Zuzu's Petals (1/11)

Zuzu’s Petals
by PR Chung

FBI Headquarters

Assistant Walter Skinner’s Office
3:47 p.m., Friday, Dec. 18th

"The unusual circumstances surrounding the man's death certainly seem in accord with your field of expertise," Assistant Director Skinner declared and sat forward placing the file on his desk. “Do you agree, Agent Scully?”  

Scully hesitated, blinking as if to clear away a distracting thought. "Yes, it does—I mean, yes, I agree, sir."

Skinner considered her. “Do you have any reservations about doing the autopsy?”

"No, sir," she replied, a glance exchanged with Mulder revealing a hint of bemusement on his part.

"You appear distracted, Agent Scully," Skinner continued, his eyes in a critical squint, his tone clipped with a familiar impatience. "This may not be the most exciting case, but your full attention is still required since you will be doing the autopsy."

"No, sir-- Yes." She bit her lip. "Sorry, sir."

Skinner snapped the file shut. "Monday. Detroit. County coroner. That will be all."

In the corridor outside Skinner's office, Mulder quickened his steps to catch up with Scully, who moved with an uncharacteristic briskness. "What's the matter?" he inquired, drawing level with her. "You were a million miles away in there.”

She slowed her pace, coming to a halt as she rubbed at her forehead with visible tension. A harried breath escaped her lips. "I've got a lot on my mind," she admitted, a trace of weariness in her voice. "My brother's coming into town, and my mother's Christmas party is tonight." As if a sudden realization struck her, she turned to Mulder. "Are you going to be there tonight? Have you decided?"

Mulder squinted at her; his mouth pulled into a grimace. "Bill’s coming into town, right?” his tone carrying a playful sarcasm, as if the answer were self-evident.

Scully reacted embarrassed. Her brother and Mulder did not have a repport fit for warm and cheery holiday gatherings. "Sorry," she exhaled and closed her eyes as she shook her head. "I don’t know what I was thinking—”

“It’s fine, Scully. I’d rather be sadly missed than a fly in the eggnog at your mother’s party.” Mulder assured her.

She nodded, appreciating his assurance, and understanding. "Another time I hope,” she told him. “Uh, but right now,” she transitioned away from the awkwardness, looking at her watch, “I need to go get my car from fleet services before those guys take off early."

"I won’t keep you from Fleet Service, the pulsating core of FBI automotive enigmas.” He quipped and started for the elevator. He half turned back, telling her, “You may even meet the love of your life down there, I wouldn’t want to prevent that."

Scully arched an eyebrow, a bemused smile playing on her lips. "The love of my life in fleet services?"

Stepping into the elevator, Mulder continued his playful repartee. "Tis the season of miracles, Scully, well, at least according to the commercials. I can see it now— a whirlwind romance among the sockets, pledges exchanged amidst the wrenches, and a burgeoning family of little doctors and grease monkeys, unraveling mysteries and conducting vehicular exorcisms."

“I’ll be sure you’re invited to the wedding.” Scully's tone dripped with mock cheerfulness.

“I’ll wear my best overalls.” He called back to her as the elevator doors closed.

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

Fleet Services
FBI Headquarters

"What?" Scully exclaimed, her eyes widening beneath brows knitted in mock outrage. "You can't be serious."


The service technician looked up from the clipboard in his hand. "Uh, yeah," he said, hesitating with a touch of apprehension. "I'm sorry, but it's going to be the beginning of next week before I can conjure up another vehicle. If you'd graced us with your presence a tad earlier, maybe, but it's almost five, and there are no cars for the weekend."


"Then I need my car back. The brakes aren't that bad," she sneered.


"They're bad enough, Agent, and regulations won't allow me to let you to take the vehicle. I'm sorry I can't release it to you until the master cylinder is replaced."


"But you said it was just a leak," she countered, emphasizing her statement with an ineffectual poke of her index finger on the service check-in dais.


The service technician took a cautious step back, lifting his hands palms up in surrender. "I'm sorry."


"You've got to have another car around here," Scully insisted, scanning the fleet services garage. She spotted another service technician getting into her car to pull it away. "Hey, wait!" she called after the man behind the wheel, breaking into an impromptu jog.


"Agent Scully, you can't have it back!" the first technician proclaimed, following her anxiously.


"I know," she shot back at him, irritated by his paranoid pursuit, "I forgot something."


The car lurched, tires squeaking on the service garage's slick concrete floor. Scully went to the window of the car, pointing a finger toward the trunk. "Pop the trunk," she told him and went around to pull out a shopping bag.


She waved the driver on and turned to the service tech standing before her. "Thanks a lot, you've been an absolute treasure," she acerbically grunted, brushing back a straggling strand of hair from her eyes, "Have a great weekend."


