He rose abruptly and left the room, locking it behind him. Her shoulders sagged and she closed her eyes. When she opened them she looked down at her watch. She’d been missing for six hours. Mulder must be going out of his mind.
That was an understatement. He’d finally left the station, unable to be around Backus or his masculine brigade. He had very nearly assaulted the officer who seemed to suggest that Scully had asked for it.
He pulled her cross out of his pocket to look at it again. It was as though he thought it could tell him where she was. She had left this for him. She had known he would find it and realize that she was in trouble. She was right, it had been like a flare to him.
But what did he do now? This was out of pattern for the man. Scully didn’t fit the profile of his victims. He had taken her because they were looking for him. How angry was that going to make him? The women had died in pain, according to Scully, incredible pain. He closed his eyes in pain himself.
He had to stay focused. He had to look at this as an investigator. Yeah, right. This was Scully. How was he supposed to be objective? These local morons were no help. So where did he turn?
Scully had seen a resemblance between the victims and Backus’ wife. Maybe that was where he should look. He had to get back on track.
He pulled into the parking lot of a drug store and got out, making his way to the phone booth. He pulled out the phone book and looked up the chief’s home address. He wouldn’t be there now; at least Mulder had made him see how crucial time was in looking for Scully. The fact that his attitude was what was infecting the other officers into a smirking adolescence was the biggest problem.
Mulder quickly found the house and knocked on the door.
The blond woman smiled brightly when she saw who was at the door. “Agent Mulder, it’s so good to see you.” She opened the door wider, inviting him in.
“Mrs. Backus, I’m . . . I’m sorry to disturb you at home.”
“Is something wrong?”
“Yes ma’am. My . . . my partner is missing. I think that the man who has been killing the women in this area has taken her.”
“Agent Mulder, my husband is at work. He’s the one - “
“The victims may have a, a connection to you.”
“It’s a possibility. I wanted to ask if you had any . . . enemies, anyone who would wish you harm.”
“No, not that I can think of.” She motioned for him to take a seat, “Could I get you a drink?”
“Uh, no, no thank you.”
She sat beside him then, just a little too close.
“Is, uh, is Chief Backus your first husband?”
She stiffened slightly then, “No. I was married before.”
“Does he live around here? Your ex?”
“Yes. Barry is a long-haul trucker. We didn’t get to spend much time with each other; eventually we just drifted apart. But we aren’t enemies. He’s remarried too.”
Mulder nodded, thinking. “Were there any children?”
“Do you and the chief have any children?”
“Not together. He has a son from his first marriage.”
She shrugged, “As much as he ever will be. He’s retarded.” There was definitely a note of judgment in her voice.
“Does he live here?”
“No! He’s . . . he’s creepy. He lived with his mother, until she died.”
“The original Mrs. Backus is dead?”
“Yes, about a year after the divorce. She had cancer.” The woman shrugged.
“That must have been very hard on the family.” Mulder responded dryly.
“Well, at least the alimony stopped.” She missed the sarcasm completely. “Of course, he’s always going to have to support Fred. He’ll never be able to earn a living or anything. He’s living in their old house and works at the service station near the glass plant.”
Mulder nodded, he was feeling dirtier here than he had at the station. He stood, anxious to be away from her. “I appreciate the information. If you think of anyone that might have a grudge against you, or anything that might help the investigation, please let me know.”
“Do you have to leave so soon? I really wouldn’t mind fixing us a drink.”
“No thank you.” He moved toward the door. He wanted out of here, hell he wanted out of this town. And he wanted Scully beside him, whole and safe.
He got into his car and pulled out as she stood on the porch, watching him. He drove around the corner, then pulled over to the curb and stopped the car again. He leaned back in the seat, staring up at the roof of the car, but seeing nothing. He didn’t have a direction to start. He slammed his hand into the steering wheel.
What was the guy doing to her, right now? Was she screaming for him? Was she even still conscious? He closed his eyes. There was no one here even capable of helping. She had wanted this case to help out her friend, at least that’s what she had told him. It wasn’t an X-File; they didn’t even have to be here.
