Summary: When ex-ISU Chief Bill Patterson is found dead in his prison cell with his face slashed and his eyes cut out, Mulder and Scully pick up the hunt where they left off five years earlier. Still convinced the killer is not a man but an evil spirit, Mulder pursues his own investigative methods, bringing him to the brink of insanity for a second time. Meanwhile, Scully is desperate to solve the case before she loses Mulder to his demons forever.
Disclaimer: Do these characters really belong to Chris Carter, FOX and 1013 Productions? If so, no copyright infringement intended. Entertainment, yes. Profit, no.
Author's notes: "Malevolence" was written for I Made This Productions Virtual Season 9.
Very special thanks go to great betas Brandon and MaryBeth. They kept me on my toes.
Water drips into a cracked sink.
Blood drools from a knife's point, dotting the floor and staining the concrete.
Plop. Plop. Plop.
Terrible sounds in the dark.
The room is frigid, ramshackle. Solitary. A fitting place to bring this man, to kill him. Better than the prison cell where Patterson died screaming like a madman for mercy.
This man screams, too. Naked, he is trussed to the pipes beneath the sink. His frantic breaths vanish like ghosts above his dark hair. A man in his prime, he is muscular, yet enervated by his own fear.
He has vomited twice since being brought here.
In the end, he is just like Patterson - nothing but a bundle of raw nerves.
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he doesn't become one, hmm?
The knife's blade slices easily through the man's cheek, gouging a channel from his lips to his left ear, widening his mouth into a ghoulish, jack-o-lantern grin. Blood rushes from his wound and he shrieks. Lightning-fast, the blade slashes his right cheek to match the left. His eyes clot with tears. The knife hovers above one glistening orb, its tip reflected in the jet black of his pupil.
The awful knife dips, bursts his slick eyeball and scoops out the socket. The other eye pops, too, just as easily as the first. Sagging lids flutter over empty holes.
Blood pumps from the man's disfigured face, draining his heart, spreading his life across the bathroom floor. The growing puddle haloes his head. Scarlet. Lustrous. A devil's mirror.
The murderer leans close to inspect its reflection in the widening pool.
Bald. Thorny eared. Fanged.
At the sight of its own face, the demon tosses back its head, a sneer curls its lips, and a mad laugh gurgles from its throat.
D.C. Correctional Complex Lorton, Virginia
"Whaddaya know, Scully? Warden threw a party. Let's rock."
Mulder shouldered past a uniformed guard and squeezed into the crowded Lorton prison cell. Scully trailed a step behind, stifling a yawn. Unlike Mulder, she needed more than a five-year-old X-File to shake the cobwebs from her head at such an early hour. She needed a second cup of coffee.
While Mulder had chattered non-stop on the drive from Georgetown to Lorton, Scully had drained a Starbucks' Latte Grande and envied her partner's persistent enthusiasm. They were about to close a case...or not, if she were to go along with his latest theory.
"Legend has it, Scully, that a fierce dragon named La Gargouille lived in the river Seine near Paris," he had explained as he drove. "The dragon devoured ships and men until the village was saved by St. Romanus. After the battle, the creature was set ablaze. Its body was destroyed but its head and neck survived and was mounted on a building." He turned to grin at her. "How cool is that?"
"Totally cool, Mulder," she said without enthusiasm. "But what does it have to do with the death of Bill Patterson?"
"I'm getting to that. La Gargouille may have become the model for gargoyles, an attempt by medieval society to embody the evils of the world into manageable elements. Thing is, evil isn't so easily defined...or *con*fined, as the case may be."
Only two hours earlier, ex-ISU criminal behaviorist Bill Patterson had been discovered dead in his DC prison cell with pictures of gargoyles sketched in blood on the cell's cinderblock walls. Official word was Patterson had committed suicide. Sight unseen, Mulder already disputed the official word.
"For over 1200 years the grotesque images of gargoyles have been expressed in stone, clay, wood, oil, charcoal. Born again and again, the spirit of evil resurrects itself through tortured human expression, haunting men inwardly so that it might revisit mankind for eternity." Mulder's fingers had danced with barely restrained energy over the steering wheel as he spoke.
Scully eyed the bottom of her empty coffee cup. "Your point, Mulder, please, if there is one."
"Mark my words, Scully." The dash lights tinted his face with a ghoulish glow. "It's baaaack."
Now pushing their way through Bill Patterson's crowded cell, Mulder and Scully tried to get a closer look at the body. The room overflowed with agents from the FBI's Investigative Support Unit. No surprise. Not that long ago, Patterson had been an icon in the unit. Heading ISU for more than two decades, he practically wrote the book on behavioral science. Many of the men combing his cell right now had joined the Bureau because they wanted to be just like him.
Patterson's body lay atop the cell's single bunk, draped with a sheet. Macabre faces sketched in blood covered all four walls.
"Agent Roberta Dressler?" Mulder targeted a tall, attractive brunette taking notes in a back corner.
"Thank you for coming, agents." Dressler tucked away her pen and pad. She pinned Mulder with a gray-eyed stare. "Sorry to get you out of bed so early."
Following AD Skinner's instructions, Dressler had called Scully in Georgetown an hour ago when she couldn't reach Mulder at his apartment. Startled from sleep by the ringing phone, Mulder had grabbed the receiver from Scully's nightstand and blurted out his name. Scully's quiet "damn it" reminded him too late he wasn't in his own bed.
Ignoring Dressler's smirk, Mulder edged closer to the body. "What can you tell me?"
"Time of death is estimated at around 10:30," Dressler said.
"May I?" Scully asked. She scraped past Mulder and lifted the sheet from the corpse, exposing the dead man's mutilated face.
Two deep knife wounds radiated from the corners of the victim's mouth all the way back to his ears. The eye sockets were both empty. Blood soaked the man's hair and clothes.
"We've seen this before."
"So I heard. That's why I called you." Dressler sidestepped a crouching photographer to stand beside Mulder. In heels, she was nearly as tall as he was. "As the investigating agent who put Patterson in here, I thought you might want to know about his suicide."
"Patterson murdered Agent Craig Nemhauser," Mulder reminded her. "He tried to kill me, too."
"I didn't mean to sound accusatory. Patterson committed a crime and he deserved to be here." Dressler's crimson lips pursed as she studied the corpse. "But...he didn't deserve this."
"Have you located a weapon?" Scully asked.
Dressler nodded and called to another agent, "Delgado, pass the knife, will you?"
A stocky, dark-haired man with a permanent five o'clock shadow produced an evidence bag and handed it to Dressler. Inside the bag, blood slicked a homemade prison knife.
"Patterson's been under suicide watch for five years," Mulder said. "How did he get something like this?"
"We're checking on it. His cell was searched on a regular basis, of course. And Patterson had very little contact with the general prison population. His mental condition...well, let's just say he never made much improvement."
"I'd like to review his medical records and his psychological profiles," ...... said. "And I'd also like to perform the autopsy."
"We're fairly certain Patterson committed suicide."
"You think the man gouged out his own eyes?" Mulder's brows climbed.
"He was mentally ill, Agent Mulder." Dressler indicated the ghoulish drawings on the wall. "There are more of those. Let me show you." She crossed the cell to sort through a box.
Returning with a handful of sketches, she passed them to Mulder.
"Deja vu." He leafed through the stack of drawings, recognizing the grotesque, devilish faces. Bald. Pointy eared. He waggled one at Scully. "Look familiar?"
The drawings sent a chill through her. Mulder had recovered hundreds of similar sketches from John Mostow's studio after the serial killer's arrest, when Patterson had continued the madman's killing spree. If you want to know an artist, you have to look at his art - that was the lesson Bill Patterson taught young ISU agents. The lesson turned out to be his own undoing...and very nearly Mulder's, as well.
"This was no suicide."
"Mulder..." Scully lowered her voice and leaned close to him. The overcrowded cell offered little privacy and she wished they could step into the corridor, away from Dressler's watchful eye. "This is a maximum security prison."
"Who would have access to Patterson? Who would kill him?"
"Not 'who,' Scully - 'what.' I'm thinking the same evil force responsible for Mostow's murders in '96 is also responsible for Bill Patterson's murder last night. It's returned to pick up where it left off."
"Evil force?" Dressler asked, overhearing.
"It killed Patterson and it'll kill again," Mulder predicted.
"Really? And how would 'it' do that?"
"Maybe by relocating, transferring into another person the same way it shifted from Mostow to Patterson. It might inhabit a prison guard right now. Or one of Patterson's visitors."
Scully wanted to remind Mulder that Patterson had gone insane because he had hunted John Mostow for three long years. Every day and every night he had lived and breathed the horror that was in Mostow's head, imagining everything the killer imagined. When Patterson finally caught Mostow, the violence didn't go away; it stayed alive inside him until it drove him over the edge, turning him into a murderer, too. His mental breakdown had been the result of years of profiling the most heinous of crimes. The paranormal had played no role in the murders, then or now.
"Prove me wrong, Scully. Autopsy Patterson," he challenged, already moving toward the door.
"What will you be doing?"
"Researching these." He waved the drawings at her before disappearing into the hall.
Watching him go, Dressler asked Scully, "Does he usually jump to the most unlikely conclusions?"
"Yes, Agent Dressler...he usually does."
John Mostow's Cell
"What do you want?" John Mostow cowered in the back of his cell, as far from the man beyond the bars as possible. He kept his eyes focused on the floor, avoiding Mulder's probing stare.
Mostow had changed little in five years. A bit thinner. Same close-cropped hair and beaky nose. Same wretched expression. He'd lost a front tooth due to a combination of decay and a prison fight. A cut healed on his chin. Sleeplessness shadowed his eyes.
Mulder let Patterson's drawings dangle between the bars. He tapped the topmost sketch.
"Leave me alone."
"I can't, John. It's returned."
"It never left." Mostow drove the heels of his hands into his eyes. His shoulders trembled. He refused to look at the sketches. "It wasn't me."
"It wasn't you...what?"
"I didn't draw those."
