OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM
|SCULLY'S CASE FILES|
HALLOWED GROUND- PART TWO
SUTLERíS HARDTACK CAFE,
No more than a diner in spite of its name, Sutlerís Hardtack Cafe contained nothing out of the ordinary. Its functional decor resembled a hundred other places theyíd been in just long enough for an all-too-brief bite to eat. It didnít try to disguise the fact that it was more than past its use-by date, yet even if having seen better days, it was clean and well-maintained. Amid the chrome and formica all brightly lit by florescent tubes,was a good selection of Civil War memorabilia. In the collection, which covered a large portion of the walls, both sides in the conflict were equally represented and the waitresses and cooks all wore blue or grey caps - kepis Scully had learned they were called. She had been here earlier with OíNeill and now recognised and nodded a greeting to the lanky waitress who had served them their meals.
OíNeill had led her to a booth in the back that she felt was probably his regular seat. This time she steered Mulder to a different location farther forward and closer to the counter, beneath a poster of the motion picture release of Glory. He eased in opposite her. Patrons were few for this hour. The waitress soon appeared. Judy - Scully remembered from her plastic name tag - handed them menus and they ordered.
The two FBI agents spoke about procedural matters and casual observations. Mulder seemed reluctant to discuss the case, which was unusual for him, and Scully suspected he was sulking. Mulder had realised he was in the middle of a conventional investigation; no beasties, no ghosties, no UFO conspiracies. She knew that if was possible he would have sent the casefile back, and called it a day. The plain truth of the matter was he was bored. Well, that was just too bad. They were the agents of record, they were here and there were two murders to solve.
Judy returned with their orders. While Mulder set about demolishing one of the biggest porterhouse steaks she had ever seen, Scully leaned back against the booth seat, took a sip of her coffee and recalled her earlier visit.
She hadnít been so much hungry as thankful for the rest. Theyíd had a busy afternoon, so she settled for a salad and an ice tea. OíNeill simply ordered the "usual" which turned out to be barbecue ribs and a Bud Light. Over the meal heíd told her a little bit about himself but he had been much too much the gentleman to press for personal information and instead asked her about her job.
Scully enjoyed their conversation and she couldnít deny she felt at ease in his company. She and Mulder spent so much time together on assignment these days it left so little room for any resemblance of a social life. Not that she minded so much. Trying to establish any kind of relationship lately was virtually impossible with her hectic and demanding schedule. It was easier to avoid it altogether and rationalise that it would only complicate the work.
For whatever reason, OíNeill never married, though he confessed to a long term live-in relationship. His partner, Meg, hadnít shared his passion for the Civil War apparently, which caused some problems. A local girl, she had set her sights on a career in commercial art and when the opportunity to take up a traineeship with a large advertising network in Baltimore came her way she took it in both hands. For OíNeill, it seemed it was a case of once bitten twice shy. He also admitted, quite openly, that the problems may have been due in part to a temper which all his life he had sought to control. this frank admission surprised Scully somewhat; it seemed in stark contrast to everything she had come to know about him.
Although born and raised in Syracuse, at 16 OíNeill had been packed off by his parents to Saint Patricks College in Dublin to round off his education there and to continue a family tradition. As the eldest son he was then meant to enter law school at Harvard and finally join his fatherís modest firm in New York. But he had turned his back on all that. He had his own interests, his own life to lead. It was an act of rebellion Scully could understand. Her own parents had never really approved of her decision to accept the FBIís offer of a place at the Academy. As for OíNeill, after completing his degree courses and taking a walking tour of Ireland, he had come back to the States to pursue his love of history and conservation, explored the battlefields as a hiker and finally joined the Parks Service.
Judy appeared with their coffee and a plate of what looked to be biscuits, large ones about three inches square. "Ever tried hardtack, Dana?" OíNeill asked lightly, with a glint in his eye. She cocked her head slightly. The name was familiar and not just because of the dinerís banner tag. OíNeill explained. "Theyíre a kind of flour and water biscuit. I guess youíd call them basic field rations." His tone suggested she should try one. Scully remembered sheíd read somewhere that hardtack was a kind of ration, the very early version of the high-carbohydrate, high-protein survival rations she had used herself in training. Despite the high-tech upgrade the survival rations had tasted like cardboard soaked in glucose and she suspected their ancestors would not taste much better.
