Buyer Beware

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Summary: Too many deaths in the largest mall in America.

Author: Folieadeux
Rating: PG (some violence)
Category: Casefile, UST
Distribution: Anywhere, as long as these headers stay intact. Let me know please, I’d like to keep track of where it goes.
Feedback: I’m begging you. Really. folieadeux98[at]gmail[dot]com
Spoilers: None. It exists somewhere between S5 & S6.
Disclaimer: How do you own an idea? Well, if you can, I don’t.

Author’s Note: As usual, the hangman scene is an homage to Justin Glaser’s fic “Certitude”. Check it out. Any reference to The Mall of America is for fictional purposes and is not meant in any
other capacity. All the factual data on the mall is correct, at least at the time I began this little journey. Any incorrect British slang is totally mine. I apologize if I offend any friends from across the pond. All thank yous and fond words are saved for the end.

xXx

Everyone thinks my job is exciting – glamorous. It’s not. The
hours are brutal and the paper works a real bugger. I’m never
anywhere for more than a few days. The constant travel keeps me
bloody knackered and lonely. I know, that surprises you, but
it’s true.

One morning while sitting on the back of a camel trudging to
another out-of-the-way, God-forsaken place, I had this idea. It
was brilliant. I was reading a National Geographic article
titled, The New Ecosystem. It was the story of this huge
monstrosity of a shopping center in the States. The Mall of
America, they called it. Just like the Yanks to build something
daft like that, living in a big beautiful country and they don’t
like to go outside.

I’ve forgotten to tell you the most important part of my story:
my job. My official title is, “Accidental Expirations, 2nd
class”. I’d prefer the term ‘fortuitous’ myself, but bureaucracy
seldom uses any imagination in job titles. Most people just call
me Death. I don’t mind, it has a nice ring to it.

People have no bloody idea how involved and time-consuming death
is as a career. It’s impossible for one person to handle the
entire caseload. You see, there are all types of death:
accidental, diseased, self-inflicted – not to mention all the
different sub-categories like human and non-human. It’s true,
even dogs and cats have their own department – strictly entry
level – a real bugger of an assignment. My department is the
best, accidental death can be very interesting and one of the
more exciting, if I may say so myself. We each have our own
service areas and report to a district supervisor. It’s all very
sussed – has to be or everything gets wonky. Can you imagine if
it were run like the Italian post? What a blooming nightmare.
No one would ever die properly and certainly never on time.

Anyway, back to my story. It occurred to me that if I could get a
transfer to that district, I could just go to this shopping
center and do my job from there. No one would be the wiser and I
would get a chance to relax – enjoy my life a bit. I mean,
everyone in the States goes to those malls eventually, right? No
more of this God-forsaken wandering, lousy accommodations, lousy
food, bad weather. No more camel rides. I bloody hate camels.
They’re a nasty lot they are. The article made this shopping
center sound perfect – absolutely perfect.

The job I was on at the time was a cinch: 32-year-old woman dies
from a venomous snake bite. She wasn’t watching where she was
going, I stuck my foot out; she tripped. Landed right on the
thing. Whole lot taken care of in less than 10 minutes. Once back
at the office I put in for a transfer. No use faffing around once
you get a good idea. A buddy of mine, works for Human Resources,
owed me a favor. Next thing I know I’m on my way to the US of A.
The great state of Minnesota – Land of 1000 lakes or something
like that. I was well chuffed with myself. It really was
brilliant.

For awhile.

How was I to know that anyone would pay attention to my goings
on? That I’d be unlucky enough to stumble onto the two people who
would actually look for patterns within no patterns at all. It’s
so unfair. Now I don’t know what the hell I’m going to do. I’ll
tell you this much though: I’m not going down without a fight.
They don’t call me Death for nothing. I’m not someone to be
buggered with; I don’t care how smart you dress or how pretty
your hair is.

xXx

THREE WEEKS EARLIER FBI HEADQUARTERS
WASHINGTON, D.C. US of A

The two agents sat in their darkened basement office side by
side, shoulders touching. The man with his feet propped up on the
corner of the desk. The woman with her legs stretched out before
her, ankles primly crossed.

Mulder’s left hand held the remote to the slide projector perched
on the table behind them. His right hand was at his mouth, where
he maneuvered a sunflower seed between his teeth. Scully held the
seed bag in her left hand while her right also maneuvered a seed.

“Ready, Scully?”

“Wow me, Mulder.”

-CLICK-
The Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota. Used to be the
largest mall in the world. Now it’s the second, to one in
Canada…”

“Damn Canadians.”

“Easy, Scully. It’s still pretty impressive. It opened August
11, 1992 and since then more than 270 million people have
visited. It gets from 600,000 to 900,000 visitors a week
depending on the season. It has more than 520 stores, 49
different places to eat, eight night clubs, 11,000 year round
employees, and almost 20,000 parking spaces.”

Scully let out a low slow whistle.

“Wait – there’s more. It’s key attractions include everything
from several amusement parks to a wedding chapel. In 1997 the
National Park Service listed it as the most visited destination
for US travelers. It gets more visitors annually then Disney
World, the Grand Canyon, and…” Mulder placed his hand over his
heart and effected a genuine grimace before finishing his
sentence. “…Graceland combined.”

A silence fell over the darkened and cluttered room.

“I can only assume you have something even more gruesome to share
with me about this little slice of heaven.”

“Yeah, I just thought I’d let the horror of it sink in for a few
moments before I delivered the kicker. In the last six months it
has acquired another interesting distinction: it’s also our most
deadly tourist destination.”

“Oooh,” Scully whispered.

Mulder turned his head to smile at her. “Make that sound again.”

“You’re out of focus, Mulder.” Scully tossed a cracked shell into
the wastepaper basket between their feet.

Turning back to the screen, Mulder continued, “In the last six
months 22 shoppers have died on or around the premises of this
mall.”

Scully’s hand stopped midway to her mouth as she cocked one
eyebrow in Mulder’s direction. “Wow,” she said with genuine
sincerity.

“I knew that would get you.”

“How did they all die?”

“I’m getting to that.” he said as he switched to the next slide.
-CLICK-
“They have choked on a piece of chicken in the food court.”
-CLICK-
“Been electrocuted.”
-CLICK-
“Fallen down an elevator shaft.”
-CLICK-
“Been hit by a bus.”
-CLICK-
“One broke his neck while on an escalator.”
-CLICK-
“One was even killed when a large chandelier in Bloomingdales
fell and landed on her.”
-CLICK-
“But my personal favorite – drum roll, please – one was
‘accidentally’ shot by another shopper over the last, Princess
Diana Beanie Baby in stock. The shooter swears she was only
trying to frighten the other woman, that her finger was never on
the trigger and she doesn’t know how the gun went off.”

Scully sat and stared at the screen in silence, her mouth agape.
After several seconds she said, “That’s only seven, Mulder. What
about the other 15?”

“Variations on a theme. All accidents except two, a heart attack
and a stroke. They’re all listed in the file itself.”

“Wow.”

“You said that already.”

“Yeah but, Mulder…wow.”

Mulder couldn’t believe his luck. Dr. Scully, speechless. “So –
you packed?”

“Well, Mulder…while I find it amazing and justifiably creepy, I
don’t think a mall with it’s own ecosystem is an X-file.”

“Very funny. I’m not talking about the mall, Scully.”

“I know, Mulder, but still…these are all accidents, except for
the two. Didn’t the local authorities investigate this already?”

“They ruled them all accidental, yes. But they didn’t get one of
these.” With that, Mulder reached over to the desk and grabbed an
envelope. He handed it to his partner with a flourish.

“What’s this?”

“Read it.”

Opening the letter Scully started to read aloud. “Dear Agent
Mulder: I know this is going to sound strange but I have a
problem and I don’t know what to do about it. I’m a security
guard at the Mall of America in Minnesota, and I think I saw
Death the other night at the ice cream yogurt stand outside Radio
Shack.”

Slowly Scully raised her eyes to Mulder with a look which he was
remarkably familiar. “You have got to be kidding me, Mulder.”

“What – you don’t think Death likes yogurt? Just keep reading.”

“I’m afraid to tell anyone for fear they’ll think I’m crazy. That
article I read about you in The Lone Gunmen made me think I could
tell you and you would help me. It sounds like you’ll believe
anything…” Scully snorted aloud when she read that part.

“Anyway.” Mulder snatched the letter from Scully’s fingers. “It
just goes on to talk about how he’s seen this man around the mall
a lot lately, as well as on the video surveillance tapes, and
that he’s pretty sure he’s up to no good.”

“The Gunmen did an article on you?”

“It was an old one. They did a retrospective last month and it
was included in it. You know, sort of a ‘best of’ kind of thing.”
Mulder started to busy himself with turning on the lights and
putting away the slide projector.

“Was I mentioned in the article?”

Mulder stopped what he was doing. This was a girl question and he
knew it. He hadn’t spent six years with this woman and not
learned a little something about girl questions. Girl questions
were questions that had no right answers. You were screwed
whatever you said. “Uh, well…yes and no.”

“Yes and no? Which is it, Mulder?”

“Come on, Scully; it was a long time ago. We’d only been partners
a year or so when it was printed. The guys didn’t even really
know you then. Besides, I’m sure you’ve read it already. So –
what do you think about the case?” He was trying to change the
subject and she knew it. Suddenly her eyes got large.

“Mulder! You’re not talking about the hot tomato article?”

Damn.

“They reprinted the hot tomato article!?”

“Now Scully, just calm down. It’s a very nice article, really –
very flattering. And no one who knows you thinks you’re a hot
tomato.”

The chagrined look on Mulder’s face was more than Scully could
take. She started to laugh aloud. Her blue eyes changed from
furious to soft and the suddenness of it made Mulder’s heart go
ka-boom. “Well, I mean, you know… No one thinks you’re a hot
tomato but me and Frohike – and he doesn’t count,” he said
softly.

“Uh huh. Come on, Mulder. Let’s go to the mall.”

xXx

MINNEAPOLIS / ST.PAUL
INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT 10:00 AM

Mulder and Scully navigated airports like a well-oiled machine.
It was as much a part of their routine as their speed dial
buttons or the constant paperwork.

They never checked baggage, only bringing what they could carry
on. Scully carried a photo copy of the car rental form in her
bag. The information never changed so they always made the rental
agency kid fill it out, signing it at the end. They always
refused the additional insurance, and Mulder would invariably
argue with the Lariat employee about how useless the extra
insurance was.

Mulder almost always drove. Something about it soothed him, so
Scully rarely objected. Besides, she liked going through the
files and reports while Mulder sang along with the radio or
listened to a ball game of some sort. Sometimes she just looked
out the window at the passing scenery. It might not be the life
most people saw for themselves but she found herself strangely
contented with it lately – content to do a job she found
interesting, with a man she couldn’t imagine being without.

As soon as they were in the rental car and making their way
toward the freeway the signs began.