"No, you didn't. But you know what they mean."
"I..." Mostow's brow buckled with frustrated fear.
"Why has it come back, John? What does it want?"
Mostow's hands dropped from his face. He glared across the cell at Mulder. "You know what it wants. You got inside it! You felt its hunger. It wants you and it will find you."
"I *want* it to find me."
Mostow's eyes widened. His lips curled with disgust. "That's what you say, but you don't really want it. No man wants such a monster. Once it has you, it won't let you go."
"It let you go."
"Because it won't be held prisoner. You're a fool to think you can control it." Mostow turned his back on Mulder, pressed his cheek to the cinderblock wall. "Leave me alone. There's nothing that can be done. It will kill just as it has always killed. By my hand. By your hand. It doesn't care."
Dressed in scrubs and sneakers, Scully leaned over the body of Bill Patterson.
"William R. Patterson, white male, six-foot-one-inches tall, age 56, 176 pounds. The deceased has pronounced facial mutilations...with gashes approximately nine centimeters in length extending from the corners of the mouth back to both ears...severing the internal maxillary and temporal branches of the carotid artery, resulting in death due to massive blood loss."
She pressed a finger into the corpse's left cheek.
"Each incision resulted from a single, deep cut through the orbicularis oris and the zygomatic and masseter below."
Moving on, she parted a bloodied eyelid.
"Left and right eyes have been enucleated. Nicks in the supraorbital ridge remain consistent with the weapon recovered at the scene."
This was the same signature mutilation she had seen on Mostow's victims and then later on Patterson's.
"Whoever fights monsters..." she muttered, quoting Nietzsche.
Examining the victim's hands, she found traces of dried clay on the palms and beneath the nails. She scraped samples and bagged them for analysis.
She picked up a scalpel.
"I'll begin with a Y-incision."
D.C. Correctional Complex
Mulder cracked a sunflower seed between his teeth and fast- forwarded through the first of a short stack of surveillance tapes. He sat alone in a small room equipped with a monitor, a VCR, and little else. The videos documented Lorton inmates and their visitors in the prison's visitor's room.
Each videotape was marked with a date that corresponded to a sign-in sheet. The list of signatures filled several binders. Mulder had begun his search an hour ago by skimming the logs, starting with the most recent and working his way backward, copying down the dates and names of everyone who had seen Patterson during his incarceration. He then sorted through the shelves of videos, pulling any that matched his list.
According to the logs, a representative of the Little Sisters of Charity paid regular calls to Patterson four times a year just as they did with all Lorton inmates. Patterson's wife had visited once a week for two years. Her calls became more sporadic after that, until they eventually tapered off altogether. The same was true of Patterson's ISU colleagues. Proteges and Patterson-wannabees called on him intermittently, including Roberta Dressler and her sidekick Tony Delgado. Even Mulder had visited - as recently as two weeks ago, after he had received a letter written on prison stationery. One phrase had struck a chord with him, compelling him to make the trip to Lorton and question Patterson face-to-face. "With a snap of its finger, it makes men lick the greasy floor of hell just to see its reflection." Mostow's exact words, spoken years before.
Funny thing was, Patterson denied writing the letter. Mulder had left Lorton learning nothing at all.
Rolling a seed across his tongue, he scrutinized the monitor's fuzzy image. The tape - the most recent - included his own visit.
A Little Sister of Charity appeared opposite Patterson on the screen. Mulder slowed the tape to take a closer look. He'd learned the hard way not to trust the Sisters. Linda Bowman had posed as one of the nuns while visiting her brother Robert Modell in Lorton back in '98.
Jesus, that had been a hell of a case. He'd let the killer get inside his head, and wound up pointing his gun at Scully, coming closer than he'd ever imagined to shooting her. It had taken him a long time to shake his feelings of frustration and fear after that case.
Reaching for another seed, he watched himself take the nun's place opposite Patterson on the monitor. The ex-ISU chief became agitated when Mulder showed him the note. He held up his hands, palms out, as if pushing both the letter and Mulder away. Mulder remembered Patterson yelling, "leave me alone; leave me alone," over and over again. With no other choice, he had pocketed the letter. He had stood and turned to go, casting a shadow across Patterson's tormented face.
What the hell? He rewound the tape. Played the segment again. For just a second it almost looked as if... Couldn't be. He replayed the tape once more.
Darkened by Mulder's shadow, Patterson appeared to transform - - for just a frame or two - into the hideous creature he'd seen years ago in Mostow's building. Bald head. Pointy ears. Clawed hands. Abruptly Patterson returned to normal.
"Eeny meeny, chili beeny."
Mulder replayed the clip again.
His cell phone rang and he paused the tape just as the monster's image fluttered across Patterson's startled features. Pulling his cell from his pocket, he checked the phone's display. Scully's number glowed on the tiny screen.
"Whassup, Scully?" he said into the phone.
"Patterson didn't kill himself."
"The autopsy showed the angle of the facial cuts was all wrong for self-mutilation. Other than what appears to be artist's modeling clay on the hands and under the fingernails, there were no prints, hairs or fibers on the body. Toxicology came back clean."
"Dust off your Ouija board, Scully."
"I'm not buying your demonic spirit theory, Mulder. At least not until we've exhausted all the quantifiable possibilities. Where are you now?"
"Still at Lorton."
"Have you found anything?"
Mulder squinted at the tape. "Yyyyyes, but it probably doesn't fit your definition of quantifiable."
"Well, I may have something that does."
"Lay it on me, G-Woman." Mulder drew an invisible circle with his index finger around Patterson's head, frozen beneath a devil's mask on the monitor.
"Agent Dressler called. She's found another body."
"Yep. Dressler wants us at the scene. ASAP. 1465 Hazelwood Street, Falls Church."
Ejecting the tape, Mulder stood and grabbed his trenchcoat. Phone trapped between his ear and shoulder, he pocketed the video. "I'm on my way."
The sink drips. The air is cold.
Poor man. Soooooo frightened. Like a little boy, worried the bogeyman sleeps beneath his bed at night.
He cringes on the floor, arms raised above his head, wrists roped to the drainpipe beneath the sink.
He is crying and the devil pokes at his tears.
The man's bare chest hiccups with panic. Gooseflesh stipples his arms, his legs, turns his nipples into hard tight points.
Touch the knife there and he bleeds. A crimson drop swells up out of pink flesh, looking like a jewel, rounded into a perfect half-sphere of ruby red. The monster sees itself in the drop's satin-smooth surface.
Look, look, look.
The inside is outside.
Let's see what you're made of, young man. Slit the left cheek. Slice the right. Listen to the baby wail.
Eyes wide open. I see me when I look at you. My eyes in your eyes in my eyes in your eyes ad infinitum forever and ever and ever amen.
Pop. Pop. We disappear from our view. Your eyes drain like spilled milk. No use crying. You're dead.
1465 Hazelwood Street
Entrails and body parts swamped the pavement behind the vacant warehouse; this had been a living human being as recently as yesterday. Uniformed officers and plain-clothed agents clustered around the gore, circling, buzzing. Like blowflies, Scully thought.
Mulder broke trail through yellow tape and law enforcement, his badge dangling from an outstretched fist, his trenchcoat flailing in the November wind. Scully matched him step for step, puddle for puddle, until the rainwater, bronzed by flashing ambulance lights and lost blood, turned red beneath her shoes.
With one graceful, practiced motion, Mulder pocketed his ID and crouched beside the body.
"Check it out, Scully." He aimed a finger at the corpse's scored face, the exposed cheekbones, the empty eye sockets. "A face not even a mother could love. That makes two."
She eyed a deep incision that ran from breastbone to pelvis. Both the victim's hands had been severed. One lay next to the body. The other was missing. "This man wasn't murdered here, Mulder. There would be more blood. He must have been transported. Unless your evil spirit has a valid Virginia driver's license, I think we can rule it out."
Mulder tugged on a latex glove. He lifted the victim's severed hand from the pavement and examined the fingers.
"Same as Patterson."
"Yep. I'm thinking we might find another sculpture gallery somewhere."
She hoped not. Dismembered body parts swathed in wet clay had proved to be a little too compelling for Mulder the last time.
Agent Dressler approached, a frown creasing her brow and the damp breeze badgering her long dark hair. She joined the agents beside the body. "The victim is Paul Martin," she said. "He was an agent in the ISU."
"An FBI agent?" Scully asked.
"Yes. My partner, several years ago. I don't need to tell you how much I want to catch the asshole who did this."
Mulder set the severed hand back on the ground. "I wonder what happened to the other hand."
"It's possible the killer kept it," Dressler suggested.
"A trophy?" Mulder stood to face the statuesque agent. "That deviates from the signature. Mostow and Patterson sliced and diced but they didn't keep souvenirs. Maybe you just haven't looked hard enough."
He scanned the edge of the parking lot where Agent Delgado walked the perimeter with two detectives at his heels.
"Agent Mulder, need I remind you, we aren't looking for Mostow or Patterson."
"What are you looking for?" His eyes traveled to the back of the warehouse.
"Not what, who-"
Mulder no longer listened. Abandoning Dressler and Scully, he wandered toward a graffiti-covered door at the back of the building.
"Your partner has a one track mind. You aren't buying this evil spirit nonsense of his, are you, Agent Scully?"
"I've come to trust Mulder's instincts."
Dressler frowned and faced the wind. "If you don't mind me asking, didn't Agent Mulder wig out during the Mostow case?"
"Agent Mulder's investigation led to the arrest of a murderer."
"Yes, but I heard he used some pretty unorthodox methods. Spent the night in Mostow's studio, took the murder weapon from Evidence-"
"Where did you hear that?"
"Bureau grapevine. Never underestimate-"
"Scully!" Across the lot, Mulder stood just inside the warehouse door. He beckoned the agents with a waggle of two fingers.
