Rating: PG-13, language, some violence
Category: X, A
Spoilers: Avatar, Ascension
Keywords: Mulder/Scully/Skinner friendship
Disclaimer: (Sung to "All things Bright and Beautiful:") All things dark and horrible, each hidden evil plot, all things weird and miserable, Chris Carter owns the lot. Aaaaaa-men.
Other Disclaimer: This story contains strong opinions on several topics,
including the Vietnam War and the nature of violent crime. Not all these
opinions are those of the author.
Other Other Disclaimer: Thank you to my Shadowy Informants for telling me how to build a bomb, to Joe for sharing his Vietnam experiences, to John Douglas for writing about how the F.B.I. develops profiles, and to Richard A. Guidry for writing "The War in I Corps" from which I stole a lot of information.
Approximately 5 km from DMZ
The early-morning mist swirled all around as Private Skinner stalked
through the tall grass of the streambed. He was point man for Alpha Company,
which meant that he needed the eyes of a hawk and the woodcraft of Davy
Crockett, despite going twenty-four hours without sleep. The VC had engaged
Delta Company last night, just as they'd prepared to dig in, but fortunately
there had been no casualties. Even still, everyone in Skinner's corps had
remained awake in the miserable puddles that served them as foxholes. Lack of
sleep didn't matter to Skinner. He would stay awake as long as it took to make
sure they all stayed alive.
Then he saw a footprint in the mud, slowly filling up with water.
He dropped to his belly, jamming his M-16 against his shoulder. He knew
that the rest of his squad did the same, due to the near-simultaneous snapping
sounds of them pulling the bolts of their weapons back.
For some time, there was silence.
Gorman scrambled forward at a high crawl, and Skinner pointed at the print.
He nodded and motioned the first-fire team ahead.
Instinctively, the squad formed a line. At a half-signaled, half -intuited
moment, they charged into the clearing ahead, ready to blow away anything that
There was nothing but the mist.
Lieutenant Weiss came forward then, and said, "All right, men, nothing
here. Let's form a wedge and continue up the mountain." They did so, and they
soon found a dead VC man--no, a boy, Skinner amended--sprawled against a hacked
and burned tree, his chest exploded with gunfire.
The boy wore only shorts and a T-shirt, with one rubber thong on his foot
and one lost who knew where. His AK-47 was cast forward into the mud. Dead
from the firefight last night, probably, and already some fungus-like growth was
turning his face and arms black. Things rotted quickly out here.
As Skinner slogged on past the corpse a snatch of poetry from his high
school English class--Jesus, had that been last winter?--flitted through his
mind: "Things fall apart, the center cannot hold/ And mere anarchy is loosed
upon the world." That's what he's enlisted for, what he'd come halfway around
the earth to do, to keep anarchy from being loosed upon the world. He hadn't
been 48 hours in-county before he'd learned that there was plenty of anarchy
All the trees in these foothills were scorched and hacked to bits. It made
for an unattractive landscape, but at least it increased visibility. That was a
plus for the U.S. and a minus for the VC. There wasn't much short of a pitch-
black night with a roaring typhoon--which you did sometimes get here--that would
hide a corps of Marines on the move, but any little standing shrub could hide a
Viet Cong sniper. The VC were different from the NVA, or the official army of
North Vietnam. The NVA at least fought like soldiers. The VC pulled this now-
you-see-'em, now-you-don't shit, where you'd look over and see the guy next to
you had lost half his face.
Skinner had to remind himself to keep his eyes from fixing on the toes of
his boots. "You're supposed to be *watching,* idiot," he told himself. When he
raised his head he thanked any guardian angel willing to watch over him that
he'd come out of his reverie in time. About a hundred yards up the slope there
was a cluster of little earthen bunkers. Experience had taught Skinner that the
amount of enemy fire that could come out of such things was very
disproportionate to their size. He stopped and prodded Curtiss to go ask the
Lieutenant for permission to "recon by fire." The first time Skinner had heard
that expression he'd thought it was funny. He didn't think about it at all,
now. The obligatory period of standing around followed.
Then came the cry of "machine gun up!" and Kemp the gunner came forward
with his M-60. Skinner stepped back from him as he walked forward into a
clearing, apparently hoping for an unobstructed shot.
Then everything around them seemed to explode. Kemp's body jerked and
danced as a hail of bullets ripped into him at once. Skinner turned to urge
Curtiss to fall back, but the man had a string of bullet holes in him from hip
to shoulder. He was dead, he just hadn't fallen over yet. Skinner ducked
behind a charred tree trunk for the minimal protection it provided, and fired a
few unaimed shots at the bunkers. Somebody was probably shouting orders from
somewhere, but it made no difference. He could hear nothing but the pounding of
gunfire, like the fist of an angry god.
A shot from a Light Anti-Tank Weapon turned one of the trees ahead into a
ball of flame. The only effect this produced was to send up a billow of smoke
which blew right back in the Marines' faces. Coughing, his eyes stinging,
Skinner could still see well enough to notice the grass rippling on all sides of
him as volleys of bullets struck it. He got off a few more shots before his
"Son of a fucking bitch," Skinner snarled, but was silenced when a bullet
took a divot of wood out of the tree right next to his face. He was going to
have to get out of here. He slung his rifle over his back and dropped flat on
his belly. There was another tree about fifteen paces back down the trail, and
he'd focus on making it to that. Afterward, he would scramble to another spot
of skimpy cover, and another . . . the only way to think about this was to set
small, concrete goals and refuse to let his mind go past the present moment.
Bullets made the grass dance all around him as he crept along the ground. For a
few, agonizingly slow seconds, it looked like he was going to make it.
Then a bullet tore into his thigh. His cry of pain was inaudible above the
gunfire, and it was cut short by shots that hit his hip, his side, his arm.
Heaving himself up in a last, hopeless effort to reach cover, Skinner saw the
shadowy figure of the gunman off to his right, half-concealed by the smoke and
burned-out trees. Skinner stretched out his hand, trying to tell the guy, "It's
ok, you can stop shooting. I'm dead," but no words came. The last thing he saw
before he lost consciousness was the figure of the sniper jamming another clip
into his rifle.
Then there was dark. Then there was a light in the dark. It was a pretty
light; all warm and wobbly, like the image of the summer sun when you looked up
at it from the bottom of a lake. Skinner tried to crawl toward the light. He
found this was easier than crawling through the mud and the grass, it was more
like swimming, or flying. He reached out his hands toward the light. He wanted
it, and he was sure it wanted him.
Then suddenly, there was a shadow in front of it. "No," he thought. "Not
the sniper . . ." Could the VC follow him even here? But as he got closer the
shadow resolved itself into the figure of an old woman. Her face was haglike,
terrible; her mouth contorted grotesquely as she spoke words he couldn't hear.
She reached out one clawlike hand toward him. He backed away--this was harder
than going forward. It wasn't fair. Why was this witch between him and the
light? Why was she driving him back toward the pain and the bullets and the
mud? The witch took his hand and then lifted him effortlessly, as if he'd been
a child. As she carried him away from the light it got smaller and dimmer.
This made him very sad.
At last, he looked down and saw the image of the hill where he'd fallen,
small and far away, like something seen through the wrong end of binoculars.
The hag carried him closer and closer. There was his broken body lying in the
grass. Skinner was surprised at how very young he looked, and how very dead.
His skin was like white wax and his uniform was soaked through with blood. A
field medic was leaning over him. The man shook his head and said, "Bag him."
Another medic came over with a body bag and started to shovel him in.
Skinner watched this with a detached, almost academic curiosity. When the medic
got his hands beneath the body's neck and shoulders, he stopped suddenly.
"Charlie! This guy's got a pulse," he called out.
"You're shitting me," said Charlie, running back over.
"Feel it for yourself," said the other man.
Charlie didn't bother. He whipped out a pair of shears and started cutting
off what was left of Skinner's clothes. "I want a backboard over here!" he
shouted. The other guy had already tourniqueted off the worst spots and was
busy dousing them with antiseptic.
Slowly, Skinner began to feel the pain.
The pain was incredible. Skinner reached up to touch his face and found it
covered with what felt like plastic wrap coated in slime. Then his fingertips
went to eyes. They were covered by some sort of pads and then wrapped in a
layer of gauze. He groaned. "What the hell happened?" he asked, and got no
The last thing he remembered was Vietnam . . . no--that had been a dream,
or a hallucination. He was forty-eight now, an Assistant Director of the F.B.I.
Unless that had been the dream and he was still in the field hospital near Khe
Sanh. No, he thought, this bed was dry, and the air was missing the peculiar
stinks of mildew and infection and carbolic soap.
In a way, it would have been good to find out that the last twenty-five--
no, thirty, years had all been a dream. If he had it to live over, there were a
lot of things he'd do differently. "Hey, can anybody tell me where I am?" he
called out. There was probably button around here for calling the nurses, but
of course he couldn't see it. He began groping gingerly along the bed rail,
hoping to find it by touch.
He heard the sound of footsteps in the hall. "Assistant Director Skinner?"
came a woman's voice. It was maddeningly familiar, but it took a moment for him
to place it.
"Agent Scully?" he asked.
"I'm glad to see you awake, sir. How are you feeling?" she asked.
His answer would have been, "Like shit," but the bone-deep sensibilities of
his early education kept him from saying such a thing in front of a woman, even
if she was a doctor. "Like I've been battered and deep fried," he said.
"In a sense, you have," she answered, and he could hear relief and
amusement in her voice. He supposed it was a good sign that he'd kept his sense
of humor. "You're suffering from shrapnel wounds and burns over fifty percent
of your body. The good news is that the burns are mostly first- and second-
degree, so if they don't get infected, they won't scar. The bad news is that
they're going to hurt like hell for a while."
Skinner smiled slightly, and then discovered that hurt. "Do I get any pain
meds, or do I just have to bite a wooden spoon?" he asked.
"Lucky for you, the government hasn't cut back that far yet in trying to
balance the budget. Give me a minute and I'll catch your doctor," she said.
While she was gone he contemplated what she'd said: "shrapnel." Well, that
explained the dreams about 'Nam. Where the hell had he picked up shrapnel? He
tried to recall what he'd been doing last before he woke up here.
Working late, he thought, in his office answering an insane amount of
correspondence. Everybody from the Deputy Attorney General to some loon in
Federal Prison who liked wasting stamps felt a need to generate more paper for
him to push around his desk. At some point, he'd realized someone else was in
the room. What had made him decide that? Motion maybe, seen in the corner of
his eye, he thought. His first, worried thought was that it was the Cigarette
Smoking Man, come to twist the knife in his back a little further. When he'd
looked up he saw no one. But then, in the polished surface of his desk lamp,
he'd seen the blurred reflection of a figure in white. The face had been
distorted in the curved metal, but he thought it was an old woman, mouthing
unrecognizable words. He'd turned sharply to confront her, but no one was
there. Telling himself he was losing it, he'd turned back to his desk and
pulled forward a package.
As soon as he remembered that he realized what must have happened. He
groaned--he couldn't believe he'd been so stupid as to actually open the thing.
It was small, about the size of two videotapes stacked together, but quite heavy
for its size. Someone had stamped it with the word "confidential." They might
as well have stamped it with the words, "Do not open this, call the Explosives
He heard Scully's footsteps coming down the hall. "One of the nurses will
be in a moment to get some painkillers into your IV," she told him.
"Great," Skinner said. "Agent Scully, I set off a package bomb, didn't I?"
"Yes, sir, you did. Although no one knows how you managed to do that from
across the room. Actually, I was hoping you could enlighten us," she said.
"The lights went out as I started to tear the package open," Skinner said.
"Sir?" Scully asked, sounding confused.
"I started to pull up a corner of the paper it was wrapped in, and then the
power went out. The whole place was pitch dark. I got up to go unplug the
floor lamp in the corner. It's got a halogen bulb which draws a lot of power,
and at least in my apartment, that can cause a short. Just as I pulled the plug
out and turned to go back to my desk, the lights came back on, and then, boom.
It must have had a photo-sensitive mechanism controlling the blasting cap." he
"That power outage saved your life," Scully said. "The guys at the Lab say
the explosive compound was nitromethane, packed in with ceramic shards *and*
some kind of fiberglass resin that was mixed with magnesium powder. The resin
and magnesium created a crude, Napalm-like substance which caused your burns.
The flash also burned your retinas, hence the blindfold. Really, you're lucky
to be doing as well as you are--you were out nearly three days."
Skinner was silent a moment. "Will I get my sight back?" he asked. His
voice sounded rather smaller and more frightened than he would have liked.
"Well, sir . . . to be honest, the jury's still out on that," she said,
then added quickly, "but if worse came to worst, I'm sure that under the
circumstances the Bureau would waive its sight requirements for you. After all,
you're not a field agent, you don't need to fire a gun . . ." she must have been
able to read his expression despite the gauze and sticky Second Skin because she
let the issue drop.
"Just one other thing, Agent Scully," Skinner said. His voice had the
clipped tones of an ex-Marine again. "Do they have any suspects? Do they have
any leads on who did this to me?"
She was silent so long he began to wonder if she'd somehow left the room.
"They have only one subject in custody," she said. This time it was her voice
that sounded small and worried. "Federal agents went and arrested Agent Mulder
Mulder glared across the little metal table at his former colleague, SSA
James Springer of the Investigative Support Unit. The Municipal Police had
stuck them in one of the rooms usually reserved for prisoners and their
attorneys, but Mulder had waived his right to have an attorney present. He
hadn't even had a chance to call one yet, and he wanted to talk to Springer
right now. "You were at the Felony Presentment," Mulder said. "What the hell
was all that?"
Springer shrugged. "You know what that was. The U.S. Attorney's Office
decided there was enough evidence to charge you, and the judge ruled to keep you
in custody until the preliminary hearing. You'll be transferred to the Federal
Detention Center in Brooklyn in the morning."
"What fucking evidence is there?" Mulder shouted. "That I was in the
building when it the bomb went off? So were dozens of other people."
"Yeah, but you were the one who attacked Skinner in May of '95. That's
still on record, although he never pressed charges," Springer said. "And
there's the incident in October of '94, when a suspect mysteriously choked to
death soon after you were done interrogating him. Then there's the fact that
two days ago you called me up offering your help on a case that had nothing to
do with your unit, involving a man that you'd injured before. The first thing a
lot of intelligent killers do when their crimes are discovered is try to
insinuate themselves into the investigation. Add that to the fact that this
bombing looks like an inside job, and what was I supposed to think?"
"Maybe that I was actually offering to help?" Mulder said. "Springer, did
the entire ISU develop shit for brains after they put Patterson away? I have
nothing in common with the profile of this bomber. Or at least what should be
"Which is what?" Springer asked. He folded his forearms over his chest and
kicked back in his chair. He was a short, stocky guy a little older than
Mulder, with a very pink face and hair that would have a thinning shrub of tight
brown curls if he hadn't kept it cut so short. At the moment he was in his
shirtsleeves, his suit jacket hung over the back of his chair. Mulder, who'd
been arrested at home, was still wearing his jeans, a black T-shirt and scuffed
sneakers, but from the sound of things, he'd soon be trading these in for ever-
stylish prison-issue scrubs.
