Summary: A murder investigation involving a reality television show.
Thanks at the end.
Wendy's Old Fashioned Hamburgers
A shiny black Ford Explorer pulled into the parking lot of the Wendy's restaurant, stopping abruptly at an angle across two spaces in front of the tinted glass door. The black and whites were already there - a pair of squad cars were parallel parked on the street in front of the restaurant. Their red lights broadcast to the small crowd of onlookers gathered on the opposite side of the street that something was cooking besides hamburgers in the fast food restaurant.
A tall, lanky man dressed in black and wearing a black baseball cap hopped out of the driver's seat of the Explorer, looking around at the surrounding area. He was joined at the front of the vehicle by a woman of small stature, her sex evident by her curved hips and high heels, also wearing undistinguishing black clothing and an identical black baseball cap. They glanced at each other, then pushed their way through the glass door into the restaurant, the man's hand guiding the woman ahead of him by a casually placed palm at the small of her back.
The door closed and through the glass the woman could be seen holding up a small black wallet, showing the uniformed police officers that she was someone with a reason to be there. The man followed suit, close behind her as she pushed through the people standing by the door, making her way behind the counter and into the kitchen of the restaurant.
On the floor of the kitchen lay an Asian man in his mid-thirties.
He was wearing the standard Wendy's uniform with a rectangular plastic nametag indicating he was the manager of the establishment.
There was a small entry wound in the middle of his chest, his torso encircled by thick, dark red liquid.
"What have we got?" the woman asked with authority, looking from the man on the floor to the uniformed police officer standing just to the side of the sticky red puddle.
"Sun-Young Oh, aged thirty-four, restaurant manager, shot once through the chest at point-blank range," the officer replied.
The man who had accompanied the woman into the restaurant crouched down next to her, visually examining the body of Mr. Sun-Young Oh.
"Any witnesses?" he asked without looking up.
"There was one other employee inside the restaurant at the time, and he was in the freezer. Claims he didn't hear anything. The only other employee on duty was picking up garbage outside in the drivethrough lane. He ran inside when he heard the shot fired, and found Mr. Oh on the floor and the other employee in the freezer counting meat patties."
The man crouching near the body of Mr. Oh let out a startled yelp, hopping back away from the body. Looking down, he shook his foot as a few drops of the thick red liquid splattered onto the tiled floor.
"I just got these shoes," the man said in irritation.
Behind him, there was an audible gasp.
Chalupas for ninety-nine cents for a limited time only.
Fox Mulder sat on his leather sofa, his eyes intent on the television screen in front of him as the crime scene cut abruptly to a commercial for Taco Bell. His shoulders slumped and he let out a frustrated huff, his telephone ringing at that same instant.
He picked up the cordless receiver laying on the coffee table in front of him and said, "Freezer boy."
"Drive through attendant," a feminine alto voice replied on the other end of the line. "The employee in the freezer wouldn't have enough time to leave the freezer, go around the counter and shoot Mr. Oh point blank in the chest, then run back around the counter, through the kitchen and back into the freezer before the drive through attendant entered the restaurant."
"Why do you say Mr. Oh was shot from the other side of the counter?"
The alto voice carried a tone of smugness in the response. "From the position of the body and the point of entry, of course. I'm sure if you turned Mr. Oh over, the exit wound in back would quite graphically illustrate the angle from which the shot was fired."
Mulder's voice dropped, the tone growing deliberately suggestive.
"You know, Scully...they're going to have to obtain an expert opinion." She snorted on the other end of the line, and he grinned.
"Is that in reference to the lovely Dr. Maria Jolie, played by Angelina Fabrocini, formerly known early in her career as B.J.
"And you wonder why I *won't* watch television with you, Mulder."
He was satisfied, having heard the slightly jealous lilt in her voice that he'd intended to coax out of her. Leaning back into the sofa, he placed his bare feet up on the edge of the coffee table, his voice a warm, intimate rumble. "Hey Scully, that was quite a makeup job they did on Sun-Young Oh, huh? Better than the black eye they gave the bus driver during the last investigation."
"Mulder, it's a television show. There's only so much they can do.
If the investigating contestants saw half of what you and I have seen, the network would be fielding calls of outrage from every anti-violence watchdog society in every state in the United States as well as most of Canada."
"Negative publicity is still publicity, Scully."
"Only for so long, Mulder. Once morbid curiosity is satisfied, it loses its appeal."
He was silent. "Why do I get the feeling you're talking about more than just this television show?"
Inside the Wendy's restaurant, it was still a commercial break for "Detective," America's top-rated reality show.
The police officer stood on his mark as a woman patted away the shine on his face with a soft sponge. The two contestants dressed in black investigating the crime were farther back in the kitchen, drinking bottled water and laughing with the two uniformed employeecum-actors near the deep fryers, all giddy with their fifteen minutes of fame. A young pony-tailed woman with a black binder wearing a T-shirt imprinted with the words "Detective Crew" across the back expertly stepped over cables as she rushed toward a very thin, tall man with black framed glasses and a goatee standing by the drive through window.
"...find out what David wants us to do," he was saying angrily into a walkie talkie. "Here, Donna," he called to the young woman with the binder, motioning her over to join him.
Donna stopped beside Mr. Oh, crouched down and reached a hand out to place two fingers against his neck. Then she stood stiffly and walked over to the man in glasses, her comments muffled.
"Wait for David, it's his call," was the reply, his tone sharp.
Her voice rose in volume. "Curtis, if we don't report this immediately..."
"Shhh..." Curtis cut her off with an insistent hiss.
An expensively dressed, slightly smaller than average man with wavy dark hair and small, round wire-framed glasses took a deep breath and pushed his way through the glass door and into the restaurant.
The others near the door stepped aside to let him in, but he didn't spare them a glance. His face was slack and perspiration dotted his brow as he glanced over at Sun-Young Oh instead, then carefully stepped a wide berth around him to reach Curtis and Donna at the drive through window.
"Are you sure?" he asked Curtis in lieu of a greeting, nervously glancing down at Mr. Oh once more. He pushed the wire-rimmed glasses farther up his substantial nose and his voice cracked, the pitch rising at the end of his question.
Curtis answered quietly, his tone nearly accusatory. "Of course I am."
David looked back at Mr. Oh, his breathing becoming erratic.
"Ohmygod, Ohmygod." He pinched the bridge of his nose and drew in a deep breath. "This situation wasn't covered in Harvard business school."
"Well, it wasn't covered in film school, either," Curtis snapped back.
"Okay," David said to calm himself, his words spoken slow and deliberate. "Okay. We have to tell Stephen." He withdrew a small cell phone from his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the small antennae. Curtis turned away, folding his arms against his chest.
Donna stepped closer. "David, we *have* to call 911!"
David turned his shoulder away from her, and when he found himself looking directly at Mr. Oh, he turned again, facing the back of the kitchen, where the contestants lounged against the equipment as they waited for their cue. "It's David," he said nervously into the phone, pausing a moment. "Uh...no that's just it, he's not acting.
He's uh...he's really dead."
The Studio Lot Somewhere in Los Angeles
Jeffrey Schwartz sat behind his seventeenth century carved wood desk, his hands steepled in front of his thick lips as he listened to the director and the first A.D. from his number one rated show recount their versions of the events surrounding the death of Xiou Lee, a.k.a. Sun-Young Oh. Mr. Lee was not an American citizen, or even Korean-American as he had indicated on his resume, but a citizen of the People's Republic of China, wanted by the authorities in his own country as a political refugee. This simple fact warranted the presence of the federal authorities, in the personification of a pair of agents from the FBI Also in attendance were the show's creator, the producer, and two of the attorneys from the corporate side of the network.
The agents were Fox Mulder and Dana Scully. Their names were familiar to him somehow, and he jotted them down on the blotter in front of him to remind him to ask his secretary about it after they'd gone.
Mulder and Scully, he thought, assessing them with a critical eye as he ran a hand over his salt and pepper beard. Not a bad looking pair in their crisp, dark blue suits. Not star material, perhaps his facial features were a bit unconventional and had an unfortunate droning monotone for a voice. A nice body, though...wears clothes well. A nice, tight ass. She was classically pretty, great eyes, but rather small for her face. She had curves - definitely not the waif-ish type, and he'd yet to see her smile. A sexy voice, though.
Combine the two of them, and they'd make one decent television personality.
Jeffrey got a sense of unity about them as they stood in the back of the office, and he wondered if they were sleeping together. Perhaps it was the business suits that made them stand out from the rest of the crowd. He decided that star material or not, they were both pretty damn attractive. He wondered if they'd be interested in a three-way as he mentally undressed them, only half listening to the conversation in the room. That's what the lawyers were there for.
Curtis Burns, the show's director, was on the leather sofa next to Jeffrey's desk, recounting his version of the events from the night before. "It's not my fault," he said defensively to no one in particular. "I'm just the director. I have to make sure everything runs smoothly. Do you have any idea how difficult it is trying to do that on live television?"
"The cameras continue filming while the commercials air, is that correct, Mr. Burns?" Mulder asked him, taking a step closer, but not so far as to lose his partner from his field of vision.
Curtis let out a small huff and replied as if talking to a small child or someone with limited mental capacity. "The cameras are usually on. Even though the show is live, we have to edit in other footage to be able to drive the action forward in the one hour slot we're allotted every evening. That breaks down into forty-two minutes of screen time. Not much to work with, let me tell you."
"We have a rough script," Donna, the first assistant director, added diplomatically, obviously accustomed to soothing Jeffrey's ruffled feathers. "It's not complete chaos, except for the contestants, everyone knows the series of events that will take place. Only the contestants are in the dark so that they can try to solve the crime and win the million dollars. Still, we offer them the opportunity to buy a clue when they get stuck in the investigation."
Mulder had glanced over at Scully, their eyes meeting in agreement.
"I'd like to view the footage from last night, specifically, the parts that didn't air on national television."
Jeffrey's lewd daydream was interrupted with Mulder's comment and he looked at the executive producer and series creator, Stephen Taylor, who then looked over at David Weiner, the producer.
"We anticipated that request. The dailies are already loaded into the machine," David said, his voice thin and high despite his attempt to control it.
Jeffrey picked up a remote control off of his desktop and pointed it at the wall opposite his desk. The wall parted, as the lights automatically dimmed, revealing a nearly floor to ceiling sized screen. The room was filled with blips in surround sound and images of the contestants appeared on the screen.
Although there were seats available, Mulder and Scully chose to remain standing side by side in the back of the office. Mulder shot her a quick grin as the wall parted, which she responded to with a quirk of her eyebrow. Their position didn't affect their ability to see the action on the screen - any place in the office offered a good view, the screen was so large and the definition so crisp.
It was essentially the same show they'd watched on their respective television sets the night before, plus the added footage shot before and after the commercial breaks. The extra footage was filled mostly with technical jargon regarding lighting and camera angles, and some brief direction given to the actors and contestants. The camera also caught snippets of Curtis and Donna discussing the script, their conversation mostly unintelligible in the midst of the activity around them. A few minutes after David appeared in the restaurant the cast and crew were told to go out into the parking lot for filming, and the camera was shut off.
The next shot was of the contestants interviewing the two restaurant employees outside, and measuring the walking distance from the drive through lane to the door of the restaurant. After a brief huddle, the contestant/detectives decided to invite the drive through attendant down to the police station for further questioning. The rest was miscellaneous footage of the interrogation at the police station mixed with 'expert medical advice' delivered by Dr. Maria Jolie.
When the dailies ended, the lights gradually grew brighter. All eyes turned toward the two federal agents in the back of the room.
