Obscene Matters (1/....)
"What is this place?" Skinner asked as he began to look around more closely at his surroundings.
"It's a..." Scully began and broke off, only to have her failed words be delivered by the shopkeeper. "A home for homeless antiquities." He passed towels to both of them then clasped his free hands together again. "A haven for undiscovered treasures. My name is Arthur Gandy, and this is my shop."
--by PR Chung
--Cat: Sk/Sc, UST
--Note: This started out as my "summer" story, and now that I am finishing it up as Halloween approaches, I realize it has taken on a decidedly eerie tone, as well as a bit of humor. There's some intentional references throughout the story that may be somewhat esoteric, but I hope will prove to be amusing in the end.
--by PR Chung
On the afternoon that the nastiest heat wave to hit Washington D.C. in recorded time broke, the city was smacked with a fierce thunderstorm of the likes no lunch-goers in the Capital could have prepared for.
Like a freight train the storm screamed into D.C. causing premature night to fall like a wool blanket over the streets. In the darkness all was still for an eerie instant before the blast of wind and rain crashed down in full force.
It was in that misleading instant that Dana Scully stood on the sidewalk outside of Chadwick's Bar and Grill, and looked skyward, thinking she might make it back to the J. Edgar Hoover building before the rain began.
Moments later, with two blocks to go, doused and blinded by the rain and a curtain of drenched hair, Scully realized her estimation of the storm was so very wrong. Like cannonades, thunder detonated overhead, jolting everything on the block, including Scully as she fought against the wild gale. Flinching against the argent flashes of lightning she ducked blindly in through the nearest doorway, desperate for cover.
The dulcet tinkle of a bell registered on the periphery of her awareness as she stumbled into the chill of an air-conditioned space. She whipped the hair from her eyes, affronted and disgusted all at once. Half aware of her surroundings Scully bemoaned her wet clothes and shoes. Albeit her suit jacket was soaked and three times heavier than normal, Scully was grateful to be wearing it now that she noticed her bra was all but fully visible through her silk blouse that had turned transparent in the rain. "Just great," she muttered with disgust as another report of thunder crashed over the city.
She jerked her head up, startled by the sound, then by the queer pair of obsidian eyes staring back at her from a wooly face. She pulled her head back, and grimaced. "Wha--?" she said in half-wonder as the buffalo head came into full focus. She looked around puzzled, and discovered herself encircled by a profusion of irregularly arranged knick-knacks and furniture.
The lighting was low in this obtuse little shop, of which she never recalled noticing before. The aged contents were all cast in a rather fitting sepia toned glow, and set against a backdrop of rich heavy drapes and faded paintings in cracked frames. Tawdry lamps bejeweled in crystal shown dully in the subdued light, while ornately engraved statuary kept a patient and silent watch over treasures locked in dusty glass top cases. There was even what looked like a unicycle suspended from the ceiling in one corner of the shop.
Scully marveled momentarily until a mild voice broke her enthrallment. "Good day, miss."
Scully turned to see a slight man smiling back at her from the interior of the shop. "Or is it Mrs.?"
"Ms," she said in a breath.
The man smiled thinly, pleased now that he knew, and asked her, "Is there something particular you are looking for?" He walked slowly toward her, his hands clasped together before him as if to pray.
Did he view her as a prayer for business answered, Scully wondered. "Uh, no, I just needed to get out of the storm," she said and glanced back toward the door.
Just outside the door there was a dark blur of motion in the storm. Some other poor misguided soul caught in the gale and seeking shelter grabbed for the door. Scully took a step back concerned she'd be knocked over by the man rushing inside, his view obscured by the paper he'd tried to use as cover, which was little more than a sopping wet drape over his head and face by this point.
"Oh, my, the storm is a bad one, isn't it?" said the shopkeeper, sounding as if he'd only just noticed.
The man who'd just rushed in grunted in response as he peeled the paper away from his head. Scully half laughed in surprise when she saw that it was Assistant Director Skinner.
"Sir," she said to get his attention. He snapped his head up from the survey of damage to his clothes and shoes. "Agent Scully," he said in a distracted grumble. "You too?" Mild amusement passed over his features for a split second when he looked up at her. Then surprise, she all but certain, when his gaze flicked across the transparency of her blouse.
The momentary look of surprise in his eyes struck Scully as comical, but she wasn't in the mood for exhibitionism even if it did rattle a certain sturdy cage.
"I had no idea it was going to get this bad," she said as she half turned, drawing her jacket closer together, as inconspicuously as possible.
"Neither did I," Skinner agreed and looked around for something to throw the paper into.
"I'll take that off your hands, sir." The little man came through the clutter with the grace of a figure skater and took the newspaper from Skinner smoothly.
"Thank you. I'm sorry I've gotten your floor wet," Skinner apologized as he scanned the puddle of water at his feet.
"There's no harm," said the man as he turned. "I will see if I have some towels in the back. Please make yourselves comfortable." He stopped and turned, smiling thinly as he added, "Just not on the furniture."
