Title: Knock On Coffins
Author: bear (matociquala)
Fandom: Criminal Minds
Rating: FRT (a little swearing, some violence)
Spoilers: yes (this takes place somewhere probably immediately after "Ashes & Dust")
Disclaimer: Not for profit, strictly for entertainment, and completely and totally not mine.
Summary: Houdini kept a lockpick in his mouth for so long that he eventually wore a pocket in his cheek.
In the spirit of the show, this one comes with opening and closing musical selections:
(Over the cold open)
"Drive on, think positive, get off your butts, knock on coffins, etc." -- David Berkowitz, 1977
The horrible irony is that he knows how to pick a pair of handcuffs.
Any magician who deserves the name can. It's ridiculously easy; there's a reason you use them for escapes. Things go wrong with knots, but standard cuffs can be picked, jimmied, or broken. On average, four law enforcement officers a year are killed when the prisoners they are transporting escape.
If he'd been able to reach a paperclip, the tooth of a plastic comb, a ballpoint pen, he wouldn't nearly have...
He wouldn't be sitting on the edge of his hotel bed, his hands locked behind him, counting seconds. The touch of skin-warmed metal on his wrists makes his heart race, and adrenaline makes his hands shake. It's just a phobia. Conditioned response. Perfectly reasonable adaptation.
The metal was cold when he started, but that was a lot of iterations ago.
Counting... seconds. Seven to retrieve the paperclip, six to blindly bend the tip into an L. Only two to turn it around and lever it into the lock. Ten to find the right angle, because it skips.
He jumps at the knock on this door. Yelps in surprise. Almost drops his pick, catches it, rakes faster. "Come on, Reid, I know you're in there!"
Oh, he is so not letting Morgan find him locked in his own handcuffs.
"Reid?" Worried, now, softer. "Look, man. I heard you. Don't make me bust this door down--"
Oh, crap. "Come on, man, I was sleeping," he says, and wonders when he started lying to Morgan. He shakes his head to dishevel his hair, hoping his red eyes will look like bleariness. When he gets the lock open he'll go answer the door. In just a--no, not that way.
"Yeah, right," Morgan calls. "We seriously need to find you a girlfriend before you wind up with carpal tunnel."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence." Rake, rake. Circles.
"You sleep with a light on? Oh, right, scared of the dark. Well, rise and shine, buttercup, we have places to be."
Bastard. Morgan's funny: some weaknesses, you can show him, and he's the best guy around to listen. Other times, he'll milk it for a million years.
"Fuckedy," Spencer says, under his breath, as Morgan rattles the handle. And then, thank whatever deity looks out for drunks and fools and ships named Enterprise, the paperclip catches and the lock springs open and Reid grabs the key off the nightstand and opens the other side the easy way.
He drops the cuff and the keys in his messenger bag, beside the bed, untucks his shirt, and staggers toward the door in sock feet, rubbing his eyes.
Morgan's leaned his forearm on the frame when Spencer opens the door, arm raised, blocking the opening in one of his aggressively hypermasculine postures. Whatever gets you through the day, Spencer thinks, and shivers, rubbing his wrists.
Coping mechanisms. Get 'em. Love 'em.
Morgan pushes past him, and Spencer says, "Come in."
"You sleep in your clothes?"
Spencer gestures to the chair, the case files on the table, the reading light over them, the glass beside with melted ice in the bottom.
He isn't drunk. He swallows. His mouth isn't even dry.
But Morgan makes a beeline for the glass, picks it up, makes a face over the smell. "Have you been drinking?"
"You'd drink too if it had happened to you," Spencer says, throwing Morgan's own words back at him. He never knew he had such a talent for passive-aggression.
You learn something new.
Morgan blinks at him like a kicked puppy. Oh, the patented Morgan hound-dog face.
"I had a drink," Spencer says, softer.
"And you fell asleep in the chair." Morgan pokes at the pile of straightened, metal-fatigued, and broken paperclips beside the casefile.
Spencer shrugs. Morgan stares at him.
And then looks down. "Go brush your teeth," he says. "Gideon wants everybody downstairs in ten. Five, now."
"Another body?" Spencer says, hopelessly, as he turns for the bathroom.
"What else?" Morgan answers. Spencer hears the click as he sets the glass down. "This guy is turning into a regular Son of Sam."
Houdini wore a pocket in his cheek by always keeping a lockpick there. The human body can adapt to the craziest things. Out of sight around the corner in the bathroom, before he picks up the toothbrush, Spencer slides his straightened paperclip between the layers of his shirt cuff and then strokes the fabric smooth.
From the bedroom, with fine disregard for any sleeping neighbors, Morgan calls, "I don't care if it was one drink, I'm driving!"
Spencer spits toothpaste, dry-swallows two aspirin, and mutters "you always do" as he grabs his comb.
Hotch is parked in the horseshoe in front of the hotel with the engine running and Gideon in the passenger seat when the rest of the team arrive. Not JJ: she's already on her way to the precinct house to work her particular brand of magic there. But Prentiss, yawning but immaculate, and after her, Morgan and Reid, side by side at a trot, Morgan tight-shouldered and underdressed and ready for action, and Reid in his usual semi-controlled avalanche of disarray.
