Experiment in Solitude

Chapter 7

After relieving himself, Mulder stood in front of the sink and held his hands beneath the faucet. He waited several seconds before realizing that the water would not be turning on automatically. He had done that several times during the day and still felt mildly annoyed at having to turn the water on manually. As he washed his hands, he glanced up at his image in the mirror and became painfully aware of his recent actions in front of his partner. He squeezed his eyes shut and let his forehead fall against the mirror.

"Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!" He symbolically banged his head against the mirror with each whispered outburst. "What the hell were you thinking?"

He closed the door which he had absent-mindedly left wide open, then sat down on the edge of the bathtub to ponder his next move. It wasn't as though Scully had never seen him naked before, however those times had been medical in nature. Odd though, he thought, he had just stripped naked in front of her and she had not uttered a word. Hopefully, her back was turned and she hadn't noticed, but more than likely she had seen him and was just too stunned to say anything.

"Mulder, are you all right in there?" she called to him from just outside the door.

"I'm fine," he lied.

"I thought you might need this."

The door opened a crack and her hand came in holding up a terry bathrobe. Mulder quickly took it and slipped it on. For Scully, the robe was nearly ankle-length and roomy. On him, it was just below his knees, tight around the shoulders, and the sleeves were at his elbows. But it served its purpose. He secured it close with the belt tied about his waist. Afterwards, he took in a deep breath and prepared to face the music. Scully was leaning against the doorway to her bedroom with arms folded as Mulder came out of the bathroom. He wasn't aware of the nonjudgmental expression her face bore. Unable to deal with the embarrassment, he simply cast his eyes to the carpet and shrugged sheepishly.

"Sorry, I...uh... I guess I sort of forgot I wasn't alone anymore."

"No, Mulder, you're not alone anymore."

Those words had a soothing effect on him. It was obvious that Scully knew and understood far more than he would ever be able to verbalize. He was finally able to look into her soft, blue eyes and return her warming smile.

"Night, Scully."

"Good-night, Mulder."

FBI Headquarters, A.D. Skinner's Office - 9:45 a.m.

Scully had received a call from Skinner's secretary to come to his office at once. Since Mulder had not been summoned as well, she had a pretty good idea what the subject of conversation would be. When she entered through the door, she found her superior signing his signature to a mountain of paperwork. He finished off one more form before turning his attention to her.

"Good morning, Agent Scully."

"Good morning, sir."

"Have a seat." He waited for her to sit, then inquired, "How's your partner?"

Although she suspected that her boss wanted a more detailed reply, she answered him simply with, "He's fine, sir."

"He stopped by yesterday to pick up his gun and the personal effects we had been holding as evidence. I have to admit, he looked surprisingly well, although..."

"Although what, sir?"

"He didn't seem quite like himself. Have you noticed anything odd about his behavior?"

"In what way?"

Skinner realized that even if she had noticed something out of the ordinary concerning her partner, she would never divulge such information to him or anyone else. He decided to let the issue drop and go on to something more pertinent.

"Never mind. Mulder told me about his theory regarding his abduction. He believes that neither Author Avery or his son was involved. Instead, he feels that he was being used as a guinea pig in some kind of covert experiment. Has he informed you of such?"

Scully nodded her head once. "Yes, sir, he has."

"And what is your opinion on the matter?"

"Well, logically it would seem that, of course, the Averys are the ones responsible for his kidnapping. They had the greatest to gain from his temporary imprisonment." She paused, taking the time to formulate her next words carefully. "However, Mulder's off-the-wall theories have at times held more than an ounce of truth to them. There is the possibility that he's not merely being paranoid. I'd like to keep an open mind in this case."

By the expression on her boss's face, it appeared that he was prepared to keep an open mind as well. He leaned back in his chair and tapped a pen lightly on his desk as he mused over his own thoughts.

"Although Author Avery is our number one suspect, we still haven't come up with anything that can tie him to this. Therefore, I'm giving Agent Mulder the chance to investigate this as he sees fit. He'll have the full cooperation of the bureau. I trust you'll do what you can to assist him."

Scully was almost speechless. Although it was understandable that the bureau would do all it could in a case affecting one of its own, it seemed a bit much to give Mulder free reign based on such an implausible theory. She wondered where the A.D.'s suspicions truly lie.

"Of course," she replied, hoping not to seem too flabbergasted. "I'll do whatever I can to help, sir."

"Also, I don't know if he told you this, but Agent Mulder is scheduled to talk with a company shrink today at two. A Dr. Nettles. It's merely a formality, but I'd appreciate it if you'd make sure he keeps the appointment."

"Yes, sir."

"That's all, Agent Scully."

As she entered their office in the basement, Mulder looked up from an opened file folder and eyed her knowingly.

"Why didn't you tell me about Skinner buying into your little delusion and giving you carte blanche to the bureau?"

"I wanted you to witness an unexplained phenomenon first hand."

Scully spoke as she settled down behind her desk. "I'm beginning to think that Skinner has a soft spot for you, Mulder."

