Title: La Llorona (6/12)
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.
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Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.
Mulder left his car in the parking lot at San Gabriel Park, where the first victim's car had been found. He followed the bike path north from the park the way Manny Garcia must have done. He passed beneath the Interstate 40 Bridge, with its constant thunder of traffic, and then he left the trail, picking his way down to the water's edge. Garcia had been found face down in the shallow water among the reeds.
Mulder stopped at the spot where Garcia's body had lain. Even after several days, the reeds were still flattened down. This place wasn't nearly as quiet as the area where Laura Mesker had been found, though it was only a couple of miles south. Here the river channel was deeper and the current more turbulent as it approached the pilings of the I-40 Bridge.
He squatted down among the cattails and looked at the area closely. There wasn't much to see. The photos he had examined earlier showed Garcia's prone position, his footprints along the bank, and not much else.
Mulder looked up and down the bank, unable to imagine what had drawn this man here in the middle of a stormy night. There was nowhere to go, nothing to do, nothing remarkable about this stretch of the river-except that a man had died here.
With a sigh, Mulder stood and made his way back to the trail, walking through the broken glass and other trash beneath the bridge as he headed back toward the park. The Central Avenue Bridge stretched over the river a little further south of the park and something made him pause at the sight of it.
A bicyclist in a neon green jersey emerged from beneath the bridge and sped along the trail, nodding a greeting at Mulder as he passed by.
When Mulder turned back toward the south, the feeling was gone. Whatever had caught his attention had slipped away.
Probably just the sound of the bike, he thought, shrugging to himself as he went up to the parking lot.
Nathaniel Kinsey lay naked on the steel autopsy table, his head propped on a block, his youthful college-boy clothes stripped away to be examined for trace evidence.
Scully stood still beside the table. Whatever Mulder thought was going on here, in the end it hardly mattered.
What mattered was that someone was dead. This boy was dead.
This boy—who had no gray hair, whose face was as yet unlined, who had lived scarcely a third of his natural life span—this boy was dead.
Scully ran one gloved finger across his smooth cold brow. She wondered when she had begun to feel so old. She would allow Mulder his theories without protest for the time being. Soon she would confront him with the cold hard facts of this young man's death. It wasn't that she wanted to be adversarial, but she couldn't willingly embrace "explanations" that defied scientific fact. Of course, since she had begun her association with Mulder she had seen many things that she would have never dreamed possible. Still, she maintained that flukemen, liver-eating mutants, and some of the other strange things they had encountered, as bizarre and supernatural as they might appear, were in the end just examples of nature, or human nature, somehow gone wrong.
But a ghost-woman running along the river killing people was ridiculous. She and Mulder had confronted the "killer ghost" theory before. She hadn't believed it then, despite Mulder's earnest insistence, and she didn't believe it now.
At last she felt the familiar wall of detachment slide down over her heart and she stepped away to get the camera.
She photographed the angry red wound over his breastbone. As she had read in the autopsy report of the previous victims, it seemed to be some sort of burn or scorch mark. The skin was slightly blistered, the hair on his chest singed.
Given the weather conditions last night and the lack of evidence of another person on the riverbank, Scully's first impression was that Nathaniel Kinsey had been struck by lightning. There were other physiological signs she would look for in his tissues to confirm her initial diagnosis, but it seemed the obvious conclusion.
Mulder looked out over the water as he sped along with the westbound traffic over the Monta¤o Road Bridge. The third victim, Vera Tafoya, was the only one found on the western bank of the river and she had been found just north of this bridge.
As he reached the western side he turned to the right as soon as he could. There was a small shopping center nearby and he pulled into its parking lot. He found his way down toward the water but had to stop when he came to a ditch. According to the report it was a drainage and flood control canal.
Vera Tafoya would have to have somehow crossed this ditch in order to get down to the river's edge where her body had been found. She would have either picked her way over the slim maintenance crossing several yards from the bridge or simply waded through the deep, weed-tangled water. Either option seemed incredible for an older woman to have done in the dark, during a heavy downpour.
Mulder crossed the narrow planks of the maintenance bridge and pushed through the bosque of tangled bushes, cottonwood and Russian olive trees. There were no houses in this area, and the shopping center was rather far above the bank. There was nothing of civilization here but its trash.
She had been found in the water, her gown caught in a low-hanging tree branch, but like Manny Garcia and Laura Mesker she had had no water in her lungs. So why had Vera Tafoya come down through this wilderness of trees and underbrush in her nightgown and slippers?
Whatever had driven her, whatever had drawn her, had been strong enough to make her force her way to this difficult place, with no foresight or preparation, in inappropriate clothing, on an inhospitable night.
