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Ten little dust bunnies went to an island
Type: MT, ST, Angst, case file, profiler
Rated: R for a few explicit curses
Used words: hot chocolate, painting, wine glass, ice and snow. And a special usage of “pan dulce”.
Storyline: First there were ten. And then …
Note from the author: This story is loosely based on a book written a long time ago by Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Niggers”. This book does *not* contain any racial parts or is not meant that way, and can in fact be compared to the classic story of “Ten Little Indians”. It’s just the title of the book that I’m quoting. Do not be offended.
Ten little dust bunnies
Prologue: 11.45 p.m.
The dark image in the water appeared to be a log at first, but once the full moon shone on it, one could tell that it was a human body. It had dropped from one of the windows on the top floor of the enormous castle just moments before. Plunging into the water, it made crashing waves through the already icy cold, rippling tide.
A few moments later, the world returned to its regular, quiet self, almost seeming as if the body had been swept underneath the water’s surface. Then it popped up like the cork out of a champagne bottle, face down. Gently hitting a few large rocks, it turned once again in the lapping tide movement until the man lay on his back in the water, drifting towards nothingness as his eyes remained closed, and his arms floated lifelessly next to him. Often, the body would be covered with water again, but it remained on its back.
Finally, the body drifted to the island’s shore and remained there, held in place by smaller rocks and pebbles. There, its final resting place. Unmoving. Un-breathing.
Upstairs, on the top floor of the castle, a scream escaped Dana Scully’s throat. So loud that it could be heard in - and outside the castle, drifting away upon the wind that froze the world this Christmas Eve.
In the water lay the body of her friend and partner.
Chapter One: 7 p.m.
“Welcome to Hell,” Mulder muttered under his breath.
With a loud bang the doors slammed shut, momentarily scaring the life out of everyone present in the middle of the room. Fox Mulder felt uncomfortable. The foreboding he’d felt since they set foot on the island intensified by the second.
A total of ten guests remained in the center of the room. Waiting. Secretly glaring at each other, scanning each other’s faces. No one knew anyone else, except for the D.C.-group of four who had traveled together. All varied in age, gender and race. Nothing in common, except good results within their jobs.
“Put away that frown and enjoy yourself,” Scully whispered. “You’ll get your hot chocolate soon. I know you’re starving.”
“I’d kill for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. And I never cared for bow ties either,” Mulder groaned, putting his fingers between his collar and the tie for the umpteenth time. “I feel like freaking Mickey Mouse.”
Scully observed her partner as he hummed awkwardly, clad in an expensive tux while wiggling about on one foot, then the other. He looked stunning in this outfit. She loved the way he moved: A true gentleman.
Mulder, on the other hand, cared nothing for his tux, but warmed up appreciatively to the dark-blue evening dress that accentuated his partner’s curves. Her body swayed and moved elegantly in it. Her styled hair danced around her shoulders and she’d even muted her make-up, choosing softer tones, giving her a stunning facial expression. Superb. Somehow, the little dress stirred up wild ideas about frantic sex in the backseat of the vehicle. Not that he would
make his move. It would be a shame to mess up such a gorgeous outfit.
All guests were gathered at McLeod’s Castle, the most prestigious hotel on the East Coast. And granted: it was stunning. A huge Christmas tree stood in the center of the hallway with soft, down-toned, decorative colored ornaments. One glimpse into the other rooms told them that they too were marvellous.
The castle originated from the shores of Loch Lomond, waiting in exile for a new destination. Then a multi-millionaire bought it and had it shipped over, stone by stone, rock by rock to the Cape. He owned a very small island off shore, six miles out of Provincetown. The island became a luxurious spa for the beau monde and could brag about guests as the Kennedy’s, Clinton, Pitt and Anniston and many more from the elite and well known.
French and British butlers, and several concierges served the guests. The restaurant had the most exclusive Chef in the world, and the largest set of tennis courts on the coastline. Every detail of every room was carefully picked out, with large and luxurious beds and fittings. High security officers protected the exclusive guests. The only way to get on the island was by
private ferry arranged by the hotel, and by the private helicopters that waited on the mainland for their V.I.P. passengers.
From the top of the building, inside the larger suites on the highest floor, one looked thirty feet down at the smaller rocks and the deep ocean that flowed past the thick, original walls. At wintertime you could hear the waves crash into the walls, while ice and snow formed a blanket on the icy shores. Inside logs would crisp in the immense fireplaces and all the modern comforts available would entertain the guests.
This was the place the FBI had picked out for an annual occasion where ten agents would be rewarded for their outstanding service. They were all formally requested to be on the island at seven p.m. sharp, Christmas Eve. Deputy Director Willis made the arrangements, having received a personal invitation from the multi-millionaire owner himself. Of course it did help that Willis often spent golfing weekends at Lomond Castle.
“Since when does the FBI give out special awards in ostentatious hotels?” Mulder had asked Scully after he had received his invitation for the two of them. “I thought we were on a tight budget?”
“I don’t know, Mulder, but I think we should be quite stoked to be getting one. They only give out ten of these every year. We should be happy the Board finally recognizes us as a serious endeavor,” came her response, excited as she was by the exclusive invite.
Skinner, who had received his own invitation, agreed. “You know you did a great job solving the Martin case. We all did. You saved two children risking your own ass, and it wasn’t the first time. I’ve lost count of all the times you almost died in the line of duty. You’ve earned it. You didn’t spend nearly two weeks in hospital for nothing.”
And still bear the scars, Mulder thought wryly. He sighed. “I know. They don’t care how many creeps we’ve put away, just how it looks in the press.”
“Whichever way,” Scully had said determinedly, “We are going.”
To her it was very convenient that there would not be a Christmas party at the Scully house this year, with both her brothers overseas and her mother having gone off with Tara and the children on a trip to Italy. There was no one but her and Mulder to worry about, so why not go?
Mulder could feel something in his little toe. It itched and irritated, like an omen of things to come. Where were all the servants? The concierges? The receptionists? The butlers? The guards? There was no one presently on the island. Everything was dark and quiet. Too quiet. Too dark.
Yep. Something was definitely off. And it wasn’t Skinner’s aftershave.
Chapter Two: 7.30 p.m.
There was no one around to show the agents to their room, so Mulder finally took the initiative in becoming acquainted with the other guests.
Bernadette Wills from the Los Angeles office was a stunning blonde in her late forties. Gorgeous and groomed, Scully thought, aware of the fact Mulder’s hand lingered just a tad too long in hers.
Jake Daniels from the Chicago office was an attractive forty-something and first-class profiler.
Louis St. John from New Orleans worked as a Field Agent.
Elisa Woods from New York was a paper pusher who happened to have found the missing link in a very important case.
Linda Krabbé – not related to the actor – came from Denver and was a data analyst with a penchant for sweets.
Felix Smythe-Jones – imported Brit – worked in Dallas as a lab technician.
Victor Knowles came from Washington. He worked on the second floor of the J. Edgar Hoover Building and was the only person the agents had met before. He’d worked on a few of the same profiler cases Mulder had done, and the two became friends. Victor also worked on the Martin case, saving his ass more than once.