=Come to the Mall of America!=

=See the USA’s biggest mall!=

=Legoland at the Mall of America!=

“I think they’re trying to tell us something, Scully.”

“So much for subliminal advertising.”

They spotted it in the distance, long before they arrived at the
appropriate exit. It was laid out before them like a small city,
or maybe a large town. Depending on how a person looked at it.
They exited the freeway and made their way towards the shopping
Mecca glimmering before them in the early afternoon light.

“Where does the note say we’re meeting the guard again?”

They had stopped at an intersection waiting for the light to turn
green. Scully quickly scanned the note in her hand, “Umm…at the
Northeast corner by the Snoopy town roller coaster, entrance FF.”

“Snoopy town roller coaster – got it. Ok…there must be a sign
around here someplace.”

The agents craned their heads left and right desperately looking
for any signs saying “Snoopy” or “roller coaster”. Nothing.

“Maybe we should just drive around the perimeter till we see
something.” Scully began to open the map she’d grabbed back in
the car rental office. Mulder turned right and started to drive
north. “Mulder, according to the map we should try to park in the
Pumpkin Patch lot.”

“Pumpkin Patch…Pumpkin Patch…Pumpkin Patch – I see it!”
Mulder made a quick left turn as he saw the parking lot sign
about a football field over his left shoulder.

Ten minutes later they were parked and making their way towards
the giant building. It filled the expanse of their horizon like a
mushroom cloud. As they approached the Snoopy Town entrance, they
could see a security guard pacing back and forth in front of a
huge Snoopy head that made up the structures entrance. Mulder
shot a bemused glance at his partner as they stepped onto the
sidewalk. She was trying valiantly not to crack a smile but her
forehead was creased with the effort. Mulder slowed so he was
standing a bit behind Scully as they began to reach for their
badges.

“Excuse me. Are you Eric Hall?” Mulder directed his question to
the pacing guard.

Seemingly startled, the guard stopped his marching to face the
two agents. “Yes. Yes, I am. Are you Agent Mulder?” he replied as
he tentatively stretched out his hand.

“Yes, Mr. Hall and this is my partner, Agent Scully.” Mulder
shook the man’s hand while lifting his badge, Scully following
his lead. This was another part of their mutual balance. Lift
badge – shake hands – first one, then the other – punctuated at
the end by Mulder’s hands in his pockets, Scully’s arms crossed
in front of her – a long-standing and time-honored bit of silent
conversation. The security guard was clue less, having only
witnessed it for the first time.

“Thank you so much for answering my letter. I’m sure it seemed
bizarre. I never thought you would actually call me, let alone
fly here.” Eric Hall seemed nervous, the sentences coming out of
his mouth in breathy agitated puffs.

“Should we not have come here, Mr. Hall? Did you make this up?”
Scully volleyed the first shot at the nervous security guard.

“What? Um…I wouldn’t…I’m…No!…No! I didn’t make anything
up!” The guard finally managed to sputter one of the many
thoughts backed up behind his earnest eyes.

Security guard Eric Hall was an honest man. His lack of killer
instinct tended to get him trampled on, but he’d never seemed to
mind. Maybe he never noticed. Either way, he was a man with a
clear conscience who had only recently been burdened enough to
lose sleep over anything. Eric stood a little over 6 feet tall
with a stocky build. He was not fat, but not thin either. Luckily
for him, his love for food was combined with a job that included
a lot of walking. He was very blond, with a light tan on his face
which darkened considerably when it reached the back of his neck
– a hazard of the baseball cap which was an ever – present part
of his uniform. He took it off now as he shook hands with the
two FBI agents. He was almost bald, with a closely shaved strip
around the bottom of his head.

Scully thought he looked a little like Skinner but less powerful,
in build and presence.

“Relax…Relax. It’s fine. We believe you, Eric. You just seem
nervous. Everything okay?” Mulder relaxed his posture and moved
closer to the guard trying to put him at ease.

“I’m sorry. You’re right. Considering the letter I sent you,
that’s a fair question. I’m just uptight because my boss yelled
at me this morning when I told him you were coming. Now I’m
starting to wonder if I did the right thing. Maybe he’s right:
maybe I do see too many movies.” He finished his thought with a
scuff of his security guard boot on the pavement, at the same
time stuffing his large hands into his navy blue synthetic pants.

“Did your boss know you wrote to the FBI?” Scully’s posture
remained guarded.

“No, he didn’t. But after another person died and I saw that guy
again, I thought I’d better tell someone you were coming.”

“Another person died?” Scully dropped her arms, temporarily
forgetting her sternness.

“Yeah – last night around closing time. A girl was struck by a
car in the west parking lot over by Golf Mountain. It was an
accident, of course, just like most of the others. But the
security camera showed my guy on it at the time it happened.
That’s when I told my boss you were on your way.”

“And this made him angry?”

“He’s really scared of the publicity. If the media decides to
make a story of it, we could have big trouble.”

“Well, we’re certainly not here to generate publicity. Why don’t
you introduce us to your boss and we’ll see what we can do.”
Scully held her arm out to the guard, ushering him into the
structure ahead of her.

xXx

“I’m sorry but I just don’t understand what you’re doing here?
What part of this situation is FBI jurisdiction?” Ronald Beck was
standing up behind his desk in the main security office of the
Mall of America. An easily worried man by nature, the site of
two FBI agents in dark suits with darker expressions was doing
little to calm him down.

Mulder dove in first.

“Mr. Beck, we’re only here to offer our help and expertise to
what obviously is a highly unusual and unfortunate situation. My
partner and I have a great deal of experience in matters such as
this.”
“Such as what? Accidents?”

“No, unexplained occurrences. It’s not our intention to inflame
the situation, only to try and shed some light on it. I think you
can agree that the quicker the problem is resolved the better it
is for everyone.”

“What problem?!” Mr. Beck was becoming more and more agitated.
Mulder’s words seemed to be doing nothing to calm the man.

“Your mall in the last six months has a higher death rate per
capita than most of the cities in this state. The FBI thinks that
is a situation that deserves looking into. If you continue to
ignore your problems here we may be forced to make this a much
bigger operation than it currently is. Wouldn’t you rather limit
this investigation to just Agent Scully and me?”

Mulder watched as the man in front of them stopped to consider
his options. He hoped Mr. Beck didn’t call his bluff, as they had
no way to make this any larger an operation than it already was.
Scully shot him a sideways glance — the same thought crossing
her mind.

Luckily Mulder wasn’t going to have to worry about that. Mr. Beck
was slowly deflating back down to the slight worried man he
usually was.

“Is that true…about the death rate?” he said in a weak voice as
he slowly sank into the chair behind his desk.

“Yes, sir. Yes it is.” Mulder said as he and Scully sat in the
two chairs across from the worried man. Eric Hall remained
standing by the door, nervously looking at the floor with his
hands in his pockets.

“Mr. Hall wrote us of a gentlemen who’s been seen around many of
the accident sights. Are you aware of this person?” Scully took
the initiative at this point, letting Mulder do the observing
while she asked her own questions.

“Yes, Eric told me about him last night. I saw him on a couple of
the security cameras as well. But I still don’t understand what
he could have to do with this. These were all accidents – how
could he make someone get hit by a car, or cause one person to
choke on a piece of chicken?”

“Well sir – that’s what we’d like to find out. I suspect that he
may not have anything to do with it, but the fact remains that
he’s showing up more than he should, which we cannot ignore.”

Mr. Beck seemed to relax a bit at Scully’s admission of doubt
regarding the mysterious man on the video tape.

Mulder smiled to himself at Scully’s ability to comfort other
people with facts. She would be surprised to know how often he
also had been comforted by her ability to compartmentalize. Order
from chaos.

“Mr. Beck, do you think we could view some of these surveillance
tapes as well as get a tour of your facility?” Scully continued.

“Sure. Okay. I’ll let Eric take care of everything for you,
beings he’s the reason your here.” A little of the previous fire
crept back into Mr. Becks voice as he shot an annoyed glance at
the guard still standing head down in the back of the room.

“Thank you.” Scully extended her hand to Mr. Beck who shook it
firmly. Mulder followed with a handshake of his own.

xXx

Mulder and Scully spent a large portion of their day getting a
tour of the mall and its many attractions. While part of it was
from a golf cart, a considerable portion of it was on foot. It
seemed to go on forever. Corridor after corridor of storefronts,
interrupted by potted palm trees and benches. There appeared to
be every kind of store imaginable and some stores they never
would have thought existed.

After finishing the shopping section of the mall, Eric took them
on a guided tour of the attractions. There were roller coasters
in “Camp Snoopy”, and a bunch of water slides in something called
“Underwater World”. The areas were teeming with families pushing
their screaming charges in large animal-shaped baby carriages.
Packs of hormone overloaded teenagers pretended not to notice
each other while loudly drawing attention to themselves. Then
there were the ever present senior citizens diligently walking
their way around the perimeters of the mall, determined to fend
off time in the latest Nike walking shoes.

After purchasing a couple of bottled waters at the same ice cream
yogurt stand Eric mentioned in his letter, Mulder and Scully sank
their tailored selves into the nearest bench under a palm tree.

“It’s like an alternate universe, Scully. I feel like I’m looking
at an entirely different planet.”

“It’s the rest of the world, Mulder. We’re from the different
planet. I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed before, but we aren’t
anything like anyone else – you and I.”

They sat on their bench watching the passing river of people
with fascination, slowly taking drinks of their water, hoping to
rest their weary feet.

“Is that bad?” Mulder asked, tentatively making his way back to
the conversation left hanging in the air between them.

“It suits me for now. Besides, I don’t think I have the wardrobe
to fit this lifestyle.”

“Nothing with flowers?” Mulder said, as he turned his face to her
and gently bumped her shoulder with his.

“Nothing but black,” she said with a little smile. Mulder watched
her closely to see how she meant it, and she suddenly wished to
take it back – to tell him that she hadn’t intended to make that
reference. She didn’t think of him and loss as a combo package.
Not anymore. “Don’t look so grim, Mulder. I like black.”

“Do you?” He wanted to believe her.

“I do.”

When they finally arrived back at the security offices, Eric
reminded them they had not yet seen the surveillance tapes. After
practically begging him to put all the tapes and photos in a bag
to be viewed at their hotel, he gave them a ride to their car in
his golf cart.

“My God, Mulder. I can’t believe how exhausted I am.”

“No kidding.” Mulder groaned as he slid into the drivers seat.

Scully was trying to put on her seat belt but seemed to
temporarily have forgotten how, unable to manufacture enough
strength to push the metal hook into the little slot.

Mulder sat slumped over with his head resting against the
steering wheel. “I feel like I ran a marathon.”

“I know. It must be a combination of the artificial lighting and
all that sensory overload. I want a shower so badly I might cry.
Take me home – or, to our hotel, at least.”

“Can you just insert your own joke there. I’m too tired to think
of anything clever right now.”

“Lack of cleverness never stopped you before.” Scully smiled over
at her exhausted partner as he too was trying to figure out the
suddenly strange contraption with buckles.

