Chapter 7: Tension
She came off like a light,
And so softly she spoke:
‘You don’t know, no you don’t know
About my dark life.’
And you think you’re a guest;
You’re a tourist at best,
Peering into the corners of my dark life.
-Elvis Costello, “My Dark Life”
They were only gone about fifteen minutes, but when the two agents stepped through the BAU’s etched glass doors, Jackson knew she was in trouble. Hotch was standing outside his office, arms crossed over his chest, and his expression was thunderous. He gave her a long, pointed look before stepping into his office and leaving the door open. She cast Reid a rueful smile. “Well. It seems I’ve been summoned. Go get settled in; I’ll talk to you later.”
His mouth twisted in response. “Good luck,” he told her.
She nodded and followed their Unit Chief into his lair. He was seated behind his desk perusing a file, and as she softly closed the door behind her, he glanced up. “Jackson. Sit down.”
He wasn’t calling her “E.J.” That couldn’t be a good sign. She took the chair he indicated and wiped suddenly damp palms on the thighs of her dark slacks. “Hotch, listen—” she began in an attempt to forestall him.
“No, Elliot, you listen,” he interrupted, dropping the file onto his desk and pinning her with one of his death glares. “I gave you a direct order. I don’t know how things worked at the CIA, but here there is a chain of command that will be followed. Do you understand?”
She swallowed. “I…I was with Reid,” she offered lamely. The look in his eyes reminded her of what had happened last time she and Reid had been off together. Of course, he’d been stoned off his gourd at the time…but still. “We didn’t leave campus. What UnSub is going to come for me here?”
“If your theory about an inside man is correct, then our UnSub very well could. And you know full well that isn’t the point.” His face softened even as his frustration mounted. “E.J., you’re an important member of this team, and what’s more, we all care about you personally. After what happened to Reid in Georgia, and then to the two of you in St. Augustine…I don’t think this team can afford another incident like that.”
She looked away; blinked hard. “Thank you, Hotch. I’m sorry; it won’t happen again.”
“No,” he replied mildly, “it won’t.” A small silence fell between them as he watched her steadily. “Now tell me why you stormed out of here like a bat out of hell. Is this about Detective McCall? Do you need to pull back?”
“I…no, it was unrelated. At least, mostly.”
He waited for her to say more, but the silence stretched and deepened. “E.J., talk to me,” he requested quietly.
To her utter humiliation, she felt a tear slip down her cheek. She wiped it away furiously and met his intense moss-green stare. “It’s Gideon. He’s threatening to have me transferred out.”
The only sign of his anger was a minute tightening of the skin around his eyes and mouth. She knew with Hotch, the smaller the signs, the hotter the fury. She sat back a little, desperately hoping it wasn’t directed at her. An instant later he removed her doubts. “I’ll talk to Jason. He sometimes forgets that people are more than just their behavior; they’re human beings, too.” As though that matter were dealt with and closed, he slid a file toward her. “Fill in the blanks for me, E.J. Why did McCall retire from the Agency at age 30?”
It took her a moment to catch up, but when she did, her face went smooth. “I don’t know,” she replied automatically.
Hotch’s brow twitched in annoyance. “Don’t do that with me, E.J. None of us have time for games.”
The mask slipped, and she suddenly looked very young and utterly weary. “To be perfectly honest, Hotch, I really don’t know. That was about three years ago; Taj and I weren’t on great terms then. One day he was an agent, the next day my partner was inviting me to the retirement party. It took me somewhat by surprise, but I didn’t press him about it.”
“What caused the rift in your relationship?”
“Silar Creek,” she admitted. “We worked it too hard, Hotch. It burned us out. When I say we got nothing, I mean that almost literally. We know he used a small rope or fine cord to strangle these women. We know he got into their homes without a struggle; no forced entry. The attacks were fast and hard, and they had no chance to fight back.” She shrugged. “Other than that, we were floundering. When the fourth girl was killed and they shut us down, we weren’t terribly surprised. We were just relieved as all hell the Slayer stopped killing.”
He rubbed his brow. He was having one of those days he wished he could just rewind; everything had seemed so bright and promising as he lay in bed with Haley that morning. Then his phone had rung, and it had all gone to hell. He imagined E.J. felt pretty similar. “The case files arrived while you were out,” he told her. “We’re going to go over them with a fine tooth comb. Meet in the conference room in ten.”
She nodded and rose. At the door she hesitated. “Thank you, Hotch,” she said quietly without looking back at him.
He watched her with an intense expression she couldn’t see. “It’s my job, E.J. I take care of my team.”
The team and Prentiss gathered in the conference room, and they all couldn’t help but notice the elevated tension between Gideon and Jackson. They pointedly ignored one another, and Hotch glanced between the two with a severe frown. He had hoped his conversation with Jason could wait a bit, but it seemed like his old mentor was determined to mistrust the team’s newest member. He sighed, decided to ignore them as they ignored each other, and got down to the business at hand.
