s length further down the bench. The journal made an uncomfortable lump against his backside; Mulder pulled it from his pocket, holding it awkwardly.

He watched the young men below, tall, burly boys so much younger than himself, playing at free throws and practicing rebounds. Mulder envied them the gritty feel of the basketball in their hands, the sensation of sweat on skin, the cooling breeze of their own motions as they skittered between baskets. He knew the satisfaction of a shared goal, the certainty of muscle and sinew, reflexes honed to instinct, the comfort of obvious bounds. These were the pleasures of the game. The comforts of life.

His mind would not leave the journal, however, it’s leather hot against his palms. Unbidden, the memory of his final entry burned in his brain: a note to ask Harris for the name of a decent restaurant. Some place really nice. Someplace where he could take Kay and have it mean something to her. He remembered the words, their positions on the paper, could read the code in his mind’s eye: a slash, a Greek “e,” a lower case slash before an undotted “i”,” a looping “o” resolving into a lingering dash… The symbols, their meanings were sharper to him now than any knife blade, deeper than any self-inflicted mutilation. They hit bone and jarred their metallic agony so deep Mulder could taste it in his teeth, toxic, bitter, lethal as mercury in the vein.

Memories of Wheeling flooded him, swallowing him whole. He thought for a moment that he would drown, suffocate right there in the bleachers. His throat constricted, his chest suddenly too heavy to retrieve oxygen. Random flashes of lights crossed his field of vision and he fought overwhelming panic. Mulder gasped silently, realizing that Sauceda only had to turn to see. Lenny would rescue him, damn him, use drugs and CPR like weapons to force him to submit to life–

But there was no need to worry. The episode passed too quickly, Mulder’s lungs sucking in air against his better judgment. Sauceda glanced over then and Mulder covered his distress with a fit of coughing, ramming the heels of his hands into his eyes to kill the tears of disappointment before they could fall.

“Need some water, Marty?”

Mulder jerked his hands down and shook his head vehemently, suddenly so very interested in the game below. Sauceda chewed his lip but turned his attention back to the court. A kid in a faded Michael Jackson T-shirt had chased the ball out of bounds and there was an indignant scuffle as he tried to return it to play and slam-dunk it. No one called for personal fouls, however. The cheap-shot artist surrendered easily enough, passing the ball to a lanky, tow-headed boy sporting a pair of bright yellow Nikes. Yellow Shoes hit a jumper straight off, bouncing to the far end of the court as the rest of the team scrambled for positions.

“I can’t have a tie,” Mulder grumbled just loud enough for Sauceda to hear. “Or a belt to hold my damned pants up. Think you can trust me with a freaking pen?”

Lenny wobbled his head. “Nope.”

But Sauceda passed him one anyway. A felt tip marker, fine point. Mulder actually considered not accepting it, regarding it with grave suspicion. Sauceda’s concession had come far too easily. Mulder hadn’t actually wanted a pen, after all; he’d just wanted something to be angry about when Sauceda refused. He needed the rage right now, it helped him think. Life had taught him that animosity provided no room for grief, no time for it. Ironic, that. Doubly ironic that the one person he knew capable of fully appreciating that fact was the woman who’d put him here. Sisyphus, a woman much aggrieved in her time…

Mulder rose, snatching the pen from Sauceda’s outstretched hand, refusing to look the man in the eye. The pathologist faced forward with a studied nonchalance, flicking imagined lint from his trouser leg.

Mulder’s knuckles were still scarred from his impact with the mirror, but they offered little protest as he gripped the pen. He studied the marker carefully. The barrel was a simple construction, quite self-contained, soft plastic, the cap possessing no bit of metal. A preschooler pen with water-based ink. Lenny never used a pen like that. The prick. It was enough to be angry over, surely…

Mulder settled the journal on his lap and flipped it open. An entry dated May 13 bared itself for inspection and Mulder stared at it, considering its time, its place. Kay had been alive that day, with just two days remaining to her. She hadn’t known, and she’d laughed a lot. Mulder hadn’t known and he’d laughed with her. It was a Friday, wasn’t it? Yeah. Friday. Mulder had done something to hack Purdue off and the ASAC had sent him back to the motel and told him to go to hell while he was at it. Kay had been waiting for him. They’d made love the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening: passionate and intense the first time, then slowly– they’d had all the time in the world, after all– exploring, learning, memorizing the details of skin and the nerve endings beneath, the responses of each touch, just so.

He felt even now the warmth of her against him, the sensation of her skin sliding beneath his hands, her fingers digging into his upper arms as he held himself above her, her grip intensifying with her pleasure, intensifying his. An endless circle. He’d thought of a ring then, just before thought was rendered impossible. A circle of gold. And he’d understood, finally, the ancient tradition of golden bands, the mystery of handing eternity to another as a solemn pledge.

His groin burned with the memory, his heart answering. The journal waited patiently, as he forced his eyes to finally start focusing again. At the top of the page, he’d written Kay’s name in plain English, large fanciful letters. There was a bit of coded poem below it, snippets of Irving Feldman copied from memory:

“Only now have I understood

I have no better measure for

the fitness of things than her gesture…

a soul at focus in its instant of sight.”

It was a foolish thing to write, childish, or so he’d thought four days ago, listening to her moving about in the bath. Poems and the spelling of names were juvenile expressions, and he was a grown man, after all, with one long-term relationship to his credit not so many years before. Mulder knew better than to believe that love was so simple, that devotion should be won so readily. He had started to line through the words as soon as he’d written them– see? There was the mark where he’d rested the tip of his pen, considering. His hand had refused to comply however, had not obeyed. Then Kay had returned, body still slightly damp, shy as she approached the bed, embarrassed by her own nudity, excited by his. The journal had been forgotten as he sought to inscribe his feelings on more tender objects.

Now the memory of it all lacerated his soul, and he cursed himself, eyes squeezed tightly shut. He could see her even more clearly, though, all distractions forgotten. She was glorious, her face aglow with the light that filtered through his eyelids, smiling at him, searching his face as he spoke her name. The face transformed again, searingly bright, one with the sun shining behind her. She reached for him, blinking through the haze of his pain as he gasped up at her, struggling to reach her as Reg held him against the asphalt. She stood above him, staring down, a single tear in her eye–

Mulder sat forward, gasping again. His fingers numbed almost instantly, colored lights spotting his vision. This time, however, he had no illusions regarding his own mortality. He would live, goddammit. And God damn him for it. Kay dead less than four days and this morning he had found her watching him, her expressive eyes still framed by soft brown hair, regarding him from the front seat of his own car. Smiling at him with Diana Fowley’s mouth.

Just what the fuck kind of monster was he?

“Marty? You okay, kid?”

Mulder didn’t bother with the lie, bowing his head over his journal, yanking the cap off the pen. He flipped through the pages, finding an empty bit of paper. Sauceda waited patiently as Mulder drew a random circle and took a deep, steadying breath.

“So. How’s Imelda?” Mulder glanced up, voice steady, his face a mask. He’d managed to impress himself with the transformation. “I mean– Really?” And he did suddenly, honestly need to know.

Sauceda propped his knee on the bench, leaning back on one elbow. He looked grateful for the conversation, for the sobriety in Mulder’s voice. Mulder was struck suddenly by Sauceda’s appearance. He looked so much older, somehow. Decades older. He’d lost weight, too, but Mulder couldn’t fathom how such a transformation had taken place without his noticing, couldn’t remember Sauceda’s skin ever sagging around his jaw quite like that. The rash he did remember, though, and it was only slightly better.

“She’s good, kid,” Lenny smiled fondly, which made looking at him all the more painful. Mulder controlled his expression as Sauceda tilted his head, watching him. “She’s… good. Marty, everything’s okay, I swear.”

The kids on the court called for a free throw, scampered into the necessary positions, sneakers squealing in protest. Mulder looked away to the basket opposite him, grateful for the excuse not to hold Sauceda’s gaze too long.

“I’m glad she’s okay, Len. I–” God, he couldn’t do this– “I’m glad everyone’s okay.”

“Marty.” Sauceda’s voice was a plea but Mulder didn’t dare turn to look. “It’s not your fault. You know?” Mulder’s nod wasn’t terribly convincing, apparently. “She’s safe,” Sauceda insisted, “and the kids are fine.” Mulder glanced at him, at last, offering a smile he didn’t feel. Sauceda fidgeted with his watch. “Look, ah, she told me to tell you that she’s praying for you.” He looked up, blinking uncertainly. “You don’t mind, do you, Marty?”

Mulder stared down at the book in his hand, took a deep breath. “No. No, it’s okay.” He drew a slow heavy line through the circle on his paper, the ink soaking into the pages beneath, bleeding out from its source in feathery wisps. “Tell her thank you,” he requested softly. “Look, ahm. So when’s your flight out to Memphis?”

Sauceda shrugged sheepishly. “I’m not going, Marty. I’m already on a case, ‘member?” He talked faster, surprised by the confusion on Mulder’s face, eager to reassure. “Purdue sent Hovind and Braden with her. They’re good men. Better than me.” He grinned. “Besides, she’s getting some time with the kids. She’ll have me under her feet soon enough. We’re heading for Maui come December. You remember. I’ve been promising her for years. Since our honeymoon.” Lenny actually blushed. “She’s real excited. Real excited.”

Mulder nodded as if in a trance. Sauceda was asking his permission, he realized, requesting a release of some kind. An amicable divorce. He felt his chest tighten, marveling that Sauceda would care so much, that it should matter to him, after everything.

“Purdue should have sent you with her, Len,” He answered gently. “Hell, he’s got a whole freaking army out there.” His voice was almost a whisper now and Sauceda had to lean forward to hear him above the scuffling on the court. “You don’t need to be dealing with this shit anymore.”

Sauceda’s jaw set determinedly. “I’m not bailing on you, Marty. I know it looks like it with Purdue hauling Fowley in like this, but I’m not. I’m staying, dammit–”

Mulder shook off the despair that threatened to devour him whole. “No. I don’t think that– Christ, Hot Sauce, you’ve lasted a hell of a lot longer than you should’ve tried to. Don’t you understand what these bastards did to you? They should have settled you in at Quantico for a milk run and instead they threw you out here on the road chasing after every goddam nut with a knife. They had no right to do that to you. I’m just–” he couldn’t trust his voice suddenly and took another deep breath, let it out slowly. “I’m sorry I was so rough on you.” He couldn’t look up as he said the words but his voice was steady. “You’re a good man, Len. You deserve to retire in peace and raise your grandkids.”

“So do you, Marty.”

Mulder glanced up, surprised by the words. Sauceda looked back at him, dark eyes shining too brightly.

Mulder’s thoughts overwhelmed him temporarily: the image of himself, standing in Sauceda’s shoes some forty years hence, his career over, his star long burned, blushing as he spoke about the woman waiting for him, her arms the reward for all battles fought, won and lost. It hurt. It hurt because he couldn’t see it happening. Not for him. And the realization had the bitter edge of prophecy, like too many of his dreams.

“I’m… tired, Lenny.” Mulder barely managed the words, surprised himself that he had confessed as much aloud.

Sauceda answered carefully, watching Mulder’s face. “You haven’t been eating right, kid. You can’t keep doing that to yourself.”

“I know. I don’t mean to. I just– I’ll eat lunch. I promise. Soon as we’re at the hotel.” Mulder studied the circle he’d drawn, the line. Some embittered area of his brain informed him it was the symbol of eternity, voided. “I just want to sleep,” he said and it was true, only not the way that Lenny would want to interpret it.

The cell phone buzzed hollowly in the vaulted room. Mulder rose and surrendered the pen, not waiting to be asked.

10:53 AM. En route: Georgetown, Washington DC.

Five escort vehicles of various makes and models, none with government plates, each manned by agents in various stages of casual attire. Each positioned at staggered intervals as they wound their way through the streets of DC: two units preceding Purdue’s Chrysler, three following after. The ASAC had plotted the logistics of the move with the ingenuity of a military analyst, but if he had anticipated a quiet little drive he was surely disappointed.

First off, Mulder had refused to sit in the back. He’d commandeered the front passenger seat, ignoring Purdue’s arguments. And flatly denying his orders. Hell, Mulder insisted, they were expecting Sisyphus, not a sniper. The ASAC had slammed the door in disgust, then leaned back through the window.

“Right now,” he’d growled. “I almost wish she was a damned sniper. Just so long as she could hit her actual target. Just once.”

Mulder’s answering grin hadn’t helped in the least but Purdue had surrendered, apparently ashamed of his outburst. The ASAC had climbed into the backseat and they’d fallen into their place in the convoy.

Things didn’t improve much once they were on the road. Within the first two miles, one of the rear vehicles pulled aside to accost a hapless delivery van, insisting it had been following too closely. Mulder, lounging calmly, thought the van’s lettering had a nice twist given the circumstances: “Amaz-A-Color: We’re just Dyeing for You.” In the backseat, walkie-talkie gripped with ashen knuckles, Purdue wasn’t laughing. Not even when it turned out to be a false alarm.

The second escort to stir into action took out after a woman in a hot red Pontiac. She didn’t slow. Purdue barked orders and Mulder kept his smartass remarks to himself as Fowley made several too-quick turns, almost losing the remaining escort units in her efforts to follow Purdue’s convoluted instructions. She slammed on her brakes at a red light and the tires squealed in protest, the back end fish-tailing precariously.

Mulder blinked his eyes open, his immediate focus falling on the bumper sticker of the yellow Impala they’d almost rear-ended. “Beam me up Jesus” glowed in hot pink neon. Mulder wondered if the prayer would work for him, an infrequent Jew, blessed/cursed with an even less frequent Methodist father. There were less turbulent ways to die, after all. When Mulder had joined the Bureau, Mulder’s father had warned him that– no matter what– he should at least try to leave his mother a decent corpse.

Mulder felt Purdue’s silence over his shoulder, aware, yet again, that he was being observed in the mirror of his visor. The ASAC had probably caught Fowley’s nervous glance in the rearview mirror a few dozen times, too. Mulder’s hand itched to snap the visor up, but the action would be too much of an admission and he’d be damned before he’d concede Purdue any more ground. Besides, after days of too little lighting, the sunlight was already more than Mulder’s eyes could handle without tearing; no one, apparently, trusted him with his shades anymore.

The traffic light was a long one, and he patted his pockets down unconsciously, looking for a cigarette. A second’s thought and he gave that effort up. They hadn’t trusted him with his cigarettes, either, of course. Well, hell, he might die of self-inflicted lung cancer in about twenty years. Couldn’t have that on their consciences, now could they?

“In my purse,” Fowley said.


“There’s a pack in my purse. Help yourself.”

The offer surprised him, given the circumstances, and he glanced over at her. His ‘thank you’ wouldn’t quite voice itself, however. The sight of her was… disturbing. The day had gotten warmer and she’d removed her jacket, turning the a/c on ‘high.’ The force of the blast blew her blouse tight against her breasts, leaving nothing to his already formidable imagination. The gun on her hip was too dark in its leather holster, too great a contrast to the translucence of her skin, the softness of the hair fluttering against her neck. The hair, the eyes– Christ, all of it belonged to Kay, and this woman had no goddam right to them.

He was aware suddenly that he was gasping with pain. Conscious, again, of Purdue’s presence not three feet behind him.

Mulder turned back to the floorboard, seeking the purse Fowley had tossed next to his feet when she’d crawled into the car. He waited for another red light before handing it to her. She took it with an only half-irritated sigh and offered him the pack. Then, because it was another long light, she lit the cigarette for him. He tried not to look at her until the deed was done, but couldn’t help glancing up as he took the first drag. She blushed, suddenly as aware as he of how intimate a gesture she was making. She shoved the lighter back in her purse, tossing the bag at his feet again.

Purdue was silent behind them, as omniscient as the eye of God.

They made the Embassy Suites Hotel, passed it and parked in the garage. Purdue informed them they were to stay put, that he was waiting for the units to gather and for the agents inside the hotel to give him the all-clear. Sauceda’s driver pulled in behind them and Purdue climbed out, eyes scanning, for a brief conference.

Fowley shifted awkwardly in the silence. She’d heard only about a half dozen words pass Mulder’s lips since the confrontation in the parking lot. Mulder imagined that his current condition– physically and mentally exhausted, complacent as a lamb to the slaughter– was a considerable contrast to what she would know of his reputation. Hell, he didn’t much resemble what he knew of it. His sudden voice beside her made her jerk.

“You baby-sit often, Agent Fowley?”

She recovered quickly and frowned at the suggestion, what it might imply about her abilities. What it implied about him. “I take care of my partner, Fox. That’s all.”

“Purdue said this assignment was temporary.” He kept his voice light, indifferent.

She flipped her hair back from her shoulder. “Whatever.”

Mulder smiled in spite of himself. Dammit. He liked her. In spite of himself. Liked the way her legs went on forever and her nipples stood small and hard against the friction of silk…

Shit. Purdue was going to regret this. Hell, he regretted this.

She was watching him and fighting a faint blush. She looked like Kay again, suddenly–

Damn. Mulder turned away, staring out the passenger window. J.J. Levin stood at the bumper, hands held before him. A casual observer, noting Levin’s pleasant smile, the way he looked first this way, then that, then again slowly and without undue concern, would assume that Levin was simply waiting for someone. And in truth, he was. Someone stupid enough to wander too closely, to look suspicious or hesitant. Someone who’d make a suitable target for the .45 in the unclipped holster beneath his jacket. Beyond him, Purdue was giving orders to the flock of agents lounging against their own vehicles.

“Jeezus,” Mulder hissed, angry but not at the ASAC. “Five freaking cars. What the hell is he thinking? JFK only had four.”

“JFK’s dead.”

“Then this was your idea?”

He didn’t bother looking over at her and she didn’t bother denying the accusation. “Obviously, the Bureau finds you worth the effort, Fox.”

“Shows what they know.” His voice was completely level. He didn’t take his eyes from the scene out his window. “So, how long have you bought into all this paranormal crap, Diana? Too many reruns of Casper and Scooby Doo?

She stiffened and he knew he’d hit that nerve again. “Why is it everyone acts like I’m supposed to apologize for my views?” she demanded. “I’ve researched the paranormal for the better part of a decade. There’s some very credible evidence for ESP-er phenomenon. The Soviets have been studying–”

“The Soviets have been standing in lines for three hours every day just to buy a loaf of bread. They’ve got to do something to pass the time.” Mulder rolled his head against the headrest and feigned disinterest. “That case in Westchester should have taught you something. You try building another case based on psychic phenomenon and this bunch will lock you away.”

“How about this, then? How about I don’t admit to profiling a case with paranormal ability, psychic dreaming, clairvoyance, visions? How about I just do it and keep quiet– think maybe they’ll pump me full of Thorazine?” She didn’t flinch from his glare. “I’ve read your case files, Fox. All of them. Baytown, Seattle, Shreveport. Every one of them. Completely uncensored.”

She seemed rather proud of this personal triumph. Mulder’s brows rose appreciatively. “Well, well. Another of Patterson’s little pets– and squirreled away in Domestic Terrorism just in case he needs something really juicy. Personally, I never kissed the man’s ass well enough to rate that kind of courtesy. What’s it like?”

“I’ll let you know when I try it.” If looks could kill, Mulder would have been well out of his misery.

He grinned. “You ever experience precognitive dreams, waking visions, Ms. Fowley?” He said it like he was propositioning her.

“Not personally. What’s it like?”

Mulder’s mouth opened, closed in a tight line. The victory twinkling in her eye was too much for him to choke down but he didn’t trust himself to answer. He really didn’t need this crap. It was pointless.

He shrugged back against his seat and flipped the radio on. Jimi Hendrix. Well, someone had good taste in music. He turned up the volume until “Spanish Castle Magic” was thumping the windows. He no sooner pulled his hand away than she adjusted the volume to a more suitable level.

“Look,” she insisted. “I’m a psychologist by training, Fox. Just like you. But I happen to think that the human mind is capable of more power than we give ourselves credit for. It just manifests itself more readily in some people than others: like precognition and psychokinesis–”

“You know, a few years ago they had a scientist at Cal Tech that was convinced there was a direct connection between microwave ovens and mass murder. They found him dead, with his head shoved in his gas oven. No pilot light.”

“And your point would be?”

“There’s more than enough strange and unusual things in this world, enough insanity built into human nature without having to resort to some paranormal, delusional crap. I’m not a damned psychic, I’m not a side show magician and I’m sure as hell not your goddam lab rat. I’m a profiler. Highly trained? Yes. Talented? Damned straight. And I maintain my spooky reputation by hard work and malice aforethought. No hocus pocus, no witchcraft, just a determined resolve to hack off as many people as possible. As frequently as possible.” He smiled. “Actually, I’ve been told that I’m pretty good at it.”

Her gaze was unblinking, hard as nails. “So. It doesn’t bother you that I think you’re full of shit?”

Mulder considered the question. “Should it?”

She looked like she was trying to come up with some kind of suitable answer. And not having much success. Well, his work was done here. He turned up the radio, offering the woman an out, trying not to contemplate why he felt her worthy of such mercy. She didn’t seem to take hints very well, however, and reached for the control. Mulder raised his hand, leaving it floating at the radio dial. It was a languid gesture, as though the outcome of the argument didn’t concern him. Perhaps it didn’t. He didn’t glance at her, not inviting conversation, simply blocking her access to the control. She could have easily pushed his hand away and availed herself of the appropriate dial, but her hand flew to her lap instead. From the corner of his eye, he noted her checking the hem of her skirt, adjusting it quickly down a few more millimeters. It didn’t help that much.

Kay wouldn’t have worn such a skirt. He heard the words in his head and the observation surprised him. Where had that come from?

But Kay wouldn’t have worn such a skirt. Even her uniforms had been longer than the other women on Chris’ staff, settling just above her kneecap, the tailoring, however, unable to conceal the tantalizing curve of hip and thigh. Away from her carefully restricted role at the diner, Mulder noticed that Kay never even glanced up as she walked. He pictured her in his mind, strolling with studied modesty, eyes down, inviting no unwarranted attention, never noticing the heads that turned to watch her pass, never responding to an appreciative glance. He had marveled at that. Marveled that she had blushed, honestly flustered, when he’d told her she was beautiful. She didn’t know. And she didn’t believe him although she loved him for saying so. She had asked for so little. Expected nothing.