"J. Edgar Hoover is spinning in his grave," he says very softly, as Prentiss comes up to the Blazer.
As she opens the door, Gideon chuckles under his breath and replies, "They're a good team. Let him whir."
Prentiss looks from Gideon to Hotch. "Excuse me?"
"Previous conversation," Gideon answers while Hotch puts it in drive, foot still on the brake. Prentiss swings her narrow hips around the seat, taking the wayback so the taller men can sit in the second row. And also, so she can kick the back of Reid's chair.
At least symbolically.
Well, if it had to settle out in mock sibling rivalry, this is better than the alternatives.
Reid piles into the Chevy with a thump, Morgan following considerably more gracefully. But he catches Hotch's eye in the mirror, and Hotch knows there's a message there. Something for the morning, maybe, or a quiet corner at the crime scene.
"I guess I'm not driving after all," Morgan says. Reid half-laughs, rummaging in his messenger bag.
"Guys," he says, once everybody is buckled in and Hotch pulls out, "Morgan said something upstairs that got me thinking. He said the killer was going Son of Sam on us. We've been assuming a probability that the killer has already been interviewed, but Berkowitz wasn't, though the Yonkers police suspected him."
"Some people still think Berkowitz didn't act alone," Prentiss puts in, leaning over the chair back between Reid and Morgan.
"Right," says Morgan. "The cult theory."
"Reid has a point. I don't like any of the Boston police's suspects," Gideon says with a shrug. "I think we ought to widen the net."
"Widen the net? We haven't given them a profile yet and--"
"Actually," Reid says, and Hotch pauses midsentence, waiting for the tidbit of information, relevant or not, that always follows the hesitation, "according to some studies, secret agents and poker players are the most skilled human lie detectors. What's consistent throughout the research, however, is that the better someone thinks they are at detecting untruths, the worse they score on blind tests."
"And what about us?" Prentiss asks.
"We're probably too small a population for a useful sample," Reid says. And then he adds, "But police and psychologists tend to score especially poorly," which gets a laugh.
Hotch, watching in the rearview, sees the faint flicker of his smile. And thinks, a year ago, Reid would have looked confused by the laughter. He would have assumed that it was at his expense.
Now, he's angling for it.
Two steps forward, and a hard kick in the face right back. Though he's not prone to prayers, Hotch prays a little. Please let him get through this somehow. And then also, as they pull out into the one-way, late-night traffic on Boylston Street, Hotch tries not to wonder if Gideon isn't trying a little too hard to seem normal, when anybody might expect him to be on edge, this first time back in Boston.
Hotch is talking to scene manager--his job, in J.J.'s absence--and Derek, having done a walk-through, waits for him beside a row of black-and-whites, which, this being Boston, are blue-and-whites, with blue lights scrolling lazily across their tops.
Just across the street, behind the tarped bodies, Reid bends in conversation with Prentiss and Gideon, hunched at the shoulders, hands moving animatedly. Derek stands out of his line of sight, where he can watch without being watched. He pretends he's studying the approaches, keeping just his peripheral vision on the other three.
He overhears part of the conversation. Gideon asks, "Where's that detective? Taub?" and Reid says "enroute," which tells Derek that Detective Taub went all the way home for the night. That won't win her any points with Gideon.
Detective Leprechaun, Derek nicknamed her in his head. Not that she's small. But she's got freckles and a pert nose and sandy red hair, and if it wasn't for the wedding ring on her hand, he might be seriously considering getting to know her a little better once the case is resolved. He thinks about a bomb tech in Seattle, and grins.
Hotch, in character, his game face locked on, materializes at Derek's elbow and says only, "What is it?"
"Reid was drinking."
Hotch pauses, though his eyelids don't even flicker. You could probably shoot him without changing his expression. Then he says, "Is he drunk?"
"Not unless he maintains better than anybody I've ever seen."
Hotch angles a sidelong glance at the rest of the team. They've cornered a CSI, and he's looking a little behind the gun. Derek knows Hotch will go rescue him in a moment, because frankly Gideon, Reid, and Prentiss between them don't have the bedside manner of your average cardiothoracic surgeon with a God complex.
"Well," Hotch says, his lips barely moving, "he's of age."
They share a glance, and that twitch of the corner of Hotch's mouth would be a laugh from any other man. "Technicalities count," he says. "I can't remand him to counseling for having a drink before bed."
"Sort of makes you wish Hoover was still in charge, doesn't it?"
"Funny, you don't look Mormon." A joke, even, in classic deadpan. And then, "Nothing could--okay, Morgan, that was odd."
"What d'you mean?"
"Second time he's come up tonight."
Derek waits a beat, focused on Hotch, aware that something is going on with the other three. But Reid's not moving towards them, and getting Hotch to crack up at a crime scene would be a notch on his gun, so he says, "Well, he'd love Reid's purple scarf--"
But it's Gideon's dry voice that cuts through whatever Derek was about to say, and about makes him jump out of his shoes. "You know, they can still fire you just for thinking that. What have you got for me?"