“J.J. is passing out copies of the files we recently obtained from the CIA. They’re pretty thin, but E.J. assures us it’s everything.”
“It is,” she said before Gideon could offer his opinion.
Hotch eyed her a moment before continuing. “As noted earlier, the Silar Creek UnSub used a thin cord to strangle his victims. Our current UnSub uses a gun. In most cases that would negate them being the same person, but if we’re dealing with an inside man, changing MO might be purposeful.”
They all nodded in agreement as they studied the files. “No forced entry,” Morgan noted. “It’s possible the victims knew their attacker.”
Jackson agreed. “We theorized that they did. Silar Creek is a small town; we suspected a local, and pretty much everyone knows everyone.”
“Even the students? I know from boarding schools I’ve been to, students rarely have much to do with townies,” Prentiss offered.
Jackson paused; considered. “Good point. We thought it could possibly be a student; Andrea Talbot taught English at the school, so a student would have had easy access to her.”
“Retaliation, maybe?” Reid speculated. “Revenge for bullying or a bad grade?”
Gideon shifted in his seat. “These types of attacks indicate an UnSub the victims felt comfortable with. They most likely let him in; they turned their backs on him. Most school shooter types aren’t the kid anyone wants to meet in a dark alley.”
“Would an UnSub who attacks women in their homes fit the same profile as a school shooter?” Morgan asked.
Hotch shook his head. “No; most revenge killers choose to kill publicly so that they can in some way humiliate their victims. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris,” he said in reference to the Columbine shooters, “taunted the other students as they shot them.”
“Alright, so let’s rule out revenge-seeking students,” Morgan said.
Prentiss drummed her fingers against the table a moment. “Does looking into this old case really help us? We have no way of knowing if they’re even connected.”
Before anyone could reply, Garcia pushed open the door. “Guys, I found something else. It’s big.”
“What is it, Garcia?” Hotch asked, noting the distressed look on the tech analyst’s eloquent face.
“I did some digging. I mean, I did a lot of digging. It looks like John Dempsey was Agency, too.”
“You’re kidding,” Jackson responded.
“I wish, princess. He was a student at Silar Creek Academy before your time, but I can’t find any record that he ever graduated. At all. Anywhere. He disappears up until two years ago when he got the job at the Kwik Stop.”
“Did all students go on to join the Agency?” Hotch asked.
“No,” Jackson said with a shake of her head. “It wasn’t a requirement, just something that was strongly encouraged.”
“There’s more,” Garcia said. “When Dempsey was at Silar Creek, Daniel Talbot was his academic advisor.”
“Daniel Talbot? That’s your partner, right?” Reid asked, face scrunching as he tried to make sense of Garcia’s news.
Jackson looked even more shell-shocked than she had that morning, if such a thing were possible. “I had no idea Daniel was ever at Silar Creek,” she said. “He never told me.”
“Did he have some sort of special ability?” Gideon asked.
“No, he was completely blinkered.” At the older agent’s skeptical look, she waved an impatient hand. “They never put two Specials together; it wasn’t done.”
“Enough,” Hotch said in an eerie repeat of earlier. “If we’re going to work this case, we have to trust one another. We’re a team here.” He nodded at Prentiss to include her. “We’re going to assume that anything one of us says is the truth. Understood?”
Gideon’s gaze didn’t leave Jackson’s face, but after a moment he nodded. “Understood,” he said. “I apologize, Elliot,” he told her, uncharacteristically humble, “I know you wouldn’t outright lie to us.”
She cocked a brow at him, but decided to take the apology in the spirit it was meant. “Thank you, Jason,” she conceded. She hated coming across as surly, recalcitrant, and unprofessional, and Gideon was making her both look and feel all of the above. Hopefully some time apart, working the case separately, would soothe everyone's ruffled feathers. If she knew Hotch - and she felt like she did, after all this time - he was planning just such a cooling off period.
Hotch let out a deep sigh. “Now that that’s settled…Morgan and Gideon, I want you to hit the recent murder scenes. Now that we know Dempsey was Agency, talk to all of his friends and coworkers. Garcia, keep looking at the other victims, especially Dempsey. Jack, Reid, stay here and keep working the profile on both UnSubs. Detective Prentiss and I are going to Detective McCall’s apartment. Any questions?”
“So we’ve decided that the two cases are connected after all?” Prentiss asked.
“Three begins to make a pattern,” Jackson said quietly.
“We’re going to keep digging,” Hotch cautioned. “I want to know what the hell we’re dealing with here.”
“So do we all,” Gideon agreed ruefully.
I'm finally working on this again, and it's a relief. I hate leaving things hanging!In other news, I've apparently been nominated for two awards in the CM Fanfic Awards - Best New Author, and Best Original Character (Elliot in "Reckoning"). Voting starts soon, so if you'd like to vote for me, go to http://community.livejournal.com/cmfanficawards. I'm new to all this, so I don't know much about it, except I'm way flattered, and it'd be swell if you voted for me. :D And, of course, a big THANK YOU to whomever nominated me. :D