"First of all, he's an organized, assassin-type personality," Mulder said.
"Thank you for sharing that piece of boundless wisdom," Springer said.
"Would you shut up?" Mulder said. "This isn't his first bombing job. He
may have prior arrests for arson or possessing explosive devices--you should
check with ATF on that. He may even have applied for a blasting permit at one
time; he'd give a reason like the need to clear stumps from farm property. He's
got experience, so he's older, late twenties at least. If he's done time, he
could even be in his forties to fifties.
"He's a loner. He doesn't connect to people well, and he's not good at
talking to them. He'll live alone and have a job were he doesn't have to deal
much with the public. He feels inadequate and powerless and he gravitates
toward activities where he can be in control. He's attracted by symbols of
authority and power, so he'll probably drive police or military-like vehicle.
It'll be older but very well maintained. He knows cars. He works on the real
thing and he builds model ones, too. He does or has worked for the Post Office
or UPS, probably here in D.C."
"Oh, now you're full of shit," Springer said.
"Am I?" Mulder asked. "The reason I say he is or was a postal worker is
that he knew what precautions to take to get that bomb through the mail. My
partner gave me the scoop on what the Lab found shortly before I was forcibly
checked into the Municipal Hilton here," he said, holding up his hands to
indicate the jail in general, and in specific the cramped little conference room
with its mesh-reinforced window-walls. "The subject created an epoxy shell for
the bomb, sealing all its components inside except for the wire that connected
the photo cell to the blasting cap. When the epoxy dried, he washed the shell
thoroughly, and probably soaked it in bleach, to get rid of any trace of
explosive that might set off a detector. For shrapnel, he used ceramics and
fiberglass, which ensured that there wouldn't be enough metal inside to set off
a metal detector, either. I think he's probably familiar with the Bureau mail-
handling procedures, too, since he put a 'confidential' stamp on the package.
Skinner usually has his secretary open his mail. Therefore, we're looking for a
"The epoxy and fiberglass resin he used are commonly found in hobby stores.
Fiberglass in particular is used for forming the bodies of both real and model
race cars. The explosive he used, nitromethane, is an additive to race car
fuel. You can get that at race car supply stores. There can't be too many of
those around here, so my guess is that if you ask at one or two of them who
their UPS guy is, you'll be getting pretty warm."
"Very nice," Springer said, nodding. "Want to see if you can come up with
as good an explanation for this?" he asked. He leaned down to open the
briefcase he'd stashed under his chair and lifted out two zipper-seal plastic
bags. In the large one was a softcover book labeled "The Poor Man's James
Bond." In the small one was a Post-It Note covered in Mulder's nearly illegible
handwriting. "Investigators found these in your office," Springer said.
"I only have this because other people use it," Mulder said, pointing at
the book. It contained a lot of information on do-it-yourself destruction, and
had been a favorite of vigilantes, would-be anarchists and violent crackpots in
general for decades.
"What about this?" Springer asked, tossing the bagged note in front of
Mulder picked it up and looked at it, but he already knew what it said.
Across the top was written: "Things not to do today," and underneath was a list
containing items such as, "apply Napalm to the tape transcription machine;
firebomb the Hoover Building; strangle my boss; arrange for a tactical nuclear
strike on Washington, D. C." He shrugged and looked up at Springer a little
sheepishly. "The X Files unit was closed briefly and I got transferred to white
collar crime," he said. "I hated it. This was just me venting my frustration."
He pushed the note back across the table at Springer. "Actually, I can't
believe I never bothered to throw the thing out. I guess that's what I get for
never cleaning my office."
"Uh-huh," Springer said. "You want to explain an e-mail message you sent
to a newsgroup called--wait a minute," he checked a note in his briefcase,
"alt.recovery.trauma.unexplained, whatever that is. You posted the words, and I
quote, 'Sometimes I want to pitch all the work I've done into the Potomac, move
to a buried bomb shelter in rural North Dakota, and become the next Unabomber.'"
"Where the hell did you get that?" Mulder demanded.
"The Bureau's got a filter that picks out phrases like 'I want to become
the next Unabomber,' you idiot," Springer said. "And you posted this to a
newsgroup in the public domain, making this admissible evidence. I'd say you're
in pretty deep shit."
The reality of the situation began to come home to Mulder, and he got very
quiet. Finally he said, "I didn't do it, Springer." He sounded scared, even to
himself. Being a Federal officer in Federal prison was a very bad thing to be.
"That's not for me to decide," Springer said. "You're guaranteed a
preliminary hearing within three weeks. If I were you, I'd retain an attorney
and prepare my arguments for the judge."
"Will you at least take the profile I gave you into an account?" Mulder
asked. "I swear to you, the guy's still out there."
"A thirtyish disgruntled postal worker who plays with model cars. Sure
Mulder, I'll keep that description in mind."
"He's been inside the Hoover Building, he knows how we run our mail room.
If he's ever been a Federal employee, we have his prints on file. He's very
catchable, Springer," Mulder said.
"Right," Springer said. "You take it easy in Brooklyn. You watch your
back." He gathered his things up and buzzed for the guard to let him out.
After he was gone, Mulder pressed his hands to his face. "Holy fuck," he
15 km south of DMZ
It was raining. And it was going to rain. When Skinner had arrived in Da
Nang three months ago, as a green recruit who'd never been off U.S. soil, he'd
asked a couple of the guys heading out whether it was always this wet here.
They'd nearly fallen over themselves, laughing.
At the moment, he had something over his head, at least. Three months ago
he wouldn't have thought much of the fungus-patched GP that had been partially
set up in the middle of camp--only the top and the poles had been erected, since
the sides just kept in heat and moisture--but now it seemed like a delicious
luxury, almost as wonderful as being able to wash.
During the ten days or so you were out on patrol, you didn't bathe. Ever.
The returning men were always strangely unable to smell themselves as they
slogged back into camp, but everyone else could smell them. The other guys
would never have let Skinner under the shelter before he'd washed. There wasn't
much room, and they all had to stand too close together.
Currently he was squatting on his haunches under one corner, since there
was nothing to sit on and the ground had been churned up to three-inch deep mud.
He was gazing out at the camp gates, where a line of supply trucks worked their
way through the ooze with agonizing slowness. On a whim, he patted his pockets
down until he found a little spiral-bound notebook and a pencil. This would be
a good time to scratch a short note home, he thought. There was very little
that happened here that was both interesting and suitable to tell his mother,
but he knew that she lived for the days when she found one of his letters in the
"Dear Mom and Dad," he wrote, and stopped. What was there to say? "It's
raining here," he wrote, then scratched it out. Stupid ass thing to say, he
thought. What was he supposed to tell them? "Thank God I'm not dead? My
bunkmate from basic training got caught in a sapper tunnel and burned to death?
I have mildew in my socks?" Fletcher walked up and hunkered down beside him.
He had also washed and shaved since they'd returned from patrol.
"Wassup, Casper?" Fletcher asked. Skinner half-smiled without looking up
"My dick," he said, giving him the standard reply. They called him Casper
partly because he was so quiet, like a friendly ghost, and partly as a good-
natured--he hoped--racial slur. It was no secret that black guys made up a very
disproportionate amount of the military. One of the things that pissed Skinner
off about the college anti-war movement was that it was full of white kids who
got student deferments, effectively sending black kids to war in their place,
all the while blathering about racial equality and harmony.
"That what you're writing home?" asked Fletcher. "'Dear Ma: my dick is up.
"No, that's what I write to *your* mom," Skinner said.
"You'd *have* to tell my mom when that marshmallow dick of yours was up.
Hell, you'd have to draw a big red arrow on your gut pointing down, and label
it, 'dick.'" Fletcher said.
Skinner looked up to make a reply, and then saw something past Fletcher's
shoulder that made him stop.
"What?" Fletcher asked, his expression turning serious. By now he could
tell when Skinner thought he saw trouble.
"Hang on," said Skinner. Somebody was slogging along in the wake of the
supply trucks. A little, dark-haired someone that was clearly not a Marine. It
was hard to tell from here, but it looked like the sodden jacket he wore was
part of an NVA uniform. Skinner stood and walked though the rain toward the
gates. Nobody seemed to be guarding them, and none of the guys unloading the
trucks, giving orders, or just milling around challenged the little figure.
"Hey!" Skinner called out to the dark-haired person--a kid, he realized.
"Hey, what's your name? What are you doing here?" He realized that the kid
probably spoke no English, and he knew only what Vietnamese he'd picked up in Da
Nang, which was mostly a collection of obscenities. Skinner held a hand to his
forehead to shield the lenses of his glasses from the rain. Because of the
water, he couldn't tell for sure what the kid was wearing until he was
practically in the gates.
By the time he was three yards away, Skinner couldn't miss it, even through
all the rain. The boy's jacket was NVA and way too big for him. Beneath it he
wore no shirt. He had grenades clipped all over his body--to his jacket, to the
loose folds of his waterlogged pants, and he held one loose in his right hand.
The left was free to pull the pin.
In retrospect, what happened next must have taken little more than a
second, but each detail was burned permanently into his mind. Skinner heard
himself shout, "Holy shit!" and he yanked the strap of his rifle to bring it
from its resting spot on his back to his hands. The child's left hand went for
Skinner brought the gun's barrel up to point at the one place that kid
hadn't covered with explosives, his face. The boy's face was beautiful; in fact
it was only the clothes and the military-style haircut that betrayed his sex at
all. His full, peach-blossom lips were slightly parted, the lids of his dark
eyes were lowered in an expression of desperate hate.
The boy's fingertips brushed the pin. Skinner fired.
The kid's body hit the muddy ground and seemed to stick, as if the mud were
glue. All around him, guys came running as Skinner lowered his rifle barrel.
"Shit," said Fletcher as he reached Skinner's side. "Holy shit, man, what
did you just do?"
Blood carved rivulets in the soft earth, like a red river delta.
Skinner stirred and moaned as the image of Vietnam broke apart and faded.
He struggled toward wakefulness against the pull of exhaustion and drugs,
preferring even waking pain to the horrors of his dreams.
He tried to open his eyes, and couldn't. He remembered that they'd been
bound shut. Was he awake? He wasn't sure. He thought he could hear the
sounds of the hospital corridor, nurses talking, the grating of gurney wheels,
but visions continued to play themselves out before his burned eyes. He saw the
face of the old woman, silently mouthing warnings, curses, or maybe just the
ravings of a lunatic. Then the face of the young Vietnamese boy became
superimposed on the image, beautiful and perfect save for its expression of
deep-dyed hate. Skinner shook his head but failed to dispel the ghosts. He put
his hands to his eyes and met with only gauze and Second Skin.
The vision blurred, shifted, the boy's features strengthened to become
those of a man. A man sitting at a table covered in newspaper, its surface
scattered with tubes of resin and fragments of plastic. Nearby on a set of
shelves was a collection of hobby models, military vehicles and airplanes, a
Huey helicopter, race cars. The man was pouring some kind of thick, liquid
plastic into what looked like a small Tupperware container. Once he was done,
he looked up to meet Skinner's eyes. The seething rage in his face seemed to
burn into Skinner until the image was extinguished by rivulets of running blood.
"Nurse!" Skinner shouted. He didn't bother groping around to try and find
the call button. When he got no response he shouted again, and again.
Eventually he heard his door opening. "Mr. Skinner? What's wrong?" came a
"I need somebody to help me place a phone call," he said. "It's extremely
urgent. I need to talk to Agent Mulder."
Washington D.C. Superior Court Building
Scully caught up with Justice Halter as he headed toward the cafeteria.
"Sir?" she called out. "Judge Halter? Excuse me a moment."
He turned around, looking annoyed. "Can I help you?" he asked. Halter was
sixtyish, white haired but robust, the very image of the distinguished elder
judiciary. He'd taken off the zip-up black robe he'd worn at Mulder's Felony
Presentment that morning, revealing a sober, charcoal-gray suit.
"Sir, I wanted to talk to you about Agent Mulder's case," Scully said,
walking up beside him.
"I'm sorry, that's out of my hands. I'm sure The U.S. Attorney's Office
will keep all relevant parties informed of any developments." He turned to go,
but Scully caught his sleeve.
"Are you aware that by placing a Federal officer in a Federal Detention
Facility you may well be giving him a death sentence?" she asked.
"Look here, Miss--"
"Scully. Agent Scully. I'm Agent Mulder's partner," she said.
"Agent Scully then," Helter said. "I'm sure you appreciate the extreme
seriousness of the charges made against your partner. Turning him loose on his
own recognizance would be sending entirely the wrong message, both to U.S.
citizens and to foreign nationals within our borders. The Federal Government
must make it clear that we will not tolerate acts of terrorism on our soil.
Doing anything else is an invitation to anarchy."
"Sir, Agent Mulder is innocent," Scully said.
"Yes, well, the U.S. Attorney's Office is disinclined to agree with you,"
"Who at the U.S. Attorney's Office?" Scully asked.
"I'm sorry, I'm not at liberty to discuss that."
"Justice Halter, I had the pleasure this morning of calling Agent Mulder's
mother and explaining to her that her son was going to prison without trial for
something he didn't do," Scully said. "One of the first things she asked me was
whether Fox had made someone in the Justice Department angry. I told her I
didn't know. Maybe you can tell me."
Halter's face flushed a deep shade of purple and he said, "Young lady, I
don't know what you are insinuating and I don't care to know. If you really
wish to assist Agent Mulder, I suggest you help him retain the services of a
lawyer. Now good day to you." He jerked his arm out of Scully's grip and
stalked away through the cafeteria doors.
Scully sighed and wandered away to a nearby bench, feeling defeated. She
supposed she ought to get back to F.B.I. Headquarters and try to get some kind
of work done, although with Mulder in jail and Skinner in the hospital the X
Files unit was on something of a hold status. She wondered how many people that
would make ecstatically happy.
Just then her cell phone rang and she fished in the pocket of her blazer
for it. "Scully," she said, answering.
"Agent Scully, it's me," came Skinner's voice.
Surprised, Scully said, "Sir, how are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," he said. "I've been trying to contact Agent Mulder, but they
won't let me talk to him."
"They won't let him talk to anyone," she said. "He's supposed to be
shipped out to the Brooklyn Detention Center in the morning."
"Brooklyn?" Skinner said. "They just had a major shakedown of corrupted
staff over there."
"Yes sir, I know," Scully said. "Apparently some of the guards were taking
bribes to turn a blind eye while prisoners did everything from sell drugs to
assault one another. They dismissed about twenty corrections officers. I
suppose it's possible that the Bureau of Prisons rooted all the rot out."
"We can't sit around praying for that. They'll kill Mulder over there,"
"I hope not, sir," Scully said, hearing the frightened tremor in her own
"Can you come over here?" he said. "There's something I'd rather discuss
with you in person."
"Of course, I can be there in a few minutes. Can you give me any idea at
all what this is about?" she asked.
"It's . . . about my experiences in Vietnam," Skinner said. "And there's
something else. Bring a laptop and a cord for a modem connection, if you can.
I want to get into the ID Division's computer network."
"I don't have the clearance to do that, sir," she said.
"I do," he answered.
