Ephemeral/Gossamer: *NO ARCHIVE* (already done)
X Files VCU is a new virtual series situated eighteen months after The Truth. If you missed the other episodes or want to know what it's all about, you might like to check out the virtual series site at http://xfvcu.deslea.com. Watch for next week's episode, Beneath The Surface by Lara Means, in which Doggett and Reyes find themselves back in New Orleans on a case that raises the spectre of old fears and foes.
On a personal note, please forgive me if you've sent me email, especially XFVCU feedback type email recently and haven't had a reply. I've fallen behind, but I'm working on it.
X Files: VCU 1x04
Deslea R. Judd
DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine. ARCHIVE: Yes, just keep my name and headers. RATING: PG13.
SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Set eighteen months after The Truth.
CATEGORY/KEYWORDS: Post-series, casefile, XFVCU. SUMMARY: A haunted monastery. A demented mystic. Another agent's mess. A hell of a lot of bodies. VIRTUAL SERIES SITE: http://xfvcu.deslea.com AUTHOR SITE: http://fiction.deslea.com
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff. email@example.com AWARDS/ELIGIBILITY: Spooky Awards 2004 eligible.
Seasons don't fear the reaper
Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain
We can be like they are, come on baby
Don't fear the reaper, baby take my hand -- Don't Fear The Reaper, Blue Oyster Cult
They called her the White Lady.
The White Lady, surprisingly enough, was a woman cloaked in white. Local superstition is rarely inventive. It is rarely logical, either. This may go in some measure towards explaining why a saintly postulant, who (they said) drew her final, gasping breaths while awaiting her first promises as a nun, would be said to haunt a monastery instead of the eminently more suitable convent down the road.
But the convent was a modern building, light and bright and clean. It was filled with vibrant young women, exhilarated by ideology and mission. The monastery was dark and empty, shrouded in shadows. A catacomb of mystery encased in the protective clutches of moss and leaves and earth, sprawling in a bid to take back the places once denied by the spectre of human dominance. It was fitting that the White Lady should walk these hallowed grounds. Far more nourishing soil for the growth of a legend.
The locals held this place with thrall. They did not know that legends were not all that grew here. They never dreamed, they said later. Never would have believed...this blessed place...who would have thought? They couldn't believe such evil would reside right beneath their noses. That was what they said. But it wasn't what they meant.
They meant they couldn't believe it happened under the watchful eye of the White Lady.
Lydia Kersh's voice echoed along the halls, and her father opened his eyes with reluctance. Regretfully, he shook his head, clearing it of a delightful delirium of steam.
"At this hour?" he called, shutting off the water and stepping out of the shower.
His daughter's voice was muffled through the door. "She didn't say anything about time travel, so, yeah, I guess."
He stifled a groan. "All right, give me a minute." He dried off and put on his dressing gown in a rush.
Lydia was waiting, phone in hand, when he emerged. She was already dressed for school. That meant she was seeing a boy, Kersh thought. He hoped it was an improvement on the last one.
"It's your secretary," she said. "Mom's gonna be pissed. She was asleep."
He took it. "Thank you. And mind your language."
"Yes, Daddy," she said, entirely unintimidated. She leaned up and kissed his cheek, still rough with morning stubble. "I'm off. See you tonight."
"Laura?" he said into the phone, waving his daughter off as she slipped out the front door. "It's a little early, don't you think?"
"Sorry to bother you at home, Sir, but there's something on the news that I thought you'd like to see."
Frowning, he went to the kitchen, and turned on the kettle on the way through to his wife's little portable. On the phone, he could hear a kettle whistling in the background, and Laura's toddler was singing to himself - clearly Laura was only marginally more prepared for the day than he was. "Which channel?"
"Any of the affiliates. It's top news. It concerns some correspondence we had with the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore last year."
"Hold on." He switched the television on and flicked channels, bypassing commercials and cartoons. On NBC, Katie Couric was interviewing an ageing actor whom Kersh recognised but could not name. On WNVT, he stopped, frowning, as scenes flashed before him. Police officers trailed in and out of the remains of an ivy-covered building, lugging their nondescript yet unmistakable cargo of body bags, lining them up in rows on the overgrown lawn. Twenty at least, to Kersh's practiced eye. Off to the side, bulldozers stood patiently, forgotten.
"That's St Gerebernus Monastery," he said at last. A weighty feeling descended over him. He was already counting the agents he had available on his fingers.
"We agreed that the FBI would supervise its excavation," he said. He switched off the kettle - no time for that - and grabbed Helen's notepad. At the top of each page was printed, "Shopping List!" in sickly pink letters. He started writing names.
"Yes, Sir. Looks like someone at the diocese dropped the ball, Sir."
Kersh drew a line through Mulder's name. "That's an understatement. We need to get this case away from Baltimore PD. Can you do it? Now?" He put a question mark next to Reyes.
"I think so, Sir. Our prior correspondence should be enough for us to assert jurisdiction. I'll make some calls."
