For disclaimers see Part 1.
Jake stormed into her office, chiding herself ruthlessly for losing control in the café. She strode over to the open window and stared out. A light breeze billowed her white cotton shirt and ruffled her hair. "Impossible, this is never going to work," she hissed, then wheeled back to her desk where she impetuously started sorting through the papers, sightlessly glancing over nondescript folders and files. She was oblivious to Kalani's silent approach.
"You're upset about something. Do you want to tell me about it?" Kalani asked quietly, observing the slight tightening to Jake's entire posture. She could see the muscles of her arms clenching and unclenching with each stack of papers she aimlessly shuffled around. Storm clouded, hazel eyes flashed a silent warning at the sudden intrusion, then refocused on the superfluous array of papers in front of her. Unfazed by the attitude, Kalani's voice demanded full attention.
"Don't what, Kalani?"
"Keep shutting yourself off from people. Jake, I've known you too long, and I can read you too well. What's wrong?" The noisy shuffle stopped. Jake swiveled in her chair to face Kalani.
"The tissue samples, are you finished with them?"
Kalani accepted her need for space. Which was not to say she wasn't still worried. She merely gave a low laugh accompanied by a tilt of her head. "Okay, I'll give you this one, although you need lessons in changing the subject. As for the samples, yes, I'm finished. Most were contaminated…but," a tenacious look of self-satisfaction suffused Kalani's face as she handed Jake the report, "here's the last one I ran."
Jake eagerly read the results, her lips curling slightly into a half smile. "Good! Good! Let's get the order out for a tissue sample from the suspect and compare them," Jake directed, not looking up from her reading. "Everything by the book, K. Follow protocol to the letter."
I won't give her another chance to manipulate evidence in her favor, not this time. Although…I don't think this kid is our killer. Only a brutal, crazed sadist could carry out such butchery. Who could stomach doing this? My guess, someone who has done this before and will do it again.
"One step ahead of you, Jake. Already got the order early this morning."
Jake nodded, pleased that Kalani had handled the matter with her usual blend of logic and precision.
Cara moved over to the large, plate glass café window to finish her coffee. Nogales, like so many other border towns, was a flurry of activity. Though it was only eight o'clock in the morning, the streets leading to and from the border crossing were packed with an eclectic mix of curious tourists, residents, shoppers, and Border Patrol agents. The weather was oppressively warm already, and the tinny rhythm of Latin music could be heard blaring through the open windows of passing cars. Paying no attention when Matt's cell phone rang, she sipped her coffee, purposefully trying to prepare herself for the imminent collision with Jake. She shifted her position slightly to get a better view of the street, leaving Matt's light-hearted burr in the background.
"Sandro, speak of the devil, we were just talking about you," Matt laughed.
"And how is my beautiful aunt?"
"As ornery and beautiful as ever, mi amigo. What's up with you today?"
"Ugly business this murder in the desert, Matt."
"Murders, Sandro, murders. We suspect there is a correlation between the deaths of two other Jane Does and the one we recovered this week. Work of a sick bastard. Hey, where are you anyway?"
"In your office, compadre. Can we meet?"
"Come on over to Mama's, coffee's on. I'm here with the attorney for the kid we picked up."
"A mouthpiece in a suit, huh. Who is he, Matt?"
"She. It's Cara Vittore out of Tucson. She's here for a briefing on what we have so far."
"What!" Sandro couldn't suppress his surprise. "Isn't that the fucking prosecutor's job, Matt, to give her the evidence?"
"As a rule, yes, but this was cleared through District Attorney Manning's office. He didn't like it either, but his office was under pressure to make an exception in this case." Looking apologetically toward Cara, Matt shrugged. "Now get your carcass over here and say hello to the best cook this side of the border, she's been missing your smooth talking ways." With that, Matt flipped his phone closed.
The last part of Matt's conversation tugged Cara out of her thoughts. Looking pointedly at him, her face was a study of expressionless professionalism. "I'll go ahead to the briefing, oh I would like to see the crime scene today, too, before I see my client. If that's alright?" Cara said as she moved toward the door, her calm voice never betraying the underlying tension she felt.
