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Wicked Game

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Spring 1948

Adams Morgan, Washington, DC

2:47 A.M.

 

My nose burned with each inhale of fumes from the stale booze marinating in the hardwood floor. The room was dim but through the glow of red and blue neon I could make out shapes of furniture; chair legs, a few overturned barstools. It was a step up from a dive but not by much. There was a ringing in my ear like a schoolbell. I forced myself upright and felt a white-hot wave of pain crash into my right shoulder. “Shit.” I exhaled through my teeth and pressed my palm against a sticky wound. For an instant, I was back in that bombed-out jungle in the South Pacific, where an overworked medic from our company feverishly repaired shrapnel damage to my arm.

My fingertips found the bullet hole that punctured the thread count of one of my better dress shirts. Can’t wait to explain this one to my dry cleaner. The round might have gone through cleanly but all I knew was it hurt like a son of a bitch. My holster felt light and I found my gun about three feet away under a table in a puddle of what I hoped was discarded beer. I leaned over to retrieve it then I attempted to stand. Once I got my feet under me I found I was not alone. The bartender had a .38 aimed at my chest and a shaky trigger hand.  

“Don’t move!” he shouted. 

“Easy now,” I began as I put away my weapon and held up my hand, “I’m just reaching for my badge.” As I flipped open the billfold he saw the flash of gold then lowered his gun.

“Jesus detective, I’m sorry I pointed that at you. I’m just a little jittery considering what happened tonight”  I nodded and moved closer towards the bar. “Holy hell, looks like you took a hit,” he continued then splashed a bar rag with some water and handed it to me.   

“Can I get a whiskey?” I asked as I slid on to an empty barstool, trying to clean off my hand. Wouldn’t be nice to get fresh blood on a glass, he’s had enough to deal with tonight. The bartender grabbed a dark bottle and a short glass then gave it a hearty pour. I raised it with my good hand and tipped it back, letting the liquid fire coat the back of my throat. The throb in my shoulder started to dull.

“I called the police as quick as I could,” the bartender told me, “it all happened so fast.”  He poured me another and one for himself. 

“Did you see if anyone else was injured?”

“No. Anyone who was here ran outside. I ducked behind the bar and grabbed my gun. I suppose I should be grateful it happened close to last call.” I sat there thinking for a moment, trying to remember what I was doing there in the first place. A pulsing pain returned to my shoulder. The bartender’s voice entered my ear.

“You should probably get to a hospital, that shoulder looks pretty bad.”

“I’ll manage,” I replied before I finished my second round. I turned to look over my shoulder at the row of small leather booths behind me. Something about it seemed familiar. I could feel my wound oozing again so I pressed the damp rag against it and excused myself to clean up. When I entered the bathroom I was met with an unpleasant discovery.

 

Detective Jeffrey Spender was dead.  

 

Thick ribbons of burgundy and cherry red graced the wooden stall door like streamers from some morbid party.  The edge of the sink had a similar splatter pattern staining the porcelain. His body was face down in a puddle that was spreading like the Red Sea, an arm akimbo on the floor, at least one fresh hole in his back. His weapon was kicked across the tile.

When Spender returned from the war with a couple of shiny new medals on his chest, nepotism resulted in his quick promotion to a detective position at the precinct.  I knew Spender’s old man had connections with local law enforcement, not to mention his fellow representatives on The Hill.  And now the golden boy was dead. Tragically killed in the line of duty; that’s how the papers would spin it.

 I bent down to check his gun, one shot fired one in the chamber. It was quick. I moved the bar rag in my hand and gripped Spender’s shoulder, pulling him onto his side. I counted two shots, maybe a third. The acrid smell of iron was weaving its way into my nostrils as I crouched down and leaned closer. First round hit Spender in the right lower abdomen, appeared to be a close range shot based on the size. The gut shot wouldn’t have killed him instantly so the second ripped into the left upper chest to make sure he was taken care of. A third might have conveniently nicked an artery, causing more of the splatter. I craned my neck and saw deep red at Spender’s shirt collar.

It was very sloppy.  

