"Please, don't do this. I promise, I won't tell anyone if you'll just let me go." She blinked furiously, trying to clear her vision.
"Down on your knees."
"No! Oh, please... why are you doing... " She gasped with pain as her tape bound wrists were jerked down behind her back, forcing her to drop to her knees on the gravel.
"I said, on your knees!"
Hands grasped her ankles and pulled, shifting her weight heavily forward and driving the sharp stones painfully into her flesh. She heard another length of tape rip from the roll and felt her ankles being bound tightly together. She could see her car, a tantalizingly short distance away through the trees where she'd parked under one of the mercury vapor lights. For safety. She had known that the lot would be mostly empty when she returned to it. And it *had* been. The only other car had been parked next to hers. All that empty space, and the last two cars had somehow ended up side by side. Someone had been hidden in that car. Waiting.
"My husband has money. He'll pay whatever you ask if you just let me go." She cried out again as her wrists were yanked roughly down toward her feet. She felt the tape being wound around them, securing her into a bowed position. Exposing her chest.
She could barely breathe now, terror combined with the awkward posture making it a struggle to pull in enough air to speak.
"I can get you whatever you want. Please, listen to me. I have childr..."
The blade plunged directly into her heart. She had only enough time to turn disbelieving eyes toward her executioner.
"You *are* getting me what I want." Her killer watched the light fade from those eyes forever, then pulled the blade free and walked casually back to the car.
Mulder's pencil mercifully ceased its mind-numbing table dance and back flipped into the ceiling. "Isn't it a little soon for your closed door sessions with Skinner to be starting up?"
Scully put down the folder she'd been trying to focus on since her return from Skinner's office ten minutes ago. "He's worried about you, Mulder. He didn't want you on this case any more than I did. He just wanted to know how you're doing."
"So why didn't he ask me?" Mulder swiveled his chair to face her with his arms crossed over his chest. "Better yet, why didn't *you* tell him to ask me?"
She turned her chair toward him and mirrored his posture. "How do you know that I didn't?"
He made a palm up gesture with his right hand and raised his eyebrows, the unspoken question clear. *Well, DID you?*
"For your information, I did. But he knows you, Mulder. That's why he's concerned. I guess he's just not ready for another of your brushes with eternity so close on the heels of the last one." She let the much-too-fresh memory darken her eyes. "Neither am I."
Her partner seemed to deflate at that, the irritation draining out of him. He uncrossed his arms. "I know that, Scully. But I'm not as fragile as the two of you seem to think."
Scully noticed the change in posture and softened her voice. "It has nothing to do with fragility or weakness. Skinner just wants to make sure that I'm..."
"...keeping the leash short enough?"
Mulder finished her thought so accurately that it made both of them smile. She wouldn't have put it in quite those words, but that was essentially what Skinner had just assigned her to do. Keep her partner away from the deep end.
In spite of his protests, she knew that Mulder counted on her vigilance when he worked on cases like this, but that didn't completely eliminate his resentment at being watched so closely. He had to bristle once in awhile, just to preserve his dignity. It was a routine they were both familiar with.
"So, what have you got so far?" She gestured toward the growing stack of legal pads bearing his trademark stream-of-consciousness scrawl.
He turned back to the desk and began to flip through his notes. "It's what I *don't* have that's driving me nuts." Scully raised an eyebrow at his choice of words, and he shot back a quick *don't even go there* look. "There's just nothing about the killings that stands out. A single stab wound to the heart. No trophies that we can identify. No mutilation. No sexual overtones. No common locations. Yet they're clearly all the work of the same man." He closed the pad and looked up at her. "You should tell Skinner to stop worrying. Even if I *could* get into this guy's head, it looks like the greatest danger to my psyche would be terminal boredom."
Both eyebrows went up at that. "A boring serial killer?"
One corner of his mouth quirked up in a somewhat abashed grimace. "Another poor choice of words. What I'm trying to say is that the murders are so damn... *impersonal*... I could almost believe they were the work of a contract killer, except that there's nothing about the victims that makes that even a remote possibility."
Scully pulled a sheet of paper from the folder on her desk. "Could there be a connection among the victims that we've missed?" She looked over the list again. Six men, three women, ages from 18 to 61, occupations ranging from janitor to psychiatrist, both single and married. All white with no single ethnic or religious background predominating. No criminal history for any of them. Vastly different economic situations from borderline poverty to conspicuous wealth. Seemingly nothing in common apart from the way they died. She handed the list to Mulder.
He scanned it and shook his head. "The computers haven't come up with a single common factor and I've had them input every characteristic I could think of. But there *has* to be one." He stood up and began to gather papers together. "There's a link, we just haven't dug deeply enough to uncover it." He was rolling his sleeves down, getting ready to put on his coat. "We need to interview the next of kin of each of the victims again, starting with the most recent."
Scully let out a small, resigned sigh. It was going to be a long day.
Home of Marcy Barringer
Marcy Barringer's body had been found three days previously in a wooded area adjacent to the Reston Mall. Her husband had reported her missing when she failed to return from work Thursday night, and a jogger found her body on his predawn run just ten hours later. Her murder was number nine in as many weeks. The task force SAC's request for Mulder's services had arrived on Skinner's desk that same morning, accompanied by a recommendation from the Director himself.
What they now knew to be the first killing in the series had taken place forty miles west of D.C. on Thursday, December 13th. Every Thursday night since then, there had been another murder, each taking place incrementally nearer to the capitol. Reston was thirty minutes from the Hoover building, and the Director apparently wasn't prepared to wait for the bodies to start piling up on his doorstep.
The woman who answered the door of the well kept colonial was dressed in a simple black dress and heels. Her exasperated expression changed swiftly to confusion when she realized she didn't know her visitors.
Mulder and Scully displayed their badges for her. "I'm Special Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and this is my partner, Special Agent Scully. May we speak with David Barringer?"
"He's not here. I was just on my way to meet him at the funeral home. I thought you were the babysitter." She leaned to one side and looked distractedly behind them. "She's late."
"And you are...?"
"Karen Waters. David is my brother. Is there something I can help you with?"
"We won't take more than a few minutes of your time. May we come in?"
The woman hesitated for a moment, then stepped back and opened the door so they could enter. They followed her to a small, cozy room with three book lined walls. The shelves ran from floor to ceiling and were crammed with hardcover volumes. She gestured toward the couch as she sat in the arm chair directly opposite.
"There was a police detective here yesterday. He talked to both of us. What else do you want to know?"
"Agent Scully and I have just joined a task force that's working on a series of killings that may be related to your sister-in-law's death."
"The detective already told us that it was the same man who's killed eight other people." She looked from Mulder to Scully. "Why haven't you caught him?"
"That's why we're here, Ms. Waters."
The woman's posture sagged. "What can *I* tell you that could possibly make any difference?"
"If it *was* the same man, then there may be something that all of the victims had in common, something that put them in contact with the killer. Did your sister-in-law have any hobbies or special interests, maybe a club or an organization where she would have come in regular contact with strangers?"
"You think she *knew* the man?" The thought clearly horrified her.
"Not necessarily, but she may have come in contact with him recently." The killer was planning these murders well in advance. It was one of the few aspects of his profile that Mulder felt reasonably sure of.
She thought for a moment. "I'm sorry, there was nothing like that. Marcy is..." Her breath hitched and she looked away for a moment. "Marcy *was* devoted to her family. There wasn't much time for any outside interests. Her family was everything to her. She only took the job at the mall for something to do during the day after Kimmy started school. They didn't need the money." She pressed a curled index finger to her lips, struggling for control. "If she hadn't been working, she would have been at home, safe, instead of where that animal could get to her."
The doorbell rang at that moment and the woman nearly leaped from her chair. "That's the babysitter. I'm sorry, I have to go now." Both agents rose and followed her to the front door. They waited as she admitted a teenaged girl who immediately headed for the back of the house without even glancing at the two strangers.
Mulder reached into his pocket and handed Karen Waters his business card. "Please call if you remember anything that might help. And we do still need to speak with your brother as soon as possible."
The woman studied the card for a moment, then nodded to both agents in turn. "I'll tell David you were here. I'm sure he'll call you soon."
They had nearly reached their car when the woman called to them. "Agent Mulder! Wait for a moment." They turned to see her coming down the walk with an envelope in her hand.
"I was just going through the mail and found this." She handed the envelope to Mulder. "I don't know if that's the type of organization you were referring to, but Marcy spent time as well as money on it. I never would have remembered it if I hadn't seen that bill."
It was a window envelope addressed to Marcy Barringer from Helping Hands, Inc. The return address was an office building in the business district near downtown D.C. Mulder handed the envelope to Scully and turned back to Karen Waters. "I'm not familiar with the name but it sounds like a charity."
"It is. Marcy told me about the work they do with needy families. Not handouts but helping hands. Volunteers visit with the families and help them get off public assistance by finding them jobs and housing."
Scully exchanged a look with Mulder. "Did she work with the clients?" If so, it could be how she met her killer.
Karen shook her head. "Oh, no. Marcy did fundraising for them. It was something she could do from home, calling prospective contributors and asking for their help." She smiled. "She was good at it. Marcy was a very persuasive woman."
"May I keep this?"
Karen shrugged and turned back toward the house. "I'm sure it's just a receipt or something. If it's anything David needs, please copy it and return it to him. I hope it helps."
Scully opened the envelope when they were in the car. It was a receipt for $2,500. "I'd like to get a look at her bank records to see how often she made donations like this." She held it up for Mulder to see.
He made a noncommittal sound and started the engine. "Where to next?"
Helping Hands, Inc.
Mulder had mentioned Helping Hands at the next interview almost as an afterthought, and was surprised to find that the victim had been a regular contributor to the charity. When the next two interviews yielded the same results, it became obvious that Karen Waters had given them the link they'd been looking for.
Despite having arrived at Helping Hands unannounced, the two agents found themselves being ushered into the manager's office with an uncommon alacrity that had them trading surprised glances. A stunningly beautiful woman, nearly as tall as Mulder, rose from behind the desk and shook their hands as Scully introduced herself and her partner.
"I'm Elizabeth Saxon. You had some questions for me?" She gestured for them to take the two chairs facing her desk and returned to her seat behind it. She leaned expectantly forward, smiled briefly at Scully, then fixed her attention on Mulder.
"We're investigating the death of a woman who did some fund raising work for your organization. Marcy Barringer. What can you tell us about her?" The woman met Scully's question with a blank look, then turned back to Mulder.
"Marcy Barringer is dead?"
