Mulder tripped but caught himself as he rushed down the two short steps to the street. Scully was holding his hand, and he felt her stumble as he almost brought her down. Mulder's cane was waving wildly on the sidewalk as he rushed up the street, dragging Scully behind.
"Slow down, Mulder! Jesus Christ! What was that all about in there?"
"Canton. Which way's Canton from here? Show me the ally where they found the body." Mulder moved his head right and left, trying to ascertain his location.
"What *is* it with you tonight? What *were* you and Lambert talking about in there?"
"It's him, Scully. I know it is."
Scully said nothing, but he heard an exasperated snort.
"Scully, you were in there. You heard what he said! He just about admitted it... "
Mulder stopped his aimless walking and suddenly turned towards her, "Wait a minute. You *did* hear what he said in there?"
"Yes, Mulder, I heard everything he said in there. Except that I had the advantage of being able to observe his body language as well."
"And what was his body saying?"
She hissed a breath through her teeth and said, "He was putting one over on us, Mulder. Everything he said and did in there was done to throw us off."
"Why would he do that, Scully? And why would you ignore all the innuendoes? I expected you to take his head off and hand it to him."
"Because, Mulder, all his innuendoes were lies."
"Why do you say that, Scully? Because he was coming on to you? You think everything he intimated was a lie because he was flirting with you?" Mulder was truly baffled.
"I'd say more like amusing himself at my expense."
"Aww Scully, don't say that."
"Mulder, I'm used to the looks I get sometimes. The best I hope for is to be looked at with a neutral eye. But he went all out the first time, nearly 2 weeks ago, to look me in the eye, joke with me, talk to me. He's young and he's handsome, so he really didn't need to try to impress me. And he tried it again tonight."
He took her hand and brought it to his chest as he spoke. "Is it so hard for you to believe that a man couldn't see past...couldn't see past and see how beautiful you really are?"
Her voice was barely above a whisper as she said, "It doesn't work that way, Mulder."
Mulder felt an odd sensation in his chest. He was mildly alarmed until he realized that it was his heart breaking.
Dear god, this woman he cherished, this woman who completed him, didn't feel that she was whole. 'Let the sighted world worry about that,' he'd casually thought. Apparently for her, the sighted world was a cruel place. His blind eyes didn't care. But her eyes could see, and every day she saw in the mirror what everyone in the world saw. Sweet Christ, could it really make her that happy to have someone just look her neutrally in the eye?
It was all he could do to keep from crying out and cursing a God who had done this to her.
Instead, he licked his lips and tried to speak without stuttering. "I'm sorry, Scully."
"Sorry?" she said with genuine surprise. "Why are you sorry?"
He paused for a heartbeat then said, "You...uh...you may be right. I'm so bent on catching a killer that I'm losing all objectivity here. I'm getting impressions and shaping them to fit the puzzle."
"Your impressions are usually valid, Mulder, and I shouldn't have dismissed them so easily." She continued leading him towards the dark Canton neighborhood. "Besides, I don't know how valid my impressions are any more."
He gently squeezed her hand before saying, "What do you mean?"
"Well," she paused and cleared her throat, "I actually thought Connor Lambert was much better looking the last time I saw him."
What was that? A stab of jealousy racing through his chest?
"Yeah, when we questioned him right after the murder, he seemed to be...I don't know... he was just gorgeous. That sounds out of character for me to say, I know."
Mulder's spine felt a familiar tingle, and the base of his scalp began to crawl. Keeping his voice under control he said simply, "Go on."
"Well, when we first walked into the bar two weeks ago, all the women were swarming around him. It was hard to get a good look at him until he came over to us. Mulder, I swear he looked like a Greek work of art. It was as if all his features were chiseled in marble. Hard and smooth and ... He was beautiful, Mulder."
"What about tonight, Scully? How did he look to you tonight?"
"He's still a very handsome man, there's no doubt. But he just wasn't as striking tonight. Not as sharply beautiful as I first thought. Little things. Things I can't really put my finger on. Slight shadows under the eyes maybe, softer, less defined features? I'm not sure. Oh well, I guess maybe it's just that the thrill is gone." Then Scully's voice dropped to an embarrassed whisper. "Maybe I just imagined him differently in the first place. The mind can play tricks on you, you know."
"But I don't think yours did, Scully. In fact it all makes sense."
They were far away from Fells Point now and close to the small ally where the body had been discovered.
"Something makes sense to you, Mulder? I'm musing about a young, good-looking bartender. That doesn't even make sense to me," she said self-depreciatingly.
"What's the real crime here, Scully? Was murder the real motive? Did the perpetrator decide that he was going to go out and find young, gay men just to kill them?"
"Well, whatever the true motive was Mulder..."
He cut her off. "No. The motive wasn't murder, the motive was theft. The killer must have some method of rearranging his victim's cellular structure, or trading DNA with his victim in order to alter his own. He does this to steal the youth and appearance from his victim. That's why the bodies are old, ugly, and shriveled.
"I'm thinking that the murderer has to have a 'fix' around every six months. If he doesn't, his own appearance begins to fade, and his age starts to show. So at the six month mark, he has to pick his next source of ...*youth*. But not just any person will do. Because of his vanity, the killer chooses a handsome, young man. He figures since their cell structures mingle with his, he might as well splice on some good handsome genes to go with that youth.
"Now where do you think the ideal place would be to meet the men that fit his needs?"
He turned toward Scully.
Her voice was soft, but she said with conviction, "In a gay bar."
"Right. He could pick his next mark anytime he wanted. He just had to make sure that there was no other person in the guy's life at the time. He preys on his loneliness. He offers the promise of something lasting and manipulates the circumstances until he finally gets the chance to kiss him.
