Chapter 2: Death and Pancakes
I never knew you;
You never knew me.
Say hello, goodbye.
-David Gray, "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye"
Hotch snapped his phone closed with a short, bleak sigh. He looked up and into Jason Gideon’s deep eyes. “You didn’t tell her,” the older man said softly.
“No,” Hotch replied. “How could I? Besides, we don’t even know the relationship. She might barely know him. Better to let her get here; we can explain everything to her in person.” He frowned, watching as the M.E. removed the bagged bodies. “Have you gotten in touch with the partner?”
“The DC police are on their way. They said these are the fifth and sixth murders matching this MO in the last three months. They had been thinking of calling us in anyway; now that it’s one of their guys in the bag, they’re glad to have us.”
“Agent Hotchner?” a slightly husky female voice said from behind them. The two men turned to take in the tall, elegant brunette with dark, somber eyes and porcelain skin. She held out a hand. “Detective Emily Prentiss. Taj was my partner.”
Hotch shook the offered hand. “Taj?” he asked, even as some signal went off in his brain. He knew this woman from somewhere, he was sure of it. But where?
“Peter McCall, your…victim.” Her voice caught on this last word. “We all called him Taj,” she continued after a moment. “It’s a nickname he brought over with him from the Agency.”
“The Agency,” Gideon said. “Detective McCall was a spook before he became a cop?”
“Yes,” Prentiss confirmed. “He joined the DCPD two years ago. We’ve been partners the last year.”
“Emily Prentiss,” Hotch suddenly said. “Your mother is the ambassador, Elizabeth Prentiss.”
Prentiss’ dark eyes glanced toward the agent, her brows rising briefly. “Of course,” she said, voice warming slightly as recognition clicked, “Aaron Hotchner. You were assigned to my mother’s security detail, weren’t you?”
He nodded, a smile momentarily brightening his pensive features. “My first assignment. It seems like a very long time ago.” His brows drew together in consideration. “You were on your way to…Yale, was it? How does one go from Yale to being a cop?”
A brilliant grin illuminated her face before it faded. It was dazzling, like a camera flash in a dark room. “I went to Yale. I graduated. I was bored. I thought about the Bureau, but I decided being a cop would piss my mother off that much more. So here I am.” Her face clouded as she took in the pool of blood staining the floor. “And there’s Taj,” she said softly. “What happened here?”
“What do you mean ‘there’s Taj’?” a new voice demanded.
Hotch closed his eyes a moment. Shit, that wasn’t at all according to plan. Sighing, he turned toward his newest agent, a very-distressed looking Elliot Jackson; she still had bruises on her face, for God’s sake. “E.J.,” he murmured, “maybe we should go sit down.”
“I don’t want to sit down. I want to know what’s happening here. Where’s Taj?”
“Who are you?” Prentiss asked, though not unkindly.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Jackson replied sharply. She was being rude, she knew, but she hadn’t cared for the woman’s tone when she had said Taj’s name. It had sounded…proprietary.
Hotch and Gideon exchanged wary looks. “Elliot, this is Detective Emily Prentiss of the DCPD. Detective Prentiss, Dr. Elliot Jackson, a member of my team.”
The blood seemed to drain from Jackson’s face in an instant, and Hotch reached out a hand toward her, afraid she might keel over. “You’re his partner,” she managed in a thick, strangled voice. “Why are you here? Where the hell is Taj?”
“Jack, did you and Detective McCall work together at the Agency? Is that how you know him?” Gideon asked.
Her normally clear glass-green eyes looked fuzzy and dazed as they drifted from Hotch to the older agent. “Yes,” she answered briefly. “You never profiled him?”
Gideon shrugged. “I didn’t profile everyone,” he responded. “You, for instance.”
“What are you doing here anyway?” she asked a bit testily. “I thought you were off to your cabin last night.”
“I was delayed,” he replied simply.
Hotch glanced between his former mentor and the young agent. There was something going on here, some undercurrent in their conversation that he didn’t understand. He definitely didn’t like it. “E.J., I called you because when the Alexandria PD examined Detective McCall’s phone, your number was the last one he dialed. Why is that?”
She swallowed; tried to collect herself. Her gaze lingered on the pool of blood. Hotch had been trying to block her view of it with his body, but a slight shift of his weight had brought the too-vivid puddle to her attention. “We went out last night,” she told him in a soft, dull voice. “He left this morning to get pancakes before I woke up. That’s why he was here.”
“Was the safe opened?” Prentiss asked Hotch; her voice was hushed, as though she didn’t want to intrude on Jackson’s grief.
“Yes, but we don’t think anything is missing.”
She nodded knowingly. “Sounds like the same guy. I’ve got four murders on my desk with this MO. The first two were in DC, then a double at a convenience store in Arlington.”
“Tell me what happened,” Jackson said. “Please, Hotch.”
“Detective McCall was here getting breakfast,” he began, his tone gentle. “The UnSub came in, forced the owner to open the safe, and then he shot your friend and the café owner. We didn’t find Detective McCall’s weapon.”
“No,” she replied, “he left it on my hall table. Breakfast isn’t usually so violent.”
“Our guy never takes anything,” Prentiss told them in a grim voice. “He hits places when they’re as empty as possible, one or two employees only. He wants to make sure he can control the situation.”
“This is about power, the thrill of the kill,” Gideon said, rubbing his hands together. “Hotch, call the rest of the team. We need to start working on a profile. This guy isn’t going to stop anytime soon, especially once he learns he killed a cop.”
“E.J., go home,” Hotch ordered quietly. “We’ll call you once we know anything.”
She looked up at him helplessly. “You can’t make me stay out of this, Hotch. You need me for victimology. Let me read the scene.”
“No,” Gideon said quickly. “No, Jack, this scene is one you don’t need to read. Do you really want to know what happened in that much detail?”
She shuddered at the thought. “Good point. But I’m not going home. Detective Prentiss is his partner; you’re not cutting her out.”
“That’s different,” she protested.
Hotch eyed her. “Not terribly.” He sighed. The last thing he felt like doing was arguing with her when she got that stubborn glint in her eye. “Fine, but only because Reid’s out sick. I can’t be down two agents. But, E.J., I’m going to trust you to pull out if it becomes too personal, understand?”
“Thank you, sir. You won’t regret it.”
“I better not,” he muttered, following her as she moved out onto the street to begin questioning witnesses.