Summary: Something very angry is haunting a tiny graveyard on the
After a hundred years
--Emily Dickinson, J. 1147 ("The Forgotten Grave")
The first question Scully had about the South Road Ghost was whether to classify it as a revenge or reenactment haunting. After seven years of working with Mulder's eccentric record-keeping system, this no longer seemed a strange question to ask. She scanned the one-page fax while sipping her morning coffee, making small notations in the margins with a red pen.
The fax had apparently come from a private citizen, a man named Irv Stuckey who wrote with an old typewriter ribbon and couldn't spell. He complained at some length about how no one at the FBI or his local sheriff's office took him seriously or answered his letters. Great. This kind of case was a nightmare to sell upstairs. Scully wrote at the bottom, "Jurisdiction?"
The relevant part of the letter read:
This aftrenoon at apprx. 3 pm Kristie Herron was found dead at foot of Wesquobsque Cliffs of a brken neck. As you know the South Road gohst does haunt these clifts and you know what for. Kristie had all the marks encluding knife cuts on her hands and leg & it was the right kind of night very cold & windy.
If you do the kind of work J. Luce, Jr. says you do and are not just wasting taxes you will come out and investegate the death of this poor girl. Even with what happend in Boston she deserves better then to die this way & her mother is very broken up. My ph. # is the same as the last letter I sent but since you proabably threw it out here it is again 963-0545.
Sincereley, Irv Stuckey
It wasn't the weirdest or most illiterate letter Scully had received while working on the X-Files, and she didn't let its eccentricities distract her. Irv's description of Kristie's wounds intrigued Scully particularly. He didn't seem to be a family member and he certainly wasn't a pathologist. Where had he gotten his information? She drew an arrow from his comment about knife cuts to the bottom of the page, where she noted sarcastically, "Clearly, falling over a cliff precludes the possibility these cuts were due to natural causes."
She tapped her pen cap against the former break-room table that served as her desk. Her options were to dismiss Irv's claims and round-file the letter, or accept the case and write it up as some kind of paranormal event. For years she'd left this duty to Mulder on general principles, but eventually her protests against his bookkeeping methods began to feel childish, and now she wrote cases up herself.
Should she go with reenactment haunting or revenge? Irv had hinted that the ghost's appearance was recurrent, which any good paranormal investigator knew was typical of the reenactment type. And yet there were the supposed knife wounds to think of.
Only Mulder would come up with a system that classified paranormal phenomena by motive. //Fine -- eenie, meenie, miney, moe . . . Revenge haunting it is.// Scully wrote the new case number across the top of the letter, "X-00-300.17-01." The first vengeful ghost of the year 2000.
At that moment the door to the office opened and Mulder came in, sipping coffee from his MUFON mug. "'Morning," he said.
"Good morning," she responded. Though their words were restrained and their manner professional, their gazes met and held too long for mere courtesy.
The familiar electrifying feeling began to build, and soon Scully looked away. The Hoover Building had not been a friendly place for her in some time, and she felt too exposed when she allowed herself to experience powerful emotions while on the job.
The gossip about her and Mulder was nothing new, of course, except that now some of it was true. Worse, the rumors were circulated with a barely-veiled hostility that made them more than just embarrassing. They were offensively intimate, like a dirty stranger peering in at the window. Lately she'd taken to saving up her photocopying until the very end of the day, when the copy room was likely to be deserted.
Holding out Irv Stuckey's fax, Scully said, "This came in early this morning -- a report of an unexplained death. I've just officially made it a revenge haunting,"
"Really. That's different." Mulder stood behind her -- too close for propriety, as usual -- and looked over her shoulder at the paper.
She repressed the urge to elbow him for teasing her. Obliviousness to gossip was all very well for him -- Scully had previous experience with "discreet" romances, and knew popular opinion tended to be much harsher toward the woman.
She persevered in her attempt to remain businesslike. "The fax's author is writing from a place called the Wesqobsque Cliffs, although I'd be lying if I said I knew where those were. He seems to know you."
For some reason, that information took all the playfulness out of Mulder. "Wesqobsque?" he asked, taking the fax from her hand.
"What?" she asked, turning to look up at him. A fine line had appeared between his brows -- a look of pain.
"You all right?" she asked. Office protocol forgotten, she rested her hand on his arm.
He did not meet her gaze as he edged out from behind her table and walked over to his desk. All intense focus now, Mulder set the fax down and began rifling through papers in a drawer. "Irv's a local crackpot -- most of his stories are worth their weight in crap. With luck, this one's as much garbage as the rest of them."
She got up and followed him. "Mulder, I don't understand," she said.
After a moment he stopped rummaging around and looked up at her. "I grew up near the Wesquobsque Cliffs. They run along the Vineyard's South Shore, from Chilmark to Aquinnah. The story of the South Road Ghost is just an old myth from that area, local color that plays well to kids and tourists. I doubt Irv even believes in it -- he's just using it for his own purposes." After that he went back to digging through the drawer again, cursing softly as he dropped handfuls of bent business cards and Post-It notes onto the blotter.
"Did you know her? The girl who died?" Scully asked softly.
He continued his search as he spoke. "A little -- just a little bit. Really I know her mother, or I used to. Patty Todd used to baby-sit us when we were little -- her mom was a friend of my mother's. Patty sent me a card when my dad died . . . " Frustrated, Mulder slammed the drawer back in the desk.
In the violence of the gesture, Scully sensed how much he was still suffering over the recent loss of his mother, as well as his grief at learning the truth about what happened to Samantha. She reached out to him again, offering a steadying touch.
Whether he noticed her outstretched hand or not, he knocked it away while straightening up. "Jesus, Kristie died down there on the beach and Irv wants to blame it on the South Road Ghost? He's such a little shit."
"Mulder, you want to tell me what's going on?" she asked. He still had the irritating tendency to draw her into his tortured inner monologues without quite acknowledging her presence.
"Sorry," he murmured. Mulder dropped down into his chair and ran his fingers through his hair, as if trying to soothe himself. "I'm looking for Joey Luce's number at the Chilmark police station. If anybody knows what's going on, he should. I hope he'll tell me Irv's full of it."
Still confused, Scully tried focusing on the basics. "So you're saying I shouldn't bother with this case. This isn't an X-File -- it's just some guy on Martha's Vineyard who likes to stir up trouble."
Mulder sat back in his chair, as if forcibly relinquishing some inner tension. At last he looked up at her, and his expression was very sad. "I'm not saying you shouldn't bother. It's . . . complicated. The story of the South Road Ghost has a meaning -- there's a moral to it."
Scully sat down on the edge of his desk, willing to listen.
As she suspected, Mulder couldn't resist the chance to tell a good creepy story, even in his current distressed state. "Supposedly, the ghost is a widow named Mary Brown who was executed during the winter of 1778. That was a bad winter for the Island -- bad all around."
"That was the winter George Washington spent at Valley Forge," Scully said. Images from her childhood history books came to mind -- soldiers with black, gangrenous feet, shivering around the fire where they boiled shoe leather for food.
Mulder nodded. "Boston didn't have enough naval power to defend the islands off the Cape, and the British had them under siege. There was a lot of hunger, a lot of disease. Mary Brown's husband went down with his whole crew in Nantucket Sound when he tried engaging a British war ship in his fishing boat." He must have seen Scully's look of amazement because he added, "They say the Vineyarders were brave on the water -- no one ever said they were smart.
"After Captain Brown died, Mary gave birth to another baby and apparently something just snapped. She probably couldn't feed the kids and . . ." He seemed to be backing away from a too- accurate reconstruction of the woman's misery. "Anyway, she went nuts. Killed both her children with a kitchen knife and tried to cut her own throat."
Mulder fell silent a moment. He rubbed the back of one hand with his thumb, as if trying to wear away something unpleasant about his boyhood home. "From our vantage point we can say, 'Oh, it was post-partum psychosis brought on by stress. Nowadays she might get off with manslaughter.' The Chilmark fathers didn't see it that way. The women of the town nursed her back to health and a few days after the new year, they hanged her. They say her ghost wanders the land along the South Shore with her head held up like a lantern. I guess the townswomen didn't do as good a job of healing her as they thought."
Scully's medical training offered her a graphic image of the likely effects of hanging on a near-severed throat. "That would have been bad," she said.
"It must have been. She's supposed to appear on cold, windy nights to women who've grievously wronged their own children. Some say she slashes the mothers up with the murder knife, and some say just looking at her drives guilty women mad, and they kill themselves. It's a Lovecraftian, inversion-of-the-natural- order sort of thing. Very Freud, very Brothers Grimm. The only problem is that there's nothing to the story. No one's ever found a record showing that Mary Brown even existed, and I've been over every inch of those woods along the South Shore -- daytime, nighttime, summer, winter. The house I grew up in is about three-quarters of a mile from the South Road Burying Ground. There's nothing out there."
"So Irv Stuckey is implying that Kristie Herron deserved to die because of something she did to harm her own child?" Scully asked. "You're right, he is a shit." She hoped that Irv's little theory hadn't made it back to Kristie's family. "Do you think that's what he meant by 'what happened in Boston' -- something involving child abuse? Child neglect?"
"I don't know what he meant by that," Mulder said. "As far as I know, Kristie didn't have any kids. It sure doesn't seem right that Patty's old enough to be a grandmother. Christ, that makes me feel ancient."
"Don't remind me," Scully groaned. Only two months ago, she had spent her 36th birthday among a gaggle of relatives, most of them with sticky-fingered toddlers and baby carriers in tow. A cousin had managed to produce the first female Scully child in over 15 years, a red-haired, blue-eyed baby named Emily Christine. The coloring was the predominant one for their family and the name a coincidence -- "Emily" was one of the top ten most popular girls' names in the country. And yet, the experience had called to mind with terrible sharpness the passage of time and what might have been.
"You've got a long way to go before you're old, Red," Mulder said. He caught her little finger in his hand. Their relationship was still in flux, but there were moments of tenderness to anchor it, like stones at the edges of billowing fabric. At last, Mulder managed to find the much-bent card he was seeking, wedged in the cramped space where the drawer's side met the desk wall. He smoothed it out against the desk with the side of his hand, and Scully saw it read, "Sergeant Joseph A. Luce, Chilmark Police."
Mulder dialed the phone, and after a moment began the introduction she'd heard a thousand times. "Good morning, this is Special Agent Fox Mulder of the FBI and I --" He didn't get any farther far a long time.
"On hold?" Scully mouthed.
He shook his head and gave her a pained look. Eventually he said, "Great, Doreen, thanks. Listen, is Joey--" Apparently he'd been cut off again. Several seconds passed. Mulder pushed the speaker phone button and suddenly the air was full of verbiage.
"--and she only just came back from off-Island and was going to meetings and she met a nice guy and everything and it seemed like she was getting her life back together when suddenly *this* happens and people are saying suicide but they'd never say that if they knew her like I did--" Blessedly, Mulder hit the speaker- off button and Doreen's voice ceased.
"Wow," Scully said.
Doreen must have taken a breath because Mulder said, "I need to talk to Joe." Another pause. "*Chief* Joe, no kidding. Well, I need to talk to -- . . . Doreen . . . For crying out loud, Dori, would you just put me through to -- Thank you." Mulder glanced up, looking slightly embarrassed. Holding his hand over the mouthpiece of the phone, he whispered, "Inbred."
Scully looked away, trying very hard not to laugh. She had long been accustomed to the odd combination of nostalgia and distaste Mulder felt toward the one-stoplight town where he was raised. After a few moments, he said, "Hi, Joe, this is Fox Mulder. Yeah, I heard -- that's why I'm calling. Actually, I hoped you'd tell me Irv was just hitting the hash pipe and it was all a mistake. No, he faxed us late last night -- early this morning, really." Glancing up at Scully, he added, "Listen, my partner's here, would you mind if I put this on speaker phone? Great."
Mulder touched the speaker button again and said, "Chief Luce, this is Special Agent Dana Scully."
"Hello, Chief," Scully said.
"Good to meet you, Agent," Joe said. His voice sounded slightly canned coming through the speaker. "So, Fox, what exactly did Irv want? Don't tell me it was just to spare Patty the grief of telling you herself."
"He wants to bring the South Road Ghost into it," Mulder said.
A second or so of silence followed, and then Joe said, "Aw, Hell."
"Actually if there was a South Road Ghost he'd have called the right place," Mulder said. "My partner was about to classify this as another X-File."
"Refresh my memory . . . an X-File is a what again?" Joe asked.
"We investigate paranormal phenomena," Mulder said. He shot Scully a mischievous look and added, "You know, chasing ghosts, Big Foot, lake monsters . . ."
"Not all of which turn out to be what witnesses claim," Scully pointed out.
"Right, right . . . you did the monster-man thing, the Chernobyl guy Dori says washed up out of Nantucket Sound." Joe said.
Scully felt a surge of dismay that yet another person had read her out-of context quotes printed in the Midnight Inquisitor. A quick change of subject seemed to be best. "Chief, I thought it was a little odd that Mr. Stuckey knew so much about the manner of Kristie's death," Scully said. "He wasn't at the scene, was he?"
Joe sighed. Scully imagined him rubbing his eyes in weariness. If he'd been up as late as Irv had, he wouldn't have gotten much sleep. "No -- Irv took a job as an orderly at the hospital four nights a week. When things get slow he hangs out in one of the ambulances and listens to the emergency band channels. Gets all the good dirt on the neighbors that way. He must have heard someone from Crime Scene Services making arrangements to transport the body. Jesus, he knew Kristie was dead before her own mother did, and the first thing that crosses his mind is that old ghost story. Man, he's a creepy old SOB. I'll have to see that he doesn't harass Mark and Patty. I'm sorry he bothered you."
"No, not at all," Mulder said. "If there's anything Agent Scully or I could do to help we'd be glad." He seemed to hesitate a moment, then asked, "Do you have anything to go on? Any suspects? Dori was saying something about Kristie going to 12- step groups and meeting a new boyfriend . . ."
"Yeah, there's a guy named Randy Akers she was seeing. We haven't talked to him yet -- apparently he was out last night. He's not a suspect at the moment. Actually we don't have *any* suspects. Right now this is just an equivocal death investigation," Joe said.
"Can you give me an idea what happened?" Mulder asked.
"I can tell you Kristie left her parents' house sometime after 12:30 a.m., Thursday, wearing a real light jacket and her mom's shoes. It wasn't a nice night to go for a walk, either -- just above freezing with falling sleet."
Mulder was chewing on his pen cap, something he did when he was concentrating and didn't have any sunflower seeds. "She didn't have a fight, did she? Anybody hear her talking on the phone?"
"Her family says no. Her youngest brother's still living at home -- it's possible the two of them got into it over something and he was too ashamed to say so. Still, she had a car, she could have driven somewhere if she wanted to get out of the house. Her mom says running off on foot in the cold like that is out of character for her." Joe paused for a moment, then said, "The Herrons probably won't mind my telling you this -- it's not uncommon knowledge anyway. Kristie got into some trouble over in Boston last year. Drugs."
Mulder made a soft noise of dismay.
"She drew two years' probation, since she had no record and was able to give the DA's office some information on a guy they'd been looking for. The judge let her report over in Edgartown provided she stayed with her parents. It's only been about six months."
"And everybody's thinking the worst, right?" Mulder asked. Scully heard his own family's experience with Vineyard ostracism in the bitterness of his tone.
"I never said that, Fox," Joe said. "I honestly think she was done with the drug scene. I do. I'm just wondering if there was somebody in Boston who wasn't done with her. Someone sure put her through hell Thursday morning. She had a lot of what looked like knife cuts on her hands and a through-and-through stab wound to one leg."
"Defensive wounds?" Scully asked.
"Probably. There wasn't the kind of mutilation you sometimes see with a victim who's crossed a drug lord, but maybe he was just gearing up. I haven't discounted the possibility that she ran over the cliff in a panic while trying to escape," Joe said.
"Who's doing the autopsy?" Mulder asked.
"They're doing it in Boston, I don't know who specifically. Sergeant Tihkoosue from the Sate Police barracks in Oak Bluffs was going to attend, so he'd know as soon as anybody. I can ask him if you want," Joe said.
Mulder looked over at Scully. He didn't even need to say the words. "Could you give us just a minute, Chief?" Scully asked. "Sure," Joe said. Scully hit the phone's mute button.
"Mulder, the Massachusetts Chief Medical Examiner is Dr. Clarence Kreger. He's got a teaching position at Harvard Medical School -- he's been an international pathology lecturer. Any District Attorney would leap at the chance to work with him," she said.
"I don't care if he does 'pahk his cah in Hahvahd Yahd,' he hasn't seen the things you have," Mulder said.
"I thought you said there was no X-File here," she said.
"I said there was no South Road Ghost. In case you hadn't noticed, a connection to my family isn't exactly the key to great longevity. If there is anything strange about the way Kristie died you'll figure it out. If you say her death was straightforward then I'll be satisfied. Besides, if Kreger's schedule's as full as you say it is, he'll probably have some staff underling doing the autopsy. I'd rather have you do this than some overworked path resident," Mulder said.
Still sitting on the edge of his desk, Scully bent her head, her hair forming a thin screen against his hopeful look. Neither spoke of his mother's death. "Mulder . . . some news comes better from someone unconnected with the family. If I have to tell Kristie's parents something they don't want to hear, it could put you in a very difficult position."
"They can't ask for more than the truth, Scully. They shouldn't have to settle for less," Mulder said.
She looked up at him. Only two nights ago she'd been awakened by his bone-wracking sobs. His mother had shut him out in death as she had in life, and it had wounded him in a way that simply being orphaned couldn't have. He'd pulled Scully into a crushing embrace and asked, "Why didn't she tell me?" As always, Scully had no answer. She could only hold him until his ragged gasps quieted and he was able to sleep. Afterward she'd lain awake a long time, replaying Teena Mulder's autopsy again and again in her mind. What if she'd missed some tiny forensic clue that would have allowed her to come to any conclusion other than suicide?
"I trust your judgment." He spoke gently, as if to reassure her. "If you tell me bad news it's only because it's true."
Scully released her breath slowly. "I'll volunteer and let the family decide," she said. She hit the phone's mute button and asked, "Chief, are you still there?"
"Still here. What's going on?" Joe asked.
"I'm a forensic pathologist," she said. "Mulder thought I might be of help to the investigation. I'm willing to do the autopsy if you and the family think my experience would be useful."
"She's investigated a lot of strange deaths," Mulder said.
"Well . . . no offense, but I think the State ME has seen his share of strange deaths too," Joe said.
"Not like Scully has. Has Dr. Kreger ever seen a Level 4 biological agent crawl out of a rock, through the seal of somebody's space suit and into a body cavity?" Mulder asked.
"Good God . . . I hope not," said Joe. "Look, if you really want to help, I can mention your offer to Kristie's parents and see what they think. You should call Patty too -- she'd be glad to hear from you."
"I'll have to do that. I appreciate you talking to me, Joe," Mulder said.
As Mulder reached toward the disconnect button Joe said, "Hey, Fox? You know there's no hard feelings, right? My uncle and I didn't have the same opinions on everything."
"Sure. Talk to you later," Mulder said.
"Yeah, bye," Joe said. Mulder hung up the phone.
"What was that about?" Scully asked.
"It's a long story," Mulder said. "One of these complicated things that happens in small towns where people get cut off from the world during the winter." He started gathering up the pile of bent cards and notes and pushing them back in his desk drawer.
"Such as? Are we talking Donner's Pass or what?" Scully asked. She saw a flicker of amusement cross his face.
"Not quite." He shut the drawer and looked up at her. "Joey's uncle -- whose name was also Joseph Luce -- was the Chilmark Chief of Police back in the 70's. He never thought much of my family's story about how my sister disappeared."
"He blamed you," Scully said.
"He blamed my father, actually. No charges were ever filed but we became personae non gratae with the neighbors pretty quick. I had to listen to a lot of bullshit when I went back to the Vineyard to visit my dad. At one point Joey actually accused me of helping to cover up my sister's murder, so I punched his lights out for him. It didn't exactly endear me to the Island's premier law enforcement family."
"I bet not," Scully said.
"When my father was murdered, Joseph Luce, Sr., was Dukes County Sheriff," Mulder said. "Unfortunately he hadn't forgotten me."
"He called me," Scully said, remembering suddenly. "He left about three messages a day on my answering machine when I was in New Mexico."
"He called me too. He and Liz Hawley of the West Tisbury PD figured I was looking pretty good for the only up-island homicide in 20 years. Then you managed to trace the gun back to Krycek and the investigation stalled out over a literal shadowy one-armed man. I can imagine that went over real well with Sheriff Luce."
"He couldn't have wanted you to be guilty," Scully said.
"No," Mulder said. "It was the law of averages that bugged him. Do the Mulders: A., have the worst luck in history, or B., have connections to dangerous people they shouldn't? I think he had us pegged as an organized crime family. Might not have been far wrong, really."
"Mulder, that is completely unfair to your parents. Your father died trying to expose the men who killed him," Scully said.
"Yeah," Mulder said, as if unwillingly conceding the point. "Joe called me after what happened with Roche. He was with the Chilmark Police by then. He wanted to know why I'd let a sociopathic child killer loose on his island. I never called him back. What was I going to say?"
"The Luce family aren't your judges, Mulder," Scully said.
"No, but Cheryl Luce used to be Samantha's best friend. Maybe Joey was mine -- I don't know. We spent a lot of time at their house in the months before my sister was taken. Home wasn't so great just then. My dad wasn't working so hard to expose the men who killed him at the time."
"I'm sorry," was all Scully could think to say. She still felt awkward at moments like this. She was a fixer by nature. It was Mulder himself who'd helped her understand that suffering was normal, that a person could hurt without being broken. She kept silent and hoped she was a soothing presence.
Finally he said, "I lied to you -- the Vineyard is haunted. But only by the past." He got up and walked out into the hall. She repressed her urge to follow. When he wanted her, he knew where she'd be.
A few hours later Scully got a message asking her to go up to Skinner's office. Mulder's presence was not requested. Though she couldn't think of anything she'd done lately that would get herself in trouble, she went with a sense of trepidation. When Skinner's secretary showed her in, she said, "You asked to see me, sir?" //Please don't let this be about anything Mulder did . . .// she thought. She hated it when their superiors tried to play them against one another.
"Have a seat, agent," Skinner said, gesturing toward an empty chair. This was never a good sign. Scully smoothed her skirt under her and sat down. "I just received a call from the Cape Cod and Islands District Attorney's office," Skinner said. "They said you'd volunteered to do the autopsy of a young woman in Boston."
"Yes -- is that a problem?" Scully asked.
"No. In fact I think it's a wonderful idea," Skinner said.
"Sir?" Scully asked. Something was up. Skinner never called anything she and Mulder did "wonderful."
"Agent Scully . . . there are people in the Bureau who don't appreciate the work you and Agent Mulder do. They don't see its value. This would be a good time for you to perform a service they can appreciate. I can have you in Boston tonight so you can do the autopsy first thing in the morning. Volunteering to do work outside of normal office hours will reflect positively on your next performance review," Skinner said.
As usual, Scully was left scrambling to read between the lines. "Is the validity of my and Agent Mulder's work being questioned more than usual, sir?" she asked.
"Why would you say that?" Skinner asked.
"You mentioned this would be 'a good time' to perform a service others can appreciate," Scully said.
"It's always a good time for that. Your flight leaves at six." When she didn't move at once, he added, "If you need to pack a bag you might want to get going."
A few minutes later she was back in the basement, slamming the door to the office. Mulder stood up behind his desk. "What happened? What'd he say?" he asked.
"We're in trouble," Scully said. She pulled her purse from its usual place in a file drawer and dropped it on her desk.
"For what? I haven't even broken my cell phone lately," Mulder said. He crossed the room to stand by her side.
"I don't know. He was dropping hints about us needing to do PR work to appease the powers that be. I get really tired of these guessing games. Why can't he be straight with us for once?" She retrieved her Dictaphone's batteries from where they sat charging on a shelf and tossed them into her purse.
"He might be trying to do us a favor," Mulder said.
"Maybe. I can never tell. And he doesn't even ask me, 'Is a six o'clock flight convenient for you?' It's, 'If you want to pack a bag, you'd better *go.*" Scully recalled it was supposed to rain that weekend. She strode toward their lopsided hat rack to grab her umbrella.
Mulder caught her by the wrist, gently turning her toward him. "Hey . . . hey, calm down. When was the last time you were in Boston?" he asked.
"It's been a long time," she said. It was actually for his father's funeral in 1993, but she thought it best not to mention that.
"Well, when you get done with the autopsy I'll show you around. It's a great city if you don't mind homicidal drivers," Mulder said.
"Mulder, you're not going," she said.
"Yes, I am," he said.
"No, you're not. Skinner made it clear he was authorizing one plane ticket. It was only by being an Assistant Director of the FBI that he guaranteed me a flight out tonight at all."
"I can drive," Mulder said. She thought he was trying not to laugh. It really bugged her when he thought she was funny. "It's a six hour trip -- four, if I drive like I'm already in Boston." He gently shook her wrist. "Come on," he said.
"I'll be doing the autopsy into the afternoon and then we'll just have to turn around and come home," she said.
"Why? You think somebody's going to tell on us if we don't?" he asked.
Scully found herself fighting a smile. "I'll actually need to sleep before I do this autopsy," she said.
"You'll sleep," he said. He bent and kissed her gently just below her ear. She was surprised and therefore vulnerable. She felt her breath catch in her throat. "Between bouts of screaming, wall-pounding sex." He placed his next kiss low on her cheek. If she let him go on long enough he'd make it around to her mouth.
"We're at work," she pointed out, but she didn't back away.
Mulder had always shown a perverse enjoyment of getting her excited in public places where the chance of release was nil. She turned and rested her hand against his cheek. His pupils were widely dilated circles within rings of hazel-green; arousal was like a narcotic.
Scully brushed her lips against his. He tasted faintly of salt, faintly of the lemon he put in his tea. When he tightened his arms around her ribcage she could feel the speed of his pulse in his neck. Their physical relationship was very new and at times its intensity was overwhelming.
Their kiss was interrupted by the distant whirr of elevator doors opening and the squeal of unoiled cart wheels. A lot of old but serviceable equipment was kept in the Hoover Building basement, and Bureau support staff were frequently sent to bring it up to the "inhabited" levels.
Coming to her senses, Scully squirmed out of Mulder's embrace and brushed her tousled hair back behind her ears. It wasn't even four o'clock yet, and the night seemed a long way off. "Okay, that's enough. You're terrible," she said.
For a moment there was a wild look in Mulder's eyes, but it soon faded to one of longing, like a man relinquishing something long desired. Then that was gone too and he became his everyday self, giving her his mock hurt routine.
"That's not what you said the other night," he said.
She pitched a wad of paper at him. Mulder picked up his coffee mug and started speaking to it. "Did you like that, Cancer Man? Huh? That turn you on?" His clowning did not completely dissipate the tension. It was still there, like thunder in the distance.
"Mulder, they are not bugging your coffee cup," Scully told him.
"You're right -- it's probably the electrical outlet that doesn't work." He bent over to shout at the offending outlet, "Better than 'Celebrity Skin,' isn't it Krycek, you pervert!"
Scully rifled through filing cabinet drawers, picking up the things she would need in Boston. She told herself to get the stupid grin off her face before she went down into the parking garage. What was she so happy about, anyway? It never paid to get too happy. Something was bound to happen and make things worse than ever.
When she had everything she needed she stood on her toes to give Mulder a little kiss, a decent kiss, on the mouth. "Goodbye," she said.
"See you," he said. She felt his eyes on her as she went out the door. Maybe she'd have time to take a cool shower before she got on the plane.
As it turned out Scully did not spend the night screaming and pounding the wall. She did dissolve into fits of giggles when Mulder scooped her out of bed and attempted to fold her into a fairly gymnastic sexual position in the tiny closet. He hit his head on the mass of coat hangers and made them jangle. She told him he had been alone with his porn collection for far too long.
In the gray hour just before dawn Scully lay in bed with her head resting in the hollow of Mulder's shoulder. He'd been asleep for more than an hour, but sleep eluded her. She lay watching the green numbers on the clock as they counted their inexorable way toward 7 a.m. //Typical.// She placed her hand on his left chest, felt the slow beat of his heart below the ribcage.
Her thoughts turned to Daniel. Neither quite awake or asleep, her memories played themselves out as images and sensations.
It seemed that she was once again an ambitious young pathology Resident, sitting in a lecture hall while Daniel addressed his first-year med students. He strode back and forth before the first row of seats, sometimes climbing up into the risers. All his notes were in his head, so he was free to make eye contact with as many students as possible. He smiled; he joked with them. A few of the less charismatic staff members derisively called him Dr. Elvis. It didn't matter. In a class of 100 students, every one of them would go home feeling as if Daniel had been speaking to him or her personally.
That afternoon he had been speaking about an outbreak of hemorrhagic fever in Bolivia. Not exactly romance novel stuff. And yet the sunlight poured through the tall, narrow windows, gilding away the gray in his hair and flashing off the cuff studs of his blue-and-white striped shirt as he gestured. He spoke so passionately that she almost felt as if she were in church, watching a fiery preaching of the gospel.
Scully's first crush had been on a young deacon who helped celebrate youth Masses near the Texas naval base where her family lived in the late 70's.
In Daniel's classroom she felt like a wicked schoolgirl once again, and relished every moment of it. All she had to do was look attentive and innocent. No one had to know about the desire in her heart.
Daniel knew. They held one another's gazes too long when he said things like, "burning with a terrible fever," or "tossing and turning in bed." He'd said, "It's nothing you'll ever forget, is it, Dr. Scully, watching a man literally eaten from the inside out, begging for relief with every breath?"
She'd said, "No, Dr. Waterston, it isn't."
The elation, the sense of conquest, hadn't lasted. He was married, of course. His protestations about his unhappy marriage sounded weak even to Scully's besotted ears.
She had given something away that afternoon in the lecture hall. Too late, she realized it was the part of herself that guarded her integrity and self-respect. Those qualities were much harder to reclaim than they were to lose.
Her dream state shattered at the sound of the bedside clock: " . . . fifty degrees and raining on this gloomy April Saturday. Approximately 800 customers in western Barnstable County are still without power due to the storm that blew through early Thursday morning --"
Mulder moaned and rolled over to beat the alarm into silence. He squinted at the clock's numbers and said, "Oh, God. I'm sorry I ever got you into this."
"Don't worry about it," Scully said. "How can I resist the opportunity to perform a service the Bureau can 'appreciate?'" She slowly rolled up until she was sitting on the edge of the bed. She wanted coffee. Maybe that would dispel the troubling dream images in her head.
"Thank you," Mulder said. She turned and looked at him. In the darkness his expression was unreadable, but he reached out and caressed the small of her back. He clearly wanted the justice system to do its best by the daughter of his old friend, and he believed Scully was the best. That kind of faith was sobering.
"If having me do the autopsy helps the Herrons feel better, then it's the right thing to do," Scully said. "I know what it's like to lose someone, and then feel like the whole system is working against you."
"You all right?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah," she said. "Just need to switch gears. I have to be in pathology mode now."
He seemed to accept her explanation at face value. "Girlfriend, you go *be* pathological," he said, swatting her lightly on the behind.
She got up and went into the bathroom. When she turned on the lights they made her squint. Soon she was under the spray of the shower, washing the musky scent of lovemaking off her body. //Mulder. Not Daniel, not Jack.// she reminded herself. //This is a different situation. You're a different person.//
She was afraid she wasn't different enough.
Scully did not like herself when she was in love. Over and over she'd started by giving away her heart, and ended up giving away her soul instead.
Why did her love always seem to turn to self-betrayal?
Well for one thing, she tended to pick men who had other interests more compelling than she was. Daniel had his wife, Jack had his own ambitions and career at the Bureau. Mulder had his aliens. No, that wasn't fair -- Mulder had shown a marked preference for her over aliens on several occasions. Of course, that wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement. She could just hear Father McCue saying, //"Do you, Fox, swear to prefer Dana to aliens on most occasions as long as you both shall live?"// She pressed her hands to her eyes. "Oh my God, I am *nuts,*" she said.
She decided to walk the few blocks to the ME's office rather than contend with Boston's tangled nest of one-way streets. The morning was cool, and purple-gray rain clouds hung low in the sky. Except for a few pigeons, Scully had the wet sidewalks to herself. The sound of her footfalls was like a meditation.
The night's fevered thoughts and desires fell away as she walked among the stately red brick buildings of Boston University Medical Center. This was the realm of learning and reason. //"Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succerrere vitae" -- Here is the place where death delights to give aid to life.// Here she felt competent and in control.
When she arrived at the Medical Examiner's Office the door was locked and the windows were dark. She glanced at her watch and found she was about 20 minutes early, so she composed herself to wait. A few moments later the door opened. A heavyset man whose pink face was splotched with spidered blood vessels leaned out. Scully's overwhelming impression of him was that he was at a high risk of developing melanoma. "You must be Dr. Scully," the man said. "Hi, I'm Rob Conlin, the morgue attendant. Come on in." Scully noted the dropped r's and flattened o's of the classic Boston accent in his speech.
"Thank you," she said, following him inside. "That's one of the friendliest greetings I've ever had at a morgue."
Rob had a slightly wheezing laugh. "Oh, well, usually we have a secretary out here, but right now it's just you and me."
That worried her slightly. "I am having a path assistant, aren't I? And I thought the State Police detectives were coming."
"Sure, the police boys'll be here any time. As to the PA, I don't know. This was all arranged kind of suddenly. Don't worry about it though, Dr. Scully, I'll hold the flaps while you sew," Rob said.
He showed her to the women's changing area, where she put on green scrubs and folded her clothes carefully into a locker. The place smelled like Lysol with just a hint of formalin. It was the smell of science and it helped focus her.
When she walked into the body storage area itself she found Rob there, already suited up. "We're doing C-3 today, aren't we?" he asked. He checked the name card on the drawer. "Herron, Kristie Ann?"
"That's right," Scully told him.
"Want me to get her out for you? No sense waiting for the detectives just to get her on the table," Rob said.
"Sure, thank you," she told him. Drawer C-3 made no sound as Rob slid it open. In one smooth motion he lifted the silver-gray body bag from the drawer and laid it on a gurney. Scully was impressed. Due to lack of muscle tone, cadavers were not easy to move even when the decedent was light. Most morgue attendants hauled and pushed bodies like sacks of potatoes. Clearly, Rob had been at this job a while and knew his business.
The autopsy bays were on the second floor, and since none had been assigned Scully appropriated one. All the room's cabinets and counters were the same gleaming stainless steel as the autopsy knives. The severity was relieved somewhat by a single window, a nice change from the hospital basements Scully was used to. Unfortunately, the tinted glass made the day outside look even gloomier.
Rob helped her weigh the body and get it onto the autopsy table. In extremis, Kristie Herron was 159 centimeters long and 102 pounds, close to Scully's own height and weight. Other than that, it was hard to say what the girl had looked like in life.
A series of catastrophic impacts had shattered her skull, causing her head to sag like a half-deflated balloon. The body had clearly lain on its face for several hours. Deep-red livor mortis colored most of what facial skin wasn't abraded away, except for odd blanched spots where some irregularity in the ground had provided enough pressure to keep blood from settling in the tissues. Kristie was dressed as Joe Luce had described her, in a neon yellow windbreaker, blue T-shirt and jeans, and one inexpensive women's sneaker with no socks. Her bare foot, which was perfect except for the livor on its anterior side, had silver-painted toenails. The police had placed paper bags over both of her hands.
Scully gently probed some of the wounds with her gloved fingers while Rob stood by. Suddenly he turned his head and said, "There's the back door buzzer. That'll be the detectives. I'll go let 'em in."
Scully hadn't heard a sound. It had been a while since she'd worked with an old-time morgue attendant like Rob -- the kind who'd spent 25 years learning the morgue's rhythms and who seemed to hear everything, see everything and know everything. It was perhaps a bit disturbing to be with a person whose greatest comfort level was among the dead.
A few minutes later, Rob led two men into the autopsy bay, one in plainclothes and one in the blue uniform of the Massachusetts State Police. "You haven't started yet, have you?" the plainclothes man asked sharply.
"I'm just doing a very general external examination," Scully said. //Don't let this guy start telling me how to do my job,// she thought.
"I'm Detective Ron Davis," the plainclothes man said. "This is Sergeant Ken Tihkoosue from the Oak Bluffs installation on Martha's Vineyard." Davis was a tall, balding man with a russet- colored mustache. Ethnology was not Scully specialty, but she thought Tihkoosue's features looked Native American, perhaps Iriquois.
"Good to met you. Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI," she said. She peeled off one of her latex gloves to shake hands. Cops never hesitated to shake her hand when she was in the middle of an autopsy. Civilians tended to stare down at her hand and look ill. Trying to make conversation, she said, "My partner's from Martha's Vineyard."
"Really, what part?" Tihkoosue asked.
"He grew up in Chilmark and West Tisbury. His name is Fox Mulder. You might know him," She said.
Tihkoosue shook his head and said, "By reputation only." Scully hoped Mulder's reputation on the Vineyard wasn't as bad as he thought it was.
Despite her concerns, both police officers were helpful during the autopsy. Tihkoosue photographed the body's hands while Davis held a small ruler next to the incised wounds. The cuts were angry, red-brown furrows that ranged in length from a centimeter-and-a-half to more than seven. Most were about half a centimeter deep, well into the muscle layer without involving bone. In a way that was a shame, since cut bone retained a much more accurate impression of a weapon's blade than flesh did.
"These are all consistent with defense wounds," Scully said. She moved her gloved fingers over the body's hands without touching them. Paler subcutaneous tissue shone dully between the edges of Kristie's slit skin. "Notice the roughly parallel cuts between the left wrist and the little finger. That's a classic blade-deflecting pattern." To illustrate, she swept her left hand outward as if knocking away a knife with the side of her palm. "The Y-shaped collection of wounds over here," she pointed to the much-cut webbing between Kristie's right forefinger and thumb, "was likely caused by blocking or grasping an edged weapon." It was almost as if she were teaching forensic pathology at Quantico again. Her voice was confident, dispassionate, miles away from the emotional turmoil she'd felt that morning. Even Davis had grown quiet and attentive.
"What about those diagonal cuts across the palms? They look almost ritualistic," Tihkoosue said. He pointed to a deep cut that ran across Kristie's right hand, then to its near mirror- image on the left. The two wounds angled away from the body at precisely the same degree, like the wings of a deadly butterfly.
"Here," Scully said. She picked up both wrists and rotated the hands 180 degrees. When she held them palms up with the thumbs together, they approximated a blocking gesture in front of the abdomen. "Pull the fingers back," she said. Davis did so. The wounds' inner edges met. They were not two cuts but one, formed by a single slash across both hands. "All the hand damage suggests the knife was held low or at a distance of several inches. When a blade is closer people tend to block with their forearms," Scully said. "Actually, I'm surprised there aren't more sharp-force injuries to the rest of the body."
"It's hard to tell with the head and neck in the condition they're in," Davis pointed out. "You think the damage from the fall could have obliterated any obvious knife wounds?"
"I suppose it's possible. The internal exam will tell," Scully said. She doubted there were hidden knife wounds in the tissues of Kristie's throat. The flesh there was abraded and torn -- cracked, more precisely, in the manner expected when a body struck a hard object with tremendous force -- but the wound edges were jagged and irregular, not the signature smooth cuts of a knife.
She turned her attention to the only other sharp-force injury on the body, the through-and-through stabbing injury to the left thigh. The entrance wound bore the purplish stamp of a hilt mark above the slightly squared-off superior edge. Scully had been able to form a general picture of the weapon: a long, thin, single-edged knife that was honed quite sharp. It would be a kitchen knife rather than a hunting or military model.
The scenario developing in her mind was that of a crime of passion. The knife was a sort that might be grabbed from a counter on impulse, the vicious wounds on Kristie's hands bore witness to the attacker's fury. What had stopped him or her from delivering a lethal blow?
There was a fine line between crime scene reconstruction and psychological analysis and Scully knew she should not cross it. Establishing motive was the duty of the detectives and the District Attorney. Still, long association with Mulder had gotten her in the habit of asking "why" as well as "how."
"I want to look at her clothing again," she said.
Davis set the ruler aside and went to open the paper bags that Kristie's clothes had been neatly folded into. Scully exchanged her bloodied latex gloves for clean ones and followed him. "What are you thinking?" Davis asked.
"The wound pattern's so unusual I want to make sure I'm not missing something," she said. She watched as Davis laid out the jacket, T-shirt and jeans on a stainless-steel counter. Forensically, the jacket was the most useful. Its rip-stop nylon resisted puncture by semi-sharp natural objects like roots and stones, but a fine blade drawn across it even lightly would fray and part the fibers. Scully switched on the light beneath the overhead cabinet to get a better view of the fabric, which was crumpled and dried hard with blood and sea salt.
She'd noted before the clothing was removed that it bore far more slash marks than the body did. This was normal and could result from a number of things, such as near-misses or a blade passing through more than one layer of fabric. What she wanted to verify was that all the cutting and scoring marks were in the middle of the body, between the approximate level of Kristie's breasts and her knees. Scully ran her fingertips over the jacket's upper- left chest, usually a prime target for an attacker wielding a knife. Even probing and stretching of the cloth revealed no defects.
"Is it possible the attacker was crouching or kneeling down?" she asked. "Or maybe he has a disability of some kind, a limitation in the movement of his shoulder?" She sensed Davis and Tihkoosue's glance at one another. She looked up at them.
Tihkoosue said, "The man Kristie informed on to the DA in Boston is a mid-level coke dealer. He took a bullet in the gut once and it wrecked his spine. He uses a wheelchair now."
"I suppose that could account for this wound pattern, depending on the length of his reach and the nature of his injury. How accessible is the crime scene location?" Scully asked. From the photos they'd shown her the area looked very wooded and wild.
"To a man in a wheelchair? It's not. That's the problem," Tihkoosue said, shaking his head.
"There are chairs designed to go off of paved surfaces," Scully said.
Davis leafed through the folder he'd brought and removed several crime scene photos. He held them fanned in front of her like a hand of cards. Even from looking at the partially-covered images Scully could see there was no track cut through the underbrush such as a heavy-duty wheelchair would make. "Whoever Kristie met out in those woods, they didn't roll there," Davis said. "We're keeping the guy in mind though. His name is John McBer, but on the street they call him 'Frosty,'"
"The snowman. Of course," Scully said. She considered whether to discuss her findings in detail with Mulder. One the one hand, his behavioral science background might help him make sense of the strange wound pattern. On the other, Kristie was the daughter of his boyhood friend. Hearing the grisly minutiae might be excruciating for him.
In the end, Mulder made the decision for her. Scully was examining tissue samples under a microscope when she heard his familiar footsteps in the hall. She glanced up and saw that Rob had left his task of stitching the body's skin back over the skull. He must have gone to answer the back doorbell. Once again, Scully had never heard it ring.
When Mulder appeared in the doorway, she darted past the detectives and planted herself in front of him, her hands pressed against the jambs. "Don't -- it's bad," she said. Mulder looked startled at her protectiveness, but not as startled as the morgue attendant behind him. Mulder had an FBI badge; how could Rob know he shouldn't have admitted him?
"I knew it would be bad," Mulder said. He was wearing his off- duty clothes, a black sweater and jeans, which made him seem more out of place, more vulnerable. He put his hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her aside.
"Help me cover her up," Scully snapped at Rob. The attendant looked bewildered. "He knew her," she said. Rob hurried to grab a sheet from one of the steel cabinets. The body block had been removed from beneath Kristie's back, and the great, Y-shaped incision in her torso closed. But all of Rob's careful stitches could not repair her crushed skull or conceal the larval activity in her wounds.
Scully and Rob draped a sheet over the body up to its shoulders. At least the covering gave the poor dead woman some dignity. Mulder gazed down at Kristie as he pulled on a pair of latex gloves. His expression was almost puzzled, as if he were trying to connect the ruin on the table with the child he had once known.
"She's somewhere better -- this isn't her," Scully said, trying to explain away the horror.
Much of the dead girl's hair had been shaved away so Scully could examine her skull injuries. What hair remained was shoulder- length and had perhaps been light brown in life. Mulder gently smoothed the strands away from Kristie's face. "She was born in the summer of 1973," he said. His voice had a strange, singsong distance to it. "My sister fell in love with her at first sight. She said she was going to baby-sit Kristie when she got older. It was her turn to be the big girl. She brought over all the baby toys she didn't play with anymore . . . started pestering my mom for a little sister." Mulder cupped the side of Kristie's face and caressed her bloodied cheek with his thumb.
He looked up at Scully. His hazel eyes were pained but clear. "Homicide?" he asked softly.
Scully hesitated. The mode of death might be complex, since it was unclear how Kristie had come to tumble off the cliff. Still, the knife wounds had been no accident. She gave him the short answer. "Yes. Homicide."
He continued to stroke Kristie's matted hair for some moments. The room was silent. When a car passed on the wet street outside the sound was an intrusion. At last Mulder turned away and peeled off his gloves. He looked at the detectives and said, "I'm going to help you find who did this."
Davis held his gaze as if seeking for meaning there. He turned to Scully with a wordless question in his eyes.
"Detective Davis, This is my partner, Agent Mulder," Scully said.
He nodded to Mulder and said, "Thanks, Agent. I appreciate the offer." He seemed respectful of Mulder's loss, but Scully heard politics in his voice. The man thought Mulder was a nut.
"You'll want me later. Scully can tell you how to contact me," Mulder said. He threw his gloves in the trash and strode out the door.
Everybody stared after him for a second. Then the men all looked at Scully.
"He'll be all right," she said, suddenly uncomfortable. It was as if the atoms in the air had picked up a charge. What had been a slow, objective procedure performed in the name of science had become something else, something with the keen edge of a crusade.
Mulder tended to have that effect on people.
Later, she and Mulder sat in a restaurant near Boston Common. It was a quasi-Italian bistro that had apparently been something different and better when Mulder was young. Even in midafternoon the place was kept very dim. Candles in teardrop- shaped glass holders sat on every table, giving off a dull yellow glow.
