Title: Basketball Therapy
Summary: Set shortly before Tithonus, this story explores life in the bullpen, where tedium and background checks are the order of the day. When Scully gets drawn into an investigation at a Maryland hospital, Mulder gets trapped in a deadly hostage situation.
Didn't Mulder seem relaxed and well- adjusted in Tithonus? How was that possible? Why wasn't he out looking for alien colonists, fighting the future? Read on; it will be revealed.
Now, Chris Carter would have us believe that one day Mulder came home to find a waterbed in his previously nonexistent bedroom and barely gave it a second thought. "I don't know what to tell you. I think it was a gift," he says in Monday. Well, I don't buy it! Whatever happened to the "I" in FBI? Let's suppose that Mulder had been a little more inquisitive. "With every choice you change your fate." Let's examine what might have developed if Mulder had chosen a different "fork in the road."
Thanks to Scetti for the basketball help. I couldn't have done it without you. Thanks to my readers, Missy, Spooky fox, and Scetti.
"Mulder. Cigarette break?" Scully asked. She stood by his desk, waiting for him to wrap up his phone call.
Mulder nodded and hung up the phone.
Mulder and Scully weren't the only ones bored witless by endless background checks. The whole bullpen was in the same boat. One of the practices that had evolved in that stultifying environment was the smoke- free cigarette break. It wasn't fair that only smokers got breaks. A strictly enforced rule in the bullpen was that for every three cigarette breaks you took, you had to make a pot of coffee. That led to many fascinating bathroom breaks. Jerry Luskin, a rumpled- looking agent who was counting the years to retirement, was the self- appointed enforcer. He made a couple of check- marks on a Post- it note when he saw Scully and Mulder walking out.
There was a room provided for cigarette breaks, but of course it was horribly smoky, so Mulder and Scully used the stairwell. They went up to a mid- flight landing.
"I have to work tomorrow," Scully said. "Nothing big. I'll be done by five or six."
"Damn," said Mulder. "What are you doing?" There was no point in pretending he wasn't disappointed. Saturday was their day together.
"Alice Cardin asked me to assist on the insurance fraud task force. They've found a hospital in Maryland with some suspicious patterns and they want to sweep through tomorrow. Go through the patient charts and the billing records, see some patients," Scully said. "Plus one post- mortem exam, but just a superficial one."
"I can see why she needs a doctor along with all the bean- counters," Mulder said. This was tolerable, he thought. Scully would be back by night and it didn't sound dangerous. "But why can't it wait until Monday?"
"Cardin likes hitting them on the weekend. She says she gets less interference," Scully answered. "So I'll see you Saturday night." She leaned in for a sultry whisper. "Wear something... casual." She turned to descend the stairs.
"Scully, wait," Mulder said. "If we're losing out on Saturday, I want you to come over tonight. I won't keep you up late, and I'll even make you breakfast."
Normally they spent Friday nights apart these days, and it seemed to be a good way to keep the romance running hot and heavy. Scully used the time to take care of routine maintenance. Mulder usually ended up at the Lone Gunmen, although somehow last Friday he'd found himself helping Jerry Luskin spackle his new rec room.
Mulder and Scully saw each other virtually every day and if they didn't take a break, Mulder sometimes felt that Scully let their working relationship carry over into their private time. She'd talk to him as if she was giving instructions to an underling.
Like now, for example.
"We'll waive the Friday rule, but I want you to come to my place. Bring food; I'm not cooking. No sunflower seeds in bed- even if I'm asleep. I have to be out the door by eight in the morning, and I'm holding you to that breakfast," Scully said.
"Yes, mistress," said Mulder.
"Oh, and no fancy stuff. I have to be asleep by midnight."
Their return to the bullpen was greeted with cheers.
"You make the coffee!" Jerry Luskin announced happily. "And it's the third pot!" Another bullpen rule. If you got stuck making the third pot of coffee, you had to wash it first.
Mulder brought a pizza over to Scully's that evening, but they never got to it. And Scully was sound asleep by eleven, although the little smile on her face made it hard to tell.
Mulder awoke early the next morning with a feeling of contentment and expectation, probably because Scully was clinging to his leg and nibbling her way up his thigh. By six o'clock he was so stupefied with bliss that you could have sold him season tickets to the Ice Capades. After stretching and scratching to his heart's content, he ambled out of bed and reheated last night's pizza.
"My name is Fox and I'll be your waiter," he told Scully as he brought her a slice.
"You're out of uniform, you naughty waiter," Scully said, reaching for the plate and turning on her side to face him. Mulder got back in bed to eat his pizza.
"This is my uniform," he said. "Demeaning, isn't it?"
"Nonsense," Scully said. "It's exquisite. All- natural materials. Just feel the quality." She put down her pizza so she could torment him.
"Don't grope me when I'm eating," he complained, turning away from her, but when she relented he ambushed her and started countergroping.
"No fair!" she shrieked as the grope session turned into a tickle tournament. She managed to defend herself for a while and even got Mulder to squirm and snort a little, but soon she was stretched out on her back, and he was hovering over her. Mulder licked his lips. She was so full of life and pleasure, and she was totally his. He started sucking on the soft skin of her throat. Her shrieks turned into moans.
"Mulder... Mulder... Mulder..." She undulated against him as he continued to nuzzle her.
"Okay?" he asked her.
"Nice," Scully murmured. Last night had left her feeling as if she were beyond everything, safe with Mulder in a universe of contentment and peace. She had awakened this morning full of well- being and given Mulder the best wake- up call of his life. She was still filled with the afterglow, but Mulder's warm mouth was making her warm again. Lazily she brought her arm up across the back of Mulder's neck so she could check her watch. Damn! If she didn't get going in the next ten minutes, she was going to be late.
"Mulder," she said, "love of my life, flame of my heart... You have five minutes." Five minutes wasn't much. Whatever would happen, would happen. Whatever didn't happen would happen later.
Five minutes? Mulder thought. The spirit was willing, the flesh was strong, but this was not going to work.
"Scully, you light the darkness and turn chaos into clarity, and I love you more than life itself," he said. "But Scully, a galleon of pirates couldn't make you come in five minutes." A pirate ship, he thought. Maybe tonight. The pirate king and his feisty captive.
"Four minutes," she said, and she sucked on his lip for a second before covering his mouth with nibbling kisses and arching her pelvis toward him. A pirate ship? Promising. Mulder with a big gold earring and a cutlass in his teeth? No way. Mulder in the brig in chains? Better. Mulder, the naïve cabin boy, waiting to be schooled in the ways of love? Yes!
Scully was zipping around the room getting ready, and Mulder was staying in bed to keep out of her way.
"Scully, you didn't..."
"I know, Mulder, it's okay. There's always tonight." She kissed him and raced off to work.
"...eat your pizza," Mulder finished. He got out of bed, now that it was safe. This would still turn out to be a good day. Scully had to work, but it was real work, something she could do well and feel good about. She would be assisting the insurance fraud division in an investigation. The Chesapeake Medical Center in Winthrop, Maryland, seemed to have a suspicious pattern of outrageous costs and lengthy stays. It wasn't the X- files, but it was important and meaningful, a welcome change from all the pointless background checks.
This was a strange interval in Mulder's life. He was doing things he had never had much time for, like having sex and sleeping, and he was happy. He knew it was the calm before the storm. The alien colonists were out there and the invasion was coming. Somehow he felt that when the time was right, he would be back in the fight. He didn't feel the need to pursue the conflict; he felt that inevitably he would be drawn into it, and that whatever he did would lead him there.
Mulder got dressed for his run. Later he would straighten up at Scully's, pick up groceries from some of the fancy little specialty markets in the neighborhood, and then head back home to get ready for tonight.
Mulder liked running in Scully's neighborhood. It was a change from his own, and the hills made it a real challenge. His circuit took him past a playground with a couple of underused basketball courts, and he paused by the fence to watch four aging preppies go at it under one hoop.
Mulder couldn't watch a game like this without sizing up the players against his own ability. In this case there was no comparison. He could take on the four of them and probably beat them.
"Hey, bozo, you want some court time or you just a spectator?" The nasal whine came from a guy sitting on the ground on the other side of the fence. He sounded like a bratty kid, but he was probably around Mulder's age. His straight black hair was brushed forward, and there was something odd about his clothing; his tan- colored windbreaker had a crisp, starched look and even his blue jeans were neatly pressed. He got to his feet and addressed Mulder again.
"You wanna run?" he asked Mulder, and without waiting for an answer, he was pushing himself into the game. "Come on, guys, me and him, three on three, let's go."
The other players frowned and looked at each other. They'd probably been playing together for years, Mulder thought. They acted as if they owned this court. Their shirts and shorts sported various logos: Polo, Lacoste, Adidas. Mulder came around the fence.
"Georgetown, huh?" one of the players asked Mulder, reading his shirt. "Play ball there?"
"No," said Mulder. "Kentucky." Kentucky was one of many places where Mulder had played basketball. He'd also played in North Carolina and Syracuse, and, for that matter, Georgetown too.
"Kentucky," the player sneered. "Scott, do you want Kentucky?"
"Skip, baby, you take Kentucky," Scott said. Mulder looked like a better player, but Scott definitely did not want to play against the pushy interloper. Scott had seen him play. "We'll take Bobby Z."
Bobby Z. The guy had the right kind of name and the right attitude, Mulder thought. Let's see if he can play. "Yes!" Bobby shouted. He flung his jacket to a spot off the court, and ran to high- five his new teammates, neither of whom would participate.
Mulder couldn't remember the last time he'd been with a bunch of guys who needed to be beaten so badly. He'd played with crackheads who showed more sportsmanship. The four cronies played in sullen silence, but Bobby Z was doing play- by- play.
"A costly offensive foul by Kentucky," he said as he charged into Mulder sending both of them down onto the blacktop. Mulder hit the ground more than once, but he spent a lot of time scoring as well.
"A reverse lay- up," Bobby intoned in an announcer's staccato, as Mulder sank another one. "A cheap shot favored only by bozos and cheaters."
The game was brutish and short. When Bobby bowled Skip into the pavement, Mulder came up with the ball and passed it to his other teammate, who dunked it triumphantly.
"Game," said Skip, blotting his bloody knee with a tissue. "Fifteen points. That's it." He hobbled to the fence and stuffed the ball in his gym bag.
"Whaddaya mean, that's it?" Bobby asked in disbelief. "Fifteen points? What kind of game is that? You chickenshit bozo!"
The foursome got their stuff together and left the court without a word, ignoring Bobby's continuing tirade. Bobby turned back to Mulder.
"Come on, shithead, let's go get a soda," he said.
"Been a pleasure, Bob," Mulder said, turning to leave. Bobby grabbed him by the arm, his hand finding the most skinned and battered spot on Mulder's generally banged- up body. The guy had a way of invading your space even when he wasn't playing ball. He was close enough that Mulder could read the writing stamped on his shirt.
"Property of Chesapeake Medical Center. If worn off the premises of Chesapeake Medical Center, THIS GARMENT IS STOLEN."
Bobby was wearing a scrub top from the very hospital where Scully was doing her investigation. Coincidence? Not if you believed that all things were interconnected. "Free soda," Bobby said. "The corner deli. Come on."
This guy needed his medications adjusted, Mulder thought.
"Chesapeake Medical Center," Mulder said. "I think I've heard of it."
"Don't know what you heard. Don't want to talk about it." He was still hanging on Mulder's sore arm, trying to guide him toward the deli.
"I want to talk about it," Mulder said. He tried to make eye contact, but Bobby was bouncing around him and bobbing his head like a pigeon.
"Okay, okay, we'll talk about CMC," Bobby said. "We'll go to the deli and talk about CMC."
"You work there, Bobby?" Mulder asked. Bobby was putting on his tan jacket and zipping it up over the scrub top.
"I used to. Now I'm on suspension. 'Take some time and get help with your problem.' That's what they said." Mulder and Bobby were outside the deli. Bobby adjusted his collar before opening the door.
There was a line at the deli counter, but the gray- haired woman at the cash register abandoned her post to greet them.
"Robert, you brought a friend!" she exclaimed. "That's lovely. Come, sit." All the tables were occupied, but she whispered to a customer seated alone at a table for two, and he moved to share a table with another loner. "Amy will be so happy, Robert. I'm going to bring your lunch." She beamed at Mulder, then hurried to the back of the store.
"My mother- in- law," Bobby explained.
"She seems very nice," Mulder said.
"You'd think so. But she took their side when I was suspended."
"What happened, Bobby?" Mulder said. "How did you get suspended?" He leaned forward a little, waiting for an answer. Bobby stared at him, unblinking.
"Yeah, I can tell you," he said. "You know."
"What?" Mulder was questioning his own judgment at this point. Here he was having lunch with a lunatic because he had noticed the guy's shirt.
"You've seen things that other people are afraid to see, or afraid to admit. You don't have to answer." Bobby stared at Mulder, but not at his face. His gaze would fix on his shoulder, or the top of his head.
"Yes," said Mulder. "What did you see, Bobby?"
"I saw a man divided, repelled from himself. I saw what was good and what was bad." Bobby's gaze finally met Mulder's, and Bobby was startled. "Oh," he said.
"Oh? Oh, what?" Mulder asked.
"I don't mean bad like what you've seen. Just kind of everyday evil. You're kind of scary, you know that?" Bobby said, turning away.
"Bobby, about your problem? You are getting help?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, I'm getting help. My therapist. Gonna help me fit in. Don't tell everyone what you see, save it for people who can understand. Get some exercise every day. You're a doctor- remember to talk like one. When you don't understand, ask someone you can trust. Watch your language, you're a professional," Bobby recited.
"You're a doctor?" Mulder asked. It was hard to imagine anyone putting their lives in this man's hands.
"General surgeon," he said. "I'm a good doctor. Just not that good about holding hands and telling people they're going to live forever."
The mother- in- law brought a loaded tray to the table and started to serve them.
"For you, a roast beef sandwich, potato salad, ice tea, and sunflower seeds. And here's a tuna sandwich you should take home for your pretty friend," she said to Mulder. "Robert, I made you a turkey sandwich. Amy thinks red meat makes you hostile. I'll bring the rice pudding when you're done."
Robert looked uncomfortable. Mulder was thinking that he'd never be able to come back here, even though it was the closest deli to Scully's place. The mother- in- law went back behind the cash register.
"I get in trouble for what I see. I get in trouble for what I don't see," Bobby said. "I can see the molecules in the air. Can you see them, Kentucky? I see them all the time, except when I'm doing surgery. That's why I like surgery, it all goes away. It's just me and what I'm fixing."
"Bobby, I heard about something strange at CMC. I heard some patients were stuck with bigger bills than they were supposed to. You know something about that?" Mulder wasn't expecting an answer. If he'd understood how bizarre Bobby really was, he wouldn't have followed him to the deli.
"Oh, you're funny. You're a funny guy. This is a trick, isn't it? You're from the professional conduct committee, and you're testing to see if I'm going to say something negative about another surgeon. But it wouldn't be professional, would it?" Bobby stood up so suddenly he knocked his chair over and rattled the little table. Without another word to anyone, he was out the front door.
Mulder was sitting at a table full of food he hadn't ordered with a lonely five- dollar- bill in his sock. Not that the gray- haired woman was going to charge him for all this, but it would have been so much cleaner and simpler if he could have left the money and walked out the door. He pulled Bobby's chair upright. Bobby's mother- in- law came over with a tray to clear the table.
"I'll wrap this up for you," she said.
"Thank you," said Mulder.
"It's not so easy being Robert's friend," she said "You'll get used to it."
Scully spent the morning at Chesapeake Medical Center visiting patients and reviewing their charts. She spent the afternoon in the medical records department. At two o'clock she carried a stack of charts down to the billing department to meet up with ASAC Cardin.
ASAC Cardin's team was investigating the Maryland hospital for evidence of insurance and Medicare fraud. The Chesapeake Medical Center had fallen off the bell curve repeatedly when investigators had run a quick scan of charges at a thousand comparable facilities. For most patients undergoing most procedures, expenses were roughly typical, but for an unlucky few, a stay at CMC was unusually long and costly. Chart reviews would probably reveal any scam, but Scully would also be conducting exams on several living patients and one dead one.
Alice Cardin was an accountant by training. Her goal at Chesapeake Medical Center was to uncover fraud, nothing more. Nevertheless, she was disturbed by what she saw. She had taken over someone's desk in the billing department, and Scully sat across from her to go over their findings.
"Agent Scully, I keep noticing the name of a particular doctor. Are you finding that as well?" Cardin asked.
"Yes," said Scully. "Dr. John Newbold seems to have more than his share of very unfortunate patients."
"That's the one," Cardin confirmed. "What is he doing to these people?" Cardin was some fifteen years older than Scully. She performed her job without flair, but with dedication and honesty.
"It's hard to tell from these charts, but I see a few areas for concern," Scully said. "First, he performs a wide variety of procedures, including some that are usually handled by specialists. And he operates on very high- risk patients. Look at this." She opened a chart, looking for the right page. "This patient saw two surgeons before Dr. Newbold, and they both refused to do the surgery. Newbold saw the patient and scheduled her surgery for the next day. The patient barely survived the surgery and died four months later, after many complications. It's bad medicine, but it's not fraud."
"He's operating on people who should not have operations, and performing operations he should not be doing," Cardin summarized. "What else?"
"Well, his patients appear to have an unusually high infection rate. And it seems that he is slow to recognize and treat infection," Scully said. Scully had found a description in a nurse's note of purulent drainage from a surgical wound, ending with the phrase, "notified Dr. Newbold, no new orders at this time." Two days later Newbold's own note stated that the wound was clean and dry, and that a positive culture of the drainage was due to contamination of the specimen.
"Agent Scully, aren't there ways for the medical profession to deal with a doctor like this?" Cardin asked.
"There are supposed to be," Scully said. "This seems to be a case where it's not working. Agent Cardin, you're an accountant. Dr. Newbold has a fully booked OR schedule. He's bringing in a lot of income to this hospital. I think that makes him untouchable."
Agent Cardin shook her head ruefully. "Well, then, why don't his patients sue him?" she asked. "Somebody should stop him." Scully shrugged helplessly.
"I have one more patient to see," Scully said. "I think she's the one who got your attention in the first place. She died yesterday morning."
"Rose Tarses. The woman who spent ten months in intensive care," Cardin said. "I almost feel as if I know her, because I've been following her health care charges so long."
"I'll do a noninvasive examination just to confirm that the procedures on the record were in fact performed. I'm going to need help, to turn and move the body," Scully said.
"I'll try to get the administrator on duty to find someone for you. Otherwise I'll have to send down one of my people." She smiled. "I don't know if any of them can handle it."
"I understand," Scully said. "I don't think I could handle all those ledgers."
The administrator pulled a nurse's aide away from her normal duties to help Scully in the morgue. Scully and the aide had to wait by the morgue door for someone from security to come and unlock it.
Bridget O'Brien, the aide, kept looking at her watch.
"I have so much left to do upstairs," she said. She was a tall woman, with a noticeable resemblance to Scully's mother, but grayer and thinner. She retained the trace of a brogue.
Scully asked her where she worked, and as it happened, she was from the Surgical Intensive Care Unit, the last earthly domicile of poor Mrs. Tarses. Bridget knew Mrs. Tarses well; she'd been taking care of her for almost a year. She had been one of the two who had prepared her body for its last ride. She was surprised that Scully was asking about her.
"But I don't understand," Bridget said. "The FBI is investigating her death? Dr. Scully, that woman needed to die. They coded her for an hour, Dr. Scully. Now that was a crime."
Scully had read the chart. She knew Mrs. Tarses had been admitted for gall bladder surgery. The OR course was rocky, but she had survived. She'd developed a life- threatening arrhythmia in the recovery room, but she was resuscitated successfully. *Successfully*. So successfully that she spent the rest of her life on a respirator. She'd had half a dozen major complications. Scully's exam of the body would be nothing more than confirming that the interventions required to deal with each of them had actually been implemented.
It would be a morbid countdown: Tracheostomy? check. Colostomy? check. Repair of decubitus ulcer? check. Hemodialysis catheter? check. Jejeunostomy tube? check. What quality of life could Mrs. Tarses have possibly had?
"Tell me about her, Ms. O'Brien. What do you think it was like for her?" Scully asked.
"I've thought about that," Bridget answered. "She was awake, you know. She was aware of things until the last two or three days. She knew where she was, but I think she lost track of the time. I worked this Thanksgiving, and I told her, Rose, it's Thanksgiving Day. What a look she gave me! I knew she was trying to figure out how long she'd been there. She hated to be moved and turned, and she would stiffen up and try to resist, but we had to turn her, poor thing." O'Brien shook her head sadly.
"You don't think they should have coded her, Mrs. O'Brien?" Scully asked.
"They had to try, Dr. Scully, she was not a DNR. But she should have been. The family met with Dr. Newbold about it a couple of times, but he managed to talk them out of it. He would tell them that they had to be patient, given him another month and Rose would walk out of there. They never understood how far gone she was. I said to her daughter one day, 'I'm going to change the bandages on her bedsore. Would you like to see it?' 'Oh no,' she said, 'I will be back later.' I've seen many deaths, Dr. Scully, but this was the slowest."
The security guard arrived at last, a paunchy, older man with a giant key ring. He greeted Mrs. O'Brien with a friendly wave.
"They have you working the Eternal Care Unit now, Bridget?" he asked, sorting through his keys.
"Open the door, Jack," she said. "The sooner we get in the sooner we get out."
"Going to check on Double- oh- seven's handiwork?" he asked Scully. "That's what they call him, you know. Licensed to kill."
"Do shut up, Jack," Bridget said. "Or should we tell the FBI lady about your videotapes?"
"I don't know what you're talking about," said Jack. "Don't you start making up stories about me." He unlocked the door and pushed it open for them. "Call me when you're ready to lock up," he said, and he swung his key chain as he walked away down the corridor.
"He's whistling in the dark," O'Brien said. "Afraid of the morgue. He believes in ghosts."
It was dark in the morgue, and Scully felt a blast of frigid air as Bridget O'Brien walked through the metal doorway. O'Brien found the light switch and turned it on. Scully followed her in.
There were a dozen gurneys with unpadded metal tops. About half of them bore human remains, either wrapped in white vinyl or zipped into black bags. O'Brien found a bound book on a side counter and read the entries. "Here she is, number three."
Scully and O'Brien put on gowns, caps, gloves, and masks.
"I believe I'd like some goggles," O'Brien said. "I believe you would too." She looked around and located a box of disposable goggles. "Put these on," she said. "And let's double- glove."
Scully was prepared for a strong odor when she zipped open the body bag, but not the particular odor that rose from the bag. It was not the smell of death, horrible as it was, but the smell of illness and decay. The overwhelming component was the smell of stool. Stool, blood, and raging infection.
Scully looked at her patient, a dark- haired obese woman with lips drawn back to reveal a single tooth. Two gauze pads coverer her eyes. Scully lifted them, revealing two bulging, yellow open eyes. She replaced the gauze.
The tracheostomy was there, an eroding hole much larger than the tracheostomy tube within it. The yellow exudate in and around the site... was it pus, or sputum, or both? The hemodialysis catheter was in place, and the insertion site appeared clean. The jejeunostomy tube was in place and closed with a pair of small Kelly clamps. There was a lumpy, healed scar down the center of the abdomen, and a clean new incision, held shut with thick blue sutures. A colostomy bag, bloated with gas, was in place over the lower left quadrant.
"I need to check her back," Scully said. To confirm that surgery had been done to repair a bedsore over Rose Tarses's sacrum, Scully and O'Brien would have to turn her.
O'Brien pointed to the colostomy bag.
"We shall have to let the air out," she said. "If not, it will burst or come open when we turn her."
Scully nodded. "I'll do it, Mrs. O'Brien," she said. "You can step back." Holding her breath, Scully opened and edge of the "Tupperware" style coupling and flattened the air from the bag with her gloved hand. Then she resealed it. O'Brien felt along the edge to confirm that it was closed. Then they breathed.
The two women managed to tilt the dead patient on her side enough for Scully to get a look at the bedsore repair.
"Oh, that is beautiful work," she said.
O'Brien didn't answer, but she reminded herself that Scully was after all a doctor, and could find some intellectual form of beauty in the mangled and patched body of another human being. They gently lowered Mrs. Tarses onto her back again, and Scully started to zip up the body bag.
"Surely you want to see her hand," O'Brien said.
"Her hand?" Scully asked.
"Her poor hand. They gave her an A- V graft on her arm, but something went wrong. They had to take it out," O'Brien said.
An arteriovenous graft, or A- V graft, is used for patients who require long- term dialysis. It provides a place for the patient's blood to be diverted to the dialysis machine. Apparently there'd been some problem with the graft, because Mrs. Tarses had a different, more temporary device in place, the hemodialysis catheter.
Scully knew that A- V grafts carried a risk for infection and blood clots. Either of these events could have compromised the hand, causing swelling, or perhaps some ulceration or redness. She pulled back the zipper again and spread open the black bag. Mrs. Tarses's right hand looked swollen but roughly normal. Her left hand was wrapped in gauze.
"I always kept it covered," O'Brien said. "She saw it once and it made her cry."
Scully started to unwrap the hand. O'Brien must have used a whole roll of gauze, Scully thought. She could see the gradations of color leading to the hand, from the pasty white of the forearm to the dusky red wrist darkening to a purple. Then the gauze fell away, and there was the hand, black and wrinkled with gray fingernails. A dead hand.
Scully looked at the nurses' aide.
"A very slow death, Mrs. O'Brien," she said. "One piece at a time."
The care and feeding of Dana Scully presented unique challenges, but Mulder was ready.
The first challenge probably wouldn't come up today, but Mulder was prepared for it just in case. It was that "smell of death" thing. If Scully had to deal with remains that were badly decomposed, for example, the smell would continue to haunt her all night. Never mind that she'd shower, shampoo, gargle, and change her clothes before leaving the autopsy facility, she'd still come home sniffing and swearing she could smell it on herself.
By accident one day she discovered the healing power of onions. She was peeling an onion and the offending fumes stared the waterworks going. Teary eyes and a runny nose seemed to help flush the putrid molecules out of her sinuses. After that she experimented with other irritants; jalapenos were effective, and a strong salsa worked almost as well.
The second problem was one that Mulder understood completely. No one wants to view a corpse and then come home and face a similar vision on the dinner table. Meat was problematical and organ meats were right out. Not that he'd be likely to serve up a pot of tripe anyway, but it was something to keep in mind.
The third consideration wasn't related to her vocation but to her obsessive dietary practices. It was confusing, because sometimes Scully would eat anything, from fried mozzarella to Ben & Jerry's Phish Food. Then other days she'd glare at him and sulk because he'd thoughtlessly bought the noodles with three whole grams of fat. And yet, fat- free cream cheese was forbidden, it had to be lite cream cheese.
Mulder's preferences were equally complicated, although he didn't see it that way. ("No, Scully, I said Skippy Super Chunk, and I wanted grape jam, not grape jelly.")
Anyway, Mulder had figured out the Ultimate and Perfect Dana Scully Post Post- Mortem Repast: Curried shrimp with roasted chili peppers. It was all ready now, simmering gently on the stove. Chardonnay was chilling in the refrigerator. The Pouilly- Fuissé was still sitting in the liquor store, and for $38.00 a bottle, it could sit there forever as far as Mulder was concerned. He started to boil water for rice when the phone rang and he answered it.
"Hey, Mulder." It was Langley's voice. "We missed you yesterday. You coming for dinner tonight?"
"No," said Mulder, measuring the rice.
"He must be working on his expense vouchers," Byers said in the background. "I've been trying to figure out how they continue to incur expenses without leaving the office."
"Hemorrhoid cream." That was Frohike. "All that sitting,"
"You know, fellas, if this is dial- a- joke, you're supposed to wait for me to call you," Mulder said.
"Okay, man," said Langley. "I just wanted to know if you were coming over or if this was your day to mooch off Scully."
"I do not mooch off Scully," Mulder asked.
"No, Mulder, not her in particular," Langley said.
"Mulder, didn't Cab Calloway write a song about you?" Frohike piped in.
"That was Minnie the Moocher," Byers corrected him.
"Later," said Langley, and hung up.
Those guys could be so annoying, Mulder thought, but in this case they had a point. Scully was always doing things for him. She made it so easy from him to mooch, but he didn't want to.
Mulder poured the rice into the pot and replaced the lid. He thought about giving Scully a call to get a better idea of when to expect her, but he wanted her to be surprised. She'd realize he was planning something if he made the call. It would be nice if she called him.
The eggplant he had roasted earlier was cool now, so he peeled it, split it, and scooped out the seeds. The eggplant was going to be the base of a new version of his Post Post- Mortem Vegetable Dip, totally fat- free, and guaranteed to blow your mind, or at least blast out your sinus cavities. He took out the huge horseradish root, cut off a chunk, and scraped it off. He sliced it up and tossed it in the food processor.
