At first she knew only the smoothness under her fingers, then a patch of warmth on her hand and arm, soothing, penetrating. The bed was soft and comfortable and she wasn't ready to open her eyes or think; she only wanted to stay suspended inside the warmth and softness. Her whole body felt relaxed, more relaxed than she'd been in months, and the blanket smelled gently of... Mulder.
Abruptly Scully's eyes opened and she squinted against the brightness. Morning light poured in through the small window above Mulder's desk, backlighting the ivy surrounding the window, making it glow a vibrant, translucent green.
"Mulder?" She pushed up on one elbow and looked around. The room was silent. The bathroom door stood open. She sat up, ran her hands back through her hair and tried to clear the drowsiness from her head. The clock on the desk read 7:43. "Mulder?"
She stood and stretched, then walked to the bathroom and peered inside. Behind the door was a small, tiled shower, the curtain new and obviously unused. She went to the front door and looked out through the lower panes. The yard was empty: the right half paved, the left planted in languishing lawn, a towering tree in the middle of it that scattered its leaves on the grass. Below the tree sat an old Adirondack chair dressed in peeling green paint. At the rear of the yard were two large dumpsters, one with its lid open.
She'd been here all night. She'd taken his bed and left him no place to sleep.
She pursed her lips. It was like him not to have wakened her, to have gone without only to pass it off if confronted, shrugging and saying she'd needed it more than he did, or that he hadn't seen any point in disturbing her. Sometimes he was so completely self-focused and at others he shamed her with his generosity.
There was a small paper on the computer screen. 'Note', it said. She sat down at the desk and moved the mouse. The screen brightened and lettering appeared.
I didn't want to wake you since you seem to be sleeping so peacefully. I know you need the rest.
Skinner's been set up by the Smoking Man. A bag of coke was planted in his car and 'discovered' by D.C. Metro just before 11 p.m. at what had to be a trumped-up traffic violation stop. I borrowed your car to catch up with him at the First District station. He's been released on bail but I can't help but think that all these incidents--the Kentucky killings, your warning and now Skinner's--show that Smoky's feeling cornered and something is very close to being exposed here, if I can only look things over and figure out what it is. I need to get something on him if I'm ever going to get my job back and quit this day job as a bum.
I'll be on a 6:30 a.m. flight to Lexington by the time you read this. I plan to be there just a day, two at most, because I can't afford to raise Smoky's suspicions that I may be out of town and working against him. I had the Gunmen set me up a fake ID so Smoky won't be able to trace me as easily. If you look in the top drawer under the pencil tray you'll find the information. I also had them do one up for you in case some emergency comes up and you ever need it.
If I'm not back by tonight, don't touch the forensic evidence you sent back from Lexington. If it shows up at all, they'll be watching you for sure and there's no point putting yourself in danger. I know how much you want to help Rita Johnston, but we'll come up with something. After all, if Smoky catches you, you won't be much help to anyone anyway.
Scully, take some time for yourself today. Last night in the park, on the swing, I saw something in you I haven't seen in far too long. I think you felt it, too. You tuck away that vulnerable part of yourself--the Dana part--to keep her from getting hurt, but she's suffocating, Scully; I think she's been suffocating for a long time. Let her breathe. She's the part of you who laughs, who feels life, who can have joy. Don't let her die. You don't want to lose that beautiful part of yourself.
If you're concerned about the safety of your apartment, feel free to stay here. Be it ever so humble... You know the drill. I'll be in touch.
Scully read the letter a second time, then saved it and got up from the chair. Hazy clouds washed the sky in gray-tinged white and the room had begun to cool. She went to the bed, picked up Mulder's old blanket and pulled it around her shoulders. Then she went to the door and looked out through the panes of glass there. The diffused light was painfully bright. She closed her eyes and leaned her head against the door. The room behind her was a still life. The only sound was the sound of her own breathing.
Mulder sat in a patch of shade on Rita Johnston's brick porch, waiting. She was gone, probably to church if he'd pegged her correctly, in which case she'd be back before too long. He looked at his watch. 10:18. He reached into his shirt pocket hoping for a few remaining sunflower seeds. It was a good thing he hadn't thrown the shirt away. It was a good thing he'd moved or he would never have discovered it crushed at the back of the closet behind a box. Blue flannel wasn't exactly what he wore at this point--at least, it hadn't been up until a couple of weeks ago--but it was okay now; it fit the bill and made him look the part of someone not himself, just an ordinary guy who'd blend in in a town like this, someone nobody would think to look twice at.