Mulder seemed particularly quiet and morose. Scully let him be, as much from fatigue as consideration. Few non-pathologists appreciated the amount of mental and physical energy it took to perform an autopsy under even optimal conditions, and that day's conditions had been far from optimal. Her greatest desire was to finish eating and take a very long nap.
"I visited my parents' graves this morning," Mulder said. "Both of them, on opposite sides of the city. Just the way they would have wanted it."
"I guess it's been a hard day," she said.
"I'd never visited my dad's before," he said.
"You're kidding," she said, then regretted how insensitive that sounded. He didn't seem to notice.
"I never saw the point of going. I met my father's spirit in the New Mexico desert . . . or maybe it was a hallucination. I don't know. In any case my dad's out *there* . . ." he gestured at some indeterminate location in the distance. "Wherever semi-reformed Men In Black go when they die. He's not under a stone in Parkway Cemetery."
Scully repressed her urge to lecture him on filial duty. "I think he'd be glad you went," she said.
"Maybe," he said. An awkward silence of several seconds passed. Scully poked at the too-oily vegetable penne she didn't intend to finish. Since it was Lent she was avoiding meat, but she didn't seem to be benefiting from it spiritually. Maybe it was because Easter was so late this year that it didn't feel like Lent.
Maybe it was because she was living in sin with her partner.
Mulder gazed down at the table. Actually he seemed to be gazing through it at some distant image she could not see. "Albert Hosteen called the vision I had 'the origin place.' I saw my father there, and I asked him whether Samantha was with him. He said, 'No.'" Mulder shook his head. "Why didn't they tell me?"
Scully thought Alex Krycek had answered that question in the most violent and cruel way possible, but she didn't say so. It wasn't the answer to the question Mulder was really asking anyway. "I don't know," she said. "Mulder . . . do you want to go out to Martha's Vineyard? Do you need to see Kristie's family and Joe Luce? They seem to care about you." She thought that at the moment, he could use all the family he could get.
"My sister is the JonBenet Ramsey of Dukes County," Mulder said. "You know what that means? None of us was ever shown to be guilty of what happened to her, but we'll never be innocent -- not to the people out there."
"Joe seemed to regret ever thinking you were guilty," Scully said.
"If so, he's a pretty lonely voice," Mulder said.
They were both silent while he poked at his pasta marinara. The piped-in muzak was some cheerful tune played on a wheezy accordion. Scully avoided looking him in the eye as she said, "I think you'd feel better if you helped."
He released a long breath, and some of the tension seemed to leave his shoulders. "Kristie was a cute little baby, you know? I didn't give a damn about babies at the time, but I could tell she was cute. Or maybe I just thought so because I had a thing for her mother. I don't know."
She nodded, then glanced up at him. This time he looked away. She'd known him long enough to understand that he sometimes cast her in the role of his spiritual counselor. Taking a page from his own list of psychological techniques, she kept her expression as blank as possible, knowing he'd read into it whatever he needed to see.
He rubbed at his eyes, as if very tired. "I should go out there. If nothing else, I owe it to the Island people for letting Roche loose on them. Kristie didn't meet with some ghost out in those woods. It was a flesh-and-blood guy that I should help put away if I can."
Scully remembered the results of the autopsy and didn't quite know how to reply. The investigator in her wanted to tell Mulder all the ugly details; the lover and friend in her wanted to protect him as much as possible.
Apparently misreading her reticence, he said, "I'm sorry. I was going to show you around Boston."
"No -- it's not that." She hesitated, but in the end she could keep nothing from him. "Mulder . . . Kristie miscarried at some point in the last several months. The internal damage was considerable, though there's some evidence of medical intervention, which probably saved her life. I found pitting typical of parturition scars on her pelvic bones. That means she was at least into her second trimester when it happened. The fetus might have been viable, at least at first."
Mulder looked puzzled. "She lost a child?"
"I think Kristie suffered from placenta abrupta, the sudden detachment of the umbilical cord from the uterine wall. It's a common complication in pregnancy among women who abuse cocaine," Scully said.
She could tell the moment he remembered the faxed letter from Irv Stuckey. His expression became one of deep compassion. He quoted Irv, "'What happened in Boston.'"
"Joe Luce said she'd been drug-free six months. The scarring looked more recent than that, but people who've badly abused themselves heal slowly. She'd damaged her heart, her arteries . . . it's amazing that she survived the birth, given the amount of hemorrhaging that was apparent. A child born under those conditions would have a very poor chance of survival," she said.
"And the first thing that comes to his mind is the South Road Ghost story. What a bastard," Mulder said.
"He may not have been the first to think of the story," Scully said. "If Kristie knew it as well, someone could have used it to frighten or confuse her. She must have been emotionally fragile as it was. Panic is as good an explanation as any for how she fell off the cliff, barring some undiscovered evidence that she was pushed."
Mulder nodded. He seemed lost in thought. Scully continued, "If we do go out to Martha's Vineyard we'll have to remember to be particularly sensitive around the family on the subject of the child. Since Irv Stuckey knew about the pregnancy I expect Kristie's relatives know too, but it's possible they don't. Irv could have abused his access to hospital records or simply heard rumors. Actually he's seemed entirely too involved with this case from the beginning."
"Irv gets the dirt on everyone in town and repeats it to make them sound as bad as possible. Since he has no good qualities, it's the only way to make himself look better," Mulder said.
"Everybody has some good qualities," Scully said.
He gave her a look that made it plain she could keep her comments on forgiveness and redemption to herself. "Sorry," she said. Every so often she found herself turning into her mother, who was relentless in her pursuit of finding something pleasant to say about everybody. She even liked Mulder, which for one of Scully's relatives was saying something.
"At least I can tell Kristie's family that she was drug-free when she died. All the blood tests were negative," Scully said.
"Ironic, really," Mulder said. "It's like the guy who gives up smoking and then gets hit by a speeding bus."
Scully wasn't about to argue with him when he was in this frame of mind. "Are we going out to Martha's Vineyard?" she asked.
He appeared to consider for a moment, and then said, "Yes."
"All right," she said.
The rest of their meal was quiet. Whatever was behind Mulder's silence was hidden from her.
A couple of hours later Mulder sat behind the wheel of his parked car, one of the few vehicles on the deck of the Woods-Hole-to- Vineyard-Haven ferry. Scully was asleep in the tilted-back passenger seat.
Rain ran steadily down the windows and Mulder didn't bother running the wipers to dispel it. The glass had misted over inside from their breath, anyway. Car motors had to be turned off during the crossing so turning on the heater was out of the question. The ferry boasted a glassed-in shelter with padded bench seats, which were good for sightseeing but bad for napping. Scully had chosen the chilly crampedness of the car without reservation.
Mulder fidgeted. The forced inactivity worsened the restless ache inside him. He wanted to turn on the radio. He wanted to wake Scully up so he would have someone to talk to. He felt a dull sense of . . . what? Dread. Dread lay in his soul like a block of lead as they approached the Island.
The rocking of the waves in Vineyard Sound and the slow chugging of the steam ship were too familiar, like an unwelcome caress. He had an eerie sense of the past overlaying the present.
He hoped this wasn't a seizure aura. Ever since Dr. Goldstein had drilled holes in his head as an aid to repressed memory recovery, Mulder had sometimes experienced near-hallucinatory flashbacks of his past. Not all the flashbacks were of traumatic events, but the experience itself was disturbing. Stress made the problem worse. Scully was of the opinion that he suffered from minor seizure activity due to brain lesions.
Whatever the ultimate cause was, Mulder felt that if he shut his eyes he might open them to find himself sitting behind the wheel of the rustbucket Nova he drove back in '78 and '79. On the way to the Vineyard to visit Dad.
Mulder had always felt a certain dread when returning to the Island after his sister disappeared. He'd associated it with his father, with whom he had a conflicted relationship at best. But Dad wasn't out there anymore, and the dread remained. It must be something else then. Mulder tried to focus on the present moment: the sensation of his fingers pressing against the plastic of the steering wheel, Scully's soft breathing in the seat next to him.
He rubbed a hole in the windshield fog and turned on the car's electricity so he could run the wipers. Cold air rushed in through the vents, and Scully stirred. Mulder shut the useless heater off. The outdoors was visible now, an endless expanse of iron-colored water beyond the ferry's white railing. It might have been November rather than April. A good day to stay indoors.
** The flashback came on like a blow to the stomach.
The car around him receded to dim awareness. He was ten years old, maybe eleven, lying on the floor of Mrs. Luce's back room in Chilmark. Rain fell from a leaden sky and ran down the windows. The Luces had baseboard heat, which made even the thin, hard carpet a cozy haven.
The air smelled like warm crayons. The Mulder and Luce children lay sprawled on the floor, drawing pictures on the backs of old forms Joey's uncle brought over from the police station. Mrs. Luce was in the kitchen, talking to herself. Really she was talking to Mr. Luce, who was in heaven. That's why Joey and Cheryl had an uncle instead of a dad. Sometimes Cheryl talked to her daddy in heaven, too. Joey didn't. Instead he drew pictures of Jesus.
Fox looked over at Joey's drawing. It was of Jesus deflecting bullets with his hand like Superman. He was protecting a group of cops from some bad guys. Everybody in the picture was frowning and looking mad. Crosses hemmed the drawing like a fence. Fox sensed that Joey's SuperJesus pictures were about being scared. They were about Mrs. Luce talking to the air in the kitchen, about what was on the front side of some of the forms they drew on.
The children liked the murder scene investigation forms the best because there was a body outline you could color in and draw clothes on. Cheryl and Samantha cut the paper bodies out for dolls for a while, but that bothered Mrs. Luce for some reason and she told her bother-in-law to quit bringing those over. Fox and Samantha's mom said that was just as well.
Fox was drawing a picture of the tree fort he and Joey were building out in the woods by the little cemetery along South Road. Fox had told his mom they were going to spend the night in it, but she said no. Samantha said she would be too scared to stay there all night because of ghosts, which just showed what a baby she was. There was no such thing as ghosts, and anyway if dead people started to scare you, you could just talk to them like Mrs. Luce talked to Joey's dad.
Samantha was doing one of her usual dumb rainbows-and-flowers drawings, but this was worse because she was copying off of Cheryl. Or maybe it was the other way around. "Do your own drawing," Fox told her.
"This *is* my own drawing," Samantha said.
"You're copying off of her," Fox said, pointing at Cheryl.
"We wanted to draw the same thing," Samantha said. She glanced up and he saw the flash of anger in her pale green eyes. (Had he forgotten that there was something in her as hard as gemstone)?
"Kids, be nice," Mrs. Luce called from the kitchen.
Fox stifled his resentment at his sister's unoriginality because you had to act better in other people's houses. He added a picture of a stupid-looking girl to his drawing.
Joey was clearly concentrating hard as he drew details on the police cars, right down to the whip antennas. Fox never questioned why a boy without a father in the house should feel afraid. On nights when his dad was gone, which was a lot, his mom would pull the curtains closed on every window in the house. Sometimes she took the phone off the hook, and no matter how many times her kids hung it up again, she'd take it back off. Somehow it was not something Fox or Samantha ever asked about. Once, Fox's dad had shown him how to use the revolver he kept up high on a shelf. Dad said he should never try to use guns until he was older, but he showed him how it worked anyway. Fox was glad. He believed in bad guys like in Joey's picture, but he wasn't too sure he believed in SuperJesus.
The flashback was over as quickly as it began. In its aftermath Mulder felt weak and sick. Somehow the present still seemed unreal. The weight and mass of his adult body felt wrong. The opening of "Slaughterhouse Five" floated up from the dark well of his brain: "Billy Pilgrim has become unstuck in time."
Scully stirred. Had he spoken aloud? He reached out and took her hand. Her small, manicured fingers felt very warm against his palm. Her eyes fluttered open at the touch. "Mulder? My God, your hands are icy . . . are you all right?" Whatever she saw in his face made her sit up straight. She hooked an errant strand of her hair behind her ear as if to smooth away the vulnerability revealed by sleep. She looked intently into his eyes -- a doctor now rather than a lover, probably checking the relative size of his pupils.
"I'm all right," he mumbled. In a few minutes that would be true. He knew the sense of dull shock, the faint unfamiliarity about her would fade, and with that knowledge came a sense of loss. Perhaps the worst thing about being periodically thrust into the past was his reluctance to return. He turned away from her and gazed at the fogged-over windshield.
"You need to see a neurologist," Scully said. She'd never articulated the accusation that underlay her words, but Mulder heard it. She still hadn't forgiven him for drilling holes in his head in the first place.
"I don't need a neurologist. It's emotional," he said. If he really was having seizures, the Bureau would park him at a desk and the state would suspend his driver's license. He'd rather be considered neurotic.
"See a psychiatrist, then," she said. "When you come out of one of those . . . trance states you look horrible, like you're going to pass out."
"I'm not going to pass out."
"What if that happened while you were driving? You could kill someone."
"I'm fine," he said.
"Mulder, an altered state of consciousness with nausea and weakness is not fine," she said.
"I said I'm all right. Would you drop it?"
He saw hurt on her face, and then the shield of anger went up. "Whatever," she said. She turned to the passenger window, shrugging into the seat. After a few seconds she dug a stack of papers out of her bag in the back seat and flipped through them as if looking for something. Mulder could tell she wasn't reading.
His hands slid down the sides of the steering wheel. He'd told her once that the night she slipped beneath the covers of his bed and kissed him awake was the happiest of his life. For days afterward he'd lived in a cloud of bewildered euphoria, expecting to wake up from the dream at any moment -- probably in a cell somewhere with wires running out of his brain.
How long had he waited for her to come to him? He'd been like a man who sits motionless with his arm outstretched, hoping a little wild bird would hop into his hand.
Of all times, why had she picked now to fall in love with him? Now, when he'd lost everything else that made life worth living? There were days when he barely felt like a man. She deserved so much better. He looked over at her and saw she was still ignoring him. Good. All the more excuse to stare.
There was almost no trace left of the fresh-faced girl in the ugly blazer he'd first met -- the supposed spy sent by The Powers That Be to discredit him. She was thinner now, sparer. It was as if the cancer had worn away everything but the essential. At times she seemed almost translucent, like an ivory comb after much use.
He'd noticed the ugly blazers vanished after her sister died. That happened sometimes in families, where one sister was beautiful and the other went out of her way to be plain. Although Scully still grieved for Melissa, she'd bloomed when she was no longer in her sister's shadow. Would something like that have happened to Samantha if Mulder had been taken instead? Had she left qualities for him to inherit?
The tightness in his throat was painful. "She was happy. Happier than I ever was," he said.
Scully looked over at him. "Who?" she asked.
"Samantha. There wasn't a lot in our lives to be happy about, even before . . ." He did not say the words. Let that memory sleep. He swallowed past the tightness and tried again, "She enjoyed little things I missed."
Samantha's dusty and water-stained diary was the most harrowing book he had ever read. In it she described how she practiced loving things to make sure she remembered how: a blue willow beetle, a dandelion, fuchsia nail polish dried to the side of its glass bottle. A kid's treasures. Junk. She seemed afraid of loving anything bigger than she could hold in her hand. Who could blame her?
"In my memories she seems so real to me," he said. "More real than she did when we were growing up. It's as if I know her better now than I ever have."
For a few moments the only sounds were their own breathing and the hypnotic humming of the ferry engines. Scully reached over and touched his shoulder. She knew what he meant about the dead being more present than the living. She'd had that feeling after her father and Melissa died, but it was strongest after she lost Emily. For months afterward, Scully met the child everywhere: in a church, in a car, in the faces of strangers' children. Her sense of Emily's presence was so strong that sometimes she felt sure the girl would be there waiting for her when she turned the next corner. Scully believed in heaven but not in ghosts. She considered her experience phantom pain, like that of a man who still feels the wounds in his amputated leg.
What could she say to Mulder? "It will pass?" Part of him wouldn't want it to pass. Of course he'd want to hold onto that emotional connection -- what else did he have? He didn't even have a faith to turn to. All she could think to say was, "You'll be all right." She reached up and ran her hand over his hair. "You'll be all right."
Scully's first impression of the town of Vineyard Haven was of its eclecticness. Modern glass-and-steel structures stood across the street from Victorian houses with an embarrassment of gingerbread carving along their eaves. Old and new, commercial and residential, all seemed to have been mixed together. Easter decorations were displayed on many doors, and here and there were a Hebrew Passover inscriptions in silver cardboard.
On a less gloomy day the place was probably charming. Still, Scully felt a faint sense of letdown. She thought it was probably because "the Vineyard," as residents called it, had acquired such a mystique of power and tragedy, first through its link to the Kennedy family, and then reinforced for her personally by her association with Mulder. But in reality Vineyard Haven was quite like what she had seen of Cape Cod. Just a nice New England town in the rain.
She watched the buildings: brick; stone; clapboard and concrete; as they passed, and tried to imagine how the town looked when Mulder was a boy -- the Vineyard Haven Samantha had last seen.
Images from her own childhood came to her: little girls in pink swing coats and shiny black shoes led by the hand up the steps to church; blue-suited boys purposely stepping in the puddles that formed on the worn risers and being scolded in a whisper by their parents. That was Easter as Scully had known it.
It seemed quite natural when they passed a church bulletin board that read, "Look, your king is coming to you: humble, and mounted on a donkey." They had traveled most of a block before the context of that Bible quote sunk in.
"Oh, God, Holy Week starts tomorrow," Scully said. She dug for her planner among the junk in the back seat and confirmed what she'd just realized -- tomorrow was Palm Sunday.
"Is that a problem?" Mulder asked, glancing over at her.
"No. Yes. I don't know," she said. Her family only demanded her presence on Easter Sunday, a full week away. What really alarmed her was that Holy Week had snuck up on her. Had it really been so long since she attended Mass? She'd obviously given up the wrong thing for Lent. Had she given up, say, her cell phone, she'd have been counting the days until Easter. "Do they have a Catholic church out here?" she asked. She'd made no arrangements, no inquiries.
"Only when the Kennedys are in town. The rest of the time it's the high school gym," Mulder said. He must have caught her look of panic because he added, "Of course they have Catholic churches out here. Relax."
She leaned back against the seat, but could not relax. Faith had meant so much more to her since she lost Emily. During the worst of her grief she had attended Mass nearly every day. Perhaps it was an exaggeration to call it a balm to her soul. It was more like a tourniquet, something to slow the massive internal bleeding.
Was she going to toss that faith aside now that things were going better? She didn't want to be that kind of Christian. In the dark days of early 1998, she had practiced a religious orthodoxy that was totally foreign to her former life. She'd even dug out the ruby-glass and silver rosary her great aunt had given her on her Confirmation, a gift that had been reverently packed away in tissue paper and never used.
She couldn't help glancing sidelong at Mulder. Sleeping with your sort-of-atheist, angry-at-God partner was not compatible with Thursday night Mass and confession every first Saturday of the month. When push came to shove, it was the Church she edged out of her life.
In her heart of hearts, Scully was not convinced that God condemned everyone who bought a package of condoms or that the Blessed Virgin really needed prayers to undo the damage of affronts to her Immaculate Heart. But she felt a need for connection to a wise, benevolent Being, and she was too much a Catholic to worship in isolation. For her, history and tradition forged the connection between man and God. She seemed to be slowly relinquishing that connection, and it frightened her.
One obvious solution was simply to get married to Mulder. Presuming she truly repented her prior behavior, she would be a Catholic in good standing again. She felt little doubt that Mulder *would* agree to marry her, at least once he regained his emotional balance -- or whatever passed for balance in his peculiar psyche. Yet something in her sensed that rushing into marriage was not the best way to serve Mulder or God.
Perhaps her problem was that she had never given all of herself to anything or anyone -- except Emily, who had left Scully's life almost as soon as she entered it.
In her current situation she could use Mulder to distance herself from God and God to distance herself from Mulder. How convenient. How safe.
Jesus had not held back anything. This week marked the anniversary of the day he gave his life, and she was afraid to give even her whole heart? But she was a human woman, not God. She looked on emotional self-immolation with terror.
She sighed deeply and lifted one of Mulder's hands from the steering wheel, pressed his knuckles to her lips.
"You all right?" he asked, probably surprised at the uncharacteristic impulsiveness of her act.
"I'm fine," she said softly. Lies like that kept him from getting too close.
Their destination was the Captain Nehemiah Nye House, an inn near the Wesquobsque Cliffs in Chilmark. Mulder had explained that it was less than a mile from the scene of Kristie's death, but Scully was still surprised and dismayed to find its gravel parking lot entirely filled with police vehicles. Few of the cars were marked, but the ramming bars and whip antennas were dead giveaways.
Mulder ended up parking near a flooded ditch alongside the road. At least it had mostly stopped raining by the time they got out of the car.
"I know the family that runs this place, or at least I used to. We'll see if that helps," he said.
Nye House turned out to be like something out of a Jane Austen novel. The lobby had clearly once been Captain Nye's drawing room, and it was arranged much as he must have left it. The small cast-iron stove that once heated the room still stood in one corner, and the furniture arranged in the waiting area had the light, streamlined style favored in the early 19th century. A shining brass ship's clock hung on one blue-and-gray papered wall. It was almost exactly how Scully would have decorated her own home if she'd had a lot more money and rather less practicality.
At the far end of the room sat a light secretaire desk, its surface covered in mounds of paper. Scully noted the key rack hanging on the wall beside the desk was entirely empty. Mulder walked up and rang the hand bell anyway. After a moment a stout lady with short, salt-and-pepper curls came in through the room's rear door. "Do you have a reservation?" she asked.
Mulder fished his Bureau ID out of his inner coat pocket and held it out to her. The woman's back stiffened. "I'm sorry, but I've told everything I know more than once. You people really have to start talking to one another. I have a business to run here."
"Leigh," Mulder said.
Leigh's glasses magnified her brown eyes, which made her look owlish when she blinked at him. She took another look at the ID, glanced at Mulder's face, and her eyes went even wider. "Well, *hello!* Why didn't you tell me you were coming? It's been so long -- here I was thinking you were another one of these mainland detectives. I'm just about embarrassed to death," she said. She walked around the desk and hugged him. To Scully's surprise, he returned the embrace without awkwardness. In her experience, he was uncomfortable with physical affection in all but the most intimate relationships.
"I didn't know I was coming until just a few hours ago," Mulder said.
Leigh stepped back and said, "Then you heard?" Mulder nodded.
"Isn't it awful?" Leigh said. "I still can hardly believe it -- that poor girl. The Island's really changed for the worse, Fox. More people coming and going all the time . . . some of them not the sort I like to see around. The traffic means more business, but I'd just as soon have it back the way it was 15 years ago. It was safer. Speaking of which, it must've been at least that long since I last saw you."
"More like 20 years ago," Mulder said. "The last summer I spent here was the one before I went away to school."
"Has it been that long?" Leigh asked. "It must've been. It must've been. Tammy was just a little thing then. Now she's grown with a baby of her own." Leigh seized the opportunity to pull a photo album from amid the clutter on the desk. "Here, this is a picture of my granddaughter . . ."
It turned out to be more than just "a" picture, but Scully looked through and praised them all. Emily's death had left a dry ache in her that was soothed somewhat by talking about other peoples' babies. As a result, Leigh Williams soon had a very high opinion of her and was determined to find room for her and Mulder in Nye House.
Leigh looked mildly scandalized when Mulder explained that one room would do fine and neither agent had to be installed in Tammy's old room. At that point Scully put her hand on his arm and drew him aside. "Maybe it would be better if we didn't stay together," she said quietly. "This place is crawling with police officers. It wouldn't reflect well on the Bureau."
"The Bureau? The *Bureau?*" Mulder looked appalled. Leigh tactfully found something to fuss with on her desk. In a low voice Mulder asked, "At a time like this you're worried about what the Bureau would think? We're off duty. Officially, I'm not even here."
"Nobody else knows that," Scully said. She plead for his understanding with her eyes, not wanting to explain in the earshot of others. She had not forgotten the whispers and icy stares of her classmates in medical school and the FBI Academy.
*Scully slept her way to the top* had been the conventional wisdom. The fact that it wasn't true, and that at least in Jack's case the affair was licit, hadn't made any difference. There weren't many new lows for her career to sink to, but Scully didn't want to see a look of delighted disgust in her colleagues' eyes. The look that said, "I don't have to respect you now, and I'm glad."
"Fine," Mulder said. "Whatever."
"I'd be glad to stay in your daughter's room, Mrs. Williams," Scully said. Leigh clearly thought Scully had fallen from heaven.
Mulder looked as if the whole conversation made him want to wash.
Upstairs in his room, Mulder tossed his few packed belongings onto the shelves of the armoire, mostly for an excuse to slam the doors. He knew that he was more upset at Scully than the situation really warranted.
So she wanted to sleep downstairs. So what? It would be no different than when they were working -- which in fact Scully was.
No, this *was* different. He needed her, and she cared about the Bureau's opinion of their personal life? "Why are you surprised?" he asked himself aloud. He dropped down on the bed and pressed his hands to his aching eyes. Scully had always been skittish around issues of authority. She'd flouted rules to come through for him before, but only after justifying herself by appealing to her conception of a higher law. Apparently the current situation wasn't worthy of such an exception.
//Were you so stupid that you thought she'd change just because she started sleeping with you?// Such a hope was truly pathetic -- the mindset of a neurotic fifteen-year-old. The only response his exhausted mind could offer was, //But I love her.//
If he'd learned anything during the last several months, it was that love, for all its virtues, was powerless to affect the actions of the beloved. Christina Mulder, beloved mother, had taken her own life without so much as mentioning her terminal illness to her son. Kristie Herron, beloved daughter, had chosen a dangerous life amid the drug culture of Boston that might have directly or indirectly led to her death. Scully would do what she would do, and his choices were to walk away or hang on and hope for the best. Really, it was no choice at all. "You could at least try to meet me closer to halfway," he said aloud.
He lay down, and hypnagogic images swam before him when he shut his eyes. He saw faces mouthing incomprehensible words. He hadn't had any more sleep than Scully had, and his mind was considerably more troubled. When he fell asleep it was to unsettling dreams -- a horror stalked him through familiar rooms. The thing itself was never seen, but he recognized the sound of its slow footfalls as it followed him through the empty house. Whatever it was had been with him a long time.
It was dark when the phone's ringing startled him awake. He'd developed a horrific headache in his sleep and he groaned as he reached over to pick up the receiver. "Hello?"
"Fox?" came a woman's voice. Mulder struggled to place it.
"Yeah?" he said.
"It's Patty," the woman said. Moments from the past, sharp and fragmented, spilled through his mind: a long, shining wave of chestnut hair; a young woman's soft laugh; a green-and-white bicycle with reddish Vineyard clay caught in its tire treads.
"Patty . . . How are you?" He regretted the words as soon as he'd spoken them. //How do you think she is?//
"You heard?" she asked. He knew the emotion behind her nearly calm voice. Grief left a person like the softened walls in many of the Island's oldest buildings, where cracks in the plaster merely hinted at the disintegration of the concrete behind. One touch and the whole structure would crumble.
"I heard. I'm sorry," he said.
"I don't understand it. She was fine. She'd had a little trouble and she was doing so well . . ." Her words fluttered up and up, like frightened birds before a storm.
"Do you want me to go over there?" Mulder said.
"It's late, Fox -- no," she said.
"No," she said, very quietly.
"Give me twenty minutes," Mulder said.
Scully was lying on the narrow bed, resting her eyes. The rooms the Williams family lived in were near the surprisingly modern kitchen, in what Scully suspected had once been the maids' quarters. Tammy's room was quite small and her mother had apologized, explaining that lodging would be gratis if Scully chose to stay. The little room lacked the romance of the guest areas, but she found something soothing about the teen-girl furnishings.
She was a good ten years older than Tammy, but the peeling posters of 80's pop icons, the grainy photos of prom night and graduation tucked into the mirror frame above the vanity, could have come from one of her own college dorm rooms. She remembered a time when she'd had girlfriends, before shadowy men and the terrible light that haunted her dreams made her too afraid to befriend anyone. For a few moments between sleep and waking, she felt her sister's presence very near.
Minutes later Mulder knocked on the door. It had to be Mulder. In hotels, strangers had a polite little knock -- an I-hope-I'm- not-disturbing-you knock. Mulder just gave the door two sharp raps, the knock of a person who believes he has the right to enter, but knocks anyway for good manners' sake. "Hang on," Scully said groggily. She rolled off the bed onto her stocking feet. When she opened the door the light in the hall seemed too bright, and she squinted up at her partner. He had his coat on. "What is it?" she asked.
"I'm going over to the Herrons'," he said.
She knew it was as close to an invitation as she was going to get. She glanced back at the bedside clock and saw it was after ten. "Now? You want me to talk about the autopsy results?" she asked.
"No," he said. She waited for further explanation and got none. He just wanted her presence.
"Let me find my shoes . . ." she said. She'd been dumb enough to bring nearly-new shoes and she felt all the tight spots as her feet slid back into them. In her head, she heard what her sister would say: //Why do you follow him around like that? If Mulder jumped off the Empire State Building, would you do it too?// Then she heard her own answer, //Probably.//
Scully fought to repress a smile that was completely inappropriate for a condolence call. Mulder clearly saw it anyway.
"What?" he asked.
"Nothing," she said, lifting her still-damp jacket from where it lay folded over the vanity chair. "Let's go."
Scully did not know what to expect as they pulled up outside the secluded house near Menemsha Harbor. Like many houses she'd seen on the western part of the island, the Herron's unpaved driveway wound quite a distance into the trees -- or maybe it was unclear where the driveway started and the dirt road stopped. Scully was a little surprised at how undeveloped much of the land was. When Mulder had told her his parents were next door when his sister was abducted, she'd thought of "next door" in terms of the cramped military housing units of her own youth. Here, "next door" was not within the shouting distance of a young boy. The knowledge helped bring home to her how alone and helpless Mulder had felt as a 12-year-old all those years before.
Scully used the porch mat to scrape red, clayey mud off her shoes while Mulder rang the doorbell. She heard footsteps inside, and a young man's face appeared briefly in the door's window. There was no sound of a latch being undone before the door opened. The boy in the doorway looked about 17 or 18, tall but still gangly. His hard, red-rimmed eyes seemed incongruous in his youthful face. That was the magic of grief -- overnight it could make a high school boy look like a bitter old man.
"Yeah?" the boy said.
"I'm Fox Mulder. I'm here to see Patty," Mulder said.
The boy closed the door. Scully heard him shout, "Mom!"
"Wonderful kid," Mulder muttered.
"He's just lost his sister," Scully said, then realized how churlish it sounded to imply he didn't know what that was like. He kept his eyes on the door as if he hadn't heard.
The misting rain was deceptively fine. The air clung like a damp sponge. In the short amount of time they stood on the porch, Scully began to feel wet all the way through and very cold. Soon the door was opened again, this time by a tall woman, perhaps ten years older than Mulder. "Fox," she said.
"Hi, Patty," Mulder said.
"Come in -- I'm sorry," Patty said, stepping aside to let them into the warm house. She called out to her unseen son, "Matthew, what's the matter with you? Why did you let them stand out in the rain?" There was no reply. "He's upset," she explained. "I think the boys are looking for someone to blame -- it's hard with the police investigation up in the air. Maybe they blame me, I don't know."
Scully tried to give her a reassuring smile, but she didn't feel very reassuring. How many times had she played this exact role -- a bearer of bad news, intruding on other people's grief.
Once they were all in the foyer, Scully noted a brief moment of awkwardness between Mulder and Patty. Apparently they were not so close that an embrace felt natural, but under the circumstances a handshake would have been barbarous. Patty reached out her arm, almost apologetically, as to a sympathetic stranger. Mulder took it and pulled her against him. Suddenly all strangeness between them was gone. She cried into his shoulder, and he spoke to her all the half-nonsense words that Scully had murmured to him so often since his mother's death: "You'll be all right. You'll be okay. You'll get through this."
"I won't. I'll never be all right. You don't know what it's like to lose a child. It's like dying every second," Patty said.
Scully knew what it was like. It was a memory she wanted to distance herself from. She walked a few paces down a narrow hallway defined by the staircase wall on one side and the kitchen wall on the other. Framed photographs hung on both sides, but the dim overhead light consigned many of them to obscurity. It was just as well -- it helped Scully avoid the eyes of the Herron children, young and smiling beneath plates of dusty glass.
She stopped before a picture of the young Patty Herron -- Patty Todd, Mulder had called her, the girl Fox and Samantha had known. She was quite pretty -- brown hair like a smooth autumn river framed a shield-shaped face and brown eyes. The picture was from the bust up, but Scully guessed Patty had had the sort of lanky, athletic figure that Mulder preferred. She imagined him as a too-tall grade-schooler, smitten with the pretty teen girl who thought of herself as his babysitter. Scully wondered how he had felt the day Kristie was born, the day Patty tied herself irrevocably to the adult world, and to an adult man.
She heard the creak of a floorboard as someone entered the hall. She looked up to see a tall young man whose brown eyes were the image of the young Patty Herron's. The lower half of his face was obscured by what was probably the first real beard he'd been able to grow. "You're Dr. Scully?" he asked. There was a touch of challenge in his voice.
"Yes," Scully said. "Mr. --"
"Herron. I'm Rich Herron," the man said. "You did the autopsy?"
"Yes," she said. Mr. Herron, I'm very sorry for your loss. This must be a difficult time--"
He seemed barely to have heard her. "How did my sister die?" he asked.
Scully knew the hopeless quest of a murder victim's relatives -- the desperate search for answers which brought no comfort. "She fell," Scully said. "She died from a head injury. It was instantaneous; she felt no pain--"
"The police said she was stabbed. Now she fell? Nobody is giving us a straight answer," Rich said.
In defense Scully went into investigator mode. "It's really very early in the investigation. The police need time to be thorough- -"
"Rich, please," Patty called. She appeared at the other end of the hall, wiping her eyes with her fingers. "Please come sit down -- I'm sorry," she said to Scully, gesturing toward the living room on the other side of the staircase.
Scully followed her, trying not to feel the weight of Rich Herron's glare. Once in the living room, she down on the end of a blue-and-white flowered couch. A defeated-looking Matthew sat on a smaller couch with his hands clasped on his knees. On a table beside him were a few nautical-themed knickknacks, including a model of a Banks schooner -- once an emblem of New England. Sailor's daughter that she was, Scully's attention was drawn to the other model ships in the room: an old-fashioned three-masted frigate, a second schooner, and a sleeker modern racing yacht. The pictures on the walls were of ocean views, except for one that showed the smiling Herrons on a dock, all wearing matching polo shirts and navy slacks -- a work uniform. The family must have a business near the harbor.
Mulder sat down next to her and put his hand over hers. His touch felt very warm and she realized she was still chilled through from the night outside. Reflexively she glanced up to see if anyone noticed the display of intimacy. Matthew met her eyes without showing any particular interest. //Let it go,// she told herself. There was being a private person, and there was being paranoid. If she was too reticent to be close to Mulder in public, he'd think she was ashamed of him. Still, it felt very strange to sit holding his hand in front of strangers.
"Is there anything I can get you at all?" Patty asked, as if it were quite natural to play the hostess under these circumstances. Mulder's cousin Debbie had said the same thing over and over at his mother's hastily-arranged memorial. Mulder himself had refused to speak to anyone in more than monosyllables.
"We're fine, Patty," Mulder said.
Rich and a man who was probably his father walked into the room. Mark Herron couldn't have been much past his mid-fifties, but he moved as slowly as an old man as he sat down in an armchair. His hands, loose at his sides like a sleepwalkers', bore the nut-colored tan that old sailors never lost. Suddenly Scully was glad that her own father had not lived to see Melissa's murder.
She looked up at Patty and said, "Mrs. Herron, I lost my own daughter two years ago at Christmas. You're right -- it is like dying every second. All I can tell you is that in time, it becomes more bearable." She sensed Mulder looking at her. Self- disclosure was hardly her usual style. Perhaps it was the somber mood of Lent that made her speak. Perhaps it was this family's connection with the sea -- she didn't know.
However, for the first time, some of the terrible vacantness left Patty's eyes. Scully saw that her face, though heavier beneath her practical short haircut, was still pretty. "Thank you," Patty said.
Mulder pressed her hand between both of his, and she didn't pull away. It was as if the wind were coming from a new direction -- suddenly she and Mulder were not the insensitive investigators, here to ask intrusive questions and give no information in return.
"Dr. Scully . . . what happened to our daughter?" Mark asked.
"Mr. Herron, if anybody really knows what happened to her, they're not cooperating with the police. All I can give you is a medical opinion -- a very incomplete answer," Scully said.
"She says Kristie wasn't stabbed -- she fell," Rich said.
"An accident?" Patty asked. She sounded almost hopeful.
"I don't think so," Scully said, as gently as she could. "She had experienced some sharp-force injuries, probably from a knife. The wounds were relatively minor, but they show that she met someone who intended to do her harm."
"She was afraid of knives," Matthew said.
Mulder turned toward him, and Scully sensed a new tension through her partner's skin, like a slack wire suddenly drawn taught. Spooky had a lead. "Why do you say that?" he asked.
"From watching movies with her, mostly, or hearing campfire stories . . . the kind about maniacs, you know . . ." Matt avoided mentioning "in the woods," but Scully understood, and felt cold inside. "When it got to the knife part she could never watch," Matt continued. "She'd kind of curl up and put her hands over her eyes. She told me once she wasn't afraid of guns, because getting shot was quick, but a knife would be the worst way to die." Patty made a soft noise as if her breath had been choked off.
"Matt, did anybody else know she was afraid of knives?" Mulder asked.
"I don't know . . . maybe. Probably. She used to go to the horror movies when they came out, you know, but at the knife parts she'd turn away. Some guys like that -- when a girl gets scared," Matthew said.
"Did she often date guys who liked it when she got scared?" Mulder asked.
Scully watched the family's reactions as they made the connection. Mark and Patty glanced at one another. "We didn't like a lot of the boys she saw -- off-islanders, mostly, party guys," Mark said. "Some of these people have a lifestyle you wouldn't believe."
"They're not all bad just because they have money," Matthew said.
"I don't care -- I didn't want them hanging around my daughter," Mark snapped. "We had her working with us down at the marina during the summers, and she'd meet these guys when they brought their boats in. They'd start giving her that oily smile, and I'd try to discourage them . . . I suppose that just made them more attractive to her. Maybe we should have taken her out of the boathouse altogether. She wanted to spend those six weeks in Alaska -- do you remember?" He glanced up at Patty.
Patty did not meet his eyes. She said, "Mark . . ."
Mark Herron's wave of pain was palpable. Scully did not look at him, and she sensed that others did not either, until he cleared his throat and said, "Anyway . . . we didn't let her go. We needed her here, or we thought we did. And then . . . then she was gone, and there was nothing we could do." He pressed his great, square hand over his eyes and wept.
Scully felt sympathy warring with embarrassment for how the man must feel, or perhaps it was for how a man like her father would have felt if he cried in front of strangers. From respect as much as discomfort, she kept her gaze on the toes of her shoes. Mulder did not seem to feel awkward. He, more than any man she'd known, was comfortable in the presence of people in tears. He pulled a handkerchief out of his pocket and offered it, but was ignored.
Patty stooped to put her arm around her husband's shoulders, their heads pressed together. The Herron brothers were still and silent, Rich standing like a guardian behind the couch where Matthew sat. They were circling the wagons, as Scully's own family had -- as Mulder's strangely had not at his mother's memorial. Teena Mulder's wake had not been so much a gathering of the clans as a collection of grieving persons who all just happened to be in the same room.
At last Mark said, "I'm sorry," then got up and walked out of the room. A spell seemed to have been broken. Both Rich and Matthew immediately left as well, one heading for the kitchen and one walking upstairs. Patty dropped down into the chair her husband had just vacated.
"Are you sure it gets better?" she asked Scully.
"I turned to God," Scully said. "It helped a little."
"Patty, I know you've been over this before, but is there anything, or anyone, that stands out in your memory as being possibly related to Kristie's death?" Mulder asked.
Patty shook her head slowly. "There was Brian Griffin, the man she was dating when they were arrested, but they convicted him under the three strikes law. He's doing life in prison. She was going to testify in the trial of John McBer, and I've told the police all I know about him, which isn't much. I didn't think this new boyfriend, Randy, was much of a step up from Brian, but he never seemed threatening at all. These last few months were so ordinary, Fox. So relatively normal. I wouldn't let myself hope at first. She'd quit drugs and relapsed before - - she'd never made it past 90 days. But when three months passed, and then six . . . I began to hope. I thought, 'She's finally making it. God wouldn't take her from us now.' I guess that shows you how much I knew."
"Unlike Agent Scully, I tend *not* to turn to God when things get bad," Mulder said. "It's kind of like wearing a huge 'Kick Me' sign on your back."
Scully worked not to take offense at his comment. He made it no secret that he thought organized religion in general was stupid and Christianity even more so. She was aware that he had his reasons. Still, it wouldn't kill him to show her faith a little respect.
Scully looked up at Patty and said, "Kristie died drug-free, Mrs. Herron. At least God let her have that victory."
"Thank him for that," Patty said. Some of the tension seemed to leave her body, but it left her looking even more broken and vulnerable. Scully remembered the days after she lost Emily, and wondered if tension wasn't all that was keeping Patty together.
"We don't want to overstay our welcome, but would you mind if I looked around just a little bit?" Mulder asked.
"You're welcome to, but the detectives turned the place upside- down," Patty said. "I went over her room again myself, looking at every scrap of paper I could find for a name, a phone number . . . anything."
"We won't stay long," Mulder assured her.
At his request Patty led them upstairs to what had been Kristie's room. Once they were there, she left them.
The place had already begun to have a vacant feel, probably because the room had clearly been "processed." The sheets were gone, likely sent to Boston for hair and fiber analysis. That alone told Scully that the boyfriend was a suspect. Depressions in the beige carpet showed that every item of furniture had been moved and placed back slightly wrong. A few small, everyday traces remained of Kristie's life: two empty kitchen glasses on the desk near a fist-sized clutch of keys; a book splayed open under the bed, a smiley face, clearly old, painted with nail polish on the side of a bookshelf.
Mulder started poking around in the bookshelf. Scully stood out of his way near the door. Before long she was leaning against the door frame, repressing an urge to slide down onto the floor and close her eyes. When she'd volunteered to help, she'd had no idea this case would be so exhausting or emotionally harrowing. The fact that Mulder was taking such an active interest in the investigation when he wasn't even part of it was starting to irritate her. "What are you looking for?" she asked. When he didn't answer immediately, she added, "Don't tell me, Let me guess. You don't know."
"Okay, You can guess. I won't tell you," he said.
The silence stretched on. Scully looked at her watch. "It's nearly midnight," she said. "We should let these people get some sleep."
"Give me two more minutes," Mulder said. He was pulling out each of the books on the bookshelf and examining their spines. In Mulder terms, "two minutes" could be interminable, so Scully gave up and began pulling out books too.
"Tell me what I'm looking for," she said.
"A book where the dust jacket doesn't match the book inside," he said.
The third book she pulled out had a jacket that was slightly too tall, causing the paper to be crushed back over the cover. "You mean like this?" she asked. She slipped the jacket of an English-French dictionary off the book, and revealed the words, "Narcotics Anonymous" stamped in gold on the cover.
"Nice shooting, Tex," Mulder said. "A lot of recovering addicts don't like to be seen carrying this around. Even some ex- alcoholics look down on the guys trying to kick coke or heroin. That's why you see decorative book covers or things like this." He took the book from her and opened it. Inside the front cover were dozens of names and phone numbers written in a rainbow assortment of ballpoint pen ink. One name, Brenda, was circled with a star next to it.
Mulder flipped the page and found a note on the other side: "Happy 6 month anniversary, baby! Never forget we're powerless. Love, Randy."
"Joey'll love this," Mulder asked.
"You're hot all right," she said. He continued to page through the book. Scully asked, "Can we go now?" He looked down at her, seemed hesitant. The discovery had revived his spirit and energy, and she knew he would have happily worked through the night. "It's late," she said. "I *am* going to church tomorrow."
"Right -- right, okay," Mulder said, folding the book closed. To his credit, he said goodbye to Patty and drove Scully back to Nye House without betraying any resentment. But he was quiet on the slow, jostling ride through the rain. Scully thought she knew what he was thinking. Their work as FBI partners was as seamless as it could be, but to become true partners in a personal sense would require a lot of sacrifice and effort.
When they got back to the inn he did not press her to come upstairs with him, and she was glad. She needed time to sit with her thoughts and center herself. Exchanging her damp wool blazer and skirt for her pajamas was like striking off a ball and chain. As she returned from brushing her teeth in the Williams family's bathroom, she ran into Leigh. The little proprietress was more than happy to give her a tourist guide that showed the locations of various island churches. St. Paul of Tarsus in Vineyard Haven seemed to be marginally the most convenient, and Scully set her sights on the 11:30 service, somewhat less than 12 hours away.
Perhaps it was weariness that clouded her judgment, or else a deep ache for the glow of the Presence candle at Mass, but something impelled her to slip back into the bathroom and remove the little tea light in a glass bowl that was serving as a night light. Cradling it in both hands, she carried it back to her room and set it on the dresser. When she turned out the electric light, the mirror on the dresser reflected the little candle's illumination, doubling it. Candlelight is the kindest of lights, and Scully was briefly surprised by her own image in the mirror. The half-light showed her skin smooth and translucent as a young girl's, and it lent a jewel-like depth to her eyes. The reflected face seemed to have come from another time. It was certainly worlds away from the Agent Scully who worked under the unforgiving glare of florescent bulbs, often up to her elbows in a body that even wild dogs would avoid.
She turned away from the haunting image in the mirror. It was no more she than the unflattering photo on her Bureau ID was. She fished out of her purse the little cloth bag containing the rosary her great-aunt had given her many years ago. She lay down on the bed and opened the bag. The ruby-glass beads spilled out into her hand like so many little drops of blood. Some small, prideful part of her was still embarrassed to be carrying this symbol of Catholicism's medieval legacy. The modern Church, the 21st century Church, had a renewed confidence in science and scholarship. The orthodox faithful were engaged in debates about world politics and biomedical ethics at the highest levels. That was a faith you could proclaim in public. The soft rattle of beads and whispered prayers in the dark were like the presence of an eccentric elderly relative -- something that could neither be disavowed nor discussed with outsiders.
