Mulder thought that it should seem strange, going to work in the basement that morning, but it wasn't. Scully drove them in and, as she said, took his hand and led him to his office. His extraordinary memory for detail supplied most of the information he needed when maneuvering in a building he'd been in before. Plus, he had the use of Scully's hand or soft cues if he needed them.
The maneuvering between the two of them was easy and practiced. Wearing his sunglasses inside the building was something he'd not remembered ever doing before, but even that didn't feel strange. He wasn't sure why, but he became more and more convinced that his memories would soon return. Everything was beginning to feel normal.
They encountered a few other agents along the way to the elevator. Scully quietly let go of his hand as Mulder tried not to make it obvious that he had no idea what was going on. The small talk soon ended, and Mulder noticed that there had been no trace of pity or rancor in their voices. These agents seemed to enjoy talking to him. Scully had said that they were a successful and enviable team.
Could he be successful and respected?
What a kick that would be. No longer a joke to his peers, an embarrassment to his superiors-no longer a pariah. It would almost make the loss of sight worth it. Not to mention the fact that Scully loved him, was proud to be seen with him, and apparently enjoyed having sex with him regularly. He couldn't believe that she was disfigured as she'd said, but it didn't matter.
Let the sighted world worry about it. Here in his world, she was perfectly beautiful.
Scully said that their current case contained apparent serial murders, now labeled as an X-File. Because of the memory setback, he needed her to fill him in on all the facts. He wondered, for instance, how long they had been working on this case.
Entering their basement office, she again let go of his hand, and he easily found his way to his desk. In fact, he knew he could navigate this most familiar environment with his eyes closed. Or open now, as was the case.
Did his office always smell like stale pizza?
On his desk were what felt like tapes and recording devices. He recognized the remote control to his office VCR as well as the telephone. The keypad had raised bumps on the numbers to confirm that his fingers were pushing the right buttons. There was a device to the center right of his desk that was unfamiliar to him.
Scully must have been gathering files together as he heard her rifling through a stack of them.
"Go ahead, Mulder. Put your hand in there."
Mulder figured that she was indicating the strange machine on his desk. His slipped his hand in a slot found in the front of it. His fingertips encountered what felt like the heads of straight pins. He gently rubbed the surface and realized that the raised pins formed a letter of the alphabet. He moved the device, then more letters, and then a word appeared on the tips of his fingers. This machine enabled him to scan a document, and in essence read it.
"That is very cool," he said.
"Yeah, that's one of your favorite toys," Scully's smiling voice told him.
She nudged his hand to remove the document he was reading and replace it with a new file. The letters changed, and a new set of information was literally at his fingertips. She'd given him a newspaper account of the latest murder, while she continued to hunt noisily for the information she needed.
It sounded as though she'd pulled several more files and was setting them in some sort of order.
"I'm going to save us both some time, Mulder, and read the current folders to you. It helps me when I hear them read aloud, so I hope that's okay with you. You can go over them later if you want to review them."
"OK, but you are not to leave anything out, Scully. No matter how trivial or unimportant it may see to you." He was serious. He wanted to impress upon her that his ability to do the job relied on her honest, objective, and full assessment.
That was a mistake, and he instantly regretted it. Her anger, like darts, homed in on him. "*Agent* Mulder. I am fully aware of my responsibilities in this partnership."
"Scully...Scully...sorry," he interrupted her before she could continue. Holding both hands up, surrendering, he said, "C'mon, cut me some slack here."
The temperature, which had risen suddenly in the room, seemed to cool a bit. His hotheaded partner simmered to a slow boil before saying, "I'll let it go this time. But you need to know that whatever information we get, we share 100%. We are a team. We do this together. No holding back any facts, any thoughts, any feelings, any theories, no matter how insignificant they seem. You don't get to keep me in the dark, just to get even, and no ditching. Ever. Got it?"
Mulder heard the controlled temper in her voice. "Sorry, I'm still getting used to this."
"I know." She sighed, obviously exasperated, "I know you are, so you're forgiven. But the team rules still stand."
"Understood." He sat up straight as his eyes stared blankly behind the tinted lenses. After a few moments he began drawing circles with his index finger on the desktop, then said, "But accusing me of keeping you in he dark 'just to get even' seems kinda harsh, don't you think?"
A light chuckle came from in front of him, "I guess you don't remember using a variation of that line on me then, huh?"
He made a mental note to ask her about that later.
Folder after folder opened, and Scully began to read the contents. Her low voice was familiar and soothing as she related the facts:
"Three young, gay men have been found dead within the past year and a half in the Fells Point area of Baltimore. All of the bodies present with disfiguring manifestations, especially on the face.
