The Spider and the FBI: Part 7 "Paradise Syndrome"

Synopsis by guest writer Jose Chung (written prior to his apparent death at the hands of the Nostradamus Nutball):

Now, grab your Stetsons, conspiracy cowboys, 'cause we're moseying on over to Elmo, Wyoming. Here, amidst the questionable barbeque and dazzling fireworks of the 4th of July festivities, we find Agent Scully embroiled in a situation more perplexing than a malfunctioning weather balloon.

In strides Sheriff Lawrence Durokoff, a man carved from the same government-issue granite as Assistant Director Skinner, only with a grin brighter than a chrome bumper on a brand-new pickup truck. Was it a case of cloning gone wrong? Or perhaps long-lost twins separated by, well, let's just say a misplaced birth certificate (we can delve into government conspiracies all day, but identical twins are a stretch even for this jaded scribe).

The truth, as always, is stranger than the wildest fan fiction. The undeniable spark between Scully and Sheriff Durokoff has tongues wagging about a future filled with calico dresses and prairie sunburns instead of chasing shadows in the bureaucratic labyrinth.  Is our favorite redhead about to trade her badge for a butter churn? Only time, and perhaps a strategically placed horseshoe (it's a small town, after all) will tell!

Notes: Yes, I sure did title this after a Star Trek episode.


"Paradise Syndrome"

Part VIII of "The Spider and the FBI"

by PR Chung

Preface/Notes:

Just reading through this, even after all these years, I recognize exactly where one of my very best friends and amazing author assisted with this story. I know her work is still out there somewhere as she was one of the originals in the X-Files fiction fandom, authoring stories that are still amazing. None other than the very talented Paula B. Her ability to turn a phrase cannot be surpassed, and it’s a joy to read passages I know she helped on.


*************************


Elmo, Wyoming

July 4th


By the time she hung up the phone from her conversation with Mulder, Scully's hair was nearly dry from her shower. She got up from the bed and went to the window, drawing back the curtains of her hotel room to look out on the street below. 


Nothing much had changed except for the layer of increasing smoke drifting up through the trees from the square. How many barbecues were going? She wondered. And what were they cooking? Burgers and hot dogs? Roasting corn snugly rolled in foil? Brisket and ribs, too?


Her stomach gurgled.


Trying to remember the last meal she'd eaten she turned to go check on her blouse. It was hanging to dry in the bathroom after a lame attempt to clean it in the porcelain basin. It was a very nice bathroom, just not very functional.


The entire room was very nice, as was the whole hotel. Small and quaint, just a few rooms sitting atop a gift shop and cafe. Heavy in small town charm and light on the amenities; a bed, chest of drawers, mirror, and nightstand. No television, no radio, and the phone had to be brought up specially for her room, as had the one taken into Skinner's room down the hall.


His would undoubtedly be of heavier use than hers she presumed as she touched the still damp fabric of her blue blouse. He wasn't pleased in the least about either the situation or the location, and he apparently wanted out as fast as humanly possible. 


He had been on the phone at the Sheriff's station the entire time it took to get Bernstein squared away in the holding cell. There was nothing but skeleton crews of federal workers manning the phones in Denver and Salt Lake City. Calling Washington hadn't been much help either; apparently all he had gotten was an ear full of instructions to get Bernstein back there for trial- come hell or high water.


Sure, they could get a flight out of Laramie or Cheyenne in the morning or even tonight if they were lucky enough that the agents from the Casper field operation should show up. But things were looking ugly up there, suspicion of terrorism and arrests sparking upset among the jingoistic masses. It was just another unpleasant federal incident in the making.


Aside from becoming another bout of bad press for the bureau, this whole Casper thing had gummed up the works, delaying agents that Mulder had needed, and now, still, those she and Skinner needed.


Mulder could have gone forever, and would have, if she hadn't interrupted his denunciation of every federal employee he had dealt with during the last twenty-four hours. She could tell he hadn't slept by just the shear amount of information he was trying to pack into a single conversation followed by a spate of questions.


She was sure there would be more questions when he finally arrived in a few hours. After muttering something about manic helicopter pilots, he had said was going to drive to Elmo, which concerned her if he hadn't slept, but once Mulder was set on doing something there was generally no swaying him from it.


