Chapter 3: At Least You Still Care
Now, retreating from the light;
I love it when we fight.
It makes me think
At least you still care.
-Better Than Ezra, "Live Again"
Reid was sweating. It was a warm day, but not hot. In the shade, with a breeze off the sea, it was actually quite pleasant. But he was still sweating the cold, stinking sweat of an addict, jonesing. He rolled up the sleeves on his long-sleeved shirt (it was still cool up in Virginia, where he'd gotten dressed) and loosened his narrow tie just a fraction. It was enough. Jackson cast him an odd look from the seat beside him.
"You ok?" she asked lightly.
"I'm fine," he replied shortly. He would curse Hotch for sticking them together again if he had the leftover mental capacity, but he was too busy working through the Chayes-McKellar-Winn theorem in his head. It wasn't that complicated per se, but he was trying to be thorough. He patted his bag, noting the familiar, comfortable bulge of his kit. Maybe at the station...
"If I were him," Jackson suddenly said, barging into Reid's train of thought, "I would watch them first. I'd want to find a couple with fault lines I could exploit."
"Why's that?" he asked, unconsciously drumming his fingers against the lump in his bag.
"They'd be more likely to accept his ultimatum, don't you think? If you're already having issues with your partner, and then you're both kidnapped and offered the choice of killing or being killed..." She trailed off, looking over at him with raised eyebrows.
"I think it would be more of a thrill to watch a healthy, happy couple fall apart rather than one that already has issues."
"Hhmm," she replied mildly. "Maybe so."
"You can just say you disagree, Jack," he snapped. "You don't have to humor me." Fuck it was hot! Hadn't anyone ever heard of air conditioning around here? He tugged at his collar and didn't bother listening to what she was saying.
"I don't necessarily disagree. You could be right." She'd been dealing with his attitude for so long now that it barely fazed her anymore. Still, she was relieved when the squad car pulled up in front of the St. Augustine police station and they were released from its claustrophobic interior.
"Go find J.J.," he mumbled, hurrying towards the men's room. "I'll be right there."
Jackson watched him go with a bemused little frown before seeking out the team's media liaison. "J.J.," she said when she spotted the bright blond head among the milling cops, "where are we set up?"
"Over here," she said, leading the other agent to a space in the back of the main squad room. It had a folding table, a few standard-issue police department chairs, and an evidence board with several pictures and a large area map already on display. "Where's Reid? I thought he was with you."
"He had to make a pit stop."
"Probably not a bad idea," J.J. said. "We shouldn't get too comfortable here; we need to head over to the college pretty quickly to start talking to the victims' friends."
Jackson took a quick glance through the files J.J. had gathered and nodded agreement. "Good thinking. It's not far, is it? Can we just walk?"
"Just a few blocks. Still worried about our carbon footprint?"
The dark-haired agent grinned at her fairer colleague. "That, and I want to stop at some of these places on the list. It seems like Colben kids hang out at only a few bars, coffee shops, bookstores - and they're all between here and campus. We can hit them on the way."
"Hey, J.J.," Reid said as he appeared in the doorway. "What are we hitting on the way where?"
He was no longer sweating, Jackson noticed. The lines etched on his face had smoothed away. He looked relaxed, almost happy. It worried the hell out of her. "We were going to walk over to the school," she explained. "It's probably quicker than driving; parking in this town is sort of a nightmare."
"We have FBI plates," he said blithely. "It's not like we'll get towed."
"Do you have some aversion to walking?" she asked, feeling prickly.
"Do you have some aversion to driving?" he countered.
"It seems silly. It's so close you could practically get in one door of that monster SUV we drag around, get out the other side, and be there."
"I guess color me silly, then, because I prefer air conditioned comfort to footing it in the heat."
"It's warm out there, Spencer, not hot. Have you thought about losing the sweater vest? This is Florida, not a Mensa meeting in Vermont," she retorted in a voice so dripping with sarcasm it bordered on outright derision. What had she been thinking earlier about his attitude not fazing her anymore? Clearly she'd been kidding herself.
"Whoa, hey," J.J. cut in before Reid could spit out the rejoinder she could see on his rapidly reddening face. "Calm down, guys. Reid, Jack mentioned stopping at some of the local hangouts on the way over, so we thought walking would be more convenient. If you're that set against it, we'll just drive and canvass the other places later."
"No," he said after a moment, conceding with ill grace, "we'll walk it. Since the other places are on the way."
"Thank you," Jackson bit out.
"Anytime," he replied churlishly.
J.J. rolled her eyes and followed them from the room.
At the St. Johns County morgue, Hotch and Morgan listened to Dr. Scheiner, the M.E., give his conclusions in a cold, dispassionate voice. Tony had been shot, Michelle buried alive. As Gideon had suggested, there were needle marks on both victims. Michelle had two. There were no signs of sexual or physical abuse on either victim. Strangely, there were also no defensive wounds beyond what one might sustain trying to escape from a concrete cell.
"Cinderblocks, to be specific," Scheiner said. "There are traces of the powder on both victims' hands and under their nails. Same with the other four."
"But none of these victims fought back," Hotch said. "They didn't physically confront the UnSub or each other at any point."
"If I knew my girlfriend had a gun, and she'd been given the choice to kill me or die, it might be the only thing that would ever bring me to hit a woman," Morgan remarked.
"She shot him five times. He probably didn't have a chance to take a swing," Hotch said, studying the wound pattern on Tony's body.
"They found sand in her mouth and nose, just like with the earlier victims. You didn't see the grave, Hotch, but there's no way that girl was buried alive in there. It was just a little depression in the ground with some sand thrown on top."
"No defensive wounds," Hotch mused. "Tell me, Morgan, if you were buried alive, wouldn't you fight?"
"Hell yeah!" He paused a thoughtful moment, then, "Two needle marks..." He flipped open the file in his hand and studied it carefully, then moved on to the next one. "He's drugging them before he buries them," he said. "All the victims who were buried had two needle marks; the gunshot victims just had one."
Hotch considered, rubbing the back of his neck pensively as his mind worked. "He picks his victims, either ahead of time or on the day of, then he finds a quiet place in the park to hole up and wait."
"He lures one away somehow, or maybe just waits until they separate for whatever reason, then he drugs one of them."
"When the other one comes to investigate, he sticks him or her, too."
"Now we just have to figure out how he gets two full-sized, unconscious adults from wherever he's drugged them to his car without being seen."
"I'm not as worried about that as I am about whether or not he stalks his victims ahead of time. He could be an employee at the college, or maybe at the park..." Hotch trailed off contemplatively. "Let's head back to the station and see if Reid and E.J. have come up with anything on victimology. I think figuring out how he chooses these kids might be the key we need to stopping him."
Some of you may have noticed (or not) that I named the M.E. after the original, grumpy-old-man M.E. from Homicide: Life on the Street. I've been re-watching the reruns lately, and I'm remembering how much I love that show.
To read more about Morgan's fear of being buried alive, check out my one-shot "Your Turn."