"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 24 of 45

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"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 24 of 45
E-mail: mrke...@eclipse.net, mrkel...@gmail.com
PG-13 X-File: Myth-arc Disclaimed in Part I
Already sent to Gossamer
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142 Curie Avenue, University City
San Diego, California
Thursday, June 18, 1998
7:09 pm

Jerry Donato lifted a small aqua can of Fancy Feast from its box, before turning to look down at two pairs of eyes, one red, one odd-eyed turquoise-green and blue. He knew they were attached to a mismatched duo of felines who had materialized silently in the kitchen doorway when he began opening cabinets to retrieve their plates. "Now Sirs, your Mom will be back late tonight, so just a little bit more of this bachelor living and we'll all be set again, you’ll see." He smiled at the round face of the ginger tabby. "Am I right, Seigneur?"

"Urr." Salazar flattened his rounded ears with impatience.

Jerry shook his head, astonished, still, that felines, with their otherness, had come to co-habitate with humans. After spooning their dinners into two identical mounds on their separate plates, he set the dishes before their waiting faces. He straightened, then watched them deliberately, precisely sniff their meals, before picking out a morsel here, or there, to consume before diving in.

Licking his whiskers, Salazar lifted his head to cock both ears at the living room, while Tuggles continued sampling. After a glance back down at the dish, the British Shorthair trotted to the front room of the house to vault himself onto the front windowsill.

Jerry frowned. Salazar wasn't exhibiting his usual Falstaffian gusto at mealtime. I hope he's not sick. He walked to the window where the red tabby crouched, his thick, ringed tail slapping the glass repeatedly. His round eyes were fixed on something in the yard, so, Jerry peered out carefully himself, checking for the object that was the focus of such intense scrutiny. But, no squirrel or vole or scrub jay was dancing on the porch or in the grass. There was, however, a blue Ford Taurus parked at the edge of the front lawn. He could see a man sitting in the passenger seat, lifting his arms as he faced the driver. The man was wearing a charcoal grey suit, so he assumed these were two FBI agents under the command of Phil Nichols, detailed for surveillance of Sandra's residence. He recognized the behavior, having engaged in it many times himself: a heated discussion to fill empty hours, possibly about soccer or the best cop shows of the '80's. He and Maria had shared many such long nights, chatting in the darkness on stakeout. His fingers found the M on Salazar's forehead.

"Now, Lord Inquisitor, they're doing their job. They're watching out for your Mom, just like we are." He huffed. Generally Nichols's agents were more cautious than this, setting up a half a block down and across the street. He'd have to mention it when he spoke next with the FBI ASAC. He turned to head back to the kitchen for clean-up, so missed the opening of the passenger door.

As he entered the kitchen, he had to refrain from a shout. "Tugs, get out of the sink!"

The Turkish Van, indulging that fascination shared with most members of his breed, was balanced around the soaking plates, his fan tail waving gleefully, soap suds covering his paws. The green eye narrowed at him, followed by several emphatic repetitions of his Siamese-like "Yeow!" It muffled completely the creak of the screen door hinges and two tentative raps on the oak of the front door.

--o-0-o--

But, the FBI agents in the Taurus were staging nothing like covert operations that evening. In fact, they both hoped the next few moments would bring the longest investigation of their professional association to a successful close.

Dana Scully turned to her partner. "Mulder, do you think you're ready for this? I mean, really ready?" Her green-blue eyes lifted from the steering wheel to meet his hazel ones.

Mulder rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, I think I am." He reached across the space to grasp her wrist. "Thanks, Scully."

She smiled gently in return, deeply grateful they had made their way past so many dead ends and distractions to arrive here. "Mulder, I can't tell you what an honor it has been to have helped you work through this and find your sister. You deserve to have this closure, finally." She covered his hand with her free palm, then they let silence settle over them both, she still rubbing his fingers with her thumb. They both jumped when a cell phone buzzed in one of their coats, but it was she who lifted her black unit to her ear. "Agent Scully speaking." She mouthed 'Chan' at her partner, then waved her hand toward the house.

