Fox Hunt by aka Jake

Title: Fox Hunt
Author: aka "Jake"
Rating: PG-13 (Language, Violence)
Classification: X (Case Fic)
Spoilers: Seasons 1-11

Summary: Scully is kidnapped by an old foe. “Somehow, I feel like we haven't heard the last from John Barnett.” — Fox Mulder in “Young at Heart”

Disclaimer: These characters belong to Chris Carter, FOX, and 1013 Productions. No copyright infringement intended. Fun, yes. Profit, no.

Beta: Much appreciation goes to xdksfan!

Author's Note: “Fox Hunt” takes place after my stories “Reprise” and “Thanksgiving.” It’s not necessary to read either one but to catch you up: It’s 2023. Scully is retired from the FBI, Skinner is Deputy Director, Mulder has a new partner named Matthew Somers, and Mulder and Scully have a 5-year-old daughter named Katie. “Fox Hunt” starts with a flashback to Season 1’s “Young At Heart.” Canon-compliant through Season 11; my take from that point on.

FEBRUARY 19, 1994

Ronald Pakula leaned against a counter at the back of the lab and waited. He barely glanced at the microscopes, beakers, and test tubes that surrounded him. He wasn’t a man of science. He also wasn’t a very patient man — he didn’t have the time to be — but this project was too important to hand over to just anyone.

If pressed, Pakula would describe himself as a man of secrets. He’d been a participant in some of the world’s most insidious lies and deeds. To atone for his actions, he periodically leaked information to Fox Mulder, some of it true, some of it false, believing Mulder to be the one person capable of exposing certain truths that the Syndicate kept secret from the public, truths that should be revealed. He admired Mulder. Scully, too. He knew they called him Deep Throat from the wiretaps and covert surveillance he used to keep tabs on them. It was a nickname he rather appreciated. He was an informant after all. But not this time. This particular truth was one he would not be sharing with either of them.

The lab's door swung open and two men dressed in hospital scrubs wheeled in a body on a gurney. A body bag hid the identity of the deceased.

“What took so long?” Pakula asked.

“We had trouble getting him out of the hospital,” one of the men said. “CIA had a lot of questions for the ER docs who tried to save his life.”

“I imagine they did.” Pakula sauntered over to the gurney. His fingers hovered only a moment above the body. Then the teeth of the zipper tick-tick-ticked as he slowly drew the tab down, unzipping the bag just far enough to confirm the identity of the man inside. John Barnett: research subject, thief, killer. His last victim: FBI Agent Reggie Purdue, Fox Mulder’s ASAC in the Violent Crimes Section in the late 80s. Purdue was strangled last night by Barnett. Then this evening, Barnett took a hostage on the stage of the Janie Taylor Memorial Recital Hall in D.C. Mulder shot him, saving the hostage’s life. The docs in the local ER tried their best to keep Barnett alive but, in the end, pronounced him dead on the operating table.

All of this despite the fact Barnett had allegedly died in 1989 at the Tashmoo Federal Correction Facility. An intentional lie at the time, now exposed.

“Where’s Dr. Ridley?” Pakula asked.


Barnett had stolen Dr. Joseph Ridley’s gene therapy research and hidden it somewhere. And before tonight, the US government had been bargaining with Barnett to buy it, offering him a lot of money, immunity, safe haven. I’m not particularly proud of the way in which this matter was handled, Pakula had told Mulder just yesterday, but like it or not, John Barnett is a fact of life. Barnett held all the cards. That research proved the aging process could be reversed, limbs could be regrown, death could be staved off indefinitely. Such information could change the course of mankind. No price was too high. John Barnett was the last remaining patient of Dr. Ridley, the only one to survive the experiments and thrive. More importantly, he was the only one who knew where the research records were located.

The lab door slapped open and Dr. Ridley was shoved into the room by two more of Pakula’s men. The scientist didn’t look well. His eyes were clouded over, a result of his own experimental treatments. Ridley was dying from a rare cerebral vascular disease and had no more than a month to live, not enough time to resurrect his research notes from memory and hand them over, no matter what incentives Pakula might offer.

“Why am I here?” Ridley asked, clearly nervous. “What do you want from me?

“I want you to bring John Barnett back to life, Dr. Ridley…again,” Pakula said.

“But he wasn’t actually dead the last time.”

“I think you’ll find he isn’t quite dead this time either.”

Both men looked at the body. Ridley startled when Barnett’s clouded eyes blinked open. Pakula just smiled.

December 5, 2023

A chilly breeze sifted through the bare branches of the maples, oaks, and sycamores that bordered the park. Fallen leaves swirled across the basketball court and around the playground equipment. A low overcast blocked the sun and the possibility of rain or snow threatened to cut Janelle Hollis’s and her son Stuart’s visit short.

Janelle sat on a bench and watched Stuart slide down the “big kids” slide for the first time. When he reached the bottom, he pumped his fists into the air. “Good job!” she shouted across the playground. He immediately ran back to the ladder for another try. He was halfway to the top when a child’s scream drew Janelle’s attention to the swings.

“Mommy! Mommy!” a little girl shrieked as she scuffed her feet, trying to slow her swing. She jumped from the seat before it stopped. Still screaming, she tumbled to her knees. When she managed to get her feet under her, her leggings were torn, her knees bleeding and caked with dirt. She tried to run but stumbled again, hitting her chin and scraping her palms.

Janelle recognized the girl. It was little Katie Mulder. Janelle scanned the park for Dana, the child’s mother. She was nowhere to be seen. Leaping to her feet, Janelle ran to help the girl.

“What is it, Katie? Where’s your mom?”

“She gone!” The girl was sobbing now, panicked. “A man took her!”

Janelle corralled her with a gentle embrace. “What man?”

“I don’t know! Mommy! Mommy!” Blood drooled from Katie’s mouth. She must’ve bit her tongue when she fell.

“Shh, shh, it’ll be okay,” Janelle said, hoping it was true. “I’m going to call for help. Don’t worry.” She dug her phone from her pocket and dialed 911.

*       *       *

A throng of black-and-whites crowded the park’s south side, blocking traffic when Mulder arrived. He maneuvered his car as close to the scene as possible, his pulse hammering in his ears. His child was here somewhere among these police officers and EMTs. Scully was missing.

The news came to him just minutes ago via a call from the Baltimore PD while Mulder was on his way to the Hoover Building. He pulled a U-turn at Calverton and raced back toward Baltimore on the 95. The officer on the phone said something about an abduction at the East Street Park but was quick to add that Katie was okay and being treated for minor injuries by paramedics.

What the hell had happened? Where was Scully? The officer said he’d fill him in on the details when he arrived.

Past kidnappings rose in his mind like specters emerging from their graves. The list was long. And frightening. Warren Dupre. Duane Barry. Walter Chaco. Gerald Schnauz. Donnie Pfaster. CGB Spender and his cronies…more than once. Was he forgetting anyone? Every abduction came like a punch to the gut, his fear for Scully’s safety so overwhelming it threatened to paralyze him. It took all his willpower to concentrate on the facts, investigate every possible clue, and find her before it was too late.

He’d learned long ago how unbearable life could be without her when she’d gone missing from Skyland Mountain. The stakes were even higher now that they had a child to care for. And his own experience as a witness to his sister’s abduction had taught him the terror of losing someone you love at a young age. Sam’s disappearance still tormented him to this day. How would Katie cope with seeing her mother taken? Had it been a violent act? What horrors would fill Katie’s nightmares for years to come?  

Mulder parked and exited the car. A knot of police officers clustered near the back of an ambulance. He jogged toward them.

“Whoa!” A uniformed officer held out his hands to stop Mulder before he reached the group. “No looky-loos, no press. Keep your distance, please.”

“I’m Fox Mulder, husband of the missing woman.” He withdrew his badge and held it at arm’s length. “I need to see my daughter.” He plowed past the officer.

“Of course, sorry. She’s with the EMTs in the ambulance,” the man shouted after him.

The ambulance was parked on the sidewalk, its rear doors open. When Mulder spotted Katie sitting inside, he broke into a run. She was crying, her face scarlet. Tears streaked her cheeks and dripped from her chin, which appeared scraped and bloody.

“Katie!” he called to her.

She responded with a heart stopping shriek: “Daddy!”

The police officers parted, allowing Mulder to go to her. He reached out and she threw herself at him, jumping from the tailgate into his arms. She gripped him around his neck, her legs hugged his waist. She held onto him as if her life depended on it. He kissed the crown of her head, cooed into her ear as she sobbed. “It’s okay. I’m here,” he murmured over and over, letting her cry herself out before bombarding her with questions.   

A plain-clothes officer approached him. Thin-lipped and anvil-jawed, he had the determined eyes of a hawk on the hunt. “Agent Mulder? I’m Detective Ferland of the Baltimore PD. I have some questions and, as you no doubt understand, time is of the essence if what we’re looking at here is a kidnapping.”