How had she slipped through his defenses like that? So unassuming, so unsure of her own footsteps– how had she navigated, almost unnoticed, past the worst of his walls? Had he opened himself so completely? It was possible, he supposed. After the body count he’d mopped up over the past several months, Mulder’s need for reassurance, for mercy, was strong enough to be frightening. Frightening, because there was only one source from which he’d ever learned to receive such comforts: the soft, fragrant hands of women.

The training had come early and permeated his life. Mulder’s father had been distant when he’d been home at all. They’d discussed sports scores and politics; Bill Mulder seemed to know little else about the world. It was Fox’s mother who had shushed the fears and tended the wounds of childhood, did what little she could to console him when Sam had gone away.

Then suddenly, in his early teens, Mulder had stepped outside his mother’s world. In one life-altering encounter, he’d discovered that there were other hands and softer, hands that translated the art of compassion into far-flung worlds of fierce passions. And Mulder, at twenty-six, still had far too little arsenal against the onslaught of desire.

Kay hadn’t known him well enough to be scared, hadn’t known him long enough to realize the danger he presented. She’d made her cautious way through the wastelands he’d constructed about his life, walking head down, eyes averted, to bring him peace. And one morning he’d awakened to find her, her body trapped between the barbed wire and the sniper fire that seemed to destroy everything he touched–

Above the radio dial, Mulder’s hand was shaking uncontrollably. He snatched it back, furiously adjusting his seat belt to conceal his turmoil. Moisture gathered ominously in his lower lashes. Fowley’s voice was quiet.

“Fox, you can’t deny that you have some very unusual abilities–”

“I’m not interested in your bullshit, Diana,” his response was a full-throated growl, dangerous. “Why don’t you go tell some more of your fairy tales to Purdue? He’s so goddam impressed with you.”

She licked her lips, carefully considering him, her voice neutral. “Maybe he has reason to be impressed.”

“Why? Does fucking Patterson give you some tremendous insight into psychotic behavior? And you just absorb it by osmosis?” Mulder knew he was pushing a few too many limits. He just hurt too bad to care right now. “Or maybe you’re kissing Purdue’s ass, too?” He mocked a bow. “Busy lady.”

He hit more than one nerve with that one. She positively seethed. “Screw you, Fox Mulder.”


Sauceda popped the back door open and leaned in. “Hey, kids, how’s it going?”

“I’d rather screw him,” Fowley hissed as the pathologist plopped in innocently.

Mulder shrugged. “Go ahead. Shouldn’t take him long. Anybody else you want to add to your list?”

She gave Mulder a glare hot enough to fuse bronze but remained silent, eyes resolutely forward as Purdue opened his door. The ASAC leaned in and paused, wary eyes rolling over the tension in Fowley’s shoulders and ending at Mulder’s languid smile. Sauceda gave him a lost shrug.

“Whatever he’s done this time,” Purdue growled. “I really do not want to hear about it.”

11:37 AM. Embassy Suites Hotel. North of Georgetown.

Purdue went through the lobby first, checking last-minute details, assuring that everyone was in position. Mulder shook his head at the continuing series of delays. Just when had this operation gotten so completely out of hand? The transfer should have been simplicity itself: rent a couple of rooms and haul the luggage in, for Chrissake. Instead, Purdue had agents manning the security cameras, running background checks on hotel personnel and inspecting the laundry service. Mulder honestly couldn’t fault him on the precautions, though. Sisyphus’ body count was intimidating and with two Federal agents already to her credit, the ASAC was taking no chance that she wasn’t up to taking out a few more. Purdue wasn’t just protecting Mulder anymore; no one had any illusions on that score.

Mulder was escorted to the atrium via the side door: nothing obtrusive, everyone walking casually, the point man several yards ahead as though he’d simply walked in on his own, Sauceda well behind Mulder, another stag guest. Yet another agent tagged after him, pausing to inspect an island of plants, calm, unhurried, a businessman with a few minutes to spare.

Just to keep up appearances, Mulder took Fowley’s arm, furnishing the room with a lazy grin. The muscles of Fowley’s arm tightened beneath her jacket but she didn’t pull away and her smile never faltered.

The covert unit joined Purdue in the elevator, just a bunch of strangers slipping into a convenient elevator, riding to their respective floors. The elevator itself was glass, providing an undisturbed view of the atrium and the open floors of rooms above. There seemed to be no halls in the building: each room was accessible by the long balcony-hall that ran around each floor and overlooked the atrium itself. For visual access, the layout was ideal. One or two men in the lobby could view practically every door in the house. Mulder glanced over his shoulder, granting Purdue a respectful nod. The ASAC didn’t respond. Mulder faced forward, slipping his arm around Fowley’s waist, just for Purdue’s benefit. She stiffened but didn’t protest further. Mulder let his thumb swirl over her waist, humming “Honky Tonk Women” softly as they waited for their floor to ding.

The Embassy Suites Hotel might not have been the finest digs in Washington, but it was better than most of the dives Mulder had slept in in recent months. Each accommodation was a series of suites: sitting room with a little nook masquerading as a kitchenette, bathroom accessible from a discrete hall, and finally a bedroom. A real three-star jobby, just like Lenny had promised.

Purdue had reserved three suites on the third floor, each under a different name. The idea was to settle Mulder in the center suite and flank him with the two remaining units. This would provide a protective buffer of sorts: the rooms to the left serving as a command center, the unit to the right providing a place for the assigned agents to recoup when necessary– all without disturbing the much-lauded profiler.

Someone, however, had decided the debriefing should be brought to Mulder. The door of Mulder’s suite opened to Purdue’s specific knock and Mulder found himself swallowed up by an assembly of agents. They greeted him with handshakes and solemn welcomes. Purdue, Sauceda and Fowley were left on the balcony to wait out the crush, the two other agents in the escort dispersing to their respective positions downstairs.

The sitting room had a table and it was piled with papers, maps, drawings. Personnel spilled out around it, claiming chairs and slapping one another for knee room on the sofa. With all the seating taken, more agents had plopped up on the sink cabinet in the nook, or propped themselves against the walls. Mulder divided his time between trying to be sociable and counting heads. They’d left one man in the garage, two agents downstairs– and here were another dozen agents… Jeezus, surely this was just for the transport. Purdue wasn’t stupid enough to expect the Bureau to put up with this kind of personnel drain–

Mulder knew most of those present, had worked with each at some point in his short career. They’d gained his respect and, apparently, he’d done some small favor to gain theirs. It was odd having them all assembled like this, knowing that he, for once, was the object of their case, rather than merely a colleague. He wondered how many had volunteered for this assignment. How many were donating their time.

Everyone was friendly, solicitous, but suitably sedate. Gregg and Mitchell were foremost on their minds, of course, and Mulder couldn’t meet Purdue’s eyes without blushing, ashamed suddenly of his childishness in the elevator. No one else seemed to notice, though. Ten-year veterans rose to offer the rookie a seat, proffer a handshake, nod respectfully. Samuel Lurie made a point of patting Mulder’s back, speaking some nonsense designed to be encouraging. Word was, Lurie was bucking for Deputy Assistant Director. He’d probably get it, too. He pumped Mulder’s hand with such abandon that the profiler briefly glanced around for a camera, certain he’d wandered into some kind of photo op. Lurie seemed sincere enough, however, if that meant anything.

The truth was, Mulder was speechless before all the nerve-wracking kindness, uncertain of his role. He was the odd man out, he felt, a corpse resurrected at his own funeral, trying to mingle with the distant cousins, the forgotten friends come to bury him. He declined all offers to sit here or there and retired to the far corner of the room, content to leave the spotlight for whoever the hell wanted it. Fowley had made herself at home, settled on the arm of the sofa, her long legs folded serenely, a conspicuous attraction: the only female in a room rank with testosterone. She seemed quite at home, Mulder noted.

Purdue outlined their course of action. The shift schedule was fairly simple– three agents would remain on site at all times, one in Mulder’s suite, one in the lobby with a view of every floor, and one in the security office monitoring the camera feeds. No one would be expected to be on duty for more than six hours at a stretch. Mulder’s fears of overkill were relieved, at least. Every agent onsite would have a closed-frequency walkie-talkie and a cell phone. There were set signals and codes, check-ins scheduled at irregular intervals, all the standard procedures for witness protection. Everyone was playing this one by the book. Purdue did the standard disclaimer of full Bureau support, et cetera, as well as the blessings of the US Marshal’s office: murder of a Federal officer was a capital offense even if the Supreme Court had rescinded the death penalty. The only injustice was they wouldn’t be able to sentence Sisyphus twice.

Q and A time rolled around quickly, everyone crowding the table to receive their respective assignments. Mulder wasn’t too surprised to learn that no one had thought to give him anything to do. Just staying alive seemed to be the most they expected him to manage. He understood their reasons but it was wounding all the same. He skirted the crowd, mumbling something he hoped was appropriately grateful, and retreated to the bedroom. No one seemed to mind, too kind to inquire. Too busy. Besides, Wayne and Sandidge had turned up with lunch: Kentucky Fried Chicken and Mickey D’s.

Sauceda wasn’t letting his partner off so easily, though. He followed Mulder down the little hall, the greasy bag in his hand smelling suspiciously of Big Mac and Fries. Mulder stepped into the bedroom without bothering to turn on the light. He glanced around, gaining his bearings while keeping his back to Sauceda. He just didn’t think he could handle any detailed conversations at the moment. Sauceda remained behind him, waiting patiently in the door.

“You gonna take that nap now, Marty?”


“You know. You said earlier that you wanted to sleep–”

Mulder was grateful that he’d kept his back turned. He paled dramatically, could feel the blood rushing from his face, leaving him light-headed. He ducked back into the hall, brushing past Sauceda and excusing himself to the bathroom abruptly, not trusting himself to answer further. Sauceda said nothing but Mulder didn’t bother trying to close the door before relieving himself. Making a scene was the last thing he wanted right now after all.

When he emerged, however, Sauceda was gone, certainly an unexpected turn of affairs. Mulder glanced around the bedroom, assuming at first that he simply hadn’t noticed him. His journal was on the night table, next to an extra large Coke and the bag containing his lunch. The felt tip pen lay atop the little book, a flag of truce, an impulsive act of grace. Mulder crossed the room to touch it gingerly, needing to reassure himself of its reality and the brotherhood it implied.

Behind the bag, next to the lamp, was a photo in a frame– the picture from his desk: Samantha and a much younger version of himself standing beneath the tree at his family’s house in Chilmark. So many years ago. A lifetime. His hand trembled as he reached out to touch the photo but he didn’t complete the gesture, hand frozen in mid-air, fingers extended. His own confident smile mocked him from the frame, his own young, unwounded face, Samantha’s assured eyes beside him. The lamp shone down upon the glass, creating a flash of hazy light that obliterated her chin, her chest, her pigtails. She seemed to float there within the glossy paper, like those surreal photos people take in old cemeteries and try to pass off as evidence of ghosts.

“Fox is home!” He could hear the words, the soft lisp of Sam’s voice echoing in his memory. “Fox will fix it.” He heard her light, quick tread as she sought him, weary of the futile efforts of their less-than-mechanically inclined father. And Fox– irritated, impatient, secretly delighted– would wait for her to find him and present her latest victim: the wounded Barbie, the loose shoe skate…

Mulder’s hand dropped as a fist against his thigh, pushed against the wounds there until the physical pain obliged him and overrode the throbbing in his head.

Christ. He never carried photos with him, Sauceda knew that. What would possess Lenny to pack such an item?

Hell. Mulder knew why. Lenny thought he was doing him a favor: Mulder had been run out of his home, so Sauceda was doing his determined best to make him comfortable here. A photo. His journal.

No ties or shoestrings, though. And no belt. Don’t forget the belt, Fox. Jeezus.

Mulder couldn’t fault the man, much as he wanted to. Sauceda understood loss, certainly. Unlike Mulder, he had lost both parents. Mulder himself, though embittered by the disappearance of a sister, couldn’t conceive of such an enormity. But sometimes, watching Lenny’s face, Mulder wondered if the man comprehended the turmoil of inexplicable loss. The horror of just not knowing. Mulder had asked once and Sauceda had tried to explain the heartache of losing a father to cancer; the tragedy of a mother dead from a brief illness and the subsequent ringing of his phone in a distant motel room. It was like trying to explain color to a man born blind.

Was there a disparity in the experience of grief? Did each man feel it differently? How could you tell, how did you measure suffering? Did it come in flavors like ice cream, lingering on the soul like quinine on the tongue? If it were so, who could say that they truly comprehended the pain another? And would Mulder want Sauceda to know his loss if it meant inflicting still more agony, in new varieties, upon his friend? Was Mulder’s need to be understood so vital? Was Sisyphus right? Was he everything she was? Just as great a monster even if his talents were yet unexpressed?

Until Kay, Mulder had known death only vicariously: through bereaved spouses as they were questioned in police stations. Through parents waiting to claim their children at the morgue when he was finally done with the bodies. He had had no first-hand experience of death’s unrelenting hand; instead, Mulder’s rage was against life’s uncertainty. In his visions, there was no hope of a bright heaven where Sam smiled, at rest. Every day, he woke to one simple fact: she was simply, unaccountably, not there. Kay’s death had been a revelation, a look into another layer of hell.

Still hell, though. All the same.

He switched off the lamp, watching the photo blur into shadows, and sank to the edge of the bed, too burdened to stand any longer. He’d been thinking of the knife for the better part of an hour. Lenny’s little penknife. Missing it. It had lent him a certain level of control over his life, however destructive. And here he had surrendered it, giving his life away to another, a near stranger. Were things so bleak that he no longer trusted himself with himself? Mulder didn’t honestly know. He’d told too many lies too long, mostly to himself, concealed his darkest thoughts too deeply to decipher what was his heart and what was simply more layers of bullshit. He rubbed at his face. Hell, he’d need an emotional backhoe just to find himself if he ever actually had the guts to go looking–

His head hurt. The room was permeated with the odor of cooked meat, sickening if he allowed himself to think about it. He retrieved the bag dully, grimaced at its contents. Burger, double meat, double cheese, pickles no onions and an extra large order of fries. He’d made a promise, and Sauceda, apparently, intended to make the most of it.

“Clever, Lenny.”

Mulder dropped the fries back in the bag and took the biggest bite possible from the burger. He chewed it just long enough to choke it down, then took another. Between determination and Diet Coke, duty was served within a few minutes. He dropped the ketchup-stained wrapper into the bag and pitched it onto the dresser for Sauceda to inspect later. Lenny didn’t really expect him to eat the fries. There was a limit even to honor, after all.

The voices in the next room rose briefly, fell. Mulder recognized Douglass, and Heller, Douglass’ arch nemesis in the theory of testimonial evidence. Two better investigators couldn’t be found anywhere, but in the same room, shaken, not stirred, they were a Molotov cocktail looking for a match. Purdue should have known better; well, the ASAC would have his hands full for a while.

Mulder lay back on the bed, trying not to think about why he should be so tired. The burger was lead in his stomach but at least it seemed willing to stay down without an argument. The voices were quieter suddenly, scarcely a steady drone down the little hall, one long hum just slightly deeper than the whisper of the air vent above his head. The room glowed serenely with drape-filtered sunlight, warm amber and speckled with gold. Mulder kicked off his shoes, and stared for a while at the television across the room. He made no move to turn it on.

Footsteps padded in the hall, shoes scuffing softly against carpet. Mulder turned his head away but there was no need. The bathroom door clicked shut in the next instant and he stopped holding his breath. In the sitting room, the television blared. There was a volley of protests and it muted abruptly to a more sociable level. The artificial voices had the unhurried pace of a news broadcast. Some kind of announcements, weather or sports.

Mulder was unaccountably tired but his brain demonstrated no willingness to shut down. Too many memories, too much undone, unsaid. He should be putting it all down in his journal, as much of it as he could manage, anyway, nailing down his observations in some location other than his brain. This was the true purpose of the journal, after all: a kind of itinerant priest, receiving his confessions, offering no absolutions. But now the empty pages mocked him even from across the bed. There was no peace for him. There would be no coming to terms, and he had to face the fact. His whole life had been split down the middle now. Twice. Before, Mulder had divided his life in terms of Sam’s disappearance: things that had come before her loss, as opposed to the events that occurred after. Now, the After was further broken down: the long interminable struggle that was his life Before Kay; and the waking death that was After Kay.

His chest thudded ominously, a warning, a threat. Mulder could feel his heart beneath his fingers as his hand lay across his chest, swore he could feel his lungs exchanging oxygen with his blood cells. Life was strange. His life was, anyway. Before Kay– well, before Shreveport, anyway– Mulder had possessed an almost inhuman ability to shut off emotionally, step back, at least for a while, and deal with the grievous and the dire. It was a talent he’d acquired early, from somewhere, and it had often worried him. The Bureau’s training had enhanced it, his instructors lauding it. And still it had bothered him. Didn’t the fact that he could shut himself away so brutally, even just temporarily– didn’t that make him inhuman, somehow? A cold-hearted son of a bitch? But no one had seemed to understand the question.

God. Patterson would be laughing his ass off. Mulder could just hear him: “So, you’re a cold-hearted son of a bitch, Mulder. At least you’re a sane one.” It was one of Patterson’s credos. Right below the one that read: “Never fail.” But did sanity have any value if you lost your soul trying to maintain it? Patterson hadn’t been able to answer that one, either. Had cussed Mulder soundly for asking. There’d been uncertainty in the man’s eyes though, and a fair measure of fear.

Right now, Mulder had no hope for answers. What he really wanted was a Valium. Just a quick shot of… something, anyway, to keep his heart in his chest. He could ask. Sauceda wouldn’t deny him, certainly, but it would hurt the old man. Sauceda had problems of his own now, with Imelda possibly running for her life. He didn’t need to be worrying about Mulder anymore. Hell, let Sauceda think he was healing, that things were starting to turn around for him. Mulder owed him that much.

Mulder tried to quiet himself, stretching, tightening major muscle groups one at a time then relaxing them with concentrated effort. His body only half listened, however. His muscles contracted well enough but flatly refused to ease, denying him physical rest even as his mind refused the comforts of sleep.

Trying another tack, he allowed his thoughts to free fall, passing unmolested across his frontal lobe, not lingering long enough to assign themselves any kind of emotive quality. Memory assailed him, however, in full color, overwhelmingly vivid. Months of work, bodies swirled in his mind’s eye, piecemeal and disordered: a dock foreman in Baytown shot point blank in the face. A twelve-year old dug up in Memphis, her hands and feet discovered four months later in St. Louis. The toddler Mulder had never recovered, twelfth victim in the Shreveport serial killings, her body buried somewhere in the four million tons of concrete that now composed the Red River dam.

The bathroom door fumbled open, the footsteps retreating back to the sitting room, accompanied by Lurie’s booming voice. To Mulder, however, the voices and the television had become a continuous, indecipherable blur, accompanying music for the holocaust roaring in his head. An occasional snatch of conversation would become distinguishable, only to be overridden by another, a disjointed Babel impossible to translate. It took effort to remember that the voices belonged to someone, men who stood ready to take a bullet for him. Just because they had been asked. Like Mitch had. Like Gregg–

A soft feminine laugh floated through the open bedroom door, quite clear. Echoing. Mulder turned away to his side, trying to shut it away. His hip ached at the action, burning beneath him, an old bruising from Sauceda’s needles. He ignored it, busy swearing at Purdue beneath his breath.

The laugh repeated, completely unaffected this time, genuinely delighted. Mulder flung his arm over his head. His face twisted in grief and his body went rigid in his efforts to crush back the pain, the tears. One hand clawed at the bedspread, twisting it up and grinding it to his chest. His other hand was clenched so tightly his nails drew blood, unnoticed. His legs kicked, pulled up to his chest then kicked away again almost spasmodically.

Mulder’s struggle, however, was absolutely silent. An occasional gasp and the ragged breath that shook him from head to foot– only these betrayed his agony. When he felt he could not possibly contain himself any longer, he buried his face between the pillows to muffle his sobs. And wished that he could smother there.

The laughter, the muted bickering and the best-laid plans of the men beyond the wall were a separate reality, nonexistent. Grief took everything he had, everything he was. He wore himself out with his efforts to contain its fury to this room alone and after a long while, his body simply could take no more. Still gasping sporadically, he slipped into sleep, fitful, arduous, fists clenched tightly as his mind continued to rail against the horror that had become his life.

It wasn’t until Mulder was finally breathing steadily that Purdue stepped back from the door.

Part 21: Sight-reading Braille


….”‘Old fool,’ I say, ‘what living man would wear your suit?
You sew for monsters, or sew for no one.’
He glances up, blue eyes still squinting:
….’I sew an endless suit
to clothe the mist and keep it warm
and give it any shape I can.
My son, my son, here, please put it on.'”
–Irving Feldman. “Family History.”


Thursday, May 19, 1988. 2:22 PM. J. Edgar Hoover Building. Freight Elevator to the Basement Level.

“Aw, come on. She’s gotta be kidding…”

Sauceda peered from the open elevator into the gloom of the corridor stretching beyond. The overhead fluorescents were the economical low-watt variety, great for the national economy, no doubt, but not good for much else. And only half of the lights scattered down the hall were even on at all. The air conditioning didn’t seem to be operating on this floor, either; the basement was sweltering. Humidity weighted the heated air, and Sauceda’s lungs labored to draw it in. He patted his pocket for the key Dorothy had handed him, trying to reassure himself that she had made no mistake.

Dorothy Bahnsen had been with the Bureau even longer than Sauceda. By a few years, anyway. She’d worked records when every file in the Bureau could be housed in cabinets along the walls of the bullpen. And she’d developed the records system to keep track of those files when they’d grown too cumbersome for simple alphabets. Through the years, Dorothy had supervised the transition of records from handwritten index cards, to computer punch cards, to microfilm, and now into massive databases. Her current project was the installation of a computerized scanning system, guaranteed to render every file in the Bureau instantly accessible– from anywhere in the world– with the touch of a button. And the proper password, of course. The Bureau’s case files were Dorothy’s life, her children, and she boasted that she had touched– at least once– every record ever filed in the Bureau Headquarters. Few people disputed the claim.

Sauceda had contacted her the morning before, slipping off to Mulder’s bedroom and keeping his voice low. He needed anything, he’d explained, that might shed some light on the disappearance of Samantha Mulder and the subsequent investigation. But he didn’t want a trail of file requests that could be traced back to him. Dorothy assured him that she would fulfill the request herself, and set to work immediately, discreetly sending data searches into every file system and database at her disposal.