Water lashed against the front windows of the store making it seem as if they were in a squall at sea rather than in a junk shop in the city. While Skinner and Scully looked on, amazed by the sheer and uncommon strength of the storm, the lights dimmed and flickered twice. They glanced upward in unison, then around, sensing what might be an inevitable power failure.
"What is this place?" Skinner asked as he began to look around more closely at his surroundings.
"It's a..." Scully began and broke off, only to have her failed words be delivered by the shopkeeper. "A home for homeless antiquities." He passed towels to both of them then clasped his free hands together again. "A haven for undiscovered treasures. My name is Arthur Gandy, and this is my shop. Gandy's Antiques."
"I've never noticed this stop before," Scully remarked as she toweled the ends of her hair. "How long have you been here?"
He laughed dryly and almost seemed embarrassed. "Oh, ages. We opened in 1947."
"We?" Scully asked.
Gandy smiled a yellow, gentle smile. "The Gandy family."
"Where does all this stuff come from?" asked Skinner, his gaze roaming the shop in a sort of perturbed puzzlement.
"Oh, here and there," the man answered melodiously, and shrugged. "Estate sales mostly."
"You must have seen some interesting items come through this shop." Scully presumed.
"Oh, yes, quite a lot in fact."
Thunder boomed once more setting everything fragile in the shop to rattle and tinkle. As the report drifted the distant ring of a phone sounded from the back of the shop.
"I need to take that," Gandy announced, and then said, "You're welcome to stay and have a look around while you wait for the storm to stop." He made a broad gesture of his hands, adding, "Please, explore."
The offer was one that Skinner and Scully had no qualms about accepting. While the shopkeeper went to answer his phone Skinner took his cell out and excused himself to Scully before making his own call back to the office; he obviously wasn't going to make it back in time for his after lunch meeting.
Scully made her calls as well and only got Mulder's voice mail at both the office and on his cell. Leaving a brief message to let him know she'd be back later than expected Scully ended her call, her voice drifting distractedly as she traveled deeper into the unique and aged antiques throughout the shop.
Still speaking on his cell Skinner had as well begun to absently peruse the shop's offerings. From the corner of her eye Scully caught sight of Skinner holding his tie against his chest as he leaned over a glass case to view something within. She grinned, finding his curiosity endearing, and his broad shoulders more than a little captivating.
Skinner moved away from the glass case to an immense dark wood wardrobe across the shop. Having watched his entire progress to the other side of the shop in some sort of trance Scully grimaced at her surprising appraisal of her boss and turned her attention away with a little bit of concern for herself. "Must be the storm..." she muttered to herself and moved on to inspect a row of Tiffany lamps.
Scully was considering how one of the lamps might look in her apartment, when the squeak of hinges drew her attention back to where Skinner was standing. He'd opened the doors on the fine old piece of furniture causing the hinges to call out in disapproval.
Still on the phone Skinner inspected the interior with a brief duck of his head inside, then reached in to touch something. A sudden click-clacking sound issued from the wardrobe as if something had been triggered to unwind like some huge clock works.
Skinner was still on the phone when he turned back to look at Scully with an expression as close to surprise as she'd ever seen from him. Curiosity piqued, Scully started across the shop to see what he'd discovered.
Skinner cut his phone conversation short and put the cell away by the time Scully came to stand next to him.
"What was that?" she asked looking at the cabinet warily.
"No clue," Skinner answered distractedly and poked his head into the interior of the wardrobe. He ran his hand along the sides, looking for what ever it was he'd triggered. He was still a second then pulled back and looked at Scully, "This opens to another room," he told her.
Scully looked at him with a frown. "It can't," she declared and took a step back to look at the wall it was pushed against. "This cabinet sits flush with the wall."
Skinner gave her a speculative look before he took a step back and gestured for her to have a look for herself. He pointed into the wardrobe directing her attention toward the back of it.
"And it's a wardrobe by the way," he corrected her as she stepped up to look inside.
Scully gave him a sidelong glance, taken off guard by the smart aleck remark. It was something she would have expected from Mulder, but not Skinner. Must be the storm, she thought again.
Skinner wasn't joking about the wardrobe; the back, which appeared to be in full shadow on her initial inspection, did open into what appeared to be another room. Only faint light from the shop eked into the area making it impossible to tell exactly how large a space it was, or how far it might go.
"I can't see how far it goes back," she stated and began to fish something from her jacket pocket. "It might be just a storage area."
Skinner agreed with a nod as he looked for a sign of the shopkeeper. "Mr. Gandy," he said, "he's got to know where this goes."
Scully had pulled out her keys and was using a penlight attached to the key chain to scan the space beyond the back of the wardrobe. "I still can't see much," she reported and stepped up into the interior of the cabinet.
"Scully, wait," he said and reached out to stop her from going any further, but she'd already gone through. "Scully..." he called to her between a shout and a whisper.
"This looks unused," she reported back with a slight echo as though she were in a cave. "There's a lot of dust and cobwebs back here."