He turned around to take in the house behind him: a modest white board structure with brick around the bottom, neatly painted shutters, a small porticoed porch and flower beds circling the front yard with a riot of waist-high flowers in reds and pinks and purples and yellows that reminded him faintly of cottage gardens he'd seen in Britain. He leaned--carefully--against the pillar beside him, letting his sore neck muscles stretch gradually, and closed his eyes. Behind them he saw the swing in the park, and Scully on it.
" 'Scuse me."
Mulder woke with a start.
The voice was a woman's and carried a slight twang. He opened his eyes. Haloed by the light behind them were a smallish graying woman and a broad, strawberry blonde-haired girl of perhaps seven or eight who'd been half-shooed behind her. He sat up, swallowing the discomfort of the effort.
"Mrs. Johnston?" he said, standing, wishing he'd never leaned against that post. Hoping he wouldn't appear as groggy as he felt. He held his hand out. "I'm a friend of Dana Scully's. I worked with her until very recently."
Rita stepped forward, took the hand he offered and shook it firmly. "Walter mentioned you," she said after a pause. She smiled. "But I don't recall the name."
Mulder glanced around and nodded toward the house. "I can explain. May I speak with you for a moment?"
She seemed puzzled by his remark but stepped past him to the front door, girl in tow, and unlocked it.
"I never used to do this," she said, gesturing apologetically at the lock, "but things have become awful strange around here of late. Go on, sweetie," she said to the girl, who disappeared down a hallway to a room on the right. "My granddaughter," she said, looking up at Mulder.
"Your son Andy's?" he asked.
She gave up a bittersweet smile at the mention of his name. "Yes," she said. "An early liaison. They were both way too young. The mother took off when Bethy was three, left town with a trucker. Bethy's been with me ever since." She smiled up at him again. "How she got to me's no matter, though. Don't know what I'd do without her." She flushed. "But you--come in, sit down. Here I am yabbering on about myself."
She led him to the living room and paused. "Do you mind the kitchen? I have some things to do. You're welcome to sit out here where it's comfortable but I have a feeling that if I leave you for more than two minutes I'd come back to find you asleep."
A straight shooter. Mercifully, she didn't look him in the eye but continued on to the kitchen. Mulder followed, feeling a sudden flush of heat in his cheeks. "I didn't sleep last night," he said.
Rita offered him a chair at the kitchen table, then opened the refrigerator door, stooping down to take out several items.
"I'm sorry," he said. "My name is Fox Mulder, but don't spread it around. From what Agent Scully's told me... I think what's been happening here is the tip of a much larger iceberg, Mrs. Johnston, one that involves more innocent people than anyone has yet realized. Dangerous men in some very high positions of power have what I believe is a personal stake in the beryllium that comes out of Beeson-Lymon. They've gone to great lengths here to cover it up, and yesterday they threatened Agent Scully and AD Skinner as well. I was already in their dog house."
Rita was standing at the sink, peeling hard-boiled eggs; she turned to look at him. There was a momentary lapse in her all-pervading equanimity, a twitch at the corner of her mouth, a flash of grief and despair, and then it was gone, faded into resolution. "What can I do to help you, Mr...?"
"Wallace," Mulder said carefully, looking into her, entrusting her with the weight of his disguise. "Ben Wallace."
She nodded. "Mr. Wallace."
Isaiah Wilkins took another swipe at the shorter man and was rewarded with a stinging left to the ribs. He grabbed at the desk chair with one hand in an attempt to steady himself and nearly knocked it over.
"Alright, alright," he said, waving one hand in the air. "End of Round 3. You win." He stopped and gasped out the last of the pain, then continued breathing heavily, waiting for his heart rate to slow.
"Its all in the training," his partner said with a nod, sweat trickling down his forehead.
"It's gotta be, man, 'cause my arms are longer than yours."
Manny Acosta just grinned.
Wilkins waved him off. "Go hit the shower," he said. "You need it."
Chuckling, Acosta disappeared into the bathroom. "You know we've got to stop meeting this way," his voiced drifted out into the bedroom.
"Yeah, before broken motel furniture starts showing up on our expense reports. Skinner would go ballistic."
The bathroom door closed and Wilkins could hear the shower go on. He wiped his face with a towel, then picked up the ice bucket and went outside in search of fresh ice.
It was nearly noon and the air was warm and slightly muggy. He squinted into the brightness and headed for the ice machine, fishing in his pocket for enough change for a soda. Hopefully Manny wouldn't spend half an hour in there. He stopped in front of the soda machine and contemplated his choices. The root beer was empty.
Wilkins spun around to find a man behind him, shadowed under the stairwell. White guy: jeans, flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up, baseball cap. A day or two's growth of stubble.
"Fox Mulder," the man said, offering his hand. "Can we talk?"
Wilkins raised an eyebrow.
