Man's Best Friend

Chapter 3

On a Train Headed for Who Knows Where - Friday, 10:48 a.m.

The constant, clamorous chugging sounds and the shaky back and forth motion finally shook Mulder out of his sleep. As he awoke, he tried hard to ignore the throbbing ache in his shoulder, the soreness in his chest and the vice grip which was being constantly applied to his head. He felt his eyes slit open, meeting only with darkness once again. The train was in transit. Scully had not heard him. She had not come to his rescue. Her magical Mulder detector must have short- circuited. He had been amazed at how his partner had managed to ferret him out in some of the most unusual of locations. She had tracked him to an abandoned satellite station in the jungles of Puerto Rico, and to the middle of nowhere Alaska with little more than a hunch to go on. Perhaps she just wanted to prolong the search, to make him appreciate her even more when she finally did rescue him. He'd give her another day, then after that, he'd take matters into his own hands.

Mulder slowly uncoiled from the tight ball he had curled himself into in order to help retain body heat. Joints cracked and muscles rebelled as he forced himself to sit up. The night had been a bit chilly, but with the train in motion, the car had warmed somewhat from the friction of the wheels underneath. Once comfortably - as comfortable as he could be at present - in an upright position, Mulder sought out the time on his watch. Pressing the tiny button, he was rewarded with a bright, green glow, which seemed nearly blinding after being subjected to the previous total darkness. He studied the digital numbers and date, and silently calculated the time thus far he had spent in his moving prison. Just a little more than twenty-four hours. It felt like an eternity.

Glancing up at the inaccessible exit, he wondered if he should give it another try. Perhaps someone had unlocked it at some point during the night as he slept. Before he could convince himself one way or the other about that, a movement caught his eye from the shadows at the far end of the car. He detected what appeared to be two, small iridescent green orbs floating eerily towards him. He slid backwards, contemplating escape but only succeeded in pressing himself into the curved, steel wall. His thumb lost its grip on the light giving button on his watch just as the fast approaching orbs were about to descend upon him. He screamed out in terror as something cold and wet pressed against his cheek and long, stiff hairs tickled his nose. Putting his hand up in defense, he made contact with thick, soft fur attached to a solid, warm body, large, erect ears, and a leather collar with a heart-shape piece of metal dangling from it. It took a few seconds for the messages his sense of touch were creating to finally translate in his mind.

"Pooh?" he uttered, his voice barely audible. The animal reacted instantly with a wet tongue lapping gently at Mulder's lips. "Okay, okay," Mulder groaned softly as he turned his head away from the sloppy kisses. He was convinced that it was definitely Pooh or either Scully was in dire need of a full body shave. The dog, thankfully, aborted his show of affection as Mulder found the light switch again. "God! You scared the crap out of me! How'd you get in here?"

Naturally, there was no answer forthcoming, leaving Mulder to wonder just how the animal had come to be trapped with him and how is it he hadn't noticed him earlier. Of course, he had to have been in the car all along, perhaps unconscious or asleep in a far corner. Mulder knew that some animals became quite docile when placed in a state of complete darkness, or perhaps all the screaming and noise Mulder had kept up earlier had left the pooch somewhat apprehensive. Mulder wanted to check the dog out to see if it had been injured, but wasn't sure what help he could offer even if it were. All he might do was touch some sensitive area and probably end up with his throat torn out. In his present condition, Mulder knew he was in no shape to defend himself should Pooh decide to pull a Cujo on him. So far, the dog only seemed to be interested in companionship as he sat close to Mulder and lightly rested his muzzle on his uninjured shoulder. It was probably a position he'd shared often with his owner.

Mulder raised his right hand and gave his new friend a couple of gentle pats on the head. "Sorry I got you into this mess," he spoke softly. If he had only taken the dog to the animal shelter as he had intended, he most surely would have avoided this latest fiasco. "Scully's gonna kill me," he groaned. Assuming she can find me, he thought to himself. Still, he might be able to get himself out of this. As soon as the train came to a stop, he could yell and bang on the sides to get someone's attention. He remembered seeing the word 'Sugar' printed on the side of the car. It was probably going back to be refilled and someone at some point would have to take a look inside to clean it, hopefully.