Dressler and Scully broke into a jog. They crossed the lot quickly and joined Mulder at the open door. He led them inside and across a wide, dark room. The sound of their footsteps clattered against the walls as they walked. The empty interior felt cold and it smelled of machinery oil and undisturbed dust. Reaching the far wall, Mulder stopped and aimed the beam of his flashlight at a jumble of ancient wastewater pipes. Mounted atop one disconnected stack, the victim's severed hand protruded as if from a coat sleeve...with its middle finger extended skyward.
"Think we did something to piss it off?" He spotlighted the gruesome gesture with his light.
"This can't be what it looks like." Scully approached the hand. "It must be...it must be some sort of anomalous rigor."
"It's flipping us the bird, Scully." He walked a half-circle around the hand, checking it from all angles.
"Agent Mulder, does this," - Dressler tilted her head at the severed hand - "give you any insight into the killer's motives?"
"You want a profile?"
"My team is already working on a profile. What I want is your opinion. Your investigation during the Mostow case nailed Patterson. Given the similarities in the signature, I called you because I thought you might have something helpful to contribute to this case."
"My *opinion*, Agent Dressler, is that a profile identifies a personality type...which implies the killer is a person. I think we're looking for something more extreme here."
Dressler huffed with impatience. "You're not going to say we should be hunting an evil spirit, are you?"
"You have to stop looking for a man, Agent Dressler. You aren't going to catch this thing that way."
"Exactly how would you suggest we catch him? Get inside his head?" Dressler stepped closer to Mulder, pushing the limits of his personal space. "Like Patterson did? Like you did?"
Mulder bristled at her suggestion. "Meaning?"
"Mulder," - Scully took hold of his sleeve - "We need to follow standard procedure: examine the victims and profile the killer."
"*You* examine the victims, Scully. *You* profile the killer." He pulled away from her. Pocketing his flashlight, he turned on his heel and headed for the exit.
"Mulder, where are you going?"
"To catch this thing - my own way."
FBI Headquarters Video Production Unit
"Back it up a few frames, Jerry." Mulder hovered over the technician's shoulder while the young man rewound the Lorton surveillance tape in slow motion. "There. Now magnify this section here." He tapped the computer screen.
"Yes, sir." Jerry outlined the area with a dashed marquee. Three clicks on his keypad and he enlarged the region eight hundred percent. "It's pretty dark."
"Can you lighten it?"
"I can try." The technician increased the brightness and adjusted the contrast.
A face emerged from the shadows. Bald. Pointy eared. Fanged.
The technician twisted in his seat to look over his shoulder at Mulder. "What in hell?"
"It's not in hell anymore, Jerry."
Scully faced the autopsy table, eyes fixed on the Falls Church victim. The deceased's two severed hands rested palms down on a steel tray beside the corpse.
"Paul Martin, white male, five-foot-ten-inches tall, 168 pounds, age 37. External exam reveals pronounced facial mutilations, disembowelment and dismemberment."
She fingered the ragged edge of one handless arm.
"Ligature furrows and abraded contusions are present on both wrists, indicating the victim was tied and struggled before he died."
Using steel tweezers, she teased what appeared to be rodent feces from the backs of the arms, legs and the bottoms of the feet. She found no evidence of grass stains or mud. Martin had been made to walk barefoot and lay down naked on a filthy interior floor.
She bagged the evidence for analysis.
Although not a huge man, Martin was muscular, in good shape. How had the killer managed to subdue a trained FBI agent? No weapon had been recovered. Scully examined the facial lacerations. They were deeper and smoother than the cuts on Patterson. Opening one eyelid, she studied the empty socket.
"Pronounced scoring of the supraorbital ridge, most likely the result of a very sharp knife." The deep, well-defined gouges had not been made by a dull prison shiv this time.
Scully's cell phone rang. She stripped off her gloves and pulled the phone from her lab coat pocket.
"Scully," she identified herself.
"Scully, it's me."
"Where are you, Mulder?"
"On my way to Mostow's old studio."
"Scully, what's the first thing we learned in detective school?"
"Killers always return to the scene of the crime."
"Mulder, that's not true."
"It isn't? Coulda sworn I got that question right on my final exam."
"Mulder, John Mostow won't be returning to the scene of any crime; he's still in jail."
"But his evil spirit isn't."
Irritated by her partner's single mindedness, Scully massaged an ache at the bridge of her nose. "Don't you think our time would be better spent examining the hard evidence at hand?"
"Do we have any?"
"Yes, we do. Mulder, does your reluctance to profile this killer have anything to do with Patterson and his methods?"
"Scully, we both know that the statistical generalizations and experiential theorizing of profiling, while sometimes helpful, are incomplete and can often mislead an investigation, even encourage investigative laziness. When we think we have all of the answers, we collect only evidence that fits those answers, and we erroneously think that a thorough investigation is no longer requisite at all."
"Isn't that exactly what you're doing now, Mulder? You claim to have the answers and it's making you turn a blind eye to the physical evidence, the victimology, and the crime scene as the primary behavioral and motivational documentation. Those are the elements that will illuminate the offender's motivation. Once you discover the motive, you find the killer."
"I've seen this thing, Scully. I've been inside its head. I don't need a profile to find it."
"Scully, after you've finished the autopsy, do me a favor, will you? Pick up Mostow's sketches from Evidence and bring them back to my place."
Those damn drawings. Five years ago, Mulder had wallpapered his apartment with those sketches. Studying them, Mostow's madness had threatened to engulf him, sinking him deeper and deeper into the serial killer's perverse mind.
"Mulder, are you okay?"
"I'm fine, Scully. I'll meet you later."
He'd ended the call, cutting her off.
Pocketing her phone, she turned to face the cadaver.
Maybe they should step away from this case, let Dressler solve it rather than risk Mulder's sanity again. Could he walk to the edge of madness twice and not fall in?
"Mulder, I hope you know what the hell you're doing."
JOHN Mostow's Studio
Other than the bare walls and the empty back room, Mostow's ramshackle studio looked much as it had the last time Mulder visited. After the murders, the building had stood vacant, a "For Sale" sign nailed to the outside. No one had been interested in purchasing or renovating the derelict. The studio had been left untouched, with the exception of the items related to the case - the drawings, the clay sculptures, the miscellaneous body parts. These had been collected for evidence. A strip of crime scene tape still fluttered at the studio door.
Dust and rat droppings coated the floor in the main room. Boxes of cereal and bags of chips had been gnawed and left empty on the counters. The rumpled bed still waited unmade in a corner.
In the back room, Craig Nemhauser's blood permanently discolored the studio floor. Mulder crouched over the black stain and ran a finger over the dried gore. He remembered Mostow's cat lapping the puddle of fresh blood, drawing his attention to Patterson's final victim.
Recent footprints tracked across the stain, disturbing the dust and the rat droppings. At least two distinct shoe sizes, both large enough to be men.
Mulder rose, paced the perimeter of the studio. He ducked into the cold bathroom where water dripped from a rusty faucet into a cracked sink. The room smelled sour. Mulder pulled out his flashlight and pointed its beam into the shadowy corners. His light sent a knot of cockroaches scuttling for cover. He followed one as it crisscrossed the concrete floor.
Jesus. The floor was covered with blood. Lots of blood. And something else.
Mulder squatted and inspected the dark puddle by swiping a finger through it. He rubbed the substance between his thumb and forefingers. It was sticky. He brought it to his nose.
A wash of bile stung the back of his throat when he realized he sniffed a congealing mixture of fresh blood and vomit. He stood, wiping his hand on his pants.
Moving away from the gore, he swung his flashlight around the room. His beam revealed a pile of damp clothes blocking the drain of a makeshift shower.
He approached the pile. If Scully were here, she'd chide him for disturbing evidence. He lifted a sport coat off the top. Water drizzled from its sleeves and Paul Martin's badge fell from the breast pocket, hitting the mound of clothes below with a wet slap. A little more fishing produced the agent's sidearm. Mulder dug deeper. Two pairs of men's pants, two dress shirts, two neckties, another suit coat. Another badge. Shit. This one belonged to a Special Agent John Perry, also from the Bureau's ISU.
Mulder pocketed both officers' badges and weapons. He left the shoes and the clothing where they were. Taking a last look around, he caught his own reflection in the mirror above the sink. A horizontal crack in the glass appeared to run from the corner of his mouth to his ear. Over his left shoulder he spotted the ghoulish face of the monster he'd seen five years ago.
Bald. Thorny eared. The thing grinned at him, exposing a glistening row of sharp teeth.
Spinning, Mulder drew his weapon.
The monster vanished beyond the door, its retreating footsteps echoing through the studio. Mulder lunged after it, following the sound of thudding feet through the main room and out into the corridor.
Mulder sprinted down the hall. The monster was nowhere in sight, but he felt certain it had come this way. Trusting his instincts, he mounted the stairs at the end of the corridor, two at a time, and jogged quickly to the second floor catwalk.
Footsteps hammered on the stairs at the opposite end of the walk.
He ran toward the sound.
Skidding into the stairwell, Mulder clipped the railing with his elbow. The impact sent a jolt of pain sizzling down his arm and caused his gun to somersault from his hand. It bounced over the stair rail and fell, landing with a clatter on the cement - two floors below.
He grabbed the .380 from his ankle holster and charged up the stairs.
On the third-floor landing, he stopped and held his breath to listen for the monster's footfalls. Nothing. Nothing but his own heart battering his eardrums.
Which way had it gone? Down the corridor or up to the roof?
Deciding to continue to the roof, he climbed the final flight of stairs.
He burst through the outer door and squinted into the setting sun. Blinded, he stiffened his arms and swung his weapon left to right. He dodged to one side, trying to see through the glare.
Then he smelled it.
A terrible stench, like rotting eggs or sulfur.
Where was it?
A knife flashed. It sliced the fragile skin at his temple. The sting sent him reeling backward. Blood streamed from the wound and swamped his right eye. He tried to aim his gun but couldn't locate a target.
A scorching breath of air seared the back of his neck.
When he turned, he found himself face-to-face with the grinning monster.
Like a medieval gargoyle, it gawked at him with granite eyes. It stood less than a foot away, and although it appeared to be made of stone or clay, it moved as if flesh and bone. In its clawed hand, it gripped a silver handled knife. Blood - his blood - painted the knife's blade.
