OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM
|SCULLY'S CASE FILES|
REASONS AND LIES.
WASHINGTON DC, 9.30am
Walter Skinner had found the report he was writing labour enough. If he’d had a choice in the matter he would have set it aside an hour ago, but he didn’t have a choice. Suddenly he winced and drew back in reaction to an uncomfortable twinge in his midriff. He put his pen down, took off his glasses and rubbed a hand over his eyes. He was supposed to be taking things easy but circumstances simply wouldn’t allow the luxury. He knew what was wrong. Recovering from a gun shot wound was a slow and often painful process. It wasn’t just the physical, either. He’d recovered from wounds before. Maybe that’s why he tried to ignore it and put it out of his mind completely by concentrating on the tasks at hand. He wasn’t succeeding.
Skinner had come to rue the fact that he should have taken the offer of extended leave. Lately he felt irritable and preoccupied. The last meeting he chaired saw him no more than a figurehead, letting others drive proceedings, and that wasn’t like him at all. The work never stopped, and as an Assistant Director he had important responsibilities and certain demands. He was carrying this alone, he knew that, all his anger and frustration, the grief. His only solace in a drink or two… always alone. Counselling? He couldn’t talk about it to strangers and he didn’t have the time to pursue it. How could those college-trained desk jockeys understand, anyway. Had they ever stood in the way of a gun?
There came a knock at the main door. He frowned as he replaced his glasses. He didn’t particularly want any interruptions this close to his scheduled meeting but Kimberley wasn’t at her desk to shepherd anyone away. So, with just a hint of reluctance, he asked the caller to come in. A rather solemn faced Dana Scully proved to be that person. They exchanged questioning looks. She waited expectantly, one hand holding the door open, the other tightly by her side. Was this business?
"Yes, Agent Scully?"
"May have a moment of
your time, sir?"
Skinner took only a second to consider then stood and waved a hand to the two vacant chairs before his desk. As Scully walked forward she noticed he appeared worn and thin. He seemed very tired. Maybe this wasn’t the place or time, after all. She hadn’t considered this to be an intrusion. Nevertheless, she couldn’t just walk out now. She took his direction and sat down.
Skinner resumed his seat. Despite the discomfort he was experiencing, Scully deserved his full attention and she got it. He clasped his hands and leaned forward on his elbows. He hadn’t failed to notice she looked drawn, and tired.
They’d spoken a few times since Cardinal’s arrest but mostly by phone. There had been some incident in South Dakota that he had still to look into. He had intended to ask Scully to come to see him when time permitted to talk about her report. He’d read it thoroughly, was sensitive enough to realise the traumatic implications but to be truthful, he had his own problems to contend with - needs that were more personal and more immediate. "What is it, Scully?" he asked, finally.
She stalled suddenly, eyes downcast, and Skinner got the impression that she was going through a change of mind, that she’d come to the conclusion that now she was here, she didn’t really want to be. He waited for her to speak and when she did, it surprised him. She looked up, her whole demeanour changing as he watched. When she spoke her voice was clear and confident.
"How you feeling… are you experiencing any pain?"she asked, sounding too damn much like the doctor she was. She had adopted an obvious ‘bedside manner’ persona that he found somewhat disconcerting. It seemed to swap the roles somehow.
"I’m all right." He dismissed her question quickly, unwilling to admit to the occasional twinges or dyspepsia. She apparently didn’t believe him.
"If the medication’s not working adequately we can boost the dose or see about changing it."
"I’ll manage." He could see that, despite her concern, she was hedging around the true purpose of her visit. Obviously something was troubling her.
"You didn’t come here just to enquire after my health, Scully. What did you want to see me about?" His tone was now searching and insistent.
There was a long pause while she considered that she would have to come to the point. "I wondered if you’d read my report, Sir?" her attitude had become formal, she was sitting bolt upright and Skinner straightened in the chair.
"Yes, I have. It’s been officially noted that you were the special agent in charge."
She nodded, but it was not what she meant. An expectant look flashed in her eyes. He read that to mean that she had come here to have a frank discussion, that she wanted to be able to say what she felt but couldn’t drop the guard she had built up to protect herself.
"You did a good job, Scully," Skinner went on, trying to draw her out.
She cast her eyes to the hands clasp tightly in her lap. "Thank you, sir."
Her report had filled in the gaps but he knew as well as she did certain details had been left out in the arrest of Luis Cardinal. Her wording had been too clinical and detached. He could sense a disclosure but she wasn’t going to volunteer the information. It needed to be pried out of her.
"As far as I can see everything is in order." He probed further, gently. "Is there something you wanted to add or amend?"
She looked up and nodded, mouth open as if to speak yet she turned her eyes past him to gaze out the window, not to take in the view, but to gather her thoughts. Summoned to crystal clarity, everything came back to her in a rush.