Scully had used two kinds of pre- surgical antiseptic, the ones that come loaded into a disposable scrub brush, and some industrial- strength shampoo, but that other smell was still there. She knew from experience that Mulder would not be able to detect it, which was remarkable, given his olfactory organ.
The women's locker room was being renovated, and Scully had "liberated" the men's facility. Both rooms were used by operating room personnel, but the OR was closed today, with nothing scheduled and so far no emergency cases. She fixed her hair in the bathroom, thinking again, as she eyed the urinals, that there was at least one absolute advantage to being a man, at least on a stake- out. Luckily she wasn't on a stake out. They even had two stalls to choose from.
Scully left the locker room, ready for the long drive home. ASAC Cardin and the others had departed over an hour ago. There was someone waiting by the locker room door, waiting for Scully, apparently.
"Agent Scully? I'd like a moment of your time," he said. He was a trim, distinguished- looking man, probably approaching sixty, with silvery hair. His tweed jacket had those leather elbow patches that you don't see much any more. He looked like a college professor.
"Certainly," said Scully, hoping this wouldn't take too long. "And you are...?"
"Oh, my apologies. I am Dr. John Newbold. I think I can shed some light on your investigation here."
When he suggested that they go back to his office, Scully gave up on getting home by six. Dr. Newbold had an impressive office, spacious and carpeted. He sat at his big oaken desk and she sat across from him in an oversized leather- upholstered chair. Dr. Newbold had a photo album that he wanted Scully to see.
Here was Dr. Newbold getting a plaque from the hospital auxiliary. Here he was with Dr. DeBakey, at some convention, probably. Now he was posing with a little boy who was smiling and displaying a long surgical scar. Being honored by the Rotary. Accepting an award from the chamber of commerce.
Scully closed the book. This was less interesting than Jerry Luskin's vacation snapshots, which had driven the whole bullpen onto the stairwell for a smoke- free cigarette break.
"Very impressive, Dr. Newbold," she said. She stood up, hoping he would get to the point.
"I'm sure you are familiar with my background and credentials," Dr. Newbold said smoothly, rising from his seat. "I thought this would show you the human side of my accomplishments."
"Yes, indeed," said Scully, offering him her hand. Scully had gotten a good look at the human side of Dr. Newbold's accomplishments. Rose Tarses had made sure of that.
"I hope if you have any concerns about my practices, any queries about my outcomes, you will bring them directly to me," Newbold concluded.
"Well," said Scully, "perhaps you can tell me something about Rose Tarses."
"Rose Tarses was a noncompliant diabetic, an obese smoker with a sedentary lifestyle," he said.
"Are you saying she was a poor surgical candidate?" Scully asked.
"Certainly not. If I had to pinpoint the cause of her decline it would be the efforts of certain persons on the staff here to undermine my work," Dr. Newbold said. He pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jacket pocket.
"Dr. Newbold, I need you to be more specific," Scully said. "What did people do to interfere with her recovery?"
"People said things to Mrs. Tarses and her family that robbed them of their confidence in me. People sabotaged the sense of hope that every patient needs to recover," Newbold said.
"I see," said Scully. "Thank you for your time."
Scully tried to use the long drive back to Alexandria to decompress, to process what she'd seen and put it out of her mind. There was no evidence of fraud at Chesapeake Medical Center, just an incompetent, self- righteous surgeon. As sure as Scully was that John Newbold was responsible for the suffering of his patients, she was equally sure that no one could prove it. There were too many gray areas, too much room for honest disagreement. She kept the windows open, hoping the blast of air would clear her mind of the grim sights she'd witnessed, clear her head of the tenacious smell.
Driving home to Mulder. It sounded funny, but it felt good. One of the best things about coming home to Mulder was that he understood her need for a little time and space when she got in. He'd let her check her messages, putter around, sit by herself, or whatever she needed. Scully didn't extend him the same courtesy. Her underlying anxieties made her assault him as he walked in the door, checking for fever or bullet holes. Most often he was glad to accept her ministrations, but those rare times he tried to shake her off, she would become suspicious and cling that much harder.
Scully was looking forward to seeing Mulder, but she was thinking that she'd be a lot more comfortable if she went home first. She'd give him a call to tell him.
"No," he said.
"No?" She hadn't expected him to be that definite. "Mulder, I just want to change my clothes. Then I'll be right over."
"No, Scully. Gazebo!" Mulder said.
Sometimes two consenting adults find themselves in a situation in which one of them wishes to shout, "No, stop" without the risk that the other will actually stop. At times like this it's useful to designate some arbitrary word to mean No. No doesn't always mean no. Gazebo doesn't always mean a little building in the garden.
"I know you, Scully," Mulder said. "You'll go home, fire up one of your marathon bubble baths, put on Vivaldi, or maybe some obscure blind harmonica player. You'll soak for three or four hours, and then you'll want to wax your legs or close your pores or some other mysterious female thing."
"That does sound tempting," Scully said. She had an avocado- cucumber facial masque she hadn't tried yet.
"Scully, just get your ass over here. I packed your stuff, you can change here. I even brought some of your weird music," he said. He knew he was right; if she went home first, he'd hear from her around ten, and she'd be saying it was kind of late, how about brunch tomorrow. And he'd end up going over there instead.
"My weird music? Do you know anyone besides yourself who listens to Lothar and the Hand People?" Actually, Scully liked that record. It was pretentious, but so plaintive.
"If you're not walking in my door by seven, I'm going to trash Lothar and the Hand People. Then I'll shave my head." He hadn't played that album in twenty years. It was Scully who had discovered it and wanted to hear it again and again.
"I'll get there when I get there," Scully said coyly. "Probably before seven."
Mulder hung up the phone and smiled. He had her, she'd be here. He pulled a CD from the handful he'd grabbed randomly from Scully's collection and put it on the player. Sure enough, another bluesman with his mouth full of marbles was having trouble with his woman. Mulder didn't mind this music, except that it all sounded the same to him. He could just program it to keep replaying this disc, but he loaded another five CDs onto the changer, in case Scully could tell the difference.
He wanted Scully here tonight, so he could prove that he wasn't a moocher. But there was another reason, too. The bed.
Mulder knew about fugue states, conditions in which people would perform acts that seemed totally out of character for them, acts that they would not remember later on. Of course, Mulder had bitter personal knowledge about how unreliable memory was, and how it could be manipulated. But the new bed was troubling in a different way.
When he'd returned from Nevada, there it was. Not just a bed, a whole new bedroom. He thought it was a prank, and he suspected everyone, although when he found out the furniture had been charged to his own credit card, he let his mother off the hook. She wouldn't have known how to do that.
Then Scully had gone behind his back and ascertained the following: One, his fingerprints were on the charge slip. Two, the salesclerk remembered him, could identify him in a photograph. Three, the signature on the charge slip wasn't his.
He had masked his discomfort at Scully's discoveries with a show of anger that she'd excluded him from the investigation. Really, he understood why she had done it that way; she was eliminating the possibility that he could somehow taint the evidence.
Once he'd accepted the fact that his subconscious had made him clean out his extra room and buy a bedroom set, he had to confront the question of why he had done it. He had been clueless and Scully hadn't been any help. It was Diana Fowley who had seen to the heart of matters, and she wouldn't have even known about the bed if Mulder hadn't accused her of buying it. She had found him on the staircase during one of his cigarette breaks.
"Fox," she had said, sitting next to him on the step and taking his hand, "maybe it means you're ready to take someone home with you again."
She was right. He thanked her sincerely for her guidance and ran back to the bullpen to make dinner reservations and plan his campaign. Never again would he marvel at the density of others, because he himself had been so thick. It was obvious to casual strangers that he and Scully belonged together, but he hadn't seen it until Diana Fowley had brought it to his attention. He wanted Scully. He wanted her in bed.
Seducing Scully had been a little weird, and it had taken longer than he would have expected. Now he understood how that nerdy Kansas weatherman had felt.
The relationship itself was unusual. Before they had slept together, he already knew what she looked like when the clock went off at six A.M., and she knew about his morning breath. They both knew that neither of them could honestly be said to tolerate refried beans. The level of easy comfort they had already achieved was unchanged, and yet the addition of sexual intimacy to their lives made everything else seem new and special.
Now Mulder knew why his subconscious had wanted a bed, but he still couldn't fathom why his lousy subconscious had gotten him this particular bed. He'd seen waveless waterbeds, and he wouldn't have minded one of those. But no, his subconscious had bought him an old- fashioned, zig- when- you- want- to- zag, get- you- seasick waterbed. Maybe it was punishing him for repressing it.
Still, Mulder was determined to make use of the bed. Ignoring his subconscious had made him endure years of unnecessary loneliness. Ignoring his subconscious had put him in a disturbed frame of mind where he literally did not know what he was doing. His subconscious wanted him on a waterbed, and he felt it would be wisest to go along with it.
A new CD came on. A woman this time, her voice full of energy and joy. Lovin' on the weekend was a full- time job. Nice work if you can get it, Mulder thought.
Mulder looked around to see if he'd forgotten anything. He could wash the bathtub. It was pointless, since Scully washed it before and after using it, but at least he could tell her he had just scrubbed it. So he did.
It was a quarter to seven. There was the click of a key in the lock. Mulder leapt onto the couch so he could look nonchalant when Scully walked in. So she could hang up her coat, open and close the refrigerator, call her answering machine, look in the mirror, and open and close the refrigerator again before talking to him.
Scully walked in, put down some papers, and hung up her coat.
"Hi," she said.
"Hi," he answered, off the couch in a second and face to face with her.
"Don't touch me," she said, waving him off. "I reek of pseudomonas."
"I assure you, you don't," Mulder said, holding his hands behind his back. "Unless it smells like Altoids."
"Hardly," said Scully. "I must burn these clothes."
"You don't have to make excuses, Sully," Mulder said. "Feel free to get naked any time." He was pawing at her now, and she was all set to enjoy it, when her thoughts flew back to the patients she'd seen today.
"Mulder, wait," she said. "I just want to take care of something first. Okay?" She took a form from the sheath of papers. "I'm naming you as my health- care proxy. If something happens where I can't make decisions about my treatment, or can't express them, then it'll be up to you. I know you can handle this if you have to."
"Is there anything I should know?" he asked, trying not to choke on his fears. The cancer...?
"No!" she said, her hand flying up to stroke his cheek. "Honestly, I'm fine. It's just... I saw some things today that reminded me how quickly that can change, or how slowly. I'm not afraid of death, Mulder, and you don't have to be either. Death is normal."
"Scully, isn't that why you have a living will? Why we both do?" But even as he asked the question, he remembered the problems inherent in a living will. There was no way to plan for every possibility.
"It's not the same. It's too rigid, especially for us." She didn't want to dwell on the details, but he knew what she meant. No document could predict the need for the placement of microchips or immersion in ice water.
"Can we sit down?" Mulder asked. Scully hesitated; she really felt contaminated. But the brown leather sofa was probably already hosting every known microbe, so she sat down with him.
"Death is normal, and life is normal," Scully continued. "What's not normal is to be stuck in between. Doctors aren't always... objective. A particular doctor might... make decisions based on criteria that are mostly about the needs of the doctor."
"Scully, I can tell you're very concerned, but I'm really not sure what you're talking about," Mulder said.
"Surgeons have statistics- - like ballplayers." She managed a little smile. "Maybe a surgeon can't afford another death right now. His numbers will look better if the patient can survive long enough so the death isn't counted as a post- operative mortality. Maybe the patient can live long enough to develop a new problem and be transferred to a different service. Maybe the patient will require specialized surgery and the death can be counted against the new surgeon."
Mulder winced and nodded. This was the "everyday evil" that Bobby was talking about. Evil deeds motivated not by evil intentions but by callousness, by a willingness to put another person through degradation and agony for the sake of one's reputation and finances.
"Mulder, forget it," Scully said suddenly. "We don't have to talk about this now. What are you cooking?" She had wanted to cast off the burdens of the day and get on with the night, but she hadn't meant to cast them onto Mulder. She rubbed the back of his neck, trying to distract him. "What did you do today?"
"Scully, it's okay. Let's talk about it and get it settled. I think that's the best way. But start from the beginning. What did you find at Chesapeake Medical Center?"
"Long story short, all the excessive hospital stays and charges seem to go back to one doctor. His surgical technique is questionable, but I can't prove anything. All I know is his surgeries take longer than other doctor's, and his patients require more blood transfusions. Then once he gets them off the table, he mismanages them some more. He ignores signs and symptoms until he's forced to act on them. And when his patients go really bad, he won't let them go. Tells the families they'll be okay when it's obvious that they can't survive. Won't write the order for 'Do Not Resuscitate.' Lets people die in pain because narcotics might shorten their lives." She was glad Mulder had pressed her to tell him about it now. Get it settled and then have dinner and relax.
"A doctor in denial," Mulder said. "He does the operation, then he refuses to see anything negative that occurs. Probably very defensive in general. Talks a good game, I bet. Probably makes the families feel guilty when they question his prognosis. Tells them, don't give up, Mama needs your support, you have to have faith."
"Oh, you're good," said Scully, quite impressed. "What does he look like?"
"That's easy," said Mulder. "He looks like a doctor. He could play one on TV. Older guy, nice voice, gray hair. Refined. Serious. Sympathetic."
"Why, that's downright... spooky," Scully said.
"But it's obvious," said Mulder. "He would have to look the part and talk a good game. Otherwise he'd be out of business."
"Why does he do it, Mulder? Doesn't he have a conscience?"
"If he does, he manages to suppress it. He's insecure, basically- - " Mulder began.
"That's no excuse!" Scully interrupted.
"No, of course not," said Mulder. "What I'm saying is he's too insecure to ever question himself, so he just keeps doing what he knows, whether or not it works. When someone else challenges him, he attacks. Why does he do it? Because he can. He has a medical license."
"A license to kill," said Scully. "That's his nickname, apparently, double- oh- seven. You should see the graffiti, he has a toilet stall devoted to him." She felt herself starting to unwind.
"A toilet stall," said Mulder, feigning awe. "You know, anyone can have a web site. I don't suppose it tells you anything concrete..."
"Nothing useful. Little sketches... 'Dr. Newbold- - licensed to kill.' Stuff a ten- year- old might write: 'John Newbold- - Psycho Bastard.' This isn't exactly peer review at its finest," Scully said.
"You know, Scully, we've seen this before. Evil men, or at least men doing evil things, who manage to protect themselves so you can't get to them. It always seems to bother you more when it's a doctor," Mulder said.
Scully's reaction was that it never seemed to bother Mulder much unless it was part of the larger conspiracy, but they'd been back and forth over that.
"Doctors should be held to higher standards," she said.
Mulder was thinking that he'd settle for the same standards as everyone else. And that was part of the problem with doctors, present company included. They really did think they were different from other people. Scully thought she should be able to take anything on and handle it alone. Men like Newbold thought they were above judgment.
"Now, back to this health care proxy. My role is to make sure your doctor isn't a psycho bastard, make sure he's telling the truth, and? not let them do things to you that won't... really change anything." He had taken her hands in his, not even aware he was doing it.
"Yeah," she said.
"I want you to do that for me too," Mulder said. Scully swallowed and nodded. The voice from the CD player broke the silence:
"If I don't meet you no more in this world then I'll meet you in the next one, and don't be late..."
"Scully! This is Hendrix," Mulder exclaimed. "I've been looking for this one. You- stole- my- CD!" Exaggerated outrage, huffing and puffing and fist- shaking.
He's whistling in the dark, thought Scully. And so am I.
With a forceful "HAH!" she went into her Tae Kwon Do routine, hopping off the couch to threaten Mulder with a kick and whipping her fists close enough to his face that he curled into the couch with his arms over his head. With one arm across his windpipe and the other hand grasping the back of his head, she turned him over (rather gently), batted her eyelashes, and addressed him in her most innocent voice:
"Are you sure, Mulder? All these blues records sound the same to me."
Half an hour later they were side by side on the couch, balancing plates of curried shrimp on their laps.
"This is sublime, Mulder," Scully said, practically ecstatic over the meal. Her hair was wrapped in a towel, and she was wearing Mulder's Redskins jersey. "I can't believe you cooked this."
"My mooching days are over, Scully. In exactly six more meals, we'll be even," Mulder said. Unless she wanted to count all the times she'd fed him before they made love. Then he'd never catch up.
"You're keeping score, Mulder? You've been working with Jerry Luskin too long," she said. It was funny at work, with all the rules about cigarette breaks and making coffee, but it was ludicrous now.
"Do you think so? Next time I cook, I'm going to wash the pan," Mulder said.
"Do you want to finish this?" Scully asked. They traded plates, and Scully took Mulder's empty plate to the kitchen, where she rinsed it and placed it in the dishwasher. She detoured to his bedroom for a quilted comforter to take back to the couch. She wrapped herself in it and settled back down next to Mulder.
"You left all the chilies," Mulder said, offering her one on a fork.
"Quite intentionally," she said, pushing his hand away. Her appreciation of spicy foods did not extend to eating whole roasted chili peppers.
"Last chance," he said, waving it at her again before he swallowed it himself. Scully reached for the wine bottle, and divided what was left into the glasses. She'd have to get Mulder some wine glasses, she thought. His were cheap and clunky. Mulder took his plate and the empty wine bottle to the kitchen.
"Do you want dessert?" he asked her.
"Is there any more of that horseradish dip?" she asked.
"There's a lot left, but there's no more celery to dip," he said. Mulder wasn't happy with how the dip had turned out. Using freshly grated horseradish had made it too strong. Scully kept sucking it down; Mulder was waiting for her eyeballs pop out of her head and go flying across the room.
"Bring it on," she said. She could use her finger. He brought out the dip and a soup spoon.
"Enjoy," he said, but he was watching her with disapproval.
"Stop staring at me!" she said. "You just ate a peck of pickled peppers!"
Mulder turned back to the TV. He'd seen this movie over a dozen times. It wasn't as good as "The Fly," but it was good.
"I just made that to clear your head," he said. "You're overdosing."
"Is this really fat free?" Scully asked. "What's in here?" It tasted hot and tangy, but also creamy and rich. It didn't taste as if it was fat- free, but Mulder knew better than to lie about important things.
"Horseradish," said Mulder.
"Duh," said Scully.
"What kind of vinegar?" she asked.
"Regular," he said. "The clear one. The kind that doesn't come in a wine bottle."
"What else?" There had to be something that gave it that smooth, thick texture.
"Guess." There were only two more ingredients. One was fat- free yogurt, and Scully would probably get that one. He didn't think she'd guess the eggplant, though. And now that Mulder was a talented chef, he'd be silly to give up all his secrets.
"Yogurt." She knew that. But there was something else.
"Yes," said Mulder. "Now watch the movie. The scary part is coming."
"It's just a spider," Scully said. "What else did you put in that dip?"
"You wouldn't say that if you were an incredible shrinking woman," Mulder said. "That spider is huge."
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" she said. He smirked happily.
"And Scully," he said, "don't bring it to the lab. Because that would be a misuse of public resources. And I would feel hurt and violated."
"I don't want to get it analyzed," Scully said, tracing her finger around his ear and down his jaw. "I want you to tell me." A harmless secret, she thought. How rare. Suddenly Mulder grabbed her, squeezing her to his chest and shaking her a little.
"It's the scary spider! Scully, hold me!" Many years ago a skinny teenaged girl had used a similar technique on Mulder. Only then it was a scary shark.
Nice to know it still worked.
"Ooh, ooh, scary!" said Scully, hugging him back and burying her face against the side of his neck.
"Come on," Mulder said, hauling himself up off the couch. He wanted to get her in the bedroom. He wanted to appease his subconscious.
"Mulder," Scully said, in what she hoped was a sultry whisper, "let's do it right here." Mulder's couch was made for sex, one player or two. For years, when she'd fantasized about sex with Mulder, she'd thought about doing it on his couch. And now she had, they had, several times. Several very nice times and two spectacular times. And she would be happy to do it again. But no, he wanted to take her to that torture chamber he'd purchased, obviously while under demonic possession.
"Scully, it's better now. I filled it up more. Please, Scully." It was his pleading voice. She'd heard it for years, usually when he tried to convince her to consider an extreme possibility. Come to think of it, that was exactly what he was doing now.
"Caro mio," she said, trying again to sound exotic, "since we ate dinner on your couch, why don't we make love on your dining table?" Sweet logic would rescue her. They could use the table. She could throw the comforter on top of all the newspapers and magazines and junk mail, and they could do it right there. "Yes," said Mulder. "We can do that too. But first..." He tugged her off the couch.
By nature Scully was a good sport. So she smiled bravely and went along into the bedroom. She tried to think sexy thoughts, get back in the mood. She thought about Mulder, and how she would do anything for him. Even this.
Mulder turned out the light. The shades were drawn, and the room was quite dark.
Good, that will help, thought Scully. Scully hated the mirrored canopy as much as she hated the rollicking mattress. In theory that meant that she hated the bed twice as much as Mulder, because he liked the mirror. Except that he hated the mattress twice as much as she did. Still trying to smile, Scully sat down on the bed. Mulder was kicking off his shoes.
Something was wrong. It was unlike Mulder to want it dark. It was unlike Mulder to undress in the dark. Scully clicked on the light.
Mulder was standing there with one cuff unbuttoned. Scully hadn't given it a thought before, but now it seemed significant that he was wearing long sleeves.
"What?" he said, blinking at her.
"Take that off," she ordered him. Maybe he'd gotten a tattoo of his own, she thought, except she couldn't imagine him doing that.
Mulder felt a sudden urge to go back and watch the end of "The Incredible Shrinking Man." Scully was sitting on his bed and ordering him to undress, and it was less arousing than a cold shower. He opened the other cuff and took off the shirt.
"Oh my God," said Scully. Mulder looked as if he'd been thrown out of a moving car. Well, not quite, now that she was over her surprise. But he had more fresh bruises and abrasions than a man should get from cooking curry.
"I played some roundball this morning," Mulder explained.
"Roundball?" She'd always considered the term synonymous with basketball, but Mulder looked more like he'd been playing Australian Rules football. "I don't care how it happened, I don't like it when you try to hide things from me." Scully was appalled to find herself talking like her mother.
"Scully, reality check! You play basketball on asphalt, you take some lumps. Get used to it!" Mulder had dragged Scully into the bedroom, but at this moment he had no desire to sleep or anything else in here. He took his pants off anyway, to show off all his bruises and be done with it.
Scully looked him over. She was subdued now, hurt by his outburst and annoyed with herself. He didn't seem to be troubled by his injuries, although he'd probably be stiff in the morning. She would have liked to examine his left knee; other than that the injuries appeared to be numerous but trivial.
"Your knee is swollen," she said quietly. "Maybe you should have a doctor look at it."
"No need," he said. "A doctor did it." A little sympathy would have been nice, but no, she had to read him the riot act.
Scully started rethinking her situation. What did she do to deserve this, really?
"Damn it, Mulder, you set me up!" she said. "You're complaining because I made a fuss over how scraped up you are, but you had to get all mysterious about it. You're the one who made a big deal out of it."
Mulder sat down on the bed, but not as carefully as he should have. It receded and swelled.
"Maybe I did," he admitted. "But you weren't supposed to get angry, you were supposed to kiss it and make it all better."
"Next time give me the script," Scully said. She moved toward him to check his knee, starting off a new set of waves. Maybe he had filled up the waterbed, but it really hadn't helped.
She had him bend the knee, which he did without difficulty. She couldn't feel any clicks or rubbing and it didn't seem particularly painful. She was about to give her clinical pronouncement, "I'm not impressed," when she thought better of it.
"I'll get you some ice," she said. "And you tell me about the bad doctor who hurt you."
He moaned and groaned loudly when she put the ice on his knee, but finally he admitted that it really didn't hurt much at all. And she told him what a big man he was, how brave and macho. He told her about the human pit bull Bobby Z, who had hurled him around the basketball court. And about how they could never go back to the corner deli, or he would have to shoot hoops with Bobby again, which might very well kill him.
Now that they were friendly again, Scully thought she might collect a little smooch. Or a big one. She sidled closer to Mulder, grabbing his shorts to help her maneuver through the waves. He turned toward her, and the rush of surf brought them together. She put her hand behind his head and half- closed her eyes. They achieved a light, teasing lip- to- lip contact, bounced apart a bit with the undertow, then came together again.
Mulder's lips were full and hot. His mouth was wet and hot. Wow. Burning hot, literally. Painfully, stingingly, brutally hot. As hot as roasted chili peppers. Scully pulled away and stared at him. How could he stand it? She wiped her mouth with her hand, but the burning didn't stop.
Mulder was staring right back at her and gasping. He rubbed his eyes and sneezed. The horseradish fumes were reaming his nasal passages. He thought he could feel his pituitary recoil.
"Scully, you're a freakin' dragon," he said tactfully.
"Me? That was like kissing a branding iron!" Scully answered. She thought about taking the ice pack she had brought him for his knee and stuffing it in his mouth.
"I have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen," Mulder said. "Why don't you take a few tokes?"
"Why don't you go back to mooching?" Scully asked him. "That was much safer for both of us." Mulder was getting a little too nasty, in her opinion. After the dust settled, she was going to share that opinion.
"That does it," Mulder said. "Now I'll never tell you the secret ingredient." He wouldn't, either. Horseradish dip was dangerous to someone who couldn't tell when she'd had enough.
"You're forgetting something. I have ways of making you talk, Hot Lips," Scully said, giving him a shove that started up the waves again.
"My hot lips are sealed," Mulder said. He didn't push her back. The waves were starting to make him queasy.
"Well, mine aren't," said Scully. "How about a blow job?"
Mulder was horrified. He'd never before heard of anyone using a blow job as a threat. He could just imagine what it would feel like if Scully put her caustic mouth on his poor, defenseless penis. While cleaning the chili peppers for the shrimp curry, he'd unthinkingly rubbed his eye. He could still feel the searing pain. He rolled off the bed and stood on the nice, steady floor.
"Come on," he said. "We're going back to the couch."
They did. They sat on the couch watching "Forbidden Planet" and eating mint- chip ice cream. Scully really didn't want any, but Mulder said she had to have it. And she was sure he'd never uncross his legs until she did.
"Mulder, you don't think I would really... you know..," Scully said. She still thought Mulder had been needlessly insulting, calling her a dragon and telling her to suck on a fire extinguisher, but she was sorry for what she had said too.
Mulder had his spoon embedded in a big chunk of ice cream, and he was holding it like a Popsicle and slurping on it.
"I don't think you'd do it on purpose," he said, "but it was a rotten thing to say. It was a rotten thing to make me think about."
"I'm sorry," Scully said.
"Scully, I want you to understand about the bed. I bought that bed when I didn't even know I wanted it. Some part of me wanted that bed, but it was a part I had buried so deep that I didn't even know it existed. That suppressed part was the part of me that knew I wanted you," Mulder said.
"You say it as if that's the only explanation possible," Scully said. "There are a dozen equally plausible interpretations. You could have been the subject of a mind- control exercise, or even simple hypnosis. You might have been drugged. Some entity could have used your body to carry out its own agenda." She didn't mention demonic possession, but that seemed possible too. Some hateful, malevolent imp could have made Mulder buy the bed.
"Scully, you're crazy," Mulder said. She looked at him, raised an eyebrow, and huffed.
"Even if your general theory is correct, it doesn't follow that the part of your subconscious that made you buy the bed is the same part that wanted us to be together. Perhaps you have repressed opposing factions. Perhaps your superego recognized that you were about to engage in proscribed activities and it caused you to get a bed that would have a chilling effect." She had to pause for a breath.
"Scully, when you reject that bed, you're rejecting me," Mulder said.
"Hold on just a minute," Scully said. "When I'm not here, do you sleep on that bed?" She was a hundred percent sure that he didn't.
"Don't change the subject," he said.
"Mulder, by your own reasoning, when you reject the bed, you're rejecting that aspect of your personality that wants you to be with me," she said.
Scully knew she was right, but suddenly it didn't matter. She put her hand on the back of his head, her fingers in his soft hair. He looked surprisingly dopey with that spoon stuck in his mouth, Scully thought tenderly. But this was the man who had gone with her to shop for a new vacuum cleaner, gone from one store to another, and finally back to the first store. This was the man who'd accompanied her to a three- hour slide presentation on the fauna of Madagascar. Who had cooked curried shrimp. Who was playing her CDs even though he couldn't tell one from another. This man wanted to make love to her in his god- awful waterbed.
"Let's go back to bed, Mulder," she said. She stood up and tugged on his arm. He looked at her quizzically. "I won't try anything... oral. I won't even kiss you." He was on his feet now. He took the spoon from his mouth and dropped it in the bowl with a clatter. "I won't even nibble on your earlobes."