"Yikes! Okay." You never actually get used to Gideon, but you develop compensatory mechanisms. One deep breath to collect his thoughts, and he's off.
"Two victims," Derek says, stepping forward. Across the street, Reid and Prentiss turn, their attention caught by his movement. He's on stage: his moment. No need, right now, to step back, pretend to be less than he is. And that's half of why he loves his job: because Hotch and Gideon don't give a good goddamn what color he is or where he grew up or how he talks, as long as he gets the job done.
And he doesn't have to pretend to be stupid to gain their acceptance, either.
It's like coming home.
Penelope's wrong, Emily thinks. Watching Derek isn't like watching a cat. Not a housecat. And not a stalking big cat.
He is a dog. But not in the pejorative sense. He's a mastiff or something: a big, confident, laid-back dog with nothing to prove. And watching him walk around the crime scene like he owns it is a kind of privilege. Everybody turns to look at Derek when he starts talking. Even the male, Pakistani crime scene tech who five minutes ago was trying to sneak a look down Emily's blouse.
Nobody is immune to Derek Morgan. If the looks don't turn your head, the charisma will.
In the east, the sky is paling. The gray light reveals a small park, naked trees stark against a morning the color of shallow water, and it also reveals the color of some of the stains on that cinder-speckled snow. There'd a lot of red, puddled and splashed.
The tarps couldn't cover all of it.
"So I'm the unsub. I'm walking against traffic," Derek says, and comes up the sidewalk toward her between the lingering banks of dirty snow, a sweep of his hand at hip level indicating a flow of cars moving in the opposite direction. Not that there are any cars now, of course--both ends of the street blocked off by police vehicles--but when he does it she can nearly see them, as if he conjured them from thin air. "I'm out late. Maybe I'm on my way home from my job. Maybe I'm just hunting. Anyway, I've got my gun in my pocket where I can touch it. I like that. Maybe I haven't got so much power of my own, I need to borrow some."
He stops a few yards from the parked car, both doors still open, the windshield and passenger side window shattered all over the front seat. He turns, hands in the slash pockets of his windbreaker. When he pulls them out and mimes threading a silencer into place, Emily can almost see the gun.
"Whether I was hunting or whether I stumbled over a trigger situation, I just found what I'm looking for. A couple, returning late from dinner and a movie."
"Steve Selby and Pete Waterson," Reid says, his arms folded across his chest. Even in his coat, he must be freezing; Emily can hear his teeth chattering. "Garcia ran the plates. The car is registered to them."
Derek nods without glancing at him. "I speed up, to catch them before they exit the vehicle."
He advances on the car, holding his ghostly .44 in a modified Weaver grip, and when the tendon moves in the back of his right hand Emily flinches. She's not the only one who cringes away from the imagined tongue of flame and the muffled explosion. Reid jumps, his hand in a lavender nitrile glove raised to his face as he winces crookedly, and then jerked down again as he realizes what he almost put in his mouth. Emily takes a step closer to him in sympathy, and as long as she doesn't acknowledge him while she's doing it, he suffers her solidarity.
"The silencer reduces my stopping power and muzzle velocity. Lessens the punch. But at point blank range, it doesn't matter, and a good one can even increase accuracy. I begin firing from a distance of approximately fifteen feet. Selby has opened the passenger door but not yet exited the vehicle. I shoot him two to three times before Waterson gets his door open and comes across the hood at me. He's lightly armed, swinging his mag light as a club. I shoot him twice as well. One or more bullets pass through his body, shattering the car windshield."
Derek has not stopped advancing. He's still stalking forward, methodically squeezing the trigger. "Selby is still trying to drag himself out of the car. I put either one or two more rounds into him at this point, and the final two into Waterson, who's fallen from the hood of the car. By the time I fire the last bullet, I'm standing over him. The angle of fire is directly down."
Derek shakes his head, lowering the imaginary gun, that funny sideways gesture towards his shoulder that's all him. He steps back. Licks his lips. Turns, and looks over his shoulder at Hotch, who's come up on the other side of Reid now. "They're all torso shots," Derek says. "With a weapon heavy enough to cause massive internal injuries, shock, extensive trauma. That knocks them down. But I although I empty the magazine into the victims, I don't finish them off. No execution-style kill-shot to the head."
"Why not?" Reid asks, relieving Emily of the need to do so.
"Same reason he used a suppressor," Hotch says, and Emily feels herself jerk, the way Reid did a moment earlier. "It doesn't really silence the gun, not like in the movies. But it would sound more like a nail gun than a .44."
She hears herself say, "He wanted to spend some time with them while they died," and notices Reid leaning away from her. The words come out of her mouth as if somebody else is delivering them, each one on a deliberate puff of breath.
"He wanted to get close," Hotch agrees, stony and tight-lipped.
Then Gideon steps up beside her, seemingly impervious to the cold in his half-zipped corduroy windbreaker. He looks past her, catching Hotch's eye.
"One more thing," Gideon says. He grimaces at the bloody sidewalk. "He policed his brass."
