"Do you know of any other Mulders working for the FBI?"
"No darling, just you, and you're the one I want to see--you've got something I could really use right now."
"Ooh, tell me more, Grace." Fox put his feet up on the desk and grinned in the direction of Scully's work station. She raised her head, raised an elegant eyebrow--and went back to the paperwork before her. Mulder's grin deepened; she would be quizzing him on this phone call later--he could bet on it.
"I hear you've got unofficial channels for--certain services."
Mulder's curiosity rose. Grace Pachelli was not the sort to pussyfoot around when asking for a favor. He made a noncommittal grunt. The soft voice on the line continued.
"I need one of those services. Look, can we meet somewhere, lunch or something?"
"Sure, fine. The reflecting pool in the Mall?"
"Perfect. Around 12:30 or so. I'll bring the sandwiches." Grace offered, sounding relieved. She hung up before he could ask anything further. Mulder replaced the phone on the hook and stared at it, almost missing Scully's too-casual question.
"What does she want?"
"Certain services that only I can provide." he smugly answered, watching for his partner's reaction. Scully gave him a skeptical look and he shrugged.
"I guess it was inevitable that she'd succumb--when you have as much boyish charm as I--"
Scully threw a pen at him.
The midday sun sparkled on the water of the reflecting pool, and overhead the blue sky seemed to stretch on forever. Mulder leaned back on against the top stone step of the stairs the overlooked the pool and soaked in the sunshine. He'd taken off his coat, and laid it over the step; loosened his tie a bit. A breeze ruffled his hair.
Spring in D.C. was a rare and lovely thing, not to be missed when it happened. Mulder gazed over the tops of the blossoming cherry trees that lined the pool, scanning for Grace. A quick glance at his watch--she was a little late, but not by too much. His stomach growled.
And there she was, rushing up the steps to meet him, paper bags in hand. He took the one she held out, peering into the depths.
"If this is egg salad olive loaf or head cheese, then all deals are off."
"Turkey and bacon with mustard." she announced, dropping down on the stone step next to him. From the other bag she produced two bottled ice teas. Mulder took his and they settled down to eat for the moment, enjoying the balmy afternoon. Grace seemed as hungry as he was, and tore into her sandwich with unladylike haste. It amused Mulder to watch her--in the soft gray sweater, pearls and short black skirt she didn't look like a seasoned agent, but more like some fantasy version of a personal secretary.
"Slow down--I haven't had a CPR refresher in years." he warned. Guiltily, Grace swallowed her mouthful and took a breath. Mulder swigged his iced tea and finished off half of his sandwich. After a moment, he sighed.
"Now--I've been wined and dined--what else is on your agenda, Pachelli?" He leaned back on his elbows and didn't look at her. Instead he studied the water shimmering before them.
"Okay--do you know what Damien and I have been working on lately?"
"Something to do with following up on the Prevost kiddie porn ring, right?"
"Right. We've been checking out a few of Prevost's associates, tailing them, watching their daily routines--" She shook her head and made a moue. "Disgusting what money will let you get away with."
"Oh the rich can afford their weird little whims." Mulder agreed, finally turning his head to look at Grace. She rolled her eyes as he picked up the other half of his sandwich, but continued.
"Well, Damien and I were skulking around in Maison Noir last night, and--"
"Whoa, Whoa--Maison Noir?" Mulder sat up sharply, almost knocking over his iced tea. "THE Maison Noir as in the most exclusive sex club outside of New York or Los Angeles? THAT Maison Noir?"
Grace simply nodded. He shook his head. "And here I am wasting time on X-files--" a breeze ruffled his hair, making him look boyish.
"Oh please, Mulder--neither of us had a particularly good time." Grace dryly pointed out. "It was a hell of a risk. Prevost's pals know what we look like."
"Point taken." He admitted. "So? What were you wearing?"
"Leather, chains and a very uncomfortable expression. Look, can we get to the point here?" she blurted. Mulder dropped the teasing even though his imagination raced through all the possible costumes her words brought to mind. All of them intriguing. REALLY intriguing-- now if only Scully ever-- Grace reached over and yanked his tie to get his attention.
"Mulder! I got into the back offices and took something." She admitted with a trace of panic.
"And this is the something you need help with."
"Yeah. A disc that I hope had a mailing list of the Prevost customers and patrons." she affirmed. Mulder shook his head slightly at her audacity and sighed. She rushed on as he began eating the second half of his sandwich.
"Look, I can't take it to the lab here--they'd want to know where it came from, and the evidence is already legally compromised, not to mention that I have to get the thing back to the club tonight-" Her voice was a tiny bit strained.