It had been over twenty-four hours since Mulder had been imprisoned, and also since he'd last had anything to eat or drink. He was more thirsty than hungry though his stomach had begun to growl for nourishment. He wondered how long Pooh could hold out; how long before he was unable to control his natural instincts for survival and feed on the only other source of food in the place. Mulder had a flashback to Scully's little cannibal Queequeg snacking on its owner after the old woman passed away. He shuddered at the memory and at the thought of Pooh chowing down on his remains should they not be rescued in time. As if reading his mind and trying to alleviate his fears, Pooh nuzzled against him affectionately and lapped his chin with a warm, wet tongue. Another kiss? Or could he have been simply tasting his next meal?

"Yeah, you're all kissy-face now," said Mulder, carefully dissuading the gesture, "but give it another day or two and you'll be checking my pockets for Grey Poupon."

Despite the threat of becoming dog food, Mulder was actually relieved to have the animal as company. He recalled an incident a couple of years back when he had been kidnapped and placed in solitary confinement for two, mind-numbing weeks. He had been given a few comforts of home, food water and a bed, but what he found he had craved most of all was companionship. After the first week, even a loathsome cockroach would have been a welcomed roommate. Having the quiet canine present now made him feel rather relaxed considering the circumstances.

When something rolled against his leg, Mulder reached out blindly until he made contact. Recognizing immediately what it was, he smiled triumphantly, then switched the small flashlight on. The sudden brightness made him squint at first, but his eyes quickly adjusted from complete darkness to a narrow beam of light shining upwards.

"Al-l-right-ty then!" he exclaimed triumphantly. "How do you like that, Pooh? We've got light. At least for a while. Not sure how long the batteries will last though. They're fairly new, so maybe they'll last until we can get out of here."

Mulder aimed his flashlight straight ahead and saw that he was facing a side wall. The surface was smooth and shiny which reflected the small beam of light and added a bit more illumination to his confinement. He had explored his surroundings yesterday to see if there was another way out besides the hatch. Using the weak light from his watch he was able to determine that there was only one way in and one way out. It made him wonder about the sudden appearance of Pooh again. He had felt his way from one end of the car to the other and was fairly sure he would have stumbled upon the animal at some point as big as it was. Perhaps it had deliberately avoided making contact for whatever reason. Surely, if it had been alert it could have seen, heard and smelled him coming.

Mulder carefully tucked the pen-shaped flashlight into the folds of his makeshift headband so that he could light the area directly in front of him. He then shifted his attention to the dog, trying to decide if it was in good physical shape. If it was hurt in any way, it was nothing obvious. He recalled hearing a gunshot after his assailant had dumped him through the hatch. He had assumed that Pooh tried to attack the man, then was shot and killed, perhaps with an FBI issued revolver. He could kick himself for losing his gun again. And he could kick himself twice for not strapping on his spare ankle gun. He had been so preoccupied trying to figure out what to do about the dog that he had forgotten to get his backup weapon. By the time he had thought about it, he was already behind the wheel of his car and didn't feel like going back into his apartment. Besides, he was only going in to the office to do paperwork all day long. He hadn't planned on seeing any action. He should have known better.

As he looked at the steel wall directly across from him, Mulder wondered if he had shot a gun off in here to gain attention, if the bullets might not ricochet about and come back for him. Stainless steel walls inside and cast iron outside probably wouldn't be easily penetrated by twenty-two caliber bullets. He looked at the dog again and thought about how his little ankle gun could at least offer protection against a vicious animal should Pooh happen to go stir crazy or rabid or whatever.

Mulder jumped slightly as the dog suddenly got to his feet and trotted off towards the darkest end of the car. After a moment, he returned with a bag in his mouth and dropped it in front of his traveling companion. Mulder stared at it curiously at first, then realized what it was and where it had come from. It was a bag from McDonald's. It was what Mulder had seen the man he was following drop into the tank car. He reached for it and opened it up. Inside the bag, he found a balled-up napkin, a half-eaten sausage biscuit and a sealed cup containing about an ounce of orange juice.

Mulder broke the sausage biscuit in half and offered a portion to Pooh who sniffed at it first, then decided it was okay to be consumed. Mulder followed his example then took the lid off the orange juice. He didn't know if dogs drank orange juice, so he held the lid out to Pooh who sniffed it, then turned away with disinterest. Just as well, because there was only a swallow's worth which Mulder greedily gulped down. After breakfast, he placed the remnants back into the bag and sat it aside.