She picked up one of the very heavy squares and tapped it against the side of the plate. It made a decided clunk and she looked dubious. "I hope you know a good dentist," she commented with a smile. These looked like they could break every tooth in your mouth. OíNeill grinned. "This is Jackís modern version. Jackís the short-order cook. He makes them up for the tourists. They come complimentary with the coffee. Least you wonít find any weevils or maggots in this lot. Try soaking it a while. Thatís what the soldiers used to do."
"Maggots?" Scully raised her eyebrows. "Hardtack was often infested in storage. Unwanted visitors were just skimmed off the top after boiling. Apparently they left no discernible taste. I guess they added some protein." He winked at her. Game, Scully dunked the biscuit into the cup and let it soak. When it was soft enough to attempt a bite she found her suspicions about its taste confirmed. She winced mockingly. Seeing her reaction, OíNeill leaned back and spread his hands. "The officers in our reenactment unit insist we live on hardtack when we go on camp. I tell you, even salt pork tastes good after those things for a few days."
She nodded. They werenít that bad but they werenít that good either. Not something sheíd ask her local supermarket to stock. Scully paused a moment before placing the biscuit aside. "The Civil War has a personal meaning for you, hasnít it?" It was clear to her that this was more than an interest. He became introspective though not to the extent that he closed her out of his thoughts. He wanted to try to make her see how he felt, why it meant so much. "My great, great grandfather served in the 63d New York. He was killed here at Antietam during the charge at the Bloody Lane. He was the age I am now, married with two little sons." Scully said nothing. No words were necessary and she was unwilling to intrude into his thoughts. OíNeill sensed her sympathy and continued. "I know it seems all so stupid and futile, but whatever their reasons - a sense of duty, family obligations or just the adventure, those boys answered the call,- died, too many of them - because they thought it was the right thing to do. They forged this nation. No-one has the right to sully their memories or belittle their sacrifice." His eyes flared such passion and commitment that its pure emotional charge was almost overpowering. But it lasted only a moment as he realised he was preaching and hid his embarrassment with a wry smile and a gulp of coffee.
Scully savoured his boyish awkwardness which only served to endear him further to her. They sat in comfortable silence for several minutes but the hour was growing late and Mulder would be starting to wonder where she was. She already knew he wouldnít be happy that sheíd switched her phone volume to low. About to suggest a move, Scully noticed OíNeill pay particular attention to a tall, heavy-set man who sauntered into the diner to take a seat at the counter.
As soon as the man walked in she sensed a change in OíNeill, an instant coldness so intense it alarmed her. When he turned back to face her, OíNeill explained sotto voce , that the man was Fred Hodgesí brother Jim. Something else became apparent to her - the entire atmosphere in the place had changed - grown more animated, voices talking about the murders. According to the sheriff this was peaceful town but the recent incident had stirred up the community, almost divided it. The murders werenít necessarily condoned but nor were they totally condemned in certain quarters as some people felt there was nothing wrong in Ďcollectingí battlefield relics. Why leave them to rust?
Jim Hodges was without doubt an oafish, loutish bull of a man. OíNeill suspected him of being involved in the disposal of artefacts to collectors and doing very nicely out of the illicit trade. If anything he considered him worse than his brother. Hodges was mouthing off to anyone who would listen, how he demanded justice for Fredís death. OíNeill gave him a sideways glance that clearly conveyed his contempt and mumbled a profanity under his breath.
Scully realised there was indeed another side to OíNeillís character, the temper he had warned her of, and his guard had gone up. What disturbed her the most was the scathing remark she wasnít meant to overhear: "The bastard got justice - summary justice." Her eyes narrowed as she studied the man across the table. In her mind OíNeill couldnít be involved in the homicides, but she realised that in just eight hours she couldnít possibility know him at all, and therein lay the danger. In every psychological profile she had ever worked up sheíd found that the most crucial aspect to criminal intent could never be determined with absolute accuracy - the root cause which triggers a person into violent action. You could make educated guesses based on set models, calculate the indirect causes and effects, but the catalyst itself could be all of these or none of them. It was as individual and peculiar as the M.O.
