Working Title: Pied Piper
Rating: PG-13 for potential graphic imagery (non-sexual)
Category: WIP, Moviefic?
Spoilers: Nothing left to spoil at this point!
Feedback: Yes, please. firstname.lastname@example.org
Summary: In the years following the events of The Truth, Mulder and Scully have returned to something of a normal life, until Skinner asks for Mulder's help on a case.
Archive: Please do not archive until the full story has been completed.
Disclaimer: All things XF belong to FOX, 1013, Chris Carter, etc.
Notes: This is a WIP story, my take on what an XF movie could look like, following the finale of the show. I'm hoping to finish it sometime before the REAL XF movie comes out in July 2008...
The fifth child. It was the fifth child in ten weeks.
Walter Skinner massaged his furrowed brow with one hand as he waited for the light to change. He absently fingered the thumbprint-sized scar at his temple.
No leads, almost no clues, too much media attention and too many people riding his ass. He couldn't think straight.
He maneuvered his big black SUV between the police cars, his left hand holding his badge out the window to assure his passage past the barricades. Cops, CSU, FBI—like a million ants crawling all over this newest crime scene. He shut off the engine, drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly, then finally went to look at the latest atrocity.
"William! Find your shoes, please, and take them to Daddy so he can help you." Scully was frantically packing lunches, kicking herself for not doing it the night before. But Mulder had surprised her last night by getting their son off to bed a little early and, well…anyway, now she was running incredibly late for work. "Mulder, can you help him, please?!"
"I'm on it!" Mulder called, buckling his belt and wandering out of the bedroom. "Hey, Sport, bring me your shoes."
Mulder sat on the couch as William hopped across the room in his stocking feet, little blue sneakers dangling from his hands. He pulled the boy up on the couch beside him and wrestled the sneakers onto the wriggling child's feet.
"Will, could you be still for just a second?" Mulder said, trying to get the Velcro straps fastened correctly. "Okay, all done. Stick around because we're almost ready to go."
"Okay," William answered absently, bending to retrieve a toy from beneath the coffee table.
Mulder returned to the bedroom to find a tie and get his suit jacket, confident that all was on track. As he emerged he ran headlong into his wife.
"Scully! Sorry, I didn't see you." He stepped aside so she could enter. "You're not dressed?"
"No, I'm not," Scully replied with deadly patience.
"I'll go get Will rounded up," Mulder said quickly, knowing better than to say anything further when she was feeling hurried and frustrated.
"Look, Daddy!" William called from the living room. He was holding one of his shoes on the edge of the coffee table, a little toy figure stuffed inside it. "It's a car! Vroom! Vroom! Rrrrrr…" He drove the shoe-car along the outer edge of the table, making exaggerated engine and braking noises.
"Will," Mulder sighed. "Don't take off your shoes. We have to leave soon." He picked him up and pulled the toy out of the shoe. "Come on. Mommy's almost ready."
"But it's my car," Will protested, his lower lip rolling out into a tiny imitation of one of his father's best expressions. He tugged on the Velcro strap of the other shoe.
"Stop it," Mulder scolded mildly, pushing Will's hands away and refastening the shoes.
"Come on, son. It's time to go." He set the boy on his feet and steered him toward the door.
"Let's find your jacket."
Scully came out of the bedroom, smoothing her hair and straightening her skirt. "Everybody ready?" she called, grabbing her cell phone from the charging cradle.
She found Mulder kneeling down, fastening the straps on William's shoes for the third time.
He looked up at her in exasperation.
"He gets real laces from now on, Scully. Velcro is of the devil."
The little family finally hustled out the door in a flurry of overcoats, lunch bags and briefcases.
Skinner threaded his way through the basement hallways of Quantico's Investigative Support Unit. How many years had it been? With all Fox Mulder's work and accomplishments, the man was still consigned to a basement office.
He had just arrived at Mulder's office door when his former agent came along, an unruly stack of papers and files threatening to spill out from under his arm.
"Good afternoon, Walter," Mulder said, playfully emphasizing his former boss's first name. He scrambled to unlock the door as his burden began to shift.
Skinner caught some of the files before they fell.