And yet, and yet . . . . There was something very soothing about the simple, repeated prayers. Mulder, and Melissa, for that matter, had pointed out the rosary's similarities to Buddhist prayer beads and the practice of chanting the Sanskrit name of the Lotus Sutra. The comparison used to annoy her, but after having experienced a profound sense of the Divine in a Buddhist Temple, it no longer did so. If the Christian "peace which passeth all understanding" was related to the Buddhist Enlightenment, then so much the better for Christians and Buddhists.
She ran her thumbs over the tarnished silver crucifix, trying to come up with some profound prayer intention that fit her somber assignment and the season. Eloquence failed her, and the best she could do was offer up an anguished identification with Mary as the mother of a murdered child. More in emotions than words, she asked God to take care of Emily, Melissa, Kristie, and Kristie's poor baby, born too soon. Suddenly it occurred to her to add to the list the murdered children of Mary Brown, purported South Road Ghost. The thought surprised her, since she'd almost forgotten about the story that brought her and Mulder out here in the first place.
Maybe it was the primitive glory of the candlelight that inspired her, or the fact that the wind had picked up outside and was making a thin screaming noise in the trees. In any case, her thoughts called up disturbing images. Scully crossed herself and began a whispered recitation of the Creed of Nicea, more beautiful than the shorter Apostles' Creed: // . . . God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten not made . . .//
The more than 36 hours she'd gone without good sleep caught up with her quickly. The last thoughts she had before unconsciousness claimed her were the Creed's final words: //We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.//
Something awakened her deep in the night. Scully lay with her heart pounding, her hands gripping the sheets. The candle had gone out and the room was in darkness. A dream? No -- she had the dim awareness of a sensation, a sound, that had awakened her. She remembered the look of calm, inexorable madness on Donnie Pfaster's face, and fought panic. Where had she put her weapon? On the chair by the desk -- too far to reach. Had someone entered the room and picked it up, ready to use it against her?
She heard stumbling footsteps outside in the hall. "Power's out. Where's the damn flashlight? I thought you lit the candle in here, Leigh."
"I did," Leigh said.
Scully glanced up at the dresser. What had possessed her to take the candle from the bathroom?
"Here -- Jim, don't just walk into things, stand still. The flashlight's up in the cabinet somewhere."
Scully had a small flashlight attached to her keys. Where were they? Then she heard the noise that had awakened her -- a shriek, high-pitched and far away, but human and terrified beyond reason. The cry trailed up and up, past the range of a woman's voice and far past that of a man's.
//Oh, God, it's a child.// She rolled out of bed and onto her feet, finding her keys and the flashlight on the desk by touch. With the light on she could see to open her bag and pull out clothes. She pulled pants and a jacket on over her pajamas and stuffed her feet into her autopsy shoes, which were easier to run in than heels. Finally she clipped her gun onto her waistband and strode out the door.
"Agent Scully?" she heard Leigh call.
"There's somebody out in the storm -- I think it's a child. Tell Agent Mulder. He'll know what to do," Scully called back. She didn't stop to answer more questions as she walked through the front room and out the door.
The damp iciness of the wind nearly took her breath away. She could see pellets of sleet in the narrow beam of her flashlight. A moment of indecision seized her -- should she wait for help? This was no night to become lost. She glanced up at the inn, thought of Mulder and the other officers in there. There were no lights in any of the windows. As she hesitated she heard the cry again, and that answered her question.
The sound seemed to be carried on the wind, which was coming from the south. Holding her jacket closed with one hand and her little flashlight with the other, Scully set off across the sleet-encrusted meadow behind Nye House, heading toward the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean.
Mulder was having a bad night. Once the rush of starting a new investigation wore off, the miserable familiarity of his surroundings began to weigh on him. The power outage denied him even the dubious pleasure of watching late-night TV as he lay in bed. In darkness and silence, he was prey to his memories. The last time he'd been on this island was when he'd inadvertently set Roche loose. The time before that was the night his father was murdered. His soul yearned for Scully and for his mother with a dual intensity that would have warmed the twisted heart of Sigmund Freud.
It still surprised him that losing his mother was a heavier blow than learning his sister was dead. It was the way his mother died, really.
Teena Mulder had gone to the grave organized -- he'd give her that much. She'd contacted a lawyer to help her get the right papers signed and the disposition of her estate all planned out. The nurse who'd come to the house during her final days even knew what clothes she wanted to be laid out in. The one conspicuous lapse was her failure to inform her son that she intended to kill herself -- or even that she was sick. He was angry at her -- in truth he was furious, and that was what was killing him. She had no right to shut him out of the end of her life, as she'd shut him out of so many things she wanted to keep secret. She hadn't even trusted him to pick where she'd be buried. Maybe she expected that he wouldn't show up at her funeral, since he had missed his father's.
Scully insisted that his mother had been trying not to burden him, that the over-planned suicide wasn't the rejection it seemed. Maybe she was right. Still, he doubted he could have been hurt more if his mother had actually tried to kill him instead.
This morbid train of thought was disturbed by someone banging on his door. "What?" he called out.
"Fox?" it was Leigh. "Fox, we've lost power due to the storm. Your partner says that she can hear someone lost out there, and she's going to help. She said you'd know what to do . . ."
Mulder got up and walked to the door in his T-shirt and boxer shorts. He opened the door and found Leigh there, holding a flashlight and looking small and owlish in her bathrobe.
"She didn't go out there by herself, did she?" Mulder asked.
"I think so. I don't know. She seemed to be in a hurry," Leigh said.
"Do you know which direction she went in?" Mulder asked. He did not like the idea of Scully wandering the countryside in this storm. The up-island terrain was difficult enough under the best of circumstances.
Leigh shook her head. "She just took her flashlight and left. She didn't look dressed properly for the weather," she said.
Mulder swore. "Thanks for telling me. See if you can get Joey on the phone and ask him to send some people who actually know their way around the woods out here," he said.
"All right. What are you going to do?" she asked.
"I'm going to go find my partner before--" he stopped himself from mentioning the state of poor Kristie's remains after she'd fallen over the cliff. "I'm just going to find her."
Scully struggled down a steep wooded hill about a mile from Nye House. The heavy clay soil was little more than half-frozen mud, and her feet were continually sliding. After considering the odds of a predator being loose in the woods, she carried her gun in her right hand. She'd put away her flashlight to free her other hand for holding onto saplings and branches as she walked.
At first she'd heard the child's cries on every strong gust of wind from the south, but as she traveled the voice seemed to grow more distant. Now she was unsure if she were following a human voice at all. The wind keening in the bare branches could sound human to someone who wanted to hear signs of life badly enough.
She made maddeningly slow progress down the hill as she picked her way from tree to tree. It occurred to her that she might be better off if she sat on her butt and slid.
Unexpectedly, she got her wish. A rock rolled under her shoe, then the muddy earth beneath her feet began to give way. She grabbed the closest tree -- a dead pine sapling. The trunk cracked off and fell with her.
Sliding and tumbling amid a hail of earth and stones, Scully shielded her head with her left arm as best she could. Branches scratched her and mud-clotted leaves struck her face as she tried desperately to keep the barrel of her gun pointed away from her body. The weapon was ready to fire, a bullet lying in the chamber.
Her other worry was a great tree trunk, directly in her path. She scrabbled at the soil for a root, a stone, anything, but could get no purchase. When she hit the trunk a flash of sparks dazzled her eyes, and her breath was driven out of her. Dimly, she was aware of the little dead pine landing on her back. For a moment she swum in darkness.
She lay dazed in the icy mud, feeling a dull pain in her ribs with every breath. Several seconds passed before she became aware that her hand was touching something warm and damp. Scully struggled to look up. Among the pine's branches were eyes, too close together to be human, shining yellow in the faint, directionless glow of the sleety night. The creature whined.
She realized she lay beside a wet animal -- a large dog, its ears laid back and its belly pressed to the ground in terror. She felt its muscles tense at her movement. Suddenly the dog turned and bolted, showering her with wet leaves. Shaken, she watched it tear away up the slope in the direction she had come.
Some irrational inner voice whispered that she'd come to a bad place, an uncanny place. Scully firmly pushed that thought out of her mind. Not even Mulder thought there were ghosts here. There might be violent people and treacherous footing in these woods, but the place itself was ordinary.
She could just imagine what Mulder would say if he were here. //You practically killed yourself and all you have to show for it is a traumatized dog. Terrific.// She rolled painfully to her knees, then with an effort she stood up and combed the filth out of her hair with her fingers.
Scully pulled her flashlight from her pocket and hunted for her gun, which the impact had jerked from her hand. Before long she saw the glint of metal in the flashlight's beam. She picked up her mud-covered SIG near the foot of the hill, and did what she could to clean the dirt out of its barrel. Her stiff, shaking fingers were not suited to the job.
She was peripherally aware of plastic tape flapping and rattling on the nearby trees. In her near-exhausted state the noise didn't seem important, but eventually the rustling sound triggered associations -- the tinny static of two-way radios, the staccato lightning of flashbulbs. She shone her light at the trees. Their trunks were bound with yellow crime scene tape.
This was where Kristie Herron had died. Scully had not expected to be this close to the cliffs. How close had she come to the edge without noticing? She hesitated, considered waiting for Mulder to catch up before continuing. Even if the woods hadn't been physically dangerous, she would still have to consider the possible damage to evidence if she blundered around in the cordoned-off area. She had just about made up her mind to wait when she caught the sound of ragged sobbing, carried on the wind. This time she was sure her ears were not deceiving her. The noise was human.
"I'm Agent Scully with the FBI. I'm here to help. Where are you?" she called. Her side ached with the effort of shouting.
She got a response -- a word with long, drawn-out vowels, she thought it was "Mama." The accent was on the second syllable, giving the cry an oddly foreign sound. Did the child speak English? Mulder had mentioned the Vineyard's Portuguese population. It didn't matter. The caller's grief and despair were plain. No mother, much less one who had lost her only child, could hear such a sound and be still.
"Keep talking, sweetheart, I'm coming," Scully said. She ducked under the crime scene tape and passed into the shadows of the trees. She kept speaking as she walked, trying to encourage the child to make some sound, any sound. Privately she prayed that her fall had done nothing to jam the workings of the SIG. She couldn't shake the feeling that the dog beneath the tree had been frightened by something else before she nearly ran over it. Thinking back, she realized that its eyes had not been on her at all. It had been staring past her, at something in these woods at the bottom of the hill.
Mulder strode across the frozen field, his Mag Lite casting a powerful beam ahead of him. Scully's trail was fairly easy to follow. The line of broken grass stalks and depressions in the sleet-covered ground led straight toward the South Road Burying Ground, and beyond that the cliffs. Every so often he'd hunt up three rocks and place them in an arrow indicating the direction he'd gone in. Joey, who'd once played a long-suffering Tonto to Mulder's Lone Ranger, would be able to follow those signs.
Mulder couldn't figure out what had possessed his partner to do something this foolish. A traveler lost in the woods? Why didn't she call 911? Why didn't she walk up the goddamn stairs where a dozen peace officers were sleeping, one of whom had spent the first 12 years of his life running around these very woods? If Scully had not been the least supernaturally-inclined woman ever born, he would have suspected her Irish sailor's blood of succumbing to the glamour of the Lorelei -- spirits that haunted cliffs by the sea and lured men to their destruction.
This had to be about Emily. Leigh had said she thought Scully mentioned something about a child. She'd acted out of character at the Herrons' house, going out of her way to talk about her personal loss. At the time Mulder had been touched by her openness. He should have recognized that something powerful had to be going on beneath the surface for Scully to do something like that. This was somehow about Emily and God and this being Easter and about sleeping with Mulder and him not being the solid Catholic guy she'd always envisioned herself with.
He increased his brisk walk to a jog as he neared the woods. He didn't need to fool around analyzing her trail; it was as straight as a beeline. She was headed for the place where Kristie had been murdered. He supposed that was logical in a certain way, if Scully was worried that someone else was in danger from the same predator.
Yet the long-time paranormal investigator in him was uneasy that her track was as straight as a line on a surveyor's map. There was a packed-dirt bicycle path that went roughly in the direction she wanted to go, but she had walked straight across it without swerving. //Don't let this be another Skyland Mountain . . .// Mulder thought.
Memories returned unbidden. He recalled sitting across a Stratego board from his sister, bickering about what to watch on TV. A light came through the window, casting long shadows behind the game pieces. Samantha looked up, puzzled . . .
He shook his head, refusing to be drawn *there* of all places, but some part of his mind wouldn't let the image go. Mulder plead with it:
//That was a long time ago.//
//Your neighbors all thought Chilmark was too insignificant for paranormal events to occur there, too.//
//This is different! There's nothing *in* the South Road Burying Ground.//
//Before November 27, 1973, there was nothing in your living room, either.//
Mulder broke into a run.
Scully pressed through a dense area of the forest. The rain had not washed away all the snow here, and she found herself walking up to her ankles in powder-fine flakes, like the snow of midwinter. The wind had died and she could hear the child's crying very clearly. It only spoke one word, "Mama," again and again. There was such grief and longing in its voice that she feared she would find the mother lying dead in the snow, perhaps murdered by the same person who killed Kristie Herron.
"Keep talking, honey," Scully said, though the child gave no sign that it heard. The two of them had simply been reciting their respective litanies as she picked her way closer and closer. When she at last forced her way through a vine-filled thicket, she stood at the edge of a clearing. Moonlight dazzled her eyes. It was as if the storm had never been -- a full moon shone among sailing clouds and turned the snow into glittering diamonds. She stared a moment, disoriented. Three or four rustic buildings stood away to her right, and in the shadow of the largest one a figure huddled, small and pale against a big, dark stain in the snow.
She ran closer and realized that there was not one child but two. One was a long-haired girl about three years old. The other was a young baby, wrapped in a bloodied cloth and held clutched to the older child's chest. It was clear the infant wouldn't live. Its throat had been slashed nearly through, but its eyes remained open and there was a continual wet wheezing sound as it tried to draw breath. A wound like that on a living body could only be seconds old. Scully fired once into the air, to draw the attention of rescuers and to run off who or whatever had just done *that.*
"You're all right. I'm a doctor. The other officers will be here any moment," Scully said, loud enough that anyone hiding nearby should be able to hear. Could she carry both children and still be able to use her gun? She'd have to.
The girl's gray eyes had the fixed stare of shock and her clothes were soaked in blood. Whether it was hers or the dying baby's Scully didn't know, and there was no time to examine her. Scully reached to scoop the children up but something checked her hand, too fast to have meaning for her. She felt a burning sensation followed by cold wetness on her fingers and looked down. Her hand was bleeding.
Slowly it dawned on her that the child was holding a long, thin knife. "It's all right," she said, her mind too dazed to make anything of this except the girl believed she was defending herself. Scully grabbed for the little elbow in what should have been an easy disarm, but instead the knife laid open the skin of her palm. There was no time for this -- the baby was dying and the killer was still close. "I have to get you out of here," Scully said, her desperation rising.
"No," the child said softly. "Stay."
The strange plea made her hesitate, and she was struck by the loneliness in the child's pale little face. It was familiar, like an image from a half-remembered nightmare, and it echoed in the broken places of her soul.
After what seemed like an eternity of thrashing around in the briars, Mulder reached the South Road Burying Ground. The tiny cemetery consisted of seven headstones, listing like drunkards, and two rocks. The enormous willow he remembered was still there. Scully was not.
He was beginning to feel the stirrings of panic when a shot rang out from deeper in the woods. Mulder wasn't enough of a firearms expert to identify the sound of a firing SIG, but when he heard the eerie whistle of the bullet he knew the weapon was no low- powered hunting rifle. "Scully!" he called out. He struggled through the underbrush in the direction he'd heard the gun fire, trying to stay within the cover of large trees. The last thing he needed was to get his head blown off.
His flashlight beam illuminated little and made everything around it seem darker. At this point the only reason to keep it on was the hope it might draw Scully to him. Of course, it might draw other things as well. No longer carefully tracking, he was moving as fast as he could through the undergrowth.
The weaving flashlight beam began illuminating orange flags stuck in the soil -- evidence markers. This was the spot Kristie had met her attacker. A moment later the light revealed a bloodied shoe. Over the shoe was a leg. Mulder stopped short and angled the beam up. There stood Scully, her face gray as a corpse's, watching blood run down her hands.
Mulder had the feeling he was looking at a dead woman. He asked softly, "What happened to you?"
She looked up, and he saw her pupils were dilated even in the bright beam of light. Her brows drew together as if she were trying to place him. "She was just here," she said.
"Who was just here?" Mulder asked.
"A little girl," she said. She began looking at the ground around her. "There was snow . . ." She turned away from him and began to wander off among the evidence markers. That alone was enough to convince him something was terribly wrong. Scully had never fouled a crime scene in her life.
"What is it?" he asked. "What did you see?"
"There was a house . . . there were little children. They were wounded, and I wanted to help, but I couldn't. She wanted me to stay with her . . ."
"You're hurt. You need to get out of here," he said. He put his hand on her arm to draw her toward him. She resisted at first, then turned and curled against his chest. He took her hands in his own and balled them into fists, pressing the cuts on her palms closed. Her fingers were as cold as death despite the hot blood that ran between them.
Hours later Mulder sat by Scully's bedside in the ER of the tiny hospital in Edgartown. Scully slept, and every so often an orderly would arrive to spread a freshly-warmed blanket over her. She'd been unwilling or unable to explain how she became injured out in the dark woods. All he knew was that she'd found wounded children somewhere southeast of the graveyard and was reluctant to leave the scene, blood loss and hypothermia be damned. She'd only consented to come away after Joe Luce and another officer arrived, and she'd kept her gaze toward the graveyard even as Mulder led her toward the road. He reached out and touched her fingertips, the only part of her left hand that wasn't bandaged, and was relieved to feel that her skin was warm now.
"What did you see out there?" he asked softly. Deeply asleep, his partner did not reply. He heard the sound of approaching footsteps. This person was wearing hard-soled shoes, not the orthopedic footwear of the hospital staff. "Fox?" came a voice.
"Joey," Mulder said. He stood up and opened the curtain that walled off Scully's bed. The first thing that impressed him about Joe Luce was how much he looked like the little kid he had known. The big dark eyes were still there, and so was the hair that refused to take any kind of decent part. The stuff still sat on Joe's head like twists of brown winter grass. Afterward Mulder's mind filled in the unfamiliar. Manhood had squared Joe's jaw and broadened his shoulders, and he wore a Chilmark Police Chief's uniform, just as his uncle had. It was fitting, somehow.
Joe had clearly just come from outside. Half-melted sleet pellets rested on his shoulders and in his hair, and cold radiated from his clothes.
"How's your partner?" Joe asked.
"She'll be all right," Mulder said. "What did you find?"
Joe shook his head. "We didn't find any kids, Fox. Some of the guys from Crime Scene Services came out with their dogs, and we still came up with nothing. That shot you heard -- you think it was from her gun?"
"I can look," Mulder said. He walked over to the chair where Scully's things had been neatly folded. He drew her service weapon out of its holster and examined it. There were powder streaks around the barrel -- something Scully never would have tolerated for longer than it took her to get to her cleaning supplies. "It was hers," he said. Guessing Joe's next question, Mulder said, "Scully's not trigger-happy, and she doesn't imagine things."
Joe held his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "I'm not suggesting that," he said. "I'm just trying to figure out what happened. You sure she said there were buildings?"
"Yeah -- houses or little shacks," Mulder said.
"That's what's bothering me, because there aren't any buildings out where you found her. I know, because I've been combing those woods for days," Joe said.
"There's the Gelbemanns' place," Mulder said, without great conviction. The house was several hundred yards to the east of where he found Scully.
"It's hard to see how she could have come from there," Joe said. "She'd have had to cross the creek, and there's no bridge. We did check on the Gelbemanns just to be safe, but they never heard or saw anything. There sure were no pools of blood around their house. Did Agent Scully say anything else to you? Did she give you a landmark . . . anything at all?" Joe asked.
Mulder gazed over at his sleeping partner and motioned for Joe to follow him into the hall. He stopped at a spot that seemed far enough from the triage area to be discreet. "Scully told me the buildings showed up against the snow in the moonlight," Mulder said.
Joe looked surprised and slightly embarrassed. Mulder could see this news shifted his attitude toward the whole situation. Sleet could pass for snow, but there had certainly been no moonlight out in the storm. "I don't know what she saw out there, Joey. But if you knew her, you'd know that she wouldn't just imagine something like this," Mulder said.
"I believe you," Joe said.
"If you did you'd still be out there," Mulder said.
"Fox, the CSS guys are willing to switch off in teams until someone can do a flyover at dawn. I'm on call if they need me. There's not a lot more we can do," Joe insisted.
"How do you think she cut her hands? On a twig?" Mulder asked.
"It's being taken care of," Joe said. "Look, can I get you a cup of coffee or something?"
"I've got some," Mulder said, gesturing toward the Styrofoam cup of now-cold coffee sitting on the table by Scully's bed. "Where's Irv?"
"Irv?" Joe asked, looking surprised.
"The little shit that got us into this in the first place. Scully said he seemed too interested in this case from the beginning," Mulder said.
"I'm not sure if he's working tonight. This is his secondary job -- he and Emma still run that photography store during the day," Joe said.
"You're kidding. They couldn't stand each other," Mulder said.
"They still can't. Actually they're divorced, but they live together. It's his photo business but he's running it out of her house. I guess they figured putting up with each other was easier than dividing up the stuff," Joe said.
"If he's here I want to see him," Mulder said. He went to the nurses' station and convinced the woman behind the desk to page Irv, and then Irv's supervisor. As Mulder stood waiting for a response to the pages, he listened to Joe answer a staticky call over his two-way radio. The reporting officer told him that the dogs had found no other trails besides Mulder and Scully's.
"I thought you were off-duty," Mulder said, forestalling any comments Joe might make.
"Never," Joe said, as he replaced the receiver on its shoulder strap. "I'm a full 25% of Chilmark's finest."
"Just like your uncle," Mulder said.
"I'm not my uncle," Joe said.
The phone behind the nurses' desk trilled softly. The desk attendant took it and said, "I see. Thank you." When she hung up she said, "That was the transporter's room. Irv Stuckey isn't scheduled to work tonight."
"Thanks," Mulder said, and turned to go back to Scully's bedside. Joe caught his elbow.
"Hey, Fox, c'mon. If I don't get some coffee I'm going to keel over," Joe said.
Mulder repressed the urge to shrug Joe's hand off. "Isn't Sue expecting you?" he asked.
"No," Joe said. The bleakness in his voice made Mulder pause. For the first time he realized his former friend might have other reasons for not wanting to return home.
"I'm sorry," Mulder said.
Joe shrugged and looked away. "These things happen. Three out of the four people on the Chilmark force are divorced now. Our job's not exactly 'NYPD Blue,' but the hours . . . you know. The sad thing is that now that I have court-regulated visitation, I think I see my daughter more often."
Joey's words did a lot to dissolve the resentment Mulder had been feeling toward him. Mulder had felt in a one-down position due to his own personal failures, and in his mind Joe's confession brought them to the same level. "Coffee'd be great," Mulder said. He allowed himself a last look at Scully, still sleeping and safe for the moment, before walking past the nurses' station and out into the hall.
The hospital corridor was all gleaming white surfaces. "The place looks better. It used to be such a dump," Mulder said. He remembered cracked floor tiles and walls painted sickly pea-green to the height of a child's eye-level.
"They've done a lot with it. They had to -- the Island population outgrew it. Every bed was filled all the time. No -- wrong way," Joe stopped Mulder as he turned a corner. "The cafeteria's this way now." He pointed in the opposite direction.
"Right," Mulder said, and followed him. It was odd to feel like a newcomer here.
The cafeteria was deserted except for a listless-looking family in one corner and a couple of maintenance guys hunkered over their soda cans. Neither Mulder nor Joe spoke as they bought overpriced cups of oily-looking coffee and walked back out into the dining area. To Mulder's surprise, Joe headed straight for the glass doors that led outside. Mulder followed him out onto a concrete slab with a few snow-covered tables on it. This was the coldest part of the night, and the damp sleet had finally crystallized into tight little flakes that settled on their heads and shoulders. Mulder blew steam off his coffee and gazed into the woods that began at the bottom of the hill.
For a while the only sound Mulder heard was the wind in the trees and his own breathing. There was a waiting quality to their silence, but it wasn't awkward. Among people who have known each other more than 30 years, silence is also a form of communication.
At last Joe said, "I'm sorry about what I said back when we were in high school. About blaming you for what happened to your sister."
Mulder shrugged as if the incident no longer bothered him. "I guess I shouldn't have slugged you in the head."
"No, I deserved it," Joe said. He rubbed the eye socket that had taken the long-ago punch and said, "Nothing up there worth saving, anyway."
"You were just repeating what you'd heard," Mulder said.
"The town's not against you, Fox. It never was," Joe said.
"It was against my parents, then," Mulder said.
"No, it's just . . . it was so weird how it happened. My uncle said it gave him a funny feeling. He wondered how a stranger in a town of 600 people would go unnoticed. Your house wasn't even visible from the road. How'd some guy know there would be two kids home alone?" Joe asked.
"They'd been watching us a long time," Mulder said. Though Joe stood just out of his field of vision, Mulder sensed his startled movement.
"You know what happened?" Joe asked.
"Yes," Mulder said. The word came out very quietly, and at first Mulder wasn't sure Joe had heard.
"It was bad?" Joe asked. Mulder heard the slight break in his voice. Samantha had been his friend, too.
Mulder let his eyes fall shut against the memory of that dingy house on an abandoned military base. Better to think about afterward, when he saw the lost children shining in the starlight. "She's better off now. She's safe. They can't hurt her anymore," he said.
"Oh, Jesus. Oh, Christ," Joe asked. His job might not be NYPD Blue, but he was a cop. He'd know there were child abductors and then there were child abductors.
"It's all over now. It was over a long time ago," Mulder said. He spoke as if to soothe, but whether he was comforting himself or Joey he didn't know.
"I'm sorry, Fox. I'm so sorry," Joe said.
"You knew, didn't you? You always knew she wasn't coming home," Mulder asked.
"No. I mean, when the weeks and months go by and there's nothing, not even a ransom note, you get a real bad feeling. But no, I didn't know," Joe said.
"After a while you wouldn't look me in the eye when I talked about her. And you knew my family was involved. I think you must be a hell of a cop, Joe," Mulder said.
"What do you mean, your family?" Joe asked. Mulder looked over at him and felt gratified that Joe appeared truly shocked.
"It had to do with my father, with his work. He knew they were going to take her, and my mother at least suspected. I think my dad tried to fight them at first, but something changed his mind. Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing. I don't know," Mulder said.
"That's why your dad was murdered? Because of his work?" Joe asked.
"Yeah. He wanted to tell me something, get it off his conscience, but they wouldn't let him. My mother wanted to tell me something too, and I lost her in February," Mulder said.
Joe set down his coffee on a snowy tabletop and put his hand to his head. "What are you telling me, Fox? This is terrorists? Ex-KGB? What?"
"You don't really want to know," Mulder said. He hadn't meant to give so much away.
"Aliens," Joe said. "You used to talk about aliens."
"I still do," Mulder said. "And I'm one of the few who wasn't silenced real quick."
After a few moments Joe asked, "Fox . . . do you think what's out there, what your partner met in the woods, is related to what happened to your family?"
Mulder released a long breath that steamed in the cold. "No. No, I don't think so. I'm starting to think it may be paranormal, though."
Joe gave him a strange look as he asked, "You mean there's a real headless lady wandering around by the cliffs?"
Mulder remembered wide-eyed, credulous Joey, the kid with a Cub Scout scarf around his neck and no front teeth. He repressed a childish urge to mess with him. "Scully didn't see any headless ladies," he said.
"So this is what you do, right? You investigate this kind of thing. How do you stop something paranormal from killing people?" Joe asked.
"That depends on what it is," Mulder said. "It helps a lot if it has wrists you can handcuff. Our record with spectral phenomena hasn't been that good."
"Terrific," Joey said, turning away again. "I'm actually praying there's a homicidal maniac loose in the woods."
"Would you really believe me if I said there was something out there? Something not human?" Mulder asked.
"You? I might. Yeah, I just might," Joe said.
"How come?" Mulder asked.
Joe seemed to consider this. "You always were a fucking freak," he said.
"Thank you," said Mulder, with no trace of sarcasm. After a moment's hesitation he rested his hand on Joe's shoulder.
Joe clapped his hand over Mulder's and said, "Go on back to your partner."
"Sure," Mulder said. He turned and opened the glass door, leaving Joey to his thoughts and the night.
Mulder found Scully awake when he returned. She looked pale but seemed aware of her surroundings. "Hi," he said. "How you doing?"
"Better," she said. The unflattering fluorescent light made the dark circles under her eyes stand out. She looked like she could sleep for a week.
He sat down next to her and brushed his hand over her forehead. "You're not looking so good," he said. "But then you should see that truck."
That only got the slightest flicker of amusement from her. "They haven't found the little girl, have they?" she asked.
"No," Mulder said. "Joey says they're working through the night. They'll find her." Scully shut her eyes but made no reply. "What happened?" Mulder asked. "What did you see?"
"I told you," she said. "I heard a child screaming out in the woods -- terrified, crying and crying. I followed the sound all the way out to the crime scene area until I came to a house. There was blood all around it . . . and sitting in the snow was a girl, a very little girl holding a young baby in her arms, just weeks old. Someone had almost cut its head off. I fired in the air to scare off the attacker and tried to pick them up, but she had a knife and it cut my hand."
"Who had a knife? The kid?" Mulder asked. Scully nodded. "There's a little kid out there with a knife?" Mulder asked again. The case was getting more bizarre by the minute.
"She was trying to protect the baby . . . maybe not from me. I don't think she was afraid of me; she wanted me to stay with her. I knew I had to get them out of there but she wouldn't let me pick her up. I sat down with them . . . no, did I? I don't remember. It seems like I was there a long time, and then suddenly you were beside me and I didn't know where I was." Scully put her hand to her head as if trying set the chain of events in a logical order.
Mulder hesitated, torn between pushing her for more information and letting her be. He decided that he had to push if there really were dying children out there. "Scully, Joe says that there aren't any buildings in the area where I found you. He wants to know if you saw a landmark, anything else that you can--"
"I know what I saw," she snapped.
"Okay, okay. There was blood in the snow?" Mulder asked.
"Yes," she said.
"Lots of blood, arterial blood everywhere," Mulder said.
"Yes," she said again. He bent and picked up one of her shoes from underneath the chair and held it toward her sole up. There was mud caked between the white rubber treads but there was no blood visible. Mulder turned the shoe right side up and showed her the rust-colored spots on the uppers. This was not blood that had been churned up from the ground. The round splotches were the kind made by blood that had fallen. It was almost certainly from her own hands.
"Oh, God," Scully said. "God." She pressed her bandaged hands to her face.
"It was dark. You were confused," Mulder said.
"The doctor wants to do a CT scan of my head. I know why -- I told him I'd had cancer and he wants to see if there's a tumor in my brain making me hallucinate," Scully said.
Mulder hadn't considered that possibility. The thought that she might be sick again was like an icy hand at his throat. "It sounds like a good thing to check out," he said.
"Mulder, if I have cancer that's metastasized to my brain then it doesn't matter if I have a CT done here or back in D.C. or nowhere at all," Scully said. "I don't want to stay. I want to go back to the hotel."
"So you're signing yourself out against medical advice?" Mulder asked. He knew it was unfair to be upset about it. He'd done the same thing many times.
"He didn't say I had to stay. My ribs are just bruised, and my hands aren't cut that badly. Everything still works." She slowly touched every finger of her left hand to her thumb. From her expression he could see that it hurt her. "I wish you'd have the CT done," Mulder said.
"Before all this happened I felt fine. I had a check-up in February," she said. She must have seen the worry on his face because she said, "I'll have it done in D.C. I want to spend what's left of the night in a real bed."
"Okay," Mulder said, resigning himself to her decision. He took her hand and lifted her swollen fingertips to his lips. "I'll see if I can get your discharge papers." He stood and walked over to the nurses' station.
It was unmanned just then, and as he waited he had time to think about his painfully divided feelings. His first impulse was to believe everything Scully told him. He could usually trust her perceptions more than he could trust his own, and yet in this case there was evidence that did not bear her story out. If she was mistaken, if her mind truly had been affected by something unknown, then it was not these mystery children who were in danger. Instead, Scully herself was the person most at risk.
In his mind's eye he saw Kristie's body on the autopsy table, and his fingers tightened around the edge of the nurses' station counter. He directed a rare plea to Scully's God, //She believes in you. She still trusts you after everything she's been through, and that ought to count for something. I'd have told you to go to hell by now. Prove that you're worthy of her trust. Take care of her.//
As always, Mulder had no sense that anyone was listening. ****
It was close to dawn when they left the hospital. Scully's bloodied clothes were dry, but Mulder wrapped his own coat around her shoulders as an extra layer between her and the cold. She curled up in the car's passenger seat with her face toward the window.
Neither partner spoke as they drove slowly back toward Nye House. The snow had stopped falling, but it blew over the road in weird little spinning flurries that obscured Mulder's vision. These miniature blizzards were unpredictable and maddening.
His overtired mind began to imagine the elements had a will of their own. The fitful wind seemed restless. Visibility worsened in every intersection, and he started to suspect the night of an uneasy mischievousness just short of malice. The saner portion of his mind told him to pull over and rest before he put the car in a ditch, but some instinct warned him against stopping. He looked over at Scully; she seemed relaxed. Why was he anxious about parking along a quiet road on the outskirts of Edgartown?
A shadow appeared in the headlights. He pulled his foot off the pedal and hit the brakes, half expecting to hear a "thud" as he hit a dog or a baby deer. But the shade dissolved the instant he looked straight at it. Mulder blinked and tried to clear his head. The dizzying swirl of snowflakes made it hard to think, much less focus on the road. He could not shake the feeling that there was something outside the car.
Scully sat up beside him, holding herself very still, as if listening. "What is it?" he asked. "What do you hear?"
"Nothing," she said softly. In the dull-green dashboard light her expression was unreadable, but he sensed tension in every line of her body.
The watching silence seemed to grow louder. "Yeah. I hear it too," Mulder said.
Powdery snow swirled over the windshield. Stray sleet pellets struck the glass like tiny, frustrated fists, as if to say: //In, in, in. Let us in, in, in.//
Slowly, like a child fascinated by fire but afraid of being burned, Scully lifted her bandaged fingers toward the windshield. The wind scoured the glass with ice dust as though it would wear away the barrier between itself and her.
"Don't," Mulder said. He caught Scully's hand and pressed it down onto her lap. The view went nearly white and gusts of wind made the car bob like a boat on a choppy sea.
"Mulder--" Scully said, gripping the dashboard with her free hand.
Mulder tapped the brakes, and the car's back end fishtailed toward the middle of the road. He turned the wheel in the direction of the skid to try to stop the uncontrolled sliding. Tires squealed as he struggled to compensate for their still-powerful momentum, and the Ford barely skirted the edge of the narrow shoulder. The back rotors made a whining noise as one tire spun in space over the gully. Mulder downshifted quickly and the car lurched forward, sending up a shower of gravel. After a bad moment when they seemed headed for the opposite ditch, he was able to guide the vehicle back into the right-hand lane.
"Mulder, it's too icy. Pull over," Scully urged.
"No, that's what it wants -- to keep you out in the storm so it can have another shot at you," Mulder said. Whatever the howling, blowing thing was, it seemed to have a special interest in Scully. He wasn't about to stop and hand her over without a fight. Instead he accelerated.
"What are you *doing?*" Scully asked.
"Hang on," Mulder said. In a low voice he added, "We'll see who blinks first."
"Are you trying to kill us?" Scully cried.
He pressed the gas pedal, and the speedometer needle climbed past 30, 35, 40 miles per hour. Visibility was near zero; he was driving on sheer faith and desperation. He spoke to the thing outside the window, "Go back. Go back where you came from. She's not yours; leave her alone."
Scully screamed his name. Brilliant lights flashed to Mulder's right and he heard the blare of a truck horn. He glanced over and saw a big rig barreling toward them, just meters away. Mulder hauled the wheel hard left and turned onto the intersecting road, barely ahead of the truck. For a moment the 18-wheeler's headlights filled his entire rearview mirror.
The car's momentum sent them hurtling off the road into a field, where frozen weeds lashed the Ford's sides as it jolted over uneven ground. Mulder's teeth rattled as he brought the bucking car to a stop, facing north after having spun a full 270 degrees.
His first thought as he shifted into park was that he hadn't done a bad job of rural combat driving. Then he saw Scully huddled in the seat next to him, her bandaged hands over her eyes. "Hey," he said, reaching out to touch her hair. She tried to shrug his hand off. "I'm sorry," he said. "I'm sorry I scared you." He got no response.
"I was scared too," he admitted. Could he explain to her why? What if she hadn't felt the hostile presence after all? He glanced down the road in the direction the truck had gone. The night-being seemed to have vanished with it, but Mulder didn't feel that his victory over it was conclusive. "I thought I was doing the right thing," he said.
After a few seconds she scooted close and put her arms around him. "You're okay," he told her. "You're going to be all right."
"What's happening to me?" she asked, her voice muffled against his chest.
"You're going to be just fine," he insisted.
"I want to stop up ahead," she said.
"Where?" Mulder asked, puzzled.
She turned from him and pointed toward a building on the far corner, just visible in the blue-gray light of pre-dawn. The marquis sign in front was a bright blur in a haze of drifting ground-snow, but its light was enough to illuminate a tall, white figure standing beyond it. The pale form seemed to be draped in a heavy fabric which initially reminded Mulder of grave clothes. Then he recognized the silhouette's veil and gently inclined head. It was a statue, probably a Madonna and child. "Sure," Mulder said. He slowly made the bone-rattling drive back up to the road. In his experience, spectral entities did not actually avoid churches, but it was probably a good idea for him to get out from behind the wheel until daylight. The church seemed a better place to rest than an unsheltered spot along the roadside.
When he pulled into the parking lot he asked, "Think we'll be able to find a spot?" Scully gave him a thin smile. The place was deserted. The sign by the road identified the church as Our Lady of Refuge, and listed its earliest Mass time as 8:30 a.m., just over 90 minutes away. "You don't want to stay for the service, do you?" Mulder asked.
"No," Scully said. "I just want a minute."
He parked the car and then followed her up to the church doors. Ordinarily he would have asked if she wanted to be alone, but under the circumstances he didn't want her out of his sight. She looked very pale and fragile under the gray bulk of his coat.
The first two doors she tried were locked. "It's still kinda early," Mulder said, when to his surprise the third door swung open at her pull. "I guess they like early around here," he said as he followed her inside. The vestibule was dark and silent, its air filled with the chill of the snowy morning. Mulder caught the faint wood-varnish smell he associated with churches, along with a smoky-pungent odor he supposed was incense.
He'd been in law enforcement too long to feel comfortable in an unlocked and apparently empty building. He eased the corner of his sweater up to make access to his weapon easier, and slipped the safety off. Hoping he wouldn't need the gun after all, he followed Scully into the darkened sanctuary by sound as much as by sight.
Once his eyes adjusted, the sanctuary's layout surprised him; it was a small, boxlike affair with two straight rows of pews leading up to the altar. The general effect was of a 30's-era Assembly of God church with statues of Mary and Joseph hanging roughly where the gospel choir ought to stand. The blue sections of the tall, narrow stained-glass windows had begun to glow faintly, but the room's only significant light came from the ruby-colored Presence candle that rested on a shelf in the far corner.
Mulder remained in the doorway as Scully walked down the aisle, lowered herself carefully onto to one knee, then rose and slid into a pew. After a few moments he heard a soft "thunk" as she lowered the kneeler. Her garments rustled as she knelt down.
He stood and watched her with a mixture of tenderness and something akin to awe. He had always been a little envious of her spiritual life. Even though he teased her about Christianity's more blatant contradictions, he would have liked to believe in her God, to have a connection to the source of inexhaustible comfort and strength she described.
It was no mystery why people who detested religion were atheists. But Mulder desired to believe and could not, which was proof enough for him that such a God did not exist. In his more paranoid moments he believed in another kind of transcendent being, one who heard prayers but did not answer, who watched the tortured writhings of humanity but did not act, or worse, who watched and smiled. Maybe Scully would pray for him. If her benevolent God existed after all, perhaps he would have mercy on Mulder for her sake.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the outer door opening. Mulder felt the inward rush of colder air and stepped further into the sanctuary. He rested his hand against his stomach, not far from the holster clipped to his waistband. //What if it's something I can't shoot?// he thought. The small, shadowy figure that was Scully hadn't moved at all. He wondered if she'd fallen asleep leaning against the pew in front of her.
A voice called from the vestibule, "Hello?" It was a man's, human and nervous-sounding. Mulder relaxed a little.
"Hello," he called back. He returned to the doorway and found a bearded little man with thick glasses standing near the outer doors. He was wearing sweat pants and an Edmonton Oilers sweatshirt, and in his hands he carried a flashlight and a mop which he brandished like a weapon.
"The church is closed. You shouldn't be here," the man said.
"I'm sorry -- the door was open," Mulder said. "My partner was injured last night and she just wanted a few minutes. We didn't mean any harm." As an afterthought he pulled his ID wallet from his pocket and offered it to the man.
The man came forward hesitantly and shone his light on the FBI badge. He looked back and forth between Mulder's face and his ID picture several times. He did not appear to recognize Mulder's name, which in a way was a relief. Mulder was fairly certain this church had been built after he became an adult and left the Island for good.
"You're here because of that poor girl that died?" the man asked.
"Yes," Mulder said.
"Well, bless you for that," the man said, seeming to relax. "Is your partner all right?"
"She will be," Mulder said. The man looked past him into the sanctuary, and Mulder understood his wordless question. "She's right in there," Mulder said.
The man leaned his mop against the wall and walked down the aisle toward Scully. He put his hand on her shoulder and bent to speak to her softly, angling the flashlight so it didn't shine in her face. Mulder heard Scully's whispered reply, "Yes, Father."
It hadn't occurred to Mulder that the little guy in the Oilers sweatshirt was the priest. He immediately dubbed him Father Gretzky. Whatever the man asked Scully next, she shook her head no.
"Are you unable to take it? I can give you a Host to take with you," Father Gretzky said.
"No, Father. Thank you," Scully said.
The priest seemed about to argue the point, but then relented. "If you change your mind, we have Mass at 8:30, 10, and 11:30 this morning. You can call for the Sacrament of Reconciliation at any time," he said. "Thank you, Father," Scully said.
The priest remained a moment, then lightly brushed her hair with his fingertips and turned to walk back up the aisle toward Mulder. "I can give you a few more minutes, then I'll have to ask you to leave," he said.
"We won't be long," Mulder said.
Father Gretzky glanced back toward Scully, his expression one of concern. "You're sure she's all right?" he asked softly.
"She's tougher than she looks," Mulder said. The priest nodded once, but didn't appear convinced.
Dawn had come, pale and cold, by the time Mulder and Scully left the church. "Did you just turn down Communion?" Mulder asked as he unlocked the car door. She shot him a don't-you-start-too look. Although no Catholic theologian, Mulder was aware that turning down the services of a priest on a high holy day was a very big deal, and not like Scully at all. Suddenly he regretted all the times he'd twitted her about her faith. The last thing he wanted to do was damage her relationship with God. "That wasn't because of me, was it?" he asked.
"I told you once, Mulder. Not everything is about you," Scully said.
Mulder drew breath to argue with her, but then released it. She'd made it plain enough that she wanted him to butt out. He popped the lock for her and she slid into the passenger seat. Both of them remained silent during the ride back to Nye House.
Late in the morning, Mulder awoke to the sensation of Scully shaking him. "Mulder, wake up. There's somebody at the door," she said, her voice husky with sleep. He opened his eyes and looked up at her. She sat up in bed next to him, wearing one of his button-down shirts. The blue-and-white striped fabric had become as rumpled as the sheets lying bunched over her lap. Sunlight streamed from behind the closed curtains and backlit her tousled hair, giving her an irregular aura. Mulder just stretched out and enjoyed the sight of her. The sunlit morning almost let him forget the unexplained terrors of the night before, and there was nothing he wanted more than to spend the rest of the day in bed with her.
The phone trilled sharply. With reluctance, Mulder rolled over and picked up the receiver. "Mulder."
"Agent Mulder, this is Detective Davis from Yarmouth. Can you come to the door?" the voice on the phone said.
"Yeah, hang on," Mulder said. He got up and pulled on his jeans and a sweater. With luck, Davis had caught Kristie's killer or rescued the two kids Scully saw in the storm last night. Mulder didn't let his hopes get too high; he knew his luck tended to fall into the bad-to-none category.
He opened the door to find the mustached detective tucking his cell phone into an inner pocket of his trench coat. Davis' gray 3-piece suit was immaculate except for the reddish Vineyard mud that clung to his cuffs and shoes. Clearly he'd been up and busy for quite a while. Mulder scratched his day-old growth of beard and felt like a slacker.
"Sorry to have to disturb you, Agent. How's your partner?" Davis asked. Something in the detective's overly casual manner made it obvious he knew that Mulder need only turn around to ask.
Mulder could just feel Scully cringe, even though Davis hadn't said anything inappropriate. In a way that made it worse -- someone with nothing to hide would have missed the embarrassing connotations of the question. "She'll be fine. How can I help you, Detective?"
"A couple of troopers picked up John McBer outside Oak Bluffs last night, although he claimed to be Jim MacDonald at the time. They're holding him for driving under the influence," Davis said.
Mulder recognized the name of the drug dealer Kristie had been scheduled to testify against. "Have you talked to him yet?"
