4:38 p.m., July 8 1994
“Waiting for the five o’clock bell, I see.”
Fox Mulder was walking down a dingy government hall with a black gym back over one shoulder; he wore jeans and a Georgetown t-shirt. Dana Scully, immaculately businesslike in a beige suit, folded her arms in front of her and surveyed him. “Hot game of basketball downtown? Or do you
actually have a date?”
Mulder offered half of a smile and rattled his car keys. “Going to visit a friend in Philly. Asked me to look into something a little odd up there.”
“Really? That’s good, Mulder. I’m glad to see you’re getting out of the department’s basement and out
of the house all at the same time.” She gave him a full smile in return. “How are you holding up?”
“Oh, you know. They can’t keep me down there much longer. They’re running out of tape.”
Scully nodded, looked up at Mulder with a look that let him know she was serious. “You think you’ll get reassigned soon?”
“I’ve gotta, Scully.” Rattling the car keys again he looked away, then looked back. “Hey, do you want to come? Sleep on the floor? See a few bars? Live the bohemian life?”
“You’re going to Philly to check out the bars?”
“No, a demon. Wooooooo. Spooky, huh? Want to come?”
“Let’s assume you’re kidding. For all you know, I have a date, anyway.”
Intrigued, Mulder widened his eyes. “Have you got a date?”
“Aren’t you late yet? It’s just past five.”
“Come on, Scully, you can help me find 513 South Street. That’s where all the hippies meet, you know.”
“Hippie demons. I think I’ll pass. “Witness” is on Cinemax tonight.” Thumbing the manila folder she held she added, “It’ll be awhile before I leave today, anyway.”
“Life is short. Drive fast. Leave a good-looking ghost.” Mulder saluted and shoved his way through a fire door into the stairwell.
It was six fifteen before Scully returned to her car after dropping off the files from Quantico and discussing the Wigmore autopsy with Carlton. Within the hour she was home, hitting the “play” button on her answering machine and kicking off her shoes.
“Hi Sis. You’ll never guess what I’ve got — the mumps. Isn’t that a scream? I thought you could only get that when you were a kid. No Les Mis for us tonight. Call me; I’ll be home, obviously — and yes, I have seen a doctor. Sorry to spoil your fun. If you know someone who can use the tickets, call me quick.”
Pouting, Scully dropped into an easy chair. Damn. No luck. If only Mulder weren’t zipping up 95 in search of poltergeists, she might try to talk him into it, but as it was – She could go out and get a pint of Ben & Jerry’s and watch whatever was on Cinemax after all, or — what?
She could get into her car and go whizzing up 95 right after him.
Dana glanced at her watch. Just past seven already. Certainly a three-hour drive; then where to stay?
“Oh what the hell,” she said out loud and went to her room to find a pair of jeans and a bag to put them in.
10:46 a.m., July 9 1994
Scully drove away from the Mariott with a full stomach, the golden light of the rising sun behind her as she bullied her way into traffic on the Schuylkil Expressway. What a completely odd way to spend a Saturday, she thought, but she was having fun so far. She’d enjoyed slobbing late in bed, eating a room service breakfast and watching cartoons. Traveling was one of the things she liked most about her job; she loved waking up in a room and knowing someone else was going to make the bed. She hoped that delightfully wicked feeling never wore off.
South Street wasn’t hard to find; the exit was clearly marked. Parking was hard to find; eventually Scully resorted to following around a little old lady with a shopping bag and grabbing her parking spot like a vulture when the lady finally managed to locate, and get moving, her huge Oldsmobile.
As she wandered down South Street Scully had the impression of a closed carnival. Popcorn and sticky stains scattered across the sidewalk; scraps of paper, soda cans and fake flowers in a garbage can; neon signs dark shades of colors, still off. People were walking about, but slowly, in and out of diners, opening store doors. Scully checked her watch; just past eleven.
A slight nagging feeling of embarrassment began to bother her. How was she going to find Mulder? This was a city, for god’s sake, not the corner drugstore, and she couldn’t remember even the address he’d rattled off at her. Two something? Five something, that was it. Well, that was a whole block of stores full of people to ask if they knew someone named Fox Mulder. That ought to give them a laugh.
Showcase Comics looked open. Dana opened the door, setting a bell tinkling. Behind the counter perched a woman on a high stool, perusing a comic book open on the glass case in front of her. An unfashionably long, thick mane of wavy dark hair fell around her bare shoulders and very fashionable crazy-quilt vest. A pang of jealousy made Dana smooth down her shoulder-length hair and tug at the t-shirt she was wearing.
“Can I help you?” asked the woman.
“Uh, I…” Could she fabricate a product she might be looking for in a comic book store? Scully cast an eye over the racks on her left. Titles like “Bone”, “The Sandman,” and “Omaha the Cat-Dancer” stared back at her. Nope, she couldn’t. “I’m looking for a friend of mine, actually, I was wondering if you might have seen him?”
“Actually, we just opened. I haven’t had anyone in yet today.”
“Oh, I… thanks anyway.”
Back on the street Dana had to laugh at herself. What was she doing? It was a warm June day and she was wandering around a city she didn’t know looking for someone she wasn’t even sure was there.
But the breeze was wonderful, more people were beginning to click up and down the pavement, and a dozen windows filled with intriguing junk spread out before her. Fox Mulder is not necessarily your goal, she reminded herself. Having fun is.
“Another waffle, Mulder?”
“No thanks, I couldn’t, I…”
But it was too late; the big man bounded away, bouncing along the hall like a huge crazed balloon, sticky plate in one hand and spatula in the other.
“Is he always like this?” Mulder asked the woman across the table from him.
“Yes. Terrifying, isn’t it?” She leaned back in her chair, folding her arms across her stomach just under her breasts and grinning at Mulder. “He genuinely loves to cook, especially Saturday morning brunch. I’ve asked him to locate the gene; hopefully gene therapy will produce an entire generation of men like him.”
“Eehhhg. Too early in the morning for thoughts like that.”
Phillip careered back down the hallway, waffle-engorged plate carefully balanced in one hand; he deposited it successfully in front of Mulder then disappeared back down the hall.
“Are you gonna help me eat this or what?” Mulder gestured at his plate.
“Sure.” She picked up her fork and commenced picking at his waffle. “Besides, he’s glad you came, Mulder.”
He shrugged. “I owed you one.”
“Yeah, well, I wish you still did.” She grinned around a mouthful of waffle; then the grin fled as a small frown formed between her eyebrows. “You really don’t have to do this, you know. In a way, it’s no big deal.”
Mulder looked levelly at his friend across the table. “A friend of yours is dead. That’s a big enough deal.”
“He wasn’t a close friend — sort of a friend of a friend –” She was looking out the window at the rooftops of downtown Philadelphia.
“Hey.” She looked back at Mulder. He said, “It’s not like you can measure friendship with a ruler, Carey.”
“Thank you, Mr. Saying-A-Day.” She shoved the waffle back onto his plate in sudden bad humor.
“Yeah, well, whatever.”
“They know who did it, don’t they?” Mulder ran his left hand, still free of syrup, through his standing-up hair and squinted out the window at the sunny morning.
“Oh sure, they know. And if you find out anything, it’s not going to be admissible in court, anyway.”
He rubbed the bridge of his nose with one fingertip, looking at her. A thin black cotton blouse draped her broad shoulders, unbuttoned enough to reveal a drop of sweat, the first of the July day, trickling down between her breasts; a voluminous hot-pink skirt draped to her calves; her bare feet were propped up on a chair; her nails were painted neon orange. Her hair, dark brown, fell nearly to her waist and had a bright blue streak dyed in it. She was a big heavy woman and her toes showed it; they looked like they belonged on the ground.
“No, it certainly wouldn’t be admissible in court.”
Carey smiled again, just briefly, as though it weren’t necessary. “What’s the plan for today?”
“Just some snooping around — do you want to meet me at Magillicuddy’s after dinner or for dinner?”
“The food there sucks. But Stasia won’t be out of work till seven; she has to close the store. I suppose she’ll be hungry, so we may as well eat there as anywhere. Are you sure you’re up to it?” Her eyes measured him in several dimensions and she spoke like it was a challenge.
“I’m a big boy. You bringing Jones?”
“No, she’s got better things to do tonight. Coven meeting, in fact. Stasia’s going with us, though.”
“You’re not in the coven?”
“It’s not my scene.” Carey pushed up from the table, luxuriously stretched her arms over and behind her head, deliciously popping several vertebrae into place. “I’ve got to get to work, Mulder, I’m so late.”
“Reading Tarot on a Saturday afternoon? For money? I had no idea you were that kind of girl.” Mulder shook out the front page of the paper.
She leaned over, velveting voice in his ear: “I’m exactly that kind of girl.”
Laughing out loud, Mulder waved a hand over his head at her as she exited down the hall.
Dana browsed an African arts shop, a handmade jewelry store and something that resembled a clothing store that contained nothing she would ever be caught dead in. She was just leaving Zipperheads when a sign up one of the cross streets caught her eye. Hand of Aries, witchcraft supplies.
The bell tinkled and a dog looked up at her as she entered. They passed a few moments of polite conversation before the store owner appeared.
“Can I help you?” the middle-aged woman said pleasantly.
Dana glanced around the room at the kettles, drums, colored candles and bins of herbs and said, “I have sort of a strange request.”
The woman laughed. “I have sort of a strange store. Shoot.”
“I’m looking for a friend of mine; I have no idea if you might know him or have any idea who he is, but I know he was meeting someone in this area. He’s just over six feet tall, brown hair, his name is Fox Mulder.”
The woman stared at the floor, thinking and sucking her teeth so long that Dana was about to apologize and give up when the woman said, “Cute guy. Young. Nice jawline.”
“Yes, that could be him,” Dana admitted, startled.
“I think I met him once at a talk in here. We had Z Budapest in and the place was packed. He was with someone — now who was he with? Stasia? No, Carey. That’s it, he was a friend of Carey’s. She might know if he’s in town. Works at the Tarot joint on the main street — 513. Just around the corner and up the block.”
