"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 23 of 45

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Sep 8, 2020, 8:30:01 PM9/8/20
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"Chermera" by Mary Ruth Keller Part 23 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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Hard Times Cafe
1404 King Street
Alexandria, VA
Wednesday, June 17, 1998
8:18 pm

Scully checked her partner's face as he waited beside her. Why here? When he had suggested dinner, she had assumed he was looking for another quiet home-cooked meal at her apartment, not at this boisterous eatery, filled with families, where Tom Mix and William Hart gazed down on them as Gene Autry warbled.

At the hostess's nod, Mulder touched his partner's back, then the two followed her to the second floor. The room was mostly empty, so the pair were seated at a small distressed-wood table close to the wait station. He dug a packet of oyster crackers out of a plastic basket on the table to pop it open, then rooted around happily, retrieving and crunching as she watched.

She flipped through the menu, then closed it. "Mulder, this doesn't seem like your kind of place."

He sent her a lop-sided grin. "All the better to avoid any unnecessary surveillance, Agent Scully."

Her forehead wrinkled. "Have we been? Under surveillance, I mean?" She checked around the dining area, where one other couple was seated close to the exit. She turned back to him. "So, what's on your mind, Mulder?"

They stopped while the waiter approached the table, then, after his departure, he crossed his arms on the placemat. "Scully, I can't tell you how difficult it was to just stand there and listen to Charlie berate you. After what happened last year with your nephew, I can't see why he still thinks the way he does. Please, tell me what I can do to help."

She nodded her thanks as her mineral water was placed on a napkin to her right, then, took several sips. "I wish I knew, Mulder. I don't see how to square this circle. I may just have to give them what they want and -"

"No!" The intense response was unvoiced. "You can't."

She cocked an eyebrow. " - permanently end all contact with them and their families."

He shifted uneasily.

A crash drowned out Gene for a moment. The partners reached instinctively for their weapons, then Mulder shook his head. One of the diners seated close to the door had sent his beer to the floor via an energetic wave during a particularly long story he was relating to his companion. The glass had shattered, so the wait-staff were running back and forth, apologizing as they carried towels and mops.

Her shoulders sagged. "I know Bill. He's playing at brinkmanship with me, as he always does, to try to make me give in and do what he wants." After smoothing the long napkin on her lap, she raised her sorrowing gaze to his. "Why is it so hard for my family to accept who I am?" She interlaced her fingers on the place-mat to stare down at them. "Mulder, you have no problem with your sister's choice of profession, or her life in academia, even though that may not be what you thought she would become. Ahab was thrilled I chose medicine. Even Mom, my hearth-focused Mom, supported me." The auburn pageboy shook. "They were dead-set against me joining the Bureau, and she has never stopped prodding and prompting me about getting married, but they never wanted me to just stay at home dusting furniture for the rest of my days, the way Bill and Charlie do."

He reached across the table to cover her slight hands with his palm. She made no effort to shift them away, which set deep ridges in his forehead. "Scully, I -"

Her trilling cell captured both their attentions, then she simply announced her name after placing the unit on her ear. She broke into a broad smile at the gravel she heard. "Nichols? How was the flight?" She nodded. "Okay, I'll tell Mulder. We won't be able to get out tonight, so we'll be on our way out there in the morning." She terminated the call.

"What?" He leaned toward her.

She rested the phone back on the tabletop. "Our U. S. Marshal has turned up dead. He must have known more than the Shadows thought he should. Nichols has him in their morgue so I can perform the autopsy as soon as we land. That document of his is locked in the safe at the Gunmen's. We'll have to scrutinize it carefully on our return."

They waited while his onion rings and her salad descended in front of them.

Mulder filled a small bowl with ketchup. "Okay, we'll make the arrangements and be on the first flight out of National once it reopens in the morning." He began chewing noisily. "You're missing the good stuff, Scully."

She sighed as she nibbled at the tomato on her fork. "Perhaps. Perhaps not." Suddenly feeling impulsive, she eyed the tightly-packed beer-battered rings.

Their dark moods dissipating at the prospect of a new investigation, he slid a red bottle toward her. "Try it with the Reagan vegetable. One won't clog those pristine arteries." He snorted as a solid clump of three were moved onto her small plate.

After breaking one free, she looked over at him soberly. "Mulder, we'll have to fly separately."

With a sigh, he nodded. "Yeah, we will. We'll have to make several connections and buy walk-up tickets, too. No reservations. That way, no one else is at risk." He tried sending her a small grin. "Looks like you may have the chance to knock off more of the Cavalli-Sforza after all."