“So, what’s going on?” Victor Knowles asked curiously. “Are we in for a surprise party or something? It’s almost as if we’re alone in this place.”
“I think we are,” Mulder agreed. “There doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Perhaps we’ll get a mystery party. Agatha Christie-style.”
“Cluedo,” Scully smiled with a dry throat. She became nervous and started looking at the picture galleries running down the length of the hallway.
“There was hardly anyone on the ferry either,” Bernadette Wills replied. “Just the six of us. We didn’t even see the captain.”
“And we were brought in after that,” Skinner replied. “Well, I’m sure someone will turn up soon to show us where we have to be. I’m starving.”
“Yep.” Mulder’s stomach sadly acknowledged the fact that lunch had consisted of a slice of pizza and a cold beer, that he munched while shaving and tying his blasted bow while listening to Scully’s constant “We’re going to be too late!” shouts over the phone clutched between his neck and shoulder.
“No beverages?” Mulder muttered to Scully while scanning the room. “And where are the peanuts? Some hosts. I want to see food or I’ll go and shoot a bear.”
“There are no bears on this tiny little island. Perhaps you could fish a shark.”
“Don’t care. I’ll find anything to stuff in my face.”
“You can have a piece of me,” Scully grinned, squeezing his hand.
He scanned her face and then her body. She got his very special message and turned an instant scarlet red, she did a discreet turnabout, directing herself towards Bernadette Wills, a fellow doctor.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” A strong voice suddenly blared throughout the building from various speakers hidden in the woodwork. Everyone froze, stunned.
All faces looked up at the gallery where an unknown man addressed them. “My name is Gerard. I will be your butler for tonight. May I please ask you to come to the first floor where I will be assigning your rooms. We shall then go to the dining room and start tonight’s banquet.”
Mulder raised an eyebrow, shot Scully a goofy grin and danced like a penguin, before grabbing his and Scully’s bag. He was the first one to head upstairs. Gerard waited for them coolly, nodding politely. He efficiently assigned the agents their accommodations for the following two nights. Every room was on the same floor.
The small suites were absolutely stunning. “No dust bunnies here,” Mulder grinned at his partner who had the adjoining Green Room, while he resided in the plush Yellow Room.
“No, we’re the dust bunnies,” she smiled. “I feel out of place.”
“Oh please. Aren’t you used to this splendor?” Mulder ran a finger over the exquisite antique closet and continued in a horrid French accent, “Mais alors! This place, Scully, this place is not what I am used to! Mais enfin.” She patted on him coyly on his pan dulce as he sashayed past her.
Mulder took the few moments they had before dinner to admire the exclusive paintings on the wall. Through his balcony window he could see the ocean deep below him, lit by the full moon. A knock on the door by Gerard, and he followed the butler downstairs, leaving everything in his room, including his gun and badge. No need for that tonight. Tonight was party time.
Through the corridors filled with ancient knight’s armors, swords and paintings from gloomy looking men and women, all agents followed Gerard back onto the main floor where, in a separate amazingly beautiful dining room, dinner was being served. Another huge Christmas tree was set up. The room shone in its exquisite beauty.
The table was cluttered with gold and silver wear, the finest china and the shiniest crystal glasses. Fresh flowers, candlelight, large candlesticks everywhere adorned the table from one end to the other. Very Christmassy. All agents were seated at the table at assigned places. Mulder sat next to Scully, with Skinner at her other side. Bernadette Wills was seated on his right hand side and smiled smokily at him. Scully frowned.
Chapter Three: 8.00 p.m.
Gerard started serving wine for the entrée. Odd that he would be alone at such a large function, Mulder thought. He could never serve them all and cook dinner at
the same time. So where was dinner? No lovely smells wafted in from the kitchen so far. Nothing that proved they were ready to eat the finest foods.
“Look,” Scully whispered at him, pointing at the small dish in between them. “Truffles.”
“Would it be awfully impolite if I chewed down a couple right now?” he quipped, reaching his hand towards them. She slapped at it. “Don’t be daft. You’ll have to wait. It won’t be long now.”
Mulder groaned, and his stomach followed suit with its own disapproval. It wouldn’t hurt so much to eat one, would it? Scully turned her head to talk to Skinner and didn’t see the very quick fingers edging towards the dish, fishing out a white chocolate truffle filled with delicious cookie, and Mulder popping it in his mouth, his tongue licking over it, and then suddenly holding his face very still when Scully turned back suspiciously towards him, her expression
revealing that she was trying to figure out if he did indeed treated himself. Once she was facing the other way again, he quickly chewed the truffle and swallowed it almost whole, nearly choking on it. With a red face, he turned to Bernadette Wills, savoring the taste of the very fine chocolate.
Bernadette Wills was a nice woman to talk to, she chatted away about her children who were staying with their father tonight. As a medical doctor she had been recruited to work for the Bureau on some of the most gruesome cases.
“I don’t know if you remember, Agent Mulder, but we have already worked together.”
“Have we?” Mulder frowned, trying to remember her face. He was quite good at faces but he couldn’t recall ever seeing her before. He would have remembered. He took his glass to drink and then decided to wait. No use getting drunk on an empty stomach. He’d have plenty of time to do that later. His stomach was painfully aching at the lack of nourishment now.
“We spoke on the phone a couple of times, a few years back. Remember the Zane Carso-case? You were assigned as profiler from D.C. and you contacted our office to find out if there were cases with the same details. You made the connection with the murders in our region.”
“Yes, I remember now,” Mulder nodded. “Zane Carso, now that was one hell of a case. We never spoke face to face, did we? We only talked on the phone.”
“No. As I recall you were gravely wounded during a fight with Mr. Carso. I sent you flowers in hospital but you were quite sick, or so I’d heard.”
“Yes.” Mulder winced, rubbing his abdomen as if it happened just yesterday. “He shot me and escaped. He’s dead though. Died in a fire. And thank you for the flowers. I don’t know if I ever got back to you.”
“Good thing too. That man didn’t deserve to live.”
“Did you say Zane Carso?” Linda Krabbé came from across the table. She sat opposite Bernadette Wills and had been listening quietly. “I worked on that case too. I helped analyze the data you’d sent me, Agent Mulder. Now I remember why your name sounded so familiar.”
“So did I,” chimed in Felix Smythe-Jones.
“And I.” Jake Daniels. “I believe it was the lovely Agent Scully who called me.”
Scully looked at him, trying to remember. And then it came to her. That case had been so hectic, and very stressful. It had exhausted Mulder and nearly killed him in the end. She preferred to forget.
“That’s weird, me too.”
Mulder glanced around the table and stared into the faces of the agents whose names had vaguely rung a bell, when they became acquainted. Now he knew why. And the odd uneasiness in the pit of his stomach returned with force. He’d never seen anyone of them in person but spoken to them briefly while gathering information on one of the worst cases he’d ever worked on as a profiler. The one he had actually met in the course of the case was Victor Knowles.
They had all worked on tracking down their respective murderers, not knowing they were after the same guy. Zane Carso: a serial killer who traveled all over the country as a former traveling salesman, becoming a millionaire overnight through lottery winnings.