"Scully... you can nibble on my earlobes," Mulder said. Scully had her arm across his back, and he put his arm around her shoulder. She was the love of his life, he thought. The phrase used to sound so fatuous, but now it was a simple statement of truth. He had picked on her, insulted her, and forced her to eat ice cream, and here she was, leading him to the bedroom, to the bed his inner self had selected for them. Mulder wondered if he could make love to Scully while keeping one foot on the floor. An old trick from his pub- crawling days. Maybe if he had a foot on the floor, the waves from the waterbed wouldn't bother him so much.
I can do this, Scully was telling herself. I'll keep my eyes shut. Fantasy is a powerful thing- - I'll pretend we're on the couch.
Think positive, Mulder told himself as they headed to the bedroom. One foot on the floor.
Mulder hated the waterbed for its willful malice, the way it tossed him whichever way he didn't want to go and turned him green with nausea. Scully hated the tasteless canopy with its tawdry mirror. But Mulder's subconscious was not to be denied. Hoping for the best, Mulder and Scully forced themselves to return to Mulder's boudoir.
They arrived all too soon at the waterbed. Mulder pulled off his boxers and kicked them out of the way. He positioned himself on the side of the bed, his right knee bent and his foot on the floor. He held on to the firm wooden bed frame with his right hand.
Mulder seemed to have some definite plan, Scully thought, and while she didn't know exactly what he had in mind, she found him quite alluring in this pose. Good enough to eat, in fact, but a promise was a promise. Time to get down to business. Mulder's fixation with the waterbed was not going to resolve by itself. She slid her panties down over her hips and tossed them on top of Mulder's shorts. She climbed on top of Mulder, surveying him again so she could avoid all his scrapes and bruises. The knee was probably bothering him now, she thought. That was why he had placed himself in the position.
"Scully?" Mulder said. "Scully, how about the shirt?" She was still wearing his football jersey.
For a guy lying on his back, Mulder was certainly being bossy, Scully thought. The big shirt felt so warm and soft. But she wanted to make him happy. She balanced awkwardly on her knees as the bed rocked and rolled, and she pulled off the Redskins shirt.
Mulder gripped the side of the bed, taking deep breaths until the waves subsided. And then Scully leaned over him, and he felt her breasts against him and her tongue swirling in his ear, and the queasiness disappeared.
She had promised not to kiss him, but maybe they could renegotiate, Scully thought. Her tongue was going to get restless confined to Mulder's earlobes. She slid her face against his, her cheek rubbing on his cheek and her hair trailing down. She looked into his eyes, but he was not looking back at her. He was looking at the mirror.
"Mulder, are you checking out my butt?" she asked. Startled, he looked at her but didn't speak. "Mulder," she said again, whining a little. "Mulder, answer me."
"Scully, I can't answer that. There isn't any answer you'll like," he said. Scully pursed her lips. As if sneaking up on herself, she turned to look over her shoulder.
Mirrors don't lie. There it was, in all its glory.
"Mulder," she gasped. "It's huge!" An enormous white ass with some red blemish on the right cheek. She had a freakin' zit on her butt.
Scully could be so self- centered, Mulder thought. Why did she have to pick this moment to obsess on her ass? And she was rocking the bed.
When the cellular phone beeped, it was a relief. Mulder answered it, but even though it was on his side, it was Scully's phone. He handed it to her.
"Gotta go back to Maryland," Scully told him when she finished the call. "Someone trashed the operating room suite at Chesapeake Medical Center."
"So?" Mulder asked. He couldn't see how this related to insurance fraud or the FBI.
"I'm a witness," Scully said. "It must have happened right around the time I left. The police want to talk to me. I'll drive over in the morning."
"I'd better let you get some sleep," Mulder said. He picked his boxers up off the floor and headed back to the living room. "Good night," he said at the doorway. He would go back to the TV, or maybe a challenging night of Minesweeper. Once Scully was asleep, he might even fast forward through some of his videotapes, not for the thrill, but for research. There had to be a lot of ways to make love on a waterbed with one foot on the floor, but he could only think of three.
"Good night," Scully said. She could tell a loosing streak when she saw one. Maybe she'd surprise him on the couch in the morning. He seemed to like being surprised in the morning.
But it was Mulder who was awake first, and he whispered in her ear and jostled her until she was awake too.
"Okay, I'm up," she said sleepily. "Did you make coffee?" Anyone who woke you up with this much enthusiasm on a Sunday morning should either bring you coffee or carry a leash in his mouth.
"No," said Mulder. "We're going out for breakfast. We're going to the deli." Mulder was dressed for work; he was obviously planning to go out to Maryland with Scully after breakfast.
There was a deli not far from Mulder's apartment, but they didn't go there. Mulder drove all the way back to Scully's to go to the deli on the corner. Nothing wrong with this deli, but she went here two or three times every week and it hardly rated a special trip.
There was a line at the counter when Scully and Mulder arrived, but plenty of empty tables. Mulder took the Sunday paper and an iced tea from the cooler and sat down at his old table, leaving Scully to join the line. Bobby's mother- in- law was behind the cash register as always, and again she hurried from behind the counter to provide special service.
She hustled Scully off the line and over to the table.
"Honestly, Mrs. Fishman," Scully said, "I don't mind waiting my turn."
"Nonsense," said the older woman. "You sit right down and I'll bring you something." Moments later she was back with two coffees. "I think you should have the French toast today," she told Mulder, pinching his cheek affectionately. Then she turned to Scully. "We have three kinds of fat- free muffins," she said. "How about blueberry?" She left them alone to get their "orders."
Scully looked expectantly at Mulder, waiting for some explanation, but he was reading the paper nonchalantly. She pulled out a section and started to read too.
Mrs. Fishman brought over their food, still beaming at them.
"Robert will be down soon," she said. She had hurried upstairs and laid out his clothes for him.
Bobby was along in minutes, looking as awkward in his blue suit and white shirt as he had the day before in his ironed blue jeans and scrub top. He sat down with Mulder and Scully and looked at Mulder expectantly.
"How come we're wearing suits?" he asked.
Mrs. Fishman appeared at Scully's side once more.
"Come with me," she said. "We'll have coffee. Let the boys talk." The deli was quiet now, and Scully and Mrs. Fishman went to a table in the far corner.
Scully knew that Bobby was the maniac who had bulldozed Mulder into the fence and onto the ground yesterday, and she could figure out that the deli woman was hoping for some male bonding between the two of them. Beyond that, she had no idea what was going on.
"The muffin is delicious," she lied. "Do you bake them here?"
"No, dear, we buy them," Mrs. Fishman said. She leaned forward. "I want to tell you a little bit about Robert. So you'll understand." Scully nodded encouragingly. "Robert is no good with people. He doesn't understand them. He's a good surgeon, though. He's good with his hands. He can concentrate. When something interests him, he's like a different person."
Robert was an extreme example, but Scully had known many surgeons like this. Men who loved to operate but hated any type of human contact. Men whose own emotions were so twisted or blunted that they were always surprised when their patients expressed anger or grief.
"Robert never knew his parents. He grew up in foster homes, then in group homes. He talks like a tough guy, but he's no tough guy. He's a strange boy, and there's no place he fits in," Mrs. Fishman said.
"He had a difficult start," Scully said.
"Meeting my daughter was the only break he ever got. I don't know if it was such a break for my daughter. But Amy saw something good in him. She got him to go to college. Then she helped him apply to medical school. She took him to the interviews. Robert did all the work, but he would never have made it without her." Mrs. Fishman had gradually come to understand that her daughter's marriage was in fact a happy one.
Scully nodded. She was thinking that she'd have to find another deli. There was one a few blocks away; the walk would do her good.
"When he started his practice in Maryland, I thought things would get easier for them. They were over a hundred thousand dollars in debt, but they kept their expenses down and they both worked hard. But then Robert had a break- down. He told people he saw a ghost, a spirit. The ghost was up to no good, doing something so the surgical tools wouldn't be clean to use. Then he said the ghost was really another doctor. Of course it wasn't hard to figure out that Robert had done the mischief himself."
"Where was this?" Scully asked.
"In Winthrop, Maryland. At the big hospital there, Chesapeake Medical Center."
It was starting to make sense. Mulder's new basketball pal had turned out to be a doctor at the Chesapeake Medical Center, and Mulder had of course seen it as another example of synchronicity. To Scully synchronicity meant only that at any given time, more than one event was unfolding. To Mulder synchronicity implied a pattern, a cluster of forces, a significance. This was the heart of his new philosophy. It was illogical and egotistical, Scully thought, but it made Mulder calmer and more confident. She knew empirically that Mulder's idiosyncratic cogitations lead to the truth more often than not, so she respected them, even when they seemed odd.
What worked for Mulder didn't always work for Scully, but she decided to try it anyway.
"What a coincidence, Mrs. Fishman. I just met a doctor from the Chesapeake Medical Center, a Dr. John Newbold," she said.
"Oh, that is a coincidence," said Mrs. Fishman. "He's the one. That's the doctor Robert accused of being the ghost."
"Do you have any idea why he would do that?" Scully asked.
"You have to understand, Robert believes what he says. But I know Robert doesn't like this doctor. Dr. Newbold, such an important man, this is who Robert has to pick for his enemy."
"Dr. Newbold has a lot of friends in the community," Scully agreed.
"Oh, yes. You know about the Helping and Healing Program?" Scully hadn't heard of it. "It's for children who need surgery. Children from other countries, too poor to pay for the operation. The Helping and Healing Committee pays for them to come to CMC, gives them the surgery for free. Dr. Newbold does the surgery."
"It sounds like a good program," Scully said.
"Robert doesn't think so. He says they're just doing it to build up the pediatric surgery division, practicing on third- world babies. He says too many of the kids didn't live to make it home again." Mrs. Fishman took a sip of her coffee.
"I'm sure that position didn't win him any friends," Scully said. She remembered that some of the graffiti in the bathroom referred to Newbold as a baby killer.
"Of course not. And then when he told everyone about a ghost?" Mrs. Fishman turned her hands palm up in a gesture of resignation. "The Helping and Healing Committee is made up of some very wealthy businessmen, and they do a lot for that hospital. Robert had his privileges lifted, a six- month suspension. He and Amy had to give up their apartment, and they're back here with us for now. Amy's taking all the overtime she can get, and Robert is doing some hours at a clinic, but they're just getting by. They still have all those loans to repay."
Scully nodded again.
"Robert is seeing a counselor. That was part of their deal with him. He's supposed to learn to stay in touch with reality. And he started playing basketball. His counselor said it would teach him to get along with people," Mrs. Fishman said. "So now you understand about Robert." She left the table and went back behind the counter, washing her hands at a big sink before reclaiming her accustomed place by the cash register.
Bobby and Mulder had finished their conversation. Bobby was still sitting at the table, humming to himself and drumming out some tune, and Mulder was trying to get Mrs. Fishman to accept payment. Scully joined him at the counter.
"It's very simple," Scully said, interrupting their argument. "As Federal agents, we will be compromised if we let you give us something for free. We have to pay you, Mrs. Fishman. Otherwise we will never be able to come back."
Mrs. Fishman shrugged.
"Five eighty- five," she said.
"I'm glad that worked," Mulder said as they walked out. "I didn't pay her yesterday."
"Just can't help mooching, can you?"
The deli was within blocks of Scully's apartment, and Mulder considered suggesting a little break before the long drive to the Chesapeake Medical Center. But they still hadn't managed to utilize his waterbed. Maybe a little pent- up libido would help them get that done tonight. Maybe he could spend all day getting Scully in the mood, and she'd be too horny to want to waste the night contemplating her ass. He thought he was pretty good at making Scully horny. In point of fact, he was even better than he knew.
As for his own stupid problem, his seasickness, Crazy Bobby had written him a prescription for something. The trick would be to get to a pharmacy without Scully finding out.
When they got in his car, Scully put her hand over his as he was about to turn the ignition.
"We have time to stop by my apartment," she said. "I'd like to see how your contusions are doing."
Mulder put his plan into effect.
"Would I have to undress for that?" he asked. "Because I'd probably need some help." His licked his lip a little. It was one of the moves Scully used to drive him crazy.
That was more encouragement than Scully needed.
"Let's go up then," she said. "I can help you." She was ready to start right now, in the car.
"No, we'd better take care of this business in Winthrop. Let's see what happened at the hospital, and what the police have on it," he said. If he could just keep Scully on the edge like this, she'd be his. Even the waterbed wouldn't stop her. He started the car.
"How's that knee doing?" Scully asked. She rested her hand on it. He started to maneuver out of the parking space, and she took her hand back. She never played with him when he was driving. At least not with his body.
"How was your breakfast?" Mulder asked.
"I got the condensed version of the life and hard times of Robert the antisocial surgeon," Scully said. "What's up, Mulder? What do you want from those people?"
"Background, Scully. Who's who at Chesapeake Medical Center. I got the condensed version of the perfidy of Dr. John Newbold. Plus a diatribe about why the backboards suck at the James T. Rigg School playground," Mulder said.
"He's right about Newbold," Scully said. "But a source close to me says that Rigg School has decent backboards, a working water fountain, and it's never crowded. In fact the only problem with the place is that nobody plays there besides yuppies and old men."
Mulder broke into a broad grin. Comparative basketball courts was one of his favorite topics these days, but he always thought he was boring Scully with it. He wasn't; she enjoyed his enthusiasm.
Mulder was as peaceful and content as Scully had ever seen him. Sometimes it frightened her. Mulder was able to bide his time, keep up with his meaningless assignments at work, and enjoy his new relationship with Scully. Scully was trying to do the same thing, trying to ignore the ominous black clouds on the horizon while she did what she had always done: follow Mulder.
"Scully, I think we all agree about Newbold. What about Bobby? He must be terrible too," Mulder said.
"Wait. Time out," Scully said. "I am going to Winthrop, Maryland, because the police want to ask me if I heard or saw anything last night. You are going because you don't want to be deprived of my company. This is a local case of vandalism, We don't have to solve it, and even if we did, it has nothing to do with your maladjusted new friend. Okay?" She wanted to take him by the chin and make him look into her eyes, but he was driving.
"Everything has everything to do with everything," Mulder pronounced.
"Aha. The unified conspiracy theory," Scully said.
"No. But everything has consequences and everything's connected. It really doesn't matter where you start. Even background checks." Mulder was used to following his hunches and accepting insights that he couldn't support with logic. Right now it seemed to him that anything he did would take him in the right direction. He'd had crazier theories in his life, and at least this one made him happy.
"Fox Mulder's Holistic Detective Agency," Scully sighed.
Mulder found the Winthrop Police Department without difficulty and accompanied Scully inside. There was some confusion at first, with the local cops questioning the role of the Federal agents, and even after everything was settled there was some discussion about whether or not Mulder should be present during Scully's interview.
"Don't worry about it," said Mulder. "I'll wait outside."
Sergeant Phil Wallace took Scully's statement about what she'd seen and heard in the OR locker room Saturday afternoon. The Winthrop police officer was surprised to learn that she had met up with Dr. Newbold around four. Dr. Newbold had told the police that he didn't get to the hospital until eight. The interview was over in ten minutes, and Sergeant Wallace thanked Scully for her cooperation and apologized for being officious about Mulder.
"We all have to work together," Sergeant Wallace said. "Uh, I know you guys have some cutting edge stuff that hasn't trickled down to us yet. I don't suppose you've found a way to lift a print from a brick?"
At this point Scully should have thanked her stars that Mulder wasn't there and told the policeman, Sorry, can't be done. No matter what the Winthrop police might believe, this was hardly the crime of the century. It was a beautiful Sunday morning and there were a hundred ways she and Mulder could enjoy the rest of the day. But her inner Mulder was nagging her, because he wanted to check out the operating room.
"No smooth surfaces, just an ordinary brick?" Scully asked. "Sorry. But we've made a lot of progress recently in other areas. Would you like us to examine the crime scene?" Sergeant Wallace thought that would be a dandy idea. Scully's inner Mulder did his happy dance.
The real Mulder seemed pleased as well. He drove to the medical center with the windows down and the radio blasting.
"Do you honestly think the whole town of Winthrop wants to hear Metallica?" Scully asked.
"Metallica?" Mulder said. "This is Page and Plant. Have some respect."
Mulder parked by the hospital in a space marked MDs only. Scully popped the trunk release and went to get some evidence bags. Someone had neglected to restock. Someone seemed to think that evidence kits restocked themselves by magic.
"The cops picked it over yesterday," Mulder reminded her. "What do you expect to collect?"
"Then why are we here?" Scully asked. "Oh, I forgot. All roads lead to the truth."
Scully had let the police sergeant think she was doing him a favor by joining the investigation. The real reason she was here at Chesapeake Medical Center was to satisfy Mulder, whose new philosophy of life told him to follow any thread that caught his attention. Scully decided to take Mulder to the operating room suite first, and check in with hospital security later, in case they were not inclined to be helpful.
The OR suite featured ten operating rooms arranged in two rows. Each row had its own set of scrub sinks. A corridor running between the two rows contained the environmental equipment, including thermostats and sensors and the shut- off switches for the oxygen supply. The vandalism had occurred in the central corridor.
"You call this trashed?" Mulder asked. The damage was limited to one device. A round gauge had been smashed, bending and breaking the one- inch metal pipe beneath it.
"I see what you mean," said Scully. "This is more of a surgical strike." Mulder was examining the broken gauge from different angles.
"How did he do this?" he asked.
"A brick, I gather," said Scully. "If it is a he."
"All roads lead to the truth, Scully. It was Newbold," Mulder said. That was his strong suspicion; he wasn't actually positive about it.
"Uncle Spooky, why don't you show the boys and girls how you did that?" Scully said. She enjoyed his quick mind, just as she enjoyed the things he did more slowly.
"Who found this and reported it?" Mulder asked.
"A security guard, around eight o'clock," Scully said. "He was following up on a complaint about the graffiti. He found the dehumidifier broken."
"Is it a big deal, this dehumidifier?" Mulder asked. "Is this damage enough to shut down the OR?"
"I think that would depend on the weather conditions. You don't want moisture to collect anywhere because that promotes microbial proliferation, especially during long procedures. I think this time of year most surgeries could be performed safely with or without a dehumidifier," Scully said.
"Let's go look at the bathroom," Mulder said. "Peer review can be very insightful." The men's locker room could be entered from the OR suite or from a door outside the OR, the door Scully had used yesterday. Before Mulder and Scully found the locker room, they came to the booking office, unlit but unlocked. A blackboard listed the cases scheduled for the week ahead.
"I give up, Scully," Mulder said, checking the listing for Monday. "Just what is a Schramm procedure?"
"I haven't a clue," Scully answered, "but the room is booked for the whole day, and the patient is eight months old."
"And the surgeon is Newbold," Mulder said. "This is the procedure he wanted to avoid."
"Mulder, he didn't have to break something to avoid doing the surgery. He could have said that the surgery wouldn't help, or the child was too weak." Scully looked at the patient's name on the blackboard, a Polish name that didn't seem to have enough vowels.
Mulder and Scully went next to look at the graffiti in the bathroom, but the stall had been repainted.
"Shall we send this to the crime lab?" Scully asked facetiously, gesturing to the metal panel. "I'm sure they could recover the old writing."
"I'll use my imagination," Mulder said. "It's interesting that they got someone in to repaint this faster than they got the dehumidifier fixed."
"I'd like to look in on the baby," Scully said. "I wonder if they'll transfer him somewhere else for the surgery now." That would depend on how sick the child was, Scully thought, whether it was safer to let him wait or safer to risk moving him.
Mulder didn't want Scully checking on the baby. He didn't want her to bond with another doomed child, if that's what this was.
"I think it's time for us to meet up with security," Mulder said. "I'd like to see exactly when they got the call about the vandalism. Who knows, they might even have something we can use."
The security officer on duty was the same old fellow who had unlocked the morgue for Scully the day before. They found him "resting his eyes" in a little cubbyhole of an office near the main lobby.
Jack Gordon had grown taciturn since yesterday. In answer to Mulder's questions, he shoved a log book at him.
The entry they were looking for was a report received at 20:00 on Saturday, from Dr. John Newbold. Newbold had complained about the writing in the bathroom.
"What was he doing in the operating room at eight o'clock Saturday?" Mulder asked.
"It's not my place to know why doctors here do what they do," he said.
"But, Jack," Scully said, "this was double- oh- seven. You must have some theory why he'd be in the OR Saturday night, with nothing scheduled there until Monday."
"Ma'am, I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention that moniker again, especially not where you heard it," he said in a low voice.
"Jack, I need your help," Scully said more forcefully. "I'm not interested in getting you into trouble, but I need you to be completely honest. I need you to tell us what you know. And if you don't feel you can do that, you might want to keep in mind that my partner, Agent Mulder, has a strong background in videotapes, legitimate and otherwise."
"Ma'am, I don't need your speeches or threats about being completely honest," Jack said. "Just go ahead and ask your questions and I'll try to answer them."
"What did Dr. Newbold say to you last night?" Mulder asked.
"He said he wanted that bathroom checked at least every eight hours, and he wanted it painted over as often as necessary," Jack said.
"What did he say about the humidity gauge?" Scully asked.
"I don't think he knew about it," Jack said. "I found it. I went down to look at the toilet, and then I thought I heard someone moving around inside the OR. I went out by the environmental controls and I found the dehumidifier broken."
"Did you see who did it?" Mulder asked.
"No," said Jack. "I didn't see anything."
"Did you find out who was making the noise?" Scully asked.
"I just told you- - I didn't see anything."
"Let's go down right now and have a look," Mulder said.
"Be my guest," said the security guard. "I don't think it's locked, but I'll give you the key just in case."
"I want you to come with us," said Scully. "Show me exactly how you found the damage."
"I'm not going to do that," Jack said.
"You are obliged to provide assistance- - " Mulder started to say, but Scully interrupted.
"Have you ever seen a ghost, Jack?" Scully asked.
"Oh, lord," said Jack Gordon, "I guess that's going to haunt me forever. No, ma'am, I have never seen a ghost. I don't know what I saw, just some trick of the light."
"Maybe what you saw was Dr. Newbold," Mulder suggested.
"You think I wouldn't recognize Dr. Newbold if I saw him?" Jack asked.
"I think what you saw wasn't human at all, Jack," Scully said.
"Or maybe you've been threatened if you say what you saw," said Mulder.
"Are you two new at this?" Jack asked angrily. "Isn't one of you supposed to play 'good cop'?"
Scully saw that this wasn't getting them anywhere.
"Mulder, I'm going check on the baby now," she said.
"Why don't we try to talk to Dr. Newbold first?" Mulder suggested.
"He's probably not here," Scully said. "He's not operating today, and we don't even know if he's on call. I can go see the baby while you find out about that."
"Newbold's here," Jack said. "He's in his office. Fourteenth floor."
Mulder took Scully by the arm, a gesture that Jack Gordon saw only as a sign that Mulder was one man who hadn't been corrupted by the whole equality thing.
"Are you going to question him about the damage in the OR?" Scully asked Mulder as they rode the elevator up.
"I'm not going to ask him anything," Mulder said. "You, Dr. Scully, will ask him about the plan for young Krzyzewski." He pronounced it Krazuski, which was just about correct.
Dr. Newbold greeted them graciously. He was about to show Mulder his photo album but Scully cut him off by inquiring about the Polish child.
"He's a very lucky little boy," Newbold said. "He was very lucky in the first place, because he was selected by the Helping and Healing Program to be brought to this country to get help. And he's lucky a second time, because the dehumidifier is being repaired right now. Adam's surgery will go ahead as scheduled. We were afraid he'd have to be transported to another facility."
"I hear that Johns Hopkins is not bad," Scully said dryly.
"Johns Hopkins is overrated," Newbold said. "Chesapeake is a younger institution, so we don't have a big reputation yet. That's why it is important for us to take on patients like Adam, patients with challenging conditions that push the envelope on what we can accomplish."
"What's the prognosis for the child?" Scully asked.
"Frankly, it's very questionable," said Newbold. "He was born with multiple defects. His abdominal cavity didn't develop properly, and even if I can make the needed repairs, I doubt very much that his body will be able to tolerate them."
"You think he's going to die." said Mulder.
"There's a strong possibility that he will," said Newbold. "But you must understand, Mr. Mulder, that he will certainly die without the surgery."
"Doesn't it bother you?" Mulder asked. "You're bringing a baby halfway around the world to undergo surgery that will probably kill him."
"I've heard this before," Newbold said. "You think he would be better off dying at home with his family instead of all alone among tubes and strangers. You think we should take all the money we're spending on Adam and use it to inoculate children in the ghetto or some other socialist program." He turned to Scully.
"This is the problem with laymen. Maybe you can explain it to him."
"No," said Scully, "I don't think I can."
"Do you have any thoughts on who might have vandalized the humidity regulator?" Mulder asked.
"This was not the first incident of vandalism at this institution," Newbold said. "Were you aware of that?" Seeing that they were not, he continued. "About a month ago, someone tampered with the equipment in central sterile. Many operations had to be postponed because the instrument trays were coming out wet. It wreaked havoc with the OR schedule, and some patients had to be transferred to other institutions."
"Did they ever find who did it?" Scully asked.
"It turned out to be one of the surgeons, a very strange young man. I don't think he would have been caught if he hadn't told investigators that he had seen the culprit. And then he described the perpetrator: a spirit, a 'young soul,' he called it, with a black hand." Newbold said the last two words in a quavering bass voice.
"A 'black hand'?" Scully repeated, echoing his melodramatics. Of course she was thinking about Rose Tarses.
"Black and wizened," Newbold said. "I told him it sounded like a great story for a campfire, but he had no idea what I was talking about." There was a little more to the ghost story, but Newbold chose not to mention it. The young doctor had said that the ghost was Newbold's spirit.
"Was his statement investigated?" asked Mulder.
Newbold laughed. "It was investigated by our own security division. Lo and behold, one of the security officers has also seen the black-hand ghost. The plot thickens, until we discover that the security officer has a well- documented history of alcohol abuse. After thinking it over, he decides he may not have seen the ghost after all."
"Did the surgeon continue to stick to his story?" Mulder asked.
"He stuck by his story, and he continued to elaborate. Investigators asked him how he happened to be down by Central Sterile in the first place, and he told them he thought the spirit had been calling him. They asked him about the spirit's motivation, and he was certain that it only wanted to do what was right."
"What happened to the surgeon?" Scully asked. "Is he still on staff here?"
"He was suspended," Newbold said. "There was no point in pressing criminal charges, since the man was obviously unbalanced. He was admitted for a psychiatric evaluation and ordered into therapy. His status will be reevaluated at the end of his six- month suspension."
"Surgery must be a very stressful career," Mulder observed. "Do you think it was stress that pushed the young surgeon into a break- down?"
"I couldn't say," said Newbold. "As I mentioned, this man had a strange personality. Very literal- minded- didn't understand sarcasm, no sense of humor, rarely took offense. A decent surgeon, but the worst bedside manner. He turned down a case once by telling the patient to skip the surgery and use the money for his funeral. He thought he was being nice."
"Sir, how would you turn down a case?" Mulder asked. "How does a surgeon explain that an operation is too risky, or that it wouldn't be helpful?"
"Personally, I rarely turn down a case. Everyone deserves a chance, no matter how remote. But the standard phrase is 'manage medically.' It's a fancy way of saying 'do nothing.' You tell the patient that surgery is too risky at this time, and his condition would best be managed medically." Luckily Newbold was looking at Mulder as he answered; Scully was barely able to conceal her contempt. She did manage to formulate the next question, since someone had to ask.
"If the surgeon was disciplined- - suspended- - his name must be a matter of record," she ventured.
"His name is Robert Zurago," Newbold said. "I think he's your main suspect."
"How do you deal with stress, sir? You must feel the pressure, too," Mulder said.
"I do feel the pressure, but I'm a surgeon. It's my responsibility to do surgery, with all the risks and challenges it brings. Some people feel we're overpaid. Quite simply, they're wrong. We deserve every dime, not just as compensation for our training and skill, but to help make up for the inevitable anxiety and guilt."
"Dr. Newbold, why would Robert Zurago sabotage the operating room?" Scully asked.
"Why don't you ask Dr. Zurago? Although he probably doesn't have any idea himself why he did it," Newbold answered.
Scully thought that was an opportune time to terminate the interview, but Mulder had more fawning questions for Dr. Newbold about how he coped with the awful burden of being a wealthy surgeon. He asked Newbold about his hobbies, his travels, and his religious practices. Scully could see that Mulder's ass- kissing was proving very effective in keeping Newbold talking, but she still hated to watch. She decided to excuse herself so she could finally go to the pediatric unit and see the sick baby.
"Where are you going?" Mulder demanded. He wasn't done talking to Newbold, but he could guess what Scully was planning and he still didn't want her to do it.