"Hum." Their chili, hers the vegetarian with only onions as a topping, his the Texas chili mac loaded with onions, cheddar cheese, and beans piled on the peppery beef, all strewn over spaghetti, had arrived. They settled in to finish their meals.

--o-0-o--

X-Files East Offices
Washington Field Office
Thursday, June 18, 1998
2:42 pm

Cynthia set the handset back on the receiver. "Director Skinner!" She raced around the dividing wall.

The bald man looked up from his notes, stacked beside the memo he was drafting.

"Sir!" She came to a stop in front of his desk, grasping the edge for balance while her brunette curls flew. "Agent Mulder has a visitor, a Sandra Miller."

Skinner, now on his feet, was shrugging into his jacket. "They're still in the air, Cynthia. We won't be able to contact Mulder or Scully until late tonight."

She began smoothing down her hair with both hands. "Is it her, Sir?"

He sent her a single nod. "Let's make her as welcome as we can." Skinner and Cynthia returned to the front of their joint offices, but Sandra had already stepped through into Mulder's space.

The bald Director's breath hitched. The way she walked, the cant of her head, all were his. But, her arms were crossed as she took in the "I Want to Believe" poster, the WOW signal, the Bigfoot with breasts. She spun when she heard them step up behind her. Pointing at the poster, she frowned. "Is this who my brother is? Is it?" She was glaring at them both. "This is insanity!"

The Assistant Director blocked her path. "Agent Mulder is headed to the West Coast, Professor Miller. We had no idea you would be stopping by."

The hazel was hard as a glacier. "Why should that matter? Does he even know there is objective reality? Is it all some fairy tale, some science fiction?" She stalked past them both. "Don't bother to tell him I was here. I don't need idiots like this in my life."

Cynthia grasped her arm. "Doctor Miller, if you had seen the things they've seen, knew what they knew, you wouldn't think this of him."

Her eyes softened at the insistence offered by a woman young enough to be one of her students. "So, where is Dana Scully? Can I at least speak with her? Someone must be sane here."

Cynthia bit her lip, so Walter Skinner answered for her. "Agent Scully is on her way out to the West Coast as well. They're meeting with ASAC Nichols about a murder."

Sandra rounded on him. "Of what? Little green men?" Throwing her visitor's badge on Cynthia's desk, she stalked to the stairwell. "I wasn't here." Then, she was gone.

The brunette turned to the Assistant Director. "We need to call Agent Nichols."

Skinner shook his head. "We can't give their location away that easily, Cynthia. I'll take care of this. In person." He bent down. "This is what I need you to do..."

--o-0-o--

X-Files West Offices
FBI Field Office
San Diego, CA
Thursday, 5:46 pm

Phil Nichols was just preparing to lock the front door when a blue Ford Taurus pulled into the space next to his Camry. He held up his hand at the two heads he could see in the front seat.

Dana Scully stepped out of the driver's side door. "Nichols? Sorry it took so long."

He smoothed his greying mustache as he unlocked the Field Office. "Not a problem. Come on in."

Mulder joined them. "We were attempting to avoid being tracked, especially now. That they've taken out a U. S. Marshal says they're getting desperate."

The balding Montanan led them through the offices toward the small morgue in the rear. "Well, you may not think this is a hit after Scully works her magic. From what we could tell, and most of my guys have seen this often enough, this looks like a drug overdose."

Shoulder to shoulder behind him, the partners exchanged a glance before Mulder offered a droll comment. "That sounds even less like a U. S. Marshal."

Since they were entering the morgue, Scully trotted ahead of the two men. "Okay, where is he?"

Nichols stepped over to a slight Asian man in a lab coat. "Mulder, Scully, this is Agent Brian Chan. He's the orderly here."

The three exchanged handshakes before Scully assumed her pathologist's persona. "Have you done any tissue testing?"

A single nod shifted the black hair slightly. "Yes. We've taken blood and hair samples. The lab should have those finished tomorrow." He shrugged. "This isn't Headquarters. We've had to do some of the work ourselves, or use the regular police labs." He led the three to a bank of cadaver drawers, then began sliding the one on the far right open. The body on the slab showed no obvious cause of death, so Mulder turned the right wrist over.

"Yeah, here it is, Scully." He poked the rising sun tattoo.

She bent over his arm. "I see it. I'll check over the skin and try to determine how long he really has had this." They exchanged a glance, then she turned to Chan. "So, where can I change?"

