IMTP VS8 Episode 29:
My Name Is Paul
Art by Laurie D. Haynes
Archive: IMTP for the first two weeks, then go for it!
Summary: Skinner is dead -- or is he? Mulder and Scully's
investigation into his death brings them up against still
unseen enemies, who conspire to control them all.
Disclaimer: Mulder, Scully and Skinner are owned by Chris
Carter, 1013 Productions, Fox Television Network, etc.
They are wonderfully brought to life by David Duchovny,
Gillian Anderson, and Mitch Pileggi. I will make no profit
from this, and neither will Fox if they sue me, for I am
poor and have nothing material they can profit from.
Author's Notes: This was written for I Made This!
Productions as one of the episodes of Virtual Season 8.
IMTP can be found at http://www.i-made-this.com.
My Name is Paul
August 26, 2001
"And so, it is with great sadness and regret, we have
gathered here today to lay to rest the earthly remains of
Mulder stared at the young man. He was an anachronism at
this gathering of somber men and women who all wore the
prescribed dark suits despite the sweltering heat of
Washington August. The man looked like a refugee from the
sixties; ragged jeans, a threadbare knit shirt, and
unbelievably old, worn sandals on his feet. Mulder
shrugged within his own dark suit coat. At least the young
preacher had put shoes on; when Mulder had met with him,
the man had been barefoot.
He forced himself to listen again, and heard the preacher
say, "And so, those of us who knew and respected Walter,
are glad to have this opportunity to say goodbye to our
colleague, our co-worker, our helper and," here the young
man stumbled over his words, "our friend."
It was no surprise to Mulder that the man found it
difficult to call Skinner a friend. He and Scully couldn't
use the term about Skinner either, though there had been
several times when he thought they'd broken through. When
Scully was missing. When that prostitute and then Skinner's
wife had been killed. When Scully's cancer had gotten so
bad. And most recently, when Skinner himself had been so
close to death, infected with some still unnamed, unknown
technological virus. But always, always, Skinner had
pulled back, put up the walls, refused to take a stand,
choose a side, make a friend. It was frustrating to no
end, but Mulder was convinced that beneath all the
deceptions and seeming betrayals, Skinner was fighting with
them. It was why he was here today.
Well, that and the fact that he and Scully had arranged
When the call had come in to the Hoover, that Skinner was
dead, the body identified, asking who was handling the
arrangements, it had landed in Kim's lap. She'd pulled her
boss's personnel folder, determined that his parents were
deceased, his wife was dead, he had no children, and the
only relative was a brother who lived in California. A
brother who had been less than interested in the fact that
Skinner was dead, and had refused to take responsibility
for the funeral, giving Kim a lawyer's name and the old
"have his lawyer contact my lawyer if there's anything left
Scully had come into the office at that point, found Kim
near tears, heard the whole story and volunteered them to
take care of the arrangements. Which was how Mulder now
found himself knowing a whole lot more about his boss's
private life than he was entirely comfortable with. It was
also why there was a storefront preacher, one who ran a
soup kitchen, presiding over the grave. It was one of two
things Skinner did outside work. He boxed at a hole in the
wall gym in the wrong part of DC, but had no close
acquaintances there. Mulder scanned the assemblage again.
No, there was no one here from the gym. And Skinner's
second activity -- surprise, surprise -- was working at a
soup kitchen that was mainly frequented by down on their
luck vets. He was a regular, every Tuesday night for four
years. And even there he had been aloof, stand-offish. He
did his part, spoke pleasantly to everyone, but never
allowed any degree of intimacy to develop. Mulder shook
his head sadly. Skinner had been a very lonely man.
Mulder jerked alert again as the first volley of gunfire
echoed through the cemetery quiet. It was followed in
rapid succession by nine more and Mulder flinched with each
one. It made his skin crawl, as if each shot were a
hammer, pounding nails into a coffin that would remain
sealed for all eternity. Or perhaps each shot was a door
closing, another avenue toward the truth closing with no
hope of being opened again.
The planes were coming in, now, low and fast, and as Mulder
looked up, one peeled away, the sun glinting off the silver
underbelly, almost blinding him with its brightness. It
was hot, so hot, and the sweat on his brow had trickled
down and caused his eyes to water. The blinding sun, the
August heat, they were the only possible reason that his
cheeks were wet and his eyes stung from salty tears.
He chanced a glance at Scully, and saw that she was
looking up at him in concern. A barely noticeable nod
redirected his attention to the young Marine who stood by
the casket, a neatly folded flag held in his hands and no
one to whom he could present it.
Mulder swallowed hard, then stepped forward, arms extended
and the visibly relieved Marine placed into his hands the
United States' last recognition of the strength, the
courage, the man who had been Walter Sergei Skinner.
August 26, 2001
"I can't believe he's gone." Scully handed Mulder a cup
of coffee as she sat down and sipped her own steaming cup.
"I can't believe you can drink coffee after being out in
the heat this afternoon." Mulder took a swallow, grimaced,
and put the cup down on a desk overflowing with papers,
files, and loose photos.
"How can you find anything in that mess?" Scully asked,
sighing out loud as she took another sip of her favored
beverage. "And don't avoid - it's not like you." She
narrowed her eyes as she studied him over the rim of the
still steaming cup.
Mulder gave a sigh of his own, and shook his head. "I'm
not avoiding. I'm just not sure I can accept this yet."
"What's not to accept, Mulder? The man is dead. We just
came from his funeral, for God's sake. What more do you
"A cause of death, a reason he was out there on that road.
Hell, a body would be nice," Mulder muttered.
"We have a body. We have a cause of death."
"We have a severely-charred bunch of bones that Kersh --
Kersh, for Christ's sake -- identified!" Mulder stood and
began to pace, one hand pushing back the lock of hair over
his brow as the other worried his lower lip.
"Severely-charred would seem to give us cause of death,"
Scully said quietly. "And as to why he was that far out of
the city, at that time of night -- well, he was a big boy.
Even Skinner had a life." She shrugged. "We didn't know
him that well, Mulder. There's no way to know what he did,
or why he did it." She sipped her cooling coffee as she
studied her partner's pacing form.
"That's just it. I do know him now. I know him a hell of
a lot better than I ever thought I would. He didn't have a
life. He worked, he slept, he worked some more. He boxed
when he couldn't stand the office politics anymore..."
"Or maybe when he couldn't stand you anymore," Scully
interrupted with a smile.
"Maybe," Mulder conceded. Scully's deflection had worked,
and he stilled, the need to move defused. Mulder shook his
head, amazed again at how well she knew him. He threw the
slightest of grins her way, saying, "If I may continue?"
"You're profiling him, now? Now that he's dead?"
"I need to understand." Mulder dropped into his desk
chair, leaning back and throwing his legs up onto the
papers and files. He tilted his head back, stared at the
ceiling, then closed his eyes. "He fought his survivor
guilt by feeding homeless vets. He worked, he slept. He
boxed to relieve tension. He ran occasionally. And he
lived with guilt. Guilt and regret." Mulder's chin
dropped, his eyes popped open. The long legs slid to the
floor and he sat erect, pinning her with eyes of swirling
green and gray. "That's *all* the man did. He *didn't*
have a life."
"Well, for someone who didn't have a life, he's still
extremely dead, Mulder, and all the profiling in the world
isn't going to change that." Scully rose and walked to
stand beside him, one hand placed gently on his shoulder.
"He's dead and we have to accept it."
Mulder gave a soft sigh, looking up into her eyes. "Do we
have to accept it, Scully?" He lifted one hand, carefully
removed hers from his shoulder, then rose. "Is he really
September 12, 2001
"Paul! Breakfast's ready!"
The man in the shower shook himself, enjoying the sensual
feel of the water rolling over his shoulders, sliding down
his back and legs. He ducked his head under the shower
head and shook again. You had to enjoy your pleasures
where you got them. Somehow, getting older had made him
more and more aware of that fact.
"Paul! Did you hear me?"
He grinned beneath the cascade, grabbed a loofah and began
to scrub. God, he loved showers! The moist heat, the feel
of the water as it caressed his skin, even the scent of
soaps and shampoos -- it was a sensory feast.
"PAUL!" The door flew open and she was standing there,
small and trim, her curly hair still in disarray about a
round face, legs bare beneath his faded old T-shirt that
she often wore to sleep in. "Breakfast is ready and we're
gong to be late if you don't get moving. Didn't you hear
She shook her head at him and he laughed, amazed at how
many things there were in life to be thankful for.
Showers and hot water, breakfast and work he enjoyed. And
a wife that still captivated him, even after all these
years. "What time is it?" he asked as he ran the soap over
an abdomen that, despite being almost 50 years old, was
still rock hard. He had a life he loved, he wasn't going
to blow it by letting himself go to pot and then being
sickly and unable to enjoy it. And thinking of enjoyment...
He eyed Karen, standing there with a smile on her lips,
head tilted to the side, one hand on her hip. It was a pose
he knew all too well. She wanted him to get his butt
moving, and NOW. "It's late," she answered. "But if you,
dear sir, will move that very fetching ass, we can still
sit down to a civilized meal and not have to race into the
school like a couple of teenagers."