"I'm going to the medical library," Scully said. "I want to get some material on the Schramm procedure." Obviously Mulder didn't want her to see the baby, and she understood why. She was profoundly disturbed, though, by the way he was dealing with it. Instead of talking to her about his concerns, he was trying to sidetrack and distract her. It was this kind of behavior that made her fear that she might still have to choose between working with Mulder and being his lover.
"I have a wealth of material," Newbold said, "but you'd probably get a better idea if you looked at the patient himself and some of the imaging studies."
Adam Krzyzewski was born with multiple birth defects, a malformed little creature who would not survive to see his first birthday, barring a miracle. When the Helping and Healing Program offered to bring the baby to a famous surgeon in Maryland, USA, Adam's mother thought she had her miracle. She could not go with him; the Helping and Healing Program did not provide for that. She kissed her son on the forehead and on both cheeks, and then she handed him to the man from the program. She turned her back and walked away and kept on walking. She did not cry until she heard the car drive away.
Now Adam was four thousand miles away in a metal crib. An abdominal binder covered most of his torso. This external device was supposed to support his internal organs, because his abdominal wall did not. Dr. Newbold opened the binder to allow Scully to examine the child. Mulder leaned against the wall, watching. Watching Scully, mostly.
Scully had steeled herself for the experience, the more so because of Mulder's protective behavior. She percussed over the baby's abdomen, frowning from time to time. She didn't have a stethoscope, nor did Newbold. The two- dollar disposable model she found hanging from an IV pole was less than adequate, but Scully was able to tell that the baby's heart was abnormally large. Breath sounds were practically absent, but the junky stethoscope might have something to do with that.
"He has a large, boggy heart." Newbold said. "You can see the film from the echo."
Scully's exam took about five minutes.
"His liver is huge," she said. "What are you going to do about that? And his stomach- - what's going on there? It seems to fold back on itself."
"Let me show you the CAT scan and the x- rays," Newbold said. "Then you can see the surgical plan?" Scully refastened the abdominal binder and raised the heavy side rail with a clank, then she and Newbold left the room. Adam started to cry. Mulder leaned over the crib.
"Hey," he said, "hey, little guy..." The baby looked at Mulder, quiet for a moment, and then began to cry again. His cries weren't very loud, but as he cried he sounded more and more forlorn.
"Hey, slugger," Mulder started again. "Hey, don't cry. Don't cry, Adam. Atta boy!" The baby quieted and looked at Mulder expectantly. Mulder did something he didn't do very often. He sang.
"Jeremiah was a bullfrog..."
When a nurse came in five minutes later Mulder was still leaning over the side rail and singing.
"Hi," she said. "He doesn't get many visitors. You can hold him for his feeding." She pulled up a chair for Mulder. "Take your jacket off and wash your hands."
"I'm not really visiting," Mulder said. "I don't need to hold him."
"It's much better for him," the nurse said. Mulder shrugged, washed his hands, and sat down. In general babies didn't frighten him, but he felt a little unsure because this one was sick.
The nurse draped Mulder with a couple of big waterproof pads and placed the baby in his arms.
"Hold him up, like this," she said. She attached a tube from a bag on a pole to something underneath the abdominal binder and handed Mulder a pacifier. "You can let him suck on this while the feeding runs in."
Mulder nodded and repositioned the baby a little.
"His feeding takes about twenty minutes. I'll be back for him then." Mulder was too self- conscious to sing in front of the nurse, but when she left the room he started again, softly.
"Who's the black private dick who's a sex machine with all the chicks? Shaft!" Adam was enchanted. He sucked on his Binkie and gazed into Mulder's eyes.
The baby was asleep twenty minutes later, and the nurse placed him back in his crib without waking him.
"Nobody visits him?" Mulder asked.
"His family is in Poland," she answered. "Sometimes a volunteer sits with him, or I'll hold him while I do my charting."
"How is he doing?" Mulder had avoided looking at the child's distended abdomen, but he couldn't help but notice that the baby was swollen and jaundiced.
The baby had entered the world with a defective heart and liver and undersized lungs. The medications that helped him compensate were becoming less effective and pushing him into kidney failure. Perhaps surgical intervention would have helped him if it had been done earlier, helped him live long enough to be a candidate for a heart transplant. It wasn't going to help now.
"He's having a hard time," the nurse answered.
Back in Dr. Newbold's office, Scully scanned the sheet of lab results one last time and shut the chart. Adam Krzyzewski was dying.
"Cancel the surgery," she told Dr. Newbold. "Don't make him go through this. He has multisystem failure and your operation won't cure any of it."
"This little boy traveled a long way for me to repair his abdominal organs. A lot of people went to a lot of trouble and a lot of expense. The operation will proceed." Dr. Newbold was comforted by the patient's numerous medical problems. No one would be able to blame him when the child died.
"Dr. Newbold, you said that surgeons deserved to be well paid because of the anxiety and guilt. I don't think that's really what you meant. I think you do it for the money. I see no sign, sir, of any guilt at all," Scully said. Without waiting for a reply, she walked out of the office.
Scully wanted to get out of this place. Where the hell was Mulder? She checked the baby's room, but he wasn't there. On an impulse she took the elevator back down to the operating room suite. The hospital's main pharmacy was on the same level as the operating rooms, and Scully walked right by it. If she'd been fifteen minutes earlier, she would have found Mulder charming the pharmacist out of a couple of those pills Bobby Zurago had prescribed for his mal- de- mer problem.
She slammed through the door to the OR locker room. A few feet away, just inside the locker room, Mulder threw himself back against the wall to avoid the door as it came flying at him.
"Oh, here you are," Scully said. "We need to talk." She hadn't had a chance yet to tell him about the dead patient with the black hand. When Dr. Newbold had mentioned the black-hand ghost, Scully had immediately thought of Mrs. Tarses.
"Let's talk in the car," Mulder said, taking her by the arm. Scully removed his hand from her arm very deliberately.
"Mulder, are you aware that you've been pushing me around all day?" she asked. It had started first thing in the morning, she realized, when he'd decided unilaterally that they had to go to the deli for breakfast. He'd invited himself along on the trip to Maryland. He'd done his best to keep her from seeing the Polish child. Now he was trying to steer her out of the locker room.
"Scully, we need to get out of here," Mulder said. "Don't start second guessing me the way you used to." He could listen to her grievances in the car. Who knows, maybe she even had a point.
"I'll meet you in the car," she said, her arms folded in front of her. "Go ahead, Mulder, I'll be right there."
Mulder was practically sick with frustration.
"Don't do this!" he said urgently. "I thought you trusted me."
"Why don't you trust me for a change?" She spat the words at him. He was still blocking her way into the locker room.
"I trust you, Scully, let's go!" She was going to ruin everything. She'd be sorry, but it would be too late.
He said he trusted her. Well, she was going to find out.
"Mulder, Dr. Newbold is going to operate on the Polish baby tomorrow even though it won't help. The baby's going to die anyway and I don't want him to have to go through surgery first. I've got to break that humidity regulator again." There, she'd said it. If he trusted her he'd get out of her way. If he didn't, she was going to kick him in the balls and get past him that way.
"It's done," he said. "Now let's get out of here." Scully recovered from her surprise and grabbed Mulder's arm, but before they could get out of the locker room, they heard the crackle of a radio from the other side of the door. Probably a security guard, checking for vandalism. Turning away from the noise, Mulder and Scully made it past a row of lockers before the door swung open and a young security guard came slouching in.
If they'd had a little more warning, they could have hidden in the shower, Scully thought. If the guard came through here, there was no place to hide. And he was coming. He was trying to be stealthy- - he had turned off his radio- - but Scully could hear him approach. As quietly as she could, she lay down on the narrow bench in front of the row of lockers. Mulder was on top of her in seconds, and Scully began to moan suggestively. Mulder was trying to put on a good show, and Scully groaned in earnest when he pressed her down against her gun. Mulder's big coat kept them both well obscured; Mulder hoped the guard would take a quick look and reach the most obvious conclusion.
"Jesus Christ!" said the guard in disgust as he turned the corner and found them in action. He did an about- face, exiting the locker room before he turned his radio back on.
"Jack- - no ghosts down here, just a couple of fuckin' doctors. Hey, I'll call you for back- up if there's any new graffiti," he said sarcastically.
Mulder was driving as fast as he could without risking unwanted attention. Neither he nor Scully spoke until they were a mile away from the medical center.
Scully took out her flip phone and keyed in a number she read from her notebook.
"Mr. Lovelace?" she said. "This is Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI. I'm sorry to disturb you on a Sunday, but this can't wait." Scully succeeded in arranging a meeting at the man's house. Then she turned to Mulder to explain.
"Donald Lovelace," she said. "President of the Winthrop Bank, and- "
"Chairman of the Helping and Healing Committee," Mulder completed her sentence. "You're going to tell him what's going on."
"That's right," said Scully. "I'm going to explain the situation. This child has overwhelming medical problems- he can't survive, Mulder, he just can't. The surgery will probably kill him, and that wouldn't be so bad. I'm more afraid of how he'll suffer if he happens to live through it."
"What if he already knows?" Mulder asked. "I'm sure Newbold tried to tell him."
Scully had seen nothing to make her think that Newbold would try to tell his benefactors that surgery on the baby was pointless torture. She'd noticed, thought, that once in a while, Mulder would latch onto some gray- haired father- figure and decide to trust him. Scully probed gently to see if he'd done it with this dirtbag of a doctor.
"What do you think about Newbold? In some ways he seems like a good man..." She waited for his response.
"He's the furthest thing from a good man," Mulder said. "He knows what's good and he does what's evil. I think he'd prefer to do what was right, but what's most important to him is keeping his status and his income. Not getting caught. Covering his mistakes."
"I agree, Mulder. He wants to be the guy who performs massive surgeries on high- risk children. Mulder, if he didn't want to operate, he wouldn't. The Committee can't force him," Scully said.
"The Committee is made up of some of the most powerful men in Winthrop, and more to the point, the biggest boosters of Chesapeake Medical Center. They cough up the money, they serve on the board, and they get to call the tune." Mulder was straining to read the street signs as they went by. He seemed to have some idea where they were going.
"Even if I accept your point, that these powerful men run the hospital and that Newbold has to do their bidding, what makes you think he has any qualms about performing this operation? To the contrary, Mulder, he was quite determined to proceed," Scully said. The process Mulder used for logic wasn't logic at all. As far as Scully could unravel it, it seemed to be some combination of sophistry and Confucianism.
"If he was so eager to proceed, why did he sabotage the operating room?" Mulder asked.
"But Mulder, he didn't. No one is even accusing him." This was the epitome of Mulderlogic, Scully thought. Proof that Newbold had done the sabotage: he didn't want to do the surgery. Proof that Newbold didn't want to do the surgery: he had done the sabotage. Scully wondered if they offered remedial courses at Oxford.
"Bobby Zurago said something. He told me about a man divided," Mulder said. Sometimes working with Scully was so effortless, but today it felt like leading a llama through a revolving door.
"Is that what he told you?" Scully asked. "Perhaps he changed his story when the black-hand Ghost got him suspended."
"It's a metaphor, damnit," Mulder said. "The blackened hand, the hand of death."
"But I thought the ghost was the good guy. The ghost is trying to do what's right. Why does the ghost have the hand of death?" Scully asked. Poor Mulder, she thought. All these weeks of background checks had atrophied his brain.
"You know, Scully, I've seen that smug look before," Mulder said. "I saw it when you told me that vampires don't exist, shortly before you got the hots for one."
"Mulder, did you find a quarter under your pillow this morning?" Scully was wondering if Mulder ever expected to get laid again.
"What?" He stared at her, but only for a split- second. He still had to watch the street signs. Scully was watching the street signs, too, and Mulder was doing fine so far, according to the directions she'd gotten from Lovelace. But Mulder had gotten his own directions, which he wasn't even going to tell her about, and he could watch for his own street signs.
"The brain fairy. She left it for you." She smiled triumphantly.
"That's funny, Scully," he said sarcastically, but actually, it was kind of funny. He had to have more patience with Scully. Of course it was hard for her to understand that a person could do something totally out of character, and then have no knowledge of doing it. "Scully, think about it. A man divided. Like me. Like how I bought the waterbed without knowing anything about it. That's what it is with Newbold. He doesn't know he did it."
"Mulder, before you go on with this, there's a much simpler explanation. Simpler and more logical."
"Go ahead, Scully, give me the simple and logical explanation," Mulder said.
"I know who did it. It was the ghost of Rose Tarses." Green eyes met blue eyes, and green eyes blinked first.
"Oh, good one, Scully!" Mulder said at last. "You had me big time!" That sincere, serious face had totally tricked him. She'd have to come over for poker at the lone gunmen, she'd clean them out!
"Are you trying to drive me crazy?" Scully asked. She used to think Mulder believed everything, but now she knew that he believed everything except what she believed.
"Scully, come on. You're not serious about this. A ghost?" Mulder thought about the cliché that converts become more committed than people who start out in a particular faith. Maybe Scully was going through some kind of learning curve process, and she would start seeing ghosts everywhere. He'd be there to ride this out with her, keep her from getting too "out there."
"Rose Tarses had a vascular insult to her left hand. The hand died. Her left hand was hard and shriveled and black, like a piece of charcoal. Rose Tarses spent ten months in a living hell because of Dr. Newbold," Scully said, her voice rising. "Why are you so sure this isn't her ghost trying to stop him from doing it again?"
"Because the original sabotage, when the sterilizing equipment was tampered with, occurred a month ago," Mulder said. "Rose Tarses died on Friday."
"Leonard Trimble," Scully said. "VA Hospital, telekinesis. He wasn't dead."
"Okay, good point," Mulder acknowledged. In fact, a very good point.
"Thank you," Scully said. "I do have one, now and then. Mulder, turn here. Warwick Street, that's your turn."
They found Lovelace's address ten minutes later, and neither of them was surprised that it was an immense showplace of a house.
"We have some time. Drive around," Scully said. Mulder drove on, following the winding road, finally parking about a quarter of a mile away.
"What time did you tell him we'd be there?" Mulder asked, consulting his watch.
"Okay. Fifteen minutes. When did I push you around?" Mulder knew he never pushed Scully around, but she had told him he did, and he had to find out what was on her mind.
"Did you tell me why you wanted to go to the deli? No. You just said, We're going. And Mulder, you spent all morning trying to keep me away from the baby." She waited for his response.
"The deli... well, it seemed like such a great idea. And you know what it was with the baby. You don't have to go looking for grief, Scully. There was no reason for you to see the baby." He remembered the weight of the little bundle in his arms, and the tiny fingers with the outrageously sharp nails grabbing his nose. The bright gray eyes staring at him over the pacifier, and then the drooping eyelids as the baby fell asleep.
"Mulder, I am not the only woman in the world who can't have children," Scully said. "You don't have to run interference for me. You don't have to protect me from babies, for heaven's sake. And of course I needed to see that baby. How else can I judge whether or not the surgery is appropriate? But that's not even the point."
"Then what is the point?" he asked.
"The point is that if you thought I should avoid the baby, you should have said so. You've done that before, when you thought I wasn't ready for something, and I've done it for you too," she said.
"Scully," Mulder said, smiling, "can you think of a single time when either of us listened?"
She smiled too.
"No, never, not even once," Scully said. "However, you have to admit that I assessed the baby without falling in love with it, contrary to your expectations."
"With him. It's a him, not an it," Mulder said. "And for the record, you never told me about Rose Tarses's black hand."
"And you weren't going to tell me about breaking the humidity gauge," Scully said.
"You weren't going to tell me either," Mulder said. "And Scully, just for future reference... I can't always read your mind, but you make it pretty clear when you're planning on kicking a guy in the nuts."
"Got to stop telegraphing my moves," Scully said. "I would have done it, you know."
"I saw it coming," Mulder said. "I would have had you on your back."
"Oh, no. The guard would have found us like that," Scully said, cracking up.
"That was funny," Mulder agreed. "I think we were fairly convincing, despite your overacting."
"My overacting? I had to compensate for your limited skills," Scully said. Then she grew serious. "Mulder, I love you. Now let's get to work."
"Scully, what if we can't stop them? What if they won't cancel the surgery?" Mulder asked.
"The humidifier gives us another day," Scully said.
"At least," Mulder said proudly. After technicians replaced the gauge again and tested the system, they would realize there was a second problem.
"This is just unbelievable, Mulder," Scully said. "He's doing something so totally heartless and immoral, and all we can do is sabotage the equipment and hope for the ghost to come back."
"Or that Dr. Newbold goes into a trance again," Mulder said. The ghost was a possibility, but Mulder was still going with the theory that Newbold's inner conflicts were making him sabotage the OR.
"Lovelace is not going to listen, is he?" Scully asked. "He doesn't care about that baby, and he's already paid to bring him here." Mulder was right. The meeting with the bank president would be a waste of time.
"We'll try anyway," Mulder said. "This is about how Adam is going to spend his last days. There must be something we can do for him."
Lovelace's door was answered by a uniformed servant, and Mulder and Scully were left standing in some kind of parlor that seemed more like a waiting room. There was something about the design and placement of the straight- backed chairs that encouraged them not to sit down.
The meeting began badly and declined from there. Lovelace had seemed affable if insincere at first, but as the discussion deteriorated into a shouting match, he dropped any pretense of being cordial.
The shouting match was strictly one- on- one, Scully thought bitterly. Mulder was standing there playing Teller to her Penn. Perhaps later she could put him in a straitjacket and lower him into a tank of barracudas or something.
"Are you trying to tell me that an FBI agent is better qualified to determine patient care than an experienced surgeon?" Lovelace roared indignantly. "As they say, Ms. Scully, where did you go to medical school?"
"Georgetown!" she shot back at him, but his message was clear. Lovelace did not want to consider the evidence, overwhelming as it was. He was going to assert that Dr. Newbold had opted to do the surgery, and that therefore the surgery should be done.
"This is all about publicity," Mulder said. He sounded angry, but more in control than Scully at this point.
He can talk after all, thought Scully.
"You have to make a speech, too, sonny?" asked the banker. "Are you going to take this to the press? Isn't that cute. The press is behind us all the way. They've been touting our efforts for years, and I think it would be a little too embarrassing for them to have to back up now and say that what we're doing isn't worthwhile."
"Poor little Adam, all alone in a strange country," Mulder said.
"Well if the kid is as sick as you say, he's probably too sick to travel anyway," Lovelace said. "Now why don't you two just give this up? I don't know if I have enough connections to get you reassigned to the South Pole Station, but I'm about ready to give it a try."
Scully wished Lovelace would go back to shouting. He was even more insufferable now that he was being patronizing.
"Poor little Adam, all alone without his mother and father," Mulder said.
"Ever been to Antarctica, Mr. Mulder? Someone's got to scrub the toilets down there." Lovelace was advancing on Mulder. If this turned into a shoving match, Mulder was going to end up in real trouble.
"Mr. Lovelace, couldn't the Winthrop Bank dig a little deeper so that Adam's family could be here for him?" Scully asked. She said it mostly to break up the confrontation between Mulder and Lovelace.
"Maybe they don't have the money," Mulder suggested. "Scully, maybe we could have a fund- raiser. Something to bring in enough money so the bank could afford a couple of airplane tickets."
"How about a rock concert?" Scully suggested.
"Great, a benefit. Are you still sleeping with Meatloaf?" Mulder asked her.
"Oh, shut up and get out of here," Lovelace said. "I'll ship over the rest of the family, if that's what you want. You could have just asked. You're a disgrace, you know that? Using my tax dollars to strong- arm me." He flung the door open and gave Mulder a shove as he walked by, but Mulder smiled sweetly and kept walking.
The drive home was something of a victory celebration, with a stop for lunch that made Mulder realize that Pouilly- Fuisse would have been a bargain at $38.00 a bottle.
It was an expensive little restaurant in a wealthy little town and the food was excellent.
Mulder was trying to refill Scully's wine glass, but she stopped him.
"One glass?" he asked her incredulously. They had a big bottle to kill, and she was still working on her first glass. He shouldn't have ordered it but he was feeling triumphant, and he knew she would love it. She did love it, too, all three ounces of it.
"Have some more, Mulder," she urged him. "You can be the designated drinker." It was wonderful wine, and she might have a little more later on. She wanted Mulder to enjoy it. She was determined to pick up the tab on this meal because Mulder was the most incredible man on earth and he deserved it.
"Scully, we were prime today. Do you know why?" He sipped some wine. It was really good, and it would be stupid to let it go to waste.
"Because of you," Scully said. To her thinking, he was a hero for forcing the Helping and Healing Committee to bring Adam's family to stay with him. But just as important was the way he'd worked with her to get their mutual resentments and missed communication aired out and resolved. And he hadn't let Lovelace goad him into taking a swing at him.
"Stop it," he said. "It was you. Scully, you're the best."
"No, Mulder, you're the best."
It wasn't the most incisive discussion they'd ever had. Mulder continued working on the wine, and when the waiter served the escargots, Mulder thought it might be funny to pantomime putting one in his ear to remind Scully of that time at Icy Cape.
"Mulder, you're drunk," she whispered. The restaurant was designed for discreet encounters and their antics, so far, hadn't disturbed anyone.
"It's just wine," Mulder protested. "And expensive. I can't be drunk. Maybe I'm- - Scully, what's the French word for drunk?"
"I don't know," she said. "They must have a lot of words for it."
"Scully, voulez- vous coucher avec moi ce soir?" Mulder was feeling no pain. Mulder was feeling- - what's that word?- - happy.
"Mais oui," said Scully sensuously. She couldn't blame the wine, she was just enjoying herself.
"Yes, we may," said Mulder.
It was a fancy, dark little restaurant in an obscure little town, so he was sitting next to her. Her hair smelled like chlorhexidene gluconate, which isn't an awful smell as disinfectants go. And she was wearing Mulder's Clinique *Chemistry*. He never wore it, and if Scully had known that it was Fowley who gave it to him, she probably wouldn't be wearing it either.
"Sweetheart, don't drink any more. You're going to feel like hell in the morning," Scully said.
"It's a long time to morning," he said, "*sweetheart*." He said "sweetheart" a few more times, trying to make it sound like Humphrey Bogart.
"Mulder, eat something," Scully said. If they were at home she would have picked up his fork and tried to feed him.
"You know what I want?" Mulder asked. "Mousse au chocolat. You think they have it?"
"I'm sure they do," Scully said. Mulder had a low tolerance for alcohol, but he wasn't exactly turning out to be a cheap date. She was going to be paying for a lot of uneaten food. Still, she signaled the waiter and ordered dessert. Mulder glowed with gratitude.
"I love you," he said. "I'm not just saying that because you got me mousse."
"I know," said Scully. "I love you too."
"It's going to be all right, Scully. I just know it. I don't know exactly what will happen, or when it will start, but it's going to be okay." He didn't sound drunk now. "We have to stay together, and when we start to fly apart, we have to do what we did today, we have to get back in step. We were good today, Scully. It's just all going to fall in place. Like today. And there's really only one thing that we need to do."
She leaned toward him and kissed him, a long kiss that said: more later. A Rodin- inspiring kiss. A kiss that made him forget what he was about to say. But then he remembered.
"That wasn't it," he said. "That was nice, but that wasn't what we need to do, to make everything else work out."
Scully just listened. He was starting to talk faster, which was usually a sign that he was going to say something hard for him to say or hard for her to hear. Although he also talked fast when he was saying something really stupid, like how he wanted a peg- leg.
"We have to make love on the waterbed."
"We will," Scully said. She imagined herself slipping him some chloral hydrate later, and then telling him how incredible it had been. But she'd never do that.
"You'll love it," Mulder said. "I won't get seasick this time."
"Come on now," she laughed. "No one gets seasick on a waterbed!"
"It's a common phenomenon," he said, looking a little miffed.
"Oh, dear. Why didn't you say something?" There was some justice in this, of course. Mulder hated the waterbed too.
Dessert was served, with coffee, and with a couple of complimentary cognacs that were the last thing in the world Mulder needed, but he seemed to enjoy them both anyway.
"Designated drinker," he reminded Scully. Then he tried to cajole her into tasting his chocolate mousse.
"Mulder, it's got to be- - "
"Scully, just taste it. One bite."
"If it's that good I won't want just one bite," Scully said. Having none at all was easier than having just one bite.
"I won't let you have any more," Mulder said. "I'll keep it just out of your reach. You'll chase me for miles and miles, trying to get the mousse. All your invisible flab will melt away."
"My invisible flab?" Scully asked.
"All your fat that you complain about that no one else can see," he explained.
Scully signaled for the check, but when it came, Mulder grabbed it.
"Give it to me, Mulder," she said. "My treat. No arguments."
"No," said Mulder, and then as she reached for it, "no! Scully, stop it! I have to pay this."
"*I* have to pay it! I wanted to take you out. I wouldn't have let you run up the bill like that if I thought you were going to pay," Scully said.
"I have to pay, Scully, or Langley will call me a moocher," Mulder said.
Horrors, thought Scully, anything but that!
"Give me the check, Mulder. Langley will never know," Scully said. Mulder had his wallet out. "Mulder, if you do pay, *I'll* call you a moocher." Mulder handed the check and a credit card to the waiter. "Moocher," Scully said. "Moocher, moocher, moocher."
"You can't call someone a moocher for picking up the tab," Mulder said. "It doesn't make any sense."
"You can if it bothers him, Moocher," Scully said.
The waiter returned to the table with the check and Mulder's plastic.
"I'm sorry, sir," he said, "your card isn't valid."
"It's a new card," Mulder said. "It has to be valid."
"I apologize again," said the waiter. "We've been having this problem because of the expiration date. Perhaps you have another card, with an expiration date this year."
"I've read about this," said Scully. "Mulder, you've been foiled by the year two- K problem." She pulled out her own credit card. "I'm sure this will work for you," she said. The waiter left with her card.
"Damn," said Mulder. "When are they going to get this worked out?"
"It's okay, Mooch. I'll take care of you." Scully forced herself not to tousle his hair.
"You're paying, Scully. You don't get to call me that," Mulder said.
"But it suits you. Makes me think of a basset hound puppy with big eyes," Scully said.
"Oh, brother," said Mulder.
It was late afternoon when they left the restaurant. Scully put her hand out for the car keys, and Mulder forked them over.
"I'm really not drunk," he said. He was under the influence, to be sure, but his behavior had reflected his mental state as much as it had his level of intoxication.
"I know you're not," said Scully. "But what if they set up a checkpoint to catch drivers with snails in their ears?"
"So you think I'm drunk, do you?" Mulder asked, trying to get comfortable in the passenger seat. "Does that mean you're going to try to take advantage of me?"
"Mulder, did you see how much I spent on you? You have to put out." As she said it, Scully realized that Mulder's experiences wouldn't follow the clichés. Mulder's wallet was the least enticing thing in his pants.
Scully's rejoinder had an unintended resonance for Mulder, because women really did tell him he had to put out. Phoebe did it in no uncertain terms and was probably convinced to this day that derision and threats turned him on. Diana had been more solicitous but equally insistent, asking if he was ill or angry until it was just easier to give her what she wanted. Mrs. Hardy had been the first and the scariest, and then she'd expected him to go back out and finish mowing her lawn.
Early in his career, Mulder had taken to wearing a wedding band as a way of keeping some distance between himself and that part of the population that found him so irresistibly toothsome. Since then he'd developed an aura of spookiness that encouraged people to give him a wider berth.
"It was just a joke," Scully said softly. Her verbal play with Mulder was like the roughhousing of children: a lot of fun until someone got hurt. Scully didn't know about Mrs. Hardy, but she made an educated guess that some of the women who made use of Mulder's body did not show much concern for the rest of him.
"Don't back down, Scully," Mulder said, getting into the game again. "If you're any kind of woman you should force me to give you your money's worth."
Scully let it drop and drove in silence for several minutes. When she spoke again it was on a different subject.
"Does it make a difference who the vandal is? Whether it's Dr. Newbold's alter ego or Mrs. Tarses's ghost?" she asked.
"Or me," added Mulder. He had broken the dehumidifier too, and he was very proud of himself.
"You all want the same thing," Scully said. "You want Dr. Newbold to stop operating."
"But it does matter," Mulder said. "Newbold's alter ego is part of him. We might be able to reach him, make him listen to that part. Your Mrs. Tarses, well, if she's a ghost, I think the best we can do for her is put her to rest. But she can't help us get through to him."
"Then we're going to have to find out which it is," Scully said.
"I'm going to talk to Bobby again," said Mulder. "Maybe even shoot some hoops with him."
"Two words, Mulder: long pants," Scully said.
Sunday evening had its own routine, for Scully. It was a time to do your nails, call your mother, watch 60 Minutes, finish the crossword puzzle. It was the night for slipping into bed early with a big mug of tea and waiting for Mulder to call. Or for calling Mulder. The night for oiling your gun and waxing your legs.
