Jasmine had no clue as to what was going on. Her police captain, Captain Ryan Hughes, had ordered her to pack a bag and that they were getting on a plane. And certainly not a regular plane, where there was economy, business class, or first class, but like a cargo plane, and they strapped you down, and all the others were in military uniform of some sort. She had spent the entire trip side eyeing Hughes. When they de-boarded, she was met with a heat like she’d never experienced.
“What the hell, Cap?” she demanded as they sat in a muggy, hot air condition-less office.
“Your expertise has been requested,” he informed.
She stared at him, “My expertise has been requested?” she repeated.
“Yes,” he started, but was interrupted by a man in fatigues approaching.
“Mr. Hughes,” the man greeted, and she and Hughes stood, “I’m Lieutenant Brown,” he gestured to the right through a door-less frame she could make out more men, “We’ll be escorting you to the camp.”
“’Ppreciate it, Lieutenant,” Hughes nodded.
“Ma’am,” Brown nodded to her, then pulled something out of one of his pockets and held it out to her. “It’d be for the best, if you cover your hair.”
She stared up at him, then down at his hand, it was a good one hundred and some degrees, she had absolutely no desire to cover her head in a black anything. She sighed, hair already up in a bun to keep it off her neck, she turned towards the window and with the slight reflection, managed to cover her hair to a somewhat respectable manner. She turned and looked to the Lieutenant who gave his nod of approval.
“Great,” he turned and barked into the other room, “Gear up, we leave in 10.”
Jasmine’s trigger finger was twitching, she wanted to shoot someone. She was crammed into a Humvee between four guys, one of which was Hughes, in this ridiculous heat, and on top of it all, the guy to her right kept sniffing her. Yeah, she definitely wanted a gun. After a two-hour drive, which consisted of a ridiculous amount of sweat and stress, seeing as they had to stop five times and deal with locals. And by we, she meant them, because she was a civilian, she didn’t get a gun, which was an irritatingly new feeling for her. They finally came to a stop outside of a tall, metal fence, which had a gathering of about twenty people, men, yelling at the gate.
“Stay in the car,” Brown ordered them, as all the others got out. She immediately slid to the window so she wasn’t pressed bodily against her superior, Hughes did the same. She heard mumbling from the soldiers, they were definitely talking about her. And since they were talking about her, they missed the guy reaching into the vehicle, grabbing her by the shirt, and yanking her through the window opening.
She let out a surprised grunt, and another as he slammed her against the vehicle. She dropped her forearms quickly, breaking his hold on her, and sent a knee into his stomach, the man doubled over, and she took that opportunity to try to circle around the vehicle, he promptly grabbed her by her hijab covered bun and threw her back against the car, yelling in Arabic. Others from the crowd had caught on, and started forward. She grabbed the closest one by the arm, kicked out his knee, and slammed him face first onto the hood of the Humvee. In that time, some of the soldiers had closed in, she grabbed up the Beretta from a man’s hip and leveled it on the next closest man closing in on her, everyone froze.
“La-a,” she ordered in Arabic, no. “Tarajue,” back off.
The man slowly backed up, in the chaos, the gate had been opened and they were now being greeted by an angry looking team of men that sent the locals scattering. A harsh hand stripped the gun from her hand and Brown stepped up.
“I told you to stay in the fucking car,” he growled out.
“I didn’t get out of your precious fucking car,” she bit out, “Tell your man to stop day dreaming about fucking me and maybe this dude wouldn’t have pulled me through the window,” she pressed the man’s arm further up his back.
Brown backed off, but barely.
“Lieutenant,” a man drawled out from near the gate, she sent a glance that way. “Glad you could make it.”
“Shut up, Syverson,” Brown muttered, storming through the gate.
“You letting him up anytime soon, ma’am?” one of the men from the other Humvee asked hesitantly.
“I’m thinking about it,” she countered as Hughes rounded the car and started for the gate.
“Shit, Jazz, you’re always makin’ friends,” he goaded playfully.
“You know what would be great, Hughes?” she sassed, releasing the man and following after him. “What’s that, Detective?”
“A gun. I wonder where I get to carry one of those,” she mused sarcastically.
Once the gates were secure, the team from the camp disbursed. Lieutenant Brown led the way to a building that had definitely seen better days. “Syverson will be out shortly,” he informed tersely, then disappeared. One of the men brought their belongings, she sent him a side eye as he dropped her bag at her feet.
“I open this and do an inventory, are all my panties and bras gonna be in here?” she asked.
The man’s cheeks reddened, which was impressive given the heat, “Yes, ma’am.”
Her eyes narrowed, “You sure?”