"Maybe I feel like a teenager," he teased as he reached
out and pulled her into the water with him. The shirt
soaked quickly and he liked what he saw. "A lovesick
teenager at that," he amended.
She struggled at first, raining tiny fists against his
chest in mock resistance, then laughed and wriggled against
him. In one of the sexiest moves he'd ever seen, she swept
the T-shirt up and over her head and he felt himself unable
to breathe as he looked at her. "Maybe we should skip
breakfast after all," she murmured, her voice gone soft and
Paul nodded, pushing back dark strands of wavy hair, then
bending to whisper into her ear. "Do you know how much I
She laughed as his breath tickled her, and glanced down at
him. "Oh, yeah," she purred. "I've got a pretty good
September 12, 2001
They were almost late again, running from the teacher's
parking lot into the building. They got to his classroom
first, and stopped as he pulled the door open and handed
her her satchel. He leaned down and kissed her, quickly at
first, then a bit longer, a bit deeper, and he could feel
himself being pulled into her very soul. The sound of
laughter, then applause, caused him to pull away in
embarrassment. He looked down into her flushed face and
they both laughed as the kids surrounding them continued to
"Time to get to class," she murmured.
He laughed and let her go. "See you tonight," he called
to her retreating form before he turned and said, "All
right, you monsters, nothing else to see here."
"Already got an eyeful, Mr. J," someone cried, and the
group erupted in laughter again.
"Get to class, all of you," he ordered, but his own
laughter made it hard to sound stern. It was hard to be
stern when he felt so full of joy. He turned and entered
his classroom and began to pull books and papers out of his
briefcase as the teens filed in and took their seats.
"How long you and Ms. J been married?" one of the kids
asked, and Paul looked up, grinning.
"Almost twenty-five years, and let that be a lesson to you
all. It's worth waiting for the right person. You'll be
glad you did." He smiled at the class, his face softening
and his eyes warm behind his glasses. "Now, can we all
open our books to page 95?"
Office of the Lone Gunmen
September 12, 2001
"Mulder, this is crazy!" Scully said for the tenth time.
"You're going to get us both fired!"
"I need to see the reports, Scully." Mulder leaned over
Byers' shoulder, staring at the monitor as the other man's
fingers danced across the keyboard.
"You saw the reports, Mulder."
"We saw what they wanted us to see."
"I'm in," Byers said, looking up quickly to see Scully
move across the room and stand over his other shoulder,
next to her partner.
"They, they, they, Mulder. It's always 'they.' Why can't
you accept that Skinner died in that car wreck? If you
keep this up, we'll both be out of work, and you," she
tapped Byers on the head, "you may be in jail."
"Not Byers," Langly said. "He's too fast to get caught."
"What do you think you're going to find?" Scully stared
over at Mulder, then down at the monitor. It briefly
flashed the emblem of the Fauquier County Sheriff's
Department, then a directory tree. Byers moved the mouse,
made a selection, and the screen changed again.
"I just want to see the original reports, not the ones
that Kersh gave us."
Scully sighed. They'd been over this a hundred times in
the last few weeks. "Mulder, he was FBI. Fauquier called
the Bureau right away. There *are* no original reports!"
"What local office ever willingly calls the feds to take
over their case?" Mulder reached out a long finger and
tapped something on the screen, then nodded as Byers
"There was no case. There is no case. There was nothing
to take over."
"Never mind why Skinner was out there at that time of
night, Scully. Never mind that there's no record of
anything he was working on that could have had him in
Fauquier County. But it was a clear night, a straight
road, and Skinner's not known for drinking and driving. So
what made him veer off the road, at over 90 miles an hour,
at the only point in three miles in either direction where
there was something to crash into?"
"You don't know he hadn't been drinking. He does, you
Mulder raised an eyebrow.
"Drink," she went on stubbornly. "He does drink. He
could have been drinking. The accelerator could have
stuck. There could have been a bee in the car."
"A bee in the car? Is that the best you can come up
with?" Mulder tapped the screen again, then turned to face
Scully. "If he's dead, I want to know what happened. We
owe him that."
"I agree, but I don't see that there's any reason to doubt
that he's dead." Scully folded her arms across her chest
and stared levelly up into Mulder's eyes. "If nothing comes
of this, I want you to agree to drop it, Mulder. Accept it
and move on. We've got other things that need our
Mulder took a deep breath and stared at the floor. "I
want to see Fauquier's report, and I want you to check the
autopsy report. If there's nothing in either of those,
I'll let it go." He looked up. "But that's depending on
nothing else coming up that looks fishy."
She smiled at him, her face softening. One hand came out,
took his arm and pulled gently, drawing him away from his
hacker friends and over to a wall where they could speak
quietly. "I'm worried about you, Mulder. Obsessions are
one of your favorite things. And we need to focus on other
things now. You're wearing yourself out over this."
"I know, I know." He ran a hand through his hair, then
scrubbed at his face in exhaustion. "I just need to see
the reports for myself. The originals, not something
Kersh has doctored."
"Fine. Then hack away and don't get caught. And once
we've seen them, we move on, OK?" She smiled slightly to
soften her words.
"Agreed." He rubbed his face again and turned to head
back to Byers and the monitor. "Unless something else
September 12, 2001
It was dark and he was carrying something. Something
heavy. He grunted as he shifted the weight on his shoulder
and tried to find a comfortable grip. But it wasn't
comfortable. It was big, whatever it was, long and thin
and it bounced against his back with every step he took.
He shifted again and took a deep breath. The air smelled
funny, a sort of strange scent that he couldn't place.
Saltwater and decay. He looked around and realized he was
on a pier, a pier with no ships tied up, but littered with
crates. From truck-sized to boxes small enough to carry,
the pier was stacked with crates. He didn't know where he
was, or where he was going, carrying this long, thin
Everything was silent, like a movie with the sound off.
He should be able to hear something. Water lapping against
the pier, traffic from the streets nearby, at least the
sound of his own breathing.
He was confused, unsure of what was happening, and he
stopped, longing to put the thing he carried down, but
somehow knowing he shouldn't. His gut was tight with fear
and his nerves jangled from the adrenaline that surged in
his veins with every move he made. Sweat rolled down his
brow, and he shifted his burden again, then raised a hand
to wipe his forehead. But his hand was wet already, wet
and sticky, and he squinted in the darkness as he stared at
the hand and tried to figure out why it was wet.
He wiped his mouth and tasted something metallic. Oddly
familiar, with a coppery tang. The adrenaline flowed again
as he first realized it was blood, and then, in shock,
wondered how he would know the taste of blood. He shook
his head in confusion, then bent again to readjust the load
he carried, and a bullet sliced the air where his head had
been a split second before. He dropped to his knees,
rolling to one side, ducking behind a shipping crate. He
realized he could hear again, even as he reached out and
grabbed the man he had been carrying (he'd been carrying
a man!) and pulled him into the temporary safety of the
It was like he was two people. There was the person
moving, ducking, rolling, pulling, the man who seemed to
know what was happening. And then there was him -- the
high school teacher who didn't even know where the hell he
was or how he'd gotten there.
Another shot rang out and the wooden crate splintered over
his head. He looked down and found a gun in his hand. How
the hell had that gotten there? He didn't know anything
about guns. Or maybe he did. As he watched in disbelief,
his hands thumbed the safety off, pulled back on the barrel
and he began to fire. He looked down at the man beside him
-- tall and lanky, his face pale from the blood he was
losing -- and fired again at the unseen threat.
He could hear something else now, something besides
bullets. There was shouting. Someone was crying out,
"Kill them! Kill them!" And a barrage of gunfire
assailed the crate. He grabbed the injured man by the
collar and slithered further back, behind more crates. He
felt a sharp pain in his arm and looked down, saw that he'd
been hit and was bleeding now. He had to stop the
bleeding. He looked at the unconscious man beside him,
somehow knowing that he knew him and yet having no name for
this tall person with dark hair and the oh, so pale face.
Another shot whizzed by, pulling him back to the present.
He reached into a pocket, reloaded the gun, and began
firing again. His arm was bleeding freely, and he was out
of ammunition when a figure stepped around the crate, a gun
leveled at his head. He strained to see the face of the
man who was going to kill him, but it was shrouded in
He thought again about the absurdity of it all. That he,
a high school math teacher would end up dying on a nameless
pier, killed by a nameless man, for no reason he could
comprehend. He didn't know how he'd gotten here, or why he
was here, or how he knew how to handle this gun.
He looked down at his hands, watched as the gun dropped
from numb fingers and wished with all his heart he was back
safe in his bed with his wife. "Karen! "Karen!" The first
cry was hoarse and almost unintelligible. But the second
one rang out clear.
He stared at the man before him, his finger on the trigger
pulling back almost imperceptibly. He was going to die. He
closed his eyes, and screamed again, "Karen! Karen!"
waiting for the bullet to sound, for the pain he knew was
His head rocked back from the force of her palm and his
eyes snapped open. His wife was straddling him, her
fingers digging into his shoulders.
"Paul! Are you awake?"