Only problem was, this Sunday she was at Mulder's. She was ready to do her duty to Mulder, humanity, and the time- space continuum by making love to him in the waterbed.
Mulder was pulling apart the Sunday Post, organizing it in some new fashion.
"Want to do the puzzle?" Scully asked. It was untouched. Mulder was good at crosswords, but his technique drove Scully up the wall. He'd go through the "across" clues and fill in all his answers and guesses, and then he'd get started on the "down" clues, making dozens of changes when his original solutions didn't work out. Scully wouldn't fill in a word unless she could confirm it against a perpendicular word. They both used ink.
"You can get it started," Mulder said, handing it to her. He took some other section and spread it over the coffee table.
"Oh, I do that on Sunday too," Scully said. She thought he was going to clean his weapon.
Mulder put a wooden box on the table and sat down next to Scully.
"It seems like the right time for it. Gets you ready for the week ahead," Mulder said. He'd taken his jacket off earlier and now he rolled his sleeves up to this elbows.
"Ha!" she said triumphantly, filling in her first word in the puzzle. "You would have gotten this one. Syzygy." She looked up from the puzzle. Mulder was shining his shoes, spreading the polish with great attention.
"You have to let it set for five minutes," he explained, putting the shoe down on the newspaper.
This was nothing like the touch- ups she'd seen him do before a meeting. This was a ritual. He was focused on his watch, timing the interval.
The phone rang.
"You want me to get that?" Scully asked. Mulder seemed too intent on his shoes to deal with the phone right now.
"Scully, can you do me a really big favor?" Mulder asked, as the phone rang again. "Please talk to my mother."
"That's your mother? What should I say?" Scully asked him.
"Just talk to her. Find out how she is. Tell her I'm okay. Please, Scully, I'll owe you."
You certainly will, thought Scully as she picked up the receiver with a tentative Hello.
"Oh, I'm sorry..." Mulder's mother sounded totally flustered.
"Mrs. Mulder, this is Dana Scully?"
"Oh my God. Is he all right?" Teena Mulder tried to steel herself. She'd thought Fox would be safe for now, doing background checks and tracking manure. A family friend had assured her of that.
"Yes, he's fine, Mrs. Mulder. He's right here."
"That's all I wanted to know. And I'm sorry for the intrusion." She was about to hang up.
"You're not intruding," Scully said. "How are you?"
"I'm fine, Miss Scully. I didn't know he had company. I don't want to interrupt anything."
"You're not interrupting anything. He's just polishing his shoes," Scully said.
"Of course. The Mulder men and their Sunday shoe- shines," she said. Now she knew he was all right.
"Is this a family tradition?" Scully asked. It sounded less painful than the Scully family Christmas- morning role call.
"My father- in- law was fanatic about grooming," Mrs. Mulder said. "Fox hadn't even started school yet when his grandfather showed him how to shine his shoes and tie a tie."
"Were they close?" Scully asked. She liked thinking there had been a concerned adult somewhere in Mulder's childhood.
"Yes, very. Fox was a little shy with most adults, but he'd talk a blue streak to the old man, and his stutter would disappear. And Martin was so fastidious most of the time, but he'd go out in the yard and dig holes with Fox. You know, Fox never wants to talk about things like that. Just about his father, and the State Department. And my daughter."
Still digging, Scully thought.
"I'd love to hear more," she said.
"I'm glad we could talk, Miss Scully. Stay well, both of you." Mrs. Mulder disconnected before Scully could say good- bye.
"Mulder, why wouldn't you talk to your mother? And how did you know it was her?" Scully asked.
"She usually calls around this time, and she never stays on the line more than a minute. She hangs up as soon as I say I'm all right," Mulder said. He was brushing his shoes briskly. "How is she?"
"She told me about your grandfather," Scully said. "How he taught you to shine your shoes."
"I don't remember that," Mulder said. "He taught me a lot, though." He put down the brush and turned the shoe from one side to the other as he inspected it.
"How to tie a tie," Scully said. Sometimes Mulder was forthcoming with his boyhood nostalgia, and Scully loved hearing it.
"He taught me to drive," Mulder said. "He took me for my road test." His folks had split up by then and Mulder couldn't get either of them to go with him to the DMV. He'd even asked Mrs. Hardy. Grandpa to the rescue.
"I don't think you ever mentioned him," Scully said.
"He died when I was in England," Mulder said. "My dad wrote me, but I didn't get the letter. I found out when I got a package of his stuff that he wanted me to have. Books, mostly. His wedding ring. His Elvis records, but they were broken."
"That's awful," Scully said. She could imagine him sifting through the box, happily at first, and then realizing what it meant.
"Yeah. They'd be worth a lot of money now," Mulder mumbled. He was leaning over the crossword puzzle.
"What did he- - " Scully started to ask, but Mulder interrupted.
"Squamata," he asked. "One- down. I think it's squamata."
Unlikely, Scully thought. Because two- down started with a Y. And the Q from squamata- - oh, whatever. She wrote it in.
"You take the puzzle," she said, pushing it toward him. "I'm going to clean my gun." But Mulder had lost interest in the crossword. He put away the shoe- shine kit and got a glass of water. Scully didn't see him swallow the travel- sickness pill. It was still early, but Mulder wanted to give it plenty of time to work.
There wasn't enough room for Mulder to lie down on the couch with Scully on it, but he did it anyway, his head at the opposite end from her, and his legs hanging down to the side. He flipped on the TV, planning to put on 60 Minutes for Scully, but he found a basketball game first with just a few minutes to go.
Scully thought she'd love to have a picture of Mulder like this, lying on his couch, watching the tube, his white shirt open at the neck with the sleeves pushed up high on his forearms. She finished reassembling her gun and left it on the table.
"Are you set on talking to Bobby Zurago tomorrow?" Scully asked.
"Yes," said Mulder. "Let's call in sick."
"I can't do that," Scully said. "It's my turn to bring the coffee cake." The bullpen would survive without their breakfast pastry, but Scully didn't want to miss work the same day as Mulder. It was daring enough that they took their smoking breaks together. "Maybe you don't have to use sick time either. I'm going to ask ASAC Cardin to put you on her team."
It was worth a try. Alice Cardin had gone to Chesapeake Medical Center with a mandate to look for fraud. She had found not fraud but incompetence and indifference. Scully thought Cardin would be willing to stretch her mandate just a bit if it meant putting an end to unnecessary human misery.
Cardin's home phone was answered by a youngster who seemed to speak only in monosyllables.
"Ma," he or she screamed, neglecting to shield the telephone mouthpiece. "Phone!" Then the phone was dropped, and Scully heard a minute of domestic chaos until ASAC Cardin picked it up.
Scully told Cardin she'd been called back to Maryland by police investigating vandalism in the operating room. She told Cardin about little Adam, and the situation with the Helping and Healing Committee. Scully did not mention anything about a ghost or about Mulder breaking the dehumidifier after it had been fixed.
"I'm not turning in my report till the end of the week," Cardin said. "I can put Agent Mulder on the case for a couple of days." Cardin frequently pulled agents from other divisions when she needed their particular expertise and she did not anticipate any trouble borrowing Mulder.
Cardin questioned Scully about Donald Lovelace and the Winthrop Bank. She wanted to check if either was involved in any past or current investigations. Scully voiced her own concerns that the State Department might play a role; Lovelace had seemed so confident that he could bring Adam's family in from Poland without delay.
Cardin wanted Scully to clarify Adam's medical status for her.
"He has what you call gross developmental anomalies," Cardin said, "but fixing them won't help. Can you explain that?"
Scully tried, but Cardin, like many people, was slow to accept the limitations of medicine and surgery. She was asking about a heart- lung transplant when the juvenile who had answered the phone began to complain loudly in the background.
"Give me Mulder's number and I'll call him later," Cardin sighed. "I've just been informed that there's an urgent need for index cards and blue and red yarn." Alice Cardin was sick and tired of the Sunday- night homework ambush, but right now she was grateful to her child for being alive and well.
Meanwhile, on the couch, Mulder had relaxed himself into a position that was less than comfortable, but he couldn't motivate himself to move. The sea- sickness pill had hit him like an iron fist. Maybe Bobby Zurago's approach to pharmacology was as heavy- handed as his basketball game. Or else the medication was getting a boost from the alcohol.
When Scully drifted back into view, Mulder lit up with happiness.
"Mulder, what happened to you?" Scully asked. The right side of his face was pressed into the couch and he was breathing through his mouth. She picked up his glass of water and sniffed it, then tasted it, but it was just water.
"Bobby Z. Gimme medicine. For the waterbed. Tonight's the night." Scully would carry him to his bed and fuck his brains out. It would be great.
"What medicine, Mulder? What did you take?" Scully asked. Mulder smiled blandly and shrugged his shoulders. She found the little envelope that still held one tablet, but she didn't recognize the medication.
"Got a 'scription," Mulder explained, patting his pocket. Scully searched through all of his pants pockets without finding it. Mulder grinned idiotically.
"More, Scully, look some more," he said. "Frisk me."
"You're enjoying this way too much," Scully said. She found the prescription in his jacket pocket. "Oh, Mulder," she said after she'd read it. "Let's get you to bed while you can still walk."
"Okay," said Mulder, but when she started to tug him upright he made no effort to help.
"Come on, Mulder. Tonight's the night," Scully said, trying to motivate him.
"Throw away the cars and the bars and the wars, and make sweet love to you," Mulder sang.
"That's fine, Jeremiah, let's go," Scully said.
"Joy to the world, all the boys and girls- - come on, Scully, four- part harmony!" He was on his feet, shuffling a little, but basically steady. He arrived in the bedroom and paused by the bed, trying to think of a dramatic entrance. He settled for a racing dive that was of course doomed to be a belly flopper, but Mulder was satisfied. He flipped onto his back and watched himself in the mirror as the bed rebounded.
"Yes!" he shouted, raising his fist in a triumphant salute. "As I live and breathe, I will never be seasick again!"
Just then the phone rang. Mulder started to raise himself from the bed, but Scully put her hand on his face and pushed him back against the mattress.
"Let the machine answer it," she said. "You're in no condition to talk to Alice Cardin."
"One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small?" Mulder warbled.
"And the one that Bobby gives you makes you walk into the walls," Scully finished for him. Mulder was never going to believe this once he returned to his senses. She got the tape recorder from his dresser drawer and clicked it on.
"Go ask Alice, when she was only small." Mulder was making faces at himself as he sang. "Scully, come on in. The water's fine."
"Just a minute, Mooch," she said. "We've got lights burning all over the apartment, and the TV's still on." Mulder was too doped up to achieve his goal tonight, Scully thought, but he was entertaining and cuddly. Maybe in the morning he'd be ready, or maybe sooner; it was only eight o'clock. She hurried out of the room to turn off the lights, but took the extra time to throw out the newspaper from Mulder's shoe shine and start up the dishwasher, which had been full since last night.
Mulder surprised her by still being awake when she got back to him. He was singing that song they kept arguing about, the one where she could never catch all the words, but Mulder swore there was something about the X- files. He'd even succeeded in getting out of his clothes. "I have a history of taking off my shirt," he said proudly.
Mulder's bruises were resolving nicely. Scully had to admit that she really had overreacted yesterday. She thought she'd lie down with Mulder until he passed out and then get on with her teeth flossing and pore closing. She got into bed next to him, expecting that he would spoon around her and go to sleep. Instead he stretched out on his back like a sunbather, with his head resting on his arms, looking at her through half- closed eyes, with just the trace of a smile.
"You drive," he said.
You got it, cutie, she thought. I'm going to eat you up.
"I'll drive, but you have to be a good passenger," Scully said. A good passenger doesn't try to grab the wheel and take over. A good passenger doesn't have to skip from escargots to dessert.
Mulder was a good passenger for a long time, allowing his body to be worshipped by Scully's hands and mouth, responding with words of joy and gratitude and sounds beyond spelling.
But as she continued, and as her attentions became more focused, Mulder couldn't help responding with his hips and hands and body, and the waterbed responded with him.
"Don't move," she told him, ceasing her activities until he stopped. Then she started again until once more Mulder's impulses overcame his restraint. He responded with more freedom than Scully wanted to grant him, and she shut down on him again. She played with him like this for a while, and his vocalizations sounded less and less like "ungh" and "hhh" and more and more like the death cries of a wookie.
When Mulder realized that he would be ruined for life and have to go into therapy if Scully kept teasing him like this, he roared again, signaled his defiance by grabbing her and kissing her roughly on the mouth, and then flipped her onto her back and pinned her.
"You may try to resist, you saucy wench," he said, "but your very body betrays you. It is your own desire that enslaves you to me."
"No!" she screamed, pushing him away with enough conviction that Mulder stopped.
"No?" said Mulder. "Really no? Gazebo?"
"If I mean gazebo I'll say gazebo," Scully said. "It's a little difficult to be your feisty captive without saying No."
When Mulder awoke he felt phenomenally alive and robust. He was ravenous but took a quick shower before foraging for breakfast. The fridge surprised him with the two sandwiches he'd taken home from the deli on Saturday. Lucky he'd remembered to bring them along from Scully's.
He ate the roast beef sandwich while filling in yesterday's crossword puzzle. He had to write over the entry to one- down; the reptilian sub- order was Serpente, not Squamata. Today's paper hadn't arrived yet, so he read Sunday's news while he ate Scully's tuna salad sandwich.
Two sandwiches and two cans of ice tea made him postpone his run, but he walked over to the twenty- four hour store and picked up a coffee cake so Scully wouldn't have to stop for one on her way to work. He found where she'd parked and put the cake in her car, remembering also to get some evidence bags from her trunk.
Back in his apartment he got the coffee maker going, so Miss Caffeine- addict would be able to get her fix. It was still too early to wake her, but not too early to get back into bed next to her. He slipped between the sheets and she turned toward him. She was more asleep than awake and she responded to him in slow motion, sighing a little when he nuzzled her neck, squirming around to get comfortable in his arms. He didn't particularly mean to wake her, but really, she'd had her eight hours, and, as Skinner might say, daylight was burning. Or would be, in a few hours.
Scully opened her eyes and broke into a smile.
"You salty dog," she said. She felt too morning- mouthed to kiss him, but she unbuttoned his pants, which he shouldn't be wearing in the bed anyway.
"What?" Mulder asked as he helped her with his pants.
"You were so good." She was working under his shirt now, pushing it up.
"You liked that, huh? I liked it too," Mulder said.
"So good," she said. She was kissing his chest and pinching his butt.
"Scully. Careful," he said. The waves were starting.
"I'll be careful, Mulder," Scully said. She would be careful not to leave any marks. She would be careful not to choke him with his shirt as she pulled it off.
"Scully, stop moving," Mulder said. She was sliding her body over his, making the bed rise and fall in sickening lurches. Maybe he could try Bobby's medicine again, but only take half a tablet. Maybe Scully could recommend something that would settle his stomach without giving him a lobotomy.
Stop moving indeed, Scully thought. Stop moving and hope that Mulder would somehow stumble on the right moves without any guidance or feedback. No thank you. It made sense for her to order him to lie still and let her take over. Male anatomy was so obvious. It made no sense at all for Scully to stay still.
"Scully?" How to say this nicely? "Scully, get off me."
She moved aside, and Mulder rolled himself to the edge of the bed and onto the floor. He sat on the nice steady floor, eyes closed, leaning back against the frame of the bed.
Scully climbed out of bed and kneeled down next him, feeling his forehead.
"Take some deep breaths, Mulder," she said sympathetically. She took his shirt from the bed and slipped into it before going to get him a cool wash cloth.
"I'm okay now," he said when she returned and placed the damp cloth against his head. "Oh, thanks, that feels better."
He insisted he felt fine, but Scully made up the couch with sheets and blankets and wanted to put him to bed there. He went along with it, although they were both completely awake by now. Scully sat on the floor drinking a mug of coffee.
"Scully, I'm sorry," Mulder said softly. He'd been lying in bed with a gorgeous woman who wanted to ravish him and he'd left her totally unfulfilled.
"Sorry about what?" Scully asked. It was so quiet and dark this time of day.
"About the bed. About just now." He wasn't exactly embarrassed, but he felt incompetent, ridiculous.
"But Mulder, it doesn't matter. We already saved the world, remember? Last night," she said.
"But that was last night," Mulder said. "This morning? And it wasn't just this morning. Saturday morning, at your place. And Saturday night." He was starting to scare himself. Friday night had been pretty damn excellent, but the next morning, that had been more of a quickie. Scully hadn't come, he knew that. And Saturday night, he'd gotten seasick again, and Scully had gotten the phone call from the Maryland police, and he'd slept on the couch. And he hadn't even tried Sunday morning. Last night, okay, no complaints there. But now this morning?
"Mulder, are we trying to meet a quota here?" she asked. It was hard to be sensitive to someone whose concerns seemed so farfetched.
"I want to make you happy," Mulder said.
"But I am happy," Scully said.
"Scully, don't be dense," he said patiently. "I made you happy last night. I failed to make you happy this morning."
"Mulder, you're not feeling well. I'll give you the morning off. Of course if you really want to make me happy, you could give me an encore of 'White Rabbit,'" Scully said.
"White Rabbit?" Mulder narrowed his eyes. "You're going to try to tell me that I was singing."
"You put on quite a performance," she said.
"Scully, I'm not going to fall for this. I may have been a little out of it last night, but I don't believe I was doing Grace Slick impressions," Mulder said.
Scully practically skipped to the bedroom to get the cassette recorder. If she put it down on the coffee table, Mulder would grab it as soon as it began to play, so she set it over by his desk before turning it on.
"You're in for a treat," she said as she started the tape. There was Mulder's beautiful voice croaking out the words to the old psychedelic anthem. A beautiful voice, but not really a singer's voice.
"Thank you, Scully," he said. "This is so thoroughly humiliating that my sexual inadequacy seems trivial." He put the pillow over his head, waiting for the song to end, but to his horror he found that he had segued into another ditty. "Scully, turn it off," he bellowed.
Scully was back by the couch, pulling the pillow off Mulder's face. She wanted to watch his expression as he listened to himself on tape. They were fighting over the pillow when the recording came to Scully's return to the bedroom. Scully realized that she had never shut the recorder off.
Scully won possession of the pillow, but only because Mulder abandoned that fight and seized her around the waist. The tape was getting interesting now, and he didn't want her to turn it off or try to erase it. He hauled himself to a sitting position so he could hold on to her.
"You were on quite a power trip last night," Mulder observed. There was Scully, electronically preserved, taunting him and ordering him not to move. Of course he was making some odd noises himself, wordless groans of frustration. She thought she was so cunning, forcing him lie still while she got him so worked up that he couldn't lie still. He couldn't lie still, he had to grind and grab and taste, and every neuron in his body was screaming, "Don't stop." And she stopped.
The tape was still playing, but Scully had given up on trying to pull away from Mulder's grip.
"Mulder, how long does this thing tape?" she asked. Because she remembered what happened when she let the game drag on for too long and Mulder had put an end to it. She remembered being held down and forced to endure things that she very much wished to be forced to endure.
"Ninety minutes, Scully. I think we may just catch that speech where you thank me for taming you."
Scully's ears burned and her cheeks grew hot. How could something that was so much fun at the time sound so thoroughly silly and aberrant the next day? Maybe it wouldn't be on the tape. She buried her face in the pillow.
"I taught you the joy of surrender, as I recall," Mulder said. He smiled broadly. "Maybe I'm not so inadequate." The tape player was now broadcasting some more of Mulder's tortured jungle noises. "What the hell were you doing to me?" he asked Scully.
"Nothing," she said into the pillow. "Absolutely nothing at all."
Scully had left for work. Mulder replayed his favorite parts of the recording one last time and then, with regret, pulled the tape out of the cassette and burned it in the bathroom sink. His feisty captive had insisted. She really didn't mind listening to the recording with Mulder, but she didn't want it sitting around waiting for something embarrassing to happen.
Mulder drove over to the deli by Scully's to see if Bobby could come out and play, but the strange young man was still asleep. Mrs. Fishman told Mulder she'd have her son- in- law ready to go in about half an hour.
Mulder was wearing the pants he had ruined a week ago spackling the Luskins' rec room. They would offer some protection against Bobby's hockey- like defensive style. Since he wasn't dressed for running, he went over to Scully's to kill the time.
Bobby Zurago was waiting outside the deli when Mulder got back, bouncing his basketball against his knee like a soccer player.
"What do you want?" he asked Mulder.
"Shoot some hoops?" Mulder suggested.
Bobby started dribbling clumsily toward the playground, but he was shaking his head.
"Don't like one- on- one," he said. "And it's Monday. School today. Recess."
"You don't like one- on- one?" Mulder said. "You want to play Horse?" Mulder was unbeatable at Horse.
"Even worse," said Bobby. "I like to play 'D.' Shooting takes a lot less skill."
"You want to take a walk?" Mulder asked. Bobby seemed too restless to sit down and talk.
"'Kay," he said, bobbing along beside Mulder.
"I want to stop John Newbold," Mulder said.
"You can't," said Bobby. "You'd have to kill him."
"They think you did it, Bobby," Mulder said. "Newbold says you messed with the sterilizing system."
"No, that was from Newbold," Bobby said.
"He says you broke something in the OR on Saturday night. A humidity regulator," Mulder said.
"Saturday night. My wife was home. Ask my wife." Bobby's wife was the finest woman in the world. He was sure people would believe her, even if they mistrusted him.
"Bobby, if I can show that Newbold did it, that proves that you didn't. Maybe you'd get your suspension canceled," Mulder said.
"I could operate," Bobby said. "Cool."
"Let's go to Chesapeake Medical Center," Mulder said. "We'll nail him. Get the proof that he did it."
Bobby had spent the last month within a mile of his in- laws' delicatessen. A road trip with Mulder was the best offer he'd had since his disciplinary hearing.
"'Kay," he said. "Can we go to McDonald's?"
"Scully. Let's grab a smoke." Scully looked up from her terminal to find Jerry Luskin hanging over her desk. Jerry Luskin was probably the mellowest agent in the history of the FBI. His only desire in life was for a pension.
Scully and Luskin went to the staircase for their break, Luskin taking along a big hunk of the crumb cake Scully had brought in.
"What's up, Jerry?" Scully asked.
"Good cake," Luskin said, looking at her as he swallowed a mouthful. "Where's the Muldermeister?"
"He's putting in a few days on ASAC Cardin's task force," Scully said. If Luskin ever wondered about her relationship with Mulder, he kept it to himself.
"Chesapeake Medical? In Winthrop, Maryland?" Luskin asked. Scully nodded. "Okay. Just now. I'm doing a check on a new groundskeeper. Cheng Wu. I call his former employer. The Winthrop Bank. I'm on hold for a couple of minutes, then they transfer me to the president of the bank."
"Donald Lovelace," Scully said.
"Yes. Mr. Lovelace informs me that he's holding up his end of the bargain, taking care of the Polish problem, and a certain Mulder and Scully had better stop harassing him or they are definitely headed for the South Pole, and maybe I'd like to go with them. Then I finish my spiel and he tells me that Cheng Wu is an excellent worker with high moral standards. And he hangs up," Luskin said.
"I think Agent Cardin needs to know about this," Scully said, starting up the stairs toward Cardin's office. "Luskin, aren't you coming?"
"I'm coming," he said. "Take it easy on me. I haven't been away from the bullpen in ten years."
Cardin had an inner office; no window, in other words. Scully and Luskin rapped on her door before opening it, but she waved them back. She was on a phone call, and they waited outside until she could finish.
"Tough lady," said Luskin. It was impossible not to eavesdrop. Phrases like "totally unacceptable" and "will not be tolerated" echoed through the air. Then Cardin opened her door and Scully and Luskin were allowed in. Cardin's office was tiny, but it had something that made Luskin sigh with envy. Walls.
"Fighting in school," Cardin said, by way of explanation. "I was about to send for you when the principal called."
"Send for me? Why?" Scully asked.
"Agent Mulder was under the impression that the child Krzyzewski was brought into this country unaccompanied. In fact there was a family of Krzyzewskis that entered the country at the same time," Cardin said.
"Very interesting," Scully said.
"A very interesting pattern, in fact," Cardin said. "We have batches of hardship medical visas occurring every month or two. Families entering the country with an infant or small child in need of medical treatment at Chesapeake Medical Center."
"Help me out here," said Luskin. "I'm a visitor from the land of background checks and I'm not sure if I'm getting the story."
"Donald Lovelace is in charge of a program that brings in sick babies from disadvantaged countries so that they can get surgery here. Agent Cardin suspects that Lovelace is bringing in emigrants by representing them as the families of the sick children," Scully explained.
"So they come in under temporary visas and then disappear," Luskin said. "I see. I presume money changes hands somewhere in the deal."
"A safe assumption," said Cardin. "Lovelace probably works through foreign intermediaries. When there's a group ready to pay for passage from, say, Lebanon, he locates a Lebanese child to bring in for medical treatment. The others are brought in under the pretense that they are with the baby."
"And the baby comes in all alone to go under the knife," Scully said.
"Donald Lovelace is currently under investigation by our colleagues at INS," Cardin said. "Does Agent Mulder understand what he's dealing with?" Cardin asked.
"I'll call him," Scully said. No time now to explain that Mulder was going off to enlist the assistance of the black-hand ghost.
"Hernias are easy, but I like perforated bowels," Bobby was saying. He was munching on some French fries from a paper sack; Mulder had taken him to McDonald's as promised, but made him eat his meal in the car. Eating in a moving vehicle seemed to be a new experience for Bobby, and Mulder had to give him explicit instructions.
"Yeah, great," Mulder said. Bobby had told him days ago that he got in trouble for the things he saw and for the things he didn't see. Anyone could figure out what those things were that Bobby didn't see. The rules of social interaction were a mystery to him. Most human emotions were beyond his understanding.
Now Mulder had to learn more about the things that Bobby did see, the things that others did not. The drive to the Chesapeake Medical Center would give him time to do that.
"Why do they perf at night?" Bobby asked. "Do you know?"
"I don't know," Mulder said.
"Me neither, but they do. I get a lot of them when I'm on call," Bobby said.
"Trauma's cool," Bobby said. "Even MVAs. A lot of guys get bored with MVAs, but I like them. Do you like MVAs?"
"Bobby, this is so much fun, talking surgery with you," Mulder said, "but we have to talk about John Newbold. You have to help me show that he's the one who's breaking stuff."
"Not Newbold, not exactly," Bobby said. "His spirit. You know what I mean?"
"No," Mulder said. "Please explain it to me."
"My therapist would like that!" Bobby said. "He told me to use that word. Remember to say please."
"Bobby!" Mulder said firmly. "Who did it? Was it a ghost? Who broke the sterilizer?"
"I suppose you could call it a ghost. I guess if Newbold was dead, you could call it his ghost," Bobby said. "The spirit, whatever you want to call it."
"The spirit?" Mulder repeated. Mulder was confident he could get what he needed from Bobby, if he was patient enough. He'd never be able to use Bobby's statements as evidence, but this case was not going to be resolved in a courtroom anyway.
"You don't see it, do you? You've seen a lot of things, but this is all around you and you don't see it at all," Bobby said. Bobby was surprised. He had taken Mulder for another like himself.
Mulder didn't answer. He thought that Bobby would come to the point faster on his own than if Mulder tried to direct him. Bobby wasn't making much sense, but he was calm and he was trying to be helpful.
"The ghost, if that's what you want to call it, the ghost is the part that doesn't die. It's the part that wants to do right," Bobby said.
"It wants to do right," Mulder said.
"People know what's right," Bobby said. "Maybe not every time, but most of the time. They know, they just don't do it."
"They don't do what's right," Mulder said.
"It's the ghost that pays. You are dead, but the bad things you did are still there. It's the ghost that's hurt, all dirty instead of pure."
"The ghost doesn't want to be dirty, no matter how much you're getting paid. You see?" Bobby asked.
Mulder was starting to catch on, but he didn't want to interrupt.
"What profits it a man to gain the whole world if he should lose his immortal soul," Bobby said. "I didn't make that up."
"The spirit is the soul," Mulder said. "The soul strives to do what's good."
"The soul. That's the best word for it," Bobby said. "It lives on after you die, but it's with you when you're alive. At least it usually is. Sometimes a Young Soul goes off on its own, like Newbold's did. But usually when you see a Soul, it's an Old Soul. When you die, it doesn't die. Some of it remains."
"Bobby, let's see if I got this. John Newbold's soul left his body because he was making it impure. It broke the equipment to stop him from doing what was bad," Mulder said.
"My therapist said to only to tell people I could trust," Bobby said. "Don't tell people who won't understand, or people who would try to hurt me."
"I won't try to hurt you," Mulder said. "I will try to understand."
"I can talk to souls. They can talk through me." Bobby looked at Mulder, waiting for his reaction. Mulder said nothing.