Most turned up zilch. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children coughed up a file on the case but it was far from the usual NCMEC standards. The Center hadn’t been founded until 1984, but they’d done a fair job of developing files on earlier cases, in an attempt to centralize records. Still, the Mulder report was unusual in its brevity. You’d think when a man worked for the State Department there’d be a little more interest shown when his daughter vanished from the face of the earth, leaving her brother on his knees in the middle of the living room, completely catatonic. Maybe Purdue had been onto something. Maybe Skinner’s cigarette-smoking friend did have something up his sleeve–

Sauceda’s only other reference had brought him here to the basement. It wasn’t anything Dorothy had discovered, though. Yesterday afternoon, still locked up tight in apartment 42, Mulder’s unrelenting stare devouring the television, Sauceda had pulled out his much-thumbed copy of Baez’ report. He had the paper all but memorized by now, but he was desperate for some kind of help, some glimpse, however brief, into the working of Mulder’s mind. Or at least someone’s intelligent attempts at interpreting it. The psychological analysis had to hold some kind of key. Something they had all missed.

Sauceda was proud of his version of the report– but secretly. He kept it hidden in a pocket of his suitcase, squirreled away like miser’s gold, fingering it occasionally to reassure himself of its reality. His copy, after all, was not the pristine, sanitized, officially-sanctioned summary submitted to Blevins and Skinner and filed so methodically into Mulder’s personnel records. No, Sauceda had obtained his copy directly from the source– “borrowing” Baez’s draft from the man’s motel room in Shreveport and availing himself of a copier at the pharmacy up the street. His partner’s life duplicated in blinding pulses of light at five cents per page.

There were discrepancies between the draft and the final report. Concerns carefully edited, a few minor points added, but for what reasons, Sauceda had no clue. Baez had pages of notes from his sessions with Mulder, a kind of fact-finding question-and-answer procedure that had surely done little to help the young man come to terms with the escalating body count in Shreveport. From what Sauceda could tell, most of the questions attempted to document childhood memory lapses– Mulder could remember birthday parties, but not those who came. He recalled men visiting with his father at all hours, but never seemed to have seen their faces. He could remember sports scores, games played before he was even born, but his entire senior year of high school was a blank– The subject seemed to fascinate Baez. For that matter, it fascinated Sauceda and he’d been furious when Baez failed to comment on the subject in his official report. Had the man simply decided that the subject was irrelevant? That the young profiler’s carefully veiled anxieties were moot? Perhaps Baez had attempting to curb his own personal curiosity in favor of a more balanced assessment. Maybe he decided that detailed documentation of dream states, Mulder’s astounding leaps of logic and the mental shorthand that generated them, were beyond the scope of law enforcement and bureaucrats.

Sauceda couldn’t ask, of course, not without revealing his own duplicity, his theft. But the report had burned into his brain over the past several months, intruding at odd times during cases, and even during his sleep. He’d found himself reciting whole paragraphs whenever he’d glanced over to find Mulder staring out the window of a plane or a car, dark eyes bright but distant, that formidable brain arranging and rearranging the world fleeing past his vision. The unedited report was cramped, handwritten notes lining all margins, mostly indecipherable. But even the legible ones were couched in language that shed little light on the man entrusted to watch Sauceda’s back, who shared his meals and slept in the next motel room.

This time, however, in Mulder’s apartment, one notation had suddenly become quite clear. So clear that Sauceda marveled that he hadn’t noticed it before. But there it was on the left margin of the third page: a letter and a dash followed by a short string of numbers. The standard format of a Bureau file number. Sauceda’d called it in to Dorothy that afternoon, just on the dubious hope that it might mean something to her.

She’d laughed at him. “And just what kind of hocus pocus do they have you investigating, Dr. Sauceda?”

She always called him by his title– on duty at least. Always so proper. Always so carefully professional when other eyes were around to notice, other ears. It was the way she said the words that was seductive as hell, like the way she had of glancing at him over her glasses. She could still make his southern hemisphere burn, even after all these years and he’d been grateful she couldn’t see his blush through the phone.

“I dunno, Dot. I was hoping you could tell me.”

“Well, sir”– again that warm purr– “when they send a man of science to pull an X File, I think maybe it’s time you retired.”

And then she’d explained it to him. X Files. Paranormal psychobabble and UFO baloney. For years she’d filed them under “U” for “Unsolved/Unexplained” until she’d simply run out of room in the file cabinet and moved on to the mostly unused letter “X.” Her own personal contribution, she’d confessed, and Sauceda could hear her pride through the line. But in recent years, the files had been banished to the basement despite her objections, a reflection of the high regard the Bureau brass held for this nonsense.

Now, standing in the poorly filtered basement, Sauceda wondered why the brass even bothered. Why keep track of cases that didn’t even warrant a decent share of the electric bill?

He sighed, eyes aching in the flickering fluorescents, his head pounding from lack of sleep. This was a wild goose chase and he had only himself to blame. His partner was locked down in a hotel room like some caged animal, and here Lenny stood: fiddling around in the basement looking for crap so ridiculous no one even wanted to admit it existed. Still, it was the best lead he had at the moment.

Talk about a sorry state of affairs–

“Third door,” Dorothy had told him solemnly. “Third door on the left from the elevator.”

Actually locating a third door, however, was quite another matter. File boxes and office discards littered the corridor on both sides, some of the debris stacked to the ceiling. Sauceda found the first door blocked by cases of copier paper, no doubt hoarded away by some over-achiever department head. He almost missed the second door, noticing it in passing only as a knob sticking out beside some oversize file cabinets.

The third door, however, was just past a short corner, unblocked. Sauceda grinned at his good fortune. Apparently, not many people bothered to come this far down the hall, not that he could blame them. An old oak desk had been pushed against the wall across from the door. It was littered with boxes of unused folders and envelopes, an ancient stapler. There was a rather foul looking coffee cup on the desk’s one free corner, someone’s ash tray still filled with cigarette butts. Either the rats were getting bigger or some hardy soul had made himself a quiet break area.

Dorothy’s key slipped into the lock easily enough. The odor of dust and old paper, sulfuric in the heat, burned down his throat as he pushed the door open. Sauceda laid his hand over his mouth and nose but it didn’t help much. Within seconds, he was sneezing convulsively; he left the key in the lock to dig for his handkerchief. Dorothy had warned him: the basement was the deep dark hell of filedom, where bad files go to die. Sauceda hadn’t thought it wise to laugh at that bit of information. Dorothy had an odd way of being serious when he least expected it.

The lighting, when he found the switch, wasn’t much better here than it had been in the hall. An old drafting table dominated one corner of the room, along with an even more ancient typewriter. Another ashtray, used, sat beside it, along with a neat stack of typing paper. The room rambled on disjointedly to his right, a few dusty tables shoved together piecemeal in another corner, shelves disappearing into the darkness beyond the scope of the light.

Two file cabinets sat alone against the wall facing him. Sauceda’s brows drew into a single concentrated line and he peered into the darker recesses of the room. Nothing. He regarded the cabinets again, thoroughly disappointed. Hell. Two lousy cabinets and they went to the trouble to shove them way off down here? These were just files, for crying out loud, not harbingers of a plague. Sauceda had dealt with bureaucracy for the better part of his life– it just never seemed to get any clearer to him.

He fumbled in his pocket for the scrap of paper with his file number: “X-40253” and began his search with the left-hand cabinet, the top drawer. The cabinet was full, the folders packed in so tightly he could scarcely get his fingers in to search the file tabs. He jerked his hand back several times as the folders bit in defense– damned paper cuts– but persistence paid off soon enough. He found the file in the third drawer and cursed the dim light, squinting to verify the number.

Well. It looked like his number but the stamp was faded, and his own shadow made it even more difficult to read. That “0” might be an “8.” That “3” might be another one…. Sauceda struggled with the file, trying to pull it free from the crush of the surrounding folders. He managed to get it halfway loose before his knuckles cramped up. He massaged the offended hand, frowning at the label, head held awkwardly to keep from blocking the light. If this wasn’t what he’d come for he was going to be very pissed.

“X-40253: Subject: Samantha T. Mulder. I.D. 378671.” Hey. All right, then–

Then Sauceda frowned in earnest. He’d come down here expecting to simply find another slim folder, a duplication of the information filed with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. But this file was a thick one, several inches deeper than the NCMEC’s.

So what the hell was it doing squirreled away down here with all the crap files?

Sauceda blinked, trying to adjust his eyes as he fanned through the papers in the folder– and then he grinned. Well, of course this file was thicker– there was another folder tucked inside it, creating the bulk of the paperwork. No doubt just someone’s careless filing. Yep. A wild goose chase.

His headache was getting worse. Hell, it was time to get back to Marty. He didn’t like the idea of being away too long, he didn’t care what Purdue said about keeping an eye on the kid himself. No one knew Marty like he did and–

Sauceda yanked the file free, but lost his grip just as it came loose from the drawer. The folder thumped to the floor, the shock of its impact echoing in the tombed silence, papers and contact sheets and glossy x-ray film skittering free across the concrete.

Clumsy old man…

Sauceda knelt, gathering papers guiltily. Dorothy was going to have his hide. Of course, he could always tease her about her sloppy file clerks. He glanced at the misfiled folder, trying to determine which papers went where. “X-71009.” My. Someone really had been doing some shabby filing.

Sauceda’s eyes traveled further down, however, just a scant inch, to the name below the number. The faded letters knocked the air from his lungs. His knuckles slammed down hard against the concrete as he struggled to remain upright.

“Subject: Fox William Mulder. 10-13-61. I.D. 292544.”

And such a nice thick file, too–

Sauceda’s hands trembled as he scrambled for forms and photos, trying to view them in the miserable lighting, unable to wait until he could see adequately, unable to trust his legs to stand. He flipped the folder open, scattering its contents into a collage around his knees.

It was the oddest case file Sauceda had ever come across. There were no police reports, no crime scene photos, no witness statements or search warrants. Instead, the papers seemed to document a series of rather oddly divergent tests. Sauceda settled on his haunches, flipping through pages hesitantly, recognizing the significance of scarcely half of what he perused: EEG’s, Rorschach psychological evaluations, REM patterns, something labeled “Kirlian and ESP-er Data.” He held a sheet of X-ray film to catch the light across the room and recognized the disjointed dashes of DNA imaging.

Pages of them.

And there were pages of other things, too, each with unfathomable labels: Ganzfeld, DMILS…. One page provocatively declared itself Precognition/Clairvoyance DAT. Sauceda noted a frequently recurring reference to something called MKULTRA and Project Ultra stamped along the upper right hand corners. The DNA film was labeled “PROJ. MRKURY,” an unassuming stamp along the lower corner. Sauceda, lost in the overload of incomprehensible initials and terms, began looking for what he could understand and his eye focused on the dates of each report. His heart began to pound, banging in his ears as he scattered papers across the floor, scanning the forms, incredulous.

The DNA testing was recent, covering a scant 3 years, but other dates went so far back, Marty must have been a toddler– Sauceda wiped sweat from his brow and looked again. No. Younger, even. Some of them. Christ. The files chronicled a lifetime of tests conducted since birth. He noted a very recent date: Marty’s trip to Georgetown for that gunshot wound last year.

God Almighty, but Marty hadn’t said jack– Sauceda pulled that set of papers loose: “REM Analysis” and “P/C DAT Followup.” The subject, the report informed him dispassionately, had been dosed with Halcion following the testing. Sauceda shook his head, blinking to verify the dosage as the paper trembled in his hand: Halcion at that level was notorious for causing black-outs, short-term memory loss. There would have been no legitimate reason to subject a gunshot victim to that kind of drug, especially at that level–

Sauceda searched the papers again. There was a definite pattern: Mulder, younger and younger, tested, and dosed with various drugs that could erase the memory of that testing. These weren’t physician’s reports, he realized. They weren’t even the credible records of researchers. The men who’d signed these forms were psychological rapists, vultures awaiting any opportunity to get Mulder in a medically fragile situation so they could perform a few more tests–

That was it, then. That was the reasoning behind the latest push to verify Mulder’s stability. They weren’t worried for him. The bastards needed some more blood. A few more EEG’s–

A single name leapt at him from the page in his hand. It made his blood freeze.

“Rorschach Evaluation. Subject Age 12. Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, Linton Lane, Oak Bluffs.” Test results signed by a Dr. Heitz Werber, project psychologist. Followed by a letter requesting the assistance of a Dr. Emil Baez, psychiatrist.

He remembered the first meeting with Baez in Shreveport. The man introducing himself to Mulder, smiling, Mulder scanning him cautiously. With no hint of recognition. And Baez had said nothing. Like he hadn’t expected Mulder to remember–

Christ. God. Sacred Heart of Jesus–

“Drop something, Dr. Sauceda?”

Sauceda jerked at the silken voice from the door. He spun around painfully on his haunches and the hair stood up on the back of his neck at the sight of the man framed in the gloom.

Sauceda had never known his name but he recognized the craggy face well enough. That glacial gaze had been silent witness to Sauceda’s assignment to Marty nine months ago, a solemn sentinel in the corner of Skinner’s office as Patterson had detailed Sauceda’s duties and rationalized Mulder’s peculiar quirks. The stranger’s silence, his snake-sure eyes, the way he flicked his cigarette ashes– an overly finicky cat pronouncing judgment on some less-than-delectable morsel– unnerved Sauceda even then. But neither Skinner nor Patterson had acknowledged his presence. It was as if he’d been invisible to all eyes save Sauceda’s.

And the smoking bastard hadn’t changed a bit. Sauceda wondered how long the man had been lingering in the shadows of this office.

The man in the door smiled languidly. The action never reached his eyes, not even to crinkle the wrinkles that much deeper.

“Find some interesting reading material, Dr. Sauceda?” The man sucked at his drug of choice like it was some kind of oxygen delivery system. He took a leisurely step into the room and Sauceda jerked to his feet, wiping his hands on his jacket, seeking to be rid of whatever had attracted the attention of this carrion-eater.

The smoking man continued to advance, however. Sauceda retreated steadily, uncertain why, but determinedly following his instincts, his training serving him well. His back hit the open drawer of the cabinet, slamming it shut. The noise was an explosion, echoing in the vaulted room and the other man stopped, one foot on a page of Mulder’s file, an action calculated for casual accident. Sauceda didn’t fool himself that anything this man did was accidental.

He knew. He knew about the file. Its contents. Its significance to Mulder– Sauceda felt his blood rush to his feet as he accepted the realization, saw his comprehension register in the indifferent eyes behind the veil of smoke.

“Marty doesn’t know.” Sauceda’s voice was small, he surprised himself that he had found his tongue at all. “He has no idea–”

The man smiled again; it looked like a gash in a death mask.

Sauceda’s heart pounded ominously, his shirt sticking under his arms. He shook his head to clear it. It wasn’t like he was being held at gunpoint, dammit– “He thinks he’s going crazy. And he’s not. It’s– the spook–” he waved frantically at the scattered reports on the floor “–it’s something that’s been done to him. On purpose–”

Smokey clicked his tongue. It sounded vaguely obscene.

“See here, Dr. Sauceda. You give us entirely too much credit.” The cigarette waved the air, a lazy sweep, disregarding whole lives, executing nations. “Just what is it you propose we’ve done? Created some kind of mutant? A serial killer detector? A modern vampire slayer, perhaps?” Again, the self-indulgent smile. “I assure you that is all far from the facts. Still. We’ve had the occasional interesting side-effect, don’t you think?”

Sauceda was breathing much too hard. “Just what the hell have you done to–”

“What we have or have not done is insignificant to this discussion, Dr. Sauceda. What you intend to do, however– that would be the determining factor, now. Wouldn’t you say?”

Another patient drag off the cigarette. The movement reminded Sauceda of a man delicately pulling the wings off a fly. Right now, he had entirely too much sympathy for the fly. The dark-suited man shrugged at Sauceda’s silence, flicked ashes over the DNA data.

“How’s your wife, Dr. Sauceda? Imelda, isn’t it? And that grandson of yours? Doing very well in school, I hear. Kindergarten, isn’t it?” A tilt of that skullish head. “Such a bright young boy. So much promise.”

Sauceda’s knees buckled slightly but he refused to kneel. He heard the words well enough, though. Their meaning. And the words the man didn’t bother to speak.

“A shame,” the stranger purred, “if something should happen to them… Tragic. And completely avoidable, of course.”

Sauceda closed his eyes, opened them. Opened more than just physical eyes, saw more than just the day to day of his mundane life. Saw things too clearly for an old man just waiting on the bliss of a well-deserved retirement…

The man regarding him noted that change as well and smiled contentedly.

“You needn’t worry about your partner, Dr. Sauceda. Young Mulder will be just fine. I’ll see to that.” A slow solemn flexing of the mouth. The repetition of a vow. “I’ve seen to that for years.”

Sauceda didn’t remember the long trip back to his car, didn’t remember even leaving the room, or what had become of Dorothy’s key. And he didn’t care. He was too numb to reason, too shaken to allow himself the luxury of concern. He stood shivering in the heat of the parking garage, laid a steadying hand on the hood of his car and vomited his fear beside the wheel.

5:38 PM. Embassy Suites Hotel. Room 328.

Mulder woke to the sound of seed husks cracking in another room. He lay quite still, eyes closed under the crook of his arm, heartbeat lulled by the comforting noises of his dad in his study, calmly munching sunflower seeds. His own breathing echoed in the stillness– silence so deep that the earth seemed uninhabited, only he and his father remained. Mulder smiled, reveling in the assurance that everything, finally, was okay. Everything would be better now.

Until he made the mistake of opening his eyes. And there it was waiting for him, as it did each time he woke: that gut-wrenching assurance that Samantha was not there, and that nothing was better and nothingwouldeverbebetteragain.

Sitting up was a struggle. Mulder was groggier than he would have expected following legitimate, undrugged sleep– had just been too long without it, he conceded. The last vestiges of sunlight filtered through the drapes, heavily muted, the room one great shadow in the gathering evening. There was a blanket laying across him that he didn’t recall having before. The discarded Mickey D’s bag was gone from the dresser. His journal was untouched though, still on the little table, the pen exactly as it had been when he’d lain down, the photo beside it. Mulder shrugged himself free of the blanket and wobbled to the bathroom to rid himself of excess soda.

Finished with that necessity, Mulder spent a few extra minutes washing his hands. The water was cool and oddly comforting as it flowed across the scabs on his knuckles: old injuries from his impact with the mirror, new ones left by his struggle with Purdue. The memories of the encounters stung and he flexed his hands, concentrating on the sharp pangs of protest as the skin stretched, popped open. Rivulets of water tinted just the barest shade of pink.

The persistent if irregular rustle-crack-silence in the next room was distracting and entirely too intriguing. He could hear the television again, too, muted voices, the occasional swell of mood music. Mulder splashed water on his face, moaned softly as the liquid flowed across his eyelids, cooling their incessant burning. More water– he’d kill for a shower right now– and his fingers found the barest hint of stubble along his jaw. Mulder glanced up to the mirror, to check the circles under his eyes, the pallor of his face.

He glanced up into blank wall.

“Well. Fuck me.”

Purdue glanced up from the sofa as Mulder entered. The young man stumbled blearily, scrubbing his face dry with his hands. It might have been an amusing sight: Mulder with a serious case of bed head, his shirt askew and spotted with water– Amusing, if the profiler didn’t look like total hell otherwise: pale, ghost-gray, and about twenty pounds too damned thin. One knuckle oozed the barest bit of blood–

Mulder pulled his hands from his face, combing his finger through his hair, then reaching back to massage his neck. He glanced up into Purdue’s eyes and the ASAC nodded and looked away quickly. Cats, Purdue had learned, don’t like being stared at. It was a sign of aggression, inciting antagonism, and Mulder was as bad as any cat he’d ever met. The ASAC cracked another peanut and popped it into his mouth, content to resume his television viewing. He sat comfortably, big feet propped on the coffee table, big bag of roasted peanuts in his lap. A big plastic bowl was at the far end of the sofa and he tossed empty shells at it as he munched. He missed, though. A lot. Not that he cared much.

Mulder stood a moment, wavering slightly on the balls of his feet. Purdue took him in peripherally, Mulder’s hazel gaze boring holes through his thin veneer of indifference. The profiler was probably considering giving Purdue a piece of his mind. It’d serve the ASAC right, no doubt. Taking mirrors off walls–

Mulder plopped into the nearest chair, however, without so much as a grunt. Purdue covered his surprise by readjusting the remote balanced on his knee, cracking another peanut. Mulder was to his right, slightly ahead, well into the ASAC’s field of peripheral vision. The back of Mulder’s chair curved just slightly though, and when Mulder leaned back, Purdue would be visible only as a pair of shoes propped on the coffee table. Mulder might even convince himself that he was just as invisible to Purdue– if Purdue was careful. The ASAC wasn’t out to be deliberately deceitful but every man needed at least the illusion of privacy. And right now, unfortunately, illusions were about all that Mulder could afford.

Purdue’s chosen channel had dredged up an old Humphrey Bogart movie, one where he had Lauren Bacall and a boat. Purdue couldn’t quite place the film, but it seemed to have some semblance of a plot, a poor man’s “Casablanca” as best he could tell, right down to the French Resistance and some of the cast. Mulder stared at the screen for a while. He even managed to focus on it occasionally. Purdue kept to his casual tranquility, and the profiler slowly relaxed into the confines of his chair, the muscles in his shoulders loosening, eyes half-closed, breathing slow and restful. Purdue realized that the silence between them was surprisingly comfortable. He blinked slowly, trying to determine when this state of affairs had developed.

Mulder’s eyes focused again. Bacall was trying to sing. She looked all of eighteen– but in that provocatively mature way Hollywood seemed to paint all females back in the ‘forties. She was sultry and leggy and built like a ton of bricks, but her singing voice was remarkably masculine, deep, and slightly off-key, with a husky, nearly monochromatic delivery that managed to be sexy as hell. Bogie was awfully impressed with it, too. Him and about half a bar full of sailors. Mulder leaned his head back as she droned, lost, apparently in the warmth of that impossible voice. His hands, lax upon the arms of his chair, trembled sporadically but he didn’t seem to notice. Purdue didn’t allow himself to stare. He’d hoped Mulder’s nap had done the young man more good than this, though–

Bacall’s lullaby was short-lived. Now she was lighting Bogie’s cigarette– and getting the same look from him that Mulder had given Fowley when she’d lit his this morning. Purdue tossed another peanut shell at his bowl. It hit the lamp on the end table and he didn’t bother to retrieve it.

