a/n: It's been a month since I wrote anything on "History," and I felt the need. I also felt the need to get the poor team the hell OUT of the BAU office! So they're finally in Silar Creek, and this chapter is a bit talky, but next chapter will have a little less conversation, a little more action, please.
Also, everything in the previous chapters (except the flashback episodes) took place on Saturday, and this jumps to Monday...hence the "Monday" in the location title card....
Review me, please, dear readers!
Chapter 12: In the Dark
Dead end driving in the dark;
We don't know what we're headed for.
Like lighters flicking off sparks,
We've been counting on a little more.
-Ari Hest, "Dead End Driving"
Silar Creek, MD
Elliot Jackson had hoped never to return here. It wasn't just the typical high school scars so many kids carried with them; it was…everything else. Her high school years had been no better or worse than anyone else's, she supposed, especially once she came to Silar Creek and was among kids more like she was.
The scars she carried, the ones that bore Silar Creek's brand, were from later years. She couldn't forget the haunted look that had grown in Taj's eyes as the case had weighed heavier on him; now she knew part of the weight he carried had to do with his ideas about the suspect. He hadn't wanted to tell her that her partner, the first victim's husband, was the best looking lead they had.
She knew why he had cut her out. She had let him, even. But still it bothered her. She had wanted this case put down as much as he had—
"None of this is your fault, Jack," Reid's familiar voice interrupted her spiraling thoughts as she stared out the SUV's window.
She turned her head slowly to meet his concerned hazel eyes. "Then why does it feel like it is?"
He shrugged. "Misdirected guilt—"
"Don't, boy genius," she said. "I know you mean well, but don't. Any guilt I feel is directed exactly where it belongs. If I'd done my job back then we might not have to be here now; Taj might not be dead. It's as simple as that." Her voice was gentle, but there was a core of steel to her tone that brooked no argument. He nodded, retreating, and left her to brood.
They pulled up in front of the small clapboard sheriff's office, and the sound of large car doors slamming echoed through the peaceful morning. A heavyset man in his mid-fifties hurried down the low steps to meet them, but he bypassed Hotch (every local cop's first stop) and went straight to Jackson. "Agent Jackson, good to see you again. I see you brought the cavalry this time."
Her smile was weak, but her grip was strong as she returned his handshake. "You too, Sheriff Monroe. I guess you heard I'm no longer with the Agency?"
He nodded; the early sun caught the white hair tufting around his head and lit it like a corona. "You know we like to make nice with those Agency boys; we got no choice, really, what with the school and all, but I'm glad they've handed the investigation over…but why after all this time? I was a might confused by Agent Jareau's request, but I wasn't gonna say no. I want those murders off my books bad as anyone."
"That's why we're here. How much did Agent Jareau tell you on the phone?"
His lined face went still. "She said about Taj. That's a damn shame, Ellie; he was a good man and a good cop. I know he worked that case the best he could."
For some reason these simple words from a seasoned, small-town lawman like Tom Monroe made her throat thick and her eyes sting. She swallowed hard; fought not to show how much he'd touched her. "Thank you, Sheriff; I know it would mean a lot to him that you thought so."
He gave her shoulder a brief squeeze, showing he understood, cop to cop. They stood like that for a quiet moment before he cleared his throat and indicated the rest of the team. "Introduce me and let's get started. I know it's a cold case, but us standin' out here chewin' the fat's not warmin' it up any."
"Did Taj ever come to you with a real suspect? I mean, more than just tossing out names, but a real, viable possibility?" Jackson asked him once they were all settled in the room he'd had set aside for them. Coffee was poured, and a crime board was set up nearby. Reid was busy filling in the scant details they'd scraped together since the original Silar Creek files had been last updated.
Sheriff Monroe looked suddenly wary. "Now, Ellie, listen—"
"Sheriff, please, I'm not in high school anymore. Didn't we get over this issue last time I was here in an official capacity?" she reminded him with a slight lift of her brows.
He sighed heavily. "I'm sorry; sometimes it's hard to separate the girl I knew back then and the cop now. Ok, listen. From pretty early on I suspected Andrea's husband, Daniel. I knew he was your partner, and when you were brought in on the investigation, I was pretty surprised. Taj and I were on the same page about him, and he asked me to keep my thoughts from you."
She sat back in her chair and exchanged glances with the rest of the team. "You never suspected him, Jack?" Gideon asked.
"I must be the only one," she replied in a voice dripping self-recrimination.
Monroe shifted; huffed out a breath. "That wasn't exactly your fault, I think."
Hotch pinned him with a classic Hotch glare. "What do you mean, Sheriff?"
"Taj was instructed to keep large parts of the investigation from you – evidence reports, autopsy results, witness interviews – basically anything he could get away with. I know it didn't make him happy, but—"
"He was just following orders," she murmured as her head sank into her hands.
"Why would he do something like that?" Prentiss demanded, aghast at the actions of the partner she had trusted so much.
Monroe fixed her with a long, steady stare, then his eyes, gone from twinkling, Santa Claus-like brightness to cold steel, darted to Jackson. "I think they wanted to see if he could. But," he continued, holding up a hand to forestall her explosion, "they also didn't want you pursuing Talbot. I don't know why, but once we got too close, the investigation was shut down and Talbot was transferred. That much you know."
She felt sick. "This is ridiculous."
"I'm just telling you what I know, Jack," he said.
"You really didn't know any of this, did you?" Gideon said.
"I told you," was her weary, sad reply. "Was it all just a game, Sheriff? Four women died so that the CIA could see if the wool could be pulled over a special's eyes? Maybe I just really suck at my job – both of my jobs."
"Don't give yourself so much credit," Monroe said. "None of this was about you, not really. If Talbot killed Andrea, it wasn't part of anyone's plan. If the Agency knew he was the one killing the other women, and they allowed it to happen, they had their reasons, and those reasons had nothing to do with you. You just happened to be in the wrong place in the wrong time – or the right place at the right time, depending on point of view – and you fit in the way you fit in."
Jackson blinked at Monroe in astonishment, and Hotch decided it was time to step in. "We'll need the information McCall was instructed to hold back. I assume you have it? And since you seem so sure Talbot's your man, does it all point to him?"
"I have it, but most of it's inconclusive. The Slayer took a lot of countermeasures. It's what made us suspect a cop in the first place."
He nodded crisply. "Good. Get it. We'll also want to begin interviewing witnesses – I know it's been a few years, and some of them will have graduated and moved on, but we'll need to speak to whomever we can. We'll want to visit old scenes, as well, starting with the first one."
Monroe sighed and rose to his feet like a tired old man. "I keep the files in my cabin outside of town. They're safe there, locked up. I'll run out and get them now. Should I go alone, or do you want to send someone with me?"
Hotch contemplated briefly. "Morgan, go along. Gideon, you're with me at the first scene. Prentiss, E.J., go to the school. Reid, J.J., stay here and start calling any witnesses who have moved. We're back here in two hours unless I hear from you otherwise."
They all nodded and scattered, but Hotch caught Jackson's eye before she could escape. "Keep breathing, E.J.," he told her. "We need you on this."
She hesitated a moment, then nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
And the team goes their separate ways. Cue ominous music.
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