"I'm going to prove it," Bobby said. "I'll get someone to talk to you."
Mulder turned away and sighed. He'd been following along with Bobby's claims, but this last assertion was too much, too pathetic and unbelievable.
"I haven't spoken with Elvis in a while," Mulder said, judging correctly that Bobby would overlook the barb.
"No, can't. It's got to be someone with a connection," Bobby said.
"Elvis didn't pay his phone bill?" Mulder asked.
"Phone bill? No. Someone with a connection to you," Bobby explained patiently.
"How about my mother?" Mulder asked. That would be a cute trick. Bobby would put on a big show of channeling Mulder's mother, and she wasn't even dead.
Bobby's face went blank and then he looked perplexed.
"I tried. Nothing," he said. "I got Marty. But he can't stay long. And he doesn't want you to follow him back."
"Hi, Marty! How are you! What's it like on the other side?" Mulder said with forced joviality.
"You gotta promise. He wants you to promise," Bobby said.
"Drop it, Bobby, this is stupid," Mulder said. "And if you pull any of this crap on Scully, I'll break your arm." He could just see Scully in tearful communion with her sister, totally fooled by Bobby's nonsense.
Bobby nodded, a deep, slow flexion of the neck that seemed very different from the jerky head- bob he'd been using till now. Very different, but somehow familiar.
"Strange, so strange after all this time. This isn't a good idea, Fox. The dead should stay dead." The words were coming from Bobby, but it wasn't Bobby's usual nasal drone.
This act would be pure hokum if someone else was doing it, but Bobby seemed to be incapable of guile.
"Bobby, who is it? Who are you talking to?" Mulder asked. He wondered why he'd been so quick to dismiss the idea of a ghost. It wasn't as if he'd never seen one. He remembered the Blessing Way ceremony the Navajos had used to save his life, how he'd been able to talk to his father and Deep Throat. Scully was certain that a ghost was involved in the sabotage. Was that why he'd been so sure that there was no ghost?
"How did you bring me here?" Bobby's voice definitely sounded different.
"If you're who you say you are, prove it," Mulder said. "Don't give me these vague clichés."
"I know you're upset, Fox, but you will not speak to me in that tone."
"If you're my grandfather, prove it. Say something only he would know," Mulder said. This was hard; part of him really wanted it to be his grandfather. "Remember visitor's day at sleep- away camp? You were crying for me to take you home, but you ended up having a good time. There was a baseball game that afternoon. You hit a double. Then you dropped your watermelon, and I had to get you another slice."
"Stop it, Bobby," Mulder said. He knew Bobby didn't understand how painful this was for him. Bobby didn't really understand pain. But this had to be an act.
"I explained to you why your folks couldn't make it. You understood, didn't you?"
"You bought me my first suit," Mulder said. "Describe it."
"Indeed I did, but that was your own fault. I told you that the Nehru jacket was just a fad. But you wore it well, Fox, you looked like a perfect little gentleman."
Mulder smiled, even though he'd been outraged when his grandfather had said it thirty years ago. The more so when Samantha had picked up the phrase.
"Where's Samantha? Is she with you?" Mulder asked.
"Samantha is all right, Fox. But things don't always work out the way you'd like them to."
Mulder felt a chill. For minutes at a time he believed he was talking to his grandfather, but then it would hit him again; this wasn't possible. He wanted to pull of the road, but there was no place to do it here.
"I wish you would have visited me. I wanted to show you Stonehenge," Mulder said very quietly.
"I wanted you to get settled at college first, make some friends. I didn't know I had so little time." Bobby's speech was usually flat and nasal, but now he was speaking with a good deal of warmth.
Mulder had been lonely and miserable those first months at Oxford. And the old man had always wanted to see Stonehenge. But he'd turned down Mulder's invitation, saying he'd think about it for next year. He'd sent a light, breezy note full of questions about how Mulder was spending his time, full of suggestions about keeping busy.
Mulder signaled a right turn. There was a rest area up ahead. Gas. Food. Sanitary facilities. Need to get off the road. Take a deep breath.
"Grandpa, there's something I've been wondering about?" Mulder said after a few minutes. The old man might have some clue about his paternity, Mulder was thinking, although he'd be very offended by the question.
"Gone." Bobby said.
"Gone? Just like that?" Mulder asked angrily.
"Eyes on the road, Fox. Hands on the wheel," Bobby said, but in his own voice.
"He said that?" Mulder asked.
"I think it means for you to pay attention to your driving," said Bobby.
Bobby said no more and Mulder drove in silence, pulling into the rest area and parking the car. Bobby followed him into the building to the water fountain, watching as he got a long drink.
"Snack bar," said Bobby. "Crab cakes." Bobby loved the drive to Winthrop. So many treats. Mulder shrugged, and they went into the food service area. Mulder sat at a table and let Bobby fend for himself. The man could repair a perforated bowel; he could probably find a way to get food from a snack bar.
The episode in the car left Mulder unsettled. Too bad Scully wasn't here. She would help him sort this out.
"Mulder, I asked you to about your grandfather last night. That triggered your memories. At the same time, you are investigating acts of vandalism that may have been perpetrated by a ghost. Naturally the two concepts commingled in your thoughts, and you experienced the presence of your grandfather as a ghost."
That's what Scully would say.
"Because Robert Zurago has only a limited appreciation of human interaction, he has developed a compensatory mechanism that allows him access to some of the inner mental processes of others. Thus he was able to construct a version of your grandfather that would of course appear to you to be authentic."
But wait. This was the new Scully, the ghost advocate. Here's what she'd tell him:
"The entity displays behavior consistent with your grandfather's. He exhibits warm feelings toward you but fears that by offering you too much support he will prevent you from forging ahead on your own. This would explain why he has not appeared to you in the past, particularly during the Navajo ceremony, when he had reason to feel that you might choose not to live."
He thought it over. He didn't know what Scully would say. Worse, he didn't know what *he* would say.
"Darndest thing happened, Scully. Remember just yesterday when you asked me about my grandfather?"
"I had a strange experience earlier and I'd appreciate your insight."
Or would he whine?
"He's my grandfather, Scully. How come he'll only talk to me through Bobby?"
Enough of this. He would call Scully and then he'd know what each of them would actually say. He patted himself down, looking for his cellular. He didn't have it. He had left it in the car.
Donald Lovelace was a dangerous and desperate man with very little left to lose. If Mulder thought his adversary was just a publicity- loving businessman, he was badly mistaken. Scully had to find a way to warn him.
Mulder's cell phone was on, but he was not responding. Maybe Mulder was with Bobby, playing basketball in the playground. Scully wanted to call the deli, but she didn't know the number or even the name. Danny took less than a minute to find it by location. It wasn't a difficult accomplishment, but Scully thanked him profusely.
Mrs. Fishman at the deli told Scully that "the boys" had gone for a drive, wouldn't be back until dinnertime. Bobby had left his basketball at home.
Scully had to let Mulder know that he was up against something more than the misguided vanity of Newbold and Lovelace. This was a larger conspiracy, one that might very well have some backing from the State Department. She called Alice Cardin.
"I can't reach Mulder," she said. "Agent Luskin and I are driving to the Chesapeake Medical Center. I'm sure that's where he's gone. Can you authorize us?" Of course Scully was going with or without the approval, but it would make a big difference to Jerry Luskin.
"I got you into this," said Cardin. "I'll go with you." They assembled in the garage and used Cardin's car, a Crown Victoria.
"Hey, look. Daylight," said Luskin as Cardin drove the big sedan out of the garage.
"I see he doesn't get out much," Cardin said. Cardin and Luskin maintained a lighthearted dialogue for Scully's sake. It would take them a couple of hours to get to the medical center, and until they had some idea what was happening, there was nothing they could do.
Scully was not particularly worried. Mulder was probably going to sit down with Newbold and try to get through to him. Try to talk him into retirement, she supposed. Why had Mulder brought Bobby Zurago along? To help him find the black-hand ghost, perhaps to help him talk to it.
Bobby had used the unplanned rest stop to stoke himself with more fried food and lots of caffeine, but the combination seemed to fortify him. Mulder was calm, forcing himself not to be distracted by parlor tricks and cheap theatrics. He was focused on driving the car and getting to the truth about the entity with the melodramatic name of the black-hand ghost.
"Did you know Rose Tarses?" Mulder asked. "She was a patient of Newbold's. She came in originally for gall bladder surgery, but things went wrong. She ended up on life support. Her hand turned black."
"I know her." Bobby said. "I did the repeat bowel resection. Wow! Big necrotic bowel. Like this!" He spread his hands to show Mulder an area about the diameter of a grapefruit.
"Could she be the one who broke the sterilizing equipment? Did her spirit do it?"
"No. Not her. I told you who," Bobby said. "Anyway, I talked to her spirit. It wasn't her."
"You talked to her spirit?" Mulder asked. "You saw it?"
"In the OR. 'Let me die, let me die.' No, goddamnit. Don't die on me!" Bobby turned toward Mulder. "I hate that! Everyone wants to mess up my work. Nice repair, really nice, and she wants to die!"
"But she didn't die," Mulder said.
"Didn't die. But that's all she wanted. Didn't care about Newbold. Didn't think about stopping him," Bobby said. Mulder gave it one more shot, for Scully's sake.
"What about the black hand, Bob? She had a black hand and the spirit had a black hand," he said.
"Silly," Bobby said dismissively. "Spirits aren't like that. Spirits don't have bodies."
Bobby was amused, Mulder realized. Maybe for the first time in his life.
"Yeah, pretty silly of me," Mulder agreed. "Then how did the spirit get a black hand?"
"From inside. From what he did." Bobby nodded. "Yeah. Newbold made it like that. The spirit doesn't like it. They want to be clean, you know. Most of them."
"Can the spirit talk to Newbold? Make him stop?" Mulder asked. "Could you ask the spirit to try?" He wondered if Bobby would find this funny too.
"You really don't understand, do you? That's why the spirit left him. It couldn't make him stop," Bobby said. "Can I ask you something?"
"Who are you? Why are you doing this? And what's your name?"
Mulder got Bobby clear on these details, or at least clear enough. Then he returned to his own line of questioning.
"You said the spirit came out of Newbold because it couldn't make him stop operating. And you told me that Newbold was a man divided. Then the spirit is his good side, right? Is that how it works?" Mulder asked.
"The spirit is forever, see. Newbold keeps operating, and he gets awards and stuff, and lots of money. But the evil is forever, and the spirit gets stuck with it. So it wants him to stop, and it doesn't want to be with him any more," Bobby said.
Mulder had come into this case believing that the "ghost" was Dr. Newbold himself, in a fugue state, and that Bobby's description was fanciful. But it now appeared that Bobby's description was concrete and literal. Scully was right, in a sense. The vandal was indeed a disembodied spirit.
There was a swarm of activity around the medical center when Mulder and Bobby finally arrived, with a fleet of government- issue Fords in the no- parking zone by the entrance and a crowd of serious- looking men and women spilling out of the lobby. There were passenger vans as well, with wire mesh over the windows, and one of them passed in the opposite direction as Mulder drove on into the parking garage. Bobby recognized two of the occupants.
"Fat Victor and Hassan," he said. "They clean the OR. Where are they going? They have to clean the OR." Bobby's gaze darted in all directions as he walked from the garage to the hospital. Mulder approached one of the dark- suited men in the entranceway, displayed his credentials, and asked him what was going on.
"INS," he said. "Illegals all over, working in the labs, the kitchen, maintenance. Hell of an operation they have going here."
Bobby felt threatened by the mob of somber civil servants, and he looked so furtive as he walked into the building with Mulder that one of the Immigration and Naturalization Service agents stopped him.
"It's okay, Bobby," Mulder said. "Show him your driver's license." The proffered document attested to Bobby's citizenship, and the Immigration man returned it and let him pass.
"Who's going to clean the operating room?" Bobby asked Mulder. "Gotta clean it in between cases."
Bobby's concern was well- founded. The OR suite had ground to a halt. Other vital services were also suspended. Meals were not prepared or delivered. Linen was in short supply. Down in the chemistry lab, a lone technician was able to keep up with the work flow for the first time in twelve years, but only because there were no transport personnel to bring specimens to the laboratories.
Besides the people who'd been netted by the INS, many had simply jumped ship to avoid capture. Some who were caught in the round- up were not illegals at all; Fat Victor, for example, had been born in Baltimore. A number of doctors had also chosen to make themselves scarce, although all of them were native- born or adequately documented. With rumors flying, they thought they were fleeing a raid by the IRS. Some were phoning their money managers, reviewing the right and wrong answers in case anyone should question them about their investments, or domiciles, or expenses, or employes. Others were calling their accountants, instructing them to amend their old returns.
Mulder strode calmly through the chaos, his jittery sidekick in tow. But when Bobby realized where they were heading, he balked.
"No," he told Mulder. "I don't do kids."
"You don't have to do anything," Mulder said. "I'm just going to visit."
"No!" Bobby said again, his voice rising. "I won't go there. I'll wait here."
Leaving Bobby on his own seemed ill advised, but Mulder had to check on baby Adam. There was a waiting area outside the pediatric unit, with a television and some magazines. The TV was showing an instructional video for people with diabetes. Bobby sat himself in a plastic chair and folded his hands in his lap, trying to show Mulder that he would behave himself and stay out of trouble.
"You'll wait right here?" Mulder asked him. If he went wandering he'd probably get deported.
"Yeah," said Bobby. He waved his hand toward the TV. "Breast self- exam is next."
Mulder hoped for the best and entered the children's ward. The nurse he had met yesterday stopped him before he could get in to see the baby.
"You're going to find him a lot crankier today," she said. "He's not being fed, and he had a rough night." She was sparing Mulder the details: Adam was scheduled for abdominal surgery, and that required his bowel to be empty. "You can visit with him for a while, but then you're going to have to go to work."
"What?" Mulder asked.
"We have specimens that need to be delivered to the lab. We have doctors' orders to go to pharmacy and meds to be picked up. You're drafted." She gave him a look of authority that didn't quite hide her desperation. Mulder gave a little shrug of acquiescence.
The nurse got the baby settled into Mulder's arms. There was no feeding running in to his stomach this time, but there was clear tubing connected to some IV device near his neck.
"Here's the call bell," the nurse said. "I'm not sure when I'll get back to you, so ring if you need something. If you put him back in the crib, make sure you pull up the side rail." She left them alone.
Adam had cried himself out that morning, and even the shuddering whimpers had subsided. He looked at Mulder with abject misery. He started to suck on his hand, managing to get all his fingers in his mouth. Comforted a little, he took the hand out of his mouth and reached to place it on Mulder's neck. Then he put his other hand in his mouth.
The baby seemed calmer, but his face was still pinched with worry. Mulder held him a little closer.
"Your mommy's coming," he whispered. "Mommy's going to be here." Adam gave no sign of comprehension.
The nurse came back with a bag and a couple of small cans.
"His surgery is definitely canceled for today. I'm going to give him a feeding," she said. Mulder held the baby while the bag of formula dripped into his gut. Adam could tell that his fast was over and seemed to relax. He tangled his wet fingers into Mulder's hair and pulled vigorously.
After the feeding the nurse got Adam settled in his crib and sent Mulder off to run errands. Mulder went to collect Bobby from the waiting area, but he was gone.
Donald Lovelace had been in tight spots before, he told himself. He was a survivor. It would take more than the Justice Department to intimidate him.
He'd gotten off to a very bad start today when he'd lost his cool on the phone. The bureaucratic drone was just doing a routine background check on a job applicant, but Lovelace had heard "FBI" and assumed that those two arrogant smart- asses were trying to pressure him again. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, self- appointed guardians of poor baby Adam Krzyzewski, boo- hoo. Well, he knew their names, he knew their social security numbers, and he knew that Mulder was going to have to start carrying cash, because of a dirty little trick Lovelace had done with his credit cards. And Scully was next, but first she'd be getting a big shipment from the Home Shopping Network.
He could handle the FBI, all right, but this INS thing was serious. Too many people knew that he was the mastermind, the brains behind an ambitious plot to sell entrance into the land of opportunity to desperate foreigners, and to sell cheap labor to unscrupulous employers. Too many people knew; at least one of them would betray him.
It was time for Donald Lovelace to disappear. Time for a lifeless body to be found, head and hands damaged beyond identification. But they'd have no trouble identifying the shattered remains as Donald Lovelace because the body would be carrying plenty of ID and an engraved wedding band. There would be no reason to employ sophisticated forensics. Donald Lovelace would be dead, and ready for a fresh start.
He had to plan this carefully. As carefully as he had the last time. He ordered his secretary to hold all his calls, but the phone rang anyway. It was a special number he rarely used, and it was not routed through his secretary's system. He picked it up and paused before speaking.
"Yes," he said at last.
"Donald, it's Newbold. I heard you're bringing the baby's mother over, his whole family. Donald, you can't do that," Dr. Newbold said.
I don't need this crap, not now, Lovelace thought. In fact, I have no further use at all for John Newbold.
"It's a done deal, John, learn to live with it," Lovelace said. "I'm busy- - good- bye."
"Donald, you know that the surgeon's work is as much art as science, a matter of faith as well as skill," Newbold intoned. "The child's family will react to his current condition with inappropriate concern, and they will show him, in a hundred subtle ways, that they expect him to die. These signals, so intangible, have a measurable effect on outcome, with increased morbidity- - "
"Good God, Newbold, shut up! If you pile it any deeper those FBI agents will come back to investigate!" Lovelace had done his homework. He knew that Mulder and Scully were some- time manure inspectors.
"You've lost me, Don. But as I was saying- - "
Lovelace cut him off again.
"Newbold, I don't know who you think you're talking to. But I know you're a rotten surgeon. That's why I picked you, Newbold, and that's why you had to go along with me. Oh, you always had an excuse. There was always some obscure reason your patients did so badly, some unsuspected medical condition that had nothing to do with your surgery. They dropped like flies and it was never your fault."
"I'll call back," said Newbold. "I can see you're having a bad day."
"You would have been bounced out of Chesapeake years ago, but I protected you. And you came through for me, John. You never turned down a referral," Lovelace said.
"And I never will," Newbold said. "Every patient deserves a chance, no matter how remote."
Lovelace was about to hang up when he thought of a way that he might make use of Newbold one last time.
"John, what's it like at the medical center now? Still a lot of confusion? Have the immigration agents left yet?" He leaned back in his chair while Dr. Newbold gave him the details he needed.
Mulder dropped off a handful of blood tubes at Specimen Receiving, being sure to use the special bin for the ones that had to be run "stat." Unfortunately, the "stat" tech had been removed by the INS, and only routine labs were being processed.
Next he went to pick up medications at the pharmacy. He dropped the order sheets in a wire basket and started to poke through a huge pile of plastic bags to locate the drugs for the pediatric unit. His friend from yesterday spotted him, the pharmacist who had given him the pills Bobby had prescribed.
"Hi," she said. "How did those tablets work?" She had been planning to call him up that evening to ask if the medicine had helped. She had his phone number; she'd explained to him that she couldn't very well give him pills without knowing his full name and phone number.
"Hi, Kathy," Mulder said. "The pills worked fine. Thanks." The pharmacist was staring at him, and Mulder told himself it was because of the dried plaster on his pants. He picked up the bag marked "16 North" and was about to leave.
"It would be a big help if you could deliver all these meds," the pharmacist said. She remembered his name, Fox William Mulder. Maybe his friends called him Bill. He looked damn fine yesterday, in that expensive suit, but today he was wearing some ratty old pants and a leather jacket and he still looked damn fine.
"Okay," Mulder said. He owed her, after all.
Normally, the people who transported pharmacy orders to the hospital wards were supplied with carts, but Mulder didn't have one. Kathy shoved the whole load into a couple of trash bags for him, and he slung them over his shoulder like Santa Claus.
"Anything good in here?" Mulder asked.
The pharmacist shook her head sadly. Every time she met a cute guy, it turned out he was just after her drugs.
The two bags were unimaginably heavy. Mulder found an abandoned wheelchair and used it to haul the heavier of the two, but he was still struggling when Bobby came running up to him.
"Mr. Lovelace is here!" he said with unaccustomed excitement. "He wants to talk to you. Maybe he'll give me my job back!"
"What's he doing here?" Mulder asked.
"Who cares?" said Bobby. "Come with me." But Mulder said they had to deliver the meds first, and Bobby scowled at him before accepting the garbage sack and carrying it across his back as Mulder had. Bobby pointed out that they could get the deliveries done more quickly if they split up, but Mulder shook his head.
As they progressed from floor to floor, Mulder noticed that Bobby was greeted many times, and mostly with friendliness. Bobby was accepted here.
"Hey, Doctor Z, how they hangin'?" a tall, bearded guy asked him.
"They're hanging well, thanks for asking," Bobby answered. "Yours?" Therapy had worked wonders for Bobby's social skills.
The meds were distributed at last.
"Please," said Bobby. "Please come talk to Mr. Lovelace."
Mulder thought it was poor strategy to talk to Mr. Lovelace now. Lovelace had capitulated to the demand that he fly Adam's mother and father into the country, but he was probably still resentful about it. Mulder wanted to steer clear of Lovelace for today, not seek him out and ask him for another concession. But Mulder had enlisted Bobby's assistance by suggesting that he might be able to restore Bobby's hospital privileges, and he was obligated to make the attempt.
"Where is he?" Mulder asked.
"The OR. He's waiting for you in room three," Bobby said.
"He's in the OR?" Mulder asked. "Don't you find that strange?"
Bobby thought it was very strange. But so many things were strange. Mulder was the strangest of all. Bobby had met him on Saturday, and they'd had a great game, the kind Bobby loved, aggressive and physical. Bobby had exercised his newly learned social skills and Mulder had gone back to the deli with him. But Mulder's only interest in life was the Chesapeake Medical Center. They'd talked about it Saturday, until Bobby began to suspect that he was being tested for unprofessional conduct. Then Mulder had come back on Sunday, and Bobby had to wear a suit and talk about the medical center some more.
Mulder had showed up again today. Bobby thought that was truly peculiar, but his mother- in- law had thought it was delightful.
"You have a new friend, Robert," she told him. "Now you get dressed and get out there." Bobby wondered if he would have to see his new friend every single day.
When Mulder suggested one- on- one and then horse, Bobby had felt wiggy with distaste. He liked to slam around the court, dribbling if necessary, knocking down anyone who didn't get out of his way. He was hopeless at shooting; no matter how hard he hurled the ball against the backboard, it wouldn't go in. His passes were pretty good, he thought, but not many players had the savvy to get themselves in place to catch them.
Then Mulder had proposed the trip to Winthrop, and Bobby had to remind himself of what his therapist said: grown- ups do not jump up and down. Bobby did not jump up and down, but he was very happy. Car trips meant fried food.
Mulder wanted to spend day after day with Bobby, talking about or visiting the medical center, and that was strange. But this "ghost" business, that was stranger.
Bobby's therapist spent about ten minutes of each session drilling him on social interactions, but the rest of the time was devoted to what the therapist called "reality check." He encouraged Bobby to rely on his wife and his mother- in- law for cues about his own behavior. He warned Bobby not to reveal his more bizarre observations, at least not to the wrong people. Telling everyone about Newbold's spirit had been a big mistake, and Bobby was still paying the price for it. Not everyone saw the world the way Bobby did, his therapist said, and those things that Bobby saw differently should be shared only with people he knew wouldn't hurt him, or other people who saw as he did.
At first Bobby thought that Mulder did see the world the way he did. But now he realized that while Mulder knew about the shadowy entities that coexist with the creatures of flesh, he could not actually see them. Only if someone gave the Old Souls a voice could Mulder hear them, unless they were the rare kind that were able to materialize. Mulder stumbled blindly through the world, only dimly aware of the spirits that crossed his path.
"Bobby! Focus! Why does Mr. Lovelace want to talk to me in the operating room?" Mulder asked again.
Bobby didn't know why Mr. Lovelace was using an operating room to conduct his business. But it was just one of so many things that he didn't know. Why did they take away Hassan and Fat Victor? What was the big deal if a woman had to flip down the toilet seat? Why was Mulder so perturbed by the Old Soul in the car, who seemed so nice?
"I don't know," Bobby said. "All I know is I saw him there, and he says he wants to talk to you. You said if I came with you maybe I could get my privileges back. But all you want to do is go to the Peds unit and deliver big bags of meds. You ask me about ghosts but you get all weird when the Old Soul wants to talk to you." Bobby's voice was rising and falling like a siren. "You are a bozo shithead!"
Bobby turned his face away, in case Mulder was going to hit him, but he did not. Bobby decided to take refuge in the staff lounge, which was usually empty and sometimes had cookies. To Bobby's relief, Mulder didn't follow him.
Mulder let him go. The INS guys had cleared out by now, and Bobby seemed to function adequately in this environment. Mulder knew he had to go to the OR, whatever Lovelace was up to.
Scully didn't know which was more irritating, her continuing inability to reach Mulder on his cellular or the unending patter of Cardin and Luskin as they tried to distract her.
"I asked my daughter why she was telling everyone I worked for the GAO," Luskin was saying. "She said, 'Because when I say FBI, they think you do something interesting.'"
"I was a big disappointment at career day myself," Cardin said. "Pat said, 'Why'd you have to tell them you never shot anyone?'"
"Oh, yeah, career day. A kid asked me what was the most exciting thing about working for the Bureau, and I started telling him about the new dental plan," Luskin said.
"I have to look into that," Cardin said. "Pat is definitely going to need braces."
"Oh, are you in for it," Luskin said. "Jenny just got hers off."
"I had to have braces," Cardin said. "I hated them. How about you, Luskin?"
"Never needed braces," Luskin said. "Did you have braces, Scully?"
"Yes, I had braces," she answered. Would they never shut up? She tried again on the cell phone.
Wireless communication inside Chesapeake Medical Center was always problematical. In certain areas of the hospital, like the OR and Radiology, lead shielding made even pagers inoperative. In most other areas, cellular phones would function, but in areas with high activity in electronic monitoring, service was sporadic.
This time the call went through.
"Mulder," Scully said with relief. "Where are you?"
"Chesapeake Medical," Mulder said. "Adam's surgery is canceled for today."
"Good," said Scully. "Mulder, there's something you need to know. There's more going on there than botched surgeries and inflated egos. There's heavy trafficking in illegal aliens."
"Thanks for the tip," Mulder said, "but I figured that out when I saw all those INS agents and buses. They swarmed through here like the black plague."
"Oh, nice image," said Scully. "But Mulder, what I want to tell you is that Donald Lovelace is the ringleader. Apparently he's a very dangerous man." She waited for Mulder to respond. "Mulder? Damnit!" The connection was lost. She didn't know if Mulder had gotten her warning. She redialed, but she could not get through a second time. She tried again, then flipped the phone shut.
"INS raided the hospital," Scully told Luskin and Cardin. "Lovelace must have gotten the aliens placed in jobs there after he brought them in."
"Luskin, take my phone," Cardin said. "Get hold of INS and see what they got. Maybe Lovelace is already in custody." Cardin had never mastered the art of calling and driving. Luskin didn't even have a cell phone. Mercifully, Luskin got down to business. There was no more prattle about orthodontia.
Chesapeake Medical Center was disintegrating before Mulder's eyes. The structure held, but routines were abandoned as surgeries, tests, and procedures were canceled or postponed indefinitely. Patients who could be safely discharged were sent home and patients who were scheduled for admission were advised not to come. Ambulances were diverted to other institutions. Where possible, patients too ill for discharge were transferred elsewhere.
Mulder decided to look in on Adam before going down to the OR to talk to Lovelace. He wouldn't have time for singing or feeding, but it would only take a minute to have a look.
The crib was gone. The baby was gone. The clear fluid that had been infusing through the IV near his collarbone was now dripping slowly onto the floor. Mulder rushed out into the hallway to find someone to tell him where the baby had been taken. He employed his usual method of asking everyone he saw, and finally a woman with a ponytail told him that the baby had been wheeled out by Dr. Newbold himself. She even knew where they were going, because Dr. Newbold had used a hall phone to call for an express elevator and had screamed his head off when he learned he would have to wait. Newbold was taking the baby to the operating room.
All roads lead to the truth, Scully had said. Today all roads lead to the OR. If Mulder had known that the operating room suite was impenetrable by cell phone, he would have tried to give Scully a call before getting in the elevator.
The Crown Victoria was pushing the speed limit now. Nothing had changed, but somehow the occupants of the car had a growing sense of danger. ASAC Cardin glanced from the road to the instrument panel, her attention divided between the speedometer and the gas gauge.
Jerry Luskin had to pee. When he'd loaded up on two big cups of coffee that morning, he hadn't known he'd be serving on a rescue mission to Winthrop, Maryland. And maybe it wouldn't turn out to be a rescue mission- there was no real reason to believe that Mulder was in trouble. He was out of communication, that was all.
