Chapter 10: The Importance of Communication
Wearing the ages;
Mining the seats for cash.
Worn on the edges;
Faded like a photo left too long on the dash.
-Better Than Ezra, "Juarez"
Next morning the sky was a blinding azure, and no cloud dared to mar the expansive perfection. In a black SUV heading north much too fast for safety, Derek Morgan and Aaron Hotchner weren't really appreciating the day's beauty. They were too focused, too single-minded, and the only thing either man cared about was finding the killer who had taken their fellow agents.
Morgan drummed his fingers against the steering wheel. Fiddled with the radio. Whipped around traffic at break-neck speeds. "How long do you think he'll wait?"
Hotch was studying the file in deep concentration, trying to ignore Morgan's erratic driving as best he could. He looked up slowly, forehead only barely smoothing as he focused on the other agent's question. "I don't know. It depends on how fast he figures out Reid and E.J. have no intention of accepting his ultimatum."
"He abducted two FBI agents. They know his game. Don't you think he figured they wouldn't accept even before he took them?"
Hotch's expressive brows lowered, came together. "Yes," he answered shortly.
"So why them? Why Reid and Jack?"
He turned to look out the window. "What do you think Reid's problem has been since his abduction? Why has he been acting so erratic, and why has he been so rude to E.J.?"
It seemed like a change of subject, but Morgan knew it wasn't. His jaw clenched; his forehead creased. He hadn't wanted to ponder that question too closely, but now Hotch was throwing it out there. He had no choice. "Jack said..." He sighed. Smacked the heel of his hand against the steering wheel a couple of times. Glanced at Hotch. Back at the road. "She said he was hiding something from her. She was worried about what it could be."
Hotch lowered his head. Rubbed his temples. "Did she offer you any theories?"
"But she knew."
"And what do you suspect, Agent Morgan?" he asked in a quiet, careful voice as he turned to look at his friend and colleague.
Morgan ground his teeth. "Tobias Henkel was a hydromorphone addict. He gave the drug to Reid when he was holding him."
"Such an addiction would go a long way toward explaining Reid's behavior."
"He's too smart for that shit, Hotch. He'd never—"
"Gideon said it, Morgan: we trained him to use his mind. We didn't train him on how to cope with an ordeal like that one. Gideon or I should have stepped in before things went this far. He's a sensitive kid; I think we all forget that sometimes."
"He won't shoot her, Hotch. I don't care how messed up he is; he'd never hurt someone in cold blood."
"No. I don't think he will. What worries me is how the UnSub will react when he doesn't."
Morgan pressed his foot onto the gas pedal a bit harder. The big engine roared, and the SUV sped forward. "This Warren kid better have something for us. I'm not goin' to any God damn funerals."
"We're not going to let it come to that, Morgan. I don't care if we have to search every inch of St. Augustine and Anastasia Island, we're getting them back."
"Damn straight," Morgan agreed grimly.
"Talk to me, Jack."
"Anything. I don't care. I need distraction. Tell me about your family; we've never talked about them before."
"Um. There's not much to say, really. I had a really normal childhood - mom, dad, dog - the American dream."
"How do you know something happened?"
"I'm a profiler. The powers of my mind are staggering. Don't snort at me!"
"Don't say ridiculous, high-flown things."
"But something did happen?"
"Yes. Something did."
"You sent your mom flowers on Mother's Day."
"Nothing gets past you, boy genius. Yes, my mom and I are relearning...how to be, I guess."
A silence fell as he waited for her to continue.
"I've had my ability all my life. When I was a kid it was really easy, just stray thoughts now and then popping into my head. No big deal. When I hit puberty, things went a little haywire."
"That's what usually happens, isn't it?"
"Hhmm. Do you remember in The X-Men when the little mutants would come into their powers, and Professor X would show up and whisk them away to Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters?"
"A bald man in a wheelchair took you from your family to a mutant school?"
"Not exactly. I'd been on the Agency's radar for a while. When my moods began to have an effect on the moods of people around me, they decided I was powerful enough to warrant their attention.
"It wasn't like they kidnapped me or anything so drastic. My parents didn't know how to handle me; in the Agency program I could be around other kids like me, or sometimes...kids like you."