"No definite cause of death has been determined, but all of the organs, including the skin appear aged. The deaths are spaced approximately six months apart, and this is now the established pattern. Or at least until the pattern changes. The condition of the bodies is consistent: the skin, especially on the face, is disfigured by what appears to be age, and the internal organs also appear far more worn than the victim's actual age would indicate. These men ranged in age from 22 to 31 years old.
"Tox screens and chemical analysis of the bodies have been inconclusive. There is a massive electrolyte imbalance and breakdown of connective tissue and bone mass in each of the bodies. The murder weapon is thought to be some combination of poisonous chemicals these men ingested. But so far, none of the supposed poisons have been identified.
"The VCS is looking for someone on the prowl to kill gay men. And they would have liked to make this a 'simple' gay bashing crime, but the cause of death and the condition of the bodies are baffling them."
Scully stopped a moment, and Mulder heard what sounded like her pencil scratching paper. He tapped his pencil on the edge of the desk and asked, "Are we looking into another angle other than the 'gay bashing' one? Somehow, Scully, I don't think the fact that these victims were gay is as important as the VCS thinks it is."
"I know, Mulder; you said exactly that. Here's one of my notes where I quoted you as saying, 'I don't think the homosexual element is the most relevant fact, but I think it might be the most convenient motive for the VCS to follow up on.' This is one of the preliminary notations I made to help you work the profile."
Mulder concentrated on the texture of the pencil's eraser for a moment, then said, "Scully, when were we called in on this case?"
"You're going to love this, Mulder. We were asked to join the investigation right before the third body was discovered. It seems that the VCS was working on several profiles, all of which crashed and burned. As the UNSUB's deadline of 6 months came around, we were called in. Of course, there had only been 2 bodies in one year, so there really wasn't much of a set pattern. Still,one of their profiles suggested that the next murder if committed by the same perpetrator might be done around the 6-month mark. So, they chanced it, and you got called in right before the last murder."
"So not all of their profiles fizzled," Mulder said resigned. "They knew another murder was going to take place."
"No, they didn't know it, but they felt their time was running out. Six months was the time interval between the first two bodies. I know they called you in, because you're the expert in profiling bizarre cases. By being involved early on, you could get an up close and personal look at the case. It was pretty smart, actually."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, it got you on the case at the time when, if a murder was going down, you would be there to look at the pieces of the crime right from the start, and you could start your profile with fresh facts.
"You weren't expected to stop it from happening, you were supposed to observe it if it happened. You are their best hope if we are to keep it from happening again. It was a compliment, really. They've been very grateful for your input."
'A compliment?' Mulder thought. The Violent Crimes Section treating him like the expert and requesting his assistance just as their profiles were drying up? Since when had Spooky Mulder been treated as an expert by any division of the FBI? He would have to ask Scully about this later. But for now, he needed to hear the rest of the background. But---
"Before you continue, Scully, I have to correct you on something."
"Mulder, are you beginning to remember? Are the facts of the case coming back to you?" she asked with a hopeful lilt to her voice.
"No, not yet. But I do remember something you said just a few minutes ago. About us being a team. You keep saying the VCS called 'me' in to investigate and to draw up 'my' profile, that they're grateful for 'my' input. I'd appreciate it if you'd include my partner in this recitation. She and I are a team, you know, and she happens to be invaluable to me." He removed his sunglasses and tried to manage what he hoped was a stern look on his face.
Of course he couldn't see her, but he could almost feel her blush. To earn the respect of the VCS or to fluster Scully. He didn't know which pleased him more.
With mock seriousness, he said, "Now continue."
More page flipping then, "Well, I did the autopsy on the latest victim. His name was David Graham aged 22. He's the youngest so far. Kevin Owens was the first victim, aged 31, found almost a year before Graham. Christopher Nicholas, found 6 months after Owens, was 27 years old at the time of death.
"Witnesses state that David Graham was seen frequenting the bars in Fells Point, on Friday the 28th of last month. There's always a lot of night life in that area of Baltimore, especially on the warm summer nights we've been having."
Mulder rememberd bar hopping in Fells Point when he was much younger and lived on the Maryland side of DC. He'd start over on South Broadway to eat some of Bertha's mussels then wandering over to the Cats Eye Pub on Thames Street, and usually making it over to South Ann Street to the Wharf Rat Bar. He smiled as he remembered how tough it was walking around on those brick and cobbled streets when drunk. 'Those were the days,' he thought and sighed a nostalgic sigh.