Half an hour later, Skinner sat in bed listening to Scully rooting behind
the room's end table for the phone jack. He still wasn't exactly sure what he
was going to tell her. Gingerly, he reached up to touch his gauze blindfold and
began to tug it off. Years of turning in field reports had taught him to touch-
type after a fashion, but for what he wanted to do he needed to be able to see
the computer screen. Scully must have seen what he was doing because she gasped
and said, "Sir, don't do that!"
"Why? Do you think that if I take this off for fifteen minutes I'll make
myself any blinder?" he asked, continuing to unwind the gauze.
"Those bandages are there to act as a barrier between germs and your
damaged skin. If infection set in, then yes, you could make yourself a lot
blinder," she said.
"Tell you what, I'll wash my hands before I touch my face," he said. He
removed the two rounded pads that had been placed over his eyes and then
encountered another barrier, a layer of Second Skin. They'd literally plastered
his eyes shut. With his fingertips he went hunting for the edge of the plastic
"Don't, sir, don't," Scully protested. She reached out and grabbed one of
his hands. "Wait a minute. Let me help you." He heard her walk to the
adjoining bathroom and rip open a package of something. Then he heard water
running and splashing sounds. When she came back she gave off the sharp smell
of iodine. He felt her small, cool fingers brush his temple and gently begin
peeling up the edge of the protecting plastic. The Second Skin was held on by
moisture alone, so removing it didn't hurt, but without it his skin felt very
raw and dry. Cautiously, he cracked his eyes open. The result was not
encouraging. Myopic at the best of times, Skinner found that the center of his
field of vision was covered with an impenetrable haze, as if someone had smeared
his glasses with Vaseline.
"Holy Christ," he said, squinting into the room. "Is my vision going to
stay like this?"
"The rear portion of your eye was severely flash burned," Scully said.
"The precise name for the symptom is macular edema, if you want to know. The
capillaries in the central part of your retina have begun to leak, causing
swelling, which destroys the resolution of the central area of your vision."
"You didn't answer my question," he said.
"I'm afraid I don't know the answer, sir," she said, sounding regretful.
"Many people with this condition do eventually regain their previous level of
"But many others do not," he finished for her.
"Correct," she said.
He suspected that this information was really going to scare him when he
let himself think about it, but he was not going to do that now. "Well," he
said, "since there seems to be nothing we can do about it, let's get this
computer plugged in."
Scully got him to the network's log in screen, and he was able to peck in
his password. For some reason, his peripheral vision did not seem to be much
worse than usual, so he could see a little if he gazed slightly away from the
object he wanted to look at. Between his efforts and Scully's, they were able
to call up the composite sketch program Skinner wanted.
"Do you mind if I ask what we're doing?" Scully asked.
"Trying to create an image of the bomber," Skinner said.
"You saw him?" she asked, sounding startled. "Why didn't you say something
"Because I only saw him this afternoon," he said. "I saw him in a vision."
He could not quite keep the last words from sounding embarrassed.
"Of Vietnam?" Scully asked.
"Yeah," he said. "Of Vietnam."
"Sir . . . it's completely understandable that this experience should call
up memories of your time in the war. That combined with narcotic analgesics and
the sensory deprivation of blindness--"
"Do you want to do everything possible to help your partner, or not?"
"Of course I do, sir," she said. "It's just that in my experience, visions
offer a pretty slim avenue for hope."
"Mulder's going to be spending the next twenty days in the Brooklyn
Detention Center," Skinner said. "I'd say his avenues of hope are pretty slim
With Scully's help he was able to create a composite face that he was
fairly sure looked like the one he had seen. "The man in your vision was
Asian?" Scully asked.
"Yes, he was," Skinner said.
"I probably don't need to remind you of this," she said, "but it's rare to
find a non-white perpetrator of this type of crime. If you want this released,
you'll be heading into some very sensitive territory. Remember the Susan Smith
case, when police spent days looking for--"
"Yes, I remember," Skinner cut her off. "And no, I don't want it released.
I would greatly appreciate it if you would look into this yourself.
Discreetly." She didn't answer right away and he wondered if he'd been too
brusque with her. Skinner wasn't used to asking for favors and he suspected he
was bad at it. "This isn't an order, Agent Scully," he explained, "It's a
request. One you can freely turn down if it makes you uncomfortable in any
way." He hoped she wouldn't turn it down. He was sure he was onto something
important, and he didn't know who else might be willing to listen to him. He
looked up at where she stood beside his bed, but could not make out her
"All right," she said at last. "I'll do it, for your and Mulder's sake.
But if the Professional Responsibility Office tries charging me with racial
bias, I'll deny any knowledge of this conversation."
"Hey, I never saw you here," Skinner said. He sensed her smile. "In my
vision, he was building another plastic bomb," he told her.
"Did you see where he was going to send it?" she asked.
"No," he said, "I'm afraid I didn't see very much. I have a suspicion,
though. I think his next target will also be someone who served in Vietnam. He
hates me in particular, he blames me for--" he very nearly said "his death," "--
something that happened to him," he substituted, "but I think he hates others
like me almost as much."
"Did you get an idea of where he lived, what kind of car he drove,
anything like that?" she asked.
Skinner had to shake his head. "The only other thing I saw was that his
house was full of plastic models. Military planes, race cars, that sort of
To her credit, she didn't laugh at him. He supposed five years with Mulder
had rendered her pretty unshockable. "I guess that makes sense, considering the
type of resin he used," was all she said. "I'll do my best, sir. But even
you've got to admit, this isn't much to go on."
"It's all I've got," he muttered.
"I know a good attorney, and I was going to put her in touch with Agent
Mulder," Scully said. "We should be able to communicate with him through her.
Maybe he can think of something we haven't."
"Maybe," Skinner said. He must have sounded too depressed, because she
seemed to be hovering, uncertain of what she wanted to say.
"Is anyone going to be with you this evening, sir?" she asked. "Is your
wife coming down at all?"
"Um, no," he said, not looking at her. "The reconciliation didn't work
Dead silence. Damn it, why did she have to ask that?
"I'm sorry, it was none of my business. I shouldn't have--"
"Don't worry about it. These things happen." He gave her what he hoped
was a reassuring smile. "Now, if you wouldn't mind helping me get my blindfold
back on, I think I could rest for a while."
"Sure, of course," she said. She bandaged his eyes up again, then took her
computer and went away. Somewhat to his surprise, Skinner found that he really
was tired enough to sleep. A mixed blessing, he thought. On the one hand, he'd
probably be prey to nightmares. On the other, he got to avoid the misery of
spending the evening blind and alone.
The Law Offices of Zimmler, Zimmler and Prine
Scully sat across a polished desk from Peggy Prine, a former prosecutor
with the Justice Department's Criminal Division. Prine was heavyset and
fortyish, but her news-anchor-perfect hair and impeccably tailored navy suit
made her look anything but matronly. She had a reputation as a teflon-skinned
legal shark, and Scully was hoping to take advantage of that. She also
suspected Prine of having a soft spot for Agent Mulder. He and Scully had
turned a few cases over to her before she went into private practice, and Prine
had been known to turn into a giggling schoolgirl when he was around.
A speaker phone sat in the middle of Prine's desk, and both women looked at
it expectantly. They'd been on hold with the Brooklyn Detention Center for
several minutes. "I suppose it's possible they haven't processed him yet,"
Scully said, glancing at the glass-faced clock on Prine's wall. It was after
three, so he should certainly be there by now.
"That, or they're just trying to give us shit," Prine said. As a former
federal employee herself, Prine cherished few illusions about the general
cooperativeness of government staff. A click came over the speaker phone and
they both instinctively leaned toward it.
"Hello?" came Mulder's voice, hard to hear over several voices in the
background. He sounded confused.
"Hi, Mulder, it's me," Scully said, leaning in toward the phone. "How are
you doing? How was the trip?"
"Oh, great," he said. "I am now wearing a stylish outfit in ten-mile
orange from the Ted Kaczynski line of men's fashion, and I have met my new
cellmate, whose name is Flea. Say hello, Flea!" he called out.
"Hello!" came a distant voice.
"Flea has already explained to me about that skank bitch Yolanda who set
him up. He has a rap song about it, which he calls, 'That Skank Bitch Yolanda
Set Me Up.' He was all set to perform it for me when you called."
"I'm sorry to have disappointed you," Scully said.
"I have twenty days to listen to Flea's rap songs, Scully," Mulder replied.
"So what's going on? I hear I have an attorney."
"You remember Ms. Prine, who used to work for the Criminal Division,"
"Oh, yeah, hello," Mulder said. Prine looked thrilled to death that he
remembered her. Scully wouldn't have had the heart to point out that Mulder had
an eidetic memory and could sing thirty-year-old jingles for breakfast cereal,
too. Scully offered to leave the room while Prine and Mulder discussed his
legal options, but Mulder asked that she stay. The conversation didn't take
very long. Mulder didn't have very many legal options.
Once they were through Prine told Mulder that Scully had asked to speak
with him alone, but that he was not required to discuss his case without legal
"Thank you, I'll keep that in mind," Mulder said. Prine turned off the
phone's speaker, handed the receiver to Scully and then left the room.
"Mulder, I spoke with Skinner yesterday afternoon," she said.
"He's conscious? How is he doing?" Mulder asked.
"He suffered extensive burns and some retinal damage, but considering what
could have happened he's very lucky. I saw his office-burning resin melted
holes in the furniture and the carpet. If the sprinkler system hadn't gone on
he could have died of smoke inhalation before the EMTs ever got there."
"Has he . . . has he said anything about who he thinks did this?" Mulder
"Yes," Scully said. "He doesn't think it was you. In fact, he was talking
about how we had to get you out of Brooklyn as soon as possible."
Mulder made a sound that might have been a sigh of relief. "Has he spoken
to Springer at all?"
"To who?" Scully asked.
"Jim Springer from the ISU. I contacted him with an unsolicited profile of
the bomber, which apparently got me chalked up as suspect number one."
"I don't think he's talked to Skinner," Scully said, "This is the first
time I've heard Springer's name."
She thought Mulder muttered, "Asshole." Then he said, "I gave him the
profile anyway while I was still in D.C. He's probably lined his birdcage with
"Mulder, Skinner gave me his own profile of the bombing suspect when I
spoke to him yesterday. He was very anxious to talk to you about it," Scully
"I'm flattered, but there's not a whole lot I can do while I'm in here.
Has he called the police or the U.S. Marshals about it?"
"No," Scully said. "He asked me if I would handle this matter myself,
discreetly. He says he saw the bomber's face in a vision."
"Skinner?" Mulder asked, sounding stunned. "Skinner doesn't have visions.
It's against Bureau policy."
"Well, he's having them now. He thinks that this is somehow related to his
experience in Vietnam. He says that the bomber is an Asian man who blames
Skinner for something terrible that happened to him, and that he may be
targeting other Vietnam veterans in the near future. He couldn't come up with a
name or an occupation, but he says that the suspect builds hobby models."
There was silence on the line for a moment. "Race cars?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, actually," Scully said, surprised. "How did you know that?"
"Because that's in my profile that Springer's lining his birdcage with.
Did you follow up on this at all?" Mulder asked.
"I talked to some people at the lab and they said that the fiberglass resin
used in the bomb is manufactured by a company called PlasTech, which has its
headquarters in Maryland. Most of the resin gets shipped to companies that make
car or boat bodies, but a certain amount gets sold to hobby and art supply
stores," Scully said.
"Sounds like a good start," Mulder said. "I suppose its too much to hope
that PlasTech does business in a small geographic area?"
"All over the eastern seaboard, in Canada, and Germany," Scully said.
"Shit," said Mulder. "What about the accelerant--the race car fuel?
That's not something you find at every corner gas station."
"You'd be surprised," she said. "The Yellow Pages for the greater D.C.
area lists 25 racing car supply stores."
"It does not," Mulder said.
"I'll mail you one and you can count," she told him.
"Shows you what I know," he said.
"The good news is that every batch of racing car fuel is slightly
different, and fuel inspectors perform gas chromatography tests on it to
determine its exact composition or 'fingerprint.' That's how officials at
professional races decide which fuels to allow. In theory, we could not only
determine which company manufactured the fuel, we could also figure out which
plant made it on which day."
"Hot damn," said Mulder. "What's the bad news?"
"We've got no matches so far," she said. "There are a lot of fuel vending
companies out there, Mulder, and many are in Europe. If this guy got his batch
from Italy, this could take a lot longer."
"Fuck," Mulder said.
"Don't get too discouraged," she told him. "You know how most
investigative work is--slow and systematic. The holes in the net are closing,
Mulder. We'll get him."
"Yeah, I just hope it's before he blows someone else off the face of the
earth," he said. "And before one of my fellow inmates decides to stick a shiv
between my ribs. I told Springer to investigate postal and UPS employees, since
our bomber seems to know a lot about how to get explosives through the mail. He
may have been fired from a mail handling job recently, which could have helped
set him off. If he was dismissed or pressured into resigning it would probably
be because of interpersonal problems, conflicts with the boss or complaints from
customers. He doesn't deal real well with the public. He may be working on
cars as a freelance job right now."
"I'll call Springer and tell him to go peel that profile off the bottom of
his birdcage," Scully said.
"Good," said Mulder. "Listen Scully . . . has this been on TV much? Have
they been splashing my picture around on the news?"
"Some," she admitted. "Although the authorities mostly aren't talking."
"Leaving lots of room for media speculation. Wonderful," Mulder said.
"If you're worried about your mother, I've already told her. I also told
her that you're innocent and that we're doing everything we can to help you."
"Good," he said, "thank you."
"Are you all right? I mean, really all right. Is there anything else I
can do for you?" she asked. She felt painfully helpless.
"No, you're doing a great job. I couldn't ask for better," he said. "For
now we'll have to stay in touch through Prine, because I'm not supposed to talk
to anybody but my lawyer and immediate family. Media blackout, I think. Give
the Brooklyn number to my mom, would you? She's probably having a heart
"Okay," she said. "I'll do that. You take care of yourself, all right?
"You bet," he said. "Me and Flea are going to have a high old time. If
you're good, maybe I'll make you a license plate."
"Oh, joy. I'll talk to you soon."
Mulder hung up the phone and turned slowly back to the day room, where
several dozen other inmates chain smoked, played ping pong on a dilapidated
table, or watched TV. There were a couple of reasons he'd wanted to know if his
case was on television. One really was because of his mother. In particular,
he hoped the news wasn't broadcasting the fact that it was a capital crime to
send a bomb through the mail. Mom didn't need to have to worry about that.
The other reason was he wanted to know how quickly the other prisoners
would identify him as a Fed. Since prisoners didn't have much else to do but
watch TV, he could bet that most of them already knew.