The various offices had not made the connection because the killings were too far spread out, and hardly ever resembled similar facts, except one: the method with which Carso killed his victims. He slashed the faces of his female victims and watched them bleed to death. Then he dumped their bodies in remote spots, hoping they’d never to be found again. He killed not more than three women per town. Then Mulder was sent in as a profiler to solve the D.C. murders. At their ultimate confrontation, Carso shot Mulder, leaving a scar on his abdomen
where the bullet tore through it.
Mulder shoved his chair backwards, startled. This didn’t feel right. He scanned the room. On the fireplace stood a large chessboard with ten little statues standing neatly next to each other, their dead eyes staring into his. He turned around shocked, remembering a book he had read as a boy.
“Where’s Gerard?” he asked anxiously.
“Dunno,” shrugged Jake.
“Mulder, what’s wrong?” Skinner stood up too, alarmed by the agent’s sudden reaction.
“Who has his gun with him?” Mulder asked frantically.
They all shrugged. Everything was upstairs: their bags, clothes and guns. They were here to enjoy their meals, not to play cops and robbers for the night.
Louis St. John lifted his glass filled with white wine, unaware of Mulder’s anxiety.
“A toast,” he declared. “To us. Agent Mulder, you’re on vacation now. Stop looking into things that aren’t there and rejoice this evening.”
The man took a deep gulp of wine and placed his wine glass back on the table.
Two seconds later, the agent was clawing at his throat, gulping in deep breaths of air. His eyes nearly popped out of their sockets. He shoved his chair backwards and staggered up on his feet. His eyes rolled backwards. The second his body pitched forward onto the thick carpet, Linda screamed.
“Agent Wills!” Scully called towards her. Both doctors rushed to St. John’s aid. The man lay deathly still with closed eyes, his right arm underneath him. Mulder picked up the wine glass using a white handkerchief and sniffed. It had a strange scent to it, unusual for wine.
“He’s dead,” Scully sighed incredulously, staring at the man’s lips turning blue. “Poisoned, no doubt.”
“Don’t touch those glasses.” Mulder raised his hand but he needn’t have worried. All agents bolted up from the table and now stood around the deceased. No one dared to eat or drink anything now.
“I know what this is,” Mulder ventured slowly. “This is payback time. Ten little niggers. Agatha Christie’s tale. That’s why we’re here. Look at the statues there. That’s us. This is revenge.”
“Revenge on who?” Scully asked wearily, aware of the fact her dress clung too much to her waist and other curves, feeling suddenly very uncomfortable.
“I suspect we’ll know soon enough.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen!” A thunderous voice boomed throughout the room. The startled agents checked the closed doors: locked. Even the windows were sealed shut. Gerard was nowhere to be seen.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, please have a seat while I tell you the Christmas tale of a man whose life you have all destroyed. His name was Zane Carso. Mr. Carso became the FBI’s target, when they looked for a patsy to pin the murders of various women on, no thanks to Agent Mulder. During a fight with Mr. Mulder, Mr. Carso died a gruesome death. And that is why you have been brought here today: To suffer as Mr. Carso has suffered.”
The voice stopped a few seconds, and then continued. “The outside world thinks you are enjoying a festive Christmas dinner. No one will come looking for you. Nobody can leave or come here without alerting me. You will all vanish without a trace, leaving the world to wonder about your fates. There is no way to go, nowhere to turn. Nobody will come looking for you. By midnight, it will all be over. This is my version of Miss Christie’s classic novel.”
The voice stopped, leaving an eerie silence.
Mulder shared an uneasy glance with the anxious agents and shrugged nervously. “Well, that was interesting. Anyone up for some hot coco?”
“He’s talking about you,” Linda Krabbé spoke coolly. “You hunted down Carso. You killed him. Why couldn’t you have arrested him?”
“Carso was not innocent, Agent,” Skinner interrupted her harshly. “We caught him while trying to kill his last victim. Mulder had no choice. He was badly injured himself in the attempt to take him down.”
“Doesn’t matter. You brought us in this situation. Now you can get us out.”
“Linda, calm down,” Scully spoke gently. “If we stick together, nothing will happen. It’s all of us against him and he is alone.”
“We saw no one else,” Mulder reassured her. “He’s probably alone.”
“With a fucking gun.”
“All our things are in the rooms,” Scully calmed them down. “We have to check out if he hasn’t stolen our weapons and cell phones yet.”
“Cells don’t work here. Useless.” Jake Daniels shook it. “No network.”
“No land phones either,” Jake Daniels confirmed from the corner of the room.
“Mulder, how did that Agatha Christie story go?” Skinner asked. “You called it “Ten little –“
“It’s a classic mystery novel: ‘Ten Little Niggers’. Ten people who’ve committed a crime come to an island, and die one by one. No one left the island. The killer was one of their own.”
Felix Smythe-Jones raised an eyebrow. “Are you saying it’s one of us?”
“No, but that’s how the story went.”
“What if it is one of us?” Jake asked cautiously.
“Can’t be. We’re all agents,” Bernadette retorted. “We were personally invited.”
“Has anyone of you ever seen each other?” Mulder asked. “During cases, visits or
conventions? Scully here has been my partner for ten years, and Skinner’s been our boss for that period, so we know each other very well. I know Victor whom I have worked with a few times. I trust that you all are who you say you are. But I’ve never seen you before. I wouldn’t know what the rest of you really look like.”
“You’re joking, right?” Jake said firmly.
“I don’t know. Gerard’s our most likely suspect. But other than that, it could be anyone. Someone could be working with him.”
The agents anxiously stared at one another, trying to scan facial expressions. Tension thundered through the room. Mulder’s stomach felt queasy. He wouldn’t admit it to anyone, but he felt like a bird in a cage. He had a very bad feeling about how this would turn out.
They looked at the body of Louis St. John. “We should get him into his own room,” Scully suggested. “I don’t feel like staring at him all night. And then we have to find a way out.”
“The doors are locked, Scully,” Skinner remarked quietly. “We can’t even get out of this room, let alone leave the castle.”
“Not anymore,” Victor said triumphantly, holding the dismantled doorknob in his hands. “Let’s check this place out, shall we? And find Gerard, the mysterious butler.”
Mulder nodded, grabbing a knife from the table. It was blunt but at least it felt like a safety measure. “Better than holding Young Mulder,” he grinned at Scully who raised her eyes to the heavens and then selected a knife herself.
Chapter Four: 9.25 p.m.
The party of ten – carrying one deceased, nine very much alive - exited through the large, carved doors to the first floor where their rooms were. As if someone had been waiting for them to step onto the stairs, all lights in the building suddenly went out in a blink. It was not pitch black, but dark enough to frighten them all and throw them off balance.
“I don’t like this,” Skinner whispered in Mulder’s ear. “Why am I here? I had nothing to do with Carso.”
“You assigned me to the Carso case, sir. You saw him burn. You helped save my ass.”
“One of the dozens of times,” Skinner couldn’t help but grin and then nodded. “Are you sure, by the way, that Carso was actually dead?”
“His burning body fell off the cliff,” Scully interjected. “He was all a flame, a real crispy critter, sir. No one could have survived that. It must be a friend or relative doing this.”
“Someone with FBI-access,” Mulder replied. “Someone who could get us all here. Someone with money – oh, fuck!” Mulder’s exclamation startled the other agents.