Mulder did understand the need for action sooner rather than later but it irked him the detective was questioning whether Scully was taken against her will or may have abandoned Katie by choice. “My wife would never have left our daughter willingly,” he said, trying to keep the anger he felt out of his voice. It wouldn’t help to piss off the local PD. How many times had Scully reminded him of that fact over the years?

“Understood.” Ferland nodded. “Your daughter didn’t tell us much, only her name and yours. You’re lucky your name isn’t something common like John Smith, or we wouldn’t have been able to contact you so quickly.”

For once the name Fox wasn’t a liability. And Mulder would gladly relive his years of being teased and bullied all over again if it meant getting to Katie when she needed him most.

“I’m hoping you can get your little girl to say more about what happened here,” Ferland said. “A witness put the event at 10:20 a.m.”

Twenty minutes ago. An eternity for Katie, Mulder worried.

“There was a witness?” He rocked Katie gently in his arms. Her weeping slowed to hiccupping sobs. She kept her face buried in his neck. His collar was soaked with her tears.  

“Yes and no,” Ferland said. “A Mrs. Janelle Hollis heard Katie scream and saw her fall from the swings. However, she saw no sign of your wife or of the man your daughter said took her. Mrs. Hollis is familiar with your wife from past visits to the park, so was able to give us a rough description of her, but we’ll need more details from you. A photo would be helpful.”

“Dana is 5’ 3”…105 pounds…blue eyes, red hair…59 years old.”

“Fifty-nine? Mrs. Hollis described her as a younger woman, maybe in her early forties.”

Scully would appreciate hearing that. “Here’s a recent picture…” Mulder shifted Katie to one arm and dug his cell from his pocket. He clicked on the phone’s photo gallery. A picture of Scully holding Katie popped up as the most recent. He held it out for the detective to see.

“Can you forward a copy of that to me?”

“Yes, but I’d like to see to my daughter first.”

“Of course.”

Katie’s crying had subsided to a few sniffles. Wanting to check her injuries, Mulder stepped up into the ambulance and carried her to one of the paramedic’s seats, where he sat with her on his lap. Detective Ferland followed them in. Mulder wanted to object but he knew Ferland needed whatever information Katie could supply.

“Let me see your chin,” Mulder coaxed.

Katie unburied her face so he could look at her. “I scraped it when I fell off the swings.”

“So I see.” He wiped tears from her cheeks with a swipe of his thumb, then kissed her forehead.

“I bit my tongue, too.” She stuck it out to show him. It was bruised but no longer bleeding. “It hurts.”

“I bet it does. Anything else hurt?”

“My knees.” Her eyes filled with tears again. “I tore my leggings.”

“Don’t worry about that, we can get you new ones.” He tucked a lock of her chestnut hair behind her ear. Gauze dressings showed through the holes at her knees, no doubt bandaged by the paramedics while they waited for him to arrive. “Katie, this is very important. Can you tell me what happened to Mommy?”

Her lower lip began to tremble and he feared she’d start crying again but she nodded and said in a near-whisper, “A man took her.”

“What did the man look like?”


“Anything else? What color was his hair?”


“Was he tall?”

She shrugged.

“Was he taller than Mommy?”

She nodded. Not that that bit of info was particularly helpful. Nearly everyone was taller than Scully.

“Do you remember what he was wearing?”

She shook her head no, then looked pensive. “He had gloves.”

“What about a coat or a hat or glasses?”

“He had no glasses because he had no eyes.”

“No eyes?” Visions of faceless alien rebels rose in Mulder’s mind, sending a chill down his spine. “Do you mean he had no eyeballs…nothing at all where his eyes should be?”

“Well, no. Just the colored part was gone.”

That was certainly strange. Maybe the assailant’s eyes were so light blue, Katie couldn’t discern any irises at a distance or in the heat of the moment. “Katie, when this man took Mommy, what did he do with her?”

“He put his hand over her mouth and stuck a big pin in her neck.”

“A pin?” Mulder glanced at Ferland.

“We found a hypodermic needle on the sidewalk,” Ferland said. “Bagged it as possible evidence. I’ll have it tested and let you know what’s in it.”

“I’d appreciate that.” Mulder turned his attention back to Katie. “What did the man do next?”

“Put Mommy in a truck.”

“Do you remember the color of the truck?”


“Did it have any pictures or words on it?”

“No.” Tears filled her eyes again. “Is Mommy coming back?”

“Yes,” he said firmly. “Detective Ferland and I are going to find her.”

“I’ve got my men checking the video from the traffic cameras at both ends of the street,” Ferland said. “We’re also combing for trace along the sidewalk where we found the hypodermic. I’d welcome any help the FBI could give us.”

“You’ll have it. I’ll be meeting with Deputy Director Skinner as soon as I get Katie settled into a safe house.”

“A safe house? You think the kidnapper might come for her?”

“My wife used to be an FBI agent. It’s possible she was targeted, which could put our daughter --” Mulder stopped there, aware Katie was listening. He didn’t want her to be any more frightened than she already was.

“It might’ve been a random act,” Ferland said. “A crime of convenience.”

“Maybe, but I don’t plan on taking that chance.”


Barnett walked brazenly through the busy airport terminal straight to locker 1458. He used the touchpad to punch in the necessary PIN number to open the door. Nestled inside was a briefcase containing Dr. Ridley’s stolen research notes. Barnett had moved them many times over the decades, from one train or bus station to another, sometimes to an airport, and, for a period, YMCA locker rooms. Public spaces. Never where he lived. Even so, for years he expected to be followed, the research confiscated. But it didn’t happen.

Maybe because his captor, the wavy-haired operative with the disposition of a statesman, disappeared in May of ’94, just three months after Ridley revived Barnett, and two months after Dr. Ridley himself died, having fallen victim to his own experiments.

With both Ridley and the operative gone, Barnett decided to escape the lab where he was being held prisoner. It turned out to be easier than he anticipated. The two lackeys who guarded him weren’t too bright. He killed one with a scalpel that Dr. Ridley had used to improve the graft of his right hand, which now looked and functioned more like a normal hand. Unless you looked at it closely. The skin remained amphibian, not human.

He killed the second man with the first’s handgun. Then walked out a free man.

He took both men’s guns and used them to carry out a series of petty robberies, nothing that would draw too much attention but would provide him with enough money to live on for a while. After that, he moved around a lot. Committed more armed robberies. Always, he was plotting his revenge against Fox Mulder, the fucker who’d gotten him convicted and sentenced to Tashmoo, then later shot him at the recital hall.

Mulder and the rest of the world believed he had died in the hospital that night. Ha! Weren’t they all in for a hell of a surprise.

The time had come to start renegotiating for Ridley’s scientific discoveries while also getting even with Fox Mulder in the process. The best part: Barnett hadn’t aged a day in thirty years. The deterioration of his eyes had ceased, too, leaving the lenses cloudy without affecting his sight to any significant degree. Ridley’s experiments worked. He had time on his side and he planned to use it to draw out Mulder’s downfall, make him suffer for as long as possible. The way a cat toys with a mouse before killing it.

To that end, he now withdrew Dana Scully’s cellphone from his pocket and searched her contacts for Mulder’s number.

Oh, how cute, he was first on her speed dial. Barnett tapped the icon to initiate a call.

“Scully?” Mulder answered after only one ring. He sounded surprised, relieved, eager, and desperate all at the same time. His capacity for hope was as exquisite as it was pitiful. “Are you okay? Where are you?”

“Sorry, G-Man. This ain’t her.” Barnett chuckled.

Mulder’s tone quickly changed to outrage mixed with dread. “Who is this?”

“Aw, I’m hurt you don’t remember me.”

"Where’s Scully? Put her on the phone!”

“I’m afraid she’s tied up at the moment.” Barnett laughed again.

“What do you want?”


“Meaning what?”

“To own you, Mulder. To take what’s yours, one by one. Don’t worry, you’ll be the last to go, so you can watch everyone you care about die first.”
Barnett ended the call, then placed the phone alongside Dana Scully’s smartwatch inside the locker. He planned for Mulder to track them and find them, along with the handwritten note he slipped in beside them. He removed the briefcase containing Ridley’s research papers and shut the locker door once again.

Feeling satisfied with how things were playing out, he smiled and turned to face the security camera aimed at the bank of lockers. He waved, wanting Mulder to see his face, to know who took Scully, and to remember the last time they played this game. This time, Barnett didn’t plan to lose. He’d learned a lot in thirty years and he was ready — ready to trade Ridley’s research for a bundle of cash while bringing Fox Mulder to his knees.

*       *       *

The phone connection with Scully’s kidnapper ended abruptly.

“Damn it!” Mulder slammed the heel of his hand against his steering wheel.