“Thank you,” Dana stammered, astonished. She considered Mulder’s theories way out there but his hypotheses were always grounded in fact, in research. She would never have connected him with any occult or religious groups. Witchcraft didn’t seem to jibe with the Mulder she knew.
Well, at least she might be closer to finding him.
Mulder left the apartment, hands in his pockets, whistling. He was relieved to discover no one had broken into his car during the night, drove it to an all-day parking lot, forgot about it.
Phillip had given him directions to the University of Pennsylvania library. Mulder strolled up 17th street and made his way to the campus.
The recent articles about the murder of John Carby all had roughly the same story to tell. A young man, college dropout, living with an older male lover. Nothing remarkable to report about either of them. Carby worked occasionally; the older guy, a Russ Benston, was a clerk at a store downtown and a junkie in his off-hours. Benston had shot the kid up with a lethal dose one night. End of story.
One of the rustier local papers had run a full-page scandal story on it, including alleged quotes from Benston saying that the devil had made him do it. Forehead resting on one hand while he read, Mulder snorted to himself. “Yeah, right, fella.”
The paper: ” “There’s a demon — it’s following me — I just do what it says, I don’t ask questions any more, it’s too horrible,” said Benston and broke down crying as the police dragged him up the steps to the station where he will be held until his trial.”
Mulder photocopied the cheeseball story, returned the papers to the periodicals desk, wandered out of the library. He worked his way back towards Stasia and Phillip’s apartment. As he came down 18th, he could see the top of Benston’s building — pointy and multi-leveled, with carved beasts on each of the four corners.
“Spook central,” Mulder grinned to himself and headed for it.
He wasn’t looking for anything specific. He rode the elevator to the top, then walked down, taking a turn around each floor as he went. Carey had told him the apartment was 1220. He walked around the twelfth floor hallway, staring at the carpet, thinking. Stasia Ford was the manager of a comics store on South Street. Jones, Carey’s current girlfriend, was a red-haired woman working in commercial arts downtown. Two floors above them in the building on Spruce Street lived a professional banker with long blond hair and pink suits. Next door lived a dog-groomer who kept her hair about half an inch long and wore jeans and T-shirts to work; last year she had worked as a fish hauler in Alaska. An independently wealthy heiress, a schoolteacher, a computer technician, a history graduate student and a guitar player in a local band — all these women lived within a block of each other in the same downtown Philadelphia area. They were not what the media would have recognized as a coven. As Jones once put it, they didn’t get much PR.
Nonetheless, a coven is what they were — a group of people devoted to exploring a spiritual path that might or might not have ancient roots, but certainly had a long tradition in this particular urban area. Several similar groups throughout the century had come and gone in Philadelphia. Mulder knew that because Carey knew that. Carey knew that because she had a Ph.D. In folklore, and the Philadelphia witch traditions had fascinated her for years. She’d done a lot of fieldwork and had written a book on the lore of the area, which had already gone out of print.
One of the persistent rumors of the area had to do with a demon that a coven had called into existence in the mid-80’s, then let get out of control. It hadn’t been the same sort of coven as the Spruce Street one that now existed. It had been a group of college kids into scaring themselves with Ouija boards and seances. Rumor said that one of them had become a born-again Christian, one had left the country, one had killed herself and one still lived in the building with the demon they couldn’t manage. It was Benston’s building. John’s building.
Mulder almost bumped into a woman leaving her apartment on the twelfth floor. He glanced at her door. 1222. “Excuse me, I was just going to knock,” he said, smiling. “I’m looking for John.”
“John?” She looked puzzled, gripped her plastic bag of garbage a little tighter. “I’m sorry, there’s no one here by that –”
“John Carby. I’m sure this is his place. 1222, I thought he said.” Still a firmly friendly smile in place. “You need a hand with that?” he waved at the trash.
A dawning understanding. “Oh my,” she touched the back of his hand, “I’m sorry, son. Was John Carby a friend of yours?”
“Ye — uh, I — I, don’t know what you mean…” Mulder settled back on his heels, worriedly searching her face.
“Oh dear. I’m sorry, dear. He lived next door to me. John’s passed away. Not long ago.” She looked genuinely sorry. Somebody’s grandmother, Mulder thought to himself.
Looking flustered, the woman waggled her fingers, distraught. “Perhaps you should talk to the police, son — rather nasty business — terrible tragedy– really don’t feel I can –”
“It was that Benston bastard he was with, wasn’t it.” Mulder shook his head, trying to mix the proper amounts of anger and disbelief. “I never trusted him.”
“Oh now, you mustn’t say that. I mean…” Recalling the facts of the case, she looked like she would prefer to bolt into her apartment. But she said, “I don’t understand it myself. Who knows what makes people do the things they do? I saw Mr. Benston every day myself and I would never have said he was the sort of person to… Seemed so nice, I mean.” Clearly at a loss as to what else to say, she patted his hand reassuringly, then disappeared into her apartment, closing the door safely between them, abandoning her garbage in the hallway.
Hmm. But wasn’t that what they always said. Mulder picked up the white trash bag and took it to the elevator with him. Listening to the machines sliding him smoothly down the shaft he wondered. Nice guy. Murders for no reason. What reason could there be, thought Mulder as he heaved the bag into the dumpster.
Slow business day at the sign of the five fingers. Carey cut the deck and stared at the passing feet; her shop window was below street level.
The bell tinkled.
Carey looked down; the two of swords. She looked up. A small woman with a curve of red-gold hair, jeans and a T-shirt stood in the doorway, clearly reluctant to enter further.
Swords. Air suit. Red hair. No connection. Hiding a frown, Carey said, “Come on in. Get your cards read. No waiting.”
“I’m not. I mean, I’m just looking for a friend.”
Who isn’t, Carey thought sourly to herself. “Yes?”
“I don’t know if you know him; a woman down the street sent me this way. His name’s Mulder; he’s tall, brown-haired–”
“–hazel-eyed, with great shoulders and a throat to die for. You must be Scully.”
The woman blinked. “Yes, Dana Scully. I’m sorry, I don’t –”
“There’s no reason you’d know who I am. I’m an old friend but a bad one. I call him once a year, if that. Last time I spoke to him, which was over breakfast this morning, he was quite full of praise about you. Delighted to meet you so soon.”
Carey liked to measure. Yep, there was a slight widening of the eyes over the breakfast remark, but that was all. Dana stepped forward and offered a slim hand. “Well then, delighted to meet you, Ms….?”
“Carey. Just call me Carey.” Carey took the hand. It was warm and smooth, the fingers tapered and light, the palm dry, nails short and tidy, no rings. Carey grasped it with one of hers, smoothing a thumb across the back of it as she released it, feeling it tremble slightly. God, this woman was tasty. Characteristically, Mulder had left that out of his description.
“I think Mulder needs to see a doctor, make sure he’s not dead,” Carey mumbled, shuffling half the card deck as she sat back down.
“Pardon?” Scully said brightly, leaning over the table.
“Nothing.” Carey stared at the two of swords. From what she knew of Scully, it made a lot more sense now.
“Well, you’re looking for Mulder. I don’t know where he’ll be till this evening. I could give you instructions to the place he’s staying, but..?”
“Oh, that isn’t necessary,” Scully gave the answer the other woman was clearly looking for, wishing she could just go straight there and wait. Something about this woman made her nervous, and it wasn’t the blue hair, orange nails or pink skirt. It was something about the warmth of her hand and the way she licked her lips.
“I tell you what, we can go to Reading Terminal Market for lunch, then I can take you home. I mean, take you to where Mulder will be.” Grinning, Carey flipped the two of swords over flat on the table. Below it was the knight of cups. Well, of course, she told herself. “I can go in about an hour — I have to wait till someone can fill in for me.”
“That’s fine, I’ve been having a great time just wandering around.”
“Really? Have you been to Showcase Comics? Stasia Ford is the manager. She’s the one with the apartment where Mulder’s staying.”
“Oh. I thought he was with you.”
Well, she had brought that out without a bobble; Carey gave her an A for effort. “Stasia and her boyfriend Phillip have more rooms and more food. I’m afraid I eat out or I don’t eat. It’s inconvenient for guests.”
“Ah.” Scully wondered if that was the beautiful woman she’d seen that morning. She was beginning to wish she’d brought some better clothes with her. Smiling at her own silliness, she stuffed her hands in her hip pockets and leaned over the table again. “Well, I can wait. Can I get my cards read?”
“You don’t believe.” Carey slanted a sidewise look up at Dana.
Dana watched her shuffle the cards. “Neither do you.”
Carey waved Dana into the chair opposite. “What makes you think that?”
“That… was a bona fide FBI hunch.” Dana sat comfortably back in the big chair across from the other woman.
“From a folkloric perspective, the images are fascinating.” Carey shuffled once more, cut the cards, then had Dana pick one and lay it face up on the table.
A woman walking with a lion. Strength.
Carey shook her head and continued to deal. Some days it was harder to not believe than others.
Mulder stopped quickly, before a stocky Asian man with a crate of jars could barrel into him. The guy crossed his path and went on without another look. Someone behind him bumped into him, and he could feel ice cream brushing the back of one arm, wet and cold. He rubbed it against his T-shirt as a woman passing him by banged him in the shin with a large square paper bag of what felt like bricks.
Mulder loved Reading Terminal Market.
He dutifully stood in line for a soft pretzel and carried it with him, munching, while he surveyed the food stalls. What did he feel like? Chinese? Amish? Something in between? Phillip’s waffles were still on his mind and he wasn’t that hungry. He acquired a bagel with lox and a bottle of Snapple and went to sit at a table.
He watched a little Italian woman bargaining over some raw fish and picked at his bagel.
He couldn’t remember John Carby and that bothered him. Carey assured him he’d met the man at least once, well over two years ago. He had a photographic memory; why couldn’t he remember John’s face? Not like it was in the photos in the papers, a high-school photographer’s shot, but as it was when he met him, alive, smiling, shaking hands, talking?
Walking through the market with a pretzel and a bottle of tea?