"Yes. Super geniuses. Real off-the-charts stuff. You would have been right at home there."
He shifted uncomfortably. "My mom would've...I don't know what she would've done, but it wouldn't have been pretty."
"It wasn't a prison or anything. My parents came to visit. We were allowed to go home for holidays. But it was weird, you know, because we had to keep everything so top secret. Most of us chose to just stay. It was easier."
"So what happened to your dad?"
"My parents split when I was fifteen. My dad was never fully comfortable around me after he realized the extent of my ability; he and I don't speak these days."
"It's not...if I let it, it would bother me. So I don't."
"Your mom was ok, though? I mean, with...you."
"Her mother could do it, too."
"Yeah. Hey, Spencer?"
"You know if you tell anyone all of this, I'll have to kill you."
"That's not funny, Jack."
Jamal Warren looked nervous. Skin a few shades darker than Morgan's glistened with sweat. Chocolate colored eyes darted from Hotch to Morgan and back again. He cracked his knuckles one by one.
"Mr. Warren, we need to know what happened to you last year. You dropped out of Colben after a two-week disappearance. Your previous school records were good," Hotch said quietly.
"Did you know a girl named Amanda George? She was at Colben the same time you were," Morgan asked.
He started at the mention of Amanda's name. Shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "I don't want any trouble," he said after a moment.
Hotch held up pictures of Reid and Jackson. "We believe the same man who abducted you and Amanda is now holding these people. We need your help to find them."
"They cops?" he asked with narrowed eyes.
"FBI agents," Morgan confirmed. "Members of our team. Mr. Warren, this guy has already killed three couples in the past few weeks."
"Couples?" he said, brows flicking upward. "You mean he's killing both of them?"
"Did he give you the same ultimatum, sir? He told you if you killed Amanda he'd let you go."
Warren staggered a little, as though Hotch had struck him. "I had no choice," he whispered.
Morgan held up a hand. "We're not here to arrest you or cast blame. We just want to know what happened."
"You're a big man, Mr. Warren. How did he subdue you?"
"I wasn't big back then. I've spent the last year lifting, bulking up. I keep expecting him to come back for me; I wanna be ready." He took a long breath, and they watched him reach a decision. "You guys better come in," he said, stepping back and opening the door wider.
His apartment was sparsely furnished, like he was only there temporarily. Perfect for someone who might need to move fast. Warren took another breath before perching on a chair and gesturing for Hotch and Morgan to take the couch. Morgan sat, but Hotch remained standing.
"Tell us what happened, Mr. Warren," Morgan urged.
"It was a little over a year ago," he began, rubbing sweating palms against well-worn jeans. "Amanda and I hadn't been dating long. We met in Chem. I sucked at it, and she helped me out a lot."
"Where did you go when you went out?" Hotch asked.
"To the park or the beach. We weren't into clubs and stuff."
The two agents shared a glance.
"We were at the park one afternoon, surfing and hiking. Some guy asked me to help him change a flat. It was a little weird, because he was a lot bigger than me, but I said sure."
"What happened next, Mr. Warren?" Morgan prompted gently.
He shook his head slowly, his eyes far away. "I'm not sure. I knelt down beside the car, and the next thing I remember is waking up with Amanda in the cell."
"Cell?" Hotch asked sharply.
"Yeah. Small; concrete floor, cinderblock walls, metal door. He said if one of us shot the other, the one who did it could go free." He paused, overcome; struggled to continue. "After a week he took away our food. We decided to draw straws. She got the short one."
"You didn't fight? You weren't angry with her when you shot her?" Morgan asked with a meaningful glance up at Hotch.
"No, nothin' like that. Before she died, she said...she told me she was glad it was me." He buried his face in his hands, and his shoulders shook.
They gave him some time before Morgan said, "Do you remember anything about what he looked like?"
"I don't know. Big, white. Dark hair. Dark glasses, even inside."
"Would you be able to sit with a police sketch artist?"
He hesitated, but then nodded. "Yeah, I guess."
The agents offered him their cards, shook hands, and took their leave much wiser than when they'd arrived.