"No. That's what I came to ask you to do," Davis said. He must have read Mulder's doubtful look because said, "Chief Luce recommended you. He said you'd been part of the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit and that you have a knack for interrogations."
"Joey said that?" Mulder asked.
"Actually he said that he'd known you since you were five years old, and that you were the greatest mind-fuck there ever was," Davis said. Okay, that he could imagine Joe saying. "I take it McBer isn't desperate to confess to anything," Mulder said.
Davis' brief smile didn't reach his eyes. "You could say that. He's out on bond, charged with the murder of a narcotics agent in 1997. The case against him isn't great, but the prosecutor took it when Miss Herron turned State's evidence. Now that she's dead, McBer knows he's got a good chance of getting off if he just keeps his mouth shut. It all seems a little convenient."
Mulder ran his fingers back through his hair, trying to think. It had been a long time since he'd consulted on an interrogation. It had been a long time since anyone cared about his professional opinion on anything. "Has he asked for his lawyer yet?"
"Not last I checked. All he knows is he was brought in for drunk driving and that the judge is almost certainly going to revoke his bond -- which was 3 million dollars, by the way," Davis said.
"He posted that?" Mulder asked. He tried to imagine the judge's reaction to the news that McBer had actually bonded out. He was pretty sure he could guess the prosecutor's reaction. The guy was probably ready to tear a phone book in half.
"McBer's father used to own Youngstown Steel, but the family's not so rich they ought to have a spare 3 million lying around. I think he has some friends who are willing to pay up front to make sure he never has to say too much in court," Davis said.
Terrific. Now McBer was a mob-connected drug dealer. "You're right. Those are about the longest odds on a confession I ever heard," Mulder said.
"If you're not comfortable just say so. We can go ahead without you," Davis said. Again, the words were neutral, but the way the detective looked steadily at Mulder made the statement into a challenge.
Mulder wondered, did this man want his help that badly? Or was it simply that the investigators had very little to lose? If they gambled on the FBI's Least Wanted and everything hit the fan, they might just be able to shift some of the blame onto Mulder.
He released his breath slowly and came to a decision. "Okay. I'll need as much information on him as you can find. If he's ever had a psyche evaluation done as part of a court proceeding or a prison intake, I'd really be interested in that."
Davis nodded as if satisfied. "I'll see what I can do. How soon can you be ready?"
"Give me 10 minutes to get rid of my Don Johnson look," Mulder said, running his hand over his beard stubble.
"Sure. I'll call the Suffolk County Sheriff's Department and see what they can fax over," Davis said. He retrieved his phone and walked toward the stairs dialing.
After Davis' question about her, Scully quietly retreated to the room's tiny bathroom. She stood at the old-fashioned sink, unwinding the gauze around her hands while the two men talked in the doorway. She felt very fragile, like a pane of glass. If someone pushed her she felt she might fall to the floor and shatter.
Scully looked at her reflection in the mirror with grim dismay. Her skin was very pale and dark circles stood out underneath her eyes. The ashy contrast made her eyes seem too bright, as if she had a high fever. She remembered what Dr. Neumann in the ER had said about getting a CT scan done. Gingerly, she pressed her fingertips against the flesh around her eyes and nose, the area that had once concealed the tumorous mass. Her examination caused her no pain or bleeding. If the cancer had returned it might have gone somewhere else, perhaps deeper into her brain.
The priest at Our Lady of Refuge had offered her the Sacraments of Communion and Anointing of the Sick early that morning, and her refusal of both seemed very strange even to herself. If she was going to refuse the Sacraments, why had she gone to the church in the first place?
She'd been seeking comfort, safety . . . no, it was more than that. She'd been seeking a connection to something beyond the suffocating limits of everyday experience -- something like the power she had touched out in the woods. Yet the Sacraments were so bound up with life's prosaic milestones that she feared they would pull her back into the circle of ordinariness, away from the numinous edge she was contemplating.
When she shut her eyes she could still see the woods by the graveyard -- moonlight sparkling on new-fallen snow, the pale little figures huddled in a spreading dark stain. "Stay," the girl with the knife had said. Scully still felt the pull of her call. The vision's icy desolation spoke to her in a language she'd never heard outside her own dreams. The child's loneliness was Scully's own. It reminded her of the words of the psalm: like "deep calling to deep."
When Scully lost her daughter and any future chance of motherhood, it was like having half of herself cut away. The tiny children in the woods had lost their mother. They needed her. The three of them fit together, like fingers into a glove. Despite all reason, Scully ached to feel those small, chilled bodies nestled against her own, filling the terrible space Emily left.
She heard Mulder come back into the room, reciting a line from "Mission: Impossible" to himself: "Your mission, Mr. Phelps, should you choose to accept it . . ."
"What was that about?" Scully asked. Somewhat to her surprise, she sounded almost like her usual self.
"Detective Davis just asked me to help interrogate John McBer," Mulder said. "Getting a confession out of him is going to be like selling Perrier to a drowning man." He walked into the bathroom and Scully moved over to give him space at the sink. "How are your hands?" he asked.
"They're fine," she said.
He glanced down at her bruised and stitched skin and said, "In that case 'fine' doesn't look too good." He unzipped the small traveling case resting on the back of the sink and pulled out his electric razor.
There was something bizarre about the two of them sharing a sink while calmly discussing murder and mayhem. Just another morning in the Twilight Zone for Mulder and Mrs. Spooky. "I'll be all right," she insisted.
"If you're not, will you call me? It doesn't matter if I'm still in with McBer. Davis says they can get along without me anyway," Mulder said.
"I'll call you," Scully said.
He stopped unwinding the razor's cord and looked down at her. "Promise?" he asked.
She managed the three-fingered Girl Scouts' salute with her unbandaged right hand. "Scout's honor," she said.
Mulder reached out and gently folded her first and fourth fingers down so she was flipping him off. "That's what you're really trying to tell me, isn't it?" Scully smiled despite herself, and for the first time she felt truly present in the room with him. "I'm not the one who said it," she said. "I think you should talk less and shave more. You've got a lot of Perrier to unload."
He seemed to relax at the change in her manner. "So I'll throw in one of those little drink umbrellas," he said. She slipped by him as he hunted for an electrical outlet hidden in the dizzying Victorian pattern of the wallpaper.
Scully sat down in the little round-backed chair by the window and waited until Mulder's razor started buzzing. Once he was occupied, she used her cell phone to call Martha's Vineyard Hospital and ask if any injured children had been admitted late in the night. None had. She wasn't all that surprised; she'd already begun to suspect that the bloody little girl with the gray eyes had been beyond human help for a long, long time.
Scully hit the "end" button and sat with her hands in her lap, folded around the black rectangle of the phone. The knuckles of her right hand were swollen and discolored, with a line of black stitches like barbed wire marching across them. She lifted her left hand and looked at the cuts across the palm. They were nearly identical to the defense wounds found on Kristie Herron's body.
She felt she understood that troubled young woman, who in all likelihood had given birth to a stillborn child. Scully wondered if Kristie had also felt called toward the darkness beyond the graveyard. Had she known the risks and gone anyway, hoping what dwelled out there would fill the hollow space inside her?
Mulder's razor switched off, and Scully quickly replaced her phone on a trunk at the end of the bed, among her bloodied clothes. There was no real reason to keep her activities secret. Why should it bother Mulder if she called the hospital?
The truth was she wanted to avoid his questions. She feared he would sense her thoughts and be horrified. Then he'd hover around her like a mother hen and keep her from -- Scully shied away from thinking, //returning to the bloodied spot among the crime scene markers.// She told herself Mulder's well-meaning attention would simply get in her way. She had a personal stake in this investigation now, too. There were people she wanted to interview, and Irv Stuckey was high on the list.
She made herself very busy putting on the less-soiled articles of her clothing as Mulder came out of the bathroom. "Are there any drug stores open on Sunday around here? I want to get the script for antibiotics filled as soon as possible. Having my hands get infected is the last thing I need," she said.
He looked a little taken aback by her sudden hurry to leave. "Probably not around Chilmark. You could try down-island, Edgartown or Oak Bluffs," Mulder said.
"All right, I'll do that. Are you riding with Detective Davis, or do you need the car?" she asked.
"I guess I don't need it," Mulder said. He picked up his keys from the little oval nightstand and offered them to her.
"Thanks," she said. She stood on her toes and kissed him gently. He said nothing, but she felt his eyes on her as she gathered her things together and headed out the door.
"See you," he called.
Mulder felt uneasy as he watched his partner go. Something was bothering her and she didn't want to talk about it, that much was plain. He repressed his urge to follow and badger her into talking to him. //If she wants privacy that's her prerogative. She doesn't have to tell you everything,// he thought. The last thing either of them needed was for him to turn possessive out of fear of losing her.
He gathered the few things he would need for the coming police interview with McBer: the Narcotics Anonymous book Scully had found in Kristie's bedroom; his reading glasses; his cell phone. As he locked up the room and walked down the hall to meet Detective Davis, he tried to keep his mind focused on the task ahead. Scully was better at staying out of trouble than he was. She said she was fine, and he'd have to take her at her word.
Davis was standing at the foot of the stairs. "I talked to Suffolk County. Most of the information you want is in Concord," he said, naming the state prison just outside Boston. "McBer was there between '93 and '95 for cocaine possession. They had him on intent to deliver too, but the court reversed the conviction on appeal. The arrest wasn't as clean as it should've been." Mulder walked beside the detective as they crossed the front room. "This time it has to be done right," Davis continued. "They call that lawyer of McBer's 'Jaws,' and it's not just because he's a legal shark. The guy mouths off to the media a lot and gets them circling around an investigation. He's gotten a couple of acquittals by essentially putting the arresting law enforcement agency on trial. I think it's only fair to warn you."
Oh, great. Skinner was going to love this. Mulder stopped at the front door and said, "Being the scapegoat's nothing new for me, but I think it's fair that *you* know I'm not officially working this case. I'm just here with my partner."
"Actually, you are working," Davis said. "Your A.D.'s been enthusiastic about having you guys involved with this investigation. He left us an off-hours contact number Friday afternoon, and I got your official participation approved five minutes ago."
"Skinner did what?" Mulder asked. Skinner hated bad PR, and he was willing to officially assign Mulder to a job like this? There was no question that Scully's misgivings were confirmed -- something big was about to go down in D.C.
Davis' look of satisfaction was unmistakable. Mulder figured he was happy to have the FBI between him and the first volley of crap that the media was likely to throw. "A.D. Skinner said he has the utmost confidence in you. Back in Boston you yourself said we were going to want your help. You getting cold feet?" the detective asked.
Open mouth, insert foot. "No," Mulder said. "Let's get going." He followed Davis out to the car, wishing he'd gotten more than five hours of sleep the night before. //You used to love doing this kind of thing under pressure,// he told himself. He'd seldom experienced anything like the adrenaline high he got in the BSU, doing work other people could "appreciate," as Skinner put it. //Then again, there was the insomnia, the chain smoking, the broken relationships . . .//
Once Davis pulled out of the gravel driveway and turned east toward Edgartown, Mulder pulled his cell phone from his jacket pocket and set Kristie's NA book on his lap. The book was still wrapped in a battered dustjacket taken from a French/English dictionary.
Davis glanced down at it. "What is that?" he asked.
"My partner and I found it at the Herrons' house last night," Mulder said. He opened the cover and revealed the handwritten names and phone numbers that dotted the blank first page. "Have you spoken to Brenda, Kim, Amber, Jane, Lisa, Kevin--"
Davis glared at him and said, "No. You might have let us know you'd found that."
"It was a busy night," Mulder said. "I'm putting my first bet on Brenda," he said, pointing to the circled name with the star next to it. There were three numbers below, labeled "H," "W," and "cell." He dialed the "H" number with his thumb.
He listened while the phone rang and rang. "Come on, Brenda," he said. Finally there was a click and the answering machine picked up. Mulder hung up and dialed her mobile phone, fidgeting with the torn dustjacket while the phone rang. "This reminds me of the night before Junior Prom," he said, which got no noticeable reaction from Davis. Scully would have thought it was funny.
At last a woman answered. "Hello?" She said.
"Hi -- is this Brenda?"
A static-filled pause followed. "Who is this?" the woman asked. Mulder got the impression that if he gave the wrong answer she'd hang up and call the cops. He supposed a lot of ex-addicts had people they'd rather not take phone calls from.
"I'm Special Agent Fox Mulder with the FBI. I'm helping investigate Kristie' Herron's death and I wanted to ask you a few questions," he said.
"This is a federal case?" For some reason she sounded pleased. "Then you nailed McBer."
"What makes you say that?" Mulder thought he'd managed to keep the excitement out of his voice. He wished to God he was recording this phone call.
"You don't *know?* His connections to the 'Columbian export business,'" Brenda said. She had a deep, husky voice, like that of a woman who'd long been a heavy smoker. "I hoped you'd caught whichever one of them did it."
"So you think McBer ordered a hit," Mulder said. Davis was trying to keep one eye on the road and one eye on him. Mulder wondered what the detective would have paid for a speaker phone just then.
"She lived out here all her life. Don't expect me to believe she walked off that cliff by accident," Brenda said.
"Did she say anything that made you think she was afraid?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, she did. When she called me Tuesday night," Brenda said.
"6:30 maybe -- no, 7, because it was already getting dark. It was weird because just a couple days before she told me she wasn't afraid of him anymore, that she was looking forward to putting him away. Then all of a sudden she tells me she's not testifying; she's backing out; she's calling the D.A. to tell him the deal's off. I told her, 'Girl, this is your *life.* The D.A. can reinstate those charges against you as fast as he dropped 'em,' and she said she'd rather go to prison than get shot in an alley. I was sure McBer had gotten to her somehow. I asked her, 'Who called you, Kristie? Who's threatening you?' But she kept saying, 'Nobody, nobody, nobody.' She never would tell me what scared her so bad, but I got her to put off calling the D.A. I wish I hadn't, now."
"You couldn't have known what would happen," Mulder said.
"No." Brenda's brash voice had grown quiet. "You'll get him, won't you? He's not going to get away with what he did?"
"We're going to do everything we can," Mulder said. "Is there anything else you can remember, something somebody said, even if it didn't seem important at the time?"
"I've been trying to think, but I can't come up with anything that would prove he did it. It's just a strong gut feeling. Believe me, if I could hand him over to you on a silver platter I would," she said.
Mulder thanked her and gave her instructions on how to contact him in case she thought of anything else. He pulled a notepad from his coat pocket and scratched a few notations into it.
Davis seemed to be having trouble focusing on the road. "Well, what did you get?" he asked.
"Enough to make me really interested in what McBer was doing last Tuesday," Mulder said, not bothering to look up from the paper. He'd often claimed his inner child was a little shit, and he was enjoying the detective's fidgeting immensely.
There was only one ferry company that made runs to Martha's Vineyard during the off-season, and Mulder dialed its number from memory. It didn't take long for the receptionist to find a deck hand who remembered a man in a wheelchair driving a specially modified Ford Prospector van. The van required a double-wide parking space so the chair lift could operate, an accommodation that might have been difficult on a more crowded run. The van and its driver were so unusual that the ferry worker could give the exact time and date he'd seen them: Tuesday, April 11, at the 10:45 a.m. Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven crossing.
Mulder shared this information with Davis, who made a few calls of his own to determine Kristie's schedule on the 11th. Before they reached Edgartown they had a critical window of time: between 6:10, when Kristie clocked out at her job at a grocery store in Aquinnah, and just before 7 p.m. when she arrived home. The drive itself should not have taken more than 15 minutes.
By the time they pulled into the lot behind the Dukes County House of Correction, Davis had stopped giving Mulder those dry, knowing looks. Clearly, Mulder had come a long way from the nutcase in the autopsy bay in the detective's estimation. As they stepped out of the car into the cutting spring wind, Davis asked, "What did you leave the BSU to do, again?"
"I work on the X-Files Unit," Mulder said, shrugging his coat more squarely onto his shoulders. "I chase aliens. I thought they'd told you that."
"Aliens," Davis said. He didn't seem sure whether Mulder was serious or not.
"Aliens, mutants . . . we get a pretty good variety of cases, really," Mulder said, leading the way toward the small, unmarked door in the back of the building. The Dukes County Jail did not look like a lock-up. One hundred and twenty-five years old, it had been built to resemble a whaling captain's house, complete with a fanlight over the door and imposing white columns at the corners of the front porch.
Mulder hit the buzzer that would alert the jail staff that they were waiting. He turned to Davis, who stood with his hands tucked into his armpits. The bright sunshine gave hardly any warmth at all. "I had a case similar to this once," Mulder said. "A quadruple amputee who was able to master the art of astral projection decided to settle some old scores by committing several murders. I admit I was worried about how to get charges filed, but one of his victims solved the problem by getting up out of his hospital bed and shooting the guy. It's sort of a story about overcoming obstacles."
To his credit, Detective Davis simply would not be shocked. He squinted up at Mulder and said, "I suppose you're going to tell me McBer can do this too?"
"Of course he can't," Mulder said, "It's obvious the cuts on Kristie's body were made by somebody with limited strength and mobility. You think that in his revenge fantasies McBer would give himself the same physical disabilities he has in life? Come on. That's why I classify paranormal phenomena by motivation whenever possible. It saves so much time that might be wasted in empty conjecture."
Whatever Davis' reply would have been, it was forestalled when the door opened and a brown-shirted corrections officer leaned out. "Agent Mulder and Detective Davis?" the officer said. Mulder and Davis produced their badges. "Follow me," the c.o. said.
The room beyond was a kind of wire-mesh cage with a bank of metal drawers along one wall for officers to lock their weapons in. As they disarmed, Davis glanced up at Mulder and muttered something about the Justice Department that ended with, "Only under Clinton."
The c.o. produced a jangling collection of keys and opened the door to the cage, then the ordinary wooden door that led to the jail's cramped office space. Among the too-numerous desks stood large group of officers, some wearing the browns of the Sheriff's Department and some in the blues of the State Police. Joe Luce caught his eye and nodded at him. Joe was in civilian clothes, jeans and a sweatshirt printed with the logo of a local marina. He looked about as tired as Mulder felt.
"Mr. Mulder," a woman said. Mulder looked over and saw Liz Hawley, late of the West Tisbury PD, wearing the star-shaped badge of the Dukes County sheriff. Hawley had been one of the people most interested in charging Mulder with the murder of his father. She was a heavy woman and the close-fitting shirt and slacks of the Sheriff's uniform didn't suit her, but there was clearly muscle under her bulk. Mulder wouldn't have wanted to tangle with her in a dark alley. She was giving him a cold stare right out of "High Noon."
"Sheriff Hawley," Mulder said.
"Chief Luce here tells us that your background at the FBI may help us pull a couple of investigations out of the fire. If you have any ideas, we'd sure like to hear them," she said.
//And then one of the boys'll git us a rope . . .// "Give me half an hour with McBer's file. I'll be able to give you recommendations after that," Mulder said.
Hawley said, "I hope so."
Mulder pretended not to notice the chilly looks the local officers gave him while a c.o. went to pull McBer's information off the fax machine. There were people who could see past the death of Mulder's father, but no Island cop was going to forget John Lee Roche or what had almost happened to an eight-year-old mainland girl. Under the circumstances, Mulder accepted their hostility as his due.
The returning corrections officer handed him a stack of papers about the thickness of a small phone book. Mulder appropriated a desk for himself and settled his reading glasses on his nose. As he read through the blurry third-generation copies, he began to piece together the strategy he would use with their murder suspect.
Soon his apprehensions began to fade. The case was not impossible, and as he would have told anyone who asked, he was very good at what he did.
Scully did not get out of Nye House as quickly as she wanted to, mostly because there was nowhere to go. Her phone inquiries revealed that every store east of Vineyard Haven was shut down between Saturday afternoon and Monday morning. She had to ask Leigh for some gauze for her hands, which were throbbing despite the Tylenol-3 tablets the ER doctor had discharged her with. The little proprietress not only produced a first-aid kit but would not hear of her leaving without clean clothing. Most of the clothes Scully had with her were spattered with dried blood from the night before. Unfortunately, Leigh was about Scully's height but much heavier, while her daughter Tammy was considerably taller. Scully stood quietly by while Leigh rummaged in Tammy's closet, coming up with dusty clothes the young woman hadn't worn since high school.
Leigh was more than happy holding up both ends of the conversation as she reminisced about her youth and Mulder's childhood. "He was a great favorite of my mother's. She used to have him recite "Annabelle Lee" for her. He could memorize practically anything if he read it once or twice."
"Not Poe's "Annabelle Lee?" Scully asked, holding up a shapeless white sweater.
"Oh, yes. I remember one evening we were out with our guests in the garden, watching the fireflies come out. Suddenly I heard my mother say, 'Aha!' and I turned to see her pull Fox from a clump of her raspberry bushes, still sucking juice off his fingers. He was about eight or nine years old, just a skinny little fellow in shorts with scratches on his knees. Mother pretended to be very cross and explained that this was little Fox Mulder from up the road and that he'd been into her raspberries again. She said, 'Fox, I won't scold you on one condition -- you must recite "Annabelle Lee" for everyone.' We thought she was joking and everybody laughed. Then he actually began reciting it. He got such a smile on his face when he saw how amazed we were."
Leigh shook out a dusty pair of stretch pants and said, "It *was* funny, hearing a fidgety little boy with two of his teeth missing say things like, 'this maiden she lived with no other thought, than to love and be loved by me.' I'm sure he had no idea what half of it meant. 'The sepulcher there by the sea' indeed! He was simply glad for all the attention and that he wasn't in trouble."
Mulder had not retained that innocence for long, and Scully felt a pang of tenderness for him that was almost grief. "He never told me that story," she said. "He doesn't talk about his childhood much at all."
"He may prefer not to think about it," Leigh said. "For a while he was a terribly, terribly unhappy boy. He did odd jobs for my parents when he came to stay with his father. He'd had some kind of falling out with the children he used to play with, and there really wasn't much for him to do except get into trouble -- and he was very good at doing that. Not that it was all his fault. There probably wasn't anywhere on the Island he could go without meeting with the kind of attention he didn't want.
"Once I found him in reading a comic book in the loft of the utility shed. The picture on the cover was horrible -- bloody, screaming people running away from some kind of spaceship shooting fire. The way he was hiding with it made me think he wasn't supposed to have it, but he didn't seem to be enjoying it at all. How can I describe the look on his face? Like a man looking through the newspaper for an obituary he doesn't want to see. He seemed truly frightened, which was odd because he was a great big boy and here it was broad daylight. I didn't have the heart to tease him about it. All I asked was, 'How can you sleep at night after reading things like that?' He looked up at me and said, 'I can't.' I believed him. His face was so pale and he had dark circles under his eyes. Had it been any other boy I'd have thought he was into drugs, but somehow not Fox. He was quite rational, quite lucid . . . just so very frightened when there ought to have been nothing to fear. It was a little disturbing, really." Leigh shook her head. Her thick glasses magnified her eyes so that they looked like a sorrowful bug's. "I can't say I was pleased to hear that he'd gone off to England to study the criminally insane. I hoped he'd grow out of this . . . morbid phase. But he never has, has he?"
"Not exactly," Scully admitted.
"I know it can't all be my mother's fault, but I don't expect all that Poe at such a young age could have been good for him," Leigh said.
"I've never heard him complain about it. Besides, Mulder finds what he does very rewarding. Well, he usually does," Scully said. There had been notable exceptions, the Siberian gulag and so on, not that she was going to mention such things. Even still, Leigh did not seem overly reassured.
In the end Scully selected one of the least dusty-looking outfits, a pair of black stretch pants and an oversized white button-down that would have been the height of fashion in about 1988. She thanked Leigh profusely for her help but insisted she had to do errands before the pain in her hands and bruised ribs became too much for her. Leigh let her go somewhat reluctantly. It seemed the detectives and technicians who made up the rest of Nye House's current clientele weren't any fun to talk to.
As Scully walked out to the car in the icy sunlight, she wondered if Leigh had tried to tell stories about Mulder's childhood to the other officers, too. For his sake, she hoped not.
The office area of the Dukes County Jail was starting to look terrible, which was exactly what Mulder had in mind. At his direction, the other officers had removed all personal items from their desks and cleared a large space in the middle of the room. Mulder jostled some of the overhead fluorescent bulbs until the room's corners were enveloped in flickering dimness. When they were done, the only bright light shone directly down on a bare desk in the middle of the room.
Mulder stood back, admiring his handiwork. Sheriff Hawley walked up to him and asked, "All right, Agent Mulder, what is this . . . haunted house supposed to accomplish?" She gestured at the dimly pulsing lights.
Mulder couldn't resist milking her annoyance for just a moment by sitting down on the desk and polishing his glasses on the sleeve of his shirt. "It's meant to put McBer off-balance. He's a classic anti-social personality -- a born manipulator. He can't take control of a situation if he can't figure out what's going on."
"And sitting in the dark will keep him from taking control," Hawley said.
"He won't be in the dark. He'll be right here in the light with me. You guys will be in the dark, able to see him a lot better than he'll be able to see you. It'll drive him crazy," he assured her.
She gave him a cold, hard look. "You'd better be right," she said.
"I'm right." Mulder turned to Joe, who was looking uncomfortable in his borrowed corrections officer uniform. "I want you to do two things when you bring him down. Let him know the OUIL is a misdemeanor. Treat it as a hassle between him and the judge that set his bond. If he figures out how much trouble he's in he's likely to clam up and call his lawyer. Then tell him how the detectives called in this crazy FBI man to talk to him. Say I chase aliens. Tell him I'm obsessed with serial killers and I sleep with bloody crime scene photos pinned to the ceiling over my bed. Whatever it takes to get him curious about me. He's going to have to sit and talk to me to find out if I live up to my reputation."
"Aliens and serial killers. Got it."
"Good luck, Igor," Mulder said. He thought Joe repressed a smile. Joey had been an inspired Igor to Mulder's Dr. Frankenstein, back in the days when their psychological experiments were designed to run off their tagalong little sisters.
As Joe left to get their suspect, Mulder stood and set his folded his glasses down on the desk. Given the logistics of bringing a disabled man down the stairs, it would likely be at least five minutes before McBer arrived. Mulder was under enough pressure without spending the time before the interview under the hostile gaze of Hawley and her deputies. He excused himself to the officer nearest the door and walked into the hall.
He had no particular destination in mind, but found he headed instinctively for the front door and the jail's oddly inviting front porch. The desk guard gave him a look of dull surprise as he signed in and out at the same time. "I'll be right back," Mulder said.
When he stepped out onto the porch, a gust of icy wind whipped his hair and flattened his clothes against his body. He had to shade his eyes from the brilliant sunlight, but exposure to the elements felt real and good. All around him lay Edgartown's empty waterfront streets. Restaurants, inns, and boathouses seemed well-kept but abandoned, waiting until the tourist season to unbolt their doors. Down Dock Street he could see the bare masts of boats moored at the public wharf, and beyond them, Katama Bay shining almost too brightly to look at.
Home. He'd forgotten how much he loved this island, with its summer crowds and its wintertime desolation. It made him feel a fresh wave of remorse for Roche. He didn't remember much from the three-hour reaming he'd gotten from OPR after that case, but he did recall the general theme of betrayal. There was a long list of things he was supposed to have betrayed, which he should have paid more attention to since he'd been required to sign it. At the time, what had hurt most was that he had betrayed the trust of Caitlin and her mother. He had also betrayed the Vineyard and the people who had once been like family to him. Perhaps McBer was his chance to atone.
Mulder took a deep breath and released it, willing himself to learn from the mistakes he'd made. Wanting something from men like Roche and McBer was like arming them. He had to distance himself from his desire to make good. //Don't think about what you want. Think about what he wants,// he told himself. He had to make McBer want to cooperate with him. //Just like selling Perrier to a drowning man,// he thought. He glanced at his watch and saw his grace time was nearly up. With regret, he turned and went back into the jail.
No sooner had he settled himself at the office's newly-central desk than he heard voices in the hall. Joe opened the door and held it while a stocky, dark-haired man in a wheelchair pushed himself in. McBer was still in his civilian clothes: cowboy boots, black leather jacket, jeans, and a black T-shirt. His long ponytail and droopy mustache gave him a sinister appearance, but Mulder knew those would be gone at any future trial. Without all the fashion statements, McBer would be a fairly handsome man in his early 30's, sitting in a wheelchair. He might even manage to look harmless. Mulder wondered if Jaws the attorney would stoop to replacing the sleek-bodied chair McBer was using now with a clunky hospital model. Davis had been right -- any incriminating statements Mulder got out of this guy had better be so clean they squeaked.
"This is Special Agent Fox Mulder from the FBI -- the guy I was telling you about," Joe said. McBer looked curious about him all right. Mulder wondered exactly what Joe had told him. He held his hand out. "John," he said. He'd decided that the false intimacy of calling McBer by his first name would be more demoralizing.
The man took his hand and grimaced at the coldness of his skin. "Jesus -- where'd they find you, the morgue?" McBer asked. Mulder had put his glasses on after coming in, and they'd fogged over very slightly -- on the inside. He had hoped McBer would notice.
"Actually I'm from D.C.," he said. G-Men, especially spooky ones, weren't supposed to have a sense of humor. "John, I want to ask you some questions. I'm going to need to tape our conversation, if that's all right with you."
"Fine with me, so long as nobody fools with the tape," McBer said.
"You can have your lawyer ask for a copy of it if you're worried," Mulder said. He turned the tape on and told McBer his rights, then asked him if he understood. He did. If this case went to hell, it would not be because Jaws made a successful bid to suppress the tape on 5th amendment grounds.
"Could you state your full name please?" Mulder asked.
"John Edward McBer."
"2700 Pebblestone, Boston, 02108."
The early questions were meant to set a rhythm, to get McBer comfortable.
Mulder's dry voice and the regular ticks of the tape recorder created a sense of hypnotic calm. Although the suspect remained relaxed and cooperative, he stole occasional glances at the officers in the dim corners of the room. Mulder was glad he couldn't ignore them. They were present to suggest the weight and power of the justice system that lay behind the crazy FBI man with the tape recorder.
"Do you know why you're here, John?" Mulder asked. His tone was almost gentle. People gave more interesting answers to a psychologist than to a cop.
"He says you want to talk to me about some murder," McBer said, gesturing toward Joe. "I guess you're supposed to be the FBI's expert on sickos. Did you really catch a guy who put people's organs in a blender?" Mulder blinked in surprise. When had Joe heard of his involvement in that case? "You mean James Sproule? I didn't catch him personally; I profiled him. I studied his crimes until I felt I understood him."
McBer looked somewhere between doubtful and disgusted. "You understand a guy who puts organs in a blender?"
"As well as anybody sane can," Mulder said.
"Uh-huh." McBer didn't seem convinced about the "sane" part. "So why'd he do it?"
"He thought he needed to drink bodily fluids in order to survive," Mulder said.
"And you understand that?" McBer asked. Mulder shrugged slightly as if he didn't see what the problem was.
"You're either a liar or a psycho," said McBer.
"I assure you that I'm neither," Mulder said. He looked intently into McBer's eyes a little longer than a sane person generally would. The other man appeared uncomfortable but did not look away. Before McBer could figure out how to respond, Mulder switched topics. "I have something I'd like you to look at," Mulder said. He opened a manila envelope and brought out a picture of Kristie, clipped from her obituary in that morning's paper. He pushed it across the desk. McBer glanced at it but did not pick it up.
"Do you know who she is?" Mulder asked.
"No." He looked at the picture too long for that to be true.
"Her name is Kristie Ann Herron. Sound familiar now?" Mulder leaned forward with his elbows on the desk, moving a bit further into the other man's space.
"Oh, her. She dated this guy I used to know. I heard he went to prison. I haven't seen her in a couple of years."
The line sounded rehearsed. Out of the corner of his eye Mulder thought he saw Davis writing something in a notebook. He made a point of turning to look, and McBer looked too. Good.
"Kristie was scheduled to testify against you in a murder trial. Did you know that?" Mulder asked.
McBer managed a rueful laugh that sounded almost natural. He seemed to gain confidence as he spoke: "Unfortunately. Look, Agent Mulder, that case was garbage. They've got a little bit of circumstantial evidence and the testimony of a cokehead. I mean, if she had all the information she said she had, why didn't she go to the police with it three years ago, when this supposedly happened? Why did she wait until she was facing time on possession charges before she told anybody? She made it up. To be honest, I'm surprised the prosecutor took the case -- unless she was paying him in kind, if you know what I mean."
Cold fury made Mulder long to pick McBer up and punch his lights out, wheelchair or no wheelchair. //Do not react. Don't give him any emotional response at all.// He thought of Scully sitting next to him during the Roche interview, sympathetic and rock steady. The memory dissipated some of the rage and reminded him how to behave. //Let McBer fling shit. It's not going to stick.// His voice remained nearly neutral as he said, "If she made it up, it's strange she knew so much about the crime scene."
"Maybe she shot this narc. Maybe she saw Brian do it and she's protecting him. How would I know? All I know is it wasn't me." There was a hostile look in his eyes that told Mulder they were treading on dangerous ground. If he spooked McBer too much about the '97 murder charge, he'd take the 5th and call Jaws.
Mulder backed off for the moment. "When was the last time you saw Kristie?" he asked.
McBer shrugged. "I kind of distanced myself from that crowd about two years ago. I had a little bit of trouble back in '93, and some friends finally convinced me I had to watch what company I was in. They'll take you down for just sitting in a car with a guy who's dealing, you know?"
"So you saw her last in 1998," Mulder said.
"I guess. Maybe. I mean I didn't really know her that well. It's possible there was a party or something and she was there and I just didn't notice," McBer said.
"Did you come out to the Vineyard to see her?" Mulder asked.
"No. I came out to visit a friend, Chuck Penry in Vineyard Haven. His number's 508-693-5767 if you want to call him." Mulder wrote down the number, along with a shorthand note about McBer's alternating vagueness and excessive helpfulness. That was a classic sign that a suspect was on the defensive, seeking to direct the interrogation. Whether or not McBer had sensed his reaction to the comment about Kristie, Mulder had not lost control of the interview.
Without looking up from his notepad, Mulder asked, "When did you get here?" This was a critical question, and he didn't trust himself not to telegraph his interest if he looked McBer in the eye.
He heard McBer's clothing rustle as he shifted position. "Yesterday."
"The afternoon -- I don't know. You could ask Chuck. Maybe he could tell you." Mulder was pretty sure Chuck had been coached to tell him something or other. He made a note to find out what Chuck Penry did for a living.
Mulder opened his manila folder and removed two pages he'd printed out on Hawley's computer. One was the web page of the Three Sisters Market where Kristie had worked. The photo included a partial image of the store's parking lot, for which Mulder thanked any deity that might exist. He was pretty sure McBer had approached Kristie there. The other page was a calendar for April, 2000. He'd circled Tuesday the 11th in red marker, and wrote "6:15 p.m." in the date box.
As soon as Mulder set the pages down on the desk, McBer became very still. He looked steadily at the picture of the grocery store, and Mulder could almost see the wheels of calculation turning in his mind. "What's that about?" McBer asked, gesturing at the papers.
"Do you remember what you were doing on this date?" Mulder asked, tapping the calendar square with the red markings.
"I was home," McBer said.
"No, I was fucking every member of the Dallas Cowgirls cheerleading squad. Yes, I was alone," McBer said.
Mulder sat back, taking some of the pressure off McBer by moving away. His goal was to wear the man down slowly, not drive him into a panic that would make him refuse to cooperate. "You understand you're not accused of anything but the drunk driving charge and the other charge in Suffolk County," Mulder said. He consciously avoided the word "murder."
"Yes." McBer seemed to relax a little.
"Your cooperation is purely voluntary -- this guy let you know that, right?" Mulder asked, gesturing at Joe.
"Yes," McBer said.
"If you can help us rule you out, then we can just drop this and it won't go any further," Mulder said.
"Fine. I've had nothing to do with her," McBer said looking at Kristie's picture. Significantly, he didn't ask what Mulder was going to rule him out as.
Mulder returned to safe questions for a while, asking how long McBer had known Chuck Penry, what the two had planned to do on the Island, and so on. He pushed the printout sheets to a corner of the desk where McBer would have to turn slightly to see them. Even though they were out of his direct line of sight, the man clearly found them distracting.
After a time, McBer stopped giving long answers to anything. The scare of seeing the circled date was starting to work on him. Mulder decided it was time to close in. "Do you know what happened to her, John?" he asked, pushing Kristie's picture more squarely in front of her suspected killer.
"She's dead," McBer said.
"When did you find out?"
"Did somebody tell you?" Mulder got no immediate answer. He prompted, "Was it in the newspaper . . .?"
"It was in the paper."
Mulder wrote that down. "Which one?"
"I don't know."
"They run this picture with it?" Mulder asked, pointing to the obituary photo.
"A different one?"
"It might have been a different one." Only a local paper would bother to run a victim's picture. If Kristie's death had been in the Boston papers at all, the article would have been buried on a back page. McBer hadn't quite admitted he'd been on the Vineyard before Saturday afternoon, but it was a start. Davis was scribbling something again.
"Do you remember how she died?" Mulder asked.
McBer shook his head slightly. "She fell over a cliff or something. I don't know." His failure to mention the knife wounds was the first indication of his innocence so far.
Mulder leaned forward on the desk again, placing his folded hands at the top edge of Kristie's picture. He spoke very gently, "Did you kill her, John?"
McBer didn't meet his eyes. "No."
"Did you plan to kill her?"
"Did you threaten her?"
"I never even saw her." McBer spoke through his clenched teeth, looking away at the printed calendar with its red ink markings.
"You want to hear a theory of mine?" McBer looked up at him. His expression probably mirrored that of the murdered narcotics agent as he'd watched the specially modified van roll slowly to a stop. "I think you came here from Woods Hole at 10:45 a.m. on Tuesday the 11th. You saw your friend Chuck and you made some 'arrangements' with him. About 5:30 you got in the van, drove out to the Three Sisters Market in Aquinnah and waited for Kristie to get off work. You parked behind her car and sat with the engine running." Mulder said. He wasn't sure McBer was breathing. The look of horrified fascination on his face told Mulder he hadn't missed yet. He continued, "She came out at around a quarter after six, and you rolled down the window and called her name. To soften her up you reminded her you knew her secret -- that she'd lost a baby last year in Boston. Did it make her cry, John?"
It seemed to take McBer a moment to realize he'd been asked a question. "I don't know what you're--" he began, but Mulder cut him off.
"While you had her there, trapped and scared, you leaned close to her and said, 'You'd better call the D.A. and tell him the deal's off. Otherwise you'll end up just like that narc.'" Mulder leaned in and pronounced the words in a menacing whisper, as McBer probably had. McBer's jaw dropped. He looked as if he half expected Mulder to stick out a forked tongue at him. "The threat involved being shot in an alley, didn't it, John? Or was the place you shot the narcotics officer more like an access road between warehouses?"
"I didn't shoot anybody," he said weakly.
"Did you push Kristie Herron over a cliff?" Mulder asked.
"I didn't -- I can't. How am I supposed to get to the edge of a cliff?" McBer asked, holding his hands out to indicate his wheelchair.
"If you're telling me it's impossible, then you're talking to the wrong guy. I see impossible things happen every day," Mulder said. He consciously imitated Skinner as he sat back and glared at the man. Skinner had a glare like a scalpel.
"You're crazy," McBer said. He turned to Joe and said, "This guy's a psycho." Joe didn't look at him. Mulder watched real horror cross McBer's face as he realized he might get away with one murder he'd committed only to have some nutcase FBI man get him convicted of another murder he hadn't.
"Are you willing to take a polygraph to prove I'm crazy?" Mulder asked. McBer looked uneasy but tempted. "You haven't got much to lose. We can't use the results against you in court."
"A polygraph about what?" McBer asked.
"Kristie Herron. Whether you killed her. Nothing about the other charge," Mulder said. Actually, he was worried that with three years to justify the shooting to himself, McBer could beat the box on the '97 murder.
McBer seemed to consider his options. "Fine. I'll do it," he said. Mulder heard uniforms rustling all around the room as officers could hardly contain their surprise.
"Let's be clear about this -- you're cooperating voluntarily. You can call a lawyer at any time. Understand?" Mulder asked. McBer nodded. Mulder asked, "Could you reply verbally for the tape?"
"Yes. I got it."
Mulder looked up at Joe and said, "Go." Outside McBer's line of vision, Joe gave him a thumbs-up.
"Come on, Mr. McBer. We're going to a room down the hall," Joe said, leading the other man to the door. The polygraph specialist from the Sheriff's Department was already standing by with a list of questions Mulder had written. The sooner this was done, the better -- before their suspect had a chance to change his mind.
After McBer left, Mulder signed off on the tape and shut the machine down. The interview had taken just over 40 minutes. That wasn't bad, even for him. He hadn't even used up both sides of the tape. To his gratified surprise, a couple of people started to applaud, but icy stares from several officers cut the clapping off quickly. The quiet that followed was strangely awkward and people began a dignified push to get out of the room.
Mulder took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Suddenly he was very tired. He heard footsteps on the hard carpet near the desk and looked up. Sheriff Hawley stood there, looking at him in the way Scully's brother Bill generally did. Mulder thought of it as the "I'd like to squash you like a bug" look. "Sheriff," he said.
"You sure know how to get what you want from people, don't you, Mr. Mulder?" she asked. "I always wondered how you managed to stay on this side of the cell bars. I guess now I know." He couldn't think of any good replies, which seemed to intensify her contempt. She turned on her heel and walked out.
Soon Mulder was alone in the dimly lit office. //Yeah,// he thought, //I really know how to win friends and influence people.//
Scully parked in the tiny gravel lot behind Oriel Photography, the little housefront shop Irv Stuckey ran in Menemsha. It didn't surprise her that the man had to take a night job. The village seemed to consist of a few dozen houses clustered around the edge of an ocean inlet. She doubted it was much of a tourist magnet even in summer. At the moment the only signs of habitation were a couple of very cold-looking men standing on the dock that ringed the harbor, fishing through holes chopped in the ice.
The photography shop was a squat, two-story gray house with an outdoor staircase that led to a separate entrance on the second floor. According to Leigh, Stuckey and his ex-wife lived in the upper story. Scully got out of the car and headed for the stairs. She found it eerie to be in the middle of a town and hear nothing but the wind and the sound of gravel crunching beneath her feet. It reminded her of Mulder's childhood nightmare about being the last person alive in the world. She wondered how many year-round residents of Menemsha had the same dream.
The cold made her bruised ribs ache as she climbed the weathered steps that zig-zagged up the back of the house. A rusty coffee can full of cigarette butts rested on the landing at the top. Unable to find a doorbell, she tapped on the door's glass panel with her gloved fingertips. Fortunately, the pane was loose and it rattled loudly.
"Mr. Stuckey?" she called. "Mr. Stuckey, I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI." She waited for several seconds but got no reply. Had he even heard her? The stitches on her knuckles prevented her from knocking, so she tapped again and said, "I work with Fox Mulder. I'm here to talk to you about the South Road Ghost."
Scully thought she heard voices inside. She was about to tap a third time when a gray-haired woman with a face like a bulldog's peered out of the door's little window. She heard the rattling of locks being undone, and then the door jarred open a crack. The bulldog-faced woman was quite short. She glared up at Scully and said, "Store's closed. This is a private entrance."
"I know, ma'am. I'm looking for Mr. Irv Stuckey. I was told he lived here." Scully showed the woman her badge and ID.
"You arresting him for something?" the woman asked. She sounded hopeful.
"He contacted my partner and me about a case. I only want to talk to him," Scully said.
"A 'case?'" the woman asked. Suddenly she seemed to make a connection. "You're from Washington," she said.
"That's right, ma'am. From the FBI's X-Files Unit," Scully said.
The woman scowled and said, "Oh, for Christ's sake." She turned and bellowed into the house, "Stuckey! The Mulder kid sent some girl to talk to you about your fairy story."
A muffled voice replied, "Would you just shut up and send her down, Emma?"
"He'll see you downstairs," Emma said, and slammed the door.
"Charming," Scully said under her breath. There was nothing else to do but walk back downstairs and around to the front entrance.
The sheltered front porch was probably nice enough in summer, but at the moment a cold wind coming off the water cut right through Scully's coat and her borrowed clothes. Trying to keep her back to the weather, she tugged the string of the heavy iron pull-bell that was bolted to the doorframe. It sounded like what it had likely been, a 19th century fire alarm. She heard a man inside say, "All right! All right -- keep your pantyhose on."
A little man with wispy gray hair opened the door and squinted at her out of the house's dimness. He was wearing button-down long underwear and bulky gray socks. "Mr. Stuckey?" Scully asked.
"So you read my fax after all," he said.
"Yes. I'd like to talk with you about that," Scully said.
"Come in," Irv said, moving aside out of the doorway. Scully walked past him into the shop. The windows had all been covered with an assortment of curtains, blankets, and sheets, but light from the open door revealed an old-fashioned cash register sitting on a counter at the back of the room. A couple of space heaters glowed orange but illuminated nothing. Once she was inside with the door closed, the gloom was formidable.
"Give me just a minute," Irv said. He walked back to a curtained-off inner door and passed through it into some unseen room.
As her eyes adjusted, Scully realized there was a camp cot near the space heaters. Irv had clearly just gotten out of it, half- tumbling its blankets to the floor. Somehow knowing this room served as Irv's bedroom made her uncomfortable. She ran her hands over the wall by the door until she found a light switch.
When she flicked it on she found herself in a tiny photo gallery. The walls were covered with matted prints, and photography equipment rested on shelves behind the counter. A camera with a long telephoto lens was mounted on a tripod in the corner.
Scully looked over some of the framed prints. Many were standard photos of local architectural detail -- wood-shingled Victorian house spires, delicate fanlights above lavender or teal-painted doors, a round window behind the wrought-iron railing of a widow's walk.
The nature photos were more to her liking. Most were in black and white, and they tended to have a stark, almost Japanese asymmetry to them. One print drew her particular attention. It was of an ice sheet with an irregular hole punched in it. The water inside was the strange, luminous green of the ice-locked sea, and deep below its surface lay something dark. No matter how hard Scully looked at the dark shape she could not make out its outline. A rock? A spar? It created a sinister impression, as if it were waiting for someone to remain too long by the hole. She glanced at the title, written in pencil on the mat: "Window Through The Ice."
