DISCLAIMER: Criminal Minds belongs to CBS. This is a work of fiction. All the characters portrayed in this story have no relation to anyone living or dead.
SPOILERS: Set around Season 4 / Season 5. No specific spoilers to any TV episodes.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To rebelgirl_uk[at]yahoo.co.uk
The door to the cellar was yanked open roughly, bathing the top of the wooden stairs in garish, artificial yellow light. Two shadows quickly broke the line of light and a young woman was bundled hurriedly through the door. The man who had carelessly shoved her through the doorway held onto an arm with a vice-like grip as he turned to lock the door behind him. For a second, the room was swallowed by darkness before an audible click accompanying a simultaneous glare of light from a bare bulb in the room below illuminated the area.
The woman's captor grunted slightly and then pushed the woman forward her, impelling her to stumble down the steps. He maintained his grip on her arm, not caring as she cried out in pain when he increased the pressure.
The woman could not hide her fear; her breath came in short staccato pants and were accented by the sobs she could not stop wracking her body. "Please let me go," she begged between gasps. "I'll do anything."
There was no response from her captor and at the bottom of the stairs he pushed her toward a tall pillar that stood centrally. The young woman's eyes grew rounder as she noticed a set of bloodied manacles attached near the top of pillar and she dug her heels in, trying to halt her progress towards them. "No, no, no," she cried, shaking her head manically. As the pair reached the pillar, the woman desperately tried to keep her hands down, doing anything and everything in a frantic surge of self-preservation.
Her captor allowed her struggles to continue for a few minutes, seemingly drinking in her terrified attempts to get away before casually drawing a fist back and punching her squarely on her jaw. Her head snapped back with the force and she staggered dazedly. It was all he needed and he grabbed her wrists with practiced ease and secured them within the metal bands. He caressed her cheek almost lovingly before turning to a work bench that ran along the rear wall. His hand hovered over the array of tools that were neatly ordered across the bench. He paused for a moment before making his choice and turning to his captive. He slapped her cheek lightly, encouraging her to regain her senses. "Come on darling," the man cooed softly. "I need you awake for this."
"The victim's name is Valerie Caroll," Agent Jennifer Jareau told the assembled BAU team as she stood by a photo of the deceased woman that was displayed prominently on the overhead projection screen. "28 year old single woman from Scottsboro, Jackson County, Alabama. She was a librarian at the local college. She lived alone, no partner that we're aware of so far."
The blonde media liaison casually flicked the remote and the image changed to display the victim once again but this time she was shrouded in a bright yellow plastic bag with the words 'clinical waste' printed in black across it. "She was found in a clinical waste dumpster at the Highlands Medical Facility in Scottsboro. The bag split as the dumpster was tipping into the incinerator and one of the custodial team spotted it and halted the process."
Another photo was displayed on screen. It was clearly a mortuary shot and there was an evident view of the damage inflicted on her body. "The victim was cut repeatedly across her abdomen and chest. She was sexually assaulted and beaten. Coroner states she was tortured for days before she died." JJ illustrated her monologue with a series of photos depicting various angles of the injuries the victim had suffered.
"Look at those defensive wounds," Rossi prompted. "She wasn't just chained up and tortured," he demurred.
JJ looked at him with respect and flicked the remote to show another series of photos. "A lot of defensive wounds," she agreed. "And also lacerations on the palms of her hands, torn nails and abrasions to her knuckles. The coroner suggested that it looked like she had the chance to fight back."
Emily sat forward, frowning in concentration. "Those defensive wounds look like they vary in age." She paused as an uncomfortable thought sprung to mind. "She was fighting back more than once."
Derek Morgan shook his head as he flicked through the file impatiently. "I don't get it JJ," he admitted. "I know this is a horrible crime but it's just one murder. Local PD should be dealing with this. Why have we been called?"
JJ flicked the remote again and this time a montage of faces looked back at the squad sat round the table. "Jackson County has received 21 missing reports for women in the last four months," she answered, her rich contralto unwavering. "Of those 21 women, 14 are not your usual missing people. They have jobs, homes, income. Jackson County PD didn't have a single lead until Caroll's body was discovered at the incinerator. They're worried that their other missing people have been disposed of permanently." JJ lifted her eyebrows up at the last statement and looked steadily at her audience.
"They may be right," Rossi speculated as he sat back. "This killer is organised, methodical and steady. This isn't about getting off on a blitz attack. This is all about the interaction with the victim. He wants her to fight back. It's what motivates him."
Emily Prentiss nodded agreement. "He gave thought to disposing this body, and from the look of the victim, planned her torture too." She stared at the photos in the folder in front of her that replicated the images on the big screen. "Those cuts look graduated, as if he's steadily increased the depth and length of them. It's highly likely he's done this before and will continue."
"Undoubtedly," Spencer Reid continued. "He's provoking her to fight back and when she does, he gets more excited and more violent. It's a cycle that inevitably ends in death."
"What if she doesn't fight back?" JJ queried.
Rossi shrugged dispassionately. "He probably kills her quickly." He flicked through the file in front of him for some specific information. "That may explain the somewhat inconsistent time line to the disappearances of the women."