By the time Emily, Detective Taub, and the guys get back to the cop shop, JJ finally has their new home away from hotel set up to her liking. She takes pride in the fact that her team never has to ask for anything twice, as long as she's around to get it for them. Whiteboard and corkboard for Reid, a conference room with enough chairs--one with its back against a windowless wall, for Gideon--and a door that closes, speakerphone with Garcia's extension programmed into speed dial, and--perhaps most vital--a clear line of traffic to the coffee pot.
Unfortunately, the smell of dripping coffee doesn't quite cover the scent of mildew.
It's all paid for when the team staggers in some time after sunrise, though. Because Hotch hands her an Au Bon Pain bag full of pastry and Reid thumps into the first available chair exactly as if he actually weighed more than a heap of feathers and Gideon stomps straight to the chair everybody else knows to leave for him and stands next to it, hands in his pockets, frowning miserably at the corkboard covered in horrible photos, and it's all worthwhile to have carved them out a semi-familiar island amidst the chaos and upheaval.
Morgan leans back in a chair with his hands laced behind his head. "Ex-military?" he asks, looking at Hotch rather than at Gideon.
J.J. makes a small noise of protest. Not another one. Not so soon.
But Hotch says, "We have to consider the possibility." And because she can't sit still, J.J. gets up off the edge of the conference table and crosses the room to write that on the white board. And then she uncaps another dry-erase marker and qualifies it with a fat green question mark.
"Are we sure it's not a hate crime?" Detective Taub, who steps inside, last in line, and shuts the door behind herself. She's broad-shouldered and not tall, her hair sandy red and her eyes denim blue. J.J. hopes she's a good cop, because she likes her.
While Taub is speaking, Spence snakes out one of those endless arms and retrieves the bag of pastry. He prospects through it, extracting a three-lobed, sweet-cheese-filled object that J.J. estimates at a cool twelve thousand calories, and squares it on a napkin between his hands before passing the bag left, to Prentiss. Morgan watches, amused, and waits for Hotch's eye to fall on him before he answers.
"It's more likely that he's homosexual himself," Morgan says. "The ritualistic air of the killings--always couples, always shot in or exiting an automobile--suggests a situational trigger, in addition to the a victim-related one. Reid, how are you coming with the victimology?"
"All six victims are white males, thirty-five to forty-five," Spence says, and pauses to suck sticky cheese from his left middle finger.
J.J. wonders if anybody else noticed Detective Taub looking away abruptly. Spence, of course, is completely oblivious. Even random passes from starlets can't undo twenty years of being told you're an ugly freak. And going out clubbing with Morgan probably isn't great for a young man's self-confidence, either.
Emily picks out a corn muffin, breaks it in half, and tosses the other half--wrapped in a napkin--to J.J. Jaje is not too distracted to field it one-handed.
Spence gulps coffee and continues. "All homosexual, in committed relationships, all murdered as couples. All established, successful professionals in their fields.
"A very specialized victimology. Even if he's out stalking them, he must be covering a lot of ground. Guys, I think we should consider the possibility that these victims are not random encounters. That he's choosing them in some other way." His voice is always raspy; today it creaks even more than usual. J.J. wonders if he's a secret smoker, though she never smells it on his clothes.
Hotch sinks down into the chair beside Morgan. Morgan says, "He's using an awfully big gun. And at least two of his victims have attempted to fight back. Maybe he's not very big. If he were physically imposing he might have better control."
"He could have sexual performance issues," Emily says, with a nervous glance at Hotch. She sticks a piece of corn muffin in her mouth. This time, J.J. notices Taub watching more openly, and reassesses. Maybe she's just hungry. She breaks her half-a-corn-muffin in half again, and hands part to Taub.
Taub takes it with a wink, and mouths "Thanks."
Victory for J.J. Another ally made.
Hotch just nods. "I expect he does. What else?"
Emily swallows hastily. "White male, like his victims. thirty-five to forty-five, like his victims. Homosexual--"
"Like his victims," Morgan finishes. "And terrified by it."
"Extremely repressed," Gideon continues. "Probably projects a very masculine facade. May appear aggressively homophobic. Secretly, however--"
"He has other desires," Hotch says. J.J. bites her lip. Old married couple, indeed.
"He's in denial," Gideon folds his arms and leans back against the wall. "I think we do have to consider the possibility that Morgan raised. That he's ex-military."
"Somebody asked," Morgan says, spinning a pen on the table-top. "Somebody told."
J.J. winces. Hotch catches her eye. She lets his quirked eyebrow make her smile. You'd think a bunch of profilers would have some social skills between them.
Spence, pastry finished, looks up from committing complicated murder on yet another paper clip, but Emily speaks first.
"The shootings are high-risk," she says. "Public thoroughfares, and the unsub spent a certain amount of time at each scene. All three crime scenes are along the Orange Line, but all of them have occurred very early in the morning, when the T is not running, so we may assume that the unsub lives within walking distance of the crime scenes or that he has a car. Also, each of the murders occurred within sight of a municipal park."
"It's called the Emerald Necklace," Gideon says. "Boston's Emerald Necklace. A linked chain of parks from the Common to Franklin Park. He may be following the park trails, looking for victims."
