The rental car slid neatly into spot behind a couple of patrol vehicles. Immediately, one of the state troopers on the scene turned towards him and began moving in his direction.
He stepped out of the car, already pulling his wallet from his coat and flipping it open. He flashed his ID, and the trooper immediately changed his stance.
"Okay, sir," the trooper said, touching the brim of his hat. "Your partner's over there, with the sheriff." He pointed.
Slipping his wallet back into his coat, he moved to the yellow tape line, lifted it, and slipped underneath. He squinted in the darkness for a moment, then located the bobbing head of red hair he knew so well.
"Scully," he called out as he approached her position.
She turned towards him. "You made it," she said, a note of affectionate sarcasm rippling through her words.
"Only just," he replied. "My flight was delayed because some idiot dropped a lady's suitcase. Her clothes were all over the tarmac. You should have seen it, Scully. It looked like message intended for orbiting spacecraft."
Scully's eyes darted quickly towards the sherriff, then back to him. "Ummm, Sherriff Andrews, this is my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder."
The sherriff extended his hand. "Agent Mulder. A pleasure to make your acquaintance."
Mulder took the sheriff's hand and shook it. "Likewise, Sheriff." He paused and glanced around. "So, what have we got?"
"Well, I was just telling your partner here, we've got one dead state trooper in a ditch with a broken neck, and no witnesses." He gestured beyond the abandoned patrol car. "You can have a look for yourself."
Mulder glanced towards the area. "The body's still here?"
The Sheriff cleared his throat and looked at the ground. "Yeah. Coroner's been held up. The boys here are wound up pretty tight, I can tell you. Bad enough one of our own is down. We can't even move his body yet."
Mulder ran a hand through his hair. "That explains the look on that trooper's face when I pulled in."
The sheriff just nodded.
Scully moved towards the ditch. "Come on, Mulder."
Mulder glanced at the sheriff.
"I'll stay here, Agent Mulder. Make sure my boys and the state boys don't start getting all huffy with each other. You just holler if you need anything."
"No thanks necessary. I'm just glad you folks are here to help out."
Mulder followed Scully down the bank into the ditch.
"This is a strange one," Scully said as she skidded to a stop at the end of the slope.
"I'll say," Mulder replied. "The local sheriff's being friendly and cooperative. My head's spinning already."
Scully gave him a long-suffering look and crouched by the body. Pulling out her pocket flashlight, she aimed it at the dead man's neck.
"There's only one set of marks," she said, indicating the throat area.
Mulder leaned in closer and scrutinized the area. "That looks like a hand print."
Scully nodded. "I don't see how it's possible, but it looks like the perpertrator crushed the victim's windpipe and snapped his neck in the same movement."
"Using just one hand?"
She nodded again. "And that's not all. Based on the position of the body, and the fact that there are no drag marks leading from the road--"
"The perp tossed the victim over the car and into the ditch."
Scully looked at him and sighed. "Mulder, this is so unlikely as to be not even worth considering."
Mulder stood. "It's sounds like you were about to consider it."
Scully turned off her light and stood to join him. "It looks like the victim landed here. But it could have been staged to look that way."
Mulder shook his head. "To what end? Why would someone go to the trouble of making it look like their victim was tossed?"
Scully shrugged. "It could be some kind of personal ritual."
Mulder frowned. "What makes you say that?"
"Just before you arrived, I got a call from headquarters. This MO matches that of another murder that occured two days ago on I-69 just outside of Charlotte, Michigan."
Mulder pinched the bridge of his nose. "Great. Now we're heading in to serial ritual killer territory." He shook his head. "Let's go talk to the sheriff again."
They climbed up the bank and stepped back onto the road.
"Coroner's on his way," the sheriff said as they approached. "We'll be able to wrap this up and get everyone home soon enough." He removed his hat and scratched his head. "While you were down there, I got a call from the station. A bulletin came in from the Canadian cops about another case just like this one. Four days ago, somewhere between Toronto and London."
Mulder looked at Scully and raised his eyebrows. "Okay, we're definintely into serial ritual murder territory."
The sheriff frowned and snorted. "Would have been nice to know about this sooner. Canadians sure took their time getting this out there."
"Sounding a little bitter, there, sheriff," Mulder said.
The sheriff shook his head. "Never did trust those Canadian cops. Better at trapping moose than catching criminals."
Mulder chuckled. "Come on, now, Sheriff. That's sour grapes. You're just mad because the Blue Jays won the pennant two years in a row."
The sheriff looked at him and crossed his arms.
"Besides," Mulder continued. "I've worked with the Mounties. And believe me, they're no Mickey Mouse operation."
Finally, one corner of the sheriff's mouth snuck up just a notch. He looked at Scully. "He always this good at diffusing people?"
Scully glanced sidelong at Mulder. "Not usually."
The state trooper who had greeted Mulder ducked under the yellow tape and strode towards them. "Sheriff," he said. "Coroner's here."
The sheriff put his hat back on and stepped away from his vehicle. "All right, Jerry. Send him on through." He turned to Mulder and Scully. "Anything else you folks need?"
"Just a motel recommendation," Mulder said.
"Ah. No problem there. Go to the Starlite. Mabel'll take good care of you."
Mulder nodded. "Thanks." He glanced at Scully. "Let's go get ourselves checked in. We can look through the reports on the other two murders in the morning."
Scully nodded and followed him. "Thank you, Sheriff," she said.
The sheriff waved them off.
As Mulder opened his car door, he glanced at the opposite side of the road. Two men stood there, heads together, talking conspiratorially. One was stocky, with sandy hair and an authoritative air about him. The other was a slim Asian man with black hair. Both wore dark trench coats.
Mulder couldn't quite place them. He couldn't imagine they were CIA agents. Maybe DEA? No, that didn't fit either. Maybe military. Yes, they did have a sort of military bearing about them.
He got into the car and closed the door. When he looked back across the road, the men were gone. He rolled down his window and looked up and down the road. No sign of them.
"Mulder?" Scully's car was approaching, its own window rolled down. "What's wrong?"
"Did you see two guys in trench coats just now? They were standing right there on the other side of the road."
Scully shook her head. "I didn't see anyone."
"That's weird. They were right there."
Scully shrugged. "Sorry."
"Never mind. I'll see you at the motel."
Scully rolled up her window and pulled away.
Mulder put his key in the ignition and started the engine. As he buckled his seatbelt and put the car in gear, he glanced across the road again.
This was damn peculiar.