If I heard gunfire I would have gone to investigate and perhaps the assailant ran into me as he exited the bathroom. Did he use a silencer? Why can’t I remember his face?  I shook my head and eased Spender’s body back down on the tile floor. Slowly I rose and caught my reflection in the small mirror over the sink. I looked like hell. As I reentered the main bar the front door gave way to three flatfoots and Captain Walter Skinner.  He advanced and holstered his sidearm.

“Detective Mulder.”

“Sir,” I said wearily with a nod.  He briefly noticed my injury then jumped right into the interrogation.

“What happened?”

“I’m a little foggy on the details but I remember following Detective Spender here.”

“And where exactly is Spender?” Skinner asked. I leaned against a booth and placed a hand on my neck.

“You’ll find him on the bathroom floor.” I saw the captain’s eyes narrow and he brushed past me. He nudged the door open with his elbow and surveyed the fresh crime scene, he then motioned for a uniform and gave instructions. The young cop hastily scratched everything down on a small notepad, tipped his cap, and left through the front door. 

“Did he tell you to meet him?” Skinner asked as he moved in front of me.

“No.”

“How did you know he’d be here?” 

I thought for a moment. Certain details were coming back to me.

“I believe Detective Spender was following up on a lead from a mutual informant. We agreed on a meeting to get info about one of Vincenti’s heroin drops. Spender was impatient and wanted to meet tonight. I wasn’t too keen on the idea.” I winced as I shifted my right arm. The whiskey I had was wearing off. 

“The commissioner is going to demand answers when he finds out Spender was murdered,” Skinner said as he adjusted his glasses.

“Well I’m sure he’s more than eager to crucify me,” I said.  

“Cut the melodrama.” Skinner responded. “I’ll finish up here. Go find Officer Pendrell outside and have him take you over to the hospital. Get patched up, get some sleep, then I want to see you back at the precinct.”

I held up my hands in acceptance and walked to the door, making sure to thank the bartender for the nightcap on my way out.  

Officer Pendrell took a long drag off his cigarette then let it drop on the sidewalk, stubbing it out with the toe of his shoe. I cleared my throat and said, “Captain said you could give me a ride.”

“Jesus Mulder--” he exclaimed with a plume of smoke into the night air.

“I just need some repairs.” I said with a nod to my right arm. “Skinner said you could give me a lift to Washington General.”

“Yeah sure,” Pendrell opened the passenger door for me and as I got situated he entered from the driver’s side. “What happened in there, Mulder?”

“Spender’s dead.” It was blunt but I was exhausted. “Not much else to say, though I’m sure the precinct will hear about it in a few hours.” I could feel Pendrell tense up as we drove. I flexed and opened the fingers on my right hand.  The slight tingling sensation was reassuring that the nerve damage wasn’t permanent. At least that’s what I was telling myself.  




Washington General Hospital

3:55am

 

Pendrell pulled the squad car up to the emergency department and practically shoved me out the door. Guess he didn’t want me bleeding on government upholstery. I made my way inside and squinted against the harsh lighting.  I spied the petite nurse behind the desk.

“Ma’am,” I began as I fished out my badge and approached, “I’m Detective Fox Mulder and I could use some help.” She rose and quickly walked around then gave me the once over, her fingers delicately reached for my good arm. 

“Let’s get you back, detective. My name is Dana,” she said as she ushered me down a short hallway and into an open room with several beds. I could feel my chest tighten at the sight of the drawn white curtains. Too many bad memories hidden behind those white curtains. A moan came from a shadow on one of the beds and thankfully she sat me down a few beds over. 

“You’ve lost a fair amount of blood. Do you feel dizzy or nauseous?” Dana asked as she pulled out a notepad. I shook my head. “Detective Mulder can I get your date of birth?”

“October 13, 1914.”

I watched her write the numbers down with what I presumed was immaculate handwriting, unlike the doctors she worked under. 

“What happened tonight, detective?”

“I took a hit to the right shoulder, not sure if it was a clean shot. The assailant got away.”

Two fingertips with red nail varnish touched the underside of my wrist and she glanced at a small watch fob, calculating my pulse. I saw her note the result on her notepad before pocketing it. She placed a hand on my shoulder as she reached for a nearby medical tray. It had an array of metal instruments, a basin, some bottles, and what looked like bandages. She slid it closer to the bedside and I straightened my posture. I could feel the fabric of my shirt sticking to the clotted blood on my shoulder. Dana turned to pick up a small stool and place it in front of me. She took a white cloth from the tray and splashed it with a liquid from a brown bottle. 

