Transitions

Chapter 36

Without any of them having said it aloud, each member of the team was wishing for a quiet week. To be able to stay at the BAU, and find a way to launch an investigation into a seemingly unrelated series of murders, occurring across the expanse of the United States, that were somehow strung together to send a message to them. But they had no idea of the message, no idea where the unsub might strike next, no idea when the unsub might strike next.

"But we might be able to figure out how the unsub might strike next."

Morgan understood that Reid was referencing the sequence of murder techniques the Replicator was following, but he wasn't convinced. "How would that be helpful? We'd have to know where to look, wouldn't we?"

"And when." Alex pointed out the obvious.

"Well, the 'when' will be given to us when the murder gets reported, won't it?" Rossi was practical. They all knew they wouldn't be able to prevent this particular murder.

Reid was still sure he was on to something. "But it's always taken a while for us to find out, hasn't it? Because most of the Replicator's killings aren't seen as serials, except by us. The Replicator is mostly executing a single murder, replicating a method used in one of our serial cases. We've come across them by happenstance up until recently." He flashed a look at his unit chief, acknowledging the older man's early recognition of the pattern.

Hotch's nod was barely perceptible. "You will all remember that a few months ago there was a murder that mimicked the work of the Silencer. After that, I kept an eye out for other murders that might have used the same technique, without being serial. There weren't any. But there were those murders that mimicked other unsubs' techniques, as we demonstrated yesterday."

It was the first time that most of the team realized they'd only become aware of the Replicator because Hotch had been keeping watch. He'd shared it only with Rossi and, just two days ago, with Reid. Each of them realized a deepened respect for the skills of their unit chief.

Reid resumed his observation. "So, now that we know he's out there, we can put our FBI field offices on alert. He seems to be replicating the murder techniques in the same order that we were involved in the original cases. So we can alert the offices to look out for murders using the next specific MO. It should give us a huge jump on tracking him."

"Unless we're off on another case." Morgan was still frustrated that the team hadn't been taken out of rotation.

"It is what it is, Morgan, for better or worse. We'll have to work with what we've got." Hotch played along for the sake of the team, but he was as determined as ever to continue his battle with the hierarchy. "Right now, we're here. Let's take advantage."

Rossi's long years of experience told him Hotch was right in his approach. He took up the cause.

"Okay, let's look at what we've got. Or, more to the point, what we haven't got."

JJ spoke up for the first time during the meeting. Reid had noticed her silence, and realized she was still struggling with the burden of her home situation. But she'd seemed calmer when he'd left her at her door last night. He remembered their conversation on the front porch.

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"Thanks, Spence. It feels good to know that I have someone with me in this. Especially when that someone is my very best friend in all the world." She'd patted his chest as she said it.

"You don't deserve any of this, JJ. You're a great mom, and you're doing your best. We just have to make sure the court can see it."

"Just."

He caught her discouragement returning. "Just. In a good way. JJ, you've got a lot more than me behind you in this. You know the whole team will back you up, and Karen. I even got the sense that Henry's teacher wasn't falling for Will's nonsense."

"Miss Amy is a very wise soul. You have to be, to teach a room full of preschoolers."

"Well, then, don't worry. Will can try all the manipulation he can think of, it's not going to work. And I'm not going to lose you. I mean, we're not going to lose you."

#####

Reid realized he'd missed the first part of JJ's thought. He tuned himself back in for the rest.

"Well, we don't have any idea why he's doing this. I mean, it looks like he's trying to send us a message of some sort. But it's not exactly a threat, is it? Or I guess I should say it's not a direct threat to us."

Reid agreed. "JJ's right. Technically, we seem to be the common factor among the killings, but he hasn't exactly threatened us. The only direct contact he made was with me, with the phone call. Zugzwang."

He was amazed that he was able to keep his voice steady as he said it. The word was so tied up, in his mind, with the death of Maeve. But it may actually have had nothing to do with her.

Going along with the theme, Alex added, "We don't know how he's been able to know the details of the cases, or how he's been able to follow us. Nearly every case has been an away case."

"Importantly, we don't know how he managed to intercept the page Reid sent to Maeve." Morgan watched Reid's face for a reaction, concerned that he would be bringing up the painful recent memory.

Reid had steeled himself for this conversation, knowing it was inevitable. He was ready to discuss it.

"I've thought a lot about that. I was thinking the same thing, that he'd intercepted the page. But now I wonder if he was simply following me. He might have been able to figure out that there was a pattern of me paging, and someone calling back. So all he had to do was to follow me to the phone booth and carry out the pattern."