A mile from the safe house where he’d just left Katie — a heart-wrenching goodbye he hoped never to repeat — he quickly pulled up Maps on his in-dash monitor and punched in Scully’s phone number. A pin appeared on the map, marking the location of her phone: White Hill Regional Airport.

Mulder dialed Matthew Somers.

“Somers,” his partner answered.

“Agent Somers, can you meet me at the White Hill Regional Airport ASAP?”

“Yes, sir. Does this have anything to do with your wife’s kidnapping?”

“You heard about that?”

“D.D. Skinner apprised me a few minutes ago. He’s putting together a task force. Top priority. What’s at White Hill?”

“Scully’s cell phone.”

“Is she there, too?”

“I don’t know but I doubt it.”

“I’m on my way.”

Mulder was thirty minutes away from the airport. Somers was about the same, coming up from the south. Plenty of time for Mulder to worry about what they might or might not find when they got there.

*       *       *

Somers was waiting in the airport lobby with a uniformed man when Mulder arrived.

“This is Dale Geishecker, Airport Security,” Somers introduced the officer.

Mulder nodded, then shared the map on his cell with the two men. “Scully’s phone is somewhere here in the airport. Tracking is accurate to 20 meters, which should help us narrow it down.”

“Let’s start walking,” Somers urged.

A few steps and the map confirmed they were going in the right direction. As they closed in, Geishecker pointed across the terminal. “Temporary luggage storage, maybe?”

The distance seemed about right but… “Which locker?” Mulder asked, faced with dozens of possibilities.

“PIN numbers are required to open them,” Geishecker said.

“Is there an override code?”

“Yes, but I’m not supposed to—”

Mulder pulled out his badge and held it in front of Geishecker’s face.

“Okay, but this could take some time,” Geishecker said. “At least half of the lockers appear to be in use.”

“Then you better get started.” Mulder tucked his badge and phone away.

He and Somers watched as Geishecker made his way down the row of lockers, punching the override code into one after the other.

“How’d it go with Katie?” Somers asked, keeping his eyes glued to Geishecker.

“Not well.” Mulder’s desire for Katie to come out of this experience relatively unscathed went out the window when he tried to leave her. He didn’t envy Agent Olivia Sinclair who pulled first shift watching over his heartbroken little girl.

“I think I found it,” Geishecker said, reaching into the locker.

“Don’t touch anything!” Mulder stopped the man just in time. “That’s evidence of a crime.”

“Sorry, of course.” Geishecker stepped back.

Somers pulled a pair of latex gloves from his pocket. A couple of evidence bags followed. He tugged on the gloves and carefully bagged the phone and the smartwatch before passing them to Mulder.

“Agent Mulder, there’s a note in here, too,” Somers said. Holding it by one corner, he lifted it out.

The note was written in loose, cursive handwriting on plain white paper.

Clever like a Fox, but not clever enough,” Mulder read it aloud.

“That mean something to you?” Somers asked.

“Unfortunately, yes.” It resembled the notes John Barnett had written back in ’94. Had Barnett somehow cheated death a second time? Mulder targeted the security camera above them with the point of a finger. “I want the video from that, Mr. Geishecker.”

“Yes, sir, right away.”

“What’s next?” Somers asked.

“We’re going to find that son of a bitch before he sends me another love letter.”


Scully felt groggy. Sick to her stomach. She was lying on her side. Blindfolded. Gagged. Her wrists and ankles were bound by zip ties that bit into her flesh and cut off her circulation. Her hands were tied behind her back, making it impossible to reach out, feel her surroundings. She had no idea how long she’d been unconscious. Or where she was now.

She tried to recall what had happened. She’d been at the park. Watching Katie on the swings. She was grabbed from behind. Her assailant covered her mouth with a gloved hand. Stuck a needle in her neck. A wave of dizziness hit her almost immediately. Like the time she’d been taken by Gerald Schnauz.

Then she’d heard Katie scream. Her daughter’s cries seemed to come up from the bottom of a deep well. They echoed in her ears like a clanging alarm. Where was Katie now? Did the assailant take her, too? Fear and anger sizzled through her. If that bastard hurt her daughter…!

What…what would she do? What could she do?

She had to believe Mulder was already searching for her and was looking after Katie, protecting her. He would go to the ends of the earth, literally, to do what needed doing. He’d done it before.

Mulder, please…

While he worked to locate her, she needed to try to find her own way out, too, to try to save herself. She refused to play the role of a damsel in distress.

She listened for any sounds that might help her figure out where she was. Muted traffic noises. Tires on pavement passing by. A distant honk of a horn. She was inside a parked vehicle. The trunk maybe? Or the bed of a truck?

She tried stretching out her legs to gauge the size of the space she was in. Knees still bent, her feet bumped up against something solid. She followed the surface with the soles of her shoes. Was stymied by another hard surface. Not a lot of wiggle room here.

She startled when the driver’s door suddenly opened and slammed shut. The engine roared to life. She was jostled and rocked as the vehicle picked up speed and rounded corners.

Minutes passed. Stretched into an hour. Maybe. Tracking time was impossible in the dark.

The vehicle came to a jolting stop. The door opened and closed again. All was quiet. Was her captor planning to leave her here?

A click, the squeak of hinges. Hands grasped her roughly, tugging her, dragging her.

Muscled arms locked around her waist. Lifted her. She struggled but was slung over a shoulder. Her captor grunted softly as he climbed a short set of stairs. When he stopped, breathing hard, she heard the jangle of keys. The creak of door hinges.

A moment later, the door slammed shut. The distinctive sound of a deadbolt sliding into place evoked an image of a coffin lid closing. More footsteps. Another door opening and closing. Another set of stairs, downward this time. The air smelled of mildew, felt damp. Like a basement.

She was dropped onto a dirt floor. Her captor chuckled. She tried to speak through her gag, managing only helpless, unintelligible gabble and grunts. He said nothing and walked away. Closed a door. Jangled his keys. Clicked a lock into place.

Silence enveloped her, broken only by the chuff of her own panicky breath and the drumming of her heart.

3:33 PM

Skinner’s task force gathered in Conference Room F. He’d enlisted thirty-plus of his best agents after Mulder called to describe the note he’d found at White Hill. Mulder insisted Scully’s kidnapper was John Barnett. The possibility seemed unlikely but Skinner had learned years ago to trust Mulder’s instincts and give even his wildest speculation serious consideration.

Admittedly, what little evidence there was appeared to support Mulder’s hypothesis. Handwriting analysis of the note confirmed with 95% accuracy it was penned by Barnett. And the security video Skinner was about to play for the task force clearly showed John Barnett in front of the lockers at White Hill where Scully’s phone and smartwatch were recovered. Remarkably, the man hadn’t aged a day since ’94. Skinner had read the alleged science behind Barnett’s age-regression in one of Mulder’s old reports, yet he still had difficultly wrapping his head around the notion.

Agents Mulder and Somers slipped into the conference room and stood together in the back. Mulder appeared restless, fists balled, ready to crawl out of his skin or punch a wall.

“Heads up, people,” Skinner called for the agents’ attention, eager to get started. Five hours had passed since a witness called the Baltimore PD about Scully’s abduction. The clock was ticking and the longer it took to locate her, the less likely they’d find her alive. A possibility Skinner preferred not to consider.

Skinner used a handheld control to bring up a photo of Barnett on the oversized monitor at the front of the room. “We’re looking for John Irvin Barnett, a remorseless killer and clinical psychopath. He murdered seven people in separate robberies in 1989. He was caught, tried, and incarcerated at Tashmoo Federal Correction Facility. Narrowly avoiding the death penalty on a technicality, he was sentenced to 340 years in prison with no chance of parole.”

“So he escaped and we’re looking for an older man? Someone in what…their 70s or 80s?” an agent in the front asked.

“No.” Mulder stepped forward. “Officially, Barnett died of cardiac arrest in Tashmoo on September 16th, 1989. His death certificate was signed by the correctional facility's physician, a Dr. Joe Ridley. In a secret experiment illegally using inmates as test subjects, Doctor Ridley discovered a way to reverse the aging process with techniques he’d learned in past research on the disease progeria. Barnett is the only surviving participant of that project.”

The room buzzed with disbelief and side conversations.

“Listen up!” Skinner interrupted. “I know it sounds unlikely, but what Agent Mulder says is true. In 1994, looking like a much younger man — like the man you see up on the monitor — Barnett killed a sales clerk at a jewelry store. He also strangled one of our own, Agent Reggie Perdue. He left notes behind at both scenes, taunting Agent Mulder for his arrest and for testifying against him in court. Mulder shot him in ’94. We were told he died on an ER operating table. Agent Mulder saw him pronounced dead. But clearly, Barnett did not die that day.”

The agents in the room glanced at each other and at Mulder in bewilderment. A few heads wagged, unable to accept the possibility of a man who could regress in years or rise from the dead.