He thought of Carey when he’d first met her. She’d worn her hair up in a knot; she’d worn dark slacks and blazers; she’d looked forty. She’d been presenting a paper on the regional differences between Bigfoot myths at a national conference on urban folklore; he’d asked a question from the audience.
“But are they true?” he’d asked.
A gentle wave of laughter prevented the necessity of her answering; she’d smiled and the panel’s moderator recognized another hand.
But afterwards she’d cornered him in the bar of the hotel hosting the conference. She told him she wanted to get funding to trace the way some pieces of folklore seemed to spontaneously rekindle themselves; she wanted to investigate what ways there might have been of communicating those myths. Why did they recur?
A tense little woman with a tight blond haircut had retrieved her from the bar and taken her off somewhere.
A year later he saw her at another conference. She looked tired and suspicious. When he asked her how her work was going, she showed him her new tattoo, a green vine winding around one ankle.
Six months later he saw an article by her in Reader’s Digest. Four months after that he saw her in Philadelphia, in a restaurant. Her hair was down, the gray streak in it was dyed fire-engine red; she wore an India print skirt and she was laughing. She looked ten years younger. This time she was with a tall black curvaceous woman who moved and looked like a dancer. She invited him to join their group and later on invited him to her place for a drink. She’d given him a truly fantastic backrub and a very sweet offer which he politely declined.
Over the years he had consulted her a few times when he wanted some background information. She read and spoke fluent Spanish and German, spoke two languages from sub-Saharan Africa and had a beginner’s knowledge of Cantonese; and she had almost encyclopedic knowledge of regional American folklore, its international origins and its time-linked variations. She no longer published in academic circles, and she did odd jobs, including Tarot reading, for a living. She seemed much happier. Mulder never asked her what she hadn’t liked about her former career.
He thought maybe he knew.
Sometimes when he saw her she repeated her very sweet offer from the night of the backrub; he politely ignored it. He knew she thought he was attractive, and he found that flattering, especially since it seemed that men were not, generally speaking, her type. Sometimes he supposed he thought her attractive as well, but there was always a good reason to turn her down, and he felt more comfortable that way.
Mulder flicked a bit of bagel at a trash can; it went in.
What else could he do about the Carby case? He couldn’t go to the police and request the case file; and in any case, there was no question about the identity of the murder. Carey wanted him to see what he could find out about the motive. Specifically, about the demon.
He was a psychologist; he had his own theories about the demon. Carey was a folklorist; she had her own theories about the demon. None of them necessarily involved its actual existence.
But, disturbingly, a boy was dead, and there seemed no reason for it. Mulder spent his days compiling profiles of killers. In their own mind, they had reasons for what they did. The patterns were complex and startling in their horrible swashbuckling originality. He needed to find out Benston’s pattern.
Drawing triangles over and over on the tabletop, Mulder thought.
“How’d you like the market?” Carey asked Dana as they crossed with the light at the corner of South and Eighth streets.
“It’s wonderful! If I lived within walking distance of a place like that I’d never need another restaurant. Whatever you wouldn’t want to eat there, you could take home and cook. Just thinking about it makes me hungry,” she laughed, rubbing her stomach, “and I’m stuffed!”
“Next time you promise you’ll try one of the pickled eggs,” Carey teased. She was used to the horrified looks her friends gave to the magenta eggs, pickled in beet juice the Amish way.
“Hey, I would have tried one this time, if I hadn’t already been stuffed to the gills,” Dana casually remarked, looking in one window at a water fountain tinkling in the middle of a bookstore. “I suppose you have to be back at the shop.”
“I’m taking a long lunch break. I work short hours on Saturday anyway. Is there anything else you’d like to see?”
“Oh, there’s lots of South Street I haven’t seen yet!”
Carey looked at her. The sun shone like a liquid gold wave on the curve of her hair. Her pale eyes sparkled with interest and she looked very young to be an FBI agent. “You’re having a good time,” Carey remarked with satisfaction.
“I am,” Dana confirmed, half-surprised herself. “Well, I had no reason to come up here, so I’m enjoying being sort of goal-less for a day. It’s quite a luxury. I hope Mulder is doing the same thing.”
Carey looked down at her feet in Berkenstock sandals, then back at Dana. “Well, I’m glad you can amuse yourself till it’s time to take you home. If you get tired of walking around you can always pop in at Stasia’s; there’s a huge furnished basement to the store, and you can be pretty comfortable down there, if you don’t mind being surrounded by boxes of comics.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” Scully flashed the taller woman a smile, then surveyed several windows as they passed them. When the silence had stretched a bit thinner than was comfortable, she said, “Won’t you tell me about the case Mulder’s working on?”
The sound of shoes hitting the pavement, theirs, others, pattered around them for a minute or two. Then Carey reported dispassionately the facts of her friend’s murder. Twenty-three. Smart. Healthy. Romantically head-over-heels. Trusting, honest. Found at six forty-six on a Friday evening, time of death placed definitely at around thirty-six hours before, no sign of a struggle. Buried two days later. Mother and brother attended from out of state.
Scully listened carefully to the words metronomed by the sound of their own feet. She pondered; she sympathized; she remained quiet.
Only at one point did a tear escape its confines and slide down Carey’s face, unfettered and apparently remorseless. Carey swept it away before it could make a statement of its own.
“I’m glad Mulder’s helping you out,” Scully used her best FBI sympathy voice, “but it looks to me as though the case is pretty cut and dried.”
“It is.” Short, heavy, plop, no more discussion.
“Well, here’s the door. You can meet me back here if you like.” Carey put one foot on the first descending stair.
“I think I’d rather come with you for a while. Looks pretty slow still. I could keep you company for a while; if it gets busy, there’s lots of South Street left to see. I think my feet could use a rest.” Scully gave Carey a reassuring smile and brushed past her down the steps.
Carey watched her red-gold head disappear into the shadows. She looked up the street. The sun had a long way to go before making his exit; but it was getting later and people were starting to move out and about. Slowly she walked down the cool cement stairs.
A flicker of an idea had ignited in her belly when Dana Scully had brushed past her; it warmed and interested her. She followed.
It was a slow late afternoon. Carey and Dana talked about their families, their likes and dislikes in food, especially ice cream flavors, and films, and about a lecturer in linguistics each had seen at their respective undergraduate colleges. It didn’t surprise Carey to learn that Dana loved opera; it didn’t surprise Dana to learn that Carey collected vintage Warner Brother cartoons.
“Bugs Bunny,” Carey chuckled, shaking her head and shuffling her cards — her hands preferred to do something — “there’s your American cultural icon. You wouldn’t believe the number of bad books that are written about – well, I suppose you would, but there’s a great book still waiting in that subject. If I get in the mood to write a scholarly work again that’s what I’m going for. Another Coke?”
“No thanks.” Scully uncapped a mineral water. She already felt wired. She didn’t need any more caffeine or sugar.
“By the time we get to Magillicuddy’s you will have walked off that lunch and all the sugar, believe me.” Carey leaned back in her chair, thumb riffling her cards. She looked sleepy and warm. The air-conditioning was set at a reasonable temperature; a fan shifted the cooler air around; the breeze kept
Carey’s hair moving, constantly, in defiance of gravity; it looked weightless.
Scully considered for a moment reaching out and touching it, then looked out the window and forgot the impulse. “It’s clouding over. Is it far to walk home?”
“It’s a decent walk, and I think I heard it was supposed to storm tonight, but that won’t break for ages. You like thunderstorms?”
“Actually, not much.” The look was rueful. “You?”
Carey grinned, pushed her hair back from her face and looked out and
up. “Love them.”
Mulder rang the bell to Stasia and Phillip’s apartment. Even on the first floor and outside two doors he could hear Phillip bounding down the hallway to buzz him in.
“Hey,” Mulder greeted him as he came up the stairs. “I thought I’d check out a couple of other places before I go to Magillicuddy’s.”
Phillip nodded and shooed his cats back inside as they entered the apartment. He rattled off the names of some of the places John used to go. “I think Benston was usually with him — certainly these last few months he was.”
“It’s a little early, but I wanted to change. Got any advice on what I should wear?”
Phillip looked down at his own t-shirt and sweatpants. It was what he wore 365 days a year. He looked up at Mulder. “No. But I know who can help.”
From the moment the door closed behind him, Carter Davis filled the apartment with noise and imaginary taffeta. “Oo, what I wouldn’t give to dress you, honey,” he purred at Mulder and blinked up through his eyelashes at him.
“Where are you going?”
Mulder mentioned a few names.
Carter surveyed Mulder’s jeans closely. Finally he pronounced, “I’ll say this, honey. You can go retro, or you can go grunge. You can’t wear _that_.” He pointed at the gray shirt Mulder was wearing as though it were poison ivy and might leap out and strangle him.
“Grunge? I can do grunge,” Mulder insisted and pulled out a Knicks jersey and a blue flannel shirt.
“Flannel? In July? What are you thinking?” Carter forgot to flirt in his fashion horror.
Mulder felt like his Cinderella license was about to expire. “I’m sorry, I don’t have anything else.”
Carter snapped his fingers. “I know who can help.”
The young man who sloped in wore tan bellbottoms, a green t-shirt and had a mane of bushy hair tamed into a ponytail; he was well over six feet and he slouched. He bore an uncanny resemblance to Shaggy from _Scooby Doo._ He noticed Mulder noticing this and said immediately, “Everyone has a goal. This is mine.”
His name was Barry and he walked around Mulder as though he were an open grave. He shook his head gravely.
“Sorry guys, the buzz cut is hardly retro — and even if I loaned him something, he’d split my pants in a minute.”
Carter mumbled something about paying to see that. Phillip rebutted by picking up a huge tabby-striped cat and buffing Carter’s face with him. The cat didn’t seem to mind.
“Oh right,” Carter spluttered, “like you didn’t know I was going to say that.”
Mulder felt the situation was spinning out of control. “Guys.” They all looked at him. “I have to wear something.”
Carter picked up the jersey gingerly. “How fond are you of this?”
Carey’s apartment was a two-room several floors above Stasia and Phillip’s. She and Dana had reached it just before the sky had begun to show signs of darkening from the sun going down rather than from gathering clouds. Sunset was still a ways away down the long summer evening.