"Good girl. Thank you." Kersh rubbed his temples as he rang off. He looked down at his list, and, after a moment, circled the names of Follmer and Spender.
It was going to be a bad day.
The agents in question arrived at the same time.
"Kersh sounded steamed," Jeffrey said before he was even out of his car. "What's happening?"
Follmer shrugged, slamming his door and jiggling the handle to make sure it was locked. "Not sure. But it looks big." He nodded towards the throng across the road. "If the radio is anything to go by, the media is already out in force."
By common assent, they crossed the road, pushing past the locals and flashing their badges at the police officers holding them back. There were no reporters, and as they walked up the drive, gravel crunching beneath their shoes, Jeffrey saw why. The press corps was comfortably ensconced further up the driveway, past the hedges that obscured the view from the street. They had a birds-eye view.
Kersh's voice could be heard before they even had a chance to flash their badges at the rookie manning the police tape. "Agents! Get your asses over here. Clock's ticking."
Jeffrey shrugged at the rookie, stepped under, and jogged over, Follmer keeping step at his side. Stepping through overgrown grass, he could see Krycek, Fowley, and Reyes, along with two agents he vaguely recognised from Violent Crimes. They were gathered on the steps of the monastery with Kersh and another, older man Jeffrey didn't recognise. Around them, police officers were working, trooping in and out of the half-demolished west wing, industriously laying out body bags in rows.
"Agents Spender, Follmer," Kersh said at their approach, "this is Agent Fuller and Agent Caleca from VCU." Jeffrey nodded with that non-committal catchall greeting he reserved for these situations. "This is Father Giles from the Archdiocese of Baltimore. He'll be your liaison with the diocese."
Follmer nodded. "What's the situation?"
Giles nodded towards the bulldozers. "We started excavating at first light this morning. The monastery closed in 1981. It's not particularly sound, structurally speaking, and it doesn't hold much historical significance. Our intention is to build a hospice on the site."
"But when you did, you found bodies?" Follmer queried. Krycek looked uncomfortable, Jeffrey noticed. Diana was watching him with sympathy.
Giles looked uncomfortable as well. "Agent Follmer, I'm not a local. I'm from Philadelphia diocese, here on a temporary placement. I arrived about eight weeks ago to replace the assets management director, who had a heart attack recently. So I had no idea."
"No idea of what?" said Reyes.
"It's a body dump," Krycek said. "The building goes seven floors underground, and the last five are rotting to hell. People used to go to the top of the spiral staircase and just dump them over the side."
"What do you mean, people?" Jeffrey demanded. "What people?"
"Organised crime, mostly," said Giles, "at least if I understand it correctly. I've gotten a crash course in local lore from the reporters and neighbours since we found the first body, and it's rumoured that Satanists use the monastery as well. There are stories of Satanic ritual and human sacrifice, but it's hard to know what's real and what's just people getting caught up in the excitement. Superstition is a powerful thing, and people are very suggestible. Especially in matters of religion. It's an ongoing pastoral problem."
Jeffrey frowned. That explained Monica, but it didn't explain the rest of them. Turning to Kersh, he said, "Deputy Director, I don't quite understand what we're doing here."
"That's our fault, I'm afraid," said Giles apologetically. "I owe you an apology, Mr Kersh. My predecessor kept your correspondence under lock and key, for obvious reasons, and in the confusion after his heart attack, it wasn't passed on."
Kersh nodded. "It's regrettable, but it can be handled. Thank you, Father." Seeing the other agents' confusion (except Krycek and Diana, Jeffrey thought, wondering irritably if there was anything those two didn't know first) he said, "XFVCU was to supervise this excavation, Agents. We were aware of the bodies down there - two in particular - and the diocese was kindly cooperating with us to keep publicity and embarrassment to a minimum."
"What embarrassment?" Reyes said. "I don't understand."
Silence fell for a long moment, and then Krycek cleared his throat.
Jeffrey stared at him, uncomprehending for a moment, but then he understood. They were people he killed for the Consortium while he was undercover.
"Agent Krycek's actions are a matter of public record," said Kersh. "These deaths are already documented in his testimony before the Congressional inquiry. There is no question of charges against him. But if the press gets hold of it-"
"Then we're back in the headlines and we can't do our job," said Diana, speaking for the first time.
Kersh nodded. "Exactly."
Jeffrey was already thinking ahead, ticking over the people there. They weren't going to give it to Krycek and Diana - too much conflict of interest. They were just here to help with fact-finding. And Reyes was here for anything that smacked of Satanic ritual. That left-
"So we get to clean it up," Follmer said. He sounded annoyed.
"Well, I'm sorry to fuck up your day, Agent Follmer," Krycek snapped. More on edge than Jeffrey was used to. Then, after a moment, "Sorry, Father."
"I was a prison chaplain for seven years, Agent Krycek," Giles said dryly. "It's going to take more than 'fuck' to burn my ears."