"I'd like a copy of that tape to take with me, if it's not too much trouble," Mulder said with a combination of affability and authority.
Stephen smiled thinly and said, "of course," and Jeffrey buzzed his secretary on the intercom.
Mulder couldn't help but stare at the woman as she crossed the room to stand directly in front of Jeffrey's desk. Her clothes were form fitting, and the skirt was very, very short, exposing a long expanse of creamy thighs and calves that seemed to go on for miles. And high heels at least as high as that one pair that Scully wore once in a while when they weren't going out into the field.
He looked down at his cuticles, certain that another ten seconds of staring at the woman's legs would draw Scully's attention, if he wasn't busted already.
"What can I do for you gentlemen?" the secretary asked pleasantly, and Mulder noted out of his peripheral vision that the only person in the room *not* staring at her was himself. Even Scully had her head tilted to the side, her eyes wide with fascination.
"Karen, I need you to dub a tape for Mr. Mulder ASAP," Jeffrey said casually.
"Sure thing," she said warmly, crossing the room and popping the tape out of the player before leaving the room without another word.
"Done. Is there anything more we can do for you today, Agents?"
Jeffrey asked turning his direct attention toward Mulder and Scully, leaning back in his huge leather chair.
"For now, just the tape," Scully replied. "You'll be available for further questions, should any arise?"
"Of course, of course," Jeffrey said agreeably as he stood, and the others nodded their assent, taking his cue to stand as well. "Karen will be back in a few minutes with your copy. In the meantime, if there are no more questions, we've all got to get back to work or there won't be any show tonight."
Mulder nodded his assent and the others filed out of the office with cursory smiles as they passed the agents. Jeffrey crossed the room to stand in front of them, not much taller than Scully when he came out from behind the huge desk. "You're welcome to wait in here if you'd like. Mi casa es su casa. Please, make yourselves comfortable."
Something in Jeffrey Schwartz's piercing blue eyes made Scully most uncomfortable, and she offered him a polite smile. "Thank you, but I'm sure you're a very busy man, Mr. Schwartz. My partner and I will be just fine in your waiting area."
He shrugged with a soft smile, and watched closely as the agents walked out the door, Mulder touching his hand lightly against Scully's back as he allowed her to step in front of him.
Jeffrey's eyes narrowed. By his assessment, they were definitely doing it, and he was definitely aroused just thinking about the private side of the FBI Probably some kink, too, with handcuffs and guns. Maybe there was a television movie of the week in that idea.
He cursed network television, knowing that he'd get to show some tits and ass if he were the president of a cable network. Screw 'The Sopranos' and all their goddamn Emmys, anyway. In the meantime, he'd get Karen to come in and take care of him as soon as she returned with that tape.
With tape in hand, Mulder and Scully caught up with Donna just outside Jeffrey's bungalow as she was heading for her car. With a shared glance, they agreed that a few more questions out of the presence of the rest of the boys might not be a bad idea.
"Donna?" Scully called to her as Mulder donned a pair of sunglasses in the bright California sun. They had to stop short to avoid being run down by a speeding golf cart.
Donna turned and glanced over at them, playing with her car keys as she shifted from one foot to the other. "Is there something else you need? I'm already late to the set and Curtis left at the same time as me."
A pretty, no-frills type of girl, Donna seemed more interested in comfort and convenience than making a statement. She wore her ash blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, and jeans and black work boots instead of impractical heels and fashionably fitted pants.
"This won't take long," Mulder replied, offering her a placating smile as he leaned against the car next to hers, facing her. The fact that the car he was dusting with his ass was a BMW worth more than his annual salary didn't register with him.
She looked at him, then relaxed slightly, leaning against the side of her own, smaller BMW. "What is it?"
"Is Curtis usually angry with you for being late?" Scully asked with concern. She looked down at the car Mulder was leaning against, and decided it was far too expensive to take the same liberty, so she stood near him, facing Donna.
"Not really, he's just..." Donna looked away, drawing a deep breath.
"Curtis has always been a little...angry. You'll probably find this out, anyway. As an openly out of the closet homosexual, he's very protective of his lifestyle. Some people might perceive that as bitchiness, but he's just been through a lot. He's a great director."
Scully continued with her non-threatening approach. "Has he seemed more angry than usual lately?"
Donna looked hesitantly from Scully to Mulder. "A little more than usual, maybe. He's recently separated from his lover and he's going through a difficult time, so it's understandable that he brings some of those feelings to work with him." She paused. "Do you think Curtis had anything to do with this? Because if you do, you're wrong."
"Nobody is accusing anybody, Donna," Mulder said with just the right amount of softness. "We're just trying to get a feel for the atmosphere." He glanced at Scully, then continued, "What about the general attitude on the set...you know, is it a friendly group?"
Donna shrugged. "As friendly as they get, I guess. I've been in much worse working situations."
Mulder nodded. "All of the people involved in such a large production I imagine that must make for pretty close quarters at times, doesn't it?"
"The cast and crew spend a lot of hours together. I don't think I've spent more than seven hours a night in my apartment since production started. Since we film live, there isn't a lot of room for mistakes, so we have to be prepared for any possible situation."
"Even murder?" Scully asked, without accusation.
"Not a real one," Donna replied. "Nobody was expecting that."
Scully moved a step closer. "What about Curtis' lover...they just broke up, do you think he may have been involved in some way?"
"Jack?" Donna's voice was laced with contempt. "Why would Jack want to kill an unknown Chinese actor? He is so lazy it would be too much effort to kill a fly, let alone a person, even if he thought it would get him an Academy Award."
Scully's voice took on the low, soothing tone that she always expertly produced when the situation required it. "Donna, I know you already gave your statement to the police last night, but just for our own edification, would you mind telling us about the preparation that took place before filming yesterday?"
Donna looked at her hesitantly, then she pursed her lips together and nodded. "Usually, we work with the amateurs first, you know, the real employees in the establishments where the contestants have to go during the investigation. We make sure that they understand not to look at the camera and that they should try to act normally.
Sometimes we even do a few test takes just to get them comfortable with the camera. Then we make sure that all of the professional actors know their lines and are prepared for any potential questions the contestants may ask."
"Was last night unusual in any way?" Mulder asked, tucking the video tape under his arm, reaching into his trousers pocket and pulling out a small bag of sunflower seeds. He shook a few into his hand and offered the bag to Donna, but she shook her head in polite refusal. He picked a seed out of his palm with his thumb and forefinger and slid it in between his molars, then held his hand out to offer Scully a seed. To his delight, she took one.
Donna continued. "Last night was no different than any other. Mr.
Oh...I mean, Lee...was already in full makeup and waiting for his cue...I think I saw him smoking a cigarette outside. Once the call comes through that the contestants are on their way, everyone takes their places. I know Mr. Lee was a little nervous about his part and wanted a little more help getting into the character.
Curtis..." she stopped, hesitating.
"What about Curtis, Donna?" Scully asked, discarding the shell from the seed she'd consumed.
"Curtis told him that all he had to do was lay there like a corpse.
But Mr. Lee asked again for more atmosphere, so Curtis told the one employee to go out and pick up trash, and told the other one to go into the freezer and start counting meat patties, just like the script explained. Then he told Mr. Lee to lay down on top of...um, the stage blood already applied to the floor of the restaurant, and we all cleared out so that he could get into his role."
"Did Curtis clear out as well?
Donna let out a breath and met Scully's gaze. "Honestly, that I don't know. A call came in regarding tonight's location and I had to get my binder out of my car, so I left just as the others started making their way out of the restaurant."
"What time was this?"
"Around six thirty, I think. The contestants showed up not long after that, and the cameras were stopped by the time I returned."
"Hmmm," Scully said, thoughtfully. "How do *you* think Mr. Lee got shot?" she asked, casually rubbing her hands together to rid them of the residual sunflower seed salt.
Donna hesitated once more. "There was a noise, like a shot fired.
I didn't think much of it at the time...I thought it was a truck backfiring on the nearby freeway, or someone firing the blank gun from the prop truck..."
"To help Mr. Lee feel more in character?" Mulder prompted.
"Yeah, maybe. It didn't seem that unusual to me at the time, so I didn't give it a whole lot of thought."
Mulder and Scully shared another brief glance. "Donna," Scully started, then paused. "Who has access to the props on the prop truck?"
"The propmaster and the set designer, for the most part."
"What about the director?"
Donna's face showed her discomfort, and she paused, then nodded, her response soft. "Sure. The director has access to everything." She swallowed, looking down at her wristwatch. "Listen, I really have to get going."
"Of course, sorry to keep you," Mulder replied with a conciliatory smile, leaning forward and holding his hand out to shake hers.
"Thanks for taking time out to talk with us."
Donna shook his hand, and stiffly climbed into her car. She started the engine and backed out of the parking space slowly, Mulder and Scully both offering her a polite wave goodbye as she turned the car and drove off.
Scully stepped around to face Mulder, and just as he leaned back against the BMW it suddenly chirped loudly. He jumped slightly with surprise and turned, stepping away from the car and into the parking space Donna had just vacated. A fashionably scruffy young man walked up wearing a look of irritation, which Mulder met with his own blank expression.
The young man took off his expensive sunglasses, walked around the back of the car, and looked at the spot where Mulder had been leaning, evident on the car's slightly smog-dusted black finish.
Shooting a pointed look, the man replaced his sunglasses and turned his back on the pair. Then, pulling out his cell phone, Mr. BMW dialed a number and climbed into the car, starting the engine and peeling out of the parking spot with the phone pressed up against his ear.
"You think he's calling security?" Mulder asked Scully, his face still blank.
"Let him try." Scully watched the car speed away. Then her eyes fell on the car that had been sitting on the other side of the black BMW.
A metallic orange Neon. THEIR Neon, courtesy of Lariat Rental Cars.
Due to Bureau-wide cutbacks, a new policy had been issued regarding rental cars, and they were forced into a lower-priced category of automobiles.
This particular automobile had seen better days. The rental agency apologized, only having one car available in their price range and that car had been scheduled to go into the repair shop. The rear fender was slightly askew, and it was missing a plastic hubcap on the rear passenger side wheel. It was also in desperate need of a thorough cleaning, inside and out.
With a wistful sigh and a final glance at the retreating BMW 540i, Scully headed toward their car, standing at the passenger side door as Mulder crossed around back to the driver's door. The color of the car clashed with the color of her hair, and Mulder gave her an apologetic smile, sliding into his seat and unlocking her door.
"I'll bet he pays a fortune in insurance," he commented as they belted themselves into the car.
"The way he drives, he'd better." The slight curve at the corner of her mouth told him all he needed to know regarding her frame of mind. "We should run the bullet that struck Mr. Lee through forensics to see if it's a match with the prop gun."
"They recovered the bullet at the crime scene, didn't they?"
Scully unbuckled her seatbelt, reached into the back seat and grabbed a file, flipping through it until she found a list of evidence.
"Yep. Mr. Lee was shot in a supine position, and what was left of the bullet was recovered on the tile underneath him when they removed the body."
"So he was already in position when he was shot that should have raised a flag right there. Is the prop gun on the evidence list?"
"Nope. There's no gun of any kind on this list."
He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, chewing on the inside of his cheek. "The lab report on the caliber of the weapon won't be ready for a while. How about I drop you off at the County Coroner so you can get up close and personal with Mr. Lee, while I try to get my hands on that prop gun?"
Scully closed the file and tossed it back onto the back seat, fastening her seatbelt once again. "You're the driver."
Los Angeles County Coroner
Mulder had followed a hand-printed sign, bright green cardboard with the words "Detective Crew" in black marker. It was posted to the street light at the bottom of the freeway offramp, with an arrow indicating that the production was located the same direction he was heading. After making his way past the parked trucks and trailers to the office of the coroner, he pulled into a vacant parking spot directly in front of the building.