"Yes, Ms. Saxon, her body was found three days ago. It's been in the papers. You didn't know?" Scully's tone prompted Mulder to shoot her a questioning glance.
"No, I didn't. I've been out of town. I'm very sorry to hear this." Her distress seemed genuine. "What do you need from me?"
"Marcy Barringer's death may be related to a series of killings that we're investigating. We're following up on some information that shows several of the victims had connections to Helping Hands."
Scully finally had the woman's attention.
"What kind of *connections*?"
"Marcy Barringer worked for you. Two other victims appear to have been regular donors. A third was a recent client." Scully watched closely for a reaction. There was none. She saw Mulder at the edge of her peripheral vision, his expression as impassive as usual. He showed no inclination to join in the discussion.
"I see. What can I do to help?" The woman directed her question to Mulder who, to his credit, turned to face his partner to wait for her response.
"We'd like to see a list of your clients and contributors. We may need an employee roster as well, but not at this point."
Despite the fact that Scully was asking the questions, Elizabeth Saxon seemed determined to keep her focus on Mulder. She reached for the phone on her desk. "Of course. Anything to help."
While she spoke briefly with someone regarding Scully's request, the two agents undertook a silent discussion of the behavior of their interviewee. Mulder was amused. Scully, plainly, was not.
"We can pick up those lists, if you'll follow me." Once again, she addressed her comments directly to Mulder. She came around the desk and waited for him to stand, then headed for the door.
Elizabeth Saxon led the way down a carpeted hall to a wooden door marked "Records". On the other side of the door was a windowless room lined with filing cabinets. It smelled of old paper and new plastic. At a large metal desk in the center of the room sat a man who was busily entering data into a computer, his eyes fixed on a copy stand to his right. He looked up and stopped typing when the door opened.
"Kevin, these are the F.B.I. agents I asked you to get the information for. Agent Mulder, Agent Scully, this is Kevin Hawkes. He's been converting our paper files to a computer database." She smiled at the young man. "It's going to make our lives much easier. Or so he tells me."
Kevin blushed to the roots of his blonde hair. "Um, it's going to be very helpful... once it's finished. It's been quite a job." His lopsided grin was ingratiating. "It would have made putting these lists together a piece of cake. Instead, I'm afraid all I have is a half dozen scratched out pages. They're complete but not very user friendly." He handed a small stack of pages to his boss.
"Thank you, Kevin. I'm sure these will be very helpful."
Elizabeth Saxon moved toward the door and Mulder began to follow her until he noticed that Scully was apparently not finished here.
"Mr. Hawkes, how long have you been working on this project?"
The young man swallowed visibly and blushed even more deeply than he had a moment ago. "Um, Ms. Saxon hired me a couple of months ago. She, um, she's been very kind to me."
He seemed to lose the power of speech at that point and his boss came to his rescue. "Kevin came to us a few weeks before Christmas. He had been living in a group home and he needed some help getting on his feet. When we learned of his expertise in computers, we hired him to help with this project. He's really been a godsend."
She turned toward the door again, seeming as anxious to leave as Scully was to stay and ask more questions.
"Kevin, do you mind if I ask what kind of group home you were in?"
The young man raised his eyes to Scully's. Something flickered in them for an instant, pure and intense. Then it was gone. He shook his head and returned to his keyboard.
"Thank you, Kevin." Elizabeth Saxon opened the door pointedly and stepped through. When the agents followed, she closed it firmly.
"Kevin is a very fine young man and I don't want him upset with needless prying into his personal affairs." She shot a meaningful look in Scully's direction before striding quickly back to her office with the two agents in tow.
When Mulder and Scully caught up with her, she had already resumed her seat behind the desk. Her hands were folded in front of her once again, but the smile was gone.
"I'm beginning to wonder if I shouldn't have waited for a warrant of some kind. I don't wish to have my clients or my contributors interrogated."
Mulder could see the hackles rising and stepped in before Scully could respond. "If you'd feel more comfortable, then by all means, wait for the warrant." He'd dropped his voice to a throaty, soothing baritone that gave Scully pleasant shivers. His eyes were fixed on Elizabeth Saxon's.
The transformation was amazing. The woman went from cold fury to flushed pleasure in the space of a heart beat.
"I'm sorry if I overreacted. This has just been such a shock." She smiled and walked back around the desk, holding out the papers to Mulder. Scully, it seemed, had ceased to exist for her.
"Thank you, Ms. Saxon." He tried to take the papers from her, but she held on to them for a moment longer, touching his hand as she released them. Mulder, Scully noticed, actually backed up a step.
"We'll be in touch." Mulder was already halfway to the door. Scully gave the woman a curt nod and followed him.
When they were safely in their car, Mulder sat back and blew out a breath that puffed his cheeks. He turned to face Scully and found her eyes twinkling with amusement.
"Too bad we can't bottle that boyish charm of yours, Mulder. We'd make a fortune."
His innocent 'who me?' expression melted quickly into a sheepish smile. Scully knew that he wasn't oblivious to his own attractiveness, nor was he above taking advantage of its effect when circumstances warranted.
He put the key in the ignition, then sat back and tilted his head to look at her. "So, what do think about Mr. Hawkes? I don't have to ask your opinion of Ms. Saxon."
Scully shot him a quick look. She decided to let that one pass and answer his first question instead. "I think Mr. Hawkes bears closer examination. At the very least, I'd like to know what problem he had that put him in a group home."
"I agree, but I doubt very much that he's going to pan out as the killer. Call it a feeling."
"I haven't seen the profile yet. He doesn't fit?" She picked up the lists from the seat where Mulder had laid them and began to scan for familiar names.
"That's just it. There effectively *is* no profile. Everything I've come up with to this point could fit just about any Caucasian male in the city, including me."
Scully turned and regarded her partner closely. His words had a defeated air that surprised her. "Mulder, we've only been on the case for two days. Don't you think you might be expecting too much?"
He shook his head. "No, Scully. I'm missing something obvious and it's bugging the shit out of me. Nobody who has it in him to murder nine total strangers can possibly be this nondescript."
"Well, we seem to be on the right track." She held up a sheet of paper. "I'm only two pages into the list and I've got four of the nine victims." She checked the page heading. "They're all contributors so far." More page shuffling. She looked pointedly at her partner. "Kevin didn't include the employee roster."
"She didn't ask him to, Scully. That was a 'maybe', remember? I'll go back and get it from her." He had his hand on the door handle, then paused and gave her a wry grin. "On second thought, I'll call and have her fax it when we get back to the office."
A progress meeting with SAC Gilmore and the rest of his task force had begun a few minutes ago. The new information was received with the same odd blend of relief and irritation that invariably greeted one of Mulder's breakthroughs. His genius for asking the right questions was both admired and resented by his peers-- a fact of life that Mulder, unlike his partner, had long ago learned to accept.
"This is a pretty obscure connection, Agent Mulder. Do you really think the killer expected us to uncover it?" Special Agent Linda Milligan was the only person in the room other than Scully who didn't seem to have been struck dumb by the link Mulder had just laid out for them. She was sitting forward in her chair and her gray eyes were alight with interest.
Mulder was pleasantly surprised by her question. "No, I don't, which makes it all the more significant."
The woman opened her mouth to respond, but Gilmore threw her a stony glance and cut in. "Significant in what way?"
Mulder heard the edge in the man's voice but ignored it. "If the killer didn't expect us to make the connection, he may not have made any attempt to disguise its link to him."
Linda Milligan quickly took advantage of the SAC's momentary silence. "So, you're saying he may work at Helping Hands? What about the man who gave you the lists," she consulted the report in front of her, "Kevin Hawkes?"
Mulder looked directly at Scully as he began to answer the question, turning back to Linda Milligan only toward the end. "Hawkes is a possibility, of course. But I don't think we can afford to focus on him exclusively."
Gilmore picked up the report and tapped it on the table as he stood up. "Whatever other possibilities you may uncover, let's not lose sight of Mr. Hawkes." He moved to his desk. "Keep me informed of your progress."
The meeting was over, and the task force members began to disperse.
Linda Milligan approached Mulder and Scully a moment later in the hall outside Gilmore's office.
"I think I may have stirred something up with that question." She smiled ruefully at Mulder. "I'm sorry."
Mulder touched her shoulder briefly and shook his head. "It was a good question. I wish I had a better answer." He smiled at her and Scully watched the familiar flush rise in the woman's face.
"I'm still sorry I asked it in front of the SAC." She slapped his arm softly, smiled at Scully and headed off down the hall.
Mulder and Scully began walking in the opposite direction. "You should really try to keep a lid on that charisma, Mulder. I'm beginning to worry about you." Her expression was very close to a full smirk.
They reached the elevator and he leaned down to speak softly into her ear. "*You* were immune for an awfully long time."
He stepped quickly into the empty elevator, then stood there grinning at her. "Skinner wanted to see us when we got back. I'll try to rein it in before we get to his office."
It was a short, but interesting, ride between floors.
After a brief meeting with Skinner, who seemed to want nothing other than to see Mulder's current state for himself, they returned to the basement office. Mulder began to rework his profile from this new perspective, tossing out virtually all of his previous efforts. Scully's review of the Helping Hands lists had turned up the names of every known victim: three clients and six contributors. While Mulder factored that into the mix, she put in a request for Marcy Barringer's bank records and a background check on Kevin Hawkes. The results would be available before the end of business tomorrow.
Two hours later, it took everything she had to pry Mulder from the office. He grudgingly agreed to go, but only if she would come home with him for takeout pizza. Blackmail rarely worked with her, but the prospect of getting him to eat was too tempting to pass up.
Mulder had obligingly consumed half of the pizza under Scully's watchful eye before returning to the profile. For the next two hours, they sat at opposite ends of his couch while he tried to immerse himself in the mind of their quarry.
Scully had brought a stack of medical journals along and was midway through a particularly interesting article when she became aware that her partner had begun muttering under his breath. She glanced up just in time to see the papers he'd been working on make a high arc over the coffee table and fly in all directions.
"DAMMIT!" The pencil followed, hitting the far wall before bouncing back nearly at her feet.
They were silent for a long moment, Mulder seemingly as surprised as she was by his outburst. Then he sagged back against the couch and blew out a huge breath that took the last of the tension with it.
He looked over at her with a tired smile. "A little." He scrubbed both hands roughly over his face and leaned forward, resting his forearms on his knees. She moved next to him and placed her hand gently on his back, rubbing slow circles over the knotted muscles.
