~ Incommunicado ~

© 2002 by J. P. Mercer & Nancy M. Hill

E-mail: azbardandpoet@yahoo.com

These chapters of Incommunicado are an excerpt of the publiblished story by BookEnds Press, distributed by StarCrossed Productions www.starcrossedproductions.com

Incommunicado is an intriguing story of lies, deceit, and death that spans from the U.S/Mexico border and the panoramic beauty of the unforgiving Sonoran Desert to the contrasting magnificence along California's coastline and the Santa Barbara wine country.

The story revolves around two strong, independent women, one a lawyer who was born to rule the prestigious Cipriano Vineyards, the other a forensic pathologist who has made her work her life. Both live in emotional isolation, emotionally scared, afraid to live, afraid to trust, to love. Until they encounter each other against the backdrop of murder. Will their walls begin to crumble? Will they survive the menace of unscrupulous Mexican coyotes and drug traffickers, and family betrayal? Or will love elude them, silenced and lost amid the expectations of life?

Standard Disclaimer: The main setting is Nogales, Arizona, and most of the places depicted are real. However, we did use a certain amount of poetic license.

Violence Warning/Disclaimer: Some scenes may be explicit, violent, or graphic in nature. If depictions of this sort disturb you, you may wish to read something other than our story.

Love/Sex Warning/Disclaimer: This story contains sexual relationships between consenting adult women. If you are under 18 years of age, if Lesbian relationships offend you, or if this type of story is illegal in the state, province or country in which you live, please do not go any further.

Language: There is some occasional strong language.

Copyright Notice: All rights reserved. No part or whole of this work may be copied or used in any shape, form, or manner whatsoever without the authors' express, written consent. This story cannot be sold or used for profit in any way. Copies of this story may be made for private use only and must include all disclaimers and copyright notices.

Feedback: Constructive comments are appreciated and will be answered: azbardandpoet@yahoo.com

Special Thanks: My contribution to this story would not have been possible if not for the encouragement of a few wonderful friends. One, being my gifted friend, poet, and co-author of this story, Nancy Hill. Her patience, talent, and gift of the written word help mold this story into what we hope will be an exciting, pleasurable read. A very special thanks to my special friend Dee, a talented writer who would not accept "if I were a writer, but I'm not," and coaxed the very first word I ever wrote. Also thanks to Karen for her great beta reading!!! ~Peg

Well, what can I say after all that…except that I wouldn't be here doing this if it weren't for Peg's vision and characters that simply would not leave me alone–and for her faith in me. ~Nancy

Chapter 1

Torrid desert heat rose up to assault his senses, stifling every breath, playing tricks with his eyes as shifting heat monkeys danced illusively in the distance. But the image sprawled out in the craggy rocks before him was no heat-induced trick of the mind. He could taste the heat as it crept into his mouth to steal even his spit; the camphor smeared under his nose, while distorting the usual smells, did little to block the sickeningly acrid stench that hovered close in amongst the mesquite.

He paused to look up at one distinguished mesquite whose vast skeletal arms reached downward as if to clownishly mock him: "Look what I have for you, Matt. Here's another one just for you." Matt Peyson didn't put much credence in portents, but as he stood there he couldn't dismiss the idea that the haunting silhouette augured ill. He shook his head clear of the abstraction and looked back down the dry alluvial wash, listening, watching. The air, festering with the garish hum of bloated flies, churned his stomach. With a handkerchief over his mouth and nose, he suppressed the gag that threatened to spill the rising bile. His young partner, however, was not so fortunate–Alejandro Ochoa, an expression of nausea blanching his face as he breathed in short, involuntary gasps, clutched at a juniper limb. He felt the slick tree bark, sensed the heat radiating up from the rocks, heard the arrogant caw of a shrub jay passing overhead. Alejandro's cheeks ballooned as his belly revolted. He heaved his lunch onto the smooth rocks at the juniper's base.

Matt skirted around the perimeter of the scene allowing the shaken young man time to compose himself. Judging from the novice agent's pallor, he needed it. Walking back to where Alejandro sat, Matt handed him a canteen.

"Might help to rinse your mouth out."

Alejandro sputtered, "Sorry I…I'll get used to it."

Matt studied him silently a moment before answering, "I hope you never get used to this." He took a shallow breath. "How old?"

"Dunno," Alejandro murmured. He paused, wiping his mouth across his sleeve. "Mid twenties maybe," he continued as he nervously ran a hand through his black hair. "Hard to tell in this heat."

"How long?" Matt asked flatly.

"Day. Maybe two. We had to fight back the vultures so it's been long enough for them to get the scent. But the damned coyotes got to her first, Matt." Alejandro felt a tightness constricting his throat. It was like swallowing sand. "God, she's a mess," he said raspily.