"We don't even know if they are connected," Morgan objected.
"But there's no denying that this victim is displaying evidence we would associate with an unsub likely to attack again," Reid replied. "Regardless if the women that are currently missing are his victims, there will be others."
The team's leader, Special Agent Aaron Hotchner closed the manila file in front of him and looked up at JJ. "Good call," he acknowledged quietly. "Morgan, Prentiss, take the dump site when we get there. Reid, Rossi and I will look at the other missing women and see what we can find. JJ, work your magic with the local PD, although I don't think it's going to be too much of a problem in this case. It looks like they know they need our help. Wheels up in an hour." He stood up and left the meeting room without further comment, his action spurring the rest of the team to stand.
Four hours later and the team were relieved to hurry out of the oppressive southern humidity and into the air-conditioned cool of the police department headquarters. JJ led the group in, walking through the swathe of local officers confidently as she targeted the police captain sat at the meeting table at the end of the main room. She held out her hand and then shook a firm welcome as the captain stood. "Captain Devaux, I'm Jennifer Jareau. We spoke on the phone earlier this morning."
The police captain smiled grimly at the woman. "Don't take this the wrong way Ms Jareau, but I wish we didn't have to meet."
JJ had heard that said more times than she cared to remember and shook it off with practiced ease. "Most people don't," she concurred. "This is SSA David Rossi, Dr Spencer Reid and our leader SSA Aaron Hotchner," the blonde woman continued, gesturing as she introduced the other members of the team.
Devaux frowned. "Is that all? We've got twenty one missing women," he reminded the press liaison.
Hotchner stepped in. "I have two agents at the dump site of the only body to be recovered. They'll return here when they're done. In the meantime we're going to need a bit of space and absolutely everything you have on the missing women."
The bald-headed captain nodded and pointed to a small room at the back of the precinct. "Everything we have is in there."
"Computer records?" Hotch prompted.
"You're welcome to what we have," the captain agreed readily.
The dark haired BAU lead nodded approvingly. "I'll get our technical analyst to patch into your system and see what we can deduce," he told Devaux as he strode into the back office.
The police captain looked confused for a moment before trailing in behind the team. Already, Reid and JJ were sifting through the photographs and organising them in different ways as Rossi picked up a file and began flicking through. "Aren't you going to tell us who we're looking for? Give us a profile?"
Aaron looked up from the sheaf of paperwork that he held. "We need to establish if there is a link between these missing women and the victim. Once we've collated the evidence, we'll be ready to give a profile. But it may take some time."
"But supposing another woman goes missing?"
"Then we'll deal with that if it comes up. We can't give a profile until we get a feel for what is motivating him," Rossi explained. "Give us a bit of time. We'll get there."
Reluctantly, the police chief nodded and allowed the group to continue to examine the information gathered in the room.
A couple of hours later, Morgan and Prentiss joined the rest of the team. JJ looked up from the file she was studying and smiled at the brunette almost subconsciously. She always missed Emily when the team split up. "Get any good info?" she asked to the pair in general, though not taking her eyes off the older woman.
Morgan screwed his face up, clearly indicating his dissatisfaction. "Not much. We looked at the clinical waste system. It'd be pretty easy for anyone with a little knowledge to dump a body in a clinical waste bag into the dumpster. There was no other evidence at scene."
Emily slid into a chair adjacent to the media liaison. "You got anything?"
"Not a lot," JJ admitted. "No obvious connection between the women. Garcia's tried just about every combination we can think of for links." She flicked various files that were strewn in front of her. "Several women shared banks, others didn't. Some used the same grocery store; a couple had the same dentist. Two worked in the same location but there is nothing that connects them all." She ran a hand through her long blonde hair distractedly.
"Have we got enough for a profile?"
"Not enough information," supplied Reid, a hint of frustration in his voice. "I'm plotting out a geographical reference to see if we can at least triangulate an area where he's likely to operate but this is a struggle," he admitted reluctantly.
"Let's see what a fresh pair of eyes can do then," responded Prentiss, nodding encouragingly at JJ as she reached over and grabbed one of the files. JJ returned the nod, drawing fresh enthusiasm from the older woman and enjoying the energy she emitted.
However, after a further three hours, the frustration within the room was palpable. Emily slapped down the folder she had been studying with an irritated sigh. "I can't see anything here. There are no witnesses to any abduction. The women just seem to disappear. Last sightings don't show up anything unusual." She pinched the bridge of her nose as she felt a tension headache creeping on.
Hotch looked around at the team and could see Emily's frustration mirrored across the rest of the team. Even Rossi looked agitated, highlighting just how vague the evidence was. "Okay. Let's run through what we've got so far," he suggested, standing next to the board that had various photos pinned to it. "We have 21 women reported missing in the county."
"Yes, but going on topography, type and background I think we can be safe in ruling out at least four of the women," Reid interjected, rising and removing four photos from the board. "These women are all significantly older than the rest and witness reports indicate that they were voicing leaving the area anyway."