He needed . . . hell he didn’t even know what he needed. He pulled back out into traffic and headed toward the hotel room. Maybe if he got away from all these mindless idiots, being led by a pathological sexist. he’d be able to think again.
Once in the room, he found himself pacing. He was ready to explode. The murderer was full of rage, he hated women and he had Scully. But he hated women who looked like Mrs. Backus. Why Scully? Why had he been behind the police station? He had to be aware they were here. Did he have a connection to the local police? He seemed to have information and he must have seen the chief’s wife around. Mulder ran his hand through his hair again and found himself at the connecting door to her room. He tried the knob, it was unlocked. He let himself in and looked around. Had the man been here, getting information on her?
He found nothing disturbed. He sat on the end of the bed and closed his eyes, trying to clear his mind. He had to calm down; he couldn’t think when he was like this. He touched the cross he now had around his neck.
He lay back on the bed and the scent of Scully surrounded him. What could he do? He pulled her other pillow into his arms and held it tight.
Someone who knew that they had joined the investigation, someone who knew Mrs. Backus, or Chief Backus and had a grudge against one or both of them. She was on good terms apparently with her ex and his was dead. His eyes flew open, the chief’s son? How ‘retarded’ was he?
This wasn’t something he could ask the chief. Where did the son live? He pulled out the phone book and got the address. He could head over that way. He didn’t have backup, but there was no one here he could trust.
Mulder found the house with no problem and parked around the corner from it, where he could see the driveway, but not be too obvious about it. He walked back and circled the house. No one was home and there was no car in the garage. Okay, now was as good a time as any. He let himself in the back door and looked around.
The furnishings were older, worn and more traditional. Not at all like the house that the current Mrs. Backus lived in. The books on the shelves were dusty. The only things in the refrigerator were condiments and orange juice. There were no weapons. Only one bedroom seemed to be in use now and it was obviously a child’s room. The master bedroom was neat, but dusty and had an unused smell.
Nothing. He headed for the basement. A furnace, water heater, hell it was the neatest basement he’d ever been in. He returned upstairs and after looking around one more time, let himself out. That had been useless, he needed to talk to the son. He didn’t want to confront him at work; the news would get back to the chief too quickly. He returned to his car to wait.
Fortunately it was less than an hour before the younger man pulled into the driveway.
Mulder was out of his car before the garage door closed completely. He knocked on the door, which was answered quickly. “Yes sir?”
“Hello. Are you Fred Backus?”
“Yes sir.” He didn’t offer to invite Mulder in.
“I’m Special Agent Fox Mulder; I work for the FBI.”
Fred nodded warily. “May I come in; talk to you for a few minutes?”
Instead of answering, Fred moved back and allowed him in, then motioned for Mulder to follow him into the kitchen. Mulder spotted the bag of fast food on the table. “I just got in from work.”
“I understand. I won’t keep you long. Go ahead and eat if you like.”
“I’ll, uh, I’ll wait.”
Mulder nodded and motioned for Fred to take a seat at the table, then sat beside him. “I’m in town to help your father.”
Mulder noted the flicker of hatred that flashed across the man’s face, but made no comment. “I guess you’ve heard that there’s someone around here who is killing women.” Fred looked at the bag of food, but didn’t speak. “The women that have been killed all kind of look alike.”
“I bet you think they’re sexy looking.”
Fred spoke up for the first time, and Mulder was surprised at the topic. “I suppose some men would like the way these women look. Personally, I find a different kind of woman more attractive.”
“Every man likes blonde women with big boobs.”
“Maybe to look at, but not necessarily to spent time with, Fred. Actually I think smart is very sexy.”
“Yeah, I like a woman that can talk to me, intrigue me, make me think.”
Fred looked at him curiously, “Like your partner?”
Adrenaline shot through Mulder. He hadn’t mentioned Scully. “Yeah, like her. She’s very smart and she’s beautiful too.”