Scully continued her reporting, "By all accounts, David was a party loving guy, with many friends but no steady romantic involvement. He'd come up to Baltimore from Annapolis to meet some friends and do the bar scene. His friends lost track of him around one in the morning, but didn't think much of it. They were all loosing track of themselves by that time.
"Around 2:30 AM, David Graham's body was found in an ally over in Canton, that's the neighborhood adjacent to Fells Point. He was unrecognizable except for the clothes he was wearing. Positively identified through his fingerprints. He wasn't even gone long enough for anyone to have noticed he was missing. We got the call and were one of the firsts on the scene. His body was still warm. I was able to perform the autopsy almost immediately."
Mulder grimaced. He knew that Scully was used to slicing and dicing murder victims in all stages of decomposition, but it always bothered her to cut open a body that was still warm. He heard more pages ruffling, then asked, "What did you find?"
"Well, the external examination revealed what appeared to be a very old man. The skin was wrinkled, dry, and paper-thin. The nose was bulbous, the eyebrows were bushy, the body hair was gray, and the hairline was receding. All findings compatible with advanced age.
"The teeth were yellowed, and the gum line was also receding. The spine showed an extreme kyphosis, and the joints of the hands and knees were enlarged-consistent with arthritic changes.
"His eyes were clouded with cataracts, and overall muscle tone was loose and flabby, although he was a young man in good shape. There was bruising around the lips, but other than that, there didn't appear to be any sign of assault. There were no wounds or puncture marks.
"The internal examination revealed all the normal organs with their normal weight and placement. But, like the external exam, the internal exam found evidence of extreme age. Without toxicological evidence to indicate poisoning, my findings were: death due to advanced age."
When she quit speaking, Mulder was leaning back in his chair, head tilted back, facing the ceiling. He sat up and leaned on his desk toward the direction of the voice in front of him.
"What do you make of it, Scully?"
"I don't know." Her voice shifted away from him. "I've never seen anything like this before."
He moved a few inches toward her and said firmly, "Yes you have, Scully. You've seen things like this before. We've seen this before. Hell, *we've* aged rapidly before! Don't tell me you don't remember that."
"I've seen a lot of things Mulder, and so have you. But nothing that would explain the apparent rapid aging of this man's body. This was a young, vital, very handsome young man who encountered someone who took all that away from him. His youth, his vigor, and his beauty...I mean his good looks. We haven't ever seen anything that could steal someone's youth and beauty."
"But obviously, Scully, someone or something has. Don't forget, we've seen a mutant human rip the livers of other humans and eat them for survival. We've seen a human creature that needed adipose tissue, which he sucked out of lonely women. We've even seen a man who could regenerate his own goddam head if he had a good supply of cancer on tap! Shit, Scully these things exist, and we've fucking seen them!" His voice was harsh and his breath was hot in her face.
Scully hissed through her teeth, "Why do you always have to start there, Mulder? Why do you go straight to mutant creatures before we even get the tox screens back?" She raised her voice. "There *is* an X-File here, but it may be that someone has developed a new toxin, or a new strain of fungus, or...or a mixed up batch of bad street drugs, or, hell, it could be a disease that has up to now been unknown that may have infected poor David Graham!" Her chair scraped back, and her voice loomed down on him. "What next, Mulder? A time warp?"
"Don't rule it out," Mulder spat up at her.
"Don't *you* ever rule anything out? Is relying on time warps and cancer eaters going to save the next young man's life?"
He slammed his hands down on his desk violently. "Goddammit, Scully, why do I have to remind you of the things you know to be true? Jesus Christ! Why do I have to pry your mind open every time we start a case?" He huffed and pushed back into his chair. They were both silent and breathing hard.
After a few moments, Mulder took in a deep breath. He caught Scully's scent in the air. Even an angry Scully smelled good. She shifted back down into her creaking chair, and he heard as she combed exasperated fingers through her hair.
He sniffed again, cleared his throat, and said, "For the record, I don't think it's a time warp."
He felt a few gentle breaths aimed in his direction. "Mulder, why does the 'Brain Sucking Zombie' theory always have to surface first?"
Mulder replied, "Probably for the same reason you go to the 'Advanced Age, Rapid Onset form of Progeria' theory first."
The office was quiet for a few minutes. Finally Mulder broke the silence by saying, "Scully? Are you smiling or glaring at me?"
She gave a short laugh and said, "Neither. I'm pensive."
Mulder knew that very soon, Scully would begin thinking and talking at the same time.