Skinner was trying to hallucinate. He'd never done this before, and he
wasn't sure how to go about it. More than ever, he wanted to be able to speak
with Agent Mulder, because he would certainly know about vision quests and how
the Native Americans forced their minds to look into the spirit world. Skinner
had a vague idea that you were supposed to go out into the desert and smoke
jimsonweed until you half keeled over. That, or practice various acts of self-
torture like hanging your body from a pole by hooks sunk into your skin. While
these were not practical options, at the moment he had plenty of access to drugs
and sensory deprivation and pain. To some extent the nurses allowed him to
control the amount of pain meds he took, and he tried to work it out so that a
combination of narcotics and physical discomfort created a maximum sense of
unreality. It was not a sensation he enjoyed, but he figured he owed it to
Mulder, and to whoever was next on this bomber's list, to do whatever he could
to help solve the case. Even if the methods he used were decidedly
He was in a state that was not quite dreaming, where he was aware of what
went on in the world around him, but dreamlike images played themselves out
before his blinded eyes. He saw the stream in Vermont where he sometimes used
to take off and go fly fishing. He visualized a summer afternoon spent mowing
the lawn behind the house he'd shared with Sharon. He tried directing his
thoughts to something more relevant, tried to fix on the image of the face he'd
seen the previous day, but somehow his mind seemed to slip away onto its own
paths. Finally, he stopped fighting it.
Inevitably, his thoughts turned back to 1969. The year had opened with him
in high school, an earnest teenager watching his Government teacher point out
the countries of Southeast Asia and drone on about the Domino Effect. First
Vietnam would fall, then Laos and Cambodia, then the evil Soviet grip would
begin to extend into Korea and the Indian subcontinent, and the Reds would
effectively own all of Asia. From there they would sweep into Africa, crush
Europe and begin their assault on the Western Hemisphere.
It hadn't seemed such a silly idea, then. Walter was too young to remember
Hitler, but his father remembered. Within a space of five years, Western Europe
had been swept under the cloak of Nazi night. Ralph Skinner had enlisted to
help carpet-bomb the so-called Aryan Race into submission. Walter knew he owed
it to his country and to the ideal of democracy to enlist and fight the
Communists in Vietnam.
He hadn't known that the South Vietnamese dictator was in many ways just as
bad as Ho Chi Minh. He hadn't foreseen the ignominious American withdrawal or
the fall of Soviet Communism two decades later. He'd believed he fighting evil,
defending the women and children of the free world.
He had ended up killing women and children.
Sometimes, the villagers wouldn't move. Private Skinner had slogged
through poor, muddy streets, helping to push ox carts full of belongings that
had gotten stuck in the mud and herding wailing old women who stood barely
higher than his waist. The U.S. was trying to move the friendly and neutral
villagers to refugee camps, in order to separate them from the VC. Sometimes,
they refused to go.
He'd found blackened bodies in a Buddhist temple destroyed by fire, the
tiny fists of children balled up before their charred faces. They weren't
supposed to be there, but that didn't make them any less dead. On an altar
above the bodies was an equally blackened statue, of a pretty woman reclining on
a flower. Even under the soot, her expression looked kind and sad as she gazed
down toward where the corpses lay. At the time, Walter had wondered if she were
some Vietnamese conception of the Virgin Mary. Vietnam was Catholic as well as
Buddhist. He would have taken his helmet off in respect if he hadn't been
worried that chunks of the ceiling might fall on his head. "God help us," he'd
thought, as he looked down at the burned, little bodies.
Skinner was pierced with almost unbearable grief, for the life and
innocence and idealism that had been lost in that long-ago war. He stirred in
bed, cried out softly. The image of the carnage in the temple faded, was
replaced with a memory of happier times. He saw his younger brother Bob at
about fourteen, the age he'd been when Walter enlisted, tossing a tennis ball
for Ragmop the dog. The dog bounded back and forth between the boy and the
field, knocking dew off the tall grass. The maple trees were turning yellow, so
it must be the fall of '69, when Walt was busy killing and dying half a world
School images, a sea of children's faces. A little red-headed girl stood
on a playground, chubby knees sticking out below the hem of her yellow dress.
She stared up wide-eyed at the brick school building, fiddling with a button on
her cardigan. Big sister came and took her by the hand, said something, led her
toward the doors. The edge of the cardigan swung out and revealed a
construction-paper balloon pinned to her dress, with the name "Dana" written on
God, how old had Scully been in 1969? Suddenly, Skinner felt like a
dinosaur. Strange to think that the little girls he'd gone to war to defend
were grown women now, some of them toting guns. Strange to think that Scully
was out there fighting for him, now.
The children who'd died in Vietnam had never grown up.
Except for one. Skinner saw the face of the boy with the grenades, felt
the recoil of his rifle, watched the body hit the ground. Rivulets of blood.
He saw the face of the man, beautiful as the altar statue in the temple, dark
brows knitted with concentration. He poured something from a plastic jug into a
funnel, then bent to adjust a small gas burner. Loops of tubing sealed with
tape. A still? Skinner looked at the jug, yellow and black label, diagonal
lines. He tried to read it but his hazy vision prevented him.
He tried speaking to the man, "Who are you? What do you want?" but the man
did not seem to hear. He walked away out of Skinner's field of vision.
Skinner groaned. He began to feel as if his body was on fire. Thousands
and thousands of damaged nerve endings fired their anger at his brain. He was
atoning for something. This was happening for a reason, to punish him for . . .
what? Being willing to kill and die for his country? How could he have known
that the Soviets were not about to gather up their allies and attack the United
States? It was a cruel dilemma, to which both possible answers were wrong.
He'd only been eighteen.
He came to in agony. Shorting himself on the pain meds seemed not to have
been such a smart idea, after all. At least they'd taped the call box to the
rail of his bed, so he could find it. He punched the button and waited for a
nurse to show up. He wanted someone to change his bandages, anyway. His face
felt slick with moisture, from sweat and Second Skin slime. At least, that's
what it should have been. God knew, it shouldn't have been tears.
Scully sat in a plastic chair outside the office of the amazingly-named
Fred Przybyz, Human Resource director for the local branch of UPS. On her lap
she held a list of names faxed to her by the company's headquarters in Atlanta.
She'd asked for the names of all UPS employees in the D.C. area who'd been
dismissed within the last year, particularly any men of Asian descent. The
woman she'd spoken to in Personnel had explained that while there was a space on
the employment application for people to indicate their race, they were not
legally required to do so. None of the dismissed employees had identified
themselves as Asian.
She had decided to examine UPS before the post office because the
government theoretically screened its employees more carefully for things like
past arrests for arson, and Mulder seemed to think this fellow might have a
record. Despite Mulder's paranoid suspicions, Jim Springer really had submitted
his bomber profile to the staff at the ISU, and they agreed to fax Scully a
copy. She also carried a printout of the face Skinner had created with the
As prepared as she could possibly be, she waited until Przybyz was able to
see her. Finally, he opened his office door and said, "Miss Scully?" He was a
short, bowling-pin shaped man with a large bushy mustache. Scully stood,
reflexively straightened her cranberry blazer and held out her hand.
"Thank you for being willing to see me, Mr. . . . I'm sorry, I don't know
how to say your last name," she admitted.
He smiled. She imagined he was used to this. "It's Priz-a-biz," he said.
"There's no biz like Przybyz, that's what I tell people."
She smiled back as she shook his hand. "Mr. Przybyz," she said. "I don't
want to take up a lot of your time. I just wanted to ask you a few questions
about the people who've worked here in the last year."
"Sure, come on in," Przybyz said, holding the door for her. She sat in one
of the visitors' chairs stuck in the cramped office's corners while Przybyz
settled himself at his desk.
"First of all, I was wondering if this face looked at all familiar to you,"
she said, pulling out Skinner's composite. Her hopes weren't real high.
She was nearly rocked back on her heels when he glanced at it and said,
"Oh, yeah, that's Dave."
"Dave?" Scully asked, looking at him in surprise.
"Dave Eddy, one of our drivers. Well, he was, up until about three or our
months ago," Przybyz said.
"What happened?" Scully asked. "Why did he leave?"
"Well . . . let's say that Dave and UPS turned out not to be such a good
match," Przybyz said. "He had a low frustration threshold, a bit of a temper.
I talked to him about it, but in the end enough customers complained that we had
to suggest that Dave move on."
"'Move on?'" Scully echoed. "He wasn't fired?"
"Well, I don't like to have to actually fire people," Przybyz said. "I
just pointed out that it would be in both Dave's and the company's best interest
if he resigned, and he agreed to do that. He's all right, really. He's a very
smart guy. He just isn't at his best working with the public."
"I see," said Scully. "Would you mind showing me his personnel file?"
Pryzbyz looked a little embarrassed. "I hate to ask this," he said. "But
could I see some ID? It's just something I need to see before I show personnel
files around." Scully obligingly pulled her ID wallet out and handed it to him.
He examined it and then called up David Eddy's file on the computer.
A little under an hour later, Scully sat by Skinner's bedside. He'd been
awake when she came in and looked tolerably well, although he seemed tired and
distracted. "I've got a name to match the face you compiled, sir," she said.
"David Aaron Eddy of Baltimore. He's an American citizen and too young to have
known you in Vietnam, though. His birthdate is listed as 12/15/70. He agreed
to resign from UPS four months ago, after repeated customer complaints about his
rudeness and abusive language. I tried calling the phone number in his
personnel file, but it was disconnected."
"All right, good. That's a start," Skinner said. She suspected he'd
hardly been listening to her.
"Sir?" she asked. "Are you all right?"
"Yes," he said, turning toward her although his eyes were obscured by
gauze. "I'm fine. I just have a lot on my mind."
"If you want me to come back later--"
"No," he said, reaching out a hand toward her. "No, stay." Then he turned
away again and said, "I had another vision about the bomber."
"What happened?" she asked, as gently as she could.
"I saw him pouring liquid into what looked like a still," he said. "He was
using this plastic jug with a black and yellow design on it. I couldn't read
Scully frowned. "A still?" she asked. "He could be using that for a lot
of chemical processes, from making bathtub gin to--" she stopped suddenly.
"To what?" he asked.
"To purifying the nitromethane from his race car fuel," she said. "Which
would explain why we can't find a batch match from any of the local
distributors. He's altering the chemical composition."
"Can you do that without making it explode?" he asked.
"Sure," she said. "So long as you know what the boiling point of
nitromethane is and you watch the temperature gauge on your still."
Skinner nodded. "Are you going after him?" he asked.
"I . . . I wanted to talk with Agent Mulder first," she said. "I want to
get some advice on how to approach Eddy. I don't think I can get warrant, sir.
I mean, most people would say that we don't exactly have probable cause. If I
spook him he may just destroy any evidence and clam up."
Skinner looked less than pleased, but he nodded again. "Work as fast as
you can," he said. "There's a veteran out there whose hours are numbered."
Federal Detention Center, Brooklyn
Mulder sat at a long table, looking at the scattered parts of a chair base.
Then he looked at the assembly directions in his hand, and back at the chair.
He was not terribly good at things like this. As a pre-trial inmate, he was not
legally required to work, but he'd volunteered for a work assignment anyway.
He'd figured being stuck in his cell with nothing to do all day would drive him
insane. Of course, this might drive him insane, too.
There were a lot of chair bits lying on the table in front of him, and
there were not so many bits in the picture in his hand. Had he gotten someone
else's bits by mistake? He glanced sidelong at the pointy-faced redheaded guy
next to him, who seemed to be screwing chair bits together without any
difficulty. If the other guy was missing bits, then he didn't appear to have
noticed yet. Mulder looked down at the pile of metal parts in front of him and
wondered if it would be a big problem if he'd accidentally appropriated some of
the other guy's bits.
The redheaded guy turned to glare at him. "What are you looking at,
dumbass?" he asked.
"Nothing," Mulder said, and immediately began screwing chair bits together
in what he hoped was the correct fashion.
After a few moments the redheaded guy looked over at him and asked, "What
the fuck are you doing?"
"Assembling a chair," Mulder informed him. "What the fuck are you doing?"
"You've got a G-773-42 screwed onto a G-663-71," the other guy said.
"Well, maybe you want to screw it yourself," Mulder said.
The redheaded guy's eyes narrowed to slits and he placed his forefinger
alongside one nostril. He exhaled hard through his nose and blew a booger right
onto the front of Mulder's prison scrubs.
"Aw, man," Mulder said, looking around for something to remove it with and
finding nothing handy. "You . . ." he began, but could think of nothing better
than, "you are an incredibly disgusting individual."
"Fuck me," said the redheaded guy.
Law Offices of Zimmler, Zimmler and Prine
The phone at the Brooklyn Detention Center rang and rang. "Why does it
take them so long to answer?" Scully complained. "These people are in prison.
What else do they have to do besides answer the phone?" Prine shrugged.
Eventually the speaker phone clicked and they got the switchboard operator.
It was the one who'd put them on hold for a long time before. He did not appear
to remember them and they had a brief go-around about whether there really were
people with first names like "Fox" before the man put them on hold and said he'd
send someone to go get Mulder. Mulder himself answered a few minutes later,
sounding tired and frustrated.
"Hi, how you doing?" Scully asked.
"Don't ask," he replied.
"I'm sorry to hear that," she said. "Maybe it'll make you feel better to
know we've got a name for the suspect in Skinner's vision. He's David Aaron
Eddy, age 27, a former UPS employee from Baltimore, Maryland. I wanted to get
some guidance from you as to how to approach him."
"You want to do this yourself?" Mulder asked.
"Skinner wanted this discreet," she said. "And besides, I'm not sure I
could convince anyone else to go out there, given the source of our information.
Skinner's very adamant about wanting this done quickly. He says other veterans'
lives are in danger."
"Yeah, well, don't you go putting your life in danger unnecessarily,"
"Of course not. I'll be careful," she said.
"What's your objective, here? To make him slip up? To get a confession?"
"That would be ideal, but just being able to get into the house would work.
Skinner seems to think he keeps his bomb-making paraphernalia there," Scully
said. "The trick is being able to look around inside without a warrant."
"I don't think you should go in there, not alone," Mulder said. "Just
because this guy hasn't resorted to face-to-face violence yet doesn't mean he
won't. At the very least, get somebody from ATF or the U.S. Marshals to go with
you. Somebody somewhere's got to owe us a favor."
"All right, I'll keep that in mind," she said. "Now how do I get him to
talk to me?"
Mulder seemed to think about this for a moment. "He's going to be real
curious about his case," he said. "He may be clipping articles out of the
paper, taping news shows, that sort of thing. He'll also probably be
congratulating himself on how smart he is, for setting off a bomb under the
government's nose and getting some Fed to take the fall for it. The package
bomb had Skinner's name on it, didn't it, and not just his title?"
"Yes, it did," Scully said. "He might not have opened it, otherwise."
"Well, if the bomber had his name, he could have sent the package to his
house. That would have been easier. He sent it to the Hoover Building to prove
that he could. He'll be feeling cocky about that. You'll get him to talk to
you if you discuss the case and dwell on the ingenious elements of the bomb
scheme. By the way, was there any information that was kept out of the press?"
"Yeah, they didn't release much information about how the bomb was
constructed. I think they want to avoid giving people ideas," Scully said.
"Did they mention the nitromethane?" he asked.
"I'll have to check, but I think so. I don't think they released anything
about the ceramic shrapnel or the magnesium powder, though," she said.
"Okay," Mulder said. "Call up one of the Baltimore papers and see if you
can get a fake press release made up. Make it look as official as possible.