"Nobody in town calls it that," Taub says. "It's the Southwest Corridor." She moves to the map on the cork board and traces the line with her fingertip, touching each pin as she passes it. One, two, three.
J.J. leans closer, frowning, but still manages to see Gideon tip his head, one finger moving away from his temple. Touché. She wonders if he knows how much like Peter Falk he looks when he does that.
"Hey," J.J. says. "That's a bike trail."
"Athletic," Morgan says. "Macho self-image."
"He rides to the crimes." Hotch is looking at her again, and she shrugs. Sorry, Aaron. I like my job, and I wouldn't take yours with a dusting of gold leaf and chocolate shavings on top.
"I wonder if an illness could have been a potential stressor," Emily says. "His own, or a family member's?"
"HIV?" Spence blurts. And everybody in the room except Taub looks at him, all of them thinking about the needles and the blood tests and every cop's and every doctor's nightmare. He shrinks back into the chair, adam's apple bobbing as he swallows, but his chin stays up. J.J. wants more than anything to bring him a cup of hot cocoa and tuck a blanket around his shoulders, but that's really not her place.
She can make a nest for her team, but she can't heal their wounds. Especially not the ones that are partially her fault.
"HIV status on all the victims was negative," Emily says.
"I'll, ah, call Garcia," Spence finishes quietly. "As soon as we're done. And get her on it."
"I know who trains agents to kill like that," Gideon says, unexpectedly. Breaking the tension. J.J. lets out a breath. "Shoot and advance, close the distance, keep shooting, empty the weapon. Traditionally, they use small caliber weapons, however."
Taub leans forward. "Who?"
Somehow, nobody on the team looks surprised when it's Emily who answers. "Mossad."
"Right," Hotch snaps. "People, we have a profile. Let's have a press conference, too. J.J?"
"Set up for eight," she says. "Do we want to warn same-sex couples?"
"Yes," Taub says. "This is Massachusetts. Treat it exactly as you would if someone were killing heterosexual couples. Otherwise--"
"Right," Hotch says, and looks at Gideon.
Gideon shrugs. "You heard the detective." Which means that what she suggested was what he, himself, was going to say. "Everybody else, we're going to canvass. Somebody might have seen something. "
Hotch clears his throat. "Then I suggest we call it an early night, because as soon as the trains stop running, I want everybody on the street in pairs. Detective, targets are pairs of white males. I suggest you get your people to mix up their demographics. For safety's sake. J.J., I want you with us--"
Gideon steps away from the wall. "Reid, you're with me."
And before J.J. can quite catch her breath around a sensation like a gut punch, Hotch says, "And J.J., you're with me. Morgan with Prentiss. Boy girl, boy girl. Just like in kindergarten."
Even Emily laughs. And then they stand, and begin filing towards the door. J.J. waits behind, to gather her notes for the press conference, smiling to herself as Spence says, a little breathlessly, "Guys, did you know that the Red Line is so named because it services Harvard University, whose school color is crimson?"
Morgan laughs. "I bet MIT was pissed."
But Hotch isn't leaving. He shuts the door and turns back to her, and says "You know why he took Reid?"
She doesn't mean to say it, but it bursts from her mouth, uncensored. So very unlike her. "Because you don't trust us in the field together."
Hotch touches her sleeve with just his fingertips. "Because we have too many men, and he and Reid look more like father and son than like partners. Come on, J.J. Time to be a hero now."
Spencer stands behind the glass divider, watching the press conference as he pulls out his phone. But he waits, to listen for a minute, to watch her do what she does best.
"This killer is highly organized," J.J. says. She looks cool and professional in front of the white wall, a flag draped stage right. No one would ever imagine that ten minutes earlier, she was on her hands and knees swearing as she velcroed the FBI seal to a borrowed podium.
"We believe he is a white male in his late thirties or early forties, athletic, of small or moderate build. We believe these are not hate crimes, but that the killer is probably homosexual, although he may conceal this fact. We believe he is traveling to and from the crime scenes on a bicycle or other similar mode of transportation. It is unlikely he would be killing this efficiently without having committed some previous crimes. He may have a history of domestic violence or similar disturbances. He may appear--"
The risk of acquiring HIV from a needle-stick injury is less than one percent, but the risk from sharing needles to inject drugs is considerably higher. It's irrelevant in his case, but the risk of infection from exposure not involving a puncture or a cut (such as a splash of body fluid onto the skin or the mucous membrane) is less than point one percent.
The risk of HIV infection from a human bite is between 0.1% and 1%. Post-exposure prophylaxis with antiviral drugs decreases the risk by a factor of ten.
And almost everybody who tests negative at three months is safe.
Spencer tested clean at six weeks. It's been two and a half months. He just has to survive two more, and he'll be sure.
Almost completely sure.
And once he retests at six months, he'll be absolutely sure.
Knowing the odds doesn't help the sick certainty that what he finds out will be the worst. And wouldn't that be ironic, considering, well, Lila.
Let's not go there, shall we, Spencer? If worst comes to worst, HIV is a manageable illness, these days. A lifetime illness.