Matt nodded in agreement but didn't respond. The two men fell silent, quietly standing against the backdrop of the Arizona horizon. Behind them the sinking sun exposed a peaceful beauty that ironically masked the intrinsic danger of the terrain…low mountains and sloping foothills, bluish in the heat haze, dangling cloud garlands dyed in reds and purples, the musical whining of the wind in the trees. Twisting tendrils of heat shimmers snaked up from the desert floor to pull the sky down into rocky land itself, and returned Matt to the ponderous image lying askew beneath the draping limbs of a Palo Verde tree. The nauseatingly sordid portrait of death was like a contradictory spot of paint dropped absurdly from the sun's brush. It wouldn't be long before full sunset, and Matt watched the long shadows reach to claim not only the remains of another day but the grotesque scene that stretched out before him on the desert floor.

"Any ideas?" Matt asked with a frown.

"Kinda hard to tell." Alejandro went on. "Like I told you, the coyotes got to her first."

Matt sighed. The light was still good even though the sun hung precariously low on the horizon. He adjusted his weathered hat and deftly moved closer to study the markings in the dust near the body without disturbing the scene. With attempted hope in his voice, he said softly: "Well, we'll see what Jake can come up with." He paused, then continued tersely: "Alejandro, finish taping off the perimeter. Expand it up the wash, there and there," Matt indicated as he pointed west and north, "maybe another thirty feet or so."

"What about the federales?"

"Damn the federales!" Matt barked. "I don't want anybody in here without my authorization. Nobody...comprende...including them, if they show up, nosing around down here. And I don't care how shiny their new insignias are gleaming!" The tone of his voice was brusque. Alejandro remained silent and set back to work playing out more yellow perimeter tape.

"Jesus, what a smell!" Matt shifted his tone and turned to walk past the sight, past the instinctive gnawing in his gut that had clenched him since he had received the call about the latest discovery of yet another dead illegal…dead hopes, he thought. Each passing day witnessed futile attempts of those fleeing beyond the despair that was Mexico with its devastating sorrow and hopelessness. The lure of el otro lado, the other side, was too great not to chance the crossing.

More bodies of desperate illegals trying to cross the Mexican-American border piled up in his mind and in the morgue. But what he saw now was no ordinary border crosser who had misjudged this unforgiving land. No, there was something different here. The desert doesn’t bash in skulls, Matt's thoughts whispered to him.

Matt returned and situated himself at the west end of the body to observe the scene more closely. He felt an unsettling sense of déjà vu as the uneasy feeling he'd had the last few weeks resurfaced. Two other murder cases in the past six months. Well, technically all border deaths were murders, he thought, since the coyotes treated these unsuspecting hope seekers like cattle herded into a slaughterhouse. Money was the only motivation a coyote knew. The hopes and dreams of some ignorant desert rat were inconsequential to them. Life held no value. Only the fee to get a body across an invisible political line drawn in the sands counted to a coyote, and if that body died, no matter. They still had their money up front, and the world was one less Mexican pollo.

Paramount in Matt's mind were the other two cases. For the past few months, he had been unable to put his finger on what tickled at his brain, teased him in its refusal to come clear. Something just didn’t add up. Now, as he looked back at the badly decomposed remains of the dismembered body of what surely had once been a beautiful young woman, reality intruded. Matt instinctively knew. His back stiffened. "Son of a bitch…she's not the first." His voice held the faintest trace of panic as he resisted the idea that she'd almost certainly not be the last. "Jesusfuckingchrist," he muttered under his breath. "I've got a goddamned killer here in the desert. As if the heat and the coyotes and the damned illegals aren't enough to contend with, I go and get myself a scorched-brained serial killer."

Matt hiked up the steep grade of the arroyo toward the rim. He stopped abruptly when he neared the crest…a dust cloud rising in the distance, moving fast and getting closer. Looks like we got company, he surmised. "Jake…you better find me some answers with this one," he whispered aloud.


Long legs ending in booted feet peeled out of the silver Land Rover. Jake strode around to the back. She had already unloaded her gear and was halfway to the wash as the white forensic van pulled in. A rugged looking, salt and pepper-haired man in his fifties jumped out of the van's passenger side. He yelled over his shoulder to the driver: "Let's get the equipment unloaded and set up the lights. It'll be dark before long."

The tall, athletic Hispanic woman accompanying him was already handing hairnets and foot covers to the rest of the CSI team. "The coveralls are in the back of the van, Baltazar," she motioned. Tying the strings of her facemask behind her neck, Kilana Trujillo looked toward the gathering of officers at the foot of a large mesquite. A lone figure walked toward the tree's cool, azure shadow. As Jake's calm approach narrowed the distance to the grisly offerings hidden down in the wash, Kilana was struck by the irony of the scene she surveyed. She thought, "Just a little over a hundred years ago the Indians around here called this place the Enchanted Land. Not too enchanting now."