The dark-haired agent's lip curled. "Okay, we'll leave you two to your work."

Nichols's mustache twitched. No matter how much long the partners worked together, this was always something Mulder was willing to give a wide berth, so he grasped the younger man's shoulder. "C'mon, Chief. I have some surveillance footage from a nearby Bank close to where we found this guy that needs reviewing. You up for a little non-paranormal routine policing?"

A shrug, then Mulder checked Scully's face. "See you in a few."

--o-0-o--

Terminal B
Reagan National Airport
Arlington, VA
Thursday, 6:14 pm

Sandra Miller dropped her backpack and carry-on bag onto the black seat beside her. With her check-in complete, she could spend the next few hours, between her arrival and the flight, making up notes for the measurements she and her students would be performing next. They had survived the budget axe, but, just barely. There were three journal papers she needed to get submitted before the summer break was out to solidify her little group's standing, a task made all the harder by Tom Wilton's death. She barely noted the stocky man with thick glasses who took up a seat across from her, until, that was, he started chattering into the black unit on his ear.

"That's right, we need to meet with Mulder at the FBI. This is all strangeness. It's a case for him and his group of agents. Yeah. Yeah. Send those documents by bike messenger to the FBI Field Office. Okay, yeah, the reception isn't the best here. I'll have to call you back." He terminated the call, sighed, then opened a thick notebook to begin writing.

Sandra leaned forward. "I'm sorry, did I just hear you say you were sending documents to Mulder?"

The heavy-set man eyed her. His face showed curiosity and sadness, but his voice only reflected reservation. "Ma'am, that's official Bureau business. I can't comment."

She crossed the narrow aisle to sit by him. "That's of no interest to me. I'm just curious to know what you think of Mulder personally."

He tilted his head. "Ma'am?" He offered a resigned response. "I wouldn't know. I've never met him face to face. I only know of him and his work."

Sandra began to push herself off the hard plastic seat. "Okay. Sorry to have disturbed you."

He waved a hand, but said nothing.

She pulled out a bound data notebook and a pad of paper to begin working over the last measurements she had collected in the wind tunnel, but stopped at the sigh she heard across from her. The pudgy man was engaged in some kind of internal debate, muttering to himself as he flipped through pages in his own notebook. "Sorry, Sir, I didn't mean to put you out."

Something in his eyes resolved, so he rubbed his cheek under the black frames, then leaned toward her. "Look, if you want to know more about Agent Mulder on a personal level, I know an old friend of his family who could probably help you out." He began packing away his own notes. "He's not far away from here, so I could give him a call, have him come to one of the meeting rooms here in the terminal, and you two could talk. We have two and a half hours to the flight, so you won't miss it." He turned to look down at her. "I promise you that."

One of Sandra's dark eyebrows canted. She couldn't tell if the man was speaking to her, or to himself. She had an odd feeling, as if not all his cards were on the table, but that there was some part of him who believed what he was saying was true. "Okay. While you contact him, I need to place a call to the person who is picking me up in San Diego to let him know I'll be making my connections on time." She crossed her arms where she sat, letting her jaw flex. Something had fluttered behind the man's eyes, she could tell.

He shuffled his feet. "Yeah, I have someone I'll be meeting afterward, so I'll call her, too." Each retired to opposite ends of a nearby bank of pay phones to conduct their respective conversations.

--o-0-o--

From the far corner of the gate area, Walter Skinner's dark eyes narrowed at the portly man speaking with Sandra Miller. He knew who he was, this young assistant of the Smoker's, from the few visits he had paid to the dark office in his days before Albert Hosteen's memory had given him a final way out. He was surprised the young man had survived the devastation in Manhattan, yet, here he was. When he stood, then escorted Sandra Miller to the phones, the bald Director moved to keep them in view. He had to be certain she made her way back to the West Coast. He had gone so far as to purchase the lone remaining seat on this late-night flight to ensure it.

Their dual phone conversations complete, he followed the two down a long twisting set of interior corridors, finally arriving at a wing of plain white walls, with multiple unmarked white doors. Sandra and the portly man waited outside the last one on the left. At three knocks, it opened, then they stepped inside. Skinner noted that Sandra had all her luggage with her. He knew that there was only a single entry into the room, but he wanted to leave nothing to chance. He turned the knob.