Shut up, he tells his brain, and withdraws into a corner to call Garcia.
"Domino's Satori Delivery Hut," she answers. "May I take your daughter?"
"If I had one, I couldn't think of anyone better," he answers. Even her voice cheers him. "What time do you get into work, anyway?"
"I sleep under Hotch's desk. Didn't you know? Come on, sugar dimples. Challenge me."
"All right," he says. With his other hand, he pokes his cheeks experimentally. Sugar dimples? "What would it take to pull and cross-reference HIV test results with domestic violence complaints?"
"Oh. Em. Gee," Garcia says. "Doubleyou Tee Eff. Do you have any idea how many federal privacy regulations you're asking me to violate?"
He laughs into the phone. "All of them?"
"Pretty much. Hold the line, I'll have it in a couple of seconds. You're on your own when they bust us, though."
"I know, I know," he answers. "Jail, bitch, don't drop the soap."
"Bingo. Um. Reid, do you have anything else to go on? Because this is kind of a list."
"Try military service. Dishonorable discharges, especially prior to 1993. Oh, one sec." Emily comes down the corridor, one hand raised in the universal gesture for "I'm about to interrupt that very important conversation!"
"Reid," she says, "How's Massachusetts different from everywhere else?"
...seventeen possible answers to her overly vague question jam his tongue at once, but he swallows sixteen and manages to spit out one that's at least funny. "Caffeinated harbors?"
"Hah. Same-sex marriage."
He blinks at her. Dammit. He should have thought of that. It's not just paranoia; he is slipping. He turns his shoulder to her and says, "Garcia, were any of our victims married?"
"One sec," she answers, and he hears the pocketa pocketa of her keyboard. Which isn't actually her keyboard, because she uses one of the squishy ones, but she has her system set up to supply the sound effects.
Garcia is reassuring. There are bigger geeks on the planet than Doctor Spencer Reid.
"No," she says. "But if that was Em I just heard in the background, stick a gold star in between her beautifully groomed eyebrows. Because all three couples had filed for a license."
Reid relays this. And Emily blanches, her dark eyes wide, and says, "Oh, God, Reid. He's killing them the night before their weddings."
Gideon isn't surprised when Taub comes to find him. "I wanted to apologize for my slow response to the crime scene," she says. "My daughter had a school play, and we went as a family."
"Don't apologize for that," he says. He gestures to her hand, with its plain gold wedding ring. No diamond. Sensible. "Your husband and child matter."
She clears her throat. "Wife," she says. "Wife and daughter."
And all Jason Gideon can do is shake his head and laugh. "I have got to do something about that blind spot. If you're a lesbian, why were you cruising my graphologist?"
She grinns. "Because he's pretty. Come on, aren't any of your team gay?"
"It's not a question that occupies a great deal of my attention." he says, with a shrug.
"Meaning you don't know."
"Meaning I obviously have a blind spot," he says. And then he grins, because he can't resist yanking her chain a little. "I don't know. Do you?"
And she opens her mouth to answer, yes, and then deflates, and grins right back at him. "You know, you're not what I expected, Jason Gideon."
"Last time I was in Boston," he says, "I wasn't at my best."
Before she can say anything painfully obvious or embarrassed, Gideon is thankful to hear footsteps closing fast. He turns to open the conversation to Reid and Prentiss, who are flushed, moving as fast as their long legs can carry them. They look like a brace of sight hounds, leggy and lean, moving in step, Prentiss erect and Reid slumped at the shoulders. "Gideon," he says, "we've got something."
Prentiss smiles her hunting smile. "A name. William Peter Fowler."
A name. Derek's fingertips tingle when he hears it. William Peter Fowler, age 41, completed five weeks of basic training when he was twenty-one. Married, divorced. Avid bicyclist. Former civil servant; computer technical support at Boston City Hall. Explaining how he selected his victims.
It is, unfortunately, a name unconnected to a current address, place of business, or phone number, but several hours of the morning are wasted before they're sure of it, because all past data have to be checked.
Eighteen months earlier, his then partner--Landen Carter--filed charges against him for assault, when Fowler attempted to run him down with their second-hand Audi.
The original plan of canvassing for witnesses is abandoned to the local police. Instead, the team waits by the phone, pores over transcripted calls to the tip line--Reid, in particular, burns through them about as fast as everyone else put together--and waits to see if the APB turns up anything. Perhaps, after a long night, they should go back to the hotel and catch up on sleep, but everyone is entirely too keyed up.
When J.J. pokes her head through the door and cries "Gotcha!" Emily jumps so high that she spills her coffee in Hotch's lap.
He doesn't say a word; her mortification is obvious. Gideon, without looking, hands him a wad of paper napkins.
"J.J?" Hotch asks, mopping his trouser leg.
"Landen Carter is in interview room three," she says. "Who wants him?"
Derek looks around the room, about to volunteer. But Gideon says "Reid," and Reid, silently, swallowing, gets up, collects his coffee cup, and follows J.J. down the hall.
"Can he handle it?" Derek asks, when the door is shut behind.