Jeffrey noted with some amusement that Kersh looked extremely uncomfortable.
"Well. Follmer, Spender, this one's yours. You'll work through the bodies and farm them out. Anything that looks like something for Violent Crimes, pass it on to Fuller and Caleca and they'll take it from there. Agent Krycek will fill you in on what to look for in his cases-" Jeffrey mentally inserted "victims" there "-and if there's anything left over, it's yours." He nodded to the police officers. "These guys will be pulling out as soon as we can get some agents in here. Baltimore field office is sending over a team to get you started - it shouldn't be long."
Jeffrey nodded. "Yes, Sir."
Follmer was looking over his shoulder. "Sir? How many bodies do you think we're looking at?"
"Hundreds," said Krycek, without a trace of a doubt.
No one asked how he could be so sure.
"The incidents took place in 1994," Krycek said, stiffly, as though reading from a crime report. "I was partnered with a guy named Luis Cardinale. We have files on him already."
"I remember him," said Fuller. "Career scumbag. School of the Americas alumni. They got him while he was awaiting trial."
"Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy," Krycek said dryly. "I remember he never used to wash his hands after he took a piss. I hated that."
"Yeah, because that's so much worse than being a hired assassin," Follmer said in an undertone. Diana shot him a cold look.
Jeffrey cleared his throat and stepped between them. "Krycek, you've been here before, how about you give us the guided tour?"
Krycek nodded, and started up the stairs. "This was the main lobby area," he said, pointing at the rotting doors. He reached them and gave them a shove, and they swung open in a cacophony of protesting creaks. Passing through, Jeffrey marvelled at the sheer variety of graffiti on the walls and ceiling.
Krycek was pointing at a grand staircase. "That leads up five floors, with a smaller staircase into the bell tower. There's not going to be anything up there - it's just too light, with too many chances of discovery. It was understood among the Consortium hitters, you only came here on a weeknight - never a Friday or Saturday. Local kids came here to drink or screw or do drugs those nights - it was a regular party central."
"Not down in the basement, I take it?" said Fuller.
Krycek took his head. "No. They stuck to the main wing. Big rooms with lots of nooks and crannies to make out in."
"Brian, Father Giles wants to speak to us if you have a moment," Linda Caleca called out from outside, and Fuller excused himself.
Krycek led the rest of them off towards the west wing, and presently, they reached the area that had been demolished. The corridor ended abruptly in a maze of beams and bricks, and light streamed in from overhead. The staircase was in ruins, with bulldozer-shaped chunks of wood missing, but the Baltimore P.D. had assembled makeshift ramps in their stead. He nodded down into the pit. "That's where we-" and then he stopped with a grimace.
Diana stepped in, deftly bridging the gap. "Alex, we should get an extract of your testimony for the others. Do you have a copy?"
Krycek was pale. "Yeah. There's a transcript on my computer at home. Marita could get it and email it over."
The transcript was available on any number of websites, but what the hell? Jeffrey thought. At least it would keep him and Follmer apart. "That would be good," he said. "It would save us having to question you about the deceased."
Diana touched his arm. "Thank you, Jeffrey," she said, unusually gentle. "We'll be in touch." She nodded to Krycek to go ahead of her, up the ramp and out through the grounds, and he complied.
Follmer was looking at him in apparent disgust.
"What the hell is your problem, Brad?" he demanded, turning away and heading back the way they came.
"'It would save us having to question you about the deceased'?" he demanded. "What the hell was that about? They're his victims, Jeffrey, and I for one am sick of sugarcoating it."
"Those deaths were sanctioned-"
"By the FBI and by Congress and by the President himself, for all I fucking know. I know." Follmer sighed. "Look, I don't have a problem with what Krycek did. I'm not Mulder. But I have a big problem with this revisionist history crap. He killed people, in our name, and that's something we all have to live with."
"You think he doesn't know that?" Jeffrey demanded. "There's no need to rub it in his face!"
"Why the hell do you defend him like that?" Follmer said in exasperation. "Are you that far under Diana's thumb?"
"You don't know shit," he snapped. "I've been where he was, Brad. I was supposed to do a hit. I couldn't do it. He was there, backing me up, and he saved my life. You're right, he did do it in our name, because we were too pissweak to do it ourselves. So just fucking lay off."
Follmer looked mutinous, but he said nothing.
The work was constant, but monotonous, and in a way, that helped. Tedium eased the tension between them, and as the day wore on, it loosened their tongues as well.
"You know, you think you know someone," Follmer said as they went over yet another body. "Monica and I were together for two years. I had no idea."
"None at all?" Jeffrey said in disbelief.
