It’s a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
He needed to get out of L.A. He needed to stay in L.A. There was a comforting nausea to the unreality here. Funhouse, Pleasure Island, Lotus-Eater nausea. The subtle horror of a museum of plastic toys. Violently happy faces fading from a material that wasn’t meant to age.
Everything was a bit grotesque in L.A. and so was everything out of L.A. Who said that Hollywood lied?
He wanted to bury himself in it, and he supposed he had. Now there were pits in the paint on the hood of his car where smoldering flakes of Kristen and The Son had been. He’d lose his deposit for it, probably. He’d put it on his own card, probably. He was glad. Suck his blood, suck his money. May as well.
Someone had left a note beneath one of the wipers yesterday. sonic–10am. tomorrow . He’d almost forgotten it. But there it was, still on the dash, the words somehow pulsing in time with the ringing of his ears. Sonic boom , he thought crazily.
He didn’t want to go, he really didn’t want to go. He wanted to lie on a bed in a smoke-dank motel room and lose three hours to contemplating the chance of asbestos in the popcorn ceiling. It’s like an inverse sky, he’d think. Black stars, white space. Yin and yang, yang and yin. Salt and pepper and pepper and salt and It’s gettin’ to be a real drag around here, you know what I’m sayin’?
But he went, because what if he didn’t? That was always the question. What if he didn’t go? He didn’t go quickly enough last time, and look what happened.
There was only one Sonic in L.A., it turned out. It was off the side of a freeway and smelled like Lysol and vomit and the milkshake he’d ordered was undrinkably thick with three kinds of candy (“What do you want in it?” the teenager had said. “Whatever,” he’d said. “Make what you’d make yourself.”). He watched the payphone outside, sucking pointlessly at his M&M-constipated straw and hoping against hope that it would not be so hackneyed as to ring.
It rang at 10:01.
“Boise City, Oklahoma,” said the voice on the phone. “Flight 475 from LAX. You’ll want to see this.”
“I’ll need a bit more than that,” Mulder said.
A tanker truck passed, blacking the sun and ruffling the pages of the stand’s battered phonebook. SEX , someone had written on the cover.
“Roswell wasn’t the beginning,” the voice said. “Not nearly. Roswell’s just when they got organized. There were other crashes.”
“So? That’s all, so?”
“I have some other priorities right now. So: so?”
“So it was the thirties you delinquent. So they were sloppy back then. So there are things to find if you know where to look."
The answers are there. You just have to know where to look.
"And I can find them in No Man’s Land?”
And I went to the crossroad, mama, I looked East and West
I went to the crossroad, baby, I looked East and West
The Boise City airport was a municipal, two-plane tarmac, one of a thousand brown squares if you were looking from a thousand feet up.
(“You sure you don’t mean just Boise, sir? Boise City’s in Oklahoma.”)
A man was waiting for him outside, F.M. held up on a lined piece of paper. He didn’t look much like a conspiracist, Mulder thought. He looked like an iguana, maybe. Or a transient. Someone overexposed. The kind of person with geographically weathered skin and weird Fremen eyes and the dirt-worn clothes of a farmer.
“That’s me,” said Mulder.
The driver didn’t nod, didn’t smile, didn’t nothing, just turned and got inside the rust-scabbed pickup that was idling behind him. And waited. It took Mulder two tries to pull the passenger door closed. His trench got caught the first time. Rookie FBI, that.
The driver didn’t seem to notice. He squinted out the window for a long moment, as if sighting a rifle, and with a great air of decision pushed the gearshift into drive.
You could get sea madness in Oklahoma, Mulder thought, watching the landscape scroll by. It was nautically endless and unnervingly flat. It gave you the same intolerable intuition of infinity. The same still-face anxiety. It defied the need to notice, to look upon something and see identifying detail. Variety. Purchase. You could look for your sister for fifty years in Oklahoma.
They stopped hours later along a stretch of loose dirt road. The sun was high and the airport had long disappeared past the curvature of the earth.
“You get out here,” the driver said.
There was nothing for miles, not even a telephone pole.
“He’ll be along.”
“You know, I’d rather not.”
“Then we’ll go back.”
The driver set his hands in his lap and looked out the window, settling himself as if on his own front porch. It was starting to smell like gas in the cab of the truck.
Well, what’s the worst that can happen, Mulder thought. They shoot your brains out and bury you under one of a million anonymous 6 x 2 bits of prairie. There were worse ways to go.
And at least he’d see them coming. There was that.