His stomach rumbled suddenly, breaking his concentration and reminding him that he hadn't finished his breakfast this morning. He sighed at the sun-burnished water, eyed the clouds that were already bulking upward into the too-blue sky. He glanced at his watch then started back the way he had come. He was having trouble putting the pieces together to his satisfaction and he wondered if Scully had found anything helpful in the autopsy.
He pulled his cell phone from his pocket and pressed her speed-dial number.
"Scully." There was a hint of a sigh in her voice as she answered.
"Buenas tardes, Señorita Scully," he began. "You up for some lunch?"
"You buying?" she answered, trying not to giggle at his fledgling Spanish.
"Yup." He started the car and headed back over the river. "Did you find anything?"
"Um, yes and no," Scully replied. She didn't want to admit that her theory wasn't exactly panning out.
"We can talk about it after lunch, Zorro."
Mulder pulled into the small parking lot beside a low white building accented in turquoise and pink neon. Inside, the 1950's d‚cor extended to the waitress's uniforms, red leatherette booths, and chrome-trimmed stools at a long counter. The hostess led them across the black-and-white checkerboard floor to a booth by a window looking out over the city's downtown district to the west.
Mulder took advantage of the coat hook mounted on the side of the booth to hang up his jacket, rolling up his shirtsleeves as they sat down to order lunch.
They made small talk about the diner and the view as they waited for their food and then began to eat. At last they were finishing up, Mulder decided to take the plunge.
"So what did you find, Scully?" Mulder asked as he wiped the last residue of his green-chile cheeseburger from his lips. "What killed Nathaniel Kinsey?"
She looked out the window at the heavy clouds and the curtain of rain moving closer to the diner. At last she turned back to him.
"Well, he died of heart failure..." she hedged.
"Caused by..." he pressed. The rain began to pound down on the cars and the parking lot, its damp perfume coming in through the air-conditioning.
"The, um, mechanism of death is not clear," she finally continued.
Mulder studied her face. Her pretty blue eyes were boldly holding his gaze, but he could tell she was not as sure of her conclusions as she wanted to be.
"That burn," he began, "could it have been some kind of electrocution?"
"I considered that," she said, looking down at the table for a moment. "The wound was superficial and there was no tissue damage indicating electrocution." She fiddled with her napkin.
"Were there any other findings?" he prompted, sensing that she was holding something back.
"Yes," she replied. She sat up straight and looked him in the eye again. "There were heightened levels of adrenaline in his system, very high levels, indicating a violent encounter or attack."
Mulder nodded with confidence. "Couldn't that mean that he died of fright?"
"Mulder, if you believe he died of fright," Scully answered, leaning forward to make her point, "wouldn't that mean that he was frightened by someone?"
Scully took a moment to change her tone.
"Mulder, I'm just afraid that in your eagerness to blame this on this ghost woman you might be overlooking the real killer. Maybe you should try working on a legitimate profile, assume we're dealing with a real person."
"Scully," Mulder protested, trying to keep the anger out of his voice, "I've already thought this through. I've already eliminated any real person."
"But did you really try working up a profile, or did you begin with the assumption that it was your ghost-woman? Did you let that assumption color your perception?"
He had to hold his tongue because he knew that at least part of what she said was true.
"Mulder, tell me something," she said, pinning him with her eyes. "Did the APD go through the Albuquerque Field Office to call you in on this case, or did you call them?"
Mulder set his mouth in a tight line and stared back at her, finally turning to stare out the window toward the downtown skyline.
"I thought so." There was little he could hide from her.
"Paul faxed me a newspaper article that appeared after the first death," he began at last, his voice quiet, though he was able to look her in the eye again. "The reporter had interviewed some people who lived near where the body was found and they mentioned the legend of La Llorona." He had indeed been eager to investigate the possibility of her existence. So, had he really tried to come up with a "legitimate" profile, as Scully put it? Maybe, maybe not.
"Please, Mulder," she said. "Would you try again? You want to be sure, don't you? If you're going to stand by your claims in our report, if you're going to present this theory to the APD, but most importantly, for the sake of the victims and their families, you have to be absolutely sure you haven't overlooked their killer."
Scully saw the faint flush that colored Mulder's cheeks as he turned again to look out the window. She hadn't meant to hurt his feelings or make him feel foolish. She finally laid her hand gently over his.
"Hey," she began softly. "Why don't we go back and go over the case file together?"
He turned his hand beneath hers and caught hold of her hand. He squeezed her fingers then released them to signal the waitress for their check.