"Not a clue. I mean, sure, she did a lot with alien cults when strictly she was supposed to be working on ritual abuse cases, but I just wrote that off to personal interest." He zipped up the body bag and rose. "This one's VCU," he said, driving a coloured marker into the ground beside it. "Gang tattoos. So we split up, and the next thing I know, she's going on this witch hunt against the Deputy Director, throwing in with this loose canon Doggett, and I'm wondering what the hell happened to her. So I go in, start trying to move things around and cover her ass and get rid of this guy. Then they sit me down, tell me she's been undercover for ten years - almost as long as she's been an agent - and she's been pretending to go after Kersh so they can keep her there even though Kersh is being pressured from above. Well, didn't I look like a horse's ass?" Jeffrey laughed. "What made it worse was, Kersh was her mentor. Went out on a limb to get her in to begin with. He took a bit of a shine to her when she was starting out. And I'd been telling him to pull them in line."
"Serves you right for playing both ends against the middle. I've got no sympathy," Jeffrey said, but he was laughing, too.
"Yeah, that'd be right, asshole. And I suppose you got in unscathed?"
"If you call, 'Hey, kid, your father's plotting the end of the world, help us throw sand in his face, and by the way, that guy you hate over there is your brother' unscathed, yeah."
Follmer laughed. "Jesus. Sounds like a worse day than this one. And that's saying something." He flipped through a heavy sheaf of papers. "And we have an ID."
"Thank God," said Jeffrey. "Some of these are never going to be identified. Especially the older ones. When we get to the bottom, we're going to be hitting skeletons. It's a shit of a job."
Follmer shrugged. "Oh, I'll call in a specialist team for that. I've got no intention of being here when we get down to the those."
Jeffrey looked at him, askance. "You don't have the power to delegate the case like that. You're not an A.D. anymore, you know."
Follmer's jaw hardened. He said stiffly, "Kersh will approve it. He only wants us here to cover Krycek's ass. Once his bodies are out of the way, he'll let us palm it off."
The logic was undeniable, even if it came across as a clumsy save, so Jeffrey just shrugged and went on with his work.
They were interrupted by a girl, screeching behind them. "Let me go! I know my rights, goddammit! Goddamn pig fuckers! Let me go!"
They rose, turning to look, and saw Agent Fuller dragging over a teenaged girl by the arm. They tramped through the grass overgrowth. Fuller looked grim. The girl was still screeching obscenities.
"Looks like we've got ourselves a sightseer, Agent Follmer," he said. "I found her in the old chapel."
"Fuck you. It's a public place." The girl's face was red with anger, and possibly fear.
Jeffrey sighed. "Not only is this not a public place, Miss, it's a crime scene. Or did you not notice the - how many are we up to?" he asked over his shoulder.
"Eighty-nine," said Agent Caleca, not looking up from her survey of another body.
"Eighty-nine corpses lined up on the lawn."
"Fascist pigs," she snapped, and then her anger suddenly died. "Hang on, you're Jeffrey Spender."
Jeffrey suppressed a sigh.
"Oh, wow," she said, as though in awe. She stared at the scar on his cheek, pulling away from Fuller and walking around him. Fuller allowed it, shrugging a little. "My mom cried when Katie Couric said you were better. Said it was a miracle."
Jeffrey had not the slightest idea what to say.
"Miss," Follmer said, interceding, "you're going to have to leave." His voice was surprisingly gentle. "These people died horrible deaths. They deserve some dignity."
The girl - and she was just a girl, Jeffrey realised, sixteen at a guess - was very near tears. "Look, I'm not here for that. I don't want to look at -" she shuddered "- that."
"Then why are you here?"
"I was here on the weekend with this guy. I took off my ring. It was in my way when I jer- juh- j-"
Jerked him off, Jeffrey mentally filled in. "When you were dancing?" he suggested, helpfully.
Fuller was looking studiously in the other direction. Follmer coughed.
"Yeah. Right. Anyway. It was my nan's. She died last year. Can't I please just get it? I promise I'll go straight away."
The men exchanged looks and shrugged.
"All right," said Jeffrey, sighing. "I'll take you where you need to go. Come on."
The girl nodded, and they traipsed back across the lawn.
The girl's name was Lizzie, and she liked to talk.
By the time she had retrieved her ring - an astonishingly ugly piece of battered gold set with a clump of dulled topaz - Jeffrey had been given a crash course in Lizzie's home life (boring), boyfriend (hot), school (her science teacher was cute, for an old guy), and future (journalism). He was quite exhausted by her by the time he escorted her back through the main hall.
"I have to tell you, Brad, I'm not seeing any signs of Satanic activity at all," Reyes was telling Follmer as they passed.
"That's because there wasn't any," Lizzie volunteered, stopping short behind them.
"Pardon?" Reyes said, turning around.
"This is Lizzie," said Jeffrey by way of explanation. "She came here a few times."
"There weren't any Satanists," she said again. "That was just a rumour the older kids started to explain any lights and noises and keep the olds away. You got stupid girls having little seances when they got stoned, and idiots spray-painting pentagrams for a lark, but there was never really anything here."
Follmer frowned. "How can you be sure of that when you only came here a few times?"
