Disclaimer: Reggie Purdue, Bill Patterson, Fox and Bill Mulder all belong to Chris Carter and 10-13 Productions. To believe otherwise is an X-file in itself.
Author’s Notes: I fall to my knees, bruising the tender flesh as I hit the ground. My hands are clasped in front of me and my face is upturned, my eyes wide open. My lips part and whisper in a fervent voice, “Please send me feedback. Please.” XScout@hotmail.com
I don't know why I said yes. I could have given any excuse - I have a case, I've got a previous engagement, I'm flying out tonight. But noooo. I just had to nod my head stupidly, ignoring the fact that I was on the phone and he couldn't see me. I was too damn shocked that he had called. Add to that the massive coronary I almost had when he asked to meet me, and one could understand my state of confusion.
I haven't had dinner with my father in, what? Sixteen years I believe. In that time I think I've only seen him on maybe two dozen occasions. So I mumbled something resembling an affirmative and numbly wrote down the name of the restaurant he wanted to meet me at. And now I am in my car, heading west towards God knows what.
I don't need this now. I don't need one of his lectures on top of everything else. I have forty-three open case files and another fifty-some sitting on my desk, waiting. Always waiting. Names and faces of men and women, little boys and girls, who can wait forever because they have an eternity of death before them. But I still feel a sense of urgency every time I pick up a photo, read through a report. Not because Patterson expects me to solve these things in ten minutes, not because I want to show my fellow profilers that I am not crazy, and certainly not because I have anything better to do with my life besides work.
It is because I know that the longer they sit waiting, the more faces and names join them. Every day I ask myself whether or not I could have saved this woman, or that little boy, if I had picked up their case file one day earlier. I try to work as fast as I can, but it never seems to be fast enough. Patterson says I need to apply myself.
Patterson can kiss my ass.
I get up at five in the morning, get to work by six, work until eleven at night, come home and work some more. I go to bed at two or three in the morning and I dream about work. Apply myself? What the hell does he define as 'applying oneself'?? Self-righteous bastard.
The other nine profilers sneer at me, call me a brown-noser. They snicker when Patterson chews me out for the littlest indiscretion. Apparently they never grew out of name calling and childish pranks. It all comes down to one simple fact - they are jealous. Jealous that my solve rate is the highest in the unit. Jealous that I have more commendations in my jacket then all of them put together. Jealous that I made it so far so fast. What do they know? Do they think being Patterson's 'Golden Boy' is something worth being jealous over??
I sleep but I never get any rest, plagued by nightmares of serial killers and butchered bodies. I can barely eat, the sight of food is enough to make me nauseous, my diet consisting of coffee and snacks that I don't really taste. All day my head is filled with the thoughts and emotions of murderers and rapists, the biggest and the baddest. Patterson only throws the worst ones my way. How generous. I can never stop thinking about a case, never. When I'm in the shower, when I watch TV, when I drive my car. Because I know that every day a file sits on my desk, that is the day where another child will never come home from school, or a woman will go out for a run and disappear forever.
If I can save them, aren't I duty bound to do my best? I am not being egotistical. I can solve these cases, faster than the others too. But that is my gift... too bad it's nonrefundable. What do they think? That I just wave my wand and *presto!* - a profile that will catch the bad guy? I put everything I am into what I do, I put my heart, my soul, my very life into these cases. Even when a case is closed, a killer caught, I am given no reprieve. Because I know that on my desk, there are always others. Waiting.
But today I did something I haven't done since I joined the FBI - I went home on time. The look on Patterson's face as I walked out the door was priceless. Told him I had a personal matter to attend to. He just furrowed his brows and squinted his eyes as if he suspected that I was lying, as if I would just drop what I was doing and saunter out of there for any whim that caught my fancy. Fucker. How dare he? It doesn't matter really, I take my work with me everywhere I go. Having a photographic memory can be a real bitch sometimes.