The sun dipped below the skyline, casting the roof in shadow. Mulder's trenchcoat slapped in the cold wind. Blood rained from his jaw, each bead turning to spray in the gusting air.
He raised his gun. Aimed at the gargoyle's stony chest.
The monster opened its mouth, its lips stretching impossibly wide around its jagged teeth. A hair-raising laugh poured from its throat and its fiery breath rolled over Mulder, singeing his face. Blinking against the corrosive fumes, Mulder lifted his hand to protect his eyes.
The terrible heat rattled past.
Mulder lowered his arm.
The devil had disappeared.
Three strides brought Mulder to the fire escape, which was little more than a ladder welded to the side of the building. He looked over the edge. The ladder met with a landing at the floor below, where a set of stairs zigzagged to the ground.
He swung out onto the ladder. Blood still streamed from his face, staining his shirt and dripping downward between his feet. He climbed halfway down the ladder and then jumped with a stomach-churning clank onto the iron landing below.
Crouching, he looked down through the metal grate. He felt dizzy. Not from the height but from loss of blood. Fingering the wound at his temple, he allowed a second or two to pass before he attempted to stand.
Where had the damn monster gone?
Weak-kneed, he stood and rattled the third floor door handle. Wet clay coated the knob. The door was locked. Should he take the time to pick the lock or should he climb down to the ground and search the building from the bottom up? Calling for backup would be a waste of time - the monster would be long gone before help arrived.
Shit, it was cold.
He decided to intercept the creature from below.
Teeth chattering, he descended the fire escape at a trot. His head ached where he'd been cut. The steps blurred beneath his hurrying feet, came into focus, and then blurred again. On the second floor landing, he slowed and tried to control his lightheadedness by bending, hands on his knees.
"Shit." Too much time. He was going to lose the damn thing.
Sucking in a lungful of frosty air, he jogged down the last of the steps. When he jumped to the ground, his knees buckled. He fell to the pavement, hitting his head hard. Stretched on his stomach in the alley, Mulder lost consciousness.
Lying down on the job?
Watch out! Whoever fights monsters should see to it that he does not become a monster. Good advice, yes?
I'll be back for you tomorrow. Or maybe the next day.
Other fish to fry tonight. Other fair-haired boys to fillet.
Eeny, meeny, miney, my. Catch an agent in a lie. If he hollers, make him cry. One jab, two jabs...who's next to die?
*I* am the abyss, Agent Mulder, and I am looking into you.
2630 Hegal Place, Apt. 42 Alexandria, Virginia
Keys jangling, Scully let herself into Mulder's apartment. With the exception of the fish tank, the place was dark. And the phone was ringing.
Scully deposited Mostow's drawings on the coffee table. She hurried to the phone, picked up the receiver and identified herself to the caller.
"Agent Scully?" The voice at the other end sounded confused. "This is Agent Dressler. I was...I was expecting Agent Mulder."
Me, too, Scully thought. She'd been trying to reach him on his cell phone for the last two hours. Tucking the phone between her shoulder and ear, she shed her coat. "He's not here."
"Is there something I can help you with, Agent?" Scully prompted Dressler.
"We've found another victim. A...another colleague of mine. Special Agent John Perry. He is...he *was* assistant to ISU Chief Frank Wilcox."
Jesus, another ISU agent. These victims were not the anonymous young men Mostow had preferred.
"A parking garage in Arlington."
"Same signature?" Scully sank onto the couch. She leafed through Mostow's drawings, spread a few across the table. Dozens of ghoulish faces scowled up at her, sketched in pencil, ink, charcoal, even blood.
"Yes. Both arms were amputated, too. And his head was...Jesus, the bastard cut his fucking head off. Filled the mouth with some sort of clay."
Scully closed her eyes, shutting out the horrible faces of Mostow's drawings.
"Do you want me to come down to the scene?"
"No, the body's already on its way to Quantico." Dressler sounded tired. "What I want, Agent Scully, is to catch this damn killer. I'd appreciate anything you or Agent Mulder could do to facilitate that."
"We're on it." Scully tried to sound more confident than she felt. She worried again about Mulder. Where was he?
Dressler hung up and Scully considered what to do next. Return to Quantico. Wait for Mulder. Call the crime lab.
She dialed the lab.
"Hey, Jen. It's Dana. Got anything for me?"
"Good news and not-so-good news."
Scully leaned into the leather cushions. Toeing off her shoes, she placed her feet on the coffee table, careful to stay clear of Mostow's drawings.
"Give me the not-so-good news first."
"The rodent feces you sent over are from an ordinary, run-of- the-mill Rattus norvegicus, found throughout the city and the continental U.S. Mixed in with the rat droppings, I found cockroach legs, antennae, shell casings. Nothing unusual about that, really. Want my expert opinion?"
"Your killer needs a maid service."
Scully smiled, despite her frustration with the case. "What's the good news?"
"I discovered a couple of microscopic flakes of dried blood in your sample. They didn't match the victim's type."
"Can you run an RFLP?"
"No, the sample is too small. I can try a PCR, but as you know, PCR tests are extremely sensitive to contaminating DNA at the crime scene. And considering all the rat droppings..."
"Run it anyway. What was the type?"
"Your victim was A-positive. The sample was O-negative."
"Thanks, Jen. Let me know if you come up with anything on the PCR."
"Will do," the lab technician agreed and hung up.
Scully rose from the couch and crossed to Mulder's desk. She powered up his computer and punched in his password of the week. "STEPPINGSTONE." The choice had come from a recent conversation between the two of them...about their romantic involvement, of all things - a subject they usually avoided.
A chance after-hours meeting with AD Skinner's secretary at Pete's Grill spurred the discussion. Caught in public with fingers intertwined, Mulder had snaked away his hand and waited for Kim to leave before apologizing to Scully. He reminded her that the Bureau's good ol' boys tended to come down particularly hard on female agents who slept with their partners and he didn't want her to suffer the inevitable insults. He said he already knew from personal experience how it felt to wear a millstone of mockery. He didn't want her reduced to a stereotype by a bunch of catty bullpen gossips or judgmental superiors - she was too fine an agent.
"They'll accuse you of sleeping your way to the top, Scully," he had said.
"The top?" She'd laughed. "Is 'Spooky' Mulder a step *up* the corporate ladder?"
He had seen her point and laughed, too; she was more apt to be ridiculed for tossing away her career on a misguided pleasure ride with the company crackpot than with trying to move up the metaphorical food chain.
"I-I-I-I'm not your steppin' stone," he had crooned the old Monkees' tune and then gave her hand a quick squeeze -
beneath the table.
Using the password, Scully logged onto the Internet and initiated a search for "gargoyles." She settled into a chair.
Her Web search revealed several dozen sites. She selected a link to the University of North Carolina and scanned the page.
Many of Mostow's drawings depicted these open-mouthed gargoyles.
The killer widened his victims' mouths, too, with the slash of his knife.
Scully knew from VICAP statistics that serial killers fell into one of four broad categories: visionaries, missionaries, hedonists, and power seekers.
Mostow had been a "visionary," acting in response to voices in his head, receiving instructions from them to justify and legitimize his acts of murder.
Patterson had fallen into the "missionary" category; he had felt responsible for purifying society by expelling its undesirable components - an extension of his job at ISU.
Pleasure, often including sexual satisfaction, was the reward for hedonists, whose crimes tended to be the most sadistic. So far, none of these murders exhibited any sign of sexual assault.
Power seekers, the final category, desired to control the life and death of others to such a degree that it served as an intrinsic motive to murder.
The man who killed Paul Martin, John Perry, and maybe Bill Patterson, could easily fit into any one of these categories. Or none of them. He already fell outside the "normal" profile. Most serial killers targeted weaker victims - or victims they perceived as weak - women, children, the elderly. This killer had murdered three FBI agents, all powerful men. Did that mean he perceived them as weak, too?
Perhaps murdering strong, capable men added to the killer's perverse pleasure, inflating his own opinion of himself.
Unlike Mostow and Patterson, he apparently didn't feel the need to sketch pictures of gargoyles. Outside of Patterson's cell, not a single drawing had been found.
Maybe this killer didn't want to keep his demons away.
Damn it, where was Mulder? Profiling was his bailiwick, not hers.
Scully scrolled down the page. One contorted stone face after the next rolled by.
A thud sounded at Mulder's front door. Scully reached for her weapon.
Hearing the jingle of keys, she relaxed a bit. It must be Mulder. Finally.
The door swung inward and Mulder stumbled across the threshold. At the sight of fresh stitches on his forehead, Scully rose to meet him.
"Mulder, what happened?" She took his arm and guided him to the couch. His fingers were frigid and his gait unsteady. His eyes appeared unfocused. "Where have you been?"
"Hospital." His hand lifted to his brow.
"So I see." She tugged his cold fingers away from the wound so she could inspect it. "Sit," she ordered.
He obeyed, dropping to the couch.
Eight even sutures dotted his temple.
"How did you get cut?"
"I saw it, Scully." His eyes settled on Mostow's drawings.
"The monster. It exists. I saw it."
This can't be happening, she thought, not again. Running off on his own, refusing to answer his phone, insisting he saw demons and ghouls and evil spirits.
- I was working. -
- At 3:30 in the morning? I haven't seen or spoken to you in almost two days. You haven't been returning my calls -
- It? What are you talking about? -
- Whatever keeps killing those young men. -
- Mostow killed those men, Mulder, and out of some sick alliance, some other person is continuing where he left off. -
Of course, in the end Mulder had been wrong. The killer had been a person - Bill Patterson, driven mad by the very monsters he chased.
"Tell me what happened, Mulder." She sat beside him. Combing through his hair with her fingers, she inspected his skull for signs of further injury. She discovered a nasty welt where his head had hit the pavement.
"A man's character is his fate, don't you think, Scully? It's not a choice but a calling. Sometimes the weight of this burden..." His voice trailed off, distracted by the images on the coffee table.