"This place has been decommissioned," said Lizzie. "There's a special rite they use when they stop using a church like that. It's not sacred ground anymore. Satanists wouldn't come here - there's nothing here they want."
The agents exchanged glances. "Lizzie?" said Jeffrey. "How do you know that?"
"She told me," Lizzie said, turning to face him. "The White Lady."
"She's right," said Giles, "but don't ask me how a seventeen year old Methodist knew that."
"It would explain a lot," Reyes said, sitting down on the steps. "I'd noted the lack of serious signs of Satanic ritual. There are certain hallmarks you'd expect - certain desecrations. They were completely absent. If it was known that the building was decommissioned-"
"But how would they know?" Jeffrey wondered. "It's not like there's a neon sign saying 'Decommissioned Monastery, Right This Way.'"
"Don't borrow trouble, Jeffrey," said Follmer, leaning back against a pillar. "We've got - how many?" he called.
"One hundred and sixteen," Linda replied from across the lawn.
"One hundred and sixteen corpses. Who cares why we don't have any Satanic sacrifices? I'd call that a lucky break."
"Stop thinking like an A.D.," Jeffrey said. "Aren't you even curious?"
Follmer's face grew tight and closed. "No," he said coldly. "I just want to get the job done.
Jeffrey sighed, and turned his attention back to Giles. "What about this White Lady?"
"Local superstition," Giles shrugged. "She's rumoured to be a young girl who died while waiting to take her vows as a religious sister, who watches over the monastery, waiting for someone to come back and open it up again and let her take her vows. The locals are divided into two groups - the ones who think Satanists used the place, and the ones who think the White Lady stops them." He frowned. "The accounts are a little more consistent than you would usually expect in these cases."
"You're not a believer, then?" Reyes said, a smile playing around her mouth.
"The Church investigates hundreds of sightings and miracles every year, Agent Reyes. Very few are considered proven. The vast majority can be explained by mental illness, or need, or extreme suggestibility. And sometimes people are lying. You get cynical. I suspect you have a higher prove rate in your work than we do in ours."
Jeffrey opened his mouth to ask Giles what the Church made of the Congressional hearings, but he closed it again. Linda Caleca was coming up to them in a run.
"Linda?" he said. "What is it?"
"Follmer, Spender, you better get over here. There's something you need to see."
"First, the good news. We found Krycek's people."
"Thank God," said Follmer. "Let's get them out of here."
"I don't think Scully should do the autopsies," Jeffrey said. "These people were killed by Krycek and Cardinale. That's a little too close to how her sister died for my liking."
"I agree," said Follmer. "The families have already been notified that we're working here. Maybe we should just send them to their local morgues. It will save the families transportation costs - it's the least we can do."
Caleca was writing busily in her notepad. "I'll see to that." She closed it, and pointed to a cluster of blue markers amidst the yellow. "Come over here. We've found something a bit unusual."
She set off, tramping through the grass, and they followed. She stopped before a row of nine body bags, all open.
Follmer's mouth fell open. Jaw slack. "What the hell-"
Jeffrey dropped down beside one of the bodies. An elderly man. He felt the neck, just to be sure.
"He's dead," said Caleca. "Long dead, going by the clothes and his position in the dump. But I can understand you checking."
"These bodies are perfectly preserved," Follmer said. Audibly shaken.
"How is that possible?" said Jeffrey. "It's a hellhole down there. It's damp and there's decay from hundreds of bodies-"
Linda Caleca shrugged. "Fortunately, that's not my job to figure out, gentlemen. I'd say this fits the definition of an X File, wouldn't you?"
"So much for palming it off," Jeffrey said as an aside.
Follmer groaned, pinching the ridge of his nose. "I'll be back," he sighed, and turned and walked away.
They watched him for a moment, and then Caleca wondered, "What's up his nose?"
Jeffrey made a sympathetic noise. "I don't think he likes paranormal cases."
They burst out laughing.
A telephone call to Scully confirmed that even routine autopsies on the nine would take time. She could call in other pathologists, but she wanted to take a hands-on role in them all. After they dispatched the bodies to Quantico, Follmer and Spender left the site in the capable hands of the team from Baltimore field office and called it a day.
By the time Jeffrey got to the Kryceks' apartment, Alex and Diana were a fair way into the wine. Marita's tone was indulgent when she greeted him at the door.
"They're a bit rambunctious," she said. "They've had a hard day."
"I'll bet," he said, letting her take his coat. "How is he?"
"He hasn't said much. It's a blow, though. You try to put something behind you-"
Diana made room beside her on the couch when he approached. "Jeffrey," she said, pouring him a glass of wine. "Join us."
"Hello Diana," he said, kissing her fondly. "You're drunk."
"Yes, I am. And you smell like dead people."
He gave her a withering look. "I've showered, Diana. It's cologne."
"Well, your cologne smells like dead people," Diana rallied. "Wherever did you get it?"
Oh, boy. He took a long gulp of his drink. "You gave it to me."