A sudden resonant sound of a band practicing drew her attention back to the street below her hotel window, where she caught sight of Sheriff Durokoff. 


Self-consciously she took a step back from the window not wanting to be discovered in just her bra. At a careful distance from the window, she watched him across the street and stop there in the shade, talking pleasantly with others. 


The sound started up again, a guitar... being tested on an amplifier. Curious, she searched through the trees trying to see, hearing the strong chords of a bluesy country-rock song she couldn't name being played by fits and starts.


The trees were just too thick. She couldn't see a thing and gave up and turned back to look at more interesting things— He was gone. The people he'd been talking to were still there, mulling around and talking, but Durokoff was gone.


Crap. She'd see more of him later, but it was unlikely she would get another chance to covertly study him at length, to examine the similarities between him and Skinner.


His cousin, she concerned. How bizarre, she thought and smiled. Of all the towns they should end up in, after all they had gone through, they just happen to hit the one tiny patch of earth containing another Skinner- or rather a Durokoff. Their mothers were sisters undoubtedly, or perhaps a remarriage had caused the difference in names. She analyzed the possible branches of genealogy. 


Like an impression of the sun Durokoff's smile was emblazoned on her retinas. He wasn't the consummate small town, no non-sense Sheriff, all bluster, and intimidation when it came to federal involvement. 


He didn't like Bernstein, and he had been to the point with the man, swiftly locking him away in the blunt bowels of the Elmo holding cells, but during the entire time at the Sheriff's station he had still managed to be cheerful and lighthearted. She thought she'd even seen him give her a quick wink at one point.


The un-Skinner, she thought and nearly laughed out loud.


Not completely, though, the similarities remained, and were so great in certain respects that she had found herself deferring to Durokoff the same as if he were Skinner. A certain turn of a phrase, a look, a motion, everything about him stirred an almost constant sense of surprise and amusement in her. 


Two Skinner's could be a rather daunting concept for some, but it didn't seem like such a bad idea to her.


A solid knocking sounded at the door of her room yanked her out of that thought, audibly startling her. 


"Agent Scully?" a muffled voice called through the door, concerns seeping through the woodgrain. 


"Just a minute," she called, rushing to grab her top.


Lawrence Durokoff stood in the hall listening to the muffled scurrying sounds beyond the door, arched his brows. Perhaps she wasn't alone in there, he thought and glanced down the hall toward his cousin's room which he'd discovered was empty only a moment before he tried her room.


"Is there a problem?" Durokoff turned at the sound of Skinner's voice. He was coming down the hall from the stairs, his eyes pinched and his jaw set.


"No. No problem here." He answered taking a step back from the door to address Skinner. Well, he wasn't in there. So, what's going on?


The door jerked open suddenly, a flush faced Scully looked back at the two men. Her eyes darted back and forth between the two of them, questions pooling.


"Uh, hi." She greeted the two of them, holding the hem of her blouse out and away from herself, it was still damp and almost transparent when it contacted her body. "Is something wrong?" She finally asked when neither one of them spoke.


“You two sure are shellshocked.” He commented, glancing amusedly between the two of them. “Nothing wrong,” he told her, and glanced at Skinner, “and no problems.” 


Durokoff held out a small satchel to Scully. "I had one of the deputies gather some things together for you," he explained as she took.


"Thank you," Scully said glancing inside it to see what appeared at first glance to be a tee shirt still in the plastic packaging, a hairbrush, and a few basic items of make-up.


Skinner averted his gaze from the scene shifting the plastic bag he was carrying from one hand to the other. Durokoff glanced back at his cousin holding out another bag, a half-sized duffel. "I got some clothes for you and some shaving stuff."


Skinner's hand went to his face, feeling the growth of beard stubble. What a pig he must have looked like, he ruefully thought and glanced at Scully. "Thanks."


The sound of music drifted into the hall through Scully's room from outside; a hearty rendition of Bad Moon Rising being played in the square.