"You need to get some rest, Mulder." She squeezed his shoulder and got up. "I'll see you in the morning."
It seemed to take him a moment to process what she had just said. She had her coat on before he responded.
"It's late, Scully. Why don't you just stay here?"
"Would you promise to get some sleep if I did?" She paused at the door with both hands on her hips.
"Well, not right away." His mouth curved into a sleepy grin that made her tingle.
"Our first interview tomorrow is at 8:00 in the morning, Mulder," but she was already pulling off her coat.
He stood up and came slowly toward her, his eyes soft and smoky. "I'll set the alarm."
"Good night, Harvey. I'm outta here." Eight hours on her feet were two more than she'd been ready for tonight, but then she hadn't counted on Tim not showing up. *Next time he wants me to cover for him so he can entertain another of his 'friends', he can just piss up a rope.*
She grabbed her coat and purse from behind the bar and scooted out just ahead of the night manager, Harvey Kendall, as he stopped to secure the back door. He was having trouble with the lock, as usual, and was still mumbling curses at it as Micki got into her car.
"Please start." It was the same prayer she offered up every time she turned the key on nights like this. "I promise to buy you a new battery as soon as I get done paying for your tires, okay?" A 1985 Nova with 180,000 miles on it had seemed like a bargain at $500. That was before the transmission repair, the alternator and four new tires had reared their ugly heads.
With both eyes closed, she pumped the gas pedal once and turned the key, releasing a huge sigh of relief when the engine roared to life. *Yeah, I hear it. Muffler's going, too.*
She was two blocks from home when she remembered the cats. There had been barely more than a handful of dry food to feed them before she left for work and four sets of green eyes had regarded her balefully as she had divided it among their dishes. There was a convenience store on the next block. The price would be outrageous but she was in no mood to drive the five extra blocks to the all night supermarket.
The small parking lot was deserted and she weighed the danger of car theft against the likelihood that the damn thing wouldn't start again if she shut if off. With a weary sigh, she left the engine running and dashed into the store.
She returned with her purchase a few minutes later, too delighted to find her car still there to take note of the car that had appeared next to hers. If she had, she might have wondered where its occupant might be since she had been the store's only patron.
He was on his way out the door when the phone on his desk started to ring. This early, it couldn't be good news. Scully had left over an hour ago with her hair still wet from a quick shower. She'd be on her way to work by now, but she would have called his cell phone. He walked back to the desk and snatched up the receiver with a faint sparkle of alarm tingling along his nerve endings.
"There's been another murder." It was SAC Gilmore. "I'm having the police preserve the scene for your arrival."
"On a Tuesday? You sure it's the same guy?"
"I'm sure. You will be, too, when you see her." He gave the location and Mulder straightened quickly in surprise. "Casey's Bar? Do we know the victim's name?"
"Yeah, Michelle Manrow, 28. She was..."
"She was a bartender." Mulder's voice was soft.
"You knew her?"
"Yeah. I knew her." *Well, I'd say that about does it, Spooky. Looks like 86 is your lucky number.*
"Be sure you include that in your report, Agent. I'll expect it on my desk by this afternoon."
When Mulder didn't respond immediately, the SAC hung up. It was nearly a minute before Mulder replaced the receiver. He didn't think to call Scully until he was halfway to his car.
Scully had been only a few blocks from Casey's when Mulder reached her and she'd arrived at the scene a good twenty minutes ahead of him. He found her talking with a uniformed officer when he entered the alley behind the bar. She looked up as he approached, excused herself from the conversation she'd been having and crossed to meet him.
"This could be a copycat." Mulder kept moving toward the body and Scully fell into step at his side. "Her hands are tied in the same manner, but the wounds are different." When they reached the body, he crouched next to it and pulled back the sheet. "It's not Thursday. And I checked the list, Mulder. Her name isn't on it."
Micki Manrow lay on her left side with both hands taped to her ankles behind her back. The front of her shirt was soaked with blood, but most of it had come from the gaping wound in her throat. Mulder replaced the sheet gently and stood up.
"If it *was* the same guy, he's changed his spots. Was she killed here?"
"No. It looks as if she was killed elsewhere and then dumped here. The night manager was contacted shortly after the body was found. He said he watched the victim drive away about 2:30 this morning."
Mulder rubbed both hands roughly over his face. "He must have followed her from here. But why bring her back? And where's her car?"
"The police are looking for it now." She placed her right hand gently on his arm. "Mulder, I know she was a friend of yours. I'm sorry."
Mulder nodded and looked away for a moment. "Who found the body?"
She gestured toward a middle aged man in a running suit talking with two detectives. "He was on his morning run and needed to relieve himself. This was the first secluded opportunity."
Mulder smiled and shook his head. "That's too stupid to be a lie."
His partner returned the smile. "I thought so, too."
"Agent Scully?" One of the detectives who had been talking to the jogger came trotting over to them with a cell phone in his hand. "We located the car in a 7- Eleven parking lot four blocks west of here on the corner of New Hampshire and H. We've already pulled the security video. The Forensics lab can make you a copy if you want to stop by later this morning."
Mulder was already heading for his car. Scully thanked the detective and followed after him, bracing herself for the storm she'd felt coming the moment she'd heard his voice on the phone.
Mulder had wedged his car into the last open area in the parking lot, leaving Scully to park behind a squad car at the curb. She found him sitting in Michelle Manrow's car, gripping the steering wheel with latex gloved hands.
His gaze remained fixed on the windshield. "There's blood in the trunk. He took her back to the alley in the trunk of her own car, then drove it here and parked it."
He released the steering wheel and began to search the interior of the car, flipping down the visors, poking through the contents of the glove box and shining his flashlight around the litter strewn floor. His movements were just a little too tight, skirting the edge of control.
Scully moved away, recognizing his need to deal with his anger before they could get back on track. She spotted someone she knew from the D.C. Crime Scene Unit and spent the next few minutes catching up on what little evidence had been obtained from the car.
Mulder pulled her aside as she was finishing her notes. "I'm heading back to the office. I'll see you there."
"I won't be long."
He gave her a quick smile and left. As far as she could determine, he hadn't spoken to anyone on the scene but her.
Scully had reviewed the records of all previous autopsies, but this was the first of the victims she had been able to process herself. The wounds of all the previous victims looked like straightforward executions with no hint of the anger displayed in the killing of Micki Manrow. The killer's pattern had changed, but she was certain now that it *was* the same man. The tape bindings on the wrists and ankles were distinctive, as was the upward angle of the chest wound and the type of weapon used to deliver it. None of those details had been made public, so the possibility of a copycat was remote in the extreme.
Mulder was sitting in front of the VCR when she returned to their office. He stood up and stretched when she walked in.
"How'd it go?"
"It's the same man, Mulder. I'm sure of it."
Mulder nodded as he aimed the remote at the VCR and began to rewind the tape. "Not a copycat."
"The chest wound is identical: an acute, upward angle into the heart made with a long, thin-bladed weapon. The throat wound was delivered first, based on the amount of blood..." She saw him wince and mentally kicked herself for being so graphic. Now was not the time for professional detachment. This victim had been his friend. She softened her tone. "The tape bindings were the same, too. I don't think there's any doubt it's the same man."
He nodded. "I have to agree, but that presents a new problem. Micki had no connection with Helping Hands. Either that link is nothing more than a hell of a coincidence, or the killer knows we've made the connection." He clicked the 'stop' button on the remote and stared at her. "Maybe he saw us yesterday at Helping Hands."
"Maybe we saw *him*."
His eyes darkened with an expression she knew all too well. "You think it's Hawkes."
"I think we need to talk to him as soon as the background check comes back."
He moved to the other side of the desk and lowered himself into the chair as if he'd aged twenty years in the past few minutes.
"Mulder, if it *is* him, there's no way he could have known that Micki was your friend. Besides, it wouldn't make any sense for him to strike out at you. *I* was the one pushing him yesterday."
He leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk, pressing clenched fists against his eyes. "Whether he chose her for my benefit or not, she's dead because he was still out walking the streets. And we're not going to stop him with what I've come up with so far." He dropped his hands to the desk and regarded her with weary eyes. "I picked up a copy of the security tape." He gestured toward the VCR. "It confirms the clerk's statement. Micki came in at 2:40 AM and left six minutes later. The clerk went out for a cigarette break at 3AM, came back in at 3:12. No other customers until 4:30, then two D.C. cops stopped by for coffee."
Scully leaned her hip against the desk, arms crossed over her chest. "The clerk didn't see or hear anything?"
Mulder picked up a typed page from the stack in front of him and handed it to her. "His statement says that there was a car in the lot when he went on his break. He thought it was odd since there was nobody in it and he hadn't had a customer since Micki left."
She looked up from the statement in surprise. "Did he remember anything about the car? Color, make, anything?"
"Dark two-door. That's about it." He shoved the chair back from the desk and stood up. "See if you can get them to rush that background check. I'm going to pay a visit to Elizabeth Saxon. She's protecting Hawkes and I want to know why."
Scully gave him a half smile. "Well, you'll probably get a much warmer reception without me." The gentle jab earned her the soft chuckle she'd been trying for.
Mulder headed out the door, grabbing his jacket as he passed the coat rack. "Call me when you get the results of the background check. I'll see what I can charm out of Ms. Saxon." He gave her a wink and closed the door before she could find something to throw at him.
His newfound ability to pull out of a mood still caught her off guard. Just a few months ago, her teasing attempt to lighten him up would have met with a very different response.
A sudden rush of emotion made her throat ache and blurred her vision for a moment. They could so easily have lost it all.
She shook her head, impatient with her own self indulgence. This was one of the side effects of their relationship that she *had* anticipated. She picked up her notes and turned to the computer.
Her plan was to create a matrix of all the data they had uncovered, something like the ones she had used to solve logic problems in college. She was halfway through typing the names down the left side of the matrix when she saw it, and her fingers froze in mid stroke.
"It can't be that simple."
She reached for the phone.
"Agent Mulder." Elizabeth Saxon crossed to meet him, taking his outstretched hand in both of hers. "I heard on the news that there's been another murder. Was it the same man?"
"That's not why I'm here." His voice and his body language were all business.
She released his hand and moved to one of the chairs in front of her desk, gesturing for him to take the one facing it. "I understand. You're not at liberty to discuss it." She folded her hands in her lap. "You said you had some questions for me."
"What can you tell me about Kevin Hawkes?"
Her expression darkened immediately. "Why are you and your partner so interested in Kevin?"
"Why are you protecting him?