"You think he'd mind if I started calling him Uncle Wally?"

"Uncle Wally wanted me to remind you of your appointment today at two."

"Remind me of it or make sure I show up for it?"

Scully didn't bother to reply to that one. She knew Mulder was already aware of the answer. "So, what direction are we taking today?"

"Teresa came up with a list of places we can check out. Out of thirty-three mental hospitals and clinics in the city and surrounding counties, almost all are near pizza parlors. But only twelve of them have automatic plumbing; five of those were installed within the last eighteen months."

"My... Teresa's quite efficient when she wants to be."

"Skinner told her to make any requests I ask of her top priority."

"Do you think Skinner knows something about this case? That maybe he has an idea about who's really behind it?"

"You mean like our buddy with the nicotine-stained fingers and black lungs? I thought about that too."

"You know, if Cancerman is behind it, Mulder, then we're probably wasting our time going any further. I'm sure he's covered all his tracks by now."

Mulder sat staring blankly at the list Teresa had given him. "Probably... possibly... maybe," he mumbled, then became lost in thought after that.

Scully reached over and took the list from him. After a quick once-over, she stated, "We'll cover more ground if we split up. You take the north side and I'll take the south."

"I thought you were suppose to make sure I made it to my appointment on time. How you gonna do that on the other side of town?"

If she hadn't known Mulder as well as she did, she wouldn't have caught on to his vaguely disguised plea. He wanted her to accompany him on his search. They had spent very little time apart since his return, and he wanted to keep it that way. He hadn't had time to recover from his ordeal yet, and the thought of waltzing into the place where he may have been held captive must have been terrifying for him. He managed to camouflage his fear with a lop-sided grin, but Scully's x-ray Mulder-vision allowed her to see through his facade.

"Guess you have a point there," she said. "Besides, I really wouldn't know what to look for, would I? Do you?"

"I'll never forget it."

Ridgeview Institution - 1:05 p.m.

With the first couple of stops they made, it was easy to see at a glance that they had come knocking at the wrong door. Listed as mental health clinics, each were located in a small office complex consisting only of a few rooms where patients could be interviewed by two or three roving doctors. The third place on the list, proved to be a bit more intimidating to Mulder. The Ridgeview Institution was an immense brick building, on several acres of land, surrounded by a high security fence.

Scully found herself doing all the talking. Mulder stood to the rear, studying the place carefully, as his partner explained to the administrator their reason for being there. Dr. Gruber was very open and friendly as he personally took them on a tour of the facility. He informed them that they did indeed have private rooms that fit the description, and he didn't hesitate in leading them to the fifth floor to have a look.

Mulder could tell as they strolled down the hallway, that this wasn't the place. Instead of white cinder blocks, the walls were smooth plaster, painted a soothing pastel green. The doors were similar to the one in his room, but with obvious differences. And the sounds... there were plenty of sounds to be heard. There was crying, laughter, screaming, singing and other sounds not easily discernible.

When Scully looked to Mulder for a verdict, he merely shook his head, turned and quickly walked away. Scully thanked the doctor for his assistance, then hurried to catch up with her partner. Mulder had boarded the elevator at the end of the hall and was standing with his finger on the "Open" button. When Scully joined him, he still didn't let go of the button. His eyes had zeroed in on the tiny, red light of the security camera above the door. Beads of nervous perspiration were dripping from his forehead, and his breathing was heavy and irregular.


He jumped at the sound of her voice, not noticing until she spoke that she was even present. Scully glanced up at the camera and realized that being alone in this small, white cubical must have reminded him of his recent imprisonment. She eased his hand away from the button to allow the elevator doors to close, then pressed the button for their floor.

"Mulder, are you sure you want to do this?"


"Maybe we should wait at least a week or two. You've been through a terrible ordeal and you haven't given yourself time to recoup from it. I understand you want to move on this before the trail gets cold, but I'm not so sure you're ready for this."

"You're worried about me, aren't you?" asked Mulder with a hint of a smile. She was going to answer him in the positive, but she halted when he looked deeply into her eyes and reached a hand out to caress her cheek. "I'm sorry I make you worry, Scully. I don't mean to." He spoke in an eerily serene voice that made her worry all the more.

The elevator doors opened as they reached the ground floor, and Scully had to coax him along with a hand at his elbow. "We should start back now," she told him. "You don't want to be late for your appointment."

"This is kind of a nice place though," said Mulder as they headed towards the exit. "If I ever have to be committed, I'd like to come back here."

FBI Headquarters - Dr. Nettles' Office - 2:02 p.m.

Scully stood outside of Dr. Nettles' office for a couple of moments. It wasn't likely that Mulder would do an about-face and duck out as soon as her back was turned. Oddly enough he seemed to be looking forward to meeting the doctor. He hadn't complained at all about the enforced session and even seemed to appreciate Scully walking him to the door. He had asked her before if she was worried about him. Yes, she was, but in a way she hadn't been before. She was worried that he had lost himself, that the fear of what had happened to him had engulfed him and swallowed him whole. But he'd be all right in time, she told herself. If not, at least she knew where to have him committed.

