Residence of Dr. Robert Hartman
Beverly Hills, California
"Jesus H. Marimba," Provenza breathed as he frowned down at the body sprawled on
the pool deck, and then at the serene face on the skull that presumably matched the
body sprawled on the pool deck.
The white-haired detective then glanced irritably up at the young cameraman trained
on his every move.
"Damn it, Buzz," Lt. Provenza growled as he glared at a clearly amused Lt. Flynn five
yards away. "Take two."
"We have to keep rolling -- Chief Pope says," Priority Homicide’s official
documentarian apologized, his eye glued to the viewfinder.
"Like freakin’ MTV. I don’t know why we couldn’t have waited for Tao. I mean…Aw,
crap. The victim -- or victims -- is -- or are -- a male -- or males," Provenza
informed the camera, then sighed in exasperation. "The M.E. hasn’t arrived on the
scene yet, so we haven’t yet been able to, ah, definitively ascertain whether this
body--" he gestured -- "belongs to this head. However, CSU has bagged and tagged
a wallet taken from the, ah, body that contains a California driver’s license belonging
to one Dr. Robert Hartman, who resides at this address. Said license appears to
match the, um, the aforementioned head, but we’ll need the M.E. to verify that the
head belongs to the body."
Flynn, struggling to maintain a deadpan expression, nodded at the body. Provenza
"There appear to be no other wounds on the body, or the head, aside from the body
being decapitated and the head being, um, uh, disembodied?"
Flynn doubled over, shaking silently, face scarlet.
"Cut, dammit!" Provenza snapped.
"Hey, Geraldo," Lt. Flynn wheezed. "I know a good agent, you need one."
"Hey, Flynn, shove it up your…"
"And a good morning to you, Lieutenant." Provenza and Flynn turned in unison as
Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson approached the taped-off
crime scene, trailed by Sgt. Gabriel. The chief eyed the body, then the head. "Oh,
my. And who do we have here, Lt. Flynn?"
"Dr. Robert Hartman. Boob jobs and asslifts." Flynn looked up from his notebook and
registered the tight-lipped expression beneath superior’s sunglasses. "Uh, cosmetic
surgeon, Beverly Hills. Does a lot of celebs, society wives. I think he did the tits on—
"Thank you, Lt. Flynn," Brenda chirped. "Lt. Tao had a chance to go over the scene
"Ah, he’s on a Homeland Security bioterrorism training exercise today, Chief,"
Gabriel murmured. The sergeant had struck the deal that had kept the squad intact
but on periodic loan to DHS.
"Dress slacks, shirt buttoned to the neck." The transplanted Georgian nodded toward
the expansive mansion beyond the Olympic-scaled pool. "Anyone been inside yet,
"Sanchez’s in there with the CSU guys."
The deputy chief squinted at the open patio doors. "Sgt. Gabriel? Thank you,
gentlemen -- carry on."
"Detective Sanchez?" Brenda called as she edged past a tech printing the patio door
handles. Hartman’s den was immaculate, masculine and leathery and lined with thick
volumes. The CSU crew strove not to look up as the infamous head of the Priority
Homicide Squad prowled deeper into the plastic surgeon’s home. "Detective
"Right here, Chief," Sanchez called from the front of the house. Gabriel hustled after
the deputy chief.
They found the compact detective in the marbled foyer, examining the front door
jamb with gloved fingers. "No sign of forced entry, Chief."
"I assumed so, Detective," Brenda murmured, scanning the small room. The foyer
opened both into a spacious living room and a darkly paneled dining room. A broad,
carpeted staircase beckoned to the right of the Olympian dining table. Sanchez and
Gabriel exchanged resigned glances as their boss beelined for the staircase.
Brenda used her pen to lift the tail of a cerulean blue Daniel de Fasson tie draped
over the newel post. "Must’ve just came home – barely had time to get his tie off."
"Maybe the killer was waiting for him to get home," Gabriel suggested. "Doc invited
him in, they went out to the pool, had a fight…"
"And the killer pulled out his handy machete and sliced his head off?" Sanchez
Brenda turned and peered into the dining room. A pair of French doors lie beyond
the table, and she spotted brick and stainless steel beyond the doors.
"Or," Brenda breathed, striding past the staircase, "or the killer came around the
back way." She threw open the French doors. "This is one of those, oh,
"Grilling patio," Gabriel murmured, admiring a gleaming commercial barbecue and
the arsenal of grilling tools hanging beside it. "My uncle, the dentist, he has one of
these. Not nearly as nice as this, though."
Brenda stepped out onto the flagstones and slapped the high brick wall surrounding
them. "Nice private place to meet somebody, you don’t want the neighbors to see."
"What?" Gabriel called over a growing mechanical roar.
"I said—" Brenda stopped, eyes widening. "What’s that sound, Sergeant?"
"Sounds like a mower," Gabriel half-shouted.
"A lawn mower, Chief. I think it’s a lawn mower. Maybe next door."
Brenda rushed back through the house. Sgt. Gabriel shrugged as Sanchez looked up,
and gave pursuit.
"Sir!" Brenda called as she stumbled over the immaculately tonsured turf next door.
"I need to talk to you!" The landscaper, hardwired into an iPod, looked up briefly,
then returned to his mowing.
Brenda stepped up her pace. "Sir, stop that! This is a police investigation! Y’all have
to stop that!"
The compact, mustachioed man continued to plow a shallow furrow in the emerald
"Pare que, o voy a tirar su culo en la cárcel!" Sanchez shouted behind Brenda.
The man slowed, looked around, but did not stop. "El jefe dice que hay que hacer
hoy!" he grunted loudly.
"‘The boss says I have to do it today.’"
"Lord," Brenda gasped as the phrase simultaneously translated itself. Then she
jumped again as she detected the black-suited stranger behind her shoulder.
Sanchez gave chase. "Hey! No me importa. Se trata de una investigación de
"‘I don’t care. This is a murder investigation,’" the helpful interpreter provided.
Brenda edged away from him.
vast expanse of unshorn grass.
"‘It is not my concern,’" the stranger murmured into Brenda’s ear. She batted at
"Excuse me," she snapped. "Who would you happen to be?"
"Si yo llamo de INS, sera!"
The mower halted and its operator disengaged the engine.
"Special Agent Fox Mulder, FBI," the newcomer supplied. "Your guy said it will be his
concern if he calls the INS--"
"INS, yes, I got that," Brenda said through her teeth. She beamed at the young
Latino cop. "Thank you, Detective Sanchez." The smile vanished as she returned to
Mulder. "Agent, while I truly do appreciate your spirit of interagency cooperation, I
can assure you that I am quite fluent in Spanish. Now, may I ask why you’re
tromping all over my crime scene?"
Mulder grinned, jerking his head toward the house next door. "I thought the crime
scene was over there. I mean, that’s where your men currently are swapping
headless guy puns with the CSU techs."
Brenda’s eyes narrowed as her lips twisted into a forced smile. "Sgt. Gabriel, could
you please remind Lts. Provenza and Flynn that this is a high-profile murder
investigation, and that the media and especially Asst. Chief Pope may not share their
sparkling re-par-tay? Thank you, Sergeant. Detective Sanchez, could you please ask
Sanchez nodded stolidly.
Brenda turned to the gardener, who stood by with bored anticipation. "Un momento,
por favor?" The man shrugged. Brenda nodded curtly.
"Now, Agent Mulder, you were about to tell me about your jurisdictional interest in
"We -- my partner, Agent Scully and I -- believe your victim to be the suspect in a
series of fairly grisly murders about 12 years ago, in Chicago. The suspected
murderer, Dr. Jack Franklyn, also was a cosmetic surgeon."
Brenda frowned. "And you’re telling me this man came to L.A. and eventually put out
a shingle as one of Hollywood’s highest-profiled nip-and-tuck specialists?"
Mulder paused. "The Chicago case dead-ended, well, based on some fairly compelling
"Evidence of what, Agent?"
"Evidence of our chief suspect‘s demise," Mulder said hastily. He turned. "By the
way, barn door’s open."
The landscaper’s eyes and right hand moved immediately to his jeans. His fingers
froze, and the dark brown eyes rose guiltily.
Brenda glanced appraisingly at Mulder, then smiled sweetly at the lawnmower man.
"Well, it appears as though we have conquered a major cultural barrier here."
"OK, OK," the man sighed with a Latin-tinged California accent. "My name is Rey
Menendez. I heard what happened to that man next door, an’ I guess I didn’t wanna
get messed up in it. I was born East L.A., but I got cousins, comprende?"
"I do, sir, and I see no need to delve into your family affairs," Brenda said softly.
"But we do have a murder investigation here, and anything you can tell us would be
"In other words," Sanchez rumbled, "the sooner you talk, the sooner you walk.
"Si, yes," the gardener nodded somberly. "I was getting my mower off the truck --
like I said, the owner here, he’s having some kinda party out here tomorrow. Well, I
hear this yelling from next door -- the dead man, he’s fighting with this chica--"
"Latino?" Sanchez demanded.