Matt stared at Cara a long moment, his thoughts obviously elsewhere. "Sure thing. Tell Jake I'll be along shortly. If you're in a hurry, ask her to drive you on out." When he'd watched her disappear around the corner, he rubbed a hand through his hair and remembered that Jake was pissed beyond belief. He sighed sympathetically, good luck, Cara…I hope you have a clue how to deal with her. His relationship with Jake was a predictable scenario, one step forward, three steps back. Whenever he got too close, she pushed him away.
"Well, hasn't this been an interesting morning," Maria quipped incredulously from behind the counter.
"My sentiments exactly, Mama."
Cara paid no attention to the cacophony of sounds that surrounded her as she strode resolutely to Jake's office She briskly paced down the street, a pair of dark shades concealing the determination in her eyes. Her mood deflated exponentially the closer she got. By the time she reached the door, she had marshaled her features into a calm mask that did not betray the harrowing annoyance she felt. That little something in the back of her mind that always flashed a warning was a glaring neon-red just now. Even though she knew this meeting was not going to be an amicable one if the animosity in the café was any indication, she hoped that she would be able to maintain her composure for the duration. What is it about her that just gets me going? I suppose it doesn't matter-I'm just here long enough to get what's needed for the case, thought Cara, and I'll be damned if I'll let this hot tempered doctor put me off.
Distracted by the incident in the café, Jake gave a vexed sigh and reached up to rub her temples. She had been so engrossed in her work for the past few days, sitting for hours at a time at her computer and desk poring over photos and evidence sheets combined with the lack of physical activity and sleep was making her antsy. Worse, it was causing her mind to wander. She had hated Cara on sight this morning, a feeling which only intensified as the morning wore on. She hated her smugly nonchalant voice, her obvious cleverness in the fine art of manipulation. No! It would be a cold day in hell before she let this woman get the best of her again. Then in a flash of truthfulness, Jake suddenly could see how the situation with Vittore would be detrimental, possibly even an obstruction to her impartiality in the case. Being completely honest with herself, she finally admitted that the root of this conflict was fear. Fear that another killer would go free. Fear that Vittore would humiliate her again. And this morning, even the fear that she could not deal with her relationship with Matt. It's not about you, Jake. Just let it go and get on with the job. At that moment, she sensed Cara standing in the doorway. She'd been dreading this conversation from the moment Matt had told her Vittore was on the case. Without looking up, Jake indicated with a hand that Cara should sit.
Cara regarded Jake for a moment, wishing she would cease with the attitude. Well if she thinks I have time to stand, or sit and wait like a chastised child…wrong! Agitated further by the rudeness, Cara stood her ground.
When no response was forthcoming, Jake raised her eyes to Cara's and she was promptly hit with the attorney's resolute, no-nonsense voice. "Let's get this over with, if you have something to say, say it. I don't want to trip over this every time we have to be in the same room or for that fact in the same town!"
Two years of nursing the resentment came to a full head of steam. "You're absolutely right, let's," Jake hurled as she rose, leaned across her desk into the dark, menacing eyes, and fixed Cara with a cold, direct stare. Implicit in the piercing gaze of both women was all the anger and frustration each was attempting to keep in check. Repressing a desire to inflict immediate and serious bodily harm, she warned Cara: "But keep in mind, you're not in a court room now, and I won't go running from the legendary Cara Vittore this time."
Cara allowed herself a small smile at the thought of Jake running scared. One of the FBI's most formidable pathologists devastated by her court room fiasco. Who'd have thought? "I didn't know you ran the last time," Cara retorted derisively.
She stared at her, watching the corners of Cara's mouth lift. "No, you wouldn't! To put it bluntly, you're too self-absorbed," Jake flipped back.
"Get this straight, lady, I was doing my job. I believed then and I still believe it now, my client was innocent. Let's put this where it belongs. If you hadn't screwed up, I wouldn't have gotten the evidence thrown out, now would I? So if he was guilty, you're the one who set him free. What? Just easier on your conscious to blame me?"
Jake was livid. "You humiliated me on the stand without mercy, you questioned my competency and got months of goddamn good work thrown out, so don't give me your goddamned righteous indignation!" Jake yelled, all patience gone and slamming her hand down on the desk.
"You seem to have survived the incident without too many scars," Cara sneered in a low, impatient voice leaning across her side of the desk.
Irrational defiance spilled over the hostile space between them, neither giving an inch. Kalani, who had witnessed the confrontation between the two women and felt an acute unease pool in her stomach, decided Custer's Last Stand was being re-enacted and that it might get bloody at any moment.
