The follow-up to 'Cracked.'
Rating: PG-13 (Some language.)
Spoilers: None at all, although reading 'Cracked'
will round out a reader's placement of certain events.
Disclaimer: All X-Files characters and
references are property of C. Carter,
Morgan & Wong, 10-13 Productions and
Friday, 7:45 p.m.
"Why the hell hasn't she?" I tear my
eyes away from the icy screen, a glower
my only meager means of satisfaction.
I'm drivin' myself nuts, but sure. How
can I help not doin' what comes so
naturally? It's been too many weeks
already. Where the hell's that e-mail
she promised me? And she did promise,
right? I mean I heard her say she'd be
>From somewhere in the back, Frohike is
really going at it, cussing at whatever
it is he's looking for but not finding.
Wish he'd either find it, or shut up.
He's getting on the nerves I haven't
I scroll through my electronic haul of
correspondence again in case I missed
Cin's message the first time I
barrelled through. Sometimes, I'm too
quick and miss finer details. I'm not
expecting any fancy handle, she'd just
use her real name for her being new to
I hit it for a third try, but it's
still bupkes. Nothing's from her; her
promise is still unfulfilled, and I'm
totally miserable. With each passing
day, I'm souring on the idea that she's
gonna make good on what she swore she
said she'd do. I'm such an ass...
thinkin' I'd hear from her again,
despite what I did for her. But I was
the one who'd made it clear she didn't
owe me a thing. Didn't I?
More cursing streams from my mouth like
I'll win a million bucks for how much I
can fire off under half a minute.
"The formatting again?" Frohike's
holding the IBM ViaVoice software we
want to see if we can adapt to in-house
"Not even close," I growl gutterally,
mad at the world, and not at him in
"Then what the hell's eatin' you?
Especially these last few days? Damn,
man," he says, sounding off the cuff as
he's ripping the cellophane off the
slippery packaging. "John not checking
in regularly like he said he would got
you ticked? I know it has me."
I look at him, he looks at me; impasse.
Like if either of us says anything, the
dumb spell will be broken.
I haven't said anything about what
went down in Vegas. What I did for my
old girlfriend, with kid-in-tow, there;
pulling off the virtual heists to make
her an insanely rich woman, and me a
candidate for chump of the month.
I haven't said anything, owing to my
wanting to keep some things in my life
private. But I've begun feeling weird
about the whole damn thing.
Not confiding to Frohike or Byers
hasn't felt right. Maybe if I tell
Fro' about Cindy, he could give me some
advice I can use. And right now, I
could really use some.
Being this depressed sucks. I
shouldn't have kept what I did from
them; especially from Fro'. He and I,
hell, the narc too, aren't related by
blood. We're related by something more
binding, much more essential in the
lives we've chosen to live.
We're related by the conviction of our
trust. And if there isn't that, what've
we got? A big fat nothin'. I don't
care how corny that sounds. It's true.
There's not much in this world that
falls under the heading of unconditional
Yeah, I may fight them to the death in
wars of words, and be an all-around
punk-ass when I wanna, but I trust them,
and for me to say so is like saying I
know how to hack okay. Byers and
Frohike are the integral parts of what
make me whole, and help keep me that
way. If I ever really forgot that, it
would mean the end of my world as I know
I did sorta forget that in Vegas, which
is probably why I feel like Jiffy Pop
With a sullen look keyed into my face,
I wait for 'Hike to finish his
preliminary inspection of the
introductory preamble of ViaVoice.
After he stops frowning, I say,
"Hhummm?" He scratches his crinkled
"I wanna tell ya about Vegas. The thing
I did." I finish off with a heavy sigh.
"It's about that friend I helped out..."
He looks up from his perusal so he has
me in his sights, and says with a self-
satisfied snag in his voice, "As I
recall, you never fleshed out what
'stickin'' it to the snake entailed,
and who you did the stickin' for, ma
man... I decided I wasn't going to
Bet dollars to doughnuts he saw that
little shudder. I don't waste time
beating around any bush, holding this
in feels physically impossible since
I've held back telling for so long; I
confess, to the deed, why I did the
deed, and how shitty I feel not
hearing from the only chick I've ever
let get next to me, as in joined at
the hip close.
He doesn't react right away, and I
fidget restlessly in my chair,
wondering how hard he's gonna come down
on me. When he's this long and drawn
out, it's a formidable weapon in his
arsenal of mind gaming. He's the
indisputable winner when it comes to
layin' guilt trips; Fro''s the pro.
There's no contention next to him.
He drops onto the closest stool, just
staring at me until I can't take it
anymore. "Say somethin', will ya,
man," I plead, but he gives me some
very unreadable eyes in silent reply.
After another endless minute, he
finally speaks. "Guess I don't haveta
ask you what you were thinkin' with..."
I cross my eyes. Why does he always
go there? "I wasn't. I stayed out all
night, but my virginity's still intact.
She's Cin, man, the greatest friend
ever. I'd stay a monk forever if she
wanted me to."
"Now _that's_ weirdness."