He stared at her for a long moment, then nodded, and let
himself fall forward into her embrace. She wrapped her
arms around him, holding him tightly and stroking his back
until his breathing slowed and he could manage to make his
"It's getting worse," he whispered thickly, feeling her
She tightened her grip on him, holding him as if she would
fight the world to keep him safe, then reluctantly let go
and slid off his legs, leaving him to hold himself upright.
"You go and shower," she said softly. "You're drenched and
the sheets are soaked. I'll strip the bed and make
He nodded obediently, not able to think yet, and struggled
to his feet, padding softly toward the bathroom.
She cocked her head as she studied him. "We'll talk when
you get done."
September 13, 2001
"Are you satisfied now?" Scully dropped the folder on
Mulder's desk. I've gone over the autopsy and I don't see
anything other than what went into the report."
"Nothing?" Mulder opened the file, staring down at a
Skinner-sized black lump on a stainless steel table.
"The body was badly burned, Mulder. Not just beyond
recognition, but to the point where the bones began to
break and fuse. Not even the teeth could be used for
Mulder jerked alert, staring up at his partner. "No
dental I.D.? What did they use?" He shook his head and
added, "And don't tell me his wallet." A quick glance down
at the picture in the folder and then, "No way the wallet
"No, Mulder. It wasn't his wallet." She tilted her head
as she looked at him. "I thought you knew."
"I don't *know* anything!" Mulder said in disgust. "That's
why I'm trying to find something out." He rose and began
to pace the small office. "I just think it's too
convenient that once Skinner begins to be a little more
dependable when it comes to backing us up, he suddenly
turns up dead. Dead, in a weird, single car crash, on a
deserted road, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of
the night." He heeled around, facing her. "Nothing new, I
know, but he had no reason to be there, nothing anyone can
find that would explain why he was out there, or what
caused the crash." He started pacing again, three strides
to the door, then a quick turn and back toward the desk.
"And now you tell me not only was he burned beyond
recognition, his teeth were destroyed too?" He halted at
her side, staring earnestly into her face. "How do we know
"Oh, Mulder," Scully sighed, one hand reaching up almost
hesitantly to push gently against his chest, forcing him to
sit. "I thought you knew." When he was seated, she
propped herself on the desk in front of him. "It was him,
Mulder. He broke his leg when he was a child, a bad break.
I saw the X-rays. Right leg."
Mulder's head dropped as she spoke and she could see the
beginnings of acceptance slide across his features.
"The body was badly burned, the bones included. But you
could still see the healed fracture on the right leg." She
stopped and took a deep breath. "It was him, Mulder. It
had to be him."
Mulder shook his head as she spoke, still staring at his
lap. She could see as he closed his eyes tightly, fighting
unnamed emotions, and when he opened them and lifted his
head, she could see the exhaustion in the drooping, red-
rimmed lids. His whole face was etched in exhaustion and
she chided herself for not watching more closely, not
having confronted him sooner. Staring down at him, she
wondered just how much sleep he'd gotten in the week since
He stared up at her and she was struck by the sudden
bereft look on Mulder's features and she realized he had
truly not believed that Skinner was dead until this
"Mulder," she said softly, "I miss him, too. But the fact
is, we didn't know him that well, and we couldn't really
depend on him. He never really took a stand."
Mulder just shook his head. "I know he was on our side.
There were other things going on, things that made him seem
to sit on the fence, but he was on our side."
"Mulder..." She reached out and touched his head,
surprised to find he was warm to her touch. "Mulder? Are
you all right?"
He shook his head, pushing her hand away. "No, I'm not
all right." He looked up at her impatiently. "Don't you
get it, Scully?" He shook his head again.
"We're really on our own now. We're alone," he said, in
an almost stricken voice.
"We're not alone," she whispered. "We have each other."
September 13, 2001
He was humming softly, something from the early seventies
that he knew but couldn't remember the name of. He scanned
the shelves in front of him, searching for the brand she
liked, found it, and threw two packs of paper towels into
the cart without missing a beat. It amazed him how much he
enjoyed the every day things in life. Before they'd moved
here, he'd had friends who talked of feeling trapped in
their marriages, trapped in their lives. The every day
joys seemed to elude those men, but not him. He couldn't
imagine anything more wonderful than this life he led. A
wife who loved him, a job he was happy at, one that gave
him pleasure. A chance to shape young lives, to contribute
to the future. A chance to make a difference in the world
through the children he taught.
He laughed as he picked up toilet paper, then tissues, and
stacked them on the almost full cart. Some people weren't
content with the every day life, thinking life had to be
exciting and an adventure in order to be worthwhile. Or
they needed to do something on a grand scale to feel they
were making a contribution. But he knew better. It was the
little things, the every day things, that made life worth
living. He could think of nothing sadder than a life with
no family, no friends, no hobbies. A man who only worked
and slept and worked some more. He shuddered as he opened
the dairy case and pulled out a carton of eggs. He
carefully opened the lid, first checking to be sure none
were broken, then moving each egg in its cradle, as Karen
had taught him all those years ago, to make sure none were
cracked on the bottom.
This was what life was all about. Not -- he shuddered
again -- not the macho heroics of those horrid nightmares
he'd been having. It was about love and friendship. About
grocery shopping and grading tests at night with someone
you loved. Someone who loved you. It was about mowing the
grass and backyard barbecues with friends. It was about
baseball in a minor league park on a hot summer night and
fireworks under the stars. It was about helping a bright
young girl find a scholarship so she could go to college
and watching a kid add A + B for the first time and really
get an answer.
He moved on to the checkout, and idly noticed the long
coat the man in front of him was wearing. A glance at the
big thermometer that hung over the customer service counter
reminded him of what he already knew. It was September in
Georgia; that guy had to be dying in that thing. He
shrugged and went back to wondering how he got to be so
lucky. How he was the one who knew what made life
worthwhile, when millions of others wandered blindly along,
never satisfied, never content. As far as he was
concerned, the life of this high school math teacher was
all he needed, and he was going to thank God every day that
he had it.
A shrill cry jerked him from his reverie and he came
alert, looking around. The man in the long coat had pulled
a gun and had it aimed at the young cashier. She was the
one who had cried out. He looked at her more closely. It
was Cheryl Pierce. She was in his algebra class. He
seemed to remember she'd once told him she was junior class
VP. Made sense -- she was active in school. He knew that.
Even had a school T-shirt on at work. A lot of the
teenagers wouldn't show that kind of school pride. She was
a bright girl, cute and funny, but she hadn't been
satisfied with the D she'd gotten in algebra and was
repeating it again this year. She said she just couldn't
seem to get the hang of using letters for numbers last
year, but he was inclined to think it was more the
teacher's fault than the girl's, since she seemed to be
doing fine in his class.
He studied her closely. She wasn't doing fine right now.
Her face was pale, almost transparent, and she was crying.
Not loud, sobbing cries, but crying nonetheless. Tears
streamed down her cheeks and she breathed in little gulping
sighs. Her nose was running and as he watched, she lifted
a shaking hand and swiped it, a little child's action. The
man in the coat said something, but it was strange, almost
like his dream. He couldn't seem to hear, he just suddenly
knew how to act. Part of him was appalled that anyone
would threaten a child this way, that anyone would dare to
infringe on her innocence and stain her with violence.
But another part of him was moving, shoving his full
shopping cart forward, watching as the man in the long coat
fell forward, the gun going off at the ceiling. Paul
shoved again, then leapt over the moving belt on the
counter, tackling Cheryl and pulling her to the ground with
Sound was suddenly back and he could hear screaming all
around and he saw people scurrying away. The man with the
gun was up, because when Paul rolled again, he saw the
barrel of the gun come down over the counter and he felt
the bullet as it exploded into his arm. He somehow kept
rolling, Cheryl beneath him, then above, and soon they were
behind a refrigerated display case full of ice cold sodas.
He heard the glass on the front of the case shatter as
another bullet found its way home. He pushed away from
Cheryl, shoving her toward the door, screaming, "Run! Run!
Run!" even as he leapt to his feet and raced toward the
This was insane. This was madness. He'd lost his mind.
He was Paul Johnson, math teacher, and he did not *ever*
charge down men who were holding a gun.
He stared at the barrel of the gun, watched as it rose and
pointed directly at his chest. He was still moving
forward, a final dance with death, the barrel of the gun
wavering only slightly. He could hear screaming, taste the
fear in his mouth, feel the blood on his sleeve. The man
holding the gun grinned, his lips pulled back to reveal
teeth locked in a death's mask parody. He could see the
finger on the trigger, pulling, pulling, pulling, and he
could almost feel the jolt as the gun fired, the bullet
leaping from the barrel and as he went down, he thought,
"Karen is never going to forgive me for this."
2001 5:15 a.m.
The hammer came down again. BANG! He pulled back and
looked down at his work. For someone as unhandy as he was,
it was turning out all right. He raised the hammer once
more -- BANG -- and then nodded in satisfaction. He was
done. He set the hammer on the bench, then turned for
BANG! BANG! BANG!
He looked down in surprise, then glanced at the workbench
to make sure the hammer wasn't acting on its own.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Mulder jerked awake, the old blanket slipping to the floor
as he sat up on the battered couch. The TV was still
running, sound muted, the picture causing weird shadows to
dance across the walls.