--o-0-o--

The Smoker looked over as the bald Director's form blocked the doorway. "Walter! What a pleasant surprise!" He crossed the room to shake his hand, then lead him to a seat by Sandra. "This is Caroline's long-lost daughter! How wonderful for the family that she will be reunited with her and her brother, Fox, shortly."

Skinner simply glared at the grey-haired spy. Whether the trap had been set for Sandra, or for him, he could no longer tell.

A snort emerged from the chestnut-haired woman to his left. "We've met. This is my brother's boss, or so he says." She narrowed her hazel eyes at him.

The bald Director removed his glasses to pinch the brow of his nose. For all their unquestionable intelligence, the Mulder siblings appeared to share the unfortunate habit of trusting exactly the wrong person at the precisely the worst moment. But, perhaps he could produce a non-violent end to this meeting, if he worked carefully.

The old spy was beaming openly at her. "My dear, I see many of your Mother's most attractive features on your lovely face. How can be this old man be of assistance to you today?" He bowed.

Sandra leaned forward. The distrust coming off the bald man beside her was nearly corporeal, but part of her had to know. "What can you tell me of my brother, Sir? Of his time in the Bureau?"

Skinner realized the Smoker could hardly believe the opening he had been provided. "Why, Sweet Child, Walter could tell you more about that than I." The old spy gazed at him expectantly.

The Director released a sigh. "Agent Mulder has a..." Skinner shook his head. He was no good at games within games. "Sandra." He faced her directly. "This man's association with your family has never led to good outcomes. He has interfered in all of your lives more times - "

"Interfered!" The Smoker snorted. "He's correct there, Sandra. Your Mother and Father married while she was still a refugee from Austria after the end of the Second World War. He did nothing to help reunite her with her family, nor did he help her obtain her citizenship. I did. As you have probably gathered, her East European background would have counted against her at the time." Crossing his arms, he leaned back. "I saw to it that it was not. Caroline is a naturalized US citizen as a result of my efforts." He turned to Skinner. "Walter, is that not so?"

As he nodded, the bald man could feel the noose tightening around them.

Sandra glanced from one to the other. She was beginning to get an inkling of whom she could trust here. She had sat through too many faculty meetings where just such verbal battles had been fought. "Okay. That's good to know. But, Fox? What about him? Is he the kook he seems to be?"

One dark eyebrow arched, but the old spy smiled again. "Walter, how would you respond to that?"

The Director gritted his teeth. "As his partner would say, Agent Mulder is willing to pursue leads that appear to be non-existent or ephemeral, but he has a strong intuition on many disparate subjects that often turns out to be correct." He had taken another step into the trap.

Sandra tossed her head. "Well, from what I've read, she seems to have a good sense of him."

The old spy nodded. "Yes, their partnership has been exceptionally productive. Am I correct, Walter?"

Skinner's nostrils flared. "Yes." It was all he could do to not sock the Smoker in his smirking jaw, then haul Sandra out by the arm, luggage or no.

The pudgy man lurking in the back of the room stepped forward. "But, Sir, there's more Sandra should understand about him."

A kindly glance. "Indeed. There is a dark side to your brother, Sandra. When Agent Scully is working with him, she can keep it under control, most of the time. But, not in her absence." He shook his head somberly, then opened a laptop in front of him. "These are surveillance videos from Skyland Mountain back in 1994, after Agent Scully was abducted by persons unknown." Once the cursor hovered over the right-pointing arrow, he tapped the mouse pad.

The frames were hazy, distorted through a fish-eye lens on a small camera in the ceiling. The several desk lamps scattered around the room cast odd shadows on the two men she could make out.
Fox Mulder was shoving a man wearing a bloodied University of Maryland sweatshirt down into a chair. "Sit down, Duane," he commanded.
"No, you got to stop them! Hurry! Hurry! They were just out there! They were right outside!" the man shouted in response.
Mulder looked over his shoulder, then the man staggered to his feet, his hands behind his spine.
The agent threw him face-down on the table behind them, yelling, "Duane, settle down!"
From the table, the man howled, "They'll tell you were she is! The military's in on it! Just ask 'em." Mulder hauled him upright by the back of the neck, waving a bloodied wrist strap in his face as he demanded, "Did you hurt her?"
"No!" the man replied.
"Did you hurt her?" Mulder repeated.
"No!" The man shouted back.
"What is this?" The agent snarled as he held up the plastic band. He began throttling the man, who started gagging. The choking continued as Mulder's features grew more and more contorted. Finally, the dark-haired agent threw Duane into the chair, then began pacing back and forth, his hands over his face, as the man choked and coughed.