Have them put in it that the F.B.I. crime lab has got me dead to rights, and the
damning evidence is that I was stupid enough to put metal shrapnel in the bomb.
Claim it's traceable to me or something. The bomber already thinks we're
idiots, so he'll buy it.
"Then, pose as a pollster from the newspaper. Make up some questions like,
'Do you feel you can trust the federal government,' or 'is the F.B.I. crime lab
a waste of tax dollars.' Those ought to get him going. Take your press release
with you and a press pass or whatever else a real pollster would have, and go up
and down Eddy's street. Really ask all his neighbors those questions, because
he'll probably want to use your visit as an excuse to talk about the bombing
case with them. When you get to his house, play up what a moron I am and all
the mistakes I made to get myself caught. Let slip the metal shrapnel thing,
and show him the press release if he asks questions. Watch his reactions. See
if you can get him to tell you how a smart guy would have built the bomb. If he
hits on any significant details that weren't in the papers, you've got probable
cause and you can arrest his ass. Then at least I'll have company here in
"We're working on getting you out of there," Scully said. "Ms. Prine is
petitioning the Superior Court and the U.S. Attorney's Office to have you held
in D.C. municipal jail instead of the detention center. We're arguing that
since you're a federal officer and yours is a high profile case, incarcerating
you with other federal prisoners would constitute a threat to your safety."
"All right, I'll buy that," Mulder said. "Although so far I've only been
menaced by bad rap performances and the occasional booger."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Scully said.
"Hey, it could be worse," he said. "I could be under the unsolicited
protection of a large, hairy sex offender named Bubba."
"Knock on wood," Scully said. "Mulder, I'd like to speak to you alone for
a minute, if Ms. Prine doesn't mind."
She glanced up at the attorney, who said, "No problem," and turned off the
phone's speaker. She handed Scully the receiver and left the room.
"I spoke with Skinner again last night, he says he had another vision," she
"Of what?" Mulder asked.
"He says he saw Eddy doing something involving a homemade still and a
plastic jug with black and yellow diagonal lines on it. Does that mean anything
"No," Mulder said. "Did he give it any interpretation?"
"No, but I thought it might mean that he was distilling the nitromethane
out of pre-mixed race car fuel. It would explain why our gas chromatography
tests have come up with zero matches," Scully said.
"I can see what I can dig up on the computer if you want," he said. "God
knows, I've got the time. I've got Internet access through the law library
here, although my guess is the sites I can get to are going to be pretty
limited. No filthy FTP sites for me."
"Good luck on surviving this cruel and unusual punishment," Scully said.
"How are you holding up, by the way? Other than being menaced by the occasional
"Ah, well, you know . . ." he said. "I spoke to my mother last night, she
was pretty upset. Apparently my case was on Hardcopy yesterday. Mom says she
hates watching news about what's happening to me, but somehow she can't turn it
off. Hardcopy didn't have any actual information about the case, so they spent
fifteen minutes going on about bombers in the past and all the horrific things
the government will do to me if I'm convicted. They even had a shot of the
lethal injection room in Indiana."
"Oh, my God," Scully said, putting her hand to her forehead. She could
only imagine how her own mother would react to seeing something like that.
"It was almost funny in a really sad way, because my mother always had this
big anxiety thing about me and George Metesky."
"You and who?" Scully asked.
"Don't you remember George Metesky, the Mad Bomber? That was the first
case that was ever solved using a behavioral profile. The psychiatrist working
with the police predicted everything about Metesky from the kind of suits he
wore to the fact that he hated his father and obsessively loved his mother.
There was a big media circus about it when my mom was a young woman. She
followed it because she thought it was fascinating, but it was that one detail
that always stuck with her, that somehow Metesky's mother had made him what he
was. This was in the late fifties, by the way, at the height of the fashion for
mother-blame. Then a few years later I came along and I was kind of a weird
little kid . . ."
"And she was afraid she'd do something to turn you into the next George
Metesky," Scully said.
"Something like that. I went through this playing with fire stage when I
was five or six and scared the hell out of her," he said. "I'd always thought
it was amusing that I ended up on the other side of the behavioral profiling
process, until now."
"Were you able to make her feel any better?" Scully asked.
"I think so. I hope so. She doesn't really think I'm like George Metesky,
by the way."
"That's for the best," Scully said.
"I think she'd feel a whole lot better if you could get me out of the
detention center, though. I have to admit, so would I," Mulder said.
"We're working on it, Mulder. Hang in there."
Skinner was getting better at his visualizations, or maybe in this case,
the vision was looking for him. David Eddy sat in a room lit only by a small
night light, wrapping what looked like a plastic brick in brown postal paper. A
little metal rectangle lay on top of the brick--it must be the photo cell.
Once the package was wrapped up and sealed with tape, he consulted a list
lying on the table next to him. He wrote an address on the top of the package
and crossed something off the list.
He went for a walk down the street. Skinner saw low hedges, grass
clippings lying on a driveway. Eddy went to the post office and stood in line,
then pushed the package across the postal desk. The clerk stamped it and tossed
it in a cart.
Mulder sat in front of an Internet terminal in the detention center's law
library. He'd explained to the chair assembling supervisor that as a pre-trial
inmate with an imminent trial date, he was allowed to take off from work and go
do legal research. The supervisor said he didn't give a flying fuck what Mulder
Once on-line, he'd called up a search engine and typed in "nitromethane,"
just to see what he'd get. He got a surprising amount. The chemical was
expensive and its pure form was difficult to find retail, but every major city
seemed to have at least one race car supply center that sold it in pre-mixed
dragster fuel. He found a lot of pages that described its molecular
composition, some race car sites that were virtual shrines to it, and a couple
of scary pages that discussed what a great additive to bombs it was.
He also found a posting to a bulletin board from someone called "Jr.
Kazinski" which read, "If any 1 knows how to purify nitromethane from model
engine fuel please tell me I like really need to know this. IF U DO I WILL
REPAY YOU WIT SOME STUFF tell me as son as possible!" The post had generated a
couple of responses, which described the construction and use of a still in much
the way that Skinner had seen in his vision of Dave Eddy. Mulder chose the
print option and listened as the tired old printer whirred to life.
He went back to the search engine and typed in "model engine fuel." This
time he got a lot of links to hobby shops. The first site he tried was "Model
World: The One-Stop Shop for All your Hobby Model Needs." The homepage had a
mailto address, and he considered dropping them a note to ask if they had hobby
Penthouse models available, but he refrained. They did have a catalogue page
that listed about 10 brands of model engine fuel, however. A couple of brand
names were in highlighted blue hypertext, indicating further information was
available. Mulder clicked on one and waited while an image downloaded.
Just then the library door slammed. "Hey, dumbass," came a man's voice.
Mulder recognized it as belonging to Booger Boy from the chair assembly room.
Mulder ignored him. "Hey, dumbass, you fucking deaf?"
The image on the screen was a stupid JPEG, and it was taking its sweet time
downloading. Mulder slowly turned around. Booger Boy stood behind him, and
he'd brought a couple of friends, too. One was a skinny, weasely little guy,
but the other one looked like Mr. Clean in a federal prison uniform. "Are you
talking to me?" Mulder asked.
Booger Boy did his best Goodfellas impression. "'You talkin' to me? You
talkin' to me?'" he said. "You see any other dumbass in here?"
Mulder just looked at him a moment before answering. "Do you really want
me to answer that question?" he asked. He had the uncomfortable realization
that the library monitor was nowhere in sight.
"You're the son-of-a-bitch that killed his boss, aren't you?" asked Booger
Boy. "I saw your picture on Hardcopy. They gonna pull a Dr. Jack on you. How
does that feel, Fedboy? How does it feel to be on Death Row?" Booger Boy
smiled. He had a gray front tooth.
"I didn't kill my boss and I'm not on Death Row," Mulder told him.
"You will be," said Mr. Clean, "Just like Tim McVeigh."
"Thanks. I'm so touched by your concern," Mulder said. He turned back to
the screen and saw that the image had finished downloading. It was of a plastic
jug labeled "RunRite Model Fuel." The label was decorated with black and yellow
diagonal stripes. Underneath ran the heading, "1 Quart, 20% nitromethane --
Somebody slugged him on the side of his head. "Don't you turn away when
I'm talking to you," said Booger Boy.
Mulder stood up and deliberately backed away. "Do not lose your temper,"
he told himself. "Do what you can to get out of the room."
"There's no need to get violent," he told Booger Boy.
Booger Boy shoved the chair at him. "I think there's plenty of reason to
get violent," he said. "You stupid fucking Feds run this shithole, and when one
of you gets stuck in here, you act like you're too good for it. Listen to you--
taking about your stupid-ass rights down in the shop. Like anybody cares! You
think you're too good to put together chairs, Fedboy?"
Mulder backed up another step, trying to angle toward the door as he did
so. He held his hands up in a wordless pacifying gesture. "No," he said,
"actually I'm terrible at putting together chairs. You saw that this morning."
He glanced at Weasely and Mr. Clean, hoping that one of them would look
squeamish about starting a fight. Weasely looked nervous enough, but he was
holding his ground. Maybe he figured Booger Boy would kick his butt if he ran.
"You're going to be sorry you came here," said Booger Boy. "You gonna be
sorry you were ever born." Clearly it didn't matter what Mulder said, the guy
wanted to take a piece out of a cop.
Mulder took another couple of steps back, trying to coax Booger Boy away
from his friends. He kept his hands up, waiting for the other man to make the
After a couple of seconds Booger Boy's patience wore out and he swung at
Mulder's face. Mulder's forearm was already there, deflecting the blow. He
wrapped one hand around Booger Boy's bicep and slammed the heel of the other one
up under his nose. He put his foot behind Booger Boy's and pushed him backward,
effectively tripping him onto the floor. While the three inmates were stunned,
Mulder darted to the other side of the computer table, putting it between them
and him. Unfortunately, they were still between him and the door.
"Hey, Lanny, you all right?" called out Mr. Clean.
Booger Boy raised himself up on one elbow and said, "That fucker broke my
nose." Although blood was running from it, Mulder knew he hadn't broken it. He
knew what a nose felt like when it broke. Booger Boy climbed to his feet and
said, "You're going to fucking die for that." He ran at Mulder, this attack
even more headlong and careless than the last one. Mulder sidestepped him,
grabbed him by the arm and threw him at Mr. Clean, who was coming around the
other side of the table. That left only Weasely between him and the door, and
he figured he could just run right over Weasely.
He hadn't counted on the sharpened screwdriver. Later, he decided Weasely
must have had it up his sleeve, but at the time it seemed to come out of
nowhere. It dug through the muscle of his upper chest and scraped bone as he
tried to knock the smaller man aside. Mulder made it a few steps into the hall,
dragging the tenacious Weasely, before the other two caught up and dropped him.
Mr. Clean slammed Mulder's head into the floor while Booger Boy repeatedly
kicked him in the kidneys. Mulder went fetal, holding his arms over his face.
He could feel hot blood soaking the cloth of his uniform. Weasely kicked him in
the shins and forearms.
"You think you're hot shit? You think you're fucking Jackie Chan?" Booger
Boy shouted as he kicked him. Mulder didn't know how long the beating lasted,
but it was probably not as long as it felt. Suddenly, the men were being pulled
off him. A corrections officer rolled Mulder over and briefly examined the
wound on his chest.
"We got to get this one to the hospital," the officer said.
Scully had been able to work fast. She'd spoken to Skinner, and being able
to invoke the Assistant Director's name at the Baltimore Sun had worked a small
miracle. Before 5 o'clock she was outfitted with a plausible-looking press
release, a pin-on button with the Sun logo on it, and a clipboard holding
several copies of her manufactured survey questions. Speed was a blessing.
Skinner had told her that he'd seen Eddy posting another package bomb.
The Agents in Charge of this case knew that she was sounding out a
potential suspect at Skinner's request, but she had not been much more specific
than that. Visions and thirty-year-old flashbacks had not even come into it.
She felt it was best to keep the whole thing as quiet as possible, and so had
not taken Mulder's advice that she bring someone with her.
Eddy lived in a quiet, working-class neighborhood of Baltimore. It was
about a mile from Scully's mother's place. Like her mother's neighborhood, most
of the houses were small with tidy yards and detached garages. Scully parked
her car down at the end of the street and began working her way toward Eddy's
house. It was the dinner hour, and no one was very pleased to see her, but at
least that meant she got through the neighbors quickly. The five households she
surveyed turned out to take a fairly dim view of the federal government. She
wondered if that was because they were grumpy about having their meals
David Eddy lived in the bottom floor of a duplex at the end of the street.
What looked like an auctioned-off soft top Army Jeep sat in the driveway. The
Jeep's body had been painted black and there were neon peace sign stickers in
the back window. Scully walked up to Eddy's door and rang the bell. A cat
peered out the dingy front room window at her, opened its eyes wide, and fled.
She heard footsteps inside, the sound of latches being undone.
The door opened and a handsome young Asian man looked out. Skinner's
composite picture had been eerily accurate. "Yeah?" Eddy said.
Scully had her spiel down pat by now. "Hello, I was wondering if you could
spare a few minutes of your time to answer a survey questionnaire on attitudes
toward the federal government. This survey is being conducted by the Baltimore
Sun in response to the recent upswing of domestic terrorism and widespread
concern over the effectiveness of the federal crime labs." She smiled big,
trying to look every inch the perky cub reporter.
"Is this going to take long?" he asked. "'The Simpsons' is on." This was
not the enthusiastic response she'd been hoping for.
"Ah--no, no it won't take long at all," she said.
"Okay, well fire away," said Eddy, folding his arms and leaning in the
"Do you feel you can trust the federal government?" she asked.
"Implicitly," he said, "to fuck up everything from the flavor of cheese to
building a toilet for the space shuttle."
"I'll . . . put that down as a 'no,'" Scully said, and checked the
appropriate box. "Do you think that federally funded crime labs are a waste of
He shrugged. "I dunno, compared to what?" Scully tucked a strand of hair
behind her ear in an unconscious, nervous gesture. Eddy was coming off a lot
more like a disaffected Gen-X'er than a murderous bomber. She realized how much
she'd wanted this to be the lead that broke the case. Looking back and
remembering where the information had come from, she was surprised and a little
alarmed at how naive she'd been.
Her next few questions got equally noncommittal answers. Finally, she
asked her litmus test question: "The F.B.I. crime lab recently determined that
there was metal shrapnel in the bomb sent to Assistant Director Skinner at the
Hoover Building. Given this evidence that the bomber intended to kill, should
Fox Mulder be given the death penalty if he is convicted?"
Eddy blinked at her. "Huh? Uh, yeah," he said.
"Would you like to see a copy of the latest press release on the case?" she
"Yeah, sure," he said. She pulled a photocopy of the fake release out of
her folder and handed it to him. He scanned it quickly.
"I've heard it was a big mistake to send metal in the bomb," Scully said.
"Apparently that incriminated Agent Mulder more than anything." He glanced up
at her and then down at the paper.
"Where did this come from?" he asked, handing the release back.
"A federal agent closely involved in the case submitted it to the Sun
office," she said. That was true enough.