"No, man, blonde babe, muy caliente, you know? She had these wraparound shades,
but I know I seen her before, like at the movies. But around here, that ain’t no big
"Yes," Brenda murmured troublingly.
Priority Homicide Squad
Los Angeles Police Department
Park Center, Los Angeles
"Shit, shit, shit," Erin Linscott sobbed, a pinkie perched under her lower lid to
prevent disfiguring liner leakage. The actress beamed tearful gratitude as Sgt.
Gabriel nudged the box of Kleenex across the interview table. "I told Bobby he
needed to hire some security, a little muscle. He was in US just last week."
Brenda perked. "Excuse me."
"The magazine. It was a huge spread, all about how many careers Bobby’s saved
while he does all that work with burned kids." The pinkie trapped a small, salty
reservoir -- the two-time Golden Globe nominee quickly swabbed it away. Brenda
noticed the artful curve of her button nose -- a curve that hadn’t existed when
Linscott had filmed Sophomore Summer seven years ago. Her chest also had gained
breadth and definition since that classic had been released. Brenda took a flyer ar
how she and "Bobby" had met.
"I’m sure he was just a fine man," Brenda murmured sympathetically. Will -- Chief
Pope -- had given her the speech about the sensitivity of Dr. Hartman’s homicide and
its implications for Hartman’s largely A List clients.
"Thanks -- he was," Linscott said, sniffling. She smiled poignantly -- the signature
smile that had branded her "the Julia Roberts for a new generation" and catapulted
her beyond Meg Ryan’s aging charms. "You’re a very nice lady, not what I would
have expected from a cop."
"Why, thank you," Brenda beamed, dripping magnolias.
"With that voice and bod, you could get into movies, or at least TV. Shit, half the
girls I know would kill for those lips. Collagen?"
"They are my own," Brenda cooed.
"Wow. If you just had a little work done on--" Linscott halted, looking away from the
center of Brenda’s face. The deputy chief absently touched the tip of her nose, and
Brenda imagined she could hear Flynn’s laughter from the Tech Room, where several
of the squad were watching the interview with Hartman’s bereaved girlfriend. Gabriel
bit his cheek, while Mulder, behind Linscott’s shoulder at Will’s insistence, appeared
oblivious to the exchange. Linscott’s attorney sat stoically, like an Armani-draped
Brenda’s smile faltered. "So, ah, Ms. Linscott? When did you last see Dr. Hartman?"
The starlet paled. "Two nights ago -- we went to a premiere, Jake Gyllenhaal’s new
thing, then Lucques on Melrose."
"Then back to Dr. Hartman’s place?" Brenda inquired casually. The attorney came to
life, and she raised a hand. "I don’t mean to be intrusive -- it’s just the doctor’s
cleaning woman was in yesterday, and we’ll want to eliminate any prints of friends or
acquaintances we find in his home."
Surprisingly, Linscott was smiling coyly. "You don’t read the trades or the tabs, do
"I’m usually pretty busy," Brenda flustered, not wanting to sound elitist.
"Uh, Chief, Ms. Linscott’s straight-edge," Sgt. Gabriel said.
"No booze, no tobacco, no drugs -- not even coffee," Agent Mulder interjected. "And
absolutely no sex. Straight edge started in the hardcore punk culture in the ‘80s --
it’s been revived by alternative rockers and entertainers into the organic/natural
Linscott grimaced. "You make it sound like a cult, like Scientology or something. Oh,
Jesus, don’t tell anybody I said that, or I’d never work with Cruise or Travolta or
diCaprio again. Not that I have, actually. My mother -- she used to manage me --
told me sex would ‘drain my focus’ on the set, and then I started hanging out with
"All right," Brenda interrupted, glaring balefully at Mulder. "So you claim not to have
been on Dr. Hartman’s premises since two nights ago."
"I’ve been busy -- we’re shooting an indie, great story about lesbian colonists in New
England who were tried as witches. Real Oscar stuff."
"Reason I ask," Brenda persisted, "is we have a witness who claims to have seen a
woman matching your description engaged in animated discussion with Dr. Hartman
shortly before his decapitated body was discovered by a neighbor."
Linscott gasped. The attorney clasped her arm.
"This interview is concluded," he purred. "I will note your insensitive and derogatory
manner with your superiors."
"How sweet," Brenda smiled. The attorney gathered his case and his client and
exited with well-crafted dignity.
"She seemed surprised," Sgt. Gabriel suggested a beat later.
"She’s an actress, Sergeant," Brenda retorted.
"You don’t get out to the movies much, do you, Deputy Chief?" Mulder asked,
grinning. Brenda spun on him.
"You know, Agent, you never did explain to me just how an apparently deceased
suspect could remain a viable suspect? I’ve had some small experience in forensic
pathology, and that just doesn’t seem to track. Would you care to amplify?"
Mulder sighed and perched on the edge of the interview table. "Agents Scully and I
investigated the murder of a patient at the cosmetic surgery unit of Greenwood
Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The murder was particularly gruesome -- the patient’s
physician used a liposuction wand to extract much of the victim’s internal organs."
"My God," Brenda whispered. "And this was Dr. Hartman? This Dr. Franklyn you
"No," Mulder drawled. "An associate of Dr. Franklyn’s, a Dr. Lloyd."
"I’m afraid I don’t understand…"
"The lipo-cide was the first in a series of deaths that occurred at the hospital, Several
of these deaths occurred under highly unusual, improbable circumstances. Agent
Scully and I managed to intercede in the last murder attempt. A set of surgical
instruments was found in the intestinal tract of the intended victim. Our investigation
revealed several of the doctors in her unit were involved in ritualistic practices. The
black arts, to be precise."
Brenda’s jaw dropped. "What are you trying to tell me, Agent Mulder? That Dr.
Hartman is some kind of cult leader or warlock or something."
"Actually, a male witch is still called a witch, not a warlock--"
"Thank you for the comparative religions class, Agent Mulder." Brenda murmured.
"And you believe our victim is this witch doctor Franklyn?"
"There’ve been a couple of strange murders in Southern California over the last few
months -- murders with vaguely medical overtones and with links to Dr. Hartman’s
practice. And Dr. Hartman’s arrival in Los Angeles coincides roughly with Dr.
Franklyn’s abrupt disappearance in Chicago."
Brenda nodded, her expression incredulous, and turned. "Sgt. Gabriel, find out if
Det. Daniels has managed to locate the deceased’s partner, Dr. Callan?"
Mulder adjusted his rump uncomfortably. "Ah, Deputy Chief?"
"Yes?" The single word was imbued with simultaneous dread and menace.
"My partner, Agent Scully, managed to run down Dr. Callan at L.A. Memorial right
before Ms. Linscott got here. She’s already headed over."
Brenda was silent for a moment, before her eyes turned glacial and a copperhead
smile spread across her features. "Well, Agent Mulder. I appreciate your wanting to
save us the inconvenience of chasing all over town after Dr. Callan. But we have an
active, local homicide here -- not some. . .some witch hunt. So if you’d like to try
another end run around my squad, we’ll see what you’re A.D. thinks of your little
fairy tale. Have I made myself clear, Agent Mulder?"
He swallowed. "Yes, ma’am."
The copperhead smile vanished. "Excellent. You don’t mind if Sgt. Gabriel drives, do
Los Angeles Memorial Hospital
The FBI’s end run had been blocked at the gate: They found Agent Scully -- a small,
ultra-serious counterpoint to Mulder’s flaky persona -- checking her phone mail in
the L.A. Memorial burn ward waiting area. Scully pocketed the phone as her partner
approached, cops in tow.
"Skin grafts," she sighed. "He’s been in there the last two hours."
Mulder blinked. "I guess everyone grieves in their own way."
"It’s actually fairly admirable," Scully suggested. "Callan’s colleagues say he was
pretty broken up about Hartman’s murder, but insisted on operating on the kid in
there. I guess Callan did most of the pro bono surgery for the partnership. Hartman
loved the Hollywood scene. Weird -- if it is him, you wouldn’t think he’d want to
maintain such a high profile."
Scully’s observation was designed to discourage, but Mulder wasn’t so easily
daunted. "He’s demonstrated his arrogance and ego to us. Given his ‘abilities,’ I’m
sure he feels a growing omnipotence. Flaunting his power and success is probably a
big part of his trip."
"What abilities?" Brenda inquired. Mulder spun. "See? Pretty unnerving, isn’t it? What
"It’s complicated," Scully began.
Brenda squinted and rubbed her temples. "Well, gimme a try. I finished high school,
"As well as graduating Langley and passing the Atlanta and D.C. police exams,"
Mulder grinned. "We’re not being condescending -- this is just a very convoluted
case with some unorthodox dimensions."
"Yes." Brenda stretched the word by a syllable. "You mentioned that Dr. Hartman
was a witch."
