Welcome To The Harem
[XFVCU 1x02] Exposition by Maidenjedi
Summary: A serial killer pits Krycek and Fowley against new challenges and old demons. Part of the XFVCU virtual series.
X Files VCU is a new virtual series situated
eighteen months after The Truth. If you missed the
pilot episode or want to know what it's all about,
you might like to check out the virtual series site
at http://xfvcu.deslea.com. Watch for next week's
episode, Salve Mea by Humbuggie, where Mulder and
Scully find themselves drawn into a case where
nothing is as it seems - not even their own team.
X Files: VCU 1x02
DISCLAIMER: Not mine
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set eighteen months after The
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-series, casefile, XFVCU.
SUMMARY: A serial killer presents the team with
challenges new and old.
VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com
AUTHOR SITE: http://users.pdsys.org/~maidenjedi
He walked out of the bar, his throat still raw from
that last Wild Turkey, the bartender's eighty-six
ringing in his ears.
Twisted lurch in his stomach, left foot over right,
and down he went. Face on the pavement, slick oil
and water and the smell of warm whiskey.
He closed his eyes, glad that the world had stopped
spinning for a moment.
He wasn't used to being drunk. The giddy sensation
that ran through his sinuses when he opened his
eyes was too much. The heavy sleepiness that
overcame him then was itself hard to handle. He
couldn't make a decision.
His formerly crisp white shirt stuck to his skin,
and his tie, loosened these many hours, bunched up
under his Adam's apple.
And if he wasn't entirely mistaken, he had to be in
the office in about four hours.
The sound of footsteps roused him from his drunken
haze enough to wonder what was happening. Dirty
work boots stood an inch from his nose, and the
sharp sound of metal scraping metal pricked at his
memory. That's a familiar sound, a universal sound
- he knew it not from life but countless bad
movies, crime shows on television.
His tumbling thoughts came together briefly to
inform his body of what that sound was - a
Body reacted, hands twitch to find purchase on the
pavement and push up, feet go flat and knees bent,
head lifted and just as he finally sits up, the
blade connects with his collar and his tie is gone.
No blood, not yet, and the switchblade was gone for
The figure standing in muddy, old work boots made
no sound as it reached down and grabbed the man by
his shirt. It pulled the man to his feet and
mumbled something, some instruction that was
garbled as though the tongue was too thick.
The man kicked, weakly because the whiskey still
coursed through him.
The figure laughed, a twittering laugh that didn't
fit the masculine frame. How the man registered
this, when he didn't even know for sure if he was
standing, was a mystery.
He knew the car when they reached it, it was his
car, clean and sleek and expensive. It smelled
like the cologne he wore to work everyday, it
smelled like success. Like money.
The figure already had his keys and was starting
He wondered why it was singing.
Later, the cutting would begin and he would scream
to ears that would not hear him.
And when they found him, in his Armani suit and his
freshly pressed shirt, they would wonder.
Instead of a tie, his bloodstained throat would
bear a length of lace.
Alex rolled over and hit the snooze button on the
alarm, muttering a curse in Russian. It had been
nearly a decade since he'd had to use an alarm
clock. In the interim, he'd never needed one,
always going by instinct and running on adrenaline.
The yawning, stretching figure at his side was the
primary difference in this new life.
Alex smiled into his pillow as Marita curled up to
"Ignore it," she said, voice still heavy with
He wanted to. He wanted to stay here and play
hooky, kiss Marita in at least two dozen new
The alarm went off again, and Alex groaned.
"Sorry, darlin', duty calls."
The six o'clock wake-up call was self-enforced.
Alex was determined to make the most of this
assignment, even if he had to face demons and worse
to do it. There was little point in playing the
bad boy now, playing to their suspicions and their
He brushed his teeth and took a hot shower,
performed this strange domestic ritual with an
enthusiasm only a newly freed prisoner might. When
Marita took her turn, now moaning a little from the
trials of early pregnancy, he couldn't help but
grin. He made his way into the kitchen, dressed
and ready to grab a quick bite to eat, nearly
humming from the sheer pleasure of such a normal
Even his ringing cell phone did nothing to dampen
"My, don't you sound chipper this morning!" The
female voice on the other end purred with a similar
"I always knew I was really a morning person," he
replied. "What's up? I'll be in the office in
half an hour, what couldn't wait?"
"I just missed your voice, is all."
His wife came up behind him bearing a mug of
coffee. "Tell Diana to stop flirting and get to
Alex laughed. "Diana, you're making my wife
Marita pecked his cheek. "Remind her about lunch."
"Marita wants you to remember lunch," Alex said
into the phone before taking a sip of his coffee.
"Tell her we'll have to reschedule," Diana replied,
now all business. "We've got a case, Alex."
"You knew it wouldn't take long."
"Yes, but I assumed they'd relegate us to the
basement for awhile, let the others take the field
"John and Monica already have a local case they've
been working, and A.D. Skinner wants us on this
one. He seems to think it's more up our alley."
"What're the specs?"
"I'll tell you more when you get here, but pack a
bag. We have a flight out in four hours, up to New
York. I waited because Scully's finishing an
autopsy for us on this one."
"Damn, so soon?" Alex felt a slight headache
creeping up on him.