He threw up his arms in defeat, then nodded. This was most likely Agent Chan's check-in after having delivered Marshal Tapping's organs for testing, so he swiveled to exit their vehicle. As he tripped his way up the brick walk to the front door, he found he was, oddly enough, feeling calm, finally, about this impending reunion. His Mother was safe in Santorini with Max, waiting word on her two children. His partner had put the debility behind her that had nearly driven her out of the Bureau and his life forever. He, at last, had real answers to share with his sister about the murder of their Father, as well as the shadowy organization that had snatched her away from him, so many long years ago. He found himself pulling away an unlocked screen door to stand in front of a plain wooden one, then knocked twice. There was no answer, so he tried peering in the window, but all he could see was a ginger tabby blinking up at him. {One of her cats.} He stepped back down off the porch to head to the side yard, where he spotted a red gate to the rear. After lifting the latch, he slipped through, then stopped. {So, this is Sam's garden.} He rested his fists on his hips, pushing the linen of his jacket behind them as he walked up and down the radial stone paths. At least here, with the tang of oregano and the pungent musk of basil rising around him, he could connect with a part of his sister's life he knew carried deep significance for her.

--o-0-o--

Jerry wiped the last of the water from one back paw, then set the now-silent feline on the floor by his dish, before ruffling his forehead with his palm, the motion sending the long ears wiggling. "Eat up, you crazy cat." As he rose to stretch the black terrycloth toward a towel hook, he became aware of movement in the back yard. {Now, how did those agents miss this?} He stepped to the rear window. The same well-dressed man he had spotted earlier was circling the stone paths, his gait loose-limbed, yet imbued with an intense focus. The motions were familiar, intoxicating even. Letting out a little puff of surprise as he suddenly realized who the agent must be, he pulled away the back door to step out onto to the deck. But, the information on secret dealings from far away the Evans investigation had brought to light had him stopping short, then reaching behind him to unclip his weapon. So much was not as it seemed. The next few minutes would tell. "Sir? May I help you?"

When the man turned to face him, the eyes that met his brown ones dropped his hand to his side immediately. They were her hazel, of course, below that same quirked set to dark eyebrows that he treasured, but the gaze was of someone who had been trapped, staggering, almost past the end of life's endurance, on ever-twisting paths of some demonic maze.

The agent blinked once, then canted his eyes toward the side gate, before firmly facing Jerry while lifting up his badge. "I'm Special Agent Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigations. I'm told this is the residence of Sandra Ann Miller?"

The thick-chested detective heard the hesitation before each word of Sandra's name but the second. He knew why. "Yes, Agent Mulder, you have the right place."

The dark-haired man's shoulders relaxed marginally as he tucked the badge away. "Thank you. Is Doctor Miller here?"

Jerry shook his head. "I'm Senior Detective Jerry Donato with the San Diego Police Department." He held up his own ID. "But, I'm not here in any official capacity." He bounced down from the deck to extend his hand to the brown-haired agent, finding himself surprised by the firmness of the returned grasp. "I'm here as a friend, who stopped by to take care of her cats while she's away on business."

The tall man now took a step back, almost into the fronds of artemisia. "Oh."

Jerry tried to reach for his arm. "Agent Mulder, ASAC Nichols told Sandra and me who you are. I'm pleased to finally have the chance to meet you. I'm sorry you missed her."

But, the brown-haired man was recoiling, retreating from any contact. "Okay." There was a longer glance at the gate.

The black-haired detective tried to soothe the fidgeting agent. "Let me check her schedule in my notebook to see exactly when the flight she's on will land." It was obvious he had not been the one the tall man had exhaustively prepared himself to encounter, so hoped to give him some space to gather his thoughts. "Ah, let me see, here it is - " But there was a blur of motion, which Jerry recognized as the setting off of another loose-limbed trot. The brown-haired agent was fleeing. It was the response his detective's sense knew was coming, so he dropped the notebook to head to the gate himself.

But, Mulder was quicker, lifting the latch to step through before Jerry could reach him. "Scully!" The call was something between an invocation and the cry of a drowning victim.