"Well, uh," Durokoff muttered planting his hands on his hips, looking between the two of them. "I guess you've figured out there's a little party starting outside. There's plenty of food and music," he made a brief gesture toward the sound of the music past Scully's shoulder. "I've come to extend the official Elmo invitation for you both to join us."


Scully's stomach gurgled urging her to accept the invitation.


* "... I see the bad moon a rising. I see trouble on the way..." *


Skinner spoke before she could. "Food sounds great, but I don't think we should get distracted. We're still on duty here."


"No distractions," Durokoff said and grinned. "Just good food. I've got plenty of people keeping an eye on that Bernstein joker, so you can stop worrying about him. Just come on down to the square when you're ready and make yourselves at home."


* "... I see bad times on their way..."*


"I may just rest some." Skinner said quietly.


Speak for yourself, Scully thought. "I'd be happy to sample the local flavor. I can't remember my last real meal."


* "I know the end is coming soon..." *


"Great," Durokoff blurted, zealously slapping his hands together. "I'll see you down there, Agent Scully." He said and turned to go, saying to his cousin as he went, "I hope you'll come down, too, once you get some rest, Walter."


* "...don't go 'round tonight... It's bound to take your life..." *


"Here," Skinner said, unceremoniously extending a plastic bag to Scully.


She blinked pulling her gaze off his departing cousin. "What's this?" She asked, taking the bag.


"A toothbrush and paste." He answered already halfway to his room down the hall.


"Thank you..." she leaned out the door calling back to him, but his door had already shut, leaving her alone in the hall. 


Back inside her room, she picked through the duffel finding a new tee-shirt, boasting a silk screen print that read 'Second Annual 4th of July Celebration, Elmo, Wyoming'. She frowned reading it. 


Only their second? She wondered and moved on to inspect the rest of the items. The mascara would work fine and the lipstick too if she only dabbed it on, it was just a little too dark for her taste, but the blush would have to go, it was far too red.


Grateful for necessities, she snatched up the brush and plastic bag, heading to the bathroom. Her hair was frightful. Could she get it to behave even if she did re-wet it and brush it straight out? No beauty contest is going on that I know of right now, she told herself, yanking first paste from the plastic bag, then the toothbrush— and stopped.


She looked at it, confused at first by what she saw. Turning the brush over in she found a small decal stamped on the handle; a little stagecoach in motion with a name drifting behind it like dust from the wheels. The name wasn't Dana, though... It was Kate.


She looked at that a second before she realized and glanced back, her thoughts on the room down the hall. Dana wasn’t a common name emblazoned on any gift shop trinket. She looked down at the toothbrush. 


He’d gotten the next closest. 



*****************************


The when the music began Skinner opened his eyes, hearing the chords that were undeniably familiar aside from the performers’ ad-libbing. Before finally getting up to go to the window, he laid on the bed listening to the guitar playing down in the square wrenching out Sleepwalk. 

It wasn't great, but it was close, he critiqued pulling back the gossamer curtains to look out. Anyway, the slower, more sedate sounds were a nice break from the honky tonkin,’ rambunctious stuff they'd been playing for the last hour.


He would have liked to have blamed his inability to sleep on the music, but he doubted he could have slept if he were in a soundproof room with no windows. There was just too much weighing on his mind to allow sleep to come easily. There was still no call from the special agent in charge up in Casper, no word on when they could expect more agents. At least Mulder was on his way, that fact, in the strangest of ways helped ease his concerns in some.


Once he got there, they could continue on to Laramie, get Bernstein drugged to the hilt and on a plane and back to DC by Monday at the latest. That would still give them a day before the arraignment hearing and get the federal prosecutor and Attorney General out of his hair.


Skinner chuckled to himself. If ever there was a figure of speech... 

A glimpse of red drew his attention to the street below. There walked one of his other concerns: Scully was heading across to the town square.


Damn.

From out of the cover of the trees came Lawrence, a huge smile plastered across his face.


And there came the next concern.


Of all the damn places to end up in why the hell did they have to end up here? Eighteen years of peace shattered in a single day. Peace, yes, but not complete disconnection. There had always been word floating through the family about who was doing what and where they were. 


