Painting by numbers
Classification – Case file. Work in progress.
Summery – An unsolved case from Mulder's time at the VCS comes back to haunt him.
Author's notes – I will try to get this done as quickly as I can. I want to thank all those who have been so encouraging since I started writing again. I'm still finding my way around after such a long break, but I am thoroughly enjoying it and decided to get to grips with an idea for a case file I had way back in 2002. I still had all my rough notes on it and now I need to try to get them in some kind of coherent order.
October 19th 1989
He takes his time. There is no rush. Everything must be in order. His thoughts, his feelings, his quietude. They think he needs rage and violence and harsh light to do this work. But they are so wrong. It is precise. With great measure, understanding and detail. It cannot be hurried or the colours will not sing to him. And he needs to hear them. To burst forth and fill his soul with their beautiful words.
The canvas gleams white, inviting him to share his inner most thoughts and desires. It's almost alluring. Tempting him in, knowing that he will not be able to resist. That only by immersing himself in the darkness, can he ever hope to gain the understanding he needs.
It speaks to him. Whispered words that invade his dreams. Taunting him, testing him. Finding him to be somehow wanting. Building him up before discarding him again.
Stripping him away to his very core. A mind laid bare. Knowing that what he is doing is wrong. So very wrong. But the voices are filling his mind, he can no longer fight against this need inside him. He can't sleep, can't eat, can't think beyond this moment.
Flesh, blood and bone.
The pallet of the Gods.
Laid out for him to take. Only then can he hope to understand.
He picks up the paintbrush, it's tip glistening deep scarlet in the diffused light that caresses the small room.
He does not see the red. At least not in a sense he understands. It is red, but at the same time it shines a myriad of colour and form. It is everything. It is nothing.
He closes his eyes, an almost rapturous expression on his face, feeling a jolt of electricity in his very core as he brings the paintbrush to the roughened surface, tentatively at first, then with growing confidence as the lines begin to take shape before him.
The blood is congealing by the time he has finished. But he is happy. Spent. Sated even.
And he drops the brush on to the floor of his apartment, soiling the carpet below. But Mulder doesn't notice. He concentrates only on his work.
J Edgar Hoover Building
Ten years later
Dana Scully smiled in response to the guard who waved her though with a twinkle of recognition. Many things had changed since she had first walked in to the building as a fully functioning field agent almost six years previously. Fresh out of the comforting, safe cocoon of Quantico, she had felt a small frisson of excitement the very first time she had passed through the large atrium and the security checks that would grant her access to the operational part of this vast building. She hadn't known what to expect. Because back then, life had been filled with endless possibilities. Endless opportunities.
But the 28 year old Dana Scully was no more. That youthful exuberance that she could change the world had long since disappeared as she came to realise that it wasn't she who could change the world, but rather the world who had changed her. Those days were gone. And the woman who had replaced her, while outwardly the same, was more damaged inside than she thought she would ever be. As each painful betrayal eroded her a little more, the blind trust she once had seemed like a lifetime ago. And over the years, she had learned to be ever more suspicious of those imposturous allies who alleged to be her friends.
But the one constant each morning had been this man. Aside from a brief absence when his wife had passed away prematurely a couple of years ago, Moses Abraham had been the one who, each day had been the first to greet her as she made her way to work.
"Morning Agent Scully. It's a beautiful morning today."
Scully flashed him a smile, same as always.
"It sure is Moses."
He nodded. In all these years they had never exchanged more than a dozen words at once. But the easy familiarity was there.
"Well you have a good day Agent Scully."
"You too Moses"
Scully made her way to the elevator, relieved to discover she was the lone occupant. Because as fiercely independent as she was, she had never quite got used to the curious glances that seemed to follow her around the building. Since her near death and subsequent recovery from terminal cancer – a condition that had become the hot topic of discussion amongst her peers despite her every effort to have it remain private –the glances and whispered speculation had increased tenfold.