"Think you can get your hands on a FedEx envelope in there?" He turned the key in the ignition and picked up the video tape sitting on the dashboard.
Scully's expression remained serious, although there was a glint in her eye as she took the tape out of his hand. "Danny or Frohike?"
Mulder laid his head back against the headrest and turned his face toward her, his eyes glowing warmly. "Scully, you know that's not that kind of a tape. Although...I'm sure the guys could break the audio down just as effectively as our own. But Danny would never forgive us if we didn't let him see the outtakes from his favorite television show."
They both climbed out of the car, and Scully studied him over the orange roof, her arms crossed in front of her. "So, am I to assume that Danny's also a fan of Dr. Maria Jolie, a.k.a. Angelina Fabrocini, formerly known as B.J. Candy?"
Mulder offered her a tight-lipped smile in lieu of a response, his eyes crinkling at the corners. She turned, and as she made her way up the steps to the coroner's office with tape in hand, he crossed the parking lot toward the base camp set up for the production, whistling off-key. It was juvenile, he knew, but he enjoyed teasing her, especially since she didn't bother to mask her jealousy like she used to.
Not that she had ever been any good at it.
After she sent the video tape to Danny back in D.C., Scully changed into scrubs to perform a visual examination on the body of Mr. Lee.
As a citizen of China, they had to wait for permission from Mr.
Lee's family via the Chinese Consulate before they could perform a complete autopsy. That could take months if the government chose to make an issue of it.
In this case, an autopsy wouldn't be necessary to determine cause of death - she could see that much with a glance. There was a gunshot wound in the middle of his chest, most likely .357 caliber, which would have fully obliterated his heart and lungs in the process.
She was sure there wouldn't be much of him left where the bullet exited the body.
She was attempting to turn the body over when the door to the autopsy bay opened, revealing an Amazon in a lab coat. The leggy woman was easily over six feet tall, wearing a form-fitting black skirt and white lab coat that was too-tight across her ample chest.
Her dark hair was piled up into an elegant French twist, adding more height to the illusion.
"I couldn't believe it when I'd heard that you were here," the woman stated dramatically, her dark, expressive eyes flashing.
Scully had been staring at her behind protective goggles, her eyes wide and her mouth open. Dr. Maria Jolie, otherwise known as Angelina Fabrocini, formerly known as B.J. Candy. In the flesh.
She shook her head in disbelief to clear it. "I'm sorry, can I help you with something?"
"You're the pathologist from the FBI Dr. Dana Scully?"
Scully straightened, suddenly uneasy, wondering where Mulder might be at that particular moment, what he'd been up to and if he was setting her up for some joke. She took a deep breath, and replied shortly, "Yes."
Maria/Angelina/B.J. glided across the room in what seemed like only two long strides, holding her hand out to Scully. "I'm so glad to meet you! When I heard that a female pathologist from the FBI was performing the autopsy on Mr. Lee, I had to come." Scully found her latex encased hand engulfed between two large palms. "I'm Angie Fabrocini, I play Dr. Maria Jolie on "Detective". It's such a pleasure to meet you."
"Please...call me Angie."
Scully responded with a tight-lipped smile, extracting her hand and placing it alongside the other one on the metal gurney. She looked down at the body, took a fortifying breath, letting it out slowly and whispering, "Angie" to herself under her breath. Then, looking up farther than she ever had to look to see Mulder's face, she said, "I'm sorry to disappoint you, Angie, but I'm just performing a visual exam, not a full autopsy."
Angie smiled, revealing a line of straight, white teeth. "May I watch? I promise I won't get in the way. Its just-" she hesitated, revealing the real person in the soulful dark eyes, behind the stage makeup and the tight clothing. Angie was nervous. "I really want to get a feel for how a real pathologist approaches an examination.
I don't get much opportunity other than what I've seen on television. You know, 'Quincy' and 'The Learning Channel'. I've got a pretty strong stomach...I promise I won't faint."
Scully's feeling of unease lifted at Angie's admission. The actress seemed genuine - after all, she was just trying to do her job to the best of her ability. Scully let out a breath, and smiled.
"Alright, help me turn him over. He's a lot heavier than he looks."
The prop gun was still in the prop truck, and Mulder was able to slide it into an evidence bag without the propmaster touching it.
Of course, he had no idea if the man had touched it at any point during the last couple of days, although the man claimed that the gun hadn't been used in over a week.
He ran into Donna on his way down the metal stairs, and she didn't seem at all surprised to see him.
"Agent Mulder, I was just on my way over to tell Angie her call time has changed."
"Angie?" he asked, the name not registering.
"Angelina Fabrocini - she plays Dr. Maria Jolie on the show. She's over at the Coroner's office with your partner."
Mulder's mouth quirked up in a grin. "I'll walk over with you."
As they walked, he noticed that Donna seemed a lot more at ease than she did at the studio just a few hours earlier. "I hope you didn't get in too much hot water for being late this afternoon," he said conversationally.
"Curtis wasn't here. He's taking care of some properties issues of his own at home."
"The break up. You know, this is mine, that is yours..."
Mulder mouthed a silent, "ah," with a nod of his head.
They stopped for an approaching vehicle, which turned out to be David, leaving the set in a dark green Range Rover. Donna raised her hand in a friendly gesture, but the gesture wasn't returned, and they continued on their way in silence.
As Mulder and Donna entered the autopsy bay, Angie and Scully were standing close together, Angie bending down to Scully's level as Scully pointed to something on the body of Mr. Lee, speaking in a low voice. Angie responded, causing Scully to look up at her and smile, their eyes meeting and both women laughing softly. Pausing at the door, Donna's face split into a sly grin as she crossed her arms in front of her.
"Looks like I hit the nail on the head this time."
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked, smiling at the sight of Scully enjoying herself.
"I told Angie your partner was just her type. I think that goes both ways."
Mulder's grin fell as he understood what Donna was implying. It was evident that Scully felt completely relaxed with Miss B.J. Candy, and he realized what it must look like from Donna's point of view.
Now that it had been mentioned, B.J. Candy certainly looked like she was interested in more than Scully's slicing and dicing. He felt the familiar pang of jealousy that hit him in the middle of the chest every time someone showed more than a professional interest in his partner, and clenched his jaw with irritation. The fact that Scully was heterosexual - and he was pretty damn certain of that fact - was forgotten and irrelevant.
Curtis Burns Residence 5:25 p.m.
David was worried.
First, the murder on the set, then the FBI shows up. Then Donna tells him that the FBI were asking questions about Curtis. And then, the propmaster tells him the FBI confiscated their prop gun as evidence.
Everything depended on the success of this show. Everything.
David's classmates from Harvard were running corporations now, multi-million dollar corporations with huge expense accounts and stock options. While he couldn't complain about the money he was earning, he certainly wasn't operating at the same executive level as some of his classmates. He should be president of the network by now. At the very least, he should be an executive producer, like Stephen, calling all of the shots. Like Stephen, he should have a development deal for three new series in the next two years.
Curtis chose a hell of a time to break up with his lover, he mused.
Everyone knew the guy was a mooch, why did Curtis have to kick him out just as the show was going down the toilet?
And now, the FBI
Walking up the steps to Curtis' hillside Silverlake home, Stephen stopped at the top step, knocking on the door before turning to look out at the view. It was beautiful. The sun was reflecting gold off of the lake, and it was an amazingly clear day. So clear that he could see all of the way to the Pacific Ocean. The HOLLYWOOD sign was in plain sight on another hill, as were the small clusters of buildings that made up the Downtown and Mid-Wilshire districts, and the twin towers of Century City.
He should have a view like this, David though begrudgingly. His own house in Malibu didn't even have a view of the ocean, but at least he'd bought in the right zip code. Still, Curtis had a pretty sweet setup. It wasn't fair how everyone was doing so well while he remained static. Turning back toward the house, he stepped up to the front landing and rang the bell.
"David, has something happened?" Curtis asked, opening the door with his cell phone pressed to his ear.
"It's all going to hell," David replied, and Curtis stepped aside to allow him to enter.
Their shoulders brushed, and moments later David felt a strange sensation, like the tingling when his foot goes to sleep, or the muscle stimulating machine his personal trainer used after a tough workout. The sensation began at the point where his shoulder had brushed against Curtis', and slowly began to extend further across his torso, down his arm and to his other arm, up his neck to his scalp and down to the soles of his feet. His entire body grew warm, relaxed, and it reminded him of being high in college. He'd inhaled then, and it felt pretty damn good.
Only not as good as this.
Every cell in his body was aware. He noticed everything, including Curtis and his one-sided telephone conversation. Curtis had his hand on his forehead, and he seemed to have become disoriented as he was talking. He was discussing a deal of some sort. A production deal. No...
A development deal.
David felt the envy swell within him. Curtis was offered a development deal. Probably by that bastard Jeffrey. He probably let Jeffrey give it to him in the ass and in return Jeffrey made a development deal like he'd made with Stephen.
The awareness was like a fine laser point of light in his mind, while the envy continued to expand, pumping through his blood with every beat of his heart. Without a doubt, David knew that he deserved what Curtis and Stephen had.
No matter what.
Carriage Inn Sherman Oaks, California
"Detective" broadcast live on the East Coast, but the West Coast broadcast was tape delayed. Scully found that fitting, somehow.
She knew it was about prime time viewing hours and premium air advertising rates, but with everything that she'd seen of behind the-scenes Hollywood, the fact that the illusion didn't play in their own backyard further broadened the proscenium between the entertainment industry and the rest of the world.
It was late by her standards...after midnight Eastern Standard Time.
The difference in time was always a little difficult the first night of a cross-country investigation, and she tried to stay up a few hours later than usual to help herself adjust. Padding barefoot around her motel room with her toothbrush tucked in the side of her mouth, she had her television on, the sound low, watching with mild interest as the contestant detectives continued to investigate the trumped up murder of Mr. Oh.
Through the thin walls, she could hear Mulder's television in the next room. Like her, he was awake, trying to adjust to the time difference. He was the one who'd taught her that trick.
They had turned the prop gun in to the LAPD Scientific Investigative Division after they left the coroner's office, stopping long enough to review the evidence collected from the crime scene the night before. Mulder was unusually quiet through the rest of the long, rush-hour drive to the motel. Tired of the silence, she had made small talk and he'd responded, but when she tried to joke with him about meeting Angie in the flesh, the joke fell flat. With Angie, she had expected him to behave much in the same way he had in the presence of Ms. Jade Blue Afterglow on one of their previous cases, but much to her surprise, he barely acknowledged the actress. At the motel, he'd grabbed his bag out of the trunk of the car and retreated to his room with a carefully placed blank look on his face and a mumbled "goodnight."
Now, she could hear him channel surfing and pacing during the commercial breaks. She considered calling him on the telephone to chat about the show as was their custom, but decided that what she really wanted was just to spend some down time with him in person.
Not bothering to put on shoes, she tucked her toothbrush back into her cosmetics case, grabbed her room key and turned off the television.
He seemed a little surprised to see her at his door, but stepped aside to let her in without a word, grinning at the sight of her bare feet. She noticed a couple of bottles of water and a bag of sunflower seeds on the nightstand, wondering if that was what he called dinner as she sat cross-legged on his bed, tucking her feet up underneath her.
Catching her interest in his stash, Mulder grabbed one of the bottles of Crystal Geyser off the nightstand and handed it to her.
She accepted it with a grateful smile as he flopped down on his stomach next to her, his side pressing against her knee and his arms hugging a pillow at the foot of the bed.