The murders at Burnside Bridge hadnít been committed out of simple greed or revenge or opportunism, it went much, much deeper than that. This Scully had come to understand, was a matter of honour and heritage. OíNeillís unbridled aggression only subsided when Hodges when finally left the diner. Scully glanced at her watch. Tuning in to his sudden reversal she spoke quietly, gaining his attention by speaking his first name. "Kevin, itís a quarter of six."
His demeanour became just as charming and pleasant as if the intrusion had never occurred. He nodded. "Iíd better be getting you back then," he said with just a touch of regret and then continued with a cheeky grin, "or that partner of yours may begin to think my intentions arenít purely honourable."
Despite herself, Scully had to laugh.
"Scully?" She realised Mulder must have asked her a question and looked up with an apology. "Sorry." He made no comment thought he must have seen she had been miles away. "Do you want a refill?" he asked, indicating her coffee cup. She saw that he had finished eating and nodded. Mulder motioned to the waitress. Judy brought the coffee and a plate. She placed the plate between them and poured the coffee quickly and efficiently. Mulder stared at the two large biscuits with a puzzled frown. Scully crossed her arms on the table and leaned towards him. "So, Mulder, have you ever tried hardtack?" There was a glint in her eye.
Mulder picked up one of the biscuits and turned it front and back in his fingers. "Youíre supposed to eat these? They look more like paving pavers," he observed dryly, a slightly disgusted expression on his face. Suddenly Scullyís phone rang. She sprang back and took it out hurriedly to cut off any further rings though no-one in the diner seemed to be bothered by it. With a look of concern she placed it to her ear. "Scully." She kept her voice low and listened for some time, offering no input of her own until she answered curtly. "Iíve got that. Thank you."
Mulder waited, watching her replace her phone, knowing she would fill him in. His patience was rewarded. "The preliminary ballistics report is through," she explained. It was a forced effort to keep her voice neutral. "OíNeillís musket has been too thoroughly cleaned to determine a match from the powder residue. The findings are inconclusive. They can, however, confirm that the weapon had been fired recently." Mulder dropped the untouched hardtack onto the plate then pushed the plate aside. "Then heís either a meticulously tidy man or shrewd enough to destroy evidence." Was he gloating?
Scully couldnít think ill of OíNeill. She wanted to eliminate him from her enquiries once and for all but in the back of her mind there persisted an element of doubt and suspicion she couldnít ignore. A long, laboured breath escaped her lips as her heart sank. "Yes," she said, realising they were back to square one.
BATTLEFIELD PARK 12.50 am.
They were seated three abreast inside the cabin of the Ford F150 pickup. Scully had taken the centre position between the two men if for no other reason than to keep them apart. OíNeill had apologised for the inconvenience, but Watkins was still out with the 4X4. They had driven in silence up to the North Woods where OíNeill intended to begin his circuit. The night was chilly but not excessively so. Scully had also changed. Both she and Mulder now wore causal clothes and their FBI field jackets. "So tell me, Ranger OíNeill, have you ever seen anything spooky during your patrols out here at night?" Scully looked hard at Mulder. His face, like the rest of them, was bathed in the glowing yellow-green mix of the dashboard lights and the backwash of the high-beam. Sheíd found his attitude bad enough during the day, but now it was bordering on the rude.
OíNeill seemed not to take offence however. He glanced only briefly, concentrating on the dirt road. "Well, Agent Mulder you look like a man who has an open mind. When I first came here I didnít believe in such things as ghosts and the like. But after a while you begin to feel it. This place has a certain atmosphere. Sometimes . . . sometimes you think you hear things: the low rumble of cannon; distant musket fire. One time I thought I heard the cry of the wounded for water. Another, near the Bloody Lane, I thought I saw a ragged line of Union soldiers carrying away their dead."
"That must have been unnerving," Mulder commented sympathetically, cautiously aware now that he and OíNeill shared common ground.
Despite OíNeillís obvious sincerity Scully remained silent, considering whether she was the only one who didnít believe in ghosts. "I know it should have been, Agent Mulder, but Iíve never felt threatened." He tried to explain without it sounding silly. "The spirit of these men lives on. Itís as if these poor souls know Iím their only protector." Scully glanced at OíNeill and tried to understand how much such a sensible man could be swayed by fancy.