“What?” Scully asked worried. “What is it?”
“What’s the name of the hotel owner again? That rich millionaire?”
“Oscar Enza. Zane Carso. It’s an anagram!”
“What are you saying?” Scully asked shocked as they crept cautiously up the stairs, using the light of the full moon to see where they were going. “He’s planned this for years?”
“Ever since he bought this hotel.” Mulder shook his head and whispered gently, “We are in deep shit, Scully. Very deep shit.”
Scully knew why her partner was so edgy. When an FBI-agent becomes the prey, anything goes. There were no boundaries, no limits, no unspoken rules, no respect for the law they represented. It was a hunt.
A large, startling cry at the end of the slow party going up the stairs, made all agents turn around. Out of the dark a shadow came up to them, grabbing and stabbing Bernadette Wills in the back with what appeared to be a long, thin stiletto knife. Jake, who had been standing next to her, was shoved out of the way, smacking hard into the wall.
The unconscious woman was lifted and dragged back towards the dining room. The doors had shut by the time Jack and Felix arrived at the doors. Neither could get it to open.
“Open up!” Mulder shouted hoarsely, his despair audible in his voice. “Open the fucking door!”
No response came. And then there was a crashing of the windows, a cry, and then nothing. The male agents put their weights against the door, bashing it in. They almost fell over each other as it gave way. The room was empty. The window smashed, the glass shattered over the tiled floor, and in the dark there was no further trace of Bernadette’s body. She had fallen into the ocean, at least fifteen to twenty feet below them. The unyielding rocks would have taken her life, even if the initial attack hadn’t.
“Oh god.” Scully held Linda tight. The woman panicked. They were in a living hell and there was nothing anyone could do about it.
The agents shared a glance of despair. “We have to stick together,” Mulder repeated. “And watch our damned backs.” His eyes caught the statues standing above the fireplace. Two were lying down. Two down, eight to go. He knew how the story went. And they were living embroiled in their attacker’s mad rules.
Chapter Five: 9.35 p.m.
Mulder felt faint when the party of eight reached their quarters. All their weapons had been cleared from the rooms. St. John’s body was placed upon his bed and covered respectfully with a sheet. Scully silently shut the door.
“What now?” she asked quietly. She was tired, but the hunger had faded.
“Let’s try to get the hell out of here. Does anyone want to change clothes first? I can’t see you girls killing any bad guys wearing that dress, Scully.”
“Let alone move,” Scully added. “Yeah, might be a good idea. But I don’t want to be alone. You’ll have to stay with me. I trust no one but you … and Skinner of course,” she added coyly. The other women shook their heads. They all wore pantsuits.
There was a huge sense of distrust amongst the guests now as the severity of the situation began to whittle away at all their professional resolve. And the women’s anger, disgust was mainly directed at Mulder, for dragging them into this. It was hardly his fault, Scully thought angrily, taking in her partner’s pale face and recalling how that case had almost cost his own life. He didn’t look all right at all. She’d have to ask about that later.
“If he hadn’t been such a smart boy, we wouldn’t be here,” Linda muttered under her breath, but she was heard by the others.
“And then what?” Jake retorted angrily. “Carso killed fourteen women, Linda. Did you like to look at the photos of their slashed faces? Mulder’s a damned good agent and profiler. He did a good job. Stop placing the blame on him and figure out a constructive way to get us out of here.”
Mulder shared a glance with Jake and nodded gratefully before shutting the door to Scully’s room. “Stick together,” he warned. “Watch each other’s backs. Cry out if there’s something wrong. And don’t go scouting off.”
Chapter Six: 9.55 p.m.
“Turn around, Mulder. Face the door.” Scully’s usual shyness amused Mulder. “I’m not exactly
wearing grandma’s underwear here.”
“But that isn’t half as hot as you are.”
She flushed crimson red and waited until he laughingly turned away from her.
If the circumstances hadn’t been so grave, he would have enjoyed this. He started whistling as he undid the bow tie and threw it blindly on the bed. She quickly changed into decent lingerie, black trousers, T-shirt and black sweater.
“Okay, done,” she said out of breath, still shoving her hands through the sweater sleeves. “Do you want to change too? And you look pale. Hungry?”
“I guess. My stomach is painfully protesting. I do feel a bit dizzy, but I’ll be all right. Let’s go back before another little dust bunny disappears, shall we? Is there anything you can use as a weapon here? Candleholder? Fire Poker?”
“Hmm. I’ll go with this heavy brass candleholder. But he has all of our guns, Mulder. It’s like David against Goliath, not to mention the fact he has the advantage of knowing this place. We don’t know what we’re looking for. He could be anywhere.”
“It can’t be that hard. It’ll work out, Scully. Let’s just try to get outside first and –“
A heavy thud against Scully’s door made them both jump. The agents shared a worried glance.
“Wait.” Mulder raised the candleholder aloft before carefully opening the door. The corridor was still dark and very much empty, except for Skinner’s body, lying out cold on the floor. Mulder’s breath seized in his chest.
“Scully, help me.” Mulder stepped out of the doorway and knelt beside his boss, but was almost immediately seized by two strong hands that pulled him backwards. The attacker flung the agent against the wall, hitting the back of his head hard against the side of one of the huge paintings. Without giving as much as a kick, the agent dropped silently on the floor. Scully tried desperately to see the attacker that skirted off into the darkness. All the others were gone.
Scully wavered between her boss and her partner. Skinner moaned quietly. She knelt by her partner, touching his throat. He was out cold. No blood on the back of his head. She couldn’t possibly move both of them inside.
“Is there someone there?” she called out loudly. “Help me!”
No sound. Mulder stirred and opened his eyes with a startled look. “Scully!” he shouted her name as if she were the first thing he thought of.
“It’s okay. I’m here. You’re fine. Stay still.” She touched his face, willing him to look at her. “You have to move, partner. We have to get inside that room. Can you walk?”
“Think so,” he slurred. Scully knew her partner could have a concussion or worse, but she had no choice. He had to get towards the relative safety of the bedroom. He pulled himself up on both feet slowly, dazed and confused. She supported him, practically dragging him inside the bedroom where she placed him on the chair. His eyes had difficulty focusing on her.
Skinner finally opened his eyes too, groaning and moaning as he tried to get up. Scully helped him up, talking to him in gentle tones. He stumbled into the room and sat on the bed. Scully helped him to lie down. She unfastened her boss’s bow tie and loosened his shirt. “What the hell happened?” he groaned.
“Is the big guy okay?” Mulder’s voice came shakily from the chair. She looked around and found her partner back in the land of the living. Sort of. He wavered on his legs, almost unable to stand straight. Color slowly returned to his face. No concussion, she thought with no small relief.
“Yeah. Better than you, I’d say.”
“I’m going to find the others.”
“Mulder, no!” Scully grasped her partner’s arm. “Look at yourself. You have to rest.”
Mulder opened the door, cautiously peering outside. He couldn’t see anything. His vision was blurred, but he wasn’t going to tell her that. “Scully, the others could already be dead or dying. I have to find them. Stay here and lock the door. I’ll knock three times and call you by the nickname your father gave you, alright?”