It was a much more arid climate than Washington D.C., and Scully had been fighting both a dry throat and sinuses all day. Screwing off the top of the bottle, she took a long drink, then handed it back to Mulder. He drank half of the remaining water then screwed the cap back on and sat the bottle on the floor by the bed.
They didn't speak for a while, both following the action on the small screen. The contestants, Mr. and Mrs. Kinney, had made fair progress despite an uncanny ability to completely misunderstand each other. The way they blundered through the investigation was entertaining in itself, and still they had yet to buy a clue to take them to the next level. They were still in the running for the entire one million dollar prize.
One of the primary suspects in the investigation was the drive through attendant who claimed to have been picking up trash during the shooting of Mr. Oh. They had two strong suspects, the other being a patron of the restaurant who the employees had seen arguing with Mr. Oh earlier that evening. They had brought the patron in for questioning, but which suspect was the guilty party was still unclear by the end of the interrogation.
Every so often Scully would shift her focus to the warmth of her knee pressing against Mulder's side, and she found it comforting just to be sitting there with him. It was exactly what she'd wanted, and she wasn't certain, but it seemed that Mulder, too, pressed closer to her throughout the show, most noticeably during Angie's scenes in the Coroner's office.
"Still think it's the drive through attendant?" he asked at the start of the next commercial break, passing the bottle of water over his shoulder without turning to look at her. He seemed to be much more upbeat than he had been during the drive to the motel.
She unscrewed the cap and took another sip of water. "Although most of the evidence is pointing toward him at the moment, I suspect he's the red herring in this case."
He turned on his side to face her, propping his head up on his hand.
"Then who *is* the real killer, Agent Scully?"
"In the fictional investigation, or in ours?"
Reaching out, he touched the pad of his index finger to the inside of her wrist, smiling contentedly. "Whatever, Scully. Lay it on me."
She looked into his shining eyes, her cheeks coloring slightly. If she'd been honest with herself earlier, she would have admitted that she wanted more than to just spend down time with him. She wanted to reconnect with him on a more personal level, and it was becoming apparent that he wanted the same thing.
She thought a moment, drawing in a long breath. "Well, we don't have the forensics reports on the evidence collected, of course..."
"Of course," he replied, tracing small, tingling circles on her skin. It was almost hypnotic, and her pulse and breathing accelerated in response. She closed her eyes, reveling in the feelings he was arousing before continuing with her analysis of their case.
"And we've...um...yet to establish a motive..."
"Mmm-hmmm..." his voice was gravelly soft. She shivered under his touch as he drew a line up the inside of her arm and back down again, over and over, causing her skin to raise into gooseflesh.
She drew in a deep breath, her cheeks flushing a deeper pink, giving away how distracted she'd become. "But it appears that...that..."
He was still stroking the inside of her arm, but Mulder had turned onto his back, and was staring up at her with unmasked emotion, a combination of tenderness and affection, desire and need, burning emerald green around wide, dilated pupils.
"What was I saying?" she asked, her voice nearly a whisper as she stared back at him.
Neither moved, nor looked away for what seemed like an eternity.
Then Mulder whispered, "C'mere," pulling gently on her wrist. His other hand reached up behind her neck to draw her down to him, and she came willingly, her eyes closing heavily, feeling his warm breath against her lips as he raised his face toward hers, their mouths softly connecting. Pliant and firm, she responded to his kiss, her breath catching as he captured her upper lip between his, tugging so gently, then releasing it and doing the same with her lower lip. The pads of his fingers curled against the back of her scalp as she angled her head to the side just a little further and took his lower lip between hers, barely tasting salt and something sweeter. He pulled back slightly, laying his head down on the bed and looking into her eyes with a beatific smile while he caressed her cheek with the backs of his fingers.
Leaning forward, she followed him down, placing a supporting hand on the bed. Her mouth was just about to claim his possessively when she heard a short promotion for the evening news declaring tragedy behind the scenes of the hit series, "Detective."
Scully lifted her head to stare at the television and drew another deep breath, her shoulders straightening as if taking on added weight as she exhaled. She sat up, purposefully watching the screen, knowing if she looked back into Mulder's face that the blissful smile would be gone.
"We managed to keep it out of the media for a whole twenty-four hours, at least."
"This investigation just got more complicated," Mulder replied, turning back over on his stomach to watch the television. He laid his cheek against the pillow, and blinked a few times, his mind working on some aspect of the case. Then he looked at her. "You were going to say that you suspect it was Curtis who shot Mr. Lee, weren't you?"
She didn't respond. She didn't have to, she knew he could see it in her face.
"What isn't clear is the motivation," he continued. "Donna said Curtis was angry over his breakup...more angry than usual. Maybe something Mr. Lee said pushed him over the edge, causing him to react to the extreme."
"With a gun loaded and ready to go?"
Mulder shrugged, turning his head toward the television when the news anchors appeared onscreen.
"Tragedy struck the number one rated show "Detective" today, as the show's director, Curtis Burns, was found dead outside his Silverlake home."
Mulder glanced at Scully, and she met his gaze with eyes open wide.
"You're right, Mulder," she said, "This investigation just got a lot more complicated."
Mulder came out of the Denny's carrying two paper cups of steaming coffee, crossing the parking lot to where Scully stood, freshly dressed in a skirt and jacket, far enough from the rental car that no one who might notice would associate her with the battered orange Neon. Her cell phone was pressed to her ear as she listened to a detective involved in the investigation into Curtis' Burns death recount what had been discovered at the scene.
She accepted the coffee with a grateful smile, and Mulder leaned against the back of the rental car, sipping his coffee and admiring her legs without being too obvious about it. She wasn't saying much more than, "Mmm-hmmm," and "I see," and in accompaniment he could hear the traffic on the nearby freeway, already growing heavy as the morning commuters started another day.
With a polite "Thank you, Detective," Scully hit the end button on her phone, taking a sip of her coffee at the same time. Her eyes closed briefly, then opened and looked up at Mulder, gleaming.
"Good?" he asked, smiling back at her.
"Always," she replied, taking another sip. "So, it looks like Curtis Burns fell down his front steps and broke his neck."
"Ouch. Was it an accident?"
"They're not sure at this point. The detective I just spoke with said Curtis was talking with his agent on the telephone yesterday evening when he received a visitor. Shortly thereafter, the agent said that Curtis began acting strangely."
She smiled smugly. "I don't know, but guess who the visitor was?"
Mulder stood up straight and headed for the driver's side of the car. "Let's give him a call and let him know we're his first appointment of the day."
Scully didn't move, and he paused as he opened the car door, shooting her a questioning look.
"Mulder, this isn't our investigation. We're here to find out what happened to Mr. Lee."
"Maybe so, but we needed to have a more in-depth conversation with Mr. Weiner at some point, anyway. You said yourself you suspect Curtis Burns was responsible for Mr. Lee's death. Maybe we can kill two birds with one stone."
She gave him a nauseous look in response to his bad pun, and hesitantly stepped forward, opening the door gingerly and climbing into the car.
The Studio Lot
David Weiner agreed to meet them at his office on the studio lot at 7:15 a.m. The office was located in another bungalow shared with Stephen Taylor, not far from the one they'd been to the day before, where Jeffrey Schwartz's office was located. Taylor and Weiner also shared an assistant, who had a desk in the small waiting area between the two offices.
David hadn't arrived by the time they entered the bungalow, a few minutes early. His assistant was already at her desk - a pleasant young woman in her mid-twenties, conservatively dressed, if the standards set by Jeffrey's secretary applied. She offered them bottled water, but they politely declined, sitting in a pair of hard red armchairs separated by a small end table covered in magazines like 'The Wall Street Journal', 'The Hollywood Reporter' and 'Daily Variety'. A moment later, she disappeared into one of the offices.
Shortly thereafter, Stephen Taylor came out of his office, followed by his assistant.
"Agents Mulder and Scully," he greeted them amiably, offering his hand. "I understand you're here to see David."
No older than forty, he had a slight build with thick, straight, unruly dark hair that despite all efforts to keep it slicked back, fell forward into his eyes in thin strands. Stephen appeared to be a high-energy type of person, and even though it was early, his appearance suggested that he'd been working for hours. Scully gave him a polite smile as Mulder responded with a smile and a nod, shaking Stephen's offered hand.
Stephen turned to his assistant. "Make sure you've got plenty of strong coffee, Paula, David is gonna need it when he gets in."
"I've got the espresso machine ready," Paula said, then under her breath, "Somebody's already used up all of my regular breakfast blend this morning."
Stephen ignored her, turning back to the agents. His expression was somber as he rocked back on his heels. "Terrible tragedy, what happened to Curtis."
"Yes, it is," Scully replied.
"Is that what brings you two out here so early this morning?"
"Actually," Mulder said, shifting uncomfortably in his hard chair, "we're not working on that case."
"Ah, yes, you're here about the Chinese actor." He looked at them a moment, noting Mulder's discomfort, then said, "How would you like to wait for David in my office? I'm sure he's running late this morning, and I've got a pair of Italian leather chairs that are as soft as butter. Much more comfortable than the ones you're sitting on."
Mulder glanced at his partner, and she understood his unspoken request.
"Mr. Taylor, we would like to take the opportunity to ask you a few questions about the night of Mr. Lee's murder, if you can spare the time," Scully said, offering Stephen a polite smile.
Stephen nodded, his hair falling into his eyes. "Absolutely." He pushed the hair out of his eyes. "Come on in and get comfortable.
Look around. Mi casa es su casa. Paula, did you offer Agents Mulder and Scully coffee?"
"I would have if there were any left," Paula retorted.
"We're fine," Mulder replied. He stood, glad to be out of the uncomfortable chair.
Stephen's office was a little more than half the size of Jeffrey's office, but was furnished with luxury of a different style. It was a modern office a man's office, mostly decorated in black, with fine leather and polished chrome. A few personal items - photos of himself with various celebrities, political and sports figures joined numerous awards prominently displayed on the walls.
Stephen stopped in front of the most decorated wall, mock straightening a plaque that was clearly centered to begin with.
Both Scully and Mulder paused, glancing briefly at some of the framed items.
"Please, take your time," Stephen encouraged as he moved behind his desk. Sitting in the large leather executive chair, he looked completely out of place in his casual jeans and T-shirt, the seemingly preferred attire of most of the creative executives.
"These are just a few of the awards I've received...a sampling of some of the more prestigious honors. I haven't had time to put the rest of them up yet. There are just too many to keep track of."
Scully turned and faced him, noting that he appeared to be extremely satisfied with their attention to his wall of honors. She noticed that on the wall next to his desk Stephen had hung a photo of himself wearing a tuxedo and holding an award - an Emmy, she thought. The photo was so large, it nearly covered the entire wall.
What appeared to be the same award was housed in a glass case behind his desk, opposite another just like it, along with a few other odd shaped statues.
"I have two Emmys," Stephen said off of her look. "My first Emmy was for the telefilm, 'Eye of the Locust'..." he paused, and Scully realized he was waiting for a response. She nodded, pressing her lips into a near smile, although she'd never seen nor heard of the film. Stephen continued, "The other was for the show 'Blinded by the Light'."
The way he spoke, it was clear that he anticipated another response, and Scully nodded once again, unable to remember anything about the show or its premise. She'd never been big on viewing television.
"That was the one about the man who went through a near-death experience," Mulder said, coming valiantly to her rescue.
"Yes, that was my first series," Stephen said smugly, folding his hands together on the desk in front of him, then gesturing to the two chairs opposite his desk. "Please, sit, sit. Let's chat."