"What kind of an idiot do you have to be to send a metal bomb through the
mail?" Eddy asked. "What kind of an idiot postal worker do you have to be to
let that get through the metal detector?"
"I don't know," Scully said. "Maybe as you said, the federal government is
just good at fucking things up. Sounds like a smart guy would have no trouble
getting a bomb through."
"Well, I don't know about that," he said. "It would take a lot of work."
Scully's heart started hammering. If this is your guy, he'll be proud of his
efforts, she thought. He's going to have to show off a little.
She widened her eyes at him. "Really?" she said. "What would you have to
"Well," he said, relaxing against the doorframe with a smug expression that
reminded her irresistibly of Mulder, "you'd need to use a plastic resin for the
shell, and hard plastic or ceramic if you wanted shrapnel. Those will get
through the metal detector. Use as few wires as you can get away with. They've
got chemical detectors and even bomb-sniffing dogs, now, too, so you'll have to
seal any powder or accelerant inside and then wash the shell down when it's dry.
You could soak it in bleach or even coffee. You should put the addressee's name
on it, too, and spell it correctly. A lot of people know not to open packages
with just their job title on them."
Scully nodded. None of this had been released to the press. "What's an
accelerant?" she asked. She knew damn well what it was, she just wanted to hear
him describe it.
"That's what you use to make a fire burn," he said. "Gasoline, Methanol,
nitromethane, if you can get it. Those are all accelerants. You can use a bit
of black powder for the blasting cap, but if you've got the right juice, you can
get away with just closing an electrical connection."
Scully had heard enough. She slipped her right hand into the inside pocket
of her blazer and pulled out her ID and badge. "Mr. Eddy, I'm a Special Agent
with the Federal Bureau of Investigation," she said. "I'm going to have to ask
that you come with me."
His eyes went wide with surprise, and then he closed the door in her face.
She started knocking on it. "Mr. Eddy," she said, "Mr. Eddy, open up. I don't
want to have to ask the police to break down this door." She didn't expect a
reply. She pulled her cell phone out of her jacket pocket and punched the 'on'
button, ready to call the local police for backup. The phone came to life with
a soft beep.
Eddy's door opened and he held out a small plastic cylinder at her. Scully
had a split second to be perplexed before pepper spray hit her in the face.
Thirty minutes later Scully was kneeling on the floor of Eddy's living
room. She'd been divested of her gun and her phone, and the handcuffs she'd had
clipped at her belt were know locked around her wrists. He'd given her a wet
towel to press against her eyes, which were still streaming. Her nose and
throat felt swollen, and she hoped she didn't turn out to be one of the people
who were deathly allergic to pepper spray and died of anaphylactic shock after
"The Simpsons" ended and Eddy switched channels to something with a
particularly tinny laughtrack. Scully thought she recognized the theme song to
"I Dream of Genie." Every so often Eddy would ask her, "Are you okay?" which
really got on her nerves. She kept telling him, "No."
Eventually, she asked, "What are you going to do with me?" As soon as the
words were out of her mouth she knew it was a dumb thing to have said. Mulder
had told her about situations like this. Never push your captor to make
decisions, never rush them into anything, he'd said. Time is on your side.
Given enough time, you may be rescued or your captor may bond to you enough that
he feels he can't kill you.
"I don't know," Eddy said. "This isn't a situation I'd prepared for. This
wasn't supposed to happen."
"What was supposed to happen?" she asked. She was unable to keep the edge
of anger out of her voice.
"The strikes were supposed to be surgical. That's why the men's names have
to go on the packages. Innocent parties weren't supposed to be involved," he
"You consider Walter Skinner guilty for something he did as an eighteen-
year-old, something his country legally required him to do?" she asked.
Actually, Skinner had enlisted before he could be drafted, but she thought that
she would not point this out to Eddy.
"He made a choice," Eddy said. His voice was hard and bitter. "Everybody
makes choices, and they have to live with the results."
"Why Skinner?" Scully asked.
He laughed. "Why Skinner?" he echoed, "Why me, or you? Why those people
in the Oklahoma City Federal Building or on Pan Am flight 209? Because, that's
"First you say that people make choices and have to live with the
consequences, then you imply that everything happens in a kind of Russian
roulette. You can't have it both ways," Scully said.
"You ever study Buddhism at all?" Eddy asked.
"I'm afraid not," she said.
"You should. It's a very unsentimental religion. Tenet one: 'life is
suffering.' You've gotta respect that."
"What does that have to do with personal responsibility?" she asked.
"You know what the Atman is?"
"No," she said.
"It's the universal soul. It's the Force--'it surrounds us, penetrates us,
binds the galaxy together.' That sort of thing. We're all part of the Atman,
but we have this illusion that we're individuals. When you start imagining that
you're an individual, you start to think action has a point. When you start
committing actions, that causes reactions, and nothing good comes of that.
"You've heard about karma, right? As in 'my karma ran over my dogma?' In
my case literally true, by the way. I'm Catholic by education. Feel free to
mention that if I ever go to trial. Not because it would help me out any, but
because it would really piss off some priests to see a Church-raised homicidal
maniac on TV."
"I see," Scully said.
"Anyway, the idea of karma is: what goes around comes around. Everybody's
out there doing stupid things, and having stupid things done to them. But none
of it matters. That it why it's both Walter Skinner's own fault that he got
blasted and why it's completely random and meaningless."
"That sounds like a very elaborate rationalization to avoid responsibility
for your actions."
"Like it?" Eddy asked. "If I said that to a federal judge, do you think
he'd have the brains to figure it out?"
"I don't think it would go over real well," Scully said. She found Eddy
reminded her a lot of her partner. She was having a hard time not warming up to
him, despite his obviously defective conscience.
"Too bad. I'll have to think of a way to avoid going to court, then," he
Scully found she didn't like to think about what that way might involve.
Mulder was brought back to the detention center after midnight. He had
surgical staples in his chest wound and the ER doctors had detected blood in his
urine, but they hadn't seemed overly concerned . He was not sure if this was
because his injuries weren't serious, or because he was just another federal
inmate and who cared, anyway. Mulder found that the worst part of incarceration
wasn't the loss of his freedom, or even the physical threat from the other
prisoners. It was the automatic revoking of his human status as soon as he'd
come through the detention center doors. The doctor had discussed Mulder's
treatment solely with the corrections officers, as if Mulder himself weren't
Claiming Scully was his doctor, he'd managed to convince one of the nurses
to call her mobile phone, but apparently it was turned off. He had been unable
to persuade the woman to try Scully's home number. They would have let him call
his mom, but he didn't want to have to do that. "Hi, Ma, I just got beat up in
prison," was on the bottom-ten list of things he ever wanted to say to his
At the very least, the detention center administration had approved him
being moved to a cell by himself, for his own protection. Flea had been
genuinely sorry when Mulder came in to move his things. Apparently, Mulder's
being willing to listen to his lousy rap songs had been a bonding experience.
Mulder got moved to a more secure area of the prison, near all the crazy
and really violent guys. They'd taken the laces out of his shoes, because laces
could be used as garrote cords. Bureau of Prisons policy, the guards had said.
The cell block was under lights-out, so Mulder had to get settled into his new
quarters by the illumination of a guard's flashlight. Fortunately, it hadn't
taken long. He didn't have a lot of stuff to organize.
He curled up on his cot in the pitchy dark, and discovered it was just as
uncomfortable as the last one. His whole body hurt. He had a prescription for
pain medication, but he could only get it through the prison staff at certain
hours. He wished he could talk to Scully. He remembered that he'd forgotten to
ask her to feed his fish.
Mulder felt bad for his fish. Stuck inside their little tank, they were
helpless to affect the world around them. At the moment, he knew just how they
"They're going to pull a Dr. Jack on you," Booger Boy had said. Mulder had
seen the federal execution chamber. It wasn't much--just a room. There was a
bed with armrests on it splayed out like a cross in the center, and straps made
of thick webbing lay across it at several points. Thinking about it now, it
reminded him of Tunguska. Mulder thought that if they executed him, he did not
want his mother in the room, even if she said she wanted to be there. She
didn't need to see that.
He found his eyes were wet, and wiped them with his thumb and forefinger.
"You are not going to cry," he told himself. Unlike Skinner, Mulder did not
attach any intrinsic shame to tears. The problem was more that he was alone in
a comfortless place, and if he started crying, he might not stop and he wouldn't
get any sleep. Tomorrow would likely be lousy enough as it was.
"They are not going to execute you. Everything in the American criminal
justice system is designed to prevent an innocent man getting convicted," he
told himself. Unless of course, someone high up in the criminal justice system
was out to get him. That could be very bad. There was also the question of
whether his fellow inmates were going to make the whole question academic by
killing him before he ever got to trial.
Mulder gave up and went to get a wad of toilet tissue to blot his eyes.
He would have given anything he possessed in exchange for Scully's presence, for
her touch. He curled up in bed and wrapped his arms around himself instead. He
hadn't had to do that since Tunguska.
At least there, the guy in the adjoining cell had been interesting. Here
it was probably some schizoaffective nut who would rant for hours about bugs
crawling under his skin. Mulder wondered if he was going to get nostalgic for
Flea and his crummy rap repertoire.
It took the better part of an hour for him to cry himself to sleep.
Dave Eddy had channel surfed until he found a "Twilight Zone" rerun. It
was the episode where the woman's dead husband calls her from the graveyard.
"This is the best show," Eddy had raved. Scully just shrugged. She used to
like "The Twilight Zone," but she found it didn't do much for her anymore. It
was too much like work.
The raw agony had eventually faded from her eyes and throat, and she sat on
the floor of Eddy's living room, leaning her back against the armrest of his
couch. He'd made Rice-a-Roni and left a bowl of it on the coffee table for her.
She'd eaten some of it, but found swallowing made her throat hurt again. Her
handcuffs were still around her wrists and Eddy had wrapped a metal cable around
the links that joined the bracelets, then tied that to a radiator in the corner.
This meant that while she clearly wasn't going far, she had a little freedom of
Now that her vision was clear she could look around the living room. Eddy
owned a rickety old couch and mismatched chair, a TV, and several dusty
bookshelves that lined all of the walls. The books had strange titles like "The
Lurking Fear" and "Sex as a Heap of Malfunctioning Rubble." Model vehicles,
small and large, sat on all the horizontal surfaces.
Scully decided she'd try to get some more information out of her captor.
"So, Dave, how did you get interested in Buddhism?" she asked. He'd
specifically asked her to call him Dave. She glanced over to where he sat on
the couch and saw him shrug.
"Antidote to all that catechism crap," he said. "You're not Catholic, are
"Actually, yes, I am," she said.
"Oh, sorry to hear it," he said. "Buddhism's a traditional religion of
Vietnam, my mother's country. Mine, sort of. I was born there, but I came to
the States when I was eight."
"How did that happen?" Scully asked.
"Adopted," he said. "I was a 'special needs child' in a Catholic foundling
home. Supposedly I'm the son of an American serviceman stationed in Vietnam
during the war, or so my mother told the nuns. The Eddys found out about me and
had me shipped over. There are people who collect special needs kids like
Cabbage Patch dolls. You get the little birth certificate and everything. So
there I was, a Vietnamese-American kid living with an Irish-American family, and
they called me David Aaron, which is this Jewish name. Go fig. The Eddy family
was a real rolling zoo. They had two Down's syndrome kids--brother and sister.
Can you imagine having two Down's syndrome kids in two years? Apparently their
mother couldn't, because she ditched 'em. Then they had this polka-dotted boy
who was born addicted to crack. He was supposed to be black, but he had these
albino patches all over him so he kind of looked like a Holstein cow. He used
to bang his head on the floor and scream all night. I think of all of them, I
had the most in common with him. Then there was the girl with CP so bad they
used to park her in her wheelchair upside-down, so mucus wouldn't collect in her
throat and choke her. She was why they finally pitched me. I'd been setting
fires, and they were afraid I'd burn the house down and Marnie wouldn't be able
to get out. After that it was institutions, a couple of foster placements that
didn't last. Pretty much the same as Vietnam, or what I remember of it."
"You sound very angry," Scully said.
He shrugged again. "I would be, if I thought there was any point. I went
through this identity-searching phase as a teenager and read up a lot on
Southeast Asia. That's how I found out about Buddhism. It helped me make sense
of a lot of things.
"For instance, Buddhism teaches that annihilation is the ultimate aim of
all souls. Nirvana, before it was a strung-out grunge band, was a Sanskrit
word that meant 'blown out,' as in like a candle. Call it the Freudian death
wish if you want, or the mystic's union with God. Death is something to be
embraced, not avoided. It's the life after life thing that's so shitty, which
my past life regression therapy amply demonstrated. You're basically doing
somebody a favor by blowing them away. You're moving them a step further along
on their journey out of Samsara, the Buddhist equivalent of the Vale of Tears.
At least, that's if you want to look at it from the compassionate point of view.
If you don't, you can just say, hey, here's a fucker that could really use a .45
to the head."
"So you enjoy killing, and you think this religion provides you with a
rationalization," Scully said.
"Well, what's any religion for?" Eddy asked. "Talk to the Pope about the
"It all seems like such a waste," Scully said sadly. "You've clearly got a
good mind, you've got your whole life ahead of you, and all you want to use it
for is senseless killing."
"Hey, lady, don't barge into my house packing a gun and complain about
senseless killing. I'm a killer, you're a killer, every person on this fucking
planet is a killer. That's what people are. The universe would be better off
if we just nuked ourselves."
Scully found she had no answer for that and fell silent. She wondered what
young Dave Eddy had seen in Vietnam that had made him so bitter, or whether it
was just the fact that no one had loved him. Children could be so resilient,
but they could also be so fragile. She recalled what Mulder had said about
George Metesky becoming a bomber because he obsessively loved his mother and
hated his father. Suddenly, a thought occurred to her.
"You're going after vets who were serving in Vietnam about the time you
were conceived," she said. "You're trying to kill your father. You think
Skinner might have brought you into the world and then abandoned you, so you
wanted him to die."
"Not even close," Eddy said, then he admitted, "Well, a little bit close.
You're right that I'd like to take out the guy who brought me into the world,
whoever that was. I can only bomb a relative few, so that hope's probably
unrealistic. The reason I wanted to kill Skinner is because he's the son-of-a-
bitch who blew me away me the last time."
Skinner dreamed that he was moving through deep, thick water, like an ocean
of gel. There was light under the water, but it was hard to move and hard to
breathe. His ears were filled with a soft humming sound which he first thought
was his blood singing in his capillaries, until it began to resolve itself into
something like whispering. He could not make out the words; all he heard were
vowel sounds that sometimes hissed into hard consonants.
He continued to push through the gel, his lungs burning for a breath of
air. His fingertips brushed something as he struggled toward what he hoped was
the surface. He felt flesh and realized he'd touched a human hand. He gripped
the fingers, then drew back sharply when he found they were cold and stiff. He
found himself face to face with the hag of his nightmares, her long white hair
floating Medusa-like around her head. Her withered lips continued to move, but
no bubbles of breath escaped them. The sounds they made were as meaningless as
Skinner pushed backward away from her and ran into something. He turned
and saw the body of the little red-headed girl he'd seen in his earlier vision.