Jerry checked down the driveway. There was a red-haired woman approaching, as formally dressed as Mulder. Her shoulder-length pageboy, grey pantsuit over a coral blouse and polished black flats, would have told him, had he not already known, that she, too, was with the Bureau. Her precise, quick gait brought her to the tall man's elbow.

As Mulder fell in step beside this woman whom Jerry knew to be his law enforcement partner, one long arm reached behind her, presumably to land on her back. The tall agent bent over her slightly. "I have a treat for you, Doctor." The voice was lilting, almost teasing, completely other than the diffident speech of a few moments ago.

The forward motion of the pair swept all three of them back into Sandra's enclosed retreat before the ginger-haired agent advanced toward Jerry, her arm extended, her head level with his. "Senior Detective Donato, pleased to meet you." The handshake was as crisp, as professional as her partner's had been. "ASAC Nichols has shown us your work. You were instrumental in getting to the right suspect in the Wilton case."

Jerry noted the downward, grateful glance the tall agent sent toward his diminutive partner. Apparently, Mulder split investigative duties with this supremely focused woman along their individual lines of skill, as he had found himself doing with Maria after so many years together. The black-haired detective offered a quick thanks in reply. "It was a real shock for the University."

But the copper-haired agent had stepped past him, toward Sandra's garden. "Mulder, is this hers?" She twisted to look up at her partner, then they exchanged broad, genuine smiles. Jerry felt a blast of grief for Maria blow past him, yet again, almost missing the diminutive woman's next words. "I saw that surveillance photo of her working back here, but I had no idea this was the result. It's magnificent." After kneeling by the rosemary, she brushed her palm against the spiky pine-shaped leaves. She held her hand to her narrow roman nose. "California is perfect for herbs. Virginia has such terrible winters." She rested her weight on one fist while she reached out with her free fingers to rub the fuzzy creeping thyme spilling over the stones.

Jerry cast a surreptitious glance up at the tall man standing beside him. That haunted cast had not completely receded; he doubted, after what his official record had informed him the man had endured, that it ever would. But, it had been, augmented, he found himself thinking, by something he recognized. He had seen it on his own face in the pictures he kept on his desk of himself and his deceased Maria. "Tiny little thing, isn't she?"

The brown-haired agent's gaze never left his own partner. "No, not at all."

Jerry nodded, knowing the gesture was unseen by either of them. But his detective's instinct told him he had everything he needed to calibrate these two. Despite the off-putting, frankly fantastic nature of the cases the pair investigated, he was determined, now, to see to it that Special Agent Fox William Mulder and Professor Sandra Ann Miller would successfully connect, finally, as brother and sister. He also intuited that the red-haired woman rising to her feet would be his staunchest ally in the endeavor.

She had walked over to rejoin them. "Senior Detective - "

The black-haired man held up both hands. "Please, we're not on a case. It's just Jerry."

One red eyebrow hitched, then there was a slight tuck of her chin. "Very well. Then it's just Scully."

Arms akimbo, the tall man, who had settled close behind her left shoulder, tipped his head fractionally. "And I'm just Mulder."

The black-haired detective chewed his mustache. ASAC Nichols had told him such were the agents's preferences. "Okay, now." He fingered his back pocket, feeling for the notebook, then looking around his feet. Shadows were covering them, since the sun was approaching the horizon on this near mid-summer day.

The diminutive pathologist stepped to the oregano to reach into the waving green mound. "You dropped this." She lifted his black-covered flip book out to carry it to him. "I'm assuming Doctor Miller isn't home right now?"

Jerry took the pages from her outstretched hand. "That's right. She's in your neck of the woods, at least for this week, or she was. She was visiting her sponsors at NSF to discuss some upcoming work, but she called me to let me know she was coming back early."

"For her wind facility?" One corner of the red-haired agent's lips quirked. "I have colleagues at The Johns Hopkins Hospital who have to go through all that. It's getting harder and harder, with all the budget cuts, to keep funding coming in." She stepped over to her partner, then brushed his linen-clad elbow lightly with her fingertips. "Mulder, why don't you head to the airport with Jerry? That way you can meet your sister there. I can finish up this case with Nichols and his people."

