Balancing Act

Debra Fran Baker

dfbaker@panix.com


***Prologue***



October 14

Cherry Hill, NJ



"May I help you?" A short man in his mid-thirties opened the door to the condominium. He had thinning brown hair, the beginnings of a paunch and sad eyes. His face showed signs of a bone-deep exhaustion.

"FBI, sir. I'm Agent Mulder, and this my partner Agent Scully." Dana Scully and I showed him our credentials. "Are you William Browne?"

He nodded. "Please, come in." Browne led us through a living room cluttered with toys and books to the kitchen. "Please excuse the mess. My mother had to go home yesterday and I'm still learning how to cope."

"We understand, Mr. Browne. We're sorry about your wife." I took a seat at the kitchen table. The house was in the condition that I'd expect for a recent widower with four children under twelve. A nagging voice in my head reminded me that it should have been five about now, but Browne wouldn't have been a widower then.

"Is this about Kerry? And those other women?"

"Yes, sir." Scully pulled out a notebook. She was hiding behind her professional persona again.

"We are going to catch that monster, Mr. Browne." I put every ounce of certainty I could in my voice.

"Call me Liam."



***Chapter One***



October 13

Washington, DC





"Walter, how can you send us out again? We only got back last night, Mulder is injured and I've already missed Columbus Day with my family and tonight's . . . you know."

Walter Skinner took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. He glanced at my left arm, which was wrapped in a bandage.

"I did my best, Dana. They wanted you to fly directly to Cherry Hill last night. Hell, they wanted you to leave in the middle of the case."

"Makes perfect sense to me. After months, suddenly they need Spooky to save their asses." No, I'm not bitter. "Scully, you want to drive to Jersey or should I?"

Walter shook his head. "You two are flying to Philadelphia *and* you are staying at a decent hotel. I got that much out of them."

I grinned. "We should use you as a travel agent more often."

"I don't come cheap." Our eyes met and held each others for a long time.

"Gentlemen?