He leaned forward, whispering soothingly. “It’ll be okay, Starbuck.”
She forced back the tears in her eyes. “Mulder, let me go –“
He smiled. “I’ll be back for my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”
Mulder grasped the brass candleholder and wavered in the dark, not knowing whether to turn left or right, not seeing the shadows that moved behind him, unaware that he was being watched.
Scully locked the door worriedly behind him, knowing she was sending him directly into the lion’s den. But what other choice did they have?
“What’s going on?” Skinner groaned, taking hold of her hand. “Where’s Mulder?”
“He went to check on the others. We’re fine here.” A hard knock on the door startled both agents. Scully felt fear cold cursing through her.
“Mulder?” She rushed to the door. And waited.
“Starbuck …” The voice was muffled. Her first thought was that he was hurt. She unlocked the door to let him in. And all she saw was a dark figure, and something that came at her. And then, as the hand moved over her mouth holding the chloroform-drenched cloth, she could already feel her mind sinking into oblivion.
Chapter Seven: 10.25 p.m.
“Jake. Elisa. Linda. Victor. Felix!”
Mulder hissed all the names without response. He slipped off the stairs, almost losing his footing. Blood at the bottom. Someone had fallen. Damn, why hadn’t they stayed together? He shook his head, trying to get rid of the blurring that became stronger by the minute. What the hell was wrong with him? He could hardly see straight.
“Agent Mulder! Agent Mulder!” A hushed, female voice beckoned him over: Elisa. She stood in the kitchen doorway. He rushed towards her. He noticed that she was bleeding heavily from a cut in her upper arm.
“Are you okay? What happened?”
“He’s gone crazy. That guy, whoever he is. I saw him. He had a sword and attacked us. We barely got away. He stabbed Victor in the back. He’s here.”
“Is he dead?”
In the back of the kitchen, Mulder discovered Linda and Victor who was laying ghastly pale and wounded on the floor. Blood everywhere around and still pouring from the wound. Linda kept putting more pressure on the wound, so far to no avail. Felix rummaged through the kitchen, seeking for other exits frantically.
Linda shook her head. “He went back to the dining room to find out if we could crawl through the windows. It’s not that deep. He was surprised by our attacker. We heard a shot and a plunging noise. He’s gone.”
“He came from the back,” Elisa explained. “Upstairs. He attacked Skinner first. We ran in here, followed by him. That’s how Victor got hurt. Skinner’s gone, isn’t he?”
“No, he’s alive. Come on, I’m bringing you upstairs. It’s safer in the bedrooms. Are there any knifes we can use?”
“The bastard cleared out all the closets,” Felix groaned.
“Now what?” Linda muttered nervously. “Are you going to get us out of here?”
“I’ll try,” Mulder muttered, aware of the fact the agents in this room weren’t really that helpful. Why did he get stuck with paper pushers, and not field agents? It would make things easier.
“Victor will die if we move him,” Elisa countered. “He’s badly hurt.”
Mulder knelt down and examined his colleague’s back. A deep stab wound ran through his shoulder blade. Felix’ jacket helped stop the bleeding. Victor was quite pale and didn’t move. He’d passed out from the pain. His assailant knew exactly who to attack first, Mulder realized. He took out the stronger ones first, leaving the weaker people helpless.
“Alright,” Mulder sighed, rubbing his eyes, his thoughts rushing in and out of oblivion. “Can the kitchen door be locked?”
“I think so.”
“Okay. You barricade it after I leave. I’ll find help somehow.”
Linda grasped Mulder’s wrist. “I know what I said before but I – I don’t blame you. You aren’t responsible for this. He is. That bastard. I hope you kill him.”
“I’ll try my best.” Mulder delivered a reassuring smile. “Don’t open up unless your clearly recognize mine or Scully’s voice, okay?”
Victor tried to say something. Mulder knelt down. “Blue eyes,” the wounded agent whispered hoarsely. “He’s got blue eyes.”
Mulder stood up. The butler, Gerard, had had very dark brown eyes. It wasn’t him. What did the book say again? He couldn’t remember. His mind drifted away, unable to hold coherent thoughts.
The kitchen door shut tight behind him. He only had Scully now. And lord knew for how long.
Chapter Eight: 10.55 p.m.
Mulder stood alone in the large medieval hallway, achingly aware of the fact that he was totally unprotected against any predators. Vulnerability struck him just then. What now? His painfully empty stomach hurt.
Before him was the locked, sealed up front door, behind him the kitchen and the dining room, above him the guestrooms. He didn’t want to involve Scully in this dangerous quest. It was him Carso was really pissed at. He had to offer himself in exchange for the safety of everyone else. No, not a chance.
He had to get outside and – if need be – swim to the shores to raise that alarm. The dive towards the water wasn’t that deep from the dining room. He would never make it. He’d drown in that freezing cold water before he even got a few meters from the island’s shores.
Besides, he couldn’t leave his colleagues to the mercy of a vicious killer. Killing him was the only option. Become the hunter instead of the hunted. Mulder rushed up the stairs again and reached his own small suite where he went through his belongings. A small flashlight, clothes of course, Tweety Boxers. No use for those.
Mulder did a quick survey through the nightstands as well, pulling out the Gideon’s Holy Bible. “Fat help you’ll be,” he murmured as it rested in his hands, smiling suddenly as he got an idea.
Then he left the room and knocked on Scully’s door. Whispering “Starbuck”, no answer came. Dizziness overtook him. He held onto the door, opening it finally and finding it unlocked and empty. Both Scully and Skinner were missing. He must have overheard them. He must have been close enough to hear him whisper Starbuck in her ear. How could he have been when -?
“Shit.” It struck the agent like a physical blow. There had been two of them at first. One taking out the others and chasing them away, one staying here and attacking Skinner and himself.
Gerard must have been the other one, working for his employer. It all made sense now. He was the one pouring the wine at the table, serving everyone. He had then gone upstairs, waiting for them to arrive. The other one, the real brain behind all this, had waited in the dark for them.
But who was he? One of the agents in the kitchen? A stranger?
Mulder rushed down the stairs, wavering at the kitchen entrance. Then he changed his mind and turned to the dining room where he shone his flashlight on the fallen statues.
Four pieces. Louis St. John, Bernadette, Jake and – who else? Perhaps Victor, whom the attacker assumed was dead. Mulder just could not imagine any of them being the killer. He had to trust his good sense and survival instincts. He grabbed onto the dining room table, his eyes falling on the dish with the truffles. Oh god, he had eaten one of them earlier. Was that why he felt like crap? The room wobbled before his eyes, even as he stood there. He’d felt
crappy before the attacker slammed him into the wall. He'd been most likely poisoned too.
The sudden crackling of speakers shook him up. Mulder knew what was coming and it froze him to the core.
“Agent Mulder. I have your partner and your boss. I am expecting you for a little tête à tête on the second floor. Leave your poor pathetic friends in the kitchen and get up here. If you please.”
Mulder clutched the brass candleholder. Okay, so that was it. He reached for the glass of water, soaked a napkin with it and held the cold towel against his face and head. He had to stay awake and alert. On leaden legs, he trudged up the stairs, and faced his nemesis. He couldn’t fail Scully and his boss. He had to make this good.