There had always been a strong possibility Skinner’s assailant would try again after his first failed attempt. Two and two just needed to be put together. Kicking open the door of the ambulance she hoped would get the man off balance and unable to use his weapon effectively. She only partly succeeded. A gun went off close to her face and she heard the round bounce off the vehicle as she bolted from the back only to find herself in a desperate foot pursuit.
She concentrated hard, determined to run him down, prepared to shoot him in the leg if need be. He had a head start, she could stay in it if she just kept running. He turned into traffic. She saw him hit by a car, fall heavily but he got up and staggered on. She kept going, weaving through the vehicles with her weapon held tight and ready. He stumbled into a side street, and fell. She had him now - like a rat in a trap. Something inside her snapped and she recalled screaming at him - demanding he confess to the killing of her sister.
Luis Cardinal proved to be no more than a pathetic small man who pleaded for his life and she hated him for it. Her finger dropped from the guard to the trigger. She knew the safety was off. Just a little pressure, that’s all it needed. She felt the strain in her wrist and thumb muscle; her hands shook. There came an almost painful tightening of her throat and stomach… she felt sick. Right or wrong, it didn’t matter. Time seemed to stand still. The world now reduced this deserted city street, and two people. She was suddenly thrown by the offer of badly needed information… A horror ride of indecision… and finally…the intervention of the police…
"Is there a problem?" Scully heard Skinner ask, and she frowned as she came crashing back to the present. Oddly, she did feel a little unwell. She wanted to but struggled to tell him the truth, and her feelings raged until she was finally unable to contain all the guilt she had bottled up inside any longer. "The suspect… Cardinal…" she began, falteringly. Oh God, it would have been an execution.
"I wanted to kill him!" she suddenly blurted, breathless, taking Skinner and even herself by surprise. Their eyes locked for an instant, then she saw him close his briefly and wipe a hand over his mouth. He looked at her steadily.
"And that bothers you?"
"Bother me?" She appeared to ask herself the same question but didn’t continue. She didn’t need to. Skinner could see the turmoil she was going
through. Why did she seem no more than a child, seeking forgiveness; she didn’t need to be.
"While I don’t pretend to know how you feel… or what you felt when you had him in your sights, Scully, in the end it’s immaterial. The arrest was completed." He tried to allay her concerns. "There is no reason to browbeat yourself over it. Whatever the circumstances might have been, your motivations didn’t change the outcome. The case is closed."
She shook her head. "But I wanted him dead," she spoke barely above a whisper. Clearly she couldn’t believe it. Skinner witnessed the pain in her eyes. For Scully there was no justification. He had warned her that the personal issues could make her lose her objectivity and cloud her judgement. It was all right to step away. Convinced that that’s exactly what the unseen forces wanted, she had disregarded his advice. More than anything she wanted to bring the murderer of her sister to justice, any way she could. She told herself there were other reasons. The attempt on Skinner’s life had failed and if she stepped away the consequences might have proved just as disastrous. She tried to convince herself of that but it did no good - she couldn’t fight the guilt. These reasons were lies, and she despised herself for the telling of them. She had seen Mulder sometimes lose all his common sense and act savagely to get what he wanted. She was afraid of walking the same path.
"I didn’t take your advice. I made a mistake. I realise that now," she told Skinner honestly.
All morning he had been thinking about mistakes and second chances. Anyone was capable of a mistake, Skinner knew that perfectly well. He’d made one hell of a one getting shot in the first place. But Scully’s wasn’t a mistake even if she thought it was.
"You had your reasons. God knows I understand the power of revenge." He paused, trying to present a logical argument. "In any event you were in pursuit of a fleeing suspect wanted for murder. Deadly force was authorised."
"I keep telling myself that, but it’s a lie." She was becoming emotional, Skinner brought her in check.
"May I remind you, Agent Scully, that FBI agents are trained to shoot to kill?"
He saw her take a deep breath in an attempt to calm herself before answering. "I understand that, sir. I have done so on several occasions." A clench of her jaw and a slight turn of the head told him of her discomfort even at the thought of those instances. She seemed to shake off the painful recollections and continued. "But I rationalise that away by my sworn duty to protect and uphold the law. This was different."
Puzzled, he shook his head. "How so?"
"For the first time in my life I felt like I actually wanted to take a life… Not because I had to defend myself or anyone else but because I wanted the satisfaction, and it scares me."
"You were protecting me." He reminded her sharply.
She stopped, considered - there had been that, but she convinced herself it, too, was a lie. "Initially, but after I chased him down… your safety didn’t even enter my head." Pure guilt flecked her eyes. Skinner felt it keenly. Too keenly.
He stood, pocketed his hands and turned to gaze out the window slats to the street below. It seemed it was a time for confessions. He glanced back to her, his expression serious, but he turned to the window again. Somehow, with what he had to say, he couldn’t face her.