"He has to," Hotch says, because Gideon's gone stone-deaf all of a sudden, and wandered off across the room to the coffee pot. Emily is studying her hands. "We're not helping him by letting him atrophy."
"Coach always said walk it off," Derek agrees, but he can't keep the worry out of his voice. And then he looks down and lowers his voice. "Nothing like standing between Reid and Gideon at a crime scene and listening to them both hyperventilate, you know?"
Hotch just looks at him. And Emily doesn't actually say anything, but she looks up at him through her eyelashes and he sees her lips move. He's not sure what she whispered to herself, but he thinks it might be "Hold it together." Or it might be, "We'll all get a turn."
Spencer leaves J.J. at the door. It's just an interview; Carter isn't a suspect. And he knows what Gideon is doing: giving him authority and autonomy in measured doses. Showing faith in his abilities. It's blatant manipulation.
He shuts the door of the interview room behind him, crosses to the table, sets a cup of coffee in front of Landen Carter, and says, "Thank you for coming in, Mr. Carter. I'm Dr. Spencer Reid. With the F.B.I. We're hoping you can help us by answering some questions."
He can feel the other man studying him. Carter is perhaps forty-five, about Spencer's height, heavier build. He looks well-dressed and successful, but he's breathing quickly, in shallow gasps, and he dries his hands on his trousers before picking up the coffee.
"I hope cream and sugar is okay," Spencer says, seating himself
"Regular is fine, yes," Carter says. "Can I have some water, too?" He doesn't have what Spencer thinks of as a Boston accent, from TV, but it's a distinct one. regulah. wadah. "Aren't you a little young to be a G-man?"
"Yes," Spencer says, and calls for the water, and when it has arrived, opens the manila file he already extracted from under his arm and set down next to his own coffee cup. "We understand you've got some information about William Fowler."
"Is he a suspect? Have you found him?"
Spencer sips his coffee. The other man mirrors him, and he checks, momentarily. And feels himself flushing. And then thinks, well, Spencer, use it. "We haven't found him," he says. "You filed charges against him before he disappeared."
"I dropped them. Dr. Reid--"
"Spencer," Spencer says, smiling, hating himself a little.
But only a little. If he's learned anything from Hotch, from Gideon, from Elle, from Charles Hankel... it's ruthlessness.
"Spencer," the witness answers. "Call me Landen, then."
"Did you drop the charges because he threatened you?"
Silence. The witness sits back, arms folded over his chest.
"I understand this is strange for you--"
"Wicked strange," the witness says. "I moved, I got an unlisted number. You would not believe what I had to do to get rid of that guy. And then he tried to kill me."
Spencer shivers in sympathy. He thinks about web cams, handcuffs, needles. He thinks about Stockholm syndrome and operant conditioning and learned helplessness and Tobias saying--whimpering--"He always wins."
"Has he always been violent?"
"Controlling," the witness says. Reid's bony wrist protrudes from the cuff of his olive corduroy jacket. The witness reaches out and brushes Spencer's ulnar protrusion with his fingertips. "He... really hated himself, you know. I wasn't with him long."
No, Spencer thinks. You wouldn't have been. Not if you could still walk away at the end.
Spencer allows the touch. He glances down at himself, notices what he's wearing--jacket with elbow patches, lavender scarf, white oxford shirt, and an argyle sweater vest. Oh. Gee, thanks, Gideon.
"Did you hurt yourself?" The witness turns his wrist lightly, touching the shadow of a bruise under the bone.
"Par for the course," Spencer says.
He leans forward over the table, incidentally dropping his hand away from the witness'. The witness leans forward, too.
"If I were the target of somebody like that, I would take particular care to know where he was. If it were possible."
The witness licks sweat from his lip, and Spencer doesn't think it's from the effect of his cologne.
"Landen. Help me."
"I hired a private detective," the witness says. "He's using a different name. He'll kill me if he finds out I told you."
Instead of killing other people to get back at you. Spencer slides his card across the table to the witness, hoping fervently that he's not going to regret it. Maybe J.J. will pretend to be his girlfriend, if it becomes necessary.
Spencer Reid, Ph.D. The witness picks it up and reads it slowly. "You really are a G-man."
"Where he's going," Spencer promises, hoping as fervently that he's not lying, "he'll never kill anybody again."
The conference room door flies open, and Reid comes through it like a gawky landslide. "The stressor was the unsub's boyfriend throwing him out," Reid says. "I have an address. I have an address!"
Gideon is already rising from his chair. "Let's go. Morgan--"
"I'll fetch the hard boys." Morgan slides past Reid at a trot, and Reid turns to watch him go.
And then Reid turns back to Gideon and says, "You could have warned me."
"Did you need warning? Grab your vest. You're coming. Prentiss, you too."
They're tense and quiet in the SUV. Hotch, who was on the phone--Haley, probably--and got off quickly when the rest of the team piled in, drives. He looks peculiarly dapper in a red Presidential tie and body armor.
Reid is fiddling with the snap on his holster, and Gideon doesn't have the heart to tell him to knock it off. Taub rides in with them, the black Chevy second in a procession without sirens, sliding through the damp streets of Boston.