She frowned and looked up at the other pictures on the wall. For the first time she realized how many of them were of literal windows, and the telephoto lens in the corner took on a darker significance. The only human subject in the whole collection was a young girl, or rather her eyes, which were opened so wide they reflected back a tiny, distorted image of the photographer. Scully looked for a few seconds before turning away in distaste. She had the feeling there was some subtle violence in the picture, as if Irv were trying to peer inside the girl. She thought that if it had been up to her, she would have questioned Irv Stuckey very carefully after Samantha Mulder disappeared.
Soon the man himself returned from the back room, tucking the tails of his flannel shirt into his creased and faded jeans. Two dogs followed him, an enormous black Lab and a little, curly- haired mutt. The mutt trotted boldly up and sniffed Scully's shoe.
"Step in something?" Irv asked.
"Not that I know of." Normally she liked dogs, but she was starting to make up her mind not to like Irv's. She didn't appreciate this one getting its wet nose all over the navy leather of her pump.
"Hey, Meatloaf, back off," Irv said. The dog scooted back slightly on its stubby legs, wagging its tail so hard its whole butt wiggled. "Looks like you've been having some adventures out here, Miss Scully," Irv said.
Scully didn't like his little smirk, and she fixed him with as cold a look as she could manage. "What makes you say that?" she asked. She'd purposely kept her gloves on her bandaged hands in order to conceal the kind of adventures she'd been having.
"You're wearing someone else's pants," Irv said, chuckling.
"Excuse me?" She briefly considered slapping him. Federal agents weren't allowed fits of ladylike indignation, which was a pity.
"Come on now, look at you. You've got on your tailored coat and your hair done just so. You got on shoes that match your handbag, but none of it matches those baggy black pants. They give you elephant knees, girl. You take a spill in the bog and have to go slumming at the church bazaar?" Irv asked.
Scully willed herself to stay professional and preserve some dignity. "I can't remember the last time a man paid so much attention to my outfit, Mr. Stuckey," she said. She didn't know why she was surprised. All around her was evidence of Irv's relentless gaze.
"Oh, I notice all kind of things," he said. He smiled at her like an evil gnome.
She was determined to steer the conversation back to the case. "I'd like you to explain some of the things in your fax, like what you meant about 'what happened in Boston,'" Scully said.
"Oh, that. The Herron girl had a child that died -- it was the dope that did it in. I don't think she ever did tell her folks. A shame, the parents always seemed decent. Of course, you never can tell," Irv said.
"And how do you know all that?" Scully asked.
His smile broadened. "I've got ways and ways," he said.
"And I've got ways of reporting you for obtaining medical records under false pretenses," Scully said.
She was gratified when that wiped the grin off his face. "I never did," he said. "It's part of her police record. The hospitals report these women when they come in pregnant, higher than a kite. They throw some of 'em in jail, but not pretty girls with folks on the Vineyard, I guess."
"You wrote away for her police record?" Scully asked.
"Sure. Sunshine laws are the best thing that ever happened to this country. Sometimes they want you to pay through the nose for copying, but it's usually worth it. I'm sure Fox would agree with me," Irv said.
Scully thought the comparison did Mulder a great disservice. "Mulder doesn't go prying into the police records of his neighbors," she said.
"Oh, yes he does. That boy never could leave a secret alone. Being an FBI agent and all, he doesn't even have to pay. I bet on his off-hours he does nothing but pry. Well, almost nothing but," Irv said. Scully pretended not to see his knowing little leer, but it irked her. This was exactly the kind of subtle harassment she dreaded having to face from her co-workers, much less people she was interviewing. She gave him her best icy glare as she tried to drag him back on track. "Explain to me about the South Road Ghost."
Irv shrugged. "What's there to tell? They say women who've murdered their children hear Mary Brown calling to them from deep in the woods. It's always a wild night in winter, and some say you can hear the voices of those dead babies crying in the wind. If a woman follows the voices she'll be found slashed to death the next day. I once spoke to an old down-island woman who knew someone it happened to. Deaf lady -- never heard a thing in her life but her own dead child calling her name. She went out into the woods around the graveyard and never came back."
Irv's smirk returned as he said, "You know, you ought to ask Fox about it. Ask him what his mama heard out in those trees. After all this time they won't find that girl of hers, not above the sod, anyway."
"Mr. Stuckey, that is enough," Scully snapped. She was surprised at the depth of her anger at him; she was nearly shaking with it. "The rumors you've spread have caused his family a lot of pain. It's been 26 years, and it's time to stop." Leigh Williams had told her how Mulder had gone from a friendly little boy to a withdrawn and unhappy adolescent. How much of that suffering was Irv Stuckey directly responsible for?
His pale blue eyes widened a moment at her vehemence, but he wasn't off-balance long. "You're protective, aren't you?" he said slyly. "I expect he likes that. He always did have a thing for mother-figures. I suppose that's only natural, Teena being the way she was. Tell me, is he an enemas and plastic pants boy?"
"What?" was all Scully could think to say. Irv had gotten so inappropriate she hardly knew how to respond.
"Well, never mind -- it was his father who made him the time-bomb he is, anyway. I'm surprised the FBI lets him walk around armed with all those excessive force citations in his file," Irv said.
"Where did you --" Scully began, then she realized she knew. "You made a FOIA request for the contents of his personnel file."
"He's a federal employee. His file's a public record," Irv said. "You'd be surprised at the kind of information you can get if you ask: probate records, filings with friend of the court . . ." He gave Scully a look as if she was supposed to read something into that. "Of course, they always ink out the names of minors. Fox has a juvenile record in Connecticut, for instance, but it's sealed. Oh -- you didn't know that? Ask him about Fairfield County Juvenile Court sometime, or about the time he poisoned the cat. I think that's what set old Sheriff Luce sniffing after him, more than anything else."
Scully forced herself to keep her mouth shut while she recited one of the Fatima prayers to herself, the one about people who needed God's mercy. //You have too little respect for this man to let him enrage you,// she thought. When she spoke it was deliberately, but without anger. "Mr. Stuckey, what did you call us out here for? If it was just to assassinate my partner's character, then you're wasting my time and yours."
"I called you out here to find the truth," he said. "Isn't that what you people do? I've seen your file too, Miss Scully. You're a scientist who's lately become interested in . . . how did they put it, 'extreme possibilities.' If there's something out there, you have to *know.* Or do 'Texas killer bees' not ring a bell?"
"I wouldn't be in such a hurry to get that information if I were you," Scully said. "People have died because they knew too much about what's in those files."
"You're lovely when you're threatening, but I'll take my chances," Irv said. "And since we're talking about the South Road Ghost, I wanted to ask you something. I know you tried and failed to get custody of a child who died in 1998. You claimed she was your daughter, though your personnel file says you have no children. Last night when you were out ruining your real clothes, did you hear her calling you?"
Scully felt the blood drain from her face. For a moment she had no words to respond. Irv smiled, clearly enjoying her helpless outrage. When she finally found her voice, it was only to say, "Go to Hell."
She walked out of the house and slammed the door behind her. By the time she got to the car, she was crying. It was one thing to slander a grown man like Mulder, but to taunt Scully with her daughter's death was too cruel. Who had Emily ever hurt, that Irv Stuckey should gloat over her fatal illness? Scully's tires shot up arcs of gravel as she peeled out of the parking lot, determined not to give Irv the satisfaction of seeing her cry. As she turned into the street she saw his hand twitch a curtain closed over the window.
The overcrowded Dukes County Jail could spare no space for a break room, but it did have two vending machines in a stairwell. Mulder had gotten his first real meal of the day out of those. He sat on the stairs, finishing off a soggy chicken salad sandwich and a Pepsi. He hoped that the caffeine would help nurse his adrenaline rush along for a little while longer. He could already feel the bone-deep fatigue that would set in once that energy wore off.
There was a fair chance that the interview he'd just done would only be round one. If the polygraph poked holes in McBer's story he might want to try and explain them away, and Mulder wouldn't deny him the opportunity. In his experience, just about every suspect who remained talkative after a bad polygraph convicted himself.
He glanced at his watch and saw that it was after three. He wondered what Scully was doing. The last time he'd seen her he'd gotten the distinct impression she was trying to get rid of him. His phone was in his jacket pocket, lying on the steps beside him. He dug it out and dialed her cell number. After several rings a cheerful voice told him, "The cellular unit you are trying to reach is turned off or out of the service area."
Mulder punched the "off" button and told himself not to read too much into that. Maybe she was sleeping. Probably Darkest Chilmark didn't even have a cell tower. Still, he couldn't shake the mental image of her wandering over some godforsaken up-island ridge, her injured hands tucked into her pockets for warmth, searching for something she didn't want to talk to him about. He'd done similar things before.
It didn't mean he had to like it when she did them.
His thoughts were interrupted when Joe opened the door to the stairwell. Mulder stood up, dusting crumbs off his lap. "How'd it go?" he asked. He suspected that McBer and his accomplice had plotted against Kristie but were prevented from carrying out their plan by paranormal events. Conspiracy to commit murder could still draw a life sentence in Massachusetts, however.
Joe seemed weary as he said, "McBer passed all the questions about the homicide. The box said he was telling the truth when he told us he didn't kill Kristie and didn't know who did."
Mulder nodded. That fit with his earlier assessment of paranormal activity. "What about meeting her and making threats?"
//Got the sonofabitch.// He felt a surge of energy, but the feeling was more grim than satisfying. Vindication was always bittersweet when you were a prophet of doom. "What about the contract part? You get him on hiring a killer?"
The other man shook his head. "That one was inconclusive. What we've got is good enough for a warrant -- when the State Police go through his phone records maybe they can establish a connection to somebody."
Mulder had his doubts, but he agreed it was worth a shot. "Does McBer want to talk to me some more?"
"I think that's about that last thing he wants. When I left he was asking to call his lawyer. I think Davis is done with you for the day. Speaking of which, you know what time it is?" Joe pulled his pager from the pocket of his borrowed uniform and looked down at the screen as if it might bite.
"It's about quarter after three," Mulder told him.
"Oh, man . . ." Joe said, pushing the pager's display-change button again and again. "I had this thing turned off in the interview room. My sister's going to kill me. I'm supposed to be home by now. Someone has to stay with my mom while Cheryl goes to work."
"Your mom's not sick, is she?" Mulder asked. He had always liked Mrs. Luce.
Joe gave him a strange look. "It's just the MS. The same thing she'd had for 20 years."
Mulder hadn't known she had anything. He tried to recall what he knew about multiple sclerosis, which wasn't much. "Is it bad?" he asked.
"Your dad didn't tell you any of this?" Joe asked.
"My dad and I didn't talk much," Mulder said. For years Mulder and his father saw each other only at weddings and funerals, and then it was pretty much just funerals. It got so whenever Mulder heard his father's voice on the phone he wondered who had died.
"That's too bad," Joe replied. He seemed about to ask a question, but something in Mulder's expression must have made him change his mind. He looked away. "Anyway . . . I need to give Tom Brennan back his uniform. This thing is driving me crazy." He tugged at the jail officer's too-tight shirt.
"You think your mom would mind if I went out there? Just to see her . . . you know. It's been a long time."
"No, she wouldn't mind." He looked surprised but not displeased at the request. "She'd probably like that."
Mulder was glad. He hadn't gotten over his own mother deciding that she never needed to see him again. He wanted somebody's mother to be happy to see him.
Later, the two of them sat in Joe's blue Mercury, driving west on Rural Route 1 toward Chilmark. The first several minutes were quiet and awkward. Somehow the close confines of the car made all the things unsaid between them harder to ignore. Mulder spent the time watching the familiar, oddly-named cross streets go by: Quenomica; Old Purchase; Dark Woods Road.
He broke the silence as they passed Martha's Vineyard Airport, roughly the halfway mark. "So, tell me about your mom," Mulder said, looking over at Joe.
"Her health was really pretty good until recently," Joe said. He kept his gaze on the road, which probably made talking about this sort of thing easier. "Actually she used to drive a van a lot like McBer's until her coordination got so bad she couldn't stop at red lights anymore. That was scary as hell. She spun out on bone-dry pavement and put the van into a ditch." Joe shook his head. He had a slightly distant look in his eyes, as if he were seeing the accident all over again. "Cher and I had this whole care plan all worked out, but we were still thinking 'someday,' not 'today.' It didn't matter -- none of it went the way we thought it would, anyway. We both ended up moving back to the old house again, if you can believe that."
Mulder tried to imagine himself moving back in with his mother at the age of 38. The idea was sobering. Joe continued, "We're lucky that Cheryl's a visiting nurse. Between me and her and her co-workers at VNA, Mom's got pretty close to round-the-clock care. Not that it always helps. The other week she accidentally put her hand down on a hot burner. The whole thing is making her nuts -- she's been on her own since my dad died in '66, and now all of a sudden she's dependent. Sometimes I think she hates us for trying to taking care of her. You know you try to prepare yourself for the role reversal when your parents get older, but until it happens to you, you have no idea."
"I guess not," Mulder said. His own mother had chosen to die rather than reverse those particular roles with him.
Joe glanced over, seeming embarrassed. "I'm sorry -- I didn't mean you personally had no idea. You just lost your mother. Of course you do."
"No. My mother's death was kind of . . . sudden," Mulder said. He was unable to keep the edge of bitterness out of his voice.
Awkwardness again. Mulder gave conversation another shot. "I was wondering, how did you find out about me profiling James Sproule?" he asked.
"Your dad told me," Joe said.
"You sure? I don't think I ever talked to him about that."
"Of course I'm sure. He showed me the guy's mug shot in the paper. I said Sproule looked like a librarian, and he agreed with me. I was sure I'd never have pegged him."
"My name didn't come up in the article, did it?" Mulder asked. He didn't see why it would, since he hadn't made the actual arrest. On the other hand, he didn't see how else his father could have known -- at least not through legitimate news sources.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't read it. Your dad stopped by the station while I was trying to do about five other things. I looked at the picture, said the guy looked like a librarian, and said good for you -- you caught a maniac."
"Did you and my dad talk often?" Mulder asked.
"Not all that often. Every now and then."
Mulder nodded. He preferred to think his dad never talked to anybody except at funerals. He didn't want that treatment to be especially for him.
"Is it a problem?" Joe asked.
Mulder turned to the window so his face wouldn't give anything away. "He didn't talk to me."
They passed groves of tupelo trees and frost-covered cranberry orchards without speaking. At last, Joe said, "I was worried about that."
"About what?" Mulder asked.
"Sometimes I got the impression he hoped I would relay messages so he wouldn't have to call you himself. I told him I wasn't the person he should be talking to. I told him we weren't in contact, but it didn't seem to make a difference."
Mulder kept his gaze focused on the landscape outside. With studied nonchalance, he asked, "What did he say?"
"Different things. Positive things, mostly. He thought a lot of you."
Mulder wanted to believe what Joe said was true. He wanted to believe a lot of things about his father. Finally he asked, "You still have a funny feeling about my dad and my sister's disappearance?"
The question seemed to make Joe uncomfortable. "I don't know, Fox . . ."
Mulder turned and glared him. "You 'don't know?' You guys practically ran my family out of town, and you don't know?"
"I was ten years old when you lost your sister. I didn't know what I thought about anything. We had that fight in what -- 1978? It's been over longer than either of us was alive at the time. Can't you drop it?"
"It's not over," Mulder said. He returned his gaze to the window and added, "It will never be over." Not so long as he remembered her.
"The part about me being a smartass fifteen-year-old is over," Joe said. "Thank God we don't have to stay the people we were 20 years ago."
The thought of two grown men, approaching middle age, scrapping like schoolboys in a sandlot was ridiculous. Joe had a point. Mulder glowered at the junction between earth and sky until he'd convinced himself that he was angry at fate and not the man next to him. Scully would tell him to relax: //Relax, Mulder. You can go kick Fate's ass another day.// He felt some of the tension leave his muscles. "Sorry."
"It's all right," Joe said. "And I'm not jerking you around. I really don't know how to answer your question. None of it makes sense to me. Logic tells me it's not real likely your sister would vanish the way she did without your family being involved, but I saw what happened to your parents after they lost her. It was killing them. The police interviewed you guys separately, together, the day after it happened, six months after . . . . I know you've seen the interview transcripts because I'm the one who mailed them to you after you wrote for them under FOIA. The only story that changed was yours, and you went from remembering nothing to talking about bright lights and who-knows-what. Even that makes no sense at all. I can't explain any of it."
Mulder didn't want to argue anymore. Joe's words made him feel very tired. "Welcome to my life," he said.
The first several minutes at the Luce house were chaos -- Cheryl had to get to work, her kids were supposed to be at their father's, Joe offered to take them but didn't know who would stay with his mother, and Mrs. Luce kept insisting she did not need a babysitter. Mulder's offer to stay at the house was accepted with a gratitude that surprised him. He wasn't sure if this meant old grudges had truly been forgotten or if domestic turmoil had driven the Luce family to acts of insanity.
At any rate, he and Mrs. Luce soon had the house to themselves. The two of them sat at the scarred oak dining table, he in a slat-backed chair, resting his chin in his hand, she in an electric scooter, running purple chenille yarn through a tabletop loom. Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" played faintly from a radio in the kitchen.
"So what's that going to be?" he asked, gesturing at the purple fabric that was taking shape.
She smiled as if the question amused her. "Maybe a placemat, maybe a scarf. Depends on how quickly I get tired of weaving it. Really it's just something to do with my hands." Despite Joe's concerns, she looked perfectly healthy. Her blue eyes were clear and alert, and she carried herself like a young pine: as if her resiliency more than made up for any strength lost to lack of straightness. Still, Mulder hadn't been quite prepared for her white hair or the way the bones in her hands stood out. It wasn't lost on him that the kitchen radio had a knitting needle taped on as an antenna extender. He wondered when she'd given up knitting.
"You know I still have those mittens you made me," he said. Well, in a sense he still had them. He suspected they were in a box buried in a storage unit in Greenwich, Connecticut.
She looked up at him. "Which ones?" Then she seemed to remember. "Oh! The ones where I let you pick the colors." Five- year-old Fox had picked every color she had, including the ones he'd never heard of: sepia, saffron, vermilion, aubergine.
"They matched everything," he said.
"Except each other. That's right."
"I'm surprised you were so nice to me, considering," Mulder said. At age five, he'd been just as fond of asking impossible questions as he was at age thirty-eight, and he'd been less tactful at the time.
"You were a good boy," said Mrs. Luce, as if laying to rest persistent rumors to the contrary.
"Sure, good at driving you up a wall."
She spoke in a comfortably distracted way as she tapped the newest row of yarn into place: "Mm -- you had an edge to you, yes, but I always thought there was a lot of anxiety behind that. Your mother seemed to be the same way: very intense, very -- anxious to please, maybe?"
Mulder smiled a little, remembering that side of her. "She had a greater interest in conformity than I did. I used to embarrass her." He remembered her reminding him to keep his inquisitive streak in check as she zipped up his jacket: "Don't ask about the accident or bother Mrs. Luce with questions. She has enough to worry about as it is. Remember, you're there to be polite and to help make Joey feel better. If he or Mrs. Luce wants to talk about the funeral they'll let you know, so don't bring it up. And Fox, do not ask questions about why God kills people before taking them to heaven or what it's like to be dead." Budding investigator that he was, the hush-hush treatment of death and dying had merely obsessed him with the subject.
Trying to keep his voice as neutral as possible, he asked, "How well did you know my mother?"
She paused in her work, perhaps hearing something significant in the question. "Reasonably well, though I can't say we were close. We never talked about much besides our children. Why do you ask?"
"I guess . . ." He ran his fingertips over a dent in the table. Somehow, it was easier to talk when he wasn't looking at her. "I guess because lately I've been wondering how well I knew her."
He heard her set down her shuttle. "Has something happened?"
He hoped he'd said this enough times that he would stay calm when talking about it. "I lost her recently." The tremor was minor, but he could feel the telltale stillness inside of him, like something was in free fall. He briefly considered not going on. When he spoke again, his voice broke like glass: "She never told me she was sick."
The pressure building in his chest was probably a sob, but he never found out if he contained it. A seizure-vision kicked in instead. The sensation of reality shifting was physical, like falling onto a slab of concrete and passing straight through.
He was five years old, leaning with his back against the Luces' front door. The house smelled like funeral flowers. Mr. Luce's shoes, caked with dried mud, rested on a sheet of old newspaper beside him. The shoes made Fox uneasy. He didn't think they should be there.
Flowers were sitting in vases and jars all over the house, but he couldn't talk about them because he wasn't supposed to say "funeral." He wasn't supposed to say "dying" or "dead" or "killed" either, but those words stayed in his head and worried him. What if he got confused and said something bad by accident? No, he should say 'by mistake' -- he wasn't supposed to talk about accidents, either.
He had said and done some bad things at the funeral and his dad had taken him out and smacked him. He was ashamed of that. He hadn't been able to explain that the church was a bad place for him to be and that staying there had been like not being able to breathe. He thought Mr. Luce might feel the same way inside his wooden box.
Fox heard grownup footsteps on the stairs and fought the urge to suck his fingers like a baby. He wrapped his hand around the doorknob instead. Mrs. Luce came downstairs, wearing jeans and a ponytail like a teenager, but with a laundry basket balanced on her hip like a mom.
She stopped on the last step and asked, "What's the matter?"
"Whose shoes are those?" Fox asked softly, although he was sure he knew.
She looked at him a moment, then turned to look out the window at the squirrels snatching seeds out of the birdfeeder. Fox worried that she'd walk right by him without speaking. Sometimes his mom did that after he asked a bad question. That hurt his feelings worse than any spanking ever hurt.
Instead, Mrs. Luce put down the basket and sat on the stairs. She looked like she might want to cry. "Those are Joey and Cheryl's daddy's shoes," she said.
Fox's own daddy's shoes were in the same place at home. "Is he here?" he asked, still very quiet.
She shook her head. "No." She spoke so softly it was almost not a word.
"Then why are they here?" He didn't understand how a man could line up his muddy shoes neatly by the door and then walk away forever. How could there still be muddy shoes after a father had died? How could everything look just the same?
"They bother you? You want me to get rid of them?" She seemed to dislike him just then.
Fox nodded slowly. He did not want to make her angry. It was only that a man who was dead and in a box should not have his shoes waiting for him by the door. It was too sad to think they'd wait and wait and he'd never come home to wear them.
"Fine." She got up and walked to the edge of the newspaper, but then she just stood there. Fox got the idea she was thinking about leaving the shoes there and sending him home instead. Finally she picked them up, newspaper and all, and tossed them in the closet. She shut the door as if there were a wild animal on the other side. "Is that better?"
Fox was too upset to answer. He wished she would send him home. This house had a crushing feeling in it even worse than at the funeral. He gave in to his babyish desire and sucked the two middle fingers of his left hand.
Mrs. Luce started to look less angry and more sad as she watched him comfort himself. "Is this about your daddy?" Her voice reminded him of the way a top jittered and shook just before it fell down. "Are you scared your daddy will go away and not come home?" Fox nodded.
Light footsteps sounded on the wooden floor. Joey had given up playing alone in the back room and stood near the dining table, twisting the hem of his shirt in his hands. "Come here," Mrs. Luce said, holding her hands out to both children.
She sat on the stairs and pulled them into her lap. "It was an accident. It was an accident with a little tiny boat out on the big water. Joey's daddy didn't mean to leave us. He made a mistake and took the little boat out farther than it could go. He didn't do it on purpose." Fox curled into the hollow of her shoulder and wondered why she kept saying that. It had never occurred to him that a parent would die on purpose and leave his child.
Mrs. Luce rocked them. "What happened to Joey's daddy isn't going to happen to me, and it isn't going to happen to your mommy and daddy, Fox. We're going to be here for a long, long time, until you're all grown up and you don't need us so much anymore." It would have been easier to believe if she wasn't crying when she said it.
Mulder's awareness returned to the present-day in sections. The sensation of his body hunched over the table came first. Mrs. Luce's voice, reedier than he remembered but still soothing, formed a bewildering bridge between the past and the present.
"Fox, what is it? What's the matter?"
At first he thought he was crying. Then he realized he wasn't -- he was trying not to be sick. He sat with his eyes closed, his forehead resting on his balled fists. Sam Cooke was still warbling in the background: " . . . you thrill me, honest you do, honest you do." The flashback must have lasted only seconds. This was not one of the waking nightmares of PTSD -- those happened in real time. This was something electrochemical -- something deep. He could almost hear the thin whine of Goldman's drill as he'd prepared to tunnel into Mulder's cerebral cortex, rooting for memories. He'd found some, all right. He turned his thoughts away from the vision of C.G.B. Spender pulling his mother close.
Mulder knocked the chair over as he got up. "Sorry," he muttered. He walked into the kitchen and turned on the tap, rinsing the sick taste from his mouth with handful after cupped handful of water.
Mrs. Luce's electric scooter buzzed as she came up behind him. "Are you all right? I don't understand what's happening. Should I call the hospital?"
He shook his head. He knew he owed her some kind of explanation. Which one should he give her -- the holes in his head or the alien virus that was slowly re-writing the genetic code in his brain? No contest -- it was neither.
Between rinsing and spitting he said: "'S a head injury -- old one. I'll be all right. Just gimme a minute."
"For God's sake, Fox, are you seeing a doctor?"
"Yeah." Since the beginning of March, actually. Oh, Scully's God would put a big, black mark in the book next to his name for that one.
When he was finally done washing his mouth out, he soaked a dish towel in cold water, wrung it out and went to sit back down. He placed the towel on the back of his neck. "I'm sorry," he said. He was dimly aware that he'd been apologizing to her since the seizure hit him.
"Don't be sorry. What can I do for you?" She positioned her scooter next to him and sponged his neck and forehead with the dishcloth.
He interrupted her by shaking his head. "Just tell me . . . did she love us?"
"Did who love you -- your mother?"
Mrs. Luce sat back as if to better read his expression. Mulder wondered what she saw there that seemed to concern her so much. "Of course she loved you. Of course. Why would you even ask that?"
"She had this whole other life . . ."
"A woman's life doesn't start when her children are born, you know," she said.
"It's not that. There's this man, his name is C.G.B. Spender." Mulder hesitated to tell her the rest. It seemed especially wicked to impugn the character of a woman who was no longer alive to defend herself. He remembered how his mother had slapped him in her hurt and outrage. //"I am your mother and I will not stand here and listen to your accusations."//
//I have to know,// Mulder thought, maybe making justifications to himself, maybe to the spirit of his mother. "I know Spender was around when I was young. I've seen pictures of him with my parents. He told me . . . he came right out and told me he's my father. He implied that he's Samantha's, too."
Mrs. Luce rested the damp rag in her lap. There was horror in her expression, and compassion as well, but no shock, Mulder thought. Definitely not shock. Perhaps Churchill had looked so when Paris fell.
"Bill Mulder was your father." She spoke firmly, as if reminding him of a duty he had forgotten. "He fed you. He clothed you. He saw that you got an education."
"I'm not denying that. I'm not saying I'm not grateful. It's just -- what if it's true? Forget not knowing who my father was, I'd feel like I hardly knew who my mother was," Mulder said.
She looked at him hard. "Bill Mulder was your father." Her words had a finality to them, like a door closing.
That front was clearly futile, and Mulder turned away from it. "There's other things," he said. It was hard to talk while looking into that steady blue gaze, so he got up and wandered over to the door to the kitchen. The radio had started playing that damn Shirelles song: "While I'm far away from you my baby, I know it's hard for you my baby . . ." The last fucking thing he was in the mood for.
"I think my mother knew what was going to happen to Samantha. Not that she could have stopped it, but she knew. And she never told me. She let me spend all those years looking." He kept his gaze on the little window over the sink. The orange berries of an ash tree growing outside were the only spot of color against the late winter landscape.
He heard Mrs. Luce sigh. "The past is what you make it, Fox. Why make it terrible?"
He spoke as if he hadn't heard. "The last thing she said to me was, 'There's so much I've left unsaid, for reasons I hope one day you'll understand.' Actually, she said it to my machine. She didn't even wait for me to get home . . ." His disordered mind offered up sensations: the smell of cold ashes, a leaky gas line making his eyes water. He remembered the picture frames lying around empty but not the tableau on the couch. //Please, God, don't let me have seen that . . .// He knew she'd used a plastic bag -- probably got that idea from "Final Exit." It was always bad when they used plastic. He remembered what had been left of Ed Paulsen when they finally caught up with him in that cabin outside Marquette -- and what wasn't left. Plastic was like a little greenhouse. //Dammit, Paulsen had been dead for weeks. This is different.// He had a dim mental image of the blue-and-white couch and felt sick. He'd probably seen. //Oh, Scully . . . why didn't you keep me out of there?//
In tears, he turned to Mrs. Luce, hoping she'd distract him from what he couldn't remember seeing and never wanted to see again. "She'd -- she'd taken the pictures and things, you know? She burned 'em in the trash basket. I mean, why would she do that? Like . . . like s-she wanted to wipe out everything to do with her life, or maybe just about Samantha and me . . ."
"Fox, slow down. I don't understand." Mrs. Luce held her hand out to him, the way she had when he was five and afraid of Mr. Luce's shoes.
He walked by her and sat down. She rubbed his shoulder in little circles. When he felt calmer he continued, "My mother . . . she committed suicide, Mrs. Luce. She had cancer, but that's not how she wanted to die. I guess it was her right. Maybe I wouldv'e seen it her way in time, I don't know. But she never told me. She had the will and the papers all drawn up, she bought a goddamn grave plot and she never told me. I didn't figure into this carefully thought-out plan. I mean, we'd had some arguments; I accused her of some things. But I thought it was mostly okay between us. Now I don't know. Do you think . . . do you think she'd do this to hurt me? Because I sure have a hard time seeing it any other way."
"I wish I knew what to tell you." Mrs. Luce took his hand in her free one, and Mulder noticed the brown burn marks on her fingers, as Joe had described. He covered her fingers with his own. "I just can't reconcile what you're telling me with what I knew of your mother. She cherished you . . . . I didn't know anyone who listened to her children the way your mother did. It wasn't in fashion at the time. She'd point out things and ask, 'What is that, Fox? What do you think it does?' And she'd really listen to your explanation, whether it was right or not. I thought, 'That's really smart. She's teaching him to think.' It sounds so obvious now, but it wasn't then.
"I suppose it sounds wrong to say you were in love, but mothers and children are in love, in a very innocent way. The two of you were obviously mad about each other."
Mulder bent his head, remembering a time when he and his mother were in love, when she was the sunlight at the center of his little universe. Then something had gotten in the way, whether it was C.G.B. Spender or a multi-national abduction conspiracy or just the mismatch of personalities that sometimes happened between parents and children. But after a while Fox's questions and hypotheses stopped being cute and became threatening, and his mother didn't want to listen anymore. Maybe that was why he felt so cheated by her death. Some people were able to recapture the tenderness of their early years at the end of their parents' lives, when the care-taking roles were reversed. His mother had not been interested. Did she not trust him? Did she really not love him?
Mulder looked up and said, "Mrs. Luce? Do your kids a favor and let them take care of you. Maybe you don't need it, but they do."
She drew breath as though she meant to argue with him, but then her expression softened, as if something, maybe pity, had persuaded her to let the dispute go. He hoped it wasn't pity.
Mulder's hair really wasn't long enough for her to brush it out of his eyes, but she made the gesture anyway. "I'll keep that in mind," she said.
For a while he leaned with his chin in his hand, done crying, mostly, and just looked at her. The mushy 50's song on the radio made him feel like they were two teenagers in a soda shop: "Life can never be exactly like we want it to be. I can be satisfied just knowing that you love me . . ."
On second thought, the goofy-teen feeling was different. He got that sometimes with Scully. He and Mrs. Luce were more like a mother and her four-year-old, almost-lovers for an afternoon. Silly. Well, maybe not so silly. Perhaps long acquaintance with this sensible, self-reliant lady had influenced his choice of a woman who could take out a flesh-regenerating mutant with a defibrillator. And Scully had done it in 4-inch heels, for God's sake -- the thought still gave him cheap thrills.
He'd really been pretty fortunate in the women in his life; maybe letting go with grace was one way to show appreciation. "You remember telling me that you and my parents would still be around until Joey and I didn't need you so much anymore?" Mulder asked.
She blinked at him. "I said that?"
"So when exactly did you expect that to be?"
"I . . . suppose I assumed that you wouldn't remember it by the time you were old enough to know what a lie that was."
Mulder broke into a rare laugh. "That's what I thought." He began to feel, if not comforted, then at least a grief that was closer to love than abandonment.
The Shirelles continued their mildly annoying lullaby: "Each night before you go to bed my baby, Whisper a little prayer for me my baby . . ."
Maybe it was time to start tying up the loose ends of his mother's life. For instance, he hadn't gotten her a tombstone. He didn't know what date to put on it. Scully had written "February 6 or 7" on the death certificate. She was a conservative pathologist who refused to go out on a limb with time of death estimates, and in this instance her carefulness irked him.
//Fine, I'll just put '2000.' Let 'em guess. 'Christina Mulder, 1941 - 2000.' No, wait, she had 'Teena' on her license. Did she change it legally? I don't know. Hell.// Actually, he was pretty sure the name had originally been Krystina, sister of Katarin and Margrieta, who had quickly become Teena, Kathy and Margie for the same reason their mother gave up the Jewish religion in favor of a pale sort of Protestantism. Europe had not been good to their family.
//So we've got the religion, the death date and the name all in doubt. Phenomenal.// What *did* he know about the woman he'd lived with for nearly eighteen years? Mrs. Luce said she'd cherished him.
While he brooded, the Shirelles song, insubstantial as a kiss, drew to its end: " . . . and tell all the stars above, This is dedicated to the one I love."
It would have been funny, if only he hadn't started to cry.
Scully slept deeply in Tammy Williams' girlhood bed. She'd taken her Tylenol-3 before going to sleep, and the dopey, sluggish feeling insinuated itself into her dreams.
She dreamt she was standing in Skinner's office, trying to present a complicated scientific argument about alien viruses while drunk. She slurred her speech and kept dropping her laser pointer so that it rolled under AD Kersh's chair. Worse, her extended family had dropped by and a crowd of them sat at the back of the room, looking horrified. Scully steadied herself by holding onto her AV cart and did her best to reconstruct a line of reasoning that had seemed so cogent the night before. All she wanted to do was lie down and sleep, but there were reports to give, her reputation to preserve, if possible. She avoided her mother's eyes, with their look of scalding hurt.
Aiming her laser pointer at the blurry slide image on Skinner's wall, she said, "So this . . . this right here, is analogous to human RNA, and it, you know, transcribes backwards into DNA, but with three base pairs instead of two." She looked up woozily and discovered that the slide did not show a strand of alien RNA, but instead an entire human chromosome. Mortified, she said, "Wait - - this is the wrong image. Hang on." She pushed the slide advance button but the carousel rotated backward. A picture of Bethesda Naval Hospital appeared on the wall.
"Are you telling us an alien virus built *that?*" asked Nickerson from the Budget Department. The bureaucrats sitting around the conference table all chuckled. Skinner touched his fingertips to his forehead and looked pained.
"No -- no, of course not. I've just got the wrong slide on the-- " She tried turning the carousel by hand, but only managed to pop it off its stand and send it crashing to the floor. Scully grabbed for it and lost her laser pointer. The little metal cylinder bounced on the carpet and rolled. //Please don't let it stop at Kersh's feet . . .// It did.
He scooped it from the carpet and held it out to her. "I believe this belongs to you, Agent Scully?" His voice was soft as a bullet clip sliding into place.
"Yes, sir. I'm sorry . . . I'm a little disorganized." Her words were a slurred mess.
"I can see that," Kersh said.
Her baby nephew cheeped in the corner. Scully looked up at her parents, seated beneath Skinner's picture of the Attorney General. Her father wouldn't look at her. As she watched, he unclipped the orange visitor pass from the jacket of his Naval uniform and let it drop into his lap. Her mother held his arm, whether seeking to give or receive comfort Scully wasn't sure. Margaret Scully's look was like an accusation, but one filled with sorrow and pity that her daughter had come to this.
Scully moaned and stirred under the covers, becoming dimly aware of the throbbing of her injured hands. Trying to wake herself was like dragging her body out of quicksand. At last she opened her eyes, dry and swollen from the dusty pillow. The room was in the half-shadow of late afternoon. Her sleepy gaze took in her jacket and gun, laid over a chair, the black canvas case containing her laptop that rested on top of the dresser. Symbols of authority and trustworthiness, assuring her that she was not the bumbling wretch of her dream. But even as she regained full consciousness, the bone-deep feeling of shame would not leave her.
She examined the emotion like a wound. Where had it come from? Why did it feel so deep? Irv Stuckey's words came back to her: //"I know you tried and failed to get custody of a child who died in 1998."//
No. She wasn't going to let him make that her fault. Emily had gotten the best mothering Scully was capable of, the best care medical science could offer. She sat up and felt the room wobble around her. The dust must have irritated her sinuses and caused drainage to back up into her ear canals. She rooted around in her purse, looking for the meclizine HCl she sometimes took for motion sickness. After several dizzy, nauseated seconds of frustration, she dumped the bag out on the floor. The Chapstick- shaped container of meclizine bounced out amid a hail of extra batteries, charge card receipts, and trial-size toiletry items. The little heap formed a sad sort of autobiography on the rug. Scully dry-swallowed a motion-sickness tablet and leaned back against the wall.
Lord, she really did feel drunk -- bad drunk, up at 5 a.m. after a night of too-sweet wine drunk. A dirty, shameful feeling. She recalled that she'd contaminated the scene of Kristie's death last night while trying to aid two phantom children. No doubt the Troopers who'd searched the woods had some things to say about her today. Yet humiliating as that was, she'd been acting in good faith. Looking foolish was not a cause for true shame.
This was something deeper, worse. She remembered Emily's case worker, Susan Chambliss, explaining the reason behind her custody recommendation. //"You're a single woman who's never been married or had a long-term relationship. You're in a high stress, time intensive, and dangerous occupation . . ."// Chambliss' smile had been compassionate, but the hard, distant look in her eyes suggested suspicion, both of Scully's motives and her abilities. Under that sweetly rejecting gaze, Scully saw herself as Chambliss must have seen her: a self-obsessed career woman who wanted to use a vulnerable little girl to fill some gaping emotional need of her own. Not quite a monster, but a threat.
Inside, Scully was still protesting that it wasn't true. She had survived her own near-fatal illness and had become stronger for it. She'd had something to offer Emily that more "suitable" parents didn't -- empathy from personal experience. She'd willingly entered that dark tunnel again, relived the experience "through the eyes of a child," as Chambliss had put it, in order to give Emily everything she could.
Some self-punishing inner voice whispered, //And look at how it ended -- a little white coffin in St. Mary's, full of sand.//
Scully got up, nausea or no nausea. She'd be damned if she'd lie around and let Irv Stuckey's words go to work on her again. She'd cried most of the way to Edgartown, where she'd forced herself to calm down so she could shop for essentials like a normal person.
She'd finally found an open pharmacy and "Oscar's Dry Goods Store," which was much less quaint than it sounded and outrageously expensive. Since it was just about the only open store in town, it could afford to be. One wall was largely devoted to the sort of items that campers might need at the last minute, and Scully had picked out a pair of khaki fishing pants and a navy polo shirt with an embroidered lighthouse and the words, "Edgartown, MA" on the left breast. The outfit was too expensive and would make her feel like a tour guide, but it would have to do.
She pulled her new clothes out of their plastic bag and set herself to clipping tags and getting dressed. The pant legs were too long and she had to roll them up. Terrific. The teenage camp counselor look. Well, maybe Mulder would get off on it -- you never knew.
He claimed to find her sexy when she woke up in the morning, despite the fact her hair was usually wild as a burning bush and she tended to sit half-conscious among the tangled sheets for a while, blinking in the lamplight like a lost subterranean creature. She had no idea what he saw in her then. Certainly not something out of "Some Girls Do: Part III."
She slid her feet into her blood-spattered orthopedic sneakers without having much of an idea where she was going. Out. Away from the cops who probably thought she was nuts and the Islanders who knew too much about Mulder, and about her by association.
She attached her holster to the elastic waistband of her pants and thought about how Mulder must have felt in the days when this house was his refuge from public opinion. The poor kid practically couldn't leave his front porch without running into people who knew everything there was to know about him, or who thought they did, anyway. Talk about a way to raise a paranoid.
That idea led back to Irv's accusation about the cat, and then once again to Emily. //He's a hateful little man. He has an evil mind, and most of what he says isn't true.// But some of it was true. Even Irv's lies were maybe just a little bit true. Just enough to hurt.
Scully threw her coat on. Her cell phone had dropped out of her pocket and lay on the rug under the chair. She looked at it and hesitated. Mulder was worried about her, and the two of them had been out of contact for hours. Actually, she'd had the phone turned off for much of the day. She told herself she ought to call him, or at least take the phone with her.
Ought to, but wouldn't. Scully wanted to be alone, without having to answer questions, without having to grit her teeth and listen to advice. At this point, even, "How did your day go?" would make her want to scream. She left the phone where it was, hoping he'd understand. After all, he knew what it was like to ache inside and to have other people's eyes following him, just watching and knowing.
By the front door she ran into Davis and Tihkoosue -- almost literally. Tihkoosue pushed the door in just as she was reaching for the knob. "Uh -- sorry, Dr. Scully," he said, his dark eyes widening in surprise. He glanced down at her hands with their bandages of clean white gauze. "How are you doing?"
Scully stepped back to allow him and Davis into the room. "I'm fine, thank you," she said, giving him a smile she hoped was briskly professional. From the expression on his face, she gathered she looked ghastly. "I wanted to tell you, I appreciate the work you and your men did last night." Better to bring the fiasco of the search up first. Tap dancing around the subject would only be worse.
"Sure -- no problem," Tihkoosue said. "I just wish we'd been able to be more, you know, productive."
He didn't say what would have been more productive, like sharpening pencils or alphabetizing his cereal cupboard, but the conversation ground to a miserable halt. Davis broke the silence by saying, "We had a break in the case today. Your partner may have helped us catch our man."
"He did?" Scully asked.
Davis looked like a batter who'd expected a fastball and got pitched a turnip.
"I mean -- he did. That's good," Scully said.
It was too late. The detective's expression had shifted to the almost-neutral look of veiled speculation. "That surprises you?" he asked. She wondered if he'd start an office pool betting on when the nice young men in the clean white coats would finally come to get her.
A hot, prickling feeling spread over her face and neck. "No. Mulder's very good at what he does. It's just --" It was just that she'd so given herself over to the idea that Kristie's ordeal, like her own, had been at the hands of something more than human. "It's just that was fast, that's all. Even for him."
"Oh," Davis said. She figured he'd put his money on two weeks or less.
Tihkoosue cleared his throat and said, "So, uh, you're not going out again, are you, doctor?"
They thought she was too big a dimwit to be allowed out alone. Scully tried to get mad instead of feeling embarrassed. There was dignity in anger. She gave them a chilly smile and said, "I'm sure you have work to do. Don't let me keep you." Her tone was curt enough, but she was pretty sure every blood vessel in her face was telegraphing how ridiculous she felt.
She put her hand to her head as she walked out onto the snow- dusted porch. Tihkoosue's voice was still audible as she descended the steps. "What was all that about?" he asked.
"I dunno," Davis answered. "At first I thought *he* was nuts, and then--" His words were muffled as he pulled the door shut.
Scully headed for the field behind the house and the woods beyond, where there would be no people, no questions, no curious eyes. As she tromped over the frozen grass, she passed garden furnishings she'd missed the night before: bare rose trellises; a bench-swing; a low, thorny thicket that was probably a descendant of the raspberry bushes Mulder had gotten into as a child.
If Leigh's version of events was truer than Irv's, Mulder's childhood had been fairly happy until his family all but disintegrated when he was twelve. By then he'd have been old enough to understand the extent of his loss, but too young to have any power to change things. She told herself she pitied him.
But as she left the garden for the wide-open field, she began to realize that pity was not what she was feeling at all. Out under the inverted blue bowl of a winter sky, no ready help within shouting distance, she was envious of Fox Mulder. She envied him the space he'd always had around him -- physical space to explore, his adventurous spirit unhindered by his would-be protectors, and the emotional space he'd succeeded in setting up between himself and the expectations of others. If Mulder wanted to spend Christmas Day getting drunk and watching Three Stooges movies, no one was going to stop him. She was sure he never, ever had nightmares about being embarrassed in front of his boss.
By contrast, Scully's sense of self had been formed by a trinity of great institutions: her family, the Catholic Church, and the U.S. Navy. She was still half-convinced they owned proprietary rights to her self-respect, and if she ever broke ranks she would become someone awful. Actually, upon occasion she really had become someone awful, as when she'd spent more than a year trying to live down to Daniel Waterston's expectations. It was difficult -- the emotional equivalent of foot-binding -- but she'd almost succeeded. Most of her love affairs had been like that, like spending so many months wearing too-tight shoes, hoping she'd shrink into them. Really, she only felt whole and sane when she was alone.
She met no one as she followed the shallow trough of a bike path that skirted the edge of the woods. Leigh had told her it was the longer, less difficult way to reach the little graveyard Mulder had found her in last night. In her current mood, the isolation of the clearing with its leaning headstones was what she wanted.
She nearly passed the graveyard before she noticed it. The crime scene tape had been taken down, depriving her of a landmark. What caught her eye was the tallest of the headstones, a flat, narrow rectangle of slate that leaned sideways as if the earth had partially swallowed it. Once she knew where to look, the other headstones, mostly broken, became distinguishable from the weeds and juniper canes around them.
Last night's snow had obliterated all signs of the officers who'd tracked back and forth between the crime scene and the road. If she hadn't known better, she'd have assumed she was the first visitor in a hundred years. As she walked over to the tall headstone, the only sounds were her feet crunching the ice-coated snow and the soft "pee-whit" of a nuthatch.
