MIRRORS: An X-Files novel where Scully and Mulder investigate an ancient evil released into the modern world.

The X-Files

MIRRORS

by

Wayne M. Schmidt

 REWRITTEN 1 MARCH, 2015

 

1

Pendromos Castle
Cornwall, England
1549

 

Edric Blackburn glared at his apprentice. "Sebastian, there is a spot on the mirror."

The man turned to face his master rather than look at the huge mirror dominating one end of the windowless stone room. "Sir? Where?"

Blackburn extended an arm clothed in brown velvet toward the mirror's lower right corner. "There. Near the bottom frame. Clean it up. Everything must be perfect for tonight."

Sebastian willed himself to look at the mirror. "I can hardly see the spot, sir. Surely his Lordship-"

Blackburn's voice dropped an octave. "I will decide our Lord's wishes in these matters. Do you challenge my authority?"

Sebastian blanched. "No, sir. Of course not. It is just that-"

 Do as you are told."

"Yes, sir." He dipped a rag into a bucket-sized cauldron of simmering water and sidled reluctantly toward the mirror.

Blackburn nodded to himself. Sebastian was typical of the men their profession attracted: tall, heavily muscled, proud of the black leather vestments tradition demanded they wear, and fearless of any human danger.

Blackburn's face darkened as the apprentice stopped three steps from the mirror. "Well?"

Sebastian swallowed and managed two more steps. He caught a glimpse of the twisted figures gouged into of the mirror's frame and began shaking.

Blackburn's expression softened and he stepped to his apprentice's side. The great mirror seemed to bulge outward as if desperate to feed an insatiable hunger. Blackburn put his hand out. A tingling crawled up his arm, drawing him into the mirror's depths. He resisted the seductive pull and forced his hand down. Blackburn turned back to Sebastian. "This is part of our heritage. It was here when I was an apprentice and, God willing, will remain beyond the time you instruct your own apprentice. Revere it, love it, and above all give it what it hungers for."

Sebastian nodded but kept his eyes down.

"Go on. Do it."

He inched close enough to reach the mirror with an outstretched arm and touched the rag to the red crustiness marring its cold surface. As soon as he wiped away the last of the spot, he jerked his arm back.

Blackburn smiled and clapped him on the shoulder. "Good. Now let us finish the preparations. Start the fire in the brazier then sweep the floor."

Sebastian grinned. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir." He jumped to his duties.

Blackburn rewarded him with an approving nod and then turned to inspect an array of gleaming instruments on a long wooden side table. Many of the instruments were old, prized possessions, worn smooth with use. He cradled a thin knife in a hand and smiled at its heft and balance. A spring clamp found it way into his other hand. The jaws opened smoothly. Blackburn sighed with pleasure and replaced the tools in their places. He stepped to the cauldron of water and added a triple handful of coarse brown salt. He tasted it, added another handful, and tasted again. He smacked his lips in approval at the water's sharp saltiness.

Blackburn strode to a chair on a low platform near the wall opposite the mirror and made sure its green velvet cushions were brushed clean. He turned and walked back to an upright wooden frame in the middle of the room and inspected the leather straps and buckles set firmly in each of its four corners. Everything would soon be ready.

 

+++

 

Baron Edmund Morden's heart pounded as he hurried down the corridor. The close stone walls slipped silently through the sphere of orange light cast by his torch, its flames rustling in the draft from his motion.

The tunnel ended at a timbered door. Morden paused to stroke the door with trembling fingers. Sudden impatience made him jerk open the door.  In the center of the long room, three pairs of eyes turned to him. Black leather framed two pairs filled with cold determination; the third screamed silent terror.

The Baron stepped into the room. To the his left was his chair. Straight ahead a man struggled against leather restraints binding him to a wooden rack. He gasped for breath around a horsehair gag. To the right, the mirror leaned out from the wall. Torches cast flickering illumination on towering images of demons covering the walls. The torches hissed and popped, scenting the room with resinous smoke.

Morden stepped forward and settled himself into the chair and nodded at the man tied to the frame. "What is his name?"

Blackburn bowed. "Thomas Yolene, sire. A common thief who will not be missed anymore than the others."

Morden's face darkened. "I am not so sure about that. The sheriff is beginning to suspect something and we may have to stop for awhile."

Blackburn glanced over his shoulder at the mirror. The color drained from his face. "Sire? I... I would not recommend that."

The Baron stared at the mirror, his face etched with concern. "We may have no choice." He shook himself. "That can wait. It is time to get started." The Baron settled himself more comfortably. "I need something special tonight: quick and intense. Use the leg wheel and plenty of heat. I leave the rest to you."

Blackburn's expression brightened. "Yes, your Lordship. You can count on us." He turned to Sebastian. "Strap a leg wheel on him then drag the brazier and caldron over to his left side."

Blackburn stepped to the side table and began gathering an armful of heavy spring-loaded clips with toothed jaws.

Sebastian strapped a six-sided iron wheel with a long wooden bar to the ankle of Yolene's right leg. Then he dragged a brazier of glowing coals within arm's reach of the man and moved the caldron close to it.

Blackburn returned with the clamps and nodded his approval of Sebastian's arrangements. Tears streamed from Yolene's eyes as Blackburn let the clamps snap shut on his chest. Blood welled where the jaws dug into his flesh. Blackburn stepped back with a hand to his chin, examining the preparations. Sebastian stood at attention beside the frame. Blackburn smiled and turned to the Baron. "We are ready, sire."

The Baron's fingers quivered on the arms of his chair a moment, then he gave a single, quick nod.

The men sprang into motion. Sebastian's shoulder muscles swelled as he heaved the bar attached to the leg wheel upward. The wheel ground its way up Yolene's leg, shattered bones with flesh-muffled snaps. Blackburn jerked the red-hot iron from the brazier and thrust it deep into Yolene's abdomen, then tore away the gag. Before Yolene could scream, Sebastian grabbed the clamps fastened to his chest and ripped downward. Blinding agony choked Yolene's cry in his throat.

Blackburn heaved the cauldron of boiling salt water up and held it high. As Yolene's wail burst forth, Blackburn threw the searing water onto the man's torn chest. Pain beyond pain blasted Yolene's soul from his body. As his death-scream filled the room, facets cut into the ceiling directed the sound of his anguish toward the great mirror. Its surface rippled with sensuous pleasure as Yolene's cry struck it and reflected toward the Baron. Convulsions of ecstasy coursed over Morden's skin. As the echoes died out, he sighed and collapsed deeper into his chair.

Blackburn turned toward the mirror. The shimmering had died but the mirror still bowed out, hungry for more.

 

 

2

 

National Museum of Antiquities
Washington, DC
Thursday, 3:01 P.M.

 

Dana Scully walked slowly down the center of the museum's main hall, happy at her decision to trade her lunch time for the cool and quiet of the display rooms. Twenty feet on either side of her, parallel rows of marble columns stood at attention. Between them, heavy wood doors opened flat against the walls, inviting people to enter and view art treasures from sixteenth century England. Framed posters next to each door provided information on exhibits. The poster immediately to her left announced a display of medical and torture implements. Scully recalled Dr. Soquel's lecture on medieval medical practices and cringed. He'd pointed out that tools for both medical use and torture were made by the same guild of metalworkers. She turned into the room.

Scully's steps echoed off the room's high walls as she walked to a display of scalpels. She bent at the waist. Through the haze of fingerprinted glass, she noticed that the patina of age highlighted nicks and dents on the instruments. Blue oxidation on one handle showed a thumb-sized fingerprint. She wondered if it belonged to a careless museum worker or the knife's original owner, five hundred years ago.

The case to her left contained small hammers and chisels for opening skulls. She frowned. No anesthetics back then.

Scully worked her way methodically around the rest of the displays. The last case held ten hand-sized devices made of tarnished iron. Their size and shape made it easy to guess where most of them would have been attached to a human body. Her eyes tracked to the display's index card.

 

Instruments of torture circa 1540, uncovered during the 1996 excavation of a castle near the city of Newlyn in Cromwell, England. Local villagers destroyed the castle in 1553.

 

Scully straightened and left. Outside, a man and woman strolled by with a young girl between them. She watched the threesome meander up her side of the hall, smiling, pointing and whispering.  The trio turned into a display room. The sweet, high pitch of the girl's voice carried through the somber hall like the ring of a bell. Scully hitched the strap of her purse higher on her shoulder. The bulk of the nine-millimeter automatic in it pressed into her side, reminding her of the years she'd given to the bureau. A longing she hadn't felt in months returned.

Scully stared after the family, then pivoted sharply and began walking across the hallway. She made it halfway when her cell phone chirped.

Thirty faces turned to glare at her. One of them, mounted on top of a security guard's uniform, shook slowly back and forth. She shrugged an apology as she reached for the phone. Half of a second ring escaped before her finger found the answer button. Scully quickly strode over behind a marble column. "Yes?" she hissed into the phone.

"It's me," Mulder's voice said. "Where are you?"

"The Museum of Antiquities. I thought-"

"Playing hooky?"

She stiffened. "I'm on my lunch break."

"Well, you better hustle back here. Skinner rejected our report on the Gorskey Case."

She smiled. "What do you mean our report? You wrote it. What happened? Did you misspell the Bureau in FBI again?"

Mulder chuckled. "Cute." His voice turned serious. "Skinner said he needs more substantiation for our initial suspicions about Gorskey and he wants it before we sign out for the day. Unless you want to clock some overtime you better get back here. I'll be in my office."

The phone clicked a disconnect at her. Scully sighed and stepped out from behind the pillar and almost ran into a woman her own age. "Oh, I'm sorry," Scully said.

The woman smiled and swept waist-length brown hair off her shoulders with her hands. "That's okay. Don't worry about it."

Scully smiled her appreciation and hurried off, narrowly missing a tall, black-haired man coming toward her. She stepped around him and marched out of the exit.

 

+++

 

The man watched her disappear through the museum's front door before turning back in time to see woman with the long brown hair step into the exhibit room. He quickly scanned the museum's interior, then followed her.

 

 

 3

 

National Museum of Antiquities
Washington DC
Thursday, 3:24 P.M.

 

Jane Moorpark stepped into the exhibit room and smiled at the sensation of the cool marble walls pulling summer's heat from her clothes. It was this stony chill and not the artwork that had drawn her to the museum. She had begged the afternoon off when the air conditioning failed in the legal secretariess' office where she worked. Her supervisor, with a thought to asking her out Saturday night, had smiled sympathetically and agreed.

She enjoyed the museum. It was never crowded, admission was free, and the oversized air-conditioning, designed to protect antiques, made little work of keeping her comfortable. Jane also enjoyed meeting the kind of men the museum attracted: businessman who could afford to take afternoons off and looked trim in tailor-made suits. Someone like the man who had been watching her for the last half hour.

 

+++

 

Robert Simm was a close match for Jane Moorpark's concept of the ideal man. His suit wasn't tailored made but had been expertly altered fit his athletic body. He wasn't the executive of a large corporation but did own a successful, high-end stereo store. He was thirty-eight, had a strong rugged face, and unmarried. Robert Simm wanted very much to get married.

Like Jane Moorpark, Simm frequented museums to meet his idea of a cultured woman. Jane's stylish clothes, poise, figure, attractive face and waist-length, mahogany hair had immediately captured his attention. He watched her with just enough persistence that she'd notice without making it look like he staring. The last half-hour had been enjoyable, watching her and knowing she knew he had been doing it. She hadn't seemed to mind the attention and he resolved to talk to her as soon as he saw a reasonable opening.

 

+++

 

Jane decided it was time to focus her attention on some piece of art long enough for the man following her to come over and start a conversation. Looking around the large empty room, she spotted a wall-filling landscape to the right which she could enjoy while waiting for him to join her. There was a huge, age-stained mirror hanging heavily on the wall opposite the painting. A coquettish smile crossed her lips.

She walked to the mirror and after taking out an old compact, turned her back to the wall. Using the mirror in the compact's lid, she inspected the reflection of the back of her head in the mirror leaning over her. She let her eyes slip over the top of the mirror to see if the man had followed her. He entered the room, looked around, and smiled as he spotted her. He turned away and began studying an urn covered with garish floral patterns.

Behind her, the great mirror shimmered. A moment later her image in the compact mirror rippled as if reflecting off troubled water. She closed the compact without noticing and after returning it to her purse, walked across the room to the painting.

 

"Beautiful, isn't it?" A resonate voice asked.

"I like it," Jane said turning toward the voice. It's owner was in his late thirties, six feet tall and had shoulders that would look at home on a lumberjack.

"The plaque outside says everything on display came from a castle in Cromwell, England," he said.

"Thank you. I missed that."

They turned back to the painting. It was a rural scene with the last rays of a setting sun tinting orange as they fanned out over green rolling hills.

"Sunset scenes in the country always make me feel at peace," she said.

Simm nodded. "I agree. That's why I bought my house outside of town, so I can enjoy sunsets like this everyday."

She faced him, dropping the pretext of interest in the painting. "What about the commute?"

He smiled easily. "My business permits me some flexibility in work times. I plan my drive to avoid the worst of the traffic crush." He shrugged. "It's only forty-five minutes one way. The peace and quiet are worth it."

Jane itched to look down and see if he was wearing a wedding ring.

He held out his left hand for her to shake. "My name is Robert Simm."

She took it and noticed that he didn't have a wedding ring and that they were both left-handed. Jane felt the instant bond of meeting a fellow left-handed person in a right-handed world. She smiled. "I'm Jane Moorpark."

They strolled slowly around the room, talking and ignoring the artwork. Within half an hour they'd agreed to have dinner at Julio's, an Italian restaurant they both knew. By eight that evening she'd found out he liked fettucine in clam sauce as much as she did, loved the shade of his blue eyes and the fact that the dimples that showed when he smiled didn't weaken the strength in his face. Jane couldn't fathom his obsession for stereo equipment, but overlooked it because he shared her preference of cats over dogs.

They stretched dinner until the headwaiter made a point of standing near their table so he could glower at them. Simm paid the bill and drove her to her apartment where he insisted on walking her to her door.

"Would you like to come in for a drink?" she asked as she searched her purse for keys. The key ring snagged on a handkerchief and when she pulled it out, the handkerchief dragged the compact out of the purse. It fell, hit the deep carpeting with a soft thud, and sprang open.

Simm glanced at the mirror as he picked it up for her. He seemed to freeze a moment, blinking several times as he stared at the open compact. She gently took it from his hand and snapped it closed.

Jane freed the keys of the handkerchief and unlocked the door. She turned to thank Simm for the evening and felt her breath catch in her throat.

Desperate hunger burned in Simm's eyes.  His hand shot out and grabbed her forearm in a grip that made her gasp. "Bob? What-"

Searing pain choked her words off as he squeezed with crushing pressure. Jane listened in terrified disbelief to a dull, double pop as both bones in her forearm snapped. Pain shot up her arm and she screamed in agony.

Simm pushed his way through the door, jerking on Jane's shattered arm to force her to follow. He kicked the door closed and stalked around the apartment, pulling Jane behind him.

Through the delirium of pain, the new terror that he might be looking for the bedroom churned the nausea in her stomach. One by one, Simm examined each of the exits off the living room. To her momentary relief he passed the bedroom with hardly a glance. He pushed open the swinging door to the kitchen and stopped. Jane collapsed to the floor and craned her neck to look up at him. His teeth showed stark white through a cold smile. Simm hurried forward, dragging her after him. The spring-loaded door scrapped down her legs, tearing at her nylons. Her feet slipped over the threshold and the door swung closed.

 

 

4

 

Fifteenth DC Police Precinct
Thursday, 9:14 P.M.

 

 The muscles in Desk Sergeant Jonas MacPherson's right forearm bulged from his grip on a stubbed pencil. He concentrated on drawing the fourth curved line to connect the corners of a square, making it into a circle. The phone rang, jiggling the tensed arm. The pencil carved a thick black groove into the paper perpendicular to its intended direction.

MacPherson sighed and picked up the phone. "Fifteenth Precinct, how may I help you?"

"You've got to come right away!" an elderly woman's voice shrilled. "There's a woman screaming and-"

MacPherson yawned. "Yes, ma'am. Just calm down and we'll get right on it. Now-"

"But you don't understand! It sounds like she's being killed."

"Yes, ma'am. I understand. If you would please give me the address."

"Oh, yes. Of course. It's in the apartment just above me."

"What's the apartment's name?"

"Cherrywood Arms."

The sergeant scribbled the information on the telephone report form and paused. "Ma'am? The address?"

"Oh, Uh... four-seventeen Crenshaw."

"Nearest cross-street?"

"Filbert. Now hurry! I can hear her. She's still screaming."

MacPherson pressed the receiver harder into his ear trying to pick up any background sounds but the woman's rapid breathing covered anything that might have been audible. "All right," he said. "Now all I need is your name and-" The phone clicked dead on him.

He cradled the receiver without surprise and punched a button on the desk's intercom.

"Dispatch," a tinny voice answered

"Hi, Sam. Mac here."

"Evening, Jonas. How's it goin'?"

"Slow. You got any warm bodies available?"

"Warm bodies? You mean, like real live cops?"

"Whatever you can spare."

"Well, there's Arboles and Williams. If you're not too particular-" The metallic crash of a waste can smashing into a brick wall cut across the dispatcher's voice. "Hey! Watch it."

"You okay, Sam?"

"Yeah. Fine. Great. Some guys got no sense of humor."

"Well, send them over to the Cherrywood Arms Apartments, four-seventeen Crenshaw, near Filbert. Sounds like someone's disturbing an old lady's sleep."

"One of those."

"Right." The desk sergeant's phone rang. "Later, Sam. Got another call."

MacPherson stabbed the flashing button. "Fifteenth Precinct, Sergeant Mac-"

"This is an emergency," a man's voice stated. "There's a young woman screaming her head off next door to me and you need to stop it. I'm entertaining my fiancee and-"

A shadow crossed MacPherson's brow. "Yes, sir. The address?"

"Four-seventeen Crenshaw."

"Near Filbert?"

"Well, yes. How did you know?"

A second line on MacPherson's board lit up.

"We'll send someone right over, sir."

MacPherson keyed the second line. "Fifteenth Precinct-"

"You've got to help her!" a young man's voice demanded. "She sounds likes she'd being murdered!"

MacPherson sat up straight. "Address?"

"Four-seventeen Cren-"

"Yes, Sir," MacPherson yelled. "We're on it." He slammed the receiver down and smashed a fist on the intercom's dispatch button.

"This is-"

"Sam! Hustle those men out to that Crenshaw address ASAP and tell them to use the sirens. It sounds bad."

 

5

Cherrywood Arms Apartments
Thursday, 9:32 P.M.

 

The policemen arrived at Jane Moorpark's apartment eighteen minutes after MacPherson took the first call. It was ten minutes too late.

Patrolman Jason Arboles followed the sounds of people pounding on someone's door to a second floor apartment. He and his partner, Frank Williams, dispersed the half dozen people and tested the door. It was locked.

"Is this the apartment where the screaming came from?" Arboles asked the people still loitering in the hallway.

"Yes," a stork-thin man said. "It belongs to Jane Moorpark. She stopped screaming a few minutes ago." He swallowed with difficulty. "I know Jane. It was her voice."

"Is the manager here?" Williams asked. No one stepped forward. Arboles collected Williams with a look. "Get set." Williams nodded.

Arboles leaned against the far wall and pushed off, putting all of his two hundred and eight pounds behind a flat-footed kick that struck the door close to the lock. Splintered wood ricocheted into the apartment as the door exploded inward. Williams followed the door in, gun drawn. Arboles went through a split-second later.

Robert Simm lay on the living-room sofa, his eyes half closed in a drunken glaze, a blissfully smile playing across his face. His arms, resting comfortably on his thighs, were covered to their elbows in blood.

Arboles' expression grew taught. "Looks like we've got ourselves a junky who just did someone."

Williams shook his head. "Man, what a mess."

Arboles trained his weapon on Simm and scanned the apartment. "Nothing here. Check around."

Williams started opening doors. "Bathroom: nothing. Bedroom: clear. Den: empty." He pushed through a swinging door.  "Kitchen... Oh, God." he turned way, his face drained of color.

Arboles tightened his grip on his gun. "What is it?"

Williams' throat quivered like someone fighting the urge to throw up. "The kitchen. Go... go see for yourself."

Arboles' gaze tracked from Williams, to the kitchen's door and back. He nodded curtly and stepped toward door. His weapon made a metal-on-wood scrapping sound as he used the barrel to push it open. He looked, jerked his eyes away, then forced them back.

Jane Moorpark lay face up on a dinette table in the middle of the small kitchen. Her arms and legs had been broken downward to facilitate tying them the table's legs. Every square inch of her body had been assaulted. Blood-smeared kitchen utensils lay scattered over the white-tiled counters.

As Arboles stepped back into the living room, Simm quivered from head to foot, then sat up straight and looking around the apartment. Williams snapped on a pair of latex gloves and handcuffed Simm's hands behind his back. "What's your name?"

"Wait," Arboles said. "Read him his rights. This is one guy we don't want to get off on a technicality."

Williams drew a stiff card from his shirt pocket and recited Miranda to him. "Do you understand what I've just said to you?"

Simm looked around vaguely. "Yes. Of course."

"Are you willing to answer our questions?"

Simm nodded. "Anything. I just want to know-"

"Without having an attorney present?"

Concern darkened Simm's expression. "Yes, of course. Please tell me-"

Williams hooked his thumbs over his belt. "What is your name?"

"Robert Simm." He looked up at him. "Where am I?"

"Do you know a Miss Jane Moorpark?"

He went rigid. "Yes. We met today and had dinner together. I remember walking her to her door. What's going on?"

"Just answer the questions. What time did you see her last?"

"About eight-thirty, right outside her door. Is this her apartment? How did I get inside? Where is she?"

Arboles' brow knitted as he watched the questioning. Simm acted confused and scared... but not guilty.

"What happened after you said good-bye?" Williams asked.

"After? I don't know. I... can't remember."

Williams gave his partner a cynical look. Arboles shrugged back.

"Has something happened to Jane?" Simm asked. "Where is she?"

Williams raised his eyebrows at Arboles, who nodded toward the kitchen and said quietly, "Show him."

Arboles nodded but pursed his lips, unsure about Simm's reactions. Williams jerked Simm to his feet and thrust him through the kitchen door. "Good Lord," Simm cried. "Who? Jane? Jane! No, please God, no." Simm fell to the floor.

Williams drew back his booted foot to kick Simm. Arboles stopped him. "Don't. He'll get his soon enough."

 

 

6

 

FBI Headquarters
Assistant Director Walter Skinner's Office
Friday, 8:02 A.M.

 

Scully looked into Skinner's reception room. Mulder slouched in a black-leather chair while a secretary in a sky blue suit and shoulder-length blonde hair busied herself at a word processor. She ended each sentence with a period and flick of her eyes in Mulder's direction. Mulder concentrated on the morning newspaper, oblivious to the glances. Scully stepped into the office. "Good morning."

Mulder's eyes stayed on the paper. "Uh huh."

"Morning, Dana," the secretary said.

"Hello, Jill. Still filling in for Kimberly?"

She nodded. "Kim's enjoying her assignment in crypto so much she's asked for an extension."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "I see you cut your hair."

Jill touched her hair with a hand. "I thought it was time for a change."

Scully watched Jill's eyes dart in Mulder's direction. He slowly read around the edge of a page. Jill dropped her hands. "It's easier to take care of."

Scully raised her chin a fraction of an inch. "It looks good."

Mulder folded over another page.

"Mulder?" Scully said. "What do you think?"

Jill beamed a smile at him. Mulder looked at Scully. "About what?"

"Jill's hair."

Mulder looked over at Jill as if noticing her for the first time. "Oh, yeah. Nice. What color did it use to be?"

Jill turned back to her monitor and began pounding the keyboard with fingers locked into claw-like hooks.

Mulder's looked back and forth between the two women. "I, uh...."

Scully warned him to silence with a shake of her head.

Jill's intercom buzzed. She stabbed a button. "Yes, Mr. Skinner?"

"Are agents Scully and Mulder here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Send them in."

"Right away." She released the button. "You may go in now."

Mulder stood and stepped through the door to Skinner's office. Scully followed, mouthing sorry at Jill as she passed.

 

Assistant Director Walter Skinner stood behind his dark mahogany desk with his back to them, intent on the contents of a folder. He waved a hand at them. "I'll be with you in a moment. Please be seated."

Scully lowered herself into one of the two hardwood chairs in front of the desk. Mulder slid into the other one, folded his paper in half, and tucked it between the chair and his leg. Skinner's closed the folder, dropped it on his desk and pulled off a pair of small, wire-rimmed reading glasses that seemed incongruous with his muscular build. "We have a problem with the Gorskey case."

Scully and Mulder exchanged glances.

"Legal's concerned a defense attorney may have a case for entrapment based on the grounds that your investigation of Mr. Gorskey proceeded with insufficient probable cause," Skinner said.

Mulder spread his hands. "Entrapment? How?"

Skinner pointed at him with the glasses. "You arrested him based on the evidence you'd collected implicating him in a counterfeiting ring. Your report doesn't establish probable cause." He taped the report. "We need something more than what's in here. How did you really do it, Mulder?"

Mulder blinked once. "Charities."

Skinner's brow furrowed.

"Gorskey made a contribution to one charity or another after every betting session. The donations were always in cash and many were too far out of his way to not have a purpose. After two weeks of trailing him I noticed he'd started to repeat the charities and the order he visited them: The Church of the Faithful Follower, The Orphanage of Our Sacred Lady, the Unification Church, Nun's Relief Fund-"

"I get the idea," Skinner said.

"All of these charities were religious organizations. When I looked deeper into Gorskey's background it turned out he'd been raised in a Catholic orphanage. It stood to reason his donations were a form of contrition."

A tired look came into Skinner's eyes. "Agent Mulder, giving to charities doesn't make you guilty of a crime."

Mulder smiled. "It does if it's your confession. Combining the first letters from each charity's name in the order Gorskey visited them spells out the word counterfeit."

Skinner blinked. "No one else saw that."

Mulder shrugged. "I know it's thin but-"

Skinner sat up straighter. "It's weak but it'll work" He handed Mulder the report. "Amend this to include what you just told me. Include a profile on Gorskey that supports your confession theory. Make it good or you may find yourself in court as a defendant instead of a witness."

Mulder took the folder and stood. "Yes, sir."

Scully joined him.

"That's all," Skinner said. He began scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad. Scully and Mulder turned to go.

"Agent Mulder."

"Sir?"

"Don't forget your newspaper."

Mulder retrieved the folded sheets.

They left the office and walked past Jill, still murderously hammering her keyboard. Mulder walked through to the hallway. Scully stopped long enough to whisper something in Jill's ear. The secretary glanced up at her, looked over at the door Mulder had just exited and then back down at her keyboard. After a moment's hesitation she nodded. Scully smiled and left to catch up with Mulder.

She found him in the hallway.  "I'll amend the report to include your explanation for suspecting Gorskey."

Mulder nodded. "Okay. I'll work up the profile. Refer to it as Addendum C."

"Right. Let's meet to fit the pieces together in...." She checked her gold watch. "Two hours. That's ten-thirty."

Mulder opened the paper and began to read again. "Sounds good." He turned and began wandering off down the hallway toward the elevator.

"What's so interesting?" Scully called after him.

He kept on walking. "A story about a murder victim named Jane Moorpark."

 

7

 

Fifteenth DC Precinct Courthouse
Two months later

 

During Simm's trial, the coroner's testimony that Miss Moorpark's torture had been carried out in so expert a manner that she had remained alive a full twenty minutes while enduring unimaginable pain had clinched the prosecution's case for first degree murder with special circumstances. Robert Simm was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The judge's sentencing comments included his regret that current laws prohibited him from handing down a death penalty. The public-appointed defense attorney, no lawyer could be found willing to take the case for pay, left Simm's presence immediately after the sentencing and went home to take a bath.

To the end of the trial, Simm claimed no knowledge of committing the crime and could offer no explanation to the indisputable evidence that had identified him as Jane Moorpark's torturer. He was remanded to the custody of the Virginia State Penitentiary.

 

 

8

 

Jane Moorpark's Apartment
Three weeks later
Wednesday, 11:32 A.M.

 

"No, Mom," Emma Moorpark said into the telephone. "I didn't make it okay. The drive was a nightmare, bumper to bumper all the way."

A voice buzzed out of the telephone.

"I've no idea what the problem was. Some accident, I suppose. Look, Mom-"

Emma smiled up at the textured ceiling of Jane's apartment.

"Yes, Mom. I'll be sure to wrap your and dad's picture in a towel. I really need to get started so-"

"Yes, Mom."

"Of course, Mom."

"Yes-"

Emma Moorpark quietly placed the receiver on the phone table and ran both hands through long, brown hair that was a perfect match to her dead sister's. She picked up the phone, wedging it between her ear and shoulder so she could examine her fingernails. "What? Yes. Of course I'm listening. No, I won't forget the photo albums... or the mail."

Emma looked down at a crate-sized white plastic box laying on the blue carpeting. The box was filled with white and brown envelopes in assorted sizes. "The post office has been holding her mail since she was... since she died. I picked it up on my way over."

She nodded at the voice on the phone. "Right. I'll give her clothes to Goodwill - You really want the bedding? Okay. Okay. I'll pack it too - Mom, we can't take the furniture. Jane rented the apartment furnished-" Emma's back stiffened. "No, Mom. I'm sorry. I can't go in there."

The telephone voice softened.

Emma's eyes turned toward the kitchen door. Broken streamers of black and yellow crime-scene tape hung down from both sides of the frame. She jerked her head away. "Thanks for understanding, Mom. I know how much the china means to you."

Her eyes brightened. "Wait, I forgot all about the packers. They'll take care of the kitchen."

The voice buzzed at her one last time, softly.

"Sure, I'll be careful driving back. I love you, Mom."

The phone clicked a gentle disconnect at her.

Emma sniffed at the humid mustiness that had built up in the apartment during the months it had been sealed as a crime scene. She tried not thinking about the source of the faint sweet odor lurking beneath the dusty smells and grabbed a flattened cardboard box, folded it into shape and started packing. She worked her way through the apartment, boxing everything according to her mother's requests. She picked up one last box and returned to Jane's bedroom to pack the few valuables Jane had owned, these Emma planned to personally take back to her home town of Ansera.

She took her parent's picture off the dressing table and dropped it into the box. She hastily snatched it back, wrapped it in a towel and carefully replaced it. Emma ran her eyes over the three boxes in the room, mentally added them to the five in the living room and the two in the den and shook her head. "Jane," she said to the empty apartment. "You were a real pack rat."

Emma hefted up the box she'd take back to Ansera herself and headed for the living room. She halted before she'd taken three steps and put the box down. She pivoted back toward the bed.

On it was a thick, folio-sized envelope the police had given Emma, its stark whiteness a sharp contrast to the dark-blue of the bed's comforter. It contained Jane's personal effects at the time of her death.

Emma's lips tightened as she walked toward it. She stopped at the side of the bed and stared down at the envelope. Just do it quick and it'll be over with.

Emma snatched up the envelope, ripped off the top and up-ended it. A cascade of plastic combs, brushes, make-up and jewelry clattered as they tumbled onto the bed. She gingerly picked out the few valuables: a watch, two rings, a gold serpentine chain necklace and the red cameo compact Jane had talked Emma into giving her for luck when she moved to DC. Emma ran her thumb over the features of the cameo's face. Their mother had insisted it had been carved in the likeness of their grandmother. She folded her hand, turning the compact back over so the carved profile faced up. Emma tucked a thumbnail under its clasp and began lifting the lid. 

 

9

 

Jane Moorpark's Apartment
Wednesday, 12:23 P.M.

 

Heavy pounding on the apartment's front door jerked her around. The compact fell to the floor. "Just a minute," Emma yelled toward the living room. She scooped the compact up and slipped it into her pocket. Emma walked to the front door and took hold of the handle. Who is it?" she asked through the door.

"Samson Shipping. We're here for a pickup from... " There was a faint rustling of papers. "Emma Moorpark."

She opened the door.

Two men dressed in work-faded coveralls faced her. The older one had a paunch and gray hair and held a clipboard with crumpled yellow invoices jammed under the clip. He nodded and stepped inside. "Morning, miss. I'm Joe Flanders. This... " he stabbed a thumb at a thin man in his twenties. "Is Billy. Dispatch said we're supposed to pick up a shipment from this address. The work order states there's no furniture to move so it should take us... " He spotted the boxes. "Oh, you packed already."

"I hope it's okay. My mother wanted things sorted a certain way, so-"

The older man smiled. "Hey. That's great. Less work for us, ya know. Everything packed up that you want to go?"

"Yes. No. Uh... there's the kitchen. I couldn't... that is I didn't have time-"

"No problem, lady. He nodded at the swinging door. "In there?"

"Yes."

He charged towards the door. The black and yellow crime scene tape drew him up short. He raised an eyebrow at her.

"It was months ago," she said.

He nodded and pushed through the door, sending the yellow tape fluttering. The door swung wildly in and out, flashing vertical slices of brilliant white linoleum blotted with red-brown stains at Emma. A chill passed through her.

The door rocked closed cutting off the view. She ran suddenly cold hands over her arms to rub down goose bumps. Sounds from the mover banging cupboard doors echoed out to her. A minute later he burst back into the living room setting the tape into motion again.

"Billy," he said. "Run down to the truck and get three of the two cubic footers and a china-box. Oh, yeah. Don't forget the packing paper this time."

The boy nodded and hurried out.

Joe turned to her. "It should only take two hours to pack the kitchen and get everything loaded. This is the last pick-up for our truck so it'll be delivered first. You should get it... " He checked the shipping manifest. "Friday afternoon. Saturday morning the latest. Okay?"

"That'll be fine." The postal box caught her eye. "I'll be here going through this mail if you need me."

"Sure thing. By the way, miss. Did you know the floor's a mess in there? Some sort of brown crusty stuff. You're gonna lose your cleaning deposit-"

Emma turned sharply away. "It's okay. I... I just don't have time for it right now."

"Yeah, but we'll track all that stuff across the carpeting."

"Please!" She forced her voice calm. "Please, don't worry about it."

The man shrugged. "Okay. Anything you say."

Billy returned with a stack of flattened cardboard boxes under one arm and a bundle of blank newsprint under the other. She stepped out of the way as he steered between them and into the kitchen. The door flashed another glimpse of the stained linoleum at her. She forced her eyes away.

Emma gathered up the box of mail, the packing box from the bedroom, a pink plastic trash can from the bathroom, settled herself on the sofa and began sorting through Jane's mail. Three piles formed quickly. The largest consisted of advertisements. She made a game out of trying to skim them into a trash can. One out of ten went in. Envelopes that looked like bills made a pile that grew considerably slower than the first. Four letters from Jane's friends who hadn't heard of her death formed the last and smallest pile. Her hands spasmed as she read the return address on the last letter. It was postmarked Virginia State Penitentiary. Her shaking fingers tore a ragged opening in one end.

 

To the Family of Jane Moorpark,

In the face of the physical evidence, which I can no more refute than explain, I have been forced into the realization that I killed Jane. Please believe me when I say that to this day I have no recollection of what I did that horrible night. The acts I committed were unspeakable and I wish to God that they had never happened. I pray for my memory of that lost hour to be restored so that I can come to terms with what I did. My belief in my guilt is based on an acceptance of the evidence but in my heart I still feel a haunting emptiness. The clean guilt of recollection would be preferable to this pointless sense of waste. My last memories of Jane were of mutual attraction and honest affection. What force could have prevailed on me to do what I did is a complete mystery to me.

The purpose of this letter is to express my regret for what happened to Jane. I cannot ask for your forgiveness or understanding; my crime goes beyond that possibility. I do ask that you accept my belief that after the misery of a lifetime in jail, I am certain to face an even greater damnation.

I have asked my attorney to cancel all applications for appeals and pardons. I have also directed my business attorneys to liquidate all of my assets and turn over the totality of the money collected to the Moorpark family. This is not a gesture to buy forgiveness. It is simply the only thing I can do to make amends. You should receive the check shortly after this letter.

Robert Town Simm

 

Emma read the letter twice. Then holding it in both hands she twisted it until the sheet tore in half. She let the pieces fall on the floor.

She didn't hate Bob Simm. She hated what he'd done to her sister, but while listening to him on the witness stand, she became convinced he really couldn't remember killing Jane. Simm refused to allow his lawyer to make any motions limiting evidence collected at the scene no matter how damaging. As the trial wore on, he had even volunteered for a series of hypnotic and electric shock treatments in an effort to recover his memory. They hadn't worked. In the end, Emma came to believe the truthfulness of his memory loss. She even pitied him, a little.

Emma searched through the bill pile until she found an envelope from Brubakar and Hatch, Attorneys at Law. Inside, with a brief statement informing the Moorpark family of the reason for the letter, was a check for two hundred and fifty-six thousand dollars. Emma stared at it, then looked around at the few boxes that were all that was left of her sister's life and shook her head. She tossed the check into the box containing Jane's personal belongings, followed it with the bills and personal letters and stood up.

She stepped over to the kitchen door and reached out to knock on it, but her hand froze an inch away. Emma dropped the arm. "Excuse me?" she called out.

"Yeah?" Joe's voice came back through the rustling of paper.

"I need to go out for a while. Is everything okay?"

"Sure. No problems."

"I'll be back about two this afternoon." She backed away from the door.

Emma carried the box she'd packed down to her silver Mustang, dusty from the long drive from Ansera. Leaning against the car's side, she hefted the box through the open passenger window. Jane's compact cut into her leg. She slipped it out of her pocket; the cameo's whiteness burned brilliant in the sun. Emma repeatedly turned it over in her hand, staring at it until a red Miada beeped at her to pull out so it could have her parking-spot. She pushed the compact between the dry cardboard of the box's flaps until it fell in with a dull plop. Emma got in her car and drove off.

 

Two hours later Emma had eaten lunch at a Michael's Fish & Chips franchise, cleared with Jane's apartment manager and spent the rest of the time canceling utilities. As she walked down the hall to Jane's door, Emma sighed as she paged through the receipts she'd collected. It had only taken an hour to cut all the umbilical cords that had connected Jane to the rest of the world. Now, except for a few pictures and memories, it was as if her sister had never existed.

The door to the apartment swung open as Emma stepped up to it. Billy backed out wheeling a dolly loaded with boxes. They nearly collided. The youth nodded at her briefly. "Sorry," and hurried down the hall.

She stepped through the door. Joe was just walking into the living room from the bedroom with two boxes in his arms. "Afternoon," he said and placed them on top of the only other box left in the room. "These are the last three. We're almost done but before we go I need you to sign the shipping invoice.

"Of course."

He picked the clipboard up off of the arm of the sofa. "Seventeen boxes total." He scratched a blue X in front of a line at the bottom of the page and handed the board to her. Emma signed and handed it back. Billy returned and carted the last three boxes away. Joe nodded at her one last time and followed him out. She looked around at the apartment. Stripped of Jane's effects, it had become lifeless. Emma turned to leave and felt her stomach jump.

A trail of red-brown footprints led from the kitchen to the front door. She gulped, and being careful not to step on the darkened path, left Jane's apartment.

 

Emma fought her way through city traffic and eventually made it to Highway 95 heading south. Forty minutes later she turned onto the 64 going west and was able to enjoy the view of the the sun glittering off the James River, in spite of the day's business.

 

Half-an-hour later, a green-and-silver sign flashed by announcing the turnoff for Ansera. Emma smiled and changed lanes for the off-ramp.

 

 

10

 

Ansera, Virginia
Wednesday, 4:32 P.M.

 

Emma turned left into the red brick driveway of her parent's house. Worn concrete steps and a porch fronted the white, two-story, clapboarded house. Emma climbed out of her car, stiff from the drive, and looked up as the front door creaked open. Mary Moorpark stood framed in it, beaming a smile at her daughter. She wore a full-length white apron and loose-fitting yellow dress that hid some of her plumpness.

Emma smiled back. She had no doubt that her mother had been standing by the door for the past hour waiting for her arrival. Like both her daughters, Mary Moorpark possessed a long mane of lustrous brown hair.

"Hi, Mom."

"I was getting worried."

Emma walked around to the passenger's side of her car to get the box of Jane's effects. Mary Moorpark's smile faded as she carried it into view. "That's all?"

"Yes. Well, after all, she only lived in DC a year."

Mary pushed the door open for her daughter. Emma stepped over the threshold, dropped the box on a coffee table, and collapsed onto the sofa. "Home at last." She caught the warm aroma of fresh coffee. "Could I have a cup?"

Mrs. Moorpark nodded and got her a steaming mug from the kitchen. Emma took a sip as she looked around the living room. "Where's Dad?"

"Out back weeding the garden," Mary Moorpark said as she stared at the box.

"Should we wait-"

"No," her mother said. "He's still having a hard time facing it. He'll come around, eventually."

Emma folded back the flaps on top of the box. Her mother leaned close and dipped a hand into the box. It came out holding a pink-handled brush with stiff black bristles. Mary Moorpark put her free hand to her mouth. "Oh, God. I gave this to her when she was just a little girl."

Emma placed a hand on her arm. "We don't have to do this now."

Mary took her daughter's hand in a desperate grip. "Yes, we do. I do."

Unpacking slowly, they took turns handling each item as it came out of the box. The three Moorpark women had always been close. Now there were just two of them and a small box of mementos. Emma handed her mother Simm's check. Mary looked at it with an empty face. "That's a lot of money."

"Mom?"

She dropped the check on the coffee table and covered her eyes with her hands. Emma patted her shoulder, then lifted the picture frame out of the box and forced it into her mother's hands. Mary unwrapped it. "Your father and I gave this to her when she left. We never thought-"

"Come on, Mom. We're almost done."

They sorted through the remaining few items in the box. The compact came out last.

Mary rubbed a thumb over the cameo's face and handed it to her daughter. "Your grandmother was so proud to give this to you girls." Emma took it and nodded. She slipped a thumbnail into the split between the two halves and pushed. It sprang open. She touched the gray satin back of the powder puff and wistfully recalled all the times she and Jane had stolen makeup from each other. She looked up into the mirror, and saw it ripple. Her expression went blank.

"Emma, what's the matter?"

Her eyes had a feverish glisten. "It's nothing. Just a chill." Her voice was distant.