“Can you remove your shirt?” she asked

“Yeah I can try,” I replied. My left fingers fumbled with the buttons and I forced my right hand to finish the job. I winced then exhaled sharply. 

“Here, let me help.” She said as she placed the cloth down on the tray.

“Usually I’m offered a drink first,” I quiped weakly.

“Well from what I can tell, someone beat me to it.” the redhead said with a grin as she peeled open my shirt. I freed my left arm but hesitated with the right. It looked like I had a few too many and tried to get dressed; sitting there in my white sleeveless shirt with my dress shirt hanging on one arm. Dana reached for the damp cloth and held it on my shoulder, attempting to soften the skin. It was a nice gesture. Any other medic would have just ripped the damn thing off taking a layer of skin with it. I could feel her eyes sweep over my chest like a searchlight looking for damage. She gently stripped down the sleeve and placed the bloody shirt beside me on the bed. Dana leaned me slightly forward.

“Looks like it’s your lucky day Detective. The bullet passed right through.” 

Her bedside manor had won me over. I felt the cool cloth on the back of my shoulder as she cleaned the exit wound.

“You can call me Mulder.”

She playfully inquired, “Why not Fox?” as she sat on the stool in front of me.

“Even though it’s my first name I rarely use it. The Marines made quick work of that.” I saw a hint of a smile as she readied her suture tools. 

“And what’s your last name?” I asked in a feeble attempt at small talk. With a squint she quickly pierced the eye of the needle with a dark thread. 

“Scully,” she said, humoring me. “This will sting a little,” she cautioned. I failed in containing a wince from the all too familiar sensation of thread pulling flesh. Battlefield to back alley, I have scars laid out like a roadmap of my career. She worked quickly, weaving the filament like she was darning socks. I felt a sharp tug as she finished her last stitch. She covered her handiwork with a white bandage.

“Halfway there,” she stated as she stood to fix the back of my shoulder. She might have said something to me but I couldn’t make it out. I hated to admit it but I was transfixed. Her presence was like an anesthetic and I was numb in the best possible way. The final pull for the final stitch. She recited care instructions to me the same way a professor would read from a textbook. I pretended to listen as I opened and closed my right hand once again. She slid the tray aside and I rose to my feet.

“What do you think you’re doing?” she asked, holding up a hand in case I toppled over.

“I’m going back to the precinct.”  I said as I folded my dress shirt over my arm.

“That’s against medical advice. Advice I just gave you. Will you please sit back down?”

“I can’t stay here tonight.”

She folded her arms.

“Is there someone I can call?” she asked. I thought if there was a favor I could collect but no one came to mind. It was probably best for me to sleep it off at my apartment.

“A cab. I’m going home.”  Scully shook her head and led me back down the corridor towards the nurse’s desk. I readjusted my holster across my chest and stretched my left arm. She dialed the operator with one pull on the rotary.  

“Hello, I’d like to request a taxi to Washington General for one of our discharged patients. Thank you.” She hung up the receiver and told me the cab would be here soon. “Be careful out there, Mulder.” 

I smiled and slipped back into my shirt, leaving it unbuttoned.

“Thank you, Scully.” 

She shook her head.

“I don’t know if I’d ever get used to that.” 

I watched her walk down the hall, graceful fingertips smoothed a strand of hair behind her ear. She left me with the echo of heels on the hard floor.

I stepped outside the emergency room doors and inhaled an unexpected cloud of tobacco. As I coughed I looked for the source and saw a man, possibly a wino in a white jacket holding a cigarette. He gave me a puzzled look then said in a gravelly voice,

“Hey, are you a cop?”

“A detective actually.” I responded with an annoyed exhale.

“Oh. Well, you look like a cop.”

“Are you a doctor?” I countered. He took a drag.

“No. I found this jacket in the garbage out back.” Before I could respond the vagrant laughed loudly then took off down the alley. On any other night I would have given chase, but I was too tired for additional bullshit. Let the beat cops have him. 

Finally my taxi arrived and I was on my way home.