With that, Scully turned on her heel to leave. Again, the service tech held his hands out in the hapless gesture of apology. "I'm sorry."


"Oh, whatever." Scully gave the man a dismissive wave without looking back. "Huh, love of my life..." she muttered Mulder’s terrible prediction. “Oh,” she thought then and pulled out her cell phone. Maybe she could catch Mulder before he left.


"Hey, it's me," Scully broke in before he barely finished saying his name. "Can I get a ride with you—Fleet services won’t give my car because it’s unfit to drive and now they don't have any more vehicles."

"Scully, I'm at the airport," Mulder replied, sounding almost guilty to admit the fact.

Scully stopped in the middle of the driveway. "The airport? What are you doing there?"

"You didn't get my message?"

"What message?"

"There's two witnesses in Detroit who are leaving town next week, and I wanted to catch them before they left. I didn't think it would be important if I went ahead without you. You're only doing the autopsy."

“Only doing the…” Scully nodded to herself. "Only..." she muttered, "No, I don't care if you go." She sighed and glanced around the drive, thinking. "I'll just get a cab."

"I'm sorry, Scully," Mulder apologized and sounded genuinely regretful. "I'll pay you back for the cab fare, how's that?"

"Never mind that," she said, disgusted, "I'll see you Monday."

Scully threaded through the bowels of the FBI, making her way back to the main level parking garage, feeling like something of a vagrant as she toted her shopping bag and clumped along in shoes that weren't meant for this much walking on concrete.

The garage was all but deserted; only a few cars remained. Scully checked her watch, finding it was almost a quarter past five. Blowing her breath out she picked up her pace, marching toward the bank of elevators with no time to spare to catch a cab if she was going to get to her mother’s house on time.

As she reached the elevator the bell dinged and she suddenly thought maybe there was some luck left in her world, then stopped as she saw AD Skinner emerging before her.

His gaze lagged behind his steps, slowly coming up as he moved forward, and when Skinner saw Scully, he came to a halt. "Forget something, Agent Scully?" he asked.

"No, I’m going to catch a cab out front." She started for the elevator, then. "Have a good weekend, sir."

"You don't have your car?" Skinner's question stopped Scully halfway to the elevator.

She turned back to look at him, her mouth twisting with displeasure. "Fleet services took it until next week," she answered, a fair level of annoyance staining her tone.

Skinner shifted his briefcase from one hand to the other. "Are you headed home?" he asked, and Scully nodded. "I can drive you."

Scully's mouth leveled to a wary slash. "Are you sure?"

Skinner grimaced. "I wouldn't offer if I wasn't, Agent Scully," his voice was laced with the same impatience he'd spoken to her with in his office earlier. "Yes, or no?" He asked.

She stared at him a second, debating on whether or not to accept or turn and run the other way. The man wasn’t making the offer sound very inviting.

"Yes," she answered finally, almost as if to spite him. “Thank you, sir.”

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

Friday night and the cross-town traffic had been anemic, but the bridge over the Potomac heading into Virginia was a parking lot. Skinner and Scully had moved no more than an eighth of a mile in a span of thirty minutes and she could take the unbearable silence no more.

"So," Scully broke the unbearable silence suddenly and perhaps a little too zealously judging by the way Skinner winced and glanced at her, his brow lowering. Scully offered a sheepish ill-defined smile. "Have you gotten your Christmas shopping done?" she trudged on.

Skinner looked at her again, his expression one of pained tolerance. "No," he said flatly and returned his attention to the unmoving traffic ahead.

"Oh," Scully remarked quietly and shifted infinitesimally closer toward the passenger's side door.

Silence descended upon the interior of the car again.

Skinner began to tap a finger on the steering wheel, and when it seemed that they wouldn't be going anywhere for a while he caved, half turning to Scully to ask, "what's in the bag?"

She looked at him, clueless for an instant, then, "Oh, uh, gifts," she stammered, caught off guard by his sudden interest, "for my brother Bill. He's coming into town today..." she trailed off and checked her watch. "Actually, he's probably already here if his flight was on time," she seemed to say more for herself than Skinner.

"Is he staying long?"

"No," Scully answered, an unconscious smile ruffled her mouth as looked out her window in thought, "but at least he's going to make it for my mother's Christmas party tonight." She leaned her head back. "My mother always goes out of her way to make it nice around the holidays. She, um," Scully paused and grinned to herself before starting over again, "My mother calls a service almost every year-- has a maid and host come to help and the house isn't even that big, but she wants everything to be perfect and it always is, always has been."

"Sounds nice," Skinner commented, his tone softening some. He gave her a thoughtful glance that lasted an extra beat before he turned his attention back to the traffic ahead. “Looks like we’re starting to move. Maybe you’ll get to the party on time after all.”