Carey rattled around in the tiny attached “convenience” kitchen while Dana orbited the living room. Dana took a quick survey of the CD rack, of several tall narrow bookcases stuffed full. The overwhelming preponderance of artists in both cases were women.
When she returned Carey offered Dana a tall frosty glass. Dana took it and sipped; delighted, she exclaimed, “Orange juice!”
“Nothing better in the summer,” Carey sighed and slipped her shoes off, wriggling happy toes in the thick Oriental carpet. “There’s gin in mine. Didn’t know if you wanted any.”
“Maybe later. Didn’t you say this was a bar we’re going to?”
Carey plopped down on the loveseat, leaned her head on her fist, propping her elbow on the arm of the couch: “Are you sure you want to go? It’s not a very… nice… place.”
Dana seated herself in a chair, crossed her legs and looked levelly at her hostess. “Meaning you think of me as a very…*nice*… girl. Well, get over it. I don’t let Daddy screen my dates any more.” She punctuated this with a very slight smile.
“Really? Do you kiss on the first date?” But she didn’t give Dana a chance to answer. “So, what are you going to wear?” she continued abruptly.
“Think again. This is a very… *equal opportunity* club we’re going to, but you want something spiffier than that.”
“Look, just tell me what kind of club it is.”
Carey sipped the juice, delicately licked a drop as it escaped down the side of the frosty glass. “It’s a bondage club.”
“Okay, well, that makes it a lot simpler. I have nothing to wear to a bondage club.”
Admiringly Carey watched the tiny smile lurk its way from one corner of the impossibly luscious mouth to the other. Before she became mesmerized she interrupted herself. “Anything sexy will do.”
“Hmm.” Scully went out to the hall, returned with her bag. “Here’s the materials. You decide.”
Carey snapped open the well-worn weekend bag, flipped through the contents, pronounced within minutes, “Nope, nope, and nope. Look, I’ll just run downstairs and borrow something for you. I think you and Stasia are about the same size.”
Despite misgivings Scully didn’t object, and Carey came back quite soon with an outfit bundled into one hand. “Try on these.” Scully knew she would betray her Catholic upbringing if she burst out with “These *what*?” so instead she took the tiny items and shook them out. It was a small black skirt, mostly spandex, and a sleeveless cotton jersey highnecked gold top.
“I’ll be right back.”
Carey put on the latest Melissa Etheridge album while she waited. She knew simply from how long it was taking that something was wrong.
“Carey, I can’t wear this,” Scully’s voice drifted up the hall.
“Come on, let’s see it,” Carey insisted, tossing a mass of dark hair back over her shoulder and peering down the hall.
Beat, beat, ba beat. The sound of Scully’s bare feet on the board floor was swallowed up in the beat of the guitar.
“Well.” Carey put her glass down, slowly and deliberately, and stood up to walk around Dana.
Please baby can’t you see
my mind’s a burnin’ hell
I got razors a rippin’ and tearin’ and strippin’
my heart apart as well.*
The soft gold jersey clung to Dana’s figure like a second skin, outlining each soft breast and sleeking down to a waist that seemed so small, Carey could span it with her hands. The skirt was only punctuation for a pair of perfectly sculpted legs. The sleeveless top left her arms, pearl pink, looking bare, very bare, invitingly bare.
Carey cleared her throat.
Tonight you told me
That you ache for something new
And some other woman is lookin’ like
That might be good for you.
Very carefully Carey circled Dana again. She swept the redgold curve of shining hair up in one hand, with the other tucked the tag down the neck of the top. The skin of Dana’s neck was warm against her fingers and her hair slid, silk strands, across the back of her hand.
But I’m the only one
Who’ll walk across the fire for you
And I’m the only one
Who’ll drown in my desire for you
Carey had to clear her throat again. “Well, _I_ like it.” Only a slight rasp in the voice. “It’ll certainly help you look like you intended to go to Magillicuddy’s and aren’t just there looking for a pay phone.”
“It’s not what I generally wear out on a Saturday night,” Scully chuckled wryly, twisting to try and see the back of the skirt.
“Hey. Dana. You look great. Really.” Carey handed her back her orange juice. “Absolutely great.”
Dana looked up. The other woman’s eyes, dark hazel, sparkled with a kind of admiration Dana Scully just didn’t see enough of in anyone’s eyes. She smiled. “Thanks.”
She tiptoed off down the hallway to peruse the mirror again briefly, saying out loud, “I wonder what Mulder’s wearing.”
It was Mulder’s fourth bar. He’d stopped noticing the second-hand smoke two bars back. He also hadn’t ordered anything stronger than beer, or he’d be flat out on the floor by now. As it was, he was beginning to feel that the top of his head were beginning to float but that blinders were starting to close around his vision. He grabbed a handful of pretzels; he needed some starch.
Where the hell was Carey?
The guy next to him was his dozenth interview of the evening. Mulder had built up a pretty solid picture of Benston. A harmless-seeming individual, addicted and therefore generally too purposeless to accomplish much, only four people had reported ever seeing evidence of what they called a “mean streak” in the guy. He had been desperately attached to the younger man.
This guy Mulder was talking to now, six foot eight if he was an inch and a good two hundred and seventy-five pounds, far too much of it muscle, deep black skin gleaming with a light coating of sweat — or oil; Mulder didn’t want to underemphasize his showmanship — this guy had stopped telling him about Carby and Benston and started telling him about his silk scarf collection. Mulder’s mind was definitely drifting when he heard the familiar voice at his elbow.
Closing his eyes, his head dropped back on his neck, and rolled to face her. In that moment he’d sent up his prayer and now it was in the laps of the gods, he supposed.
Dana immediately regretted her outburst. The look in Mulder’s eyes was all too clear, even in the murky bar. “Please, Dana, don’t get me killed in here,” he was saying to her.
Possibly too late. “Fox?” The black man at Mulder’s elbow peered at him, a grin starting. “That your name or something?”
“No,” Dana thought quick and slid up next to Mulder at the bar, hooking one finger in a beltloop of his jeans and pulling him close to her. “That’s just what I call him. You never called,” she growled at Mulder.
Fascinated, he stared down at her.
“Mmph. I don’t think you’re his type, lady,” the other guy said, not entirely willing to give up his choice prize immediately.
“Oh, I think I am,” she said, managing to be both territorial and sympathetically dismissive at the same time. Mulder was still staring at her, dazed, and the other guy was examining her closely. Inspired, she slipped one foot between his and let the toe of her black pump slide up and down Mulder’s denim-clad calf. She leaned up and whispered something in his ear. Disgruntled, the other man muttered, “Catch you later, man,” and took his drink with him when he left.
That seemed to galvanize Mulder somewhat. “Dana, what the hell are you doing?”
“Shall I tell him you’ve changed your mind, you’re free this evening?” She grinned wickedly up at him. “I really didn’t think he was your type.”
Slowly he looked up and down the length of her. “Now why haven’t you ever worn that to the J. Edgar Hoover building?”
“You like it? Maybe _you_ should wear it to the J. Edgar Hoover building. What the hell _are_ you wearing, anyway?”
It was only his Knicks jersey, but someone had taken a mean pair of scissors to it. It now sported a huge scoop neckline and arm openings that started at his shoulder and left most of his sides bare, displaying both pects and abs to great advantage, not to mention arm muscles. Someone had loaned him a pair of jeans that were tight and worn almost threadbare; strategic holes had formed in various locations. His throat was bare but he wore three gold hoops in his right ear.
She was staring. He leaned down and spoke softly into her ear. “They’re clip-ons.”
“I think they’d go pretty well with this outfit. You sure you don’t want to try it on?”
“Dana, I had no idea you were in town. How on earth did you get here?”
“Mario, gimme a gin and tonic,” caroled a velvety alto right behind him, then Carey had snuggled up to the bar right next to Dana. “What can I get you?”
“Carey, you didn’t bring her here.”
“Nope, I didn’t. Little grey men from Reticula did. How much have you had, Mulder?”
A little too much, he realized; no more for him. “You’re not buying her a drink.”
“Why? Were you going to buy her one? Well, too slow.”
“Just a white wine for now, Carey. Maybe something stronger later.”
“Never mix your drinks,” the woman shook her head solemnly, and waved the bartender over, ordered the wine.
Mulder definitely felt a little foggy, and it was taking him longer than it should have to get his bearings. “Where’s… Stasia? or Phillip? Did Jones come?”
“She couldn’t come. They’re over there. Look, I think they snagged us a table.” Carey deftly scooped up both drinks when they came and, hand placed lightly behind Dana’s arm, steered her over to the table. Mulder tagged along behind. A couple of other people had already wandered over to greet Stasia and Phillip. They all squeezed around a table, Mulder managing to snatch a chair near his partner.
“So Dana,” he said, when they were all seated and a round of greetings had been performed, “tell me about your day.”
It wasn’t Dana’s usual Saturday night out, but, she told herself later on, she didn’t usually go out on Saturday nights any more.
She and Mulder sat close to one another so they could hear one another over the music; the others had disappeared into the bar haze.
“So they thought there was some sort of demon involved in the murder case? And Carey asked you to investigate?” Dana had been brought up to speed on what he knew of the case so far.
“Hey, who you gonna call?” Mulder smiled and shrugged.
“And what do you think so far?”
“Honestly? That Benston was a mean son of a bitch who went too far one night. He was very possessive of Carby and one night he pushed the privacy line way too far. Like countless other murders, Scully. These guys have no bravado, no style in their killing; they’re scared little people who commit scared little murders. But that’s what makes it so puzzling. They’re *all* puzzling. I’m not surprised these demon rumors are making the rounds so fast. Isn’t that what we’d all like? A little explanation for the pointless violence?” He lifted the glass of ice water to his lips.
He’d sobered up pretty fast, she observed. “Still, murder is not an everyday act. It’s not like leaving the lights on or forgetting to lock the door; something has to push you to an action that drastic, Mulder.”
“Are you saying the devil made him do it, Scully?” Disbelieving grin.