"This was already a Bureau case, but it's got the
locals baffled. Five murders, ritualistic taint,
but no leads at all. Forensics is having a field
"Gonna tell me more, or use this cliffhanger as
incentive to get me to break the speed limits?"
"When you get here. I've got some paperwork to
push, so I'll let you say goodbye to your wife and
get your ass moving."
"Aye-aye, cap'n." Alex hung up the phone and felt
an odd, giddy sensation run through his stomach.
Marita came over to him and took the coffee cup
from his hand, setting it down on the table, and
the cell phone out from between his shoulder and
ear. She took his face in her hands and smiled up
at him, almost making him call Diana back right
then and telling her to do this one solo.
His wife's eyes shined at him, reminding him with a
protective surge of energy just why he was going to
the Hoover Building when he could spend the day
with her. It may be just another nutcase in New
York, but it was just another nutcase that had made
them both run for their lives. They'd fought too
long to forget that.
He kissed her soundly. Alex wasn't going to
Diana Fowley was in her element, and it showed.
She sat at her desk in the basement office, looking
as comfortable as one who had sat there for the
majority of nine years. She scribbled furiously on
a legal pad, taking notes from the file spread out
before her. She munched quietly on a poppy-seed
bagel, taking occasional sips from a coffee mug
bearing a smiling alien and the words "Aliens Do It
"I hate that coffee mug, Diana. Where on earth did
you get it?" said a feminine voice from the
Monica Reyes smiled at Diana as she crossed the
room to her own desk, which was more cluttered than
Diana's but somehow less obviously a part of the
room, despite Monica's lengthier stay here.
"It was Fox's once, I think. I found it in a box
when we were cleaning out the back part of the
office. I cleaned it and kept it. Too garish?"
"No, just not something I'd expect to see in your
hand. But it does fit down here, doesn't it?"
Monica sat down and booted her computer, turning
away from Diana so she could work on her own case.
The basement had been home to the X-Files division
since the very beginning, when Diana and her then-
partner Fox Mulder had lobbied to open the files
for formal investigation. In those days, it had
been just the two of them, and it'd really been
Fox's baby. The bulletin board behind his desk had
borne clippings from tabloids, pictures of Bigfoot,
a map of the Bermuda Triangle, all the usual
nonsense that people expected to see.
It was in the files themselves that the real
purpose of the office had been secreted away. All
the pictures of Bigfoot couldn't really balance out
the horror and wonder of the truly paranormal. Fox
had just liked to feed the rumor mill. No doubt
this mug was part of that.
She'd missed that, the defiance of public opinion.
She still missed it, whilst playing mediator and
diplomat, never really pushing the boundaries.
Diana intended to fix that in a way. Maybe this
first field case would prove an avenue to show off
the talents that had gotten her as criticized, if
not as ostracized, as Fox Mulder.
"Whatcha got, Agent Fowley?" John Doggett entered
the room, bearing two cups of coffee and a bag of
donuts. He set one cup and the bag on Monica's
desk and moved to his own.
"Good morning, John. Serial killer, I think. New
"This is an odd one. All healthy, young urban
professionals in their early thirties. I've got
five so far, and the fifth victim is on Scully's
table as we speak. But other than that, I'm
"For me?" Alex Krycek came into the room, and a
shift in the air gave Diana the distinct impression
of window shades being shut. Monica turned nearly
imperceptibly to face her computer with more
concentration, and John walked around behind his
desk, not sitting but standing defensively, his
Alex's expression shifted, too. The carefree,
gosh-what-a-great-day light in his eyes faded, his
mouth hardened into a line.
Diana felt her instincts kick in, her own muscles
tightening defensively and her mind already
assessing each position. So much for the relaxed
atmosphere she had been enjoying.
"Alex, I'm glad you're here. We've got a lot to go
over before we leave."
He focused his attention, Diana noticed, strictly
on her. Alex did not acknowledge the others,
though John was watching him and no doubt
calculating a cutting remark, should one be needed.
Diana intended to prevent that.
"My bag's in the car. Did you want to carpool to
"That'll work. Meanwhile, we've got to meet
Scully. I want her to give us an idea of the
forensics in this case, so we know what we're
dealing with when we get there."
"The N.Y. office didn't do a sufficient job?"
"It's not that," she said. She packed the file and
her notes into her briefcase, along with some extra
pens from her desk. Bag and coffee in hand, she
led Alex out of the office and to the elevator,
feeling the tension lift almost immediately. Alex
pressed the button and offered to take her
briefcase, and she let him.
"This case landed in our office because forensics
up there hasn't been able to make heads or tails of
it. No profile has been worked up yet, because
there's so little to go on."
"So how do they know this is a serial killer?"
"Because of the details. Each of the victims was a
young male in his early thirties, all professionals
of some kind but unrelated as far as the
investigation has revealed. Each was killed in an
unremarkable but uncharacteristic location. This
last one, for instance, was found in a parking lot
outside a seedy bar on the wrong side of town."
They left the building, and Diana moved her bag
into Alex's car.
"At the D.C. lab. I didn't want to bother with
Quantico, and it was so early. The body arrived
around midnight and she was working on it at five."
Alex shook his head. "Okay, so what else?"