"Or," Jerry interjected, " you can both stay here. Sandie will be back around one am." He had intended to take her out for a very late dinner. But, given who was standing in front of him, he would do anything to see to it this connection was made.

The hazel eyes flicked from Jerry's face to his partner's, before locking with her green-blue ones. "No, Scully." The diffidence was back, tinged with not a little fear.

Now, she gripped his arm fully. "Mulder." There was a hint of remonstrance in her tone, but it was barely a ripple on the depths of the sympathetic reassurance she extended.

Jerry watched the silent maneuvering between the two. Again, memories of debate after debate with Maria rushed through him. They needed, he knew, space and privacy to hash this out. "Let me just go finish up. Sandra doesn't need to worry about coming home to a mess after as few hours of sleep as she'll be getting." Unacknowledged, he stepped up onto the deck, then back into the house. He closed and locked the door before leaning beside the rear window to continue watching them through double panes of glass that muffled their words. As he expected, the agents had begun debating the moment the latch had engaged. Mulder was all flying motion, leaping around the stone paths, while Scully stood, arms crossed, watching and waiting. Eventually, the tall agent stepped up to her, crossing his own arms, then leaning into her face. There were more words, softer now. She settled on Sandie's round bench to continue speaking, but her arms remained crossed. A few more perambulations, then he flopped beside her, close, molded to her shape, only a hair away from nestled against her. Silence fell, then after a moment, he reached down to idly cast a brown leaf from her knee with a flick of his finger. Her arms unclenched before she patted his wrist gently. Without a glance at the house, they both rose, fluidly and in unison, to begin heading to the gate, he still loose-limbed, while she remained as precise and controlled as when she had walked up the drive. A slap of wood, then they were out of sight.

Jerry found tears stinging his eyes as he stroked a round head that had appeared on the windowsill before him. "Yes, Seigneur, change is coming."

--o-0-o--

Marriott Sorrento Valley
San Diego, CA
Friday, June 19, 1998
6:49 am

Dana Scully was rubbing her auburn curls vigorously as she padded back to her room. She had put in a decent hour of laps in the pool, so the tension from the fifteen hours trapped in tight airplane seats had almost vanished. The plush over-sized towel would double as a robe, should she need to wrap herself against the cool and dry air of a west coast morning. As she rounded the corner, she saw Walter Skinner pacing on the hall carpet in front of her door.

Enclosing herself fully in the white terrycloth, she trotted up to him. "Sir?"

He spun. "Agent Scully."

One eyebrow arched at the puffy face looking down at her. "Sir, we didn't expect you were coming out here. ASAC Nichols has three agents looking into the death of Marshal Tapping, in coordination with forces in the Marshal's Service. This is one of our own. It won't go unpunished. Agent Mulder and I will be heading back to the field office to hear their preliminary observations in a few minutes. I woke up on east coast time, so spent the early morning writing up my autopsy findings. A Marshal dropped by to pick up a copy and take it downtown. Between those and video surveillance we know he was killed by an injected poison, as well as who is responsible. We're running his internal organs through testing to determine the poison's exact formulation, as the symptoms were insufficiently specific. I'll be briefing the Bureau and the Service on my findings when we arrive."

The Assistant Director favored her with a slight, if genuine smile. "With you, Agent Scully, I would expect no less."

She took a step back. "It's a relief to have you here, Sir. Diplomacy is neither of our strong suits."

Remembering her poise in the Courtyard, he shook his head. "You sell yourself short, Agent Scully. But, I'm here on another matter. Where is Agent Mulder? This concerns his sister."

She spun on her bare heel. "He's still on the treadmill, Sir. The exercise room is this way." As they walked, Skinner fell slightly behind his agent, who was continuing her update. "We stopped by her home last night, but she was in DC, Sir. Detective Donato met us there."

His eyes narrowed behind the round lenses as he realized his agents must have put in almost as long a day as he had. "Was there a problem with her residence?"

She tossed a glance over her shoulder. "He was there to care for her cats." Unwilling to expose her arms, she had stopped in front of a pair of glass doors. "It's here, Sir."