"Okay, we'll put them to one side, but don't discard them completely yet," Rossi advised.
Hotchner continued. "The women that are left are all in their late twenties, early thirties. They are all unmarried, though some have long term partners. They're all slim build with light coloured hair. Reid, any topographical link?"
"The only trend I've got so far is that last sightings are predominantly toward the west of the county. Their residences are spread across Scottsboro and neighbouring towns. I haven't got any definite triangulation or pattern yet but I'm still working on it."
Hotch nodded approval. "Good. We need to examine everything we've got. Okay so we don't know how victims are selected or targeted or where they are actually abducted, but we do know where one body has been disposed of."
Morgan took up the lead. "The unsub has to have knowledge of the clinical waste disposal system. This could mean he works in a medical organisation or he works for clinical waste."
"That does not narrow it down much at all," Prentiss demurred. "Can we wind this back just a bit?" she asked rhetorically before continuing. "Are we convinced that there is a link between these missing women and one unsub? Are we confident that there's a serial killer out here?"
There was a pause for a few moments as the team reflected on the words. "I don't think we have an option in ruling it out," Hotch answered. "If he's been using an incinerator for disposal we won't find bodies. He may not have taken all of these women, but the evidence from the victim that's been found suggests a methodical and practiced approach. We have to assume he's already done something similar at least once, and that he's going to do it again."
Rossi nodded in agreement. "We haven't got enough for a profile yet," he declared, "but we can put some information out to the local police. Ask them to step up security at local waste disposal sites, and get the hospital to stop using any extra large bags."
"That could potentially alert the unsub that we're on to him," JJ pointed out.
"It's a risk we have to take. I hate to say this but without more evidence we are not going to get remotely close to solving this."
"Are we doing a press briefing?" Jennifer had divided her time between the evidence and placating the local press that were already beginning to whip up a serial killer persona for their headlines.
"Just do a holding statement JJ," Rossi advised. We'll have a profile and something more substantial for them tomorrow," he asserted confidently.
"Let's hope so," Emily sighed. She always hated this point in the investigation. It was the no-man's land where the killer and his psyche were still intangible. It was when the team was at its most vulnerable and everyone was on edge.
"We're done for the day people," Hotch declared quietly. "We need to look at this from different angles and we're not going to be able to do that today. Let's head to the hotel and get some sleep. We'll start again tomorrow."
"I'll go and deal with the press and captain Devaux," JJ told them as she stood and stretched cramped muscles.
Emily looked at her with admiration. The young woman had remarkable skill at handling the press and anxious police. Emily knew it could be exhausting, yet JJ appeared to pull it off with ease, even relishing the contact. The brunette agent also knew that her admiration wasn't purely professional. That she and JJ were close was obvious for everyone to see. She couldn't help but be tactile with her and share looks and smiles. She cherished JJ's friendship. It was a bond that she had never experienced before. Because of that, Emily simply would not risk putting it under any pressure, and that meant keeping a firm lid on her emotions and feelings for the younger agent. Of course, it was all very well telling herself that she wouldn't jeopardise anything and only view JJ as a friend. Unfortunately, her body refused to listen to her brain and she felt her heart speed up and a familiar flush wash over her face as she looked at her colleague. She shook her head minutely and mentally berated herself for acting like a love-sick teenager but it seemed that her sub-conscious was determined to be in a punishing mood. "I'll hang around and then drive you to the hotel," she offered.
Jennifer smiled openly at Emily's words. The brunette was in a class of her own, and she was secretly thrilled that she was looking out for her. "Thanks," she replied gratefully.
Derek laughed. "Works for me. It means you get last choice of room Prentiss."
"We've all traveled enough to know that a hotel rooms are the same all over," Prentiss shot back good-naturedly.
Rossi snorted derisively. "No, we've all traveled enough to know just the opposite," he contradicted, winking as he rose from his seat. "Still, it's nice to know chivalry isn't dead."
His last comment elicited a blush from the brunette agent but she did not dignify it with a response. Despite the banter, all four male agents offered to wait and travel together but both Prentiss and JJ shooed them off. There was no sense in everyone's rest being delayed.
Emily watched JJ from the back of the makeshift press area with open respect. The young liaison handled all the questions concisely and carefully, ensuring that there were no double meanings to her words and diffusing heated questions that arose from frustration around the distinct lack of information. To a casual observer, the blonde looked completely at ease and in control. Emily could see the strain hidden behind the professional mask though and noted how tired JJ looked. It didn't help that the raging humidity and heat had not abated in the late afternoon. The town could do with a thunderstorm to break the oppressive atmosphere but it didn't look like the weather was going to break anytime soon.
JJ pulled at her blouse and tried to cool down as they walked to their hire car. "God, I hate this heat," she moaned. "It completely sucks the life out of you." She tried to get some air through her clothing but could feel her body and face dampening with sweat almost immediately.
Emily jumped in the driver's side and cranked the air conditioning to maximum as JJ walked round to the passenger side. She waited for JJ to buckle up before driving off. "I'm not sure it's just the weather that's doing that," she remarked casually. "Those press conferences are pretty gruelling."