He cleared his throat, “Miller may have tried ma’am, but Wilson stopped him.”
She arched a brow and unzipped the bag, everything was as meticulously placed as she’d left it. She gave a slight facial shrug and nodded, “Thanks, my dude.”
Turns out, shortly was another two hours of sitting and staring at grubby walls. Every twenty minutes or so, she would get up from the uncomfortable bench and pace until Hughes growled at her to sit down.
“Mr. Hughes, ma’am,” a man appeared and gestured for them to follow.
“Do they not know my name?” she muttered to Hughes, grabbing up her bag and trailing behind Hughes.
“Probably not,” he answered after pondering a second.
“Fantastic,” she muttered back.
They were brought to a room, it had decent lights, but no one was in it. She glanced to the soldier.
“Captain Syverson will be in in a few minutes.”
She pondered how long a few minutes was in military time. A short while was apparently two hours. A few minutes had to be a good forty-five minutes then. She angled back in the wooden chair and stared up at the ceiling.
“Explain to me, what the hell I’m doing in the desert with no air conditioning,” she ordered Hughes.
He cleared his throat, “A friend asked a favor.”
“Your friend?” she asked.
She swiveled her head to take him in. “So why is it, that any time a friend asks a favor of you I wind up having to tag along?”
He shrugged, “Usually, because their requests require my best detective.”
Her eyes narrowed and she seriously contemplated throwing something at him, “Flattery will get you nowhere, Cap.”
He grinned slightly. “I’m well aware, Detective Lane.”
At that, a door opened, and one of the men from the gate entered, not exactly in what was considered uniform, given that he was wearing a shirt with the acronym DILLIGAF spelled across the chest, a few more men trailed in behind him. She sat up straight as he shook hands with Hughes.
“Mr. Hughes,” the man nodded, then glanced her way.
Mr. Hughes, she repeated in her head and scrunched her nose, no, that didn’t work.
“This is Jasmine Lane,” Hughes introduced. “Detective,” he added on, “The best we’ve got in terms of solving homicides.”
Her brows scrunched inwards, gaze flicking from Hughes to the DILLIGAF guy, who reached out and offered his hand, she stood and shook it, “Captain Syverson,” he informed, then gestured to the other men, “My team, Russel, Shaw, Bennett, Brooks, and Collins.”
She nodded their way, shot a look to Hughes. “What type of favor did your friend ask you?”
“This is more of a you owe him rather than a he’ll owe you type of situation,” she observed.
Hughes waved his hand dismissively, she took the hint and shut up, Syverson’s blue gaze was flicking between them, then he gestured to Shaw, who held out a folder. Syverson held it out to her, she took it, opened it up, photos, of dead people, okay, she glanced from the top on to the next and then the third.
“You only have one photo of each scene?” she asked, glancing up at him. He didn’t respond, she took that as an affirmative, she sighed slightly, and pulled out the small stack of pictures. She began placing them on the table.
“What, you gonna play cards with pictures of dead people?” Russel asked.
She sent him a leveled look, then went back to her photo arrangement. “Yeah,” she said after a moment, “The game is simple, you want to play?” she asked.
Russel stared at her, then glanced to Syverson, who’s brows flicked upwards slightly. Russel stepped forward, pulled out a chair and slouched into it.
“You’re assuming that these are all done by the same person,” she informed, “That you have a serial killer on your hands.”
“Shit’s obvious,” Russel stated, gesturing to the pictures.
Her head tilted slightly, gaze scanning over the dead bodies, women, mostly. “Purpose of the game,” she started, reaching out and picking up a picture. “Weed out the victims that weren’t killed by the same person.” She paused, “One, was a robbery, another was an accident, and the third and fourth were committed by a bored soldier who got tired of sitting in the heat and decided to break up the monotony by shooting random women.”
The energy in the room changed, went from slightly standoffish to full on charged.
“You can’t prove that from one picture.”
“I’m not proving it from one picture, I’m proving it from ten,” she gestured to all ten photos in front of her. “So,” she waited, “Are you playing or not?”
He scanned the pictures, then picked on up. She waited.
“Well?” he demanded.
“Why’d you pick that one?” she asked.
“I picked it at random, they’re all the fucking same.”
“Well, for random, you’re correct,” she took it from him, “This,” she pointed to something in the sand, “Was the accident. Poor lady picked up a gun, accidentally shot herself, walked there, and died.”
“Explain the hand up by her eyes.”
She pointed to the sun. “When was the picture taken?”
“Morning,” Bennett informed.
“Sun was rising, it was in her eyes, she blocked the sunlight with her hand, she died,” she pointed to the small wall, which was missing a stone and the woman’s elbow was propped up against, “rigor set in. Arm stayed propped up.”