Snow covered the top of the stone and adhered to its face, but Scully resisted the temptation to brush it off. Somehow, the idea of imposing her sense of order on the place felt disrespectful. She crouched down and found the worn inscription was still readable. Across the top the name "Cartwright" was carved in heavy block letters. An entire family was listed below, both with and without dates: Ezra, 1785; Wife, 1797; Thomas; John, 1772; Serena, 1774; Mary, 1780; and an eroded word at the bottom that might simply have been "child."
How degrading, she thought, to spend eternity labeled simply as "Wife," -- or "child," for that matter. Worse, Mrs. Cartwright had survived her husband by twelve years. Had Ezra and his children waited that long for a tombstone, or was it carved sometime beforehand, already bearing the word "Wife" and lacking only a date? How had Mrs. Cartwright felt while looking at her one-word epitaph, knowing that her identity would melt away with her flesh? Poor "child" had neither a name nor a date. The thought of that little spirit enduring centuries of well-meaning prayers essentially addressed to "occupant" was dismally lonely.
Scully remembered the gray-eyed child from the night before, her hair tangled, her clothes soaked in blood. //"Stay,"// she'd said. And Scully had wanted to stay. After all, they had so much in common. One was exiled to the world of anonymous souls by fate, the other by choice.
Susan Chambliss' words came back to her: //"You're a single woman who's never been married or had a long-term relationship . . ."// Scully bent and pressed her fingertips into the snow, seeking the shock of ice crystals against her skin, an assurance she was still part of this world.
//Emily . . .// Scully had pushed away the people who wanted to love her, choosing to seek independence and the illusion of self- sufficiency instead. And when she'd finally met someone she was willing to give up that freedom for, she'd been found unworthy. What if she *had* loved Emily in a self-serving, shortsighted way? Chambliss had called her medical decisions into question. Perhaps she'd pursued treatment too aggressively, or not aggressively enough.
Scully shied from her worst fear as from meeting a corpse in the dark, but now it confronted her. What if she'd made some weak, selfish decision that caused Emily to die?
//"It's always a wild night in winter, and some say you can hear the voices of those dead babies crying in the wind,"// Irv had said.
The iodine smell of the San Diego PICU came back to her. In her mind, she heard the rushing sound of the self-contained air recirculation system that kept the quarantine area under negative pressure. Emily lay in the room's only bed, a child unconscious and bathed in sweat, but solid and warm and real.
Now, gone. Scully repeated the words she'd whispered behind her paper mask, "I'm so sorry."
//"I know you tried and failed to get custody of a child who died in 1998. . . . "//
The feel of Emily's cheek beneath her fingers, so soft, but hot as an oven door, was the most real thing she could recall. It felt more real than this snow-covered graveyard, more real than the weight of her body pressing down upon the balls of her feet. "Forgive me, Emily."
//"Last night when you were out ruining your real clothes, did you hear her calling you?"//
The shame of her nightmare pierced her. It was as if Susan Chambliss' unspoken accusation had been transformed into a scarlet letter and sewn onto Scully's clothing. The letter would be "M" for murderer. God knew she'd never meant to hurt her little daughter, biological, adopted, or both. She'd never meant to hurt her parents by being difficult and distant. Her decisions had all seemed inevitable at the time. Maybe that was every damned soul's excuse as it stood trembling before the gates of Hell.
In a voice hoarse from tears and fatigue, she prayed, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner . . ."
She resisted the urge to move, to find somewhere less grim in which to pray. Everything considered, it felt only fitting that she seek solace in the same environment she'd chosen to spend her career in: alone among the dead.
As Mulder scraped his shoes off on Nye House's coconut fiber mat, all he wanted to do was take a shower and go to sleep beside Scully, preferably after making gentle, tender love. No Stupid Spice Channel Tricks tonight. In fact, he might be willing to settle for watching old movies on TV and falling asleep with his head in her lap.
When he opened the door he found a few State Troopers standing near the front desk, talking in lowered voices. Their conversation stopped the moment he entered the room. Mulder ignored them and walked down the hall marked, "Employees Only Beyond This Point." Tammy Williams' old room was the first one on the left.
There was no answer at his knock, and when he opened the door, he saw that Scully's coat was gone, but her cell phone lay beneath a chair. A closer inspection revealed that she'd left her purse but taken her gun. "Your partner's gone out," one of the officers called. Mulder didn't like the strange emphasis the man put on "out."
He had a pretty good idea where she'd gone. //Scully, don't do this to me.// In the last 24 hours, he'd slept less and cried more than was good for his sanity. The last thing he needed was to be chasing her over the empty hills with who-knew-what loose in the woods.
The men in the front room gave him curious looks as he wearily headed back out the way he came. As he'd feared, his car was parked in the gravel lot, its hood cold. A line of footprints in the snow led from the Inn's front door toward the field behind Nye House. They were wavy-soled orthopedic sneaker prints -- Scully's autopsy shoes.
Mulder walked across the frozen field thinking -- what? That when he found her, he'd grab her by the shoulders and shake her until her teeth rattled? He'd send her to her room with no TV? Sure. She'd shoot him first.
Mulder's anger slowly drained away as he hiked across the frozen field, leaving nothing but cold fear in its place. Scully was practically all he had, and he was afraid he wouldn't survive losing her.
He found her crouching in front of the old Cartwright tombstone in the South Road Burying Ground, her head bent, whispering to herself. He was able to catch the sibilants in "Jesus" and "sinner."
"Hi," he said.
She jumped a little at the sound of his voice. Scully brushed her cheeks with her fingertips before she turned to face him. "Hi."
He walked over and crouched down next to her. Gesturing at the tombstone, he said, "Ezra doesn't say much, but he's all right."
She dug in her pockets, presumably for a Kleenex. "I just needed some time alone."
Mulder nodded, but didn't take the hint to go away. He didn't think she needed to be alone out here, with her own and Kristie's blood spattering the trees not fifty yards away. When her search for a tissue was unsuccessful, he gave her his clean handkerchief. The one he'd dried his own tears with was in his back pocket. "I used to come out here when I was a kid. Joey and I had a tree fort over in that willow." He pointed to a massive gray willow tree, now more dead than alive, which still had the remains of boards and some raveling ropes fastened to it.
"Must've been nice," she said. She blew her nose and folded the handkerchief neatly. Mulder knew Scully's childhood had spanned seven states, and that if she and her siblings had built forts, she no longer knew where.
"We had a good time," Mulder said. He didn't bother asking how she was doing, since he knew the answer would only be "Fine." He rubbed her back with his hand.
"Did you ever poison a cat?"
He looked over at her, saw the earnestness in her mascara-smudged eyes. "What?"
"I talked to Irv Stuckey today, and he said I should ask you about the time you poisoned the cat. He said that was what sent Sheriff Luce 'sniffing' after you."
"Irv said . . . ? Irv's an asshole," Mulder said. After a moment he stood and walked a few steps away, fighting a powerful desire to go out to Menemsha and wring Irv's neck. "I never killed anybody's cat." He'd meant the statement to be a firm denial, but to his dismay he sounded hurt and resentful, like an eleven-year-old wrongfully accused.
He heard the snow crunch beneath her feet as she stood and came over to him. Scully threaded her arm through his and rested her head against his bicep. "What happened?"
He looked over at the broken tombstones, like jagged teeth sticking out of the ground. This was not a story he much liked telling. "Ah . . . hell. I was rotten kid. I knew I'd be in trouble if I hit my sister, so I mentally abused her instead. Sometimes when I got mad at her I said I'd do things . . . to her dolls or to her cat. Never poison -- it was Baroque things, 'The Pit and the Pendulum' stuff. It made her scream. I guess that's what I wanted." He felt Scully's body tense against him, and he looked over, asking a wordless question.
She shook her head against his arm. "It's nothing. It's just I had a rabbit once. I called him Peter. As in Cottontail. A stupid name, but I was six. My brother kept threatening to skin and cook him."
Mulder nodded, avoiding her eyes. "Maybe your brother feels kind of bad about it now."
"Kids say things, you know?"
"My sister's cat turned up dead at the bottom of the basement stairs one day."
Scully ran her bandaged hand up and down his forearm. "That must've been awful."
"The cat had blood running out of her mouth. She was an indoor cat and this was in March -- nothing outside to chew on, poisonous or not. Samantha ran upstairs crying and told our mom the stuff I'd been saying. Mom just lost it. She took my dad's belt to me -- the worst whipping I ever got from her. Didn't matter that I said I hadn't done anything. I think she wanted to believe that I poisoned the cat, because it was better than the alternative."
For a moment, the chilly afternoon was so quiet. There were no car noises this far out, not even the distant roar of airplane engines. The only sounds were the wind and the calls of the birds. Scully kept rubbing his arm. "Someone came in and did it," she said.
"Yeah." The word was almost a sigh. "This was early in the year we lost my sister. I think my father was fighting the Syndicate at the time, so they sent him a little message. 'Hand over one of your kids for our Project, or next time it'll be more than just the cat.'" "That's horrible."
"I couldn't convince my mom I hadn't done it. Before long I even had my sister believing me, which is saying something. I guess your sister always knows if you're lying or not."
Scully's sharp intake of breath was somewhere between a laugh and a gasp of pain. He figured her bruised ribs were hurting her. "Melissa and I sounded exactly the same way when we lied. I always knew."
"Well, Samantha knew. She was--" He decided not to describe that scene, himself lying across his bed, in more pain than he'd known existed, begging his mother for mercy while she blistered his behind and told him he'd done something very, very wicked. Samantha had stood on the other side of the bedroom door and shouted, "Don't you hit my brother!"
"Anyway . . . she knew," Mulder said.
He felt Scully shifting position as she looked up at him, but he kept his own gaze on a stand of black trees in the middle distance. Almost three decades later, he was still ashamed. Not so much because he'd been punished, but because his own mother thought him capable of doing such a thing. Knowing what he did now about the sort of children who tortured animals, the accusation was actually worse.
"Did your mom ever believe you?" Scully asked.
"Eventually. It helped that my dad believed me, or at least he believed my sister. Or maybe he knew something we didn't. I don't know." One of the braver things he'd done as a child was to stand in his pajamas in the middle of the living room, risking another spanking by simply being out of his room, and insist to his father that he hadn't killed the family cat. Bill Mulder had looked a little gray around the lips as he'd stood in his damp raincoat, confronted by the whole family yelling at him. He'd turned Fox around and sent him back upstairs with a surprisingly gentle nudge. //"Go on up, son. I'll talk to you later."//
"Cats do sometimes just die, you know," Scully said.
"You'd think that would have occurred to someone. It sure didn't seem to occur to my parents, at least not as the most likely possibility. There was something wrong, Scully. Something they weren't going to tell me about. They actually had the cat autopsied. I mean, how weird is that?"
"When it's an animal, the procedure's usually called a necropsy, but it's not so unusual," Scully said.
"There was blood inside of her. Or something. My parents weren't very forthcoming with information. The vet said she'd definitely eaten something poisonous, but he couldn't say what."
"No. Isolating a toxin is hard enough now, and with the methods they had back in the early 70's it would have been worse. Probably even the FBI lab couldn't have identified the poison precisely. If whatever the cat ingested had cleared her stomach, there was really no way for the vet to know."
Scully's tone was kinder than her clinical words implied. He turned toward her and rested his cheek against the smooth curve of her bangs. "Once my mom was sure I hadn't killed the cat, she wouldn't let my sister and I eat anywhere. We had to come home from school for lunch. She'd taste our food before she gave it to us, that sort of thing. I think this may have been when the neighbors first realized that something was really wrong with us. It was about that time when Joey's uncle started telling Mrs. Luce that maybe her kids shouldn't play with us anymore. I actually think he kind of liked me when I was little, it's just he could sense something really bad was coming down and didn't want his family involved. I guess I can't blame him."
"As a law officer, it was his job to help you," Scully said. "You wouldn't turn away from a family in a desperate situation like that, would you?"
"No." Mulder mouthed the word more than he spoke it. "But I don't have kids to protect, you know? If it was between a neighbor family and my own niece and nephew . . . I don't know. Anyway, people remembered what happened to the cat when my sister went missing. I was the only other person home when it happened, and they figured I was already a pet-poisoning junior psycho."
"You weren't," she said firmly. "I hope your mother apologized to you."
"She did, in her way." She'd cupped his face in her hands, a gesture somewhere between a caress and a restraint to keep him from looking away. //"Fox, if you didn't do this thing, I'm sorry."// She'd scanned his eyes, probably both hoping and fearing to find innocence.
//"I didn't, Mom. I swear I didn't."// He'd been crying as he said it, afraid this would only make him seem guiltier. *"If* you didn't," she'd said.
"Did she comfort you?"
He nodded, rubbing his cheek against Scully's hair. "She let me curl up in her lap while we watched some stupid nature show." Actually he'd lain with his head and shoulders in his mother's lap while his drawn-up knees sweated against the plastic-covered couch.
Scully sometimes held him like this, because their size differential and the conventions of the sexes prevented him from sitting in her lap. As a child, the reason had been quite different. Fox had a seam of blisters where his buttocks met his thighs, and another cluster on his left hip, where the belt had snapped around. Sitting in anyone's lap was quite beyond him.
His mother had stroked his hair while they watched a bear stalk an otter community in too-vivid 70's Technicolor. Samantha would normally have seized the chance to bump her big brother aside so she could assert her baby-of-the-family right to snuggle with Mom, but she climbed into their father's lap instead. She'd understood that Fox and his mother needed a chance to make up with one another. Bill read a newspaper around the little girl. Hurting, sleepy from crying even though his bedtime was an hour away, Fox turned toward his mother and twisted the ends of her long, dark hair in his fingers. The nature show announcer boomed behind him: //"Olivia nips and claws her kits away from the bear's snapping teeth."//
The conversation Fox hadn't had with his mother that night remained one of the most powerful moments in their relationship. She'd rubbed his back through the terrycloth of his bathrobe and hadn't said: I'm so sorry I hurt you. I would have forgiven you even if you had poisoned the cat. I'm desperate to protect you and I don't know how.
He'd looked up into her green eyes, big as a child's in her pretty face, and hadn't said: I forgive you because I know that you're scared. Actually, I'd forgive you anything.
"What're you thinking about?" Scully asked. She slipped her hand beneath the folds of his coat and rested it in the small of his back, two of her fingers pressing against the waistband of his trousers. She'd been taking tease lessons from him, wicked thing.
"Nothing. A long time ago," he said. Better to turn the conversation back to her. "What're you thinking about?"
"Nothing. The last days. Religion."
The hand almost over his ass said otherwise. He wondered if he were a magnet for people who sent mixed messages. Between his relatives, lovers, ex-lovers, co-workers, and shadowy informants, the mind games got a little excessive.
"That tombstone says, 'Resurgam,' or, 'I will rise again,'" she said, pointing the toe of her sneaker at one of the broken headstones. Actually only part of the "s" and the "urgam" were left.
Mulder, who tended to look at all things on the Vineyard with the eyes of childhood, had always had a vague assumption that "Surgam" was some kind of family name. The Oxford grad in him was disgusted.
Feeling a little too vulnerable to confess his ignorance, he said, "That guy's pretty confident for someone with a big rock over his head."
"It's ironic, isn't it? The first headstones were weights to keep the dead from walking, and now we carve messages about the Resurrection into them."
//I love you, I hate you, come here, go away . . . story of my life.// "Those rocks right there are probably headstones too," Mulder said, pointing at two granite mounds beneath soft caps of snow.
"Wow. They didn't even rate a slate slab. I can see the TV special right now: 'It's your headstone, Charlie Brown.' 'I got a rock.'"
Mulder had a twisted mental image of the Grim Reaper handing out all the good tombstones before Charlie Brown got to the front of the line. "You're sick," he told her. "I knew I liked something about you." He kissed the top of her head. "This used to be a family graveyard. Those rocks are probably covering poor relatives, servants, kids, maybe."
She made a small, disgusted noise in her throat.
"The 18th century didn't have the same ideas about kids that we do."
Mulder considered asking her whether she wanted to talk about what she'd seen last night, but there was something closed and self-protective about her. At every chance she could, she'd turned their conversation back to him.
"C'mere. I want to show you something," he said. He took her hand and led her toward the ruined foundations that lay a little to the east of the graveyard, not far from where he'd found her last night. The structure had fallen down so long ago that a maple with a trunk the diameter of a woman's forearm grew inside what had once been solid walls. At the moment, snow covered even the crumbling fieldstone wall base, but the building's outlines were hinted at by straight, contiguous gaps in the weeds and other vegetation. The effect was a little eerie, as if the memory of the house had so impressed itself upon nature that even the grasses still respected boundaries that had long since ceased to exist.
Mulder kicked at the approximate location of the wall base until the tip of his shoe struck rock. He bent and cleared the half- frozen mud and clotted leaves away until he exposed a low, flat chunk of Massachusetts brownstone.
"There," he said with satisfaction. "This was a house, a farmhouse from back before the Revolutionary War. It belonged to the family buried back over there. Actually, the cemetery used to be named after them before people forgot who they were and South Road became the major landmark. On really old maps it's called the 'Brown-Cartwright Grave Yard.' If you're curious about it, you can visit the Dukes County Historical Society. Lots of the little old ladies around here are grave-hunters. You'd be surprised."
Scully looked around wide-eyed, as if the place frightened her. "What happened to the people who lived here?" she asked.
"I think the house burned in about 1790-something. I'm not sure about the family, but I can tell you there are still plenty of Browns and Cartwrights on the Vineyard," Mulder said. He dug in the cold dirt along the wall line until his fingertips touched something hard and rough. When he tugged it out and brushed the mud off, he found it was a jumble of rusted metal. "Sometimes you find spoons out here, or old nails, or -- here's a nail here. You can tell it's original to the house because the head is just a kind of hammered-down section. It looks like a miniature railroad spike." He plucked the little chunk of twisted iron from the mass and held it out to Scully. "See how the sharp end just kind of withers away? That's because it was burned. Occasionally you find lumps of melted glass out here, too."
She stretched her fingertips toward the object but then pulled away, as if it were still hot. She looked up at him and asked, "Where did Irv's story come from? I mean the South Road Ghost story."
He sprinkled the twists of rusted iron back onto the ground and wiped his fingers on the hem of his coat.
"The truth?" he asked. "There's a book in the county library called 'Haunted Martha's Vineyard.' Every Island child I knew checked that book out at some time or another, usually around Halloween. That's where I got it from. That's probably where Irv got it from. As far as I know, there's no other record that the South Road Ghost ever existed."
"So what did I see, Mulder? There were little children dying -- they were there and then not there. You think I made the whole thing up?" Scully asked.
"No. I don't think you made it up. I think you saw something, probably even something paranormal. All I'm saying is that this being may not be what it first appears. I'll be honest -- I'm suspicious of a good story, where everything is explained and everything makes sense. Real life just isn't like that. So when someone tells me that this awful mom kills her kids and then she's doomed to walk the night inflicting vengeance on wayward women, it's a just little too neat. It sounds like somebody's idea of poetic justice, exactly the kind of thing that people would invent.
"Scully, if there is something out here . . . calling you, it may be choosing to present itself as part of a good story. I mean, what attracts us more than the idea that the world makes sense? Because if we can understand the world, we can control it, and then we never have to get hurt again. Right?"
She looked away toward some point on the horizon. "You don't understand," she said.
"Then explain it to me." She didn't reply. "Explain it so I can help you," he urged.
"Mulder," her voice was infinitely weary, as if she'd crossed a great distance to speak with him. "This is just one of those things that isn't about you."
"If it's about you, it's about me."
That was clearly the wrong thing to say. Scully actually seemed to flinch.
"Don't shut me out," he pleaded. He felt about eleven years old, tormented unjustly, and yet desperate to be comforted by his tormentor. Why did he most need the people he loved right after they'd hurt him?
"It's okay," she said. Her eyes remained distant but she held out her hand. He took it in both of his own. "It's okay. Things haven't changed between us. This isn't about you. It's about me."
"You realize that's the second-biggest lie in the world after 'the check is in the mail?'"
She pulled him close and held him. "I'm not going anywhere."
"If I lost you, I just -- I wouldn't deal with it well." He hugged her so tightly he could feel the bones of her shoulder blades pressing his forearm.
He felt more than heard her gasp of pain. "Mulder, don't."
Too late, he remembered her bruised ribcage and released her.
She pulled back from him. Twilight came to the woods first, and in the dimness her pupils were very wide. The shadows made her eyes seem infinitely deep, like black water locked beneath black ice. What lay in that darkness was apparently not for him to know. She placed two cool fingertips over his lips. "Just don't."
He looked away first. "Sure."
She slipped her arm through his. "Come on. It's cold, let's go back."
He walked with her, guiding her steps along the quickest path back to the Inn. They cast long shadows away to their right as they crossed the snowy field. Lights had already appeared in some of Nye House's windows.
"Mulder, can I ask you something?" she asked.
He glanced down at her, grateful to be distracted from the dread that had begun to dog him. "What is it?"
"Do you have a juvenile record in Connecticut?"
At first her question confused him. "Do I have a what?"
"Irv told me to ask you about Fairfield County Juvenile Court sometime," Scully asked.
Mulder had a mental flash of himself at 15, staring at his too- shiny wingtips and listening to a judge talk to his father. "You know, I hate Irv. Did he tell you how many books I never returned to the library, too? Somewhere I have one from 1987."
"No. Well, he asked whether you were into enemas and plastic pants," she said.
"That figures. I hope you told him 'Yes.'"
She looked appalled. "Of course I didn't. I didn't think his question was even worth answering."
"By getting upset you just confirmed the idea in his mind. You should have told him, yeah, I'm into plastic pants, and peanut butter and farm animals, and looking at posters of Freddy Mercury while I engage in autoerotic electric shock with the toaster. Then he wouldn't know what to believe."
"Sorry. I guess I'm not as up on my perversions as I should be," she said.
"Stick with me, kid. I'll teach you everything there is to know." He thought she tried to repress a smile. "You already know the Juvenile Court story," he said.
She shook her head. "No I don't."
"Yes, you do. You just didn't recognize it because Irv tried to make it sound worse. Remember the third case we worked together -- maybe the fourth, when we were in Idaho staking out the guy who could telekinetically turn his microwave into a MAZER?"
"Oh . . ." He saw the glimmer of recollection in her eyes.
The over-humid car with its persistent fried-food smell was permanently etched into his memory, as was the white curve of Scully's chin and throat, fuller then than it was now, backlit by halogen streetlights. "You asked me if I thought I was capable of killing someone, and I said yes, because I'd been ready to kill Eric Magnus in the 10th grade."
"That's the kid you went after with -- what, a roll of dimes?"
"It was quarters." Eric had been the first one to wrap his fist around a roll of currency in order to harden the impact of his punch, but Fox had learned fast. "He was the 'Chester the Molester' kid," Mulder said. The older boy discovered early in Mulder's Greenwich High career that if he wanted to pick a fight with the weirdo Vineyard kid, all he had to do was whisper, "Who got your sister, Freak? It was Chester the Molester."
"You didn't say they arrested you for that," she said.
"Yes, I did. Remember me and Eric got into it on the street behind the school, and then somebody called the cops? When the officer asked, 'What's going on here?' Eric said, 'Nothing,' and I said, 'I'm going to kill this motherfucker.'"
"Oh, that's right . . . . I forgot you have that Eagle Scout quality -- always honest," she said. She pulled her arm loose and slipped it beneath his coat, tucking her fingertips into the top of his back pocket. A good reason never to keep it buttoned, he thought. He put his arm around her waist, and as they walked he could feel the muscles of her hip working.
"So after that they brought me in. From their perspective, who started it wasn't important. I was the one who threatened to kill someone.
"Back then, every case with an underage defendant went to Juvenile Court. I felt pretty lousy standing there in front of the judge, even though he spent most of his time telling off my parents."
Mulder could still hear the gravelly voice of the Honorable Peter Shamsideen saying, //"Mr. and Mrs. Mulder, I am very sorry for the loss of your daughter. But you must remember that you have a son who needs you."// Fox had kept his hands jammed in his pockets, even though he'd been told not to do that, and had been very close to crying, even though he'd been told not to do that either. When Judge Shamsideen said, //"Young man, I hope you succeed in making something of your life,"// Fox had only managed a soft, //"Yessir."// Mulder wasn't sure if being senior agent on the X-Files Unit would count as a success in Judge Shamsideen's opinion or not.
"My sentence was therapy and community service -- the therapy really *was* a sentence, but the community service wasn't. One of the cops had taken a certain liking to me, and he helped fix it so that I spent my unoccupied time at the police station, typing, taking out the trash, snooping through their case files, that sort of thing. That was my introduction to forensic psyche, for what it's worth. I was sitting at Detective Nagle's desk when I read an article in the 'Law Enforcement Bulletin' about Brian Murphy teaching behavioral science at Oxford -- the only place in the world teaching it at the time, besides Quantico. So really, trying to kill Eric Magnus with a roll of quarters was the best thing that could have happened to me."
By this time they'd reached the front porch of Nye House, its worn boards dusted with snow and shielded from the lit room inside by lacy half-curtains. Maybe it was the location or the topic of their conversation, but Mulder felt like a teenager walking his girlfriend home.
He looked down at her and saw her pupils were wide in the honey- colored late afternoon light. He bent and lightly touched his lips to hers, a tentative kiss that quickly turned hungry. Her mouth had the faintly inorganic taste of lipstick. He knew he'd have "Evening Rust #7" or whatever it was all over his mouth in a minute, but he didn't care.
After several seconds he pulled away and said, "Stay with me tonight. I won't sleep well if you're alone."
Something in her face closed like a flower. "Mulder . . ."
"Please," he said. Begging anyone but her would've been intolerable. "Why does it matter so much what other people think?"
Her glance toward the covered window was so brief it probably hadn't been a conscious decision, but he caught it. Whatever she saw inside, it wasn't enough to make her move away.
Scully looked up and ran her fingertips across his cheek, and he felt the slight drag of her skin over the stubble he developed late in the day. The look on her face was almost sad. "Okay," she said. "Okay, I'll stay with you."
He hoped that sorrowful look wasn't one of martyrdom. He'd almost rather she leave him than stay with him out of pity. Almost, but not tonight. Right now he was too needy, too tired and confused.
She lifted her face to kiss him and he bent to meet her more than halfway. Her hands rested lightly on his elbows. This time her kiss was schoolgirl-chaste, but he felt a powerful response gathering from his skin inward. It was like sensing the momentum of an incoming wave by the way the tide drew back from the beach.
He did not prevent her from stepping away. "Let's go in," she said. The spark in her eyes was not schoolgirlish at all. That was a look that could lead a man to damnation, and make him expect to enjoy the trip. Perhaps her earlier manner had been tenderness rather than pity. He hoped to God it was tenderness.
As he took her hand and led her inside, the front room was blessedly empty. The door shut softly behind them.
Scully went to gather some things from Tammy's room while Mulder went upstairs. Once there, he pulled three candles from a decorative wall sconce and fashioned makeshift holders for them out of 35 mm film canisters. At first the candles all leaned dangerously to one side, a problem Mulder solved by wedging sodden cotton balls into the canisters around their bases. He placed these unorthodox constructions on the edge of the old clawfoot bathtub, where the rested precariously. Then he turned on both bathtub knobs and sent water coursing through the old-fashioned, saucer-sized showerhead. Standing in his undershorts, he folded his arms and looked over his handiwork approvingly. //I am the MacGuyver of sex.//
He heard the soft *click* of the outer door opening. An instinctual paranoid, he disliked not being able to see who had entered the room. Still, under the circumstances his moment of anxiety was tempered with anticipation.
Then Scully walked into the bathroom, her black carry-on bag slung over her shoulder. Mulder held his hands out and caught the bag's strap as she let it slide down her arm.
"I suppose it's too much to hope for that this is full of lacy underwear and sex toys," he said.
Her smile was enigmatic. "Maybe. I guess it depends on how you feel about things like hairbrushes, toothbrushes, first aid kits . . ."
He pointed out his film-canister candleholders and said, "Anything can become a sex toy if you put your mind to it."
"Wow," she said. She walked over to examine his creations. A fine mist of shower-water landed in her hair as she bent to poke one of the canisters. It wobbled on the rounded tub lip.
"I hate to tell you this, but those canisters really aren't stable enough to stay there," she said.
"So? What's the worst they do, fall in and set the water on fire?" He expertly deflected the play-swat she aimed at his behind.
A brief scuffle of tickling and squirming ensued, which ended with Mulder's arms wrapped tightly around her waist. They stood still, looking at each other. He rested his forehead against hers, his pelvis pressed against her belly.
Sometimes Scully looked at him as if she had forgotten herself, as if she could get lost in his eyes. At the moment she was not giving him that look. There was tenderness in her face, but also a strange regret. It was the look of a lover seen through a train window, and it chilled him to the bone.
"Hey, where are you?" he asked.
She shook her head. The strands of her bangs felt like raw silk drawn between their skin. "It's nothing."
He pulled her against his chest. When she wore flat shoes, the top of her head nearly tucked under his chin. It made her seem little. Physical issues aside, Scully was not little. In fact, he was the one feeling small and helpless at the moment, and he held her as if to keep her from fleeing.
"Tell me what you want, Scully. Anything." His voice was husky from desire and emotion.
For an instant, she was too still. He thought she was trying to decide what to tell him. "Just you." The words were right. Her thumb caressing the small of his back was right. Her manner still felt like a careful imitation of normal -- a white lie.
The truth was he wasn't capable of giving her what she wanted. The longing she wouldn't speak of had something to do with Emily and her family and Catholicism, plus a host of other things that probably added up to the normal life she'd lost. A life that was the antithesis of everything related to Spooky Mulder.
//If this was the movies, this is where I'd tell her to leave me and go back to the life she had.// He tried to imagine himself standing with her in Martha's Vineyard airport, quoting Humphrey Bogart: //"If you don't get on that plane now you'll regret it . . ."//
He couldn't tell Scully that. //Nothing strokes a guy's ego like knowing he would have ruined the end of "Casablanca."//
He felt her hold around his waist slacken, and with some reluctance he let her go. She rested her hands on his hips and looked up at him with an expression of such kindness. Not what he wanted to see. He would have preferred passion, desire, adoration . . . something empowering. He could have used a little empowering just then.
Through the thin fabric of his shorts he could feel every curve and hollow of her hands. "What do you say we go set the bathtub on fire?" Scully asked.
That coaxed a grin from him. "I thought you'd never ask."
Mulder helped her out of her rather surprising ensemble of khaki pants and a navy polo shirt with the word "Edgartown" blazoned on it. The hand-sized bruise on her right side made him wince; it was a velvety-black color one generally didn't see on a living body. He bent and kissed it very lightly, the way a man might brush his lips over the petals of a violet.
She held still as he unwound the bandages on her hands. "Do you need to keep your stitches covered in the shower?" he asked. Her right hand had been wrapped around her gun last night, and only sustained cuts on the knuckles. The left one had been slashed repeatedly across the palm, which probably left it too painful to use.
"If I'm careful it'll be all right. I'm not looking forward to trying to wash my hair one-handed, though."
Scully hardly looked grubby, but he wanted to bathe her, to extend some small tenderness that would make her feel clean and good. "Just your luck -- I happen to be fully certified to wash hair," he said.
"I knew there was some reason your parents sent you to Oxford."
"No, that's what I used to do in the X-Files Unit before you came along. The alien/mutant thing was just a front." He knelt down to untie her shoes.
"I see -- that's why all the guys upstairs are so upset with us. You closed the salon down," she said.
"They're not all that upset. Look at all the good I did Skinner." Finished with her shoes, he undid the snap at the waist of her pants and drew down the zipper. Scully placed her hands on his shoulders, then tilted her hips forward until the pants slid off of their own accord. Her lavender bikini briefs with the little white stripes appeared new. He looked up at her and said, "Cute."
"Thanks," she said. "The finest Oscar's Dry Goods Store had to offer."
"I can't wait to get rid of them." He eased the waistband of her panties halfway down over the curve of her bottom and kissed her inside the hollow of her hip. She had the musky-sweet scent of a woman ready to make love. It reminded him of rumpled sheets and warm skin and the snug feeling of lying in bed with the door locked and the phone unplugged.
The side of his hand fit perfectly into the crease between her thigh and groin. Mulder stroked her, his thumb making little circles over the firm nub beneath her panty fabric. She pressed forward against his hand, but he kept the caresses gentle and lazy -- he had all night. If *that* didn't make her forget whatever dark thing had been haunting her, nothing would.
She sighed and leaned more heavily against his shoulders. He looked up past her breasts to her face, and saw the unfocused look of profound pleasure in her eyes. "Good?" he asked.
She shifted position slightly, guiding him to the spot where she wanted to be touched. "Very good," she said.
"Just wait -- it gets better." He slipped his thumb underneath the elastic edge of her panties and caressed her, skin against skin. She made a soft sound, somewhere between satisfaction and longing.
It was such a relief to see the sad, distant look gone from her face that he was willing to forego anything else. "If this is enough, we don't have to go any farther," he asked.
She shook her head, causing the ends of her hair to trail across his forehead. Scully rested her hand over his own and guided him into pulling her panties low enough for her to step out of them.
"I don't want it to be over with before we even start. I want to take my time with you," she said.
The thought of what she might do sent a rush of pressure to his groin that raised his cock form about three-quarters mast to the full ready position. Forget taking time -- he would have been happy to bend her over the side of the tub and thrust into her there and then. Instead, he slid his boxers off in one, fluid motion and then set about lighting his wobbly candles. The flames flickered as if unhappy about being asked to burn in the misty edge of the shower spray.
Scully switched the lights off, and suddenly they were in their own little world of shadow and golden light. He held her wrist instead of her injured hand as she got one leg over the high edge of the tub. Mulder climbed in after her and drew the shower curtain, shutting out an Island full of gossiping photographers, murderous, wheelchair-bound drug dealers and things that cried in abandoned graveyards late at night.
Seeing Scully naked by candlelight almost took his breath away. She stood with her back to the lights, which cast a glowing mist all around her and made her shadow seem like a living, trembling being. Here, of all places, where he'd worked out back as a teenager because he too angry and socially inept for jobs that involved mingling with the guests, she made him feel a little shy.
His erection was pointing at her like a compass needle at a lodestone. He reached out and cupped her breasts with his hands, a bit hesitantly, as if he were approaching some revered object. He made a feeble attempt at humor, "So . . . you come here often?"
"I hope to," she said.
That got him laughing like a schoolkid, and the momentary awkwardness shattered.
The soap was in a wire mesh basket hanging over the tub lip, and Mulder pulled it out to rub it between his hands under the shower spray. The moment he caught its half floral, half medicinal scent, he knew what it was: Kirk's Castile Soap, the only brand that could be coaxed into lathering in the ultra-hard up-island water.
It made him recall the chill of late summer at the Quonochontaug cottage, when he and Samantha would curl up together for warmth as they went to sleep in the loft. The sharp ends of her newly- washed hair, smelling of Kirk's Castile Soap, would prickle his face and neck as he lay awake listening to the crickets.
Mulder fetched a deep sigh as he gently washed Scully's injured side.
"What?" she asked. He could feel the tension in her body; even the slightest pressure on that bruise must hurt.
He shifted his attentions to her lower back. Scully's body was wonderful -- firm but yielding everywhere. "I was just thinking how no one feels lonely the way a child does. Adults can hope. A kid who's always been lonely doesn't know there's anything to hope for."
A woman who knew him less well might not have seen through the apparent non-sequitur. Scully reached back and caressed his hip with her fingertips. "You know now," she said.
He kissed the wet tendrils of hair at the back of her neck. "I know now."
Whether it was from fatigue or melancholy or a sort of sensual lassitude, Scully remained unusually passive as he bathed her. Mulder took the opportunity to explore her body, which never got boring no matter how familiar it became. He ran his fingertips over the delicate lines or her shoulder blade, down her back and over her bottom, then stopped to stroke the sensitive skin at the top of her thigh. She bent forward just slightly to give him better access.
Mulder sat down on the edge of the tub, which bunched up the shower curtain and sent his candles wobbling dangerously. Crazy shadows darted back and forth across the ceiling. But sitting down put him in an ideal position to kiss her breasts, which he did with slow, thorough intentness, running the tip of his tongue around and around the contracted flesh of her nipples. The water beads on her skin had the familiar, mineral tang of up-island water.
There was nothing new for Mulder about being horny in a Vineyard shower, smelling Kirk's Castile Soap and tasting iron in the water, but it did feel very strange to be a grown man in this environment, sitting next to a grown woman who was ready to make love with him. It was as if his sweaty adolescent fantasies had belatedly come true. He looked up at her and said, "I keep thinking somebody's going to bang on the door and tell me to quit using up all the hot water."
Her eyes lost their preoccupied look and she smiled. "Or else they have to use the bathroom. That was always the problem at my house -- as soon as you got in the shower, somebody had to pee. It's good to be an adult with your own life, isn't it?"
Mulder was still amazed that he was in the shower with a real, live woman who would allow him to fondle her breasts. "So who's an adult? Let's say your parents are out, and they think we're studying . . ."
She laughed and gently took the soap from him. It had really only been getting in the way of his groping, anyway. "This place is getting to you, isn't it?"
"Yes," he said, watching her work up a lather in the palm of her right hand. He didn't know what she planned to do with that, but he had his hopes.
When her hand was full of soap suds she wrapped it around the base of his cock. He felt his breathing stop, his whole body tense with anticipation.
She paused and asked, "Exactly how old are you right now, mentally?"
Here in Chilmark, about to use Kirk's Castile Soap in a manner unintended by the manufacturer? "Fourteen?" he guessed.
"Great," she said. "I'm going to jail for molesting your inner child." She began to stroke him, and pleasure blossomed like a white-hot flower. He heard himself make a small noise, neither quite a groan nor a sigh.
"Well see -- he's just a virtual child, so you'll only go to virtual jail . . ."
Her gentle stroking went on for a while, without increasing in intensity. As she'd promised -- or threatened -- she was taking her time with him. Before long he wished she wouldn't. He couldn't help bracing his hands against the tub lip and thrusting up into the snug enclosure of her hand. The sharp movements were bad for the stability of his candles.
Scully glanced at them and said, "You know, those aren't the only things that are going to fall over if you're not careful."
Realizing she was right, Mulder slid down the enameled wall and sat on the tub's floor. Scully coaxed him into lying back. The bathtub was a cast-iron claw foot model from approximately the 1930's, and it took up far more than its fair share of space in the little bathroom. Mulder could nearly have stretched to his full length in it, but he lay with his knees drawn up, giving Scully a place to sit. The water on the tub's floor was slightly too cool to be comfortable, but at this point he hardly cared.
She resumed the hand job she'd been giving him, this time using the thumb of her free hand to massage the skin just beneath the swollen head of his cock. That was one of his most sensitive spots, and the pleasure began to branch up through the nerves of his lower back, down into his buttocks and his inner thighs. Every muscle in his body insisted on pushing him forward and up toward the source of that exquisite feeling.
"*God,* Scully . . ." Intense pleasure, like intense pain, tended to give the world surreal quality. Mulder was aware of the sensation of cold on his wet skin, the wobbling shadows on the ceiling and the rushing sound of the shower, but these were things of no relevance, as easy to ignore as the droning of a television in a back room. What was real was the pleasure Scully was giving him, pleasure in spite of the frustrating, helpless, slippery feeling of lying on the tub floor, in spite of the crushing neediness he'd suffered from all day. Or rather, she could take that helplessness and that neediness and turn them into something that felt good.
He struggled his way up into leaning on his elbow and pulled her toward him, wanting to feel more of her than just her hands. "Hold on," she said, and scooped up enough water in the palm of her hand to sluice the soap suds off him. She climbed over his legs and got into an awkward position straddling his hips. The bathtub was not the most convenient place for lovemaking, but neither of them suggested moving.
Mulder looked up into her eyes, their irises just a sliver of blue around the black pupils. With her wet hair slicked down against her scalp, her face looked more delicate somehow, more vulnerable. "Talk to me," he said, surprised at how husky- breathless his voice sounded. He hoped he wasn't giving her that obscene phone caller vibe. "Tell me what you're gonna do."
She seemed to hesitate. Sometimes she'd talk dirty to him and sometimes she wouldn't. He wasn't sure if her reluctance was a "nice girls don't" thing or a Catholic thing or some combination of both, but she would often stoop to indulge him.
Too late, he remembered that the week before Easter was a big deal to Catholics and that she was supposed to go to church that morning. "You don't have to," he assured her. His wasn't trying to be offensive. He just liked hearing the raw words that seemed so much more like real sex than the Lifetime Channel phrases you could bring out before polite adult company: "being intimate," or "having intercourse."
Scully leaned forward until she rested on one forearm placed above his head. Her skin felt wonderfully warm next to his. The soft slickness of her vulva was pressed right against his cock, and the pressure without friction was driving him crazy.
She kissed him at the spot where his jaw met his neck, and then again right below his ear. "Mulder," she said gently, "I'm going to fuck you. You need an orgasm, and I'm going to give you one. You're going to come so hard you won't be able to stand up."
That was all he needed to hear -- he was already thrusting against her, his hands gripping the underside of her bottom and pressing her down against him. She protested, "Mulder!" One of his thrusts knocked her flat against him again. "Sorry," he said, managing to gain enough control to hold still.
"With stitches in my hands I don't move very fast," she said, carefully using the tub edge to pull herself up.
"I'm sorry," he said, with more feeling.
"It's okay." She settled herself on his hips again. "You're cute when you're horny." She gazed at him tenderly, as if he were a naughty but beloved child.
He looked her up and down, taking in the smooth curves that made up every inch of her, the way her fair skin turned golden in the candlelight. "You are . . . way more than cute," he said.
As if suddenly bashful, she broke eye contact with him. Scully was funny that way -- there was far more of the vulnerable little girl in her than she liked to admit. At that moment, Mulder was so in love it hurt.
She pushed herself up onto her knees and took the base of his cock in her hand. He worked himself up onto his elbows so he could see her slip two fingers between her legs and spread herself to receive him. He loved watching her do that. It never did seem possible that the thick, red-purple shaft of his erection would fit into her, but it always did. As he watched, she guided the head into herself and slowly lowered her hips.
A shiver ran through his body as his cock pushed its way in against the tight-fitting walls of her vagina. When she'd caressed him with her hand it was like feeling trickles of ecstasy, but this flooded him all at once. For a moment he considered thinking about baseball, reciting recidivism statistics in his head, anything to delay the shattering climax that was imminent.
Then she started an easy, rocking motion and there was no longer a decision to make. He lay back down and tucked his thumb up against her clitoris, hoping this would improve the experience for her. She shifted position slightly to increase the friction against his hand.
The orgasm began as a burning seed at the base of Mulder's spine. He found himself thrusting upward to meet Scully's hips, faster and more forcefully than she'd been making love to him. He heard her ask, "You're close, aren't you?"
The burning expanded until his whole body was gripped by a near- blissful tension that was almost too much to stand. He thrust hard enough to bounce Scully against the ridges of his pelvis, release hovering just out of reach. She was speaking to him but he'd stopped focusing on the words.
He was on the knife's edge between ecstasy and torment, the muscles in his lower back burning, when she reached down and caressed the side of his face. Whatever it was she said, her tone was very kind.
Then the outside world stopped, and all he could think as a pent- up sea of tension poured out of him in burst after burst was that she'd said she would give him what he needed and she'd done what she said.
Once it was all over, he realized that the shower water had turned cold. Scully was still cupping the side of his face with her hand. "Good?" she asked.
He meant to say yes. Instead, a deep, inarticulate ache that had no single source crept up on him. It occurred to him that she'd been saying she loved him while he came.
To his embarrassment, he started to cry.
Scully moved off of him and scooted out of his way. "It's okay," she said.
When Mulder sat up he saw sparks and whirling dark spots. Clearly, his blood was not currently nourishing his brain.
She rubbed his back with her small, warm hand. "It's okay," she said again.
He wasn't sobbing hard, but the tears came from cracks in the foundation of his soul. "You know . . . you should be careful when you say nice things to me," he said.
"You need to hear them," she said.
Need. There was that word again. The simplest things became dangerous once you brought need into it.
Oddly, the situation reminded him of a conversation he'd once had with Langly. The hacker had explained a technique that involved flooding a data input program with more information than it could process, including a line or two of command code. Sometimes the input software would inadvertently suck that fragment of code deep inside itself, where it would do something the original programmer never intended, such as spitting out a password file. Mulder had said at the time that the process sounded similar to what he'd occasionally done to suspects on a psychological level.
It was essentially what Scully had just done to him. At a moment of sensory overload, she had said some things to him that went far deeper into his psyche than they should have. He wasn't supposed to feel loved in those deep, broken places. It did bad things to him, like dredging up the feelings of a lonely young boy who'd seen a lot of broken promises and needed a lot of things he didn't get.
"Penny for your thoughts," she said.
He wiped his eyes with his fingers and said, "Not worth a penny. Just thinking of the Lone Gunmen." Her look of mildly horrified surprise allowed him to laugh and shake off some of that ancient, corroding grief.
Soon blood returned to his less fun, but more vital, organs and he was able to stand up and shut the water off. He drew the shower curtain aside and held his hand out to help her out of the tub. "Come on," he said, "I want to make you a very happy woman."
They dried each other off and he led her to the bed in the other room. Slate-colored light leaked in over the top the heavy curtains. They lay down and he kissed her for a little while, her head cradled in the crook of his arm, while he caressed the hot, slick spot between her legs. Scully ran her hand over his back and squirmed to ensure her most sensitive places stayed in contact with his fingers.
He began kissing his way down the front of her body. Giving Scully oral sex after he'd already come inside her wasn't really his favorite thing to do, but for her he was willing to do it. He slowly moved up the inside of her thigh until he reached the delicate flesh of her vagina. He started giving her little, nibbling kisses. To him, her quiet sigh was as good as standing applause.
Her favorite technique involved him holding his tongue still while he used his fingers to move her clitoris against it. Generally it didn't take too much of that to get spectacular results. He gave her firm little clit a preliminary lick and said, "Looks like you've got an early birthday present coming. I guess you must have been a good girl."
