Chapter 3: Secrets and Lies
Paint over the cracks,
Then cover what you thought
Was the worst-ever pain with another.
The first one, it always comes free.
-David Ford, "State of the Union"
“Hey, baby girl, happy Saturday,” Derek Morgan called out to Penelope Garcia as he spotted her across the bullpen. Her blond hair was braided in pigtails, and she had a huge magenta silk gerbera daisy tucked behind one ear. Her skirt was covered in red, fuchsia and purple daisies, and she had a cardigan the same shade of purple thrown over her shoulders. In other words, she looked exactly like Garcia. It warmed his heart.
She glowered. “It was a happy Saturday, until my phone rang and woke me from the greatest dream…” Her eyes went hazy before her attention snapped back to Morgan. Cheeks suddenly flamed bright pink, and she ducked her head with a little squeak. “That’s not important. Do you know anything about the case?”
He raised his brows at her, but decided not to ask. “Hotch didn’t tell me much on the phone. Apparently the latest vic is DCPD, though. That’s part of why it’s become so high priority.”
Crimson lips parted in distress. “We’ve got a dead cop? Very bad.”
“You’re tellin’ me, mama. Why don’t you go do that voodoo you do so well and find out if any of our vics link up? It’d be nice to have something to give Hotch and Gideon when they get back here.”
She grinned. “I’m already on it, sugar. Hotch gave me the list of names, and they’re running through all my checks as we speak. Tell me something: who is the Queen of the Information Superhighway?”
“You are, baby girl. It’s all you.”
She patted his cheek. “Don’t you forget it, tall, dark and handsome. Now I must return to work. You know where to find me if you need all your dreams to come true!”
He watched her sashay away with a smile. “I surely do, Ms. Garcia,” he murmured. Shaking his head, he turned his attention back to work. He was on his way to the conference room when the elevator dinged and the rest of the team – minus Reid, who was “out sick” – filed into the bullpen. His dark brows came together when he caught sight of Jack. She looked…shell-shocked, he decided.
“Morgan,” Hotch said, indicating the tall brunette next to him, “this is Detective Emily Prentiss of the DCPD. Peter McCall was her partner; she’s going to be joining us on the investigation since the first three cases are hers.”
Morgan shook the woman’s hand. “Derek Morgan,” he told her. “I’m sorry about your partner.”
She nodded. “Thank you, Agent Morgan.” She indicated the briefcase she was carrying. “I brought the files I have with me. Where can I set up?”
J.J. smiled at the taller woman. “Follow me; I’ll take you to the conference room. Would you like some coffee?”
“Coffee would be great,” she admitted, the corners of her mouth lifting at the thought.
“This way, then; hopefully someone remembered to start a pot,” the pretty blond said with a meaningful glance in Morgan’s direction.
He tried to look innocent, but J.J. just shook her head and led Prentiss to the coffee bar. “Garcia’s running checks on the vics now,” Morgan told Hotch. “Soon we’ll know if they share any connection.”
Gideon shook his head slowly, contemplatively. “Not necessarily. If any of them were Agency, it might not show up on Garcia’s standard checks.”
Morgan looked blank a moment. “McCall was CIA?”
“Former,” Jackson told him in a small, bleak voice.
His concerned dark eyes homed in on her. That was why she looked like a train wreck; she’d known the latest vic. “Friend of yours?” he asked softly.
Her mouth twisted. “You could say that,” she replied wryly.
Hotch cleared his throat, glaring severely at Morgan over Jackson’s head. Taking the hint, he let it go. “E.J., let’s go to my office,” Hotch told her. “We need to talk about Detective McCall.”
Gideon elected to follow them, and Morgan was left standing alone in the bullpen, feeling as though he were missing a huge piece of this particular puzzle.
The three agents filed into Hotch’s office and sat, Hotch joining them on their side of his desk. He felt that now wasn’t the time to barricade himself behind the expanse of mahogany. Silence filled the room, and after a moment the team leader leaned toward his newest agent. “Tell us about Detective McCall, E.J.,” he requested gently. “Why do you call him ‘Taj’?”
She smiled, briefly. “He’s Indian; adopted, obviously; and his last name is ‘McCall.’ ‘Taj’ was a pretty natural nickname, don’t you think? We were big on nicknames at the Agency.”
“In a world of secrets and lies, the nicknames provided a sense of honesty,” Gideon observed quietly.
“Yes,” she agreed. “I’d known him nearly ten years. He was a good agent.”
“Detective Prentiss got us a victim list,” Hotch said. He fanned several photos out in front of her. “Do you know any of these people?”
She stared down at the photographs, green eyes going wide. She pointed. “Alyssa Horton. We went to high school together.”
Graying brows drew together over dark eyes as Gideon pondered. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“You’ve read my file, Gideon; think about it.”
His face clouded; cleared; creased in a deep, hard frown. “Silar Creek Academy. It’s not a regular school, is it?”
