A Better Theory
Man approaches the unattainable truth through a succession of errors.
- Aldous Huxley
Hotch had ordered them to get some rest, and while Reid was certain he'd meant sleep, sleep wasn't an option that night. Reid felt too restless, too keyed-up. He sensed they were on the verge of a breakthrough in the case, or else on the verge of making a colossal mistake...
He sighed, shaking his head. They'd been muddled on this thing from the beginning. The UnSub was leading them around by the nose, and they were constantly one step behind. At least it seemed like, for the present, no women were in danger. Henry knew Brady was stalking him and killing the women he visited, so he was staying away from them.
Reid rose from the rumpled bed where he'd been tossing and turning for the past few hours. He stared out the hotel window for a few fruitless minutes. He paced. He eyed his laptop, wondering if he could get some work done on his philosophy paper.
Philosophy. He hadn't guessed philosophy in his running bet with Jackson. He also hadn't proposed Morgan's thought of English Lit. or some variation thereof. She certainly knew her theatre, spouting off those facts about Beckett...
Reid stopped pacing. He blinked. Beckett. Endgame. Frowning in concentration, he booted up his laptop. As he waited for it to finish flashing logos at him, he pondered. Endgame was the only unused ad posted in that room. If Brady had just been keeping track of "coming attractions," as Gideon had suggested, why only one? Why not a collection of ads that resembled Garcia's list?
He pulled up Google and typed in his search quarry. To his happy surprise, a full-text version of the play was the third hit. It was a one-act, Reid saw, and he wondered that it was being featured alone. Weren't one-acts usually clustered together, like a "night of theatre" or some such? Not really his area...
Reading the text was a matter of a few seconds, and as he reached the end his frown deepened. Starting at the beginning he read it all again, and though several things began to fall into place, he suddenly had a lot more questions. He glanced at his phone, noting the hour, and grumbled in frustration. It was too late to call Jackson; she knew this play well, from the sound of things, and he needed someone to bounce ideas off of, but it was after two in the morning.
He flipped open the phone anyway, but then realized with a start that he didn't know her number. How odd. She'd been a part of the team less than twenty-four hours, and he didn't even have her contact number, but her name was the first that had popped into his head. Reid ran a slender hand through his short brown curls, tugging a little, and the slight pain brought him back to reality. She was smart, and she knew Beckett. End of story. He drummed his fingertips against the desk and rose, pacing again. His thoughts spiraled around and around, going nowhere, and he was about to give up in frustration when there was a knock on his door.
At two in the morning?
Hastily pulling on some pants, he went to answer it. He wasn't all that surprised to see Elliot Jackson at his door, dressed in well-worn jeans and a Better Than Ezra T-shirt, her hands thrust into her pockets and her expression hesitant. Her feet were bare, he noticed, and it made her seem, as Gideon had observed, very young and vulnerable.
"Um. So. It's way late," she began.
"I wasn't asleep," he assured her. "Something up?"
"I was hoping you'd be awake. Sleep sucks. I never do it. I was really busy not sleeping when it occurred to me - why Endgame?"
Reid blinked down at her. "Can you read minds over long distances?"
She looked startled. "There generally has to be proximity. Why?"
He gestured for her to follow him into his room and turned the laptop so she could see the screen. She leaned forward, reading the text, then let out a small laugh. "Well. Great minds and all that." She straightened, pushing her hair back from her face, and smiled. "Any thoughts?"
"This play is weird. I mean, brilliant. But weird."
Her smile widened. "Yes. You read it?" She shuddered at his affirmative nod. "The only thing worse than sitting through a Beckett play is reading one. All the pauses. You'd think it wouldn't matter, but it does. It so, so does."
He shrugged it off. "It's short. It only took a second."
She stared at him a moment before comprehension dawned. "Oh, right, the speed-reading thing." Her laugh rippled out again, low and quiet. "You're almost as much of a freak as me, aren't you?"
"Um." His hazel eyes, shaded gray by the T-shirt he was wearing, flicked to the laptop, then back to her.
Jackson wrinkled her nose, realizing her faux pas. "I'm sorry. That came out wrong. I just meant..." She looked away, chewing her lower lip and fidgeting with a hotel pen she'd grabbed off the desk. "I've always been different. Special. Whatever." She waved it away impatiently. "This sounds sort of cheesy, but it's just nice to meet someone who understands what it's like. You know..." She made an encompassing gesture.
Reid did know. He'd said it before: he understood what it was like to be afraid of your own mind. He had always been different, like she said; special; whatever. He enjoyed it, mostly, but sometimes it was just a pain in the ass. "Is it true you have three Ph.D.s?" he asked abruptly.
Again he got the wide-eyed blink before she caught up. "Er, no. I have two. Who told you three? I'm working on my third, but I'm not there yet. I'm just a smarter-than-average kid with a lot of extra time, not a super-genius like some people."
"You know, it's not really fair that you've seen my file but I can't read yours."