"The victims were killed in the exact same fashion.
Faces cut open, at least two stab wounds to the
chest. They were found in the same positions, face
up and hands at their sides. Literally - their
hands were cut off."
"Damn." Alex flinched, and it took her a moment to
register the similarities with his own maiming, but
by then he was all business again.
"Yeah," she said. "But the kicker is the marker.
Each victim was dressed in his suit from work that
day, carefully buttoned up and hair groomed, all of
it. Except their ties. None of them were wearing
ties. Just a length of white lace."
"So no fingerprints, nothing? No witnesses? I
find it hard to believe that guys fitting that
description are out on the town without escorts or
"Nope. Coroner pegged the first murder at around 2
"Right. And in places these guys wouldn't
ordinarily touch with a ten-foot pole."
"Certainly sounds intriguing. So how is this an X-
file? Where's the ghostie, the alien bounty
hunter?" Alex was serious.
"Alex, come on! The cutting, the lace, it all
speaks to ritual."
"Well, maybe it does, but that's not our
department. Doesn't Behavioral Sciences get dibs
on a case like this?"
"Maybe in the past. But with the crime rate
increasing and those crimes all slanted toward the
decidedly unnatural, if not downright
preternatural, we get dibs."
Alex sighed, more from acquiescence than annoyance.
"Alright. Is there anything else?"
Diana grinned. She was already loving this, being
involved again, doing real work for a legitimate
cause. "Two of the victims' killers have already
been caught, or so I've been told."
"But I thought you said this was a serial killer,"
Alex said, confused.
"It has to be. So far we have nothing to suggest
otherwise. But one of these guys confessed, and
the other was caught sleeping in the doorway of the
victim's house. That one's been let go due to lack
of evidence, but the field office has been tailing
him just in case. The third victim was the one
that got the feds' attention in the first place.
The first two were N.Y.P.D."
"So are we walking into a pissing contest, Diana?"
They pulled up to the lab building, and neither
could help but notice a familiar navy blue sedan
parked next to them. Fox's car.
Diana didn't answer him.
"There's not much to be found here that wasn't
already covered in the first examination."
"I figured as much. Anything that sticks out,
If the basement had been a cold place, Diana was
certain that this medical bay was hell.
Scully stood on one side of the gurney, clipboard
in hand, and Diana couldn't help but note how close
Scully was standing to a tool tray and a scalpel.
Alex had refused to come further than the front
room, and Fox was standing off to one side,
positioned equidistant from the women. His hands
were in his pockets and he was chewing sunflower
"Not much. The attention to detail does. The body
was found in a parking lot, according to the
coroner's report, and that makes no sense from what
I've got here."
"Yes, but early forensics said the body had been
moved. It had to have been, there was no blood
spilt at the scene."
"The killer was meticulous. No prints, no hair, no
anything. But the cut pattern is precise,
practiced. And he used latex gloves, there were
traces of it in some of the wounds."
Fox spoke up for the first time. "How do you know
it was a he?"
Scully pursed her lips and cocked her head to the
side. Diana knew the look, and knew she was partly
why Scully was making it now.
Not that she could argue with it.
"Mulder, there is no reason to believe a woman did
this, I told you. The guy weighed 220. And he
lifted weights, you can tell by the size of his
chest and arms. A woman couldn't take this guy."
Fox didn't blink. "Scully, the cut pattern
suggests a feminine eye for detail. You said so
yourself," she glared at him still harder for this,
"and besides, the lace, Scully. Look at the lace."
"Mulder, I seem to recall at least one case where
we," and she emphasized the 'we', "dealt with lace.
The killer was a man."
"Yes, but he didn't use lace as his calling card.
That was just a lucky clue, Scully. What kind of
man would use lace as his actual calling card?
Something isn't right here, Scully, and you know
it. Look at how well the victims were dressed,
post-mortem! Are we talking queer eye for the dead
Diana took one step back as Fox and Scully faced
off. She was amused by it, but at the same time
annoyed. She wanted to get out of here and get on
with things. Fox was aggravating the situation,
but Scully was letting him. Diana hated watching
it, and didn't want to be part of it.
But she was on a tight schedule, so she did stop
"All of which is very helpful, Fox, thank you.
Agent Scully, my partner and I have a flight to
catch. Is there anything else I should know?"
Scully turned her attention back to Diana, not
quite meeting her eyes. Diana held in a sigh.
"That's about it. Your suspect is definitely
experienced, or has at least done his research.
The victim's blood alcohol level seems to be
significant, too. I'd say that his lifestyle
didn't usually permit him to be so inebriated."
"Would it have contributed to the killer overcoming
Scully hesitated, seeming to sense Diana's
curiousity over Fox's theory. "Of course, and
that's the interesting part. There was no real
evidence of struggle, at least in this case, which
suggests that the alcohol was a factor. He wasn't
drugged, so I'd almost theorize the killer showing
up after the binge."
Scully shut down after that, focusing on cleaning
her equipment. She handed the clipboard and her
notes to Fox and turned her back after squeezing
Fox nodded at Diana and pointed the way to the
door, indicating that he was going to follow her.
She knew him well enough to know he wanted to plant
his theory a little deeper, satisfy her curiosity.
She wasn't disappointed.