“Sauceda’s on his way back,” the ASAC mumbled around his peanuts, sociable as if they’d been chatting all evening. “He’s stopping off to get some dinner. Thought you might like some Chinese. Tso’s chicken okay?”

Mulder nodded, not really focusing as he scanned the litter of Pepsi cans and candy wrappers on the coffee table. He didn’t ask where Sauceda might be coming back from, Purdue noted. And why should he? They were in town, after all. Mulder probably figured Sauceda had gone home for a while.

“Where’s Diana?”

Purdue glanced up, eyeing Mulder a little more sharply than necessary and mentally kicking himself for the reflex. Hell, it was just a question. Mulder ignored the look, and the ASAC concentrated on actually hitting his bowl with the next shell.

“Diana’s taking a nap. I asked her to take shift with you tonight. Hot Sauce sounded pretty well beat when he called in–”

“I meant what I said this morning,” Mulder’s growl was soft, still sleepy. “I don’t want her here.”

Purdue shrugged, refusing the challenge. “Fine. Then you got me.”


Purdue paused, peanut midway to his mouth. Mulder had jerked to the edge of his seat with the word. Now he clawed the arms of his chair, pushing himself back behind his upholstered shield.

“Sorry, Mulder. It’s one or the other–”

“This place is lousy with agents,” Mulder’s voice was calculatedly calm. “And Sisyphus doesn’t climb walls. I don’t need anybody camped out in here with me.”

“That’s not the game plan–”

“The hell it isn’t.” Mulder was sitting forward again, fists clenched, but his focus resolutely on the television. “I’m a grown man, I don’t need a freaking babysitter.”

It wasn’t babysitting, of course. It was policy. But Mulder had policy overrun his life too often lately to appreciate it much and they both knew it. Purdue wasn’t playing the game of averted eyes and lackluster interest anymore, though.

“You don’t get left on your own, Agent. And you know damned well why.”

Mulder blushed deeply, retreating into the confines of his chair. “Goddam–” he hissed.

“No, goddam you.” Purdue slung his shell at the lamp without bothering to remove the nut. “You want me to treat you like a child? Lock your butt up someplace and stick someone else out here as bait to catch her with? I’m doing you the courtesy of letting you take an active part in your own defense, dammit. You want out of the loop altogether? Just open your mouth one more time. I’ll slap you clear to Canada and we’ll take this bitch without you.”

Mulder’s jaw worked a minute, grinding over the words and Purdue suddenly reconsidered. The situation was clarifying itself to Mulder rapidly, that much was obvious. Purdue could see the gears turning from across the room. How could Mulder have been so clueless, though? Purdue had explained the plan to the profiler himself–

But that had been yesterday. And yesterday, Mulder hadn’t even known his own name, let alone been able to appreciate the intricacies of their little trap. Or even remember there was a trap.

“Shit,” Mulder glanced away, licking his lips. “You mighta told me we weren’t just running,” he whispered. It was a poor defense but apparently the only one he had at the moment. It was an admission, too, if Purdue needed one.

Purdue didn’t, although he appreciated the gesture. The ASAC held his tongue, offering no defense for himself, no reprisals for Mulder. He rolled his current peanut across the inside of his cheek, sucking the salt from it, allowing the man in the chair time to recover. On the screen, Bogie was chatting with some fat man and not enjoying it much. He seemed to like it even less when Fatty’s pal took a slap at Bacall.

“Hell,” Purdue shrugged finally, face solemn. “Who knows? Maybe we are just running. Sisyphus doesn’t seem to want you directly, anyway. Just whoever happens to be around.”

“And that’s why I don’t want Fowley here.” The belligerence was back, but wary now.

“And you’d say the same thing about anyone else I’d pair you up with.” He spit a bit of stray shell off his tongue, wiped his hand across his mouth. “Problem is, Mulder, you just don’t want anyone in the line of fire. Sauceda told me you’re trying to get him off the case, too.” He shook his head, watching the profiler grit his teeth. “You know, personally, I think we need Patterson on this case. Sisyphus’d be doing the Bureau a favor taking out that one.” Mulder blinked at him owlishly and Purdue glanced away. The ASAC couldn’t bring himself to apologize for the words, though. And he didn’t particularly like what that said about him.

Mulder swore, still finding himself at square one. He combed at his hair again with frustrated fingers. “Okay. Fine. I can’t be trusted. I deserve that. But I want Lenny here. No one else.” Purdue shifted uncomfortably and Mulder’s brows furrowed. “I want my partner,” he repeated obstinately.

The ASAC scrounged in his bag for another peanut, his tone carefully neutral. “You know, you might as well get used to the idea of a new partner–”

“He doesn’t retire for another four months, dammit. You send him with Imelda or you leave him with me.”

The ASAC chewed his peanut solemnly. It was a bitter little bastard but he swallowed it anyway. “Sauceda’s tired, Mulder. You scare him. You know that?”

Mulder looked away. He was breathing hard, suddenly, eyes wide like he was fighting some kind of impending hysteria. Purdue bit his lip. Great. Now the kid was on to panic attacks. Well, hell–

Mulder laid a fist against his chest, every pore in his body breaking out with sweat. Purdue hadn’t expected the reaction and watched him numbly. Mulder hadn’t expected it either, apparently, and was working hard to control it. Scooted tight against the back cushion, he leaned his elbow on the arm of the chair and rested his head on his hand, effectively shielding his face from Purdue. His hand shook violently. He swore under his breath, desperately focusing on the television: Bacall slamming doors and Bogie grinning like a Cheshire cat. Purdue chomped his peanuts furiously, allowing Mulder the illusion that his reaction had gone unnoticed.

The attack passed within minutes. Mulder relaxed by degrees, cautiously releasing muscles held too tightly controlled, and Purdue’s heart subsided back into its usual position in his chest. Purdue reached for another peanut, winced as the salt rubbed into cuts in his palm. He contemplated his hand dully: he’d been squeezing his fists so tight, his fingernails had bitten into the skin. He wiped the salt onto his pants leg.

“You okay, now?”

Mulder nodded, still not removing the shield of his hand.

Bogie’s rummy pal was asking Bacall if she’d ever been bit by a dead bee. Jeezus, who did they get to write this crap? Purdue forced himself to crack another nut. There was soft ping across the room as the nut shot free and ricocheted against the television screen. Mulder glanced over at the sound, quickly away, then back again as he realized Purdue was watching the screen rather than staring at him.

“You know,” the ASAC informed the television, “I used to have the damnedest nightmares as a kid.” Mulder had no overt reaction to the statement other than to hold his breath. Purdue continued his confession without glancing at him. “I’d wake up shaking, vomiting sometimes. Just like you.” That got a blink from the profiler. Purdue lick salt off his lips. “Used to… used to terrify me. I thought something was wrong. That I was losing my mind.” He stared down into his peanut bag a minute, trying to re-orient himself. “I never told anyone, ‘cept one night I screamed so loud it woke my dad.” He grinned sheepishly up at the screen again. “My old man slept like a log most nights, but–” Purdue caught himself, sobered. “Anyway, he told me that dreams were just the answers to questions we didn’t know to ask yet, you know? Just the mind turning things over. I think it’s why I went into law enforcement. Because of the terrible things I would see in my dreams. I didn’t want anyone to have to live through them. Maybe–” He glanced at Mulder, that calm, impenetrable face, too pale, one cheek, one eye lit blue by the glow of the television, the other in shadow– Purdue jerked his head away, flushing furiously. “Shit. Look. I just– Oh, hell, just forget it.”

Mulder hadn’t laughed though, had made no smart-ass remarks. It took Purdue a moment to register that fact. He glanced up to find the profiler watching him solemnly.

“What do you want?” Mulder asked.

Purdue shook his head. “I don’t want anything from you, Mulder. I just need to know you’re okay.”

“I’m okay.”

The ASAC nodded. “Yeah. I noticed that.”

It was Mulder’s turn to look away. God, but Purdue hated this tactile-less dance, this overly-polite psychological slaughter. Mulder’s confrontation in the parking lot had been honest, at least: aggression, understandable under the circumstances, played out to a logical conclusion– the impact of fist against bone. Reassuringly simple. So how had they wound up here? Purdue grunted. They were here because, despite all Purdue’s assurances, the ASAC had simply become another Patterson in Mulder’s life. The realization burned like the salt in his palm. The move to Violent Crimes had changed nothing– not for Mulder. Purdue had no right to sit here like this, desperate to get into the young man’s head, the one place on earth Mulder held sacred. It’d serve him right if Mulder pulled another gun on him.

Still, reading human nature was the brick and mortar of Mulder’s profession. If he didn’t want to talk, then dammit, he wouldn’t– and he wouldn’t let Purdue make him feel guilty about it, either. Purdue could respect that.

“Look, son. I told Diana about your dreams. It’ll be no surprise–”

“She thinks I’ve got some kind of ESP-er ability or some such crap. Is that what you think of me? That I’ve got some kind of microchip tuned into Mars, and little green men are feeding me clues from Serial Central? What did you do, Reg? Pull my records just to figure out how I passed the psych test to get into the Academy?”

“I don’t think you’re insane, Mulder–”

“No. You just think I’m subject to hallucinations and emotional breakdowns–” Mulder face altered as he spoke the words, as he recognized the proof in the trembling of his own hands. Purdue didn’t answer and watched him fall back against his chair without actually bothering to scoot back in it. The profiler sprawled there, panting silently, eyes wide, furiously reordering his perceptions.

“You’re not insane, Mulder.” Purdue was using his Special-Agent-In-Charge voice, calm, certain, every word authorized by God. Mulder didn’t even blink. “Mulder.” Finally, the hazel eyes focused on him. “I’ve got no problems with your abilities as an investigator, son. Or as a profiler. Personally, I think you’re better than you think you are. Diana isn’t here to second-guess your judgment– or your method of getting there. And just between you and me, I seriously doubt she knows what she thinks. Baez, on the other hand, seems to believe you have a, ah–”

“Gift?” Mulder almost spat the word.

“Yeah. A gift.” Purdue’s voice was extraordinarily careful. “Do you?”

“Sure, I do.” Mulder’s face was impassive. “My dad sends me aftershave for my birthday every year.”

On the screen, Bogie tough-talked a line and everybody jumped. Purdue wondered vaguely why it never seemed to work for him. “Look, you’re under enough stress as it is. You’ve got a problem with Diana being here, I can understand that–”

“No, you don’t. You have no idea.”

“Fine. So explain it to me.”

Purdue had Mulder biting his lip now. They were silent by mutual consent, watching Bacall walk across the black and white room and slam a door. Woman could be arrested for walking like that. Having legs like that–

“Diana’s a good agent,” Purdue insisted. “She’s done some fine work. Sure, she comes at things from an odd angle sometimes, but so do you. Most times.” He raised a hand as Mulder scathed him with a glance. “Okay, so maybe not from the same kind of angle, but she’s had some good result. She’s trained to handle herself–”

“She trained to handle me, too?”

Purdue frowned. “I know you better than to expect that kind of machismo crap from you, Mulder. You’re doing it on purpose. It’s not working.”

“She tell you about that?”

“Tell me about what?”

Mulder shook his head and closed his eyes, passing a hand across his brow like he was trying to wipe away some pressure there. “Nothing,” he said.

Purdue’s frown deepened. So, Mulder had Fowley holding out on him, now, too. Nice trick, that. And it hadn’t taken the little punk a day– Purdue felt his blood pressure rising but he didn’t bother to work out why the situation should bother him so much. “You listen up, Agent. Diana Fowley walks into this case with my permission to knock you on your ass if she so much as wants to–”

“Oh. So she needed your permission to do that?”

“No, she doesn’t. And that’s exactly why I chose her.”

Mulder chewed the inside of his cheek, refusing to answer.

“Look Mulder, let’s just cut the crap for once. I brought Diana in on this because I thought she might be some help to you in getting a handle on this thing.”

What thing?”

Purdue fisted up his bag of nuts. “Okay, fine. You wanna play twenty questions? Let’s do it.” Purdue was on the edge of the couch now. “You told me in Wheeling that you couldn’t just dream this stuff on demand. That you couldn’t just make it happen. So tell me this: can you make it stop?”

Mulder’s face flushed hot again. He jerked forward, but his hands clawed into the chair, refusing to let go.

“Yeah.” Purdue nodded slowly. “I didn’t think so.”

Mulder swore but said nothing further, surrendering his struggle abruptly. He sank back in the chair, like he could become small and invisible at will.

“So where was the spook last night, Agent?” Purdue demanded. “No dreams? No psychosomatic hemorrhaging?”

Mulder shrugged against the flint in the ASAC’s voice, impervious, suddenly, to Purdue’s attack. “How much did you have Lenny give me?” Anger kept his gaze unblinking as he regarded the ASAC. “How much Thorazine to make sure I stayed down while she waltzed in and butchered two men?”

Purdue tossed the bag on the coffee table. Watched it lie there. Why did he feel so responsible for this man? Hell, it wasn’t his job to hold him together. To pick up the pieces as Mulder threw them down.

Deep within his chair, the profiler shook his head. “If I dreamed, I don’t remember,” his voice was mournful, and he refused to glance at Purdue, instead watching Bogie tell Bacall to take her bottle and go to bed. She did it too. “Maybe it was too close this time. Like Kay–” He strangled on the word and looked away, back to the bedroom. “Nothing like a good night’s drug-induced coma,” he managed.

“So what was all day yesterday about?” Purdue held very still. “Who was walking up behind you then, Mulder?”

Mulder shook his head, this time almost imperceptibly, his eyes closed against the room. Purdue watched the anguish constricting Mulder’s forehead, waiting for it to ease before he whispered, “Yesterday was just you, wasn’t it? Shutting down from too much…” He didn’t finish the sentence and Mulder didn’t deny the words, too busy pressing his fist into his left thigh.

“Goddammit– stop that!” Purdue cleared the distance between them, one hand jerking Mulder’s wrist up to relieve the pressure on his leg, the other hand capturing the profiler’s fist before he could take his swing. “You son of a bitch!–”

Mulder endured a long string of profanity, apparently too surprised to resist. Purdue paused finally, vaguely aware that he was repeating himself and that he was gasping. Mulder’s eyes on his were wide, dark, and frightfully transparent. Flecks of gold gleamed in the irises, mingled with browns and blues and violets. The colors moved, swirling, mingled, and paled as Purdue watched, blurred as Purdue’s gaze penetrated deeper, drawn to the unfathomable depths below–

Purdue inhaled suddenly, the gut reaction of a man just as he hits the water that will surely drown him. Mulder blinked then, slowly, terminating the vision, releasing him. The irises, when Mulder opened his lids, were an unassuming gray. The ASAC dropped the young man’s wrists and paced across the room, seeking some place safer. On the screen, Bacall was trying to teach Bogie how to whistle. And doing a pretty good job. God, but he needed a drink. The wet bar was across the room, however. He’d have to pass Mulder–

And Mulder was watching him. Those impossible eyes, body perfectly motionless. Mulder didn’t even look like he was breathing.

Purdue shook his head. Damn Fowley. He should have taken the nap. He leaned against the wall, crossed his arms, crossed his legs at the ankles, physically boarded up nice and tight while psychologically trying to look so nice and casual. Yeah. Like Mulder was buying it.

Purdue bit his lip. “Okay. Gift or not, I realize that this stuff doesn’t come cheap. Profiling is easy for you, a talent, but only at a cost.” He waved a hand, indicating the room, Mulder’s carpeted prison. “So now you’re paying for it. I expected it at some point. I think you did, too. And this is where it happens, where you get it worked out. I’m just trying to make it easier on you. That’s all.”

Mulder took a slow breath. He seemed to be pondering the statement, shrewdly seeking the ambush he was certain awaited.

Purdue nodded under the regard, ignored the shirt sticking to the sweat on his chest. “I told you before, son: I’ve been where you are. Still drop in for the occasional visit.” He pushed himself free of the wall but kept to the far side of the room, safely out of Mulder’s sphere. “All I’m saying is if you need to talk I’m here. If you’d rather talk to someone else, that’s fine, too. But you can’t keep pretending it doesn’t hurt–”

Mulder set his jaw and shoved his body to the far side of the chair, a wounded cat seeking a burrow– or a wall from which to launch himself. “Okay,” his response was low and slow, tightly controlled, “I admit it. It hurts. Gee, Dad, I feel tons better. Can I go home now?” His brows descended abruptly. “Or is this where you tell me I should spill my guts because it’s what Kay would want me to do?”

Purdue resisted the urge to slam his fist through the wall. “I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’m sorry for what I said on the parking lot. But, yeah, I didn’t know the woman and I won’t presume to tell you what she would and wouldn’t want for you. I just know what I would want for you. For whatever the hell that’s worth.”

On the television, Bogie had Bacall walking around him, checking for strings. No one was paying attention though, not even Mulder who was watching without seeing.

“She deserved better than me,” Mulder confessed, apparently not realizing he’d spoken aloud. “She deserved better than a lot of things she got, I think.” He spoke from a weary bewilderment, the blunted sensibility that overtakes the soul worn out by tragedy and grief, when the first glimmerings of objectivity begin to color memory and experience. It hurt just listening to him, to hear the certainty in his voice.

“You didn’t kill her, Mulder,” Purdue’s voice was cautious, treading carefully on the space that Mulder had allowed him. “I know Patterson sent you on so many guilt trips you had frequent flyer points, but it’s not your fault she’s dead. You’ve got to know that.”


Purdue didn’t quite know how to interpret that weary monosyllable: whether it was evidence of Mulder’s failure to be fully convinced, or simply an expression of exhaustion. There probably wasn’t that much difference. Guilt was not about intellect; it’s about emotion. And emotions, unfortunately, have a logic all their own.

Purdue tried again, still steadily wary. “You will heal, Mulder. I know it’s hard for you to believe, but you will. Eventually. It’ll feel like betrayal and you’ll hate yourself for it, but you’ll do it.”

“In spite of myself?” Mulder glanced up finally, his voice bitter. Purdue took in the image: Mulder white as a ghost, bones too-prominent beneath his skin, circles under his eyes– eyes as penetrating as a cobra’s. Mortally wounded, Mulder would go down fighting. Even wanting death, it wasn’t in him to give up.

“Yeah,” Purdue nodded, certain now. “In spite of yourself.”

Mulder sat forward, sick of the conversation. “The condition you’re describing is popularly known as survivor’s guilt. And I really don’t need the refresher course on psychological theory–”

“Funny, isn’t it?”


“How knowing the name of something doesn’t mean jack when you’re trying to live through it.”

“Shit.” Purdue resumed his place on the couch. Mulder watched him, sliding back just a bit more to the far side of the chair. Shadows crept across his face as Bogie pistol-whipped Fatty with gusto. The action on the screen was cartoonish and had no place in their reality. Purdue scarcely registered it. He’d been with Violent Crimes too many years to take the Hollywood ideal seriously. Hollywood had no idea how bad it got. The horror show that was every day life for the men and women who worked the scenes, who dealt with the carnage left behind when the perpetrators had fled. The fallen bodies, locked in unnatural positions. The insects, just hatching or fully grown, that gave the coroner an approximate time of death. The smell. The families, wives, husbands, children who answered the doors and stared up at you, innocent, unaware that you had arrived to shatter their lives with a few sympathetic words.

The work was hard. Hard on the nerves, on the heart. If you wanted to survive, you learned to shove your emotional involvement into a hole in your soul and simply ignore it until you had time to deal with it. And even time was taken on the run: sitting in the back of a car, riding in a plane, long sleepless nights in unfamiliar motel rooms. Just like Mulder now.

The truth was that the work was often so bizarre that you needed some external source of emotional stability. Something, someone else, that could provide a sense of normalcy. You didn’t just need it. You craved it, the reassurance that someone close held the sense of true north even when you didn’t trust yourself to know. Maybe Kay had been that for Mulder, just like Olivia had been for him for so many years.

And now here they both sat without a compass. The blind leading the blind– and there were dragons in the ditch. It was kind of pathetic when you thought about it. Purdue refused to think about it, though. He didn’t like being pathetic. He wouldn’t be pathetic. And he’d be damned before he saw Mulder in that condition, ever.

“Sometimes,” Purdue chanced, one foot on the coffee table, “I wonder if God even knows what the hell he’s doing. He always seems to be taking the wrong ones. Killing the strong, the ones who enjoy life and leaving the rest of us to deal with it.” He pulled his peanut bag back onto his lap, stared into it. “Lousy way to run the world, if you ask me. Hell. Not that anyone is asking.”

“Is that why you didn’t have me arrested?” Mulder demanded from his corner of the chair. “‘Cause you feel sorry for me?” Purdue’s brows raised. Mulder was watching him, both hands on the near arm of the chair, clenched tight. “This morning, you son of a bitch,” Mulder growled. “The parking lot? Or am I hallucinating on top of everything else?”

Purdue shrugged. It was becoming a chronic gesture. “As far as I’m concerned that stunt you pulled was just so much psychological hyperventilation.” His eyes narrowed, a warning. “And I don’t feel the least bit sorry for you, sir. You try it again and I’ll kick your ass. We clear on that?”

“Psychological hyperventilation?” Mulder repeated the words, rolling them across his tongue. “I was mad enough to kill you–”

“No, you weren’t.”

The profiler’s brows climbed up into his hairline. “I pulled a gun on you, dammit–”

“I noticed. Nice try at suicide, Mulder. Not terribly subtle, but it could have been pretty effective.” He slung the bag of peanuts back at the coffee table. “I mean, if it works, you get to die and don’t even have to waste energy pulling the trigger, right? Just wave your pistol around and wait for me to pull my gun and do your dirty work for you.” Mulder’s mouth opened, closed as he turned away abruptly. Purdue slammed a fist into the couch cushion. “Look me in the eye, damn you!” Mulder obeyed, reluctant, but holding the ASAC’s gaze determinedly. “That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it?” Purdue demanded. “For me to put you down like a goddam dog in the street? Wasn’t that your plan? Well, here’s a little advice for next time, Mr. Mulder: number one: try for a place not quite so public. And number two: find yourself another goddam executioner.”

Mulder dropped his gaze and seemed grateful for the television to focus on, the Vichy shooting at bystanders, the clandestine meetings, the imagined tragedies that bore no resemblance to his own. His eyes were too bright in the dim light, profile reflecting the garish red light of a sudden commercial. His right hand rubbed a small comforting circle against his chest.