They complied, and Stephen continued. "Yes, 'Blinded by the Light' was one of my finest bodies of work. We won best series that year. I'm still receiving awards overseas - they can't get enough of it in Belgium. So far, it's been translated into fifteen languages."
Scully nodded again, and Mulder added, "Great song," one corner of his mouth turning up slightly when Scully raised her eyebrow at him.
There was a brief pause, and Scully took the opportunity to ask, "Mr. Taylor, you were not present at the scene the night that Mr.
Lee was killed, is that correct?"
"No, I was in story meetings with the staff writers, choosing our Emmy submissions for this year's awards. In fact, that's what I've been working on this morning." He pointed to a large screen television in the corner of the room, the image on screen paused on the credit listing Stephen Taylor as Executive Producer.
"How did you learn of the incident?" Scully continued.
"David called from the set to tell me the news. Shocking. Absolutely shocking."
"Were you acquainted with Mr. Lee?"
"Not at all. I'm not involved in the casting."
Mulder jumped in. "Mr. Taylor...is there anyone who might want to sabotage the show?"
"Sabotage? You think that this is about sabotage? I can tell you that plenty of people would like to see 'Detective' off the air.
We're the number one show in America six out of seven nights a week.
On a slow night our share is larger than 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' or 'Survivor'. We're a phenomenon, a cultural icon."
"Do *you* have any enemies, Mr. Taylor?"
"Everyone wants what I have, Mr. Mulder. Even David, who is a friend of mine, would like to be in my shoes."
"Enough to kill for it?"
Stephen waved his hand in dismissal. "David? The show is too important to him. He came by the house just last night, ranting about his bleak future. What he lacks is creative vision."
"What about Curtis Burns?" Scully asked.
"Curtis was a terrific director and very dedicated to his craft."
He looked up, noticing that Paula was standing in the doorway, trying to get his attention. "What is it, Paula?" he snapped at her.
"David's here," Paula said, giving Stephen a puzzled look. "He's having his espresso, whenever Agents Mulder and Scully are ready.
And Jeffrey wants to see you."
David couldn't remember much about the night before. Holding a small demitasse cup and saucer in his trembling hands, he was surrounded by mahogany office furniture, an upholstered sofa and chairs of rich greens and burgundy. It was a stark contrast to Stephen, in the decor as well as in David's business attire and demeanor. Instead of awards, his walls displayed elaborately framed diplomas from Harvard and Columbia.
"I think I've got the flu," he said with a slight whine, holding his hand against his forehead. His skin appeared pale and sweaty. "All I remember about last night is that I found myself at Stephen's house, feeling like I'd been hit by a truck. I barely made it home.
I've been in the bathroom most of the night."
"Do you remember paying a visit to Curtis Burns earlier yesterday evening?" Scully asked, crossing her legs. The chairs in David's office weren't the same leather chairs as in Stephen's office, but they were still more comfortable than the chairs in the lobby.
David sniffed. "I remember going there to talk about the show."
"Was anyone with him when you arrived?"
He drew in a deep breath and responded slowly. "All I remember is I bumped into Curtis, and I started feeling strange...like something was taking over my body." He coughed. "I hope it's not something virulent. I've been throwing up all night, but I can't afford to take time away from the show at this point."
Scully glanced at Mulder, who was chewing on his lower lip, studying David.
"How was Curtis feeling when you left?"
"Fine. I guess he was fine, I don't remember. God, I'm sick, I'm losing time, or my memory, or both. What if it's something lethal, like E coli or the Hanta virus? I ate shellfish at Duke's yesterday." Sniffing once more, he reached across his desk and pulled his Rolodex toward him, flipping through the cards. "This is perfect, just perfect. I wonder if my physician is free this morning. You know it figures that this would happen to me. I've worked my tail off on this show and it's all falling apart." He pointed toward the diplomas on the wall. "Undergrad in marketing from Columbia, then Harvard business school. I've got credentials.
Look at Stephen, the executive producer. A goddamn Bachelor of Arts degree in photography from the Cal State system. It's all been handed to him on a silver platter. Contracts, salaries, awards...he's never had to work for any of it. Curtis was the same way. 'They're the creative talent,' Jeffrey always says. 'You've got the business sense, David.' But who is the responsibility going to fall on when the advertisers pull out? Not the creative talent, oh no. The ratings go down and suddenly I'm the one fielding all the calls from the Ford Motor Co."
He stopped, letting out a short laugh and thumping his index finger on one of the cards in the Rolodex. "See? Look at that - Michael Katz. He cheated his way through market analysis, and now he's the C.E.O. of one of the largest tire manufacturers in the world." He started flipping through the cards once again, sniffing and shaking his head. "Bastard made a fortune when Firestone lost their credibility. He's driving a Rolls and I'm driving a pickup truck."
Mulder glanced over at Scully, who rolled her eyes. Wetting his lips, he commented drolly, "I didn't realize that Range Rover was classified as a pickup truck."
Scully drew in a deep breath, her patience at an end. Clasping the armrests on her chair as she sat up, she was ready to move the conversation forward. "Mr. Weiner..." she began firmly, as Mulder stood, laying a hand on her shoulder and cutting her off before she could continue.
"Thank you, Mr. Weiner," Mulder said, "We appreciate you taking the time to speak with us."
With her mouth slightly open in surprised disbelief, Scully stared at her partner. Mulder was already on his way to the door when she offered David a polite smile for his distracted nod, following Mulder out of the office.
"Mulder, what are you doing?" Scully hissed with minor annoyance, her brow furrowed as she hurried to catch up with him in front of the bungalow.
He stopped near their car, reaching into his inside jacket pocket for his sunglasses. "He isn't going to be of any help to us, Scully."
"How can you say that? The man very well may be the last person to see Curtis Burns alive."
"That's not what we're investigating, remember?
She let out a huff of frustration at having her words thrown back in her face. "Even so, Mulder, you wanted to talk with Mr. Weiner.
Why end the interview before we could even ask him for details about the night Mr. Lee was murdered?"
"You saw him, Scully, he was completely preoccupied. Even if he was with Curtis yesterday evening, I don't believe he remembers anything more than what he told us." She couldn't see Mulder's eyes behind the sunglasses, but he chewed his lower lip as he'd done in David's office. "You know, we've encountered three very distinct personality types here."
"What do you mean?"
"Curtis Burns was a very angry man. Stephen Taylor is a classic example of "hubris," or pride, if you will. Did you notice how he was preoccupied with his own accomplishments? And David Weiner appears to be consumed with..."
"Hypochondria?" she broke in.
"...envy for what everyone else has," Mulder finished deliberately in response to her glib tone.
"Mulder, we all have those traits within us, and can act out according to the situation at any given time. Sharing an office and an assistant with Stephen Taylor, a man who flaunts his every success, its no surprise that David Weiner might feel envious."
"True, one may feed off the other. But regardless, I think that David Weiner is the kind of person who is always keeping score on what others have, just like I think that Stephen Taylor is the kind of person who flaunts his success every chance he gets. What we have here, Scully, are three individuals, each possessing one unusually predominant characteristic."
She squinted at him in the bright sunlight, folding her arms across her chest. "Mulder, if you had to choose one word to describe me, what would it be?"
He froze like a deer caught in headlights. "Is this a trick question?"
She gave him the familiar look of reproach. "My point is that we can all be reduced down to a one-word description by anyone who is even remotely acquainted with us...and not always with the most flattering results. How is any of this relevant to the murder of Mr. Lee?"
Mulder bit his lip, thinking about the question. He shook his head slightly. "I don't know, but I think it is a big piece of the puzzle, Scully. We figure this out, and we're that much closer to solving the case."
She stared at him a moment, face to face, neither changing their position. Then she dropped her arms to her sides and strode past him over to their car, stopping in front of the passenger side door.
She knew better than to completely discount his leaps of intuition without substantial evidence to the contrary. He'd been right on with those leaps more times than she'd like to admit, but that didn't mean she wasn't irritated, anyway.
Mulder blew out a slow breath of air, following her to the car. He knew that she was giving him the benefit of the doubt, not because he had proof, but because she respected him and his ability. It was the same as him willingly suspending his theories about the relativity of the pronounced personality traits if she'd gone the other way and pressed him for the proof. He unlocked the driver's side door, climbed in, and reached over to unlock her door.
She was already buckling herself in when she realized that he had made no move to start the car. After a few moments, she glanced over at him. He was chewing on his lip again.
"Integrity," he said, staring out the window.
She paused, trying to figure out what he was talking about but drawing a blank. "What?"
"One word, right? Integrity."
Her breath caught, and she was silent a moment, looking down at her lap as she tried to find order and contain her emotions. Some of them leaked out in her voice, anyway. "Mulder, I didn't..."
He turned toward her then, the emotional tension also radiating off of him, and she looked up into his face, unable to see his eyes.
Reaching out, she eased his sunglasses off and he stared at her intently.
His eyes were open windows to his soul. He didn't mask his emotions, or try to control them the way she did. With Mulder, what you see is exactly what he's feeling.
Framing his face in her hands, she met his gaze openly. But as her lips formed a response, her cell phone rang. Her eyes closed, and she let out a huff as she dropped her hands, turning away from him to answer the call.
Mulder dropped his gaze with disappointment, turning his head to look out the side window while listening to her conversation. When she punched the 'end' button on the phone he turned back to her, his eyes questioning.
"That was the detective I spoke with this morning. He's got a friend in the firearms section of the Scientific Investigative Division - they performed the comparisons on the bullet that struck Mr. Lee and the prop gun we dropped off last night. It wasn't a match."
Mulder sighed, and Scully placed her hand on his forearm, continuing, "However, there was an unregistered gun collected from Curtis' Burns house last night. And guess what?"
Mulder's mouth dropped open slightly, his eyes brightening with his comprehension of what she was saying. "It's a match?"
Scully nodded slightly in confirmation. "They've sent a squad car out to bring in Curtis's lover to find out if he had any knowledge of the gun." She reached over, gently placing Mulder's sunglasses back on his face, and he grinned widely as he started the car.
"Let's go play detective, Scully."
Jeffrey poured two fingers of Scotch into each glass, setting the decanter back down on the desktop.
"The show is stronger than ever." He pushed one of the glasses across the desk toward Stephen Taylor, sitting opposite him. "What did they ask you?"
"They asked if I knew the Chinese actor. They wanted to know if anyone would want to sabotage the show," Stephen replied, reaching out and grasping the glass in his fist, looking at the amber liquid briefly before raising it to his lips and tossing it back.
Jeffrey held his gaze a moment before raising his glass, swallowing only half of the liquid. "What else?"
Reaching for the decanter, Stephen poured himself another. "They talked to David."
"He doesn't remember anything?"
"That's what he says. He's probably embarrassed over his behavior last night. He made some ludicrous demands, wanting an equal executive producer credit and a development deal like mine."
"What did you tell him?"
"What could I tell him? He knows how it works. We all have agents, we all make our own deals."
Jeffrey finished his glass, and Stephen pushed the decanter toward him. Before he moved his hand away, Jeffrey wrapped his hand over Stephen's.
"And you still owe *me* for yours," Jeffrey said evenly, his blue eyes piercing as they held Stephen's gaze.
At the contact, a feeling of warmth flooded up Jeffrey's arm and into his torso, spreading to his extremities. He felt his burgeoning arousal heighten and expand as he started into Stephen's eyes, the anticipation building.
Stephen's face grew slack, and his eyes lost focus, glazing over.
He closed them a moment, then blinked them open, looking at Jeffrey in confusion. "What the...?" His gaze fell on the bottle of Scotch, and he mumbled, "Jesus..." before slumping forward, the side of his face pressed against the top of Jeffrey's desk.