Mary Moorpark took the compact, snapped it closed and dropped it in her apron pocket. "I can't take this any more. Be a dear and put Jane's things away? I'm going to the store. Maybe doing something will help get my mind off Jane." Her voice broke as she spoke her daughter's name.

Mary Moorpark stood rigidly and left, pausing only long enough to snatch her purse off an end table. She called back as she hurried through the door. "You better go tell your father you're here or his feelings will be hurt. I'll be back in half an hour."

 

+++

 

Mary departed so quickly she left the front door open. She climbed into the blue Honda Civic in front of the house and drove off. She worked her way methodically across town towards Stan's Market. Mary still preferred Stan's small store to the new supermarket that attracted Ansera's younger wives. Right now she needed the special attention Stan always lavished on his long-time customers. "Chicken," she said as she turned onto Pillsbury Street where Stan had his store. "I'll get a chicken for dinner."

Half a block short of Stan's market, she braked for a stoplight. She checked herself in the rear-view mirror and spotted the white shoulder straps of her apron. "Lord. I'll be forgetting my head next." She shrugged out of the apron. As she did, the compact fell to the floor. Mary picked it up, automatically opening it to check her makeup. She squinted as her image seemed to shimmer. Vibration from the motor, probably.

Suddenly realizing she was using Jane's compact, she hastily placed the open compact on the dashboard. The mirror fell over cockeyed and caught the image of the side mirror on Sam Barlow's truck parked in a driveway immediately to her right. The mirrors traded shimmers.

Mary jumped at the sound of a horn blaring behind her. The light had turned green.

Shaking herself, she slowly accelerated into the intersection. Mary Moorpark blinked several times. The street ahead of her seemed to pull away, as if everything was stretching outward in all directions. Mary felt her attention focus inward, separating her from the rest of the world.

Off to her right, Johnny Waverly sat on the curb wrestling the trainer wheels off of his red bicycle. Mary smiled and pulled hard right on the steering wheel.

 

 

11

 

Ansera Police Station
Wednesday, 5:43 P.M.

 

Police Chief Matthew Dill sat behind his desk, pondering which was more painful: enduring boredom or having work piled up to his ears. Deputy Jeff Daniels burst through his door. "Chief, you're not going to believe who I just arrested."

Dill gave Ansera's youngest patrolman a wry smile. "Let's see, last time you got this excited was when you caught three kids jaywalking. The time before that it was old-man Pips failing to signal before turning out of his driveway."

Daniels flapped his hands at his sides. The motion and his tall, skinny physique made him like an exited stork. "No. No. This is big. Really big."

Dill sat up straighter, fighting to keep laughter out of his voice. "Well then, the most likely candidates would be one of our resident drunks or that troublemaker Bill Valentine." The sheriff spread his hands. "I give up. Who'd you get?"

"Mrs. Moorpark!"

Dill chuckled. "Mary Moorpark? What'd she do? Drive forty-six in a forty-five mile-per-hour zone?"

"She murdered Bo Waverly's son."

Dill's smile crashed. "Tell me."

Daniels ran shaky fingers through his wavy black hair. "Johnny Waverly was sitting on the curb near Stan's store doing something to his bike. Mrs. Moorpark deliberately ran him down."

The sheriff shook his head. "It had to be an accident or some kind of mechanical failure. Mary's one of the town's most revered citizens. She couldn't do anything like that on purpose."

Daniels turned pale. "Cynthia Bain, Curt Samuelson and Stan all saw her aim for the kid then repeatedly reverse and drive over him." The deputy swallowed.

"There's more. Spit it out." Dill said.

Daniels wiped the cuff of his shirt across his narrow brow. It came away wet. "The witnesses were close enough to see her expression. They all said she was laughing as she did it."

Dill's lips drew tight. "What did she do then?"

"Parked at Stan's and just sat in her car, smiling as if she hadn't a care in the world."

"Where is she now?"

Daniels jerked his head toward the door. "Sitting in the front of the station, asking what all the excitement's about."

The sheriff's pointed at pencil at Daniels. "All right. Go call Doc Reilly and have him get over here. He doesn't know Mary but he's the only shrink in town. Tell him to bring his inkblots or whatever. I want her mental state evaluated. Get formal statements from all the witnesses. And I mean now! I want them before the Doc gets here so he knows what's going on. Then get over to the Moorpark house and tell anyone who's there what happened. Warn them they'd better get a lawyer."

"Right, chief," Daniels said. He spun toward the door.

"And Jeff. Tell the desk sergeant to read Mary her rights and book her."

Daniels nodded and left.

Matthew Dill cradled his head in his hands and decided that being bored was better.

 

+++

 

It took Daniels an hour to contact Doctor Reilly and get the witness statements down on paper. His head was spinning by the time he found himself ringing the doorbell to the Moorpark's home. No one answered. He rang again, wondering if anyone was in the backyard. The front door stood wide open. He squinted through the screen door. All he could make out in the semi-dark living room were furniture-shaped shadows. Daniels turned to look around back when a woman's ecstatic moan stopped him.

He smiled, wondering if Emma was with Jed Parkington, her current boyfriend. Daniels checked his watch and frowned. Her father should be home from work this late in the day. Daniels leaned close to the screen that it rasped against his forehead. "Miss Moorpark?"

"Yes?" a lilting woman's voice answered.

"Miss Moorpark, it's patrolman Daniels. I need to talk to you. I'm afraid there's some bad news." He thought Emma's voice was coming from the right, just out of sight from the doorway.

"Come in."

Daniels stepped through the door and looked right. Emma Moorpark stood by the living room's stone fireplace, her hands held demurely behind her.

"Miss Moorpark, Sheriff Dill asked me to inform you that your mother is at the station. He thinks you'll need to get a lawyer." Daniels swallowed, and looked down to avoid her eyes. His brows came together as he noticed a trail of dark, wet foot-shaped stains leading from Emma back to the door that led to the kitchen. A soft, wet spat filled the silence of the room. Daniels looked back towards Emma. Another spat drew his attention down to the carpeting. A third drop of thick, dark liquid fell behind her and landed in a slowly growing circle. She smiled coldly and took a step forward. Daniels backed away. Without warning Emma Moorpark launched herself at him, something long glittered in her out-thrust hand. Daniels' revolver jumped into his hand and exploded. A bullet slammed into Emma's shoulder, spinning her in mid-air. She crashed to the floor.

Daniels looked down, wide-eyed at his weapon. The acrid smoke from of its discharge tingled his nostrils. He shook himself and stepped over to Emma, kicking a long carving knife out of reach. Blind fury blazed out of her eyes. As he bent to inspect her wound, her good arm slashed at his eyes. Claw-like fingers scored his temple. He jerked backward and gritted his teeth against the pain. "If that's the way you want it."

He jumped forward and flopped her over onto her stomach. With a knee pressed into the small of her back, he twisted her wrists around and handcuffed them. She writhed under him like a snake. Daniels pushed himself off. Emma seemed to collapse in on herself and lay quiet. He humphed and began following the trail of footprints toward the kitchen. They disappeared under the door. He pushed it open, looked inside and scrambled backwards. The door swung closed on a nightmare.

Daniels eased himself into a chair and used the phone on the stand next to it to dial the station's number.

"Ansera Police Station. This is Sergeant Chamber. How may I help you?"

"Ron, it's Daniels. Tell the chief to send some men and an ambulance over to the Moorpark house right away."

"What's up, Jeff?"

Perspiration burned into the slash marks on his temple. Daniels wiped at the wetness but it only sharpened the sting. "I had to shoot Emma Moorpark and her father's been... well, sort of killed."

Chamber's voice yelled out of the phone at him. "What do you mean you had to shoot her? And what is 'sort of killed' supposed to mean?"

"She came at me with a knife. It happened so fast that I fired off a round before I knew what happened. I cuffed her then followed her bloody footprints to the kitchen and found Julius Moorpark on the floor. Ron, he's been cut to ribbons!"

"You think Emma did it?"

"With the same knife she tried using on me."

"You sit tight. I'm sending over a squad car with Phil and Mark. They'll secure the area. I'll have Sharon accompany them to keep an eye on Emma. The hospital's closer than we are so the ambulance will probably beat them there."

"Right." Daniels hung up and buried his face in trembling hands.

 

+++

 

Sergeant Chamber hung up and quickly dispatched the police and ambulance units, then reported to Dill.

"What's going on with that family?" Dill said.

Chamber shrugged.

"Who's left on duty?" Dill asked.

"You and me, sir. Do you want me to call in some extra people? Veen is away on vacation but Brophy and Cartier are available."

Dill nodded. "Better call them in. We've had more homicides in two hours than in the last year. God knows what's next."

Chamber shook his head and left. Dill pulled out a pad of scheduling forms and began scribbling. Five crumpled pages later he gave up and threw the forms into the trash. No matter how he juggled his people he didn't have enough personnel to maintain patrols and investigate two murders. He ran stiff fingers through his sandy-gray hair. "What a combination: low staffing and a pair of murders." Dill's eyes rounded. "Pair?"

Chamber stuck his head in the door. "You called, Chief?"

Dill grinned. "Not a pair, damn it. A series!"

"Sir?"

Dill jabbed a finger at him. "Bring me a blank 2342 form and make sure the fax machine is heated up. I know how to get out of this mess."

 

 

12

 

FBI Headquarters
Wednesday, 7:42 P.M.

 

One hour after Chamber handed Dill the blank form, fax machine number thirteen in a room filled with them slowly peeled off a copy of the 2342. The room was the FBI's central receiving point for electronic mail. Over the next nine hours, Dill's 2342 was coded, shuffled into a stack of similar forms, lost, found, and finally forwarded to the office of Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It was the last item sent to Skinner's office so it was on the top of his in-box when he arrived for work at seven-thirty that morning.

 

AD Walter Skinner stormed through his anteroom. "Morning, Jill."

She smiled at him. "Good morning, sir. Night staff was busy last night. I'm afraid your in-basket's already full."

"When isn't it?" He hurried through to his office. In a single efficient movement he shucked his dark-blue suit coat with his left hand while his right snatched the top document from his in-box. He threw the coat around the back of his chair and thumbed the fax cover-sheet off Dill's 2342. Skinner had skimmed half-way through the fax before he'd settled himself in his chair. He scowled and stabbed an intercom button. "Jill, what's our man-hour overload rating?"

"As of last Monday, eighteen percent."

"Are any other directorates lower?"

He heard paper rustle as Jill shuffled through her ready-reference files.

"No, sir. All the other directors are claiming over twenty percent."

His frown deepened. "Even Barksdale?"

"Twenty-six percent."

"Damn. I was hoping to push this off on someone."

"Sir?"

"It's nothing. Forget it." He clicked off.

Skinner stared at the paperwork in his hands. I don't have enough agents for support requests. His eyebrows lifted. Except...

He punched the intercom again. "Jill, please have Agents Scully and Mulder report to me as soon as they sign in."

"Yes, sir."

 

Skinner had worked his way through half of his in-basket's contents when his intercom buzzed. "Yes?"

"Agents Scully and Mulder are here, sir."

"Send them in."

He picked up Dill's fax as Scully and Mulder stepped through the door and walked to the front of his desk. He ran a supervisory eye over them. Scully wore a black blazer over a shimmering, emerald green silk blouse. Her page-boy cut auburn hair seemed lighter this morning, almost red. Skinner couldn't spot a single hair out of place. Mulder had on a dark-gray, two-piece suit and white shirt. His tie sported a blue-on-gold, paisley design. His brown hair was tousled, like he'd fingered it in place instead of using a comb. Skinner doubled-tracked over Scully's brilliant green blouse and Mulder's tie. "Pushing the dress codes a little this morning, aren't you?"

Scully stiffened. Mulder smiled and shrugged.

Skinner extended the fax to Scully. She took it with the small, delicate fingers of her right hand. Skinner reminded himself that those fragile-looking fingers had earned her third place in last month's handgun qualifications. He cleared his throat. "That's a Form 2342, Request for FBI Assistance Relating to Serial Murders. It was submitted last night by the chief of police of Ansera, a small town ninety miles east of DC. I'm assigning you to look into it. It's my estimation the local police are just looking for some free manpower so spend as little time as possible on it but make the locals feel they're getting their tax dollar's worth. I'll expect you back in two days. That's all." Skinner picked up a fresh piece of paperwork and began reading.

Mulder stood fast. "Sir?"

The assistant director looked up. "What is it, Agent Mulder?"

"This case isn't an X-file. I was hoping to-"

"Correct me if I'm wrong, Agent Mulder, but to the best of my memory you aren't currently assigned to any other cases."

"No. But I've received a report of-"

Skinner's eyes hardened. "What is it this time, Agent Mulder? Aliens? Bigfoot?"

"Actually-"

"I don't want to hear about it. Your work on cases involving the paranormal is excellent. I don't always agree with your explanations but there is no denying that your effectiveness in solving such cases is greater than anyone else's in the bureau's history. You'll be the first person called the next time someone reports a federal crime associated with unknown phenomena. Until then, there are two dead people in Ansera. We owe it to them to find their killers. Do you have a problem with that?"

Scully stepped forward. "No, sir. We don't."

She turned to her partner. "Let's go, Mulder. We have work to do."

 

 

13

FBI Headquarters
Thursday, 9:13 A.M.

 

Scully nodded at Jill as they passed through the outer office. She smiled back but didn't even glance in Mulder's direction. Scully caught Mulder's arm the moment the anteroom's door closed. "What is going on between you and Jill?"

Mulder shrugged. "Haven't a clue. She's been like that a long time now."

"Really. Does that bother you?"

He shrugged. "I'd like to know why."

Scully smiled cryptically. "Good."

He looked her quizzically, then pointed at the fax. "So, what did we get?"

She scanned the form. "According to the local sheriff, a mother and daughter appear to have turned homicidal on the same day. The mother ran over a little boy in the street while the daughter attacked and killed her father. It looks like Skinner guessed it correctly; the local sheriff ran out of deputies and is looking for some free help." Scully squinted at the sheet. Print jammed the details-block tight to the borders. "He didn't have enough room to complete the descriptions of the crimes."

Mulder smiled with half his mouth. "On purpose?"

She looked up. "You mean leave it vague enough so the FBI couldn't classify the case as non-applicable?"

"Exactly."

"Could be. Here." She handed him the fax. "What do you think?"

Mulder read down the page. His cynical smile faded. He stopped and touched two fingers to his lips.

"What is it, Mulder?"

"The family's name is Moorpark."

"So?"

His eyes came up, distant. "Nothing, I guess. It's just that the name sounds familiar. Something I heard, or maybe read... "

Scully started toward the elevator. "We better get going. Skinner didn't give us much time."

Mulder trailed after her, re-reading the fax. "It's strange that two family members decided to murder someone at the same time."

"It's not clear that they did. The boy's death could have been an accident and the father's cause of death wasn't stated."

Mulder's voice took on a distant tone. "Still, it's odd."

"Not at all. Tragic maybe, but coincidences like this happen."

"We'll see."

Scully spun around to face him. "Stop it."

Mulder slammed to a halt just before running into her. "What?"

"Trying to force this into an X-file. It isn't. All we have here are two murders, one of which is probably a traffic accident. Don't force it into being something else."

"I was only-"

"I know that look, Mulder."

He spread his hands. "What look?"

"The glazed stare you get when you start looking for a complex explanation for a simple occurrence. You do it every time: interpret the facts to fit some outlandish theory. Let's just drive over to Ansera, put in a couple of hours and come home. The local authorities will be satisfied, Skinner will be happy and I'll be able to sleep in my own bed Saturday night instead of in some cheap motel."

Mulder's smile fell away. "I never manipulate facts to fit a personal agenda and you know it." He marched toward the elevator.

She sighed and hurried after him. "Mulder, wait."

He stepped into the elevator and punched a button. "I'll pick you up at your apartment after I stop by my place for my travel kit."

"Mulder-" The door hushed closed. She stared at her gray reflection in the elevator's brushed-chrome surface, her hands balled into small, white fists.

 

Scully folded a pair of blue slacks and dropped them into her travel case. She blinked at the single change of clothes she'd packed and shook her head. She headed back to her wardrobe. Black and dark-blue suits filled most of the closet. On the right-hand side she'd hung the clothes she wore when she felt the urge to rebel against the bureau's dress code. Her favorite outfits, a sea-green dress and an apricot suit caught her eye. They'd seen increasing use over the last few weeks. She rubbed the back of her neck. Why am I feeling so unsettled?

Scully started reaching for a black suit. Her hand stopped in mid-motion and swerved grabbed the apricot one. She'd just folded it into the suitcase when a car's horn blared outside. Scully looked out the window. Mulder's gray thunderbird idled, double parked. His horn sounded again. Anger flushed red into her cheeks.

She slammed the lid of her suitcase closed and stormed out of the apartment. The heels of her low, black pumps beat a determined cadence down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. She jerked the car's rear passenger-side door open and hurled the suitcase onto the seat. She pushed the door closed hard enough to rock the car. Scully threw herself into the front seat. "Drive."

Mulder stared at her. "What's with the attitude?"

"For one thing I don't like having elevator doors slammed in my face."

"Oh, come on now-"

"For another I don't appreciate you honking at me like you're calling for some prostitute. When you call for me I expect you to extend me the courtesy of walking up to my door."

Mulder grinned. "I never honk for them. The telephone is more discrete." She glared at him. "Okay, okay, I'm sorry. It's only that-"

"Drive. You're holding up traffic."

Mulder checked the rear-view mirror. Six cars had jammed up behind him. He waved an apology and accelerated into traffic.

 

Half an hour's navigating through the tire squeals, horns and curses that accompany driving across the nation's capital brought them to Highway 95 headed south. Scully felt tension cramping her arms. She forced them to relax. She glanced left just as Mulder looked over at her. She jerked her eyes straight.

"Would it do any good to apologize again?" he asked.

Scully crossed her arms over her chest. She saw his grip tighten on the steering wheel.

"Look, Scully-"

She looked away.

"Let's bury the hatch and-"

"Gladly."

He drove twenty minutes without saying a word. The junction to Highway 64 came up on the right. He braked hard to squeeze in behind a red Volkswagon, changed lanes and dove down the junction's ramp. A quick dodge got them into the 64's westward flow.

Mulder glanced a her. "I admit that I over-reacted to what you said back in the bureau." She opened her mouth but he cut her off. "And beeping at you from the street was impolite but you have to admit you've been a royal pain these last few months."

"I've been difficult?" she said. "What about-"

"At first it irritated me but when your color ratio topped thirty percent I knew something had to be bothering you. What ever it is, I think it's starting to affect our professional relationship." He looked over at her. "Let's have it. What's going on?"

Scully's brow furrowed. "Color ratio? What-"

Mulder smiled crookedly. "The more you get frustrated with something, the more often you wear brightly colored suits. I assume it's some sort of defiance thing. Usually you average once a month. When Skinner made you redo the Walenburg autopsy report three times it jumped to once every ten days, ten percent. The worst I've seen was a year ago during the Salisbury investigation."

Scully cringed at the memory.

"You hit twenty percent then." Mulder's smile dropped away. "Lately you've been averaging thirty. Something's eating at you. What is it?"

 Scully felt her lips press to a line. He's right. She uncrossed her arms, stared out the window, brought her eyes back. Her shoulders sagged. "There's a restlessness building in me, Mulder. I watch people making lives for themselves and here I stay, repeating the same motions over and over."

"Our cases are important."

She stared out the window at the James River, dull gray from the growing overcast. "Do you remember Davidson?"

Mulder's brows came together. "Brad?"

She nodded. "Right. He died two weeks ago."

Mulder shook his head. "I hadn't heard. He'd been with the bureau what, thirty years?"

"Thirty-four. He died three months after he retired."

"Thirty-four years. Man."

"His entire life."

Mulder looked over at her. "Where are you going with this?"

She felt the sense of loss well up within her as they had so many times in the last month. "We're falling into the same trap Brad did. We give so much of our lives to the FBI that it takes over our souls. We get old, retire and when we discover there is nothing left inside of us without the bureau, we die. I can feel it happening to me. More and more I catch myself thinking of myself as Agent Scully instead of Dana Scully, someone who wants more out of live than just this job."

"Oh, it's that again."

Her hands clinched. "What is that supposed to mean?"

He shrugged. "Just that every time you see kids playing in a park or some married couple walking together you start worrying about what you're missing."

"You think that's strange?"

He shrugged. "I don't think about it at all. That's the biggest difference between us. You feel like you're missing something. I feel that the bureau, or at least the X-files, has given me the fulfillment I couldn't have gotten any other way."

"What about love, having a family?"

"I guess I don't have as strong a nesting instinct as you."

She turned to look out her window.

"What about Art Henderson?" Mulder asked

She turned back, a quizzical look on her face. "Who? Oh, Art. What about him?"

"You two started going out at the end of the Stevenson case. It looked like that was going to-"

"It didn't."

Mulder chewed a lip in thought.

She raised an eyebrow. "What?"

"I just had an idea. What if I knew someone- hey! There's the turnoff for Ansera." He pulled right and down an off-ramp.

Scully sighed and skimmed the fax one last time. "Time to go to work."

A faint smile flickered across Mulder's lips. "This could be interesting."

She looked at him. "What could be interesting?"

"The case, of course." His smile grew. "What else?"

 

The off-ramp dumped them onto Clement Boulevard, a four-lane street running through Ansera's heart. Mulder slowed as they entered the town. The main-street shops sported ginger-board facades painted in bright oranges, greens and yellows. The sidewalks looked scrubbed and the street had been swept clean. People and cars milled up and down the road at a comfortable relaxed pace. Scully smiled, surprised that there still were towns like Ansera in existence.

In three weeks it would be deserted.

 

 

14

 

Ansera Police Station
Thursday, 10:05 A.M.

 

Scully and Mulder parked in front of the red brick police station and stepped inside. A heavy-set police sergeant in khakis sat behind a long metal desk covered in nicked, wood-grained contact paper. A hallway behind the reception desk led deeper into the station. The desk sergeant's eyes were red with fatigue.

"Good morning," Scully said. "Could you tell us where we could find Sheriff Dill?"

"And you are?" he asked.

She offered him her FBI identification. "Special Agents Scully and Mulder from the FBI. Sheriff Dill faxed a request for assistance on a series of murders. We're here to help."

The sergeant laughed without humor. "Murders. I wish it was that simple. But, we're glad you're here. The chief's through that door. Good luck."

Scully lifted an eyebrow at Mulder. He shrugged and strode over to knock at the door.

"Come in," a tired man's voice called out.

They pushed through into the office.

The room smelled of overworked bodies. A sandy-haired policeman with captain's bars on his collar hunched behind a large desk. Deep-purple shadowed the skin below his eyes and his chin was blue with whiskers. Scully assumed he was Dill and estimated him to be in his forties, but looked sixty with fatigue. A stick-thin young police officer and an older man in dark civilian clothes sat in front of the desk. The men swiveled to stare bleary-eyed at the newcomers.

"Yes?" Dill asked.

Mulder stepped forward. "We're the FBI agents you requested. This it Special Agent Scully and I'm Agent Mulder."

"So soon?" Dill said. "I sent the fax out a just few hours ago."

Scully glanced at the time block on the fax's cover sheet. "It's been over twelve hours, sir. Ansera's not that far from DC and since we were available we came right out."

Mulder smiled. "Your tax dollars at work."

Dill shook his head. "Twelve hours? God, time flies when you're living a nightmare." He nodded at the old man in civilian clothes. "This is Doctor Patrick Reilly. He's the town shrink."

The old man grimaced.

"Sorry, Doc. Psychiatrist."

Dill inclined his head toward the young policeman. "That's Jeff Daniels. He was the arresting officer. Please, have a seat."

Mulder pulled a chair over for Scully. She placed the fax on Dill's desk and sat down. "Our director was a little confused about your report. I have to admit he doubts that the two murders you reported constitutes a serial murder classification."

"He probably thinks I was trying to tap the FBI for a little free help."

Scully lifted her chin a fraction of an inch.

Dill held up a hand. She noticed his fingers trembled.

"Your director is right. Or at least I admit it started out that way. Then Doc reminded me about Jane Moorpark's death several month's ago."

Scully sensed Mulder straighten. "Jane Moorpark?"

Dill's tired eyes narrowed. "You know... knew her?"

"No. It's just that her name sounds familiar."

"Jane was Mary Moorpark's second daughter, Emma's sister. She was murdered in DC-"

Mulder's eyes rounded. "Right. I remember. There was something about it in the papers."

Dill nodded. "She was tortured to death by a man named Simm." Dill spread his hands then let them fall to his desk. "The 2342 didn't give me enough space to cite yesterday's murders and connect them to Jane's."

"Connect?" Scully asked.

"Simm was a complete stranger to Jane Moorpark until they met one afternoon. From all accounts they were getting along fine when he suddenly attacked her. Simm had no record of criminality or mental disorder. Mary Moorpark, Jane's mother, is one of the most loved people in Ansera. Never did a wrong thing in her life. Yet yesterday she repeatedly drove her car over a small boy, slowly crushing him to death. When Daniels went to tell her family, Jane's sister Emma tried killing him with a kitchen knife. He found the father in the kitchen, murdered."

"Butchered is more like it," Daniels said.

Dill nodded. "Just like Jane, it looked like he had been tortured to death. Three normal individuals suddenly deciding to kill people in the most horrific means at their disposal sounds like a connection to me." The sheriff pushed himself back. "Under the circumstances I thought it best to have Doc Reilly examine Mary. After he finished with her he went over to the hospital to talk to Emma. You tell it, Doc."

Reilly leaned forward. Excitement struggled with fatigue in his eyes. "When I first began interviewing Mary Moorpark, she displayed an aberrant personality the likes of which I've never observed. She was fully aware of killing the little Waverly boy and seemed to derive an almost sexual satisfaction from it. She practically purred with pleasure."

"That's the way Emma sounded when I arrived at the Moorpark house," Daniels said.

Reilly humphed. "If I didn't know better I'd swear Mary Moorpark was intoxicated, except that her mind was clear and sharp. She relished describing the pleasure she felt while crushing the little boy." The doctor shuddered.

"The statements of the witnesses confirm she was laughing as she drove over the boy," Dill said.

"She made no evasion to committing the crime," Reilly said. "When I asked her why she did it her answer was simply for the joy of hearing his screams of pain. About half an hour after beginning the interview she experienced a short, mild convulsion."

"A petite mall seizure?" Scully asked.

Reilly's eyes perked up. "Eh? No, milder. It was little more than a momentary facial spasm. Do you have some medical training?"

"I'm a medical doctor. The FBI recruited me out of medical school."

"I see." Reilly ran a hand through gray hair made spiky with perspiration. "Anyway, after that Mary claimed to have no knowledge of what had happened or how she got to the station. As far as I can determine, she has complete amnesia about the incident. I'm convinced that she isn't faking. I also went to the hospital and conducted a similar examination of the daughter. She exhibited the same personality traits as her mother for ten minutes. During this time she admitted to killing Julius Moorpark using tools she found in the kitchen. When I asked her how she was able to overpower she shrugged the question off. Ten minutes into the interview she experienced a convulsion similar to her mother's. After that, she had forgotten everything about the incident."

Mulder leaned forward. "You said 'compulsive episodes.' Are you suggesting an outside influence forced them to commit these murders?"

Scully's fingers tighten on her purse.

Reilly's laughter held no humor. "What words are you trying to put into my mouth, young man? Some kind of demonic possession?"

"Three cases with similar MOs would seem to support-"

Reilly sat up straight. "I didn't intend to suggest any such thing. I was merely presenting my observations. As yet I haven't formulated any theory to explain their behavior. When I do, I can assure you it will be consistent with scientific theory." The doctor levered himself up out of his chair and turned to Dill. "I'm going home. Don't try to reach me for at least ten hours. Tomorrow would be better." Reilly smiled at Scully. "It was a pleasure to meet you." He fired a curt nod at Mulder and left.

Mulder leaned over to whisper in Scully's ear. "Think he's a candidate for my fan club?"

Dill cleared his throat. "I believe your little joke offended him, Agent Mulder."

Mulder stared at him, impassive.

The sheriff gave him sideways look. "You weren't serious?"

"I'm afraid he was, Sheriff Dill," Scully said. "I think you should know that Agent Mulder is in charge of a department within the FBI that is concerned with investigating cases suggesting the paranormal."

Dill's mouth dropped. "You mean he hunts ghosts?"

Scully shuffled her feet. "Well, yes. Among other things."

"And you think some kind of ghost is at the bottom these murders?" Dill asked Mulder.

"It would explain a lot of things," Mulder said. "Wouldn't it, Sheriff?"

Dill cleared his throat. "I'd prefer a more rational theory." He picked up a thick folder and handed it to Scully. "Here are all the reports and witness depositions. The desk sergeant will fix you up with an office. I'll be back this afternoon after I get a couple of hours' sleep." The sheriff dragged himself out of his chair and left the office. Daniels trailed after him.

Scully and Mulder followed the two men as far as the reception desk. Daniels wandered out the front door. Dill blinked at the desk sergeant. "You still here, Chamber? I thought I told you to call Brophy and Cartier in?"

"I did, and sent them right out again. There was some kind of trouble at Bull's."

"Great. Just what we need, more trouble."

"Bull's?" Mulder asked.

Dill glanced in his direction. "The Bull Pen Bar, it's on the town's border. It's a good place to stay away from." The sheriff turned back to the sergeant. "Our guests from DC need an office. Fix 'em up. I've got to get out of here."

"Yes, sir. I'll take care of everything."

Dill turned away and headed down the hallway into the station. Chamber pointed after the sheriff. "Second door on the left, number seventeen. Bathrooms are at the end of the hall. Best place for lunch is the Green Onion, half a block north from here.

Scully and Mulder nodded their thanks and walked to the office. It was long and narrow. Two bleached-oak wooden desks faced each other across a five-foot walkway defined by the desks, a pair of brown metal trash cans, and two olive-drab folding chairs. Ancient wood swivel chairs behind each desk angled toward the door in invitation.

Mulder pushed past Scully and fell into the chair behind the right-hand desk. Scully walked to the remaining desk and opened the folder. She shuffled through the papers and after selecting a dozen sheets for herself, handed the rest to Mulder. "Police reports, mostly by Daniels. I've got the witness depositions."

"Right," Mulder said peeling off the top sheet. "Let's get to it."

Scully took a yellow legal pad out of the desk's center drawer and squared the witness reports into three precise stacks in front of her: one regarding Mary Moorpark, a second for Emma, and a heavily-wrinkled summary sheet on Jane Moorpark's case. She picked up Mary's file and began reading.

The identification block at the top of the first deposition stated it was from Mrs. Cynthia Bain, a forty-three year old housewife who lived three houses down from the corner where Jonathan Waverley died. She was on her way to Stan's corner market when she recognized Mary Moorpark's car as it entered the intersection. Mrs. Bain waved but Mary gave no indication of seeing her. Halfway through the intersection Mary pulled right and steered directly at Johnny, slowing just before she hit him. The car's speed was low enough so that instead of knocking him away, it rolled up and over the boy. Mrs. Bain said she could hear the sounds of his bones being crushed as Mary Moorpark drove the car over him and up the curb, reversed over him, and started forward again. Mrs. Moorpark repeated this three times before Curt Samuelson, who was close, ran up and began pounding on her door. During the entire episode Cynthia Bain said Mary Moorpark had laughed like she was drunk. At that point Mrs. Bain said she ran across the street to the Waverly boy. She'd just cradled him in her arms when his eyes flickered, then closed forever. She couldn't remember anything after that until Patrolman Daniels pulled her away from the boy so the paramedics could get to him. They determined he'd died in her arms.

Scully tapped the end of her pen three times on the desk and reversed it to write a note on the legal pad.

 

First witness testified to alleged perpetrator's acting drunk. Recommend conducting a level-one toxicology screening.

 

She touched the end of the pen to the corner of her mouth, then added:

 

Mary Moorpark's socio-economic profile does not suggest voluntary ingestion of recreational drugs and the circumstances suggest that drugs had been introduced into her system through clandestine means.

 

Scully slipped the deposition to the bottom of the stack and began reading Curt Samuelson's account of the incident, which substantiated Cynthia Bain's statement. He also said Mary had acted intoxicated. Scully made a check by her note for a tox-screen.

Stan Fredrickson's deposition supported the first two including their comments on her acting drunk. Scully's brows came together at his mentioning that he knew Mary couldn't have been drinking alcohol because she was allergic to it. Scully pursed her lips, then added a second check behind her recommendation.

She flipped through the depositions a second time before setting them aside. She looked up at Mulder. Arresting-officer reports were scattered over his desk. He leaned back in his chair, fingers laced behind the back of his head, eyes on the ceiling. Scully shook her head and reached for the depositions regarding Emma Moorpark. Since there had been no witnesses, the only reports available were after-the-fact from the arresting officers. Patrolman Jeffrey Daniel's account topped the stack. He'd gone to the Moorpark residence to inform anyone there of Mary Moorpark's arrest. Before he'd been able to do so, Emma Moorpark attacked him with a carving knife. He shot her in self-defense. After subduing her he inspected the premises and found her father, Julius Moorpark, in the kitchen. Mr. Moorpark had been murdered in what appeared to be ritualistic torture using a variety of kitchen implements. Daniels concluded with a statement that an addendum specifying the details of Mr. Moorpark's death was pending.

Scully flipped through the documents but could not find the addendum. She frowned, then realized that it had only been thirteen hours from the initial discovery. The forensics experts wouldn't have had time to complete their reports.

Patrolmen Philip Warper and Mark Pallack's deposition at the crime scene substantiated Daniel's but Deputy Sharon Lansky's report included a comment that made Scully's eyes widen.

Lansky stated that she was a long-time acquaintance of Emma Moorpark and knew she shared her mother's allergy to alcohol. Yet Emma had exhibited symptoms of being intoxicated: giddiness, weak muscular control, apathy toward the situation, sleepiness and satiation.

Scully's lips tightened. She picked up the single piece of paper on Jane Moorpark's murder. It was hand-written in blue ink. The report stated Jane had been tortured to death in her DC apartment's kitchen by Robert Simm. He'd been arrested at the crime scene in what at first appeared to be a drunken stupor. Shortly after police officers arrived he'd sobered and claimed no memory of the incident. Simm had been found guilty and committed to life imprisonment. At the bottom of the page the writer stated his opinion that the similarity of the modus operandi between this and the current cases strongly suggested a connection. The sheet concluded with a statement that copies of Simm's case records had been requested from the DC authorities and that the preceding report was from memory. It was signed Matthew Dill, Chief of Police.

Scully stacked all the depositions into one pile, thought better of it, and shuffled through them. Her forehead furrowed. She ran through the papers again. "Mulder?"

"Huh? What?"

"Did I give you Doctor Reilly's report by mistake."

Without straightening, he ran a hand through the confusion of papers on his desk. He snatched one out of the mess and held it up. "Here it is."

Scully walked over and took it from him. His eyes were shiny, distant. He didn't look up. "Thanks," she said.

"Uh huh."

Scully smiled wryly and returned to her desk. Reilly's evaluation of Mary and Emma Moorpark stated that neither of them appeared to have sustained any physical or emotional traumas prior to the incidents. In spite of their exhibiting symptoms of intoxication, their rapid recovery and the lack of any positive results from a toxicology scan indicated they were not under the influence of drugs. Their state when he first examined them would most accurately be described as one of extreme euphoria or satiation.

Scully frowned. She picked through the previous depositions until she came to Sharon Lansky's. She re-read the patrolwoman's statement that Emma had acted apathetic, sleepy and satiated. Scully looked down at her recommendation to request a tox-screen. Her pen hovered, then drew a line through it.

Reilly concluded by saying that after a mild convulsion, each of the Moorpark women had returned to acting normal except for what appeared to be a one-hour period of amnesia during which they'd committed their murders. He stated he could find no inconsistencies in their responses to his questions. He believed the amnesia to be valid.

Scully stacked the doctor's report on top of the others and leaned back. Her features darkened. It is not a drug.

She tapped the end of her pen on the yellow writing tablet, caught herself, and began tapping again. Hereditary insanity?

She shook her head. Doctor Reilly would have mentioned it if there had been any support for that theory. Her pen began its dance again, then froze in mid-air. Scully jerked up straight, eyes round. "Mass sociogenic illness."

"What?" Mulder asked, swinging around in his chair.

"I think this is an extreme case of mass sociogenic illness, mass hysteria. The horror of Jane's death made her mother and sister unconsciously want to strike out at the world for justice. This drove them to commit murders mirroring Jane's murder. Once they realized what they had done the memory was too painful to endure and their psyches blotted it out. Hence the amnesia."

Mulder nodded, then frowned. "I'd be willing to accept your theory if one of the victims hadn't been Emma's father. Everyone questioned stated that the Moorparks were a close, loving family. Even unconscious, she'd still recognize her own father."

Scully's expression remained firm. "In spite of that you have to accept it's more plausible than demonic possession."

Mulder didn't return her challenging look. Scully stood up. "I think I'll take a look at the bodies and see if the clinical evaluations suggest anything."

"Going to do full autopsies?"

"No. I don't think Skinner wants us putting that much into this case."

He bounced his eyebrows. "Unless something interesting develops."

Scully opened her mouth. Mulder jumped up, cutting her off. "I'm going to tour the crime scenes and ask a few questions. Let's meet back here in two hours."

"You don't really believe-"

"That it could be a case of possession? Maybe." Mulder paused by the door and frowned. "Or something worse."

 

 

15

Ansera, Virginia
Thursday, 12:03 P.M.

 

Mulder drove north on Clement Boulevard to Pillsbury. Two blocks up he pulled to the curb at the intersection of Pillsbury and Murdock. He sat in the car, taking in the scene. Except for Stan's Market, the neighborhood consisted of tree-lined streets and old clapboarded houses. He caught a motion out of the corner of his eye. Near a corner of the intersection, yellow and black police tape tied to sawhorses fluttered in a light breeze. Within the taped-off area Johnny Waverly had met his death.

Mulder climbed out of his car and walked to the crime scene. Other than barely dried bloodstains, the area was empty. Scanning wider, he found a half-inch, chromed nut wedged into the crack between the pavement and cement curb. Mulder picked it up.

The police record stated Johnny was taking the trainer wheels off his bike when Mary Moorpark ran him down. Mulder remembered the thrill of riding a bicycle for the first time without trainers. He let the nut fall to the pavement. "I'll do what I can, Johnny."

Mulder headed across town to the Moorpark residence. Scully's mass hysteria theory haunted his thoughts. It was a good, but didn't feel right. Mulder learned long ago to trust his feelings; they'd saved his life too many times to be ignored.

He spotted the white and green house Sergeant Chamber had described as being the Moorparks'. Mulder checked the number, nodded, and pulled in behind a black and white police car. He stepped up to the house's front door. It was open. "Hello?" He called out.

"In the kitchen," a man's voice yelled back at him.

Mulder followed the voice through the livingroom and a white swinging door, where he found Ansera's forensic team hard at work, all one of him.

Officer Jason Book got to be the Ansera Police Department's forensics expert by watching Quincy reruns on late-night television. Book enjoyed the series so much he began studying forensics on his off-hours. Two years ago he assisted Ansera's prosecutor in convicting a rapist by knowing how to take and send out blood samples for genetic identification. Since then Sheriff Dill had made it a point to send Book to any forensic classes Ansera's meager police budget allowed. Whenever something special came up, the call went out for Book to get to the crime scene. Julius Moorpark's murder was something special.

Mulder found Jason Book on his knees swabbing blood samples off the floor. There was a lot to swab. "Good afternoon," Mulder said.

Book, dressed in a khaki-colored uniform, looked up. "Who are you?"

Mulder flashed his ID. "Sheriff Dill asked for some help on the Moorpark case. We're it."

"We?"

"My partner's over at the morgue."

Book pushed himself up. He was lanky like Mulder but half a foot shorter. "Dill might as well relax. Convictions are in the bag on these two murders. We have confessions, witnesses and irrefutable crime scene evidence."

"What did you find?"

"The murder weapons-"

Mulder frowned. "Weapons?"

"Julius Moorpark died slowly over a period of an hour," Book said. "During that time many different instruments were used to torture him. It's impossible to assign the cause of death to any one of them."

Mulder surveyed the white kitchen floor. "It looks like he bled to death."

"The coroner will have the last say on that but my guess is no. It looks like a lot of blood but there's only about two pints here. It's spread around so it looks like more. If I had to say what killed Moorpark it would be shock. Specifically: he died of pain."

"Was Moorpark gagged?"

Book shook his head. "No marks and he wasn't wearing one when he was found."

"Why didn't anyone hear his screams?"

"The neighborhood is pretty much deserted at that time of the morning: fathers are at work, kids in school, most of the wives are out shopping. Besides, these old places are built like blockhouses. Not much sound gets in or out."

Mulder wandered over to the sink counter. His stomach squirmed at the sound of crusty blood crunching under foot. A neat row of kitchen utensils in plastic bags lined the counter's edge.

Book joined him. "These are what Emma Moorpark used on her father. This large kitchen knife was also what she attacked Daniels with. The nut cracker was used to crush Moorpark's fingers and toes. The heavy meat-tenderizing hammer took care of his elbows and knees. The vegetable peeler... well, you can guess. I have no idea what the corkscrew was used for. I don't think I want to."

Mulder felt his face grow cool. "Did you know the Moorparks?"

Book nodded. "Ansera's small enough so everybody knows everyone. I knew Mr. Moorpark only well enough to recognize him but then he was a generation older. Jane and I went out a couple of times in high school. We exchanged a couple of letters after she moved to DC."

"How about Mary and Emma?"

"Mary Moorpark was active in the Women's Auxiliary, which spends a lot of time supporting the police force. I guess I saw her at least once a month. She's a homebody, the motherly type."

"Not a murderer?"

Book shook his head. "Definitely not. I still can't believe she killed Johnny."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "And Emma?"

"Only met her a couple of times. She seemed nice enough."

"Not a homicidal maniac?"

Book gave Mulder a crooked smile. "Hardly."

"Any rumors of mental instability in the family?"

"None. Salt of the earth."

"So I suppose drugs are out of the question."

Book laughed. "The Moorparks? Impossible. They led a petition in their church to switch from the using sacramental wine to grape juice."

Mulder chuckled, then grew serious. "How did Mary and Emma take the news of Jane's death."

"Hard. Real hard. But if you asked me it was Julius Moorpark who was affected the most. He retreated into his garden and didn't come out, until..." He swept the room with an arm.

