Title: La Llorona (7/12)
Author: phantagrae
Rating: PG (mild language)
Category: Casefile
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. phantagrae@earthlink.net

Archive: Not to Gossamer. I'll submit directly there. Yes to anywhere else. Just let me know, please.

APD Headquarters

Mulder pushed a thumbtack into the bulletin board, pinning Nathaniel Kinsey's crime scene photo alongside those of the other victims, completing the set of four. He stepped back and leaned his butt against the small table, unaware that he was blocking Scully's view of the display.

Scully enjoyed the view of his backside for a minute before clearing her throat and sliding her chair to the right a bit.

Mulder turned to see her nod toward the board and he shifted to his left, crossing his arms as he focused on the photos.

Scully spread the crime reports on the table so she could compare them.

"Let's start with what we know about the victims," she said, taking up her notepad and pen. "We have two men, two women; one white and one Hispanic of each gender."

"Actually," Mulder corrected, "Vera Tafoya was originally from the Isleta reservation. She was Native American. Her husband is Hispanic."

"Oh." Scully shrugged. "Well, maybe the killer thought she was Hispanic. If there's some racial or ethnic connection..."

"That's assuming these people were chosen in a conventional sense, that the killer sought them out and followed them or kidnapped them. There's no evidence of that."

"So are you saying that the victims were simply at the wrong place at the wrong time?"

"Not necessarily. According to the reports, each victim left his or her home under their own power the night of their death, and there are no signs of struggle or of any other person near the victim. They may have gone to the river deliberately, as if something drew them there."

"So, getting back to the victims themselves, what do they have in common?"

"Not much, if anything," Mulder began. He stood and pointed at each victim in turn as he rattled off the details of their lives from memory.

"Manny Garcia, age 54. Married, no children, lived in the South Valley area, drove a city bus.

"Laura Mesker, age 42. Widowed, two kids, ages 10 and 8, lived in the Northeast Heights, taught seventh grade math.

"Vera Tafoya, age 70. Married, three grown children, lived on the west side of town in Paradise Hills, homemaker.

"Nathaniel Kinsey, age 25. Single, no children, lived in the University area, graduate student."

"So, as Detective Sanchez said, different ages, different ethnic backgrounds, from different parts of town, different social circles..."

"And there's nothing to indicate that any of them had ever met or come in contact with the others."

"A random victim type might indicate a thrill killer..." Scully suggested. "What does the crime scene say about the killer?"

"Well, the way the body is left usually indicates something about the killer's reason for killing, or something about what his needs are, what compulsion he's feeding. In this case, if I believed this to be a conventional serial murderer, I would say that we have a perpetrator who may be arrogant, leaving the bodies out in the open. This person is not concerned with hiding the bodies, doesn't seem to care that the crimes are discovered right away, or maybe wants the victims to be found. I would say it's more likely the former, since the bodies are left where they fell. Yet there doesn't seem to be any apparent motive behind these deaths.

"The victims are not mutilated or posed after death in any way, nor are they covered up to preserve their dignity or hide their faces. There does not appear to be any kind of religious or occult ritualistic element. Also, there is no indication of overkill or great anger, no indication of sexual assault or any injuries other than the two we've already noted. The method of death is consistent and might be considered this killer's signature.

"The killer got up close and personal—these were hands-on deaths, whatever the exact method was. There was some element of great fear and panic on the part of the victim, so the killer was probably unknown to them. But the killer didn't attack them from behind, didn't ambush them, and there's no evidence of much of a struggle, so it must be a powerful person, someone who can exert force on the victim without the use of restraints."

Scully nodded. "There were no defense wounds on any of the victims. There's no indication of handcuffs, tape, or ligatures on the bodies and there were no drugs found in their systems."

"So that leaves us with a powerful stranger, someone who can exercise deadly force over these victims, frightening them into a panic before getting right up to them and killing them. But there's no evidence of another person near any of the victims."

"Mulder, each victim was killed on a rainy night. Isn't it possible that the rain might have washed away such evidence? Especially if the killer made an effort to conceal his tracks."

"But then, again, how is it that these particular people were killed when and where they were?" Mulder persisted. "Why would the killer be lurking in isolated areas along the river, hoping that by chance someone might come along? What are the odds that anyone would just happen to come to the river in the middle of a stormy night? Why not go hunting for victims where they would be more abundant—in town, where there are more people to choose from?"

"Maybe he wanted them to look like drowning victims," she insisted. "Maybe he wanted them to be found by the river."

"Scully, if his only purpose is to kill, to find a victim, I think his victims would have been high-risk people, like prostitutes and homeless people. He could have easily enticed or forced such people to whatever location he chose.

"All of these victims," he indicated the pictures once again, "were low-risk people who had no purpose in that place and yet who went there seemingly of their own free will."

Scully took a deep breath and let it out slowly, steeling herself.

"So then, how do you fit La Llorona into this profile? How do you explain the choosing of these people?"

Mulder stared at the photos and pursed his lips. He shook his head.

"I don't know yet. I know there is some connection, but it's not anything obvious."

Now it was Scully's turn to shake her head.

"Mulder, you have no evidence to support the idea that a ghost is killing these people. No evidence beyond some old folk tale and some creepy sounds during a rainstorm. There must be evidence of a real killer because that is the only explanation that makes sense."