"My file is so classified God can't even read it," she told him, only half joking.
"Hmmm," he replied mildly.
"Indeed. Anyway. I call myself a freak because it makes it hurt less when other people think it. I don't need to be a mind reader to know it's there; anyone can see it. You know the look."
He nodded, his finely-made features twisting in wry acknowledgment. "I do. I guess in that case you can call me a freak, too. I'd be honored to be a member of your club."
"A freak club. Is that like a sideshow or something?"
"A speed-reading, mind-reading sideshow?"
Jackson laughed, making a face. "A sideshow with a bunch of reading? That sounds very boring, and very, very nerdy."
"Nail on the head," he confirmed, grinning.
She returned his smile without thinking, enjoying the way it brightened his normally pensive face. He kept himself so closed, hiding behind his giant brain and his innate detachment, but underneath he was a warm, endearing person. She liked that - the layers - and she wondered what else he kept hidden. Shaking her head a little, she turned her gaze back to the small computer. "Um, we should probably get back to it."
"Right," he agreed, sobering. "So I was reading the play, and a few things stuck out. The main relationship is the codependent master/servant dynamic between Hamm and Clov. I keep coming back to it."
"Mmhhmm," she agreed, nodding. "They despise each other, but neither can leave. Clov won't walk out even though he threatens to many times."
"Hamm tells him to go, orders him to go, but every time he starts to leave, Hamm calls him back. In the end, when he's finally, really going...he comes back." His voice rose as his excitement mounted, and he scrolled through the play quickly, pointing out key moments in the text.
"Yes," she said, eyes narrowing in thought. "And Hamm won't leave, either. He wants to die, but he won't commit suicide. He hates everything about living, but he doesn't have the courage to end it."
"'It's time it ended, yet I hesitate,'" he quoted from memory.
"Exactly. There are critics who compare those lines to Hamlet's 'to be or not to be' soliloquy." She frowned. "Hamlet again. Henry said he didn't go see it; why the hell would he lie?" A shake of her head, then, "Do you have a copy of the list of shows Garcia put together for us?"
"Um, yeah, somewhere..." He searched through his brown messenger bag for a few moments before emerging with the list. He scanned the entire page in almost a single glance and shook his head. "It's not here. Jack, Endgame isn't on this list."
She sank down in the desk chair, staring at the computer screen as though the answer would suddenly materialize out of the ether. "How could so many smart people be so stupid? Or is it just me?" She shook her head, pushing her hair back with both hands in frustration. "I thought I was so clever, figuring it all out..."
"None of us figured this, Jack," he said quietly. "Nothing pointed to two UnSubs, and Henry's remorse was genuine."
She drummed her nails on the desktop in an unconscious imitation of Reid's earlier gesture. "Ok, so, how involved is Henry? And why this Endgame thing? What's that all about?"
"Ah, well," Reid said, tilting his head in consideration, "good questions. We can get Garcia to trace who took out this ad. I bet it'll be Henry. Endgame: the final moves in a game of chess that lead to the king's capture. Checkmate."
"Is he Hamm or Clov?"
"Afraid to die or afraid to leave...'If I could kill him I'd die happy,' Clov says of Hamm."
She eyed him. "It's a little creepy how you can do that, given that you've read this thing once in your entire life."
"Twice, actually. Besides, tell me what I'm thinking right now and we'll talk about creepy," he replied, mouth quirking.
She smiled back in appreciation. "Touché. So is Henry communicating with his partner or luring his adversary?"
"That's the question, isn't it?"
Bright and early the next morning Hotch and Jackson found themselves in a silent, tense ride to the theatre where Endgame wasn't actually playing. Reid had presented the theory they'd hammered out last night to the team at the police station mere moments before, and they all agreed Garcia never would have overlooked a show when putting the list together. Hotch had split them up, sending Gideon and Reid back to Brady's, J.J. and Morgan to Henry's, and the two of them to the theatre. Jackson was sure he'd paired the team up like this so that he could chide her for her careless arrogance earlier in the case. She'd dismissed Henry as a suspect, and now it looked like he was probably a second UnSub.
As though he were the mind reader rather than she, Hotch broke the silence with an echo of her thoughts. "Do you and Reid think Henry is a second UnSub, or a victim?"
She kept her eyes trained on the window. "Reid has a theory, I'm sure. You'd have to ask him."
"I'm asking you," he replied tersely.
She glanced at him then, a quick look out of clear green eyes set in a tense face. "Are you really sure I'm qualified to answer that question?"
Hotch sighed. He had been pleasantly surprised with her performance thus far: she'd been carrying her weight, adding valuable insight to the case; but he sure as hell wasn't going to hold her hand as she withdrew into a private pity-party. "Do you think you single-handedly convinced a team of experienced profilers that their profile was wrong and that Lloyd Henry wasn't the UnSub?" he asked, voice harsh.
"Um." She pivoted toward him, surprised. "I don't know. It was my theory."