Tonight however, my mind is occupied by something other than the ruminations of murderers. What could my father possibly want to talk to me about? For a moment my blood runs cold - could it be about Samantha? Have they found her? Is she alive? But then my heart starts beating again. No, even a callous son-of-a-bitch like my father wouldn't invite me out to dinner to tell me something about Sam. Not a single other plausible reason comes to mind and I am left to worry and wonder. Luckily I pull into the parking lot of the restaurant before I start to have an anxiety attack. Nasty things, those are. Can't breathe, nausea threatens, head pounds, muscles tremble. Yes, I am quite familiar with them. What do you expect with a job like mine?
I put the gear in park and slowly get out of the car, locking the door before shutting it. I turn and head towards the entrance but the sharp report of gunfire breaks my stride. I whirl around, my hand reaching for my holster, panicking when I realize I left my weapon at home. My eyes search for the glint of gunmetal, any hint as to the location of the shooter. A minute passes in tense silence and I sigh, giving a little chuckle of relief. Just a car backfiring. I'm too damn jumpy. Add another job hazard to the list.
Entering through the double doors, I walk up to the maitre d’. "Reservations for Mulder?"
His eyes move down to the paper on his mahogany stand. "Mulder? Ah, yes, here we are. The other member of your party has already arrived. This way please."
We walk between aisles of tables and I thank my foresight in taking the extra time to stop by home for a quick shower and a change of clothes. Fancy restaurant, not my usual kind of place. Not my father's either. He never was one to flaunt our money and I can't help but wonder why he chose this place. I can at least be thankful that this is not the kind of establishment where he could raise either his voice or his hand to me.
My roaming eyes finally settle on my father and I nod at him. All I get in return is that perpetual scowl of his that only seems to have two variations - angry and grim. Right now it is the grim version. Better than angry. I thank the maitre d’ and sink into my seat, across from the frowning man.
"Dad," I say by way of greeting.
He doesn't reply, he just appears to study me with those cold eyes. I wait, my heart pounding in my throat, wait until I am ready to scream at him to say something. I swallow my panic and try to take the initiative. "Dad, why-"
"The shrimp bisque here is good, you should try it."
My mouth hangs open in surprise. Well, it was a start. "Maybe. But Dad-"
"I prefer the steak though, more of a *man's* meal. Don't you agree, Fox?"
I clench my jaw until it hurts. He has to denigrate me every chance he gets, imply that I am not man enough, that I couldn't protect my sister. The anger melts away. But he is right. I couldn't. He must sense my change in mood because he folds his menu closed and sets it on the table.
"I called you here to talk about your work."
"My work?" I am completely confused now. My father has never shown the slightest interest in my job before. I wonder if he even knows what I do.
"I heard you received another commendation."
I am thrown for a loop by his last statement and it takes me a moment to get my bearings. "Yes. For 'Going above and beyond the call of duty'."
He snorts. "I read in the paper that you took out Henderson yourself, that you rescued a little girl."
I nod carefully. Is this another jab? Another ploy to try and crush my sense of worth? Remind me that I had failed to rescue a different little girl, so long ago? No, I don't think so. There is something about his expression that tells me he is being earnest. "Henderson will go to trial for the murder of seven children and then he will either die in a gas chamber or spend the rest of his life in a lonely prison cell. That is all that matters to me."
He purses his lips. "I wanted to congratulate you on a job well done."
I catch myself this time, before I let my jaw drop open. Congratulate me?? Why now? Why this time? And if he read the news report then he must have known I was injured in the process. So why was Reggie my only visitor while I spent three days in the hospital recovering from a stab wound? Oh, Patterson came too, but that was only to drop off some files for me to work on while I was 'doing nothing'.
"Thank you," I mumble. Luckily the waiter saves me from having to say anything else as he appears at my elbow and asks what he can do for us today. Dad orders two medium rare steaks and two glasses of champagne, handing the waiter our menus and waving him away before I can even mention that I don't particularly want steak. Not that I would say anything, not after the statement he made earlier.
"How many commendations does that make?" He worries his lower lip and flaps a hand in dismissal, "Never mind, I know that there are enough."
"Enough for what?" This doesn't sound good.
"Enough that you will be allowed some leeway as to what you investigate."
"Leeway?" What the hell was he talking about?
Anger flashes in his eyes as if I was trying to make this difficult for him. "Leeway. That you can start to seriously look into what happened to your sister."