“That’s probably true…Scully, I can’t get this damn hooky thing
to go in; I think it’s broken or something.” Mulder was getting
impatient, and his fingers weren’t working correctly.

“Let me do it.” Scully reached over, and between the both of them
they managed to figure it out.

“Mulder, are you okay to drive?”

“Uh-huh, let’s get the hell out of here.”

It was barely 20 minutes to their hotel, but Scully was already
making little snoring noises by the time Mulder pulled into the
parking lot.

“We’re here, Scully.” Mulder nudged her shoulder to wake her up.
He hated to wake her, but he was so tired if he didn’t get
upstairs soon, they might both be sleeping in the front seat.

They rode up the elevator in silence, each slouched into a
corner, staring as the red floor numbers changed, waiting for
their cue. Both were starting to undress before reaching their
doors. Suit coats in hand. Mulder’s tie had already been taken
off; Scully was pulling her dress shirt out of her skirt as she
was putting her key card in the lock.

“You want to order a pizza or something, Scully?” Mulder’s door
was open, and he was walking through it as he spoke.

Closing the door behind her, Scully yelled through the connecting
doorway between their rooms. “Yeah – fine. Just don’t make me
leave these rooms again tonight. See you in about an hour?”

“That’s fine – I’ll order.” Mulder closed the shared door, his
shoes were already off and he was working on his socks.

An hour later, they were sitting at Mulder’s little table,
freshly scrubbed of any mall smells, and eating a large cheese
pizza with hot pepper flakes. Mulder was in his jeans and his
Knicks t-shirt; Scully was dressed in her sweats and her white
FBI tee with the cut sleeves. Both of their heads were wet.

“Well, that was something, don’t you think?” Scully said with
her mouth full as she drank from her large bottle of water.

“The mall? Yeah, that’s one way to put it. How do people just
wander around all day? I feel like my brain has been vacuumed
out.”

“Uh huh. Store after store of the same things. I’ll admit
though, that when I saw that Victoria’s Secret flagship store,
my pulse did quicken just a little bit.”

“Yours too?”

Scully smiled over the little table at Mulder as he started to
rip off a new slice. “You know, Mulder, that’s the first time
we’ve ever been mall shopping together.”

“Let’s hope it’s the last.”

“We still have to watch those tapes. Something tells me we’re
destined to spend a lot more time in that place. We’d better get
used to it.”

“You might be right. Shall we start?”

“Okay. You take half the tapes and I’ll take half, if we watch
them on both TVs maybe we’ll find something more quickly.”

“Deal. Don’t forget to take the rest of your pizza.”

As they watched the tapes in their separate rooms, they kept
the connecting door open, occasionally yelling a question or
comment into the other room. Lucky for the two agents, Eric had
forwarded the tapes to directly before the incidents had
occurred. Watching them turned out not to be as difficult as they
had expected. In a little over an hour, they had each finished
their stacks. Mulder was just finishing his last tape when Scully
padded into his room in her stocking feet, her yellow lined legal
pad full of notes. Mulder was sitting cross legged on the floor
in front of the television, leaning back against the foot of his
bed. He also had a yellow legal pad full of notes sitting on his
lap.

“You about done, Mulder?”

“Uh huh – I got hung up on a previous tape, started watching some
guy stealing women’s underwear. No sign of our guy, but
fascinating nonetheless.”

“Yeah. I watched some woman who appeared to be speaking to a
mannequin.”

“It talk back?”

“No.”

“Too bad.”

Scully lowered herself onto the floor next to Mulder. She also
sat cross- legged; but instead of facing the television, she was
turned towards Mulder. Taking the remote control, Mulder stopped
his tape and shifted his attention to his partner.

“Whatcha got?”

“I don’t know. Eric’s right; this guy’s everywhere. He’s on every
one of these tapes, either before or after the accidental death.”

“Yeah, mine as well. Did you notice how he seems to hang back,
not crowding forward like the rest of the people?”

“Yes. And he doesn’t seem to stick around too long. In most of
mine, he’s gone in less than five minutes.”

“Yeah, mine as well. I’m just going to quickly run through my
notes. When I’m done, you run through yours. Let’s see what sort
of random thoughts we jotted down.” Mulder took out his pen and
tapped the point next to each note as he read aloud.

“Thin, middle 30s, dark wavy hair, maybe five feet eleven inches.
Professional in manner and dress. Appeared to be writing
something down a couple of times, I couldn’t tell what he was
writing. Seemed friendly enough: speaks with several people
within the area after the incidents occur. My overwhelming sense
after watching him is that he’s pretty pleased with himself.
Several times I thought he looked like he was actually smiling.
While many people are looking stunned and horrified, he seems to
be unaffected by these accidents that appear to occur directly in
front of him.”

“My notes are pretty close to yours, Mulder. 30s, neat, dark
wavy hair, professional. I never saw him writing anything down;
however, I did see him calling on a cell phone once. He appeared
to be making the call, not answering it.

“Did you have the tapes with the two deaths that were not ruled
accidental…” Mulder was rustling around in his papers “…the
heart attack and the stroke?”

“Yes. That was odd. They were the only deaths that seemed to
surprise him. The heart attack victim was behind him in line at
the fish and chips stand, he did a double take when he turned
around and saw the woman falling down. He never made an effort to
help her, either. Just stood there staring, with his hands in his
pockets. He started to look around then, eventually striking up a
conversation with a woman in a suit. They both left the scene
together shortly after. The stroke victim was already laying on
the floor when our guy happened upon him. Practically tripped
over him, but at least he did something during that one. The
camera shows that he walked over and informed the woman behind
the counter. He then waves to someone off camera and leaves the
scene.”

Mulder had stretched out his legs by this time with his head
resting on the end of the bed. He was staring at the ceiling,
concentrating on what Scully was telling him.

After a few moments silence, Scully continued. “Mulder, I’ll
admit, the guy is definitely odd. He’s not acting like you would
think a person would, when confronted with these gristly scenes.
But he’s not doing anything even remotely illegal. For all we
know, he’s just seen so many violent movies he doesn’t care
anymore. Or he’s emotionally distant, or just plain creepy. It
certainly doesn’t prove that he’s involved in any way.”

Mulder glanced sideways at his partner as she finished her point,
a small smile on his lips, a large one in his eyes.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Habit.”

xXx

MALL OF AMERICA
9:30 AM

With no small amount of dread, the two agents arrived back at the
Mall of America bright and early the next morning. After tracking
down Eric by cell phone it was agreed they would meet in the
Snoopy Town food court.

“See anything you want, Scully?”

“I wouldn’t be opposed to some coffee, Mulder.”

“Be right back then.”

Slowly, Mulder made his way to the Starbucks on the corner
between Pumpkin Patch Blvd and Linus Lane. That’s when he saw him
– the man from the videotapes. He was slowly making his way
through the crowd while sipping his own coffee. He looked freshly
scrubbed, and his hair was wet. Deciding to forget the coffee,
Mulder, slowly dropped in behind the man and followed him out of
the food court. The suspect stopped to chat with an occasional
passer-by. He seemed to be on a first name basis with several of
the elderly mall walkers who were out in force for their morning
exercise.

He eventually strolled into a large bookstore; making his way to
one of the reading tables he sat down. Pulling out a newspaper,
he settled into what looked like his usual routine.

Mulder pulled out his cell phone and hit speed dial.

“Mulder, where are you?”

“Sorry; I got sidetracked. I found our guy as I was heading to
get coffee. I followed him to a store where he’s sitting down and
reading the morning paper. Scully, this guy – whoever he is –
he’s got quite the life. He’s like a regular cruise director or
something. On his way here, he must have greeted about ten
different people. Seems to be right at home, that’s for sure.”

“What do you suggest? You think we should have a talk with him?”

“I don’t see why not. It’s not a stretch to consider this guy a
person of interest. We don’t have to tell him he’s been fingered
as the big D.”

“Where are you? Wait for me.”

After being joined by Scully and Eric Hall, the agents made their
way towards the suspect.

“Excuse me, sir, I’m Special Agent Scully, and this is my
partner, Agent Mulder. Would you come with us, please.” Scully
held out her badge for the man to see.

“What’s the problem, Miss?”

“No problem, we just need to ask you a few questions, and would
prefer to do it where we can have some privacy.” As the man
continued to stare at Scully, Mulder slowly stepped forward,
adding his presence to his partner’s. “We would prefer not to
make a scene, Mr…?”

The man seemed to notice Mulder for the first time, and he turned
his eyes to the agent, registering the look of seriousness on
the man’s face.

“Wentworth, Alan Wentworth.”

“As I was saying, Mr. Wentworth, we would prefer not to make a
scene. That doesn’t mean we won’t.”

“Right – right. Let’s be off then, shall we? Where are we going,
and what is it you require of me?”

“Just a few questions regarding some occurrences here at the
mall.”

Mulder watched for any sign of surprise or fear on the man’s
face. Nothing. He did notice, however, that the man’s attention
was again centered on his partner.

“Did you say you’re name was, Scully? Would that be Ms. or Mrs.
Scully?”

“Ms. Please step into the cart with Mr. Hall. He’ll take us
somewhere more convenient for our conversation.” Mulder and
Scully sat in the back seat of the golf cart while Mr. Wentworth
sat up front with the security driver.

“Would that be Ms. or Mrs?” Mulder leaned forward and mimicked
under his breath. “Was he just asking you if you were married?”

Scully turned her face to him, eyes twinkling. “Don’t know. Don’t
speak British.”

“Ha. Ha.”

As Eric Hall led Mr. Wentworth to a small interrogation room,
usually reserved for shoplifters and pick pockets, the two agents
gathered their photos and tapes together to confront their
suspect. What they suspected him of, at this point, they had no
idea.

“What are we going to accuse him of, Mulder? Bad timing?”

“Nothing. Let’s just grill him on his story for every one of
these incidents until he starts to cry. Usually works for me.”

Mulder came into the room first, asking the man if he was
interested in any type of beverage or whether or not he had to
use the restroom.

“No, I still have my coffee, I’m fine. Where’s Agent Scully? Is
she not joining us?”

“Agent Scully will be in to join us in just a moment. Why don’t
we start. Mr. Wentworth, we have some questions as to why you are
shown on every surveillance tape recording the many deaths that
have occurred in this mall in the last six months.”

“Excuse me?”

“There have been 22 deaths occurring on the premises of this mall
within the last six months. You are seen in the surveillance
videotapes at the scene of every single one of them. We find that
odd, and we would like to know what you have to say about it.”

As soon as Mulder had finished his sentence, Agent Scully backed
open the door, holding two cups of coffee. Mr. Wentworth
immediately stood up upon her entrance. Looking startled at the
man’s sudden movement, it took Mulder a few moments to realize
why the man was standing. Slowly, Mulder stood, reaching forward
to help Scully with the coffees.

Scully stared at the two standing men, her eyes moving from
Wentworth, then to Mulder. A puzzled look on her face.