"Thanks, Pooh. That really hit the spot... You know, you could have kept it all for yourself. I'm glad you didn't but, I guess I just figured that it's every man and dog for himself."

Mulder silently watched the dog as it pawed at the bag, then began to systematically rip it to shreds, perhaps out of boredom or simply it was something he enjoyed doing. A shooting pain in his shoulder reminded Mulder of its misalignment. He had managed to push all pain aside temporarily since discovering he had company. Now the adrenaline had drained away and he was acutely aware of every little twinge. At least the headache wasn't as bad as before. The dizzying pounding had dwindled down to a dull throbbing. His side was sore to the touch, so he decided to refrain from touching it. That left him to concentrate on how agonizing his shoulder had become. The thought of somehow shifting it back into position consumed his brain. He considered giving it one good slam into the wall as Mel Gibson had done, but wasn't completely sold on that idea. His arm needed to be pulled away from his body in order for it to snap back into its socket. With that thought in mind, Mulder looked towards Pooh again, noticing the massive jaws on the gentle animal.

"You like playing tug of war, Pooh?" Mulder asked as he unfastened the belt buckle which had been helping to keep his arm immobile. He winced in agony at the lost of support but gritted his teeth and continued. He decided to test his theory first by wrapping one end of the belt around his right hand and offered Pooh the opposite buckled end. The animal instantly abandoned the shredding of the paper bag and grabbed the leather belt, tugging on it with determination. Mulder held on a few seconds, verbally encouraging the dog to pull. "Okay, that's enough," Mulder told him, but was ignored. Pooh continued the tug-of-war game until Mulder finally let go of his end, causing the dog to stumble back a few feet. Pooh returned undaunted and dropped the belt in Mulder's lap, happily awaiting a rematch.

Mulder repositioned himself on his knees, his left side facing Pooh. After wrapping the end of the belt securely around his left hand, he again offered the other end to Pooh, though he kept a hold on it with his right so he could better control the outcome. As soon as the animal had the taste of leather in his mouth, he began pulling hard. Mulder waited until he felt that the animal was in just the right position, then he let go with his right hand and threw his body in the opposing direction. He let out a resounding yelp as his arm was yanked outwards and he felt his shoulder shift into a new location. Luckily, his cry startled the dog into dropping the belt, because he hadn't had either the sense or the ability to release his end. Cradling his screaming arm, Mulder sunk down on his haunches and attempted to catch his breath. "Oh, God!," he moaned. "I'm not so sure that was a good idea."

FBI Headquarters - 12:45 p.m.

Scully wasn't one-hundred-percent convinced that her partner was on the train that had departed the night before, but as long as there was that possibility, she knew she had to follow up on it. Even with computers to track the trains whereabouts, locating an unknown freight car was not easy. As the train traveled, it dropped off and picked up cars along the way. During the night, the Westbound train Mulder was thought to be on had already made four stops and dropped off a total of twenty-eight cars, half at various locations in three states and the rest had been transferred to an engine heading South. So far, four of the first nine cars had been located and searched. Tracking and searching the cars which had already been dropped off wouldn't pose too much of a problem. However, the office director wasn't thrilled at stopping the trains that were in transit to search for a man who may or may not be on board. After all, he pointed out, he had a schedule to keep. Scully understood his dilemma and asked graciously for his continued assistance in the matter.

It would definitely help to know what type of car Mulder was on. That would narrow down the search. But the only person who would know that was Mulder and whomever he had followed to the train yard. Knowing her partner as she did, Scully had to assume that he had been following some sort of lead. She sat at her desk looking over the composite drawing the two emergency room attendants had come up with. This was the man her partner had been following instead of taking the dog to the shelter. As Scully wondered about the relevance of that, the words of Officer Garret came back to her. He had spoken to Mulder about a kidnapping investigation at a girls' school near the animal shelter. Mulder must have spotted the man under suspicious circumstances and decided to check him out.

Scully picked up the phone, and after a few minutes had made contact with the investigating detective on the case. He agreed to meet her at the home of the kidnapped girl. She showed the composite sketch to the parents who was able to ID him as the twenty-year-old, ex-boyfriend of their missing daughter. Like dominoes, everything began to fall into place. A surprise visit to the young man's garage apartment yielded the missing girl, alive and unharmed, asleep in her lover's bed. Billy McWhorter admitted easily to the scam he and the under-aged Donna concocted to extort money from the girl's father so they could run away together. It took a bit more coaxing down at police headquarters for him to admit to attacking a federal agent and locking him inside a freight car. He insisted that once he had the ransom money he had planned to make an anonymous phone call and let someone know about the trapped agent. Scully didn't buy that for one second, but she didn't bother to call him on it. At the moment he was being cooperative, telling her what she needed to know to help locate her partner. He was able to give a general description of the car but had no details of identifying words or numbers. Still, it was more than what she had before.