Matt had topped the rim of the arroyo and stepped out onto the desolate landscape that surrounded Walker Canyon just when the van pulled to a stop. His lean and muscular six-foot frame swiftly carried him toward the investigative team as he watched them busily readying for the job. He was intercepted, however, before he made it to the team.


"Jake."There was a pause. "Sorry to bring you out so late on a weekend. The light's still good and…"

"Well just be glad," Jake cut in, hazel eyes flashing, "that it was you who called and ended my perfect evening."

A frown tore across Matt's weathered features, and Jake laughed. Regaining his composure, he smirked, "Yeah right, like you were doing something better than poring over all those journals or reading the minutes of the last Medical Examiner's meeting. Jake, you need to get away from the job more when you are not working."

"Well I am away right now," Jake countered stoically.

Looking Jake square in the face, Matt protested, "That’s not what I mean, and you know it."

Jake shifted nervously but quickly headed for the wash. Below, two figures solemnly gathered bits and pieces of what the desert chose to surrender.

"What have we got, Matt?" Jake questioned, changing the subject back to the comfort zone of the job.

"Hispanic female, early twenties I would guess," Matt replied. "Dead a day or two…a Border Patrol agent on a routine sweep of Walker Canyon spotted the vultures this morning. Head crushed in, no clothes, but we found her ripped skirt a little way up the wash." Matt's voice flattened as he locked his blue eyes onto hers. "Jake, she's partially dismembered…hard to tell if the coyotes did it." Matt took off his hat and wiped his face on his sleeve. He started again, pointing with his sweat-stained hat: "She's about fifty or so feet up the wash there, just barely inside our border. I found truck tracks, down the wash about a hundred yards, but the ground's fairly hard up that way. We can't really tell how many crossed there. "But further up, over there on the south rim," Matt indicated with a wave of his hat, "we found some good sign…footprints indicate possibly as many as twenty unloaded. From the looks of the ground where the truck parked, they were losing oil fast. Then the truck drove west before cutting across the wash to the north. I've got a couple of trackers following the sign. They'll most likely find it burnt out…couldn't have gone too far…probably outside Oro Blanco somewhere. Matt fell silent as he repositioned his hat over sandy brown hair. Then he started again: "Jake, before you go down there, I need to tell you som…

"No. Don't say anything. Just let me see her," Jake whispered without taking her eyes off the shadow makers, the cholla and mesquite and ocotillo that guarded the wash. She removed her brown, wide-brimmed hat to run her hands through her sun-blonde hair. After adjusting her hat back in place, Jake hoisted her gear to her shoulder and headed across to the patchwork of shadows.

Matt quickly caught up and steered Jake to the Palo Verde at the foot of the wash where Alejandro was just finishing up with cordoning off the perimeter. While Matt stepped inside the area, Jake remained still, planted solidly, outside the circle. Matt scrutinized the slender blue-jeaned figure agilely circling the outside of the yellow boundary that screamed stay away, stay away. She stood pensively, peering inward into death, readying herself for the mysteries that would soon reveal themselves to her.

Matt knew Jake would wait outside the circle of death until the anguished soul welcomed her, when death itself spoke to her, beckoning her to come close and discover its secrets. Methodically, she zigzagged outside the taped off area, glancing furtively down at the sand, peering up to a limb. Once, she squatted down and retrieved a silvery paper lodged on a barrel cactus.

"Matt, are you chewing gum?"


"What about Alejandro?"

"Alejandro, you got any gum?" Matt shouted over his shoulder.

"Sure boss, want some?"

Jake rose slowly and approached the line. "Alejandro, is this the kind you have?" she asked, holding out the offending wrapper, as she noted the nervousness in his eyes.

"Sure. Why?"

"Damnit, you’ve got to be more careful."

"Sorry, Jake. It must have fallen out of my pocket," Alejandro apologized.

"Just be more careful," Jake responded and turned back toward the body stowed at the roots of the Palo Verde tree. She approached slowly, looking at every inch of ground between her and the body.

"Foot prints here," she pointed to an area near a cholla.

Matt nodded, "Yeah, we got em."

Then Jake entered the arena of death. She neared the body patiently, carefully maneuvering each step so as not to disturb any evidence. Once she closed the distance and was within three feet of the girl, she lingered several minutes without speaking. The silence was inevitable, and both Border Patrol agents knew the drill with Jake. Stay back and keep quiet.

Finally, she turned away and sighed. The desert sighed with her as melting shadows surrounded her. She spoke into the gloom: "Hopefully, I’ll get something conclusive once I get her back to the morgue." As she eased past Matt, she murmured softly, "But I know your question, Matt. Unofficially, I think the answer is yes."

Part 2

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