“Of course not. I’m saying that people don’t, as a rule, commit murder. Would it be possible to find out if any investigation’s been done into Benston’s physical and psychological state? There are several organic causes for psychoses that can cause violent behavior; if he has no history of mental illness, it’s still possible that there will be evidence turning up of that sort. *Has* he a history of mental illness?”
Mulder looked at her. The dim lights gleamed off her hair and skin; he noticed, for the first time that evening, that she looked beautiful. And she was discussing organic causes for pathological violent behavior. This is what the job does to us, he mused, twisting his sweating glass in the ring it made
on the tabletop. “No,” he mumbled, “no history of mental illness.”
“What’s the matter, Mulder?” But at that moment, Carey appeared again out of the smoky fog.
She put a hand on Mulder’s shoulder, and he looked up at her. Her dark hair, blue streaked, slid forward over her shoulder; automatically she pushed it back. A sleeveless cobalt silk shirt, unbuttoned to the point of cleavage and just beyond, draped lightly over a pair of baggy-cut black silk pants, full enough to almost hide the sandals she wore. The neon orange of long, perfect nails actually coordinated brilliantly with the cobalt blue of the silk, the same color as the streak in her hair. She wore no makeup and it struck Mulder that no one had such perfectly shaped, not quite too-full, rose-pink lips naturally. It was absurd.
Dana, observing both of them, realized for the first time that the hazel of their eyes was nearly the exact same shade.
Carey looked at Scully and smiled. “Want to dance?”
Scully’s eyes widened a little. The Catholic girl in her scampered away into a cold dark corner, overwhelmed with the weirdness of the night. She was having fun so far; she could dance or she could theorize about murders with Mulder. It was what Mulder himself would have called a “no-brainer.” Scully smiled back and rose from her seat. “Why not?”
Carey backed up, let Scully wend her way through the scattering of chairs and past the table where Mulder still sat to the dance floor. Over her head Carey caught Mulder’s eye. Carey liked to measure. The expression in Mulder’s eyes was undefinable but large.
They left him sitting there.
He let his head fall against the padded back of the chair, sliding down till the base of his spine rested on the seat of the chair, stretching his long legs out in front of him luxuriously.
Dana hadn’t danced in ages. Fast dancing in this crowd was no problem; it was like dancing with a group of friends anywhere. She could feel the beat in her belly, in her lungs, in her eyeballs; it pressed on her from everywhere. She danced to it.
When the faster music segued into something slower she came back to herself. Carey had lifted the mass of her hair off her neck and was fanning her face, laughing. Stasia, dark eyes gleaming, shyly wrapped her arms around the ever-bemused Phillip’s neck and laughed at him as he attempted to slow dance.
Carey was looking at her.
Dana was frightened. She wasn’t frightened of Carey, she was frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing. She also wasn’t a particularly great slow dancer; it had been a long time, and she didn’t think Carey knew the box step that Dana had learned years ago in school. Dana Scully was an extremely orderly person. She never ran out of milk and she actually wrote dates down in her planner. When she bought toys for her nephew she bought the batteries to go with them. She was having a very odd weekend, and she knew that she was going to dance with this woman, which would make it even odder. She wondered if perhaps aliens had taken over her mind somewhere on route 95 and switched her brain with someone else’s.
Carey smiled and held out a hand.
Impelled by curiosity, generosity and the exuberance of the dancing she’d just done, Dana took her hand, smiling roguishly, and moved closer. Carey carefully placed one hand in the small of her back and never moved it.
Yes, she did know the box step.
At his table, Mulder squinted, apparently from the smoke, and ordered another drink.
The trip back downtown was only a short train ride and a walk. The walk wore the booze out of everyone. The group of people heading for the same apartment building near the square spread out, reformed, gained and lost members as it moved along, but managed to reach the building in a relatively cohesive whole; at that point, however, it fragmented, with many of its constituents trailing off to their own apartments. The core group made it back to Phillip and Stasia’s apartment.
Carter put on some Nine Inch Nails and they lounged around the living room, exhausted. Stasia leaned on Phillip’s knee; Barry and a woman they’d connected with at the bar, apparently known to all of them and named Liz, argued amiably about something in a corner; Scully plopped herself down on the couch, kicked her shoes off and wiggled her toes, and Carey threw herself full length on the floor, sighing as she pulled a couch cushion under her head to support it. Mulder mumbled something and stumbled down the dark hall to the bathroom.
“That was fun,” Scully sighed.
“Yeah, it was,” Phillip agreed. “We should do that more often.”
“We _do_,” Stasia poked him in the side, “it’s just that you don’t go with us, Mr. Betty Crocker Stay-at-home.”
The big man rubbed his brushcut hair ruefully with one hand, and shrugged. “Well, it was fun.”
“My feet are dying,” Carey announced to the room at large.
“Mine too,” Scully agreed.
“Here,” and Carey reached up from her supine position to rub one of Scully’s stocking-clad feet.
“Mmm.” Scully’s head dropped back against the back of the couch and her eyes closed. “You could do that forever.”
Carey grinned. “Getting old, Dana?”
“Getting old_er_. It’s happening to all of us.”
“Speak for yourself. Here, sit down here.”
Will weakened by the foot-rubbing, Scully slid off the couch and onto the floor to sit, knees together, with her legs turned to one side.
Carey got up on the couch and started to rub Dana’s neck.
“Oh my God,” Dana murmured and let her head fall forward.
Chuckling, Carey worked her way down the tendons on either side of the neck to the shoulders.
Dana could have fallen asleep right there. Carey’s large hands were warm and soft, her fingers strong as she stroked the muscles and tendons into warm melting puddles of wax. She dug into the muscles at the edges of the shoulder-blades and Dana made a small involuntary sound of pleasure.
Carey couldn’t resist; she only had to bend forward just so slightly to brush her lips against the skin at the back of the silky neck in front of her. A shiver ran up Dana’s spine and she straightened slowly; she didn’t open her eyes, but Carey could feel that she was more awake and wary now. Carey murmured, “If you like this you should try my full-fledged massage-until-you’re-weak-with-delight special. It usually costs the earth, but for you –”
Everyone in the room jumped as the door to the hallway banged shut. Mulder stood there, a cup of coffee in his hands, looking very pointedly at Carey and at no one else.
“I think this one’s going to put me under the table,” Dana mumbled, then looked up at Mulder too. Sleepy and alcohol-fogged, she couldn’t figure out why he was looking so odd.
“Maybe you need some fresh air,” and crossing the room in two steps he offered her a hand.
Bewildered, not really knowing what he was doing, she took it, and was as surprised as anyone else when he hauled her to her feet.
“If you haven’t seen this balcony yet, you’re gonna love it,” Mulder said grimly and showed her the door out the back of the apartment.
The stars were blotted out along the horizon by the orange-yellow glow of the city itself. Along dark rooftops porch lights sparkled; streetlights illuminated the eaves of buildings and outlined their shape against other buildings; windows, bare flat white light or dark pastel shades, stood out here and there in the black. The balcony looked out over a small yard; an oak tree in the yard reached nearly up to where Mulder and Scully stood; a bronze giraffe failed entirely to reach that high.
They looked out over the buildings, Legos for giants with architectural add-ons, and Mulder leaned against the railing.
“You know, Mulder,” Scully said, tucking her stockinged feet under her on a wooden bench and leaning against the rail, “somehow it doesn’t surprise me that you came up here for a fun weekend and yet I’m the only one having any fun.”
“That’s not true, Scully. I mean, I knew I was going to work, and I’ve had some fun too.”
“Clearly not enough.”
Her tone was so slicing that he looked at her. Her pale gray eyes looked sleepy and a little red-rimmed from the smoke in the bars, but they were focused firmly on him.
“No, clearly not enough. What did you think of that last guy who tried to pick me up? I don’t know about those guys in suits, those are always the ones who like handcuffs and other nasty things, but his suit sure was expensive. Maybe I could have hit him up for a new Porsche or something before he got tired of me.” Batting his eyelashes outrageously, he pulled a deck chair up to where she sat and rested his feet on the bench.
She actually giggled before she could repress herself. “I thought that woman in the stiletto heels was more your type.”
“Ouch.” Grasping his chest, “You got me.”
“I saw you eyeing her.” Scully took a deep breath, enjoying the night air, cool after the hot summer day. “You could have at least danced with her, Mulder. It wouldn’t have killed you.”
“Yes, dance. You’ve heard of it.”
“Oh yeah, I think I have.”
She sighed. “There is more to life than thinking, Mulder.”
His jaw dropped dramatically. “Dr. Scully? Do you feel faint?”
“Not about cases, Mulder. Never about that. But don’t you ever feel like there’s more to life than the FBI? More than murder and unexplained phenomena and power games you don’t want to play?”
“Actually, no.” He rubbed his chin with one hand; he could feel the slight stubble. “I don’t spend a lot of time wondering about that.”
“Not wondering, Mulder. The last thing you need is more thoughts roaming around in your head, unattached and taking your attention. Just feeling. Feeling like maybe dancing is a good thing.”
She leaned her head against her arm and closed her eyes. Quiet reigned for so long that at last Mulder leaned forward.
“Scully?” he whispered. “Ready for bed?”
“Mmhmm,” she murmured, not opening her eyes.
She only blinked a little as he put one hand under her arm, steered her into the apartment. The lights were mostly off now; only Barry, snoring in a corner chair, remained, and he woke up as they came in.
“Oh man, I gotta go home,” he moaned. “Come lock the door after me.”
Mulder deposited Dana on the couch, where she promptly fell comfortably over. “I’ll get you a blanket while I’m gone,” he told her as Barry staggered out of the room in front of him.
“Great,” she said clearly into her pillow. He was sure she was out like a light before he even left the room.
As he came back down the hall, he noticed that the light was on in the room he’d used last night; Mulder knew who was in there. This was the only guest room. She had to be waiting for him.
“Waiting for me?” he asked as he pushed the door open.
She sprawled across a papa-san, a hardback book cradled against her stomach, with a lamp shining on it from over one shoulder; the light also glinted off her hair, her nails, the silk of her shirt, her skin.