He had known when Lawrence finally made Sheriff here, he'd actually been invited to a party to celebrate the event. He knew it hurt Aunt Anne and Bulah when he didn't respond. He had been busy, and just didn't feel like dealing with it again.


Skinner watched as two boys scurried between Scully and Lawrence, almost bumping into her as they went. He watched Scully laugh about it and talk cheerfully as Lawrence guided her into the park, disappearing beyond the thick canopy of tree branches.


His heart sank almost in time with the lamenting cry of the guitar playing. Too much time had passed, he thought, but things hadn't changed much...


*****************************


Norwalk, Ohio

December 1st, 1963


There just wasn’t a whole lot to do, and all the adults were still shuffling around, overwhelmed by the news out of Dallas a little over a week before. It felt like the world, at least their part of it had come to stand still after the news of the president’s assassination. 


Heavy and silent, the day pressed in around two small figures scuffing through turned leaves. It was Sunday after Thanksgiving, not much to do between the time Church was done and time for supper, except track around in the woods, down by trestle and maybe, if luck were good, a train would pass on its way into Cedar Point. 


But come tomorrow, Monday was going to be the start of a whole new experience...


"Will there be a lot of girls there?"


"Sure will. Who do you think we're gonna dance with, Walter, each other?"


Walter pulled the collar of his red plaid coat up closer to his neck, shivering against the sudden cold breeze. "But a lot of them?" he asked, concerned.


"I don't know," Lawrence looked at him closely, "why, are you scared?"


Walter shrugged and stuffed his hands deep in the warmth of his Tuff-Skin pockets. "No. I was just wondering."


"I think you're scared. You're scared of the girls." Lawrence began to laugh. Walter blushed making his cousin laugh even harder. "Cubby's afraid of the girls."


"I'm not. And stop calling me that stupid name."


"Cubby, Cubby, Cubby." He chanted, jogging in a circle around Walter.


"I don't even look like that kid, knock it off!" Walter hauled off and shoved Lawrence knocking him off balance.


"You got the ears."


"So, what if I have mouse ears? You've got that stupid coonskin hat, and I know your cat gave it fleas cause you're always scratching your head when you wear it!"


"I don't scratch my head!" Lawrence proclaimed, his voice cracking hard. "And I wasn't talkin'bout your dumb Mickey Mouse ears. I meant your ears!"


"So! You scratch your head so much you're gonna scratch all your hair off and then see how many girls you dance with."


"You're dumb." Lawrence spat shoving Walter.


"You're stupid." Walter spat back, regaining his balance.


"You're fat."


The comment fell on deaf ears, Walter wasn't listening to his cousin, something else had caught his attention, a rustling sound close by. Lawrence tried shoving him again, but Walter didn't budge, he remained steady and fixed on the sound. "Cut it out... Listen..." he said, adjusting his glasses.


Lawrence listened, hearing the sound he frowned. "What is that?"


Walter shook his head and started forward, following the rustling.


They walked carefully though the brittle layer of leaves covering the ground, listening intently, checking the bare trees around them for some sign of what the sound was.


"There," Lawrence blurted, his arm shooting straight out from his body as he pointed toward the trees ahead of them. "It's a kite!"


"It was a kite," Walter corrected his cousin who had started for the tree the tattered kite was caught in.


"Oh, wow, look," Lawrence excitedly called out when he peered up at the object. "It's not torn or nothing, look, Walter. Look."


Walter stepped up next to him, peering up. "Nope. It's not torn or nothing."


"Wow."


"But it's also up a tree."


Without a word Lawrence reached up and grabbed a low branch in each hand.


"What are you doing?" Walter sounded more accusatory than he did inquiring.


"I'm gonna get it."


"It's just junk, Lawrence." He told him and shook his head when he saw that he wasn't being listened to.


Lawrence struggled up through the bare branches, losing purchase several times as deader ones broke off under his weight, but somehow managing to only go higher rather than fall back down. It wouldn't be long though...


"You're gonna fall. You better not go any higher!" Walter yelled; his neck bent back until it hurt now to see his cousin. How high was he going go before he would see that kite was just junk, all busted up and worthless?


"I got it!" Lawrence shouted triumphantly.


Walter watched as he waved the ragged kite before him like some trophy for endurance and strength.


