Title: La Llorona (2/12)
Rating: PG (mild language)
Spoilers: Not really, but assumes everything through at least Amor Fati.
Summary: Mulder and Scully investigate a series of deaths in Albuquerque, NM.
Feedback: Yes, please. firstname.lastname@example.org
Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.
"So, Mulder," Scully began, shaking her head. "I don't understand why the Albuquerque field office called you in on these cases. They look like routine homicides or accidental deaths to me."
"Routine?" Mulder looked over at her.
"Unsolved, but not exactly unexplainable," she remarked. "The victims were found in or near the Rio Grande River..."
"Don't say 'Rio Grande River,' Scully," Mulder commented. "It's redundant." He moved into the left lane and climbed the curving ramp taking them onto westbound I-40.
Scully looked at him. "My point being that I'm wondering why they feel they need you to come in to develop a profile of the assailant. There doesn't seem to be an unexplainable cause of death. Drowning, some other mayhem..."
"Neither of the victims found in the water had any water in their lungs, Scully," he pointed out quietly. "The difficulty in establishing cause of death has made it hard to come up with a profile. There were no serious injuries on the bodies. No stab wounds, no ligature or strangulation marks, no blunt object trauma."
"But..." Scully prompted as he fell silent.
Mulder was concentrating on crossing the lanes of traffic as their exit approached.
"But all three bodies had two remarkable things in common; a bruise—a very distinct hand print—on the left shoulder, and a sort of scorch mark right over the breast bone..." He took the Rio Grande Boulevard exit and turned north, and finished casually, "...and each victim seems to have died of fright."
"Fright, Mulder?" She smiled and chuckled quietly. "I don't remember being taught that cause of death in med school. If they died of cardiac arrest there may have been similar heart disease risk factors combined with some sort of assault, or some drug may have been used—potassium chloride, for instance—that might not be found unless you think to look for it. That could explain the bruising—the assailant gripping them by the shoulder as an injection is administered. The scorch mark on the chest could be evidence of electrocution or some other assault that traumatized the heart."
Mulder remained silent so Scully turned to regard him. She waited for a moment, enjoying how the sun and shade on this street played across his handsome face, the intermittent sunlight highlighting his eyes, his profile, his mouth, the lock of hair that teased his eyebrow.
"No argument, Mulder?" she said at last.
He shrugged one shoulder and offered a slight smile. "I'll let you look at the evidence."
"So where are we going?" she asked as they continued north. "Are we meeting Detective Sanchez at a police substation?"
"No," Mulder replied, signaling a left turn. The street they turned onto was narrow and tree-lined, completely residential. "We're meeting him at one of the crime scenes."
He said nothing further as he continued down the street. He loved this part of town with its towering cottonwoods and higgledy- piggledy neighborhoods, each house a different size and style, the lots varying in shape and aspect. No cookie-cutter suburbia look-alike Stepford homes here.
The street dead-ended just in front of the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. Mulder rolled up slowly and parked on the street behind an unmarked sedan with a local government plate. As he and Scully got out, a man in a dark suit came around the front of the car.
He was shorter than Mulder, built like a bulldog, with short, salt-and-pepper hair and a neat black mustache. His eyes were hidden behind mirrored sunglasses, but he shifted these up onto his head as he extended his right hand.
"Hi, there," the detective began, shaking Mulder's hand. "You must be FBI."
"Agents Mulder and Scully," Mulder replied.
"Agent Scully," Sanchez acknowledged, shaking her offered hand.
"You're Detective Sanchez?" Scully asked.
"Yep," he replied with a smile. Que bonita! This was a pleasant surprise. He turned reluctantly back to her tall partner. "So you want to see the scene?"
Mulder nodded. His own sunglasses hid his eyes as he looked from Sanchez to Scully knowingly. Many men reacted to his partner this way. Though he knew she resented it, he was also proud of her beauty and wanted everyone to notice it. Then there was the lurking caveman in his mind that urged him to place his possessive hand on the small of her back as they turned to follow Sanchez.
Scully considered breaking Mulder's wrist. She knew what had just happened. She sighed and lengthened her stride a bit, moving ahead of Mulder as they slipped single-file through the narrow gate of the bike path that led them down toward and then alongside the river.
There was still some shade under the larger trees, though the sun's brutal afternoon rays were eating away at most of it. But the air was generally cooler here, as long as they stayed out of the sun. Sanchez led them several yards down the trail and stopped under a tree.
"We found the body of Laura Mesker down there, below the trail." He pointed to an area immediately below the spot where they stood. "She was half in the water, but didn't seem to have been in the river itself, fully clothed, except for her shoes. She had apparently run along the bank for some distance, so we don't where or how she lost them. Her clothes were wet, but it had rained heavily that night. No indication of sexual assault, no gunshot wounds, no stab wounds or other serious injuries."
"She was the second victim," Scully stated, recalling from the file she had been studying. "So there was no connection between her and the first and third victims?"
Sanchez shook his head, lips pursed as he stared down at the tangled patch of grass and weeds below. "Not that we could find. They were from different parts of town, different racial background, different social circles. No connection."
"Fear." Mulder stepped off the trail without further explanation and picked his way down the steep bank. His trained investigator's eyes searched the ground for anything the Crime Scene Unit might have missed, but after nearly a week he doubted there would be any evidence to find.
Sanchez watched Mulder, his brow furrowing. He turned to Scully, who was watching her partner with much the same expression.