"I guess so," she said, sounding a little breathless already.
He began pleasuring her in earnest, paying attention to the way her body tensed, the way her back arched up slightly from the bed. He knew she was on the edge of orgasm when he felt the tremor in the muscles of her thighs. The position he was in was not terribly comfortable, but he made an effort to stay just as he was, since it was clearly giving Scully the effect she wanted.
She had been running her fingers through his hair, but she was very still now, her fingertips pressed against his head as if she were giving a benediction. "Mulder . . ." Her hips tipped up another fraction of an inch, her knees fell slightly farther apart, leaving her utterly open and vulnerable.
He loved it when she called his name at moments like this, although there wasn't a lot he could do to reply. He told himself just to hold still, to keep the pressure and speed of his caresses constant, because at any moment --
Her whole body went into shuddering spasms and she cried out softly. Mulder cupped one of her feet with his hand just so he could feel her toes curl. He thought it was adorable that her toes curled up like a happy baby's when she came.
Once the aftershocks ceased, she squirmed away from his mouth. She was usually painfully sensitive afterward. He crept up next to her and pulled her into his arms, loving the foggy-sweet post- orgasmic look in her eyes.
She curled against him like a cat and kissed him hard. Somewhat to his surprise, Mulder found himself starting to respond to her again. Not bad for a thirty-eight-year-old guy who was tired to the marrow of his bones. It went a long way toward repairing the ego damage done by his coming so quickly and becoming emotionally unglued.
He coaxed her into crawling under the covers with him, where they lay in a contented tangle. He was half-asleep when she asked, "You know I'm not going to leave you, don't you?"
He winced a little, wishing she hadn't brought that topic up at all. The truth was he really didn't know for certain.
"I know people have abandoned you in the past, but I won't."
He wanted to believe that. Mulder shifted position until he could rest his head in the hollow of her shoulder. She toyed with his hair awhile, running the short strands between her fingers.
The last thing he was aware of before he succumbed to fatigue was that she lay gazing up at the ceiling, apparently too preoccupied to sleep.
Scully lay awake for some time, replaying the events of the last few days in her mind. Soon she would have to get up and re-bandage the cuts on her hands, but she didn't want to wake Mulder, who was profoundly asleep against her shoulder. With her thumb, she traced the orderly line of bone in his spine. Other than Emily and maybe her little brother Charlie, Scully didn't think she'd ever felt so protective of anyone.
She watched shadows on the ceiling shift with the changing angle of moonlight that filtered over the top of the curtains. Strange to think the white-painted ceiling beams had been in place before her great-grandparents were born, likely before her ancestors had ever left Ireland. Before that, the beams had been trees. Deep at the center of those trees were growth rings that formed before Europeans ever came to America, and the cells inside those growth rings contained organic molecules that had been part of even more ancient animals and plants. Perhaps the molecular remains of Jesus' contemporaries were lying deep in the wood overhead. To accept the premise that matter was neither created nor destroyed was to accept that one really owned nothing, not even the atoms in one's bones. The thought gave her an eerie sensation of time collapsing in on itself.
Her hands had really begun to throb. She turned and kissed Mulder's forehead, then carefully extricated herself from his embrace. He stirred but did not really seem to wake. After dressing and caring for her injuries, she went downstairs to retrieve her laptop. Soon she had set up a makeshift desk for herself on the table near the window in Mulder's room.
If she wasn't going to sleep, she might as well write up Kristie's autopsy protocol. She plugged the serial jack of her digital recorder into the back of her laptop and watched as her dictated notes flowed onto the screen. During the autopsy, she'd indicated that the through-and-through wound to Kristie's thigh was "consistent with" a single, forceful knife thrust. Such a finding would indicate an assailant with a lot of upper body strength. Of course, the wound was also consistent with a scenario in which Kristie slipped and fell forward onto a sharp object being held upward at an angle. This might happen if she were pursuing a much smaller, weaker person who was backing away from her. Such apparently minor details would influence the prosecutor's decision about what, if any, charges would be filed against John McBer and his theoretical accomplice.
Scully absently rubbed at the line of stitches on her left palm. The pattern of wounds across Kristie Herron's hands had been nearly identical. Yet even assuming her own experience was what it seemed, it was still possible that what happened to Kristie was unrelated. She decided to ask Detective Davis for copies of the autopsy photographs in the morning. Maybe the hilt mark on Kristie's thigh would offer some information.
She organized and reorganized the autopsy data without coming to any conclusion that would bear up under the requisite burden of proof. If nothing else, Scully thought, she ought to be used to *that* after more than seven years. At last she wandered over to the window and drew the curtain aside. The frozen field sparkled in the light of a near-full moon, and beyond that the woods stood like a ragged line of still, gray figures. No, perhaps not entirely still. Was it her imagination, or did something pale occasionally flicker around the bases of the trees? The shifting shadows held her gaze for a long, long time.
Mulder dreamt he was in the kitchen of his boyhood home, cutting out sugar cookies with Samantha. The girl was the 14-year-old he'd seen in his starlight vision and he was his adult self, but somehow this seemed only natural. The only mystery was why they'd spent so much time apart.
The trick to making sugar cookies was to roll the dough out while it was still very cold, and Mulder had to stand up and throw his back into rolling out the near-frozen mound. Samantha was doing more chatting than cutting, commenting on the more eccentric cookie cutters as she lifted them one at a time from the large bowl in front of her. The Mulder siblings had liked to root through summer-end garage sales for peculiar cookie cutters and hoard them in anticipation of the holidays. It got so Christmas wasn't the same without cookies shaped like Friar Tuck or the head of Mayor McCheese.
Despite her apparent distraction, Samantha had two full cookie sheets in front of her, one balanced awkwardly on the other. She struck one with her elbow as she reached across the table for their dented fleur-de-lis cutter, and only her quick grab saved it from clattering to the floor.
Mulder set the rolling pin down and held his hands out to her. "Here -- I'll give those to Mom," he said. Samantha handed him the sheets, and he turned to set them on the counter.
Mrs. Mulder shut the oven door and stood up. She moved with a strange, slow stiffness.
"Mom?" Mulder asked.
He realized her hair was dark and wet-looking. When she turned, her features were a corpse's, bloated and blackened almost beyond recognition.
Mulder cried out and sat up in bed. For an instant he was disoriented, unable to recognize the room faintly outlined by the glow from Scully's laptop.
He turned to find Scully at the window, moonlight shining through the filmy fabric of her nightgown. She seemed to be standing too close to the glass, as if she were a lover watching in eager anticipation of her beloved's return. He looked away, unable to bear the freezing feeling he got when he looked at her.
"What is it? Did you have a bad dream?" He heard her bare feet padding across the carpet. Her fingers were cold when she put her hand in his arm; she'd been standing at the window a long time. Chill radiated from her as from an open grave.
"Mulder?" She asked again.
He reached up and seized her, crushing her against him. "Whatever's out there doesn't need you. *I* need you."
"Mulder, stop it! You're hurting me." He did not immediately yield to her struggles. Something dark and desperate in him refused to let her go.
When he finally released her, he sat forward and rested his elbows on his knees, ashamed. She was a luminous figure in his peripheral vision, lifting her hand to her injured side. "What's the matter with you?" she asked.
Everything. Everything was the matter. "Scully . . . can I ask you something?" His mouth felt as dry as ash.
Whatever she heard in his voice made her speak more gently. "Sure . . . what is it?" He felt the bed springs shift as she sat down.
There was an odd humming feeling in his head. "When we went to my mother's apartment, did I see the body?"
Silence. //She doesn't know what to say.//
"You don't remember," she said.
Mulder swallowed against the burning at the back of his throat. "Maybe I do now."
Scully began to talk too quickly in that clinical voice she used when she wanted to distance herself from something. "Repression is a normal psychological defense mechanism. I know when I came home from the hospital after my sister--"
Mulder tuned her out. Disjointed images flashed in his mind. Socks. White socks beneath the cuffs of loose teal slacks, resting at one end of the couch. Scully arguing with one of the cops: //"Leave him alone. He's upset."//
//"What the hell is he doing here?"//
Another officer spoke: //"He flashed a badge at the door. How was I supposed to know he was her son?"//
The smell of death was already strong, overpowering the chemical smell from the leaky gas line in the oven. A smell like things left on the beach after storm breakers receded; like oysters with gaping shells.
Her hands lay folded on her stomach, relaxed as if in sleep. The only clue to what had occurred was the faint greenish tinge to the skin on top and the deep red color just visible on the underside of her fingers. The tissues had begun to swell just slightly, causing her thin gold watchband to impress a groove around her wrist. The hands of the watch still twitched forward, impervious.
//"Mulder, come on. Let's go. Let's let them finish up in here."// Scully had tugged at his arm, urging him toward the door. He remained, immovable.
His mother had not been dead long, 36 hours, 48 at most. Yet her head, encased in a plastic bag secured with a rubber band, seemed to belong to a corpse dead far longer. Her expiring breath had filled the plastic with moisture and microbes soon went to work.
Beneath her mercifully closed eyes her eyeballs had gone flat, forming deep hollows in a face otherwise swollen like a drowning victim's. The deterioration was such that Mulder had at first allowed himself to hope it wasn't his mother after all. Surely this was not the woman who had left a message on his answering machine only days before.
But her identification had been laid out neatly on the arm of the couch, and a scar she'd gotten while washing out a glass that broke made a familiar checkmark-shape across her knuckle.
Other memories intruded on his recollection of the scene: the smell of gun powder; the hot, sticky feeling of his father's blood seeping through his clothes, the pool of it spreading and spreading.
Mulder felt his bowels turn to liquid, and he quickly got up out of bed.
When he returned, he felt shaky and sweaty, as if he had been ill for days. As an afterthought, he drew over the wastepaper basket just in case he threw up.
Scully was buzzing around him, turning on lights, fetching him water. She located a thermometer in some inner pocket of her bag and coaxed him into putting it under his tongue.
He obliged her, though he doubted he was feverish. He shut his eyes against the glare of the lamp and simply felt himself breathe. There was something satisfying about hearing the air rush in and out of his nostrils -- proof he still belonged to the land of the living.
Mulder felt no emotion he could identify, which was fine with him. It was as if his heart had broken, and then the sharp slivers had been wrapped in thick cotton batting to prevent them from doing any more damage. For the second time that night, the world disintegrated into a collection of disjointed sensations -- the pressure of his body against the cotton sheets, Scully's feet patting on the carpet, the almost-inaudible hum coming from her laptop.
Before long she disturbed him to take thermometer out of his mouth. "97.8," she said.
Ah. So this was just shock. Nothing remarkable about that. He heard her pick up the glass of water from the bedside table. "I want you to drink as much of this is you can," she said.
He was tempted to ignore her, but he made himself drink the thing. He didn't enjoy it. He hurt when he moved, though not physically. The pain went deeper than that.
Scully made him drink another glass of water before she shut out the light and got back into bed with him. She wadded the blankets around him and coaxed him into sitting curled against her with his head on her shoulder.
To his dismay, she started to pray over him: "Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope, to thee do we cry, poor, banished children of Eve . . ."
"Please don't do that," Mulder said. As far as he was concerned, prayers were for funerals, and he wasn't dead just yet.
She fell silent and rested her cheek against his forehead, as if very weary. He could tell from the way she was holding him that she was afraid for him. She pressed the coverlet against his shoulder as if she were stanching the blood from a wound. Some sick, childish part of him was glad. He tried telling himself he did not need attention that badly, but it didn't work. He was well beyond the point of reasoning with himself. //This would be a really good time for Scully's God to exist.// "Tell me a Sister Spooky story," he said.
"Mulder . . . that's not what you need to hear right now," she said. Sister Spooky, known to the rest of the world as Sister Mary Carnahan, IHM, had been a veritable encyclopedia of bizarre Church trivia. Most of her stories involved things like miraculously preserved tongues and statues that bled. At times, Mulder knew his interest made Scully uncomfortable. He'd had to assure her he wasn't simply picking her brain for a Catholic version of "Ripley's Believe It or Not." Sister Spooky's world was filled with mystery, and in mystery there was hope.
"It is. It is what I need to hear," Mulder said.
She sighed and was silent for a few moments. "The only one I can think of is completely inappropriate," she said.
"I don't care. It'll do fine," Mulder said.
"It's got death in it," she warned him.
She took a deep breath and said, "Well, according to Sister Mary, Death takes the form of a man in a broad-brimmed hat. Underneath the hat is a skull, and the eye sockets are dark. He's blind, so when he wanders the streets at night, he goes sniffing at the air to find his way. You can hear him coming because he pushes a heavy cart full of the bodies of people he's come to take away.
Mulder curled more closely against Scully, like a child moving closer to the camp fire during a ghost story.
"Once, a long time ago, Death could see. He was walking through the Irish farm country one evening when St. Peter came down to earth and started walking beside him. All the sensible farmers were already in their houses, but one farmer and his servant were still mowing hay.
"At the sound of Death's cart, the farmer dropped to the ground and whispered for his servant to do the same. But the servant was a simple man, and he kept mowing and singing.
"Death was angry that the man was not afraid. He pointed his bony finger at him and said, 'You. In eight days that fine voice of yours will be stilled. I advise you to get shriven now, because once your eight days are up I will come for you.'"
"But the servant only sang louder, and that made Death even more angry. 'Very well, you had your chance,' he said. 'You should have seen the priest when I bade you. Instead you will come with me now, with all of your sins on your head.'
"Then St. Peter stepped in and said, 'How dare you wish such a death on an honest man doing honest work? Remember, you were made to chasten man, not to rule him.' And he struck the glowing fires out of the creature's eyes."
Scully lapsed into silence, and for time the only sound was the hum of her laptop. "That's a great story," Mulder said.
"It's not great. It's kind of twisted. I think some of the parents went to the priest after Sister told us that one," she said. He wondered if her own parents had complained. The story must have made quite an impression on her; Mulder suspected she was quoting parts of it verbatim.
"I liked it. Thank you," he said. Somehow the idea that Death had limitations was very comforting.
She patted his thigh through the thick blankets. "Think you can sleep?"
Unconsciousness sounded like a very nice idea -- if only he could keep from dreaming. "I think so. Can you?"
She hesitated a moment and he knew she'd heard his unspoken reproach. No more lurking at the window and frightening him. "Yes, I think so," she said.
They settled back down into bed, and this time Mulder's sleep was untroubled by dreams.
Full sunlight was shining over the top of the curtains when Scully woke up. She felt better rested than she had since leaving work on Friday. Slowly it dawned heard this was wrong. It was Monday morning, and agents who expected to miss work were supposed to call in by 8 AM. She sat up on the edge of the bed and phoned Skinner's office, leaving a message with Kim. If the AD was as "enthusiastic" about keeping her and Mulder out of Washington and out of trouble as he claimed, then he would understand. She let Mulder sleep as she dressed. The events of the past few days had likely been even more harrowing for him than they had been for her.
She took the room key from the nightstand and slipped out of the room, hoping there was still something left of the continental breakfast buffet downstairs. Scully hesitated briefly on the landing, listening to the sound of law officers' voices. She could feel the bracing fresh air even where she stood on the stairway -- men must have been going in and out the front door for some time. The investigators were packing up and going home: scene processed, suspect in custody, case closed.
The thought made Scully uneasy. She didn't doubt that John McBer had meant little good to Kristie Herron. Perhaps he even planned to kill her. But had he actually committed the murder?
For that matter, to what extent had Scully's own inexplicable experience colored her view of the facts and Kristie's murder case? The whole situation made her position extremely difficult. The young woman's family certainly deserved some satisfaction from the justice system. But then, if he was innocent, so did John McBer.
She continued down the stairs and found officers in civilian garb chatting next to their packed bags, and brushing crumbs from cheese danishes off their shirt fronts and mustaches. Two teenagers, a boy and a girl, wearing crisp white aprons, cleared mostly-empty trays of fruit, pastries and muffins from a long table.
Detective Davis, wearing khaki slacks and a tweed blazer, stood right by the remaining tray of little muffins. Scully braved the possibility of his curious blue gaze as she grabbed a paper plate and began loading a basic breakfast for herself and Mulder on it. She couldn't help glancing up at the boy server as he reached for, then drew back from, the tray she was picking at. The kid was skinny and pimply-faced, probably about 17 years old. His name tag said "Josh." Scully glanced up at Josh and couldn't help imagining a young Mulder, awkward and silent and sad, working in his former neighbors' inn because they were the only people who would tolerate him.
Josh looked up at her and she saw his eyes were dark rather than green-gold-brown.
"Hi," Scully said, smiling.
"Hi," the boy said, and immediately found something else to do on the other end of the table. His co-worker, a girl whose nametag said "Nicole," rolled her eyes and started brushing crumbs off the tablecloth.
Scully forced herself to seem as disinterested as possible as detective Davis stepped up beside her.
"Agent Scully, it's good to see you up and around again."
She managed a tight smile and consciously refrained from fussing with the bandages on her hands. "Thank you," she replied. "I wanted to ask you whether I could examine the photos of Kristie Herron's autopsy."
Davis looked mildly surprised. "Sure. I have no problem with that. But may I ask why?"
Scully swallowed, debated whether to demur or to be upfront about her questions concerning John McBer's guilt. McBer might indeed be a poor excuse for a human being, even a murderer, but he was not necessarily Kristie's killer. "I want to study the wound pattern again, specifically the sharp-force wound to the thigh. I want to be sure about the angle of attack before I write up the protocol."
"The angle of attack?" Davis asked, frowning. "I thought we were pretty clear that the attack was a thrust from someone sitting or kneeling low to the ground, perhaps in a chair. What happened to make you change your mind?"
"I haven't changed my mind. Not exactly," Scully said. "It's just that I want to explore all possibilities."
"Possibilities?" Davis echoed. Suddenly he held his hand out as if he wanted to usher her away from the crowd. "Can I talk with you? Privately?" he asked.
She blinked at him, trying not to show that she was at all concerned. "Yes, I suppose so," she said. She walked with him a short distance to the lace-covered window near the corner with the pot-bellied stove.
"Listen, I'm not good at politics, and I can't think of a politic way to say this. Dr. Scully, I don't want this to be repeat of the LaPierre case," Davis said quietly.
The statement stunned Scully into silence. Amber Lynn LaPierre was the little girl Mulder believed had "vanished into starlight." The case was still wending its way through the court system, but the defense was making a big deal of "an FBI profiler's" dismissal of the LaPierres as suspects.
"Excuse me?" Scully asked. "I don't think I understand."
Davis looked pained and glanced away toward the window, is if Scully were forcing him into territory where he didn't want to go. "Look, we all have tough breaks in our lives. I've had mine, you've had yours, and Agent Mulder has had his. But as professionals, we have to make sure those breaks don't cloud our judgment about a case. I know you lost her daughter two years ago--"
"You what?" Scully asked, louder than she'd meant to. Heads in the room turned. She felt heat spreading across her face.
Davis looked apologetic. "Patty Herron mentioned you stopped by the other night; she said you'd lost a child. I'm sorry to hear that. I really am. But reading supernatural elements into this case is not going to bring that child back."
There was a dim singing in Scully's ears and she felt a powerful urge to slap him. Her voice shook slightly when she spoke: "You don't know what you're talking about. Agent Mulder and I have always conducted our cases with the utmost professionalism . . ."
Davis held up his hands, a disarming gesture. "I'm not trying to be offensive. I'm just trying to make sure this case gets the best investigation possible. The Herron family deserves that much. You agree with me, right?"
Despite his assertion that he was no good at politics, Davis had backed her into a corner. "Of course," Scully said. "Okay. I can have the photos sent up to you in a few hours. That all right?" Davis asked.
"Yes," Scully said, not liking how quickly he was giving in. She sensed he was throwing her a bone.
"Good," Davis said, giving her a conciliatory smile.
Scully moved away from him quickly, heading upstairs with her paper plate laden with fruit and muffins. Maybe it was her imagination, but she felt every eye in the room on her as she exited.
She found Mulder awake, sitting naked with his legs folded up under him among the tangled sheets on the bed. He still looked sleepy and a little dazed.
He blinked at her as she came in. "What's wrong?"
Scully set the plate down on the nightstand and sat on the edge of the bed. "I was talking to Davis. He said Patty told him about Emily, and that I shouldn't let what happened affect my 'professionalism.'"
Mulder held his arm out to her and she allowed herself to be coaxed into lying down with him, the warmth of his body pressed against her back. She felt his lips brushing the back of her neck as he said, "Davis is an ass."
She exhaled deeply, feeling some of the tension leave her body. She realized that she was still very tired. "He's not. He's not an ass. He's just an ordinary detective trying to do his job, and he doesn't want 'Mrs. Spooky' messing things up for him."
"Is that how you think of yourself now?" His tone was regretful.
"I don't know," Scully said softly. She hardly knew what to think of herself anymore. Seven years ago she had been very like detective Davis -- skeptical, conventional, good at her job, up to a point. Since then everything had changed.
"You are Dana Scully. You're a good investigator, a good doctor. And you're a good friend," he said.
She couldn't quite help fishing for more. "A friend? That's all I am?"
"What, you want the part about being the bright light around which my otherwise dim and twisted universe revolves, too?"
She lifted his hand to her lips, suddenly very grateful for him. "I'm glad you're doing better this morning," she said. His request for a story about death last night had frightened her little. Maybe if they played their cards right, only one of them would be crazy at a time.
"I'll make it through, one way or another. And so will you," he said.
At that moment she believed him. "Mulder, can I ask you something?"
He must have heard the faint tremor in her voice because he pulled her closer. "Sure."
"Did I make a mistake with Emily? I mean by stepping into the role of her mother so quickly, pursuing such aggressive treatment . . ." she could feel Mulder shaking his head.
"You loved her. Every choice you made was based on that. That's not wrong," Mulder said.
It took a few seconds before she could get the words out: "She didn't love me back." Tears she'd been stifling for too long flooded her eyes and ran down either side of her nose.
"Hey," Mulder said, then tugged at her shoulder until she rolled over and curled against his chest. "You don't know that."
"She didn't love me the way I loved her," Scully said. No one could deny that. Emily had at best tolerated her. The little girl had allowed herself to be held, but would neither snuggle close nor push Scully away. It was as if her biological mother were an inconsequential environmental variable, like the weather. It was this horrible truth that whispered to Scully in her nightmares and which Irv Stuckey had played upon so successfully.
Mulder sighed, and Scully felt him try to mold his body to hers, as if trying to absorb the shock from some impact. "Everyone and everything she'd ever loved had been taken away from her. She was probably afraid to love anybody after that. She needed more time. It's just that time's the one thing she didn't have."
Scully cried for several minutes, exploring the sharp edges of the broken place inside her. She thought she had done a fairly good job of healing after two years. Would that broken place ever go away?
Once she was done crying, she lay with her head in the hollow of Mulder shoulder. "Irv Stuckey said something yesterday," she said. She felt his muscles tense.
"What?" he asked. Scully had already told Mulder all the shameful things Irv had said about him, but not the final part about Emily. That had been too horrible to speak of.
"He said . . . he said he knew an old down-island woman who told him a story about someone who was killed by the South Road Ghost. A deaf woman. And he wanted to know if I heard Emily calling me."
"He said that to you? I'll kill him."
Scully didn't like the tension she could feel building in him. Mulder was impulsive enough at times to make her worry he might really do something foolish.
"I need you to do something else for me," she said, hoping to harness that emotion to some constructive goal. "Can you find out who this deaf woman might have been -- if anyone's still alive who might have known her? It's just . . . it's something I need to know."
"This whole South Road Ghost thing has gone way too far. The story about Mary Brown is a story to scare kids, Scully. Whatever's out there in those woods does not represent payback time for mothers who make bad choices. It has its own reasons for doing what it does. People have taken it and twisted it to prop up whatever social moral they happen to be selling. That's what really bothers me about situations like this. Some real tragedy happens, and suddenly fifty armchair moralists have to leap up and co-opt the facts to fit their own prejudices."
The passion in his voice was such that Scully suspected he wasn't speaking only of the South Road Ghost and Kristie Herron. She remembered what Irv had said, //"Ask him what his mama heard out in those trees."//
"Mulder, I would feel better if you asked," she said.
The momentum of his rant could not be stopped so easily. "We all live our lives in a complex, bewildering gray area, but as soon as we're dead, everything's supposed to become a 'Friday the 13th' allegory for moral transgression."
She tried another tack. "Aren't you at least a little curious to find out what this thing is, if it's not what it seems to be?"
Curiosity was his Achilles heel, and they both knew it. She felt him exhale, as if releasing some of his outrage. "I can ask," he said. "But I'm not curious enough to lose you over it. I don't think we should spend another night out here."
"No," she assured him. "I just have a few things to tie up. I need access to the photos from Kristie's autopsy to finish the protocol, for one thing."
Mulder raised up on his elbow to look at the clock. It was a little after 11. "Probably the place for me to start is the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown. They're a lot more reliable than Irv Stuckey is."
"Would it be possible for you to run me up to the store before you go?" she asked. "I need some things to help check out a theory."
In fact, she wanted a long, sharp, serrated knife, some children's modeling dough, preferably Play-Doh brand, and if possible, cut-proof Kevlar gloves. Whether or not the autopsy photos showed anything conclusive, the knife and the Play-Doh would help her replicate the wound pattern.
The store clerk and everyone else in town would probably think she was a nut, but then, as Mrs. Spooky, she wouldn't want to disappoint them.
Later, Mulder dropped Scully back off at the inn with her bag of peculiar purchases. She'd explained the forensic uses of Play- Doh to him long ago. Unlike clay or most generic children's modeling dough, the Playskool brand had a very high surface tension that caused it to tear at the edges of a puncture rather than deform, much like human skin. This made it a useful, if crude, medium for re-creating the pattern of wounds.
He watched her walk up the steps of Nye House, knowing that she'd spend the afternoon busily slashing at Play-Doh and dictating the results onto her recorder. An eccentric investigative method perhaps, but at least it was cleaner than the experiments attributed to Sherlock Holmes. He was supposed to have stabbed pig carcasses with a fencing foil.
One she was inside, Mulder pulled out of the gravel drive, which was muddy and much-rutted now from the rain and the unusually high volume of traffic over the last few days. But at the moment all the storm clouds were gone, and the afternoon was shaping up to be a fine one. The sunlight had the silvery clarity that seemed to belong only to the Atlantic Northeast in the spring, and as Mulder made his way along the dirt track of Rural Route 1, he noticed that the canopy of bare branches overhead was beginning to develop tiny green leaf buds.
Seasons changed more slowly out on the coast, and this spring had been colder and wetter than many. And yet, there was only so long that winter could last. After one of the hardest winters of his life, Mulder was more than ready for spring.
The Dukes County Historical Society was a collection of buildings along an Edgartown side street, only a few blocks away from the jail he'd visited yesterday. He parked his car in the near-empty lot behind the Gale Huntington Library, a two-story building done in the same square, black-and-white Greek Revival style that had been once so popular with whaling captains. The library building, which also housed a maritime museum, was a modern imitation of an old house, but truly old structures dotted the Historical Society grounds around it. Gray, shake-sided Thomas Cooke House stood off to one side, looking much as it had during the youth of King George III.
As Mulder got out of his car and started up the walkway toward the library, he found that Cooke House both drew and curiously repelled his gaze. It was not an especially attractive building, square in front but with a steeply sloping back that gave it a slightly barn-like appearance. Its curtainless windows reflected the early afternoon sun, giving the panes a blank, staring look. Even the replica of an 18th century kitchen garden, which would brighten the place in the coming months, was currently brown and dead.
In all likelihood the house that had once stood by the South Road Burying Ground had been nearly identical to this one, with the exception of the rough fieldstone base that still remained among the weeds. It occurred to him that there might be something unwise, if not actually unhealthy, about Vineyarders' attachment to the past. What did it say about a place when three-quarters of the houses in town were built by the dead?
He walked up the damp brick steps to the library's front door. Despite its house-like exterior, the inside was clearly that of a public building. A black, rubberized mat lay over the shining wooden floorboards and a rack of informational pamphlets stood at the foot of the grand staircase, which was currently cordoned off with a velvet rope. Mulder had no business upstairs in the maritime museum anyway, so he turned left into what he recalled was the library's reference section.
The place was largely as he remembered it, with bookshelves running across the width of the room and glass display cases standing along the walls. A few computer terminals were new additions, but the room had the same familiar smell, one of bookbinding glue and dust and the faint musty scent that rose from the radiators. A hushed smell. It made Mulder think of autumn leaves and damp sneakers and the great wooden card catalog cabinet that had once stood in the corner. He recalled being very pleased when he was tall enough to look down into the topmost drawer. Until then, he'd needed a chair to access 20% of the alphabet.
He wondered what made computers so much better than a card catalog file, anyway. Nobody's card catalog ever crashed and died when the power went out.
At the moment the library seemed deserted, so he walked up to the information desk and rang the handbell. After a few moments a petite middle-aged lady in a denim jumper walked out of the back room. Her gray hair had been cut in the same quasi-military style seen on statues of Roman soldiers -- the same crummy haircut Mulder's father had given him every summer of his boyhood, as a matter of fact. It probably looked better on the librarian.
"Can I help you?" the lady asked.
"Yes--I hope so," Mulder said. "I'm hoping to track down the source of a story. One related to Mary Brown and the South Road Ghost."
The librarian smiled at him and said, "You're looking for 'Haunted Martha's Vineyard' by Vinton Marsden. It might be checked out -- it's very popular with the kids."
"I know--I've read it. I used to come here a lot. My name's Fox Mulder." Somewhat to his relief, the woman's face showed no recognition.
"I'm Sue Bugay," she said, and shook his hand.
"Actually I was looking for a living source, a person. A friend of mine told me a woman living somewhere down-island might know something about the story. Apparently a deaf woman died many years ago after meeting with an entity out in the woods outside Chilmark."
"An entity . . .?" Sue blinked at him for moment from behind her glasses. "Well, there's--" he got the impression she was deliberately omitting a name, "there is a woman in our Island Oral History Project who tells a story something like that. Can I ask why you need to know?"
Mulder pulled his badge out of his coat pocket. He hadn't wanted to rely on the symbol of authority to get information, but he supposed he could understand Sue's reluctance. He showed her his ID and said, "It's possible the event she remembers is relevant to an open murder case."
Sue's eyes went wide. "Not that poor girl who fell over a cliff last week?" she asked.
There weren't a lot of homicides on the Vineyard, so there was no point in being evasive. "Yes, ma'am."
"But that can't be. The story Mrs. Langmann tells happened before she was even born, and she's over 90 years old. There must be some mistake," Sue said.
"I'd like to speak to Mrs. Langmann, if that's possible. Is there way I could contact her?" Mulder asked.
Sue looked a little embarrassed at having given away the woman's name. "I'll call her and ask her if she's willing to contact you," she said, and walked back into the other room. Apparently she wasn't thrilled at the idea of sending a nut with a badge and a ghost story off to bother a little old lady.
Mulder wandered among the shelves, brushing his fingertips over the book spines. Some of the titles were new, but many were familiar to him from years ago. On impulse, he tugged out a book called, "Old Families of the Lower Cape and Islands," and examined the card tucked into the inside pocket. According to the date stamps, the book had been checked out a dozen times between 1959 and 1983. Somehow it was nice to see the faded numbers at the top of the card. If something as insubstantial as an index card could still be in good condition after 41 years, he might stand a fighting chance after all.
He slipped the book back into place and examined a volume about clothing worn at about the time of the Revolutionary War. Mulder was contemplating historical female undergarments, which apparently consisted of canvas, whalebone, steel and leather, and imagining the inconvenient contortions that would be required to get Scully out of such a thing, when Sue returned with a name and address written on a slip of paper. He shut the book firmly and put it away.
"The woman you're looking for is Amelie Langmann. I just spoke with her granddaughter, who says it's all right for you to come out. Mrs. Langmann is completely deaf, so she doesn't use the phone. You'll have to meet her in person. For the next few hours her great-grandson should be there to translate."
Mulder scanned the paper she'd given him and saw that the address was a rural one, south of Vineyard Haven. "Thank you," he said.
She seemed to hesitate as he turned to leave. "Mr. Mulder?
Mulder stopped as he carefully talked the paper slip into his wallet. "Yes?"
"There's . . . something else you might want to look at." She went into the back room again and returned carrying a large book. The pages looked as if they had been hand-cut to varying widths and then stitched together, giving the edges a rippling look.
Sue set the book down on the information desk and said, "This is a family Bible dating to the 1740s. The Chilmark courthouse burned down in 1826, so family effects like this are the only existing record of the town's early history."
She sat the book down on the desk and gently opened the leather cover. The pages inside had turned a mellow brown at the edges, but Mulder could still glimpse the printer's information near the bottom. The book had been manufactured by some company in Boston, or what looked like "Bofton," with the antiquated long "S."
Sue turned the first page over and revealed a complicated genealogy written in several different hands on the back. Carefully ruled lines connected the names of parents, children, stepchildren, half brothers and sisters born a generation apart, and others whose relationships were not immediately clear. Scanning the page, Mulder saw that the genealogy began with a marriage in 1742 and ended with a death in 1927. Most of the dead had tiny black crosses painted next to their names, making him wonder about those who did not. Were they lost but not known to be dead? Dead but presumably not resting in peace?
"If there was a historical Mary Brown, this may be her," Sue said, not quite touching the paper as she pointed to a black spot on the family ledger. One Robert Brown had apparently married a woman in 1773 whose memory the family was not eager to keep alive. His wife's name had been obliterated with a bar of black ink.
"My family feels the same way about me," Mulder said.
If Sue was amused, she didn't show it. "You can see that Robert and his two children died in the same year, 1777. This younger one is unusual in that he or she was entered into the family book without a name; there's only the single date."
Mulder shifted his position a little so he could see past her pointing finger. The record showed that the Browns' first child was a daughter, Susannah, born in 1774 and just three or four years old when she died. The second child was memorialized with only a date and a tiny cross.
"Why would they do that -- record that a baby was born but not write down its name?" Mulder asked.
Sue shook her head. "Perhaps it died so young it never got one, although in that case it would be strange to record its birth at all. I expect that someone just felt especially bad about the fact that it died."
"And maybe Mom and Dad weren't around to name it by then," Mulder said.
"That could be."
Mulder glanced up at the librarian and asked, "Where did this come from?"
"It's mine," Sue said, straightening up. She pointed at the entry on the bottom of the page: Maria Flint, b. July 1888, d., December 1927. "She was my father's mother."
For the first time Mulder realized he was talking about more than folklore -- this was family history. As tactfully as he could, he asked, "Did any family traditions survive? Any information at all about the woman whose name was blacked out?"
Sue shook her head. "I can tell you that the earliest written record of the South Road Ghost story was from about 1850, in a letter from a woman to her cousin on the mainland. She mentions the story as if it's already quite old -- a headless woman condemned to wander the cliffs on stormy night's after murdering both her daughters."
"The second baby was a girl?" Mulder asked.
"Maybe. That's the only detail that gives the story any credence, really. Society's imagination tends to default to male -- even more so in Victorian times than now." Suddenly Sue seemed to realize what she'd been implying and backed away from that precipice. "It's all just folklore, really. I'm sure the real Mary Brown, if she existed, would hardly recognize herself in the stories that have grown up around her."
"Thank you," Mulder said, for once seeing no reason to force someone out of her comfortable beliefs into the world of extreme possibilities. After all, he found it comforting to imagine that the Vineyard was very ordinary, too. He copied down the relevant information from the book's frontispiece and walked back out to the car.
Half an hour later he guided his car over the deeply pitted gravel drive leading up to Mrs. Langmann's house. It was a white Victorian with pale yellow shutters, the paint peeling slightly from the sides. Turned-wood posts which held up the overhang above the front porch hinted at the house's age. People sometimes faked Victorian gingerbreading of the kind that hung from the house's eaves, but nobody bothered with carving wooden posts anymore.
As Mulder walked up the steps to the front porch, a shaggy gray cat lifted its head from the mold-spotted lawn chair seat it lay on. It blinked its yellow eyes at him, then fled when he rang the doorbell. Footsteps sounded inside and a teenage boy opened the door. The kid's slouch and oversized clothes gave the impression that he'd been picked up out of the lost-and-found at the local bus station.
Mulder bit back the first comment that came to mind, about what the kid was doing a wearing Marlon Brando's pants. Did it mean he was getting old when he felt like making fun of teenagers' fashion sense? //Nah.//
"You the guy who's here to see my O.G?" the kid asked.
Mulder couldn't help giving him a sharp look. As far as he knew, "O.G." was a gangland term meeting "original gangster."
"Your O.G.?" Mulder asked. The boy opened the rusty screen door and let Mulder into the house.
The kid looked a little embarrassed by Mulder's scrutiny. "My old Grandma," he said.
The front room was small and square, lit only by the sun through the windows. A worn rug partially covered its bare hardwood floor. The furniture had the spare, slightly space-agey look popular in the early 60's, and a quick glance revealed that the television had knobs and rabbit-ear antennas. Mulder wondered if Ed Sullivan or Lawrence Welk would automatically appear if he turned it on.
The kid led Mulder back into the little kitchen, where modern- looking appliances sat next to older things on the gleaming counter. Whether Mrs. Langmann used her modern conveniences was doubtful -- the bowl of an electric bread-kneading machine was stuffed full of what looked like magazine clippings, and what appeared to be an honest-to-goodness wooden kneading trough sat with a cloth over it on a sturdy aluminum table.
The kid muttered an invitation for Mulder to sit in one of the aluminum-legged chairs and then wandered out the back door, presumably looking for his great-grandmother. Before long the door opened again and a truly ancient little woman walked in, wiping garden dirt from her hands on a dishcloth tied at her waist.
Mulder stood and asked, "Mrs. Langmann?" then suddenly felt like an idiot for speaking aloud to a deaf woman.
He needn't have worried, because she answered, "Yes?" Apparently she read lips.
He held his hand out to her and she pressed it gently between her cool, knobby fingers. "I'm Fox Mulder. Susan Bugay suggested I meet with you," he said.
Her great-grandson had followed her into the kitchen, and he signed a translation of Mulder's statement with surprising deftness.
"Oh! You mean about that girl that died," the old lady said. She spoke with the flat, slightly throaty tones of the longtime deaf.
"Yes, ma'am. I wanted to speak to you about the South Road Ghost."
She peered at the boy as he translated, showing no surprise at Mulder's request. Her heavy-lidded eyes were a pale, clouded blue, and Mulder wondered if she weren't partially blind as well. "Jeff, be a love and fetch us another chair," Mrs. Langmann said.
Jeff headed back into the living room, and while he was gone Mrs. Langmann washed the rest of the garden soil from her hands at the sink. She seemed to be in no hurry; Mulder supposed that being more than 90 years old put the passage of time in perspective.
Jeff returned carrying a straight-backed wooden chair with a cushion tied over the seat. He set this down by the table, and Mrs. Langmann perched on the edge of it. She drew her kneading trough to her and lifted the cloth off. Mulder and Jeff sat down in the other two chairs, with the boy sitting between the two adults.
Although not patient by nature, Mulder decided to let the old lady begin her story in her own time. Mrs. Langmann began punching and folding her dough. "So you think the ghost did for that poor Herron girl," Mrs. Langmann said at last.
"Some people think so," Mulder said. Mrs. Langmann glanced up at Jeff's translation.
"What did she see?" Mrs. Langmann asked.
"The girl. Out in the woods -- what did she see?" Mrs. Langmann glanced up from her kneading, apparently waiting for Jeff to translate Mulder's response.
"I don't know. She died before anyone could ask her." Mulder hesitated before bringing Scully into the discussion, but saw no way around doing it. He supposed news of her experience would have traveled fast, anyway. "A friend of mine saw children, or what she believed to be children, during the storm early Sunday morning. She said they were bleeding, crying for their mother."
Mulder thought Jeff looked a little uneasy as he translated that for Mrs. Langmann. "Ah," the old lady said. "Folks see different things, you know. The headless lady gets all the attention. I've known people who went out there looking for her; they think she's some kind of tourist attraction, I guess. They never do see anything but the wind and the rain, and maybe the inside of a police car if they get too bold about trespassing. That's because the South Road Ghost isn't the kind of ghost you can go looking for. It's the kind that comes looking for you."
"Why?" Mulder asked, leaning forward with his elbows on the table. "Why would it look for someone?"
Mrs. Langmann glanced up at Jeff and said, "Nobody knows that. Nobody living, anyway. I can tell you that it calls those whose roots aren't deep in this world, usually folks who have already lost more than they can bear. I suppose those people are easy, since they're halfway into the next world already."
"I've heard you knew someone who met it," Mulder said.
Jeff translated, and then Mrs. Langmann returned to her kneading for so long that Mulder feared she had decided not to answer. When she spoke at last, her words seemed like the ramblings of the senile. "I went deaf of a fever when I was six," Mrs. Langmann continued. "At the time, the only formal education available for me was the deaf school on the mainland, but the very thought of being sent away terrified me. It terrified my mother, too, because I was the only child she had. In the end, my parents brought in Miss Emma Stoy to be my tutor.
"Miss Emma was a spinster lady, and a good friend to me until she died. She may have saved my life when I was a newly married woman. My Edward became terribly sick with the influenza when we were six months married. I was just nineteen and very silly. I swore to Miss Emma that if Edward died, then I would die too. When she heard that, she cried, 'For shame! For shame!'" Mrs. Langmann raised her hands from the trough to show the signs Miss Emma had made. Her sharp motions appeared to startle Jeff.
The old lady continued, "Then she told me the story of her sister Pearl who died. Pearl was born deaf, and Miss Emma learned to sign to her from a young age."
Mulder sat very still, listening intently without taking notes, which were largely unnecessary for him. Some people found this disconcerting, but Mrs. Langmann seemed hardly to notice.
"Pearl went to the very same deaf school I was so anxious to avoid, and she hadn't thought much of it. In fact, she was far more interested in a certain young Mr. Watkins than she was in her studies, so as soon as she could she left school and was married. She and her husband set up housekeeping just outside Vineyard Haven, and before long they had a little daughter, Rose. Pearl adored that child. For a time, she and her husband and their little girl were very happy.
"One day when Rose had only just begun to get around well on her feet, Pearl left her sleeping in her cradle while she went out to hang the wash. While she was gone, the baby fell into the fire. Pearl never heard what was going on inside the house; how could she? The old dog began running around and around the yard, around and around and around until he just crawled under a tree and lay still. He heard that baby, all right. But Pearl could make nothing of what he was carrying on about." Mrs. Langmann continued to beat her dough, her hands moving in a slow, steady rhythm.
"She never knew until she smelled smoke and saw flames through the window. She ran inside with the wet washing, tried throwing everything she could over the fire, but she couldn't find her daughter.
"Neighbors finally pulled her out of the house. Nobody could go in until after the foundation cooled. In the end, there was hardly enough of that child left to bury."
Mulder recalled Samantha and the other children who had all but dematerialized. He pressed the crease of his thumb hard against the semi-sharp underside of the table's aluminum edging, hoping the pain would act as a distraction. This was not a time to think of the poor, thin bones pulled from Addie Sparks' shallow grave. Not a time to think of the horrors underneath Santa's North Pole Village off Route 74 or what Kathy Lee Tencate never found of her son, Dean. He straightened up in his chair and glanced at Jeff, not quite daring the boy to see something besides calm professionalism in his eyes.
Mrs. Langmann continued, "Afterward, Pearl took to her bed. Sometimes she told Miss Emma she heard her baby crying for her. Since Pearl had never heard a thing in her life, Miss Emma was puzzled, and Pearl explained that when she said 'heard' it was more like 'felt,' a trembling in the breastbone, like when thunder comes." Mrs. Langmann pressed her flour-covered fist against her own breastbone.
"One night Pearl went tearing off into the woods near the Wesquobsque Cliffs. The local men started a search party, but they never found her until morning. Somebody had slashed her throat, her face, her hands . . . certain folks thought she'd done it to herself in a kind of frenzy, but they never did find the knife."
Mulder recalled Scully lying in the emergency room with bandages wrapped around the pale skin of her hands. For his sanity's sake, he put that image from his mind. "What do you think happened?" Mrs. Langmann barely glanced at Jeff's translation. She replied as if she hadn't seen it at all. "Miss Emma got me to understand that sometimes, you got to let go. When someone you love is going to that other side, you can hold their hand until the last moment, but when the time comes, you got to let go. If you don't, then they'll take you too. It's not wise to call into that dark space beyond, son. Something might hear you. Maybe not what you're expecting."
Jeff's hands had fallen into his lap. As if coming to himself, he suddenly began to speak and sign at the same time, "You're just joshing about something out there hearing you, right, O.G.? It's a joke, right?"
Mrs. Langmann didn't answer.
Mulder glanced at the boy and asked, "Hey Jeff, could you get us a pen and a piece of paper?"
The kid got up and hurried from the room as if glad for the excuse to go. Mulder pulled a pen and a notepad from the inside pocket of his coat. He wrote down, "My friend had a daughter who died two years ago. Can't have any more children. Afraid it was all her fault." He pushed the pen and pad toward Mrs. Langmann.
She scanned his note and asked, "Who says she can't have any more?"
Mulder wrote at the bottom of the page, "Doctors."
"Huh." Mrs. Langmann said. That single syllable was apparently enough to convey her opinion of doctors.
Once it became clear she would not elaborate, Mulder wrote on a fresh page, "How can I help her?"
"Don't leave her alone," Mrs. Langmann said. "If you want to protect her, don't leave her alone. If this thing out there wants her bad enough, it'll start by tearing her away from her friends, her family, her God. Everything that keeps her anchored in this world. Alone, a soul is a weak thing, especially a grieving soul."
Mulder thought of how Scully had uncharacteristically turned down the Sacraments at the church on Sunday morning. "Is this thing evil?" he wrote on the notepad.
Mrs. Langmann glanced at it but kept rhythmically punching her dough. "Hard to say. Could be mean, spiteful. Could just be sad, lost between here and there and looking for company. That's the kind of company your friend doesn't need to keep."