“No, just ducking out for a bit. Everyone else seems to have crapped out. I often stay here overnight. I’m sorry, I didn’t realize you must be sleeping in here.”
Yeah right, he thought to himself. Openly he admired her pose. “Very Rubenesque.”
“Yeah, if Ruben’s models had had shoulders like a Green Bay Packer.” She let the book fall open on her stomach. “Come on in.”
She didn’t rise, and as he approached her he had the distinct impression that he was the supplicant approaching the throne of the queen.
He leaned over her, braced himself with a hand against the wall over her head, said softly, “I wish you’d leave her alone, Carey.”
“We had a nice day together, that’s all, Mulder.” Her voice was equally soft. “She has an amazing capacity for keeping her mind open to … extreme possibilities.”
“Doesn’t she though.”
“She does, Mulder. It impresses me, as I’m sure it impresses you. But can anyone equal your devotion to Absolute Truth? Nevah,” she finished dramatically, the back of one hand pressed against her forehead in a mock swoon.
“If you’re only trying to use her to get to me, Carey…”
Her hand dropped. She stared up at him, hazel eyes on hazel eyes, a faint flush of pink burning her cheeks. “Mulder,” she said, and her voice was deep, quiet, and vibrating with vehemence, “your moments of blindness, like your moments of insight, are absolutely breathtaking in scope.”
Dropping his hand, he straightened.
In one fluid movement she rose to her feet, face to his face. “I’ve always admired the size of your ego, Mulder, but you’ve outdone yourself.”
“Carey, I’m sorry, but I thought–”
“I know what you thought. You’re very cute when you’re transparent, you know.” Hooking two fingers in the waistband of his faded Levi’s, she pulled him closer, against her. “Don’t you think that if this was what I wanted to do, I’d just do it, Mulder?”
He looked down at her. Their eyes were completely different colors now, his cool brown while hers flashed green.
“I misunderstood the backrub, then. Sorry.” His voice was still soft, cool, and calm.
“Jealous over a backrub?” She reached both hands up to his collarbone, reaching over to knead the muscles at the back of his neck gently. “All you have to do is ask.” Continuing across the expanse of his shoulders, her fingers, strong and warm and dry against his bare skin, dug into his biceps, the spot in the triceps that always ached so pleasantly when massaged, and down; she raked her thumbnails lightly across the hollow inside each elbow, causing a shudder to run up his spine before she massaged the cords of muscle that ran down each forearm.
This was a place they’d been to before. Now they were on familiar ground.
Taking one of his hands, brown against her pale ones, in hers, she pressed both thumbs into his palm, massaged outward, and turned it to kiss the palm, looking at him through his own fingers, flicking just the tip of her tongue to taste the salt of the palm.
“It says, been there, done that, seen the movie, read the book,” he answered her, still with a voice soft, cool and calm.
She shook her head, more amazed than chagrined. Dropping his hand she slid both of hers under the jersey he still wore, splaying her fingers against his skin as she slid them upward over his ribcage. Beneath her fingers she could feel a heart hammering against his ribs. It wasn’t that she didn’t get to
him. She knew on some level she did.
“Are you going to tell me you wouldn’t do this to Jonesie?”
He smiled, now, for the first time since he’d come in the room. “You know I am.”
“And it would have as little effect as usual to tell you that I wish you’d let me make that decision?”
“I ‘spect so.”
Half-grinning, she shook her head again. “Didn’t anyone ever tell you that nice guys finish last, Mulder?”
“I’m a nice guy — I do finish last,” he couldn’t resist the bait.
Laughing out loud, she leaned closer, fitting the curve of his hips into hers, breathing lightly on the column of his throat, “Do tell.”
At last his hands came up, closing on her upper arms and pushing her back, gently but abruptly. “You’re not going to give me a moment for a gracious retreat, are you?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Always running away.”
He let the breath he’d been holding rush out in a smothered burst of laughter, trying to keep it quiet. “Carey, I have to go. You’re a good friend and you know damn well this ‘isn’t my scene’. And it’s not who we are.”
Relaxing back away from him, she folded her arms across her chest, the only sign that the rejection would hurt her. “Yeah, yeah, yadda yadda yadda,” she mumbled. “It’s not who _you_ are.”
Eyebrows racing each other up his forehead, Mulder pushed her chin up with a closed fist. She was frowning but her eyes had a spark of a smile in the corners. “If it weren’t just a game, I’d –”
Cocking her head to one side, her eyes asked him to finish the sentence but she could see that nothing could make him. She said nothing, examined her nails with a successfully nonchalant air.
“I,” Mulder said raggedly, “am going to bed. To sleep. Hopefully.”
Carey looked up. “Another good reason –”
A choked laugh and Mulder had backed toward the door. “Carey. Good night.”
He saw the light was still on in the guest room when he padded back up the hall from the bathroom to the living room. He wasn’t going back in there again, even to kick her out.
Scully was curled up on the sofa. She’d peeled off her black stockings at some point, and her toes were tucked beneath one another. The couch pillow was bunched under her head.
The air conditioning was still going full blast. Mulder unfolded the light cotton blanket he’d scrounged from the hall closet and spread it over her.
As the fabric fell over her Scully made a small noise deep in her throat, something between a mutter, a moan and a squeak of protest. The sound of it made her seem vulnerable and lost.
Something inside him pulled at the sound; a straining, toward or away, Mulder couldn’t make out because it startled him and before he could decide what it was, it was gone. Well, pillow, bed, he thought to himself. Throwing the other couch pillow on the floor, Mulder unfolded the afghan over him. It was too short and left his feet uncovered. He could try to swap with Scully but suddenly he was too tired to get up and make that whole effort. He fell back on the pillow, turning his head, expecting to be kept up by the ever churning mess of thoughts that lived inside his head and rarely let him sleep.
But he’d processed a lot of alcohol that night, and his body had had enough of the ups and downs of the day. Not to mention all that walking. He slept.
Mulder seldom dreamed. He remembered thinking during the night. His brain worked through his unconscious hours on his conscious thoughts; when he awoke, he recalled this, and his thinking went on uninterrupted. It didn’t matter what he was thinking about; he thought.
Tonight he dreamed.
Unlike thoughts, his dreams had no words. His dreams were all about warmth, silky warmth, surrounding him from all sides. He had an oddly familiar heavy ache in the pit of his stomach. It looked dark, like the kind of dark he saw behind his eyelids, with vague shapes; light soft sounds in a bird-voice, a cat-voice, a woman’s voice, fluttered around him. The sensations were maddeningly vague; was he pressed against her? Touching her, stroking her? He ached and the ache intensified but couldn’t concentrate; it went on and on until it nearly, only nearly caused him pain; it was exquisite and he felt as a touch could make him explode. That was the excruciating pinpoint that started to lift him out of the layers of his sleep, turning over, curling around the throbbing sensation, realizing with part of his waking conscious mind that of course one never orgasmed in dreams, not without real stimulation, a drowsier part of his brain thinking he was damn close all the same.
He woke himself up then, drowsy and warm until his conscious mind kicked back into gear and his eyes flew open, appalled. Red hair?
The sun was slanting in the window behind his head and slashing across his face; he creaked to his feet to let the venetian blind down before it reached Scully. The large tabby cat with which Phillip had buffed Carter’s face yesterday strolled by, rubbed experimentally against Mulder as though perhaps
Mulder might produce food, and then when he didn’t, strolled away again in good humor.
Pinpricks were stabbing the backs of his eyeballs and Mulder couldn’t figure out whether he felt more embarrassed or more dismayed. What was with him today? Or yesterday and today, he thought, watching the dawn sun climb higher and figuring that if every day after a bad night’s sleep melted into every other day, he could count his days per year in the dozens.
Suddenly the thought that had been lurking in his mind behind the beer and the annoyance with Carey announced itself.
“–it’s following me — I just do what it says–”
Carey had interviews with subjects who claimed to have encountered the demon at various points over the last ten years. All of them reported more of a sense of a presence than a sensation of being followed. All of them reported an encounter with the presence at points in the building, not always the same point in each case but always the same point in each _encounter_. Each and every interviewee reported that the demon had been avoidable by leaving it, though there were conflicting reports, understandably vague, telling how one went about doing that.
“The demon is stationary,” Mulder thought to himself, rubbing his face with his hands to get the blood going. “It doesn’t follow people around. So was Benston talking through his hat, or was he talking about another demon?”
He had shed the gold earrings at some point but was still wearing his butchered jersey; he exchanged it now for a whole shirt and, pulling the apartment door firmly shut after him, slid out of the apartment.
When Scully awoke the first thing she thought was that something had to be done immediately about the vile coating in her mouth; the second was that she was surprisingly comfortable sleeping in the clothes she’d worn out last night.
“Hurrah for spandex,” she muttered and swung her feet off the couch.
“Oh good, you’re up,” Stasia smiled her good-morning as she came in. “We’ve been tiptoeing around trying not to wake you up.”
“Have you been up long?” Scully squinted around, trying to locate a clock.
“It’s about ten. I’ve gotten used to getting up at this time for work and Phillip just never sleeps through my getting up, even when he’s had a drunken and debauched night the night before.” Stasia placed a ceramic cow full of cream on the table, and retreated with a hairbrush to the couch Scully had just vacated, settling in and beginning to tackle untangling her mane of waving dark hair.
“Um,” Scully said lucidly and grabbed her bag to take with her to the bathroom, hoping it wasn’t in use. It wasn’t. Surveying herself in the mirror, Scully felt a slight shock. She was wearing tight, shiny clothes, her makeup looked slept in and her hair was tousled. She looked like the day after a particularly tawdry night before. Not that she had great experience with how she looked after a tawdry night before, especially since she’d started working with Fox Mulder, the 24-hour Energizer Agent.
Hey, where was Mulder?
“Dana, there’s clean towels in the cupboard, help yourself,” Stasia called softly through the door after a tap.
“Thanks,” Dana replied absently. Mulder had steered her to the couch; what had happened to him after that? Didn’t Carey have an apartment in this building?
Stripping off her clothes quickly and efficiently, folding them as she went, Dana dragged a comb through her hair to detangle it a bit and turned on the hot water, then the cold in the shower stall.