"Scully, come back and we'll find Gandy..."
"I hear something," Scully called back in a hushed voice. Skinner leaned into the wardrobe, straining to make out her shape in the darkness. "It sounds like..."
"Like what?" Skinner urged her to finish.
Scully turned, shinning the light into Skinner's eyes momentarily. "Like music."
"Music?" Skinner repeated. He withdrew from the wardrobe and searched for Gandy again. "Mr. Gandy?" he called for the man.
When there was no response from Gandy, Skinner glanced back at the meager light that was the only clue that Scully was still back there in the abyss. She was moving away from him, going deeper into the unknown back there.
"Scully, wait up," Skinner called to her, and with a gruff sigh of resignation he stepped up into the interior of the wardrobe, the wood creaking under his weight as he climbed through to the other side.
"Bring the light over here," Skinner said as he tried to see the mechanism on the once hidden door they'd come through.
Scully came over and together they studied the workings in the narrow beam of her penlight. The door itself was comprised of a thick metal overlaid with a layer of wood that served as the wardrobe backing. The door fit into the concrete wall and was operated by a system of springs and cranks that not only looked ages old in construction but were also so heavily layered in dust that it had taken on a fluffy appearance.
"He said the shop's been here since 1947." Skinner commented, taking the light from Scully to inspect the works more closely.
"That's only the shop itself," she said, "the building is probably much older. There's a whole network of tunnels and passages that run beneath the city, some may predate the civil war era."
"I don't know if this could be that old." Skinner turned to shine the light around the area.
"Listen," Scully said, her attention drawn away from the door's operation. Skinner followed her in the semi-darkness. "Do you hear that?" she asked, putting a hand on Skinner's arm.
Skinner listened for a moment, but he could only hear the sound of the rain still beating the windows of the shop from behind them. Before he could say so the light from the shop was suddenly blocked causing them both to turn back.
Mr. Gandy was there at the outer doors of the wardrobe. He looked imminently horrified. "What are you doing?" he exclaimed.
"Where does this go, Mr. Gandy?" Skinner questioned the man.
"You shouldn't be back there. You need to come out of there right this very moment."
"Mr. Gandy, where does this go?"
"It's of no importance now," he refused to give them an answer. "Please just come back into the shop. Please!"
The man's obvious refusal to explain this place was enough in itself to throw up a red flag for Skinner and Scully. After all they had never said who they were, and had no reason to, until now.
"You can make this a lot easier on yourself, Mr. Gandy if you'll just tell us what this is?" Skinner said, taking out his bureau badge and came into the light to show it to Mr. Gandy. The man's eyes flew open wide when he saw the badge. "We'll just bring a investigation team in to find out-"
"No," he defi you won't," the man exclaimed in a shaky voice as he reached into the wardrobe and grabbed the hanger bar. He gave it a swift turn and set the hidden door into motion.
Skinner lurched forward and threw out his arm out to stop the thick door from sliding shut, but the ancient mechanism cranked the door shut with a force that Skinner didn't anticipate. Skinner managed to pull his fingers back just in time to keep them from being snapped off as the door slammed home and threw him and Scully into pitch-blackness.
"Open the door, Mr. Gandy!" Skinner called out, banging his fist against the metal.
"Give me the light," Scully told Skinner.
"I dropped it somewhere," he said, the darkness amplifying the frustration in his voice.
"I'll find it," she said in a breath and began to search the floor for her keys and the penlight.
"Arthur Gandy-" Skinner yelled then stopped and asked Scully, "Arthur, that's his name right?"
"Arthur Gandy, open the door!" Skinner finished his demand with defined confidence now, pounding at the door harder. The sound of his voice and the pounding was almost deafening as it reverberated off the walls of the empty space.
"Found it," Scully called out and light appeared as she snapped the penlight on. They began searching for a way to open the door from inside; the door, the walls, the operating mechanism, and finally the floor. There were no visible switches, buttons, levers or cranks.
"I just really don't need this today," Skinner grumbled and gave the metal door a bang with his fist before he got out his cell phone and pressed a speed dial number.
The indigo glow of the phone's faceplate cast Skinner's hand and face in a ghostly light, making Scully feel only slightly more creeped out than she already felt.
"I've got no service," Skinner said in disgust as he pulled the phone away from his ear to look at it. "Nothing."
Scully got out hers and tried. She didn't have service either; no bars, no tone, no recorded service messages. "These walls can't be that thick," she said peering around by the light her cell cast. "Could they?"
"Could be because of the storm," Skinner offered.
"I feel a draft at my feet," Scully remarked flashing the penlight in the direction heading away from the wardrobe door. "This leads off into a passage. There's got to be another way out of here."
The sound was suddenly there again; it was a hollow and distant sound, like someone signing at the bottom of a well.
"What is that?" Scully wondered aloud, straining to make out the sound.
"Sounds like..." Skinner paused for a moment, listening, and then said with a hint of clear surprise, "Marion the Librarian."