"Time…time out ladies. I'm sorry to interrupt your fun here, but…how about a truce. This is a no win situation."
Through eyes narrowed to minuscule slits, Jake stared into a whirlpool that was pulling everything into its depths. She felt the air in her lungs being sucked out by the intense inferno that was Cara Vittore. The vehemence of the moment was palpable. Jake's grip on the desk turned her knuckles white. Her head was spinning as she looked into that angry vortex of molten brown. The same powerlessness of two years ago on a witness stand before this woman threatened to overwhelm her. Intense and hypnotic energy radiated from Cara. She could smell it, feel it scorch her psyche just as it had the last time.
Cara was seething, mostly at herself for allowing this woman to get beneath her impenetrable outer shell, her safe haven over the years. The only time she allowed her emotions into play was when she combined them with her legal ingenuity to represent the unfortunate…the guilty until proven innocent…those who had neither means nor money to navigate the labyrinthine justice system. She had always been nothing but strong and unwavering. Always in complete control. Never had she allowed such emotion to spill forth unguarded. This woman, however, incensed her beyond reason, which infuriated her even more.
The three women stood in silence, Jake and Cara still glowering at each other. Both were biting back the snappy retorts that hovered just on the edge of their tongues. Kalani took notice of the unspoken exchange, suddenly aware of the soundless expectation of the next round. The phone rang, jolting the three back to a semblance of sanity.
"Jacquelyn Biscayne's office," Kalani found herself whispering into the phone. "Oh sorry, I guess I was whispering. Okay I'll tell her, Matt." This ought to be good. "That was Matt. He's going to be tied up with Sandro most of the morning and asked if you would drive Ms. Vittore out to the crime scene since you're going out this morning anyway."
Before Jake could answer, Kalani scurried toward the door. "Well if you two can be trusted not to kill each other, I have work to do."
Cold fury washed through Jake as she made her way to the window, throwing "What next!" out behind her as she felt goosebumps rise on her arms in spite of the heat.
"Dammit!" Cara muttered, fuming with anger and frustration as she headed down the corridor away from Jake's office. It was unnerving how easily the pair had slipped into a hostile, angry relationship. She was suddenly glad that she'd worn heels today. Their loud staccato gave her a perverse sense of satisfaction. Every step was like a well-constructed dig at that insufferable woman. Pausing mid-stride, Cara ordered herself to get a grip. Deciding that the only way to make progress on her case was to have a rational conversation with Jake, Cara sighed and returned to the office. However, just because she was acquiescing, didn't mean she was going to make it easy for Jake. She walked over to the window and brought her face within inches of the fuming woman.
"Can't we just try to be professionals here? We are on the same side, remember. I've got a kid in jail, your Task Force still might have a killer on the loose, and all this opposition to me can't be a good use of your energies."
Turning her eyes to meet Cara's gaze, Jake opened her mouth as if to speak, then closed it. Cara could see the internal conflicts raging within. Then she read the silent approval in the other woman's eyes and although momentarily surprised, she complied. "Alright then, when do we get started?"
It was Jake who decided to interject a bit of levity into the situation. "Well, if we're going to be working together out at the scene, you've got to lose those heels. I don't think my horse would appreciate them."
"Excuse me? Horse?" Cara looked confused.
"Can you ride, counselor?" Jake asked, regaining some of her composure.
"A horse…can you ride a horse? I want to follow the trail a few miles into the crime site, and the best way to do that is by walking or on horseback. Considering the heat, I prefer horseback. It's your call, counselor."
"Oh, I think I can manage." The arched eyebrow, which accompanied Cara's response, was self-explanatory.
Jake gave Cara a disapproving look as her eyes swept over her. "We'll have to find you some clothes to wear…and boots. I think you might wear the same size as Kal…."
"Don't bother," Cara interrupted and turned toward the door looking at her watch, "ten minutes…I'll meet you in the parking lot."
Jake groaned aloud as she reached into her desk for a bottle of ibuprofen. "Great, just how I wanted to spend the day-with an impossible woman in a power suit and heels on horseback. Hell must have finally frozen over."