"What did he mean by that?"
Scully shook her head. She followed Mulder down the bank, trying desperately to keep the sand out of her shoes. It was a losing battle. If she had known they were going to be viewing a crime scene she might have worn something different. Her standard "FBI suit"—dark skirt and jacket, pantyhose and pumps—wasn’t the best outfit for a field trip.
"Mulder, what are you looking for?" she asked as she neared the water's edge. She looked up and down the bank herself. The current looked smooth and lazy from the trail, but up close she could see that the muddy water moved rather swiftly. Still, it was barely a river. More like a large stream, less than half a mile across at this point. She turned her scrutiny to the ground around her, trying to figure out what evidence there might be. She could make out footprints, but the area had been pretty well trampled by the CSU. She felt she was more likely to find useful evidence in going over the autopsy reports. She was sure there was a medical explanation that had been overlooked.
She was suddenly aware that the sun was burning her face.
"Mulder, let's get out of here. It's hot." She wiped sweat from her face and readjusted her sunglasses. Her black jacket seemed to be absorbing every molecule of heat from the sun. "I don't think there's anything left to find here." He squinted up at her from where he had been crouching by the water's edge. He licked salty sweat from his lips and straightened up, brushing dirt from his hands.
"Yeah. I just want to check out a couple of things. Why don't you go on up and find some shade."
She happily complied and made her way back up to the trail. Sanchez had seated himself in a patch of shade on one of the short posts that marked the edge of the trail and he stood to offer the makeshift seat to her. She decided to take him up on it.
"So, Detective Sanchez," she began, "what's your theory on these crimes?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. There's a connection between them in terms of the injuries on the bodies, so I would have to guess some kind of serial killer, though we've never had one here. We have some freak going around killing people down by the river. But exactly how they're being killed is a little vague."
"Do you have many drownings in the river?" Scully asked.
Sanchez nodded. "Yeah. Every year we have people drown in that river right here in the city limits."
"Is it deep?"
"Nah, not really," Sanchez replied. "That's part of the problem. People play in that water and they get complacent about it. See, it's so shallow, especially in really dry years, that you can practically walk across it. But that current is stronger and faster than it looks, and there are deep holes that you can't see because the water's so muddy. People get careless, or they get drunk, or they just have plain old bad luck. Then, next thing you know, someone winds up dead. We lost a little girl just last month."
Mulder moved a little further down the bank, southward with the current, until he was out of earshot of Scully and Sanchez debating the case.
The river seemed so serene now, but he wanted to know what Laura Mesker had felt that night, how it was that she had been frightened enough to die. Laura Mesker had lost her shoes somehow, perhaps running along the river—running from her assailant, Scully's doggedly rational voice whispered in his mind.
Yes, she had been running from an assailant, just not the kind Scully imagined.
He sat abruptly, feeling the sun-warmed sand through the seat of his pants. He opened his mind and heart to the sights and sounds of this place—the sliding water and the breeze ruffling through the sunburned prairie grass—this place of relief in the desert landscape.
On the far bank the Bosque was a bit wild, more tangled and inaccessible than on this side, where the houses crouched closer to the water. The western bank was already in shadow as the sun made its way toward the horizon.
Staring into those shadows he could begin to feel it. Even now, after several days had passed, he could feel what Laura Mesker had felt. His heart began to pound and he could imagine her face, contorted in fear, could see her scratching her way along the bank, running right out of her shoes. She had run along the bank, not up toward the nearby houses. He could feel her terror clutching at his own heart. She had seen it, she had...
"Mulder!" Scully barked his name. "Mulder, where are you?"
He looked up toward the bike path, startled to see how far down the sun had gone. Sanchez was making his way down toward him. He stood and brushed the sand from his trousers, wiping sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
"How ya doin', Agent Mulder?" Sanchez asked good-naturedly. "Your partner thought I should come and find you. It's getting late." He craned his neck to look up at the sky. The clouds were getting heavier. "It's probably going to rain again tonight. You don't want to get caught out in it."
"Yeah," Mulder replied quietly. "I think you're right."
Sanchez paused, not yet ready to go back up. "So what do you think about our killer? Your partner told me you had already gone through the case file."
Mulder shrugged noncommittally. "I'm not sure I want to say anything just yet. I want Scully to go over the autopsy reports and I want a closer look at the victims' backgrounds."
Sanchez chuckled. "Well, you know, the old folks around here have got this all figured out."
"What are the old folks saying?" he asked, eyeing Sanchez with curiosity. Sanchez regretted his comment as soon as he had said it. No FBI agent would take it seriously. He forced a smile and shrugged his shoulders, waving a dismissive hand as he said, "Oh, it's nothing but an old ghost story. Old people talking nonsense."
"Ghost story?" Mulder was really interested now.
"Come on," Sanchez said, giving Mulder a good-natured slap on the back, quickly changing the subject. "It's getting late and my wife's got some enchiladas waiting for me. Let's get outta here."
Mulder blinked back his surprise, wanting to press for more details, but started up, sparing just one more glance down at the quiet, secret river, before joining Scully at the top.
As they went toward their respective cars, Mulder pulled a card from his pocket.
"If you need to contact me, you can reach me on my cell phone," he told Sanchez. "The number's on the card."
"Sure thing, man," Sanchez replied. He smiled once more at Scully, giving her a nod. "Ma'am."