Skinner could see Mulder, his short hair slick, his t-shirt darkened, pounding away in the far right corner of the otherwise unoccupied room. He rapped on the glass.

When the tall agent saw who was waiting, he killed the power, then after the tread stopped rolling, stepped off. "Sir?" It was half greeting, half question, offered as he exited into the cool and dry air.

"It's about Sandra, Mulder." Scully glanced to her right. "There's a place we can speak in privacy back here." When the three were perched on the ends of three reclining lounges alongside an open-air fire pit, she re-wrapped herself.

Skinner leaned forward, bringing the heads of the two agents close to his. "She stopped by X-Files East yesterday, Mulder. She took one look at your office, pronounced you a kook, and stalked out." The bald director scooted his seat closer to the dark-haired man. "I followed her the rest of the day. At the airport, she was intercepted by an associate of the Smoker."

"No!" The tall agent began pacing. "Not now!" After running his hands through his hair, he looked over at his partner. "Scully, you were right, I shouldn't have waited here."

She blocked his path. "Mulder, there's nothing you could have done."

"She's alright, Agent Mulder. Set that fear aside." He waited while the younger man crossed his arms, then glared. "I was able to detach her from his snare, but I think that it was all a part of his plan."

Both agents were standing close to him now, but it was Scully who voiced the question. "Sir? What was he actually trying to do?"

The eyes behind the glasses canted toward the tall man. "Poison her mind against Agent Mulder."

Now, it was the auburn-haired woman who began perambulating. "To drive a wedge between you two, one that might actually prevent any meaningful contact." She stepped close to her partner, who was chewing his lower lip. "Mulder, we need to speak with her."

Skinner took off his glasses to rub his eyes with his fingers and thumb. "She may hear *you*, Agent Scully, as she considers you are the only sane one among us, but I doubt she'll respond kindly to Mulder. The Smoker had video of his interrogation of Duane Barry after you were kidnapped."

"No. Not that." The dark-haired man had his hands over his face. "I wasn't thinking very clearly at the time, Sir."

"That was exceedingly obvious." The bald Director had gritted his teeth. "But, at least, I have seen for certain that you didn't kill him."

His arms now crossed, a storm of emotions played over the tall agent's features, but he said nothing.

"Mulder?" One slight hand emerged from the terrycloth to brush his wrist. "What is he talking about?"

His gaze never left the floor. "I got a little rough with him."

The pathologist turned to Skinner, who nodded. "He also had a creatively edited video of Mulder's handling of Benner after his attack on you in Athens Hospital, Scully. I tried to speak with her on the plane, but she refused to engage."

"Yeah. Sounds like he got all my worst moments on candid camera." The dark-haired agent began pacing, his forehead deeply furrowed.

Skinner studied the tall man carefully for a few moments. "They have something on everyone, Agent Mulder." He hoped this would calm the younger man.

Startled at the familiar choice of phrase, the dark-haired agent eyed his superior, then found himself wondering if all Consortium agents had been so warned.

Scully moved between the two men. "I should go speak with her. I need to tell her that's not who Mulder is, before the images are permanently wedged in her mind." She swiveled to look up at her partner. "We've come too far to fail, Mulder. I won't let that happen. It can't." She grasped his arm. "He's just playing his games, we know that. What I don't understand is why you two finally connecting is such a threat to them after so much churn in their organization. Did she see something they couldn't erase? That we would only understand after all our efforts to expose them?"

"Yeah." The response was soft. "Maybe you're right, Scully." He looked over at the Skinner. "Sir, are you certain you know where Sandra is right now?"

His shoulders sagged. "Detective Donato met her, so she's either at her place or in her office at the University. She had her nose buried in notes and plots most of the flight here. She apparently shares your ability to never sleep, Agent Mulder."

The tall man stepped over to his superior. "Sir, once we're done at the Bureau, we'll be taking off to go contact my sister. Use my room to catch a few hours yourself before you head back. Or, stay. It seems most of the action is here, anyway."

"Not necessary, Agent Mulder. I've already checked in." The three left the warmth of the space to head back to their rooms, Skinner in front, the partners behind.