"Do you think the tragic way Jane died could have sent Mary and Emma over the edge? Driven them to repeat the crime for some reason?"

"It's been months. Why would they wait this long?"

Mulder shrugged.

Book scratched the brown thatch on the side of his head. "No. I've talked to them both since Jane died and they've acted normal. Sad, but normal. Besides, Emma was devoted to her father. Why would she attack him of all people?"

"Is it certain she did?"

Book picked up the plastic bag with the vegetable peeler and held it at eye level to Mulder. He could see three, brown-lined fingerprints in sharp detail on the handle. "It was Emma all right. All of the utensils had her fingerprints; fresh, sharp and complete."

"Why do you think they did it?"

"Me?" Book shook his head. "I haven't the faintest. Do you?"

"I've an idea."

Book's eyebrows raised expectantly. Mulder shrugged. "I need more information before I say anything, but I don't think this is over yet."

 

+++

 

After Mulder left the police station, Scully asked the desk sergeant for the directions to the coroner's office. There wasn't one. He informed her that Doctor Bruce Tildon took care of all coroner activities. His office was in the Ansera Hospital.

Scully caught a ride to the hospital in a patrol car. She walked up to the double glass doors of the main entrance a one story, brick building surrounded by a park full of shade and green. Inside was a four-chair reception area with a receptionist typing away behind a nubbled, sliding glass window. A twenty-year old mother sat in one of the chairs rocking a fussy baby.

Scully tapped on the glass. The window slid open. "Yes?" a gray haired receptionist asked.

"I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI. I'd like to see Doctor Tildon if possible."

"I'm sorry. Doctor Tildon is busy right now. I can get a message to him by lunch if you'd like to leave one."

Scully shook her head. "I need to see him now. Sheriff Dill asked me to consult with the doctor on the Moorpark murders."

The young mother's head jerk up.

The nurse dithered. "It's just that the doctor has just started the autopsies and he won't be done for several of hours."

"Better still," Scully said smiling. "I'll assist him."

"Excuse me?"

"I'm a medical doctor."

The nurse looked her up and down. Scully had seen that look too many times to take it with good humor. She sighed and showed the nurse the back of her ID card. MEDICAL DOCTOR - FORENSICS was stamped boldfaced across it. The FBI had no policy for stamping identification cards with that classification. Scully had taken it on her own to do it to save time in situations like this. The nurse nodded and pointed to a pair of double door with porthole windows. "Down that hall. Second door on the left."

Scully pushed through the doors into a long hallway and stepped into the indicated room. She saw two gurneys; one held a large body, the other a small one. Doctor Tildon sat on a stool with his back pressed against the wall, his head tilted back, eyes closed. He was in his forties, tending toward a potbelly and seemed short of breath. The skin on the doctor's face was sickly beige. She marched to his side and placed a hand on his forearm. "Doctor?"

Tildon jumped. "I'm all right. I just needed to-" He focused on her. "What are you doing in here? Please leave immediately."

Scully showed him her identification.

Doctor Tildon sat back down heavily on the stool. "Forensics specialist? Then you must be used to this sort of thing. I'm not. Been a doctor twenty years and never have gotten used to it. Somehow looking at the body of someone who's been murdered is different than someone who died of natural causes."

"I'm not used to it either, Doctor. I hope I never am. Now, what can you tell me about the victims?"

Tildon stood on shaky legs and walked over to the body of the young boy. "Johnny Harris Waverly, nine years old. Died upon being struck by a car. Death was not instantaneous. The initial impact did little more than knock him down. Subsequent and repeated encounters with the car resulted in massive contusions, fractures, and internal injuries leading to death several minutes after the first impact. Simply put, Johnny Waverly was slowly crushed to death." Tildon passed a hand over his eyes. "Last month I removed his tonsils."

Scully leaned close to examine the overlapping pattern of tread marks that worked their way up the young boy's legs. "Doctor? Did you notice these fine, stretch-like abrasions associated with the tire marks?"

"Yes. When a car runs over someone the tire treads tear the skin."

"Tear, yes," Scully agreed, "but not stretch. Look closer and you can see what I mean."

Bending over, the doctor confirmed her observation. "What does it signify?"

"The effect of tire treads on an impact are velocity dependent. At moderate to high speeds, the elasticity of skin responds too slowly and tears. The only way to get stretch marks like these is to run over someone at the slowest possible speed."

His forehead wrinkled. "Meaning?"

Scully pursed her lips. "It's difficult to drive a car that slow. This tells me Mrs. Moorpark took extra pains to make this boy's death last as long as possible. Also, the pattern of overlapping tread marks indicates she slowly worked her way up his legs to his chest. This wasn't just a murder, doctor. It was torture."

Tildon nodded toward the larger body. "The second victim is Julius Bosly Moorpark, fifty-eight years old, healthy, father of two. I was about to begin the autopsy when you came in." He pulled the cover back.

Scully caught her breath. Tildon clicked on a tape recorder and began reciting the victim's vital statistics into it. Scully swallowed and reached for a lab apron.

 

An hour later they'd completed the preliminary work. Scully snapped off a pair of latex gloves. "Thank you for letting me assist."

Tildon wiped his forehead with a towel and fell on the stool. "I appreciate the help."

She left without further comment. A taxi took her back to the police station where she met Mulder as he was getting out of his car.

"Hi, Scully," Mulder said. "How'd it... are you all right?"

"I'm fine. It was a difficult autopsy."

"You did a complete one? I thought you were just going to give it the quick once over."

"Something came up. Let's go inside."

 

They settled behind their desks. Scully kept her eyes away from Mulder. "Julius Moorpark was tortured to death," she said.

"We already knew that."

"No, we didn't. We read it in a report and thought we knew what it meant. We were wrong."

"Tell me."

She felt her stomach turn. "Initial blood tests indicate extreme imbalance in the ratios of various hormones linked to pain-center activity. These suggest both of them died while enduring unimaginable agony."

"Wouldn't they have passed out?"

Scully shook her head. "We can only hope Johnny did, but I know Moorpark couldn't have done so. I found traces of alcohol and salt in all the wounds. I think the killer knew when Julius Moorpark was about to laps into unconsciousness and shocked him awake by applying one or both of these irritants." Scully clinched her hands until her knuckles turned white. "The torture was carried out with precision. Every part of this man's body was assaulted yet no vital organs or primary arteries were damaged. The killer worked almost as hard to keep Moorpark alive as he or she did to cause pain."

"Anything else?"

"Just one thing. The bruise patterns on the victim's arms indicate the killer used his bare hands to break the bones."

"You mean her hands."

"It's certain Emma Moorpark's guilty?"

Mulder nodded. "They've got everything, down to fingerprints. He leaned forward. "Would breaking bones with bare hands require supernormal strength?"

She shook her head. "Bone is tough but with the right leverage it's possible for a very strong person to it."

"Emma Moorpark doesn't look like a bodybuilder."

"No," Scully said. "But an adrenaline surge would give her enough strength."

Mulder leaned back. "There wasn't anything at either murder site that can add anything to what you've just said. Let's break for lunch, then interview the Moorparks."

 

 

Neither Mary nor Emma Moorpark could remember anything during Scully and Mulder's interview and went into hysterics when they heard recordings of their own voices boasting about the murders. Scully, Mulder, and Dill wandered back to the station.

 

Dill collapsed into his chair and waved a hand at the two chairs facing his desk. Scully eased into one, Mulder fell into the other. "Any ideas?" Dill asked.

Scully crossed her arms. "I believe my theory of mass sociogenic illness is the only explanation consistent with the evidence."

Dill looked at Mulder.

Mulder shuffled his feet. "Agent Scully's theory fits the facts."

"But?" the sheriff asked.

Mulder shrugged. "I can't help thinking something else is at work."

"Something else, like demonic poss-"

Mulder held up his hand. "You win, Sheriff. I'll go along with Agent Scully's recommendation."

Scully looked sideways at him. "Mulder?"

He rubbed the back of his neck. "As much as I feel your explanation is wrong I don't have any information to refute it and no evidence to support an alternate theory."

Scully studied him carefully before nodding cautiously.

 

The day faded away into the inconsequentials of paperwork. At five they signed the last form for Dill's records, made a set of copies for themselves and started on the long drive back to DC. Scully drove while Mulder hunkered down with his eyes closed. The sky had become overcast with black clouds. Highway 64 seemed to stretch ahead through a tunnel of darkness. Scully stared into the growing darkness and hoped this was the last they'd hear of the Moorpark case.

 

16

 

Office of Walter Skinner
Friday, 9:03 A.M.

 

"It is my opinion, sir," Scully said, "that the three murders are unrelated in issues of motive. I believe Jane Moorpark's murder created a subconscious, post-traumatic syndrome in her mother and sister predisposing them toward mass sociogenic illness. This surfaced later, manifested in an uncontrollable desire to duplicate the crime as a way of balancing their frustration over the unfairness of her death. Afterwards, the internal conflict between what they had done and their normal non-violent natures resulted in a psychic block inhibiting them from recalling their actions during the seizures. The episodes purged their frustrations so it is unlikely there will be repeat occurrences."

Walter Skinner lifted his eyes from the report. "Why did they wait two months to react?"

Scully shifted on the hard chair. "It is most likely some external event triggered their reaction. Shortly before the incidents Emma had returned from DC with some of Jane Moorpark's belongings. The process of going through them probably triggered both women into action."

Skinner nodded once. "Good. This preliminary report looks acceptable. Please get the final report to me before the close of business today." The assistant director looked at Scully. "I appreciate your keeping the time invested on this case to a minimum. It's a pleasant change." His eyes slid sideways in Mulder's direction. "Okay, Agent Mulder," Skinner said. "Let's have it."

Mulder held up his hands in a empty gesture. "I'd like to oblige you with a more interesting theory, but for now I have to agree with Agent Scully's hypothesis."

Skinner's eyes tightened. "For now?"

"Mass hysteria doesn't manifest itself in complete personality changes. It also isn't accompanied by amnesia. My intuition tells me something else is going on."

Scully studied her nails.

Skinner's face clouded. "Fortunately for my workload it's facts and not your intuition that closes cases. That's all. I'll have something new for you by Monday."

He opened a new folder and began reading.

"Yes, sir," they said and let themselves out.

"What are you doing for the weekend?" Scully asked as they stepped into the reception room. Jill sat behind her desk, typing.

"Two basketball games on TV and studying for a files-management course Harriet in records is making me take. You?"

"I'm going to catch up on my cleaning."

Mulder raised the yellow file folder Skinner had given him. "Since Skinner handed me the file I guess I'm stuck with typing the report this time. Send me the medical stuff?"

Scully checked the dial of her gold watch. "I'll get it to you by four."

"Fine. I'll talk around your stuff and include what you give me as an attachment. It'll make the body of the report shorter."

She nodded. "If I don't see you again enjoy studying records management."

"Thanks," he said flatly.

"Good bye, Jill," Scully said.

She looked up. "Bye, Dana. Have a nice weekend."

"Same to you."

Mulder smiled at Jill but she'd turned her attention back to her typing. He flapped the folder in the air. "I'll be back with this report," he said to her. Jill's typing didn't skip a beat. He took a step towards the door. "So, I'll see you later."

Her fingers continued tapping the keyboard.

Mulder pushed through the door. "Bye." The door closed without her looking up. Mulder turned to Scully. "What'd I do?"

"You must have said something she didn't appreciate."

A blank look crossed his face. "Me? Like what?"

"Her hair color? Remember? A couple of months back?"

Mulder's face wrinkled. "Hair color?" He snapped his fingers. "Hair color! Of course. She's dyed it again and I forgot to tell her how good it looks." He turned toward the door.

Scully caught his arm. "I can't let you make the same mistake again."

He turned back. "What mistake?"

"Jill hasn't dyed her hair. She's a natural blonde. She cut it shorter three months ago and you still haven't noticed." Scully smiled ruefully. "Such transgressions are capital offenses in the social world."

"She's mad at me."

"It would be more accurate to say she no longer thinks you exist."

"That bad?"

"Worse than you can imagine."

He looked at the door to Skinner's suite. "Maybe I'd better start patching things up."

"I wasn't aware there was anything there to break in the first place."

"We went to that engagement party."

"You said you hated it."

He shrugged. "It wasn't that bad. Jill's nice."

Scully raised both eyebrows. "I'm not the one who should be hearing that."

"Maybe I better talk to her when I turn the report in."

"Good luck. You're going to need it."

They walked down the hall. Every three or four paces Mulder looked back over his shoulder toward Skinner's office. Scully's smile turned into a grin. Mulder stopped at the elevator and stabbed the basement button. Scully turned left towards her office. Before the elevator door closed on him she turned around. "I'm sorry this didn't turn into the case you were hoping for."

The elevator door started to hush closed. "Thanks, Scully. But I have a feeling it'll be best if you're right this time."

 

+++

 

The pavement was wet. Mulder held out a hand but no raindrops fell on it. He looked to his side. Drops fell from the leaves of a bush next to him. Each time a drop hit the pavement it exploded with a jarring ring. The shards of sound drifted away in the air leaving no wet spot where the drop had landed. A fire truck swung into view, water sprayed out of its siren. The spray hit the road in a torrent of ringing. Mulder covered his ears with his hands but couldn't block it out.

It started to rain. Each drop sang out as it hit the ground. The ringing closed in on him.

Mulder jerked to a sitting position in his bed, blinking himself awake. The ringing didn't stop. He snatched up the telephone. "Yes?" he said groggily.

"Agent Mulder? This is Assistant Director Skinner. It looks like your intuition was right. Ansera is calling for help again. Collect Scully and meet me in my office right away."

The loud click from Skinner hanging up sounded before Mulder had a chance to acknowledge the message. He rubbed sleep from his eyes with one hand while the other hit the auto-dial button for Scully. Her answer machine delivered its message. "Scully? It's-"

"Mulder?" Scully's sleep-filled voice asked. "What do you want at this time in the morning?"

"Time?" Mulder said groggily. He blinked at his clock but it wouldn't focus. "What time is it?"

"Quarter past five."

"Skinner just called. He wants us in his office right away."

"On a Saturday?"

"Yeah. Isn't public service a kick." He tightened his grip on the phone. "Skinner got a call from Ansera. He didn't give any details."

"I'll pick you up on my way in. One hour?"  Faint static hissed out of the phone at him. "Mulder, how bad does your intuition say this is?"

Mulder rubbed a temple "That no matter how bad it seems; we're just seeing the beginning."

 

 

17

 

Mulder's Apartment
Saturday, 6:17 A.M.

 

Mulder clipped his automatic onto his belt, shrugged on a navy-blue suit coat and walked out his apartment. He'd just stepped up to the curb when Scully's gray Neon separated itself from the early-morning traffic and pulled up in front of him. Mulder climbed in. "Have you eaten yet?"

Scully kept her eyes pointed down the street. "Yes."

"Good. Then you can drive while I eat. Stop at the next drive through."

"If you insist."

Her curt tone turned his head. Scully had dressed in an apricot pants suit with a snow-white silk blouse. He gave her a questioning smile. "Defying the dress code again?"

Her knuckles turned white on the wheel.

"Sorry, Scully. I didn't mean to-"

Her fingers relaxed. "Forget it. Sweet or fat?"

"Come again?"

"Donuts or breakfast sandwich?"

"Oh. Fat, I think. Try the Breakfast Barn two blocks down."

"Right."

Mulder got two egg-and-sausage sandwiches, hash browns, coffee, and a raspberry Danish. Scully ordered coffee with cream, no sugar. They drove away, Mulder munching noisily on one of his sandwiches. He felt Scully's eyes flash disapproval at him and took a bigger bite out of the sandwich. The sausage patty squirted a stream of juice on the car's dashboard. Mulder wiped at it with a paper napkin but only succeeded in spreading the grease around in a dark blot.

Scully rung the wheel in her hands. Mulder threw the napkin on the floor and started in noisily on the hash browns. "Eating noises," she blurted out.

"Whapht?" Mulder mumbled.

"Eating noises," Scully repeated. "Why do men make eating noises? Why do they grunt and moan while they eat and people take it as normal, but if a woman does it they start moving away like she's grown horns?"

Mulder swallowed. "What eating noises?"

"Like you were just making."

"Was I?"

She nodded grimly.

"You usually heckle me about what I eat, not how I eat it."

Scully shrugged. "I felt like I was getting into a rut. Besides... " she nodded at the grease-stained bag his breakfast came in. "It doesn't seemed to have done much good. You were about to explain why men make noises while they eat."

He turned his eyes up. "I suppose it's because men are closer to the earth."

She looked sideways at him. "I thought women were closer to the earth because we have children."

He shook his head. "Men are closer. We're more basic, more-"

"Primitive?"

"Right, and therefore closer to the earth. Eating is one of the fundamental drives. Men enjoy it for the simple pleasure it brings."

"Then why don't women make noise?"

She shrugged. "No idea. Maybe it's because women are always worried about what other women think of them."

"And men don't consider what other men think of them?"

"Not at the dinner table."

"What about women?"

"Women like men who make noises while they eat."

"Really," she said flatly. "I'm afraid to ask why."

Mulder smiled. "Because women like men who are close to the earth. It makes them feel more secure because those men are good providers. It may even be a genetic instinct."

Scully sighed. "I give up. Finish your breakfast." Mulder bit off a huge chunk of sandwich and began chewing. "Quietly," Scully said. "I'm not on the mood to drive across town with a man who's too close to the earth."

Mulder gave her a serious look. "Just what type of man are you looking for?" His head snapped back as she floored the accelerator.

 

They stepped into Skinner's suite. Jill's chair was empty and the door to the inner office had been left open. Mulder rapped his knuckles against the wall beside the door. "Come in," Skinner's voice called from inside.

Scully and Mulder entered.

Walter Skinner hunched behind a desk covered with yellow and brown folders. His sleeves were rolled up, showing close, wiry hair covering his thickly corded forearms. He looked up as they entered.

Scully furrowed her brow at the confusion of folders.

Skinner followed her stare. "Friday afternoon Director Jorgenson called for a case update first thing on Monday. I'm getting the files in order."

Mulder pulled a chair sideways for Scully.

"Don't," Skinner said before she could ease herself into it. "You won't have time. Sheriff Dill called this morning. There have been more murders. He asked for your assistance so I'm assigning you to report to him immediately."

"What did he say about the deaths?" Mulder asked.

"Nothing, except that they followed the pattern of the three previous incidents."

Skinner massaged the back of his neck. "It looks like this case isn't going to go away by itself so stay there until it's resolved." He handed Mulder a red folder. "That's the case file you gave Jill yesterday."

"Red?" Scully said. "Then you decided to identify it as a serial-murder case?"

"In my opinion those connections are strong enough to justify the classification." Skinner opened a yellow folder and began reading. "That is all."

"Yes, sir," Scully and Mulder said and left.  They took the elevator to the first floor and signed for a nondescript blue Escort from the motor pool. With Mulder behind the wheel, they drove off toward Ansera.

They made it across DC in fifteen minutes. Highway 95 got them to the Charlottesville exit to the 64 by nine. It was there that their progress came to a near halt. A jack-knifed truck loaded with logs blocked all but one lane. The police were letting cars trickle through one at a time.

Mulder felt Scully's eyes on him. He turned toward her. She was smiling.

"What?" he asked.

"I was wondering how your meeting with Jill went yesterday."

"Oh, that."

"Well?"

Mulder sighed. "She didn't even look up at me; just snatched the report out of my hand and threw it in Skinner's pending basket."

"Try groveling. Women like that."

"Why? Does it make you feel superior?"

Scully's smile widened. "We are superior. It's just that we enjoy it when you men acknowledge the fact."

They crept forward to the head of the line. A woman in an olive-green police uniform stopped Mulder by shoving the flat of her hand at him. She didn't look to see if he'd followed her direction.

"I'm beginning to see your point," Mulder said.

The officer waved them through. Mulder surged into the vacuum of open road created by the blockage and leveled out at sixty-five. "You're sure groveling helps?" he asked.

Scully nodded sagely. "Better than chocolate."

 

Sheriff Dill met them as he was coming out the police station's front door. He had on a brown sports suit with his badge pined to a lapel. His greeting was warm but he didn't smile. "Thank you for coming. We've had two more incidents like the Moorparks. People are starting to panic. One fool reporter set them off by suggesting some sort of brain disease was spreading through Ansera and he's got people so fired up several families have left town. I need to get a lid on this and I mean now. I figure having the FBI on the case will quiet everyone down."

"What happened?" Scully asked.

"I'll show you," the sheriff said and turned toward a waiting black-and-white. The sheriff got in next to the driver. Scully and Mulder climbed in the rear seat behind the heavy grill separating the two halves of the car. The car pulled into traffic heading north on Clement Boulevard.

Mulder leaned close the wire barrier. "Where are we going?"

Dill shifted around in his seat. "Late yesterday afternoon, Clyde Barlow was driving his brother's truck across town to pick up a load of nails. The Barlows own a small construction company. Like most folks he took the shortcut through the cemetery. Near the entrance he spotted a funeral ceremony and deliberately drove into the heart of the crowd. Three people died. Eight more are critically injured."

"There's more." Mulder said.

The sheriff nodded. "It was just like Mary Moorpark. Clyde repeatedly reversed and slowly drove over people. He was so intent on crushing as many people as possible he accidentally let the rear end of the truck to slip into the open grave. That stopped him. We found him there, smiling like he'd eaten a feast."

"Amnesia?" Scully asked.

Dill nodded. "It hit him an hour later. Same as the Moorparks."

"You said there were two cases?" Mulder asked.

"We went to tell Clyde's brother, Sam, what had happened. He was gone but we found his wife and two baby girls." Dill shook his head.

"Like Julius Moorpark?" Scully asked.

"Worse."

"Where is Sam Barlow now?" she asked.

"In custody," Dill answered. "We found him behind his house in a wood-working shop. He had no idea about his family's murders and collapsed when he saw what was left of them. Blood stains and fingerprints pretty much prove he did it."

Mulder grabbed the wire mesh for stability as the patrol car took a sharp left into a park-like area of rolling green landscaping and gravestones.

"Is this the cemetery where it happened?" Scully asked.

Dill nodded. "Right."

The patrol car drifted to a stop at the top of a knoll. Mulder clamored out. One hundred feet away, down a gentle slope shaded by willows, were a dozen, body-shaped white chalk marks on the green lawn. They clustered around a brown pick-up with its right rear wheel hanging into an open grave.

Mulder raised a hand to Daniels who leaned against a patrol car. Daniels returned Mulder's wave as they walked down the slope.

"We're glad you came back," Daniels said as they approached.

Mulder shook hands. "How'd it happen?"

"Clyde was heading west like you were. Right there..." he pointed ten feet behind Mulder, "-is where he jumped the curb."

Mulder walked over and squatted down to study the tread marks. The truck's tires had crushed moss on the bricks to a thick paste. Sharp-edged fissures separated the moss into narrow green lines. "The tread marks are sharp and clear, no skid marks. He couldn't have been going very fast."

"Witnesses swore he slowed down," Dill said. "Like he wanted to make sure he didn't kill anyone right off."

Mulder scanned the scene one last time before turning to Scully. "Do you want to look at anything?"

She glanced at the chalked outlines. "No."

Dill turned back toward his car. "The Barlow residence is just a few minutes away."

They got into the sheriff's car and U-turned back toward Clement. The car turned north at the boulevard. "Sam and Clyde Barlow share the family house a few blocks from here," Dill explained. "Clyde lives alone on the top floor. Sam and his family use the rest of the house."

Mulder watched the houses grow older as they worked their way into Ansera's heart. Dill's driver turned right onto Pillsbury. While the houses looked freshly painted and the lawns were impeccable, many of the roofs sagged under the weight of too many years. Mulder squinted at the clapboard style that dominated this area of the town. "These houses look similar to the Moorpark's."

"They should. This whole area was built as a single development forty years ago. The Moorpark house is only two blocks from here."

"So the Barlows and Moorparks were neighbors?"

"Ansera's a small town, Agent Mulder. We're all neighbors."

"But living so close?"

"Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, the Barlows and Moorparks knew each other."

Mulder nodded to himself. The car swerved right and parked at the curb, fifteen feet before the intersection of Clement and Pillsbury. They got out and walked as group up a cracked concrete walkway to a two story, white house trimmed in forest green. Red and white roses bordered the porch, scenting the air with a spicy fragrance. Mulder felt something tug at his consciousness. He held back, looking, thinking, then turned toward the intersection. Across the furthest corner, partially out of sight behind an oak near the corner, he made out the corner of a small store. "This is the intersection where Mary Moorpark ran over the Waverly boy."

"Yes," Dill said joining him. "Right there." He pointed at the far corner on their side of the street.

Mulder crossed the street to the spot he'd stood yesterday. He looked down. The chromed nut from Johnny Waverly's bike still lay in the street. Mulder nudged it with his shoe. I'm back, Johnny.

He straightened and marched back across the intersection and into the Barlow's house. Worn oval rugs covered the living room and dining room floors and used furniture collected dust in dark corners of the room. Out-of-date magazines and old books scattered over a coffee table failed to hide its scuffed surface. The only thing new in the room was the bloodstain.

It surrounded the dining room table in a dark ring. The edges had started to crust over like a scab. Red covered the table as well. The thick liquid had been smeared like something had writhed in anguish across it. A heavy, sweet muskiness weighed the air down. Mulder walked around the perimeter of the stain. His eyes flicked from the floor to the table top. A steak of red had splashed across one of the room's yellow walls. "Did he use kitchen utensils like Emma Moorpark?" Mulder asked without taking his eyes off the streak.

"According to Deputy Book, yes," Dill said. "He's taken all the samples to his self-made lab in the basement of the station. Said he'd have some results by tomorrow morning."

Mulder nodded, took one final look around, and headed for the front door. "I'm done here."

They caught up with him outside.

Mulder paused long enough to look across the street to where Johnny Waverly had died, then stormed around to the far side of the car and threw himself into the rear seat. Scully, Dill, and the driver followed him.

 

They drove back to the station.

"What next?" Dill asked.

"Check into a hotel," Mulder said.

Dill pointed down the street. "Try the Balmural."

"Big blue sign with white lettering?" Mulder asked.

"Right. It's the best Ansera's got. Tell Julia I sent you."

Mulder smiled thinly. "We'll see you tomorrow."

Dill shook hands and led his driver through the police station's front door.

 

Scully and Mulder beat the sheriff to the station the next morning. They busied themselves reviewing the reports until he arrived. The only thing different about Sam Barlow's case was that he never admitted to killing his family. Mulder noticed that Sam Barlow hadn't been confronted until several hours after their deaths. Scully's mass hysteria theory stated the violent state could not be maintained for any period of time. One hour seemed to be the maximum. Mulder nodded to himself. The officer who took Barlow into custody got there after the man had reverted to a normal state.

Sheriff Dill arrived as Mulder put down the last report.

Accompanying him was a short, dumpy, older man in a white suit. Dill introduced him as Shemp Clausen, the town's public defender. Sheriff Dill instructed the desk sergeant to bring Sam Barlow to the interrogation room.

A young officer brought Sam Barlow in and took up a position in front of the room's only door. Barlow was in his late thirties, medium tall, dressed in sturdy brown flannels and looked like he hadn't slept in a year. He dragged himself across the room and slumped into a chair. Mulder looked into the man's eyes but found no life there.

"Sam?" Sheriff Dill asked. "You know Shemp. Even though you said you didn't want a lawyer, I thought it best if he's here. Do you mind?"

Sam Barlow shook his head without lifting his gaze from the table's scarred surface.

"These are Agents Scully and Mulder. They're from the FBI and are going to help us get to the bottom of what's going on. Is it alright if they stay for this interview?"

Straggly tufts of Barlow's sandy-brown hair bobbed as he nodded.

"Good. You waived your rights last night and agreed to cooperate. Do you have any questions about that?"

Another head shake.

"Shemp, does that satisfy you?"

Clausen's voice was low and serious. "Let's get on with it."

Dill turned back to Barlow. "Sam, we're holding you for the murder of your wife and children. Last night you said you knew nothing about what happened to them. Is that still your position?"

Barlow nodded.

Dill removed some papers from a folder. "These are material evidence reports. We compared the bloodstains on the clothes you were wearing when you were arrested to those of your wife and children. They match. So did the blood under your fingernails. Finally, your fingerprints were on the instruments used to kill your family. There is no doubt that you are the only one who could have done it. In the face of this evidence do you have anything to say?"

Sam Barlow slid his hand across the table and picked up the reports. He carefully looked through them. When he finished, he laid them back on the table and looked up at Dill. His voice came out ragged and dry. "I know all the evidence says I must have done it, Matt, but I didn't. I couldn't have. You know how much I loved Charlotte and the kids. I'd never do anything to hurt them. This has to be some kind of terrible mistake." The man lowered his head. "It's got be."

Mulder read torment in the sheriff's eyes. Dill caught his stare. "Sam and I have been friends since grade school." Mulder nodded.

Barlow slowly raised his head. Jagged red veins crisscrossed the whites of his eyes.

"Mr. Barlow," Mulder said. "Your deposition from last night states that you couldn't remember anything about how your family was murdered. What do you remember?"

Sam Barlow ran shaky fingers through his hair. "I remember driving the truck back from the hardware store yesterday." He closed his eyes. "I'd just parked in the drive way when saw Clyde walk toward me and remembered he asked to use the truck. I waved, adjusted the mirrors for him, and... and the next thing I recall is being out back in the wood shop. Someone called my name so I turned around. Sergeant Brophy is facing me with his gun out." Barlow spread his hands. "After that more police arrived and took me inside. They showed me.... "

Scully leaned forward. "Mr. Barlow, before any of this happened, had you been feeling depressed?"

"Very. The little Waverly boy had been killed just a few feet up the street from our driveway. I saw the blood stains and heard what had happened. It was terrible. It just didn't seem fair."

She looked at Mulder. "Thank you, Mr. Barlow."

The interview continued another half-hour without progress. Sam continued to get more depressed. At the end he said he didn't care what happened to him; his family was gone and nothing mattered any more. The guard led him away.

They interviewed Clyde Barlow with the same results. The only difference was that he was confused by the recording of his own voice admitting to killing the people in the cemetery. Like Sam and the others, he could recall nothing of what he had done.

They broke for lunch.

 

Scully and Mulder sat in a green vinyl booth in the Green Onion, the small cafe up the street from the station.

"I keep thinking of Robert Simm," Mulder said. "The physical evidence convinced him he killed Jane Moorpark even though he couldn't recall committing that crime and, according to his psychological profile, isn't the type to do something like that. Sam Barlow's case is an exact copy of Simm's."

Scully nodded. "Barlow's statement about being depressed after hearing of Johnny Waverly's death could be precursor of an attack of mass hysteria."

"What bothers me about your theory is that mass hysteria is an immediate reaction. These incidences have significant delay times between the initiating event and the reaction. In the Moorpark case months went by before it manifested itself. Your idea of some artifact triggering the reaction doesn't fit with the new incidents."

"I have to admit that doesn't make sense," she agreed. "But everything else fits the theory too well to be denied."

"I have to agree."

Scully's brow wrinkled.

"For now."

Her brow relaxed. "I thought so."

Mulder smiled. "My main concern right now is how long will this go on? How many people are infected."

"Usually the individual has to witness the crime or be emotionally connected to the victim."

The waitress slid plates with their order between them: a ham and cheddar on grilled rye for Mulder; salad, no dressing, and whole wheat toast for Scully. Mulder nodded his thanks and dug in.

"If that's true," he said around a bite of sandwich, "then the people at the funeral, all the witnesses to Johnny's death, and anyone close to the victims will have to be watched."

Scully nibbled a piece of cucumber. "No. If they're informed about what could happen, that knowledge should eliminate any latent potential for violence."

"So, you're saying if Dill tells everyone about the effects of mass hysteria the problem should go away."

"In theory, yes."

Mulder's smile fell. He felt her eyes bore into his.

"I can't believe you're disappointed we have access to an effective resolution to this case," Scully said.

Mulder shook his head. "It's not that."

"Then what?"

"I can't believe it's going to be that simple."

 

Sheriff Dill nodded. "Thank you, Agent Scully." He hit a button on his intercom. "Chamber. Send Daniels in here."

"Yes, sir."

Daniels entered five minutes later. He and Dill hammered out a list of names identifying fifty-three people that needed to be contacted.

Dill called Chamber. "Call in everyone on the force. We've got a door-to-door that needs to be completed as soon as possible."

 

Scully stood facing Sheriff Dill, Daniels and seven other officers. Mulder leaned against the wall to her right with his arms crossed.

"I am Special Agent Dana Scully from the FBI. Sheriff Dill requested Special Agent Mulder," she nodded in Mulder's direction, "and myself to assist him in resolving the plague of deaths that began three days ago. I use the term plague because that is what has happened here. Not a plague that affects the body but one that attacks the mind. I am talking about mass sociogenic illness or mass hysteria. It is caused by a psychological shock which compels the affected person to replicate the source-event for the trauma."

Her audience traded looks with each other. Half of the officers smiled.

Scully raised her voice. "Eight people have been killed because of it and more may die if it isn't stopped." The smiles faded. "The sheets that you've been handed explain the illness in greater detail. In order to halt its progression we need to contact the people Sheriff Dill has identified as most likely infected and inform them what is happening. That knowledge should be enough to put an end to the problem." She stepped aside.

Dill took her place. "Attached to your handouts is a list of the people each of you is assigned to contact. Read Agent Scully's explanation to them. Make sure they understand this isn't their fault and that it isn't some sort of contagious insanity. The last thing we need is to get people more panicked than they are already. Any questions?"

The officers shook their heads.

"All right then. Get to it."

The policemen left, reading Scully's explanation and mumbling. Dill walked over to where Scully had joined Mulder. "I hope that does it."

"I'm sure it will," Scully said.

Mulder didn't say anything.

 

Three days later, Scully, Mulder and Dill were sitting in the sheriff's office smiling at each other. Dill was talking. "Jeff Daniels finished with the last person on the list this morning. It was Johnny Waverly's grandfather. He was out of town on a fishing trip and hadn't heard about his grandson's death but I figured he should be covered just in case. More importantly, there haven't been anymore murders. Agent Scully, it looks like your solution did the trick. Please let me extend Ansera's appreciation to you."

Her smiled broadened. "You're welcome, Sheriff. I just wish we could have stopped it sooner."

"So does everyone, especially the Barlow brothers. What are you going to do now?"

Mulder stood up. "Drive back to DC and start working on a mountain of paperwork."

Scully rose and Dill came around his desk to shake their hands. He led them out of his office and into the station's reception area. Chamber smiled at them from behind his desk. Officer Daniels nodded good-bye as he passed through the station on his way to the front door. As Daniels walked away, Mulder spotted a dark brown stain low on the man's right pant leg. Mulder felt a hot flush spread up from his neck. "Officer Daniels," he called out. "Hold up a minute."

Daniels stopped. His brow wrinkled as Mulder crouched down examine his cuff. After a minute he craned his head up to look into Daniel's eyes. He saw only confusion. "Officer Daniels, what is this stain?"

"I've no idea." I didn't notice it this morning."

Mulder stood up, his face grim. "Would you come with me to Book's lab? I think we better test it."

 

 

18

 

Ansera Police Station
Wednesday 2:15 P.M.

 

Dill's mouth formed a thin line. "Better do as he says, son."

Daniels gulped and nodded.

"Do you have something you can change into so we can work on those pants?" Mulder asked.

"Some workout clothes in my locker."

"Let's go. Scully? Why don't you go ahead with Sheriff Dill and help Book get set up. We'll be down in a few minutes."

Scully nodded hurried after Dill as he walked toward the rear of the station.

Mulder followed Daniels into the station's locker room. He listened to the confused scufflings of a shirts-and-skins basketball game in the back lot while Daniels traded the stained slacks for gym shorts. He walked past Mulder without comment as they left for the laboratory.

Their foot falls on the metal stairway echoed hollowly as they walked down into the basement. The sounds reverberated down the narrow hall that cut the sixty-foot-long basement in half. Daniels nodded to a door to the left. "That side's the firing range." He stopped and pointed to a door on the right. "There's the lab."

Mulder went through the door. The main length of the room opened to their left. Wood cases painted battleship gray lined the perimeter and a slate-topped bench ran down the room's center. Sheriff Dill hunched on a stool across the bench from them. A phone sat close to his right side. He raised up off his elbows as they entered.

The faint tings of glass hitting glass drew Mulder's head to the left. Scully and Book were sorting through a cabinet of reagent bottles. Mulder walked around the near end of the bench and took a seat next to Dill. They exchanged brief nods. Mulder watched Daniels will himself forward. He made it halfway to Scully before his legs stopped, refusing to go any further. He raised the hand carrying his slacks and extended them toward her.

"Thank you," she said softly as she took the pants.

He collapsed onto a stool.

Scully folded the slacks so the stain faced up and laid it between herself and Book. Mulder leaned to his left for a better view as they began applying eyedroppers and swabs to the stain. Ten minutes later Scully turned toward Dill. "It's blood. Type A negative." She looked at Daniels, "What is yours?"

Perspiration glistened on his forehead. "B... B positive."

The telephone's ring shattered the silence. Dill picked it up. "Yes?"

A deep voice murmured out of the receiver.

Dill's head dropped. "I see. Seal the place off. Book will be over later." He hung up and stared at Daniels. "Sorry, boy. I sent Worper and Pallack to check out the house you're renting. The basement's been converted into some kind of torture chamber. They found three bodies.

The young officer's eyelids fluttered. Scully dove for him but was too late; he toppled off the stool. His body hit the cement floor with a meaty thud. Scully checked his pulse. She looked up as Dill came around the end of the table. "He'll be all right," she said.

Dill shook his head. "No, Agent Scully, he won't. Not now. Not ever." He looked over at Book. "Read him his rights as soon as he comes around and get him processed into the system: Murder one, three counts."

Dill spun on the ball of his foot and stalked out of the room.

Daniels groaned and struggled to his feet with Book's help. Daniels shook his head, winced and placed a hand over a swelling on the back of his head. "Did the Chief tell you to book me, Jason?"

Book nodded.

Daniels sighed. "Let's get it over with."

They left the laboratory. Mulder listened to their weary footfalls as they went up the stairs. Scully cleaned the test tubes and instruments she and Book had used. Reagent bottles tinged again as she pushed them back into their cabinet.

"Done?" Mulder asked.

She nodded.

"I need to interview Daniels. Would you head out to his place and give it the once over?"

She turned toward the door.

"Scully, about your theory-"

She sailed passed him without a word.

Mulder followed her up to the first floor.

By the time he'd reached the ground floor hallway she was already pushing through the station's front door. Mulder stared after her, feeling no sense of triumph over the failure of her theory to solve the case.

Low voices inside an office to his right drew his attention. He stuck his head through the partially open door. Daniels and Book looked up at him from a stack of forms on the table between them.

"Mind if I sit in?" Mulder asked.

Book raised his eyebrows at Daniels, who nodded permission. Mulder straddled a wood chair backwards with his arms crossed over the backrest. He watched silently as the men worked their way down through the forms. The last two were a pair of fingerprint cards. Book opened a small, portable inking glass and stood up. Daniels gave him a wry smile and waved him down. "I'll do my own if you don't mind. You always smear them." He looked over at Mulder. "Book's great with test tubes and bodies but he shakes too much with live people to get good prints."

Book smiled weakly.

Daniels took the cards and inking glass. He quickly filled the top five squares of the card labeled right hand with sharp, clear prints from his thumb and four fingers. In the large box on the card's lower right, he laid down a full-length print of the palm side of all four fingers held tight together. Daniels waved the card three times to set the ink, cleaned his hands, and repeated the process on the second card with his left hand.

Book took the cards from him. "Jeff's signed a Miranda statement and is waiving his rights to a lawyer. The Chief will conduct a formal interview when he gets back."

Mulder wrinkled his brow.

"Sheriff Dill went over the crime scene." Book's eyes flashed briefly at Daniels. "He should be back soon. Before he left he said you could interrogate the suspect."

Daniels turned his face away.

Book cleared his throat. "Sorry, Jeff."

"It's okay," Daniels said in a low voice.

"I would like to ask a few questions," Mulder said.

"Go ahead," Daniels said.

Book pulled a yellow legal pad into writing position and looked at Daniels. "You realize this will become part of the record and can be used against you in a trail."

"I understand." Daniels kept his voice level but Mulder heard panic put rough edges on his words.

Mulder smiled to ease the tension. "You know you didn't do it."

Daniels' eyes flashed. "The evidence-"

"Will undoubtedly connect you with the murders but that doesn't mean you're at fault."

The muscles around Daniels eyes drew tight. "You're talking about that mass hysteria business. I don't buy it. For one thing-"

"That's not what I was talking about. I don't accept that theory either. Not anymore. There's something else going on."

"Then what Chamber overheard you suggest to Dill is true. You think some kind of ghost is doing all this," Book said.

Daniels threw his hands into the air. "Great. And just how much good do you think that's going to do me at my trail. We're talking three counts of first degree murder with special circumstances. That's life without parole, Agent Mulder. Tell me! How's that going to help?"

Mulder leaned forward. "It won't."

"Then why-"

"You won't be the last person affected by this nightmare. It could go on forever if we don't stop it here and now."

Daniels sighed. "What do you want me to do?"

"Work your way backward from the time I spotted the blood stain on your pants. We need to find any gaps in your memory."

Mulder listened as Daniels detailed his life in reverse. There were three gaps in his memory. The closest incident was this morning between the time he'd left for work and arrived. The five-minute drive had taken an hour. A similar loss of time occurred the previous day. He'd sat down to a sizzling steak. The first bite burned his mouth; the second was stone cold. The earliest lapse occurred shortly after he had been relieved of his guard post at the cemetery. He remembered getting in his car but nothing after that until he awoke in his bed hours later.

"What now?" Daniels asked.

Mulder ran a hand over his face. "We go over it again and again until something clicks. We'll start back at the cemetery. That's where your involvement seems to have started. Go slow. Tell me every detail, every step you took, everything you saw from the time you drove into the cemetery until you started to leave."

Daniels shook his head. "That's impossible. No one could-"

"You have to. Your life, and maybe many others, depends on it."

Daniels nodded. "Okay." He closed his eyes. "I'd just turned into the cemetery-"

"From what street?"

"Clement. Heading north."