"Her kissing's always's been enough."
He shakes his head like it's time I
should head for my room; no supper or
T.V. for me tonight.
"So what are you expecting outta me?
A swift kick in the keister, knocking
you into next week? A lecture?--sorry,
fresh out. A hefty pound on the back
for pullin' off the rip-off of the
century? Like I should be impressed?"
My eyebrows raise. Well, he could be
a little impressed, I judge. I worked
the freakin' impossible in our hotel
room, and got away with it.
"Frohike, I need..."
He leaves the stool, and I grab him
in the crook of his arm as he's
muttering, "A real stupid move. I'm
gettin' too old for your outrageous
crap." He shakes himself free of me.
"I didn't crack into those banks to
bump-up my ego, or bribe my way into
her bed." Even I hear the sharpness
in my whine; its pathetic shrillness.
His look alone makes me feel I've run
"Bet that woulda been some show of
That was downright slimy. I bar his
way. I'm primed to fume, and he has
to know it. "Didn't you hear what I
said? She needed out of a bad
situation. I was only trying to help
her. Help her kid; you'd have seen
him, you'd've wanted to help too.
Don't stand there and tell me you
wouldn't have done the same thing."
"I don't do the half-cocked." He slams
into me, and the diminutive giant butts
me back. "Know what your problem is?"
He's chomping at the bit to tell me, so
I count to three. "You like to throw
stones, but when it's you, you can't
see the forest from the damn trees."
I'll need a translation for that.
"Mind makin' with the 'For Dummies'
version?" I coach.
'Hike smirks every bit as potently as
I do. "You did a 'Byers,' and now,
just like ours truly, you're expectin'
the member of the fair sex in question
to reciprocate. In the real world, it
don't work like that man, even if she
was your main squeeze, once. I don't
know how many times I've tried to get
Byers to understand how it plays. Now I
gotta get you to see too?"
"You don't gotta get me to see nothin'."
"I thought you had better clues. You're
always mouthin' off like you do."
"Then how does it work?" I bluster.
"You say you've got her number," he
"So call your long lost. You make the
"But...uh, I don't know. Like suppose
she well, suppose..."
"Suppose she doesn't want anything to
do with you?" I feel like he's spoon-
feeding me Pablum, but I nod. "After
you put yourself through hell for her?"
"Then you kiss her off, lick your
wounds, get over her, and chalk it all
up to one for experience. You be a man
about it. And, lover boy, you NEVER DO
ANYTHING SO GOD ALMIGHTY BRAINLESS..."
He smiles dangerously. "Again," he
decrescendos, like the attendant calm
after the storm. "You even get the urge
to do a repeat of anything so stupid,
"Tear me a new one?"
"Naw, something more original. I'll
split your lily-white ass width-wise.
Your pick. With a straightedge, or a
pair of scissors. The rustier the
better, either one."
I wince, imagining how that'd feel.
"You'd have to catch me first," I
cajole, seeing he's mellowing out,
"Who says you'll be conscious when I
perform the surgery?" He tries a 'what
were you usin' for brains' flash of his
weighty eyes on me for size, then asks
"My heart, that's what," I say bluntly.
"Crackin' in the name of love. Sheesh,
I'd never thought you of all people,
I give a nervous, gutless chuckle, then
think out loud. "What if she didn't
make it home yet? I don't wanna spoil
any surprise involved for her mom if
there is one." Frohike balls up the
wrapping like he's sublimating. I ponder
with words spoken in deliberation, and
know my eyes have taken on a faraway
look. "She should be back all this time,
though. I mean, it's over a month
Frohike's look grides first, then
slices me through. "Just call her,
man. End the suspense, and find out
before you drive yourself, along with
me and Byers, stark ravin'." Then he
huffs, "Stop makin' with the fatal
exceptional looks. Unlike suit-boy,
you have a number where you can reach
your chickadee. Drop the dime so
you'll know the score. It beats
makin' it up, and paralyzing useful
brain function, not that you'd notice
with the way you've been acting lately."
"Think we got to the root of our
phone-tapping problem?" I hesitate
before adding, "I don't want anyone
picking up on the way she sounds."
Frohike pokes his eyes into every
nook and cranny our jumbled spiderweb
of insulated exchanges reside, tucked
into every square inch of the room.
"That's what I love about you, man.
Even in the throbby throes of love
weirdness, you're paranoid to the core.
Just call your chick, Scarecrow. We
haven't gotten any warning sigs since
last week. I think we tackled the
problem, so go ahead. Find out. You
can thank me later."
"Remind me." Cin's number coalesces in
my mind as I'm going for the phone.
Sure hope taking Frohike's advice is the
smart thing to do...
"Huh-hello? Um...Mrs. Tanner?" The
deep gulp I just took clears my swimming
head. 'Hike's standing so close he
hears the thin, craggy voice answer in
"Yes, this is Melissa Tanner. Who's
Before I reply, I try slowing down the
rapid beats of my heart. "I'm. This
is. I'm..." Frohike's solid pinch of
my ass gets the ball rolling. "This is
Ring--I mean, this is Richard Langly,
Mrs. Tanner. Is--"
"_Richard Langly_!" Following a sharp
intake of breath, she knocks into my
ear, "Mercy, it's been ages, Richie."