Impatiently, Jake paced along side the Land Rover. Standing in the direct sunlight of a July day in Arizona was not a smart thing to do, the sun showed no mercy. "This is stupid," she muttered to herself, pushing back a stray piece of hair from her face. "Why did I ever agree to this? An old tape clicked on in her brain: because I am a professional and it's the right thing to do. Just then, she spied a transformed Cara approaching. Jake watched the long legs stealthily take in the distance between them. Impossibly long legs sculpted in faded blue jeans and scuffed brown leather boots. A man's long sleeve denim shirt was open at the neck, and her dark hair was tied loosely at the back of her neck with a red bandana. Worn leather gloves dangled from her belt, and in one hand she carried a hat that had seen better days. Tearing her eyes away abruptly when Cara flashed her a disarming smile, Jake pivoted around the front of the SUV and mumbled under her breath, "I guess you did manage."
"Let's get going," Jake ordered. "I don't want to stand here too long-the brain starts to sizzle. We'll pick up the horses on the way out of town." She spoke in a dispassionate voice.
Cara called her back, "Let's get one thing straight, Biscayne," she said testily. "I don't take orders from you."
"Oh a bit defensive, aren't we," Jake shot out patronizingly. "Must you take exception to everything I say?"
"Only when you're wrong." Sarcasm colored her voice.
"Well I'm not wrong here! It's only common sense to get in the truck in the comfort of the air conditioning and get a little relief from this heat," Jake snapped, waving her hand toward the SUV. Between Vittore and the heat, she felt like she was going insane. "Furthermore, I do not intend to stand here and debate the weather with you, Vittore. I need to see the crime scene…TODAY. It's hot now, and it sure isn't going to get any cooler where we are going. And if it rains, any evidence we might be lucky enough to find will be washed away."
Shaking her head, Cara breathed heavily and mumbled, "Why do I get the feeling it's gonna be a long day."
"What was that, Vittore?"
"Ok," throwing her hands up in agreement, "it's hot, so let's get going."
Jake jumped behind the wheel and started the engine. In her haste, she threw the 4x4 in gear just as Cara was climbing in. The jolt hurled Cara precariously against the seat.
"Whoa…hold it. Hold on just a damn minute. Can we just stop this?" Twisting to straighten herself in the seat, Cara then inclined her head toward Jake. "Do you come with a warning label 'hazardous to one's health'!" Pinching the bridge of her nose, she took a deep breath to regain control of her emotions and smooth her characteristically cool mask back into place. "We both have a job to do," she reminded her. "It's in the best interest of my client and your investigation that we put these petty differences aside. Agreed?"
"Petty differences!" Jake's voice rose as she drilled Cara with her icy eyes. "The differences we have go down to the cellular level, counselor. There is a basic genetic difference between lawyers and the rest of the human race. And that's as elemental as differences get."
Turning away momentarily, Jake calmed herself and organized her thoughts. This whole situation was bad. It was not a time to be angry. "But…I do agree, this isn't helping either one of us." An eerie stillness punctuated by the low hum of the engine settled over them. Jake struggled with her words, obviously uncomfortable. "My anger and your reaction to it only makes for clouded judgement and bad investigating. So for right now, I'll try to forget who you are." With resolve Jake said, "Truce…for now."
Cara nodded in agreement. "I can deal with that."
The two rode in unnerving awkwardness, each still leery of the other, after getting the horses and heading for the crime scene. Cara, annoyed by the other woman's determined silence, was just about to launch into some sort of conversation when Jake suddenly pulled into Pena Blanca Canyon, leapt from the truck, and began to unload the horses. Cara followed, pulling on her gloves as she rounded the end of the horse trailer.
"It's down that arroyo about two miles from here," Jake said, nodding her head southward as she lovingly patted the beautiful strawberry roan and backed her out of the trailer. "This is Soul, my lucky lady," Jake proudly introduced the roan. "You can ride her today, she'll respond to you better. I'll ride Stat since he's a bit more spirited."
"No need," Cara said as she backed Stat out of the trailer, looking him straight in the eyes while rubbing his mane.
"We'll get along just fine. Right, boy?"