Weird shadows, weird dreams. Something about building
something. And a hammer.
Mulder rolled his shoulders, then stretched, standing as
he lifted his arms over his head and arched his back. It
was September, in the nineties, but the A/C was blowing full
force and he shivered in his boxers.
Very weird dream. Wood and nails and hammers.
He froze in midstretch and shot a glance at the door.
"Nah," he muttered, padding into the kitchen and turning
on the water. He pulled the basket from the coffeemaker,
dumped the old filter with a grimace. It was a solid lump,
gray and fuzzy, and he swore for the hundredth time to wash
the damn thing every time he used it. He stuck the basket
in the sink, letting the now hot water bathe it as he
rummaged in the cabinet for a new filter and the coffee.
Pounding. He been dreaming of pounding.
Or had he?
He shook his head again, forcing his thoughts back to the
coffee. The coffeemaker had been a gift from Scully's
mother -- and he actually used it. Not as often as he'd
thought he would. He always seemed to be running from one
emergency to another, and when it wasn't an emergency, he
was just plain running late. But on nights like this, or
the occasional weekend, it was nice to be able to make a
cup of decent coffee -- something drinkable that still
served its purpose to keep him awake and keep him going.
He glanced at the door again. Why couldn't he shake the
dream? Oh, the dream itself was fading. He'd been making
something, something that involved pounding. It was the
pounding that kept coming back to him.
He filled the filter with coffee, then put it in the
basket, filled the pot with water and dumped it into the
reservoir. Put the pot on the burner, flick the switch, and
voila! In mere minutes he'd have coffee even Scully
couldn't fuss about.
He scrounged for a cup, but couldn't find a clean one, so
the hot water came back on and he put the least filthy one
right in the stream, letting the hot water soak his latest
That was it. He looked at the half-filled coffeepot, then
stared at the water overflowing the coffee cup. It was his
favorite. It had a picture of the space shuttle and the
words, "Space -- the final frontier." He liked it because
it was so normal. It was the kind of cup anyone could
have. It wasn't really about aliens or UFOs or anything
else weird or strange. Just a typical cup that any old guy
might have sitting on his desk at work. It made him feel
He shook his head and gave up at last, walking quickly to
the door to the apartment. He yanked it open, looking
right and then left.
He looked down, not really surprised to see the bulky
manila envelope that lay there. He bent and picked it up,
checked the hall again, and shut and locked the door. Even
as he walked back to the kitchen, he could tell it was a
"Scully would be proud of me," he muttered as he finished
rinsing the cup and then filled it with coffee. Cup in one
hand, tape in the other, he moved back to the living room
and turned on the VCR.
The image was in black and white, shot from a distance,
and from a stationary position. It was the inside of a
supermarket. It took him only a moment to realize this was
a surveillance tape from the store's security system.
As he watched, a man in a trench coat got into a young
girl's line and moved forward. When he got in front of the
girl, he pulled a sawed-off shotgun from beneath the coat
and pointed it at her. He watched as the girl began to
cry, as one hand rose and wiped uselessly at her nose, the
shotgun never moving from in front of her. He was staring
at the girl's hands, certain he could see them shake, even
on this grainy film, when the cart behind the gunman shot
forward, knocking the man to his knees, then down again as
the cart was shoved a second time. A big man appeared in
the camera's view, leaping over the counter in a single
smooth movement, then the man and the girl disappeared and
the gunman rose, shoving the cart back and then leaning
over the counter and firing.
Mulder watched as the big man and the girl appeared again,
blood blossoming on the big guy's arm. He ignored the
wound and rolled the girl away. Just before the man and
the girl disappeared from the camera's view again, the man
lifted his head, searching for the shooter and unknowingly
stared into the camera's eye.
Mulder choked, hot coffee spraying from his mouth as he
hit pause and struggled to regain his breath.
"Holy shit!" he muttered as he stared at the all too
familiar face on his TV screen. "I don't believe this."
His eyes never left the screen as he scrambled for the
cordless phone, hit the speed dial button and waited for
the familiar answer.
"Scully," she said.
"Scully, it's me."
"Of course it's you, Mulder," she answered in a grumpy
tone. "No one else would call me now. Do you even know
what time it is?" He could hear the sleep in her voice,
knew her lips were pursed as she studied the clock on her
bedside table. Knew she was annoyed, but knew as well
she'd forgive him, and in about five seconds she'd be as
awake as he was.
"Scully -- you aren't going to believe what I just found."
September 14, 2001
He woke up, surprised to find that he could. The room was
bright and cheerful, and there were flowers covering every
surface he could see. There was a small hand in his own
larger one, and he tightened his grip slightly.
Karen gasped, then sat up, coming immediately awake.
"You're awake," she said, squeezing him back.
"Yep." He nodded, not sure what else to say. He stared
into her worried eyes and finally asked, "What happened?"
"You decided to be an idiot and got yourself shot."
Paul blinked. The store, the gunman, Cheryl. Cheryl. He
felt his heart rate pick up and a frown crept across his
face. "Cheryl? The girl from the store? Is she all
Karen smiled. "She's fine. Telling the whole town how
her favorite teacher saved her life."
"I didn't, really. I just tried to get her out of the
way." He glanced up at his wife. "What happened to the
man? I thought he was going to shoot me."
"He did." Karen nodded at his arm and he looked down at
the bandage then shook his head.
"No. Here." He pointed at his chest. "I thought he was
going to shoot me here."
Karen's face sobered. "So did the cops. They got there
just in time to see the end." She wrinkled her nose at him
as she asked, "You really don't remember what happened?"
He shook his head again.
"According to the cops, as the guy started to pull the
trigger, you lunged at him, then did some sort of drop and
kicked his feet out from under him. Then you rolled on top
of him and took the gun away." She narrowed her eyes at
him. "You hit him with the butt of the gun, almost knocked
him out. The cops said it looked professional, like
something you'd practiced a hundred times to get that
"They get him?"
She shook her head. "In the confusion, he managed to get
to his feet and get out the back."
He blinked again, then looked around for his glasses. She
saw him searching, opened the drawer to the bedside table,
and pulled them out. "Looking for these, hero?"
He nodded, slipping them on his face, even as he said,
"I'm no hero. I was scared shitless." He pushed the
wirerims up against the bridge of his nose, then settled
back into the pillows. "Then what happened?"
"Then, Mr. Hero-Man, you fainted." She couldn't suppress
the grin that stretched across her face.
"I fainted?" He laughed, then laughed even harder when
she joined him, nodding. "I really fainted?"
"Apparently. The cops said it was probably the adrenaline
coupled with the blood loss from the shot to your arm."
"I don't think I've ever fainted before," he murmured when
they had both stopped laughing.
"I don't think you've ever tackled a man with a gun
before, either," she said, laughter still in her voice.
He chuckled as he looked at her, but somehow, this time,
he couldn't agree.
September 14, 2001 6:30 a.m.
The image frozen on the TV screen was the same one he had
stared at in disbelief for so many long minutes. Only now,
it was frozen on Scully's TV and she was the one who stared
"Oh, my God ..." she whispered for the fourth time. Her
eyes finally slid off the screen and traveled up to meet
his. One small but strong hand half-covered her mouth.
"What have they done?"
Mulder shook his head grimly. "I still don't know that,
but I know what they haven't done."
"What?" Her eyes had moved back to the image of Skinner,
arm bloody, face dirty, and eyes that seemed to stare
directly at them from the TV.
"They haven't killed him." Mulder stood and stepped to
the VCR. He pushed a button and the image disappeared.
Seconds later, the tape slipped halfway out of the machine
and he pulled it free, then pocketed it. "We need to find
"Can we get Bureau help, do you think? Is it safe?"
Mulder shook his head in frustration. "I don't know. Not
everyone can be involved, but I don't know who is and I
don't know how far their reach extends."
"Pretty damn far if they managed to 'kill' Skinner and
almost get away with it." She rose from the sofa and moved
into the kitchen, turning to study him as he followed her.
"I'm making tea. My bet is you've already had at least a
pot of coffee."
"We need to find him, Scully! If they want him gone this
badly, I sure as hell want him back!"
The kettle was filled and on the stovetop now, and she had
moved to the kitchen. Sandwich makings were appearing on
the small table as she pulled one thing out after another.
"I'm not hungry, Scully! We need to get started!"
"Hush," she ordered, turning to look at him. "You've
gotten started. You've got the tape."
"I didn't *get* the tape. It came to me. I haven't done
anything, yet." He slumped into a chair in frustration.
"You didn't let it go, Mulder. That's your biggest
strength." She patted him absently and began to make
sandwiches. "You also didn't sleep or eat much since we
got the word." She placed a paper plate with a ham and
cheese sandwich on it before him as the kettle began to
whistle. "Now... I know you. You're not going to eat or
sleep much until we find him." She was pouring hot water
into mugs as she spoke, then adding sugar. The milk was
already in a small pitcher on the table. "And God only
knows how long it's going to take, considering all we have
to go on is the tape." She turned and placed the hot mug
in front of him, pleased to see half the sandwich had
already been wolfed down. "You can't let yourself get worn
down. He needs you."