The video stopped.

"Unfortunately, Duane Barry died shortly after this interrogation by your brother. The official cause of death was asphyxiation." The Smoker leaned forward. "Director Skinner, is this the situation as you remember it?"

The bald man was on his feet. "Sandra, he's showing you lies and half-truths. Don't listen to him."

The old spy rose as well. "Walter? Is this not the truth?"

Skinner crossed his arms. "I was not a witness to these specific events. You know that. I can neither confirm nor deny them."

"Duane Barry did die not long after Agent Mulder's interrogation, didn't he? You witnessed that, did you not, Walter?"

"Yes." The glare was granite.

Sandra found her feet. "Okay. I've seen enough. I'm ready to go." She began collecting her bags. "Director Skinner, I have a flight to catch."

The Smoker blocked the door. "Sandra, I wouldn't necessarily trust this man either." He returned to the laptop. "Let me show you something else. This is from Athens Hospital, just last month."

Both eyebrows canted, Sandra saw, in more hazy video footage, Walter Skinner, Dana Scully, and her brother, gathered around a handcuffed man, a hospital bed in the background.
Her brother was holding the man upright by his shoulders. "What were you planning on doing to Agent Scully!" He began twisting the bound arms.
There was another voice, although the words were unclear.
The man began begging for relief, then the bald Director stepped into the hall.
The images jumped to a new sequence, due to, Sandra suspected, the excision of several minutes of exculpatory material.
Skinner was back now, staring down at the limp figure on the floor. "Agent Mulder, if I discover you have injured this suspect in your zeal, be certain you will be hearing from me further on this matter."
The man called out, "No, keep her away!"
"I am a physician, Sir," Dana Scully responded.
The figures shifted abruptly, indicating another jump.
Mulder was now towering over the man on the floor as he shouted, "You attacked a Federal Agent in a hospital! What were you thinking?" He crouched, still threatening, "Tell us who your superiors are. The Smoking Man? Who?"
Scully had her hand on his shoulder as she commanded, "Mulder that will be enough."

Sandra spun away from the images, grabbed both her bags, then headed for the exit.

Watching her go, the Smoker arched a grey eyebrow at Skinner. "There are no happy endings in this business, Walter. You should know that by now."

A snort, then the bald director was out after her. "Sandra!" He would have much to do to pull her back from the path the old spy was trying to set her on. Fortunately, they would have some time on the plane to make that happen.

--o-0-o--

X-Files West Offices
FBI Field Office
San Diego, CA
Thursday, 6:53 pm

"Scully, you have to see this!" Mulder was pacing outside the morgue, stepping over to her and Agent Chan when they emerged, both still in their scrubs.

Scully dismissed the Asian-American agent with a nod, then looked up at her partner. "He's taking the organs over for testing." One glance at the glowing hazel eyes had the corners of her lips curving, since the Hunter was dancing in front of her in all his glory. "So, show me, G-man."

He put his hand on her back to guide her across the hall.

Nichols was swiveling back and forth on a tall stool. "Have a seat and watch." He waited to press the play button until after she was settled.

From a distance, the tape showed Tapping three rungs up a short ladder, working on a video camera. A trench-coated man passed behind him, then glanced over his shoulder. A few moments after the man passed, Tapping collapsed.

Scully's forehead wrinkled. "Step back a few frames." Nichols and Mulder exchanged a glance. "It looks like we get a glimpse of his face." She pointed. "There!" She was on her feet. "That's Luther! Mulder, that's the human, not the shape-shifting copy!" She looked from one agent to the other. "Whatever Tapping had found out must have been seriously dangerous to them." She stepped up to her partner. "We need to trace his movements, Mulder, see where he was out here."

Gazing down at her, Mulder nodded. "Yeah. We've already contacted the Marshal's offices here in San Diego. They have three of their own on it." He glanced over at the balding Montanan.

"So do we, Scully." Nichols slid off the stool to hand her a slip of paper. "Drop by this place, then check in at the Marriott over on Scranton. They honor the government rates for us."

The auburn-haired woman studied the address on the torn sheet. "Where is this?"

Nichols shrugged. "It's nothing to do with the case. It's Sandra Miller's house."

Turning to her partner, Scully grasped his arm. "Mulder, let's go. I don't care that my body says it's ten pm. This is too important. I'll drive."

A whirl of contradictory emotions roared through him, then he bent into her face. "Okay, Scully."

--o-0-o--


End – Chermera – Part 23 of 45
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