Skinner moved on to the next slide. “Barnett never left behind any fingerprints, fiber, or DNA at the scenes of his crimes. Only handwritten notes. These are from ’94.” Skinner advanced the slides.

Fox can't guard the chicken coop.

A hunted Fox eventually dies.

Funerals for Fox's friends -- then for Fox.

“All three of these notes were confirmed by our handwriting analyst, Agent Christine Henderson,” Skinner continued. “The note that was recovered this morning from the White Hill airport was also confirmed to have been written by John Barnett.”

He showed a slide of the most recent note.

Clever like a Fox, but not clever enough.

Mulder crossed his arms and looked away, plainly annoyed.

“Take a close look, everyone, at the following security video from the White Hill Regional Airport, recorded this morning.” Skinner clicked the remote and started the clip. There was no sound to the recording, so as it played, he explained the contents. “That’s John Barnett. As you can see, he’s standing in front of luggage locker 1458. He used Dana Scully’s cell to make a phone call to Agent Mulder. When Barnett ended the call, he placed the phone and Scully’s smartwatch into the locker, then removed a briefcase. He closed the locker, then turned to look directly at the camera.”

Skinner paused on a frame that showed Barnett smiling, hand raised mid-wave. He looked almost triumphant. “Clearly, he wanted to be identified.”

“It’s part of his game,” Mulder interjected.    

Skinner played the rest of the video, which ended with Barnett walking out of range of the camera, carrying the briefcase with him.

“There’s been no additional contact from Barnett,” Skinner said. “No ransom request. No gloating phone calls like in ’94. But based on his short conversation with Agent Mulder and his possession of Scully’s phone and watch, we believe he’s kidnapped her.”

“Why her?” someone asked. “What’s his motive?”

“To get back at me,” Mulder said. “In the courtroom during his trial, he threatened revenge. He’s kidnapped my wife to make good on that threat.”
“Okay, so how do we catch this guy? Where do we start looking?” the agent asked.

“He’ll contact us,” Mulder predicted. His eyes sparked with anger. His tone was barely-contained outrage. “He’s playing a game, forcing us to play along with him. The next move, unfortunately, is his.”

Skinner didn’t like the idea of waiting around for Barnett to make a move. “In the meantime, we’re reviewing video from the traffic cameras at both ends of the street that runs parallel to the park where Agent Mulder’s daughter said she saw a man pull her mother into a white truck. Maybe we’ll catch a break and get a make and model, possibly a license plate number. The Baltimore PD—”  

Skinner was interrupted when his secretary stepped into the room, walked to the front, and handed him a message. He quickly read it, then announced, “There’s been another murder. Looks like Barnett’s handiwork. 5277 Walnut Avenue, Windsor Heights. Let’s go, people.”


Mulder steered his car onto Walnut Avenue. Agent Somers sat beside him in the passenger seat. The residential neighborhood was lined with two- and three-story craftsmen-style homes, lawns neatly raked, late-autumn flowers still blooming in tidy gardens and window boxes. A few homeowners had already swapped out their Thanksgiving decor for Christmas decorations on their porch steps or front doors.

“5277 is coming up on the right,” Somers said needlessly. Baltimore PD had cruisers parked out front, blue lights flashing, marking the spot like a big neon You-Have-Arrived sign.

As Mulder slowed the car, his phone rang. Skinner’s name appeared on the in-dash monitor.

Mulder answered, “We’re just pulling up to the scene now, sir.”

“I have some information you should know before you go in.”

“About Scully? Please, tell me she’s not the victim.”

“She’s not. But Christine Henderson is.”

“Agent Henderson?”

Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck Barnett! The man was a goddamn monster.

“Bastard's going out of his way to get our attention,” Mulder said through gritted teeth and ended the call. He parked behind the line of cruisers.

“Agent Henderson, the Bureau’s handwriting analyst?” Somers asked, looking puzzled.

Mulder nodded, unable to speak without shouting or swearing or maybe even crying. Henderson had been superb at her job, the best he’d ever worked with. She’d helped him repeatedly over the years, especially with the Barnett case. In addition to admiring her professional expertise, he liked her. She was smart and funny, always needling him with suggestive comments. It was a rare woman who could outdo him when it came to innuendoes; an even rarer one that could make him blush. Henderson did both regularly.

Ten minutes may be enough time for you, Mulder. Of course, I wouldn't know that from personal experience.

“Let’s go.” Mulder exited the car and slammed the door behind him.

He strode quickly to the house, not checking to see if Somers was keeping up. Officers manned the sidewalk outside the perimeter. Mulder held out his badge. They lifted the tape and waved him through.

Detective Ferland met him on the front steps. “I spoke with Deputy Director Skinner a few minutes ago. He said the victim worked for the Bureau. I’m sorry.”

“Where is she?”

“This way.”

Ferland led Mulder and Somers inside, down a central hall to a kitchen at the back of the house. Forensics officers were dusting for fingerprints, checking for trace evidence. A photographer took pictures of the scene. The body lay on the floor, draped with a sheet. The coroner stood nearby quietly dictating notes into his phone.

Mulder knelt beside Henderson’s body and lifted a corner of the sheet to prove to himself it was really her. It was and bile rode up his throat. Damn it, she’d been only a few months away from retiring. Three and a half decades with the Bureau and now she’d never have the chance to enjoy her well-earned golden years.   

“Time of death?” Mulder asked.

“Couple of hours ago, give or take,” the coroner answered. "Looks like she was strangled.”

It certainly did. Bruises shadowed her throat. A small amount of blood caked each nostril. Petechiae dotted her cheeks. This was Scully’s bailiwick, not his, but he’d seen enough strangulations to know what happened here.

Red-hot anger sizzled through him. He wanted to kill Barnett. Strangle him with his bare hands, like Barnett had strangled Henderson. And Reggie Perdue. Mulder wanted revenge for all the killings, for Scully’s abduction, and for treating it all like it was just a game!

Which was exactly how Barnett wanted him to feel, he realized. And that thought made him detest the man even more.

“We found this next to the body.” Ferland passed Mulder an evidence bag with a note inside.
Tallyho! Fox is in my sights.

Tragically, the woman who would’ve ID’ed the handwriting as Barnett’s was lying dead on the floor.

Thanks, Henderson, I owe you one, he’d said to her after she’d identified Barnett’s note all those years ago.  

Promises, promises, she’d said back to him.

He owed her again now. If it hadn’t been for her association with him, she’d still be alive to spend time with her grandkids, enjoy her retirement. Not for the first time, Mulder wished he’d taken that shot in ’88 and killed Barnett then and there. If he had, Agents Steve Wallenberg, Reggie Purdue, and Christine Henderson would all be alive today. And Scully would be at home with Katie instead of being held captive who knew where.


Scully had no way of knowing how long she’d been sitting in the room with the dirt floor. She was still blindfolded, gagged, and tightly bound. Her fingers were numb from lack of circulation. She was thirsty. And she had to pee. It was almost a relief when she heard the jangle of keys followed by a draft of cooler air and the scuff of feet coming toward her.

Her captor cut the zip ties binding her ankles first, then removed her blindfold. She blinked against the light — a flickering fluorescent tube mounted on the ceiling high overhead. The man moved behind her to cut the bindings at her wrists.

Her eyes slowly adjusted. The room came into focus. It was a small space, maybe six by six, with concrete block walls and a tall ceiling. A gallon jug of water sat on the floor near her feet. A 5-gallon plastic bucket, like the type they sell at Big Box hardware stores, stood in one corner, presumably a makeshift toilet. Her captor intended to keep her here for a while.

Blood rushed back into her hands. She fumbled with her gag, managed to pull it down.

“Who are you?” she demanded through dried, cracked lips. Her tongue felt like sandpaper.

He stepped in front of her. Crouched so that she could get a close look at his face.

Jesus, could it be? He looked like John Barnett, the man who took a shot at her in the lobby of a recital hall where she’d played the part of decoy, her first year working with Mulder. But it couldn’t be. Mulder shot Barnett on the stage a few minutes later. Barnett was pronounced dead in the ER. She was there to witness it!

“Surprise.” He chuckled.

“How is it you’re alive?”

“Science. Maybe a little luck.” He stood and took a couple of steps back, keeping himself between her and the open door.

“What do you want?” She eyed the door. Her feet were too numb to rise and bolt past him, her hands too unfeeling to make a fist to fight him. “Where’s my daughter? Have you hurt her? Is she okay?”

“For now.”

Dread knotted her stomach, making her pulse pound. The instinct to protect her child rolled through her like a tsunami. Waves of anger threatened to undo her. “Where is she? If you’ve hurt her in any way, I’ll kill you, I swear!”

“You’re in no position to do anything.” He tilted his head and studied her. “You’ve aged.”

“You haven’t.”