Scully exhaled loudly. "That was an oversimplification," Mulder said. "Based on the
circumstances of the Chicago murders and certain, ah, symbols we found on the
hospital premises, we believe Hartman, AKA Franklyn, was a black magician. A very
adept practitioner of the dark arts."
Brenda listened silently, then smiled and nodded. "Now there -- was that so difficult?
I’ll simply ask Sgt. Gabriel here to deputize David Copperfield, and we’ll have this
whole thing wrapped up by suppertime."
Sgt. Gabriel tapped his boss’ shoulder. "I think the operation’s over, Chief."
A distinguished, if homely, man in scrubs emerged as the double doors of the
surgery suite whooshed open. Brenda adjusted her purse on her shoulder and edged
past Mulder and Scully.
"Good job, Mulder," Scully breathed.
"Dr. Callan?" Brenda called, her heels clicking on the gleaming hospital tile.
Darrel Callan looked up blearily. "I assume you’re the police, about Bob."
"Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson," she announced briskly.
"How’d the operation go?" Gabriel asked quickly. Caulking the gaps in his chief’s
interpersonal skills set had become an important duty as otherwise assigned.
Callan glanced back. "According to form. That’s the easy part -- now, we have to see
if the grafts take. And any 10-year-old who’s sustained this kind of trauma is looking
forward to decades of counseling."
"Speaking of trauma," Brenda interjected gently, "I’m sure you’ve been informed of
the extreme circumstances of your partner’s death."
Callan nodded. "I’ve been in surgery since about 11 or so, but your Detective Flynn
notified our office nurse, and she text-ed me."
"Yes," Mulder said. "We’ve been trying to reach you."
The plastic surgeon straightened with a severe smile. "Agent, let me tell you
something about the medical profession. We see death on a daily basis -- maybe not
in my practice, but here, in the trenches -- and we soon learn that if death isn’t final,
it is at least irrevocable. Now, that boy in there has been waiting in intense, nearly
untreatable pain for some glimmer of hope. He and his parents. Bob, sadly, is
beyond pain. Triage, people -- that’s what it’s about."
"I hear you do a lot of pro bono work, Doctor," Scully said.
Callan glanced at the redhead. "Dr. Hartman is -- was -- an accomplished aesthetic
surgeon. He accomplished sheer magic with a scalpel -- his work was as seamless as
God’s own. I’m no slouch myself, but I have an aptitude perhaps better suited to the
clinical setting. Bob and I are blessed with the resources, the wherewithal, to offer
our skills to those who most acutely need them."
"Your skills, don’t you mean?" Brenda asked sweetly. "What I hear, Dr. Hartman was
more accustomed to the club scene than the burn ward."
Callan nodded knowingly. "OK, I see where this is going. Look, Bob was the big
moneymaker for the practice -- Bob. Let me tell you up front -- with Bob’s death,
yes, I inherit controlling interest in the practice. But not Bob’s skills or reputation.
Less revenue, less pro bono. Besides, Detective Flynn said Bob’s death was violent,
as you characterized it, extreme. A crime of passion, it would seem. I know of only
one person who elicited much passion in Bob."
"I doubt that New Age wraith would have had the strength or stomach to do what
was done to Bob. However, wherever there’s a hot young Hollywood starlet, there’s
usually some young piece of beefcake driven by testosterone and temperament. You
might look there. Now, I want to start making arrangements for Bob’s internment. If
you have any further questions, I’m confident my attorney can address them."
"Thank you," Brenda told Callan’s back as he headed resolutely down the corridor.
"He makes a good point," Sgt. Gabriel conceded. "Hartman’s the one in the tabloids,
the one on Entertainment Tonight."
"And the one with a partner who’s more interested in healing scarred kids than
realigning the noses of the rich and famous," Mulder suggested. "As commendable as
Callan’s altruism is, it has to be a drain on the practice’s ‘resources.’"
"Hartman was ready to give Callan the old heave-ho," Brenda murmured, tasting the
idea. "Callan does a pre-emptive strike, makes it look like a crime passionel. Or he
goes to Hartman’s to save his skin, so to speak, and tempers flare. Sergeant, we
need to see if Hartman had the clout to cut Callan loose."
"Could’ve been a hit, too," Sgt. Gabriel offered. "The assistant M.E. at the scene said
Hartman may have been beheaded with a single blow. Sounds like a pro trying to
look like a meth head gone wild."
"Superhuman, almost supernatural strength," Mulder noted.
Brenda regarded the agent with disbelief, then turned on her heel. "C’mon, Darren.
I’ll give you a ride back to the sstation on my broom."
"Uh, oh," Special Agent "Fritz" Howard breathed as he pulled his key from the front
door and the scent of herbs and rich gravy hit his trained nostrils. He lowered his
briefcase and peered into the dining nook. The glow of candles illuminated the aged
wood of the table.
"Oh, boy," he sighed.
"Hi, there, Fritzie," Brenda beamed as she emerged from the kitchen with a steaming
casserole. She was wearing an apron over the only dress Fritz had ever given a
nickname -- an unspeakable nickname.
Now, he was truly frightened.
Brenda crooked an arm around his neck and pulled him down for a kiss that might
have brought life back to the dead. The deputy chief leaned back, sighed
contentedly. "How was your day, Baby?"
"OK," Fritz said, extracting himself. "What’s up?"
Brenda blinked. "Fritz, whatever do you mean?"
"What do you have? Rachel Ray hidden in the kitchen? You’re wearing your fu--,
your hey sailor dress, and you’re pouring on the Steel Magnolias routine a little
thicker than usual."
Brenda’s nostrils flared. Then she composed herself with an injured smile. "I just
thought you might enjoy a little spoiling tonight, a little special treatment."
Fritz smiled. "Brenda. C’mon."
She stared at her fiancé for a moment and frowned. "Oh, all right. You have pretty
good pull with the L.A. field office, don’t you?"
"I guess. Wait a minute. Is this about that Mulder guy you asked me to check out?"
"He is absolutely, totally certifiable," Brenda pleaded. "You have to do something,
"Wow, this guy must be a real flake, if you’re--"
Brenda’s nostrils returned to full aperture. "And just what is that supposed to
Fritz backpedaled. "Hey. All I’m saying is, you’re a big girl -- I mean, you have a
very strong force of will. Very.
"You are not helping yourself," Brenda said through her teeth.
"Look, I’m not questioning your take on Mulder. He definitely seems a few grains
short of a bowl. He and his partner, who seems solid enough, are basically their own
two-person department within the Bureau. The X-Files, whatever that means. I
couldn’t find out much, but apparently, they investigate freaky stuff -- paranormal
occurrences, crimes with some kind of scientific angle, supposed ritualistic or
"Oh, my God."
"He’s also one of the FBI’s top profilers -- he’s cleared dozens of serial cases. He
might actually be useful. At the very least, he seems to be harmless -- a slightly
obsessive goofball. And Mulder doesn’t seem to care much for authority -- you give
him a chance, and you two actually might hit it off."
Brenda’s lips tightened. "So you don’t intend to help me."
"You don’t need help -- at least in the professional sense. Wait. Scratch that. C’mon,
Brenda, where you going?"
Brenda stopped ion the bedroom doorway. "Gonna get this damned dress off. It’s
killin’ me, and you sure as hell ain’t gonna get the opportunity."
Residence of Dr. Robert Hartman
"You weren’t in yet, and he said it was real important," Provenza explained as
Brenda strode purposefully up the late Robert Hartman’s paved drive, Sgt. Gabriel
again in tow.
"I told y’all I had a dental appointment," the deputy chief huffed, brushing past the
white-haired detective. She sailed through the open front door. "Agent Mulder?
Agent Mulder! Where the hell are you?"
"In here -- the kitchen."
"Criminy dutch," Brenda muttered as she stalked through the luxurious home. She
found the agent poring with gloved fingers through a series of bottles lined up on a
marble prep table. Scully was comparing bottles with a book spread open on the
counter. Mulder looked up.
"Chief Johnson," the agent grinned. "There’s something I wanted you to see."
"Y’all going to fix me breakfast?"
Mulder chuckled and plucked a bottle from the table and jiggled its chopped yellow
"Basil." Brenda paused. "I thought basil was green."
"Goldenseal. It’s most commonly used to make yellow or orange dye, but it’s also
celebrated in some circles as an herb used for healing and to attract money."
"That’s fascinating," Brenda drawled.
"So far, Dr. Hartman’s spice cabinet appears to contain goldenseal, alder bark,
patchouli, myrrh, and what’s the rosemary, Scully?"
"It would appear to be blessed thistle," his partner reported dispassionately.
"Great for hex breaking," Mulder told the deputy chief. "All these herbs and
botanicals are used by neopaganists and other practitioners of the dark arts. And get
Brenda followed Mulder to the breakfast nook, where he indicated a large wooden
bowl full of white crystals.
"Salt?" Brenda queried. "So the good doctor had a thing for margaritas."