Mulder thought it over. He stood, stretched, grabbed his coat and pulled out his cell phone.
"Scully? Listen, we won't be back in for a couple of hours . . . No, I'm pretty sure we'll be there for the meeting at six. . . . Yes she's with me. . . no . . .turkey and bacon . . . Save us some seats in the conference room." He hung up with a slightly smug expression.
"Being with you seems to pique some curiosity."
"And you're milking that for all it's worth." Grace pointed out as she picked up the paper bags. She long suspected that Mulder was crazy about Scully--it didn't take a genius to see the strong attraction between the two. She grinned up at Mulder who smirked back.
"Damn straight. One more call to make--"
"Now I have to warn you that these guys are somewhat paranoid and a little unconventional--" Mulder warned Grace as they stood before the steel reinforced door. She shrugged.
"If they can get the job done, I'd put up with baboons singing opera."
Mulder grinned and knocked. A camera above the door slowly rotated to focus on them. Mulder looked up. Grace waved.
"Babe Alert, Babe Alert." Frohike announced from his position in front of the monitor. Langley scurried over, Byers strolled. They crowded around and Langley piped up into the microphone.
"It's me. This is Special Agent Grace Pachelli." Mulder called up. The agents waited several moments in the dark hall and he whispered, "They 're probably going over your records now--"
"Hope they like the photo--"
Apparently they did; the bolts clicked loudly and the door swung open. Mulder ushered her into the dim room. Grace looked around curiously as Byers came over, politely extending his hand. Grace shook it, approving of his three piece suit and neatly trimmed beard.
"Ms. Pachelli. You have an impressive service record."
"Too bad about all those speeding tickets, though," Langley snickered. Grace narrowed her eyes and he stepped back half a step. Mulder hid his grin. "Calm down, Grace."
She took a deep breath (a move appreciated by Frohike in particular) and nodded. Briskly she handed a disc to Langley with a small shrug. "Right More important things to do. Here." He took it, and turned it over in his hands, tossing his stringy blonde hair back with a nervous wave of his head.
"You saw what my last commendation was for?"
"Prevost. Nasty stuff." he acknowledged. Grace sighed.
"We managed to put him and a few distributors away, but that's not the end of it. I'm betting that disc has a list of his clientele. If you three can get it printed out, Damien and I can finish this case."
Frohike broke in. "Hey, hey slow down, Sweetheart--where did you get this? I don't recall seeing any evidence entered in the court transcripts that mentioned computer records. So if you picked up this little tidbit illegally, then whatever's on it is inadmissible in court."
"I know." Grace admitted. "I stole it from Maison Noir and I have to get it back there tonight."
"Oh yeah." She breathed with a little smile. Behind her, Mulder tried damn hard not to laugh.
Byers grew pale, Frohike's eyes glazed over, Langley twitched up and down like a kid who needed to go to the bathroom. For a moment no one spoke, but finally Byers pulled himself together and plucked the disc from Langley's hand.
"You stole it. How can you defend using it if you can't concede the source?" His voice barely quavered.
"The list would merely be a starting point. Damien and I can find enough justifible cause to cover ourselves, but only if we know where to start looking."
Grace added softly, "Come on guys--I've had to collect a pair of training pants full of blood and semen as evidence in that case--I don't ever want to do that again."
A quiet pause filled the dim room, broken only by the soft beeps and clicks from the various hardware around them.
"Sick motherfuckers." Frohike shook his head. As one, the three Lone Gunmen shifted over to Langley's terminal and shot the disc into the slot.
"Uh oh--" Byers stroked his beard thoughtfully, "Top of the line encryption. It's going to take some time."
"Fine--take all afternoon." Grace chirped. "I won't need it until tonight."
The three men sighed in weary unison at her computer naivete. Mulder tapped her shoulder and motioned with his chin for them to leave.
"There's a phone call for you sir." Kimberley's voice sounded a little surprised.
"Who is it?"
"Uh, the Italian Consulate sir." She murmured.
Wondering what the hell this was going to be all about, Skinner picked up the phone and growled, "Assistant Director Skinner here."
"Signor Skinner?" The softly accented English brushed his ear. "This is the Baron Farussi's secretary, Orianna Brazza. The Baron thinks it would be in your mutual best interest to have a late lunch with him today."
Skinner paused, memory racing, at a loss for the moment, but the secretary continued smoothly. "He says you have a mutual concern that needs to be handled--gracefully? A car will pick you up at one thirty." the line went dead. Skinner hung up slowly, and looked at his watch.