"Any other traffic in the area? Pedestrians? Anything unusual happening?"

"Daniels shook his head. "Nothing. No cars or people were in sight. I turned left onto Cemetery Lane. At the top of the rise I saw people milling around, waving their arms in the air. They spotted me and started running down the hill in my direction. I drove towards them..."

Mulder leaned back and closed his eyes to let the officer's narrative flow over him. Some details lodged in his subconscious as important. Others faded away. Daniels' narration ground on. Mulder had him repeat it. He questioned any changes in actions or the order of events. They backtracked over vague areas, sharpening them. As the hours slipped by, Mulder built up a fine-grain image of Daniels' activities covering everything from the number of times he walked around the crime scene to how he adjusted his car's side-view mirror.

Daniels finished his fourth account of what he had done at the cemetery.

"Again," Mulder said.

Time wore on.

 

Mulder, Book and Daniels had let their heads fall forward onto their arms. The door cracked open. Scully stepped in. "Mulder?" She looked at the watch on her left wrist. "It's past six. Have you been at it all this time?"

Mulder dragged his head off the desk. "Finished ten minutes ago. Just didn't have the energy to move. What did you find out at the site?"

"Three bodies as reported. One man, one woman, and one child... we think."

"You think?"

Scully nodded and looked away. Mulder saw nausea ripple her throat. "I see," he said. "Anything else?"

She began a precise pacing around the room. "The victims didn't die at the same time. Based on in-situ observations of body temperature, dermal lividity, and the extent of rigor mortis I determined that the deaths were separated by significant spans of time. Using the time I arrived on the scene as a reference, they died-"

"Approximately twelve, twenty-four, and forty-eight hours prior to that," Mulder said.

Her brows knitted. "Yes. How-"

"Those were the time periods Officer Daniels blanked out."

Scully sat down. "What have you turned up?"

Mulder felt his surroundings become indistinct. "I can feel... " He shook his head. "Something. I don't know. There's a connection, a common factor I'm missing. When I have that-"

"What do you mean? We know the commonality in all the cases, mass sociogenic illness."

"Scully, please. Don't start that again."

She rose up. "It is the only theory that makes sense."

"It makes no sense. Daniels proved that. He knew about your premise and that should have prevented him from being susceptible. It didn't."

"One anomaly isn't significant."

"Tell that to the three people that died of it."

Her mouth hardened. "That doesn't necessarily mean-"

Mulder spread his hands. "Even ignoring that hole in your theory, you can't dodge the fact that repeated episodes violates the psychological-release motivation that's the driver for the psychosis."

Scully's expression weakened. "I admit Daniels' case doesn't follow precedent."

Mulder leaned over the back of his chair. "Sooner or later you're going to have to start dealing with this problem on my level and help me solve it or you'll be spending all your time in the morgue doing autopsies."

She bit her lip.

Book and Daniels watched the exchange with bleary eyes. Book collected Daniels with a nod. "Come on. I'm afraid I have to get you in a cell." They trudged out of the room.

Mulder pushed himself up. "Let's get out of here."

Scully nodded and followed him without saying a word. They ate an untasted dinner at their motel's coffee shop then made for their rooms. When Mulder walked past her toward his door, he felt her hand hook the inside of his elbow, pulling him around. "You haven't put a name to what you think is causing these deaths."

"I don't know yet. I thought it was some type of influence, something transferred from one person to the next after each incident. Then Daniels came along. The fact that this influence, or what ever it is, stayed with him so long doesn't fit the previous pattern." His arms stretched out as if to reach around something but fell back to his sides, empty.

"And now?" she asked.

"Back to square one." His eyes grew distant. "Unless... "

 

 

19

 

Ansera Police Station Impound lot
Wednesday, 11:49 P.M.

 

The two slugs Jeremy Bronkin carried in his left leg from trying to stop a robbery in his police days didn't make his job of being a volunteer watchman easy. His limp made tripping on the impound lot's uneven surface a constant danger. At seventy-four, that could mean a broken hip. It was his job to insure the police yard was secure at night. It was a cold, thankless, boring job but it was better than playing shuffle board at an old folks home, or at least that's what he told himself when winter's chill numbed his thin limbs.

Jeremy checked the back doors, windows and gates once an hour from dusk to dawn. Sheriff Dill accepted his help more out respect for Jeremy's thirty-five year career than because of security risks. The fact the old Jeremy brewed the best coffee in Ansera also helped.

Jeremy was thinking of his coffee as he rattled the padlock on the vehicle-impound area. The lock was closed and unmolested, like always. "Time to make fresh coffee," he muttered to himself.

He turned toward the station's rear door, illuminated by a cone of yellow light from a hanging floodlamp. Halfway there he passed Daniel's patrol car. Blood stains in it had forced Dill to reclassify it from police equipment to crime evidence. Jeremy looked through the front window and grunted at the green tag on the dashboard. It identified the car as having had all relevant evidence removed and could be handled. The old deputy opened the driver's-side door and climbed stiffly in behind the wheel. He ran gnarled hands gently over the wheel, recalling happier days on the force.

He had loved everything about being a cop: the uniform, the respect, and most of all the power. He reached up to tilt the rear view mirror to look at himself. His smile faded, pushed out of the way by the reflection of the old man scowling back at him. The mirror seemed to shimmer and he wondered if there'd just been an earthquake as he kept hearing about in California.

Bronkin's thoughts turned back to his reflection. His eyes widened. It looked like thirty years had peeled off his face. He gasped and froze, waiting for the sharp stab of pain from the emphysema buried deep in his lungs. It didn't come. He took another deep breath, deeper than he'd dared in years. Nothing. Lips mottled with black age spots pulled back in a hard smile. He tightened his grip on the wheel; harder, tighter; harder still until his arthritic knuckles stood out white in the dim light. No pain shot up his arms as it had for the past ten years.

Jeremy Bronkin grinned. He relaxed and remembered being young and feeling this good all the time. Then he recalled the power, the thrill of cruising in a squad car, tearing across town with the sirens blaring, and arresting people. "They always got so polite, those sniveling losers, once the cuffs were on," he said to his reflection.

Sometimes they'd try to fight, then he could have at them with his fists or club or anything else at hand. Nothing could stop him. He was a cop and had the power to do what he wanted even if it meant smashing a few faces. The grin turned hungry.

"Hit 'em hard enough and they'd really scream," he yelled at the mirror. "That's the trouble with the world today. Not enough cops breaking heads. Well, I can fix that." Fire burned in his eyes. "I'm still a cop so I have the right to take care of anyone I want."

He voice dropped. "Right now I feel like taking care of someone really good." Bronkin threw the door open and marched into the station. He looked around for someone to challenge him. Everything was quiet. Even the desk sergeant's chair was empty. Off to his left Bronkin heard a toilet flush. Bronkin humphed. "Damn slack way to run a station."

He helped himself to the spare set of keys to Daniels' car from the keyboard behind the sergeant's station and then opened the gun locker. With the smooth, strong motions of someone years his junior, Bronkin selected a forty-five automatic, filled its clip with shells, and stalked back out to the evidence lot. He jumped into Daniels car. The engine roared to life and tires squealed as he accelerated toward the locked gate. He'd passed fifty by the time he collided with it. The chain snapped and the gates exploded outward. Bronkin tore into traffic, sending cars scattering. "Out of the way, Ansera!" he shouted out the open window, straggly tufts of gray hair streaming in the wind. "Bronkin is back on the beat!"

He took Clement north five blocks then skidded right, onto Harvard. "If there's one place to find someone in need of a good beating," he said through his teeth. "It's the Bull Pen Bar."

 

Harleys and dented pickups filled the bar's dirt parking lot. Bronkin threw up a billowing cloud of dust as he purposely braked to a stop to late to avoid smashing into the side of a rusted Chevy pick-up. As he stepped out of the police car, he shoved the automatic's barrel under his belt.

Drawn by the sound of the collision, three of the Bull's denizens sauntered out of the bar's torn screen door. They were big, dirty and wanted nothing more than someone to pound into the dirt. "Hey, Joe!" one of the three yelled back into the bar. "Some cop just ran into your truck."

A six-foot-four knot of muscles pushed through the door. Joe Franks looked at his truck, the police car, and the old man walking toward the bar. Teeth showed in Joe's smile. He intercepted Bronkin halfway across the lot. Laying a massive hand on the policeman's thin shoulder as he passed, he spun Bronklin around. "Little man, you're going to die for that."

Bronkin lifted Joe's ham-sized hand off his shoulder and bent the man's fingers backward until they snapped. Popping sounds like snapping twigs mixed with Joe's surprised bellowing. Bronkin grinned and twisted the fingers until they folded flat against the back of their owner's wrist. Joe fell to his knees.

His face afire with delight, Bronkin screwed the whimpering man's broken fingers into a twisted clump, forcing Joe to lay flat on his back. Then he gently placed the heel of his boot on Joe's nose. A sudden downward thrust combined with a twist of his heel ground the nose to pulp. Blood squirted out from under the boot as Joe's attempts to scream were muffled by blood gushing into his mouth.

"So, you tried to assault a peace office," Bronkin smirked. "Maybe this will teach you to behave more respectfully." Joe's muffled screams sent a ripple of pleasure coursing over Bronkin's skin. A callused hand jerked Bronkin around while a fist dug a murderous punch toward his stomach. Joe's three friends had joined the fight.

Bronkin struck the arm off his shoulder with his right arm. Deflecting the man's incoming fist with his left, Bronkin grabbed the now-extended arm at its wrist and upper arm and drove it down onto his up-thrust knee. The elbow shattered. The man howled, his ruined arm swinging limply from the destroyed joint.

The last two men closed on Bronkin from opposite sides. He pulled out the forty-five and fired point blank into the kneecap of the man to his right. The man collapsed in screams of agony. The last man drew up short at the sight of the gun. Bronkin brought the weapon around in a lightening arc that ended at the man's forehead and sliced downward. He fell to his knees with his hands across his face; blood spurting out from between his fingers. Bronkin grinned at the writhing men at his feet. He shook his fists at heaven; then crumpled in a heap.

 

20

 

Balmural Motel
12:17 A.M.

 

Mulder's phone jarred him awake. He fumbled it to his ear.

"Agent Mulder?" a man's voice cut through murky half-sleep.

Mulder rubbed fingers across his eyes. "I think so, yes. What is it?"

"This is Sergeant Brophy over at the station. We've just received a report of another incident. Hurry and you could beat the ambulance. Take Clement north to Harvard and head east until you're just outside of town. The crime scene is the parking lot of a bar called the Bull Pen."

Mulder's eyes popped open. "We'll be right there." He slammed the phone into its cradle and pounded on the connecting door to Scully's room.

"Wha... What is it?" Scully called back.

"We've got a live one, Scully. Shake a leg before the bodies are cold."

"Okay," she said vaguely. "Give me twenty minutes."

"I'm leaving in ten. Hustle up or you'll have to walk."

 

 

Mulder pulled left onto the parking area and braked hard. The yellow beams of their headlights illuminated three black-and-white squad cars and an ambulance encircling a crowd milling around in high-contrast shadows. Rotating red and blue beams from the tops of the police cars cut the dark with pulsating light. Scully and Mulder leaped out of their car.

Five men were laying on their backs inside the ring of police cars. Two paramedics ran frantically back and forth between them while policemen held a small crowd back. Scully sprinted toward the medics. "I've got to help," she yelled over her shoulder. "It may be awhile."

Mulder tailed her to the periphery of the action. Four young men rolled on the ground screaming and clutching arms or legs. A fifth man, very old, lay unattended in their midst.

Scully introduced herself and worked her way around the four injured men, bending and examining each briefly. She pointed at a man trying to hold an exploded knee together with his hands. She dropped to his side. "This man first. Gloves."

The medic slapped a pair of latex gloves into her hands. She snapped them on. "I need something to relieve his pain. Prepare a syringe with five CCs of four-percent propoxyphene then-"

The medic spread his hands. "We don't stock propoxyphene."

"What do you have?"

"Butorphanol."

"Strength?"

"Five percent."

"Okay. Make it six CCs."

The man dashed for the ambulance.

"I'll also need an eighteen-inch splint and ten feet of sterile bandaging," she yelled after him. He waved back an acknowledgment. She bent over the man on the ground, checked his pulse, color and breathing. "It'll be all right. You're in shock from the pain and blood loss. We will get you fixed up and into the hospital soon."

The man gritted his teeth and nodded. He began shaking. Scully laid a hand on his shoulder. He managed a tight-lipped smile.

The medic returned. Scully took a syringe, snapped the bubbles in the ginger-colored anesthetic to the top, squirted them out and jabbed the needle into the man's upper leg. He jack-knifed forward. She pushed him back. "It's for the pain. Try to breathe easy. You should feel better in a few seconds."

Scully watched his breathing. It slowed and evened. His pupils shrank to pinpoints.

The medic held out a wad of bandaging and an aluminum half-cylinder perforated with holes. She threw a temporary bandage on the knee and used the metal splint to brace the leg. "Get him into the ambulance." She hurried a man with a facial gash.

Mulder wandered over the nearest policeman. "What happened?"

The officer nodded toward the old man. "That's Jeremy Bronkin, night watchman at the station. From the little I heard it sounds like he stole a squad car and headed here looking for trouble. He found it."

"Dead?"

"Very. But from the way the witnesses tell it the four goons that tried pushing him around never laid a hand on him."

A questioning look crossed Mulder's face.

The officer shrugged. "The witnesses claim he beat them up then threw them down in the dirt."

"He used a gun?"

"A forty-five but not until they tried coming at him two at a time."

"Then how'd he die?"

The policeman gave Mulder a wry look. "You kidd'n me? Bronkin was past seventy. His ticker must have given out for sure after a fight like that."

"Seventy?"

"At least. He had thirty-five years on the force and he came to it late. You pack that sort of age around with you then try dancing with some toughs and your heart'll give out too."

Mulder looked around the parking lot. "Where's the car he came in?"

The officer pointed to the far side of the area encircled by police cars. Mulder squinted and made out a forth black-and-white in the darkness outside of the circle of activity. Its front bumper was jammed into the side of a dilapidated pick-up.

"At least he had the sense to use a car that wouldn't be missed," the officer said.

"How's that?" Mulder asked.

"The police car he used was Daniels'. Since it was impounded as evidence we couldn't use it any-"

"That was Daniels' car?"

"Yeah."

"The one he used at the cemetery?"

The policeman scratched the back of his neck. "I guess so. What of it?"

"Maybe a lot. Are the witnesses inside?"

"Right."

"Thanks." Mulder hurried up the wooden steps leading to the bar.

 

When Scully entered ten minutes later, Mulder was stirring a paper cup of coffee. He held the cup out to her. "Perfect timing. Here, have some of this."

Scully took a sniff and grimaced. "Thanks, but you know I don't take sugar."

He smiled. "Trust me. You'll want it this time."

She sipped at the edge of the cup. Her eyes bulged.

Mulder shrugged. "At least it'll wake you up."

"That awake I never want to be." She placed the cup on the bar, careful not to spill any of it on her clothing.

Mulder took a swig from his cup and shuddered. "So far I've only interviewed one of the officers outside. He said the few witnesses that stuck around after the police arrived testified they saw a seventy-year old man pound four strong men into hamburger. The dead man I assumed to be the victim was really the aggressor."

Scully shook her head. "That's not possible. I got a good look at the body before the coroner took him away; he was much too frail to stand up to one, much less four men."

"Just the same, that's what everyone said happened. I guess his senior's-blend vitamin supplements really work. What do you think? Should I start taking them?"

"You better if you're going to drink any more of that coffee. What makes you think this case is linked to the others? There is no indication of torture."

"According to the witnesses, Bronkin seemed to feed on the other men's screams. Each cry made him shake with pleasure. That sounds like it fits the other MOs. Besides, his unusual strength suggests an adrenaline rush. Nothing else could have carried him through this sort of fight."

"How did he die?" Scully asked.

"He was standing victorious among his fallen victims when he suddenly collapsed."

"Sounds like massive heart failure or stroke. I'll go to the hospital and conduct an immediate autopsy. This is the first time we have access to a suspect with his biological condition fixed at the time of infection."

Mulder chanced a smirk. "Infection? Are you starting to subscribe to the epidemic theory?"

Impatience flared in her eyes. "I meant infection in the universal sense. Mass hysteria is an infection of sorts, an emotional infection. Whether the infection is biological or mental, a thorough serological study should tell us something. What are you going to do?"

"After I ask some more questions here I want to go over all the reports again and try to get inside this thing. You take the car. I'll bum a ride back to the station with one of the patrolmen."

"Right." Scully walked out the door.

Mulder grabbed her cup. "You forgot your coffee," he yelled after her. She let the screen door slam without turning around. Mulder chuckled, then sighed and turned back to the witnesses. The three sat at a small table nursing mugs of coffee. They eyed Mulder suspiciously as he walked over.

"Good morning again," he said to two anorexic women and a greasy, fat man in a whiskey-stained apron. "Shall we pick up where we left off?"

"Federal pig," the man said and spat on the floor near Mulder's shoe. The two women sat bored, bouncing their stick-like legs and staring at nothing.

Mulder looked down at the wet spot near his foot. "In most U.S. cities it's a misdemeanor to expectorate in public areas."

Confusion shaded the man's eyes. "To do what?"

Mulder said smiled innocently. "Expectorate. Spit. What you just did. It's kind of like turbo-drooling. I'm sure your familiar with that."

Their eyes met and held for a moment. The man eyed Mulder's boyish looks, designer trench coat, and the scars on his knuckles. He backed down. "Yeah, well, what do you want? We already told the local cops all we saw."

"So, now you can tell me." Mulder pulled a chair around and sat, careful not to put his elbows on the table's dirty surface. "Who knows? If you try real hard you may remember something new. You can begin by telling me who you are."

"My name's Hammond Bosc. I keep bar here. About an hour ago someone yelled there was a fight going on. I walked over to the window to see if it was worth watching. The whole thing only lasted a minute. Old man Bronkin was moving like a cat, tearing up four of the toughest guys in town. The last guy had hardly hit the dirt when Jeremy fell down too. I called the cops and went back to pouring drinks."

"No one went out to help the hurt men?" Mulder asked.

"Na. Round here you take care of yourself or die in your own blood."

One of the women smirked at the other.

"Did you know Bronkin?" Mulder asked.

Bosc took a gulp from his mug. "Just well enough to pour his drinks. He'd sometimes come in after work, if you want to call draggin' your tail around a cop station all night long work. Most times nobody even knew he was here."

Mulder shifted his attention away from Hammond. "And you ladies, what are your names?"

"I'm Irma and this is Doreen," the thinner one with orange hair said. "And no, you can't have our last names and you might as well know those aren't our real first names either. They're our working names. You don't need to know anything else because we're not testifying to anything. Period." She turned away.

"And your profession?"

She gave him a sour look. "What do you think?"

Mulder smiled. "Did you see anything different than Mr. Bosc?"

"Yeah. While the old guy was beat'n up the punks he really got into the sound of their screams. Most guys get off on pounding someone into the dirt but this guy was something else."

Mulder stood. "Thank you for your time."

"What ever."

The three witnesses rose. "I wouldn't run away just yet," Mulder said. "I think the police will want you to sign some depositions." They fell back into their chairs.

Mulder went outside and walked around the area of the fight. Book was crawling around on his hands and knees with a pair of tweezers in one hand and a box of plastic evidence bags in the other. Mulder shrugged and caught a ride in a police car back to the station.

 

 

Back in the office, Mulder laid out copies of reports on all of the murders starting with Jane Moorpark's. The stacks ran from left to right on the desktop in front of him. He sighed and picked up Jane's file.

 

+++

 

Doctor Tildon was already working on the injured men when Scully arrived at the hospital. She assisted in their treatment. The man's knee that had been shot was a complete loss and would have to be replaced with an artificial joint. The man with the slashed face was luckier. His eye hadn't been cut too deeply and could be saved. Joe's nose wasn't so fortunate; he'd spend the rest of his life with it leaning to the right. His constant stream of profanity wore on Scully. She smiled innocently when he screamed at the size of the needle she jabbed into his arm for a tetanus booster.

Scully and Tildon tapped a bandage over the last set of stitches and collapsed into chairs in the hallway. She looked across the hall to the room where she had helped Tildon with Johnny Waverly's autopsy. "Bronkin in there?"

Tildon nodded. "I'm going to have him put on ice until I can get to him."

"Mind if I do the autopsy? We need the results as soon as possible."

"Help yourself, Dr. Scully. You'd be doing me a favor."

Scully stood stiffly and walked through the room's swinging doors. The unmistakable shape of a body draped with white cloth lay on a stainless steel dissecting table. She donned a fresh mask, gloves, full-body apron and turned on the operating room's tape recorder. "The time is 2:16 A.M. Thursday. Location is the Ansera Public Hospital, Ansera, Virginia. The subject is Jeremy Bronkin, male Caucasian, seventy-four years old, address...."  She completed the identification portion of the report and began working her way from Bronkin's feet to his head. She pressed a finger into the purplish flesh of his upper arm, held it for the count of three, and released it. The waxy gray skin blanched where she had touched it then quickly returned to a dark purple. "Brief, non-fixed lividity and detectable warmth in the body suggest death occurred within the last two hours. Again, this is consistent with eye-witness testimony indicating the time of death occurred at approximately twelve midnight." She manipulated his neck and jaw, his joins, added notes and reached for a scalpel.

 

Three hours later Scully finished taking the last sample. She clicked the recorder off and carried a rack of test tubes to the hospital's laboratory.

 

 

Scully rubbed grit out of her eyes and leaned back in her chair. Too tired to derive satisfaction from completing the serology analysis, she stuck her copy of the completed autopsy report under her left arm and left for the police station.

 

+++

 

Mulder looked up as she pushed into the office. "You look terrible."  

"Thanks," she said. "Look in the mirror yourself lately?"

A drawn smile touched his lips. "I've been afraid to."

"Wise choice." She flopped a stack of papers down in front of him. "That is Bronkin's autopsy. He died as the result of complete cardiovascular collapse brought on by a massive amount of adrenaline in his blood. The adrenaline turned him into a powerhouse but at his age his system couldn't take running at that level."

"Anything else?"

"Yes. Bronkin also had unusually high levels of several different endorphins disbursed throughout his tissues. These are produced by the brain and indicate he died in a state of extreme elation." Scully eased herself into the chair behind the office's second desk.

"Is this consistent with your mass hysteria theory?"

She nodded. "The adrenaline rush was the result of the excitement Bronkin felt at correcting some in-correctable wrong he imagined. The endorphins were a natural product of the elation in his perceived victory."

Mulder shook his head. "It sounds good but I can't buy it. In most cases of mass sociogenic illness, the effect is immediate and transmitted by line of sight. These cases have too many people being effected over long periods of time and there's no visual continuity. You theory doesn't fit."

She massaged the back of her neck. "What do you suggest?"

His eyes brightened. "Study the files. There's a physical link between each incident. Emma Moorpark took Jane's possessions back with her from DC to Ansera. The next thing that happens is that Emma and her mother turn into murderers. The Barlow's house is next to the site of Johnny Waverly's death. Shortly after that Barlow and his brother start killing people. Officer Daniels was the first to report to the cemetery and he turns killer. Finally Jeremy Bronkin takes Daniels' car and follows the same pattern."

She shook her head. "You lost me. First you say there's a physical connection between the cases then point out that there is no exchange of anything material between the Moorparks and the Barlows. There's also no physical connection between the Barlows and Daniels."

Mulder leaned forward. "I'm suggesting that some kind of influence is being passed from one person to the next through an as yet unidentified medium. This entity provokes them to commit acts of unspeakable violence. I suspect this influence, or entity, makes the people it effects feel they need to feed on the agony of people in pain."

Scully stared at him. "And you think my theory has holes in it? There isn't a shred of evidence to support your theory not to mention the fact that no one has ever proven a case of demonic possession."

He leaned back, eyes looking up. "I'm not sure it's a case of possession. In possessions the spirit can only transfer itself through personal contact with each host. What we have here is something that's able to touch them from a distance and compel them to torture someone. Daniels never touched Clyde Barlow at the cemetery. He'd called and waited for help before he approached him. It was the arriving officers that ended up taking Barlow into custody. But Barlow's truck stayed there. Daniels came in contact with it. I think something can move from one object to the next influencing people either when they touch it or look at it."

"Wouldn't it make more sense if there was one single object being passed from person to person?" she asked.

"Like a talisman? It would except there is no object common to all the crimes. Whatever this force is, it can move from place to place. I suspect there is a defining characteristic to the sorts of things it can inhabit but so far I haven't been able to figure out what it is."

Scully crossed her arms. "You've come up with some wild ideas in the past-" Mulder opened his mouth but she cut him off. "And I have to admit most of them turned out to be correct or at least appeared to be consistent with the evidence on hand."

She spread her hands wide. "But this time there is nothing, absolutely nothing to support your theory. I'm sorry, Mulder. I have to stay with my mass hysteria theory and will say as much to Skinner."

Mulder looked deep into her eyes. "I hope your right, Scully."

Her eyes grew round. "What?"

He leaned close. "Because if you're not, I have no idea how we will ever stop this thing."

 

21

 

Bull Pen Bar
Thursday, 12:07 A.M.

 

Forty-six year old Deborah Bullock regarded the five men laying in the dirt out of the corner of her eye while she patted makeup on her face. The powder wasn't helping. Her face was too deeply furrowed with lines from insincere smiles. Bullock glanced at the men and smiled. She liked watching men hurt each other. She shifted the angle of the pocket mirror. A reflection of Daniels' police car showed past the wiry confusion of her bleached hair. Her mirror caught the image of the car's rear-view mirror and shimmered.

She slipped the mirror into its embroidered cloth case and bustled away to the far side of the parking lot for her date. Deborah hurried, Arron Niland got mean when she kept him waiting. Meaner than usual.

 

+++

 

"Where you been?" Niland yelled as she squeezed into the Buick.

"There was a fight," she said as sweetly as she could.

Niland grunted and gunned the car before she'd managed to close her door. He didn't like Deborah very much. Niland didn't like the way she looked or sounded or kept working on her makeup as if it was cute. The only thing Deborah had going for her was availability. Besides, he liked pushing people around and she'd take more of it than anyone else he knew. He smiled at that thought. He had a bad day at work and felt like taking it out on someone. Niland looked at her and grinned.

Deborah noticed it and smiled her unattractive smile back and took out her mirror to touch up her makeup. Niland quickly turned away. She looked at the mirror a long time.

"You okay?" he asked without interest.

She smiled, a real smile this time, deep with anticipated pleasure. "Yes. I just thought of something. Why don't you pull into the woods on your right? I have something new I'd like to show you."

Niland laughed. He couldn't believe she'd have anything new that would interest him but the woods would be good for his plans. He turned off the road and pulled to a stop in the darkness under the trees. "Now what?" he said sarcastically as he turned towards her. The last thing he saw was two fingernails stabbing toward his eyes.

 

 

22

 

Balmural Motel
Thursday, 9:14 A.M.

 

Mulder's phone blared. He drew the sheet up over his head. The phone rang again. He threw the sheet back and glared at the bedside clock. "Damn." The phone rang a third time. Mulder sighed and picked it up. "Yeah?"

A man's voice rumbled out at him.

"Okay. Right. I got it." Mulder hung up.

He stumbled over to the door connecting his room to Scully's and hammered on it three times. "Wake up, Scully," he said flatly. "We've got another one."

 

They found Arron Niland tied to a tree. Both his eyes had been dug out, there was a jagged clamp mark on his right big toe, and one hundred and seventy-two charred burns covered the rest of his naked corpse. The car's jumper cables and battery had been used to shock Arron Niland to death.

Scully stooped to inspect the body. Mulder walked around the crime scene looking for evidence and talking to officers milling about the site.

 

Scully joined him fifteen minutes later. "The killer drained water out of the radiator and doused him with it to improve the skin's conductivity. It must have taken some time for him to die considering the number of burns."

Mulder took over. "The killer's name is Deborah Bullock. A patrol car found her walking along the highway. The officer noticed that two of her fingers were caked with a dark brown crust and guessed that it was dried blood. A little backtracking turned up Niland. They're holding her at the station."

"Did she give any statement?"

"Two. She complained things were going well until the battery went dead, then, after a mild convulsion, claimed to have no memory of anything past meeting Niland for a date. One of the deputies knows Bullock and says she knew no one remotely attached to any of the other cases. She couldn't even have heard about it on the television because she doesn't have one. He also said Bullock wasn't a reader so it's unlikely she would have know about the other incidents from the paper. She met Niland in the Bull Pen's parking lot just after the fight. If we'd been there twenty minutes earlier we would have seen her. I'm assuming she got exposed to the entity there."

She shook her head. "I still can't accept your poltergeist. For all we know this incident may be completely separate from the other cases."

Mulder turned toward Niland's tortured body. "You really think so?"

Scully looked away.

A police officer joined them. "We've combed the area. There's nothing here."

"Thanks," Mulder said.

Scully and Mulder returned to the station and interviewed Deborah Bullock. She was as mystified as all the other people who had committed similar murders. Mulder examined the personal effects confiscated from her but nothing caught his attention. Finally, Scully suggested that they were too tired to function effectively and prescribed sleep for both of them.

 

Mulder woke at two in the afternoon, hunger gnawing at his stomach. He dressed and ran to the hotel's diner where he met Scully as she was finishing lunch. He ordered one of everything and settled down to twenty minutes of serious eating. Aware of her watchful look, Mulder was careful not to make any sounds while he ate.

For the next three days they reviewed reports, revisited crime scenes, and reinterviewed the accused killers but failed to turn up anything new. There were no new incidents. On the morning of the forth day they conceded to Sheriff Dill that they couldn't justify remaining in Ansera any longer. They began the drive back to DC with Scully at the wheel.

 

Mulder stared out his window. The slow-moving front that had closed in over the state seemed to blanket the world. The heavy low clouds made him feel as if he was trapped between the faces of a hydraulic press. The sluggish water in the James River looked steely-gray and cold. He sighed and focused his attention inward. He saw Johnny Waverly looking out at him. Mulder watched the little boy sit down on the curb and begin wrestling the trainer wheels off his bike. A second later Mary Moorpark smashed into him. Mulder saw Clyde Barlow plow into the mourners at the cemetery, witnessed Deborah Bullock pushing the copper end of a jumper cable deep into Arron Niland's flesh.

Mulder closed his eyes but the images only sharpened. He wondered how long they'd have to wait for the next call from Ansera.

 

 

23

 

FBI Case Number: X-2.35-062009
Principle Investigator(s): Dana Scully and Fox Mulder
Case Title: Moorpark
Status: Open
Key Words/Topics: murder/torture/amnesia
Report Category: addendum to initial report of same title
Preparer: Special Agent Dana Scully

 

Comments: Under the assumption that the torture-homicides in Ansera, Virginia are related to the Jane Moorpark torture-homicide in Washington DC, a total of thirteen people have been murdered, twelve seriously assaulted, and one perpetrator has died over the last four months. Between all of the involved parties there is a connection of familial relation, friendship, or association by location. These circumstances, when combined with similarities in the method of homicide, i.e. torture, suggest a common cause or motivation shared by the seven perpetrators. All of the accused, or in the case of Robert Simm, convicted, persons currently maintain that they have no memory of committing the acts that witnesses and/or physical evidence conclusively establishes that they committed. Those incarcerated immediately after their crime were found to be in a state of altered personality, which lasted up to one hour. During these periods the individuals expressed joy at committing acts of torture. It is assumed these altered states represent the accused killer's state of mind while they carried out their murders.

An autopsy of the individual who died during an episode similar to the other murders (Mr. Jeremy Stevens, age 74, see attached autopsy report AR 1999-742C) disclosed elevated levels of adrenaline and endorphins characteristic of an extreme level of heightened excitement and pleasure.

It is my opinion that all of the perpetrators suffered from a transient episode of mass sociogenic illness (mass hysteria) initiated by the attack on Jane Moorpark and propagating to the other perpetrators as they, in turn, heard of each sequential incident. Although the significant time delays between the incidents and lack of direct visual connection are inconsistent with the pathology of traditional cases of mass hysteria, it still offers the only logical explanation for the events to date.

Special Agent Fox Mulder does not accept this theory. He contends that there is an, as yet, undefined entity with the ability to inhabit various objects, which have been in contact with each perpetrator at one time or another. It is his theory that this entity is able to inhabit or coerce people into committing acts of violence. Agent Mulder can offer no explanation of how this is done, why, or the article(s) used as the medium of transmission by the entity. There is no physical evidence supporting this theory.

It has been two weeks since the last incident. In my opinion the circumstances conducive to the further propagation of the mass sociogenic illness manifested in this case have dissipated and no further incidents should be expected. I recommend this case file be put on hold for the final disposition of the court cases against each of the accused and then closed and transferred to the records department for storage.

Dana K. Scully, MD
Office symbol: PKDLR
ID # 2317-616
Phone: 202-555-3564

 

Scully leaned back in her chair and stared over the top of the computer monitor on her desk. The phone rang, jerking her back to reality. "Dana Scully," she said into the receiver.

"This is AD Skinner, Agent Scully. Have you completed the Moorpark report?"

"Yes, sir."

"Please turn it in as soon as possible."

"Immediately, sir."

"Thank you."

The phone clicked at her. Scully printed the report, signed it, placed it a yellow file folder and left her office.

 

Scully pushed into Skinner's reception room. "Hello, Jill."

She looked up from her typing. "Hi, Dana. Is that the Moorpark report?"

Scully handed her the folder. "Yes."

"Good. Any surprises?"

"Not from me."

"And Mulder?"

Scully smiled. "The usual."

"That bad? Mr. Skinner won't like it."

Scully shrugged. "It doesn't matter. The case appears to have resolved itself so even if his ghost was the source of the problem it seems to have changed its ways."

"Mulder thinks a ghost caused the murders?"

"You're surprised? This theory is tame compared to some of his ideas." Scully's smile went off-center. "Are you sure you're still interested in him? Mulder can get pretty intense about his theories."

Jill smirked. "Not interested? With those shoulders? You've got to be kidding. Besides, he could be right. I've heard of many cases of ghosts and hauntings and such."

Scully chuckled. "Where? On the Psychic Hotline?"

Jill's brow wrinkled. "Yes, of course. Where else?"

Forced tolerance cooled Scully's smile. "Well, he's not right this time."

A troubled look passed across Jill's face.

"Jill? What is it?"

"Oh, nothing. Well, it's just that you and Mulder have worked together for six years and I was wondering if you two ever... "

Scully's back went stiff. "No. Never."

"Really?"

"Really."

"Why not?"

Scully pursed her lips. "Jill, I'm not comfortable talking about-"

"Oh, come off it, Dana. It's just me."

Scully sighed. "We almost started something once, but it fell apart." She shrugged. "Mulder's first passion is for the X-Files. I need someone whose main passion is me. Besides, I find stable men more attractive. With Mulder you never know what he'll come up with next."

"That's what I like about him. Maybe it'll work out for us."

"I hope so, Jill. In his own way, Mulder needs someone as much as I-" Scully quickly turned away. "By the way, how is the hard-to-get tactic working?"

Jill smiled. "Well, it's gotten his attention. He stops by at least once a day. I figure by the end of the month he'll be begging me for a date."

"Good luck, Jill."

"Thanks, but I won't need it. After all, it was your plan in the first place so it's bound to work."

Scully placed a silencing finger across a mischievous smile and backed out of the door.

 

24

 

 

Assistant Director Walter Skinner's office
Monday, 9:32 A.M.

 

Scully watched Skinner shuffle through the Moorpark report with sharp, jerking movements. He snapped the yellow folder closed. "Agent Scully, how many cases of mass hysteria have been documented with the level of violence exhibited in this case?"

Scully flashed a questioning glance at Mulder, then turned back toward Skinner. "To my knowledge, sir, none. But that doesn't mean-"

"Have there been any cases with so tenuous a connection between the parties involved?"

"Again, none. There have been cases where strangers contract a sort of local insanity during riots. In such cases the most gentle of people have succumbed to the urge to attack strangers and acquaintances alike."

"But the Moorpark cases don't involve riots."

She squirmed on the iron-hard surface of the wood chair. "No, sir."

Mulder smiled sympathetically.

"Agent Scully, how is it that you feel justified in suggesting a theory which is not substantiated by evidence or precedent?"

Scully leaned forward and locked eyes with Skinner. "My report presented a scientifically plausible explanation for the events detailed in this case. With all due respect, sir, in spite of the weaknesses in my theory it is still more believable than Agent Mulder's. Why aren't you challenging his explanation?"

Skinner picked up a blue folder from the corner of his desk and handed it to her. She took it and turned the cover to scan the fax paper-clipped to the inside. Her breath caught in her throat.

"Read it," Skinner said.

Scully's voice sounded detached, like a stranger speaking from a distance. "Police Chief Matthew Dill, Ansera Police Department, requests the immediate assistance of Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder in support of the continuing investigation of a series of homicides committed in this town: reference case number X-2.35-062009. Yesterday, Robert Hawthorn James locked the exit to the Grace of Our Father Church trapping twenty-five people inside during a Sunday morning service. He then proceeded to set fire to the church resulting in the deaths of everyone including his parents. Robert Hawthorn James is eight years old."

Scully forced her breathing to remain even. "Automatic fire alarms signaled the fire department but they arrived to late to save the victims. Robert James was found on the church's front lawn with the keys to the church in one hand and a propane fire starter in the other. The first police officers on the scene report that he was laughing. He stated he knew what he had done and did it to hear the people scream. Shortly after making these statements he had a mild convulsion. From then on he could remember nothing of what happened. This incident follows the pattern of the previous cases closely enough to suggest a connection." Scully slowly closed the folder.

Skinner thrust his head forward. "An eight year old child is not susceptible to mass hysteria, Agent Scully. I want you and Agent Mulder to proceed to Ansera as soon as possible and address this case from Agent Mulder's perspective. I don't like his theory but right now the important issue is to end this... regardless of the method. You are dismissed."

 

25

 

Highway 64 heading west
Tuesday, 1:58 P.M.

 

Scully tightened her grip on the wheel as the car bumped over a patched area on the highway. Mulder half opened an eye and then closed it as he snuggled deeper into passenger seat. She stared down the straight, empty road, feeling squashed between the pavement and the slate-gray clouds low overhead. White lane stripes emerged from a distant point on the horizon, raced toward her on either side, and flashed out of sight beyond peripheral vision. She felt their hypnotic pull dragging her forward.

Lonely darkness crowded in on her. Mulder stirred. She didn't turn to look at him. The lane stripes continued their endless pulsing. Scully wished she were home in her apartment, but couldn't think why. There was little more there to hold her than the empty confines of the car. She thought of her office at the bureau and shook her head. Her work gave satisfaction but not fulfillment. What she wanted, needed, was someone- Don't start that again.

Scully blinked her eyes hard to fight off road hypnosis. The car sped on toward Ansera.

 

An hour later she nudged Mulder awake.

He straightened, blinking sleep out of his eyes. "Here already?"

"Light traffic." Scully pulled up to the police station's curb and scanned up and down Ansera's main street. Besides three police cars in front of the station, the street was deserted. Mulder raised an eyebrow at her before climbing out of his seat.

They met Sheriff Dill in the station's lobby. He nodded as they walked in. "Thank you for coming back." Dark crescents under Dill's eyes gave him a cadaverous look.

"Are you all right, Sheriff?" Scully asked.

"Me? I'm great. Just great." He tried straightening his tousled hair by running both of his hands backward through it. "I assume you'll want to talk to Robert?"

"Has he been interviewed by a child psychologist?" Scully asked.

"Two. They both said he's as normal as any eight-year-old who just lost both parents could be. He has no memory of setting the fire. The doctors did some kind of personality profile and concluded that Bobby could not have done what he most certainly did."

Mulder stepped forward. "I'd like to read the depositions of the first people to arrive at the fire."

"They're already typed and in the case file. I put a copy in your office. It's the same room you used before."

Mulder nodded and headed for the office.

"I would like to talk to the boy as soon as possible," Scully said.

"He's staying with his aunt: Carol James. The court judged this was best until it can be decided whether or not to pursue a case against him." Dill massaged the back of his neck. "Everyone's at a loss as to how to proceed. The district attorney's willing to let it go as a case of temporary insanity but the possible connection with the other murders is holding him back. The town's in an uproar because people are afraid this disease, or whatever it is, may return and make those infected murder again."

"People still think a physical disease is the cause?"

"Most do. They're so panicked a third have left town and more are leaving by the hour. That's not the worst of it. Rumors are starting to spread that the explanation lies in the occult. I suspect some of your partner's theories have leaked out. Dill's shoulders hung. "I have to admit that after everything that's been going on... " He shrugged.

Scully stiffened. "There is a rational, scientific explanation for what has been happening in your town, Sheriff. We just need a little more time to discover what it is."

Dill's eyes darkened.

Scully pulled her suit coat down tight, trying to stretch out wrinkles set by the long drive. "I'd like to interview Robert James now."

Dill's expression brightened. "You'll like Bobby. He's a good kid." The sheriff walked over to the desk sergeant and said something to him. "All set," Dill said when he came back. "Chamber will call ahead for us."

"Shall I drive?" Scully asked.

Dill managed a wan smile. "You better. In my condition I'd probably get pulled over by one of my own men."

She led the way outside. Dill settled himself into the passenger seat as Scully slid behind the wheel. At his direction she pulled out and headed north on Clement. Scully worked her way across town quickly. She didn't see another vehicle on the way and only a scattering of cars parked in driveways. The lawns were lush green and leaves fluttered in a light breeze. Everything looked normal except that there were no children on bicycles riding up and down the streets. No peels of young laughter cut the unnatural silence.

"There," Dill said pointing to a white, one-story house with yellow shutters.

The car's tires squealed against the curb as Scully pulled in. She climbed out and looked over the top on the car at the house. The yellow shutters would have given it a bright, cheerful appearance if they hadn't been locked tight over the windows. She looked down the street. Every house with shutters had them latched closed.

Scully and Dill walked toward the James' house. The door draped with a black wreath opened as they topped the wooden steps to the porch. Carol James was shaped like a brick. The effect was heightened by the dark red sheath dress that hung straight to her ankles, hiding any hint of a figure. Miss James' short hair shone silver and was styled close to her head. The warm smile on her tiny mouth contrasted with the rest of her bulk.