"Sure," he said, nodding down the passage toward his room. He quickly stuffed his quarters in the machine and punched a button. A soda can clunked out at the bottom. He grabbed it and led the way back to the room.
"What's up?" he said when he'd closed the door behind him. He gestured toward the chair but Mulder shook his head.
"You're probably going to get bumped from this case in the morning," Mulder said. "I think what you've discovered here is the tip of a very big iceberg. Yesterday Scully was warned to back off this investigation by the man I believe was responsible for my dismissal from the Bureau. Then last night AD Skinner was stopped for a traffic violation and a baggie of planted coke was found in his car." He paused. "I don't think it was any coincidence, any more than I think the deaths connected to your case here were accidents, or suicides."
Wilkins gave his visitor a skeptical look. He was an intense guy for sure, known around the Bureau for spouting crazy-ass theories, but if Scully trusted him as much as she seemed to... Wilkins pulled out the desk chair and straddled it. He nodded to Mulder, who sat down on one of the unmade beds.
"Lay it on me," he said.
"There are men in high positions of power--essentially untouchable positions--who I believe are siphoning off a significant amount of the beryllium that comes through this plant for their own purposes."
Mulder seemed to hesitate. Half a deprecating smile forced its way across his face. "I don't think you want to know. Suffice it to say, these men stop at nothing. They killed my father; they killed Agent Scully's sister in a botched attempt to kill her. I believe they may have set Cyrus Miller up to kill Andy Johnston and then had Miller killed so he couldn't talk. Have you interviewed his friends?"
"My partner did yesterday."
"What did they say?"
"They seemed totally blown away. They were surprised he'd run over Andy Johnston in the first place. Said they'd had this back-and-forth thing going between the two of them for years, but they didn't figure Miller'd actually go out and do something like that. It was all a talk thing as far as they were concerned."
"What about personal background? Did he have financial problems, anything that might have induced him to do it for the money? Do you know if anybody'd been asking around for him recently? Someone not from around here?"
Wilkins shook his head. "We can try to find out."
"I'd do it myself, but I can't afford to be seen here. If they know I've left D.C.--that I'm looking into this--Scully's life will be in danger, and she's been through enough already." Mulder's mouth went small and tight.
"How long did you two work together?"
"Six years." There was something in his delivery, as if he'd said twenty years, or thirty.
"She's quite an agent," Wilkins said, smiling. "I was watching her do those autopsies"--he shook his head. "I could never do that stuff."
Mulder nodded agreement. He seemed on the verge of saying something but appeared to think better of it. Instead, he pulled a picture from his wallet and held it out.
"Ask any of Miller's friends if they've seen this man."
"Who is he?"
"He does a lot of their dirty work. Name's Alex Krycek. They even had him planted inside the Bureau as an agent for a while."
"Is he cold enough to kill a little kid?"
"Okay, man. We'll get on it as soon as my partner in there"--he nodded toward the bathroom--"decides to get himself out of the shower."
"I'll be around for the rest of the day. I'll be in touch."
Wilkins raised an eyebrow. "You're taking a chance, you know, getting mixed up in this shit." He paused. "How do you know I won't go back to headquarters and tell them you were here?"
Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Scully trusts you," he said. "I trust her judgment."
Mulder sat half-dozing in his rental car across from the motel. Lexington might, at one time, have been the 'Athens of the West' it boasted to be, but this little place thirty miles out was Podunk--a hardscrabble, trying-to-survive kind of town in the rising hills away from the manicured horse farms of the landed gentry, with Beeson-Lymon as the principal reason for its not having turned into a ghost town decades ago.
He reached for the soda can ensconced in a pool of melting cubes in Wilkins' ice bucket. At least there'd been a shady tree to park under. He took a drink of the warming soda and set it back to float precariously in the plastic tub. His cell phone rang and he grabbed it.
"Mulder, it's me. Something's happened here. Your old landlord just called."
"Yes. He said he was prepping your apartment, getting it ready to paint, and he found a recording device carefully embedded into the living room wall."
"A camera?" He leaned forward in the seat.
"Yes. He wouldn't tell me more than that. He wanted to talk to you."
Mulder slammed the steering wheel with his palm. He looked out into the shimmering heat rising from the roadway and set his jaw. "Do you have his number?"
He breathed out heavily. "Okay, I'm going to call him, Scully, and then I'll get back to you. Could you go over there and check it out?"
"What do you want me to do?"
"Find out where it feeds to. If it's live I want to know what's on the tape."
"I'm going to call you right back. Are you at home?"
"No, Mulder, I'm at your place. Otherwise I wouldn't have been here to get the call." She paused. "I was trying to follow your advice. I've been sitting out in that chair in your backyard, looking up at the leaves. It was very peaceful, actually."