A sweep of the North Woods and the Cornfield proved all was quiet, but that didnít mean the relic hunters werenít operating in another part of the park. OíNeill decided to check in with Watkins for a situation report."Unit One, this is Two, do you copy?" No answer. He tried again. Nothing. "Thatís odd."
"He might just be out of the vehicle," Scully suggested. "Maybe," OíNeill said thoughtfully. "I donít know whatís got into him lately."
"What do you mean?" Mulder asked, suddenly interested. "Oh, I donít know. Lyleís been more irritable and depressed these last couple of weeks."
"It could be Gulf War Syndrome," Scully suggested. "These are common symptoms." She felt OíNeill shrug. "I donít know, but the other day I found him standing, just staring at the weapons case in the museum like he was in some kind of trance." He suddenly struck the steering wheel with his hand.
"What?" The sudden outburst startled Scully."Itís just occurred to me, Dana, there are two eighteen sixty-one Springfields in the case."
"Capable of firing?" Mulder asked, almost excited.
"Theyíve been fully restored. Theyíre on loan from the Sixty-Third Association. And thatís not all, there is a box of period ammunition in storage - in perfect condition - a really rare find. But it should be under lock and key."
"Who has access?"
"There is only one set of keys and thatís still in my pocket." Pieces were beginning to fit for Mulder. "Yes, but has Watkins had them for any length of time?" OíNeill nodded. "Well, since Ted - Ranger Stevens - has been in Washington Iíve been relying on Lyle rather heavily. Heís used the keys on a number of occasions."
"So he could have made duplicates?"
"I guess so."
OíNeill, who had been looking for something ahead in the road, abruptly slowed the pickup to a crawl and hauled the steering wheel hard over into a tight left lock, causing Scully to throw her hand to the dash to steady herself. With the front suspension protesting loudly the pickup lurched into the turn. The high beam raked the dark, empty fields like a searchlight. Scully couldnít deny the existence of the eerie atmosphere pervading the park at night but she wasnít about to let it sway her thinking. Obviously the answer still lay in physical evidence. By the time the pickup had completed the 180 degree turn she had a pretty good idea where they were heading.
They drove back to the visitors centre with some haste but took the entrance driveway slowly. Mulder told OíNeill to switch the engine and headlights off. There were only three outside lights on creating soft light. Another source, probably a flashlight beam, painted the west window of the building only briefly but it was enough to alert them.
With the engine off the pickup rolled to a stop. OíNeill applied the handbrake noiselessly. Securing flashlights they got out, leaving the doors open. Mulder and Scully unholstered their weapons and moved forward cautiously. Mulder used hand signals to indicate that Scully should take the back and that he would take the front. OíNeill managed to warn them that the back doors were probably locked and Mulder acknowledged with a wave of his hand which Scully understood to mean OíNeill should accompany her.
Mulder tapped his watch and held up two fingers. He would give her two minutes to get into position. Scully checked the time and nodded in response. She took OíNeill by an arm and the ranger showed her the way through the outbuildings.
When they were gone, Mulder proceeded quickly and quietly to the stairs weapon at the ready. He mounted the steps one by one to the porch, avoiding a sound at all costs. Keeping below the level of the windows and away from the double entrance doors, he took cover in the shadows. He glanced at the doors to find they were partially ajar. Satisfied, he leaned back and checked his watch.
The rear door was locked. OíNeill found his keys and opened the door, but Scully pulled him back out of the way and whispered close to his ear to stay put. She checked her weapon and her watch, and switched on the maglight. Shifting into the correct stance, Scully held the maglight along the barrel of the gun and both down toward her feet, her right forefinger outside the trigger guard. OíNeill saw her take deep breaths and another check of her watch. Her professionalism surprised him; to his shame, heíd considered her nothing more than a slip of a girl playing detective. But he felt the pride; now he was seeing it. He saw Scully tense, and prepare herself.
The doors went in simultaneously.