Purdue was registering every emotion fleeing across the young man’s face, and finally understanding. Mulder hadn’t consciously intended a suicide at his hands. Hadn’t planned it. The very thought seemed to amaze him, maybe even frighten him, eyes widening hollowly. But what the unconscious mind desired– that was often a very different story. One that Mulder, for the moment at least, didn’t seem able to discern as he sat there, struggling with the economics of doubt.

Purdue shook his head, tried to make his voice light. “Just between you and me and the door post, I tried it myself once. Lucky not to be in Leavenworth, right now.” Mulder’s eyes sought out Purdue’s general direction but his face remained in profile, listening but not trusting himself to look over. Purdue shrugged his brows. “A word of warning if you ever feel the need to take Skinner down a few notches: watch your aim. The man’s got a jaw like concrete.”

Mulder seemed to have registered the words, the easy smile in Purdue’s voice, the reassurance. He was unable to reconcile the information with the conversation running through his own head, however. Elbow on the chair arm, he propped his temple against his fingertips, his palm once more an ineffective shield. Purdue waited for the onslaught of yet another panic attack. It didn’t come, though and Mulder simply sat, eyes down, unfocused, jaw lax as he breathed through his mouth. He looked like he seriously needed to lie down. Purdue wondered how he might suggest it, sans affront to Mulder’s self-esteem. The young agent surprised him, however, and spoke, his voice distant.

“She doesn’t kill at random any more,” Mulder noted the fact, as if this had been their topic of conversation all evening. “She kills by a common thread. Me.”

“Mulder. You’re not responsible–”

“It’s like the observer in Einstein’s theory: the observer changes what he observes by the fact that he is there observing it. I am responsible at some level. Her choice of victims proves that.”

Purdue opened his mouth, closed it. It was becoming an old argument, one he’d run out of ammunition for. He pulled a baggied paper from his pocket, unfolding it. “Is that the explanation for this, then?” He handed the slip over and Mulder removed his hand from his forehead, accepting the item gingerly: standard printer paper, like he used on his Epson at home, the edges rough where the tractor-feed strip had been torn away.

“Sauceda found it tucked inside a picture on your desk,” Purdue explained. “I asked him not to mention it until you’d had some time to rest up.” He watched as Mulder read, face completely without expression, voice flat.

It must be an old photograph of you, out in the yard, looking almost afraid in the crisp, raking light that afternoons in the city held in those days, unappeased, not accepting anything from anybody. So what else is new? I’ll tell you what is: you are accepting this now from the invisible, unknown sender, and the light that was intended, you thought, only to rake or glance is now directed full in your face, as it in fact always was, but you were squinting so hard, fearful of accepting it, that you didn’t know this. Whether it warms or burns is another matter, which we will not go into here. The point is that you are accepting it and holding on to it, like love from someone you always thought you couldn’t stand, and whom you now recognize as a brother, an equal. Someone whose face is the same as yours in the photograph but who is someone else…

Mulder glanced up, offering nothing in response. No flicker of emotion.

Purdue licked his lips. “So she really has moved onto prose. Like you thought she would. She–”

Mulder shook his head. “Same book,” he said quietly. “Page sixty-four.”

The stillness of Mulder’s face was unnerving. Purdue mouthed an “Oh” but couldn’t seem to locate his own voice. Mulder surrendered the sheet of paper, apparently unconcerned.

“What she did to Seilman,” Purdue struggled with the words, “is that what she intends to do with you?”

Mulder shrugged, very distant and just four feet away. “She’s like the moon’s child,” he lisped. “Trying her wings.”

“That’s crap, Mulder. Answer the question.”

Mulder looked away to the television, an act of defiance or confusion. Purdue couldn’t determine which.

“It’s an invitation, isn’t it?” the ASAC tried again. “She’s inviting you to join her, to become what she is.”

“She wants what she’s never had: someone thinking about her, anticipating her, not taking her for granted.”

“Killing eleven people. That’s a hell of a cry for attention.” Purdue chewed his cheek, wondered when that had become a habit. “When did the sex bit come in?”

Mulder shrugged. “It’s always been there at some level. It’s the intimacy she’s after. The need to share who and what she has become.”

“So it’s not just the physical act.”

“It rarely is for women,” he grimaced. “Not any I’ve been with, anyway.”

Purdue shook his head, trying to follow the logic. “And she thinks what? That you’re just going to sit up and perform for her when she gets around to you?”

Mulder smiled languidly, hollowly. “We don’t have that kind of relationship, she and I. We’re engaged in intellectual intercourse.”

Purdue watched the eyes bleeding green almost to clear. “Yeah,” he said. “You hope.”

“She’ll make her move tonight, you know.”

Across the room, Purdue sighed deeply. “Yeah. I figured.”

“Probably just as well,” Mulder picked at a loose scab on his knuckle. “I need to get back to my apartment before the neighbors start complaining about the smell.”

Purdue shivered, suddenly. Someone trompin’ on your grave, his Granny would have said. He was left with the oddest sensation when it had passed, the instant awareness of heightened senses: the give of the upholstery against his back, the solidity of the table against the sole of his shoe, the coolness of the air on the skin below his rolled up sleeves. The air was tinged with the faint odor of Diane’s cigarette and barbecued chicken wings. Purdue had experienced the sensation many times: rushing a suspect, thundering into the lair of a wanted fugitive, shotgun in hand, a flack jacket the only barrier between him and mortality. It was the type of thing that happens when a man is certain of death, aware that each second could be his last. Purdue wondered why it would be happening to him now specifically.

“I got someone cleaning up your place.” He shrugged at Mulder’s surprise. “Thought it might help. Not trying to get into your personal business or anything.”

Mulder shrugged back. The motion said, Yeah, like I have any personal business anymore. Like I even have a life anymore. There was no animosity in the gesture however, just a quiet resignation. Purdue couldn’t say that he liked the implication.

“Don’t suppose you want to keep the table…” Purdue waited patiently.

“Table, mattress. Hell, tell them to haul off the whole damned bed.” Despite the profanity, the words were spoken lightly, a quiet abandonment. Mulder stared at his knuckles, studying his handiwork. “Christ.” He sank back further into the chair like living itself had become oppressive. “I’m sorry,” he said without glancing up. Purdue was silent and he clarified: “About the parking lot.”

Purdue nodded, his face a mask. Not that Mulder ever looked over. Purdue himself concentrated on the television, unwilling to intrude further on the man crumpled in the chair. He spent a minute watching Bogie convince some guy that he wasn’t much into kissing Frenchmen. Strange film.

“So,” Mulder licked his lips, watching the screen himself, “when you slugged Skinner, this was before he was an AD, right?”

Purdue waved a hand vaguely. “Skinner was born an AD. Slapped his mother when he popped out and reassigned her to an obscure regional office to avoid embarrassment.” Mulder grunted softly, a concession of good humor that didn’t reach those lifeless eyes. Purdue’s voice was softer. “Just give yourself some time, Mulder. That’s all I’m asking. Hell, between the stress and the spook–” Purdue choked momentarily. “Just let me help you. Stop fighting me.”

“I don’t know how to stop.” The words were scarcely a whisper and Mulder’s brows drew to a frown, not entirely certain he’d spoken aloud. He looked away from the ASAC, apparently not wanting confirmation one way or the other. His eyes grazed the coffee table again, focused on the Whitman’s Sampler box, its lid open, the candy untouched.

Purdue sat in silence, struggling with words that didn’t seem to want to form. He’d already said everything he’d known how to say; it would be just as pointless to repeat it. He noted the direction of Mulder’s gaze and nodded at the Whitman’s. “Go ahead,” he offered, “Help yourself.”

Mulder looked up from the box of chocolates like Purdue’d just offered him the key to Fort Dix. Purdue glanced away, embarrassed suddenly, confused, staring at Bogart.

“It was my wife’s favorite,” he explained finally, “I’d– I’d buy her one for our anniversary every year. I didn’t think and did it again yesterday. Habit, I guess.”

Mulder was silent too long. Purdue struggled to follow the action on the screen through the haze over his eyes. The blind leading the blind–

“It was Sam’s favorite, too.” Mulder finally found words. He frowned, apparently wondering why they should have been those words exactly.

“Sam?” Purdue blinked, vision clearing rapidly.

“Samantha. My sister.”

Purdue took a good long look at his agent. Finally. The sister. The one that disappeared–

The brother’s eyes refocused on the box and he leaned forward slowly to receive a chocolate. He held it carefully, as a man would regard a gem brought up from the belly of the earth, a rough jewel, encrusted with magma and graphite and the blood of those who died to bring it forth to daylight. “My mom buys me a Whitman’s every year,” he said the words with some amazement. “In memory of Sam.” His voice was old and tired, flat. Purdue almost didn’t recognize it.

Purdue whispered, “Like putting flowers on a grave.”

Mulder nodded. “Only we don’t have a grave. We just have Whitman’s Samplers.” He placed the chocolate in his mouth and chewed solemnly. Purdue’s tongue had dried up completely, swollen with salt suddenly, too wearied with pointless words.

“I loved her,” Mulder whispered, an escaping thought, “as much as I could.”

Purdue bit his lip, but the words would not remain unspoken. “Samantha? Or Kay?”

The rattle of the door and Mulder glanced up. Glanced up to find Sauceda there, Chinese wafting from the bag in his hand, Diana over his shoulder.

Diana, Purdue realized, withhereyesthatlookedlikeKay’s.

Mulder didn’t answer the question.

Part 22: Audience Participation. More or Less.

“I have no trouble with my enemies. I can take care of my enemies all right. But my damn friends, my goddamn friends. They’re the ones that keep me walking the floor nights.”

— Warren G. Harding.

Fowley, ever observant, sensed the tension in the room immediately. She remained at the door, rooted to the spot with her carton of cold drinks, waiting for some kind of cue.

Sauceda, however, plowed straight in, completely unconcerned, and headed for the table beyond the television. He was full of his usual bluster– “Hey, kids, how’s it going hope everyone is hungry man the traffic was a bitch”– and dropped his box of styrofoam containers on the table, gesturing grandly. Not waiting for a response of any kind, he commenced to describe their impending meal with the air of a sideshow barker: its ingredients, its cost, and the infinite pains he’d gone through to acquire it– without once seeming to come up for air. Fowley finally joined him at the table, her smile tentative, her steps grave with uncertainty.

Sauceda unpacked the meal as he lectured, disclosing a dozen waxed cartons and insulated containers of various denominations. The air was suddenly thick with the sticky sweet fragrance of oriental spice and Mulder found himself starved for a cigarette– anything to dispel the smell. He liked Chinese and he was certainly hungry enough, but his stomach wasn’t at all amused by the prospect of actual work.

There was a pack of Winstons on the coffee table and he caught Purdue’s eye. The ASAC nodded at the unspoken request and surrendered his lighter with only the barest hint of hesitation. Mulder pretended not to notice and lit his cigarette, the tip burning orange to an angry red as he inhaled. He handed the lighter back without meeting Purdue’s eyes. The ASAC accepted it in kind, and Mulder retreated to the depths of his chair, smoking grimly.

Purdue, perhaps unwilling to intrude further, rose to assist in the sorting process at the table. Mulder listened to the three-way conversation, marveling that it could be just over his shoulder and yet so far removed. Would the easy banter, he wondered, dissolve to silence if he chose to join in? He decided he’d rather not know the answer to that, and remained in his chair, mute.

Fowley floated past him, heels whispering against the carpet. She sat an extra large iced tea on the coffee table, positioning it within his reach. The waxed cup was too thin for its burden and the little plastic lid had snapped up. She bent to correct it. Mulder studied her briefly out of the corner of his eye: her hair sweeping down, almost concealing her face, only her eye and forehead visible in profile. The scent of Chanel was softer now than it had been this morning. Warm and refined, it was had no place here with the candy wrappers, scattered peanut shells and cheap take-out. The fragrance suited her though. Fowley’s head lifted finally, turned, but Mulder’s gaze was set fiercely on the television. She retreated quickly, as silent as she had come, and Mulder cursed himself.

It’s just a glass of tea. You don’t have to be such a bastard about a glass of freaking tea.

Behind him, Sauceda was still in announcement mode. He had, he declared, steamed dumplings and shrimp tempura for starters. No, there was no vegetable fried rice– the restaurant was fresh out of that, but he’d gotten extra lo mein. Fowley didn’t like lo mein. No matter, Purdue did. Sauceda had ordered vegetable egg rolls. Fowley didn’t like those either but she’d kill them both for the fu yun shrimp. Somehow, all the picking and choosing dissolved into a debate on the merits of egg drop soup over wonton with Fowley and Purdue arguing the issue. The two scarcely noticed when Sauceda backed away from the table and surreptitiously slapped Mulder on the arm.

“Come on,” Sauceda insisted, sotto voce.

“What–” Mulder’s question was mouthed with a puff of smoke. He had wedged himself low against his cushion, the tall back of his chair a wall between him and the voices at the table. Now he twisted awkwardly to eye his partner. Sauceda stood behind the chair, just far enough to the right to be able to lean around and reach Mulder’s ear. It was a position also calculated to keep his back to the table and Purdue. Mulder noted the fact and his protest died on his lips.

“Just shut up and come on,” Sauceda hissed. There was a panicked resolution on his face, completely incongruous with his effortless repartee at the table just seconds before. Mulder hesitated, his mind whirling, but Sauceda jerked his sleeve insistently, a plea too pathetic to deny. Mulder complied, rising from his chair with no real comprehension, certain only that resistance would be an act of treason.

“Problem, Sauceda?” Purdue’s voice behind him stopped Sauceda short. The ASAC was watching them from the other side of the table, perfectly motionless, his brows knitted, one hand holding a bowl of wonton, the other holding the lid, steam making a foggy shadow across his chin.

Sauceda didn’t turn immediately and Mulder observed the blood rush from the man’s face, noted how his eyes widened: a conspirator caught at the gate, blinded before the searchlights. When it came to subterfuge, Sauceda was a sprinter, and he’d exhausted all his reserves with his performance at the table. It apparently just never dawned on the man that life might occasionally require a marathon.

Sauceda’s mouth worked dully but no excuses seemed forthcoming. He turned to Purdue, a parody of slow motion, but duty-bound to face his accuser.

It was time, Mulder decided, for a professional. “So this thermometer,” he demanded of his partner’s profile, “is going in my mouth right?”

Sauceda turned back, blinking spasmodically. His jaw still worked, but it was more of a quivering rather than any effort to form actual words. Only surprise kept him from laughing in relief.

Mulder felt acid begin a slow boil in his esophagus. It was busy grinding at something resembling lead.

At the table Purdue scanned the assorted cartons of rough chopped vegetables and spiced meats and swore mournfully. “You going to be able to eat any of this, Mulder? I can get room service to send up something else if you’re sick–”

“It’s fine. I’m fine. Hot Sauce just wants to play doctor.” Mulder shrugged and gave Sauceda a playful shove. “Fine with me.” He put his cigarette in his mouth and spoke around it. “As long as I get to be on top.”

Fowley raised an appreciative brow and Mulder found himself storing the response away for future reference without knowing exactly why. Sauceda swore gleefully, just a few notches short of hysterics. Mulder grabbed his arm, his grip gentle enough to provide Sauceda a lifeline, rough enough not to arouse suspicion. He was uncertain of just who was supposed to be leading this charade, but Sauceda needed to get somewhere else before Purdue’s eyebrows became one dark line.

“Kid’s runnin’ a fever–” Sauceda offered as he and Mulder tugged one another to the bedroom. “Just need to check him out. It’s nothing. Say– nobody touch my egg roll. Okay?”

Purdue nodded, only half-listening and chewing the inside of his cheek. Mulder felt the ASAC’s eyes burning through him, felt himself flush hot, then tremble like he was fighting a sudden chill. Hell, he probably did look ill. He certainly hoped so. For Sauceda’s sake.

And then finally the bedroom door was closed, a barrier between them and the rest of humanity, blocking out the intrusive stares. Sauceda spun, planting his back against the door, more a motion of collapse than an attempt to thwart interruption.

“Len? What’s going on?”

Sauceda held up his hand for silence, and whispered hoarsely, “What would you do, Marty, if you had a gun?”

The words caught Mulder like a slap across his jaw. He blinked, rolling his cigarette between fingertip and thumb, sounding out the landmine ticking beyond the question. Words. Simply words and suddenly Mulder felt he’d stepped back into one of his more horrific dreams. The room, unlit, was too dark, heavy with impending evil and Sauceda’s face, wrapped in shadows, yielded nothing.

Mulder reached for the light switch. “Len, what are you up to here–?”

Sauceda grabbed Mulder’s arm before he could get it half extended, pushing him backward, away from the switch, away from the door and deeper into the room. Mulder’s back felt exposed suddenly, cold fingers of air whispering down the collar of his shirt. He was afraid and it angered him, this unnamed dread tickling the edges of his mind. He tried to shake Sauceda free but he’d underestimated the pathologist’s determination. Sauceda tightened his grip, hissing as he walked, careful to keep his voice low.

“Look, dammit. Don’t think and don’t ask questions.” Sauceda tugged Mulder close, holding him still like he truly needed him to concentrate. “If–” Sauceda repeated slowly, “if you had your gun, what would you do with it?”

Sauceda’s eyes were perfectly level, fiercely determined. The drapes were partly opened and the ambered glow of streetlights through the sheers lent his features an artificial warmth. He looked battered, although Mulder could detect no bruises, and he held his body like a man in need of a few casts. His face was unnaturally calm, though, eyes reddened, garish against the deep blue-gray circles beneath them, cheeks and jaw still purpled with hints of razor rash. Mulder wondered momentarily if Sauceda had been dipping into the Valium. If he hadn’t, then maybe he needed to.

Mulder chewed his lip a moment, trying to comprehend meanings, words spoken and words unspoken, lost within the difference between the two. “What’s wrong?” he whispered. “Lenny, what’s happened?”

“Christ, Marty–” Sauceda, disgusted, shoved him away and paced to the far wall. “I said, don’t ask me– anything. You understand? Don’t ask me. I can’t–” He stood a long minute, several heartbeats, his back to Mulder, a stubby column of black amongst the shadows. “Nothing’s wrong,” he said finally, his voice steadier, weighted by burdens Mulder couldn’t guess at. “Just– Just what we’re doing to you. That’s wrong.”

He turned. Mulder stood very still, watching him. Sauceda seemed to have difficulty swallowing, finding his voice again only with an effort. “You remember what you told me in the gym, Marty? That you were sorry for being so rough on me?” He spoke the words like they would choke him. Mulder nodded numbly. “Well, kid, you weren’t half as rough as you should have been.”


“I deserve every bit of hell you ever dished out.” Sauceda’s eyes glinted in the darkness, unblinking. “More, even. You remember that. And don’t you ever believe otherwise. You hear me?”

“I hear you, Len.” Mulder’s voice was small in the stillness and he didn’t care, his mind swimming, damned near drowning with half-finished thoughts and theories, none of which made much sense at the moment. He watched Sauceda lick his lips.

“That’s good, kid. You just keep remembering that. Deal?”

Mulder nodded again, wary as Sauceda fished in his coat pocket and closed the distance between them.

“Here.” Sauceda’s hand clamped around Mulder’s wrist and the profiler felt the warmth of a pistol grip slide into his palm. His fingers closed on the polished wood, operating on reflex, instantly locating their respective places on the unfamiliar weapon. His index finger slid along the trigger guard, hesitant, and suddenly he was trembling again.

He shook his head. “Len, you can’t do this. Purdue–”

“You can’t tell Purdue, Marty. You know that, right?”

“Jeezus Christ, will you–”

Sauceda’s grip tightened, panicked as his eyes flickered to the door. Mulder lowered his volume to a boiling hiss.

“Will you just tell me what the hell is going on?”

“I’m leaving, Marty.” The words poured from Sauceda quickly, like he couldn’t rid himself of them fast enough, like they would scald his tongue if he held them too long. He stepped back, staring, horrified by his decision. “You’re on your own, now,” he whispered, voice no longer quite steady.

It was not an excuse for the weapon and Mulder wanted to tell him so, but he couldn’t quite get the argument out. Instead, he felt his knees buckle, overcome by an unexpected grief. He sat down on the end of the bed, dead weight just managing to remain upright. He had no clue why this should be such a shock. Hell, he’d told Sauceda to leave just this morning, right? What was wrong with him now? Wasn’t this what he’d wanted? Hadn’t he known this was coming?

Sauceda moved to the window, staring at the drapes like they were the most interesting view he’d seen in years. Mulder glanced down at his hands as they dangled between his knees, his forearms propped across his thighs. His left hand still clung to the remains of his cigarette. It was quietly smoking itself to ash. In his right was a snub-nosed .38 Smith and Wesson. A single action with a smooth combat trigger. Sauceda’s secondary service revolver. It was the only weapon Lenny had ever fired off a range. Sauceda had told Mulder the story the first day they’d met: Sauceda and three other agents had tracked a kidnapping suspect across four states, finally cornering him in a railroad yard in Albany. The suspect engaged them in a gunfight and Sauceda, the only agent with a clear shot, had aimed his .38 over the hood of a brand new 1957 Buick convertible.

And he’d missed. Sauceda had admitted the fact to Mulder with some measure of pride. His smile was shy as he awaited the derision that usually followed such confessions, but he was also too obviously pleased. And in that moment, Mulder had felt he understood the man: Leonardo Sauceda was a doctor not just in profession, but in his heart. He was proud of the fact that he’d never managed to take a life. Mulder had respected that. Admired it. Perhaps even envied it. And in the span of two heartbeats, Mulder had admitted his new partner within the charmed circle reserved for genuine friendship. It mattered little what Sauceda’s reputation was otherwise, or what he would do behind Mulder’s back– Mulder had seen the man’s true face and would stand beside him, his decision to do so already settled.

The silence between them now was deafening, and had begun to compete with the roar in Mulder’s head. He spun the chamber of the weapon. The room echoed with the solid click, click, click of a full load. Five live rounds.

So full of portent and promise. And prophesy, perhaps–


“When’s your flight?” Mulder didn’t look up, his voice a harsh rasp. His eyes ached with the effort to focus in the muted light. He cleared his throat and flexed his shoulders, trying to relieve himself of the weight that had dragged him down to the bed. He was desperate for his cigarette but couldn’t manage to raise the appropriate hand.

Sauceda watched him fidget, trying to comprehend the random twitching in his partner’s arms. A column of cigarette ash glowed comet-like as it rained down on the carpet.

“Ahm, morning,” he said. “At seven. Look, Marty, I’m sorry to dump this on you like this–”

“It’s okay, Len. I told you should have gone. Remember? You don’t owe me anything.”