Jeffrey released his grip on Stephen's hand and stood, his breathing uneven as he stared down at the man on his desk, passed out after just one drink - what a lightweight pantywaist. Still, a deal was made, and he intended on following through. He stepped around the desk, hoisting Stephen's slack body farther up the surface, his eyes on the swell of his ass. He really wanted Stephen coherent for this, that was the whole point, but his need was too great, and a deal is a deal. He reached down and touched himself through his trousers when the office door opened and his secretary stepped inside.
Jeffrey growled, his arousal overwhelming in its intensity as his focus moved from Stephen to Karen.
Karen stood just inside the doorway, oblivious to what was about to transpire in the room as she crossed her arms in front of her chest.
"Your wife just called," she said crossly. "She said to call her at home."
"This isn't the time to have this conversation, Karen," Jeffrey replied smoothly, unbuckling his belt he honed in on her. "Come over here."
She didn't move. "You said you were gonna ask for a divorce last weekend."
Jeffrey strode across the room, pushing the door shut and pinning Karen against it. "I will baby, first things first." His hands reached under her skirt and he lowered his mouth to her neck, groaning as he rubbed his body against hers, unfastening his trousers and dropping them to the floor. "Is that the new thong I bought for you?"
"You said you wanted me to wear it to work," Karen giggled flirtatiously, then closed her eyes with a gasp as she was pressed into the hard wood.
Los Angeles Police Department Parker Center
Jack Martin sat in interrogation room C, slouched in the metal folding chair with his hands placed on the laminated table in front of him. He was long and incredibly thin, dressed in the latest trend, his haircut stylishly short with dark roots accented by blonde tips.
With him in the small room were a LAPD detective and Mulder and Scully. The detective that Scully had been in contact with, Lewes, was leading the interrogation.
"Jack...may I call you Jack?" Lewes asked.
"Jack two oh oh oh," Jack replied sarcastically.
Lewes was undaunted. "You have been living in the residence of Curtis Burns, is that correct?"
"Yes." There was a tone of defensive impetuousness within that one spoken word.
Lewes continued. "Were you there last night from about five-thirty on?"
"No, I was staying with friends."
"And all day." His voice came out in a whine. "I'm just getting over the flu or something and haven't been feeling well. I'm really not up to this right now."
Mulder looked over to Scully, who was watching the interrogation with her lips pursed, her arms crossed in front of her chest and a critical look in her eyes as she assessed the suspect.
Lewes continued. "I don't see that you have much of a choice, Jack.
Unless you'd like us to provide you with a nice cot and a private cell and we'll try this again in 24 hours." Lewes paused when Jack sat up slightly, the slim man's body language indicating that he didn't like that option. "Curtis recently asked you to move out of his residence, didn't he?"
Jack flashed his long lashes at Lewes in an unhappy look mixed with a large amount of irritation, to which Lewes took as an affirmation.
"Were you with him last night?"
His expression showed his annoyance. "Like I said before, I was with friends. Curtis kicked me out. I still love him, even if he did go a little crazy and throw me out into the cold. Listen, I'm the victim here, not the criminal."
Lewes chuffed. "That's for us to decide. Right now we're just asking questions, alright? Was there anyone else staying with Curtis? Friends, relatives...anyone you can think of?"
"Marta comes in the mornings to clean, and there's a gardening service that shows up once a week. Other than that, there's no one that I know of."
Mulder stepped forward to whisper into Lewes ear. Lewes nodded and shrugged one shoulder, and Mulder stepped closer to Jack. Jack sat up slightly as Mulder approached.
"Hey," Mulder said amiably.
"Hey," Jack replied warily, looking him over with mild interest.
Mulder looked down at his suit a moment, then glanced at Scully, who raised an eyebrow at him, leaning one shoulder against the back wall. "Thanks. Sorry to hear you're not feeling well. I guess you missed work yesterday, huh?"
"I'm an actor, my hours are flexible."
"Really? What are you working on right now?"
Jack slouched back in his seat, crossing his arms in front of him.
"I'm between jobs at the moment."
Mulder nodded, biting his lip and watching Jack closely, his alert eyes expressing compassion. "Taking classes?"
"Not anymore. I'm an instinctual actor, the methods get in the way of my creative muse."
Mulder continued his sympathetic approach. "Is that how you and Curtis met? Through work?"
"No, we met through mutual friends."
"Did you ever work together? I mean, that seems like an ideal setup - he's a director, you're an actor."
"We talked about it, but then Curtis started working on 'Detective' and the timing never worked out." His lower lip jutted out in a slight pout.
Mulder nodded once more in understanding. "So you worked on your projects and he worked on 'Detective'. You know you do look kind of familiar. Would I have seen any of your work anywhere?"
Jack shifted in his seat, crossing his long legs. "It's been awhile since I've been out on any calls. I've been sick off and on." He coughed for effect, and Mulder glanced up at Scully, holding her gaze.
Reading his unspoken request, Scully stepped forward.
"That's a pretty nasty cough." Mulder nodded his head toward Scully. "Agent Scully is a doctor. Do you mind if she does a quick visual exam?" He smiled his most charming smile. "Free medical advice, right?"
Jack shrugged and cleared his throat, then sat back up in his chair.
Scully glanced over at Mulder as she pulled out her pocket Maglite and twisted it on. Shining the light into Jack's eyes, she laid her hand over his forehead and then took his pulse right underneath his jaw.
"What kind of symptoms have you been experiencing?" she asked, twisting the flashlight back off.
"I was really out of it for at least a day or two, because I don't remember a thing that happened on those days. All I remember was that I was sick and Curtis yelling at me, telling me it was over," Jack answered. "Vomiting, chills, sweating, diarrhea."
"The vomiting stopped, but the others are still hanging around. I feel like I've been hit by a truck."
Scully glanced up at Mulder, letting him know her brief exam was finished, and he gave her a small nod of acknowledgement. Mulder leaned on the edge of the table, folding his arms in front of him.
"Jack, were you aware that Curtis owned a handgun?"
Jack hesitated. "I knew he had one."
"Where did he get it?"
"I don't know where he got it. I wouldn't go near the thing, but he felt he needed it for protection."
"In your estimation, would he ever use it?"
Jack hesitated once more. "I don't know. I'd never seen him so angry, it was like...barely contained rage the night we broke up."
Tears welled up in his eyes and he stopped, wiping his cheek delicately. "I was supposed to go over there and pick up the rest of my stuff, but I was too sick." He looked up at Mulder. "Is that how he died? He shot himself with that goddamn gun?"
Mulder drew in a deep breath and released it. "No."
The door opened and a uniformed officer entered the room, handing Lewes a file. Jack sniffled, and Lewes looked the file over a moment, then closed it and handed it to Scully. Stepping forward, he laid his palms on the table and leaned forward. "Tell me about Curtis' other friends, Jack."
Mulder caught Scully's eye, nodding his head toward the door.
Scully handed the file back to Lewes, who continued to question Jack while she followed Mulder outside the interrogation room, glancing back to make sure the door was closed before looking up into his face.
"He does appear to be suffering from residual effects of a virus, Mulder. Either that, or he's using. His pulse is shallow and his pupils show a delayed reaction to light."
"You looked at his background check...it indicates frequent changes of residence and a lack of steady employment, isn't that right?"
"He's been receiving state financial support in the form of unemployment or disability insurance off and on for the last few years." Scully studied him a moment, recognizing all of the signs of a Mulder epiphany. "Mulder, what's going on?"
His eyes glowed with the anticipation of a big lead. "Did I see you put your laptop in the trunk of the car this morning?"
He chewed on his lower lip, his mind obviously working overtime on his latest theory. "I need to borrow it for a few hours." He started off down the hallway toward the elevator, then turned to face her, walking backwards. "Do me a favor?"
"I'm afraid to ask."
He smiled his charming smile once again, this time solely for her benefit. "I need you to go back to the county coroner's office and examine Curtis Burns."
Her brow furrowed. They both knew that the murder of Curtis Burns was strictly the LAPD's jurisdiction. "Mulder, we've been over this..."
"Just...humor me, Scully. Please?"
She let out a resigned huff and walked toward him. "What am I supposed to be looking for?"
Mulder grinned at her assent and punched the elevator call button.
The doors opened immediately. "I wanna know if he also had anything that might resemble the flu." Holding the doors open, he waited until she entered the car to push the button for the ground floor.
"Mulder, it's me."
He shifted his cell phone to his other ear, propping it up with his shoulder as he continued typing on the laptop. "Hey Scully, where are you? I've been trying to call you all afternoon."
"I'm on my way to the car right now." She let out a long, weary sigh. "Mulder, I've found some anomalies in Curtis Burns' blood chemical levels."
"What kind of anomalies?"
"Predominantly, extremely high levels of anadamide, norepinephrine and enkephalins."
Mulder stopped typing, lifting the phone back up to his ear with his hand to make sure he was hearing her correctly. "Curtis was using drugs?"
"If he was, he was either mixing several kinds of drugs or he was using some kind of organically altered superdrug. What I found in his system is potentially lethal in such extreme doses. We could be dealing with a whole new form of illegal substance, Mulder. If a substance like this hits the streets..."
"I don't think that's what it is, Scully," Mulder assured her.
"I've found something in the files that may explain everything."
She was silent a moment. "An X File?"
"That's X Files, Scully, as in plural. How soon can you get here?"
White production trucks and trailers took all the available street parking surrounding the Parker Center, blocking the driveway to the visitors parking area in the process. The spaces not occupied with production trucks were filled with news vans sporting huge satellite dish connections on the roofs of their vehicles, hoping for the first crack at any breaking news as it pertained to America's hottest television show. Circling the block, Scully pulled out her cell phone and speed dialed her partner. She was finally able to get into the visitors parking area on her second try, and flashed her badge at the officer in the guard booth.
"Mulder," she complained, "I'd have been up there fifteen minutes ago if these damn production trucks weren't blocking traffic."
"Is it the 'Detective' crew?" Mulder asked absently as he stared intently at the computer screen, making no attempt to find a window to look for himself.
"Judging from the presence of the news media, I'd say that's a yes."
A silver Porsche behind her beeped its horn, and peering into the rearview, she could see the driver waving. Scully pulled into a parking space and threw the Neon into park as the Porsche pulled into a space nearby. "Someone is honking and waving at me."
"Another fan of the Dana Scully driving method, no doubt."
"Shut up, Mulder." Scully stepped out of the car, closing the door with a little more force than necessary.
"Dana!" Already in costume and makeup, Angie Fabrocini called to her from two parking spaces over, waving over the roof of her sports car. "Hi!"
"It's Angie, I gotta go," Scully said into the phone, punching the end button and meeting Angie halfway between their respective cars.
"Angie, hi. Are you working tonight?"
"'Fraid so. Did you see the show last night? It looks like the contestants may solve the case tonight. I'm here on call just in case."
Scully nodded. "Great job last night, by the way."
"Thanks to you! You helped me so much, in fact, my performance last night was the deciding factor for a project on another network. My agent called this morning, and I've officially been offered my own series."
"That's great!" Scully smiled, offering the statuesque woman a friendly hug. "I'm so happy for you."
"Just get me away from that freak Jeffrey," Angie replied. "The man is the biggest pervert on the planet."
"Jeffrey Schwartz?" Scully blinked at her a moment, attempting to keep her voice conversational through her surprise. "The network president?"