“I was wondering when you would be joining us. May I help you
with the coffees?” Alan Wentworth smiled warmly at the agent as
he reached out to help her.

“I’m fine, Mr. Wentworth. Let’s proceed with the questions, shall
we?”

Scully handed Mulder one of the cups and started to sit down, a
trace of a smile on her lips.

“I was just asking Alan, here, how he manages to be on all of
these video surveillance tapes.” Mulder and Scully turned their
eyes expectantly to the man across from them.

“Oh, I don’t know. Bad timing, I guess. Am I really on all of
them?”

“Yes, sir, you are. Every one of them.” Scully interjected.

“I don’t know what to tell you, Agent. I couldn’t begin to
explain something like that. You have lovely eyes; has anyone
ever told you that?” Alan Wentworth had his chin resting on the
heel of his palm. The other hand held the coffee on the table in
front of him.

“Sir, shall we keep to the conversation at hand?”

Mulder was tilting back in his chair now, coffee cup in hand,
slowly bringing it up to his lips. Something about the man in
front of him wasn’t sitting right with the veteran agent. And it
wasn’t because he was hitting on his partner – even though, he
most certainly was doing that. The man was completely unfazed by
this little interrogation they were trying to conduct. He
obviously couldn’t care less; there was no body tension, no
darting of the eyes, nothing. Zip. He wasn’t even nervous.
Everyone is nervous when the FBI brings them into a room to ask
them questions about 22 deaths. Even innocent people get nervous
at that. But not this guy – not Alan Wentworth with the cheeky
accent.

“You’re remarkably collected, Mr. Wentworth, considering the
circumstances. How can that be?” Mulder waited, watching the man.
“It’s not many men who can sit in front of two FBI agents, and
never even look nervous.” Mulder nonchalantly waved his hand in
Scully’s direction, never taking his eyes off the man in front
of them.

The man seemed to alter slightly; his eyes turned a little bit
hard, less flirty. Suddenly he looked just the slightest bit
older than before. “Oh, I don’t know. What’s there to be nervous
about, really? I’m pretty sure I don’t recall killing any of
those 22 people you’ve referred to, so what’s the point in being
nervous? Why, Agent Mulder, do you think I should be nervous?”

Mulder slowly let the chair drop back onto all fours with a faint
thud. “Everyone should be a little nervous.” The two men
continued to stare at each other over the small table.

“Sir, you seem to spend a great deal of time here at the Mall of
America. Do you live here in Bloomington?” Scully interjected.
The man visibly brightened at Scully’s return to the
conversation.

“I travel quite a bit; I don’t really live anywhere, truthfully.”

“May I ask what you do for a living?”

“I’m in sales, Agent Scully.”

“What do you sell?”

“Insurance.”

“What type of insurance?”

“All types.”

“Do you maintain a residence in Bloomington?”

“Yes.”

“I couldn’t help but notice your accent. Are you from the UK?”

“Yes, I am. London. Will you be in town long, you and your
partner?”

“As long as it takes.”

“As long as what takes?”

“To find the answers we’re looking for.”

“And what answers might that be?”

“Death.” Mulder said quietly, breaking in on the
conversation. That got Mulder the reaction he was looking for.
Mr. Wentworth jerked his head towards the agent.

“Excuse me?”

“I said, ‘death” that’s the question we’re trying to answer.
That’s the question that we’ll need the answer to before Agent
Scully and I go home.”

Mulder stressed the word “home” just the slightest bit, placing
ownership on it, on them, the two of them. He could tell the man
heard it.

“Well, I hope you aren’t disappointed, Agent Mulder.”

“I don’t think I will be.”

xXx

The agents spent another hour and a half with Wentworth before
giving up and letting him go. They asked him every question they
could think to ask about each of the victims. Needless to say, he
never cried. He never even broke a sweat.

“Well, Scully, that was a total waste of time. I think I was more
nervous than he was, and I’m the cop.”

“At least we have some personal information we can try tracking
down; that’s something,” Scully said, while letting out a puff of
air to dislodge a stray strand of hair. “I’m starved, Mulder. Can
we get something to eat – preferably outside in the daylight?”

“Good idea.” They packed up their papers and stowed their
briefcases in the security office. Using the small map Eric had
given them, they tried to make their way to the nearest food
court.

“Scully, I think we made a wrong turn somewhere. The map makes it
look like we should be there by now.” Mulder had stopped and was
turning in a slow circle, trying to find something familiar.
“What store number is Nordstrom?”

“Um…235, and we’re supposed to be making our way to 437.
Dammit, Mulder, I think we took a wrong turn down there by that
Disney store.” Scully propped her hands on her hips, while
stomping one foot. “I’m going to waste away before we find that
damned food place!”

Mulder tried not to laugh at his partner’s charming display of
irritation. Walking over, he took the map from her to study it
himself. “Don’t worry, Scout; I’ll get you there – promise.”

The use of her childhood nickname made Scully smile up at him.
“So, are you going to tell me what was going on between you and
the cheeky guy up there?” Her eyes had lost their annoyed look
and were back to a clear blue.

“Sure, as soon as you tell me what was going on between you and
the cheeky guy up there.”

“Ahh, the Mulder dodge.”

“I learned from the master.”

“There was nothing going on between us. I was trying to ask him
questions, and he was trying to ask me out.”

“Well, there was nothing going on between us, either – I was
listening to you ask him questions, and him trying to ask you
out. All this mall walking is making me feel emasculated. Can I
help it if I felt the need to get a little territorial?”

“I’m not your territory.”

“I know that, but you’re sure as hell not his.”

“Figured out where we’re supposed to go yet?”

“Yeah, I think so. We just need to backtrack to that Disney store
and then make a left, Come on.” Mulder rested his hand on the
small of her back as he directed Scully back the way they’d came.
He’d never let her know, but he was pretty sure he did own at
least this one spot.

After finally arriving at their intended destination, Mulder and
Scully slowly made their way around the sunlit atrium which
housed all the different food establishments for this particular
wing of the mall. Scully finally settled on a large chicken
salad, while Mulder purchased a Philly cheese steak. Making their
way outside to the picnic benches, they settled in for lunch.

“Mulder, I don’t know what else we can do here. We have no proof
of any wrongdoing. There’s no case to investigate.”

“How can you say that? People are dropping like flies in this
place. That Wentworth is some crazy death jinx fetishist or
something…”

No sooner had Mulder brought up their only suspect than he sat
down across from them at their little picnic bench.

“Someone mention my name? Mind if I sit? I feel as if we’re
practically chums.”

The man’s presence temporarily startled the agents as they sat
blinking at him in the bright sunlight. Mulder was the first to
recover.

“Should we be looking for a place to take cover, Mr. Wentworth?”

“Please, call me Alan. I’m sorry, but I don’t understand what you
mean.”

“I was referring to your uncanny ability to be nearby when
horrible accidents occur. Should we be prepared for something
unexpected? A house falling out of the sky – a swarm of killer
bees?” Mulder’s tone was light, but his eyes betrayed his
seriousness.

“I’m surprised at you, Agent Mulder. Aren’t you a bit old to
believe such rubbish?” Alan turned his head to smile at Scully.
“Is he always so paranoid, Agent Scully?”

“Yes. Yes, he is.”

“That’s a shame. Damned hard way to live a life, it seems to me.
It must be hard on you, Agent Scully, traveling all over the
place. You said you were from Washington, D.C. do you always have
to travel such long distances in your work?”

“Yes, we travel a great deal.”

“Doesn’t that make it hard on your family? My constant traveling
makes me feel very homesick most of the time. I’d like to find
someone and settle down myself. What about you?”

Mulder busied himself eating his lunch, trying to pretend he
didn’t care about the man’s current line of questions – all the
time wishing he could throw his soft drink in his face. He
needn’t have worried; Scully was the queen of deflecting personal
questions.

“I do all right, Mr. Wentworth.”

“How about you, Agent Mulder? Don’t you want to settle down one
day?”

Oh yeah – now he definitely wanted to hurl his cup at this
bastard. Right off the kisser.

“I do all right, Alan. I’m content with the company I keep.”
Mulder felt Scully tap a finger on his knee. “You know, Alan, You
must not sell many policies, hanging around the mall so much.
Don’t you have an office to go to or something?”

“I do all right, Agent Mulder.” With that he began gathering his
food wrappers and plastic tray.

“Leaving so soon, Alan? You just sat down.” Mulder dunked his
fry in some catsup. Not looking at the man as he spoke.

Standing up, Wentworth looked towards Scully. “I have several
appointments this afternoon; I should get going. You have a good
day, Agent Scully. By the way, that’s a lovely suit you’re
wearing.” After dumping his food in a nearby trash can he quickly
made his way to the interior of the mall.

“Too bad. I was hoping he would stay longer,” Mulder said in a
deadpan voice, turning his head to look at Scully.

She was still squinting towards the retreating figure when the
explosion happened, the first deafening roar hitting the two of
them full force where they sat at their little picnic bench in
the sun. Scully heard a scream of shock, never realizing it was
the sound of her own voice. The force of the explosion threw her
backwards onto the pavement. She felt something slam on top of
her, knocking her breathless.

xXx

I did a bit of showing off that day. I couldn’t help it; he
was bloody begging for it – cocky bastard. Swarm of killer
bees — I could have chinned him in the clock for that.

Oh, the day started out just fine. Got my coffee from the pretty
girl who works at the Starbucks and made my way to my favorite
table to read the home paper — football scores. Next thing I
know, I’m looking up at what had to be one of the most beautiful
women I’d seen in a long time. Lovely red hair, beautiful skin,
and lips to drive a man to drink. Smashing lass — oh, did I
mention her eyes? My God. A man could do stupid things for eyes
that color blue. I confess, I was dumbfounded at first, sat there
staring at her like a bloke off the farm – till he walked up
behind her. The look on his face told me I should be paying
better attention to what she was saying.

Come to find out their bobbys. FBI no less. I’ve never seen
inspectors looked like them two before – all dressed up like
movie stars or something. Told me they needed to speak with me
about deaths in the mall. That piqued my interest somewhat. I
figured, bloody hell – why not? Might be a bit of fun, yanking
the local blue bottles around a bit. My days were starting to get
a bit tedious, anyway.

That’s when the fun started. In all my time on this job, never
once have I been surprised by a cop. Oh, I’m not saying they’re
all stupid or anything – far from it. It’s just that they tend
to be a certain type of individual, for the most part. They like
their problems solved as neatly as possible, with as little
paperwork as possible.

Not these two.

It started out all right, I guess. Their standard questions, my
standard evasions to their standard questions. All the time,
though, I was getting a weird feeling – you know – like I wasn’t
quite understanding everything that was going on. Have you ever
felt like that – like you’re missing something? Well, I don’t. I
don’t miss things; that’s my job. The man, Agent Mulder: He kept
staring at me, but not in a normal way. He wasn’t trying to
intimidate me, like most policemen. It was as if he was studying
me, kept watching my hands. Then, next thing I knew, he was
cracking sunflower seeds like he was bored.