If he thought about it, Gideon could turn in his seat and--from anywhere in the city--point to the spot where Adrian Bale killed his team. Like pointing to Mecca. Like Babe Ruth in reverse.
He got a little of that back. It can never be enough, and he knows--he can't afford to keep himself from knowing--that it could always happen again.
He can make himself breathe smoothly, but he can't slow his heart. He's glad Taub is along.
"Dammit," she says, right behind him.
Nobody else answers. But Gideon says, "Is it better or worse than if it was a hate crime?"
"Worse," she says. Her voice cracks. "Because then it would be them instead of us. And it's easier to hate them."
In his peripheral vision, Gideon sees Reid reach out and lay a hand on her forearm, while everybody else pretends they didn't notice a thing.
"You are not responsible for what the monsters do," he says. "Just for stopping them."
And Gideon hopes like hell that everybody in the car--Gideon himself, and Reid included--is listening.
The suspect lives in a rundown three-story Victorian painted in peeling olive drab, which strikes Hotch as an unnecessary layer of irony. He looks around at the team, all of them armed and armored, Reid breathing so hard that Hotch can see his vest rising and falling, Prentiss like water frozen mid-pour, Gideon with his hands shaking the way they always shake until the time comes, and Morgan surfing all that adrenaline, puffed up and larger than life.
Hotch is detached--dissociated, honestly, a little, just like Emily--and he thinks, quite clearly, that the amazing thing is that when the chips are down, nine times out of ten, every single one of them will make the right choice.
"Let's go," he says.
And Morgan kicks down the door.
And then it's shouting, voices, chaos. Federal Agents! Police! Come out with your hands up! Mr. Fowler, this is the F.B.I!
And they're moving, moving, a creeping front of men and women in black and navy blue, letters swimming across adrenaline tunnel vision. Gideon at his back, Taub and Reid taking the center route, Morgan and Prentiss breaking left with a handful of SWAT guys, Hotch feeling the tension in his arms from the punch as he levers his weapon out of high ready and comes around a corner with the gun extended to shoot. He finds himself facing Reid, who tosses his forelock out of his eyes like a nervous thoroughbred, but has his finger properly registered, cocked beside the trigger guard, and doesn't even move to fire his weapon.
Good kid. He's learning.
Damned Victorian houses.
Taub's on Reid's flank. She jerks her head left. There's a corridor, and Hotch inches down it, Taub a step behind him, Gideon opposite, Reid on Gideon's heels. They clear two rooms as they pass them, but the door at the end of the hall is open. Just a crack. Nothing in the mirror.
He meets Gideon's eye and Gideon nods, and they go in, shouting, slamming the door aside, back to back, put the front sight on the target but there's no target on Hotch's side of the room and Gideon shouts Drop it drop it and as Hotch turns Reid yells something and there's a sound that's the reason Hotch wears hearing protection, a sound that should lift the roof right off the walls and bulge his eyeballs from their sockets, a sound he can feel in his chest cavity--
--and he's got a bead, Fowler there with the sight centered on the bridge of his nose, finger on the trigger of a Desert Eagle--insecure macho son of a bitch--and Gideon and Reid are on the floor in a heap no. no. no. and Hotch drops his finger to the trigger, nice and easy, smell the gunpowder reek from Fowler's gun and then there's another bang, slam, thump, and Fowler drops out of Hotch's sights too late for him to stop his slight, incremental motion and his bullet goes into the wall and so does Taub's second one, and she moves forward, and Hotch has to cover her, because that was only one shot and he didn't see where it hit and Fowler might not be dead.
But Hotch yells--"Reid! Jason!"--and someone on the floor makes a sound like a living person, and Taub is sliding Fowler's gun away, so he shouts "Morgan!" instead and looks down. Gideon hauls himself out from under Reid, pushing at Reid's shoulder until Hotch crouches, holsters his weapon, and rolls Reid over quite easily. Even in armor, he weighs absolutely nothing.
There's a hole in his ballistic vest, on the left, below the clavicle. Hotch probes it, feels the flat warmth of metal. He shoves his hand between vest and shirt, under the trauma plate, hoping the moisture is sweat, pulls it out. There's no red. No red. And Reid is pawing at his hands now, as ineffectually as Jack when Hotch changes his diapers, and Gideon has knelt up beside them and is saying something Hotch can't hear through the ringing in his ears.
"Unhurt," Gideon says, loud enough this time. "He had me dead to rights, though. I was looking right down the barrel. Reid?"
"Taller," Reid says. He gasps, diaphragm still in spasm from the impact. "It hit my vest. I'm taller than Gideon. Sorry about the tackle..."
"Morgan does them better," Hotch says, as Morgan slides to a halt in the doorway, catching the frame to keep from tripping over his team, and Prentiss peers over his shoulder. "Reid! Oh my god--"
And Reid starts to laugh, and then he starts to cough, wincing, his hands clenched on Hotch's shirtsleeve.
And when he wheezes to a stop, he gasps, in a whisper: "Ow. I think I cracked that rib again."
(Over the fade)