"Mulder, Progeria Syndrome is an extremely rare genetic disease that accelerates the normal aging process in children, about seven times the normal rate. That means that a ten year old child suffering from Progeria would have similar respiratory, cardiovascular, and arthritic conditions as a seventy year old."
'Do I know this woman or what?' he thought to himself. But to her he said, "I know, Scully. Remember we investigated ..."
She cut him off. "This is a genetic disease that has no cure." She repeated, "A genetic disease." She muttered to herself, "something genetic... something no cure...hmmm.."
"Scully, I know you can see me over here. How about letting me in on this?" He knew Scully was onto something, and he wanted to share her excitement.
"I don't know, Mulder. It may be nothing, but I'm going to have some DNA testing done on David Graham's body. And on the bodies of the other victims. Who knows, maybe something similar will turn up?"
Mulder sat back in his chair, never noticing before now how badly it creaked. "Speaking of similarities, Scully, were all the victims good looking? You've mentioned at least twice how nice looking David Graham was. Were the other victims as attractive?"
"Ohh? I...I didn't realize that I'd mentioned it more than once. I guess it's to be expected that I'd notice physical beauty more now than I did before." She was trying to be clinical but she sounded embarrassed.
Mulder softened. "Don't analyze yourself, Scully. I just need your opinion here. Tell me if these young men were handsome."
"Well, of course 'handsome' is a subjective term, but in my subjective opinion, I'd say yes. These three men were all tall, a little over six feet, I find 'tall' a handsome feature, and they all had dark hair and eyes. Other than their inherent good looks, the similarity stops there. They didn't resemble one another, if that's what you're thinking."
"It's not exactly what I'm thinking, but it's kind of what I'm thinking," Mulder said while his hand patted around his desk, searching for his sunglasses. "How long will it take you to run the DNA analysis?"
"It won't be completed for a few days, but I'll get it started immediately. I won't be needed for the whole process, though."
Finding the stem to his shades, he put the glasses on and stood. "Good, you go get that started. While you're doing that, I'll get up to speed with the investigation so far." He went over to the file cabinet. "Are all the current files in the front folders?"
"Yes, they are. Most of the files have audio tapes of interviews, and my notes are always recorded as well as written out. " With that, she handed the folders she had to Mulder. "In your desk are the audio tapes you made with your preliminary profiles. Correction. Tapes 'we' made of 'your' profiles. My specialty is still pathology, but I can run a mean tape recorder."
He smiled as he started flipping through the files in the folders, removing the micro cassettes and placing other files on his desk. After all the files were divided, he said, "We need to go to Fells Point tonight. I want to retrace David Graham's last steps, and I want to do it around the same time of night...hey Scully? Do I wear my sunglasses at night?"
She smiled a smile he couldn't see, but her voice was light as she said, "Yes, Mulder, sunglasses at night. Sorry. And not only will you wear your sunglasses, but also because of the brick streets, you'll have to take the stick. I know you don't like it, but it does help a bit over rough terrain."
"Mulder, you have a white mobility cane. You don't like the fold up kind, and in fact, you don't like any kind of cane, but you know you need to use one in unfamiliar settings. I had no idea how many models of white canes were on the market, but you had to try every one. You settled on a single point white cane with a rather pointed red tip. You tried to make me call it 'Mr. Pointy.' You told me that there was a vampire slayer on 'Buffy' who named her vampire slaying stake 'Mr. Pointy.' The concept of the mobility cane as a stake to kill vampires appealed to you. But I could never get used to referring to a walking stick by a proper name, and besides, you keep it in the closet most of the time."
'A white cane,' he thought. A blind man's cane. 'I guess this blind thing isn't going to go away.' He tried to paste a smile on his face. He raised his voice a little too much and said, "I guess we'll have to go home to pick it up before we leave then. "
Scully must have sensed the change in his mood; "I'll get it on my way back." Her heels clicked lightly on the floor as she came over to him. She touched his arm and spoke softly in his ear, "By the way, have I told you how wonderfully 'tall' you are today?"
He grinned and shook his head, feeling suddenly lighter. "Ahh, Agent Scully. I love it when you speak in non-subjective terms."
She tip-toed up, and in a very unprofessional way, briefly touched his lips with hers. "I'll be back," she said simply, and the door snicked closed behind her.
'How does she do it, I wonder? She knows me. Argues with me. Sees for me. Needs me. Heals me. Loves me.' He turned his face toward the door he couldn't see, and thanked a God he never knew...until now.
|Part 2|In A Flash|Part 4|