"It could be a woman, you know." He handed her the
notes and kept the clipboard.
Diana nodded. "It could. The lace is certainly
feminine. But Fox, think about this. The F.B.I.
has no profile for a female serial killer for a
"There's never been one. I know that. I sat
through Crawford's lectures at Quantico in the
front row, next to you. I know the drill. Diana,
just because there isn't precedent..."
"Doesn't mean it can't happen. I know. I just
don't think this case warrants such a leap."
"Leap?" His eyes twinkled with familiar mischief.
"I don't leap, Diana. I extrapolate detail, then I
make a conscious conclusion."
She bit back a laugh. "Okay, okay. Assume the
killer's a woman. How do you account for two male
perps already accused?"
Fox shrugged and bit into another sunflower seed.
"Misdirection? Who knows? Point is, you should be
open to extreme possibilities."
Diana started at the sound of Alex's voice.
"Why? What's so special about this case? And what
do you care anyway, Mulder? Isn't this out of your
"Alex..." Diana didn't like the look on either
face. She'd known it was better to keep them
apart, and to get this over with as quickly as
possible. Judging from Alex's stance, and the
cold, pinched look in Fox's eyes, this was going to
be more difficult than she anticipated.
"Technically, yes. But I'm the profiler, remember?
And your partner was looking for a different take."
"I'm sure she could come to me with that."
Fox took a breath to reply, and Diana took the
opportunity to lead Alex away.
"Thanks, Fox, and tell Scully thanks as well."
"Anytime, Diana. That's what friends are for."
She smiled and turned to walk by Alex's side,
careful to let him stay a step ahead of her. He
hated Fox Mulder, and Diana didn't pretend not to
notice. She simply worked around it.
"What time's the flight?" Alex asked, his voice
rough with barely contained anger. Diana was taken
aback. What was it with these two? The slightest
thing set them both off, and cooling them down took
a lot of careful effort.
"Eleven. We oughta head out to Reagan, security
"Right." Alex got in the car and stuck the key in
the ignition before Diana had her door opened. As
she slid into her seat, Alex asked, "Mind if I call
Just the one word relaxed him, it seemed.
"Go ahead. In fact, I'll drive, you talk to her."
Diana sat still for a moment, and let Alex nod in
agreement and get out of the car before making her
Alex led the way into the New York field office,
feeling a lot less cheerful and confident than he
had that morning. The place was buzzing with the
sounds of phones ringing and keyboards clacking.
In New York, the F.B.I. had to deal with a
microcosm of the United States, and this place was
a miniature version of the Hoover building in D.C.
"I'm Special Agent Krycek, and this is Special
Agent Fowley. We're here to meet S.A.C.
Brockhurst." Alex opened his badge for the worn-
looking assistant seated at the head of the second
floor bullpen. She looked at it, squinting, and a
flash of recognition passed over her face as she
looked up at him.
Alex felt the muscles in his face tense, and he was
about to say something about how rude it was to
stare when Diana touched his arm.
"Is S.A.C. Brockhurst in? He's expecting us."
Diana's voice was firm, steady, and gave a warning
to both Alex and the assistant. Don't make a
"He is, but he's on the phone. Take a seat over
there." The flustered woman waved to Alex's left,
where a set of aged plastic chairs sat unoccupied.
"I'll let him know you've arrived."
Alex turned and sat down, his pulse just a little
quicker than ordinary. He still wasn't used to the
reaction all his personal publicity had caused. In
the wake of the Hybrid Protection Act, there was
renewed media interest in the F.B.I.'s so-called
"Killer Agent"; just the night before, Marita had
had to turn off the television altogether as the
tabloid programs began to speculate once again
about Alex's competency as an agent.
Diana, as usual, picked up on the shift in Alex's
mood and started talking about the case. Alex was
grateful she was his partner. He knew he couldn't
have come back if he'd had to deal with Jeff's
lingering idealism or Doggett's grating patriotism
"Agent Krycek? Agent Fowley? I'm Ted Brockhurst."
A large man, standing 6'3" and probably tipping the
scales at 270 or 280 on a good day, approached the
agents with his hand stuck out. He looked as
though he hadn't had any sleep for days, though his
suit was clean and pressed, and he'd obviously
shaved that morning. His blonde hair was coiffed
just so. Alex bit the inside of his cheek,
reminding himself to tell Marita about the go-
getters' reactions to D.C. brass. Dress up and put
"Agent Brockhurst, hello. I'm Diana Fowley, and
this is Alex Krycek." The man looked at Alex,
carefully surveying him as though he were a freshly
caught predator. "We've been assigned to work..."
"On the uptown five. Yeah, I got the message from
your A.D. about a half hour ago. I assume you
already had a look at the body I sent to D.C.?"
"Yes, we had our unit's consultant forensic
scientist do a work-up."
"In the lab?"
"Not yet, that's the next step. We wanted a
preliminary exam done, to determine if there was
anything obvious that might have been overlooked in
the original autopsy."
"Yeah, there wasn't much I could do about that. I
wanted D.C. to handle it right away, but the local
precinct gets a little touchy about jurisdiction.
We're working in conjunction with them on this,
more of a consultant role than purely investigative
since there's no discernible motive."