"Good afternoon, Miss James," Dill said. "This is Special Agent Scully from the FBI. She's helping us solve the murders."

"Come inside, Sheriff, and sit yourself down. You look all in." Carol James opened the door for them to enter. Scully acknowledged the woman's invitation with a smile and entered the house's cool interior. Squinting as her eyes adjusted to the dim light, she saw a living room crowded with out-of-date furniture covered in faded green floral patterns. Sheriff Dill eased himself into an antique chair in one corner of the large room, well out of the way. They had agreed during the trip over that he would keep in the background to avoid upsetting the boy. Scully sat on one of two worn sofas separated by a coffee table. Carol James left to get her nephew.

A minute later a screen door slammed followed by the squeaks of tennis shoes running across linoleum; the steps slowed near the back entrance to the living room. Robert James peaked around the edge of the kitchen door. Wild reddish-brown hair and freckles framed eyes wide with curiosity. Carol James came up from behind and ushered him into the room. He brushed dirty hands on his white tee shirt, then stuffed them into the bulging pockets of his jeans. His aunt pointed at the sofa opposite Scully. He sat and studied her as if she was a strange insect. "Are you a real FBI Agent?"

"I sure am." Scully smiled and handed her identification card to him. He turned it over several times, then gave it back reluctantly.

"Bobby-" she began.

"Do you have a gun?"

"Yes. I carry it in my purse."

"Can I see?"

She shook her head. "I'm afraid not. Regulations, you know."

He nodded understandingly. "Oh."

"Now, Bobby. I need to ask you some questions about last Sunday."

He slouched away from her. "I heard the kids talking about it over Aunt Carol's back fence. They say I was playing with fire and hurt everyone in the church." Robert James leaned forward, squinting tears from the corners of his eyes. "But I didn't! Mom 'n Dad taught me not to play with fire."

Scully felt the urge to take him in her arms. "Bobby, I work in a special part of the FBI. It's our job to look into things that no one else can explain. You know, mysterious forces, odd happenings. Anything that's strange."

"You mean like ghosts 'n stuff?"

"Right. Like ghosts." Scully heard Sheriff Dill straighten in his chair. She ignored it. "Bobby. Have you heard of some of the other people who've been hurt in town recently?"

His eyes went round. "Are you kidding? That's all everyone's talking about in school. That is, that's what they were talking about last week before Aunt Carol took me out."

"Good. Then maybe you can help the FBI crack this case."

Bobby's face brightened. "Really? How?"

"Well, the first thing agents do on a new case is find out what people believe is going on. Can you tell me what you and the kids you've talked to think is causing all the trouble?"

"Sure! Sammy Johnson thinks it's just people going crazy because they're so old. Did you know people start loosing brain cells after they're eighteen?" He eyed her suspiciously. "How old are you?"

Scully smiled. "FBI agents ask questions. We don't answer them. It's that regulation thing again."

"Oh. Okay. Well anyway, that's what Sammy says. He read it in a science book at school or something. He figures these people lost so many brain cells they couldn't think right any more. He figures by the time we're twenty we'll be that way too."

She covered a grin with her hand.

Bobby leaned forward. "Now Buster, his real name's Arthur but he hates that, thinks some voodoo witch is casting spells over everyone. Sheri and Cathy, the Bronson twins, think those people fell in love or something and it drove them nuts. But they're just girls so don't believe them. Oh, uh... sorry."

Scully kept her tone serious. "That's all right."

"And Joe thinks..."

"I think that's enough of what you're friends think. Can you tell me what you think?"

"Well... I like the voodoo idea best."

"Why is that?"

"Because I saw this movie once where people got turned into zombies and did all sorts of bad things. Later when they woke up none of them could remember anything." The animation in his voice died. "Sort of like me." His shoulders slumped.

Scully leaned forward and said gently, "Bobby. Did you blame any of the people for the bad things they did when they were zombies?"

He looked up. "No, of course not. They were under a spell. You can't blame people for what they do when they're under a spell. That's one of the rules."

"Right. So even if you did what people say you did they can't blame you, can they?"

"No, I guess not." He looked into her eyes. "But grown-ups don't believe in ghosts and spells."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "My partner does. He even believes in flying saucers."

"Really? Wow! Has he seen any?"

"He thinks so. But let's get back to this case you're helping me solve."

Bobby beamed.

"Do you remember last Sunday?"

"Some of it, yeah."

"Good. What's the last thing you remember?"

"The police bringing me over here to stay with Aunt Carol."

"I mean before that. Before the firemen found you."

"Oh. Well, the last thing I remember was sitting in church."

"And then?"

He looked away and shrugged. "Then I was laying on the grass in front of the church and a bunch of firemen and policemen were standing all around me."

"Nothing in between?"

Bobby began fingering the pattern on the sofa's upholstery. "Nope. It was like being asleep. Time just disappeared."

"Do you remember any dreams from that time?"

"Nope."

Scully stood up and collected Dill with a nod. She turned back to the boy. "Thank you, Bobby, for helping the FBI. I'll let you know how we solve the case."

"Gee, thanks. Uh... do you think I was turned into a zombie?"

Scully rumpled his hair. "I didn't think so at first, but just between you and me I'm beginning have my doubts."

 

 

Scully and the sheriff climbed back into the car. He looked over at her after he'd given her directions to his home and they'd driven off. "Does Agent Mulder really believe-"

"Yes, he does."

"And you?"

She cocked her head to one side. "I have to admit that since working with Mulder I've seen a lot of phenomena that are unexplainable by commonly accepted science."

He smiled. "You didn't answer my question, Agent Scully."

"No, I didn't. Here's your house, Sheriff. I strongly recommend you get some rest. Take that as a prescription from your doctor."

Dill stepped out of the car and trudged up the walkway to his front door. Scully started the car forward but braked when her caught Dill jamming to a halt. He spun around and charged diagonally across his lawn to intercept her. She leaned over and cranked down the passenger window down. Dill thrust his head through the window. "Agent Scully!" He gasped for breath. "I just remembered something about Bobby you need to know."

 

 

26

 

Ansera Police Station
Tuesday, 5:02 P.M.

 

Scully stepped into their office just as Mulder dismissively dropped a manilla folder onto his desk; it landed with a plop. She sat at her desk. "Something wrong?"

Mulder's expression soured. "I thought I had a handle on this case until Robert James came along. He doesn't fit. There isn't a single thing linking him to any of the other murders."

Scully smiled. "I may have some good news for you."

"I could use some. What did you turn up?"

"You're not the only one who believes an evil spirit is causing all the murders."

He leaned forward. "No? Who?"

"Arthur, one of Bobby's friends."

Mulder fell back into his chair. "Thanks a lot."

Scully's gave him a look of mock earnestness. "It would seem that a consensus of the children at Clifton Elementary School endorse a zombie-theory explanation for what's been going on."

"With support like that maybe I should consider running for public office."

Scully smiled, then let the joy slip from her face. She began examining her nails.

"Scully, what is it?"

She raised her chin a little higher than level, not looking forward to what she knew she had to admit. "Robert James isn't the only one who's beginning to believe something unnatural is connected with this case."

"Don't tell me the junior high kids are behind me too."

A small smile brightened her expression. It faded quickly. She took a deep breath. "No. Me."

Mulder snorted. "Cute."

"I mean it."

An elfin grin crept up his face. "This could mean love-"

Her eyes blazed. "I knew it. I should never-"

Mulder raised his hands in a placating gesture. "All right. All right. I'm sorry. So tell me, what brought about this conversion of faith?"

She shifted uneasily in her chair. "After interviewing Bobby, I can't bring myself to accept that he could have done what he did. As much as my intellect rebels against it, the weight of evidence appears to support your theory more than mine."

A satisfied grin spread across Mulder's face. "There's hope for you yet, Scully."

"I'm glad you think so," she said sourly as she stood up. "Now, let's get going."

He stood up, confusion in his eyes. "Going? Where?"

"We need to examine the highway adjacent to the Niland's death site. Dill told me both sides of the road in that area were used by Ansera's elementary school for a nature study the day after his death."

Mulder's breathing quickened. "And?"

"Robert James' class was assigned the section of the road where the police found Bullock."

 

 

Scully nudged a loose piece of asphalt with her foot.

"Find something?" Mulder yelled across the highway at her.

"No. How much longer are we going to keep this up?"

"How many people have died?"

"I understand that but it's getting dark and-"

An eighteen-wheeler roared passed, showering her with stinging pebbles and oily exhaust. She turned her right shoulder into the blast and winced to protect her eyes. After the dust settled she looked down at her apricot-colored suit. Gray specks covered the side that faced into the truck's draft. The opposite side was still clean. The demarcation between the two zones ran down the center of the outfit making it look like a designer oddity. Scully sighed and looked across the road toward Mulder. He seemed indifferent to the pelting they received every few minutes from speeding vehicles. "We're likely to miss something important," she yelled back once the truck's rumble died down.

He looked back toward their starting point half a mile behind them. "You're right. Anyway, from what Dill told you this is as far as the kids would have gotten. Let's head back."

She checked both directions and started across the highway. "We should switch sides. That way one of us may spot something the other missed."

"Right."

As they passed each other at the midpoint of the road, Scully noticed his suit was evenly covered with dirt on both sides. She knitted her eyebrows.

Mulder pointed at the dirty side of her suit. "The trick is to alternate which side faces into the blast."

She shook her head. "That's one of the things I like about working with you, Mulder: the useful information you're full of."

They made it to opposite sides of the highway. "So that's what you think I'm full of," Mulder yelled across to her. "I thought it was-"

Another truck hurtled by them.

Scully remembered to turn her clean side toward the truck. She looked down after the cloud settled. What had been the clean side was now a closer match to the dirty one.

"How'd it work?" Mulder asked.

"Two more trucks and I'll be even."

He laughed. She turned away and begin poking through the underbrush.

 

Twenty minutes later they met at the car. He climbed in on the passenger side while she slipped behind the wheel. The ever-present dark clouds cast premature night around them. Scully snapped on the overhead light, filling the car with a yellow glow. They placed their finds into the convenience rack between their seats. Scully produced a gas tank cap and a palm-sized, embroidered pocket; Mulder, a worn billfold, a rusty screwdriver, and two crushed Pepsi cans.

"It doesn't look like much," Scully said.

Mulder held up the cans. "Are you kidding? These are worth five cents each."

"Thanks. That and ten dollars will pay for cleaning my outfit."

Mulder chuckled and placed the cans back with the rest of the items. His smile faded. Scully watched Mulder examine their find. He picked each object up, turning it around in his hands to study it from every angle, then returning it to the pile. He turned the cloth pocket inside out: empty. He lined everything up on the dashboard. His eyes danced over the wallet, screwdriver, gas cap, and pocket, then to the cans. Mulder's attention focused on each of the objects briefly, rested longer on the pocket; skipped to the cans, ignored them; jumped to the billfold, and remained there a full minute.

She saw his eyes become vague, distant. He's hunting.

Mulder glanced back at the pocket; looked at the gas cap; back to the pocket, then the screwdriver; back to the pocket, the cans, pocket, wallet, pocket. His attention locked on the pocket. Mulder leaned forward and took it in trembling fingers. He turned it over several times, traced the faded pink flower embroidered on one side of the blue cloth. The other side was plain. He brought it up close to the light and squinted at the seams. Turned it inside out again. "Scully, what is this?"

She took it. "My guess is that it is a sleeve for protecting a small mirror. It keeps the mirror clean and prevents the mirror's edges from cutting anything in a purse."

"Purse?"

"Yes. I wouldn't expect a man to care something like this."

Mulder took it back and looked out of the front window at nothing, absentmindedly kneading the cloth. His eyes ranged aimlessly. They glanced in the direction of the rear-view mirror and turned away, looked ahead into the growing darkness enshrouding the car, out the side window toward the side mirror. He jerked upright, stiff.

Mulder's head spun to the rear-view mirror, then out Scully's window to the mirror mounted on her door. He turned to her, excitement burning in his eyes. "I've got it!"

 

 

27

 

Barton Road, Ansera
Tuesday, 7:34 P.M.

 

"It's not the pocket, Scully, but what was in it."

"A mirror?"

"Not just a mirror, any mirror." Mulder shuffled towards her. "In each murder there was something that had a mirror at the intersection of the cases. There had to have been a mirror in the box of Jane Moorpark's things that her sister brought back to Ansera. There are mirrors on every car on the road. This thing that's driving people to kill each other is moving from one mirror to the next." He shook the blue pocket at her. "This case may have belonged to Deborah Bullock. It all fits."

"Mulder, there are mirrors everywhere. I doubt if you could find a more ubiquitous object in the world. I'm willing to accept your theory but surely there has to be something unique that's acting as the agent in all this."

Mulder smiled. "You're really getting into this."

She exhaled a sharp breath. "Look. You want me to believe a poltergeist is turning people into murdering zombies? Fine, but I need something more to believe in than an empty mirror case that probably didn't belong to Bullock or anyone else involved in this investigation."

Mulder broadened his smile. "Historically, poltergeists only haunt a particular place or person. They don't get around much." Scully crossed her arms tight over her chest. Mulder's smile faded. "Actually, I'm not sure what we're dealing with yet, but-" He held up the pocket. "There's an easy way to find out about this."

Scully stared at him a full minute, then gave the key in the car's ignition a vicious twist. The tires spun, shooting twin jets of dust behind them as the car rocketed onto the highway. She yanked on the wheel to point them back toward Ansera.

 

 

A guard led Bullock into an interrogation room. She refused to look at Mulder and sneered at Scully. "So you're FBI. Your clothes are dirty."

"We've been out searching the scene of your crime for something to help you," she said.

Bullock dropped into the chair opposite Scully. "Help me? You've got to be kidding. The police have fingerprints, footprints and witnesses who saw me drive off with Arron. The case is open and shut and everyone knows it." The woman looked away. "Not that I give a damn. Niland deserved what he got."

Mulder stuck the cloth pocket in front of Bullock. "Is this yours?"

Her eyes focused on it. "Yeah. That's mine," she said and quickly turned her face away. "There used to be a mirror in it. Now take your lousy hand out of my face."

Scully stood up. "Thank you for your help."

"Is that all? You rousted me out of bed for-"

The guard stepped forward. "That'll be enough of that. Com'on, back to your cell." Deborah Bullock humphed and stomped away.

Scully and Mulder walked back to their car. Mulder rested his arms on the roof and furrowed his brow.

"Why the look?" Scully asked.

"I was thinking about what you said: that mirrors are so commonplace. If the spirit is moving from mirror to mirror it's going to be impossible to track down."

"What are we going to do?"

"For once I haven't a clue." He looked over the top of the car to the darker black of mountains to the west. "But I know someone who might."

 

 

28

 

Balmural Motel
Tuesday, 8:54 P.M.

 

Scully leaned against the open door to Mulder's motel room and listened to him talking on the phone. "We're in Ansera, Ben, on the 64 past Charlottesville. I figure a little over an hour." Scully jerked her head around to glare at him. He caught the anger in her eyes. "Traffic's light, an hour tops." The glare didn't cool. "Maybe sooner. You're sure it's okay? Good. Thanks a lot. See you soon." He hung up, picked up their bags and eased sideways through the door on the side furthest from Scully. "It's all set. Let's go."

"I don't like this, Mulder," she complained as they walked out to the car. "It's late, I'm tired, hungry and need a shower. Why must we drive halfway across the state tonight to see your friend."

"The death count's still climbing. We have to end this and soon. To do that we need special help. Ben might be that help." Mulder threw their bags onto the rear seat and faced her. "If he saves us only one day it could mean someone's life. I think that's worth loosing a little sleep over. Don't you?"

Scully pursed her lips, then nodded. They exited the motel's parking lot and turned onto Ansera's deserted main-street, heading south toward the highway. Scully looked down at her hands and rubbed her palms together. Her skin felt dull, distant with fatigue. She glanced over at Mulder. "Who is this friend of yours?"

"Ben Lacey and I grew up together in Massachusetts. He has a place near Virginia's eastern border."

"What city?"

"None. His land's almost in the wilderness, about twenty acres with a stream. It's nice."

"You go there often?"

Mulder shrugged. "Once in a while. We keep in touch mostly through email."

"What does he do?"

Mulder smiled. "Ben? He's an expert in the occult."

Scully shielded her eyes with a hand.

They took the on-ramp west onto Highway 64. Thirty miles later they turned north onto the 81 and continued on past Staunton. After twenty minutes, the wilderness preceding Shenandoah National Park closed in on the highway.

Mulder took the park turn-off. One hundred yards short of the entry gate he turned hard left onto a gravel road. Their tires crunched over the small stones. After a quarter-mile, the road widened in a cul-de-sac. Scully saw the indistinct gray outlines of a single story cabin nestled beneath the dark spread of the surrounding forest.

Scully pushed herself out of the car and looked toward the cabin. Warm, orange light flickered through curtained windows. She dragged her bag out of the rear seat and followed Mulder to the front door. It swung in and a man's silhouette stepped into the door frame. The orange-hued light flickered around him. The shadow thrust a hand forward. "Fox! God, it's good to see you. Come in. Come in."

Mulder pumped the hand. "Hi, Ben. Sorry to drop in on you so-"

"Forget it. I'm glad for the company."

They entered the cabin. The men clapped each other on the shoulder while Scully hovered just inside the door. Fire crackling in a fieldstone hearth in the middle of the far wall filled the living room with radiant warmth. A post-framed couch covered in black leather and two matching chairs on either end formed an arc facing the fire. Scully longed to collapse into one of them but willed her attention to her host. The man topped Mulder's six feet with an inch to spare, had broader shoulders and arms that were used to heavy work. His voice was deep and as warm as the fire.

"You made it in fifty-three minutes, Fox," Ben said. "Why the hurry?"

"My partner let me know she wasn't interested in a late night. Speaking of which, let me introduce-"

"No need," Ben said, cutting through formality. Lacey walked over to where Scully stood and shook her hand. Thick calluses roughened by hard work prickled her palm, but his grip was gentle. "Agent Scully, it's a pleasure to meet you at last."

She raised an eyebrow. Lacey hitched his head at Mulder. "He's told me much about you."

Scully raised the eyebrow higher. "Oh?"

"All of it complimentary."

Scully briefly squeezed his hand tighter then released it. "I'm relieved to hear that. Thank you for taking us in."

She looked up into Ben's face, counting the age lines at the corners of his eyes and the amount of gray in his reddish-brown hair. She put his age in the early forties. She considered his tanned face and rough hands. A farmer?

His smile transformed from one of greeting to amusement.

Scully blushed. "I'm sorry."

"That's all right, Agent Scully. I know you're a medical doctor. That and being an FBI agent must make studying people an automatic reflex."

"It does. Still, it isn't polite."

Ben's smile never wavered from being friendly. He swung back toward Mulder. "Are you two hungry or tired?"

"We're tapped-out, Ben. It's been a long day and all we want is to get cleaned up and into bed. We hit a drive-thru on the road."

"Fine. You know where the guest rooms are. Make yourselves at home."

Lacey dismissed himself into a hallway to the left. Mulder led the way to the right, past a pair of built-in bookshelves on either side of the fireplace. They walked into a hallway off the living room's other end wall. The hall ended in two doors facing each other. Mulder pushed through the door on the right. "See you in the morning."

"Good night, Mulder."

Scully dragged herself through the left door. A king-sized bed with a hand-stitched, cream-colored comforter filled most of the room. To her left was a bureau and vanity. Next to that, a door opened to a bathroom. Scully eased off her shoes and let the deep carpet caress her feet. She fell onto the bed's quilted softness. The pillows invited but she resisted, knowing a bath would promise sounder sleep. Stiff fingers opened buttons made stubborn by long wear. The fingers stopped. She looked down at her suit, speckled gray during their roadside search. "Oh, great," she said. "Ben will think I'm a slob." Her brow creased. Why should that bother me?

Scully shrugged, finished climbing out of her stiff clothes, and went to fill the tub. The soap rack held a bar of green Brut soap. She smiled and found something less masculine in her travel case. Scully lowered herself slowly into the tub and sighed as the tingling-hot water began turning her skin pink. She let her eyes close.

Hot water touched her chin. She jerked up, halting the slide deeper into the water. She scrubbed quickly, dried herself and slipped into a pair of green silk pajamas. The bed seemed to rise up to embrace her as she climbed under its heavy covers.

 

From a long way off a chime called. She ignored it. It rang again, insisting. She told herself it would go away. It didn't. Scully opened her eyes as grandfather clock finished its hourly melody. It paused then sounded a single, final chime.

The lights were still on. She rose up on one elbow to peer around the room. Her garment bag lay where she'd dropped it. The realization that everything in it was getting wrinkled worked its way through her sleepiness. She wiped sleep out of her eyes and swung her legs off the bed.

Scully draped enough of the bag's contents over the back of a chair so she'd have something to wear the next day, then crawled back under the thick covers, but sleep refused to take her. Scully knew her habits well enough to know any attempt to force sleep would make things worse. She draped a robe around her shoulders as she padded her way to the door. In the hallway she heard Mulder's snore work its way through the wall. Scully treaded softly into the living room.

The lights were off and the fire had burned itself down to a ruddy glow. She bent to the bookcases and scanned titles by the flickering light, looking for something to bore her to sleep. The books to the right of the hearth reflected subjects related to unexplained phenomena. The shelves on the left offered more promising titles. Texts on physics jammed the shelves. She tilted the tops of several forward. All were heavily dog-eared. She spotted a heavy tome titled Relativistic Effects on Collision Cross Sections for Subatomic Particles. She hefted the book up and grimaced; its weight alone could wear her out enough to put her back to sleep. She was about to turn back toward the hallway to her room when a dull clink caught her attention. It came from the hall on the far side of the living room.

Covering a yawn with her free hand, Scully stared in the direction of the sound. She crossed the room and entered the hallway. An open door on the right showed Ben Lacey in a white terry cloth robe, standing close to the stove. He was stirring a saucepan. The aroma of warm chocolate filled the hall.

"Care for some, Agent Scully?" he asked.

She startled. "Excuse me?"

Ben turned to her and his eyes darted down to the book she held in both her hands. "Would you like some hot cocoa to help you sleep? You might as well, Freddy won't work."

She stepped into the kitchen. "Freddy?"

"Doctor Frederick Solanskie. Author of the book your holding. If you were looking for something to lull you to sleep that won't help. Don't let the title fool you. That book's a real page-turner, if you're into that sort of thing."

She placed the heavy book on a butcher-block dinette table and hastily ran her hands down the sides of her head to straighten tangles out of her hair. "I used to be."

"I prescribe this," he said pouring steaming cocoa into two mugs. "There's plenty for two and I promise it'll work better than reading." Lacey handed her one of the mugs and placed the second on the dinette. He grinned. "Marshmallows?"

Scully smiled broadly. "I haven't had marshmallows in cocoa for years. Yes. Thank you." She pulled out a stool and sat on the side of the dinette opposite his mug.

Ben opened pantry doors and rummaged. "Sorry, all out. But, I have an idea." He turned to the freezer and withdrew a carton. Into each mug he dropped a large dollop of vanilla ice cream. Her's landed with a liquid plop.

She looked down into the steaming mug with its island of melting ice cream. Without raising her head, she lifted her eyes, questioningly.

He shrugged.

Scully cupped her hands around the warm mug and took an experimental sip. Cool ribbons of ice cream laced through the hot cocoa. She smiled her approval. Lacey motioned with his mug toward the living room. She nodded and followed him out of the kitchen. They settled facing the glowing embers in the fireplace, he in the chair closest to the kitchen, she on the sofa. Scully took another swallow. The chocolate rested warmly in her middle.

"Insomnia?" Lacey asked after a few minutes of quiet sipping.

"Sometimes on the road, yes. Strange beds, difficult cases, traveling; it gets me wound up. You?"

"Usually, no. But once in a while an idea hits me just before bed. I get so excited I can't sleep."

"Is that what happened tonight? Some unexplained mystery?"

He pointed toward Mulder's room with his mug. "I see Mulder's briefed you on my hobby."

She inclined her head to one side. "Only that you're interested in the supernatural like him."

He rolled his mug between his hands. "I've been developing a multispectral camera for recording nonphysical apparitions. I've been stymied on how to design a self-tracking feature. Half an hour after you got here the answer came to me. I had to work out the details while they were fresh."

"You're building a camera to take a ghost's picture?"

He nodded. "It's a camera sensitive to the electromagnetic spectrum all the way from microwave energies to ultra-violet. If a ghost emanates energy anywhere in that range the camera is capable of capturing its image."

"You believe in ghosts?" she asked.

"No."

She eyebrows arched. "Then why...."

"Because I want to find out if I should. That requires reproducible evidence."

She studied him over the top of her mug.

"Why'd you pick Fred's book?" he asked.

"Like you said, to help me sleep."

"I mean why that particular text?"

"Oh. Well, my undergraduate work was in physics. It still interests me. I was surprised to see so many physics books in your library. Another hobby?"

He glanced at the bookshelf. "Profession, actually. I worked with Freddy at CERN in Europe just before I retired."

Scully raised an eyebrow. "Retired?"

He shrugged. "Between an early graduation and opting for the minimal retirement option it was just possible."

"How early?"

"I retired three years-"

"I meant graduation."

"Oh, that." He looked down and took a gulp of the chocolate. "I was twenty."

"A Bachelor's at twenty? That is young."

"Uh... Ph.D. actually." Lacey keep his eyes turned away from her.

Scully shook her head. "That's quite an accomplishment."

"Ancient history."

"I thought you were some kind of farmer."

He looked back, a curious smile on his lips. "Why?"

"Your hands. You didn't get those calluses from reading physics books."

He opened his left hand and stared at its palm. "Oh, those. They're from another of my hobbies."

"Which is?"

"The forest you drove through to get here was clear-cut thirty years ago. The lumber company replanted but only with pines. I'm thinning them out and replacing them with trees that grew here naturally. In time the twenty acres I'm working on will be returned to the original old-growth forest that belongs here."

Scully leaned forward. "Sounds like a big job."

Ben nodded. "It is, but worth it. Enough about me. Now it's your turn. How did a physicist turned doctor get to be an FBI agent?"

"I worked in a coroner's office part time in medical school and became interested in forensics. A month before graduation an FBI recruiting agent convinced me the bureau was the best place to pursue this interest."

"And how do you like working with Fox?"

Scully smiled. "I have to admit it's never boring." She sat up straight. "Could you explain something for me? Mulder hates anyone to call him by his first name yet you get away with it. Why?"

"Mulder and I were close friends when we were kids even though I'm older than him. Everyone used to kid him about his name. I could see it bothered him so I never used it. When we were adults I started, saying I had to make up for all those missed opportunities. He never complained. I think having one person who didn't joke about it when he was young meant a lot."

"Was his youth very troubled?"

"Very. The name business was minor, really. He got along well with everyone. But his parents weren't happy and his sister's disappearance hit him hard."

"It still bothers him."

"I know." Ben set his mug down. "Mulder talks about you a lot, Agent Scully. You're the first agent he's worked with whom he trusts without reservation."

"I know. I feel the same way in spite of the disagreements we have over some of his theories."

"Like this case he came to discuss?"

She placed her mug next to his. "No. I don't like what he's suggesting but I'm going along for lack of a better explanation. I'd rather wait until he explains the case to you himself before talking about it, if you don't mind."

"Of course."

They sat and drank the last of their chocolate in silence. The embers were almost burnt out.

"I was wondering about something else," she said.

"Yes?"

Scully looked over at him and shook her head. "I better not."

"Too personal to ask a stranger?"

"It is personal, Mr. Lacey, about Mulder."

"Please, call me Benjamin, or Ben."

She smiled.

"So, now that we're on a first-name basis, what is it?"

"Mulder finds it easy to believe in anything paranormal."

"Jumps at it, you mean."

Scully returned his smile, but only fleetingly. "Yes. Yet he has a hard time accepting that I've recently started going to church. Ghosts he can accept, but God makes him uncomfortable. Why?"

Ben focused on the dim embers. "To Mulder, ghosts, spells and aliens are just scientific phenomena that haven't been explained yet. Before germs were discovered, any mention of microscopic life was ridiculed. Along came the microscope and germ theory was accepted. Mulder believes ghosts are what germs used to be, a natural phenomenon which current technology doesn't have the ability to record. The fact it can't be measured doesn't negate its reality or infuse it with magical powers. In fact, I don't believe Mulder really believes in magic. That is if you define magic as something capable of subverting the laws of nature. God, on the other hand, isn't a case of unrealized technology. God can do magic; alter natural laws, cancel them altogether if he-" Ben gave her a lopsided grin, "or she wishes to."

Scully smiled back.

Ben's smile grew wider for a moment, then melted. "The concept of God makes Mulder as uncomfortable as his suggesting the paranormal makes you feel."

Scully nodded. "It makes sense."

A yawn caught her before she could cover it. "Sorry."

"It's the chocolate. I promised it would work."

She stood slowly. "Thank you for the cocoa and conversation... Ben."

He got up. "You're welcome, Agent Scully. See you in the morning."

"Shall we make it first names all the way around?"

"I'd enjoy that. Dana used to be a man's name. How'd you get it?"

"Family tradition. First-born Scullys inherit their father's first name, the second get his middle."

"Do you mind?"

"Not any more. My father died not too long ago and it's a nice reminder."

"Any other names?"

She smiled with fond memories. "My sister used to call me Kate sometimes. My middle name's Katherine."

His smile beamed with mischief. "Would you mind being called Kathy?"

She blinked at the thought and let her smile broaden to a grin. "Not at all."

He extended an arm toward her room. "Good night then, Kathy."

 

 

Scully pulled the comforter up tight to her chin. Her eyes closed by themselves and her thoughts drifted backward. She heard Ben's calm, resonate voice, tasted the cocoa and ice cream and once again felt the strength lying just beneath the gentleness of his handshake. She remembered the masculine roughness of his hand pressing into her palm. Through the fog of half-sleep she felt her brow wrinkle. Why would I remember that?

She fell asleep before the answer came.

 

 

29

 

Benjamin Lacey's Cabin
Wednesday, 7:42 A.M.

 

The red glow soaking through Mulder's eyelids brightened to orange. He turned his head sideways and the light dimmed back to red. Mulder dug the side of his face deeper into his pillow, luxuriating in a sleepy blend of consciousness and unconsciousness. He smiled then sat up, blinking at the sunlight pouring through the room's window. He stretched wide and froze as the aroma of bacon and eggs struck him. His stomach rumbled. In a flurry he struggled out from under the bed's covers. After a quick shower and shave, he followed his instincts toward Ben's kitchen. He pounded on Scully's door as he passed it. "Rise and shine, time to serve the corps," he called then hurried toward the clinks and clanks of cooking. His pace slowed as he neared the kitchen; a man and woman's laugher leaked around the door. Mulder pushed inside.

Scully and Ben sat on opposite sides of the dinette, leaning toward each other. Used dishes, silverware and a cloth-covered basket filled with something steaming were scattered over the table. The coffee mugs in their hands were almost touching.

Scully's grin dimmed to a smile as she looked up at Mulder. "Good morning." She leaned back, away from Ben.

Mulder shook his head. "This has to be a first."

"What?" she asked.

"You, on the road and cheerful in the morning." Mulder pulled a chair out and swung a leg over its back to sit down. "Normally you're cranky from lack of sleep."

Scully took a sip from her mug. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Come on, Scully. You know very well-"

Ben's chair scrapped the floor noisily as he pushed it back to stand up. "How 'bout some eggs, Fox?"

"Yes, and bacon and toast and-"

"I know, three servings of everything."

"Please." Mulder snaked a hand into the basket and pulled out a biscuit. He slathered it with butter and strawberry preserves before sacrificing it to his appetite.

"We ate the last of the bacon," Ben said over the sharp pops of eggs cooking in butter. "Ham okay?"

"Fine. Thanks." Mulder took a second bite, froze in mid motion. "Wait a minute. You said we." He leered at Scully. "You ate bacon? With all that cholesterol and sodium? Don't you know what that's doing to your heart? How can you do that after all the times you've hammered on me about my eating habits?"

Scully beamed a satisfied smile at him. "I had four pieces... with eggs. It was delicious." She snatched the second half of the biscuit off his plate. "Since you're so busy talking you won't need this." She bit the corner off it.

Mulder's jaw dropped and he looked over at Ben. "Your influence is corrupting the good doctor."

Ben dumped two thousand calories of diced ham and scrambled eggs onto a hot plate. The eggs sizzled when they hit. "Here. Feed your face and quit harassing the nice lady." Ben freshened their mugs and sat down.

Mulder applied himself to his breakfast, cleaning the plate spotless in less than two minutes. "Fantastic. Thanks, Ben"

"It's nice to cook for someone again."

Scully grinned. "Considering how good you cook I'm surprised you're not marr-"

Mulder purposely dropped his fork so it hit his plate with a loud clang to catch her attention and shook his head. Ben got up and carried Mulder's dishes to the sink. Scully threw a questioning glance at Mulder.

"Not now," he mouthed silently. He raised his voice. "So, what was all the laughter about when I barged in?"

Scully's brow remained furrowed but she accepted his lead. "Ben was telling me how when you were kids he was always able to beat you at Stratego-"

Ben whirled around with a finger to his lips but was too late.

"-by cheating."

Mulder's eyes went round. "Cheating!" He turned his head slowly in Ben's direction. "I knew it. All these years you let me believe you were a better player. Of all the lousy things-"

"Now, Mulder," Ben said. "That was a long time ago and besides, " Ben spread his hands. "It was just a game."

"Just a game?" Mulder turned back to Scully. "As long as we're letting skeletons out of the closet I think it's only fair that I get in on the fun. Let me tell you about Penny Selkington. Ben had the worst crush on her and one day-"

Scully leaned forward eagerly with a broad smile.

Ben jumped forward, red spreading up his face. "That's enough of that. Isn't it time we discussed this case you wanted to talk to me about?"

Scully feigned disappointment. "Things were just getting interesting."

Mulder smiled at Ben. "I'll give you a break for now but only if you promise me a honest game later, to even the score."

"Fair enough."

Mulder's smile fell away. "The case started several months ago with a girl named Jane Moorpark... " He detailed each murder to date, his theory of how they were related, and his intuition that mirrors were the medium of transport. Ben took it in without question.

Ben turned to Scully. His face was impassive, cool with the discipline of a scientist. "What do you think?"

Mulder watched Scully focus her attention on his friend.

"Initially," she said. "I thought it might be a case of mass sociogenic illness, with variations."

Ben squinted into space. "Mass sociogenic illness always transmits via direct eye contact. That isn't the case here. Additionally, the effect is immediate and simple. Usually consisting of fainting, dizziness, or convulsions."

"That's true," she agreed. "But the initial act was so horrendous I feel a psychic trauma resulted which introduced a time delay in the reaction. When Emma Moorpark and her mother unpacked Jane's belongings the impulse resurfaced. News reports of the resulting murders primed the populace at large to be receptive to further suggestion."

"What about little Bobby James?" Ben asked.

"That is difficult to explain," Scully acknowledged.

Ben paused for a sip of coffee. "Incidents of mass sociogenic illness usually manifest themselves in weakness, not strength. How can the unusual physical abilities be explained?"

"An adrenaline rush would account for it."

"True enough, but that's hardly consistent with a mass hysteria hypothesis."

"Correct," she acknowledged.

Mulder's neck muscles began to tire from following their conversation. He got up and cleared the remaining dishes off the table. Scully and Ben noticed him only enough to shift their arms out of the way as he reached for their empty cups. Mulder washed and dried the dishes, poured himself a fresh mug of coffee and leaned against the counter where he could observe their conversation without having to swing his head back and forth.

"So, you agree that there are sufficient inconsistencies with the mass-hysteria theory that it no longer applies," Ben said.

Scully nodded, smiling. "Yes."

Mulder pursed his lips. She never smiles when I say she's wrong.

"That leaves us with Mulder's theory," Ben said.

Mulder's smile returned as he watched Scully and Ben look toward the chair he'd used and blink at its emptiness. "Over here," he said.

They turned to look in the direction of his voice.

Scully's eyebrows came together. "When did you-"

"Hours ago," Mulder said. "I washed the dishes, did laundry, painted the-"

"Don't be silly, Mulder," she said and reached for her coffee. Surprise bloomed in her face when her hand closed on emptiness.

Mulder filled two clean mugs and brought them over to the table. "We appear to have a consensus on the cause of the murders. All we have to do now is figure out is what this thing is and whether it's a conscious or unconscious entity."

"What do you mean by unconscious?" Scully asked.

Mulder opened his mouth to answer but Ben jumped in ahead of him. "An unconscious entity would be something like a curse or influence which reacts with its environment automatically, without volition. Its effect is the result of physical conditions invoking a reaction as opposed to a conscious entity which thinks and acts according to its own wishes."

Scully nodded. "The conscious-entity theory represents ghosts and things of that ilk which follow the pattern of the paranormal which is so attractive to Mulder. But the unconscious-entity concept sounds like another manifestation of conventional physical laws. "

"That's right," Ben said. "Such an entity would be the equivalent of a beaker of chemicals waiting for the proper environment to react; starting a fire, causing an explosion..."

"Turning water into wine?" Mulder said leaning forward between them.

Ben's eyes flashed briefly in Mulder's general direction. "What? Oh, yes. Very funny, Fox." His eyes quickly returned to Scully. "That's what I think you have here. A non-sentient influence capable of projecting itself from one mirror to another. The fact that this thing appears to strike immediately indicates it has no sense of caution as far as being discovered is concerned. That suggests it's non-conscious."

"But a mirror's nothing more than glass and silver paint," she challenged. "Photons of light reflect off the silver because it represents a smooth surface relative to their wavelength. How can an influence exist someplace where there is no place to exist?"

"A photon's reflection off a mirror's silvering is more complex that a ball bouncing off a wall. On an atomic level, photons react with the silver in many ways: some bounce, some get absorbed, others deflect at odd angles. All subtly affect the silvering, leaving their imprint by shifting atoms around. High-resolution electron microscopes can image these positional changes. Maybe something was able to imprint itself onto a mirror with a pattern that triggers the human mind to incline it toward violence. Like a pretty picture can make us smile; this pattern subliminally drives people to murder."

"This isn't just murder. People are being tortured to death."

"The pattern could be triggering people to violence and they're subconsciously interpreting that into torture."

"If that's the case then there should be a range to the level of violence exhibited. But it's always torture, and to the death."

Ben massaged his jaw. "You have a point. I wouldn't expect that level of consistency. Also, I would think some randomization of the pattern would occur after many reflections, which would reduce or alter the effect."

She nodded. "Entropy."

"Precisely."

"And what about the fact that this pattern behaves as if it's being transferred from mirror to mirror instead of replicating itself so that the number of mirrors affecting people continually increases?"

Ben's expression closed in thought. "I can't. But there must be a reason."

"How do we stop it?" Mulder asked.

"The only way any new danger is stopped," Ben said. "With knowledge. You need to backtrack from Robert James to Jane Moorpark and determine how the entity moved. There may be a pattern although I suspect the transfers were strictly serendipitous. Your goal will be to find out where it came from. Incidents of torture-murders are rare enough to command attention. Have the records people at the FBI look for similar cases. With luck, Jane was the first and we have the starting point. While you do that I'll bone up on similar cases and search for a way to stop it."

"Sounds good," Mulder said and stood. "I'm already packed. Scully?" Scully nodded her readiness and got up.

Ben's expression darkened. "Be careful to only work backward, not forward. You two are as susceptible any anyone to its influence."

A chill passed through Mulder.

"I'll walk you out," Ben said holding the kitchen door for Scully.

 

Mulder threw his bag in back of the driver's seat and climbed in behind the wheel. Ben placed Scully's bag behind the passenger's seat and opened the door for her. She sat and rolled down the window. Ben looked in. "Keep me up to date on what you find out. It'll help focus my inquiries."

"Sure, Ben. Thanks for the help on this one." Mulder said and started the car.

Scully put her hand out through the window to shake Ben's. He took it. "It's been ice getting to know you, Kathy. If you ever want more hot chocolate, I'll be here."

"Thanks, Ben," she said warmly. "I won't forget the ice cream trick."

Mulder waited for their long handshake to end before he started the car moving. The car crunched its way over the gravel and out to the highway. Scully twisted around to wave at Ben.

"That's a little obvious, isn't it?" Mulder asked.

She swiveled forward and pulled the shift out of her skirt. "Obvious? What are you talking about?"

"You and Ben. You two have been drooling over each other all morning."

"You're imagining things, Mulder. All we had was two conversations and-"

"Two?"

"Yes. Well..." She looked out her window. "I couldn't sleep last night. He was up when I went looking for something to read. We talked and watched the fire burn itself out. It was all very innocent."

"Innocent. Two people meeting at midnight in a dark room romantically staring into a fireplace."

"There was nothing romantic about-"

"What were you wearing?"

Scully kept her her eyes turned away. "Wearing? My suit, of course."

He glanced over at her. "Really? And what's with him calling you Kathy?"

"It's my name. Why shouldn't he use it?"

"Your middle name."

"So?"

"A special name he uses for you? That has to mean some-"

"No, it doesn't."

"You don't have to get defensive."

She slammed her arms tight across her chest. "Don't I? With you putting words in my mouth?"

Mulder smiled sarcastically. "Look, Ben's a great guy but he's too old for you."

"I wasn't thinking-"

"No?"

She studied the trees as they flashed by the window. Mulder turned his attention forward.

"He's only six or seven years older than I am," she said.

"Try ten. He keeps in shape so it doesn't show."

Her expression turned thoughtful. "Ten years," she whispered half to herself.

Mulder grinned. It's working.

 

 

30

 

Ansera
Clement Boulevard
Wednesday, 12:37 P.M.

 

A wood-paneled station wagon going the opposite direction tore passed Scully and Mulder, its backwash rocking their car. Mulder craned his head around in time to watch it vanish down the on-ramp to the 64. "There's someone in a hurry to leave town."

"Here comes another," Scully said.

Mulder pivoted back and abruptly jerked the wheel to the right; he'd drifted over the median line. A man's fist sticking out of a car's window shook at Mulder as it passed with a whoosh. Road debris swirled in its wake. Mulder tightened his grip on the wheel and slowed as they entered Ansera's outskirts.

 

 

"Welcome back," Sheriff Dill said sourly as Scully and Mulder entered his office. His voice rasped dry in his throat. "Make any progress?"