Mulder shook his head, mouth full. He chewed hard, then
swallowed and said, "He needs us both. I've looked at the
tape and I haven't got a clue as to where it is. It could
be any grocery store in any town in America." He took one
more huge bite and the sandwich was gone. "I don't know
where to start."
"Let's go look again. This time, instead of watching the
action, we need to watch what doesn't move." She had
almost finished cleaning up her impromptu sandwich makings.
The mayonnaise went back into the fridge and she grabbed a
dishcloth and wiped the table.
"What do you mean?" Mulder was stirring milk into the
tea, staring up at her.
"The background." She walked to the trash can, shook
bread crumbs from the cloth, then went to the sink. "There
must be something there to give us a clue as to where he
Office of the Lone Gunmen
September 14, 2001
"There!" Mulder pointed to a fuzzy image on the screen.
"We think that's a newspaper. Can you enhance it?"
"C'n try." Langly scratched his head. "None of the
images are real clear." He rolled the tape back, stopping
at another frame, then squinting at the screen. "I still
think that's just a clock." He turned and looked at
Scully. "Why do you think it's a thermometer?"
"A grocery store we went to when I was a child had one of
those. I always thought it was neat -- a thermometer that
looked like a clock. It was when we were stationed at
Mayport and it would get so hot in the summer. I remember
wondering what would happen when it got over a hundred,
since 100 was as far as the thermometer went -- the 12
"We'll see what we can do with the girl's shirt, too."
Frohike spoke from a seat in front of another monitor. "I
swear that looks like a school mascot."
"She's just a kid, Frohike. Make sure the mascot is all
you check out." Mulder tossed out the warning without
thinking and Scully had to laugh.
Mulder glanced at her, smiled in acknowledgment, then
turned back to his friends. "We're taking copies to the
FBI, get them working on it too."
"Is that wise, Mulder?" Byers rose and tugged at his
vest. "Surely someone there was involved in this."
"Probably," Mulder nodded grimly. "But at high levels,
not down in the labs."
"At least that's what we're hoping," Scully added. "You
guys are good, and we appreciate what you're doing, but we
need all the help we can get."
September 14, 2001
"How's the arm?" Karen asked as she set a plate before
He sniffed appreciatively. Barbecued chicken, mashed
potatoes, corn on the cob. So much for their resolution to
eat salads for dinner during the summer months. He grinned
up at his wife. "It hurts, but not too bad. And if
anything can make it feel better, a meal like this can!
She leaned down and kissed him. "You're welcome. Just
promise me you're done with heroic stunts like that,
please." Her voice softened and she looked deep into his
eyes. "I couldn't bear to lose you."
He pushed the plate aside, scooted his chair back from the
table, and pulled her into his lap with his still good arm.
He kissed her hungrily, then buried his head against her
breasts. "I couldn't go on without you either."
They sat that way for a long moment, until she rose, ever
the practical one, and said, "Well, enough of that sap.
Just you mind your p's and q's, Mr. Johnson, and don't make
me have to track you down in a hospital again." She took a
deep breath, steadying herself, and put his plate back in
front of him. "Eat, before it gets cold. That detective
is coming over after dinner to talk to you again."
They ate together, talking about the kids at school, the
new house, what a good decision it had been to leave the
city and move to this small town. And how sad it was, that
even in small town America, crime had to rear its ugly
head. They finished and she wouldn't let him help with the
clean-up, so he sat and kept her company while she washed
and then dried their dishes. There was chicken left over --
it would make a wonderful lunch tomorrow. She had just
wiped the table down, making him lift his arms so she could
do the whole thing, when the doorbell rang.
A look of concern slid across her face, but she covered it
quickly and said, "I'll let him in. You two can talk out
here. I'm going to go in the living room and read."
"I *can* move, you know," he said, reaching out to stop
her and pull her to himself. "It's just my arm and it's
going to be fine. I'll only have a little scar."
She took a deep, shuddery breath. "I know, I know. And I
know I'm fussing." Her head came up and she met his eyes.
"Let me fuss. I was scared. I felt so damn helpless. I
couldn't *do* anything when they told me you'd been shot."
He stroked her hair as the doorbell rang again, murmuring,
"I'm sorry. It's all right now."
She kissed him then, a quick brush on the lips and pulled
away. "Of course it's all right. You saved Cheryl's
life." She turned and walked to the doorway, then looked
back. "Just let me fuss a bit more." Her eyes dropped and
she studied the floor. "It helps chase away the scared
September 14, 2001
"I can't believe it's really him!" Danny looked up at
Mulder in astonishment. "And you just found this tape
outside your door?"
"Yeah, and nobody knows I've brought it to you and I want
to keep it that way." Mulder brushed his hair back and
stared down at the younger man.
Danny lifted both hands in a surrender gesture. "No
sweat, Mulder. Your secret's safe with me." He dropped
his hands and fiddled with the controls on the monitor.
The image of Skinner doubled and then doubled again until
they could stare into the man's eyes. "But why, man? I'd
think you'd want all the resources of the Bureau working on
"I'm not sure I can trust the Bureau. Someone went to a
lot of trouble to convince us all that Skinner is dead.
Until I know who that someone is, and why, I don't want
anyone to know about this who doesn't absolutely have to."
"I hear ya." Danny shifted the image on the screen and
the thermometer over the customer service desk leapt into
view. It was still fuzzy, but it was clear that it wasn't
a clock. Scully had been right. "They won't hear it from
me." He played with the dials again, and the number
cleared. "Ninety-four degrees."
"Ninety-four." Mulder nodded, pleased. "That'll help
narrow it down if we can get a date."
"I'm working on it. I'm gonna try for the newspaper --
that'll give us a date and a name, hopefully. If I can't
get that, there may be a receipt showing in one of the
frames and I can pull a date off that."
"Good man." Mulder patted the other man's shoulder. "Let
me know as soon as you get anything I can use."
September 14, 2001
"White male, five-eleven, 18 to 25. Brown eyes and brown
hair past his earlobes. Blue jeans and a white T-shirt,
and of course, that damn coat." Paul stopped and looked
over at the other man. "I'm amazed you didn't get him."
Detective Franco snorted. "So am I. And I still don't
know how he slipped out." He narrowed his eyes as he
studied Paul. "And you, you give a description like a cop
would. What's up with that?"
Paul laughed uncomfortably and lifted one hand in a little
'forget it' gesture. "Didn't know I'd done it." He rose
and got the iced tea from the refrigerator, refilling both
glasses. "Must have watched too much NYPD Blue."
"Yeah -- uh, thanks." The detective took another swallow
of the tea. "That must be it." He lifted one hand and
tugged absently at a lock of hair.
Paul stared at him. The movement looked almost familiar,
but he couldn't place it. He shook his head and put the
pitcher back in the refrigerator. Probably something one
of the kids did in class.
"So there's nothing else you can tell me, Mr. Johnson?"
The detective set the tall glass of iced tea back down on
the table. "Nothing at all?"
Paul shrugged in frustration. "I don't know what you want
from me. It all happened so fast."
"Yeah, and you reacted like a pro. That roll over the
counter was one of the slickest moves I've ever seen." He
shook his head. "And the way you avoided the man's shots --
I was amazed. We all were."
Paul pointed to his bandaged arm. "Didn't avoid them all,
as you should recall. Just lucky on the rest."
The detective was still shaking his head. "No, you don't
understand. We've checked the trajectories of all the
shots. What you did went beyond luck. It was something
any one of us would have been proud to have pulled off. It
was like you knew where he would aim next, like you'd
studied criminal behavior and knew where and how to move to
stay ahead of the guy."
Paul laughed now and took a deep drink from his tea.
"'Fraid you've got the wrong guy. Me? I'm just a high
school math teacher. Always have been. No cops and
robbers stuff for me."
"I guess." The cop looked disappointed. "We checked your
background -- you came up clean."
Paul choked on the tea, coughing long and hard enough that
Karen came to the door to see what had happened. He caught
his breath at last and waved her away. "I'm fine -- just
swallowed wrong." He smiled up at her, sorry to have
worried her further. "Go read -- we'll be done shortly and
I'll join you."
When she had retreated to the living room, he turned and
looked at the cop. "You checked my background? What the
"You're new in town. You interrupt a robbery despite your
mild-mannered high school teacher persona. You move like a
cop -- or a professional bad guy -- someone with a lot of
experience at staying out of a bullet's way. I wanted to
know who you are."
Paul stared at him. "And who am I?"
The cop shook his head. "I don't know. Everything I
found says Paul Johnson, math teacher. Grew up in a small
town in Ohio, OSU for college. Met Karen Riley there,
married her upon graduation, and you've both been teachers
ever since. She grew up in foster care, your parents are
dead -- it's just the two of you."
"What the hell does my life have to do with what happened
at the Shop-n-Save?"
"I don't know, Mr. Johnson. And if I've invaded your
privacy for no reason, I can assure you I'll apologize. But
from my point of view, it just looks pretty weird."
Paul stared at the man in amazement. "Don't you have
anything better to do than dig around in my past? Can't
you see I'm one of the most boring people you'll ever meet?