"Well, if you think you can find that evidence, go ahead and look!" He cleared his throat to try to take the sharp edge out of his voice. "But I think the key to this case lies in whatever connection there is between the victims. If we can find that, we'll find the killer, whoever—or whatever—it may be."

Scully bit her lips for a moment, trying not to let Mulder's sharp tone anger her.

"Well, why don't we look at how they got to the river?" She looked up at him and he nodded, the softening in his eyes offered as an apology. She turned to the files again.

"You said that each victim left his or her home under their own power, in their own vehicle."

"Yes. The police found no evidence of any sort of struggle or coercion."

"So, what did they say to their families when they left? Did they offer any explanation as to where they were going or why?"

Mulder's brow furrowed as he considered her question. He shook his head. "I don't know. I think the cops asked, but I don't recall any clear answers."

Scully flipped through the pages, shaking her head. "There are a few notes, but nothing specific." She looked up at him. "I think that's a place to start."

He nodded. "Why don't you try giving them a call, see what you can find out. I'd like to focus on the victims a bit longer."

Scully nodded her agreement, and made a few notes for herself. She could have stayed in the room and used her cell phone, but she knew that Mulder wanted to be alone.

"I'm going to find a phone, maybe talk to Sanchez," she said as she rose and gathered her things.

"I'll see you in a little while," he said as he opened the door for her. He moved back into the room and stood again before the photos on the bulletin board. They showed the bodies as they had been found—in undignified sprawls, eyes dulled in vacant contemplation of some secret scene, faces frozen in terror.

He went to the table and rifled through the files, retrieving another set of photos, which he spread out before him. These were pictures from the victims' lives, once kept to remember moments of happiness, now turned over to the police in a moment of grief.

Mulder sat hunched over, elbows on knees, his chest pressed against the side of the table, nose inches from the images. His eyes moved from photo to photo and to the notes he had jotted on a legal pad.

At last he lowered his forehead to the surface of the table, closed his eyes, and let all the facts and images flow through his mind—the details from the police reports, the points he and Scully had discussed, the feelings he had experienced at the crime scenes.

Back in his profiling days he had earned the nickname "Spooky Mulder" for his ability to make uncanny leaps of logic or deduction as well as for his unconventional ideas. Some people thought he was reading the criminal's mind through ESP or some other strange ability, but he knew that profiling had nothing to do with magic or ESP or any paranormal phenomena. It was all about examining the evidence and making note of whatever clues the criminal had left behind. Those very clues were what brought the suspect to life in his mind.

And yet he knew that if there was a "normal" killer at work in this case, he would indeed have "felt" his presence by now.

For him, despite what Scully had said about doing a "legitimate" profile, the only question that remained was the connection between the victims, how they had been summoned to the river to meet La Llorona and their deaths, for he was sure that was what had happened.

What was it that connected them? He was missing something. He could feel it tickling at the back of his neck like a spider in his shirt collar.

Death. Rain. The river. These were the things they had in common.

And fear. A shiver ran down his back, making him shudder in his suit jacket, despite the stuffy atmosphere of the little room. This was the same feeling he had had at the river, the same feeling he'd had when he first received the case files and crime scene photos from Detective Sanchez. He had proposed to Scully that the victims had died of fright, and he believed that even if it was not the actual cause of death, it was at least a major factor, but what exactly had been so frightening? Was it the sight of La Llorona herself, or something else, something more?

He sighed and ground the heels of his hands into his burning eyes, then turned back to the police reports.

Each of the victims had been found before their families had reported them missing, the police alerted by whoever had had the misfortune of stumbling upon the bodies. But there were 911 calls reported on each night that a victim had died, made hours before the victims had been found. As Mulder continued to read he saw that the police reports indicated that the calls had been only vague reports of someone crying or screaming down by the river.

One officer had noted, "Caller says La Llorona is running up and down the river."

The hairs on the back of Mulder's neck stood up. He could hear the officer's derisive tone dripping from the written words, but the sounds he had heard during last night's storm seemed to echo off the walls of the tiny room.

He made a note of the caller's name and went back to check the other reports.

In each instance, the caller was the same: Elfido Hurtado of 8 Tom s Court NW.

Mulder scribbled down the man's address and phone number and shoved the files back together, snatching the pictures down from the bulletin board. He gathered everything up and went in search of Scully and Sanchez.

"Well, old Elfido Hurtado...he's called us every time we've found a body," Sanchez said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "He says he's seen La Llorona walking up and down the river and that she's the one who's been killing these people." He studied Mulder's face, waiting for the young agent to scoff at the old man's beliefs.

Mulder returned Sanchez' gaze steadily. "Can I speak to him?"

Sanchez chuffed out a sharp breath. "He's a nut, Agent Mulder! A superstitious old viejo."

Mulder nodded. "I'd still like to speak to him."

Sanchez shook his head. "Yeah, okay. I can't go along with you just now, so you might have to wait until tomorrow...unless you or your partner speak Spanish."

"He doesn't speak English?" Scully asked.

"No, he does," Sanchez replied. "He just doesn't always remember that he does."

"I think I know someone who can help us," Mulder replied. "Come on, Scully."

Part Eight