Marita dropped down on the other couch with Alex, giggling.
"Alex was telling us about the time he and Cardinale were at the monastery," Diana said.
Marita's good humour faded, and Jeffrey caught her eye. He knew what she was thinking. Retelling it was probably very cathartic, but it was still uncomfortable to hear. The memory of the rows of the dead was fresh in his mind.
"Alex," he said abruptly, "do you know anything about the White Lady?" He wasn't sure whether he really wanted to know, or he just wanted to forestall the story.
Alex nodded, drawing Marita closer. "Sure. Nice lady. Mad as a hatter, but harmless enough."
Jeffrey stared at him, holding his glass halfway to his mouth. "What?"
"Well, she's off her rocker, Jeffrey. That asshole Cardinale wanted to ice her. I told him she wouldn't even remember us the next day."
"She's - real?"
"Of course she is. She's a vagrant. She lives there. Scares off the pagans, rescues the odd girl whose boyfriend won't take no for an answer. That kind of thing."
Jeffrey was reeling. Mentally tearing down his preconceived ideas and rebuilding. "What's her story?"
Alex shrugged. "Demented mystic, I guess."
"Mystic?" Marita was intrigued.
"It was weird. She touched my arm, Mare. Got this sad look on her face and said, 'You want so much to be normal, but they took it from you. They took it from me, too, you know.' Just - out of nowhere. She sounded like she felt sorry for me."
Marita's face grew soft. Her eyes were bright. She murmured something in Russian for Alex's ears only. He smiled at her.
Jeffrey extricated himself from Diana, gently, against her protests. "I want to go back to the monastery," he said. "Do you mind if I take a raincheck?"
Alex said something in slurred Arabic. Knowing those two, he figured it was something to the effect that Diana wouldn't be getting any that night. Marita rolled her eyes and shook her head as they giggled. She rose to see him out while the others waved him off.
"Are you going to be all right with them?" he said.
"They're just letting off steam. And it beats the alternative." He pondered the relative merits of Drunk Alex and Morose Alex and was forced to agree.
He kissed her cheek. "Goodnight, Marita."
She stayed there at the door, watching until he was out of sight.
Finding ghosts is difficult. Low-grade mystics with a dose of religious mania, not so much.
He could have kicked himself for it later. He really should have called Follmer, or at least taken in one of the Baltimore feds who were guarding the scene. But he went in on his own, his way guided by harsh rays of light shining in through the windows from the floodlit area outdoors.
She was sitting on the steps of the main staircase, calmly, as though she had expected him. She was draped in white - a sheet that doubled as a rudimentary veil. Beneath the veil, unexpectedly intelligent eyes peered out at him.
"You had a demon in you," she said. "It was black like oil. They think you made a deal with it to get it out."
Jeffrey sighed. "What's your name?"
"My name is Marie. Not many people ask me my name, you know."
"Did you kill those people?"
"Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me," she quoted softly, and then she began to hum.
He sighed again, and he got out his cellphone and called Father Giles.
"It's a sad case," said Giles.
They were at St Catherine's Hospital just outside Baltimore. A sleepy Follmer had elected to stay in Washington and let Jeffrey handle it, which, on the whole, was a relief. Giles had arranged the room and had some quiet words with the registrar about Marie's insurance, or rather her lack of it.
"You know her, then?"
"Not personally. But she's done the rounds of most of the religious orders on the eastern seaboard, trying to get one to accept her as a nun. She appealed to the canon law tribunal at my diocese at one stage. Church law excludes the mentally ill from religious vows."
"Why is that?" Jeffrey wondered. "I had the impression you couldn't afford to pick and choose these days."
"Actually, I'd hazard that we need to be more careful for that very reason, but that's a discussion for another day, Agent Spender. It's to prevent exploitation of the suggestibility of these people, and because they're really not fit to make informed decisions about taking vows."
Jeffrey nodded, understanding this. "What exactly is the nature of her illness?"
"Well, I'm not a doctor, but the ruling of the tribunal was that she was suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder and religious mania
subsequent to childhood abuse. Some incest victims dissociate their minds from their bodies during sexual assault. Marie's belief was that St Dymphna took her soul to another place while she was being abused."
Jeffrey winced. This was a little too close to his mother for comfort. All you really needed to do was replace saints with aliens and rape with tests, and there you had Cassandra. "I'm surprised she was fit to make that kind of appeal."
Giles shrugged. "I think right now what she's suffering from most is isolation and loneliness. My understanding is that normally she's lucid - extremely bright, in fact. She can't hold herself together enough to hold down a job, but she can rattle off the teachings of the religious masters and discuss them intelligently."
Jeffrey thought about it. "Father Giles, do you think she's capable of murder?"
"Everyone's capable of murder," Giles said, unexpectedly grave. Jeffrey thought this was the prison chaplain speaking now. "If killing someone fitted into her religious mania in the right way, yes, she could." He closed the curtain on Marie's room. "Mind you, that doesn't mean I think she did it."