She flicked her wrist, the photo glided through the air. “Which one are you ruling out next?” she asked.
“This is bullshit, Cap, she doesn’t know what the fuck she’s doing,” Russel turned to demand at Syverson.
“Shut up, Russ,” he muttered, then angled forward and tapped a picture, “Robbery.”
She smiled slightly, picked it up, “Good,” she nodded, pointing to the man’s exposed wrist, “His watch was taken. Bruising to the face implies a struggle as well.” Another flick of the wrist and the picture glided away.
“Well?” she prompted Russel. The man pointed randomly to two photos. She tsked and picked up the one to her far left, and the one top right.
“Note that in addition to the hands up by their faces, their other arms are outstretched,” she held the two photos up side by side, “they were reaching for each other, yes?” she asked.
“Blood spatter,” she pointed to the sand and the small wall, “Suggests a long-distance shot.”
“Doesn’t mean one of our guys has gone off the deep end.”
“I said soldier, not American soldier,” she stated dryly, “Has anyone mapped where the bodies were found?” she asked.
Crickets, she sighed, glanced to Hughes, then to Syverson, “Do you have a map and a few pens?”
He gestured to Brooks, who disappeared, then returned.
“Right,” she uncapped her pen and peered up at Brooks, “Point to the locations, please.” She held up a photo, he pointed, they repeated for all ten photos, including the four she had ruled out.
“There, see?” she pointed, “You could have ruled those out had you just mapped them. Now that we have that squared away, where’s the evidence?”
“There isn’t any,” Syverson stated.
She blinked at him, “How do you mean?”
“Nobody collected any.”
“At any of the scenes?”
He shook his head.
“Alright, do you still have the bodies?”
“Can I see the crime scenes?”
She stared at him, then to Hughes, then back. “I’m sorry,” she smiled in exasperation, “How exactly am I supposed to solve your crimes if I have no photos, no evidence, no bodies, and no crime scenes?”
He stared at her. She reached up and held up a photo, “The most recent murder was today, right?”
“If I see it now, I could still gather some evidence.”
“Not gonna happen, ma’am.”
“Then I guess we go back to the states, then?” she asked Hughes, “We helped them eliminate some like-crimes, I have open cases to get back to, a five-year-old rape victim in a coma,” she shrugged and stood up, picking up her bag.
Syverson’s eyes did something scary, went dead for a second or two, but then, she interacted with the scum of the earth, killers, rapists, abusers, yeah, he was scary, yeah, he could make her life hell, but it would take more than that look to back her down.
“We don’t travel at night, you can go to the scenes first thing in the morning.”
“Then all of the evidence of the most recent scene will be degraded.”
He shrugged a broad, muscled shoulder, “By the time we get there, you collect your evidence, we start coming back, it’ll be dark,” he shook his head, “We don’t travel in the dark unless absolutely necessary.”
“This is absolutely necessary.”
“No, ma’am, it’s not.”
“We’ll go first thing in the morning,” he repeated, then he nodded his head towards the door, and his men started out. She sighed, bent, picked up the two discarded pictures, put those in the bottom of the folder, followed by the other ruled out murders, and then the other six, which definitely were related.
She flung her bag over her shoulder and started for the door.
“I know it seems she’s putting your team in danger, reckless danger that a civilian doesn’t understand. But she’s collected evidence of murders in the middle of active gang wars. She’s not asking you or your team to do something that she hasn’t done.”
Syverson stared down at Hughes, then glanced towards the door that Jazmine had disappeared through.
“Mz. Lane,” he called, Jasmine was halfway down the hallway when she heard his voice call after her, she sighed, turned and started back.
“I’ll have a word with Mz. Lane, then I’ll show you where you’re bunking down,” he informed Hughes, promptly closing the door in her superior’s face.
She blinked, okay, so maybe being trapped in a room with Syverson was scary, usually when she was locked in a room, she was the one with the key and the one with the gun. She had clocked two guns on Syverson, as well as an impressive amount of ammo, and a huge ass knife to top it all off. She waited.
“I need to make myself clear, Mz. Lane.” Her gaze slid to his mouth, he had an accent, a twang of sorts, she was putting him somewhere around Texas. Her gaze went back to his eyes, which were back to scary.
“I tell you to do something, you do it. Immediately. You get killed on my watch, that looks badly on me, you get any of my men killed because you’re a maverick, you will not like the consequences. You understand?”
She watched him a moment, then asked, “What’s your definition of immediately?”
He stared down at her, she was pretty sure she saw him contemplate strangling her.