Now, the woman: she was a more like a regular cop…but still a
bit off, if you ask me. She rarely cracked a smile – seemed all
businesslike. Couple of times during the conversation, when he
asked me an odd question, I saw her shoot a look at him; other
than that, they were a well-oiled machine. One time she went to
ask me a something, and before she got three words out of her
mouth, that Mulder handed her a piece of paper she ended up
needing. How do you suppose he new that she was going to need
that paper?

That’s when I started to get a bit worried. It was as if I was
watching some little play but without my own program. It started
to cheese me off about half way through. They had nothing on me –
no way to bring me to book. As far as they were concerned, I was
just a bloke in the wrong place at the wrong time – in the wrong
place a lot, to be sure, but still…there was no law against
that.

To have some fun, I started flirting with the woman – you know,
to lighten the mood a bit. It was getting entirely too serious in
there for my taste. She took it okay; hell, she never even batted
an eyelash at me. Could tell I was getting to Mulder, though. His
eyes got a little hard at me. Serves him right – the cocky arse.

Anyway, I was telling you I did a bit of showing off. I had
orders for a 17 year old boy who’s expiration date was pending.
He’d finally showed up that afternoon. I decided to try and kill
two birds with one stone, if you know what I mean. I wasn’t
planning on hurting them or anything – just getting their
attention, that’s all. Shake them up a bit – then just sit back
and watch what happened. Looking back, it may not have been my
brightest move.

xXx

“Sir. Sir, can you hear me?!”

Slowly Fox Mulder became aware of sounds around him. He felt
uncomfortable; his shoulder was killing him. There was this
horrible ringing sound in his head he couldn’t quite shake. Oh
man, that really hurt – someone should turn that down.

“Sir, I need you to try and open your eyes for me. Can you do
that?”

What did that mean? Of course he could open his eyes – couldn’t
he? If someone would just turn down that noise, this would be
easier. What he needed was some rest; just a little bit of sleep,
and everything would be better in the morning. Yeah, that was
definitely a good idea.

“This guy’s out, Charlie. How’s the woman?”

Woman? What woman?

“Scully!” Mulder’s eyes snapped open as he threw himself out of
his prone position on the sidewalk outside the mall. “Scully —
where’s Scully?!” Frantically he tried rolling over on his side
to see if his legs would hold him.

“Whoa, buddy! Hold on; you’re not going anywhere.” The surprised
EMT made a grab for the flailing FBI agent. “You need to lay
back down. The ladies fine; she’s over there being treated.
She’s just fine.”

Mulder tried to get into a standing position, but the ringing in
his head was making it hard to concentrate. He only made it as
far as all fours before he started to feel as if he might throw
up and had to quickly get back to a laying down position. He
looked at the other EMT, Charlie, as he leaned over his partner.
Her eyes were open, but she had blood all over her shirt and
face.

“Scully..” Mulder called out to get her attention. Slowly she
turned her head and focused on Mulder. She gave a weak smile and
reached out her hand to him. Mulder reached out his own hand
until he could feel her fingers in his. She gave his hand a
squeeze before closing her eyes and losing consciousness.

xXx

ST. MARY’S HOSPITAL
BLOOMINGTON, MINNESOTA

“Well, Agent Mulder…From the medical files the FBI faxed me,
this should be old hat for you. You don’t have a concussion, but
you did get your bell rung pretty good. You might feel dizzy
every now and then over the next week or so. Try to take it easy
and don’t exert yourself too much. We’re going to keep you
overnight for observation; head injuries can be tricky. Not
that any of this is news to you.”

“Thanks, Doc. How’s my partner?”

“She’s being checked out now…she has some cuts and lacerations
from what look like projectiles from a car that blew up in the
parking lot next to the picnic area. It could have been much
worse – she lost some blood but nothing too major. We’ll be
keeping her overnight as well.”

“When can I see her?”

“I’ll have a nurse come in and let you know.”

After a couple of hours, Mulder lost patience and set out to find
his partner himself. Absentmindedly, he wondered how many
hospital hallways he’d wandered bare-assed down, wheeling an IV
stand. Too many. Peeking into each room as he walked down the
hallway, he finally reached one with a small redhead tucked in
tightly under hospital blankets. As he quietly stepped up to the
side of her bed, he could see she was awake.

“Scully?”

Scully turned her head from the window to her partner’s earnest
face. “Took you long enough,” she said with a smile.

“Well, it’s hard to wheel an IV stand and try and keep the gown
closed and look into the rooms all at the same time.” Mulder
smiled back at her as he reached down to kiss her cheek. She had
a bandage wrapped around her head, and he could see the small
outlines of brown stains beginning to seep through the gauze.
“You get banged up a bit?”

“Yes, it appears that way. I don’t remember too much about it, to
be honest. Do you?”

“No – just Wentworth leaving. Next thing I remember is waking up
on the sidewalk.”

A silence descended on the room at the mention of their suspect.
Scully was the first to break it.

“What happened? Was it a bomb?”

“No. While I was waiting in my room to come and see you, I called
Eric back at the mall. He says they aren’t done at the scene yet,
but early indications seem to be a busted gas line, which caused
the car to explode…”

“An accident.”

“Uh huh – an accident.”

“That son-of-a-bitch.”

Mulder couldn’t help but smile at Scully when she swore. He held
her hand and leaned down to brush her hair away from her face.
“Yeah, that son-of-a-bitch. Scully, get some rest. I’m going to
wander back to my room. I’ll be back around dinner time; we’ll
eat together okay?”

“Ok.”

“Now, close your eyes. I have to walk out, and unless you want a
free show…”

Scully laughed as Mulder tried to back his way out of the room
while wheeling the IV stand.

“Mulder, it would be the only decent thing that’s happened to me
all day.”

“Smooth talker.”

xXx

Mulder and Scully checked out of the hospital the next morning,
each clutching a bottle of painkillers. These bottles which
would eventually be left to clutter their already overflowing
medicine cabinets.

“Mulder, if we ever get booted from the Bureau, we could go into
the black market selling painkillers.”

“You have leftovers?” Mulder asked, trying to look shocked as he
stuffed the bottle in his inside breast pocket. “Where to first?”

“I’d shoot someone for a decent cup of coffee.”

“Last time I ran that errand, it was the start of a very bad
day.”

Scully smiled as she buckled herself in. “Let’s try a coffee shop
nowhere near a mall.”

“Good idea.”

After coffee, the agents swung by the security offices of The
Mall of America for their briefcases and to assure Eric Hall of
their recovery. The poor security guard was beside himself with
guilt that all of this was somehow his fault. After assuring him
that hospital stays were not unusual in their line of work, they
were able to pick up the police report from the previous day’s
explosion. Sure enough, it was ruled an accidental engine
malfunction resulting in the death of the male teenaged driver.
The local police department had sent some samples to Minneapolis
but weren’t expecting anything surprising from them.

“Have you seen Mr. Wentworth around today, Eric?” Scully asked as
she quickly scanned through the police report.

“Yeah. He asked me how you two were. Said he’d run back out of
the mall after he heard the explosion and saw you two were hurt.
He seemed real concerned for the both of you. Maybe I was wrong
about him…”

“We’re going to do a little digging on your Mr. Wentworth today,
Eric. We’ll be able to tell you more by tomorrow on whether or
not your hunch had any merit.” Scully replied as she put the copy
of the report in her briefcase with the other paperwork from the
case.

“Till then, Eric, I wouldn’t get too close to the guy, if you
know what I mean,” Mulder called over his shoulder as he followed
Scully out of the office.

xXx

“Oh, he’s clever, isn’t he?” Mulder chuckled when he saw the name
on the offices Alan Wentworth had given as his place of business.

Mulder and Scully sat in their rental car parked a little down
the block from the small one-story office building shaded by
large oak trees. It sat back a ways from the tree lined street;
you might not even notice it if you weren’t looking for it, the
only indication of its purpose being the small gold letters
painted in the bottom corner of the front window, “Catastrophe
Management Services of Minnesota”.

“It says here he’s worked for the company eight years – seven
months with this particular division. That would fit our
timeframe for the accidents at the mall. Bureau records indicate
the company is a worldwide conglomerate specializing in
catastrophic insurance policies. It has headquarters in just
about every major city, with smaller offices just about
everywhere else.”

“That big, huh?”

“Mulder maybe we’re dealing with some sort of disgruntled
employee. He mentioned he’s lonely and tired of moving from place
to place – that he’d like to settle down.”

“Uh huh.”

“On the other hand, it could be fraud. We should check to see
whether or not any of his victims were covered by Catastrophe
Management Services…”

“Uh huh.”

“Mulder, are you listening to me?”

“Uh huh.”

“Mulder…?”

“Scully, I’m listening. I’m just not so sure that this guy’s
working on his own. We’re talking a very complex operation here,
if that’s what it is. And I don’t believe that crap about wanting
to settle down and have a family, either; he was just trying to
score girl points with that…”

Mulder smiled at Scully’s raised eyebrow. “Not that I’ve ever
tried something like that, but I’ve heard other men use it
before, you know.”

“Uh huh.” Scully opened the bag at her feet and pulled out a
yogurt and a spoon.

“It’s just that if he did plan and execute these so-called
‘accidents’, he would have had to mess with everything from the
escalators to elevators – even with that chandelier in
Bloomingdales…” Mulder paused to think about what he’d just
said.

“That’s a pretty large operation, Mulder.”

“Yeah, it is, isn’t it? Maybe worldwide.”

Scully rolled her eyes as she sucked the yogurt off the plastic
spoon. “Mulder! Don’t even try to go there. You have got to be
kidding if you think he works for some kind of Accidents R Us, or
something. Death doesn’t work that way; it’s not some kind of
global corporation. You read too many of The Lone Gunman
articles.”

“Did I say that?” Mulder tried to look innocent as he reached for
Scully’s yogurt container. It was blueberry, his favorite. He
muttered under his breath as he took a bite, “Accidents R
Us….very funny.” Giving Scully back her container, he
continued. “All I’m saying is that killing all of those people
and making it look like accidents would be a very large
undertaking requiring expertise in several different areas. He’d
need help, and he’d need access…” Slowly turning to look at
each other, an idea dawned on their faces.

“Eric?” They said in unison

“Scully, you should check to see if he’s connected to Wentworth
in any way – formerly employed here, maybe – something like
that. I did a cursory background check on him when I got that
letter, but I didn’t dig very far.”

“Why would he call us out here if they were working together?
What would his motivation be?”

“I have no idea. It’s probably nothing, but we should check it
out anyway.”

“I’ll look into it when we get back to the hotel.”

Mulder reached into the backseat to get a yellow lined legal pad
out of Scully’s briefcase. Settling back behind the steering
wheel, he began to draw a gallows, followed by a series of dashes
underneath. Scully quickly recognized their usual game to help
pass the time when they were forced to be somewhere longer than
they would like. It had started years ago; she could no longer
remember when.