The Train - 1:24 p.m.

Pooh had settled down on Mulder's right side, letting his head rest on a long, slim thigh. His tail flipped happily back and forth as a hand smoothed over his head and half way down his back. The biting pain in Mulder's shoulder seemed to last forever, but after a few minutes, it curbed considerably, happy to be in its proper position once again. Mulder had replaced the belt again as a sling. Even though his shoulder felt better now, it was probably best to keep it immobile until he had it checked out by Dr. Scully. He knew she'd think him insane for doing what he had. He could have made things worse, but she'd forgive his stupidity. She always did.

As Mulder sat, languidly petting the dog, he thought back to another time and place. "I remember when I was a kid, it seemed like every family in the world had a dog except us. I begged my dad for a puppy for years, but he wouldn't give in at first because he didn't think I was responsible enough to take care of a dog. Then finally, for my tenth birthday, he and mom surprised me with a golden retriever puppy. I named him Shane, after that old Alan Ladd movie. He was a lot like you, personality-wise. Very gentle and friendly, playful. I taught him a few tricks. He was a great dog. I was crazy about him."

The faint smile which had crept onto Mulder's face began to quickly fade as he recalled with crystal clarity the events that led to Shane's premature demise. He had been throwing a Frisbee around in the front yard for the dog to catch. His father had warned him to stay in the backyard when playing, but there were too many obstacles in the way. Besides his mother's garden and several full-bodied trees, he had to maneuver around Samantha and her tea party, the jungle gym with swing set, the gazebo and the fish pond. The front yard was the only place a boy and his dog could enjoy a decent came of Frisbee tossing. However, a misdirected throw sent an eager to please retriever out into the street and into the path of a moving van.

"I hate that sound you guys make when you get seriously hurt... He didn't make those sounds for long though. The truck got him pretty good. He wasn't even a year old." Mulder shook his head sadly. "I never wanted another dog after that. Goldfish became my pets of choice. You don't grow too attached to them and they die quietly."

Pooh turned partially over to expose his underside, then gently pawed at his new friend to redirect his petting. Mulder took the hint and rubbed his hand up and down the soft, white furred chest, setting off an ecstatic right hind leg motion in the process.

"God, you're easy to please," Mulder grinned. "Must be nice to find so much pleasure in something so simple. I wish my life could be so uncomplicated. Just lay back and have Scully rub me down... Yeah, I could definitely go for that. But don't tell her I said so."

Mulder remembered shaking his head in pity when he saw Scully talking to her dog as if it could understand everything she said. She insisted that it did indeed understand quite a lot, though not necessarily the words, but rather the tone of the words and the body language she used. So far, Mulder's voice had been a raspy monotone, and the only body language he had used was in petting the animal, his words completely unrelated. Pooh could not possibly have a clue as to anything he was saying. Perhaps that's why it made talking to him so easy.

"It's kind of like talking to myself, only I'm not," Mulder continued his monologue. "People think you're crazy when you talk to yourself. But people who talk to animals, that's different. You know, they've done studies on the calming and regenerative effects animals, especially dogs and cats have on people. They even have programs where they take dogs and cats to hospitals and nursing homes so people can just pet them." Mulder smiled, thinking of this king-size canine with the wolf-like features going up to some little old lady in a wheelchair. "Somehow, Pooh... I'm sorry, but that name. I mean, I know my name's not that great either, but you have to admit that yours is kind of wimpy sounding. It reminds me of the little sissy dog that Olive Oyl always forced Popeye to take for a walk, and he'd end up getting beat up by Bluto and his bulldog named Killer. But of course, in the end, Popeye fed the dog some of his spinach and they both kicked ass.