JJ shook her head in disagreement. "Nah, that one was fine. Tomorrow's one may be a little different though, especially if we have nothing further to add."
Emily shot the younger woman a speculative look. "You okay?"
JJ put her head back on the headrest and closed her eyes. "Just tired," she replied softly, not wanting to admit that it was Emily's attentive kindness that was getting her so discombobulated. She was relieved when Emily didn't push her. She jumped suddenly when she felt the car stop. "Are we here already?"
Emily couldn't stop a chuckle escaping. "Jayj, you were asleep in seconds. Yes, we're here." The taller woman got out the car and grabbed both go bags from the trunk. "Come on. Let's get checked in and I'll walk you to your room."
"Emily, you don't have to," JJ began to protest but the brunette quelled her with a look and then strode towards the hotel entrance.
Within minutes, Emily was fumbling with the card key to JJ's room before going inside and dumping her bag on one of the queen size beds. She turned round to see JJ sat on the other bed staring blankly ahead. "Are you sure you're okay?"
JJ looked into the rich brown eyes of her colleague and fleetingly wondered how Emily would react if she told her she just wanted to fall asleep in her arms. She blinked away the thought hurriedly and smiled wanly. "I think I'm just going to crash if that's alright with you Em," she replied softly.
Emily resisted the urge to tuck a strand of JJ's hair behind her ear. There was nothing more she wanted to do than protect and look after the younger woman. "You want me to order something to eat for you?"
JJ shook her head. "No, it's too hot to eat," she complained. "How about you get me up at a sensible time and we have breakfast?"
"You have a date Ms Jareau," Emily responded easily, though she could feel her heart beat a little faster at the words she had chosen.
JJ smiled back and damped down her wishful thinking regarding Emily and dates. That was something that was not going to happen, unfortunately. "Thanks for looking out for me Emily."
Emily shrugged the appreciation off. "Good night Jayj," she said softly as she opened the room door. She turned round when there was no answer and saw the blonde agent already asleep on top of the bed. Knowing that the Alabama heat would be more than enough to keep JJ warm all night, Emily quietly closed the door behind her and let the agent sleep.
Breakfast didn't exactly follow Emily's plan. After leaving JJ to sleep she had taken the time to scope out a small diner that the hotel had recommended and when she knocked on the blonde media liaison's door at 0730, she had every intention of taking her over for a quiet meal where she would be able to really savour her company. JJ had opened the door looking refreshed and was clearly delighted at Emily remembering their morning meet but as they were crossing the foyer of the hotel, Reid and Morgan spotted them and suddenly breakfast for two became breakfast for four.
Neither JJ nor Emily could be cross for long. They both enjoyed their colleagues' company, and JJ found herself re-focused and fresh. When they joined the rest of the team at the police station house, there was a new-found positivity among the group and they quickly got immersed in the evidence. That positivity found a new urgency when the police captain interrupted their brain-storming with news that another body had been found.
The body at the crime scene had similar injuries to the previous victim. She was identified as Jessica Callagher, one of the reported missing women. Morgan and Rossi reported back their findings to the team after examining the scene. "Victim was found at an annex of the Highlands Medical facility in a body sized bag," Rossi began.
"So we're thinking that the unsub works for clinical waste disposal and not within the hospital?" Emily questioned, recalling that the hospital had been instructed to withdraw large clinical waste bags.
"Either that, or he had a stash," Morgan replied. "He did know not to go to the incinerator sites though. The bag was dumped with the regular waste. He must have known or seen that the incinerators were under closer guard."
"So he needs to dispose of the body but won't change his routine enough to utilize a different method," Hotch speculated.
"Yes, but he wasn't prepared to risk being spotted," added Reid. "This guy is organized and methodical and not rash."
Rossi looked at the profilers and noted Hotch's small nod. "Gather the squad. We've got a profile."
Morgan began the profile to the assembled police. "We're looking for a male in his late thirties, early forties. Most likely white. He's a blue collar worker, high school educated or a drop out from college. We think he may work within the waste disposal system as he has knowledge of clinical waste procedures and bags."
Prentiss continued. "He's smart and articulate. He is likely to study and stalk his victims. He may even interact with them and charm them. Perhaps convince them to go somewhere with him. That's why none of the disappearances stand out."
"He is a sexual sadist," Reid stated. "He tortures his victims and rapes them before finally killing them. The drive for him is power over his victims. He has to completely dominate them. The way he does that is to make them fight back. The more they fight back, the more he tortures them."
"He's been doing this for some time now. He gets his thrills with the fight. This will only escalate in violence and frequency. He found what he thought was the perfect way of remaining undiscovered but that's all changed. His disposal method has been exposed. This means that if he wants to continue, he's going to have to try a new method and that could mean he'll get sloppy," Rossi supplied.
He was interrupted by a uniformed officer. "If he wants to continue? Won't he just stop now he knows we're on to him?"
"Highly unlikely," Hotch demurred. "He's been doing this too long. It provides too big a thrill for him to be able to give it up. But it will force him to change his pattern and take risks."