Jeffrey frowned. "I hope she didn't."
Giles clapped him on the shoulder. "Me too. Goodnight, Agent Spender."
He was most of the way back to Washington before his troubled mind found rest.
"They weren't murdered."
Jeffrey gave a sigh of relief. "You're sure?"
Scully nodded. "They were all old, in poor health, and showing signs of some kind of disease or acute illness. There are no wounds and no detectable toxins. I can keep looking if you really want me to, but I honestly think there's nothing to find."
Mulder spoke from the kitchen through the hutch. "The profiles of the victims are similar - they all appear to be long-term homeless. My guess is they were fellow squatters at the monastery. I think this Marie of yours saw herself as some kind of spiritual guide on their final journey."
Beneath the relief, Jeffrey felt a pang of disappointment. "So...there's no case."
Mulder came back out into the lounge. William was squirming on his hip, and he let him down. "Afraid not. It's a pity."
"Why do you say that?"
"She'd probably get better psychiatric care in prison."
Jeffrey thought he was probably right. "What about the condition of the bodies?"
Scully spoke. "They arrived at Quantico in much the condition you documented, but they deteriorated fast." William toddled over to her, and she picked him up, still speaking. "They decomposed at an accelerated rate until they reached a condition matching their estimated age post-mortem."
"How do you explain that?"
Scully shot him a mischievous smile. "Jeffrey, the beauty of consultancy is, it's not my case. I don't have to." He laughed, and she went on, "Honestly, Jeffrey, I haven't the faintest idea. But it's not a homicide, so I don't know that it really matters any more."
"I like seeing you like this," he said abruptly.
"Like what?" she wondered. Openly curious.
"Able to let it go like that. You're not carrying the world on your shoulders now - either of you. It's nice."
Scully smiled a little at that. "We're healing. It feels good."
Mulder spoke. "But what about you, Jeffrey? What's on the agenda for you?"
Jeffrey shrugged. "I'm going to head up to Baltimore. Tie up some loose ends with Fuller and Caleca. Officially, it's still our case, but I don't think that will last long. Brad wants to farm it out to Baltimore field office now that we've done what we were sent to do." He was careful not to use Krycek's name, but he was sure they were all thinking it.
"The aftershocks just keep on coming," Mulder said thoughtfully.
"Yeah, they do. And we'll keep riding them out."
They were silent for a long moment.
"You know, Jeffrey, I'm glad the bodies didn't stay the way they were," Scully said at last.
"The Church would be interested, I think. The incorruption of the dead has long been associated with sainthood. This woman is clearly disturbed and vulnerable. I think she should be spared that kind of interest. At least while she's still alive."
He thought about it. Thought about Father Giles' practiced brushing aside of the details of the condition of the bodies the previous day. About his words about suggestibility and exploitation. "I think you're right," he said. "I think Giles thinks so, as well."
"Sounds like a good man," Scully said.
Jeffrey thought he was, too.
Diana looked up at his approach. "Jeffrey," she said, kissing him fondly on the cheek.
"How's your head?" he wondered with a smirk.
"Hurts a bit. Did I really say you smelled like dead people? Marita was teasing me about it this morning."
She blushed. He didn't think he'd ever seen her blush before. "Sorry."
"It's okay." He smiled at her, squeezing her hand. "What brings you up to Baltimore?"
Diana half-turned to look at the monastery. "Alex is identifying the victims," she said. "Agent Caleca is getting ready to ship them out." Sure enough, Alex was standing with Linda outside a cold storage unit that had clearly arrived some time the night before. There were two body bags on the ground before him. He was looking down at them, face grave, Marita holding his hand at his side.
"How is he?"
"Struggling," she said. Then, more softly, "After guilt comes responsibility."
He looked at her, his expression a query.
"Guilt is where we mourn for our failures in our duties to ourselves," she said. "Responsibility is where we mourn for our failures in our duties to others. That's what he's grappling with, Jeffrey. It's what we're all grappling with."
He didn't understand - not really. But he understood enough. He said in a low voice, "I love you, Diana."
She looked up at him in gratified surprise. "I love you too, Jeffrey."
They stood there, holding hands in the cold morning light.
"Well, you finally got to palm it off."
Jeffrey's tone, on the whole, was one of relief. Truthfully, he admired the deft way Follmer had managed it. He'd put the idea of delegating the rest of the job to Baltimore field office to Kersh in such mildly inoffensive terms that Kersh had been happy to approve it. Keeping Kersh happy wasn't always the easiest of tasks.
"Thank Christ. I can still smell the death on me. It's going to be a week before I feel clean again." And indeed, Follmer was washing his hands in the basin even as he spoke.
Jeffrey frowned. He'd barely noticed it, actually. His internal burns had not healed as well as his external ones, and his sense of smell was not particularly strong. And in truth, his own phobias ran more in the other direction. The smell of bleach and sterile rooms.
"Don't you feel any satisfaction about it at all?" he said at last.