Dark, wet stains on Dill's shirt surrounded his armpits. Scully's nose wrinkled at the odor of a man too long at work.

"Yes," Mulder said. "But I doubt you're going to like it."

Dill waved them toward chairs.

"Agent Scully has told me she's already briefed you on the nature of the X-Files office," Mulder said.

Dill nodded.

"I've have come to the opinion that you have such a case here. The best explanation that agrees with all the facts may be difficult for you accept but..." Mulder looked briefly to Scully. She hesitated, then nodded. He turned back to the sheriff. "We've determined it's the only supportable theory."

"Okay, Agent Mulder," Dill said. "You've warned me. Let's have it."

Mulder took a deep breath. "We believe a force capable of imprinting itself onto mirrors is compelling anyone who looks in that mirror to torture the next person they meet. This force is can transfer itself from one mirror to the next. It arrived in Ansera in the personal effects of Jane Moorpark. She was the first victim we know of."

"A ghost," Dill stated flatly.

Mulder shook his head. "We don't think this force is self-aware like a ghost. It may only be a pattern in the mirror's matrix which-"

"A curse, then." Dill said.

Mulder watched a vein in the police chief's temple pulse faster, harder. "Not necessarily. A curse suggests-"

Dill jumped up and leaned over his desk at them. "I'm not interested in your rhetoric. When Agent Scully told me about the X-Files I assumed you discovered reasonable explanations for what appeared to be paranormal happenings. I never imagined you'd come out in support of such a ridiculous idea. If this is the best the FBI can do, thank you very much but as bad as things are I'm not ready to accept anything as insane as-"

Mulder stood up and faced Dill. "This is the only explanation consistent with the facts. If we don't work the case from this angle people are going to continue to die. You've already got thirty-eight dead. How many more are you willing to sacrifice just because you're not able to break out of your narrow-minded view of reality."

He felt a Scully's hand on his sleeve. "Let's go, Mulder. This won't do any good."

Mulder stared down at her a moment then looked up at the sheriff. "Do you have any objections to our continuing the investigation?"

Dill's lips twisted into a cold smile. "The Ansera Police Department will gladly support any investigation by agents of the FBI. Now, if you'll excuse me," Dill collapsed back into his chair. "My morning started at ten last night."

 

 

Mulder stormed out of the station's front doors. He jammed his fists on his hips and glared up Clement. The station's door opened and closed softly behind him. "What did you expect, Mulder?" Scully said. "Anyone would be skeptical of your theory without being warned."

"I warned him, Scully. I went nice and slow."

"Then hit him with ghosts and curses."

"Yeah, well...."

"Get in the car, Mulder. The passenger side. You're too mad to drive." Mulder watched Scully walk around the car and slide in behind the wheel. He looked up and down the street, saw nowhere else to go, and climbed into the car. Scully pulled out.

"Where are you taking us?"

"To talk to Bobby James. We need to find out if he had Bullock's mirror and if so, what happened to it."

Mulder scowled. "A lot of good that'll do us with Dill."

She offered him a smile. "Cheer up, Mulder. At least Bobby believes in zombies. You two should have a lot to talk about."

 

 

Mulder rapped his knuckles against the door's hardwood surface.

A moment later Bobby's aunt opened the door wide enough for one eye to peer out at him. The eye squinted with suspicion. "What do you want? I don't subscribe to any-"

Scully pushed him aside. "It's all right, Mrs. James. This is Agent Mulder. He works with me."

Recognition relaxed the tight muscles around the eye. Carol James opened the door. "Oh, that's okay then. Come on in."

"We'd like to talk to Bobby," Mulder said.

She pointed toward stairs at the far end of the living room. "He's up in his room. We got a call from the district attorney's office yesterday. In exchange for my promise to enter Bobby into therapy they've decided not to press charges. His first session was this morning but the doctor's at a loss. He say's Bobby's perfectly normal."

"He probably is, Miss James," Mulder said. "And we're here to prove it."

"I'll get him."

"If it's all right, we'd prefer to talk to him in his room. He'll be more relaxed there."

"It's the first door on your right." Miss James returned to the kitchen. Mulder started up the stairs.

"Mulder, what do we do if he still has the mirror?"

"You mean besides not looking at it? Put it in some sort of opaque cover and take it to Ben."

"Why not just break it up?"

"Then we wouldn't know which piece had the imprint. Worse still, it might be divided into all of the fragments creating many imprints. Even converting the mirror to dust might not destroy whatever we're dealing with."

"Burning? Melting?"

"We need to destroy the force or entity itself, not just its vehicle. Eliminating the mirror may only free it to move without restraint."

Mulder tapped on the door to Bobby's room and pushed it open. Bobby lay on the floor with his nose twelve inches from the television screen. He squirreled around to a sitting position as they entered. His frown burst into a grin. "Oh! Hi, Agent Scully! Who's that."

"This is Special Agent Fox Mulder. We're partners."

"Fox? You mean like the animal?"

Scully restrained a smile.

Mulder stepped forward and held out his hand. "That's right," Mulder said. "Like the animal. Spelled the same way and everything."

Bobby stretched his fingers trying to get around Mulder's hand to shake it. He managed and his eyes glowed with pride. "Do you have a gun too?"

"Sure do," Mulder said and pulled his coat aside to display the automatic clipped to his belt.

"Wow. Way neat." Bobby's small brows came together. "But Agent Scully said it was against the rules to show people your guns. Are there different rules for guy and girl agents?"

Scully leaned close to Mulder and whispered. "It certainly seems that way at times."

Mulder smiled and stooped down close to the boy. "No, there aren't. But I figure that since you're helping us look for clues it makes you sort of a temporary agent. Understand?"

"Sure. Great." The boy frowned. "But what can I do?"

"Tell us the last thing you remember about Sunday."

"Well, I was on the lawn in front of the church and there were all these firemen and cops... uh. policemen standing around me."

"I mean earlier. Before you woke up."

"Just sitting in the church." He picked up a small green truck and began flicking one of the wheels with his thumb.

"Where were your parents?"

"At the other end of the seat in front of me. They let me sit alone sometimes." The wheel got a second flick.

"What were you doing?"

"Just sitting."

Mulder watched the wheel get another spin then turned to Scully. "Would you mind giving us men a few moments alone?"

Scully pressed her lips into a half-smile then left, closing the door behind her. Mulder removed his overcoat and sat on the floor next to the boy. "I wasn't really supposed to show you my gun."

The boy looked up. "I figured that."

"Guys push the rules sometimes. It's not right but we do it anyway, don't we?"

"Sometimes, I guess." The wheel wasn't spinning anymore but he hadn't put the truck down.

"Bobby, have you heard of the witness protection system?" The boy gave Mulder a blank stare. "Well, have you ever seen a TV show were the bad guys get out of jail because they tell the police something about a worse crime than the one they committed?"

"You mean rat on someone?"

"Yes."

"Yeah, sure. So what?"

"So I want to offer you a deal, just between you and me. I think you were doing something in church you know you weren't supposed to and are afraid to tell me because it'll get you in trouble. Knowing what it is may help me solve the case. If you tell me, I promise I won't tell anyone else."

Bobby studied Mulder's face. He put down the truck. "Not even my aunt?"

"No."

He took a deep breath and let it out. "I was going to play a joke on the minister."

Mulder leaned close. "What kind of joke?"

"I was going to shine light into his eyes. That's why I asked if I could sit alone, so I could be where the sun comes through a window."

Mulder's pulse began pounding. "How were you going to shine light into the pastor's eyes."

"I found this neat mirror. It fit into my pocket so it was easy to sneak into church."

Bobby scrambled to his knees. "I had it all figured out. I'd wait for the sermon to start..."

"I get the idea. Where'd you find the mirror?" Blood surging through Mulder's ears.

"I don't really know. Along a road somewhere. It was during one of those boring nature walks they make us go on at school."

"Did you look at it before church?"

"Not really. I just sort of stuffed it in my pocket real quick so the teacher wouldn't see. We're not supposed to keep stuff for ourselves. When I got home I wrapped it in a handkerchief and forgot about it until Sunday when I got the idea of using it during church."

"When did you look at it?"

The boy squinted hard enough to close his eyes. "I remember sitting in church waiting for the pastor to start talking. I got bored so I took it out for something to do, you know, to play with."

"And then?"

"Like I already said, I woke up in the grass."

"You don't remember what happened to the mirror?"

He shook his head hard enough to make his mop-cut hair flail around his head.

Mulder stood and stretched the kinks out of his legs. He shook Bobby's hand again. "Thanks. You've helped a lot."

"Really? Awesome!"

Mulder smiled. "Yeah, far out."

"Far where?"

Mulder's smile turned sideways. "Forget it. By the way, the mirror was in a cloth bag. Why didn't you keep that too?"

"Oh, that thing. It had a flower or something on it. It looked sissy so I threw it away."

"Thanks again, Bobby. Okay to come back if we need more help?"

"Sure. Anytime."

Mulder collected Scully on his way out the boy's room. They thanked Bobby's aunt and got back into their car. Mulder took the wheel. The tires squealed as he shot away from the curb.

"What did Bobby say that's put you in such a hurry?"

"He had the mirror, Scully." His voice strained as he pulled left on the wheel. "The last thing he remembers was looking at it in the church."

She grabbed for support. "Where are we going?"

"The church. There's a chance it may still be there." Mulder swung hard left, cutting off a truck heading out of town. Screaming brakes and a horn erupted behind them.

"Mulder, it's been three days since the fire," Scully said as she braced herself for another turn. "Why commit suicide to getting there? It was probably destroyed in the fire."

"Because if it wasn't it would only take another kid like Bobby to pick it up. A burnt-out building is irresistible to young boys." He hit a ten-mile-per-hour speed bump at fifty. The top of Scully's head bounced off the roof. Red lights began flashing behind them.

"It's a good thing the church isn't far away," Mulder said.

"Why?"

A siren began wailing at them. "That's why." Mulder floored the gas and took the next turn on two wheels. He beat the police to the center of the block where a charred building marked the church's location. Mulder rocketed into the parking lot. He slammed on the brakes, jumped out and sprinted toward the ruined building. "Stall them, Scully!" he yelled back. "Whatever you do, don't let them into the chapel."

Mulder raced through the outer doors and jarred to a halt. He stood in the center of a long, narrow room parallel to the end of the chapel. The massive double doors leading from this reception area to the chapel lay inside the chapel. They had been knocked inward then turned over to remove bodies trapped under them. The walls and ceiling were charred black. Piles of soot around the chapel's perimeter marked where drapes or tapestries had burned and fallen. The few stained glass windows remaining showed cracks from the fire's heat. He stepped across the chapel's threshold. The sound of his foot grinding on the carbonized remains of carpeting echoed in the destroyed room.

Mulder worked his way down the center aisle. The dense wood of the pews had charred, but they still held their shape. He stepped around piles of burnt church bulletins, purses and bibles, thrown aside in panic as the flames closed in on the worshipers. Water from fire hoses had scrubbed charcoal from the walls into pools where it had dried to a black crustiness. He reached the front and looked back to where twenty-five people had lost their lives.

The church had been a small one. Packed, it could have barely seated one hundred people. That still left a lot of area to search for something as small as Bullock's mirror. Mulder turned around to face forward, studied the positions of the windows, and tried to guess where Bobby had to have sat to catch the morning sun. Mulder backed up to the second row of pews and bent at the waist. Using a pen, he prodded under pieces of burnt paper and wood.

"Mulder?" he heard Scully call out.

"Here." He stood and brushed at the black dust on his clothes. The effort only smeared the soot down his blue slacks. He sighed and looked toward the rear of the church. The doorway gapped like a toothless mouth about to close on her silhouette.

"Anything?" she asked. Her voice echoed hollowly in the room.

"Not yet. Are the police still here?"

"Yes, but they're not happy. It seems Dill told them about your theory."

"Ask them to call the fire department. I need someone that worked this fire to come over and help us."

"Right. Anything else?"

"A clean suit?"

"Later. You've got more work to do."

Mulder watched her disappear into the mouth. He fought off a shudder and bent to the search.

 

 

When she returned fifteen minutes later he had worked halfway through the pews.

"How's it going?" she asked.

He straightened, using a hand to push a kink out of the small of his back. "No luck yet."

"Lieutenant Wilson will be here any minute. He was in charge of the first fire crew to arrive and stayed until everything got wrapped up."

"Great."

"Is there anything I can do?"

"I've been thinking about that. For both our sakes you better keep a close eye on me. Look for any sudden changes in behavior, anything out of the ordinary."

"That may be difficult to tell," she said.

Mulder sensed her grin even though the light was still at her back. He didn't return the smile.

"I'm serious, Scully. If I find the mirror it's possible-"

Something glittered at his feet. He bent to investigate.

"Mulder?"

"Just a minute. I think I see something."

"Don't look at it!"

Three feet in front of him, a rainbow glint of light sprung from the middle of a pile of charcoal. Mulder jerked his head away. He stooped low between the pews and reached out with probing fingers, blindly feeling for the piece of glass. The tips of his fingers felt soot, crumbling paper, a burnt pencil stub, then something hard and cold.

 

 

31

 

Faith of Our Lord Church
Wednesday, 2:03 P.M.

 

Mulder froze. He wanted to jump up and run. Instead he willed his fingertips to push bits and pieces off the object until it was clear. He fished a handkerchief out of a pocket and used it to cover his discovery before lifting it off the floor. He exhaled deeply. "Got it!"

"Is it the mirror?"

"Can't tell yet. It feels like a corner's missing." Without removing the cloth, he traced its shape with his hands. It was about the right size but one corner was broken off. Its hardness and thinness told him it was glass. A finger ran over the missing corner and stopped. He whipped the handkerchief off and stared straight at it.

His blew out long breath. "It's not the mirror, Scully," he yelled. "The corner wasn't broken. It had been shaped round, probably a piece of stained glass. I'm going to finish my search."

"Right."

Something in her voice made him look to the rear of the church. As before, she strode in the gaping mouth of a doorway, a silhouette without expression. He shrugged and continued his search without further discovery. By the time he reached the rear of the church his pants and hands were black. He looked at himself then smiled up at her. A quip about the dirt on his suit jammed in his throat. Scully's gun was pointed into his face.

Cold perspiration broke out across his forehead. "What's going on?"

"Let me see the piece of glass."

Mulder moved with exaggerated openness so she could follow every move. His left hand swung wide and reached into his coat pocket. When he pulled his hand out it held a four-inch square of blue glass with a rounded corner. She nodded and holstered her weapon. "Sorry, Mulder, but too many people have been killed because of that thing. I decided to take Ben's warning seriously."

Mulder heaved a sigh and nodded.

Crunching footsteps sounded behind them. "Agents Scully and Mulder?" a man called out.

"Here," Mulder said and walked with Scully to the outer entrance. He held his hand out to the fire department officer standing in the doorway.

Lieutenant Wilson looked at the Mulder's soot-covered fingers and clothes and clasped his hands behind his back. "That's a new look for the FBI. Isn't it?"

Mulder dropped his hand. "It helps me blend in with my surroundings."

Wilson didn't smile.

"What can you tell us about the fire?" Mulder asked.

"The church was seventy-five years old and had been cited for failing to upgrade its safety system." He shrugged. "The congregation was small and couldn't afford the changes so department cut them some slack." Wilson shook his head. "On hindsight that was a mistake. Once the fire began she went up like a pile of dry leaves."

"How was it started?"

"We found an empty gas can around the rear of the building. It was used to fuel the church's lawn mower. I figure the kid shook the gas onto the outside walls and lit it with the propane starter he was holding when we found him."

"And the doors?"

"Just two, one in the rear and these main-entrance doors. All of the church's keys are kept on a hook in the reception room. The kid pushed a chair over to reach them."

"Do you think Bobby James started the fire?"

Wilson eyed Mulder. "Yeah. He did it. If you'd talked to him right after we got here you'd know it, too. He didn't even talk like a kid. He had a little boy's voice but the way he explained how good it felt to hear the people screaming would make you sick. I was here in time to hear the last of those screams. I'll never forget them."

Mulder turned away to look back into the church. "We're looking for a mirror, small, say three by four inches. Did you or any of your men find it?"

The edge on Wilson's voice sharpened. "No one had the time to notice anything like that. We were too busy putting out the fire and sorting bodies."

Mulder raised an eyebrow at the man's hard tone. "What's the matter, Lieutenant?"

"Sheriff Dill told me about your theory. Half the reason I came over here was to see if the FBI would honestly propose such a story." Wilson looked Mulder up and down. "I guess it's true."

"I'm sorry you feel that-"

Wilson turned and left. Mulder stared after the fireman's shrinking back then left the church himself. Scully fell in line behind him. They saw Wilson slam the door to his car and drive off. She smiled up at him. "Your popularity is spreading."

"Sometimes I get sick of this, Scully. Why do people have a knee-jerk reaction against unusual explanations?"

"The unusual they can handle. You offer the incredible and let's be honest, you're not always diplomatic about it. What do you expect?"

She gave him a gentle push toward their car. "Come on, we need to get you into a clean suit."

Mulder was about to climb into the car when a small white building on the corner of the church's property caught his eye. It looked like an old-style schoolhouse, complete with a miniature bell tower. "Sergeant?" Mulder called over to one of the policemen leaning on the squad car that had chased him.

"Yeah?"

"What's that building?"

The officer followed Mulder's pointing finger. "That's for the children's Sunday school." The policeman turned away.

Mulder looked down at Scully. "When would preschoolers leave the church?"

"It depends. Sometimes they're dropped off before services start. Most of the time they stay with their parents for the children's sermon then get led to class."

"Then the youngest children and their teacher may have survived the fire."

"If they left before it was set, yes."

"One of those children could've picked up the mirror after Bobby laid it down."

She raised an eyebrow. "If he laid it down."

"Don't turn skeptic on me, Scully. I've had enough of that already. Call Dill and ask where we can reach the preschool teacher. I'm going to take a look at the building."

Scully started punching numbers into her cell phone.

Mulder headed for the out-building. Past the fire zone, the lawn was still green except for a path of red earth laid bare by years of children's feet. He kept his eyes down, scanning left and right for the mirror, but saw nothing. He stepped up and tried the door, almost losing his balance when it swung in. It opened on a small room with tables littered with half-colored pictures and crayon stubs.

"May I help you?" a quivering woman's voice asked from the rear of the room.

Mulder leaned to his right and saw a pair of wire rimmed glasses peering out at him from behind a partition. He took a step forward. The eyes retreated. He slapped at the black smudges on his suit again. "Please excuse my appearance. I've been searching the church." He took out his ID and offered it to the glasses. "I'm Special Agent Mulder with the FBI."

The eyes squinted at the ID a moment before creeping out from behind the partition. A thin woman in a beige dress followed them into the light. "What do you want from me?" she asked in a high-pitched voice.

"I'm trying to locate the Sunday school teacher who was here during the fire."

"That would be me. My name is Abigail Sinclair."

"Did any of the children find a mirror in the chapel before coming here? It's important for the case I'm working on."

"A mirror? No. I don't think so."

"Would it be possible to get a list of the children who were here last Sunday?"

"Does Sheriff Dill know about this?"

"Yes, he does."

She wrung her hands. "Well... I guess it'll be all right."

Mulder waited while she disappeared behind the partition. Five minutes later she returned with a church directory. She'd circled five names. "Thank you," Mulder said and left.

As he opened the door he saw Scully hurrying along the path. She stopped in front of him. "Dill said a Miss Sinclair was teaching Sunday school that morning. She should be in the classroom sometime today."

Mulder held up the directory. "Already talked to her. She said none of the kids found a mirror, but I got a list of their names anyway. After I change we'll start knocking on doors." They headed for the station.

Sheriff Dill provided the addresses of the people who had volunteered to house the orphaned children until relatives could be found. The first two interviews produced nothing. They got out of their car and started up the walk to 213 Hinkle Street, Susan Valentine's address. Mulder was in the lead. "I know it's a long shot, Scully, but if-"

A baby's shrill scream cut through the air. A woman cried out in fear and anger. Scully and Mulder charged up the walk and burst through the front door. A young woman was stepping backward into the living room from a door to the left of the room. She clutched a wailing baby. A rivulet of bright blood ran down the child's arm. The doorway through which she just backed framed a six-year-old girl holding a kitchen knife.

Scully ran to the woman and pulled her onto a couch. "I'm a doctor. Let me help."

Mulder positioned himself between the couch and the little girl. She advanced into the room with the knife held steady in front of her. He sprang forward making a grab it. She stepped to the right and slashed the air. Mulder pulled back a bleeding hand. Instead of running away she scuttled around him and began moving toward the baby. From a hallway, a young man came up behind the girl. He grabbed both her wrists and lifted them into the air. Her tiny feet kicked out ineffectually. The man was having a hard time maintaining his grip. With his remaining good hand, Mulder jerked the knife out of her grasp. Together the men wrestled the child to the floor.

She rolled her head back to look at the whimpering baby. Mulder shivered. The little girl was grinning with delight. "Are you Susan Valentine?" he asked her.

She ignored him and rolled the back of her skull around on the floor trying to catch a glimpse of the baby.

"She's Susan," the man helping Mulder said. His breath came short and fast. Rage contorted his face. "I'm Jim Valentine. She's my niece. Who are you?"

"I'm Special Agent Mulder and that's Agent Scully. We're investigating the murders that have been plaguing Ansera."

"Plague is right. I thought the rumors were bull but after this...."

"We came to ask Susan about the fire at the church."

The man's frown deepened. "You don't think she's mixed up in that? She's only six."

Mulder shook his head. "no, we don't think she was involved in the fire."

Just then Scully tightened the knot on the makeshift bandage she'd applied to the baby's arm causing the child's screams to redouble. Mulder felt a shiver travel through Susan's small body. He looked down. Ripples of muscular contractions coursed just under her skin. Susan's eyes rolled in ecstasy.

"Mulder!" Scully said. "I can't stop the bleeding. We've got to get this baby to the hospital."

"Go ahead. I'll stay here."

"Go on, Claire," Jim said. "I'll watch Susan."

"You do that." The woman's voice was tight with anger. She lifted the baby in her arms and ran out the front door. Scully hurried after her. A moment later Mulder heard tires squeal as the car shot away.

Jim Valentine turned a blanched face to Mulder. "The baby was playing on the kitchen floor while Claire washed dishes. I was out back arguing with one of my nephews. Susan had accused him of taking her mirror."

Mulder's heart skipped.

Valentine went on. "He just laughed at me and took off in his car. The next thing I know the baby's screaming. The rest you saw."

Mulder's voice came out husky. "What about the mirror?"

"Mirror? I have no idea what mirror Susan was talking about."

Mulder looked down at the girl pinned under their arms. Since the baby's departure she had relaxed. She looked up at him and the hair on the back of his neck prickled

"What about the mirror, Susan?" Mulder asked. "Where'd you get it?"

"I found it over there," she said shaking her head in the direction of the kitchen. Both men looked in the direction of her nod. She twisted violently and sunk her teeth into Jim's forearm. He yelled. Mulder forced her back down by the shoulders. She relaxed, smiling and drinking in the sight of her uncle's pain.

"You like that, don't you?" Mulder asked. "You like the sound of pain."

She wriggled in pleasure.

Jim looked at Mulder. "When my brother died in Sunday's fire we took Susan in. She's never been any problem. Until this."

The man's frown relaxed as confusion over-rode rage. "What came over her? Is there really a disease going around that drives people to behave like this?"

"I don't know, Mr. Valentine. That's what I'm trying to find out."

Mulder looked down into the young child's eyes. "How about it, Susan? What made you hurt the baby?"

She just smiled and stared up at him, savage hunger glinting in her eyes.

Mulder and Valentine sat guard for half an hour. Then, without warning, Susan stiffened, her back arching slightly. A moment later her body sagged, exhausted. Susan opened sleepy eyes and looked at Mulder. She started pulling away then noticed where she was and stopped. Confusion troubled her young face. "How'd I get here?"

"You don't remember?" Mulder asked.

"I was up in my room. Bill took my new mirror. I...."

"Go on, Susan. What about the mirror?"

She looked down to hide her face. "I saw it in church. It was sitting on one of the seats all by itself. I... I took it."  Her eyes pleaded with her uncle. "I know I'm not supposed to take things but it wasn't near anyone so I thought no one wanted it."

"That's okay, Susan," Mulder said. "No one's mad because you took the mirror but we need to find out about it. What did you do with it?"

"I hid it in my pocket. I was afraid once I had it someone would get mad at me so I didn't take it out. Then there was the fire and I forgot about it. The next day I hid it in my room."

"Then what?"

"I wanted to look at it. I got it out and was using it to help me make a pony tail when Bill came in and took it. When I told him to give it back he just laughed and waved it over my head too high for me to reach. Then... I don't know." She looked around. "How'd I get down here?"

Mulder threw a questioning look at Valentine. "Bill's nineteen and thinks he can get away with anything. He's been in trouble with the police half a dozen times. If you ask me, Bill was born mean. He just likes to hurt people."

Mulder's eyes grew distant.

Susan pushed herself up and stood weaving. Valentine guided her to the couch where she curled up and fell asleep. "What happened?" Valentine asked.

"Your niece has been affected by something Agent Scully and I have been tracking for a month. It's the same force that's caused other people in Ansera to hurt people. We came here because Bobby James was the last person infected-"

"You mean the kid who torched the church?"

"Right. I thought the force might have been picked up by one of the preschool children. Susan was the one that got it."

Valentine's head dropped.

"This was a one-time event, Mr. Valentine. Susan will be normal now and you shouldn't have any more problems."

Valentine's head came back up. "You said something?"

"We believe a pattern of some kind is imprinting itself into the reflective coatings of mirrors. When someone sees this imprint it drives them to commit acts of violence."

"You mean like some sort of force field?"

"More like the subliminal messages advertisers were accused of using back in the seventies."

"And it won't make Susan want to hurt our baby again?"

"No."

"This force, it can move around from one reflective surface to another?"

Mulder's eyes shifted focus again. "So far it seems to have limited itself to mirrors but yes, I suppose any shiny surface could serve as its host."

Scully knocked on the door and entered. A policewoman accompanied her.

"Mr. Valentine," Scully said in a low voice, "I'm afraid your daughter is seriously injured. Worse than I thought. She's lost a lot of blood and there may be permanent damage to her arm. I brought Officer Calahan to watch Susan. Your wife's needs you."

Valentine ran out of the room. He returned moments later stuffing a wallet and keys into pockets. He left without a word. Mulder watched Officer Calahan go to sit by Susan. He walked over to Scully. "Susan exhibited the same symptoms as the others," he whispered. "I wish you had seen her eyes. They made me feel like I was on a dissecting table."

Scully opened a first-aid kit she'd brought from the car and began bandaging Mulder's hand. "Did you learn anything?"

"She said the crying made her feel good. The way she reacted when you tied the knot on the baby's arm was almost sexual in its intensity."

"In a prepubescent child?" Scully's left eyebrow raised a quarter inch.

"It wasn't sexual, but just as intense. I think these people are being driven to torture their victims to satisfy a sadistic hunger. Screams of pain to them are like drugs to an addict."

"That would be consistent with the acts they've carried out. Even the people who used cars to run people down did it slowly to generate as much pain as possible."

Mulder favored her with a self-satisfied smile. "You almost sound like you're starting to believe in my theory."

"Let's just say your hypothesis works better the further we go. What's next."

"Susan's cousin Bill took the mirror just before we got here. He has a criminal record so hopefully Dill will be able to help us track him down. If we recover the mirror then that could be the end of the case."

"If Ben can find a way to destroy what's in it."

 

 

"Good afternoon, sir," Mulder offered cautiously as he entered Dill's office.

"Please sit down, Agent Mulder."

Mulder detected a break in the man's voice, like conflicting emotions warred within him.

Dill swallowed. "I owe you two an apology. I called your boss to complain bout your theory. Assistant Director Skinner let me have my say then set me straight on a few things. First, he said you two were one of the FBI's most effective teams, especially with unusual cases. Then he very patiently stated he knew about and endorsed your theory. He suggested I follow your recommendations if I want to stop the killings."

Mulder raised his eyebrows at Scully. She shrugged back at him.

The sheriff cleared his throat. "Your Mr. Skinner was most persuasive."

Mulder nodded his agreement. "You'll be glad to hear my theory has taken on a more conventional slant. We now believe that the active agent is a complex molecular pattern that imprints itself on a mirror's surface. Anyone who views this pattern is driven to extreme violence. Right now the mirror in question is a small pocket mirror."

Dill looked over at Scully. "That's a conventional theory?"

She fought to control a smile. "Yes, sir. For Agent Mulder it is."

"I see. Is there anything I can do to assist you?" 

"Yes," Mulder said. "We believe the next person affected will be a young man named Bill Valentine. We need to find him as soon as possible.

Dill's mouth tightened. "Bill Valentine? If there's one person in the world who doesn't need help hurting people, it's him. That kid's been up on charges for everything from assault to armed robbery. He's the leader of the only gang we have in Ansera, eleven of the meanest punks in town. Bill's the worst. If your theory is right, there probably won't be much change in him."

Mulder felt a tingling sensation in the back of his mind. His forehead pinched. Something's wrong.

"Mulder?" Scully asked. "What is it?"

He shook the premonition off. "I'm not sure." He turned to Dill. "Where do we find this pillar of the community?"

"You don't. I'll take care of that. He's almost certainly joined up with his gang. I'll put out the call for them now but don't expect any results for a week. They know every hiding place in the county."

"In that case Agent Scully and I will return to DC. We have some research we need to conduct."

They stood and shook hands. Dill's eyes looked hopeful. "You think if we can track down Valentine and the mirror we can end this?"

Mulder shook his head. "I wish I could say so, but I sense something has changed. A new element has been introduced."

"What?"

"I'm not sure. But I'm afraid that once we find the mirror our troubles will only be starting."

 

 

32

 

FBI Headquarters
Thursday, 9:15 A.M.

 

Mulder looked up from his reading as Scully walked into the office. He raised an eyebrow at her severely pressed black skirt and blazer. "I see you've decided to re-embrace bureau's dress codes."

She glanced down at her outfit. "So?"

"And a skirt instead of slacks. What's inspired this sudden burst of feminism?"

She tossed her head. "I don't know what you're talking-"

"How's Ben?"

She smiled. "Fine. He called last night to see what we turned up in Ansera."

"He called you at home?"

Her face took on a puzzled look. "Of course. Where else?"

"Then you've exchanged phone numbers. That's sweet."

"Mulder, what are you trying to say?"

He shrugged. "First it's fire-lit midnight meetings, then late-night calls. It all sounds very cozy."

Scully's hands clinched. "You're baiting me, Mulder. What's your problem with this?"

Mulder's eyes went round with exaggerated innocence. "Me? No problem at all. I was just imagining what a cute couple you'll be in twenty years; you in your orthopedic shoes, Ben in his wheel chair-"

"Don't be ridiculous. Ben's in great shape."

He grinned. "I see you noticed."

Scully's full lips pressed to a narrow line. Mulder leaned toward her, his expression serious. "Ten years is too much of an age difference, Scully. Think about it."

Her eyes clouded. "I have."

Mulder turned away to hide his smile. 

Scully stepped to his side and pulled the red-jacketed report he'd been reading out of his hands. "The Jane Moorpark case?"

Mulder nodded. "Jane or Simm must have picked up the imprint before or during their meeting. By following their itineraries it should be possible to locate the source. I'll call Simm's business first and identify myself. Then I'll stop by under cover to double-check."

She handed the file back to him. "While you do that I'll search for any recent murder cases involving torture. Jane Moorpark may not have been the first victim. Skinner has me consulting on an autopsy this morning so I won't have the information until late."

"Sounds good. I'll stop by your office at the end of the day."

"Good-bye, Mulder." She tuned and walked away.

He turned his eyes back to the report. "Later." Mulder tilted back in his chair with the proceedings of Simm's trial on his lap. The record of Simm's movements after meeting Jane Moorpark was complete in excruciating detail, but there was nothing on his earlier activities. Mulder snatched the phone off its cradle and stabbed the buttons for Simm's business number."

"Mariposa Electronics," a woman's voice answered. "How may I direct your call?"

"This is Special Agent Mulder with the FBI. I'm investigating a case that may be involved with Mr. Simm's conviction several months ago. I need some information about his activities the day he met Jane Moorpark. Would you be able to help me?"

The receptionist's tone chilled. "No."

"Wait," Mulder shouted into the silence promising a quick disconnect. "I'm trying to help him." He braced for a loud click. It didn't happen. "Ma'am? Are you still there?"

"Yes."

"Good. Now-"

"Before you say another word you better know right off that no one here believes Mr. Simm could have hurt that girl. He was the nicest, gentlest man any of us knew. It was impossible for him to have done what you policemen say he did."

"I'm not one of the officers who convicted him. I just want to find out what made him do it."

Her voice shrilled. "I told you he couldn't have-"

"Not him, no, but something else, something that got inside him and took over. If I can find out what it was we may be able to help Mr. Simm." Mulder's fingers beat a nervous rhythm on his desk.

Lingering suspicion kept the woman's voice brittle. "What do you want to know?"

"I need Mr. Simm's itinerary for that day."

"The whole day?"

"As much as you know."

"Well... "

Mulder imagined her scratching her head with a pencil as she thought back.

"Mr. Simm arrived about seven, for a meeting with his salesmen. That went on until the store opened at ten. He spent the next two hours in his office, on the phone, or dictating letters. After that he left for lunch at Chez Marie. He called about one saying he'd decided to take the afternoon off."

Mulder shifted the receiver to his other ear. "Where'd he go?"

"Mr. Simm said he was going to the Museum of Antiquities."

"That's all?"

"Yes."

"At anytime during the day prior to his leaving for lunch, did Mr. Simm exhibit a sudden personality changes?"

"No. Nothing like that at all."

"Thank you.... "

"Miriam Hackins."

"Thank you, Ms. Hackins. I'll let you know what develops."

Her voice softened, pleaded. "He couldn't have done it. Help him. Please."

"I'll do my best." Mulder hung up. He sighed and looked at the sentence fragments he'd scrawled detailing Simm's movements. Simm had been with people all morning, ruling out exposure during that time. It had to have been during lunch, at the museum, or while he had been with Jane Moorpark. Mulder tried imagining how many mirrors Simm could have come in contact with: car mirrors, mirrors in the restaurant, in the museum, in shop fronts, the restaurant they went to, her apartment. Mirrors stared back at Mulder from every imaginable location. He cradled his head in his hands.

Mulder heaved himself up, grabbed his gray sport coat and slung it over a shoulder. He added the notes on Simm's movements to the file and headed for the door, almost colliding with Skinner as he surged in.

Skinner's facial muscles were ripcord tight. "Agent Mulder, I received a complaint yesterday from Ansera's Chief of Police. He wasn't amused by your theory. It should have been obvious to you that anyone not used to your techniques would react the way the sheriff did. Your actions have reduced the FBI's credibility. Next time you speak to him you will be more circumspect in how you present your ideas or I'll have you repeat the bureau's effective personal interactions class. One last thing. I backed you up with Dill. Don't let me down." Skinner spun and stormed out of the office fast enough to rustle posters thumbtacked to the walls.

Mulder stared at the empty space the director just vacated. He shrugged and left to retrace Simm's activities.

 

Mariposa Electronics occupied a single-story building nestled between two towering banks. The glittered sidewalks were filled with hurrying businessmen wearing suits that cost more than Mulder's car. The fifty-foot wide front of Simm's business was covered in smoky glass permitting only shadowy glimpses of the inside. Mulder ran a finger over the gilded letters announcing the store's name; the gold leaf was thick enough to feel. Mulder pushed through the door. Cool air and the gentle sounds of Brahms' Lullaby poured over him. The walls directly in front of him and to his right supported shelves filled with black boxes the size of video cassette players. Waist-high, blue-carpeted partitions the same color of the floor separated the area on the left into semiprivate offices. The rest of the room was left open. It felt like a Rolls Royce showroom.

A tall, slender, gray-haired man in a three-piece suit approached Mulder. "Good morning, sir," he said with British enunciation. "My name is Merlon Phipps. How may I assist you?"

Mulder hastily straightened his tie. "I was, er... thinking of upgrading my sound system."

The man cupped his hands together in front of him. "Then you've come to the right place, sir. What did you have in mind?"

"Well, how about an entirely new system?"

"A wise decision." He shook his head gravely. "It never works to mix one's components. They never get along well together, you know."

"No. Of course not." Mulder's mind scrambled to retrieve the little he knew about high-end electronics. "I was thinking of a Bose system."

The man's right eyebrow raised a suspicious half-inch. "Bose, sir?"

"Yes, or perhaps Macintosh?" Mulder offered hopefully.

"Macintosh." The man cleared his throat. "I see. I'm afraid you've been misinformed about our establishment, sir."

"You do sell stereo equipment?"

"Oh, yes, sir, the best in the world. Those... companies you mentioned are certainly adequate for the mass market but would hardly do here at Mariposa." The salesman slipped a fatherly arm around Mulder's shoulders and guided him toward the units on the rear wall. "You see, sir. All of our systems are custom made according to our customer's specific requirements."

He gently laid a hand on the top of a box the size of a hard-cover book. "For example, this is a Bennett sub-woofer post-amplifier. There are only five like it in the world. We made one for the president of-"

Mulder nodded quickly. "I get the idea."

Phipps waved a hand across the room at the units lining the walls. "They're all like that, sir, the best equipment you can order."

"Order? You don't have anything I can take with me?"

Phipps' face paled. "Take away with you, sir?" His eyes glazed with confusion. "Like... like some person might purchase a," he swallowed, "ready-made suit?"

Mulder pulled his sport coat straighter. "No. No. Of course not." He looked around for a way out of the corner he'd boxed himself in. "Say, didn't I read about the owner having some trouble with the police a little while ago?"

The gentleman's forehead creased. "Mr. Nelson? I don't think so, sir."

"Mr. Nelson?"

"The current owner, sir."

"I must have meant the previous owner. I didn't know the store had been sold."

Phipps stiffened. "You are referring to Mr. Simm, the man who founded this establishment. Yes, sir, he was involved in an unfortunate situation."

"Right. Simm was the man's name. What can you tell me about him?"

"Mr. Simm was a true gentleman in every sense of the word. Everyone here who was fortunate enough to have worked with him believes it is impossible that he is guilty of any wrong-doing."

The salesman seemed to take notice of Mulder's suit for the first time. His eyes narrowed. "May I be so bold to ask you if you represent some news collecting organization or-"

Mulder displayed his ID.

Phipps sniffed. "Oh, I see."

"On the day Mr. Simm had his unfortunate incident, did you notice any peculiar changes in his behavior?"

"Nothing of the kind. I was here that day. He behaved normally in every respect."

"Thank you." Mulder turned to leave.

"Am I correct in assuming that this means you're not really interested in ordering something, sir?"

Mulder's eyes panned the racks of electronics. "I was, but I've changed my mind. I hear Wal-mart's having a sale on battery-powered boom boxes. I think I'll check them out."

Phipps blanched and staggered backwards.

Mulder left and looked up and down the street. No Chez Marie sign came to sight. He turned back toward the shop thinking he'd ask to use their phone book, thought better of it, and walked into the bank on the right. The bank's phone book told him the restaurant was five blocks north.

Chez Marie was a restaurant which Mulder's government salary would had barred him from trying, even if he'd heard of it. Today his ID got him into the dining room, but not a table. The manager discretely accompanied Mulder to Simm's regular table. There were no mirrors in sight so he left quickly, to the manager's relief.

Mulder checked his notes. Simm had used the restaurant's phone to call his office to say he was taking the rest of the day off. The next stop was the Museum of Antiquities, all the way across town. Instead of fighting traffic twice, Mulder switched to Jane Moorpark's schedule because her employer was only three blocks away. A quick interview disclosed she had spent the morning typing legal depositions for a sexual harassment case. Just before lunch she pleaded a headache and got the afternoon off. Jane had eaten at the Quickie Burger franchise one block from her office. From there she went to the museum where she met Simm.

Mulder retraced her movements. Although there were mirrors everywhere, none of them gave him the mental tingle he got when he was in the presence of something critical to an investigation. Since FBI Headquarters was between his present location and the museum, he decided to check in with Scully. He found her in the X-Files' office talking on the phone.

"Are you certain? Okay. Thanks, Harriet." She hung up and looked at Mulder. "Nothing. The records office queried every police database in Virginia and all surrounding states. No murders similar to ours have occurred over the last year. Did you have better luck?"

"No, but I have one last place to check. Want to come along?"

"Where?"

"The Museum of Antiquities."

Scully looked at her watch and grimaced. "It's rush hour. Are you sure you want to fight that much traffic?"

"No. But I'm doing it anyway. Coming?"

She grabbed her purse. "Might as well. If I stay around here any longer Skinner will assign me another autopsy."

They left for the museum.

 

Forty minute's fighting their way across town put them in the museum's parking lot. Closing time was half-an-hour away. They strolled up the left side of the great hall, sticking their heads in each room they came to. Scully looked into one room halfway up the hall. "They must have changed some of the displays."

Mulder stared at her. "How do you know?"

"I was here earlier this year. This room had a display of medieval surgical instruments."

"When?"

"The fifteen-hundreds I believe. The information on the display cards-"

"No, Scully. I mean when were you here? Exactly."

Her forehead furrowed. "Two, three months ago. I can't honestly say. Wait... it was right after the Gorskey Case. You called me on the cell phone and it rang when I was here. Everyone stared at me and this security guard-"

Mulder flipped the Moorpark file open and stabbed a finger at the date. "About then?" He watched the blood drain from her face. "Come on," he said. "Let's get this over with."

She nodded and followed him to the next room.

They worked their way to the end of the hall then crossed to the right side. Four display rooms down, Scully paused by one of the marble pillars. She stared down, concentrating. Mulder turned to her. "What is it?"

"I was standing here talking to you on the phone."

"Yes?"

"You hung up, I stepped forward," she walked through the motions as she described them, "and ran into-" Her eyes came up wide. "Mulder! Let me see that file." She jerked the folder out of his hands. Paper rustled loudly in the near-empty hall as Scully snapped the pages over. Her hand froze.

Mulder took a step closer. "What did you find?"

She turned the report so he could see the file's photograph of Jane Moorpark.   "That's her," she said.

"Who?"

"The girl I ran into. We collided outside the next display room as she was about to go in. I was here with her, Mulder. I touched her. What... what if-"

He put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't. If anything was wrong it would have surfaced long ago."