The two women in the front seat were locked in serious conversation. Cardin wanted to bring in some more manpower. They didn't know what kind of situation they'd be walking into, and reinforcements couldn't hurt. Scully disagreed. She said there were only a few times you made things better by bringing in more guns, and they didn't know yet if this would be one of them.
This would not be a good time to request a rest stop. Luskin used Cardin's phone to try again to call Mulder. Ironically, the only reason he even knew Mulder's number was from that time when Mulder had gone on a taco run and forgotten to ask Luskin if he wanted anything. The call went through, but the heavy static on the line turned the triumph into a defeat. Luskin could hear just enough to recognize Mulder's voice. Mulder heard nothing but crackles.
"Agent Cardin," Luskin said, "perhaps you could drive faster." Scully turned to give him a smile of misplaced gratitude. Luskin wanted Mulder to be all right, but first on his mind was the bathroom.
Mulder entered the OR suite through the locker room. He passed the booking office and came to the first OR room. Number five. He continued and found room three. There was a glass panel in the door. Staying to the left of the door, he looked through. Newbold was there, talking on a phone against the right wall. Lovelace was there too, and the metal crib, probably with Adam in it. There were other people too, men that Mulder didn't recognize. Armed men. What was going on in there?
He had just drawn his weapon when the doors swung open on the two OR rooms to either side of number three, and Mulder was effectively surrounded. Two men on the right, another two on the left, all carrying weapons. He had checked Room four when he passed it, and it had been empty. But each room had a rear door as well as a front door, and Mulder had walked into a trap.
Outgunned and outnumbered. His natural state, he thought angrily. Maybe he should take up kick- boxing; Jean- Claude Van Damme would have no trouble getting past these guys. And what a sorry- looking bunch they were. They looked tired and sad. One of them wore a maroon- colored scrub suit, one had on tan coveralls, and two were dressed like ice cream men.
"Fellas," he said, flashing what he hoped was an ingratiating smile, "you don't want to shoot me." None of them answered him, but neither did they advance on him. "Let's just put these away." He reholstered his weapon. The others nodded, surrounded him, grabbed him by the arms, and walked him into OR Room three. Lovelace fixed him with a malicious sneer.
"Agent Mulder," he said. "Just what the doctor ordered." Mulder's entourage dragged and shuffled him into a chair. Lovelace took a wide roll of white surgical tape and rolled it across the floor in Mulder's direction.
"Donald, I think my work here is done," John Newbold said. "You have your FBI agent, you have the baby, and you have your? volunteer corps?" He flourished his hand at the gunmen in an ironic salute.
"Shut up, John. I'll still need you to set up that contraption on the baby," Lovelace said. "And I don't suppose you have any knowledge of foreign languages."
"Of course I do," said Newbold. "I'm a Latin scholar."
"I was hoping for something that would bring some clarity to this tower of Babel," Lovelace said. The reluctant gunmen under his command were the illegal aliens who had been overlooked in the INS sweep. Lovelace had assembled them for a suicide mission. Their job was to instigate a shoot- out. He had promised green cards for their families as payment.
"You're making too much of this," Newbold said. He walked up to the man in coveralls and read the name embroidered over his chest. "Iggie," he said, offering his hand. Iggie shook. "Okay, what do you want to tell him?"
"I want to be sure that Agent Mulder will remain seated," Lovelace said. "Use the tape."
"Him. Sit in chair," Newbold told Iggie. "Take tape- - tie to chair."
Mulder was not comforted by the fact that he'd been captured by imbeciles. It only made things more unpredictable and dangerous. He still had his gun, but it wouldn't be very useful to him with his hands taped behind him. And that tape was going to hurt like hell coming off, but maybe he was being too optimistic. He had not looked at the crib. He had a sick feeling that the baby had been brought here to coerce his cooperation
Iggie picked up the tape from the floor. He and Mulder exchanged looks of resignation.
"Donald, why don't we use his handcuffs?" Newbold said.
"Handcuffs, sure," said Lovelace. "The FBI agent was captured by a cadre of radical illegal aliens, and they used his own handcuffs to imprison him. Beautiful!"
Mulder flipped back his jacket so Iggie could find the cuffs more easily. If Iggie had to look for the handcuffs, he would undoubtedly find the gun and possibly the extra key. Of course, Iggie knew he had a gun, Iggie had seen him shove it back in the holster.
"Are you ready for the baby?" Newbold asked, once Mulder's hands were restrained.
"You can get it set up," said Lovelace. "Now I need to pick someone to be me." He walked among the emigrants, evaluating them for stature and bulk. He was counting on a big enough explosion and fire that skin color wouldn't matter. "How about you, big guy? I'll throw in a nice bonus for your wife."
The big guy nodded his consent. He had never expected to live this long; not many people did, in Rwanda.
"Now, you've got to be at ground zero," Lovelace said. "But first, I have some goodies for you." Lovelace gave him a shopping bag of his own clothing. "You put this on, then I'll give you the jewelry and papers."
When the man was dressed, Lovelace led him to the OR table. "Here you go, nice soft place for you to take a rest." The man sat on the edge of the table, then lay down.
"I need another volunteer, someone brave who wants to help his family," Lovelace announced. He selected a short, older man, most likely because he wore a name tag. "You, Sadik," he said, "you stand right here, next to the OR table."
The man stood there, his face blank.
"Now, when they open the door, you take your gun and you shoot at this thing," Lovelace said. The man nodded slowly. Lovelace wanted him to shoot at the anesthesia machine, a device used to deliver concentrated oxygen and other gases, some of them quite volatile
The machine would explode. Everyone in the room would die. The charred and shattered remains of the Rwandan would be identified as Donald Lovelace. Mulder understood all that. The emigrants knew they were doomed. Lovelace had somehow bought their cooperation, most likely by threatening their families. The purpose of this scene was to provide a way for Lovelace to escape judgment.
Why did Adam have to be here? Why couldn't Lovelace let him live until tonight, when his parents would arrive? And what was Newbold doing to him? Newbold and the baby were behind him, and all Mulder knew was that Adam did not sound overly perturbed.
"Come on, Newbold, bring the baby around and explain this device to Agent Mulder," Lovelace said. "Mr. Mulder, the INS agents have gone home for the day. I'll need you to bring them back, or whatever armed police force you prefer. A SWAT team is fine, riot squad, whatever. Call your bigmouth girlfriend and make it happen."
"Sure, give me the phone," said Mulder. "Happy to oblige." Lovelace slapped him across the face, a hard, open- handed slap that started about a yard away and landed with enough momentum to slam Mulder's head around. Lovelace hadn't planned on doing that, but he enjoyed it.
"Now, Mr. Mulder, let's try again," Lovelace said. "You call Agent Scully and convince her to send in some gun- happy team to end this hostage situation. You tell her that my disgruntled aliens are holding me hostage. They're going to kill me. Your reward is this: you can save her life. Convince her not to come in with the SWAT team and she'll live long enough to weep over your lifeless carcass."
"Oh, I don't like that part," said Mulder, finding it difficult to be flippant with his ear ringing and his face pounding.
"Maybe you'll be very lucky," said Lovelace. "Maybe you'll make it out of here. Chesapeake has a pretty good burn unit."
"Something to look forward to," said Mulder. Difficult, but not impossible.
"Here's what happens if you don't succeed. John, why don't you demonstrate," Lovelace said.
Newbold wheeled the crib directly in front of Mulder. Adam was calm and content, his bright gray eyes looking all around him. He reached up when he saw Mulder.
Adam wasn't troubled by the foil- backed pad stuck to his chest, or the one on his back, or the wires that lead from those pads to a defibrillator. Adam was used to having sticky pads on his body.
"Do you know what this is?" Newbold asked. Mulder shook his head, no longer flippant.
"The foil pads are like defibrillator paddles, understand? This device is used for patients prone to dangerous arrhythmias. They can be defibrillated at the touch of a button. Quite a life- saver," Newbold said.
"Now, I'm not going to defibrillate him. That could kill him, and then what would I do? Fortunately, these same pads can be used as an external pacemaker. They can send small electrical impulses. Life- saving for patients who need it, but even then, somewhat uncomfortable. Would you like to see what happens at ten milli- amps?" Newbold was setting the dial.
"Not especially," said Mulder casually. Overall, the baby would suffer least if Mulder could convince these bastards of his own indifference. Newbold turned a dial. Adam's whole chest began to twitch, and his expression turned from attentive and curious to pensive and then to open- mouthed, bawling despair. Newbold turned the machine off, but Adam's sobs continued.
"You are a very bad man," the Rwandan said quietly.
Newbold didn't respond. How could this savage possibly understand the pressures he was under, the forces that drove him?
"Ready now?" asked Lovelace. "Ready to make that phone call?"
"It's a little hard to push the speed- dial button," Mulder said. He was sitting very still. He felt an absolute need to kill these bastards, but they were not going to see him struggling against the handcuffs.
"Your cell phone won't work in here," Newbold said. "Unlock the handcuffs and let him use the wall phone He's not going to run now because he knows what will happen to the baby."
Mulder shrugged his jacket back a little on his shoulders after he was released to make sure that his gun was concealed. Clearly Newbold and Lovelace did not know that he was armed. He walked over to the phone, passing close to the crib but not looking at it. He picked up the telephone receiver and started to key in the number.
"Speaker phone. I want to hear this," Lovelace said.
"No," said Mulder. "This may be the last time I talk to her. No speaker phone, or you can make your own damn call yourself." This could indeed be the last time he would ever speak to Scully. Unless he could make her understand, it probably would be.
"Suit yourself, Spooky. I'm really not interested in your pillow talk anyway. But know this: if she doesn't send in some heavy artillery in the next fifteen minutes, that baby's going to pay," said Lovelace. The banker had indeed done his homework, but his most useful weapon against Mulder had come to him by accident, via Newbold, via the nursing staff. Fox Mulder had a soft spot for the kid.
"How much further?" Luskin asked. He was in his own world now, a world of discomfort and pressure and pain. His bladder was going to burst.
"We're about ten minutes away," Cardin said, "Agent Scully, I'm sorry, but I'll have to stop for gas. Bad planning, I know. I'll make it quick."
Scully nodded. It couldn't be helped, and they still didn't know for sure that Mulder was in trouble. Cardin pulled into a service station, and Luskin was out the door before the car stopped moving. Cardin got out too, to pay for and pump the gas.
Scully flipped open her phone. She and Luskin had been trying to reach Mulder almost nonstop. Instead of trying yet again, Scully placed a call to the Winthrop police. She asked for Sergeant Phil Wallace, the officer who had questioned her regarding the damage found in the OR suite Friday night.
"Wallace," he said in a hoarse singsong.
"Sergeant Wallace, this is Special Agent Dana Scully of the FBI."
"Special indeed. Too special to give us a heads- up about the INS raid at the hospital," Wallace said.
"Sergeant Wallace, I honestly didn't know about the raid until half an hour ago," Scully said. This wasn't starting out well.
"But that's all right. Because there was all that groovy evidence you sent me from the crime scene. All the info and insight you provided," Wallace said. "Oh, yeah, there wasn't any."
Think, Scully, think. What's the best way to turn this guy around?
"Sergeant Wallace, I need the cooperation of the Winthrop Police Department. Is there someone there I can speak with?" Scully asked, trying to sound businesslike but not angry.
"You can talk to me, Agent Scully. Just had to get that out," Wallace said. Sensitive people, these Feds, he thought.
"Agent Mulder may be in danger," Scully began. "I'm requesting backup at the medical center, but I don't want anyone to take action until it's cleared by- " she was about to say "me," but she caught herself- "you."
"Cleared by me?" asked Wallace.
"We'll need to stay in close communication," Scully said.
Scully finished making arrangements as Luskin and then Cardin got back in the car, and they drove on to the hospital.
"You better hope your lady gets off the line soon," said Lovelace. "If you can't get through this time, we're going to have to change our arrangement."
Mulder was thinking, on the one hand, that he had a gun, while Lovelace and Newbold didn't seem to. On the other hand, he was thinking that firing a gun amid all these canisters of potentially explosive gases, in a room where concentrated oxygen was supplied by pipeline, might not be a good plan.
If the line was busy again, Mulder would call Danny at FBI Headquarters and see if he could effect an emergency break- in on Scully's call. But this time the call went through.
"Dana, it's me," he said. That should tell her something.
"Fox, where are you?" She would have to listen carefully. Every word could have a hidden meaning.
"I'm in the operating room. The INS didn't arrest all the illegals. The ones who got away are holding Lovelace hostage in OR Room three."
"How many are there? Do they have weapons?" Scully asked. Probably someone was monitoring this call.
"I can see ten, and yes, they are armed," Mulder said. "Dana, I don't want you coming in with the SWAT team. Promise me, honey."
"Fox, why don't you get out of there yourself. Or are you a hostage too?"
"I'm going to leave in a few minutes," Mulder said. "Let the boys with the big guns come barreling in, that's the best way to handle it."
"You think so?" she asked. Mulder was calling for a SWAT team, and not even mentioning a negotiator. She knew he wouldn't want that, but what exactly did he want?
"Dana, remember last night?" Mulder said.
"I think that's enough for now," said Lovelace, taking the receiver from Mulder and hanging it up. "We'll give her some time to get a SWAT team out here, then you can chat again. You're a lucky man, Agent Mulder, not everyone has a chance to compose his last words."
Adam Krzyzewski, for example, wouldn't have a chance to utter his first.
"May I leave now?" Newbold asked Lovelace. "I can show you how to operate the defibrillator, and I'll leave it set in 'pacemaker' mode for you."
"You and I will leave together, John, when we hear the SWAT team enter the OR suite. That is the final domino in this grand scheme. That defibrillator is your post, John. You know what to do if Agent Mulder needs a reminder about staying in line," Lovelace said.
Mulder might have to let Adam get shocked again, he was thinking. It was a heartbreaking thought, but getting shocked would not be as bad as getting incinerated.
"Agent Mulder, in tonight's performance the role of the famous financier and entrepreneur- - namely me- - will be played by this noble savage. Please tie him onto the operating table," Lovelace said. "I will be inspecting your work, of course."
Lovelace took the gun from the Rwandan and Mulder used the straps on the OR table to tie him in place. They exchanged a look full of feeling. Mulder still thought they might both survive, but he could not and would not communicate that hope.
Lovelace looked around for something he could use to keep Mulder in place. He needed to have Mulder by the telephone, which was fixed to the wall. Now, if someone could move that rack of oxygen tanks over to the wall, he could handcuff Mulder to the rack. Lovelace was willing to take the chance that some of these men would survive, but Mulder and the Rwandan, those two had to die. The O2 tanks were just the thing to help Mulder do his part.
Mulder and Iggie were unable to move the rack of tanks, and even when more men joined the struggle, they had to take the tanks out before they could get the rack to budge. Mulder didn't have to help move the tanks back into their spots, because by then the rack was against the wall next to the phone, and Mulder was handcuffed in place. And damn it to hell, Lovelace had found and removed his weapon and the spare handcuff key.
"Call your honey," Lovelace said. "Let's see if baby Adam has to sizzle again."
Mulder punched in the number. This was it. Do or die, literally.
"Scully," she said, her voice tight with tension.
"Hi," said Mulder. "Dana, did you get that SWAT team out there." His voice was tense too.
"Fox, can they hear me?"
"No, but they'll hear it when the SWAT team gets close," Mulder said. "That's what we need."
"Mulder, do you really want the SWAT team to come in?" Scully asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Okay," she said, "I'm sending them in." She was barely breathing.
"Good. That's good, Dana. They're on their way, right?"
"Yes. You want them to storm the hostages, right?"
"Let's meet in the Gazebo when this is all over," Mulder said.
"The Gazebo? You don't want them to storm the room, do you?"
"Great margaritas at the Gazebo, Dana. Remember what that restaurant means to us?"
"Of course I do," she said, knowing very well that they'd never been to an establishment with that name. But what exactly was he trying to tell her?
"Remember last night, Dana? Remember how you got me to scream?" he asked in a shaky monotone.
Lovelace rolled his eyes derisively, but mostly his attention was elsewhere. He was listening for the sound of combat boots in the corridor outside. Lovelace and Newbold were near the back door, waiting to make their escape.
Scully knew very well how she got him to scream, or more accurately, to roar like a frustrated grizzly. By taking him just to the point of losing control, and stopping cold.
Mulder heard her barking commands at someone on the scene.
"They are to stop once they have reached the door to OR Room three. Do not open the door. Do not storm the room. Do not fire, understand, they must hold their fire," she ordered.
There was activity in the hallway now, not as much noise as Mulder would have expected, but definitely the scuffle of leather soles in the corridor more accustomed to crepe soles and paper shoe covers.
"Exit, stage right," said Lovelace. "Good luck, men, your families will be safe thanks to you. And you will get a chance for revenge against the country that has misused you so badly. As soon as that door opens, you will fire. And Mulder, getting to kill you is the only real consolation in this whole mess."
"See you in hell, you bastard," said Mulder. "And you, Newbold, I bet some of your patients are waiting there for you."
With the two men gone, Mulder was hoping that someone would unlock his cuffs, but the illegals stood like zombies. The boots were coming closer. Some of them aimed their weapons. Iggie did not. He went to the steel crib and peeled the electrode pads off the baby's chest and back. It must have hurt, because Adam started to cry again. Iggie said something soft and soothing in Polish, and then he addressed the room.
"I am not going to shoot," said Iggie. "I cannot save myself, but I do not have to kill."
Mulder had the phone to his ear, and he could hear Scully arguing in a panicked voice.
"You have to get them the message! They are not to shoot! Tell them there's a baby down there!" She had heard Adam's cries through the phone.
"What's going on, Scully?" Mulder asked.
"The radios aren't working," Scully said. "We can't change the orders. Mulder, once someone takes the first shot, this will turn into a firestorm. Can you get out, Mulder? Can you take cover?" She was crying.
"You won't believe this, Scully," Mulder said quietly. "I think my life really is flashing before my eyes."
It was like watching a movie.
A dark- haired boy of nine or ten rode his bike up over the front lawn, then tossed it on its side and ran into the house and into the kitchen. He couldn't wait to tell Grandpa that his advice had worked.
"Coach said he would give me a second chance!" he shouted happily, throwing his arms around his grandfather's waist. "If I don't say any bad words in practice this week, I can play in the game."
"I'm very proud of you, Fox. You handled this all by yourself," said the grandfather, hugging the boy affectionately. He had not always been a model father, and his strained relationship with his own son made these visits awkward, but moments like this made him glad to endure the chilliness.
"It would have been easier if you would have talked to him for me," the boy said, releasing his hold and starting to haul himself up on top of one of the kitchen counters.
"What in the world are you doing?" asked the sexagenarian. The boy was standing on the counter now and reaching up to get a glass. Who had arranged the cupboards like this, with the tumblers so far out of reach?
"I'm thirsty, Grandpa," the boy explained, jumping down and taking his glass to the sink. "I'm not allowed to put my mouth on the faucet or drink from my hands."
"I can help you with that, Fox. I'm proud of you when you're independent, but I always want to be there for you when things are over your head."
Robert Zurago sat in a corner in the staff lounge. There was a big tin of Danish butter cookies and Bobby was eating the pretzel- shaped ones. He seemed to be talking to himself, but no one in the hospital had time to sit in the lounge and observe his behavior.
"Both hands. Two black hands now. Does it hurt?"
A pause. Then Bobby spoke again.
"But no one else can stop him. And you're the one getting hurt."
"You'll be dead forever. I saw the Old Soul again. You'll never get to be an Old Soul. You have to do something." He bobbed his head emphatically. "Find a way."
Phil Wallace had never led a SWAT team before. And they really weren't a SWAT team, they were a dozen small- town cops in flak jackets. The riot gear had been purchased for them by the Winthrop Bank in a gesture of good corporate citizenship, and Phil had thought at the time that it was a waste of money. He figured that if they ever needed to launch an assault, they would call in the FBI. Funny how things work out.
So here he was, about to lead a charge into Chesapeake Medical Center, Winthrop, Maryland's largest employer, in order to rescue Winthrop's most prominent citizen. Donald Lovelace was practically royalty around here. This could be a beautiful thing for Phil's career. Maybe they'd feature him on COPS.
The lieutenant had asked for frequent check- ins, and Phil was giving them. The radio didn't work in the elevator, but once Phil and the guys got out, they were yakking away again.
"Okay, Bert, we're just at the door," he reported. They were using the same door Mulder had, leading in through the locker room. As they entered the locker room, the radio transmissions turned crackly with static. Phil couldn't make out a word the lieutenant was saying.
"Bert, it's no good," he shouted into the radio. "Call me on the cell phone, okay?" Maybe Bert didn't hear him, or maybe Bert thought that would look too yuppie. Either way, no call came in.
"Okay, guys, I guess we're on our own," Phil said. "Let's do it." He and the others flipped down the Lucite visors on their helmets and proceeded through the locker room and out into the OR corridor. They shuffled along in their stiff, laced boots, peering into the rooms they passed, straining to hear any sound.
"It seems awfully quiet," one of the cops said.
"Proceed with caution," Phil answered, and one of his comrades chuckled at the cliché. They crept along, and as they approached OR number three, they grew ever more focused on the danger of their situation. Phil tried to raise his lieutenant on the radio again, without luck, and then he asked Harvey to try on the cell phone. If there was any chance to avoid this confrontation, Phil wanted to know about it. But Harvey couldn't get his phone to work at all.
"I guess this is it," Phil said. "I'll go in first- it's only right. I want you to know that I am very proud to have worked with all of you." Suddenly there was so much to say.
"Same here, man," said one of his men. "If anything happens to you, and I get out okay, I'm going to do my best to see about your family. That goes for all of you." There were murmurs of agreement from the others.
Then came a sound from the operating room, the sound of a baby crying.
"What the hell?" asked Phil. He felt something vibrating. His pager. How strange. It was a cheap model, a piece of junk, really, and yet it was working here where the walkie- talkie and the cellular phones had failed. He pulled it out to read the message.
CANCEL ASSAULT. GO BACK. MMULDER.
"Thank God," Phil whispered. "It's over, guys. Let's go back out and find out what's going on."
The retreat was orderly. They would not celebrate until they were safely outside and knew what had happened. They were silent as they walked through the locker room, but as Phil Wallace reached the door, it occurred to him that this was where the static had started and he'd probably be able to radio the lieutenant in another few feet. He paused to pull his transceiver off his belt.
Luckily the radio stuck and Phil stood in place jiggling it loose. When the locker room door came flying open, it missed him by a good half an inch.
"Stop! Don't go into Room three!" Scully shouted frantically. Unable to reach Phil and the team by radio and cellular phone, she had raced in herself to halt the assault. She held her credentials in one hand and her gun in the other. She'd needed both to get past the various officers securing the area from unauthorized personnel. With both hands occupied, she'd had to kick the door open.
"Watch where you're going," said Phil testily. "We got Mulder's message and we're coming out. Sheesh!"
"What message?" asked Scully. "What happened? Sergeant, what's going on?"
He told her about his beeper and the message not to take over the operating room.
"Signed it M. Mulder," Phil said. "That's your partner, right? The guy we're rescuing?"
"Scully! Scully!" Her phone was dead or something. Mulder didn't know exactly when they'd lost contact, but he'd been standing here dreaming about his grandfather when he could have been saying good- bye to Scully.
He was handcuffed to a rack of oxygen tanks in a room that would become an inferno as soon as the door opened. The SWAT team would hear the first shot and start firing. The anesthesia gases would explode, showering the room in debris. The oxygen tanks would rupture, turning into missiles, and they too would explode in great bursts of shrapnel. If he was lucky he would be killed by a shard of metal or crushed by one of the big green tanks in its wild flight. He did not want to suffocate in the smoke or roast alive in the flames.
Snap out of it, Fox. You don't have to die.
I don't have to die.
"We don't have to die," Mulder said. "Listen to me. We can get out of this."
"You are wrong," said Iggie. "We must die. That is how we make payment. That is how are families will get green cards." Iggie had the baby in his arms.
"We must die, yes, but he does not have to die," said the Rwandan. "Let him go, Ignatius."
Iggie looked at the armed and somber men around him. No one voiced an objection. He took the key from his pocket and unlocked Mulder's handcuffs.
"You will take the baby," he said to Mulder.
"We can all get out," said Mulder, his voice taking on the rough whine he got when his convictions were greater than his ability to communicate them. "You're dying for nothing. Lovelace isn't going to save your families; he doesn't even know your names."
"A bonus for my wife, he told me. But he did not ask me her name. The man is right," said the Rwandan. "This is for nothing."
"Then it is for nothing," said a short, white, mustached man wearing a disposable white jumpsuit over his khaki clothes. "But when they come in shooting, I will shoot back. I will defend myself."
"But if they don't?" asked Mulder. "If they don't fire the first shot?"
"I will not shoot first," said the Iraqi.
Iggie put Adam back in the crib and unlocked Mulder's handcuffs. Mulder took the key from him and pocketed it with the cuffs.
"What about the rest of you?" Mulder asked. "I can get you out alive if you agree not to shoot." One by one the men nodded their agreement.
When Phil Wallace and his team exited the locker room, they were finally free of the communication vacuum that existed in the entire operating room suite. Wallace radioed for instructions, and the order to retreat was confirmed.
"Go back outside," Scully told Wallace, as she herself headed back into the locker room.
"Don't go in there," Wallace said. "You're not thinking straight." Scully wasn't planning to enter Room three, her idea was to use the phone in the booking office to call into the room. But before she could explain, the door opened and Mulder emerged.
"Here," he said, passing the baby to one of the cops who looked like he might know how to hold one.
"Mulder!" Scully said. She hugged him, her face against his chest. He was alive. He was unhurt.
He put his arms around her a little woodenly, but he addressed Phil Wallace, talking right over Scully's head.
"Does INS have someone on the scene yet?" he asked. "I'm going to get the aliens out, but I want someone to work with them. They deserve a break. This wasn't what it looked like."
Mulder spent the next two hours with the Winthrop police and the INS officers, explaining the situation. He would be a key witness against Lovelace, assuming the man was apprehended. The INS agents had taken over a waiting area in the lobby to conduct their business, and the local police were mainly working outside, in front of the building. Jerry Luskin found himself an unoccupied desk in the admitting office, where he took on the considerable burden of handling the paperwork the Bureau would require. Alice Cardin essentially forced her way into the office of the hospital administrator, who emerged forty minutes later to announce his resignation.
Scully stuck with Mulder long enough to get a rough idea of what had happened, then went to check on Adam's situation. When she learned that the Helping and Healing Committee held the legal right to make decisions about his medical care, she called in Child Protective Services to terminate that right immediately. She also called the administrator's office, and found herself on the line with ASAC Cardin. Scully wanted to guarantee that Adam's family would be met at the airport and provided with an interpreter. Cardin made a note of it; it was the kind of detail that could easily be overlooked with hell breaking loose all over the hospital.
Adam was connected to a big machine when Scully went into his room. One long tube carried blood from his body to the machine, and another brought cleansed blood back into this body. The baby's eyes were open, but he lay very still.
"Did you sedate him?" Scully asked the nurse regulating the dialysis machine.
"No. I'd be afraid to, with his blood pressure so low," said the nurse. "Anyway, I didn't need to."
Scully remembered that Rose Tarses, the woman she'd seen in the morgue with the shriveled, black hand, was also dependent on hemodialysis. She asked the dialysis nurse if she knew Mrs. Tarses
"Yeah, I did her," the nurse said. "Newbold sends us a lot of business."
Adam was listless and hypotensive, with still a couple of hours to go on his dialysis, but he was probably stable for now. His family was expected to arrive that evening. Scully went back downstairs to join the mainstream of activity.
She found Mulder slouched in one of the uncomfortable waiting room chairs, with Sergeant Phil Wallace glowering at him and Agent Luskin talking to Wallace, trying to placate the ruffled police officer.
"I was doing him a favor," Wallace complained to Luskin.
"I know you were. We appreciate it," Luskin said. "He apologized."
"Some apology," grumbled Wallace, glaring at Mulder once more before moving off to more compelling business.
"Some favor," said Mulder under his breath.
Luskin noticed Scully before Mulder did.
"Lovelace has been captured," Luskin told her. "Wallace caught him trying to drive out of the parking garage and arrested him. They're taking him downtown."
"That's good," said Scully. "He was preparing to adopt a new identity. We might never have caught him if he'd gotten through the gate."
"Tell her the rest," said Mulder angrily.
"Please inform Agent Scully of all pertinent information yourself," said Luskin. "I'll be in the admitting office, if you need me, extension thirty- eight thirty." Luskin retreated eagerly.
Scully sat down next to Mulder.
She's not going to say a word, thought Mulder. She's going to sit there until I tell her.
"Lovelace took my gun," he said. "Wallace gave it back to me. All very informal and friendly. 'Here's your gun, pal.' This could really screw up the case against Lovelace."