"So the police have handled all the bodies, then?
What about forensics?"
"That's Bureau. It's insane, and there isn't any
organization to it, but like I said, we're mainly
just serving in a consultant capacity. There's no
proof that the same guy did this, and it only came
across my desk as an avenue to you guys."
Alex smirked, and spoke for the first time. "Word
Brockhurst nodded. "It does. In fact, I'm
surprised to see you here, Agent Krycek. I didn't
think they'd have you doing field work."
Alex silently agreed. "We're still a small
division, Agent Brockhurst. I'm a Bureau man, and
I trained with this kind of thing in mind."
"Right." Brockhurst only looked half-convinced.
Alex knew he was going to have to get used to this,
being treated like a con when he'd really been on
the right side all along. He didn't feel like he
owed these people an apology for how he'd done his
He flexed his prosthetic left arm. No, Alex owed
nothing to anyone.
Diana filled in the silence. "So no new leads,
Brockhurst shook his head. "No. In fact, I'm just
as baffled as I was when this started. Both of the
original suspects have been let go, because we had
no hard biology to keep 'em. The PD is tracking
the second guy. He's a parolee anyway. Assault
Diana nodded along, and Alex could tell she was
getting frustrated. He felt like this case was
going to be a bust. There was nothing here for
their unit to handle - this was standard stuff for
the ordinary Violent Crimes folks, not those
dealing with preternatural entities as culprits.
"Well, do you two want to see the latest scene?
Maybe get an idea of what exactly is happening
Alex looked at Diana, and shrugged.
"Sure." Diana was better at taking charge, Alex
thought as they left the building. He was happy to
let her handle that part of it.
The Dirty Rat lived up to its name. Stuck in a
dingy part of the city, far from the fluorescent
and glow of Times Square, the unfortunately named
bar was little more than a hole in the wall.
Police tape roped off the nearly empty parking lot
and vacant doorway.
"Place got shut down the day after for about a
thousand health code violations. Just as well,
though we could have used the regulars for
witnesses' statements. Not that we could find any
to begin with."
Brockhurst ducked under the tape and walked over to
a blacktopped parking space that seemed
particularly slick with oil and various automobile
fluids. Alex realized immediately why the spot
stuck out; the spot where the body had lain didn't
even need to marked off with chalk, so thick was
the oil and so deep was the resulting imprint.
Footprints were marked nearby, identified as
officers or Bureau personnel. There were no
sliding marks that would have indicated the body
had been moved around.
Diana took her time scrutinizing the space, but
Alex trailed off from his partner and Brockhurst,
still looking at the ground.
How there could be no real evidence at the scene
baffled Alex. The one car in the parking lot,
bearing a boot and therefore rooted to the spot,
had belonged to the victim, and no fingerprints
were found other than his. The dirty shoeprints
inside the vehicle matched the victim's shoes, and
the second set only indicated a large man wearing
work boots. In this part of New York City, that
was far from being uncommon, and no brand was
"The car's being picked up later today by the PD
Alex turned around. "Any latent prints lifted?"
"Nothin'. We found blood, but only in the obvious
places. The car was obviously used to bring the
victim back here."
It was Diana's turn. "Back here? You mean, the
victim started out here?"
Brockhurst nodded. "We found a matchbook. Besides
which, the bartender ID'd the body initially,
actually found him. The guy wasn't a regular, but
he certainly left his impression the other night.
Crying over losing face for something."
Alex squinted. That was a lead. It was something
to start with, anyway. "Job-related?"
"The barkeep thought so. The guy arrived at happy
hour and was the last one to stumble out."
"Did the bartender see anything?"
"Nope. Last call, he was busy cleaning up."
Diana dug in her pocket and pulled out a latex
glove. Alex had to smile at her preparedness
before asking the next question. "Has he been
cleared as a suspect?"
Brockhurst nearly guffawed. "You should see the
guy. Little, skinny, maybe weighs 115 soaking wet.
He couldn't have done this."
Alex saw Diana thinking hard and fast, no doubt
back to Mulder's half-cocked theory revolving
around a woman. Alex bit back his thoughts for the
moment, because to him, little in a guy meant
effeminate. The lace was certainly that.
"Were any of the other victims found here?" Diana
"No," Brockhurst said, beginning to bristle at the
cross-examination. "That's in the field report you
got. Each was found at a different location, all
within about a twenty-block radius. The other
sites are much older than this, though, not
preserved. The last victim before the other night
was found about two weeks ago, and the others over
the course of four months."
"Escalating," Alex murmured, and Diana looked at
him and nodded.
"I'd like to talk to the bartender. Got his
contact info?" Alex was starting to feel that
tingly excitement again. On the hunt, with a lead,
even a weak one.
Diana was feeling it, too. Her finger on the
doorbell alone gave her a shiver of anticipation.
She tried remembering all the crap, the hours of
paperwork, the muddy and ruined wardrobe, more time
in the bullpen fielding calls than out in the field
chasing a lead. The useless leads, the cranky
local sheriffs, the cockroach motels with their
broken beds and cold showers. It was what she had
done when she'd left the first time, for murkier,
more dangerous pastures undercover. That's how
she'd gotten through the first year without Fox,
the first six months without a real challenge.
