Chapter Six: Lento
Mulder sprawled across the back seat of the cab while Scully massaged her eyelids with her fingertips. Mulder looked out the rear window of the cab, noting a decided lack of raving lunatics chasing after them. He wondered if the three had even noticed their absence or if they were still arguing. He shook his head. Oldest trick in the book. Now he knew why.
"Where to, mate?"
"London Elizabeth Hotel." Mulder was glad to hear Scully reply in a more or less normal voice, though to his eyes she looked rather shaken. She had unconsciously seated herself as far away from him as possible and he suspected that if her hands were unoccupied they would be shaking. This was the woman who'd survived cancer, oversized parasites, zombies, even amorous shape shifters. What was it about this--whatever "this" was--that had upset her so much? He squeezed her shoulder reassuringly, and she dropped her hands to her lap. After staring at them for a moment, she sighed.
"I don't understand any of this."
A glib reply died on his lips. "I don't understand it either, Scully."
She met his gaze with a sad smile. "I think I'm beginning to understand what it's like to be you."
She was talking about her feelings. Hot dam! He bit back another humorous retort in deference to diplomacy. "In what way?"
"Well, it's all confused." She took a deep breath. "I get the feeling that every person I've met on this trip is somehow connected to something big. So big it frightens me, even after everything I've seen with you. I don't know how to begin figuring out how all of them fit into it."
"Well, if the scene we just witnessed is any indication, they don't know how it all fits together either."
"That's the good thing about secret consipracies," her mouth quirked up into a semblance of a smile. "They're so secret that nobody knows everything." Her expression turned serious. "You do believe me about the doors, don't you? I know I can't prove anything…." Her voice trailed off dejectedly.
The irony of the situation was not lost on Mulder. "I think I'd have to kick my own ass if I didn't believe you. One of the tenets of my personal belief system is that some of us see the world very differently from others, and I don't just mean figuratively."
She was silent for a moment, thinking; then spoke. "When I was in kindergarten and we were learning the colors, I remember getting confused because I thought 'Is the green I see the same green that other people see?' My teacher had to call my parents in for a conference, because every time she'd ask me to find green I'd sit there wondering if she meant 'my' green or 'her' green. She even had my vision tested. I guess it was the reasonable thing to do, given the circumstances. In retrospect, it's what I would have done." She sighed. "I gave up trying to see things that weren't there because all the adults in my life made me feel like there was something wrong with me when I'd ask about them."
Mulder was in full psychologist mode. "Did you see things that 'weren't there' often?"
Scully's eyes narrowed, but then her head fell forward brokenly. "I just don't know any more." Her voice was tight.
Mulder slipped his arm around her shoulder. "It's OK, Scully."
She stiffened slightly at his touch, but leaned into him. "Thanks." He held her for a minute or so, rubbing her arm softly until her breathing slowed to normal.
"They probably know where we are right now." Her voice was flat.
"They could be waiting for us at the hotel."
Mulder noticed a ghost of a twinkle in Scully's eye. "They've probably got more to talk about than we do. From the sound of things when we left, I suspect they'll be at it for at least a few hours. Why should we sit around twiddling our thumbs at the hotel until they decide what to do with us?"
"All right, you've talked me into it. Dinner and drinks it is." Mulder turned to the driver. "Change of directions: Chelsea, Ransome's Dock."
"Ransome's Dock? You're not going to make me eat that smoked eel you were going on about!"
"You said you wanted local color, Scully, and this place is as colorful as it gets."
Scully groaned and returned to massaging her eyelids. But this time it was to cover a smile.
The restaurant was indeed colorful: its bright cobalt blue walls stood out against the grey cement that coated the sides of the canal. The afternoon sun was still shining brightly, imbuing the water between the barges with a deep greenish hue. The interior was festooned with dried chili peppers and Matisse posters and altogether more attractive than growling. Mulder ordered steak and kidney pie, mashed spuds, and a glass of claret. Scully, looking slightly nauseated by Mulder's order, asked for scrambled eggs and a mimosa.
When the waitress left, Scully shook her head. "You're going to have a heart attack by the time you're 40 if you keep eating stuff like that."
"Like pizza and beer is much better?"
She sighed. "I used to think I was a positive influence on your eating habits. Now I think you're corrupting mine."
"I don't eat all fat and grease, you know. I occasionally partake of green matter."
"Yeah, when the fat and grease has been sitting in your refrigerator for too long."
"Please, Scully, you'll put me off my supper."
She wrinkled her nose. "What, no stomach for the nephrids? Such a pity."