Don't you have a life?"
The cop rose, still shaking his head. "You've got the
life a lot of us cops wish we had. The wife, the house,
the job you love." Franco lifted his glass, walked to the
sink, and dumped the ice. He set the empty tumbler on the
stainless steel carefully, then turned to face the man in
the chair. "Some cops can balance it all, but most of us
can't. Failed marriages, too much liquor. We eat and
sleep and shit our jobs. It becomes the sum total of all
we are, and it's pretty damn lonely, Mr. Johnson." Franco
dug in his pocket, pulling out car keys. "I'll give you
that apology now, sir. Maybe it was just envy that made me
want to dig around in your past."
He walked over and extended a hand, shaking when Paul
extended his own. "Thanks for the help with our bad guy.
Sorry we let him get away after you worked so hard to save
the girl. We'll let you know when we find him."
September 14, 2001
"I picked it all up from our friends, Scully. They've got
the name off the paper, and the date. We already had the
temperature. All that's left is the symbol on the girl's
shirt." Mulder could barely contain his enthusiasm. "When
can you get here?"
She sighed sleepily. "On my way. Give me about an hour.
I'm clear across town from you and I'm half asleep. I don't
want to have a wreck." Mulder nodded as he heard her hang
up the phone, disconnecting them.
He glanced at the clock, then headed for the kitchen.
Scully always fed him when they worked at her place. After
an initially skeptical start, she'd thrown herself
wholeheartedly into the search for Skinner. She deserved
at least a sandwich or a cup of soup. He opened the
refrigerator. Mustard, mayonnaise, a carton of sour milk
and an onion were the only occupants. Damn! He'd
forgotten to shop again.
No sweat. There was always soup. He went to the cabinet
and opened the door. Bare shelves. Well, not completely
bare. There was an opened bag of noodles that he couldn't
remember buying and a can of cranberry jelly, left from
Thanksgiving. That was it. He briefly pondered cranberry
jelly soup, then wrinkled his nose in disgust. He grabbed
the phone and hit speed dial 2 and the familiar voice of
the woman at the Chinese restaurant answered.
The food taken care of, he looked down at himself and
sniffed. Phew! Now he was really disgusted. When was the
last time he had showered? He'd been so obsessed with the
search for Skinner, he couldn't remember the last time he
climbed into a shower. He glanced longingly at the
envelope with the papers and the disk from the Lone Gunmen,
then sniffed again.
No contest. He pulled the T-shirt over his head and
started unbuttoning his jeans as he headed for the shower.
He was just getting out, towel wrapped around his waist,
when the doorbell rang. "Coming," he called as he scooped
up his wallet and headed for the door. He had the money in
one hand and the other hand on the door knob, when the door
frame shattered, and he was thrown backward into the wall.
His vision blurred and he shook his head, even as he tried
to get to his feet. The head shaking had been a mistake
and a wave of nausea held him pinned to the floor as he
struggled for breath. One man stood over him, a gun
sighted at his head. The other one was coming back from
the living room, the packet of material about Skinner in
He surged upward, ignoring the gun and lunged at the man
with the envelope. The other man grabbed him and threw him
into the wall again, this time the gun was pressed against
his chest. Mulder stood still, panting heavily, still
eyeing the envelope.
"Don't try it," the man with the gun said. "I'm not
supposed to kill you, but that doesn't mean I can't shoot
you." He slid the gun up Mulder's chest and settled it
against the scar Scully's bullet had left. "This seems to
be a popular spot."
"What the hell's going on?" Mulder grated out between
clenched teeth. "What do you want?"
"We want you to leave the A.D. alone. He's happy, content."
The gun moved pack and forth over the scar, almost as if
the man were scratching it. "Leave it alone, Mulder."
Mulder stared at the two men. He'd lost his towel at some
point and standing here naked did not add to his
confidence, but he'd be damned if they were going to walk
out with all his hard-won information without a fight.
Mulder dropped his head, nodding slightly.
"Good boy," the man said. The gun pulled back from his
shoulder fractionally, and Mulder moved. He dropped and
rolled, sweeping the gunman's feet out from under him. The
man fell with a crash. Mulder was up in a split second and
lunging for the second man. The second man danced back
barely avoiding Mulder's grasp. Mulder struggled with
balance for a second, then got ready to leap again.
The muscles in his legs were taut, his body was coiled
like a spring and he was going to get this guy. The
adrenaline was flowing and he was ready and the man was
just standing there, not running, not trying to get away.
Just waiting. Mulder was poised, ready to plunge, when
something heavy came crashing down on the back of his head
and everything went dark.
September 14, 2001
His gun was missing. He was searching for it but he
couldn't find it. It was just gone. Someone was pounding
on the door, someone that didn't wish him well, and he
couldn't find the damn gun. He could hear the door as
whoever was out there threw himself against it. He raced
through the house, pulling open drawers, digging through
closets, his hand sliding between the mattress and box
springs in the bedroom.
Where the hell was the damn gun?
He heard the door crack again -- knew it was just moments
before the man on the outside became the man on the inside.
He raced down the stairs and into the kitchen, settling for
a large butcher knife. If he couldn't find his gun, he'd
be damned if he was going to face them unarmed.
He went to the fuse box and hit the circuit breaker,
turning off all the lights. It was hard to aim a gun when
you couldn't see. A knife, on the other hand, had only to
make contact. Contact in some places was better than
others, but any kind of contact constituted a score.
He looked around, startled, trying to see who was in the
room and who they were calling. Was Paul the one trying to
break his door down?
The door frame finally gave and he could hear feet tread
on the carpet as the man moved into the condo. The man was
moving slowly, carefully, and he could imagine the gun held
out in front as the head turned from side to side.
He ignored it this time, focused on the man moving
silently toward him. The knife was clenched in his right
hand; he crouched behind an overstuffed chair and struggled
to control his breathing. He was almost there. It was
almost time. He waited, holding his breath now, not daring
to make a sound, because he might only get one chance at
The man stepped around the chair and he sprung, leaping to
his feet and plunging the knife in as hard as he could. He
pulled it out and stabbed again. And again, and again and
The scream shocked him. It wasn't the man in his arms.
That man was unmoving.
He lifted his hand to stab again, but something happened,
something moved, and...
"Karen!" He sat up, drenched in sweat. She lay on the
floor where he'd thrown her? pushed her? and his heart
broke. He scrambled out of the bed and moved toward her
but she scuttled away and he froze.
"Karen?" he said softly. "Are you all right?"
"Paul?" She was crying and he strained to see if he'd
"I'm going to turn the light on, OK hon?" He stayed on
the floor, crawling to the table and flipping the switch.
As the room lit up and he could see, he stared at her,
still huddled by the foot of the bed. "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, babe, it's me." He moved forward slightly, and
when she didn't move back, he went to her. "Are you OK?"
"Yeah," she nodded, the tears starting to stop at last.
He leaned back and grabbed the tissues from beside the
lamp, handing them to her. She wiped her eyes then blew
her nose noisily. When she was done, she tossed the tissue
aside, then smacked him on his good arm. "You threw me out
of the bed, you big oaf!"
"Aw, shit, Karen, I'm sorry." He reached out and pulled
her into his arms, ignoring the pain in the injured one.
"I'm so damn sorry." He kissed her hair, then shifted to
lean up against the bed and pull her into his lap. "I
don't know what's going on with me. God! I'm so sorry."
"Shhhh. I know. You didn't mean to. But Paul, this is
getting serious. You're a big guy and you could've hurt
"I would never hurt you!"
"Not deliberately, I know that. But these dreams, Paul...
You have to do something."
"I'll find a shrink, see a hypnotist. I will, Karen. I
couldn't stand it if I hurt you."
"I know." She laughed. "Somehow, sweets, I don't think
I'd stand it too well either." She stood and pulled him to
his feet, then let him engulf her in his arms again. "But
it's getting out of control, Paul. You've got to get some
September 15, 2001
"How many fingers, Mulder?" Scully asked again.
"Stop that," he groused, "and at least get me my pants
before anyone else gets here."
"What the hell were you doing answering the door in the
buff anyway?" she called from the bedroom.
"I'd just gotten out of the shower and I had a towel on."
"You know better than to open the door like that." She
threw a pair a dark boxers at him and waited while he
struggled into them before handing him the jeans.
"I ordered Chinese," he admitted sheepishly. "I figured
it was the least I could do since you were driving over and
I knew we'd be working all night."
"Delivery!" a voice called from the hall. "Mr. Mulder?"
Mulder groaned and started to get up, but Scully held him
down with one hand. "Just a sec," she called. "Where's
He pointed to the wall by the door where he'd first fallen
and she strode over and picked it up.
"What happened this time?" the delivery boy asked as he
accepted the money and passed over the brown paper bag.
Scully shrugged. "Don't know yet. I just got here." She
narrowed her eyes at the boy. "You know someone who can
fix his door at this time of night?"
"My uncle. He's fixed it before."
Scully dug another twenty out of Mulder's wallet and
handed it over. "Get him, please."
The boy nodded and ducked out.