"How've you been, Mulder?" he said as he followed him into the office. "Everyone doing well at home?" Try as he might, he couldn't seem to lighten his tone.
"Oh, we're all fine. Keeping busy, Will's all over the place, the usual. How are you?"
"Fine," Skinner answered automatically, though he knew Mulder was already reading him. He might as well have a sign hanging around his neck. Walter Skinner, Troubled Man.
"Would you like some coffee?" Mulder moved from his desk to the coffeemaker on a nearby table.
"Sure," Skinner agreed. He studied Mulder's desk. Basic FBI issue, burdened by stacks of files and papers. He still had the wind-up chattering teeth, and a fancy glass bowl, a Christmas gift from Scully, to hold his ever-present sunflower seeds.
"Hmm?" Skinner looked up at Mulder, surprised to find him holding out a mug.
"Your coffee." Mulder took a sip from his own cup. "Pardon me, Walter, but you're looking a little grim. You didn't come here just to shoot the breeze, did you?"
Skinner studied Mulder's penetrating gaze, noting that despite the newer care lines on the younger man's face, despite the growing ratio of gray hairs to brown, the man had an air of peace about him, maybe even happiness. He hated to intrude on that happiness—Mulder had gone so long without it—but he needed the man's help. He was desperate for it.
"You're right. I need to ask you for a favor." He looked down and fingered the handle of his briefcase.
Mulder waited for Skinner to continue, but finally spoke when Skinner said nothing. "I'm happy to help you if I can, sir." Still Skinner hesitated, so Mulder said it for him.
"This is about the Pied Piper killings, isn't it?"
Skinner sighed in relief and nodded. He just hadn't been able to say it first.
"My team is busting their asses on this one, but we're getting nowhere. Too many false leads, but you have to chase down everything. Too many people trying to make political book on our success or failure, and just too many dead kids."
"You've got a profile, haven't you?" Mulder responded, gesturing for Skinner to take a seat in front of his desk. Mulder walked around and sat in the other chair beside him. "I heard that Michaelson was on this one."
"Yeah, he's done a lot of work on it." Skinner looked up and held Mulder's gaze. "But he came to me after this fifth body and said that he wasn't sure he had it right. Or that something's missing. You know him. He has virtually no ego to get in the way. He's a good profiler, but he's honest and not afraid to admit it when he feels he's off-track."
"So, what do you need from me?"
"I'd like for you to go over the reports and see what you can come up with." Skinner opened his briefcase and pulled out a copy of the case file. He held the thick folder on his own lap for a moment.
"Why come to me? This case isn't an X-file."
"No, it's not. But I trust you. You've always had more insight, more intuition, more…whatever it is."
"There are a lot of good guys you can take this to."
"Is there a problem, Mulder?"
"I'm not a field agent anymore, sir. And I haven't worked on a profile in years. You know that."
"But you are a profiler. You teach other agents about profiling…"
"I review old cases. I go over the same stories, where they already caught the guy."
"I know you also consult on cases for local cops all over the country."
"That's usually pretty ordinary stuff, just one or two victims, plain vanilla cases. I just help the cops narrow their list of suspects; help them figure out how to question them. Something like this, well, I just don't do it anymore."
"Level with me."
Mulder turned away and looked at the calendar mounted on the wall behind his desk. Scully had taken photos of the three of them down to the copy store and had them made into a calendar this past Christmas.
He didn't want to think about children being killed. He didn't want to imagine what kind of person was out there walking the streets, steeped in evil. Reviewing the violence and perversion of the old cases he used for teaching was dark enough. After all he had been through over the years, he wanted to live in the sunshine for a while. He knew that Scully was happy with their new life—regular hours, family time, a sense of security and normalcy, after a fashion. They still dealt with criminal cases and death, as he taught other agents how to profile killers and she taught other aspiring pathologists how to perform autopsies. But they were able to come home together and raise their son like other people did. She didn't want to be involved in their old life anymore. At least, not any more than she had to be at this point.
But he also knew Skinner's case. He'd seen the news reports on TV along with the rest of the normal people in DC, but he'd also seen some of the information the FBI had kept from the public. He knew what was at stake.