What the hell had Grace gotten herself into now?
The courtyard behind the consulate was sunny and quiet. Skinner had been ushered to a table in the shade there, and sat waiting, keeping his tension in check. Impatiently he studied the white linen cloth, the gleaming china.
"Signor Skinner---Vittorio Farrusi." Rolling towards him, an old man in a wheelchair extended a papery dry hand. Skinner stood and shook it, surprised at the strength of the grip. The other man chuckled.
"Only the legs are weak. Sit, sit--"
As they did, Skinner got his first good look at his host. He had probably been tall once, when he could stand. He wore a light linen suit that hung on his lean frame. It was a thin aristocratic face with dark luminous eyes, framed with curly white hair. Dimly, Skinner recognized something familiar about the man. Vittorio could see the director puzzling over it.
"I saw you at young Lorenzo's wedding last September. We were both guests, although our paths did not cross at that time." He helpfully supplied. "It was quite a--celebration."
Skinner nodded, but the flood of memories must have shown in his eyes because Vittorio smiled again. He spoke briefly in Italian to the young waiter who approached their table, then turned back to Skinner when the boy left. His countenance was more forceful now.
Vittorio leaned back, steepling his long hands together and spoke slowly, carefully. His guest watched him.
"My niece works under you."
The careless way the older man phrased it was no accident; the hairs on the back of Skinner's neck rose. He tried not to let his jaw clench up and Vittorio let the moment drag on before speaking again.
"Graziella is a good agent?"
"Yes." Skinner offered no more, no less. His host slowly reached for the goblet of water on the table. He took a sip.
"Will she listen to you long enough to save her life, perhaps?"
"Get to the point." Tired of waiting, Skinner risked a little rudeness and frowned. Vittorio nodded in approval and let his hands fall to the table with a slap.
"Buono! Very well. I know that Graziella has been investigating the activities of Prevost's associates, and that she and her partner are getting very close to some of these--" He made a harsh face "--predators."
"That's privileged information." Skinner pointed out. The waiter returned with two plates of fresh ravioli, homemade bread, red wine and salad. Vittorio shrugged and waved to his guest to eat.
"Beside the point, Signor Skinner. Grace has stolen something from one of these men." Skinner looked up but didn't interrupt. "I don't know the item, I suspect it's a list, but I do know the man, a Belgian national who narrowly avoided being named in that terrible child murder case in Europe last year."
"Who?" Skinner demanded sharply.
"Pascal Lavasque, one of the Belgian Embassy staff." Vittorio slowly began to eat his lunch, speaking between mouthfuls. "He's in charge of security there--a small blonde man with the smile of a vampire."
"How did Grace--" Skinner slowly asked, staring down into his half-finished plate of ravioli.
"Last night she broke into the offices of Maison Noir."
Skinner brought his steely gaze up to meet that of his host. Vittorio nodded grimly. The older man leaned forward, his expression troubled.
"I wasn't sure if she told you any of this--I see she hasn't" He shook his head in frustration. "Ah Graziella! Too impulsive, like her mother. I suspect she will try to return the item tonight. Pascal will be watching."
"Jesus," Skinner muttered. He pushed away the unfinished plate and sighed. His host pulled something small out of his breast pocket and tossed it onto the table.
A thin credit card of glossy black, edged with gold. Nothing embossed or written on it's sleek surface, giving it a slightly sinister aura. Skinner picked it up.
"That is a membership card for Maison Noir--don't ask." Vittorio held his long hands up to ward off the question on Skinner's lips. "Favors called in, strings pulled--just be there tonight and keep Graziella from being killed."
Skinner slowly picked it up and tapped the card edge on the table for a long moment as Vittorio sipped his red wine. A breeze ruffled the tablecloth.
"How the hell am I going to pass for a member of Maison Noir?" Skinner finally demanded through clenched teeth. His host gave a small cynical smile in return.
"That's the easy part--just wear what the other members wear, Signor Skinner--Something expensive, something fashionable. Three piece suits, Armani shirts, cuff links--if you can look like a lobbyist or senator or a judge, you'll fit right in."
"Where have they been all day?" Scully asked Damien as she crossed her arms and looked around the basement office she shared with Mulder. Damien looked up from his work with the calculator on Mulder's desk and smiled.
"Hint of the green-eyed monster?"
"No--just . . . curiosity." Scully petulantly countered. She slowly began to put away files, talking as much to herself as to Damien. "I mean I don't really care, but it's getting late and--"
"They'll be here. Grace won't risk screwing up our job tonight."