She looked as if she were about to deny it, then changed her mind. "Kevin is special. He's very bright, but he's not as stable as he appears to be. None of what's happened to him is his fault. The way your partner seems to have seized upon him as her main suspect gives me cause for concern."
"My partner had some questions that she didn't have an opportunity to address when we were here yesterday. You seem very confident that Kevin isn't the killer and I'm interested in knowing how you can be so sure about a man you barely know."
She regarded him levelly for a moment. "I have excellent instincts about people, Agent Mulder, and I'm never wrong. I suspect that you operate in much the same way." She paused as if she expected a response but he only gestured for her to continue. "My volunteer staff here is small and I often have to help process new clients. That's how I met Kevin."
"Does that processing include asking background questions? Do you know how he came to be in the group home?"
"Kevin has had a very hard life. His parents were killed in a fire when he was eight years old. With no living relatives, he ended up in foster care. He was twelve years old when his foster parents were murdered in front of him by a man who was never caught. Kevin was able to call for help but when the police arrived, he was catatonic. He stayed that way for four years."
"Was he ever considered a suspect?"
That seemed to surprise her. "Of course not. He was only a child. How could he have overpowered two adults and done something like that to them?"
Mulder tilted his head, conceding her point. "But he remained under psychiatric care after he came out of the catatonia?"
"He had no memory of what had happened. I gather that there were other emotional problems, but I don't know the details. He's on medication now and will be for the rest of his life, I suppose." She reached over and took Mulder's hand so quickly that he didn't have time to react. "He's *not* a killer. No matter what the circumstances seem to indicate. I need to know that you believe in his innocence."
Mulder gently pulled back his hand and stood. "I need to talk to him."
"He called in sick today. I can give you his address." She got up and walked around the desk to write it down. "He lives in the basement apartment in my building."
Mulder felt a shock of recognition when he read the address. Hawkes lived only a few blocks from Mulder's own building. It was one coincidence too many for his taste. "I know this area. A little pricey for a man just off public assistance."
A faint flush rose in her cheeks. "Well, it quite literally *is* my building. I own it. Kevin needed a place to stay and I was having a tough time finding a tenant for the basement apartment. I don't charge him full rent, of course, but it's better than having it sit vacant."
"He said you'd been very kind to him. I would call that quite an understatement." Mulder was impressed by her generosity, but at the same time, it made him vaguely uneasy for reasons he couldn't quite put his finger on.
Her eyes grew distant for a few seconds. "He and I have a lot in common. It felt good to be able to help." She gave him an appraising look. "I think you would have done the same. It may conflict with the tough image you have to project, but I've never seen such compassion in a man's eyes."
Mulder was stunned to feel the heat rising in his face. She was simply trying to win him over and he knew it, but she'd somehow managed to hit a button he wasn't aware of. Any hope that she wouldn't notice the effect she'd achieved withered when he met her delighted gaze.
"I'm sorry, Agent Mulder, if I'm making you uncomfortable." Her voice and her expression said exactly the opposite.
His cell phone rang at that moment, and he hoped the relief didn't show quite as plainly as he suspected it did. He nearly snatched it from his pocket. "Mulder."
"Mulder, it's me."
He turned his back on Elizabeth Saxon's satisfied smile and walked a few steps away. "Did you get the background check?"
"No, it won't be ready until after 3PM. I was going over the list of victims' names and I spotted something that may mean nothing, but..."
"What, Scully?" Her hesitance was odd.
"It's the names, Mulder. The victims' names."
Mulder quickly ran through the list in his head. Manrow, Barringer, Aldringham, Winchester, Becket, Dover, Lancaster, York, Dundee, and Greene. All Anglo-Saxon surnames, but not unusual. Did she mean *first* names?
"Similar in what way?"
"They're all... I don't know... *English*. Like characters in a Dickens novel. Well, except for the last two."
He was speechless. It had been staring him in the face for three days.
"I'll be there in twenty minutes." He shoved the phone back in his pocket and glanced back at the woman whose smile had vanished. "I'll be in touch."
"How the hell could I have missed this?" Mulder was pacing rapidly in front of his desk as he gestured wildly with the list in his right hand.
Scully was watching him from her seat behind his desk where she had been when he stormed into the office a few minutes ago. She rose and snagged his wrist as he turned to begin another circuit.
"Mulder, sit down." He sighed heavily and closed his eyes for a moment, then plunked down in the seat she had just vacated. Scully pulled a chair up next to him and turned him so they were facing each other.
"The names are a message, I think we agree on that. And they're English, native to the United Kingdom. After I called you, I looked them up on a genealogy website. He chose these people from a list, based on the fact that their names meant something to him. But what?"
He was shaking his head. "There *is* no message, that's his point. He chose the names because they were neutral and unremarkable, just like the way he kills. No emotion, no meaning. Nothing. That's why the profile is so damn universal." He ran the fingers of his right hand roughly through his hair. "I'm doing a piss poor job of explaining it, I know. We've been looking for meaning when the *absence* of it is the message."
"So how will this help find him?"
"Thanks, Mark... No, I'll pick it up myself in a few minutes. You're a lifesaver." Scully hung up the phone and turned to see Mulder tapping away at the keys, as focused as he had been for the past two hours.
He hadn't heard the phone ring and she knew she would have to touch him in order to get his attention. Breaking his concentration when he was like this was difficult and he rarely welcomed the interruption. It would be better to wait until he surfaced on his own.
Mark Christiansen had worked at top speed to complete the background check on Kevin Hawkes, as a favor to Scully. The undeniably cute young man from the Records unit had an obvious crush on her and she had taken a wee bit of advantage of that fact to gain his cooperation. Like Mulder had done with Elizabeth Saxon, except that Mulder had seemed less the instigator in that little interaction than the object of it.
There were a few other names she needed Mark to check out. All of the Helping Hands employees had to be screened now, and Scully had just decided to add another name to the list. Elizabeth Saxon's gender made her monumentally unlikely to be the killer, but there was something about the woman that bothered her.
She got up and crossed to the door, looking back at Mulder still huddled in front of the computer as if it was a roaring campfire. *He'll never know I'm gone.*
The phone was ringing again.
"Dammit." He spun his chair toward the sound and snatched the receiver up to his ear. "Mulder."
Silence for a beat, then "Agent Mulder? It's Elizabeth Saxon. I... did I call at a bad time?" Her hesitant, wary tone made him ashamed of himself.
He took a breath and tried again. "Sorry, I was in the middle of something. What's up?"
"I need to see you right away. I've come across some information that I think you need to know about."
"What is it?"
"Please, I don't want to talk about it on the phone. Can you come to my office?"
She must have sensed his reluctance.
"I think you'll want to talk to Kevin after I tell you what I've found, Agent Mulder. I can keep him here for you."
"All right. I'll be there as soon as I can."
He scribbled a quick note to Scully and headed for his car.
Elizabeth Saxon's office
"What did you want to tell me?" Forty minutes of rush hour traffic had fried his patience. *This better not be a ploy to get me over here.* As soon as the thought crossed his mind, he heard Scully's voice in his head. *A little full of ourselves, are we Mulder?*
Elizabeth Saxon stood up when he entered the room. She crossed to meet him, holding out a handwritten list. "This is what I wanted you to see."
He took the list from her and scanned it quickly. "What am I looking at?"
He had left the door open behind him and she walked around him to close it. "It's a request I received from my accountant to verify some overtime payments to one of my employees." She came back to stand in front of him. "These are all for Kevin Hawkes."
There were a dozen dates on the list, each accompanied by a start and stop time and the total hours worked. The first was December 13th. The last was the night Micki was murdered. He looked up at Elizabeth and found her swaying slightly, her eyes losing focus. He dropped the list and grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Are you all right?" When she shook her head weakly, he helped her to the couch and sat her down.
"I guess it just hit me. Could I have some water?" She pointed toward a plastic sports bottle on her desk. When he handed it to her, she took several long swallows. "I can't believe it. I just can't believe Kevin could do anything like this."
Mulder tilted his head slightly and watched her for a moment before turning to retrieve the list from the floor. He held it out to her. "What do you think this proves?"
"Don't you see? He was here alone on the nights those people were killed. I always let him use my car when he came in late at night to work, so he wouldn't have to ride the Metro. After he signed in with the guard, he could easily have left by my private door, committed the murders and returned the same way. The guard would testify that he was here the whole time. It's a perfect alibi."
"It's hardly an alibi. He would have to know that you'd testify to what you just told me."
She shook her head. "No, he knows how much I trusted him. He would expect me to believe in his innocence... to vouch for him." She bowed her head. "And it might have worked."
When Mulder didn't respond, she looked up at him. "Are you going to talk to him now?"
"Is he still here?"
"Yes, I gave him a project and told him he needed to complete it before he left."
When Mulder turned to leave, she grabbed his arm. "Please be careful. I'm afraid of what he might do when you confront him."
He reached down and disengaged himself. His expression was neutral. "Is he in the office where we met him yesterday?"
"Yes, at least he was an hour ago when I gave him the project."
"I'll just be asking him to come with me to make a formal statement. There's no need for you to be here if it's making you uncomfortable."
She nodded. "If it's okay then, I think I'll go home. I just can't face the thought of seeing him taken out of here in handcuffs."
"I doubt it's going to come to that." He almost smiled.
She picked up her coat and walked with him to the lobby. When he turned toward the records office, she went out the front door.
He had just reached Kevin's door and had his hand on the knob when she came running down the hall toward him, wide-eyed and out of breath.
"He's gone! He took my car and he's gone!"
The entire task force was seated at the large oval table, each with a copy of Mulder's hastily typed report. SAC Gilmore sat at the head of the table and A.D. Skinner was at the opposite end, flanked by his two agents.
Gilmore closed the report and laid it on the table in front of him. He folded his hands on top of it and looked directly at Mulder. "You don't believe the evidence you yourself gathered, Agent Mulder?"
"I didn't say that. I believe the evidence, I just don't think it makes Kevin Hawkes the killer."
Mulder's tone was mild and reasonable. Skinner had been on the receiving end of that calm, infuriating equanimity on many occasions and he could see it was having the same effect on SAC Gilmore. He cut in before Mulder could further fuel the man's frustration. "We've got the police looking for Elizabeth Saxon's car and we have the suspect's apartment under surveillance. I'm sure Agent Mulder means that the evidence, while compelling, is largely circumstantial."