This month's calendar page was a picture of William sitting on a miniature tractor, his face a picture of concentration as he held the steering wheel and tried to keep his little feet on the pedals. Farmer William.
He looked down at the file still sitting on Skinner's lap. Those children were no less special and beloved than William. Their families didn't have the choice of whether or not to get involved.
"Okay. I'll take a look at it. But if Scully finds out, I'll let her chew your ass instead of mine."
"Deal," Skinner said grimly, unable to smile at Mulder's attempt to lighten the mood. He handed the heavy file to Mulder and stood. "I know it's getting late, so I won't keep you. Let me know if you need anything. You know I appreciate this."
"I'll do my best, sir." Mulder shook Skinner's offered hand and walked him to the door.
"Give my best to Scully and William."
Mulder watched him leave and fell against the doorjamb with a sigh. Scully was going to kill him.
"Go kiss Daddy goodnight," Scully said softly, smiling as William trotted over to where Mulder sat in front of the computer.
"G'night, Daddy," the boy said, standing on tiptoe, offering up his puckered lips for a kiss.
"Goodnight, son." Mulder kissed him and dutifully kissed the bear Will pushed at him. "Goodnight, Pooh."
He watched Scully herd him off to his room then turned back to the computer, updating some work he was doing on a case for the local police in a small Nebraska town. He could hear Scully talking quietly to William, reading his bedtime story, and could almost make out Will's soft replies, his higher-pitched voice growing softer as he relaxed down into sleep.
Soon Scully came up behind him and planted a soft kiss just below his ear.
"Are you coming to bed?" She massaged the day's tension out of his shoulders and glanced at the computer screen. "Is that the Nebraska case?"
"Yeah," he replied, leaning his head back against her body and turning his face up toward her for another kiss. "Mmm. I'm sorry. I've got to get some work done on this and I haven't been able to get much time in on it at work."
"Don't be long, okay?" She kissed him again, but had to break it off for a yawn she couldn't suppress.
"Go ahead and go to sleep, Scully." He kissed her hand. "I'm gonna be here for a while."
"Goodnight, then." She kissed the top of his head and turned to leave.
He kept at the Nebraska case for a little while longer, until he reached a good stopping place and he was sure the light was off in the bedroom. He felt bad that he was keeping a secret from her, but hoped that it wouldn't be for long. He hadn't had a reason to lie to her, or hide the truth, anyway, in a long time and he hated the way it made him feel.
In the past there had been times when they had kept things from each other and he had been happy that those days seemed to be gone. Well, at least this was for a good cause. And maybe he could get the profile done before she ever found out. He had already made some preliminary notes and he was just tightening it up, after all. Besides, she wouldn't really be mad, would she? Maybe worried, but surely not mad. She wasn't a shrew, after all.
Having assuaged his conscious somewhat, he closed the Nebraska file, but left the computer on in case he needed to consult any of his personal files. He took the Pied Piper file to the coffee table where he could spread it out and where the sofa cushions were easier on his tired butt.
"Mommy, put some butter on this part!" William poked at a bare patch on his waffle.
Scully spread a thin smear of butter on the offending squares. "There. Now eat, honey."
"I want some more syrup, please," he said, pointing to another part of the waffle.
"You've got plenty of syrup, Will." Scully began to cut the little waffle into bite-sized pieces. She remembered having waffles for breakfast when she was a kid, but not the little frozen toaster-heated things they were eating this morning. As a child she had had the real thing, made from fresh batter poured into her mother's big, well-used waffle iron. How had her mother managed to make waffles for a family of six on a fairly regular basis? Some days it was all Scully could do to get the three of them out the door on bagels and cold cereal.
She sat down to her own little waffles and glanced at Mulder. He was sipping his coffee, his attention drawn to something in the newspaper. He had been up late last night and it showed on his face—dark shadows under his puffy, bleary eyes. But there was something else. He'd been quiet last night after dinner and he'd hardly said a word this morning. He had something on his mind, something other than his current caseload.
"Mulder, are you all right?" she asked, noting the odd look that crossed his face for just a second before he smiled at her.
"I'm fine, hon," he said, taking another bite of his forgotten waffles.