"Mulder, what are you talking about?" She held a finger up in front of his face. "Focus, Mulder." She tried to draw his attention away from Mostow's drawings. "Did they x-ray you? Check for concussion?"
He continued to stare past her.
In frustration she gathered the drawings into a pile and placed them face down on the table.
"They would come alive at night, Scully, while their protectees were asleep. They would fly over their territories to stand guard. At dawn, they would return to their places of rest on the rooftops."
"Gargoyles." He slouched into the cushions. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes. "Evil can approach and sometimes win out over us, Scully. We are not immune."
"We need protection."
"Mulder, you've been injured. You're tired-"
His eyes flew open. "I *saw* it, Scully!" He dug into his pockets. "It left these behind." He withdrew the two guns he'd found. He placed them in his lap and then fished out the IDs. "Am I making these up?" he challenged.
She took the IDs. Paul Martin. John Perry.
Mulder caressed one of the guns, tracing a crooked path over the grip.
Scully gasped when he suddenly lifted the weapon and pointed the barrel upward into his jaw. His finger curled around the trigger.
"It let me go, Scully. Twice. Why?"
"I...I don't know." Her eyes filled with tears. "Mulder, please..." She held out her hand for the weapon.
Head shaking, he looked miserable. She watched his Adam's apple glide against the gun's barrel as he swallowed.
"Mulder, give me the gun."
He turned red-rimmed eyes on her. And offered her the weapon.
She slid it from his light grasp. Plucking the second gun from his lap, she carried them both to the desk where she placed them, side-by-side, next to the computer. With a click of the mouse, she closed the browser window. The hideous photos vanished, leaving only a blank, blue screen.
Should she demand he give her his own guns, too? He looked ready to fall asleep.
"It murdered them in the bathroom." Mulder's eyes closed once more, his face tilted ceiling-ward.
"Mm hm." His jaw fell slack. A soft snore vibrated from his throat.
Scully went to him. She studied the stripes of dried blood still marking his cheek. A purple-black bruise mottled his right eye where he'd been cut. The stitches at his hairline puckered his raw skin. His vulnerability made her chest ache. She unfolded the Indian blanket that decorated the back of the couch and gently laid it over him. His eyelids fluttered but he didn't wake.
Returning to the phone, Scully dialed Agent Dressler's number. Watching Mulder sleep, she told Dressler what little she knew about his discovery at Mostow's studio.
The phone rang, jarring Scully from sleep. She was startled to find herself in Mulder's livingroom, curled in the chair that faced his couch. Mulder slept stretched on the sofa beneath his Navajo blanket.
The phone didn't wake him. His dark lashes rested without moving against pale cheeks. The bruise on his brow had swallowed his entire right eye. Protecting the wound in the crook of one arm, he still wore his trenchcoat and shoes.
Scully ignored the ringing phone and rose stiffly to check him. Her neck and back ached from sleeping in the chair. She chided herself for not going to his bed instead, but her worry had anchored her to his side.
The phone stopped ringing.
She bent and pressed her palm to his brow. He burned with a low-grade fever.
She was about to search his medicine cabinet for Ibuprofen when her cell phone rang. The high-pitched trill startled Mulder and he opened his eyes.
"Sorry," she apologized and retrieved her cell from her coat across the room. "Scully," she said into the phone.
"This is Agent Dressler. There's been another murder."
1222 South Dakota Street Washington, D.C.
Scully led the way through the long, cold building, retracing a familiar path to Mostow's studio. Mulder trailed her, uncharacteristically reticent and trying to hide the fact that he shivered from his fever. Neither of them had bothered to change their clothes. It seemed ludicrous to shower and dress before going to such an odious place. Even the air here felt contaminated by the killer's depravity.
Agent Delgado, looking a little green around the gills, met them at Mostow's studio door.
"Body's on the roof," was all he said, pointing limply upward.
"This way," Mulder murmured. His palm steered Scully toward the stairs. Delgado shadowed them down the corridor.
They walked without talking. Up the stairs. Along the catwalk. More stairs.
The feeble glow of dawn greeted them when they stepped out onto the roof. The air was icy cold. An investigative team worked in silence, spread out from one end of the roof to the other, a distance of about one hundred yards.
"Oh, God...my God."
Nothing Scully had seen - in the field or in the morgue -
prepared her for the debauchery she faced on the roof of Mostow's building. Mulder spun on his heel, turning his back on the atrocity to stare at the brightening sky. Delgado loitered at the door, eyes on his wingtips.
Scully walked stiff-legged, palm pressed to her mouth, picking her way past silent ISU agents bent at their tasks. She followed a course of blood and bone at her feet. The placement of body parts reminded her of a plane wreck, with unrecognizable bits and pieces scattered over an unimaginable distance. The level of violence staggered her.
She paused when she encountered what remained of the victim's head. Signature knife wounds ran from the corners of the mouth to the ears...which had been sliced away. The eyes were gone. The scalp removed. A bullet hole pierced the back of the skull.
Dressler joined Scully. She nodded at the decapitated head. "The victim was Frank Wilcox," she said, her voice unsteady.
Scully's eyes widened. "ISU Chief?"
"Yes. We found his clothes, his badge, downstairs."
Jesus. This...this could have been Mulder.
She glanced over her shoulder at him.
He paced the edge of the roof, still watching the sky. Frosty air sifted from his lungs, floating heavenward with each gulping breath.
"We also found this." Dressler held up an evidence bag containing a SIG P228.
It looked like Mulder's gun.
Scully glanced at him again. Did he have his gun on him?
"Excuse me." She abandoned Dressler and headed for Mulder.
Sensing her approach, he turned to face her.
"Why did it let me go?" he asked when she stood beside him at the edge of the roof. He shivered openly now, no longer caring if she saw him tremble. "Why did it kill this man instead of me?"
"I don't know, Mulder."
"I think I do." His voice faded to a raspy whisper. "It sees itself when it looks at me."
"Mostow said it wants to see its own reflection." He ran his hand through his hair. His eyes shone overly bright with fever.
"What are you saying, Mulder? That you're evil?"
"It's looking for condemned souls like itself, the evil born in each of us. We're all repositories for our own dark fears and horrific imaginations."
"Scully, it is what it is."
"Don't do this." She stilled his fidgety hands with her own. His skin was fiery, despite the morning chill. "Step away from the case, Mulder. Now."
"I can't. It won't let me."
"You talk as if the killer is doing this, murdering these men, to get to you."
"That's exactly what it's doing."
"Mulder..." She paused to steady her voice. "Mulder, are you wearing your weapon?"
He reached beneath his coat and felt for his gun.
"No, I...I dropped it last night. In the stairwell. I chased the monster up to the roof and-"
The clack of heels silenced him. Dressler cleared her throat. "You saw the killer?" She studied the bruise circling his eye. "Can you describe him?"
A humorless laugh chuffed from Mulder's lungs. "Yes, but you won't believe me."
"Agent Mulder, if you know anything that will help us with this investigation, I'm all ears."
Mulder squinted at the tall agent, gauging her sincerity, and then shook his head. "Your refusal to accept the truth is blinding you to the facts, Agent Dressler."
The gray-eyed woman met his stare. "I'm not blind to the fact that it was you who led my team to this crime scene. I'm also not blind to your current condition." She tilted her head at his blood-soaked clothes and swollen eye. Holding up her evidence bag, she asked, "Is this your gun?"
He looked at the weapon and slowly nodded. "I think so."
She pocketed the gun. "Agent Mulder, why don't you stop hiding behind a smoke screen of paranormal mumbo-jumbo and tell the truth. What happened up here last night?"
Confusion clouded his face. "You aren't implying that I...?" He looked past her at the widespread gore.
"I know you visited Patterson at Lorton several weeks ago. I checked the logs last night." She stepped forward, shrinking the space that separated them. "Strange thing is, when I went to view the tape, I couldn't find it. You wouldn't happen to know where it might have gone, would you, Agent Mulder?"
His gaze fell away. "It's at VPU. I left it with Jerry."
She nodded. "I have a theory about this case, Agent Mulder. Care to hear it?"
"Yes." He raised his eyes to look at her.
"I think the only specters here are the ones that haunt you -
the memories of your transfer from the ISU years ago and your failure to live up to Patterson's expectations. I think you presumed to be Patterson's next golden boy, but he passed you by. That burned you. It still does."
"Exactly my point." She licked crimson lips. "Agent Scully called me last night and told me you returned to your apartment with the badges and guns of Agents Martin and Perry."
"I found them here, downstairs in the bathroom."
"Yes, but how did you know to come here?"
"I didn't. I was following a hunch."
"Well, I followed a hunch, too." Her stare was unblinking. "I called the SCI-Crime Lab last night on my way here. Do you know what they told me?"
"No." The word passed almost without sound from his dried lips. Perspiration slicked his forehead and cheeks.
Scully wondered where Dressler was going with this. The rat droppings, the blood - what did they have to do with Mulder?
"The lab analyzed a sample of blood recovered from Paul Martin's body. The test showed the blood was O-negative. That's your type, isn't it, Agent Mulder?"
It was, but -
"Forty-six percent of the U.S. population has type O blood," Scully said on his behalf.
"True. That's why I'm curious to receive the results of the PCR."
Mulder chafed beneath Dressler's critical watch. "Are you arresting me?"
"Not yet, but I'd appreciate your cooperation while we wait for the test results. I'd like you to come back to headquarters with me."
Mulder shook his head. "You're wasting time, Agent Dressler. We need to be looking for the killer...the *real* killer."
"Mulder..." Scully hesitated. He wasn't going to like what she was about to say. "Maybe...maybe you should do as she asks."
"Scully?" His frown told her he felt betrayed by her alignment with Dressler.
"Look, Mulder. You're hurt and you're ill-"
"You are not fine. Go with Dressler. I'll take care of things here."
"Go," she insisted. "I'll find the truth."
Investigative Support Unit
"Have a seat, Agent Mulder."