He smiled. "Good. Good for you... Look, I hate to send you out on this thing--"
"No, it's okay, Mulder. We need to know what it is."
"I'll get right back to you, Scully."
"I'll be here."
Mulder switched the phone off, then on again and dialed Carl's number. It must have been Old Smoky this time, or the group he worked with, not a DOD project like the last time they'd bugged his place. And yet... And yet if Smoky had any knowledge of it, he would never have come into the apartment yesterday and said what he'd said where it could be heard, or recorded.
A click sounded on the line.
"Carl? This is Fox Mulder..."
Scully punched in Mulder's cell phone number and waited. A tightness had been steadily growing inside her, a tenseness and a twisted feeling in her stomach that she hadn't known since she began at the Academy, or since the day six years ago when she'd descended a now-familiar flight of stairs to meet the infamous Spooky Mulder for the first time.
She wedged the phone between her cheek and shoulder and pressed her hands together. Two rings, three rings, four. Pick-up.
"Mulder, it's me."
"Scully, what did you find?"
"Mulder, I think you have your smoking gun--maybe even your Holy Grail--and it's right here in D.C." Her breath caught in her chest. She forced herself to breathe out. "The tape, Mulder. Yesterday is recorded on it. It shows Cancer Man--your entire conversation."
For a long time there was no reply. "You're kidding," he sputtered finally, and paused. "You're not kidding."
"No, Mulder, I'm not. I think you're going to want to come home right away."
"I... I'm.. .trying to process this. I... Geez, Scully."
"I checked flight times for you," she went on. "It's not good news. If you hurry, you can get the last evening flight out of Lexington at 7:10. You're going to have to fly to Cincinnati where there's a nearly three-hour delay before you can catch a flight coming into D.C. The Cincinnati to D.C. flight doesn't get into Dulles until 11:58." She sighed. "I can pick you up, though, when you arrive."
"Fine, that'll be great. I just... I think I could probably sprout wings and fly there under my own power right now. Where's the tape? Do you have it with you?"
"I have it right here, Mulder. And Frohike made a copy. The Gunmen are keeping it for you.
"Great. I guess I'll see you in a few hours."
"Well, the sooner the better, Mulder, because right now I feel like someone holding thousands of dollars in cash. I'll rest a lot easier when I know it's safely delivered to the right people."
"Guess I'd better run, then. Scully, thanks. I owe you."
He clicked off and she hung up. She turned the desk chair and looked at the thinning light coming through the small panes in the door. Five hours, close to six. She swallowed and looked around. She'd slipped the tape into a deep side slot underneath the seat cushion in the wing chair for safekeeping. Five hours. She should eat something, but she didn't want to leave and there was nothing here to eat; he'd barely moved in.
It would all be over soon. Cancer Man and his tricks and agendas would be only memories.
Hopefully Mulder could get his apartment back and this would turn out to have been just a minor blip on the screen of his life, though one that had already affected him deeply, more deeply than she'd realized in her own hurry and bustle to adjust to her new work assignment. She hadn't really grasped how much he must have worried about the loss of income--not because it wasn't a logical concern but because Mulder had always seemed so immune to mundane concerns like paychecks or balanced meals. His hopefulness always seemed to bridge the gap between cold reality and some extreme possibility. With Mulder there was always another way, a different angle waiting to be discovered with a little thought, a little effort.
He had the evidence he needed now. They could use it to help Skinner, too, and with Skinner's backing they could probably be reinstated as partners again at the Bureau. There was value in the work at Quantico; she would never discount the evidence brought to light in the labs, but her mission was different now, broader. Hopefully they could go back to their own work, uncovering more of the Consortium's plans and experiments.
Drifting to the door, she looked out over the back yard, searching. No movement, nothing out of place. Her stomach grumbled. Maybe she'd call out for something and have it delivered. Then there would be something for Mulder, too, when he got in. With all the excitement he might have forgotten to eat entirely. She glanced at her watch again. Five hours and counting.
It was like being released from a chain gang. She hadn't seen it clearly until now: the way their investigations had given her life purpose and meaning, something beyond just a job and a routine with an impressive title. Meaning was what kept you going, what fueled you. It was certainly what fueled Mulder.
Five hours and counting, as long as all went well. As long as no planes fell from the sky, no critical tapes were intercepted, and she remained ensconced here, tucked away from the Smoking Man's observation. And who had placed the recorder? How long would it be before whoever it was discovered that the tape they'd placed there was gone? Would Carl tell where Mulder had gone if a gun were pointed at his head? Did he even know?
The ache in her stomach moved up to fill her throat. She should eat something. She sat down at the desk, picked up the phone, and began to dial.
(end 11 of 14)
© bardsmaid 2005 |