It was about then a loud crack sounded. 

Clear and loud, like bones cracking, the branch Lawrence was resting his butt on breaking cut through the chilly air.


Walter saw the look in Lawrence's eyes when he realized things had gone very bad- black and huge with fear. He shrieked and Walter thought he sounded like a girl in the instant before his cousin plummeted through the branches and crashed to the ground on his side.


He lay there on his side; his back curved like a hula-hoop and his legs turned in crazy angles that didn't look right at all. His mouth was moving but there was no sound, he was sucking air in, and his eyes were squeezed shut so hard Walter couldn't see his eyelashes when he got up close.


"Holy smokes! Are you all right? Are you all right?"


Finally, and with an intensity like Walter had never heard in his life, a horrible noise came out of Lawrence's mouth: a ragged scream that degenerated into a gut-wrenching bawling. "My legs," he screamed, blood and snot trickling from his nose. "It hurts! It hurts! Walter, help me! Oh, God it hurts!"


"I told you!" Walter screamed, his breath beginning to hitch with frightened sobs. "I told you! Why didn't you listen to me?"


"Please- it hurts!"


Freezing air ripping at his lungs Walter tore through the woods, crashing toward Lawrence's house.


Walter Skinner didn't believe he had ever run harder or faster in his life than he had that afternoon.


******************************

Elmo, Wyoming

4th of July 1999


"Here you go," Durokoff declared, sounding a little breathless as he reappeared from the crowd, waving a handful of napkins.


Scully almost laughed at the inordinate amount of napkins he'd brought back to the table.


"I know I wasn't that messy," she said as he sat back down opposite her at the picnic table.


He watched her take a napkin from the pile and begin to wipe the barbecue sauce from her chin, noticing the dab she'd dropped on her tee shirt. "I don't know," he said grinning at her, "maybe I should have brought back a bib, too."


Scully looked down, gasping at the blotch of red sauce on herself. "I can't believe I've turned into such a mess."


"Ribs are messy business," he said handing her another fist full of napkins.


She laughed, feeling embarrassed. She had been half starved but attempted good manners, yet good manners went out the window when it came to barbecued ribs. She knew she should have stuck with the hot dogs.


"Barbecue in general is a messy business," she commented, demurely dabbing at her shirt.


"That's what makes it fun." Scully looked at him, struck by the strong and cheerful sound of his familiar voice. He looked back at her with kind brown eyes she thought she knew and had to remind herself that she didn’t know this man at all. "I think you missed a little..." He told her, gesturing first at her face then his own, brushing at his own upper lip.


Scully wiped at her mouth again, another wave of chagrin passing over her.


"Uh, it's..." he stammered a little again gesturing at her mouth and beginning to sound frustrated. "It's still..." Scully frowned, growing annoyed by her inability to find this stray smear of barbecue sauce he kept pointing at. "Uh, here," he said leaning over the table enough to hesitantly wipe her lip with another napkin. He stopped, pulling his hand back to look at her quizzically before he confusedly said, "it's not coming off?"


"Huh?" Then she realized and her hand flew to her mouth. "Oh... Well, it's not going to be coming off, either, not without laser surgery, unfortunately." Durokoff's expression was beginning to take on that cast that Skinner more than often got when he didn't quite get something. "It's a mole," she explained and went back to pick at the ribs on her paper plate.


"Unfortunately?" He questioned her choice of words. "Don't you like it?"


"No," she said emphasizing the word by pursing her lips. "I usually cover it up."


"It's darling," he declared. She raised her eyes to give him a dubious look. He wasn't making it any better and she hoped her expression communicated the fact. "Why would you cover it up?"


Apparently her expression did not phase the man. "I've never liked it," she answered and shrugged. "Since I was a little girl, I hated it."


"Why don't you have it cut off?" he bluntly asked.


She cringed, managing to stop her hands before the ribs touched her mouth. "I don't know," she sighed putting the rib back on the plate and pushing it away. "I guess because it's still a part of me."


"Attached to it, huh?" He was being deliberately idiotic now.