Scully nodded and smiled back, deciding to give him another day or two before she asked him more directly what was going on.
After breakfast, while Scully had William in the bathroom washing syrup from his face and hands, Mulder slipped a section of the paper in his briefcase. He needed to look at one of the police beat articles a little more closely, but he didn't want Scully to notice. He knew she suspected something and she deserved to know. He just kept telling himself that he'd get it done soon and then it wouldn't matter.
The darkness had subsided. He hoped it would last longer this time. He always hoped it would last, but in his heart, or what remained of his heart, he knew the time would come again—the hunting time, the calling time, the killing time.
He didn't want to be this person. Once he had known only the light, but now the darkness came and the only way to fight it off was…
No, he wasn't going to think about it now. He had some time left to live in the light, to walk around like a normal person, to shop, to eat and drink, to watch…to watch them…
No, he wasn't going to think about it. No.
There would be time enough for that later.
The pictures were hard to look at. Children lying in the dirt, their own blood creating a dark mud around their pale, lifeless flesh. This guy wasn't a sexual predator. Of all the things that had been done to their bodies, the children were spared any kind of sexual molestation or mutilation. This wasn't about sex.
This guy was after something else. Some other fetish or demented drive was fueling his behavior.
The children had no defensive wounds, no skin under their nails, no sign that they had struggled against their assailant, but there were also no indications of any kind of drug being used on them. It was almost as if he had killed them in their sleep, or hypnotized them. They weren't dead when he cut them open—there was too much bleeding—but they had to have been unconscious or comatose or near death.
He had taken their hearts, their eyes. He may have drunk their blood. It was horrific, but puzzling, not matching anything he had ever heard of before.
And most puzzling of all was how he had managed to snatch the children in the first place. It was almost as if they had materialized at the crime scene on their own.
"Beam me up, Scotty…" Mulder said out loud, his brow furrowing as he swiveled his office chair away from the wretched display.
He'd avoided reading Michaelson's profile, not wanting to compromise his own conclusions—not that he was coming up with anything earth-shattering. He knew Michaelson had to have noticed the same things he had so far.
If they were lucky, they'd have about two weeks before the killer struck again. If they were lucky, and if the two-week pattern was true.
He turned back to the article he'd clipped from this morning's paper. Two DCPD officers had been called to check on an abandoned building because of suspected drug activity. They had indeed found what appeared to be drug paraphernalia, but additional evidence suggested other possible crimes. The article did not elaborate. He'd have to put a call in to the DCPD and ask a few questions, but it would have to wait. He had a class to teach and he was going to be late if he didn't get going.
He gathered up the case file and set it aside, grabbed his briefcase and hurried out the door.
Scully wound through the halls of the ISU division, dodging clots of people heading home for the day. She absently fingered the fold of a note she held in her pocket, imagining his face as he read its racy promises. At least she hoped it sounded racy. She wasn't confident of her ability to match the kind of love-notes Mulder occasionally slipped into her briefcase, but she had given it the old college try.
She'd arranged for her mother to pick William up at his preschool this afternoon and keep him overnight. Scully wanted to repay Mulder for his little surprise the other night and spend a quiet evening together. They could get some really nice takeout on the way home so she wouldn't have to waste time and energy cooking. And once dinner was out of the way, well, hopefully the note would inspire them.
She used her key to let herself into his office and began to clear a space on his desk so he'd be sure to see the note. As she tried to tidy a stack of papers, she accidentally bumped a file and sent it splattering to the floor.
"Shhhoot," she muttered, still working hard to edit her mouth, even though William wasn't around. He'd already said the "s-word" in front of his grandmother once.
She knelt to gather up the photos and pages of notes and realized what she was holding. His handwriting, these particular photographs, the names she'd seen in the paper over the last few months.
"Damn it, Mulder," she sighed, a flush of anger running up her back. She put the file back on his desk, pocketed her note and left his office, heading for the elevator.
She fumed on the way up, crumpling the note in her pocket, more glad now that her mother had taken William. There would be no romantic dinner, no sexy love notes, no nice evening alone. She was trying not to be angry with Mulder, since she knew he would not have sought out this case. At least, she hoped he hadn't sought it out. It had been all over the news and Bureau scuttlebutt was that the investigation wasn't going well. This is what he'd been keeping from her and she knew why.