“A.”

Mulder drew a head on the figure.

“E.”

He filled in two of the dashes.

“O.”

He slowly drew one long line to represent the body. “You’re gonna
lose…you’re gonna lose…” he said in a soft singsong voice.

“Don’t count on it. R.”

Mulder filled in two dashes. He was experienced enough to look
worried.

“S.”

“Ha!” One arm appeared on the paper.

“Mulder, do you really think Eric Hall could be involved in
this?”

“Are you stalling, Scully?”

“No. T.”

“I’m not sure. it might not be him. But it could easily be
another worker in the mall. We should have started a check on
that as soon as we got here; I don’t know why it didn’t occur to
me before now.” With a delighted grin he quickly drew another arm
on the doomed figure.

While Scully was trying to figure out her next guess, Alan
Wentworth drove up to the building and pulled in behind the one
car parked in front of the office.

“Duck!” Mulder grabbed her arm and pulled her down below the
dashboard with him. “Did he see us?”

“I don’t think so,” she said as she peeked above the dashboard,
watching Wentworth as he made his way into the darkened building
at the end of the block.

Slowly the agents sat up straight, Mulder putting the pad and
paper under his seat. “What do you think?”

“Let’s go.”

Approaching the shaded building Mulder fell in behind Scully, his
hand reaching in automatically to unsnap the gun holster resting
on his hip. He noticed Scully doing the same. Slowly opening the
door, they walked over the threshold.

Inside they found an empty reception area elegantly decorated
with a large antique desk and several overstuffed chairs. A
bouquet of fresh flowers sat on the desk next to a small gold
placard identifying the receptionist’s name as Valerie Williams.
Large white letters lit up dramatically on the wall above the
desk spelled out the company motto: “We Serve Anyone.”

The agents looked around as they waited for someone to come out
to the reception area. After several minutes Mulder stepped
forward to ring the small gold bell beside the name plate. It
made a dainty ladylike ring.

“Anyone–Anyone here?” He said with a pleased look on his face.

Ignoring his pun Scully slowly moved around the area opening
several office doors situated in the back of the room. Each door
opened into a well decorated office, each containing a handsome
antique desk and overstuffed chairs. Making their way down a
softly lit hallway, the agents ducked their heads into office
after office containing nothing but desks where no one seemed to
sit.

“Mulder, this is bizarre. Where did Wentworth go?”

“Beats me…”

At the end of the hallway, they found themselves in a deserted
break room. A coffee pot sat on the counter; clean, unused coffee
mugs hung by hooks under the cupboards. Opening the refrigerator,
Scully found it empty – no used lunch bags, no half-eaten
teriyaki takeout – nothing. Turning around, she watched as Mulder
stood in the middle of the room, his hands pushing back his suit
coat as they rested on his hips, a puzzled look on his face.

“Fire! Fire!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.
Scully jumped at the sudden sound in the empty room.

“Mulder!” she yelled at him as she put her hands over her ears.
The sound of his voice echoed around them briefly before
dissipating into nothingness.

“Just checking. I think it’s pretty safe to say there’s no one
manning the store just now.”

“But where did Wentworth go? He couldn’t have just disappeared
into thin air.”

Mulder was already leaving the break room and making his way back
down the hallway. Quickly ducking into the nearest office he
walked behind a desk and sat down.

“What are you doing?”

“Snooping. There’s no one here, might as well.”

“Mulder, that’s illegal search and seizure.”

Looking up at his partner he gave her his best blank look, and
then went back to rummaging in the drawers of the desk.

“I’m going to try the filing cabinet.” Scully whispered as she
scooted one of the chairs over in-front of the large wood cabinet
on the other side of the office.

“Okay.” Mulder smiled and whispered back.

For several minutes the only sound was rustling papers and
opening and closing drawers.

“Mulder, there’s nothing in these files but blank forms. They
look like standard insurance forms, nothing exotic.”

“Yeah, all I’ve got are basic office supplies. Post It’s, memo
pads, pens, paper clips – stuff like that. The files are all just
blank insurance forms.” Closing the drawers Mulder leaned back
in the leather office chair knitting his hands behind his head.
Spotting a picture frame on the desktop he reached for it.
Staring out at him from the photo was a man and woman walking in
a park, each holding the hand of a little boy between them. It
looked like the picture they put in it when you bought it at the
store. The agents tried each office down the hallway getting the
same results.

“Mulder, what’s this?” Scully opened a door into a totally dark
room that didn’t appear to be an office. Running her hand up the
side of the wall until she felt the light switch she turned it
on. They stood in the doorway of a large narrow room filled with
filing cabinets. Not attractive wood ones like in the offices,
these were metal and utilitarian looking. Rows of fluorescent
tubes on the ceiling illuminated the room.

“This is more like it.” Mulder said as he made his way into the
narrow room. Each agent took a row of cabinets trying one drawer
and then the next.

“None of mine are opening,” Scully whispered as she moved to the
next set of metal drawers. “Are yours?”

“No…No. None of them.” Mulder quickly made his way down the
aisle briefly pulling on one handle and then the next. Meeting
back in the doorway to the hallway they continued to stare into
the room at the rows of cabinets. Scully’s arms were crossed in
front of her, Mulder in his usual stance, hands on hips.

“Mulder, let’s get out of here before we get caught. There could
be cameras in here.”

When they reached the outer office where they’d first entered,
Mulder hesitated. Taking out his wallet, he pulled out a business
card and picked up the phone. There was a dial tone.

“What are you doing?”

“Just an idea.” He said, as he dialed a number into the keypad.

Looking over his shoulder, Scully could see he was holding Alan
Wentworth’s business card.

“Hello… – Hello. – Have I reached Catastrophe Management
Services of Minnesota? – I have? – Valerie, you said? – Are you
located at 4202 Doris Drive in Springfield? – You are?” He turned
and rolled his eyes at Scully. “How late are you open tonight? –
5:30? Okay, great. – No. – I’ll have to get back to you. –
Thanks.” Putting down the phone, he smiled at Scully. “They’re
open. Imagine that.”

“Lucky us.”

As they exited the building and headed back to their car, Scully
stopped to look up into the huge leafy canopy of the oak tree in
front of the building. It’s large green leaves were barely
stirring in the afternoon sunshine. “They’re beautiful, aren’t
they?”

“Yes – beautiful,” he said, never bothering to look at the tree.

“Mulder?”

“Yes, Scully.”

“Blueberry.”

“What?”

“Blueberry. You’re hangman word. Blueberry.” She turned her face
to him and smiled.

“Aghh,” he uttered softly. Feigning distress as he put both hands
to his heart, as if mortally wounded.

Back in the rental car Mulder was reaching for the ignition when
Alan Wentworth walked out from the building they had just exited.
“Mulder!” Scully gasped and pointed as they watched him slowly
get into his car.

“What the hell…?”

“Follow him, Mulder. Follow him!”

Over the next several hours the agents followed Wentworth from
the dry cleaners, to a newsstand specializing in foreign papers,
to a tobacco shop, and finally, to a restaurant where he took a
table and seemed to be ordering a late lunch, early dinner.

“Well, this has been a huge waste of time, Mulder.” Scully
stretched and sighed.

“I think my ass is asleep.” Mulder replied with a sigh of his
own. “Do you still have the cell phone number he gave us during
the interview?”

“Sure, why?”

“He spends more time on his phone than I do. Let’s find out who
he’s talking to.” Mulder pulled out his own phone and punched a
button.

“Lone Gunmen.”

“Hi Langley, it’s me.”

“Hey, Mulder – what’s up?”

“I need your fingers to do some walking for me.”

“No prob – shoot.”

“Can you get me some info on a cell number? It’s 952-555-3180,
should be registered to an Alan Wentworth of Bloomington,
Minnesota.”

“Looking for anything in-particular?”

“No – anything will do.”

“I’ll call you when I hit pay dirt.”

“Thanks Langley. Oh, Langley…”

“Yeah?”

“I’m sorry about Joey.”

“Thanks, man. It’s a dark day.”

xXx

DAYS INN MOTEL
7:30 PM

“Scully, this is amazing. I think there might be enough to get a
search warrant.”

“And what do you suggest we tell the judge when we’re asked how
we obtained this information?”

“Right…”

The agents sat on the floor of Scully’s hotel room; Langley’s
handiwork spread out before them. After leaving Wentworth at the
restaurant they had grabbed dinner at the nearest drive-thru and
made their way back to the motel. The email from Langley was
waiting on Mulder’s laptop. Lucky for them, Mr. Wentworth
received emails through his cell phone and Langley had been able
to hack into his account. They were slowly making their way
through the communications.

“Mulder, what do you think these are? It’s like they’re
processing forms but all under the names of our deceased?”

“I think they might be orders on who should die…”

Scully turned her head to look at Mulder, her eyes growing wide.
“What are you saying, Mulder?”

“Come one, Scully, you can see these as well as I can. What do
you think it looks like?” He picked up one of the emails and
began to read aloud.

“Name: Tina Gordley, 31 years. Expiration: No later than June 11
current year. Promptly inform upon completion of account.” Then,
at the bottom it says, “Account completed June 5 same year.”

“Scully, that’s the exact date of this woman’s death.” Mulder
put the paper down to look at his partner, his eyebrows raised
waiting for the reply he was sure was on it’s way.

“I don’t know, Mulder. I’m at a loss. If this is true then that
means someone is ordering Alan Wentworth to kill all these
people. Why would someone do that? What possible motivation could
there be? Insurance fraud? Maybe they all have insurance policies
with his company…”

“Maybe.”

“You have that tone to your voice, Mulder.”

“What tone.”

“You know, that – ‘I’m not going to tell you because you’ll only
laugh.’ -tone.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You’re not still thinking this is some big corporate killing
machine or something are you?”

“I’m not going to tell you because you’ll only laugh.”

Scully couldn’t help but smile, “I bet we could get a judge to
give us a warrant based on the fact that he’s in all of these
video tapes. We don’t have to tell them about these emails.”

“Now you’re talking.”

xXx

BLOOMINGTON POLICE DEPT
7:00AM FOLLOWING DAY

“Okay people – listen up. We’re not anticipating any problems
here but let’s keep our eyes open just the same. We’re looking
for any personnel files on customers past and present. Paperwork
is what we’re after – any paperwork you can get your hands on.
We’re also looking for this man,” Mulder held up a still photo
of Alan Wentworth from one of the mall security camera tapes.
Slowly he pivoted around so all the officers could see the
picture. “This man needs to be detained and given to either Agent
Scully or myself for further questioning. Understood?” The small
band of local Bloomington police officers nonchalantly nodded
their heads at the FBI agent before them. For most of them this
was their first experience with any Federal law enforcement and
they were trying their best not to look impressed. “All right –
here we go.”