“Generally, when I’m confronted with someone who needs to do as I say, I wait about five to seven seconds before I repeat myself, time to process and react.”
“You have three.”
She gave a small facial shrug, that was reasonable, “I understand.”
The scary went away again, replaced with friendly-going genial demeanor, if he thought her incapable of kowtowing and ‘yessir’-ing, he was wrong, she wasn’t in the military but the police force had its own hierarchy and decorum, even if she did sass Hughes, but the asshole deserved it for dragging her out here.
His hand slid down and he opened the door, he gestured her through the door, she didn’t know about giving him her back, but as it were, he was apparently no longer in the strangling mood. Hughes was waiting for them, gave her a once over and a leveled eye, she gave a slight nod, and Syverson took the lead, “Not sure how you feel about sleeping in the same room…” he trailed off.
Jasmine’s head tipped back, then rolled to glower at Hughes, “You owe me a vacation and a spa gift card,” she muttered to him.
“You just had a vacation.”
“And you better be planning on how you’re going to pay me all this overtime.”
Syverson glanced back over his shoulder as they exited the building.
“There is no overtime.”
“Oh, there’s overtime. If I’m in one hundred plus heat with no air conditioning, sharing a room with you, crappy crime scenes that I’m expected to solve from one picture, everything is overtime.”
“You know what? You are not the ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’ of my heart. I want my other Captain back. That guy was cool, he didn’t drag me across the world to the desert.”
“Where’d he drag you to, the Alps?”
“He didn’t drag me anywhere, because he had the full knowledge that I’m a detective and therefore stay within city limits, quite possibly precinct limits. The worst that happened was speeding to crime scenes and occasionally to get donuts.”
“That’s against department policy.”
“Oh, see I thought that was okay to admit to, seeing as we’re in. The. Desert,” and then her entire voice changed, went soft as she murmured, “Doggy.”
A German Shepherd was bounding towards them, the dog circled then plopped down in front of Jasmine, panting up at her. Jasmine let the dog sniff her hand, then reached down and patted her head.
“It’sa good doggy, yes it is,” she cooed to the dog.
“Please tell me I can keep the dog to keep her from stabbing me in my sleep,” Hughes muttered to Syverson, who grinned wryly, “No can do.”
“That’s Aika,” he projected and Jasmine looked up. “Aika,” she said to the dog, she got a thump of the tail, and continued ruffling the dog’s soft head.
“C’mon,” Syverson flicked his fingers and they started walking again, this time, Aika in tow. They made it into what was apparently a house, and climbed the stairs. “This is me,” he knife-hand pointed to a room, then started down the hallway to the left, at the very end of the hall, on the right, was a room only slightly larger than a closet. “This is you,” he informed, nudging the door with his boot. She peered in to see a bunk bed, a couple bedside tables, a giant trunk, and that was about it.
“For safety purposes, we go dark at night, snipers take shots at the camp. You don’t have any windows, but it’s important you know.”
Jasmine flicked her gaze to the walls, no windows, well, in this instance she’d take it. He sighed slightly and she glanced back at him. “We don’t have a female only restroom facility.”
If he told her there was a porta-potty outside she would throw him down the stairs. He gestured to the room across the hall. “All the other rooms have joined bathrooms, this one was free reign, the two of you will share it for the duration of your stay. The men have been informed and ordered to stick to their own bathrooms.”
Great, animosity straight out of the gate. “Thank you,” she forced out anyways, at least it wasn’t a porta-potty. He nodded slightly, “Don’t exactly have showers, make do however,” that didn’t seem to be a huge priority. She of course would disagree. “It’s almost twenty-two hundred, you got about fifteen minutes before we go dark.”
She blinked, 2200, right that’s ten pm. Meaning back at the States it was about three pm. Great.
“Questions?” he asked.
“When do we leave?” she asked.
“Ready at 0600, leave at 0700.”
She nodded, Syverson strode away, leaving her and Hughes alone. She dropped her bag to the bottom bunk, pulled out her toiletry bag, and crossed the hall. She eased the door open and grimaced; it was repulsive. Once they got back tomorrow, she was hunting down some cleaning supplies and sufficiently scrubbing this mess. She scrubbed at her face with a wipe, gave her pits a good scrub while she was at it, re-deodorized, brushed her teeth, and returned to the bedroom/closet. Hughes went to the bathroom, she changed into a pair of compression shorts that hit her right above the knee and a tank top, then flopped down onto her bed. She was hot, and miserable, and absolutely not tired at all. It took about three hours for her to fall asleep, which meant she’d get about five hours of sleep, not the worst ever, she just, usually was working when she stayed up that late, not laying around waiting to be tired.