The car first appeared like a spot in his vision. It was a shiny, beetley, light-sucking sort of black. Too modern. Too clean. Like an alien pod descended in a corn field. A man got out of the back seat, and Mulder half-expected dry ice clouds to pour from the door as well.
“Fox Mulder!” the man said, holding out his hand. He looked like a banker in a cowboy hat, which it was possible he was. His shoes were the same color as the car and he held a black attache case in his non-proffered hand.
“Nice of you to call off the dusters,” Mulder said.
“That’s fine,” said the banker, unhearing.
“I can’t stay, you know. I have to get back to Washington.”
“That’s fine,” the banker said. “Here, follow me.”
He turned and wandered into the plain of scrub off the side of the road, his case swaying slightly with an annoying joie de vivre. Mulder was tired. Thirsty and tired and beginning to regret everything about this. But he followed the man anyways.
“You know what they did to the cattle out here in the thirties?” the banker said, turning to face him.
“Killed them. It was bad back then. People had more stock than they could feed. You couldn’t slaughter the poor things and you couldn’t sell them either, so they just starved. Thousands and thousands of cattle with their skin pulled over their bones like canvas on a frame. They’d’ve looked like Hell’s army if they weren’t about to drop dead.”
Mulder said nothing.
“So–the government buys them up and kills them. Pays folks just to kill their stock. Not that I’m saying it was a bad idea–it was a pretty damn good one, in fact. But see, they’d line the cattle up into a ditch and shoot ‘em and then cover the ditch up. We’re talking hundreds of cattle per ditch. Throw a rock around here and you’ll hit a mass grave.”
“All right. And?”
“Come on, now.”
“And sometimes they buried things that weren’t cattle.”
“All kinds of things,” said the banker, satisfied. “All kinds of things that weren’t cattle.”
He walked further into the field and then took out a compass. He showed it Mulder. The arms were spinning wildly.
“There’s something under this field, Agent Mulder. I’ve been looking for it a long time, and my father before me.”
“Something that crashed a long time ago. My father said the storms drew them in back then. Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t. God knows why, if they did.”
Mulder ran his hand slowly across his face. He couldn’t look at the banker, and he couldn’t look at the landscape either. He didn’t know why. A need to not be tempted by something empty or eternally withholding, maybe.
He looked at the compass.
“What do you want from me?” said Mulder.
“Well,” said the banker, as if it were obvious. “I want you to help me find it.”
“How?” said Mulder. “Dig?”
“You know you’re not nearly as interested in this as I’ve been led to expect. Don’t you still believe in these things?”
“Look, you told me there was something to see. You showed me a compass. My professional opinion? Probably there’s an old tractor down there.”
“Oh, it’s not a tractor.”
The banker set his case upon the ground and opened it. It revealed something mechanical. Radio-like, radar-like. Flashing ever so often in steady, orange pulses. The banker flipped a switch and the device began to hum as well, nearly melodic in its reverberation.
“A signal?” said Mulder.
“Not that I know what it means,” said the banker.
“Have you tried to decode it?”
“Oh sure. Paid some boys in the city to do it once, but they had no idea. They think it doesn’t mean anything. They said it was probably like an alarm clock. You know, it’s purpose is to make noise, not to say something.”
“Can I get a recording of this?”
“You’re going to help, then?”
“I didn’t say that. I still don’t even see how I can. You need a backhoe, not a federal agent.”
The banker smiled.
“Oh no. No, no. A fed’s exactly what I need. You see Mr. Mulder, I don’t own this land. You can’t backhoe someone else’s land. I’ve got a bit of pride on that front. But well,” he said, leaning in with a playful air of conspiracy, “keeping it just between the two of us, I hear that the man’s been behind on his property taxes for years.”
And suddenly it was all clear to Mulder. Almost beautiful in its ugliness. He laughed and stared up at the cloudless sky. He laughed again.
“You want me to seize some poor man’s property?”
Lord, I didn’t have no sweet woman, ooh well, babe, in my distress
This is Ricky and the Radio King here on KSEO, bringing you the sounds of the other half of the century…
Another day, another motel. He lay on the bed and looked up at the ceiling, keeping his appointment. The radio mumbled beside him, but he wasn’t really listening. Nothing to look at, here. Just plaster. Smooth and beige.
He hadn’t given the banker a straight answer, but he hadn’t left either. He’d let himself be driven to a drab little rental car outfit, listening all the while as the banker told him stories that should have been tailor-made to interest him.
(“You heard of the Boise City bombing? That was no accident, let me tell you. It was the beginning of the government getting wise. Call things accidents and training missions and people’ll believe whatever you tell them.“)
He was confused by his own lack of curiosity. He should have called the Gunmen an hour ago, but instead he’d paid fifty dollars for a fifth of whiskey, having picked the bottle at random without looking at the price. Fifty-dollar whiskey in a plastic motel cup. Sure, why not?