Mrs Spooky wasn't just spooky by association anymore. Oh no. Now she was a walking, talking, breathing X-File all of her own. And the rumour mill flourished as a result.
Mulder had learned to ignore them. Or at least to never react. But Scully knew that on the occasions when a whispered comment managed to reach her and the faint flush appeared to blemish her fair Irish skin, that she would never become accustomed to being the butt of so much speculation from her colleagues.
If only they knew – even the half of it – then perhaps they might not rush so headlong in their judgement.
The interior of the elevator was mirrored and Scully glanced across to check all was in order. A meeting with AD Skinner, regardless of the hour, demanded that she look her professional best. He had been their friend when no one else had, but that didn't make him any the less uncompromising in his expectations of her as an Agent and she used the time to smooth a few errant wisps of hair away from her face, tucking it neatly behind her ears in the hope that it would stay there. It was shorter than she'd ever worn it, a decision taken when she had first been diagnosed. To try in some way to take control over at least a small part of her body. And also, in some kind of mental preparation for when the drugs destroyed the follicles and it began to fall out. To her surprise though, the hair loss had been minimal, which, given the amount of drugs they had pumped in to her, was nothing short of miraculous. But aside from a few more strands than usual washed down the drain when she showered, her hair had remained largely unaffected.
It wasn't usual. But then nothing about her cancer had been usual and a fine collection of hats donated by various family members still languished, untouched on a shelf in her wardrobe. At one time it had seemed like everyone was throwing headgear at her in an attempt to validate their support when there was nothing else left to do or say.
Everyone except Mulder that is.
When she'd admitted her fears to him in a rare moment of female fragility – ridiculous fears given the gravity of her illness – that she was terrified of losing her hair, that she would somehow become less of a woman, he had simply put his arms around her and told her without having to speak, that she could never be any less to him than what she already was.
She had kept her hair the same length since that day.
And now it had become almost a kind of talisman against the cancer coming back. A stupid, childish deal with God but one which still seemed important.
The elevator reached its destination, the sharp chime dragging Scully's attention away from the mirror and, dropping her hands back to her side, she exited quickly, side stepping slightly to avoid the pair of Agents waiting to enter. She vaguely recognised them from her brief but painful secondment to the domestic terrorism section where she and Mulder had spent long, fruitless days searching for and cataloguing the nation's agricultural fertilizer purchases. It had been, in every sense of the word, a shit assignment.
Her keen ears caught the word 'Mulder' although nothing else registered. But for once it didn't bother her.
She and Mulder had escaped the shit.
And that was enough of a victory for her to hold her head high as she walked along the corridor to Skinner's office.
She entered the small ante room where his secretary normally guarded entry like a lioness protecting her cubs. No appointment, no audience. No excuses and no exceptions.
Mulder had butted heads with her on more than one occasion, but, like most unannounced visitors, he had usually been sent to wait on one of the hard chairs that bordered the room. Tail tucked firmly between his legs until she granted permission to enter the inner sanctum. She might not be a fully fledged field agent, but Holly Merryman took her responsibilities very seriously.
But the hour was just early enough for Holly to have not yet made an appearance and the desk was unmanned so Scully crossed directly to the door which opened even before she had a chance to knock, bearing witness to the fact that Skinner had been looking out for her.
He held the door open and waved her inside.
Scully nodded slightly.
Skinner wasn't generally strong on the perfunctory greetings, deeming them a waste of time.
Scully was surprised to see that another Agent was already seated on one of the two chairs directly in front of Skinner's desk and she was slightly heartened to see that he, at least, acknowledged she was female, rising a few inches out of his chair and hovering there until she had seated herself beside him.
Skinner took the chair behind his desk and waved a hand in the direction of the unknown male.