"Yes, Jackson: theory. And it was a good one, and at least partially right. Because it was a good theory, and because there was evidence to support it, we went with it. If you think your word alone convinced us all to abandon a solid profile that matched the evidence we had - that's pretty damn arrogant."
She gaped a moment before snapping her jaw closed and swallowing hard. "Um," she repeated dumbly. "Yeah. I guess it is. I hadn't thought of it that way. But, Agent Hotchner...I was wrong."
"Partially," he conceded. "Did you think you'd never be wrong? Were you never wrong at the CIA?"
"Well, no, of course not, but--"
"Why would this be any different? We call them theories because we test them. Sometimes they're right, sometimes they're wrong."
Nodding slowly, she turned her gaze back toward the window. "I guess I have a lot to learn."
"Of course you do," he replied, his tone softening a little. "But you've got time."
They'd arrived at the theatre by then, and she looked over at him with a wry, self-deprecating tilt to her lips as she reached for the door handle. "I guess admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?"
His mouth flickered in an almost-smile, but before he could reply his phone rang. Dark brows drew together as he read the caller ID display. "Morgan," he told her. "Hotch," he said, answering it.
"Hotch, man, something's goin' down. J.J. and I are out here talkin' to the girls on the street, and they said they saw Henry out here last night, and he picked up a girl."
"What? Hang on, I'm putting you on speaker," Hotch snapped into the phone. "He's got a cop sitting on him. How'd he shake the tail?"
"No idea, man, but they're sure. They said he went off with a girl he used to visit a lot before he took up with Lacey."
"Tanya?" Jackson demanded, her face going pale.
"Tanya, yeah. How'd you know?"
"Reid and I talked to her yesterday. She's the one who told us about Henry and Lacey. Shit, I told Henry we talked to her!" She slumped back in the black leather seat, burying her face in her hands. She'd been so sure about Henry! She'd told him about Tanya, and now the woman could be in pieces just like Lacey. Her death would be on Jackson, no matter what anyone said.
"There's more," Morgan was saying. "I heard from Garcia. The ad was paid for in cash, so she couldn't trace it, but she found something else. Henry owns the theatre."
"This theatre?" Hotch asked, glancing out the window.
"Yep. Garcia says he bought it about three months ago, and since then he's applied for several construction permits. He's poured a ton of money into that place, Hotch."
The more Morgan spoke, the graver Hotch's face grew. "You and J.J. head to Henry's place. I want to know if he's there. If he's not, tear it apart; I want to know every single detail of his life, understand?"
"Got it. What about you two?"
"It looks like this theatre is more important than we thought. We're there now. Call Gideon when you get to Henry's; tell him everything you just told us."
"We're on it. Be careful, Hotch. This whole thing stinks."
"You're tellin' me," the senior agent replied grimly before hanging up. Hotch and Jackson sat in silence for a moment, considering the building before them. "Morgan said Henry's been spending a lot of money fixing the place up, but it looks pretty run down to me," he remarked.
"All the improvements must be on the inside. Important, I'm sure, but odd. And, look no handicap ramp." She pointed to the sweeping front staircase that led to the theatre's only visible entrance. "Any building remodeled since 1991 has to be made to comply with ADA codes. He's remodeled, but it's not up to code on the outside. He obviously has no intention of using it as a public theatre any time soon."
Hotch nodded slowly, studying the building. "You and Reid think Lacey's murder wasn't part of their plan, correct?"
"Henry's wife kicked him out six months ago, but he only bought this building three months ago."
"They both would have been angry at the forced relocation, but perhaps Brady, as the actual killer, more so," she said, picking up his thoughts by instinct, not special ability.
"Henry bought this place to convert it into a new kill nest for Brady."
"But he couldn't wait, so he killed Lacey and sent the newspapers to the cops. How does Endgame fit into this? Henry had to've placed that ad before Lacey's murder."
"I don't know," Hotch said musingly. "Let's get inside and find out."
"Should we call for backup? Henry and Brady could be in there with Tanya."
Hotch nodded and spoke quickly into his radio, summoning units to the theatre. "We can't wait for them. If it's empty, we will have sat around for nothing. Tanya might be in there alone. We have no idea."
"It's not their general MO to hold a girl."
He gave her a long look. "Lacey's murder was off the grid. We really have no idea what their MO is, do we?"
Suitably chastened, she smiled nervously. "Good point. Shall we go?"
Hotch can be a hard-ass sometimes, but overall he's a really good guy, and a supportive boss. I knew Jackson would be upset about missing the Henry/Brady connection because she's just a perfectionist like that, but I also knew Hotch wouldn't have any patience with her self-flagellation. I tried to make the scene in the car a balanced mix between Hotch's natural instincts to look out for his team and his general impatience with Gideon's newest "project." It's a short scene in the overall, but I feel it's important, because while Reid and J.J. seemed to have accepted her very quickly, and Gideon obviously did, Hotch and Morgan are still very much on the fence.
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