For several moments there's silence,
and then, I think I'm hearing what
sounds like words being spoken through
a hanky, and there's a distinct pinging
sound in the background. Half of me
wants to hang up, half makes me stay
"Uh, Mrs. Tanner, is Cindy there?"
It's like it took me ten years to get
"Oh, Richie... Dear..." Another long
pause, and then... The woman's crying,
oh, God, she is crying. What do I say?
What do I do now?
"Mrs. Tan-Tanner, wh-what's wrong?" I
stammer with a tongue that feels like
it's mired in muck.
"Ri-Richie, Cindy's. My-my beautiful
"What the fu--" Frohike catches my
eye sharply, shaking his head
vigorously. A little of his stern
prohibition registers. "H-How, Mrs.
Tanner? How?" I blurt, my throat is
stinging somethin' fierce. "Wh-when?"
Just when I think I'll never get an
answer, her mother says all strangly,
"A hit-an'-run. Three weeks ago to
the day. Sh-she'd no sooner stepped
out of the house. An eyewitness said
a car jumped the curb, struck her down,
and kept going. Another witness said
the car had an out of state plate;
Nevada's I think it was. She said she
wanted to drop by the library to see
if they had any computers. I-I can't
believe my Cindy's gone..."
Oh, God... "W-Was? Was Jef-Jeffy with
her?" I jiggle out, and Fro' clamps his
hand around my left forearm, his fingers
digging. She was gonna, oh, God, she
"No, thank God. No. And, mercifully,
he's too young to know why Mommy's nev-"
She falters so hard I can almost see her
choking on her words. "W-Why Mommy's
never coming home again. Ever..."
I suck it up and wail, "I wanna come.
I'm comin' there." Struggling against
tears that will win out eventually, and
as incoherently as hell, I go on somehow.
"To see you, her son..." Entrenched in
shock, I hear her gather herself.
"Her funeral was two Saturdays ago,
Richie, at the English Brothers'. It was
a private and brief service. The way she
surely would have wanted it."
"I'm coming," I croak hoarsely, swaying
a little. "I gotta see 'em again, like
in Ve-Vegas." Standing is getting
harder as the room starts pitching.
Frohike eases the phone out of my frozen
grip, and it's like I'm on the other side
of town instead of right next to him when
I hear him say, "I'm a friend of his,
ma'am. Hello? Yes. He'll get back to
you when he can. We're very sorry about
your loss; very sorry. Goodbye..."
The last thing I remember before passing
out are her lips; the way they had toyed
with mine the last time we were together.
The last day seeing her alive. Before
she drove away, saying how she couldn't
wait to see me again, later that night.
A night that was never meant to be, like
our ever being together again, now.
When I come to, 'Hike's holding my hand,
replacing the ice pack with a cool,
moist towel. My glasses are off. He
strokes my forehead, which feels nice,
reassuring, but I'm frantic. "She got
found, Fro', the bastard found Cindy."
I struggle to sit up in the lounger.
How did he manage to drag my bulk over
here? "Had her killed," I sob, and
'Hike squeezes the hand he's been
"Easy, easy. You've been out over a
half hour. The way you blanched. You
got me worried."
"Dammit--if I hadn't pulled that
stunt...and told her to get outta
there, she'd still be alive. They
eroded the layers I put in place,
somehow." A violent shiver rips
through me. "It's my fault she's dead;
my fuckin' fault. I only hurt those
who love me."
"That's crap, and you know it. There's
too many variables to start blamin'
yourself, and that hard. Get yourself
out of there," Frohike says like there's
no option, but like hell am I gonna let
"But the plates. You heard what her mom
said. They were Nevada plates. Scumbag
had her hit. Damn him to hell, and me
too while I'm at it," I cry, slamming my
fists like mallets into the armrests'
sticky, imitation leather. "I blew it,
and Cin's paid with her life," I keep
Frohike holds the towel firmly in place
against my brow. I'm not making it easy
for him since I'm squirming and writhing
like I've got fire ants in my pants.
"You an' Byers gotta come with me. I
gotta go to Erie; gotta see her mom, see
the kid. I gotta see where Cin is.
Where they put her. Her final--"
Rapidly, I hiccup several times in
"Slow it down."
"You'll come, huh? Huh? Ya gotta,
He nods what looks like a little
wearily, but assures, "Ya got it. Sure
Byers and me'll take the trip. Whatever
you want." His eyes look as sad as I've
ever seen them after he says, "Whatever
Hollowly, painfully, I murmur, "Her. I
needed her..." I shut eyes that are
sagging, as a freshet of tears leak
from them again, and brace my brow with
my left palm. "My Cin..." I say
through a windfall of sniffles.
Fro' daubs at my streaming leakers, and
gently says, "Always and forever, sweet