Using the maglight as a guide, Scully burst into the staff kitchen and took only four strides to reach the other door. Again checking the safety was off she stepped out into the centre. Noting Mulderís maglight playing against the floor and the walls off to her right and closing, she automatically registered his position and proceeded further into the museum area. Her beam suddenly caught the edge of an armed figure darting behind an exhibit case and Scully had the impression of a Civil War soldier. "Federal Agent! Iím armed! Drop your weapon!" she ordered.
The figure appeared again behind the raised musket. The musket discharged in a deafening roar. Scully had to duck and protect herself from shattered glass falling directly above her, making her drop the maglight. The beam rolled across the floor, alerting Mulder to her plight. Heíd clearly heard her warning and the shot, but it was OíNeill who called out. "Dana!" He hurled himself forward to her defence before Scully could stop him. "Kevin, no!"
"Scully!?" Mulder yelled, no more need now for silence. There was an audible scuffle from the other side of the room and grunts. Mulder reached Scullyís side just as there came another, different sounding shot and Scully heard OíNeill cry out in pain.
Mulder directed his maglight toward the commotion. OíNeill had been shot and was lying on his back on the floor. He was moving a little so he was alive. Standing above him, Watkins pointed the smoking revolver at them and then down again at the ranger. Somehow Mulder wasnít surprised to see Watkins dressed in the uniform of the Confederate army. The manís face conveyed a steely resolve."Get that light out of my face!" he barked. Mulder lowered it a few inches. "Now, drop your guns or Iíll finish him off." They hesitated. "You know I killed those two relic hunters. Donít think I wonít do it."
Mulder shifted uneasily. He reacted to Scully holding her weapon away from her and dropping it. He gave her a look that asked what the hell she was doing, but in the dim light her expression told him that they had no choice. Annoyed that she had so easily given up any advantage they may have had, it still took him a moment to toss the gun aside. Scully made a move to assist the injured ranger but Watkins wouldnít allow it. "Stay where you are, donít move."
"Please, Iím a doctor, let me see to him." She couldnít keep the desperation from her voice. Mulder quickly latched onto her shoulder. He felt her instantly tense at his touch and just as quickly relax.
When she moved back she stayed against him. Mulder struggled with his anger. He knew it stemmed in part from OíNeillís intrusion into their friendship which had upset the finely tuned understanding they had built up during their time together. He was still smarting that Scully had pursued her enquiries without him. But, in all honestly, how could he talk? Heíd done it to her often enough. Too many times he had expected her to follow or to catch up - she was doing as he might have done in similar circumstances, and it dented his ego. The man obviously mattered to her, he had to respect that. Torn between two loyalties, Scully regretted her all-too quick observance of the rule book and her first priority in preserving the well-being of a hostage as Kevin technically was. It was bad enough he was injured and she couldnít help him. Now sheíd exposed Mulder to danger. She didnít care for her own safety, but her concern and anxiety caused her indecision and uncertainty. "So now, what, Watkins," Mulder asked flatly. "What do you intend to do?"
In the glow of the maglight, Watkins creased his face in thought. Clearly he had no idea. Mulder saw the opportunity to draw him into a dialogue. "Thatís a nice looking handgun. What is it, a Remington?" The man was immediately suspicious, but he couldnít resist explaining - too much the Civil War buff. "Itís a Colt Navy model, a point three six calibre cap and ball six round percussion revolver." He shook his head. "And itís no use, I wonít be put off." The lack of quick response puzzled him. "Donít you see itís justice Iím after? Someone has got to protect these relics. You FBI people donít give a damn because itís not front page news."
"Itís true we were unaware of the extent of the problem," Scully explained honestly and with some urgency, "but weíve learned so much since weíve been here. Let us help."
Watkins again shook his head and almost laughed. "No, thatís just a load of B.S. You canít trick me into surrendering - Iíve gone too far for that . . ." There was regret. "Youíre wasting your time, Doc. I was in the Marines, a reccon unit. I know all about interrogation techniques. They trained me to use terminal force to eliminate any threat. You two are a threat."
He raised the revolver. Scully could feel Mulder move in front of her, trying to protect her. It was a noble if foolish gesture. There had been a slim chance they could dive out of the way, but his movement to the left now boxed her in against the wall and a bookcase. She pushed a hand against him to indicate this but he was too concerned about the danger in front. Watkins took aim.