"Better than denatured, pulverized ova."
She blinked, surprised at the flood of emotions the single word elicited. That wound was still fresh.
Mulder, for his part, seemed to have noticed his blunder and was valiantly trying to steer the conversation away from anything that would upset her. He was going on about Italian villagers who swore by the life-extending properties of red wine when Scully noticed an evening newspaper lying on a nearby table that had yet to be cleaned. Its headline caught her eye.
VALUABLE EGYPTIAN ANTIQUITIES STOLEN FROM BRITISH MUSEUM
Following her line of vision, Mulder whistled.
She picked up the newspaper and returned to her seat."I guess it wasn't a moose head that was stolen, then."
"You're forgetting the ancient Egyptian god Bullwinka whose realm was a mystic kingdom called Frostbite Falls. He was favored especially by the boy king Tutamkhamen and his pet boy Sherman."
Scully ignored him and scanned the article."The items stolen were appraised at around three thousand pounds."
"So little? What was stolen, a reproduction of Cleopatra's favorite back scratcher?"
"Two small statuettes representing animals. It doesn't give any details."
"They must be either made of cheap materials, in poor condition, or both. Curious, isn't it?"
"That they chose to steal relatively worthless items instead of other priceless pieces in the collection?"
"No, that Egyptian junk has lasted for millennia. Just think, future civilizations may be judging us by ceramic clowns or paintings of dogs playing poker."
Scully looked pointedly at Mulder. "It boggles the mind."
He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "So, why these particular statues?"
"Well, they could have sentimental value, like the hippo statue that was stolen from the Smithsonian last week It was their unofficial mascot."
"Ah, so you admit the two robberies may be related."
"It's possible, but improbable."
"I'll take what I can get."
"But I don't think the British Museum has anything like old William. Lots of gold, mummies and organ jars, but no blue hippos."
"Speaking of organs…" The waitress arrived with their plates, each brimming with food. Scully had to admit, had she not known what had gone into Mulder's meal she might have been tempted to try a bite.
Their meal passed in relative silence, each to his or her own thoughts.
Scully's mind drifted back to the odd cast of characters who seemed bound up in whatever was going on. Mr. Black, Mr. White, Percy, Cho, Liangru, the disappearing man who had followed them, then to the owl, the robberies, the doors, and (she had almost forgotten) the odd deaths they had been hired to investigate. But when she tried to fit the elements together, her mind felt like it was hitting against a brick wall. There was something crucial she didn't understand.
"O Time; thou must unravel this, not I. It is too hard a knot for me t'untie." It took her a moment to realize she'd spoken aloud.
"Truer words were never spoken." Mulder took a long sip of his Chateau Thames Embankment and returned to his spuds.
After picking at her eggs (she really didn't feel too hungry for some reason) and finishing her mimosa, Scully flagged down the waitress and ordered a beer. Following her cue, Mulder also ordered a pint.
"Of all the things I miss about England, it has to be the beer."
"I'm sure many of your fond Oxford memories were involved with and subsequently blurred by it."
Mulder snorted. "Picture it through the eyes of an 18-year old American male suddenly transported to a wonderful place where the women have accents and the alcohol is potent and legal for him to consume."
"Which all led to your desecration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's grave with the flexible Ms. Green?"
Mulder winked roguishly. "Precisely. Of course, there are plenty of other monuments to desecrate if we have time on this trip."
"Such a shame to have so many things diverting our attention from systematically draining the entertainment budget."
When the drinks came, Scully was half tempted to down the thing at once and que sera sera. But she didn't. She savored the nutty ale and the knots of tension in her back and neck began to release. Mulder seemed to be enjoying his as well. His eyelids drooped slightly and the vertical lines between his brows relaxed. A companionable silence fell between the two as they watched couples and families come and go. When Scully finally reached the bottom of her glass, the shadows outside had begun to lengthen. She sat back with a contented sigh. Mulder's eyes were on her and she smiled softly at him.
The waitress appeared and refilled their water glasses, then pushed the bill towards Mulder.
He looked apologetically at Scully. "I think the dinner crowd is starting to come in. We should probably get back to the hotel and face the music."
They both got to their feet. Mulder pulled out his wallet and fished out some bills and coins.
"Dinner's on me."
"Are you sure? We can charge it to our food account."
"Consider it a peace offering for the next time I put my foot in my mouth. Shall we?" He offered her an arm.
She smiled broadly and took it. "We're off to see the Wizard."
Mulder escorted her out of the restaurant, whistling.
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