It could be a serious error. The INS case against Lovelace might be weak or strong, but it was sure to be a complicated one, with much of Lovelace's dirty work done by others. The case against Lovelace for taking hostages and threatening a Federal agent was straightforward and virtually airtight, until Wallace tainted it by failing to collect the gun properly.
Mulder's anger went beyond that, though. Wallace hadn't thought it through, but his act had been well- intentioned. He wanted to save Mulder the hassle and embarrassment that went with having someone lift your weapon.
Why do I even carry a gun? Mulder asked himself. I had a gun and I couldn't protect Adam, I couldn't escape, I couldn't do anything. All I ever do with that gun is lose it.
"Sergeant Wallace did that?" Scully asked. "Just gave it back? He's an idiot." She knew there had to be a little more to it than that. Wallace was a seasoned cop and he knew better. Whatever shortcut he'd taken, though, to get the gun back to Mulder without fully processing it, could be the flaw that would break their case.
"Do me a favor, Scully. Don't patronize me," Mulder said.
Most of the Winthrop cops had left the scene, and INS was also packing it in. As soon as ASAC Cardin was finished, the FBI agents would be able to leave as well. When Scully saw Cardin stepping out of the elevator, she thought their work here was done. Scully was thinking that she would ride back with Mulder. It wouldn't be a fun trip, but maybe Mulder would want to talk.
When Robert Zurago raced into the lobby, breathless and agitated, Scully remembered, for the first time in hours, that Mulder had driven him here.
Bobby ran to Mulder and started pulling on his arm.
"I did it. I did what you said," Bobby told him. "Come and see. He's in the emergency room. Newbold. I did it."
"What do you think I told you to do, you freak?" Mulder shouted. "What did you do?" Mulder had made it his business to bring a mental cripple into the case, and he was morally responsible for him. Probably legally responsible as well.
Bobby squinted at Mulder, shrugged philosophically, and turned to Scully.
"Come and see," he said.
"Go ahead, Agent Scully," Cardin said. "We'll wait here." Cardin had "borrowed" Mulder for the week, adding him to her team investigating possible insurance fraud at Chesapeake Medical Center, but she barely knew him. By reputation, she knew, he was a flake and worse. Cardin was not prepared to pass judgment just yet.
Mulder couldn't remember saying anything that Bobby could have interpreted as a suggestion to attack Newbold. Bobby was awfully weird, though. And when Newbold had turned on that machine, making Adam cry and twitch, Mulder himself was ready to kill him.
Yeah, tough guy, you would have killed him, Mulder thought bitterly. But you were sitting there with your own goddamn handcuffs around your wrists. Why don't you throw those away too?
"Agent Cardin, Mulder did not tell Robert Zurago to hurt Newbold," Scully said. "I can assure you of that."
"I did not mean to imply that he had," Cardin said wearily. "Both of you go, if that's what you want. Just settle things here so we can leave."
"Scully, would you mind taking care of this for me? Wallace can back you up." Mulder said. He felt powerless and incompetent, barely in control of himself, and he didn't want to deal with John Newbold now. Scully looked at him with what he interpreted as pity and went with Bobby. Mulder leaned back in his chair.
To Mulder's relief, Cardin made no attempt at small talk.
Bobby was skipping ahead, then running back to tug on her hand. Sort of like Lassie, Scully thought. She gave up on keeping pace with Bobby; she could do it but it wasn't necessary. She kept him in sight but followed at a distance, her mind almost entirely on Mulder.
He had a lot to work through. The overwhelming helplessness of being a hostage, of being forced to bend to the will of someone else's evil intentions, Scully knew that feeling. She knew the rage and even self- loathing that usually followed. She knew how it felt when any move you made could save your life or end it. And all those feelings were magnified when the lives of others were also at stake.
Mulder would have to live with those feelings. They would submerge him, and recede, and then submerge him again. The passage of time was your biggest ally in the painful process. Tomorrow would hurt a little less.
Scully would give him time because he would need it. Some time to work this through. But she would be watching.
Watching, like she should have watched Bobby. She'd lost him, but here was the emergency department, anyway. Ignoring the sign on the door that prohibited visitors, Scully entered the room labeled "Shock/Trauma." This would be where patients with life- threatening illness and injury were treated.
Since this morning, ambulances had been routing emergency cases to other hospitals, and there was only one patient here, an overweight young woman who was vomiting into a basin. The staff that was gathered around her seemed far from stressed, and Scully was about to ask if anyone knew where Newbold was. Before she could do so, Bobby reappeared at her elbow.
"Where's Newbold?" she asked him, but Bobby was eyeing the emergency patient greedily.
"Gall bladder," he said. "Cholecystectomy. Maybe I can do it! I did what Mulder said, maybe they'll let me operate."
"Robert! Where is Newbold?" Scully asked again. Lassie would have been so much more helpful.
Bobby flashed her a look of resentment. She was as bad as his friend Mulder. She really didn't care about his problems.
"Exam room four," Bobby said, reluctantly turning his back on the object of his desire.
Newbold was sitting on the examination table in room four, looking dapper and cheerful. Sergeant Wallace was seated in a chair that was tilted back against the wall. Newbold sported a set of handcuffs, and he held up his hands to display them to Scully.
"Extraordinary, isn't it?" he asked her. "It seems to be a particularly virulent form of Raynaud's phenomenon, wouldn't you say?"
"I beg your pardon?" Scully asked.
"Notice the blanching here at the wrist, with the discoloration increasing distally. My fingers are black, and yet both radial and ulnar pulses are palpable," Newbold said. "I shan't be practicing surgery until this condition is resolved. Fortunately I still have my writing and teaching."
"Is there something wrong with your hands?" Scully asked him.
"Your kindness is misguided," Newbold said with a smile. "I am a man of science; I'm not self- conscious in the least. And my physician"- - he nodded toward Sergeant Wallace- "believes this device may have some therapeutic value." He jingled the handcuffs.
Wallace rocked his chair forward and looked up at Scully.
"I'm just waiting for Rod Serling to walk in," he said.
Scully brought Bobby back to the lobby. Mulder hadn't moved from the chair. Bobby tried one last time to get Mulder to acknowledge his accomplishment.
"I did it. I got his spirit to make him stop," Bobby said. Scully filled in enough details that Mulder understood.
"You convinced Newbold's spirit to go back to him," Mulder said. "How did you do it?"
"Spirit's can't kill. Shouldn't kill, anyhow. Don't need to kill to make him stop. That's what I told him. Just get his hands." Bobby nodded to himself.
Cardin and Luskin were ready to go, but Scully wanted a chance to talk to Mulder first. She sat down next to him and leaned in.
"I know what you're going to say," Mulder began. "I'm not shutting you out."
"I know that," Scully said softly. "You're shutting everything out."
"Just for a while," Mulder said. "I want to get all the work done, everything that has to be taken care of, all the stuff with the local cops and the INS, and I guess the Bureau too."
"Can you just tell me what's going on?" she asked gently. A bizarre fact of life for Scully and Mulder was that Scully was very familiar with the manner in which Mulder faced death. The close call he'd just been through was not enough to explain his withdrawal.
"I need some time," said Mulder. So much of this was about baby Adam. How could he talk to Scully about that?
"And then?" Scully asked. Mulder didn't answer. "I'll give you some time, Mulder. I'll give you forty- eight hours." She wanted to kiss him, but she couldn't. Not here.
Scully had Cardin and Luskin drive back to the Hoover Building with Mulder, who sat in the back, contributing nothing to their involved discussion of turf builders and crab- grass killers. Scully took Mulder's car to drive Bobby home, then returned to Headquarters herself.
Mulder remained quiet and preoccupied for much of the week, even though he was widely regarded as the hero of the day. Every morning he called the hospital to check on Adam.
Jerry Luskin could have gotten a lot of mileage out of the story of his adventure in Maryland. He was a great raconteur, and his normal duties gave him very little material. But with Mulder so unhappy and distracted, Luskin had to cool it on the story- telling.
"Just one thing I want to know," Luskin asked him. "How the heck did you send those messages?"
Besides the first message to Sergeant Phil Wallace's pager, telling him to cancel the assault on the OR, there was a second message, warning about Lovelace. Wallace's pager had told him to wait for Donald Lovelace by the parking garage exit and to detain him. Both messages were signed MMULDER.
Mulder had denied sending the messages at least twenty times, but now he just shrugged at Jerry's question.
"And what's with the two M's? M. Mulder?" Luskin asked.
"Maybe I'm French," Mulder said. "Maybe I stutter."
On Wednesday, Scully had disappeared for the afternoon, and when Mulder got home that night, she was waiting for him.
"I gave you some time to yourself, Mulder. Now it's time for us to work together."
There was a new mattress for the waterbed, a waveless one. Scully pretended to know nothing about it. Mulder barely reacted to her presence or her bold act of refurnishing, but he slept soundly that night, curled against her, grabbing her jealously any time she'd shift away from him in her sleep.
Mulder woke up early Thursday morning, but he didn't feel like running. He lay in bed until seven. Scully made breakfast, which he ate without appetite. He was schedule to give a deposition before a Federal judge this morning; Justice Department attorneys needed Mulder's testimony that Lovelace was indeed likely to take flight if released before his trial. Lovelace's lawyers, of course, were pontificating about his years of public service and his many ties to the community.
Lovelace was held without bail, but Mulder seemed to feel no triumph or relief.
Friday morning, Mulder called the hospital from work to find out about Adam. Then inexplicably he called again around noon.
"He's gone, Mr. Mulder," the nurse told him. After everything that had happened, she'd been giving him status reports without challenging his right to the information. "He passed away around ten o'clock. Right in his mother's arms. It was peaceful, Mr. Mulder."
"Thanks," he said. Scully had told him the baby's condition was hopeless, but he had not been able to reconcile that prognosis with the responsive, wide- eyed child he'd held in his arms. He turned around to tell Scully and found that she was watching him. "That Polish baby died this morning," he said. Scully got up to stand by his side.
"I'm sorry, Mulder, I'm so sorry. Let's get out of here. It's lunch time anyway," she said.
"I'm not hungry," Mulder said. "You go ahead, I think I'll just keep plugging away on these background checks."
"Come with me," she said. "We'll take a walk." He shrugged, signed off on his terminal, and went along.
At the doorway, Scully turned to address the bullpen.
"Fieldwork," she announced. That meant she and Mulder would probably be gone for the whole afternoon. There were a few cheers, because the price for fieldwork was a couple of large "everything" pizzas. But the cheering was subdued, because everyone had noticed that something was up with Mulder.
Mulder wondered without much caring where Scully was planning to take him, and when they passed AD Kersh on their way out to the garage, he listened to see how she would cover for them. She and Kersh just nodded at each other. Mulder and Scully were technically still "on loan" to the Medical Insurance Fraud division, and by the rules of internal accounting, Kersh was making money on them this week. He didn't give a half- hoot what they were doing.
"Any place you want to go?" Scully asked when Mulder got in her car. He shook his head, as she knew he would.
"We'll go to the gym," she said. She knew Mulder wasn't interested in running or swimming, but he would feel much better if he did. At the health club she gave him a shove toward the locker room, and when he came out in shorts, she followed his lead and got changed herself.
Mulder dragged himself around the track, letting Scully lap him. This wasn't going to work. Scully knew him; he was not going to break out of this funk without breaking a sweat.
"Now that you've warmed up, let's shoot some hoops," Scully suggested.
"Scully, I appreciate what you're trying to do," Mulder said. "I'm fine, really. I'm just not in the mood to play."
"Okay, homeboy, just spectate. Maybe you'll learn something," Scully said.
Scully wasn't much of a b- ball player. She was killer at lacrosse, for what that was worth. Anyway, she clowned around on the court, trying to look the part. She thought Mulder would feel compelled to offer some instruction but he just sat on the sideline. He wasn't even laughing at her. Scully tried a move she'd seen Mulder do, a behind- the- back- dribble that turned out to be a lot harder than it looked. The ball escaped her and rolled over to Mulder.
"Little help?" she asked. If she could just get Mulder to touch the ball...
It worked. He passed the ball back to her, and then he was on the court. He played like a robot, mechanical but accurate. Scully spent about five minutes chasing and returning his rebounds, and then she'd had enough. As Mulder trudged toward the basket, Scully scooted in and lifted the ball from him with the finesse of a pickpocket. Shooting fast, mostly by luck, she sank it.
"Very nice," Mulder said.
That was not the reaction Scully had hoped for. Using thumb and index finger she formed the letter L and tapped it to her forehead.
L for loser.
Mulder had used this sign so many times himself. It was a serious affront, a challenge that couldn't be ignored. Of course Scully wouldn't know that, she was just copying something she'd seen somewhere. It was cute, really. He would ignore the challenge.
"Looooser." Scully was mugging at him, still saluting him with the letter L tapped against her head. She took the ball out to the top of the key. "Ready?" she asked.
It seemed she did understand. Mulder was getting that visceral reaction he always got from that particular taunt. Scully was holding the ball, waiting for his reply.
"Ready, loser?" she asked again.
"Cough it up!" Mulder said, and she tossed him the ball. He could have taken the shot where he stood, no doubt he should have, but he tried to bring it in a little closer. Scully was all over the place, probably imitating some gadfly of a guard she'd seen on TV. She was making him work, and he had to pivot, fake, and shoot a fade- away jumper to break away from her. He sailed the ball toward the hoop, a long, arcing shot that banked obligingly off the backboard and into the basket.
"Lucky," said Scully. She tossed him the ball and Mulder passed it back when she turned to face him. Scully wanted to run it in again and score, the way she had when she'd stolen the ball, but Mulder was playing for real now. She tried to get around him but Mulder had her so boxed in that she could hardly find the space to turn. Then the ball hit her foot and rolled away. She dived for it and found herself on the floor.
"Sculleee," Mulder called.
She looked up.
Mulder had the ball.
"Loo- oo- oo- ooser!" He brandished the "L" sign and pranced around her, wiggling his cute little butt at her. Only it didn't seem so cute just now. Scully vowed she'd find a way to get him out on a lacrosse field some day.
They played in earnest for a while. Scully took a pounding in terms or score, but her real goal was to keep Mulder working and running, and she succeeded at that. Then Mulder started passing to her, and they were playing some kind of scoreless, noncompetitive version of the game against imaginary opponents. Mulder was all over the court, calling for the ball, or calling for Scully to take a pass, running, driving, shooting, and finally sweating.
Scully didn't want to break up the game, but she was parched and she was sure Mulder would also benefit from rehydration. He kept playing while she went to get them some water, and when she handed him the sports bottle, he unscrewed the squirt nozzle and chugged down almost half of it.
"Let's go sit down," he said when he'd finished drinking.
"Okay," Scully said. They left the basketball court and took a table at the overly precious juice bar where Scully had bought the overpriced bottled water.
"He hurt the baby," Mulder said at last. "You know about that. He used a defibrillator to hurt the baby. He did it on purpose to get to me."
"I know, sweetheart," Scully said.
"I did everything I could to keep you away from that baby, Scully. I should have been protecting the baby from me." He had his forearms on the table and he was hunched forward.
"You wanted to comfort the baby," Scully said.
"I wasn't much comfort, was I?" Mulder asked.
If Scully had disagreed, Mulder would have argued with her.
"Probably not. The baby was much too young to care," she said.
"That's not true," said Mulder. "He cared. He stopped crying. He..." Mulder looked a little embarrassed. "He liked my singing. He pulled my hair."
"Oh," said Scully. "Imagine that."
"You know, they don't weigh much, but they do get heavy after a while," Mulder said.
"Scully, I don't understand. He didn't seem that sick."
"But he was, Mulder. He was being poisoned from the inside because he couldn't metabolize normally. Dialysis helped, but only a little, and it made his blood pressure too low," Scully said. "You know what I think?"
Mulder looked up, inviting her to continue.
"I think he 'rallied.' Sometimes very ill patients will improve dramatically for a little while, shortly before they die. I think you helped Adam hold on long enough to see his mother again," Scully said.
Mulder was thinking about Emily. He knew that Scully was thinking about Emily as well.
"A child dying. A child like that, who was born to die. There is no way for that to make sense," Mulder said.
"If this is the only life we have, then it doesn't make sense," Scully said.
They were approaching one of the few areas that they couldn't discuss freely. Mulder thought Scully's faith was a defense mechanism, something to help her deal with the existential emptiness of an indifferent universe. He believed it was naïve and irrational, but he had no wish to undermine it. He didn't answer her.
Scully knew more about faith than Mulder did. Faith was not just belief, not an idea that could be proved or refuted. Faith was the decision to believe, the act of believing.
"You know, Mulder, I drove Bobby Zurago back from Winthrop on Monday. I was in the car with him for two hours," Scully said.
"You'll get no sympathy from me," Mulder said. "I had to listen to Cardin and Luskin argue about grubs and aphids."
"He talked a lot about Old Souls and Young Souls. Did he tell you about them?" Scully asked.
"He may have mentioned them," Mulder said. "He did talk about spirits." He started to peel the label off his water bottle.
"They are spirits, the way I understand it," Scully said. "Young Souls are the spirits of the living. Most of the time they stay with their bodies. Old Souls are the spirits of the dead. Bobby can see them."
"Scully, I'm convinced that Bobby has some unusual talents, including the ability to see and communicate with disembodied spirits," Mulder said, "but I doubt very much that he can communicate with the dead."
"He told me about Marty," Scully said.
"Yes, he put on quite a show," Mulder said. He no longer believed he had really been in contact with his grandfather. Bobby seemed to have some telepathic ability that let him use Mulder's own memories to flesh out the character he impersonated.
"You think it was a trick?" Scully asked.
"It had to be, Scully. I think Bobby was able to link with me in some way, and he used my memories to provide detail. It's a great act, or maybe Bobby really believes he's got a WATS line to the afterlife," Mulder said.
"Mulder, help me understand. You believe in past lives, you believe in disembodied spirits, you believe in genetic memory, and you believe in ghosts. Why don't you believe this?" The health club was blissfully empty for a week- day lunch hour, but Scully found herself leaning in toward Mulder and whispering. Mulder didn't seem upset, but he was starting to fidget.
"Come on," he said, getting up from the chair. "I want to shoot some more."
Back on the court he planted himself by the foul line. Ever accommodating, Scully positioned herself near the basket to return the ball. Mulder would bounce and shoot, and Scully would grab the rebound and send it back to him. He truly was phenomenal, she noted. As good as he thought he was.
"Scully, you really think it was him? You think he was communicating through Bobby?" Mulder asked. It was hard to hear him over the sounds of the ball, but at least he was talking.
"I talked to him myself, Mulder," Scully said, knowing Mulder would be annoyed about that.
"Damn it," he said. "I warned him not to mess with you." At least Bobby hadn't turned into Scully's sister or father- - Mulder would have broken his arm as promised. "What did he have to say?"
Bobby could access Mulder's memories when the two of them were confined in a small space, Mulder decided, but he probably couldn't do it when they were miles apart. But he wouldn't need as much detail to convince Scully he was Marty's ghost. Scully had never known Marty to begin with.
"He said he was being drawn back out of this realm, back to his own," Scully said. Mulder nodded knowingly. Any new- age phony could have written this stuff. "It was as if he felt an overwhelming need to talk about you."
"What did he tell you about me?" Mulder asked. Undoubtedly she'd report a load of lofty clichés, maybe something about hating phonies or caring about the poor.
"You wouldn't drink your milk unless it was ice cold," she said. Mulder didn't answer her, but his look of amusement told her he was far from convinced. Warm milk even smells funny; no kid would drink it.
"You played with Hot Wheels," she said.
"Amazing," Mulder said wryly.
Scully was thinking back for something to add. Bobby- - or Marty- - had told her a great many things that Mulder didn't need to think about just now. She was trying to think of something pleasant, or at least neutral.
"The trucks," she said. "Mostly you liked the trucks."
"Okay, I liked Hot Wheel trucks," Mulder said.
"You liked to make them crash," she said.
"Of course I did," said Mulder. "Didn't you? Or your brothers, then?"
Yes, the Scully boys were big on that too. Sometimes they'd steal the caps from Dana's guns to make the crashes more exciting.
"You liked to take them outside and bury them in the yard," Scully said.
"Scully, every kid does that," Mulder said, but Scully was shaking her head. She couldn't think of a reason in the world to bury your trucks out in the yard. Marty Mulder had never figured that one out either.
"Mulder, it comes down to this. He talked for almost an hour, and mostly he talked about you. I don't know how much you want to hear. One way or another, it's going to be up to you if you want to believe or if you don't," Scully said.
"What about those messages, Scully, the messages to Sergeant Wallace's pager. You think Marty's ghost sent them," Mulder challenged her. The ball skimmed the rim of the basket and obediently dropped in.
"I'm waiting to hear your explanation," Scully said. She caught the ball and this time she held on to it.
"I don't have one," Mulder said, "but I know it was not my grandfather."
"You just know?" Scully asked. Mulder was waiting for the ball, but she wasn't going to give it to him until he explained.
"My grandfather wasn't like that," Mulder said. "He wanted me to fight my own battles. He used to tell me, don't cry about the cards, just play the hand." Scully tossed him the ball.
"Do you really think he would let you get killed when he had a way to help you?" Scully asked as he took his shot.
"Anyone can win with good cards. The art of life is knowing how to play a bad hand," Mulder quoted.
Mulder was saying that his grandfather would let him get killed before he would break his own rules about self- sufficiency. How could he believe that? Scully wondered. It was illogical and it didn't jibe at all with the warmth and concern that Marty's spirit had displayed.
"Does that make sense to you, Mulder? Do you believe he was so fixated on making you fend for yourself that he would let you get killed?" Mulder couldn't believe that, she decided. But many years ago, a young boy named Fox might have thought so.
Scully passed him the ball. She would let him keep shooting; he would need the comfort.
"Mulder, he loved you," Scully said.
"I know, Scully. But you don't understand," Mulder said. As he said it he knew that Scully would not be satisfied until he elaborated. He felt a flutter of relief when she threw the ball back without a word.
"We were very close, okay?" Mulder started. "He was a salesman, and he traveled a lot. I never knew when he was going to come by, but it was always great when he did."
With Mulder mumbling and bouncing the ball, Scully practically had to read his lips.
"But when I grew up, it got more strained between us. I disappointed him a lot. He thought I was a screw- up. I think things were starting to get better near the end," Mulder said.
"But then he died," Scully said.
"Well," said Mulder brusquely, "that's what people do."
"He didn't think you were a screw- up, Mulder. He was afraid for you," Scully said. Marty's reminisces had been quite specific. Scully wondered if Mulder was aware just how much his grandfather had known about his adolescent activities. Marty had watched his own son struggle with a drinking problem and he was horrified when his grandson started playing around with intoxicants. "That's why he was so rough."
"I know," said Mulder. Then he smiled a little. "Scully, what did he think of you?" he asked. His grandfather had despised most of his girlfriends.
"It didn't come up, Mulder, he wanted to talk about you," Scully said. "What are you laughing about?"
"He told me any woman who would sleep with me was a pervert," Mulder said.
In fact, Marty had reported the conversation as well. He'd regretted his choice of words to the end of his life.
"He was right, Mulder. You were fifteen!" Scully said indignantly. She'd really been upset by the story of Mulder's "affair" with Mrs. Hardy. She'd even done a background check; Mr. and Mrs. Hardy were still married, currently living in Framingham, Massachusetts. "And she paid you!"
"Scully! She didn't pay me for that, she paid me to cut the grass," Mulder said.
"Oh," she said. "I think Marty would feel better if he knew that." Or maybe not, it was a subtle distinction, in a way.
"You didn't answer my question," Mulder said. "Do you think Marty sent the pager messages?" Now Mulder was holding on to the ball, waiting for her reply.
"Yes. I don't know how, but I think he did," Scully said.
Mulder dribbled up to the basket, darting at Scully until she took the cue and started to block him. He hooked the ball into the basket left- handed, then took Scully in his arms, pressing her against his chest, swaying with her a little.
"Let's go home," he said. "I'm starving."
The pizza didn't go to waste after all. Mulder had brought it over last Friday, and two slices had been disposed of on Saturday morning. Scully had wrapped it up and put it in the freezer Monday night. Now it was Friday again, and once more Scully and Mulder were waiving the Friday rule. Mulder had said he was starving, but they'd ended up in Scully's bedroom, not the kitchen.
Nobody wanted to play Feisty Captive. Being a real captive ruins the game for a couple of months. For a while they just held each other, and when the heat between them grew, it grew gradually; not a conflagration but a nice, contained fire suitable for a domestic hearth.
Afterwards they lay in bed, weighing the slothlike comfort they felt against the need to finally get some food.
"I'll bring you something," Scully said. Getting out of bed, she took Mulder's white shirt off the chair to wear into the kitchen. She came back with the left- over pizza and a couple of cans of iced tea.
"Scully, what do you think about my holistic approach now?" Mulder asked. Scully was waiting for the molten pizza to cool, but Mulder had finished his slice in about four bites.
"What can I say, Mulder, it seems that everything really is interconnected," Scully answered. If Alice Cardin hadn't asked Scully to help investigate the medical center, Mulder wouldn't have been involved. Without Mulder, Bobby wouldn't have been there. No Bobby, no Marty. The ten illegal aliens corralled in the OR would have been killed, and Donald Lovelace would have escaped.
There was the sound of someone knocking on the front door, banging really. Scully started to get up.
"You're going to answer the door like that?" Mulder asked. The sight of Scully wearing nothing but Mulder's shirt was not something he wanted bestowed on casual strangers. He pulled on his pants and went to answer the door.
"UPS," Mulder called to her from the door. "Are you expecting something?"
"Yes," she answered. A new sound card and a supposedly ergonomic keyboard.
"Scully, can I open it?" Mulder called.
"Go ahead," she answered. She waited for him to come back, but he didn't. She was polishing off her second slice of pizza when she began to hear ominous rattling and slamming sounds.
Oh, my poor computer, she thought. It was already too late; no computer could have survived an installation that made that much noise.
But when she found Mulder in the living room, he was working to assemble some huge copper thing, maybe a still or a steam turbine.
"Mulder, what is this?" she asked sharply. Now that they didn't have an office, he had apparently decided that her flat was the perfect place to receive his oddities. What was next, she wondered. A diving suit? A frozen alien?
"It's your cappuccino machine," he said. "I guess you didn't realize it would be so big."
Neither of them thought about Donald Lovelace. This was part of the harassment he'd set in motion after throwing them out of his house last Sunday.
"Mulder, I never ordered a cappuccino machine," Scully said.
"It makes espresso, too," Mulder said. "And latte. Also foamy hot cocoa." Mulder seemed much happier with the concept than Scully did. Maybe because it wasn't in his apartment.
"Why would I order a cappuccino machine?" Scully asked.
"To go with the Home Bagel Factory?" Mulder answered, nodding at one of the large crates behind him. "No assembly required."
"Mulder, take that thing apart. I didn't order it. It's going back," Scully said. Her living room looked like a warehouse. She began to survey the crates, growing more mystified with each one.
"Careful, Scully. You may have ordered it without knowing it," Mulder said. "You may have a subconscious desire to make bagels and cappuccino."
"A treadmill? A stair- stepper? Hm, maybe I'll keep that," she said.
"Well, now it makes sense," Mulder said. "Your id wants bagels and cappuccino. Your superego wants you to use the treadmill."
"Seriously, Mulder, get that back in the box," Scully said. "There's no room for it, and I didn't buy it."
"How do you know you didn't buy it?" Mulder asked. "It's all from the Home Shopping Network. You watch that, don't you?" Scully used to fall asleep with the TV on. When Mulder called, waking her up, he'd hear it in the background.
"Mulder, you're not listening," Scully said. She'd come to a box that was a little smaller than the other, and much lighter.
"Don't ignore your subconscious, Scully. It's trying to tell you something."
"Look, Mooch, my subconscious got something for you, too," Scully said. "It's the California collection. Great for 'casual Fridays' or week- end get- togethers."
"Yeah? Let's see." Mulder abandoned the cappuccino maker to look at his new wardrobe. "Oh, Scully. Oh, no. You're right, Scully, everything's got to go back."
"Are you sure, Mulder? We wouldn't want to thwart my subconscious," Scully said. Mulder was pulling apart the cappuccino maker so it would fit back in its carton.
"Call UPS. I'll have this ready before they get here," Mulder said.
"But if I bought it while in a fugue state..," Scully said.
"Scully, even if you did. Even if I'm in a fugue state myself. I will never wear that. Not on week- ends. Not on casual Friday. Not ever."
Scully examined the offending garment, which really didn't seem that objectionable.
"Never say never," she said. "Sometimes a pink Lacoste shirt is just what you need."
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Why do you think little Fox Mulder liked to bury his toy trucks? Any theories?