At that instant the temperature dropped, so fast and so low that their breaths turned to vapour. Then came a noticeable vibration. Pictures, weapons and flags fixed to the walls rattled noisily and books fell like dead birds from the shelves. The building shook violently as if gripped by an earth tremor. Mulder and Scully instinctively braced themselves and tried to balance against the rocking. Watkins, on the other hand, fared less well. He turned one way and then the other, trying to find the source of the disturbance.
Outside, a gale blew up, bringing lightning and thunder. The windows imploded without warning, shattering glass, splintering wood, twisting aluminium. There came noises of every description, brought in by a tortuous howl. All hell broke loose. "Whatís happening!" Watkins screamed and raised his hands to his ears to try and block the sound. It would have been the perfect opportunity to take him, only the conditions made that impossible.
Mulder pushed Scully even further behind him into the corner to shield her from the wind, the glass and the objects thrown about the room with considerable force. As a consequence she didnít see the concentration of electromagnetic energy form like a whirlpool in the centre of the ceiling.
The concentration began to take shape till the form resembled that of a humanoid, but only for a moment then it narrowed and snaked toward the cowering Watkins. Watkins fired but the energy was not averted. It seemed to be drawn to the metal pike of a national flag still fixed to the wall above the manís head.
The energy hit the pike with a bolt of lightning, the flag sparked in a bright blue charge of static electricity and seemingly came to life. Watkins fired wildly in panic. He was immediately engulfed by the flag as it fell on him and drew him into its electric arcing as if he was caught in an electrified spiderís web. He screamed.
Scully found herself in the open as Mulder reeled back with an arm raised in defence and horrified, she thought he may have been hit, too. The sight spurred her into action. With a hand on the bookcase she propelled herself forward to dive full-length onto the maglight and her gun, and regathered them both in one agile movement. Without regaining her feet and using her shoulder and knees to steady and turn herself she succeeded in getting over onto her side in order to slash the beam and her aim towards the exhibit cases. Scully then dropped flat and leaned on her elbows to adopt a text-book prone position just as if she was on the assault course. The beam spot-lighted Watkins as he struggled with a national flag. He fired at her . . . and missed. Scully fired twice, and didnít.
There came a blinding white light and a massive crackle of energy, forcing Scully to cover her eyes. It lasted for a second then vanished, taking the storm with it. When she looked again and her eyes adjusted, she saw an object with a green streamer fall with a solid clink to the floor.
Mulder, apparently unhurt,
knelt and touched her back reassuringly and in approval before helping
her to her feet. He stepped over the wreckage to move forward. He checked
Watkins quickly then left him to assist Scully with OíNeill. On her instruction
he partly raised him into a sitting position using his own thigh as a
backrest. OíNeill moaned, proving to them he was still alive. Mulder,
too, was relieved they hadnít lost him. "Take it easy, Kevin,"
he found himself saying, admitting his concern. Scully began to unzip
the rangerís jacket to tend to the wound but OíNeill motioned her away
to where the object had fallen in an uncluttered piece of floor. She shook
her head. It could wait. "No,
Scully did so, if only to quiet him. The maglight showed her a green hat or cap band with a badge consisting of numbers on it. As soon as she picked it up, however, the green ribbon disintegrated in her hand leaving only the tarnished metal numbers Ď63í joined by a slim cross piece. Oddly, she knew what the numbers meant and returned with a puzzled frown. "The Sixty-Third New York?" she asked incredulously. OíNeill nodded and directed their attention to the flag. Scully swung the torch to where Watkins lay. Though partially obscured in the folds, 63d New York could be seen in gold painted lettering on the fly of the flag. A coincidence?
Unable to explain it, not even certain that she could believe it, Scully opened OíNeillís hand to give him the relic. He curled his hand around hers indicating that she should keep it.
Suddenly there came a loud, prolonged, one-note wail that to Scully sounded something like
E-R-I-N G-O B-R-A-H!!
It may simply been the receding windÖ or the fevered battle cry of a long dead Irish Brigade soldier.
* The American
Civil War Source Book - Phillip Katchner
--end of file--
C L Goodwin 1996
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