None of it came to mind now, as the door to an
ancient brownstone swung open and Bart Sartino
stood looking up at her.
"Mr. Sartino?" Diana and Alex had flipped a coin
in rookie-like glee over who got to ask the first
questions. Diana could always count on heads.
"I'm Special Agent Diana Fowley with the FBI, and
this is my partner, Special Agent Alex Krycek. We
have some questions..."
"Don't bother. The police was already here, and so
was the feds. You ain't got nothin' new and you
think you gots a lead at this door. It won't fly,
babe. I ain't got nothin'." Sartino was little,
but his voice was deep and his tone commanding.
Diana didn't flinch. "If you haven't got anything,
Mr. Sartino, then maybe you can just clarify
something for us." She laced her voice with sugar,
a tone that had kept the Consortium's upper echelon
from unleashing it's wrath at least once. "We
understand you tend bar at the Dirty Rat, is that
"Rat's shut down. You knows that already, cause
you already been there. That how you come by my
"Yes. The police told us you'd spoken with them
already, but this is our case now and we like to
double-check," said Alex.
"I ain't the one they wanted, and I ain't the one
you wants. I shut down the bar as normal as ever,
and I got there next day same as ever. I found the
yuppie, didn't kill 'em. He wasn't in no
condition, all emotional."
"Do you recall what about?" Diana had broken out a
notepad and was poised to scribble the answer.
Sartino closed his eyes and leaned against the
doorjamb. "Now that's a question I ain't been
asked proper. S'pose I'm a suspect, not a
witness." He scratched his nose, which was red and
peeling as if from sunburn. "Bad day at work.
Most o' the guys at the Rat is there to pick
fights, maybe get laid. None o' em really wanna
whine about this woman or that boss. This guy did.
He mighta lost his job, but I think it was more
than jus' that."
"He kep' goin' on 'bout losin' face. Somethin' got
out that weren't s'pose to."
"Did he say anything about who? Someone after him,
Sartino scratched his nose again, taking his time
before answering. "Don' think so. He wanted
whiskey, and he wanted lots of it. I gave it to
him, eighty-sixed him after a bit. He was mos'ly
jus' quiet, 'cept for mutterin' 'bout his
Diana finished writing and closed her pad. There
wasn't much more that she expected to get from
Sartino, and she opened her mouth to thank him.
Alex interrupted her. "Mr. Sartino, did you know
that four similar murders have occured in that
area?" It was breaking protocol, and Diana was
ready to call her partner on it. But she got a
good look at his eyes. Alex was focused, intense,
all giddiness gone. He was onto something.
And she had no clue what it was.
Sartino's was now completely focused on the agents.
He stopped fidgeting and narrowed his eyes at Alex.
"No." He sighed and stuffed his hands in his
pockets. "But the guy at the Rat, he weren' the
last, you know."
"No, I don't know. Tell me."
Sartino leaned forward, gesturing for Krycek to
"You know how he looked, right? All dressed up,
like he was goin' somewheres. And the suit was
jus' a cover for the mess unnerneath."
"How do you know this? We could take you into
custody, you realize."
Sartino shook his head. "Nah, cause you already
know. You know. She knows," he added, pointing at
Diana. "This ain' right. I hear it sometimes.
Whoever 'twas killed them guys, it wasn' right. It
"Not real, Mr. Sartino? The blood was real. The
cuts, they were real."
"No, you ain' listenin'," Sartino sighed. "Not
Alex stared Sartino down. The smaller man broke
the gaze first, and turned away, shutting the door
firmly behind him.
Diana touched Alex's sleeve. His face was
contorted with confusion, with frustration.
"Not real?" he said, not really asking. Diana
twisted his sleeve in her hand.
Somewhere, a bottle broke and laughter rang out.
They all lived fake lives, lives pretty on the
outside and rotten on the inside.
It would fix it. It would show the world who they
A breeze blew threw a window, a common window in a
common room in a common city. It wasn't common.
Not like they always assumed.
Real was pain, real was blood, real was the knife
slicing the skin and oh what a pretty design it
could make with the knife! It was careful, because
imagination could not mix with what was real. It
left no trace.
Almost no trace.
It loved the breeze, the muted sunlight fighting
its way through clouds and smoke and choking fumes.
The sunlight in a new form.
It didn't have to be real. It could escape the
muck, the ordinary, and transform through the smog.
It could pretend.
It could control.
Light, heat, weather, cancer, sunlight was the
means. It liked the sunlight and the breeze and it
liked that it could know what it meant to change
Like the sunlight, through torn lace curtains.
A breeze, blowing the lace in its face. Pretty
Lace for him, it thought, looking at the computer
screen. Him. On top of a fake world, built on
false sentiment and bravado. He had fears.
His pretty eyes hid it all. That smile, that skin,
that manicure, that suit, that money. Hiding so
much fear. Doubt. Pain.
Lying, scheming, cheating.
It would expose it all.
Sitting down in the chair, the comfortable, worn
old chair with one spring in the lower back, the
one flaw that made it real.
It closed its eyes and dreamed. Hands, strong
hands, large hands, nicked with cuts and bruises.
Real hands. Shorn face, stubble. Nose bulbous and
raw from sun, from wind, so real.