"His uncle's gonna come do your door, Mulder." She
dropped his wallet in his lap. "I gave him twenty."
"Twenty? Scully, you're breaking me here! I usually only
give him ten to get the uncle."
"So sue me." She studied him again, noting the slightly
dilated pupils and the knot on the back of his head. "How
bad does it hurt?"
He winced. "Bad enough. Aspirin?"
She nodded and went into the kitchen. "You want to eat?"
"Still too nauseated. Just water. And the damn aspirins,
please." He was gently touching the knot when she came
back, two white pills in one hand, a cup of water in the
He took both.
"What did they want?"
"They took the stuff from the guys, which makes no sense
whatsoever. They've gotta have known I'd have already
looked at it." He tapped the side of his head, then moaned.
"Smart, Mulder." She reached out and touched his head
gently and her touch took the sting from her words. He
could see she was really worried.
"I'm OK, Scully, really." He reached up and caught her
hand, holding it for a moment as his eyes met hers.
She stared at him for a minute, then sighed. "Of course
you are. A little bump on the head isn't going to stop you
when you're on the hunt." She headed back to the kitchen.
"Will the smell bother you if I eat?"
He started to shake his head but stopped in time and said,
"No, go ahead." When she came back in with a plate and
curled up in the chair, he said, "I'd already looked at the
"And?" The word was more of a grunt as her mouth was full.
"And the paper was dated three days ago."
"Name?" She was still eating.
"You were hungry," he observed.
She swallowed. "Yep. Good thinking, ordering the food."
She cocked her head as she looked at him. "Sorry it got you
knocked out." She rose and walked over to him again,
putting her plate on the coffee table. One hand came out
and gently touched the back of his head again, then came
around to cradle his cheek for a moment as she met his
eyes. "You do seem to have a knack for attracting
trouble." The words were spoken softly and her eyes
sparkled as she said them.
He lifted a hand to meet hers. "Not deliberately."
They stayed that way for a moment, frozen in time and then
she pulled her hand away and grabbed her plate. This time
she sat on the other end of the sofa from him. "So, what do
"The paper is the Bayville Herald. There are 26 Bayvilles
in the country and four of them have a paper called the
Herald. Washington state, Maine, Virginia, and Georgia."
"So where do we go?" She opened her mouth and took a bite
of an egg roll.
"Washington's having rain -- cold front passing through."
Mulder sipped his water.
"Maine doesn't get into the nineties too often either,"
"So it was 94 degrees where?"
"Georgia and Virginia."
"Anything else to narrow it down?" She took a last bite
and wiped her mouth as she plopped the plate on the coffee
"Better?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"You bet." She sighed contentedly. "Anything from the
"We decided it was something big -- bear or bull or wolf
or something like that. Some kind of animal."
She rose and headed for the kitchen. "Spill it, Mulder. I
know you know where to go. What is it?"
"Bayville, Virginia's mascot is a scorpion." He leaned
his head back and closed his eyes. It didn't help the
pounding at all so he sat back up and looked at her.
"Bayville Bruins -- big ugly grizzly looking thing."
"So we're off to Georgia."
"Yep. It's a small town. Three grocery stores. Two are
chains and the employees wear uniforms of sorts. One
insists on white shirts and black pants, the other white
shirts and khakis."
She eyed him. He did so love to drag things out at times.
"And the third one?"
"The third one is an independent. Cashiers wear what they
want -- including school T-shirts."
She nodded. "When do we leave?"
September 16, 2001
The yard was full of teenagers. There were five or six
adults as well, parents who'd come along to help chaperone
and to meet the "hero," but it was mostly a day for the
kids. Cheryl Pierce was helping Karen shuck corn, and he
could see them talking quietly. As he watched, the girl
dropped the ear of corn she was holding and hugged Karen,
who hugged back, corn and all.
Somehow, he didn't want to know what they were saying. He
looked around the yard, the kids sitting by the speakers,
talking. Though how they could talk over the volume he had
no idea. Another group had brought a volleyball and there
was a full court game going on, minus net and court, but
the kids were squealing with enjoyment. A group of boys
stood by the grill, turning hot dogs and hamburgers, and
huddled together, almost in self-defense, the adults were
off in a corner, watching it all in content bemusement.
One of the fathers came over to him. "I don't know how
you've done it, Mr. Johnson..."
"Paul," he interrupted. "My name is Paul."
"Well, Paul. This is a small town, good kids. But they
don't usually want to party at the teacher's house with
their parents present. This is no small accomplishment."
"Glad to have them." He looked at the man and smiled.
"Karen and I never had kids of our own -- it just never
happened. We feel blessed that folks like you will share
yours with us."
"Share? Hell, you can *have* that rascal of mine. Did he
tell you what he's done now? He was moving my car out of
the driveway so he and his buddies could play basketball
and he hits the mailbox on his way down. Then he tries to
correct his course and he manages to wing my wife's car as
well. Got a nice little crinkle in her bumper now, and two
matching dents in my car!"
Paul laughed. "Did he confess on his own?"
The man laughed as well, shaking his head. "Yeah. Yeah,
he did. Can't complain on that count. Even offered to pay
for the damages."
"What'd you say?"
"I told him he'd be better off spending his money on
Both men roared with laughter and then Paul said, "He's a
good kid, you know."
"Yeah, I know." The man looked up and met Paul's eyes.
"He was in the store that day, waiting for Cheryl to get
off." The man's face fell and he reached out, gripping
Paul's good arm. "He could have been shot, killed even.
We'll never forget what you did."
Paul nodded, uncomfortable now. He tried to laugh but it
didn't quite come out right. "I'm glad everything turned
out all right."
The man nodded again and squeezed Paul's arm once more, an
awkward thank you. "Well, I better get over there and
check on the dogs. God only knows what the kids are doing
Paul nodded and watched the grateful father walk away. He
watched his wife shuck corn with a gaggle of giggling
girls, watched the boys cook burgers and dogs, watched the
parents as they watched their kids play volleyball. One of
the moms lifted a beer in a sort of salute to him, and he
raised his own back at her.
God! He loved his life! He was the happiest, luckiest
SOB on the planet! He had it all!
So why did he feel like everything was slipping away?
September 16, 2001
"Well, that's either him or he's got a twin we know
nothing about." Mulder sighed and dropped the binoculars.
"So what the hell is he doing out here in the middle of
small town America?" He reached up and rubbed his
"Head still hurt?" Scully asked as she lifted the glasses
and took a turn watching their boss as he supervised a
"A little. Now I can't decide if it's the bump on the
noggin or the tension from finding him and not knowing what
"I know what to do." She lowered the glasses and looked
at him. "We go over there and ask him what the hell is
"Scully, we can't just storm in and demand answers. We
don't know enough yet. The cop we talked to, the one that
gave us the address. She said that the detective on the
grocery robbery had done some investigating into Mr.
Johnson's background." Mulder looked at his partner and
turned the ignition key. "Let's go talk to him."
Bayville Police Department
September 16, 2001
"The man's clean as a whistle." Franco nodded at the file
that lay on his desk. They'd paged the man and not been
surprised when he'd agreed to come meet them at the station
to discuss Paul Johnson.
"Of course, he's clean. He's just not Paul Johnson."
Mulder lifted the folder, scanning quickly. He read the
whole file, then whistled softly. "Damn, Scully, they
really did a good job on this." He looked up and met her
eyes. "Everything's covered."
"But why, Mulder? Why not just kill him?"
"I don't know. Why is he such a threat at this time?
Enough that they would go to such elaborate lengths to get
him out of the picture, but still not kill him?" He turned
and looked at the detective. "This man is not Paul
"What? You're kidding me, right?" Franco's cigarette
swung at half mast from parted lips.
"No. He's an assistant director with the FBI. He's our
supervisor. And he was killed in a car wreck a few weeks
"You're shittin' me!" Franco rose and began to pace. "I
knew something wasn't right with this guy. He moved too
smooth." The detective stopped and faced Mulder and
Scully. "Even the move to town was a little too smooth. I
mean, we suddenly have two teachers die, there's openings
just when school is ready to open, and these two show up.
It was just weird."
"Two people died?" Scully looked at Mulder in concern.
"We hadn't figured that they'd killed people this time."
Mulder shrugged. "I'm sorry, but I can't say that I'm
"Whoa! Hold your horses there. I may be suspicious of
our Mr. Johnson, but nobody killed anybody. Mark and
Jeannette were rock climbing. They both liked to climb and
had been doing it for years. It was just an accident."
Mulder looked at the man. "And Mr. and Mrs. Johnson had
just happened to have moved to town, shiny bright teaching
certificates at the ready."
"They'd signed up as subs for the year. We were lucky
they'd already moved and were willing to step in at the
last minute like that." The detective scratched his head,
then snuffed out the cigarette in an overflowing ashtray.
"I gotta stop smoking. It's gonna kill me."
Mulder and Scully exchanged an amused glance.
Franco took a deep breath then spoke. "I'm willing to
believe Mr. J isn't who he says he is. But what are you
trying to say? That someone kidnapped him and killed Mark
and Jeannette so that he and Karen could have full-time
jobs? That's insane."