If Mulder appreciated his boss's intervention, it didn't show in his expression. "It's all too convenient. All but the last victim are connected to Helping Hands where there just happens to be an emotionally disturbed man with full access to the victims' names and addresses. This man also just happens to have the use of a car and documented proof that he wasn't at home when the murders were taking place." Mulder picked up his report copy and flipped it toward the center of the table. "All that's missing is a video of him committing the crimes."
Gilmore wasn't swayed. "And he fits your profile, Agent Mulder. To a tee."
"So do at least a quarter of the men in Virginia, including you." Mulder's tone was treacherously close to insolence. This time his partner jumped in.
"I agree with Agent Mulder in that the evidence seems too convenient, but we won't really be able to make a determination until we can talk to the man."
"Which you did yesterday. Agent Mulder's report indicates that *you* suspected Hawkes almost immediately and requested a background check, the contents of which are nothing if not disturbing." A copy of the background check was included in Mulder's report. It confirmed what Elizabeth Saxon had told him. "The suspect's flight would seem to validate your first impression." Gilmore looked pointedly at Mulder who returned his gaze levelly. "He may in fact be in the process of killing his next victim as we speak, a possibility that could have been prevented had you been allowed to act on your instincts when you first talked with the man."
Skinner looked from Mulder to Gilmore, his expression unreadable. Then he pushed his chair back and stood up. "I'm sorry, but I have another meeting." He looked at Mulder. "Keep me informed of your progress." He turned and left the room.
Gilmore frowned slightly at Skinner's abrupt departure and also stood, signaling the end of the meeting. "We're covering all avenues of egress as well as we can with the resources available. There will be a progress meeting here tomorrow at 3PM," he again directed his gaze at Mulder, "unless something happens before that."
The room began to empty. Mulder and Scully, being farthest from the door, were the last to leave. When they went out into the hall, Gilmore was waiting for them.
"Agent Mulder, I'd like a word with you," he glanced at Scully, "in private."
Mulder nodded at Scully. "I'll catch up with you." He read the caution in her eyes and acknowledged it with another nod.
The SAC wasted no time in getting to the point. "This case too normal for you, Mulder? Is that the problem? Because if it is, I want to know before somebody *else* dies while you're busy ignoring the obvious in search of the bizarre."
"Sir, I don't believe I've proposed any theories, bizarre or otherwise. All I've said is that the evidence is too pat to be anything but contrived."
"Contrived by whom? And for what purpose?"
"That I can't answer. But the killer *does* have a goal, and when we find it, we'll find him."
Gilmore looked at him for a long moment. "You already found him, Agent Mulder. And you let him get away. I hope no one else has to die before you acknowledge your mistake."
Scully was waiting next to Mulder's car when he reached the parking garage.
"What did he want?"
Mulder unlocked his door and leaned one elbow on the roof of the car. "The usual. He wanted to remind me that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, or something to that effect." He gave her a small grin. "It's okay, Scully. I'm used to it."
She hesitated for a moment, biting her lip. "Mulder, what makes you so sure that it isn't Kevin Hawkes? The evidence points overwhelmingly in his direction."
"That's part of the problem. It's all too cut and dried. When have you ever seen a case this perfect?"
"He even fits your profile."
"Such as it is, yeah. So does Skinner. So do I."
She studied his face for a moment. "Why don't you come over tonight? We could make popcorn and watch old movies." Her hand rested on his arm.
"You worry too much." He took her hand and squeezed it gently. "Go home and take a bubble bath." The corner of his mouth quirked up. "I'm thinking of doing that myself."
"Get some rest, Mulder. I'll see you in the morning." She matched his smile.
Mulder got in his car and watched as she walked to hers, then pulled out of the garage and headed for home.
Shell Service Station
He only had four dollars in his pocket. If he pumped more than that, he was screwed. As the numbers rolled closer to the mark, he began to let up on the handle every couple of seconds, treading the fine line between being financially embarrassed and getting enough gas to make it back to Alexandria. This would buy him no more than a quarter of a tank but it was better than the fumes he was running on now.
He released the handle with a flourish as the price rolled to an obliging stop at $3.94. Close enough.
It was a busy night. There were four people ahead of him in line for the only open register, and every damn one of them was buying lottery tickets. He was weighing the merits of just tossing his money on the counter when the sound of his name made him look up. There was a police scanner somewhere behind the counter and Kevin couldn't believe what he was hearing.
"...wanted for questioning Kevin Jerold Hawkes, 24. Subject is five nine, one hundred fifty pounds ..."
What the hell? He looked furtively at the other patrons and saw no sign that they were paying attention.
"...ten murders have been attributed..."
He reached the front of the line as the dispatcher began to give a description of the car he was driving. His boss's car.
He paid for the gas and speed walked to the car, trying very hard not to look like a fugitive. The car was a liability, but leaving it abandoned at the pump under the glaring fluorescent lights would be worse.
That BITCH! 'I can help you,' she'd promised him. That sweet, beautiful face... smiling with her eyes, lying with her heart.
He tamped down his fury with an iron will. It wouldn't do to draw attention to himself... not now. Not yet.
He pulled carefully into traffic and headed for Alexandria.
Four hours and thirty minutes into a four hour stakeout, tempers were wearing a little thin, but that wasn't the only reason she was ready to throttle her smirking partner.
"Why are you so fascinated by all this, may I ask?" She flipped the empty paper cup onto the floor of the bureau issued sedan and fixed him with steely gray eyes.
"I'm not 'fascinated', it's just that I've had fifty bucks in the pool for the last two years. The last I heard, it was worth over two grand. I think Rawlings is just sucking up the interest."
"I've never understood why Mulder and Scully, above every other couple in the Bureau, draw so damn much attention. Who the hell cares if they do it or not? They wouldn't be the first and they damn sure won't be the last." She peered up and down the street for the tenth time in the past thirty minutes. "And where the hell is our relief?"
"They're late. And no, they wouldn't be the first. There's just..."
A gunshot from inside the building had both agents out of the car and running. They were halfway to the building when the front door flew open and a woman wearing nothing but a short, untied robe came toward them at a dead run.
"He tried to kill me! Oh my God, he tried to kill me!"
Agent Linda Milligan reached the woman first, grabbing her by both shoulders to drag her to a halt. Her momentum was such that it pulled them both around in a half circle before it dissipated, leaving the woman facing the building she had just fled.
"Who tried to kill you? Was it Hawkes?"
"YES! Kevin Hawkes. He's in my apartment, third floor." She was crying now, the hysteria changing rapidly to shock. "He's dead. I killed him! I killed him!"
Elizabeth Saxon's green eyes glazed over and rolled back as she crumpled to the sidewalk.
The call from SAC Gilmore had been terse and vaguely gloating. Scully was certain that his pleasure at telling Mulder the news must have been exquisite.
She pulled up just as doors on the Coroner's van were being closed. She got out quickly and held up her badge.
"Just a moment, please."
The attendant gave her a weary look, opened the doors and stood back. Scully rolled the stretcher out partway and unzipped the plastic bag enclosing the remains of Kevin Hawkes.
There was a neat, round hole in the middle of his forehead and his expression was one of utter astonishment. His shocked blue eyes stared back at her above a mouth still open in surprise. The image of him blushing at her question yesterday afternoon put a lump of pity in her throat, and she quickly closed the bag.
"Thank you." She stepped back and watched the van pull away.
She went directly to the third floor apartment and found it filled with people. CSU techs were everywhere, taking photographs, slipping pieces of evidence into plastic bags, dusting every surface for prints. They threaded through the crowd with the grace of toreadors. At the center of their dance was the yellow tape outline that marked where the body had lain, a scarlet spray decorating the center.
Mulder wasn't there, although she had seen his car out front. Gilmore was. He smiled broadly when he turned and saw her.
"Agent Scully, glad you could make it."
"Yes, Sir. Where is Agent Mulder?"
Gilmore smirked shamelessly. "He was here a minute ago. Check out the killer's apartment down in the basement. Mulder's no doubt down there trying to disprove his death." He clearly found himself incredibly witty.
Scully turned on her heel and left the apartment, stiffening her back against Gilmore's undisguised glee.
She found Mulder in the basement apartment which was a wasteland compared to the one she'd just left. With Hawkes having already been identified as the killer to everyone's (with one notable exception) satisfaction, there was nothing left to investigate.
He was crouched in the middle of the sparsely furnished living room with one of the CSU techs. They were poking through the contents of a cardboard box with latex gloved hands.
Mulder looked up and smiled in her direction. As he often did, he had seemed to sense her presence before she even entered the room.
She returned his smile. "What've you got there?"
He fished a roll of duct tape out of the box and held it up for her. "A smoking gun?"
The tech braced his hands on his knees and stood up. "Looks that way." He looked down at Mulder. "You seen enough?"
Mulder dropped the tape back into the box and rose effortlessly to his feet. He peeled off the latex gloves and dropped them into the box. "It's all yours."
The tech picked up the box and headed for the door. Scully stepped back to let him by, then crossed to Mulder.
"Go ahead, Scully." He smiled. "You *did* tell me so."
"You're only right 98.9 per cent of the time, Mulder, by your own calculation."
He chuckled softly at the memory, which was the reaction she'd been hoping for. She reached for his hand and gave it a gentle tug. "Come on. Let's get out of here before Gilmore drops by. One more smirk and I'll deck him myself."
They threaded their way through the mass of news media people in front of the building and reached Scully's car.
"I could come home with you... make you some tea?"
Tempting though her offer was, Mulder had something more pressing. "Thanks, but I want to stop by the hospital for awhile. I've got some questions for Elizabeth Saxon."
Scully couldn't hide her dismay. "Why, Mulder? What will questioning her accomplish now? The killer has been found."
"There was physical evidence in his apartment and he was shot trying to kill his boss. You can't seriously think he *wasn't* the killer."
"It's too damn tidy, and I'm not just saying that because it looks like I was wrong about Kevin Hawkes. As for the physical evidence, *I* have a roll of duct tape in my apartment as does every man in America. I just want to talk to her and clear up a few details while it's all fresh in her mind."
"She's being treated for shock. How reliable do you think her memory is *now*?"
"Better than it will be tomorrow." He placed his hand lightly on her shoulder. "Look, there's no reason for you to stick around and join me on Gilmore's shit list. I'll see you tomorrow."
Scully extracted a promise from him to keep his visit short and inconspicuous, then got in her car and drove off.
Mulder watched until she turned the corner, then headed for his own car.
Inova Mount Vernon Hospital
Mulder found Elizabeth Saxon flat on her back, staring blankly up at the ceiling. She raised her head up when he entered the room and smiled when she saw who it was.
"Agent Mulder. What a nice surprise."