Scully blew her breath out, laughing hard in spite of herself. He laughed along with her appearing to do so with his whole body; he seemed to shudder, his eyes pinched with glee, his mouth a full broad smile.


She liked him. She liked his laugh- full on bass and warm- she liked the way he looked and carried him self- formidable confidence blended with deft grace. She'd even become a little fond of the propensity he had for repeatedly adjusting his hat when he spoke. A nervous quirk, Scully had considered, or merely a motion to ease the press of the cap against his bare scalp. She had seen he was just as balding as Skinner the few times his hat had come far enough away from his head. 


Although, his skull appeared smoother than Skinner's that was subtly pitted and pocked with peculiar dings and curious indentations. Occasionally, while seated before her superior's desk with Mulder explaining himself at her side, her mind would drift curiously over that uneven back-lit scalp, indexing the probable causes of those marks and wondering if there something more to phrenology.


When their laughter tapered down to scant chuckling they found themselves looking at one another, a certain level of wariness passing between their gazes. The echo of live music rebounded around them, people mulled about laughing and cheering, but it all seemed suddenly very far away.


After a moment, affected, Durokoff cleared his throat shifting his eyes left and right, anywhere but on her. He got up from the table and motioned for her to follow. "Come on, I think that sauce is getting to you."


"Getting to me?"


He laughed one last breathy laugh, re-adjusting the cap on his head. "That sauce has probably got more booze in it than the bar over there."


She gawked at the plate of ribs she'd torn through. There might have been a good amount of liquor in the sauce but surely not enough to make her tipsy. "I couldn't taste liquor in it."


"Likely story, missy," he teased, "come on along with me."

"Am I under arrest for public intoxication?" She went with it, allowing him to take her by the arm and lead her through the crowd.


"Public intoxication, lewd and disorderly conduct, not to mention bad table manners..."


She didn't know where he was taking her but happily trotted along enjoying the feel of Durokoff's firm grasp. 


Why couldn't Skinner be more like this, she mused as they wound their way through the crowded park. There was that one brief instant, she recalled his inciting of the Gilligan's Island theme while they were marooned in the middle of the lake, but she had assumed that was just the champagne. 


She'd seen him smile just once, that same night, and the simple gesture had softened his features and lent light to his eyes. It was a long time before she had rid herself of the hope of ever seeing him smile like that again, at least for her. Again, she chalked it up to the alcohol he'd consumed and let it go. 


Anything between them was not meant to be despite her moments of weakness, times when she was ready to throw everything away and tell him how she felt. He would probably give her one of those incredulous looks he so effortlessly doled out on a regular basis, saying something like "you've obviously made a mistake." Yeah, a mistake, all right. A big one, too. Don't go falling for your superior unless you're ready to suffer the knicks and scratches of unrequited... The sound of Durokoff's walkie-talkie interrupted her dejected introspective.


He excused himself by stepping away from her. A few moments later she was accepting his request to join him on a call, promising it would be interesting. And interesting it did turn out to be. 


A rather typical domestic disagreement but with rather distinctive circumstances; at the far-off fringe of Carbon County where the Elmo Sheriff's department authority just about ran out. Two men of wise age, one would assume at first sight, sitting around all morning with nothing better to do than drink themselves into a stupor, decided the fireworks show was too far off to wait any longer. So, they started their own show a little early by setting off sticks of dynamite in their front yard. 


The first blast had taken out a car belonging to one man who promptly set off a second stick that demolished the car belonging to the man who had set off the first explosion.


With their cars burning and the yard and house torn up and looking like a scene from a war, the men continued to argue and fight, each threatening to blow the other up.


Judging by the familiarity that the deputies on the scene as well as Durokoff treated the men, Scully figured that these two had a long history of such behavior.


An hour or more had passed when the county fire trucks were finally showing up on the scene and the two men had been talked down and on their way to Elmo where their view of the fireworks show would be quite good from their cells.


Stating that he was certain nothing he could show her now would top what they'd just seen, Durokoff set off anyway to give Scully a brief tour of the area, introducing her to locals less radical than the last and reciting regional history and lore making her feel quite comfortable with his attentiveness and polite gestures of respect. 