The elevator came to a stop and she stomped her way down the hall and into Skinner's outer office.
"Good afternoon, Agent Scully," Skinner's assistant, Kim, said cheerfully. "It's nice to see you."
"Is Skinner in? Can I see him?"
Kim blinked at Scully's abrupt tone, opening and closing her mouth for a second. "Um…I'll see…" She slipped into Skinner's office, returning a moment later. "You can go in, Agent Scully."
Scully gave her a nod and pushed her way through the door.
"Did you pull Mulder in on the Pied Piper case?" She stood at the side of Skinner's desk, forcing him to turn in his chair to look at her.
"Agent Scully, why don't you sit down and…"
"I don't want to sit down, damn it."
"Yes, I asked him to help me out." Skinner sighed and took off his glasses, taking a moment to massage the bridge of his nose and his forehead. "Please have a seat, Dana," he implored softly.
She stood a moment longer, her arms folded tightly across her chest, her lips pressed into a hard line.
At last she moved to drop tiredly into one of the chairs facing his desk. She fingered the armrest. How many times had she and Mulder sat in here with Walter Skinner? Too many times to count, and too many for her to remain angry with her former boss.
"You don't think this is an X-file, do you?" She kept her eyes on the dark leather.
"No, it's nothing like that, Scully. I just felt that a fresh pair of eyes on the case might help us focus our investigation. If it helps," Skinner said slowly, "Mulder didn't want to do it. I practically begged him to do it."
"I don't want him in the field, sir. Not now," she said, finally meeting Skinner's eye. "We don't do this anymore—you know that."
"After all we've been through, with William now…" She had to take a moment to swallow the sudden lump in her throat. "We're finally free of all that. I don't want anyone…anyone to notice Mulder, to notice us. You've been through it all, too…"
He absently touched the scar on his temple, and the one that ran just under his jaw. He could still feel the pain sometimes, in the deep dark of a cold night.
"We all paid a price, Scully—to clean up the FBI, to gain some peace—and believe me, I would never want to jeopardize that, especially for you and Mulder and Will."
"Just promise me you'll keep him out of the field, out of the media."
"I haven't told anyone that I'm talking to him. There's already too much media attention and too many local jurisdictions involved."
She took the measure of his gaze, trusting him in spite of herself.
"Does he know that you know he's working on it?" Skinner asked quietly, already guessing the answer.
"No," she replied, looking away. "I saw the file on his desk just now."
"Maybe the two of you should talk it over."
"Oh, we will," she answered, rising from her seat.
"Go easy on him, Scully. Like I said, he didn't want to take it on. I talked him into it."
She nodded as she left. She wasn't really mad at Mulder, or Skinner, really. She was more scared, if she really thought about it. But being angry helped her keep the fear at bay.
Mulder hurried to his office. He was running late after staying after his last class to answer some questions. They had to pick up William before five-thirty and he didn't think he was going to make it. Just as he was about to call Scully's cell phone she appeared at his door.
"Oh, hey, Scully," he said, still quickly packing up. "Sorry I'm running late. I was just going to call you to go get Will first and come back for me."
"Mom picked him up this afternoon," she said quietly. "He's going to spend the night with her."
Mulder was about to offer her one of his finest leers, but her face stopped him cold.
"Is something wrong? Is Will okay?"
She crossed over to his desk and picked up the Pied Piper file. "Don't forget this." She held it out, waiting for him to take it.
"Scully…" He could feel his face redden, as if he was a schoolboy caught cheating on an exam. But then a cold knot of anger began to form in his belly. He was a grown man and she was not his supervisor. "It's just a case. Skinner asked for my help and I agreed to help him."
He took the file and put it in his briefcase, moving with a slow deliberation. "I know what I'm doing, Scully. I'm just looking over the reports, trying to see if they missed anything."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"Do I need to ask for your permission?"
"I didn't say that."
"I can make decisions on my own, you know."
"Mulder…" her voice was rising in spite of herself.