Sauceda glanced away again, Adam’s apple bobbing desperately. “Don’t you believe it, kid.” He turned back, pinning Mulder with his glare. “Don’t ever believe any of it.”

“Believe any of what?” Sauceda didn’t answer and Mulder slammed the side of his fist against the bed, oblivious to the possible harm to his cigarette. “Goddammit, Len, you’re not making any sense–” It was another hiss. Damn Purdue for being just beyond the door. Mulder wanted to roar, to shake some sense into Sauceda, to shake himself free of this unnamable ache.

Sauceda flinched, but didn’t move otherwise, a dark shape against the backdrop of the drape, arms crossed, shoulders hunched. Mulder swore again, feeling ridiculous– sitting in a darkened bedroom with another man, playing with guns–

He dropped the weapon on the bed beside him. It felt good to be free of it, its weight, its potential for misery, and after a moment’s consideration, he leaned forward and pushed it across the mattress, leaving it just beyond the reach of his arm. He resumed his place at the other edge of the bed and took a steadying puff from what was left of his cigarette.

“Look, Len, you’re obviously in some kind of trouble. Let me help you sort–”

“Shit!” Sauceda thundered across the room and snatched up the revolver. “You can’t even help yourse– Shit! Shit! Shit!” Sauceda stood a moment, rocking on his heels like he didn’t know whether to run or collapse onto the mattress himself. He put his free hand on his hip and gestured with the weapon without managing to point it at Mulder. “Look,” he lectured, “sometimes a man just has to make some decisions, okay? And this one– this one’s mine, Marty. ‘S got nothing to do with you.”

“Uh huh. So that’s why you’re trusting me with a gun all of a sudden? What’s next? A belt? A shoelace, maybe?”

Sauceda didn’t answer immediately, and Mulder realized finally that the man was panting, dark curls plastered to his forehead despite the too-cold blast of the a/c. Sauceda’s mouth worked again, but it took a few tries before words began to form.

“Don’t you do me like that, Marty. Don’t you go kill yourself and leave me with the guilt for the rest of my life. You son of a bitch! Don’t you do me like that–”

Mulder’s face twisted, a combination of sarcasm and the bitter taste in his mouth. “Ah, come on, Len. Don’t tell me you haven’t fantasized about having my body on your gurney–”

Sauceda took two rapid steps, the gun swinging up, butt-end first, ready to slap some sense into his partner’s head. He stopped before Mulder could react, however, and stood there, gasping in horror, words quite beyond him.

Mulder’s head was pounding like he’d already received the blow. He didn’t rise, though. He couldn’t. He pressed the heel of his left hand against his eye, needing his right hand on the mattress to keep him vertical. “I’m not,” he answered carefully, “going to kill myself.” Sauceda was too quiet and Mulder glanced at him. Sauceda, red-faced, looked far from convinced. Mulder resisted the urge to grit his teeth. “Jeezus Christ, Lenny, if that was what I really wanted, don’t you think I’d’ve done it by now? I swear to God–”

“We both know you and God aren’t exactly on speaking terms, Marty,” Sauceda seemed to be enjoying his anger. “I swear, you’d lie to Him faster than you would to me, even.”

For some reason, that one hurt. Perhaps it was just a cumulative effect, but for Mulder, it was all finally far too much. Sauceda’s face fell, anger subsiding back to anxiety, as something in Mulder’s eyes registered for him. Mulder wasn’t in the mood for apologies right now, however. And he’d be damned if he’d take part in some emotional striptease just to validate his own sanity.

“So,” Mulder hissed, “I won’t swear. And you take your fucking gun and go to hell.”

Sauceda’s shoulders slumped and he dropped his eyes, chewing his lip. The revolver slapped against his thigh softly. After a deep breath, Sauceda slapped it again, an unconscious gesture, apparently just needing to feel something solid and real on the end of his arm while he came to a decision. He nodded without glancing up.

“Okay, then, Marty.”

Mulder watched him move to the headboard and pull back the bedspread. Sauceda walked as though through water and it took several grabs before he located the sheet. He tossed the corner of it aside, then took a moment punching the pillow back into shape, dully pounding out the impression Mulder’s head had left on it. The pillow endured the assault patiently, Mulder watching in fascination. Satisfied at last, Sauceda shoved the weapon beneath the pillow, then stood, staring at it.


Mulder didn’t complete the sentence. Sauceda had pounced at the pillow again, holding it pressed down tightly with both hands. Mulder was struck with the idea of Sauceda trying to smother his own revolver. Somehow, though, it just wasn’t very funny.

Sauceda regarded him over his shoulder. “Our secret. Right, kid?”

Mulder blinked, lost in this impetuous maze. His conscious mind said he was a fool. Said that Sauceda was an even bigger one. That one of them was obviously having a nervous breakdown. Mulder’s unconscious mind, however, was ominously still, conspicuous by its silence.

Sauceda straightened, still watching Mulder, and chewing his lip again. He rubbed his hands on his thighs, scrubbing like something had soiled his palms. Mulder was reminded, oddly enough, of a picture he’d seen once during a rare trip to a friend’s Sunday school class: Pilate drying his hands before the screaming mob. It had fascinated him all those years ago and he saw it again in dreams occasionally even now: the too-vibrant colors, the flat, empty faces portrayed by the artist. Pilate’s hands crumpling that crimson cloth.

Sauceda managed a hollow smile, despite the fact that Mulder hadn’t answered. “Right then,” he chirped. “That’s, uhm– that.” He said it like some business had been settled, and like he was glad of it without knowing exactly what business it was he had settled. Damned if Mulder could tell him. “Come on, kid–” Sauceda waved an arm awkwardly and Mulder thought at first he was going to be slapped. Or hugged, God forbid. “Let’s go eat–”

“I’m not hungry.” Mulder growled the words, fighting for the anger that had so insulated him of late. It was a familiar shield, a well-worn armor, and slipped easily into place now. It lent a straightness to his spine, steadiness to his limbs and he stood. The motion was abrupt, electric, and Sauceda stepped back, wary and suddenly anxious. It was Mulder’s turn to cross to the window. He tugged the sheers aside and stared out without really seeing. DC at night was like most any other city, anyway.

He felt Sauceda watching him and shoved his cigarette into his mouth just to have something to be doing. There wasn’t much of it left now and Mulder heard some area of his brain musing over the fact that there wasn’t a great deal left of a lot of things in his life. He didn’t follow the thought very far though.


“I’m gonna take a nap. I’ll eat later.” He didn’t turn to regard the man.

“Marty, you just took a nap–”

“So I’ll take another. Or is the Bureau rationing sleep now?”

He took a deep drag off the cigarette without enjoying it. Sauceda was right. He needed to give the damned things up. Behind him, Sauceda shuffled, approaching, paused as Mulder stiffened. The same shoes shuffled back again, restoring the distance uncertainly.

“I didn’t mean to upset you with the gun, Marty. I just wanted you to be safe, is all. We can’t– Purdue can’t protect you from everything.” The final sentence was whispered with such pain Mulder felt the hair stand up on the back of his neck.

“You’re not going to tell me what this is about are you?” Mulder’s own voice was soft, kinder than he felt. He didn’t turn, giving Sauceda the privacy he might need to reconsider. It was Sauceda’s decision, and the idea of forcing the old man to violate it just made his gut burn.

There was no response for a few minutes, although he thought he heard Sauceda moan just the slightest bit, a kind of pitiful little half-choked noise like a kitten might make–

Mulder lowered his head and swore silently.

Sauceda whispered behind him. “I can’t Marty. I’m sorry.”

The answer echoed in the room and Mulder’s mind echoed Purdue’s voice right behind it: Sauceda’s tired, Mulder. You scare him. You know that?

“You’re gonna do okay, though, kid. Right? Purdue’ll keep your back covered. And Fowley won’t be such a bad partner once you set her straight. Besides, she’s got better legs than me.”

Even with his back turned, Mulder could hear the smile, forced as it was. He nodded, ignoring the invitation to provide information on his emotional state. He just didn’t have any at the moment. He knew only that he couldn’t step out that door and pretend anymore. Not for a while anyway.

“I’m okay, Len. I’m just tired.” Mulder wondered how many times he’d spoken that lie. Wondered how many times Sauceda had told similar lies to him. Wondered how often those lies had become the truth. Like now. Suddenly, Mulder felt he could sleep forever. He leaned his hand against the window, felt the glass yield– oh so slightly– with the pressure of his palm. A few more heartbeats in silence and he sensed, more than heard Sauceda’s slow shuffle to the door. Felt it when he turned back.

“Marty. I– I’ll call you. You know, to keep in touch. Okay? Will that be okay?”

Mulder nodded, again. “Sure, Len.” He was grateful for the window there steadying him, grateful for something to hold him up against the weariness. “That’d be great.”

Across the room, Sauceda seemed to be weighing his sincerity. Or maybe he’d just lost the ability to walk. Which ever, it was a temporary problem, and he moved again after a long moment, Mulder certain of every step he took even without seeing it. There was a soft click as the door opened slightly, Sauceda taking one final look, at war with himself and losing. Then the door closed, finally, another soft, solid click.

And even with the door between them, Mulder knew what Sauceda was thinking: he had made, without doubt, the biggest mistake of his life.

9:40 PM. Embassy Suites Hotel. Room 328.


There was a hand on his face. The touch was as tentative as a new lover’s, an intimate partner not yet familiar with the details of his flesh, and uncertain of welcome. The hand pressed whisper soft, trailing hesitantly across his brow, lingering, fingers ruffling his hair. Another reticent stroke, down toward his neck this time, and as the palm passed his cheek, there was the faintest scent of lavender soap. The brush of manicured nails on the pressure-points of his throat set up a vague warmth in his groin, then the fingers were in his hair again, gentle and concerned, lovingly tangling his mind around too many images: Phoebe giggling at him over the edge of a book, Rachel asleep on his arm, Kay settling her body across his to receive a kiss–

Passion, wrapped in various disguises, stirred, trying to free him from the paralyzing fever of his dream, the pounding of his heart seeking a more comfortable rhythm. The nightmare, however, would not be ignored. It retaliated viciously, dragging Kay down in its fathomless haze, engulfing Rachel in blood and grabbing Phoebe by the throat. Mulder struggled against the images, but could not escape the battlefield that lay between sleep and consciousness, held hostage on the front lines of his own psyche. Memories of what was real and what was merely imagined whirled like a Mobius strip, twisting round and round and round until he lost all sense of time and place, until he could no long distinguish between wakefulness and sleep.

Nightmare drew the hand on his face– soft and feminine– within its world, and Mulder recalled the events of his dream, living them again in one tremendous rush: a child’s giggle, a gasp. The explosion of a hollow point in his chest, the weight of his body falling backward, sprawling onto the bed. His sweat was blood suddenly, and it boiled like lava across his ribs, soaking into the tangled sheet beneath him.

And the hands themselves– the hands, so tender, running over his body, taking their fill of him before she would fill him with the blade–

Fingers, no longer simply dreamt, but felt, slid from his neck onto his chest, a gentling gesture that inflamed his every instinct and ignited adrenaline into a frenzied panic. The nightmare was no match for his desperation, for his will to live, and it fled, releasing muscles from the paralysis of sleep. Mulder grabbed for the woman before he even got his eyes open, clutching her with both hands, his chest screaming for air he couldn’t draw in, would have no need for if he failed to stop her. She squealed, too surprised for a full-throated scream, caught completely off guard. He should be dead after all, shouldn’t he? Shot through the heart. He shouldn’t be capable–

— Of feeling her knee in his gut as he wrestled her down onto the bed with him– Of feeling her gasping, calling his name, pleading– His mind had no time for such considerations, however. There was only one thing necessary. Where was the knife? Where was the fucking knife? Which hand–

Mulder straddled the struggling body in the darkness, running his palms up her arms savagely, crushing silk and bruising flesh, seeking her fists and the weapon that she surely must have ready for him. Within seconds he held both her hands in his– empty! He pressed her deep into the mattress as she continued to resist.

“Goddammit, where is it? Where’s the goddam knife? I’ll kill you right now, bitch!–”


The voice was wholly, completely terrified. And horrifyingly familiar. Mulder forced his eyes to focus in the gloom.


Fowley, held tight between his knees, stopped her struggling, wide-eyed, pupils dilated with fear. She nodded, too busy panting to manage words.

Mulder swore, releasing her abruptly. He scrambled against the rumpled bedclothes, getting himself free of her, of the bed. Standing was difficult, walking impossible, but he tried it anyway, stumbling as he backed away to the door. He was shivering, suddenly and uncontrollably. It possessed him like angry spirits. He was furious. With himself. With Fowley. With Sisyphus for not being here. For not letting him finally settle this–

Fowley, slowly realizing that Death had found her blissfully unworthy of attention, struggled to sit upright. One hand, guilty and shamed, fluttered to her throat, grasping a small chain of gold to steady herself.

“I’m–” she flushed pure scarlet. “I was just checking on you, Fox. I didn’t mean to startle you. I’m sorry….”

The apology and its sincerity almost strangled him.

You could have killed her. You would have killed her–

He remembered the feel of her body under him, the slender hips beneath his thighs, and snapped to the fact that she wasn’t wearing a holster. If she had and he’d found the gun, if he’d had the presence of mind to remember Sauceda’s gun beneath his own pillow–

The door frame was near at hand and he leaned against it, unable to walk the short distance to the sitting room, unwilling to abandon a victim. His victim.

“I’m sorry.” He surprised himself that speech was possible.

Fowley blinked at him from the center of the bed, registering he knew not what. She suddenly seemed aware that her skirt was way too far up her hips, though. Mulder turned his head as she jerked at the fabric, making a valiant effort to back out of the bed and right her clothing at the same time.

Mulder kept his eyes down. He had problems of his own. His shirt was soaked with sweat. Icy liquid ran down his body, saturating his waistband and slicking his hips and thighs. His jeans felt like they’d been glued in place. His trembling rose and fell with each breath and he tried to tell himself it was just the combination of the a/c and the sweat. More lies.

Mulder propped himself against the door and called into the sitting room. “Lenny!”

“He’s not here, Fox.”

Mulder glanced back, surprised by the steadiness of Fowley’s voice, grateful for it. She was almost herself again: her blouse wrinkled but tucked, her skirt down to a slightly more modest level. She was busy smoothing her hair into place, using her fingers like a comb.

“So where is he?” Mulder demanded. His throat burned, leaving his voice a harsh rasp. He hated being scared like this, emotions still locked somewhere in dreams, coloring everything that should now be reality. Light and shadow didn’t fall quite right, either. Vague impressions of people not actually present still clung to the corners of his mind, whispering just outside his peripheral vision. “Why isn’t Lenny here?”

Fowley frowned at his injured voice. She shook her head, rounding the bed, but taking each step slowly, afraid of startling him again. Mulder felt himself blush and hated that, too.

“He was next door,” she tilted her head, indicating the wall and the suite beyond it. “He wasn’t feeling well and decided to get some rest before his flight. But Purdue was called out a couple of hours ago. I think he may have taken Sauceda with him.”

“Called out? Called out where?”

She smiled, actually smiled at him, delighted to have something of value to him at last. The war on the bed was forgotten, apparently.

“Detective Harris,” she explained, “called a few hours ago. He’d been searching old medical records looking for those miscarriages you mentioned. In your profile.” She paused, frowning again as Mulder nodded, trying to hurry her past ancient knowledge. She obviously didn’t realize the problems he was having just standing.

She studied him, fingering her chain of gold again. “Anyway, Harris said one of the names rang a bell and he kept going back to it. Then it dawned on him. Cecile Fuche. Sisy-phus.” She said the word slowly, like she feared he wouldn’t note the similarities without such assistance. He nodded again, irritably, the motion painful, his head raging. Her smile broadened with his acknowledgement, too caught up in her personal triumph to note his impatience. “So Harris tracked her down. She fit your profile to a T, Fox. Full-time housewife. Husband dead about a year. No kids. She’d lived in Columbus but had been making regular trips to Wheeling since the murders there began. Her credit cards put her in DC now. In the Embassy Square Suites on N Street.”

Which was, what? A half block up, maybe two blocks over? Fowley didn’t bother saying the words. They echoed loudly enough on their own.

“Shit!” Mulder fled, anger lending him strength. The room tilted a bit as he stepped through the door, and he caught the doorframe to right it again, willed himself into the sitting room. He just couldn’t watch Fowley play with her little chain any longer. The television played softly, another movie no one was watching, Woody Allen droning endlessly. He felt Fowley moving up behind him, close but not touching, giving him a measure of personal space.

“Fox? Are you all right? I–”

“They’ve found her, then. It’s over.” His voice was hollow in his own ears, grating, and it hurt to speak. Silence, however, was impossible. “Fuck Purdue. I’m the primary agent on this case and he leaves me napping like some damned old man while he goes out to make the collar. All that bullshit about trusting him–”

“No, Fox. It isn’t like that–”

Mulder had reached the table and turned to squint at her, both hands squeezing the back of a chair for support as the room took another dive. “The hell you say–” Purdue’s actions were not standard operating procedure. Hell, they weren’t even common courtesy.

“Sisyphus checked out of her room this afternoon, Fox.” Fowley’s tone was patient but not condescending. “Purdue didn’t want to create a SWAT situation and called the hotel management to put them on alert. They confirmed that she’d check out at 3:30 this afternoon.” She waited for some sign of surprise or disappointment, shrugged when none seemed forthcoming. “Evidence techs are going over her hotel room, and meanwhile we’ve got an APB out for every cab, bus, plane and rental car company in three states. We’ll find her, Fox. And you’ll be there. It’s still your case.”

Mulder shook his head, regretting the motion when the room whirled a bit faster. This time it showed no sign of slowing. He swore, blinking hard, trying to clear the doubled vision just behind his eyes. The nightmare was far from being done with him, but the impressions it had left him were too confused to be easily categorized and dealt with. Too many of the images just held no connection to the others: a motel room, a suburban sidewalk, a child’s scream, a body across a bed. A wooded lot, trees and roots that tripped and tore. A gunshot, a strangulation– his Adam’s apple still throbbing from the pressure of the hands around his neck–

Not Sisyphus’ hands, either. Too strong, too large. A man’s hands. Besides, Sisyphus wouldn’t kill with her bare hands. A gun, a silk tie she could hold by the very ends– these were close enough for her. She enjoyed the feel of death but was still too squeamish to thrill to the sensation of the actual dying. Such intimacy embarrassed her.

Tonight there had been more than one dream, then. More than one murder. And more than one murderer, with separate crimes having nothing to do with one another, nothing in common. Except that Mulder was privy to them both, tripping over them tangled together in the darkness, defenseless in his sleep. Two against one.

Had they caught that bastard in Fredericksburg? Damn them–

Caught in the emotional upheaval of other people’s destructions, Mulder tried concentrating on his breathing, something rational and normal, something he could control. Fowley took a step forward and he jerked away, moving into the room, refusing to look at her further.

“Call Purdue,” he demanded.

“Fox, he swore he’d call before they made an arrest–”

“No, dammit, call him. Tell him to search her hotel. The other rooms. There’s a body there somewhere.” He licked his lips. “I’ll lay money on it.”

He didn’t need a dream to tell him the truth of it. The similarities in the names of the hotels were enough: Sisyphus knew where he was. There had been no error on her part. She was simply teasing again, playing with Purdue and his best-laid plans. And that meant she had plans all her own. Purdue would have guessed that much, though.

Fowley was searching his face. He realized the fact but refused to return the regard, focusing instead on the not-quite empty air just above her head. She didn’t stare long, however, and she didn’t argue. The phone was in her hand in a minute. She dialed without hesitation.

“Do you want to speak to him?” she asked as she waited for the line to answer.

Mulder gave a brief twist of his head in response. He felt far too ill, suddenly, the room too close, too warm, surreal within his epidemic lack of clarity. His skin crawled with the sensation of touch, the careful, proficient hands of Sisyphus– no, Cecile Fuche. Beautiful name. As she had been beautiful once. Too many years ago now, she would say. And how did he know that she would say so? He wondered at his certainty, wondered why such things should be so important now.

“It’s bad, isn’t it?”

Her voice, Fowley’s voice, startled him with its proximity, and he realized that some minutes must have passed: the phone was back in its cradle and she was watching him. She maintained a respectful distance, certainly, but those eyes would not release him, concerned and expectant, her body turned slightly away in an attempt not to be too invasive, fingers tense on her necklace, a private talisman. Mulder squinted, trying to determine if there was some small charm attached to the chain, an amulet, perhaps, a cross. There was nothing.


“What?” He asked the question, but slowly, wanting no answer, wanting no one to be there to need an answer. He wanted to be alone. He really needed to be alone–

“I’ve read your other cases, Fox.” Her voice was careful, but intent as if the words were being dragged from her. “You’re a fine investigator. But some of it…” she bit her lip against his silence, his refusal to look directly at her. “After a while,” she insisted, “you know who the next one is, don’t you? Not a name or enough to pick them out of an entire city, but you can describe them, know how they’re going to die–”

“Like shit.” The room was closing in, the violence of his dreams catching up with him, and Mulder trembled against the inevitable. There was a Doppler shift in the light beyond Fowley’s head, a subtle alteration in the color of the wall in just that particular spot. Air, taking shape–

Fowley stared at him, not bothering to hide her frustration. “You’re denying it? Police and sheriffs in over a dozen counties have falsified reports regarding your work?”

Mulder’s arms flinched up across his chest, fingers digging into his arms, talons to hold himself still, to protect himself from the explosion building within. Fowley’s voice echoed in his head and he saw Kay, her face bruised, one eye puffy. He’d done that. He could do it again. When the visions overcame him like this, he was capable of anything–

“Or is it shit because you wish you hadn’t told them?” Fowley demanded, oblivious to the roar in his head, the fear making his heart skip. “Because it did no good: they still didn’t find them in time and you came so close to being labeled psychotic yourself? You know what I think?” she plowed on, ignoring his grunt. “I think you know more than you’re telling even now. Not enough to stop the killings, you’re not that cold-blooded, but things that they’d put you away for just for knowing–”

“What will it take?” he pleaded. He shouldn’t be pleading, dammit, but he was lost and losing more ground with every second. “For five minutes alone? What do I have to do?” He backed away from her, moving slowly, cautious in spite of his terror, not trusting his eyes to see the truth of things, the location of things. The figures were moving, slipping in and out of his peripheral vision, walking along the walls and whispering. Soon he’d be able to hear only them if he wasn’t careful–

Fowley, however, didn’t see them. “Fox. I… Paterson showed me your journal. The one he took from you in Shreveport.”