Scully smiled wryly as she looked at Mulder. "Told you so."
"Our boss, A.D. Skinner, disappeared almost a month ago. It
was made to look like a car wreck, but the body was burned
beyond recognition. I think he was taken somewhere, given
new memories, and then planted here with a new identity, a
wife, a job, a cozy little life."
"New memories? New identity? A wife? What the hell are
you talking about?"
Now it was Mulder's turn to pace. "I just don't know why
they didn't go ahead and kill him."
"The nanoprobes," Scully murmured. "Maybe it's the
Mulder stopped and looked down at her. "What? What did
"I said maybe it's the nanoprobes. Maybe they don't want
to risk killing their prime subject while they can still
study the nanoprobes."
"What the hell is a nanoprobe?" Franco thundered.
Mulder shrugged him away, shaking his head. "Not now,
Franco." He looked at Scully. "Maybe. It's thin, but I
can't think of anything better at the moment." He took a
deep breath. "Anyway, we have a bigger problem."
"How do we convince Paul Johnson he's Walter Skinner?"
Paul and Karen Johnson's House
September 16, 2001 6 p.m.
"Federal Bureau of Investigation?" Karen sat on the
couch, tight up against Paul and she clutched his hand.
"Why would the FBI be interested in us?"
"Well, not you really, Mrs. Johnson, but your husband."
"Agent... Mulder, is it?" Paul stroked the back of
Karen's hand as he spoke. "I don't understand any of this.
Why would my foolhardy action in a grocery store have the
local police investigating my background and the FBI down
here in Georgia checking me out? How the hell did the FBI
even find out about that little stunt?"
"I'm not at liberty to discuss that, sir. But I can tell
you that it's not your actions that concern us. It's your
"My identity? What the hell are you talking about?" Paul
stood and strode to the window, staring out across the
street. Two boys played basketball in the driveway across
the way, and a little girl rode her bike up and down the
sidewalk. His neighbor, the retired Tom Davis, was out
mowing the grass and he knew if he opened the door he'd
smell that intoxicating scent of fresh cut grass on a hot
It was perfect, damn it! Perfect! So why did he feel
like it wasn't his?
"Sir, we need to confirm your identities. I'm sure this
is uncomfortable, and I assure you it is as awkward for us
as it is for you. But a man is missing..." Scully
trailed off as the man named Johnson stared at her.
"Are you accusing me of something?"
"No, sir." The answer was automatic, and for a moment it
was like it really was Skinner before them, questioning,
probing, demanding. She shook off the sense of deja vu and
went on. "Actually, we think you are the missing man."
"Ridiculous!" Paul dismissed the thought with a snort.
Karen joined him at the window and he put his arm around
"Sir, where did you live before you moved here?" Mulder
"Atlanta, but I'm sure you've got that in your
reports." He could feel Karen trembling and he pulled her
closer to his side. "And we both taught at Eastside High."
"Yes, sir. We do have that in the reports. Would it
surprise you to know that no one at the school has any
recollection of you, no one knows who you are?"
"What are you talking about? We were there for thirteen
years. We taught, I coached the track team, worked at a
local gym teaching disadvantaged youths to box. Karen
chaired the yearbook committee. She volunteered at a
battered women's shelter. We were both active in our
church, St. Thomas the Apostle. How can you say no one
"Because no one does, sir. We've had agents out for two
days knocking on doors. They've talked to other teachers,
students, people at the church." Mulder rose and looked
the other man in the eye. "No one has heard of you."
"This is insane." He turned to look at Scully. She was
pulling a fingerprint kit from a small case.
"If you will, sir? This could let us begin to straighten
this whole mess out."
Paul walked over to the table, not speaking, and let her
take his fingerprints. When she was done, she motioned to
Karen. "You, too, Mrs. Johnson."
"Paul?" Karen pulled close to him. "Paul, are we going
to let them do this to us?"
"Why Karen? Why do you need Karen's prints if I'm the one
you think is someone else?" he asked Scully.
"Well, sir, if we can prove that you are the A.D., then we
need to find out who she is as well. Her memories seem as
real as yours."
"Paul, I don't want to do this." There was panic in her
voice and he held her close for a moment. "Karen," he said
softly, whispering in her ear. "Remember the dreams? What
if something *is* wrong?"
"Not this, Paul. Not what they're saying. I know who I
am. I know who you are. We've been married twenty-five
years and I'm not going to lose you to something as absurd
"Please, Karen. Just do it. It'll get them out of the
house." He grinned down at her. "After all, what do we
have to be afraid of?"
She hesitated a moment longer, then sat on the couch and
let Scully print her. He moved to the window again,
watching the children play, the old man next door push his
lawnmower, a little spoiled terrier following in his wake.
It was too perfect, wasn't it?
Paul turned and walked back to the couch, pulling Karen up
to stand beside him.
"I don't know what you think you're doing, or who you
think we are. But you've gotten your fingerprints and
we've answered your questions. Please go."
The two agents nodded and rose. When they got to the
door, Mulder looked back and said, "I'm sorry, sir," and
then they were gone.
"Paul, when will we know?" Karen's face was buried in his
"We know right now. You're Karen Johnson and I'm Paul
Johnson. My name is Paul." He said it stubbornly, as if
voicing it would make it true.
"Catch them, Paul. Find out how long we have to wait."
He nodded and moved to the door. The two agents were
climbing into a rental car in the driveway. He had gotten
halfway down the sidewalk toward the car. The man,
Mulder, had gotten out and was coming to meet him. There
was a curious expression on his face and then there was a
look of panic.
It was like one of his dreams, the bad ones. The sound
seemed to have disappeared. He was flying through the air,
slamming into the man and they both went down. He felt a
rush of wind, a tongue of heat, and he rolled over, looking
back as his house, his wife, his life exploded and went up
"Sir, sir, are you all right?" It was Scully, hovering
over him and touching a gash on his forehead. His glasses
were broken and everything was blurry but he wasn't sure if
that was from the lack of glasses or the tears that ran
down his face.
Scully was pulling Mulder to his knees, checking the back
of his head and then they were both pulling him down, away
from the burning house.
"No, no, no," he sobbed. "This can't be happening."
"Sir, are you all right? Can you answer me?" Scully
looked at Mulder who nodded. "Paul, can you talk to me?"
Skinner looked at her, tears in his eyes. It was all
there, his whole life. The life of a lonely man. A
soldier, a cop. A man with a failed marriage, a wife who
was dead because of him. A man whose whole existence was
work, work, and more work. A man without friends, without
activities, without much of anything. Oh, yes, he had his
life back, but now he knew, he had no life.
"No, Scully," he whispered. "Not Paul. My name is Walter."
September 18, 2001
"Who was she?" Skinner asked. He had a small bag open on
the bed and was packing the few bits of personal items he'd
accumulated in his brief hospital stay. Toiletries,
underwear and T-shirts, socks, a plain gray sweatsuit. He
was amazed it didn't bother him more to know Scully had
been shopping for underwear and deodorant for him.
"Theresa Wimbley, a schoolteacher from Ohio. She didn't
have any family and her coworkers all thought she'd been
killed in a car wreck." Scully paused and looked at him.
Skinner shrugged. "I don't remember that part. I just
remember waking up with Karen and a whole lifetime to look
back at and a future to look forward to."
"Do you remember it?"
He dropped his head. "Yeah, I do. I remember all of it."
He tapped his head. "I remember Walter Skinner very
clearly. Everything from my time in Vietnam to my life
with Sharon to all those years with the Bureau." He paused,
staring down at the bed, then walked to stand by the
"But I remember Paul Johnson, too. He was an ordinary
man, living the life I never had." He turned and looked at
her. "I envy him that."
"It wasn't real, sir. You know that."
He nodded. "Yeah, I know that. But I miss it just the
September 21, 2001
"Morning, Mulder." Scully set the drink carrier on the
desk, two paper cups still steaming. She looked up and saw
Skinner. "Sorry, sir. I didn't know you would be here.
"It's all right, Scully. I came in to work today, but
they won't let me." He sighed in disgust. "Apparently,
I'm still officially dead and I can't do anything until
that is sorted out." He looked around the small basement.
"So I came down here." He shrugged, embarrassed. "It's
the only place I feel halfway comfortable."
"You're always welcome, sir," Mulder murmured.
"Thanks." Skinner shook his head at Scully's offer of one
of the coffee cups. "Don't have too many places I feel
welcome." He turned and looked at them. "One of the
things I intend to do now."
"Do, sir? What's that?"
"I intend to find some places I feel welcome. I didn't
ask for what happened, didn't want to be pulled out of the
game at this point in time." He slammed a fist down on the
table. "But, damn it! I can learn from my experiences. I
don't want to die a lonely man."
"None of us want to die lonely." Mulder was speaking, but
his eyes were on the floor.
"Well," Skinner said softly, "I just wanted to tell you
both thanks. Let you know I appreciate that you didn't
just let them kill me off."
"Do you really, sir?" Mulder looked at him. "Were you
Skinner shrugged. "It wasn't real, Mulder. It felt real,
but it wasn't." He walked to the door then turned. "For
now, this is where I belong."
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