"Too long?" the same officer probed. "You think he's been doing this for longer than 4 months?"
"It's too early to say," Reid interjected. "But the missing reports really only pick up pace from four months ago. Before that, the number of missing person reports stuck along the average for this area, which is well below the national average. He may have started accelerating, which means he could have been at this for years, or he started four months ago."
"What would make him accelerate?" a female officer asked. It was clear that this town did not usually deal with this sort of incident, and all the law enforcement task force were focused and determined.
Prentiss stepped forward. "Again, it's too early to say," she started, using Spencer's earlier line. "He could have been rejected when he asked someone out, or someone may have insulted him, triggering him to retaliate, or he could have been with someone who struggled slightly and he realised that he got a much higher thrill when with a woman. He then took it to the next level."
Morgan took up the thread again. "This man is cool, collected and rehearsed. He's practiced this before or at least done something like it. We'll do some cross checking to narrow down the search but it's vital we get on this quickly. Speak to the city waste workers. See if there have been any odd changes to behaviour in this group of males."
"That's an awful lot of people," one of the southern detectives drawled.
"I know," Hotch agreed. "We're hoping to narrow it down. In the meantime, we'll do a press release advising women to remain alert and not to take risks."
"This isn't New York, agent Hotchner," the same detective responded. "This is a small town where girls don't take risks."
"We understand," JJ interjected. "We'll tailor the message appropriately but people should be aware to take care and be vigilant." Her concerned tone placated the grumblings from the assembled crowd and Emily marvelled again at just how well the liaison officer could do her job.
With the briefing over, the police quickly dissipated. Rossi turned to Hotchner. "You know, they're right. Our suspect list is just too long at the moment."
Morgan heard the comment and interjected. "Well, let's see if we can do what we promised to do." He flipped open his cell phone and dialled quickly.
"All knowing goddess of technology. How may I rock your world?" Garcia was clearly in a chipper mood today.
"Hey baby girl," Morgan greeted with a soft smile. "I need you to run a cross check for me. Any waste disposal, or clinical waste disposal workers with a prior record for minor assault, stalking or exposure."
"That's still going to be a lot of people my chocolate stud muffin," Penelope told him as she began her trawl.
"White and aged between 25 and 40," Morgan continued, hearing the hurried tapping of a keyboard the technical analyst refining the parameters.
"That really doesn't narrow it down too much," Garcia pointed out reasonably.
"We gotta start somewhere," Derek sighed.
"Well, believe it or not sweet cheeks, my list is only 24 men long," Garcia stated in surprise. "Downloading it to your PDAs now."
"Well done, Garcia."
The team managed to eliminate five names off the list due to them being in jail at the time the bodies were dumped but that still left 19 to locate and talk to. Hotchner got the names of the 'persons of interest' to the local police and asked them to bring them in for questioning. By the end of the day, the team had managed to interview twelve of the men, but none of them appeared to fit the profile or set off any warning bells. However, the process was exhausting and the team was once again drained as the sun began to set. Rossi looked at the rest of the team before turning to Hotch. "We need to call it a day again."
"I don't like this Dave," Hotch replied. "We're running out of time here."
"I agree but what else can we do?"
As they drove back to the hotel, JJ took a glance at Emily. The older woman's interviews had been particularly difficult with a couple of subjects and she looked bone-tired. JJ knew how she felt after giving a number of press briefings in the punishing Alabama humidity. "You up for dinner tonight?" she asked hopefully.
Emily nodded. "I'm starving." She shot a quick grin at the blonde. "Dealing with scumbags always gives me an appetite."
JJ laughed. "I wish I could same about the press." She hesitated a beat before continuing. "Did you want to invite the others?"
Emily winced. "You know we should," she began reluctantly. "But I wouldn't mind just getting away from the case for a while."
JJ's face fell. "Did you just want to go out by yourself?"
"No," Emily replied vehemently. "But you know what it's like when we all go out. It either means we put the case under the microscope or we all end up getting raucous. I could just do with a nice quiet dinner and some sensible conversation."
"Not sure I can offer sensible conversation," JJ retorted with a smirk.
"I'll take my chances," Emily responded. She loved this easy banter with JJ. She could feel her emotions bubbling up towards the surface again and wondered if she could risk going to dinner with JJ alone and not reveal her real feelings. However, the opportunity to spend time with the younger woman was too good to miss and Emily found herself relaxing as they neared the hotel.
With a little sneakiness on both their parts, the two women managed to leave the hotel and find a local home-style restaurant without having to go with the rest of the team. Their dialogue was light but both women were finding that they didn't need to make conversation. Easy silences were just as acceptable and it was enough to be sharing each other's company. JJ found herself relaxing for the first time in two days and sat back and admired the older woman's beauty lazily. "How come you don't talk much about your private life?" she asked and suddenly looked shocked at having voiced one of her thoughts.
Emily's dark eyebrows rose slightly at the question. "I could say something enigmatic like I want to keep my private life away from the BAU," she replied slowly, "but the truth is there just isn't much to tell. Yes, I'm an ambassador's daughter and when I was younger did all the travelling and enjoyed all the finery and trappings that go along with that, but since I've been with the FBI, it's pretty much been me on my own."