Mulder froze, the shadows dancing now.

“I only read a few pages,” Fowley continued, biting her lip against the intensity of his face. “On the third victim. Jenny Weidenfield.”

Mulder turned back to glance at her, remained there, caught in some kind of spell. His eyes were hypnotic as she made her confession, and Fowley was unable to hold the words back, charmed by the cobra’s gaze as Mulder focused on the wall just beyond her shoulder, squinting like the light hurt his eyes.

“You wrote what you couldn’t tell the sheriff,” she said and her voice quavered slightly. “How she’d believed this was happening to her because she’d stolen her brother’s X-Man comics and hid them under her bed. That she was so sorry for having done it, but the killer just told her to shut up when he… before he silenced her. You were angry that… that no one would ever know how sorry she was or how much she liked cherry ice cream. That her favorite color was yellow and that she had a crush on Ernie, that little muppet on Sesame Street. And you couldn’t tell them for her. Because that just wasn’t done. That was certifiable insanity.”

She bit her lip again and Mulder blinked as one of the shadows stepped from the wall beside her and walked unperceived across her face. Mulder’s eyes followed the fleeing specter. The shadow turned to regard him, the rapt face of a child, and he turned away abruptly.

“I’m going to take a shower,” he rasped. Hide behind the wall of water where they wouldn’t come…. Maybe, too, it would wake him up from this nightmare, wash it all away… And if it didn’t, well, Fowley wouldn’t be so close when it all went to hell–

Fowley followed him into the bedroom, silent, watchful, allowing him several lengths of distance. He walked faster, retreating before her advance but unable to run. He stumbled, tugging off his shirt as he reached the bed. He was shaking, and it was from fear. Fear because the tide was turning, the spook was rearing up to take control and the sea of madness was not so far behind him now. Fear because Fowley was here, an unknown quantity, would be here when the wave hit, and he had no guarantees that he could spare her from it, how it would react to her presence. He turned, a final effort.

“Diana, you need to leave me alone.” His voice was a rasp, viciousness forced but unwavering. There was a thinly-veiled threat in his posture, in his tone, that froze her where she stood. No, this– this wasn’t right. He shouldn’t be panicking her. He should be reassuring her that all was well– God, he really wasn’t handling this very well– Mulder decided to try to recover the situation, tried exuding reassurance he didn’t have.

“I just want to take a shower,” he repeated rationally.

“I’m not stopping you, Fox.” She blinked twice, body stiff, quite still, voice carefully patient. She was good. He’d give her that much.

“I’m not leaving the damned door open. Understand?”

She favored him with that appreciative brow again, so oblivious to the whispers in his head, unconcerned that several people had just stepped through her, fanning out through the bedroom to take their positions. “Not every woman on this planet is hot for your body, Agent Mulder,” she quipped. “Don’t give me a reason to come in there and I won’t.”

Mulder didn’t answer, couldn’t think clearly enough to speak. He stumbled for the dresser, amazed that he could recall that he would actually need clothes– froze to find a little figure between him and the dresser. She smiled at him. She had two front teeth missing, and a memory he could not possibly possess, recalled itself to Mulder suddenly: a bedroom done up in pink wallpaper and Barbie sheets. The little girl’s excitement as she’d slipped the teeth beneath her pillow. Last week. Just last week, she’d placed two tiny teeth under her pillow. Just last week she’d knelt down to say her prayers and said an extra one for the Tooth Fairy, requesting safety for her journey.

She giggled at him now, teeth still missing, standing there a foot away from him, knowing his thoughts. You didn’t pray for yourself, though, did you? he wanted to scream at her. She shook her head, the smile never dimming, and stepped aside to let him pass.

Mulder grabbed the dresser to keep from falling down, fumbling for the knob only on instinct. It took concentration just to convince himself he was still sane.

Fowley watched his choices: jeans, T-shirt, socks–

“No, Fox,” she commanded imperiously. “Just underwear while you’re in the bathroom. You can wrap up in a towel and change when you’re back in the bedroom. Sauceda’s orders.”

“Screw Sauceda,” Mulder hissed, slamming the drawer and yanking open another. He wasn’t certain he could walk just yet, anyway.

Fowley’s voice was caustic with sarcasm. “You screw Sauceda, sir. Just underwea–”


“Look. You want an argument? Fine. We’ll stand here and argue. I can do that in spades. And I’ll win.” She crossed her arms as he spun around to face her, but she took a step back. Just one step before she caught herself. Her voice was steady. “I’m under orders, sir. You’re not taking anything but your jockeys in there with you. Argue with me and you’ll be streaking.”

Mulder’s clothes twisted in his fists. Shadows, flung at light speed, splattered across the wall, turning slowly, peeping out at him from around the framed prints and the drapery. Were they retreating? Or regrouping? There was a horrifying pressure in his chest that he was supremely grateful for. It helped him to concentrate.

“I-am-not-going-to-hurt-myself.” His voice was hard. He wondered why he should find it so important for her to believe him.

“I’m glad to hear it,” she answered reasonably. “Then you’ll have no objections to the order.”

Mulder hurled his collection of clothes onto the bed. “First you’re reading my journal, now you’re telling me what I can’t wear–”

She took a deep steadying breath. “I’m sorry, Fox. I had no more right to read it than Patterson had to steal it. But I didn’t know you then. I apologize–”

“Fuck you. You don’t know me now. Don’t you patronize me. Don’t you ever patronize me. I’m taking this shower. You understand? And I’m locking the door.” If Mulder’s eyes got any darker, they’d be bleeding.

Fowley licked her lips. She formed the words carefully. “The locks, sir, have been removed. Purdue’s orders.”

He stared at her. She temporarily stopped breathing and her eyes changed to Kay’s again. Kay standing shivering in a motel room with a maniac three steps away–

Mulder slammed against the dresser in his panic to be free of her, to have her at a safe distance. She stepped back as he passed her– several steps this time, body tense– but Mulder didn’t notice, intent on his new mission. He stumbled to the bathroom door and checked the lock. There wasn’t one.

Jeezus god, Jeezus god–

Terror overcame him. He was trembling again and it had nothing to do with locks. Locks were suddenly, however, his only frame of reference, the most important things on earth. He scrambled back to the bedroom, Fowley wide-eyed and open mouthed as she watched him from a safe distance. No lock on the bedroom door and he slammed it into the wall. He spun to flick on the light switch and scan the room. All the exposed electrical sockets had been sealed. The bedroom phone had been removed to avoid any nasty entanglements with the goddam twisted little cords–

Mulder paced back through the suite, ignoring the shadows dancing after him: the little hall to the bedroom, the cramped, empty bathroom, the sitting room with its half-assed kitchenette. The bar was locked. The glasses on the shelf above it were soft plastic. He slapped at them, jerking a drawer open: cheap plastic utensils and no knives. There was a stained ring in the Formica where the Mister Coffee should have been–

The entire suite had been politely and efficiently childproofed, probably before they’d even allowed Mulder into the hotel. And except for the bathroom mirror, he hadn’t even noticed. They must have been laughing their asses off–

“Shit!” Didn’t they see? Didn’t they understand? If he’d wanted to kill himself, all he’d had to do was stay home and wait for Sisyphus to do it for him– or just use Lenny’s gun. “Fucking hell!”

And Fowley had followed him again. Still giving him distance, but following, silent as he slammed cabinet doors and overturned chairs, using every word of profanity he’d ever learned.

Adrenaline poured off him with the sweat. He was lost now, completely unable to turn the tide of mania threatening to engulf him. He could feel it, a hot breath rasping against the back of his neck, and there was no place to hide from it, no place he could run–

He spun around anyway, fleeing back the way he’d come. Fowley flinched as he passed her, and he stopped, frozen with the sudden realization of how truly vulnerable she was–

Facts ran helter-skelter with the fear now as he stared at her: she was a woman, not exactly dressed for a fight. He outweighed her by a good fifty pounds and he’d had just as much training as she had, maybe more. Some twisted part of his mind rolled over with the comforting thought that she’d hesitate to use a gun on him even if she had one. It was the same set of warped brain cells that made him equally conscious of the fact that he was only half dressed and she was breathing too hard.

God damn Purdue.

Mulder backed away, putting a additional yard of space between himself and his soft-eyed warden. Fowley was pale, breathing through her mouth.

“Do you want me to call Sauceda?” she asked softly, apparently not knowing anything else to say.

It’s too late, it’s toolate, it’stoolate…

“I don’t need Sauceda,” he rasped, a plea he scarcely had words for. “I just need to be alone right now.”

“Fox,” she caught herself pleading, and choked on the words, regaining her composure with supreme effort. “I can’t trust you alone. Purdue’s orders.”

Mulder bit back more profanity, jerking with it anyway.

“Just ten minutes,” he managed finally. “Diana. Just ten minutes. You stand outside the door. In the hall. And then I’ll let you back in.”

“Fox, would you like something to calm you down–”

“It’s too late for drugs. Help me, Diana. Please. Just ten minutes. Not a second longer. I promise. I’ll be okay. I swear.”

She trembled against the sweat making her blouse stick. He licked his lips at the sight of her, panicked and trembling and wrapped in softly revealing silk. He closed his eyes against the image, shocked that his mind could still go there even now. Marveled that her voice could be so steady.

“I know you need to feel in control of your life,” she was reasoning aloud, the psychobabble he’d used too many times in similar circumstances. “I know you need the time to yourself, I just can’t give it to you right–”

“You don’t know shit,” he hissed. “Don’t tell me what I need.”

“Then what the hell does ten minutes buy you?” She was shouting finally, the fear and confusion too much. “What is it you need to do in ten minutes that I have to be outside the damned door–”

Her loss of control was all Mulder needed to slip headfirst into chaos. It all snapped suddenly. He closed the distance between them, stalking, eyes hard, beyond reason. He watched her flinch but kept walking. He pronounced his words deliberately, desperately. “I’m not going to do anything. I just need the time. I need to be alone. I need you to leave me alone.” It was a mantra now and even he wasn’t hearing it.

She swallowed hard, looking up at him, his face inches from her own. She took a deep breath. And braced herself.

“No,” she whispered.

He grabbed her upper arms– more gently than she would have given him credit for– but firm enough to lift her from the floor. She knew, somehow, that his intention was simply to get her out the door. It didn’t make her fight any less desperate, however, as he carried her across the room. They had the same training but he had size and desperation on his side of the balance sheet. And this was one argument he was determined to win.

She struggled wildly, twisted in his hands. Mulder held her upper arms pinned to her body, however, and her nails scratched uselessly at his elbows, trying to claw at his bare chest. She twisted her hips, legs flailing to trip him up. He held her too close to knee him effectively, but he jerked anyway, twisting her to his left side. Her heels slammed hard into the wall, and then suddenly she was kicking at the door, pushing with everything she had, trying to keep him from the doorknob.

Christ, wasn’t there anyone out there to hear–

But no. No one was expecting attack from the inside. Not on the third floor.

Fowley braced herself to scream, to make herself heard by the agents in the lobby three floors down. One final kick, however, and Mulder had finally lost his grip. She slipped from his grasp, feet still flailing, her shout nothing more than a surprised “Oh!”

Mulder grabbed her up on instinct, trying to protect her from the fall even as he struggled against his own overwhelming demons. His hands found her waist, the small of her back, and he had a clear vision suddenly of a wall in a diner, a petite brunette stumbling, laughing as he caught her–

Fowley wrapped her arms around his neck, her legs around his hips, instinctively allowing him to gather her up, and they stumbled together until her back was against the door. Mulder was panting, certain he would faint from lack of oxygen, longing for the event. Still, Fowley refused to yield her ground.

“By God,” she gasped, “if I’m going out the door you’re coming with me–”

Mulder gulped air, trembling, his cheek against her ear, her hair plastered to his face, the silk of her blouse stuck tight against his chest.

Her breathing was just as frantic as his own. “You can’t do this to me, Fox Mulder.” He could have sworn she was crying. “You can’t. I’m staying. I’mstayingI’lmstayingI’msta-”

He shut his eyes against her voice, against her breath, hot and sweet as feather kisses on his chest. His body was braced no longer against her struggle, but against his own approaching defeat. He shook with the effort to choke back the tide but it was hopeless. He couldn’t spare her. The wave broke over him in a flash of blinding agony, his head exploding with the force. It tore down his neck and slammed into his chest and his body clenched with the sudden impact.

Fowley cried out in terror at the convulsive transformation. Mulder registered her panic and released her abruptly, slamming both fists into the solid door to either side of her, seeking pain– anything that would drive the horror away. Fowley cringed against the violence but refused to let go her grip.

The howl that escaped him was pure animal, absolute pain.

He swore all the way down to the floor as he collapsed, swore because he was collapsing, swore because she was here to see. Fowley held him tight, crumpling down with him. He didn’t resist her, pulled her to him instinctively as the sobs shook him.

This was no cry of release, no washing of shame. It was hard and violent and harrowing. It made her body ache as it rattled though his chest and into her own. Her bones screamed in echo against the onslaught.

She said not a word. No soft cooing noises, no sighs of reassurance. She had none. Nothing was adequate for this. Nothing in her experience could have equipped her for it. All the pain Mulder had feared to lash out with, he turned resolutely in upon himself.

In his last vestige of conscious reason, he released her, throwing his arms wide across the floor. Fowley refused to let him go, however. She feared him as much in that moment as she had when he’d raised his fists, but she clung all the tighter. Draped across his chest, her legs wrapped across his hips, she held him fast and he was powerless to prevent her. Her hands on his neck were cool, motionless. Her breath was warm on his chest. Her lips touched him occasionally, moved to the hollow of his sternum in what might have been a caress had he been conscious enough to comprehend.

She waited with him for the grief to concede. Not abate, not dissipate, just surrender to exhaustion. It was a long wait, it felt like hours. And still she held him, her hair fanned across his chest, and he allowed it, words and motion beyond him.

The bulb in the bedside lamp was amber, and the shade, a dusky Indian red, filtered the glow even further, casting the room in hellish hues. The air belied the illusion, however. It was getting steadily colder in here. The thermostat dutifully registered sixty-two degrees, as ordered, and turning his coat collar up wasn’t proving to be much of a defense. A flick of the switch and the bright white of the overhead bulb would dispel both darkness and damnation, if not the chill. Still, he made no move to the appropriate wall. There was no particular reason for his failure to do so. Not now, anyway. But the softer light held the illusion of warmth, at least. It was even kind of homey, if you were into that kind of thing.

Alex Krycek, however, was most decidedly not into that kind of thing.

What he was into, at the moment, was a quiet bit of search and seizure. Nothing too obvious, of course, nothing that would be missed or couldn’t be explained. An incriminating letter, perhaps. A list of lucrative telephone numbers. Or — dared he hope? — a journal, like the one he’d found in New Mexico, filled with formulas and scientific tables. And some very interesting notes. After three years, Krycek’s cache was small, certainly, but carefully hoarded: a tiny phone book in a safe deposit box in Evanston, Illinois, three cryptic letters strewn from Akron to Portland. The journal bided its time in a coffin buried in a quiet Houston cemetery — a kind of secret insurance policy, the cash value yet to be determined.

He’d been here only a few minutes, but had scanned the room thoroughly. No surprises in the bathroom: he’d checked the toilet tank both inside and out, patted down the small collection of towels, shaken the shampoo bottles for tell-tale rattles. The closet had yielded a suit jacket and the ubiquitous trench coat. The pockets of both had been empty, and he left them hanging, none the worse for his molestation. A pair of brogans under the bed, a candy wrapper. Magazines on the night stand: Newsweek, TV Guide — open to the crossword section — and Cosmo. No extraneous notes or papers shook loose.

Krycek opened the drawer with a gloved hand and found a weapon and a wallet. A trim, no-frills Smith and Wesson, .38 caliber. The wallet held credentials. The badge reflected the light above it, “F.B.I.” burning with maddening flames.

“Shit!” Krycek hissed. The Brit was playing it close to the edge here. Krycek’s mind whirled and he felt dizzy for a moment. Another bit of heated swearing made him feel better, though. Hell, he’d taken out bigger fish than this, he supposed. What was one more badge? At least the name on the ID confirmed that he’d taken out the right target. Krycek considered his motions over the past quarter hour, recalling details, turning them over, reassuring himself that there was no trace evidence to worry about. He shoved the items back into the drawer, and moved across the room to the dresser. His motions were silent, efficient. Like most predators.

The light, such as it was, followed him, bathed him, licking tormented flames across his back, painting the soft leather of his jacket with a reddish gore. The glow threw his shadow before him and it stretched, unnoticed, climbing the wall, lumbering and alien. Krycek continued his advance, and the shadow twisted its head and shoulders flat across the ceiling, paused, hunched, sighed.

He pulled the first drawer open and blinked down into the well of darkness. His orders had been precise: nothing was to be disturbed except the target. The words rolled over in his head, reverberating in that clipped British tone that too often grated down his spine. It was all so cloak and dagger, so dark, he’d often wondered if he’d hired himself into some old B-movie crew, a badly scripted film noir, its characters moving only in shades of gray: pitch black against charcoal against slate against ash against blinding white.

“The presentation of the target,” he was reminded, “is essential.” Well, wasn’t it always? “No deviation from your explicit orders will be tolerated. You have no personal agenda here. Understood?”

No matter how absurd it got, Krycek never laughed. There was a knife-edge to the old Brit’s voice, a less-than-subtle reminder of the dagger that lay ready, always ready, even beneath the old man’s most casual conversations. He had no doubt that the Brit would cut him in half as soon as look at him. And probably would, someday.

Krycek’s response had been calculatedly indifferent: “Of course,” the slight elevation of one eyebrow simply repeating the words. It was a pro forma response, nerveless, the bravado of the terminally criminal. Sometimes Krycek wondered why they let him live. The possible answers to that question made him sweat in spite of the cold.

He explored the recesses of the drawer with his gloved palm, probing to assure himself that it was indeed empty and not merely a trick of shadows. The second drawer held someone’s sweater. Krycek patted it down, motions careful but quick, the activity a reflex, skillfully honed. Again, nothing.

He moved on to the third drawer, a fourth, his reflection in the mirror mimicking his movements. The face in the mirror was young, impossibly so, ashen in the shadows, blood-red when he turned just a bit, catching the light. Krycek was twenty-three going on thirteen, face smooth as a mannequin, scrubbed and ready for the back-to-school sales, inoffensive as Mary’s lamb. His eyes glittered in the ambered light, green flecked with crimson and orange, feral.

Krycek failed to notice this reflection. And what of it? They say only the mad truly see their own face, after all. A man — a sane man — will steal and lie, stab his colleague in the back, then excuse himself to the men’s room to wash the blood from his hands. He’ll glance up into the mirror then, adjust his tie or pat down his hair. And the glass will give back only a preordained reflection, the barest statistics of what is viewed. The simple truth is: the soul has no two-way mirrors, no observation portal into the interrogation room where the truth awaits, wringing its hands, eager to speak and be done. Truth is a prisoner relegated, without trial, to the darkest recesses of the spirit. Truth is an abomination and the mind cannot abide it. It is a horror that the heart refuses even to consider.

Krycek — and his shadow brooding above — hesitated as a thought crossed his frontal lobe. A small twitch of vision, a tightening of the skin along one cheek. A blink and you missed it.

Done with the drawers, Krycek moved to check the back of the dresser itself. He pressed his shoulder to the wall, his shadow collapsing down upon itself, close as his breath. He stretched to pat down the back of the dresser mirror. Nothing taped to the rough wood, nothing clinging to the papered backing of the glass. This assignment would be a dry run, then. He didn’t allow himself the luxury of disappointment; most of the time, he walked away with nothing. At least this time he’d had time to look.

“Theirs not to reason why,” Krycek chanted softly in the gloom. “Theirs but to do or–” He failed to complete the quote. It was bad luck to speak of one’s own death and he had enough to answer for tonight without brokering Fate face to face. He glanced back at the man in the bed: the tousled curls, dark beneath the light, one arm flung in careless repose above his head.

Krycek froze as a voice penetrated the wall next to his ear: a gravelly tenor, not quite distinct enough to be translated. He listened, cheekbone tight against the wallpaper. A door slammed somewhere and there was the slightest answer in the reverberation of the wall. It vibrated his teeth softly. Again the voice, oh, so brief. A private dispute, surely; nothing that would concern him. Back, then, to the business at hand.

He turned, noting the dark shadow of a suitcase next to the chair. Possible treasure? One last look and then he’d be gone. He scooped up the battered old case and dropped it onto the bed. It bounced once, dangerously close to the foot peeking out from the rumpled blanket. The foot failed to note its peril, but Krycek slid the suitcase over a few inches, anyway, mindful of the blood soaking out across the sheet.

He’d been given a .22 Ruger for this assignment, untraceable, naturally– standard issue for an assassin unless the client wanted something truly messy. The death itself was to be clean, he’d been told, the mess to be made afterward. Krycek had recognized the MO from local newspaper reports but hadn’t commented. He’d parroted any number of crimes in the past few years. The ballistics wouldn’t match, of course. The details wouldn’t be exact. But then, they didn’t have to be. They just needed to be close enough for law enforcement to dismiss the crime as a copycat. Business dispatched, a threat eliminated, and no nasty questions left to answer. Again, for Krycek, it was all routine.

The first part of the night’s business had been accomplished easily enough. Entry hadn’t been difficult. He was slender and athletically inclined, and the ventilation system was more spacious than most. Besides, his tool kit would make a CIA operative blush with envy. Krycek had popped the screws and shimmied through the one-by-two grate in the ceiling of the bathroom. Lowering his long frame carefully, it was ease itself to drop soundlessly to the tile. His shoes were still in the airshaft, awaiting his return.

It had been a nice clear shot, too. The man in the bed had already been dead to the world, so to speak, sound asleep as Krycek had been promised. A soft snore had greeted his arrival. The silencer had muffled enough of the blast for neighbors to mistake it for a sound effect on a television program; meanwhile, the old man had never known what hit him. He lay exactly as he had when Krycek had entered: flat on his back, mouth open, the hand above his head resting against the headboard, palm up, the other hand tangled in the blanket. The eyes were open now, though — a reflex just before the heart had failed — but the face was still pleasantly serene.