She reached out her right hand to him and he had the absurd impression that she wanted him to kiss it. He gave it a brief squeeze.
He pulled a chair close to the bed so she could see him in her supine position. "Do you feel up to answering a few questions?"
"I'm okay for someone who was almost killed by a man she trusted." She shook her head and looked away. "I'm sorry, that was uncalled for."
"It's all right. I understand." He waited until she turned back to him. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"I've already given a statement to the police. What else do you need to know?"
"I'll get a copy of the statement. Is there anything you've remembered since the police were here?"
"No, I haven't. Like I told them, he was already in my apartment when I came out of the shower. Maybe I left the door unlocked, I don't know."
"He attacked you?"
She closed her eyes. "He never said a word, just came at me. I ran to the desk and got my gun. I shot him. Then I ran out of the building and found two FBI agents right out front." She turned to face him again. "That's really all there is."
Mulder stood and touched her shoulder briefly. "You've been very helpful. If there are any more questions, I'll contact you at your office." He turned to leave.
He turned back at the door.
"I'm sorry it was Kevin."
"Yeah. So am I."
Mulder had come in to the office cloaked in one of his introspective moods with little to say about his visit with Elizabeth Saxon. Long experience told Scully not to press him. His instincts had failed him this time, and she would just have to let him work through it.
There were several passably interesting cases waiting to be reviewed, and they spent the morning going over them. As lunch time approached, Scully suggested that they go out for a change.
"How about something greasy and unhealthy, Mulder? That ought to boost your spirits, not to mention your cholesterol."
He brightened noticeably. "Now, that's a..."
The phone rang and he rolled his eyes at her comically as he brought the receiver to his ear. "Mulder."
He glanced at Scully and mouthed *Elizabeth Saxon*.
"No, that's all right. What's up?" He listened for a moment. Whatever she was saying seemed to be making him slightly uncomfortable.
"Uh, I'm sorry, I already have plans." Another pause, then he began to shake his head. "No, not at all. Maybe another time."He hung up and sighed audibly.
"You seem to have made quite a conquest." This didn't seem to be amusing him as much as it had the first time. She suddenly regretted teasing him.
"Not funny." He closed the folder he'd been working on and stood up. "I'm starving. Where are we going for lunch?"
They wound up at Casey's and Mulder spent the whole time talking about Micki Manrow. Scully had known they were friends, that he would stop by Casey's to see her from time to time, but nothing specific. Hearing him now, having his own private wake in her memory, touched her in a way she couldn't explain.
"I met her at a very low point in my life, right after the OPR hearing on the Dallas bombing. Skinner had just told me we were going to be blamed for it... and you had just asked me if my heart was still in the work." He had been studying his hands as he talked, but he looked up at her now to let her see in his eyes what he couldn't put into words. "She was a good friend."
By the time they left to return to work, his mood had lightened. As they walked back to the Hoover building, they resumed their debate on which of the pending cases they would work next. Mulder's preference was the six unexplained deaths in western Montana. It was Scully's *least* favored for a number of reasons, not the least of which was its disturbing similarity to the case a few weeks ago in Elmwood, Ohio. The one that had nearly killed him.
"Scully, six perfectly healthy women between the ages of twenty and thirty, found dead in their cars with no discernible cause of death. In a town with a total population of 473. You don't think..."
They both stopped and turned toward the voice, directly into Elizabeth Saxon's adoring gaze.
"I'm not sure this is a good idea, Mulder."
Elizabeth Saxon had begun calling him at the office the day after their 'chance' encounter. She had then called him twice on Thursday and three times on Friday, her excuses becoming more transparent each time. He'd come in to the office this morning looking grim and exhausted after a three-day weekend spent dodging the woman's calls and hoping she would take the hint. Scully had spent *her* weekend helping redecorate her mom's kitchen. As much as Mulder hated the smell of paint, he'd spent all day Sunday helping her, just to avoid the phone.
When the calls had resumed this morning, he'd agreed to meet the woman for coffee after work. It had become apparent that nothing short of the unvarnished truth was going to get through to her.
"I'll admit that I don't have much experience discouraging crushes," there was a definite twinkle of mirth in his eyes, "but I *do* have a degree in psychology."
"Psychology isn't going to do you much good in this situation. A woman as smitten as Elizabeth Saxon appears to be isn't likely to welcome being told she's delusional."
"Delusional, Scully? She's delusional because she finds me irresistibly attractive?" His exaggeratedly wounded look was not totally feigned.
"You're *completely* irresistible, Mulder. I think I've conceded that on a number of occasions." That got her a grin. She'd recently spent Valentine's Day (and night) demonstrating just how irresistible she found him. "I'm just saying that you're not going to be able to talk her out of feeling the way she does. It doesn't work that way. And she obviously thinks you are attracted to her, too. If you do manage to convince her you're not, she could become an even greater problem than she already is.
"'Hell hath no fury'? I think that will be less likely if I use a little charm when I discourage her."
"Would that be the same charm that got you into this in the first place?"
The bubbles were going flat all around her, deflating in a quiet chorus of hissing pops. And the water was becoming too cool for comfort. Scully opened the drain, stood up and turned on the shower to rinse the soap off and wash her hair.
When she shut off the water a few minutes later, she heard the phone ringing. Mulder, no doubt, reporting on his meeting with Elizabeth Saxon. She quickly toweled off and donned her robe. If it had gone as badly as she expected, she was going to invite Mulder over for some tea and sympathy.
The machine was cutting off at the end of his message as she reached the living room. The phone rang again an instant later as she was reaching for the receiver, but it wasn't Mulder's number on the caller id. It was a trunk line at the Hoover building. She was frowning slightly as she picked up the receiver.
"Agent Scully, it's Mark Christiansen. I was just leaving you a message and the machine cut me off. Must have been a little long winded. I'm sorry to call so late but you said you wanted the results as soon as possible and I just finished."
She smiled into the phone. "Mark, are you still at work?"
She could almost hear him blushing. "It's okay, I had some other work I had to finish, too. This took a little longer than I expected. You didn't mention that I'd be searching databases in London."
Alarm tingled through her. "What do you mean?"
She heard him shuffling paper. "Elizabeth Saxon, AKA Elizabeth Dresser, AKA Elizabeth Masterson, born Elizabeth Alice Baker on June 14, 1963 in Sisters of Charity Hospital, London, England."
Scully's mouth went dry. "She's a British citizen?"
"Not any more. Married Henry Masterson in 1989, a psychiatrist at the clinic in Boston where she spent a few years as a patient after college. She renounced her British citizenship shortly after they were married. He died in a fire two years later, leaving her a very wealthy woman. She then married Walter Dresser, an IBM executive from her old hometown. She moved back to London for a couple of years, then came back to the states when Walter met an untimely end in a car accident. She changed her name legally to Saxon a little over a year ago, just before she set up the charity she runs and, from all appearances, largely funds from her own money."
"Mark, where did she go to college."
He flipped some pages. She already knew the answer, but the word still hit her like a physical blow.
Elizabeth Saxon's apartment
Scully was right. This wasn't going to be as easy as he'd hoped. He had agreed to meet her for coffee, but telling her at Starbuck's had felt wrong. So he agreed to have dinner with her. Then the table at the restaurant had seemed too, well, *public* for the conversation he had in mind. So here he was, in precisely the last place he wanted to be, and she seemed way too happy to have him there.
"I'm such a klutz with a corkscrew. Could you give me a hand, Fox?" Her voice floated out from the kitchen, soft and warm with the invitation that had been in her eyes all evening. And now she was calling him 'Fox'.
He looked heavenward for a moment, then rose wearily from the couch and went out to the kitchen. She held out the corkscrew and a bottle of wine.
"I'm cutting up some fruit and cheese. Why don't you take that out to the living room and I'll be with you in a moment." She gave him a radiant smile and turned back to the counter.
Mulder was starting to feel a little sick. He set the bottle and corkscrew on the table and walked over to put his hand on her shoulder.
"Elizabeth, we need to talk."
She must have heard something in his voice, because she froze in mid chop. She spoke without turning around, just the tiniest tremor in her voice.
"Why do I not like the sound of that?"
He took her gently by the shoulders and turned her around to face him.
"Look, I'm doing a terrible job of this. The reason I agreed to meet you is that I think I've given you the wrong impression about..."
She reached up and pressed her fingertips against his lips.
"Please don't say it, Fox. We've only known each other for a few days. You haven't given it a chance."
"Elizabeth, I'm sorry. This has nothing to do with you or how long we've known each other. I'm not interested in pursuing a relationship with anyone. Not at this point in my life."
She looked into his eyes for a long moment, her expression blank. Then she smiled sadly. "I knew you were too good to be true." She turned away from him and leaned against the counter. "It's okay, Fox. Really. I guess it doesn't matter that I caught your killer for you, at the risk of my own life." There was a slight edge to her voice and her back had stiffened.
Mulder took a step backward. "You didn't do that for me, Elizabeth. You said he was going to kill you." All of his internal alarms were going off simultaneously.
"I did more for you than you'll ever know."
It happened so quickly and in such close quarters that he had no chance to react. One moment, she was resting against the counter with her head bowed. The next, she was flush against him, pressing both hands into his chest. There was incredible, numbing pain in her touch and he felt his legs buckle. He couldn't feel his arms at all. The pain radiated out from his chest, into his belly then down his legs. He began to sag toward the floor, but it seemed to have disappeared. And he just kept falling...
She'd hung up with Mark and dialed Mulder's number. It rang twice and then the machine came on. She waited for his message to play out, then called out to him. "Mulder, it's me. Pick up if you're there." Silence.
It was almost eight thirty. He was meeting her at Starbuck's at six. Where the hell could he be?
She punched in his cell phone number. *Answer your phone, Mulder.*
It didn't even ring. She heard the first words of the wireless company's "Customer is out of range" message and hung up. Why would his cell phone be turned off?
She felt the first flutter of panic and took a deep breath. What she'd learned about Elizabeth Saxon was disturbing, but it didn't necessarily make her dangerous. She was two years behind Mulder in college and probably never even saw him. He certainly didn't know *her*. It was nothing more than a coincidence.
So where the hell *are* you, Mulder?
Elizabeth Saxon's apartment
Awareness returned with a stinging slap that rocked his head to the side and left the taste of blood in his mouth. He was propped against something soft and his hands were bound tightly behind his back. He opened his eyes and found Elizabeth Saxon kneeling at his side.
"You're a real piece of work. I can't believe I let you do this to me twice."