With Mulder and Scully’s rental sedan leading the way, the small
caravan filled with local deputies drove to the offices of
Catastrophe Management Services of Minnesota search warrant in
hand. Parking on the street in front of the office proved not to
be a problem so early in the morning. Just as the day before,
there seemed to be few cars in the near vicinity.

After directing a few of the officers to make their way around
the back of the building, Scully joined Mulder at the front door.
“They should be around back by now – let’s go.” No one bothered
to draw any weapons as no real resistance was expected. Opening
the front door the Agents walked into a very different room then
they’d seen the day before. The entire front office was totally
emptied of all its contents. No desk, no overstuffed chairs, no
little brass bell. Nothing.

“Mulder, even the signs gone!” Scully stood in the middle of the
office looking at the wall where previously the company name had
been. All that was left was a faint outline where the paint
around it had faded.

Mulder threw open doorways as he trotted down the familiar
hallway. Everything was empty. Reaching the room with the rows
of metal filing cabinets Mulder slowly opened the door fully
expecting the worst. He was not disappointed.

“Dammit!”

Scully joined him in the long narrow empty office, a similar look
of disbelief on her face. “What the hell’s going on here, Mulder?
There’s no way they could have known about our search warrant.
And even if they did, how did they manage to remove everything
in less than 12 hours?”

“I don’t know. But it appears to be a moot point for now.”

Turning back towards the doorway the agents were met with a half
dozen bemused eyes, all trying not to look amused and failing
miserably.

“Are you sure you got the right address?” One of the more
obviously delighted officers said, as he leaned against the
doorframe.

“Oh look Agent Scully, isn’t that nice? We already have a
volunteer.” Mulder strode over to the barrel chested officer and
rested his hand on his shoulder. “We’ll need someone to remain on
the premises should the suspects return for any reason. We
appreciate your cooperation and we’ll make sure and mention it in
our report Officer…..Bailey.” Mulder said, as he looked at the
man’s name tag.

“What?! Are you kidding me? There’s not even a chair…”

“I’m sure you’ll find something Officer, it’s only till the end
of your shift. You understand.” Walking back down the corridor
towards the front door Mulder smiled to himself at the new found
diligence of the rest of the officers.

“Agent Mulder, we’ve checked the entire building, is there
anything else you needed from us?”

“No, it’s pretty obvious they’ve cleared out. Scully, are you
ready to
leave?”

“Yes, there’s not much more to see here. That’s for sure.”

xXx

The Ministry of Demise
10:30am

“I don’t know what to say Wentworth. We’re very disappointed in
you. This department has a long and respected tradition of
irreproachable service. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Alan Wentworth was seated on one side of a long wooden table
facing several older men who he recognized from the paintings
that lined the reception area through which he had just walked.
Their names engraved in small brass plaques below each picture.
He hadn’t had time to read them, so far they had not seen fit to
introduce themselves.

“Sir, it’s fine, really. It will be fine.”

“Fine?! Fine?!” Wentworth’s supervisor, Mr. Montague began to
pace back and forth within the oak paneled conference room.

“…Mr. Wentworth,” the flustered superior attempted to regain
control of his emotions. “in case you failed to notice. The
United States of America’s, Federal Bureau of Investigations,
attempted to arrest you this morning and take all our files. We
here in the Expirations Division do not consider that to be
‘fine’. Now, again, I say, explain yourself!” Without waiting
for a reply the enraged man continued, “I can only imagine what
might have happened if the Unforeseen Occurrences department had
not seen fit to inform us of this impending raid…” Mr. Montague
was quickly negating all his previous efforts at remaining calm.
He slowly sank into a plush leather chair at the far end of the
table, removed his tortoise shell frames and began to rub his
face in a rather alarming manner.

“Sir, it was never my intention to cause such upheaval within the
department. Truthfully, I’m not sure how it’s gotten to this
point. Everything was going along just grand when suddenly these
bobbys showed up and started poking around…”

“Is it true you’ve been processing your caseload from only one
location? Some shopping center somewhere?”

Wentworth’s all to apparent squeamishness was answer enough.

“It seemed such a perfect idea sir. Nothing in the orders say I
can’t choose my own locations for processing sir. I have personal
discretion in that area…”

“Within reason, Mr. Wentworth…within reason! How many?”

“Sorry sir?”

“I said how many! How many orders have you processed from that
shopping center?!”

Wentworth rested his chin in his hand and muffled his voice with
his fingers.

“Speak up Mr. Wentworth!”

“20.”

The reactions of the men lined up before him seemed to suggest
his barely audible reply was understood. Several of them reacted
by laying their heads down on the smooth shiny surface of the
wooden table while one of them even saw fit to gasp aloud.

In his attempts to avoid direct eye contact Wentworth
concentrated on the large grandfather clock at the other end of
the room. Half past ten in the morning: it was going to be a
very long day.

xXx

DENNY’S
11:25AM

“Well, now what?” Scully said as she sat down her Diet Coke with
a thud. The sound brought the attention of the waitress and
Scully aimed a small embarrassed smile in her direction, while
nodding, no.

Mulder, done with his BLT was leaning back in the booth, both
arms outstretched on either side of the cushioned seat. He sat
staring out the window of the Denny’s into the bright parking
lot. The sound of the glass landing on the table shaking him out
of his busy thoughts.

The partners had finished up at Catastrophe Management and had
driven back with most of the other officers to the local police
station. Filling out a few reports they quietly slipped out of
the building as soon as possible. Unsure of their next move
they did what most people do when faced by uncertainty, they
grabbed an early lunch.

“He wasn’t home, was he?”

“No, Mulder. They sent a car to his home address, it’s a
McDonalds.”

“We deserve a break today.”

Mulder ducked as Scully’s wadded up napkin sailed past his head
and landed on the window ledge.

“Be serious, Mulder. We’re now the laughing stock of the
Minnesota office. What the hell do you want to do?”

“I say we go back to the scene of the crime. It’s the only place
we’ve ever been able to find him, maybe we’ll get lucky.”

“It’s been a long time since you’ve gotten lucky, Mulder.”

“You ain’t whistlin’ Dixie.” Mulder smiled as he tossed a twenty
on the table and followed Scully out of the restaurant to their
rental car.

The agents were quiet during the car ride back to the mall. Each
busy with their own thoughts and questions regarding the curious
circumstances of their day so far.

“What makes you think he’ll show up where he knows we can find
him?” Scully asked, as she looked out the window at passing
scenery.

“I don’t know. A hunch I guess. I get the impression he doesn’t
have anywhere else to go.”

After reaching the mall the partners started their search at the
security offices, specifically the surveillance room. From there
they had access to the hundreds of security cameras that filled
the premises. A 24 hour revolving shift monitored all parts of
the cavernous shopping complex. Even after hours there were
countless workers who flowed through its corridors and
underground tunnels performing their nightly routines.

Each starting in a different section, the two agents and the
security guard began scanning the monitors for Wentworth. After
about 20 minutes of slowly making their way around the room it
was Scully who finally laid eyes on him. “I’ve got him!” she
hollered excitedly from a darkened corner of the large room.

“Where is he?” Mulder asked, making his way towards her.

“It looks like he’s in line for something, but I can’t tell
what.”

“It’s a movie.” Eric Hall chimed in, from over Scully’s other
shoulder, as he joined the two at the monitor. “Those theaters
are on the main floor of the southwest corner, if we grab a cart
we can be there in ten minutes.”

As they made their way to the theaters the surveillance room
radioed them that Wentworth was in theater number eight. He was
seeing a generic summer blockbuster; useful for wasting a couple
hours of your time. Upon pulling up to the cinema entrance
Mulder instructed Eric to remain with the cart, in case
Wentworth slipped by them or tried to bolt. The guard looked
disappointed but did as he was told. Flashing their badges at the
bored teenager working the ticket window they asked for
directions as well as the number of people currently seated.
Luckily for them, there were fewer than ten people willing to
waste their time on this particular Hollywood fare.

Pulling their guns from their holsters, the agents entered the
dimly lit theater through opposite doors. As the movie changed to
a daylight scene, they were finally able to make out the lone
figure sitting in the center of the fourth row eating popcorn.
Mulder pointed at Wentworth making sure Scully saw him and
understood. Everyone else in the theater was sitting behind
Wentworth, making it easier for the agents to flash their badges
and gesture for the patrons to quietly make their way towards the
exit. However, it was only a few moments before Wentworth
noticed the stir and turned his head to see the familiar figures
making their way towards him guns drawn. Wentworth paused,
popcorn midway between bag and mouth as he watched Mulder’s
steady approach. He seemed to be thinking things through,
weighing his options in his head. Finally, apparently resigned to
his fate, he turned back around and began to watch the movie
again. Hesitating briefly the agents threw confused glances at
each other from either side of the aisle. Suddenly the movie
stopped, and the lights came up in the empty theater, as Mulder
and Scully reached the opposite ends of Wentworth’s aisle.

“Blimey.” Wentworth said with a resigned sigh.

“Looks that way.” Mulder replied. “I hate to resort to clich├ęs
Mr. Wentworth, but we can do this the easy way or the hard way,
which will it be?”

“Couldn’t we try a third, less traveled option? Why don’t you
both have a seat and we can have a nice long chat. I promise to
be on my best behavior.”

“If you don’t mind, we’d rather talk at the police station.”
Scully said matter of factly.

“Hello Luv.” Wentworth turned his head to smile at Scully.
Unfortunately, as much as I would love to, I have no intention of
accompanying you anywhere.”

“I don’t see that you have much choice.” Scully replied.

“I have more choices than you know. I’m not asking much; just a
moment of your time to explain myself, that’s all. You already
have me cornered, what harm could it do to take a seat and hear
me out?”

Mulder began to move down the aisle slowly, “Why does it matter
what we think of what you’ve done?”

“Of what you allege I’ve done, thank you very much; you can’t
prove a bloody word of it. However, you two have caught my fancy,
and I feel compelled to share with you my story. I suspect that
for the first time in my career, I may have met someone who will
understand what I am about to tell them. Believe me, I’ve tried
before, usually with disastrous results. Of course, it usually
happens after I’ve had too much to drink, I tend to ramble when
I’m intoxicated.

“As opposed to now?”

Shooting Mulder a dark look Wentworth crossed his arms in front
of him. “Well, are you going to sit or not?”

Mulder moved in, stopping about two seats away from the man and
sat down, making sure to shift in his seat in order to face him.
He still held his gun but he kept it in his lap.

“Mulder, what are you doing? This is ridiculous, there’s nothing
to say here that can’t be said at the police station.”

“You heard the man, Scully. He has no intention of leaving with
us so we might as well hear him out.” Turning his concentration
back to the suspect he waited expectantly.

Scully moved into the aisle and sat a few seats to Wentworth’s
left, her gun resting in her lap as well. Looking over her right
shoulder she could see people staring through the square hole in
the projection room. Slightly embarrassed she turned her
attention back to the men before her.

“It’s amazing, I’ve practiced this so many times in my head and
now when it comes time to say it, I’m at a loss for how to
start.”