Heavy shoes. Boots. Jeans. Construction site.
"Quittin' time, Ernie!"
The boots move. Ernie. I am Ernie.
Tattoo on the hands. Letters. Broken, prison
tattoo. This was the right one.
It walked. It moved. As Ernie. I am Ernie.
Ernie smiled. Ernie took a bus, back to an
apartment like so many apartments, with sliced lace
curtains blowing in the breeze and sunlight falling
on a plain face. There it was, in the chair.
Blonde hair, long, unremarkable.
Pink lips, pink cheeks. Unremarkable.
Brown eyes. Deep, brown eyes. Ernie chuckled.
Eyes that revealed all, and so blank.
Ernie found the lace strip right where he had left
it, where it had left it. It had become Ernie and
they were one.
Ernie grabbed the switchblade from the table.
It sat staring and Ernie winked. "I'll be back,
darlin'." Ernie smiled.
The bar was where it should be, a smoke-smelling,
liquor-soaked alley. Garcia's was the place, a
nondescript place that was real, part of the fabric
and dark. He would come here, he had before, the
one time after the Dow dropped and he lost a
client. A big client. He'd come here and it had
watched him, pretty boy drowning in whiskey.
Insecurity was a vice. That was real.
Ernie had a vodka tonic. Ernie wouldn't drink it
tomorrow, but he liked it tonight.
It didn't take long. There he was, deject, his tie
hanging, his costume masking nothing. He'd just
lost a bigger client. He didn't have much left in
the way of self-esteem.
He covered it up and pretended nothing was real.
That was going to change.
That did change. Ernie left and waited, skulking
in a corner, waiting, biding his time. Last call,
people were gone, no one wanted life to get quite
Except the poor, drunken fool, stumbling over his
Falling on the pavement.
Dry-heaving, not committed to being sick anymore
than he was committed to his life. To what was
Ernie gripped the lace.
Gripped a switchblade.
Stood him up, cut off his tie, and they were on
Back to the apartment. It was waiting, same vacant
stare in those beautiful brown eyes.
It watched. Burned into memory these images.
A pattern, a design, pretty design. Button up,
clean up. The suit neat, the shirt clean. Blood
somewhere. Smelled it. Cleaned it.
No tie. The lace will do. The lace strip from the
The body went back to Garcia's. And everything was
as it always had been and would be.
Until Ernie was hit.
By a car. This was *real*.
And this was pain.
The next morning, Alex was awakened by two sounds
at once. His cell phone chirping, Marita's special
ring a pleasant and welcome sound.
Also, the motel phone. Shrill and diabolical.
He sighed, letting his wife leave a voicemail and
answering the more demanding of the two.
"Agent? You'll want to grab a bagel and your
partner. We got another one. And a suspect."
"At the field office?"
"No, the scene. Place called Garcia's, a block
from the last scene."
"Yeah. Same M.O., the same lace strip. No
fingerprints yet, but we tagged a guy in the
hospital this morning. He was hit by a car less
than half a block from where the victim lay, and it
happened around five."
"We'll be there." Alex hung up the phone just as a
knock preceded Diana's entry into his room.
She was already dressed, and tossed him his pants
from the chair.
"I heard the phone. I was already up."
"I can tell." She was ready for the day, light
make-up and brushed hair.
"Get dressed. I'll meet you downstairs. Coffee?"
She was certainly awake, Alex thought.
"Yeah. Black. Strong."
"You got it."
A half an hour later, they were climbing out of a
taxi in front of an even seedier bar than the Dirty
Rat. Various police and apparent Bureau personnel
were climbing over the scene, repelling curiousity
seekers and the odd media personality.
Diana and Alex flashed their badges to a wet-
behind-the-ears precinct cop who'd been given the
crap detail and denied the dubious honor of aiding
the actual investigation. He was, instead of
dismissive like an older counterpart might have
been, eager and bossy, scrutinizing the badges for
discrepencies. His eyes widened at Alex's picture,
his name, and finally his jaw dropped slightly.
It was getting old.
Alex pushed past the kid, leaving Diana to reassure
Sartino had gotten to Alex. His intonation, his
creepy assurance of something happening. Something
Alex hadn't worked on the X-files long in the
beginning, and hadn't gotten a real taste of what
could happen on cases. He was awed by it. He was
intrigued by it.
And he was downright frightened by it.
He made his way over to Brockhurst and a younger
female agent, both of whom were bent over a body
that was in an open body bag.
The face was in the same shape as the other one.
Cuts, delicate patterns, and that lace.
That damned lace.
Diana came up behind him and started asking the
pertinent questions and making the right demands,
issuing directives. The guy in the hospital, did
he leave obvious trace evidence, was there
something to go on? This guy, get him to the
morgue, get forensics on it, see what we can dig
Alex was grateful for her. He left her to it,
wandered to the edge of the roped-off area where
another green cop was warding off citizens.
Bart Sartino stood off to the side of the small
crowd, grimacing at the scene before him, then
turning his gaze to Alex.
Alex approached him. "Was it real this time?"
Sartino shook his head. "But it was caught. It
"What got caught? Who?"
"You know, man. The accident."
Alex looked over his shoulder at Brockhurst,
zipping up the body bag, and Diana, questioning
He turned back to Sartino, only to find him gone.