He blinked, trying to focus eyes that felt like they were coated with sand. "Eliz..."
She backhanded him with his own gun.
"*DON'T* you dare pull that 'concerned friend' crap with me again! I've had all I can stomach."
She rolled back on her heels and stood up, towering over him with hatred blazing from every pore. "You and I are going to take a little drive to the country."
She grabbed a fistful of his shirt and hauled him to his feet. When his knees started to buckle, she tightened her hold and jerked him upright.
"If you pass out on me, I promise you won't like what I'll do to bring you around." She held on to him for a moment, watching him shake his head trying to clear it. Then she backed up a few steps and felt behind her for his topcoat draped over the arm of the couch.
She hung the coat over his shoulders. "Wouldn't want you to catch your death."
"What makes you think I'm just going to follow you meekly to your car so you can kill me?"
"What makes you think I'm going to kill you, Fox?" She smiled. "We're just going to find somewhere out of the way so we can talk." The smile slipped. "Just like old times."
"Old times? We don't *have* any 'old times'." The effects of whatever she'd used on him was wearing off. He began to work on loosening the tape around his wrists, hoping the coat would cover the movement.
"Wrong again, Agent Mulder. But don't worry about that now. We'll have lots of time to reminisce when we get where we're going." She picked up her own coat from the couch and slipped in on. "Move very carefully out to the parking lot. If you try to get away from me, you die."
"Two murders in your apartment in the same week might generate some attention." He stiffened his stance but softened his voice. "Look, untie me and we can talk right here. You can even keep the gun for now."
"That's very generous of you, but I'd be willing to take my chances with the law. I'm a very convincing liar and I'm not afraid to give myself some equally convincing injuries to back up my claim of self defense." She pointed the SIG at his head. "Don't test my resolve. I promise you'll lose."
Mulder quickly reviewed his options. If he pushed this woman, she would kill him. If he went along with her, she'd probably kill him anyway, but it would buy him some time. Scully had to be wondering where he was by now. Eventually, she'd come looking for him.
"Where are we going?"
"Somewhere private. Now, move."
They walked quickly to the parking lot. Mulder turned toward his captor's car, but she grabbed his arm.
"We're taking *your* car." She pulled his keys from her pocket and opened the passenger door. When she had him situated and firmly buckled in, she moved to the other side and got in behind the wheel. She placed the gun in her lap.
"Sit back and relax. We've got a long way to go."
"Hello. This is Elizabeth Saxon. I can't come to the phone right now. Please leave a message."
Scully pressed the 'END' button and worked on leveling out her breathing. Mulder's car was not in the parking lot, but she hadn't expected it to be. She was here to see the last person she could be certain had been with her missing partner.
She had finally called Skinner as she was driving here from Mulder's apartment. She had quickly summarized all that she knew, including how she had found Mulder's apartment empty and undisturbed. The background check had alarmed their boss as much as it had her, but she could sense his discomfort as he asked the obvious question.
"Are you certain that Mulder isn't... well, *with* this woman somewhere? I don't mean to be indelicate, but if she's as attractive as you describe... " He left the rest unsaid but clearly understood.
"Sir, I'm not certain of much at this point, but I *do* know that Agent Mulder is not on a *date*."
At Skinner's stunned silence, she had apologized for her tone and promised to call him with an update after speaking with Saxon.
She listened at the door for a moment before she knocked. When there was no response, she efficiently picked the lock and entered the living room.
A single light was burning in the kitchen off to her right. The living room was in shadows. She reached along the wall, found a switch and flipped it.
The coffee table was shoved out of place, sitting perpendicular to the couch. In the kitchen, she found two empty wineglasses and an unopened bottle of Beaujolais on the table. A cutting board on the counter held sliced apples and cheese.
Scully quickly checked the bedroom and bath to assure herself that she was alone in the apartment, then she returned to the living room and began to search for evidence that her partner had been there. She found it almost immediately when her toe brushed against something tucked just under the front edge of the couch: a black leather wallet holding Mulder's badge and ID.
State Route 50 E
He'd been leaning forward to ease the pressure on his shoulders, but the position was making the muscles of his lower back clench in protest. He winced as he moved back against the seat and Saxon noticed.
"We'll be turning off the highway in about an hour. I can let you stretch your legs for a bit then if you promise not to make me shoot you."
Mulder turned toward her, leaning half against the car door. "Where are we going?"
She looked at him appraisingly for a moment, then looked back the road ahead. "I don't suppose it matters at this point. Who are you going to tell? We're going to a cottage I have in Rehoboth Beach."
"And then what?"
"And then I'm going to tell you a story, Fox." She smiled at him again. "After that, I guess we'll just have to see."
"It's me, Frohike. Hurry up." Scully stood at the top of the open metalwork stairs listening impatiently to the clank of innumerable locks and bolts being disengaged. The door finally opened and the little man stood back as she pushed past him into the lair of Mulder's favorite paranoiacs.
Byers, dressed impeccably as he always was no matter what hour of the day or night she saw him, stood next to the congenitally rumpled Langley.
"You said it was an emergency. Where's Mulder?"
"That's what I need you to help me find out." She handed Byers the folder she'd stopped at the office to retrieve. "This woman," she pointed to the black and white photo that had come with Mark Christiansen's background check, "has taken Mulder somewhere. I want to know where."
Three sets of eyes lingered for a moment on the undeniably beautiful woman in the picture, then rose as one to look at Scully. Byers spoke first.
"Did he, uh, did he go with her willingly?"
Frohike glared at him. "Of course not." He turned to Scully. "Who is she?"
She quickly outlined the profiling case and Elizabeth Saxon's connection to it, describing her apparent attraction to Mulder as objectively as she could. "I couldn't reach him on his phone, so I went looking for him. I found this under the couch in her apartment." She held out his badge.
"So what can we do?" Langley moved to his computer and cracked his knuckles.
Forty minutes after she had arrived, Scully was on her way to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware with a copy of Elizabeth Saxon's real estate transfer in her hand, more certain than ever that Mulder's life was hanging in the balance.
Route 404, 3 miles NW of Denton, MD
"I'm pulling over here to use the restroom. You're coming with me."
It was a small rest area with a single wooden structure and room for about two dozen cars. The only other occupant was an idling tractor trailer rig taking up one entire side of the asphalt lot. Elizabeth walked around the car and opened his door.
"Try to get away and I promise, you'll regret it." She pulled roughly on his aching shoulder until he stood next to the car, then she prodded him in the back with his gun until he moved toward the building. He stopped opposite a pair of doors and looked at her over his shoulder.
"The Women's, of course." She reached around him and opened the door, insuring his cooperation with another painful jab.
"I can't afford to take my eyes off you, so I'm afraid modesty will have to go by the boards." She placed him against the wall next to the first stall and unzipped her jeans with one hand, keeping his gun pointed at him with the other. She backed into the stall and used the toilet.
When she was finished, she wrestled her jeans back up and approached him cautiously. "Do you need to use the restroom?"
He shrugged the coat from his shoulders and twisted around, sticking his bound hands toward her. "Yeah. Untie me."
She smirked at him. "Nice try, Fox. If you need to go, you'll just have to let me help you."
"No." The revulsion on his face was echoed in that single word.
Her expression went utterly blank and the gun wavered for an instant. When she spoke, her voice had lost all inflection. "I won't touch you." She motioned him toward the exit and waited until he moved before she picked up his coat. She placed it back on his shoulders with an odd gentleness and opened the door.
When they were back in the car, she started to turn the key but stopped and turned to face him.
He was shocked by the tears coursing down her face.
"You're such a bastard." Her voice was a husky whisper, thick with tears. "But you're so damn beautiful."
"Elizabeth, I..." She hit him in the face with the gun, splitting his lip.
"I knew you wouldn't recognize me. I didn't want you to. But I thought... after you talked to me... " Her eyes grew distant for a moment, then turned back to him. "I've loved you for half of my life."
Mulder's brow was knitted into a deeply puzzled frown. "Elizabeth, I have no idea what you're talking about."
"You were in love with someone else. Someone who didn't deserve you. But the things you said to me, the way you touched me..." She took a hitching breath. "I thought you could love me."
"Please believe me, Elizabeth. Whoever you're thinking of, it wasn't me. I..." The fury in her eyes made him stop.
"IT. WAS. YOU. You have no idea what I've been through, no idea what I've done for you... to change my appearance, my voice... my LIFE! I've done things that no one should have to do, just to bring us together. I thought that once you saw me again, once I helped you get your job back..."
"What..." Mulder's mouth had suddenly turned to dust. "What are you saying?"
"Just shut up and listen to me." She swiped furiously at her cheeks. "On June 14, 1985 you went to a friend's graduation party at a pub. It was my twenty- second birthday and I was there celebrating alone. You and I had had a couple of classes together that term, but you didn't even recognize me. You told me later that I reminded you of someone you had lost, and that's why you approached me. We talked for hours while you tried to drink yourself into a coma. Then I took you home with me, and we made love until dawn."
Memory flooded back.
He hadn't wanted to go that night, still raw and bleeding from Phoebe's most recent betrayal, but the lure of alcohol induced oblivion had overcome his desire to lick his wounds in private. He had arrived late and spent the first hour trying to catch up. He'd just drained his fifth pint of dark ale when he saw her, alone at a table in the corner. What had drawn his attention was her long, brown hair and the way she was curled in on herself, as if the world was closing in.
Two hours later, his brain sodden with way too much ale and his wounded ego seduced by her obvious adoration, he'd gone home with her and fucked her until he passed out.
Remorse and a killer hangover had arrived simultaneously, and he'd left before she awoke. He never saw her again, in part because he was trying not to, but mostly because Phoebe was suddenly back in his life. Until this moment, he'd completely forgotten the entire incident.
He struggled to find his voice. "Elizabeth..." But what could he say? 'I was drunk.'? 'I needed somebody to fuck Phoebe Greene out of my system.'? 'I didn't recognize you because you're pretty now.'? He tried again. "Elizabeth, I..."
She continued as if he hadn't spoken.
"I followed your career, read all about the fame you were earning with your profiling ability. And then, it was all over. You lost it all and ended up with nothing. That was when I realized how I could help you. I knew you would be grateful, and I knew that once you saw me again, saw how I'd changed myself into a woman you would love..." Her expression hardened along with her voice. "But you're just like every son of a bitch I've ever known, aren't you, Fox? You never cared about me. I was just something to do until Phoebe looked your way again. I know that now." Her eyes took on a distant expression. Everything I did... it was all for nothing."