Fred nodded. “When you work with her, do you sleep with her?”
“What? Uh, we’re partners. We work together.”
“Yeah, but you have connecting rooms. I bet you go into her room after she goes to bed and . . . and sleep with her.”
“Actually, Agent Scully has better taste than that. She’s too smart to want to sleep with me.”
“You’re bigger than she is, you could do whatever you want.”
“I suppose I could, but I wouldn’t. Agent Scully is in charge of her own body. She gets to decide who she wants to be with.”
“You act like she’s a man or something.”
“No, Agent Scully is very much a woman. She’s attractive and . . . and sexy. She’s also a doctor and a scientist.”
Fred was watching him then, “You’re in love with her.”
Mulder blinked at that. “I . . . I care about her. She’s very important to me.”
Fred nodded, “And you want to sleep with her.”
“Fred, do you know where she is?”
“You should get back to work, Agent Mulder.”
“Fred, don’t let anything happen to her. If I get her back safely, with your help, I’ll help you.”
“Why should I need your help?” But Mulder saw the fear in his eyes.
“Okay, but I need your help.” He pulled back, this man was not someone he could count on to be rational, he was obviously slow, but he was also a brutal murderer who had tortured his victims. He had Scully; the only hope was that since she didn’t look like the others she was still safe for now.
“The women that have been killed look like your stepmother, Fred. I’ve only just met her. Could you tell me about her?”
The man’s entire demeanor changed at the question. Mulder almost pulled back from the anger emanating from him. “She’s a whore. My mom said so. She stole Dad because she was young and pretty and had big boobs. I bet he doesn’t even hit her.”
Mulder absorbed that, thinking frantically. “Your Dad wasn’t very nice to your Mom, was he?”
Fred looked away, but shook his head. “My Mom would still be alive if that woman hadn’t stolen my Dad. She didn’t get sick until after the divorce.”
“You want to punish her, don’t you? For hurting your mother.”
“But why the other women? Did they hurt your mother too?”
“You have to practice. When you’re . . . retarded, you have to . . . to practice things over and over to make sure you can get it right. But I remember things that I practice. I never take the wrong bus any more.”
“I thought you could drive.”
Fred blushed then, “I don’t exactly have my license. You won’t tell will you?”
“No Fred. I won’t tell anyone, but you have to help me find Agent Scully.”
“So you can sleep with her.”
“So I know that she’s safe, Fred.”
Fred looked sideways at him, but didn’t comment.
“Where is she Fred?”
“You have to help me punish that woman first.”
“O . . . Okay, Fred, but do we need to make sure Scully’s safe?” This was a new one for him.
“That woman first.” He was just a child mentally, he wanted his way.
“Right, but no other women. You can’t ‘practice’ any more.”
“I don’t need to.”
Mulder closed his eyes at that. The police around here should have seen this. They should at least have made the connection with the victims. Had they just not tried because the victims were ‘only women’? The police took their lead from Chief Backus. Surely he had made the connection. Surely he had. Mulder closed his eyes for an instant - the chief knew. He was protecting his son out of some weird fatherly impulse. Shit.
“Why don’t I drive when we go see your father? You’ll stay calm, right?”
“Yeah.” The man seemed to smile shyly. Mulder realized that Fred really didn’t know what he had done. All he’d done, in his own mind, was practice to hurt the woman he saw as the murderer of his mother. The retardation had hidden the psychosis. Where the hell was Scully?
“Let’s go over to your Dad’s house.”
“This is my Dad’s house, where he lived with us. The other house is just where he sleeps with her.”
Mulder nodded, “But that’s where we’ll find them, isn’t it?”
Fred nodded glumly.
“What about your dinner?”
“Oh.” He seemed to think about that for a minute. “It’ll be okay.” He headed for the front door. Mulder glanced in the bag, then followed him.
They drove straight to the Chief’s house and walked to the front door together. Mulder could feel the tension that had started when they’d gotten within a couple of blocks of the place grow in the man beside him.
“Fred? You doing okay?”