“Why don’t you start by telling us how long you’ve been in the
death business?” Mulder said quietly.

Wentworth looked at Mulder with amazement and then began to
laugh. “That is extraordinary, Mr. Mulder. Really, I stand quite
astonished. I am rarely shocked, but in the short time I’ve been
acquainted with you and your partner, I have been truly amazed.
When did you know?”

“I didn’t really; I was just playing a hunch. However, I’m not
interested in answering your questions, I want some answers of my
own. What are you? Where do you come from?”

“Oh, a little town outside London. I’m nothing fancy, it’s not
like I’m an angel or anything grand like that. Apparently I was
just born with special gifts, abilities you might call them. I
began to notice them at an early age. When playing with other
children they would frequently lose sight of me. Somehow, unable
to see me even when I was standing directly in front of them. I
was able to move things around without touching them and could
never be caught during hide and seek. I had no idea how any of
these things happened or how to control them. I tried to hide it
for fear of ridicule; I mostly wanted to be like the other
children. It wasn’t until I entered college that someone
approached me from the Ministry.

“The Ministry?” Scully said incredulously. “Who are you, Harry
Potter?”

“Oh, that is clever. May I please continue?”

“Please do, it’s fascinating.” Scully looked past Wentworth to
Mulder with an amused smirk.

“You know, that eyebrow move is really quite lovely.” Wentworth
said admiringly. “Okay then, where was I?”

Suddenly the man tensed and turned quickly back and forth in his
seat searching the theater.

Mulder stiffened in his chair, both hands now on his gun while
lifting his arms towards the man in the middle. Immediately, he
became aware of a vibration in his feet. A low rumble, like a
large semi truck driving by.

“What’s that?” Scully murmured.

“My fate, I suppose.” Wentworth said in a quiet voice.

As soon as the words were out of his mouth the theater was struck
with such force all three of them were thrown hard from their
seats onto the floor. Staying on the floor in a prone position
they waited for the jarring to recede but it didn’t. The sound
was deafening as the floor heaved beneath them and bits of the
theater’s interior began flying through the air and crashing to
the ground.

Mulder made a desperate grab for Wentworth’s shirt collar and
pulled his face as close to the other man’s as he could manage
while being tossed around. “Make it stop!” he yelled. “You’ll
kill us all!”

“I’m not doing it!” Wentworth screamed back, desperately trying
to remove himself from Mulder’s grasp. “You must leave! Take
Scully and get out now!”

Mulder immediately let go of Wentworth and began crawling over
the man to get to his partner. Pushing himself forward on his
belly he frantically called her name. Suddenly a nearby chair
fell towards him and Scully’s face appeared.

“Mulder, what’s happening?!” Scully yelled in his face as he
wrapped one arm around the top of her head, trying to protect her
from flying debris. “Is Wentworth doing this?!”

“He says no, but I don’t think we should wait around to find
out!”

Suddenly the ground gave another violent jolt, momentarily
pulling him away from Scully before violently throwing him back
towards her huddled frame.

“Mulder, we have to find cover or we’re not going to make it!”

As if on cue, the roof began its collapse above them. First the
ceiling tiles began to fall like enormous confetti onto the
already destroyed aisles. Then a beam came crashing down about
fifteen feet from them causing sparks to spray back and forth
from the now exposed electrical wires.

“Head towards the stage!” Scully screamed at Mulder, and began
desperately to crawl over the twisted rows of cushioned chairs
and rubble. Remembering Wentworth, Mulder looked frantically for
any sign of the man. Unable to spot him among the chaos, he
quickly followed his partner towards the shelter of the stage.
After what seemed an eternity, the partners reached the front of
the auditorium and began their desperate search for an opening in
the raised platform. Finding a piece pulled away from the frame,
Mulder grabbed a corner of the panel and pulled with every ounce
of strength he had.

“Crawl through, Scully! I’ll hold the corner out…crawl
through!”

Scully squeezed herself in through the small triangle opening.
Once inside the structure, she began pushing out on the panel
Mulder was pulling off, when a portion finally broke free of its
nailed border. Mulder ignored the burning pain in his legs as he
frantically pushed himself through the jagged nail filled
opening. Crawling as far back as they could get, Mulder wedged
himself into a makeshift corner created by the framed
reinforcements below the stage. Pulling Scully towards him he
tried to envelope her as best he could and waited for whatever
their fate might be. The next several minutes were some of the
longest either of them could remember spending. The sounds of
destruction pummeling them as much as any debris. Then it
stopped.

As quickly as it began it was over. The sudden stillness was as
startling as the previous chaos. They remained huddled together,
almost afraid to relax for fear it was a cruel trick. After a few
moments they raised their heads and began a tentative look around
their makeshift hiding place.

“Is it over?”

Unable to find his voice, Mulder shook his head in the
affirmative and began slowly unwrapping himself from Scully.

“Are you all right?” Mulder finally whispered.

Scully was running her hands up and down her body checking for
any major damage. After finding nothing, she began the same
search on her partner. He seemed fine except for several cuts
showing through his shredded pants.

“We’re fine, Mulder. I think we’re fine.”

Slowly crawling their way back to their makeshift entrance Mulder
took a cautious look around.

“I guess the movies over,” he said. Trying for a joking tone and
failing miserably.

“Do you see anyone, Mulder?”

“No. But I see blue sky.”

“Oh my god. Really?”

“Really. Lets see if we can get the hell out of here.”

“I’m all for that. Let’s try to get outside before any
aftershocks hit.”

Crawling from the hole under the stage the agents could see that
the middle of the roof had collapsed, making a large wedge shaped
tent of rubble all around them. The blue sky could be seen
peeking in, low to the ground, about fifty feet in front of them.

“Mulder, if this outer wall we’re up against collapses, we’ll be
crushed. We need to get out of here now.”

Pulling the flashlight from his inner suit coat Mulder shined the
small but powerful beam on their surroundings. “Let’s go this
way, it looks the easiest.”

“Right behind you.”

Slowly crawling their way under collapsed beams and over crushed
velvet seats, the pair tried to avoid the live electrical wires
and jagged pieces of bent steel beams. The air was hot and dust
filled; Scully’s hair was soon plastered to her forehead with
sweat. Her knees felt bruised and battered and somehow, she’d
lost both shoes.

“Mulder, I need to stop for a second. I have to find something to
cover my mouth, this dust is making it hard to breathe.”

Mulder scooted backwards to sit next to Scully on the ground.
“Here, let me rip out the lining in my coat, we can both use it.”

“There goes another suit jacket.”

“That’s okay, they go to a better place, along with your shoes.”

Having ripped out the lining, Mulder began tearing it in half to
make them both bandanas. “Do you think Wentworth could have made
it out of this mess?”

“I don’t see how. And don’t expect me to believe for a second
that he caused this earthquake, Mulder. Because it’s not
possible, people cannot make earthquakes.”

Mulder smiled and began wiping Scully’s face with his shredded
jacket. He was shocked to see her face abruptly change to horror.
Before he was able to comment she was already crawling around
him.

“It’s Wentworth, Mulder. Help me – quick.”

Turning around, he saw him. His head and one arm were sticking
out from under a pile of velvet curtains and he was pinned down
by a steel girder. Quickly joining Scully, Mulder trained his
flashlight on the heap while they tried to figure out how to get
him out.

“Alan.” Scully felt his forehead to see if he was still alive.
“Alan, can you hear me?”

The man’s eyelashes fluttered briefly and then opened to reveal
surprisingly alert brown eyes. “Hello luv,” he said quietly.

“Are you all right? Are you in any pain?” Scully began trying to
reach under the curtains to see how badly he was pinned down.

“No. I’m not in any pain. Don’t you worry about it.”

Scully turned to Mulder, concern on her face. “Mulder, I don’t
know if we’ll be able to get him out. I think the beam is
crushing him,” she whispered.

Mulder knelt down to get closer to the man, “Wentworth, we need
to try and lift this beam off you, okay? Are you able to move
your legs at all?”

“It’s no use. It’s my fate, I already told you that.”

“What do you mean?”

“Mulder, he’s in shock. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“Come on, Mulder. You’re a smart man, you can figure it out.”

“It’s a hell of a way to cover your tracks, Wentworth. Couldn’t
you have tried something a little less extreme?”

“Don’t blame me, mate. Natural Catastrophes are a different
department.”

The End
EPILOGUE

Case # X-0869
Field notes of Special Agent Fox Mulder.

Can death be attributed to something as lifeless as big business?
Are we all just entries in some unknown row of filing cabinets;
our fate parceled out by well meaning bureaucrats working their
way up the corporate ladder? Is it possible that a human being’s
life can be at the mercy of an as yet undelivered email?

Many of the details of the suspects life are still to be
uncovered. We were able to obtain a copy of his birth
certificate through his passport application; he was indeed born
in a small town outside London. His school papers state he was a
quiet student who excelled in literature, but disliked all
sciences. He was no great athlete and his school counselor made a
note that he felt like an outsider, that he never fit in. They
suggested he join a school club but it doesn’t state whether or
not he ever did.

The damage to the Mall of America could have been much worse.
Somehow, only the theater complex was destroyed by the 8.2
earthquake which occurred on its premises. No explanation can be
given for this as yet unheard of seismic occurrence. There are
currently several geological teams studying the area for further
explanation.

The death of the suspect, Alan Wentworth, is apparently the only
fatality of the earthquake in question. Local law enforcement
have determined all previous deaths were the result of a series
of unfortunate accidents.

This case is now closed.

xXx

Author’s Notes: I hardly know where to begin on this one. I
started writing this story in the summer of 2001. Due to many
unfortunate circumstances it wasn’t finished until now (10/2002).

I’ve come to the conclusion that somehow the planets aligned in
such a way as to make Sept 2001 one of the worst months many of
us will ever endure. The day prior to those attacks I lost a very
good friend, and a very good beta. 2shy was the instigator of
this little fan fic endeavor that I’ve begun; her unwavering
enthusiasm for reading every installment, and sending praise
filled emails was my drug of choice.

I hope you all pardon me while I take some time to preach.
They’re my notes, and by god I’m using them. An online community
can be a very transient thing. People come and go and you’re
really lucky when you can find someone to make a lasting
connection with. I suspect many of us are closest to our true
selves online and finding a friend in this vast internet is not
something to be taken lightly. Gratefully, I have very few
regrets (there are always a few, right?) in my friendship with
2shy. She knew how much I valued her and amazingly enough, I was
given an opportunity to meet her before she died. I hope everyone
out there takes the opportunity to express gratitude to the
person/people who make your particular slice of the X File pie so
tasty. Nuff said.

Finally, thank you to Trish at the Beta Readers Circle, for all
her help. I appreciated it tremendously. Thank you to the Wenches
who I love, even though my heart belongs to the tall, dark and
moody smart ass. An extra big thanks to Wench Teejay for our
weekly geeky good time – they’re turning into the highlight of my
week.

Shalom and hugs.
Folieadeux