He wanted to remain standing - as a show of defiance - but the truth was he felt ready to collapse, so he chose one of two chairs that faced Dressler's desk and sat.
Dressler hung up her coat.
Agent Delgado loitered just inside the closed door. His purpose was to keep out angry ISU agents who wanted their colleagues' killer behind bars. The rumor that "Spooky" Mulder might be guilty of murder traveled through the department's grapevine like the spark on a lit fuse. Before Mulder entered the building, everyone from the janitor to the top brass had already heard the accusation.
Mulder's cockiness and arrogance had earned him few friends during his tenure in ISU; many of the Unit's agents still carried a grudge. Fresh from the Academy, Mulder's disregard for the opinions of his fellow agents, as well as those of his superiors, rankled even after thirteen years.
Guarding the door, Delgado whittled at his teeth with a toothpick. His pretended nonchalance irritated the heck out of Mulder.
Hell, everything irritated Mulder about this situation.
To be accused -
"Tell me about last night, Agent Mulder," Dressler said. She smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle from her skirt and sat at her desk. "How did you get that cut on your head?"
"I..." What could he tell her? That an evil spirit attacked him? She already considered him crazy.
A row of grisly crime scene photos lined her desktop and drew his eye. Martin and Perry - hacked to bits.
"You think I did that?" He thrust his chin at the photos.
"I think that's a more plausible explanation than your possession theory."
He shook his head. "You're wrong."
"We'll see. The lab will be calling with the PCR results soon. The test will prove whether or not the blood found on Paul Martin's corpse is yours." She steepled her fingers and leaned back in her chair. "Do you know a good lawyer, Agent Mulder?"
"The PCR will prove nothing. It's entirely possible my blood contaminated the scene a priori," he argued. "I was cut five years ago in John Mostow's studio - by Bill Patterson. The victim could have picked up traces of my blood from the floor."
"It's possible. How do you think the jury will see it at the trial?"
"This will never go that far." He shook his head. The movement caused a stomach-churning ache to shoot from his swollen eye straight to the back of his skull. "I didn't kill those men."
"Then why steal the Lorton surveillance tape?"
"I didn't steal it." Mulder feared he might throw up. His back and neck burned with fever; his fingers felt numb with cold.
"Did you ask permission to borrow the tape? According to Lorton-"
"No, I didn't ask permission. I just-"
"I see very little distinction between the two."
The phone rang. Dressler glanced at the caller ID.
"That's the lab. Anything you want to say, Agent Mulder, before I take this call? A confession could help you."
He pressed his lips together and shook his head.
Dressler picked up the phone. She nodded while she listened. Her gray eyes never left Mulder's face. She ended her conversation with a thank you and an order for a copy of the report to be sent to her office ASAP.
"Well?" Mulder asked when Dressler hung up the phone.
"Agent Mulder, I'm placing you under arrest for murder." She stood and signaled Delgado. "You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to be speak to an attorney..."
Delgado tossed his toothpick into the trash. Pulling handcuffs from his coat pocket, he crossed the room to Mulder's chair. A frown thinned his lips. While Dressler continued the Miranda, he yanked Mulder to his feet and cuffed him.
"You're making a mistake," Mulder insisted. "You have nothing."
"I disagree." Dressler narrowed her eyes. "I've got plenty. One..." - she held up a finger - "you stole a surveillance tape from Lorton prison that showed your visit with Bill Patterson just weeks before his death. Two..." - another finger went up - "you visited Mostow's studio last night at the approximate time Frank Wilcox was murdered. Three..." -
she extended a third finger - "you returned to your apartment with an unexplained cut on your head and Martin and Perry's guns and badges in your possession. Four... - she held out all but her thumb - "your service weapon was found at the scene. It's been fired, Agent Mulder. And the deceased has a bullet hole in the back of his decapitated head. And finally, five..." - she opened her entire hand - "traces of your blood were discovered on Martin's body. Need I remind you, it was your own partner who performed the autopsy and collected the forensic evidence?"
"That's all circumstantial. What about motive? What possible reason would I have for killing three ISU agents?"
"Don't forget Patterson. You said it yourself, Agent Mulder: Patterson's death was no suicide. I'm finally agreeing with you."
Dressler came around her desk and stepped directly in front of him. "Agent Mulder, I think you've followed Bill Patterson's footsteps straight to the loony bin. I think you're copycatting his murders and you're responsible for the deaths of four men."
"You're wrong, Dressler. You couldn't be more wrong."
Delgado opened the office door. "Want me to transport him?"
"No, thanks, Tony. I'll drive him myself."
The decapitated head of ISU Chief Frank Wilcox gaped at Scully from a nearby table tray. Beside it, a shallow basin contained what was left of the Chief's butchered remains.
Wilcox's mouth, like Perry's, had been stuffed with clay, forcing the jaws open and plugging the throat. A bullet had entered his head from the back, tearing through the parietal lobe and lodging in the clay just behind the superior maxillary. Scully had removed the bullet more than an hour ago and sent it down to ballistics.
Earlier, Dressler had argued against Scully performing autopsies on either Wilcox or Perry. She claimed Scully's objectivity was unlikely, given that Mulder was under suspicion for their murders. At Scully's request, Skinner intervened. He had okayed her involvement, telling Dressler that Mulder was innocent until proven otherwise and that Scully's professionalism was not under suspicion.
The AD's decision appeared to infuriate Dressler, but she backed down, conceding to Skinner without another word. Her quick surrender surprised Scully. Dressler hadn't played her ace: her suspicion of the agents' romantic relationship. Her reticence allowed Scully to return to the morgue.
Hands thrust into Perry's chest cavity, Scully checked his lungs.
"Evidence of bronchial occlusion indicates the mouth was packed with clay while the victim was still alive. The presence of blood in the lungs suggests the clay was introduced into the oral cavity only after the face was cut, causing the victim to inhale both blood and clay before dying."
Jesus, this killer was a sadistic son-of-a-bitch. Or a madman.
Scully knew from VICAP statistics that most serial killers were not insane. Yet it was hard to reconcile what she saw here with the acts of any sane person.
Of course, Mulder would insist this wasn't the work of a person at all.
The phone rang and Scully set down her scalpel. She removed one bloody glove and answered the phone.
"Hello Dana; it's Jen," the technician said. "I'm probably gonna get in trouble over this, but I thought you should know."
"I just ran into Dan."
"Yes. He told me the bullet you recovered from Frank Wilcox's head...it was your partner's."
"Why didn't Dan call me himself?"
"He said he was under orders."
Scully knew the answer even before hearing it.
"Agent Roberta Dressler."
En Route to Lorton Correctional Complex
"These cuffs aren't necessary." Mulder glared at Dressler from the back seat of her car.
She glanced at him in the rearview mirror. "Standard procedure, Agent Mulder. I think you know that."
"Was it standard procedure to parade me through the bullpen? Or was that for your own entertainment?"
"I don't find anything about this case entertaining."
She steered onto the freeway. Mid-morning traffic filled all four lanes.
Mulder heaved a sigh. His march through ISU had created quite a spectacle. All the agents he'd managed to tick off during his tenure in the Unit - which appeared to be most of them -
vacated their offices to witness his humiliation.
"Look at that," - someone had sniggered - "Dead man walking, and it ain't no X-File!"
"Hey, Mulder, maybe you'll be rescued by the Mother Ship. Beam me up, Spooky."
"You get one call, Mulder. Better phone hooooome."
The laughter did little to drown out the more serious name- calling. "Arrogant prick." "Freaking crackpot." "Goddamn embarrassment to the Bureau."
The worst came when someone said, "Looks like Mrs. Spooky'll be collecting widow's benefits before long."
Mulder squirmed at the memory and slumped lower in Dressler's back seat. He didn't mind being the target of insults; he'd become used to them over the years. It rankled, however, that Scully's reputation hinged on his own. He hated the idea of dragging her down with him.
Christ, his head ached.
Dressler changed lanes and passed a slow-moving minivan.
"What do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror, Agent Mulder?" she asked.
"You missed your exit," he told her, ignoring her question. "Lorton's back that way."
"We're not going to Lorton."
"What happened to standard procedure?"
"You know, Agent Mulder, Patterson never should have called you in on the Mostow case."
"I never understood his reasons. Maybe another agent could have prevented..." Her voice trailed off. She watched the road and stepped more heavily on the gas.
He studied her face in the mirror. Only her eyes were visible. Gray and cold. Full of anger.
"It's you, isn't it?" he asked. He clenched his fists and tested the handcuffs, tugging until the metal cut painfully into his wrists. He was trapped. "You're the one. You killed them...even Patterson, didn't you?"
"What do you see, Agent Mulder...what do you see when you look at yourself in the mirror?" she asked again. "God's gift to the world?"
He said nothing. With the doors locked, there was no escape from the car, not until she stopped and let him out.
"Maybe you think it's okay for you to ignore protocol, Agent Mulder. Maybe you think it's okay to step on other people's toes. Do the ends really justify the means?"
"What ends are we talking about?"
"You've enjoyed every advantage."
"Do you know how often Bill Patterson praised you?" She gripped the steering wheel until her fingers turned bone- white. "And you...you were so goddamn ungrateful. The rest of us, we...I...we walked through hell for that man, hunting his damn monsters until that was all we ever saw when we closed our eyes at night. And he...he never realized it. He never noticed the things we gave up. Little bits and pieces of ourselves. Years of our lives. Our peace of mind. It didn't matter. No matter how hard-" She shook her head. "But you...you were the prodigal son. He said we could all take a lesson from you. He held you up as the ideal, the quintessential profiler. And then *you*," - she pounded the heal of her hand against the wheel - "you...walked...away from him. You quit the Unit."
"That's not how it was-"
"Don't tell me how it was! I was there, Agent Mulder." Tears swamped her eyes. "It wasn't fair. I worked hard, followed his orders, his methods, believed in him, and then he...he called
"Where are we going, Agent Dressler?"
"Now it's my turn-"
"Agent Dressler, where are you taking me?"