“Thanks to Dr. Ridley.” When he smiled, his teeth reminded her of a predatory animal, menacing and ravenous. “So you and Mulder are married now? You have a kid together?” He scratched his chin with the fingers of his right hand. The skin was smooth. Grafted from a salamander, if what she’d been told was true. “Were you two sleeping together back then? Partners with benefits? I bet you were. You were so fresh-faced and pretty. He was so young and passionate. Thirty years ago. Where has the time gone?”

“What do you want?”

“Same thing I wanted back then. Sell my secrets. Get back at Mulder for sending me to prison.”

“You sent yourself to prison. You’re a murderer.”

“I am a murderer, aren’t I?” His malevolent laugh ricocheted off the concrete walls. “Then and now.”

“Mulder put you away once, he’ll do it again.”

“I don’t think so. That’s why you’re here. To make sure I get what I want. Money. Immunity. Safe haven. Revenge. Not necessarily in that order.”

She was about to object when he slipped out the door and locked it behind him. The light went out, plunging the room into darkness. She listened to his footsteps recede. Waited again for her eyes to adjust. Pins and needles tingled in her fingers and toes. She stood and limped to the door. It had no knob or latch. It fit close to the jamb, its hinges inaccessible from the inside. It was solid, clad with steel. She pushed against it. It didn’t budge. She rammed her shoulder into it. Kicked it. Kicked it again. It remained fixed in place.

She circled the room, fingers trailing across the walls, searching for a weakness in the construction. There was nothing. The ceiling was out of reach, even if she stood on the bucket.

“Damn it!” She had to find a way out.

8:23 PM

“On my way up,” Mulder texted Agent Olivia Sinclair just before exiting his car near the safe house where Katie was waiting for him. Sinclair said Katie had been miserable all afternoon and refused to eat her dinner or bedtime snack. Mulder grabbed a tote from the passenger seat that held some of Katie’s favorite toys, including “Lisa,” the doll he’d given Scully when she was pregnant with William. Last Thanksgiving, it was passed on to Katie, who insisted on sleeping with it every night. Where Katie came up with the doll’s name, he and Scully had no idea. Tucked in the bag with the doll were a couple of Katie’s favorite jigsaw puzzles, a new Lego set, and several story books. Mulder hoped reading to her would help her relax enough to fall asleep.

Mulder followed the sidewalk, his shadow shrinking and growing as he passed beneath a streetlamp, the tote swinging from his left fist. What would he tell Katie when she asked about Scully? How could he present the situation with hope and not fear? He wanted to reduce her anxiety as much as possible to prevent any long-term psychological consequences. He didn’t want her going through deep hypnotic regression with someone like Heitz Werber when she reached adulthood.

Lights burned in the second-story rooms of the safe house where she waited for him. The building was an inconspicuous, three-story apartment complex, vacant when not used by the FBI. Brick-sided with limited ground access, its twelve units offered adequate space that was easy to protect and was located away from areas where innocent civilians lived or congregated.   

He took a deep breath and entered the building. Agent Barrow, a burly, sour-faced man stood guard inside. He checked Mulder’s ID and nodded him through.

Upstairs, Mulder gave the door a rap with his knuckles, then stood back so that Agent Sinclair could see him plainly through the peephole. She soon opened the door and waved him across the threshold.

“She doing okay?” Mulder asked.

“She misses her mom. And you. I’m glad you’re here. It’s been a trying day for her.”

For you, too, he imagined. Katie could be a little charmer when she was happy but an upset 5-year-old was exhausting in the best of times, and these were certainly not the best of times.

“Daddy!” Katie leapt from the couch the moment she spotted him and ran at him as if she were being chased by wolves.

He set down the tote and lifted her into his arms. Her tears started immediately, striping her already blotchy cheeks. He rocked her as she babbled incoherently into his shirt front. “It’s okay,” he soothed. He buried his nose into her dark hair and inhaled her familiar scent. The depth of his love for this little girl seemed immeasurable. He had experienced intense love before, of course: for his parents, his sister, Jackson. His love for Scully, too, was deep-seated and profound. Overwhelming at times. But Katie filled his heart in a different way, a way he never expected or thought possible. And his fierce desire to protect her defined his role as her father.

He carried her across the room, stopping only a moment to close a gap in the drapes. He then sat on the couch and cradled Katie in his arms. To his surprise, she stuck her thumb in her mouth, a habit she’d given up almost three years ago. She gripped his tie with her free hand and snuggled against him.

“I’m going to take a break,” Agent Sinclair said. “Be back in a few.” She let herself out.

Mulder smoothed Katie’s hair until her cries subsided. She released her hold on her thumb. It dropped wetly into her lap.

“Did you find Mommy?” she finally asked.

“Not yet, sweetheart. We’re still looking.”

“Who’s looking?”

“Uncle Walter. Agent Somers. A whole bunch of others.”

“Why can’t you find her?”

“We will. Soon, I hope.”

“I hate that man,” she said.

“The man who took her?”

“Yes. He scares me.”

“You don’t need to be afraid. You’re safe here with Agent Sinclair.”

“I want to go home.”

“I know you do. Me, too. But not tonight.”


He didn’t want to make a promise he couldn’t keep. “As soon as possible.” He stroked her wet, fiery cheek.

“Can you stay with me?” she asked.

“For a little while.”

“No, for tonight!”

“Sorry, honey, I can’t. I need to keep looking for Mommy.” He kissed the crown of her head. “But I can tuck you into bed. Read you a story. And I brought something to keep you company while I’m gone.”

“What?” She sniffled.


“Lisa!” Katie brightened. “Where is she?”

“In the bag.”

Katie scrambled from Mulder’s lap to retrieve the doll. She pulled it excitedly from the tote and hugged it to her chest.

Buoyed by the arrival of her doll, Katie agreed to eat a half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and drink a glass of milk. Mulder cajoled her into brushing her teeth and changing into PJs, but she absolutely refused to go to bed. So he acquiesced and read to her on the couch instead.

She sat nestled against his side with Lisa in her lap, while he recited a story she’d heard dozens, if not hundreds of times before. The repetition seemed to sooth her. When he finished the book, she hugged his arm with all her elfin strength.

“I love you, Daddy,” she said, her cheek pressed hard against his sleeve. He knew she did indeed love him but this declaration sounded desperate. An attempt to keep him from leaving her. She feared losing him, too, and being left on her own. It was a terrible prospect for a child of five.

“I love you, too, sweetheart.” He hoisted her into his lap. “Another story?”

“Yes, please."

She settled in. After two more books, she eventually fell asleep and he carried her into the bedroom and tucked her beneath the covers.

“I’ll be back,” he promised. He kissed her forehead and quietly left the room. Skinner was expecting him back at the office and he was eager to continue the search for Scully.

*       *       *

Slouched low in the driver’s seat, Barnett aimed his camera over the steering wheel and tracked Mulder’s progress from the safe house down the sidewalk to his car. He no longer carried his bag of goodies for the girl.  

Click. Click. Click.

Mulder had been easy to follow from Henderson’s upscale home to his own unremarkable house at Farrs Corner and then out here. Ol’ Foxy must be slipping to have missed being tailed. Not that Barnett hadn’t been careful but Mulder was clearly distracted by other concerns. Love was a man’s greatest weakness, Barnett had heard. Looks like it was true, even for a clever man like Fox Mulder.

As Mulder drove off, Barnett pointed his lens at the windows on the building’s second floor. He adjusted the zoom. The curtains were drawn now, obscuring his view. No matter, he’d gotten a couple of shots earlier of Mulder holding the girl before Mulder pulled the curtains closed. It would be enough to show he knew where Mulder’s little darling was hidden away.

The male agent guarding the front entrance watched Mulder drive away before going back inside.

Click. Click. Click.

Barnett downloaded the photos to a flash drive, then tucked the drive and a note into a small manilla envelope. To Agent Fox Mulder, he scrawled across the envelope. He planned to drop the packet off at the Hoover Building before returning back here. Mulder would take the bait, he was certain. And what a thrill it would be to see Mulder’s reaction when he arrived to find his little girl being held hostage at gunpoint.

Mulder had hesitated to shoot him and risk his hostage the first time around. The second time he’d taken the shot. What would he do this time?

“Try and stop me again, Foxy. I’ve been waiting years to get back at you. The time has finally come.”


Soon after Barnett had left her, Scully located the jug of water and slaked her parched throat, then relieved her near-bursting bladder in the bucket. He’d provided no toilet paper, an indication he cared little about her comfort, only in keeping her alive long enough to negotiate his terms with Mulder and the FBI. Scully dreaded to think what those terms might be, given Barnett’s decades-long animosity toward Mulder.

She prayed Mulder caught him soon. She prayed, too, their daughter was somewhere safe.

A narrow strip of light glowed beneath the door at the threshold — the only illumination in her prison cell. She went to it, got down on her hands and knees, and lowered her eye to the crack. Very little was visible. Just more dirt floor and a few shadows beyond, which could be anything.