Little else was said for the remainder of the trip to Scully's apartment. Before Skinner brought the car to a stop out front, Scully had her hand on the door handle, ready to bolt from the vehicle, eager to prepare for the evening with family and friends. Once she’d gotten out, Skinner leaned over from the driver's seat, peering out at her on the curb, preventing her from closing the door just yet.

"Will you need a ride to your mother's?"

Scully hesitated, looking back at him through the car with mild surprise flashing across her face. "Uh," she hesitated, darting her eyes around the neighborhood in quick thought, then, "I'll have one of my brothers to come get me." She dipped her chin quickly in gratitude. "Thank you, sir, for the offer, though."

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
just like the ones I used to know,
where those tree tops glisten...

The unique harmony of the Drifter's rang through Scully's living room, complementing the mild smattering of decorations she'd found time to display this year, while she hustled between rooms getting ready and straighten all at once.

And children listen,
to hear sleigh bells in the snow,
the snow...

The last of the sofa pillows were straightened and she snatched up the last of the bows and wrap from the coffee table, then stopped to look at the prettily wrapped boxes sitting neatly on the floor. She stared at them for a long moment, her expression shifting slowly from glowing pride to a deep somber contemplative frown. Something wasn't right. Something was missing.

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas,
with every Christmas card I write...

Scully's eyes flew open wide. "Bill's gifts," she gasped and spun to scan the living room. Panicked, she swept through the apartment, checking closets, retracing steps, and after her second swing through the apartment to locate the shopping bag she stopped looking and grabbed the phone, cursing herself as she realized-- or rather yielded to the fact that she had left the bag in Skinner's car trunk.

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

"Our sick brother who had a nervous breakdown-- What are you crying about?" a man yapped.

"What do you think she's crying about?" a woman asked, accusingly.

The hollow sound of the television meandered into the kitchen where Skinner was constructing an easy meal after a long day. Some mustard on rye, liverwurst, and… he reached into the fridge for the onion, and grabbed a beer while he was there.

Slicing the onion, he picked up a chunk and popped it in his mouth. It wasn’t a glamorous meal, but it was easy and a delicious favorite he’d admit to no one. Something this barbaric would not be served tonight at Mrs. Scully’s party, he thought. It sounded like a well-planned and sophisticated affair, and the way Scully talked about it, he knew how much she was looking forward to it.

He gathered up his meager but satisfying meal and headed toward the living room, a last thought that he hoped she would have a nice evening. She deserved it.

"X amount of dollars sounds like a lot of money, that's all," the same female character muttered.

"Forget X. Forget I ever mentioned X," the man was irritated now.
"I'm beginning to wonder what X is going to come to..." the woman pondered.

"Yes," Skinner sighed as he plopped onto the sofa and took up the remote control from the coffee table, "so am I."

He casually flipped channels until Fox's Scariest Police Chases grabbed his attention, providing the perfect backdrop for his dinner. With half a beer down and a chuckle at the trenchant banter of a pulled-over perp, his peaceful evening took an unexpected turn – his phone started ringing. Skeptical yet curious, he shot a glance toward the device.

Leaning in, Skinner silenced the TV and let the answering machine kick in. His own voice echoed through the room, only to be followed by Scully's anxious plea, "Sir, if you're there, please pick up."

Skinner snatched the phone out of the cradle. "Agent Scully, what is it?" he asked at once.

"I'm sorry to bother you," her voice was still coming over the answering machine speaker, "but I left my bag in your trunk."

"Bag?" he questioned and it occurred to him having put it in the trunk of his car.

"The shopping bag I put in your trunk," she stressed as a knocking sound came over the line. "I have some gifts in there for my brother and his family."

"I know, you told me that," Skinner replied.

"It's important I get them to him."

If it was so damn important why... Skinner exhaled quietly and rubbed his eyes. "I could bring it by your place in a while-"

"No, I won't be here," she broke in, then said quickly, "just a moment, sir."

Skinner clicked off the answering machine and listened to the sound of Scully answering her door to someone; muffled voices and then laughter drifted over the line. Skinner exhaled, his exasperation becoming evident as he started to pace his living room floor.

"I’m sorry, sir," Scully's voice came back after a moment, now more quietly than before, "My brother's here, I'll be living for my mother's in just a few minutes. I can give you the address." She paused. "Could you bring it to me there?"

Skinner didn't say anything for a moment, and rubbed at his temple, thinking. What was he now, speed dial santa?

"I wouldn't ask if it wasn't important, sir," Scully added after a second.

Skinner gritted his teeth as he went back to his desk. "All right," he said, taking up a pen and pulling an envelope from a stack of mail to write on, "what's the address, Scully?"

~~~~~~~~~~~ @ ~~~~~~~~~~~

To be continued…

*Dialogue on television from the movie ‘The Prisoner of Second Avenue’.

Comments welcome at: prchung18@gmail.com

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