Ah, there it is. It always came down to Samantha in the end. "I *have* been looking Dad, I have. But there are so many cases that need-"
"Need? Are you saying that those strangers are more important than your sister?" His voice is as sharp as steel.
I shake my head vigorously. "No, no not at all. What I'm trying to say is that I have done everything I possibly can. There is so little to go on, so little evidence. It is impossible to start with nothing and get something substantial."
"Nothing?? What do you mean nothing? You were *there* for Christ's sake!"
"Dad, you know I can't remember what happened." Suddenly that reason feels flimsy and I have trouble saying it as firmly as I mean to. He is right, I was there. I should know what happened. It is stored away somewhere in the inexplicable workings of my brain and all attempts to find it have thus far been for naught. But that is no excuse. I should remember.
"Why don't you try... what do you call it? Repressive... no, regression hypnosis? You believe in psychological crap like that."
Wow. That is the first time I have ever heard my father even mention what field I majored in. At least I now know that he wasn't totally oblivious to my college years. "Actually, I have thought about it, but I'm just not sure. From studies we did at Oxford, hypnosis was only helpful in forty-nine percent of the cases. Most people recalled useless information or even entirely false scenarios."
"I should think that with your memory, the results would be much more accurate," he harumphs.
"Well, it is possible, but-"
"But what? Don't you think that every conceivable method that could help you discover what happened to your sister is worth serious consideration? Or are you too busy with your *other* investigations?"
I can tell that no matter what I say, it won't make a difference. If that is the way he sees it, then that's the way it is. I open my mouth to reply but he stands up before I can say anything.
"I'm going to the restroom." He strides away, his scowl plastered across his face.
I sit there for a moment or two, adjusting to the fact that he is gone, however temporarily. God, whenever I am with him I seem to instantly revert to a twelve year old kid who stammers and stutters. I am a fucking Oxford graduate, top of my class both there and at Quantico, I have quite a vocabulary and a witty repartee. Therefore, I should be able to verbally blow the bastard out of the water. Key word - *should*. No such luck. I am so pathetic.
My eyes roam over the other patrons in the restaurant as my mind wanders down a path of self-loathing. At least I'm not quite as pathetic as that guy sitting in the corner though. He is spending his last few dollars on one more fine meal before he goes home and tells his wife that they are broke. Then there's the lawyer across the room who is having dinner with his secretary. At least he is getting some. The nice old lady three tables away appears to be having a lovely time with her family, unlike me. But wait, no, they aren't having such a wonderful time. Looks like they are all sucking up to her, waiting for her to die so they can have the inheritance. Vultures.
To my left is a couple - shit! I'm doing it again! Even when I'm sitting in the middle of an expensive restaurant, being berated by my father, I still manage to profile. I study my fellow diners, taking in their clothes, demeanor, expression, and other nuances that cannot be put into words, and I can come up with their profession, marital status, family ethics, and what kind of car they drive. I am usually ninety-nine percent accurate. So the guy drives a black Porsche, not a red one, things like that.
My eyes range over the tables around me. Politician, banker, accountant, politician, lawyer, art collector, politician. My, aren't we in the right place. High and mighty men who think they rule the world, forgetting that this nation is, in fact, a democracy. I sigh forlornly. This is why Patterson says that I am a natural; because I do it without thinking. Not in the sense of doing it without effort, but as in I do it without being fully aware that I am doing it. Such is my lot in life.
A body crosses in my line of vision and I glance up to see that my dad has returned. He sits down, his back stiff and his face hard. He could be carved in marble. Marble is very cold stone, how appropriate.
"So tell me about the case you are working on."
"What?" Just when I think I understand what it is he wants, he knocks me down again.
"Well, you said that these people *need* you more than your sister does, so I want to know what is so damn important that you can't take the time to investigate her disappearance." Accusing words from an emotionless face.
"Dad, I didn't say that. I said-"
"Do I have to repeat myself again?"
I cringe inwardly. That question was usually followed by a backhand to the face. But we are in public and I don't think he would attempt such physicality with a full grown man. "No Sir." I stare at my hands, trying to decide which of the forty-three cases I am currently working on would be considered 'important' to the man sitting in front of me. I come up with one that should hit a nerve. "There's a serial killer who is murdering little girls. Beats them to death and then cuts them open, removing their organs. Takes them to slaughterhouses and hangs them up like sides of beef."