She tugged her blazer down. "Yes, of course."

"But, this is useful. We can assume that Jane went into this room. Do you remember anything else?"

She shook her head. "I don't think so."

"Okay. Let's check it out." Mulder entered first and turned right. He walked to the far wall to take a closer look at a large sunset painting. Scully turned left. The ancient mirror glared down at her.

Easily the largest exhibit in the room, its mass strained at the wall. She moved forward, drawn by her reflection distorted and darkened in its dusky glass. As she got closer, her right hand lifted, warm fingertips touched ancient cold glass. "Mulder? Mulder!"

He spun around. At the opposite end of the room Scully stood in front of a great mirror. One of her hands stretched out, caressing its surface. The mirror's bulk appeared to lean forward over her. Her reflection, mutated by its rippled surface, looked out of the mirror at him as he approached. Mulder felt the muscles on the back of his neck pull tight.

Scully jerked her hand away and sidestepped to the museum's information plaque and read while Mulder examined the mirror. "The mirror is from Castle Pendramos in Cornwall, England. It belonged to Baron Edmund Morden, circa 1550. He died in a local uprising of the townspeople in 1553. The mirror is owned by the Louvre and is rarely exhibited. This is the first time it has been on display outside of France."

Mulder listened as he studied the mirror. Up close, pits and hairline fractures etched its surface. The glass had flowed over the centuries producing an irregular ripple. Much of the silvering showed hand-sized blooms of dull-gray oxidation. He turned his attention to the frame. It had been carved with hundreds of gilded gargoyles tearing at each other with daggers.

"What do you think?" Scully asked.

He backed away from the mirror. "This is it. This is where it started."

"What do you mean was?"

"There's nothing here any longer." He tapped a fingernail against the great sheet of glass. "This is just a very old mirror now. Whatever imprint it carried is gone."

He turned his back on the mirror and began inspecting the room. There were no windows. Only a thin slice of the hallway could be seen from the mirror's position. No windows or mirrors were visible there either. The room contained no reflecting surfaces. Mulder stood in its center with his hands on his hips. He looked back at Scully. "I don't get it. How did it get out?"

"It had to have been a mirror someone carried in. But Mulder, there were a lot of people who looked at this mirror before Moorpark and Simm."

A resonant gong sounded announcing the museum's closing time. A guard entered the room and stood by the door. Mulder walked over to him holding his ID card out. "Where would we find the curator?" The guard pointed to a pair of high wooden doors at the end of the main hall opposite the main entrance.

 

The door opened to the museum's restoration room. On the left, a line of cubicles formed the office area. The right opened into an open work area filled with four long wooden tables. Half a dozen technicians in black vinyl aprons busied themselves at unidentifiable artifacts.

"May I help you?" a woman's voice asked from their left. A middle-aged lady wearing thick glasses had stretched up to peer at them over the wall of the first cubicle.

"I'm Agent Mulder and this is Agent Scully. We need to ask the curator a couple of questions."

She jabbed a pencil at the work area. "He's over on bench three. The bald man working on an Egyptian tablet. It's Doctor Marlinni."

They zigzagged around the tables to the indicated bench. "Doctor Marlinni?" Mulder asked.

The little man's head came up. "That is correct," he said with an Italian accent. "And you are?"

"We're from the FBI, sir. We would like to ask you a few questions about one of your displays."

"Which would that be?"

"Baron Morden's mirror."

He smiled. "Oh yes, that. We were very lucky to get it. First time in the country, you know. The Louvre is horribly tight-fisted about their property, even if they never exhibit it. What would you like to know?"

"When did it go on display?"

"I'll have to check. It's been here many months."

They walked back to his office. The curator pulled a folder from a green file cabinet and leafed through the papers. "Yes. Here it is." He turned the folder so Mulder could read the date for himself. It was the same day Jane Moorpark was murdered.

"Thank you," Mulder said. "Can you tell me if there have been any complaints or unusual comments about the mirror?"

Worry flashed across the little man's features. "You mean like threats or something?"

"No. Just unusual statements about how people feel about it?"

He relaxed. "No. Why?"

"Nothing. It was just something we heard during an investigation. What can you tell us about the mirror?"

"Not very much really. My field is Egyptology. It came up on a listing of items the Louvre would be willing to lend out. I got an application in first so we got it."

"Thank you for your time. Would it be all right if we took one last look at the mirror on our way out?"

"Certainly. Take as long as you need. I'll tell my secretary to pass the word to the guards."

The agents walked back to the mirror room. Mulder slowly paced back and forth in front of it. "Men don't carry mirrors, Scully," he finally said.

She looked around from examining the mirror's frame. "Excuse me?"

"Our imprint moves from mirror to mirror. But men don't carry mirrors. It had to be Jane. She'd have a mirror for sure. But how'd she get it pointed at the Baron's mirror?"

He watched as Scully opened her purse and extracted a compact. She lifted the lid and mimicked checking her hair.

"Back up, Scully. Check your hair again." She repeated the actions. Mulder's voice rose in pitch. "Okay. Now, how do you check the back of your head?"

"I don't. It's short enough so that running a brush through it takes care of any tangles without having to see them." Scully's eyes widened. "But, Jane Moorpark had long hair. She'd need a second mirror." Scully turned her back to the old mirror and examined the reflection of the back of her head in it using her compact. "It works, Mulder. The image is distorted but usable. Especially if she wasn't really interested in her hair."

His eyes came together. "Come again?"

After slipping the compact back into her purse, Scully gave him a secretive smile. "While occupied with checking her hair like I just did, a woman can size up the possibilities in a room without advertising who she's watching."

Mulder eyed her. "Tell me something. Do women know this stuff from birth or do mothers teach it to their daughters during secret midnight rituals."

She dimpled. "Both." Then her smile fell away. "Where do we go from here?"

"We need to talk to Simm and see what he remembers. If his recollections mesh with our theory we've found our beginning."

"And then?"

"Pray that Ben comes up with a solution."

 

 

33

 

Virginia State Prison
Thursday, 6:12 P.M.

 

"We realize it's late, warden," Mulder said. "But we're in the middle of an investigation involving the murders of thirty-eight people. Every minute of delay puts more people at risk."

Assistant Warden Leonard Mulkins was a short stump of a man with sagging jowls and compassionate eyes. "I appreciate your position, Agent Mulder. But you need to remember that inmates, even murderers like Simm, have rights. I'm not at liberty to jerk him out of his cell anytime a peace office wants to talk to him."

Scully stepped forward. "Would it be possible to ask Mr. Simm if he would be willing to talk to us? If he is, there wouldn't be a problem."

Mulkins scratched at his head, then picked up a phone. "Preston? Ask inmate number 72443 if he'd be willing to speak to two FBI agents. It concerns his case." He hung up and looked at Scully and Mulder. "It'll take a few minutes."

They sat while guards walked long gray halls lined with cells. Questions were asked, barriers unlocked, and two guards led a man in drab gray overalls back the way they came.

 

The warden's phone rang.

"Yes. Good. Put him in interview room eight." Mulkins hung up. "He's willing to talk to you. The officer who checked you in at the reception desk will show you where to go. I hope you find what you need. Good luck."

Scully and Mulder stood to leave. "By the way," the warden said. "I've known thousands of inmates and they all say their innocent."

"And?" Mulder asked.

"Simm is the first one I've believed."

Mulder nodded and led the way out of the warden's office.

The first thing Mulder noticed as the guard ushered them into the interview room was the heavy scent of disinfectant. It made him think of a hospital. His nose puckered at the acrid smell.

"It's the crowding, Mulder," Scully said. "Prisons have such high population densities everything has to be kept hospital-sterile to keep infectious diseases under control."

An eight-foot long table filled the center of the small room. Half a dozen unmatched chairs crowded around it. They chose seats on the far side of the table and waited.

Simm arrived five minutes later. Chains draping from his handcuffs to the restraints on his ankles tinkled as a guard led him in. In prison for just a few months, Simm already walked with the beaten-dog shuffle prison life instills. He looked at Scully and Mulder with eyes filled with interest, but no hope.

"Please sit down, Mr. Simm," Mulder said.

"Thank you." Swinging the chains out of the way, he worked himself into a chair.  

"We're investigating a series of murders with elements common to your case. You may have some information that could help us."

Simm's eyes brightened. "I'll help any way I can."

"What was the last thing you remember during your date with Jane Moorpark?"

"Walking Jane to her door."

Mulder opened his hands. "We need more specifics. Fine details like what you were talking about, which hand she used to take her keys out. That sort of thing."

Simm nodded. "We'd just eaten dinner. I drove her home and walked her to her door. She invited me in for a drink. She...."

"What?"

He shook his head. "This is where my memory goes gray. She took something out of her purse."

"Do you remember what she did after taking this thing out? Forget about trying to remember what she took out. Try to imagine what Jane was doing."

Simm closed his eyes a moment, then squeezed them tight. "She's bringing her hand up, there's something in it, I think I see something white: cloth maybe. Then something falls."

"What fell?" Scully asked.

Simm's eyes popped open, staring, wide. "I see it, It's round, flat... a compact!"

He sat rock-steady; as if any movement would dislodge the image. "I picked it up. It had sprung open and I look at it. I can see myself in the mirror and...."

"What?" Mulder asked.

"That's all. Everything goes blank."

"You were going to say something more. Something you saw."

"It was nothing."

Mulder leaned forward. "Tell us."

"The mirror is old, warped. It made the image move around like it was reflecting off rippling water."

Mulder nodded. "And that's the last image you recall?"

"Yes."

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Simm." Mulder said. "You've helped a lot. It may not have any effect on your present situation but if you'd like, we'll let you know if we discover what really happened that night."

Hope lit his face. "Thank you."

Mulder got up and nodded at the guard. A key snicked as he unlocked the door. Simm started to drag himself away, his ankle chains scraping the floor.

"Mr. Simm?" Scully asked.

He turned back. "Yes?"

She studied him. "Have we ever met?"

He ran his eyes up and down her. "No, I don't believe so. Not that I remember anyway."

"I see. Thank you."

He exited the room, the guard dogging his steps.

"What was that all about?" Mulder asked.

"Nothing, I suppose. It's just that he struck me a familiar somehow. Shall we go?"

 

Mulder tossed Scully the car keys as the exited the prison. "Here. It's your turn to drive."

She climbed in and drove out to the highway. "He didn't give us much go work on, Mulder."

"It's all we're likely to get."

"Do I take that to mean you think we just got confirmation of your theory?"

"Do you want to go back to pushing your mass-hysteria idea?"

She shook her head. "No. But I was hoping for something more concrete."

"Let's hope we never find it. Ben warned us about getting too close. The only way we're gong to get undeniable proof is for one of us to become infected.

Scully shuddered. "I hope that never happens."

 

Half-an-hour later Scully pulled over in front of Mulder's apartment. "I'll call Ben and bring him up to date," she said

He leered at her. "That's nice of you."

"My pleasure, Mulder, and take that silly smile off your face." She fingered her keys a moment.

He let the grin fall away. "What is it, Scully?"

She stared straight ahead. "Ben's married, isn't he? That's why you had me drop the subject about marriage when we were having breakfast."

"He was."

She turned to him. "What happened?"

Mulder sighed. "Her name was Antoinette de Margo. They met while he was working at CERN. A year latter they married. Two years after that some drunk driving a bus ran her down."

She shook her head slowly. "How long ago was that?"

"Fourteen, fifteen years."

"He's been alone all that time?"

"Almost. Oh, he's had a couple of relationships since then but none of them took hold."

"I find that hard to believe. Ben's so-" Mulder's chuckle cut her off. "What?" she demanded.

"You. 'Is he married?' 'The poor man.' 'He's so nice.' You've really got it bad, Scully. And him old enough to be-"

Her face hardened. "You better get out, Mulder."

He opened the door and stepped out onto the sidewalk. Before he could bend down to say good-bye, she threw the car in gear and sped off. Mulder's smile stretched to his ears.

Mulder unlocked his door and stepped into the living room; light from a street lamp flooded in, washing out the small red light flashing on the answering machine.

After crunching down a snack of frosted flakes, he flopped onto the sofa and ripped open the few envelopes he'd collected from his mail box: three bills and an advertisement for a furniture sale. He rolled the ad into a ball and tossed it in a high arc at a miniature basketball hoop by the phone. The paper ball hit the orange rim and bounced sideways to the floor.

Mulder walked over to pick it up, saw the flashing light and punched the machine's button. The recorder spooled out its brief message. He punched the rewind button and listened the message a second time.

He depressed the button programmed with Scully's number.

"You have reached the residence of Dana Scul-"

Mulder jerked his ear away as a sharp clack signaled she'd snatched her phone off its hook. "Hello? This is Dana Scully."

"It's Mulder. They found Bill Valentine."

 

 

34

 

Ansera Police Headquarters
Friday, 8:49 A.M.

 

Dill shook Scully and Mulder's hands and sat behind his desk. "I'm glad you got back here so soon. We got a break late yesterday. Deputy Brophy saw three cars take the turnoff for Jackson's Pasture north of town. One of the license plates belonged to Valentine's car. I called the chief of police in Denton and got him to fly his helicopter over the area to see if that's where Valentine's gang had settled. It was."

"Do you think the helicopter spooked them?" Mulder asked.

"Doubt it. He flew high while it was dark. We got a photo with a night camera showing seven cars. From what we know of the gang that accounts for all of them. I'm leaving to supervise the arrests right now. You're welcome to come along if you like."

"Thank you," Mulder said. "What grounds will you use for the arrests? There isn't any evidence linking them to the other murders."

The sheriff shook his head. "We're not bothering with that. Jackson's Pasture is private land. I've contacted the owner and he hasn't given them permission to use it. There's a locked gate barring the entrance, which they probably broke to get in. Between trespass and property damage we should have enough to keep them off the streets long enough for your purposes." Dill rose. "Shall we go?"

 

Dill rode up front in the squad car. Scully and Mulder sat in the rear seat. Fifteen minutes outside of town they pulled onto a dirt road. Five minutes along its dusty track brought them to a smashed chain-link gate. Four police cars were parked in front of the twisted remains. Dill got out to talk to the dozen deputies standing guard. "What's the status?" he asked.

"Phillips went in at daybreak to reconnoiter. All seven cars are still there. The gang members are asleep on the ground or in the cars. There's been no movement."

Dill rubbed his chin. "Must be drunk." He raised his voice. "Okay, listen up. Phillips and Johnson, go around to the far side of the pasture. Don't move in even after we make our play. Hold your positions in case some of them try to take off on foot. Baker and Chamber, Stay here with the cars. If any of them try to use their cars to run for it, shoot out the tires. Everyone else is with me. We move in together. Once we're at the pasture we'll take both flanks. I want everyone in vests, helmets, and armed with shotguns. Assume they are armed and ready to kill. I'm ordering you to shoot anyone that attempts to escape. Just make good and sure none of us is in the line of fire. That's all."

Mulder watched as the men broke to prepare. Many fumbled awkwardly with the equipment. Not a word was spoken. Dill came over with two bullet resistant vests. "Here."

Mulder took one and handed the other to Scully. "Sheriff, we're going in to arrest a bunch of teenagers for illegal camping. Don't you think you're over preparing? The way you've got your men heated up someone's sure to get hurt."

Dill thrust his hands to his hips. "This gang is responsible for ninety-five percent of Ansera's crime yet none of the charges we've arrested them for have stuck because they beat the raps by intimidating witnesses. Three days ago we found a sixteen-year-old girl beaten to death. The day before yesterday they tied old Elsa Bellows behind one of their cars and dragged her through a rock quarry until she died. Yesterday, Jeff Peters was found gutted like a fish. He was twelve years old. This gang's on a killing spree and I plan to stop it. You're worried some of them might get killed? I'm worried they won't."

"We didn't know about the recent deaths."

Dill's eyes glistened. "Jeff Peters was my grandson."

"Come on, Mulder," Scully said. "Let's get into these vests."

Scully and Mulder helped each other don their equipment. They checked the clips in their automatics then sat on a fallen tree until the rest of the team finished preparing. Mulder stared up at the black clouds that had haunted them as long as they had worked the case. A dim electric flicker over the horizon hinted at the coming storm.

"Right!" Dill yelled. "Let's go."

The men moved forward. Yellow dust rose about their feet and drifted away like gritty fog. Scully and Mulder followed behind the main pack, squinting to keep the dust out of their eyes. Half-a-mile of walking brought them to a low rise bordering the pasture. The road flowed up the rise and disappeared down into the vale beyond. Half of the party fanned right into the cover of a groove of oaks. The remaining men followed the sheriff to the left. Scully and Mulder went with Dill's group.

Stretching up on his toes, Mulder could just make out the tops of three cars in the meadow. He ducked down.

Dill signaled to his men using hand motions. Crouching, the force advanced. They neared the crest of the rise. Everyone was down on their stomachs, inching forward. They reached the top.

At random intervals, heads along the line bobbed up to snatch a glance down into the pasture then jerked back down. One by one the heads went up and stayed up. The men started looking back and forth at each other. A voice yelled out from the vale and all the heads dropped as one.

"Sheriff Dill? It's okay. It looks like they're all dead!"

Dill and his men eased to their feet. Mulder looked into the wide, flat depression. Seven cars parked in a circle crowded around a stone-edged fire pit in the center of the pasture. Mulder counted thirteen bodies scattered in the dirt. Deputy Johnson stood in the middle of the carnage. From one hundred feet away Mulder could tell the man's face was deathly pale.

Dill led his force down the rise. He stormed ahead. "Johnson! You were told to hold position at the far side of the pasture."

"Yes, sir. But I used my binoculars and it seemed like everyone was dead. I moved forward in case any of them weren't and needed help."

"Forget it," Dill growled. "Get Phillips."

Dill's team began checking the bodies for causes of death and identification. Mulder drifted among the dead. Most of them had arms and legs that were broken, faces kicked in, or abdomens slashed with knives. Pools of congealed blood attracted hordes of flies.

"This one's still alive!" a deputy yelled.

Mulder squinted in the direction of the voice. He saw Scully straighten up from examining a body on the opposite side of the ring of cars and head towards the deputy. Mulder returned to searching his immediate area. He ran a hand over the top of a white, fifty-seven Chevy. The driver's-side mirror was broken out. Mulder stared at it a second, then moved on.

Scully circled around the fire pit.

Mulder walked over to two men lying close to each other. Their heads had been crushed. A blood-splattered, football-sized rock lay to one side. Mulder bent at the waist for a closer look at it. He nudged the stone over with a stick. Underneath it, the glittering shards of a shattered mirror sparkled at him. Mulder snapped up, rigid. He turned, scanning the site. Out of the corner of one eye he spotted Scully as she stepped close the man the deputy had found. Mulder's eyes leaped from one car to the next. All the side-view mirrors had been smashed or torn off.

Scully bent over the gang member on the ground.

Mulder stooped low. The rear-view mirrors inside the cars had also been ripped out. He saw several by the cars, crushed under foot.

Scully reached out a hand toward the man's face.

Mulder's eyes grew wide. Sudden panic tore at the back of his skull. He spun toward Scully, saw her hand resting against the unconscious man's forehead, her thumb reaching down to peel back his eyelid.

"Scully!" he screamed.

 

 

35

 

Jackson's Pasture
Friday, 11:23 A.M.

 

"Stop!" Mulder yelled and began sprinting over bodies toward her. "Don't look at his eyes!" She turned toward him, frowned and pulled her hand back. Mulder jarred to a halt next to her. "The mirrors! They smashed all the mirrors."

Scully turned her head, surveying the site. "Yes? So?"

"So, I think it means the imprint doesn't need them any more."

"But-"

"Any shiny surface could serve as a host for the imprint." Mulder stepped between the unconscious man and Scully. "Even the surface of a man's eyes."

Scully looked down at the man behind Mulder. Her eyes rounded. "I was about to check his pupils. I could have been infected."

Mulder nodded. "We need to tape his eyes closed." He looked around for Dill. The sheriff was walking toward them. "Sheriff? We need some strong tape."

Dill turned to the closest man. "Brophy, go get the tape from my backpack. I left it leaning up against that blue Dodge. Snap it up."

"Yes, sir." The man bolted off.

Scully stood and eased around Mulder to examine the man on the ground. She pressed a finger to the side of his neck. "His pulse is faint but very high." She counted seconds off her watch. "One hundred and ten beats per minute. Maybe higher." She ran testing hands over his limbs and torso, touched his forehead. "No obvious fractures or other injuries. In spite of the heart rate, all he seems to be suffering from is acute fatigue." Scully stood and turned to Dill. "This man's dehydrated and in a state of shock, my guess is from physical overexertion. He will recover but needs to be taken to a hospital as soon as possible."

Brophy rushed up with the tape. Mulder took it and ripped off a twelve-inch strip. He applied it across the man's eyes, working the tape deep into the hollows around the lids.

"Here's another live one!" a deputy shouted.

"And a third!" came a call from the opposite side of the pasture.

Mulder's head whipped around tracking the deputy's calls. The pasture, cars, the living and dead drew away. He let his eyes lose focus. His detached senses vaguely monitored the activities of those around him as a new picture of the threat they faced took shape. Nausea began to sour his stomach.

Scully examined the two new discoveries and taped their eyes closed. She double-checked all of the remaining bodies for signs of life, there were none. Scully came over to the sheriff. "All three survivors are suffering from exhaustion but otherwise uninjured. I expect they will be unconscious for several hours."

Dill glanced around him. "Agent Scully, have you looked at the other bodies?"

She nodded. "Briefly. They all appeared to have died from massive traumas."

"Tortured to death?"

"You could say that, yes."

"Thank you. Agent Mulder?" the sheriff said to him.

Mulder shook himself. "What? Yes?"

Scully's eyes narrowed. "Mulder, are you all right?"

He wiped a shaking hand down over his face. The hand came away damp.  "Later, Scully. I need more time to figure out what's happened."

"Agent Mulder," Dill said. "I've got ten dead and three exhausted. What do you make of that?"

Mulder turned to the sheriff. "Ten men died from torture. That suggests the influence of the mirror. Three men are still alive but exhausted. I believe they are infected."

"I've never liked your theory, Mulder. But this..." The sheriff swept the scene with an arm. "I don't know. How could three men overpower ten?"

Mulder turned toward Scully. He willed the jitters out of his voice. "Jeremy Stevens' autopsy showed elevated levels of adrenaline. Right?"

"That's correct."

"Adrenaline is a chemical released by the body to increase strength during crisis. Would it give three men enough strength to defeat ten?"

"Easily. There are many well-substantiated cases of mothers rolling cars over to save their children. The only problem is that if sustained for too long a period-"

"It results in complete exhaustion," Mulder finished for her.

Dill nodded. "That's as close to a smoking gun as we're likely to get. Is it safe to assume we've captured the last people infected and all we have to do is find the mirror?"

"Yes and no," Mulder said. "Assuming these are all of the gang members...."

"They are," Dill said.

"Then we've stopped the spread of infected people. The problem is that the imprint no longer needs mirrors. Something's changed."

"What?" Dill asked.

"Look at the cars. All the mirrors have been smashed. I think what happened here is that for the first time the imprint wasn't satisfied with just compelling people to kill. It found a way to leave its host mirror and personally inhabit someone."

Scully's eyes grew round, "But, Mulder. That implies-"

His expression was grim. "Things just got a lot worse."

 

The cloud of dust foretold the arrival of the small convoy of ambulances Dill had ordered. The survivors were carted away first, securely strapped to gurneys. Scully classified them as being infected with an unknown contagion to insure they'd be kept in isolation. Just before the trucks pulled away Mulder stopped them. He spent two minutes in each. Scully walked over to him as he exited the last one. "What was that about?"

"I wanted to see if they all still had the same high pulse rates."

"Did they?"

"Yes. How long can they maintain it without damaging their hearts?"

"They're young and reasonably fit. A couple of hours at least. Why?"

"I'm working on a new idea."

"Now what?"

"I think-" Scully's phone's ring cut through the quiet of the pasture. She flipped the microphone cover down. "Scully."

Mulder watched her features soften. The hint of a smile touched the corners of her mouth. "Sounds good. We'll see you then."

"Ben?" he asked after she'd closed the phone's cover.

"Yes. How'd you know?"

He grinned. "Just a lucky guess. What did he say?"

"He'll meet us at the police station around two. He's got the background information on the mirror."

Mulder's smile faded. "Hopefully it will give us an idea of how to finish this."

 

The agents spent an hour helping Dill's men sweep the site for evidence. Seventeen gallon-sized plastic bags later they headed back to the station. Ben was waiting for them. He rushed up to Scully, concern clouding his face. "You're late. I was worried something had gone wrong."

She smiled.

"Afternoon, Ben," Mulder said.

"Huh? Oh, hi, Fox," he said without turning away from her.

Mulder noticed dark circles under Ben's eyes. "What did you find out for us?"

Ben looked up. "Quite a bit. Where can we talk?"

"We've got an office in the back," Mulder said leading the way.

 

Mulder watched his friend fall into a chair. He looked over at Scully who's expression was pinched in concern. he excused herself for a minute and returned with a twenty-four ounce paper cup filled with steaming coffee. She handed it to Ben. He managed to smile through his fatigue. He took a sip. "Thanks. You just saved a man's life."

He flipped the top over on a note pad. "The first record of the mirror dates back to the summer of 1522 when it was delivered to Baron Richard Morden, lord of the town of Newlyn. There's no account of where it came from. Richard died in 1533. His son, Edmund, inherited the barony. The mirror must have been kept out of sight because there are no records of it until 1553. Shortly before that, the local constabulary had been investigating a series of disappearances. It turned out the Baron had been kidnapping criminals and torturing them to death. In 1553, they stormed the castle and found Morden in a basement room equipped as a torture chamber. The victim would meet his fate in the middle of the room while the Baron sat in a throne basking in cries of pain. On the wall opposite the throne-"

"Hung the mirror Scully and I saw in the museum," Mulder said.

"Exactly. The good people of Newlyn invoked the biblical eye-for-an-eye retribution. They used his own instruments on him for hours before letting him die. The castle was looted and burned. That's the end of that record. However," Ben flipped several pages forward. "The mirror must have survived because one fitting its description turned up on display in the fourth Duke of Bristol's residence in 1789. A series of unsolved murders followed until the mirror was placed out of sight in the basement. There is no record of anyone connecting the mirror to the deaths. The same thing happened in 1856, 1903, and lastly in 1956, shortly after the Louvre acquired it. In each instance, after an open display of the mirror, a series of murders involving torture took place. As soon as it was put away the murders stopped."

"But that's not the case this time," Scully said. "Ansera's eighty miles from the mirror. Why is the imprint able to move from one mirror to the next whereas it couldn't before?"

Mulder's husky voice filled the quiet room. "It must have learned a new trick."

Her head snapped around. "Learned? That implies consciousness."

"Not necessarily," Ben said. "Many species of animals are low enough on the evolutionary process that we have good confidence that they are unaware of themselves. None the less, they are able to adapt to their environment. Maybe that's what happened here."

Scully held up both hands, fingers splayed wide. "Wait. Wait. What happened to the theory that the mirror's influence worked by physically imprinting a reflective surface?"

Mulder leaned forward. "I was wrong. The scene at the pasture proved that."

"What? How?"

"Three people were infected simultaneously. That never happened before. These three people worked together to achieve a common goal. That's also new. Finally, the entity's found a way to abandon mirrors altogether and take direct control of a human being."

"Entity? Now you're talking like it's a-" Her eyes grew wide. "I knew it, Mulder. I knew you'd find a way to anthropomorphize this effect."

Mulder stiffened. "I didn't have to. It did it for me."

"You always do this. Every time things start to work out you come up with some unsubstantiated idea and expect me to accept it without-"

"Kathy?" Ben said.

The tightness around her mouth relaxed. "Yes?"

"The pattern of events have changed. We can't deny that. Whenever facts no longer support a theory...." he waited.

"...that theory must be abandoned in favor of one that the facts do support, regardless of how painful it is." she recited. "Doctor Joyce Kemper, nineteen forty-eight. How did you know I studied her?"

"I got a copy of your physics dissertation. You quoted her in the abstract."

She smiled, then scowled at Mulder. "What is this entity you're proposing now?"

Mulder folded his arms. "Assuming that Hugo's father shared his son's passion, then for decades the Baron's mirror witnessed countless souls being blasted from their corporal selves by unimaginable pain. It's possible that being in the presence of such intense psychic stress resulted in the mirror being imbued with the Baron's lust for torture. When someone looked into the mirror in the past, what we thought of as an imprint compelled them to follow the Baron's example. Each event it witnessed strengthened the imprint, made it more complicated, more detailed. At some point the pattern became so complex it was able to become an active participant instead of a passive observer. Its evolution snowballed after that until it was finally able to leave mirrors as its means of transport. I think the gang's predilection toward violence helped there. It had found a welcoming home."

Ben nodded. "That would also explain something that's been puzzling me: Why each new mirror the previous mirror saw didn't get just a copy of the imprint. Instead, it seemed retain its unique identity as it moved. A sense of self-being would explain that."

"Exactly." Mulder looked over at Scully. Her brow was furrowed but the hardness had gone out of her mouth. "No objections?"

"While I listened to you I tallied the dead. The count is up to fifty-one. I'm too scared to be skeptical."

"Scared of what?" Ben asked. "You've captured the latest hosts and, accepting Mulder's theory, since the entity is trapped in these hosts you don't have to worry about the mirrors."

"Tell him, Mulder."

Mulder's voice was low and quiet. "We captured three men, Ben. Three! That means three hosts. Up until now it's worked on one person at time. Not only has it found a way to leave the original mirror, it's discovered how to reproduce."

 

 

36

 

Ansera Police Station
Friday, 2:39 P.M.

 

Ben stared wide-eyed at him. Mulder held his gaze. "If it can do that three times, why not hundreds? Whatever we're dealing has found a way to spread throughout the population. He reached over and tore the receiver from the phone. "Connect me to the criminal wing of the hospital, fast!"

He drummed fingers on the desktop. "Yes? Hello? Good. This is Special Agent Mulder with the FBI. You received three prisoners about an hour ago. That's right, the men Sheriff Dill arrested. Did they arrive with their eyes taped shut? They did? Thank God. Now listen carefully. Those men have contracted a condition which will result in irreversible blindness if any light reaches their eyes. The tape must remain in place under all circumstances. Failure to do so, even if the prisoners remove them themselves, will result in the hospital being sued out of existence. I want a guard placed at each man's side to make sure that tape doesn't come off. What? Oh, okay. Here she is." Mulder passed the phone to Scully. "He needs confirmation from the doctor who generated the initial diagnosis. Back me up on the lawsuit gambit. It'll work better than an order from the Surgeon General."

She took the phone. "This is Doctor Scully. Yes, I verify everything Agent Mulder said. No, I can't give you the name of the condition, there isn't one for it yet. I also order that no other doctors attempt to remove the tape without me in attendance. This is a federal case and I'm assuming responsibility. Good, see that you do." She hung up. "Now what?"

Mulder spread his hands. "Short of killing the infected men in the hopes the entity dies with them.... "

Ben sighed. "I have an idea. Let's assume that the only way it can escape is out through the eyes to either someone else's eyes or another mirror. That's why they destroyed the mirrors in the pasture; they were afraid their human hosts might start resisting and the entities would be forced back into the mirrors."

"If that is the case," Scully said. "It implies that the entity's hold on a host is tenuous."

"Precisely," Ben said leaning closer. "Therefore, if we expose each of the hosts to a mirror, I'll bet the entity will be compelled to leave them and go to it."

"Why?" Scully asked.

"The entities are driven to cause pain; they feed on it. Tied to a hospital bed there's little chance of that. Transferring back to a mirror gives them the hope of finding another host that's able to satisfy this hunger."

Mulder leaned back, forgotten from the conversation.

"Assuming your idea of capturing the entity works-"

"Entities," Ben said.

"Entities," she agreed. "If it works, what then?"

"Then I kill it." He sagged in his chair. "But right now I'm all in. I booked a room next to you in the hotel. I need some sleep so I can think straight."

Scully leaned forward and rested her hand on his arm. "You've been doing great, Ben. Thanks."

Mulder nodded and smiled to himself.

Ben grinned, forced himself to stand, and dragged out of the room.

Mulder looked at her with the same look he gave her the time she accidentally ejected the magazine from her gun during a firearms qualification.

She caught his leer. "What?"

Mulder mimicked her voice and batted his eyelids. "You've been doing great, Ben." He offered her a sickly smile. "Really, Scully. Did you have to be so corny? I half expected you to give him a kiss on the forehead after that."

The smile she'd worn for Ben soured. "Give it a rest, Mulder." She stood up. "We better get to the hospital with some mirrors. The sooner we have control of the situation the better I'll feel."

A secret smile played across his lips as she marched out of the room.

 

After raiding a hardware store, they quickly rigged a system of blankets, mirrors, and music stands that would safely let them expose the mirrors, and nothing else, to the prisoner's eyes. Mulder positioned an infected man at one end of a tunnel formed by draping a blanket over the man's head at one end and a music stand holding a mirror at the other. Then he tied a heavy cord to one corner of the duct-tape blindfold. Scully set up an EKG machine to monitor heart action.

The men were awake and showed racing pulses indicating the presence of the entity. Mulder gripped the cord and braced himself against the first prisoner's chair. The guard clapped his hands on either side of the man's head. Mulder grinned at Scully. "He's not going to like this."

"Like what?" the man yelled. "You lousy pig bast-"

Mulder jerked his arm down.

The prisoner's scream drowned out the sound of the tape ripping off his face.

Mulder waited for a dramatic reaction as the entity fled to the mirror. He was disappointed.

There was a momentary pause in the endless stream of profanity the man hurled at them, but that was all. Scully gave Mulder a thumbs-up signal without taking her eyes off the EKG. The man's pulse rate had dropped from one hundred and twenty to eighty. They repeated the procedure with the other two prisoners, carefully covering the mirrors with paper sleeves after each capture. By dinnertime they were breathing easier.

 

 

Scully and Mulder briefed Dill in his office. "So you see, sir," Mulder said. "It appears the situation is under control. We'll remove the mirrors and that's the last Ansera should see of this problem."

"When will you take them away?"

"Tomorrow. They're locked in the hospital's safe with specific instructions not to be touched."

"Good," Dill said. "What about the three gang members we arrested?"

Mulder shrugged. "That's up to you."

"Then you should know I intend to prosecute them for the last three murders. It may not have been their fault but it's the only way I'll ever get them off the street. Are you okay with that?"

Mulder rubbed his chin. A day's growth of whiskers rasped against his hand. "It's your jurisdiction, Sheriff. We'll back you." Mulder raised an eyebrow at Scully.

She studied the floorboards in Dill's office a full minute before raising her head and nodding.

"Good," Dill said. He shook their hands. "Thank you for all your help. I'm sorry I doubted you but...."

"That's all right, Sheriff," Mulder said. "We're used to it."

 
They drove back to their motel. Mulder waved a hand at Scully as he trudged into his room. He dropped onto the bed without removing his suit and let fatigue close his eyes. As the dark oblivion of sleep engulfed him, mirror-eyed specters drifted out of the void shouting soundless warnings at him.

 

 

37

 

Balmural Motel
Friday, 11:53 P.M.

 

The nubbly surface of the worn bed sheet grated across Scully's legs. She shifted her position. The nubs scrapped over her skin, sending shivers of nervous itching coursing up her limbs. She lay flat, the mattress was uneven; she punched the pillow, it stayed lumpy; she threw off the covers, the hotel room's dank air clung to her. Scully's bloodshot eyes opened and stared at the cracked ceiling. I hate fieldwork.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed. Her feet cringed from contact with the cold floor. Sudden hunger growled in her stomach.

Scully straightened and swiped her hands backward over her face, sweeping tangled red hair out of the way. She pushed herself up, dressed and left for the motel's all-night diner.

She paused by Mulder's room, her knuckles hovering an inch from his door. No light leaked from around the olive drapes blocking his window. The arm dropped. She headed down the landing. Ben's room came into view, ruddy green light filtering through his drapes. Scully smiled and knocked. Scrambling sounds worked their way through the door.

"Who is it?"

"Scul- It's Kathy, Ben."

Ben jerked the door open. She grinned as he struggled to pull his robe closed and feel around for his slippers with a foot. Red suffused his face but the smile in his eyes warmed her.

"Kathy. It's good to see... I mean... " He looked down at himself. He'd managed to jam a foot part way into one slipper; his big toe had missed and stuck out on the side. The robe hung crooked, making one of his shoulders look higher than the other. A lock of reddish-brown hair had escaped and hung down his forehead.

Scully stifled a laugh.

Ben grinned. "Okay. Go ahead, let it out. Someday I'm going to catch you like this and then it'll be my turn to... "  His blush brightened. "I didn't mean-"

Scully felt her ears grow hot. She shook the threatening blush off by glancing up and down the landing. Her ears cooled and she was able to look at him again. "I couldn't sleep and thought I'd try your hot-cocoa cure. Care to join me? I owe you one."

His smile spread across his face. "Sounds great. Give me a few minutes?"

She nodded. "I'll be in the diner."

"I'll be there."

 

Ben arrived ten minutes later, beaming. She waved to him from a booth near the rear of the restaurant.

He slid in sideways on the red vinyl seat across from her. "Thanks for the invite. It's been ages since I've been asked out by an FBI agent."

Her smile reflected his. "The pleasure's mine."

The waitress came over and pulled out her receipt pad. "Two hot chocolates please," Scully said.

"And a small dish of vanilla ice cream," Ben added.

Without moving her head, the waitress's eyes shifted from Ben to Scully. They smiled innocently at her. She left, shaking her head. Ben turned his smile back to Scully. "How'd it go today?"

"Mulder and I got the entities back into mirrors. They're locked in the hospital's safe."

"Any problems?"

"None. After everything that's happened it was an anticlimax."

"Don't relax yet. We still have to destroy the thing and that may be tough."

"Why not just bury the mirrors or lock them away?"

"This entity's survived four-hundred and fifty years. There's no place on earth we could hide it where it wouldn't eventually surface again. Then the killings would start all over."

"How are you going to destroy it?"

Ben massaged his chin. "That's right. That is supposed to be my job, isn't it? Well, to tell you the truth I don't know. There just isn't have enough information to suggest a solution. I've been thinking of a way to get more data but...."

"But what?"

"There's an element of danger and-" The waitress dropped two mugs of cocoa and a small dish of ice cream between them. Scully and Ben jerked back, surprised at the woman's sudden appearance. The waitress's eyes completed a second suspicious dance between Scully and Ben, then she left to return to her post by the register. Scully saw her cross her arms and stare at them.

Ben divided the ice cream in half and added it to their cups. Scully slurped at the rich brew. She looked up in time to see the waitress nod. The woman began talking to a man at the counter and pointing at them. The man turned their way briefly, then looked away, adding his shaking head to the waitress's.

"All we need now is a fireplace," Ben said. He had a thin mustache of cream on his upper lip. She reached across the table with her napkin and wiped it off. "Thanks."

Scully felt her smile grow, then a crease formed between her eyebrows.

"Something wrong?"

"What? No. I was just thinking about something Mulder said."

"Important?"

She looked into his eyes. "No. Yes." She sighed. "I'm afraid it might be." Scully looked down and concentrated on her drink. She felt Ben's eyes on her. She drained the last of the cocoa. "We better go."

"Kathy?"

She stared at the dregs at the bottom of her mug, not willing the look into his face. "Ben, I think it would be better, easier, if you stopped calling me Kathy."

He leaned back. "Oh?"

She looked up quickly. "Don't get me wrong. I haven't minded, really." She opened her hands. "It's just that Mulder's having a field day making more out of it than there is."

Ben slowly straightened in his seat. Scully felt something invisible rise between them.

"Of course," he said. "I can see how that might be awkward... and embarrassing."

She laid her hand on his forearm. "Not embarrassing, Ben. Not at all."

Ben stared at her hand a moment, then reluctantly slipped his arm out from underneath it. A forced lightness came his face. "So, what's it to be? Are we back to Agent Scully or do you think we can get by with Dana?"

"Dana will be fine." She tried to smile but something kept the corners of her mouth turned down.

"Well," Ben said as he thrust himself up. "That's settled. Shall we go?"

Scully nodded and reached for her purse. Ben pulled a five from his pocket and let it fall to the table. She raised a hand to remind him the cocoa was her treat, but he'd turned away. She flashed him a short smile as she stepped through the diner's door. His features were impassive and distant. Outside, Scully looked up at the night sky. White pinpoints of light blinked down through a small hole in the clouds. "The stars are bright tonight."

Ben's followed her gaze. "On a good night at my place the Milky Way stretches from one horizon to the other. I'd like to show it to you-" He broke off and headed toward his room. Scully trailed after him.

Ben turned to her when they reached his door. "Knock on my door when you and Mulder go to breakfast. I'll join you, if you don't mind." He stepped halfway into his room.

She nodded. "Six okay? Mulder wanted to get an early start."

"Six is good. See you then... Dana"

"Ben."

"Yes?"

She rubbed her palms together. They felt dry, rough. "I was thinking-"

Ben shook his head. "I can guess at what Mulder's worried about and he has a point. Maybe we better leave it at that."

Ben gently closed his door. Scully stared at it a minute before turning toward her room. Her feet seemed to drag over the landing, getting heavier with every step away from Ben.

Scully undressed and slipped back between the covers of her bed. The sheets still itched her legs, the mattress was still lumpy and the air felt heavier than before. She squirmed to her back and glared at the ceiling. Damn you, Mulder.

 

 

38

 

Balmural Motel
Saturday, 6:02 A.M.

 

Mulder tapped on Scully's door. He heard muted grumblings coming from inside. The vacuum created when she jerked the door open tugged his hair into his eyes. He swept it back with a hand. "Morning, Scully. How did you-"

She turned her back on him to snatch a small, black-leather purse from a table. She wore newly polished matching shoes, a crisply pressed black pants suit, and hair that looked like an explosion in a mop factory. Scully about-faced and stalked toward the door, pushing Mulder to the side as she stormed by.

"Scully?" He called after her.

She spun around. "What do you want, Mulder?"

He nodded at her hair. "You might want to run a comb through your-"

"Since when were you appointed my stylist?" She whirled around and marched off. Half way down the landing he saw her yank a brush out of the purse and begin ripping it through her hair. Mulder waited until she reached the stairs before deciding it was safe to start after her.