"Coarse salt. It’s a little less conspicuous than an altar pentacle for cleaning tools
and other mystical knick-knacks."
"I’m partial to anchovies on my pizza," Brenda responded dryly. "Different strokes."
Mulder sighed, shaking his head. "Scully, keep inventorying. Chief, would you
accompany me to the dining room?"
"Do I have any choice?"
Mulder stopped before an antique sideboard. A large black platter trimmed in gold
hung above the piece. The agent peered at his reflection in the platter, brushing a
lock from his forehead.
"Pretty," Brenda said, tersely.
"And functional, if you’re a functioning sorcerer. See that pattern at noon, 3, 6, and
9? The circle flanked by two crescents. That’s the Lunar Triple Goddess, which
represents the three aspects of the moon -- waxing, waning, and full. Another
common neopagan symbol. This is a black mirror -- what’s called a scrying object.
You look into it, and eventually, an image appears that can be viewed directly or its
meaning interpreted by a trained practitioner. I could go on and on, but the fact is,
this house is full of subtly hidden manifestations of pagan belief and practice.
Brenda was silent for a moment. "Obviously, Agent Mulder, you haven’t been in L.A.
nearly long enough."
"If Dr. Hartman were a run-of-the-mill Hollywood whack job, you think he’d go this
far to hide it? I thought whackjobbery was kind of a badge of honor out here."
"I’m beginning to think so," Brenda mumbled.
"The point is, isn’t it straining coincidence that Dr. Hartman follows the same pagan
practices Dr. Franklyn employed to commit several murders?"
"You’ll have to pardon me, Agent Mulder, but I’m still at something of a loss about
the specific circumstances of your Chicago homicides. And what led you to Dr.
Mulder paused. "Well, as I told you earlier, you’ve had a couple of suspicious area
deaths. The teenager in Encino who was found in a ditch without his kidneys?"
"Satanists," Brenda suggested, not mentioning the crucial fact that the boy’s body
revealed no incisions or scars.
"What about that woman in Belair? The realtor who went in for an appendectomy
and who wound up with a lungful of locusts?"
Brenda formulated a response, then reconsidered and formulated three more.
Finally, she slung her bag over her shoulder.
"I have some real police work to do, Agent Mulder," she stammered, bumping into a
dining room chair. "I’ll leave you and Agent Buffy to pursue these ‘leads.’"
Mulder stood with mute amusement as Brenda barked a series of orders at her
underlings. The mansion’s front door clattered.
"Hey, Scully," he called into the kitchen. "Chief Johnson just gave me a great idea for
a new role-playing game…"
Priority Homicide Squad
Los Angeles Police Department
Park Center, Los Angeles
"All right, what’ve we got?" snapped Brenda, who was flanked by a long double white
board painstakingly filled with photos, documents, and sticky notes outlining
timetables and trivia about all the persona involved in the life and untimely death of
Dr. Robert Hartman.
The deputy chief had returned to Parker Center under a black cloud, and her
detectives came to rapid attention as she entered the squadroom. Now, the
members of the LAPD’s crack Priority Homicide Squad glanced uneasily at each
"Um," Lt. Flynn finally articulated. "Turns out the good doctor had a gambling jones.
Haunted the poker parlors every Thursday night."
Brenda was intrigued. "Was he in deep?"
"Actually, Chief, he’d been warned off at a couple of joints. They couldn’t prove
anything, but he cleaned up on every table he played."
"Maybe his sportsmanship came into question," Brenda muttered. "Check to see if
there’ve been any particularly disgruntled playmates. Lt. Provenza? Any unhappy
Provenza, who’d volunteered to take the list of starlets, debutantes, and models,
pushed his bag of Fritos aside. "You’da thought this guy was Dr. Schweitzer orsomething. A medical miracle worker, according to the brain trust. Gotta say, he
sure does some fine work…"
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Brenda sang. "Detective Daniels, any leads on the angry ex
The young detective consulted her notes. "Linscott dated that Australian action guy,
Troy Patersen, for a while last year, but things just kind of fizzled out, and he’s with
some British supermodel now. A few other guys, but everybody checks out for the
time of the murder."
"Lt. Tao? What did Dr. Morales come up with?"
Tao’s glasses fell onto his nose as he rose for his customary discourse. "As the M.E.
thought, cause of death was a simultaneously severing of the carotid and jugular
arteries. One clean stroke with what appears to be a single-edged, rough-edged
"No -- it would appear the blade was recently sharpened, but not professionally. The
wound itself contained traces of dirt and chlorophyll. Now, the lab hasn’t processed
any of the blood found near the body yet, but…"
"Just a second, please."
The squad looked up as one. Mulder was framed in the squadroom doorway, arms
crossed, wearing a frown.
"Lt. Tao, right? Did you say chlorophyll?"
Tao looked to Brenda. The deputy chief nodded curtly, in resignation.
"Yes, um, the wound contained traces of chlorophyll, as well as metal particles," Tao
explained. "The particles were only a few microns—"
"Particles?" Mulder queried.
"Yes. Particles. Traces."
"Traces?" Mulder murmured.
"Traces, yeah. I dunno. Like filings, I guess?"
"Agent Mulder," Brenda implored. "Before poor Detective Tao exhausts the entire
Roget’s Thesaurus, could I please ask why these, these…filings…are such a source of
fascination for you?"
"Filings and chlorophyll," Mulder amended.
"Of course, chlorophyll," Deputy Chief Johnson breathed. "Chlorophyll and metal
filings." Brenda froze; her eyes widened as she bit her lips. "Oh, my goodness. Lt.
Flynn’s mug stopped halfway to his mouth. "Chief?"
"I need you to secure the lawn next door to the Hartman house."
The lieutenant frowned. "The lawn? Wait a minute. The lawn next to the victim’s
"The lawn, Lieutenant, the lawn. I need you to put up a perimeter around the entire
lot. Nobody else gets in." Brenda looked up at Flynn. "Lieutenant, shoo. Shoo now.
And take Detective Tao with you. I want you to check for blood, skin, whatever,
behind the neighbor’s house."
Tao’s glasses dropped from his forehead onto his nose. "You know how big that lawn
"Detective Tao, all I need you to do is test a patch about 20 feet long and, oh,
maybe six feet wide." Brenda pivoted toward Provenza, who glanced guiltily up from
his Far Side desk calendar – his 2005 Far Side desk calendar. "Lt. Provenza, I need
you to locate the landscaping service that was, uh, servicing the Hartman home at
the time of the murder. Though I don’t hold out a lot of hope that you will. I’m
guessing our landscaper has gone to ground, you should pardon the pun. Well, get
dialin’, Lt. Provenza, please. Time’s wasting."
"Ok, whoa" Sgt. Gabriel blinked. "I’m lost. Totally. You think the lawnmower guy
"Heat of the moment?" Mulder suggested. "An impulse kill? If so, he was pretty quick
on his feet."
"Chief," Detective Daniels demanded.
Brenda ran a hand through her hair. "Rey Menendez or whatever his name turns out
to be must’ve been staking out, or stalking Dr. Hartman, but Dr. Hartman caught on,
"Must’ve had a replacement mower blade handy," Mulder explained. "Just sharpened,
thus the filings. Used blade, thus the chlorophyll. Like a machete."
"But with the cops working the protest down the block, he couldn’t risk making a
hasty exit," Daniels contributed. "So he decided to stay at the scene and bluff it out.
There’s always a lawn service working somewhere out there."
It dawned on Sgt. Gabriel. "So you’re saying he put the murder weapon on his
"And ditched the evidence in full view of the LAPD," Brenda fretted. "Yes, I suppose
that’s what I’m saying, Sergeant."
"Don’t feel bad," Mulder commiserated. "I should’ve suspected something was up
when ‘Menendez’ was so worried about us siccing the INS on him. If he was a real
illegal, he’d probably have known Immigration and Naturalization had become
Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, ICE. We all kind of dropped the ball, Chief."
Brenda smiled sourly and crooked her head coquettishly. "Well, thank you -- that is
sooo sweet, Agent Mulder. C’mon, Sgt. Gabriel, let’s roll."
Residence of Yves Faison
"You hear me just fine," the indignant landscaper snapped. "Not your grass. Mine."
Yuki Matsuhari, CEO and president of Beverly Gardens Landscape (indeed the firm’s
sole executive officer), had ignored the LAPD crime scene perimeter next door and
had proceeded to buzz (and mulch) the crucial turf. This time, no interpreter had
been necessary -- the sight of Flynn and Tao charging across the lawn, arms flailing,
had struck a universal chord with the homeowner’s regular landscaper.
Lt. Flynn stepped toward Matsuhari, who grasped the handle of his mower
territorially. "Listen, buddy…"
"Lieutenant, if I may," Brenda Leigh cooed. "Sir, I’m sure you would want to
cooperate with the Los Angeles Police Department. That…grass…in your possession
may be evidence in a murder case."