She sat up and probed the floor in front of the sill. The surface was compacted and unyielding. She raked it with her nails. A few grains of soil came loose. Could she dig her way out? Remove enough dirt from under the sill to crawl through? Assuming she didn’t encounter concrete or stone.

Her previous survey of the room had turned up no other means of escape. No loose or cracked concrete blocks, no way to reach the ceiling. Digging her way out seemed unrealistic but it might be the only solution. Having nothing to lose and much to gain, she began.

Several minutes of gouging left her nails ragged and her fingers bloody with very little to show for her effort. She needed a tool.

The bucket. Maybe its plastic edge would be sturdy enough to scoop up the hardened earth. She crawled over to it and upended it, spilling its contents across the floor and filling the air with the pungent odor of her urine.  

Back at the door, she tried scraping the ground with the bucket’s sharp edge only to find it too unwieldy and the plastic too pliable. The wire handle kept flipping down and getting in the way. If she could remove the handle, she might be able to use it to chip away at the floor and loosen the soil.

It took some patience and a lot of effort, but she managed to pop the steel handle free. The ends were bent but sharp. She drove one point into the soil. Again. And again. It didn’t penetrate far but it did roughen up the surface. She scooped the small amount of debris away and went at it again, hoping the soil would be less compacted further down. Hoping, too, that Barnett didn’t return and catch her trying to escape.


Mulder sat impatiently beside Somers, facing Skinner’s desk and watching their boss pace. Skinner’s gait would always be a bit unsteady but he’d come a long way since being plowed down by the Smoker’s car and left for dead at the Sugar Factory six years ago. His cane leaned against his desk, abandoned but nearby in case he needed it. Mulder and Somers had just come upstairs from EMU, where the lab guys had scant news to report. Skinner expected an update in any case. Mulder wished he had more evidence in hand. It was just like Barnett to string Mulder along, prolonging his torment.

“What do we know about the hypodermic the PD picked up at the scene?” Skinner asked.

“It contained traces of ketamine and midazolam,” Somers said.

“Two drugs used in combination for procedural sedation in ERs and dentist’s offices.” Mulder wished he was the one pacing. He shifted in his seat, limbs vibrating. His body felt like a conduit of ionized air before a lightning strike. He wanted to be doing something, not just sitting here. “Neither is difficult to come by.”

“Fingerprints?” Skinner asked.


“Did the traffic cameras at the park catch anything useful?” Skinner asked.

“A white pickup heading east. Chevrolet Silverado with a cap, 2014 or ’15,” Somers said. “It had Maryland plates but the numbers were obscured. Task force is checking registrations, following up with the owners. There are more vehicles that fit that description than you’d think.”

“What about the note left at Agent Henderson’s?”

“Ninety percent chance it’s Barnett’s handwriting,” Mulder said. If Henderson were still alive, she would’ve been the one to confirm it. “No prints.”

They had so few leads. Nothing that would get them any closer to finding Scully. The situation was intolerable. Mulder hated waiting for Barnett to make a move, knowing the bastard would up the ante to “get” Mulder as he’d promised all those years ago.

A knock on the door drew their attention.

“Come in,” Skinner called out.

A young agent entered with a manilla envelope.

“What’s this?” Skinner asked.

“Packet addressed to Agent Mulder. Arrived a few minutes ago at the main entrance. Man said it was urgent.” The agent handed the envelope to Mulder.

“It’s from him…from Barnett,” Mulder said, recognizing the handwriting. He tore into it.

“Wait—” Skinner said, too late. “We should check it for trace, for prints.”

“You won’t find either.” Mulder dumped a flash drive into his palm. “Looks like I got the toy surprise.” He checked the envelope for more. “And another of Barnett’s calling cards.” He withdrew a note.

The hunter and the hunted, Fox doesn’t know where to turn, it said. Mulder placed it on Skinner’s desk.

Skinner targeted the messenger who had delivered the envelope. “Have someone check the security cameras, find out who dropped that off,” he ordered.

The agent hurried out.

“What do you suppose is on the drive?” Somers asked.

“Ten to one it’s not vacation photos.” Mulder dug his phone from his pocket. “Got a spare dongle, sir?”

Skinner opened a desk drawer and pawed through it. He handed Mulder a connector cable. Mulder attached it to his phone, then plugged in the drive. He scrolled, opened a folder, and copied the images.

He wasn’t prepared for what he saw. Outwardly, he managed to mask his emotions. Inwardly, he seethed. He’d been on a slow boil ever since Scully was taken. Now he was a volcano about to erupt. “Son of a bitch.”

“What is it?” Somers asked.

“Barnett’s been to the safe house. He has pictures of me leaving. Of Katie and me at a window. Of Agent Barrow out front.” Mulder thrust the phone at him.

Skinner dialed Agent Barrow from his desk phone.

“He’s not answering.”

Immediately Mulder was up and out of his chair and headed for the door.

“Hold it right there,” Skinner warned. “Where the hell do you think you’re going?”

“To my child,” Mulder all but shouted.

“No. That’s exactly what Barnett wants. I’ll send a SWAT team. Agent Somers, you take the lead.”

Somers rose to his feet now, too.

“Agent Somers is welcome to come with me or not, but I’m not staying here twiddling my thumbs while John Barnett threatens Katie.” Mulder didn’t wait for a response. He pushed through the door and sprinted for the elevator.


Drenched with sweat, palms bleeding, Scully hammered away at the ground below the locked door. Nonstop scraping and digging had yielded progress. A significant pile of sand and gravel surrounded her. Below the door jam, she’d excavated a hole deep enough to reach an arm through up to her shoulder. It was nearly big enough to stick her head through.

Gripping the bucket’s metal handle, slick with her blood, became increasingly difficult and painful. She tried her best to ignore the relentless sting. Again and again, she gouged at the earth, then used the bucket to scrape the loosened soil out of her way.

She had to keep going. Had to get out. Katie needed her. Mulder, too. She didn’t want to be Barnett’s bargaining chip, her release the reason he might profit or gain safe passage or return sometime in the future to torment Mulder or threaten their child.  

Fueled by desperation and fierce anger, she continued on. Exhausted but determined.

Inch by inch, the ditch grew deeper and wider. When she reached a depth where the dirt felt less compacted, she dug into it with her nails. Scooped out the soil with her palms. The depression grew into a trench, then finally a tunnel she felt she might be able to squeeze through.

Lying flat on her belly, she thrust her head beneath the jamb. She pushed with her toes and wriggled forward. Her shoulders caught. She backed up and removed her jacket before trying again. She squeezed herself back into the hole. The jamb scraped painfully against the nape of her neck. She floundered. Pressed harder with her toes. Shimmying, she managed to move a few centimeters more. It was enough to relieve the pressure on her shoulders and allow her to snake beneath the door into the outer room.

She was free! Wasting no time, she crossed the cellar to a set of stairs beneath an exterior Bilco door. Please, don’t let it be locked, she prayed before scrambling up the steps. Cobwebs caught in her hair, stuck to her face. She plowed through them. Shoved a shoulder against the low door. Its metal hinges screeched as the rusty door gave way and opened outward. Cool air poured in on her, smelling of fallen leaves and pine sap. She filled her lungs before sprinting across the darkened lawn and into the trees. She had no idea where she was or what direction to take, but she knew she had to put as much distance as possible between her and Barnett's hideaway.


The tires on Mulder’s car squealed as he lurched to a stop, half on the sidewalk, half off, in front of the safe house. Agent Somers rode with him. A SWAT Tier 1 team roared into position behind and around them. Twenty-six members, including the team commander, three team leaders, four snipers, and eighteen operators. Skinner was somewhere among them. He’d insisted on coming along, either in support of Mulder or to keep watch over him.

Somers tossed Mulder a bulletproof vest and growled, “Put it on before you step out of the car.”

“Look at you, getting all bossy.” Mulder grabbed the vest and slipped it on. Velcro crackled as he adjusted the shoulder straps. He bolted from the car. Somers followed.

The SWAT team swarmed the building like hornets around a hive, covering all exits, positioning themselves to put eyes on every window. Weapon drawn, Mulder barreled toward the entrance where a SWAT officer with a battering ram crouched, ready to bludgeon open the door. It turned out a forced entry wasn’t necessary; the door wasn’t locked.

Arms extended, guns and eyes sweeping the shadows, Mulder and Somers led the team inside. Just a half-dozen steps into the unlit lobby, they discovered Agent Barrow dead on the floor. A dime-sized bullet hole between his brows leaked blood. A growing pool glistened on the tile floor beneath his head. Bits of skull and brain painted a nearby wall with spatters of ghoulish pink and gray. His holster was empty. A note lay crumpled on his chest.

A Fox chasing his tail catches nothing.     

“I hate this guy,” Mulder mumbled.

“Lights coming on,” Somers announced before flicking a switch. Fluorescents blinked to life.