When she was through showering, brushing her teeth and changing into her own clothes, she felt much more human but she still hadn’t shed the nagging feeling that she wished she knew where Mulder was.
She had just emerged from the bathroom when she bumped into Stasia.
“Oh,” the darker woman said, “I was just coming to tell you that Mulder wasn’t here when we woke up.”
“Ah… thanks.” Scully hoped she didn’t look as nonplussed as she felt.
Stasia regarded her thoughtfully for a minute, one hand clasping the end of an unfinished braid. She smiled and added in her soft, unobtrusive voice, “When you see him, tell him it wasn’t his dream.”
“Pardon me?” Scully’s reactions were a little slow and Stasia had disappeared down the hall again before Scully was finished blinking.
Later, later, later. For now, where was Mulder?
For the first time that morning, Scully hoped he was at Carey’s place.
Mulder was never methodical — except when he was working. It was only the fact that he was working almost all the time that ever gave people the impression that he was naturally a methodical person.
Again he had begun at the topmost floor, this time walking not only around the hallways of each floor but into each side room that he could get into. He investigated broom closets and fire escapes. The day was warming up and the old Philadelphia building was beginning to gather heat from the sun and from the asphalt’s reflection. Working his way down the building Mulder brushed a drop of sweat from his forehead and frowned. What was he looking for?
By the time he reached the basement he was warm and irritated. Another wild goose chase for Mulder, he thought. Chalk another one up on the side of reason; another loss for generalized insanity.
Fuse boxes, yep. Electricity meters, hot water heaters, yep. Washers and dryers, the coin-fed kind; a garbage chute, an empty wooden crate, some boxes.
In one corner a dark mass pressed against the glass of a basement window, the kind that looked out into a box-shaped indentation in the sidewalk. Mulder got closer and examined it. It was a plant, some sort of plant with glossy dark green leaves, and it was pressed against the glass sucking up all the sunlight it could reach.
It looked like it might be sprouting out of a crack in the wall or the floor, watered by the dampness that clung to the inside of the concrete basement wall; but Mulder didn’t want to touch it. Its leaves looked thick and impervious.
Was that a sound behind him?
Whirling away from the window Mulder peered into the shadows behind him, slapping his hand on a gun that wasn’t there. No, no noise. Or at least, not now. *Had* that been a sound?
He walked toward the darkness.
Was that another plant crouched in there, a darker shape in the dark?
No, how could it have grown in the dark? How would it have lived, what would it have fed upon?
A prickling sensation on the back of his neck made him whirl again, but there was nothing there.
Turning back to the shadows, he peered more closely. It seemed as though there was something deep in the corner but he couldn’t see and was reluctant to move closer.
There was that sound again. Mulder jumped and realized he’d been holding his breath.
Rubbing sweating palms against his thighs, he moved closer.
It was cold and damp in the deeper recesses of the basement, chilling the summer sweat on his back and making his hands, his throat feel numb. His pupils dilated fully and still he could not discern the outline of whatever it was there, in front of him.
Cold, very cold.
He felt as if the blood in his veins was flowing colder and colder, slowing like slush, and his heart had to pound harder and harder to force it through his skin, his arms and legs; his stomach felt like a quivering bowl of jelly, the nauseating sensation making him breathe faster in an attempt not to throw up. He thought he could hear, or feel, more sounds behind him, slight scraping sounds, high-pitched sounds on the threshold of his perception, but he could not bring himself to turn his back again, nor could he bring himself to ignore them.
His right hand opened and closed, convulsively, repeatedly, looking for something to grasp, looking for a weapon.
Feeling as though he lifted a ton of lead with the effort, he picked up one foot, and could only put it down, slightly ahead of where it had been.
By noon the sunlight no longer streamed straight inside the apartment’s picture window. One could sit on the furniture and watch TV or read without being blinded by the light. But Scully couldn’t do either.
“Something’s wrong,” she said.
“What?” yelled Phillip, and turned down the Tibetan monk’s chants on the stereo, but at that point the doorbell rang.
Stasia jumped up to let whoever it was in, and returned down the long hallway with Carey behind her.
“Hey all,” the woman greeted them, bright and rosy and clearly having just stirred from her apartment. “Everybody sleep off the effects of the demon liquor?”
Scully didn’t waste any time. “Isn’t Mulder with you?”
Carey blinked. “Nope. Did you think he was?”
“I’m going out to find him,” Scully said decisively, swinging her bag over her shoulder and standing up. “Any idea where I might look for him?”
“You haven’t seen him all day?” Carey mused. “Well, this is Mulder we’re talking about, I suppose he’s on the case.”
“Where might that be?”
“I can give you the address of the building Benston and Carby were living in. I can take you there, in fact; it’s on the way to the doughnut place. I’m starved.”
“Well, don’t let me keep you from your doughnuts,” Dana said, “but I’m going straight over there. Can you take me now or can you give me the address?”
“You really thing something’s wrong, don’t you?”
Dana couldn’t think of any reasonable explanation for her uneasiness so she offered none. “Yes.”
“I’ll go with you.”
The gray old-fashioned apartment building formed a cool shadow on the sidewalk.
“I’ll start at the bottom, you start at the top, we’ll work our way towards the middle and see if we happen to find him,” Scully said, feeling a little foolish now that she had hauled Carey out to this innocuous-looking building in the middle of the day on nothing more than an uneasy feeling.
“I’m sure we’ll run into him. He can’t leave a problem hanging. He probably didn’t get through the whole building yesterday and he’s just being thorough.”
“For more than four hours?”
“He also can’t survive without food, Dana. He may very well have gone out for breakfast first. Food does wonders for a hangover, you know. You’re a little too jumpy. Calm down.” Carey unbuttoned another button on her purple cotton blouse and fanned herself with her hand. “If nothing else, it’s too damn hot to be so gung-ho.”
“I’ll meet you back here at the front door before one thirty, OK? Let’s
Carey laid a hand on Dana’s arm. “All right, here we go, but just remember to be careful, OK? You don’t know what you might run into.”
“Do you think that someone else killed John Carby? Are you saying we need backup assistance?” Dana’s cool grey-blue eyes searched the other woman’s face. “Is there something pertinent to this murder that you haven’t told Mulder?”
“No. I’m not saying any of that. It’s just a general warning, I guess. Be careful.” Carey looked down at her feet, then up at the hard, bright blue sky and ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back from her face and sighing. “John Carby was a student of mine. A very sweet kid. Gullible and naive, if you know what I mean, but such a sweet kid.”
Scully stood for a moment, head cocked to one side, evaluating the mixed expressions on the older woman’s face before she felt inside her bag for her gun. “Well,” Scully said, her voice low and definite, “I’m not gullible, I’m not naive, and I’m not sweet, so I shouldn’t be in any danger.”
Scully nodded toward the door. “Let’s go.”
He had become terrified of the beating of his heart, convinced that at any moment the vessels in his head, in his chest must burst with the furious pounding, listening for each *thud* as it sounded, terrified that it was the last, terrified that the next would kill him.
He crouched on the cement floor, arms wrapped around his knees, eyes fixed straight ahead on a crack in the wall, waiting for a swarm of death to come out of it and crawl all over him, suck death out of him.
He could not look up because he knew the blade was suspended just over his neck, waiting to slice at the first sign of movement.
Pins and needles, lack of blood, prickled along his legs, causing goosebumps to form, each one of them tensed in waiting.
Then in a rush he knew there would be no more waiting because it was all already over. Everyone else was dead, was gone, and he was alone, all alone in this cold damp cellar because he was the last one left alive, the last one. And perhaps he would not die and then he would be all alone forever.
No one came because everyone was dead.
No one came because everyone had been taken away.
No one came because everyone was screaming in a spaceship somewhere light-years away where no one could ever hear them.
Where he could never hear them.
Then he wanted to die. And then, the next second, he was afraid that the wish had been all that they were waiting for, and now that he had wished it, he would die; and fresh cold sweat broke out on his brow and he wished he hadn’t wished that because he really did want to live.
He couldn’t see. Sweat trickled into the corners of his eyes and stung unbearably but he couldn’t even blink it away because in that second of dark, it would happen.
He wondered if the unbearable prickling sensation on the back of his neck that went on and on longer than any horrible sensation ought to indicated that there really was someone behind him, or maybe it was just a rat, or a bug.
The cold was eating through his sneakers into his feet, and he realized that soon they would be numb and he would fall over into the jaws of the darkness and it would all be over. He wished he’d worn socks.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
The pressure in his ears and the echoing sound made it impossible to hear anything real. Fighting to breathe and yet to control his breathing he gasped, and one thudding sound became irregular with the other.
One was his heartbeat. One was someone walking towards him.
He couldn’t die in the dark. He couldn’t stand it. He had to look.
Turning his head an inch or two he could see the doorway, far away, at the foot of the old wooden back staircase, the thuds each heralding the fall of a foot on that wood. The door opened with a protesting squeal; Mulder tried to swallow the lump that leaped into his throat but instead managed only to moan.
“Mulder? Are you down here?”
Scully. Scully. Scully. He chanted it in his mind. I’m here. Run away. I’m here. He blinked. Touching one hand to the floor, he flinched, but it was only a floor, it did not reach up and grab him and pull him down. Only a floor. Chancing just his fingertips he balanced there, two feet tight together, crouching, fingertips of one hand spread on the floor.
Alerted by a sound, Scully pulled her gun and, raising it at the ready, advanced into the dark corner. Light was streaming in a tiny basement window; it fell on her, making it hard to see. There was no obvious threat but she couldn’t tell what might be in the shadows. She stepped forward.
The sunbeam lit her hair, a fire in the darkness, and Mulder swallowed. “Yeah, Scully, I’m here,” he rasped.
“Mulder?” Another step and she saw him. Something grabbed her stomach, made it flip-flop. Lowering the gun she peered into the shadows behind and around him but saw nothing. “Are you okay? What are you doing there?”
He shook his head, looked down again, closed his eyes and swallowed. There was too much in his throat; nothing else, even small words, could pass. He shivered as he looked up at her and held out a hand.