Fred nodded, looking at the door they were approaching. Mulder rang the doorbell. When the older man opened the door, Mulder watched his face drain of color.
“A . . . Agent Mulder. I’m busy right now, why don’t we meet at the office in the morning.”
“I don’t think so, Chief. Your son and I would like to speak with you.”
“I didn’t know you knew my son.”
“We met a little while ago. He’s helping me find Agent Scully.”
What little color that was left in the man’s face vanished. Mulder moved past him into the house and Fred followed him, looking around. Once inside Mulder turned to look at the older man, who was looking older by the second.
“Is your wife here?”
“I, uh, I don’t involve my wife in my work.”
“Too bad. I think she might already be involved in this particular case.”
“Mulder - “
“How long have you known?”
“Known what?” The man actually tried to bluster, but Mulder’s look froze him.
Without warning, Brenda walked into the room. She glanced over at Fred and then away. Her look of disdain was unmistakable. Then she glanced over at Mulder and her look became more appraising, her eyes once again flicking over his body.
The chief saw her reaction to this man’s body and his eyes narrowed. Mulder stepped closer to Fred; the young man was beginning to tremble. Bringing him here had been rash, but his first thought had been to find Scully.
“She’s a whore. She wants to sleep with you.”
“Fred, keep it together, you promised to help me, remember?”
“What did he call me? What did that little moron call me!”
“Brenda, let me handle this.”
“Are you going to let him talk to me that way? You’ve coddled him his whole life and that bitch you were married to - “
Everyone was caught off guard when Fred moved. He was young and agile - and full of rage. He had the woman by the throat before even Mulder could react.
Mulder had his gun out. “Fred, Fred listen to me. I said I would help you, but you can’t hurt her. Not here and not now. You have to listen to me, we had a deal.”
“She called my mother a bitch! The whore killed my mother and now she’s calling her names!” Fred’s hands tightened around Brenda’s throat.
Mulder took a step closer to Fred. The woman was struggling with him, which was making Fred even angrier. “We all need to calm down here. Fred, let Brenda go. This is not what we agreed to. You were going to help me find - “
His words were cut short when the gunshot sounded just behind him. Fred’s eyes grew impossibly large for an instant, then lost focus. His grip on the woman’s throat loosened and he sank toward the floor.
Mulder spun to see Chief Backus let his gun hand fall back to his side. “What have you done!”
“I’ve taken out a brutal serial killer.”
“He’s the only one who knew where Scully was!” Mulder yanked his cell phone from his pocket and punched in 911. Once the ambulance was on its way, he checked on Fred, then closed his eyes. The man was dead.
Mulder was on his feet then, ready to charge the chief. Backus’ gun came back up to protect himself from the raging agent.
“Just stay back Agent. I don’t want to hurt you.”
Mulder’s eyes narrowed but he nodded once. Backus glanced over at his wife finally, in a heap on the floor, crying. He stepped toward her, watching Mulder closely.
Mulder could already hear a siren in the distance; not that it would do any good. Now what was he going to do? They’d arrest him if he beat Backus to a pulp. Fred had taken Scully. He hadn’t acted like he had harmed her, but he had put her somewhere as his prisoner. Where? They had no clues as to where the murders had been committed.
The ambulance and two police cars squealed to a halt in front of the house. Chief Backus looked over at Mulder. The look of defeat on the older man’s face didn’t bring as much satisfaction as Mulder wanted.
The chief walked heavily to the door and opened it. His men looked to him for guidance, but Mulder spoke first. “I want you to take Chief Backus into custody. Hold him until I can get back to you. Confiscate his weapon, it was used to kill Fred Backus in cold blood.”
“Cold blood? It was self defense.”
“Read the man his rights. Do you have any questions?”
The officers looked between Mulder and Backus. Of the two, Mulder looked a hell of a lot more dangerous and authoritative. They did as he bade, cuffing their superior.
The EMTs had left Fred’s side and were examining Brenda. Mulder turned then and moved toward the back of the house. He needed to be alone; he needed to think. Where the hell was Scully?