Mulder looked down at the paper in his hands, suddenly feeling powerless and lost himself. The recollection of Scully standing at the window in her filmy nightgown returned to him with an unsettling clarity.
Mrs. Langmann continued, "Just don't leave her alone, especially not come nightfall. Going to get cold again -- snow, they say."
Mulder shut his eyes, thinking of Scully back in Nye House with the long knife and the Kevlar gloves. He decided it was time to go back there. Now.
Scully sat at Tammy Willams' small vanity table, watching the pages of her autopsy report churn slowly out of her portable printer. The clinical 8" x 10" autopsy photos spread around her laptop contrasted bizarrely with the pictures of smiling kids in prom night finery tucked into the frame around the mirror.
Her experiments with modeling dough suggested a scenario in which Kristie fell forward onto a knife blade held at about the same level as the entry-wound. One way to interpret that data was to conjecture that the young woman had fallen while pursuing a smaller, armed person. If Scully used her knife and a handful of Play-Doh to replicate the motion of a person stabbed while backing away, she got a different pattern entirely. Such a crude experimentation method would never be admissible in court, but her results were enough to make her feel a great deal of doubt about the prosecution's version of events. McBer's defense lawyer would love this. Detective Davis would not be happy at all.
Personally, Scully had mixed feelings about her conclusions. McBer was without doubt a despicable person who had no reason to wish Kristie well. He might even have planned to kill her, and what was worse, if he were allowed to go free he might harm others.
//Don't think about doing this for him. Think about doing it for the truth,// Scully told herself. Then she answered her own thought: //Uh-huh. Since when did the truth become a murderous drug dealer in a wheelchair?//
Coming up with no answer for that, she sighed and stared at her slow portable printer as it churned out pages of her autopsy report. Apparently the Bureau considered pathetic printing speed to be a Faustian trade-off for the convenience of being able to pack the device in a carry-on bag.
Try as she might, she had not been able to shake the depression that had settled over her early Sunday morning. She reminded herself this was Holy Week -- her mother would be baking egg bread and the choir at St. Mary's would be practicing the Alleluja Chorus for a triumphal Easter service. Even the thought of April sunlight streaming through the church's stained glass failed to cheer her. It was as if something inside her had gone dead.
Scully watched the printer inch out line after line of text for a few more minutes, then got up and walked out into the empty front room. The sun shone through the lace curtains and brought out rich, amber tones in the polished wood floor. By daylight, the woods across the road were stately rather than menacing, their branches fringed with pale green leaflets. She groped toward Scriptural references that had comforted her in the past: //This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad.//
She felt not the slightest lifting of the shroud over her heart. St. John of the Cross had written about something like this . . . the Dark Night of the Soul. She'd tried unsuccessfully to get Mulder to read that book, hoping he would identify with the saint, an unfortunate man of integrity who had refused to bow before the repressive paranoia of his superiors. Mulder had managed to put off reading it for years. She'd privately smiled at him, thinking she'd never met a man so desperate not to have a conversion experience.
And yet here she was, as blind as Mulder had ever been -- perhaps more so. Scully heard the stairs creak beneath a light tread and looked up. Leigh was walking down with a basket of folded sheets on her hip. The proprietress looked a bit apologetic and said, "You got a phone call earlier. It didn't seem urgent, so I didn't disturb you."
"Who was it?" Scully asked. Who even knew she was here?
"Patty Herron. She just wanted to know why the police were delaying the release of Kristie's body. She said that as far as she knew, you'd completed the autopsy Saturday."
There was only one reason for Davis to delay the release of Kristie's body. He was going over Scully's head and having the autopsy redone. //"I don't want this to be repeat of the LaPierre case,"// he'd said. Scully gave Leigh a smile that was probably as brittle as glass and said, "I'm afraid she'll have to ask Detective Davis that question."
Leigh looked puzzled, but before she could reply Scully turned and walked out outside. The afternoon was cool but clear, beautiful except for the angry singing in her ears. She'd seen skepticism of her conclusions before. Other pathologists had reviewed her test results, and victims' families had challenged her conclusions. That came with the territory and was only to be expected. But this was the first time a state agency had withheld remains from a grieving family expressly to recheck her work.
She strode around to the back of the house, where she dropped down into a mostly dry slat-seated bench swing with a view of the woods beyond the meadow. Somewhere, a woodpecker knocked on a tree. Scully bent forward and rested her forehead in her hands, trying to hold onto her rage and sense of injury. Anger was lively, and lively was good.
The feeling soon drained away, just the same. What did it matter whether Scully's colleagues respected her, or when Kristie's body would be released, or if her autopsy report ever saw the light of day? Scully's story would one day end just like everyone else's: beneath a tilted headstone in a weed-choked graveyard.
A bird splashed in the garden's cement birdbath, and Scully looked up. The little creature cocked its head to one side and gazed at her with eyes as shiny and dark as beads. "You want to trade places?" she asked. "I'll be the little bird and you be the FBI agent with a career circling the drain." The bird cheeped at her, fluttered its wings, and flew away.
"That's what I thought," Scully said.
She sat looking toward the woods beyond the meadow until she became chilled and drew the lapels of her jacket closer across her chest. The wind was steadily growing colder, bearing the first hint of snow.
Mulder drove well in excess of the speed limit over the washboarded up-island roads, though he knew his FBI badge wouldn't be a get-out-of-ticket-free card here on the Vineyard.
//"Don't leave her alone,"// Mrs. Langmann had said.
He pulled into Nye House's driveway amid a spray of mud and gravel, then ran up the slightly-cockeyed wooden steps. The front room was sunny, silent and empty.
When he opened the door to Tammy's old room, he found Scully's printer running, but Scully herself gone. Her purse was still slung by its strap over the back of the white-painted vanity chair. A brief check of the Williams family's quarters turned up no one.
Mulder headed back outside again, afraid to find Scully in the old graveyard, crouching by the tombstones -- or worse, to be unable to find her at all. But as he rounded the corner of the house he saw her sitting on an old swing bench, rocking herself absently as she gazed out at the woods. After a moment, his panic subsided.
The swing's chains creaked in a soothing rhythm as he walked up beside her. The brisk spring wind had reddened her cheeks and blown her hair until it resembled tufts of copper-colored prairie grass framing her face. He dropped down onto the seat next to her. "Don't go," he said. He wasn't sure if it was his words or simply the squeak of the overhead swing hooks that caused her to look over at him.
She blinked as if awakened from a dream. "What? Mulder, what are you talking about?"
"I saw the old lady Irv told you about," he said, digging the notes he'd made at the Historical Society from his pants pocket. For himself, he didn't really need such notes, but long partnership with Scully had taught him that she liked to have data she could hold in her hand.
As he explained what he'd learned, she gazed down at the scribbled notes he'd given her. When she repeated the name of Capt. Brown's oldest child, "Susannah," the distance in her eyes chilled him.
"Scully . . . you can't help them," Mulder said. "Whenever they needed -- or need -- you can't give it to them." When she didn't reply, he pressed, "They're not Emily. Scully, you don't owe them anything." He could hear the edge of fear in his voice.
"You don't understand," she said softly.
Mulder's frustration was so great that he had to get up and pace across the muddy, brown lawn. "I understand," he said. He understood completely, and that was what scared him. He had been willing to give up everything for Samantha, and he was selfish enough to hope that Scully wasn't willing to do the same for her lost daughter. "I understand that you think they need something from you."
The corners of her mouth tensed as if in mild exasperation, but she did not reply. Mrs. Langmann's words came back to him-- //"It's not the kind of ghost you can look for. It's the kind of ghost that comes looking for you."//
"No," he said, comprehension slowly dawning. "They don't need something from you. You need something from them."
"You're not making any sense at all," she said. The look of annoyance on her face was at least a sign of life.
Having found a plausible theory, he was unwilling to let it go. "Folklore is full of stories about ghost children who come back to haunt their parents. In Scandinavia they call them Utburds, in Russia they're Navky. These are kids who died nameless or at the hands of their parents. We always assume they come forward in time with us, still calling for the help and attention they never got. What if that's not true? What if there's something inside us that stays back with them? Maybe guilt and grief keep us from letting go of these children and lead us backward in time. Perhaps some people are so wounded that they don't have the will to return to the present."
Scully's expression approximated her old look of wry skepticism. "Mulder, that's insane," she said. "Time does not go backward, no matter how much we want it to. That's the whole problem -- that's why people grieve. The Second Law of Thermodynamics . . ."
Mulder waved away her explanation. "You're thinking of going out there again, aren't you?"
She cut her speech on thermodynamics short, as if his words surprised her.
Mulder believed he knew her true thoughts, even if she wouldn't admit them to herself. After all, he'd had similar, secret hopes for years. "You think those entities have something you need, and you'll keep going out to them until you find it. Fine. Fine, go ahead, I have no right to stop you." He sat down next her, weary from anxiety and lack of rest. "Just take me with you. Mrs. Langmann said that the most dangerous thing for you was to be alone right now. She said that this thing will try to call you away from everyone who loves you."
Scully met his eyes as he said the last words, and then she looked away toward the trees. After a moment that felt like hours, she released a long breath. "Yes," she said. "Come with me."
Mulder drove with Scully to town, where they picked up flares, flashlight batteries, and knit gloves to cover Scully's injured hands. If the store's gray-bearded proprietor was interested in any of their purchases, he didn't show it. Neither did Scully, who wandered through the aisles like a woman lost in thought.
Mulder was encouraged when she wanted to stop by the church on the way back, although she asked him to wait in the car and wouldn't tell him what she went in for. As she returned, Mulder scanned her face for some sign of inner peace, or resignation, or anything at all that would give him a view into her world and leave him feeling less shut out.
Cold air came in with her when she opened the car door. She did not meet his gaze, and instead looked out into some middle distance as she groped for her shoulder belt. Her manner was not cruel; it was only as if she were alone.
It was almost full dark by the time their car bobbed its way into Nye House's rutted driveway. Pellets of sleet bounced off the windshield and formed a swarm that coursed through the headlight beams. Mulder pulled into the near-empty gravel lot and shut the car off. Beside him, Scully was drawing on her new knit gloves over her protective Kevlar ones. Something about her businesslike eagerness unnerved him.
Mulder considered turning around and driving back to Vineyard Haven. Two more ferries would run back to the mainland tonight, and he could have Scully safe in Boston by midnight, whether she was a willing traveler or not.
He sat with both hands resting on the steering wheel while the cooling engine block ticked. As Scully pocketed extra batteries and ejected the magazine of her gun to examine it, Mulder looked down at the ignition key. What would happen if he hauled her out of here against her will? Perhaps she would forgive him in time; perhaps she would even agree it was the right thing to do.
But he suspected she'd come back. And she'd come back alone, no longer trusting him to accompany her. Mulder's hands slid to the bottom of the steering wheel. "This is payback time for the Bermuda Triangle, isn't it?" he asked.
"Of course not." She finished checking her equipment and opened the car door. "Are you coming?" she asked.
Not knowing what else to do, he unfolded himself from the confines of the car and stepped outside, where a layer of fallen ice crystals crunched beneath his feet. He made sure his own 9 mm was securely clipped to the waistband of his jeans. He doubted it would do any good to shoot at the beings that waited out there, but he felt better armed.
"Let's go," he said.
Side by side, they walked away from the inn's circle of light, toward the silver-gray expanse of the frozen field. For a time the only sounds were their footsteps and the faint tapping of the sleet falling all around, like a skeleton rain.
Mulder repressed his urge to lead her toward the bike path that was an easier, more roundabout way into the woods. Scully seemed certain of the path she wanted to take, and he followed her lead.
The terrain began to drop as they entered the trees. They were descending into a valley cut by millennia-worth of spring runoff water, and he knew the soil would grow softer and more treacherous as they neared the bottom. Yet Scully descended the steep slope with confident speed, and it was Mulder who skidded in the leaf-choked mud while struggling to keep up with her. He swore under his breath as he found he could not keep an eye on her and his footing at the same time.
She stopped briefly about midway down the steepest part of the slope, her foot braced against the semi-exposed roots of a small maple. "This is where I heard it," she said as he caught up with her.
Mulder stopped and listened. The sleet continued to patter down, and every so often, last year's dead leaves would stir in the wind, making a wild, rushing sound. But that was all. "You hear it now?" he asked.
She hesitated, then said, "No." Scully continued down the slope, with Mulder laboring in her wake.
The valley had not changed much since his boyhood. If he remembered correctly, this pocket of land was entrusted to the Dukes County Historical Society and forbidden to developers. Still, he did not recall the wet black trees being this tangled and thick, or the sting of the sea air this fierce. He had the strange sense of walking on a parallel Vineyard, a wild, thicketed island where whalers had never come and no wealthy mainlanders visited.
He continued to follow as Scully picked her way among the low- hanging branches and the juniper canes. They passed the tiny cemetery on the right, and Mulder was somewhat relieved to see the space between its tilted stones was silent and empty.
A few dozen yards further on, the old house foundation came into view. Even in the semi-darkness of the ice-filled night, the stone base could be seen as a collection of dark lines lying among the ice-coated weeds. "So what now?" Mulder asked, turning to Scully.
He was alone.
Looking back, he saw that his own footprints were the only track visible for a long way.
Once again, Scully stood at the edge of the clearing that surrounded the small house. Moonlight shone down upon the snow and turned the house's weathered shingling to muted silver. In the deep shadow by its side, two small, pale figures huddled.
"I came back," Scully said. Somehow, the temperature seemed less bitter than a moment ago. The infant's gasps were as dreadful as she remembered, and ambient moonlight reflected as pale pinpoints in the older child's eyes.
"Did you think I forgot you?" Scully asked. The snow crunched softly under her feet as she walked closer.
The girl made a quiet sound, like the cry of a wounded bird. Scully held her hand out to the child, ready this time for the slight shifting of the cloth over her hand.
The knife flashed up from beneath the fabric folds, and Scully caught the blade in the V between her forefinger and thumb. The impact made her wince although her Kevlar gloves protected her hand from the edge.
The child's strength was tremendous, and Scully found herself struggling to keep the blade pushed down and away. Her breathing sounded loud in the still air.
"She left us," the girl said at last. Her speech had such an odd, flat sound, not any American accent Scully was familiar with, and yet no European accent either.
"I know. I'm sorry," Scully managed. The exertion caused her to take deep breaths, and the air was thick with the smell of blood.
If fighting against Scully was any struggle for the girl, she didn't show it. Her bloodied face was calm, her gray eyes clear as late winter ice. "She left us. But you won't."
"No," Scully said. "No, I won't leave you." The terrible pressure on the blade began to subside, and the girl let it drop into the blood-spattered snow. "Susannah," Scully whispered.
This time, the child did not resist as Scully gathered her and the infant into her arms. Their skin was so cold -- colder than the surrounding air, but they curled close and did not pull away. Scully sat in the snow with her back against the house's wall, both children lying in her lap.
Retracing his steps, Mulder discovered Scully's track in the new- fallen sleet not far from the graveyard. She had walked into a small thicket, but there her prints became muddled and seemed to disappear.
He began searching in a spiral pattern outward from the thicket. He was sure that less than five minutes had passed since he last saw her ahead of him, not nearly long enough for her to travel out of earshot. Any yet, even when he called her name so loudly it echoed off the valley wall, he received no reply. He tried not to think about the black-and-red clay cliffs rising hundreds of feet from the surf less than half a mile from where he stood.
Sweeping his flashlight beam over the ground revealed nothing of use. The weeds of the forest floor all had delicate straws of ice hanging from them, obviously undisturbed for days.
It was as if Scully had simply vanished off the face of the earth. Mulder had a nightmare sense of history repeating itself. His spiral searching pattern grew more oblong than circular, stretching toward the South Road Burying Ground and the ruined house. Such a small patch of land. Scully would be there; she had to be.
She was not. Flashes of what increasingly seemed like desperation rather than intuition led him from the graveyard to the house foundations and back again. Each time he reached one location and found it empty, he would become sure that Scully waited for him in the other, safe and probably irritated with him for wandering off. Each time, he was disappointed.
Before long his footprints had stitched a great zigzag pattern between cemetery and house, obliterating any traces Scully might have left. When it sunk in that his "search" was only pacing that did more harm than good, he stopped by a tree near the stone foundations and pressed his thumb and forefinger against his eyes.
There was no reason to panic. He had only failed to find Scully because he had not yet looked in the place she was at. Every time he looked somewhere and did not find her, he narrowed his search. He was a good searcher; he'd made his career at the FBI by finding things no one else could.
Yet he had never found the things he wanted most. One by one, the objects of his quests had all slipped beyond his reach. He shouted for his partner before the terror creeping up on him could truly take hold. "Scully!"
Though it felt good to release his nervous energy, calling her was no more effective than before. He began pacing again, circling the stone foundations this time. He had to move in order to think. Ghosts had motives like anybody else, and therefore their behavior should be predictable within certain limits. Days ago, Scully had categorized the paranormal events here as a Revenge Haunting, dismissing the differential category of Reenactment Haunting for somewhat arbitrary reasons. Properly speaking, the situation had characteristics of both types. The entities Scully had discovered were filled with rage, and yet the object of their rage was inaccessible to them.
//Join the club.//
The creatures that haunted this area needed a specific type of person to play the opposing role in their drama -- a wounded person with loose ties to the world of the living, a mother whose spirit had nearly followed her child's into the other world. How could he get such an entity to look for him? As a childless man, he was far from its preferred victim.
So many times, he had drawn killers out by simply seeming interested in them, appealing to their vanity. Perhaps reenactment haunting, like some reenactment killings, was a performance art whose creators craved an audience.
Mulder called out, "Susannah!"
Half-frozen branches clacked in the wind, sending down a new scattering of sleet, then all grew quiet. A strange, listening silence followed while the name seemed to hang in the air. Mulder had the maddening feeling that the ghost's world lay behind a thin veil, and if he only knew where to place his hand, he could draw it aside and step through.
The sense of being trapped between worlds was eerily familiar, and he remembered that he carried a portal to the past within his head -- the faulty synaptic connection that would periodically rip him out of his everyday reality. Could he induce a seizure? He'd never tried, but here, of all places, it should be possible. Mulder shut his eyes, and the thudding of his heart seemed louder. Clammy sweat had accumulated on his upper lip and he wiped it off with his fingers.
How did his seizures begin? Usually with a powerful emotion in a familiar place. Concentrating, he thought about climbing the gray willow to drop maple-seed helicopters as a child . . . or being a teenager hunkering down among the tilted headstones in the muggy August heat, hating the town that had rejected him. But none of the memories he conjured up produced the strange sense of dislocation in time.
"Fuck Irv," he whispered. "Fuck him and his South Road Ghost." If only the little shit hadn't been so eager to upset Scully with his ugly stories of lost children and poisoned cats --
The terrible sensation came over him of falling against a solid barrier and passing straight through.
He was eleven years old, curled against the side of his bed, crying.
His mother had beaten him.
He was crying for his mother.
Samantha, loyal in her own way, had to be removed from his doorway in order to keep her from coming to him, but it wasn't her he wanted.
His mother had been cruel to him.
He needed his mother.
The pain of his tightened throat intruded on the vision, and it soon dissolved around him. Mulder grabbed a tree for support and rested his forehead against the coolness of the bark. As usual, the seizure's aftermath left him nauseated and gagging, and he shut his eyes against the dizziness.
//This is not helping her.// Grief and illness had left him too weak to be the rescuer Scully needed. He groped in the deep pocket of his coat for the flares he'd brought. Maybe he could draw a rescue party. And yet, he knew that men with flashlights and two-way radios were not enough to save her. Fighting sickness, he bargained with any power that could hear. //Leave her alone. You can have me instead. I'm the one who drilled a hole in my own head. I deserve to be taken -- she doesn't.//
Slowly, became aware that it was not only the seizure making him ill. There was also a smell -- one he'd learned to identify far later than age eleven.
It was blood.
The image of Kristie Herron lying on the autopsy table flashed in his mind. But the moment he opened his eyes, the smell of blood faded. He was all alone in the ordinary woods.
Mulder took a step away from the tree, holding an unlit flare in his hand. "What do you want?" he shouted at the thing that slunk among the stones out here, waiting to take unhappy young women away. "How many people have to die before you're satisfied?"
The dry, clinical profiler voice that had guided him through thousands of investigations told him: //You know what they want.//
Mary Brown's daughters had died waiting for their mother. She'd killed them, and yet they waited. The two centuries' worth of rage they carried was eclipsed by their need.
If Mulder could not get into the ghosts' world by stepping into Mary Brown's place, perhaps he could get there by stepping into Susannah's. He called the child's name again, seeking the vision-place where the present and past ran together. As before, the wind swirled fiercely, and Mulder could almost hear angry denial in the sound: //"Go away,"// it seemed to say. //"She's ours now."//
When the wind died again, the otherworldly sense faded with it. These were the woods of his childhood -- dark, eerie, but essentially familiar. Perhaps for once, familiarity was too great an anchor to the everyday world. It could be that he knew the stone house foundation, the woods, and the graveyard so well that they kept him from seeing what was truly there. After hesitating a moment, Mulder shut his flashlight off and put it and the flare away.
The icy night's diffuse luminance seemed to have vanished. He was in utter darkness, and he felt a powerful urge not to move. Motion would cause noise, and that would bring . . . something. He was certain that something was near, watching him with empty holes in a pale, dry face.
Mulder stood motionless, his chest feeling almost too tight to breathe, while he waited for the thing to make some noise and betray itself.
When his eyes began to adjust to the scant light, the thick shadows resolved once again to the shapes of old logs and briar bushes. His fear faded.
But there *had* been something there. With dull dread, he thought the key might be blindness. There were apparently only two doors to the cold, bloody world that Scully had slipped into. One was for mothers driven half mad by grief. The other one, the little, cramped door, was for dying things. Susannah and her sister had entered through that door, clawing against it like wounded animals in their terror and desperation. Perhaps Kristie and the other dead women had drifted out if it on their way to the next world.
If Mulder truly wanted to enter Susannah's reality, he would have to force his way through that little door by becoming as helpless as the dying, as frightened as an abandoned child. His throat felt very dry as he swallowed.
His cell phone was inside his inner coat pocket. He could call Joe up, have him bring his officers out to search the place properly. And when dawn came, they would find Scully's body curled in some icy hollow, or smashed at the foot of the cliffs.
Mulder closed his eyes. The smell of blood returned, and grew stronger. Once again, he became sure he was being watched.
An mournful baying sounded in the near distance. He jumped, then identified the sound as the cry of a wolf. Whatever lay bleeding nearby was attracting a beast that had been extinct on the Vineyard for over 150 years.
Mulder cupped his hands around his mouth and called, "Scully!"
He heard a strange, shuffling half-step a few yards to his right. His eyes snapped open involuntarily as he turned. In his peripheral vision he glimpsed a silvery-gray wall, and beyond that a pale figure that swayed as if its forward momentum had been abruptly checked.
Once he faced the thing directly, it was gone. He was alone again by the foundations of the long-ruined house. The freezing wind turned the sweat on his face and throat into icy droplets.
//Shit. Holy shit.//
He recalled the horror stories he used to tell Joey Luce about the things that lurked deep in the woods. At each gristly detail, Joey's eyes would get bigger and bigger . . .
//That's crap. You know these woods. You know the paranormal. Nine times out of ten, ghosts are only dangerous if you're afraid of them.//
But he was afraid. There had been something wrong about the pale thing standing by the wall. Its lower portion had swung like sodden curtains, yet the upper part seemed to freeze motionless too quickly for the energy of that swinging, dragging fabric. It was as if a mannequin had been filmed walking in stop-motion while its clothes continued to flow in liquid real time.
Mulder had no desire at all to close his eyes again. //You have to. Think about Scully.// Scully in his Knicks shirt and pajama bottoms, curled on his couch on a sunny Saturday morning. Scully gently waking him from his nightmares, taking away the worst of the terror and grief. He shut his eyes and called his partner again.
He heard no sound but the rushing noise of the wind for some time, and then the shuffling step came again, nearer this time. Mulder struggled to sweep away the coat folds that covered his gun. He drew it and took a triangular stance against the thing that moved toward him, only to strike a solid wall with his foot and lose his balance. He fell against a hard, knobby surface. When he lifted his hand to touch it, it felt like the jutting wooden panels of an old, shake-sided house. //This is it. This is the structure Scully saw.//
The thing to his right shuffled nearer, and Mulder backed away, keeping his unarmed hand against the wall for guidance. His fingers brushed a corner and he turned it, relieved to be out of the shuffling thing's line of sight, if indeed it could see. The smell of blood was strong now, and as he backed away, eyes shut, he feared putting his foot down on something wet and cold, with stiffening hands and an awesome grip.
Scully huddled against the rough-hewn shingles with both children in her lap. The air around her seemed to grow milder, even warm, and she shrugged out of her coat, easing the plastic bottle from its inner pocket before wrapping the garment like a blanket around the wounded girls. She had filled the screw-cap soda bottle with holy water from the church's baptismal font. Catholic doctrine forbade baptism of the dead, but how could she call these children dead, when they gasped for breath in her arms? Awkwardly, she poured some of the water into her cupped hand. The liquid felt as warm as bathwater. Nestled against her shoulder, Susannah gazed at her activities with calm uninterest.
As she had once been taught to do by Sister Mary, Scully administered the only Sacrament permissible for a lay Catholic to perform in cases of emergency. Splashing the dying infant's head with water of three times, she said, "I baptize you, Maria, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit." She'd chosen the name after some deliberation. It was the name of an Italian child who'd converted her own murderer on her deathbed, and who had become an unofficial patron saint of wronged girls.
Having no idea of the religious practices of Susannah's family, she refilled her cupped hand with water and recited an alternate prayer for the older girl, "If you have not already been baptized, I baptize you, Susannah, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit."
The holy water made rivulets in the blood on the girls' faces, but had no other obvious effect. Scully shut her eyes and released a long breath. She had no idea what else to do for them, and she was so tired.
Mulder continued to back away along the wall, away from the thing that shuffled after him. His fingers traced the openings of a door and small-paned windows, once, then twice. He'd circled the entire building, and Scully was not there.
The fear crept upon him that he was in the wrong spirit world -- the one in which Mary Brown wandered the cliffs with her head held high like a lantern, eternally separated from her daughters. The wolves' cries had grown increasingly close and then stopped altogether. Every so often now, he heard a light footfall off in the trees. The knowledge that wolf packs, even if starving, almost never attacked adult humans was scant comfort. Mulder supposed everything was starving during the winter of 1777. Even if he managed to shoot one of the animals with his eyes shut, would it fall? He doubted that any amount of firepower would stop the pale, shambling thing that followed him.
He turned a corner to the shorter side of the rectangular building, and heard a soft tick along the front as if his pursuer were brushing frost-hardened fingers against the window panes, following him by touch even as he backed away by touch.
Mulder heard snow-covered leaves crunch under his feet as he struggled to keep the house between himself and whatever flaking, limping nightmare crept after him. "Scully!" he shouted, for the dozenth time.
This time he got a response -- "Fox?"
It was his mother's voice.
He stopped in his tracks, his mouth suddenly dry. He nearly called out, "Mom?" But the word died on his lips. He stood still as the slow footsteps rounded the side of the house. Was it his imagination, or did they seem steadier, less stiff, then they had before?
He heard the slow drag of something, fabric, pulling around the corner. His mother's voice said again, "Fox?" It was a gentle, welcoming voice.
He had railed at a God he did not believe in for not giving him more time with her -- time to ask questions, to say goodbye. Was this the answer to his unacknowledged prayer? He stretched out his hand, then hesitated. Would his fingers contact the soft warmth of his mother's body, or flesh as hard and stiff as cracked leather?
He remained still, listening to the crunch of icy leaves as the footsteps drew closer. The sounds stopped about an arm's length away, and he felt something cold in front of him. Waves of chill came over his outstretched hand as if he held it next to a block of ice. He was sure that if he reached out any farther he would touch fingers, a wrist, an arm. His breaths came in ragged gasps and cold air burned in his lungs. He wanted the gentle touch he remembered, wanted to hear his mother say his name. If this was not what he had prayed for, how badly did he want the approximation? Something heavy and damp, like waterlogged fabric, brushed against his ankle.
Not that badly.
He backed away, fumbling in his pocket for his flashlight. If Scully could see into this world at all, perhaps the beam would draw her. He kept his arm against the house's wall as he continued moving away from the stumbling thing with his mother's voice. Its footsteps continued after him, surer now, as he spoke out loud to someone -- perhaps Scully, perhaps Susannah, perhaps himself.
"She can't come to you here. It's no good waiting anymore -- you have to move on. You have to get up and move."
As before, the only reply was the shuffling footsteps that followed him.
Scully sat in a sunlit field with Emily, Susannah, and the infant she'd named Maria. All three little girls were pink and healthy as they played in the long grass. In daylight, Susannah's hair was the color of straw, and Emily's eyes had a lively sparkle that Scully had never before seen in her. Both girls giggled as Susannah showed Emily how to make play teacups out of scoop- shaped leaves.
Scully sat in a loose T-shirt and shorts, her confining FBI clothes shed like a rusty suit of armor. This was what she had wanted all along. Not recognition, not approval, not even the "answers" that neither science nor religion had ever wholly provided. She only wanted to *be,* on her own terms, for herself and those she loved.
With wide-eyed fascination, baby Maria reached up and grabbed a strand of Scully's hair in her small, chubby fist.
Then the sweet moment was spoiled by a man's urgent voice: "You have to get up and move."
For an instant, fear lanced through her. She had forgotten something important -- something terrible. She struggled to remember, though she sensed whatever it was would destroy her happiness.
The truth came slowly, like the door to a crypt swinging open. Someone was dead. A wave of lightheadedness came over her. Who? Who was dead? Memories came crashing down one after another. Her father . . .? *Yes.* Her sister? *Yes.* Her daughter?
On the verge of an anguished cry, Scully looked down and saw Emily gazing up at her with puzzled, sea-blue eyes. The horror began to fade. How could Emily be dead when she was here, playing in the grass? Susannah tugged at Scully's sleeve, seeming impatient with her older playmate's foolish imaginings. Scully turned her attention to the children again, somewhat disoriented from the shock.
The distress soon passed, and she was engrossed in the children's game again. Susannah smiled up at her impishly as she poured dewdrop "tea" into Emily's leaf cup. The baby cooed and batted at strands of Scully's hair.
Quiet and peace returned, until the same male voice distracted her. "Follow the light if you can see it, Scully. You can't stay here." Hearing fear in that voice triggered old reflexes. She moved to grasp for something at the small of her back -- her gun.
No. She didn't carry a gun anymore. *She did.* She distinctly remembered cleaning and re-loading it before she --
Images tumbled through her mind: the inn; the hospital; the tender sorrow on Mulder's face as he stood by the autopsy table in Boston.
"Mulder?" she asked. The reality around her blurred and dissolved like a chalk drawing in the rain. Numbing cold struck her and she struggled to rise, bewildered by the sensation of lying face down in a cold, wet pool. "Mulder . . ." Saying his name required enormous effort this time. Had she only thought she called him before?
She forced her eyes open. The sunny field was nowhere to be seen -- all around was dark. Scully lay in a sleety patch of mud without her coat on, her left hand soaked in a puddle of spilled holy water. Her limbs barely obeyed her as she tried to push herself up onto her knees.
She lifted her head and felt the frozen tips of her hair drag against her throat and jaw. She squinted through the darkness, disoriented, and thought she glimpsed a light through the trees ahead. She began to crawl toward it.
A cold hand caught her arm, bringing her up short. Scully looked down and saw round eyes shining in a small, pale face. She had no sense of the mouth moving as the soft voice spoke -- in fact, the lower jaw seemed to have fallen away. "She left us. Don't leave us, too."
Puzzled by the creature's powerful grip, Scully placed her hand over the tiny forearm, trying to pull it away. There was bone beneath the tattered fabric. "You're death," she murmured. This was the part of her dream that she had not wanted to acknowledge. This was what the secret thing she had longed for -- a guide to the other world where her own child waited. "You've come for me."
The sound of Mulder calling her name seemed to grow more distant.
Gazing into the small being's eyes, she saw an invitation to come away into the unknown. There would be no more pain, no more fear. She had only everything to lose, and compared to what she had already lost, what was everything? She reached up, brushed her fingertips against the twine-like strands of hair.
"Follow the light if you can see it!" Mulder called.
Mulder. She looked up, saw a flash of light among the black tangle of the trees. He would be all right without her, she told herself.
If anything, his losses had been greater than her own. She remembered his dull, shocked manner at his mother's funeral. What would happen to him if her lost her as well?
And what would happen to her, without her friend, her gadfly and protector? What would the afterlife be without Mulder there, alternately mocking and spinning theories?
"It's not time," Scully said, gently pushing the creature at her side away. It cried out like a stricken thing, and she felt its bony hands catch at her arm. "I'm sorry. It's not time."
She dragged herself through the icy mud, though the effort was as wearying as swimming through tar. Her hand brushed rough stone, and she heaved herself over the block, rolling down the other side with the thing still clutching at her. She was so close now, only a few yards away from the light. She rolled a few more feet, then lay exhausted.
The dead creature, an Utburd, Mulder had called it, a Navky, crept up on top of her chest and gazed down at her. The expression on its ruined face was not one of hate but of terrible longing. "Mulder . . ." Scully called weakly. "Mulder."
"Mulder." Mulder hesitated as the dead woman's footsteps continued to draw closer. Was this another trick? First his mother's voice and now Scully's . . .
"Mulder," the voice came again, very desperate. He felt he couldn't take the chance of not responding. "Scully!" he called.
The response was a rustle of leaves in a direction he hadn't heard before -- directly to his left, within the confines of the ghost house. He turned the beam of his flashlight and dared to open his eyes.
Scully lay on her back at the center of the rectangle of stone. A long shadow lay across her body. Mulder could make out the bell-shape of a long skirt, a nipped-in waist, angular shoulders, and above that, nothing.
He flicked the light toward the figure, and stepped back from the sight of -- what? The thing was gone -- his flashlight beam illuminated only trees.
Had he only imagined the elongated, gray object held up in a withered hand? It had been something too stretched-out to be a human head, unless death had knocked the jawbone loose from its moorings and then pulled leather-like skin down with it. He did not feel it was best to think about that particular extreme possibility. Instead, he ran to Scully's side, lifting her from the sleet-covered mud. She twisted the folds of his coat in her gloved fingers, but did not open her eyes. Mulder rested his cheek against her forehead and brushed ice crystals from her hair.
Once Scully was steady enough to stand, he slipped his arm around her waist and helped her walk. They left behind the house foundations and standing stones, traveling toward the lights of the waiting inn.
Later, Mulder sat on a chair next to his bed in Nye House, watching Scully sleep. Her hair was still dark with dampness, and he gently brushed it away from her forehead.
Joe's sister Cheryl turned the lamp down to its lowest setting and began putting her thermometer and blood pressure cuff back into what she'd referred to as her "bag of tricks." Cheryl had agreed to stop by on the way home from her second-shift nursing assignment.
"She should be all right," Cheryl said. "If she seems worse during the night -- groggy or disoriented, take her over to the hospital."
"Thank you," Mulder said.
As Cheryl finished packing up her belongings, she asked, "Fox . . . what did you see out there?"
Mulder looked up at her. She had grown up to be a tallish woman, a little heavy around the hips, but pleasant-looking with her short auburn curls and wide-set dark eyes. "Nothing," he said truthfully.
"Nothing?" she echoed. He could understand the edge of disapproval in her voice. Nobody wanted to hear their town had been turned upside-down by "nothing."
"Cheryl . . . ." He rubbed at the old bullet wound in his shoulder, buying time to think as much as massaging away a dull ache that sometimes set in with the cold. "What if I said that sometimes the dead have more control over our lives than they should?"
Her face seemed to close off from him, as if her thoughts were very private. He supposed the dead father she'd never known had cast a long shadow over her life. "Ghosts. You think it was ghosts," she said.
He almost gave her a foolishly equivocal answer about how there were many kinds of ghosts, not all of them paranormal. Instead, he told her the unvarnished truth. "Yes."
She zipped her bag and slung it over her shoulder, not meeting his eyes. "What should I tell Mark and Patty?'
It was a good question. Mulder seldom had to live with the fallout of the paranormal bombshells he dropped into people's lives. He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "I don't know. Tell them that it doesn't matter what I think. Tell them I'm nuts. Just --" Mrs. Langmann's words came back to him. "Just don't leave them alone."
Her face retained its shielded expression, but she nodded.
He continued quickly before he lost the will to say what he needed to say next. "Listen -- Cheryl, I never did sell that place of my dad's."
She gave him a curious look. "I always assumed that meant you planned on moving back with us someday."
He shook his head. His official excuse for not selling the house, other than procrastination, was that there might be secrets hidden among his father's things. But Bill Mulder's former associates had had seven years to comb the place for anything they didn't want his son to find. The reality was that despite the terrible memories he had of that house, he had not been ready to let go. "What if I sold the house and gave the proceeds to your mom?"
Cheryl's eyes went wide. "You can't do that," she said.
She seemed appalled, but unable to come up with a good reason. "Because you can't. He left that house to you."
"I'll never live in it. I don't have any family who need it. Would it help you and Joe to enjoy the time you have with your mother, instead of scrambling to make ends meet?"
She appeared torn. He sensed that once her confusion wore off she would find his offer difficult to refuse. "Fox, why don't we talk about it tomorrow when you're -- when you're feeling better." He had thought she was going to say, "When you're sane."
She rested her hand on his arm, and for a moment he thought she was going to kiss him on the cheek. Instead she looked embarrassed, and then hurried from the room.
To Mulder's surprise, cutting the last tie with his childhood home was more of a relief than a loss. Whatever griefs and struggles he would face in the future, they would at least be *different* ones.
Aching with weariness, Mulder got up to turn off the lamp. He crept into bed and coaxed Scully into pillowing her head on his shoulder. She curled against him like a cat; like a liquid filling all the hollows of his body.
"Mulder?" she asked.
"Hmmm," he answered.
"Did you really not see anything out there? Nothing at all?" she asked. Mulder had thought she'd been asleep. When he didn't answer at once, she disengaged herself and raised up on one elbow, as if searching his face for signs of validation, evidence that she wasn't crazy.
Mulder didn't have the emotional energy to give her evidence just then. He shut his eyes against the image of that long, gray shadow, and found it waiting for him behind his eyelids as well. "I don't want to talk about it," he said.
She seemed to accept that and settled down against him again. "Do you think it was evil? The thing that you saw?"
//Damn.// There was no lying to her. "I don't know. Maybe." "I don't think Susannah was evil. Just angry and lonely. She was willing to do whatever it took to fill that emptiness inside her." Scully sighed, and he felt her draw in on herself slightly, as if curling around some too-vulnerable place. "I guess I understood what that felt like."
Mulder thought of the nights he'd spent staring at flickering images on the TV, waiting for dawn to come so he could go to work and feel like a real person again. "Me too." She wrapped her arm around his chest and hugged him tight.
"Remember when you were talking before -- about children who came back to haunt people because no one gave them names?"
It took a moment for his exhausted brain to make the connection. All his folklore studies seemed so dim and far away. "Yeah, I guess so."
"What happened after someone named them?"
His mind groped through the confused jumble of half-sleep, remembering an Oxford don who'd droned on and on about liminal rituals and compound beings. "Mostly they disappeared. Never heard from again."
She was silent, and at first he thought she had fallen asleep again. "I gave them names. Or I gave the baby a name, anyway. I gave Susannah her own name again, in case someone hadn't -- I mean not officially. Not in a church."
It occurred to him she was speaking of baptism of the dead -- an ancient pagan practice long condemned by the Catholic Church. He'd been accused of New-Age, anti-Christian sentiment before, not least by Scully herself, but he remained carefully neutral toward her lapse of orthodoxy. "So what happened?" he asked.
She was quiet a long time, and then said softly, "Nothing. Nothing that I could tell."
"Ah." He ran his hand up and down her back, feeling the smooth rippling of her spine under his fingers. "Even if you weren't able to see a change, it may have meant something to her that you tried. Sometimes even the attempt to help means a lot."
She curled tighter against him, as if to seal off the memory of her helplessness in the face of the ghost-child's pain. "You did all you could -- for Emily. For Susannah." He might easily have added, "For Samantha." Letting go and moving on were not lessons he was very well qualified to teach.
Scully's silent tears were hot against his chest. Mulder blinked back the water in his own eyes, clearing his throat repeatedly. One of them had to be the strong one.
"So," he said, his voice not nearly as steady as he would have liked it, "When we elope, how about the Grand Canyon for the honeymoon?" he said.
He was pleased at having momentarily startled her out of her sorrow. "We could, you know, ride burros and buy carved cedar knick-knacks."
"*Mulder,*" she said. The exasperation in her voice was a hint of the old Scully, an edge he could work with.
"I'm tired of the past, Scully. It's like a trap that sucks you in until you just . . . drown in it. I want to talk about my future. With you."
She didn't reply, but she lifted his hand and twined their fingers together. He considered her silence as good as encouragement. "No burros, huh?" he asked.
"What about Yellowstone?" he asked.
"Paris," she said dreamily.
"But at Yellowstone we could watch the Old Faithful geyser. It would be educational," he said.
"I could stuff you *in* the Old Faithful geyser. Think how educational that would be."
"You wouldn't really do it," he said.
They spun fantasies for a little while longer, and then fell into companionable silence. Mulder found himself lulled by the sound of her breathing, and even the fitful gusts of wind outside could not dispel the sweet sleepiness coming over him.
Just as he was about to slip into unconsciousness, she asked again, "Mulder?"
"What?" he murmured.
He caressed the small of her back with his thumb. They didn't often say they loved one another, just as they rarely displayed affection in public. They had other ways to say exactly what they meant.
"Anytime," he said.
Superior Court Building Cape Cod, MA
Justice Francis Steeh was not happy about the criminal complaint that had landed on his desk that morning. "Why are there two autopsy protocols in here?" he asked, rifling through the thick stack of forms, diagrams, and reports.
The lead detective on the case, Ron Davis, cleared his throat and said, "We were concerned that the initial autopsy, done by an acquaintance of the family, might not be as unbiased..."
Steeh glanced at the protocol's header and interrupted him. "This wasn't done by some county coroner, detective, this woman is an FBI pathologist. If you didn't like her, the time to object was before, not after. Why should the taxpayers have to pay twice because of some jurisdictional dispute?"
Davis opened his mouth, but the defense lawyer, a chubby media- hound named Hubb, cut him off. "Your Honor, we intend to request suppression of the second autopsy for precisely that reason -- "
"You can make all the motions to quash you like if this thing goes to trial," Steeh interrupted. "Right now I'm not seeing any probable cause at all."
The Commonwealth Attorney, a thin, pale man, who looked as if he might be suffering from ulcers, spoke up and said, "The defendant did score "deceptive" on polygraph questions related to his presence on Martha's Vineyard, Your Honor."
"Evidence which you can't bring before a jury, anyway," Steeh pointed out. Peering down through his bifocals, he ran his index fingers over passages in the two nearly-identical autopsy protocols. "Detective Davis, I may be missing something, but the only difference I see here is that Dr. Scully says a particular wound was 'consistent with a fall on to a sharp object' and Dr. Kreger says it's 'consistent with' a stabbing. You had the whole autopsy redone for *that?*"
Hubb broke in again. "And that is exactly why the second report should be dismissed. My client--"
Davis didn't let him finish. "Your Honor, we have reason to believe that John McBer is a danger to the community," he said.
Steeh glanced up at Hubb, who was clearly fuming at not being able to run his famous mouth. "Mr. Hubb, where is your client right now?" Steeh asked.
"Concord Correctional Institution, Your Honor," he said, looking unhappy. From a man like Hubb, brevity spoke volumes.
"For what?" Steeh pressed.
"Alleged murder, but the case has no merit . . ."
Steeh turned to Davis and the Commonwealth Attorney. "I don't think you need to worry about John McBer getting out anytime soon." The detective's head only got redder. "If you collect more evidence on him, bring this back to me, but not until then."
"Thank you Your Honor. You've made the right decision . . ." Hubb began.
As the defense counsel continued to babble, a yellow Post-It note fell out of the file. "What is this?" Steeh asked. When he held the paper close enough to read, the scribble across it resolved itself into writing. It said: "Fetch -- 300.19 (?) Returns from dead to take living away. Be careful if you call for dead friend/loved ones. Don't know who might answer."
"Detective, what is *that?*" Steeh asked, holding the note out stuck to one finger. Davis glanced at it and winced.
"Ah -- that's a note from the profiler in the case, Agent Mulder. He's a little bit..."
Steeh finished for him. "Preposterous. This entire case file is preposterous." He stuck the note back in the file and closed it, then pushed away.
But as the day wore on, Steeh found his thoughts returning to the words on the Post-It note. A devout Catholic, he had attended Masses for the Dead all his life. Yet it had never occurred to him that fervent prayers to raise Mother or Aunt Mildred from Purgatory might raise something different, and less human, in their place.
After the last defendant of the day shuffled off in chains, Steeh descended to the tunnel that connected the court and the county lock-up, where active files were stored in a hot little room not much bigger than a walk-in closet.
The McBer case lay in the middle of a tall stack marked, "To be filed." Feeling slightly foolish, Steeh flipped it open and examined the note again: "Be careful if you call for dead friends/loved ones. Don't know who might answer."
The longer he thought about such things, the more conscious he was of the building emptying out, and of the young woman lying dead on Martha's Vineyard, victim of an unknown assailant.
//Old fool. Senile old goat.//
He was a justice of the peace, for heaven's sake, not a credulous child. He slapped the McBer file shut and worked it into its place between other folders in a tightly-packed metal cabinet. The cabinet door banged shut. Steeh shut off the lights and locked the file room, then strode away down the hall, his footsteps ringing in the empty corridor.
Within a few weeks the unsolved case would be nearly forgotten, moved first to the State Police station in Yarmouth, then to a central depository in Boston. It would remain there, unsolved, unclosed, one yellowing folder among thousands, a nightmare lying far back in institutional memory. Gathering dust.
In the dark.