His stomach was rolling. "Elizabeth, what did you do?"
She focused on him, smiling. "You know, Fox. I can see it in your eyes. I killed those people for you."
Scully gripped the wheel with one hand, holding the cell phone away from her ear with the other in an attempt to lessen the damage from Skinner's booming condemnation.
"Sir, I couldn't wait. Mulder is in serious danger, I know it."
"Agent Scully, we'll get an A.P.B. out on Mulder's car. The police will pick them up. You've put Agent Mulder *and* yourself in danger with this stunt, and you've given her a hell of a head start."
"Mulder knows she's delusional, Sir, but he has no idea she's a killer. I have to get to him before he finds out the hard way."
She could hear him pacing. "You are NOT to enter that house without backup. I'll have the police go there now and stake it out. Contact me when you get there. I'm on my way." He hung up.
She disconnected the call and slammed the phone onto the seat with such force that it bounced off the dashboard toward her face. She flinched reflexively. When she looked back up at the road, there was a car directly in front of her, pulling out of the rest area to her right. She braked sharply and fought the wheel for a moment to get the car under control.
It was Mulder's car.
Mulder turned quickly in the seat as the headlights bore down on them. Elizabeth Saxon glanced casually over her shoulder and stepped on the gas, leaving the skidding car in their wake.
Scully's SIG was in her hand. She had no memory of pulling it from her holster. In the brief flash of her headlights, she had seen Mulder looking back from the passenger seat. She knew he hadn't seen her.
She could follow them all the way to the house and risk setting up a barricaded suspect with a hostage. Or she could stop the car somehow and risk getting Mulder killed in the crossfire. As she was weighing these equally unappealing options, the car ahead switched abruptly to the left lane, opening the lane ahead of Scully.
"Elizabeth, what are you doing!"
She had switched lanes with eyes riveted on the rear view mirror.
"It's your partner, Fox. I'd recognize that red hair anywhere."
He turned to look in the side mirror. Without the glare of the headlights coming directly at them, he could see the car. It was Scully's, and he felt cold fear for the first time since this nightmare began.
Scully slowed to let Mulder's car pull ahead and to give herself time to think. If the woman had seen her, she wasn't giving any indication. Scully was helpless to do more than watch them pull away, knowing that her partner's life depended on her not provoking a confrontation while he was so vulnerable.
She picked up her cell phone to dial Skinner's number, her eyes riveted on the passenger side of the car ahead.
Mulder turned to Elizabeth. "It's over, Elizabeth. Don't let what I did to you ruin the rest of your life."
She glared at him. "Too late, Fox. The damage is done."
"No, it's not. You can be helped. *I* want to help you." He glanced back at Scully's car, and Elizabeth saw the look in his eyes.
"You're afraid for her, aren't you? It's written all over your face." When he turned back to her, she twisted her lips in disgust. "Are you fucking her, too?"
"NO!" He answered too quickly and she sneered at him.
"Maybe I've been going about this all wrong." She picked up the gun from her lap and thumbed off the safety.
Mulder was thrown forward as she stepped hard on the brakes, bringing Scully's car abruptly alongside. His partner's startled face turned toward him and their eyes met for an instant.
From the corner of his eye, he saw the SIG coming up, pointing at Scully's head from a distance of less than ten feet.
He threw himself at the gun.
Scully barely had time to register the flash of brake lights. Before she could react, Mulder's car was next to hers and she found herself looking directly into his eyes. An instant later, he was moving to his left. The sound of a gunshot and the accompanying muzzle flash turned her blood to ice.
The gun discharged, blinding them both with the flash. His momentum was transferred to Elizabeth and she jerked the wheel to the left as she fell toward the door. The rear end slid to the right and continued around until the car was skidding backward at close to fifty miles an hour.
Elizabeth pulled desperately at the wheel and succeeded only in sending it into a 360 degree spin that carried it over the median and across the opposite lanes into the dark trees beyond.
Scully watched in horror as Mulder's car spun out of control across the road. When it reached the opposite shoulder, it caromed off a utility pole and flipped end over end into the dark, throwing sparks and shards of glass and metal in its wake.
Anne Arundel General Hospital
She was just coming out of Mulder's room, on her way to the nurses' station to raise a little hell, when A.D. Skinner's voice turned her around. He was coming toward her at his usual brisk pace, his face creased with concern.
"How is he?" Skinner came to a stop at her side and placed his hand on her shoulder.
"He hasn't fully regained consciousness yet, Sir, but he's going to be fine. I was just on my way to speak to his nurses." She did not attempt to disguise her irritation. "Why don't you go in and see him? I'll be right back."
She turned on her heel and continued on her mission. When she reached her goal, she grabbed the first nurse she could reach and explained, in no uncertain terms, her opinion of the LPN who had just fled Mulder's room in terror after badly bungling an IV insertion under Scully's watchful eye.
"I want a new kit brought to me. I'll handle it myself."
The nurse regarded her calmly and explained that the LPN had already told her about the 'problem' in room 318. She would be sending another nurse down shortly. Her tone was so kind that Scully immediately regretted her outburst.
"I'm sorry. I don't mean to be difficult, but the woman hurt him trying to insert a simple IV and I don't want her near him again."
The nurse smiled a bit stiffly. "You've earned something of a reputation in the past few hours, Dr. Scully. I think she was just nervous. I'll come down and take care of the IV myself. Would that be okay?"
Scully smiled back. "That would be fine. Thank you."
When she returned to Mulder's room, she found Skinner leaning over his bed. He looked up with the same concerned expression he'd worn in the hall.
"He's in a coma?"
"No sir, he's unconscious. He's been awake a few times, not enough to know where he is yet, but his vitals are all good. He has a concussion and some cracked ribs, but he's going to be fine."
Skinner's relief was evident in the way his entire posture relaxed. "That's good news."
The nurse Scully had spoken with earlier came into the room with a fresh IV kit.
"Sir, let's go out to the lounge for a few minutes." She smiled at the nurse and received an understanding nod in reply. Truce was declared. She really didn't want the nursing staff in an uproar. Mulder would be having that effect on them himself soon enough.
They walked a few steps down the hall to a small waiting room and sat on the couch.
"Agent Scully, you have some explaining to do." With his immediate concern for Mulder resolved, his anger over her actions had apparently returned full force.
Scully nodded. "Yes, Sir. I know that. But I want you to understand that I had no choice under the circumstances. Mulder had no idea who this woman was, or how dangerous she could be. If I had allowed them to reach their destination, I'm certain she would have killed him."
"You allowed her to get a head start before you called me."
"That wasn't my intention, Sir. It just worked out that way."
He snorted at that. "We'll discuss this tomorrow morning in my office."
There was a brief, awkward pause.
"So Kevin Hawkes wasn't the killer after all." The concern was back in his voice.
She shook her head. "No, sir, he wasn't. Mulder was right about that from the beginning. Hawkes was just another of her victims."
He shifted uncomfortably and glanced toward Mulder's room. "I understand there were journals found in her apartment which seem to indicate that she planned these murders to... attract Agent Mulder."
"One of the task force members stopped by a little while ago and told me about them. I gather that Elizabeth Saxon was quite specific about her plans. She apparently believed she would come out of this as the heroine who found the killer, and that it would somehow bring Mulder to her."
"She thought killing ten people would bring Mulder to her?"
"She was a textbook sociopath, Sir. I... came across her medical history when I was trying to find where she had taken him. Sociopaths are totally devoid of remorse or compassion, willing to do whatever it takes to get what they want. Killing those people was nothing more to her than a necessary evil."
"Where the hell did Mulder come in contact with her? And how could he not have recognized her when he saw her again?"
"They were both at Oxford at the same time, though he clearly didn't remember that. I would guess that she's changed her appearance drastically over the years." Scully sighed wearily. The tension of the past few hours was beginning to catch up with her.
"When he finds this out, you know what it's going to do to him." Worry was etched deeply into his face.
"Yes, Sir. I do."
"Dr. Scully?" The nurse they'd left in Mulder's room was standing in the door to the waiting room. "I'm finished, if you'd like to go back to the patient's room."
"Thank you." Scully and Skinner stood.
"I'll see you in my office at 8:00 AM tomorrow." He tried for another stern look, but his heart was clearly not in it.
They parted at Mulder's door and Scully resumed her place at his bedside. He was very lucky, though she doubted he'd agree for the next few days. In addition to the concussion and cracked ribs, he had a head laceration that had required twelve sutures. There were also two burns on his chest which she suspected had come from a high voltage stun gun. That would explain how a 120 pound woman had been able to subdue an armed FBI agent.
"Skinner is *really* pissed, Mulder." She caressed the stubble on his pale cheek and ran her thumb gently over his swollen lips. "I think I'm in for a taste of what he usually saves for you."
She reached for his hand and brought it up to her lips for a soft kiss. Then she turned her head and rubbed his knuckles against her cheek. "Come on, Mulder. Wake up."
"I'm awake." The sound of his voice brought her head up so quickly that she accidentally bumped the newly inserted needle in the back of his hand, making him wince in pain.
"Oh, Mulder. I'm sorry." She rubbed the spot gently in the way she knew he loved. "How do you feel?"
He looked at her with such sadness in his eyes that it made her throat ache. "Scully, it was her. She killed all those people. She killed Micki. For me." His voice was tight with pain, not all of it physical, she knew.
She cupped his cheek, then moved her hand up to smooth the hair back from his forehead. "I know."
He swallowed painfully. "What happened to her?"
"She's dead. She was thrown from the car. Her body was found crushed beneath it." The woman would have killed him without a second thought. Scully felt no regret at her death, but the pain in her partner's eyes made her cringe at what she'd just said.
"I knew her... a long time ago. I..."
"At Oxford." Her voice was very soft.
"For one night... I didn't know how much pain she was in, and I didn't care. I treated her like..." He couldn't finish the thought but she read the rest in his eyes.
"Mulder, you were what? Twenty-two? Nothing you could have done would justify what she did to those people. Or to you."
He took a deep breath and immediately regretted it.
"Ribs hurt?" She laid her hand softly against his side.
"A little." He shifted uncomfortably and Scully reached for the call button. A nurse appeared shortly and injected pain medication into his IV port. His eyes began to drift shut almost immediately.
"You sleep, Mulder. I'll be right here."
He mumbled something and reached blindly for her hand. The fierceness of his grip surprised her.
"...needed a friend..." and he drifted back into the dream he'd been having before he awoke... about a sad eyed girl with curly hair, sitting alone in a pub on a warm summer night.