"Now it's my turn to snap my fingers, Agent Mulder, and make you lick the greasy floor of hell."
Scraping clay from John Perry's lungs, Scully wondered how Mulder was faring.
Dressler's accusations were ludicrous, of course, despite the circumstantial evidence. The victimology was every bit as important as the physical evidence; both things together served as documentation of the killer's behavior and motive. Scully believed that. Find the motive and you find the killer. She'd said as much to Mulder only yesterday.
So what was the motive?
She put down her scalpel.
Out on the roof of Mostow's building, Dressler had insinuated Mulder's motive was fueled by professional jealousy. Scully knew better. Mulder wasn't like that. He walked his own path; rising to the top meant nothing to him. He was more than satisfied with his life in the basement, as long as he was allowed the freedom to pursue the X-Files.
"Come on, Dana, put the pieces together," she said to herself. "Look at the victims and figure out who killed them...and why."
The victims had all been strong, healthy FBI agents. Trained to hunt criminals. They were good at it. Each had earned their way to the top of ISU. Patterson and Wilcox had both served as Unit Chief. John Perry had been Wilcox's right hand man, second in command. Paul Martin was only a step behind with fifteen years of service and commendations up the yin-yang.
Scully yanked her gloves from her hands and tossed them into the trash with a rubbery slap. Hurrying, she crossed the room to a computer station.
The person who murdered these men was someone who could get close to them, someone they trusted. A colleague.
She logged onto the Bureau employee database and brought up the ISU staff list.
Who would want to kill four agents and implicate Mulder?
She scanned the list for agents whose work history extended as far back as '88 to '91, the years Mulder spent in the Unit. There were quite a few.
Including Roberta Dressler. Was it possible - ?
Scully opened Dressler's file.
Born in '63 Graduated from the Academy in '89 Assigned to Violent Crimes Section, Behavioral Science Unit in '91
Mulder had been in the Unit for almost three years by that time. He had already gained himself a reputation...as a crackerjack profiler, and as a renegade who often preferred to work outside the mainstream.
The database showed that when Mulder was assigned to the X- Files in '91, Dressler was paired with Mulder's old partner Jerry Lamana. Scully remembered him from the Eurisko case. A real ladder-climbing opportunist. The guy had stepped all over Mulder during the investigation into the death of Benjamin Drake. Went so far as to steal Mulder's profile right off his desk and present it as his own.
Dressler and Lamana were reassigned a year after they were paired. She was then partnered with Wilcox, Martin and Perry in rather quick succession. Their partnerships lasted anywhere from nine months to a year. In between, she was assigned to background checks and general grunt work - the kind of stuff handed to agents fresh from the Academy...or when they were placed on punitive probation. Unfortunately, FBI personnel records didn't detail disciplinary actions.
Agent Dressler's transitory partnerships and constant reassignments were unusual, but not unheard of. The Bureau's rumor mill often reported similar professional breakups, speculating on personal reasons behind a split. Male/female partners in particular became targets for innuendo. The durability of Mulder and Scully's own pairing was a testament to their professionalism, as well as their ability to ignore the office gossips.
Scully scanned the victims' personnel files. She found that, with the exception of Patterson, they had all been promoted within the department after splitting with Dressler. Yet Dressler had never received a single promotion, not once in ten years.
Could professional jealousy be reason enough to brutally kill four men?
Dressler had accused Mulder of that very motivation.
Scully picked up the phone and dialed ISU.
Mulder groaned. Lying on his back with his arms pulled high over his head, he realized his ankles had been tied together and his wrists tethered to...to what? He twisted in an effort to see what held him. His vision blurred and his head pounded. He blinked several times before he could make out the knot of rope securing his wrists to a water pipe. Somewhere above him, a faucet dripped.
Where in hell...?
He remembered...what? A car ride...with Agent Dressler...to...to Lorton.
God, his head hurt.
Dressler had...pointed her gun at him. She had ordered him out of the car.
Where had she taken him?
This place looked like...
Dressler was the killer.
She must have hit him over the head.
Jesus, his skull felt ready to explode. Pain radiated through him and he moaned again.
A scraping sound drew his attention to a shadowed corner of the room. Something moved in the dark.
Damn it, he couldn't see; it was too dark or his vision was too fuzzy. He blinked again, trying to bring whatever it was into focus.
The smell of sulfur flooded the room. Mulder's stomach rolled. He held his breath. Even so, the stench filtered into his nostrils, insinuated its way into his sinuses.
The thing stepped closer.
Mulder squinted into the dark. He dimly saw what looked like the monster from the roof. A hideous gargoyle, gray and seemingly as solid as carved granite. Bald. Pointy eared. Long claws curved from its bent fingers. Sharp teeth glistened between over-stretched lips.
This wasn't Dressler, any more than it had been Patterson five years ago. This was a malevolence as old as mankind.
It held a knife.
Mulder pictured the blade slipping into Frank Wilcox's flesh, reducing the ISU Chief to a pile of unrecognizable bits and pieces.
"What-" Mulder's voice scraped past taut vocal chords. "What do you want?"
Sidling closer, it chuckled. A deep, hollow gurgling sound, like water through a sewer pipe.
Jesus, the creature looked rock-hard, carved like the medieval gargoyles on the cathedrals of Europe. Yet its movements were smooth, even graceful.
Mulder struggled to free himself, but the ropes held him securely in place.
Squatting, the monster dipped its head until its face hung mere inches above his own. Pressing the tip of its knife to Mulder's lower eyelid, it smiled, revealing two horrible rows of razor-sharp teeth.
Mulder licked dry lips. "Care to share the joke with the rest of the class?" he whispered.
Another laugh burbled from the creature's throat. Using one long claw, it traced an invisible line from the corner of Mulder's mouth to his ear. The pressure caused the muscles in his cheek to twitch. The nail left behind a rising red welt.
Tunneling its spiky fingers through Mulder's hair, it combed dark locks away from his feverish brow. It traced a thumb over one eyebrow, around the black eye. Its nail ticked across the tiny sutures at his temple.
Mulder stared into the monster's inky pupils, lured by his own astonished reflection.
John Mostow's warning surfaced in his memory: "You have felt its hunger, so you know...nothing can be done."
Investigative Support Unit Quantico
"What do you mean Mulder and Dressler have disappeared?" Scully paced toward Tony Delgado, fire in her eyes.
The stocky man closed a file folder and set it down in front of him on his desk. He turned in his chair to face her. "They were on their way to Lorton," he said.
"They never arrived."
"I tried to reach Agent Dressler right after you called. When she didn't answer, I dispatched a team. I'm still waiting-"
"God damn it!" Scully's fist hammered his desk, causing him to jump. "Dressler is the killer."
"Have you lost your mind?" He stood to face her.
"Why else would she kidnap Mulder?"
"It's more likely he kidnapped her."
"She plans to kill him, just like she killed the others."
"You've got it backward, Agent Scully. Mulder is the one who has been arrested for murder. He may be able to pull the wool over your eyes, but he isn't fooling the rest of us. Your judgment in this matter is-" Delgado stopped himself.
"Say what you mean, Agent."
His eyes dropped to the floor. Uncomfortable, he cleared his throat. "Rumor has it, you two are...more than partners. Your perspective is likely to be...compromised."
This was exactly the type of judgmental misconstruction she and Mulder had hoped to avoid by keeping their romantic involvement secret.
She reigned in her temper, lowered her voice.
"Mulder is in trouble."
"It's Dressler who's in trouble."
She stared Delgado straight in the eye. "Can we at least agree we need to find them?"
Delgado nodded. "Where do we begin?"
"I think I know."
Crouching over Mulder, the creature hummed while it undressed him. Its song was no more than a tuneless, tinny gurgle. The sound grated like fingernails on a blackboard.
It fumbled with his tie, loosening the knot at his neck and sliding the silk from his shirt collar. The creature tossed the tie over its shoulder into the shower. Perry's and Martin's clothes no longer clogged the drain there; they had been removed by the same ISU agents who had scraped Frank Wilcox's dismembered body from the roof.
Unfastening Mulder's shirt one pearly button at a time, it worked carefully, almost gently, slipping each button from its hole with painstaking precision. It paused for a moment to stroke a stain of dried blood on the breast pocket. Its long, clawed fingers traced back and forth with a scritch-scratchy caress.
Shirt unbuttoned, the monster pushed the fabric aside to expose Mulder's bare chest. The chill of the room raised goosebumps on his feverish skin. He shivered when the creature laid an icy palm on the flat of his stomach.
Its coarse fingers grated upward across his skin. Scouring like sandpaper, it followed the curve of his ribs to his breastbone. Stopping directly over his heart, it tapped his chest with a sharp claw. Once, twice, three times.
It brought the knife to the spot and sliced a shallow line into the skin. Not deep, but Mulder yelped from the sudden pain. Blood seeped from the wound, pooled in the hollow of his chest and trickled downward toward his navel. The creature smiled.
It lifted the knife to Mulder's jaw. Skimming the blade along the bone, it scraped the flesh just enough to redden the skin. It inched the knife upward and stopped at Mulder's left eye. The tip combed his lower lashes, one fine, dark hair at a time.
Mulder didn't blink, the point was so close...
"Go back to hell," he said through gritted teeth.
The monster's wide smile disintegrated. Anger glowed in its eyes.
The pipes beneath the sink rattled. The floor trembled. Somewhere overhead, a support beam groaned. The monster hunkered over Mulder's body, its knife ready. It opened its mouth.
When it roared, the fiery odor of sulfur rushed at Mulder's face, swirled around his head. Its breath burned with a thousand years of depravity. Its evil expanded to fill the room. Mulder couldn't catch his breath. A sudden buildup in air pressure popped his ears.
The floor vibrated, creaked and then bucked. With a clapping crack, the concrete fractured beneath Mulder's shoulder blades.
The entire building shuddered. A ceiling tile shook loose and spiraled to the floor. Mulder's heart hammered in his chest. He jumped when the mirror above the sink suddenly exploded and spewed a blizzard of needle-sharp fragments into the air. The creature's knife nicked his cheek when he flinched.