Scully wrapped the towel more tightly around her. "Looks like the guys will go ahead with the screening without us again, Mulder."

He bent over her back. "Ah, what's a year when you've been waiting five million, Scully?"

Skinner arched a dark brow as they walked.

--o-0-o--

X-Files West Offices
FBI Field Office
San Diego, CA
Friday, 7:39 am

When Phil Nichols spotted the three agents entering his packed conference room, he maneuvered his way through the clogged aisle to snag Mulder by the arm, leading them to the front with him. He tapped the lectern microphone. "Good morning. I'd like you to meet my colleagues from the east coast." His voice was its most gravelly. "The Marshals are already familiar with Agent Scully's work." He pointed to her, before finishing introductions all around.

The diminutive pathologist took his place behind the lectern. "These are the findings from my autopsy of yesterday evening, conducted with the assistance of Agent Chan." She scanned the audience to find his black hair, then nodded to him. Turning over the first page, she took a breath.

"We've read your report, Agent Scully." Castor Pierce, the senior Marshal, interrupted her. "Is the tox screening back yet?"

Chan shook his head. "No. Sir. It takes time for the labs here. If you have facilities we can use that would be faster, we've saved back samples..."

"That's not something the Marshals usually require." The grey-haired man, who had refused to remove his sunglasses, strode to the lectern. "Agent Scully, in the interests of wasting no one's time, I'd like to have the updates from night surveillance reported out."

After a single upward glare, she settled into the empty seat between Nichols and her partner.

A slight man with receding black hair crossed the room to stand beside Pierce. "Agent Shiffeln, Bureau. We tracked the suspect to an apartment in La Jolla, on Playa del Norte Street. He's on the top floor. We've had the place under continuous surveillance since he arrived."

Mulder stepped over to them. "We've had contact with this suspect before. He's been involved in numerous assaults, transportation of illegal materials. You should consider him dangerous. Any reason why he hasn't been brought in already?"

Pierce took off the sunglasses to glare at the tall agent. "The residence is rented by Alice Franklin, his mother, who is wheel-chair bound. She has resided at the current location for at least the past ten years. We're treating this as a hostage situation. If we can get him out of there, we can end this without innocents being hurt."

Shiffeln cleared his throat. "That's my department. I'll be a visitin' door-to-door salesman with Marshal Herrod. Between the two of us, we can bring this guy down." Shiffeln scratched his greying stubble. "No muss, no fuss."

From the left-most seat of the front row, Herrod nodded. "This is one of mine. I won't rest until this is settled." He rubbed his eyes, fatigued after the overnight flight he took upon receiving news of his subordinate's death.

Nichols and Scully exchanged a glance, before she seconded her partner's warning. "Agent Shiffeln, I'd like to back up Agent Mulder here. Do not underestimate this man. He was involved in the destruction of the Palazzo de Medici and the deaths of Guiliano and Reynaldo D'Amato in March 1996. We've been tracking him on and off ever since."

Pierce simply sneered. "Then, why is he still wandering free, Agent Scully? Not extraterrestrial enough for an X-File?"

She rose to meet his gaze. "Punishment for his crimes requires assembly of evidence sufficient for conviction. That investigation is still in progress."

A snort launched from the senior Marshal. "Surprised anyone in your group even knows what evidence is, Agent Scully." He glared at her, then, at Mulder.

Director Skinner stepped up to the lectern. "We're getting off track here. Are you prepared, Agent Shiffeln?" He turned his gaze to the slight man.

"Sure thing, Walt. I just need to go change." He broke free of the clot of agents to head for the exit.

Nichols placed a hand on Skinner's shoulder, drawing the bald Director away from the others. "Walt, you look done in. You have a place to crash for a few hours?"

The jaw set firmly. "Just some coffee and I'll be fine."

The greying Montanan shook his head. "Not necessary. You can spell me this evening. I've had at least three hours sleep, you've had none."

Mulder stepped up to them. "Sir, it's a short drive. We'll call."

"I'll head to my room." A sigh, a nod, then the Assistant Director was out the door.

--o-0-o--

End – Chermera – Part 24 of 45
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