She shook her head slowly. “No. The Agency recruits ‘young people of interest’ and sends them to Silar to ‘further foster developing talent.’ It says that last bit in the brochures, even; it sounds good on every level.”
Hotch absorbed this in silence; Gideon just watched, as none of it was news to him. “Psychics,” Hotch said after a moment.
“Psychics, yes. And others. Geniuses like Reid; anyone who might be of special aid to the country. I can’t go into too much detail, but let me say there are plenty of people there who are far better at what I do than I am.”
“What do you mean?” Hotch asked with narrowed eyes.
She fidgeted a moment. “I’ve seen a man walk into a room full of people, and within thirty seconds he knew every dirty little secret, every nasty little thought, every hidden, shameful desire each person had ever had. He didn’t touch any of them. They never knew he was reading them. It was…horrifying.”
“You can’t do that,” Gideon remarked in an almost-question.
She shook her head violently. “I wouldn’t want to.” She hesitated; bit her lower lip even though it was still sore from Burns’ punch. “They trained us to use our abilities; some of us were trained to be more passive, a bit more benign; others were trained to be quite aggressive.”
“And Detective McCall was one of these?”
“Taj? Oh, no. He was blinkered. I didn’t meet Taj until after I graduated and joined the Agency proper.”
“Blinkered?” Hotch asked, frowning.
“It’s school slang. You know, like those things they put on carriage horses – the blinders. It just means he was normal.”
“And Alyssa Horton?” Gideon asked.
Jackson swallowed. “She was…I…”
“It’s ok, E.J.,” Hotch encouraged quietly. “You know we need to know.”
She looked away; her face scrunched. “She was very powerful. I didn’t know her well; she scared me. She loved her ability, loved using it to scare the straights. She’d pull some insanely obscure bit of knowledge or some deep, dark secret from your mind and throw it out at you at the worst possible moment. She laughed at the hurt and fear she caused.”
“Sounds charming,” Gideon said. “So was she involved with what happened at Silar Creek?”
“What happened at Silar Creek?” Hotch demanded as his dark brows drew together.
“She was a student there; why wasn’t she one of the victims? Or maybe she was the UnSub?” Gideon persisted while ignoring Hotch.
“You didn’t profile a woman,” Jackson replied quietly.
“I didn’t profile much of anything; I got pulled too fast. I want to know what you know about the case, Jack.”
She crossed her arms over her chest; drummed the fingers of one hand against the opposite elbow. “How much do you know about the murders at Silar Creek?” she asked contemplatively.
He frowned. “Little. I tried to aid the investigation, but I was shut down. I offered to draw up a profile, to interview witnesses, to view the crime scenes; I was cordially rejected every time.”
She sighed; lifted her hands in a tired, defeated gesture. “The first victim was my partner’s wife,” she told him softly. “Andrea Talbot. That’s how I got involved in it all; Danny asked me to do what I could since he was naturally excluded. I partnered up with Taj, since he was already on it.”
“Is that why the Agency took over a serial case that rightly should have belonged to local authorities and the BAU?” he barked in a harsh, acrimonious tone.
“Yes,” she replied simply. “That, and…the other three victims were students at Silar Creek Academy.” Jackson looked away, her pretty face set in somber lines. “The three young women killed were very promising. One had an ability similar to mine; the other two had IQ’s on par with Spencer’s.”
“Who would have that kind of information?”
“Hardly anyone. It had to be someone on the inside. That’s why the Agency took over the case. They didn’t want anyone else digging into all their secrets, dirty and otherwise.”
“And would anyone outside the Agency know McCall was one of the agents who worked that case?”
“No, no one.”
“What are the odds two agents have gone rogue?”
“Low. But, Jason…” She hesitated, leaned closer. “I’m not convinced anyone went rogue at all. With the exception of Andrea – a red herring if there ever was one – I think, maybe, the Slayer was just following orders. And I think he still is.”
“Enough,” Hotch interrupted in that steely voice that stopped everyone cold. He had no clue what they were talking about, but he felt it was too early to be jumping to any conclusions. And he needed to know more. “E.J., talk to Detective Prentiss. I want the two of you to go re-interview anyone related to the Alyssa Horton murder. Also, talk to her about the other victims; if this case you’re talking about is truly a connection, we need to know about it.”
“You’re not being punished, E.J. I need you working victimology on this one; you know two of the victims, and you might know more.”
After a moment she nodded and left to do as he ordered. The two men sat facing each other in silence; Hotch crossed his arms over his chest and fixed his former mentor with a penetrating glare. “Tell me about Silar Creek,” he ordered shortly.
For those of you worried, Reid will be making his entrance in chapter 5. I was going to almost entirely leave him out because of withdrawal, but then I got sad and missed his dorkiness. :)
I'm keeping things mysterious on purpose, so just stick with it and you'll figure out what's going on along with the rest of the team.