Four SWAT operatives headed down the hall, checking doors.

“Stairs,” Mulder said, gesturing upward to Somers. Katie was on the second floor…or was the last time he’d seen her.

Mulder tamped down the urge to take the steps two at a time. Instead, he peered up between the zigzagging railings, his weapon aimed upward, his senses on high alert. The stairwell appeared deserted all the way to the third floor landing. A tilt of his head signaled Somers to cover him. Over the past few months, he’d learned to trust this young agent to watch his back. It hadn’t come easy. Not after so many years with Scully.

He wondered again where Barnett had hidden her, if she was okay.  

He climbed quietly to the second floor landing. Somers followed. Two SWAT officers waited at the base of the stairs, ready to follow on Mulder’s signal. Mulder inched the door open and surveyed the corridor.

It was empty. The lights out. He left them that way rather than alert Barnett to their approach. He signaled the SWAT officers to come up.    
Keeping his back to one wall, Mulder made his way down the hall. He slowed as he neared the apartment where Katie was being kept. The door was open. Light spilled out, casting a golden rectangle across the tile floor. A woman’s hand rested on the threshold, palm up, unmoving.

Mulder edged closer. At the door, he thrust his gun around the frame, swung it in an arc. The movement drew no fire, no response at all. The dead woman at his feet was Agent Olivia Sinclair. Her white blouse was stained crimson. A note lay atop her bloodied breast.

Fox can’t save his vixen or his kit.

Adrenaline rocketed through him, making his heart pound. He could hear his pulse drumming in his ears. He was breathing too fast and tried to consciously slow the rush of air in and out of his lungs.

He crept into the living room. Somers trailed him, then broke away to check the kitchen. The SWAT officers moved in behind them. Mulder headed down the short hall to the bedroom. He passed a bathroom on the way, its door open, the light on. No one was inside. He continued on, gun raised.

The bedroom door was slightly ajar. Mulder prodded it with the barrel of his gun. The hinges creaked ever so slightly as it swung inward. Barnett was there, waiting, sitting on the edge of the bed with Katie perched on his lap. The man had one arm looped loosely around her waist and a pistol pointed at her head. Her eyes were wide with terror. Her lips trembled. Still in pajamas, she hugged her doll tightly to her chest.

“D-daddy?” Katie's voice was a desperate whisper. Shaky and vulnerable.

Mulder blinked at the scene, uncertain what to do. His child…. His aim wavered.

Somers arrived in the bedroom and positioned himself to Mulder's left. The SWAT officers entered, too, and fanned out.

“Now it's a party,” Barnett said, sounding cocky and looking pleased with himself and this horrifying situation. “So what now, Mulder? Play it by the book? Or shoot and risk hitting your dear little daughter?”

Mulder was no stranger to anger and fear. He had carried both on his back for years, a weight that threatened to crush him at times. When Samantha was taken, when Scully went missing, when he learned of his father’s complicity, when William became lost to him. Each of these events tormented him. Each endangered his sanity and his spirit as they also broke his heart. He raised his gun and took aim. He would not allow Barnett to harm Katie. His little girl. Rage fueled his resolve to kill this man who had taken his wife and now held his daughter at gunpoint.

“Let her go!” he demanded.

Barnett tightened his grip on Katie’s waist. “I don’t think so. Not until I get what I want.”

“And what exactly is it you want?”

“To see your face when I pull this trigger.” Barnett moved the barrel of his gun closer to Katie’s temple.

“Don’t! Don’t do it, Barnett.” Mulder adjusted his aim. Katie’s head was too close to Barnett’s to take a shot. She stared straight at Mulder, her tear-filled eyes begging for his help.

At the shooting range, Mulder consistently scored high, hitting his target with predictable accuracy. But shooting at a paper target wasn’t the same as firing point blank into a person, criminal monster or not, especially when a hostage was involved. Even more so when that hostage was a loved one. Maybe Skinner was right and he should’ve stayed away. His presence was fanning the flames of Barnett’s hostility, putting Katie in greater danger.

“You won’t shoot me,” Barnett boasted. “Not with your little girl here. Besides, isn’t it against FBI regulations to unnecessarily endanger the life of a hostage? Just like old times, huh?” He was gloating, reveling in Mulder’s dread.

“I will shoot you.”

“Then you’ll never know where I’ve stashed your pretty wife.”

It was true. If Barnett died before revealing Scully’s whereabouts, she could die a slow, torturous death of starvation or dehydration. There was no way to know her present condition or what lay in store for her.

“Let. My. Daughter. Go.” Mulder’s words ground from clenched jaws. He inched one step closer. “You can’t escape, Barnett. Look at all the manpower in this room. These people don’t care if you live or die.”

“But you do, man,” Barnett sneered. “You need me alive, right? Because I'm the only one who knows where the research is! And where your precious Scully is.” He waggled the gun…so close to Katie. “How about I shoot your kid? Huh? And then you’ll just have to live with the knowledge that you forced my hand, won't you?”

Katie whimpered. Her thumb went to her mouth. Mulder had never seen her look so frightened. No 5-year-old should ever have to feel fear like this.

Mulder lowered his gun. Just a little. There seemed no way to win this standoff.

“How about it, Mulder? Do I get my immunity? Safe passage? Payment for the research?”

A phone buzzed, startling Mulder. It was his. A text alert. He could feel it vibrating in his pocket. He ignored it. Then a second phone buzzed somewhere nearby. The interruption caught Barnett’s attention. His fogged eyes darted from one agent to another. They settled on Agent Somers.

“Go ahead.” Barnett chuckled. “Take a look at it. I can wait.”

Somers glanced at Mulder, who gave him a slight nod to look at the phone. Mulder kept Barnett in his sights while Somers slid his cell from his pocket and quickly read its message.

“Well?” Barnett barked. "What’s important enough to interrupt our little reunion, just as it was starting to get fun?”

Again Somers looked to Mulder. Mulder read surprise, and maybe a bit of optimism, in his eyes.

“What is it?” Mulder asked.

“Scully’s safe.” Somers held up the phone as if to prove it.

Relief coursed through Mulder though he couldn’t be certain if this news would help or hinder this confrontation with Barnett. He widened his stance.

“That changes nothing,” Barnett scoffed. “I’ve still got her.” He gave Katie a shake.

She cried out, one quick “Daddy!” before she lost her grip on her doll. It tumbled from her lap and she leaned down to grab it. It was the opportunity Mulder had been waiting for. He pulled the trigger and fired.

The blast echoed through the small room. The smell of gunpowder filled Mulder’s sinuses. Barnett's eyes widened and glazed over as the bullet drilled through his skull. His body went slack and his arm dropped away from Katie. She screamed, slid from his lap, and ran toward Mulder.

Barnett slumped backward onto the bed. Mulder crouched to catch Katie as she plowed into his embrace. She sobbed, her whole body shaking with her cries. He wrapped his ams around her. Rubbed her back. Was struck anew by her smallness, her vulnerability. He murmured into her hair that everything was going to be okay.

“Paramedics should check her out, Mulder,” Skinner said, limping into the room and coming to stand beside him.

“No. Scully can check her.” Mulder looked up at Somers. “Where is she?”

“Text said Carroll County Sheriff’s Office.”

“Go,” Skinner told Mulder. “We can finish up here.”

“Make sure he’s really dead this time.” Mulder stood, lifting Katie with him. He bent to grab her fallen doll from the floor before carrying her from the room, his thoughts already focused on reuniting her with Scully.


Chief Deputy Hal Irving took Scully’s statement while a paramedic treated the wounds on her hands and the abrasion on the back of her neck. Irving had a round, youthful face and kind gray eyes. As a graduate of the FBI National Academy, he had more than a passing interest in this case. In addition to recording her account on video, he wrote copious notes while she recounted the chronology of events. He went over her story twice. She answered every question as thoroughly as possible. She'd let a photographer take pictures of her injuries. She understood the need for details and accuracy.

They sat across from each other at a table in one of the station’s interrogation rooms. She wore a coat he’d loaned her: a men’s patrol jacket with reflective security ID spelling out SHERIFF on the back and front breast pocket, oversized on her small frame. She was grateful for its warmth as well as its bulk, which helped to hide her quaking limbs. As a doctor, she knew adrenaline redirected blood to her muscles, making them shake. The effect could last up to an hour after the initial rush. She kept reminding herself she was safe now.

But was the same true for Mulder and Katie? Were they safe?

The paramedic packed up his first aid kit. “I know you’re a doctor, so you don’t need instructions on how to care for those injuries. But is there anything else I can do for you, Dr. Scully?”

“No, thank you. I appreciate your help.”

He nodded and left the room, kit in hand.  

When they were alone, Irving said, “If you can think of anything else, feel free to give me a call.” He slid his notes into a file folder. “How are you holding up? Can I get you more water? Something to eat?”