Krycek frowned into the suitcase. The old boy’s mother would have been proud: a dozen pairs of clean underwear gleamed at him in bleached cotton splendor. Some files had been slipped between the boxers and the rumpled collection of shirts: autopsy protocols, mostly, and a manila envelope filled with Polaroids. Krycek shuffled through them without interest. There was nothing important here, nothing not attainable from other sources. The phone book, black and well-thumbed, was an enticement he couldn’t resist, however. Krycek scanned it eagerly, the pages tinted pink by the light: various first names, written in an orderly hand, probably just friends and family, a bank, a dentist, dry cleaner and pharmacy. Krycek pocketed the book for later investigation, but without much hope of finding anything useful. He took a moment to scan the contents of the shaving kit: an electric shaver, nail clippers, deodorant, toothbrush, Dentu-Creme–

He dropped the kit abruptly as something slammed into the wall behind the dresser. Tubes and toiletries thumped across the carpet. Krycek slid his weapon free of his belt with the speed and grace of a gunfighter. The noise, surely made by something small and solid, repeated itself once more, just a few feet farther to his left. There was the muted echo of a grunt.

Okay. Krycek nodded in the dark, his shadow on the wall repeating the gesture. They were either moving furniture next door or someone was getting some pretty intense sex.

Either that, or someone was having a pretty tough time dying.

As yet, however, it was none of his concern. He had a job to finish, and he’d wasted enough time as it was. He’d need to get his butt in gear before the bunch next door started arousing someone else’s interest. Krycek squatted, collecting the debris at his feet, then paused again as a long low animal howl echoed, rumbling through the wall.

Hell. These guys just got more interesting by the minute.

Krycek swore again, poking the kit into the suitcase. He stood, then froze as a flash of pale peach caught his eye. The barest corner of a sheet of paper peeked out at him from the edge of the suitcase’s lining. A page of white copy paper, tinted all nice and rosy by the lamp shade.

Krycek grinned. Well, well. Something hidden was always something worthwhile. Perhaps Fate was not as forbidding a lady as he’d imagined.

But it wasn’t just a single paper. Instead, the lining yielded up an entire stack, Xeroxed copies of both typed and hand-written notes, tucked like padding beneath the quilted satin. A report of some kind. Or at least the foundation for one. Krycek stepped closer to the lamp, hunching down to decipher the scrawl. The old man’s empty eyes watched him as he read.

A psychological analysis, patient sessions. All concerning one Fox Mulder. The tickling on Krycek’s neck intensified. He knew the name, had heard it alternately cursed and revered. From what little leaked through the impassive faces of his cancerous mentor and the Brit, Mulder — the whole clan of them — was a kind of personal treasure, beyond approach. And beyond control. From what Krycek had noted, he — this Fox, specifically — was nothing short of sacred, a cache against some imminent holocaust. Krycek fanned the papers carefully, considering. It might change his life tomorrow or it might not be useful for years. It might be nothing at all. Or it could be the fucking Holy Grail–

Note! The word caught his eye as the page flipped past and he scrambled to recover it: page eleven, a cramped scrawl of ink along the narrow margin. Krycek squinted, trying to decipher the quick, angular scribble. His own handwriting was just as bad, fortunately, and he had a vested interest in comprehending the words:

Re: handshake. Subject seems to have recognized my touch. Reacted strongly as though remembering some unpleasantness associated with my presence. Overt reactions included instant flight/fear response, antagonism. Subject instantly assumed control of the session, refusing to answer questions, distracting my efforts to direct topics. Arrogance to this man is an armor. Wit is dangerously sharp. Subject is capable of extraordinary malevolence which, while impersonal, is disturbing in the accuracy of its aim. I sense that he knows me. I believe he senses it as well, while not comprehending how. Speculation: Is this a manifestation of subject’s attempted abreaction? Is his reaction to my touch a spontaneous revivification of past tests? Is he subconsciously recalling repressed events, events that he finds consciously intolerable? Postulated: We have succeeded in controlling the memories from the subject’s conscious mind. Have we failed to do the same with his cellular memory? Subject has proven extraordinarily adaptive — is he truly capable of recalling something as basic as touch? If so, do we have a continence plan in place? Must explore possibilities with Dr. Zama–

Krycek stared at the words, read them again, trying to make sense of too many things at once. Perhaps — he chewed his lip, considering — perhaps he was too quick to seek simple financial gains in this business. Perhaps, just perhaps, there was something here far more interesting–

Krycek folded the sheaf of papers in half and shoved them into the waistband of his pants, next to his weapon. There’d be time to contemplate the error of his ways later. Right now, it was his hide that needed saving. He restored the suitcase to its former location, not concerning himself with the state of the lining. The case was old. No one would consider it important, anyway.

The old man’s eyes regarded him passively as he stepped back to the bed. They were black, jet black, void. Even the garish shade would not reflect in them. Krycek shook his head. Sometimes this job just required more overkill than he had the grace to appreciate.

The room next door remained silent. Krycek took a deep breath, unsheathed the hunting knife and set to work.

Part 23: Moths to the Flame


“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”

–Lewis Carroll


A circle of light. A tunnel in great darkness and at its center, the resplendent blaze, radiant and pure, increasingly bright, brighter — blinding.

The little form was drawn to it, bidden, fearful but eager, a small glowing dot against the vastness of lucent splendor, dodging this way, that, then — decision made — soaring for the heart of glory, whirling, rising–

Falling, a charred husk, wings folded, useless, scorched. It joined its dead and dying companions on the concrete below, their bodies still illuminated, bleach white, by the electric glow that had been their undoing. Other companions, those yet living, danced high above, awaiting their turn, vying for their entrance into the brilliance, too dazzled to heed the little mound of corpses below.

She’d watched the moths for hours as they danced before the security bulb across the parking garage. Silly little creatures. But then, aren’t we all? She was no different, certainly, for here she sat, awaiting her turn with just as powerful a force.

No. A greater one.

She’d tried to convince herself that it was otherwise, that he was the moth to her light, bidden and seeking, eager. The truth, however, was quite the opposite; it did no good to pretend. He was the electric flame, deadly bright, the source which drew her forward, driving her, no other choice possible. She could no more avoid him than live without oxygen. He knew, and it comforted her that he took no pride in the knowledge, that he’d simply accepted it as a matter of course, as part of her nature. It remained unspoken between them, naturally. Even in the bar while she’d watched him eat his soup, while he’d watched her warily, appraising her with no hint of embarrassment as she sang to him. He’d been in far too much emotional pain to recognize her, too locked in grief, an ancient ache that had engulfed him long ago, long before she’d become aware of his existence.

She’d regretted that, and had come to him later, to his apartment, hoping to heal, hoping to end it for both of them. She hadn’t been quite ready for death at that moment, however, and let the opportunity pass, content to simply watch him sleep, a painful, nerve-wracking activity for him, apparently. She’d availed herself of his spare car keys before she left, leaving him an earring: an exchange of personal effects as lovers are wont to do.

With her second visit he had abandoned her, called away to see to that fool in Georgetown. She’d noted her displeasure, certain he would not mistake her determination for a proper audience.

On the third visit — although the lock was a simple affair — she’d knocked, uncertain of the drug’s effectiveness in caffeinated beverages. She hadn’t been entirely disappointed when the door was answered. She’d dealt with the man quickly: a single shot, the muzzle against his chest, angling upward into the heart. He’d jerked even before she’d pulled the trigger, the result of muscles primed to flee, and the body had bounced, falling across the table.

There were two of them, though. She’d made note of the fact earlier in the evening, counting the figures through the windows as they’d crossed back and forth. So secure behind their walls, so smug, weapons ready, daring her to prove their prowess. Neither figure had been his, she was certain: the one too stocky, the other moving with such a total lack of grace–

With one down and one to go, she’d closed the door behind her, gliding silently into the apartment, into the living room, into his presence–

A blonde young man — the stocky one — had come barreling out at her from the bedroom. He was bleary with drugs and had the audacity to look surprised before fumbling for his gun. She’d shot him full in the face — not as serious a wound as she would have imagined at that distance, not with a .22. Painful, yes. Oh, very. Almost completely incapacitating, in fact. Blondie dropped his weapon — a nice semi-automatic cannon as far as she could determine — and stumbled back the way he’d come, making small choking noises that might have been some attempt at speech. She followed calmly. No one here was going anywhere; she had all night. Blondie noted her presence behind him and panicked. He fell across the bed, misjudging distance in his agony, and tried clawing his way to the far side of the mattress. She ended the struggle with a single shot, muzzle of her Ruger against his back, a clean blast through the heart, just the way she liked it. He flopped to his back, eyes wide, glassed as a china doll’s, mouth gulping fish-like for one final gurgle. She’d wiped blood from her pistol using the corner of the blanket, slipped it in her pocket and returned to the living room.

He was still on the couch, waiting patiently, his eyes scanning frantically beneath closed lids, locked in his accustomed harassed slumber, so still, so thin, so bruised. So beautiful she’d simply stood there, drinking him in. Only the blaring of a television commercial finally forced her to move — a profane hawking in the death chamber. She’d located the remote, her gloved finger pressing the “mute” button. Then she’d knelt beside him. Removed her earrings. Prepared for her work. Knife poised–

And he’d breathed. One deep, lingering breath.

In the strobic glow of the television light, her blade had flashed red, green, a thousand shades of blue, and she’d stared, fascinated, as his chest rose with the process of breathing: up, up, filling with oxygen, rising steadily toward the point of the knife– Then, even though they were surely sated, his lungs refused to fall for one long moment, tender skin waiting only millimeters from the blade, taunting death even in his drugged stupor. The exhale, an eternity later, had been just as slow, a lingering sigh, a regret. Then the chest had risen again, but it was too late: he had frozen her where she knelt. The muscles of her arm were suddenly fixed: elbow out and bent, knife clutched tightly, its tip hovering bare inches from the soft well of flesh that nestled between his ribs and sternum.

She’d sat there for over an hour. Just watching him breathe, again completely unable to touch him. She’d left him a note, more discreetly placed this time. Just something between the two of them, not meant for unworthy eyes.

This could not go on, though. This wasn’t life for either of them, this dance, this waiting for Fate. He knew it as well as she did. All things being equal, he would have been out looking for her now, tracking her until she found him, but they wouldn’t allow it. What did they know? To them, she was an evil to be captured, punished, studied perhaps. To him, however, she was no monster, no specimen to be bottled. To him — she could not speak his name, would not even in her mind, it was magic, her particular magic, and called forth too much of the terrible future — To him, she was not something to be catalogued and inventoried, filed away in his list of accomplishments, a freak. To him, she wasn’t fascinating, no, not even particularly rare. To this man, she simply was, a separate entity quite beyond him, autonomous, sovereign. The realization thrilled her. Since childhood, she had gauged her right to live by her usefulness to another, had solidly believed that every breath had to be earned, or it was stolen. And thieves went to Hell. Her mother, haggard and exhausted, had been her proof. Her father had reminded her of the fact daily. Nightly. Her husband, too. Thus all her life, she’d breathed shallowly.

Until that night with the knife, the TV light, and the regal form upon the couch. He’d breathed deeply, hypnotically, had done it again, again, and yet again — and finally, she’d inhaled, too. Hesitant, chest muscles jerking, abdomen tensed for impact, she’d breathed a lungful. It had choked her, left her dizzy. And she’d done it again, over and over, inhaling as he exhaled, exhaling has he inhaled, a transference of mutual need, drawing in his life as he received the last of her humanity. Then she’d risen quietly, off to leave her calling card upon the body on the bed. She saved the one on the table for last, taking special care with him since he was closest to the door. First impressions, you know. She wanted them to understand, you see, wanted them to realize that she needed no pity, no defense, no rehabilitation. This was who she was. This was what made her happy: the jerking of the knife through sinew and flesh. The give of raw tissue, the occasional grating shudder through her arm as the blade scraped bone. It was something solid and real, something beyond the various shades of numbness which defined her routine state of existence. The sensation of the blood, its warm, forbidden fragrance, the color of rubies mesmerizing with its gloss, catching light, dragging it down into itself and swallowing it whole. She had made a mark in someone’s life. There was someone now who would attest to her presence in the world. Someone who could not fail to make mention of her reality.

And this, tonight, would be her final kill. What pleasure would there be after him? What joy could she hope for without him in the world? She would end it then, with the same gun that would take his life. The next bullet in the chamber. There was a kind of fitting tribute in it. He would understand. Of course, he would be dead by then, beyond understanding, but that couldn’t be helped, could it? She nodded, comforted. He knew she was here, didn’t he? Waiting for him. He couldn’t help but know.

And she was not alone.

There were two agents in the garage, waiting with her. They were in plainclothes: jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes. She knew they were agents, however, and prided herself with her knowledge. They’d been here most of the evening, stepping from their car occasionally to sweep the area with their flashlights, not being too obtrusive, switching their lights off quickly, their pace becoming an ambling stroll whenever a car passed through. She would watch one approach her vehicle, wait, wait, then ease herself down across the car seat, no sudden movements to reveal her presence behind the dark glass — and he would pass, rejoin his partner with a shrug or a jerk of his head. They would then return to their own vehicle, awaiting their next sweep of the garage, awaiting the arrival of one already there.

She’d shared dinner with them. Well, not with them, actually, but she’d eaten when they had, enjoying her cheese sandwich, careful to keep the crumbs off the upholstery, watching as his defenders sorted through their bag of snacks. She was close enough to see the glint of light off their soda cans, too close, really, only a few parking spaces behind them. The proximity didn’t overly concern her. The garage was fairly dim, dimmer still in her particular space, and the windows of the Monte Carlo were heavily tinted: she was a shadow within a shadow — unsuspected within the shadow of these, her enemies. And in his car. She’d driven it from his apartment at nightfall, right out from under their noses, and parked it here, in the very belly of the beast. There was a luxurious thrill to it all that was somehow excruciatingly satisfying.

The shift change had come a few minutes after nine. She’d watched the activity across the expanse of the garage: the arrival of a dark green Impala. Her two companions crawled from the depths of their nondescript Buick and converged on the new arrivals, comparing notes, giving reassuring nods. One man had laughed deeply, the sound resonating in the concrete cave of cars. His partner had yawned, stretching kinks from his back, and she’d caught a glimpse of the weapon on his belt, the holster a deep shadow against khaki slacks.

The changing of the guard. The prince, then, was still within, held hostage in his small kingdom just three floors above. A world away. Another forbidden thrill shuddered through her, and she closed her eyes to revel in it, breathing deeply, filling her head with the fragrance of new car leather and the lingering scent of aftershave, both equally dark and masculine. Her right hand snaked out to stroke the leather of the seat beside her, her left hand raising to caress her headrest. His head had rested here, and now hers shared the same pillow. The very seat that had received his body — how many times? — now cradled hers and the thought made her blood pound. The vehicle was more than simply his. It was him. Or at least as much of him as she’d allowed herself to enjoy. Until now. Outside, the conference continued. Only the sound of an engine starting brought her eyes open, her focus reluctantly returning to the task at hand.

The Buick pulled away with one hand waving from a window. There was no answering hand from the Impala. It took the Buick’s place, backing in deftly, engine cutting after a brief moment, lights off immediately after. Her two new companions wasted no time: the garage echoed with the click of a car door, the dome light bathing both men as they crawled free of the vehicle, dimming again as the doors shut simultaneously.

The driver was the older of the pair, the short-lived light had revealed some gray in his sideburns. The face he had turned briefly toward her was calm, long in the chin but handsome. He was dressed better, too, long dark trench coat, a turtleneck and dark slacks. Very distinguished. She liked him instantly. She would kill him first, she decided, coming up on his side of the vehicle and shooting him in the back of the head, or at least as far back as his headrest would allow. She’d take the other one out with a shot to the face before he could get his gun free. She didn’t have anything against him personally, of course: he was shorter, huskier, the sweater type, apparently. He reminded her of her husband. Shooting him would be easy. She imagined the series of expressions he would regard her with — surprise, dismay, horror — just before she pulled the trigger. One clean shot would do it, she was certain. And she knew, even as excited as she was, she wouldn’t miss.

Practice makes perfect.

Mutt and Jeff fanned out through the garage, flashlights at the ready, Mutt heading to her right, Jeff to her left. Her eyes followed Jeff and his long, confident strides, coat flowing regally. She lost sight of him as he took a turn into the darkness. She waited patiently, noting his progress by the bobbing halo of his light as it swept along the walls, the beam narrowing, widening, winking this way and that.

The flash of another beam caught suddenly in her rearview mirror, so intense she saw stars temporarily. Mutt was approaching from the rear, his own beam twisting, looming larger, closer — much too close. She waited until the light had swept right before collapsing abruptly down onto the passenger seat, silently cursing the gearshift as she slammed a rib against it. The light swung again, closer now, mirrors reflecting its progress in stereo, right to center to left, the beam reflecting and illuminating the interior of the car, her face and hands glowing hot white — she just knew it, hot white — against the soft black leather of the Monte Carlo. She cringed, willing herself smaller, smaller, smaller still, hands clenched against her dark sweater, face buried into the upholstery, heedless of oxygen, heedless of all but that damned searching, omniscient, omnivorous bulb. Footsteps echoed. Nearer — pausing suddenly, leaving the blood pounding against her forehead, slamming against her ears.

Her eardrums would burst. They would burst and the blood would run to the seat, filling the little hollows stitched into the leather. Surely, they had burst already, she imagined–

The shoes outside scuffed concrete, shuffling uncertainly.

And then suddenly, she was in the dark again.

It took her an eternity to realize he’d switched his flashlight off. Of course he had: the better to draw his weapon — he made no sound, however, no demands, there was no sudden slamming into the vehicle, no shout for compliance. The shoes rasped, pacing to the hood of the car, pausing again.

Even expecting it, she jerked as a voice rang out:

“Got anything?”

The voice came from the area of the front right fender. Mutt, but–

Jeff, nearer than before, but still approaching: “Nah. You?”


She had to force herself to breathe, to render enough oxygen to her brain to process her rare and marvelous good fortune.

Mutt was blind as a bat.

She blinked, uncertain whether to believe her luck, wondering at some trick, some SWAT procedure that might be playing out at her expense. The shoes at the fender, however, scuffled again, away, further, distancing. An answering pair of soles — Jeff — approached calmly, and she waited. A car door snapped open, closing a moment after, the sound echoing like a shot within the concrete cavern, another door closing immediately after it, softer, but no less final. In the silence: the far-off wail of a siren, it, too, growing increasingly distant.

She lifted her head. Her shoulders. Eyes just high enough for her vision to clear the dash. Mutt was digging in the back seat. She licked her lips, stopped breathing temporarily as he righted himself, a flash of metal in his fist. A soda can. Jeff laid his seat back slightly, his head bobbing as he sought a more comfortable position.

She wasted no time clambering for the back seat.

22nd Street, N.W., Washington, DC. 11:32 PM.

Horn blaring, Purdue jerked hard to the right, engaging his brakes. The Mercedes continued its illegal left-hand turn in front of him, never slowing, headlights hazy as they swept his rain-drenched windshield. The ASAC blinked against the glare, peering after the vehicle as it passed.

Damned diplomatic plates —

High-beams flashed in his rearview mirror, reminding him that he was now stopped in an intersection with his side of the traffic light still green. He nudged his Chrysler forward, grateful that the hotel was already in sight. He really should have gotten some sleep before deciding to take over this shift.

Sleep. Yeah. I knew there was something I was forgetting this week. His cell phone buzzed to life and he pulled to the curb in front of the Embassy Suites.

God, please– Please let it be Jack Heller, reporting that his boys at Dulles had Fuche in custody. Or maybe a similar report from Mills whose team was blanketing the Metro system…. Purdue had units at Union Station and National Airport as well — some of the most highly-skilled investigators on the planet at his disposal, yet every hour on the hour they’d managed to call in with the same pertinent detail: nothing. Their primary suspect had vanished from the face of the earth.

Purdue slammed the Chrysler into park and pounced on the phone, fumbling for the button, the lights of a delivery truck temporarily blinding him as it passed. As days go, this one had been forty-one flavors of hell and it wasn’t over yet.

It wasn’t Heller. Nathan Harris’ voice, too tinny through the electronics of the phone, greeted him instead.

Purdue slumped against his car seat. He had resorted to pestering Harris for long-distance updates, trying to assuage his increasing despair. So far, Harris hadn’t bothered to rub his nose in his misfortunes; in fact, the detective had endured Purdue’s harassment with unusual grace. Personally, Purdue would have preferred a good cussing, anything to distract from the fact that he had failed to locate their assiduous Sisyphus.

Harris, of course, could afford to be magnanimous: the Columbus PD had extended him every courtesy, even inviting Harris to be guest of honor as their forensic unit processed Fuche’s home. Purdue’s gut had ached to join them on-site, but he’d endured the ulcer stoically.

“What you got?” Purdue barked the question, instantly regretting it. Harris was working his butt off. He at least deserved a “Hey.”

Harris allowed the oversight to pass, however, brimming over with information and eager to deliver. He’d spent the evening at their suspect’s home: a meticulously ordered little nest in one of Columbus’ quieter south side suburban neighborhoods. Now, they not only had receipts placing Fuche in Wheeling at the time of each murder, they had mementos: Mr. Businessman’s cigarette lighter, Officer Kress’s missing class ring. There were other items, too, each one lovingly displayed in a china cabinet in the living room: a tie pin, coins, a bottle cap, a spoon matching the pattern of silverware from apartment 304 —

“We’ve got more mementos than we have bodies, though, Reg. And I don’t think it’s just because she took more than one item from some of her victims. Tell Mr. G-man his theory was dead on: she’s well-practiced. So far, we’ve got another five unsolved murders we might be able to close with this one. Columbus is checking their books–”

Purdue let him ramble unhindered, suddenly consumed with the image of more recent victims, those Sisyphus hadn’t had time to commemorate on her brag shelf. Purdue chewed his lip with the thought: Mr. American Lit — as Mulder insisted on calling him — Seilman… What mementos had Fuche treasured from them? Or– sweet Jeezus, what had she taken from Mitch, from Gregg? A key? A lapel pin? Purdue tried to picture the young agents. What had they worn that evening that the ERT wouldn’t know to account for? Had Mitch been wearing his class ring? What might Gregg have had in his pockets–?

Even Purdue’s deepest concentration, however, rendered the two men as little more than a blur of nondescript jeans and pullovers. The realization hurt. Mitch had been with Purdue’s team for the better part of a year, Gregg transferring into VC only a month later. Yet Purdue saw clearly only one image from that night: Mitch’s earnest face in