"Then the change happens, and it happens fast. All of a sudden, the kiss turns eternal...and the man, looking for love, dies old and still alone. The thief has gotten away with the treasure of life and youth."
"I can't buy it, Mulder. Nothing in medical science could even come close to explaining how something like that could happen. It's just a fairy tale made up in your mind to explain...."
Mulder felt Scully's hand torn from his. A hard blow to the back of his head made stars appear behind his eyelids. All of a sudden, the pavement was wet under his face, and something warm and wet was dribbling down the back of his head. He felt a sudden ache at his hip and chest and realized that he'd landed on his cane. He had the vague notion that someone was calling to him.
Yes, it was Scully's voice.
"Mulder!" he heard, then her muffled cry.
Trying to catch a breath, he breathed, "Scully...?"
He heard her cry out again, and he felt a foot make solid contact with his face, gashing his cheek.
The unmistakable sound of the bartender's voice made its way to his ears.
Lambert said, "You're a damn fine looking man; Mulder, you know that? You're making me think that a little peck on your lips might be a good idea."
Lambert's voice turned away from Mulder. "What does he see in you, I wonder? Oh, that's right! Nothing! His blindness certainly works to your advantage, doesn't it."
Her steely voice came back, "Let us go, Connor. It's over."
A harsh laugh erupted and echoed in the empty alley. "Over? He's got to be kidding! I've got you where I want you, and he can't do anything to stop me. Unless he's outfitted with sonar."
He laughed again and said, "Honey, you don't think something like he described could happen? Well, I'm going to show you how it's done first hand. I just feel bad that your partner bleeding on the ground over there won't get a chance to see what happens to you when I do. And *you* sure as hell won't be able to tell him."
Mulder struggled to his knees and leaned heavily on his cane for support. With as much strength as he could muster he said, "Leave her alone, Lambert. I already know what you can do. Leave her alone."
"Actually," Lambert did something that made Scully whimper, "I really *like* women, and the reason I do it with the handsome fags is so I can look nice for my ladies. I have to be careful when I kiss my ladies, though, because I don't want to kiss 'em too hard. I don't like older women." He chuckled and made kissing noises ...at Scully?
"Goddamit, I hate those faggots. Jesus, they're always coming on to me like I'm interested. All night long, I have to fight off every boy who wants a fuck or a suck."
Mulder heard Scully wheeze like she wasn't getting enough air, and his voice came back a little stronger. "So you killed them? You hunted to kill handsome fags?"
"Fuckin' A. And they didn't even know I was doing it. Stupid pussies didn't even realize it until I had my tongue down their goddam throats. By that time I'd sucked their fucking lives out. Just like I'm gonna do to your partner right here. Damn it'll be nice to suck a woman dry for a change. But I don't think this one will do me a whole lot of good in the looks department."
Mulder made it to his feet, but he was swaying so badly he needed to lean on his stick.
"Damn, Mr. FBI, I wish you could see this. I never get tired of watching it happen..."
Mulder concentrated on the sound of Lambert's voice, as it talked and laughed. He heard him breathing. He was close, so close.
Mulder took in a breath and found Scully's scent floating faintly in the humid air. How her scent clung to her and shifted in the air around her. And he could smell her fear.
He licked his lips and tasted his own blood. Blood and hurt and evil and death. He tasted it all as he swallowed it off his tongue. He tasted how close the evil was.
He held his cane in both hands and felt the solid weight of it.
Words from days ago appeared in his mind. Scully saying, 'You can see me now, can't you?'
'Yes, Scully, I see you, you're standing about 6 feet in front of me. Lambert has one arm across your throat, and he's cutting off your air. He's choking you. You can't move because he's got your arms pinned behind your back. He's moving as close to you as possible because he's getting ready to kiss you. But you're so small he has to bend way down to reach your mouth. He's going to kill you.'
Hoping that his aim was true, Mulder dashed at Lambert. Using his cane like a spear, he struck fast and hard, bearing all his weight into the hilt of the cane. He heard a heavy body hit the ground, then a smaller body splash into a puddle. His own momentum carried him several feel farther, and he went down hard onto the pavement.
"Scully! Jesus, Scully!!"
He could barely hear her voice, but he heard her wheezing breaths. He scrabbled across the pavement, listening hard for her. The smells in the alley were potent. The coppery odor of blood mingled with the shit smell of dying.
He crawled over the wet pavement to where he heard Scully's labored breathing. His own breathing sounded loud in his ears. The gravel on the street bit into the palms of his hands as he picked his way over to her.
He was on his knees and, like a blind man, his arms moved in all directions, searching for her. When his fingers finally found the soft fabric of her blouse, he dragged her wet little body close to him. He heard what sounded like a sob within a wheeze as he pleaded, "Oh god, are you okay? Jesus, Scully please tell me that you're all right..."
Then he realized that the little sob had come from his own lips. He ran his fingers lightly around her face and hair. His ears filtered Scully's hoarse voice through the distant street sounds and he heard, "I'm okay, Mulder. I'm okay..."
It wasn't long before he heard a cacophony of footsteps, shouting, and sirens. His trembling arms held her tightly to ease her shaking breaths and gasping coughs. He wrapped himself around her and rocked with her on the wet pavement until help arrived.
Mulder found out later that his cane had, indeed, found its mark. The mark in this case was the attacker's cervical spine. Mulder's cane had impaled Lambert's neck, snapping it. He had died instantly.
The investigation concluded that Mulder had acted in self-defense and in the defense of his partner, whose wrists and neck, the report noted, were still bruised.
The autopsy of Lambert's body found nothing extraordinary, and the method Connor Lambert used to kill his victims is still unknown.
The X-Files Division had closed the case on a gay-bashing murderer after all.
|Part 5|In A Flash|Part 7|