She hung still, like a fetus in amniotic fluid, with some kind of cord tied
tight around her neck. Skinner tried to undo the cord and discovered that it
was a metal cable that ran around her neck and down her back to her bound hands.
The girl's skin was rigid and cold. Her head turned toward him and her eyes
snapped open, but they remained unseeing as a corpse's.
Skinner startled awake and lay still a moment, breathing heavily. Where
was he? What was going on? As the nightmare images lost their urgency he began
to remember. He wondered what time it was. By peeling up the edge of his
blindfold, he could at least register that it was dark. Agent Scully should
have contacted him by now. He groped for the call button and punched it. He
wanted to bawl the nurses out if Scully had called and they wouldn't wake him to
speak to her. If she hadn't called . . . then he was going to need to use the
Scully lay curled on the floor of Dave Eddy's living room. Like Mulder,
Dave apparently preferred to sleep on the couch. That, or he didn't trust her
alone. He'd drunk several beers as the evening wore on, and with each
successive one he began to seem less friendly. She knew he felt he was losing
control of the situation, and Mulder had taught her that this sort of person was
most dangerous when he felt out of control. Eddy was snoring now, and Scully
scooted along the floor, following the metal cable that bound her to the
radiator against the wall. All the lights of the house except the one over the
stove in the kitchen were out, and it was very difficult to see what she was
doing. She hadn't seen Eddy tie the cable because she'd been blinded by the
pepper spray. Systematically, her fingertips followed the cable around and
around the radiator pipes until she found the knot in back. It was tied tight
and she had to hold her cuffed hands in a very awkward position to get at it.
She could tell she wasn't going to be able to free herself that way. The
frustrating thing was that she knew there had to be wire cutters in the house,
it was just that she could easily waste hours hunting in the dark and she was
likely to wake Eddy. She decided to see if she could pull her hands through the
cuffs. Petite women had been known to do that, and Eddy hadn't cinched them
It was more difficult than she'd expected, and it hurt like hell. Tears
stung her eyes as she worked at getting the metal band over the bone of her
thumb, cutting off circulation and scraping away skin in the process. Her right
hand was half in and half out of its cuff when a police siren started up with a
loud chirp. Scully jumped and Eddy jumped almost as much. A dizzying whirl of
red and blue flickered over the ceiling, the light coming over the top of the
drawn curtains. A moment later the phone started ringing.
"Holy fuck," said Eddy. He charged over to the corner where Scully sat and
backhanded her across the side of her face. "You set me up," he shouted. "You
lied to me twice, you fucking bitch. They followed you here."
"They didn't," Scully protested, curling up against the radiator in an
attempt to ward off further blows. Eddy grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved
her into the radiator's metal side. Leaving her, he ran to the TV stand and
turned on the VCR. Scully wondered what in hell he was doing. Eddy put a tape
in and fiddled with some buttons and knobs. He turned on the TV and punched the
volume button until static hissed painfully loud from the speaker. For the
moment, there was nothing on the screen.
Then he pulled a multitool keychain from his back pocket and opened up a
set of needlenose pliers. He cut Scully's cable off close to the radiator and
half carried, half dragged her toward the door. The phone was still ringing.
Within seconds Eddy had the cable around Scully's neck and then threaded it down
between her wrists and around her ankles. He left her on the floor pushed up
against the front door. He seemed ready to bolt, then apparently thought better
of it and grabbed something off the top of the TV. Scully heard a snapping
sound and with the little breath she could draw smelled a magic marker. Eddy
twisted her face toward him and wrote something across her forehead, then he
spat on the ground next to her. Scully's vision was quickly graying, but she
was aware of him picking up something by the couch, and then he was gone.
The phone had stopped ringing and the cops had resorted to banging on the
door and shouting. "Mr. Eddy! Mr. Eddy, open up right now. This is extremely
serious, Mr. Eddy, we want to talk to you about the disappearance of a federal
There was a flash of light from the living room and a horrific thunder of
gunfire. Scully made a strangled cry and squeezed her eyes shut. Over the
noise she could just hear the voices of the officers shouting outside, and then
came a crash as a riflebutt smashed through a window.
Rapidly suffocating, Scully was only dimly aware of what happened next.
The door burst open and she was knocked in a corner. Shouting, activity--the
shooting noise suddenly stopped. Then one of the officers seemed to notice her
and bent to clip the wire wound around her neck.
"Is she breathing?" someone asked. Scully answered them with a deep gasp.
The guy in the cell across from Mulder actually did turn out to be a
schizoaffective nut. The nut started the morning out by screaming very loudly
at 6 a.m. and then hiding under his cot, whispering to himself. Out of a
combined sense of pity and crushing boredom, Mulder decided to psychoanalyze
him. He took notes on a legal pad with a felt-tipped pen. They wouldn't let
him have anything sharp here.
"So, can you tell me about what brought you here?" Mulder asked.
"The man, the man with the van, vrrrrrrrrrmmmmmm, vrrm-vrrm," said the nut,
who mimed turning an imaginary steering wheel.
"What about the man with the van?" Mulder asked.
"The man with the van the can. The can. He come driving, driving,
driving, driving, . . ." The nut bounced up and down on his bed, making the
springs squeak horribly.
Mulder wrote down, "Organic brain disorder(?) Order EEG." The guy in the
cell to the nut's right had lain in bed without moving all morning. Mulder had
a separate section of notes on him. The first one said, "Catatonic?" When he
hadn't moved after an hour, Mulder had written, "Dead?" After another hour he'd
written, "A dummy with a microphone in it planted to record everything we say?"
He had a bad feeling that he would be needing the services of a psychologist
himself if he didn't get out of here soon.
Footsteps sounded in the hall. Mulder hoped they weren't bringing another
cell block buddy for him. At least not another loud one. When the owners of
the footsteps came into view, Mulder was faced with two guards and Jim Springer,
of all people. "What are you doing here?" Mulder asked.
"Letting you out," Springer said.
Mulder said, "You mean it?" like an excited kid before he could stop
himself. He got rather painfully to his feet and crossed the few steps to the
barred door as a guard unlocked it. "You got the guy who did this? Did my
profile help?" he asked.
"No, and yes," Springer said. "He was a disgruntled UPS worker who played
with model cars, you got that part. I'm afraid he roughed up Agent Scully and
ran off before we caught him."
"Is she all right?" Mulder asked, suddenly worried.
"She'll be okay," Springer said. "Both she and Skinner swear that this
guy's got at least one more package bomb in transit to a Vietnam-era vet,
"And you want my help finding him," Mulder said. He didn't bother trying
not to sound smug.
"Yeah," Springer admitted.
Mulder couldn't resist rubbing it in. "Are you sure? Is that legal? I'd
hate to get myself into trouble again so soon after this wonderfully
rehabilitative spell in federal prison. They were going to teach me a trade,
but then some guy tried to dig my left lung out with a screwdriver."
"Look, Mulder, I'm sorry about that," Springer said. Mulder knew Springer
and knew what it cost him to have to eat his words. "You know how the job is.
The investigation has to come first, before any personal considerations."
"I understand completely," Mulder said. "You ought to be congratulated on
doing your part to keep law enforcement personnel off the streets and behind
bars where they belong."
"Mulder . . ." Springer said, looking pained. It took Mulder less than a
minute to gather up his few belongings.
As he exited the cell, he handed his notes on the nut and the catatonic guy
to one of the guards. "See that these are implemented," he said.
Scully's first sight of Mulder in days was in the waiting area of Skinner's
hospital ward. "Hi," she called out, and hurried over to catch him in an
uncharacteristically impulsive hug.
"Ow," he said, as soon as she had her arms around him. "Ow, don't do
"What's the matter?" she asked, backing off.
"I had an unfortunate accident involving my spine and some guy's boot," he
"Oh, My God," Scully said. That was exactly what she'd been afraid would
happen. "Were you hurt badly?"
"No, no, I'm fine," he said. "I heard you had an unfortunate accident,
"Not too bad," she said. He noticed the bandage around her wrist and
lifted her hand.
"What's this?" he asked.
"I uh, tried pulling my hand out of a pair of handcuffs. Actually, they
were my own," she admitted.
"And I missed it?" He said. "Damn, see if I ever go to federal prison
again. Let me see here."
Despite the warm weather outside, Scully was wearing a turtleneck to hide
the ligature mark around her neck. Mulder gently pulled it away from her skin.
"Mulder--" she protested.
Once he saw the bruising his face got a look of compassion he usually
reserved for self-styled alien abductees and the seriously socially maladjusted.
She wasn't sure how she felt about that. "Looks like the cavalry came in just
in time," he said.
"No, actually, he didn't try this until after the police showed up. Then
he arranged me in front of the door so the police would practically trip over me
as the came in. He had an interesting trick--he put a tape of a war movie in
the VCR and set its timer to start playing about a minute after he got out the
door. When the cops heard gunfire they broke in and started working to free me,
meanwhile Eddy was long gone. I don't think he really intended for me to die."
"You don't know that," Mulder said. "I've seen a lot of guys like this,
and they almost never release someone who can identify and present evidence
against them. He might not have wanted to kill you, but he would have
eventually figured that he couldn't keep you hidden in the house forever."
She looked away, not liking where that train of thought led. "Skinner
thinks the same thing," she said. "He says he saw . . . well, it's better that
the police showed up when they did."
"What's this?" he asked, brushing aside her carefully arranged bangs.
"Don't do that . . ." she said. Scrubbing and makeup had mostly covered
where Eddy had written "Bitch" across her forehead, but if you looked you could
still read it.
"Aw, geez," Mulder said. He put his arms around her and this time she was
careful to hug him gently. "Our boy wasn't too pleased with you, was he?"
"No, he wasn't," she said. "Actually, I think he pretty much hates the
"Well, I can relate to that," he said.
She stepped back and said, "Don't even say that. That's what got you stuck
in Brooklyn the last time."
He grinned and started walking down the hall toward Skinner's room with
her. "So how's the boss?" he asked.
"Better," she said. "He says his eyesight is improving somewhat."
"Any more visions?" Mulder asked quietly.
"Not since last night, apparently. He's pretty anxious to catch this guy,
"I'll bet," Mulder said.
Skinner was sitting up in bed and the blindfold had been removed from his
eyes. His glasses were balanced gingerly on the end of his nose, probably
because the friction of the bridge was uncomfortable. Many of the blisters on
his face had gone down, and his skin showed the shiny pink color of healing. He
still looked pretty horrific, though, and Scully sensed Mulder's brief, startled
reaction. He hadn't seen Skinner since that first day, when his head was
encased in bandages.
Mulder quickly regained his usual nonchalant manner however, and reached
out to shake Skinner's hand. "Glad to see you're doing better, sir," he said.
"I'm glad to see you're out," Skinner replied.
"Yeah, I was looking for a 'Congratulations on surviving your mail bombing
attempt' card, but the stores were out. But then, I figured you probably
wouldn't be able to find a "Congratulations on getting your felony case
dismissed," card, either," Mulder said.
"I've been going over this list of names the police found in Eddy's house,"
Skinner said, holding up a large printout that lay over his lap. "None of them
means anything to me. Everybody else in my company is already dead. I did see
Eddy cross a name off when he mailed the package, though. That means you only
have to concentrate on about fifty of the several hundred on this sheet."
"Oh, joy," Mulder said.
"I was going to take the list over to the lab next," Scully said. "I
wanted them to test the various ink marks for age, since the one we're looking
for was written less than two days ago."
"Sir, you didn't see what mail priority he put on the package, did you?"
Skinner looked grim and shook his head. "It didn't look like the postal
worker did anything special to it, so I'll guess third class."
"Well, depending on where the target lives, we've got anywhere from a week
to until tomorrow afternoon to identify him," Mulder says.
"Before we find out the hard way," Scully added.
"Have you got anyone looking up the social security numbers of these men?"
Mulder asked her.
"Yes, I spoke to the Veterans' Administration earlier this afternoon," she
said. "You can call over there and ask if they're done compiling them yet."
"It'll still take a while to run down those guys' last known location,
though," Skinner said, sounding unhappy.
"I've got access to better than the VA and Social Security," Mulder said.
"I've got geeks."
As soon as Mulder knocked on the Lone Gunmen's door, he heard Frohike
shout, "It's Mulder!" He figured they must have gotten their closed-circuit
unit up and running again. This time, Mulder couldn't even spot the camera
Frohike threw the door open and gave Mulder a bear hug. "Ow!" Mulder said.
"Don't *do* that."
"Oh, sorry," Frohike said, backing off. "I forgot. They mentioned your
'incident' on NPR this morning."
"The celebrity is all very nice," Mulder said, "but I'm going to be glad
when I can take a leak without the whole world knowing."
Langley moseyed up behind Frohike and looked over the shorter man's head.
He had a clunky, old-fashioned looking pair of earphones around his neck. Mulder
found he didn't really want to know why.
"What can we do for you today?" Langley asked.
"I think I have an idea," came Byers' voice from inside. The other two
Lone Gunmen stepped aside to let Mulder through the door. "You want us to help
identify the bomber's next intended victim," Byers said. He sat at one of the
terminals in the Gunmen's perpetually dimmed office.
"You're good," Mulder said. "You get that off NPR too?"
"No," Byers said. "There was no other logical reason for you to come here.
Frohike's next porno party isn't until next week."
Thirty minutes later, three geeks sat at three terminals, each cross-
referencing names through a different database. "He seems to have had eccentric
reasons for crossing names off his list," Byers said. "You'd assume that they
were all people he'd already bombed, but that appears not to be the case. Here
we have Lorenzo D. Falla, who was very much alive when he applied to have his
diver's license renewed a month ago."
"Do you have an address?" Mulder asked.
"Yeah, 273 Peterbrook, Pittsburgh, PA," he said.
"Great, print that," Mulder said.
"This is interesting," Frohike said.
"What?" asked Mulder.
"Gerald Freedman, former Private First Class of the Marine Corps, now
living as Loretta Freedman in Bangor, Maine. Ah, Bangor. What a town."
Mulder fidgeted, peered over the other men's shoulders and looked at the
clock. "Do you *mind?*" Frohike asked. "You're making me anxious."
"Hey Langley," Mulder said, "I'll bet you five bucks that you can't finish
researching your list before Frohike here finishes his."
"Please, we're not ignorant children," Langley, said, not turning from his
computer screen. "Twenty bucks."
About eleven o'clock at night Scully called Skinner from the F.B.I. lab.
The phone rang several times before Skinner picked up, sounding sleepy.
"Hello?" he said.
"Sir, it's me," she said. "The most recent ink mark on this last is across
the name Terrence White. He lives locally, outside Arlington."
"That's the guy," Skinner said. His voice held no uncertainty.
"Sir, are you sure? How do you--"
"I just know," Skinner replied. "He's got a cement pineapple on his front
Terry was channel surfing, and coming across 99 varieties of crap. Game
show . . . game show . . . stupid infomercial . . . his phone started ringing.
"Jean, you gonna get that?" he shouted to his wife. "Jean?" No response.
She must have gone to bed, and the woman slept like the dead. Cursing quietly,
he grabbed the rims of his wheelchair and pushed himself into the kitchen.