"Agent Scully, this is Special Agent in Charge Robert Roberts"
Scully felt her left eyebrow start an ascent up in to her hairline and she suddenly wished Mulder were here. Only a few days ago they had shared a fairly hilarious conversation over one too many beers about the very subject of parental imagination –or lack thereof- when it came to naming their offspring. They had concluded that, despite the obvious butt-clenching childhood embarrassment, children with memorable names tended to be more destined for success. There was absolutely no scientific basis for this, especially given that 'Fox' was possibly the most out -there name Scully had ever encountered and career-wise at least, Mulder was in no way batting a thousand. Or even a hundred for that matter.
Robert Roberts. You'd love this Mulder.
But aware of Skinner's eyes on her, Scully quickly composed herself, holding out her hand which Roberts shook briefly.
"Pleased to meet you Sir"
"Likewise Agent Scully. Thank you for coming in at this early hour"
Scully nodded. He didn't need to know that she had been awake since just before 4am – since the cancer her sleep patterns were royally screwed and bouts of insomnia were still a regular occurrence in her life. She had confided in both her doctor and her partner. The medical suggestion had been pills. The Mulder suggestion had been to just sleep when her body told her it was necessary, shrugging it off as no big deal when she occasionally fell asleep in the middle of the afternoon in the car on their way to a case, or with her head resting on crossed arms as she grabbed a nap at her desk while he worked quietly at the opposite side of the room. Sometimes he would wake her up with a gentle touch to her shoulder, occasionally to her face. At other times he would just leave her, allowing her to awaken when she needed to. Never making her feel awkward that she had zonked out on him again. Ironically, she seemed sometimes to have less energy now than when she had been fighting to stay alive. But Mulder just accepted it.
Her body was still adjusting he said. Her mind was still adjusting. He got it. He also got that it didn't need constant analysis by either of them. For the moment at least, it was just something that happened occasionally.
And then she looked questioningly at Skinner.
Why am I here?
Skinner reached over the desk and handed her a manila file stamped 'confidential'. A case file.
"Agent Scully are you familiar with the portrait murders?"
Scully glanced down at the file she now held in her hands and dragged her mind back.
"Um...I believe they were a series of murders that took place in the late 80s in the DC area. A random series of victims who were found with their throats cut...I believe the killer painted a portrait of them and left it at the scene beside them...um...I believe the murders ended abruptly in 1989 and the killer was never found."
"In a nutshell Agent Scully. Although there were a few aspects of the case that were never released to the media. "
Skinner nodded his head towards the file.
"Take a look"
Scully slipped a thumb between the cover and the first of many pages beneath and flipped it open. She gasped as the first thing she saw was an eight by ten of one of the victims – a young woman, maybe in her very early twenties. Slumped against a wall, eyes unseeing but wide open, her mouth fixed in a silent scream of terror. But what really struck Scully as particularly grotesque was the way her head lolled to the side, held in place by nothing more than a few sinewy strands. Her throat had been cut with such force that she had almost been decapitated. The blood loss was horrific; in fact it was like she had bathed in it. She must have bled out incredible quickly because the entire floor around her was awash, a crimson sea, slightly darker around the edges where the blood had begun to congeal.
And then she saw it, just to the left of the body. An artist's palette, a selection of brushes, a few tubes of what looked like acrylics and in the foreground, a framed canvas, depicting the image of a young woman, smiling, highlights bouncing off glossy hair, eyes crinkled up in amusement. It was beautifully painted in every sense of the word and Scully swallowed, quite unable to reconcile this exquisite work of art with the ravaged and defiled woman beside it.
What's wrong with this picture?
Scully narrowed her eyes. Aside from the obvious, something wasn't right. The detail of the portrait was undeniable. The skill was undeniable...but...
Scully gasped and her hand flew to her throat. A purely involuntary action brokered by the sudden realisation.
"Oh My God. It's her blood."
Her mouth dropped open.
"He painted it using her blood?"
"Yes. Mixed with acrylics. Mostly brown tones to add depth"
Scully closed her eyes briefly. The psychosis at work to decapitate a victim with such force was one thing. But to paint using the spilled blood as a medium? That went way beyond criminally insane. It was almost inhuman.