Damien sighed strangely. "More like a black bag job. Besides, Grace isn't really Mulder's type."
"And how would YOU know?" Scully teased gently with a smile. Damien looked at her askance and reached down to the lower drawer of Mulder's desk. He scooped up a handful of videos and read off the titles to her.
"TITAN-HAIRED TEMPTRESSES, RED GIVES HEAD, FLAMING LOVERS-- come on, Dana! The man's not only seriously hetero, he's obviously hot for redheads."
"What?!" Stunned, Scully reached over for the videos as a blush raced across her features. "MISS COPPER LAYS PIPE, CHERRYTOPPERS, FIRECRACKERS THAT FU--Oh my God!" Damien watched her with kindly amusement as she pawed through the rest of the stack, spilling them across the floor.
"Face it--Mulder has a secret passion to go down in flames, girlfriend. Yours undoubtedly."
"Damien!" Scully was scarlet-faced by now. He helped her pick up the videos and drop them back in the drawer then put a heavy hand on her shoulder.
"You mean you never realized it before?"
"No! If one's out I just toss it in the drawer--I don't, I never--"
"Shhhh." He pulled her into a bear hug. "Calm down--it's no big deal, Dana. Kinda flattering, really."
"Flattering?" Scully managed to put an edge of menace in her voice. "Flattering?"
"Flattering." Damien pointed out patiently. "Think about it, Dana. Instead of putting your working and personal relationship in jeopardy, Mulder lives out his erotic fantasies about you in a safe way. I do the same thing with my fantasies about Mulder."
The remark distracted her, just as Damien had hoped--she tried to give him a stern look and failed. Damien put on an innocent face, muttering,
"Don't you breath a word of that, either--the man's jumpy enough around me as it is--" They didn't hear Mulder and Grace walking in the door.
"Hey Dami--" Mulder froze for a moment at the sight of his partner in an embrace with someone else. Scully pulled away quickly, and Damien looked up at the ceiling, counting the pencils there as Grace, oblivious to the tableau bustled into the office behind Mulder.
"Oh man--think I have time to go to the bathroom before we go up to the conference room?"
"And one last item-- we at Tech division have finished the prototype of the new lie detector we've been working on for three years. We want a few field agent guinea pigs--Davidson, Bronkowski and Kanahoe--you three are first."
"Me?" Damien looked up in surprise as Roger Lea from the Lab department nodded. Skinner was already stacking papers and everyone else in the conference room was packing up to leave. Grace tapped Damien on the hand.
"Ready to go?"
"Damien's not going anywhere tonight, Grace--he's got a 9:00 appointment with the lie detector." Roger pointed out. She pouted.
"Can't he trade off with someone else?"
"Like--you?" Roger countered. She frowned again and tugged her partner into the hall. He raised a hand to stop her from speaking first.
"I know, I know--back up tonight. Jeez I knew it was a bad idea to pinch that disc."
"Well too late for that--who can we get to help out? Who owes us?" Grace hissed back at him while pushing her bangs from her eyes. "Honestly! I've got to pick it up at Mulder's source, and then go home and get dressed--"
"Mulder. He and Scully could do it." Damien grinned, running a hand through his thick black hair and making it spike up. "We could take an hour or so to brief 'em and they'd do fine."
"Mulder and Scully. At Maison Noir?" Grace didn't quite snort, but she came close to it. Damien gave her a serious look as other agents brushed past them in the hall.
"Hell, they investigate little green men and vampires--S&M should be a snap for those two."
Skinner strode towards them; Grace glanced up and stiffened.
"If you have a moment, Agent Pachelli--" He hissed. Grace definitely didn't like what she saw in his eyes, she shook her head and tried to turn away. Skinner hooked a hand on the purse strap that she held in a death grip and tugged.
The purse fell, tumbling to the tiled floor of the hall, spilling everything out at their feet : keys, wallet, makeup, ID, pregnancy test, Kleenex, pens and pencils--
For three seconds, the entire world around Damien, Grace and Skinner seemed frozen. Then Grace scrambled to the floor, scooping everything up in a mad haste, stuffing it all back in the purse, dashing away with the desperate speed of a born sprinter.
"Sir, I said you have a call from the Attorney General's office--" Kimberly came up behind Skinner. He didn't seem to hear her. Damien edged away and down the hall in the same direction Grace had taken, shaking his head and rumbling to himself. By the time he'd reached their cubicle, he was ready to burst out laughing.
"Gracie! I thought you were going to hide the disc in a tampon box!" He smirked, looking like a young and handsome Buddha as he laughed. Grace looked up warily, relaxing when she realized it was her partner. She rolled her eyes.