Chapter Nine: 11.15 p.m.
The fond familiar voice he loved called out to him as he exhaustedly reached the expansive top floor. His entire body was shaking from the effort of forcing himself up the stairs, shaking the dizziness off of him.
In the far end, bathed in various flashlights, sat Scully and Skinner. They were both cuffed onto heavy, handmade chairs. Scully’s right hand was free, as was Skinner’s left.
“Stay away!” Scully screamed at him. “He’s after you, not us.”
A voice laughed menacingly in the dark. “That’s where you are wrong, Agent Scully. You will all die so have no fear about that. I’ll give you the same fate as all the others.”
“The others aren’t dead,” Mulder exclaimed clearly.
“Oh yes they are.” A shadow moved amongst the shadows. “They will be, in less than half an hour. In fact, they should be starting to feel dizzy any time now. I’m sure they won’t even sense the gas, but they will be inhaling it as if it were fresh air. Their deaths will be sweet and gentle.”
“Who are you? Are you Oscar Enza?”
“No.” The man shook his head slightly. “Are you feeling unwell, Agent Mulder? You look unsteady on your feet.”
“Who are you?”
The shadows parted for him. “I’m the one you cast into death, Agent Mulder. The one you relentlessly set ablaze.”
“Impossible.” Mulder’s vision blurred. It was nearly impossible for him to distinguish the figure from the shadows.
“I tried to kill you once. I will look into your eyes when you die. Would you like me to slash her throat first so that you can die with that image burned onto your retinas? Or do you want to go first?”
“You poisoned me.”
Scully held her breath when Mulder’s knees seemed to buckle from under him. Standing
before the huge French windows, she could see moonlight bathing him in a pale glow. How could he have poisoned him? She wondered. And then she remembered the truffles. She
realized he’d had one after all. Oh Mulder.
“You were merely drugged with a slow-working sedative, Agent Mulder. I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist the candy. I wanted you calm, facing your death willingly. You are feeling faint, aren’t you? Don’t worry. It will be over soon.”
The attacker sprung forward. Too late, Mulder saw what he had in his hands: A huge evil looking blade that glinted in the moonlight. Some kind of antique sword that rested in the man’s hands. He had expected a gun, a knife, or bare hands. But not this.
The blade came at him in a flash. Mulder reached forward and seized the attacker’s wrist that held onto the sword, his other hand clawing at the attacker’s face. But the sedative made him too weak and sluggish against his attacker’s strong-built body.
The man shoved the back of Mulder’s head against the stonewall. Mulder could feel the back of his head make contact with the wall for the second time that night, whacking his skull in the exact same spot.
The attacker grasped his hand and wrist with his free hand, forcing it back with all the brute strength he could inflict. Mulder cried out in pure agony as his wrist snapped with a sickening sound. His assailant stepped backwards as Scully’s shouts echoed loudly all through the corridor.
Odd, Mulder thought as he saw the blade enter his body. It’s piercing me and I don’t feel a thing. Then, a sharp, indefinable pain shot through him as the tip of the blade pushed further into his side. It seemed to pierce right through him and lift him up. Mulder felt all conscious sense leave his body.
The attacker shoved his victim through the window, sending him crashing backwards through a glittering cascade of stained glassing, over the castle’s wall and hurtling towards the water that waited like a greedy obsidian mouth thirty feet below. I’ve fought him before, Mulder thought wearily as he came too just as he plummeted towards his doom. It is Carso.
The fall seemed to last forever. Scully’s face flashed before his eyes. Oh god. The impact with the water was sharp, freezing and sickening. Then everything went mercifully pitch black.
Chapter Ten: 11.45 p.m.
She couldn’t help it. The hoarse cry fled from her throat when she saw her partner’s body
crashing through the window, unable to do anything to help him.
The gasp escaping her throat was first barely audible and then steadily became a blood-curdling scream that pierced Skinner’s ears. At first he thought she would just faint, but she didn’t. She’d turned a ghastly pale, hanging onto the edge of the chair with her free hand for support.
She wished she could claw out his eyes and tell him to go to hell. She wished she could kill him with her bare hands. But all he did was look at her from behind the mask and the piercing blue eyes of their enemy drilled into hers.
Mulder was dead.
“Fuck you!” She hissed that out so desperately that it tore Skinner apart.
He stared at her in shock, not understanding yet that they would never see Mulder again. The desolation flooded her eyes with tears, sending her off into a frenzy. She started yanking at the cuffs, trying hard to break free of the chair’s arm. And all it did was cut into her wrist. He’d never seen her so frantic.
“First there were ten. Now there are two. Well, almost.” The attacker’s tone held the wonder of a child. He tilted his head and examined the expression on her face.
“Oh boss, Ya know, I think she fucked him. I should have given them one room.”
“Fuck off,” Skinner roared, knowing it wasn’t true. He leaned forward, using his full physical strength to rid himself from his prison and to crack open the skull of the man who’d tried to crack his, and caused so much death.
The man finally yanked off his mask.
Scully looked at the man’s face, shaking her head in shock and disbelief. “Louis St. John. That can’t be. You died!”
“It’s a miracle what money can buy,” the blue-eyed agent smiled nastily. “A drug that will send a human body into a state of deep coma, making it appear as if death occurred instantly. The effects last for nearly an hour, and then it’s like nothing ever happened. You should have read Christie’s book, Agent Scully. It was all in there, you know. The faux death trick. Even your colleague, the amazing Fox Mulder, didn’t figure that one out.”
“Who the hell are you? Bastard.”
“I’m Louis St. John. Or better yet, I’ve been him since this morning. I hired the real St. John to arrange the invitations for me. He had access to all the files. Of course his body ended up floating upside down in the ocean.”
“What is your real name?” Skinner asked tensely.
“Couldn’t you guess? Oscar Enza. a.k.a., Zane Carso.”
“It seems I have the habit of doing that, don’t I? You can still see the scars on me if you look closely. Hours and hours of plastic surgery saved me, after I saved myself from falling into the ocean, diving burning off that cliff. I was lucky, Agent Scully. A woman found and hid me. I thanked her with a nice slash across the face. You stole my humanity; you see that, don’t you? After that, I thrived on revenge.”
“So all of this, for getting back at us?” Scully asked weakly.
“Yes, and it was worth every penny. Too bad this hotel’s going to burn to the ground after tonight.”
Carso stepped forward, touching Scully’s face with the scarred hand he had hidden out of their sight before. His blue eyes pierced into hers. And she recognized him now. She would never forget that look when he shot her partner the first time around.
She spit in his face, shaking his hand from her skin. Carso laughed.
Chapter Eleven: 11.45 p.m.
The ripples in the water grew larger as they lapped around the floating body like angry tongues as it drifted towards the island’s shore. It lingered on its back, face up, eyes tightly closed. Blood clouded the water clinging to the body, leaving a small trace that could not be spotted in the dark, full moon night.
The body finally drifted ashore and remained wedged between a few larger rocks and the shingle foreshore until the water’s strength pushed it up onto the sand. Mulder wasn’t breathing.