"But you're gorgeous, Em," JJ interjected incredulously. "You should be beating away admirers from your door."
Emily grinned rakishly. "I don't tell them where I live," she replied conspiratorially. "Seriously Jayj, whose going to understand the hours we do, the horrors we face and all the short notice travelling we have to do?"
JJ snorted. "You're telling me. I couldn't get it to work with Will and we had a common bond in Henry," she agreed.
"Sorry JJ, I didn't mean to re-open old wounds," Emily apologized quickly, immediately contrite.
"You have nothing to apologise for, Emily," Jennifer refuted. "If anything, it was my fault for prying in the first place." She shrugged with feigned indifference. "Besides, like I said, I have Henry. I wouldn't change that for the world." JJ's visage softened as she thought of her son.
"Yeah, he's a keeper," Emily agreed readily.
"However, it does put me at even more of a disadvantage than you Ms Prentiss," JJ declared in a superior tone.
Emily frowned in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"You try finding a date that not only doesn't mind you're FBI, carry a gun and work ridiculously long hours with short notice travel," JJ listed all of Emily's previous gripes without hesitation, "and then add being a single mother into the mix. Not a huge amount of interest out there."
"Have you been looking?" Emily probed, surprise lacing her voice.
"God no," JJ returned instantly. "I'm not sure I have the strength to vet anyone, let alone face the rejection once they know what they're getting into."
"Don't sell yourself short JJ," Emily told the blonde sincerely. "You've got so much to offer the right guy."
"Ah but I don't know if I'm ever going to find the right guy," JJ countered as she drained the last of her wine, and it seemed to Emily that the blonde agent put a peculiar accent on the word 'guy'. She mentally scolded herself for putting up false hope. It was clear that the woman was as straight as they came.
The dark brunette raised a questioning eyebrow as she watched JJ suddenly try to stifle a yawn. "Sorry Em, it's not the company, honestly."
Emily chuckled. "I understand. In fact, you beat me to it. Let's settle up and head back. I have a feeling it's going to be another long day tomorrow."
The two women strolled back to the hotel, shoulders practically touching as they continued their conversation easily. Reluctantly, they parted as they headed for their rooms, neither one prepared to push their friendship or take a dangerous next step.
On arrival at police headquarters the following morning, the team was met with a bustle of activity. Captain Devaux approached them excitedly. "We got two more of your list over night. They're waiting for you in the interview rooms," he told them.
Emily couldn't help but grimace slightly. "Let's see how charming these two are."
"Come on Prentiss," Morgan teased lightly, "It can't be any worse than yesterday."
"Never make assumptions like that," Emily warned prophetically.
"Any joy on the remaining names?" Rossi asked the police captain.
"We're working on it. As soon as we get them, we'll bring them in. Of course, if you want to lend a hand you're more than welcome."
"Dave, you and Emily conduct the interviews. Reid, Morgan and I will join your teams, Captain," Hotch offered. He noticed JJ's enquiring raised eyebrows. "You're on press and public affairs duty again, JJ. We have to give the impression that we know who this guy is and that we're on our way to get him. That should flush him out."
The blonde agent nodded. "I'll see what I can do."
The team split with practiced ease and took on their tasks readily, with Morgan, Reid and Hotchner leaving with the rest of the police teams after their briefing. After the press conference, JJ found herself with little to do but review the evidence and was idly flicking through a manila folder when she was interrupted by Captain Devaux. "Ms Jareau, our CSI team has found trace evidence on the last victim. They have a hit. Harrison Parsons. I'm not sure he fits your profile though."
"Hang on a minute," JJ held up a hand. "Have Rossi and Emily finished their interviews?" As she asked, she was simultaneously ringing Quantico. "Hey Garcia," she greeted.
"Hey Jayje. What stunning information miracle do you want me to elicit?" Penelope replied cheerily.
"I've got a name for you. Harrison Parsons." She looked back at Captain Devaux. "Got a Date of Birth?" she prompted.
"Yes. May 14th, 1974. I've got an address too," he offered.
"I doubt that will be necessary. Can you fetch the others please?" JJ requested politely before returning her attention to Garcia. "D-O-B is May 14th 1974. What do you have?"
She could hear Garcia typing away furiously for a few seconds. "Okay, the answer is not much. Harrison Parsons, bank teller, single and lives alone in downtown Scottsboro. No criminal record, not even a parking fine or speeding ticket," Garcia supplied, a clear hint of surprise in her voice.
"What's his connection to the case?" Rossi interjected as he approached JJ.
"Evidence found on the vic's clothing," JJ replied quickly.
"He's got nothing of note at all?" Prentiss wanted confirmed.
"Not with local law enforcement," Garcia confirmed. There was a pause and the team could hear more clicking of keyboard keys. "Looks like he moved into the area about a year ago." There was another pause. "He's a bit of a rolling stone. Moves every couple of years or so, but never been out of state. Let me take a look at his school records," Garcia helpfully kept the team informed as she continued her data trawl. "I'm not being much help to you here either, good people," the technical analyst continued. "Has up to college education and did an associate's degree in finance. Listed here that he has a severe stammer and received counselling and therapy for crippling shyness."