He missed her. What did it say about him, that he had to be two fingers in to even let himself think that thought? Ha, two fingers. What did it say, that he was considering getting drunk enough that in the morning he’d forget he’d thought it? What right did he even have to miss her when he should have done something, be doing something, something that wasn’t sleeping with a suspect. What right did he have, when he would never say it to her face. It was indecent to miss her. It was like imagining her with her clothes off, missing her. It was missing the point, missing her. It was too ponderous of an emotion to respect the delicacy of…whatever it was. An elephant dropped on a piano, missing her.
Three fingers. Maybe he should think of her naked too, while he was at it.
…Tonight the theme is “Before You Knew ‘Em.” We think you’ll recognize our line-up folks, and we think you’ll also wonder why they sound just a little bit different. Give us a call if you can guess who’s singing and the King will have a surprise for you at the end of the night…
1935. What would she be? She’d be a doctor. Yeah. Still a doctor. With one of those All-Seeing, Ra-disk mirrors and black lines painted up the backs of her legs. Did they do that in the 30’s? No, maybe later.
Whatever. Black lines that would stop just past the bend of her knee because was Dr. Dana Scully some kind of loose jezebel of a woman? No sir. No sir she was not. Dr. Dana Scully, top of her class, with her cool stethoscope on the dirty, asthmatic chests of the dying and dispossessed.
The lines were in the 40’s, he was pretty sure now.
…We’ll start off with a freebie to get you going. Before those Mamas and Papas made it famous, a little group called Ozzie Nelson and his Orchestra recorded this ditty for the first time way back in 1931. If you’re at home, get comfortable, and if you’re on the road you better change the channel because it’s time to close your eyes…
How’d you like to try a different kind of patient, Dr. Scully? That’s what he’d say. No, not like that. He didn’t mean it like that. What, a cow then? No, not a cow. Something no one’s ever seen, Dr. Scully. If you’re trying to ask me to dinner Agent Mulder, there are less confusing ways. Not like that, Dr. Scully, really. He didn’t mean it like that. How did he mean it then? He meant how’d she like to make the first diagnosis of dust pneumonia in a man from Mars? Pneumonitis Martianus, Dr. Scully. Pneumonitis Martianus Sculliensis.
There are no men from Mars, Agent Mulder.
Well for one thing, they wouldn’t be men. And for another…
…and Dream a Little Dream…
1935. Mulder and Scully cooped together in an old coupé, kicking up a billowing wake of dust across the open moonscape of Cimarron County.
“Agent Mulder, you can’t be suggesting that the government encouraged fifteen years of irresponsible agricultural practice just so they could hide something. My God, the S.E.S. has barely existed for two.”
“Ah, but Finnell was publishing as far back as ‘20.”
“Finnell is a scholar and a scientist. Which is more than I can say for you.”
Her voice was a little brassier than it would be now. A little rat-a-tat. Like shiatsu on the soul.
“I’m not saying Finnell was the mastermind. But the research was there for anyone to find.”
“Mulder, they got dust as far as Manhattan . Let’s say you’re right. Let’s say the government deliberately ruined the same million acres that they’re now spending millions of dollars to save. In the middle of economic catastrophe, no less. Let’s say they’ve visited death and suffering on thousands of people just to cover up a few…”
“Fine. Let’s say they did. It would have to be the most incompetent, in-covert operation in the history of sabotage.”
“The bigger the lie, the more people believe it.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Mulder traced a line in the dust that had collected at the base of the coupé’s window.
“Out with it,” she said. “What do you really think?”
“I think there was a lot of land owned by people from out of state. And I think you’ll back me up when I say that that’s the land in the worst shape now.”
“Privately owned land.”
“Come on, Dr. Scully. Washington was as wet as the Pacific behind closed doors. Who else were they in bed with? Is it so hard to believe that at least some of that land, at least one farm out of a hundred, might have been used for something a bit more nefarious than growing wheat?”
“But why here, Mulder? If you had to bury some…”
“…why here? Why the storms? Why not any other remote place?”
Mulder took his hand from the wheel, rubbed it on his pants, and reached towards her hair as if to stroke it. She recoiled with a kind of alarmed stupefaction.
But he didn’t touch her. Instead he held his hand a hand’s length away and smiled as her hair rose up to meet it. Smiled as he moved his fingers and the strands followed like the strings of a marionette.
“What do you know about static electricity, Dr. Scully?”
… of Me…