"I wanted something that would require a little privacy--if they catch me in that back office, then what could be better than a quick pregnancy test?"
"Uh, don't you have to pee on those things?" he inquired, cocking his head to one side. Grace shrugged.
"I was looking for the bathroom and got lost?"
"It could work. Listen, if we want to catch the Spooky Duo, we better get moving, huh? Roger Ramjet is gonna hook me up at nine sharp--"
"Let me get this straight--you've stolen a disc and now you've got to put it back?" Scully asked in her cool and rational tone of voice. Grace nodded. "And you need backup in case of trouble?"
"That's it in a nutshell pretty much." Grace admitted cheerfully. "All the leads indicated that Maison Noir had the info we needed and I just sort of helped myself."
"Does Skinner know about this?" Scully continued relentlessly. Grace flinched a bit and reluctantly shook her head. Damien and Mulder exchanged a look as Scully digested this information.
"What are the consequences if you don't return it?" she asked softly.
"We lose whatever chance we have of finding the kiddy porn buyers. Maison Noir will report the theft, warning the patrons, and they'll disappear."
"How do you know the theft hasn't been discovered yet?" Mulder interjected as he toyed with a pencil. Damien looked again at the ceiling and Mulder laid the pencil back on the desk, a little self-consciously.
"I don't. I did manage to stuff another disc into the box to fill the space. All I can guess is that since these are mailing addresses, the staff at Maison Noir probably doesn't use them every day. But obviously the sooner I get the disc back the better." Grace concluded, studying her nails.
Scully sighed. She paced the floor, her heels clicking. Finally she crossed her arms, spun and glared at the three waiting agents.
"Alright. But--you two--" She pointed at Damien and Grace, --owe us big time for this."
"How big?" Damien teased. "Dinner at the top of the Windjammer lounge big? Redskin season tickets big?
"The tab's running." she snapped back. Mulder cracked a sunflower seed in his teeth and quietly asked,
"Tell us what we need to know about Maison Noir."
The atmosphere in the room changed, subtly; the four got down to business. Scully sat on the edge of the desk next to Mulder. Damien stood.
"Right." he glanced over at Grace, who cleared her throat and began.
"Maison Noir is a private mansion just north of Reston. It's owned by three dummy corporations, all untraceable. The clientele is rich, discreet and willing to pay top dollar to indulge in an atmosphere of total decadence. Get it clear in your minds--this ain't no nightclub with biker bouncer and tattooed strippers-- we're talking crystal, china and sixteen piece place settings on the dining tables."
"Emily Post parks her whip at the door--" Mulder murmured. Grace persisted, shooting him an annoyed glance.
"Laugh if you want to, but some of the most powerful men in D.C. come here, and they expect everything to be up to their standards. And that includes the slaves."
"Slaves?" Scully stated flatly.
"Slaves. Gorgeous, provocatively dressed, obedient and plentiful. Most of the patrons have one in attendance at all times. Slaves to be fondled, punished, traded and played with. Think trophy wife crossed with a Playboy centerfold and you get the idea."
Mulder's grin went from ear to ear; Scully actually growled.
"No! Not me--Why can't Mulder be the slave?" she demanded. "He's the one with all the videos--" Memory of those same videos made her break off in mid-tirade, but no one seemed to notice.
"Sorry Scully--while there are a few male slaves, there are no women members of Maison Noir. Old boys club through and through. The dominatrixes there are hired help only." Damien smiled sadly. "Like it or not, Mulder's the boss."
"I should get a plaque engraved with that--" her partner broke in. She gave him an evil glare.
"Tombstone, Mulder. A really big tombstone."
"We don't have time to get sidetracked, children." Damien rumbled gently. "So it plays like this: You and Mulder show up at ten or so. Mingle with the other guests, show off a little, it's expected. Keep an eye out for Grace--she'll be there within an hour. Her collar will indicate she's looking for a master. Make contact, and then try to post yourselves close by. She should be able to get the job done in, what a few minutes if it goes smoothly?" He looked at Grace.
"If someone hits on me, I may be delayed while I get rid of them. That won't happen to you when Mulder's your master." she remarked to Scully, who nodded reluctantly. Grace frowned and critically studied the redhead.
"Clothes?" she muttered to Damien.
"Mulder-master, here I can dress him up, no problem. The eye candy is your department, but I think that green velvet thing of yours in the locker, the one with the black leather accessories would be perfect on her."
"Leather?" Both Mulder and Scully piped up.