"I'm not a child. You're not my mother. You don't need to edit the world for me." His hands were cold and clammy. He felt defensive and guilty and he didn't want to.
"But are you willing to risk everything for this case, Mulder? Everything?"
"I'm not risking anything, Scully. No one has to know I worked this case. Who could know? What difference does it make?"
"Mulder, we don't know who might know and we don't know what it could mean. The FBI isn't necessarily clean, even now."
"Even Skinner doesn't know if he got to everyone. The corruption went all the way to the top, Mulder."
"But nothing's happened since then, Scully. I really don't think we have anything to fear. The X-Files are closed, this case isn't an X-file, and I'm not on the forefront of it."
"But we've always been watched, Mulder. We've been laying low and we haven't done anything to call attention to ourselves. And you don't know how this case will play out. Even if no one in the Bureau says anything, the press could find out and your name could end up all over the news."
"I'm not afraid, Scully."
"But I am afraid, Mulder. I'm afraid for you, for us, but mostly for William. I don't want any of us put at risk."
"Are you telling me to drop the case, Scully? Are you telling me not to help Skinner find this killer? You and I can keep William safe, but who's going to help save any more kids from this guy?"
"Mulder, stop, please." Scully took his right hand and held it still. "I'm not angry."
"Oh?" He was wary, but her hand was warm.
"I was angry…or scared, I guess."
"I'm sorry." He brought her hand to his lips.
"No, Mulder, don't apologize. You didn't really do anything wrong."
"I lied to you." Maybe he should feel guilty.
"You didn't tell me, but…"
"I used to keep secrets from everyone, Scully. I used to keep things from you to try to keep from hurting you, and I did it again this time. I was trying to protect you, too."
He pulled her into his arms, all the anger melting away in the warmth of her body, all of their fears causing him to clutch her all the tighter to him.
When his arms finally loosened a bit, she pulled back just enough to see his face.
"Promise me you'll be done soon. Promise me you'll stay out of the field."
He looked her in the eye, but then hesitated.
"As much as I'd love to, I'm not sure I can make those promises, Scully. You know that."
She dropped her head and pulled away from him. "We should get going."
He stood still, staring after her with his mouth open, unsure if he should try to continue the conversation or simply pick up his things and follow her out. In the end, he had to hurry to catch up with her before she got on the elevator.
The drive home was quiet and tense. Though neither of them wanted to be angry, neither of them was quite satisfied with how their conversation had turned out. They stopped by their favorite Italian restaurant and ordered some food to go, but they both knew that their evening alone wasn't going to be warm and romantic.
Dinner was too quiet, so Mulder decided to try talking about something besides the elephant in the room.
"Um, I've been meaning to tell you that I think maybe we should look into getting a new car."
"I mean…this one's starting to have a lot of miles on it and if we hang onto it much longer, we won't be able to get much for it as a trade-in."
"You're probably right." Scully didn't raise her eyes from her plate, but continued to work her way through her salad.
A few minutes later he tried again.
"You know, William was asking me if he could get a bike."
"A bike? Mulder, he's only four years old."
"One of his friends at school has one, I guess."
"Do they even make bikes that small?"
"Yeah. With training wheels."
"He'd outgrow it before he learned how to ride it."
"You're probably right."
She had looked at him once, at least.
They moved on to dessert.
"Scully, I was thinking of getting another fish."
"That would be nice."
They sat at the table, sipping wine and avoiding each other's eyes.
"Scully, are you mad at me?"
"I'm thinking, Mulder."
"Thinking about what?"
"About why you wouldn't make those promises."
"You know I can't. I can't tell how long it'll take me to finish working on the profile, or what it could lead to—though I do want to finish as soon as possible. And I certainly can't promise that I'll stay in my office. I don't intend to try to lead this investigation—not at all. But I've already been thinking that I need to view the crime scenes. And if we can't catch this guy before he strikes again, I'll certainly want to get out and see the freshest evidence available."
"Why don't you just formally join Skinner's team, Mulder?"
"Stop it." He put his glass down. "Why don't you just come out and tell me that you want me to drop it."
She stared at him for a long moment, the silence broken only by the quiet hum of the fish tank across the room. At last she dropped her gaze.