The other women had been found at various locations, never the same place twice. Fred had moved them in the car he wasn’t supposed to drive. They hadn’t found the location of the murders.
Okay, he had to start at the beginning. Fred lived alone now in his father’s old house. He had no other ideas.
Back in the living room, the officers had Backus on the couch. They were photographing the body. One of them approached Mulder as he returned to the room. “The coroner’s on his way, and we’ve called the state police. What do you want us to do?”
“Take the chief down to the station. Book him, fingerprints, pictures, the whole thing. I want every ‘t’ crossed and I want it done right.”
The officer nodded and returned to the couch. He pulled the chief to his feet and two of them escorted him outside. Brenda was silent on the other side of the room; her perfect face and body marred now with bruises and unwelcome knowledge. Mulder didn’t bother to acknowledge her on his way out. He had to get back to the other house. He had to find something. He didn’t have any other option.
He let himself into the house by the front door this time. He’d checked the house before, but he had to have missed something.
Fred obviously didn’t use much of the house. Only the kitchen and his bedroom, from the looks of it. When Mulder had met him here, they had only walked through the living room on the way back to familiar territory. Mulder retraced those steps. Now what?
He stood looking around the kitchen. He’d never eat his dinner and now it had grown cold waiting for him. Mulder approached the table. What was it about his meal?
Two, there were two of everything. Two burgers, two fries and . . . and two drinks. Even if the man was hungry enough to eat both of the sandwiches, he wouldn’t order two drinks, would he?
The food was for Scully. He felt a surge of certainty at that thought. But he’d brought the food here and he’d closed the garage, as though he weren’t going back out for the evening.
Scully wasn’t here; he’d searched the house. Which didn’t keep him from beginning to search again, even as he thought it.
There was no sign of her here. She hadn’t been able to leave a clue or a mark of her presence. The basement? It was the neatest basement he’d ever seen, no dust down there like there was in his mother’s room or the living room.
Fred used the basement, maybe kept important things down there. But he’d already checked once. Okay, what had he missed?
He hurried down the stairs and began a more in depth search. There was nothing near the furnace or water heater, but it was as good a point as any to start. He tapped every section, probed at every joint.
He was three quarters of the way around the room before the sound changed. Of course, he was away from the windows to the part of the basement that was completely underground. Fred had put up a fake wall and he’d missed it.
It was solid, but he had to get back there. She might be hurt or . . . he had to get in. On the pegboard under the stairs he found a crowbar. That should do it.
He couldn’t get the crowbar into the crack, so he reverted to the caveman approach and smashed the metal bar into the wall. The wallboard cracked and he hit it again. It took five hits to make the hole large enough to get his hand in. Then he got a grip on the plasterboard and yanked. It gave finally and he was able to wedge his body into the opening. He used his legs to wedge the opening larger, and pulled his pen light out of his pocket.
There was a body lying on the cot. Scully! He was on his knees beside her. “Scully? Scully can you hear me?” He had his hand on her throat, searching for a pulse and nearly lost it when he found it. There was duct tape over her mouth, which he removed gently.
“Scully?” Her head lolled against him, but she was alive. He gathered her into his arms and shoved his way back to the larger part of the basement. He didn’t know if she’d been drugged or knocked out but he had to get her help.
He took the stairs two at a time, her weight negligible against his adrenaline. He placed her gently on the couch and again dialed 911. She was already stirring before he got off the phone.
“Yeah, you okay?”
“I need some water.” He was already holding a glass out to her. “It’s Fred. He’s been - “
“I know. Don’t try to talk, just rest. The ambulance is on the way. Do you know what he did to you?”
“Nothing, he didn’t hurt me. He took me from the parking lot at the station.”
Mulder nodded, “I found your cross.”
She managed to smile then. “I knew you would. What led you to Fred?”
“Just a hunch.”
Her smile was larger that time. “I knew I didn’t have to worry.”