Another step forward and nausea gripped her. She took a deep breath. Must be more of a hangover than she’d thought. Another.
Mulder was still holding out his hand.
Wide-eyed, Scully searched the shadows. There must be something there. She had the feeling she had when she was chasing a perpetrator in the night, in alleyways and buildings. Something could come out of any shadow at any moment. One second of relaxed vigilance and boom, you were dead. Eyes seemed to bloom in the back of her head and she felt she was being watched, but a quick glance over her shoulder showed her there was nobody. She took another step forward.
Don’t believe, Mulder thought silently to himself. The hand he was holding out to her trembled.
Scully looked again at Mulder. He was pale, shaking, wild-eyed. She didn’t think, she didn’t wonder, she grabbed his hand and pulled.
He stumbled to his feet.
Not knowing why, she pulled again, and shoved him toward the door, sweeping a level gun around the empty place as she followed.
The conference consisted of Mulder, Carey, Stasia, and a woman with hair the color of a new penny, bright and coppery. She was slenderly built, her hair sleeked back like bird’s wings from her face, her eyes sea-green and stormy, her mouth calm. She propped her head up on one hand, revealing short, capable fingers with almost no nail, artist’s hands, no-nonsense hands.
“All right, Mulder,” she said in a pleasant voice, “just tell us what you remember.”
Mulder reported tonelessly his investigation of the building, his investigation of the basement, the details of the point where he stopped his investigation and his surroundings and sensations as he could recall them.
“And do you have a theory as to the cause of your hysteria, Mulder?”Jones went on, just as calmly and pleasantly.
Stasia scratched a fountain pen across the surface of a notepad; a tape recorder was also spinning in the center of the table. As long as they had an investigator of Mulder’s caliber working on the case, Jones had explained, they would take the opportunity of recording as much as they could about the incident; Carey, too, had wanted records for her files though she claimed she was out of the business of academia now. Even knowing that the records would only be for their personal use, Mulder was keenly aware, as he had often been in the past, of how he was going on record — and how he would sound to his superiors at the Bureau if they could hear him.
“I think the hysterical episode could be explained as a concatenation of several factors, including sleep deprivation and the aftereffects of over-consumption of alcohol, combined with a precarious emotional state and the expectation of finding something, which, as you know, is a powerful hallucinogen in itself.” He tried to add a half grin but his heart wasn’t in it.
“You associated the severe fear response with a specific physical location in the room, Mulder?”
“Do you think you could locate on a blueprint the location associated with this episode?”
Jones leaned back in her chair, appeared to examine her nails for a moment, then leaned forward again. “Do you think this experience might shed any light on, or have any relevance to, the murder of John Carby? Don’t feel like we’re pressuring you to draw conclusions, Mulder, we’re not. We just want — I just want your opinion.”
Mulder closed his eyes for a minute. The inchoate shapes behind his lids frightened him and he had to open them again.
“The experience does not match any of Benston’s testimony. I had no experience of words, of anything being told to me. I can attest that the episode has some residual … aftermath. The cumulative effects of exposure to… of experience of such an episode might well result in a sort of paranoia similar to that Benston seems to exhibit. I can’t imagine what the combined effects of… such an episode and drug use, specifically use of hallucinogens, might be, but pure speculation would suggest that it wouldn’t be good.” Mulder tapped his finger on the table, eyes down.
“That’s fine.” Jones nodded. “Is there anything else you can think of that might be of use to us? Is there anything else about this experience, or your investigation of the case, that you want us to know?”
There was a long silence and the hiss of the spinning tape recorder seemed to embarrass them all.
“Uh — I suppose I would add that, in my official capacity, if that were what I was acting in, I would say that whatever it is down there in the basement had nothing directly to do with Carby’s death. Unofficially, though, I would say that whatever it is, it’s one nasty motherfucker and it can’t be doing anyone any good.”
Her sea-green eyes stared at him, and she nodded. She and Stasia exchanged some glances that seemed to be part of a private conversation and then she rose. “I gotta make some phone calls, Mulder,” she said in a pleasant alto that was somehow completely unlike the voice she had used just a moment ago. “I’ll see you before you go, OK?”
Stasia slid out of her chair but Carey made no move at all. Mulder, realizing they were leaving her alone in the room with him, widened his eyes and looked at Jones, but she was smiling and left.
Smiling, he leaned his elbows on the table, shaking his head. “You don’t believe, do you, Carey?”
She smiled at him, but there was something sad under the smile. “It’s dangerous to believe, Mulder.”
His smile faded. “I suppose.” A pause. Then, stumbling over the words because he was afraid that they wouldn’t make any sense, he said, “Do you suppose Scully knows that?”
“The danger of believing? Or the danger of _your_ believing?” Carey rose, gallantly waved him to the door, refusing to continue the conversation. “You used to be a clearer thinker than that, Mulder.”
Two main events were happening at the same time, one overt, the other not covert but not obvious. Chinese take-out had been brought in. Jones, Stasia and several other women were partaking, and objects like lanterns and incense were being gathered into bags. “We’re going to deal with it,” Jones said quietly to Mulder and helped him to some cashew chicken.
In the general noise a private conversation could be had. Carey picked up a cardboard container of orange spicy beef and carried it over to the corner where Scully balanced a plate of fried rice on her lap.
“If you haven’t tried this yet, you haven’t lived,” Carey said, and dumped some on Scully’s plate.
“Mmm,” was Scully’s response as she tasted it, her eyes smiling and indicating the hassock near her.
Carey sat down and leaned in conspiratorially. “You’re not doing it right, you know,” she said and picked up a sliver of meat with her chopsticks.
“I can’t eat with those, it would take me all night!” Dana laughed.
“It tastes better if you go slowly,” Carey murmured and fed her the piece in her chopsticks.
Eyes sparkling with silent laughter, Scully had to shake her head.
Carey laughed out loud and picked out a piece for herself. “So, you’re driving back tonight?”
“It’s not so long a drive, really. We both have to be at work tomorrow.”
“And you work in different offices now?”
A frown flitted across Scully’s face. “Yes, we do.”
Carey nodded to Mulder’s jeans-clad form, huddled at the table over the collection of cartons. “You’ll look after him, though, won’t you?”
Thoughtfully Scully licked a bit of sauce from her lips. “He’ll be okay, don’t you think?”
“Oh sure. But, you know, okay is such a relative thing. He’s the last of the pilgrims, in a way; sort of the last of the modern mystics. And the last of the old-fashioned gentlemen, I have to say.”
Carey could tell Dana didn’t want any of her interest to show. “Really. Not too old-fashioned to have dirty thoughts, but old-fashioned enough to be embarrassed by them, if you know what I mean.”
“I don’t think I do.”
“Well, don’t worry about it, then.” Carey licked the sauce from her own fingers, and said, “You don’t ever have dirty thoughts, do you, Agent Scully?”
Coolly Scully handed the other woman a napkin. “Not on the job.”
Mulder turned around then and saw them, side by side in front of the picture window, a dark blue edged with purple from the sunset. Carey’s dark head and Scully’s bright one leaned close together, and they were laughing. Scully looked up at that moment and saw him looking at them. She came over to him, piled more snow peas and rice on her plate, and said, “I was supposed to tell you that it wasn’t your dream.”
He turned to examine the noodles rather than to hide the slight flush along his cheekbones. “Thank God.”
“You going to tell me what that means?”
“Nope. Hey, this stuff has sunflower seeds in it. Have some.”
She pushed some rice around on her plate. “As long as you tell me everything I need to know, I suppose I can live with that.”
His head bent over hers. “Even the stuff you don’t believe?”
“Especially the stuff I don’t believe.” And she smiled.
They drove out of town, each in their separate cars, with Dana following Mulder until they reached 95; then they lost one another, somebody driving too fast for somebody else or somebody taking a different route. It didn’t matter, they’d talk to each other tomorrow.
They had already reached their respective homes when the procession threaded its way through the dark streets of downtown Philadelphia, a group of shining heads, red, black, golden blond hair, over black robes with sleeves that reached down for the ground. One woman carried a burning stick of incense, one a silver cup, one a small iron pot filled with glowing coals, one a similar small pot filled with powdery clay. Under her robe, Jones carried a glass bottle of water and another of Laphroaig for libations, because the Goddess, she felt, liked Scotch, and she herself preferred single malt. Also, she thought to herself, alcohol is appropriate to pour on wounds, and it’s the wound of a city we’ve got to heal. A bronze knife gleaming with garnets flashed with the reflected light of her candle lantern when her robe parted in the evening breeze. The faces of all the women looked strong, purposeful, and they walked together into the shadowy gray building and disappeared from view.
“Especially the stuff I don’t believe.” That was the smile that he remembered now, sitting in his basement, ignoring the tapes spinning lazily free on the reel-to-reel machine, to all appearances staring into space but staring into that smile.
The danger of believing. He hadn’t been able to stop it like she had.
The cold of the dim basement office had begun to seep into the floor and he could feel it through the soles of his shoes, heralding the end of an unusually mild Indian summer. It made him shiver.
He was strong in his believing but believing made him weak. He hadn’t been able to save her from his fear the way she’d saved him from it, just by being there, by being real, by refusing to question at the right moment and refusing to answer with anything less than could be proved.
He shuffled the newspaper clippings around on the table. They told about Russ Benston’s psychiatric evaluation, trial, and conviction. One described John Carby’s funeral. Dead at twenty-three. Family and friends bereft. Another senseless murder that meant so little in the larger scheme of things but was in itself a limitless vista of horror, of chance and of fear.
Alone in his office, Mulder picked up the phone.
“Carey? Hi. Yes, I’m calling and it isn’t even Christmas. Just wanted to hear your voice. Hey, can’t a friend call every now and again for no reason?”
But I’m the only one
Who’ll walk across the fire for you…
It’s only fear that makes you run
The demons that you’re hiding from
When all your promises are done
I’m the only one…
Lyrics by Melissa Etheridge
“I’m the Only One”
_Yes I Am_, 1994
Real rock’n’roll without which I never would have written/finished this story. Turn it up loud.