"It was a wash-out, Jeffrey," Follmer said, shutting off the water. "There was no perpetrator to catch."
"So? You've got to stop thinking like an A.D."
Follmer brought down his hands on the bench, staying them before they could really slam there. "Would you fucking get off that?" he said. Too late, Jeffrey remembered other, less neutral times he'd said it.
"I don't mean it like that, Brad. I'm not talking about being a jerk on a power trip, I'm talking about sweating the details. Stop thinking about the bottom line so much and enjoy being an investigator for once! We solved a case!"
"I guess," he said. Slightly mollified.
In truth, of course, Jeffrey had been the one to solve the case. Brad had all but washed his hands of it. But that was exactly why he had to rouse his partner's interest. He didn't want that to happen again. He sighed, not certain he'd made any impact at all, and he sat down at his desk.
Behind him, Brad spoke. "It's not that I don't understand the interest, Jeffrey." Jeffrey turned in his chair to look at him. "It just...doesn't get the job done. It was a red herring, and it distracted us from our responsibility to all those families who were waiting to bury their dead. And that was the bottom line."
Jeffrey frowned. He'd had to reconcile so many losses, and the loss of conventional grieving markers themselves - he still had no idea what had become of his mother's body - that Brad's apparent respect for the dead felt like an empty token. Something devoid of any real meaning to those people or the people who had been left behind. But it was also more decent a rationale than he'd given him credit for. Guiltily, he said, "I didn't think of it like that."
Brad sat on the edge of Doggett's desk and sighed. "Accountability was my job, Jeffrey. We talk about accountability to Skinner and to Kersh, but it's bigger than that. They're just the pipelines. And I can't just...stop thinking like that. It's just how I do my job."
"Is that why you killed Rigali?" Jeffrey asked before he could stop himself. Then, horrified with himself, he said, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that."
Brad shrugged. "In a way, I suppose. We empowered him. We indulged him because he was the devil we knew and he was a way of getting to the devils we didn't. A lot like what we did with Krycek, actually, although the responsibility was greater there because we made Krycek what he was." Jeffrey nodded in understanding. "We made all sorts of calculations about acceptable risk, and we made mistakes. I made mistakes," he corrected, a shadow passing over his features. "And I was wrong to go about it the way I did, but yeah, that's why. Responsibility is a heavy thing, Jeffrey."
"But it can distort, too," he said. Slowly. Figuring it out as he spoke. "Sometimes it's okay to just do our bit of the job, and make the best of it, and leave the burdens up to the people above us, you know. That's what they're there for."
"Maybe." They fell silent.
"I heard from Father Giles," he said finally.
Brad raised his eyebrows. "Yeah?"
"He's found a convent that will take Marie as a lay sister. Apparently it's some kind of arrangement where the sister doesn't take vows, so that's okay on the mental illness side. She'll do untrained work, maybe hospice work. They'll look after her, too."
"That's good. Someone needs to look after her."
"Well," said Brad, rising. "Let's get back to work."
Jeffrey nodded. "Let's."
So they did.
I honestly don't know how well this one works. I'm still feeling my way around Jeffrey and Brad and the kinds of push-pulls they have about roles and power and responsibility. I think there are a lot of mixed signals between them, and this story feels like a bit of a mish-mash of those signals. I think it's honest, but I don't know how user-friendly it is to read. If it wasn't, I hope you'll bear with us as we explore how these characters spark things off in one another. I've found them very interesting and very challenging. We do have a fairly clear idea of where they're heading, but we're still working out exactly how that hangs together.
St Gerebernus was the priest who sheltered St Dymphna from her sexually abusive father and fled with her from Ireland to Belgium in the seventh century A.D. He was murdered while protecting her. Both are invoked as protectors of abuse survivors and the mentally ill.
This story was inspired by and loosely based on the stories and legends of Staten Island Monastery.
The story of the White Lady is loosely based on the legend of Deacon White, who is alleged to haunt St Patrick's College in Sydney, the seminary where I did my theology degree. (Due to the costs involved in the restoration of the 115-year-old building, the seminary has now moved, and the site has been leased to a tourism college). The saying goes that Deacon White died in the influenza epidemics of the 1920s just weeks before his ordination to the priesthood. He is claimed to walk the corridors of Moran House at night, ringing a bell, pleading for someone to ordain him. I never saw him, but I've stayed in the infirmary where he died, and dude, that's one melancholy place at night. Let's say I wouldn't be surprised.
http://www.midnightsociety.com/web/Abandoned/SImon/SImon.html http://www.weirdnj.com/_weirdusstories/NY_monastery.html http://www.unescobkk.org/culture/heritageawards/stpatricks.htm http://www.icthm.edu.au/
Thanks as always to the XFVCU team, especially Maidenjedi and Eodrakken Quicksilver, for bouncing ideas, cheerleading, and generally being there in my corner. Couldn't have done it without you.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Deslea R. Judd
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