"Scully, you’re not the only one who wanted him dead. When I saw you charge off after Cardinal I hoped to God you’d get him, that somehow he’d force you to shoot. I saw the rage in your eyes and I know what kind of a shot you are." He paused a moment, a quick glance in her direction. "I wanted to be in your place. I wanted that chance to have a crack at him myself. I willed you to use the gun in your hand."
Skinner spoke openly, passionately. "I wanted that bastard dead. For what he’d done to me, for what he’d done to your sister…" he swung back. "For what he’d done to you." Scully looked up, locking his gaze, her eyes thanking him for his honesty, and he continued in a way that betrayed a hint of his buried feelings. "More than anything I wanted payback for what he’d done." He paused again to clench his fists, the muscles of his chest and arms tightening, before he spoke again in a very soft voice.
"When it happened, when he shot me I lay there in agony… he glared at me like I was nothing more than a rabid dog. I thought he was going to finish me off and he just spat at me!" He rubbed a hand over his mouth, almost flinching at the memory, then simply thrust it aside. "If I’d been there instead of you, if I’d been given half the chance you had, I might have taken my shot, rejected the offer of information and claimed he resisted arrest. I doubt you could ever be that ruthless." Scully sat a moment then queried him with a tilt of her head.
"It’s your natural compassion," he explained. "I know you wouldn’t have been able to pull the trigger no matter how much you might have wanted to. Not on an unarmed man."
She nodded to herself without realising it and Skinner resumed his seat. He watched her face, trying to read her mind, offering empathy. He did appreciate how difficult it was for her. She was a medical doctor trained to save lives, yet confronted at times by the decision to use deadly force. A strange paradox. Nevertheless, he trusted her judgement.
"Harness the memory." he told her. "File it away. Now you understand the nature of the beast. Scully in the end, you did the right thing. That’s all that counts."
There was another long pause, a moment of quiet reflection. "Yes, sir," she said finally, softly.
Skinner spoke with experience and knowledge. He had been there, on the knife’s edge. Scully knew perfectly well that he would have been a good agent, street-wise, keen, dependable and not afraid to get his hands dirty, nor unwilling to take on the unpleasant, or thankless tasks. He had been a decorated Marine after all. She was Navy bred and understood the nature and value of courage and the high price it often demanded. But Skinner’s quiet stoicism worked against him. He would not ask for help, and she was afraid that with nothing more to offer than words and her understanding she would not be able to help him.
With Cardinal’s death, conveniently removed from the equation by those same unseen forces which constantly intervened, the incident was closed, filed and locked away, already forgotten except by those it affected directly. Scully could only guess how Skinner really felt. She became aware of the silence which had grown. Both had been careful to make the right noises and keep the distance. Skinner was aware of it, too; he was also conscious of rank and convention. It was too easy to hide behind, too difficult to put aside.
When he looked down to gather together his file she assumed their conversation was at an end and that everything which could have been said, had been. Skinner gave her an expression of apology and got to his feet.
"I’m sorry, Scully, I have a meeting," he explained, without the need for a question and quickly reached for the jacket slung over the back of his chair.
Scully also rose, somehow thankful that other duties had intruded to force a speedy conclusion. More importantly, in danger of revealing too much, this was the ‘out’ they both needed. She moved to the door. He watched her walk away from him. He couldn’t let it go at that.
He had always valued her open sincerity and frankness and yet by the same token it had always made him feel a little uncomfortable, that inevitably she’d find the chink in his armour. He found himself hesitating then and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. Even so, because of shared experiences, somehow words were spoken that weren’t voiced. He understood now why she had come to see him. Scully knew. The cold-blooded mercenary actions of one man had inextricably linked them together, and that connection allowed the pain to be equally shared, not borne alone in silence. Indeed, as he took distance to examine it, he did feel more relaxed, unburdened and free of fatigue. He could get past it now, and move on. He might have taken the bullet but Scully, too, had been struck down as a consequence. Not only had she lost a beloved sister, and had the justice she so earnestly sought been thrown back in her face, more importantly she had discovered another level of her psych - one she didn’t know existed and it scared her deeply.
He should have been able to tell her so, to help more tangibly than with just an offer of simple moral support and yet he found himself floundering in his own good intentions. It was just too easy to fall back on rank and convention and he let the moment slide. He just didn’t know what to say, so he said nothing at all. Even to himself his "thank you" sounded thin. For a split second Scully appeared reluctant to leave, there was a slight pull of her mouth, the hint of a smile, then she turned, opened the door and walked out. Skinner very much regretted not handling the situation better. It was never easy to confront a failing or a weakness. Worst still a temptation so strong it over-rode all common sense to the point where nothing else mattered. These shortcomings often manifested themselves during times of adversity and trial. Nevertheless with the recognition came hard earned maturity and wisdom. In truth, not all reasons are lies.
--end of file--
C L Goodwin 1998
RETURN FILE TO DRAWER..