I keep my voice low so that the other customers don't know of the atrocities committed by their fellow man. "He's killed five kids so far Dad, and if we don't find him soon there will be another nine year old girl who won't see her tenth birthday."
"And your sister is less important than that little girl? You would do everything in your power to find a stranger, but not your sister?" His voice is a harsh whisper, every syllable carefully enunciated.
"But Dad, there is evidence, this is recent, we have something to work with." My mind flashes to the evidence bags collected at the crime scene, filled with bloody implements, torn clothing, and a hair fiber or two. "I can make a difference, I can catch this guy before he takes another victim."
"You weren't even there when it happened!" he snarls. "Are you telling me that you can solve a crime without actually witnessing it?? Then why not one that you saw with your own eyes?"
"Dad, I don't-"
"What kind of a brother are you, that you can't even protect your little sister, and then you forget about it?? How convenient," he sneers.
"Maybe you don't want to know. Maybe you don't want to face the fact that she may be dead because of you, taken by some killer just like the one you're searching for right now." His voice is above a whisper now and the anger is clear in his words.
My fists clench the table cloth, my sweating palms dampening the fabric. "No, she can't be-"
"Maybe you've known all along that she is dead and that it is your fault, so you spend your life trying to atone by catching other killers." The other patrons are casting occasional glances our way, some disapproving, others curious.
My breathing is coming fast now, my heart pounding in my chest. "That's not why-"
"Think of it, Fox. Imagine you sister dangling from a meat hook, her insides torn from her body, her dead eyes staring into nothing. Imagine that and ask yourself whether or not it is worth your time to discover what happened."
People are openly staring now, but I am unaware of their shocked appraisal. I have gone white as a sheet, my muscles trembling as I gasp for breath. My mind is supplying me with a vivid image of the latest victim's body, every little detail of her gruesome death in glorious Technicolor. But she is Samantha. Her dark brown hair is soaked in blood, her hazel orbs clouded over with death. And I am holding the blade that cut her open, her life blood running down its steel, staining my hands and dripping to the floor.
The waiter, who I hadn't noticed standing by our table, chooses this moment to place a medium rare steak platter in front of me. Bloody juices and all. Bad idea.
I am out of my chair and sprinting across the room in an instant. By pure chance I make it to the restroom and into a stall before I violently retch what little I have in my stomach. I continue to dry heave long after, painful spasms rocketing through my abdomen. Finally it is over. I stand on shaking legs and flush the toilet before stumbling over to the sink. I place my palms on both sides for support and stare into the mirror. The face of a killer stares back.
I squeeze my eyes shut, ignoring the thoughts parading through my head. I did not kill her. I did not kill my sister. I did not kill Samantha. Perhaps not with my own two hands, but my lack of action on the part of her disappearance might certainly have signed her death warrant. It is a familiar argument, something I have to tackle with every single day of my life since that fateful night. But to have someone else repeat it to me, it makes it more real, more true.
Flipping on the water, I spit into the sink, wash my mouth out several times, and splash some of the cool liquid on my face. Running my wet fingers through my hair, I manage to regain some semblance of normalcy. But if one looks closely, they would notice the dark circles under my eyes, the hollowness in my cheeks, the paleness of my skin, the jerkiness of my movements. All the signs of a man on the verge of collapse, someone with too much stress in his life.
A hysterical chuckle escapes my lips. Stress? What stress??
Shaking my head, I step to the door and open it slowly, fearful of returning to that table. I turn the corner and find that I need not have worried. Both chairs are empty. I wave the maitre d’ over to where I stand. "What happened to the man who was with me?"
The maitre d’ cocks his head as though confused. "He left a few minutes ago, Sir. He said he had some urgent business to attend to and that I should have the food wrapped up and sent home with you. Ah, there's the waiter now. Henri!" He motions to the man carrying a large container that no doubt holds the untouched dinners. "Here you go. Everything is paid for. I am sorry you are not feeling well, I do hope that you come again when you are feeling better."
I take the offered container with a mumbled "Thank you". Out the door and into my car as fast as I can, I am soon driving down the road towards my apartment, my thoughts racing at the speed of my vehicle.