They met as she paused in front of the restaurant's door. Mulder stretched an arm out to open it but she blocked the gesture and straight-armed her way through. The door closed on his face.

Mulder entered to find Scully stopped between the door and the fourth booth up on her left where Ben sat with his back to them. Mulder grinned and nodded. He breezed by her. "Come on, Scully. Waitresses hate to serve standing customers. They never know where to put the plates." Mulder slid in opposite Ben. "Morning. How'd-"

Ben blinked bloodshot eyes at him.

"Not you too," Mulder said.

"Me too what, Fox?" Ben said with a sour voice.

"You and Scully. You both look like bargain day at a mortuary."

"Oh." Ben returned his attention to nursing the mug of coffee in his hands.

Mulder looked up as Scully approached the booth. She hesitated as if trying to decide which of two evils she wanted to sit next to. She finally eased into his side. A waitress in a pink apron came over with a coffee pot. She filled Scully and Mulder's cups and freshened Ben's. He managed a weak smile. She began pulling menus out of her apron.

Mulder held up a hand. "I think we'll order blind. I'd like a stack of buttermilk pancakes tall enough to scrape the ceiling, sausage links, hot maple syrup and butter." He raised his eyebrows at Ben.

"Just toast, please."

The waitress looked at Scully. "Ma'am?"

"Toast, wheat, no butter," she said without taking her eyes off her coffee.

The waitress scribbled three lines and left. Mulder saw Scully rub her fingertips into her temples. "What's going on, Scully? I can't tell if you're mad at me, Ben, or the world in general. What happened-"

"Hello again!"

Mulder turned to see a second waitress approaching. She had the exhausted look of someone getting off an all-night shift. She strode up, smiling at Scully and Ben. "I have to apologize to you two. When I saw you put that ice cream in your hot cocoa this morning I figured you were crazy. I tried it later and it was great. Thanks for the idea. My kids will love it." She sailed out front door.

Mulder looked across at Ben who shrugged and gulped his coffee. Scully fidgeted in her seat. Mulder smirked. "You two met for a late-night snack?"

Scully sighed. "I couldn't sleep and saw Ben's light on so I asked him to join me. Do you have a problem with that, Mulder?"

"No. I was just wondering if this was becoming a regular event?"

Scully pierced him with a stare. He looked over at Ben who shook his head in warning. Mulder smiled to himself.

Their waitress arrived with the meal. Mulder applied himself to his pancakes while Scully and Ben crunched their toast and worked at not looking at each other.

"Last night Ben stated he had an idea how we can obtain more information about the entity," Scully said in a professional tone.

Mulder dabbed at some butter on his tie. "What do you have, Ben?"

Ben took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "The only one who can tell us how to deal with the entity is the entity itself," Ben said. "We've got to communicate with it."

"That's going to be difficult considering it doesn't have vocal cords." Scully said.

Mulder's eyes grew wide. "It could. If we gave it some."

"Gave it some?" Scully said. "How?"

Mulder looked at her and waited. He saw her eyes swell with understanding. Mulder nodded. "If we're ever going to beat this thing we have to know what makes it tick. This is the only way."

"It's insane!" she said. "We've seen what people are capable of under its power. And you want to expose yourself to it on purpose?"

"Actually, " Ben said. "I was thinking I'd be the best subject."

The color drained from Scully's face.

"How do you figure?" Mulder asked.

"It's my job to determine out how to get rid of this thing and the best way for me to understand how to do that is to experience its influence directly. You're a good cop, Mulder, but your scientific training leaves a lot to be desired. I'm the only one here with the right type of expertise. Besides," he added sourly. "I'm older than you two and therefore have less to lose."

Mulder felt the weight of his stare.

Ben's expression was grim. "You'd have to agree with that, wouldn't you, Mulder?"

Mulder tried to ignore Scully's burning glare.

Ben forced an empty chuckle. "If that's not a good enough reason, consider this. If something goes wrong and one of you are the guinea pig I could be sued for damaging government property."

Scully turned troubled eyes on Ben. "Mulder couldn't get any information from Susan Valentine while she was under the entity's spell. How can we be certain you'll answer questions once you're under its influence?"

"Susan wasn't inhabited by the demon. That ability came later. She only reacted to its compulsion. Now that it's learned how to take over an individual I'm hoping it'll be more responsive to questioning."

Scully leaned forward. "That's not good enough. Considering the risk involved, we need a greater assurance of success to justify exposing you to that level of danger."

"Truth serum," Mulder said.

Scully creased her forehead. "You want to try and drug a ghost?"

"Essentially, yes. We'll give it to Ben before he's exposed to the mirror. The effects should continue during the inhabitation, making the entity willing to answer our questions."

Mulder watched conflicting emotions play across Scully's face. She finally nodded. "When we stop by the hospital to collect the mirrors, I'll see what's it the pharmacy."

They traded nods and left. "I'll ride along with you two, if that's okay?" Ben said.

Mulder scanned the parking lot. "What about your car?"

"I caught a tour shuttle out of the park."

"You're on, then," Mulder said.

"Good. Thanks." He got in the rear seat. Scully took the front passenger's seat without a word.

 

 

Mulder and Ben retrieved the mirrors while Scully visited the pharmacy. Twenty minutes later the men sat in the car waiting for her. Mulder lounged behind the wheel. Ben stretched across the rear seat and stared up at the car's roof. He cleared his throat. "Scully said you've been giving her a lot of static about my calling her Kathy. Why?"

Mulder twisted around to look at his friend over the top of the front seat. "No reason, really. Just the teasing that goes on between partners."

"She took it seriously."

Mulder's smile fell away. "Maybe it's good she did."

Ben pursed his lips. "You're probably right, Fox." He turned to look at Mulder. "Damn lousy timing, don't you think?"

Mulder shrugged. "Five, even six years might work. But ten are just too many. Sorry, Ben."

"So am I, Fox."

"Her she comes." Mulder said. He leaned to open the passenger door for Scully. Ben jostled himself upright.

She tossed a small white paper bag into the car then followed it in. "All I could get was thiopental sodium, a bit archaic but it'll work."

Mulder pulled away from the curb and set the car heading south on Clement.

Scully twisted to face Ben. "When you're under the influence of the entity your adrenaline levels will elevate. This could reduce the effectiveness of the drug so I'll have to increase the dose."

"Any problems with that?" Ben asked.

"You'll be groggy for a couple of hours afterward but that's all."

"I'll have to be careful what I say. There may be some things best kept to myself."

Mulder stared at Ben through the rear view mirror.

"Actually," Scully said. "Thiopental isn't a truth serum. The drug lowers the individual's desire to resist suggestion. If we suggest to you to tell the truth you will. Or at least you'll be more likely to do so than under normal conditions. The greater to dosage, the less the subject is able to resist a suggestion."

"Then why not load me up and remove any uncertainty?"

"Because it also induces unconsciousness. The more I give you the closer you'll get to being asleep. The trick is to balance the two effects. Before you're exposed to the mirror you will be almost unconscious. Once you've been inhabited the increased adrenaline flow will stimulate mental functions so you will wake up. Afterwards, you'll probably fall asleep for the rest of the day."

"Anything else?"

"Have some aspirin on hand. Like scopolamine, thiopental can give its subjects severe headaches."

He nodded grimly and looked away. Scully watched him a minute before facing forward. Mulder turned onto the 64 and brought the car up to highway speed. An empty silence filled the car.

 

 

Mulder pulled up in front of Ben's cabin. He unlocked the trunk and lifted out a heavily padded bundle. Carrying the mirrors far out in front of him, he gingerly stepped through the front door Scully held open for him. Inside, Ben was already busy pushing furniture towards the sides of the room. Scully walked its perimeter, drawing drapes to cover the windows and removing anything with a shiny surface. Mulder turned to Ben. "We'll need a chair, something heavy with sturdy arms, and strong rope."

Ben ducked his head toward the kitchen hallway. Mulder followed him to a small den opposite the master bedroom. An old, high-backed chair stood in one corner. Thick, red velvet cushions faded to tepid pink padded a frame of three-inch oak timbers. Mulder grimaced.

Ben spread his hands. "It came with the house."

Mulder and Ben got on either side of the chair and heaved upward on its arms. They succeeded in carrying it halfway down the hallway before letting it crash to the floor. A tremor ran through the cabin.

"You two okay in there?" Scully called out.

"Oh, yeah," Mulder gasped. "Great."

The men stared at each other across the chair. "To hell with the carpets," Ben suggested. "Let's drag the monster."

They managed to manhandle the chair the rest of the way into the living room. Scully stood in the middle of the room. She had a small glass bottle inverted over a syringe. "How much do you weigh, Ben?"

"One-seventy-five."

Mulder watched her eyes squint in calculation. She nodded and pulled down on the plunger until the amber liquid filled three-quarters of the syringe, withdrew the needle, and eased the plunger up to clear the bubbles. Scully nodded, satisfied. She looked up at Ben. "I'm giving you twice the usual dose for a man of your weight. It's going to have a kick like a horse. Are you ready?"

Ben's lips tightened. "Who could be ready for something like this?" He sighed and sat in the chair.

She nodded at Mulder. "Tie him down."

"Now?"

"Right now. I want to get this over as soon as possible. His breakfast has left his stomach by now. If we wait until after lunch it'll be another four hours before we could proceed. He may have some nausea as it is."

Mulder worked ten minutes tying Ben's arms, legs, and torso to the chair. Ben grimaced as the ropes bit into his flesh. Scully stood back, her right hand holding the syringe, the left crossed under the arm, bracing it.

Mulder set up a music stand facing the chair. A tie served as a strap to secure Ben's head to the headrest on the chair's tall back. Mulder then took one of the sleeved mirrors from the padded bundle and placed it on the music stand. He threw a heavy, opaque blanket over the stand and Ben's head. "That's it, Scully. I can't think of anything else to do."

"Then let's get it over with," she said and stepped toward Ben.

"Please," Ben said in a voice muffled by the blanket. "This isn't as comfortable as, ouch!... it looks."

"Sorry, Ben. My hand shook. I want you to start counting forward. The slurring of your speech patterns will help indicate the effect of the drug." She pulled a chair next to Ben and placed her fingers on the inside of his wrist. She counted his pulse off against her watch. "He's running about eighty-five beats per minute. That's a little fast but normal under the circumstances."

Mulder nodded and stood by the music stand. Ben's slow counting filled the room. "One, two, three..."

They counted silently with him.

"Twenty, twenty-one, twenty-thow, twenthy-threeee..."

Scully looked up and shook her head at Mulder. "Not yet."

She kept her hand around his wrist.

"Thirthy-five, thrithy-sssix..."

"His pulse is slowing. It's dropped to seventy-one." She took another count. "Sixty-four."

"Fifthy-thoww, fifthy... fifthy-five, fifthy... "

"He's almost asleep," Scully said. "His pulse is fifty-eight and steady. The drug should be at maximum effectiveness. We better get moving."

"How do you know it's working?"

"I have faith in science, Mulder. But, if you'd like verification ask him a question. Something he wouldn't normally admit to. Just don't make it anything too embarrassing or you'll be looking for a new friend when this is all over. Always preface questions with an imperative statement to speak the truth. The drug doesn't automatically force veracity."

Mulder thought a moment. "I want you to answer truthfully, did you believe me when we were kids and I told you my sister Samantha had been kidnapped by aliens?"

Scully frowned at him. "That's getting pretty close to the edge Mulder. He'll remember all this."

Mulder waved her off.

The mound under the blanket that was Ben's head twisted against its restraint. "Nnooo."

"What did you think?"

"That she jutht ran away."

An edgy note crept into Mulder's voice. "Why did you tell me you believed me?"

"No one elseth would. You needed someone who believed in you."

Scully put a hand on Mulder's forearm. "Mulder. Drop this. It isn't fair."

He nodded. "I know, but I've wanted to know for decades. I still miss her, Scully. She had the most beautiful smile in the world."

"Nnooo. Kathy's iss."

Mulder jerked his eyes toward Scully. Hers were already up, wide, then they tightened. "I warned you, Mulder." She checked her watch. "Time's up. Give the suggestion that he'll remember everything he experiences then expose him to the mirror."

"Listen to me." Mulder said. "You will remember everything that happens here today. Everything." Mulder's right hand snaked up under the blanket and groped for the mirror. The paper sleeve rustled with the shaking of his fingers. He jerked it off the mirror.

"Ben," Scully called out loud and clear. "Look at the mirror."

Her fingers tightened on his wrist. Mulder saw her eyes focus in concentration, then widen. "His pulse is accelerating! Racing. Must be over a hundred and twenty. Even faster now. Wait, it's evening out. I measure it at one-forty-five." She shook her head. "We can't keep him that high very long."

Mulder nodded and turned to the blanketed mass before him. "Can you hear me?"

"Yes!"

Scully and Mulder's heads jerked up. The voice resonated with strength and clarity. "Where am I?" it demanded.

"I want you to answer truthfully, what are you?"

"We are Benjamin Lacey."

"Who are we?"

"WE are we."

"What do you want?"

"Cries of pain! And... home." Mulder detected a wistful tone in the voice.

"Why do you want to hear cries of pain?"

"We must hear. It is what we are, all we have been, all we will ever be, need to be. We live on it."

"Where is home?"

"Where we came into being, where we left. Home is us."

Scully waved for attention. "His pulse is up to one-fifty-five. We can't let it stay there. Wrap this up fast."

Mulder nodded. He turned back to Ben. "I want you to say the truth. How can you be killed?"

"We can't. We've lived forever and will always be."

"Mulder! One-seventy-five. This is killing him."

"Right." He turned back to Ben; "I want you to do as I say. I want you to go back to the mirror. Go back, now." Mulder looked at Scully. Her eyes were closed, concentrating on Ben's pulse. She shook her head. He waited. A minute later she shook her head again. Mulder repeated his command. "Go back to the mirror now!"

Scully kept shaking her head. "His pulse is still accelerating! Ben can't take this long before his heart gives out. I think it's trying to kill him."

Mulder shouted into his friend's ear. "Do as I command go back..."

Scully jumped up. "Mulder! That's not working. Think of something or Ben's dead in two minutes!"

Mulder looked from her to Ben. He took four quick, nervous steps back and forth. His eyes suddenly expanded. "Scully! Get to the side of the room." He pointed to the far corner near the hall to the guestrooms. Over there, where you can't see Ben's eyes or the mirror. And what ever happens, stay there."

She dashed to the corner.

Mulder moved around until he stood behind Ben's blanket-draped form. Before Scully could react, Mulder jerked the blanket off Ben and looked past his friend's head into the mirror. "This is what you want, isn't it? Someone who's not tied down. Someone who's free. Come on!" Mulder yelled. "Come and get me!"

Mulder concentrated on the mirror's surface. He could sense Ben straining at the ropes. Scully drew the pistol from the holster clipped to her waist.

"You'll never get a better opportunity!" Mulder shouted past Ben's ear.

She raised her gun.

"Your best chance!" he yelled

The weapon's safety snicked off.

"NOW!" Mulder screamed.

It happened.

The mirror rippled like someone breathing his soul into a pool of mercury. Mulder snapped his eyes shut, whipped the blanket up and over the mirror and threw himself to the floor. He lay still, forcing himself to take slow, deep breaths. After a minute's labored breathing he felt better and started to push himself up.

"Don't move," Scully ordered.

"It's okay. I gambled that...."

"I said don't move!"

Mulder froze in mid crouch. "Whatever you say."

"Lay down on your stomach, flat, legs spread... wider! Now put your hands in your front pockets, deep, all the way.

Mulder lay with his eyes turned to the left. He watched Scully's feet walk around the extreme perimeter of the room until they disappeared above his head. The floorboards creaked with her approach. Cold, hard metal touched the back of his skull. His nose prickled at the faint odor of gun oil. He jerked slightly at the touch of her warm finger at his throat. It felt around, found its target, pressed steady a minute. He felt the big vein on the side of his neck pulse against the pressure of her finger. She pulled the finger and the cold metal pulled away.

"You can get up," she said. "Your pulse is normal."

He drew himself up, slapping dust off his trousers.

She offered him an apologetic smile. "I had to be sure. Now, do you want to explain what you were doing."

Mulder snatched up the paper sleeve and walked over to the blanket-draped music stand. His hands vanished under the blanket as he struggled to cover the mirror. "I gambled that there had to be a delay between the moment the entity jumped from Ben to the mirror and from the mirror to me. By moving fast enough I beat it to the punch."

She cocked an eyebrow. "That was a dangerous gamble."

Mulder shrugged. "Robert Simm said he saw Jane Moorpark's mirror shimmer before he lost his memory. He wouldn't have been able to remember that if there hadn't been some kind of time delay." Mulder inclined his head toward Ben. "Let's get him untied and into bed."

With Scully's help, Mulder got Ben's unconscious form into his room. Scully left while Mulder pulled off his friend's shoes and threw a blanket over him.

Mulder returned to the living room. Scully had already pushed most of the furniture back in place. The mirror was back with the others in the padded bundle. Scully and Mulder foraged for lunch and waited for Ben to sleep off the effects of the drug.

 

 

Groans began emanating from Ben's room at five. Mulder jumped up but Scully waved him down. "Let me." With the glass of water in one hand and three extra-strength aspirins in the other, she disappeared into Ben's room. She returned almost immediately.

Ben followed a few minutes later. The heels of his slippers dragged on the floor as he shuffled forward. "I feel like I just ran a marathon," Ben said to Scully.

"From your pulse rate while you were under the entity's influence, you did."

"How close was it?"

"You could have lasted another sixty seconds. That's all."

Ben collapsed into a chair.

"So it's a good thing we didn't need that minute," Mulder said. "Do you remember anything?"

Ben concentrated on the water glass still clutched in his hands. It trembled. "I remember everything." He took a drink and looked at Mulder, then Scully without smiling. "Everything."

Mulder steered the conversation away from personal matters. "Then you know how to stop it?"

"Yes." Ben took another drink. "But to do it you and Scully have to commit a federal crime."

 

 

39

 

Museum of Antiquities
Washington, DC
Saturday, 10:37 P.M.

 

"I don't like this, Mulder," Scully whispered.

"Relax and enjoy it. Think of it as research," Mulder whispered as he pressed his back against the brick wall near the museum's rear entrance. Unshielded lights on the building's corners flooded the alley with the a harsh, yellow light. Poor planning caused the lights to be placed too far back on the sides of the building so that the structure's corners cut into the glare. Mulder had parked in the shadowy triangle of darkness created by the blockage. He looked left and right. No one was in sight.

"Research?" Scully asked.

Mulder peeled himself off the walk and knelt down by the door. "Sure. This experience will help you develop an understanding of the criminal mind, how it works, and-"

"Get us three to five in prison for trespass, theft and creating an international incident?"

"Now you've got the idea. Damn, this thing's not working."

"What?"

"The pick-gun. Take a look."

Mulder held a device in his right hand that looked like a thin metal finger mounted on a pistol grip. The finger slid into the keyway of a lock and pulling the trigger drove pistons in the finger outward to engage the lock's tumblers, a twist of the wrist and the lock opened, in theory. Tonight, theory wasn't working.

She scrunched down to study the door. "What's it loaded with?"

Mulder checked the numbers on the side of the finger. "A number four apex."

"Try a seven. It should be a closer fit to this old lock."

The device's handle disgorged six different apexes. The number seven fell into Mulder's hand; the remaining five clattered to the pavement. Scully and Mulder froze.

The clinks of metal objects hitting concrete died away and their hearts started beating again. Mulder jammed the apex into the gun's receptacle and stuck it in the door while Scully scrambled to retrieve the fallen pieces. Mulder pulled the trigger. The pistons slipped out, felt their way into position and snicked home. Mulder grinned and rotated the handle. The lock's bolt slipped smoothly back into its socket. Mulder pulled the door open a crack and flowed through. "Coming, Scully?" She slid after him and he pulled the door closed.

They stood still in the darkness, hearts pounding, mouths wide open so they could breath without making a sound. "Hear any alarms?" Mulder hissed.

"We wouldn't even if they went off. They'd be silent. If your friends in the Lone Gunmen didn't succeed at hacking into the security system we're going to have a lot of explaining to do."

"Frohike promised he'd clear the way."

"We'll know soon enough."

Mulder took a step and froze. In the distance a siren came to life, grew louder, and then faded. He smiled into the darkness. "I'm glad I'm a cop. My nerves couldn't take the life of a criminal." Mulder moved deeper into the museum. "The breaking-and-entering part of the job is over, now for grand-theft historical-artifact."

Small bright spots from their penlights traced arcs over the floor of the warehouse area of the museum. Immediately in front of them an almost solid wall of wood crates rose up ten feet. Off to Mulder's right, a dark gap broke the continuity of the barrier. They entered the six-foot-wide corridor formed by stacked crates. As they worked their way forward, Mulder's light flashed across black identification stamps from a dozen countries. The corridor ended at a second locked door. Mulder bent at the waist to examine the lock. "It's a Yale, new. That's a six?"

"Right."

He switched apexes. The door opened silently. They tiptoed into the restoration room with its long, dark benches. Shadowy mounds covered with dust cloths marked the sites of works-in-progress. Scully and Mulder hurried across the room. The door to the exhibit hall opened without having to be picked. They tiptoed their way into the great hall, counting off marble pillars for reference. "I make that four pillars. You?" Mulder asked.

"Yes." Scully's voice came to him out of the darkness a few feet behind him. Nervous excitement gave it a brittle, rattled hoarseness.

"Hang in there, Scully. We're almost done." He shined his light to the left. its button-sized spot of yellow brilliance traveled across the floor and up the wall. It panned left, then right and stopped. The door was closed.

Mulder took the D-shaped handle in his right hand and pulled. Nothing happened. He checked for a lock. There wasn't any. He pulled again, harder. The massive, oak door began an outward drift. He let it rotate a moment under its own inertia then leaned his shoulder against the door to stop it. He turned to Scully. His beam hit her in the face. The yellow light turned her face jaundiced. "You look terrible. Been getting enough sleep lately?"

She scowled. "Quit fooling around. Let's get this over with."

He turned and eased through the door. They walked to their left. The mirror hung heavily from the wall, its top leaning forward as if trying to break loose from its restraints. They played their flashlights over the rippled glass. The ancient silvering seemed to drink up as much light as it reflected.

"Mulder," Scully said. "That thing must weigh a thousand pounds. How are we going to move it?"

He circled around, the beam from his flashlight slicing through the air. "We're not." Mulder walked back the way they'd come and grabbed a metal trash just inside the door. He turned and advanced on the mirror.

"Mulder, you can't...."

He hurled it into the mirror's heart. It struck and glass exploded outward. Thick, wedge-shaped shards of amber flew through the air and skittered across the polished marble floor. Scully and Mulder ducked to keep airborne glass from impaling them. They kept their eyes closed until the last faint tinkle died away, then turned back toward the mirror. The frame was an empty ruin with broken glass a foot deep at its base. The rest of the floor was covered with amber slivers. Mulder raised his right eyebrow at Scully. "What were you going to say I couldn't do?"

An old-style mechanical alarm started a frenzied clanging somewhere in the rear of the museum.

Mulder leaped forward and began kicking madly through the glistening rubble beneath the frame. He grabbed two book-sized pieces of mirror and scrambled across the glass-littered floor toward the exit. His shoes made grinding sounds as glass shards cut deep scratches into the marble. "Come on!"

They plunged back through the museum, the beams from their flashlights careened, making their shadows jump insanely on the building's walls. They paused by the outer exit. Mulder eased the door open and stuck his head out. "All clear."

They slipped out and clung to the wall as they made for their car. A siren's wail froze them. It grew louder, reached a crescendo. Another joined it, then a third. Scully and Mulder were surrounded.

"Run!" Mulder yelled.

They sprinted to the car and got in. Mulder threw the mirror fragments onto the rear seat and got the motor racing before Scully closed her door. He didn't move. His fingers squeezed the steering wheel.

"Come on, Mulder! Get going. Somewhere, anywhere."

He stared forward. "What does every criminal do when he hears a siren?"

"Run from it, of course. Just like we should be doing."

"And what happens to most of them?"

"They get caught."

"I thought that's what you'd say." Mulder pulled out slowly and rolled forward. He nosed the car into the wall near the door they'd broken into, then climbed out and leaned nonchalantly against the hood.

Red and blue flashing lights converged on the museum from both ends of the alley. Two cars closed in on either side of Scully and Mulder, boxing them in. A third squad car squealed to a stop. He smiled into the police car's headlights and held up his ID. Officers from all three cars emerged as one with their hands resting on their weapons. Mulder held his position, waiting for the police to come to him. The police sirens died out. Only the museum's alarm filled the uneasy quite.

One officer stepped forward, examined Mulder identification, handed it back and waved the rest of the policemen down. Their hands fell away from their guns.

The policeman who checked Mulder's ID cocked his helmet back. "You got here awfully fast, Agent Mulder. Why would the FBI be interested in a simple break in?"

Mulder squinted against a light mist that had started to fall. "My partner and I happened to be working on a case in this area when I heard the alarm. We decided the best thing to do was to park here and wait for the local police to show up."

The policeman nodded. "See anyone come out?"

"The only people I know who were here are Agent Scully and myself."

The policeman bent at the waist to look in at Scully. "Evening, little lady," he said giving the edge of his helmet a tug in her direction. Scully managed a weak smile. He straightened and whispered to Mulder. "She okay? Looks kind of frightened."

Mulder winked and lowered his voice a little, but not so far that Scully would miss what he said. "New agent. She'll be all right once things calm down."

"Little green, huh?" The cop poked Mulder with an elbow.

"Yeah, but she's working out fine. All she needs is a little more experience handling situations like this." Mulder nudged the policemen back. "Now that you're here Agent Scully and I will get going."

"Sure. Give me a second to move this squad car out of the way."

Mulder stooped to climb in behind the wheel. He took one look at Scully's expression and jumped back out of the car. "On second thought," he shouted to the policeman's back, "I'll come along for a few minutes. It never hurts to have an extra pair of eyes."

The officer turned toward Mulder. "If that's what you want. Let's go." He led the way through the door. Mulder followed quickly.

 

When Mulder re-emerged ten minutes later, he saw a policemen leaning close to Scully's window. Mulder nodded to him, checked Scully's expression and decided it was safe to enter the car. The officer pulled one of the cars out of the way and they drove off. Mulder smiled broadly at Scully. "I helped them search but we couldn't find anyone. Probably kids."

"Mulder?" Scully said in a measured voice. "If you ever expose me to a situation like that again...."

"Sorry. But it was the only way out."

Scully ignored him. "And then to humiliate me like that. 'Little lady,' 'new recruit,' indeed. Then, to top it off that second cop tried hitting on me."

"I guess your nerves are too delicate for a life of crime."

She shook her head. "To think I could have gone into private medical practice."

They worked their way across town and onto the highway. Shortly after clearing the onramp, Mulder swerved to miss a pothole. The two fragments of mirror grated over each other in the back seat and the sound sent cold shivers up his spine. He stared ahead into the night, beyond the point where the headlights wasted away to nothingness and wondered if Ben had figured out how to end the terror once and for all. He pressed his foot down harder on the gas pedal. The car fled into the dark.

 

 

40

 

Benjamin Lacey's Cabin
Sunday, 1:41 A.M.

 

The white beams of Mulder's headlights slashed across the front of Ben's cabin and buried themselves in the woods. The cabin's door burst open and Ben sprinted for the car. "Did you get them?"

Mulder twisted around for the two sections of mirror. "Right here," he said passing them out through the window.

Ben stepped to the front of the car and bent close to the headlights to examine the two sheets of glass. As Mulder stepped out of the car he saw his friend nodding. "Perfect. It'll work."

"What'll work?" Mulder asked.

Ben jerked up. "My solution, if I've guessed right."

"Guessed?" Scully said as she got out of the car.

Ben stared at her a moment. "Yes. At best my idea is a shot from the hip but I think it'll work." He shrugged. "It could also make things worse."

Her right eyebrow shot up. "Worse?"

Ben nodded. "It could free the entity from all physical restraints."

Mulder's head snapped around. "This thing's already killed over four dozen people."

"I know, Fox. But this is our best option." Ben turned and started walking away. "The site's a hundred yards into the forest." He disappeared into the trees. Mulder reached through the driver's window to turn off the headlights then followed Ben's lead, stumbling over tree roots and fallen branches as the forest closed in around him. He heard Scully's footfalls close on his heels.

They zigzagged between trees toward an orange glow that reflected off off the trunks of the surrounding pines. Mulder stretched to step over a large root and as he did, entered a twenty-foot diameter clearing lit by three smoky torches. Ben stood in the center working at one end of a small table draped in black cloth. Scully took the root in two steps and stood beside Mulder.

"What's he doing?" Mulder asked.

She squinted at two assemblies formed of metal stands and clamps, one at either end of the table. A wood dowel painted flat black three feet above the assemblies extended from one end of the table to the other. "I'm not sure. It looks familiar."

Ben's back partially blocked their view of the right-hand end of the table. His elbows moved quickly as he tightened clamps and thumbscrews. Shuttling between the ends of the table, he clamped the pieces of the Baron's mirror so they faced each other. He threw a switch and an electric hum filled the opening. Ben continued moving back and forth, making adjustments to one mirror then the other. Occasionally, as he reached forward between the mirrors, a brilliant, blood-red pinpoint of light cut across his hand.

Mulder felt Scully tug at his arm. "That red light is from a laser. He's using it to align the two pieces of mirror into an optical cavity."

"Like the resonance chamber in a laser?"

"Exactly, two mirrors facing each other and set parallel so their reflections bounce back and forth."

"But wouldn't the poor quality of the sections of the old mirror prevent any sort of resonance?"

She nodded. "Definitely."

Ben placed sheets of flat-black cardboard between Mulder and each mirror so that they were no longer visible. Taking more dark cloth from a jumbled pile beneath the table, he covered every exposed surface capable of reflection.

Ben paused. Mulder could see his hands shaking. Ben heaved a deep breath then placed the three covered mirrors hosting the captured entities on stands between the two pieces of the Baron's mirror. The new mirrors faced the mirror segment on the right. He attached twine to the tops of the sleeves covering each of the three mirrors then looped them over the dowel, added a fourth line tied to the bases of the three mirrors, and paid out the lines as he backed towards Scully and Mulder's position. Ben's voice shook. "It's all set."

"What's set?" Mulder asked.

"My machine to destroy the entity." He punctuated this declaration by slowly pulling on three of the strings. The paper sleeves slipped upward off the middle mirrors. Scully, Mulder, and Ben held their breaths.

After a moment, they perceived a shimmering in front of the face of the three mirrors. Too quick to follow with the eye, the shimmering jumped the void to the section of the Baron's mirror on the right.

Ben jerked on the fourth line, pulling the bases that supported the three mirrors off the table. They spilled onto a blacked wood ramp he'd nudged into place on his way to join Mulder. The three mirrors slipped away under the table.

The right-hand mirror's shimmering faded behind the cardboard shield, then began growing outward as if reaching for something. The air between the two ancient mirrors rippled, distorting the view of the trees on the far side of the clearing. The shimmering jumped and coalesced on the left-hand mirror. This time it didn't die out. Almost immediately the intervening air shimmered again as the entity jumped back to the first mirror. The leaping back and forth accelerated: shimmer, ripple, jump, again and again. Back and forth it leaped tearing the air with each passage. The jumps merged into a continuous blur. Like heat waves diffracting light, the air twisted in agony as the entity madly hurled itself back and forth.

The shimmering began expanding outward from its enraged path. In a sudden convulsion, the shimmering exploded. An undulating shell of rippling air tore toward them.

"Turn your backs to it!" Ben yelled.

They spun around as the blast hit them. Mulder cringed as the wave clawed its way through him, tearing at his sanity. Blood roared in his ears. Muscles tensed with power and the hunger to grab, break, and tear someone. He burned to hear their cries of anguish, to drink it in, feast on it.

The wave passed out his chest, clawing at his soul. It fled into the night, evaporating into the trees and up toward the dark clouds overhead.

Mulder collapsed to his knees and vomited. Sour bile burned his throat and he shook, recoiling from its brush with the entity. He turned his pale face to the right where Scully had stood, she lay unconscious on her side.

Ben hovered overhead, shaking her shoulders. "Kathy! Wake up. Come on!" Her eyes fluttered open. She gazed around, noticed Ben's hands on her shoulders. He released her. "Are you okay?"

She pushed herself up to a sitting position, struggled to her feet, staggered, then stood straight. "Yes. Weak, but I'll survive.  Scully looked toward Mulder as he pushed himself up off his knees. "Mulder?"

"I'm all right." He nodded at Ben. "It seems like you did it. If the entity had been able to infect anyone, one of us would certainly have been the likely target. As it passed through me I could sense its helplessness to resist what was happening to it."

"Me too," Ben said. He glanced at Scully and staggered toward the table. Scully followed and began helping him tear down the equipment.

Mulder joined them. "What happened, Ben? How did it work?"

Lacey wiped perspiration off his forehead with the back of a hand. "While I was under the influence of the entity I was aware of two desires: to hear cries of pain and an even stronger impulse to return home, home being the Baron's mirror. That gave me the idea of using pieces of that mirror to form an optical cavity. If the entity wanted home so badly I gambled it would be torn between which of two homes to remain in. I didn't detect any sense of intelligence in the entity, so the idea should work. An intelligent being would have recognized what was happening and stayed in one mirror. Once it started bouncing back and forth it was just a matter of time before the irregularities in the mirror's surfaces caused it to spread outward and dissipate."

Mulder looked at the torches. "You used fire instead of lamps to eliminate any glass surfaces."

"Right."

"So it's over," Mulder said breathing out with relieved force.

"Not quite," Scully said. "We still need to write a report explaining in language acceptable to Skinner what occurred. There's also the incident at the museum last night to consider. How are you going to handle that?"

"Oh."

"Right," she said. "And it's your turn to type the report."

Ben dropped his hands to his sides. "To hell with this stuff. No one's going to steal it out here."

"Why out here," Mulder asked. "Why set up in the woods?"

"I couldn't figure out how to make sure every reflective surface in the house was eliminated or covered. This seemed like the safest option. Let's go back to the cabin." Scully and Mulder followed him. In the turn-around in front of his house they could see a distant line of sun-lit blue on the eastern horizon.

"Looks like we got lucky with the storm," Mulder said.

Ben held open the door to the cabin. "Breakfast?" he asked.

"Sure," Mulder said and stepped forward. He halted when he felt Scully's hand hook the inside of his elbow.

"Thanks for the offer, Ben," she said. "But I think we should get back as soon as possible."

Mulder wrinkled his brow. She ignored him and walked around to the passenger side of the car.

Mulder could see the muscles around Ben's eyes fighting for self-control. He stepped forward to shake Mulder's hand. "Good-bye, Fox. Don't be such a stranger."

Mulder remained behind the steering wheel and waited. Ben walked around the car to Scully. He stood in front of her. "Good-bye, Dana. I just want you to know..." He stared down at her, then spun and walked stiffly into the cabin. The door slammed shut behind him.

She dropped into the car. Mulder started the engine and eased around the cul-de-sac toward the highway. He looked across at her. "That wasn't the farewell I expected from you two."

She looked away. "Shut up, Mulder."

 

 

41

 

Assistant Director Skinner's Office
Monday, 3:45 P.M.

 

AD Skinner flipped backwards through the report. He stopped, frowned, and continued working his way toward the cover page. Scully studied the gleaming top of her director's head, trying to second-guess how he would receive their description of the case and its resolution.

Skinner folded the cover page back into place. Scully watched his eyes track down the page and wondered what he was looking for. This was the third time Skinner had read the file.

"Agent Mulder," he said. "You're certain the thing inhabiting the mirror is gone for good?"

Mulder propped himself up by placing his elbows on the arms of his chair. "As sure as I can be."

"How you explain why the entity felt compelled to annihilate itself between the two mirrors? Was there anything special about those mirrors?"

Mulder worked his face into a guiltless expression. "As far as I know, they were just some old pieces of glass I found."

Skinner studied Mulder's face a moment before turning back to the report. "I count fifty-one people dead."

"That's correct, sir," Mulder agreed. "We were lucky."

Skinner gazed at him over the flat tops of his reading glasses. "Lucky? I'd hardly call it that, Agent Mulder."

"The entity had learned how to inhabit more than one person at a time. There's no limit to the number that could have been infected if we hadn't caught it when we did."

Skinner's eyes dropped back to the file. "Agent Scully, do you concur with Agent Mulder's assessment of this case?"

She lifted her chin. "Yes, sir. I do. I realize there is no physical evidence to support our hypothesis. However, in the absence of any other viable explanation it served as a working theory. By following Agent Mulder's suppositions we were able to resolve the case. Also, the three eye witness accounts of the entity's demise would seem to lend support to Agent Mulder's theory."

Skinner slapped the folder closed. He tapped it with his index finger several times before looking up. "Very good. Thank you for your diligence in solving what was certainly a difficult case."

Scully and Mulder looked at each other. Scully felt her eyes grow round. Mulder smiled and shrugged.

"Try and restrain your elation, Agent Mulder," Skinner said. "I haven't signed off on the report yet." He spun the red file folder through the air so it landed on Mulder's lap. "Rewrite it replacing every reference to the entity with mass sociogenic illness."

Mulder jumped to his feet. "Sir!"

Skinner silenced him with a raised hand. "I've heard it all before, Agent Mulder: cover-up, suppressing the truth and so on... so save your breath. What you failed to consider is that there are six people in jail who don't deserve to be there. No judge, jury, or parole board will give any credence to your ghost story. But, if you make a strong enough case for mass hysteria we may be able to get those innocent people into psychiatric wards from which they may eventually be released." Skinner nailed him with a glare. "What do you want, Agent Mulder: a one-paragraph article on page three of some tabloid or freedom for those people?"

Mulder fell back into his chair. He rubbed the back of his neck and looked over at him. "All right," he said. "You win."

"My winning is not the issue here, Agent Mulder. Your priorities are. I'll expect the amended report by the close of business Wednesday."

Mulder bit his words off short. "You'll get it this afternoon."

"I'm afraid you won't have time for it today," Skinner said and tossed a second folder at him. "That's the file on a break-in at the Museum of Antiquities. Vandals smashed a priceless antique mirror on loan from France. Because the museum is a federal institution the local police have turned the case over to the FBI." Skinner's eyes tightened on Mulder. "By coincidence you were on the scene at the time of the crime. Therefore, I feel it's appropriate for you to resolve it. Make sure that you do so quickly and without discredit to the bureau."

Mulder swallowed. "Yes, sir."

"That's all." Skinner picked up a new folder and studying its cover page.

 

"It could have been worse," Scully said as she pulled the door to Skinner's office closed.

"Yeah, right." Mulder stormed out of the waiting room.

Skinner's secretary stopped typing. "Rough meeting, Dana?"

Scully smiled. "Better than most." She nodded at the door through which Mulder had left. "How are things going with the hard-to-get strategy I suggested?"

Jill dimpled. "He's started looking for excuses to come into the office. I think he's working up the courage to ask me out to the department's office party on Friday."

Secret pleasure touched Scully's smile. "Good. I'm glad to have been able to return a favor."

"Favor?"

"It's a joke between Mulder and myself, one he isn't aware of it yet."

"You going to the party?"

Scully shook her head. "Not this time. I'll be out of town."

"That's too bad."

"No, it isn't." She smiled and left before Jill could ask why.

 

 

Scully caught up with Mulder by the elevator. "Are you all right?"

He managed a sour smile. "Sure. Great." His eyes rake up and down the business-formal, black pants suit she'd worn to work. "I'm glad to see you've given up challenging the dress code. Have you found an outlet for your nesting instincts?"

"You could say that."

He nudged her with an elbow. "Not going to talk?"

"About what?" she asked.

"Forget it." Mulder rocked on his heels a few times. "Going to the office party?"

She shrugged. "Can't."

"Why not?"

"I'm going to spend the weekend with Ben."

"What!" Mulder's mouth gaped.

Scully smiled.

"He called you? After that brush off you gave-"

"I called him."

"What!"

"You said that already."

"Yes, but he's-"

Her hand shot up cutting him off. "You've said that too. Ben's ten years older than I am and you think that's too much."

"Isn't it?"

"Not really. You forgot, Sunday's my birthday. Then he'll only be nine years older which doesn't sound too bad. Besides, only Ben and I have the right to decide if our age difference is an issue. What you think doesn't matter."

Mulder grinned. "I think it's great."

She thrust her hands to her hips. "You what?"

The elevator door sighed open. She ignored it. "You did everything you could to keep us apart." Her eyes turned calculating. "What are you playing at, Mulder?"

His grin didn't falter. "Can't you guess?"

She squinted at him. Realization struck like a fist. "You son of a-"

He laughed. "Nothing sweeter than forbidden fruit, Scully. I knew you and Ben would be good for each other. Putting an obstacle between you only heightened the attraction."

"And you think that's an excuse for what you put us through?"

He shrugged. "It worked out, didn't it?"

"Then it's all right to lie or mislead a friend for what you think is for their own good?"

"In this case, yes."

She smiled from ear to ear. "I'm glad to hear you say that."

He backed up a step. "Why are you being so forgiving all of a sudden?"

Scully turned away and walked toward the stairs. "Oh, nothing," she tossed back at him. "Nothing at all. Enjoy your date will Jill on Friday."

"Scully?" she heard him call. "How did you know about that. I haven't even asked her yet. Scully!"

She strutted away, grinning.

"Don't leave me hanging like this."

She turned the corner, Mulder's voice trailing after her.

"Scully!"

 

 

The End

Disclaimer: X-Files is the property of Fox Television and Chris Carter. Only the story elements particular to Mirrors are the property of the author and may not be used without his permission.

 

Did you like Mirrors? The main reason I wrote this is that I never felt Scully would be as attracted to Mulder as the entertainment media seemed to want her to be. During the first year of the series their relationship was purely professional. This was so out-of-line with the stereotypical mixed-gender teams on television that critics, not knowing what to make of it, began writing about all the sexual tension between Scully and Mulder. There wasn't any. But because that's what the critics were expecting and were used to writing about, that was all they could think to say. Over the years I believe this pressure from the reporting media twisted the series writers arms into adding this element to the stories. My response was to create a character I think Scully could look up to and fall in love with. To discover where Scully and Ben's relationship heads you'll have to read the next story, Dreamer.

 

 
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