Matsuhari crossed his arms. "Compost. My tomatoes. My grass. Mr. Faison say I can
take away. Good organic content -- I fertilize myself."
"Jesus," Flynn breathed as Brenda tried to avoid the potential implications of the
gardener’s proud revelation. She raised a calming hand and bolstered her smile.
"Mr. Matsuhari, I regret to inform you that the gentleman next door was murdered."
Matsuhari’s brow rose. "No shit?"
"No sh--…I mean, no, sir. We’re currently investigating the poor man’s death. That’s
why it’s imperative we take custody of this grass." She glanced back at the half-ton
pickup in the drive. "Every bag of it."
Matsuhari frowned, considering.
"Sir," Mulder interjected from behind Brenda’s shoulder. Again, she jumped. "I’m
with the FBI. I’m sure the Bureau would be happy to compensate you with the
composting material of your choice in exchange for you surrendering the clippings in
Matsuhari looked at the phalanx of cops around him. "Deal."
Flynn moved toward the truck.
"Not so fast, ‘buddy,’" Matsuhari shouted. "You get grass when I see my compost."
Priority Homicide Squad
Los Angeles Police Department
Park Center, Los Angeles
"Jason Peavey?" Brenda inquired as she entered Interview Room 1. She glanced at
the paler and far less buff man beside the thirtysomething landscaper. "And you
would be Jason Peavey’s attorney, I presume."
"My client was enjoying a fishing weekend in San Jose when the Coast Guard
swarmed his vessel," the lawyer huffed.
"How very frightening that must have been for your client," Brenda purred, arching a
conspiratorial brow at the burly Peavey, whose gaze had been fixed several inches
below the deputy chief’s chin. Peavey smirked; she’d surmised from his bored
expression that he had little use for his attorney.
"Let’s see how sarcastic you are when we challenge your seizure of Mr. Peavey’s
property," the lawyer sneered.
Brenda blinked. "Your client’s property was at the scene of a homicide yesterday,
without your client." She turned to Peavey. "Do you have an employee named
Menendez, Rey Menendez?"
Peavey frowned. "Nah. It’s just me and my cousin, and he was with me in San Jo--"
"Jason," the attorney prompted. Peavey exhaled, annoyed. Brenda smiled knowingly
as she straightened in her chair. "We’ve got a half-dozen witnesses, including the
dockmaster, who can vouch for my client’s whereabouts the last three days."
Brenda nodded. "Mm. Well, then, maybe somebody stole your client’s truck."
"Obviously," the lawyer faltered.
"Except, shoot, we found it parked in your client’s driveway, wiped clean of
fingerprints. And the keys were inside his condo, on the kitchen counter, also wiped
clean. In all my years in law enforcement, I swear that is the most considerate car
thief I’ve ever heard of." Brenda leaned across the table. "That what you think, Mr.
Peavey? That you’ve been the unfortunate victim of a gentleman car thief?" She
cocked her head. "Or is it possible instead that you’ve been taken advantage of?
That you’re the victim?"
"Address your questions to me, Chief," the lawyer asserted weakly.
Brenda obliged, with a sunny smile. "Reason I ask is, we -- I mean that editorially, of
course -- found something kind of curious when we inspected the undercarriage of
your mower. I’m sure an educated gentleman such as yourself knows about
She waited. The attorney stared stonily for a moment, then coughed.
"Oh, my." Brenda turned back to Peavey, who looked up quickly. "Well, my daddy
used to take me on the Tilt-a-Whirl at the county fair -- scared me something awful,
but then Daddy had trouble distinguishing sheer terror from squeals of delight.
Anyway, that car would keep whirlin’ and whirlin’ and whirlin’, and I’d be squashed
up against the seat like a tick on a huntin’ dog." The chief’s already viscous southern
patois thickened as she reminisced. "I’m sorry. My point is, that was centrifugal
force. That’s what we think happened with your lawn mower.
"See, we think your gentleman car thief was considerate enough to clean the blood
and tissue off your lawn mower blade after using it to nearly decapitate a man." The
magnolias in her voice turned to steel. "This fellow’s pretty bright -- he knew the
police were on the way, so he put the murder weapon on your mower and used our
murder victim’s lawn to wipe away his sins, so to speak.
"But our friend apparently failed his physics courses, because he just forgot all about
centrifugal force. When that blade started whirlin’ and whirlin’, it spattered eensy,
teensy, microscopic bits of blood and DNA and brains inside the undercarriage. My,
your attorney appears a might green about the gills. I’m sure we could round up a
glass of water…"
The lawyer shook his head vigorously. Brenda nodded hers with equal vigor, and
turned back to Peavey.
"So in short, your gentleman car thief has implicated you in a homicide. That
scarcely makes up for the fact that he apparently fed your cats and took your
newspapers and mail inside while you were down the coast trolling for…marlin. This
man must be the most courteous murderer in the annals of crime. Either that, or you
know this man. We got two different sets of fingerprints off your cat’s food dish.
Guess when we run those prints down, we’ll just ask our killer if he knows good old
"Jason, no--" the lawyer advised.
"That’s right, Jason." Brenda’s voice once again was redolent of honeysuckles. "You
listen to your attorney. He’s represented some very important folks over the years --
you’re lucky to have him. What, do you do his lawn? He must be very committed to
"Hey," the attorney protested weakly.
Jason blinked, and Brenda knew she’d guessed correctly. The landscaper fell back in
his chair and exhaled loudly.
"Guy’s kind of an asshole, anyway," Peavey muttered. "Jay Pirelli -- he’s an actor.
Commercials, ‘Third Doctor in Background’ on Grey’s Anatomy, that kind of shit. We
play Texas hold ‘em every Thursday night, and when I’m out of town, I let him take
the truck out, do some mowing and shit to help him out. For a split, of course. In
exchange, he keeps Guenther fed and keeps the neighborhood methheads from
knowing I’m gone. Shit, you say he killed somebody?"
Brenda’s expression was unreadable.
Jason paused. "One of my clients?"
The deputy chief shoved a legal pad toward him. "Name, address, phone number,
anything else you can come up with." Brenda shoved her chair back, and left the
landscaper to confer with his still-ochre attorney.
Tao was waiting in the corridor, fidgeting, tapping a manila folder against his palm.
"Chief, lab results just came back. They’re still analyzing the clippings, but there are
a few traces of what might be blood on the mower undercarriage. They have to do
some more tests, but if they can separate…"
"Thank you, Lieutenant," Brenda sang, turning happily on her heel.
Sierra Hills Productions
"No, no, NO!" the director, a Francis Ford Coppola look-alike (save for his bleached
hair) shouted. "You’re a freaking fireman, not a Gap model! Quit pouting, asshole."
He took a calming breath and a gulp of Evian. "All right, all right, everybody, take
five. Then maybe we can get this cinematic masterpiece in the can. You think?"
The pouting fireman lowered his hose, which had been trained on a bikinied blonde
in an Adirondack chair holding a bag of Ultra Caliente Habanero Snak Puffs. The
young actor, cheesily dashing with sharp Mediterranean features, tried to chat up his
co-star, who quickly retreated to the makeup table. He shrugged, then spotted the
two old dudes approaching him.
"Jay Pirelli?" The younger of the two asked. He looked like a slickly-dressed extra
from The Sopranos, as did his more rumpled white-haired buddy, but Jay was up on
his gambling obligations, so he smiled dazzlingly.
Then, the slick-dressed one came up with a wallet, and before Jay could see the first
flash of badge, he swung the Adirondack chair at the cops. It caught the white-
haired one in the gut, eliciting a stream of words Jay recognized from that gangsta
flick where he’d played "White Prison Guard." Gaffers and technicians scattered as he
sprinted for the soundstage fire exit. Flynn and Provenza trampled the bikini blonde’s
fabricated "back yard" in pursuit, sidearms now drawn.
The exit door slammed into brick as Pirelli blinked against the harsh sun. It had been
somewhere around 10 takes to induce the director’s near-aneurysm, and he hadn’t
seen daylight for a few hours. His car was a block away, but Jay was buoyed by the
advanced age of his pursuers and his daily regimen at one of the cheaper Gold’s
The voice was feminine, throaty, but full of steel. Like Hilary Swank or Sandra
Bullock in one of those cheesy action movies. His eyes adjusted to the light, and he
spotted the short redhead attempting to block the alleyway. Jay could hear the old
cops cursing behind him, and the redhead went for what he assumed to be a gun.
The actor had been an extra in the Longest Yard remake, and he crouched and
charged the short chick.
Then the lights momentarily went out. Jay came to to a field of blue sky, a startlingly
black gunbarrel, and a furious face framed in red. Agent Dana Scully rolled him onto
his belly, roughly.
"Shit, Flynn," he heard the white-haired cop grunt. "I think I may be in love."
Priority Homicide Squad
Los Angeles Police Department
Park Center, Los Angeles
"Well, Mr. Pirelli, or should I say Mr. Menendez?" Brenda beamed as she settled
across from the actor. "I have to say, you were most convincing yesterday morning."