"You see why it was never released in to the public domain?"
Skinner didn't wait for her to answer.
"Has Agent Mulder ever discussed this case with you?"
Scully looked at him sharply. She was suddenly aware of a pulse beating in her ears. And she knew with a certainty she couldn't explain that whatever was coming next, it was going to be bad for her partner. She shook her head slightly, her mind's eye still focused on the bloody canvas in the photograph. And then she knew.
"This was Mulders case?"
"Yes. Mulder was lead profiler. He...Agent Scully it didn't go well for him."
"Sir?" She heard the way her voice's tone had jacked up a notch. "What do you mean 'It didn't go well for him?"
Skinner rose from his position behind the desk, coming around to instead perch on the corner, arms folded as he regarded his female agent.
"Agent Mulder got in very deep. Too deep Agent Scully. He became immersed in the victims, in the murderer. He claimed he was inside his head..."
"Mulder was a profiler Sir" she said, stating the obvious, "A profiler by their very nature..."
Skinner cut her off
"Mulder was 28 years old Scully. Twenty eight. He was barely out of the academy but already making a name for himself as a brilliant criminologist. His ability to put the pieces together, to find cause and effect...well, it was uncanny. But he didn't know when to stop. When to take a break. When to rest. You know what I'm talking about. We've both seen it in him."
"The Mostow case?" Scully was barely aware of asking the question.
"Yes. But that was just a taste. Compared to the portrait murders, the Mostow case was like a walk in the park...but there were...similarities in Mulder's behaviour during both cases."
He reached forwards and took the file from Scully's hands, flipping through it until he found what he sought.
Another portrait, this one slightly cruder. A young man. Younger. So much younger than she had ever known him to be. But despite the age of the subject, the less gifted hand, the way the lines blended together on the canvas, she would know that face anywhere.
Scully felt a sudden burning at the back of her throat.
To know an artist you have to look at his art...
"Mulder did this?"
Skinner took the file from her once again and laid it face down on the desk.
"Whose blood is it? Is it his?"
"No. It's pigs blood. Mulder had a receipt from an abattoir."
Scully wiped a hand over her mouth, suddenly desperate for a drink of water.
"There's more Agent Scully"
More? How much fucking more can there be?
Skinner's voice sounded tight. She had heard the tone before. Used only when he was either desperately annoyed or desperately worried. She was in no doubt that it was in response to the latter.
"Agent Mulder didn't report to his ASAC that night. He was found in his apartment. He had overdosed on barbiturates. He barely survived. "
Scully heard a gasp. It took her a moment to realise that the sound had come from her and she suddenly found that drawing a breath was impossible. Her heart was beating so fast she was afraid it would break out of her chest.
I don't want to hear any more.
"Mulder was hospitalised of course. He recovered. He was immediately removed from the case and relieved of his investigative duties. He underwent intensive therapy and returned to work six months later. Shortly after that he requested a transfer out of the unit. It was granted without question. The murders ceased. As you said, the killer was never caught."
Scully tried to absorb what her superior was telling her and her eyes widened in shock.
"Sir, you don't think Agent Mulder was responsible?"
Skinner held up a hand.
"No Agent Scully. NO I absolutely do not think that. There was nothing to tie Mulder to the crimes..."
"Then what am I here for?"
Scully started as Roberts spoke for the first time. She had almost forgotten he was beside her, so focused had she been on Skinner. Dumbly she observed the file he held in his hands, almost identical, but clearly newer.
"Three nights ago a woman's body was found. Next to a portrait. A portrait painted in blood...yesterday morning I received this from my Assistant Director..."
He handed her the duplicate copy of a paper form she knew well. She had filled out hundreds of them since joining Mulder on the X-Files. It was a form that requested involvement on a case. A case being handled by another agent, department or field office. Protocol dictated that permission must be given.
She recognised the slightly untidy scrawl immediately.
And with a rapidly escalating feeling of dread, she realised his request had been approved.
Continued in part II