"Something's not right here," Rossi demurred. "He doesn't fit the profile at all."
"I'm downloading his home and work address for you," Garcia stated. "Wait a minute. Bit more info. I also have his mother's address. She lives out in Pleasant Groves, 14 miles away. Looks like she doesn't like moving. Lived there for over thirty years."
Rossi flipped his phone open as JJ closed the link with Garcia. "Hotch, we have a lead but it feels off. How are you doing?" There was a pause as he listened to Hotchner's answer. "Okay, Garcia has a work address and a home address. I'll get her to download the info to you. Send Morgan and Reid to his work address. I'll meet you at his home address." He closed his phone with a snap. "Prentiss, take JJ with you to visit the mother. Get as much background on this guy as possible. There's something missing here and we might have to approach this from a different angle so anything we can get on him at all may be useful."
"Pleasant Groves?" JJ queried with a frown. "Why do I get the feeling it's going to be more like Amityville?"
Emily laughed. "Come on. Least it gets you out of here for a while."
"Out of a nice air-conditioned building and into the oppressive humidity of Alabama. Can't wait," JJ replied facetiously.
"The car has air-con too."
"Oh well, in that case, how can I refuse?" JJ laughed. She gestured for Emily to lead the way and the two women left the police precinct building.
The journey was only thirty five minutes but much to Emily's chagrin, the air-conditioning in the car failed within a minute of leaving the police station. Rolling the windows down had not helped as all it did was blast both women with hot, humid air. JJ managed to hold on for fifteen minutes before commenting wryly, "What was that you said about air con?"
"Shut up," Emily grouched back with a laugh. "Goddamn rental car. I'll change it when we get back."
JJ sighed. "With a bit of luck we won't need it much longer."
"Hopefully not," the brunette agreed ruefully. The two women filled the rest of the journey time with inconsequential chatter, both enjoying each other's company.
Emily slowed the car down and pulled up outside a small detached house. There was a white picket fence surrounding the property that had not seen a white wash brush for many years and was falling down in places. The yard was swept but unattractive and the screened porch door swung back and forth, its latch broken.
"I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that our unsub is not a handy man. At least not for his mother," JJ stated blandly.
"Not the most welcoming of places," Emily agreed. "Still, it might have air con inside."
"Seriously, Em?" JJ retorted incredulously. "If she has a working fan it'll be a miracle."
The two women stepped from the car and approached the door. Both JJ and Emily could feel sweat running down their backs as the intense heat continued to beat down. Emily knocked on the door frame and stepped back to stand next to JJ. After a few moments, the door swung open and an older woman peered out at them from behind thick glasses. "Can I help you?" she asked politely, wiping her hands on a floral apron that was tied round her waist.
"Hi, my name is Emily Prentiss, and this is Jennifer Jareau. We're from the FBI," the brunette agent started. Both agents held their IDs out for confirmation.
"FBI? Is something wrong?" The woman continued to wring her hands on her apron, worrying nervously.
"Are you Mrs. Norma Parsons?" Emily continued, wanting to confirm she was speaking to the right person.
"Yes, that's right. What's wrong? Am I in trouble?"
"No, Mrs. Parsons," Emily assured the grey-haired woman. "We need to ask you some questions about your son."
"Harrison? Is he okay?"
"Would it be possible if we came inside to talk?" Emily asked politely.
"Is he okay?" Mrs. Parsons repeated her voice more insistent.
"As far as I know yes," Emily replied noncommittally. "May we come in?"
"Yes, yes. Of course." Mrs. Parsons stood to one side and allowed the two agents to step past her and into the hallway. "Go right through to the end. The kitchen's out back and it's a bit cooler."
JJ and Emily walked through into a large dated kitchen that looked out to the back garden. A ceiling fan was pushing hot air around but did manage to reduce the temperature by just a couple of degrees. A square wooden table covered by an old grey-white cloth took up the central space.
"Sit down," Mrs. Parsons invited almost impatiently. "Can I get you ladies a drink? Iced tea?"
"Yes please," JJ answered gratefully.
"Just water for me please," Emily requested, not keen on southern sweet tea.
Mrs. Parsons bustled round near the fridge for a few moments and the two agents could hear the welcome clink of ice on glass as she prepared the drinks. She stirred JJ's tea rapidly before handing it to her saying, "I've only just made it so hopefully the ice will cool it down a bit more."
JJ took a large draught of her drink as Emily began talking again. "Mrs. Parsons, we'd like some information on your son."
"Why? Is he in trouble?"
Emily paused as she took a sip of refreshing water. "How often do you speak with your son?" she asked, ignoring the old woman's question.
"Every day. He's a good boy. He comes by every week to see me and helps me with all the heavy chores and he rings every night."