There was a cordless around here, but he'd be damned if he could ever find the
thing. It usually ended up under the couch, where he couldn't get it. The
phone rang and rang. Terry's answering machine had a long delay before it
picked up because it took him a long time to get to the phone. Finally, he
grabbed the receiver and said, "Hello?"
"Mr. White?" came an unfamiliar voice. "I'm calling from the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. If you receive a suspicious package in the mail
tomorrow or the next day, it is extremely important that you not open it."
"Oh, yeah, right, and this message will self-destruct in ten seconds.
Don't you people have anything better to do?" he said, and hung up. His son's
drunken fraternity friends were getting more obnoxious all the time. He started
to wheel himself away and then the phone rang again.
"God damn it," he said. He backed up, picked up the phone again and said,
"Get a job," then pushed down the hang-up button. He left the phone off the
hook this time. He wheeled himself back into the living room, grumbling. He
grabbed the remote control off his end table and picked up surfing where he left
At ten a.m. the next day, Mulder was still in bed. He'd warned his co-
workers that even he wasn't enough of a workaholic to go straight back to the
office after a week like he'd had. Besides, sleeping felt wonderful. Being
able to take painkillers whenever he wanted felt wonderful. Not having to
listen to bad rap or psychotic shrieks felt wonderful. Mulder's phone started
ringing. That wasn't so wonderful, but he figured it was a price people paid
for freedom. He groped for the phone by his bedside and picked it up. "Hello?"
"Did I wake you?" Scully asked.
"Sorta," he said. "What time is it?" he looked at the clock. "Crap. Boy,
am I a slug."
"I wanted to let you know that David Eddy is still on the loose, and that
Skinner's got two agents outside his hospital room door as protection. I also
wanted to tell you to be careful. The ISU did a risk assessment and they think
it's possible Eddy could come after you or me, if he thinks we were in some kind
of plot to set him up."
"We were," Mulder pointed out.
"Well, don't panic, but don't let your guard down," she said.
"That's never been a problem for me," he said.
"There's something else. No one's been able to reach Terrence White yet.
His phone's not giving a busy signal anymore, but no one's answering it. Agents
have been leaving message after message," she said.
"I can go over and talk to him," Mulder said.
"You sure? How are you feeling?" she asked.
"Hell, I'm not in jail. I'm on cloud nine. I'll be all right--I promise
I'll stay in touch," he said.
"All right, I guess there's nothing I could say to dissuade you, anyway,"
"Nope," he said cheerfully. "Talk to you later." Mulder hung up.
Terry White worked part-time at the local youth center. Sometimes it could
be rewarding, sometimes it could be pure hell. Today had been a little of both,
and he was just as happy to be able to wheel himself the three blocks home for
lunch. Terry had a PAWS dog, a black lab named Thelma, who did things like turn
on lights Terry couldn't get to and dig the cordless phone out from under the
couch. Thelma trotted contentedly alongside Terry with her tongue lolling out.
She wore a leash and harness, but that was mostly to carry her "Don't pet me,
I'm working" button. Terry knew she wasn't about to run off.
When they got to Terry's driveway he opened the mailbox and pulled out his
mail. Bills, bills, disability check from the VA, that was good, and more
bills. He stashed them in the backpack hanging from the handles of his chair
and headed up to the house. The postman had stuck a package too big to fit in
the mailbox inside the screen door of the house. Terry scooted up close to it
and bumped his knee into the screen. Then he backed up and hit the cement
pineapple on his front porch. He hated that stupid pineapple. What had Jean
been thinking when she bought that thing? He leaned forward to grab the package
but found he couldn't reach it anymore. Well, never mind, that was what Thelma
was for. He unhooked her from her harness and worked himself out of her way.
"Go fetch, girl," he told her. "Bring it here." Thelma sniffed the
package and whined. She turned and looked at him inquiringly. "Come on, bring
it here," he coaxed. She sniffed the package again, slurped it a couple of
times, and then backed away. "Jesus, Thel, what's the matter? Did somebody
subscribe me to the bomb of the month club?" Terry asked. Suddenly he
remembered the call from last night. That had to have been bullshit--hadn't it?
With Thelma out of the way Terry made another go at retrieving the package,
this time wheeling up alongside and leaning sideways over the chair's armrest.
He snagged it with his fingertips and pulled it into his lap. His name and
former military rank were written in black ink on the paper wrapping, in a hand
he didn't recognize. There was no return address. What the hell was this? He
held it up to his ear and shook it.
"Mr. White! Mr. White, don't do that!"
Terry turned around and saw some nut running up the street at him. The guy
reached into his pocket and pulled out a wallet that might have contained a
picture of his pet beagle, for all Terry could tell at this distance.
"I'm a federal agent," claimed the nut. "Mr. White, what you're holding is
Terry's upper-body coordination was not so great. He startled, turned to
look at the box in his hands and then dropped it on his knee. He grabbed for it
and knocked it further away instead, straight toward the running nut. As it
struck the ground both men shouted, "Holy fuck!" and flung their arms up over
The nut, looking very shaken, walked up to Terry and displayed his wallet
again, which did in fact contain an ID and badge. "Let's just back away, shall
we?" he said, "and wait for the nice people from ATF to get here."
The agents guarding Skinner's door switched off at noon. The fresh set
walked up to their tired colleagues carrying a box of doughnuts. One of the men
who'd been up all night looked at the box and said, "Man, Sherwood, you are a
"I know it," said Sherwood. "But I am a cruel and vengeful god. You gotta
guess what's in here before you can have any." He hid the box behind his back.
His partner and the two other agents surrounded him, all taking part in good-
They didn't notice the shadow slipping behind their backs.
Skinner was startled out of a sound sleep. Someone was touching him. He
opened his eyes and saw the blurred image of a figure standing above him. The
face was one he'd seen in visions, and before that in nightmares, hundreds of
times. Something cold and metallic was being held to Skinner's neck.
"So you decided to come pay me a visit," was all Skinner said.
"Yeah," replied David Eddy. "We've come full circle now. It's funny that
you're old. Somehow, I didn't imagine you as old."
Skinner, who didn't think of himself as old, said, "It happens to everyone
"Not really," Eddy said. "Not to me, last time. You saw to that."
Skinner didn't pretend not to know what he was talking about. "You were
ready to pull that pin," he said. "You wanted to die."
"Only because I was desperate," Eddy said, half-shouting now. "Because of
what you fucking people did to my country."
"The Vietnamese were busy killing each other before America ever got
involved," Skinner said. "Besides, I thought your father was one of us 'fucking
people.'" He heard the clicking sound of a gun hammer being drawn back.
Skinner could not keep the muscles of his back and jaw from tightening.
Eddy's voice was deadly quiet now. "This isn't about politics or national
boundaries," he said. "It's about karma, about retribution. This was meant to
happen." He pressed the muzzle of the gun hard into Skinner's neck.
"There's nothing I can do about the past," Skinner said.
Scully walked into the hospital corridor and found Skinner's guards
wrangling over doughnuts. "What are you doing?" she asked.
"Uh, nothing," said one of them.
"I can see that," she said. "There's a man in there you're supposed to be
protecting." She stalked past them toward Skinner's room.
David Eddy jammed the muzzle of his gun into Walter Skinner's neck. He
wanted to savor this moment, to give Skinner a little taste of the terror and
helplessness of a child alone during war. Eddy knew perfectly well what had
happened to him was not all Skinner's fault. It was God's fault, if there was a
God. But God was absent and untouchable, and Skinner was here.
The fact that Skinner was here, at Eddy's mercy, proved Eddy's cause was
just. Karmic law only permitted just things to happen. "There is one thing you
can do to atone for the past," he whispered, up against Skinner's burned ear.
"You can die."
He saw Skinner close his eyes.
"Stop right there."
Eddy glanced up and saw the female agent who'd been at his house the
previous night. She stood in the doorway with her legs apart, pointing a gun at
him. The look on her face told him she was prepared to fire.
"Scully," Skinner said.
"Put the gun on the floor and put your hands up, or I'll shoot," she said.
"You shouldn't do that in a hospital," Eddy told her. "Extra oxygen in the
air and everything. You'll blow the place up."
Her hard expression didn't soften one bit. "Put the gun on the floor," she
Eddy thought about it. He thought about prison life, about living on Death
Row for the next dozen years with a sense of failure. He made his choice.
"Fuck that," he said, and began pressing on the trigger.
The woman fired.
Then there was nothing but the light.
Scully lowered her gun, watching Eddy's body slide down the wall. His
pulped skull left a smear of red against the hospital white. Outside the room,
there were people shouting, running.
Skinner looked up at her with wide, brown eyes, curiously naked-looking
without his glasses. It seemed to take him a few moments to catch his breath.
When he did, he said, "Thank you."
One Month Later
After Skinner's first full day of work, his eyes were killing him. He'd
passed the Bureau's vision test and had re-certified with his gun, but that had
not taken the full eight hours a workday did. He leaned his elbows on his desk
and pressed his fingertips to his eyelids. His secretary buzzed him. Skinner
hit the intercom button and said, "Yeah, Jane, what is it?"
"Agent Mulder would like to see you sir," she said.
Ordinarily, Skinner would have told him to make an appointment and come
back later, but he really owed the guy. Mulder had gone to the ropes, working
to save Skinner, and he'd taken more than his share of licks. "Send him in,"
Skinner said. He let his glasses fall back into place and settled himself into
a calm, authoritative pose.
Mulder came in carrying a thin black book which he'd shut around his
forefinger. "Hi, sir, I won't take up much of your time," he said. "I just
wanted to show you something." He set the book down on Skinner's desk and let
it fall open to the page he'd marked with his finger. On the right-hand leaf
was a picture. It was of a beautiful Asian woman, reclining on a flower. Her
expression was both kind and sad.
"Recognize her?" Mulder asked. The look on Mulder's face said that he
already knew Skinner did.
"I've seen that before," Skinner said. He ran his fingertips over the
"Can you tell me where?" Mulder asked.
"Vietnam," Skinner breathed. "She was in a ruined temple. There were--"
he found he couldn't speak of the burned bodies lying at her feet. "I thought
she was very lovely," he said instead.
"She's a kind of Buddhist saint, or bodhisattva," Mulder explained. "The
word literally means 'Enlightenment being.' In China, they call her Kuan Yin,
the Bodhisattva of Compassion. They also call her the Iron Lady of Mercy."
"I thought she might be some Asian version of the Virgin Mary," Skinner
"She is, more or less," Mulder said. "She's a very popular object of
veneration in countries that practice the Pure Land denomination of Buddhism.
That includes Vietnam."
Skinner looked up at him. "What does this mean?" he asked.
Mulder shrugged. "I don't know," he said. "I just thought it was
suggestive that David Eddy kept going on about karma. Well, that and the fact
that you kept seeing an old woman."
"The old woman was Caucasian," Skinner said, "and she looks nothing like
this at all. She's ugly, and this woman is . . ." he shrugged, letting the
sentence trail off. He found he didn't know the right word for what Kuan Yin
"Zen Buddhism is also popular in Vietnam," Mulder said. "The Zen Buddhists
are particularly disdainful of appearances. There's a story about two
Enlightened masters having a conversation: 'What is Buddha?' says one. 'Shit on
a stick,' says the other. That's to show that even the homeliest, basest things
contain the seeds of Enlightenment. A Christian parallel would be Jesus saying,
'blessed are the poor,' or 'I was hungry and you gave me food, I was sick and
you visited me.'"
Skinner was silent for some time. He remembered looking at the statue in
the ruined temple and thinking, "God help us."
"I guess it's a good idea to watch who you pray to," Skinner said at last.
"You never know who may be listening."
Rosalie Torres sat typing by the phone at the Washington, D.C., office of
the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Her day job was as an
elementary schoolteacher. Rosalie had once lost a student to a man who posed as
a "talent scout" for a juvenile modeling agency. Unfortunately, that was how
she'd learned about NCMEC. She spent her evenings here now, hoping to take the
call that would reunite a family with their lost child.
The front door opened and she glanced up. A man entered, immaculate in his
navy-blue suit and striped tie. He was balding, bespectacled, and looked about
fiftyish, like Rosalie herself. Even still, she could tell he had a pretty good
body under that suit coat of his. She couldn't help smiling up at him with
extra warmth. "Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yeah," he said. "I was wondering how someone went about volunteering."
She could just feel her heart going pitter-pat. "Oh, I have a volunteer
form right here," she said. She pulled one out, attached it to a clipboard and
pushed it across the desk at him. "May I ask why you're interested?" She hoped
he and his wife hadn't lost a child. She hoped he didn't have a wife, period.
Rosalie thought he looked a little embarrassed as he filled out the form.
She hoped she hadn't asked anything rude. "I have a colleague, a behavioral
scientist, who lost a sister once," he said. "He never stops talking about her.
That, and . . . I had an unfortunate experience with violent crime recently.
I'm told that the only way to stop violence is to prevent it, to keep children
from getting damaged in the first place. I'd like to help do that. Maybe
that'll give some meaning to what happened, to me and to a lot of other people."
By now, Rosalie was absolutely lost. "Of course," she said, batting her
eyelashes at him. "You've come to the right place."
St. Vincent's Hospital
Miriam Rosen's fingers twisted in those of her husband, Chaim's. Chaim
looked down at her and loosed one hand to stroke her tangled, dark curls. "It's
all right, Mir," he said. "Push. Just push."
She cried out, her whole body spasming. Chaim tried not to think of the
last two times they'd done this. The Rosens had lost their first two children
to Tay-Sachs disease. The doctors had said done an amniocentesis and said that
this one was all right. This one would live.
"Push, Mir," he pressed.
"I'm trying!" she cried.
Before long the baby's wails filled the delivery room. "It's a boy," said
the doctor. "A beautiful little boy."
"It's David Aaron," Miriam gasped. They'd named him after a king and a
prophet. Chiam reached out and stroked the fuzz on the baby's head. God
willing, they would be allowed to keep this one.
It was a new start, a new beginning.
Final Disclaimer/Just in Case You Care
The BBS posting from "Jr. Kazinsky" is a real posting I found on the net.
To this fellow and those like him I say: Dave Eddy is a professional imaginary
person specially trained to ignite bombs without hurting actual human beings.
Kids, don't try this at home. Also, if you're going to name yourself after a
criminal, learn to spell his name right.
I hope this should go without saying, but here goes anyway: I have no
particular grudge against persons of Asian descent, Vietnam veterans, adoptees,
corrections officers, the Brooklyn federal detention facility, postal workers
(gruntled or disgruntled), or federal inmates who assemble chairs.
What I said about the Brooklyn Detention Center firing 20 employees for
taking bribes is true (i.e., I got the info from a news article. The news
writers could, of course, be working for Them). The facts that Dave Eddy
recited about Buddhism are also true, although he gave them his own peculiar
interpretation. I doubt many Buddhists would agree with his rationalization of
violence any more than Christians would.
P.S. "Fred Przybyz" is a real name. He's a guy I occasionally have to
send faxes to for my employer. He doesn't really work for UPS, though.
P.P.S. If you really are a federal agent searching for phrases like "I
want to become the next Unabomber" on the Internet, I didn't mean it!!!