“Scully, his father knew. He had made the connection between the women that were murdered. He was protecting his son and . . . and the victims weren’t as important to him.”
“Because they were just women.”
Mulder nodded, “You knew?”
“I figured it out.”
“Fred said you were smart.”
“Where is he?”
“Dead. Chief Backus killed him when he attacked Brenda.”
She sobered then. “He was brutal to the women, but I don’t think he understood what he was doing.”
Mulder nodded. “I had them arrest Backus. After I get you settled in the hospital, I need to go down there.”
“I’m not going to the hospital. Mulder, I’m fine - really.”
“You were pretty out of it.”
“It was stuffy in there and . . . and I’d been there a while. Mulder, they can check me out, but there is no reason to go to the hospital. He didn’t hurt me, I don’t look like her.”
He looked up as he heard the sirens again. “Let’s have them decide.”
She rolled her eyes but kept quiet. She could see how this had affected him.
He opened the car door for her and she stopped to look at him. “Come on Scully, let me do something. I promise not to make a habit of it.”
She chuckled then and got in. Once Mulder joined her, she let her head fall back against the headrest.
“He’ll go to jail.”
“Yeah. He’ll spend quite a while there. He obstructed justice, he knew his son was murdering those women, maybe not with the first victim, but soon enough. It was his dirty little secret.” Mulder took a deep breath. “Scully, why did you want to take this case?”
She looked over at him surprised, she thought he had forgotten that discussion. She should have known better, Mulder, forget something?
“I have my
own little secret, Mulder.”
That caused him to look over at her. “Scully?”
“I, uh, I had a pretty good idea what kind of man Backus was before we got here.”
“Claire, my friend, told me about him. He’s the reason she called me. In college I was, I guess you could have called me a feminist. Actually, a radical feminist. None of my friends were very surprised when I chose not one, but two ‘masculine’ professions. When Claire met Backus, I was the first person she called.”
“Scully, is this supposed to surprise me?”
She looked over at him, and saw the grin on his face. “Scully, you’ve had to be a strong woman. I’ve seen how well you handle the good old boys before. That’s how I knew you could handle Backus. But it does explain why you were so hostile toward him from the beginning.”
She shrugged, “Did you get to talk to Fred? You know Backus beat Fred’s mother.”
“Yeah, Fred told me. Fred had a lot of problems with women. Backus had really messed him up. He didn’t, uh . . . he didn’t - “
“No. No, he . . . I don’t think it occurred to him.” She felt the relief emanate from the man beside her. “Besides, he thought of me as a man, because I was ‘smart’.”
“Yeah, we talked about that.” She looked the question at him, “He assumed that women that looked like Brenda would be sexy to every man. I told him that I thought smart was sexy too.”
She smiled and looked down at her hands. “Thanks, I think.”
“You’re sexy Scully; don’t doubt that.” He almost stopped then. “I don’t think his father ever had ‘the talk’ with him. He was asking me . . . “ He realized the direction the conversation was taking and stopped abruptly.
“What did he ask you?”
“He, uh, he was just very curious about . . . about our relationship.”
“Yeah. Scully, I have a little secret too.”
Her eyebrow went up and he thought seriously about flipping on the radio to deflect the conversation. He was in dangerous territory and he wasn’t sure why. Surely he was over his fright at her disappearance. She was here, she was safe.
“He . . . Fred knew that I was attracted to you. He could feel it from me. He could see how frantic I was that you were missing.” Mulder shook his head at the memory. “He thought I was lying when I told him we . . . “
“He was convinced that the reason we had connecting rooms . . . “
He glanced over and saw the color rise in Scully’s face.
“I told him you have better taste than to want to sleep with me.”
“I don’t remember being asked.”
His head swiveled toward her immediately, his eyes wide.
“Scully, if I, if I ever did get up the courage to ask such a question, what . . . what would you say?”
“I guess that’s my secret until it happens.” She turned toward the window, but he got a glimpse of the smile on her face and felt himself relax in a way he hadn’t since he could remember. Now that was a secret he definitely needed to check in to.