"Does he talk to you about work?" Emily continued and skilfully engaged Mrs. Parsons in conversation, gently probing her son's background, habits and interests. As the conversation continued, JJ would interject to tease out a little more information, and Mrs. Parsons answered readily however Prentiss noticed that this happened less frequently as time went on. She glanced briefly at her colleague who looked a bit dazed and out of sorts, but Emily needed to focus on absolutely every clue Mrs. Parsons was providing, both verbal and non-verbal.
The brunette agent realised after about 10 minutes that they were not going to get much more information regarding Harrison Parsons from his mother. Nevertheless she was satisfied that she had some good background on him. His stammer seemed to have held him back at school and added to his shyness and inability to interact with other people. However, as much as both Emily and JJ probed, they couldn't seem to uncover a reason for Harrison to suddenly start abducting and torturing women. He had moved around a lot, never being able to hold down a job for any length of time. Mrs Parsons maintained it was because his managers became impatient with his stammer, and shyness but Emily remained unconvinced. Her gut instinct was telling her that there was more to Harrison that they needed to find out about, but they weren't going to get that information from Mrs Parsons.
"Thank you very much for your time Mrs. Parsons," Emily told their interviewee as she began to rise from the table. She looked over at JJ as she appeared to sway as she stood up. "JJ?"
JJ clutched the table in an effort to stay upright as she felt the room spin round her. Something was seriously wrong. She could see dark spots in front of her eyes and her mouth had gone completely dry. She looked at Emily in panic as she felt herself collapse but could do nothing to prevent her legs from buckling underneath her. She was unconscious before she hit the ground.
"JJ!" Emily was instantly alert and shot a glance at the old woman and rested her hand on her gun but the woman appeared shocked.
"Poor dear. It must be the heat. I've got some smelling salts somewhere." She turned round and opened an overhead cupboard.
Emily was torn between watching the older woman and checking on JJ. The blonde had not moved or made a sound since she collapsed. Emily didn't know how but she was sure the older woman had something to do with it. She looked at the old woman bustling round the cupboard as she kept a hand placed on her gun, and then went with her heart and knelt down to check on the media liaison. She felt for a pulse at JJ's throat and found a rapid thready beat. JJ's skin was warm and clammy but Emily couldn't tell if that was due to the heat or whatever was wrong with JJ. She shook her gently by the shoulder. "JJ. JJ, can you hear me?" The brunette looked intensely at JJ's face for any sort of response at all to the stimulation.
"Ah, here it is," Emily heard Mrs. Parsons exclaim, and she looked up from her kneeling position to see their unsub's mother pointing a taser right at her.
Instinctively, Prentiss tried to stand and grab her gun, hoping to have superior speed to the old woman, but it was a futile wish as the grey haired lady squeezed the trigger and the prongs connected with Emily's chest. Instantaneously, she felt her body convulse uncontrollably and Emily collapsed immediately.
The old woman continued pointing the taser at the convulsing woman, even though there was no further need to keep her finger on the trigger and waited for the full 8 seconds of electricity to be dumped into the dark-haired agent's body before she approached. Quickly, she removed Prentiss' gun from its holster and then took her phone and handcuffs. Deftly, she placed the cuffs around Emily's wrists and then frisked JJ for her gun and phone. "No cuffs?" she queried to herself as she couldn't find any on JJ. She shrugged slightly and stood up, putting the confiscated items onto the table.
Quickly she removed the clips from the guns, emptying the chambers with practiced ease, and then turned the phones off. She turned back to the two prone women as she heard Emily groan. "Stay still sweetie," she warned Prentiss. "I'm quite happy to light you up again." She picked up the gun and waved it threateningly. The wires that connected the gun to the barbs that were lodged in Emily's skin swung ominously.
Emily heard but knew that she had to do something to regain control of the situation. She tried to roll over and push up on her hands but immediately felt another, now familiar jolt of electricity course through her body. She felt her teeth clench as her muscles trembled with the stimulation and she collapsed back down on the floor.
"I can deliver another 45 seconds of shocks if you want to try and get up again," the old lady pronounced coldly. She paused for a few seconds as if waiting for Prentiss's decision.
Emily lay on the kitchen floor panting as she weighed up her options. With the taser still attached to her, it would be impossible to overpower Mrs. Parsons unless she was distracted for long enough, and the dark haired agent was fairly convinced that that was unlikely to happen unless she got complacent. She would only do that if she believed that there was no longer a threat to whatever plan she was undertaking. More to the point, the taser had exhausted her, stimulating all her muscles simultaneously for two lots of 8 seconds. Emily wasn't sure she had the strength to stand, much less do overpower the unsub's mother. She shook her head deliberately and forced herself to lie back down as an indication that she would not fight again.
From the corner of her eye, Emily could see JJ lying on the floor, still unmoving. She desperately wanted to go over and check on her friend, but knew she would be unable to move without receiving another shock from Norma Parsons. With a concentrated effort to remain still, she watched the old woman pick up her house phone and dial a number. There was a short pause before she spoke. "Hi sweetheart. I have two presents for you at home."
It was then that Emily realised that it was Norma Parsons who did the hunting of women, on behalf of her son.
Return to Criminal Minds Fiction
Return to Main Page