“No, I’m fine.” Scully tried flexing her fingers beneath the bandages. Her shredded palms and fingers burned with fresh pain. She rested them in her lap, noticing for the first time the bloodstains on her jeans, her shirt. Mud caked her knees. Dirt sifted from her hair when she lifted her focus back to Irving. “Have there been any messages from my husband or Agent Somers?”

“Not that I’ve heard, but I'd be happy to check.”

“I'd appreciate it.” Worry weighed on Scully more heavily than the darkness in Barnett’s basement prison. Were Mulder and Katie okay? Where was Barnett?

The door cracked open and a deputy leaned in. “Someone’s here to see Dr. Scully.”

“Thanks, Dale. We’re finished here,” Irving said. “Send them in.”

The deputy nodded, opened the door wider, and stood back to allow the visitor to come through.  

“Mulder!” Scully rose clumsily from the chair as he entered the room with Katie cradled in one arm.

Her relief was short-lived. Mulder looked exhausted. Katie looked shellshocked. Dried tears streaked her child’s reddened cheeks. She clung to her doll by one cloth leg and said nothing.

Scully rushed to them. Mulder kissed her lightly on the lips and passed Katie over. Her baby girl buried her face into her neck.

“I’ll give you some privacy,” Irving said before letting himself out.   

“You okay?” Mulder asked when they were alone, his gaze settling on her bandaged hands.

“I am now.” Scully rocked and nuzzled Katie, so relieved to know she was okay. To think she’d been left alone and afraid in the park… Tears filled Scully’s eyes. “Thank you for keeping her safe, Mulder.”

“I—” Mulder shook his head. Revulsion and self-loathing rippled across his face. He was clearly blaming himself for whatever had taken place.

It was then Scully spotted blood on Katie’s pajamas. Jesus. Panic ballooned in her chest. “Is this blood hers?” She searched Katie for wounds, patting her arms, her legs.

“No. No,” Mulder assured her. “She wasn’t injured.”

“You’re certain? Let me see your face, baby,” she tried to coax Katie but Katie kept her face pressed firmly against Scully’s neck.

“She’s fine,” Mulder reassured her.

“Mulder, what happened?”

“I…I’ll fill you in later.” He pulled her into an embrace with Katie tucked safely between them. “What happened to you?”

“I got away.”

“I can see that. How?”

“Persistence.” It felt so good to be held in his arms. “I was determined to see you and Katie again.”

“Mm, I know the feeling.” He tightened his hold. “Barnett’s dead, by the way.”

“You’re sure this time?”

A humorless laugh chuffed from his lungs. “Well, I wouldn’t bet the family farm on it.”

Mulder’s words from thirty years ago came back to her: Maybe he can get his revenge from beyond the grave but somehow, I feel like we haven't heard the last from John Barnett.

“You finished up here?” he asked now.

She nodded. “Take us home, Mulder.”

6:35 PM

Mulder sat on the floor, his back braced against the couch. He cradled Scully between his upraised knees, his arms wrapped loosely around her chest. They watched Katie, who drew with markers beneath the lit Christmas tree across the room. Her doll Lisa was propped beside her with its own sheet of paper and set of three markers, the colors Katie liked least. Lights winked on the tree. A fire crackled in the wood stove. The scent of balsam fir wafted pleasantly through the air. On the surface, they appeared to be at peace this Yuletide. A picture-perfect family. The truth, however, was a decidedly different story.  

Mulder had found himself constantly on edge since killing Barnett. Two days ago as he was about to leave for work, a bird crashed into the front door window. It startled him so badly, he drew his weapon. In the house! His own damn house! Scully appeared equally alarmed. She reached behind her back, searching for her own weapon although she hadn’t worn a gun in over five years. They’d nervously laughed it off but nothing about their situation was funny.

He reminded himself regularly, it would take time for them to recover. All of them. They’d experienced a terrible trauma, Katie most especially.

The three of them were undergoing TF-CBT — trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy — individually and as a family. Twelve to 16 weekly sessions were supposed to help get them past the worst of their experience and teach him and Scully how to recognize and address any worsening symptoms in Katie. Like problems regulating her emotions and behavior, separation anxiety, and regression from previously-acquired developmental skills. She’d exhibited several of the latter already. She’d wet the bed twice since the incident and was sucking her thumb pretty regularly again. She also had a meltdown every time Mulder left for work. And she wouldn’t let Scully out of her sight. She cried a lot, suffered nightmares, and had become overly clingy and fussy. Her once cheerful and independent spirit had seemingly vanished. Mulder hoped her true self was just hiding somewhere inside her, waiting until it was safe to come out.

The therapists’ advice? Keep her on a regular schedule as much as possible. Talk about the incident if she wanted to. Don’t avoid the subject. Be patient.

He was trying. He missed his carefree little girl.

Although Scully’s hands were healing nicely, the bulky gauze and tape gone, replaced with just a few band-aids, he worried about her emotional state as well. She’d become as fanatical about watching Katie as Katie had become about not wanting to be left alone. Scully kept her always within her line of sight and at arms’ reach. She blamed herself for letting her guard down at the park, allowing herself to be vulnerable.

“I’ve grown rusty since I left the Bureau,” she said now, as if reading his mind. “I allowed my old skills to lapse.”

“You’re not to blame for what happened, to you or to Katie.”

“I don’t know, Mulder. As a trained FBI Agent or as a mother, I should’ve been more vigilant.”

His head wagged in disagreement. “No one could’ve predicted what happened. Barnett back from the grave? After thirty years?”

“Actually, it seems pretty predictable in retrospect.”

“Hindsight, yada yada.” He played with a lock of her hair, twirling it absently around his finger. “If anyone’s at fault, it’s me.”

She twisted to look up at him. “You? Why?”

“I brought Barnett into our lives. He kidnapped you because of me. He took Katie hostage—” The words caught in his throat. It took him a moment to continue and when he did, he dropped his voice to a fierce whisper. “I shot him in front of our daughter!”

She whispered back, “He didn’t give you a choice, Mulder. He would’ve killed her for certain, just to see your reaction.”

“You see? It is my fault. All of it.”  

“No whispering!” Katie interrupted them, not pausing with her drawing. “Dr. Shelly said ‘no secrets.’”

Chagrinned, Mulder cleared his throat. “Right. Sorry.”

“S’okay,” Katie said. She traded a marker with her doll.

“Mulder, I hope you know, I don’t hold you responsible in any way. Barnett was the villain in all this. Everything that happened was his choice, not yours.”

He appreciated her saying that, though he wasn’t sure he would ever agree with her. He’d let Barnett tail him to the safe house. That was on him, even if the rest wasn’t. And it was unforgivable.

Wanting to change the subject, he steered their conversation in a slightly different direction.

“The witness at the park who helped Katie...she described you to the police as a woman in her early 40s.”

A smile played on Scully’s lips. “Does it make me vain to be pleased by that?”

She needn’t worry about that. She was one of the least vain people he knew, though he was aware she occasionally worried about her age.

“Does it make me vain to have people think an old coot like me is somehow attractive to such a younger looking woman?” He gave her a squeeze.

Katie stopped drawing to ask, “Will you tell me a bedtime story?”

“Sure, pipsqueak,” Mulder said.

“A mewdant story?”

Would it give her more nightmares?

“Which mutant story?” he asked.

“The were-lizard! I like Daggoo.”

He nodded. She never seemed to tire of that particular story. And he could easily edit it on the fly, skipping over any scary bits. “Okay, the were-lizard story it is.”

“Yay!” She hopped up, grabbed her doll and her drawing, and came over to them. She handed the drawing to Scully, who held it up so Mulder could study it, too.

“Who are the people in your picture?” Scully asked with gentle curiosity.

Katie pointed. “That’s me. That’s Lisa. That’s you, Mommy. And that’s Daddy.”

Her depiction of Mulder was outsized, compared to the other figures. His head almost disappeared off the top of the page.

“I’m very tall,” he pointed out.  

“That’s cuz you’re the strongest,” Katie said.

This pleased him. He clearly loomed large in the life of his little girl.

“Who are these two?” Mulder asked, pointing to two tiny figures in the lower right corner.

“That’s Uncle Walter. And Agent Somers."

They both carried guns, Mulder noticed, but the drawing was colorful and in many ways hopeful. A big yellow sun filled the upper left corner. It was a definite improvement over the black and red scribbles Katie had been drawing for days, saying they were pictures of the “Mean Man.” Maybe things were looking up.

Katie settled between Scully’s legs and positioned Lisa between her own knees. They sat there in a row like a set of Russian nesting dolls, facing the tree and the pile of brightly wrapped gifts below it.

This wouldn't be the Christmas Mulder had envisioned earlier in the month, no matter how normal he and Scully tried to make it for Katie. But they were together. Safe. They would heal after a fashion…given sufficient time. For that, and for so much more, he was grateful.


(Posted Aug 20, 2023)


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