"But how would he know the number to that particular phone?" Alex asked the logical question.

"See, the thing is, I would try to use a different phone booth each time, so there would be no pattern showing up on her phone history. But there are only a limited number of public phones available these days. I'd used almost all of them in a five mile radius from my home. If the unsub was determined enough, he'd have been able to take down the numbers and use a process of elimination to limit the pool that was left."

Rossi wasn't sure he agreed. "Wouldn't you have noticed the delay, if he'd been trying multiple numbers before finding the right one?"

Reid shook his head. "No. There weren't that many options still left. And, besides, Maeve sometimes delayed a few moments before she answered my pages. I was used to waiting a couple of minutes."

Morgan tried to summarize. "So, we think there's an unsub….a Replicator….copying specific murder methods of cases we've been involved with, in the order of our involvement. And he's no longer satisfied with just doing that and hoping we notice. He's stepped out to draw attention to himself by calling Reid and giving him a message. Zugzwang."

Rossi took it up. "But he's not threatened any of us directly. And he's only contacted Reid. So maybe it's only directed at him?"

JJ's heart flipped as her head shot in Reid's direction. They were so used to working as a team that they'd ignored the fact that the contact had only been made with him. Was he in specific danger?

Hotch had considered all of the possibilities, and been unable to reach a conclusion. He needed the rest of their minds on it as well.

"Reid, tell us again what the word means."

Reid knew exactly which word his superior was referencing. "Zugzwang. It's a chess term. It refers to the situation where a player is forced to make a move, even though any move he makes puts him in jeopardy."

JJ noticed him swallow thickly, and knew how hard this was for him. She'd known him to be selfless so many times before, for the sake of a victim, or an unsub...and for Maeve. And now he was doing it for the team. She sent a silent bolus of love and admiration his way.

"I'd thought it was about her abduction. About when Diane gave me the choice between watching her kill Maeve and telling Maeve I didn't love her. But that was never really a zugzwang at all. There was no move for me to make. Diane was going to kill her anyway."

Even so many weeks later, it was difficult for all of them to hear the words said aloud. But JJ had a mixed reaction to it. She'd just heard Reid say, effectively, that he realized he'd not been responsible. That it had never been possible for him to change the outcome. She prayed that he realized what he'd said as well.

There'd been a brief silence in the conversation, as each of them absorbed Reid's words. None of them could have known it, but five silent prayers went up for the continued recovery of the traumatized young man in their midst. And additional prayers that this unsub was not, in fact, planning to traumatize him further.

Rossi was the first to resume the exchange. "Let's stick with our first assumption, that he's directing his statements….the murders….at the team. How would that create a 'zugzwang' for us?"

The team started to brainstorm, with Morgan putting out the first possibility.

"It would tell us that every solved case would lead to another one, with the same MO."

Alex took up the thought. "So, essentially, it would mean that, for every killing solved, another life would be lost."

Rossi nodded. "In the unsub's mind, we're supposed to feel guilty about that. Like we're causing the new murders."

"That's pretty twisted." JJ was the newest to the profession, and still had difficulty with this aspect of the work. She could have academic knowledge of how the unsub psychology worked, but couldn't immerse herself in it. She still always kept it at a healthy distance. It was something she'd been trying to overcome, but she'd been discouraged from doing so by Reid. "Healthy distance is just that, JJ. Healthy. For you, and for your family. Don't lose that."

Hotch agreed with Rossi. "So, let's go with that. What do we do about it?"

Reid sounded so much like his old self as he offered the obvious reply. "Stop solving murders?"

Morgan snorted. "Right, Pretty Boy. That'll teach him." They all shared a humorless chuckle.

Rossi knew Reid was being sarcastic. But he also thought he might be right.

"You know, Reid might be on to something. What if we kept it out of the news? What if we squelched the publicity?"

Hotch had already thought of that. "Well, there's an up side and a down side to that. If we give him nothing more to work with, we may lose the opportunity to make him show himself."

"But do we think he might stop? If he had no more murders to copy?" Alex wasn't sure what to think.

Hotch responded, shaking his head. "It's unlikely these are his only kills."

Rossi agreed. "They're just the ones that are part of the game."

Morgan was getting discouraged. "So, if we continue to work as we are, he continues to copy the killers. And if we keep it hidden, he goes underground, still killing. It's an impossible situation."

Reid said it for all of them. "Zugzwang."


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