Beyond the closed bathroom door, out in the studio, an easel toppled. A stool slid and collided into a wall. Paint jars burst, one after the next, hurtling bits of glass across the room. A maelstrom of brushes and oil rags and paper wheeled into the air, spinning out of control. The building hummed with a magnetic charge, snapping and crackling with static electricity.
When a violent jolt shook the long hall outside Mostow's studio, Scully and Delgado stopped dead in their tracks. They turned a wary eye to the shimmying catwalk overhead. The SWAT team waited behind them, guns ready, eyes searching for the source of the temblor. Metal squealed when a second booming pulse reverberated through the building, bending the stair railing and causing the catwalk to break free at one end.
"Watch out," Scully warned and led the team forward. She ducked when a ceiling beam groaned, cracking the sheetrock and blasting them with plaster dust.
Was this an earthquake?
Delgado's face paled. The derelict building didn't look as if it could withstand any sort of severe stress.
"Let's hurry." Scully staggered toward Mostow's studio, dodging fallen debris as she ran.
Dust and the stink of sulfur fogged the air.
"What's causing the smell?" Delgado shouted, hand to his nose.
Scully shook her head.
She reached the door and yanked on the handle. Damn it, the door was stuck. The warped frame pinched it solidly in place.
Another quake rattled the building. A fissure zigzagged down the wall beside the doorframe. Above them on an upper floor, a ceiling collapsed with a thunderous crash.
"Get that door open," Scully yelled to the SWAT team, "before we're buried alive."
Mulder struggled against his ropes.
The creature straddled his hips, as heavy and cold as a boulder, pinning him in place.
It tipped its stony head. A sneer curled its lips.
It raised the knife.
"Why...why kill me?"
The monster laughed. An explosive guffaw. Sulfur churned from its throat. Its roar blasted through the room like a sonic boom, rocking the walls. A storm of dust fell when the ceiling gave way and the tiles rained down.
"Because...I...can," it hissed. It brought the knife to Mulder's cheek.
He turned his head. The blade raked his skin. Blood spouted from the wound. Pain rocketed through him and he screamed.
Scully heard Mulder's cry.
"Open that door...now!" she ordered.
The SWAT officers increased their efforts, pummeling the door with their battering ram. Three, four more hits and the door popped free.
A blast of wind rushed from the room. Inside, debris spun in frenzied cyclones.
Delgado shoved the broken door out of the way and Scully stepped inside.
Visibility was terrible. Dust stung her eyes and skin.
Across the room, broken beams and collapsed cinderblocks barricaded the entrance to the studio and the bathroom beyond.
Mulder must be trapped inside with the killer.
Another massive tremor shook the building. Cans and jars plummeted from high shelves and bounced from the countertop to the floor. The eerie wind battered a bank of overhead lights; two fluorescent tubes shook free and somersaulted downward. They exploded on the concrete. Scully lifted an arm to protect her face from the spray of glass.
"Dig this out," she ordered, pointing to the debris that blocked the door.
The team moved in. Ignoring the choking dust, they cleared ragged chunks of concrete, twisted metal beams, broken panels of plasterboard.
From behind the blocked door, Mulder screamed again.
The monster gripped Mulder's hair. It forced his head back, exposing his throat. He cried out when the tip of the knife slipped into his skin, just below his jawbone. The pain was ungodly. The knife seesawed toward his chin, following the bone. Blood wept from the lengthening wound. Mulder's lungs stalled. Tears flooded his eyes.
With a slap, the bathroom door flew open. Scully stood at the threshold, her gun pointed at the creature's back.
"Drop your weapon!" she demanded.
The monster stopped cutting and growled. It swiveled to glare at Scully. Eyes fastened on her, it pulled its knife from Mulder's jaw and aimed the blade at his heart.
When its arm dropped, Scully fired. Her bullet pierced the creature's head, drilling a dime-sized hole between its angry eyes. Clay exploded from the back of its skull, showering Mulder with a spray of fine sandstone.
The monster slumped and tumbled sideways. Its knife clattered to the floor.
Scully hurried to Mulder's side. She squatted and applied pressure to the wound at his jaw, staunching the flow of blood.
The building ceased its terrible rocking. The gusting wind died away.
Delgado stepped forward and rolled the creature off Mulder's legs. Clay crumbled away from the thing's hideous face. Beneath the monster's mask, Roberta Dressler stared back at them with astonished, dead eyes.
"Hold still, Mulder."
"Scully..." He squirmed, not wanting to be doctored.
She sat beside him on the couch, trying to inspect the underside of his chin. He had showered and changed into a clean t-shirt and sweats. With the blood washed away, his black eye stood out darker than before. A new row of stitches lined the underside of his jaw, nearly hidden in the stubble of his beard.
"Mulder, I can't see."
"Mulder, let me look."
Surrendering, he rolled onto his back and placed his head in her lap. Bare feet propped on the far arm of the couch, he pointed his chin ceiling-ward. "Better?"
"Yes. Thank you." She checked the sutures. "No sign of infection. Your fever appears to be gone, too." She laid a palm on his forehead, one more time, just to be sure.
"I'm fine, Scully, really."
She resisted the urge to check the abrasions on his wrists again. He was safe; he was here. Dressler was dead. Reaching behind her, she switched off the table lamp. Only the fire in the fireplace lit the living room. She watched the flames and absently combed her fingers through his hair.
"I read your report, Scully," he said in a low voice. His eyelids drooped as he relaxed beneath her caress. "I'm not sure I agree with it."
"Roberta Dressler killed four men, Mulder, and she tried to kill you, too. What's to argue?"
"I'm not arguing the 'what,' but the 'why.'"
"She killed her colleagues because she was frustrated by what she perceived to be an unfair professional environment."
"Perceived. The way she saw it, her male colleagues where granted every advantage, while she was denied equal privilege."
"There might be some truth to that."
"Perhaps." She carefully avoided the stitches at his temple as she smoothed his hair.
"The Bureau has its share of good ol' boys, Scully. You see that sort of prejudice yourself all the time."
"Not that often."
He opened his good eye to look at her. "Fine...'Mrs. Spooky.'"
She took his point and smiled. "Dressler felt powerless. She sought to control life to such a degree that it finally served as a motive to murder. It's one of VICAP's categories for serial killers."
"Yes. You told me yourself she idolized Patterson. It must have infuriated her when he asked for your help and not hers on the Mostow case."
He nodded. "She couldn't reconcile my piss-poor attitude toward Patterson with his apparent admiration for me."
"That's true. But there was more to it than that."
"What are you thinking?"
"Did you know she slept with Patterson?"
This opened both his eyes. He stared up at her. "Where'd you hear that?"
Now he smiled, too. "Must be true then, huh?"
"No, but the point is, she heard the rumors. Whether she slept with Patterson, or her partners for that matter, is irrelevant. She was the one accused of impropriety, not them. They were promoted. She wasn't. That was bound to fuel her anger at them...and at you."
"If you recall, she called here in the middle of the night, and you answered my phone."
"She assumed I was taking advantage of you."
"A common misconception," she teased. She smoothed a wrinkle from the front of his t-shirt, leaving her hand over his heart. "You know, I wondered why she didn't bring that up when she launched her protest to Skinner about Wilcox's and Perry's autopsies. Given the circumstances, my involvement with you could have been construed as a conflict of interest."
"She wanted you to find the evidence to incriminate me."
"I think so. She projected her own circumstances onto me. It would have been a complete victory for her if I had been the one to put you in your place."
"Downtrodden female agent triumphs over hound dog partner."
"Dressler wanted more than anything to be Patterson's protege, to rise in the ranks. We may never know what methods she undertook in hopes of climbing the corporate ladder, but it's obvious she was passed over, time and again. While her partners were promoted, she grew increasingly outraged."
"You're saying she simply snapped one day?"
"Yes, that's what I'm saying. What are you saying, Mulder?"
"I'm thinking it was more than professional jealousy and office politics that turned Dressler into a murderer."
His gaze flicked to the stack of sketches on Scully's coffee table. Mostow's drawings. "I'm still leaning toward the evil spirit theory."
"No, really, Scully. You were there. You saw what happened to Mostow's building."
"Nooooo," he groaned. "Scullee! There was no report of an earthquake."
"The building was a derelict, Mulder. Maybe the underpinnings finally gave way."
"Fine. Then how did Dressler get into Lorton to kill Patterson?"
"I don't know, Mulder, but it's not entirely impossible."
"And how do you explain the creature you saw in Mostow's studio? The pointy ears, the fangs, the claws?"
"It was nothing more than clay."
"No, Scully. You saw it. I saw it." He sat up and swung his feet to the floor.
"I don't know what I saw, Mulder. Everything happened so fast. And *you*," - she gently rubbed him between his shoulders -
"were suffering from a concussion and a fever."
He shook his head. "What about the surveillance tape from Lorton? There was proof on that tape."
"The tape is gone, Mulder. I checked. Dressler must have taken it and gotten rid of it."
He slumped forward and let his hands dangle between his knees. His eyes scoured the gargoyle pictured in the uppermost sketch. "It wanted revenge, Scully, for my role in Patterson's - in *its* - incarceration. It failed to drag me into the abyss the last time and it returned to finish what it started." He stood, groaning from his bruises, and turned to give her a hand up.
She allowed him to pull her to her feet.
"It'll be back," he predicted.
He looked exhausted. His eyes traveled down her hall. "Bed?" he asked, tilting his head in the direction of her bedroom.
"You go on ahead, Mulder. I'll just be a minute. I want to put a few things away."
He nodded and lightly kissed her lips. "Don't be long," he murmured against her mouth. Releasing her hand, he shuffled down her hall.
As soon as he was out of sight, she gathered Mostow's drawings. She took them to the fireplace and dropped the entire stack into the flames. The edges curled and the uppermost sheets turned black. She stood for only a moment watching the horrible faces disappear before she turned and followed Mulder down the hall to her bedroom.