Half an hour later, the late morning sun beat down mercilessly as the two women traversed a rocky arroyo. The only words spoken were Jake's curt reminder to drink water. What did you expect, Cara, a day of stimulating conversation…just be glad she's not yelling at you. Sweat trickled down Cara's back as she covertly studied the precision and grace with which Jake worked Soul. Rider and horse moved in flawless harmony, anticipating each other perfectly. She considered Jake's lean form-thighs tightly gripping around the horse's belly, taut forearm muscles flexing with the slightest curl of her wrist as she directed Soul through close confines of the brush. Cara was curious about this woman who had infuriated her earlier. Hmm I wonder if she and Matt are lovers. With that temper of hers,…she chuckled silently to herself at that thought. Aside from being a force to be reckoned with, the young doctor was also intriguing, smart, and beautiful, an earthy, natural kind of beauty. Her sandy blonde hair hanging loosely in a single braid complimented her tan skin. The now blue-green hazel eyes softened her features, quite a contrast to the icy silver of a few hours ago. Cara suddenly realized that this woman had elicited a variety of emotions she had not felt in a long time.
The pace picked up as the close scrub and brush thinned into an opening. Jake spurred into a fast canter, leaving Cara behind momentarily. Cara pressed her heels into Stat and galloped to catch up. Just as she was nearing, Soul pulled up abruptly, nostrils flaring, ears laid straight back. "Whoa, girl. Whoa." Jake spoke softly, leaning forward to rub the roan's neck as she pranced nervously in place. Stat was skittish, too. The animals could smell the rancid stench of death that permeated the desert. They could sense the evil that mingled through the mesquite and willow where the restless spirit of the dead girl stood vigilant. A rustling, mournful tone left a hollow feeling in the air as the wind whished through the green leaves, making the woody branches creak and groan...like the sound of lost souls rushing off to their eternity.
Cara reined Stat in, waiting for Jake to make a move. After a few minutes, Jake swung her leg over the horse and jumped to the ground. Her whole persona changed, the eyes of FBI agent Doctor Jacqueline Biscayne surveyed the scene below.
"You coming," Jake absently asked. Cara silently nodded and followed her through the prickly brush into the arroyo. Squatting outside the yellow tape for what seemed an eternity, her calm, matter-of-fact voice broke the silence and began to paint for Cara a picture of a gruesome, horrific death. Jake possessed an uncanny insight that enabled her to profile a case with remarkable accuracy. As she expertly worked her way through each detail, Cara couldn't help but admire this woman whose compassion and genuine caring was evident in every word and gesture. Quite a contrast to the willful, combative Jake from a few hours ago. Unanticipated quietness surrounded Cara when Jake finished her account of the evidence. Cara watched as her shoulders slumped, the anguish replacing the cavalier bravado.
"Do you think this murder was committed by the same person who killed the other two girls?" Cara asked in a subdued tone.
"I do, and if the evidence supports that theory, then we have a serial killer. I don't believe your client, is our killer. From what little I have observed of him, he just does not fit the profile. If he would tell us his name, it would save us a lot of time with his background check. Guess we will have to wait until his prints come back to ID him. We got zilch state wise; hopefully federal will give us something. Jake shook her head. "I think you should try to delay the arraignment. The guy who did this has a connection to the smuggling of the illegals across the border, and this kid is just that…a kid. It takes a particular kind of sadistic, twisted creature to do what was done to these women…and practice." Jake's voice quivered as she closed her eyes and shook her head sadly. In a strange, unexpected way, Cara wanted to reach out and comfort this challenging woman.
Finding her voice again, Jake continued. "I'm going to follow the trail back toward Mexico a ways. Maybe something…I don't know-anything could be a help in finding this guy. We haven't heard the last from him I'm afraid, and from what I've seen he enjoys his work…too much. Look, Baltazar will be going back in a little while, just as soon as he finishes up here. You can ride in with him. His trailer will hold Stat," Jake said, looking into Cara's troubled brown eyes.
With no room for debate, Cara simply answered, "I want to go with you."
Jake searched the face looking back at her, "You sure about this? It doesn't get any cooler, and I know I'm not on top of your list for favorite company."
"I'm positive. We made it this far without shedding blood. I think we can, hmm, let me see, behave, don't you? Besides, I can take a little heat." Cara grinned.
Jake raised a dubious eyebrow trying to contain a small smile. "We'll see…I guess it would be okay." Looking over to where her friend and fellow agent was finishing loading the equipment she said, "I'll tell Baltazar, then we can get going while there are still a few good hours of daylight left."
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