Chapter 2: A Divot in the Sand
Saturday night, shots ring out.
Add one to the body count.
You come alive to see another's end.
-Better Than Ezra, "One More Murder"
As it turned out, they were too late. By the time the jet landed, Michelle Gonzalez and Tony Donaldson had been found in their own grave in Anastasia State Park. The team went straight there, minus J.J., who headed to the police station to start working on a press release.
"It's not a very big park," Reid said as they made their way down one of the trails to the dumpsite. "It's about four square miles, including the beach, tidal marsh, hiking trails, campgrounds, and an historic rock quarry."
"Lots of people around, too," Morgan observed. "This time of year, getting warmer...he chose a really exposed area to dump these bodies."
A local detective waved as the team approached. "You the folks from the FBI?" he called, hurrying across the sand toward them. He was tall and good-looking, with the high cheekbones and coffee-colored eyes that marked his Hispanic heritage; at the moment his normally tan face looked pale.
"Yes," Hotch said, offering his hand. "I'm Agent Hotchner, and these are Agents Morgan, Gideon, and Reid, and Dr. Jackson."
"Detective Rodriguez," he said, shaking Hotch's hand. "I'm glad you made it so quickly. We've got six dead kids now, and parents are getting really antsy."
"Michelle and Tony were students at Colben, too?" Jackson asked.
"Yep," he replied with a grim nod. "They went missing four days ago. They came out to the park to hike for the day, and they never came back. Michelle's roommate reported her missing the next night, and when we started looking into that we realized Tony was gone, too."
"Were all the victims abducted from the park?" Reid asked.
"So far," Rodriguez confirmed.
"Our UnSub obviously knows this area well," Hotch remarked, scanning the hammock forest through his dark sunglasses. "Detective, if you could point Dr. Reid and me toward the witnesses, we'll start talking to them. I'd like Agents Gideon and Morgan and Dr. Jackson to take a look at the grave."
"Sure. One of my guys can take you to them. They're pretty shook up; a couple of old ladies out here bird-watching." He gestured for a nearby officer to help Hotch, and then nodded toward the other three. "Agents, Dr. Jackson, this way."
They followed Rodriguez off the trail and under a stretch of yellow crime scene tape. The bodies had already been removed, but the shallow depression where they'd lain together was clearly visible. Morgan knelt, studying the pitiful grave through dark, narrowed eyes obscured by expensive sunglasses. "Really close to the path," he observed after a moment.
"Risky, like you said," Gideon said. He glanced over at Jackson, eyebrows raised, but she only shook her head.
She stared down at the divot in the sand a moment before turning to look back at the trail only a few steps away. "It must have been dark. All the dumpsites were so close to main areas of the park?" she asked Rodriguez.
"This is the closest one yet. The first couple was found by some kayakers over at Salt Run, the tidal marsh. It was low tide, or they wouldn't've seen 'em. The crabs had been at them pretty good." He grimaced. "The second couple was near the quarry, more out in the open, but not like this."
"He wants them to be found fast," Gideon remarked. "He's tired of laboring in obscurity."
Jackson wrinkled her slightly crooked nose. "Can you check missing persons for couples?" she asked.
"If anyone can figure out a way, Garcia can. He obviously wasn't abducting such high-profile victims before this. It's an escalation," Morgan said.
"You think Emily and Michael weren't his first victims?" Rodriguez asked.
"No, absolutely not," Gideon told him. "It's not easy abducting a couple. He abducts them, holds them only as long as he needs to, and then he dumps them in relatively public areas. He's had time to get this just right."
"The park closes at sunset," Rodriguez said. "If he dumped them at night, it would've been just campers around, not hikers or day-trippers."
"He had to've come in with a vehicle," Morgan remarked. "Could he have brought them in before dark, then waited until after the park closed to dump the bodies?"
"It's possible. They don't kick people out, really. But this location is still pretty far from the areas where vehicles are allowed."
"Carried them, you think?" Jackson said. "One at a time, along the trail?"
Rodriguez shrugged. "None of the dumpsites have been particularly close to parking areas. Maybe that's why they're so exposed: he couldn't carry them any further into the woods."
"Clearly we're dealing with a big man, someone physically fit. Morgan, grab Hotch. I want you two at the autopsy. Tell the ME to look for needle marks."
"Needle marks?" Morgan said. "You think he drugged them?"
"He's not overpowering them physically; there're no signs of any physical damage on any of the victims. He has to be subduing them somehow.
"Jack, go with Reid back to the station. Start looking at victomology; we need to know anything that connects these kids, besides just the college."
She looked briefly uncomfortable, but after a moment she nodded. "It would be nice to know if he's choosing victims ahead of time, or if he just picks likely-looking couples from the crowds at the park."
"Exactly. I'll meet you there in an hour." He turned back to the scene, his attention instantly absorbed as though he were alone on the sparse stretch of sandy ground.
Morgan and Jackson set off across the scrub, and Morgan cast a side-long glance in her direction. "Don't let the kid get to you," he told her quietly.
She looked up, frowning a little. "It's fine. I mean, it's not, but I can handle it."
"Ok," he replied in a deceptively mild voice. "Reid, Hotch!" he called as they approached. "We got some new marching orders."
Hotch turned, brow raised. "You and I should head to the morgue," he said. "Reid and E.J. need to start working on victimology."
"Which one of us is the mind reader around here?" Jackson muttered.
Hotch's mouth lifted in a brief smile. "Gideon radioed. Let's head out."