Then two pair of footsteps came rushing towards him, wading through the water with as much speed as possible, despite their own injuries that slowed them down. The man and woman lingered beside him, touching his skin and feeling his throat for a pulse.
“Not breathing. CPR.”
Mulder’s body was lifted up hastily and placed gently on firmer sand. His lips had already turned a pale blue, his face held a paleness that only the dead could possess. His eyes remained closed. Bernadette Wills touched his eyelids, gently lifting open each one. She could feel how cold the skin was.
The freezing water might have been his savior, Bernadette Wills realized as she opened his mouth, tilted his head and placed her lips to his. Simultaneously, the injured Jake Daniels positioned his hands on the agent’s chest and began massaging Mulder’s heart.
His hands brushed against something hard underneath the agent’s jacket and shirt. To his surprise, he found a hotel bible stuck between the agent’s pants and shorts. It had been pierced right through by the blade’s sword. Beneath it, the agent’s flesh had still suffered from a deep wound that went inches into his side but was now much less severe than it would have been.
Both agents worked hard on Mulder’s body, convinced they still stood a chance. Bernadette breathed air into the agent’s lungs and prayed. Jake pumped his chest relentlessly.
As if someone had heard their prayers, Mulder’s body delivered a huge sigh and two seconds later water spurted out of his lungs followed by violent choking. They grinned relieved. Music to their ears for all their efforts. Jake rolled him gently on his side into the recovery position, to keep his airway clear as he continued to disgorge the ocean from his lungs. For a few seconds, Mulder opened his eyes, and stared at them strangely, before sinking back into blissful unconsciousness.
“We have to get him warm,” Bernadette, pulled Mulder’s head into her lap, sighing with relief. “He’s hypothermic but I think he’ll live if he’s treated quickly.”
“Easier said than done.”
Jake removed his tuxedo jacket, stripped off Mulder’s soaking wet one from his torso and replaced it with his own. They started rubbing the agent’s hands and arms, careful not to damage his already injured wrist and side. Bernadette massaged his face gently, trying to open the agent’s eyes. At the same time Jake’s hand kept putting pressure on the wound.
“Mulder, can you hear me?” Bernadette whispered comfortingly. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the agent opened his eyes again and groaned, looking dazed up at the full moon above him and the faces of the agents who’d saved his life.
“What - ?” His teeth clenched, he could barely speak. Bernadette briskly rubbed his back and chest. His lips were still a pale blue but the color in his face was slowly coming back. He had difficulty responding.
“Take it easy. You’re safe with us. We’ll get you to a hospital.” She told him soothingly, knowing how important it was for Mulder to feel safe now.
“How? You were –“
“Dead?” Bernadette smiled at Jake. “No. We are very much alive. We were both lucky, like you. He didn’t get us and neither did the sharks.”
“We fell, just like you. And survived, just like you,” Jake explained.
Mulder smiled, coughing. “Not working. For him.”
Bernadette laughed. “He’s right,” she said. “He didn’t kill us. His plans fucked up.”
“Up,” Mulder said, pulling at Jake’s jacket. “Need to go. In hotel. Scull…”
“Careful. Stay calm. You’re hurt. Your side, look.”
Mulder stared at the Bible Bernadette held in her hands, remembering his impulse to use it as a ‘bullet-proof vest’. “Never say I don’t have the faith,” he groaned as he was helped to a sitting position. “Jesus.”
“You look dazed.”
“Drugged. Getting better.”
“We’ll find help. You were all but drowned. You need to be in the hospital.”
“And then what?” Mulder sounded frantic, his voice hoarse.
“I’m going to swim to the shore and get help,” Jake said firmly.
“You’ll never make it. You’re hurt. Too far. Too windy. Cold.”
“It’s just a scratch, Mulder. I have to. It’s our only chance to help the other and get you medical help. I’m a good swimmer. I’ll even defy those fucking sharks. Do you have any other options?”
Mulder shook his head. He shoved his hands in Jake’s jacket and pulled it over his still-freezing body against the chill of the wind. The effects of the drug were wearing off, at the same time sending sharp pains throughout his body. His head pounded like crazy. His body hurt.
“We go back in there and kill the bastard,” he groaned. “He’s got Scully and Skinner upstairs. The others are trapped in the kitchen. They’ll die soon. Gas. He’ll blow it up.”
“I’m certain it’s Oscar Enza, the millionaire doing this,” Mulder said, feeling better by the second. “If he created this setup for us, he’ll destroy it for us.”
Mulder winced as he stood up, supported by Jake’s strong hands. “I’m certain Oscar Enza is Zane Carso. I recognized the eyes, the way he fought. And I’m also fairly certain that Carso is Louis St. John.”
“Yeah.” Mulder groaned, trying to rid his head of the pain.
“Why St. John?”
“I saw his eyes. And Victor said the attacker had blue eyes. Only St. John had such stark blue eyes.”
“He was dead.”
“I remembered something before losing consciousness. It had been tugging at my mind. In Christie’s book, one of the characters pretended to be dead and turned out to be the killer. St. John was the first one to die. He was the only one in his room, unguarded.”
“I know there are voodoo drugs that create a temporary deadly state,” Bernadette offered softly. “And St. John came from New Orleans.”
“If you’re right, Mulder, then he’s still in there and we’re stuck out here and there is nothing we can do,” Jake sounded desperate.
“Except tear down that door and kick his fucking ass.”
Jake wavered, then shrugged and said, “You know, you’re right. What’s the use of hanging around here anyhow? We stand a better chance in there than out there, swimming to shore. Let’s go.”
Mulder grinned weakly. “Jake the Knight.”
The agent shrugged. “You should stay here. You’re not up for it.”
“He’s right,” Bernadette agreed. “As a medical doctor I can’t allow you to go back in there. You could collapse at any time. You are more seriously hurt than you think. Prone to near drowning syndrome.”
“You sound just like my partner,” Mulder retorted hoarsely. “The more reason why I have to go in there and get her the hell out.”
“Mulder, please. You overestimate yourself.”
“No. I don’t. I’ll be fine. I’ll rest later. After I’ve kicked some serious ass.” The agent wavered on his legs, and then straightened his back. “He’s almost killed me twice now. Like hell will he do it again.”
Jake helped Mulder to the main entrance of the castle-hotel. It was nearing midnight: the Witching Hour. The castle looked eerie and larger than they could remember. All three of them were hurt: Bernadette by a stab wound, injuring her shoulder, Jake by the bullet that just grazed his chest, barely escaping before jumping deliberately through the window, and a stabbed, poisoned and half drowned Mulder on the waning side of a possible concussion, not to mention hypothermia.
Jake and Bernadette cautiously unhooked the stem used to lock the heavy wooden door. Moonlight cast over the huge hallway they’d seen for the first time only a few hours ago.
Merry Christmas Scully, Mulder thought darkly, determined to destroy Carso for good this time.
Chapter Twelve: midnight
Carso held a gun against Skinner’s face, ignoring Scully’s pleading and screams.
The A.D. closed his eyes, determined not to show his enemy his fear. If this was it, he would accept it like a man.
Carso suddenly drew back, hearing the sound of voices downstairs. Had any other agents survived and opened their doors? Not likely. He let go of Skinner and leaned over the stairwell, listening to them. Mulder’s voice. Carso paled.