"You know I can't tell you to quit."
He reached across the table with his palm up, waiting for her hand. When she slipped her hand into his, he spoke.
"I promise to do my best to get out of this as soon as possible. I just want to help Skinner catch this guy."
"I know. I know. I'm just…"
"I'm scared, too, Scully. I know what's at stake, believe me."
He stood and pulled her to her feet, kissing her softly, holding her body tightly against his.
"We'll be okay, Scully. That I can promise."
She buried her face in the solid warmth of his chest, knowing that he could promise no such thing.
Mulder drove through the dingy streets of what appeared to be the armpit of the nation's capital. He pulled up in front of an abandoned building that differed from the other crumbling hulks on the block by having bright yellow crime scene tape fastened across the door and a police cruiser parked at its curb.
An officer got out of the cruiser as Mulder approached.
"Hi, there. You Agent Mulder?"
Mulder nodded as they shook hands and walked up toward the door.
DeLon used a key to open a rusty lock on the door and Mulder wondered what good the lock did when the door looked like it could be knocked down by strong wind.
"Watch your step in here. There's all kinds of crap on the floor." The big cop turned on his flashlight and directed it at the floor in front of Mulder's feet.
"Were you and your partner the first ones on the scene?" Mulder pulled a small flashlight from his pocket and followed the officer in.
"No. The call originally went in to the Humane Society. Someone called in about a dead cat found below one of the windows around the back. It had been skinned and mutilated. The animal officers came in to investigate and then called us in."
"So, what do you think was going on here?" Mulder picked his way through the debris, trying to get a look at everything, not quite sure what he was looking for.
"Hard to say. The thing with the cat could be some kind of cult ritual thing, like those people who kill chickens or whatever. Or it could be some mean punk who hates cats."
"The report said something about drug paraphernalia," Mulder prompted.
"Yeah, back here." DeLon directed Mulder to a small walled-off area that must have been some kind of office at one time. "We found needles, empty baggies, all that junk, but there was also a lot of blood. No body, but a mess of blood."
"Tell me about the cat," Mulder said, taking in the large brownish stain that covered the top of a dilapidated table and continued down onto the floor on one side.
DeLon wrinkled up his nose at the memory.
"I'm a dog person myself," he began, "but no poor animal should have to go through that. I hope it was dead before they started cutting it up. It was skinned, like I said, and then it's eyes had been gouged out and it's innards were all torn up. They said it looked like its heart was missing, but it was hard to tell."
Mulder's heart was starting to pound a little. This couldn't be a coincidence, but he wasn't sure where to place it in the larger chain of events in his case.
"The Humane Society folks wanted to be sure to notify us," the officer continued, "because we all know that animal cruelty is often a sign of future sadistic behavior."
"Yeah," Mulder responded absently. "Can I borrow this?"
He took DeLon's larger flashlight before the man could reply, then circled the table, staring at every drop of dried blood, every nick and gouge on the table surface, widening his examination to eventually include every foot of the room.
"Do you think I could get a copy of the Humane Society report, as well as your report?"
"The FBI investigates cat killings?" the officer said, not unkindly.
Mulder gave a short, dry chuckle, but said nothing.
He'd tried to avoid the children, thinking that perhaps an animal would suffice. Keen eyes, strong spirit—perhaps a cat or some other bold and cunning creature.
But it had been a miserable, messy experiment. He didn't know the anatomy well enough and it was impossible to calm the creatures. And in the end, the biology was just too incompatible.
The children were the best solution. They were young, sweet, fresh, tender of spirit, but full of life and wonder at the world. It was invigorating, exhilarating to have their blood coursing through his veins, the hearts pounding in his chest, to see the world with the newness of their clear eyes.
But the effect was temporary, fleeting and short-lived. He wasn't sure if each experience really was becoming slightly shorter than the previous one, or if he was just too addicted to the feeling and becoming impatient.
He had to learn to take it slowly, to rest more and burn up his resources more slowly. But it was so irresistible—to walk, or even run, through the park in the sunshine, to taste food and drink so acutely, to see such vivid colors. It was becoming harder and harder to wait, to be cautious, to choose carefully.