What if he is right? What if, by not investigating her disappearance more thoroughly, I had inadvertently caused Samantha's death? But I *had* investigated thoroughly. I have gone over every single police report pertaining to her case, reviewed all the evidence, taken countless notes, and filed endless reports. Nothing has ever come of it.
I have even tried to profile the kind of person who may have taken her, but I cannot get a hold on it. I am too close to it, I only have one incident to deal with, not several from which I can build a profile. Then a thought hits me, something so horrifying that I have to pull over and let the panic attack pass.
What if I can't profile the possible killer because *I* am he? I can't remember what happened, what if I blocked it out because I felt so guilty for killing her?
No. No! I could *never* hurt her! Not my baby sister, not sweet Sammy. Sure, she was a pest, but I loved her more than anything in the world. I *love* her more than anything in the world. Present tense. She is *not* dead.
I gain some control and pull carefully back onto the road. My mind is so occupied by this revelation that I find myself unlocking the door to my apartment, not even knowing how I have gotten here. Thank God I hadn't caused any accidents.
I close the door behind me and move into my living room. I leave the lights off. Dark is comforting, it's like an old friend, a place to hide from the world. But I cannot hide from myself.
What if my father is right? That I do what I do in an attempt to make up for allowing Samantha to be taken. I have a Ph.D. in psychology, I know what 'Survivor's Guilt' is. Or maybe I am so good at getting inside a killer's head because I am one myself. It's a possibility, however revolting. And a good investigator considers all possibilities.
The more I think about it, the less remote it seems. I had the opportunity, I had the weapon, I had the coincidental loss of memory. I close my eyes and try to forget these disturbing ideas.
It is dark, but there is enough light that I can see. And I see myself, my father's gun in hand, creeping up the stairs into the room I share with Samantha. She is sleeping so peacefully, her thick hair spilling across the pillow. I take the pillow from my bed and climb on top of her so that she cannot struggle. She wakes up at the movement and she starts to smile when she sees me. But then a look of terror creeps into her eyes as she notices the gun in my hand. I hold her down and smother her face with the pillow, pushing the barrel of the pistol into its feathery softness.
A muffled shot echoes in the night.
I jerk awake, out of breath, the room spinning as I sit up too quickly. Tears are drying on my cheeks, sweat stains my shirt. Where am I? Sam? My eyes adjust to the darkness and reveal that I am at home, on my couch. A nightmare.
The glint of metal catches my eye and I recognize it as my gun, lying on the coffee table. I reach over and pick up its familiar weight. It would be so easy. So very easy.
If I *did* kill her, then I deserve to die, right? Even if I didn't, it would still end the pain. No one would mourn me. My father would be angry that I gave up, my mother would be upset that I died in such an undignified manner, the boys at the VCS would jump for joy and say that they knew it would happen sooner or later. Patterson would be disappointed that he lost his profiling machine. Reggie would show up at the funeral though. My one and only friend.
I raise the gun to my head, my hand no longer shaking as I make my decision. No more pain, no more. My father's voice speaks in the darkness, "I knew it, I knew he never cared about finding her." My mother's words are laced with indignance, "Why couldn't he have been killed on a case, at least he would have died with honor." Shouts and cheers, the settling of bets were the response of my peers, and amid all that was Patterson, muttering about the caseload that his 'Golden Boy' had left behind. Reggie's voice was sad, full of regret, "Why would he do it? He had so much going for him."
I cock the hammer and tense my finger on the trigger.
"I knew he never cared about finding her."
"What about all these cases he left behind, who is going to solve them now?"
"Selfish bastard would rather give up than try a little harder to find the sister that *he* allowed to be taken."
"How many people are going to die because he took the easy way out?”
My father's and Patterson's voices trade off as they denigrate me for giving in to the despair.
Fuck them. I bite my lip and pull the trigger.
My finger won't move. I can't do it.
Sobs begin to wrack my body and I drop the gun to my lap. I lean forward, putting my face in my hands. I can't do it. But not because of my father, and not because of Patterson.
Because of Samantha. And because of the names and faces in the files on my desk. They are waiting. Always waiting.
I am waiting too.