Pirelli smiled lazily despite his circumstances. "Hey, thanks. I play better Latino than
Italian. I even did a terrorist on 24 last season. No lines, but hey…"
"New face must be opening a lot of doors for you," the deputy chief purred. "I saw
your headshot before Dr. Hartman straightened that nose for you. Just another mug
in the crowd back then, huh?"
Pirelli leaned forward. "You gotta go ethnic today. And I don’t mean Italian -- thanks
to those Defamation League assholes, most of the good Mafia gigs have dried up,
and ‘sides, it’s all about the gangstas now. After Doc Hartman fixed me up, the roles
started rolling in -- I even lined up a semi-regular gig in a network version of one of
those Mexican telenovella things."
"Sounds expensive, a nose job like that from a high roller like Robert Hartman."
"We were in the same poker game lots, and he took an interest," Pirelli said. "Doc
hardly ever lost a pot, but one night, I guess his luck went south, ‘cause by
midnight, he was into me five large. I’m sure he was good for it, but he knew I
needed a professional jumpstart, so he offered to front the five grand as a down
payment on a new nose."
"Can’t repossess a nose, can you, though?" Brenda inquired. "Your agent says the
offers haven’t been rolling in so much the last couple months."
The actor slumped back in his chair. "OK, I was a little slow coming up with the rest
of his fee. How was I gonna pay him off if I couldn’t get any parts?"
"You saying Dr. Hartman somehow blackballed you?"
"All I know is, one minute I’m up to my ass in primo roles -- TV, movies. Then,
Hartman starts putting on the screws for his money, and I’m hustling commercials
for local check cashing joints. So I decide to see if I can find something to relieve the
"Don’t you mean comprende?" Sanchez asked from his post on the interview room
"Hey, nothing personal, man," Pirelli squeaked. "’Sides, I fooled you, right? I don’t
play into stereotypes, you know?"
"Gracias," Sanchez replied. "So you decided to blackmail Hartman into letting up on
"He’s rich, these Beverly Hills docs can write scrip for anything, and he’s got a
gambling jones and a thing for the ladies. Though why he’d pick the Ice Queen…"
"Ice Queen?" Brenda inquired. "Ms. Linscott? She seemed like a perfectly nice young
"With that 26-year-old virgin act? You ask me, Little Miss Straight Edge is a world-
class P.T." Pirelli grinned at Sanchez. "You know what I mean, right, amigo?"
"Wouldn’t know, paisan," Sanchez grunted.
"I figure if I can catch them in the act, prove Erin’s had her cherry popped, it might
be worth the balance of my bill to him to keep it on the down-low. So I staked out
his place last couple weeks."
"Find anything good?" Brenda asked, a prurient glint in her eye.
Pirelli sucked at a tooth for a moment, evaluating his options.
The glint extinguished. "’Cause, Mr. Pirelli, you tried to eliminate key evidence in a
homicide -- a murder weapon you brought to the scene. Now, I don’t really see you
for the part of killer, mainly cause I just don’t believe you got what Detective
Sanchez here might call the cojones for what happened to Dr. Hartman. But unless
you can offer me another scenario, I don’t see a happy ending for you, Mr. Pirelli."
"All right, all right," Pirelli puffed. "I took some pictures, last Wednesday and again
the other night, at Hartman’s place. He had Erin and some other people over -- I
recognized an actor Erin did an indie with last year, and a couple of studio guys.
Some of the others, I don’t know -- maybe some of Hartman’s doctor buddies. But it
was strictly low-key: Three or four of them parked down the street and went to the
back of the house. And there weren’t any lights on or music playing -- it wasn’t a
"What do you think it was?"
"This town, I was thinking an orgy, maybe? ‘Cept a couple of these people would put
the brakes on an orgy at the Los Angeles Zoo monkey house. So I grab my Nikon,
and sneak around the bushes, hoping I can catch Erin doing a studio VP or Hartman
doing a collie or something?"
"And were there any unusual husbandry practices going on?" Brenda pursued.
"I got too weirded-out before I could see anything good. I finally found a window
around the side where I could see what was going on. There were candles all over
the dining room -- on the floor, the tables, everywhere. Everybody was in a circle
around Hartman, and Erin was staring at some kind of screen on the wall."
"Screen, TV, I dunno. It was round, with like gold trim."
Brenda’s nails grasped the table as she recalled Mulder’s tour of the dining room. The
agent had asked to monitor the interview with Pirelli in the Tech Room; she expected
him to come busting through the door any second.
"You positive it was a screen?" she asked, swallowing.
"They were watching some kind of weird shit -- sci-fi, horror. Crappy special effects -
- face on the screen looked like something out of Star Wars. Nothing I could sell to
Hartman or the tabloids."
Brenda looked up at Sanchez, who frowned in confusion. She turned back to Pirelli.
"OK. Let’s talk about Dr. Hartman’s murder. You borrowed your buddy’s truck to
stake out his place from next door."
"Nobody pays attention to the lawn guy," Pirelli explained. "I’d found out the
neighbor was out of town, so I set up on the back lawn."
"You said you saw a woman arguing with Dr. Hartman. Was that the truth?"
"I, uh, I made that up. I thought I’d throw you off -- point you toward Erin. I’d been
hauling crap around, trimming hedges, trying to sell the performance, you know.
Then I look over and see the doc’s legs sticking out from behind one of his pool
chairs. Then I see what looks like blood. So I go over, and, Jesus, I thought I was
gonna puke, except I did a Crossing Jordan and I knew you guys could trace my
DNA. I mean, shit, they lopped the guy’s head off. Who does that?
"And then, then I see the mower blade, all covered in blood. They must’ve got it off
the truck -- somebody knew I’d been scoping things out and tried to frame me. I’m
about to get the fuck out of Dodge when I hear sirens, and I know I’m trapped. So
my actor’s instinct kicks in--"
"-- and I pull the blade off Jason’s mower, replace it with the bloody one, and try to
clean it off on the neighbor’s lawn. I’m sorry about lying to you guys, but I didn’t
know what else to do. I couldn’t have done something like that, lady. Like you said,
I’m an actor -- I don’t have the balls."
Brenda nodded as she rose. "Well, why don’t you just hold on to whatever you’ve got
down there for a few minutes, OK? Detective Sanchez?"
Brenda jumped as she opened Mulder appeared in the open doorway. The deputy
chief shoved the door shut with her derriere. "Agent Mulder, would you please,
please stop…skulking? I assume you heard all that?"
"Franklyn’d definitely started a new coven out here," Mulder concluded. "But made
up of, what, an A-minus-list actress and some other Hollywood types?"
"One of whom might’ve offed him," Sanchez noted.
Mulder shook his head. "The Franklyn who engineered those murders in Chicago was
a powerful, accomplished magician. The gambling, the partying, dating young
starlets? It’s bush league. It doesn’t seem like him. Neither do those two homicides -
- the ones that led us to ‘Hartman.’ Too conspicuous, too risky."
"So, what?" Brenda challenged. "Now you DON’T think Hartman was Franklyn?"
Mulder sighed. "I think Hartman WAS Franklyn. I think someone may have made a
deal with the devil. Or two."
"Of course, I want to help any way I can," Darrell Callan told Mulder tersely as he
took his seat in the Priority Homicide Tech Room. "But outside the practice, Bob and
I lived quite separate lives. As I’m sure you’ve discovered. I socialized with Bob and
Erin some, as a couple, but we scarcely traveled in the same circles/"
The agent smiled as Buzz tinkered with the interview room audio. On the monitor
before him, a grainy Brenda was oozing small talk and compliments as Erin Linscott
and her attorney settled in across the table. Provenza watched Mulder cautiously --
he’d been briefed on what had sounded like the most hair-brained, insane scheme
he’d seen his erratically brilliant boss perpetrate. Even Deputy Chief Johnson had
seemed tentative as she’d given him his sketchy marching orders.
"Interesting turn of phrase -- circles," Mulder murmured. "Hartman wasn’t always
the party boy, was he? According to some of his former associates, he was
something of a sociable recluse when he first came to L.A. Quiet, professional,
discreetly charitable, He earned a solid standing in the community and the
profession, re-established the kind of lifestyle he’d been used to in Chicago, but he
stayed under the radar. He didn’t want to draw unnecessary attention to himself."
"What are you trying to tell me?" the homely cosmetic surgeon demanded.
"On the other hand, Dr. Darrell Callan has been a fixture on the L.A. scene for
years," Mulder continued. "You’re a gifted surgeon, but you’ve had something of a
checkered past, haven’t you? The horses, a DUI and a coke bust that both went
away with a little influence, the women…"
Callan sipped the coffee Provenza had supplied, staring calmly at Mulder. "Is that
what this is about? All right, yes, I’ve had my problems. I’m not proud of that, but
I’ve managed to gain control of myself, find a measure of discipline."