Mulder had already done his homework on Dr. Barbara Nettles. He knew that she was forty-seven-years-old, married to a politician for twenty-four years, and the mother of college-aged twin boys. She had been in private practice for fifteen-years and with the FBI for five years. She had been published in several top psychiatric magazines and she practiced hypnotherapy. She was a slender woman, plain looking, with a strong handshake and a pleasant smile.

"How do you do, Mr. Mulder," she greeted him courteously and offered him a chair across from her desk. "I understand that you're a psychologist yourself, Mr. Mulder, so I promise not to waste your time if you promise not to waste mine. Deal?"

"Fair enough."

"I have a copy of your report here. It states the facts simply that (a) you were kidnapped by persons unknown, (b) held in isolation for two weeks and (c) released unharmed." Dr. Nettles looked from the report to Mulder. "As reports go, this is fairly skimpy. I've compared it to other reports you've written. I noticed that you tend to add a more personal touch to your reports. You like to give your own interpretation of the facts, even a brief history of the ins and outs of a case. Have you ever noticed how many times you've used the words, 'I feel,' when writing your reports?"

"I suppose I was trying to be more objective in this instance because this case is personal in nature."

"Here, you are allowed to get personal. I don't want to know the facts of this case. I want to know your feelings about it. On your fifth day in isolation, you don't know what's going on beyond that door, you don't know who's responsible, you don't know if you'll ever see the light of day again. I want to know what was going on in your mind."

His mind went blank. He had thought that he would be able to come in here and tell this woman a few things to write down in her evaluation and satisfy all involved that he still had all his marbles. He had even thought of getting a few things off his chest so that he'd feel better overall. But now that he had his chance, his brain and mouth refused to cooperate.

Seeing the turmoil that was going through him, Dr. Nettles chose to back off. "Would you like something to drink? Some water or a cup of coffee?"

"Water would be nice."

Dr. Nettles stood and went over to the water cooler. She filled a paper cup and took it back to Mulder. He downed the five ounces of liquid quickly and handed the cup back for a refill. The doctor obliged him, but used the water as a lure to get her patient to move over to the sofa.

"It's a bit more comfortable over here," she told him. "You don't have to lie down."

Mulder sat down at one end of the couch, while the doctor took a chair across from him, notepad in hand. He drank his water more slowly this time.

"Did you think you'd ever see the light of day again?" asked Dr. Nettles.

"No, I didn't."

"Do you have any idea as to who's behind your abduction?"

"I have an idea. I have enemies."

"Very powerful enemies, it would seem. Are you going to retaliate?"

"I'm going to bring them to justice, if I can."

"And if you can't?"

"Doesn't mean I should stop trying."

She jotted down something before going to her next question. "What was the first thing you did when you got back home?"

"I uh... I haven't had time to go home yet."

"No? Where did you sleep last night? Did you sleep?"

"My partner and I worked late. We had a lot of catching up to do. It got late, I crashed on her sofa."

"What about your clothes? If you haven't been home yet..."

"I had some things at the cleaners... a couple of ties in my desk in the basement. The shoes I had been meaning to buy anyway were on sale yesterday."

"So in other words, you did everything possible to avoid going home at all. Are you afraid to go back home?"

Mulder snickered at such an absurd thought. "No, of course not. Like I said, I just haven't had time."

"Are you afraid of being alone?"

Since "No" wasn't the first thing to pop into his mind, Mulder didn't bother to respond at all. He sipped on his water instead. Dr. Nettles interpreted his silence correctly. She leaned forward in her chair and reached out to pat him on the knee in a comforting gesture.

"It's okay. Everyone's been afraid at some point in their life. It's only human. As a shrink, you know that it's important to admit that there's a problem so you can tackle it head-on. You can't ignore it, hoping it will go away by itself. You've been through hell these past couple of weeks and you're not out of it yet. There's no shame in needing or asking for help."

"I'm all right," Mulder insisted. "Really. I'll admit to being a bit shaken up, but all I need is a little time. I've been through a lot worse."

"Yes, I'm aware of that. In fact, I'm surprised you function as well as you do, considering. I have a feeling you're a ticking time bomb just waiting to go off."

"Then it's a good thing I don't work for the Postal Service."

"A very good thing, indeed."

"Look, we agreed not to waste each other's time," said Mulder, in rising from the couch. "So..."

"So you're perfectly free to leave, Mr. Mulder. However..." She went to her desk to get one of her business cards, which she handed to him as he stood by the door. "If at some point in the future you feel you need someone to talk to, give me call. Day or night. I'd like to help."

"Thanks, but that won't be necessary."

"Isn't that what the captain of the Titanic said when someone tried to sell him on adding more lifeboats?"

Mulder considered her analogy for moment, then decided to accept her business card. "Okay, doc. If I hit a mental iceberg, I'll give you a call."


Copyright © 2019 · All Rights Reserved · Fran Glass