He walked back to Diana, and whispered in her ear.
"To the hospital. We might have our guy."
It was in the room in the chair.
It was Ernie on gurney, gee it rhymes, and it
Real. Not real. Caught.
The lace didn't blow in stagnant morning wind.
And the bleeping heart monitor was all too real.
But it was fine. Ernie could walk.
Ernie did walk. The hospital was busy and no one
No nurse stopped him. No doctor.
No one saw.
But the curtain wasn't blowing and someone was
running to Ernie.
"I'm sorry, did you say he just up and walked out?"
"Yes, it looks that way. Look, he was clean, and
the injuries were superficial. Union insurance.
He was taken care of. He walked out, and I need
this bed, okay? Do you see this madhouse?"
The doctor was impatient, but so was Diana.
"Alright, fine. Can you tell me, really quickly,
did he have any wounds not consistent with the
A quick look at the chart, and the doctor tapped
her foot. "No. Cracked rib or two, sprained
ankle. Contusions on face, chest, back, arms. It
wasn't a hard hit. But he wouldn't get far. Now
if you'll excuse me, I have work to do." She
turned tail and walked away, shouting orders to a
nurse nearby and grabbing an incoming gurney.
Diana turned to Alex.
He was already out the door.
Alex didn't have to run far.
The man was tall, sturdy, and limping slightly. He
wasn't wearing much, just jeans and one boot, a
hospital gown. In this part of the city, he would
go practically unnoticed.
Alex was tempted to run and catch up to the guy,
capture him singlehandedly. He didn't want to use
his gun, though, and he knew someone would have to
eventually. He just didn't want the reputation any
He decided to follow at a distance. It wasn't
hard, the guy moved so slowly despite his size.
Almost dazed, listing from side to side like
someone who'd had a few too many.
Alex heard panting behind him, then next to him.
Diana had run to catch him.
"That him?" she asked quietly, pointing.
"What do you want to do?" Her hand was already
under her jacket, gripping her service pistol.
"Follow him. Find out where he lives, get him
there. Call for back-up. I don't want to use my
She touched his hand, his right, real hand. "I
know. And if I can help it, you won't have to."
Alex squeezed her fingers briefly, then touched his
own weapon. "It doesn't mean I won't."
"I know that, too."
The man, whom the doctor had identified as Ernie
Galino, kept on walking, seemingly oblivious to his
surroundings. Alex wasn't sure, but he thought he
saw the man mumbling.
Real, he seemed to say. Real. Real.
That now-familiar surge of adrenaline quickened
The man reached a plain brownstone, so common in
this area. It was two storeys, and an open window
on the second floor revealed the source of that
haunting, puzzling calling card.
Curtains, made from lace, cut to careful shreds.
Alex pointed to it, trying to get Diana's
attention. But she was distracted already by a
noise coming from that window.
A low, painful moaning, and a surprised grunt. A
clanging sound and a shriek. A feminine cry into
the morning air.
Diana ran ahead, not waiting for Alex.
"Diana!" Alex yelled, forgetting his plan of
stealth and caution.
"FBI!" Diana announced their arrival on the second
floor, her gun drawn and cocked. She was prepared.
She kicked the already open door wider, and Alex
ran up the stairs, five seconds too late.
Diana was in a chokehold. It wasn't Ernie, who lay
on the ground moaning and cursing in Spanish. It
was a woman.
She was short, with long blonde hair, utterly
Except that she was taking his partner down.
Alex didn't even hesitate. He drew his own gun,
aimed it at her.
"Federal agent! Let her go!"
The blonde hissed. "It doesn't want to. This is
He didn't think. He pulled the trigger, and the
Blood spattered the wall, and Diana. The blonde
went down, her shoulder bearing the fresh bullet
wound. She lay screaming on the floor as Alex
cuffed her, and as Diana called for back-up.
As Ernie sat up and shook his head, still muttering
in Spanish but more frightened than anything else,
the blonde stopped screaming.
She started humming.
TWO DAYS LATER
J EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
"I'm thinking about getting a dartboard to put down
"Oh, yes, because more weapons in cramped space is
a spectacular idea."
"It could be. Besides, I need something to do with
my hands while you're typing out reports."
"Careful Alex, or I'll tell your wife."
Alex grinned. "Alright then. So what's the report
going to look like for this case? First ever
female serial killer and all?"
"I have no idea," Diana replied. "I'm still not
even sure how she did it. Astral projection is
such a speculative science..."
"Don't let Doggett here you call it a science.
He'd flip out."
"Heh. Who wouldn't?" Diana sighed and rubbed the
bridge of her nose. "I want to do something less
dramatic next time. You up for a haunted house,
Loch Ness monster, maybe an exorcism?"
Alex's cell phone rang, and he patted Diana's
shoulder as he walked out of the room.
"You pick. I'm going to go talk to my wife."
Thanks to Deslea for the patience and for
organizing this in the first place. My goodness,
what a universe to play in! All my favorite
characters in one place at the same time!
This story owes a lot to my mom, my friends
Michael, Shaun, and Becky (who all listened to the
ideas I had and who all encourage me in different
ways) , and to the various writers who write the
serial killer stories I just can't stay away from.