"While good Dr. Hartman has adopted a lifestyle that might make Lindsay Lohan
flinch. Weird role reversal, huh?"
A retort formed on Callan’s thin lips. "Uh, Agent, she’s starting," Buzz announced,
and the physician turned abruptly from Mulder.
"Ms. Linscott," Brenda’s voice crackled through the speakers. "You are aware that
your boyfriend was engaged in some rather…unorthodox religious practices?"
Silence filled the interview room.
"This is Hollywood, Deputy Chief," her attorney chuckled. "Whether Dr. Hartman
read L. Ron Hubbard or practiced Kabbala would seem irrelevant to this case. I hope
you’re not planning to intrude into my client’s privacy rights."
"I wouldn’t dream of it, Counselor," Brenda purred. "However -- and this is
unfortunate -- someone else already has committed a fairly grievance invasion of Dr.
Hartman’s and Ms. Linscott’s privacy."
Brenda pushed a manila envelope across the table. Erin glanced at her attorney, and
he nodded warily. The actress emptied its contents -- a series of photos printed from
Jay Pirelli’s SmartCard -- onto the table. Even over the video monitor, Provenza
could make out the somber faces eerily illuminated in the glow of dozens of candles,
especially Erin Linscott’s normally perky countenance.
"OK," Erin uttered finally, with a slight edge of defiance. "Like Ted said, this is
Hollywood. I’m sure some Southern Baptist police chief wouldn’t understand, but I’m
open to a wide variety of ideas and beliefs. Bob had gotten interested in Wicca, in
pagan beliefs, so I went along for kicks. Just kicks. I’d kind of appreciate it if we
could keep this out of the media -- it might offend some of the Presbyterians in my
fan base -- but there’s nothing illegal about exercising my religious freedoms."
"Not a blessed thing," Brenda assured her. "But this old Southern Baptist gal has a
feeling -- call it a divination, if you’d like -- that Dr. Hartman’s little old church
meetings might be connected to his murder."
Mulder glanced at Callan, whose eyes were fixed on the monitor. "Beats the old
‘What’s your sign’ approach, huh? Don’t make disciples like they used to, do they?
He must have seemed like an ideal recruit at the time -- weak, hedonistic, greedy.
You had to start fresh, and you were already aware of the logistical advantages of
the medical community for your ‘needs.’ I’m sure your new partner took to it,
especially after his practice -- his medical practice -- bloomed and he started scoring
with the ladies and the ponies."
Callan turned with a disdainful expression. "You think I was involved in Bob’s childish
"I think you created a monster -- literally. Your partner was a pawn, though I’m sure
once you convinced him of your abilities, he was more than willing to accept your
deal. He’d have even greater fame and fortune, and the looks Nature had cheated
him out of. And most people would jump at the chance for a fresh start, even if their
appetites and weaknesses."
The doctor turned to Provenza, who was deep into a bag of microwave popcorn.
"This man’s clearly insane. Do you and your chief really want to be associated with
The lieutenant shrugged and chewed thoughtfully.
"This no sex thing," Brenda continued. Four sets of male eyes returned to the screen.
"It’s not just some trendy Hollywood thing."
"It’s not a trend -- it’s a lifestyle," Erin snapped. "But if you mean is some new thing,
then no. I’ve been acting since I was 10, and Mom and Dad didn’t want me to fuck
anything up by getting knocked up or an STD or something."
"That was the key," Mulder announced, causing a kernel to pop from between
Provenza’s fingers. "You’d decided to start fresh, too. You had a new life in Paradise
and a new outlet for your power. The folks at the L.A. Memorial Burn Ward call your
work with those kids nothing short of miraculous, and they’re right, aren’t they? You
learned to curb your appetite, even as you whetted your partner’s. He became
obsessed with the powers you’d helped him discover. That realtor who wound up
with a chestful of locusts? The kidneyless kid they found in a ditch? My guess is, they
were sacrificed to strengthen his power."
"So," Brenda drawled. "You’ll pardon me if this sounds a mite personal, but Ms.
Linscott, would you be happen to be a virgin?"
"Hey," the attorney protested. But Erin merely grinned.
"Maybe the only one in L.A.," the actress laughed.
"I was wondering why -- and I hope you guys will pardon me -- a party-hearty
pussyhound like your partner would hook up with a clean-living, straight-edge
celibate like Linscott," Mulder said. "But I think she was exactly what he wanted,
what he needed. A true, dyed-in-the-wool virgin. It must’ve been like discovering a
unicorn in the wild. The teenager and the realtor were appetizers -- your partner
figured if he could offer Erin up, he’d gain untold abilities.
"I don’t know how you found out what he had in mind for her, but it was the last
straw. A couple of freak deaths in California are filler on Headline News; the murder
of an up-and-coming actress is round-the-clock coverage on CNN and MSNBC. You
could’ve lost everything. Sooner or later, we’d make the link to Greenwood
"I think I’m done here," Callan muttered, though his eyes remained fixed on Erin
Linscott’s image. "This is total gibberish."
"I convinced Chief Johnson to authorize DNA tests on the victim."
Callan snorted. "On Bob? I wouldn’t think identification would be a major problem."
"I think you know what I was looking for, Doctor," Mulder chided. "I had the lab pull
two samples. One from the victim’s cheek, which was confirmed as Robert Hartman’s
"What a surprise."
"The other was taken from his bone marrow. I think you know what we found."
Callan looked up, disdain – and anxiety – etched into his long, vaguely equine face.
He said nothing. Mulder smiled.
"So, did Dr. Callan ever participate in these little ceremonies?" Brenda inquired.
Erin paused. "A few times. He and Bob got into it more than once over it. It was like
with their practice – Callan wanted to be the big man, but he just didn’t have the
charisma, the clout."
Callan straightened abruptly. "What? That bitch…"
"The trail might’ve ended with your partner if you hadn’t slipped at the hospital
yesterday," the agent murmured. "You convinced Callan to switch faces – and places
– with you in exchanges for your power and protection. But when we showed up
unannounced to talk to you about the murder, Deputy Chief Johnson got down to
business before any of the rest of us were introduced. She’s a very assertive
Provenza chortled, nearly choking on a popcorn kernel.
"But you called me ‘Agent.’ For all you knew, I was one of the chief’s detectives. But
you must’ve been rattled to see me after all these years. Was that it, Dr. Franklyn?"
To Mulder’s surprise, "Callan" -- AKA Hartman, AKA Franklyn – offered no outraged
denial. Whether or not he and Scully could sell the L.A. D.A. on Franklyn for
"Hartman"’s murder, the black magician had been unable to alter his own DNA, and
they’d link him to the Chicago killings.
"Doctor?" Mulder asked, concerned.
Franklyn/"Callan" had paled, and his face glistened with sweat as he stared at the
monitor. His jaw, encased in his partner’s former skin, twitched. For a second,
Mulder feared his ploy had induced a cardiac episode.
The doctor finally turned, eyes wide and haunted.
"I need to get out of here," he rasped. "Please."
"You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you?" Scully asked, rubbing
Mulder’s shoulder as she passed the bed. "At best, it was a long shot. At the least,
I’d say his reaction was confirmation of your theory. If we can get that warrant for
‘Callan’s DNA, we should have him."
Mulder laughed sourly, laying back on the hotel mattress. "Given the judge’s reaction
to our request, I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on getting that warrant. Deputy Chief
Johnson didn’t exactly speak up in there."
"Give her some credit, Mulder," Scully protested, stepping out of her slacks. "She let
you carry out your bizarre little scheme."
Johnson’s AV man, Buzz, proved a techno-whiz in incorporating the image a local
SFX specialist had crafted from the sketch based on Jay Pirelli’s description of the
face in Hartman/Callan’s scrying mirror into the interview room feed. Mulder had
picked what he’d felt was the right psychological moment to spring the demon’s
image on Franklyn. The result had been positive but somewhat short of totally
Staring at the hotel ceiling, Mulder barely felt the pressure on the mattress next to
The agent blinked, and became aware of the naked redhead straddling his hips.
"There’s one thing bothering me," he muttered.
Scully rolled off with a sigh. "That’s at least one less than what’s bothering me.
Maybe Erin Linscott has the right idea with this celibacy thing. Thing of how much
more work I’d get done, how much more energy I’d have."
Mulder reached for a breast. "Sorry, Scully. I was just remembering…"
"Mulder, what?" Scully turned his chin. "Oh, shit. Can I surmise that we’re not about
to partake in crazed expensed hotel sex?"
Her partner grabbed for his jacket on a nearby chair. "I gotta call Deputy Chief
Scully reached over the mattress’ edge, searching for her panties. "I surmise
Priority Homicide Squad
Los Angeles Police Department
Park Center, Los Angeles
She found Mulder alternating between a trio of monitors. Buzz shrugged at the chief.
"Agent Mulder," Brenda sighed in exasperation, "I thought you’d left for the day. You
putting together tomorrow’s séance?"