She found in his behavior an old-fashioned charm replacing cautious political correctness that punctuated the cities she'd lived in most her life. Still, he showed respect to her, as the fellow agent of law enforcement she was, asking her opinion on issues of concern in the area and wanting to know her feelings about recent negative attitudes directed toward federal agencies.


But in defiance of their almost deliberate trade discussions, there was an underlying tension building between them. She could feel the air becoming charged as they traveled together and quite by themselves in the four-wheeler. Talk was becoming less and less as they drove through the mountainous roads, replaced by the frequent exchange of glances and shared smiles in the increasingly awkward silence.


Scully was beginning to feel as though she were on a first date when the radio gratefully crackled for attention, the dispatcher announcing she had a message from the Albany Country Sheriff's department. Scully was quick to stop any information from going out over the radio, making Durokoff aware of that being one feasible way Gryzwac had been tracing them with the use of a scanner.


Remarking how he hoped everyone was being as alert as she was he instructed the call be put through to them on his cell phone, and moments later Scully was talking to a ragged out sounding Mulder. He was traveling with an Albany Country deputy to get a rental car and didn't believe he'd be arriving until nightfall.


"Why doesn't he just get Boyd to have him flown over here," Durokoff asked Scully who relayed the question to Mulder.


"The helicopter is temporarily out of commission," she relayed back, listening to something else Mulder said, then, "besides, he's not thrilled about the idea if it were working."


Durokoff laughed. "I don't blame him in the least."


By the time they got back to town he'd shared his own tale of his experiences with Ronnie Stewart, the rock’n’rolling hot shot of the Albany County Air Patrol. It seemed the man had never quite put aside his days as a stunt show pilot, still managing to get a little acrobatic flying in every once in a while to show off and sometimes scare what he liked to call his "virgin" passengers.


***********************


Lariat Car Rentals

Rock Springs, Wyoming


What was the deal?

Was there no respect left in this country for the urgency of federal business?


Mulder mulled these and a multifarious amount of other questions over as he watched the rental car agency employee languidly collect agreements from various pigeonholes along the wall of the storefront agency. Tired beyond measure he leaned against the chest high counter, believing if he stared hard enough at the back of the man's head, willing him to move faster.


"Please do not lean on the counter," he suddenly announced without turning.


Rolling his eyes, Mulder straightened and checked the time on the wall clock. Jesus, it was nearly four o'clock. Where had the damn day gone? "Could we hurry this up some, I'm really tired and I'm in a hurry to get to where I'm going."


"Perhaps you shouldn't be in such a hurry if you're so tired, sir." The man said, turning back to him with a smug lift to his eyebrow, his bushy mustache twitching like a nervous ferret had nested under his nose.


An abrupt and unsolicited laugh escaped Mulder. "Uh," he forced his eyes closed against the sight of the man. "I'm taking the full insurance on the car." He finally managed to assure the funny little man, who was now frowning at him.


"Of course you are after what happened to your last vehicle." He said planting the paperwork on the counter in front of Mulder. "Never in the history of Lariat Rental has there ever been such an act of complete disregard and..."


"I'm really sorry about the other rental car," Mulder bemoaned both what had become of the car he'd left on the side of the road the previous day and the fact that Lariat Rental seemed to have a monopoly on the rental car business throughout the area. Who would have thought there was a vandalism problem in such an area of the country? "Circumstances beyond my control kept me from calling..."


"Yes, yes. So, you've said. Still, I certainly hope this isn't the normal mode of operation among all representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation." He remarked pointedly as he handed Mulder a pen.


"As a matter of fact, it is," Mulder, aggravated to a point now, began signing papers with a whimsical flourish of his wrist, dispatching the signed copies toward the man with abandon. "It's a new policy that all federal employees must abide by totally, seek out and destroy as much property as humanly possible within the private sector." He emphasized his final word with such zeal he ripped right though the tissue thin top copy of the rental agreement with the ballpoint of the pen.


"Wonderful," the man declared throwing his hands up, "more destruction. I just never- now, we'll have to start over again."


"What!" Mulder spat as the man snatched up all the papers and started for the pigeonholes again for fresh copies. "Haven't you ever heard of scotch tape?"


************************

Continued in part 8


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