“Mulder!” Scully’s scream came so unexpectedly it startled Carso and nearly sent him flying over the stairs. He turned, viciously backhanding the agent’s pale frightened face, “Shut up, bitch.”
“Scully!” Mulder’s voice responded but sounded much fainter than Scully would have wanted. She could actually hear his physical hurt in it. Her heart went out to him, hoping he was well enough to survive until this was over.
Carso charged down the stairs, Mulder’s gun in one hand and the sword in the other, wanting nothing more than to run it right through Mulder’s heart and rip it from his body. But he had to stay levelheaded now.
He froze in astonishment when he saw the three agents. How the hell could they have lived? For a very brief moment, Carso felt a certain admiration for them. Then he braced himself, evil grin splitting his face like a ghoul. Third time lucky. Mulder first.
Instead of rushing down the stairs, Carso switched to the maze of hidden corridors behind the brick castle walls. When he had visited the first castle originally back in Scotland, he’d found the passageways quite interesting. They ran everywhere, being used as the butler’s passageways to traverse through the hotel unheard and unseen.
“Where did he go?” Bernadette looked up at the corridor. “He’s gone.”
“Go upstairs and find Scully,” Mulder ordered her. “Jake, the others are in the kitchen. Tell them to get outside. He was going to gas them. They might already be unconscious. Open as many windows as you can find to let the gas out.”
“What about you?” Jake tensed.
“I’ll wait for him. The fucker is mine.”
“You’re out of your mind!”
“He wants me,” Mulder groaned unsteadily. “He can come and get me. Help the others first. I think there might be secret hideouts or passages in this place. He might use them to creep around the castle. Try to find our guns.”
“Just go, and then come back to save my ass.” He was heaving for breath, but looked determined nonetheless. That alone he hoped would keep him on his feet.
The agents split up, leaving Mulder alone in the eerie darkness.
Tiredly the agent rested his head against the door, feeling very calm and strangely relaxed. When he heard the click of the hammer behind him, Mulder knew he’d been right about the passages. Carso had used them to roam through the building unseen and now he was here. Checkmate. The agent turned around to stared into his nemesis’s eyes.
“You can’t kill me,” Mulder voice held an air of self-confidence he didn’t actually feel and moved defiantly forward. “Let’s face it, Zane. You’ve tried it twice and it failed every time. You fucked up. You’re not meant to kill me. You’re not my executioner.”
Carso wavered Mulder’s own gun in his face. “Of course I can. You fucked up my life. I’ll fuck up yours.”
“You did that to yourself, and to the people you’ve killed. Good thing you haven’t been able to kill anyone here yet. Someone might even feel sorry for you and ship you off to some psych ward. It can end right here, Carso.”
“I’ll enjoy killing you,” Carso ground out, thrusting his gun hard into Mulder’s side where the blade had run through. The agent gasped in agony, hands flying to his side to protect the wound. Carso laughed.
“Well, I may not be able to kill you, but I sure as hell can hurt you. You do realize that I have to fire off a single round into that kitchen and the place will blow sky high. The gas has been leaking for nearly half an hour now. You and your buddies will be fried, like I was.”
Mulder shrugged. “Why kill them? They are meaningless. They didn’t do anything to you.”
“Would you give your life to save your friends?”
“Of course I would.”
“Even the agents you don’t even know?”
“Even them. I don’t even understand why you invited them here. They were just doing their jobs.”
“They helped you catch me. They should be punished for that.”
“They’re fucking pencil pushers! You should have just killed me instead.”
“Interesting that you want to protect them this way. Ah well.” Carso raised his gun and aimed it at Mulder’s face. “I wanted to see the expression in your eyes when you died. That would be priceless. In a way I am glad you didn’t die falling over that cliff, even though I would have found that a gratifying way for you to go.”
“I did die,” Mulder whispered under his breath. Mulder closed his eyes as Carso stepped backwards, hearing the telltale click: the cocking of the gun.
“Open your eyes, Agent Mulder.”
Mulder opened them. Two shots rang out at the same time. The agent stared at Carso’s shocked expression as he fell to one side, struck down by two bullets piercing him. One, between the eyes. The other one came in dead center of his chest. The clear-blue eyes stared in Mulder’s but saw nothing anymore.
Mulder’s eyes fell on Scully and Jake, both with their guns still aloft in their hands. He opened his mouth, only to find that his legs buckled from under him. He slid to the ground on his knees exhaustedly, and then pitched forward onto his side. Scully dropped her gun and grasped him in her arms, clutching him tight while the pressure resulted in crying.
The others stumbled out of the kitchen slowly, coughing and tired. Felix and Linda helped Victor cautiously. To his astonishment Mulder realized that everyone had made it. Except for Louis St. John. The killer had become the killed.
Payback’s a bitch.
“It’s okay,” Scully soothed Mulder, who looked at her wearily. “We found the passage way. Jake found the guns. And Gerard. You’re going to be fine. Don’t talk too much.”
A smile released the tension on her partner’s face. “Told him he couldn’t kill me. Damn Scully, I’m hungry. I’d kill for a truffle.”
The others grinned in astonishment, but it was Scully who roared with laughter as she pulled her partner against her and rocked him back and forth, not realizing he had already gone back into oblivion.
Epilogue: 12.45 a.m.
Windows were thrown open to air the rooms and get rid of the gas. Finally safe enough, the circuit breakers were pulled to relight the building. The phone plugs were back in, and Police Choppers were on their way to rescue the agents from the island.
Mulder lay resting on a large couch in one of the salons. He’d lost a lot of blood and some was still seeping through the wound, but the freezing water had stemmed the blood loss to a minimum. His wrist was finally – temporarily - strapped up and now rested across his chest.
On the other couch lay Victor Knowles in somewhat similar manner. The agent was very much alert and ordered his colleagues around in what he wanted for late dinner. Searching the premises, they had found food stashed in the passageways, and hastily prepared a meal that they could eat before the choppers came. The smells were delicious.
Scully stayed at her partner’s side, watching him as he rested. His head was tilted to the left, his eyes closed. He had told her about the Bible in his pants and she had laughed. But now, as she took in his pale face and ragged breathing, she sensed how close they had come to losing each other. Again. It was a miracle he was here and doing relatively well. Their Christmas miracle. Her hand slid over his, holding it fast and enjoying the feel of his pulse beneath her fingers.
“Do you find my tux a turn on?” he groaned with closed eyes, knowing all too well she was watching him.
“I preferred it with bow tie,” she squeezed his hand gently, rewarding him with a broad smile as he gazed at her. “Even though, those blood stains aren’t such bad features either. I’d prefer it if you were to leave those out of the ensemble in future though. I’m afraid you can’t return that tux. You should keep it.”
He smiled. “Only if you promise to bring that diaphanous napkin of a dress next time we go out to dinner.”
“It’s a deal. And it’s not a napkin. It’s a tablecloth.”
He took her hand in his, lifted it to his lips and kissed her fingers. Their eyes locked. “Merry Christmas, Scully.”
She didn’t reply, but kissed his hand in return.
Behind them, Skinner looked on and nodded his approval.