"I think I made a miscalculation, Chief," the agent mumbled. "I want you to see
Brenda stood rooted in the Tech Room doorway for a moment, then waved Buzz
aside to lean in toward the monitors. She donned her horn-rimmed glasses.
"As you know, your interview tapes are time-stamped," Mulder said. "The same’s
true for the webcam video of Dr. Frankl--, Dr. Callan’s reaction to Ms. Linscott’s
interview. We’ve paused both videos at the same point – right before you ask Ms.
Linscott about Dr. Callan’s involvement in Hartman’s coven. It struck me as strange
that a magician so adept would hang out with a bunch of Hollywood wannabes. Ah,
Chief, I need you to sit in this chair -- the one Franklyn, er, Callan occupied this
Brenda pursed her lips, then sighed and sat.
"Buzz?" Mulder prompted. Buzz looked to Brenda, who nodded in resignation. The tech
punch dual play buttons: Erin Linscott related "Dr. Callan’s" involvement in "Dr.
Hartman’s" rituals and noted the surgeons’ ongoing feud.
"Keep your eyes on Linscott," Mulder instructed.
"What?" Callan sputtered on the other monitor, straightening in his chair. "That bitch!"
Brenda gasped. "Freeze it, Buzz," Mulder snapped.
"It has to be a coincidence," the deputy chief breathed. "It has to be."
"Run them both back to the beginning of Callan’s outburst. Yeah, there. Play them at
"Whaaaaatttt?" Callan shouted on Monitor 1. "Thaaaaatttt biiiiiitch!"
On Monitor 2, Erin Linscott’s head snapped up. Her eyes blazed into the interview
room camera, projecting fury at Brenda -- at Callan. They lingered for a moment, then
returned to the chief.
"She knew Callan -- Franklyn -- was here, and what he’d said. He wasn’t frightened by
the subliminal demon image -- Linscott scared him. This was a warning. To keep his
"That’s, that’s just impossible," Brenda said coldly, standing, backing away from the
"I was so intent on getting Franklyn that I ignored the obvious," Mulder sighed. "After
seeing this, I went back to Jay Pirelli’s description of ‘Hartman’’s ceremony and the
photos he’d taken that night. I counted 13 separate individuals in the photos, including
‘Hartman’ and Linscott. That’s a traditional coven gathering -- I don’t think they were
missing anyone. Certainly not ‘Callan.’ I think Linscott was lying, trying to divert
attention much like Franklyn did when he told us about the ‘magic’ the real Dr. Callan
performed with his patients.
"Then there was Pirelli’s account of the demon’s image in the mirror. He said it was
Linscott staring into the image. I don’t think she was merely observing it -- I think she
summoned it. Like I said, I’d ignored a major clue to the true nature of this case.
Remember my showing you the symbol on the mirror -- the full moon flanked by two
crescents? That’s the Lunar Triple Goddess symbol. It represents not only the waxing,
full, and waning phases of the moon, but also the three aspects of womanhood --
mother, maiden, and crone."
"Maiden," Brenda whispered.
"Or virgin," Mulder clarified. "Buzz, bring up that video, please. I want you to see this,
She lowered herself slowly back into the viewing seat as Erin Linscott was replaced by
a younger, more flamboyant version of herself, strolling up a red carpet in a
microscopic red dress as crowds cheered around her.
"The 2003 Golden Globes," Mulder explained. "Linscott took Best Supporting Actress
for her role as the daughter in Domestic Dispute."
"Hated that show," Buzz murmured.
"Amen," the agent concurred. "There, Buzz. Great. Now zoom in just above the good
stuff. Yeah, yeah, there!"
Brenda adjusted her glasses and stared at Erin’s bare shoulder blades and sternum.
"The pendant," Mulder urged. "Look at the design."
Brenda peered, then stopped breathing.
"Breathe," Mulder advised as she stared at the three lunar phases etched into the
platinum teardrop dangling from the actress’ neck. "Looks like Erin kept a few secrets
from the good witch doctor. Now, who do you think was using who?"
"I can’t believe I’m saying this," Brenda murmured, "but you think
Callan…Franklyn…oh, whoever -- you think he knows all this?"
"I think he knows he’s been outclassed," Mulder said, pushing his chair back. "And so
does she. Scully’s already on her way to Franklyn’s place."
Brenda paused, eyeing first Mulder, then the would-be sorceress on the runway. Then
she unholstered her cell phone.
Residence of Dr. Darrell Callan
When they arrived at "Dr. Callan’s" Palm Springs mini estate, Mulder and Scully
spotted Erin Linscott’s signature black Testarossa in the dead center of Callan’s
elaborately paved drive. They parked in the street below; Brenda and Flynn pulled in
a half block down.
"She may look like Lindsay Lohan’s sober twin, but Linscott’s very dangerous,even
unarmed," Mulder warned Flynn as he drew his sidearm.
"Shoulda brought my cross," the lieutenant chuckled, slipping on a Kevlar vest and
handing another to Deputy Chief Johnson.
As Brenda and Mulder sprinted up the lawn beside the home’s steep driveway, Scully
and Flynn took the stone perimeter wall in a rear approach. Twenty feet from the
front veranda, Brenda touched Mulder’s arm and nodded toward the darkness
beyond the open front doors. They moved to either side, then slipped into the foyer
with a mutual signal.
The cop and the agent were halfway to the kitchen when they heard it – a low,
animal moan that nonetheless was all too human. A single shadow danced in the
flicker of candlelight. The moaning changed pitch, and Brenda momentarily hugged
the wall beside the arched doorway. She hefted her weapon with a deep breath, and
charged into the light with Mulder.
"Dear God," Deputy Chief Johnson cried out, slumping against the brushed steel
refrigerator. Mulder’s hand twitched on his gun, his feet frozen to the terra cotta
The mass of exposed muscles, tendons, and bone seated at the kitchen table was,
unfortunately, human. Blood dripped slowly from the skinned man’s left foot, pooling
in a widening reservoir.
Brenda fumbled her cell phone from her slacks, fingers trembling uncontrollably as
she punched 9-1-1. Mulder inched toward the grisly apparition.
"Dr. Franklyn?" the agent whispered.
The lidless eyes moved for the first time, conveying nothing as they stared at
Mulder. Franklyn’s jaw twitched and opened. The agent leaned forward as the
magician’s blackened tongue slipped between his teeth. Then Mulder spotted the
opaque obsidian eyes, and fell onto his ass as the eel slid onto the tile between his
legs, slapping the bloody tiles.
Franklyn was gone before the EMTs arrived. An unfortunate crime scene technician
found the rest of the late doctor hanging neatly in his bedroom closet.
Vino: A Restaurant
"In ancient Greek culture, virginity denoted strength and independence," Mulder
explained as he prodded his duck confit. "Artemis, the Greek virgin goddess of the
moon and the hunt, protected women in labor, small children, and wild animals.
Hestia, the goddess of the hearth, never took part in the struggles of men and gods.
Virgin goddesses were immune to the temptations of Dionysus, the Greek god of
seduction and wine."
"That’s so fascinating," Brenda murmured cheerfully, eyes darting about the now-
hushed tables around them. Fritz had focused on his steak, and his sawing
intensified. Scully reached for Mojito No. 3.
Erin Linscott had seemingly dropped from the face of the Earth, and with the FBI and
Homeland Security blanketing every conceivable escape route, Mulder and Scully
booked a new flight east. The farewell dinner had been Mulder’s idea; Brenda could
find no plausible escape route.
By the time the entrees had arrived, Mulder already had shared insights on Wiccan
and Druidic rituals, an amusing anecdote about a Tibetan shaman, and his thoughts
on the latest Chris Tucker flick. He made no mention of the horror he and the deputy
chief had shared the previous night.
Brenda nearly swooned with relief as their waiter, yet another tragically flawless
young actor, materialized at Scully’s shoulder. The agent jumped, hiccupping twice.
"We have a delightful selection of desserts this evening," the waiter purred,
brandishing a silver tray. "In addition to our famous black forest torte, the chef has
prepared a Mexican chocolate soufflé, an apple and goat cheese turnover laced with
Calvados, and a white chocolate and raspberry trifle. May I tempt you?"
Brenda’s eyes devoured the trayful of confections, then locked on Fritz’s stern
expression. Her eyes implored him; he shook his head once.
"I can’t," Brenda whimpered, evoking Tennessee Williams.
"Two of those," Mulder ordered, pointing to the renowned black forest torte. He
scooted back. "Gotta find the little fed’s room," he informed his hosts. "Don’t let
Scully on top of the table."
"Well, this was just a…a wonderful idea," Brenda sang as Mulder disappeared into an
alcove. "Your partner is just so full of interesting information."
Scully toasted with her mojito. "Yeah, he’s full of something, all right. Look, I know
he must seem kind of, well, flaky to you--"
Fritz snorted, then flinched under Brenda’s icy stare.
"Just for that," the deputy chief informed her fiance with offended dignity as she
canvassed the room, "I am having what he’s having."