Angie paused, licking her lips. "It's probably one of the most well-known secrets in the industry that Jeffrey Schwartz is a sex addict. Nearly everyone who has come into contact with him has a story to tell." She took a deep breath. "It's, um, also no big secret that I made a few bad judgement decisions early in my career." Angie's dark eyes expressed her regret. "I was young and I trusted the wrong people, but I won't make myself out to be a victim. And I don't want to make the same mistakes twice."
"Angie, if you're being harassed..."
"No, Dana, I know what you're going to say. It's true that Jeffrey has been after me since day one and I wouldn't have anything to do with the little troll. He's given me ultimatums that he's yet to follow through with, including the threat that he'll ruin my career.
But I don't have any proof of that except for my word, and all he has to do is pull out one of my early films and my credibility would be completely ruined. I've no illusions about how the system works.
But I can handle it."
Scully crossed her arms and looked down at the ground a moment releasing a slow breath, then looked up at Angie. "What are you going to do?"
Angie's face broke into a genuine smile as she tossed her thick dark hair back over her shoulder. "I've had my agent and several attorneys go over my contract for 'Detective', and the penalty for breaking it is minimal. Well worth the money I'd have to pay to get out of it."
"Well, as happy as I am for you, I know of at least a few people who will be disappointed to see Dr. Maria Jolie go."
Angie smiled, reaching out and giving her shoulder a squeeze, leaving her hand there. "Do you want to get a cup of coffee or tea or something?" She caught Scully's gaze and held it a little too long, her eyes intent.
Scully recognized the look, and she glanced down to break Angie's gaze, poking the toe of her shoe at a spot on the asphalt. "Um, that sounds wonderful, Angie, thank you. But my...um, partner is waiting for me upstairs."
Angie bit her lip, drawing in a deep breath. "Okay." She paused, realizing Scully's discomfort and sighing softly. "Dana, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to offend..."
"No, it's okay," Scully stopped her, reaching out to take her hand with a light squeeze of reassurance. "It's just..."
"Scully!" Mulder broke in, walking toward them at a brusque pace.
Scully glanced sideways at Mulder and dropped Angie's hand, both women looking down at the ground. Angie coughed nervously while Scully took a small step back and crossed her arms in front of her chest.
Mulder's eyes went from one woman to the other, focusing on his partner, adding to the tension hovering over the scene.
Angie cleared her throat. "Well, I'd better get to the set. Agent Mulder," she said, glancing over at him, "nice to see you again."
"Likewise," Mulder replied with a polite nod.
She turned back toward Scully. "Dana, thanks again for all of your help."
"You're welcome," Scully replied, looking up at Angie with genuine warmth. "Good luck."
Angie nodded with an understanding smile, then turned and walked away, leaving the two of them in silence.
Scully raised her eyes to Mulder's, knowing his astute ability to read people must have clued him in to what had just happened between her and Angie. Even though she knew she hadn't done anything inappropriate, she still felt slightly unsettled and just a bit guilty over his sudden appearance. But he gazed back at her comfortably, reaching out to take her hand.
"You alright?" he asked, weaving their fingers together.
She let out a deep breath, feeling the tension smooth away with the confirmation of his trust in her, and she smiled. "Yeah." He smiled, and she pulled lightly on his arm. "So, Mulder, you wanna tell me about these X Files you claim will explain everything?"
He released her hand and placed his hand on her back as they started walking toward the building entrance, his voice taking on the familiar cadence of lecturer. "Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1966. A local hospital reported a strange outbreak of what appeared to be a virus of unknown origin. Seven victims were treated and released, each claiming to have experienced lost time followed by flu-like symptoms including vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, chills, and in some instances, extreme physical pain. Each one of the victims was described as having a heightened personality trait which dominated that person's behavior."
"Dominant personality traits," she replied.
He nodded, opening the door for her. "The next incident was in Princeton, New Jersey in 1980. Six students and one local girl reported the same physical symptoms. The girl, Susan Jamieson, was brought into the hospital emergency room, apparently stoned out of her mind and exhibiting an extreme absence of inhibition." He punched the elevator call button. "But even more remarkable was the evidence that Ms. Jamieson had very recently engaged in vaginal, oral and anal sexual intercourse with no less than seventeen different partners in less than a twenty-four hour period *including* one of the infected Princeton students."
Scully's eyebrows shot up. "Seventeen! Was she a prostitute?"
"A waitress. She gives new meaning to the phrase, 'coffee, tea or me?'." The elevator arrived, and they stepped inside, Mulder pushing the button once again. "She claimed no recollection of the events leading up to her hospitalization. The last thing she remembered was going home with the student, who she described as 'cute, but the greediest bastard she'd ever met.'"
Scully's brow furrowed as she considered what he had said so far.
"So, whatever this is, maybe it's transferred through sexual contact like HIV, or HPV, or Syphilis, or...or Gonorrhea..."
The elevator opened, and they walked down the hallway toward the unoccupied office he had been working in earlier. "It may be transferred through physical contact, but exactly how isn't clear.
Three of the infected students at Princeton were housemates who claimed to have passed it from one person to the next with no more than casual contact."
"I'm more inclined to believe that sharing a water pipe was a part of the casual contact that they neglected to mention." Mulder turned his face to look at her, and she continued. "Anandamide is a naturally occurring chemical in our brain that binds to the same cell membrane receptors as Tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana. Enkephalins suppress the transmission of pain signals. And Norepinephrine..."
"Produces the 'fight or flight' impulse," Mulder finished for her, opening the door to his makeshift office to allow her to enter.
She swallowed, staring at him a moment. "These people were so high, Mulder, it's no wonder they didn't remember any of it. Most likely, the symptoms the victims experienced afterward were the body's reaction to the withdrawal of these highly stimulating substances."
"You said these were naturally occurring chemicals."
"They are. But something has to be introduced into the body in order to stimulate their release." She stepped inside, turning to face him.
"But you didn't find anything to suggest that."
She paused. "No."
"So it's possible that what we're dealing with here is something that enters the body, stimulates the release of these substances, and then exits the body."
"You're not going to say what I think you're going to say, are you?"
He just looked at her.
"Mulder...there's no evidence to suggest that this could be extraterrestrial."
He sighed. "Whatever it is, Scully, all we know is that it's somehow transferred or shared through some form of physical contact."
"If that's true, then Jack infected Curtis, who infected David."
They looked at each other a moment, and Scully licked her lips.
"David doesn't remember anything between his meeting with Curtis and going to visit..."
"Stephen," they finished in unison.
"I'll get the detective to pull up his address," Mulder said, heading toward the door. He paused, turning back to look at her.
"Do you mind if we stop for dinner on the way? I'm running on empty."
Powering off the laptop, she looked up, offering him a gentle smile.
"Worked through lunch again?"
He nodded, and with a grin, disappeared into the hallway.
Stephen Taylor's Residence 10:15 p.m.
Stephen's appearance was unkempt, his complexion pale. Despite the moderate temperature, he sat on his leather sofa wrapped in a thick comforter, shivering and perspiring.
"I may have to leave you suddenly," he warned.
"Thank you for seeing us again, Mr. Taylor, especially at this late hour," Scully replied, sitting on the ottoman of a plush creamcolored club chair covered in raw silk. "We're aware that the symptoms of your illness are distressing, and we won't stay long."
Stephen pulled the comforter closer. "I was up watching the show, anyway. The contestants arrested the right suspect and solved the case. I don't remember them being that close to the finish." He shivered. "To be honest, Agents, I'm not sure I can be of much help to you. My memory isn't all that sharp at the moment."
"What is the last thing you remember?" Mulder asked from his seat next to Scully on an identical ottoman.
"I woke up here this afternoon, feeling like...well, feeling pretty bad."
"And before that?"
"David had just arrived was it last night? He was ranting about the demise of the show. That's all I remember."
Scully studied him a moment. "Mr. Taylor, do you remember meeting with Agent Mulder and I in your office this morning?"
Taylor's complexion took on a shade of green, and he sat up, throwing the comforter off his shoulders. "Excuse me a moment."
They could hear him gagging as he ran of the room, Mulder grimacing as he turned to Scully.
"I hope he didn't get any on one of those expensive Persian rugs."
Scully winced. "Mulder, if he doesn't remember meeting with us, in all likelihood he was infected at the time."
"And passed it on at some point during the day." He looked down at his own hand. "I shook hands with him this morning, Scully, why wasn't I infected?"
She shook her head. "I don't know. Maybe you are. Maybe some people are merely carriers."
"Then why aren't you infected as well? I touched you." He wiped his hand down the side of his trousers. "There's something we're missing here. Something we're not seeing. How do the personality characteristics factor into this?"
"Maybe they don't."
Mulder bit the inside of his cheek, thinking. Somewhere nearby a telephone began to ring. "There were documented incidents of specific individual character traits in both of the previous cases.
Each case had a total of seven victims."
"That we know of. There very well could be more that weren't reported."
"Maybe, Maybe not." His foot began to bounce nervously, and the ringing telephone suddenly stopped. "Seven, Scully. A prime number, historically a number with both mystical and practical applications. There's the seventh son of the seventh son, the Seven Wonders of the World, the Seven Sages of Greece, the Seven Churches of Asia, the Seven Bibles, the Seven Champions of Christendom..."
"Seven Sorrows of the Virgin..."
"Seven Years War..."
"Seven Bodies in Alchemy..."
"Seven Hills of Rome..."
"Seven Deadly Sins..."
Mulder paused, breaking the rhythm of their repartee as he chewed on his lower lip. "So far, we've seen pride, envy, anger and sloth..."
"Four of the seven deadly sins. That leaves gluttony, avarice and lust..." Scully's eyes widened, a flag going up.
"That's it, Scully, that's the connection. It's feeding on sin..."
Her tone stopped his profiling stream of consciousness and he released his lower lip from between his teeth, looking over at her.
She paused a moment, licking her lips. "I think I know who Stephen infected."
Stephen shuffled back into the room, pressing a cloth to his forehead. "I'm sorry, Agents. Can this day get any worse? I don't suppose you have any influence with the LAPD...."
Scully's shoulders straightened. "What do you mean, Mr. Taylor?"
Stephen sat back down on the sofa, wrapping himself in the comforter once again. "The president of the network is being held without bail on charges of rape and battery."
Wilshire Area Jail 11:21 p.m.
"He's not very happy right now," the heavy-set uniformed police officer huffed as he unlocked the door leading to the cellblock.
"Been puking since they brought him in here."
"Has he received any medical attention?" Scully asked.
There was a noticeable stench of vomit and excrement as the officer lead them directly to a holding cell near the front of the cellblock, where Jeffrey Schwartz sat huddled under a rough wool blanket.
Scully and Mulder shared a look, both knowing that Jeffrey's illness was a clear indication that whatever it was that had infected him had already moved on.
Jeffrey glared up at them as the officer unlocked the cell door, shivering and seething. "My human rights are in violation, I'll have you know," he said as the agents stepped into the cell. "My attorney is in direct contact with the Attorney General."
"We have nothing to do with your incarceration," Mulder replied, "but we would like to ask you a few questions about the events leading up to your current situation."
He gathered up as much dignity as he could muster for a man wearing traces of his own diarrhea and vomit. "I'm not talking to anyone without my attorney."
Mulder nodded in understanding. "Okay, how about we make it off the record?"
Schwartz glowered at Mulder, then at Scully. "I don't remember anything."
Under the circumstances, his declaration was not surprising. Scully stepped forward hoping a different approach might put him more at ease.
"Mr. Schwartz, I'm a medical doctor. While we can't do anything about the accommodations, I might be able to make sure that your time here a little more comfortable if you'll agree to answer a few brief questions."
He let out a soft huff of humiliation and looked off to the side, shivering. "I told you, I don't remember."