"Your name is something more like what Scully should have named her dog." Mulder grimaced. "I still can't believe she named it Queequeg. The first time I heard her call it that, I spit out coffee all over myself. I was talking to her over the phone and she was yelling at it to stop eating a plant or something. 'Queequeg! Leave that alone,'" Mulder did a poor imitation of his partner's voice. "I never really liked him though. I guess he sensed it because he snarled and snapped at me whenever I got too close. I suppose that's why I wasn't more sympathetic to Scully when she lost him. Actually, and I hate to admit this, but at the time I thought it was kind of funny in a sense. I know, I know it's sick, but just the thought of Scully out walking this little dust mop at night in the backwoods of Georgia with a reel-in leash and it gets away from her and gets eaten by a... a creature."

He recalled how upset Scully had been when she had lost Queequeg. He didn't take her loss seriously in the beginning. After all, it was just a dog. It wasn't like it was a real person or anything. He had never understood people who took their relationship with their pets as seriously as they would a human family member or friend. At least his partner had not been one of those types to dress her dog in sweaters and hats and spend a fortune to have its nails painted and its hair coifed with pink ribbons. He, himself had flushed many a goldfish down the toilet without a twinge of regret. Fish were disposable pets. They were something soothing to watch until they began floating to the top, belly up. He hadn't realized at the time that Scully had lost more than just a disposable pet. She had lost unconditional love, trust and loyalty all wrapped up in one cuddly little ball of fur.

"I shouldn't have called Queequeg a dust mop. That wasn't nice. If it wasn't for me he'd still be alive. If I had given Scully more time to find someone to look after him so she wouldn't have to drag him along with us... But I was in such a hurry to go chasing monsters and so insistent that she come with me, I didn't stop to think. But I know how dangerous X-File cases tend to get. They may seem like a bunch of unrelated coincidences on the surface, but they always turn out to be something more sinister and deadly than anyone could ever imagine. She knew better than to bring him along, but... she figured I needed her and she didn't want to let me down. And when she lost him, what was my reaction? Well for one, I was kind of pissed that she still didn't want to believe in legendary sea monsters. I really didn't care much about what she might be feeling. I was so self- absorbed, all I cared about was catching sight of Big Blue. Which I never did because... there is no such thing.

"Scully got me back for my insensitivity though. When we were out on that rock thinking we might become Big Blue's midnight snack, she really let me have it. She called me Ahab. Said that I was chasing a white whale and that I didn't care who I took down with me in my relentless search for the ever-elusive truth. It hurt to hear her say that. It hurt even more because I know it's true. I don't... I don't like to stop and think about all the people that have been hurt or killed because of me and my beliefs. And I don't know why Scully stays with me after all that's happened to her. I guess that's an X-file within itself." He sighed deeply as he considered his feelings towards his partner. "I don't know what I'd do without her. I've come so close on several occasions to having to find out... I love her," he softly confessed. "I should probably tell her that someday, but those words don't come easy for me. Hell, I couldn't even say them to her when she was in the hospital dying of cancer. But I think she knows how I feel about her. She has to know... She's my best friend."

Railway Tracking Office - 3:37 p.m.

When Scully took the new information back to the railway office and presented it to the director, he frowned uncomfortably. "Are you sure about this?" Jim Everett's words were laced with concern.

"As sure as I can be. Is there a problem?"

"The car you're describing is for foodstuff transport. It's specially designed to keep out moisture, rodents and bugs."


"It's air tight."

Scully did some quick figuring in her mind. "He's been in there for about thirty hours," she said. "How much air does he have left?"

The man shook his head, either choosing to ignore the question, or simply not knowing the answer. "Without knowing the exact serial number of the car, I still won't be able to pinpoint its location, but at least we have a good idea of what we're looking for. We'll find him," he offered her a reassuring smile.

"You didn't answer my question," Scully reminded him. "How much air does he have left?"

Everett eyed her evenly, knowing she wanted him to be straight with her. "Your partner has maybe another sixteen to eighteen hours of air, give or take. I'm sure that's plenty of time. Don't worry. Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got work to do."

Don't worry. Scully suppressed a pained chuckle at that thought. How many times had she heard that phrase associated with her partner? How many times had he used it to placate her? If she hadn't taken the time to worry about him when he didn't show up for work in the first place, she never would have known he was in trouble. A main part of her job decreed that she worry over him. And until she saw him safe and sound in front of her once again, she would continue her worrying.

"Damn you, Mulder," she swore under her breath, cursing his penchant for getting into trouble. Sighing deeply, she added, "Just hold on, Mulder. I'll find you."


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