Scully looked up at Mulder, who met her gaze and nodded toward the door. They turned to leave and the uniformed officer unlocked the cell to let them out.
"We've got two possibilities for tracking this thing down, Scully, avarice and gluttony," Mulder told her as they followed the officer back out of the cellblock.
"Finding the one person in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who matches one of those vices ought to be a piece of cake," Scully deadpanned.
The officer snorted and Mulder's cell phone trilled from his inside jacket pocket. Mulder retrieved the phone as the officer led them into a receiving area with benches and chairs that were separated from the administrative area by a long counter.
"Mulder. Hey Danny, don't tell me you're pulling an all-nighter."
Stepping behind the counter, the officer took a seat at a desk near the wall.
Scully stepped up to the counter, asking conversationally, "Who is pressing the charges against Mr. Schwartz?"
"His wife is what I heard," was the officer's reply.
Mulder's telephone conversation continued through the exchange.
"Yeah, man, but sometimes the illusion is better than the reality."
He paused. "No, I'll tell you about it later. So what have you got? Yeah, okay, can you fax it over here? The number is..."
There was a pregnant pause as both Mulder and Scully looked expectantly at the uniformed officer at the desk.
"Do you have a fax machine over there?" Mulder asked the officer, holding the phone away from his face.
The officer blinked at him. "Uh, sure. 310-555-1213."
Returning to his call, Mulder said, "Yeah, did you get that Danny?
No, one, two, one, three. Right. Alright Danny, thanks." He was about to hit the end button, but he lifted the phone back up to his ear. "No, I didn't, who was it? No kidding? I'll make sure to tell Scully. Yeah, okay." Ending the call, he turned to Scully, sliding the phone back into his inside jacket pocket. "He's got a transcript from the video we sent him."
"Did he find anything telling?"
"He said he thought there were a few interesting moments." Mulder paced back and forth in the small space in front of the counter, chewing on the side of his thumb. "I guess our best lead on finding who Jeffrey infected is to talk to his wife."
Scully pursed her lips. "The one thing we haven't asked ourselves, Mulder, is what happens once the cycle is completed." He stopped pacing and turned to face her.
"That's been bothering me, Scully. There are definite cycles
fourteen years between the first two cases, and then twenty-one years between the last case and now."
"All divisible by seven," she commented.
The fax machine behind the officer's desk rang, then beeped as it began to receive the transmission. Mulder glanced over at it, then directed his attention back to his partner. "The last victim in 1980 suffered the symptoms of withdrawal just like the other six."
"Which brings us back to the question, where does it go?"
Mulder shook his head. "Maybe it starts all over again."
They stared at each other, neither able to answer the question satisfactorily.
"I think we should go to Princeton?" Mulder asked.
"For what? We're here to find out who murdered Mr. Lee. Other than the fact that a lot of people have acted strange and gotten sick, there's been no crime committed that falls within our jurisdiction."
"But this stimulant may have caused the victims to commit murder, or in the case of Jeffrey Schwartz, rape and battery."
"How are we going to prove that? Mulder, even if we could isolate this stimulant and show the physiological responses it promotes in its victims, everything that we've seen so far suggests that the people infected merely acted in accordance with their individual personalities."
He looked at her, his face showing his disappointment. "Maybe that's why I wasn't affected, Scully. Maybe I don't have the dominant personality traits it looks for when searching for a new host."
She studied his face, her eyes softening. "You said it yourself, Mulder. It's looking for a predominant sin." She poked a finger at his chest. "You're predominantly virtuous."
He raised his eyebrows. "Was that supposed to be a compliment?
"It means that if I had to pick just one virtuous word to describe you, Mulder, I'd have trouble choosing." She held his gaze. "So what else did Danny say?"
The corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. "You can have the cash or he'll take you to lunch when you get back."
She blinked at him a moment, then a smug smile crossed her face. "I solved the crime? So it was the drive through attendant who killed the fictional Mr. Oh?"
"You could be a millionaire, Scully."
She let out a soft snort. "I'll take Danny's ten and call it even.
The last time he offered to buy me lunch we went to McDonald's."
"So..." Mulder leaned an elbow against the counter, lowering his voice as he picked at a button on her jacket. "What would you do with a million dollars if you did win it?"
"Money often creates more problems than it solves, Mulder." He scowled at her, and she shifted her weight on her feet, leaning back against the counter, relenting. "Oh, alright. After Uncle Sam took his share, there would be significantly less than a million, of course."
He was still playing with the button on her jacket. "Of course."
"I suppose I'd set up college funds for my nephews...pay off Charlie's mortgage...buy mom a new car...I'd buy you a car, for that matter, and then we wouldn't always have to get a Bureau car or take mine whenever we leave your neighborhood."
He laughed softly, leaning closer. "But what about you, Scully?
Isn't there anything *you* really want?"
She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "Nothing that money could buy. I suppose I already have everything else."
"Hey Romeo," the desk officer interrupted from behind the counter, "Your fax is finished."
Mulder sheepishly turned toward the officer as Scully turned away, biting her lip to keep from laughing out loud.
"We're *partners*," Mulder mouthed at him, emphasizing the word 'partners'.
"Of course you are," the officer said with sarcasm, handing him the fax.
Mulder pressed his lips into a thin line, ignoring the officer by focusing on the thick fax. "Scully," he said, his shoulders straightening when he got to the third page.
She stepped up beside him. "What is it?"
"Danny isolated an off-camera conversation between two males on the videotape at timecode 010:13. Male #1 says 'It's a .357' to which Male #2 responds, 'Hell yeah, she's a real beaut.' Male #1 answers with, 'The way things are, I'm not leaving the house without it."
Mulder exchanged a look with Scully, pulling out his cell phone and punching a number on the speed dial. "Yeah Danny - Mulder. I need a voice I.D. on the dialogue from timecode 010:13. Uh, page three of the transcript. Yeah, I'll hold. Thanks."
Scully looked at him, drawing a deep breath as they waited for Danny to return with the voice I.D. Her cell phone trilled, and Mulder glanced at her in surprise as she answered it. "Scully...yes, detective," she replied, glancing up at Mulder. She mouthed 'Lewes' to which Mulder nodded.
Danny returned on the line and Mulder turned his back to Scully to block out her conversation. Scully did the same thing so that she wouldn't be distracted by Mulder's conversation. They both finished at the same time, ending their respective calls and turning to face each other. There was an expectant pause as their eyes met, each eager to share their information.
"You first," Mulder offered.
She gave him a knowing smile, recognizing the look in his eye - he had the answer to the question, 'Who shot Mr. Lee?'. "Detective Lewes received a positive I.D. on the fingerprints lifted from the handgun retrieved from Curtis Burns' house, as well as from the remaining bullets that were inside the weapon."
She shook her head. "Uh uh. Your turn."
They stared at each other, each challenging the other to reveal their information first. Slow smiles spread on their faces as the tension between them grew.
"Count of three?" Mulder offered.
"Jeez!" the uniformed officer exclaimed from behind the counter.
"Why don't you two just get a room?"
They'd forgotten they had an audience, and they broke their gaze in surprise, Scully crossing her arms, running her teeth along her molars and looking down at the floor as Mulder looked over his shoulder to glare at the officer. The officer rolled his eyes at him and turned his back on them, and Mulder turned back to Scully.
When Scully raised her eyes to his, he shrugged, smiling shyly.
She took a fortifying breath, letting it out in a quick huff.
"-Burns," Mulder finished for her. They both grinned, and casting a quick glance over his shoulder, Mulder bent down and whispered in her ear, "that's two for two, and I owe you dinner."
Several Weeks Later 7:48 p.m.
Mulder powered on the television with the remote, pulling his lightweight sweater over his still-damp hair as a familiar rhythm resounded from his front door. Lowering the television's volume, he tossed the remote onto the coffee table and finger combed his hair before crossing into the next room.
Scully was standing expectantly in the hallway when he opened the door.
"Why Agent Scully. Come on in...mi casa es su casa."
Looking him over briefly and raising an eyebrow, she stepped past him into the apartment. "Gracias."
"Oooo, somebody's been shopping," Mulder said with appreciation, checking out her new form-fitting slacks and blouse from the rear as he followed her back into the living room. She was wearing the really high heels. "You up for Italian tonight?"
She turned to face him. "Il Porto?"
He grinned, purring, "You know what I like."
Stepping closer, she smiled at his flirty tone. "It's a beautiful evening, Mulder." He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer, and she laid her chin on his chest, looking up at him.
"Mind if we walk?"
Looking at her with amused indulgence, he deduced, "You found a prime parking spot right in front of the building." She nodded, and he bent down, placing a kiss on the top of her head. "I'll get my shoes."
He disappeared into his bedroom, and Scully turned and looked at the television. "Excess Hollywood" was running a report on the curse of the cancelled series, "Detective," and she picked up the remote control from the coffee table, turning up the volume.
When Mulder returned, Scully was still standing in front of the television, her arms crossed and her chin resting on the end of the remote in her hand as she stared thoughtfully at the screen.
'...charges were dropped against Schwartz after settling out of court for an undisclosed sum of money, rumored to be eight figures.
The soon to be ex-Mrs. Schwartz has been seen around town with hunky soap star Mark Robb, reportedly sparing no expense at several exclusive Beverly Hills boutiques,' the reporter announced.
"What would you call that, Scully, avarice or gluttony?" Mulder asked from the sofa as he tied his shoes.
She glanced over her shoulder at him. "Sounds like avarice to me."
On screen, "Excess Hollywood" was airing a clip from "Detective", showing The Kinneys dressed in black, investigating the murder of Mr. Oh inside the Wendy's restaurant.
'Mike and Sandy Kinney solved their investigation, winning the entire million dollar prize. Was what happened to the Kinneys afterwards part of the "Detective" curse?' Video footage showed the Kinneys climbing out of a brand new Chevy Suburban, dressed in somebody's tasteless idea of good fashion, both significantly chunkier than they had been on the show just weeks before.
"Doh," Mulder said in surprise at the recent footage of the contestants.
The report continued, 'The Kinneys have spent nearly all of their winnings on fine dining, lavish furnishings, automobiles and expensive trips to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, where they've stayed in posh penthouse suites and gambled at high stakes tables.' Scully turned and faced Mulder. "What do you think happened to the sin-eating stimulant? Did it infect Mrs. Schwarz, the Kinneys, or both?"
Mulder shook his head, staring at the screen. "I don't think we'll ever know unless it happens again." He reached out and took the remote from her hand, and she snatched it back as an image of Angie Fabrocini appeared on screen.
'Not everyone associated with "Detective" has been victim to the curse, however. Angelina Fabrocini, who played the sexy Dr. Maria Jolie on the series will star in her own series next Fall about the life of a female FBI agent.' Mulder walked over and powered the television off manually, smiling broadly when she raised her eyebrow at him. Holding his hand out to her, he said, "Let's go make gluttons of ourselves, Scully."
She tossed the remote control down on the coffee table, stepped forward and took his hand, a slow smile curving on her lips as he pulled her along with him, leading her toward the door. She stopped in the foyer, tugging him back toward her.
"Heroic," she said.
He looked down into her upturned face, confused. "What?"
"The one word that describes you, Mulder. I've found it."
They grinned at each other warmly, and he tugged on her arm again, pulling her toward the door. "Does that mean I have to wait until I've slain the dragon before I get the girl?" He held the door open, allowing her to pass ahead of him into the hallway.
"Only if the dragon comes with a side of pasta," she replied, giggling at the look he gave her as he locked the door and pocketed the keys. The sound of her bubbly laugh trailed faintly down the hallway, still echoing through the empty apartment after they'd gone.
Thanks go to Marty and Sybil.